It’s been a long road.
I can see the road ahead of me, but I can also see the long road behind me in my rear view mirror.
If you look closely you will see a life that had been blessed by God. When you look even closer in that mirror, you will see a wife. You will see 5 children. You will see a home on Salem Street where we all lived as a family. A home filled with promise, love, wonder and a future only the Lord Himself could have prepared.
But if you look further back in that mirror you will also see a child who grew up in a family filled with much bitterness. You will see an alcoholic father with an angry side. You will see a young boy named Pat (affectionately known as Paddy by my mother) in desperate need of guidance, love and acceptance. Mom and Dad weren’t doling it out. As much as they wanted to, they were incapable of meeting my emotional needs as a child, being wounded and held captive by their own addictions and dysfunctional marriage. I wasn’t looking to Jesus in those days, either. The way I tried to meet those needs as a youth (and in my early teen years) was through a series of relationships with so-called friends who supplied me with the substitutes most of us who have gone through Life Challenge gladly welcomed into our lives during those influential years. And we take to them like people looking for water in a dry and thirsty land.
I call them “other loves”, and they do well to mask the hurt we encounter in this thing called life. We cave to the pressure of hitting that joint. The high works for awhile, but we need more. Beer and liquor bring temporary pleasure and relief from the pain and emptiness, but those eventually are not enough either. Pills that make us happy seem to fill the void, but we still long for more and more until our appetite sends some of us to the streets to buy stuff to shoot onto our bodies, hoping to heal the hurt in our lonely hearts and appease the demons in our angry heads. Pornography covers the wound as we seek affirmation, yearning for power over our inadequacies. Sexual relationships turn sour and tear even deeper at the gash, exposing hidden and unresolved heartaches from grief stricken childhood trauma until…
That was my story. By the time I was 21 I had not only experimented with drugs, alcohol, pornography and sex, they were ruling and ruining my life. By that age, most of my childhood friends were either in college or graduating, moving on to the next important phase of their life called adulthood. I chose to take myself out of that category, feeling unequal, small and sparse compared to most anyone. Growing up the way I did can do that to a young man. There was no God in our home to direct my path. No love and grace. Only harsh, bitter words riddled with bouts of violence, leaving me groping for another world, far away from what was my reality.
Through those other loves; the drugs, the sex…I found what I thought was the answer to the hard questions I was asking myself over and over. Questions like “Am I good enough?” or “Do I have what it takes?” The answer to those questions can only come from the unconditional love our heavenly Father has to offer us, but I desired to hear it from other voices. I married in my early 20’s. That same year I came to the cross and met Jesus, being born again at a bible study and making the promise to serve Him. But this unprepared and emotionally unequipped boy-man became a father before he could learn to walk with the Savior. The pressure was immense. A second child came. By the time I was 30, I was the father to 3 wonderful sons who were looking to me now for the same thing I was looking to my father for. My wife was also looking for the security and safety a Godly man should be able to offer. I was at a loss as how to provide these much needed life supplements. The years that should have been spent equipping me for such a wonderful task were instead wasted. I was left wanting. The question lingered on. “Do I have what it takes?” I was unsure and unstable, crashing my way through life, displaying a series of emotional upheavals that left my young family wondering and asking themselves the very same questions of me I was asking myself.
Years went by. Another child came. A beautiful daughter this time. We were delighted and appeared to be making strides as a family, even serving the Lord together as husband, wife, sons and daughter. I was at this time a Musical Director on staff at a local church here in Detroit. Things were getting better. Then we had our 5th child, another son. Our quiver was full and life was pretty good. We owned a home. We had a dog, a cat, food on the table. Bills were tough to pay, but we were getting by. I hadn’t touched drugs or alcohol in years. But still, the questions would rise up when trouble came and the winds blew. “Am I good enough as a father? As a husband?” And a new question was building in intensity. “Does Jesus accept me?” It was becoming obvious that the word of God speaks truly about building our house upon a rock (Matthew 7:24-27).
Adversity came, as it always does. This time, it was too much. The years I had wasted in my youth were catching up to me. The life I had hoped for, the one that was filled with future promise years ago, was coming apart at my own doing. I was looking to my wife and children for the answers to my questions. They were never meant for that kind of pressure. Hardships turned my wife and I against each other. I left the church thinking it would be best for my marriage, listening to the lies of the devil, our adversary. Things got much worse. The smoking started again. Then came the drinking. By this time, the internet was in full swing, making sex sites readily available. I dove in deep and began living a double lifestyle. Husband and father by day, pleasure and sin seeker by night. The house was swept clean, but not occupied. Devils seven times worse came knocking, and I let them in. God was leaving me to my own devices. I was a filthy man again. Only this time, I knew better. I had turned my back on God. Believing in Him, yet not trusting Him. The prodigal son was allowed to go back to life with the pigs. This made me double minded and eventually I had a nervous breakdown.
By the time my wife an I separated in 2008, I was not only a prodigal, but like Peter during Jesus’ trial, I was denying I knew Him in order to keep going backwards. Deep in my heart I remembered the Lord’s presence. I could recall His love and His mercy, but wanted nothing to do with them. That’s what a life of sin feels like. A dark life, void of the light of His grace.
But God had His plans. In His infinite wisdom and omniscience, He allowed me to continue down this road I was on, knowing it would eventually lead to the breaking point He needed His son to hit. My children watched as their father slipped further and further until eventually I would get addicted to pain killers. By 2009, I was roaming the streets, looking for more and more. I also entered in to an adulterous relationship which compounded my addiction and darkened my life even more. I would look back during that time, wondering how I could have fallen so far. How a man of God, called by His grace, could have sunk so low.
By 2010, I had lost that wonderful house on Salem street due to my addiction. The Lord had brought me to my knees. My children were all living with their mother by this time. In that late December, with nothing left in the home but my bed and the memories of what was, and what could have been, I made the most difficult phone call I have ever had to make. It was to an old friend from the church I once attended almost a decade ago. I remember the words I uttered: “I cannot manage my life anymore”. For a 45 year old man to admit that was the pride breaking moment God was waiting for. My friend just so happened to have Pastor Jeff Bonzelaar’s personal number. An interview was set up. The road ahead that night saw the first sign of light it had seen in years.
I entered the program here at Life Challenge on January 17, 2011. I completed every course. Submitted to the discipleship. My daily routine and lifestyle changed dramatically. I attended chapel every day. I remember one of those days after a guest pastor spoke, I remained seated as others left, soaking once again in His presence and the knowledge of His word. I was being renewed and transformed!
Today, by His grace and His grace alone, I stand a righteous man. I stand a forgiven man. There is a lot of work left to do, but hope is once again lighting the way! After graduating from the program in January 2012, I became an intern. Knowing God had led me down this road, I decided to answer the call to remain here on staff. I now serve as a Senior Resident Advisor in the Men’s Division. I serve as Assistant Choir Director, traveling to churches and telling them of God’s handiwork here at Life Challenge. I work with our Community Relations Team. I also work in our Development Department where I sit today, writing this story about the love of God and His unending and relentless chasing after a prodigal son, once lost as I was.
The road ahead now is filled with promise, hope and a future. Jesus has my heart, soul and mind back. My children have their father back. The rear view mirror now is only a reminder of the great mercy God has shown a sinner such as I. And thanks to Life Challenge, I am walking in the light of His wonderful grace once again!