I have to admit that I initially came to Christ at a fairly young age of thirteen. I was in junior high school. Our family was very involved in a local Bible church. We attended Sunday school every week, then stayed for worship and the sermon. Our pastor was very dedicated. Very charismatic. I felt led by the Spirit when he spoke. He had my undivided attention, and that was rare at my age. He often became emotional, and was not ashamed to let his congregation see him cry. We would come back to Church at 7:00 Sunday evening for an evangelistic hour live on a local FM radio station. Our pastor would preach the Good News, talk about sin and repentance, and the sin solution. He would invite listeners and and people in the church to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. It was very moving. Our pastor was reaching out the hand of hope. It is unfortunate that he announced one Sunday morning that he was being called away to start a new church. Many were devastated. I had taken a strong liking to his youngest daughter, Faith, and was sure I would miss her.
His final sermon was electrifying. He spoke of our duty as Christians to share Christ. He made me think, even at the young age of thirteen, of what type of difference I could ever hope to make. It felt right. It felt possible. Perhaps with some work, with some education, and with somewhat of a change of heart. You know, the kind of change that comes with growing up and putting others first. I just didn’t think it would take me nearly forty-two years to grow into that role. It was during this time-period that I struggled with wrong-living. I went over to the dark side. Hung out with the wrong people. Discovered marijuana and booze, broke the law, and was sentenced three years in state prison. My drug use grew worse over the years, culminating in a falling out with my family.
Fortunately, God was not through with me yet. Facing homelessness, my family allowed me to move in with them. Dad and I talked a lot about what I was going to do differently this time. I applied for welfare benefits and underwent a drug and alcohol evaluation. I was approved for an intensive outpatient program, attending several group sessions and one individual session per week. I was a patient of that service for one year.
It was at this same time that my father introduced me to one of the neighbors on his block, an associate pastor at a local Pentecostal Church. Reverend Bob. He invited me to attend church with him. It was a small Pentecostal church in a basement. Membership was about thirty-five. A nice worship team. I knew I found a church where I could grow. I fit right in from the first. After all, I’d just come off a six-year-long run of drinking and smoking marijuana and basically living from jobsite to jobsite. I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder on top of polysubtance abuse. I was hurting, and I was ready for a respite. The members rallied around me, loving me until I could love myself.
Did I do everything right? No. I was able to quit drinking and smoking pot, but I continued to struggle with opiates. My depression and my back disability defeated me. I began taking a lot of Percocet and Vicodin. I would go to multiple sources, many times paying cash. I couldn’t keep up with the need, and started taking pills belonging to family members. Unfortunately, during this time I was attending AA and chairing meetings. I even sponsored a few men. But this type of situation always gets worse, never better. I ended up overdosing on Tramadol and being rushed to the ER in an ambulance. You would think that would have got my attention. Unfortunately, I kept stealing medication and eventually got caught. The family put me through an intervention, and I agreed to spend twenty-one days at a drug and alcohol facility.
That turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever agreed to make. I wasn’t really scared. I was relieved. Something had to give. I was living a lie. Making a mockery of my Lord and Savior. Pretending to be a sober life coach. Praying. Attending church. Telling everyone everything was okay. But I was suffering silently. Slowly dying inside. Figuring nothing was ever going to change.
I did a lot of praying while in rehab. I brought a Recovery Bible with me. I knew I had only one recovery left in me. This was it. Fifty-five years old, on disability, sitting in a rehab after thirty-seven years of drinking and getting high. No prospects for the future. No time to put a new career or life together. Twice divorced, no idea what true love was. Two sons. No idea how to be a father. But I didn’t feel done. I had God. I had a faith I believed in since I was a young man. I had a spark deep down inside me that said I belonged to Him. He was not done with me yet.
And so it is for this reason that I choose to serve the Lord. I was saved for a purpose. I’ve been in many places where I didn’t belong. I’ve driven drunk. I’ve committed crimes. I’ve walked down long dark allies in Philadelphia to buy crack. I’ve snorted cocaine. I’ve tried PCP and model airplane glue and mushrooms and all kinds of pills. I gave myself over to the dark side for decades. It’s no secret that anything could have happened. I’ve met many men just like me over the years. Some die. Others end up in prison for years. Some take their own lives. Then there are those of us who feel we’ve been saved in order to save others. This was brought to my attention this past weekend at our Mens’ Conference. God has set me free from the bondage of addiction. His ministry is one of forgiveness and redemption, not condemnation. My sins have been paid in full. God has called me to the ministry of helping others who suffer from addiction. After a year of dedicating myself to servicing my own local church, I plan on entering Bible college. I will never forget the day I told my grandmother that I felt led to join the ministry. I told her every time I turn my back on the Lord I end up in trouble.
Thank you Lord for saving me from myself, and for giving me a purpose.