By: Raymond Mowla
The story I would like to share with you today will no doubt be the longest one I have written. That's because this is the story of my own life. I hope to capture the thirty year journey
(as of 2015) that I travelled to find the truth I now can clearly and honestly profess is in Jesus Christ alone. I also hope to extend guidance through some of the harder learned lessons
that accompanied this revelation. There's so many things that I wanted to include in this testimony, but for the sake of clarity, although I've come to see how the Lord's hand was surely
upon my life ever since my youth, I will try to keep mainly on the points of my life where God's hand was most evident. Of this I am confident, that it will surely serve for your progress
and joy in the faith. May God's richest blessing abound to you.
If I may begin by painting you a picture of my formative years, I remember from a really young age being taught that Allah was God. There was no real explanation that I can recall
accompanying this belief, just the natural trust that comes from believing that your own parents were not going to intentionally misdirect you. Even now, I realized that truly, they only extended to me what they too were taught and believe to be true. I'm certain that as we all ponder at some point in our lifetime, they too had once searched but inevitably got distracted by the worries and cares of this world as many are prone to do. My father has always been hard working and very much concerned with his business, and my mother had the duty of cooking and cleaning up after three children armed with a short temper and a limited education in child care. Having stopped questioning this belief themselves, they just followed along with the traditions of our ancestors. To actually walk by faith, that was not something that was ever evident in my upbringing. We were always taught that hard work was the only way to accomplish anything. In the past two years, it is only through understanding the true depth of the experiences I've endured throughout my life and supernatural revelations by the Holy Spirit of God that I have come to understand that the truth concerning God is not something that one can simply deduce by any intellectual exercise. Instead, it must be revealed by the Spirit; The Spirit of Truth.
Even though in many ways, I too may struggle to remember this point and how I myself only came to know Jesus as Lord by His grace, it has had a very profound effect on the way I approach ministry towards others and the sharing of my faith. This testimony is not meant to convert anyone to Christianity. I don't believe that mere words without the Spirit working in the heart could accomplish such a thing. This is simply a story of the journey that I travelled through life that brought me to the place where I was ready and willing to receive the truth, regardless of what it might be.
Although my family's practice of Islam was hardly what I would've equated with being 'devout,' I found myself particularly interested in God at an early age. I wanted to learn more about Him and I had many questions concerning our human existence growing up. I don't recall my parents being able to answer any of those big questions sufficiently, like 'Why are we here?' or 'What is the purpose of life?' according to our Muslim heritage. I hardly think that my parents thought about questions like these anymore. Noticing that if I wanted to learn about God, I would have to search Him out myself, and having had Islam ingrained in my very identity since a child, I figured that if I wanted to get to know God, no doubt I must try to get to know the god of Islam ' Allah.
I recall beginning to take an interest in learning the Surah's first. I had a book from which I learned to recite them in Arabic but which also had the English translations so I could understand what I was saying. Through repetition, I would soon come to know them all and it became a regular exercise of mine to recite them. I would recite them before my mother to show her my progress. I think at the time I was the only one in my family who was able to do so which I felt was a great accomplishment as a Muslim. My father took me to the mosque from time to time as a child and we visited various different ones. I found the whole thing to be very boring growing up. I never felt any real connection with God through these almost ritualistic forms of worship. During prayer, I would often bow down in worship and then find that to be an ideal time to take a nap never to return to my feet. I think that was in part because I attended the mosque really early in the morning or late at night time since my father worked during the day and was very much involved in his business affairs.
The reason I believe my family was Muslim was because of my grandfather on my mother's side and his father's teachings. My grandfather was an Islamic teacher of sorts in my parent's
hometown of Guyana in South America. It was his intention to marry his daughter to a Muslim man, something however that my father was not. My father grew up in a Hindu family and although he was familiar with a lot of their practices, I don't believe he had a very thorough understanding of what he believed about it all. Over the years I would remember how many of his practices carried forward in our home life that either overlapped one another or went against the things we were taught as Muslims. He believed in omens and such practices as contacting the dead. It was very obvious that his beliefs would change from situation to situation. Previous to marrying my mother, he had many 'experiences' with the spiritual realm that he often spoke about. He had converted to Islam solely to marry my mom. Over the years, maybe it was my own biases that led me to expect something different from self proclaiming adherents of any religion who truly believed that they would be accountable to God one day, but simply by observing the things that took place in my home on many different levels, it wasn't long before I concluded that no one truly believed in the gods they professed.
IT SEEMED THE MORE I LEARNED ABOUT MYSELF THE MORE CONVICTED I FELT IN FALLING SHORT OF GOD'S STANDARDS
As a young Muslim, I remember being taught of this balancing act of good deeds verses bad deeds and how I was required to keep a positive balance in order to be and stay right with Allah. It was my childlike honesty that led me to pray incessantly having been truthful enough with myself to admit that in every other moment, in some form or the other, I was sinning. Whether it was merely in thought, by my wandering eyes, by carelessly chosen words, or simply through my feelings towards others, I realized at a very young age that I was one thing for certain ' a sinner. I was very much interested with words and found myself reading the dictionary for definitions often. This certainly did not help my cause to learn the meaning of such words as covetous at gluttony at such a young age; especially considering the desires of a child. It seemed the more I learned about myself the more convicted I felt in falling short of God's standards.
I remember feeling absolutely hopeless many times from trying to be a good and pure person while having this keen sense of truthfulness towards my inner self and the things going on inside of my mind even while at the Mosque. No one else seemed to care as much about the things that they said or did as I did so this added a lot of confusion to my life by believing that maybe it was only my depraved thoughts that were as fickle and morbid as they were. As I began to face verbal and physical abuse at home, I would have these feelings of resentment towards God for placing me in this sort of family always thinking that it was utterly impossible for someone to endure this sort of punishment regularly ' punishment that I deemed highly unfair ' and still expecting me to remain pure in thought towards my parent's and others. It never occurred to me back then that in my resentment towards God, I had already made an assumption about Him that was beyond what I was taught about Him. That was the understanding that He is ultimately in control of every detail of my life.
It was not long before I felt like it was absolutely impossible to please the god of Islam even in my most sincere efforts to. This turmoil raged inside of me for many years although I was far too young to clearly enunciate exactly what I felt to others. By the time school had started, I was labeled as a troubled child, having been found participating in a variety of rebellious or outright defiant acts towards my peers as well as authority figures.
I remember one occasion ' a school counselor who really did seemed to care about my well being came to my home to interview my parents to see if there was maybe some home-related
reason that I was acting out in these ways at school. I still remember vividly how my mom pulled me aside before their visit to make sure and warn me that if I had told them anything about what went on at home, they would certainly take me to live with 'another family'. I remember her yelling at me 'is that what you want?' Of course that's not what I wanted. I wanted to be with my own family. I just didn't know how to still have them in my life and endure all the frustrations I was feeling inside about myself and life because of their words and actions behind closed doors while also having no real understanding about the purpose of my existence.
Things were not always as horrible as it may sound. There were definitely numerous great times that I can recall growing up as well; but when it was bad, it definitely was memorably bad
enough for a young child to grow up in. It wasn't long before I figured that if I couldn't please God, or at least the god of Islam ' Allah, then I might as well aim at being the best of the worst instead. After all, that seemed to come far more naturally to me anyway. Whereas I had to really struggle to be good, rebellion just seemed to flow out unrestrained. And indeed as you read on, it will become very apparent that was the direction of my life from thereon out until the day I met Jesus.
In my own estimations, I was never a stupid child but I just never aimed very high in school. I remember becoming frustrated on numerous occasions about what the necessity of History,
Geography and especially French had to do with anything in life. If in all their knowledge, no one could answer the question of our existence, then everything else seemed utterly meaningless. Having attended public schools all of my life we never discussed things like God in the classroom or even a theist centered view of creation. At the same time, I never for a moment agreed with having evolved from a monkey. That was absolutely absurd to even consider. I couldn't understand why anyone would believe that. There was so much intricate beauty that even as a child I was able to take notice of in this world. Truly the kingdom of God is for such as these. There was something deep down inside of me that simply knew that there had to be a Creator behind it all.
By grade three, I persuaded my mom to buy a t-shirt that soon became my favorite. It had the label 'Master of Disaster' across the front of it. It sounds comical looking back, but at the time it was something I felt very proud of. I knew I could never be labeled as the best, so why not take up reigns as the worst. At least it gave me a sense of accomplishment in some aspect of my life. Twisted in my thinking; surely depraved at my core, this way of seeing the world laid the first of many key bricks of a very perverse foundation for my thinking towards most things going forward in life. I also found myself with a natural inclination to compete with others. It wasn't long before I was contending with other social outcasts to be the worst among the worst. I suppose I also figured that if I wasn't the absolute worst, there was no point in being bad at all. I aimed at the lowest. I was a bully; a thief; a mischievous terror; and soon, a criminal.
My home life was the perfect environment to cultivate this destructive mindset. My mother was not readily educated in handling a troubled child. She struggled in many ways to manage her own passions. She herself was often battling with physical abuse from time to time from my father as well as voices of fears that became more evident to me as I got older and learned more about these things. Only later in my life did I also come to understand how my father's domineering and controlling ways were the result of his abusive upbringing. My mother was actually his second wife.
Much like myself, my older brother had also chosen a path of rebellion himself that my parents were already contending with when I came along. In their best estimations, I was simply following in his steps. My sister was the youngest and like most, she was favored and therefore sheltered from a lot of what me and my brother faced. As she got older and began to get a better grasp of all that was going on around her, it was not long before she sought her own escape from all of the family confusions by ambition and success ' the very path my dad had once travelled tofind freedom from his family and the abuse he faced growing up.
Over the years, I've come to see how very different but also how similar all of our struggles were. We all searched for some sort of peace from our circumstances. Some in an obviously negative way, and some in a not so apparently negative way. I also came to see just how common this was for most families.
My parents, having quickly given up on loving admonitions to deal with the rebellion of my older brother, had already fixed themselves in weapons of choice by the time of mine. Every
household object became a weapon. From slippers to rhinestone belts that could whip across your back and tear your skin; to pot spoons, threats to burn our hands over the preheated red hot stove and skipping ropes from our grade three jump rope for heart program. The list goes considerably on. I recall even a coffee mug to the face from across the kitchen from my father on one occasion. Being caught making any sort of mistake in my home became something that we were all terribly fearful of. This strict upbringing also added to the mishandling of our freedom anytime we would get away from under my parent's overbearing rule. Unlike my mother, although it took a long time for my dad to become aggravated enough to take over and actually discipline us, when he did, he rarely used weapons like my mom, but was usually sure to have a few drinks in him first. My brother faced far more severe beatings from my dad growing up than I ever did. Maybe he expected more from his firstborn; maybe.
There was often a very complicated inner battle groaning within me between believing that I deserved a lot of what I had received growing up because of all that I knew I had done to deserve punishment, and a longing to be loved although I constantly felt unworthy of that kind of sympathy. This confusion soon became the source of many mixed up feelings towards myself and my accomplishments that I carried around for many of the latter years of my life. Feeling unworthy became something that validated my reasoning why I would never strive for success at anything. Although there were many things that I did that seemed to impress those around me, I rarely found any satisfaction in accomplishments myself, but when I did it was not long before they too grew out of hand too and became a source of ostentatious pride. It was as if I always managed to find a way to fall no matter what direction I travelled.
AS I SAT AT THAT WINDOW, I REMEMBER CALLING OUT TO GOD, WHOEVER HE WAS
I remember coming to a place in my life at the tender age of ten or so when I sat at my bedroom window looking out at the sky and thinking to myself about how much more of this life I really wanted to endure. I always thought suicide was stupid for many reasons, and I even think I understood why people did it too. Although I didn't think to resort to such drastic measures, I didn't have a desire for a prolonged life either. As I sat at that window, I remembered calling out to God, whoever He was. I wasn't even sure what His name was anymore, but there was something in me that made me believe that He still existed. I told Him that this design of life was absolutely absurd in less polite words than these.
