“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1: 2 NIV

Life has always been an interesting thing for me. The world around me was always so fascinating and beautiful. I was born on June 7th, 1999 as the second to youngest of my parents’ children. I didn’t grow up in a complete household, as my parents split when I was 5. Despite this, my dad still showed up at significant moments in my life, and I never felt like I missed him or needed him in my life. I never harbored any bitterness or malice towards him. He was just there at times and gone at others. My mother did her best to raise me and cultivate the areas that I needed to improve in. She was raised Catholic, and therefore raised me in the church. However, none of it stuck. I knew who Jesus was, I knew what he did, but I had no gratitude. My sin list wasn’t long enough for me to truly appreciate the sacrifice he made for me. Since I never felt like I had anyone to turn to, I also struggled to feel accepted early on in life. 

I had more acquaintances in my life, than friends, and as a result I thought about taking my own life, as the feelings of lacklusterness started to build up. I remember breaking down in my room, asking God why He had even bothered to create me. I felt worthless, unloved,  and truly incapable of making a true impact on those around me. My mom heard my brokenness and instead of showing me the love I needed, she yelled at me. I don’t remember what she said, but I didn’t think it mattered. It was reinforcing what I already felt. That was the first taste of my moms’ issues, when it came to me expressing how I felt. Over time this kept building up. After enough years of having no real forms of expression and lacking true friendships,  I turned away from everything my mother taught me, both biblical and non-biblical.

“Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness.” Job 30: 26 NIV

In 5th grade, I decided to start making my own mistakes. At first, it was simply just watching shows I was told not to watch. However, soon after came the pride, the swearing, the ruthlessness and many more things. Eventually I found myself in the cold grasps of lust and pornography. I also mastered the art of tearing people down and would often battle others with insults. Even though my words were meant to be good fun and clever banter, my words hit home led to many full-blown fights. Unfortunately for my ego, I won the fight and I won it easily, so my pride continued to soar through the roof. I had the grades, the wit, and the physical stature that could destroy anyone I met. I felt like I was on top of the world when I walked down the halls, yet it was a different story at home.

At home, I was wrathful and just waiting for the smallest excuse to go off the handle. The constant fighting between my mother and my brother had been ingrained in my subconscious. Therefore, when I would have problems with my mom, I would just bottle it up until I couldn’t anymore. My whole life was about bottling up the emotions I really needed to express. I was always an emotional guy. I was called a crybaby until 5th grade,  because I let my emotions run their natural course. Whether it was tears of joy or tears of sorrow, the tears came, and they came often. So, I would bottle up emotions when I was outside and inside the house. It was a recipe for disaster and I soon was more content with being alone than being with people. I would cherish the time I got to spend alone and would just curl up in a corner with a book and call it a day. Eventually, in 7th grade,  I took an extra 2 seconds to truly think about my life. I had just started dating my first girlfriend. Those true friendships that I had always craved still weren’t there. Those around me respected my ability to hurt them. They weren’t my friends because we had tons of things in common, they were my friends because of how dangerous I was. I found myself holding two titles my entire 4 years in middle school: the fastest, and the strongest. These two attributes always put me in the list for the most popular kids in school because everyone wanted a chance to take my crown. I didn’t care though. I just wanted friends that were by my side through everything, not those who used me as a status symbol. As a result, I went back to the only thing I knew, before the rebellious streak started, and started applying some of those Christian principles, taught by my mother.

“Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. “Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.” Psalms 119:1-2 NIV

I stopped cursing overnight, stopped breaking people down with my words, and started the process of weening myself off of pornography. I had made that switch, but the old me was still very much alive and kicking, and it came out in more ways than one. At home, I wasn’t wrathful, I was apathetic. I almost always avoided my mother; I had no motivation and my faith and admiration in my older brother was starting to wear off. I finally saw how much of the old me was still there at the end of my 2nd relationship. When we finally split for good, the gloves came off and I had over a year a pent-up aggression and hostility to let out. I found myself shattering her heart. I still remember her repeating and pleading that she was not who I said she was. To this day, we aren’t friends and I don’t think we ever will be because of how much I hurt her that day. Fortunately, God saw I was trying, and he showed me a little place called Northern Frontier. It was a Christian summer camp, in upstate New York, and it was there, in the summer of my 8th grade year, I decided to live for God and God alone. I didn’t do a very good job of it, but I certainly was trying a lot harder than I was in middle school. My mom also enrolled me in Eastern Christian High School and there I found the fresh start. 

