This is where I begin. Waterbury, CT – March 1,1984
I was born to two Portuguese immigrants who had moved to America in search of a better life and a more promising future for their children. By God’s grace, I was born into a family that was low-class by America’s income standards, but filthy-stinking rich by those of the developing world. My brother and I were raised in a typical American home, with a strong tinge of the European culture my parents originated from. Both parents worked. My brother and I went to public school.
My parents were raised Catholic, as was I. I grew up in a Portuguese church. No, I didn’t speak Portuguese. As best as we could, we learned the sacraments. We learned the liturgy. We learned the rules.
What didn’t we learn about? Sacrifice. Salvation. Redemption. You know… The Gospel.
Sadly, I had no relationship with Jesus Christ. I strayed from the Catholic Church after receiving the sacrament of Confirmation, whatever that is. I spent the next 7 years or so in the dark. My life was my life. I did what I wanted when I wanted how I wanted. I wandered. I made mistakes. I succeeded in my endeavors but failed at life over and over.
I never stopped thinking, on some level, that God existed. I just didn’t care. He was a distant entity that I could occasionally throw a selfish prayer or two at and blame all of my earthly woes on.
After high school, I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. For the first time in my life, I was far away from home and I started to encounter these ‘foreign’ people known as evangelical Christians. They were quick to share the Gospel, but in my arrogance, it just didn’t take. I continued to walk in the dark.
I received my honorable discharge and went on to Berklee College of Music in Boston to pursue a career in music. More on that later.
I’ll never forget after my first semester of school, I came home to celebrate the holidays with my family. My father had driven up to Boston to pick me up and bring me home. We spent 2 hours talking about his new line of work, retirement, the future, life, and so on. We got home and ate a quick lunch with my brother. He worked the night shift, so we said so long as he walked out the door on his way to work.
I had no idea, but that would be the last time I would see my father alive. Burned into my memory is the sound of my own mother screaming. I spent a few years as an EMT in high school, working on our town’s local ambulance corps. Not a single drop of that experience would prepare me for having to perform CPR on my own father when I knew full well that it wasn’t going to work.
I don’t share that scene for dramatic effect, pity, or anything of that nature, but to paint a picture of utter human brokenness yet abounding spiritual peace. In that moment, in that unbelievable torrent of pain, I felt the unmistakable presence of God and His hand on my life. I had no words to express it. I didn’t know how to describe it. But, He was there and He had me.
I wish I could say that was my “come to Jesus” moment. I wish that encounter would have sent me running back to church, but it didn’t. I suppose you could say I started lightly jogging towards God. That experience may have turned me from my agnostic, self-centered stumble through life, but it still didn’t save me.
That moment surprisingly came about a year and a half later, at the age of 23. I had been receiving some gentle nudges from friends, but it still didn’t take. I thought that I could acknowledge God, try to be a good guy, treat people right, and make it through to the other side in pretty good standing with Him. I could fill out the moral scorecard of life. As long as I had plenty of X’s below the Good column and just a few below the Bad column, I’d be all set. A savior? Why would I need that?
Apparently, I was still in need of some humbling.
A far less traumatic scene than the one I described above; I was loading up for a gig with my band in East Boston. Our singer lived in a third-floor walk-up, so we would have to hump our entire sound system down those stairs for each gig. That day, we were in a hurry, so I bit off a little more than I could comfortably chew. There I was, carry150-pound pound speaker down a carpeted flight of stairs while wearing cowboy boots. Could you believe it? I slipped about 6 steps from the bottom.
I blacked out for the descent and came to just as I hit the glass door at the bottom of his staircase, which stung a little bit. What hurt worse was when that speaker came down behind me…
Normally, this kind of accident wouldn’t have freaked me out so much. However, the first thought that entered my head was a reminder that a good friend has lost her father the week prior to a tumble down some stairs. What was he carrying? A coffee mug.
So, I freaked out a little bit. For a few minutes, I thought that was it. I’m pretty sure I had a concussion. I went on, played the gig in the morning and worked my restaurant job that night. I don’t remember any of it. I just kind of toughed my way through it.
I don’t know if it was the thought that I could/should have died that day, but I went out and purchased a bible the next day. Don’t ask me why because I don’t really know, aside from the fact that I was blindly obeying a prompting from the Holy Spirit. I took it home, opened up to the book of Matthew, and started reading.