I viewed life in a very cynical way. It seemed to me as if everyone was doing the same thing as everyone else. People would have kids, their kids would grow up, go to school, get jobs, get cars, have families of their own, and then it would simply start all over again. To some degree or the other it might be a van instead of a car, or three kids instead of one, but all in all, it was pretty much all the same to me. If this was all life was about, I didn't really desire to go through the whole cycle of it all myself. After all, how could I in good conscience bring children into such a wretched cycle of life only to end up feeling like I did, or even worst, to end up being among those who I now believed were lying to themselves that they didn't feel the same way I did. That's what I felt like most people were really doing. Cushioning their inner heart cries with ambition, success, and a never ending desire for more, I felt that if you ripped away these variables from everyone that at the root of their existence you'd see someone a lot like me with the same questions and the same lack of meaning for it all.
I decided that there was no use to bother praying again unless I got a definite answer. I don't recall having a prayer life throughout my teenage years and my early twenties. I thought that if God wasn't answering my prayers and nothing could truly be known about Him, then why even bother praying? Why would I pray to a god that doesn't answer? But in this last attempt to reach Him, I found myself asking God for two specific things that I clearly recall.
I remember first telling Him that it was impossible for all the people of the world who claimed to believe in Him but were going in different directions to truly be reaching Him. Especially with such contrasting beliefs which sharply opposed one another. Believing in One God was something that I also learned at an early age and wholly agreed with. I didn't think that if God was as powerful as we all professed that there needed to be two or three. I told Him that with all these so called 'different ways' that it was impossible for me to find the right way. I asked Him to personally reveal to me which was truly right if He really desired me to follow Him. I remember telling Him that it would be His fault if I never found Him if He didn't make any attempt to reach me. I also remember telling Him that He would also have to reveal Himself in such a way so as to not leave any doubt at all. I mean like, more than someone coming to my house with a Bible or Quran or something of that sort which I could easily argue as coincidence having become such a back and forth septic by this time. I think it's amazing how honest we are with God as children.
I didn't understand why back then, but for some reason I was very firm in my belief that the truth about God had to be so objective that it would literally prove why all the other ways were false. I mean, if it was truly true, it had to be able to do just that. Oh how I wish that someone had taught me about apologetics in those earlier years. But under the circumstances, instead of finding the truth I so eagerly sought, I might have become well trained and well versed in defending a lie instead. So I thank God and trust that there is indeed an appropriate time for everything in life to be revealed.
My second request of Him was regarding hell. Surely I had heard the stories growing up, and even the threats from my parents of going to this place. I needed to know if He was a loving God if there could really even be such a place. I asked Him if this 'pit of snakes and fire' that my mom had frequently threatened me with was real, I wanted to know but I also was careful enough even at so young an age to be sure to specify 'But don't let me find out by going there God!'
Throughout the rest of my testimony, I might not find many points to do so, so I'd like to take advantage of pointing out what a smart child I must've been to have the wisdom to include that specific stipulation. Islam had definitely imbedded the fear of God in me over the years. I see now that truly it was the love of God that I was searching to find.
I would've hardly imagined that it was the Lord God who had put these very desires and questions in me. Now He was simply leading me down the paths I needed to travel in order to reveal the answers. It was a path that would answer far more than I ever expected to learn about this awesome God that I now wholly serve. In my own estimations of what I had been taught about God, I simply didn't realize that the way He would do that was far different than my expectations of how He should do that.
By the time I was in high school, I was already labeled as a troublemaker with a slew of suspensions under my belt and a diverse criminal record with any thing from mischief to theft and
assault. There were very few places that I could go where people didn't already know who I was because of the path paved out by my older cousins and brother. I was simply following suit down the same paths as well. I learned about alcohol at an early age, and soon after, marijuana. Between the two I learnt that I could shut off a lot of the questions my conscience was constantly plaguing me to answer. It also helped to forget the way I felt about life and the person I was becoming more and more with every passing day. It didn't take long before these escapes became a regular practice.
By sixteen years old, I had landed myself in a provincial jail charged with auto theft. It was here that I got my hands on a complete English copy of the Quran for the first time. I was very eager to read it from beginning to end. To know if all that I had believed about Allah was really true. In the few weeks that I was in the provincial jail, I took the time to read and finish it from cover to cover. I do not recall finding any comfort or encouragement in it. I just remembered the repetitious nature of reading the same phrases about Allah again and again throughout the Quran. I did feel some encouragement from having read it entirely through for once though. As a Muslim, it was a great accomplishment through tradition to have read it entirely. We are told that the more times we read it, the more 'enlightened' we become.
I was very well aware of the effects of repeating something continuously to someone until they gave in, so reading it once was certainly enough for me. Plus I was bothered about a lot of the strange things that I read in it.
After being released and seeing how far I had fallen having landed myself in jail, but feeling like I had completed some sort of spiritual push ups through my accomplishment of completing the Quran, I truly wanted to give a try to living a reformed life and I felt like I had maybe gained some favor once again with Allah. I remember many times in my life of coming to the point where I wanted to turn around but never feeling quite adequate enough to maintain on that path. It was never too long before I would give in to some temptation and fall right into sin again and with it the condemnation of all my previous failures to pull me back down. And as the years carried on, it was like I was learning new ways of falling into sin. Now I had experienced for the first time how awful it felt to be in jail and I didn't want to go back. I was ashamed in many ways and knew that it was time to grow up. More than anyone around me, my own assessment of my life was very realistic. I constantly felt the failure of my actions. Indeed I was all too aware.
PORN WAS SOMETHING I HAD ONLY HEARD ABOUT BUT WAS NEVER REALLY INTERESTED IN UNTIL NOW
I began working with my father in his auto mechanic shop. Here I grew in my love for working with my hands. That was something I enjoyed. It was also here that I found temptations back to some of those bad habits. My father and uncle would end most days with a few drinks at local bars. My uncle was a pushover and it was not long before I was able to convince him to buy me a few beers while I was out with them. I also was responsible for cleaning up and organizing my dad's shop where I would soon stumble over his porn collection. Porn was something I had only heard about but was never really interested in until now. I had been in a few short relationships by this time, but I always considered myself of more of a romantic at heart. Seducing women for sex alone was never something that I thought any man should be proud of. This find had seriously catapulted me from all my previous notions of sexuality, intimacy, and relationships.
Slowly over many years, these images began to change me and my perception of women. The thing that stuck out to me in these magazines was not so much that the men would do all sorts of things I had never even fathomed to these women, but more so that there were actually women out there who were willing to have these things done to them. It really shook up my once innocent almost naive view of the family life and movie styled monogamous relationships between one man and one woman that I held throughout my youth. I would've never imagined the devastating effect that pornography could have on a person's life.
I dated since as young as grade eight and then throughout high school but now my interests in those relationships were changing. By the time of my first serious and sexual relationship, I had ignited a desire within to have these sorts of experiences with my partner. Although I was still a monogamous sort of guy, it wasn't long before I realized that the sort of desires that I had ignited and were still continuously feeding, no one woman alone could ever quite fill anymore. Although I did not understand that as clearly back then as I do today.
By the time of my second serious relationship, I was a sexually experienced young adult still feeling completely unfulfilled and now resorting to courting others while pretending to be in a
committed relationship to the young lady I was seeing at the time. In order to justify myself and fuelled by the fear of being caught, I was becoming more of a liar towards everyone I met. I was also becoming verbally abusive as I was getting more involved with drinking and smoking up to release the anxiety I felt from having my emotions and desires split in so many directions as well as the natural confusion that comes with living a lie.
Indulging in a party lifestyle gave for many opportunities to carry on these various promiscuous relationships. I had adapted my father's way of buying stuff and providing as a means to justify myself. I remember continually hearing while growing up that the reason my father believed that it was okay for him to drink after work and frequent bars including strip clubs, was because he paid the bills and provided pretty much everything we had since my mother was a stay at home mom for most of her life. I started to feel like him in many ways. Certainly no way near the actual responsibilities and sacrifices that he bore for his family, but surely very near to the excuses that he used to justify his self-indulgences towards himself because of it.
Despite my bad behavior in school, I managed to maintain passing grades up until high school. By grade ten I was expelled from school but not for the reasons most expected although it
would've certainly been in keeping with my previously described character. There was another boy who I had grown up with since kindergarten. We were not the best of friends but we certainly knew each other very well after so many years. I now shared second period English and last period French with him. He had just started bringing a new Cd Shockwave Walkman to school and in addition to that, he also had the latest Hip Hop Cd, both of which I was very eager to hear. Yes people, I said: Walkman.
Since I knew him all these years, it didn't seem difficult to ask him if I could borrow his Walkman at English class with the promise to return it at French. He agreed. Except when French class came, he was nowhere to be found. I knew that he regularly walked home from school although I wasn't certain where he lived, so I stayed behind after school in hopes of seeing him to return his Walkman. Once again I was unable to locate him. I decided to take the Walkman home with me and to simply bring it back the next day. To my surprise, he would never show back up to school for more than a month. Every day I would faithfully bring the Walkman in hopes of seeing him to return it. I even bought new batteries for it when his died, but the way I would finally get to return it to him was when I was summoned to the principal's office during class only to have two police officers eagerly awaiting me. Apparently, this young man had been leaving home every morning for the past month, and after his mother would leave for work, he would return home and play video games for the day. When she finally caught on and asked him why he was skipping school, he told her that he felt threatened for his life because of me and I had already taken his Walkman.
This was most certainly untrue. I was deeply perplexed as to why he would even say these things. Nevertheless, all of the evidence pointed in his favor and I was expelled from school while he was reinstated for the missed time he suffered. Both my parent's didn't have a hard time believing the story about me to be true. I suppose I couldn't blame them for that although for a long time I felt the most betrayed by them through this ordeal because I was most assuredly innocent this time. Considering all the valid reasons that I maybe should've been kicked out of school, I felt like this was a great injustice done to me. Over the years, I've observed in myself and others and found it most amusing how criminals always have a rather keen sense of injustice; but only when it's done to them.
Many years would go by before my older brother was later diagnosed with schizophrenia and have random violent and threatening outbursts. One time his episode caused my mother to resort to calling the police who then institutionalized him at the local city hospital in the mental ward. It was only then while visiting him that I learnt that the young man from school was also diagnosed with schizophrenia as I met him sharing the room right beside my brother. I thought I would feel happy that I was able to validate the fact that I was innocent now. But that was hardly the case. I felt sympathy for him and his condition and even his family having understood all too well what it was like to have a loved one go through that. However, I did find myself casting blame towards the school officials. This just aided my already flagrant disobedience towards authority figures.
Surprisingly, my expulsion worked out in many ways to my benefit I thought. I mean, I wasn't particularly interested in school anyway, so this was an ideal time for me to get out into the real world. My parents demanded that I immediately get a job or move out. But I was constantly told that the only position a high school dropout could attain was maybe a general laborer at best. It wasn't that I thought general labor positions were somehow beneath me, I ended up working many of those positions over the years. I just knew that I was smart enough to do something other than that. Unfortunately though, the only call backs I got were from factories and warehouses. At this time I didn't exactly have the luxury of choosing what I wanted to do. To avoid my parents from resorting to their normal encouragements, I took the first job that was immediately available.
It was sort of cool. I was making a paycheck and it was far better than working so closely with my dad who I knew was terribly disappointed with me at this time. I excelled at my job very
quickly and within just a few weeks, I was operating a Raymond Reach Forklift and thoroughly proficient in the company's bar code and scanner systems.
Growing up, I always wanted a computer but the only one I got was a broken laptop that my dad found. After a few months of learning how to fix it so that I could use it, I learned much about computer hardware and software which helped me along in this new job.
I was a pretty neurotic employee to my fellow co-workers in that I always carried myself above what you might expect from a sixteen year old high school dropout at his first real job. Every day I began dressing for my warehouse position in nicely pressed pants and a dress shirt tucked in with shoes to match. In addition to that, I constantly used the front doors of the building just so I could greet the staff and feel like I was an important part of the company.
