For a long time now, I've felt the need to tell my story as a Christian. We at Faith Chapel have been trying to arrange a time for me to give my testimony, but due to my weird work schedule, it's been very difficult. I wanted to wait until we could actually do it, but I feel like if my story can help anyone in the slightest way, then it can't wait. Now, I know that I have some atheist friends who enjoy my writing, so all that I ask (from Christian and atheist alike) is that everyone is respectful, I don't want this to turn into a religious debate.
I guess the best place to start is the beginning. I don't remember the day I started believing in God, I kind of always have. I didn't grow up in a religious household, my parents both worked an insane amount of hours to support my brother and I. I remember times that my mother would go a month or longer without a day off, and my dad would constantly be working double-shifts and going in on his days off for overtime. Interesting note, when I was a child, our house blew up. Literally. It didn't burn down, it blew up. There was a gas leak in our home and something triggered it. That was one of my dad's days off, and he wound up getting called in that day, if he hadn't, he probably wouldn't have made it out alive. I believe that was the first time God showed Himself to me.
After that, we lived with my grandmother for a while until we could find a new home, and she took me to church a few times. This was the first time I had ever really been told about the concept of God. I was only five or so, and I had that "faith like a child" thing down. I didn't question it, I just accepted it as fact. There is a Man who lives in a place called Heaven who made the universe. Being so young, I couldn't really comprehend any more than that. So, skip ahead about ten years, and we'll come to the first time in my life that I attended church with proper reasoning skills. I went to the Franklin Baptist Church with my buddy Jimmy Turner and his family, with whom I was very close. I remember at the end of the service the Pastor said a prayer and said "If there's anyone here who hasn't accepted Jesus Christ into their life, now's your chance." He invited us to come up to the alter and do so, but I didn't move. Being so young and ignorant about religion, I was very intimidated. I talked to Jimmy about it, and we agreed that the following week we would go up there together, and we did.
That's the day I was saved. The following week, I was baptized. That's just how I thought you were supposed to do it. I got saved, so naturally the next step is to get baptized, duh. I had no idea what getting baptized meant, or what it represented, it was just a thing I thought I was supposed to do. I proceeded to use these two events as my "Get out of jail free" card for more-or-less the next twelve years.
Let's continue now to the year 2006. This year marked the beginning of a five year cycle of depression, and was also the first time I had ever experienced genuine loss in my life. I had lost people that I loved before, but it was all at a very young age and I didn't understand death at the time. Three of my four grandparents passed away before I was seven, and I remember losing my uncle Roger when I was nine, and while I definitely have vivid memories of Roger, I was still young enough to where it wasn't necessarily traumatic. But on October 7th, 2006, at the age of twenty-one, I lost my best friend in his lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis. Cole and I had become friends during our sophomore year of high school, and ever since then, he was like a brother to me. For anyone who didn't know Cole, it's hard to properly explain just how awesome he was. Because of his disease, he was a very small guy, average height, but I think the most he ever weighed in his life was 105 lbs. This kid fought battles every day of his life, but unless you were one of his closest friends or family, you never would have known it. He always wore a smile, and was always capable of making you do the same. As someone who knew that his time was expectantly shorter, he had an overabundant love for life. He was always there for his loved ones. I remember one particular time when I was going through a rough time with the girl I was dating, he invited me to come over and talk at 2 a.m. So I did, and we sat there and talked in his living room until we both fell asleep, that was just the kind of guy he was. From the summer of 2006 until the end of the year, it's all a blur. Cole's sickness got exceedingly worse. On October 5th, I went to go visit him in the hospital, and I was in a state of denial. I think everyone saw the writing on the walls, but I refused to believe it. "I just spoke to him, he's doing fine, he'll be alright. I don't know what everyone is so worried about." That's the kind of stuff I would say to myself. Two days later, I got a call at about 4 a.m. telling me that Cole was on life support, but they wanted to wait until me and our other friends could get there so we could be with him before they took him off. It's still one of those things that seems like it happened yesterday, I remember walking into the room, seeing him hooked up to all kinds of machines, and instantly feeling weak, like someone had punched me in the stomach. Cole left to be with the Lord a short while later, and I can only hope that I had as much of an impact on his life as he did on mine.
