I grew up thinking that I was of Christian faith, that God was there in my times of need. Many of those needs seem to materialize in events such as weddings and funerals. I often reflected on situations that fell into the “close escape” category; a result not of accident but of someone looking out for me. I seldom spent time speaking to God until a fishing trip to British Columbia made me seek His help.

Upon retirement I took one of those trips I had longed for, a rainbow trout fresh-water lake high up in the mountains of British Columbia. Travelling by myself across country on the train was an adventure in itself but being in the Rocky Mountains at a fishing lodge had all the makings of wonderful memories, but not of the kind I was about to experience! In my lake shore cabin on the first night I knew I was experiencing a heart attack. I prayed for help, I didn’t want my life to end; alone and so far from home. After being in trouble for a couple of hours the pain started to subside, giving me time alone to give God thanks.

The following morning I was greeted to a day full of promise; warm sun, the isolated glacier-fed lake and the overpowering beauty of ice-capped mountains. The remainder of my vacation week was not about the fish I caught but that of inhaling the majestic beauty of the world surrounding me. The water, the mountains and the knowing that I was here to enjoy them was not “by accident”. The awareness that I could have easily missed out on all of this was a choice made not by me; God had another plan. The remaining vacation week and train ride home was one of giving thanks for this second chance.

God comforted me in the hospital as I was extremely downcast and fearful about my pending operation, re-emphasizing my second chance opportunity. I dedicated myself to Christ and for him to make that chance successful. Prior to the trauma of my quadruple bypass surgery, I came to the realization that I am powerless over my life and it is God who sustains me. That feeling of vulnerability was driven home when just before entering the doors of the operating room I asked the attendant if this is the last time that I would see my son Mike, who was accompanying me. (By God’s Grace it wasn’t)

So many things have been revealed by Him that makes me realize His plan at work is unbelievably powerful. I constantly feel the need to look for a rear-view mirror, enabling me to see the many great things that He is doing in my life. I now know that God had to get me alone at that mountain lake to turn me to a new and exciting life. The things that happened in the past have been cast aside for the blessings of peace within me.

Psalm 28:6,7

Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy.

The Lord is my strength and my shield;

My heart trusts in him, and he helps me.

My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.

If you checked my background some of the character references you would find to describe me would include roles of; human smuggler, cultivator, drug dealer and thief. I was involved is these types of activities since I was 14 years old, always getting off with a lesser sentence than I should have (God had a better plan for me).

After a number of charges and convictions, I came to accept Christ while I was serving time. As a new follower of Christ, I felt so spiritually strong that when I was released from prison I could convert and change a drug dealing woman. A house fire in 2008 was my wakeup call. In that fire I lost everything including my three cats. I was so angry that I lost my faith and drifted away from the church. I fell back into my old lifestyle and was sentenced to a three year jail term.

Following my release from jail on August 13 2011, I began my walk.

I spent the next year living in Prescott with my son and his mother, spending much of that time just getting oriented to life outside of jail. God continued to lead me and gave me the strength to shed my former life with his promise of a new beginning. With my Catholic background I felt I had a need to talk to a priest. In confessing my sins I felt a great release. God also put a social worker into my life, who was influential in my acceptance for housing in Brockville and forcing me to commit to my decision.

On Sept. 18, 2012, I began my new life in Brockville, where things really started to move for me. I started going to church and met Danny-boy who became my bookman; giving me books to read, books about guys who started the walk, who followed Jesus and how their lives were being changed. Then I met Ken at a community breakfast where I shared my story and heard about his desire to have a Christian based half-way house for ex-convicts. Ken asked me if I was interested in being mentored by him. Of course I was. He also introduced me to Kevin who became the third of my three wise men, there to help me in any way.

God used Danny-boy, one of my wise men, to help me rid myself of my bag of drug paraphernalia, releasing me from the bondage of the addiction which had held me captive for so long.  The feeling of being released was great, Ken and Kevin were pleased – but Satan wasn’t!

Satan attacked the right side of my body; it became numb with pain, pain that I hadn’t felt in a very long time. As I dragged my leg across the floor, in my anger I asked God why he was letting me hurt so bad. Just then my cat jumped up on the couch looking for a belly rub. I told him “no way, I’m in too much pain”. Then I remembered a book Danny-boy had given me to read; ”if you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat”. I told God that I was getting out of the boat and as soon as I bent over and touched my cat I was healed instantly. Right away I said “Thank-you God”. I did a little dance to make sure there was no pain, the pain was totally gone! I had to tell my three wise men what had happened, they were very happy for me.

