Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography
I was raised in the church for first 12 years of my life. When I was born, there was no dad in the picture for the first five years. A guy got my mom pregnant but was not a part of my life. I grew up in my grandparent’s house with four of my cousins, two uncles, aunt, mother, and grandparents. I loved family — family was my life. I didn’t really have other friends, just my family.
At age five, my mom met a man at Southeast Christian Retreat Center and they got married. I can’t remember exactly what happened, but there was a falling out between my mom and my grandparents, so we got kicked out. I can’t remember — either we left or got kicked out, but it tore me up. It devastated me. It was such a transition going from living in community with family to living in complete isolation. The man my mom married adopted me at age five, as soon as they got married. So I had a new last name, a new man I’m supposed to call “Dad,” a new school, and a new family. I had a new life.
That’s when I started to act out and rebel. We call it the Bible, but I’ve come to find out that it is a 66-book love letter from God to me. Scripture uses the metaphor of a wild animal to describe how I was acting. If a wild animal gets angry, it will devour people and things around it/tear them apart.
In the same way, when I couldn’t express my feelings, it would come out as rage. I was feeling something but couldn’t express it or understand it, so I would act out. I never found healing because I could never identify the problem or release it. So, I ended up living for other people’s acceptance. I knew who I was in community with family, but after losing that I didn’t know who I was. I kept going to Sunday school and all my friends got baptized. I wanted to also, so I began doing what everyone else was doing. I believed who Jesus was and what He did, but what I didn’t understand was what comes after deciding to follow Jesus.
So, when I started to live for other people’s acceptance, I also started to die from their rejection. In middle school I got bullied, so in high school I was chomping at the bit to fit in with the cool kid crowd. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do to fit in, but there was always something in me that was tugging at me not to do “that thing.”
At 17 years old, I got kicked out of my parent’s house for being disrespectful and rebellious. I graduated high school and was glad I got kicked out. I wanted to take on the world. My selfish ambition started a ripple effect, not just in my life but also in the lives of other people.
I had a girlfriend for about three years, but I also had this pain inside that I didn’t know how to deal with. So I turned to money, sex, and drugs to turn off my mind, because I had to numb the pain that was in my heart.
I got a theft charge for stealing from UPS and got fired from Ford for failing a drug test. I would spend all my money on drugs, then my girlfriend would get me a meal at the end of the day — even though she knew I was doing drugs. I would repay her by punching holes in the wall when I was mad. I felt like a piece of trash — God didn’t make me to be a monster. My girlfriend would cry and I felt like trash.
I remember that I had a glass prism with Jesus in it and, in a rage, I threw it through a glass table. I had a Bible that was gifted me when I was baptized but, one day we argued and I threw it in the garbage. I never got it back out.
Finally, I ended up on painkillers and cocaine because nothing else would numb the pain. I got in a fight with a good friend, which was the straw that broke the camel’s back. No words were exchanged — we just got up and started brawling. My parents let me move back in when I was 19 but then I got in a fistfight with my dad, so I got kicked out again. It was a never-ending cycle of self-destruction. But it was not just destroying me. I was inflicting pain on other people.
I wanted to change, but knew I would have to get away. One day I called my cousin and told him what was going on. He was about to move to Mississippi. He said if I wanted to clean up my life, I could go with him. So that is what I did. I developed a work ethic and got my driver’s license back (which I had lost because of a DUI charge). It was good timing to get away from the toxic environment I had been in.
Unfortunately, my cousin and I had a falling out, so my girlfriend came to Mississippi to get me and took me back to Kentucky.
The Lord has reminded me of Matthew 23:27 where Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, telling them that they are like whitewashed tombs. There was this beautiful picture on the outside, which gives you the impression that what is on the inside is even better. But Jesus said that what is inside is actually rotten, decaying, and dying. When I came back, I “looked good” on the outside, but on the inside I was still the same monster. I had never sought healing for the pain that was on the inside.
I was still a monster to my girlfriend. I talked badly to her and I was disrespectful. She kicked me out one day, so I moved in with a friend. I got a job at Planet Fitness, but the background check came back and I got fired. I had another interview, but that fell through.
I found myself overcome with such a burden of shame. I called my mom and apologized, and she accepted my apology. I didn’t deserve her grace but she forgave me. My dad was still bitter and wasn’t ready to reconcile. So I ended up meeting my mom and little sister at McDonald’s to grab breakfast after three years of not seeing them. My little sister had become a young woman, and it tore me apart.
