By Lori Klaus,
According to Nathan Hughes, if the story of his life had a title, it would be “God’s love relentlessly pursues.” Filled with joy and exuding Christ to the world around him, one might assume the traits which are so evident in him today are the result of a lifetime of closely following the Lord. After all, he grew up the son of a pastor and says he remembers always having an ongoing conversation with God. In reality, however, his faith was an uphill battle and Nathan would not even be alive today were it not for the grace of God and His passionate, unrelenting pursuit of him.
For Nathan, who completed an internship in Life Care at CSC last year and currently works as a Case Worker at The Mustard Seed, the past is a painful place to revisit. He says his earliest memories are of “sitting and playing by myself, just chatting away and giggling with God,” the innocence of childhood – and the child-like faith that went with it. But this feeling was long gone by the time he entered junior high school. Because his father was a Salvation Army pastor, the family moved frequently throughout Nathan’s childhood “I struggled to feel like I fit in, struggled to find where I belonged in school, the community and in my own family. Inside I felt very alone.”
Sadly, this was not something Nathan felt he could share with his family. His father and mother came from highly dysfunctional backgrounds. Although they had accepted Christ shortly after Nathan was born, some of the same destructive patterns of emotional and physical abuse repeated themselves during Nathan’s upbringing, making home an unsafe place to share his hurt.
“My mom had a very difficult time with any emotion that wasn’t even-keeled.” Nathan shares that sadness, anger and fear were among the emotions which could not be expressed in the home, and this taught him that any distress he felt was not allowed and had to be locked away. After being disciplined, he says he also experienced painful detachment from his mother when for days, his presence wouldn’t be acknowledged. The message he interpreted from that was, “If I make any sort of mistake or am distressing in any way, I am not worthy of love.” This not only affected his relationship with his mom, but with the Lord as well. “I did not know how to share my painful and uncomfortable emotions with God.”
Nathan also felt like God could never be pleased. Though Nathan tried to read his Bible and pray diligently, he says he “quickly morphed God from a personal God to being a critical, judgemental and harsh God, very similar to my own earthly father.”
Being a pastor and chaplain, Nathan’s father very much represented God to Nathan, but it wasn’t a representation that was true to the loving and grace-filled nature of Christ.
“As a child, my dad was very critical. I learned that approval from my dad was based on performance, and because of that critical voice, I took on an inner belief that there was something innately wrong with me.”
By Grade 11, Nathan’s relationship with his dad had deteriorated to the breaking point. “He was convinced that I was drinking, though this was not the case. I was still a ‘good kid’ looking for acceptance and love from my parents. I was not drinking or doing drugs and was the perfect student with straight A’s and working part time. When my dad kicked me out of the house, my whole internal world was shattered. I felt completely abandoned by my dad, and I felt completely abandoned by my Heavenly Father. I felt scared and alone with nowhere to go. Nobody wanted me. I was unlovable. My perfection and straight A’s were not enough to change that. This is how I felt.”
Though Nathan did not connect the dots at the time, the feeling of abandonment and the pain in his life had become too much to bear and did lead him to begin drinking often and heavily. “Finally I was accepted and liked by those around me. It was a great feeling. This did not cover the anxiety that stemmed from my great sadness within. I also began using various drugs, first beginning with marijuana. This too was not enough and I began using mushrooms, OxyContin, cocaine and methamphetamine. I sold all my possessions and cashed in my RESP’s to fund the insatiable desire for more.”
One night when Nathan was 19, God quite literally saved his life after a hard night of partying. It was one of several ways his Heavenly Father wouldn’t let him go.
“I ended up overdosing on cocaine and passed out standing up. I hit my head off of the pavement. I wandered to where I was staying and told my roommate that I was pretty sure I had a concussion. He told me to sleep it off. I went downstairs to sleep it off and as soon as I put my head to the pillow, this loud booming voice shouted, “Do not sleep! Get up and go!” The voice kept repeating, “Get up and go!” over and over. As soon as I got up, the voice stopped. I had no idea what was happening and ended up wandering to my parents’ place. I was taken to the hospital and was there for the night and the next day.”
Remarkably, in the hospital, Nathan was told that during his concussion, his memory had reset to before he had began doing drugs or been kicked out of home. “When I got out of the hospital, that inner desire that was so strong and controlling was gone. It was not that I had a life-altering event, the desire was just gone.”
That experience began a journey towards healing for Nathan. Deliverance would not happen overnight, but God’s relentless pursuit of him kept intensifying.
“At the age of 20, all those feelings of loneliness, shame, and being unlovable and unwanted began seeping out of my heart. I did not know that I was even longing for love or for God. Earlier in the week I had downloaded music onto a CD. Most of the music was not Christian, but in the midst of this music I guess I downloaded two Christian songs. One of the songs was ‘Above All’ by Michael W. Smith. I was in bed listening to this CD and all of a sudden this song comes on. I began listening to the lyrics and the love of God and the love of Jesus pierced into depths that I did not know were there.”
“You lived to die, rejected and alone, like a rose, trampled on the ground, you took the fall and you thought of me, above all.” Above All, by Michael W. Smith
“These were the feelings that I was feeling in the moment and the feelings that I had carried for so long. I hated these feelings. I realized that Jesus willingly felt these for me. His love came crashing in. I had never felt this before in my life. I heard a voice say ‘I love you.’ It was that same voice I heard during the concussion telling me to get up.”
It was after this moving experience in 2004, that Nathan says he began going after Jesus with everything in him. “I wanted to find Him because He loved me. I had never felt like this.”
