My Testimony Part I: The Start of my Journey to Unfollowing God
“My name is Josh Kuhs and my testimony doesn’t start out all that exciting and, in fact, it probably sounds pretty similar to many of yours. I grew up in a big family; I was one of seven kids, both of my parents worked minimum wage jobs and money was incredibly tight. Our parents struggled to give us the same quality of life as our friends but with 7 kids and no money it was at times impossible. We didn’t really hang out with our friends because we didn’t have any money to do anything so we spent a lot of time at home learning how to entertain ourselves. We had one car and my father was the only one who could use it. But as hard as things were sometimes my parents never lost sight of what was truly important, and it was their top priority in life to make sure that we realized what that was as well. I grew up in the Church. My family was a very religious family; we attended church every Sundayand prayed before every meal, my mother taught children’s Sunday school and my father taught the Adult Male Sunday school class. I remember that my mother would direct the Christmas pageant every single year and my father served as a Deacon, as well as an Elder, and also sat on the session for our church and would even preach at our church from time to time. I even remember traveling to these weird local churches in the summertime because my Dad would be asked to be a guest pastor while the other pastors would take a small vacation or break with their families. But growing up in the church for me wasn’t a negative thing and I never felt forced to attend; I genuinely loved going and it became a very important and blessed part of my life. I loved the youth events and the summer camps and I genuinely looked forward to attending them. In fact, one of the reasons that I even learned to play guitar was because of watching my dad play guitar on Sundays and I wanted to play alongside him one day. I truly respected my father and really wanted to be just like him. I was always a pretty good kid; I had stayed away from drugs and alcohol and had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to make some of the bad decisions that my friends were making because I felt like God would be so disappointed in me and I didn’t want to let God down.
So, after High School I was actually awarded a music scholarship to attend the local University and my plan was to study music and eventually become a music teacher. Well, even though I was a devout Christian as a teenager I was not a very devout student and I struggled with my grades; so, I quickly found out that college was a little bit more challenging than I’d expected. It wasn’t because I wasn’t intelligent enough, I was just lazy and thought that I could do the bare minimum to get by. I wanted that fun college experience so I quickly rushed for a Fraternity and really enjoyed the freedoms that came with being a college student. In fact, I enjoyed those freedoms so much that the University decided to withdraw my scholarship offer after just one semester.
So, Here I was as an 18 year old kid who was just kicked out of college and was working at the mall. I knew that I needed to do something with my life and I knew that I really needed some discipline and some direction so I decided to join the military. On Jan 6th 2000, I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and shipped out to Paris Island to start boot camp just 2 short weeks later.
During the first 8 months, I finished boot camp, attended my combat training, and completed my job school. The military seemed very structured and everyday was a very strict and outlined routine and, to be honest with you, it kind of sucked. I remember our instructors would always tell us to suck it up because life in the military won’t always be this bad, and that once we get to the Fleet everything would be different. They talked as if the Fleet was this made up magical place and to be quite honest with you we didn’t believe that it actually existed. Once I was assigned to my first unit which was located at Camp Pendleton, California, I quickly began to realize that life in the military was much different than it had been for the past 8 months. Now that I was officially a member of the Fleet Marine Force I was treated like an adult and as long as we weren’t training and as long as I showed up for work on time every morning they didn’t care what I did, I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. The great thing about Camp Pendleton is the location because it was literally 45 minutes away from San Diego, one hour away from Los Angeles, and 2 hours away from Las Vegas so there was always something to do. Now, I never lost my faith throughout this time and I always continued to believe in God, I just started to kind of unintentionally not show it as much.
I was young kid who was away from home for the first time and I now I had money to spend with no bills to pay. I wanted to fit in and mesh well with everyone. I wanted to be accepted just like everyone else wants to be accepted. We all soon became like brothers and we were constantly hanging out with one another, we traveled the world together, we even went to combat together. I remember really embracing this new found freedom and exploring all of these things that I never experienced before. Here I was as a young 20 year old man with money in my pockets and I was getting to go to places like Thailand, Australia, the Philippines, and Singapore just to name a few and I was truly living life to the fullest. Before I knew it my priorities began to shift and my relationship with God began to fade away into the background.
