One night, as I leaned back and stared through the rising smoke of the fire, I exhaled deeply and felt the crisp winter air on my cheeks. I was mesmerized by how clear the sky was, how perfect I could see the stars and the brightness of the moon. I just whispered “Thank you” to my creator.
I had been praying for a group like this for about five years and this felt like a direct answer.
It’s been cold, I wore five layers one night as we gathered with temps in the teens. But men just keep showing up…every single week…no matter what. Why?
We recognize we need other good men, men of faith, to share with, to pray with, and for encouragement. God calls us to this.
We want to be better husbands and fathers. More than that, we want to be spiritual leaders for our families. God calls us to this also!
As I brought my eyes down from star gazing, I took a sip of beer I had in my gloved hand and heard a guy ask the group…“What is God teaching you? What are you going to do about it?”
This same question, is asked every single time we meet. A few men share, there are some long pauses as other men find the courage to talk.
Personal experiences with God came up conversationally. As a group, we discussed the importance of being open to spirituality, something that for many, and especially most men, is difficult.
I didn’t share that night, we will revisit this down the road I’m sure. But I thought it a good idea to give it “a good think” and perhaps write down a few of my most impactful God moments.
My Grandpa Dye was a hard laborer most of his life. He came from dirt floors and next-to-nothing somewhere off the back roads in southern Kentucky.
After disability forced him to retire early from the factory, he found a good deal on a well-used boat of a car. His dream car, a ’73 Cadillac Deville, pale yellow with white leather interior and those nostalgic big fins on the rear.
Man, he loved that car. He only got to drive it a few years before his health declined to where he was restricted to a bed. He spent equal time at home and at the hospital.
He spent the better part of his last ten years on earth, dying. Doctors would never give him more than a year to live, and he’d outlive it. Over and over this happened for a decade. It was sad to watch and breaks my heart as I recall it today.
After a scare, he eventually agreed to let us sell the Cadillac. He died not long after.
At his funeral I had my very first experience that I recognized as a spiritual moment. I was 14.
In a moment where everyone else in the room was distracted by conversation, I found myself alone at grandpa’s side, staring at him as he lay there.
“It’s just a vessel.” A sense of peace and calm came over me like I had never experienced. At that moment, I truly felt God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, an Angel or perhaps Grandpa himself whispering to my soul.
The body is just like that old Cadillac, a vehicle for our soul. Nothing more.
“He’s not here.” I thought to myself, “I mean that’s his body, but it’s empty…he is not here, he’s gone somewhere.” I felt completely comforted and somehow just knew, Grandpa was fine.
You Asked for a Sign
From ages 14 to 19, I was curious and interested in spiritual things, but never made an effort for a relationship with Christ. I didn’t even know what that meant.
I was fragile with regard to my beliefs at that time, and too much pressure would have likely made me resent all things related to Christianity.
Mom was good about giving us the choice of going to church, never forcing us to attend. I am grateful to her for that. I chose not to go most often, but every now and then something would stir deep inside me, and I’d go with her.
From ages 19 to 26, I sewed my wild oats. I was still curious, and would occasionally read some random thing from the Bible mom gave to me as a graduation gift. Really though, I was just indifferent about the whole God thing. I was having too much fun and didn’t want to change anything.
At 25, I did sort of have a moment though. I proposed to Amber on a beach and just after, I felt a variety of things…one of which was sheer panic.
“God, please give me a sign that this is right!” I prayed to myself as I walked with her down a vacant beach, hand in hand.
A few steps along the shore and we noticed a giant heart freshly etched in the sand with “Jesus Loves You” at it’s center.
Angry With God
Shortly after the birth of my oldest daughter, my aunt passed away after a very short fight against melanoma. It really shook me. I’ve written about this in previous blog posts, but in short, it rocked my spiritual world.
After seeing her for the last time, I was angry with God and let him know it. I raised my fist and my voice, and physically took out frustrations on objects all around me. It was completely out of character for me. I could not rationalize a loving God with the unfair, and somewhat sudden, death of a faithful servant.
Exhausted, I laid my head in my wife’s lap and upon her urging, I prayed. I prayed out loud, something I had never done before. Up to that moment, I had only ever prayed briefly, silently to myself, and usually only for selfish asks.
I can’t explain this accurately, but words I know I would never use and things I know I would have never said began to flow out of my mouth. The words came so easy and felt so right, powerful and comforting.
Tears streamed down my cheeks and a rush came over me. I had no recollection of what I said or how much time passed. I have no doubt, the Holy Spirit was speaking.
I had strange and wildly colorful dreams that night. When I woke up the next morning, I just knew my aunt had passed…and I also knew that I was no longer the same person.
To me, my heart had torn wide open and the spirit of God rushed in to fill it.
After that experience, from ages 28-31, I intentionally grew and fostered a relationship with Christ.
Amber and I had already been attending a new, small church plant and was now more motivated to become an active part. We joined small groups, served in various roles and spent much more time at home studying, praying, and discussing spirituality.
