I grew up in a Baptist family and was taught about Jesus at a very young age. I can remember the first time I acknowledged an undeniable presence of God in the vast and starry sky while playing outside one night in Abilene, Texas. Although my grandparents and family instilled the importance of the Bible’s principles, my father’s actions and temper negatively impacted my life as early as five years old. The uncertainty of my father’s emotions caused me to feel like I was walking through a minefield every day.
The fear of failure and the fear of my father fed a desire to be a perfect child, student, and athlete. I remember coming home from school and sitting in my room with the lights off for long periods of time, just completely overwhelmed with the pressures of trying to be perfect.
Almost every decision in my life was influenced by an unattainable goal for perfection. If I couldn’t guarantee I wasn’t going to make a mistake, I just wouldn’t do it. This mindset progressed into 70 years of my life becoming marked by perfectionism, depression, and isolation.
After retiring and moving to Dallas to be near family, I started receiving mail that belonged to the previous tenant of my apartment. Weekly, I would deliver the mail across the complex to my neighbor’s new apartment, and a friendship began. The neighbor, Joe Daly, was a Watermark Member and encouraged me to attend a Bible study for older men on Thursday mornings.
In this Bible study, one of the men recognized my struggles with depression and lovingly suggested re:generation, Watermark’s biblically-based 12-step recovery program. I had seen multiple psychologists throughout my 72 years of life, trying to get a handle on my depression. I knew I needed help and was curious to know more about the ministry, so I decided to attend a Monday meeting. The first night, I was all ears. I wanted to soak everything up. I heard a woman in the row in front of me say, ‘God loves me more than I love me’ and her statement impacted me immediately. At that moment I realized none of us have the ability to fully know how much God loves us.
I was overwhelmed with new feelings and a different outlook on life. I continued in re:generation and was placed into a small group that provided biblical community of men around me who helped reinforce God’s truth to uncover my struggle to love and trust God as the source of my sin. As these barriers were breaking, I continued to increasingly feel the intensity of God’s love take over my life. It was like in cold weather when you don’t have your gloves; once you start to warm up, your fingers start to burn. That’s what happened with my emotions.
In my life I only cried when I had physical wounds, but as God started to take down the little stones in front of my heart, I began to cry. The next week at re:gen, I cried more. The third week, I sobbed for 25 minutes. I thought I was going crazy! I just kept crying more and more tears of joy as I saw what God was doing in people’s lives and in my own.
As I completed the 12-step program and learned more about the importance of community, the Bible and God’s promises, I acknowledged God’s transforming work in my heart and life. It was the best year of my life, and I want other men to know they can have the best year of their life, too. You just have to show up. I still have enormous love and trust issues with God, but now I am certain of the immeasurable love He has for me.
Throughout my life I viewed God’s love as an imaginary bucket of water I could carry at my side, conveniently there when I was thirsty. But after my experience through the recovery ministry, I viewed God differently. I pictured the Pacific Ocean and how it seems to go on forever. I said to myself, ‘Christ’s love for you isn’t in a little bucket. It’s the Pacific Ocean, Jack! You’re not going to run out of water!’ I was a changed and saved man, and I longed to understand more about how Jesus loves me.
Today, I serve as a volunteer welcoming and encouraging men in their first few weeks of re:generation. I want others to be able to experience the same life change, but I want them to also know the dedication and time it takes to feel joyful. It’s not an overnight change, but a process that requires patience and work. I still burst into tears when I think about Christ’s love for the world and how my life has been changed. My life is full of J-O-Y in jumbo letters! Tears of joy! I would’ve never believed a 74-year-old could be as happy as I am today, and it is all because of what Christ has done for me.