sticky notes

I, Barabbas – A journey to service

(Please let me know of typos – I’m legally blind in one eye.)

Before He was crucified, Jesus stood on a stage, innocent of any crime.  I have always imagined He was up on a stage surrounded by big columns and greasy torches bellowing heavy smoke into the early morning hours. Pilot was nearby probably in an elevated speaking area slightly above the main stage.  His people sat in a viewing area behind him.  Barabbas, an insurrectionist and murderer was also on the stage, smiling to his people who were chanting for him to be freed.  For a brief moment in time, Life and Death literally shared the stage. Barabbas most likely exuded arrogance while Jesus stood in silence, determined to obey the Father.  Although the scripture doesn’t say, I imagine that Mary, Peter, John and others were down below the stage looking up in anxious horror.  I wonder if Mary kept her composure as her Son was taunted on stage and eventually turned over to the death guards.  According to the scripture, when he was freed, Barabbas didn’t say anything at all.  He didn’t even acknowledge Jesus – he just walked off the stage, down the stairs, and back to his life.  His silence, to me is the loudest passage in the bible.

I wasn’t a bad kid and I didn’t have a hard life compared to others. This isn’t one of those traumatic life changing testimonies but rather a grinding pursuit by the Father until I completely surrendered and gave up to His will. I was raised in a Christian home where we attended the Church of Christ. The earliest memory I have of church was when I was 3-4 at Nelson Chapel Church of Christ, in Blount County, TN. The church is still an active, yet small, congregation with some of the same members attending the very sanctuary where I once sat.  I returned there not too long ago and nothing really has changed.  It’s has a very humble 1970’s feel. The church is a little red brick building that sits directly on Six Mile Road which dances along the first ridge of the foothills in the Smoky Mountains. A small church graveyard looks down upon the building and over into the mountains between the tall grass and twisted tree tops. One Sunday, when I was four we sang Blessed Assurance and I stood on the pew belting it out. I remember people turning around and looking at me and smiling. The church would sing that every Sunday and I’d get on the pew and sing it aloud every time to their amusement.  It became my song and they would sing it, hoping to see me perched on the pew and maybe waiving my arms like Mr. Fred, the voluntary song leader.

Growing up, my family went to church twice on Sundays and again on Wednesday evenings. My father is not an ordained minister but throughout my life he has served as a guest preacher and continues to do so at the little red brick church in the mountains as of 2024. Approaching age 82, he manages their website and prints the monthly bulletins.  He has taught me you never retire from being a christian.

When I was five we moved away from East TN to Warner Robbins, Georgia.  We soon found a church and I remember laying down in my mom’s lap looking up at the lights and sneaking Certs out of her purse with the heavy plastic clasp.  When it was really quiet, I’d slap that clasp shut and it would echo off the high stained glass windows and she would look at me and talk through her teeth, telling me to behave. Every few weeks, dad would guest preach at the Church of Christ in Dublin Georgia.  This was a small church with bare bulb lights, worn hardwood floors, wooden benches and no air conditioner.  It was also an all black church so we stood out but it didn’t feel weird at all.  I would sit there and admire the fancy fans the ladies used to try and  keep cool in this tiny central Georgia town.  We made it a day event because at a black church, the sermons may just keep going.  I remember the sermon stopping for a potluck lunch and then we were right back at it. The single elder, now blind with a heavy cane, sat with his back to the wall.  He would nod in agreement with the sermon and if he heard you talking, he would smack the cane on the old dark oak floors and call you out by name.  If the preacher was talking about a sin and he knew you should be repenting, he’d call you out by name too.  There wasn’t any judgement in his voice but that was the first time I learned the Bible says we need to confess our sins.  He would pace that church back and forth, even though his eyes were solid white, without running into anything.  Perhaps he had worn that old floor out in his younger days preaching to the congregation.  Not long after our Dublin days we moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  I was turning 7.

Our new church home in Baton Rouge soon split and we began to go to the Church of Christ on the South side of the parish. We still continued to attend church twice every Sunday and again on Wednesday. This was a much bigger church and I would listen to the sermons as I looked at the massive lights and mapped out who they would hit if they fell out of the ceiling. I know that’s weird thing to do but you can’t help but do it. At home, we had discussions about our faith around the dinner table for as long as I can remember. I got baptized at age 13 but never really got involved with the youth group.  I was the kind of kid that just preferred to hang out at home. By age 17, the preacher’s kids at church spread a rumor that my parents were getting divorced, my sister was pregnant and possibly had an abortion, I was on drugs, and my baby brother was mentally ill. It may not be that exact wording (a long time has passed), but their unfounded lies about my family made an impression on me that really jolted my faith.

I was the kid that never went to parties or dances and preferred to just get a couple of movies and pizzas and enjoy time at the home on Friday nights. I was the guy that literally only had one (pity) date in high school. Hearing these words from kids at my church was definitely eye-opening to me and made me dig deeper into my faith to make sure I didn’t treat anyone the way these people treated my family. The God that I believed in surely didn’t condone these lies but the fact that He let them lie about me was quite confusing and made me angry.

