Monday, December 28, 2009

"My Story" by Dave

I was born on October 6, 1952, and was raised in a Roman Catholic home.  We attended church every Sunday while I was growing up.  I received Jesus Christ by faith and was born again at the age of 18 just prior to my sophomore year in college at the University of Washington in August, 1971. 

I soon became energetically involved in the small group Bible studies sponsored by Intervarsity Christian Fellowship at the dormitories where I lived.  Early in my Christian walk, I joined Bethany Presbyterian Church.  Although very young in my faith, I was ‘on fire’ for the Lord that I yearned to serve in a full time Christian ministry.  I took a position as youth pastor in another Presbyterian Church on Bainbridge Island outside of Seattle.  The day after graduation from college, I was married, and my wife and I left for seminary in August, 1974.  I graduated from Dubuque Theological Seminary in 1977 and, after a brief ministry as the chaplain to a construction crew in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, I was called to serve as the senior pastor of the Black Diamond United Presbyterian Church, south of Seattle.  The church had about 100 members and grew to about 300 active members during my 7 year ministry there.  Also during this time, my wife and I started our family and were blessed with 3 beautiful children, Christina, Emily, and Eric. 

Somewhere around 1985, I left the Presbyterian Church primarily due to theological differences.  I considered the denomination to be too liberal in its profession and practice of faith.  I started an independent community church in a nearby town that soon flourished to about 150 active attendees.  Within a couple of years, however, the new church was riddled with division and disappointment.  I discovered that the structure and polity of the denomination I rejected was, in fact, an important factor in bringing and keeping people in the church.  My independent church dwindled to a faithful 20 loving souls.  During this time, my wife and I were having serious marital conflicts and so we made the decision to shut down the church, move far away, and receive nurture and healing in a larger church.  We settled at Bible Temple, in Portland, Oregon, where pastor Dick Iverson loved and mentored me during this difficult time.  I worked as a route salesman for a national parts company.  We were blessed financially, and purchased a wonderful, large old Portland home which we remodeled to suit the needs of our growing family. 

Our intention was to get the marriage healed and go back into the pastoral ministry within a year or two.  Instead, we had two more children and increasing marital conflicts, all related to disagreements over issues of minor consequence.  There was never any marital infidelity or serious problems other than the verbal emotional abuse we regularly dished out to each other.  My wife and I knew there were no real grounds for the divorce.  We were simply in a long-term and continuous state of disharmony.  We were both immature and we argued hotly almost daily, as I recall.  My wife informed me in a marriage therapy group we were attending that she had joined the military.  Soon thereafter, I received a surprise letter from her attorney serving me notice of a “legal separation”.  Although I did not want a divorce, I was unwilling to cooperate with a legal separation.  My wife became the petitioner and I was the respondent in painful clash of wills and year-long divorce proceeding complete with a messy custody battle and enormous attorney fees.  After 17 years of marital conflict, hundreds of hours of counseling, and unbelievable emotional woundedness, we divorced in April, 1991. 

This whole painful ordeal cost me my marriage, my home, my ministry, most of the people I thought were friends, my A+ credit, my reputation, and, of course, the custody of my children.  All that remained for me were the bills… and there were plenty of them.  Besides colossal consumer debt acquired over the past decade and a half of marriage, I was required to pay $1,978 per month in child and spousal support.  My income was adequate and, because of my love and devotion to the children, it pleased me to pay what I owed for their benefit.  I rented an apartment and saw the kids often during those times.   

Also, during those years, I suffered from serious stress and anxiety.  I was grief-stricken over the loss of my dream of ministry and a happy family.  I actively and willingly medicated the pain of my losses with addictive behavior and a promiscuous lifestyle.  I spent this period of my life in the pursuit of mostly hedonistic pleasure.  I began attending a non-Christian Sunday morning ‘church-substitute’ gathering of people who were seeking various paths to God.  There I found acceptance from others but no real or lasting spiritual answers for my dilemma.  In those years you could easily have found me on any given night drinking, dancing, chasing women, or playing blues guitar in a bar somewhere.  I did not crack my Bible for about 10 years and cried from despair often for several yars following the divorce. 

