My Story of Grace

Who am I?

Some readers know me personally, others are acquaintances, and still others of you might have little idea who I am. Regardless of who you are, I imagine you would feel more connected to my writing if you have a better grasp of who I am, and who I was. 


I live in the same world as you, and I'm made from the same stuff--dirt. If I say something positive about myself or my decisions, I'm not bragging; it's part of the story. If I beat myself up for my lavish stupidity, I do it because it's a necessary paint stroke to depict the picture of my life. My hope is that you learn from my successes and my failures.


Birth - 1984


Sadly, my story begins in a cold place. I would love to begin my tale on a white sandy beach as the sun sets to the sound of soft waves slapping the peaceful shore. Instead, it begins in the deep, dark, bitter cold of January in Minnesota. I was born and raised in the Twin Cities, which for most purposes was a fantastic place for a child to grow up.


Childhood - 1986-1994


My earliest memories are of the church nursery. I have vivid memories of my Mom putting me in the nursery and me pitching a fit about it. I guess it was mildly traumatic or something. I got over it. My parents loved me and made many sacrifices to give me a great chance as success. My older brother, however, loathed my presence and sought to destroy me from the face of the earth--at least when we were young. We're good now.


Our home was modeled according to Christian morality and ideals. I was taught the simple truths of right and wrong, good and evil. At the time it wasn't much fun, but I realize now that was a gift--to be taught the truth at a young age. Some of you might scoff at the idea of "moral truth"; and I can understand why you might. I'm not writing to argue about that. I am sharing my perspective on my life. 


My parents chose to attend a very small Baptist church in Minneapolis, which is where a huge portion of my memories were made. Not only did we attend that church on Sundays, but my parents also involved me in cleaning the church property on Saturdays. The church operated a small, private school that I attended my entire childhood. So I was on that property almost every day of my early life. 


Wednesday nights the church held children's programs that included games, lessons, and treats. It was called "Awana". You church-raised people have most likely heard of it, and the rest of you might have to Google it. I remember being in that program as a 3-year old boy and wearing my little blue "Cubbies" vest. I recall some of the people that taught me during those years--never underestimate the impression you have on small children!


Prior to school years, I remember playing baseball with my parents in my backyard and getting really excited about Christmas. I also recall violent encounters between my brother and I as we shared a bedroom and often fought over our baseball card collections. It came to the point where my Dad had to "label" our cards so he could tell who was stealing from whom! My brother was four years older, so he always had the physical and mental advantage over me. I think that's why he usually got in trouble much more than I did. Most fights ended with my parents saying to him, "You should know better! You're the oldest!" Of course, I was no angel; and sometimes I deserved more punishment than I got. Such is life--not always fair. Of course, that fueled the distaste my brother had for me. We fought a lot as kids. I know boys have that tendency, but I have a feeling we were exceptional.


Once I started school, my life became more eventful. I enrolled in organized sports and had school and church programs to perform in. Nearly all of my memories of those years are good, other than fighting with my brother. I had an uncanny love for baseball, likely ignited by the 1987 World Series in which the Minnesota Twins spanked the St. Louis Cardinals, leaving Minnesota in a bit of an uproar. I watched the entire playoff series at age 3, and I recall many of the players' names from the Tigers, the Twins, and the Cardinals. In fact, I connected them to my baseball card hobby and began memorizing the players' statistics, batting stances, and jersey numbers. I have one of those personalities that's "all-or-nothing". 


Like I already said, I played baseball with my parents, so I had no need for T-ball. I thought it was stupid--too easy. I started organized baseball in Richfield, MN playing for the blue team. Those fields are now runways on the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Kudos to progress. I played baseball every summer of my life until I was 19, when I decided I wasn't serious enough about it to pursue it as a career.


Of course, childhood is more than sports and school. I had two friends across the street from my house that I spent most of my free time with. We tore up the neighborhood on our bikes, built jumps, and chased other kids around the neighborhood. We concocted potions to kill insects and lit many things on fire. We were stereotypical boys I suppose. Another good memory I have is killing "June bugs" with tennis rackets in my friends' backyard.