I stayed a regular church member until I graduated high school. The day after I graduated, I moved up to Tennessee to attend UT in Knoxville. My parents were relocating to my birth town in Maryville, TN to eventually retire. I remember coming home on the weekends to the family farm when I didn’t have a lot of studying and just enjoying time being in nature and helping out with chores. Sunday I’d go to church with my parents, come back and eat lunch and then return to campus for a new week. Although I didn’t go to church every Sunday, I was grounded in my faith. I was a good college kid and didn’t go to parties, never slept around, avoided drinking and drugs, and stayed away from the other temptations that college life has to offer. I helped my friends without asking and everyone knew I was a christian. I was living by my faith and trying to be a good example to those around me.

During my sophomore year, I met a young lady in one of my classes. She swept me off of my feet. She too was a christian and regularly attended a small church with her parents. We began dating. Shortly after our first year of dating, she began having a lot of abdominal pain and we went to the doctor. After some tests, they said she had a 15-20 pound mass in her abdomen and surgery was scheduled. We had no idea if it was cancer or not but when you love someone you can’t help but fear the worst.

I hazily remember the doctors coming out of the surgery room and they told us it wasn’t cancer, but she was completely covered in endometriosis and that childbearing was not possible. That’s a lot to deal with because we had discussed marriage and kids after college, so this really was painful. I was completely heartbroken and began to wonder if God was punishing me for not attending church as regularly as I did as a child. We stuck together and got married a year after we graduated college. I married her knowing I would never get the experience of being a father, or grandfather, at least biologically and we couldn’t afford adoption.

Like most young married couples, we had to figure out how to actually live together since we didn’t live together before we were married. However, we had moved to South Carolina, completely away from our supportive families and church base. That made things tougher because we didn’t have family to lean on. Maybe it was a good thing though because we had to depend on each other and focus on our marriage. We didn’t abandon our faith but we would travel back home to visit some weekends and Sundays became a travel day so I could get back to work. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming but a really strong marriage has God at the center. After a few years on our own, we both got jobs back home. I was selling life and health insurance and she got a job as a teacher. We moved back to the area with our families and eventually bought a house. The first insurance policies I wrote were for life insurance and a family cancer policy.

By this time, we were used to not going to church. Weekends became time to tend to the house chores and yard work or visit with her family. We never really made time to see my family because she preferred to spend time with hers. At this time, the internet was also going mainstream and soon we had two phone lines so we could both be online. I wanted to get back into computer programming using the internet for research and to connect with other programmers so we could learn from each other. She spent nights and weekends in the other bedroom chatting with people in chat rooms. In three short years, intimacy was no longer in our marriage.

One weekend out of the blue I walked into one of the bedrooms and she was in a full seizure on the floor choking on her aspiration. I called 911 and she was rushed to the hospital. Once admitted, she was acting very strange and after a lot of testing and mental evaluations, soon she was being treated for bipolar disorder like her father. We never did find out what caused the seizure. Maybe she hit her head when she fell. Her psychiatrist had prescribed 10mg of Xanax daily (that is not a typo) to combat the mood swings that came with her disorder. My bride was a zombie. I again wondered if God had turned his back because we were not walking in the faith as we once did. One night when returning from work, I found her pacing back and forth in the den speaking incoherently with her eyes closed. She had completely disassociated with reality. I called her mom to see if she could get through to her because I had no idea what to do. We called 911 and she took another Ambulance ride to the hospital to detox and get her medications readjusted.

After that experience, she said she needed to take a vacation alone so she could think about things; however, she didn’t want to tell me where she was going. Feeling like I had no choice, I watched her drive off. She promised to call me when she got to her destination. Later in the day, she called me and gave me a phone number where I could contact her and the room number in which she was staying. At least she was safe.
I sat there eating dinner alone and something kept bugging me. Where was she? I looked up the area code and she was in New York. That is a long way to drive for anyone, but really a test for someone who has had issues with medication and probably wasn’t adjusted to her new medications. Was she seeing someone up there? I kept thinking and struggling with this for hours and eventually called the phone number back and the front desk answered. I asked if they could connect me to her room. She didn’t have a room under her name. I gave the room number and they said, “for security and privacy checks, can you give me the gentleman’s name the room is under?”

I hung up the phone and just sat there, completely numb. I had no idea what was going on, but common sense tells you it was a pretty good chance she was having an affair with someone she met online. Regardless, I forgave her, and life continued on. Her father passed a few years later and we thought that the best thing we could do was to sell our house and move in with her mom. They had 4 manicured acres to tend to and there is no way her mom could keep that up on her own. This was around late summer 1999.

In May of 2000, early one morning around 3am, she woke me up and asked if her new laptop was setup and ready to use. I asked why she woke me up to ask me that question and she said, “We are leaving to go to Tampa and visit with the (vampire) clan on the beach and drink blood-wine.” Apparently, her online chatting had gotten really dark and she was consumed with role-playing as a vampire character and they were literally going to drink wine mixed with human blood, at least that is what she told me. I was disgusted. Her online boyfriend was downstairs petting my dog.

