Milestones in our Faith: Staying Faithful Through Hard Times

Preacher: Josaphat Contreras
Date: August 25, 2019
 
00:00

Scripture: Joshua 1:1-9

 

I want to start off by letting you know that the content of my milestones are not the easiest subjects to talk about. And that’s a good thing. Let me explain. Through these difficult events that have happened in my life I have come to learn that these events have made me more aware of my faith, more “awake’” of my existence on this earth through God. And when I say awake, I don’t mean “woke” in the way my generation tends to use the term, which if you don’t know the term “woke” roughly means keeping an eye out for every injustice you see in the world and immediately trying to fix the problem. Now I do like to do that but in this instance when talking about feeling awake, I mean that these experiences have made me stay awake, present in a world you can easily sleep through if you wanted to. I always enjoy using the example that god is watching my tv show. He sits on his cloud couch streaming my daily episode off of heavenflix, and not only that, God lets me know he’s watching this show. I want to first mention this part because for you to know why I believe in God and why I have decided to speak today, I want to you envision him the way I do, so that I can feel safe talking to you about why I believe in God.

 

One of the first experiences in my life that I felt God truly present and watching my show, was around the age of 12. You’ll notice that I sometimes refer to God as he. I’ve come to realize that this isn’t necessarily because I believe God is a man, which to some he may be and that’s okay, it’s because as long as I can remember I thought that God was my guardian angel and I still to this day believe my guardian angel is my abuelito my grandpa on my mothers side, his name was  Petronilo Merino. I know, who am I to think that God decided to be my personal guardian angel, who do I think I am? Well it’s what 12 year old Josaphat thought. At age 12, my abuelito was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. I was a child so I understand why my parents didn’t tell us of his diagnosis at the time, but my grandpa was terminal so all our family decided to move him into our home which I assume was because my family wanted him to spend his final days with us at home, in fact it was the bedroom that my brothers and I slept in that my abuelito was placed in. For clearly a good reason, my brothers and I moved out of the room to make space for our abuelito. We didn’t mind him moving into our room because we thought this meant grandpa was “feeling better” and was going to stay with us. One day, my family was outside in the backyard hanging out and I remember walking into the room where my abuelito was. My Grandma Imelda began to change my grandpa and feed him and I could see her getting exhausted so I stepped in and tried to help her as much as I could. I still remember my abuelito saying the thing that changed my life forever, that made me feel god present that day. He said “Mijo gracias por ayudar, yo se que cuando to crezcas, vas hacer una persona increible”. Which translates to “son, thank you for helping, I know that when you grow up you are going to be an incredible person”.

 

 

 He died the following morning in his sleep. As heavy as it was having my abuelito die the following morning after saying something that intense to a 12 year old bug eyed naïve Josaphat, his death made me realize that all my worries, problems, and issues I had at that time didn’t

matter. That I was gonna be okay, because my grandpa told me I was going to be an incredible person. Throughout my life, when ever depression kicked in, or something horrible happened I would pray to him, my abuelito, and everytime it felt like he was listening to me, like I had a direct line with my abuelito, my god and I could see him listening to me when I prayed to him.

 

I felt my grandpa watched over me growing up too. Now my parents divorced 3-4 years after my grandpa died. It was pretty horrible. My father was caught having an affair which led to him leaving our home, and led to him never helping my mother pay for anything in those years after the divorce and leaving my mother who had always been a stay at home mom with three boys to fend for herself. My mother had never had a real job in her life, she hadn’t even finished High School when she got married to my father. I haven’t seen my father in about 7 years now and probably haven’t spoken to him even longer than that, but I’ve been able to process all of this because for as long as I can remember, my mom had always been my mother and father to me, so I never really missed my father once he left our home. So I say that to you to explain why this next moment in my life is so important because I remember God really watching over us when I was around the age of 15. I walked into the living room to find my mom crying. When I asked her why she was crying, she told me my younger brother had told her he was hungry and she didn’t have any money to buy us food that day. My mom had just found a job, so we were skipping some meals in that first year after the divorce. My mom covering her face, told me this story and I imagine she must have felt awful because she couldn’t provide for her son. Something told me in that moment to let my mom know that we would figure it out, eventually, somehow, some way, we were going to be fine. Did I know this for a fact that we would be fine? No I didn’t. I had never dealt with something that heavy having to console my mother for something I couldn’t control, but I felt my abuelito tell me we would be okay. This event really marked a turning point in my life when i started to realize how strong of a woman my mother is. My mother, who played the role of both parents amazingly well in my life, went on to get her GED, she has been promoted in just about all the jobs shes ever had because of how hard working she’s always been. Currently, she’s finishing her associates of arts in American Sign Language as she hopes to transfer to a 4 year university in the next year or so. I know that I am truly lucky to have a mother like mine because of all she has done for us and all that she continues to do. This story keeps me extremely humble because I carry with me every day a memory of where I come from because of my mother’s struggles and her successes. Just like my abuelito, my god spoke through me that day, to tell her we would be fine and that this was just another bump in the road, we have overcome so much because we just had faith that we would get through those hard times.

