Stepping Toward a Healthy Community

10/20/2017 .
Saddleback Storytelling Ministry

I grew up in a small town in rural Canada. Everyone knew one another, it seemed like a great place to grow up. But when I was just a child, one of my friends was murdered. I had tried to talk about it but no one offered comfort or answers — I was told to suck it up and deal with it. I began to lose faith in the people around me. I grew up with all that heavy emotional baggage —  it really weighed me down. The trauma from that experience left deep scars of fear in my life that I carried into adulthood.

In my mid-20s, I was married, imagining that I could leave that hurt in the past, that it wouldn’t affect my marriage. I was only fooling myself. A few years later, my wife left me, reopening old wounds and causing new ones. I was tired of being hurt by life. I thought if I isolated myself and kept people at arm's length, I would be safe.

Alone, I felt tormented, unsure what to do next or who to turn to for help. Though I had grown up in church, I had not fully given myself over to God. It was the most difficult and lonely period of my life. I spent a lot of time dwelling on my problems. I missed some of the positive aspects of the church community where I had been raised. I walked away from that community because I felt that God was too busy to care for me. I heard about miracles happening with other people, but it just wasn’t happening in my life — my pain was deep, and I wasn’t finding any answers.

Eventually, I thought I could give church one more try. I started taking baby steps — watching church services online by myself. I discovered Saddleback Church online and began to watch Pastor Rick teach. Watching Saddleback online felt safe. I lived in Canada so I could hear the weekend message and not have to be there in person. I picked up Pastor Rick’s book, The Purpose Driven Life and read through it, cover to cover. I wanted to give up on life, but Pastor Rick’s messages motivated me to keep going. While I was learning a lot, I still felt I couldn’t move past what happened to me. I was living in two worlds, afraid to fully trust God again, but fully aware I needed to try.

At times it felt like the sermon I watched spoke directly to me in my pain  —  like Pastor Rick was able to read my mind. When he talked about working with the cards that you’re dealt with, something switched inside my head. I realized my past couldn’t change but I could change my perspective. I felt God affirming that he wanted me to be comfortable being me. I didn’t have to try and hide from the pain of my past or pretend it didn’t happen.

My problems and depression didn’t go away, but I began to ask myself how I might help other people, even while I felt miserable. Despite a mountain of debt, I committed to tithing and donating to the church and other ministries. I listened to Pastor Rick talk about Daring Faith and felt I should dedicate myself to give more. I had been so focused on myself, it felt good to make a difference in someone else’s life. I hadn’t felt that fulfillment in a long time. I steadily decreased my debt while increasing my giving. I felt God was blessing my life already.

I sought help for my mental health and my depression steadily improved. I found a local church and began attending and volunteering. The pastor at my new church had partnered with Saddleback Church, receiving training and resources to help grow his church in Canada. It was more than a coincidence God found me a physical church home that was influenced by the online community that helped me get back on my feet.

A few years went by and I kept doing what I felt God calling me to do — help others with whatever resources were in my hands. During that time, I was introduced to a woman who had just moved to Canada from the Middle East. She had come to my hometown as a refugee and the pastor that had sponsored her and her two boys introduced us. Nuha’s husband had died years earlier while a war was going on in their home country. Being Christians and living in a Muslim country, she lived under the constant threat of fear and terror. When her husband passed away, he left her to raise their two children in that hostile environment. She didn’t feel safe staying. With little support or hope, and no way to provide for her children she fled her country. She had initially found sanctuary in an abandoned apartment building that had been condemned. Fortunately, the Canadian government had arranged for her to move to Canada, providing a new life with her two sons.

When I heard her heartbreaking story, I was blown away. I felt so much compassion for her and offered to help her get settled in and show her around. When we were introduced, we knew there was an immediate connection. I wasn’t looking to rush things, but after a few weeks she asked if I intended to marry her. I was caught a little off-guard. She was a great person, had a heart for God and she even had kids — everything I had been asking God for in a wife. We both took time to pray about it. I felt God confirming that he had brought us together for a marriage relationship.

After we married, Nuha and I watched God continue to provide for our little family. We both have a chance to start life again, with God at the center. Even from the brokenness and pain of the past, God brought new hope and new life for us as a family. On this journey, God slowly revealed to me, over my 18 years of pain and isolation, how unhealthy a fear mindset is and allowed me to open myself to a loving relationship again. God demonstrated that he is capable of healing all my wounds and helping me move on.

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