I explained to her that if she left, I would not be present when she returned. This would be the end of our relationship after 10 years. After she left with her boyfriend, I remember sitting with my mother-in-law drinking a cup of coffee. She had no words. I didn’t either. My wife refused to turn around and come home. I packed my stuff, took my dog, and went to live with my parents and determine the next steps in my life.
Now being raised in the Church of Christ, I was always taught that divorce was a sin. I reached back to the elders at the Church my parents were attending and asked them what I should do. They said that adultery is a valid reason for divorce if it cannot be worked out. I explained the situation and remember the elder saying that he didn’t think it was a sin to divorce based on this situation. I was lost and heartbroken.

By June 2000, our divorce was final. My little brother had moved to Nashville to take a job as a web designer and was looking for a roommate. We were best friends and trying to start our own web design business, so it made sense to go move in and help share expenses. This was a new phase – a new beginning in my life. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much about that time sharing an apartment with him. I am lucky I’m alive actually. I crawled into a bottle of booze to forget about what I had gone through and didn’t get back out of it for six months. By the time I sobered up, it was Christmas time. I remember coming home to visit our parents.

We had a great holiday time at the farm but we were soon on our way back to Nashville, but our time together was short-lived. Around the middle of January 2001, my inventory consultation business was starting to really take off with a large client and I needed to be closer so I could go on-site and help if needed. I packed my stuff and moved back to Maryville, TN. The lease was up on the apartment in Nashville, so my brother and a childhood friend moved to Boca Raton, FL to be near the beach and he too had a new job.

Things back in my hometown seemed like they were going to actually be pretty nice. Online dating was no longer being looked down on and I joined to see if I could find someone since I was out of college, didn’t have a church I regularly attended and didn’t want to pick up someone at a bar. This is where things changed in my life. After setting up my account I went to the search page and literally entered the following search parameters:

  • Female
  • 25-30 years old
  • Redhead
  • Non-smoker
  • No kids but wants kids
  • Christian
  • Lives within 5 miles

If God wanted me to be with someone surely he could hit those parameters. To this day I’m not sure if I was testing God out of bitterness over a lost relationship or I was just afraid to get hurt again. Regardless, I wasn’t expecting any search returns to show up with such a tight algorithm so I would have an easy out. When I hit the button, a single person showed up in the search results. Her name was Christina. She met every search criteria. I sat there stunned but remember feeling very confused. Was God still there? Was he trying to tell me something? It was a surreal experience needless to say. This was all to weird .

After talking online for a few weeks, we decided to go on a date and I found out she lived very close to my apartment – 1.23 miles to be precise.  Our first date was February 23, 2002. When I saw her my heart completely melted. We soon began to spend every moment together except for when we were working. A few weeks later, I got devastating news that my grandmother’s heath suddenly declined. She had a stroke in the hospital and was in really bad shape. I spent the afternoons at the hospital just letting her know I was there for her even though at this point she wasn’t acknowledging anyone. We had always been close, and I was mad that God was taking her away.

She died on March 2, 2002. We made arrangements for her to be buried next to her husband in Alabama. My brother flew into Birmingham and I picked him up and we made our way to Tuscumbia to be with our family. After the funeral, I took my brother back to the airport so he could fly back home. He turned around and smiled at me and I stayed there for some reason just watching his 6’5” frame disappear into the terminal. It was a long drive home, but I had Christina waiting on me!

The next month absolutely flew by. My brother and I were working on our first freelance website together making good progress working at night after he got off of work. Around 6pm on April 18th, 2002, he sent me an instant message and said “I love you bro. Don’t work too late.” I told him I loved him too. At 1:30 the next morning, there was a knock on my door. His roommate’s parents, who live in my town, were standing in the doorway. They said they needed to get in touch with my parents because Joseph had been in an accident, and mom and dad weren’t answering their phone.

My parents were at my sister’s house in another state. After some more questions, they finally told me that Joseph had died suddenly at work around 7pm the previous night. I was the last person in my family to talk to my brother. He was athletic, a non-smoker, a non-drug user and he just fell out of his chair at work in full cardiac arrest and died on the floor in a matter of a minute or two. He was gone at 23.

In a blink of an eye, I lost my brother, best friend, and business partner. Losing any of those three roles is a hard thing to take – but losing all three at once is devastating. I couldn’t breathe and wondered why God would take him from me. I was angry at Him yet again.  I felt like at this point God was just playing with me.  He wasn’t the loving God of the bible.  He was a mean God who made bad things happen in your life for no reason.

I summoned the courage to call my parents in the middle of the night and just bluntly told my dad that his baby boy had died at work from a cardiac event. No one expects to get that call in the middle of the night. We buried my brother on top of a hill that overlooks the little red brick church where my father still preaches sometimes.

It took me quite a while to feel somewhat normal. In the matter of five weeks, I lost two people very close to me. I was still very angry at God. Anger is not a good place from which to start a new relationship. I was determined to make this new relationship work with Christina and by May 2002, I proposed, and she said yes! After a short engagement, we were married on November 16, 2002, and by the following June, we found out that our first daughter, Emma, was on the way.

