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Jeff Haun – Live Deeply

I’m CSPC member Jeff Haun. A man once told me my biggest strength was my vulnerability, so here’s my honest story of living deeply. 

I didn’t have a great childhood. I didn’t have a dad who loved me. I had a dad who spent more time telling me how much I sucked than how worthy I was. My parents were not believers, and they didn’t care about anything spiritual. Sadly, in my household, there were an unlimited number of rules to follow if you didn’t want to face harsh consequences. The overwhelming theme was that you were not a man unless you were a Marine. Unfortunately, when you have a drill sergeant for a father, you are never going to get it right. As a seven-year-old boy, I spent my days memorizing the new rules for the day-  planning every move, every step, every word. From over my shoulder, there was the constant, ‘Stand up straight, suck in your gut, fat kids are wimps; Hold your fork this way, chew your food this way; Do not use more than two squares of toilet paper in the bathroom; You better not cry when I make you put your finger in the light socket,’ and on and on and on. My sergeant father reminded me daily that I was worthless, so I grew up believing I was worthless, never understanding how my heavenly Father felt about me. I didn’t learn until a few years later that my sergeant father was actually my stepfather. Apparently, after a very short marriage, my mother forced my real dad out of the state and refused to let him see me. My stepdad knew my real dad. As 18-year-olds, both men competed for my mom. Real Dad won out in the beginning, so my stepdad went off to the Marines. When Stepdad returned home years later, my mom was divorced, so she married him. Up to that time, I had been an only child. But I gained a sister and brother through my stepdad. My goal at that point was to protect my siblings, no matter the cost. There was always a beer in my stepdad’s hand. He was drunk every day. What I remember most was seeing and hearing him beat the c**p out of my mom nightly after we went to bed. The screaming and pleading was so loud.

Looking back, I am not surprised that this was when God showed up and sat with me. I didn’t really know who God was, but I knew I finally felt safe. I didn’t know how to pray, so I just simply said, ‘Hey God, will you do me a favor? Will you help me go to sleep right after I pray, just so I don’t have to hear the screaming anymore? God, I just want to go to sleep.’ You know what? I did, and HE did. Night after night, God met me in my bedroom. Every night, He showed up, and every night I would repeat the same prayer, ‘Hey, God, will you help me go to sleep right after I pray? I don’t want to hear the screaming anymore.’ Night after night, he answered the prayer of a scared little boy. As I got older, I now knew there was a God, but I honestly didn’t know how to find Him. When my fifth-grade friend invited me to Vacation Bible School, I heard the plan of salvation and I walked the aisle. To be honest, it was partly because I got a lot of hugs, and sometimes candy, from a lot of people who cared about me.  Sadly, the friend did not meet my stepdad’s criteria for a man, so I was no longer allowed to hang out with him anymore. Moving forward, Mom finally divorced when I was 17, and then she was broke. At her request and her pleading, I continued to live at home, worked full-time to pay the bills, and put myself through college (my four-year degree equaled SEVEN years of college!). So here I was, working full-time, waiting tables, going to school (to become the first person in my family to receive a college diploma), while raising my mother, and helping raise my sister and my little brother. Finally, when I was 29, I decided the family was stable and it was time to move out. After dealing with my mom’s yelling, crying, tears of ‘I can’t believe you are going to leave me,’ I packed my things and moved.

For years, I had been looking everywhere for God. But sadly, I was looking in the wrong places. Over a period of several years, I had been serving a couple named Bill and Shirley Millsaps in the restaurant where I worked. As I got to know them and their family, I wasn’t sure what it was, but there was something different about them- something really special. I finally worked up the courage to ask, and they simply answered, ‘Jesus.’ For many weeks after that, I went to church with them at Fairview Baptist in Corryton, then to lunch every Sunday afternoon. I became part of their family. Maybe for the first time, I was feeling unconditional love- and I was starting to see Jesus. This was when my life truly began to change. One Sunday night, several months later, they gave an invitation at the end of the church service, and I was drawn to the altar. As I walked the aisle, I began to cry- I had no idea why. Little did I know that the God from my bedroom so many years ago was waiting on me at the altar steps. The memory of that night is so vivid. At the altar, I felt God literally reach down and scoop me up in the palm of His hand. There was an amazing amount of safety and security there, like nothing I had ever felt before. Then God spoke: ‘Jeff, I love you and I want to use you for my glory. However, in order for me to do this, you need to give up these three things. You need to stop trying to find me in alcohol and drugs, in your relationships with women, and you need to tighten your loose tongue. If you will, I can then use you for my glory.’ God was asking me to give up the things I had relied on for so many years to feel accepted, loved, and approved. I didn’t need them anymore. Without a second thought, I left the past behind me. Of those three things, the loose tongue was the hardest to give up.

As the years went by, God kept his promise. I married the love of my life, we had two daughters (Monica and Leah), a safe home and a church family, and many, many opportunities to serve. I had started counseling before getting married- to deal with the voices of my past, which continued to haunt me. After some time in counseling, it was time to face my biggest dragon: my stepdad the Marine. After praying with a close friend, I picked up the phone and invited my stepdad to lunch. While sitting at Wendy’s on Broadway, I simply asked, ‘Why did you treat me the way you treated me?’ He was direct when he replied, ‘Honestly, Jeff, I never liked you. I hated your real dad, and I wanted nothing to do with you.’ (Knowing that I looked just like my real dad, I am sure I was a daily reminder of how my stepdad had failed). My stepdad went on to tell me that during his time in the Marines, he had become a very effective drill sergeant. His job was to convince these new recruits that they were something they really were not. ‘We make men out of them,’ he said. ‘I then decided to use my talents on you, so I spent my life putting you through boot camp.’ Wow, that was a lot to take in. I was like, ‘You know what? Thank you for telling me. Just know, as hard as it was, I have forgiven you. I had to walk back through all the hurt and all the pain, and a lot of counseling, but I finally realized there was only one God, One Father, and He loves me unconditionally. I hate what you did to me, but I forgive you. But I will also tell you that because of your choices, I now have an amazing wife and two beautiful daughters that you will never know.’ Then I got up and left. I had just faced my dragon, and it was time to move forward.

