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In Our Pain, We Bonded Like War Buddies—Gary


  My story begins one morning, when I was maybe 10 yrs old, shivering in front of a wall heater. Feeling cold, afraid and unprotected from the world. Orders were shouted, "Get up! get up!, you'll be late for school!" Being the third of four siblings, orders were given harshly from Mom (the "General"). I headed for school feeling insecure, fearful and unprotected from what the world would bring that day.

    Living in a rural part of Orange County California, I often felt that my family was different.

    With very little positive reinforcement at home, I climbed into my shell early in life. What reinforcement was given, was only given for completing chores. Being better than the rest of my siblings, entitled me to receive even more chores! Playing with friends (other than my siblings) was rare.

    This quiet, shy, but well-mannered guy became a target for certain classmates to pick on. At book report time, a few teachers even joined in. I was getting picked on almost daily and drawing deeper and deeper into a cloud of depression.

    After high school, As I tried to pull out of my shyness, I began to notice that by partying and doing stupid stunts I began to be noticed! The shy, quiet guy had little experience with the opposite sex, falling prey to poor decisions and poor relationships. At the age of 21, after completing 2 years of junior college, I moved in with my girlfriend, and lived a dysfunctional lifestyle. My rage and anger brooded for several years.

    This shy, quiet guy began to hide in work, and starting a small contracting firm in 1980 with very little knowledge of what the business world requires. The occasional partying continued and caught up to me in April of 1986, as I was involved in a alcohol-related accident which almost killed someone. I was in total shock, with no friends to speak of, no God, the future was dark.

    It was my wake up call! As I started to grow up, I started to learn about myself, my problems and how to open up to friends. With good key people, the business began to grow by leaps and bounds. I started to ask questions of the future and started to experiment with psychics a little bit. One day the psychic said, "Do you know what you need? You need to go to church!". Could I be hearing her right?

    After that, I started attending this church around the corner called Saddleback Church. As I shared with a friend, I was going to this church that didn't seem like a church, but rather a lesson in life. I was a regular Saddleback Sam, coming by the 2nd or 3rd song every week and sitting in the back for the quick get away! I was so shy and overwhelmed by this big crowd, that I hid in the back!

    In 1990 after a short courtship, I married into the perfect family, the family I had always wanted! The one that looked perfect on the outside. I had the big house, the fancy car in the driveway. and business was going great! I was finally on top of the world—or was I?

    In February of 1992, (Superbowl Sunday) my wife left me! In my shock, my open heart surgery began. Three months later, my wife and I got back together and worked on blended-family issues.

    I spent a year turning family stones over, and then God started His work in me! I paid several thousands of dollars for counseling, spent hours and hours in seminars, and in 1992 attended the Christian Men's Retreat.

    Three years later my wife left again, this time with a clear-cut plan not to return. My dreams of the family , the home, the kids were shattered. I felt as if I had been stung by a scorpion over and over and left for dead. As I was jumping, jumping into God's arms, I prayed for God to hang on to me like a baby, and He did just that!

    I attended the Christian men's retreat at Saddleback Church in February 95. I went with the same friend as three years earlier, and we couldn't believe it-we had the same cabin as 3 years earlier! Was someone trying to tell me something? Was it God saying, "You'd better get it right this time?" Two days later, I was baptized with 75 other men!

    I had chosen to reach out in my pain and join the Separated Men's Group. In our pain, we bonded like war buddies and God grew us up! Rick Warren, our pastor, was doing a series on the "purpose-driven life" and he stated that 8 out of 10 people don't ever know their purpose-why they are here on earth! I prayed and vowed to know why I was here and what was my purpose. That the train was pulling out and I didn't want to miss it this time! I challenged God, not knowing what I was doing, to "change me, change me, oh Lord". I was used to operating in pain and I said, "Lord I can handle it."

    Well, as Pastor Rick occasionally says, "Sometimes it gets worse before it gets better" I had no idea what I was doing, or where I was going, but I knew I that wherever I ended up would be a better place. I felt as if I was in the middle of a hurricane, hanging on for dear life, but I could see a bright light off in the distance.

    As I grew to see my part in poor decisions, poor choices, God used me! He started sending men with marital problems my way. Some needed encouragement some needed to be heard and others just needed a friend. Sometime in late 1995 I was asked by Pastor Glen to be mentored to become leader of the Separated Men's Group. I wondered, why me? Our group was full of other bright, intelligent men, who were born leaders. I excepted his offer! I began to see when you love and care about people, they respond. I heard a cry of a starved generation, a generation starved to be heard, a generation starved to be held, a generation starved to be loved!

    In October 1995, Pastor Rick was doing a series on Psalms 23, On "walking thru the shadow of death." I was asked If I could speak at the service at Saddleback. My first reaction was anger and fear. My fears were talking! You might as well have asked me to walk on water, as public speaking was my greatest fear!! I knew God wanted me to speak and I did, as I was an authority on walking in the "Shadow of Darkness!"

    On New Year's day in 1996, after visiting relatives in Placerville, California, I pulled off the freeway on my way home to grab my favorite Quarter Pounder and fries at McDonald's. Four hours later I got back on the road with a ten page hand-written draft of the Separated Men's Guide, which we still use today! Call it what you will, but in the past I struggled to write anything!

    If God can use me in my brokenness, then He can use anyone. For God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

    The key is the Father. He is the key to relationship. With God at the forefront, the leaders of the Separated Men's Group have to date mentored, loved and encouraged, well over 500 men to put Christ at the center of their lives! As Paul says, "For when I am weak, I am strong in Him." When you allow God to use and mold you to become the man that He wants you to be, It can be the greatest high on earth!

    In God's Love—

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