(Photo courtesy of Mike Heath of Magnus-Creative)
Having just turned the big 4-0, I feel like I have already lived such a long life. Unfortunately, not everyday has been spent walking the path with the Lord. How did I come to know God? This could be either a very easy or complex question depending on how you look at it. The easy answer is, because I feel God has always been calling me. On the flipside, not only do I feel God has been calling me, I think He has been molding me for this life changing assignment since I was born. During my life thus far, I have been through highs living in the joy of the Spirit, and I’ve also seen the absolute worst brought out in people. To elaborate, I have to go back to where it all began. This is my Story.
The Wonder Years
I was born May 8, 1970 in the little town of Delano, California. My spiritual journey began by growing up in my grandparents stereotypical “bible banging” Christian home. When I was seven my family moved to Medford, Oregon and my grandparents moved just south of there to a little Northern California town known as Hornbrook. While there I got my first real glimpse of what it means to be truly on fire for the Lord. My grandmother was a church leader and my grandfather eventually built the church that we would call our home church. You see for my brother Randy and myself; we didn’t really have much of a choice. It was, “You are going to church!” Force-fed through and through. One of my earliest memories of my Christian walk happened when I was eight-years old. I remember sitting with my grandmother at her dining room kitchen table. That was the day I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. Now at eight-years old, do you really understand what that involves? I mean, the family wants you to, therefore, you just follow suit. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” (Proverbs 13:24); well this child was not about to see that rod again.
As a couple years had past, my walk with Christ was thriving. I was grandma’s little church mouse, always at her hip. But suddenly, just after my tenth birthday my life would change. Something so horrific was about to take place that would unknowingly rule and control most of my adult life. It was the summer of 1980; a friend that I played on the local baseball team with had invited me to a church summer camp. When we got there I was feeling great. I was making lots of friends and everything seemed to be going good. That was until my second night there. As I was completely exhausted from the day’s activities, I lay fast asleep in the bottom bunk of my bed. To my surprise I felt someone shrugging me to wake up. When the grogginess wore off, I was startled to find that my Christian camp counselor was there. Then that’s when it happened. The course of my life would forever be changed. I don’t really recall that many details about what occurred, maybe I chose to block them out, but I know he touched me in a way that no child should ever be touched. To this day I still remember his obscene jokes as he whispered them into my ears. Something about what you find at the bottom of bass ponds; “Bass-turds…” his grizzly voice would whisper wickedly. That night, he took my innocence, and forever changed my outlook on someone in his position of trust. Now that’s a lot for a 10-year old boy to deal with. I’m not sure if I was suppressing it or just trying to forget. But one thing I knew, my God had let me down and I didn’t want anything to do with Him or the church ever again.
Rebel Without a Cause
After that ordeal I became very rebellious. At sixteen I was even so bold that I dated the pastor’s daughter. Obviously, it doesn’t take much thought to realize that story doesn’t end well. Then finally one day I came to the point in my life that I just left the church all together. I had completely given up on the God that I felt had allowed this terrible event to happen to me. And for the next twenty-years I lived a Christ-less life. I was your typical twenty-something that thinks they can get by on testosterone and quick thrills. Yet, the irony is that no matter what I did, or where I went in my life, I never felt apart from God. So here this young man is. Pushing away God, yet always feeling like I was being watched over. Irony?
A Nation Under Attack
Looking back now, the most significant time I saw this protection was September 11, 2001. At this point in my life I had been in the United States Air Force for close to thirteen-years. It was Tuesday morning and I was in Washington D.C. working at the Pentagon for my second day of work. Without notice my morning quickly changed from laughter and purpose, to complete terror and fear. Just a few hundred feet from the explosion, everything around me erupted in uncontrolled chaos. If I had left a few minutes later for my destination, I would have been literally right where the aircraft hit the Pentagon. For years I struggled with two very deep seeded questions, “Why was I spared?” “Why wasn’t I hurt?” I would ask myself these questions for years to come. I began to believe that maybe I was just one of the luckiest people to walk the earth; or maybe there was something more?
