“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again.”
2 Corinthians 1:8b-10
The next 5 years of my life were a whirlwind. Life threw seemingly everything it had at us, but from the mountaintop to the valley floor, God was with me in all of it, shaping me for what was to come. He taught me lessons in the valley I never could have learned on the mountain – all of which can be summed up in this one verse: “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10
So, here’s what happened:
It was a rough few years.
Coming home from Teen Challenge probably 2 weeks into sobriety wasn’t the best idea, but I was sober for the first time in 15 years, so Sunny picked me up to start our life again. Within a few weeks we learned about the baby.
During those last few months of still “using,” we had broken up, and I began running around with a former prostitute who became pregnant. She reached out to me to help pay for an abortion. Being a Christ-follower now, I knew abortion was not ok, so I asked for the baby, which obviously turned into a huge fight, because we had been sticking needles in our arms together just a month previous. She decided to pursue an abortion without my help.
Meanwhile, Sunny’s mom, Cheryl (who was my biggest cheerleader through my getting clean, starting my life over, and was the first person to tell me I should think about ministry), was diagnosed of pancreatic cancer and given only months to live. This was devastating for Sunny, because her brother had died from a drug overdose when she was 10, so it was just the two of them from then on out. We got Cheryl situated, and in a beautiful church service one Sunday, Sunny and her mother were baptized together.
When Sunny learned about the pregnancy, we prayed together. It was one of those early faith, “I-believe-God-can-do-anything” type of prayers (you know, before you’re mature enough as a believer to only ask for things that are “God’s will” and you truly believe God can do ANYTHING). We prayed and asked God to save this baby. We didn’t know how, just “please Lord, save this baby.” Well, it turns out “the how” is Sunny being much better at listening to God than I. Unbeknownst to me, she got the girl’s email out of my phone, and reached out to her and, just mom-to-mom, showed her love and grace. Lisa, my ex, granted Sunny custody of her baby, and on February 24, 2016, she gave birth to my son, with a curtain up, and Sunny and me in the room. He is our miracle child. He was a week away from his abortion appointment and God made a way. “Be still…. And know that I AM GOD.”
On Father’s Day 2016, I woke up to a text message from Cheryl (Sunny’s mom). At this point, we are almost 2 years into a “you have 3 months to live” cancer diagnosis. I had spent the last few months every day after work, going to read her Bible to her and have some of the greatest theology discussions about God’s grace, what heaven will be like, etc…
Her message read: “Happy Father’s Day Brandon, I am so proud of the man you have become. I knew you had it in you. You are such a great dad.”
I found out later that would be the last thing she said to anyone in this life. I found her body in her apartment that afternoon.
At this point, our family was not doing well. I had spent the last 2 years chasing recovery and church like I did my drug addiction, which doesn’t sound bad, except I wasn’t nice about it. I was dragging my family to 3 Celebrate Recovery (CR) meetings a week plus church (sometimes twice on Sundays), all while working 50-60 hours a week at my job. We were worn out, and my marriage was crumbling. Cheryl’s death plus the new baby were all too much, and 8 months later, things exploded.
Here’s the problem: I figured out I was good at speaking -and some churches will give anybody who has a crazy story a microphone regardless of spiritual maturity. I developed a dependance on the praise and affirmation of men. I built my identity on how well I gave a lesson in CR, or how well I did the announcements, and my entire life revolved around the times I could speak, towing my very young -and very fragile- family along to my next hit of acceptance. Things blew up and I had to move out. I was willing to give up my family to pursue “God’s will for my life.” This was when I landed at Clovis Hills Church’s School of Ministry.
When I started the School of Ministry, I had a big dream to be this hotshot recovery pastor, preaching people sober, and having this massive platform to reach the world with MY life-changing message. Here, God confronted my pride, ego, and arrogance (although I would not have been able to name it yet). I started hearing things like: “your family is your first ministry,” and the idea of “cheat the church” (meaning family always takes priority over ministry because the need will always be at home). I began to fall in love with the idea of faithfulness over influence; wanting to finish well instead of being well known. Midway through the program, Sunny and I got back together. Things were still tough. We had a lot of work to do, but we were committed to our marriage and our family working (still a struggle of mine today if I’m honest).
After 1 year, I graduated, and Clovis Hills offered me a job as the weekend, part-time custodian. I held that job for 3 years (until Covid changed the situation), and I am here to tell you this was the BEST thing that ever could have happened to my ministry. I sat in the care of great leaders and shepherds. I got to pull back the curtain on the church’s inner workings. I was given the gift of my ego becoming right-sized. It is not about reach, it is about being faithful to what I have been given. The greatest gift I received in those days was working closely with Pastor Dave Love (who very well may be directly related to Jesus…not really, but he was a shining example of what a true servant looks like).
Pastor Dave would gather the set-up team every Sunday morning at 5am, and he would lead us to pray for each other, for the service that day, and for any guest who would set their foot on our campus. Early on, he told me, “You know they call this the set-up team, but I don’t look at it as setting up coffee and signs. I like to look at it as we are here preparing this place for somebody to have a life-altering experience with the God of the universe that will change their eternal destiny.” When he put it that way, I realized it is not about how hard I work, how many people I speak to, or how big I get in ministry. It is only about doing the task I have been entrusted by God to do. God does the heavy lifting. I only need to be faithful in preparing the place for Him to shine.
I love the way the NASB translates Psalm 46:10: “Cease striving and know that I am God.”
In all my trying, I was missing the beauty of being.
Being worthy – Exactly as I was, not for what I could do.
Just for being.
Being a son of the King.
In the church I found my new identity that built a foundation for me to step into the role of Pastor and church planter.
But that’s for next week…
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