A man screaming.

From Darkness to Light!

I literally thought my life might end and out of my mouth I shouted the word “GD”. I shouted the word I had never dared speak or even think. I had broken my own vow to never use that word. There, true story. I used a hook so you would continue to read because this is lengthy. It is a story of God’s love and mercy and one man’s redemption, mine.

I was raised Catholic, one of eleven children. I was the oldest of five boys with four older sisters and two younger ones. God blessed us with phenomenal parents. Not perfect parents but loving and morally solid. My Dad often worked two jobs and my folks were experts at making do with their resources. They had to stretch things, but I never left the dinner table hungry. I never lacked decent clothing although it wasn’t designer. When I was about ten years old, I asked my Mother if we were rich. She answered, “not with money but we’re rich in love”. That reassured my ten-year-old mind instantly and I felt secure and loved. It’s a great reminder for me now to choose my words carefully because I never know when the tape recorder is running, especially with children.

I remember around the age of twelve or thirteen, I started to feel insecure in my identity. I knew I was loved but I didn’t like myself very much. I grew concerned I wasn’t smart enough or good looking enough and I wasn’t as confident as I would have liked. I kept waiting for someone to share the deep secret of life and no one ever did. Everyone else seemed so confident and happy. My inadequacies started to rule me and I began to allow my feelings to dictate my actions. I had many friends and loved playing sports with them and my brothers. The summer days were special and stretched on and on. I have fond childhood memories, however, I often felt alone in our full house.

I discovered alcohol when I was fifteen and used to find ways to go out with my friends and ‘party’. I remember thinking how great it was to lose my inhibitions when buzzed or drunk. I believed the ‘real me’ was being allowed to express himself even though that person was often crude, vulgar and anti-social. I didn’t like the hangovers but the alcohol allowed me to cover the pain of emotional inadequacy. I thought I became the extrovert I was meant to be but it was chemically induced and a perversion of the authentic. Alcohol helped me cover my perceived deficiencies and suddenly I knew how to dance. Not!

Spiritually, I had made very little connection with God or people through the ritual of the Catholic mass or the sacraments. I attended parochial school for eleven years. I convinced my folks to save their money and allow me to attend the public school for my senior year. In spite of the excellent education that was being provided, I had already made the decision to not attend college. I was an average student but did not like the discipline of studying. I was anxious to be on my own, earning a living and doing only what made me happy.

I believed God existed. I believed Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. I just didn’t understand why that had to happen. I was an altar boy in middle school. I even learned the required latin responses for assisting at the mass, aided by my father. I had considered going into the priesthood. I wanted to know God. I went so far as spending a week one summer after the eighth grade at a Seminary camp in Indiana with some of my classmates. We had classes in the morning and the afternoons were free to swim and recreate.

Some of my peers found an older person in the area to buy alcohol and drinking and gambling took place in the evening free time. This was obviously unbeknownst to the camp hierarchy. I hadn’t yet discovered alcohol, so I joined in on the gambling only. After that week, I wasn’t encouraged to pursue the priesthood and I was sure it was due to my academics. I left there believing my intellect was also now suspect and feeling even further from God.

I believed God would accept me only according to my performance. I thought there was a giant balance beam scale in heaven by which I would be judged upon my death. I believed my good works needed to outweigh my sin on judgement day. I thought God’s love for me was in direct proportion to my good works and my love for Him. The problem was, I had very few if any good works and little desire to perform them. I had no idea how to truly love Him because He seemed so holy and distant. Even though God seemed unreachable and unknowable, I still sensed He loved me.

I continued to drink and started experimenting with drugs around seventeen years of age. Alcohol remained my drug of choice. I was rebellious and my folks didn’t know how to handle me. One Sunday morning, three months after high school graduation, my Dad awakened me and gave me an ultimatum. Go to church on Sunday mornings, starting that day, or move out. In my hung over condition, I told him that church didn’t do anything for me and I would not attend. I packed and left within a few hours. I moved in with an older woman I knew on the same day. I continued on my rebellious path of destructive behavior. I caused my folks much emotional pain but I thank God for later healing my relationship with them.