At this point the last resort was the military. I went to enlist and they said as long as I didn’t have a murder charge or drug trafficking charge, I could apply. Twice before the military had not worked out, so this was the third time going to enlist. I wanted to be a Marine but ended up with the Army recruiter. They said they would let me know in a month.
While I waited, I stayed in contact with mom and my little sister. One day I was running laps with my mom and told her that I would love to have a relationship with my family before I deployed. She was OK, but she said I had to ask my father. I was genuine with my dad and expressed how sorry I was and that though I couldn’t take away the pain I had caused, if he was open, I wanted a relationship. I ended up moving in with them while I waited to hear back from military. My dad suggested I get with one of his friends and see if he could use help roofing. A couple days later I was working again.
The military option fell through, but in the midst of the waiting, I had to praise God. I had a Bible app on my phone and was reading a devotional plan called the “Battlefield of the Mind” by Joyce Meyer. Every day was about the Holy Spirit cutting off all the junk I was carrying.
I could tell at this point I was just tired of it. Enough. I saw the wake of destruction which spurred the realization to not just “desire change” but to “need change.” There comes that point when you stop crying out just when you need Him. Instead you just genuinely want Him.
There is a difference between desiring and yearning. I had always desired change, but now I knew I needed God for change. I was yearning for Him. There is a supernatural God who loves me in a supernatural way. I knew transformation would come if I believed in Him.
If what He says in His Word is real, I’m going to know it, because that is how deeply I am going to seek Him. So I got a notebook and started writing — prayers, thoughts, and hopes.
One of the first incredible things God did in my life was that in my weakness I was able to look down at this notebook and read between the lines. There were words that were an exact depiction of what I was feeling in my heart. I was finally learning to express what I was feeling. God just did it all. That began the healing process! It also began to bring joy! I began to find out who I am because I was learning whose I am.
My dad started to see me change. I was seriously seeking. He showed me a book and I started reading it, though I can’t even remember the title. I was reading and just started weeping — the floodgates opened. I was compelled to get on my knees and I just started talking to God. There are three things I remember about that moment:
- I told God I was tired of hating.
- I told God I was tired of being ashamed.
- I told God, I’ve got to find out who You created me to be — because it is not this monster that I have been my whole life.
I got up from the floor and I knew something was going to change. I can’t even explain it. God was telling me: You’re going to change because I am with you!
I’ve heard this quote: “The cross beckons the man who is sick of himself.” That was me! The cycle of shame had formed an anchor in my life.
Scripture says in John 8:36, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” I accepted His freedom that day.
After that experience, I asked my boss, who was also a member of our church, to get me plugged in to a group at the church. I got into a men’s group and the first question they asked was “How is your personal relationship with Jesus?” That made me ask if I have a personal relationship, and if I do, what is it like? It was a small group where we could be genuine and authentic.
They were also big on obedience discipleship. Jesus said, if you love me you will follow my commands. He says loving me empowers you to obey me, just like a child.
In their song, What if I Stumble, DC TALK makes this statement:
The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.
That was me! So I recommitted my life to Jesus in February 2019 and was rebaptized in April 2019.
This joy (fruit of the spirit) that started to come to life brought freedom! Now I want everybody to want that! Jesus is about mercy and selflessness. And that realization drove me to the frontlines to see others set free! My whole life I sought meaning and purpose without ever including God. In less than one year, I didn’t care about anything but knowing that I am His. It is hard to fully explain the change that has occurred in me. My parents told me recently that they always anticipated getting a call asking them to identify my body. That’s the path I was headed down, that the kind of life I had chosen to live. Understanding God’s love and grace radically transformed my life.
The one who has been forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). I have found this to be true in my life, when I finally understood God’s grace. Jesus on the cross was God telling me that He loves me. If I was worth dying for, He’s worth living for!
I started visiting the residents of a halfway house and one of the guys invited me to a Bible study at a place called Victory House. I would go with a friend named Tom, and he invited me to live my life on mission. I remember we were leaving one night and I told Tom, “As long as my heart is beating, I’ll see you tomorrow.” That seemed like such a random comment I couldn’t even explain why I said it, but the next morning I found myself dying to play a song I used to listen to as a child. And one of the verses says “As long as my heart is beating, where You lead me I will follow, where You lead me I give my life away” That was it! I was sold out to Jesus and as long as my heart is beating, I will follow!