I was born in 1959 and raised a Catholic. The oldest of five children, I spent a lot of time watching out for my brothers and sister. Our family, like many of my generation, was somewhat dysfunctional. That means we had our share of problems. But, unlike may of the families of today, both my parents were there. Though they did get divorced, it wasn't until after we were old enough to deal with it much better than had they split earlier in our upbringing.
They didn't always do the right things (in our eyes), but then neither did we do the right things most of the time. We were hardly angels. The Lord, though, was not a big part of that upbringing. We went to church, but I was dissatisfied with the whole Catholic system early on. I used to think that if Jesus was real then it meant we were not worth His time because of the (negative actions) of the nuns and other teachers towards us.
I thought of God as being just someone people spoke about when they wanted you to do what they told you to do, but that otherwise He wasn't more than a word loosely used. Besides, I never understood why, if He was so real, everyone seemed to be fighting everyone else about whose version of Him was acceptable. The fighting between those who said they believed in Him only strengthened my disbelief.
Soon, the only reason I went to church was so my brother and I could sneak around the back and steal the paper money people had left for the news papers that were being sold on an honor system. I saw no other reason to go, and definitely didn't care for the strange language they spoke so often (Latin, later done away with). Not only did I not want to know Jesus, I saw no reason to search. In fact, Jesus was rarely spoken about. Often it was "God this" and "God that", but nothing concrete, as if God was only as real as the people who threw His Name around needed Him to be. I began to think of Him as a word used as a weapon, much like a belt used to "keep kids in line".
The memories I have of those early days were that God, if He was real, was someone you could go to directly. But, since I already had low self esteem and thought He'd never have anything to do with me if He was real, I never bothered. Oh sure, I said prayers at bedtime, more to make my mom see me pray than for any real reason. And sure, I did ask Him for things, like He was a Santa Cluase or something. But I never truly spoke to Him.
That was how I entered my teen years. Morality was something that had no meaning in my life. Truth was something one said when one had no other choice, or when one wanted something out of the deal. Jesus was just a word that I scarcely heard in those early years. At 11, I was sent to a Home. I was in there for a year.
I did hear more about this Jesus guy in there, but I didn't listen. I prayed more, but only because I wanted out. When I finally did come out, I was much better behaved, but not so much because of what the home had instilled in me, nor because I had heard about this Jesus guy a few more times than before I went in, but because I had learned how to hide the truth from people and how to show them what they wanted to see, even when on the inside I was more angry than I had ever been.
The end of the year I got out, the home I had been in opened a school. My parents asked me if I wanted to try it out. I really didn't want to, but said ok when I was reassured that if I didn't like the place I could leave. Not long after starting, I did want to leave but was told I wouldn't be able to. This only added to my anger. I did see some good in the arrangement though because of two main factors: first, the school was located more than 20 miles away by public transit which meant more time away from a home I no longer wanted to be in; and second, I was in the heart of the big city, a city that had no shortage of its supply of vices.
I enjoyed my new found contacts. I used to smoke pot in the boiler room of the school, or around the corner of the front door. I could drink and stay away from the house long enough for the effects to wear off before I got home. (I'm sure my parents knew, but I only say that in hindsight; I thought I was so slick at the time.) The drawback (again in hindsight) was that i was not at all street smart, and this would lead to all sorts of misdeeds, and sins so repulsive that I still shake at the very thought of them.
I didn't shoot anybody. I didn't stab anyone, or break arms or legs. No. My sins were mostly against myself. I didn't think of them as sins at the time. At worst, i thought of them as misfortunes. When things didn't go my way, I would curse God. At first, towards the end of my high school days, I told myself and others that there was no God. I said He was just a figment of people's hopeful imaginations; that if He was real, He'd show Himself. And "I" never saw Him. Oh, I was arrogant. Like I said, morality had long since ceased to be an issue with me. Sure, I knew the Commandments, a few ofthem, but they were only words. Those words meant nothing to me. It was just an old echo of that Catholic school trying to make me feel guilty for having some fun with and in life.
At the end of life, and I'd never given much thought to its length, I would cease to be, and I wanted to have as much fun during the time I had as I could wring out of life. Besides, I thought "ain't nothin gonna happen to me for a long time. If He IS real, He'll wait. I have plenty of time." I look back now and mourn the time I wasted NOT believing, and NOT being in His Grace, though I realize in hindsight (again the hindsight) that He was with me every step of the way. At the time, it seemed like just so much fun. Even the bad times were good to me then because "at least I'm living MY way, living my own life, and nobody and nothing can take that from me."
It pains me now to look back and see just how much the fool I was, not so much for myself but for today's children who receive even less of His Word than I did. Though I didn't accept them, or believe them, and though I rejected them outright claiming that "there is no God", I at least had something to reject. So many of today's kids don't even get that.
