Monday, June 13, 2011

My Testimony - Dan Elliott

This is my story, out here, for all to peruse, analyze, scrutinize, dissect, or amen to as you read.
Why on Earth would that be something to do?  If life isn't about being real then it's not about anything at all.  There is no time for masks.  So.....where to start. How about right here:

Yesterday I was just a man.
Today I am just a man,
Tomorrow I'll be just a man.

I did fail.
I still fail.
I will fail.

I was lost.
I am found.
I ask Jesus to never let me take that for granted again. Some days, I still do.

That's me in a nutshell. Why do I always seem to write in song form? Just part of me I suppose. 

When I was a little boy I used to ask Jesus, quite often, if He was watching me. It was just something that always occupied my thoughts. I used to talk to Him because I felt He was right there.
That little boy grew up, and he almost forgot about this man named Jesus.
I got married at 19, tried college and found that a window in any classroom would captivate me. There was a world out there, and my imagination would run. I loved to write. I loved music, and I loved diving in. By the age of 23 we'd moved to Nashville to pursue that passion. While there was alot of new sound coming out of me, alot of music being written, I found out very quickly that I didn't like the idea of being on stage at all. We got caught in the middle of a whirlwind. All night parties, drinking, bars. Living paycheck to paycheck. My wife began working night shifts, and I would work during the day. Prominent men in Nashville were hitting on her, guaranteeing that my music would be put in front of the right people if she'd only sleep with them. I was going out with a group of people every night, and in the middle of one night after all the drinking, my wife was working and I went home with another woman. Up until that day, I thought I was an Oak.

By the next morning I couldn't bare the guilt, and I had to wake up my wife and speak to her the hardest words I've ever had to say in my life. She was broken, crushed, hurt, and it was all my fault. This man who promised to love her and honor her, to be true to her, had chopped off everything he ever stood for in one night.

I asked her to give me another chance, and she did. The next year and a half was hell on earth. We didn't get along. She didn't trust me. We didn't spend hardly any time together. She looked at me and couldn't help but remember the pain, and every time our eyes met I felt like a waste of a man.

I went down to Atlanta on business, and my car broke down. I didn't have any money, and I was at my end. I called home to tell my wife that I was just going to stay down there and maybe it was for the best. She began to cry, and she said, "This is not how I ever pictured telling my husband this.....I'm pregnant."

I left my truck in the middle of Atlanta and got my boss to give me a ride back to Tennessee. I came back to her, with nothing but a new focus. She didn't want to raise a baby in the middle of the chaos, and so we quit our jobs to move back home. Home to me was not home to her. Home to her was Brandon, South Dakota. When I started talking about looking for work in the coal mines of Wyoming, I got a very clear snapshot of the health of our marriage. "Me and the baby will be moving to Brandon. Wherever you go, you go."

We drove through the night, 21 hours. She was 8 months pregnant, driving a Uhaul, and I was driving my old truck. We came to rest here, in this place, as a family. We bought a house and started down a new road. I opened up a little kiosk in the mall, paying $4000 a month. People would bring me their family snapshots, tell me about their story, and I'd literally write them a poem. I'd print the collage and frame it up inside 30 minutes. It paid the rent and only the rent for the kiosk.
There were alot of pictures, alot of words.

One of the rules of the mall was that the kiosk couldn't be left unmanned. I'd sit there every day from open to close. I began to question my life during those endless hours. That day I decided that at the end of business I was going to close up the kiosk and quit. I couldn't find any purpose in what I was doing. There was a rumor of a crazy woman who'd go around making small talk, and when she finally came up to me, I gave her the courtesy of listening. I was lonely and I welcomed any interruption to the monotony. She was talking about angels, messengers, and how sometimes God uses us to be His messengers to those around him. Then she began talking as if she were listening to someone else, interpreting. She abruptly said goodbye and turned to walk away.
I said, "Wait a minute. If that's true, if we're messengers, don't you have any messages for me?" I was just seeing how far down the rabbit-hole we were going to go. Her eyes lit up and she said to me brightly, "Oh Yes! Yes! He says you're not supposed to give up. Hang in there. Don't quit." With that she walked away, still talking to herself.
My booth was right next to Santa Clause, and they were filming a commercial. A pastor was telling everyone that Christmas wasn't just about gifts and being naughty and nice, it was about Jesus Christ.

