Testimonial of Pastor James from Arlington Texas
I grew up in a very dysfunctional home and my earliest memories are bloody fights between my parents, littered with broken windows, broken dishes and broken furniture. My Father abandoned us when I was four, and the years that followed were filled with physical and emotional abuse from a mother who was completely overwhelmed. I grew up believing it was normal to live with fear and stress every day, and I know what it feels like to carry wounds from rejection and betrayal.
I later acquired a stepdad whose biker nickname was Outlaw. He embraced me in a loving way and welcomed me into his world, but, he had no parenting skills, so he taught me street skills. I remember a fishing trip, at eight years old – he distracted the clerk while I stole the ice and bait. We spent many hours in the pool hall where he taught me to hustle. Needless to say, I learned a lot of destructive habits at an early age.
By thirteen, I was buying, selling, and using drugs as a lifestyle. By fifteen, I was well down the road to being an alcoholic. At 15, I left home and survived on my own, even eating food out of a trash dumpster for a season. That same year, I went to jail for the first time, which became a reoccurring theme. Anger was a controlling force and I found myself in and out of trouble, and in and out of court rooms. There was always a trail of one-night-stands and broken relationships behind me. I tested the boundaries of reckless behavior daily, including an insane amount of drug use, and it’s amazing that I survived those dark years. I was a slave to so many things – chain smoking cigarettes and almost drinking myself to death many times…and, on occasion, even sharing dirty needles with other lost souls.
I know how it feels to hurt so bad, and feel so hopeless, that you want to end your life, and I came close to taking my own life a few times! I was always trying new things and looking for something that would fulfill me – new jobs, new hobbies, new adventures. I worked my way up to some decent positions that were career worthy, but they never lasted, because I was either too restless, or would get into trouble. I once landed a suit-and-tie job, and even though the briefcase I carried to work made me look like I’d gotten somewhere, it was just a phony symbol of what my life was really like on the inside – because the only thing I carried in the briefcase was a bottle of booze and a stack of porn magazines. In one of those seasons desperate for change, I joined the military. It was a great experience in many ways, but I often felt lonely, and I found that no matter where you go, you take your problems with you. I met an amazing woman and got married, but after 2 years, that too became a train wreck.
By Spring of ’89 I was about to leave the military with nowhere to go in life. I was standing at a crowded bus stop and suddenly a guy in the crowd turned and said, “well, as long as we have time on our hands, I might as well tell everyone about Jesus”. He preached to our bewildered faces for a few minutes and then started picking people out of the crowd, one at a time, with pointed questions about Heaven and Hell. And, without warning, he turned and looked into my eyes, and peering deep into my broken soul, he said, “what about you…are you living for Jesus or not?” Something happened to me in that moment… and I’ve never been the same. As filthy as my life was, I had always somehow convinced myself that God and I were on good terms. I’d had people drag me to church at various times over the years, I’d been to the altar in tears a few times, I’d even been baptized in water and said the ‘sinners prayer’. But, I couldn’t escape that bus stop preacher’s words, and I knew that I’d been lying to myself. I suddenly knew that I couldn’t escape God, no matter where I tried to hide. After a few days, I reached a breaking point, and said to my wife, “I MUST find my God!”
I started surrendering myself to Jesus Christ, and the more I let go of filthy things, the more free I felt. He took a heart covered in wounds and healed it to the point that I was able to forgive the people who inflicted the worst damage. He healed my marriage and 30 years later, we’re more in love than ever. He’s given me a deep peace about the past, the present and my future. He forgave my guilt, removed the darkness from my life and made me feel clean inside. I tried repeatedly to walk away from my addictions, but failed miserably, until He used His strength to free me. I draw a very real and active strength every day from His presence. I was freed from fear, anger, and racism. He’s given me hope that benefits me today, tomorrow, and beyond the grave for all eternity. He’s taught me how to love and be loved. He taught me the joy of being a sacrificial giver, and I’ve been empowered with the privilege of using my past to help heal others.
I’ve lived an unusually full life, tasting all that the world has to offer, and I can tell you with authority and confidence, that nothing is more satisfying than the presence of God Himself. I’ve traveled the world to 17 different countries, and the desperation of humanity is the same everywhere you go. I’ve owned 4 businesses including a successful invention. But, the silver and gold are worthless if you’re empty inside. I’ve been to the best parties, had plenty of cash, and owned cool toys like boats and motorcycles. But, without Christ it’s all empty. I’ve experienced college, law enforcement, emergency medicine and martial arts. I earned trophies in boxing, sword fighting, photography, and wood working. I can play the guitar, forge steel, write computer code, and I once peddled a mountain bike 100 miles. But, none of those things made me complete or made me a better person inside. Everything I’ve owned and everything I’ve done, outside of Jesus Christ, was a waste of time – and, I consider it all garbage compared to having more of Him!
The last twenty five years have not been perfect, but they have been perfectly amazing! In a strange way, I’m grateful for the years of hardship, because they made me desperate enough to run to God. But, your life doesn’t have to be as desperate as mine was to see your need for God’s wisdom and power; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the world is a lost place. Jesus has loved me and given me the privilege of loving Him back, which is beyond words. He has given my life purpose and joy. I wake up every day to feel His breath on my life one more time, just to hear His voice one more time, to know His presence one more time, and it fulfills me in a way that cannot be understood unless you experience it yourself. I have found… the meaning of life.
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are tired and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)