“Going to Texas. Nice knowing you.”
The handwritten note on the TV set stunned me. It was from my wife Daneen. Without saying anything to me beforehand, she had taken our little daughter and left me behind in Oklahoma.
In a way, I couldn’t blame her. I had been coming home at four in the morning from my job as a night club bartender, then sleeping all day. I had recently received two drunken driving charges. I’d also been heavy into drugs and had been growing marijuana in our house.
It made sense that Daneen didn’t want our daughter around my lifestyle, but I got mad anyway. I loved them so much; I didn’t want to be separated from them. So I did the only thing I knew to do: I got drunk in a local bar.
Just my luck – I received another DUI and landed in jail.
This was a pattern I would repeat about a month later. I got drunk again and was pulled over for yet another DUI. I was charged with possession of drugs and hauled off to jail.
Now I found myself sitting in that cold, lonely Oklahoma jail cell again. I felt dead inside, as I had felt most of my life. I had tried a lot of things to escape, but couldn’t seem to find peace and contentment. With so much time on my hands in that cell, I started taking a serious look at my life.
A Child of the Sixties
I grew up in the sixties – the Beatles, Vietnam, the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy and of Martin Luther King, the killings at Kent State, legalized abortion, LSD, “God is dead.” I grew my hair long, tried to “find myself,” and wanted to fit in with the crowd. So I tried drugs.
At the age of fifteen, I joined the hippie culture and started experimenting with marijuana. Within a year, I was taking speed and LSD and selling drugs to support my expensive drug habit.
I also started drinking alcohol regularly. To me, nothing could be better than blowing a couple of joints in the park and drowning myself in a bottle of Jack Daniels or Seagrams.
But there was a down side to this lifestyle. It didn’t help me cope with the crises that cropped up when I was sixteen: my parents’ divorce and my dad’s increasing alcoholism.
After the divorce, my dad and I moved into an apartment, and from there things got worse. I became a full-blown alcoholic and got deeper into drugs. I tried to escape the pain of my parents’ split, but it never really went away.
My dad was no help. When he wasn’t drinking, he spent most of his time watching TV, leaving me to search for fulfillment and purpose in all the wrong places. I decided to move out and live with an older woman I’d been seeing awhile. But she couldn’t fulfill me either.
When I was eighteen, I enlisted in the Army, thinking the discipline would help me quit drugs and booze. By this time, I smoked anything I could get my lips around – pine needles, leaves from green pepper plants, PCP, angel dust, cocaine. I also did mescaline and shrooms.
But when I got to the Army base, I found more drugs there than I’d found on the streets. I started connecting with drug dealers. I got a rush out of living in the fast lane – partying, taking risks with the law. I even sold speed in Korea, known for handing down life sentences to those caught selling drugs.
Eventually, I got word that the Army authorities were watching me, and was warned to drop my drug connections. To make the break, I decided to get involved in martial arts. I devoted much time to studying and developing techniques to achieve a black belt. The disciplines I learned in tae kwon do helped my self-identity and gave me a sense of direction. When my instructor encouraged me to lay back on the partying, I learned how to control myself. I worked out four or five hours a day rather than drink myself to death.
In two years, I earned a black belt and went on to become a Korean middleweight champion. Things in my life had been looking up, but changed one night when I got in a fight in a bar. A guy started to cut me up with a straight razor, and I went berserk. I tried to fight three guys with my tae kwon do techniques, but ended up getting into more trouble. The Army decided to discharge me.
I was furious. So I lost my cool for awhile, I told myself. So what? But with my ups and downs with drugs in the past, the Army carried through with the discharge.
Coping with Anger
Back in the States, I drank and did drugs to cope with my anger. Over the next few years, I totaled five cars while driving drunk. One night when I bounced a guy out of the night club I worked in, he held a pistol to my head, but didn’t pull the trigger. I was amazed he didn’t kill me.