Eighteen months go by, and I've finally started to cope with the loss of my best friend. I started to realize that this isn't something I'm ever going to get over, it's just something I have to live with. Just as I start to realize this, my grandmother's health started getting worse. My grandmother, Ella, was basically the only grandparent I ever had. Before I started going to school, she was my daytime mom. I would spend all day with her and my grandfather (who passed when I was four) while my mother was at work, and then my mom would pick me up when she came home. Everybody says that their grandmother is the best ever, and I'm no different. She was genuinely the most amazing woman I've ever had in my life. Every baseball and basketball game I had, she was there. Every wrestling match I had, she was there. She was my number one fan, and I know that it broke her heart when she had gotten so bad that she could no longer attend my shows. The last month of her life, she was hardly ever conscious, and when she was, she was incoherent. It was very hard for me to see my grandmother like this. I remember I had a BPW show on a Sunday afternoon, and when the show was over, my dad came up to me and said "You should go visit your grandmother." I said "I was planning to go see her tomorrow." His response took me aback. "She may not be here tomorrow." So I made the trip to the nursing home to see her, and the entire time she was sleeping. Occasionally she would say something that I couldn't make out, and after about a half hour, I leaned down by her ear, told her I loved her, kissed her on the cheek, and left with the realization that this may be the last time I would see her. The next day, she was gone, and I'm very thankful that she passed peaceably in her sleep. My mother was with her when she passed, and I remember her telling me that before she passed, she said in her sleep "I'm going to be with mom." Which meant my great-grandmother.
My grandmother's death definitely hit me just as hard as Cole's, but it felt different. I guess it had to do with the fact that my grandmother died of natural causes. She was 71 at the time, and luckily she didn't have to live with any sort of diseases or ailments that folks get when they get up in years. Also, because her health deteriorated over a long period of time, and it was obvious that her time was short, I was able to brace myself for the blow.
Six months go by, and tragedy struck once again when my uncle Lowell succumbed to a long battle with liver disease. As much as it saddened me, I felt worse for my father, as he had to deal with the death of both his older brother, and now, his younger brother, and both at such young ages.
So in a period of just over two years, I lost my best friend, my grandmother, and my uncle, three people that I gladly and willingly would have traded places with in order to give them just a little more time. I dealt with all this while also trying to mend a failing relationship. In an attempt to fix it, we decided to get engaged, which was basically the equivalent of putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound, it'll cover up the problem for a while, but eventually you're going to have to amputate your leg.
With all of these things bothering me, I just felt completely overwhelmed. I decided what I needed to do was go visit my grandmother's grave. At her resting place, we placed a concrete bench, where we can just sit there, talk to her, and just be with her in general, because she was someone that everyone in the family just loved being around. I figured if there was anyone that I should talk to, it would be grandma. So I sat there, told her everything that was going on (like she didn't already know), told her how much I missed her, and I just started bawling. Uncontrollably sobbing. I was crying so hard that I could barely fill my lungs with enough air to breathe. And for the first and only time in my life, I questioned God's existence. I had always been a good person, I made mistakes, sure, but who hasn't? Why was all this bad stuff happening to me? Without speaking a single word, I was subconsciously saying "Okay, God, if You're real, if You're always here for me, then I need You to prove it to me right now. I need to know You're here."
Then, it happened. As I was sitting there, crying harder than I ever had before, face buried in my hands, I felt it. I felt something on my back. If you've ever tried consoling someone, and you put your hand on their back just to let them know that you're there, that's what it felt like. When I felt it, I didn't even look up, because I knew there was no physical body there, only a spiritual one. I knew exactly what was going on. It was God saying "Hey, I'm here." When I felt that, I immediately got a feeling like a wave rushing over me and I had chills go all through my body. I suddenly had an instant feeling of relief, and I knew that everything was going to be okay.
I know some who read this will think I'm out of my mind, but what I felt was very real and supernatural. There's no other way to explain it. I'm not crazy, I know what I felt, and I'm certain that what I felt was the physical presence of God. I feel like that day God was pushing me in the direction He wanted me to go, but it wouldn't be for another two-and-a-half years that I finally went all the way. For whatever reason, I was resistant. For a long time, I didn't know what it was about the life I was living that prevented me from truly following God, but when I finally did, all the answers became clear. At the time, I was an addict.
I've never had a problem with drugs or alcohol. The most alcohol I've ever consumed in one sitting is two shots of a very weak drink, and my entire foray into drugs was the one time I smoked pot when I was 14 before the Franklin-Springboro football game during my freshman year. No, I was addicted to something else, something that for a long time, I considered a badge of honor. The one vice I had was sex, or to expand it a little bit, pornography and sex. A lot of people will think that sex can't be an addiction, but I know that it is, or at least it can be. My addiction to women was a contributor to one of my relationships ending, it would cause me to get depressed or angry if I tried to get it and failed, and it eventually got to the point that I would take it wherever I could get it. Now, that's not a shot at any women I have been with in the past, because it was always a mutual thing, but it was to the point that if a woman offered herself, I would accept with no questions asked. I also wasn't very smart about it, I believe it's no small miracle that I didn't wind up with either a child or an STD. To give validation to the "addiction" claim I made, I had scares for both instances, but once I was in the clear, I continued doing what I was doing. And if any of those women are reading this, I apologize for my reckless, careless behavior.
