I grew up in a Christian home. My dad was an ordained minister with a seminary education. He was the guy who led the choir and waved his hands while we sang hymns on Sunday. My Mom played the piano at church and taught me unconditional love. Even though I could get in trouble with the best of them, I learned about God from being at church. At age seven, I asked Jesus to save me. My earliest memory after becoming a Christian is a camping trip my dad led for the teenage guys in our church. Even though I was only eight, Dad let me tag along. I was excited as we were going fishing, swimming, doing a cookout, and hiking. I just wanted to hang out with my dad! We did go swimming and that’s when four of the guys decided it was time for me to learn “guy stuff” about sex. They taught me things no eight-year old needs to know. My parents never told me anything about sex. The normal things like “private parts” just were not talked about. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was just the times but, for whatever reason, it wasn’t talked about. When those four boys grabbed me, life changed. In a matter of a few minutes, I went from being an eight-year old kid with his dad on a camping trip, to a confused, sad kid who wanted to be alone and be left alone. I wasn’t sure why or what it meant but things were never the same for me. I just knew I had to be an awful kid for those guys to hurt me like that. It was the first time I can remember hating anyone or anything. I felt so ashamed. I felt dirty and I never wanted anyone to know about it. Of course the boys told me this was a secret and all that stuff. They didn’t need to worry because I was too ashamed to say anything. No, they didn’t rape me, but they assaulted my innocence in ways that would change me at my very core and affect my future. Life went on after we got back home. I made a plan to protect myself from everyone and everything. When I started seventh grade I had a really hard time. I tried to play football but hated the locker room and having to dress and undress in front of all those guys. I remember the guys teasing me because I would turn my back to dress or I’d wait to be last to dress. Our coach insisted we all had to shower before dressing and I HATED that. I hated myself because I wasn’t sure who I was and I felt dirty. The more frustrated I got, the more I retreated behind walls and hid. I didn’t want anyone to know who I was. I wouldn’t let anyone in because I never wanted to be hurt again. On Sundays we would go to church, have lunch, and then Mom would go to work. Dad, me and my brother and two sisters, would all take afternoon naps. One Sunday, my dad asked if I wanted to nap in his room. What he did to me was selfish, sinful, and drove me into an abyss from which I would never recover. What I wanted, more that anything was for my dad to tell me who I was. I needed him to teach me about being a man. I needed my dad to lead me. Instead my dad failed me. This period of sexual abuse, first by those boys and then by the person I trusted to take care of me, my dad, created a wall around my heart that no one was going to penetrate. I became belligerent at home but was a performer around others. I hated my home life but acted perfect at church, allowing no one to see the real me. Work, work, perform, work, earn the love of God, work, perform… hide from everyone. That was my life. As a senior in high school I fell in first love. My girl and I decided I would join the military reserves. We planned to marry as soon as I got back from basic training. When I got home six months later, she was pregnant by a former boyfriend. To say I was devastated does not tell the story. Once again someone I trusted committed sexual sin against me. I let her inside the wall around my heart and she broke me. So, I made the wall thicker. Six months later I’m 19, attending college, back to living the “work and perform” life. I was avoiding anyone who could hurt me. I got a call from a college girl. “Let’s hang out,” she said. I thought, “I’m so ready for that,” so we met. That first night we had sex. I did what I’d always tried to do, hold back, stop before things got that far. I’ll never forget what she said. “Oh you college boys! You guys are so damn careful. Come on, live a little.” I look back now and I wonder if long ago in the garden a girl named Eve didn’t say, “Oh Adam, you’re so careful. Come on, live a little.” The girl attacked my masculinity, my pride, and, having neither, I gave in. This is not on her, anymore than Adam’s sin was on Eve. I was passive and I sinned. For several months that’s what our relationship was about. I slowly let the walls down just enough to allow the start of a relationship and then I got the phone call. “Can you come over to my house?” We’d dated for about four months but I’d never been inside her house. She would always come out to the car. I got there and her dad was waiting for me. Turns out she wasn’t in college. She wasn’t 20. Even the name she gave me was a lie. She was a 16-year-old high school sophomore and she was pregnant. For the third time sexual sin was in my life but this time, I invited it in. I married that 16 year-old girl and we had three sons. We divorced after five years, our marriage devastated by sexual sin, lying, emotional adultery, and unfaithfulness, not in the sense of physical unfaithfulness, we just did not try to love each other. I could never forgive her for deceiving me about who she was and her age. For that reason I chose not to trust her. I used that excuse to never be emotionally faithful to her. The sexual trauma from events at age eight and 13 plus my sin at age 19, so impacted my view of myself and sex that I was in a very dark place. Pornography made it easy to escape to find the perfect companion. No matter how much I wanted to crawl up out of the abyss, I sank further and further. How has this played out in later life? I kept the walls up and found every possible way to keep from ever being hurt again. No one would ever know the real me. I put all my energy into being perfect. I would work harder than everyone else. I advanced past bosses who hired me. I stepped on people to get to the top. The walls I had around me were so thick that I didn’t trust or need anyone. But God was not through with my story. He brought a Godly woman into my life after my divorce. We were married and will soon celebrate over 30 years of honesty, transparency, and life-giving intimacy in a covenant marriage the way God intended it to be. We were 15 years into our marriage before I could share this story with her. My wife loved my boys and me through the most difficult times of struggle. She loved my sons as if they were her own and showed me that if I would take the walls down and let her into my true self, I could trust her. She refused to let me hide. Slowly I learned how to love without hiding as I saw Jesus in her. God used my wife to break the chains in my life. My story is one of God’s restoring love and provision. He provided a wife who prayed for me and refused to give up on our marriage. I am thankful that she wasn’t scared off by the trauma I’ve been through. My wife knew and loved my dad for 17 years before his death. If you ask her, she will tell you the dad in my story is not the father-in-law she knew. I can tell you that save for a few months when I was 13, it is not the dad I knew either. He was a good dad, but he was not perfect. I am not who I am today because of the sins of four boys, the sins of my dad, or my sins at age 19. All of those things are part of my story but only a part. Whatever I am today is because of decisions I’ve made in response to life. I take responsibility for my life and choose to surrender all that happened to God, accepting His love and forgiveness. He continues to restore me. Whatever there is that is good is because of His grace and love for me. I am not able at this point to say, as James wrote, “consider it all joy.” I am not thankful for those that hurt me. I have however, learned to forgive them. I thank God for never leaving me and for His Grace to pull me up out of the abyss. He made a way when there was absolutely NO WAY. I give all glory, honor and praise to God for my life, for the gift of my salvation, for the victory of knowing Him, and for the riches of abundant life now and for eternity.