I've lived in Virginia Beach my entire life in a family where my parents were always together. I didn't have a lot of responsibilities or do many chores or anything, and we were always financially stable, but I was always asked to perform well in school. Up to middle school I hung out with the guys in my neighborhood whom I had grown up with. I went to church maybe a couple of times when I was younger, but I have no knowledge as to why we went. I was always fidgety on the hard, wooden benches, and I hated it. I remember vaguely saying that I was a Christian, but I wasn't in any sense of the word.
When I hit high school, my parents kind of checked out. Both my sisters had gone to college, and they were a bit wilder, so I think my parents took it as an opportunity to rest and relax because they were gone. My best friend Eric got involved with the soccer team, and one of the other people I used to hang out with a lot transferred to another school, so I found myself in this new world of really trying to figure out who I was. And that freshman year of high school was rough.
My dad pushed a decent amount of money my way as his form of being able to relax his duties as a parent. So with some extra money and a lot of free time - I could stay out whenever I wanted, do whatever I wanted - I took advantage.
I settled on this group of kids who were much more crazy than I wanted to be, so to fit in I started drinking with them. But as time wore on, I didn't really feel like I was part of that group, and so later on in the year they talked about wanting to talk about smoking pot, so I thought, "Well, you know, if I could get it for them, then I could be included among the group," so I ended up finding a guy and started, in a very, very minor, low-key setting, dealing to them.
At first it was cool. But there was still this inherent disconnect among us. My new "friends" didn't care what was going on with me or how I thought about things. As time wore on, my parents had checked out - my dad got involved in a pool league and my mom went with him, and they stopped coming to my diving events. I maintained good grades, and that was all they really needed. So at the end of the year, the emptiness I felt had magnified over hurt relationships, parents who weren't really around, and this increasing problem of dependence on drugs and drinking. It turned from something that was fun at first to something that was needed for me to check out of reality.
Thankfully, at the same time a group of guys involved in Young Life (a Christian high school ministry) got involved in my life. There were roughly 40 or 50 people from my high school who went to their meetings, and I started going originally because I could get high and just hang out. As the time progressed, I started to pay a little more attention to what they were talking about. Still, everything was surface-level. My depression was growing. Toward the end of my freshman year, my parents found out I had been dealing a little bit, and of course I lied to them, and only several years later did I come clean about it. I got drug tested and somehow I passed, but the rift remained. No one knew what was going on in my life. I was popping Adderall. I took a lot of Advil. I took Benadryl to sleep. I started cutting my wrists, never really deep enough to do major damage, but enough to create another high.
So rolling into that summer, things were really, really intense at home. The guys of Young Life invited me to go to this weeklong Young Life camp at Lake Champion, N.Y. It was a blessing. I remember thinking to myself, "This is a great opportunity to get away from everything," and I packed some alcohol and some drugs thinking that this would be a week where I could just get away and not think about home. When I arrived, the Young Life staff said if you're caught with drugs or alcohol you're sent home immediately, and I decided it was more important to be here without the drugs than to be home. It was my first sober week in months.
Always being a rational thinker, one of the things that contributed to my depression was the idea that if time is infinite, and we are finite, we can't have a significance. It's just something I always thought - that comparing something finite to infinite, it's not able to have significance. And at camp they addressed this issue, and the hurt I was feeling by saying that it's true except there are eternal consequences, something after death, that's not the case. They also talked about how the loneliness and the emptiness I had been feeling was not uncommon, and it's actually almost inherent in everyone, and the things I was searching for - love, acceptance, compassion, encouragement - all of those could be found in a Creator who doesn't fail. I remember hearing for the first time about God's perfection.
Because God is perfect, we could not communicate or be with God. It's like a little bit of yeast goes through the entire dough. A little bit of sin kills the whole thing. To hear that is very upsetting. I couldn't deny the fact that I had caused a lot of hurt and because of that I couldn't get to God on my own. I pulled a lot of people into drugs who have gotten deeper even than when we were in high school.
The next night, we talked about how Christ's death covers that sin, and it was at that point I started to believe. It wasn't a "this-is-what-I'm-going-to-do-in-my-life" revolution. I was saying, "I believe, but show me."
So that summer I said I'm committed to this. Over the next year, He really aided me. I learned the value of prayer, of reading my Bible, of getting in a personal relationship with God. It is about a personal relationship, about me conversing with the God of the universe (even though still today I have no idea how to do that sometimes), and the first year was particularly hard because, being an academic, a lot of the things with Christianity were hard for me to reconcile to my own beliefs. There are certain passages or certain things that, taken by themselves, make you frustrated or angry. Romans 8 talks about the idea of predestination and free will and the idea that God has to know because he is all-knowing, but does knowledge equate to influence? C.S. Lewis puts up a really interesting argument about the always-now God that time is a human quality and that God doesn't see this event followed by this event followed by this event, but each event simultaneously happening. But that's still one of those things that I don't really understand.
