Upwards Church is a bible based and Christ focused church meeting in three locations across Williamson County: Leander, Jarrell and Taylor, TX. We don’t take ourselves too seriously but do our best to try to take Jesus and His words in that way. For Sundays, we dress casual and have inspiring live music. We also use video and relevant teaching from the Bible. Our messages are intended help us live God-honoring lives. We care about reaching and helping hurting people and improving the communities as well as the world we live in.
Our purpose: Love God, Love People and Share Jesus.
Loving God happens through worship, our large weekend gatherings, and our giving.
Loving People happens through our Connect Group ministry where people
engage in living life with one another; and we Share Jesus through
our ministry teams, outreach teams, and missions.
Upwards Church is passionate about pastoring the entire family; from the
adults in our auditorium to the kids in our children’s ministry.
Families are being taught from the same section of scripture each week
bringing unity and clarity to spiritual growth. We believe in coming
alongside families to equip them for a life of faith.
We focus on equipping families for life by:
- Discovering the major biblical themes, characters, and stories from
all 66 books of the Bible in five years.
- Grow together and in groups as kids, youth, and adults learn the same biblical topic at the same time!
- Our Connect Groups are intended to connect you to others and to help you grow your relationship with Christ.
Let us know if there is any way that we can be praying for you or if
there is anything that we can do for you. If you have any questions,
feel free to let us know.
For more information about Upwards Church go to www.upwards.church
Before planting Upwards Church in 2000, Darrell was the pastor at a church in Eagle Pass, TX and a youth pastor in San Antonio. He and Niki have been married since 1995 and have three children. Darrell has a Bachelor of Science from Texas A &M University and a Masters of Divinity with Biblical Languages from Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.
No Secret too Deep -The Story of Darrell Koop – Written by Karen Koczwara
He’s doing it again.
I cringed as Mr. Cigar-man’s greasy face rubbed against my skin. His rough hands wandered to places they should not go, his smoky breath sickened me and I froze in place.
I hate him. I like him. Stop. Don’t stop.
Shame, confusion, guilt and disgust registered at once. I thought of the Jeep rides, the juicy steaks, the sweet cinnamon rolls piled high on my plate, the jokes shared just between us.
Do I really want to give all that up?
At last, Mr. Cigar-man left, and I breathed a sigh of relief. But I knew he’d do it again.
I’m just a kid. Is this all my fault? What is wrong with me?
The agonizing thoughts fired through my mind, one after another. I was tired of living a double life, tired of guarding this dark, terrible secret, tired of lugging my pain around.
Is life supposed to be this confusing and painful?
I was born in November 1967 in Texas. My parents, both school teachers, settled in a suburban neighborhood outside San Antonio. My brother arrived three years after my birth, and an adopted sister, three and a half years my junior, joined our family as well. In many ways, we represented the traditional All-American home, complete with family meals, dual paychecks and plenty of love. Our house, situated on two acres, offered ample space to run, play and dig in the dirt. But a nightmare lurked in the large rock house just down road – one that would change my life forever.
As a latchkey kid, I often rode the bus home after school. I played baseball with a boy named Sam, and my parents offered his mother a few bucks to watch me until they got home from work, so I began to ride the bus home with Sam. Sam, his brother Oliver and their folks lived on a large ranch down the road. The ranch belonged to a man I liked to call Mr. Cigar-man, an older, wealthy man. Sam’s family resided in a small place on the ranch, serving as caretakers for the property. Sam’s mother cleaned Mr. Cigar-man’s sprawling house, while Sam’s father mowed the grass, tended to the grounds and fed the animals. The arrangement seemed ideal.
