The 13 years and 1 month leading into June of 1998 were full of events that put me into a low spot. As a child, until I reached the age of 6, I was very happy -- I had a lovely relationship with my mother, and a tolerable one with both my brothers; I respected and loved my father, but was utterly unable to connect with him until I entered the 1st grade. At this point, I entered the Christian Brigade service, in which my father and I spent many hours together. Through this medium, my father and I developed a good relationship. I had become a Christian at the age of 4 or 5 in a backyard bible club; I was, for the most part, a good child, and very eager to go to church and learn about God, and reveled in the fact that God loved me. As for friends, I had my brother, Judah, and my mother; there were a few neighborhood children who allowed me to play with them because I was amusing to mock; more often than not, I would run home crying because of something they'd said. As I continued through school, I developed only one or two friendships; mainly, however, these were with girls. I had very few male friends, and the one I did have was at church, and as a result, I rarely saw him.
Sometime between the ages of 6 and 7, I met an older boy (whose name will not be mentioned, for reasons I will not go into, either) who was aware (or became aware) of my lack of friendships. He used this fact to his advantage, telling me that if I were to do certain things for him, then he would be my friend. Wanting desperately to have friends who were male, I saw nothing wrong with any of this -- and as he was older, as well, I thought myself lucky. I did not know at the time that the things he was asking me to do were, in fact, sexual -- I had a dim grasp of the rudimentary facts of sex, but no idea of the immorality of homosexuality. This relationship continued for approximately 3 years, at which point he broke it off (I can only assume that he became fully aware of the meaning of his actions; I had not, as yet, discovered any meaning in it beside friendship). At this point, I was 9 or 10 years old, and entering the 4th grade. Also, that summer my one male friend moved to Idaho.
I enrolled in a new school to try and develop friendships; however, it quickly became apparent to me that we had made the wrong choice in placing me in this new school. The education was extremely poor, although the teachers meant very well and were very nice; the students, also, rarely regarded me with any cause other than malice. I developed a few isolated "friendships;" this is in quotation marks because this is not what they were. These few boys, who allowed me to tag along with them, were quick to abandon me and deny our friendship if their status was in jeopardy. However, I forgave them very quickly; by this time, I had begun to believe the general consensus that I was not worth these friendships, and so felt very lucky to be allowed to be around them at all. In some form or another, three of these boys discovered (each on their own, I believe) that I would allow them to use me sexually. I am certain that each of them was fully aware of what they were doing; I had no clue of the meaning, and, indeed, believed this to be somewhat normal behavior for close friendships, although to be kept quiet. This continued until the end of the 5th grade, when I was in my first sexual education course at school, and discovered what all this really meant. I was thoroughly embarrassed and ashamed, and broke off these friendships at once. During these years, my relationship with God was at a stand still; He existed, and loved me. In my mind, however, He made little to no impact on my life, as He was busy dealing with the God sort of things, such as making certain that the planets did not hurtle out of alignment or anything of this sort.
In 6th grade, I again enrolled at a new school; this time I joined the Super Sixth program at the local Junior High school, designed for motivated students who weren't being challenged in elementary school. For the first year, I was almost entirely alone; I had one friend, and a group of people who kept me around for entertainment. It seemed that, just as when I was younger, these older boys enjoyed mocking me. Indeed, I had never in my life been so ridiculed. My friend, Josh, was the only one I knew in the entire school who did not make fun of me. As a result of all this malicious teasing, all my feelings of self-worth were lost; everything they said about me I believed. I began to hate myself; however, never once did I consider that they were just immature, mean children - they were correct in teasing me, in my mind.
My seventh grade year was little better; I again found myself with no friends, as Josh moved away; also, my closest female friend moved to Oregon. In the month of January, I attempted suicide; I felt that I was not worthy to live any longer, both because of the things people said about me, and also because of my earlier sexual experiences. I failed, and barely succeeded in making myself sick; I would estimate I only took 20 pills or so. In March, I attended our Junior High group's Hume Lake winter camp, and rededicated my life to Christ. At this point, Junior High church group became my social life, and the only remotely safe place I had. My relationship with God matured slightly; I recognized His place in my life, but for the most part failed to do anything about it. As I already was a very moral, responsible, and somewhat mature boy, I thought I was living quite correctly, although something didn't quite feel right.