It saddens (and angers) me to see this because what it means is that yesterday's children are giving today's children only seven tenths of the Truth and expecting them to live (and demanding that they live) as if they had the whole Truth. It is a sad thing to see so many turn away from His truth, and His Free Gift of Salvation, but it is sickening to know that many are not even being given the whole truth from which to make choices. Satan messed with my life in such a way as to cause me to turn from The Lord through most of my life. But the deceiver is no longer content to turn people away. Now he is giving them nothing from which they can make informed decisions. He knows that if he allows people to hear God's Word that one day he stands a very good chance of losing them to The Lord, so he is keeping the Truth hidden which gives him greater authority in the lives of those who might otherwise hear the Truth and come to Faith. (Faith comes by hearing The Word of God.)
Anyway, back to me. I am saved by The Grace of God, who brought me out of the darkness and into The Light. I am happy in my knowledge of The Lord, knowing that He is with me and will never leave nor forsake me. He has given me a whole new way of looking at the day (flashback to Easy Rider, without the drug undertones). He has shown me delights I never knew I was missing, and has painted a smile on my heart that won't fade. Where once He was a two dimensional "thing", like a myth, He is now a 3D Truth! But, it was not always like that.
I left home when I was 17. I used to say I left because I couldn't handle them, but the truth is I didn't want to be handled by them. While The Lord was not a large part of my upbringing -- He wasn't hardly there at all -- still my parents did the best they knew how. Of course, as a know-it-all kid, I didn't think they knew the first thing about being parents. That concept became cemented in my mind several months after I left when my mother left and took the remaining kids. I hated my dad and I blamed him for hurting my mom. Perhaps, if I tried hard enough, I could list enough wrongs to justify that early impression of him. But the truth is, I didn't want to think of anything else. I didn't want to see him in a good light. That's why I never saw the good he did, choosing instead to focus on the bad. I also never looked at my own wrongs. But, I'm not airing out dirty family laundry to anyone. I did that once, making the biggest mistake of my life when I was still a teenager. I will not do that again. Sure, my dad had problems, but I and the other kids were on that list of problems. We didn't give him much of a chance.
Not long before I left, I met an older man who quickly became the father I thought was missing in my life. That was another one of my mistakes. I soon found myself into all sorts of strange lifestyles. In 1976, the year I left home, I was on a mission to "find myself", something I didn't accomplish until The Lord found me (but I'm getting ahead of myself). I had met a wonderful girl before I left home, through a roller skating rink my dad and I were members in. She and I were very close, until her parents talked her into seeing someone else (which I was later told was to see if things were real between her and I). When she left me, though it lasted only a week, I was angry and upset, and devastated. I figured she never really loved me and so when I met someone else during that time, I quickly grabbed on with both hands. (I guess you could say I was caught on the rebound.) That young lady soon became my closest friend and confidant, and my lover. The friendship fell apart, mostly because of my own problems, but the sex lived on for years. One day, in December of 1976, I was with the second young lady. We had just finished having sex when the first lady showed up. She had walked the more than twenty miles to my house, in the pouring rain. I saw her soaked and invited her in, never planning to "be with her". But satan had other plans. I told her to get out of her wet clothes and that I would dry them for her. Then, I went into the room where she was resting, introduced her to the second lady before the second lady had to go home, and should have known from the way they interacted that I was with the wrong person. The second lady commented about the first's glass eye and wanted to see proof, which the first gave. Then, in private after the second left, the first commented about how pretty the second looked. If I would have had my eyes open, I would have seen her heart and not her body. We had sex. She and I had never gone "all the way." But this time we did. It was her way of proving how much she loved me, and it was my way of taking advantage of a situation. Like I said, satan had other plans because, nine months later, they were both pregnant.
I was caught between not only two woman, but two children I had fathered. I tried then to do the right thing -- much too late -- and chose to remain with the second lady because, I figured, she had a much less stable family life, coming from a broken and abusive family (her step-father repeatedly raped her). The second had a much more stable family and I figured she could handle things better having real support. I knew one would have to suffer, that I could not marry both of them. My mother told me, even during the 30 hours of labor of the second lady's pregnancy, that i should leave her before it's too late, but the more my mom tried to talk me into leaving, the more resolute I became to stay. I just could leave someone who had no support. I had already been drinking regularly, but not much. After this, I began to drink much more, more often, and stronger booze. I also began to get much more heavily into drugs. I was looking for a way out, but was only digging a deeper and deeper whole. I mentioned this in such detail because I want young people to see firsthand what such promiscuous behavior can lead to. Sex was important to me, so much so that I had no compassion, no tenderness, no love. I was not even an empty shell of the person Jesus wanted me to be. I didn't even know Him at the time. And, the few times He was introduced to me through others words, all I saw was a two dimensional myth. I was so much alone, it hurt just to keep living. In fact, one day in the basement of that older friend's house, I tried to commit suicide. I hated myself. I became more and more abusive towards others. I would hit those I cared most about, either with my hands or with my words, and I sank deeper and deeper into drugs, booze, depression, anger and pain. I was dying inside and my world was becoming darker and darker every passing minute.