I met Mr. Cigar-man when I was in the fourth grade. In his early 60’s, he was the warm, cuddly grandfather type – jovial, kind and plump, regularly puffing on a cigar with streaks of graying hair. I liked him right away. A local church member, Mr. Cigar-man was established in the community and respected by everyone in town. A shiny luxury automobile sat in his driveway, while a pool, hot tub and pool table offered hours of recreational fun. When he asked if I’d like to go for a swim, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Mr. Cigar-man’s place was a young boy’s paradise. I spent hours over there, dipping in the hot tub and shooting a few rounds of pool with my friends. He became a surrogate grandfather and immediately earned my trust, telling jokes and making me laugh. What a kind old man, letting us use his pool and giving us treats, I thought to myself. I’m a really lucky kid.
In the summer of 1978, Mr. Cigar-man invited me, Sam and Oliver to his beach house on the Gulf Coast My parents, equally impressed by his generosity, agreed to let me go. We spent an idyllic few days fishing on the pier, boating and eating at the finest restaurants around. My eyes grew wide as Mr. Cigar-man slid a large piece of cheesecake across the table toward me as he lit up a fresh cigar. All this great food, for free! Man, it can’t get much better than this!
During the trip, Mr. Cigar-man became affectionate, offering a sideways hug or a pat on the head. Occasionally, he playfully swatted me on the rear, but I didn’t think much of the gesture. However, one morning, he took things too far, tickling me near my underwear. When his rough scratchy hands slid under the fabric, I froze, and an alarm sounded in my head. Whoa, that’s off limits. What does he think he’s doing? Shock, confusion and anger registered at once. This isn’t right, I told myself, panicking. He’s crossed the line.
Mr. Cigar-man continued to touch me inappropriately. He never threatened, never told me to keep our little secret safe. There was no need to, really. He had already lured me in with fishing trips and cheesecake and more boyish fun than I’d ever had in my life. I trusted him, I liked him, and he was my friend. Deep down, I knew it was terribly wrong, that he’d stepped into forbidden territory, but I was too young to piece it all together. I was a victim in his twisted spider web, an innocent little boy without a voice. And the painful silence would echo through the darkness well into my adolescent years.
I returned from that trip confused and shaken, the remnants of my youth snatched from me. I didn’t like what Mr. Cigar-man had done, but I didn’t want to stop spending time with him either. So instead, I returned to his house, where he fed me big juicy cinnamon rolls, bacon and eggs and heaping bowls of cereal with delicious cream stirred in. Thrilling jeep rides, basketball games and dips in the pool on a hot summer day proved equally as tantalizing. When I asked my parents if I could spend the night at his house, they happily obliged.
“Oh, yes!” they said. Mr. Cigar-man was a kind neighbor and a churchgoer, at that – surely, he must be a good guy.
Mr. Cigar-man threw fancy parties and invited me, Sam and Oliver too. When the booze showed up, my heart beat fast with excitement. At the parties, he introduced us to his girlfriend, a woman I’d never seen before. Confused, I wondered how she fit in his life. My mind snapped to the Playboy magazines I’d seen lying around his house. Does this guy like girls, or guys, or both? What’s his deal, anyway?
Next, Mr. Cigar-man introduced us to two young men he’d adopted from a boys’ foster home. They were both grown now, one married with children. As we exchanged hellos, their eyes bore into mine, strangely haunting, as though they held the same, familiar secret. Did he touch them too? I wondered, a lump forming in my throat.
The confusion raged on. I loved the perks of being Mr. Cigar-man’s friend. He offered every possible amusement an adolescent boy could dream of. But I knew the other side – the dark, strange side that left me frozen in the dark, feeling dirty and ashamed. A battle ensued inside me, my emotions thrashing about like a surfer caught in the tide. Mr. Cigar-man is all right, I tried to convince myself. He is generous, involved in church, and knows how to have a good time. He’s the epitome of the American dream and success. If I tattle on him, the fun will come to a screeching halt. Better to keep my mouth shut and let it go.
The inappropriate advances continued. I cringed as his greasy face brushed against my skin, the smell of his cigar breath was nauseating. I wanted to scream and run away. Confusion overwhelmed me, and I wondered if it might be my fault. Am I perhaps egging him on, doing something wrong? But I’m just a kid. I’ve never even kissed a girl. What does this all mean?
