How God Turned My Mess into His Message: Noe Garcia
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Noe GarciaDr. Noe Garcia is the senior pastor at North Phoenix Baptist Church in Phoenix, Arizona. He and his wife have four children. Noe holds a Doctorate of Ministry and Executive Leadership from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Noe is an adjunct professor at Gateway Seminary and a writer for Lifeway Voices. He is passionate about reaching and equipping people with the gospel of Jesus Christ, in Phoenix and around the world.
Noe Garcia’s life was scarred by substance abuse, gangs molestation, a suicide attempt — nothing short of a mess. But God had a story for Noe’s brokenness.
How God Turned My Mess into His Message: Noe Garcia
Dave: Okay, here’s a question for you; I guarantee you don’t know the answer to this.
Ann: Then why do you ask me the question? [Laughter]
Dave: I just found this out, and I thought it would be fun to see if anybody knows the answer to this: “How many thoughts do you think you have a day?”—every person.
Ann: I have no idea.
Dave: Between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts a day.
Dave: Yes; in some ways, you may think—
Ann: That’s quite a span, you know: 12 thousand and 60 [thousand]?
Dave: I’m just quoting from a book. We have the author sitting over here, so we’ll find out in a second if that’s even accurate.
Ann: Okay; okay.
Dave: But here’s what’s really fascinating: 80 percent of those thoughts are negative.
Dave: And 95 percent are repeated thoughts from the day before that are negative.
Ann: Ahh; oh, that can be so true. That was my life, growing up, right there.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: Today, I think we’re going to help people—
Ann: Me too.
Dave: —including you and me—like: “How do we manage the thoughts?” If it’s that much negative, that’s really bad.
We have the author of the book, that had those stats about thoughts, in here today. Noe Garcia is with us. Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Noe: Thanks so much for having me.
Ann: You’re married for 12 years.
Noe: That’s right.
Ann: You have four kids, and you’re a pastor.
Noe: That’s right.
Ann: And you’ve written a book.
Dave: Yes; the book is called Repurposed: How God Turns Your Mess into His Message. Your story is pretty incredible, so why don’t we start there? Tell our listeners the Noe Garcia story.
Noe: My dad is from Mexico; my mom is from Houston. They both come from really broken homes; both of them experienced a lot of abuse in their household: emotional/physical abuse. They both met each other, trying to escape their homes—ninth grade, my father left his home; my mother was in eighth grade—they ran away together, had their first child at 16.
Noe: I was the third child—[they were] 20, 21 years old—so I grew up in this household that, even though my father was trying to escape what he grew up in, he was still a product of it. I grew up in a household where he was on drugs. He was drunk all the time, and I would see him beat my mother just about every single day.
One of the most memories that just kind of overshadow my thought process about who he is—I don’t have a relationship with him ‘til this day—but I remember I was a kid, and we were having a huge party at the house. The cops come in and kick the door down—about 15 officers—and my dad runs and jumps the back fence, and takes off. My mother is arrested at this point. There are drugs everywhere, and there’s guns and there’s alcohol. Everyone’s drunk—I don’t know—15 or so people get arrested.
Shortly after that, we go back to our home. My father gets home; beats my mother; and then he passes out, drunk. My mother gets money out of his pocket; calls a taxi; and we leave. That was pretty much it.
Ann: How old were you when you left with your mom?
Noe: About five.
Ann: Were you sad about leaving your dad? Or did you feel like, “I need to get out of here”?
Noe: I was confused. Whenever you live in dysfunction, it becomes your normal way of functioning; and you don’t recognize it’s dysfunction. It was my normal way to function. After time, you feel the emotions. But they become normal—being scared is just a normal thing; being terrified; being confused—those are normal emotions.
Ann: And drugs, alcohol, that was normal: everyday kind of thing for you.
Noe: It’s normal; it’s normal. It’d be funny if my dad passed me the beer, and I took a drink in front of his friends at five years old. They’d all laugh; and then, I felt happy because I was affirmed.
I look at it now, from this seat, and I couldn’t fathom that for my kids.
Noe: But then, that was normal.
So five years old, my mom’s now a single mom, and trying to do the best that she can. But the truth is: she was overwhelmed. My father wasn’t in the picture, didn’t help her financially. She became the one who began drinking a lot. During this time, she would drop us off at random family members’ homes for the weekend. She was hurting—she didn’t have Jesus—she didn’t know.
