One Day, I’m Gonna Need ya

Several months ago, I was at work, standing in the main area where we usually start our day off, looking at a large display board that tells us how our day is going to go. This particular day, the atmosphere was a little edgy and heated. I work for the steel union, and this was around one of those times when the union and the company were having a disagreement of sorts. A disagreement like this usually amounts to a more stressful work environment, significantly less cooperation between workers and management, and far less friendly communications between the two as well. It can get tense.

This particular day, I was standing with a manager, also a Christian, having a discussion. It was not a most friendly discussion, although otherwise we got along great. I was expressing my feelings about how some of the issues going on between the union and management had a negative impact on how my day was going. I’ll just say it, I was yelling at him about how unfair the situation was for me, okay? It was not a high point for me, nor were several of the days leading up to this day. In fact, most of my low days occur at work. I don’t want this section of my life highlighted in bright yellow when it comes time to give an account for what I did on earth.

At the end of this “talk” the manager (who I said was also a Christian, remember) just simply said to me, “Dustin, brother, I hope you get your heart right, because one day I’m gonna need ya. It won’t be today, and probably not tomorrow, but I will need your help someday, one way or another.” That is how our discussion ended.

I didn’t give it much thought until probably a few days later, but once I finally did consider what he said with a clearer mind, his statement didn’t really make any sense to me. People like him, people who have it all together spiritually, won’t need me. They are pillars, people to be looked up to. I’ve never seen this guy have a weak moment. I’ve never seen anything but a smile on his face.

I don’t know how long I’ll be a “new guy” for, but I see no real end in sight. I’m considering renaming this website to, “Lessons Dustin learns the hard way.” Being set in my ways, and then having a humbling, slightly life altering experience seems to be a reoccurring theme, and It usually comes at a bit of a cost.

It wasn’t too terribly long after my talk with this manager, maybe a few weeks. There came a time when I could have stepped up and helped him out. I Didn’t. I suppose, because I didn’t yet have my heart right, like he said. It wasn’t huge thing, I don’t think it affected him much, and I probably make a bigger deal about it in my head than it actually is. It will just always be one of those moments I’ll remember. I’m sure we all have moments like that don’t we? It’ll always be something I’d really like to be able to do over.

Personally, I need someone’s help everyday. There are people in my life who help me when I’m going through low periods, when I just need to get something off my chest, or when I just need good company to recharge myself spiritually. I’ve got some real pillars for people around me. My wife, is amazing! she straightens me out almost everyday. Some friends from church, and other people in my life are always there to help me. I guess it never occurred to me that those people aren’t just there for me, I need to be there for them too.

Being out in the world, socializing, and going to places where people go are not my most comfortable situations. I tend to be comfortable here, writing at my computer. this is where I open up. It’s a bit of a curse though, because I miss opportunities to help other people, in the same way that so many have helped me.

I’ve had a tendency to put some people on pedestals, like the guy at work. Sometimes I forget that we’re all human, even those I put on pedestals. All have fallen short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no not one. All of us Christians are just a bunch of folks, trying and failing to be like Jesus. Some of us appear to fail less. 🙂 Not me. I fail a lot, and I’ll tell ya all about it. But we’re bound together by that one simple truth in Romans 5:8. But God shows his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The lesson for me is clear and simple. Love these people. For me, that means stepping out from behind my computer once in a while and showing it where people can see. It’s one of the worst feelings, being able to do something for someone and not doing it. I’d love to be more social, more outgoing, and try to be less introverted. That was my new years resolution for 2015, it didn’t go so well.

I don’t want to miss anymore opportunities to be the one that picks someone up when they fall. If you’re like me, and feel like you have these great people in your life too, I want you to know that we all have a responsibility to be that person to them, as seldom as they seem to need it, that they are to us nearly everyday. Really, it comes down to one simple point; love them. No matter what people are dealing with, whether they are batting a thousand, or struggling to hold it together, make sure that above all they know you love them.

We all fail. Some like me almost make a hobby of it, others blow your minds when they fail, because you’ve never seen them do it before. Maybe someday I’ll fail less. Maybe I’ll be a pillar to someone else someday. For now, I’ve got myself pretty well surrounded by people who pick me up, love me and help me along. I feel like we’re a herd of sheep following Jesus, and I’m the little one at the back struggling to keep up, getting dragged along. Then there’s those spiritually strong ones up toward the front, smiling bold and tough. They trip too, believe it. When they do, I hope we’re all ready to pick them up and help them along. Because one day, they are gonna need us, it may not be today or tomorrow, but one day they’ll need our help one way or another.

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Testimonial, The Written Version

*this is the written version of the speech I gave Saturday June 21st at the men’s breakfast. It is written in that perspective, as if I were addressing that group. The video and this version will differ for several reasons. This is the unedited version that, if I spoke flawlessly and with absolute confidence, would perfectly match the video. For the actual speech, many parts of this were left out. Truth is they don’t match, but I am SO glad I chose to speak. I loved doing it, I would do it again. Maybe I will do it enough that someday my writings and my speaking WILL match. Sharing this blog entry is not something I do lightly or easily. Thank you for reading, and God bless you.*

  • Intro

 I’m Dustin, my family has been coming to cedar creek for a little over 3 years. If you don’t know me, you probably know my daughters. They’re the red heads running a muck in the entrance area all the time.

 

  • Why I’m here.

It was 3 years ago that my wife and I were baptized, so we’ve been on this walk for a little while now. I’ve been a sponge for 3 years, soaking up everything around me. Whether it be taking in the message from the sermons, studying my bible in my own time, or simply having coffee with a friend and taking in some great advice from someone wiser than myself. I’m really just trying to keep walking the narrow path, and watching where God takes me, and see what he can use me for. I’ve prayed about what I should do to give back a little, and this is where events have led me. I’m grateful to have people all around me who’s lives shine brightly for God. That light has helped guide me and my family through good times and tough times. I’d like to be a light like that for someone else who may be where I once was. That’s the point and the goal of me speaking today.

 It’s ironic that I have felt God pushing me in this direction, because this is not a comfortable place for me to be. I’m a bit out of my element, but I’m working on faith here. Typically, I’m use to sharing things and trying to reach out to people by writing. Speaking is new to me. In fact, today will be a vast assortment of firsts for me. Some of the things I’d like to share, I’ve never spoken out loud to someone before. I may need you to bear with me a bit.

 

 what I want to share is a bit about who I am, where I came from, how I got to be where  I am today, what you guys have to do with it, and how God worked on me and continues to work in my life. And in the process I think I can provide another example of how awesome our God really is. I’ve got so much to be thankful for, and the direction my life has gone in is one that I never ever would have thought possible. I’m a bit like a shelter dog. I’ve been rescued. Not necessarily from neglectful and mistreating owners, but from my own choices. I’ll just start at the beginning.

  • The story

 I grew up with 2 hardworking parents. We kids were taught to believe in God, but we didn’t talk about it much. As a young boy I knew church as a place where I didn’t want to be. It was awkward, uncomfortable, and while there I just wanted to go home. I dreaded going, and eventually drove my mother to quit taking me. She did what she could, but church just didn’t stick for us. I don’t think my mom found one she liked enough to make a home church out of. Work schedules and life events were just a few of the obstacles that got between our family and church, and eventually going to church was pushed back on the priority list.

Once when I was around 11 or 12 I went to church with a friend whose father was a preacher, and had a terribly embarrassing experience. I wrote about that experience in further detail in a blog title Monsters and Men. Before the service started he told me that on his cue, I was to go up and claim I wanted to be saved. I missed the cue, and he was furious. I can remember him now standing up there just yelling, red in the face, calling for anyone who wishes to be saved to come on up. I didn’t go up there. Neither did anyone else. In fact, I didn’t go near a church for 15 years.

