-by Brandon Stephens
Who could ask for a better childhood? Not me! Growing up in a two parent household, I was loved and provided for in every way. Mom and Dad raised me with morals and values although we never went to church, read the Bible, or prayed together. I excelled in school and was very active in clubs, sports, and band. I had a lot of friends and got along with almost everyone.
For as long as I can remember, I worked hard to be liked, accepted, and "good enough." On the outside it looked like I had it all together but on the inside I was missing something. I became a chameleon of sorts… Always adapting and changing who I was to fit in with others. In high school I became very promiscuous and gained self-confidence and self-worth from being considered by my peers as a "lady's man."
Then I found drugs. My parents were very overprotective so I had to be sneaky and hide my usage. When I went away to college however, I went nuts on the freedom of being on my own and my partying skyrocketed until one day I realized that I had a problem, I sought counseling and got introduced to various 12 step fellowships.
In denial and full of excuses, I rationalized that I wasn't "that bad," and didn't really need to stop. I tried every way possible to control my addiction: only using after work, only using on weekends, only drinking, avoiding certain drugs...none of it worked! Eventually, I started taking painkillers and they brought me to my knees. When my son, Oliver, was 15 months old and Andrea and I had been married only a month, I checked into rehab.
A couple years before I met Andrea I had been dating a Christian girl who took me to church. Even though I didn't grow up going to church or reading the Bible, I knew a little bit about Jesus. My childhood best friend, Scott, had a portrait of Jesus on his wall (even though his family never went to church or talked about God). Figuring God was a cosmic Santa Claus of sorts, we took the Jesus picture off the wall, put it on Scott's bed, got down on our knees and prayed that Jesus would make Scott's mom say yes to letting us have a sleep over.
When my Christian girlfriend at the time took me to church I wasn't trying to hear anything about religion, Jesus, or the Bible. I went because she went. Looking around the room, I saw people with their hands in the air and smiles on their faces singing songs to God. One night, in a moment of desperation I said, "Jesus, if you're real, come into my life and help me. I can't do this on my own anymore."
I wish I could say a lightning bolt shot down from heaven and I miraculously got clean and sober that day. The truth is I used for about four or five more years. I didn't understand all that, "you're a sinner and Jesus died for your sins," talk.
Sitting in rehab in 2009, I began to get some clarity while attending a Bible study. The rehab people told me I was an addict whether I wanted to be or not. Self-centered in the extreme, I cared only about getting what I thought I needed by any means necessary.
The Bible study people told me that I was a sinner whether I wanted to be or not because of a choice Adam and Eve made in the Garden of Eden to distrust God and do things their own way. Addiction became synonymous with sin and things started to make sense for me.
My counselor said if I continued using drugs I was either going to end up in jail, another rehab if I was lucky, or dead. My childhood best friend, Scott, actually ended up overdosing and died from heroin a few years ago. The pastor in the Bible study said that the wages of sin is death but that Jesus came as God in the flesh to become sin and die the death I should have died on the cross. After a decade of mixing drugs and drinking and driving, I wondered why I was still alive.
My counselor said if I wanted to stay clean then I needed to change everything about myself: the people I hung out with, the places I went, and the things I did. I needed a new life. The Bible study pastor said that Jesus was raised from the dead and that when I believe in Him, I share in His resurrection to new life. He told me, "Anyone in Christ is a new creation. He makes all things new."
I truly started to feel like the old me was dead and that I was becoming something new. I started to believe that Jesus died the death I should've died in my active addiction and that I was raised with Him to new life. Quite surprised, I said to myself, "Holy crap...I'm a Christian!"
Fresh out of rehab, I began attending church with Oliver (Andrea wanted no parts of my newfound religious zeal as she wasn't quite sure my sobriety would stick). Over the past seven years, my relationship with Jesus which started out of desperation, has become very real.
Spending time reading the Bible has taught me that the feeling of, "something's missing," that I experienced my entire life was a result of my broken relationship with my Creator. I tried to fix myself and gain identity through sex, drugs, hip hop, but nothing worked. I was dead inside.
Sin causes separation and death. Through Jesus' death for my sins on the cross, my relationship with God has been restored. When I asked him into my heart, He gave me his spirit. I became alive inside! He now lives in me.
I did horrible things in active addiction and certainly don't deserve the life I have today. No amount of good grades, varsity letters, or college degrees could earn this life either. The Bible says, "By grace you were saved through faith in Jesus." That's my story!
Today, my true identity is found in Christ and can best be understood through my relationship with my kids. My children are my pride and joy! I've learned that the way I look at them is the way God sees me. There's nothing those kids could do to make me stop loving them and there's nothing I could do to make God stop loving me. Today, God is my Father and I'm his kid!
If I had gone to prison or died in active addiction, Oliver would have grown up without a father and my daughter, Alana, would never have been born. She's just one of the many blessings God has given me since I asked him into my heart. The reader of this blog would be done a great injustice if I didn't share that Jesus wants to do the same thing for you that he did for me.
The Bible says, "Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become the children of God." Another verse says, "For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."
I understand if you think I'm a crazy, Bible-thumping fool! I used to think the same thing about those who shared Jesus with me. I thought the Bible was a book of fairy tales and that Jesus was a genie who granted wishes.
Today He is Jehovah, my friend, my comforter, my protection, my strength, and my truth. He wants you to know him like that as well. He knows everything about you and loves you regardless of anything you've ever done wrong. The Bible says He knows the number of hairs on your head and knew you when He knit you in your mother's womb!
If you're still reading this piece and don't have a relationship with Jesus, I encourage you to ask Him to become real to you as well. Today, I live an abundant life of peace, joy, and purpose and it's all because of Him!