A story of dealing with the death of a friend, hitting rock bottom, & rejoicing in trials & tribulations.
I have vague memories of attending church as a child where most of my time there was spent sleeping on a pew. For whatever reason, that was the extent of my exposure to church. I suppose you can say I was raised in a “Christian” household if that meant, I had heard the name Jesus. I was told of a proverbial father-figure in the sky that didn’t seem to have much bearing on my life except when that life ended I would be made to answer for all the wrong I had committed. I remember an argument I had with another kid in my school concerning the existence of God. You young boy said something to the effect of “I hate God and don’t believe he exists. If he does, let him strike me with lightening!” I quickly backed away anticipating to see this poor kid get lit up. I waited…and waited, but nothing ever came. That was the first time I began to question the existence of God.
The next strike against my beliefs was when my parents divorced. As it turns out, my Father left us because he was gay. Up to this point in my life, what I knew about God was contrived from what I had heard from kids that spewed their catholic dogmas and television. About all I could come up with was that God was against divorce and along with the culture of the late 80’s, He didn’t like homosexuals either. I suppose I feared that my parents were ultimately going to end up in hell because of their transgressions, a fact all my friends were all too happy to continually remind me of. I decided based on my experience and fears that if God was real, he wasn’t anyone deserving of my worship. I chose instead to create my own religion, borrowing from Hinduism, Buddhism, a bit this, a dash of that, until I became a god in my own mind. I would discern what was right and wrong, being accountable to no one but myself. This was only magnified at the age of 15 when I was in a car accident that claimed the life of my best friend. After that event, I was certain that the good, loving, all powerful God I was told about in my childhood, was just another fairytale used to manipulate the masses to behave or else the All-Mighty God on High would spank you.
The next decade of my life was a selfish existence. I did what I wanted with zero regard for anyone or anything. People were simply a means for me to get what I wanted. If you weren’t useful, you were an obstacle that I promptly dealt with. I was angry and violent, but above all else, I was seriously depressed. I was empty inside. I tried to fill that hole with all sorts of things, money, possessions, drugs, alcohol, women, but in the end all those things only served to expand the void.
I’ve lived life in wildly various conditions. As a criminal living “high of the hog”, to a nobody living on the street. Somehow I found myself married to a beautiful, caring wife and father to incredibly intelligent, comical son. We lived in a big house, drove nice cars, and traveled the world. Yet I was still unhappy with deep seeded guilt that often manifested itself as rage. One night my misery came to a head nearly forcing my family to walk away from me. I had always been a fighter. I was able to get clean from drugs and pull my life out of the gutter and claw my way back up something resembling a decent life, but whatever was lacking in my life at this moment, I couldn’t fix. As my wife started for the door, I grabbed her and did the only thing I hadn’t tried. I dropped to my knees and prayed to God, begging Him to not let Brandi leave. Whether it was God or my vulnerability, I don’t know, but my wife stayed with me that night. We started attending church regularly. Things were better, but I felt as though I was checking the boxes in hopes that if I need enough good works, God would finally do some work in me. It wasn’t long after we started going to church that Brandi and I found ourselves in Haiti.
Haiti is by far the most impoverished country I had ever been to. The smell of Cap Haitian alone is enough to knock you over. It was hot, humid, and I was in constant fear of being carried off by the mosquitos-pterodactyl hybrids on that island. I saw four men and a goat riding a motorcycle once. It was in this place that I truly found Christ. I had just finished working on a busted septic tank at one of the schools our church supports. I’m sitting on a mound of dirt, covered in God-knows-what, sipping on a hot bottle of water, watching the sun set over the hills. I was amazed that even in a place like Haiti, with people so poor, with so little, they had so much joy and beauty. I remember praising Gods creation and thanking him for everything. I thanked him for the people of Haiti, for my family, for saving my life, and for his son Jesus Christ. When I said the name Jesus at the end of that statement, my heart burst open. I was hit with this sense of “knowing”. It was like watching my life played from birth to the present in fast-forward except instead of re-living the hurt and anger of past events I could sense God’s presence and loving hand shaping me and pulling me up. I was able to see God work in my life at times I either denounced him or denied his existence. The hole inside was immediately filled what I can only describe as God. At that moment I knew I would never be the same.
Since that day I’ve been on mission to know God more intimately and share his love with others. Brandi and I have opened up our home to host House Church and are both currently serving in Church Projects student ministry, Project Students.
CHRIS SHEPHERD, PETRO STUDIOS