 

  • Finding drugs

 I discovered a few things when I was 13. I discovered cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, all at about the same time. Now I asked ahead of time if 630 in the morning was too early to talk about substance abuse. I was told to just be honest because you have heard honesty before and that it was certainly something you could handle. So I’ll just be honest. The truth is that drugs and substance abuse are the theme for a large portion of my life. And it started at 13. That’s 7th grade. In fifth grade, we had DARE class. DARE to keep kids off drugs. I recall having to write a letter at the end of the class describing all the reasons why I would never use drugs. I remember feeling pretty strongly about it then too.” Drugs are horrible” I thought. “Why would anyone want to use drugs?” I went home that very day and gave my dad a piece of my mind about smoking cigarettes! Also, it was around that time that I was addicted to the hokey pokey, but I turned myself around. *yes I actually said that! It didn’t land well.*

  • Whats wrong with kids?/gateway drug

It’s ironic looking back as an adult. I hear myself now echoing everything teachers and my parents ever told me about drugs. But there’s something wrong with kids, it borders the definition of insanity that we can be told how something turns out, but somehow think it will be different for us. Kids act as if you have never been 13 before.  Not all kids do this I’m sure, but I sure did, and I knew several others who did as well. Everything I was told about drugs by adults who truly cared about me as a kid, I’ve learned was absolutely true. So kudos to all you older folks, I speak for all the teenagers when I say, we can be real idiots. Although I also had so called adults, mostly friends’ parents, encouraging drug and alcohol use in my life and the lives of my friends. By the time I was freshman in high school I had experimented with several drugs. Most were supplied by friends’ parents.

There’s something else about drugs that caring adults tell kids that kids don’t believe. I heard a dozen times that Marijuana is a gateway drug. As a kid who smoked marijuana I laughed at that. I didn’t believe that was true at all. I thought maybe that’s how it works for some people but not for me.  But, when I look back I can see each step I took to get further and further down the road of substance abuse. I know I’ll get some flak for this, but I sincerely believe marijuana IS a gateway drug—for any young impressionable mind. Okay, 30 year old adults may be able to use marijuana and avoid climbing that drug latter. But in all honesty, any 30 year old adult that I know, that uses marijuana has been using it since they were young teens, and have experimented with other drugs already. I know 30 year old adults who would argue that marijuana is NOT a gateway drug, and can explain several of the beneficial properties of marijuana, but they themselves have a past very similar to mine, so take that however you will.

  • The Lie

As I said, by age 13 I had broken all of my DARE promises. A DARE promise today is rather trivial, but at age 13 that was only 2 years prior. It still rang in my head. I always had some semi- delusional, falsely encouraging line I could tell myself to validate what I was doing. The first I gave myself was a full out lie. “I can be different.” It goes along with the idea I explained about kids ignoring advice. I told myself that I could control my own fate, I knew what was best for me,” I can be my own god” is basically what I was saying. Of course, that failed, and when it did fail, I began to judge myself on a curve. I began telling myself new falsely encouraging lines to justify my actions. I’d compare myself to someone worse than myself, and suddenly what I was doing wasn’t so bad. I never realized how common of a practice this was until I was much older. Now I can look around and see people comparing themselves to others quite often to justify their own actions. Now I see how futile it is, how it is shrugging off the responsibility to improve yourself, and that it means absolutely nothing. It is a poor excuse to remain stagnant. The first line I gave myself…

  • It’s not like I smoke a LOT of pot.

 “Well it’s not like I smoke a lot of pot.” It wasn’t long afterwards that I became a heavier user. At 15 I’d say “it makes me a more creative writer, and allows me to be more artistic.”  I went from smoking a little by myself a couple days a week to smoking with friends every time we’d get together. My mother knew I was up to something and tried help me, but I just rebelled hard against her and most other forms of authority. Line number 2…

  • It’s not like I do REAL drugs or drink a lot.

I remember saying to myself,” Well it’s not like I do real drugs, or drink a lot. Marijuana is natural. It grows right out of the ground. It’s not even a real drug.” I told myself that. Well, the devil is natural too isn’t he? The desensitization process had started. I got my first job when I was 17. I worked at a pizza place. While working there, I found more friends who had their own apartments and who had get togethers often which opened up avenues for me to drink more heavily, and I was also introduced to other drugs. I began experimenting with new substances including hallucinogenic drugs, barbiturates, benzodiazepines (basically anything prescription that we found lying around), and a few others.

  • My high school

This night life of partying that I had left little time for school. I basically just slept through the first year and a half of high school and when I was awake I was just mouthy and rebellious. That behavior earned me a referral to an alternative high school. For the last 2 years of my high school I attended what they called a high school, but really it was just a place for kids to go in the morning to keep them off the streets and out of trouble. Every one of the 50 some kids who attended had flunked out or had been expelled for drugs, or some kind of crime, or just got out of juvenile lock up, or something similar. I don’t know that anyone attended that school as long as I did. I saw so many people come and go, some got arrested, and never came back, some got expelled which was hard to do, some just disappeared, some were killed in gang related violent crimes.

I recall a particular young girl who was murdered. She was 17. She was dating someone who was affiliated with a gang. Some people came to kill her boyfriend and it was total coincidence that she was with him, but they didn’t let her live. Moving on to line number 3…

  • At least I’ve never been to jail

At my alternative high school, I saw many young people who had been arrested and gone to jail. I thought to myself, “geez, I could be worse off… at least I’ve never been to jail.” Well, it didn’t take long. Shortly after turning 18 a friend and I were arrested for spray painting our band name all over the city. We had also been drinking. I was given a sentence of 60 days in jail. If that sounds excessive for criminal mischief and minor consumption, it’s because it is. I would have gotten off much easier if I would have kept my mouth shut in court, but I didn’t. “60 days in Allen County jail… have fun.” The judges last words to me. He won that argument.

I got out of jail, early in fact. Less than a year later I was arrested again, this time picked up in a car. I was 19, so any amount of alcohol was too much. I actually thought I was doing a good deed by driving this time. the girl whose car I was driving was absolutely drunk. I had 2 beers. The beer was from an opened case a friend found behind a convenient store. We thought they were free, but they cost me quite a bit actually. Once the drugs were found in the car, and given that I was still on probation from the previous arrest, I was facing a possible 4 years in prison. I had to hire a lawyer. Each gross warm beer I drank cost me over 1100 dollars. Next line….

  • Atleast I can hold down a job.

 But at least I’m responsible enough to hold down a job. And I was! From age 17 to now, I’ve had few gaps in my employment history. How’s that for judging on a curve? I convinced myself that as long as I could make it in to a job on time, everything I did on my time off was okay. I was proud enough that I possessed the ability to wake up to an alarm and show up somewhere with clothes on, that I figured I deserved a little party time on my days off. Well, sure enough, by the time I was 19 I pointed out of a job because I took too many barbiturates and slept for about 18 hours. It wasn’t the days of work I missed due to legitimate illness or good reason that cost me a job. It was just that last one. I heard them say that a dozen times at that job. “It’s the last one that gets ya.”

 I just continued down this path of self-destruction, never learning from my mistakes, or the consequences, I just kept going. My life was going nowhere, I was accomplishing nothing. Once I turned 21, it all just got uglier. I drank more heavily. I didn’t care about life, and now looking back, I can almost see a flight of stairs going downward that I was basically tripping down head over heel with every new decision I made to keep using drugs, and being reckless and self-destructive. *if you’ve made it this far, keep reading! It gets better I promise!*

  • Amazing God

But ya know, our God really is amazing and this story isn’t all ugly truth about my habits of substance abuse. I can remember all the mistakes I made early in my life, but I can also remember just about every step of the way, there was someone God put around me to try and talk some sense into me. I took me years to eventually start listening to them, but still, I was drawn to those people, and I had huge amounts of respect for them.  

