One life saved from a hell called "drugs"
Did you ever meet someone, a little kid, or a teenager, who you knew was destined for a life of trouble?
I met this kid once who was only nine years old but drunk from drinking Seagram’s 7 whiskey he and his cousins stole from their grandfather’s stash. I saw him another time stoned from smoking weed when he was only ten. Two years later he was dropping acid and snorting Angel Dust or PCP. His life just kept spiraling out of control with each passing year. By the time he was sixteen, he was facing significant jail time. Two county cops came to his high-school and arrested him and another guy for stealing a bunch of checks and papering the town with forged signatures. Fortunately for him, his grandfather and the sheriff had been running buddies in the past and, since he was still a minor, was able to slide out of that with nothing more than a proverbial slap on the wrist.
Yeah, that kid was me. I shake my head as I write these words because looking back, I know now that it was just by the grace of God that I did not end up in an early grave.
I admit that the jail part scared me a little bit, but I was having too much fun to see or even care that I was on a down-hill path to self-destruction with no end in sight.
Country boy meets big city.
Afraid I was going to end up dead or in prison, my mother suggested that I move to Houston where a relative of ours lived. Houston! Are you kidding me right now! I was elated! After growing up in the backwoods of Tennessee, the prospects of drugs, alcohol, parties, girls, and the big-city life was too great a temptation to pass up, so, in 1981, when I was seventeen, I stood on the shoulder of I-40 west in Cookeville, Tennessee with a suitcase in one hand and a guitar case in the other, hitch-hiking to Texas. I caught a ride with a trucker who was hauling furniture and he took me all the way to Pasadena, just outside of Houston.
It would be a fairy-tale to say I found shelter under the wings of my cousin, landed a great job, got my life together, and put the past behind me. The truth is, I lied about my age and did indeed land a great job as an installer with a telecommunications company, but, with my newly found freedom and money, that slippery, down-hill path turned into a multi-lane hi-way.
Later that summer, I met a girl who, at the time, was the prettiest girl who had ever been interested in me. We hit it off and, within a couple of weeks, I allowed her to talk me into using the needle. Isn’t it crazy how powerful love, lust, or looks can be? I let her talk me into it because I didn’t want to lose her, but before long, I wanted the needle more than I wanted her, and she had the good sense to walk away from me.
Not one single good thing that I can ever remember came from using the needle. I could say the feeling and the high it gave me was sensational and I went back to it every single time for that reason alone. But the truth is, the reason I kept using was that my body adapted to the drug’s presence within me and I could function (or so I thought) so much better with it than without it.
I could write a book about the bad things that happened while using the needle, and maybe one day I will, but for now, I don’t want to give the needle or the homemade crank we were cooking in our ovens that much credit. But, to give the title of this article credence, I must tell you about the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I’d been using the needle for about 3 years when I came out of a club at closing time one morning and asked a friend if she wanted to shoot up with me. We finished off what crank I had and went our separate ways.
The homemade crank was doing its job in my system. I was driving the company’s 1984 Toyota pickup truck West on I-10 from Houston to Katy when I became fixated or “stuck” on the freeway. My speed-soaked brain did not register the two-and-a-half-ton gravel truck I was approaching at 60 mph until I ran my pint-sized pickup underneath its rear end.
After limping the truck over to the shoulder before it completely stalled out, I climbed through the driver’s side window and took a few steps back. I sobered up expeditiously when it dawned on me what I was looking at. The right front end of that tiny truck was completely crammed into the cab. I suppose I slammed into the right rear tires of the gravel truck because there was enough room untouched on the left side so that my legs were tossed to that direction and not harmed.
I did a quick pat-down of myself, looked at the truck, checked myself again, looked at the truck again, then checked myself again. I was dumbfounded that I did not have a single scratch on my body. Unfortunately, I did not have the presence of mind to take pictures of the vehicle once I got it back to the house, but those who did see the truck, or the pictures which the insurance company took of the vehicle, were simply amazed that I wasn’t dead or, at the very least, seriously injured.
No one was more cognizant of that fact than I was. Believing I should have died in that crash made me think long and hard as to why I was spared. I also began to think about where I would be if I had died in that accident, and I was certain that I’d been given a second chance.
I was not raised in a Christian home by any stretch of the imagination. I did not have any preconceived ideas about God or Jesus Christ other than what my prepubescent mind concocted on its own when I looked at the pictures in our family Bible.
It was about 5 a.m. when I finally got the truck towed to my driveway. There was no point compounding my immediate problem and stress level by calling my boss that early on a Sunday morning to tell him I just totaled the company truck. I needed to unwind and get straight before I made that call.
Sleep was not on the list of things to do so I turned on the television and stared at a church program while contemplating my predicament. Slowly, I began to tune in to what was being said on the television. The pastor was going from person to person in the congregation with a microphone. Each story was different but similar.
Lady: “Our house and everything in it burned to the ground. Had it not been for the outpouring of love and concern from our church family, I’m not sure how we would have made it through that crisis.”
Man: “When we lost our child, our world ended. The counsel, love, and attention we received from our pastor and the overwhelming support of our church family are what brought us through that intensely, tragic period of our lives.”
As I listened to each story, it dawned on me that this was not like the typical television church services I’d seen in the past where they begged for money or promised miracles in exchange for your monthly pledge. These people were talking about tragedies in their life and how this community of friends helped them get through them. I remember saying out loud as I watched in fascination, “This is real. This is what I want. I want to belong to a community of people who care that deeply about each other.”
