I was born in St. Petersburg, Florida to a loving family. My father passed away when I was a little over a year-and-a-half causing my mother to have to work very hard to support my sister and I. Despite the amount of work she had to do, she still found time to take us out to events and attractions, and even sacrifice her weekends to be my little league baseball Team Mom. With all of that going on, we didn’t really attend church. It wasn’t anything major, in my opinion, because I didn’t really care. We’d go every now and then, and I attended a private Christian school for a few years, but most of my childhood was spent like any other; playing sports, trying not to get caught playing Mortal Kombat, and enjoying life. I was blessed.
As I grew older my mother remarried, and I entered middle school at which time things began to change. I was an outcast. I had very few friends, and even they hurt me deeply. I became secluded and angry feeling like the only people I could trust were my family, yet over time I secluded myself from even them. My mind was being warped by the Enemy. I had fallen into a spirit of great distrust, deeply wanting to love and be loved but not finding it. Around this time I discovered pornography which seemed to fill that gap, but it eventually evolved into an addiction which I have struggled with for over a decade.
Just before high school my little sister was born and my parents began taking us to church. We attended Sherwood Oaks Christian Church in Bloomington, Indiana and not much changed for several months. When the time came to transition from the middle school youth group to the high school youth, I was still feeling alone and betrayed. It was in this setting that I feel like God planted that first seed that set the rest of my road to salvation into motion.
I remember a night when we were having a gathering and as usual I sat alone. And then before I knew it I was surrounded by a number of people that I never knew, but they all seemed very kind and didn’t treat me the way I had been used to. One of the pastors daughters had decided to sit with me and the rest of her friends followed suit. It wasn’t anything big, just the small talk of new acquaintances, but it was the first sense of true, unconditional love and kindness I’d received in a long time from anyone outside of my family. It was that Christian love that stuck with me. It’s what gave me hope as I moved around from school to school and city to city over the next several years. It’s what led to the retreat that changed my life forever.
Throughout high school I made some good friends, had some good laughs, avoided the occasional fight, and tried not to fail my classes. I became more politically active and musically I embraced a darker side getting into metal, particularly anarcho-metal. A few friends and I began delving into occultic practices and witchcraft, however I feel the influence of my Christian friends kept me from falling away completely.
After graduation my family and I moved back to Florida, this time Clearwater, where I again kept to myself. I worked here and there part time, but for the most part stayed in my room playing video games and getting into writing (if you’re interested in any of this, check out my writing blog). It was a few months after our return to Florida that I began feeling alone again. I missed my friends greatly, and though we kept in touch online, it wasn’t enough. One week, I decided to begin visiting churches around the area, but none really seemed to fit. I remember being weirded out when I went to a church where they “lifted up the Word of God” by literally holding their Bibles in the air and reading from a projector.
Eventually I ventured back down to St. Petersburg and began attending my Grandparents church. It was a very traditional and conservative Methodist church. Not really what I was looking for, but at least I was able to spend some time with my grandparents and alas, there was a girl. She was kind, and pretty, and the only girl in my age bracket.
In January the church announced a joint youth retreat with another church in Dunedin (kind of a suburb of Clearwater). My grandpa (I call him Papa), asked me if I wanted to go. I figured it could be a fun trip and I had nothing else to do but play Grand Theft Auto so I agreed. It was here that I wrestled with God. I wanted something, but I didn’t know what. I wanted love but wasn’t sure from whom. It was during this retreat that I shared my feelings about the girl from my grandparents church, and though her rejection was gentle, it was quite painful. One of the younger counselors, and later my best man, comforted me and encouraged me to be open and honest with God. He told me that I didn’t have to fake it, or use the right words. I could even swear if I felt I had to. I didn’t swear that night, but I was truly honest with God for the first time. I told him about the pain I’d felt, and how I wanted to be loved. I told him that I wanted to be genuine with Him and I wanted the kind of relationship with him that these other people on the retreat had, one that was dynamic and not full of hypocrisy. It wasn’t as eloquent or well organized as what I just wrote. In fact it was scattered, tearful, and confused like a man drowning and reaching for a life line. It didn’t even feel better right away. But I moved on and joined a game of Manhunt before it was time for lights out.
The next morning I felt different. I felt refreshed and renewed. I felt lighter, like the weight of my faults, my depression, my shame had been lifted. Even without being told by anyone, I knew I had become a real Christian. I knew that God had heard my prayer and had honored me in my brokenness. It was confirmed by my new friend Kris (Best Man), who then discipled me as I began to develop in my relationship with Christ.
To Be Continued…