As someone who came to know Christ later in life, I have gotten to witness first-hand in myself how faith is spread. I don’t know anyone who has decided to become a Christian just through one conversation with one individual. It typically happens through many encounters with several people. That’s part of what being “the church” is all about. A church is a building, but “THE” church is not a building. It is people that make up the body of Christ who do God’s work. Through those people is how faith is spread. It happens by someone planting a seed. It can happen in a conversation or it can just be something you hear someone say, or even just by observing how someone lives. The people doing it may not even realize it. That’s how God works. I can recall the people who were placed in my life who had a huge impact on me that I never knew until years later. I’ll share them.

  • tim

While working at the pizza store, there was one delivery guy that had tried to tell me about Jesus. He was a little older than me, but not by much. He told me about his lifestyle and what he believed. It was hard for me to imagine someone being in their early 20’s and not drinking or partying or using drugs. He was very kind and sincere, and he just spoke to me exactly how he felt. He didn’t care how anyone looked at him for the things he felt, he wore his heart on his sleeve. He invited me to church with him on a couple of occasions and I would agree. When he would come to my house to get me Sunday morning I’d pretend to be asleep. I felt so ridiculous for doing that, but honestly I was terrified to go to church, I just couldn’t tell him. Shortly after I was baptized, I dug on the interent to look this guy up and thanked him over and over again for being in my life. I’d count him as the beginning of the seed sewing in my life, and I’m so grateful for him.

  • Officer Blake

Of all the people coming and going at my school there was one constant. He was a former police officer who we called officer Blake. He had bad knees and had to quit the force, but he went on to teach at this school because he wanted to continue to serve the community. He tried so hard to get us kids to turn our lives around, he was so patient with us even though most of the kids just tore him down and expressed hate toward him. Kids would just cuss him out and he would just smile at them and continue trying to teach them that they could be more if they would just apply themselves and learn something. Probably 80 percent of the time it was futile, but he saw a need and went to work on it. He just wouldn’t quit. He and I had several one on ones, and today he is someone I truly admire. He was caring but tough. He still had to have kids arrested when they’d get caught with guns or drugs in class, but he never lost his cool. We were just punk kids who weren’t allowed in public school. I could never figure out why anyone would stay at that school and deal with those kids if they didn’t have to, but he did and I admire him greatly for what he did for me. Of course it took years to get through my skull.

 

 

  • The drunken preacher

I remember one night in jail, a guy was thrown into our cell. He was picked up for a public intoxication. Those guys are usually thrown in at night and gone again before you wake up. He told us he was a preacher. I don’t know if you guys know this, but you preacher types aren’t allowed to mess up as far as non-church people are concerned. Especially non-believers who love to criticize the church. They see preachers mess up and BAM! There’s proof that God isn’t real. Well, anyway this guy laid in his cot and just cried and begged for God to forgive him for what he had done. He prayed over and over again and just sobbed. I had never witnessed another person pray out loud before, and it was rather profound to see how upset this guy was because he felt like he had failed God. A lot of the other inmates heckled and threatened this guy, but I just sat in wonder and amazement. I thought, “wow, this guy takes this God stuff serious.”

  • A.A.

After being arrested the second time I was court ordered to attend A.A. meetings for a few months. There again I witnessed God at work without having known it at the time. A.A. is like a mini-version, or a glimpse maybe is a better descriptor, of what it looks like when church works. A.A. works for people. You know why? Because a group of people consistently support each other and hold each other accountable to maintaining principles in their lives that are not easy to maintain alone. It involves temptation—huge and horrible temptation, that can only be avoided with help from others, and most of the regulars where I attended A.A. were also believers. They gave God credit for helping them stay sober and for helping each other stay sober. I took a lot away from A.A. classes but never realized it until later.

God never stopped working on me.  He never quit putting people in my life to soften my heart. Every poor decision I made in my life, there was God in one form or another standing there saying, “are you sure this is what you want?” there’s one story I heard while attending an A.A. meeting one night. It goes like this,

                Picture yourself sitting in front of two doors. Above one there’s a sign that says, “this is the good door.” Above the other, there hangs just a question mark. Out of curiosity you open the door with the question mark. What happens? A guy immediately steps in the way, clubs you in the head with a mallet, and slams the door shut. You sit back down. You know the one door is the “good” door, but you can help but to wonder what is really behind the other door. So you open it again, and again a man steps in your way and clubs you with the mallet and slams the door shut. You sit down and ponder long and hard. You KNOW you should go through the good door, and you almost do, but you decide to give the question mark door one more shot. You open the door… and nothing. Where’s the guy with the mallet? He’s not standing there. You know what you do now? You go in and LOOK FOR THE GUY WITH THE MALLET! That, my friends, is substance abuse.

 

 

  • At least I don’t use cocaine

It gets worse before it gets better. Age 22 was when my life of substance abuse peaked. I remember telling myself once as a teenager “at least I don’t use cocaine.” Cocaine is a very horrible drug. It can make you believe that you can’t do anything without, but all the while you can watch it just destroy you. You can absolutely hate it, watch it wreck your life, destroy relationships, ruin opportunities, and still want it. I believe marijuana is a gateway drug. There is a desensitization that occurs with drugs when someone starts using them. They usually start with marijuana, which is why it’s called the gateway drug. But once a person has used marijuana for a long enough period of time, whatever thoughts they had toward other drugs prior to using marijuana become lessened. This might not happen right away, but eventually it does.  People become more prone to experimenting with different drugs.

I’ve seen people eat a handful of pills and then ask what they were.  I’ve watched people go from smoking a little pot to getting absolutely strung out on hallucinogenics, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, home pressed pills containing who knows what, abusing robitussin, methamphetamines, crystal meth, steroids, heroine, and cocaine.  Once a people start climbing the drug latter, the drugs don’t seem as bad as we were told they were in DARE class anymore. Its’ a painful shameful irony to be arrested as an adult by the same police officer you wrote a letter to in 5th grade about how you plan to never be arrested. Some disagree that marijuana is a gateway drug, some people choose to use marijuana as an adult. You make your choices, but I’ve seen it happen dozens of times.

  • The worst moments

I went on using cocaine for a little while. You know those moments in your life that you really aren’t proud of? When you really wish you could take back something you did? They are our lowest moments. Every low moment I can recall in my life occurred while using cocaine, and often was mixed with a lot of alcohol. This isn’t an observation I make now looking back, I knew these were the worst moments of my life in the heat of the moment.

 While under the influence of cocaine, a person can drink much higher volumes of alcohol before going unconscious. That doesn’t mean that a person can handle the alcohol better, really the only difference is he doesn’t fall down. While in this condition, a person has to use cocaine every half hour or so, or the effects of all the alcohol will begin to take hold. The hope is then, after a long night of doing this, one can pass out eventually before dying or suffering the terrible, terrible effects of the drug wearing off. And for some reason, that process doesn’t sound as awful and unwise as it really is to someone who is self-destructive and just doesn’t care about their own life.

I’ve got what seems like dozens of memories that I’ve wanted to just forget for quite some time now. But since I’ve been living this new life, and since I’ve been learning about Jesus and trying to live like him, I’ve learned that maybe forgetting my past isn’t the thing to do. I hear people say’ “I’ve been blessed more than I could imagine.” I’ve heard people say that all my life whether it be relatives or moms friends, or just a guy at the grocery store, and I never knew what that really even meant. I mean according to what the bible says we are all blessed beyond what we deserve, but some people get really excited about it. Well I figured out what they were so excited about. My entire life changed in the snap of a finger one day, and I want to tell you about it.