In my late twenties, I met Daneen at the night club and fell in love with her. We married after dating two years. We both enjoyed drinking and taking drugs and growing our own marijuana at the house. But when our daughter Dayla came along, Daneen started to change. She wanted to clean up her life and be a good mother. But I couldn’t give up drinking and drugs.
A New Ritual
Having reviewed my life in that Oklahoma jail cell, I didn’t like what I saw. Drugs and drinking have ruined me, I told myself. A bartender in a night club – what kind of job is that for a father? And Daneen – I can’t stand being away from her. I’ll do anything to get her back.
After I’d been out of jail awhile, a ritual began. Every Friday, an older couple walked to my house and knocked on my front door. I didn’t know them; I sure didn’t want to talk to them, so I hid in a back room until they went away.
But the couple didn’t give up. Finally, one day I opened the door when they knocked. They said they were from a nearby church. Would I consider coming?
I said “yes” just to get them off my back. When I showed up at church the following weekend, I wasn’t much impressed with what I saw – except for a guy up front playing guitar. He was about my age. Though I didn’t pay much attention to the service, I wanted to meet that guy. I play guitar too. Maybe we could “talk shop.”
The guy introduced himself as Ron, and invited himself over to my house to jam. I didn’t go back to the church, but did let Ron come over to play his guitar with me. Ron intrigued me; he had a peace about him, almost a glow. He seemed genuinely interested in me and in what was going on with Daneen.
In time, Ron became my friend, but he wasn’t like other “friends” in my past who wanted to get drugs from me. Something was different about Ron, and whatever it was, I wanted it.
A Need to Change
Though I couldn’t put my finger on what made Ron different, I did know I needed to change something in my life. I called Daneen in Texas and said I wanted her back, that I wanted to change. When she agreed to return, I had hope.
Ron kept coming over to the house with his guitar. During some of our jam sessions, he told me more about himself. He had done some drugs years ago, he said, but God had delivered him from them. After Ron heard more of my story, he said that what I needed in my life was God. But I wasn’t sure he was right.
During one of his visits, Ron left a Bible with me and encouraged me to read it. I read some, mainly in the Gospel of John. I read about judgment and realized that my drinking and taking drugs had bad consequences. I would stand before God one day and answer for the kind of lifestyle that had destroyed me.
I also read about something called eternal life, that a person’s soul will live forever with God, based on his decisions in this life. For the first time, I started thinking. There must be something more than living and dying.
I read that God loved us so much, He sent His own Son Jesus to die for the sins of the whole world. As I read the stories about Jesus’ death on the cross, I said to myself, Why would Jesus care about someone as messed up as I am?
During another visit, Ron reinforced what I’d read in the Bible. “God does love you,” he told me. “He’s protected you all these years. There’s a battle going on around you that you can’t see.”
Ron was right: I did feel as if a battle was going on, with my old life pulling me one way and the stuff in the Bible pulling me the other way. But I still hung on to my lifestyle.
More and more, however, I realized the times in my life when I should have been wasted by a drug dealer or by guys I tried to fight. I concluded that for me to have been delivered so many times, there must be a God.
I quit my job at the bar and decided to make a commitment to God. I came home one day and told Daneen about my decision. “I’m following God,” I said. “I think this is what we need in our marriage. Do you want to go with me?”
Daneen agreed, and we both started attending church every week. After one month, I confessed my sins to God and accepted Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for my sins. Daneen did, too!
I felt alive – as if I’d been dug up out of a grave and given new air in my lungs! I couldn’t stand the thought of booze and drugs. I wanted to act different because I was different. I felt the peace and contentment I had so long searched for. I finally saw the purpose for my life: telling others what Jesus has done for me.
Are you “dead”? Are you bound by something in your life? It can be attitudes or past hurts, the tendency to use people, a fascination with pornography, dabbling in the gay lifestyle, a lust for money and power. The good news is, it doesn’t matter what is killing you; God is greater! He can bring you back from the dead, if you accept His plan of salvation.