I was baptized as an infant and grew up attending a church in Delaware with my parents and older brothers. For my family, there was little talk of church or religion beyond Sunday morning. I felt like I was checking a box on my “to do list.” I was doing the right thing, by giving God a little of my time and attention.
When we got to high school age, our parents allowed each of us to choose if we wanted to go to church. I was the only one that chose to continue to attend. It wasn’t that I was more spiritually mature, I was more motivated by the social side. I was very active in the youth group and enjoyed time with friends (including a few attractive girls). I later went to college, where I had more free time. I made many poor choices, including prioritizing partying above God. I rarely found time to attend a church service, much less to read the Bible. Although I did spend a little time praying.
Less than a year after college, I moved to Anne Arundel County, less than a year after that, I got married. My wife and I shopped for a church and found a local one to attend. A few years later, (with one child) we moved to Howard County and started church shopping again. We settled on another church, where we attended for about 10 years. Throughout all the different teachings I had heard over nearly four decades of my life, I never heard about having a (two-way) relationship with Jesus. The messages I heard consisted of interesting Bible stories and “how to be a better person.” Then, we stopped going to church entirely, for about eight years.
At this point, my son had graduated college and my daughter was still in college; they were happy and we were pretty much empty-nesters. But life was hard. My marriage was on the rocks.I had been overly committed to my job for nearly 2 decades. I worked long hours and came home spent, I didn’t save energy to engage with my wife. I was way out of balance. I seemed to spend all my time working at my job or fixing things around the house, until I went to bed, beat and discouraged. I was stressed. I had a few panic attacks (but didn’t tell anyone). Not only were we not having fun, but after a long period of time, I forgot how to have fun. My priorities were out of whack, I had no down time. While I was attempting to make my marriage a priority, whatever effort I expended seemed to backfire. I was too out of touch with my feelings to know that my heart was selfish, arrogant and sick. It was easier to disengage.
Then, my wife found Grace Community Church, she was so excited to try it. Attending any church gave me hope that our marriage could be restored. Mark Norman was the pastor. Unbelievably, every message he delivered was directed squarely at me, as if no one else was in the room. He had lots of wisdom to share and I needed ALL of it. He encouraged everyone to get into small groups and to participate in other church activities. After much hesitation, my wife and I attended several seminars together (“Discover your Design,” “30 for 30,” “First Steps”).
Then I joined Starting Point and Men’s Fraternity (now Men of Grace). Starting Point led me into Foundations. That summer, I was blessed to participate in a short-term mission trip to Appalachia – it was an eye-opening and humbling experience as well as a lesson in patience (something I sorely needed) and giving up control and concerns about efficiency (I needed this too). The conclusion of Foundations naturally led me into a small group. In these circumstances, I met many godly people. Not like any were perfect- and they were happy to share that fact. The difference between my new friends and previous friends was- they were (and are) authentic. Over time, I’ve gotten to know many people at a much deeper level – deeper than previous friends, and in most cases, deeper than family members. We see each others flaws and weaknesses, and we don’t judge, instead we encourage and love each other anyway.
I learned that I don’t have to be in control, that I don’t have to be able to fix everything, that I don’t need to have every aspect of my life to be perfect (or give the illusion of being perfect). I learned that God really is in control, that I need to give up control to Him and allow Him to lead my life. That He has great things in store for me – if I just get myself out of the way and have faith. I can list nearly 50 “Gracers” and a handful of others that have been paramount in my journey- I thank you all!
I failed to mention that while I was in Foundations, my wife filed for divorce. Initially, and for a few moments, I was stunned. Then, I was crushed. But God had led me to Grace Community Church and had built a safety net around me me. Initially, I hung on to – “For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). Later, I grabbed on to – “We can rejoice, too when we run into problems and trails, for we know that they help us build endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” (Rom 5:3-4). Nearly immediately, I started in Divorce Care. My first two years at Grace, I was absorbing everything I could, Clearly, my heart had been been operating on empty for some time -just waiting to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
So, where am I now? I am changed. My priorities are very different, my demeanor and actions changed. I pray in stores, restaurants, in front of others, in parking lots, between meetings, wherever. I talk to people about my growing relationship with the Lord, with coworkers, even with strangers on airplanes! I focus on individuals more. I’m more caring, more patient, a better listener. I’m better at prioritizing people and relationships above other activities. I spend my resources differently.
Yet, I am still a work in progress, I am far from the man that God created me to be. I am also far from the wreck I used to be! Now, I’m more flexible, more open to allowing Him to shape me as He sees fit.I still have a lot of questions and long to hear Him more clearly and more often. But I know that God is truth, that His knowledge is perfect, that He paid a huge price for all my sins (a price that I can never repay), that He has good things in store for me (far better than I could ever dream for myself). I am working to let go of my natural patterns and to trust Him more, with every aspect of my life.