This has been quite an experience for me. Taking the time to write out my testimony has been an exercise I would recommend everyone do. Next to the Gospel itself, our personal testimonies are the best tool we have for sharing Jesus.
My childhood was pretty normal. I was born in Fort Riley Kansas while my father was in the Army. Soon after I was born, the family (My parents, my older brother and I) moved back to Illinois where I’ve spent most of my life. Even though I’ve been in Illinois for all but 2 years of my life, I’ve moved a lot. We moved every few years throughout my childhood, which made me the perpetual “new kid”. That would have been difficult by itself, but I was always very small and shy too which added another layer of difficulty. These experiences made it difficult for me to form lasting friendships, which is something I struggle with to this day. I am a very independent person. I spent a lot of my youth and my young adult life believing that I did not need anyone else.
From as far back as I can remember until I graduated from High School and moved out, we infrequently went to church. There was one stretch from 7th grade until my sophomore year of High School that we went fairly regularly. This was in large part due to the fact that we rented a church parsonage to live in. During those 4 years, I went through the motions of “church”. I went through confirmation class, sang in choirs and even went to a church camp. But none of it was real to me.
After High School, I went to college where I got degrees in English and History. While at college, I became a lot more free and liberal than I had been as a kid. I experimented with alcohol and drugs, and moved even farther away from anything Christian.
During my senior year of high school and all through college, I dated my first wife. Right before graduating, we married and began life. After two years, I became a dad. I had a daughter. Another 6 years later I had a son. So I was a dad. But I didn’t know what it meant to be a father. I was more concerned about what I wanted, and what I wanted to do. I loved my kids, but I spent more time hanging out with friends than really being the father they needed. I didn’t even see that they were suffering.
Since I was a young adult, I have suffered with depression and anxiety. When I was 24, I was diagnosed bipolar. I spent time on and off medications for that. I was always looking to be happy, but never was. So I tried to fill my empty spaces with whatever I could find that I thought would make me happy. I earned a good living, so I tried to fill my emptiness with material things. At one point I owned 5 cars and a motorcycle. I thought that would make me happy.
I was also unhappy in marriage. And so like many men I turned to pornography because I thought it would make me happier, but it did just the opposite. It made me lustful and disillusioned. My wife and I were distant from each other, and I was seeking anything to make me feel good. Eventually I found myself drawn into the attention of another woman and ended up having an affair.
It was at this point that my whole world fell apart. Since my affair happened in the workplace, I lost everything. I lost my job, my family, my home, everything. I went from those 5 cars to being homeless for a short period of time. Fortunately I had people who helped.
I became depressed and suicidal and ended up in a group therapy program. It was required that I attend every weekday for 4 hours in the morning. I spent as much time as I could trying to be invisible. I hid in the back and covered my head with a hood, refusing to speak. That little room is where God began the work of drawing me to him. One day, another person came in who was also going through a divorce. I noticed her immediately. We began to talk and became friends quickly. It was apparent that we weren’t going to just remain friends.
Liz was a Christian and we began having discussions about God and church. I gave the usual objections. I needed proof, etc. One day, she asked if I would consider attending church with her. And I agreed.
I walked into the church feeling like everyone was watching me. It wasn’t but a few years before that I was exploring the possibility of being an Athiest, or a Buddhist. I researched most all religions. I just didn’t know that at the time I was just looking to fill the void that only God could fill. During that church service, I wept. I could feel that I was where I was supposed to be for the first time. It wasn’t long after that, sitting on my couch with Liz, that I accepted Christ.
And soon after, Liz and I were married.
We began attending church regularly, and God quickly got a firm grip on me. He grew in me a desire to be a better father and husband, and he placed a call in me to become a leader of men. To help men stay away from the traps I fell into and to become good husbands and fathers. I began a bible study in my home with about 15 men to do just that.
In March of 2012, my life changed. My wife (Elizabeth) and I attended a Prayer Encounter at Kankakee First Church of the Nazarene in Kankakee, IL that began a journey for me that continues to define who I am. We were currently attending a non-denominational church in the area and a friend of my wife introduced her to the fact that Kankakee First Church was hosting this Prayer Encounter, and suggested that we go. Let me just say that there were a few reasons we were a bit apprehensive to go. A prayer conference? What’s that about? A bunch of people standing around praying? Doesn’t sound like my cup of tea….
