Telling my story doesn't come easy. God has brought me to a completely different place and healed so many childhood wounds that I choose to rarely go back there. I am realizing, though, that the victory He has had in my life might be used to give hope to others, and I want to be a part of that. And so today I want to share a bit of my story with you.
I have little to no memories before the age of 7. I don't remember my mother, and only have cloudy ones of my father and sister. The death of my mom when I was almost 7 was the most definitive event of my life. It's when my memories begin. It's when my speech impediment came to me.
Early memories of my father are of a very intelligent yet harsh and critical man. He would invite me to do something but then immediately, and in great frustration, tell me what I was doing wrong. When I would get it wrong again, he would beat me.
My mom was a severe alcoholic, had cirrhosis of the liver and a bad heart. My sister, who was one year older, found her first. Her screams for help woke me up.
At that time my Dad had a machinist job and suddenly he didn't have a wife anymore to take care of us two kids and the house, so he married a woman from his small church within weeks of my mom's death. This was a volatile time and there were a lot of big fights. And my Dad was regularly blaming me for my mother's death telling me that it was my "hard to handle" behavior that drove my mom to drink. I was told that I was the cause of my mother's death for a long time after that.
I didn't feel liked or loved. I was always in trouble. I could never do anything right, and my new step mom would always say "Ok...that's it...I'm telling your father when he gets home." I would spend each day dreading the time my dad would get home, and the beating that would follow. Their marriage didn't last long.
Then came step mother #2. This marriage lasted into my adult life. From age 7-9 we constantly moved around in the Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine area. Countless rentals and constant moves. The houses or trailers were always in extremely remote areas and called "fixer uppers."
At the age of eight, my step mom, not wanting to take care of us, suggested my sister and I moved into the boarding school she had lived in as a child. Kurn Hattin takes in children of families in crisis.
I lived there with about 100 other boys, separated by age into house-style cottages managed by house parents. About 10-15 boys lived in each cottage. We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner cafeteria style in a dining hall, went to school on campus, and had daily chores. It was an institution, and I was an orphan, by all intents and purposes.
My Dad visited about four times a year, or less. Most kids would get picked up by their families and go home for the weekends and holidays. I was not one of them. I was often the only child left on campus.
The Kurn Hattin staff did their best to offer some fun, positive experiences, but no amount of distracting me with activities every really filled the gaping holes I had. I remember many nightmares of drowning in thick black syrup.
When I did "go home" from Kurn Hattin, wherever that "home" might be, it was always to a house in shambles and tense emotions. Those times were very rare. What I can remember, though, is that my Dad was extremely condescending, I never did anything right, and it was always followed by a beating.
At the end of my 8th grade year at Kurn Hattin, I was told that I was going to go join my Dad who had gotten a job at Boeing. I didn't want to go. I had virtually been abandoned, and past experiences of living with my Dad and step mom kept me from ever wanting to live with them again.
While driving home with my Dad from SeaTac, I quickly realized that nothing had changed. Except one thing. My step mother was now extremely resentful of me. She and my father now had two kids of their own. So my presence was a bother to her, and she didn't want me. They lived in a beat up house in Stanwood, just behind the tavern. I stayed on a mattress outside on their back porch, trying to sleep while being terrified of the drunken brawls and drug deals going on.
My step mom would conduct intercessory prayer for the demons I supposedly had in me, and then would lock me outside all day. I continued my season of loneliness and anxiety as I rode all over the Stanwood area trying to stay busy. Riding around, I had befriended a local family, who after hearing of my situation offered to take me in. Almost as soon as I had moved in with this local family my Dad disappeared back to the East Coast somewhere. This happened in the summer of 1982 as I was preparing to start my freshman year at Stanwood High School.
The family I was staying with believed that the truth and seriousness of your faith is evidenced by a demonstration of spiritual gifts. I was put on a timeline for demonstrating that I had the gift of speaking in tongues. I prayed really hard for it. I really wanted it. I tried speaking it out a bit...but I knew what I was experiencing was self-made, and not the supernatural language described in the Bible. I kept at it, though, and got good at mimicking it. I started getting positive attention and they would say, "This is the word of God spoken by George." That felt good, and I liked the attention, but I was faking it!
The second test of having enough faith proved harder. I remember thinking "this gig is almost up because I can't fake this one." They would have me lay hands on someone who was sick, but they weren't healed. So they started saying that I didn't have enough faith and that there was something or some sin keeping me from receiving this gift. They said I needed to find another place to live, and I ended up in the Everett Foster Care System for a short time.
When learning of this, my Dad contacted another local Stanwood family he had met while out here about taking me in. The wife felt compassion for me, the husband was a violent drunk man. They pulled me out of foster care and took me into the farm house they lived in as a farm hand for a large local dairy farm. They had a couple young kids and lived on very little. When I would get bad grades or forget to do a chore or do something wrong, he beat me and broke the skin more than a few times. He liked to beat with a belt buckle. And he usually did it when he was drunk. I had no one to tell, no where to go and no one to turn to.
