Crashing Down the Wrong Path
I got shot, for the second time, about a year before I started coming back to church. Doctors looked at my mom and told her to prepare to say goodbye; they did not think I would make it through the night.
I had been partying, fighting and drinking since high school. I grew up going to church, listening to my mom tell us Bible stories and make us memorize Bible verses. But, I enjoyed partying as a teenager. It was fun and it was what I wanted to do: drink, do drugs, meet girls, get in fights. When I was 19, I had a baby girl and I thought, well, maybe this will get me back on the straight and narrow. It didn’t. In fact, it got worse. Whatever I did, I wanted to be doing it with a beer in hand.
At the age of 24, I got shot for the first time while fighting. It wasn’t life-threatening, but it was sobering. I realized that whatever happened to me, even when I wasn’t with my daughter, could still affect her. I split custody of my daughter, so when I had her, I was good — I was dad. However, when she was with her mother, I turned the party mode back on. At this point, I got down to just drinking, but little by little I went back to the fighting, the drugs and the partying, too.
I couldn’t seem to stop going down this party road that had become my life, the only thing I knew. In 2012, I fell asleep at the wheel, crashed my car with friends in it and got a DUI that landed me in prison for eight months. I had a lot of time on my hands at that point, so I read my Bible and attended Bible studies. I thought to myself, this must be it: the end to my old life. This is God putting me here, away from my friends and family and all the temptations at home so that I can start a new life going down the right path.
I wish I could say this is when things got better, but I can’t. In June of 2014, I got shot for the second time, and this time it was almost the end. I had been drinking and got into another fight, but I asked the other guy if he just wanted to call it off and he said yes. As I stood up and walked away, he shot me from behind at close range. Right after I went down, he walked up to me, stood right over me, and shot me in the face. The bullet went through my neck, hit a major artery and went into my spinal cord. My brother heard the shots, called 911 and rushed over to me, holding his hand over the gushing wound in my neck until emergency help arrived.
I should have died that night, but God had other plans.
At the hospital, surgeons dropped like flies when they saw where the bullet went; no one wanted to perform surgery because it was too risky with the artery in jeopardy and paralysis a likely outcome. People from my mom’s church came and prayed and prayed and prayed. My mom refused to believe what the doctor said when he told her to prepare to say goodbye, that I would likely not make it through the night. Then a nurse, God’s answer to those prayers, came in and said there was a surgeon willing to take a look at my MRI. He said the artery was somehow miraculously intact, that there was still a chance of paralysis because the bullet had hit my spinal cord, but that I would not even need surgery at all! I did have a tracheostomy done to relieve the swelling in my throat, but God saved my artery, and thus my life, in a remarkable way.
For two weeks after the surgery, I lay in a medically induced coma. But even unconscious, I had dreams. I dreamt of my family crying — it was awful. When I finally woke up, my dad was there and I couldn’t talk so he got me a piece of paper. I wrote down, “Am I dead?”
He laughed. I was quite alive! In fact, in two months’ time, I was completely recovered and back at work full time. Doctors said the rate of my recovery was unexplainable.
Of course, again I want to say that when I got home, I cut out partying completely and made a 180-degree turn. And at first, I did manage to keep my old friends and my old habits at bay. But then they slowly crept back in, as they always did. I didn’t have anyone or anything else to come home to — not until I came to Sandals Church.
Finding a Real and Better Path
My sister invited me to church in the summer of 2015, and my girlfriend, Jessica, and I started going. She didn’t have a background in church or God, but she was interested and had actually been attending a few different churches. I had been hopping around at other churches, too, but I kept having thoughts like, “Who are you? What do you think you’re doing? You were just drunk last night; you can’t be in church right now. You’re just using this to try to make yourself feel better.” Thankfully, when I heard Pastor Matt speak about his own failures and mistakes, when I heard him open up about his struggles and about being real, it gave me hope.
In January, I heard about the Path Groups. I felt like I needed to join one, but I didn’t want to because they met on the weekend, when I usually went out and partied. I thought, man, if I start following God, I’m not going to have fun anymore. So I asked Jessica if she thought we should join one, she said yes and that was that. I figured, well, now I gotta go.
I am so glad we did. In Path Groups, I realized I’m not the only one who struggles; there are others who feel just like me. And, to my surprise, when we got invited to our Path leader’s home, we actually had a blast! My fear that life couldn’t be fun anymore if I followed God was completely shattered. I was overwhelmed with joy. Going down God’s path didn’t have to mean a life of boring days and lame weekends. We went from dreading the inconvenience of giving up a weekend night to not being able to wait until the weekend so we could meet up with our Path Group again.
The only sad part about Path Groups is that they have to come to a close, as they only last eight weeks. So, when ours neared the end, I was actually petrified because I didn’t want to have weekend nights free again. I was afraid of the temptation to return to my old ways. We started looking for another group, but none of them met at a time and place that worked with our schedules. That’s just when things got even more interesting.
The Path Home
We randomly decided to volunteer at a church event this year, and that’s when we met Jeff. We kept running into him, and the chain of events that followed led us to where we are now. Jessica and I had been feeling convicted that we were living like we were married but we weren’t, and we knew we needed to change that. One of the times we ran into Jeff at church we told him about our sudden plan to get married by the end of the week. He encouraged us to join one of the premarital counseling groups first. He suggested that after we go through the group, if we still want to get married, we should do it!
We joined the premarital group with Jeff and his wife, Denise, led. Our weekend night problem was solved, and we were once again in a group that was bringing us so much life. Prior to joining the group, Jeff led me to receive Christ and then on Easter weekend, he baptized me and I got to help as he baptized Jessica.
Before I chose to follow God, I looked to drugs, drinks and girls for satisfaction, but I was miserable because all they ever wanted was more from me. Now, I’m truly happy. I used to run from God because I thought I wasn’t good enough, but Sandals Church has taught me to run to Him. When you’re real with yourself and God and you tell others, you feel better because you’re not hiding anything anymore and no one is judging you. As Jeff would say, and Jessica repeats, “I don’t want to go back to life B.C. (Before Christ).”
It’s like Jessica and I were two different stories walking down the road, and we both found God in the middle. It was on that road that we found Sandals Church and the Path Groups, which helped us figure out what being a Christian looks like.
We go to multiple services now, furiously taking notes and learning what it looks like to follow God in a real way. We want to learn because we don’t ever want to go back; I wouldn’t go back for anything. I was so worried that choosing to walk down God’s path would mean life would cease to be fun, but instead I found out that it’s actually a better life with real happiness. Sometimes, when the service ends, we just stay in our seats because we don’t want to go. We feel safe here. This is home.