Pornography and masturbation were daily occurrences. I didn't even think about it, it was just something that I did, like taking a shower or brushing my teeth, it was part of my "routine," for lack of a better term. I never saw anything wrong with it.
For the two-and-a-half years after that day at my grandmother's grave, I would go through spurts. It's like the story of the harvest in Matthew 13:3-8, which reads:
“What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams."
Jesus goes on to explain the meaning of the story in verses 20-21, and at the time, I was much like the seed that fell on gravel:
“The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it."
I would go through spurts where I would get really into my faith, and I would always say "This is the time I stick with it." But I never did, it never lasted more than a couple weeks, I would always revert back to my old ways. It wasn't until I met a very special person that I finally committed and stopped participating in this self-destructive behavior.
Just a couple hours after the year 2012 officially began, I was in the passenger seat of my friend Hooks' car, making our way back home from a New Year's get-together, and he suddenly turns to me with a "Eureka!" type look on his face. He looks at his phone, looks back at me, back at his phone, back at me, and then finally says "I don't know why I never thought of this, but I think you and my friend Heather would be perfect together." When he started talking about her, I just had a good feeling about it, even before meeting her. I pretty much fell in love as he was describing her, she was into video games, used to be a pro wrestler, and was very involved with her church. Six days later, we officially met and I also discovered that she loved metal. It was official, I was going to marry this woman. And I believe that I was given another sign from God that night that Heather was the right one for me. Prior to Hooks mentioning Heather, I had made plans to meet up with a woman that very night for purposes of lust, and since I had a feeling that Heather was going to be the one for me, I figured "Well, I may as well get one last hurrah." I say God gave me another sign because meeting up with the girl didn't happen, and for very bizarre reasons. I won't go into those reasons, but just believe me that they were so weird that there's no way I could ignore it.
Also, before even meeting Heather, I stopped masturbating. Cold turkey, I just stopped. Now, I did have a couple relapses with pornography, where I would just watch it for a few seconds. I justified it by saying "I just want to see if I can resist it." Well, I was, but it was nothing more than an excuse to watch a little porn. That was very early in my new life, and it's been a long time since I've viewed any. To say that my faith helped me overcome these addictions is an incredible understatement. I simply made a decision, and God helped me see it through.
Earlier, I mentioned how I felt God was pushing me towards where I needed to be, but it would still be a while before I actually got there. Well, I think He was giving me a nudge in this direction, but I needed Heather to be on the other side pulling me the rest of the way. In addition to the spiritual push, I needed a physical pull. Once Heather and I got together, everything got better. My faith and relationship with God grew astronomically, my promiscuity disappeared, and my vanity also vanished, which was another problem that I had (Warning: there is a lot of foul language in that link).
Being around Heather also provided me the opportunity to be around tons of other positive influences. The people from Faith Chapel have become my spiritual family, and in some cases, have become part of my real family. Being around the Taylors, the Reeds, the Walkerows, and the rest of the Walriven clan, among others, has made a tremendous impact on my life, and I can't thank them enough for everything they've done for me. Over the summer I was fortunate enough to go up to Cornerstone Church as a youth leader. That was a very eye-opening experience. On top of the amazing worship services, I also got re-baptized. This time, however, I understood the significance, I understood what it represented, and I understood why I was doing it. The first service at Faith Chapel after returning home, Pastor Connie called me out and challenged me to become the "Spiritual Giant" that God is calling me to be. I hope that I've made her proud since then.
It's still hard for me to believe that when this year started that all of this would have happened. It's hard to believe that I've known Heather for less than a year, I never would have believed that when the year started that I would be married less than 9 months later, start a new (better) job, and have my wrestling career go in a completely different direction. I'm still young in my walk with God, and I'm still learning, and will continue to learn until the day I die. This isn't a fad, this is a completely new life for me. I will still make mistakes, I will still have setbacks, but I know now that whatever adversity comes my way, it's for a reason, and it's nothing that I can't handle.
Like I said earlier, I wrote this simply because I feel like if it helps anyone who reads it to more actively pursue a relationship with God, it's completely worth it. I understand that some who read this think that everything I've written is just me being illogical, or naive. Naturally, everyone agrees that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I definitely agree. I understand why some people don't believe. I understand atheism, I really do, it just doesn't work for me. Atheism is as illogical to me as Christianity is to an atheist. My faith lies in the experiences that I've had, both before and after I gave my life to God. God has shown Himself in so many ways in my life that it's impossible for me to stop believing. Call me crazy, but I will always stand unashamed with what I believe.
Thank you for reading.