My Dad had become very ill from everything I had put him and my mother through. I hadn’t seen my parents for a couple of years, until my son brought them for a Christmas visit. My nervousness anticipating their visit quickly evaporated. When I saw my Dad he was looking so good, his health had returned and Mama looked great as well. My Dad started to tell me how proud he was of me and how much I had changed in so little time since I have been in Brockville. God has not only blessed me but as a result, my parents as well.

I prayed to God for a Christian woman and he brought Becky into my life. Now we walk together, following Jesus.

If God can change my life, I know he can change yours.

James 4:7-10

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

I would like to share some of my journey with you, and let you know that wherever you are, you are not alone and not forgotten.  Think back to when you were a child; carefree, innocent and full of wonder.  I remember it well.  I had a good childhood, an only child who grew up in the country and went for walks in the woods.  I had good parents who loved me and spent time with me.  I was involved in baseball from a young age, played catch with my parents, and went on to become a decent pitcher who had potential.  My grandparents would take me to the lake in the summer; teach me how to fish, love me and help to make my upbringing a wonderful time in my life.

When I was thirteen years old, my world fell apart.  All I held dear and all I ever knew was shattered in an instance.  My mom and dad were getting divorced.  I was in the eighth grade at the time, the year of graduation.  I had to leave for another city, losing all of my friends I grew up with.  Confusion and anger moved into my heart.  One year later, I returned to my home town and went back to playing baseball.  I was possibly one of the top pitchers in the league, yet I had become a different person.  There was intensity and fury etched upon the features of my face.  I was becoming cold and rage was growing, the path to self-destruction awaited me.

In high school at about fifteen years of age, I began experimenting with marijuana.  It was not long before I embraced it, using whenever I could get my hands on it.  Cigarettes and alcohol were soon to follow, the next elements to be added to the formula of hatred and destruction.  Rage blossomed into an ever-present volcano lurking just beneath the surface of my outward appearance, waiting to erupt at opportune times.  I developed a habit of punching walls and other objects, inflicting damage upon myself.  The physical pain was an escape and a temporary release from the emotional turmoil that tormented me.  I walked away from baseball, casting off the passion I once had for the game.  Somehow, I managed to graduate from high school while hiding my brokenness from family and those who loved me.

The time came for college, I went out on my own and moved into the campus residence.  The downward spiral accelerated rapidly!  I began partying regularly, consuming very large amounts of alcohol, and got hooked on the night life.  I had become the prodigal son.  Within the first school year, I had squandered my entire savings on booze and loose living.  School savings that my mother and grandparents had set aside for me in good faith and love.  My father suffered a near-fatal heart attack that same year, adding fuel to the fire.  Ultimately, I spent two more years away from home living like this.  I dropped out of college to work whatever dead-end job I hadn’t yet quit, determined to scrape together enough money to feed my addictions.  I was becoming weak, wasted and closer to death.

One night, after some hard drinking at the club, I decided to attend a rave and try ecstasy for the first time.  I was well aware that mixing this drug with alcohol can be likened to playing a game of Russian Roulette.  At this point, I did not care anymore.  Self-destruction was nearing completion, I had given up on life and myself.  Some time afterward, the third and final time using this drug, I ended up unconscious for nearly five hours, sitting on a toilet in a bathroom stall at a rave.  I vividly remember the grip of terror that suddenly seized me when the drug hit and the floor became like greasy, melting wax beneath my feet.  I thought I had gone too far this time, and there was no coming back.  My vision blurred into a haze and my legs kept slipping out from under me as I fought to reach the restroom.  When I woke up in the morning still seated upon the toilet, it was 5:30am, my mind was still scrambled and there was vomit on my pants.  It took some time, but eventually I mustered up the strength to call a cab.  When I arrived back to the apartment, I immediately went to my bed and wept.  Fearing for my life; hopeless, broken and empty, I cried out for help.

