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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Four Years

I have never really chronicled my life for the last four years...I think it is important because so much has happened in those four much that I am grateful for even though a lot of it makes me blush with embarrassment.

I finished a year of community college in the Spring of '06; it was the first time I had been in school since graduating from high school in '03. What happened in those three years is done with and over; there is just too much pain and regret to revisit all that happened during that time. Aside from the period right before Christ came and found me in '98, this was truly the darkest and loneliest time of my life. Anyway, after finishing two semesters my parents could no longer afford to send me to community college and so I had to either borrow and go to school or complete give up on school. Since I believed I was called to ministry, giving up school would ensure that I never got to minister anywhere aside from supernatural intervention. I was young, 22 and way more cocky than I am now. Since I needed to go to school I narrowed down my choices to three Christian colleges Liberty University, Carson-Newman College, and The University of Mobile.

My first choice was Liberty University, I had visited there several times and I knew that it offered somewhat challenging academics. However, when going to visit the school I sensed that it was not the place for me and I was turned off in its formalism. So, I went to Suffolk to pray about it some more and soon it became clear; God said, "Go to Mobile." Now mind you, I had never seen UM and I did not have overly fond feelings about the Deep South and so finding myself stuck down there with no one to help me but relatives I had been alienated from just about all of my life, was not at all comforting. Still by the Spring of '06 I knew my place was at the University of Mobile in the Fall and I prepared to make the trip to Alabama.
I wish I could say I fell in love with the place the first time I saw it; I didn't. In fact, my initial reaction was one of betrayal. I had clung to God for three years after having the deal with traumatic church experiments and dramatic Christians and that was how God rewarded me? I was furious and for the first month (as my former roommate Shaun Wilkerson will testify) I never left the dorm room. I missed Hope Haven especially (before college these were my closest friends that I worked with each summer) and I missed home and I was stuck and often miserable. My RA was a nice guy named Josh McCoy who was always being berated by my RC Josh Weatherford for not doing his job (I don't think we ever had room checks) and being too loud with the 3am Halo II contests. My roommate Shaun was a quiet guy who loved to play the guitar, talk about the female gender, and discuss theology past midnight. There would be many weekends where Shaun and I would just hangout all day, only pausing to eat. I still remember the Red v. Blue, Smallville, and other marathons we would sit and enjoy.

After a month a met my first group of friends and I met a girl named Jordan, who is now married. Jordan was my first girlfriend and everything I guy could do wrong with his first girlfriend we did (except having sex). It was a poorly timed and purely emotionally driven relationship. We began to talk about serious things way too fast and soon became clear to me about a month in that I was not making the best of choices. Well, she made a very poorly chosen comment about how she could manipulate me (bad idea btw) and I ended the relationship and told her that she was not mature enough to handle an adult relationship; and to be honest, she really wasn't.

After that, I went to my first UM Campus Ministry event, Urban Plunge. Even though Campus Ministries and I have always had our ups and downs (because I tried see campus ministries like a church and isn't) but I loved Urban Plunge. It was my first time driving in a major city (yes, you saw right...I drove for Campus Ministries) and my first visit to the city that still holds my heart: the city of New Orleans. Any fear and trepidation I had from people trying to discourage me was erased when I saw the broken, battered, but still vibrant and alive city just a year after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. It was here that I would make a lot of new friendships (three of my closest friends came from this group) and that God would begin to burden me with the city and stir in my heart dreams of connecting UM with New Orleans.

The trip itself was actually a dismal failure (nothing planned happened) but it was more about what happened through the trip than the events of trip itself. The people in my van made sure that they were straight with Jesus because my driving nearly killed them on several occasions; by the end of the trip, people were sitting on the floor of the other vans to avoid my van: hilarious.

The first year was a humbling year because I was a very arrogant young man. I would try to start debates and arguments, many times not knowing what I was talking about. God gave me some pretty decent friends and even acquaintances to help me come to terms with how little I knew. I especially credit the then Megan Dean and Tara Volnoff (now Desko and Frasier respectively) for their continuous joy in reducing me to bite size pieces of mush. A turning point for me was Megan pretty much telling me to I was an obnoxious, arrogant twit and that she seriously did not want to have another uninformed debate with me. Yeah, I really needed to hear that. After that, I did not try so hard to get my opinion across and I began to learn, study, and think; thanks Megan, it has made all the difference for me.

