My Personal Testimony

One of the hardest and yet most amazing things I’ve ever done is give my full testimony in front of my church family while openly praising the Lord.

I’d like to share that here as well so it’s fully clear just how much mercy, love and grace God Almighty has shown me!  He gets all the glory!

Praising The Lord

The purpose of sharing my personal testimony here within this page is simply to praise God.  To praise Him for what He brought me through in my life.  To praise Him for exactly where He has me today.  To praise Him for where He will eventually take me in the future.  I just want to praise God fully and I feel that making my testimony visible for the world to read is one more way I can do just that.

That’s not to say my life has been rosy throughout.  There were a lot of hard truths to take inventory of.  That said, at the end of the day, God is so very good and I will forever be totally humbled and blown away by His grace and mercy shown to me.  I didn’t deserve it, but still His promises and His love overcame my sin and rejection.

My hope is that this testimony can be an encouragement at some point in the future to someone needing to find the Lord in their life, just as I needed to find Him years ago in mine.  Thankfully, God is full of mercy and is long-suffering where we fail Him (and rest assured, we ALL fail Him).

So again, I openly praise the Lord for all His goodness and His many blessings in my life.  I thank Him for never giving up on me and I pray that this testimony can show others that He’s never given up on them either.  With that said, let’s get into my birth and struggles faced early on…

Birth And Poverty

Before I was even born, I was a bit of a nuissance (a theme in my youth due to my behavior).  You see, I was conceived outside of marriage and not at all planned.  After my mom told my father she was pregnant, he informed her that he didn’t want a child and that, if she had me, he’d leave her.  As a result, my mom was terrified because she knew she would be on her own with his refusal to help.  Still, she informed my father that she was going to continue with the pregnancy and, true to his word, he abandoned us both.

With no father to help, I was born into tremendous poverty. My mom moved us in with my grandmother, which is how it stayed for the majority of my childhood.  My mom eventually had to take care of my grandmother due to her worsening osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s diseases, so she couldn’t work.  This of course made it even more of a struggle financially.  So all we had to live on every month was my father’s incredibly generous $163 child support check and my grandmother’s social security check (all in, roughly $1,000).  I know that was a while ago, but it wasn’t that long ago and it sure didn’t stretch very far, much less to the end of the month.

Difficult Times

As a result, we always did without and we were on every government program available from food stamps, HUD housing, Medicaid – you name it and we were on it. We lived in a roach-infested apartment complex that was unfit for anyone and there were questionable characters all around.  On top of the living conditions, we never had enough food and often ate beans and rice or biscuits and gravy just to get through the last couple of weeks in the month.  I remember mom adding a little more flour to make biscuits and a little more water to make gravy.

We also had no car my entire childhood and I grew up looking all around me at people with more. I grew up wondering why others had so much and I had so little.  I would go to my uncle’s house for Christmas and in my mind they had a mansion with multiple cars in the drive way.  Multiple cars… It blew my mind.  Yet for me, simply getting to places like school, practice, a friend’s house or really anywhere required me to walk, no matter the weather.  Just buying groceries was this incredibly embarrassing situation where we had to walk the basket of groceries all the way home and then walk it back empty.

I watched my entire childhood as other kids with great clothes were dropped off at school in nice vehicles while I walked in clothes that were either donated or bought at my version of the mall: Dollar General or Wal-Mart.  My mom and grandmother were also heavy smokers in a very small apartment so I was regularly made fun of due to the strong cigarette smell on my clothes.  So that was our life; a constant struggle.  That was how I saw God’s magnificence at work.  This amazing God my family told me about only appeared unfair to me.  I simply saw a God that didn’t love me as much as everyone else.  So my anger grew…

A Carrot Of Hope

Fast forwarding a bit, all that anger started leading me down some dark paths. I started getting in all sorts of trouble and started seeing that the light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t going to be bright for me in life.  I felt like there was no reason to try because I’d end up in total poverty in the same way my mom did.  I also felt like I’d always be a sinner.  That’s just who I was meant to be in my mind.  So I settled into that.