Sometime in the middle of my junior high year our family purchased a connection to the Internet; it did not take me long to discover pornography. I cannot entirely remember how or why, but I found myself drawn to male pornography, and not female. It was fairly easy to get a hold of, and very quickly became an extreme addiction. However, it was too embarrassing to tell anyone about, and, again, I became ashamed with myself. Consequentially, I did not get any help on this subject and my addiction became worse and worse; meanwhile, my hatred of myself grew at the same rate.
By the month of January in my eighth grade year, I was fed up with myself. I still had no friends at school, and the friends I had at church had begun to "avoid" me, or so I thought; it later turned out that our schedules merely clashed horribly. The mocking had not grown any less, but instead had grown to intolerable levels. My relationship with Christ was dead in the water, and though I went through the motions of Christianity, I had nothing to show for it spiritually. I fell into an extreme depression, and hated myself as well as my life. Again, I attempted suicide; this time, however, I consumed about 85 pills. I became extremely ill, and no matter how much I tried to hold the poison in, ended up vomiting it all out. The next day I was completely back to normal health, and only had succeeded in losing a night's sleep. However, afterwards, for reasons I can't explain, the teasing cut off quickly, even though no one knew I had attempted suicide, and I developed several friendships at school. Also, my friends at church became accessible to me again, and I felt better about myself. My relationship with God again matured slightly to the point where I recognized that God wanted me to remain alive and, as much as I hated it, I would trust Him to show me what He had waiting for me.
As I graduated from junior high, I was looking forward to what God had waiting for me in high school, and began to feel that I wanted my relationship with Him to improve. I was no longer satisfied with where I was, and had a desire to become a godly man. However, I was still extremely depressed, didn't care for myself all that much, and fearful of relationships. It was in this attitude that I graduated from Junior High and, the following Sunday, entered the High School group. June of 1998 had begun.
JUNE OF 1998: THE BEGINNING
The Sunday I entered High School group I was fairly shocked; immediately, I made friendships with older students, and felt entirely comfortable there. I sat in the front of the room away from all of my freshman friends, and instead talked to new people. I'm still not sure how I did this, as I was shy and afraid of people at the time. After High school group, we went out to lunch; I got a ride with a staff member named David, and enjoyed his company; Matthew, who is one of my best friends, and I instantly liked him. I felt extremely welcome for the first time in my life outside of my home, and loved every minute of the High School group. As a result, my summer became a flurry of action revolving around my new friends. Every Tuesday, after big group, I would go to Hank's house for prayer group; also, every Friday my older brother's small group would meet; they invited Matthew and I to join them. These young men became my close friends quickly, and I spent nearly all of my spare time that summer with them. My sense of self-worth grew immensely because of them, and I was excited that I was accepted and really, truly loved by these guys. Also, at church, I became Glory's "freshman buddy," and we became very close friends very fast.
I also attended all the trips that summer that were associated with our church. During the Beach trip, I hung out with David mainly and got to know him a little better. At the Ski trip, during which I first picked up Hank's guitar and began to fool around with it, I spent a lot of time getting to know David and another leader, Melissa. I felt very at ease with David, and began to trust him quite a bit; Melissa and I became friends very quickly.
Driving home from the water-ski trip, I rode with David, and talked with him some of the time; however, most of the time was spent pensively staring out the window (while listening to U2 for the first time ever, coincidentally). God was moving in my heart that day, and I felt very strongly that David was the person to whom I needed to tell about my suicide attempts. I realized that I didn't want to be alone with the information any longer, and that I trusted David enough to talk to him.
If you, the reader, are wondering why I have written about these things when this essay is about how God shaped me over the next year, I must answer that this is a central part of the story. In June and July, God moved in my life to reassure me and provide me with strong friendships. He also provided a staff member who I decided I could trust to talk to, and who became a close friend very quickly. God wasn't quite ready to move in me spiritually -- that came in August.