After moving out, I continued drinking and doing drugs. I obtained and quit some good jobs and made a few geographical moves. The problem was, my issues went with me. I woke up and there I was with the same baggage. I went to Florida for a year and then moved back to Michigan. I worked for the State of Michigan for a few years and quit in 1976 at age twenty-two and moved to Texas. My girlfriend was two years younger than I and agreed to move with me.

By this time, I was a functioning alcoholic who lived for the weekends and the perpetual party. If someone didn’t drink or drug, I considered them square and had no time for them. After about three years, my girlfriend read the writing on the wall and moved back to Michigan. I was heartbroken but not enough to change and dove even further into the depths.

I experimented even more with different drugs, snorting and injecting on occasion but I would never try heroin. My folks stressed the horrors of heroin when I was a kid, and I took that to heart. We all create our own standard of acceptable behavior and there were two things I would never do. Heroin was one of them and taking the Lord’s name in vain by saying GD was the other. I was sure those two things would seal my future in hell if I were to die. Those two things were the line I would not cross. I tried almost every other drug out there and used every swear word known to man, sometimes rhyming and singing them, but I avoided those two things.

I worked to pay my rent and my bills but often my paycheck was gone by Monday or Tuesday. I looked forward to payday and the weekend so I could do it all over again. I had a need to numb the pain. Sexual promiscuity, temporary homelessness, poor diet and shame were my lifestyle. I could hold a job but I was often hung over and not exactly a model employee.

One of my brothers was also my roommate in Texas at the time. I must have done something stupid and offensive once because he called me an alcoholic. I recall looking at him and answering ”do you think I like being an alcoholic?” I knew I was addicted and powerless to quit. I also knew of no way to deal with my perceived inadequacies, my shame and my inner turmoil than by self medicating. There were times I couldn’t make eye contact with myself in the mirror because the shame was so great.

I started reaping the consequences of my lifestyle such as a few public intoxication charges and a DUI. I served seventeen days in the Austin, Texas city jail for failure to appear in court regarding the DUI. I had written my folks from the city jail and informed them I wouldn’t be visiting at Christmas that year like I had planned. They bought me a one-way plane ticket home and mailed it to me.

The letter was waiting for me when I was released from the jail a week before Christmas. I was thrilled they had opened their door to me and I took the flight. My parents were gracious enough to allow me back in the house when I told them I wanted to stay in Michigan. They, just like God, would not give up on me.

I was growing desperate to change but due to my powerlessness, I didn’t. I would avoid drinking for a few days at a time, but it was usually due to lack of funds or opportunity. I never tried to quit but I tried to manage my addiction. I was working but had no vehicle and I was not saving any money to move out or become self-sufficient. I spent all my time and resources feeding my habit. I felt more and more hopeless, helpless, ashamed and defeated. I now see that God was drawing me and speaking to me, at that time. The thought came to me more than once that I would die by the age of forty if I didn’t change my lifestyle. I knew that thought wasn’t my own. I was living at home and trying my best to control my drinking so I wouldn’t be evicted again.

I borrowed my Dad’s van one night about ten months after moving back. I went bar hopping with a friend and was stopped at two a.m. by the police who had been watching the bar parking lot. I failed the field sobriety tests and received my second DUI. My license was suspended and I was ordered by the court to attend substance abuse educational classes. My parents were growing short on patience but continued to let me stay in their home. My Dad was exasperated and told me again there had to be a change in my life. I was in great turmoil because I wanted freedom from the bondage of alcohol but I knew I was hopelessly ensnared. I continued to drink but now I had to walk or beg a ride, even to go to work.

