Monday, April 6, 2009

My Testimony – "The Snake Bite"

I fully intend this to be my last super long post. But the way this one played out and with everything that has happened, this one could've been WAY longer.


So in part one titled “My Testimony – The Shipwreck” (can be read HERE), I talked about all the stuff that had happened in my life and marriage up to September 9, 2008. That was the date that my entire world changed. Just to recap on the person I was…I had been a “Christian” for 20ish years. Probably more accurate to just say I knew who Jesus was and what I had to do to spend eternity with him, but I chose not to live that way. I presented the public image of Christianity very well (I thought), but didn’t live it that way in my family or private life.

Now, understanding that from 2000 to 2005, I had been continually trying to “make up” for my earlier betrayal (2000). I knew that I had to prove that I deserved to have Dana and her love back, so my focus (at least I had convinced myself) was making sure I gave her the life she asked for. At the time I equated that to being the same as giving her the love and attention she deserved (I know now, that is NEVER the same thing). When I realized, in 2005, how severely I had and continued to betray my family (mainly my wife), I set out to change that. I turned ALL my focus on pleasing Dana. I gave her what she asked for, I told her I loved her all the time (and I really did mean it deeply), I made sure to tell her how beautiful she was, I tried to be romantic, all of it. But my focus was still wrong; it wasn’t on God. I know now, had I focused on my relationship with Christ, put God first in my marriage and been the spiritual leader I was meant to be in my home things probably would have turned out very different. That is not to say Dana would have never left (she has free will and had to be willing to accept Christ in our marriage too), but I truly believe the likelihood would have been far less. Had I done that, God would have made sure I was the husband and father my family and He needed me to be and He would have covered the rest. Hindsight, right? These are the character building moments you can never plan (maybe never want to plan).

So, September 10, 2008, SHIPWRECKED! With everything Dana told me that night, I just knew the probability of us coming back from it was slim. Although slim, at that point all was not lost. I tried to convince Dana we could survive. No dice, that night Dana did some stuff that landed her in the Behavioral Health Hospital. That was the catalyst for the most difficult, hurtful, emotional, life changing, enlightening, oddly wonderful and exciting (I know it sounds weird, but you’ll understand shortly) time of my life. That hospital admission was the beginning of my snake bite.

Up to this point, I had only visited Element Church once. We got here in July ‘08, but I avoided going. I tried three other churches and was actually kind of scared at a couple. So, I finally decided to check Element out and I loved it instantly. After my first and only visit to Element, all that crap with Dana happened. I was so angry at God. I had busted my butt making sure that my wife had everything she wanted and at being a “good” husband, how could he take that away from me? We had a plan, we had it all figured out and we were happy…I thought. I was so confused, angry, hurt, you name it. Because I was angry I decided I didn’t need to go to church anymore (that’s genius right – running farther from God would absolutely fix it, right?)

Then my kids asked if we were going back to church. Out of the mouths of babes. I couldn’t set that example for my boys, so I told them we would. When all this heartache began, I truly thought it would take FOREVER, to get past it. I knew I had to “deal” with it and be strong for my boys, but I didn’t understand why this happened and I definitely did not trust that God had a plan that would make any of this ok. I continued to go to church and prayed for months for God to bring her home, to make it better. Then in the middle of his “Heart – It’s What We Bleed” series, our Lead Pastor, Jeff (Blog love
HERE) called an audible and delivered a sermon on “A World of Uncertainty”. With that sermon I realized that I had been praying for the wrong thing. I realized that I was praying and going to church, but I was simply trying to convince God I was a “Good” Christian in hopes that he would make it all better. I didn’t really believe that he would fix it or that he could pull anything good out of it. That day I stopped praying for him to fix it and bring her home and started praying for him to take control and gave him my marriage. I also began praying for strength and healing for Dana. I wish I could say that I began reading my bible and praying every day, but I didn’t. But he was just getting started… Soon after that I joined a Life/Small Group and that became a source of great strength. I found myself hungering for this relationship with Jesus that I saw everyone else had. I had been a “Christian” for twenty years and I never remember having “that” relationship. So I started praying and reading his word a little more, still not consistently, but more. That’s when I realized the whole thing about not putting God first in my marriage.

