As post on my FB site on April 30th 2010
When I first thought to write this a few months ago I was going to start with the events that led to me going to church, for the first time in years back in December of 2009, but after more time in church, more time learning a LOT about faith from many pastors I listen to daily and a WHOLE LOT of procrastination, I realized that no story of how you were saved would be complete without a look back at how you got to that point. So, this is MY story of faith.
Growing up I never spent much time in church. In fact, aside from weddings, I don’t recall EVER going to church prior to dating my wife Barbie. I do recall one trip to Sunday school at about 8 years old, but back then in what I think was a Lutheran church, it was all about “you have to pray and memorize the bible or you are going to Hell!” So to say church was not a priority is an understatement. Now don’t get me wrong… My parents still raised me to be a good kid. I was indeed spanked as a child and, regardless of what a recent Time magazine article says, I turned out fine. I was never in major trouble, I didn’t get into drugs, or smoking and had only 2 alcohol drinks before the age of 28. But to this day, my mom still insists on saying that I am “Episcopalian.” She even calls herself “Episcopalian” even though I don’t remember my mom going to church any more than I did. I say this all in fun, because you have to admit that considering yourself a member of a specific denomination without stepping foot into church is really funny. So, the fact that I grew up and still called myself a Christian is a stretch. In fact for many years I considered myself an “Agnostic” because I really wasn’t sure that anyone could prove either way whether God existed or not. I saw a lot in the “science” that evolutionists were purporting and with a lack of a strong biblical teacher in my life, I found myself justifying my belief that if you lived a good life you went to “whatever good place there would be,” and conversely, if you were an evil person you were going to get what you truly deserved in the end. I could not have been more wrong!
Over the 20 years since I married Barbie, we went to church a few times, usually had a good time, but my view of religion was very tainted by what I had seen on the news and in life in general. I was looking at my senior year annual last night and a picture of Jim and Tammy Bakker was included as part of the things that happened that year. The sex scandal, the payoffs, the fraud, and the sight of Tammy Bakker wearing more makeup than Maxx Factor makes in a year (and it was always running down her face), made me question how people of faith could beg for money that they would then spend on themselves and devious plans. Never the less, if asked, I would generally tell people I was a Christian or at least an agnostic. I never denounced God but I never really recognized him. That was until my life took a turn for the worse.
In December of 2006, while unloading Christmas Trees from a semi-trailer at the garden center I was in charge of, I hurt my back so severely that I wasn’t able to stand up after bending over to pick up 2 last trees. I spent the next 2 and a half years dealing with the Workers Comp system, doctors who would rather blame my weight for my back problems than the fact I had hurt myself pretty badly, trying to fight depression, pain and the thoughts of suicide that nearly brought my life to an end before I truly began to live. As a result when the time came to settle the case, I was all too eager to take the money they offered, to pay my bills and then the plan was to spend the summer going to the gym and trying to “fix” myself. I tried doing more than the limited chores I had been doing. We went to the gym on occasions and even joined the YMCA so we could take the indoor pool water exercise classes. We took a few trips to Sea World as a family but the one thing that I noticed more and more was the more I did the worse I got. The more I walked or worked out, the less I was able to do the next day or week. By the end of the summer I was in such pain that the thought of even going to the gym left me depressed. Needless to say the settlement money was now gone and even though I had applied for several jobs, it was painfully clear that I would not be able to spend the time required to sit or stand in the workplace because the couch and bed had become my only comfortable spots to spend more than 30 minutes at a time. By December of 2009 with Barbie as our only source of income and the bills piling up, I became very depressed and that is when God opened my heart and began to go to work in my life.
Barbie had become a member of Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch and went once a month to work in the Small Stars Ministry Childcare, where she watches the kids while their parents attend services. Kaiya would go with her and work to, but because of the way we lived our lives the other 3 Sundays they spent at home with me. For some reason I decided to send an email to the prayer request group at Shepherd to tell them about my situation and to ask them to pray for us that we would find the means to make it through this time of trouble. About a week later a friend messaged me that she had tried to surprise me by paying my electric bill but the DWP wouldn’t take a payment without my account number so she needed it. I was so grateful because I was at a point that within a week or so, the power was going to be turned off and this time I had no idea how to work things out to make the money work. As a result of this act of kindness and generosity, I had the revelation that I needed to go to church to offer a prayer of thanks for the friends and family that God has placed in my life. I told Barbie that “We need to go to church on Sunday.” At first she said yes, then realized what I had actually said and became overjoyed and shouted “YES, Yes we do!” With that we went to church on the following Sunday and my life will NEVER be the same.