  • The turn around

This is where it gets good. Well, not at first, but stay with me. I was 22 years old and I was at work. I got a phone call. I hate getting phone calls while I’m at work, because it usually means there’s an emergency, and emergencies mean emergency personnel, that means there might be cops and I didn’t want to see any cops. There’s the paranoia of someone who abuses drugs right there. The phone rings and we go “ahhh it’s the cops!” it wasn’t the cops. It was some girl I’d been kind of dating. It wasn’t really dating, it was like a month and a half of drinking all night and her staying at my apartment. So she calls me, she has this kind of grave tone as she’s speaking to me. And I knew right away what that meant, but I let her speak the words. She’s pregnant.

She was never really upset and crying and mad at me or any of those things, but she was scared and who wouldn’t be? She had plans. She planned on going to an art school in the fall, and she had a life and she was happy and had a lot of things going for her. I’ll tell you now, I was terrified. I wasn’t terrified about the idea of possibly having a new responsibility, I was fearful, and absolutely hated myself. I thought to myself, I’ve been on like a 2 month long cocaine and whiskey binge lately. I’m shocked that this could even physically be happening right now.

One of the many misconceptions I had about church before I really ever knew what church was like is that I thought people were all the same. I thought there was one way to live by the bible and everyone lived that way, and if you didn’t fit into that mold, then you either had to change or you weren’t supposed to be there. One of the most glorious awesome things that I love about God is that he knows us all, better than we know ourselves. He knows how to reach us, he knows our strengths, he knows our weaknesses. And he uses us all differently.  If he didn’t than the body of Christ would have all feet then wouldn’t it? God reached me in the only way that would work. God knew it would work because He’s God.

  • My fear

In the flash of an instant when this girl told me she was expecting a child, I felt as low as mud. I wasn’t scared about the changes that may take place in my life because of this new life, I wasn’t even thinking about that. All I could think was that I just ruined this girl’s life… and probably this baby’s life. The part that I was most shameful about was this girl didn’t even know what she got herself into. She didn’t know I was using drugs. I learned a few girlfriends previous that substance abuse really isn’t all that attractive, so I quit letting girls know what I did. She was clueless. And as far as I was concerned I just ruined two lives, one hadn’t started yet, and that was different than destroying my own life. I didn’t care about what I was doing to myself, but now I got someone else wrapped up in my mess, and it crushed me. I was fine throwing my own life away, but I couldn’t handle pulling someone else into my mess, and God knew how this would affect me. That’s how He reached me.

In that moment I hated drugs and could never touch them again. I quit them all in that instant. It wasn’t a great accomplishment to me, it wasn’t something I celebrated, I just hung my head low and walked away from them forever. I stuck with that girl for 9 months, which was probably the smartest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Looking back, it’s more like she let me stick around for 9 months. She had that baby, and when Nikki gave birth to our oldest daughter Lilly, and she had all her fingers and toes, and she was crying, and she looked normal and the nurses were just doing their routine thing and people were smiling…. I just remember for the first time in my life, I folded my hands and I looked up and I just whispered the words, “thank you GOD! Thank you God.”

 I didn’t know who I was talking to, but this was a miracle, it was a gift. And today I look at the birth of my first daughter as God saying to me, “Here. Change your life and take care of this.” By His grace, I put the drugs down and began taking care of my family. Nikki and I knew nothing but we knew we could work as a family, we could overcome the obstacles, we could make it work if we were willing to put the effort into it. We did. Later we were married. We did things backwards. That’s pretty much how we roll. Our family grew. Rosie came next, and she was just as big of a blessing as the first.  

  • My realization

Shortly after, Nikki had begun attending Cedar Creek with a friend, and kept asking me to come. I didn’t want to. I think I didn’t want to because I was afraid of what I might find out, and how I might feel. I was feeling convicted before I ever even came here. Of course, I eventually did come. I came with much skepticism, and guards up. Once I relaxed and just started listening to the preaching, I realized that God has been working on me for a long time. I heard preaching about a God that loves us all, and warns us of the outcome of trying to live in the world without him. With each new subject, and each new preaching, I realized that I didn’t need convinced that this is all true. I’ve been living it all my life, I’ve just never given it a name. I describe myself like this; I was a pound puppy, who tried to be my own master which led to nothing more than putting myself into a cage that I built with the choices I made and couldn’t get myself out of. The real master came and adopted me. On June 11th 2011 my wife and I walked to the front of our church and we baptized into Christ. Some would say that I live life now in a metaphoric cage constructed of do’s and don’ts, and thou shalt not’s. Some may say that I deny myself freedom to live as I please. I’d say to them, the cage door is always open. I stay here because it’s better. I see guys all the time that try to be their own god and wonder why their lives are in shambles. They wonder why their marriage fell apart, they have problems staying sober, all of that ugly stuff. I’d say to them, you don’t make a very good god because you aren’t God. People were made to worship. You may call it something else, but all people worship something. You may say you “live for…” That’s worship. It’s usually money, yourself, or both. People who worship something besides God and think their lives are flawless are the worst off. Your life is missing something and you just don’t see it. We were made to worship God. Now I’m the guy at the grocery store saying, “I’m blessed far more than I could ever imagine.” This is a cage? Fine, I’ll take the cage.

  • Thanks to God

I have a dearly devoted wife, and 3 children with one more coming, a roof over my head, and a means to take care of it all by the grace of God. I couldn’t have gotten this right on my own with all the time in the world. If I had none of the possessions I have now, like my house, my car, my job—I’d still have my family, people who love me, my God, and my church. Even if I wanted to stop using drugs, which I didn’t, I never would have gotten where I am now without God and this church, his people. Honestly it’s the great feeling of acceptance that kept me coming back here. I said before, I had the misconception that church people were all cookie cut outs of each other. I learned that that is completely false, and in fact the body of Christ would completely fail if we all were all the same. God knows us, he knows how to use our strengths, and he has plans for us all, which are all different. I’m not a preacher, or a musician or counselor, which use to bum me out. But now I know that I’m meant for something. There’s something that I’m great at that I can do to glorify God, and I’m just trying to figure out what it is and go! That’s what led me to be up here talking to you.

  • The bottom line

There’s a woman that is a great friend of my family, and of all yours too probably. She’s HAS to be the most positive influence on people I’ve ever seen. She truly is a light in this dark world. She sends me book suggestions and videos and lots of resources whenever she thinks I could use them. I don’t know if sometimes I have a look about me that she can read, and knows what I need or how she does it. But she sent me a video of a guy preaching, and if she hadn’t I probably wouldn’t be speaking here today. This guy was preaching at a women’s gathering none the less. At first I was like, “what am I watching? Why did she send me this?” I kept watching and at the end he said, “Whatever you’ve got to give, you got give it away. Even if all you have to give is to tell someone I know how that road ends, its ugly, turn away. If that’s what you have to give, then By God give it.” I’ve got a job in this world, and I’m making sure I don’t miss it.

To be completely real, everybody in this room is someone that I look up to. I’m not talking to kids that I can offer advice to, and keep you away from a terrible path that you’ll later regret going down. Speaking here today is more for me than for anyone else. I’m just trying to follow where I’m being led. I’m trying to figure out where I’m supposed to be, and what I’m supposed to be doing. But if nothing else, if you take away anything from me speaking today, I’d hope that you remember just how awesome God is, and just maybe I can serve as a reminder of what exactly we are saved from on this earth. Miracles are what God does. I want to thank you for your time and the opportunity to speak, and everything else you folks have done for me and my family that you’ll probably never know. thanks, and God Bless you.

Monsters and Men/Wounded Hearts

When I was a young boy, I played on a baseball team. I must have been around 11 or 12. Our coach was a preacher. He had a son my age that was also on the team. His son and I were friends who ran around the neighborhood together. I knew his family a little. His father was very energetic, very charismatic, and had a sense of humor that made him fun to be around. My friend’s mother was a kind hearted lovely lady. I liked them.