Something about that statement had an impact on me. I began to think about this man named Jesus again. I remembered the Jesus from my childhood. I wondered if He was still interested in me.

I talked my wife into going to church with me. We were sitting in the back row, on the right, and there was a supposed prophet that was visiting the church.
The prophet was praying, asking Jesus to show her who she needed to speak to. I was skeptical, and ready to leave. Bored. Bold. During the prayer I said very clearly to God,
"Here I am. Very back row, on the right. You got something to say, you know where I'm at. Say it."

The prophet immediately opened her eyes and from the altar at the front she was looking right at me.
Here were her words, exactly as she spoke them to me:

"God just visits a people.

You're not safe on the back row!

I know, ministers, not very many of them come to the back row... but
God does!

And it is good! It truly is.

Now sir, when I look at you, there's a Showin' of you, and the Holy
One speaks to me of his time with you, and how he has need of that
more than ever before. There are decisions that you're havin' to
make, even now, that will affect next year.

And so you have to know what to do, and when and how.
And the Holy Spirit will step aside with you if you'll but give him
some special time.

I see that that has not been as it could be for you and for Him.

And then sir if you will take your bible too, the Holy One has need to
show you, even scripturally, some things that you need to do. Don't
ever go to him without a tablet, a journal and a pen.

Something wonderful begins for you and for him.

Understood? Good."

As she was speaking I began to question whether or not it was really Jesus who was speaking to me. That's when she stopped and told me:

"There are so many words and pictures and sounds around you. You can
write them down, and create too. Even when you were very small, I
watch you. To say words from the heart you could do, and you would
surprise elders by what you could say and what you could do.

Do you understand that? Good.

And so now you are not a child anymore. And now you have grown into
your manhood, with responsibilities and accountabilities.

But God your father has need of you. He brought you into earth for
this time. There are things that he will share with you, and you will
lead out in them. For a leader are you and the people will follow you.

Understood? Good."

Today I am a photographer. There are many pictures around me. I've been to Haiti 3 times, telling their story through images.  Soon, my family and I will be living there.

My blog and the songs I write have spoken to a great many people in the years I've had my business. There are many words.

I never thought I'd find music again, I thought it was lost to me.
I've been blessed to be a part of a band, a ministry, called Rough Lumber. The Lord is using our real-life experiences, our hard knocks, our brokeness, to witness through the music. There are many sounds.

I have 2 kids who know Jesus. My wife is a Christian. I've been blessed to baptize every member of my family as the time became right for them to make the decision on their own to follow Christ.

We have a marriage that is every day being restored. We still do battle, we still fail. But we live for Jesus. Our family motto on the hard days brings me back to focus:

If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
(Rom 14:8)

You may look at me different. You might disown me. I'm just a man. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
If you ever built me up to be someone I'm not, then today you've learned a good lesson to keep your eyes and admiration, your focus on Jesus Christ. Not on man. Not on the church. They'll never be perfect, but He is. He keeps his promises. He's been there for me and He's rescued me.

Even in this day, I have struggles. I've been blindsided and sucker-punched enough to keep you scrolling for an hour. I wrestle with the issues most men have and just don't speak about, keeping our eyes in check in a world increasingly unchecked. I wrestle with keeping my thoughts on Christ. I've battled on several fronts in my walk of faith. I will continue, only by God's grace. I will not be afraid to talk about it because He takes away my fear. Life is too short.
There's a line in the movie Shawshank Redemption, where the man comes to an epiphany about life. I agree. "We either get busy living, or we get busy dying."

Life didn't get perfect the day I came back to Jesus. That was never the promise. But I can tell you that after my failures and weaknesses, after the battles, I find my strength, my trust, my patience, my courage, my boldness, my perseverance, in Him, in His word, and in His wisdom. Even on these hard days, I will yet praise Him.  He is faithful and just.

2 Corinthians 1:4-5
He comforts us in all our troubles. Now we can comfort others when they are in trouble. We ourselves have received comfort from God. We share the sufferings of Christ. We also share His comfort.

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