Emma was born in March 2004. I had started a real job with benefits and things were starting to fall into place. Later that year during the Christmas holidays, we found out that that Chloe was on the way. By August 2005, we soon had two baby girls under age 2. A year went buy and soon we found out that Lydia was on the way! Yes, God had filled my quiver (Psalm 127:3-5) with three beautiful redhead girls – just like their mom. I couldn’t have been happier. The very night that Lydia was born, my left eye exploded internally and caused me to be legally blind.  I had shots in my eye for about 9 months to try and save the vision but now I just see fuzzy shapes.  We would discover that I had a retinal hemangioma that was un-diagnosed and grew until it popped. Here we go again.  Angered by my loss of vision, I shouted at God yet again.  As a software engineer, my ability to see is necessary.

Then the stress hit me. The house we were in was way too small for a family of five. I found a new job so we could get a new house. It paid a lot more than I had been making which was good but from 2007 to the late spring of 2009 I worked 60+ hours a week. I was missing watching my girls grow up – but the larger house I was able to provide was a blessing. I decided to do an insurance review with my insurance agent to make sure I had enough life insurance and we found out that I was still paying on the cancer policy I had written over a decade ago with me and my ex wife.  I updated all of my insurance policies and added the family to the cancer policy too.  It just seemed like the smart thing to do.

Things were going great overall! The only problem at this time was the oppressive workload and one day at work I decided to touch base with God and prayed:

“God put me in a position to spend more time with my family regardless of the cost. Amen.”

Choose your words wisely when you pray.

By early September of 2009, the economy was really tanking. The job I loved that allowed me to get the right-sized house had come to an end and the house was in jeopardy. However, Christina looked right at me and said “God is still God. He is in control and with us through this storm.” I was actually shocked when she said that. We had been married 7 years at this point and not once had we gone to church together or even prayed together as a couple. My parents would take my children on Sundays to the little red brick church in the foothills, but Christina and I made no attempts to pursue our faith individually or as a couple.

Was the God I grew up with still worthy to be called upon when it seems like He had abandoned me for periods in my life? Was my faith in God still deep down inside? I applied for more stable positions and had some offers within a few weeks. I talked with Christina about the pros and cons of each position and told her I had no idea what to do. “I trust you” she said. This was a huge decision that would change our lives.
I had no idea what else to do, so I gave up and let God deal with it. I prayed:

“God, I’m tired of living in the city of man. I want to work for the Kingdom so I’m just going to have to trust you. Open the door and I will walk through it in faith. I trust you to take care of me. Amen.”

I went to bed and slept peacefully.

The next morning God laid the right job on my heart. I told Christina and she said “okay”. Soon we began cleaning the house and boxing stuff up getting ready to put it on the market. The new job in Columbus, Ohio, started on October 1, 2009. Leaving my family, the Sunday before was the hardest thing a young father and husband can do. I will never forget the image of my wife and three young daughters standing in the driveway waving as I drove off. It is a pain I still carry today.

The expectation was that I would go up there for two weeks and work and look for houses which we could afford. Another expectation was that our current house would sell quickly. Instead, for 9 months I would drive up on Sunday, work four 10-hour days, and drive home after work Thursday night to spend the weekend with my family. We got into a routine: work, video chatting before bed, commuting home for the weekend, and then turning around and starting over again. God wasn’t in our routine at all. There was not even a prayer around the table for the few meals we shared each week.

When I returned home to visit with the family each week, Christina was exhausted and slept most of the weekend. I would clean and do laundry, go grocery shopping, and take care of the kids. I also kept looking for jobs closer to the house because the commute was really wearing on me. Although I had three job offers closer to home, God kept leading me to stay with the job in Columbus. Although I wasn’t going to church due to sheer time constraints, I did read the bible and remain in prayer. This was a shift from anger at God to frustration.  I expected Him to take care of us but this whole situation was very hard.

I finally decided I couldn’t keep commuting. It was just too hard. I drove back to Columbus after a long 2010 Memorial Day weekend and turned in my notice to the CEO. My manager asked me why I wanted to quit, and I told him I just need time with my family. He told me simply to leave immediately with my computer and go home to work from there, then return on site once every six weeks. I was so confused. Was I lucky, or was God getting involved in my life yet again? Why did I have to commute for 9 months only to be able to come home and work from the house? This answered prayer had birthed a stronger faith in Him. I would be getting to spend more time with my family – I had paid the cost and earned the trust of my employer.

The following February, Christina called me into the bedroom and was really scared and asked me to check and see if I felt a lump. I told her that we needed to get it checked out as soon as possible. The exhaustion she was experiencing over the past months suddenly made sense and fear over-took every minute of the day and night. A mammogram revealed a 6cm mass in her left breast and the hospital recommended immediate surgery. I told Christina that my ex-mother-in-law also had breast cancer and I highly recommended her surgeon. He was a brilliant doctor and a very faithful Christian. We needed God and all available tools on our side.