The rest of the year went on without incident and I began to have a feelings for someone my age; her name was Neesha and even today she is my best friend; there is no one who understand me and can talk to me like she does. If the day comes when I meet the woman who will marry me (poor, poor woman) then I will make sure she has long conversations with Neesha and I am sure Neesha will be glad to help her to understand me. Neesha and I think similarly and we went through tough spiritual moments together; we would spend hours just talking about church and our longing for deeper communion we managed to share with each other. You know it is pretty amazing how our relationship has changed in various ways, but yet she and I have not lost our closeness. Well, we navigated our relationship and feelings for about six months, but in the end God told Neesha that it was not what he intended for us.

I don't think I have ever been as upset as I was on that day. After that something changed; I don't know if it was actually love of the real sort...even today there are times when I think still would not be happier, but all I know is that my music changed, my sleeping habits changed, my attitude toward women changed, amongst so many subtle changes. I went home to Virginia heartbroken, but before then I went two other really awesome experiences.

One was the Bridge and it was relatively cheap back then because we drove up rather than bought plain tickets. We went to Chicago and it was there that I discovered how little I prayed. The young missionary there, Cody, was always telling us to pray; every spare moment was filled with prayer. It eventually began to annoy us that this demanding guy was constantly pushing us to pray. However, we began to see what God did in answer to prayer when we went and witnessed at the largest community college in the world. We also began to understand just how religiously lost Chicago was (we visited a mosque and the largest Hindu temple outside of India). It was here that I was introduced to chai tea and have loved it ever since. It is at the only ministry reaching Muslim in Chicago, the South Asian Friendship Center, that we learned that there 2 million Muslims in Chicago and the number was rapidly growing, that soon most churches (which had retreated the the suburbs) would be mosques. It was a humbling trip that God used to challenge me on prayer and my belief that he could reach anyone with the Gospel. I also made some new friends on this trip as well.

The other was called "Displace Me" and it was sponsored by Invisible Children and it was held on the University of Tulane grounds. We ate rations and slept in our decorated cardboard tents and woke up sticky, smelly, and really kind of gross. Then we decided to take our gross selves to eat lunch at the Hard Rock where we got talk about what we were doing and why we were doing it; it was pretty awesome. The whole event was to raise awareness for Ugandan refugees who were caught between rebels and the Ugandan government. These refugees were subjected to frequent attacks from both sides where various forms of violence were inflicted up the villages. It was here that I met some more friends and solidified my relationships with others.

But as I said, I went home heartbroken.

Summer was always boring till Hope Haven. I would spend long hours in the coffee shop reading/writing; it is during this time that I began to appreciate such atmosphere and I enjoyed the peace and quiet. During this time I began to have regular correspondence with yet another female, Lacy. During my time at Hope Haven (which unknown to me at the time, would be my last) I sent letters and texted Lacy back and forth. In the last letter I wrote to her I asked her to go out with me and she said yes and I was like seriously excited because I really began to like her over the course of the summer...but it was not be for several reasons.

During the Summer of '07 I became very sick; so sick that I was not completely over the sickness till Labor Day ish. From the early part of July till the very beginning of September I was sick with a severe sinus infection...and I would not rest. If there is a lesson to be learned it is this, God does not need us for anything; I could have gone home and recovered my health and everything would have been fine...but instead I worked on because it was my first summer on staff and I wanted to make a difference in those workers lives. I kept pressing and pressing and I even thought I was finally getting better until I got on the plane to go back to Mobile.

That night it went all over my body; what had begun to clear up, flared up and all of sudden I was sick, again. I used to carry around the bag of medicines that the doctor(s) prescribed for me. By the time the next summer came around I was sick of medicines and doctors. Anyway, being in one my relatives house that was at 86 degrees the whole time did not help any. I just got worse until move in day when I had to leave my incoming-RA party (yes, I had become an RA...forgot that detail) to go to the hospital. It was not a fun experience and for the first semester of my sophomore year I was constantly either at the doctor or in the bed. I am amazed at how well my hall did considering that most of time I was not able to be a part of it. The first semester was spent try to figure out the weird disorder that came upon my wrecked body as a result of me not taking a few days to rest.

Life would never be the same.