Thankfully, I left Kingston and returned home to Brockville.  I was a mere shadow of who I once was; thin, weak and pale.  After a short time, I began questioning my dad about life and about God.  I remember the encounter I had with Jesus one night, before falling asleep on my dads’ couch in his tiny bachelor apartment.  I felt a love like I had never felt before.  I met with Jesus that night and I knew He was real.  Approximately one year later, I was able to rent my own apartment and purchased a Bible.  I was working off and on, still wrestling with my addiction to marijuana, yet I found myself seeking the Lord in my aloneness and in His Word.  Without realizing it, while continually reading the Word and getting to know who God is, I was falling in love.  The day did come when I opened my heart to Jesus and let Him in.  I will never forget it; where I was, the sun shining, the indescribable beauty of the moment when He entered me.  All I had to do was ask.

Whoever you are and wherever you are in life, you are not alone.  God has a plan for you, and His love for you is perfect.  I want you to know that I struggled for a few years with marijuana after receiving Christ.  It is a process and He is patient.  He loves you for who you are, not for what you do.  After all, you are His masterpiece.

Psalm 18:4-6

The cords of death entangled me;

the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.

The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.

From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.

I grew up in a home strongly focused on science.  My father was a university professor specializing in animal nutrition, my brother also had his PHD and was a professor for some time and now is a nuclear chemist.  Even I had exposure to the world of science as a microbiologist in a pharmaceutical firm for several years.

With all this concentration on science, even as kids, we absolutely did not believe anything we could not prove. It had to be observable, measurable and reproducible. Belief without proof was considered foolishness and as a result we would never believe anything on the basis of faith alone and frankly we had little respect for anyone who did.

That is not to say that we didn’t go to church.  We attended regularly but spent more time making fun of the sermon than learning from it.

When I was about 9 my father dared me to read the bible cover to cover. His idea of evangelism I guess.   He promised me a bible of my own with a rich black leather cover and my name inscribed on it in gold, if I would read the whole bible. I was young but I did know that having anything gold was a good thing so I read every word, from “in the beginning” to the last “Amen” of Revelation and got my special bible.  In fact I still have it.

One would think that reading the whole bible would bring me into a close relationship with God but that is not what happened.  It just made me a dangerous atheist. I could now use logic, science and now knowledge of scriptures to argue against Christianity.

As my brother and I got a little older we were invited to Christian youth groups in elementary school, high school and even university and we loved to go.  Before we went, we developed 5 questions to use to persuade the enthusiastic Christians in these groups to doubt their faith.  Using logic and our knowledge of scripture it was easy to prove to others that there is no God, that the stories about Christ were lies and that the bible was not the word of God but just a book.

Strangely we were seldom invited back.  In fact one pastor demanded that he be present at any Christian youth events that I attended so that the others would not be led astray.

This questioning nature continued on into my married life.  I constantly debated with my wife about her beliefs until in frustration she demanded that I read to entire bible before I was allowed to discuss scripture with her anymore.  I replied that I already had and she demanded I read it again.  I suppose it was any excuse to shut me up.

One weekend my wife and some friends from the church invited me to go on a long weekend retreat to a campground north of Peterborough.  They said there was, golf, waterskiing, go cart riding and great food so I was anxious to go.  When we got there I found out there was also 2 church services a day, workshops to attend and hymn singing every evening.  It was too late to run so I stayed and attended.

At one of the services a lay preacher, a lawyer from Toronto started his message with a strange pronouncement.  He said that anyone who doesn’t have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ would not understand his message but anyone who was a born again Christian would understand and be encouraged by it.

I was outraged.  Who did he think he was?  There was nothing he could understand that I couldn’t.  I was an educated man, I knew how to discover truth through experimentation I had a good grasp of logic and I knew scripture.  Of course I did not need Christ to understand anything.

So I leaned forward in my seat and concentrated hard as he started to speak.  Of course I would understand.  But I didn’t and that made me angry.  The more he talked, the more confused I got and the angrier I felt.  When I looked at my friends, they were smiling and nodding their heads in understanding and when one of them let loose with hearty “Amen “I was ready to rip someone’s head off.  I have never been so angry in my life.  I was almost out of control.

The service finished and my wife and friends joyfully invited me to join them in a hymn sing in one of the other buildings. I abruptly refused and stomped off to my room in the lodge.

