My StorySubmitted by Stephen Winters
I was raised in a distorted form of Christianity. As I became older I left that and spent many years in one branch of Christianity or another. I went to countless church services and many Bible studies. I had many Bible verses memorized and I thought of myself as a "strong Christian". I was very judgmental in my mind of "fallen" people. I spent many years searching, but now knowing that I was searching, and not knowing for what. In the midst of this I wasn't living a meaningful or Godly life.
For many years I've listened to what others believed, and never came to any real deep convictions about what I personally thought or believed. In fact, I was trapped in the land of "What will other people think" for much of my life. That kept me trom reaching outside of the "norm" and also kept me from thinking deeply about anything or saying anything about what was inside me. I was too concerned about being accepted. And yet, even with that, I never felt accepted. for much of my life I've felt like an outsider, never really fitting in, wanting to be accepted, but never feeling accepted.
As the years went by I made some wrong choices and went through some intense trials. I brought some very strong and long-lasting consequences upon my family and myself. I went through a period of deep darkness where everything seemed to be going wrong. (It was much later that I realized that God was setting my life in order.) I took up journaling just to survive. God taught me so much through my own writings .As a result of my bad choices I was convicted and went through twelve years of probation and "secular" individual and group counseling. I had to spend time with and learn about the "fallen people" that I had once judged. I learned that I was one of them. During this time I also did much deep questioning of my "Christian" beliefs and many of my beliefs crumbled and dissolved. This was where God became real to me for the first time in my life. He showed his care for me and that I was one of his sons whom he loved deeply.
During those many years of trials I had to rethink much of what I thought that I believed. I have done a lot of deep soul searching, thinking, writing, wrestling with difficult concepts, researching, looking up word meanings, etc. I'm tired of just hearing what others think or believe. It takes a lot of effort and deep inner work to really struggle out what one truly thinks or believes about the important things of life. I've ignored it or put it asside for much of my life. I'm glad, and extremely blessed, to finally be on the journey. In one sense I don't care any more what religious people think or believe. I just want to know what is real and true. I want to have an answer when people question me about the deep things of life, even if the answer is simply, "I don't know."
I was raised in a what was called a "Christian" home where my parents taught us about the Bible at home. My dad had a falling out with the preacher and left the church when my brother, sister, and I were very young children. We had "Bible Study" and "church" at home most for most of my childhood. At the same time our parents abused us for many years. There was this "secret" in our home, which distorted so many areas of my life. Yet, I was blind to the distortions in my thinking and in my character.
I had an unhealthy view of the Bible. It was an idol for much of my earlier life. I had heard people say that, "the Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God, and it is the supreme and final authority for all matters of faith and life." I believed that the Bible was written by men who were filled with the Spirit and (if I had thought that far) I also believed that the spirit wrote every word. I envisioned in my mind the the Spirit took control of the men's bodies, as if they were in a trance, and the Spirit used the bodies of the men to write the words of the Bible. I also believed that "all of the Bible applies to us today." I believed that the apostles lived a much higher type of live that the rest of us humans could never achieve. As a child and as an young adult I never thought out or reasoned out anything about the Bible. I just accepted what I was taught by my parents and by the church. I considered myself a "Strong" Christian. I listed to "Christian" radio for many years.
However, my "faith" was all head knowledge that I had picked up from what I was taught. The teachings about living a godly and righteous life never made it into the life I was living. I was very judgmental of the "fallen" people that I came across. I did not say anything, but I judged them in my mind. I believed that I was one of the "good people". At the same time I was living a perverted life, but I didn't judge myself for what I did. If I did something, it as OK, but if someone else did the same thing, "they" were bad people. I was very proud and very uncaring of other people. I desperately wanted to be accepted by other for who I was. Yet I was afraid to show anyone who I was. I was never real with myself or with anyone else. God wasn't real to me. I thought of him as this being, or old man, who lived "way out there" somewhere. I didn't see God as being involved in my daily life.
For many years I had went to home Bible studies of one church or another. I thought of them being more real than church settings. Yet, even in them, I was never real with anyone. I was afraid of saying anything that anyone would disagree with. I was afraid that if someone knew who I really was that I would be rejected.
Well, the years passed, I finally got married much later than most people and started raising a family. I committed a dreadful sin. A couple years later I confessed to it, thinking that I would be forgiven and then everything would be OK. Instead the police and authorities came into my life and the lives of my family. My whole family was blown apart. The authorities separated me from my family for two years. During this time I started into Christian counseling. I went through some months of extreme darkness of depression. I started journaling just to survive. "Why is this happening to me? I'm one of the good guys." is part of what I wrote. I also wrote out all of my anger at the authorities and what others were doing to ME. I also discovered I was angry at God. I remember waking up in a rage. In the middle of the night I yelled out my anger at God. At this point something began to change in me. I had never thought of God being involved in my life. And yet I was realizing that God was deeply involved in my life, and I was angry about what he was doing. And yet, through this realization, for the first time in my life, that God really cared about ME. In fact, as time went on, God began to show me that I was (one of) his son, and that he loved me greatly. I began to have a joy that I had never had in all of my life. I was LOVED, by my Father, God himself!