Within the third week of being there, I was rebuked by my supervisor, both for not using the warehouse employee entrance around the side of the building, and also for not dressing according to safety regulations. I was even bold enough to correct him when he addressed me as a warehouse employee. I told him that I was most certainly not! I was merely an employee working in the warehouse. I was highly stubborn as you can already imagine. If I had to go to work every day to a job I already didn't care for, the least I should be able to do is dress how I wanted to. But for obvious reasons, that was not the case.
In the next few days while I was on my way out from work one afternoon, I noticed that a woman from the office was working late at her desk with a frustrated look on her face. I asked why she was still there. She began to explain that the company outsourced their I.T. work and she was waiting for a technician to arrive to fix the computer problem she had so she could finish up her work and leave for the day.
Boldly, I decided to offer my own assistance to which she accepted. It was not anything complicated. I fixed it within a few minutes; she thanked me and then I left. The next day as I arrived to work however, my boss was eagerly waiting for me with his hands crossed and a grim look on his face. As I entered the building through the doors I had been warned numerous times not to use, there was a sinking feeling in my stomach. He pointed sharply to his office and asked me to wait there for him.
'Oh man', I thought, 'I haven't even been here for a month and now I'm going to have to explain to my parents why I got fired.' He came in and sat down quietly. It was like he was
intentionally trying to build anticipation. He began by saying 'So I heard that you have been learning our warehouse scanning systems quite easily?' 'Yes' I replied. 'I also heard that you helped out with a technical problem here in the office last night as well. Is that right?' I paused for a moment. Was he trying to get me to condemn myself by strategically setting up the conversation this way? I decided to be honest. 'Yes' I said. 'It was a very simple problem so I thought I could help.'
He grinned as he now turned towards me. 'You know, we have been outsourcing out technical work for some time now and it's been a real strain on our productivity at times. How would you feel about coming into the office to be the in-house I.T. technician?'
Are you serious? I thought. Of course! I accepted without a single consideration. I mean, after all, how often does something like that happen anyway? Besides, I was already dressed for the position!
The next day my warehouse co-workers watched as I set up my new cubicle in the office and began to carry out my first responsibilities as the 'I.T. guy'. It was a great job and I was thoroughly pleased with myself. I was given access to a company credit card so I could purchase the necessary cameras and supplies to equip our onsite merchandising employees so that I could update our company website to let our clients see how their merchandise was being displayed in stores. We did business with all of the top department stores brands; Tommy Hilfiger, Eddie Bauer, Polo, and so forth. It was like something out of a movie. I didn't believe that things like this really happened to people. I was even allowed to access a company vehicle that I used to go out for lunch.
I DID WHAT I FELT EVERYONE EXPECTED ME TO DO: FAIL
It was not long before my depraved instincts would kick in and I would find a way to overstep the boundaries of these awesome privileges. It started with visiting friends at lunch to show off what a success I had become, and soon that turned into me coming back from lunch drunk or high. The girl I was seeing lived two cities over so I would race down the highway to visit her at lunch and try to return within an hour or two. It was only a matter of time before the owner of the company realized that I was in no way mature enough to steward such privilege and responsibility. It came to the point where he had to let me go. It was devastating to me although I knew how much I deserved it. I really beat myself up for ruining such an opportunity that I really felt was surely once in a lifetime. I felt like I really had a chance to be more than the people around me had always expected me to be, but what did I do? Exactly as I felt everyone expected of me to do: fail.
I thought of how my addictions were troubling any success in my life but it was like I could not get myself free from them. My family life was continuing to suffer as well. In 2002, after a long stretch of piled up bills, household fights between my mother and father, and the problems amounting by troubled children ... my parents separated. It was hardly a peaceful agreement that they reached one day. At the height of my father's excessiveness - drinking, and debts, along with my mother's abuse towards us - my father was also coming home and lashing out towards my mother in physical abuse. This always provoked me the most inside. There was something deep down that just knew that you should never raise a hand to a woman, and even more so, my own mother.
I began to resent my father deeply. So much so that by eighteen years old, I promised my mother that if he did it again, this time to call me home. 'I would deal with it' I told her.
As promised, it happened again not too long after and my mother called me home that night like I asked her to. I returned after a heavy bout of drinking with neighbours -- angry, tired and disillusioned by the constant anarchy in my home. I decided that tonight I would do something about these things. Liquor seemed to give me an exaggerated sense of strength and self- importance. My father was now in the upstairs bathroom when I came home. I told my mother to call the police and as I approached the bathroom knowing what I intended to do. My brother met me in the hallway having heard me come in. I kicked down the bathroom door and began to violently beat on my father. My brother joined in without question. I think I sincerely thought that for sure I would find some sort of peace to the ongoing chaos in my home. But this simply became just another burden of regret for my actions that I would continue to carry around for the next half of my life. The police arrived and because of my mother's testimony and bruises, they quickly arrested my father. This was the last time my parents were ever together as a married couple. Their separation was now something that I blamed myself for in the years to come.
Not long after, the house was foreclosed by the bank from the overdue debt that had accumulated. My father wanted nothing to do with us and we wanted nothing to do with him. We went to live with my mom, and my dad bunked at my uncle's home for a bit until he was able to get a place of his own.
These events hardly changed me from who I had become. In fact, I found more reason for self pity through them and more reason to justify my spiral into deep depression and alcoholism
although I thought I hid it very well among my friends and those nearest to me. They would soon have to deal with my violent drunken outburst of anger either at strangers as we were out on the town, or then even towards them when no one else was around to release all my inner pain upon.
In December of 2004, I was out frequenting a regular bar, this time with my sister and a few of her friends who were also now drawing along with me on my regular Friday night outings. My sister was approached by an older man who was interested in her and one of her friend's. She declined his attempts and I had grown close enough to her to know she could handle herself although I would always have a very close eye on the situation. Then the man began to pursue her friend even as we sought to leave because of the annoyance his advances were causing the girl's boyfriend. This escalated quickly into a shouting match in the parking lot that evolved from there.
IT FINALLY ENDED WITH ME STABBING THE MAN NINE TIMES IN THE CHEST
After the man followed us outside where he continued to make advances on my sister's friend, it was not long before her boyfriend retaliated by wielding a tire iron from the trunk of his car. The man, intoxicated himself, began waving a beer bottle back. My sister ended up being struck and injured in the confusion and it finally ended with me stabbing the man nine times in the chest.
I know that even as I state that fact, it may seem as if I have casually passed over the seriousness of this considerably violent act. I have not intentionally done so. I simply do not know how to explain all of what I personally was going through in life, and at this moment to have such a gross disregard for the life of another that will make sense to someone reading this unless you had walked in my shoes all of those years and had cumulatively experienced all that I had endured in life up until this point. I am not trying in any way to make an excuse for my actions. I totally acknowledge that all throughout my life I had choices. I just hoped to also illustrate how in many ways I see my life as the perfect smelting pot for such a heinous act. Sin begets sin. It has also given me many things to consider when ministering to troubled youth and to remind me of the complex adversities they face. I've learnt that there is certainly no circumstance in life that is not redeemable in some way by God that He cannot instead use for His glory. However, we must also be willing to be painfully open and honest with ourselves and allow Him to search out and heal our broken hearts' first. He can use it for His glory indeed, but according to His way.
Within just a few devastating seconds the man's life and my own would drastically change. In the days following, I would be caught and charged with second degree murder. Watching the news as it was told to my mom by the arresting officers, I had now realized a new low. Being carried off to jail, I remember the question I asked myself, 'What have I become?' I thought over my life and it was easy to see how the road I had chosen from an early age had gotten me right to this very place, yet something inside of me was still shocked like I didn't really believe that it could ever really come to this.
What have I become? .. The only thought that I seemed to be able to muster up. Through it all, even I couldn't quite believe the news about what I had done. I started to wonder if it was possible that I could be one of those people you hear about on the news. I was now one of those people. I don't think it was what I truly ever wanted deep down. Yet I took notice of how I lived my life never doing anything to stop it from getting this bad. I didn't even know how to fight things like anger, resentment addictions and inner pain. People constantly told me over the course of my life to stop or move forward but that was the extent of their instructions and I had tried that. Simply saying stop didn't seem to fix anything but only reminded me of how I was constantly failing in these areas of my life.
I later began to think how logical it was for me to have ended up here although never having quite seen that along the way. In my own thoughts, I came to a place that concluded that I deserved prison. I deserved punishment. I was to blame for all of this. I should've known better. And now, the next stop for my already wayward life - prison.
A few weeks after my being taken into custody, my aunt had come and was able to temporarily bail me out until the trial had begun. My parents had long given up on me. During that brief time away of being locked up, I was once again in that place where I wanted change like I had been many times before. I knew I was eventually coming right back. They had the knife, eye witnesses, and by the grace of God the victim had now survived from second degree murder due to a drug induced coma that kept him alive until he recovered, so the charge was changed to aggravated assault. Everything they needed to nail this case shut was there. I was left completely to the mercy of the judge simply to decide how long the sentence would be.
Amazingly, when I was let go of the I.T. job, as a final act of mercy before my release, my employer signed off my papers with 'lack of training' as the reason for letting me go. When I went to temporarily apply for unemployment, they then notified me that I was eligible to attend college with partial funding to further my education in computers if I had so wished to do. Since I did not see any other opportunity for attending college, I gladly agreed. When I finally found a program to attend; Network Specialist, they ended up signing a cheque for $15000 for my entire tuition. I didn't understand how or why they did that but I thought that I must surely take advantage of this opportunity. It was only because I had gotten accepted to college that I was able to receive bail when my aunt came to bail me out. Since my program was only a one year compressed course, my lawyer proposed that given my previous criminal record and current position, this might be the only advantage I have at becoming anything upon release after serving my sentence, so the judge agreed and my case was put off until I had completed college which I successfully did.
I DETERMINED TO BECOME THE BEST MUSLIM I KNEW HOW TO BE
During my time out on bail, I resolved to try again to become the best Muslim I knew how to be. I guess I saw this great favour upon my life as an act of God in many ways. So I started to attend the mosque every Friday while on bail to relearn the repetitive Surah's that I had once known so well. I didn't feel any different inside though. I couldn't seem to silence the fears of going away and condemning voices reminding me of all I had done to another human being. I began attending the mosque Friday afternoons, and then the bar Friday nights. The pain was still there even as the weeks dragged on and the few months of freedom passed me by. Right at this time I had met someone and this relationship became my new escape from all my troubles. We grew very quickly to what we called love. I came to later see how we were both just running from things in life that we managed to find an escape from in one another. It felt like this relationship was the only piece of happiness I had left though, so I clung to it with everything that I had in me.
Then one day I received a call from my one of my cousins who I didn't often get the opportunity to see. Both he and his wife who I deeply respected and admired from my youth wanted to visit me. They were always very different than the rest of my family. They carried themselves very honorably and there was something that I regarded as very respectable in them both. I remember them coming to meet me in a Tim Horton's coffee shop near my dad's workplace while I was in my filthy mechanic work clothes once again. I felt ashamed even by that, but to my surprise, they simply came to talk to me for a bit to see how I was doing through it all. That was the first time I really remembered anyone had extended any genuine care for me that I really received into my heart. They came and comforted me when most people were moving away from me. I don't recall all that we spoke about but I remember that they extended an invitation for me to visit their church. They said that other people in my circumstance had received the power to change from God. They didn't have to push me. This was what I desperately wanted and needed to hear. I was very open to try anything at this point. I conceded to their invitation.
Their church was out in Brampton and I would be visiting for the first time on a Wednesday night Bible study. I remember the Pastor was from Trinidad. I was shocked. In my secluded little depraved world I didn't even know they had Trinidadian Pastors. He was in Genesis and talking specifically about the fall of man and Original Sin. I listened intently. I had never heard this sort of teaching before in my life. It was like something inside of me began to stir for the first time I could ever remember. I was hearing the truth about mankind that I had always believed to be true but I never knew that someone actually taught this.
The minister went on: 'We are all born into sin because we are all descendants of Adam the first man, who through disobedience, fell from his perfect relationship with God and we are all his offspring.'