I began listening to heavy metal and rock, blasting AC/DC, Rush and Motley Crue. The music whisked me away to another world, one in which I did not have to choose sides or rationalize bad behavior. For a moment, I felt free, alive and safe. But when the music ended, the darkness returned, thick and all encompassing. I felt broken and dead inside wondering how to escape this place of confusion and pain. Shame threatened to sink me, and I hid my secret like an embarrassing scar, too afraid to show the world. Was I in too deep?
One day, my parents took us to a revival event our church hosted, where a preacher came to speak about God. He stood before the crowd and offered a simple but powerful message of hope.
“God sent his son Jesus to this earth to die for our sins – the wrong things we’ve done. He offered a savior so that we could spend eternity with him in heaven. We’ve all messed up, but the good news is, we can enter into a lasting relationship with Jesus if we confess those sins to him and ask forgiveness. He will wipe our slate clean and make us new. If you are sitting here today and have never prayed to invite Jesus into your life, please come down this aisle right now. We want to pray with you so that you can begin a new life with Jesus!”
Jesus died for me. I’d heard talk about God at the church we attended, but nothing like this. This message – the idea that Jesus wanted a relationship with me – was new and exciting. I knew I’d messed up plenty of times. And I wanted to spend eternity with Jesus in heaven. I gripped the pew in front of me, my heart thudding as I stood there frozen. I should go forward, I said silently. And then, a moment later, I talked myself out of it. No, I shouldn’t. I’m just going to stay put. Back and forth I went, while others walked down the aisle. I remained paralyzed, unable to make the trek to the front of the room.
When I got home, however, the preacher’s message continued to pound through my head. It makes so much sense. I know this is something I need to do. And I’m ready now. I went into the bathroom and knelt on the hard floor next to the tub. In my most sincere voice, I prayed, “Jesus, I know what the pastor said is true. I invite you in to my heart and life. Please forgive me for the wrong things I’ve done. I want to spend eternity with you in heaven.”
I stood to my feet and opened my eyes. That’s it! I’ve just asked Jesus into my heart! I felt great, but at the same time, I didn’t know if I should tell anyone. Maybe I’ll just keep this little secret to myself, I decided.
My father, who’d gone to church on and off with us over the years, began attending regularly. One day, he told us he’d invited Jesus into his life too. He got baptized, allowing the pastor to dunk him under water as he proclaimed his new faith in Jesus to everyone at church. I told him I’d invited Jesus into my heart and decided to get baptized too. My mother, who’d had a relationship with God for years, encouraged us to read our Bible and tell others about God. She served as a director for the summer children’s programs at church and also helped at other various church events. My brother joined in as well. I began attending the youth group and enjoyed the positive, encouraging messages the pastor shared. It seemed we had become the quintessential church-going, Bible-reading, faithful family, and I liked it. Our home felt safe, happy and peaceful. I wanted to please God, and I took comfort in knowing he loved me.
But at the end of the day, when the lights went out and darkness crept in, I lay in bed and thought about Mr. Cigar-man and the terrible secret I hid. The world saw a benevolent, grandfatherly man who cooked steaks by the pool, threw lavish parties and gave generously to his church. I knew this man and knew the fun and freedom he offered me and my friends. But I also knew the other side – the perverted old man with rough hands, and smoky breath; the man who’d stolen my innocence and ripped off my youth. How could I live with this aching secret and make peace with my tortured soul?
The summer before eighth grade, I began smoking pot. I continued listening to heavy metal, cranking Iron Metal and other rock bands at top volume. When my friends passed the booze around, I didn’t hesitate to take a few swigs. Soon, drinking and smoking pot became a regular thing. I continued hanging out at Mr. Cigar-man’s house with Sam and Oliver, taking advantage of his amusement-park amenities. After sleeping over at his place, I woke up to the familiar, disgusting advances, and I cringed. But after a few juicy cinnamon rolls and a steaming plate of bacon and eggs, I tried to make myself forget, focusing on all the fun we’d had.