I stole everything you could think of from every place I ever entered. I told myself, if God isn’t going to provide for me or my family, I’ll do whatever I can to provide.  I lied and deceived more than you can believe.  I destroyed private property.  I bullied and fought kids at school.  My grades were awful and it was a situation where I was fading fast.  I was just falling further and further into my own despair, anger and hatred.

That same uncle that we would visit at Christmas had different plans for me though.  I remember feeling bad around him because he was such a good man that was a strong Christian with an entire family that loved the Lord and I remember being there and feeling ashamed while in his home.  I knew who I was and I knew what I was hiding and I felt like he saw right through me.

Well he told me once that he knew I was struggling in school and that he wanted to encourage me to do better.  As a result, he offered me $20 an A.  $20!  Now that doesn’t sound like much, but to a poor kid with nothing, it was a lot.  So, despite not wanting to, I started applying myself for the hope of making money.  I was still living as the worst version of myself outside of school, but I was at least trying hard on my school work.

Hope Starts To Build...

Well, oddly enough, I noticed that it started feeling good. I started earning good grades and it really started becoming a positive in my life.  I remember feeling so accomplished and feeling like I really earned something.  I hadn’t really tried before because it simply never really mattered much to me, but this was different.  Then I got a check on top of it and that was amazing.  It got to the point where I really pushed myself and never made less than A/B honor roll.  Then it got to the point where I never made less than all As.

Now all of a sudden, I start seeing a possibility of college. I started telling myself that maybe the poverty that has defined my past and my present doesn’t necessarily have to define my future.  Maybe, just maybe, my mom’s walk doesn’t have to be my walk.  I was encouraged and became interested in computers.  I worked so hard that I started taking AP classes in High School and was considered one of the smarter kids in my school.  Imagine that!  My GPA got all the way up to 3.86.  I couldn’t believe it!

That one decision by my uncle (who was as close to a father as I had) put a huge dent in my plans to make nothing out of myself.  Looking back, I just chuckle at the entire situation because it’s clear to me that the very hand of God was all over that decision.  With that little carrot of money that God led my uncle’s heart to offer, He pulled me out of that life-ruining mentality and offered me a future.  Clearly things were looking up for me at this point in my life.

...Before The Collapse

But then, out of nowhere, my grandmother got very sick, very fast. She was rushed to the hospital, and she passed away a day later.  I actually had to carry her to the vehicle that would take her away forever and even closed her eyes after she passed away.  Once again, the rug was pulled out from under me.  The life that once was terrible in every way imaginable, which recently had some light shining in, had once again crashed.  I loved her very much and was crushed, but it truly destroyed my mom.

It was a really negative time, and shortly after, my mom had to start taking odd jobs just to try to get us enough money to make ends meet.  It was worse than it had been in quite some time.  My mom also started dating a man that stole many things from our home, including a number of things from me personally.  I didn’t have a lot, but he pawned what he could for the prescription pills he was addicted to.

I tried to explain what was happening, but my mom hadn’t been in a relationship in a very long time and, as often happens, love blinded her. It blinded her from seeing the truth until he caused enough damage to finally be thrown in jail, which crushed her all over again.  At this point, I’m simply blown away by all that has happened to our family and to me personally.  I’m mostly convinced that there either isn’t a God or He’s a terrible bully that I want no part of.

The fire is burning out of control within me, but at least now I’m focused and driven given I’m still working hard in school to overcome this life I’ve been living in.  Now my mindset is turning to “Well I’ll show you God!  You want to put me in this pit of misery?  You want to put me in this terrible life with the kind of conditions you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy?  Well I’ll make good grades and I’ll make something of myself and I’ll show you.  I’ll do it all by myself!  You just watch and see!”  Of course I was never doing anything on my own, but that’s how I felt.

