My Journey to Encounter the Cross
Recently I attended a men’s retreat in Augusta Kansas called Encounter the Cross. When Roger asked me to share with you all the experience, I realized that my Encounter weekend really began over 25 years ago. I hope you bear with me as I ramble down memory lane.
I grew up, here, in Webber. And I attended Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, and occasionally Sunday worship, here at this very Church. As a boy, I learned the concept of Christ, the power of God, and the reason Jesus died on the cross….. Or so I thought.
As time went on, I met a beautiful young woman, she was in my mind, the greatest creation God ever put on this Earth. She was young, enthusiastic, fun loving, and supported my crazy ideas and dreams….we met in May thanks to a mutual friend, and started dating exclusively in June… 4 months later in October, we were married! Two years later we began a new phase, parenthood. We are blessed with 4 wonderful kids, who each in their own way are talented, smart, and have a lot to offer this world.
We had life by the horns, and were plowing forward chasing dreams. But we did not have God in our lives. We were too busy, to focused on success, to worried about money, to squeeze any time for God into our lives…. Looking back now, I see that the most important thing we needed, we did not make time for, and it would cost us in the long run.
As the kids grew, so did the pressures of life. I became so focused on making a living to support our family that I began to forget about our family. The very thing I was trying to feed, clothe, and support, I was ignoring emotional, spiritually, and fatherly. But I was so involved, I did not see it.
Depression took ahold of me as I delved deeper and deeper into a life of make more money, buy more stuff, and try to buy their love….. I thought that was the role of a man; make the money to keep them happy.
I was dead wrong. My separation from family, to chase that dollar, created separation between myself and my kids, and between my wife and I. Depression is a weird disease. All that is good in your life, goes through this funnel, and as it drains into you from that funnel, it becomes evil, dark, and oppressive. I knew that I loved my wife, that my kids were awesome, but depression made me see them as weights, dragging me down and drowning me. I think I really learned to hate who I was, and everything around me. I withdrew from my extended family, basically ruined a relationship with my brother and my sister, and even my parents. It a nutshell, my life really sucked, nothing seemed to be going right, and everything I did, seemed to never work out. I reached out to a therapist three times, but cancelled the appointments, thinking, “A real man can fix it himself” But I never asked God for help…..
In October, we will celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary. But in March of this year, I would have bet the farm that we would have been divorced before July. My depression had taken its toll on Angie, and she had already had enough, was ready to leave me. At first I blamed other people for being in her ear, filling her full of ideas about me to draw her away…. But I soon realized, she was really not in love with me.
She was not in love with the man that I was at that time. But how could she be?? I was not the man she married, that man was long gone, and in his place was a sour, crabby, mean spirited man. She had made up her mind to leave. When she told me her decision, I hit rock bottom. I prayed for God to help me keep my wife, prayed for His forgiveness, prayed for Him to keep my family together…. At that point, God came crashing into my life, He did not politely knock and holler “anyone home?” …He kicked in the front door and made His presence known very clearly. He broke the grip of depression which ran my life for the past 10 years….. Like the flip of the switch, my true self was back, the man she married, and I was fighting for my wife. I was not going to let her go so easily…. When Angie saw the sudden change, she knew she could not go, that she had to give me another chance… She saw the works of God in my heart, she knew she was seeing a miracle before her eyes, and she knew the vows we made 22 years prior were for life, and deserved to be honored. So we began to build it over.
The first 22 years we built our lives on the sand. But now as we rebuild, it is on the rock. Because together, we found God, and we began to study the Bible, we brought God into our home, our lives, and we were not ashamed to tell others how He had worked in us. We even had others ask us for help or guidance…I felt as if He were using me and my situation to help others. I think that He is calling me to get involved and help other people make it through these situations.
It was at this time I discovered the website for Encounter the Cross. It was a women’s retreat that was scheduled, and I encouraged Angie to go. She came back a fresh, vibrant, Godly woman, and seeing the excitement in her, I signed up for the men’s retreat immediately.
Encounter the Cross, is an event held several times a year where men gather to find Jesus, reaffirm their relationship with Jesus, or just recharge their batteries of faith. I am happy that I got to share this weekend with my older son, Cole. I know he did not enjoy the weekend, but I hope he got something out of it, and I loved hanging out with him, and the other 230 men that were there! We heard testimonies of men who were challenged by sin. Testimonies of drug addiction, alcohol, financial ruin, adultery, pornography addiction, and each of these stories ended with the man finding Jesus, and learning that He died on that Cross for each of us. That our sins are already paid for. That if we believe in Him, and ask forgiveness, Jesus will stand by our side at the gates of Heaven, to tell God, we are one of His children. That we have asked for, and should receive, eternal life.
At encounter you will find grown men, crying, letting go of sins they have carried for years, some small, some large, but all sin is the same, in God’s eyes. At the front of the assembly room, there are two large wooden crosses. After each session, you’re given ministering time. Where you can sit quietly, or seek one of the pastors there to pray with you, or to guide you in your walk with Christ. During this time, you can write down your sins on a paper, and take it to the front, and nail that sin to the cross…. It seems very symbolic, and I thought at first it was a hokie idea, but when I nailed my sins to the cross, I can tell you, I felt a huge load off of me. Hokie symbolism or not, I felt cleansed of all my sin.
I had claimed Christ as my savior when I was in 8th grade. But I lived a worldly, sinful life since then. We all do, were human, and we are foulable creatures. But that Saturday night, I hit my knees, and I asked Christ to once again walk with me in this life. To lead me to be a better man, a better father, a better husband. Not for me, but for those around me, especially my wife and kids…. They deserve it. And I give all the glory to God. Because He is the Father that leads me, so that I may lead in my home, and set a good example for my sons, when they become leaders in their own home.
The one great thing that I want to share with you, is a high school classmate of mine was in attendance. And as we went around the room in our small group, probably 60 of us, he said and I quote” I know there are some of you here this weekend who think this is a scam, some hocus pocus deal. But I am here to tell you IT IS REAL. In 2011 I was dead. A car wreck, they had me on the table DEAD. But they brought me back. And as I live and breathe today I want you to know, I have seen the other side, I have witnessed it with my own eyes. IT IS REAL. Every bit of what these guys are telling you IS REAL. I would not believe it myself, had I not been there and saw it myself…. Think what you want, but know, you ARE being watched, and there is more than just life here on Earth….THERE IS MORE “ end quote
Those words have stuck with me. Angie and I are going to meet him one of these days to hear his story.
In closing, I recommend that you look into Encounter the Cross. I will drive you there, and be a servant for the weekend. I think the Encounter program has boosted my belief, brought me home to Jesus, made me a better man, and gave me the power to build my new life on the Rock. Angie and I are mending a broken relationship; we have our good days and our bad days. Thankfully, now, there are way more good days than bad….it did not start out that way 6 months ago! It was rough. We are living day to day, getting better each day, reading the Bible, changing our lives to be less worldly, and more Godly, and we think we have found a home, here at Webber’s Methodist Church.