I was overwhelmed with what I was hearing. Islam had never taught me this about mankind. This was the first time that I was hearing something that made sense of my mother's actions, my father's actions, the actions of my friends, the people I saw on the news, my aunts, my uncles, the whole world and most assuredly as I knew all too well - ME!
Alas! I had heard truth and it was from the mouth of someone teaching from the Bible what had really happened in Genesis. I needed more of this! I began attending diligently as each week he continued on to teach about how this original sin was evident in all people over history and the Bible was even honest enough to capture some of the sins of God's chosen prophets. Moses killed a man in anger; Abraham lied to protect his own life, and so forth.
I was very confused at the time. My world was for the first time at roughly twenty three years old being significantly altered of the things I once believed were an intrinsic part of my identity. It was like a veil was still over my eyes towards how Jesus played a role in any of this, and why they kept thanking him for the cross and calling him God, but nevertheless, I still wanted to learn more. I didn't even know what the word "theology" meant back then but I now have come to understand what a mixed up belief I held about God all these years. In many ways, I was still combining the teachings I had received from Islam with Christianity. I was still attributing God to Allah because I still didn't quite understand who Jesus was or why we should worship Him.
NOW IMAGINE YOU TELL A CHILD WITH ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY THAT AN APPLE IS AN ORANGE FROM THE TIME HE IS BORN
Now imagine you tell a child with absolute certainty that an apple is an orange from the time he is born. Then all of his childhood years you continued to perpetuate this idea to him. If someone were to come along when he was now twenty three years old and tell him that the thing he was calling and orange all those years was in fact an apple, it would be impossible for him to say, 'Oh, my mistake,' and simply accept that. This might not be a perfect analogy but it's the best way I can describe how I felt. The teaching sounded convincingly true in light of all my previous experiences, yet how could I begin calling this person Jesus God? Allah was the only name I had known all my life.
Nevertheless, within the next six months, my trial came and I was sentenced to two years in prison. This was the minimum for a Federal sentence. I actually saw it as a blessing considering what kind of sentence I really deserved. In the meantime, I had been learning about these guys in the Bible like Job and how God had allowed Satan to take everything away from him to see if he would still love and honor God, and he was so noble that it caused me to really begin rethinking my outlook of my circumstances.
It gave way to great strength and courage going forward into my trial and then being sentenced to prison. Strength I no longer had in myself. Once I began serving my time, I made it my duty to now take on reading the entire Bible from beginning to end. I began to see that just how God was with Joseph in prison, God was with me. I think God knew exactly what He was doing by having that story in Genesis at the front of the Bible. It seems that the only times in my life when I would even pick up a book to read was when I was incarcerated.
As I continued my reading, I perceived many situations in prison that should not have turned out to my benefit the way that they did and this continued to encourage my faith. I watched how blessed I was by the grace of God in little things like having a really cool cellmate who actually became a good friend and we would look out for each other while there. He had served time before and was well acquainted with certain privileges that were available to us that most were unaware of and knew his way around well. We always had more than enough of the little things that we normally take for granted like toothpaste that become as valuable as gold when you're actually in need of them. Then when I was transferred to a medium security prison, I really felt like it was God who connected me with a Guyanese brother who turned out to be this awesome cook. Since you are allowed to cook your own meals in medium and minimum security prison, this was such a blessing. I quickly learned to put aside all of the picky eating habits I had for most of my life. I think I actually ate better in prison than I had ventured to do even while I was free. Not because my parents didn't provide, but because of my own pickiness and loss of appetite from my lifestyle.
I continued my reading, but it wasn't long before it became a source of pride. I would begin to boast of how I had now completed both the Quran and the Bible in my lifetime, something that I thought was a great accomplishment. How easily I was blinded to the actual truth of the Gospel.
With a regular and steady diet, and constant weight training, I was growing physically stronger while away. I put on more weight than I had ever weighed in my life. That combined with the detox from alcohol and drugs suited me well. I was rid of all my past bad relationships and finally having time for myself for once. But I was also becoming puffed up with more self confidence than I had ever known. It felt good to feel this way at the time. It was the most alive I had ever remember feeling up to that point. I began to think of positive ambitions and goals that I wanted to achieve. I actually wanted all of that other stuff now ' A nice car, nice house, nice family, good job - all the things that other people strived so hard for.
I ALSO LEARNED A LOT ABOUT THE PEOPLE IN PRISON. IN SO MANY WAYS, I BEGAN TO SEE THAT THEY WERE NO DIFFERENT THAN ALL THE PEOPLE
WHO SURROUNDED ME ALL MY LIFE
I had also learned a lot about the people in prison. In so many ways, I began to see that they were no different than all the people who surrounded me all my life. They had the same fears, the same failures, the same habits, they voiced the same thoughts and ambitions; they felt pain and happiness and anger and bitterness just like everyone else. This greatly changed my perception of what the television and movies had led me to previously believe about inmates.
Late 2007, I was released on parole with all the hope in the world. I had a car, and a job awaiting me as I left the prison. That might seem like nothing significant, but I saw how most people did not have anything waiting for them upon release. I still had family and old friends all of who had a sudden interest in wanting to see me now. People were even showing up at the halfway house to visit me that I would usually never see. That was the oddest thing to me since none of them had visited while I was away. In fact, even the boys I grew up most closely with who I hung out with before this whole ordeal had never so much as written to me. I didn't realize at the time how much resentment I held towards them for that but it soon became evident in the months to come. There were also some very random people that I barely knew but met along the way previous to going away that really went out of their way to keep in touch and greatly encouraged me while I was there. I was especially thankful for having them in my life.
In an unexpected turn of events, I was becoming more popular than I ever had been for most of my life. Even a few women that I had never met before already knew my name and were giving me attention. The word of my return spread quickly. It was certainly not the life I had planned nor expected to return to.
The girl I was seeing while I was on bail was now once again trying to get in contact with me. That was an emotionally frustrating situation to return to. I felt like she had abandoned me just three months after I left to serve my sentence and I had a really hard time having to deal with a break up while incarcerated. We had started arguing and when I found out that she was out clubbing which was not something she ever did while I was with her, but had now begun once I was away, we agreed to end our relationship. It did save me the stress of having to question her fidelity while already contending with many other things mentally and emotionally at the time. I didn't realize back then that she was just trying to cope with the pain of this difficult situation much like how I had resolved to cope with my own pain all of these years. But instead of taking the time to understand that point, I was instead filled with resentment towards her. I still felt like what we once shared was love, and in many ways thought I was still in love with her, but I felt like I could not trust her. I felt like if she could leave in what I deemed as one of the most difficult times of my life, what kind of person would she be to have a future with? Especially after watching how my parent's marriage had fallen apart, instead of forgiving, I was trying my best not to become like them. Divorce was something very rare as far as I knew in the West Indian culture so my parent's divorce was very different to deal with and I never expected that it would've affected my own relationships.
Besides that, with the attention I was now receiving, I didn't see the need to settle for an untrustworthy girlfriend. It felt like I was breaking my own heart in leaving that relationship behind, but I did it and walked away. Needless to say, my ego was quickly growing and it wasn't long before I was out partying with old buddies and indulging in sexually promiscuous relationships, alcohol and drugs all over again.
Soon I met a nice young lady that I thought I would be beginning my new life with. We dated for a year or so but not much time had passed before she was unable to compete with the
unsatisfying hunger I still had within me of having given myself over to multiple sexual partners. It seems that you can cut away the fruit from a tree for a time, but as long as the root remains, you can be sure that the fruit will return next season. Our relationship suffered and struggled for another year of break-ups and make-ups.
During this time a really close friend of mine had passed away. It was a very strange experience for me when he passed. It caused me to think deeply once again about eternity. I remember thinking one day that this was perfectly keeping in how unfair I already thought life was. Here was this guy, thirty two years old, married with a beautiful wife and two adorable kids. He had a great job, was successful and had recently purchased a nice home and cars to match. I thought of him as honorable in every way that I thought it meant to be honorable. He was the kind of guy who would leave a hang out with friends to go help his mother if she called and asked. A real role model of sorts especially amidst the company of friends we surrounded ourselves with: And now, deceased and taken by cancer. What a perfect ending to what I already deemed as a meaningless and unfair life.
BUT WHAT WAS MOST STRANGE WAS A DREAM THAT I HAD ABOUT HIM JUST A FEW DAYS AFTER HE HAD PASSED
But what was most strange was a dream that I had about him just a few days after he had passed. It was very simple really but monumentally memorable. There was this grey sort of flexible wall that was between us. We couldn't pass through to where we each were, but we were standing in front of the wall facing one another. He was like a spirit. I don't actually recall seeing him physically. There was something inside of me that just knew without speaking any words that it was him. I was at first very overjoyed by the reunion. I felt that he was very aware that I too was standing before him. The side that he was on was complete blackness. He was the only person I recall feeling was on that side of the wall. The side I was on was sort of like a regularly lit room. I had this strange double vantage both from the place of where I stood before the wall, but also from this other place that allowed me to see down the length of wall that divided us. That's how I knew that he was on the other side, and that it was black on his side of the wall and light on my side. As we almost gracefully floated toward each other and met at the wall, I stopped just before the wall. He did not. He continued to impress into the wall, but not through it. Enough to form a hand by the material of the wall and then he took hold of my forearm with his hand.
When he did, all the joy of this reunion disappeared in an instant. After the awesome feelings of being fully aware that not only did he pass away, but that I was somehow getting to see him again, I was ecstatic. But now with a single touch of his hand taking hold of my forearm, all that ran through my inner-most being was deep painful grief and agony. I desperately wanted to cry out but found myself unable to do so. Then I woke up and with the deep feeling of pain still very real in the depths of what I could only explain was my soul. I began to weep uncontrollably. I tried to stop myself but the greatness of the pain was far too deep and far too overwhelming for me to stop. I didn't quite know what to make of this experience. What was he trying to tell me? I quickly surmised some conjectures. Maybe he was sad that he was no longer with us. Yeah, that must be it. Or maybe there was something he forgot to say or do. All of these thoughts seemed plausible to me at the time. I mean, I never for a moment thought that it could ever be possible for a good guy like him to be in some sort of bad place like this 'hell' I had once heard of. Besides, there was no fire or snakes like I had always pictured it in my mind. No, it must be something else I thought.
We were like two people who travelled down totally opposite roads in life, if anyone deserved hell out of the two of us, it would certainly not be him. So I quickly concluded that it simply could not be that. I mean - I was a criminal, a drunk, a pothead, with anger problems, fears, lusts, and depression. Here was this guy who was like the polar opposite of me. There was no way that he could be in a place like hell. He was the most honorable Hindu man I knew; even keeping up his regular practices. No, that couldn't be it, I continued to assure myself.
It took me a few weeks to gather myself from this experience but at the risk of sounding completely crazy, I refrained from sharing the dream with anyone. Especially since the timing of this dream was during the very week of his cremation. I went on to drinking away the loss of my friend for many weeks to follow. His family was broken and the lives of most of our friends closest to him were all broken as well although they all carried their grief in different ways. Some of them still have not recovered from the loss even until this day.
My family life wasn't much better either. It had been my ambition to be out from under my mother's wing as soon as I got back from prison, so six months after the conditional parole which required me to live in a halfway house, I began renting a basement apartment in the home of another close friend of mine. Because of various things I had suffered at the hands of my mother, I was still very much resentful towards her and was trying in a way of independence really to just sever ties with her. I moved out, and not a year after that, I ended up incurring over $10,000 of debt through the excessive lifestyle I was living while trying to keep up a party night life filled with alcohol, drugs, and sex.
It wasn't long before I was at the end of my resources, and the end of my latest relationship, and then the end of all my pompous arrogance as well. Feeling degraded and ashamed once again, I had to crawl over to my mother's home and beg her to let me return. I had nowhere else to go.