College And A Wife

It carried throughout High School and even into me starting college at TSTC, which I was able to get into due to the Pell Grant given out to low income students (along with an old car being given to me by one of my cousins so I could make the drive from Hillsboro to Waco). Given that slight upswing in circumstances, I remember feeling better and feeling like I had some sort of light at the end of the tunnel.  I even had a friend that got me into a local church where I was led through the sinner’s prayer and got baptized.  The words were meaningless though as my heart simply wasn’t ready due to so much anger and rage I still had from everything that had happened to me.

Shortly after, while in college and working full time, I met someone and started dating her.  As do all relationships, we certainly had our good times, but it was mostly a relationship filled with arguments and disagreements.  Despite that, after both of us graduated college and after 4 years of dating, I asked her to marry me.  She agreed and even with all that anger and hatred still within me, we started a life together.  Of course marriage changed nothing as we were simply too different.  We argued all the time.  She was a very small town country girl that was raised Catholic, which I didn’t understand or agree with.  She also had a terribly strong desire to stay near all of her family.

The problem was that I was still filled with all the passion in the world to prove God wrong for what I thought was Him turning his back on me.  I had an amazing desire to secure the best jobs with the highest salary but my wife would never consider moving away from her family and always said no to great opportunities that required us relocating out of state.  That lack of control and inability to accomplish goals that had been forged in my life’s struggles stoked my fire.

Anger's Good Friend: Alcohol

I was filled with, as has frequently been said, piss and vinegar, and what wasn’t filled with that, I worked to fill with alcohol.  My anger was out of control from the things I didn’t know how to manage and the emotions that I pushed so far down inside.  As a result, I turned to alcohol and I came to rely on that to help me relax in the evening.  I drank almost every night after a while, often drinking too much on a regular basis.  Alcohol calmed me down up to the point that I essentially handed Satan the keys to my body’s vehicle.  That’s when I would operate on auto-pilot while he was busy arguing with my wife over all the disappointment I felt.

I never considered myself an alcoholic as I quit for months at a time for dietary purposes and had no problem in terms of a craving where I HAD to have it, but I always wanted it.  I wanted it because, again, in my mind it helped me cope with my pain and it seemed to dim the fire, but again, only until I had too much.  Once that threshold was crossed, it greatly changed my personality for the worse, which would throw gasoline on my fire and further stoke the flames.

Children Enter The Picture

We had our first child despite these conditions and it was an amazing experience.  For the first time, I felt like I really knew what true love was.  For the first time I experienced what felt like God’s perfect creation.  I remember still being mad and never forgetting or forgiving God, but Taylor changed a lot of my mindset towards Him.  Up to this point, all I had really experienced in my mind was the briefest of positivity surrounded by tremendous sadness, despair and anger.  But my little girl was a constant positive in my life and she brought me amazing joy and consistent happiness.

Well, just a couple of years later, my son Dylan was born, but his birth had some serious complications as the bones in his skull were fused together.  It was a big deal and he had to have major surgery before his 1st birthday.  There were a lot of concerns about his health and costs and it was very hard on our marriage.  Everything ended up OK with his health, but it felt like 1 step forward and 12 steps back.  Just more fuel for my fire.  What kind of God would let a child be born like this I thought?  I just couldn’t understand it!

My Life Crumbles

So there was all this frustration and anger surrounding my drinking and Dylan’s health and I came to my wife again with a great job offer in Tennessee.  She later told me she thought a change was necessary and she knew I’d never stop asking, but really those 2 years in Nashville drove some of the final nails in the coffin of our marriage.  Pulling her away from her family broke her heart and it caused her, in her later words, to finally fall out of love with me.  I was definitely unhappy myself, but was completely in love with my children and, given my history with my father, I refused to make any permanent decision that would deprive them of time with me.

That said, after finding a job in Texas and moving my family back from Tennessee after finally realizing the toll it took on our marriage, I came home from work one day after our latest argument to find my family gone with a note explaining the decision.  This was the low point in my life; it was my absolute rock bottom and I was simply devastated.  I was blown away because I never thought either of us, despite being unhappy, would make that decision.  It had become my reality though.  It also meant that her parents, brothers and sister, people that had become very close family to me, were instantly gone.  Worst of all, my kids were not in my life on a daily basis anymore.  Again, I was absolutely devastated.