Now, I never stopped believing In God and would always consider myself a Christian but eventually overtime I just stopped talking with God and I stopped caring as much about my faith and it quickly took the back burner to other priorities in my life. I no longer was waking up on Sunday Mornings excited to go to church, instead I was getting into bed on Sunday Mornings after being out all Saturday night. Now I’m not blaming the military for my fall from Grace; in fact, there were plenty of good men that I served with who were sincerely devout Christians and never once stopped walking in faith and never gave into the things of this world. Many of you here today are active duty military and are actively choosing to make the commitment to follow Jesus with all of your hearts. I regrettably was just not as strong as you or those men at that time in my life. I never meant to fade or grow away from following God it just kind of happened, Life just kind of happened. I was at a place in my life where I knew who God was but I didn’t know him anymore, I had no relationship with him and I didn’t even think twice about it. My life just kind of went on and I continued to live it the way that I wanted, little did I know that unfortunately that would eventually lead me down a road to a strand of some horrific life decisions that would ultimately put me on a path to destruction and would leave me hitting rock bottom.
My Testimony Part II: My Journey back to God
Now, it was about 4 years into my career when I was introduced to pornography for the first time. And because it was introduced to me by a woman I kind of thought, well it can’t be that bad thenand it must be generally accepted by women, too. I remember that I started looking at this website a couple of times a week and then that quickly turned into an everyday ritual. Before I knew it I was searching for even more ways to feed my addiction and I would find myself trying to find ways to watch pornography literally any chance that I could get. I knew it was wrong but I wasn’t hurting anyone so what’s the big deal right? I didn’t know this then but I truly feel now that pornography is a gateway drug and just like with any drug of choice once it no longer satisfies your lust for it you begin to find new ways to feed your addiction to keep it from starving. This is exactly what happened to me. Over a period of a few years I began to find that searching the web was no longer enough for me and I graduated into having inappropriate conversations with women which I knew was wrong but once again I justified my actions to myself by saying I wasn’t hurting anyone and it was just talking, so this is completely harmless. It wasn’t long after that those inappropriate conversations that were just innocent words turned into inappropriate pictures. I’m in no way shape or form proud of this now but back then it was a feeling of excitement and control. It was just a game to me to see if I could manipulate these women into doing what I wanted and giving me what I asked for and every time that I won this game it made me feel powerful and in control. I would be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that it also made me feel desired and wanted which would also feed into my unquenchable hunger for lust. Once again I knew it was wrong but I continued to justify my actions by saying this isn’t hurting anyone and its only pictures and it’s not like I am actually physically doing anything wrong. But even as exciting as it was to me it got to the point that even that was no longer enough to feed my lust. Pornography turned into conversations, conversations turned into pictures, and over the years pictures turned into actions. I finally caved and had an affair while I was married. I remember that after it happened I felt so guilty inside and this time I couldn’t justify it at all and I hated myself for it. I fell into a deep depression and my self-esteem was completely shattered. You would think that this would be enough to get me to change my behavior but in fact it actually did just the opposite. Now I found myself needing it more and more until one affair turned into many random and meaningless affairs. No matter how terrible I felt I was continually returning to these affairs because it was only thing that would make me feel good inside, the only thing that would make me feel wanted and desired, the only thing that could satisfy and boost my ego even if it was just for a short while. My emotions were a roller coaster I hated myself for what I had become and I wanted to stop so badly but I just couldn’t. I would beat myself up about how worthless that I felt then I would turn right around and try to make myself feel better by doing the exact thing that I despised so much in the first place. Now the thing about living a life that you are afraid of being caught is that it is completely exhausting and you will