“The year 2017 was the height of my rebellion. I was doing the best I could to run away from the Lord,” said Joe Parisi. “I felt a physical weight getting up every day.”
“Although I grew up in a Christian household, going to church every week, my faith wasn’t my own. As I got older, I decided church was a childhood ritual that I was done with. I wanted to be the one to decide what would make me successful and bring me the most joy.
“Through my time at a college in Connecticut, I started forming habits and finding my identity in two areas of my life – my performance and approval of others. I became very career-focused, working hard for good grades and promising future job opportunities. ‘Work hard, play harder’ was my mantra; I graduated with a 4.0, but was regularly partying and abusing alcohol.
“At this same time, I was harboring an addiction to pornography. My friends and I would talk about it like it was nothing. Pornography was a regular part of my life for eight years. At this time, I also identified as bi-sexual. I so badly was seeking the approval of others. I didn’t want anyone to be off limits for giving me attention. I just wanted love and approval. There were no immediate consequences for my actions at the time, so I continued in this way of life.
“As is the case with sin, when I moved to Texas I just kept going further and further from where I started. I was dabbling in various drugs, my ongoing addiction with pornography continued, and I began a year-long relationship with a woman who was married with two kids.
“I was doing the best I could to run away from the Lord. I felt a physical weight getting up every day. Things started to take a turn, and I had feelings of guilt like something wasn’t right. Every day it became harder to function normally, but I couldn’t understand why. I thought everything had been working for the last eight years of my life.
“In His kindness, God started to break down the pillars I’d previously built my life on. My identity in my career and performance fell away with a new job position. When I ended my relationship with the married woman, the false approval and love ended, too. The only way I knew how to cope was with alcohol and drugs. My sinful habits continued, and it took a car accident under the influence one night for me to realize how much of a mess my life was at the time.
“I was so overcome by anxiety and felt really desperate for a change. My mom told me about Watermark when I first moved to Dallas, so two years later in my broken state, I decided to attend a service.
“The first message I heard was about Christ’s forgiveness. The speaker said, ‘There is no asterisk to the cross.’ Meaning, there are no sins you aren’t forgiven for with Jesus. Jesus is bigger than all of my sins. I wasn’t 100% certain of what I was hearing, but for the first time in months, I felt my anxiety lift in that 30-minute message.
“After a few weeks of attending church, I realized I had been running my life my own way for eight years and the result of that was almost death – literally in a car accident, crippling anxiety, and a broken life. Instead of trying to continue to do it my way, I wanted to follow Christ.
“In 2018, I started going to The Porch on Tuesday nights. The messages were so relevant to what I was going through. From there, I was like a sponge, just trying to soak up everything about God and Christianity. I listened online to all of the Porch messages from the last three years. I attended Equipped Disciple 1 and 2, Watermark’s class on the spiritual disciplines. I took in everything I could.
"God started changing everything about my life. I was listening to Christian music and podcasts and enjoying it. I had new friends, new hobbies, and new habits. The way I interacted with people at work, like my bosses and colleagues, started to change as well. The way I viewed the world was so different. I couldn’t believe in one year how much my life shifted.
“Going into 2019, I wanted to be more proactive in my faith and evangelize more about Jesus. I applied to serve at the Porch, but in a moment where I should have celebrated what God was doing, the enemy used it to fuel my own pride. I started thinking, ‘Look how far I’ve come. Look what I’ve done.’ My pride started getting in the way, and instead of relying on Christ, I began trying to handle my sin on my own again.
“As I was interviewing to volunteer at the Porch, I was also secretly struggling with an addiction to pornography. I knew I wasn’t living the life God had for me. After I confessed, a member of my community group suggested I check out re:generation, Watermark’s biblical recovery ministry, to face my sin head on and deal with the previous eight years of my life.
“My experience at re:generation is what God used to give words to my testimony of His grace. I started to clearly see my idols in life and where I was falsely finding my identity. I realized how much my hunger for control and comfort fueled my sin. Although I’d put Jesus in charge of my salvation, I realized I still needed to fully surrender my life. I admitted, ‘I want you, Jesus, to be the Lord of my life daily. I want to live my life, 24 hours at a time, for you.’
“Before Christ, I believed the world’s lie that I had to define my own path, but that only resulted in increased anxiety, fear, and a constant need for affirmation. Once I understood that God is sovereign, loving, and perfectly good, I willingly let Him have control of my life (Psalm 103:2-5). After surrendering my life to Jesus, He has given me an identity, a role to play in His Church, a mission, and purpose in life (1 Peter 2:9, Matthew 28: 19-20). Because I no longer have to search for approval, I am free to use my energy in serving others and share the good news of Jesus (Mark 10:45, 2 Corinthians 12:19, Romans 6:23).