However, we decided that it would be a good thing for us to attend, so we made arrangements (time off work, arrangements for the seven kids, etc) to go. When I say it changed my life, I’m not exaggerating. I experienced some healing from issues that have plagued me since I was a child there at that Prayer Encounter. I had only been a Christian for three years or so, and that was the first time in my life that I truly experienced the manifest presence of God. It was amazing.
The pastor who led that Prayer Encounter, Corey Jones from Crossroads Tabernacle in Ft. Worth, Texas, holds a Prayer Conference at his church every year, and my wife and I left the Prayer Encounter in Kankakee with the strong desire to make the trip. That desire was a constant presence in our hearts for 6 months. Unfortunately, financial constraints made it impossible for us to pull together the resources to go. Impossible for us, but not impossible for God.
After attending that Prayer Encounter, Elizabeth and I were both saddled with the thought that we needed to make a change and attend church at Kankakee First. We were each surprised when we began talking and realized that we both were being drawn to worship there. We were very happy with the church we were attending. Loved the pastor, loved the people, loved the teaching, but we felt like God had other plans for us. So after a few weeks of bouncing back and forth between both churches, we made the change. In the few short months after we made the change, I felt like I had gained a family.
I have since become the director of Men’s Ministry at First Church. God called us to this place to continue to use me to help men become who God designed us to be. After attending the prayer conference at First Church, we began discussing the possibility of attending the national prayer conference in Texas that Pastor Corey hosts.
A few weeks before the Prayer Conference was set to begin, my wife and I were struggling with dealing with the thoughts that we just couldn’t do it. We tried to figure out how we could rearrange our finances to make it happen, but we just couldn’t. We talked to a couple members of the church who organize the trip to see if there was a fundraiser or something we could do to raise the funds, but nothing surfaced. So we died to the possibility of going.
And then my wife got a text message from one of the organizers of the trip. She said that the church had been given part of what we needed for the trip. If we could come up with the rest, we would be able to attend. We didn’t have it. Nor could we think of a way to get it. My wife and I discussed options. We tried to figure out how to make it happen. Again, we just couldn’t make it work. We still didn’t get that it wasn’t up to us to MAKE it happen. So we almost passed on what God had given us. But we prayed, and we decided to jump. So my wife texted back and said we would go. Now all we had to do is figure out a way to get the extra money!
We settled on having a garage sale to raise the money needed to make the trip to Texas. We began scouring the house for things to sell. As we were looking through and finding things to sell, I had an incredible thing happen. I was sharing with a friend how God had blessed us with some of what we needed, and he said that he would like to offer some help. He had purchased a couple of tools for finishing his basement and since the project was done, he didn’t need the tools anymore. So he asked if I would be willing to take them and sell them in order to raise money to go to Texas. I was blown away. I left his house with two pneumatic nail guns and an air compressor. Those tools combined with the few things we had to sell in our garage sale gave us exactly what we needed to make the trip to Texas.
All it took was us giving up trying to make it happen ourselves, and God brought us to Him. Praise His name!!
On Tuesday afternoon (the 23rd of October, 2012) we landed in Texas, gathered our belongings, checked in to our hotel and made our way to Crossroads Tabernacle for the first night of the conference. To say I had high expectations would be an extreme understatement. And judging by the vibe in the vans on the way and the buzz in the air upon arrival, I wasn’t the only one expecting great things from God. The anticipation increased tenfold as we walked into the sanctuary to find several people already at the altar crying out to God. I could tell that God’s presence was going to be called down into that place.
We spent the evening worshiping and praying and heard a message from Dan Bohi about calling Heaven down to earth. He preached about how we should not accept anything on earth that isn’t in Heaven. I had never really thought about the Lord’s Prayer before. The words have crossed my lips, but I had never stopped to think much about the meaning.
People were healed that night. Physically, spiritually, emotionally. God’s presence was called down and he met with His people.
The rest of the conference sessions were amazing. More healing, more of God’s manifest presence. I could write a book about all I saw and felt those three days, but the purpose of this writing is to share what God healed me of and delivered me from through being there in his presence.