It was one of these drop-off times, about seven years old or so, where I was molested. About seven years old, you don’t really understand why that took place. You don’t know if it’s your fault/if you did something wrong. You feel ashamed, and dirty, and disgusted. Your identity and your dignity are just stolen from you at that age without you realizing what just took place, and you’re broken. There’s anger that builds up; and there’s this deep, dark secret that’s just suffocating me, that I didn’t know who to tell this to.
I began to find outlets to deal with this pain/the pain of not having a father:
- “Why did my father leave me? He was supposed to be my protector.”
- “Why did my family member molest me? Why did my mom not pick me up?”
- “Why did…”
—and all these things are going through, and you don’t know how to deal with this. I began to get involved in petty crime. I joined a little bitty gang that would take me in—started stealing stuff from cars/from homes—just things like that.
By eighth grade, I was already using drugs, involved in sexual immorality, drinking. I was doing whatever was put in front of me. Ninth grade—same thing—and it was just a downward spiral from here. Eighteen years old—I was done, and I was tired at eighteen—I was tired of making bad decisions. I felt disgusted that I had this deep, dark secret of molestation.
At this point,—
Dave: Was this a secret nobody knew?
Noe: Nobody knows.
Ann: And where was God?—anywhere in the picture?
Noe: Nowhere, I thought.
I sit outside—
At this point, I’m used to making some poor decisions—someone threatens to shoot me and take my life, so I moved to College Station just to get away from this. I am supposed to go play basketball at East Texas Baptist University; but instead, I run from getting my life taken—go to College Station—and I become more disgusted with my life: more drugs, more immorality, more drinking.
I just feel like a loser, and I feel like I have become my father. The very thing I despised I have become. I sit in the backyard. I was—and it’s okay that I say I was drunk and high—just have to be transparent. I was lost, and I was broken.
—I sit in the backyard, and I ask God for a sign; I just say, “If You love me, would You please give me a sign? Please give me something. I have nothing.” I asked Him for a shooting star. I know it sounds so stupid; but I think when you’re so desperate, you just grasp for anything. No shooting star.
I go inside and think, “He doesn’t want me; He doesn’t love me. I’m too dirty.” I attempt suicide, and my friend comes in and finds me in the room. It was a wake-up call for me. Long story short, I give my life to Christ through a basketball ministry.
Dave: Was this right after the suicide attempt?
Noe: —about two months later.
Dave: Oh, yes.
Ann: Are you still 18?
Noe: I’m still 18, and surrendered my life to Christ; and then, it was like cold turkey—night and day difference—I just lost the taste for sin in those areas of my life.
Dave: So you’re at college now, right?
Noe: At this point, I end up going to East Texas Baptist University, a year later than I was supposed to; but I went.
Dave: Alright, so you ended up going back, playing basketball.
Noe: I played basketball.
Dave: One of the things I found interesting in your book—which it was interesting but, also, somewhat not unexpected—is how you were judged by your college teammates and college students at this campus. You go there, thinking, “This is a Christian university; I’m going to get grace”; and you got judgment.
Noe: Yes; I love East Texas Baptist University, so I don’t want to say East Texas Baptist is like that. But it was that season—and maybe, the friend group or the people group I was around—I just don’t think they knew what to do with my culture. There was a certain culture; it’s like: “You leave your culture at the door, and you have to fit into our culture,”—which means you have to talk a certain way, look a certain way, and dress a certain way, and have a certain understanding about what church is.
I didn’t even know how to fake it. I come in—I have tattoos and I have—I was dressing differently, and I had all these piercings. I was just a different dude. I was trying to figure out: “How do I bring my inner-city culture—and who I am, as a young Latin man—into this new culture? How does it coexist?” I thought it didn’t, so I faked it a lot of times. I faked it; I left my culture at the door.
Dave: And yet, you got to a point—at least, if I remember what I read—that you decided: “I’m leaving the university. I just don’t fit here. I can’t play the game anymore; it’s time to move on.”
Noe: Yes; and here’s the thing: nobody, I don’t think, intentionally forced that on me. Nobody was saying, “You have to change who you are,”—nobody did that.
Dave: You felt it though; yes.
Noe: Yes, I felt it. Some of it comes from insecurity, of being a new Christian; all this baggage stuff. Man, it was hard; because I’d sit around these tables—and I hope my son is like this one day—but it was challenging when nine out of ten kids—and I was the tenth one—had saved their self for marriage. I just felt like I was so different, like I was too dirty; and I couldn’t have an awesome story like theirs, which I hope my son has more of a story like theirs than mine today; I really do. I don’t want him to walk through the pain that I did. But I didn’t know how to fit into that, so I was sick of it.
