by Chad Harrington
20 August 2015
I’m celebrating this important day in my life by recounting the 20 best gifts I’ve been given in the last two decades (even though these gifts don’t exactly fit the typical category of “gifts”). I don’t always recognize his gifts in my life, and even when I do, I still don’t understand how he does it.
But the Creator, the living God of the resurrected Messiah has done things in my life. Of that I am sure.
As of today, 20 August 2015, I’ve been a Christian for 20 years, so here are 20 things he’s done for me in the last two decades of my walk with Christ.
If I had been born in a different family, I would have turned out much different. God must have given me such great parents, because I’m a blockhead and I needed a pastor for a father, an angel for a mother, and my sister, Ashley, to make me tough (or so she claims). For them I am thankful.
I have many memories of being alone in my life; I’m not sure if that feeling is common—because loneliness can happen even in a crowd—but it’s true of my story. I don’t mean just that I’ve been by myself too much, but that I’ve experienced loneliness much of my life (and as the picture above shows, probably for a reason). Perhaps moving from Canada at a young age or struggling to fit it in school encouraged it. Whatever the cause, I now regard learning to be alone as a blessing, because it comes with major blessings.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my personal experiences with the Lord during middle school were unique. Without them, I’m not sure I would have made it through high school. God allowed me to experience him in everyday life, and I was on cloud nine for at least my eighth grade year. My mind was blown with his presence for what seemed like the first time, and those experiences forever shaped me. Truly life changing.
Part of being filled with God’s presence was experiencing him through specific answers to my prayers. I remember sitting in the library of Grassland Middle School during a Fellowship of Christian Athlete’s (FCA) meeting as an eighth-grade student, asking God to use me. He answered that prayer by helping me lead FCA that year and announcing over WGMS our Wednesday morning meetings. The group grew and it was exhilarating to participate with God in that growth.
Looking back is often 20-20, and I took for granted the men who mentored me throughout my life, starting in grade school. People like Bob VanFleteren, Josh Brown, J.P. Robinson (above), David Sanders, and Tim Anderson—men who aren’t family—but took me under their wing and mentored me throughout my childhood, even into adulthood.
One of those men who mentored me was Grant Howard; he challenged me, and two others in the youth group, to read the entire New Testament. While it took me two years to finish reading all 27 books of the NT, the experience was truly life-changing. The Gospels alone took me a year, but experiencing God in his Word for what felt like the first time ever radically formed my personality. I was forever changed.
The end of my Freshman year marks the first dark season of my soul. For the first time I doubted the reliability of the Bible, the nature of Jesus, and the reality of God. I was depressed, anxious, and lost, and those close to me knew it. God allowed me—without harsh treatment—to voice my doubts and questions. Even more, he led me out of the darkness to find him again.
Our high school band was called SDG, short for Soli Deo Gloria. We wrote some great songs, recorded a demo, and played a dozen shows or more. Above all that, God gave me great friends in Blake (bass), David (lead singer), and Isaac (lead guitar). To this day, they are dear friends, and God has used them to save me in high school.
My dad always said I was being persecuted when I received ridicule for my faith (struggling though it was) in high school, and I always told him he was being dramatic. Persecution was for martyrs, not me.
Later in life, though, I realized that the social antagonism I received in high school was indeed a form of persecution. Now, I was a bit of an odd ball, anyway–kind of a weird kid–but that wasn’t the major source of my hardships; association with Christ was, though. And it happened during my first dark season. I count this as gift, because I learned how to deal with antagonism early on in life, which has served me well as I’ve gotten older and matured.
The further I get away from my years at Ozark Christian College (OCC), the more thankful I am. While OCC literally made the list as one of the top “25 Colleges with Worst Return on Investment,” I confidently assert that it was the best college for me and for where I’m going in life. I learned about leadership, public speaking, writing, research, ancient history, ancient languages, theology, sociology, some philosophy, and hermeneutics, all of which have guided me and will continue to serve me as a well out of which I will drawl for years to come. On top of that, I didn’t know a soul, so I learned how to make friends, those whom are now some of my favorite people on planet earth.
Before I left home, I prayed for a mentor in college, and God gave me three: Dave Rizer, Josh Quade, and Peter Buckland. Dave discipled me (and we played a lot of Skip-Bo too), Josh taught me about the five levels of ministry (and how to listen to the Spirit again), and Peter Buckland taught me to ask the question of myself, “What kind of man do you want to be?” for every decision. Immeasurable gifts did God give me in those men.
I went overseas at the age of 20 and lived there for nine months, experiencing some of the best and worst times of my life. It took me years to admit it, but I regret going, which is another story altogether.
