A Long and Beautiful Trip
I like to tell stories. Not like made up stories but stories of real life. My family keeps telling me I should write a book of all the crazy, weird and funny stories from my career as a police officer. I keep telling them that no one but other cops would believe them. Nonetheless, I like to tell stories. I want to tell you a story…maybe you’ll find that part of this is similar to your story. Maybe none of it. Not all of it cause that would just be weird.
This will be a series of posts cause there’s just no way I’m going to get all this said in one post or even two. Actually, I have no idea how long it’ll take but we’ll get there when we get there. The story I want to tell is about my journey into the world of reformed theology. I want to tell this story for several reasons. To be perfectly honest, I think one of the reasons I want to tell it is because I think that articulating all this on “paper” will help me make sure I actually believe it and that it doesn’t sound too nuts. I also want to tell it because I want to offer hope to you also. I want to show you the hope that lives in the good news of Jesus.
So here we go.
I think some history is in order to set the stage. Before I talk about my parents, I want to be very clear. I love and respect them deeply. They are truly godly people and I am fortunate to have grown up in a Christian home with parents who were present, who cared and loved their kids deeply. They were as involved as they could be in our lives and I am grateful for how they raised us.
My father has been Baptist since forever; probably before he was born actually. As far back as I know of, my family, on my dad’s side, has been Baptist. And not just Baptist but like “fundamental” Baptist. Here’s what I mean by that. My grandfather, who never graduated from high school, owned one Bible and it was a King James Bible. In the Garrison house there was no cussin’ (unless it was my granddad), no drinkin’ and no smokin’. Everybody was in church on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night prayer meeting as well as Sunday School and any other time the doors of the church were open.
My dad started preaching when he was like 15 or 16. As of me writing this, he has been ordained for 49 years. He was a full time pastor when he was 19. He was no joke. Back in the day, he was the fire and brimstone kinda’ Baptist preacher. He was the preacher that sweated and raised his voice when he preached. Now don’t misunderstand me; his preaching wasn’t bad per se. It was just so Baptist. There were altar calls after every service and I had the lyrics for ‘Just As I Am’ memorized by the time I was like 5 years old. He pastored mostly little country churches in mostly rural north Alabama. That was my dad back in the day.
My mom was raised Methodist. Like Methodist before they went all crazy liberal Methodist. Now they were still talking about that whole baptismal regeneration thing but I’m not here to throw rocks. When my mom started dating my dad, she left the Methodist church and moved over to the Baptists. She’s pretty conservative also. A wonderful and kind loving woman and a great example to me of motherhood.
So that’s where it all started for me.
When I was around 8 years old, I remember my dad preaching a particularly terrifying sermon about going to hell if you hadn’t invited Jesus into your heart. I wasn’t sure what it meant to invite someone into your heart but I didn’t want to go to hell ‘cause it sounded bad. So I walked down the aisle and said I wanted to invite Jesus into my heart and didn’t want to go to hell. I don’t remember who it was but someone recited a prayer and had me repeat it and presto! I was “saved” and got baptized and all that jazz. Again, as sarcastic as that sounds (and it was a bit), I don’t believe there was any malice in all that. But now that I look back on it, I know beyond a doubt that nothing actually happened in that moment.
So I continued on through life, going to church and living a good moral life. Well, mostly. At least until I graduated from college and began my police career. Then I discovered booze; more importantly, I found out that booze made all the bad stuff go away. Temporarily at least. I saw so much awful stuff and did some awful stuff, some of it in the name of justice and some just ‘cause I wanted to. I lived in the depravity of the human soul daily. Needless to say I wasn’t going to church very often; mostly ‘cause I was either drunk or hung over on Sundays or waking up in someone else’s house trying to remember what happened the night before. It was a time of true darkness for me.
And my family hated it. They hated every second of what I did. They had no explanation for my behavior. I mean, no one in my immediate family had ever dared jump so willingly into the ocean of human sin as I did. What they couldn’t seem to understand was that I had no desire to change. None whatsoever. On the outside it looked like I was having a great time.
But I was in misery. It was a cycle of misery. I drank because I was miserable and wanted to drown it but it only made me sick and have hangovers and be more miserable. I was in deep misery.
Then things changed. Just prior to my 30th birthday, my sister whom I loved so dearly died suddenly. She was 31. There was no medical explanation good enough to soothe me, no words of comfort that quelled my rage and grief. I shouted and raged and cursed at God, telling Him that I was the one to die; I was the vile and inhuman wretch. He should have killed me. I said a lot of those sorts of things and believed them. (Knowing what I know now, all those things were absolutely true and that’s why Jesus is so beautiful)
And God took my rage. He didn’t strike me down, despite me begging Him to kill me and bring her back and all the other garbage I said to Him; He didn’t kill me. But for the first time in my life, I was actually talking to God. Then I started to read the Bible for some reason I didn’t know. I know now that God was calling me to Himself. By His Spirit He was regenerating me, waking me from my own death. But it wasn’t until I was 34 years old that I believe I came to faith in Jesus and was born again.
I went on a retreat with some guys I had met at church. Oh, I forgot to mention I had decided to go back to church. I want you to picture this. I was working active undercover/plain clothes narcotics. I had long nappy looking hair, a few tattoos and a really surly attitude. I walked into a mega church where I lived and was like, ‘Um…no.’ Totally not my thing. It was like going to a concert in a church building. Lights and cameras and lasers and smoke…the whole nine yards. It was ridiculous.
But God used it. More accurately, He used men I met there who invited me to a Bible study group and then to a men’s retreat. It was during that retreat that I finally believed that Jesus was who He said He was. I believed the Bible was true, that God had become flesh in the person of Jesus, that He lived a perfect and sinless life, died an atoning death to pay for my sins, justified me before the judgment throne of God and made me alive in Himself.
I was free! The darkness was gone, the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was pouring in and I was changed in an instant! Glory to God!
Little did I know that He would then call me out in service to Him.
To be continued…