Our Story

How it all started...

“I'm Ryan. I'm an alcoholic.” These were the scariest words I ever uttered. The first time I said these words, I did so with fear and trembling. My voice was shaky. My hands were clammy. I didn't know if I would say it when it came around to me. My head was swirling. All I could think about was: “I'm a pastor. What will people think about me? I don't want to do this. I don't want to be here. How did I get here anyway...how'd it get this bad? It was never supposed to be like this.” But I said the words. I admitted it. And I felt lighter...a burden had been lifted in a way I never could have imagined.

I felt like Jacob [from the Genesis story], on the run from God, his past, himself, everything. Jacob wasn’t free. But as the story progressed, he found himself in a brutal wrestling match with God. There were wounds, flesh wounds and ego wounds. There at the banks of the Jabbok River, Jacob was asked, “Who are you?” For the first time he said his own name: “I am Jacob”. And it’s like God said: “Good. We’ve got some work to do and now we can move forward.” In that moment of admitting who I was for the first time—in all the fear and unknowing—I knew what it was like to finally say “no” to shame and “yes” to a path of being free. It was like saying my name again for the first time. Thanks be to God and some friends who showed me the way out of the chaos through the 12 steps, I have been sober since January 7, 2013. God has removed from me the obsession of the drink and I now know a new way of life. My “why”, my calling, the thing that gets me out of bed, is as clear as ever: to help others find God and beauty in the midst of mess and brokenness.
In the Spring of 2018 my wife, Tami, and I started asking the question: What would it be like to start a faith community that centers on issues of addiction and recovery? Not to go to the inner city and start something, but to start it right here in our own backyard [literally], in the heart of the suburbs. We put together a leadership team of 12 people to begin the conversation of starting something new. Starting a new thing is scary. If you’re passionate about it, it will always come with a bit of doubt and anxiety. It will always come with some twists and turns. The week before our first leadership team meeting, we received dreadful news. Nick, one of the guys on our team, was 20 years old and found dead of a drug overdose early that morning. Out of the gates we had the poignant reminder that the disease of addiction is cunning, baffling, and powerful. It is relentless and always seeks to destroy life.

The need in our community is real. I was tired of seeing my friends die. The sub-story was growing old too: they didn’t feel like they belonged with God or the Church. 
We wanted to break the silence of addiction and create space for healing, recovery, and spiritual connection. So Tami and I started FREE and we began hosting gatherings on Saturday nights in our backyard. We didn’t know who would show up or if anyone would show up. We lived with that question for a number of weeks. That’s the reality of starting the new thing to which God is calling you. But each week FREE [in our backyard] was filled with Addicts, Loved Ones of Addicts, and Spiritual Refugees. We wanted to remind them—and still want to remind them—that God loves them, God is for them, and God has not forgotten about them. During our gatherings we celebrate milestones of recovery and all kinds joy that we experience in the journey. I teach on the stories from Scripture about a God who is filled with love, grace, compassion, and forgiveness. We have storytellers that share their experiences with addiction and recovery. We have music [sometimes live, sometimes pre-recorded]—everything from Eminem to Hillsong. We pray together. And we always have coffee...lots and lots of coffee.

What a wild ride this journey has been, and will continue to be. God keeps giving me a reason to keep saying “yes” to the path of being free, and to walk with others on this path. It’s about learning to live one day at a time and trusting God in the next step, and living into the constant reminder: this journey is about progress not perfection.