He ordered better tests and a biopsy. Pathology confirmed stage IIIA metastatic breast cancer with lymphatic involvement. He recommended a full treatment plan involving radical surgery, chemo, and radiation. It was then I remembered our cancer policy. I began researching the benefits and realized that financially we were going to be okay. I can only explain this as a “God thing.” Some people will say it’s a coincidence but there is no logical reasoning I would maintain a family insurance policy after a divorce and then adding everyone to it out of the blue years before.

I found myself returning to God and prayed that if God saved Christina, I would return to church and change my life. It’s never a good idea to try and bargain or negotiate with God, but given the circumstances it’s what most people do. This time, however, I meant it.

She had about a 4 week recovery after her mastectomy. I realized why God had wanted me to stay with the job in Columbus. We had no idea what was coming and He was training me to be a better father and husband. On the weekends, I had to do laundry, cleaning, and take care of the kids. Those skills were honed over 9 months. I was ready for the task. I was there every day to keep things running as she rested and recovered.

During her recovery, my employer sent us meals each week so I didn’t have to cook. They also let me take time as needed so I could take care of Christina. In return, I was able to work from home so I made sure to give them 40 hours a week. God had been so faithful and was fighting for me even when I was angry at Him and didn’t realize what he was doing.

Soon it was time for the chemo treatments. The only thing good about them was that I could sit there next to her and do my work while she was having her treatments. Her cancer was so aggressive, the only way to save her life was to have near fatal doses of toxic chemicals that hit her like a sledge hammer. Six doses were ordered. Soon it was time to shave her head which I did tearfully. Later that same night I shaved mine in solidarity with her. I probably should have told the girls I was going to shave my head because when they woke up the next morning, they were afraid that I was sick too.

Christina was so brave during chemo. She never complained a single time. On days she was feeling well she just had the happiest glow. She is beautiful with hair or without. She had a few weeks to recover from the last chemo treatment and then the radiation appointments were set. By this time it was the fall of 2011. Each day for 13 weeks she drove to UT hospital for treatment. The radiation peeled and burned her skin and in retrospect that was probably worse than anything she experienced during chemo. Still, she never complained. God had given me a very strong woman who was showing our daughters how to fight for what you love. Summer brought us a well-deserved vacation and we went to the beach. Her hair hadn’t grown in completely, so she still wore scarves. It didn’t matter to us. God had saved my bride from cancer.

The next few years were peaceful and pretty quiet. However, we still weren’t attending church regularly as a family, but the kids were getting involved with the children’s ministry on Wednesday night at a church just down the road.

In February 2013, Clayton Homes (located in town) called me out of the blue. They needed ColdFusion programmers and found my resume on Monster. Being a remote worker for the company in Columbus, I had gone about as far as I could. This is where I really struggled. God had been good to me by moving my heart to stay with Columbus so I was torn about working for Clayton. Was this the devil enticing me or God opening a door to a job He knew I really wanted? Was I really being interviewed by a company I had to drive past for 9 months years before when I was commuting to Ohio? It felt like a dream. I prayed again and believed the answer was that it was God working in my life once more. A sheep knows the voice of the shepherd. I started working for Clayton as a contractor in March and became a full-time employee in August of 2013.

In September of 2013 Christina found a tiny knot on her scar line from the mastectomy. She made an appointment with her oncologist and after an initial inspection he ordered a lumpectomy. We were devastated but God healed her before through the work of the doctors and He could do it again if that was His will. The pathology revealed that the cancer was present. The determination was that it wasn’t a recurrence of the cancer, rather since it was right on the scar line it was believed that they left a little bit of the old cancer somehow in the previous mastectomy. My new benefits at Clayton had just kicked in and there was some debate over how much they would pay for treatments.
This time the doctors wanted to be more aggressive with treatments, so they recommended a left side mastectomy, full hysterectomy, more chemo and more radiation. She made it through all of that without a single complaint. Work was flexible with me and allowed me to work from home while she was recovering after the surgeries and to be with her on chemo day. I thanked God for that cancer policy because it was once again helping to cover our out of pocket expenses.

During this time, I was stress eating and my weight surged to 297 pounds. I fell asleep at work one day and my manager tapped my shoulder and said I looked awful and to go to the doctor. I called and they agreed to work me in. They took a bunch of blood for testing and took a chest x-ray to rule out lung cancer since I was a previous smoker. The next day he called me and informed me I had type II diabetes.

That was it – the straw that broke the camel’s back and made me surrender everything to God.  At 43 He was always in my life but not the center of my life.  I just couldn’t do it on my own anymore. I gave up and decided to go back to church. Living life my way was no longer an option.

Within a few weeks, I started attending the church where my kids had attended day care and the kids’ church on Wednesday nights. I will say that going from a Church of Christ as a kid where there was no music and women wore dresses to a Methodist church that had a band and orchestra and people raising hands in praise was really uncomfortable. But the message that first day back at church was powerful and it was as if it was custom made for me. The sermon was on forgiveness, both giving and receiving. I was totally locked in on the pastor soaking in everything he said. I had some serious praying to do. I had a lot of anger and bitterness that I had to get rid of in order to move forward.

