Note: A few weeks ago, Pastor Vinnie shared his testimony. In his introduction, he encouraged us to become more vulnerable and open about our struggles. This is my attempt at sharing a glimpse of my story.
My friend Jason and I used to say he was harder to reach than the president. We were talking about our mutual friend, Adonis, who goes by the initials A. D. We were right to speak of him this way because he rarely, if ever, picked up the phone, and rarely, if ever, returned our calls.
Given his non-phone-answering prowess, I had little hope that he would answer my phone call that July evening in 1999.
Just moments before dialing his number, I fell to my knees by the side of my bed and prayed. With only a few words out of my mouth, I opened my eyes and looked around the room. Was someone with me? It felt like a presence had joined me in the room.
While still on my knees, I grabbed the phone and called the only friend I knew who attended church. I called A. D.
And he answered.
“When’s the next time you go to church?” I asked.
He backpedaled and stumbled over his words.
“Uuuuhhh . . . well . . . there’s a Bible study Tuesday evening . . . and then we have . . .”
“I’m going with you,” I interjected, cutting him off mid-sentence. Though unable to articulate what was happening inside me, I knew I wanted to do God’s will for my life.
So, with no church background, and zero—and I mean zero—knowledge of the Bible, I picked up A. D. and we drove to Bible study together. As we arrived, I quickly noticed that this was no ornate Roman Catholic Church like the one I attended on Christmas and Easter as a child. It was a Baptist church painted white and brown.
Walking through the courtyard, A. D. greeted people and introduced me to his friends while we made our way through the education wing that housed several classrooms. Eventually, we entered a room filled with other teenagers—some younger and some older than me. Like a kid on his first day attending a new school, I sat quietly, feeling out of place.
The youth group had been studying Bill Bright’s book on the Beatitudes—Jesus’ “Blessed are you” sayings found in Matthew 5:1–12, about which I knew less than nothing. And thankfully, the instructor gave me a booklet where the verses were printed out for me, so I didn’t have to fumble through the Bible for thirty minutes trying to find them, because, did I mention I had never opened a Bible?
The fourth Beatitude was the focus of that evening’s study: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6).
I was fixated on two words: thirst and satisfied. I felt precisely the opposite. I had thirsts. I craved satisfaction. But everything I had tried up to that point in my life hadn’t worked. My soul felt hollow. My life felt insignificant.
Retracing the steps of my life, it’s easy to see why.
I suppose through a combination of nature and nurture, I unconsciously absorbed the idea that I could achieve my way into significance. And from a young age it seemed like athletics would be the means to do so. With some initial success at baseball, I was confident I was on the right path. But by age thirteen I bumped up against a limitation: I feared getting hit by a fastball to the head . . . or back . . . or shoulder . . . or thigh . . . basically anywhere on my body. So, I moved on to basketball.
Though I enjoyed moments of triumph, it eventually dawned on me that I would never reach six feet tall. The wise course of action—to me at least—was to bow out early and save myself the embarrassment of not making the varsity squad. My dreams of being the Italian Michael Jordan died a quick death.
With my stellar track record in tow, I tried wrestling, and it wasn’t pretty. Actually, words cannot adequately describe the fullness of that disaster. It was a dumpster fire par excellence. I can talk about it now, but at the time I was embarrassed. Truth be told, I was humiliated.
Though only fifteen at the time, I was disappointed with life. I yearned for a cool breeze of peace to blow my way. Little did I know, those feelings of disappointment were a prelude to grace.
I now believe that God was pursuing me through life’s disappointments. God let me feel the vacancy in my soul in order to show me that only his perfect love could quench my soul thirst.
Why else were my eyes riveted on those two words thirst and satisfied? Answer: Because God loved me too much to allow me to find rest in unstable realities.
That Tuesday evening study at the Baptist church with my friend A. D. put me on a path that eventually led to pastoral ministry. But my journey with God started with feeling letdown by life. Peered at through the lens of Eternal Spectacles, however, I call this initial stage of my journey with God a beautiful letdown. Which explains why Switchfoot’s song by that title has always spoken to me.
It was a beautiful letdown
When I crashed and burned
When I found myself alone
Unknown and hurt
It was a beautiful letdown
The day I knew
That all the riches this world had to offer me
Would never do – Switchfoot
In his memoir Telling Secrets, Frederick Buechner (1926–2022), wrote, “My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours.”
I think he’s right. After all, He who controls the winds and the waves is wondrously adept at escorting his chosen ones into his warm embrace. Our paths into His arms are not the same, but quiet reflection illumines his purposeful providence in our lives.
So, I ask you: What’s your story? How did God draw you to himself?
Perhaps God is nudging you to write out your genealogy of grace and share it with someone.