The Serpent in the Garden
The further I drifted away from God, the easier it seemed to go through life with no accountability. So much so, I had gotten to the point that I started to believe that I didn’t even need God. I had convinced myself that even though I was getting by with close calls, I would always end up on top. Fast forward a few years later, and I had entered into a relationship. Things were good for a while, but then things quickly started to change. The “I love you’s” had stopped. They began to be replaced with shoves, shoves turned to slaps, which eventually graduated to a close-handed punch to the face. Before I knew it, I was in a full-blown abusive relationship. In true abusive relationship fashion, these abuses started off slowly with the “I’m sorry’s” and “It won’t happen again.” However, these isolated events quickly turned into an ever-growing monthly occurrence. I was married to someone who it didn’t matter if I left the toothpaste cap off the toothpaste, or committed a capital crime. And as bad as this seems, it wasn’t just the physical abuse that was going on, it was the mental abuse. I was repeatedly called a loser, and at one point my ordeal as a child was thrown in my face because, “I must be gay” since what happened to me.
The Stoning of Stephen
Now being in that situation, it takes a lot for a man to get hit and not do anything about it. But I never did; I wasn’t raised that way. But one night, the final straw had dropped. It’s been said time and time again that most people have to hit rock bottom before seeking the Lord. Well this night, I hit concrete. Once again, my ex got upset with me. I remember this day very well because each time I stand in front of the mirror I still see the scar from that night on my chest.
While I was upstairs about to leave the house for the gym, my ex asked me why I hadn’t done the laundry yet? I told her that I would do it when I got back. Then suddenly I saw her demeanor change; I knew what was about to come next. And without any hesitation, she grabbed me with her freshly manicured nails and tore into my chest. Yet, as bad as this was it wasn’t just the physical attack that devastated me, but it was what was said next. She looked at me with all the anger she could muster and told me she wanted a divorce. She said she wanted it because she never loved me, and that she was still in love with her first husband. I stood there both completely devastated and puzzled at the same time. I thought to myself about all that I had put up with over the last year. I was an emotional wreck and found myself curled up in the fetal position in my closet. Devastated by what had just occurred, I simply just shutdown and gave up. And it was at that moment that I made the decision that this was the night I was going to take my life.
As I sat there on the closet floor, I began thinking of how should I do it. Rope? No it may not hold me. Pills? What if I don’t take enough and just wind up having my stomach pumped. My gun? Yes, that’s the quickest and surest way that I could end it all. As I rose to my feet to go get my gun, I was unexpectedly overcome with emotion. I thought to myself, “What are you doing? Do you really want to take your life?” As I stood there pondering my thoughts I suddenly realized, “No!” And with that simple answer Satan’s stronghold over me was broken. All my guilt, all the blame and hatred I carried against God came crashing down with me as I fell to the floor. And for the first time in over 20-years I found myself on my knees, looking to the heavens, and crying out, “Okay you win! I’ll give my life to you. Please take control.”
An Angel Delivers
Two days later I left my house, my marriage, and my dignity behind. Once again, another failed chapter in my life had come to a close. Nothing was happening out of the ordinary and my life seemed just as bleak as ever. I was on my way to get my haircut with Connie, the same woman who had cut my hair every week for 4-years. But something was different this day. She had called in sick and placed me with a new hairstylist named Suzanne. As I sat down I began to make small talk as most people do. I guess she noticed I wasn’t acting normal and asked me if everything was okay. I’m not sure if I just needed to tell someone, or it was divine intervention. Cautiously, I told her what had happened. She listened a bit and then pondered something in her head. “Would you like to go to church with me?” she asked. I immediately remembered the commitment I made just 2-days prior. A cold sweat came over me as I reluctantly agreed. While leaving the salon I asked myself, “Does God really work this fast?”