We had all sorts of arguments as you can imagine and I tried to talk her into working on the marriage for the sake of the kids, but it was not to be.  There were no options to see a marriage counselor, to involve a church or anything like that.  It was simply over.  I worked out a remote work situation with my company (whose willingness to be flexible in my greatest time of need helped more than they’ll ever fully know), came to a child support agreement, secured a 50/50 split in custody and moved closer to where our kids now lived.  We then worked to finalize the divorce arrangements and permanently severed ties.  Again, my mindset was why God?  Why would you take my family away from me?  No responsibility.  No accountability.  Not outwardly to others or even to myself.  It was all God’s fault.  It was just one more horrible punishment.  I was so lost in anger and had been for years.

Picking Up The Pieces

Why God?  Again, why would you allow this to happen to me?  Why?  I was so angry and I just kept thinking thoughts like this, blaming God for my many terrible decisions and inability to seek Him. All the while, like the parable of the lost son in Luke, Christ was waiting to run to me, hug my neck and welcome me home.  That was the last thing on my mind at the time though.  The absolute last thing!

Well, as time passed, I talked with a friend through Facebook that I grew up with and knew very well given we went to the same school together from Kindergarten through graduation.  She of course knew about my divorce and we talked more and more.  I told her that I had a crush on her back in high school and we eventually started dating.  I explained early on that I vowed against ever getting married, and she understood given what happened with my first marriage, but I knew it was important to her.  Still, after falling in love and after a year of dating, we agreed to join our families together even with that stipulation.

That worked OK for a couple of years, but the weight of that was heavy, especially knowing she wanted to find a church.  We kept putting that off given we were living together outside of marriage and were worried no church would accept us.  I knew I loved her very much and, while I still was afraid of getting hurt again, I knew it was something we needed to do to try to give our relationship a chance to be successful. To do what I never did with my ex-wife or for my kids up to that point; which is make God a priority (even though I had no idea where to start with that for me personally).

Married And Saved

I decided to ask Jessica to marry me and she agreed.  We started looking for a church right after we got back from our honeymoon.  It didn’t take long to find Parkview and Jessica was hooked after the first service.  I remember still being so upset with God at the time, still drinking and still not living the way I should be.  I’ve never done any drugs in my life outside of alcohol, but the drug I did become completely addicted to was anger, and I was still filled with it.  That first service, while it was great and we both felt God’s presence, still left me so torn.

I remember talking myself out of what our preacher said again and again as the weeks passed.  I just couldn’t commit.  I refused!  I couldn’t allow myself to fully accept God as a loving God given He allowed so much negativity in my life.  But man, can He throw a left hook.  The best boxer ever!  Between Sunday school services and Sunday morning’s message, I was getting pummeled with the word of God.  With His love.  He continued to work me over and finally everything changed one Sunday morning.

I’ll never forget it.  Our preacher had an amazing message of salvation and he finished by asking “do you know that you know that you know that if you died today, Heaven would be your home?” Then he extended the sinner’s prayer, which he read aloud.  I of course knew the answer to that question and, in my heart, I admitted that I knew Heaven wouldn’t be my home.  I decided right then and there that I would answer the call God was putting on my heart and I decided to fully accept Christ as my savior.  I read through that sinner’s prayer, said those words and it was literally as though God opened up a construction business in my heart.

Changes All Around

I don’t say that God opened a construction business as a loose analogy… No, once I invited Christ into my life, He came running into my heart and He brought his sledgehammer and hard hat.  It was literally as though, in that moment, He immediately started tearing down walls and started rebuilding, one room at a time.  While others might associate it differently, I believe He does this same thing for everyone.  He might start with a wall of hatred or a room of lies or some floor of sin very specific in your life, but He tears that area down and invites you into that new opening and, after you walk through, He shows you how much bigger He is than that sin, emotion, or whatever it was you were struggling with.  You then feel His love and fully experience God in those moments.  Then He starts on the next wall.  The next room.  The next floor.

