When I grew up, two television sets dominated our living room. I remember asking, "Why can't we have a family like the ones on TV?" They talked to each other. There was a bond between the members of the sitcom families absent in our home. I longed for the connection, relationship, and love depicted on the screen.
In high school, I searched for it in ignorance, and I became a spectacle of sorts. I talked about Satan to get attention and shock people. It worked. I had earned some respect and had a connection with the discontented, angry, and rebellious.
Driven by pleasure-seeking and a desire to escape the complex realities of life, I pursued sex and drugs. "Live fast and die young" became my ultimate conviction. I was sure I would not be alive past the age of twenty-five. Undergirding my belief was that several of my family members died early or violently.
Around my fifth birthday, my uncle was shot and killed in a bar fight. Some years later, another uncle overdosed on heroin. Following that, my cousin's husband shot and killed her before killing himself. A few years after that, two other cousins were violently murdered in a home robbery.
In 1993, at age nineteen, I moved to New Orleans alone. I played guitar and wanted to experience the life of a rock star. The city had a reputation for licentiousness and fabled parties. It seemed like a perfect fit. I worked as a dishwasher and made two friends, a voodoo priest, and a disbarred lawyer. I asked my priest friend to make me famous through ritual black magic.
One day the ex-lawyer asked if I had ever tried heroin. I said, "No, but I am willing." I gave him money, and we were to connect after Mardi Gras. Time passed, and I had not heard back, so I called him. His wife informed me he had died from a heroin overdose two days prior.
She asked if I knew anything about his drug addiction. I lied and said, "No." I remember going to his house and seeing his three-year-old son. He looked me in the eye and said, "My daddy is dead." I felt miserable and responsible.
While in New Orleans, I read a Bible a friend had given me. The wisdom within the Book of Proverbs convinced me that a god must exist. The words radiated insight that seemed to transcend human intelligence. I also learned that Jesus is the Son of God. I was baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church. We attended an Episcopalian church on Christmases and Easters, but I had never heard this before; even so, I did not pursue God. I continued on the same path, thinking life was pointless and depressing.
I moved back to Toledo, Ohio, following my time in Louisiana and worked in my father's fabrication shop. Things changed. I became somewhat responsible and saved money. I bought a house. I was able to purchase many of the material things I had desired. Regardless, I still felt empty and depressed. I spent most of my free time smoking pot, hanging out, and playing guitar. At that time, I befriended a peculiar musician. I didn't know anyone like him. He was happy, and he did not do drugs. It didn't make sense to me. "How could someone be satisfied or even tolerate life without drugs?" He called himself a Christian.
A few months after I bought my house, I met a girl who moved in with me. I thought this would end the search for the connection and relationship I longed to have. However, that is not what developed. We fought constantly. There was screaming, yelling, and lamps shattering against the walls. The situation was volatile and incredibly, life became more depressing. We hated each other. The day I decided to break the relationship, her doctor called: she was pregnant.
Upon hearing this, my attitude toward her changed. The thought of being a father seemed strangely exciting. I always wanted to be in a loving family. Maybe this would be the turning point? Perhaps the tension in our relationship might relax, and things would settle into normalcy. Our son was born in June of 1999. Though, again, things did not change as I had hoped. We fought more. There was more misery, and it all became more complicated.
I reached a point where I was convinced I had to do something drastic and immediate. I could not continue living this way, or perhaps at all. Death had overshadowed my entire life. My mind was filled with dark and violent thoughts. While mulling over the few options I thought were available, the phone rang.
It was my friend, the Christian. I told him that I was finished with this life. He said, "Are you willing to meet me at my church?" Having nothing to lose, I agreed. When I got there, he asked me for the details. I unpacked them all, starting from the beginning. He listened to me cry about my life for about three hours. After I drained out almost every thought and emotion I had over the past twenty-five years, he opened his Bible and read the following:
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Hearing the words, "Do not lean on your own understanding," struck me instantly. It was as if a light had been turned on in a room long abandoned. Within that instant, it seemed like a thousand thoughts came to mind. I understood for the first time that the pain, depression, and purposelessness I had experienced in life resulted from my trusting myself and believing I had things figured out. It became clear that I had nothing figured out. My thinking led to confusion and misery. I realized I had been wrong my whole life.
I cannot explain what happened other than this: The Holy Spirit used the Scripture my friend read to shatter my stone heart. I was supernaturally changed in an instant. The Lord gave me a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26) He gave me eyes to see and a renewed mind. Immediately, I set my hope on the Son of God, Whom I read about years earlier. From that moment, I believed in Jesus Christ as my Savior and the Redeemer of my life.
Becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is something I would have never expected. I did not know any other Christians other than my one friend. I knew I would lose my family and friends—they would all think me crazy, but I didn't care. I wanted only Jesus. I wanted the connection, relationship, love, and forgiveness He offered me.
I was converted by hearing His Word, which the Holy Spirit applied to my heart.