I was always keen on academics. I had few problems in school. I recall thinking most of the work was rather easy. One of the great things about my school was it was built on a system that rewarded hard work. Thus, if I worked hard at school and got my work done, I rarely had to do homework. That gave me more time to be a kid in the evenings. I loved video games. I think I was 5 or 6 when we got our first Nintendo--the original Nintendo! We mastered Super Mario Bros 1, 2, and 3, Duck Hunt, Rad Racer, Mike Tyson's Punch Out, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and many more. Of course, living in Minnesota meant I also did a fair share of sledding, tubing, and general playing in the snow. We built forts, dug trenches, and masterfully molded magnificent snowmen.


You might have wondered why I ended my childhood years in 1994. Isn't a 10-year old still a child? Yes--and no. At 10 I became self-reflective. I started thinking about adult issues. All that fun and goofiness was still there, but now I was becoming aware of reality. Some of this was natural, and some was dictated by circumstances.


Adolescence - 1994-1997


I guess I was more emotionally advanced than most kids my age. This is probably partially due to me having an older brother and spending time around his friends (only when my parents forced them to tolerate my presence). At this age, things started changing very fast in my life.


In 1994 my parents divorced. I will not comment on how or why or criticize anyone, except to say that it did not work out. Like most kids, I didn't understand why it was happening. As far as I knew, my parents were "happy"; but kids see the world through ignorance. 


I remember 5th grade pretty well. Most of my friends were in 6th-8th grades, and I was getting excited about playing JV basketball at my school. I loved baseball, but in Minnesota it's a short season. I needed something to do in the winter! I was also somewhat odd in regards to girls. Most 10-year old boys think girls carry the plague, but I actually had many friends that were girls and talked to some of them on the phone regularly. That scared my Dad a little. Or a lot. I suppose girls are better talkers, and I wanted someone to talk to. Divorce can have strange effects on family members. My parents were preoccupied with the divorce process and starting their "new lives" apart from each other; so I sometimes felt like they didn't have time to talk to me. I know that sounds horrible, but it probably wasn't true--I just felt that way. Similarly, divorce makes kids angry. I most certainly got angry, and part of expressing that anger was clamming up and refusing to talk to my parents. I chose to confide in other people. In the early years of the divorce, I was emotional and cried because I hated that my parents were not together. But as the months passed, my tears dried up and callouses formed.


Academically and athletically, my life continued unchanged. I did well in school and got better on the baseball field and the basketball court each year. I was happy enough to live my own life and ignore the life my parents had allowed to fall apart. Those thoughts were not explicitly in my mind at the time, but I can see it retrospectively in how I behaved in the years following the divorce. Things were about the "hit the fan".


This time was a challenging time for me spiritually as well. I had been in church my entire life, but I began to ask if that even meant anything. Was God even real? Did He care about my life? Everybody said He did, but it wasn't real to me. I was told my entire childhood that I was a Christian, but was I? How did I know? Did I really want to be a Christian? My Dad and I discussed that at length during those years, and I appreciate the time and energy he spent giving me counsel and encouraging me. Nevertheless, there were going to be things I would choose to learn the hard way.


I had plenty of friends, several of which were involved in drugs and alcohol. If my memory serves me right, I got drunk for the first time at age 12 when my friend and I snatched some liquor out of his parents' cabinet. It wasn't too long after that we got our hands on marijuana and figured out what that did. Here's the truth--it was fun. I maintained my academic performance and did well athletically, so almost nobody even noticed. My Dad was one of the few who saw my trajectory. I began making more and more friends in the "party crowd". By age 13, I had two completely separate groups of friends--the "good" ones and the "fun" ones. I knew all that stuff was "wrong" according to some people, but like I said, this was a time in my life when I was questioning everything. I questioned my parents, my God, my mentors, my pastor, and my beliefs. In my mind, I was doing just fine because my life was not falling apart (in my opinion).


Teenage Years - 1997-2003


Like most people, these years were instrumental in my life. I grew physically, mentally, and emotionally, but I was also deciding who I wanted to be for the rest of my life. Decisions made during these years can be life-changing!