At the end of the program, the address rolled across the screen for mail-in prayer requests. I quickly found a pen and paper and scribbled down the address. I was fascinated by what I just saw and heard. I wasn’t stressing over the truck I just totaled. I wasn’t freaking out over the fact that I would probably lose my job. All I could think about was that church service. I was tired of the drugs, the alcohol, the lackluster relationships (if you could even call them relationships), the complete lack of living I was experiencing as every dime I made went toward my share of the rent and bills and drugs and alcohol. And now, after this brush with death and a new consciousness of eternity looming over me, I began to write.
I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but it went something like this:
Dear whatever church name,
I just finished watching your service on television about these people in the congregation sharing their real-life tragedies and, I have to tell you, I was very touched by the amount of care and concern everyone seemed to have for each other. I don’t know any other way to say this, and I really don’t know how to go about it, but I would like to have what you have. I guess if that means I need to become a Christian, then that’s what I want, but how do I do that?”
One of my roommates was going to Houston that day, so I asked her if she could drop the letter in the mail for me. I never received a response from that church and I never asked my roommate if she mailed the letter, but I believe with all my heart that God read what I wrote from within the depths of my soul that morning because three days later He answered my letter in a way no television program ever could.
The day my life changed forever
I spent the next day talking to insurance adjusters, filling out paperwork, and explaining to my boss and his boss why I was even driving the company truck at 3 a.m. How I kept my job is still a mystery. Tuesday, I was able to get back to work and had a normal day; normal meaning, I shot up some crank that night. The next day, Wednesday, April 18th, 1984 is a date that will be etched in my mind and on my heart forever.
When I arrived at work, my boss informed me that a man was transferring from within the company to our department and he wanted me to train him. Everyone knew David Lofty because he was the real McCoy when it came to his Christianity. He had a stellar reputation as a man of faith at work. He was also from Tennessee and so that was kind of a breath of fresh air. We at least had that in common.
After filling our work orders and loading our van, I told David to drive and I rode shotgun. Out of respect, I asked David if he minded if I smoked. He said he did not mind, but he thought I meant a cigarette. He told me later that when I lit up a joint instead of a cigarette, he began to silently pray and ask God to give him wisdom and discernment about how to talk to me about Jesus. I don’t know what God told him but, with a slap on the steering wheel, and a decibel below a shout, he exclaimed, “Well, glory! We sure had a good time in church on Sunday!”
His outburst surprised me so much I nearly swallowed the joint I was smoking! That was all he said. We sat there in silence for a moment and that phrase just hung there. I couldn’t leave it hanging there, so I asked him, “Well, what kind of church do you go to?”
“Baptist”, he said.
“What does a Baptist believe?”
David replied, “We believe a man has to be saved in order to go to heaven when he dies.”
I never heard that before, so, I pried a little further.
“What does ‘saved’ mean?”
I will never forget what I’m about to tell you right now. What happened next, I remember like it was yesterday even though it was more than 36 years ago.
When I asked David what does ‘saved’ mean, his eyes brimmed over with tears and he looked at me and said, “James, being saved is when a man looks up to God with a heartbroken over his own sin and cries out, ‘God, I know I’m a sinner. I know I don’t deserve to go to heaven. But your Word says you loved me enough to send your Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for my sins. I believe that, and God, the best I know how I’m asking you to forgive me of my sins and I’m asking Jesus to be my Savior. Will you please come into my heart and save me?”
I thought about that for all of five seconds and then I responded, “I need that, David. I want that.”
Not religion, but Jesus
David did not pull the van over that morning and lead me in a “sinner’s prayer”. In retrospect, I know now that the moment I said, “I want that” and, “I need that”, God saved me. That morning, while still in the truck, driving around loop 610 in Houston, TX, I placed my faith in Jesus Christ and was saved!
David did tell me that I needed to come to church that night, walk the aisle during the “invitation” and be saved. Well, I did that too. I walked the aisle of the Bayshore Baptist Church of Channelview, TX on April 18th, 1984, and prayed to God, asking Him to forgive me of my many sins and save me. That prayer solidified in my heart what I had already done earlier in the day. It was not the prayer that saved me, but my faith in Christ.
I went back to that church the following Sunday morning. It was Easter and I was baptized.
The days that followed were amazing and challenging. Amazing because God completely and absolutely removed from me the desire to do drugs of any kind as well as the desire to drink alcohol. I’m not knocking AA and NA. I’m just saying that God did for me in a matter of seconds what those institutions might have taken months or years to achieve. I was addiction-free! No more was I in bondage to weed, pills, cocaine, crank, crack, alcohol, and meaningless relationships! For the first time since I was nine years old, I was free!
They were challenging days as well because I was still living with my roommates who did not have the same experience with God that I had. Friday rolled around and when the partying began, I felt like a fish out of water. When they popped beer tabs and broke out the hard drinks, I drank a Coke. I let the bong pass me by and came up with some excuse to leave before they started cooking crank.
Not better, but different
I realized right then that I could not stay there. I was a new man. I was different now. I wasn’t better than they were, just different. I tried over the course of the next couple of weeks to remain friendly to my friends. I never actually pulled away from them, but when they realized I had changed, they pulled away from me. Do I regret it? Not one single day for over 36 years have I ever regretted making the decision to be saved. My only regrets are that I was not saved earlier in life and that I’m not a better Christian today.
I have been in full-time ministry since 1993 and have had the privilege of helping hundreds of others who were addicted find their way to freedom through faith in Jesus Christ. I do not push my faith on anyone. No one pushed their faith on me. When I was ready for a change, and when my circumstances placed me in a position where I was willing to listen, God brought the messenger to me. My desire is to be that messenger for those who are ready to hear.
This is the Bible verse that describes what God did for me and what I know He can do for you too when you’re ready.
I waited patiently for the LORD, and he inclined unto me and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. ~ Psalm 40:1-2