Barry’s Faith Story
I grew up in the suburbs outside of Buffalo, NY. My parents were good people, they loved each other, and they loved their four kids. We attended a mainline church that had lots of professors from the University of Buffalo. I did not care much for church or anything that it stood for. I went through a confirmation class at this church, and I recall a group discussion with one of the pastors, and the question was asked about miracles, specifically the parting of the red sea. The pastor responded that it probably took place at the shallow end of the red sea, and it was a strong wind that pushed the water back.
I did not get into a lot of trouble in high school, but I was not a strong student either. My senior year, I was a regular pot smoker, even during the school day. On the weekends, we were drinking beer, smoking pot, messing around, and attending many Rock concerts. I would refer to this time in my life as fun but also headed nowhere full speed.
My Dad was transferred to Western NC with his work, and I am not sure why I went to N.C. with my family and did not stay in Buffalo. I mentioned I was not a student, so college was not something I was interested in. I found work in N.C. with Magnavox in their plastics and molding plant. The job was incredibly dull, and after six months, they laid me off. I went to work for a temp agency loading tractor-trailers, which was worse than working at Magnavox. I was beginning to realize that my choice of not attempting college would probably be a bad one. I looked at several schools in N.C. but did not have the grades to go to N.C. State or Carolina, so I ended up at UNCG. I have always been introverted, and I thought that seven girls to every guy might work in my favor.
In college, I continued to major in beer-drinking, pot-smoking and I minored in chasing girls. During my senior year, I met a girl at my job at the University Center who I really liked, so I slowed way down on some of my bad habits because she did not care much for them. We dated all three semesters of my senior year, but she was a junior, and I was focusing on starting a career. She wanted to know about “us,” and all I could say was, “I’m have to go where the jobs are.” I ended up finding work in Greensboro selling personal computers for Sears Business systems in their new free standing computer store. One day while at work, I received a phone call from a businessman in Greensboro who knew my dad, and he invited me to a luncheon to hear a speaker talk about his business success and how he had achieved it. I was very focused on business and being successful, so I said I would be happy to attend. At that luncheon, this attorney did speak about his business success, but he also talked about the mistakes he had made during his life. He told how each of us seems to chase money, power, sex, prestige, etc., it is like we are trying to fill an emptiness that we have inside with all of these things. He went on to say that the problem is that the emptiness inside of you and me is “God-shaped.” Trying to fill it with anything other than God does not work. He explained that God had made a way for us to have a relationship with him, and it is through his son. His son had taken all the bad stuff that I had ever done or would ever do, and he paid the cost or penalty for me. I could get connected with God by acknowledging what Jesus had done. I did not fully understand this, but it did sound like a good deal—kind of like buying fire insurance just before the forest fire reaches your house and burns it down. So, I said a simple prayer, something like, “Jesus, I don’t understand all of this, but if you did this for me, I want to know more about you, and I want You to be in charge of my life.” There was no flash of light, no peel of thunder, just me feeling a bit foolish and wondering if this guy was selling me a line. A few days later, two men came to the office and talked with me about meeting one on one to look at the Bible and answer any questions that I might have. They had a small booklet with about five chapters, and would I be willing to go through just this one book? I said I would and began meeting with Cecil about every other week. I still remember chapter 1 of that first book and the question. “What have you learned from your reading that you didn’t know before.” My response was, “it isn’t painful to open the Bible.”
I was still dating the same girl from my senior year, and I had even bought her an engagement ring. We had not set a date because she was planning on going to optometry school. It was January 1985 when she called me to tell me that she thinks she might be pregnant. A day or two later, she confirms that she is pregnant. A few days after that and I was driving to Cary to speak with her parents about why we need to get married in the next six weeks before she starts to show. We were married in late February 1985, and the out-of-town family scrambled to get there and did not ask a lot of questions. FYI – 6 weeks to plan a wedding solves a lot of problems with decision making.
After our honeymoon, Victoria and I were visiting my family in Charlotte for the weekend. My parents and all my siblings had become Jesus followers during the previous few years, and although I was beginning to understand, I still would not consider myself religious. We were telling my mom that Victoria had her first O.B. appointment on Monday at 3:00 PM, and she asked if I was going to go. I said no that I had to work, and I could not get off at 3:00. Monday morning, my mom called the house and wanted to speak with me. She begged me to please go to the appointment. She said I do not know why but God told me that you must go. We debated on the phone for some time, and she even said that she was not going to let me off the phone until I agreed to go. At the O.B. appointment, we were told that our baby had died. There was no explanation given other than “it seems kind of late” for this. The loss of this baby was devastating for my wife and painful for me as well. Yet, in this situation, we could see God’s hand. My mother’s insistence that I be present at the appointment. God using the pregnancy to change both my wife’s plans and my plans for our future. And then God’s providence in knowing that we had a lot of growing up to do before we would be ready to be parents.
As a result of the luncheon and my Bible mentor’s consistent involvement in my life, I became an active member of Christian Businessmen’s Committee CBMC in Greensboro. You might say I got busy “working for God.” It was not that I did not recognize the value of what God had freely given me, but I thought that my job now was to be a good worker. So, I was busy inviting people to luncheons, meeting one-on-one with other guys, and teaching other men what I had learned. I did not know much about my new Christian faith, but I knew a little more than the people I was meeting with, and their questions drove me to dig further and learn more.
About nine years into my Christian walk, God used some difficult circumstances to help me to recognize that it was not my efforts that were important but His. It began with discovering that my bookkeeper had been embezzling from my company and had drained the company bank account and line of credit. Because of this Victoria needed to stop homeschooling our kids and come to work for the business as our bookkeeper. She did not want to do this, and it created stress in our relationship so much so that during a heated argument one night, I punched the refrigerator and broke my hand. Within the next few months, I had a disk in my back herniate, had two ingrown toenails, and my mom was diagnosed with and passed away from liver cancer. God used this difficult time to help me understand what depending on Him looked like. I like to describe this 16-month as something that I would not wish on an enemy, but I would not trade it for anything. During this time, I grew spiritually to the point where I was so completely dependent on God that; if my wife left me and took the kids, if my back never stopped hurting, if I lost the house and the business. I could without a shadow of a doubt still praise God and thank him for his love and mercy. God used this very difficult season to teach me to depend on Him and nothing else. In my brokenness, I had learned to trust Him completely with my circumstances. It sounds strange, but I knew that he had my best interest at heart no matter what my circumstances were, and we both wanted the same thing. We both wanted me and my life to look more like Jesus, and if that took the fire of refinement, I was okay with that, and so was He.
With God, we can be satisfied and fulfilled with very little, but without him, all that we have will always be dry and deeply disappointing.
For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life, for God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.
I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
1 Peter 3:15
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord, always be prepared to answer everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…