A Peek into my Conversion

Posted: July 8, 2011 in Theologababble

[Author’s note: In retrospect, I believe from a Biblical standpoint that what happened to me in 2006 was a genuine conversion, rather than the “getting right with God” that I believed had happened at that time. Nonetheless, this article, written less than two weeks after the experience between God and me, bears great insight into the events leading up to this encounter. My theology has evolved, so to speak, and I can see some issues with things I said back then, but as a whole I think you’ll find this account edifying and enlightening.]

September, 2006
     Well guys, I’m sitting here in my room wanting to write this, and I’m not even sure where to begin. I think the best thing for me to do is just write whatever pops into my head. I think that’s how these blogs work, anyway. I’ll probably get off track more than once, but it’s ok, ‘cause it’s possible that the vast majority of y’all may end up losing interest. I can tell you right now that some of you will think I’m smoking crack, that I’m not being serious, and that this is definitely not the Richard Boyce that you all know. That’s fine, though. I’m not writing this seeking approval, or kudos, or anything. I’m writing this because I feel I need to, and also because I want to share what’s happened in my life this week.

     Let me start out with a little background information. I got saved when I was four years old. I don’t remember the date, but I remember praying the prayer of salvation with the Pastor’s wife. Of course, I was extremely young, so there was no profound life change for me. As I grew up, I stayed in church because my parents went. I got into my share of trouble, but nothing too serious.

 
     When I was old enough to join the youth group, things started changing in my life. I hit the typical rebellious teenager stage, and I got into the wrong group of friends. Well, my church started going to a youth camp called The Wilds, in either North or South Carolina. At the camp we had a blast. There was lots of events going on, and lots of preaching. We had a service in the morning, afternoon, and evening. There were several different speakers, with different preaching styles. Some were formal, some were informal. What was different about this camp was the isolation from anything that was not Godly. There were no TV’s, CD players, tobacco, or anything like that allowed. There was no co-ed swimming and no “away time” with members of the opposite sex. I know what many of you are thinking- borrring. And at first I agreed.
What this did, though, was create an environment that was conducive to focusing on God, and where we were in our Christian walk with Him.

      Well, the first year I went I had a life changing experience, as did the vast majority of teenagers there, as well as many of the adult sponsors and youth pastors. When I came home, I straightened my life out. I quit cussing, listening to the music I was listening to, changed my friends, got more involved in the Bible, spent time in prayer with God, etc. I did everything that I felt a Christian should do.
     Sadly though, it only lasted a few months. I gradually decreased the amount of time I spent reading the Bible and praying, and as I did it became easier to fall right back into the sinful lifestyle that I had once left behind. Well, this same pattern occurred year after year. I would get right with God, then gradually leave him. Some years it took longer than others, but it still happened nonetheless. Eventually it got to the point where I kinda dreaded going to camp. I knew I would have to change my life yet again, only to have it go away months down the road.
     During what I believe was my final year of camp, I found myself unsure of whether or not I was actually saved. I wondered if I had actually become a Christian like I thought I had. I couldn’t really explain my behavior over the past few years, and I wasn’t entirely sure of my memory of getting saved when I was four. I decided right then and there to settle things. I knew that if I wasn’t saved, I was a road headed straight for hell (John 3:3, “Except a man [or woman] be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”). I acknowledged to God that I was a sinner, as is everyone (Romans 3:23- For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God). I then told Him that I believed that He sent His son Jesus to the world for the sole purpose of dying for our sins (John 3:16- For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life).
     Now of course, the Bible isn’t saying that Christians will never die. It merely means that when we do die, we’ll have eternal life in heaven, as opposed to hell. Lastly, I had the faith that God was true to his word. And that’s all it takes to gain salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast).

     Incredibly simple, I know. That’s the great thing about God, though. He doesn’t want us to jump through flaming hoops to go to Heaven. He merely wants us to put our faith in Him. And all it takes is one time. The Bible teaches us that once we’re a Christian, we’re always a Christian (John 10:28b-‘No man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand). Ok, enough with the preaching. Just wanted to give out a Biblical reference for the things I’m stating/believing. Time to get back to the story.