God is the Great Redeemer and used that time in various ways, but it was an unwise decision to go.
He allowed me to go, anyway, because he’s not controlling and because he cares that I grew up a little, even if it was the hard way. I learned the depths of his redemption first in Cyprus. One day I’ll tell the story of the “pain at Karpaz,” which is the name of this picture, which I took while I lived in Cyprus nearly nine years ago.
Having experience church in its most basic form while living overseas and studying Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, God gave me a deep love for His Bride, the Church. I had no idea how much God cared about her until my twenties. His heart breaks for her, and now, so does mine. It’s an ineffable gift that gives more and more the older I get.
I’m a little hardheaded, as I mentioned, which is perhaps the reason God continued to bless me with mentors throughout my early, mid, and late twenties. These men were the likes of Thad DeBuhr, Jim Harris, Robert Coleman, Billy Henderson, and Joseph Hagen. They learned patience by bearing with me under immense questioning, struggles, and victories as I passed through my quarter life crisis. They taught me valuable lessons that have deeply formed my personality. Lessons include sonship, decision-making, humor, joy, passion, intentionality, discipleship, love, and commitment.
In my mid-twenties, I wanted to put my lofty thoughts of engaging the materially poor into action by living among the poor; I just didn’t expect to experience poverty.
About a year into my stay at the Richland Hills Apartment complex in West Nashville, I identified bedbugs, which led to a solid month of exterminating those vermin, waking up in a panic most mornings for about a month afterward in fear that they were still there, and moving out of my apartment in a hurry.
I’m thankful that God let me not only to know the materially poor, but know poverty (at least in limited form). It’s real and it’s hard, and I’m better for having experienced it more personally than I had before that time. Also, I got to meet the guys at the Bink (pictured below) after I moved out of West Nashville into the Crieve Hall area of South Nashville. Knowing these guys was totally worth the bugs (except for Paul, pictured far left).
This one is challenging for me to write, because I don’t totally understand how God’s calling works; I hold it loosely. But to the best of my knowledge, the Lord has called me to teach and to write for and in the Church, making faithful disciples of Jesus by the power of the Spirit to the glory of God.
I resisted the notion of a specific—or vocational—calling for most of my life. However, it seems by providence, fruit, and feedback from various people I trust in life that God has given me a specific calling. I didn’t require this (or even really expect this from God), but he gave it to me anyway, and for that I’m super thankful. He guided me in deeply personal ways as I found it. It wasn’t easy to find, but I spent most of my twenties searching and finally landed on teaching and writing.
Discerning a sense of calling to teach and write led me back to Seminary. I say “back to Seminary” because I went immediately out of college and returned three years later.
During the quarter life crisis of my early twenties, I dropped out, giving up a significant scholarship from Asbury Theological Seminary. After three years of working as a “normal person”—not a seminarian, nor a pastor, nor a pastor in training—I decided to finish Seminary. God was kind to me, even though I looked more like a yo-yo than a human during those years.
I graduated from Asbury December of 2014 with a Masters in Biblical Studies. You can access an article I published in The Asbury Journal or email me for a copy of my thesis: chad[at]redemptionarts.org. That’s proof in the pudding for ya that I actually graduated!
I thought I had experienced the depth of my own depravity at several points over the last six years, but every time I reached the bottom, it just got deeper the next time. I consider this a gift, because self-knowledge of any type, at least according to Teresa of Avila, is a gift. I am broken, but God is making me beautiful in the midst of my brokenness.
When I was in high school driving to the movie theater, I distinctly remember telling my dad in a moment of raw honesty, “I believe Jesus died for the sin the world, but I don’t believe he died for me.” Those words were more insightful of where I thought I was at then and more profoundly honest than I knew at the time.
Now, however, I know that Jesus died for me, even me, and that he loves me personally and deeply. Can’t explain it any better than that, but I know it in my bones. Sometimes it takes life experience to learn things like that.
I remember it well the feeling that came upon me as a nine-year-old boy walking into my room when I felt the hand of God upon me. It was time to surrender my life to Christ. The feeling was light. I was convicted and yet I had peace. I wanted to become a Christian, and I decided to follow Jesus.
I’m thankful that today, 20 August 2015, 20 years after being baptized into Christ, I had that experience nearly two decades ago as I passed through my upstairs bedroom door at 112 Cottonwood Circle when I responded in surrender to his love. What a journey began that day and what a journey will be the next 20 years.
When I’m 49 years old, I hope to write a piece like this again. Maybe I’ll call it “The 20 Best Gifts of My Second 20 Yrs.” Like this list, though, those 20 gifts will only begin to recount what he has done for me.