eventually be caught. The bible tells us that our sins will be shouted from the mountaintops and that is exactly what happened to me. My addiction had cost me everything — my marriage ended, my family and friends shunned me, and my children’s hearts were completely broken. I had let them down and I had betrayed their trust. I began to drink heavily to numb the pain and I contemplated suicide on a daily basis, I just wanted everything to be over with. I felt worthless and disgusting and I had finally hit rock bottom. I remember I was laying on my bed in the spare bedroom of the house uncontrollably crying and just didn’t want to move. I started thinking about where I started out in my life and how far I had strayed from my morals and my upbringing. I thought about how ashamed my father would have been of me and how happy that I was that he wasn’t alive to see how I turned out. This is when God spoke to me.I wish I could say that there was a flash of bright light, a thunderous roar or a burning mattress or something but my miracle wasn’t that extra, God spoke directly to my heart and he said to me are you ready? I immediately hit my knees and began to pray to God for forgiveness. I prayed that he would heal me and take away my pain and that he would restore the relationships that I had destroyed. I heard God speak to me and he asked me if I was ready to return to him, if I was ready to finally give everything to him and to let him finally have complete control and I agreed. You see, I had asked God to help me change before but looking back at it I don’t feel it was sincere, it was more of me telling God that he could have control of everything except this one little thing. I never gave God complete permission to do things His way. I wasn’t prepared to give that to God and maybe it was that I was afraid of what God would actually do with it or even worse that it would mean that I would be found out so that little piece of my life I stubbornly held on to. But this time it was different; this time I was prepared for any consequence that my actions might have caused and I sincerely and literally told God that I released all control of my life, I finally spoke the words out load and said ‘God you have my permission to take it all, to change me from the inside out’.I asked God how he could let me fall so far from grace and he answered me. God gave me revelation and showed me things that I had been blind to before. You see God didn’t allow these things to happen to me to hurt me but to help me, he knew that the only way that I was going to finally change is if I hit rock bottom. He knew that I had to be the one to finally say that I couldn’t do this on my own. God told me that this was not the life that he had planned for me and that because God is a good and loving and caring father he allowed me learn on my own and to make my own decisions and to learn some painful things for myself. God wanted me to come back to him with a new and fresh heart, and a true understanding of what his never ending love and grace is. In reality I realized that God had control of the situation the entire time and that he was just waiting on me to stop being so blind so that I could finally realize it. Like any good parent, God let me learn things on my own and then he embraced me with un-judgmental and open arms when I apologetically returned. I realize now that just like many of you I am the epitome of the Prodigal Son. Since then, I am proud to say that God has helped me to overcome my pornography and sex addiction and those chains no longer bind me. Over the last couple of years I have reestablished my close ties with God and can proudly say that I now once again have true personal relationship with him. God has blessed me in ways that I never dreamed possible. My relationship with my children is better than it has ever been and they too have accepted Jesus in their lives and have even been baptized. And even though after the longest time I felt as If I was ruined and incapable of unworthy of relationship, God has seen it fit to bless me with the gift of more children and another marriage to a woman that has a true heart for God. God has very strategically placed a woman in my life that has her own incredible testimony that includes so many trials and tribulations that had to be overcome, a story that involves her own reckoning with God, a partner that wants more than anything to continue to grow in God’s word together with me. I know that God wants me to share this story to as many people as possible because someone out there needs to hear it, someone out there can relate to this and needs to know that God has not abandoned them and that this is not the life that they are meant to live. God has something so much better in store for them and just like me, he is waiting so eagerly with open arms for them to return.”
I unfollowed God because I was hurt by the church.