The night of 12/22/1983 is a milestone in my life. I had been back in my parents’s house for almost a year. I walked six blocks to the local, small town tavern I used to frequent. I followed my usual routine of drinking beer and bourbon and playing pool. I walked back home at closing time and stood in my folk’s driveway looking up at the sky. It was very cold but absolutely clear and the stars in the sky were brilliant. I felt a great sadness but also a hopefulness arose within me as I realized I could ask God for help! I had never desired complete freedom until that moment.

For the first time in my life that I can remember, I prayed to God with full sincerity. I told Him I was powerless to quit drinking and I wanted Him to help me quit. That instant, I became completely sober and have never had the slightest desire to drink or drug again! I stood in that driveway and knew I was absolutely free of my addiction. I literally felt it leave. It has never been a battle since then. Believe me, there were and still are other battles but substance abuse has not been one of them. God met me where I was, not where I pretended to be. Incredible but true. That’s my God!

I went into the house and was surprised to find Dad standing inside by the back door. It was about two thirty in the morning, so I suspect he was watching me in the driveway. I hugged him and told him my drinking days were over. I thanked him for never giving up on me and he said “I would never give up on you” as he hugged me back. In retrospect, I’m sure he took a ‘wait and see’ attitude after that evening regarding my drinking. Here was his oldest son, smelling of bourbon and beer at two in the morning, saying he’s through drinking. I had never told him that I was through before because I had never truly tried to quit. Even though he’s deceased now, I have to say it, “Still free Dad!”.

I decided to take responsibility after that evening for my choices and determined not to drive during my license suspension. I started attending the state ordered substance abuse classes shortly after my deliverance. I was excited to learn that my instructor had also been an addict but had been free for twenty-five years. I knew that because of what God had done, the same could be true for me.

Life went on. I was now able to save money and decided to move closer to work so I could walk or ride a bike. I rented a room in a house in Charlotte, Michigan and made my way out of poverty step by step. Eventually, I got my license back, bought a car and found an apartment. I changed jobs a few times but it was always for the right reason. I was functioning in society, and I liked it. I was movin’ on up!

Around 1990, I was involved in a serious auto accident after being hired by the State of Michigan. I was driving a state car in Lansing and a visiting nurse who was distracted by looking at her directions, ran a red light. I was entering the intersection before I saw her and barely had time to react. I was able to turn the car just enough, so I didn’t take the full force as she t-boned the car on the passenger side.

I had always believed if I was facing death, I would call out to God and tell him I was sorry for my sins. What actually happened however was far different. I yelled that word, the one word I had always avoided. The word that I had never uttered. I can even now hear it ringing in my ears, the sound of my own voice, violating my own standard. When I thought I was possibly facing death, I did not cry out to God for mercy or in repentance.

I screamed out the most vile curse I could have uttered. GD! I was pushed across the intersection and came to rest against a power pole. My seat belt and the airbag did their job and I only had a few minor bruises, scrapes and cuts. I was okay physically but I had been shaken to my core by what I had screamed. I heard the sound of it in my mind over the next few years and couldn’t believe I had reacted that way.

I now understand God was showing me what the scripture states, “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks”. Whatever is hidden in your heart will come out under duress. God was tearing down my standard of right and wrong. I had lost confidence in my sudden exit strategy regarding God and death.

Fast forward to February of 1994. I was still employed by the State of Michigan and had married the woman God gave me, Margie. We had met at work, moved in together and married after a few years. Life was good but I was still uneasy when I thought about God. I feared death and the unknown. It was often a vague feeling as if I was under judgement. I had a sense that God was drawing me but I wouldn’t have used those words. I knew I had unfinished business with God but I didn’t want to change. I had no desire to become a ‘Jesus freak’. I had always mocked those who were so obviously different although I would never do it to their face.

I don’t know the exact date, but it was late February of 1994. I had an increasing sense that God was waiting for me to do something. I lay in bed with Margie sleeping next to me and for the second time in my life, I prayed to God in full sincerity, holding nothing back. My prayer was simple, “God, I’ve always been in control of my life. I’ve done my own thing as long as I can remember. I now ask you to be in control.”

