Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Seven Years

With the ending of 2010 and the start of 2011, there is a huge milestone in my life. Sometime around the first of February will be my seven-year anniversary of coming out of the “wilderness,” which I was in for seven years…which means that I’ve been back walking with God for as long as I was walking away from Him. To some, this might not seem like too big a deal unless you know the drastic differences between the two seven-year spans. It’s been really unbelievable. People around me, including my wife Vicki, think I should share with you the story so you can see how big God really is.

A little over 14 years ago, after a lot of failure in my life and some bad choices, I found myself with a failed marriage of 17 years and a failing sound and light company. I also knew I’d never again be the full-time father I’d always promised to be to my three children. And, with the exception of a few friends who let me sleep on their couches from time to time, I became homeless. I felt like the scum of the earth, rejected and unloved by everyone—even God. I often slept in my car or my sound equipment truck. My diet consisted of pork and beans, Beanee Weenees, peanut butter—stuff that didn’t have to be heated.

For a while I tried to hold on to my faith in God, if only by a thread. I had started my journey with Him over a decade earlier, and while life was sometimes a rollercoaster ride, it had some really good moments. Most of all, I loved being a dad. I was also founder of one of the first contemporary Christian bands in Clarksville, a youth leader, and a Sunday school teacher in my church. I toured with a Christian artist with my sound company. And even as my life was falling apart and I was becoming homeless myself, I was still trying to do some street ministry by helping out with a local Christian coffee shop (where I was able to sleep on the couch) and organizing some street rallies and concerts. I continued to play bass on a local worship team and another Christian rock band in town.

I finally found a place to live and started to work some side jobs so I could eat and at least see my kids from time to time. But I felt like the lowest, most pathetic person on earth and was convinced that God must really be pissed off at me, He must not need me anymore, and the years I had spent with Him must not mean anything.

I started looking to the world for love. The Church didn’t seem to have any for me anymore, especially after the divorce papers were filed. And so my life in the wilderness started. I walked away from church, God, and friends (that is, those who hadn’t already turned their backs on me). With child support hanging over my head, I took a job in a local bar as a sound guy and jumped headfirst into a life of alcohol, drugs, and the party life. As my first Christmas without my kids approached, I decided I wouldn’t remember that Christmas, and I started to numb myself with whatever drink or drug I could get my hands on. On the 26th of December I ended up in the hospital with a heart attack. While I was lying there in the hospital, a pastor came to see me and tried to scare Jesus back into me. It didn’t work! In fact, years later, that same preacher admitted to me that he had left the hospital convinced that there wasn’t anything worth saving. And at that time, that’s what I believed, too.

I spent the next seven years working in bars as a sound guy, bartender, bouncer, or cook, taking any drug that was put in front of me. I even sold cocaine to pay for my own habit. I felt so alone that I would sleep with any woman who would go home with me. Deep down, I just wanted someone to love me. There were so many times during those years that my life could have ended from bad dope, bar fights, jealous husbands, or driving drunk.

But even though I turned my back on God, He didn’t turn His back on me. He kept me alive, and seven years ago next month He came and kissed me, put a clean robe on me, and started the process of building my life the way He wanted it to be. Ironically, the one I was running and hiding from is the very one I most wanted to love me, but I’d been so sure He was done with me.

Jesus took me and hid me away in a little room in a warehouse at a ministry in Nashville. He started to teach me how to love and be loved. He taught me how to love the unlovable. He taught me how to trust only in Him, even when it didn’t make sense. I learned to trust Him for all my needs, even what I ate from day to day. There have been times I’ve been a very slow learner, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but during these seven years since the wilderness I’ve been ordained under two different ministries and founded Manna CafĂ© Ministries (where we provide thousands of meals to the homeless and low-income families every month). God sent my wife, Vicki, to walk this wonderful life with me (she is truly my rib). My relationships with the ones who never gave up on me—my children and my family—are stronger than ever. I’ve been able to minister in one way or another in Boston, Seattle, Wisconsin, and Illinois as well as Queens, New York and in local churches in Tennessee and Kentucky.

The Bible says Jesus will call His own by a new name. One night a few years back, I had a dream in which God told me that my new name was Seth, which means “second chance.” God, thank You for that chance. Since that dream, I’ve been given other names—Pastor Bubba, Pop (Grandpa), Husband, and to many of you, Friend. I wear them all with pride. I pray that I live up to the name from the dream most of all.

I developed a lot of scars during those years in the wilderness, scars that Jesus, by going to the cross for me, has healed. And over the last seven years Jesus has shown me that He is using my scars to heal others.

When I was in the wilderness, I met a lot of amazing people who were just as lost as I was and who I still consider my friends. I’m making new friends now who are in the same boat—stuck in the wilderness without hope. Some may say they aren’t worth saving, but my prayer is that they can look at my story and follow me out, follow me to Jesus because in His eyes there is not one person who’s not worth saving. I’m proof.

Let the next seven years begin.

Bubba (a.k.a. Seth)