Growing up in São Paulo, Brazil, in a non-Christian family, I never gave any thought to God or never cared about spiritual things. When I was 15 years old, my best friend decided to go to the United States as an exchange student. I didn't have any interest in that, but my he and my mom started a crusade to convince me to go. After a while I finally accepted the idea. When time came to fill out the paperwork, I wrote that I wanted to go to Florida and study in a big high school with a strong tennis team. One week before my departure I received the information about my destination and host family: I was to go to Greenwood, South Carolina. As if that were not bad enough, it gets worse, or so I thought at the time! I would study in a small Christian school that had never had a boys tennis team. And the worst, I would live with a strong Christian family that went to church 3 times a week. For a non-believer, that was a nightmare.
The week I got there I found out that I was not supposed to be with that famíly. There was some sort of mistake, but I was already settled in, so there I stayed.
But to make a long story short, throughout that year I started to notice something interesting. These people had love for each other. They helped and cared for each other. It was the kind of care that only family members have among themselves. I thought to myself, I want to be part of this family. Before the end of that year in Greenwood, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. But to be honest, the deeper meaning about that decision I would only understand much later.
I came back to Brazil, finished high school, started college and pretty soon I wasn't walking with the Lord anymore. For the next 20 years I had only glimpses of moments through sporadic Bible reading, listening to a Christian song or a prayer now and then. My “American mom", Mary Ann, with whom I stay in contact to this day, would always ask about my walk with the Lord, but I would never truly answer her questions.
The year 2018 came along and with it, many trials. We found out that my dad had cancer, there were deaths of dear ones, hardship at work, my mom was at the hospital for a month because of a dog bite and eventually what changed everything to me… a heart problem that was first diagnosed as a heart attack. Later on I found out that it was not something so serious, but at that moment, arriving at the hospital with a dozen doctors and nurses working on me, it was the scariest moment of my life. Thousands of thoughts crossed my mind and fear took over. The only thing I could do at that moment, besides shaking, was to ask God's forgiveness, renew my commitment to Him and fully surrender. There I stayed for four days and immediately I started my walk with God again. It was then I prayed that I would never walk stray again. And that I would never forget what I had gone through and would always remember His deliverance.
I was happy and excited, but soon I started feeling all these weird pains in my body. I thought I had cancer too, which I didn’t, but in the midst of all this, we found out that my wife was pregnant. It was a tremendous joy, but right at that moment, I was struggling way too much with my own issues, that this marvelous news only added to the pressure I felt, and I succumbed to deep depression. My dad always struggled with that, but I never imagined I would one day experience it. When I hit rock bottom I knew it was time to surrender one more thing that I had kept for myself and my family…..my Sunday mornings. I started looking for a church, which didn't take long to find, and soon God's healing process began. At that moment I truly began to understand many things about the decision that I made 20 years ago, one of which was the wonderful joy of being part of God's family.
Since then my walk with God has been closer and closer. I struggle with anxiety now and then, but that only reminds me where my center is and those moments always deepen my relationship with Jesus Christ.
I look back today and understand why God didn't want me in Florida, or why He didn't want me in a big high school. Also I understood why I had to experience so much. I'm not saying He caused any of that, but He certainly used all of it for my good and His Glory. He was watching over me all along, I just didn't see nor understand. He was faithful when I was not. He never gave up on me, and I couldn't be more thankful. I couldn't be happier. We may not always understand His ways, but as Romans 8:28 says, "He always works for the good of those who love Him." we must have faith in Him who sees everything from beginning until the end, because we see only a few parts. Sometimes it will hurt, but God doesn't promise a painless life in this life, but He does promise to be right there with us, watching over us and caring for every detail!