At 14, I was getting more serious about doing what I wanted to do. My disregard for authority grew stronger every day, and my mental ability to circumvent rules improved astronomically. Summer time was the most active party season, but we kept it rolling into the winter as well. I had tried cigarettes several times, but young kids have a hard time getting their hands on them. As my friends and I approached 16, it became easier and easier to get what we wanted. We made friends with people over 21 to buy us alcohol, and we found everything else ourselves. My taste in music turned dark, and I reveled in rebellious, tasteless lyrics of angry, misguided artists. My language followed suit, and I started saying what I wanted when I wanted. My friends and I even started getting into stealing--nothing violent or large-scale. We just took what we wanted from stores. It was a slippery slope.


Throughout these years (10-15 years old) my Dad and I still maintained a decent relationship. He did everything he could to stick with me and not let me run wild. He stayed heavily involved in my athletic games. I'm pretty sure he came to almost every baseball and basketball game I ever played. I appreciated that, even though I fought him in other areas. Much to my displeasure, he would talk to me each day about the Bible, God, and what God expect from each of us--including me. These talks became more intense as I grew older, and most of the time I argued with him. Nevertheless, I know they had a good effect on me, and many of the principles he taught me would guide me the rest of my life.


If you are a parent with teenagers that are pushing the boundaries, don't give up on them. Nobody gave up on me, and I'm here today to tell you that God can forgive anything.


By age 16 my friends and I were getting into bigger messes. We got our hands on ecstasy and incorporated that into the mix, as well as a few other strange chemical concoctions here and there. We are fortunate we didn't kill ourselves. God is merciful, and I can tell you of multiple instances, even in those sinful places, where I felt a powerful presence around me that protected me from the devastating effects that could have been. God never forgot about me. He was chasing me, trying to bring me back.


I vividly recall a summer night in which my friends and I were partying. During that night, I was having such a good time that I literally looked up to the sky and said to God, "If you have anything better than this, show me, because I don't see it." God likes a challenge from time to time. He knew I was being honest. My experience with Christianity was quite dismal. Although my Dad was a great influence in my life, our relationship was strained from the divorce and from my disregard for his authority. My church was not exactly a pillar of morality. The majority of the families in our church were also divorced. A large portion of the kids in my "Christian" school were also using drugs, alcohol, and despised their parents for reasons similar to me. I knew of a few Christians here and there that I respected, but it wasn't enough. I didn't know God. You see, Christianity will never be attractive because of Christians. If a person does not become enraptured with God, their displeasure with Christian people will soon cause them to ditch the religion altogether. I was on the verge of doing that. I contemplated many times doing a full retreat and denouncing the Christian faith.


Then there were other days in which I would feel compelled to turn back to God and abandon my self-centered choices. It was a bit of a roller coaster. I don't want to communicate that I was miserable, because I wasn't. I had friends and family that I could turn to at any time for love and support. Most of my trouble was self-inflicted, so I don't ever want to give the impression that I feel sorry for myself. What amazes me, though, is the patience God has for people like me. He waits and waits and allows us to stumble and fall and get back up. He protected me when I disregarded Him. He waited for me when I was too busy for Him. Even in my selfish state, He was orchestrating a plan for my future that had nothing but good in mind. Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I [God] know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil."


At age 17 I graduated high school and started making important decisions that would effect my future. Thankfully that year I had begun to realize the path I had followed was a path to nowhere. It led to complacency, disappointment, and emptiness. I cannot explain how I knew that, but it was clear to me. My Dad decided to move to a different church in 2001, and that made a big difference for me. This church had people in it that reached out to me and, perhaps more importantly, lived a genuine Christian life. I met people there that I respected and admired--people I actually wanted to emulate. This story dovetails into another post--"The Story of Us"--which discusses how my wife and I met during this time and eventually were married in 2007. Because the details of our encounter is covered there, I won't delve into it too much in this post. Let it be sufficient to say that we met when I was 17, and her influence on me was good!


This time in my life was the first time I remember going to church because I wanted to. I had a choice, and I chose to attend. I started to enjoy the Bible and learning about how it applied to my life and my problems. Over the years I had done plenty of wrong things, but I learned that didn't mean the rest of my life was ruined. God has always been in the business of forgiving and offering new beginnings. It would take some time, but that's what I wanted from Him. Many times I had tried to lift myself up out of my own problems and fix myself; and each time failed and led me back to the place I had started. It became discouraging to even try. But I was beginning to believe that God could do anything. He could even turn me into a Christian that was happy, consistent, and excited about the future.


