One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older is that unlike most of my coworkers, I haven’t “grown out” of believing in God, in being a Christian. I look at coworkers that were Bible thumped out of the church or left after they saw their parents turn their back on what they said they believed and I wonder: how have I stayed on this path? I’ve walked with so many people in life that have turned off and headed a different way, sometimes leaving me walking along alone.
I grew up in a church-going home, but I really just went because that’s what everyone else was doing. I grew up learning about the evils of hip-hop and Disney. It was the type of church environment where you had to watch your every step to ensure you didn’t break one of their rules. During the years we were in this kind of church environment both of my older sisters decided to venture out and go after life on their own terms. One had a super rough go in a bad marriage and the other found herself looking for hope in a bottle.
Later on, some shady dealings by a fraudulent pastor left an entire church with a bill they couldn’t pay and hearts that needed serious mending, including my parents. That was the last time they really sought God until pretty recently. During those years when my parents had stopped regularly attending church, I noticed that the scripts had flipped. I mean, all of my life I had been the one who had to be told why I should go to church and dragged along, but now it seemed that their faith was broken by someone who was focused on the physical growth of the church instead of spiritual growth.
This departure from God’s plan for my parents’ life was immediately visible. Their relationship suffered on many fronts and they were at the brink of making decisions that were not in line with what they had always modeled and stressed in my upbringing. It seemed as if my family was falling apart at the seams and I started to question all that I had grown up to know as facts; my faith, my morals, and my God. A few years a good friend of mine was burned by a similar betrayal in a church we were going to at the time. He’d been part of gangs and all that and was pursuing God in such an awesome way. But that experience in our church cut deep and he fell back into his old lifestyle which was followed by lengthy prison sentence. This again showed me the consequences of departing from the narrow path.
When I got a little older, I started to see my friends getting involved with the same junk that our area of L.A. is known for; however, I finally was able to get a car and decided that I would go a different way.
For whatever reason, despite what I’d seen, I felt that the church, that God, was the right path.
I got pretty close to a leader of a small church – actually the pastor’s son and his wife – who really helped me learn what faith in God looked like, especially as he lost his mom to cancer. This was the first time I felt I found a purpose in the church and what God is doing. It wasn’t long though before that church closed down due a lack of leadership after the pastor’s retirement. Again, I found myself in disarray as I would have to start the search for a church again.
After a few weeks of searching it was ironic that the church I ended up at, Southern California Dream Center, was literally a block away from my house; a house I had lived in for about 18 years. Here I learned what it meant to BE a Christian; to actually follow Jesus.
Most all of the other churches I’d been to were so legalistic: clean yourself up, then you can come to God. But there they were driven by God’s grace, a desire to see real change in people and to experience God’s love. They modeled what it was to love your neighbor regardless of the circumstances they were in. They fed the hungry, sheltered the homeless, and discipled all that were willing.
I immediately knew that this was truly a house of God. I joined the worship team there where I learned the meaning true meaning of praise and worship and the outward expression of gratitude for God’s grace and mercy. I met great mentors and friends along the way that were able to correct me when necessary but also love and give guidance in critical points of my walk. And this was where I met my fiance, Raylene, who has been a pillar when I needed it. I don’t know where I’d be now if I hadn’t been a part of this church family.
I wonder sometimes what would have happened if all those people in my life growing up could have seen God the way these people did. Would they have stayed on the road when things got hard? I mean, it makes sense: if you’ve only got a partial Gospel, just a fraction of the good news, then it’s hard to stay the course. But when you’ve really got God, ALL of God, there’s nothing that can take that hope and that resilience away because you’re not doing it on your own strength anymore. It’s all Him!
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