Monday, January 13, 2014

Tucson, Transformation, and Testimonies

It's super encouraging when you have the opportunity to talk to someone who really enjoys your blog. I'm up to 16 posts, but in comparison, I'm still pretty new to the blogging world!

Yesterday, I was texting my girlfriend's mom (not weird!), and she wanted me to know that she had just finished reading all of my blogs.

Holy cow! That's fifteen entries of long-winded, theological, random, non-regional diction and pointless anecdotes. She went on to tell me that by reading my blogs she feels like she's gotten to know me better.
And that is very valuable to me.

So I found out that I have 2 loyal readers: my mom, and my girlfriend's mom.

So rad.

The purpose of my blog is to share my experiences and growth as I learn the ins and outs of the world of ministry and try to illustrate doctrine and theology in a way that is impactful and valuable.

Haylee's mom, Claire, then said that she would love to hear my full testimony sometime.

And that got me nervous. My testimony is embarassing! Shameful in some parts, and face-palm worthy in the rest.

She told me
"And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb,
and by the word of their testimony;
and they loved not their lives unto the death." 
                                   -- Revelation 12:11

You wish your girlfriend's mom was that cool.

So I guess I could do just that.

I guess this is a warning. There are some things in my life that are disagreeable and wrong, but the point of a testimony is the opportunity to witness transformation.

This might just be the longest blog entry yet.

I was born in Tucson, Az, in my nana's house on the south side of town. The border of Mexico was about an hour South, and Phoenix was about an hour North.

I wish I could say a lot of nice things about Tucson, but I was taught at a young age not to lie. 

Tucson is a dry, hot, ghetto city of detached college students and airmen. 
One thing I can definitely say is that Tucson had culture coming out of its ears. Downtown Tucson was as beautiful and sketchy as you could want with little local businesses and hipsters slowly being choked to death by corporate giants.
And that makes them rare and beautiful.

My parents were the bright light of that city...

My beautiful mom
My mother is the incarnation of Saint Mary Poppins. Her heart is overflowing with love and understanding towards everyone. Compassion was as common as oxygen for my mom, and she changed lives everywhere she went. Walmart, schools, churches, anywhere. She was the sweet girl that you remember from school that was nice to everyone and was amazingly talented and beautiful in every way. Her musical career was halted when she became pregnant with my older brother Daniel.

Dad
My dad is the antithesis of my mom therefore being her perfect man. He is the scary man that you see in the Walmart aisle and decide to go down the next aisle instead even though there's nothing you need there. If my mom is to be described as warm and fuzzy, my dad is frigid and prickly. A large Native man with a history and a glare that could melt a brick wall. Well at least it would appear that way. While I was young, my dad worked probably the hardest job on American soil: a CPS investigator. Before that, he worked in a correction center with children being charged with adult offenses. After CPS, he became a youth pastor. After that, he became the head chaplain at the Tucson Gospel Rescue Mission. Now, my parents live in Prescott Arizona, running a rescue mission for women and children. In summary, he is a very hard man with a love for people in need. 

If my mom is Mary Poppins, that makes my dad Batman. Except without the obscene amounts of money and mad ninja skills.

The trait that defined them both was their unwavering faith in the most high God.

When I was born, cash was tight, but my parents raised me right. I was taught the skills needed to contribute to society as well as survive on my own. They taught me the value of frugality and respect. They raised me with the same love that God gave them.

But I was the trouble child.

Fights in school, bad grades, police, hospital visits, all the typical trouble maker behavior. 

When I was thirteen, I gave my heart to Christ. It was the first time that I truly understood how my parents could love me through all my nonsense, why they were so incredible and influential. I could see God working through them and in them, and I wanted that.

It was shortly after that that I began my search for purpose.

So badly I wanted to be like my dad. I wanted to be powerful and influential. I wanted to shake the ground when I walked and make bad people quake in the shadows.

It was in this period of searching and awakening that I began working at Prescott Pines Camp.

It was the camp that changed my life.

I found purpose. It was the first time that I felt white hot passion  for ministry and serving Christ. For every year I served, I learned more and grew more. The more I learned, the more prideful I became.

Oh, pride, the predecessor of humiliation.

This trend continued through junior high and high school. I grew in the Word and in passion, but in pride as well.

When I graduated from high school, I decided how God was going to use me. I had received my calling for full time ministry and felt the pull towards youth ministry, and I planned out how that was going down. I told God to hold on tight. I had this one in the bag.

God shook His head and lovingly chuckled at my naivety.

At seventeen, with a couple thousand dollars in the bank, I left Tucson and moved to the concrete empire of the Southwest known as Phoenix.

Phoenix is the sweltering, soulless, metropolis that claims the title of the largest city in the Southwest. It is huge.

I began attending a small college called Southwestern College pursuing a bible degree with an emphasis in youth ministry. 

I had a part time job at GameStop to go with my full time education. It was my only income. 

School was everything I had ever dreamed of. It was deep and satisfying and I was challenged in new ways and I felt myself growing. 

And God was waving His hands trying to get my attention.

I was immersed in my ministry, that I had pushed God out of the equation.

It was then that God threw a monkey wrench of grace in to my self-fulfilling death machine.

The college became a university. Tuition skyrocketed. Work became scarce, and paychecks became as dreadful as blood test results.

I had no money. 
No money = no school
No school = no dorm
No dorm = no where to stay = homeless

In a mater of months I went from a full time student 
           to a couch hopping mall employee 
                            to a homeless teenager living in the parking garage of a mall.