Eventually, they were busted for a marijuana grow in their basement, and back I went into the Everett Foster Care system.
I had met Pastor Mich, the youth pastor from Camano Chapel, and when he learned about my situation he worked on finding me a more permanent housing situation. Ron and Pam Becker were very kind and had a heart for kids in need. They had two kids of their own (actually three, since another teenager in need was already living with them) who were my age and they made room for me. This was a much safer environment, and they included me into their family routine. And this home lasted much longer than the others. They went to Camano Chapel, which allowed me to come to the youth group, and to get to know pastor Mich more. I was in my mid-sophomore year when I moved in with them, and I was finally starting to develop some friendships. This was the start of God working in my heart.
With a past like mine, I struggled in the ways you might expect. I sought the approval of others, I always looked for ways to stand out, get attention and be recognized. And I didn't receive love very well. I don't think I even knew what it meant to be loved. I was out of contact with my Dad, who was still living somewhere on the East coast and wasn't making any attempt at staying in contact with me. I had no idea where my sister was, as she had entered the foster care system herself. My main focus was protecting and serving myself and having fun with my friends. This led to criminal activities and to a lot of violence. I had rage in me that would bubble up and eventually spill out. I had suffered deep grief, emotional and physical abuse by those who were supposed to love and protect me, and experienced major abandonment. The black syrup of loneliness I felt like I was drowning in as a child now turned into a seething ball of uncontrollable rage and anger, often getting me into trouble.
But God started placing people in my path, planting seeds of hope, and showing me a different life. I remember going to the Chapel's high school Camp Harmony and getting to know godly men and women. Pastor Mich spent a lot of time with me teaching me a more accurate description of how God loves us and about the kind of relationship He wants with us, and of how He wants to reconcile us to Him through Jesus. That He is able to take what is broken and give it new life. And I gave my life over to Jesus on Easter Sunday, 1985, 32 years ago today.
Over the next few years these people, and others whom God brought to my path, showed me grace, forgiveness, and modeled the real Jesus in more ways than I can share here. People like Lynn and Charlie Keith, who would spend hours with me listening, praying, and and offering wise counsel. They continued to teach me about my worth in God's eyes. They helped me process a lot and helped me make decisions about my future. One of those decisions was to join the Army after high school graduation.
By the time I left for the Army, I had been involved in quite a lot of youth group and church things. I was starting to desire something more with God and I was actively seeking Him. I went from a healthy youth group setting into a dark, worldly place. I messed around a bit with drinking but something was holding me back from caving completely into that world. I stayed in touch with Pastor Mich, the Keiths and others who kept filling me with the message that I was someone of worth and that God loved me, and that He had a plan for my life. And God was using my time in the Army to teach me that I wasn't completely stupid, like my dad had made me to believe. That I was actually intelligent. That I actually was capable of doing more than I thought possible earlier in life.
I still struggled with loneliness, fear and depression, but it was lessening and I was learning and growing. As my Army days were drawing to a close, I also started falling in love with Josie. We were married 25 years ago, and now have 2two college-age kids, who know their earthy Father loves them no matter what (and even more importantly), knows their heavenly Father loves them and will never leave them.
Through the years, I have had ins and outs in my communication with my Dad. We were able to maintain a semi-cordial relationship. He died about ten years ago. I never received an apology from him or anyone else from my childhood who caused me pain. Only by God's strength have I been able to forgive my Dad and the others who have hurt me. I have learned that to hold on to anger and frustration over the past things that I can't control only hurts myself by keeping me in bondage to the past. I still struggle at times with self worth, doubts, frustration, depression, anger and forgiveness. I have to frequently give it back to God, seek after Him and to live in the freedom and life He has brought to me through Jesus Christ.
I'm now in my 23rd year of teaching at Stanwood High School, and I've gotten to work with literally thousands of kids in the classroom, school clubs and through volunteering with youth here at the chapel. In all these places, God continues to bring me opportunities to spread the hope I have found. He has brought kids to me who struggle at varying levels, sadly some with stories similar to mine. I get to share positive messages of self worth, walk along aside them so they know they are not alone, and plant major seeds of Christ's hope into their lives. As I work with kids sharing hope, this in turn continues to heal the dark paces in my life and reminds me of who I am in Christ.
The idea of earning God's love felt more natural and normal to me and it's taken me a long time to believe that there is nothing I can do to make God love me any more or any less. It's what Christ did on the cross that purchased my freedom and future...nothing that I could ever earn or do.
I have learned that God wastes nothing. God didn't cause the pain in my life. But He allowed it for a purpose. I can see now that He is using my healed brokenness to plant seeds of hope in others. He can take the most hopeless person and fill them with purpose and joy. I was beaten and alone. I was empty and broken. But God has called me His child, He is healing my wounds. He has rebuilt my life and given me purpose.
A verse that has been very meaningful to me as I've grown as a Believer in Christ is II Corinthians 5:17 which says "Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new." (CEV)