I attended a Christian college in September 2001 and stayed there for two years. It was fantastically healthy for me to meet new people and learn new things away from the place where I grew up--away from the people that knew who I had been. I needed to get away from my reputation. After two years at that school and a great deal of personal growth, I decided to transfer to another college in Florida. This was a big step for me, but one that I believe God orchestrated to completely uproot me from my past. He was lifting me out of my mistakes and setting me on a solid foundation.



Psalm 40:2 He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.

My 20s - 2004-2014


Throughout my college years I became serious about seeking God. The Bible never says that God will beat down your front door and make you explore His awesomeness. Quite the opposite, it tells me that if I seek Him, then He can be found.

Proverbs 8:17 I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.


During my first three years of college I had burned some bridges. I had lost a few friends because they were not interested in my Christian lifestyle. I had thrown away some things that I considered to be a hindrance to the future that I wanted--a future with God. My list of friends dwindled from high school, and just as God always does, He provided me with new friends--friends that would lead me in the right direction. The difference between this time in my life and one decade prior was that I had let go of my anger, my resentment, and my misunderstanding about how God should operate. I came to God without my own ideas and let Him teach me truth and wisdom. The most life-changing thing I did in college was not to take a Bible class or get involved in church ministries. Those are good things; but the most impacting decision I made was to read the Bible myself--every day. I was busy as a Premed major, but I made time for the Bible. I read it every day and took notes about what I learned each day. It was a sacrifice of time, and I didn't have as much fun as some people in college; but the payoff is far better. I had already lived the wild life and I knew where it took me. I wanted to live a new life. I read the entire Bible twice in two years. It changed me. 


Psalm 119:9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word [the Bible].


My summary of these years leaves out many details and struggles that occurred along the way. I do not want to give the impression that this process was clean and simple. Life is never so ideal. These years were filled with challenge, resistance, confusion, frustration, and uncertainty. I did not suddenly see everything come into focus and unlock the key to life overnight; but my resolve to press on in the same direction inevitably led me exactly where God said it would (see above Proverbs 8:17). I learned of God during these years. I had never met Him. I thought back to that prayer I prayed to God as a teenager--that prayer about showing me something better than what I already had. I had fun, I had pleasure, I had excitement; but it was shrouded in shallowness and despair. I wanted the real Thing, and I wanted to be the real thing.


Psalm 51:6 Behold, thou [God] desire truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.


I suppose anyone with sense will admit they don't deserve what they have been given by God; but I think my case is somewhat exceptional. I understand very clearly that I was protected from the consequences of my own pride and stupidity. I was loved and cherished when I was running fast in the wrong direction. I did not turn myself around, but I was gently brought to safety and restoration. I look back sometimes at my earlier years in disbelief that God has brought me to where I am today. Despite my rebellion and disbelief, He has given me nothing but mercy, grace, and blessing.


These lyrics are from "The First Time" by MercyMe:


After all of my searching, all of my reaching,

I'm left with nothing--nothing of worth. 
You treasure the broken, over and over, 
And give me a hope that can never be earned.
It's still amazing, that you'd ever save me.
I thought I knew your face. I thought I'd tasted grace;
But I have never felt anything close to this.
Just when I'd seen it all, new mercy breaks the door.
With eyes open wide, it feels like the first time, first time. 
It feels like the first time, first time.


Today I am married to a woman I am madly in love with. She shows me every day that we were meant for each other, and that reinforces my understanding that God brought us together. We are approaching our seventh anniversary and our second child, both of which will come in July of this year. Our first child is a blessing beyond imagination (see "Baby Waiting"). God has counted me worthy of being a husband, a father, and a minister in His church. I am not worthy, yet here I am. Perhaps more importantly, I have the opportunity to know God personally, to have my prayers answered, and to learn wisdom from the Source. That Bible that I read is filled with promises that I can now claim for myself. It's so much better than anything I have ever had before.

As a Christian, it is healthy to reflect on the salvation that God has given--where He saved you from. If you are not a Christian, stop fighting against God. Seek Him, because you know nothing else is satisfying. He will respond to you.

8 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this opportunity to get to know you better. You're obviously a teacher at heart, like your dad. Will be interesting to see how the Lord plans to use that gift.