                A night came when my friend and I made plans for me to spend the night at his house. We were 12, of course we made plans. I consulted my assistant, he looked over my appointments, we compared them to my friends’ appointments. We each had nothing going on Saturday, so we decided that was the best day for the occasion.

                There was one dynamic to spending the night at a preacher’s house on Saturday that I did not take into consideration. Preachers get up early on Sunday morning to go to work. If I’m there on Sunday morning, I’m probably going with them. I always found it ironic that the one day most people had off of work, was the one day that preachers DID work… I’m kidding people. That’s a non-Christian kid joke. Laugh. 

                At this point in the story, I’ll point out that while my mother had taken me to church several times, kicking and screaming of course, I did not consider myself a Christian. I didn’t really know anything about Jesus, I had never cracked open a Bible by my own free will, church was nothing more than an obstacle between me and watching cartoons.

                I don’t remember anything about that night. I imagine we had fun and played too long, and stayed up too late like kids do. There was an awkward, brief instruction that my friend’s father gave me. He said something along the lines of “during church service, when I say ‘is there anyone that needs to meet the lord today,’ you come up front.” There was more to it, but that was the gist. As a young boy who wanted nothing to do with church, all I heard was “there is going to be a point in this service that will become very, very awkward for you, you will be dreading it the whole time.” As an adult, I look back and can clearly hear him say “this is a perfect opportunity for me to try and improve my reputation. My entire service will see God working in me to save a young boy, but really, we’ll just rig the show before it begins. It will have devastating effects on you for the rest of your life and would constitute child abuse today, but the greater need for me to impress my church service out-weighs all consequences.”

                I probably don’t have to tell you that this church service didn’t go well. It was a small church. I don’t remember there being more than twenty to thirty people there, probably. It was in a small building. While there, this preacher and I did pray for my grandma because her health was fading. Shortly after this her health improved for a while. My friend and I sat with his mother. We mostly whispered back and forth, and played around, and did whatever we could to kill time. I don’t remember anything else about the service. I remember the preacher’s voice getting louder. He could plainly see that his son and I weren’t paying any attention. I was missing my cue. I had no idea what was going on. I remember not a single word of what the preacher said, but I remember his voice getting louder and louder. Eventually he began yelling, and his face turned red. At one point his wife tried to help me out. She signaled that I was supposed to be going up to the front. At this point, I was afraid to go. The preacher was yelling. He was very intimidating. People were looking all around as if something was supposed to happen. Something WAS supposed to happen. I, a young boy, was supposed to be playing my role in this show, and going up before the entire service, and repent of my sins, admit that Jesus is my savior—even though I had no idea what any of that meant at the time. I was frozen. I sat firmly in my seat and looked at the floor. I was scared. Eventually the preacher moved on. It was over. I missed my cue, but I felt relief.

                We use this practice at Cedar Creek, where my family and I currently attend. At the end of the service, the preacher offers the opportunity for anyone who feels compelled to offer themselves to the lord, or just talk to the preacher or whatever else they intend to do. Typically, this is when people who want to be saved, walk up and confess that they believe in Jesus, and go to be baptized. You do not use this as an avenue to win the favor of your church members, to improve your reputation, to impress people, through basically abusing a child. That’s what I believe he was doing. Perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps he was really interested in saving a young boy’s soul and trying to give him a better future, and help direct him down the right path. I doubt it. That doesn’t happen through extreme pressure, behind the backs of a child’s parents, and it typically doesn’t happen in a day. As a preacher, he knew all that. No, I believe he saw me as a freebie, a sure thing, instant ego boost, a desperate attempt at expanding his church. It failed. He was angry.

                Want to know how to give a kid social anxiety, mess his head up a little bit, and contribute to making him socially dysfunctional and broken? Make a lot of friends in your community, become well liked, put yourself in a position where kids are meant to look up to you and see you as a role model, and then tell a young boy that he is going to hell. That’ll do it.

                Baseball wasn’t the same anymore. My friend and I didn’t play much anymore. I don’t think he was allowed to associate with me after that. We didn’t compare schedules ever again. I was the pitcher on our team. The last time I remember ever hearing my coach talk to me was during a game. I was pitching. I wasn’t doing that great. I threw a few wild balls, and I missed a catch which led to a kid running home and scoring a point. My coach came out to the mound. Parents, you know that funny voice you speak in when you are trying to quietly scream at someone? You know… where you clinch your jaw shut and whisper-scream through your teeth? In that voice, with that scrunched up face, he kept repeating “I’m doing this for YOU! I’m doing you a favor!” and moved me to third base. I bawled my eyes out in front of everyone. In my mind, he was a monster after that. That was my last year in baseball. Shortly after that he and his family moved away.

 

                Now if you are someone who is not a Christian, don’t take this story and use it to say “see? Christians are all hypocrites. They’re bad people!” No, Christian people are still people. The bible says several times in different places, the nature of man is to be wicked and evil, the heart is deceitful. Yes, it applies to us Christians as well. We know it, but thanks for the reminder. We don’t instantly become perfect after rising up out of the water of baptism. Maybe this man felt bad after all this. Maybe he was sorry. Maybe he prayed for forgiveness. I don’t know. I hope he eventually realized that it was wrong.

I know I wasn’t the only kid to be mistreated by an adult. Maybe some of you had a similar experience or even worse, but handled it better. I don’t know why this had such a profound effect on me. Maybe it’s partially because he was someone I trusted and looked up to. If he were just some guy I didn’t know I may have just thrown toilet paper all over his yard and called it a day. Whatever the case, it has never been very far from my mind.  If you’ve ever read any of my blogs before, I have referenced this experience several times. I never really thought I’d write about it, but recent events made it inevitable. I wish I could wrap this up with a warm encouraging message right here, but it only gets worse.

The day my wife and I were baptized, I excitedly rattled this story off to my preacher. I was so happy. You see, it is absolutely amazing that even given this experience to struggle with I was able to come to know Jesus. For well over a decade, the typical preacher to me was represented by this guy from my childhood. Preachers were wicked people as far as I was concerned. I simply did not believe that they actually cared about other people. I felt that there had to be something under the surface that normal people didn’t see, something to gain from what they were doing. They didn’t do it out of love. I just didn’t buy that.

 It is with every fiber of my being, that I believe Jesus wants me to know him. It is with every fiber of my being that I believe Jesus can reach a heart, even behind a rough, hateful, distrusting exterior. I sincerely believe that He placed me before the preacher that God had every intention of using to reach me. God knew I would trust this guy. God made him trustworthy. I learned that this guy was honest, and sincere. He never tried to “sell” God to me. He’s my friend. God new it would take a miracle to get me to trust a preacher, and what does God deal in? Oh right, miracles. If I would have gone to any other church, and listened to any other preacher talk about God, I don’t think I’d be a Christian today. It was such a fragile, sensitive, and delicate time for me. It had to be God’s way.

My preacher doesn’t need me to butter his biscuit, and that’s not what I’m trying to do. Although, in the process I learned that there are people on God’s team that are really doing God’s work out of love, as it is meant to be done. My point though, is that God can take what people do out of evil, and use it for good. God does. Not people. My preacher had no idea what he was dealing with when I came to his service, he just did his thing. God knew. God performs miracles people.

There’s more story.  Remember I said it gets worse? So here I am. I’m a Christian now. I’m supposed to love people right? I felt compelled to reach out to my old childhood friend, maybe even see what his dad was doing these days. I didn’t know what I expected to accomplish, but I’d dip my feet in the water. This is the most haunting, troubling experience of my life so far, and I’m taking a huge step here. So what do you do when you want to find someone you haven’t spoken to in fifteen years? That’s right, Facebook. I looked for my old friend on Facebook. I couldn’t find him. I poked around a bit more and stumbled across my old coach’s Facebook account. After digging around a little bit, I learned something disturbing. Well first, I didn’t see much that indicated that he was a preacher anymore. Secondly, I couldn’t find my old friend because he died. Several years ago, while I was absolutely hating this guy for treating me like he did when I was a kid, his oldest son was dying. I felt as if someone with a giant foot kicked me in the chest.