     So there I was, and at that point of my life I knew without a doubt that I was a Christian. Whether it happened when I was four or seventeen is irrelevant. Things were bound to be better this time around, right? Wrong. Details of the timing are sketchy, but sure enough I eventually decided that doing what I wanted to do was more fun than doing what God wanted me to do. I went back to the smoking, drinking, everything that was wrong for me. I knew it was wrong, too. I just didn’t feel like fighting the temptation. I also struggled with why life can be crappy for Christians. I didn’t think it was fair. I mean, if a person is going to live a godly life and resist temptations, you would think that God would make that person’s life easier, make them happier. Well, that’s just not how it works. This is an imperfect world, and crappy things happen to everyone. Christians have the ability to rely on God during the hard times, we just have to trust Him. Well, I didn’t.
     I wrote a poem once, and while I can’t remember the exact wording I used, it went to the effect of saying that I would rather be unhappy living my own life than continually feeling let down by God.
Then everything blew up on me. I got kicked out of the youth group of my church because I had finished school. This in itself wasn’t why I was asked to leave. My problem was the example I was setting for the younger kids. I’ve been a leader my entire life, and people were forever looking up to me. Being as how I had no qualms with the way my life was going, the powers that be deemed it necessary to keep me a little further away from my friends. Although I could never really blame the church for doing what it did, I would have to admit that it stung. A lot.
Then, I got in trouble again with the church. I had supplied one of the teens with alcohol, and word got out. Not good. Around the same time, I was going through a hard time with my then-girlfriend. Evidently she had gotten fed up with my crap and was refusing to take me back. Can’t blame her for that one either, but again it hurt.
     I had always hated school when I was growing up. Especially once my parents started home-schooling me. I swore up and down that I would never go to college. So from the time I got my GED at sixteen to the time I was eighteen, I had been working full-time. I drove a piece of crap vehicle, couldn’t afford to move out, and then everything with the church and girlfriend sprung up. So I did what a lot of people in situations similar to mine do: I joined the Army.
     Boy, talk about a wake-up call. Life during the onset of basic-training was so miserable that I ran to God as fast as I could. I found it incredible easy, too. I set my heart right, asked God’s forgiveness for turning away from Him, and then asked Him to help me grow closer to Him. Now I’ve already said that God is very forgiving, and He is. He doesn’t hold grudges against us. So I almost immediately got back on track. I read my Bible daily, prayed, and set a positive example for the guys in my platoon. I had nicknames floating around like Preacher, Reverend, etc. Life was good. I was living like I should be and seeing God work though my life.
     Then came Advanced Individual Training, or AIT. This was in Alabama, and it was a world of difference from basic training in Missouri. For one, we had access to TV, music, free-time, and a lot less attention from the Drill Sergeants. I tell you, trying to keep on trucking was hard. It was a constant bombardment from every direction. I fought it and fought it, but finally broke. I just couldn’t figure out why God would make serving Him so hard. So I said screw it, I’m doing my own thing. More fun that way, you know?
     Life from eighteen to twenty consisted of working in the construction industry, partying on the weekends that I had reserve drill, dating around, and taking a class here and there at the nearest community college. I wasn’t going to school to be learning; I was going because it gave me something to do, in addition to putting money from the Army in my pocket. I hung out with friends here and there, introduced myself to a few mild drugs, generally living for the weekend. During these two years I also dabbled with depression. Nothing clinically diagnosable- I just wasn’t happy. I had very few real friends that knew me well enough to try to change things. And of course, there was the issue of doing my thing, instead of God’s.
     Life has a way of repeating itself. There I was at twenty. I was living with mom and dad, driving a slightly nicer hunk of junk, and still nowhere near financially able to change a thing. I couldn’t even afford to go to school full time and make money off the army. My parents made too much for me to get any financial aid, but they didn’t have enough to put me through school. In a nutshell, I was in a rut. Life absolutely sucked.
     Then pulling into the parking lot of the Lynchburg YMCA to go to work one morning, I got a phone call from a buddy of mine in my reserve unit. “Boyce, we’ve been activated. We’re going to war, bro.”
I was initially excited. The next two days were a blur. I had to withdraw from school, cancel insurance policies, my cell phone, pack, etc. The next thing I know I’m at Fort Lee, where I stayed for six weeks. Then March 23rd rolled around and I was loading my machine gun, getting ready to move from one location in Kuwait to another one closer to the border. We crossed the border shortly afterwards, and I found myself living in a combat zone for some eleven months.
     Now I was optimistic about the deployment before I even left the states. I was thinking to myself, “Good. Now I can get right with God. I pretty much have to in a combat zone.” Well, that was a no-go. Instead of getting back into prayer and the Bible, I got into the partying and whatnot at Ft. Lee. And instead of turning to God when I hit the desert, I turned to my friends.
     Iraq screwed me up. There’s just no other way of describing it. I learned the first day in Kuwait with the countless scud missile alerts that there was no room for fear. I think we had six or seven drills that first day. We’d hear the PA system say “lighting, lighting, lighting”, and we knew there was a scud in the air somewhere, possibly carrying nuclear, biological, or chemical agents. So we’d suit up in our chemical gear, put on the gas mask, and pack into railroad containers like a bunch of sardines. Yep, that was our bomb shelter. Simple rail containers scattered here and there on the ground. We packed in there too tightly to even close the doors, gasping for air, pouring sweat, and wondering if we were about to die. And this was day one.
     Something changed in me then. I came to the harsh reality that out there, my life was a simple coin toss. Either I lived, or I died. And instead of putting it in God’s hands, I put my fear behind a wall. I buried it so that I wouldn’t have to deal with it. And when the homesickness hit me like a ton of bricks, I buried that, too. I spent a solid year learning how to lock up every conceivable emotion, how to bury them so they couldn’t bother me. I learned how to quit feeling. That was my safety mechanism.
     When I was in the desert, I decided to pursue school on a full-time basis if I came home, and that’s what I did. I knew as soon I came home that I had some mental issues. I don’t know if it was post-traumatic stress disorder or what, but I had issues. I missed the desert. I felt as if the large part of me was still over there. I felt as though I belonged there, that it was my home.
     I had emotional issues as well as mental ones. There was a movie I watched over there, and it’s like I somehow pulled feelings out from behind my wall and put them into this movie. Yeah, I know. Sounds real gay. That’s how it was, though. And once I came home, I bought the movie, but to this day haven’t been able to watch it. I saw part of it on TV once, and it messed me up. It put me back in the desert. It hurt me, but at the same time it made me feel good. It was like I had tapped back into those emotions. I could feel again. I spent years trying to pick out the movie soundtrack on my keyboard, because the composer never published the sheet music. I was like a junkie looking for a fix. Anyways, enough about that. Point is, I had some serious issues.
     Midway through the deployment I decided that I wanted my best friend to be my girlfriend, so we made things official several months before I came home. When I did come home, I bought a new car, moved out, and went to CVCC full time. The rest of my time was spent with my friends, family, or girlfriend. At this point I was twenty-one.
Much to my surprise, I found that I excelled in school. I busted my butt, picked up an associates degree, and transferred to Radford University. This was in August of 2005, getting close to turning twenty-three. It had been five years since things were right between me and God.

