Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography
I grew up attending a nondenominational evangelical church from birth to fifth grade. But, I basically lost interest after elementary school. My parents could tell I was drifting. They are wonderful, observant, good parents in every way possible, and they saw that I was not into the church we were attending. They thought if we changed churches, and went where one of my friends was going, I would get more into it there.
So, that’s what we did. We moved to a mega church where I knew one person. I was glad because I was thinking I’d just blend in with the crowd. A lot of people at that time intentionally poured into me. In that season, I got this misconception of what I thought ministry/life lived for God looked like. I thought I wanted to be a youth pastor, or something like that, until I was a sophomore in high school.
At that point, I was one of the more organized kids in my youth group, so I was tasked with finding a place for 80 kids to volunteer (that is what a “small group” at a mega church looked like in 2016). Love City, in the Portland neighborhood of Louisville, was the only ministry willing to accept a group of youth volunteers that large.
I met Shawn and Inga (founders of Love City) at age 15. They have been mentors and have provided me with lots of opportunities. So my involvement with Love City has changed over the years. Throughout high school, I used to help with their weekly fish fry and hang out with Shawn. We got to know each other pretty well. He kept pouring into me as I worked with the ministry.
During high school, I was also a soccer player and had put a lot of my identity into that. Soccer was the main reason I went to the high school I did. It was preparation, as I intended to play soccer in college, but I got burned out on it — to the point that I would see a soccer field and get sick to my stomach. Once that happened, I lost part of my identity, so I tried to fill it with other things.
I started using recreational drugs of any type. I regularly used them sophomore to senior year of high school, even while I was in church or working at Love City. Two very distinct lives very well hidden from one another.
My drug life was hidden from church. But, church life was not hidden from drugs. I remember being high and telling people about Jesus! My senior year, I decided to go to Johnson University, a private Christian school in Knoxville, Tennessee. Two weeks before leaving for college, a friend had invited me to a big music event in Chicago. I thought “one last blowout” — then I will leave all that behind and go to Bible college.
While in Chicago, I ended up overdosing on acid and woke up in the hospital — no phone, no idea where I was, hallucinating — I was so confused. My parents came to pick me up from the hospital around 1 a.m., and they just came in with the most world class parenting approach of grace and forgiveness. Then when we got home, my parents, Shawn and Inga (who were my spiritual parents), and I met together. That was another huge blanket of love around and for me!
I decided to go ahead and go to Bible college in Knoxville. In that first year away from home, I did a lot of thinking and had a lot of revelations: If I say I believe this stuff — even to the point I am saying it when I’m intoxicated, yet if I am not living it — it doesn’t matter. Kind of like the parable of the two sons in Matthew 21:28–32.
This is an ‘all in’ or ‘nothing’ type of thing — this is a lifestyle thing. That year away, I realized I do believe these things. It felt like I needed to reconstruct everything. So I dug into prayer and scripture, I asked tough questions to people I trusted, and I started rebuilding my faith. At the end of that year, I had a faith that I owned and was actually mine.
I came home that summer to do an internship at Love City. I started getting to know the kids in the Portland neighborhood and enjoyed working with them. My plans of returning to Knoxville quickly changed when, two weeks before I was supposed to go back to Johnson, one of the youth role models in the community, a 15-year-old boy, was shot and killed. It was then that I knew I didn’t want to be someone rotating in and out of their lives — I wanted to be here year-round and constantly. So, I decided to continue my studies online rather than on campus, so I could be at Love City.
The COVID pandemic has changed the way we do things at Love City. I was moved into a role of teaching interns and apprentices what it looks like to love God and love people.
Personally, I have been learning a lot about nature — and about the Father — through creation. We are meant to be at peace. To look up at the sky and see its beauty; then look around at human beings and see the same beauty in them as well!
A significant scripture for me is Proverbs 16:9 “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lordestablishes their steps.”