At the end of two years I thought I was finished with counseling. I thought I was OK. What I didn't realize at the time was I was so immature and self-centered. I needed that time of counseling to begin growing up to prepare me for what was yet to come.
After two years we were finally allowed to move back together, and I thought everything was over. But it was just about to begin. I was convicted and sentenced to ten years of probation and ten years of treatment/counseling. I had to submit to a full disclosure polygraph where I had to disclose everything I had ever done that was wrong. It was through this process that God showed me who I truly was, a sinner. As I was taking my 32 pages of history to my counselor's office I was so afraid that the authorities would throw me in prison and throw away the key. After I arrived at his office and gave him the papers I sat there trembliing as I watched him read my story. After he had finished he said something like, "we already know all of this...." He had a genuine warmth and acceptance of me that I had never experience before. He did not approve of the bad things that I had one, it was very evident to me that he accept me. He also approved of my honesty in what I had written. For the first time in my life someone knew the worst things that I had done and still accepted me. That was such a healing balm to my soul. To be known and still be accepted. My counselor was like Christ to me. Over the following ten years my counselor became like a second father to me, a father who reparented me and taught me how to live a responsible compassionate life.
Part of my treatment included my memorizing about 35 "Criminal Thinking Errors" (i.e. making excuses, Justifying, lying, etc.) including the descriptions. Then I had to take the seven thinking errors that most applied to my life and write out complete descriptions of how I had used those thinking errors to commit my crime and to offend others.
After about a year of counseling my counselor thought I was ready for group that consisted of other offenders in my situation. As I entered the group meeting I found it was time for introductions. Starting with the person who had been longest in treatment, each person told of his crime with very clear, specific, and detailed descriptions. After telling exactly what he had done, he also told of his conviction, and where he was in treatment. By the time each man had similarly told his story, when it became my turn, I knew what was expected of me. So I also to my complete story. In this group there was to be no covering up and no hypocrisy. In each meeting that followed we each were to tell anything that may have happened since last meeting that might be of concern.
In addition to that, I had to think of everyone I had offended and write out in detail a complete account of how I had hurt each person, why I had offended, what I was doing to correct my thinking and behavior, etc.
From this, and what I had been taught earlier, I learned what "confession" was all about. It was NOT simply saying "I have sinned", but rather it is telling complete, thorough, and accurate accounting of the offense and the events and conditions that had led up to the offense. The purpose of confession is not to condemn the offender, but is part of a process of him learning how to control himself and stop the offending behavior.
Following that first polygraph I had to take a polygraph every six months, for a total of about 25 to 27 polygraphs over the following ten years of probation. I was under the supervision of my probation officer and my counselor.
Taking the polygraphs was God's method of teaching me that he is TRUTH, and that he wanted me to always tell the TRUTH. After passing the first and second polygraphs I failed the next three, barely passed one, and then failed the following three polygraphs. I didn't know why I was failing the polygraphs. I was extremely careful in everything that I did. For example, I kept under the speed limit at all times. I stayed away from any place that might cause me to sin. I was careful to follow all the restrictions that I was under.
Still I kept failing the polygraphs and I didn't know why. The polygrapher was a tall ex-policeman. I felt so intimidated. He told me nothing about how the polygraph worked. I tried my best each time to do everything he asked, to answer every question truthfully to the best of my ability. I thought it might something about my breathing or something else. So, during the polygraph, I tried to keep my breathing even and consistent. In order to not change my breathing pattern I would try to wait to answer the question until I was breathing out until I answered the questions. Then the polygraphed chided me for not answering immediately. No matter what I did or what I tried almost every time I kept failing polygraphs. There seemed to be nothing that I could do to pass the polygraph. From the beginning of my taking polygraphs with him, each time the polygraph was over, he would ask, "How do you think you did?" After the first polygraphs I said I thought I had done fine. But in later polygraphs I hated each time he asked that question.
Although I think that my counselor thought I was telling the truth, he was getting concerned. Then, when I was sure that the authorities were about to send me to jail, they had a conference with me. They suggested that I try another polygrapher. The new polygrapher was like a breath of fresh air. After filling out her information forms I told her of my experience with the past polygrapher and my fear. She explained the polygraphy process to me. She let me answer the question by a slight nod of my head (so I wouldn't have to change my breathing pattern to answer the questions.) Although she still held me to a high standard, and didn't approve of any wrong behavior, she did a lot to quiet my fears of the polygraphy process. Beginning then and in the following years I passed every polygraph I took with her.
God used the polygraphy process to teach me the difference between law and grace. With the first polygrapher, who represented the Law, there was nothing I could do to measure up. Nothing that I did was good enough. The second polygrapher represented God's grace to me. She held me to the standard of living a responsible life, yet she was compassionate and explained what I needed to know.
I had been taught and studied the bible for most of my life, and had went to church for many many years, I had considered myself a strong Christian for most of my earlier life. However it wasn't until I went was arrested, convicted and went through the courts, judges, PO's treatment that God became real to me. This has been the most intensely painful experience in my life, and it also has been the best time in my life. I never want to go through anything like this again, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.
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