Returning home was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life, but the most humbling as well. My mother let me return, but not before reminding me of how worthless I had become in her sight and how pathetic it was that in comparison to my other cousins - whereas everyone was seemingly progressing and moving out and starting families - here I was coming back home. I felt even lower than I did going to prison. Ashamed, all I wanted to do was shut off my life once again. You might see me as a co-worker and even as a friend, and never have known how deeply broken I was inside, but I'm sure if you knew what to look for it was ever so evident.
I began smoking in excess of five to ten joints a night. I didn't drink as much anymore as I began to smoke. I despised cigarettes and yet here I was; another failure habit that I was unable to kick. After the passing of my friend to cancer, I made up my mind that I wanted to be free from cigarettes but I would quickly learn just how weakened my will was against all of the things I had so easily let into my life. I tried the patch, then nicotine inhalers, and as a last resort of desperation I even consulted a hypnotist ' one who specialized with helping people to quit cigarettes. But nothing worked and the worst part was that after each attempt that resulted in failure, I lost all hope of ever being free of cigarettes.
I just wanted to get through my days without the thought of where I was, who I was, and what I felt like I was once again; nothing. And I sincerely hoped that life would somehow end sooner than later. In my mother's rented townhouse home, I slept in a decrepit looking unfinished basement. It was cold with grey concrete flooring with decaying walls of this sixty year old townhouse basement with nothing but a bed and shadows casted in every direction by the one dim light in the corner of the room. I had a thirteen inch television from when I was in prison that I would watch from time to time to encourage my own complacency that everything was okay. My surroundings were probably the best description of how I felt deep inside myself. Even prison was not as cold and dark as this new cell I found myself in.
'Stone walls do not make a prison, nor do iron bars make a cage.'
In February of 2012, I got this tattooed across my back. I felt like I was living in hell in my own mind and I soon realized that I was not in any way free like I had so hopefully looked forward to when I was in an actual prison. I began to see the whole world as a prison that was no different than the Federal Prison System. Every day was the same old routine. Get up, eat, work, maybe socialize, sleep, and then repeat. The only difference was because we don't have physical bars around us. We tend to live in this delusion that we somehow have more freedom than actual prisoners. But in prison, I had met Accountants and Brokers, General Laborers and Factory Workers right over to Executives and Business Owners. It taught me that no one of any walk of life was above ending up in such a place. I realized that because we have far more to keep our attention misdirected, most of us miss the opportunity to come to the realization that in all honesty, we desperately seek more. This encouraged the belief I had as a child once again. At this point in life, I saw that everything in life was just the same, and everything under the sun was all absolutely meaningless.
After more than two years of living in this depressing state of self-pity with such a hopeless outlook towards life, I was faced with a circumstance that would once again change my life forever. Finally, starting to pick myself slowly up, I began hanging out with a crew of guys who liked to customize cars. I myself had recently bought an old Acura Integra and had started customizing the doors, the body and the stereo system as a hobby. Towards the end of 2012 after unveiling my latest excessive indulgence, I was out with a new circle of friends having a beer on a friend's driveway. As we were hanging out, someone I was very familiar with over the years who lived just a few houses down the street had come over to talk with us. He was maybe ten years older than I was. In fact, most of the people I had grown up with were older than me. I rarely hung out with people my own age.
On this particular day however, after a few exchange of words with this long time acquaintance, I turned my back temporarily on him ... looking to speak to someone else who was nearby when all I felt was a strike to the back of my head that left me staggering. This was soon followed by a full body tackle to the ground. This guy was about three times the size of me so he easily crushed me between the asphalt and himself. As I struggled to push him off with the little energy I had left in me from the first blow, he finally got up. He raged as he struggled to let out a few words before he got into his car and drove away.
Completely disoriented and confused, I began to ask the people around me 'What just happened? What did I do?'
There was no real answer. Everyone there was sort of uncertain about what just took place although they were happy that I was up and walking around without any real injury.
As I composed myself it really began to intensely aggravate me to think about what just happened. I continued to ask why I was the victim of this attack with no answers readily available to me from anyone. I was also growing in feelings of embarrassment and shame before the people who surrounded me. Although they didn't do anything to perpetuate the thought, I was getting really aggravated by it all. Here I was, I said to myself ... Minding my own business and look what happens! This always happens to me! I continued on disgusted and shamed.
I was growing increasingly infuriated. I was a man at the end of his rope, hopeless without a future to look forward to, broken, ashamed, angry, embarrassed. I was filled with bitter unforgiving resentment and unable to comprehend or explain what happened just feeling like a victim with every right in the world to justify retaliation. It didn't take long for this depraved mind to conjure up a solution to my problem: Murder.
'Revenge', I thought, what a sweet savor of satisfaction! I had nothing else in life that I felt was worth living for anyway. After all, if this was the life I was subject to live - a life of misery shame, regret, and guilt - why should this guy get to live how he wants and get away with it? I continually fed myself with every darkened reason that he did not deserve mercy until I picked up the phone that night and got in touch with someone I knew could get me a gun.
I remember I was very calm and direct; very straight to the point. One of those 'don't ask too many questions', sort of conversations. He said he would organize quickly but he said he wanted to meet up with me. He was someone I knew somewhat closely for some years so I agreed and we met up. He wanted to know the details so he could somehow justify aiding me in all this. I gave him the details in the light I wanted to shine upon it so that he too would agree with me. Truly though, it didn't take much manipulation of the story on my part. Most of it was exactly how it went down except I explained a little better how I felt that the guy had been looking for this opportunity for a while now; how we didn't have the best past relationship either. It certainly didn't seem like an out of the blue sort of attack.
That point stuck out to my contact. He said he would organize quickly for me but he wanted me to do just one thing. Having known that I had been to prison before, and he himself having also visited jail for a term, he appealed to me from that point. He said, 'Let's assume that you get caught, it's going to bother you if you don't know why he did it if you don't find out beforehand, so call him one last time, try to compose yourself and talk to him and find out. Who knows, maybe it was something you did to him that you weren't aware of from long ago and he's been holding onto it all these years.'
After briefly thinking it through, I decided that what he said made sense. I pulled myself together and got up the nerve to call the guy. The conversation was short. It went like this:
Me: "Hey man, I don't know what happened last night; it all happened so fast. I just wanted to say that if I did something to offend you man, well I'm sorry. But to be perfectly honest, I'm not really sure what I did? But you obviously were upset. I'm willing to apologize but you've got to let me know, what did I do?"
Guy: (laughing hysterically) "Are you kidding me? You don't know why I did it? I'll tell you why'. It's because I EFFIN' HATE YOU! I'VE ALWAYS HATED YOU! I CAN'T STAND TO LOOK AT YOU! YOU MAKE ME SICK! YOU'RE A LOSER! A NOBODY! WORTHLESS WASTE OF LIFE! IF WE DIDN'T KNOW SOME OF THE SAME PEOPLE, I WOULD HAVE BEATEN YOU UNTIL YOU WERE DEAD!!!!"
Unprepared for that answer, something snapped in me. I didn't even know how to respond so although he carried on with much more to say, all I was seeing was red. I don't even recall how the conversation ended. As far as I was concerned, he was already dead.
I ARRANGED TO GET THE GUN IMMEDIATELY
I called back my contact and arranged to get the gun immediately. I even contacted a few other people in case he fell through for whatever reason. I had learned over the years that most people who talk about guns are very rarely the sort of people who know anything about them. In my mind, this was absolutely going to happen. All of those years of abuse came back in a flash. What was most troubling to me was that he had affirmed everything I had felt about myself all my life. It really bothered me to know that it wasn't just me who felt this way about myself, but that others actually saw me this way too. I was horrified that he had no sympathy towards me. Didn't he know what a worthless person with a pathetic life he was so arrogantly proud of having punished? Didn't he know all that I had been through? This fueled my animosity towards him.
I contacted some guys I met along the way that I knew were up for this sort of stuff. It wasn't ever my sort of thing to plan home invasions or this sort of violence, but under the circumstances, this guy just qualified himself for an exception. A plan pulled together rather quickly to even my own astonishment and we were ready to move within a day. Everything was set to go, except for one thing, my conscience had another plan for me.
As I looked on at the team that so quickly assembled to do this, it dawned on me. 'How come I was able to put this together so quickly?' I mean, I've tried to organize many things before where people don't know right away if they're willing, or maybe at the last minute they don't really want to go through with it, but here I was preparing for a home invasion that I was equipping myself with a weapon that those in on it were aware of and in no time I had gotten a team together ready to act with no opposition. Then something else came out left field that hit me in a way that affected my thoughts. I said: 'Imagine, we're going to go carry this out and he doesn't even know why he hates me, yet he hates me with an anger that is so great, so deep, and so intense, that all these years he has carried it with him, and even he himself cannot explain it!'
As I reflected on that in the moment, a few other thoughts continued to deeply pervade my conscience. I think the thing that bothered me the most was even though he was so blunt and callous in his description of why he hated me, I couldn't shake the fact that he was right about a lot of the things he said. I mean, I wasn't so far from believing the exact same about myself. These were things that I had heard spoken to me most of my life growing up at home, but for once, I actually began to see these things clearly in myself. However, it was mostly the fact that he assaulted me that began this momentum of desiring retribution.
Then I remembered how I had been to prison and knew what that was like. I had witnessed that somehow I was favored throughout that whole ordeal. Yet something in me felt like if I went back under these circumstances, now supposedly knowing better, that I would never receive that same mercy like last time. I also looked at the group around me, and thought of them, and how many people I saw throughout my life that went this path and never came back from it or ended up even worst off than before. I remembered what I felt like when I was released, so full of hope and ambition and how rare that was. Looking at where I was now, I thought about what would be the outcome for these with me if we got caught. I didn't feel like I had much to care about for myself at this point, and I was okay with that, but what about them and their lives and their families?
Finally though, the thought that finally stopped the entire thing from taking place was this: 'Is this not the very thing that I have hated about this world all along? That you have people around you who pretend to love one another but really it doesn't seem like any of them really do. They lie to one another; cheat one another; gossip about one another; slander one another. Even your own family who you think is supposed to love you doesn't treat you like they really do. You see it everywhere you go; you see it as people pass by some accident and are always fixated intently to see when something goes wrong but to actually do something to help; to pull aside and lend a hand ' that seems to be the more difficult thing for anyone to do. I concluded that there must be something seriously wrong with this world, and that this misunderstood animosity - blatant disregard - that we all hold for one another was not only the reason why families and relationships fail, but also why communities and even nations were constantly at war.
Then I remembered the teachings of that Pastor from church' 'The whole world is born into sin '.'
It was like beams of light started to shoot through my mind. A glimpse of something that finally made sense of the reality I had been a part of and experienced all of my life. Not only was I now seeing it right in front of me, but I was also going to be a partaker in the continued progression of this plight on mankind by carrying out this act tonight.
I sat still trying to really take hold of all that was becoming apparent in this moment. Still battling with some confusion about where this new perspective was coming from and why now, I finally got up the nerve to tell everyone there that I was calling it off. I didn't even wait for an answer. I turned my back and walked away.
I spent the next month or so in solitude. I didn't call anyone. I barely came out. I didn't want to speak to anyone. I just kept to myself hoping that my anger and my resentment towards this guy would die down, and that the humiliation and embarrassment that I felt by my friends talking about what had happened behind my back would eventually go away.
Eventually it did. It was about two or three months later and I had decided that I wanted to visit my cousin's church again. I didn't quite know what to do with myself anymore. I wasn't even sure of what I was hoping to find there, but something in me felt like that was the place where I once had more answers than questions concerning this confusing and distorted life. The church had now moved out to Scarborough but distance was no problem; I just wanted to go.
It was not easy getting out there at first, but after living such a party lifestyle for so long, I began to think of how zealous I was for that, so much so that I would have driven down to Niagara at 2 a.m. on a whim, or even gotten up out of bed in the middle of the night sometimes just to meet up with friends to smoke up or have a drink ... but I began to see that as I tried to make a plan to go to church ... just how much opposition I would face.
One of my good friends was now making all sorts of strange excuses why she couldn't go. I thought that was the most strange of all since she'd normally come out for just about anything. My other good friend started to get busy with things that he normally avoided all these years just as an excuse to not have to go. I took note of this opposition and it even helped to strengthen my resolve to get there.
