Photo by Nicole Tarpoff
I was one of seven children. I had the best mom ever; I have never seen a stronger woman. She went without so we could eat. My dad was in and out of jail and did over 20 years in state prison and federal prisons. My dad was my role model. He taught me how to con and hustle. I thought he was a gangster and that’s what being a real man was.
My grandma lived next door. We were very close, and I stayed at her house many nights. She had so much determination and was a hard worker. She loved the Lord, went to church every Sunday, and talked to me about Jesus. In 2005, she died in my arms. That was a turning point. I was 16 and had been getting in trouble before that, but I wasn’t doing drugs. I had friends that were doing drugs, and the drugs were easy to get. Some people have a slow downhill spiral, but for me it was immediately falling apart. I started with one pill and then went to IV drugs. I got suspended from school, kicked off the ball teams, and went to juvenile detention.
At 18 I was released and went right back to doing dope. I got into more trouble and was a three-time convicted felon and spent eight years in jails and prisons and detox centers. During this time, I felt I was destined to be in jail. I didn’t trust people and was ashamed. But on the outside, I wanted everyone to think I was a tough guy. In 2010, my little sister who was 18 years old overdosed and died. She had called me a few hours before she overdosed and had a bunch of pills. I was so consumed in my own addiction I did nothing to help her. I was so lost I used her funeral to make people feel sorry for me to get dope. Not long after that, the girl I was with got pregnant. After our daughter was born, my aunt and uncle took her into their home. I’m thankful to God that they took her. They provided a good, safe home for her. We named our daughter after my little sister who had just passed away.
In 2014, I went through a substance abuse program in jail and stayed clean 19 months. I was sober but I wasn’t in recovery. I hadn’t changed anything about myself. I just wasn’t using. I started dating a girl I had known since I was a kid. We got a place and she got pregnant. I was still clean from drugs but didn’t have a job. I wasn’t free and was ashamed and miserable. I was running around with my old buddies, hustling people for money. I was not being a man to provide for my family. We were living off my girlfriend’s child support for her two children that were living with us.
Eventually I broke and started doing dope again and relapsed bad. I robbed my family’s food stamps and sold their toys and diapers. My girlfriend wasn’t into drugs. She was a good girl. It was the relationship I had always wanted, and I was throwing it away. Our son was born November 2, 2015. On Christmas Eve of 2015, I came in and threw down a rug I had stolen, and my girlfriend thought it was her Christmas present. She hit me hard and evil took over me. I was a monster. I beat her. The next morning her father was at our door with a shotgun and the law was on the way. I went to jail, and when I got out she wanted nothing to do with me. I couldn’t see any of my kids. They told me I had to get help if I wanted to see my kids. I went to my sister’s grave and asked God why He took her and not me.
In February 2016, I checked myself into a detox hospital. I waited for about 10 hours and wanted to leave, but something kept telling me to stay. I thought, “If you leave, you are going to die.” A month later, I checked into a residential drug treatment center. I hated everybody and hated myself. I couldn’t stand to look at myself and had no hope whatsoever but knew if I didn’t do something different I was going to die. For eleven days, I wanted to leave. I couldn’t get focused. One day I was using my phone and as I was typing “Walk by Faith Not by Sight,” I got caught with it, and you can get kicked out for that. However, the pastoral counselor at the home talked to me and said, “What if you could take all this bad and turn it into doing something good? What if you can take all that hustling and conning that you learned from your dad and use it to help people and show people hope? What was meant for evil God uses for good. You have a chance to change your family tree.” This conversation changed me. The Assistant Director spoke with me about accountability and it opened my eyes and planted a seed that changed the way I saw things and I began holding myself accountable for everything I had ever done in my life. The Director of the program also talked to me that day and gave me hope. He said he had been through eight rehabs and now he was the Director. I said, “I wish I could be where you are.” He told me to reach higher than that. After that I got focused. I worked on the old baggage inside of me—the anger, the shame. I wanted to be free from that. I was still struggling with spirituality because of my sins. I hadn’t submitted fully to Christ yet, but God was working in my life and shaping me. I was learning patience and humility. When I graduated from the recovery program, it was the only thing I had accomplished in my life. I framed the graduation certificate, and it is now hanging in the center of the wall at my office where I work.
I had already worked on moving beyond my past, but I hadn’t really found Jesus. I was still stuck on following laws. The last night I was in the recovery program, we went to church and I heard a sermon about how believing in Jesus saves us and about Jesus’ relentless love and forgiveness. I finally got it. I got saved that night and felt so free. The next day, I went home. I had come to terms that my girlfriend was not coming back, but I still wanted to be a good father to my children. I was living my life by faith. I told God, “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m going to trust in You and have faith and stay the path.” I was trusting in something totally different than I ever had.
I started going to church, and it was around Mother’s Day. I knew all the sorrys couldn’t change what I had done, but I sent my girlfriend a Mother’s Day card and wrote Proverbs 3:5-6 in it.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
I started taking my children to church and then asked if she would go to church with me. She started going to church with me and ended up getting saved too. We got married in June, just two months after I graduated the recovery program. My family was restored with custody of all children except my first daughter who is still living with my uncle and aunt. I want to do what is best for her. I want it to be God’s will and God’s timing when we get reunited. I have prayed that God would let me know the right thing to do at the right time.
After we got married, I was honest about who I was and couldn’t find a job anywhere. I went back to school to get a college degree. We moved in with my mom, but it was a hard situation. We had to take showers with a water hose outside. The only thing I owned was a car and that blew up. I had to walk everywhere I needed to go. My wife and I didn’t pray for money or things, we just prayed for our relationship with God to get stronger. But God always provided. The pastor of our church and his wife offered us a house to stay in rent-free, and the church bought us a 2009 minivan. I got certified as a peer support specialist and was hired on as a residential staff at the recovery program I went through. I was promoted to pastoral counselor in October 2017. We just had another baby April 13, a boy named Gage, which means “a deposit of good faith.”
Six days after the baby was born, my dad got hit by a car as he was leaving jail and was killed. I hadn’t talked to him in a year. I had tried to help him but he didn’t want it. I felt so bad. When I looked at him in the casket, I thought, “What if he had taken the opportunity to follow Christ? If he had known the love of Christ everything would have been different.” And I thought, that could have been me. I have so much regret about the things I have done, but God is using those experiences to allow me to help others. Today I find my joy in helping people find hope and helping them get their families back. Today I realize life is not about material things it’s about people; it’s about family! I love my beautiful wife and my 5 amazing kids. God restored all the broken pieces of my heart and today I know what true freedom is. I never thought I could break the bond of addiction. I never thought I would be able to be a good dad, son, brother, and husband. Without Jesus, there is no way I could do what I am doing. I’m so thankful.
To me God is love, grace, and mercy. I have many days that I fall short and struggle with self- doubt, but I snap back and know that God loves me. It’s the religious stuff that turns people away from God. But His love chases you down and finds you and pulls you out of the pit of hell. Once you experience that, how could you ever go back?
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.