When I got there I was still flaming mad.  I rummaged around the room looking for something to read to calm down.  Imagine this a Christian camp and no Playboys to read anywhere, just bibles everywhere I looked.  I read a little of the book of Matthew because that was how far I had gotten in satisfying Bonnie’s demand that I read the book again, but that didn’t help.

Suddenly a thought crossed my mind. What if they are right?  What if there is a God and a devil? What if there is a heaven and hell?  What if sin is important and I do need Christ to pay for the things I have done wrong?  What if in the final analysis they are right and I am wrong? I know all the arguments to prove there is no God, what if that is all they are just arguments not truth?

As a good scientist, I tested my new hypothesis.  So I actually got on my knees like a little child at bedtime and prayed.  I admitted those things I knew I had done wrong and asked God to show himself to me.  In my mind I remembered that famous painting of two hands, one of God reaching down to man and the other of man reaching up to God and just centimeters from touching. I imagined that was me and I reached higher and grabbed for the hand of a God I knew did not exist.

And I made contact.

There was an overpowering sense of a presence in the room with me, a wonderful sense of acceptance and love and blissful joy. All my anger was gone, never to return.  It is hard to explain exactly what I was experiencing but I knew without any doubt that it was God.

Think of it this way.  Remember when you were a little boy and your parents had sent you up to bed at the end of the day.  You climbed into bed and were almost asleep and mother and father peered in your door to see you sleeping.  You didn’t see them because your eyes were closed.  You didn’t hear them because they had been careful not to wake you, but you knew they were there, didn’t you? And you knew that they loved you and would do anything to keep you safe. Your mother was doing one of those “Ahhh isn’t he precious “and Dad was thinking “Hey, that’s my boy “Total acceptance. It was a wonderful warm feeling wasn’t it?

Well, my experience of the presence of God was like that.  I didn’t see Him, I didn’t actually hear anything but I knew He was there and that He loved me, in the extreme, that He accepted me just as I was, that He was proud of me and oh yes one thing more, that He treasured me.  As the scriptures say like a pearl of infinite value.  It was a wonderful feeling.

I don’t know how long I prayed but I will say this, my knees got very sore.  I asked God, what to do now and in my spirit He made two things very clear

1) I needed to join my friends and apologize for being a jerk

2) I needed to respond to an invitation to come forward at church and thereby confess that I had accepted Christ.

The first was easy and I did that right away.

The second should have been easy too.  I was at this strange camp surrounded by strangers just a few of my friends would see me respond.  My pride could handle that, no problem.  There were two more church services before we went home and at every service prior they had included an invitation at the end. No problem.

But there were no more invitations given and the first opportunity for me to obey was a week later in my home church where I knew virtually everyone in the congregation.  I went into the church and chose the best seat in the house, the very back row so I could lean my head on the back wall and no one would know if I was awake or asleep.  At the end of the service, sure enough there was an invitation to come forward.  There was a brief struggle between my pride and God’s spirit and God won.  I obeyed and I have never been the same since.

About 2 years later the pastor at our church left and the church board asked me to fill in where I could with the preaching.  Over the course of about a year, I addressed each one of those 5 questions my brother and I had used to argue against Christianity and answered each one from the scriptures for myself and my church.  Without Christ in my life I had no proof that God exists but with Christ in my life I could see and feel and hear all the proof of God I could ever need.

It is interesting to know that several years later a friend gave me a copy of a recording of the sermon that had upset me so much.  As I listened to it this time I understood every point and every concept and was much encouraged.

Sometime after I accepted Christ as my savior , I went to my pastor and told him about my experience of God’s presence at the point of my salvation and asked “ How can I experience that intimacy with God again?” and he told me I never would this side of heaven.  Needless to say I was disappointed.

Later I asked the same question of one of the elders of the church.  I told him about this marvelous experience, presence of God , sense of God’s love etc. and he told me it might occur again several times in my lifetime when the music is just right, the pastor’s sermon is inspiring and there is a real concentration on prayer.  Sounded better, but not what I was hoping for.

A year later I joined a bible study in Kingston with a group of men who were really excited about their faith.  After several months I got up enough nerve to ask my question again. I told about this marvelous experience, God’s presence , sense of God’s love etc and the leader of the group showed me how to experience God in that way again , not once in a lifetime, not once in a decade or even once a year but every time I bow my head in prayer.

That was the answer I was looking for!