Have you ever had one of those days when it seems like everything you touch malfunctions? The copier jams as you’re trying to get a big project out. Your computer crashes just before you save that document you’ve been working on all morning. Maybe it’s just me (there is a standing joke in my family that I repel technology), but when the spinning wheel of sorrows shows up on my phone, I sometimes turn to that reset feature wishing I could use it for my day, not just my device.
As the calendar flips to 2019, a lot of folks may be wishing that life came with a reset button as they look back over the last year. Each approaching January used to bring overwhelming dread for me. While surrounded by friends celebrating the New Year and resolving to make all kinds of fresh starts, my mind would silently play out a miserable “year-in-review” of regrets and fears over unfulfilled promises, changes not made, opportunities lost, and words spoken without love. For a long time, I tried to meet the challenges of life — including shouldering the load of melancholy, anxiety, and remorse — without any meaningful relationship with Jesus. And the burden of it was horrible.
For many years, I used alcohol to try to ease that burden. It worked. Sort of. I could “cast my cares” on alcohol, so to speak, but alcohol did not care for me. Alcohol could numb me out temporarily to the troubles of the world, but it had not overcome them. For a while, alcohol might help me forget things I’d done or left undone but it couldn’t redeem them.
I didn’t know my solution wasn’t working until I was in real trouble, and that was when I woke up in a hospital room on July 7, 2003. A few days later, my parents would explain that I had been driving drunk, in a blackout, and crashed into another vehicle, killing two people.
In 2004, I began serving my sentence for DUI Manslaughter. Somewhere, sometime, someone must have prayed for me right out of Matthew 9:38, because the Lord of the harvest surely sent out workers into His harvest.
Early and often in my prison experience, I found myself in situations that I would never have chosen for myself with a willingness and openness that was, frankly, foreign to this stubborn know-it-all. Although I could not have been convinced of it at the time that I started my prison sentence, I can honestly look back now and view my experience (yes, even my prison experience) with gratitude.
In the worst of circumstances, I met Jesus, got to know Jesus, fell in love with Jesus, questioned everything about Jesus, then fell in love with Him again, and made the decision to follow Him. A hundred jokes have probably been written about Jesus being found in jail, but here is my truth: When you reach the end of yourself (whether it’s in a prison cell, a hospital room, or an airplane that’s rapidly descending for no reason), you reach a place where you know a Power outside yourself is carrying you. It is there that you understand there is power in prayer. And then you begin to know God.
I would give anything to undo the pain and consequences that my choices brought to others, yet it was in the depths of this very painful time that I felt God pouring His grace out on me in the most real and tangible ways. The event that remains for me as the touchstone of this time was meeting the family members of my crash victims.
One of my most vivid memories of that day is of my own hand reaching for the knob to open the door to the room in which they were waiting. I remember praying to a God that I didn’t really know, “Please let me be whatever they need to start healing. If they need a punching bag, or someone to yell at or spit on, Lord, let me be that for them. Let me just take it so they can heal.”
I was so full of fear and dread as I walked through that door, but what was waiting for me on the other side was compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. I don’t remember the exact words that were spoken that day, but I do remember the feeling of freedom that came with them. Generous, undeserved, beautiful, freely-given freedom through forgiveness – the last thing I had expected as I opened that door. And yet, as awesome as the gift of that forgiveness that my victims’ families gave me was, it is just a picture that pales next to the true freedom given to me through the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
I came into an intimate relationship with the Lord in the middle of the worst of time of my life, but He is still showing up every day with opportunities to choose whether I will allow my current circumstance to drive me from Him or draw me to Him.
One of the first things that I heard at Grace was “Our mission is to help people take their next steps towards Christ.” I love being part of a church that encourages everyone that, no matter the circumstances our lives, we can always step closer towards Christ.
If I really want to reset my life, I just need to ask myself, “How can I choose Jesus right now”? The answer is the action.