Soon we found ourselves in a stable atmosphere free of storms. Sundays became a day I looked forward to rather than being a day for travel or a day for just being lazy. It became a day filled with wonderful worship with my brothers and sisters followed by family time. My three redhead girls soon became known as Team Red at church. They were very happy going to church and meeting new friends and learning about God. They started going to children’s church on Wednesday nights and also became Acolytes on Sunday mornings. The children’s director saw the way I interacted with my children and their friends and challenged me to participate in VBS as a crew leader. I had never given any of my time at all to a church my entire life. That week in the summer of 2014, during VBS, I made the decision to rededicate my life to Christ after seeing the way the “church dads” ministered to the kids.

I was sobbing in repentance.

It was a true conversion experience for me, and I gave my testimony about my VBS experience the following Sunday. I was baptized at 13 and saved at 43. Sometimes those two distinct events don’t happen at the same time. I had lived on borrowed time for 30 years.

It was on this day that I realized I had done nothing at all to get where I found myself in life.

God was the one that got me through a divorce and off the bottle.

God was the one that got me over my grandmother’s and brother’s deaths.

God was the one with the foresight to see what was coming in our lives and convict me to stay with a job in Columbus.

God was the one that healed my wife of cancer twice.

God was the one that kept me paying on a Cancer policy for a decade for no reason.

God was the one that helped me lose 65 pounds and get my own health concerns under better control.

God was the one that restored my faith to what it was as a child.

God was the one that filled me with the Holy Spirit and put a sense of urgency on my heart to live a faithful and Godly lifestyle.

God was the one who never abandoned me even when I had set Him on the back burner.

God was the one that relentlessly pursued me and refused to give up on me.

God is the one that has faithfully always been there in my life even when I ignored Him or shook my fists in anger. Soon after my faithful repentance, my children began to attend Awana and started confirmation classes one at a time. Maybe the change they saw in my life helped them to make the decision to get baptized and begin their own faith journey. As the years went by, I continued serving with VBS, and also helped with Awana and childrens’ church and as a Jr. High boys youth leader. By 2016 I became the Sunday school teacher for the 4/5 graders.  I would follow the curriculum but deconstruct the lesson into object lessons so the children could have something physically to latch onto so they could remember the spiritual message. The girls became highly involved in their youth group and traveled the country on choir tours, serving the least of these in various cities around the country.  Christina worked  as Assistant Children’s director for a few years and was very involved in the youth choir mission trips.

One Sunday, back in 2014, the sermon was on whether we are working for the world or using our talents to advance the Kingdom of God. I realized I was being completely selfish and by the end of the sermon God put an idea on my heart to start a Matthew 25 outreach ministry (Matthew 25:31-46). Having technology experience and a vast knowledge of the book industry through my inventory consultation business, I started Books For Blessings. We would accept books in new condition, sell them, and give the proceeds away. It soon became a family run ministry. We have raised thousands of dollars for non-profits such as the Jubilee Project, Raising a Voice, Salvation Army, New Hope, and FUMC Children’s Ministry. In 2018 we expanded into personal fund raising for those in dire medical situations and have raised about $8K for a family with a young boy with Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy.

That same year, I was also moved to see if we could help less fortunate or disabled people with home repair needs and discovered a man named Bob in our community who was really in a bad situation. Bob is a rough guy with a shady past. I’m not going to sugar coat it, but God doesn’t tell us to just help nice clean people. The county was getting ready to put a tax lien on his property due to state of his trailer and all of the junk scattered on the lot. They were days away from doing a forced cleanup and pressing the tax lien. I worked with the county for an extension and laid out a plan of what we hoped to accomplish.

When we met Bob, he had huge traps (see picture section) by his bed to try and keep the rats off his feet at night. There were holes in the floor of his trailer where you could see the ground, the plumbing didn’t work, the roof leaked, and his property was covered in trash and junk. The sleeping bags he had stuffed in broken windows would blow in the wind and the only thing that separated him from subfreezing temperatures was the thin metal of the outside of the trailer. He had to remove the drywall and insulation in places due to water damage and had no means to make the repairs. This was no place for a human to live. It was completely disgusting.

The Bible says to use the spiritual gifts we have been given to help others so that they may believe (1 Peter 4:10-11). God has allowed me to have storms in my life which while going through them, there was much suffering. Looking backward I can’t imagine how bad things would have been if God was not there fighting for me. I began making phone calls to contractors in the area on Bob’s behalf. During this time, I was able to witness to Bob and share my own testimony with him how God had helped me through very tough times. I think that the faith in God I was living softened his heart. He was a proud man and it was very hard for him to accept help from people without assuming there were strings attached.

