I have always been introspective, an analyzer, really. It feels like a curse, but also tends to be my greatest gift. Since I have spent so much time in my own head, I find I have the ability to help other people understand themselves, why they do what they do, and how to change.
If you want to know more, here is a bit of my story.
I grew up going to church, youth group and summer camps, all of which I loved and had a powerful impact on my life. Being a skinny, insecure kid, I was hungry to be accepted and also to be "cool." Church is where I found acceptance, and the 'in" group is where I sought a more worldly identity. I was president of our youth group and there every Sunday, but might also be found drinking with other friends on Friday night.
I left the drinking behind when I went to Milligan College and majored in Bible. It was an exciting adventure, but I also found myself struggling with deeper questions: Does God really exist? How can Christians be sure they're right and everyone else is wrong? If all this talk about abundant life is really true, then why do I feel empty so often? I would go from highs when I thought all things were possible to lows where all things seemed hopeless.
My junior year, I joined a Christmas-break mission trip to Haiti. To see such poverty, degradation and starvation was sobering. Yet on this same trip, I met Debbie Leedom who had arrived that semester as a 23 year old widow with two children. Her husband had died a slow, torturous death from brain cancer the previous summer, yet she was full of life and energy. The Haitian orphans flocked to her. I was enthralled and we married eight months later and I found myself a husband, a father and a senior in college.
I quickly felt overwhelmed. I didn't know how to open my life to another person, how to truly love, how to carry so much responsibility. My childhood faith had collapsed. I felt trapped and depressed. And another child was on the way. At graduation, I was awarded the Outstanding Senior honor as voted by the faculty, but didn't know what I believed or what to do with my life.
So I went to seminary!
At Union Seminary in Richmond, VA, professors emphasized God choice over human decision and effort, which felt like a relief from the sense that faith was all up to me. I better grasped grace, but still found myself oppressed and intellectually confused. I had to perform a twelve month internship as part of my program and a college friend, Greg Allen, happened to be working at a church in Louisville, KY, which he claimed was awesome. He talked the leadership into allowing me to interview and I felt like I was walking out of a dim room into glorious sunshine. The preaching was insightful and powerful; the people were alive and excited; the congregation was large and rapidly growing. Being part of Southeast Christian Church was like jumping on a Christian thrill ride.
I was hired full time at the end of my internship and thought I had entered Heaven. I began as assistant to the senior minister, Bob Russell, a wonderful, dynamic leader. I later served in new members, discipleship, teaching and leadership roles. A daughter was born to go with the three boys. But all this time the same doubts and periods of despair plagued me. After 10 years on staff, and the congregation grew to 10,000 in attendance, I realized I needed help.