     Radford University, the party school of Virginia. Now, I had several reasons for picking Radford that concerned the army, location, programs offered, size, and cost. Needless to say though, it was the partying that latched on to me once I got here. I didn’t really party hard, cause by that time I was dedicated to school. I loved learning and I had no intention of letting the party scene change that. And I didn’t, either. I had great grades my junior year. What the partying did, though, was take me even further away from God, and deeper into a world of shallow associates and fewer friends. It helped change me into a stranger that most people, including myself, wouldn’t recognize or care to know. I really had no clue who I was, but I didn’t know it at the time. I cared less and less about anyone but myself. It drove a wedge between me and the girlfriend, although things had been crappy between us for a while. It put distance between me and my family, although I had been doing that since I came back from the desert. I had no foundation whatsoever. I was one guy with one group, another entirely with another. I had no ‘core’ self. I merely let my environment shape my behavior. Life was easier like that. In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’m all about taking the easy way out. To not do so would require caring, and by this point I had either forgotten how, or was doing anything to avoid having to.
     Junior year ended and by this point I had broken up with one girl and got into a relationship with someone else that had the qualities I was looking for. I went back home to live with my parents for the summer, which didn’t go as badly as I had planned on it going. It sucked though, because I didn’t know my siblings anymore, and I didn’t want them to know me.

     Senior year rolls around. I have a wonderful girlfriend, a nice car that I own, I’m living off-campus, I have a 4.0 GPA, I’m a sergeant in the Army, and my bank account is loaded. I have the world by its tail. Life is perfect, right? Ha. You couldn’t be further from the truth if you tried.