I didn’t mention sin or the name of Jesus. That was it but that was everything. My life has never been the same since that prayer. A great peace and joy literally washed over me as I lay there. It was a peace I had never felt before, even in 1983 when I was set free from substance abuse. I knew at that moment, that I would be able to stand before God with no fear if I was to die. I lost my fear of death and my fear of impending judgement. I had no idea what had just happened to me except that I had an immediate, incredible peace and a certainty that I was now right with God.

The next morning, I didn’t tell my wife what happened because I wasn’t sure myself. I just knew I was different. We worked at the same state agency, that’s where we had met in 1987 when I eventually swept her off her feet. Stop laughing, I was serious. The facility we worked at was a state vehicle repair and service center. My wife was a financial analyst and my classification was as a laborer. I walked through the shop that morning and I was surprised that no one stopped me to talk. I was sure I had a glow or something and I don’t just mean my shiny head. Nothing, crickets.

God led me to buy a bible the next day and I started closing myself in the bedroom after work and reading the gospels. I knew God told me (in His way, not an audible voice) that my next most important decision was to know His word and live by it. I determined to do just that. I was on a mission to find out what had happened to me after I had surrendered through prayer. I struggled the first few times as I read the bible. I couldn’t remember what I had just read and that was not typical for me.

God impressed upon me that I needed to take authority over my mind and rebuke Satan who was stealing the word from me. I had no idea what was taking place in the spiritual realm but I obeyed God and rebuked the demons out loud in Jesus’ name. Suddenly, I could read whole chapters and remember and meditate without confusion. The very words of the gospels, especially the Gospel of John, seemed to come alive.

I began to read with a hunger to know God, discover what was required of me and to understand my new life. Due to my upbringing, I had head knowledge and believed Jesus had died for my sins and risen from the grave. That was not a problem. I just didn’t understand why Jesus had done that or why God would ask His Son to do that.

I had always thought my behavior would dictate my standing with God. Good works versus sinful actions. Do good, God’s pleased. Do wrong, He’s angry. I found out it’s not my behavior at all. It’s my surrender. I can’t earn anything from God including His love.

The night I prayed was a full and total surrender. In religious terms, I had counted the cost and surrendered my life to God. It’s called repentance. I waved the white flag and crowned a new ruler in my life, God. My good works were now motivated by my love for Him and my gratitude to Him. God is pleased when I obey but His love always remains a constant, not dictated by my actions.

I discovered Jesus chose to die a sacrificial death so I could be restored to relationship with the Father. Jesus alone could accomplish this because He alone is sinless. If Jesus had sinned, He would have needed a Savior of His own. Theology calls it ‘imputed righteousness.’ It’s a tradeoff. When I repented, my sin was removed, and I was credited with the righteousness of Christ. Simple yet profound.

Margie was unsure of my behavior as I studied God’s word and she was quizzical. I reassured her that my need for studying alone was temporary. I had a desire to understand what had happened to me. She eventually agreed to church shop with me. It didn’t take long before we started attending a bible believing church recommended to me by a believing coworker. Soon after that, Margie professed faith in Christ and came to the Lord. Thank you, God, for my wife and her obedience to you!

You’ve read this far, sweet. Here’s the takeaway. Faith means different things to different people. Faith in what? Faith in yourself and your intellect? A political party? A flag? A denomination? The list is endless but the only lasting faith is found in the God of the bible, the Triune God. What is the object and content of your faith? Is it a faith that can stand through the storms of life and the coming death and judgement you will face? True life and true love begin when you finally face God and surrender. He alone is worthy and loves you just the way you are. He also loves you so much He doesn’t leave you that way you! He is the one true God, your Creator.

I have no problem putting my personal life out there for all to read because I have one agenda. I want others to know this God and this Jesus who delivers, saves and sustains. If you haven’t already done so, I pray you too would wave the white flag of surrender. Repent and believe!

One Response

  1. Maricel B. Bolakinia 6/11/2023

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