T.J. Collins is tall – taller than the average American male anyway – about 6'3. His lanky body is littered with tattoos, and he wears the kind of beard you'd expect from someone who loves Denton.
Coursing the width of his chest is one of those many tattoos. It reads "Forgiven." He got it before he understood its unfathomable weight. He got it before he discovered the beautiful truth that his satisfaction and God's glory are not at odds.
Yet, for most of his life, T.J. thought they were.
God, in His grace and mercy, used the convinction of T.J.'s brother and the overwhelming love of his family to awaken his heart.
His story of 23 years – a testimony of God's grace and mercy – is not easy to work through. T.J. was "saved" at camp in elementary school. "They scared the hell out of me," he said. He then spent the entirety of middle and high school collecting promises from girls, rock bands and faux friends that he later realized were not redeemable.
After high school T.J. decided to leave his hometown of San Antonio, but he didn't know how to get out. He felt himself flailing in a miry quicksand of sin and devastation induced by the anger and frustration that come with having no one to turn to.
"At that point, I was living as if there was no God, and I certainly didn't believe in God either," said T.J.
In 2007, a few years later, a friend convinced him to move to Denton. They'd go to North Texas together, room together and party together. But T.J. quickly found his new life deficient. He fell into deeper sin and deeper sorrow. "Every day I had bar tab of $40. I was driving home drunk every night," said T.J. And that was the least of it.
It's a familiar tale for all humanity as we try to be our own saviors, believing that we know best. T.J. was depleting his heart to satisfy his soul, and it wasn't working.
Finally in 2009, after two years of haziness, T.J.'s brother, Tyler, moved to Denton to try his hand at helping T.J. rediscover the Savior he had known for one summer night back in elementary school.
When Tyler got to Denton, he frequented the same parties as T.J. and hung out with the all same people. But Tyler would leave early, and he drank water and usually drove a gaggle of sloppy 20 somethings home. It was a sobering time for T.J.
"Tyler was and is selfless, loving, nurturing and never did anything for himself unless he had time for it," said T.J. "That's what spoke to me the most." God, in His infinite love, was calling T.J. to Himself. Using the conviction of Tyler's actions and the overwhelming love from his parents, He began to awaken T.J.'s heart.
This led T.J. to finally realize that – as he simply and almost reverently put it – "it was time to make war." After a bit of deliberation, he dropped his friends, canned his band and started being the church in lieu of just attending it.
The tattoos stayed and have since been joined by a loaf of bread on his left elbow to represent communion and a saltshaker and candle on each of his calves to represent salt and light – Matthew 5, literally. His "Forgiven" tattoo has taken on new meaning. The word is no longer empty, but instead it now defines the very person T.J. is.
He has lost control. He has lost his grip. He has been freed from captivity.
Even more, T.J.'s finding that it doesn't end there. The Lord has both saved him from his sins and to Himself. And in that hope, T.J. is finding new passions and new desires. He is finding that in his greatest joy the Lord is most glorified.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:1-5