I was able to find a nice company in town that sealed his leaky roof free of charge and another contractor donated some sub-flooring and other building materials. I was able to raise about $2500 (cash and gift cards to Lowes/Home Depot) for the project at Clayton and from people in the community. Home Depot also donated two large oil heaters to help heat the home during the winter. We donated the cash and cards we raised to Smoky Mountain Outreach so they could get kids involved on the project. SMO uses work camps to teach youth about fellowship, service, and faith in God through manual work camps. It’s a great organization. SMO was able to renovate the outside of the trailer and build two new decks. They brought in gravel for a new drive, put in landscaping, hauled off all of the junk in the yard and then seeded the bare spots in the lawn. They then turned to the inside of the house. I persuaded Lowes to donate about 20 gallons of paint and they gave me a great deal on drywall. I was also able to secure new vinyl flooring for the house from a company in Knoxville free of charge. SMO was able to re-drywall the home, fix the plumbing, repair windows, lay the vinyl flooring, and build two new decks and clean the house end to end. The Bed Store in town also donated a $1200 bed so that Bob had a nice bed to sleep in which would help chronic arthritis in his neck. The home wasn’t perfect but it was warm, clean, and dry and gave Bob a chance to start over.

This made a serious impression on Bob, and he attended church without any prompting for a while. It doesn’t matter if Bob was a rough and rude with a sketchy past. It doesn’t matter if he didn’t bathe often and no one but me would sit by him during the church service. It doesn’t matter if he went back to his old ways or not. I served Bob in love according to my faith. Jesus has given us plenty of examples of helping people in need regardless of what they have done. I was called to serve Bob just because it is what Jesus would have done.

By the late fall of 2020, I had moved on from Clayton as an employer and the world was in full COVID lockdown. I was working out of the house and my employer was mandating the vaccines in order to continue to be employed.  The only exception was either a medical or religious exemption.  God had laid it on my heart not to take these mRNA injections so I submitted my testimony as an example of my faith.  They honored the request for exemption so God once again was fighting my battles for me. Mom didn’t want to get the vaccines but my dad took the J&J vaccine.

Dark clouds, however, were once again gathering on the horizon.  My mother was becoming more forgetful at a rapid pace. It was like someone just shut the lights off.  My February of 2021 she didn’t know who I was.  I couldn’t believe my own mother didn’t recognize my face and turned my anger to God.  Why was this happening?  By June of that year, Christina lost her uncle after a brief downturn in his health and on June 15th, my mother entered the hospital in major cognitive decline and dual kidney failure. After two weeks, mom wasn’t improving, and my sister and her family arrived in town on July 1st. My sister and I decided that whatever the outcome, we were going to be examples and let God’s glory shine through us.

Doctors got to see us witness to people in the waiting room and hall and even pray with the wonderful nurses. God made the doctors stand silently as we were anointing our mother with oil and praying over her, and I got to see her grandchildren scatter to the corners of the hospital to sing the entire book of Psalms over the hospital and health workers. Mom fought for 39 days before God called her home. As she passed away, we played her favorite Christian song, “Whom shall I fear” by Chris Tomlin and me and my sister laid hands on her and sang through our tears. The nurses’ station was monitoring via camera, and they got to witness our faith. The whole hospital knew the name Gerry Hendrix. We kept our promise and let others see our faith that God is always in control, even in the darkest hours. She is buried on the hill next to my brother that overlooks the little red brick church, where my father still preaches sometimes.

In the fall of 2021 we all finally got COVID.  We made it through but as a diabetic, I was really sick for about a month and lost about 20 pounds.  As I was getting back on my feet, my dad called me and said that He was having issues breathing so I went to pick him up and get him to the hospital.  It turns out he too had COVID.  We admitted him to the hospital and in addition to COVID he had an n-stemi heart attack due to the stress on his lungs and blood clotting which we believe were caused by the J&J vaccine.  Dad has always been strong and healthy.  After covid he would pretty much remain on oxygen.

I thought we would catch a break but in late 2021, Emma began having vision problems. As an artist, that has to be terrifying much like a software engineer losing the ability to type. I was working one day when I saw a phone call from Emma and decided to let it go to voicemail so that I could finish a task that was really important. A few minutes later, I got a call from Christina. Emma had been in a wreck, t-boned in her little Buick by a full size SUV on the driver side. I then decided to never ignore a call from anyone in my family. Her head smashed the driver side window but she was spared a concussion, or worse. Her vision however, begin to rapidly decline. A routine eye-doctor visit discovered fluid behind her eyes and they told us to go seek advice from a neurosurgeon.

After several rounds of testing, the neurosurgeon diagnosed her with Psuedo-tumor Cerebri. This is a condition in which excess fluid builds up in your brain and without treatment can cause issues which mimic a brain tumor. He laid out two courses of treatment. First would be medication to see if the fluid would dissipate. If that was not the case, he would push for a cerebral stint which would be a permanent solution to help her body drain off the excess fluid. The medication didn’t work so we began to learn more about the brain surgery. The surgery would be outpatient. A small incision would be made in her thigh and they would snake a catheter all the way up into her brain and find the narrowing arteries and deploy a stint so that they could better do their jobs. If they deployed a stint she would be on blood thinners for about six months. Post surgery follow ups showed that her vision was returning and with glasses, would return to near normal, although not perfect. My artist could see once again.