I love being an RA; I loved being with the guys on my hall. I even loved working the lobbies. It was my ideal job and I had no intention of quitting it. However, as time went on I became desperate to get over whatever was troubling my body...I was even afraid at many points that I was dying and that there was something seriously wrong with me. This was a tough year; I had to drop a class because it was too much for me to hold up and I had to ask for an extension on a final paper because I simply could not concentrate. I began to do things in preparation to die and I cannot remember a time where I missed my family more. The school was concerned for me, and Brian Boyle sent me home for Fall Break on the school's dime.
My relationship with Lacy lasted a month and she ended it when it became clear that I was emotionally compromised. It hurt, but at the same time I understand how Lacy needed to have someone who was not falling apart. It is during this semester that I really began to become good friends with Matt Turner, who became like my example of Jesus Christ. Matt was a great guy, who would give you anything if you needed it. He was a man who spent tireless hours talking to everyone, listening to problems, and just serving you to best of his ability. This would often lead periods where Matt was just worn out from all of the work. I went to church with, hung out with, and enjoyed Matt's company. Matt left all of our lives after Sophomore year; it was hard everyone but it was especially hard on me; other than a few words here and there Matt fell in love, got engaged, and forgot all of the rest us. I wish him and Michelle a good life.

I met a lot of people my Sophomore year; and it was in the Spring of Sophomore year that God pushed me to implement what he had placed on my heart for a year: The New Orleans Project. I had went to Catalyst before Fall break and had purchased the Mark Batterson book, In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day, on the way home I read that book and God whispered to me: I want you to take a risk and do what is on your heart. This was huge considering my health was a mess, I did not know enough people to really make a difference, and I had never led anything before. It was a huge calculated risk.

Let me say that I was going to a church at the time, though I did not have a place to serve. Church would be a perennial problem till I left college; most of things I felt called to do where things a lot churches simply could not afford to do or had interest in doing. Rather than jump on a soapbox, I would like to urge churches to support people who do ministries that are out of the box. When you do that, you open a door of creativity and increase your witness beyond your doors.

For the next few months, till I resigned as leader, TNOP would be all I thought about. There are a lot of things I learned about God and myself from TNOP. There were a lot of friends that I have because they decided to be a part of TNOP in some way. It was a privilege trying to lead these people who gave time, money, and energy to make God's vision happen and for awhile, it did. It was not always the best of times and there were many times were personal differences, personality quirks, and other matters came in, but I will always be grateful to Sarah Kebrdle, Jared Carter, Hayes Parnell, Jessica Pike, Josh Pepper, Jessica McLean, Charity Williamson, and Alicia Conn for being the first to lead this venture with me; you guys are my heroes and you inspired your class of students to stand up and try make a difference school wide. 

Leadership is contagious and you certainly were viral.

So we started TNOP in the Spring of '08 and by the time we got to the Fall we added people to our leadership team; Alan Ostrzycki, Jenna Sasser, Craig Ferguson, Katie Handley, Brandy Wood, and Josh Hembree all joined our leadership team the following year and they are the ones who made TNOP do so well that Fall where we exposed so many people to the poverty and need in New Orleans. All of you guys did terrific jobs as well.

During the Spring I was a constant ball of stress between TNOP, sickness, classes, and other smaller issues. My parents moved to Athens, AL in the Spring and I was wondering what life was going to be like in Northern Alabama. It was toward the end of the semester when I met James Byrd and with him everyone else who would become my dearest friends for the rest of school (actually not true; Adam and Danyelle [Amanda Leonard maybe too?] in North Hall lobby while they were watching a football game. Thomas I met through Amanda Seales). Little did I know that James and I would become roommates for all of the next year and half of the following year.

Other random things about Sophomore year...I almost killed Eric Roberts for not cleaning up his crap and he was like a great friend but the worst roommate ever...he just was a mess. When I moved into a different room in the Spring, my roommate, Guy, said three things to me and then moved out one day while I was in class...had the rest of the semester to myself.

Willie Mac became who he is today Junior Year. That summer I had a serious crush on another girl named Aja, that never really went anywhere. I think though a lot of it had to do with my loneliness at being up in Athens. At the time, I was not going to church that much and when I did it was just that: to church. That was the summer where I seriously thought God had lost his mind. I had hoped that moving to Alabama would move me closer to peeps I knew, but it did no such thing. It was hard one me and blogged a lot of ugly things about this town and I have had to take responsibility for them. I was bored to death that summer not being at Hope Haven and basically spent the Summer on video games and Facebook.
James e-mailed me over the summer asking me to be his roommate and I consented. I was so ready to be back at UM. I absolutely loved Junior year; if there were a year I could play back over and over again; it would be Junior year.

