I have suspended my natural disbelief over the last few years. Anything is possible, but to be perfectly honest, I still have trouble with the idea of God speaking directly to me. God, however, doesn’t have that problem.
I was strung out for the last time on the steps of a church at 39th and Main in Kansas City, Missouri, on the verge of throwing myself down a flight of stairs or banging my head into a wall to make it appear that I had been mugged. I didn’t think anyone knew where I was or what had happened and I thought I could salvage the situation by fabricating a lie. I couldn’t. Maybe an angel held me back. Who knows? Then my parents arrived to pick me up.
I’d hit rock bottom. The particular rock was crack. I was home for the summer from Los Angeles. I’d dropped out of school and spent every penny on hard-core narcotics and strippers. The cash ran out and I was coming down with a heart as black as a dying sun ready to explode and destroy everything within 500 million miles. My brain was addicted to so many spiritual and physical things, I couldn’t tell which way was up. But my parents, who still loved me, picked me up. My mother wailed and cried in the car. It was terrifing and as sick as I was, I knew that I never wanted to hear that howl again. I’ve been sober nearly five years now—beginning on the day I heard my mother’s pain.
For months, my mother had been bending my arm to go to Jacob’s Well, a local church. Behind the worship band and the pastor is a large wooden panel that’s ornately carved with the Lord’s Prayer. Each week, I would try to tune out the service by reading the entire prayer. I never made it. Right after “Our Father, who art in heaven,” I would start in on God, f’ing this and f’ing that. I was letting the old man in the sky know I was pissed. “Damn straight you’re in heaven—I haven’t seen much of you or it down here.” I had recently lost a couple of friends in their early 20s, one in a tragic accident, the other to suicide. I was mad at God for not doing anything so I turned to chemicals to help me feel and forget.
Forgive my use of “Christianese,” but my “prayer life” up to my “come to Jesus moment” would have made a great script for a Tarantino film. I had “a heart of stone.” “Nothing but pills and ashes under my skin,” as Adam Duritz puts it.
Then my parents picked me up and the unearthly sound of my mother’s anguish forced me to confront the pain I was causing others. Recovery began with a desire to spare her, or anyone else, that kind of pain. No more crack, and strangely no more porn, women or booze from that day on. I was “repenting,” but there was no “sinner’s prayer,” no kind-hearted leader who had me kneel. One day I was f’ing pissed as hell at God in a deadly spiral. The next day, I was still f’ing pissed as hell at God but had changed my ways. My “conversion” has not been textbook. No “Celebrate Recovery” or other programs, no giddy feelings, I’ve stayed sober through plain old-fashioned grit. I think.
I’ve heard the stories of God talking to ordinary people like me. Jack, one of my recovering buddies, says God spoke to him in an internal audible voice. When he heard, “That is enough!” Jack got up from the bar, walked to the curb and was sober when he stepped onto the street and has stayed sober for 30 years. I have to ask myself, was my mother’s howl God’s voice talking to me? I began to unconsciously obey God. I started going to different churches three days a week, so I could meet some “good girls.” At Jacob’s Well, you still find strippers, though, who love Jesus or are just beginning the journey to find Him. At Jacob’s Well is where I met my wife. I was sober and beginning to like God a little better by the time we got married.
My story is far from over, but I’ve discovered that salvation is a process, not necessarily pre-ordained actions and words. I want to share this story because my salvation has taken a long time. It started when my parents picked me up. Stephen King’s “Gunslinger” series speaks to one aspect of God as a turtle named Maturin who is described like this:
See the TURTLE of enormous girth!
On his shell he holds the earth,
His thought is slow but always kind;
He holds us all within his mind.
On his back the truth is carried,
And there are love and duty married.
He loves the earth and loves the sea,
And even loves a child like me.
No matter what you have done or where you’ve been, where you are, or where you are planning on going, God has you, my friend. God will pick you up.