As we sat in church that Sunday, I found it was funny because some of the things our Pastor was saying made me want to poke Barbie in the rib to make sure she was listening. He preached about the wisemen and how they were led to Jesus by a star and when they arrived they bowed down to him, they submitted to him and the sacrificed their very best to him. He spoke of living for what God wants of you and not what you want in life. Specifically he mentioned that you may not get that big house you want or that high paying job. Again, I was hoping Barbie was listening because I have always said if we never became home owners, I did not have a problem with that, but she has always wanted that house before she was 40. Well, by the end of the sermon I was very excited about the service and then it came time to pray. I bowed my head and began to say my prayer in my mind, but I found that just the thought was causing me to well up. It was like I was giving birth to this prayer. The harder I tried to give thanks the more I cried. I then realized that this act of kindness that I had come to give thanks for was much more than just a simple gesture. I eventually choked back the tears enough to give my thanks, but I realized I had been forever changed by the experience. The following Thursday was Christmas Eve services and again I found myself moved by the music and the words of the Worship Leader and Pastor Dudley. One story he told had a particularly strong impact and it brought everyone to tears but most importantly it opened up my heart to see that even though I had tried to be a good person, I wasn’t living the life I needed to, in order to lead my family in the way God would want. At the first service of the New Year, our Pastor talked about the year to come. He talked about the changes coming to our church both physically and spiritually. Our church will undergo a renovation beginning near the end of this year and the theme for our congregation is An Adventure of Faith. Dudley asked that we step out of our comfort zone and set ourselves on a path to walk by faith and not by sight. To allow God to work through us and within us, to guide us to the life he has set out for us. I decided that it was not just coincidence that as our church was changing, so was I. It was within a few days of this that I bought my first study bible and began listening to Christian talk radio and watching a few teaching ministries on TV. Every day I learn new things and my faith is strengthened. I find myself expressing my faith to friends and family and enjoying it very much. I have committed my life to Christ. I have accepted him as the Lord and Savior of my life and this summer, at our church’s annual Beach Baptism, I plan to be baptized with my daughter, in front of all the friends and family I can gather there.
What the future holds for me and my faith, God only knows, but I look forward to MY Adventure of Faith and to the new things God has planned for me and my family.
To Be Continued……………
Well….I now realize that since writing this in April, many things have happened. My faith has grown stronger, my love for Christ and the church has also grown and my dedication to bringing friends and family to Shepherd and to the Lord has increased. My wife, my daughter and I were baptized together by Pastor Dudley at the Beach Baptism event our church held in July, we became members of Shepherd officially 2 weeks later and have only missed 1 weekend service since Dec. 20th and we watched that one online. As a family, my wife, daughter and I volunteered at the 4th of July Spectacular. My wife continues to volunteer with Small Stars and is now an employee of the church 2 weekends a month doing setup and takedown of the equipment in the Small Stars rooms. On days when I arrive early, often on purpose, to pick her up from work I enjoy sitting in the lobby of Shepherd listening to the worship team rehearse or just enjoy the smiling faces. I find that when life is rough and I am experiencing trouble I know that it’s okay, because there is a purpose. I also know that no matter how much pain I suffer due to my back injury…no amount of pain can compare to the pain Jesus suffered for me on the cross. My daughter has started practicing with the Praise Team on Wednesdays and will be on stage during Sunday school services to help lead the kids in praising our Lord in dance and song during her last year in the Children’s Ministry before she moves up to the Middle School Ministry next year, where I am looking forward to getting more involved as a volunteer where with the help of some wonderful pastors I hope to help lead some fine young men into a long lasting, loving relationship with Jesus.
Love in Christ,
David Willard Jr