AUGUST 1998: GROWTH
On the evening of August 6th, 1998, my life changed. David picked me up at 5:00, and we went to the Oaks (a very nice, quiet outdoor shopping center next to a park; we spend quite a bit of time there). Quite nervously, I told him about my lack of friends and my suicide attempts. He listened carefully, and then we conversed for a while. I went home, slept, and woke the next morning feeling fairly good, and relieved that I had told someone. I had no idea what would happen, but I felt good anyway - at least I would be moving somewhere. At 6:00 that evening I received a phone call from David; he had talked to Ben, the youth pastor at our church. David told me carefully that Ben wanted me to tell my parents about the suicide attempts, and that I would tell them that evening. I shook so much that I nearly fell off the chair. I had expected to tell my parents, but not quite so soon. Telling David was one thing, because at the very least, I would not see him every day, and wouldn't have him around 24 hours a day checking on me. But the idea of telling my parents scared me horribly. However, my mother was not home that Friday evening, and so, instead, David took me to small group.
The next morning at 9:00, David showed up at my front door, to the surprise of both my parents. We sat around the dining room table, and I told my parents about what had happened. Or, rather, David told them, while I stared intently at the table top; I was far too scared to speak. And so, the history of my hard years with friends (without the sexual events) was relayed to my parents. They were shocked, but loving and supportive.
The next morning I left for Los Angeles; I was to participate in a mission trip in Hollywood. I was extremely excited, as I'd never gone on any such trip before. The trip was not disappointing; it was extremely exhausting, however, because it was so packed with activity. The first evening we ministered in the streets, I had the opportunity to speak with Henry Gomez, a new scientologist, about Christianity. The extraordinary thing was that I was sharing with him things I'd never thought of before about God's personal relationship with man; I literally didn't know where all these pieces of information and verses were coming from. I realized later that God was speaking through me, and to this day that thought fills me with joy and excitement -- that God would send His Spirit to speak through me! This experience gave me a sudden, and strong, desire to work in ministry in some way -- I didn't really know where, but I knew I wanted to. The main thing God did through this trip was to set me thinking about a career in His ministry; at least, that's how it seemed at the time. I now see that what He did inside me was far more important -- He reassured me spiritually. I found that He wanted to bring me to a realization that it was time for me to let Him move in my life; He was going to start pointing His finger at areas of my life, and I was going to have to pay attention.
I returned from LA refreshed and renewed and not in any way ready for school to start the next week. But start it did, and I returned fearfully -- my experiences with school had been nothing short of horrendous in the past. And yet I found that I was suddenly accepted, generally liked, and not made fun of. I had friends, for the most part every one was nice to me, and I enjoyed most of my classes -- I was shocked at the sudden ease of social life at school. At the very least, I thought, God has stopped the teasing. Maybe it had accomplished all He wanted it to change in me; I still don't know. Whatever the reason, God brought the torture of school to an end in that respect, and this was wonderful. So, for the first month or so, everything was going great. I was very happy at school.
And then God moved. It seems to me that, generally, God has to cause us to stumble or to lose something to wake us up; I, at least, am hard-headed enough not to listen otherwise. In this case, I lost something that hurt me deeply: friends. Already vulnerable in that area, I found the loss of four of my closest friends nearly intolerable. James, my brother, departed for Germany; Hank left for UC Davis; Melissa went back to Westmont College; and, unexpectedly, Glory moved to Florida. I was crushed; I was depressed; I was terribly confused. I could not understand why God would, seemingly, play such a cruel trick on me as to give me friends and then yank them away. I could not fathom how God could ever use that to my betterment, in any way, shape, or form. I spent a lot of time that September crying, depressed, and alone; thankfully, however, I spent more of it talking about my depression with David. I didn't understand why God was moving in this way, and David couldn't answer that question for me; it was an answer I would have to seek from God. But David assured me that there was a reason, and that he would help me seek God through all of the departures.
But losing nearly every friend you ever have has a side effect; you expect the loss of friendships, and set yourself up for it. And, at the time, I thought that this was beginning to happen with David. His time became somewhat more full as the year progressed, and we began to see less and less of each other; he was hard to track down, and I began to think that he didn't really want to spend time with me. And I had some reasons for thinking this; after all, it appeared to me that our relationship consisted of little more than my complaining and his making me feel better; I could not see how he would get any benefit out of such an arrangement. So I spent a lot of time wallowing in a fear that had little to no basis in reality, believing that David was just spending time with me because he felt obligated, not because he enjoyed any of it. When we finally talked about it, I found that my fears were completely off base, and I had no reason, nor right, to doubt him when he told me that he liked me, wanted to spend time with me, and even enjoyed it.