As he continued to grow in his faith, some spectacular things happened. For one, God completely took away his addiction to smoking, something Nathan felt convicted about because he knew that smoking was number one in his life, not God. Completely exasperated by his own failed attempts to quit, he awoke one morning to find that he did not need a cigarette. In fact, the mere whiff of second-hand smoke was suddenly something he hated. He did not even have any muscle-memory of how to hold a cigarette! To this day, Nathan remembers nothing of what it feels like or tastes like to smoke cigarettes. “This showed me,” he says, “that God was interested in ALL of me and took great pleasure in doing things just for the sake of doing them.”
Nathan was baptized in July of 2005, and that Fall he moved to Calgary and began attending Ambrose University College as well as Centre Street Church. Great healing had taken place in his life, but the most significant milestones were yet to come.
As Nathan was completing his internship at CSC, he began experiencing the highest level of anxiety he had ever experienced. It was through the roof, as were the intensity of old thoughts such as “I’m completely unlovable.” He tried applying all the counselling skills he had been taught on himself, but nothing was helping. As he stood looking in his mirror one day, alone and grappling with the brokenness in the reflection staring back at him, he heard a voice prompted by his own thoughts which said “Just accept it. Nathan, you have anxiety.” He started to cry, but that’s also when he heard another voice ... this time GOD’S voice. It simply and yet so powerfully said, “and I LOVE YOU.” Nathan says it was the first time he ever felt he was loved while he was falling apart. “I experienced love, not in the midst of being happy, or productive, or funny or having it together. I experienced I was loved in the midst of despair and loneliness.”
The other incredibly healing event began with a prophetic word spoken over him in December of 2013, by a man he was counselling at a different internship. It was quite the reversal of roles, which was unnerving at first, but it promised the healing and wholeness God had in store for Nathan. The man had a vision of a little boy who was looking up at the adults around him, then lowered his head and wandered away because he did not get the approval he was looking for. That struck Nathan because the very night before, he had been looking at an old photo of himself as a boy and thinking, “All I wanted was to be loved.” The man then said, “Your healing is coming.”
Nathan had developed tightness in his chest which was anxiety-related, but it was a condition God allowed to be manifested until the time of his healing. That healing, which Nathan describes as “30 years in the making,” took place on March 29, 2014. He was visiting his parents and trying to reconnect with his father. During the conversation, Nathan told his dad a truth that was not covered over with pleasantries, excuses or apologies, but was rather the simple reality of how he was feeling. He told his dad, “I’m sad.” Then, completely against the patterns he had grown up with of stuffing his emotions inside and locking them away, he began to cry. In fact, Nathan says, he began to sob in the same way a small child would. In that moment, something incredible happened. “My dad turned from critical to comforting.” In a completely unexpected and uncharacteristic way, his dad walked over to him, took him in his arms and patted his head soothingly. “The tightness in my chest went away,” Nathan remembers, “Dad kissed me on the cheek.”
Nathan says there is joy in being part of the ongoing restoration of his family. He is also increasingly living as God’s beloved son, rather than as an orphan.
“I continually realize that God’s love pursues me, not the other way around. I am growing in knowing and embracing my worth, rather than searching for it. There is life inside of me, where before there was death.”
Nathan now marvels at the incredible pursuit of his Heavenly Father to reach into his life with a love that never fails or falters. “He is actually IN LOVE with me as a Father. ‘Seventy times seven’ is for me. When everyone else would have given up, He kept pursuing.”
For those living in darkness, Nathan says that God’s way is much more than merely survival ... He has life to the fullest! “It usually doesn’t come in an instant because God desires you get to know Him and that takes time.” God’s pursuit, however, is relentless and the offer He extended to Nathan is the same offer He extends to each of us: “Let Me show you who I see you to be.”
When my story was written for CSC news in 2014, I shared how God’s love has been pursuing me throughout my life. God’s love has continued to pursue me. It has continued through more difficult and lonely seasons, including the season right after I shared my story in 2014. I am beginning to see the promises of God fulfilled in my life.
In 2014, I sensed that God was not only inviting me into a time of “wilderness” and “desert,” but He was leading me into the wilderness to meet with him. At the time I did not know how long the season would last, but it lasted for many years. I also did not know how intense it would be. I felt lost, alone, misunderstood, vulnerable, exposed, frightened, frustrated, disoriented, and exhausted. And yet, I could sometimes see what God was doing, and in those times, I felt understood, deeply loved, embraced, and protected. Many times I doubted and wondered if God’s plan had gone sideways, or maybe I had done something wrong, and the dreams and promises He spoke over my life were done and gone. But Jesus was and is faithful.
God was doing a deep work in me. He was healing me. He was exposing areas needing love from Him, from others, and from myself. Somehow God was digging a deeper well in me. He deposited a more solid, deep, and abiding trust in Him and in His goodness. Jesus was shaping my heart and poured His love into my heart. Those that walked through the fog with me have shared that I am more tender, kind, gentle, and attentive. God never left me. He had carried me all the way through. God was growing me, shaping me and preparing me.
God was preparing me for the new season that I am in now. As that wilderness-healing season came to a close, God has brought me now to NYC as he promised through dreams and prophetic words. He has been fulfilling many other dreams and prophetic words He had given decades earlier. I am beginning to walk more and more into His call over my life. I am overwhelmed by Jesus’ goodness to me.
God is not done with me yet. Thankfully He continues to heal, love, and restore me. He continues to reveal my identity, as His beloved son. He continues to call me His own. Jesus is not done with you either. Our God is a covenant keeping God whose promises never fail. God’s promises never fail because of Jesus and His commitment to us. Whatever your season, I pray that you experience God’s closeness, God’s commitment, and Jesus’ deep abiding love.