I grew up really poor. We grew up in the projects. We were on government assistance most of the time. My dad was a pretty bad alcoholic. He stayed in prison pretty much most of my life. There were a few moments where he was a dad. It was enough that I looked for him to be a dad. There were moments where my mom wanted us to have a relationship with him. I felt like he genuinely wanted to. When we were around him there were caveats that he had to be sober. We were sitting outside. I was six or seven. I remember us walking outside and I genuinely thought we could get a ladder and climb up to the stars. I remember asking him; “Can we go get a ladder and go up there?” He just kind of laughed and we sat on the porch and ate cereal at two o’clock in the morning. That was the dad I remembered. She divorced him when I was five or six. That’s when he started doing the constant stream of; “he’s in jail”.
So when I was nine we lived in a really small town in South Georgia. I had won a fifties contest. I dressed up like a fifties person. I was ecstatic and they called me to the office to get my stuff to go home at like one o’clock. The day got better because I’m leaving school early. We get in the car. My mom had already picked up my other two brothers and we started going home. I remember walking into the living room and sitting down on the couch. I remember my mom saying; “Your dad is not here anymore. He died.”
Because we lived in a small town, that was big news. I didn’t find out that he had killed himself until days later. There was a certain amount of confusion that goes along with hearing that and you don’t process it really well. I just remember spending three days crying. I remember even people I went to school with saying; “Oh, your dad killed himself.” It was tragic and I didn’t understand. Like your nine years old you don’t understand that. It’s one thing if your dad goes off to war and dies. It’s honorable for some reason. But if he decides to cut out on his own you’re short-changed. You feel like; “Man, you couldn’t hang out a little longer? Couldn't you wait until I was nineteen? You couldn’t wait until I was twenty?”
I was probably sixteen or so when I started messing around with alcohol. I loved it. I dropped out of school in the ninth grade. I was just about to turn sixteen. I didn’t have a lot of pipe dreams about being a musician. I knew I could play music and I loved it. But I always knew that I would work a nine-to-five job and I will play music on the weekends like my grandfather did while I was growing up. At eighteen or nineteen years old, I was waking up at five a.m. having to go to the fridge and drink two or three beers to go back to sleep. So, I knew there was a problem. I knew I knew that I was a full-blown addict. I didn’t want to be there anymore. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be an addict. I didn’t want to be here. It felt like, every day I woke up and it hurt. My dad didn’t love me enough to stick around why would I stick around? Why would anybody really care about me and why would I care about me?
I think I was nineteen or twenty the first time I tried to commit suicide. It was one of those like cries for help and I woke up in the hospital. A week went by and I thought; “I don’t know how to live without the buffer of alcohol.
So it was actually on my twenty-first birthday when my pancreas stopped working. It just quit. They put me in the hospital. I was in excruciating pain. It was the most pain I have ever been in, in my life. They came in and told me the worst news I had ever heard and that was; “You’re not going to be able to drink anymore.” So, that lasted two weeks and I did it again. I went right back and within a month I was back in the hospital with pain medicine shooting in my arm and throwing up being just deathly sick. You look for answers anywhere and I was raised in the church. I was raised in that environment where God doesn’t love you unless you do the right thing. There was a lot of religion growing up. I didn’t feel like I knew God loved me. I didn’t think He liked me very much. I thought He looked down and I could see Him looking down with this judgment and going; “You’re just so messed up from what I wanted you to be. So, I finally woke up in a jail cell. I thought; “Man, I can’t get out of this. I can’t smile and nod my way out of this. I wanted to be completely alone. I wanted to be isolated and I wanted to die. That was my thought.
So, I’m sitting in a jail cell I remember about four or five months into it and my brain cleared. I thought; “I’ve really, really done it. I have gone one step farther than God’s grace will find me.” So, I kind of prayed for the first time. I felt like it hit the top of the jail cell. That was the first time I surrendered and said; “Okay, I’m either going to die or I’m going to find God.” I was hoping that I would get out of jail the next day and I didn’t. I thought; “God, I made this deal with you. I really want to get out of jail.” It took a few more months and I felt like there was this blockage there where I want to reach out and I’m not getting anywhere. A lot of that changed with my view of God being changed because the Bible says that we have a father in Heaven. I didn’t need another father. That wasn’t who I needed in my life. If my father was like God then He was going to leave. He was going to abandon me. I didn’t need another father that was going to jet out at some point. Sometimes when you trust God for once and He comes through, you go; “I need to do that again.”
When I started trusting in the God that my mom had kind of brought me to when I was younger when I started redefining that relationship is when I had some clarity. I was sent to a rehab in North Georgia. It was three hundred and thirty-three miles from my home. I plugged into Narcotics Anonymous. That was part of the rehab that we did a scientific side of things your brain goes through but also go to N.A. meetings and you join a fellowship of people that are like you. I got one year clean and that was my turning point in my mind was that I got clean for a year.
A friend of mine said; “Go to church with me. We have a Thursday night service.” This was seven and a half years ago. I gave him the same line that I had given myself. It was; “I know God loves me but I don’t think He likes me very much.” He just kind of laughed and said; “You know it doesn’t work that way.” I was like; “Okay, let’s try it. Let’s see what happens. The first night I was there, the sermon was “God’s love is not based on my performance.” That was the most liberating moment in my life when I realized that God loves me regardless. I had no idea what my next steps were. But I knew I was willing to take them when they came. There came a point when one of the guys said; “Hey, can you fill in for me one night and lead worship?” It was kind of like the little drummer boy. Like this is all I have got. I had somebody tell me; “You look like you are happy to be here.” I said; “I am happy to be anywhere.” I’m pretty good with waking up and saying; “I don’t mind being awake.” I feel like I have been plugged into this eternal power source that when there are hurricanes and there are tornados and there are horrible things going on on this planet, my power never goes out. I feel like we could be in the darkest parts of the world and it’s going to be okay. You know, we get just a little while here. We don’t have long.