The new Motley Crue album came out, and I stared at the cover, intrigued by the photo of the singers with scantily clad girls hanging all over them. I’d begun to notice girls, and I certainly thought about kissing them. But how could I get involved with them when I’d been tainted by a dirty old man? My emotions ping-ponged back and forth, an endless cycle of confusion. I hate him, I like him. He takes care of me, he hurt me. He’s fun, he’s disgusting. In the end, I remained exhausted, unsure of my place in the world, an adolescent boy who longed to be normal but didn’t know how. The pain deepened, and I felt trapped and alone.
At last, I landed my first girlfriend. We struck up a serious relationship, spending hours chatting on the phone each night. In class, she scribbled three-page notes and passed them my way. A shiver of excitement ran down my spine as I read her endearing words. This girl really digs me. I’m a lucky guy. For once, a sense of normalcy sank in. Maybe I can just be a kid who loves sports and music and girls and ice cream. Maybe everything will be okay.
For a moment, the voice of denial worked. But the next time I returned to Mr. Cigar-man’s, everything came rushing back. He tickled me in the hot tub, and I knew what was coming next. The conflicting thoughts returned, firing through my mind one after another. I don’t like this, but am I supposed to like it? Am I supposed to play along with his games? Something is wrong here. Maybe I should tell someone. But who would believe me anyway? No one would. Maybe he’ll change, stop touching me and stick to being a nice old man. Maybe I’ve egged him on somehow. Could it be all my fault? Maybe I’m the one who’s sick and dirty and twisted.
My freshman year of high school, Sam and Oliver and I got tickets to see a popular Christian singer who’d come to town. We sat in the crowd, listening as the singer talked about a relationship with God. It was the same talk I’d heard at the revival, the one that had pinned me to my seat. When the singer invited us to come forward to invite Jesus into our hearts, I tugged at Sam’s arm, hoping he’d respond. “Come on, let’s go,” I whispered.
We started to make our way to the front, but Sam jerked me back. “Let’s get out of here,” he hissed.
He dragged me out of the building, breathing a sigh of relief as the door closed behind us. “Whew, we got out of that weirdness,” he muttered, rolling his eyes.
Again, a tug-of-war raged inside me. I had been deeply moved by the singer’s words and had hoped Sam would be equally as moved. I had invited Jesus into my heart at that revival several years earlier, and I believed Jesus was the real deal. But I wasn’t ready to give up my rebellious ways. I liked hanging out with Sam and Oliver, I liked listening to my metal music and I liked smoking pot. Giving that all up seemed like a big bummer. Besides, we were young. Sam and Oliver had plenty of years to figure everything out. If they wanted a relationship with Jesus, they could find him later.
My visits with Mr. Cigar-man began to taper off. I turned 16, got my driver’s license and realized freedom lay at my feet. I began going out with my friends more and spending less time at his house. He remained a confusing figure in my life, a person I could not quite escape for good but one I knew I did not want in my life forever. In a twisted way, he had become an important part of my adolescence, a man I half despised and half admired. What was I to do with the memories he’d left me – both the good and the bad?
The summer before my junior year, I grew especially conflicted and depressed. I was tired of listening to heavy metal music and smoking pot, always looking for an escape from my pain. I wanted something different, something meaningful. I remembered the commitment I’d made to Jesus and how peaceful I’d felt as I kneeled beside my tub that day. I’d gotten baptized to show the world I believed in Jesus, and I’d even attended youth group regularly. But I led a double life, doing drugs, hanging out with a bad crowd and spending time with a dirty old man. How could I be truly free of that lifestyle and return to the innocence I’d once known?
I need to figure out what I’m doing with my life, I told myself. I can’t keep going on this way. I’m getting nowhere, and I feel hopeless.