Nothing bonds people together like being in a car packed slap full of people and stuff...that is what we dealt with twice as we fled from two natural "disasters." James Byrd, Thomas Fletcher, Adam Morris, Jake Smith, and I all ran to Thomas' house in Birmingham where James was prepared and to sleep in the nude in Thomas' living room to which after moments of disbelief he responded, "I am not ok with this!" I was not ok with Jake at the time, he really creeped me out, but I loved the trip we got to spend with each other (minus the giant bugs in Thomas' garage) and then Adam, Thomas, James, and I ended up going to James' place in Albany, GA where James' dad came in the house took one look at us and we forever had that image emblazoned in our minds. This is when I knew that they guys were going to be my friends for the rest of school; they were ridiculous, annoying, and I loved every minute of it.

I don't remember much about the classes that year because there was not much to remember. I began to abandon all hope being cured and just began to accept my illness; it helped. I continued to be involved with TNOP (though I had to resign from being the head leader prematurely). Another thing I learned is that you cannot manipulate God and you should not use God's ministry to advance yourself; it fails miserably and you may even see a dream go down in flames. At the leadership retreat in December, I said goodbye to TNOP for good and never went on another trip with them to New Orleans.

I went to Catalyst that year with Robert and Madison Copeland and Ryan Ogborn. These guys are a riot together; seriously. I even got a chance to break out my prosperity gloves and started preaching the finer points of the prosperity gospel. Anyway, I got to see for the first how the Copelands were not just really strange twins who were always wearing matching outfits, but also how amazing they were as people. These guys still remain one the most godliest men that I know, so godly they get on your nerves when they shine to brightly (and that happened many times). That was fun and I will never forget that.

Right before Christmas I started dating a girl named Jen who while having a conversation on Facebook, told me I was "the one." I have not admitted this out loud before, because it is one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. Anyway, we were never really physical but the emotional roller coaster was absolutely devastating. She was always down and I was always supposed to pick her up. Plus, whenever I wanted to talk with her, she did not want to talk; when we got back to school she did not want to spend any time with me. I figured out why, she was cheating on me. My good friend, Thomas, told me that he had heard this from reliable source, but I refused to believe him...I went to back for her and she lied to me...then she broke up with me because I could not trust her.

It was horrible. And for the rest of the semester I was kind of numb and in shock over what had occurred. I had always been proud of my reason and I discovered that my reason was disregarded...I had always been careful and the moment I abandoned myself was the moment I was destroyed. It took me awhile to consider anyone else.

That semester I went with my friends Natalie Jones and Jake to their hometown of Decatur, IL. I enjoyed that trip as well and it was one the last times I saw the two together; they broke up not far after that. Jake did not come back the next semester and Natalie moved on. But it was a good experience being able to a long for the ride and see what life was like for some of my friends.

The rest of that semester was a blur and it was then that I began to realize that life at UM was coming to an end. I had already sensed that the winds were changing and I really had idea just how much that was true. I spent another boring summer in Athens and then I went back to UM for the last time.

Senior year was a defining year; so much happened in that brief span of time. It was in the Fall when I started really questioning my beliefs about organizational church and it was in the Fall that I mailed a letter out to twelve different pastors asking for wisdom and counsel; I received nothing back. It was then that I decided to abandon the professional ministry and instead decided that I was going to be a professor. This was an interesting decision on my part and was far from what God wanted. I began to panic about a lot things and that led me to make a lot of dumb decisions.

I was always in the room the first semester, because I was always reading and appears that I took all of the reading/writing intensive classes I could take. Mind you, I could have dropped one and had been fine but I was determined to make it through that semester; I did but it was not fun. I would come in about 1 or 2 and would read till about 8 or was miserable. Here it was the last year of college and like an idiot I had decided to spend it in books.

That summer I had began to talk to a girl named Carri, we never dated, but we became close. It was during this summer that God intervened and blessed me with wisdom. I had strong feelings for her and I wanted see if they were just feelings; so God separated us from contact for 30 days. What that did was ultimately break the spell and revealed that she was not crazy about me as I was about her. We were not a good match anyway and God spared us both the pain.