     A couple months ago I finally realized that I didn’t really know who I was, and it began to bother me. I mean sure- everyone acts a little differently around different groups of people. Sometimes we’re more open, more closed. We act differently among our friends and family than we do with strangers. I believe this is normal. Still though, there is, or should be, an underlying core that is always present regardless of who we’re with. Think of it as a gem with many facets. Different people see different sides of it, yet they all see the same stone.

     I didn’t feel this way, though. I had no clue what my ‘stone’ was, who Richard Boyce really was. And this started to bother me. I had an increasing urge to have a moment of self-discovery. I thought that maybe coming back to Radford would help me with that. I wanted to spend time figuring out what made me who I was, why I did the things I do. And yeah, I know this all sounds stupid. Deal with it.

     So I came back to Radford where things proceeded to go even further downhill. The confusion of everything started to build. The stress piled up, I pulled even further away from God, and then I did something really stupid; I broke up with my girlfriend, one of the very few people that could see how messed up I was, yet still cared about me.

     Things got even worse after that. I’ll not go into detail, but for about a week I just let myself go. Did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I basically told God and the rest of the world to buzz off. I became so self-absorbed in my own little world that I did things I’d just never counted on doing. Then on a Saturday night, I became so miserable, so messed up, that for some reason or another God decided that it was time for me to be able to see who I really was.

     I have to tell you, I hated what I saw. I saw someone who for the last five years had done everything in his power to make only himself happy. I saw someone who shied away from almost anything that involved caring for anyone but himself. Someone who used people, presented a fake image in order to further his agenda. It made me sick to realize how much I’ve hurt anyone that’s ever known me. I hated myself. More importantly, I saw someone who had been fighting with God for so long, that anything else that mattered in life was in shambles.
     I doubt you’ll ever be able to comprehend the shame I felt that night. The shame of my actions, as both a ‘friend’ and a Christian. I missed out on so many wonderful things in life. I’d alienated myself from having a great relationship with my family, friends, girlfriend, and God. It made me sick.

     I wanted to find myself, and that’s exactly what I did. It was then time to change what I was. I decided it was finally time to stop doing things my way, and get back on track spiritually. I cried there, facedown on my bed, begging God’s forgiveness for the mess I’d made of my life. For the first time in years, I was truly repentant. I asked God to help me try to undo the mess I’d made, I asked Him for the strength and courage to do the right thing, rather than once again taking the easy way out. And then- it was like He left.

      I’ve been through some crap before in my lifetime. I’ve dabbled here and there in depression, I experienced the emotions that come with a combat zone and thinking you’re about to die. I’ve felt the hurt that comes with having a friend or relative die. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, can compare to the misery I had for about three days after getting my heart right with God. I can’t even adequately describe the range of emotions I lived with. As I’ve tried explaining to a couple people, it was a combination of feeling like someone died, like I was the only person left on earth, and like I had been abandoned- both physically and spiritually. I felt as though God had turned His back on me, like there was no one in the world that cared about me. It was the loneliest, most heart-wrenching ordeal I’ve ever had. I quit eating right, I quit studying, I couldn’t even focus my eyes on a book or at the bowling alley. Periodically throughout the day I would get hit with an anxiety attack that just blew me away. I didn’t even shower for those three days.

     I was in a living hell. I tried praying, and that didn’t work. I looked through a couple of the Christian-written books that I had in my collection. Nothing seemed to work. Nothing told me why God wasn’t there when I needed Him the most. It was so bad that a couple of my teachers told me that they knew something was going on. I had friends here at the school come by or randomly IM me to cheer me up (thanks, guys).

     Night times were the worst. I would feel so bad sitting here in my room that finally I would have to call someone, usually my sister. I tried getting in touch with my mom, but she was hard to get in touch with those three days. I could have left a message, but I just didn’t know what to say. Then, I called someone who cared, yet it was someone whom I’d hurt pretty badly. So bad that I didn’t even feel like I deserved to be seeking comfort from her. The advice I was given? Read the Bible. I hadn’t really tried to do this, because I just didn’t know where to look, where to find solace from God. She told me to randomly pick a passage and let God direct me to what He wanted me to read.