My parents gave me a new Bible, along with a highlighter pen. For the first time, I began poring over the pages, trying to really understand the message inside. And for the first time, everything began to make sense. I’d grasped the gospel message before – that Jesus had died on the cross for our sins so we could spend eternity with him in heaven. But I’d never truly surrendered my life to him. Sure, I’d prayed a prayer, but I’d never let him take control of my life. I’d kept on living the way I wanted, determined to have fun, to medicate myself with drugs and booze and a good time. Now, I knew this didn’t work. I’d seen the emptiness, the vacant spot in my heart that could not be filled by the things of the world. And I wanted the real thing. I wanted Jesus.
Jesus, I want to follow you with my whole heart, I prayed. I’ve screwed up plenty, but I’m here saying I want all of you. Please be the center of my life.
I left my old lifestyle and began making drastic changes. I burned my Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and other albums in the backyard and started listening to Christian rock and metal bands like Petra and Stryper. The heavy metal posters came off my wall, and I began reading my Bible regularly. I stopped hanging out with my childhood friends that were not only smoking weed but growing and selling it. I had once been a part of the “pot heads” at school. Now, I spent time with the football players instead. Soon, my old friends noticed and began to question my new ways.
“What’s up with you, dude? You think you’re too good for us?” they sneered.
“Nope, I feel that my life needs to change, and Jesus is helping me,” I replied with a smile.
They frowned and looked at me as though I’d gone crazy. I didn’t blame them for being skeptical. Just a few months before, I’d been blowing pot smoke with them and rocking out to Poison & Quiet Riot. How could I have changed so drastically?
But I had changed. It was if a light had come on, exposing all the filth in the darkness below. I wanted a fresh start, and Jesus offered that. I’d tried the rebellious route, but at the end of the day, I’d only wound up feeling lonely and miserable. Jesus offered lasting peace, hope and joy. Others might think I’d gone mad, but I wasn’t about to turn back.
One day, I learned some terrible news. A friend who played baseball with me, Sam and Oliver, as well as one that had hung out with us at Mr. Cigar-man’s had been stabbed to death, the result of a drug deal gone wrong. I sat on my bed, staring at the carpet, unable to believe he was really gone. We hung out at Mr Cigar-man’s and played ball together for years My dad was his coach! How could this have happened to someone so close to me? And then, a more sobering thought hit me, and I shuddered. It could have been me. I could have died just like him. Thank you, God, for getting me out of that destructive lifestyle!
High school graduation arrived. I enrolled at Texas A & M and got involved with the Baptist student ministries on campus. But the people in the group seemed a bit nerdy and strange, and I began to pull away. One evening, my roommate told me about a party down the road.
“There’s gonna be tons of girls and beer there,” he said, his eyes growing wide with excitement. “You gotta come!”
I hesitated a moment, the same conflicted feelings I’d struggled with all my life now rushing back. I gave up that lifestyle, didn’t I? I don’t want to go back to that. But, well, I’m in college now, away from mom, dad, and church. I just want to have a good time. A little booze and fun couldn’t hurt, right?
“Okay, I’ll go.”
The frat party was everything I expected it to be. The booze flowed freely, girls hung off guys’ arms, and noise blared from every room in the house. By the end of the evening, my friend had convinced me we should rush and join the fraternity. I agreed.
We pledged the fraternity, had a blast and accepted our hazing challenges. One night as we got drunk along with several other guys, someone threw us into the back of a truck and drove out to the middle of nowhere to drop us off. The challenge would involve us trying to walk back in the dark, drunk and disoriented. It sounded like a fine plan.
But it wasn’t a fine plan at all. The truck rumbled down a dark, tree-lined road, jostling us all along. Suddenly, the driver abruptly turned off his headlights, ran off the road and plowed into a ditch. We moaned in pain, having bounced around in the truck, which had come to an abrupt stop. I slowly brushed the dirt off me, fully expecting something to be broken. My friends struggled to get up, obviously hurt. One was in agonizing pain, and it was obvious his leg was broken. A trip to the hospital revealed a herniated disc for another. Miraculously, I escaped the accident without a major injury.