I thought I had ‘hit the bottom’ but I was wrong.  Things got worse.  Serious trouble appeared on the financial horizon… my sales territory and income was cut in half and I could no longer pay my taxes, child support, or even the rent on my single bedroom apartment.  I was literally reduced to homelessness, sleeping in my car for a short period of time.  My paycheck was garnisheed of the maximum amount, which was less than ½ of my monthly child support. I stopped paying taxes and was left with only several hundred dollars a month to live on.  Within a few months, I was more than $40,000 in debt to the IRS and unpaid child support, a condition that could have landed me in prison.  Besides that, I was faced with huge and mounting consumer and credit card debts I could not pay.  I was a first-class failure.  Dark and ugly thoughts of suicide floated through my mind.  I blamed the children’s mother for my unhappy condition and fantasized of doing physical harm to her.  More seriously, I considered running away and disappearing forever from the pathetic path I was on.  I was at the end of a terrible path and, like the prodigal son, I found myself in a real “pigpen” of my own making.  I wanted to die right then and there but five little reasons that kept me from making a stupid and irreversible decision… Christina, Emily, Eric, Julia, and Stanford. 

I well remember my lowest point.  My mind was occupied with persistent and nagging thoughts of hatred, bitterness, and self-destruction.  I was on emotional autopilot, intent only on surviving one miserable day at a time.  Life, it appeared, had played a cruel joke on me. I could not even imagine myself as a pastor of a church, a husband, or a real dad.  That life was gone forever.  My calling to the ministry, my dream of a happy home, my desire to father my children was nothing more than a quickly fading memory and replaced with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.  My aging, retired parents took pity on me and paid off my car loan from their hard earned savings.  I left my apartment,  threw everything I owned in a storage unit, except my clothes, shaving kit, and sleeping bag which I kept in the trunk of my Honda Civic.  I maintained a membership in a cheap health club and showered at the gym each day.  I organized company paid luncheons with clients so I could eat at least one decent meal daily.  I made routine visits to my storage locker to grab an armload of treasured seminary books to sell at Powell’s Book Store so I could buy a tank of gas and make sales calls for a few more days.  On one such visit I found my storage unit padlocked because I had not paid my bill.  All that remained of my self-respect vanished in that moment.  I pleaded with the storage manager to let me in.  I was homeless now and nothing more than a beggar on the street sleeping in my car. 

On a cold January night, I parked my car outside my children’s home under a streetlight.  I watched the house and wished I was inside with my kids.  I longed for the impossible… a happy, normal family life.  I was wrapped in a sleeping bag reclining in the driver’s seat and turned on the car every few hours for heat.  I was cold and suffered from a bad cough or virus.  I was spiritually, mentally, and physically sick.  I looked at myself in the rear view mirror and was further sickened by the ugly, wretched excuse for a human staring back at me.  In that moment, a scripture verse came to me, one that I had preached on many times:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those
who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28 NAS

I laughed and scorned the verse.  Yet I recognized the still small voice of Jesus from somewhere in my past.  I truly had ‘hit the bottom’ and it was now time to choose life or death.  I found out I really wanted to live and I needed Christ to do it.  He was summoning me to rely on Him.  Jesus Christ would never forsake me.  I became aware of my need for a Savior more than ever before.  I humbly asked Jesus to give me a second chance.  I decided to live. 

The next day I asked a friend if he would let me sleep on his couch for free.  I would pay him someday if I could.  He agreed.  I called all my creditors and plainly informed them that I would not make a single payment for the foreseeable future but would pay them someday if I could.  I refused to negotiate beyond that.  With God’s help, I somehow managed the initiative to attend and complete schooling for a new career in Real Estate attending evening classes while making sales calls during the day.  I eventually left my route sales job and did well in my new choice of a career.  Slowly, very slowly, I embarked on the long trek toward emotional, financial, and spiritual health.  Over the course of the next few years, I paid back every penny of outstanding debt… IRS, child support, and all credit cards.  The fact that I never had to claim bankruptcy is nothing short of a modern day miracle.  My financial journey was undeniable and unmistakable evidence of God’s undeserved mercy and love for me.   