“Hi, I am Laura Trentham, and this is a part of my story. It starts with me being raised in a super traditional church with a very devout family. I went to our church’s Private school, we attended services 3-4 times a week, fully invested in all the sacraments and it played a huge roll in my identity, in who 13-year-old me thought I was. My home life is like that of many of yours. I am the product of parents whose marriage ended in divorce. In my old church that is a hard NO-NO. One that is only rectified by an annulment, especially if you want to remarry. Some churches or church leadership hold that line much more strictly than others. At that age my mother had newly remarried and we had just moved to my Stepdad’s home in a new town. The leadership in the church we attended there made it known that while we, the children, were welcome to attend my mother was not. That was a hard hit because that caused my Mom to leave the church she was raised in and had raised me and my siblings in and started attending a Protestant Church with my new stepdad. In the hopes of smashing 6 kids, four from one parent and 2 from another, into a modern-day Brady Bunch level of happy, part of my parent’s solution was we all had to attend church together. For a young angry teen….that was a very bitter pill to swallow. 1. I was mad because I had moved from all my friends 2. I was in a new town, 3. I was starting high school, and now the one thing I found solace in was being taken away from me because of one of their rules my mom didn’t follow. So that was strike #1 in my young believers’ heart, but I put most of that anger more on my mom and new stepdad. I will give the youth pastor at their church credit though. When he found out I was finding my own way to services on Saturday evenings in the church I was raised in because I had to attend Sunday service with the family, he told them to back off and let me attend when and where I wanted. So, all through high school I decided that I wanted to continue to attend the church I was raised in and did faithfully until one critical Sunday when it all went really wrong for me. I got up during service at the end of a sermon feeling hurt and broken and in true shock at what I had just heard from the pulpit. The sermon is a little fuzzy to me now with the passing of time; this was in the mid 1990’s, and I am sure I was listening to it with the ears of a younger me. The part that stood out and had me so angry was Father Brinker saying a church full of people — but it felt like he was speaking directly to me — “Young women who place children for adoption are no better than those who have abortions.” I am one out of ten who has fallen victim to sexual assault. I was unfortunate enough to become pregnant from that encounter. I did not decide to terminate, I had that child and placed the baby for adoption. In my cloud of hurt and rage and anger at what my church leader had said I stood up and walked out of that church and to this day I have never returned to that church. That was only the second but at that time final strike to that church not the type of religion as a whole. Through all of this I had never lost my faith or belief in God, but man did I have a burned bridge with that church. As I continued to grow and have a wider view of the world, I realized that the traditional church that I had a deep love of was becoming harder and harder for me to hold onto. I just came to a place where no matter how comfortable or easy service felt or how happy I was with it the bigger picture was just not right for me and I stepped away from all churches in the early 2000’s.This is how things became broken for me with God and the church. For several years I would attend church with my children, but I was just showing up to check the boxes. Then would use the time excuses or the busy life excuses and would come and go with churches. I felt a constant tug and nagging pull to return to church right after Eli was born in 2012, but it wasn’t something that was made a priority in our house. We did a little church shopping while we were in Florida but didn’t try very hard and would watch church online. God was stirring in my heart in a huge way and I was plugging into a women’s ministry, so when my husband went to Korea for an army deployment, I started church shopping. That is when I found Grace. Since then, I have renewed my faith and started growing deeper and deeper in relationship with God. It has been since I renewed my walk with God that it hit me out of the blue what Fr. Brinker was actually saying. He wasn’t saying that adoption and abortion were the same. I am ashamed to say it took me until my 40’s to realize that I had missed his message altogether. I was so wrapped up in my own hurt and youth and my own situation that I just felt attacked and that he was talking about me. I felt that message that day was one of those we all get sometimes where the Pastor is up there delivering a message that has you convinced, he has been spying into your life and mind to get things so dead on. What he was actually saying that day wasn’t about me at all. What I think he was trying to say then, not well mind you, is that young girls who chose to have sex outside of marriage and place their child for adoption are no less sinful than those who have sex outside of marriage and terminate an unwanted pregnancy. I think what he was saying is their sexual sin was the same no matter what path they chose to take after the fact. While this might have been technically true, it was only partially true because it skipped God’s love and forgiveness of me (Psalm 103:12), and His patience with my weakness (Psalm 103:14). And it was certainly a confusing and harmful way to put it. I spent 20 years carrying that hurt and anger and misunderstanding around. I can say today though that it was such a blessing. It forced me to seek the truth for myself in the Bible. It taught me that hearing a message is good but going into the word in the Bible on my own is so powerful. It taught me that just because a church is right for my loved ones, or because it was the church I was raised in, it doesn’t make it mine. It taught me that God sometimes has a really long game planned. That when in Jeremiah 29:11-12 and in Peter 3:8-9 God’s timing and plan and purpose for you are full of His love and patience for you.”
I unfollowed God because I transitioned into adulthood.