A little bit about myself, this is my blog and I can talk about myself all I want. I have a mind that never stops running away. It’s like having my foot on the gas, all of the time.  It’s never calm. Maybe it’s an attention issue.  I don’t know. Is it A.D.D.? Do I have a condition? I know, I need medication! (kidding again) My mind is like a helium balloon. If I’m not holding on to the string, that is focusing on something, it floats away. I’m typically quiet, not always, but usually not very assertive.  I’m great at being open and social with a very small group of people, like two. Any more than that, and I go totally internal. However, my mind is always going a million miles an hour. I internalize everything. Behind my eyes there is a machine, pistons constantly moving, gears constantly turning, blasting, hydraulics pumping, noise booming, friction, steam, hot oil squirting, parts slamming, heat rising, no off switch, no buttons, just perpetual, loud, motion. Okay, maybe it’s a bit more like a little wheel, spinning and squeaking without a hamster. It’s the same idea. I think this is one of the reasons I can’t sit and watch a television show. Maybe it’s part of the reason I like to write so much. Focusing for me is like turning your ceiling fan on hi and staring at one blade while the whole thing turns.

                Learning about my friend’s death was upsetting. I didn’t handle it well. I had regrets. I was absolutely torn about how to feel. I thought about it constantly. For days, I thought about my friend, and how his father felt. His father… That’s what I got hung up on. You see, I made this guy a monster in my own mind. I spent years, seriously, years, angry. I hated how he used me, how angry he became when things didn’t go as planned. For years, I have hated how much this one experience has affected me, how I’ve carried it with me all this time. I have put so much effort, and time, and energy, into being so angry, and in an instant, a decade and a half of hate turned into remorse. Now I’m mad about being mad. My childhood monster became a man again. He became a sad suffering man who I instantly felt sorry for. The vision in my mind of a cruel beast screaming and snarling at a frightened little boy in a baseball uniform was replaced by a man. A man surrounded by loved ones in black dress attire, crying in front of a casket.

                If you spend so much time thinking about something, and with a mind like mine, it is quite easy to find a way to blame yourself for something. Lord knows I have. Where once there was a mountain of anger, there is now a crater being filled with remorse, regret, wonder, and doubt. As well as shame for having been so angry all these years in the first place. Looking back on the experience as a kid I now wonder, why didn’t I just stand up? I’ve been so self-righteous all these years, what if I was wrong? If I would have stood up, would my friend still be alive? Would his dad still be a preacher? Was he punished for something? Did I have something to do with it? Why is this affecting me all over again? Sometimes I can’t help but to just wish I never went there that morning. I couldn’t get it out of my head that I could have done something fifteen years ago to prevent all this. All I had to do was stand up. I know that makes no sense to you. It haunted me for years and it’s haunting me again.

                Learning all this a few months ago made me go internal. I just went inside for a couple months. All through the Thanksgiving season, through Christmas, it took a little while to be able to come back out again. But I did a lot of thinking. My friend died almost eleven years ago now. I didn’t lose a close family member in this situation, but I have friends who are dealing with loss now. Some friends are dealing with other hardships. The absolute truth is that we all struggle with something. Anyone who thinks they have it all together is lying to themselves. You’ve got something you are fighting with inside. All of us, at church, at work, where ever you go, we all shake hands, and smile, and say “I’m great!” I wonder how often that’s done out of habit. I hope you have a close friend you can go to, or someone willing to listen. I wish I wasn’t too stubborn to talk to a friend. I wish I knew how to start. I guess this is me talking to a friend now. Believe me it’s a sense of relief. Therapeutic even. But even if you have no one, or think you have no one, you can always go to God. I know some believers feel like they’ve heard that a thousand times. It can feel like the default response to a problem. I know not everyone believes it’s the truth, but try it. Really try it. You can pray, you can read the bible, you can go to people who are long time bible believing, Jesus loving followers. He’s there. Sometimes, all you can do is focus on the blessings you have. Just know that you are loved. It’s okay to suffer, we are meant to suffer, but do it in the loving arms of God and his people.  

The honest truth is that it still saddens me to think about my old friend. In the big picture, I know it’s not my fault that he lost his life. God works in mysterious ways that we are not capable of always understanding. I’m sad for my friend, and I’m sad that this man that I made a monster in my mind lost his oldest son. I’m shameful that I never took the time in the past decade to look my friend up. I just sat here hating some poor guy that I should have been loving. Maybe someday I’ll learn how to just love people. Hopefully we all will. Thanks for reading. Forever onward. 

                A friend offered me these words. They helped and encouraged me to write again.   You write like you are everyone’s best friend – so easy to relate to and laugh with. My own daughter, at the ripe age of barely 20,said I, too, overfocus on my past history. It is helping to, every time I get troubled (sometimes five times in ten minutes, it seems), to not say I love you, God, but to focus on God loving me, the way I am, the circumstances be damned! You, too, are a valuable child of God, Dustin, and you are precious with whatever baggage you may have on your mind.

Calming Stormy Seas

There are times when my heart feels bitter. I feel uneasy and dissatisfied with the world around me. I become frustrated, and begin to blame the conditions of our world on people, like the president. I blame people for all the sick, all the poor, and hurting. I think of the way I want things to be. I ball my fists up. I start asking myself questions that I don’t know how to answer. Why can’t the economy turn around? Why do people insist on giving Christians a bad reputation by doing something terrible and then slapping a “it’s God’s will” stamp on it? I try to write about it. I write 4 pages of thoughts and rants and feelings, but then I read them and realize I’m only complaining. I write a page, I tear it out, write a page, tear it out. I don’t know how to communicate how I feel. I wonder, why do people have to make it difficult for me to talk to other people about Jesus? Why do non-believers have such misconstrued, preconceived opinions about me, and who Jesus is, and what the bible says? I don’t understand how people doubt God. My fists tighten. I think about the things I own. Why do I have to be so fortunate, and other people so unfortunate? The most joyful, and grateful people I ever met in my life were two little girls who owned practically nothing, and had no family! Why do I have all this stuff? I never needed it before. I become angry. Why do other people seem to be so good at some things that I wish I could do? I begin to shout. Why did I have to wait until I was 27 to go to church and become a Christian? Maybe I could have gone to school earlier to do something great. Maybe I could have been in ministry, or have been a preacher, or studied theology. If only I would have acted sooner! I keep telling myself that the body of Christ doesn’t need 17 feet, but its not comforting. I just wish I knew what I was supposed to be doing. How can I fulfill my purpose if I don’t know what it is? My face wrinkles into a grimace. How long do I have to work at this job? When will I get to see some results for my efforts? How long will this take? I want to begin a bible study group, but I don’t know how, or if anyone would join me, or if I’d make a good leader. I don’t pray enough. I don’t read the bible as often as I should. My fists tighten more, and veins bulge in my forearms. Where has all my time gone? Where am I going?!