Wow, I really lucked out, I told myself, breathing a sigh of relief. I could have been seriously hurt, or even dead.
The incident should have been my wake-up call, a reminder of the destruction that came with a lifestyle of drinking and partying. But I didn’t clean up my life. Instead, I hit the booze hard, hanging out at frat parties, scoping out the women on campus and taking my focus off my courses. Soon, my grades began to plummet. While good grades came easily for many of my peers, they did not for me. I had to study hard, and the only things I’d been studying lately were girls and booze. If I did not get my act together, I’d surely fail all my classes and get kicked out of school.
One day, I got a phone call that rattled me to my core. “Sam’s dead. He overdosed on drugs.”
Dead. No. That can’t be right. Dead? The terrible words hung in the air – thick, haunting, horrible. Sam is dead. My childhood friend, the one I spent hours riding bikes with, swimming with, batting the ball with on Mr. Cigar-man’s property. I’d always known, deep down, that Mr. Cigar-man had abused him too. I recalled that concert, when I’d nudged him to walk forward to pray. Sam had yanked me out of the room, uncomfortable with the experience. I hadn’t known what to say or how to share the Jesus I’d found. Sam had never found hope, but instead had turned to a lifetime of drugs and alcohol to kill the pain. Oh, Sam, was the pain that great? Did it hurt so bad that you saw no other way out? I stared up at the sky, already knowing the answer. Yes, it was too great. Sam didn’t know Jesus, and he died a hurting, broken young man.
The incident shook me deeply. By now, five of the friends I grew up with sat in prison. On top of that, three were dead, the result of drugs and violence. I knew I could have easily kept walking down that path. But God had pulled me out of it, and I had made a choice to follow him. He had showed me grace, granting me favor that I did not deserve. But I had taken advantage of that grace, partying again and putting him at the bottom of my priority list. Now I faced flunking out of college, and the same emptiness I’d found in my adolescence had returned.
I know what’s missing. I’ve given little thought to God, all the while thinking my new college frat brothers will make me feel happy and loved. But they don’t really care about me, they’re rented friends. They only care about keeping the beer rolling and having a good time. This isn’t what a true, meaningful relationship looks like. Only God can offer that.
I dropped out of the fraternity and went back to church. It felt great to be back at church again, surrounded by people who loved God and genuinely loved me. I’m sorry, God, I prayed. I fell off the wagon, but I want to get back on. I want to follow you – for good this time.
In 1990, I attended a student conference at large church. A speaker talked about pursuing a life of ministry, challenging us to see if God was calling any of us into vocational ministry. As I sat in my seat, I suddenly felt as if my pants were on fire. I have to go down front. I can’t just sit here and not act on this. I know I’m supposed to respond. The feeling became so strong that I jumped out of my seat and went forward.
Several people stood up front, ready to speak to me about the various ministry opportunities available.
“What do you feel like God is asking you to do?” they inquired.
I shrugged. “I really have no idea.” It was the honest truth. But I knew, without a doubt, God wanted me to do something.
I looked at the various materials before me and checked off the box for youth education. Soon, several packets arrived in the mail, informing me of my options. I ended up throwing them away. I continued my studies in Agricultural Sciences, Biology and Education and began student teaching my last semester. By that time, I made the honor roll and received great recommendations and reviews from my instructors. It was a stark contrast from the near-failing state I’d found myself in before.
A year after God nudged me to go into ministry, my mother called to tell me Mr. Cigar-man had passed away. Relief flooded me as I thought of the man who had darkened my childhood with his twisted ways. I had been just a boy when he first came into my life. He’d enticed me with good food, good fun and a dose of freedom. But I’d paid a big price for that, and his abuse had haunted me for years. I’d tried easing the pain with drugs and alcohol, but in the end, I’d only wound up empty and more depressed. Jesus had rescued me from my pain. I was a grown man now, ready and willing to serve God with my life. Mr. Cigar-man was part of my past, and I was glad he was gone. He would never hurt anyone again.
