This is My Story

                  I was raised in a very loving environment, where my parents poured themselves into my older brother and me throughout our adolescent and teenage years.  I was born in New York and my parents, who lived in New York for 30+ years, were raised devout Catholics.   When my father was transferred to North Carolina through IBM, we settled in Concord, and immediately found a nice Catholic Church to join.  I attended Mass every Sunday and Sunday school after Mass, and participated in all the Sacraments.  I remember hating going to my first confession, as I was so embarrassed to tell the Priest that I lied, cheated, cursed, etc., etc., and was so relieved when it was over – “Say 5 Hail Mary’s and 3 Our Father’s and you are forgiven, He said.” 

                  I was Baptized at age 7…days, but I did get confirmed when I was 16.  I remember this being a big deal in my life, but more about an achievement than confirming my identity in Christ and beginning a personal relationship.  To be honest, I had no idea that a personal relationship with my Savior was what I should have been seeking.  No one ever told me.  Not that I hated my Church upbringing at all, looking back, I actually didn’t mind going every Sunday, and sometimes got a little out of the sermon.  But it was more about following the script every Sunday – Sit, Kneel, Stand, Repeat The Apostle’s Creed at the right time, take communion and be quiet in Church.  I actually liked the rituals because I could follow along and knew what was coming.  That is, until I got confirmed.

                  After confirmation, my mother had to fight me to go to Church.  I never wanted to, but usually did because I was a good boy and listened to my mom for the most part.  I stopped going to Sunday School regularly, because all my friends stopped going, but I participated in lock-ins and ski trips each year.  I started to drift away from Church, but still considered myself a believer and if anyone ever asked, I was a Christian. 

                  The summer of my Junior year in High School, I went to Carowinds with a friend of mine that I had grown up with all my life.  He invited me to come as it was the North Carolina Baptist Convention and they had reserved the park for the entire day.  We had a great time and ended the evening with a concert at the Ampitheater.  At the end of the concert, someone came to the microphone and said a prayer and then asked “If there is anyone out there who has never professed their faith in Jesus Christ in public, now is the time to come forward.”  I was shaking in my skin, because I had never heard of this type of profession of faith, but I wanted to do it.  So in front of about 10,000 people, I walked the long walk down the aisle to the stage, and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  The crowd cheered, and I was lead off the stage to meet someone else, who took my information.  On the card, it asked if I had attended Church or what denomination and I wrote in “Catholic”.  The lady looked at the card and said “Oh, so you don’t believe in Jesus Christ? That’s ok, we love Catholics too.”  I was stunned, especially having just been vulnerable enough to profess my faith in public like that for the very first time.  I don’t believe that this incident stopped me from believing in God, but it caused me to question my faith.

                  Instead of working through my faith questions, however, I pushed myself to be the best in sports, education and have the most friends.  I was the epitome of “jock”, having lettered and been the Captain of three different sports.  Had I had more time, I would have tried others.  I was the Student Body President, and was very popular, and unfortunately very cocky.  I was in control of my life, and I was going places. I started dating Adriana (my wife) during my junior year in high school, and she was the rock that kept my ego from exploding.  My senior year, I went to church occasionally and of course, Christmas, Easter and Ash Wednesday.  I was so focused on playing Major League Baseball that I didn’t really spend any time in church, reading the Bible, or in prayer.  When I received a full scholarship to Western Carolina to play baseball, I thought my life was perfect.  And it was to some extent – my parents were wonderful towards me, coming to see me play in every game, taking care of my needs. Adriana would visit me regularly, and I loved the friends that I instantly made through the baseball team.  I started to enjoy college life more than I should have, and never went to church.  I stayed loyal to Adriana, but I went out every weekend, partying and drinking, and not caring too much about the consequences.  To this day, I don’t know why God didn’t punish me during these times.  Adriana came to Western the following year, and we enjoyed our college life together, but without God in the picture.

                  During my junior year, a few of the members of the team started going to a bible study, and I asked if I could join them.  It was held at a WCU contributor’s house who was a retired pastor, and he would cook dinner for us and have a Bible study.  I was surprised at how much I had retained, but also disgusted at how little I had read the Bible.  We had Bible studies sporadically over the next two years, and that was my extent of church in college.  I went on to law school, and the MBA program at Campbell, and couldn’t wait to start my career.  Adriana and I were married while I was in law school, and upon her request, went to church sporadically while I was in school.  We moved back to Charlotte to start my life as a lawyer.  She always gave up what she was doing for me.  I wish I would have done the same for her.