Dave: So you were leaving.
Noe: I mean, I packed up my car.
Dave: But you didn’t leave.
Noe: But I didn’t leave. I packed up my car; one of my basketball teammates came out. He started sharing his heart with me—thanking me as if I was leaving—for how I’d impacted his life. We were the same culture—he understood me; I understood him—and so he thanked me. I knew how he felt about the rest of the culture—he felt isolated, but he was a basketball star—his name is Ced Isom. Cedric Isom came out, he gave me a chain with Scripture on it. He was like, “You’ve impacted my life,” and started sharing his heart.
A light bulb went on; and it’s like God said, “You don’t have to leave your culture at the door: I’m going to use your brokenness; and I’m going to use your past; and I’m going to use your culture. I’m going to use everything for your good and for My glory.” I thought, “It’s okay if I’m different. It’s okay if I don’t understand tradition. God has a plan specifically designed for me.”
Dave: Is that where you came up with the idea of Repurposed?—sort of: your life now has a repurpose?
Noe: Absolutely! [Laughter] Man, it’s like He said, “I’m going to take all of this…” See, God is an Originator, right? He writes original stuff. I came into college, thinking that I had to imitate what He’s already written: somebody else’s life story. He is the great Editor, and He is the great Author. So yes, it was me fully surrendering the pen of my life for Him to be the Author of it. I didn’t know what it was going to look like, and I didn’t know how it was going to be written; but I knew that He could write a better story than I could.
Dave: One of the things I think—I don’t know if you’ve thought this—I think about the guy—what’s his name again?—who spoke those words to you.
Noe: Cedric Isom.
Dave: Cedric. It just hit me, even when I read it: “How important our words are to somebody,”—in a moment that/I don’t think he knew, in that moment, “This is going to change your life,”—but he spoke life. Proverbs 18:21:—
Noe: That’s right.
Dave: —“Your tongue can speak life or death.” He sees something.
In fact, we started the program talking about negative thoughts. I’m sure you’ve lived your whole life with them; and then, here’s a guy telling you something that you’ve never thought was true about you; that: “You’re making a difference in my life.” You’re sitting here today because of—in some ways—because of that moment.
Noe: —because of that moment.
Dave: I just thought how important it is for us to seize those moments in our family, in our marriage, in a stranger’s life, in a friend’s life. Don’t miss that chance to say, “I don’t know if you know this, but you are valuable.” I don’t want to beat this one too much; but I’m thinking, “If I’m a dad, listening right now, there’s probably a son or daughter in my house that may need me”—or a mom—"to say, ‘I see you,’ ‘I care about…’”
You didn’t have that your whole life—I didn’t have that; never had a dad say that to me, really, my entire life—I was like you, going everywhere to find it: through sports, through music, through whatever. We are dads and moms, who can speak that to our kids; because they’re going to go looking for it somewhere else, too, unless we speak it.
Noe: That’s right.
Ann: And I would add, too, Dave: I think that, as we grow up—like our kids grew up in a Christian home—but we didn’t. We have these perceptions of what Christians should look like—I did that—I had no idea: “This is a whole new world.” I think that we need to remind our kids: “God’s not a cookie-cutter God.
Noe: That’s right.
Ann: “He’s a God who creates uniqueness. He creates gifts, and talents, and passions that are all so different.” To remind our kids that it doesn’t have to look a certain way; we’re all so different.
And too, as you said, Dave, to speak out and to bring forth the things that we see in our kids that are so unique—that they may think: “I’m so messed up. I don’t look like everybody else; I’m not acting like everybody else,”—in terms of the culture. I think that’s important.
Dave: So how’d you get from there to, now, you’re a pastor? [Laughter] There’s a journey, obviously, from there. It looks like: “This is the guy, who’s never going to end up doing what you’re doing.”
Noe: I think that moment was a key moment—someone speaking life into me—because, up to that point, it really didn’t happen. So for him to allow me to see something in myself that I couldn’t see, I think that was a God-moment. Still, after that, I thought, “I’m going to get my education; and I’m going to impact people’s lives through sports, because I can talk sports with people. That’s how I can share Jesus in sports.”
