WARNING! The following story you are about to read might sound like something straight out of a fiction novel. There is a reason I’ve only told this story to a handful of people. But this is a real story of something that actually happened to me and it is the truth about why I became a Christian.
In Mixed Religion: Why I Hated God I share how I hated God when I got arrested and wanted nothing to do with Him. My attitude towards God at the time was basically, Here’s my special finger Mr. God. Sit on it and spin and leave me the f*@% alone. I know that’s pretty vulgar but only the honesty of my vulgar attitude at the time can accurately depict the fullness of my hatred and rage toward God then. Only a miracle could’ve changed me. Well this is the miracle that changed my life forever.
I was not changed at an alter call in a church service, by another witnessing Christian, by a pastor or preacher or any of your normal Christian stories of conversion. Mine was extraordinary in every way and yet ironically not out of the norm for God if you’ve ever read of conversion stories like Paul’s or Saint Augustine’s. Nor did I catch “jail house religion” and cling to God just because I was locked up. My faithfulness to Him in the four years I’ve been home should testify to that. Nor did I start reading the Bible just because I was bored and had nothing else to do. As a lot of people ask. I didn’t want anything to do with God remember? It was a series of events that changed my whole world.
My very first night in the County Jail I had a vision that shook me to the core. One second I was laying in my bunk and the next second I was standing in a pitch black hall. I was not asleep. It was not a dream. I was wide awake and the hallway was real. I could feel the hallway walls on either side of me and the floor underneath my feet.
The darkness in the hallway was so thick I could feel it closing in around me. As hardened as I had become I had always been afraid of the dark. I remember touching the palm of my hand to my nose and I still couldn’t see my hand. I had no clue what was happening and you can’t even begin to imagine the fear that settled in very quickly. Especially when the darkness started wrapping around me like vines and pulling me down to the floor.
Then a man appeared at the end of the hallway holding a torch and the darkness let me go. I got up off the floor but I was afraid to walk towards the man with the torch. He felt safe but his eyes had this fire in them that put the fear of God in me and it felt like he was looking straight through me to the very depths of my soul. The darkness was terrifying but there was something about this man that made it clear he was not somebody to trifle with.
But there was also something about him that made it clear he was safe and I could tell that this darkness was not. So I mustered up my courage and started walking towards him. He just stood there. As still as a statue with his eyes piercing my soul. No sooner than I had taken my third step he opened a door in the side of the hallway that flooded the hallway with this light that knocked me back down to the ground. Before I could get up he walked through the door and closed it behind him. The next thing I knew I was sitting up in my bunk screaming, “Wait!”
Ironically, the guy in the bunk next to me was kneeling over his bunk praying and had his Bible open on his bunk. He asked me if I was okay. I looked at his Bible and then at him and told him I was fine. Then I laid down and went to sleep. But that was not the end of my strange night. While I was asleep that night these Scriptures kept running through my head all night like a hamster on a wheel. I didn’t know that they were Scriptures at the time. I had never read the Bible before in my life. But there they were, spinning in my head:
“Come unto me, all who are and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” “My Father has been working until now, and I myself am working.” “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”
I slept hard that night. Much harder than a young scared kid who was facing 5 to life should have slept. And those words kept repeating their self like a soft whisper over and over and over again while I was asleep that night. They come from Matthew 11:28-30, John 5:17 and John 6:29. I didn’t know that at the time. But for some reason, when I woke up the next morning I had this strong feeling that they were in the Bible somewhere and had to mean something and I was determined to find out.
So I borrowed my neighbors Bible the next morning when I woke up – and every morning, afternoon and evening after that – determined to find out where those words were and what they meant. But I didn’t know anything about the Bible. I didn’t know what to look for or where to start. It was like trying to make sense of some foreign algorithm. I never had any luck finding them and couldn’t understand anything I read in there. It was all just a bunch of gibberish to me and I was getting very frustrated.
One afternoon I was sitting on my bunk with my neighbors Bible looking for them and someone whispered in my ear, “Matthew.” But there was nobody even close to me. Everyone was in the dayroom area and I was in the bunk area all by myself. I thought I was losing my mind. But out of curiosity I turned to the table of contents in the front of the Bible and saw that there was somebody named Matthew in the New Testament. So I turned to the gospel of Matthew expecting to read something about some guy named Matthew since the book was named after him. When I made it through the entire first chapter without seeing anything about anyone named Matthew I got frustrated and slammed the book shut thinking to myself, I’m never going to understand this stupid thing.
But I didn’t give up. I know now that it was the Holy Spirit inside of me which propelled me to keep opening that book every day. But at the time I could not explain why I was so obsessed with finding those words I had heard in my sleep that night. I went on like that for two weeks with no results. Then I got a visit from my dad and step-mom.
It was a very emotional visit. My dad wakes up one day, his oldest son is facing 5 to life in prison and he’s trying to figure out where he went wrong. We were all crying that day. I came out of visitation with tears and snot covering my face. The sheriff’s deputy that was working visitation that day just so happened to be a minister too. He gave me some Kleenex and told me to clean myself up.
Then he asked me if I believed in God. I told him yes. Then he asked me if I’ve ever read the Bible. I told I had tried to but I didn’t understand it. He said good and I remember thinking, What do you mean good? I just told you I don’t understand the stupid thing. Then he told me to read the gospel of John in the New Testament and said it was the best book in the Bible. Im not sure why I listened to him. He had kind of pissed me off when he said, “Good,” after I told him I didnt understand the stupid book.
Maybe it was the kindness he showed me by not letting me go back to my dorm looking like a snovelling baby which might have got me beat up. Maybe it was out of desperation hoping that maybe I’d find those words I was looking for in this gospel of John he mentioned. Whatever the reason, when I got back to my dorm I borrowed my neighbors Bible, found the gospel of John in the New Testament and when I started reading the words just came alive. I actually understood what I was reading and I couldn’t put it down.
I read the entire gospel of John that night and it all made sense to me. When I got to the part about them torturing and crucifying Jesus I cried with His disciples. When I got to the part where He rose from the grave I rejoiced with His disciples. I felt like I was in the story and I fell in love with the word of God and with this Jesus guy that night.
I didn’t fully grasp the whole Jesus dying for my sins thing that night. Nor did I fully understand just exactly who Jesus is in that one brief reading. But there was one thing I did get as I lay there reading in the dark crying quietly so no one would hear me and wiping the tears from my face. This Jesus guy, whoever He was, was really important and because of Him I had a reason to live.
You see, when I got arrested I had accepted myself as the dark and heartless man I had become. I had made peace with the fact that I was nothing more than a drug addict and criminal. I had come to believe that I would never be nothing more than that and that prison was where my path ended. And I was ok with that.
But I learned that night that I had bought a lie. That I didn’t have to be that man anymore. That because of this Jesus guy, whoever He was, my life, my journey, didn’t have to end in prison. Yes, I was going to prison. There was no way around that. But prison wasn’t going to be the end for me. It was only the beginning. I knew that much when I closed that Bible that night and I fell asleep with a peace that surpasses all understanding.