I began to contemplate that Satan must indeed be real. And his work to keep people from the church and the truth must also be real since everyone so easily desires anything but God, but was so easily willing to go along with me in the other direction all of these years. It was like I was seeing clearly how most people would prefer to follow one another rather than truly to follow God.
I made up my mind that I would absolutely get there, and on Oct 31st, 2012, I did just that. After putting a terrible guilt trip on a good friend, she agreed to come with me. We attended a Wednesday night Bible study. It was nothing like my first experience to church. I don't recall anything in particular happening that really captivated me this time in the teachings. Nor - did I feel particularly moved in any way in terms of revelation or the profound truths I received like the last time. I felt sort of proud of myself inside just to be back in the house of God thinking of what an accomplishment I had done by finally getting here. I remember even boasting to a friend soon after I left there that I had gone to church tonight.
The fact is, I was still so depraved that when I left church that night, it was my intention to go light up a joint with some friends as we had done previously on Halloween nights in remembrance of my friend who had passed away from cancer just a few years before. Since November 1st was his birthday we would celebrate a sort of remembrance for him by hanging together and smoking up as he loved to do to usher in his birthday.
I COULD HARDLY IMAGINE WHAT GOD HAD PURPOSED FOR MY LIFE FOR THIS VERY NIGHT
I could hardly imagine what God had purposed for my life for this very night. Just thirty three days before my thirtieth birthday, which was December third, here I was about to experience the first of many events that would significantly change my life forever. Not only that, but God would also begin to reveal the answers to the two questions that an innocent ten year old boy once asked of a Great and Mighty God!
I remember how it all begun. We waited patiently for 11:59 p.m. Each of us with a joint in hand pre-rolled. I had selected some foundation reggae music from a really old MP3 folder. It was the sort of music that my friend who had passed away really loved to listen to while he was still with us. As the clock hit 12 p.m., we lit our joints and I hit play ... except what I expected to happen, did not. The music began to play, and this folder of music that I had long packed away but prepared for this night ... began song by song to tell a story ' The story of my life.
As the first song played, it began to talk about a man who was a disgrace to his parents and vividly described all the things he had done to make himself so. It went on in another song to talk about the kind of man that no woman would want, a player and a cheat, who didn't know how to treat a lady. It continued on to yet another song about a man being struck down but the way it described it -- it was not a man who struck him down but it said that it was from 'on high' that he received that blow.
This had been the first time I had been out with anyone in a few months and here I was listening to a song that enunciated all of the things that I was most embarrassed about in my own life. It was like I couldn't escape it and this time there was no one to blame. I had picked out this folder of music without listening to it beforehand. I had chosen to come out again and get high with my friends on this night. I had hypocritically thought that I could just casually walk into church and then go off to smoke a joint. I had put myself in this spot once again to be shamed. But whereas I would usually face these battles of self-pity alone, tonight something felt very different in that I was very aware for the first time that somehow God was the one in control of the events of this evening. I didn't know how to explain it fully but I had a sort of awareness that He was somehow with me now.
By 2 a.m. - after a long night of silence from my two other friends - I was just taking in song after song that I felt was really speaking to me and making me think about my life in ways I had never previously thought of. I was still embarrassed, but it was like I was too tired to keep fighting the truth. I thought of how much I had changed since I was a child, but also - how many things were the same. I was captivated by the perspectives towards many different things that I was all of a sudden able to see clearly. Even at this age I still didn't know how to talk to anyone about what I was feeling through it all. I just dropped everyone home and was on my way home too to be by myself once again.
Now my car was deep red with a really flashy body kit, which was another bad choice because I myself was not even supposed to be driving. I had recently had my licence suspended for
drinking and driving and in addition to that, I was supposed to have a Breathalyzer installed in the car in order to operate it, which of course, I did not have. That's when the cop pulled up
behind me. For the first time in a few years, I felt that feeling of panic deep in my stomach again. So seared in my conscience, it was like I could drive all those months not even fearing the penalties of being caught. Finally returning to those memories of being here before, I realized that I was only footsteps away from a prison cell all over again. I was in the same place that I had been so many times before in my life. Except, this time I heard a voice. It said 'They can come as near to you as they want, but unless I give the okay, not one of them can touch you!'
I wasn't even sure that I just heard what I thought I heard. Though I heard it as clear as day, I assumed I was just way too high. I drove forward when the light turned green. I then realized that not only was there a cop behind me, but also one on both sides of the lights as I drove through the intersection. I thought for sure I was going to get stopped. It seemed that they had me in every direction. It was the first time I have ever contemplated a high speed chase just to avoid having to deal with the police all over again. As I looked in my rear view mirror, the cop turned and went aside. I began to question whether that was all by fluke or if I had really heard a voice. I summed it up to sheer luck and continued on.
I drove just a few lights down to another intersection where once again it happened. I heard the voice again as a cop this time rolled up beside me and cops were also at both sides of the
intersection. I didn't think it was possible for such a scenario to happen twice in one night at two different intersections. God certainly had my attention. I began to think about how I had just come from church and what I was doing. I also thought of how careless and callous I had become to even be so bold as to walk into the house of the Lord and then feel no shame to go and smoke a joint right after. I had done it before but never before did I feel self conscious about it. For once in my life something in me felt aware that He knew that I did that. In this moment, I really needed to believe that He could deliver me from falling into the same circle of failure once again. As I drove forward, the sirens of the cops car turned on. My heart sank into my stomach. This was it I thought, but instead, the cop went on to pursue something else. Having a deep awareness of trouble that could ensue at any moment, I realized I needed to get off of the road immediately. I was still a little high and just wanted to get to sleep so I could rethink what happened later that day when I was back to myself and no longer so.
Later that same morning, I woke up just a few minutes before my alarm clock went off. Feeling a little better now, I remember a few thoughts went through my mind. First I thought, I have got to go listen to that folder of music again and see if I really heard what I thought I heard last night. Secondly, I thought about the cops and how lucky I was to have gotten home and not ended up in jail again. I thought about the voice too, and whether or not I had really heard that.
As I lay there, my alarm clock radio went off. When it did, the woman on the radio had a caller on the line who told a rather strange story. She said how last night - which was Halloween - she had done something that she was ashamed to tell her husband. She said that she had been at a Halloween Party when she saw this guy dressed as Batman. Now her husband was also dressed up as Batman and without knowing it, she ran over and kissed him on the mouth thinking it was her husband, only to find out that it was some other guy. Today she had to break the news to her husband. The radio station had a pre-recorded novelty button they would press to answer the woman.
It said 'Get Up! Today you've got some explaining to do!'
As soon as I heard those words, something inside me caused me to jump out of bed. I don't know how to explain it but it was like I felt like those words were specifically for me. In the next moments, as I stood there at my bedside, something happened that I cannot put into words. I can only describe it as having had experienced the truth about what it feels like to be in the presence of the True and Living God!
GOD HAD REVEALED TO ME SOMETHING ABOUT HIS NATURE - HIS HOLINESS
I concluded this for a few reasons. At first, it was as if all of a sudden - I was very much aware of ALL of my past sinful ways. It was like an inner switch went off that never had before. I could do things and not even feel bad about them - almost like being numb to them - always having some sort of inner justification for them all. But now ... not only was I very much aware of all I had done, but I also was very much aware that all I had done was really offensive to a Holy God.
I was brought to my knees bowing down deeply grieved in His Holy presence with tears of repentance. It was the first time that the word 'Holy' made any real sense to me. Without knowing it at the time, I had experienced what some of the prophets of the Bible had experienced when they wrote and told of their experience in the presence of God. Some would write about how even though they were prophets, when they were in the presence of God's holiness, they would feel their own uncleanness; some fell down like 'dead men'. That is most certainly how I felt in this moment. God had revealed to me something about His nature ' His holiness.
Crying uncontrollable ... completely unabashed ... I cried long and hard. There was a pain so deeply wounding inside of me that I never knew could even exist within me. It was like I was crying from the very depths of my soul. Then I remembered that there was only one other time I felt pain this deep in my life from this same place of my being. It was right when my friend who had passed away had grabbed my forearm in the dream. I didn't understand it all right away. I couldn't yet grasp how all of a sudden I was able to experience such a deep inner cry that aided my repentance while completely awake, but it immediately taught me much about the Spirit of Truth and what it feels like to be in the presence of a Holy God.
I was terrified in many ways to even lift my head. It was so real that I felt like God was literally standing right before me. Since God is spirit, then technically, He was. I was so weak in
brokenness that I could barely lift myself to my feet. I was cut to the core. But as the radio announcer spoke on, she said something that kind of cued me that it was time to arise when I was quieted from all my sobbing enough to hear her. She said 'Get up! Today I'm going to teach you how to walk!"
'Walk' I thought? "Walk where?" I struggled to fully understand, yet nothing in me desired to willingly disobey in this moment. Somehow I knew that this message was meant for me. I also began to understand something profound about the Sovereignty of God by how He could use anything at all to speak to me. All I had truly longed to know about the existence of God was now being revealed. It was painful and excitingly supernatural at the same time. There was a part of me that easily felt my unworthiness in His presence, and was terrified like I could be completely destroyed at any moment. Yet there was this peace about the situation as if He was still totally in control of it all and I didn't have to fear, just obey. I could for the first time continually hear His voice and I somehow knew I could trust it to lead me and direct me. He was giving instructions. At times He spoke through various things like music and radio, but now ... it was like His voice was in my head and sometimes He would speak just by a single word that would appear in my mind like He was actually living inside of me. Indeed the Spirit of God was now dwelling in me.
I continued in repentance, even as I brushed my teeth and took a shower. The pain was amazingly great, and this mercy I was being offered I knew I did not deserve. I began to wonder at times about my own sanity. I found myself addressing God with a name. A name I had never used to address God with before. I was speaking to Jesus. 'I'm so sorry Jesus' I would cry. How did I get this name on my lips? Yet something in me was certain that was who I was speaking to. The Spirit had put this name in my heart and on my lips.
I knew I had to listen, so I got dressed and left home. As I approached the parking lot, I remembered the experience from earlier that morning with the cops and the fact that I wasn't supposed to drive, yet I was so used to doing so anyway. I looked up to the sky and thought to myself: You don't mind if I drive, do you God? There was no answer.
Maybe I was imagining the whole thing. After all, I'm sure these sorts of events don't happen every day ' at least not that people are most openly willing to share. I thought that if I could really hear this voice, then He would certainly stop me if I went the wrong way. I stood still at this crossroads of sorts made up by my townhouse complex's pathways. To the right, I could cross the street and go to the bus stop as I aught. To the left, I could go to the parking lot where my car was. With my eyes to the sky, I looked up as I took one very cautious step towards the parking lot on the left knowing deep down that this of course could not be the right choice. Just then, a cop must've been passing by the main road because before my foot even landed, all I heardwas police sirens. As soon as I heard it I thought, There's my answer! I immediately took that as a sign to take the bus so I stepped back and ran to the bus stop instead.
As I approached the bus shelter I continued to contemplate my sanity. I'm sure anyone looking on at me and the events of this morning would've thought to do so too. I don't really recall caring or even thinking of the fact that I was amidst other people anymore. All I could feel were His eyes on me. I began to try to reason with Him as I pulled out my wallet and saw only one bus ticket and no change to return home. I held it up and said 'See! I need to take my car. I only have one bus ticket and no change!'
Just then I heard His voice speak as clear as day: 'Walk by faith, not by sight.'
'Wait', I thought to myself. I had heard those words spoken before. That wasn't just some random instruction; where did I hear those words? Then I remembered that when I used to attend that Christian church before I went to prison, they used those words. They were words from the Holy Bible. I immediately came to the revelation that God can and was speaking to me through His Word that is found in the Bible. I had to get my hands on a Bible fast.
