“I understood my depravity as explained in Romans 3:23 at a pretty early age,” said Ethan Howard. “My parents would joke that if I ever got in trouble or had an outburst, I would apologize and then say, ‘Evil Ethan came out again!’ And while that’s cute and funny, I think I very much knew that there was a duality in my heart (Romans 7:15).
“I attended a Christian school growing up, and many teachers shared Christ’s love with me. Around eight years old, I knew I needed Jesus. But I didn’t fully grasp that He could be the Lord of my life (Psalm 27).
“At the same time, it felt like the rest of my life was falling apart. The combination of an exposure to pornography, being the recipient of sexual and emotional abuse, and the reality of broken relationships surrounding my family really shaped me as I grew older. Each of these factors fed how I felt about myself, God, and others. I didn’t think I was loved or that anyone cared about me. I didn’t see my value, and I didn’t understand the love that God had for me.
“Even in hardships, God used my school to continue to educate and equip me for life as a Christ-follower later in life. Through a week-long camp filled with Christ-centered conversations, I learned there was more to the Christian life than I realized. I just didn’t have much discipleship or guidance.
“On the surface, I was a good student, son, and athlete, but in isolation I was stuck in my sin, dealing with my parents’ divorce, and battling depression on my own. My parents had explained the dangers of pornography to me, but pridefully I thought it wouldn’t affect me. Slowly, what I thought was ‘manageable’ turned into an addiction.
“Everything felt like it was piling up the summer before I went to college. I developed a complete plan to kill myself. I knew what week it was going to happen, and I had the means for it. I didn’t think this life was worth living. I didn’t see the point of going through the pains of this world. I don’t know what God did, but He intervened and protected me, and I decided to not go through with it. I believe God gave me hope that He had something more for me, even if I didn’t know it was Him at the time. I was still depressed and felt isolated but moved onto college acting like everything was fine.
“I saw college as a fresh start. I focused my attention on other areas of life, while still in and out of church trying to stay on God’s ‘good side.’ I spent my free time drinking excessively, obsessed with the party scene, and still very much addicted to pornography, which led to objectifying women.
“God eventually showed me how empty my life was. I lost my appetite for drinking alcohol and other things I desired. I saw the way I was living was not full (John 10:10). But I began to develop better friendships, and one of those friends invited me to a Bible study.
“I cannot fully explain the magnitude of what the Holy Spirit did in that Bible study group. It grew into a solid biblical community. That was the first time I saw confession and people living in the light (1 John 1:7). The Lord finally gave me the courage to share my sin as well. That was the first time God showed His love to me consistently through other people. I was surrounded by people who wanted to confess and pray for each other’s healing. Not only did I find fellowship with friends, but I found fellowship with God (1 John 1:7). I was in the Word consistently and living a prayerful life. Through that, God really captured my heart. I was ready to fully surrender to Him (Galatians 2:20).
“The majority of our Bible study group together felt a conviction to be under church leadership (Hebrews 13:17). We became members at a local church in our city. I got involved, learned how to use my gifts to honor the Lord, and continued to grow more and more in my relationship with Christ.
“In this, the Lord broke down my ambitions and desires to be successful in the business world. I had an entire plan for when I graduated. I even had a job lined up. But it became clear to me that God was calling me to ministry. I have now been serving with the Watermark Institute for the last year on the Pastoral Care team. I am able to walk alongside people in difficult situations using my gifts, and I see how the Lord is using my past experiences to help point others to Him.
“I still struggle, but through all of this, I’ve seen the Lord’s faithfulness in providing faithful men and women in my life, a continued freedom from sexual sin, and an understanding of God’s unconditional, unearnable love for me. I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) not defined by my past, an adopted son of God (John 1:12, Romans 8:14-17) who will never be separated from His unfailing love (Romans 8:38-39), fully confident in the hope that God will soon make all things right (Revelation 21:3-4). As 1 Peter 2:9 puts it, I am chosen, royal, holy, God’s possession, and get to share the excellencies of Him who called me out of darkness into His marvelous light.”