My childhood was a pretty happy one. I was raised by my parents and grew up with 3 brothers (2 older, 1 younger). I had grandparents who lived in the same town or just a few hours driving distance from us. My parents were high school sweethearts – that was always pretty cute to watch how gaga my dad got over my mom sometimes (yeah dad, I noticed!). My dad built the house that we grew up in, which was always pretty special to us. I had a few friends in the neighborhood and a few friends at church. So, overall a pretty happy childhood.
Fast forward a few years and in my teenage years, you’d think I was the perfect kid! (Of course, that’s because I was! j/k) I may not have been perfect, but I guess you would say I was a pretty good kid. I didn’t get into trouble, I got straight A’s in school, and I was pretty active in my church. I went to Sunday school, youth group on Wednesday nights, and volunteered at an urban housing development where we held a kid’s club every Sunday to learn about Jesus – we even had an activities building that I would have birthday parties at! I went on every church trip I could go on: camps, mission trips, choir trips – you name it, I was there!
I loved being so active and involved in my church. When I was at church, I felt like I was at “home”. I had good friends there that were fun to be around, I was able to encourage other people and I even invited a friend of mine from school a few times who became a regular attendee and she came to know Jesus, too! Score!
I was so involved and at ease when I was at church that I knew this would be my life’s calling. I was destined to work in the church permanently! I was so confident of this that I made my way to the front of the sanctuary one Sunday morning to make my calling public to the congregation. Yep, that was me – announcing it to the world! I was committing my life to ministry – at the time, specifically youth ministry. Yee Haw! This was going to be fun!
(Coincidence that I work with the youth group at my church today? I THINK NOT! Godincidence! I learned that word at church yesterday.)
I continued my intense involvement with our church until I was about 16ish. So what happened…? We’ll get to the detail, but this is when I started to stumble.
I made some really bad decisions in my teenage years. At first, they started out pretty small – or so I thought. I would spend the night with a friend, sneak out and go smoke a cigarette. Or I would spend the night with a friend and take a sip of alcohol. Or I would just plain lie about where I was – regardless of whether I was doing anything wrong or not (later realizing, the simple lie was doing something wrong). What started out as LITTLE bad decisions snowballed into some really BIG messes. I was young. I was having fun. I wasn’t hurting anyone. And I had plenty of time to “get my life together” before I became a grown up. I told myself that nothing I was doing at the time would ever be big enough to impact the rest of my life.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that each of these little rebellions would start to build on each other until I started making more bold acts of defiance. Each time I got away with doing something that I shouldn’t, I knew I could do it again and then maybe go a little further the next time. Not that I was intentionally going out to do something wrong, it was just that everything I was doing was something I shouldn’t be doing! I was being accepted by more and more people the more I did things I shouldn’t be. Maybe it was peer pressure or maybe it was just the consolation of gaining more friends. I wish I had listened to the warning signs – from my parents, from my gut. I knew I was not living the way that I should and I totally ignored it all because I was having the “momentary” time of my life!
Over the next few years I really made a terrible, awful mess of myself and the world I was living in was getting darker and darker as I walked further and further away from the Light in my life – Jesus. I ruined some friendships. I put myself in harmful situations. I let my parents down and caused serious heartache for my family. So much for the “not hurting anyone” part…
So there I was – 16 years old, cruising around town with my friends – living it up. I had my first job at a department store (cool!), so I had a little cash in my pocket. I didn’t go to a lot of parties like a lot of my friends did because I had a job – and a curfew (although I didn’t always make that – sorry mom)! And, oh yeah, did I mention that I was boy crazy yet? Well, maybe not entirely boy crazy – but they were certainly getting my attention. And somehow, I was getting theirs too…
What I’ve learned:
- My upbringing didn’t dictate how my life would turn out.
- I still had to be responsible enough to make the right decisions.
- I feel “at home” anytime I am near my Heavenly Father and doing His work.
- “Small” bad decisions were like gateway drugs for me. Once I made one – regardless of how “small” it was – more bad decisions would follow because I allowed them to feed on each other.
- Have you ever noticed a LITTLE bad decision leading to a BIGGER bad decision?
- Have you watched bad decisions in your life grow into something unrecognizable?
- How did that bad decision grow? What fueled it?
- Did you ever think that your life would turn out different than it did? How did it turn out different? Why did it turn out different?
- If you could go back to your younger self, what advice would you give yourself?
- Did any of those decisions affect others? How?
- What proximity are you to Jesus today? Do you need to change anything?