 

By that I mean, these hard times made me realize why I’m built to try to be a good person every day and I’m reminded of where I come from, and how I got here. I got it from my mom with the help of her dad, my abuelito.

And I definitely felt my abuelito, my guardian angel, my god, one night leaving work when I was 19 years old. My mother had just bought a new car. Now growing up, “new Car” meant the car was probably made the year I was

born, and it was new to us. What my mother didn’t know was that the car was registered to a man who was running from the police for a serious crime. My mother didn’t know all of this, so at the time I wanted to blame her, but now I know shouldn’t blame her. This detail is especially important because I became very aware of what I looked like to the rest of the world this specific day.

 

I began driving to work that afternoon and was pulled over by two cops, one was African-American and one was a latino cop. They walked up to the car, one on each side, and knocked on the window politely.

They simply asked “what is your name?” I told them

and they said “did you just buy this car?”

 – “My mom did”- I answered

“well get your mom to change the license plates, have a nice day.” I didn’t think much of it, so I just went about my day.

 Now I want you to know that when I left work at around 11pm I was aware that I worked in a bad part of town in Houston, Texas, so when I saw flashing lights go off behind me I thought the cop was just gonna go around me because they were always flashing at that time of night. It all happened so fast. I pulled into this huge parking lot at 11pm with 4 cop cars surrounding my car. I hear over the intercom yelling towards me “open the door, step out, face forward, hands above your head, take four steps back, get on your knees, put your hands on your back”. I looked over my shoulder wondering what was going on when I realized the cop on the intercom was pointing a gun at me.I was handcuffed by these two white cops, they picked me up and I was thrown into the back of the cop car, the cop says to me “where is your license?” and i tell him in my wallet in my car, then one cop says to the other “its not him” and the cop annoyingly says to me, “you can go home”. I cried the entire 20 minutes it took to get home that night. I’d like to think my god, was there that night. I feel like my grandpa was there that night, watching over me, because something horrible could have happened, that this was an experience in my life that made me realize I was just beginning to live and that I had a mission on this earth to prove I wasn’t just some bad guy with a brown face. Because that was the first time I truly felt like I was treated like dirt because of what I looked like.  Ever since then, I fear every cop car behind me. Even if I haven’t done anything wrong. You can ask my wife, I’m Always aware of cop cars around me. I’m not gonna lie it’s a weird feeling. But I think this feeling is something I carry not as a negative thing holding me down weighing on me and hurting me everywhere I go, but rather a way that God reminds me every day, I am a Mexican American, and I’m not a bad person, and that I should be proud of both parts of my ethnicity.

 

Now my next “hard time” in my life is not as impactful as the other stories but I think it’s the most important one. For multiple years of my college life I felt so lost, not knowing where my life would take me or what my life would become or what I wanted it to become. I would think about the fact that I didn’t feel loved, felt so alone, I felt so lost for multiple reasonsbut I think the most important reason was I never felt like myself around anyone in those first few years in college. I tried to fit my personality based on who I was around. Whether it was someone I was dating or a friend, I didn’t know who I wanted to be because I felt like I didn’t know where I wanted to go. I would pray to God to help me find my direction, help me feel awake, help me figure out who I was and stay present in my every day happenings. Then I met Amanda. I realize now that when we began to date we figured out that we needed to truly start from square one, not only to build a strong foundation with each other, but to build ourselves and decide who we wanted to be on our own. Amanda is my daily reminder from God that staying awake and present in my life, IS the only way to live. She’s my partner, my best friend, and I feel God created this amazing human being to show me how great this world can be when you surround yourselves with humans that make you feel alive, that daily reminder of how great it feels to take a breath, and to feel loved. Amanda is a genuine person like none I’ve ever met, I know I’m biased, but because of her true honesty as a person, she has helped me grow in this world to discover what I want to do with my life, who I am, and find my place in this world. Watching the woman that she’s become from the age of 19 when we began to date to now, God has shown me that the people you surround yourself with can and will make you a better person. That this major event of meeting her has helped shape me into the person I’ve always imagined I wanted to be. So I use these stories to remind me of who I am. I use my hard times to guide me through life, because my abuelito, my grandpa, has shown me that he can take care of me from heaven, and now he can take care of me on earth. And that’s why I don’t say I believe in god despite my hard times, I believe in God because of the hard times. He used these events in my life and many more to show me he will never leave me, no matter what I go through. Thank you.