                  Throughout my life, I was taught that I was in control of my destiny.  I was going to be whatever I made myself, through hard work, discipline and studies.  My father was a marine, who volunteered for Vietnam, and worked his way up the ladder at IBM.  My mother was a devout Catholic who stayed at home my entire life, and was involved in everything I did growing up.  The two of them teamed up to lead me in the way I should live a good life.  I can’t say that I wasn’t raised in a God-filled environment, because it was very important that we went to church, but we never talked about God in the concept of a personal relationship, or my Heavenly father, or to turn to God when we have problems, or questions, and ask for His help.  I was subconsciously taught to figure it out and deal with it myself.  

                  Adriana and I (more Adriana than myself) knew that we needed God in our lives and our marriage.  The first 2 years of marriage we tried different churches, but our religious upbringings were different – she grew up Baptist and I Catholic.  We were married in a Methodist Church, which really upset my mother, but it was a good middle ground for both of us, who really didn’t care enough to push the other one to remain in either denomination.  We decided that we would remain in the Methodist Church and upon a recommendation from her mother, tried University City United Methodist Church.  We were welcomed there, and invited immediately to a Sunday School class where we felt loved and appreciated.  We grew as a couple and began studying the Bible together and attending church regularly.  Having children really caused us to examine God’s hand in our lives, but neither one of us still had a strong conviction to develop intimacy with Jesus Christ.

                  In 2008, I started to be discipled by a friend in our Sunday School class.  He invited me to a one-on-one Bible study, and I felt comfortable talking to him about my feelings and wanting to be better.  Adriana and I attended a few retreats with the Sunday School class and it was in these settings that we began to have a first glimpse of what it meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus.  During this year, Adriana had started to really begin studying the bible, and I could see a new light in her that had not been there before.  In the fall of 2008, after being asked for three straight years to go, I went to a Men’s Retreat called Souly Business.  It was started by two wonderful men who had a calling to bring business men together to discuss our walk with Jesus in the workplace.  I thought I would give it a try, and figured I should have God more involved in my work life anyway, so I conceded. 

                  When I got there, it was nothing like I thought it was going to be.  Instead of a bunch of business men sharing how they conduct business with integrity, character, discussing tips on how to be better bosses, etc., I started hearing about upper level corporate guys talk about things like “Identity in Christ” “Priorities”, “Servant Leadership”, “the Resurrection” and “Intimacy with Christ.”  I believe I was rescued on October 4, 2008 from myself when I was alone in the middle of the woods, attempting to answer the question that the leader posed “God, what is it that you want me to know right now?”  Still being very new in the bible, I flipped the pages randomly, praying feverishly for an answer.  I ended up on Romans 12:2:  “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will”.

                  I must have read that verse 50 times.  That night, as part of the weekend, I wrote down all my barriers to Christ on an index card.  When it was my turn, I nailed that card to the cross, and it was that night that I died to the Cross, and was reborn anew.  I couldn’t wait to get home to my wife. 

                  When I arrived at home that Sunday afternoon, I spoke to Adriana like I had never talked before, confessing to her my failures as a husband, and my promise to begin a new marriage in Christ together.  It was as if God had talked to her that entire weekend, and she knew what I was experiencing at the retreat.  What I didn’t know was that God was preparing her and me to face the past.  That night my wife shared with me some unfortunate relationships she had while we were apart for a couple years during college.  We were not married during that time but God told her that she needed to share everything with me for us to start fresh.  I can’t explain what happened over the next week, as it was a blur, but let me say that both of our souls were cleansed by the Holy Spirit.  We both now know what it means to have that personal, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, and how we cannot make it without Him.

                  God has fully revealed Himself to us since then.  There have been peaks and valleys, and we have experienced spiritual warfare since that time, but we continue to communicate about how it is truly God’s purpose for us to be married, raise our three beautiful children, and serve those around us in need.  That has never been more prominent since the summer of 2010, when we decided to look for a church that could help us grow in our relationship to Christ.  Coming to Renaissance has been another rebirth for us.  This is the first Church we picked ourselves, by looking to God to guide us, not to anyone else.  We have felt welcomed from day one, and are looking forward to growing, sharing, and going out to spread the joy and peace that God has given us.

                  I see God in everything that I do and in everyone that I meet now.  I still struggle with the tough questions of faith, but instead of simply struggling with my questions, I turn to God, prayer, and the Word to keep me strong.  I rely on Scripture, and I look for God’s will in everything that I am faced with.  It is an awesome feeling to know that God has my heart, and in turn, my life.