To feed my growing habits, and because of my growing inability to work an honost job, I began to go downtown to seek money. It wasn't long before I began selling myself as a male prostitute. Anything for money. What stealing I did was for cigarettes and food. I wasn't stable enough physically or mentally to rob for profit. Then, one day I was propositioned by someone. Every sense in my body told me otherwise, but I got in the cart. After a quick trip around two corners, the car quickly came to a stop and I found out why my "spider senses were tingling". He turned out to be a cop. I was arrested and booked for male prostitution. I had reached another very low point in my life. That "job" only lasted a few months, but it was enough to destroy any semblence of self worth I had left. After my son was born (the second lady), I sank even further into drugs and alcohol. (I was told by one of my corner boys that the first had gone to Virginia to have an abortion, a fact I was never able to verify.) I became more and more angry with the world, with myself, and with my girlfriend for making me choose (as if it was her fault). She was staying with her mother and would bring our son down for visits. One of those visits, she left our son with me and went home. If she would have noticed how drunk and stoned I was, she would never have left him. The older friend I was staying with, a homosexual, told me that if I didn't "keep the kid quiet" we would both find ourselves out in the streets. I was upset at that, not so much because he would toss out my son into the streets, but because my son could get me thrown out. My rage built the more he cried till I finally tried to shut him up. I won't go into details, but I will say that I almost killed him that night. I was arrested and sentenced to jail. In jail, people were so outraged at what I had done, many wanted to kill me. I never told them so, but I felt they would have been doing me a favor. I didn't want to live, but was too much a coward to do it myself. Besides, I was just too tired to even try.
When I finally got out, I spoke with my girlfriend. She had met someone when I was in jail and, while at a counceler's office, asked me what she should do. I thought about it briefly and replied, "whatever makes you happy makes me happy." I had no fight left. And I really did want to see her happy. She had been through an abusive family, then through an abusive relationship with me. She deserved to have some happiness. So, she left and got married to the other guy. I saw her a few more times after that, but one day decided that I could no longer stand being in that city. It had too many ugly memories for me, and I had to get away from the pain. Besides, I thought, she doesn't need to see me, and my son doesn't deserve to be anywhere near me. I promised myself that he would never again be hurt by me. I left soon after and went out to Missouri. While there, I got my first real intro to the Jesus I had come to think of as a myth. Still, though people tried, and prayed for me, I couldn't see beyond my blind ignorance. The concept of "myth" was ever so slowly fading, but I still didn't see Him as real. While in Missouri, I soon made some drug contacts and began getting back into the very thing I had tried to escape from. Before I left for Missouri, I had gone on a six month drinking binge that nearly killed me. After that, drinking became something I did only once in a while. But, smoking pot began to grow. I was soon up to a handful of pot every few days, along with some Angel Dust, Hash and Opium. I wanted it all. I even began doing speed on a regular basis. I had done speed before, but now it was becoming a huge habit. At times, I would get so pumped up on speed, I needed to take downers to slow me down. My life bcame a seesaw all over again, only worse. And through it all, I kept relying on my own powers to do anything. I met a girl out there and we had sex, but because the town in which we lived was very prejudiced I left her soon after. I was worried about people not liking me because i was dating a black lady. Being from Philadelphia, and being a hormonal male, I only saw her as a woman, but others didn't share my view.
I began a life of travel, which took me through every one of the lower forty-eight states, usually hitchhiking or walking, during the course of nearly 10 years. I was both trying to find myself, and run away from who I was. I still hated myself, and all the dumb and stupid things I had done. I went from town to town, sometimes being told to keep right on going through, and from job to job. I transported and used drugs often. My drinking had almost completely ended, but my drug use shot through the roof. I didn't want to deal with life, so I used drugs to escape it. During much of that time, i survived on tea from tea bags I always carried and what crackers I could scarf from restaurants along the way. Occasionally, someone would buy me lunch or dinner, but it was rare. A few times, a couple would come up to me in truckstops and offer me a few bucks and say "God Bless You!" I didn't care about the words they said, but for the moeny they offered. Since I was saved, I've looked back at those times and saw what i was unable to see at the time: Jesus standing right there next to me.
In 1986, I met someone at the Univercity Park campus of Penn State University on my way to see my brother who was living in Bellefonte. She wanted to know what it was like to travel around the country. I set my duffle bag down and we began to talk. She was apparently planning a cross-country bike ride/backpack adventure with her boyfriend. Soon, it got late and she invited me to dinner. After some hedging -- I had developed a weariness of offers over the years -- I accepted (besides, my stomach and I argued about it, and my stomach won). Then, after dinner, she said she would put me up in a motel for the night and in the meantime call her boyfriend back in Allentown to see about a place for me to stay back there. She had already told me she was "born-again", a term I was new to, and that he was also born-again. But, though I hesitated about the offer, for the place to stay for the night and the idea of living with someone who was "born-again", I really did want to get a decent night sleep, something I hadn't done in a very long time. I said ok. the next day, she bought me a bus ticket back to Allentown and said everything was set. I had nothing to worry about. I accepted the ticket, but had no intention of living with a total stranger once I got there. I figured I could always get a job (restaurants have high turn-over rates and are always looking for help). But, The Lord had other plans for me when I got there.