Long Beach, CA
I grew up in Long Beach, CA and lived in the same house for 27 years. When I married my wife, Sarah, we moved to a house in the same town. To some this may sound normal, but it was a hidden testament to my life at this point. I didn't want to leave anything I knew. I didn't want to risk anything.
After my daughter Louise was born, everything changed. I had a love for her that I had never experienced before. I had no idea how to express this love and didn't really even understand what this love was. I had never connected with another person in this way before - not ever.
Shortly after our daughter's birth, I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression. It was as if my brain had flipped upside down. I thought I was dying. I ended up in the emergency room four different times thinking I was having a heart attack, cancer, early onset Alzheimers... all these crazy things. I thought it was a medical issue and I wanted a doctor to cure me.
But the doctors said, "No, you just have an anxiety disorder."
From there, depression started. I had no hope. I questioned everything about myself and lost my identity.
Through conversations with my wife, I discovered emotional stuff I had been neglecting my whole life, much of which was linked to addiction and shame. So Sarah got ahold of Darren Rouanzoin, who is the Lead Pastor at the Garden Church in Long Beach, and asked him to meet with me.
I came in and told him everything I had told Sarah. I don't remember much of what he said but I do remember being surprised by the care and love I was met with. He recommended I try Alpha. Now due to my social anxiety, this was not something I wanted to do, but I was willing to try anything. I just didn't want to feel this way anymore.
My thoughts were going wild when I pulled up to Alpha. "How am I going to find this place? I am scared I am not going to find it. I am scared what's going to happen when I go in. Am I going to know anyone?" And then I saw a guy I recognized from church, he welcomed me and walked me in. Darren was sitting in the group and he greeted me with a hug. Then I sat down next to one of the helpers and she was instantly friends with me. From there we entered into what I guess must have been normal conversation - but you see I wasn't good at normal conversation, not at this point - but it was "normal" enough to keep me in my seat.
When the talk started, I remember feeling like I was going to have a panic attack the entire time. Afterwards we broke into groups for discussion. There was this humorous moment when one of the guests confessed he was high because he "didn't know he would be at Alpha tonight." And to my surprise, the hosts of the group welcomed and encouraged him to engage and speak. I didn't open up that night, but that moment made me realize that I could open up and that Alpha would be the place to do it.
I didn't talk the first few weeks of Alpha. I just sat and listened and absorbed the talks and conversations. I was always touched when someone would share a story about their personal struggles. I would think, "Ok, this person who I think is perfect, is not perfect. They struggle. I struggle. They probably have suffered through some of the same emotions I have suffered through."
When I finally began to open up and share with the group, I thought I would be met with judgement. When you have social anxiety you think that everyone hates you. But I was met with such warmth and acceptance. By sharing I got to hear what people actually think of me, my thoughts and ideas. They made me feel like what I had to say had value.
After that, it was easier for me to talk. Each time I was heard and listened to without judgement, it allowed me to share more and ask more and share more and ask more... and then finally meet Jesus.
I've since gone on to help on Alpha and now I am a host. Having been listened to without judgement, and going through what I went through, I have so much more respect for people who are trying to figure out something for themselves and putting themselves in vulnerable situations. I am happy to just hear their thoughts.
My freedom has been gradual, but the biggest transformation came on our most recent weekend away.
I have prayed many prayers saying, "God fill me up so that I know you are real." But suddenly, on the weekend I found myself praying, "God fill me up because I know you are real." During the ministry time, I went to pray for one of the guests I had felt connected with throughout the course. I had never done this before, but I just thought well I should go see what this is all about. So I just went and laid hands on him. I got an image and explained it to him and asked if it connected with him? He started to cry, so I prayed into it more and asked for more of the Holy Spirit. He began to cry more. I wasn't trying to force anything, but it was cool to be used by the Holy Spirit and watch it naturally take place.
My whole journey has been learning that relationships are what matter in life. The things I thought would keep me safe only brought death. And the things I tried to avoid brought life.
All the relationships I have formed on Alpha, from going to church, through therapy and getting to know my wife and daughter better... all those relationships are helping me to form and build my own relationship with Jesus.
My life is completely different now. Everything is better. At times it’s harder, but it’s so much more rewarding. At times fear and self doubt still creeps in, but because of my relationship with Jesus I have found freedom.