Stories are powerful. Whenever I have the chance, I try to speak using narratives. No story is as powerful or as meaningful as your own. Even though I share about major life events in individual blog posts, I want to keep a running post, a narrative, a story, of my life in one place. Think of it as a live autobiography. To be honest, I’m not really sure how effective this will be or how interesting of a read it will be (even for myself!).
If you’d like, use the links below to jump around to the section, or chapter (if you want to call it that), that you’d like to.
I grew up in my Hometown of Cary, North Carolina as the youngest of three kids. My family seemed solid, and well off, until I entered middle school and my parents divorced. Right about the same time the housing market crashed and the affluence I had grown used to was taken a way from me. To put it bluntly I was falling and searching for something to grab a hold of.
You see I had always gone to church as a kid, we were a southern family – that is just what you do. I attended all of the camps and retreats that were open to me and I am sure that at one of these weeks away, someone asked me to “pray the prayer” and “ask Jesus into my heart” and I become a Christian. But that was the extent of it for me, being a good kid, nothing in my life really changed. And I believe, to this day, that if God hadn’t shaken things up I would still be living a very comfortable, but pointless life.
When my parents divorced it seemed as though God was beginning to shake me from my foundation, to shake me until I was so desperately disoriented that I no where else to turn to but to him for support. As I started to question what I had known, I remember there were some men in my life who kept telling me that God had something amazing in store for my life. That if I would go all in for him, that I would not only have a life beyond earth – but that I would also be able to experience the most fulfilling type of life possible here on earth: a life spent pursuing God. I decided that if Jesus went all in on the cross for me, that I would go all in with my life following him.
“I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the fullest.” – John 10:10
The key to understanding my early years is to understand the family and culture in which I grew up. If there were two words to sum up my early childhood, they’d be “southern” and “affluent”.
My mother hails from Birmingham, Alabama and my father from Jacksonville, Florida. They met at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. As a result, southern culture was deeply ingrained in my family for as long as I can remember. In the early 90s, my family moved to Cary, North Carolina.
Cary is well known to those who know it as one of the most wealthy parts of the state. Excellent schools, low crime rates, and growing job opportunities funneled wealth into this bedroom community of the capital Raleigh.
Financially and culturally we fit right in in Cary where the average home price is over $350,000. My father was a mortgage loan officer whose commission based income climbed as more homes sold for higher prices.
I recall one christmas my mother spent over a thousand dollars on each of her three children. This wasn’t irresponsible spending either, it was something we could afford.
Likewise, our nondenominational church attracted wealthy congregants. We had state of the art equipment, building, and I benefited from some of the best ministers out there.
There is no doubt that during these years my family and I lived a life of privilege.
Being a southern family, church is a requirement. We went there most weekends (as long as other culturally important things weren’t in the way!).
Most years I’d be sent off to summer camp in Blackburg, Virginia. I loved the camp; we’d spend a week playing in the creek, running around, and bounding with friends. Of course being a church camp, there would be speakers twice a day. Each year they’d tell us the story of Jesus.
One year, the preacher got up and he told us about Hell. He told us how bad it was and how it was to be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, he revealed, we had all already missed the boat on that one. We’d all sinned and we were going to Hell.
But good news, the preacher told us, Jesus came and died on the cross to save us from Hell. If we pray a magic prayer, when we die we’ll go to heaven instead.
I thought long and hard, well, Hell seems pretty bad. Heaven seems pretty good. So, if Jesus wants to give me heaven, that sounds like a pretty square deal!
I prayed the prayer and got my fire insurance! I wouldn’t be going to hell.
Anyone who has been following Christ for a while knows that I entirely missed the point, but that is where I was. Christ was a bonus to me, not a necessity.
As a result, I lived my life confused and questioning my salvation. Was I really saved? I felt like there had to be something more, but I had everything I needed.
God was just a cherry on top.
God was just an added bonus.
God was someone my culture taught me was to be used when you needed him.
I didn’t need God.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked God. I wanted God. I could even delude myself into believing that I loved God, but I didn’t need him. I already had everything I thought I needed, this is the greatest tragedy of wealth. Wealth and plenty distorts our understanding of what we need.
I think now of the story of the rich young ruler found in Luke 18. Here is a man who approaches Jesus, and he asks the same question that I was asking, “What must I DO to inherit eternal life.”
“God, what do I have to DO?”
This is the first flaw in my thinking: I wanted to know what I had to do to be saved. I didn’t know that it is by God’s grace alone I could be saved, and not by works. I didn’t understand that there was nothing i could do, to earn God’s love. Because why not?
We worked hard and were able to earn a big nice house, my parents worked hard and raised three good kids.
I could earn good grades and at the end of little league I earned a small trophy.
So why couldn’t I earn God?
Just like the rich young ruler, there was too much too distract me. I had money. I lived in a safe town. I had never gone hungry. My family loved me and each other. I wanted for nothing…and yet there was still something i yearned for desperately. I was headed down the path of apathy fast. I think of it now and I am confident that if things hadn’t changed, I would be living a very comfortable yet pointless life.
Someone asked me the other day, “How much would your live have to change, if God was proven to not exist.” Back then, the only thing that would change was my Sunday mornings.
There was nothing about my life to suggest that I was a christian. I never read my bible, in fact the only one I owned was given to me when I was baptized. I neither loved nor hated life. I just lived in shelter, passing from event to event, mesmerized by magic tricks and twinkling lights. I pursued nothing of eternal value. I wanted fame and fortune on earth and hoped to buy my way into getting it in heaven.
So, that is where we are for now. As I say at the top, this story will continue to evolve and take new turns. I hope you’ll keep up with me, and read again soon.
Thanks for reading,