My testimony isn’t one of radical conversion and transformation as far as I was never addicted to drugs or alcohol, was never a fugitive or felon, wasn’t a brawler or bully and I didn’t have a “come to Jesus moment” on the jailhouse floor or drawing my last ragged breaths on a deserted back road. I did, however, have to make some pretty radical changes within myself to truly accept Christ and let Him work in my life as He wants to.
As a child, I grew up in the Mormon Church and after my parents split when I was 5 years old, I continued to attend the same with my dad on the weeks he had me. He wanted to me to get baptized when I turned 8 as most Mormons believe, but my mom was adamantly against it. It wasn’t so much that she didn’t want me baptized into a church or even the Mormon church, she just wanted to me to be older to have a better understanding and to be able to see things a little better. Being eight and looking up at my dad the way most little boys do, I didn’t see things that way and that became probably the first in a large pile of stuff that stacked up between my mom and me.
Over the next few years into high school, my mom and I grew farther and farther apart until I fairly openly admitted to most anyone that I hated her. Somewhere in that time I had started letting my mouth run off and was cussing left and right. I had no regard for anything she said or tried to tell me. Almost daily was a knock down drag out cussing match between us and with each passing day it was getting worse. At one point she tried corporal punishment and slapped me in the face and without a care I returned with a hard, closed fist. Until now, only a couple people within our family knew of that incident, and of course the officers that took me in to juvy that night. I had no remorse, I didn’t care and in fact, I almost let loose again after she woke up and started yelling again. I always had an uncommon amount of self-
Now if I was at anyone else’s home, I was very polite, never had a cross word come out of my mouth and was the model of what parents would like their teenagers to be. Most of my girlfriends’ parents thought so much of me, that even if their daughter was grounded for something, they would still let her go out with me as long as I was the one who asked. Many of my other friends’ parents would ask their own children why they weren’t acting more like me or would tell my mom what a wonderful kid I was if they bumped into each other in town. It wasn’t that I was that cold to everyone or all the time, it was only my mom. Counseling was tried a couple times to no avail. It just made me resent her more for making me go.
Things didn’t start to turn around until the summer after my junior year of high school. I was 16 years old and had a summer job commercial fishing on a small boat in Halibut Cove, Alaska, several hours south of my hometown of Palmer. We were back at the house most every night and towards the end of that summer, the skipper’s wife hosted a book club meeting. In attendance were a couple teenaged girls who had come down with their parents to go sightseeing and both of them were on fire for God. It was toward the end of fishing season and I stayed in touch with one of them until I got back home and Andrea and I started dating. Every free minute I had I spent with her, including church. I would drive the hour from my house to hers every Sunday, Wednesday and any other time I could slip away.
The very first week I went, Pastor Jerry Prevo had a guest speaker named Freddy Gage in town. Andrea had been working on me from the minute we met to get saved, but I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about. Freddy laid it all out for me. I realized that I had known about God for most of my life, but I had never actually known him. It’s like the difference between being able to spout off every fact and stat on your favorite pro athlete, and being able to call him up and go out for a burger. My soul lit up on fire and I started walking the walk and talking the talk, but I still had that stronghold at home to break.
I was already going to church all the time, but I was still a baby Christian. Andrea and I split up but remained friends. After I graduated in 2001, I worked that summer in Halibut Cove again, and also in the small town of Ninilchik doing odd jobs from cannery work to pouring concrete. Skipper’s wife even mentioned while I was fishing that she had noticed a remarkable change in me. I still wasn’t cussing, I was trying to walk the straight and narrow, but I hadn’t fed myself spiritual food to mature from a baby Christian. I still had that stronghold at home.
After that summer I went to Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego, California. After basic and combat training, I was off to North Carolina for the rest of my time in the Marine Corps. I learned my trade, I started riding bulls, I deployed to Iraq, I made new friends and I still didn’t try to continue growing past spiritual infancy. I knew God and I knew that accepting Christ meant that I was saved and I was going to heaven, but that was about it. Sure, I was in and out of church for a while, but it was more an act of going through the motions than really seeking who and what I should have been.
Eventually, my lack of zeal and the existence of that stronghold began to open up huge hanger doors for the devil to let himself back in. I won’t say I was ever backslidden, because I believe that once you are saved, you are God’s and that’s it. I pretty well stopped for a while, though. I didn’t stop believing, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say there were some doubts. I stopped doing what I knew I was supposed to. I stopped trying to seek Him anywhere. Heck, I even stopped going through the motions for the most part. I started cussing again. I got married and part way through my second deployment, I got divorced. We both believed in God, but we had never put Him at the center of our marriage.
