It was a broken community.
My mother and I lived with my grandparents in Denver for a while when I was young. Life on the block included many broken homes. Alcohol, physical, substance and even child abuse existed in more than one of the houses on our block. Alcoholism seemed to scream the loudest in our home through my grandfather, yet the thing that would be hardest for me to deal with over time was religious abuse.
Since we lived in the grandparents’ house, I observed their cult church’s rules that amounted to attempts to follow Old Testament restrictions in order to gain favor with God. Members weren’t allowed to celebrate birthdays, Easter, Christmas or play outside on Saturdays in observance of The Sabbath.
For me, The Sabbath seemed like a punishment as the weekend neared. I wanted to join the kids in the neighborhood as I watched them play outside on Saturdays from the window in my bedroom. My image of God was that of a mean father figure who didn’t want a kid to have fun.
Suddenly, community changed. Fearing what gang-infested junior high in North Denver would look like for me, my mother moved us to the North Texas suburbs of Carrollton. Though I was glad to be out of the cult life and a dangerous neighborhood, we struggled. My mother worked two waitressing jobs and we both felt the weight of not having a man to help provide for us.
Playing sports in Carrollton meant seeing fathers root on their sons at baseball, basketball and football games. My mother wasn’t able to make it to my games since she worked nights and I remember growing angry for the first time that I didn’t have a father around. Life looked a little better on that side of the fence where both moms and dads were in the picture.
I wanted to prove I didn’t need a father. I loathed asking anybody for help and I started to rebel. I was moved up to the varsity football team my freshman year of high school and began to run with an older crowd who liked to party. I didn’t get into serious trouble, but I was drawn to the lifestyle. I didn’t want any restrictions on me, yet the fear of God still existed. The cult teaching of staying in favor with God always seemed to remind me not to do anything too wrong to anger Him. I still felt he didn’t want me to have any fun.
I felt God could zap me at any moment if I didn’t make up for a growing list of wrong decisions. My sophomore year in high school saw me being the life of the party and I felt the gap between God and I grew larger with every sin. I was miserable. I felt a zapping was just around the corner.
Fortunately, a friend on the football team had made a commitment to keep inviting me and several other teammates to a Bible study. At one of these Bible studies, I learned how wide the gap was between God and I and how I could never bridge it with good works.
For the first time I heard about Jesus and the Good News. The leader of the Bible study laid out God’s plan of reconciliation, sending Jesus to live a perfect life, to eventually die on a cross and be resurrected so that I might have forgiveness of sins and eternal life with Him.
I believed it. The gap between God and me vanished, but I still found it hard to ask for help on what a Christian was supposed to look like. I was looking at others but saw the differences. Most of them had a father and mother in the house, attended church and liked Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. I lived with my mother and grandmother (she moved in after my grandfather passed away), wouldn’t set foot in a church and liked R.E.M and Nirvana.
These comparisons would last throughout college and early into my marriage with me wondering if I was getting it wrong. It wasn’t until my wife Jessica and I started going to 121 Community Church that we both learned God can and wants to use anyone from any background to bring glory to His name. I also learned the value of discipleship and the need to be in authentic community.
Now, as a father myself who has found his ultimate father in God, I say He has taught me to ask for help and to take pride in what He has done to rescue me. He has given me a beautiful and Godly woman to share life with, a sweet daughter to be a daddy to, and has even drawn my mother and grandmother into a true relationship with Him. And sure enough, he has shown me that a true Christian is someone humbled by God’s will and love. He has surrounded me by many of those people.
We are a broken community.