During my lowest point, I met my beautiful second wife, Adonica.  You might say we were “equally yoked” having both been Christians who were not actively serving Christ.  I truly do not know how I would have made it without her.  Adonica was a gift of mercy and compassion from God, an angel from heaven.  I owe her my life.  My children began moving in with us and we were soon married.  God continued to bless us financially and in April of 1997, we built a new, 6 bedroom home to accommodate all the kids.  The following year, in December, God blessed us with our son, Robert, Adonica’s first child.  He was joyously welcomed into our new home, along with 5 older step-brothers and sisters.  Even my former wife, the mother of my first 5 children, recognized the blessing of God in my life.  She showed huge courage and overcame a history of hostility by requesting me to assist her in locating and purchasing a house near our home in Beaverton.  Her desire was to be close to the kids who had chosen to live with Adonica and me.  She purchased a home one block from us and the children were able to go back and forth easily and often.  It was a great ending to an incredibly difficult story.  I am Ebenezer Scrooge… I woke up from a very bad dream and was given a second chance at life! 

Adonica had been quietly yet insistently encouraging me to take the family to church for some time.  With the gift of Robert, a wonderful wife, all my children back, a new home, a good job, new friends, self-respect, and even good credit, how could I possibly resist the gracious invitation of the Lord?  I decided to return home spiritually and joined Sunset Presbyterian Church early in 1999.  Somehow, I found my way back to the Lord.  I attended the Men’s Retreat that same year and made a complete and renewed commitment to Jesus Christ. 

Since that time I have been on a new path of accelerated spiritual growth which has included daily time in prayer and the Word, home Bible study ministry, and the joyful service of ushering at the church.  Our family moved to a new church, Solid Rock in Tigard, somewhere around 2008, where I helped to start a ministry called 423 Men designed to assist men in their recovery from sexually addictive behavior patterns. By God’s grace, I am clean and sober and free from the bondage of promiscuity and sexual addiction.  I will never forget how low I sank in the mud of my ‘prodigal son pigpen’.  I don’t want to forget.  The memory of my misery coupled with the renewed call of God has birthed in me compassion for other lost souls.  I am surprised and overjoyed that God has not forgotten me.  He summoned me once again to the ministry.  I am not worthy of the call of God, and yet “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”, (Romans 11.29, NAS).  The yearning for ministry I felt when the Lord first pressed me into service many years ago has returned with full vigor.  God rescued me for a purpose.  I am on a dynamic spiritual adventure to discover that purpose.  In the meantime, I intend to reach and disciple as many people with the Gospel as I possibly can.  I am in my early 60’s now.  I may only have another good 30 or 40 years left and I want every one of them to count for Jesus Christ!  I expect great things from the Lord and I thank God for the opportunity to serve and exercise my spiritual gifts at my church which, like the Lord Himself, has welcomed me, undeserving though I be, with open arms. 

On August 30th, 2015, I lost the love of my life.  Adonica died at the young age of 50 after a 10 month battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia.  She was the beloved step-mother to my first 5 kids and left me with two beautiful children to finish raising, Robert (16) and Rachel (13).  I deeply grieve her loss and will always cherish this woman and the love she so freely gave our family.  I am forever indebted to Jesus for giving me this kind and loving wife who helped get me back on track in the service of God’s plan of redemption.

My story is a story of redemption.  No one has ever needed the Lord any more than me.  Without Jesus Christ I was nothing and close to spending eternity in hell.  He redeemed me for a purpose.  I am not yet the man I ought to be or want to be.  But thankfully, I am not the man I used to be and, by His grace, I am not the man I’m going to be! 


updated 11/17/2015

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