When I came back from deployment, it was even worse. I sought to satisfy the pleasures of the flesh as much as I could. I lusted after women. I became addicted to pornography. I justified it with the world’s thought of “she hurt me and I don’t care anymore.” Even through all of that, I could still hear the Holy Spirit telling me what to do from time to time. He never left me. His voice was incredibly faint and I usually ignored it, but it was ALWAYS there.
Through this time I had been trying to take my bull riding to higher level while I was still on active duty. I began riding in SEBRA (Southern Extreme Bull Riding Association) shows and getting on the best bulls I could find and reasonably get to. It was through bull riding that I met a few men that I always admired and looked up to. Men like Travis Finley and Devon Long. Men that you probably haven’t heard of, but were excellent examples of men living for Christ. Deep down, there had always been something in me that was pushing me to be more like them.
Finally about a year after that, into 2006 now, I met a woman who was the first to challenge me. She laid it flat out for me and told me I wasn’t “getting in her pants” unless there was a ring on the ring finger of her left hand. The first time we talked on the phone she asked me if I was a Christian. Even since I was saved, through everything I had done, I always professed to be a Christian and that was as far as it ever went. Except that time. She asked me who Christ was to me. Well that caught me off guard because I was expecting the conversation to go somewhere else. I’d never talked to anyone so blunt. I kind of stammered out that He was my personal Lord and savior. Well, it was the right answer and we dated a few months, got engaged, dated a few more months and got married in the summer of 2007. My wife’s zeal for God was similar to that of Andrea, my high school girlfriend who led me to Christ in the first place. She was the kick in the seat that started leading me back towards what being a Christian really meant.
With Mary Ruth’s encouragement we started doing Bible studies and praying together daily. We always kept God at the very center of not only our marriage, but everything and anything we did. We found a church that taught all of the Bible and not just parts of it. Slowly, strongholds in my life started being broken down. Not all of them were easy and some took considerable time for my flesh man to let go of, but praise God that His grace was so much more than enough for any and all of it. I learned the importance of renewing your mind DAILY, not just once in a while. I learned that God didn’t want groveling servants, he wants loving children who just want to enjoy His presence and provision. I learned that being a Christian wasn’t going to church and reading the Bible; it is truly a complete life changing experience that encompasses all aspects on every day. I also learned the very real power of the words I had used in the past and the different ones I had stated using. Mary Ruth was always careful to encourage me to fill the man’s role as the head of a household, once again challenging me. I finally knew what I was supposed to do and didn’t ignore it. I had a presence in my life that had changed so much in such a short time.
Since then, our marriage has had interstate smooth spots and mountain road rough spots, but with God always guiding and at the center we have come through 100% unscathed every time. Every single stronghold that was in existence in my life has been completely decimated. That one from way back when that kept popping up? Gone. My mom and I have a totally changed relationship. Now, some might say that anyone can do that and it doesn’t take Christ, but I’m here to tell you that while there are plenty of marriages that seem to succeed without God in them, none are as fulfilling as that the ones that do. And while there may be plenty of people who have made life changes and seem to be better people and have broken addictions, the ones who accept Christ are the only ones who are completely restored and whole from the inside out. You’ll hear addicts say that they’ll struggle every day for the rest of their lives with their addictions. God takes all of that away so you don’t have to struggle. Kind of like handing off a baton, you give it to Him and it’s gone. You don’t have any possession of it anymore and there’s just plain no contact.
Knowing and loving God has completely removed any fear and doubt I have had in my life. I can honestly say I am completely fearless in absolutely any situation I’m confronted with. That’s not to say I’m reckless, I just know that I’ve got someone so much bigger than any problem this world can possibly throw at me, and He’s in my corner and everything in this universe that is not from Him cowers and runs away as fast as it can. World gives me problem, I give God problem, problem disappears.
My faith isn’t where it would be if I had been doing what I was supposed to all along, but even still it is growing in very mighty way. I love waking up each day and looking forward to finding the ways my God has blessed me. Now, lastly, you know that really happy feeling that starts from the inside and comes all the way out and just fills your whole body and you say “there’s nothing that can ruin my day”? And then those days where it seems like you woke up on the wrong side of the bed and nothing goes right and you’re just having a bad day? Do you have any idea what it’s like to have literally every single day for years be the really happy kind without a single bad day anywhere in the mix? Praise God, I do!