I was a lonely child, my life was marked by an abusive mother battling schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and an aging father who adopted me when he was 72 years old. We lived in abject poverty in the “projects” (section 8 housing development) and although I was surrounded by poverty my family was not like many of the other families there in the ghetto. There is a concept in ghetto living called “hustlin” which is the ability to get money more than one way (often involving petty theft, drugs or prostitution); my family was not able to “hustle” so we made do with what was available, primarily welfare and social security. This upbringing often made me feel alienated and disconnected to the immediate culture around me and to an even further extent to the broader culture at large.
While dealing with all these feelings I found my escape as a pre-teen in philosophy and reading. I could not relate to school in any tangible way (although I was a straight C student) nor did I have any consistent meaningful relationships; so I ultimately clasped on to stories and idealism. It was at the age of 13 after delving deep into the Eastern Philosophies that a friend invited me to church. I attended a youth group that focused heavily on entertaining and capturing the attention of the kids (Powerhouse-Open Bible-Sedalia, MO), after my third visit I gave my life to Christ, not fully grasping the meaning or purpose of such an invitation, I continued to “get saved” at least four more times throughout that summer. I was fortunate enough to go to a church that encouraged my personal development and didn’t shy away or shut out my deeper questions. I was immediately brought into an inner circle of connection, challenge and wonder that, up to that point in my life, was nonexistent.
Soon after my salvation experience I was introduced to several key elements in my spiritual development, the first of which was finding a place of relation beyond mental assent or acknowledgement. I was taught that mere intellectual reasoning of divine order was not enough to grow in relationship with God in Christ. This idea was completely foreign to my concept of religion and brought me to humility; I could not take my knowledge or perspective for granted or worse for vain conceit when so much of my spiritual life wasn’t dependent on me but on the cross of calvary. After this obstacle was overcome I started to appreciate learning for a deeper purpose, namely growing in relation with Christ. Ultimately my study life became more robust and fulfilling, school was no longer a bore or contention but a joy and splendor that lead me to a greater revelation of God. Another turn-around was the depth and love of God’s family in the saints. The Lord gave me people that genuinely cared for and nurtured my heart. Deep rooted community brought me out of depression and loneliness in a way that simply “being around people” never could. Overcoming my awkwardness and disconnection with people was one of the first tangible gifts God gave me. Eventually, learning not to be ashamed or live in regret of my past became the final great joy of salvation for me. With a future secure in the hope of glory and the eternal purpose of God to the knowledge of his Son; not just in me but even for those around me, God functionally broke the power of guilt and poverty in my life. Jesus didn’t just make my life better or more fulfilling, he literally changed everything, my future, my present and my past became subject to the work and glory of God. What once was darkness and depravity became a position to relate with other broken people; what once was selfish ambition, became passion for the gospel and the lost. Jesus made all the difference in the world.