I rarely had time for anyone the first semester and what I did have was spent on the friends I would miss the most. I spent more time with Aja in the Fall than in the Spring and I began studying Greek and getting to know Jenna Sasser who God used me to help improve her writing organization. I also tried to spend as much time with guys as possible. Near the end the room became mold infested and aggravated James and I's shared sickness. So, after our parents complained, we were moved out to a house in the back of campus where we remained for the final two weeks.

The last semester was wild; that is all there is too it. Angelique came back into my life after a year and half hiatus and we restored our neglected friendship. I really got to know and enjoy Callie Chandler as well and the two of them helped to save my life later in the semester. As I knew the end was coming up, I became more and more sullen and I was prone to get angry with friends. I spent lots of time with everyone I could; it was crazy how much time I try to spend with everyone...which to be honest was not the best idea. Though I had hung out with her a couple of times in our group, Amanda Leonard did not really warm up to me till the last semester, but in that short time I grew to appreciate her for who she is and what she goes through.

I was becoming more and more afraid, aggravated and fearful. I was not looking forward to leaving all of them behind. I was not looking forward to not having life in Athens. The stress was too much for me and I mid semester I had Campus Affairs make me sign a paper saying I would not kill myself and asking me to go to counseling. I self-destructed...that is the only way I can put it and when I did I hurt my friends a lot, even though they were faithful to me, I totally and viciously lashed out at them. It was at that moment when I experienced God's love anew, when all of my friends decided to forgive and forget; they were going to be my friends even beyond college.

It was hard to tell everyone good bye. Especially after through adversity, we had become so close...but it was necessary for my growth. Starting Junior year I had begun to drift away from a serious relationship with God; it did not help that I became so enamored with my friends. God and I were pretty close during Sophomore year because of my illness and I guess once I figured out that I was not dying...I kind of left him behind. So, it became clear to me that when I left UM it just be God and I. After two years of neglect, the prospect of being alone with a stranger, even if it was God.

Goodbye was hard; there was not enough time to see and say goodbye to everyone. There simply was not enough time to spend with everyone. There was even some drama the last week we were there. It tore me up to have to say farewell; I spent most of the day Saturday and Sunday in pieces. I acted like everyone had died, but in reality everyone was just moving on; I was moving on. What made it worse it that I had to linger for a week after; till my trip to the Cayman Islands.

Yeah, that was a nice graduation present from God; a very discipleship/missions trip to the Cayman Islands. I loved the trip and God used the trip to minister to me and he used us to help bring revival to Cayman-Brac, which was awesome. I went with the Copelands, Ryan, and a guy named Josh Driscoll. I also met Pastor Randy Von Kannel and his wife Cindy as well as his niece Leah Smith and Beth Lawyer. On Cayman-Brac I met the Tibbets family and all the wonderful folks at Fellowship and Ebenezer Baptist church who took care of us all with AMAZING hospitality. They still pray for us and I thank God for the time we were able to spend with them.

The Caymans showed me that God was up to something and through many of the experiences I had there I was able to rest in him for whatever was next, even though to be honest, he was a stranger to me still. So, when I returned to Athens I came with a heavy optimism sure that all the plans that I had been devising would become true and that I would quickly acquire work and then get a vehicle and the prepare for seminary in the Spring. I had an interview the week I returned and life was moving foward.


The interview turned out to be a complete sham; they told me I had the job and then well, I didn't. After that I searched extensively for weeks and weeks and nothing came up. I began to become depressed and angry...God who was my comfort before Junior year was alien and strange to me. I hated being stuck in Athens and I hated not having anyone to talk to our be around. I struggled most of the summer to adjust to my new life and I grew angrier and more frustrated with not being able to find a job and not being able to connect with people at church. It became so frustrating that I just wanted to give up on the whole walk.
Then, I walked into my pastor's office and the rest is history. God has restored my hope and confidence. God is calling back to himself, bringing me back into his church, and just working on me as a person. Let me say that I am still pretty messed up. I struggle like most guys, with lust, which means it is hard for me to be biblically singe and somewhat frustrating. I still have pride and vanity issue; I still am prejudiced against the Deep South as a whole. I am still learning to be a part of Clements Baptist church and ignore preference and just submit myself to be led. It still don't have a job, a car, or a way to seminary. There is a lot in my life that I wish would change but God has done so much and I am grateful to him for it!

Grace and Peace


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