I lived like this for months before God reached out to me through a text message. Mom texted me and said I could come home if I wanted.

I removed a brick from my wall of pride.

I went home.

Tucson had not changed. I had. 

I was bitter and angry. Humiliated and disappointed. 

I needed to get back on my feet.

God loved me so so much, and I had no clue. He was standing with open arms saying,

"Nathan, I love you so so much. I always have. Come back."

In a week, I got two jobs just by walking in the front door.

"Here, Nathan, I love you. Take these jobs."

I found a good church.

"Here, Nathan, I love you. Here's a good family to be a part of."

I was working 90 hours a week, oblivious to the fact that God had been pouring out His love to me for weeks.

I was so focused on my failure, my humiliation, my anger, my money, my time, my bitterness, me. I was so selfish. I wasn't praying, I wasn't in the Word, I wasn't in fellowship. I had put my faith on pause and let the church screensaver turn on.

I got involved in an unhealthy relationship.

I started working Sundays.

I stopped going to small group.

I began to question whether or not God had really called me to ministry.
Did I just imagine that?

"Nathan, I love you. Time to wake up."

And then God slow-pitched me a curveball.

I remember sitting in some pathetic Phoenix grass with one of my best friends ever, Tripp, while I was visiting my Phoenix friends. We talked about what had been happening since I moved back to Tucson.
As I began talking about the flat spin my life was in, his jaw dropped.

Tripp
"Dude, why? What are you doing with yourself?" he asked. I shrugged and looked away from his convicting stare.

"I don't know. I guess I was angry. I know that what I'm doing is wrong. I guess I was just waiting for someone to tell me to stop." I responded looking out over the brand new baseball field.

"Then I'm telling you: stop. What would your camp kids think?" He asked. That question made my stomach churn. I felt my heart pound and it was hard to breathe.

When I got home, I got a text that almost made me faint.

"I think I might be pregnant." and in that instant, everything that God had been telling me became loud and clear.

And now, one way or the other, my life was going to be different.

I did something that I had not done in months.

I prayed to the God of Abraham and the lover of my soul. The one who created me and designed me to hate Dr. Pepper and knew I would get my first concussion when I was nine. The God who etched in my fingerprints and counted my hairs was waiting for me to come back. I was the prodigal son, and I dropped to my knees before my wise perfect father, and I begged for Him to take me back.

"God, if she is pregnant, I will be the best dang father I can be. I am committing that child to you now. But if she is not, I am pledging my life to return back to ministry. I will strive after you and love you with all that I am. I will follow you where you lead me."

A few days later she told me that she was wrong. She wasn't pregnant. That same day, I shared my prayer with her, asked for her forgiveness, and we parted ways.

I stayed true to my promise, and God has stayed true to all of His many promises.

Six months later, I'm at camp. I'm a new man. My faith burning white hot, my brick wall of pride, a pile of dust and mortar.
Much to my protest, Danny asked me to come back as head leadership over all the volunteer staff.

I didn't see myself as someone who was prepared to be put back in a position of spiritual leadership so soon after all that had happened.

But the funny thing about God's plans is that they are NEVER what you expect.

There's two things you can always be certain of when it comes to God's plans:
1-- God will be glorified.
2-- God redeems all things to His glory.

So God began working in my heart like he had before.
And I began learning and growing like I had before, but this time, God had the reins.

During that summer, I was so filled with humility and shame of my stupidity. But God redeems.

There was a woman named Jessie who has changed my life at the camp, and one day she came to me and began talking. I could feel the Holy Spirit emanating from her like heat from a stove.

Before I knew it, I was pouring out my heart to this woman, confessing my selfishness and blindness to God's blessings and telling her the whole story.

Then she said something odd.

Nate, Jessie, and B-Joy
"I knew that already. I felt that God wanted me to talk to you, and I have something that I feel like I should say. I don't know what it means or if it means anything to you, but here goes: 'you're not stuck'."

That meant quite a lot to me. I felt like if I went back to Tucson and back to my jobs and distractions, I would slip in to the same pattern. I felt stuck.

A few weeks later, I would be talking to her again. This time, she said creepier things.

"So my husband and I have been praying so much that God would reveal His will in our lives, and He keeps putting you on our hearts, Nathan. I have something else that God wants me to tell you: 'Don't get comfortable. Quit Starbucks. You're not staying very long.'"

And with that, my heart jumped and skipped a beat. I ran in to the forest and prayed aloud for hours.

After that summer, I was contacted my Summit Ridge Church of Las Vegas, Nevada and asked to start up a youth ministry in a church that didn't have one.

So badly I tried to avoid it. I was so scared. But God was in control. Every excuse was invalidated, and every door was closed. My one excuse to stay, Haylee, told me that if I declined this job, I was "an idiot".

And my life has been a wild ride ever since.

Nothing is more exciting than being exactly where God wants you and being able to witness moved mountains and changed hearts.

Holy cow.

If I had to pick a few doctrinal truths to highlight from my testimony thus far, I would have to first and foremost say, God's love is eternal and stronger than humanly conceivable. Secondly, God redeems all things to His Glory. All things were created by Him and for Him. And lastly, that God is always faithful.

Always.

The gospel is more than a few verses in Romans. The gospel is living and active and part of everyday.
God is not a distant deity observing from afar. He is very near and constantly intervening. His hand is so obvious in my life, and I have pledged my life to follow Him with my whole existence.





Nate T B