I had victory over the drugs and the alcohol. It took a little while, and with things like that it was never a permanent victory until more recently. It's definitely a process of learning what it means. Issues are so much more complicated than we ever think we are. I thought the alcoholism was just, "stop doing it," but there were emotional ties that contributed to it that made it take a while. But now it's clearly and definitely gone and out of my life, and the things I struggle with now are much different, but by no means am I anywhere near where I want to be. I feel like that's very common among Christians. When one evil or sinful thing is out of your life, you realize what the next thing you have to deal with is.
I was in a Christian relationship my senior year of high school, and it failed right in the first couple weeks of college. And that was a really tough year for me, and the anger with my dad for checking out was even more evident when I got to college. Freshman year, I got involved in Cru, but it was still a growing time for me. I think that's the first time I learned to know God as Father and that I can rely on him, and I can depend on him for what I need. After that year, things really started to turn up between my dad and me. The first part was pretty rough, and I started to make an effort to get involved
with my dad, to invest in him and to build a relationship. I always had this frustration and anger because I thought, "He's the dad; I'm the son. He's the one that's responsible," but then I said, "Why don't I make the effort?"
and I've seen a lot of really awesome things happen from that, and I see him more frequently. But he has other things to wrestle with.
Over the last two to three years, God has been teaching me some really crazy things about Himself. I feel like I never had a really good idea of who He was. Sometimes you have these friendships that have been going on for years, and then in a couple months period you find out who that person really is, and I feel like that what I've really been learning. I've learned about his faithfulness, his redemptive side, the importance and power of prayer, and making that intimate time for him to quiet my heart, to be still, and to just be in front of the God of the universe.
I was really involved with Cru until the end of last year when it started to fall off. I'm not involved in a Bible study this year, and it's nothing against Cru, but I think what's really happened is that my faith has become more personal. I relied a lot on the groups and a lot of my quest was an intellectual quest. You can read the Bible, and you can read it as a history book, and you can say I know this, this and this about God. But until you reflect on yourself and ask God to reveal - What does this say? What is this trying to tell me? - it doesn't mean anything except for that I can answer all the surface-level questions.
I've been asking myself tougher questions. When I look at Moses, I say, "Wow, he stood up to Pharaoh," but also "Could I do that?" A lot of times I would approach a pastor and ask him what I should do in a given situation but never asked God himself and asking him to guide me. So I think that a huge part of my growth in the last year has been through seeking God on my own instead of going to everyone who could tell me about God but not going directly to God.
I'm going to graduate school at Tech for civil engineering. I always thought I would do civil engineering and go into the workforce, but now I'm at wherever He calls me to go. My heart was originally set on a career, but lately I've learned that's probably not where I would enjoy myself the most, not where I would love to be. I hope maybe someday I can offer the same hope to someone who is in the same position I was.
For me, it would have been foolish to say, "Stop drinking. Stop smoking pot." I think the loneliness and the brokenness is the issue. I personally think that comes from separation from God.
Dealing with that separation has a lot to do with faith. For me, faith has been a small part of what I believe in the sense that I looked into what I believe about Christianity, and I've seen scientific evidence and from other people and scholars and experts (especially that first year I became a Christian), but Christianity says without faith it's impossible to praise God. It's as if you have a friendship, but if you never tell that person anything important, it doesn't really mean anything. You can spend a lot of time together, but without leaning on that relationship it doesn't mean anything, and the same is true of God. If God is a chair, and I never sit it in it, but I say I believe in the chair's ability to hold me, what does that matter?
God has blown me away. I have looked up to different people as I was growing up. They originally were people who were so far beyond the person I could ever be. They were incredible guys. And now I see myself, not necessarily walk in their footsteps but approach them. I've been able to get involved with a couple of the freshmen that live in Hillcrest Hall, and it's a joy to see how God is working in their lives.
A lot of people who meet me are surprised to hear my background. People know God when they see God work. And you only see God work when something is done that only God could do. Only God could do the things that He did. Only God could bridge the gap.
It's really frustrating when I go home because I have to pick up my dad from the bar. I can see the hurt as he comes home. I don't know what it is that drives him particularly, but it isn't for the good time anymore. It's consuming him. So being able to draw back on my own experience, I can love him more so in that state than I could before.
My joy comes from getting to know God and getting to share God with friends and not in a way that is about selling something, but in a way that has changed my life and revolutionized everything I've known.