Fast forward to my junior year, I’m working at Northern Frontier and learning about apologetics for the first time. It was then I finally grew a conviction about reading the Bible, staying pure, and living as if Christ is alive and guiding me every day. I fell in love with God through that class and even in a Christian school, my faith still stood out and my convictions were only second to the one who taught my Bible class. I was a changed young man and full of joy. 

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.” – Exodus 14:14 NIV

Finally, the next step in my journey was the University of Maryland. Fired up from summer work at Northern Frontier, I was ready to join some campus ministries and be a light on campus. I didn’t get the greatest start though. I started rushing a frat and had my first taste of alcohol. I hated it, but I still consumed several drinks, for the sake of my admittance in the frat. I quickly stumbled upon Intervarsity Fellowship, Cru, and Vine Ministries. I hopped headfirst into all of them. I never felt really committed to Cru as I felt like it was just more of what I saw in my high school. So many people professing Christ with weak or non-existent convictions.  I didn’t want the mediocre experience that was all too familiar at high school. So, I kept going to IV and Vine. I was very open in admitting my participation in both groups. Dale Bryant and Matt McGruder, two members of the Vine ministry, didn’t really have a problem with it. The IV did. They responded with hateful words and harsh warnings and then started to treat me differently. It took me 2.5 seconds to leave them. I decided that the love of God cannot be present in a group that hates it’s fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, so I never looked back. God had me right where he wanted me to be. 

In Vine Ministries, I continued to study the bible and it became clear that , despite all I had done for God, I wasn’t doing it his way. If I had died then, I would’ve gone to hell. That was the biggest sack of bricks that was ever dropped on my heart and I cried that day. So, I found myself, just like when I was 13, at 18 years old, making a decision to live for God the right way according to his word. On October 8th, 2017,  I was baptized into the kingdom of God and the love, acceptance, peace, and joy that I always wanted, swept over me and I felt anew. It was the best day of my life and I know that nothing will surpass it for the rest of my life. Most of the time, the story ends there and we live happily ever after with Christ, but I’ve had two years to see that things don’t always go smoothly. I’ve still had plenty of things I’ve been working through with God.

For starters, I learned that my perception of my dad, hurt my perception of God. I always thought that my dad was always too busy to just spend time with me and get to know me. I thought a father was there for the most important moments of his children’s lives. I doubted God and I doubted his kingdom. Before I was baptized, my outlook on friendships was unhealthy. I always believed it was only a  matter of time before they left me behind. I brought that mindset into the kingdom and eventually, I doubted everyone’s sincerity. I doubted everyone’s love and appreciation. I doubted whether I actually held a spot in their hearts, the same way they were in mine. My own relationship with my mother, one that I never spent time addressing, had polluted my heart. All this time, I had walled off my heart to my own mother and I knew it was only a matter of time before she told me that she was disappointed in me. I already knew, but it was extremely hard hearing hersay it. 

I had a checklist of every individual aspect of my life she was disappointed in and kept checking things off until she was finally disappointed in me as a whole. I almost fell away that winter. I shut down and stopped praying, reading my Bible, and I stopped going to church. I felt that if my own mother couldn’t love and appreciate me, how could God? I no longer felt joy, or sadness, just nothing. My heart was devoid of emotion because I couldn’t get hurt, if I couldn’t feel. It was a simple innocent call from one of the brothers that woke me up again. I resumed my quiet times (daily intimate time with God) immediately and attended church. I came back bruised ,but not completely broken. With much help and support, I was restored to my normal self and started to feel again. God held onto my heart even when I wanted to let go more than anything else. I finally saw that I needed to fix my relationship with my mother, and it is something I’m honestly still working on. I have faith that her heart can be won over and it is only a matter of time before she studies the Bible.

God has had my back like none other. He hasn’t let me go even when I wanted to run. I’ve never had the stamina to run very long anyway. No matter what trials come my way. No matter how many jobs I lose, I know that God is guiding me. I’m not the same apathetic, dull, hopeless man I was a few years ago. I have a heart now, and a fantastic job. More importantly, I have a wonderful family that I don’t need to close off my heart to anymore. I have what I’ve always been looking for. 

God has filled the hole in my heart that I didn’t even know was there and I can finally say that I am truly happy.