Then came the sermon series Jeff called “Dirty Santa”. One of the installments of that series dealt with forgiveness when a family member hurts you. That broke my heart. It was like Jeff was talking right to me – all of it. I wanted to forgive Dana (I didn’t want that hate in my heart), I even wanted to tell her. But then Jeff said treat her undeservedly. All I could think was, “How dare you”. I kept telling myself that he had no idea what I was going through. Before the end of the message, I realized that it wasn’t Jeff Maness’ message, it was God’s and He knew exactly what I was going through. I got up, wrote “Dana, My Wife” on the paper and put it in the bowl. That day I walked out of Element and decided I was going to forgive her. Since then I have done everything I can to treat her undeservedly. I have gone out of my way to be kind to her. I’ll tell you that you can say you forgive, but without the action associated with it, you can’t even convince yourself you have. Since then I have an unimaginable amount of peace (that’s not to say I’m not hurt, I still hurt and there’s still some anger there), but I’ve started feeling that calm I longed for. It’s amazing how God puts thing in order, it seems like all the sermons I needed to hear were delivered in a very specific order (weird, right? That God, so organized.). The next step was Jeff’s “21” sermon series, specifically the Devotion sermon. After Dirty Santa, I continued to pray for healing and protection for Dana and my boys, but my prayers for me turned to asking God’s direction for me. I was pretty much past the “Why did this happen?” part and had gotten to the “Now what?”

In that sermon, Jeff had talked about making time for intentional, consistent (and the right) connection with God every day. He said through that devotional time God will reveal his direction. That was exactly what I’d been asking for so I figured I’d give it a shot. I started that Sunday afternoon. I sat in a Burger King, while Dana visited with the boys, and began to read. The results were immediate. That Sunday afternoon, I opened to Philippians (my book mark was there because the last thing I read was Ephesians). Imagine my surprise when I read 3:13-14, “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

I had been praying for direction and I heard loud and clear where God wanted me to go…FORWARD! Seemed like a good direction to go, so I kept on. I read Monday and Tuesday morning. Then it happened, after devotional time on Tuesday, I was in the shower shaving and I felt completely over whelmed. I actually had to sit down and actually started crying. Then I heard a voice in my head and this feeling in my heart that I never had before. The voice asked, “When are you going into ministry?” I actually sat there and had an out loud argument about why I couldn’t and why it was nonsense. I argued in my head all day Tuesday. I had felt like God was calling me for the last 5 or 6 years, but I constantly had an excuse why I couldn’t. “Dana doesn’t even like church, she can’t be a pastor’s wife”; “I don’t live good enough to minister”, etc. (there were hundreds). But that Tuesday, I had literally run out of every excuse, I had NONE. So I asked God to confirm it to me, if that is what he wanted me to do.

Wednesday morning I got up, put on a pot of coffee, prayed and began to read 1 Thessalonians. Four verses in I read, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” That was it! God gave me EXACTLY what I asked for because I made intentional, consistent and the right connection with him. I could have just read my bible and not really ever connected with God. It’s not about how long you’ve been reading your bible, or doing devotionals. It’s 100% about REALLY, TRULY and DEEPLY seeking God’s face. I have NEVER had a relationship with Jesus like I do today. That day in the shower, I got my WOW moment and the Holy Spirit finally got ALL of me. I cannot imagine EVER going back to a place where I do not have this kind of relationship with Jesus. When God told me ministry was his plan for me, it didn’t make sense. Me? Why? I never gave it any consideration, because it was not what I wanted to do, but now I can’t imagine doing ANYTHING else.

It took all of that for me to realize some very important truths. My number one relationship is and has to be with Christ. As long as I have that, all my other relationships will be right. I am a COMPLETELY different person than I was 7 months ago; emotionally, spiritually and physically (all the stress caused me to drop nearly 45 lbs in 5 months - unhealthy I know!). We really do serve an AWESOME and WONDERFUL God. He really does shine a light of hope and blessing into the darkest pit of despair and sadness. God took my shipwreck and snakebite and set up the divine appointments in the exact order and with the exact people He needed to orchestrate the incredible change He had in store for my life.

Never Going Back,
Bruce