I’m standing in my bathroom shouting at my reflection. I begin to pray…
I don’t know what I’m praying for, I just want to clear my thoughts.
I think of Jesus. I think of heart break. I think of God’s sovereignty, God’s plan. I realize that even in this moment, I’m not at peace with all that God has given me. I am so blessed but still so angry. I think of the cross and feel ashamed. I speak quietly to myself. “He has given me so much that I am so undeserving of, and all I do is ask for more. I’m not suppose to have this “gimme more, I want it now” mentality, like so many in our society. I hear my daughters giggling down the hallway and my heart goes to mush. My little gifts. My family. My fists loosen and I turn them over to reveal my palms. I raise them near my face and begin to inspect them. The calluses and cracks, and scrapes and cuts. My wedding band. Empty hands. I sit down and begin to write. Words are spewing from my pen as if God put my vocal chords in my wrist. God, you are supreme and your plan is perfect. He has work for me to do, and as long as I am where He put me, then I am right where I need to be! I need not fear persecution or revilement, but expect it. I must be patient, because my timing is not God’s timing. I must have faith that what I am not able to do in my own strength, the Lord will do through me. I must be loving and patient with others, even the lost, especially the lost! I was lost once too, and in 27 years God never stopped trying to reach me! I must maintain my responsibilities to family. They need me to provide for them and lead them, just as I need to trust in the Lord that He is taking me where I need to go. While I’m not entirely proud of where I have been, I have since made a new choice. I chose the narrow road. I chose persecution. I chose love. I chose Jesus. This is all I have. Empty hands. Take them Lord. I pray that you use them to do great things in your name. My breathing calms, and I close my eyes with my hands again stretched out before me. Praise. The only thing I have left to offer my sovereign Lord is unending, praise. Heavenly father, thank you for taking this broken sinful life and making it new so that I can work for you. I know that your plan for me is great, and will bring you glory, and I will give my heart to follow you, and I give my hands to do your work. They were yours already. Thank you Jesus. Amen. Thank you Jesus.

How About Some Encouragement?

 

Here’s a general update on what my family and I have been up to. My wife and I have recently sold our house. It’s a big deal because we have been trying to sell it for over three years now. It’s a great home, but we outgrew it rather quickly, and we really need more space. We found a new house that we really like, and we put a couple offers on it. Finally, an offer was accepted and we are moving in. The period between moving out of the old house and moving into the new house was expected to be about 3 weeks. To save money we moved in with my parents who have an extra room, basically a three season room, where we sleep. We were fine spending three weeks sleeping at my parents. The issue is that it has now been close to two months and we still have no definite closing date on the new house.  It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is very frustrating because we make a date for it, we get close to the date, and we get news that the lending company needs about two more weeks to process our paperwork. Repeat, repeat, repeat. It’s not a traumatic experience but it is quite frustrating. Now here’s how this story fits into my writing…

Have you ever been struggling with something going on in your life that was really difficult for you? Have you ever been in that position and had someone else tell you of something they were struggling with that made your issue seem a lot less severe? Doesn’t it almost make you feel silly? It can be a very humbling experience if you allow it to be. How were they handling it? Did they seem like they were totally falling apart, or could you hardly even tell there was something bothering them at all? It amazes me to see people dealing with issues that I feel would totally wear me down, and yet they are just rolling on with their lives, still offering help to others and dealing with it as if it were planned.

There are some folks who I would never believe even had to deal with a hardship in their whole life! Maybe they did, but they handled it flawlessly. I bet they never get mad, never get upset, nothing hurts their feelings, and they just smile all the time and life is great! Man, when am I going to reach that point? I go to church, I pray, I love Jesus, when is my life going to be that perfect?

Some of these people are folks that I really look up to. They are true role models for me. I don’t envy what they have, but I really hope that I can do well enough to someday be where they are now. There are people my own age, even people younger than me that I look up to in this way. Remember, I got a late start on trying to lead a productive life.

There has been a theme, a particular subject that I feel has been pounded into my brain in recent weeks. Encouragement.  I see it in tweets, it comes up in conversations, and it has been the basic subject of some recent sermons. I really started paying attention to people around me, folks I deal with on a daily basis, and I found that I actually hear more discouraging words in a day than words of encouragement. Not just directed towards me, but just in general, in other conversations around me.  It usually takes the form of sarcasm or some kind of joke or whatever else. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with being goofy with your friends, but I see it become a way to avoid being personal.  I don’t know why it is, but it seems like it’s easier for people to play around and joke about things than it is for people to be real with each other.  Being real, and honest, and actually saying what you truly feel, makes you a bit of an odd ball. I don’t understand that. I don’t care I’m a bit of an odd ball anyway.

So I got tired of all the negativity around me. Especially when people say “Just deal with it, that’s the way the world is now.” That’s gotta be my favorite new line to hear. “Just accept it. Don’t try to change anything, roll with it, that’s how it is. Porn is on the internet and violence is on TV. Your kids are gonna see it anyway, deal with it.” I don’t think so.  So here is what I did. I decided that I was going to make absolute certain, no matter what, that I offered at least one bit of the most honest, genuine, kind, piece of encouragement to someone, ANYONE, at least once a day. Ideally to the person who seems to need it the most. I didn’t care how many goofy looks it earned me, and it would earn me plenty because people don’t see that coming! There’s a guy I work with (two now that I think of it) that, no matter what kind of mood I’m in, I could be totally upset, fed up, irritated in every way, if they come up and talk to me, I just can’t help but smile. That’s how I want to be to other people.  I want to be THAT guy. I want to be THAT encouraging! I got a few days into it, and then I realized how terrible my social skills really are.

 

Do you ever have a conversation with someone, and shortly after it’s over wonder why you said what you said to them? Do you over analyze the conversation to the point that you are sure they took what you said the wrong way, and now you want to have another conversation to fix all the mistakes you made in the previous one? But you can’t because you know that you will make new mistakes in that one too, and it will go on forever until they are certain that you are a whacko? That’s me! Everyday. I often tell people that writing comes easier to me than speaking. I think sometimes they take that the wrong way. I don’t think I’m that good of a writer, I just know that I’m that horrible at talking to people. It’s not that I don’t like to, because I do. I just know I’m not good at it! So the “one encouraging act a day” ministry didn’t take off like I wanted it to. How can I be that guy? How can I be that encouraging?

After that, I thought about all my role models, all these people with perfect lives, and what it was about them that I found encouraging. What is it about them that I admire? I began to discover things. I received prayer requests for people that I didn’t realize needed my prayers. I found out that these people are regular people, with regular problems just like I have.  Some of the people that seem to have their lives all together, that I admire so greatly, deal with problems that would crumple my spine up like an old accordion. They deal with them regularly. That’s pretty encouraging.

How do I get to the point in my life where I can deal with problems like my role models can? I’ve known the answer to that question since the first time I heard someone say “faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains!” I’ve read it a thousand times!  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me! Joshua 1:9 is highlighted in my bible, “have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

It’s in your life! It’s how you live! Want to see encouragement? Look at someone fighting cancer that can wake up and smile because they aren’t afraid of death. I can read a million inspirational haikus on some sappy website, but those words will never give me the courage that I receive when I see people with solid faith follow Christ through the greatest knee crippling struggle they will ever encounter, and thank Jesus for their blessings, knowing that God will never make them go at it alone. I am encouraged by how these people live. Words mean nothing without actions. And I’m mad about living on a porch? I thank GOD for this porch!

How will people ever believe what you say if it isn’t present in your life? My role models push aside their own problems, no matter how large, to tend to the needs of others. They don’t have it all together, they are far from it, but they have faith that they are following the plan put together for them by their creator.

 Think about this one. He was nailed to a cross, and his body was torn to shreds, he was tortured, and he died. Why? For you. Because he cared about you enough to do that. People with faith in Jesus know that they don’t have to do it by themselves. They know that their struggles are a part of Gods plan, even if sometimes that is hard to believe, and even though they may at times seem unbearable.  That confidence and strength is what encourages me.

If you have ever been encouraged in this way, please consider passing it on. There will always be people trying to keep you from doing it. Some people are happier seeing you miserable like them, than seeing you lifted and trying to lift others. It may even be hurtful when you see who some of those people are. They may be close to you. I ask you not to let them pull you down. Not just for yourself, but for anyone else who may be watching you, and may need to see strength and faith in the face of hardship. Believe me, there are people looking to you hoping to see something great, and you have no idea that they are there.

