Impact StoriesLife-changing stories of hope, healing and wholeness
For most of my life, I thought I knew God, but the God I knew was not the God I liked or wanted. The God I knew was cruel and judgmental. He was a God who kept track of all my mistakes and made me pay for each one of them in ways that brought me to my knees. It wasn’t until I gave up all control and realized that I couldn’t handle life on my own anymore, that I met a loving God who has been with me each day, ever since.
When I was 14, my beloved mom died of lung cancer. She was my rock and losing her was one of the worst things that ever happened to me. My four siblings and I found ourselves in different places after her death and I ended up living with my abusive father. I masked my pain by acting out, drinking, and doing drugs. My father kicked me out of the house on Christmas Eve, that same year, and I found myself all alone. I slept in hallways and did what I could to survive, but I ended up in the Department of Youth Services, committed until I was 18. I thought I knew God then and I was angry with him. God took the person who meant the most to me and tossed me out on the street. I resented God and I didn’t even like it when people would speak about him. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing good about God.
The night my son was born should have been one of the happiest times in my life. Instead, I found myself in the same hospital as my newborn son, after being shot. I thought I needed some coke before I went to visit my son and his mom, but the drug deal didn’t go down well and the dealer shot me three times. Somehow, the bullets missed all my major organs and I survived and was able to meet my son. I thanked the God I didn’t like very much for saving my life and vowed to change my ways, but that thinking only lasted for a minute. In reality, I felt as if I was invincible and that I had survived because of my own determination, not because of God’s grace. I didn’t hate God quite as much at that point, but I knew I didn’t need God to survive.
Then, five years later I was in a horrific car accident, where the car I was driving rolled eight times, and I broke my back in five places. Once again, I had been drinking and doing drugs and feeling invincible. Miraculously, I woke up! I wasn’t dead! God had given me another chance, although I was told it was unlikely I would ever walk again. An old friend came to see me the next day and every day for the next month. He, himself, was in a wheelchair and he introduced me to a loving God, while praying with me every day. He told me that the only reason I was alive was because God loved me and had given me another chance. I started to believe his words and my spirit was lifted. I told God that if he would let me walk again, I would try to live a better life and to serve Him and others. I was praying to a brand-new God. I had never known this caring God before.
I worked hard to walk again, but instead of relying only on my own determination, this time I recognized that the only way to heal was to lean on God. New and old friends supported me and I cried every day, realizing that God was showing me how much he loved me through all of the people who cared so much. I continued to work as hard as I could and after only a month in rehab, I was able to walk on my own and I helped my son cut his birthday cake!
From then on, I tried my best to be different. No more gangster life for me. I decided to follow God and change my life. My fiancé, Cara, introduced me to Joe, a member of the Boston ISP men’s team. Joe invited me to a “Spiritual Tune Up,” a weekly spiritual reflection group. I walked away from that meeting with a sense of hope and belonging that I had never felt before. I met men, like Joe and Jay, who were caring and non-judgmental. They listened to me as I unloaded my past hurts and they encouraged me to come back, so I did. I became a regular at those meetings.
Soon, Jay invited me to my first overnight retreat, and I was blown away. I bawled my eyes out as I listened to the stories of other guys who were there. One guy had a profound effect on me. He literally owned nothing at all, yet he praised God at every opportunity. His attitude humbled me, and I realized that although I had been angry at God throughout all the difficulties of my life, it was time for me to look at my past with new eyes and be grateful for all God had brought me through. I also realized that because of God’s grace and understanding, I was slowly building a relationship with him and I wanted to be all in. I couldn’t get enough of this God.
I started leading the weekly Spiritual Tune Ups and I became a witness for the team, telling my story to retreatants and encouraging them to allow God’s healing and hope to transform their lives. I became an ISP men’s team member and an Ambassador of Hope for the ministry. The other members of the Boston ISP team believed in me and encouraged me to continue changing my life. With their help and encouragement, I enrolled in a program to earn my GED. Soon, I will graduate, and I plan on attending community college, with the goal of becoming a youth counselor.
My image of God has changed so much over my lifetime. Instead of the angry, judgmental God I used to know, I have found a God of unconditional love and acceptance who wants a real relationship with me. This new God is the God that I have desired all along.