I was born into a family that was not remarkable to anyone but me. I am the youngest of five and the second born of identical twins, so you could call me the “extra child”, although my parents never did. In fact I can’t think of a time when I didn’t know that my parents loved me, even when I gave them lots of opportunities to disown me.
Our family was not evangelical Christians like I am now, but I did learn about Jesus from a very early age. We went to church nearly every week. While we hear testimonies from people who became a Christian so early on that they cannot remember a time when Christ was everything to them, that certainly was not me. I was a generally lazy kid who did well in school without working very hard and never really learned to work.
Throughout grade school I routinely showed my pride with sarcastic speech and subtle manipulation of those who felt sorry for me because I was the youngest or small for my age or whatever angle I could find. My parents sacrificed a lot for our education and managed to scrape together enough money to send me to a Catholic high school, even with two other private high school tuitions and two other kids in college. My conduct there included things like sleeping in class, mouthing off to the younger teachers and generally being a rebellious youth. After getting kicked out of that school I attended the local public high school where I got progressively worse. My friends and I cared for nothing but the next party and opportunity to drink. As a result of my sin I had just about every privilege taken from me including driving. One night, I was stuck at a friend’s house about 10 miles from home and didn’t have a ride so I started walking. The only way I knew was on the interstate so that’s the route I took. If you can imagine the kid from the picture wearing old jeans and a thin denim jacket on a 30 degree November night you can imagine my own surprise when someone pulled over and offered me a ride home.
The driver was a 19 year old girl named Kim who was a Christian. In the car ride on the way home she explained that she felt compelled to give me a ride as an extension of her faith. During the ride and while parked in my driveway she talked about Jesus as more than just someone in history as I’d been familiar with as I grew up – she talked about Him as though she knew Him as a friend. During that conversation and others I learned how the Bible is clear that everyone sins and is separated from a perfect God because of it. I realized that my behavior would never be enough to get me to heaven because none of the good things I might do in the future could erase all the bad things I had done to separate me from God in the first place. I knew that someone had to pay for my sin before I died and faced the judgment and it would either be me or Jesus through what He did on the cross. This was very different than much of what I had been taught – that by believing in Jesus, plus participating in religious works plus living a good life I could get to heaven after paying for my own sins in purgatory. (actually in my one year of Catholic high school I was taught that the Bible is really just a bunch of stories with a moral purpose to them and don’t even need to be true to be valuable to us). I cannot point to a date when I repented of my sin and turned my future over to whatever God had in store for me, but I believe it was some time in late 1987.
Since then my life has not been perfect or altogether wonderful, but I have been blessed beyond measure. There have been several times in my life when God has drawn me closer and more in love with Him in extremely intense periods. One was during the first Persian Gulf War. Being surrounded by a bunch of navy guys is not the best way to live a holy life and I was so downtrodden by repeatedly falling into sin. We had a terrific chaplain who showed me from the scriptures that where sin abounds God’s grace is even greater and taught me how to live a more holy life and use the occasions that I did sin to explain the joy of knowing God’s grace and mercy with shipmates who were not Christians. As I’ve grown as a Christian and seen my sin and God’s amazing grace more and more, it’s been even more of a blessing to me.
My life is summed up in a verse from one of my favorite hymns – Guilty, vile and helpless ME, spotless Lamb of God was he, full atonement can it be? Hallelujah what a savior.
At the end of 2014 our family and one other moved to Carrollton, Georgia to plant a church focused on reaching and serving a lower income and racially diverse community. You can see more at http://www.wearelivingstones.net if you are interested.