I remember downloading an app while on the bus and I began to read the stories from the Bible. As I read through, I began to come across scriptures that verified exactly what I was
experiencing: 'The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing the soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and
attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and lay bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.' Somehow - after all of these years, these words were now making sense to me and I could see it clearly in a way I had never seen it before. I also got a Bible Quotes app that gave me a quote for the day which also had this other function that takes you directly to a Bible Commentary. I didn't even know what a Commentary was at the time but I felt inclined to hit this button and as surely as I did, it lent more and more instruction to guide me throughout the day and then in the months to come as I continued to grow in this relationship with the Lord.
By the time I got to work, there were many things that I was learning and the impact they were having on me in that moment was monumental, so I had to write them down. As I travelled from place to place, some of the things that I said or did at every step in my normal life ... I was now very much aware that God saw. It was like the worst trip down memory lane ever at the time. I never had such an experience before in all my life. I heard about people having a relationship with God or an encounter, but never did I imagine it was something real and tangible and that I could feel Him and hear Him like this. I wasn't sure how long it would last and there was a sense of importance so I took in as much as I could that day, although I constantly found myself doubting that this could in fact be even happening to me.
I don't remember getting any work done at all. By the time I was ready to leave work, it was three hours after the time I was suppose to finish. I only now remembered that I had no fare to get home. The office was now completely quiet since no one stays past 4:30 p.m. I asked God in this almost hopeless way once again, 'Now what?' I still was very far from understanding that it was the Almighty Creator that was speaking to me and that His resources are inexhaustible. As I got up to get my lunch bowls from the lunch room, I noticed a young lady that I never saw at my office before. I introduced myself. She said she had just begun working there today and asked me if I needed a ride home. I lit up with a smile having understood that even though I was faithless in believing God's promise that morning, it didn't stop Him from remaining faithful to His word which He had spoken to me. That taught me much about being able to trust His Word.
The most memorable part was that night after having this amazing supernatural day, a day I had waited my whole life to experience. To know with absolute certainty for once that there was a God who existed and that He was real and could be known. I got to my bedside and prayed for the first time in a long time. It was nothing like I was used to praying. For the first time I saw God as real person and someone I could speak openly to. I thanked Him so much for this amazing day. I pleaded with Him saying that I could not go back to living a regular life now that He had revealed Himself to me in all these amazing ways today. Something inside of me also was very aware of how I didn't deserve His kindness. I didn't even deserve this day. So I thanked Him for coming to me this day. I didn't know what else to say. I had this thought like I wished it would last longer but I felt like I had to get used to this not being a normal occasion. I mean ... this was unheard of. How could it be? So I finally went to bed.
The next morning I woke up maybe five minutes before my alarm clock went off and just laid there thinking about all that happened the day before. I said to myself: There is no way that stuff like that happens to a person twice in a lifetime. I wasn't particularly concerned at the time with whether or not people would believe me. It was all very real to even think about unbelief anymore. As a sort of sadness about the whole thing began stir in my heart, my alarm clock went off again. The very first words that I heard were, 'So you thought yesterday was something: Wait until you see what happens today!'
I literally leaped out of bed and began to rush to get ready and start my day. I started to speak all sorts of thanks into the air towards God for coming to me again as I got dressed. I was certain that He was here once again and I didn't want to miss out on a moment of it. I was like an emotional wreck - especially for these first few days. I was exhausting myself with such raw and candid displays of my own emotions that shocked even me. This wasn't exactly making any sense to me, but what did I care? As far as I had come to know, neither did any bit of my life up to this point. I did wonder from time to time the natural thoughts like: Why me? Why now? I could think of many other people who probably stood far in front of me in terms of being worthy of such a glorious experience to hear from the God of the heavens and earth. I quickly concluded that I should not ask too many questions but to get going to see where He would lead me today. All I needed to know in these moments was that He was here and that I could hear Him ... so off I went to begin my day.
It was absolutely amazing once again. God began to reveal so much to me about my life. All of a sudden I found myself with a heightened sense of hearing. I could hear all of the evil things people would constantly say to one another as I travelled throughout the day, and it provoked something inside of me to be grieved deeply. I didn't understand at the time that this was the Holy Spirit in me being grieved. He began to send people who said things to me that confirmed that I was not just imagining this all; people who were also filled with His Holy Spirit.
I felt like I could ask God questions and He would answer almost immediately now. He began to take me to some places I did not previously want to visit regarding past situations. But with this sense of knowing that nothing was hidden from His sight, I felt safe to go back to those places, knowing that He had seen all that had happened there anyway. There was something very secure about being in His presence that made me stronger and more courageous everywhere I went. There was also a sense of truthfulness. Sometimes when we remember events, we tend to exaggerate how they really happened in our minds, especially over time. But it was like I knew that He saw things exactly how they happened and nothing was hidden from Him.
Things I once could not really understand began to shine as clear as day in my thoughts. I began to understand little seemingly trivial things right to big complex and intricate things. It was like I was a new creation or something. I don't know how else to explain how I was able to hear and understand these things with such clarity. But it was definitely a struggle between believing in Him and sometimes regressing back to the thoughts I would normally have towards a situation before this day. I kept reminding myself of all that was happening and reassuring myself that it was okay to believe this. It was happening and God certainly gave me ample reason confirming it also along the way.
He took me through His word and helped me to understand the dream I had about my friend who had passed away. Whereas I always thought of him as a good person, because I was measuring his actions against my own, now I was able to see how even with all of his so called goodness, he fell considerably short of God's perfect righteousness. Because of this, the dream made perfect sense, although it was a very terrifying truth to face about someone I love and didn't want to earlier accept could be in a place like that. How much more thankful was I now -- a wretched sinner who deserved the same fate -- yet in God's mercy, He would come to offer me grace.
Jesus has spoken much about the afterlife in the various parables He had told. In the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, he described the 'great chasm' that separated the two places where Lazarus was in Abraham's bosom versus where the Rich Man was in the painful place to which he desired even a drop of water to quench the agony of his thirst. As I learned of the Parable of the Marriage Feast, I began to see how Jesus had constantly talked about this place of 'weeping and gnashing of the teeth' that He described as 'outer darkness.' It was all making sense to me now why I felt such deep grief from my deceased friend's in the dream and the wall that divided light from darkness. It was like both places were a place that was naked before God, just one side was sustained by His grace, and the other suffered the punishment of having rejected His free gift of grace.
Whereas we measure goodness by society's standards or by comparing ourselves to others ... God had measured the whole world by His perfect Law by which every last person has fallen short, but that was the very reason why we all needed a Savior. Jesus Christ is that Savior and through His death we are made right with God the Father because He punished Him on the cross for all of our sins.
THIS WAS SHOCKING TO THE VERY CORE OF MY IDENTIFY
This was shocking to the very core of my identity and all that I had been previously taught about God. I knew how useless that worldview had been to me experiencing anything even close to what was all too real to me now. Here I was experiencing the very truth written about the God of the Bible when I didn't even know the God of the Bible until now. His Word and all of my life's experiences would one day bare witness against me had I continued to deny Him. It was impossible now to deny Him. Not with all that He had done and shown me in these past few days and continues to do.
He began to show me through that broken relationship that I experienced when I went away to prison, that this is how He feels about being disconnected from us His children due to sin. I
remembered how much I really felt like I loved that girl but just could not let her back into my life, then I realized that this was somewhat the same way -- how much God loves us -- but He simply cannot allow sin into His presence. This exalted the work Jesus Christ completed on the cross to a level I had never imagined. He showed me that without that sacrifice for all the sins of the world, He could never be reconciled to us to have the very relationship I was now experiencing; a relationship He always wanted with all people. This made perfect sense now to me why Jesus said he was the 'Only way to the Father.' I was finally realizing the objective truth that I had asked God for when I was younger.
He taught me that 'grace' is undeserved favor, and how that it was by His grace I was always able to get up from every fall in my life and even to get up on that day when He came to my bedside that caused me to bow to my face in His presence. He was constantly demonstrating it through my life in those moments like when I got kicked out of school but then landed that great job; or by going to prison but then finding safety and security, and so on. For every ignorant act I committed, there was His undeserved mercy accompanying me all my life. The only thing that kept ruining the good work that He was doing to me and through me was my own unbelief and ignorance. But even in all of those moments, knowing all things, including the ways I would fall, He was still at work behind the scenes bringing all of these sour notes of my life together into the beautiful song that has been playing in my heart ever since that moment. I realized that without those painful trials in life, it was impossible for me to appreciate His goodness and value it as much as I do today; even the most terrible times in life serve for a greater purpose.
The 'conditioning' of a Saint of God can be paralleled to the melting pot for refining gold. Indeed it is put under much pressure and intense heat for a time, but it's the only way to remove the impurities. What then abounds is the purest form and the most valuable piece.
At the end of the second day, I found myself praying much like the night before. I was saying things that sound an awful lot like a good bye once again - not totally getting the whole'indwelling spirit' part. I never expected this to carry on still for yet another day. This was all way more than I knew I was worthy of receiving for living a life as a wretched sinner as I had lived. No one had to tell me I was a sinner. I was very much aware of this. I was really having a hard time seeing myself as the new creation because of His spirit now living in me. But His word aided me in understanding the new nature of the spiritual man. Even though I never imagined it would've continued on, still it did on the third day also.
It was here that He began to teach me deep spiritual truths about how I was created in His image -- with a spirit, soul and body -- and why He had designed the marriage covenant to bless two people as they come together as one. He taught me that through sexual union with others outside of a marriage context, I had given pieces of myself over to others by becoming one with them in flesh. Even though we had long separated, He showed me that when I came together with a woman and then broke up, there were pieces of me that were still with her through spiritual fellowship; and parts of her with me. This sort of spiritual transfer can happen between people even outside of sexual relations. You can see it manifest by how similar we become in the way we talk or carry our self like those we surround ourselves with. It is also witnessed in how they adapt one another's habits and way of life. But now by His Holy Spirit coming to live in me, He restored my soul fully through my repentance and belief in His finished work on the cross, which has in it the power of forgiveness and reconciliation to God. I was able to be made whole again and this was certainly true, since through that earnest repentance, I was finally able to move forward from those relationships as well as able to break all of the lustful desires I had opened myself to through pornography. I also began to see how a person can place such importance on a relationship to the point where it becomes idolatry.
Anything that sets itself up in the place of God is idolatry. We can do this with our homes, significant others, children, cars, etc. My break up affected me so deeply, because I had made a god out of it, expecting it to be the source of my contentment without realizing it. This made perfect sense as to why I constantly lived in regret over the past many years after those relationships had ended. I had really beaten myself up for not forgiving that girl who abandoned me while I was in prison. But now I saw how much I needed God's forgiveness ... yet how unwilling I was to extend it to others like her. In His great love ' now not lacking in anything - I found that to be truly complete in this lifetime is to be continually connected to the Author of Life ' the only eternal God through His Son Jesus Christ! You also have far more to offer someone if you are complete in God and you're not entering into a relationship looking for what it has to offer you.
This also proved itself in the things I witness between my parents since their divorce. It brought much clarity to why they could never quite get over their separation and also why their marriage never worked out from the beginning. For one, my dad was still one flesh with his first wife. Whereas most view marriage from a worldly point of view as some sort of legal binding agreement that can be altered if the two consenting parties decide that they no longer care to be bound by it - marriage is actually and always has been - a spiritual union ordained by God. Just because we might view it otherwise does not in any way change the fact that God's eternal truth found in His Word stands forever above our dimly lit views of the truth.
Since my parents did not understand these things, they both suffered the feeling of loss since my father could not give to my mother what he no longer possessed. And why he couldn't find the satisfaction in this new relationship that he desired. This is why God never intended or condoned re-marriage. God's laws had always been for our own good and the good of our fellow men/women created in His image. It has only been our own haste and rebellion against God that has brought about the destruction and confusion that we face in our personal lives and relationships with one another. God also showed me what a devastating generational effect that divorce can have on children. After some digging, I began to find out that my grandparents and even my great grandparents were divorcees who re-married, or at least began a relationship with someone other than the person they were married to after separating. Certainly my parent's marital issues were no longer a coincidence to me. Since Satan hates God, it is he who seeks to encourage our rebellion through false religion, false teachings, and lies; but the evidence of the truth is most obvious through the reality of our experiences.