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    1. I'm sure it is! :-) Teaching is one of my spiritual gifts, and it makes me smile when I see others who also enjoy researching, and sharing things they have learned. Having that natural inclination makes parenting more fun, too. I've taken care of toddlers and preschoolers for 30 years, and still get excited whenever I teach a child something! :-)

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  3. Good testimony brother! Just so you know, as your Youth Pastor I knew a lot was going on behind the "fake" Christian walk many of you and your peers were living. That is why I was so specific in my Sunday and Wednesday night Bible studies. The opportunity was there for all of you guys to walk in "the Way" and thankfully there were a few who did. Thanks for your honesty in your blog. I hope a lot of the old youth group reads it:-)

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  4. Thanks for your honesty Dan, however, I was one of the many that went to that "small church/school" and if it wasn't for the Godly teachers,preachers and helpers of that church/school taking the time to help mold our lives and show us that there's a better way to live than the world's way, who knows where we would be. We were All taught by the same teachers and under the same preachers, and we All had the same oppertunities. The Lord can put us in a place with Christian friends and surround us with Christian influences, however it's up to us to choose the right path (Prov. 14:12) ; No one else can steer the wheel, only us.Thankfully, we were All taught day in and day out how to choose that path (Prov. 3:6). This small church/school is not just a church to go to on Sundays and Wednesdays or a school we had to go to, it is a place full of Genuine Christian people who every morning prayed for us before school even started. It was a place where we didn't have to feel embarrassed to go forward in church if we needed to make a decision (though we had to have an open heart to do so). This is where God graciously placed us to mold All of our lives to further His Glory, and I thank God for the men and women that are still there today proclaiming the Good News. They're the real heros who deserve our thanks. Even when we gave them plenty of reasons to give up on us, they never did. Thanks for your testimony. You have a beautiful family :)

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  5. Good to hear from you guys! I think there is a disconnect between what I intended to communicate and what you have perceived. You seem to think I am blaming other people or lack of Christian leadership in my home church for the bad decisions I made as a youth. Quite the contrary, I respected several faithful Christians in our church; but there was also enough damage going on to cause me to question. Our basketball coach left his wife in the middle of my high school basketball career! More of my friends in that church had divorced parents than didn't. It's not that I am blaming anyone in particular, but bad things were happening in that church. With that aside, I might have made the exact same decisions had I grown up in a more stable church. I can't know that. I know that my family life and my pride had more to do with my decisions than my teachers or pastor. I have a good idea how much I was loved and prayed for, because as I said, many times in those dark places I could feel God surrounding me with protection and compassion. I was insulated from the consequences of my own stupidity--not because I deserved it, but because God has a plan for me.

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    1. Agreed about the disconnect there my younger brother. It just came across as a slam on the one church that poured many years into your young development in the Lord and a praise to the next church you attended for just a short time before college and finding a Godly girlfriend there (by the way...there were a few Godly girls at the former church too:) Since I am well acquainted with both ministries and have dear friends that serve in both it may surprise you that after talking with one of the Assistant Pastors he assured me that his church has a very large number of remarried and divorced members and attendees. Both churches have been doing great works for God over the years and should not be judged on the level of "Legalism" one may have over the other. Satan would have us to "compare ourselves among ourselves" but God tells us we "are not wise" if we do so. Having said that, I really do not think that was your intent at all. I see your effort to glorify God in what you write and your way of life. I have followed you over the years and paid close attention to the path you have chosen and I commend you for it. God has blessed you with a wonderful wife and family and I am very grateful that I had a small opportunity to play a part in your Spiritual journey. Keep on speaking the Word in love but with conviction brother! I am proud of your resolve and decisions and look forward to more thoughts and comments on this blog. Maybe I should start one too :)

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  6. Good to hear you guys are doing well :) I can understand where you're coming from, but I was in the same place and most of my friends came from great Christian homes. I don't know. I guess there's always going to be negatives in any church you go to if you are looking for them, because as a people, we are full of pride. Thank the Lord for his grace. Oh and, i remember vividly that year our coach leaving his wife, however, I also remember our pastor handling it and dismissing him from his duties even though he'd been there for years. I know that wasn't easy for our pastor, but he followed Biblical principles in All his decisions as he does still to this day. Thanks for your thoughts :)

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