But I graduate from East Texas Baptist, and I can’t find a job. I have a job interview—I get stood up—the guy doesn’t meet me there. I’m thinking, “What am I going to do? I’m about to graduate, and I don’t have a job. I have all this debt.” I get a call from a church called Second Baptist Church in Houston; I’ve never heard of it. It’s a huge church. They call, and they say, “Hey, do you want to be a college and sports intern for the summer?” I say, “Sure, but just until I find a real job.” [Laughter] So I get there, and I’m doing the things that I love, pouring into college students, using basketball and football to reach people for Jesus.
Dave: You’re just dunking over these kids, aren’t you?
Noe: Oh, man; it was awesome. [Laughter] I was still in tip-top shape. Absolutely; I was talking trash—the Christian way this time—[Laughter]—but it was great. Then, by the end of that summer, God had made it very clear: “I am calling you to do this.” I gave it my all; I was all in.
But at this point, I thought, “Okay, I’m a sports pastor,”—it’s not a real pastor position—"This makes sense for me.”
Ann: This is our life, too, because we kind of made a deal with each other: “This sports ministry thing is cool. Let’s not get into the pastorate.” [Laughter]
Noe: Yes; but even, at this point, I’m thinking, “Alright, this is my culture here: sports.
Noe: “I have too much baggage to be a real pastor. That’s for the other kids, who saved themselves for marriage, who grew up…
Ann: —“’the good people.’”
Noe: “That’s for ‘the good people.’ I’m the one, who’s scarred and jacked up. I’m on the courts; this is where I belong.” Even then, I was feeling like: “This is the rest of my life, because this is what I…”—I’m not saying that it’s below being a pastor—but that’s what I thought: “This is it.”
Then, He kept opening up doors, more and more. One of the pastors came to me and said, “Hey, you’re really green,”—which I was; I got saved at 18; didn’t even start reading my Bible until like 22—I didn’t know I was supposed to—I was never discipled. He said, “You’re really green. We think you should go to seminary.”
I trusted him; and so I went to seminary in San Francisco, just on faith—picked up; went there—and man, I was cleaning toilets; I was working three jobs as a parking lot attendant. I get married and meet my wife. I met her in August, at my birthday party; proposed in January; married in March; pregnant in June.
Dave: Hey, you don’t mess around, huh?
Noe: No, I’m a man of obedience. [Laughter] I believe that late obedience is disobedience. [Laughter] I knew: “This was my wife,” and so here we are. I’m working as a parking lot attendant and going to school, full time; and I’m cleaning toilets.
Man, I will never forget: I come from this huge megachurch, where I felt like my “career” was going up in ministry. I figured I was going to be somebody finally. God calls me to go to seminary, and I’m back to this; it was making no sense. I’m cleaning toilets one midnight, and I sit down, and I’m angry. I’m like, “You know what? I’m not going to clean this. I’m just going to do it halfway and leave, and say I did it.” I’m in seminary, at this point; I’m angry; I’m like, “What am I doing with my life?” I sit down; I’m like, “Why did You call me here, God?” I’m just complaining.
I felt like He was telling me that He was—before I was going to walk into my calling—He had to fix my character. I felt like He was saying, “I want you to clean this as if you’re serving Me. I want you to do this with faithfulness as if it’s for Me.” I thought, “Yes, Sir.” I got up, and I cleaned the toilets the best that I could. I was just faithful the best that I could be to Him.
Then, from there, I went to Nashville after I graduated seminary; then went to Arkansas, which I thought, when I got to Arkansas, I was going to be a life-long college pastor. I was a college pastor; I was doing chaplain work for the Razorback teams—football team—all kinds of stuff—baseball. Got close with Jimmy Dykes, who was the basketball coach there for the women—did their stuff—and so from there, I was a college pastor, thought: “I’m doing this the rest of my life.”
From being a college pastor—called to be a senior pastor—I think I’ve always lived my life, where the suitcase has always been open—the bags have always been unpacked—but the suitcase has remained open, to say, “I am Yours. This life is not mine. I’ll do whatever You want, even when it doesn’t make sense.” That’s kind of how I’ve lived.
Dave: Is that what you would say is the lesson of your life? You’ve been talking this whole time, this story—and as an outsider, looking in, you can see God at every point—I know you couldn’t, in the moment.
Noe: You can’t then, yes.
Dave: But now, you look back from the suicide attempt—and a friend shows up in the room—even that moment—
Ann: —that was your shooting star.
Dave: There’s your shooting star.
