Growing up in a home of uncertainty can really play havoc on a young boy’s confidence in the world, in his family and, most of all, in himself. At year one of my life, I was taken away from my mother’s arms, not because she was unfit, but only because she and my father could not get along. My father chose another mother to hold me, but this one already had sons to hold. As a result, I began to experience a life of leftovers. Leftover love, leftover food, leftover clothes, leftover attention. The list was unending.
Will I ever be normal? Will I ever be popular? Will I ever do something with my life that is noteworthy, or have some semblance of importance?
These were the questions I pondered each night during my childhood and adolescence.
Even as I was away from my family, their moniker continued to follow. You see, my parents made a “family decision” that we would not follow the a man-made religion like everyone else. We were to follow the true faith. As such, I was forbidden to participate in the most normal childhood activates such as the celebration of birthdays, or any holiday, for that matter. I was forbidden to place my hand over my heart and pledge allegiance to the flag of our country (A common practice in the 1970’s).
As a result, I was was given nicknames like, “Comrade,” the “religious cult kid,” and the like. I was not allowed to have any close friends outside of those who practiced our same faith. Deep inside, I knew that this was not the life I had chosen for myself, but one that I had been burdened with through the decisions of others.
Is there something different? Is there life outside of my family compound? Is there a different way? Could I have been misled these past seventeen years?
I had to find out.
You see, for me, change happened by asking the right questions. We all have questions and we all deserve an answer. My thought was this: If I searched out answers to my life questions, the worst thing that could happen was for me to realize that, my now eighteen years of life-experience, was not a waste. Rather, it was the real path for life.
However, if there was a different path, a correct path, I would be all too open to welcome it.
Seeking this new path cost a great deal. It began with physical abuse by parents who believed it was their God-given right to discipline as they saw fit, even if it included punching and hitting. This was followed by banishment from the family with the last words of my father ringing in my ears, “ You are no son of mine, you are dead to me.”
What is a young, 18-year-old kid suppose to do? Where is he to turn?
Those questions were answered by what I experienced when I was around my friend Tracy and her family. It was a feeling I never felt before. I really could not describe it at the time, but today I recognize that feeling as peace. There was a peace I felt when I was around the “Erb” family. A peace that was not natural, but more supernatural. It was a peace of the love that each one of them had, not so much for me, but for Jesus Christ.
This love for their Jesus was so overwhelming that each one of them had extra that simply spilled over into my life. For me, change started not with a religion, nor a sermon, not with a gospel tract, or a special scripture. It started by experiencing genuine love that each one of Tracy’s family members had for their Jesus and how it naturally overflowed into my life.
At that point, I was not looking for a new religion. My past experience was not a favorable one. I was not looking for a new church or even a new belief system. I was looking for what naturally spills out of an authentic follower of Jesus Christ: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
All of this then produced a confidence. Confidence that I did not have to perform to be loved. Confidence in knowing that there is nothing I could do to cause God to stop loving me. Confidence that I now can do all things because of his strength. Confidence that it is not about me doing something noteworthy or of importance. Rather it is simply living out my life purpose, of sharing that same love, which the Erb family shared with me, with those who have yet to experienced Christ’s love.
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