I had kept my dark, shameful secret to myself my whole life. But I knew there would be a time when God would ask me to share my story. I was not ready yet, but when the time came, I would share it so that others might know they were not alone. For now, I would try to move on from the man who robbed me of my childhood, and I would thank God for a bright future ahead.
I began working at a driver’s education company with my father and taught Sunday School at church. When the youth pastor left, the church asked me to take over his position. I loved engaging with the youth, encouraging them just as my old youth pastor had encouraged me. Wow, this is really fun! For the first time in my life, I felt truly fulfilled and excited about my future.
“You’re doing a great job as a youth pastor,” the lead pastor told me one day. “You should go to seminary.”
Seminary was a place where guys went to study the Bible in depth so they could become lead pastors of churches someday. Was I really ready for seminary? I prayed about it, remembering the feeling I’d experienced at that conference. I didn’t know what you wanted me to do, God, but I knew you were asking me to step out and follow you. I will go wherever you want me to.
God provided a way for me to attend seminary, and I enrolled. I continued teaching driver’s education to earn money. Though my life was now full, there was still one missing piece – a woman. I had sworn off dating in college, convinced it was a waste of time. Countless nights, I had washed my car and spent money I did not have to take a girl on a nice date, only to have her never call again. Instead of pursuing women, I began pursuing God. I prayed, asking him to bring me a woman when the time was right. I trust you’re going to take care of that department, God. I leave it all up to you.
“You should just go to the singles bar,” my buddy suggested.
I sighed. “I don’t want to do that.” If singles bars were anything like frat parties, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to find my wife there. I put the idea out of my head and focused on my studies and work instead.
On July 4, 1994, I helped throw a big party for the youth group. I went home to grab more fireworks and found my friend, along with two pretty girls, on my doorstep.
“This is Niki,” my friend said, introducing me to one of the girls.
Niki smiled up at me, and I smiled back. Man, she’s cute.
Niki and I struck up a conversation, and it flowed easily. There was an instant connection I’d never felt with a girl. Niki is different. She’s really cool, and we share the same faith in God. I think we could have something here.
I left that evening still smiling. But because of fear and doubt, I didn’t call her until October. When I did, I wished I hadn’t waited so long. Niki and I began dating, and in May, 1995, I asked her to marry me. To my delight, she said yes. Just three short months later, we wed at her home church in Austin. I had given the desires of my heart up to God and waited patiently. He had fulfilled those desires, granting me the most beautiful woman I could have asked for. And I could not wait to begin my life with her.
That year, I felt God wanted me to share my story with Niki. And so, one night, I sat her down and told her about Mr. Cigar-man. As I shared, her eyes grew wide with horror.
“That’s horrible, Darrell!” she cried, appalled. “What an awful man!”
The room grew silent for a moment. It was then that I realized how detrimental Mr. Cigar-man’s actions had been. He was not my friend, and he never had been. He was an abuser, and he had hurt me. I had justified his behavior many times, brushing it off while thinking about all the fun he’d provided. Maybe it’s not really that bad, I’d convinced myself. Strangely, I’d felt as sense of responsibility to protect him at times. But now, thanks to my wife, I saw it all for what it really was – terrible, disgusting and very, very wrong.
Telling Niki was the first step toward healing. But God was not done with me yet.
In 1998, Niki gave birth to a little boy, Kaleb. We moved to Leander in February 2000 and began a church in our living room, then moved to a nearby elementary school. We went door to door, surveying people to find out what needs they had and listening to their reasons for not going to church. “We want to be a church for people who aren’t into church,” we told folks.
We prayed as we visited over 3000 homes, and sent invitations asking God to bring who he wanted to come. And to our great delight, they showed up. Thank you, God! You’ve begun a good work here in Leander, and we know you’re not finished yet. We trust you’ll grow this church as you want. Thank you for leading us here.