We all like the stories of people that 1. were sinful, 2. found Jesus, and 3. now everything’s great. But what if that’s not my story? One of our members here at Grace, Michel, shares his testimony having grown up in the church only to slowly fade away as he transitioned into adulthood.“For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Michel Harding and I probably have a very similar story to some of you in this room. I grew up in a Christian household, I was in church every Sunday, I went to Sunday school most of the time, I went to a private Christian school for kindergarten, and vacation Bible school most summers. From day one my parents taught me all about the Bible stories: David and Goliath… Jesus and the disciples… Adam and Eve. But for me the stories were not deep/personal, they were just stories. I remember being in Colorado and going to church, I must have been in fourth or fifth grade, and I remember planning out when I would get up and go “use the restroom” during worship. I was the type of kid who did not like worship back then. Anyways, I knew that there were three songs, but I had to be careful. If I went too soon, I would get back at the beginning of the second song. But if I went too late, I would walk in after everyone has already taken a seat and everyone would notice. But that is what I did. What I did not realize is that these thoughts of “being bored” stayed with me and continued to grow as I went to high school. I Started realizing that it was not exciting to wake up early in the morning on Sunday to go to church…. The messages were boring…. I did not understand the Bible…. I was more excited about seeing the friends that I knew then what we were doing and the message that we were listening to. That was my life through high school.Then came college. I had all the freedom in the world. And I don’t know about y’all but I also had an amazing ‘book of excuses.’ ‘Oh, I don’t want to wake up early because it’s my only day off.’ ‘Oh, I need to get my rest…’ ‘Oh I need to study for my classes because I’m going to college and working.’ ‘I don’t have time.’ Each excuse added upon the last until I found myself taking step after step after step away from my faith. The next thing I knew I had not been to church in 2 years. During this time, I became a workaholic. I would work 50 to 60 hours a week, go to school 15 hours a week and then come home and sleep. I used to joke about how my life revolves around three things: work, school and sleep. And that I knew the semester was almost over I would always get sick at the end of each semester. For my work… I became stagnate. I was not learning new things. I was not growing. I was doing the same thing over and over. Then I graduated college. I stayed in Lubbock and kept working, but I lost the aspect of interactions that going to class every day brought. I had not built up real relationships with people so I got to this lonely time. AS a result, I was bringing my frustrations to work. I was getting frustrated with people when they did not meet my ‘high standards.’ I would take my workaholic mindset and expect people to do the same. I was running people into the ground and wearing them out. As a result I was pushing people away at work.. which led to even more loneliness. This was the only time in my life that I can truly say I was lonely and depressed.…But thank God, that my story doesn’t end there. By the grace of God, I had a fellow brother in the faith that invited me to church. Being as lonely as I was, I jumped at the opportunity to build some relationships with somebody outside of the four walls of the place that I worked. I started going to church and listening to this fantastic pastor who just spoke the truth about the Bible. Truth that started building up convictions in my heart for the first time in my life. I remember that this pastor would always challenge the congregation with three things; He would say if we would just read our Bibles every single day, go to church once a week and join a life group, we would be amazed at what our lives will look like 6 to 12 months from today. I took this concept and ran with it. I started reading my Bible (not every day but close), I was in the church pews every single Sunday, and I joined a life group. And what I will tell you is that the life group is where things started getting crazy. I think it was the second, or third time that I was attending this life group, the leader started talking about the day that he was baptized. How excited he was and how great of a day he remembered. Now, remember what I said earlier, I was in a Church from day one. I was baptized when I was in kindergarten, or first grade, but I couldn’t remember the day… I couldn’t remember this massive declaration of my faith… Did I make the decision because everyone else did that day, or because I genuinely wanted a relationship with Christ? Even to this day, I do not remember, but what I can tell you is that this was the first of many convictions that the Lord placed on my heart. I just knew that I had to get baptized again. Not because I needed some validation from my life group leader. Not because it says in the Bible that if you can’t remember the single day that you were baptized that it “didn’t work,” and you must do it again. But simply because I felt in my heart that this is what God was calling me to do.…so that’s what I did. I got baptized again, and what I’ll tell you is that from that day on, my life changed. I can honestly say that since the day I got baptized, March 16, 2016, my loneliness disappeared. My depression… gone. The beginning of Every single spiritual gift that God has given me can be linked back to that day. Two months later, I got a job that jump started my career. Five months after that, I met this beautiful woman who is now my wife, and in about 30ish days, my first child will be born. Now, I can go on and on about each of the many stepping stones that have landed me in front of you all today, but long story short, it was like this one event sparked them all. Now, please do not understand me… all of these events did not happen because of being baptized. All of these blessings happened because I listened to a conviction that God placed on my heart, and what I will tell you is that God states over and over again in his word that he will bless those who listen to Him.”