I had forgiven my stepfather and had found the love of the real Father, but constantly struggled to see any purpose in my past. Several years later, though, I was on a mission trip, serving in China with a group from CSPC. The last day, we had a roundtable discussion with many of our Chinese friends, with whom I had shared the story of my forgiveness earlier that week. It was the first time I had ever said, ‘Here’s what God has done with my life through all this pain, through being abandoned by one dad, and being abused by another.’  As I spoke, a sweet, very quiet Chinese lady in her 40s was as the table crying. When it was her turn to speak, she said, ‘I have held on to the hurt, the pain, and the hatred for my abusive father for the last 26 years. I have tried to move forward, but today, thanks to Jeff’s story, I am going to forgive my dad. I’m free to serve our Jesus full-time now.’ I was blown away. As I sat by my brother and friend, Jay Dempsey, I just cried. I looked at Jay and said, ‘God took something that was meant for evil and turned it into something good.’ At that very moment, I became thankful for the pain from my past. I returned to the U.S. with a stronger passion to remind others that when we’re in Christ, He will never leave us to walk alone. I had realized that God met with me at my bedside as a child, and then led Father figures and loving mothers to walk beside me all throughout this journey. Several years after that mission trip, I found myself as a sixth grade CSPC youth leader, ready to serve. My mission was to make sure no child ever felt like an outcast. Thankfully, God also hand-picked Brian Campbell, Ryan Riggins, and a few other men through the years to speak the truth about Jesus into these boys’ lives-  from their first year of middle school until they crossed the stage at high school graduation several years later. (After they graduated, we went skydiving. After being together for seven years together, it seemed fitting to see Gods creation from 14,000 feet!) Serving can sometimes be exhausting, but there’s nothing sweeter than having a front row seat, watching Jesus in action.

Jameson became part of the youth group in middle school and came when he could. At first, I think he had a tough time getting connected. He was really quiet, but he found comfort in hanging out with the leaders and eventually connected with a couple of the high school guys. We had no idea how he felt about Jesus, but we continued to love him just the same. I was also the quiet kid in school, so I connected with Jameson quickly. One year in high school we really pushed for him to go to summer camp, which he had never been to before. He seemed to like to stay in his comfort zone, but things were about to change. As we pulled into camp, little did we know God had gotten there earlier. Brian and I were bunking with three boys: Jameson, Seamus, and Gavin. I’m not sure if he was, but I can imagine Jameson was a little nervous. After several activities, we made it back to our room, and Brian and I noticed Jameson had become really anxious. He seemed to be doing everything he could to get his head around his surroundings. He was in a strange place, with guys he wasn’t used to, and he had no action plan. By this time, I had learned his family had gone through some tough times and Jameson didn’t have a father in the home, another sad similarity between his life and mine. All I knew to do was grab him, look him in the eyes, and tell him he wasn’t alone.  ‘Listen to me, Jameson,’ I said. ‘I know what it’s like to not have a dad around. We have trained ourselves to have control over our surroundings- for comfort, and sometimes for protection. Jameson, I am here to tell you that it’s time to let go. It’s time to allow yourself to give the control to God. You must trust Him with it.’ I went on to tell Jameson about all the times I had no control of my situation- and that God never left my side. I told him about all the men who showed up, comforted me, and taught me life skills I would need as a man. I told him I wanted to be that man for him: ‘I get to love you right here and now, and you can trust me. I am also going to tell you that we have got to take this to Jesus- He’s the only one who can actually carry us through. I can be a guide, but He is Papa.  

I’d never seen Jameson focus like this as long as I had known him- I actually saw tears in his eyes, as tears poured out of mine. I then forced him into an uncomfortable bear hug- and told him he was going to be a hugger! Immediately, I saw that boy change. I mean, that day, he became NEW. After that, Brian and I watched as Seamus and Gavin pulled Jameson in and showed him love from friends, without conditions. I am so crazy proud of all of them. Before long I learned Jameson was joining the Marines, of all branches. (I laugh at God’s humor.) Before he left, I hugged him and said, ‘Remember, I love you,  and you are so loved by everyone here. Continue to learn how to trust God, and remember that He isn’t going to leave you. Learn to be okay with screwing up, and give yourself some grace.’ Brian and I had promised we’d be there at Parris Island, South Carolina to see Jameson graduate boot camp. He needed to see that we would follow through and keep our promise. So on a beautiful Friday morning this past September, Brian and I found ourselves watching Jameson -and a few hundred other men who just completed basic training- march across the field and become a Marine.  It was beautiful to see, and also pretty healing for me. As we entered the field after graduation, we made our way over to Jameson. He was so excited to see Brian and me. ‘You really came?’ he said. ‘I can’t believe you really came!’ We assured him, crying as always, ‘We said we’d be here.’ Afterward, we met up with Jameson’s family and then had some time for just the three of us. Jameson was so excited to tell Brian and me what life had been like over the last few months. Hearing his excitement about the Marines and the Christian brothers he met on base, I saw a loving, hugging, REAL MAN. 

Now that my time with the high school ministry is complete, I’m excited to see what God has in store next. I’m serving as a new CSPC deacon and on the Asian mission team. I’m also having a blast on the men’s ministry team. As far as I’m concerned, no man should ever feel like they’re stuck on the sidelines in God’s Story. If you’re a man who needs a brother to walk with, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

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