It was hard to believe at first; after all, when something, whether it be sin or a belief or a habit, is ingrained and fed to you for years, it is extremely hard to break with that idea or habit. And, in that manner, my belief that friendships would never last died hard -- very hard. For about 5 or 6 months I struggled to pull myself out of that conviction; I can remember numerous occasions when David had to spell out clearly that I was wrong and that I was being quite the idiot. And, slowly, I came to recognize the fears I had as just that -- fears, not unquestionable truths. God showed me that I was living in fear, and allowing those fears to interfere with who He wanted me to be. By prayer and petition and lots of really emotional, hard effort, God used David to help pull me out of that pit.
"I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay." -- Psalm 40:1-2a
Some Thoughts and Focus...
Each person has his or her own convictions; they have a set
of ideals that cannot be compromised. For most people this includes
their religious beliefs, moral code, and other things they put
their faith in. And you'll notice one thing - teenagers are not
the ones that hold the strongest convictions. As we're growing
outwardly, we're also developing inside, growing closer or further
from God, learning to walk in His path or to stray from it, and
creating our own set of convictions, which may or may not be pleasing
to God. I've seen my own set of convictions in the last year go
from wishy-washy at best to a solid, good number of beliefs that
cannot be compromised; and I believe that they were gifts from
the Lord and that He approves of them and has blessed me with
them. I'd like to share one of these with you today, because it
has been recently developed and has given me much hope.
We've heard all our lives that we were sinners. And there's no denying it - if you are a Christian, then you must recognize that you were dead in your trespasses before God moved in you to redeem you. If you do not believe that you were a sinner, then you have some serious considering to do before calling yourself a Christian; and I do pray that God will show you His truth. But for those of us who know that we were sinners, there is an interesting point that many of us stumble on; I, personally, have stumbled over it for the last 6 or more years. We forget that, as born-again Christians, we are completely redeemed, we are wholly new, and that, because of the outstanding grace of our Lord and Father, we are made righteous and pure. (For a discussion on this, I recommend that you read David Needham's wonderful book, Birthright. This is one book I think every Christian should read, and I'm extremely grateful to my friend who lent it to me; it played a huge part in bringing me thus far in my walk with God.)
Now, since we are righteous and pure, new and holy creations, how therefore are we to live? Exactly as such - righteously, in purity, and as holy as we really are. "But we're bound to screw up," you may be saying. Yes, we are. Every one of us will falter, will stumble, and will struggle with sin. Why? We forget who we are, and we forget that only in dependence to God can we live as He would like us to. But here is my conviction - why is sin the focus of so many of our lives? Because so many of us, and count me in this rank, become so wrapped up in not sinning and not doing wrong that our focus leaves God and goes to being pure and holy - on our own power. And on our own power is exactly when we screw up and fail. It's a bit ironic, I know - it is an obsession with purity that can sometimes lead to sin.
So why is sin the focal point in some of our lives? In our quest to grow closer to God, many of us define sin as what separates us from Him. And they're right - sin is the barrier that keeps us from living in God's light. But we so often forget that He is the only one who can keep us pure and holy - that going to Him is the first thing we need to do to become cleansed. A closer relationship with God will, of and by itself, make your walk as a Christian display openly what you really are - a child of God. First go to God - then He will guide you in running from sin. We so often think that we must cleanse ourselves before we approach God - as if we had anything to do with it! There is no cleaning that you can do of your own power that will make you appear more holy before God - it is only when the grace of God washes us that we display our brightness.
What I have an issue with is not the knowledge that we sin. One needs to be aware of that, because without it, why do we need a Savior? The common practice that I do not agree with is living in constant fear and worry of our sin. We put so much focus on not sinning that we cannot put the focus we should into God. Why should we live as if we cannot help but sin, as if it is a fundamental part of who we are? It isn't - sin has no proper foothold in a Christian's life if they are examining themselves before the Lord. Instead, I propose that we live our lives in certainty of who we are - pure, new creations - and that we live out that knowledge and have God as our focal point. Instead of focusing on the fact that we will sin and worrying about it, put your trust in the Lord, and focus on growing nearer to Him - He'll point at the things He doesn't like and help you get rid of it. Make your largest goal in life to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul; it's what He wants of you.