There are people that will never know that their faith, and strength, and courage absolutely saved my life. I don’t think I can ever thank them. I don’t think there are words for it. The most silver tongued, smooth words I could ever muster would be like all the wise men bringing Jesus socks on his birthday. I’m not giving Jesus socks, I’m giving Jesus my life.  All there is to do is pass it on, and be that person to someone else, like they were to me.  I want to be that guy. I want to be that encouraging.

Coming to Christ: Early Arrival or Fashionably Late?

Hi, my name is Dustin, and I am a Christian. (this is where you all say “welcome Dustin”) I said that as if I were attending a twelve step help group just for the affect. Really, I am a Christian, I believe Jesus Christ died for our sins on the cross, just like the bible says. I believe He is my lord, savior, redeemer, and friend, and that I am absolutely undeserving of that (even if sometimes I don’t act like it). I love my church family. I never knew such a wonderful, totally diverse group of people existed, or that they would let me in their door. I gave this blog the heading, ‘Early Arrival or Fashionably Late’ in reference to the time in a Christian’s life when they became Christian. Some were born into the church. Basically, their parents went to church before they were born, and they have been going ever since. They had an early arrival. Another group came to Christ later in life. They were fashionably late. That’s me. I might even just say I was late as I am often reminded of my lack in a fashion sense.

My church has many from each group. We share a passion for trying to follow the bible and do what Christ commands, and we all struggle with it. We are all sinners. We are all in the same group now regardless of how we got there. Our church family is great. Our church leaders are great, and as a relatively new guy to the church, it is very welcoming and inviting to new people. My wife and I are friends with a particular couple who we get along very well with. We love getting together as often as we can, and we always have great talks. Our kids play together and it is always a great time. This couple has been involved with church all their lives. One occasion, we got together, and my friend and I were talking about our backgrounds and how we ended up at our church. We had completely different stories to tell. It was a very enlightening and enjoyable conversation. It was the conversation that inspired me to write this post.

I wasn’t baptized until I was 27. I’m 29. I’ve got a past that I’m not proud of. I had to make a lot of changes in my life when I finally decided how I wanted to live, and who I had to be thankful to for it. I have a lot of friends that don’t understand that. I had to walk away from some relationships because some people simply wouldn’t accept it. Some of the friends I have kept like to remind me of how I use to be. It isn’t easy to go from that lifestyle to being a Christian. As Christians we all get a lot of criticism and other static from people who think we are wasting our time, but as someone who converted, I get it straight from those I love and have known for years. However difficult it is, it’s a sacrifice I make willingly.

I have only ever really gone to my present church. I went to a few others as a child when my mom tried to get me to go, but I didn’t learn anything there (it wasn’t for a lack of trying on my mother’s part). So basically, I don’t know anything about differences in doctrine, traditions, or denominations other than what I have learned in past year or so, and it is all second hand. I never experienced any of it. My more experienced friend pointed out differences in church practice that I never would have picked up on. In short, there is a bit of guilt I feel there, because of how wild I was once.

When I first started going to Cedar Creek it was mostly because I knew my wife wanted me to. She had been going for a while, so I gave it a shot. I didn’t want to at first. Folks in church always tell new comers to “come as you are” and they really try to make you feel as if your past doesn’t matter, and in my experience it is genuine of them, but it did little to change how I felt. I couldn’t help but to feel like I was just dirtier than everyone else. If these people knew anything I’ve done they wouldn’t let me in, they’d cringe at me. It was a low feeling.

It seems the early arrivers got all this out of the way a long time ago. They went through the awkwardness of being new probably as a child. It all seems to come naturally to them now. For those of us who spent time being without Christ, out in “that world,” this can all be hard to get a handle on. I’d like to describe my experiences when I first started going to church, and how I got to be where I am now.

I remember walking down hallways, dodging glances from people because I just didn’t know how to speak to them. I know lots of cuss words. We aren’t supposed to use them here are we? As long as I’m smiling I don’t really have to say anything right? Smile, nod, praise God. Why is this guy so jolly and happy? Do I have to act like that? Okay, everyone else is shaking hands. I gotta find someone to shake hands with. I had terrible social skills before I was in a foreign environment feeling like an outsider, paranoid everyone was looking at me. All I wanted to do was get out of there.

Once we got into the great room (great room is not the real word for it. I can’t remember what it’s really called because my memory is that terrible, so it’s the great room for all intended purposes) and sat down the focus was off me. Then I could relax a bit. I didn’t mind singing. I will say though, they didn’t teach us how to sing and clap at the same time where I went to school, so I can’t do both.

I had a friend whose dad was a preacher when I was very young and he gave me the willies like you wouldn’t believe. So, I had a hard time trusting preachers from about 7 years old and on. This guy coming on stage now was starting off in the hole as far as I was concerned. But you know, I trusted him, almost right away. I know now that this was God’s working, because that was the make or break point for me. If I had a moment of doubt that this guy was not genuine I probably wouldn’t have come back.  I was able to let my guard down, just a bit, and I found myself really paying attention to what he was saying. I may have been skeptical still, but my mind was open. I felt comfortable, and we kept going back. Months went by.

On June 12th of 2011 (I had that date stamped into my bracelet so that I wouldn’t forget) I was sitting in the chair listening to our preacher. I was sweating and almost shaking I couldn’t look up from the floor. I didn’t see Jesus’ face in the tile, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if I did. I wasn’t even listening to the preacher anymore I just felt conviction. I felt the sting of every sin I ever committed, and I felt like they were all sitting on my back. Now that I look back, maybe that’s why I was so hunched over and couldn’t look up. At the end or the sermon, they started singing and the preacher walked down onto the floor. I looked at my wife and said “stand me up. My legs won’t work.” So she did, and we walked up front. That preacher baptized us that day.

All that awkwardness I felt went away shortly after that. I know some people may be thinking “well sure it went away, you are a member of their group now,” but that’s really not it. I saw how much they really cared about me. People where crying when my wife and I got baptized (well besides us. We were blubbering babies) people that I didn’t even know. They welcomed us and it was amazing. The best part is you get to be yourself. You aren’t a drone that dresses acts and talks like everyone else. They take all sorts. Actually, it’s strange now to think back on how I was afraid of rejection for being strange.  I’ve made many friends there since then, and I could go on forever about how awesome those folks are but I won’t.

Being an early arriver is great. But you know, I’m satisfied with how my story has unfolded so far. I spent a lot of time in the dark, now I know the true value of a flashlight. I think there is a great responsibility that the fashionable late group has been given. We know how bad we need Jesus. We know what life is like with and without Him. We HAVE to be the light of the world because we know the dark firsthand.  And thank God that the amount of sin we carried before doesn’t matter after we are saved.  We are dirty sheets, and he is bleach, the best bleach you could ever get. Better than oxy clean. It doesn’t matter how dirty the sheet is, it is perfectly white again after being bleached. Isaiah 44:22 says about Israel, “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist.” That’s a lot of bleach.

No matter your past or how you came to be a Christian, we are all in the same boat now, and we all need forgiveness, and if you are in Christ you have it and you can take that to the bank (that’s a run on sentence but I’m not changing it). That’s a good check right there. They don’t even need your driver’s license.

I’m thankful for all my “early arrival” friends, and I hope they are thankful for me too. As late bloomers, we can learn a lot from our dark days. More importantly, we can share it. I know not everyone will listen. If any of my old friends read this they will think I’m a raving lunatic. I’m sure they’d have plenty of criticism for me. They’d be laughing at me. I’m alright with that. If I can cast a light into someone else’s darkness because of the darkness I endured, than I thank God for it. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Joshua 24:15