I often feel like He’s taken my house down to the studs; down to the very concrete slab.  Of course the hard truth I often have to remind myself is that I still have so many more walls to break down and so much more construction to get completed.  I simply thank Him for never putting that condemned sign up on the side of my house, despite me kicking and screaming and giving Him every reason to.  Simply put though, everything started to change. Everything!  As God continued to renovate, He started to change what mattered to me.  He started to expose things that should matter to me.  He made it clear what I needed to do and, as I started doing those things, he revealed even more to me.  Then more.

I kept making changes and kept working to answer His call and I kept drawing closer.  I started reading His word and, simply put, He changed my entire life.  He absolutely turned my life upside down, which made it right side up because I had been living so backwards.  God saved me.  Not just in the obvious eternal way that I hope all of us have experienced, but in so many other ways for my present life here on Earth.  He saved me.  He saved me from anger, true hatred and fear.  He completely took my desire for alcohol away and I’ve not had a sip since (several years now).  He’s helping me become the husband, father and son I’ve needed to be for my family.  He showed me I’m not in bondage to sin.  He even brought me to a place where I was able to fully forgive the father that abandoned me.  He absolutely and totally saved me.  I owe Him everything.

A Time For Reflection

It’s so heartbreaking looking back and reflecting on where I was in life.  I so wish I could talk to that version of me from years ago to tell him what I know now.  Not to change my present by altering the past, as I love the life God has blessed me with now.  The truth is, I’ve wondered many times if I would’ve ever softened my stance on God and found my way to know His love without some of these hurdles that came from my divorce.  Sometimes I think the only way a generationally stubborn and angry person learns is, sadly, the hard way.  My ex-wife was also saved, baptized and found true peace and joy in Christ since.  God sure makes amazing omelets out of broken eggs!

No, I wish I could talk to that version of me from years ago simply so I could help him know the love, peace and joy that was missed out on all those years.  So I could avoid hurting and disappointing God for all that time.  So I could avoid ever blaming God for poor decisions made by my family and me.  See, while God forgets everything, putting our sins behind Him and as far as the East is from the West, our burden is our memory.  I carry that with me and I always will.  I wish that could be changed, but it can’t.  Our sin debt has been paid by Christ, but we still have the sin damage to deal with.

Forgiveness And True Joy

I’ve forgiven myself, which wasn’t easy, but I’ll always wish I could change the way I felt about God Almighty during those difficult years of my life.  I’m so thankful for my relationship with Jesus because it’s not something I deserve to experience given everything I’ve thought, said and felt towards God.  My pain was real, but the antagonist was me all along, and I just wish I could’ve learned that sooner.  It will always break my heart when I think about it.  Here’s the good news though: the protagonist in my story is God.  He always was and always will be the hero in my life’s story.

God was there when I was poor, showing me how to have a heart to give to those in need.  Christ was there when I was heartbroken over not having a father, trying to show me He was always present while also teaching me the importance of loving my future children so they’d never feel the way I did.  Jesus was there when my grandmother took her last breath, trying to assure me she wasn’t in pain anymore.  He was there in all my angriest, saddest and most emotional moments.  He was there, Holy and perfect, long-suffering, merciful when I least deserved it and ever desiring a relationship with me.

I lived on this earth for 35 years with my back turned to God, refusing to listen. I thank the Lord today that’s not my present or my future though.  I prase God for His mercy in allowing me to find salvation and to become a new creation.  I’ll live however long God allows me to, from this moment forward, serving Him.  Trusting Him.  Loving Him.  Praising Him.  Forever seeking His will in my life.  Praying for even more walls to be torn down that I can walk through to change me and please Him.  I love Him so very much and I thank Him from the bottom of my heart for loving me!  For loving me despite it all.  How amazing our risen, living and almighty King is!