The first thing I experienced happened that Thursday morning. Corey had his notes ready and people were settling into their chairs to hear his teaching for the morning when a woman came in to just say “hi” to him. The Spirit spoke to him and led him to have the woman talk to all of us. She shared that she was delivered in that very room of a crack addiction that had hold of her life for many years. She shared for maybe 2 minutes, and it derailed the entire morning session. We began worshiping Him through song and the Spirit fell on that place like I’ve never seen before. We didn’t need a sermon or a lesson. We didn’t need the “right” songs. We just opened our hearts and cried out to our God and he came to be with us.
And it was right in the midst of hundreds of faithful people crying out to God that Satan tried to attack me. He started the way he always does with me, by trying to distract me. He tries to derail my train of thought and get me thinking about anything else other than the prayer on my heart. And I’ll be honest, that morning he was a bit successful. Then he used my insecurities and doubt to talk me into thinking that it wasn’t real. I opened my eyes and looked at all the people worshiping and crying out around me and Satan said “This is happening for everyone else in this room but you. You just want it so bad that you’re making it up in your mind”. I fell to my seat, hunched over and just began sobbing.
My wife, Liz, was sitting next to me and noticed that I was weeping. She leaned over and asked if she needed to pray for me. I nodded. It was all I could do. She tried to get me to tell her what she needed to pray about but I couldn’t get any words out. I couldn’t stop crying long enough to explain to her what I needed. She got the attention of our pastor and told her that they needed to pray. Again, Liz asked what I needed prayer over, and I was able to get out the word “Authenticity”. I told her that I needed to know it was real. So they began to pray, and through our prayers we banished Satan from my mind in that moment. And I saw clearly what was true and what were lies. The Holy Spirit is the truth. That cannot be made up in your mind. The doubt and insecurity were the lies. Praise God!
That night, during Dan Bohi’s session, he reinforced that the Holy Spirit dwelling within us is not something that can be faked or made up. My doubt disappeared. I know that Satan will try to attack again. But I’m different. I’m not open to his attacks anymore!
So the conference ended. On that Friday, we (the 20 of us) stopped for a long, relaxed lunch on the way to the airport. We hadn’t had the opportunity to really just relax and fellowship with each other on the trip, so this was much needed time. While at lunch, I had a struggle. Something I’ve dealt with since I was a little boy. I’m quite introverted. I’m not outgoing at all. It takes me a long time to warm up to people and even then, when a large group is together, I tend to just fade to the background and listen to everyone talk. I’ve had times where I felt like I was invisible. And during that lunch was one of those times. It didn’t make me sad necessarily, but it has always made me feel like there’s something wrong with me because I’m not outspoken. Lunch ended, and we boarded our flight for home.
As we were beginning to take off, I shared with Liz what I had felt at lunch. She listened and suggested I take it to God. So I did. And 27000 feet above the earth (we were flying low due to turbulence) God helped me with something I’ve carried literally my entire life. He told me that he made me introspective for a reason. It’s not a character flaw, it’s how He designed me. He told me that instead of trying to become more like everybody else, he wants me to become comfortable and at peace with who He made me to be. And He made me remember that this is how I share myself. Through the written word more than through the spoken one. I’ve always been a writer. Usually my writings are just for me, but He’s showing me that I can share myself with others this way. A way that I’m comfortable with. I need to praise God for my introspective nature! Thank you God for making me this way!!!
I came back from that conference with a renewed sense of purpose and a realization that my gift of writing could be used to help the men I so desperately wanted to help. So I began a blog to write out some of my thoughts. In August of 2013, Jeremy Orr and I discussed the possibility of doing more. He shares the same call I have, and from that conversation came small2TALL. Originally birthed as a ministry designed to help men raise their sons, it has evolved into a ministry to help men not conform to the ways of this world. God has used us and this ministry so much already and I have no doubt, He will continue as long as we listen to His voice and follow His will for our lives.
I could be in such a different place than I am now, and I have only God to thank. He saved me and called me. I will sing praise!
Thank you for making me who I am. Thank you for making us all who we are. I am so blessed to have you with me. Father continue to fill me with your Spirit so that it can flow through me to others. Help me to show them your love, your grace and your mercy. Use me Father God. I love you. Amen!