Part of what we've done during our summer meetings is share testimonies. Each time we've met, someone has shared a piece of their life story and what God has done in their lives. For some reason, I volunteered to share at our next get together. Which was last night. What follows is not what I shared verbatim, but it's as close as I could get it.
I had two weeks to prepare. I knew it was coming and I knew I would be expected to talk to a room full of people about some intimate detail of my life and how my relationship with Christ has affected me. And I wasn't sure where to begin.
A lot of times, when people in the church mention that someone is sharing their testimony, they picture someone who is sharing about how dark their lives were before they came to know Christ. I don't have a dark story. I became a follower of Christ at the age of 7.
We were the kind of family that was always at church. There was Sunday school and the morning worship service every week. We were one of a handful of families that regularly attended the less popular Sunday evening service. Wednesday evenings meant family dinners at church followed by choir practice for us kids while the parents went to a prayer meeting or a monthly business meeting. Thursday night, we were right back in those doors so the parents could attend the grown-up choir rehearsal. And then there were lots of random special events that we were expected to attend.
So I was raised surrounded by the trappings of the Baptist church. It was kind of a no-brainer that I would come to know Christ. I say that, but I'm sure there are lots of kids who grew up in church who never know Jesus at all. Personally, I think it's sad to say that, but I'm sure it's a real fact.
The thing is, I don't remember a whole lot about my childhood. I remember the big moments. I remember walking down the aisle at church and shaking hands with a bigger guy and then being baptized a few months later. In preparation for sharing my story, I called my mom. I was hoping she could fill in the gaps.
"Hey, mom... Was I heavy into drugs or gang activity when I was a kid?" I asked, fishing for some kind of dramatic past that would inspire anyone listening to my life story.
"No, you were a very good kid. You were respectful. You were very protective of your sister. You hardly ever did anything that could be considered wrong because you were very conscious of not wanting to disappoint your dad or me."
When she stopped singing my praises, I had to take a breath. That's not very interesting at all, right? I was a good kid who stayed good all the time? So then I asked, "Would you say that Jesus had something to do with that?"
"I think that the fact that you were raised the way you were, raised in the church and learning about Jesus, I'm sure that had a lot to do with the kind of kid you were."
But a testimony doesn't necessarily have to be about the events that led to accepting Christ. Although, it's an exciting story, no matter how boring it may be labeled. The fact of the matter is, it didn't matter how good I was or how much I hated disappointing my parents, I was going to hell until that night I walked that aisle at the age of seven.
The story I want to share, though, doesn't take place in my childhood. It takes place now. And last year. And a few years before that. It's kind of backwards.
I am incredibly blessed. And that's something I've had a hard time seeing until recently. And part of that is because, in this season of my life, it's very evident how blessed I am. That, or I'm just looking at my life through a different set of eyes than the ones I've used for much of my adulthood. I'm involved in a church that I love. I have a job that I thoroughly enjoy, something I've never been able to say before. I have friends that not only provide support when times get hard, but encourage and challenge me to do better in so many aspects of life.
But what led to these blessings? So many things. Let's start with my new church home. I made a conscious decision to get back into church after a very long absence. January 13 was my first visit to Northstar Church and I've only missed one Sunday since then. I'm not saying that near perfect attendance is that path to joy, I think it just means I've enjoyed being there enough to keep me coming back for more week after week. If I hadn't decided to randomly pull into the parking lot that cold January morning, I'd have never gotten involved in the small group that I've been a part of and never would have met the friends that have welcomed me into their circles over the last few months.
But it goes back farther than that. During the summer of last year, I got the idea in my head to try church. So I decided to check out a place that a friend had told me about. The problem was, I couldn't find it. I drove around one Sunday morning last August and got a little lost. In the process, I passed by Blacksburg
But why was I even looking for a church last summer? It's because I was living in a new place. I didn't know anyone and was surrounded by people that I didn't really care to get to know. It's not that they were bad people or anything, I just knew I wouldn't have much in common with them. I was living, basically, in off-campus dorms in Radford. So I wanted to surround myself with people I could grow to trust that would influence me for the better. Church seemed like the kind of place I could find that. It had been a long time since I'd regularly attended church anywhere, so I thought I'd give this new place a chance.
But why was I living in a new place? That comes back to the job that I currently love so much. I was working as a counselor at a small elementary school in the middle of nowhere. At the time I was hired, I was living in Roanoke and commuting. It was a long commute. Very long. So logic dictated that I find a place closer to the middle of nowhere, just to save money on gas. So I moved to Radford.
But why was I in a new job? At the age of 31, wouldn't I be into a decent career by that point? Well, that's what I thought, too. I had been working what I believed would be my dream job prior to becoming a counselor. The fact that the dream was shattered only a couple months after accepting the dream job caused me to look elsewhere for employment, leading to the counseling position, which turned out to be the best job I've ever had.
But I took that dream job to get out of another job that I despised. I had worked for a bank for four years. I hated it. I tried for so long to get out of that job, I would have left for just about anything, dream job or not. I thought that a promotion that brought me back to Virginia from North Carolina would help. It didn't.
But why was I ever in North Carolina? I initially moved to Wake Forest, North Carolina to attend seminary. I was a student there for three semesters and came to understand that it just wasn't the place for me. I ended up living in North Carolina for a couple more years after dropping out of seminary and worked for the bank as a way to make ends meet.
But why would I go to seminary if I knew it wasn't the place for me? Well, I didn't know that, at first. I thought I was following a call on my life. Turns out I made the decision to leave Roanoke and go to seminary based on emotion and grief.
But what would cause me, a basically emotionless automaton, to make such an extreme move? My dad passed away. I'd been living with him for the last couple years of his life. I was trying to help him in any way I could since his health was steadily declining. When he died, he wasn't just my dad, but he was my best friend as well. I lost a lot when I lost him. So I ran away from home.
I'd go back farther than that, but then I'd be telling his story, not mine. The point of all this rambling and traveling back in time? It's to show that things always happen for a reason. We may not see the reason at the time, but God wants to bless us through every circumstance in our lives. We just have to let Him.
When I was in college, our campus minister, Dr. Lyle, once led a devotion about our circumstances. He said that a lot of people go around answering the question, "How are you?" with "I'm okay, under the circumstances." He argued that, as Christians, our circumstances should not dictate our joy. For a long time, I didn't get that. Sure, I understood what he was saying, but I didn't let it sink in.
For a long time, I allowed my circumstances to dictate my joy. If we look at our lives through our circumstances, it can be really depressing. Even in the wealthiest nation in the world, we can always find something to complain about. We can always find misery. We don't even have to try that hard. But for followers of Christ, it should be even easier to find the joy in our lives. We should look for the ways that God is working in us and through us.
There's a part of me that wishes I could go back and have a talk with myself in October of 2006. He's depressed and grieving the loss of his father. I'd like to tell him to just hang on. It's gonna be rough for a few years, but it's totally gonna be worth it.