The following Sunday I went with Suzanne to New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I remember being in awe by how big it was. To be honest I was a little overwhelmed at first; and couple of times I even asked her, “What’s with the raising of the hands?” and “What’s with the jumping Christians?” While I was stunned at first, I must admit I felt a lot more positive about my situation just by walking into the sanctuary. Then suddenly the guest speaker for that day walked to the stage, it was a man named John Bevere. Just 5-minutes into his sermon and I felt like he was talking directly to me. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I felt for the first time in my life the touch of the Holy Spirit piercing my heart. As John closed his message he asked for those not saved to give their life to Christ. I think I stunned Suzanne when I arose and surrendered my life to our Savior. I left that day with renewed faith, but to be honest, I still felt a little on the fence if this was truly God or if I was just caught up in the moment.
That night after surrendering my life to Christ God spoke to me. While I was sleeping I began to have the most realistic dream I had ever had. I was there, literally standing at Golgotha watching the crucifixion of Christ. I remember being so close to Jesus that I saw the blood dripping down his face, when suddenly I was startled and abruptly awoke. But it wasn’t just the dream that woke me; it was the blood that was pouring profusely from my nose. It scared me so much that I trembled at how real it was. Was this a sign, or just the beginning of signs? Later that week I went back to church and was baptized by water. That same night I went before the elders of the church to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. As they formed a circle around me, I remember waking up after having hit the floor with an overwhelming feeling of love and grace that only God can provide. The elders told me I had been slain in the Spirit. All my doubt about God, His Son, and the Holy Spirit were gone. In just seven-days His love and my calling on my life was confirmed. As 1 John 5:6 confirms, “And Jesus Christ was revealed as God’s Son by his baptism in water and by shedding his blood on the cross-not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit, who is truth, confirms it with his testimony” (1 John 5:6).
The Prodigal Son Returns
After I became saved, I couldn’t wait to call my grandmother; the same grandmother who sat at a small kitchen table with me as I gave my life to Christ 28-years prior. When I told her of the Good-News she began to cry. She told me that God had finally answered her prayers. I was shocked to find out that my grandparents had never stopped praying for me. They prayed for God to bring me back to him for over 20-years. For twenty-years they never gave up on me, for they knew of the redeeming power that God provides to us all. That’s why I now believe that God never took his hand off me. It wasn’t God to blame for what happened to me as a small child; it was Satan. For Satan knew that if he did not try and separate me from my Savior, I too would be a force to be reckoned with for building God’s Kingdom. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). And this is why my catch phrase is “Building His Kingdom one soul at a time…” It only takes one person to start an avalanche. We all have past issues that seem disheartening. Whether it is abuse, drugs, crime, whatever; always live your life with one thought in mind. “Do not allow your past to become a crutch… Use it as a ladder to elevate your future!”
Walking By Faith
Born… Broken… Redeemed; three words that not only represent my past, but the very paralleled life that Jesus Christ once walked on this earth over two-thousand years ago. So here I am, a living testimony of what God confirms to us. If we choose to follow Him He will continue to walk with us all the days of our lives. We will assuredly face regret, anger, or even doubt during times of our lives; yet He is still with us. We may even begin to question God as I did as a young man; questioning Him because we seem to only see one set of footprints behind us. But always remember God has confirmed, “’I will never leave you, nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). When those times of trial waft into your life and you begin to feel alone because you only see one set of footprints, fear not. God has never, and will never leave you. For those single footprints behind you are not your own. It is during these trials that we come to find that they were in fact God’s as He was carrying us through the fire.
A Blessed life…
Today, I have the privilege and honor of preaching the Gospel of Christ and declaring Christ’s redeeming power through this testimony. I hope my testimony has been an encouraging word to you for how adversity can bring about prosperity. Not only did God never take His hand off of me, He provided me with the best life I could have ever asked for. And Suzanne, the woman who brought me to Christ, I still see her to cut my hair. But ironically, she doesn’t have to charge me any longer; because she’s not just my hairstylist anymore, she became my wife. When someone asks me how I met my wife, I enjoy telling this story. Because we believe before she brought me to Christ, we chose our past relationships. But God… He chose this one.
~ Pastor Dodd