In the fall of 2022, we made a family vacation on fall break. Emma had to stay behind due to college and work. One day while I was relaxing on the beach she texted me and asked if she could call and talk about one of her classes. I told her I will always answer my phone and she said she would call in 5 minutes. The phone rang, and as daddy’s do, I answered it in a stupid and funny manner only to hear my daughter, screaming on the other end. She was completely terrified. Sirens blared in the background and I heard an anonymous voice say “baby just sit still I’ve got everyone rolling this way. Just sit still.”

Emma had been in another wreck except this time she was hit broadside in the driver door by a bronco doing 55mph. She was also on blood thinners as post-op treatment for her brain stint. When a child is screaming in fear and you have no way to get to them, you can’t help but think the worst. I talked with her all the way to the hospital where my mother-in-law took over and was there with her.

Emma escaped the wreck with two small scratches and a bruise on her hip. The car was destroyed and the driver door was pushed in at least a foot. There was no evidence of internal bleeding or head trauma. It’s almost as if God himself put his hand between the door and her left side and said “hold on, baby”. I wanted to be angry with God for these experiences, but my faith made me realize he didn’t cause any of this.

In the fall of 2023, my faith would once again be challenged. One Sunday in August, as my kids were coming in for Sunday school, one of them said that he couldn’t wait to become an angel one day.  That threw a red flag up so I scrapped my planned lesson and decided to talk about angels.  I explained that we would not be angels.  Angels are different creations that don’t have faith.  We talked about what some of the angels looked like, and how some of them served God.  One of the boys got scared and told his grandparents.  They talked to the childrens’ director and she laid an ultimatum out – to play the bubble gum Jesus videos and babysit with the ridiculous curriculum or step aside. God has taught me over the years through is relentless pursuit of my soul not to water the Gospel down for anyone – even the children.

I miss the kids but feel this was a test of my faith. Ironically the Sunday after I left, the preacher, who was aware of everything that had happened, taught a sermon on “the importance of knowing God.”  The Holy Spirit led me to get up and walk out of the sanctuary.  I haven’t been back to church. I never thought that religious trauma was a real thing until this past year. It has come full circle for me – from lying preacher kids of my youth to the ignorant dogmatic leadership of a church that chose to build a $1,000,000 park across the street and put their name on it – almost as if it was an altar to the community.  Here’s the interesting thing – I’m not bitter or angry with anything.  I’ve prayed over this and determined I did the right thing.  There was no pride in my decision. I keep coming back to Luke 16:10 that reads:

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

I have been faithful with the little ones.  I have been faithful in my service to the church.  As of 2024, God has called me to do much more.  I no longer want to go to church. I desire to be the church. In march of 2024, I have founded which is a Christian faith based non-profit.  We have two main goals – to serve anyone placed on our path as best we can, and to help other non-profits raise funds with like-minded missions.  We do have a special focus on families with individuals who are critically injured, chronically sick, disabled, or terminal.  We will serve them in physical, spiritual, emotional, and financial capacities.  We will tend to the least of these because God has taught me that true faith bears fruit of evidence. We are currently seating the Board of Directors (visit the site for open seats if you’re interested) and we even moved our book ministry under the nonprofit and hope to take it nation-wide this year.  I don’t know where God is taking me.  He’s driving the bus, told me to get on, and only told me that the scenery will be awesome.  I’m sitting here in faith waiting on the provisions for this journey.  There is a lot of pain but I think that the journey I have been on in my life will prove to be an asset as an example of a God who never gives up on us.  He is always there fighting for what is right and what is good.  His mercy and love are limitless.  He is a good, good father.  For now, I’m letting God just love on me and heal me.  I know I’ll go back to church one day – maybe even to the little red brick church where I once sang Blessed Assurance as a boy jumping up and down on a pew with arms raised.

The last few years have been very strange.  With dad on oxygen, it’s putting time right in our faces.  In 2023, we established “Donuts with Dad.” Every Friday he will pick me up at my house and we go to the donut place around the corner to gift each other the gift of time.  Since then my sister has joined us and in 2024, we’ve expanded it to Sunday mornings too.  There’s no agenda – just time spent in fellowship with family face to face.  The staff knows who we are, knows why we are there, and knows what we want to order. I cherish each and every moment with all of my family and know without a doubt that God has great things in store for this journey of service set on my path.

On the morning that Jesus was crucified, Barabbas just walked off the stage and disappeared into the crowd.  He never even looked back at Jesus standing alone on the stage.  He never said thank you.  It occurred to me that the Father had to let Jesus get treated like Barabbas deserved so that Barabbas had the chance to get treated like Jesus deserves.  It had to be that way. Everytime I decline a calling to serve from God, I am Barabbas.  God has never left my side even when I was angry with him for unfounded reasons.  He has chased me without tiring when I didn’t want to be found.  He as always been the master thread holding the quilt of my torn life together.  He shows me that I, Barabbas, am held and loved.  It is for this reason that I am now serving the flock just for the sake of it.

This is my story and I am sticking to it. Thank God for the mercy of Jesus Christ. Amen.

You might be interested in …