My first thoughts: “Who’s this Jesus guy and why didn’t anyone tell me about him? This is amazing.”
There it was. I was divinely inspired to read that which was divinely inspired to be written. By God’s grace, I knew what I was reading was true. That “faith” stuff started to make sense. By faith, I accepted that Jesus was who he said he was; the second person of the Trinity, God in the flesh – here to offer himself as the ultimate sacrifice and reconciliation for our sin.
My walk from there was a heady, intellectual one. I would read scripture and books on Christian history, learning much of the academic stuff that goes along with being a Christian. He had my brain, but He didn’t have my heart. Not yet.
I still lived in a world of sin. That music career I talked about earlier was my idol. I pursued it with all my heart. God was in the neat little box I tried to fit him in; sitting on the shelf. I chased ‘greatness.’ I strove for success. In a lot of ways, that came, but I never felt like it did. I always wanted the next best thing.
And the wheels just kept spinning.
It wasn’t until I sacrificed that idol that the transformation began. I hung up my guitar and came in off the road. I had been in Nashville for about a year at that point. I had decided to side-step my music career and pursue one in real estate. I was attracted to the idea of being my own boss, making my own schedule, determining my own outcome… In a lot of ways, I wanted to be my own God…. again.
What would follow would be the perfect storm, so to speak, of life conditions that would break me, re-shape me, and transform me into who I am today. My girlfriend of 3 years and I broke up. It was the right move, but still a rough transition to say the least. A few months later, I would start attending church regularly. Next, I dove in and started attending a community group weekly.
I fully immersed myself in that community and built relationships with some of the most amazing people I have ever met. Transformation was inevitable. I got a new heart. I gave up control and sacrificed myself to the obedience of God’s will. Since then, He’s blessed me with a beautiful wife named Suzanne and our wonderful son Cesar.
My sense of calling to ministry began when working as a real estate agent in Nashville. In that work, God birthed in me a passion for shepherding and caring for people. As the Lord continued to call me deeper into ministry in both the marketplace and the local church, He began to cultivate in me a deep hunger for the Word and desire to teach it to others. Eventually, He opened a path for me to attend Reformed Theological Seminary in order that I might be further prepared for Gospel ministry.
While studying at RTS, the Lord planted another seed in my heart and mind. What would it look like to study further? How might I be able to serve the body of Christ both in the church and the academy? In what ways could I be better equipped to bring a deeper level of theological thinking to those in my care? I spent nearly two years seeking the counsel of friends, professors, and ministers. At the end of that process, I felt compelled to throw my hat into the fiercely competitive doctoral application ring. If the Lord wanted me to do it, I figured, He’d open up the right doors.
That’s exactly what He did. I and my family will be moving to Chicago to begin Ph.D. studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in late July of 2016. We have a hard road ahead, but we’re excited to be walking the path the Lord has laid out for us.
I’ve come full circle. In my Christian infancy, a focus on intellectual matters left me anemic – a half-Christian who knew what to think but never what to feel. Today, I seek God with all of my mind and heart. I run after Him, not because a preacher scolded me into doing so and not because some priest threatened me with damnation (although that’s happened more than once,) but because I trust and know what he’s done for me and for every one of us.
God loves us. He chases after His people. He promised us that He would bring us salvation and that’s exactly what he did. God stepped into human history as Jesus, became a man with all the same temptations and frailties of our flesh, lived the perfect life amidst that tempation, and was hated, persecuted, tortured, and ultimately crucified by the very people He came to redeem. His death became our ultimate sacrifice. Three days later he defeated the grave and rose again to fulfill God’s promise that, in Jesus, we could experience forgiveness for ALL of our sins and receive eternal life with Him.
That’s the gift we’ve received in Christ. Not because we deserved it, but because God, in His infinite grace, promised it to us. In the great commission, Jesus’ simple command was that we spread the Word and share the gift with all the nations. Not just those who look like us or who are convenient to get to. Everybody. Let’s do so in loving obedience and everlasting gratefulness for His sacrifice.
So there it is. Those are the broad strokes of God’s story for my life (so far), mixed in with God’s story for all of our lives.