Noe: Wow! I didn’t think about that.
Dave: And leaving the university, Cedric shows up.
Noe: I didn’t think about that!
Dave: You haven’t thought about that?
Noe: No, it’s great.
Dave: It’s so apparent that God showed up in the people that He put around you, and here you are. Is that the lesson?
Noe: Yes. I’ve come across a lot of Christians today, who say, “I feel like God has called me to do this…”; but they give God these parameters: “It’s only going to be in Texas, God,” “It’s only going to be in this city, and here’s what I want to do...” And then, they’re frustrated because: “I don’t hear/God’s not doing it.”
I’m always thinking, “What if you take the lid off? What if you live like your life is not actually yours, and you say, ‘I will go and do whatever You want me to do, and I will go where You want me to go’?” I think we put parameters of comfort on God; we want to be comfortable in our calling. We don’t want to do something that actually makes us have faith. We want a safe Plan B of comfort: “Work within here so I’m comfortable, God.”
None of this was easy: it’s not easy being a nomad; it’s not easy having no friends and being lonely. But this is not easy—having to pick up and start a new life—we lived in five cities. It’s not fun—but my life is not my own—because when it was, it led me to a suicide attempt. I live like that, and I will die like that; because my life is His.
Dave: Yes, I think we try to live so safe; I know I’ve done it. I can remember, early in my Christian walk, sitting in church and hearing somebody give this amazing testimony, up on stage, and thinking, “I want that.” And then it hit me: “I’ll never have that if I won’t risk.
Noe: That’s right.
Dave: “That story that I just heard—that guy took a risk; that woman took a risk—and God showed up, and they have this story.” I’m like, “Nah, I just want to hear stories from others.” And it was like: “No, don’t you want to be this story?”—
Noe: That’s right.
Dave: —and “You’re going to have to take a risk.”
Your whole life is a life of risk.
Ann: And Dave, that’s our story—that’s the story of surrender—of: “God, we give You everything—we’ll go anywhere; we’ll do anything—whatever You call.”
I think, for our listeners, to ask that question: “Have you said that to God?—'I’ll do anything and go anywhere for You.’” Or maybe, some haven’t surrendered their lives to Jesus.
Ann: This could be your day: that you give Him everything.
Noe: It’s like our souls are craving surrendering.
Dave: They are made to surrender: “True in my life.”
Noe: That’s when the intimacy, in those moments with God, cannot be found in a book or in anything else. Those moments of surrender can’t be substituted.
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Noe Garcia. His book is called Repurposed: How God Turns Your Mess into His Message. Man, aren’t all of us a mess sometimes? You can get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com. When you go there, just click on “Today’s Resources,” or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
We have the president of FamilyLife with us, David Robbins, along with Meg Robbins. David and Meg, talk a little bit about how the trials in your life have shaped your story.
David: Meg and I both know that some of the best learning times have occurred while the fires of life are raging.
Meg: It’s so true. When things are getting harder and harder, and it begins to feel impossible, oddly enough, those are the memories we end up cherishing the most. It’s so crazy, but here’s the thing: in those tough days, God was faithful, and we love Him for it.
David: And make no mistake: He is faithful to you, too, even when the heat feels unbearable. The reality is: right now, there are men and women—husbands and wives; moms and dads—who do not know His faithfulness. When you give right now, your gift will stretch twice as far to these families. And here’s the best part: God will use your gift to speak into the life of someone, who’s feeling the heat in the crucible right now and trying to crawl out.
Shelby: Yes, God will use what we give to Him; and in His hands is where change and hope happens. Thanks for sharing that.
And thanks to some generous Ministry Partners, your gift will be matched, dollar for dollar, until we hit $2.3 million. That’s for a one-time gift; or if you become a monthly Partner right now, your monthly gifts will be doubled for the next 12 months.
And when you do give, as our thanks, we want to send you four copies of Bob Lepine’s book called The Four Emotions of Christmas—you can keep one; you can give three away—you can give all four away. Along with that, we’re going to send you six greeting cards that have been hand-selected by David and Meg Robbins. These make a great tool to share with any of the loved ones in your life. Again, you can give today at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
As we’ve heard, Noe Garcia was dealt some extremely tough circumstances. Maybe, you, too, can relate to having a rough past. Well, tomorrow, on FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson talk, again, with Noe Garcia, as he strips down all his brokenness and shares his story of pursuing God and finding redemption. That’s tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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