I experienced true transformation and for the first time in my life, felt COMPLETE. I realized that there had been this God-shaped hole in my heart. A hole I kept trying to fill with other things, other people, other ideas, etc.
The people of that small church, I will always consider family. Many of them, mentors.
I am thankful for each and every one of them and the unique things they taught me.
The open mindedness it takes to truly love people.
The utter humility it takes to follow Christ.
The spiritual practices that strengthen our relationship with God.
Milestone of Faith
Avery Lynn is certainly far more than a milestone in our faith, but a blog about my spiritual growth without her mention would be worthless.
Three years into the existence of our small church plant and after a forced location switch which we knew would impact attendance, the decision was made to begin closing down the church.
It was during this time, my wife delivered our stillborn child, Avery. Avery was born deceased, only a few days before her due date.
I have written on this many times, verbally told the story even more, and not once have I felt I did an accurate job of detailing it and explaining God’s presence.
It’s so hard to explain to someone that your greatest loss was also the greatest spiritual connection you’ve felt to the Creator.
I have spent every day since trying to regain that closeness to Him. Sounds crazy, I know. His presence was all around, we could feel it. I don’t mean to speak for Amber, but she has shared openly that she felt that way too.
It might have been our names being lifted up through the mouths, minds, hearts and hands of so many…the Holy Spirit covering our hurt with love and encouragement that ONLY God is capable of. Whatever it was, we felt His beautiful peace, His grace, and His mercy.
It was a spiritual high, a high like I’ve never experienced anywhere else.
Amber and I prayed privately over Avery, holding her between us, weeping and praying a lengthy list of “God, we want her to know…” this, that, and the others.
A few days later we prayed a similar prayer over her “coming-home outfit” just before we gave it to my father-in-law to take to the funeral home.
Two weeks later, a lady we barely knew came over to us, shared that she had heard about our loss and that she had been praying for us. To which, we thanked her, smiled and started to walk away.
She grabbed Amber’s elbow and began to tell us that during prayer she had felt God tell her to give us a message.
Her voice quivering from nervousness, she says “I have to share it, because He won’t let me let it go. It doesn’t make any sense to me and if it seems weird to you at all, that’s fine, but I have to get it out…….SHE KNOWS!”
A direct answer to our private prayer… from the mouth of a believer we didn’t know. God loves speaking to us through others. He certainly did that day.
That time in my life was as close to God as I’ve ever felt.
The loss of Avery and for months after that, there was something deeply spiritual going on and it felt like a tremendous gift, a blessing…can you imagine that?
It seems incomprehensible, but I have longed for that same closeness ever since.
I find it in stray minutes or just seconds here and there, during my morning solitude, an occasional scripture that strikes my heart, a heartfelt prayer, or during a particular verse in worship.
Those fleeting moments, I recognize as the Holy Spirit moving…for that time with Avery though, it didn’t move in and out, it moved in and remained with us and only gradually faded away over the following months.
Cover to Cover
I’ve read books in their entirety, followed along in church at their prompting and have even dedicated myself to reading all of the new testament several different times over the past three decades.
I had not ever read the ENTIRE BIBLE though. I don’t believe one needs to, by the way. However, for anybody who is seeking to know more and truly wants to learn more about the Creator, one SHOULD WANT to.
So finally, at age 37, I set out to reach this goal. I wasn’t going to follow any plan, which never seemed to work anyway. I was just going to take it day by day, read at my own pace, and take however long it was going to take.
I made a point to spend my early mornings with God. I set the alarm, spent time in prayer, would read a chapter or two, really trying to read it and understand it. Many mornings, jotting a few notes in the margins, underlining, highlighting, etc.
I’m not going to lie. Some of those old testament books are devastatingly boring and challenging to read. I did it anyway.
When I made it to the end of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, I knew I had this thing in the bag. The New Testament is an easy read. Fun, filled with lots of great parables, life applications, and fascinating Jesus moments.
What I didn’t expect, is that two years of reading and dedicating time for digging in, praying on it, and really just thinking on what I read…it extended to my understanding of life and ultimately completely changed the way I see the world.
Relationships, work, politics, entertainment, conflict, evil…my views of the world had gone through a major overhaul and it directly related to my engagement of reading the Bible.
Studying the Bible and spending time with your creator will likely change your belief system. Opinions on topics you stood adamantly for or against can and will change dramatically.
So many of those mornings, I encountered God. His presence was undeniable.
I don’t read books twice. I just don’t.
I do plan on reading the Bible cover to cover again though.
After all, it isn’t just a book. It’s a collection of authors, with various styles and formats. The writings were composed from within jail cells, caves, cities and scenic country sides, at different times and in different cultures.
God inspired these writings, in the same way He inspires you and me to utilize our talents and share them with the world.
He gifted these writers with the ability to share His word. So they did.
I believe the Bible is a passionate, living record of God’s love for us.
You want a connection to God?
You want to relate to Him on another level?
You want to experience the fullness of life and feel complete?
Spend time with Him.
Make the effort.
He’s there, reaching out His hand…but we have to choose to reach for Him.