     I was slightly skeptical of this, but I gave it a shot. I asked her to recommend a book of the Bible to start in, and she suggested Ephesians. That night I prayed and asked God to show me what I needed, to speak to me through His word. I found the book of Ephesians, closed my eyes, put my finger on one of the pages, and then looked. I found Ephesians 6:16, which says “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”

     I wish I could explain the epiphany I had that night. That verse had so much packed into it. In a condensed version, the verse told me that #1, Satan or his demons were actively trying to trip Christians up. #2, by having faith, we can repel these attacks. Well, maybe not so much ourselves, but with God’s help we can. I felt instantly better and spent the rest of the night praying, crying, and sleeping more peacefully than I had in a long, long time.

     The next day went a lot better, although there were still moments where I felt alone. All I had to do though, was remind myself that regardless of whether or not I could feel Him, He was still there. And He is, too. God is everywhere, seeing everything. And every day since then has been better than the day before. In hindsight, I think I know why I went through those three days of hell. I’ll try to explain it to you.

     For so long, I’d had my back turned to God and was embracing everything else. Then, I knew it was time to turn back around. Well, somewhere between facing a life filled with nothing but sin and facing God is a void where I was facing neither. It was during that point in my turn that God was waiting there with outstretched arms, and Satan was doing everything in his power to keep me where he wanted me, where I was being one of the most ineffectual Christians you could find. I think those threes days of feeling alone, like God didn’t love me, didn’t care about me, was a last ditch attack from Hell.

     I’m a firm believer in spiritual warfare. Always have been, really. The Bible clearly says that Christians are in a constant struggle with Satan (Ephesians 6:12- For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places). I think this is the first time in my life I’ve actually felt the full brunt of this constant battle. I completed the turn, though. It’s been almost a week since I was hit with the depression or anxiety.

     I’ve learned so much in this past week. I’ve learned the importance of spending time in prayer, as well as getting feedback through the Bible. I mean, a relationship with God is like a relationship with anyone: constant communication is a must. It’s hard to develop a closeness without talking to Him or reading what He has to say back. I’ll tell you something else, too. I believe that the Bible has every answer for any issue you can possibly think of. Alright, enough preaching.

     Look guys, here’s the reason that I’ve written this. I’ve opened up, stripped myself down to the very bottom, so that you can believe me when I say how sorry I am for the things I’ve done, the things I’ve said. I’m sorry for being a lousy friend, boyfriend, son, brother, and Christian. I feel that merely saying that I’m sorry is too inadequate, but it’s all I can do.

     I’m not the same guy y’all knew a couple weeks ago, and I hope I never will be again. Right now my life is on track where it should be. Or it’s getting closer everyday, rather. I’m not a saint, and I’ll never be perfect. At some point or another you’ll all see or hear something that conflicts with everything I just told you. It’s gonna happen, people. I’m not perfect. The wonderful thing though, is that God knows we’ll never be perfect, nor does He expect us to. All He wants is for us to get right back up when we fall, instead of staying down like I’ve done for so long.
So don’t hold it against me. Rather than giving me grief for the times in my life when I let a word fly that I shouldn’t, or I make a small mistake, I want you to look at the overall person I am. This is who I am now. If I sound like a killjoy because I’m not going out on the weekends and getting wasted, or because I’m spending my Friday night at church, that’s too bad. I don’t apologize for it. But if you’re wanting to know the real me, here it is.

     It’s not going to be easy for me to do the right thing. It’s not easy for any Christian to. That’s why it’s so easy to just say screw it. Any kind of encouragement that you feel like offering is more than welcome. I’ve already put up with so much crap from some of my roommates for not drinking with them, or for going to church as much as I have this last week. It gets old, quick. But you know something? As long as they’re picking at me, it tells me that they can see the change in me. I only hope and pray that I can set a positive example for them. There are so many Christians at this school that blend in with everyone else. I won’t be that person anymore.

     Anyways, for those of you that have read this far, I just want to say I appreciate your time. I know I’ve ruined things with some of you. That’s just part of the price I have to pay. Part of reaping what you sow, ya know? Hopefully as time progresses things can change, but until then I want to leave you with two questions. One, are you saved? Do you know without any doubt that you’re a child of God, that you’re going to Heaven when you die? If you don’t, I strongly encourage you to call a pastor, your campus religious center, if you have one, or even going online somewhere. You can even follow the steps I outlined earlier.

     Question number two: For those of you reading this that know you’re a Christian- are you living it? Is there a difference between you and everyone else? There should be. You know as well as I do that we can’t love both the world and God. We’ve got to pick one or the other. For any of you that may be in the same boat I’d spent the last five years in, I hope that reading about my experiences will give you the courage to do what you know is right.

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