We added another little girl, Noel, to our family two years after Kaleb. Life was full but rich. God had blessed me with a wonderful wife, two beautiful children and a thriving ministry. He had more in store, however, and the next few years would prove to be a roller coaster of wonderful and challenging events that would leave me changed forever.
Niki gave birth to another little girl, Danielle, rounding out our family of five. Upwards Church continued to grow to several hundred members. In 2011, I felt God prompt my heart to share my story of Mr. Cigar-man with my church. It’s time, Darrell. It’s time to share the secret you’ve kept to yourself all these years. There is someone here who needs to hear your story.
I titled the message “Released.” I stood before the congregation, the people I’d grown to love like family. And, taking a deep breath, I reached down and shared my darkest secret with everyone. Since my parents were attending that day, I had shared with them that morning before church, not knowing what to expect. It felt great to get that secret out in the open.
“We all have things in our past that can hold us in bondage if we do not confess them,” I began. “In the Bible, James 5:16 says, ‘Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.’” I then told the story of Mr. Cigar-man, the man who had lured me in with sweet cinnamon rolls and Jeep rides and trips to the coast and games of pool. I told the story of the man who abused me, who took advantage of a young boy and stole his innocence. I shared my pain and guilt, putting my hurts and my heart on the line. I told the story, because it was time. I’d vowed to lead a church where people could be vulnerable, real and transparent, a church where, no matter what people were going through, they could feel safe and loved. And in order to do that, I had to continue to lead the way by putting my deepest secret, a secret that had stayed in the dark for over 30 years, out there for everyone to see.
“My secret was like a festering wound,” I told the church. “I was not fully healed. It ate away at me, little by little. Secrets can keep us from intimacy with each other and intimacy with God. We need to be free of our pasts, confess our hurts and let God heal our broken hearts. We need to release everything to him.”
To my surprise, a 70-year-old man came forward after the service with tears in his eyes. “I have a story like that. I was abused also, and I have never told anyone until today. ” he said quietly.
I embraced him and thanked him for sharing. He was never the same again. He came to church for the last years of his life as a changed man. I saw the difference in his countenance and he seemed to walk in a lighter way after sharing his burden. God, thank you for helping me to be vulnerable, so that others can be vulnerable too. I know there are others like this man who need healing. I pray you will help them to release their past.
Today, Upwards Church has three locations, all in Williamson County. I am grateful God continues to grow our church. We have become known as a people who are not afraid to be real, raw, open and willing to put our deepest hurts out there.
“The messages here come from the heart,” the people in this church tell me. I would not have it any other way.
God gave me the courage to step forward to share my story, and since then, many others have come forward to share theirs as well, such as the people you are reading about in this book. I love that we are all in this thing called life together, serving God, trusting in him, lifting each other up in love. I encourage people to remain vulnerable, to not let their fears and insecurities keep them from reaching out. We are all imperfect, but thanks to Jesus, we are impacting each other’s lives.
Though Mr. Cigar-man is long gone, I still remember the hurting little boy who tossed and turned at night, confused, alone and afraid. I hid a terrible secret from the world for many years, afraid to expose a man I thought cared for me. I tried to kill the pain with drugs, partying, booze, women and heavy metal music. But these things all left me empty at the end of the day. Only Jesus healed my broken heart. Only Jesus offered the hope, peace and joy I’d been longing for. I did not always seek after him, but he never gave up on me. And when I returned to him, he welcomed me with open arms. I am grateful for his love. He has freed me from the shame and guilt that plagued me for so long. By sharing my past, I’ve been able to fully heal and help others heal as well.
I no longer hide a deep secret, trying to hide the pain. The real me is a broken man God has restored, a man who will continue to fail at times, but a man who tries to keep his eyes on Jesus. In him, I am made new. There are no more masks, no more deep, hidden secrets. Jesus has released me from my past. My soul is no longer dark, and I am free in him.