This brings us around to another thing God has shown me - Christianity is not a faith of loss, but one of gain. We are not losing out on life because we are Christians; we are not told, "No, no, a You can't have that." This is not our life as Christians. We are given to, not taken from - which in itself is mind-boggling, because we certainly don't deserve to be given anything; this is another tribute to God's grace in our lives. When we focus on not sinning, we're living a life that centers on negation. "No," we'll tell ourselves, "I cannot have that." Or, if you understand the person you are, then you'll say, "I don't even want that; it isn't a part of me." But it's still a 'no.' Our focus begins with what we can't have and ends there. When our focus is on building a relationship with our Father, however, it is a gain that we are looking to. No longer is it simply, "No, I can't have that," but rather we say, "No, I won't take that, because it's a poor substitute for this," 'this' referring to our Lord. When our focus is to love God, and to get to know Him better, and in so doing let Him cleanse us from sin, then we are witnesses to the ultimate grace of God. He loves us so much that He not only wants us to live in righteousness - He wants us to live with Him in righteousness. This is the last thing that I can think of that we deserve; it is the most wonderful present.
Let me give you a little example that has helped me understand this point. In a friendship, where is your focus? Is it on being 'good enough' for your friend, or is it simply on being with and getting to know this friend? Hopefully, it is on the latter - you honestly want to know your friend and love him, so your time with him is spent inquiring as to his well-being and simply laughing with each other and enjoying each other's company. When your focus is on being 'good enough' for that friend, your friendship will be based on nervousness, anxiety, and fear; "What if?" will be your predominant question. "What if I don't live up to him? What if I mess up? What if I say something uncool?" Your friendship is now based on negation; you may not act freely, as that might not be accepted - it is these friendships which usually turn into dread and fear until you can hardly stand to be with the person because you're so afraid of them.
Our walk with God is little different - where is your focus? On spending time getting to know Him, and learning what He wants from you? Or is it on being 'good enough' for Him? Trust me, as I know from experience - you can never be, of your own strength, good enough for God. You simply can't do it; you will mess up. But if our attention is on God, and not the inevitable mess-ups, then we have a far better chance of avoiding those faltering points. Just as the friendship that is based on worrying becomes a friendship that is dreaded and feared, so will our relationship with God become if we allow ourselves to become consumed with not sinning.
God is not a super-cop who demands of us perfection before we come to Him; nor is He, toward His children, a merciless judge who demands that they have perfection. Remember - that judgment for those who have been given the grace of God has already been paid for. The merciless judge has seen the price paid off, and so He steps down and becomes a loving Father who invites us in. He doesn't demand of us that we, on our own, become perfect - He instead invites us to become His children, that He might become our counsel, so we may walk in His paths with Him by our side. The grace of God is so overwhelming - that we might find favor in His eyes! That He is a Father who delights in our triumph, and cries with us in our despair, and yet picks us up and helps us to keep walking - that He is a Father who rejoices to give us the things that will perfect us and will make us happy in Him - that He is a Father who loves to sit with us and listen to us and laugh with us and hold us in His arms! Whatever the condition of your earthly father, whether he was a good father or a horrible man - this is what a father is meant to be but can never become without God. The Lord is a Father beyond the wildest dreams of man. Does the word father leave you cold or angry? But all that you suffered through with your earthly father can be wiped away with the only Father that can meet, and exceed, your needs and hopes and dreams! Does the word father bring you delight and joy and calm? But all that joy you had with your earthly father, and so very, very much more, waits for you in your Heavenly Father. I ask you, nay, I beg of you - put your hopes and focus in God. Make God the center of your life and don't worry about being perfect for Him beforehand. "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect in until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6) He will shape you, guide you, and lead you in all of your ways. You only need to depend on Him; rest in the knowledge and hope of your Lord, and He will carry you. (added July 23, 1999)
Note: The writer is now 15 years old. He is writing under a pen name. July 9, 1999.
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