I understood that if we exalt anything, whether possessions, status, or relationships above the Lord our God the only Giver of life, we then unplug from the only true source of peace, joy and happiness and plug into things that may give us only temporary satisfaction, but perish with use. In other words, you end up placing your hope in something that will not last forever. This is why connecting to God and staying connected through His Son Jesus is so important. This is where this new found strength to face the adversities that would normally crush me and take me under came from. Eternity is a long time to spend plugged into something that is only temporary which is why the first command is: To love the Lord your God with all you mind, heart, soul, and strength.
I quickly saw the benefits of faith and obedience to God in my life and was able to break the generational curses of my forefather's false religion and rebellion against God by prayer, repentance and full dependence on the Holy Spirit. I finally understood the necessity and great importance of Abraham's faith; for it is with our heart that we believe and are justified, and it is with our mouth that we profess our faith and are saved. The Old Testament was teaching us how to believe, so that by the time of Jesus' earthly visit, we would know in Whom to place our trust ' Jesus the Savior of the world! Whereas the people of old were looking forward to His coming, we live in the awesome era of having known that He did in fact come and died for the sins of the world to bring us back into right relationship with our Heavenly Father. What we truly have available to us in terms of a relationship with the Creator of the universe is beyond what our finite minds can fully grasp or even what the people of the Old Testament times were able to experience since the sacrifice for sin had not been completed yet. But since they lived by faith, they looked forward to that promise which God was certain to reward them for by going and taking them all with Him into heaven as soon as His sacrifice was complete.
As He continued to reveal more and more to me, I began also see how a lot of the confusion I had about how I saw life was based on the false premise where I believed that we were all born as good people. Because I felt that I was born a good person, it caused me to be very hard on myself every time I messed up. It was the reason that I desired to be the worst when I was younger, having been apt enough to understand that it was impossible to be the best. He showed me that if I had truly understood that everyone is born as a sinner, then when I sinned, I would've understood my first nature. But because I thought I was born "good," I kept beating myself up terribly and seeing myself as a failure every time I fell short - which was my natural tendency as a person born into sin. But He explained to me that this is why He came and died. He died for sinners to reconcile them to Himself. Since we all are sinners, we ALL need this gift that He sent His Son Jesus Christ to offer us. It's obvious to me how much in very subtle ways we all hold the same notion like we expect people to be "good." You can see it anytime someone picks up a newspaper to read and comes across some heinous crime headline. The thing that shocks us is that deep down what we really believe is that the world is suppose to be "good." That's why it shocks us when we see something bad happen. But if we realized that the world is born into sin, then the newspaper becomes just headlines of mankind acting out their first nature. God came to give us a new nature; a spiritual one -- His Spirit in us. This is accomplished through the spiritual rebirth of being born again. Baptism signifies the death of your old self and through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, you too can receive His Holy Spirit.
By the seventh day, after continuing to have received these profound revelations, I had to share them with others ... although I was still an infant at explaining myself clearly. I remember visiting a Wings Restaurant with my brother-in-law, trying to explain these things to him as we stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. I had come to learn that the Holy Spirit was indeed living in me now, which was verified by the Word of God which said that believers would receive this indwelling Spirit, the Spirit of truth. Since by brother-in-law was raised Catholic, I was trying to encourage him to read the Bible so he could fully understand the truth for himself of all the promises of God, and I tried to show him how everything that had happened to me was also available to him.
As I was speaking to him, excitedly waving my hand with the cigarette in it, I began to realize how destroying my body and health must mean I would be destroying the very temple of God: me! Only a few seconds had passed since I lit the cigarette so there was still much to go, but in this moment a sense of freedom came over me. I testified to the truth boldly to my brother-in-law as I threw the cigarette away, saying that I would be a liar and a hypocrite to continue on smoking after all I had experienced, and come to understand in these past few days about God whom I had searched to know all these years. I can say that indeed the power of God is real and amazing. That was in fact, the last cigarette I have ever smoked in my life.
You have no idea how awesome that day was and all that it meant to me. After all the years of trying to quit and all the various ways I had tried and failed, there was no denying that something very real had now changed in my life. I had become the very testimony to the truth that the power of Jesus is real and that He does indeed still live, for He was certainly now living in me! These were just some of the very miracles you could read about in the Gospels about how Jesus went from town to town healing people. It was always right there in the pages of the Bible for anyone who was willing to read and above all believe in the testimony of scripture.
IT TOOK A WHILE BEFORE I REALIZED AND TRUSTED THAT GOD WAS HERE IN MY LIFE TO STAY
Still overcoming many areas of my own brokenness, it took me almost ten days of constantly waking up each morning doubting that He would be there once again. Feeling the truest sense of undeserved mercy, it took a while before I realized and trusted that God was here in my life to stay. I finally got up one morning before the alarm went off to turn it off myself. It was on this day that I got down on my knees and I cried such a heartfelt cry once again. I cried because I knew what a wretch I was. What a depraved, evil thinking, evil speaking criminal I was all my life. I thought of all the people I hurt and even how I had harmed myself in so many ways. I cried because in the depths of the love of our glorious God, He could find a place in the greatness of His love even for someone like me.
Never have I been so moved by compassion like the love of true and living God has moved me. His compassion towards people who absolutely do not deserve it is beyond words. I bowed down and cried long that morning. Before I finally rose to my feet, I declared to this God who loves like I've never imagined or ever felt: 'If You could want me, even after all You know that I've done; after all that You've seen me do. Most certainly, You can have me!'
In this moment of surrender, I pledged everything I am to serve the true and living God. In the days and weeks to come, I really wanted to get to know Him better, so I continued to read His Word diligently. I found many online resources like Bible movies and Bible teachers to aid me in my understanding, but the most profound lessons came from His Holy Spirit living in me -- teaching me day by day.
He continued to lead me to forgive those who have mistreated me, and to even go further and have compassion for others through understanding the spiritual nature of the battle that we face. He showed me that we do not battle with people made of flesh and blood, but rather, we battle in the spiritual realm. I never realized all those years that fear is a spirit; self-pity is a spirit; even anger can be a spirit. Now that doesn't mean that all anger is from a spirit of anger. We have natural tendencies as human beings to get angry just by believing a lie about something or choosing not to control our emotions, but this is why prayer and repentance is so important. There are far more battles we can win by getting on our knees and asking the Lord for forgiveness in prayer rather than trying to defend ourselves in human battles that are truly spiritual in origin. The reason my past prayers were ineffective is because it didn't help to say the same thing repeatedly like I was taught to do in Islam. I had real battles that required speaking to the true and living God about. My forgiveness also would not be certain if Jesus had not died for that very reason to offer me His undeserved grace.
Our God - the true and living God - is a real Person who came in the form of Jesus Christ. He has felt our very pains and sorrows, and the sins of this world He Himself bore on the cross. He is someone that is well acquainted with grief. We can trust that He intimately knows all that we go through in life ... having experienced much of it Himself in His earthly life. He too faced rejection, persecution, betrayal, and death. But we can be certain that just as He has overcome every obstacle and was victorious even in His death by rising from the grave, He indeed has the power to deliver us from every attack of our real enemies of this world ' the spiritual kingdom of darkness.
It is this kingdom of darkness that seeks, and is most successful in darkening the minds of the unbelieving. My life testifies about what it is like to live in this very state - having been someone who has done so for most of my life. I can see now why the Bible says that 'The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God, it does not submit to God's law nor can it do so' It is only the Spirit of God that has transformed me in the renewing of my mind, and helps me in my weakness to live a life that is pleasing to Him. Most of our issues with one another usually stem from interpreting the situation in error according to the lie, by not acknowledging the truthfulness of who God`s Word says our enemies in this life's real battle are.
He also showed me what great power words can have. Just by having had words of hatred, malice and anger spoken to me growing up, it planted seeds in my heart and mind that may have taken some time to fully blossom. But once they did, it was the very fruit of my life that resulted in the blatant disregard for the lives of others like I did. It lead to things like revenge and even almost murder. I learned this as God began to uproot all of the negative words my parents had spoken into my life that made me see myself as a failure, and with each passing day true peace and freedom began to shine. Not only was I able to forgive them and love them with real sincerity, but God then spoke His own words of life to me instead. Words like 'son'. I was incredibly moved that the Creator of the heavens and earth would consider someone like me His son. Also words like 'friend'. To see God as my friend was something that took some time to break out of my previous thoughts of Him as. But even as the days continue on, I realized just how much He was in fact with me in everything I did ... like a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
One of the things that broke my heart the absolute most was when I told Him how much I had longed for this day to know the truth. I could sense Him reply back to me that it was He who had waited so patiently for this day far longer than I could ever know. That just floored me. Our God, the great and glorious God of all creation .. loved me so much that despite all of my evil ways ... He was patiently waiting for this day to have this relationship with me all of these years. It was all very overwhelming to say the least ... and only made possible by Jesus!
The truth of God found in the Bible was able to destroy all the previously believed lies that this world and even people can cause us to believe through all of the seemingly harmless quaint sayings that we pick up over the years. I learnt a lot about mental strongholds and how they work in false religion and philosophy through circular logic and built on false premises that contradict the truth about what the Bible actually teaches about the biblical Jesus ' things that keep people from coming to a knowledge of the truth. These strongholds affected my personal life and relationships with others. I saw the result of this happening in my life when in an attempt to find love, I unplugged from my parents who I felt did not care about me. I then plugged into the friends who I had partied with and used as my escape from them. It caused me to place an exceedingly high standard on our friendships; one that when they fell short of it, which they inevitably would, I could then justify my anger and hatred towards them by.
I quickly began to realize just how much people around me do this very thing every single day. The truth of God brings clarity and light that causes believers to walk very different from those of this world. Believers adhere to the standards of a Kingdom that is not of this world and most things are a paradox to what we are most easily inclined to believe. We must be willing to trust in God and seek Him with our entire being. The mind, will and emotions must all be engaged in unity; for a house divided against itself will not stand.
He showed me how to break many other negative cycles in my life through repentance; in seeing my own need for forgiveness, and above all, through love. It strengthened me greatly to know that if my God could bear all that He did for us -- all the insults, ridicule, slander, malice, ill-treatment, abuse, and the pain of the death that He suffered on the cross -- then I too could endure the hardships of this temporary life, and even go further to be willing to suffer loss and hardship for the sake of peace and love. He gave me many dreams with glimpses of His glorious light that gave me a certain hope of something wonderful to look forward to in eternity with Him. His word promises that one day I will finally put aside this dying body and will be given a glorified one that is without sin as promised to those who believe and trust in Him until the end. I can't begin to tell you what kind of hope that excites in me. This also taught me that short-sightedness is a great danger to anyone who seeks to know the will of God for their life. We must be willing to see the temporal nature of this life and set our sights further until we have an eternal perspective regarding all things.
It may have taken almost twenty years, but I learnt that God is faithful. We may have many questions concerning life, and our loving God hears them all. He simply answers in His own time. It may also have required many humbling experiences to fully prepare me to comprehend and be ready to accept all that He has now revealed to me regarding those two questions that I asked as just a little boy, but that really taught me to carefully consider what you bring before the Lord your God. I know now with certainty that I can trust in the Word of God found in the Holy Bible. He has revealed in it all that we need to know for this lifetime, and it is indeed the very Word of God.
Over the next few weeks and then months, He has opened many opportunities for me to be reconciled to those whom I had wronged and even those who have done wrong to me that I was holding on to feelings of resentment and bitterness towards. My relationships with my mother, my father and many others have been reconciled and even greatly growing ever since. I saw that through this whole experience, He was using the adversities of life to build character in me; character that would be much needed to steward the spiritual gifts that He had also bestowed upon me from a child but was now ready to unveil. I asked God for an opportunity, if He thought I was ready even to be reconciled to the guy who hated me for no reason. Even though that guy hasn't particularly changed much, the same day that I prayed that prayer, God opened an opportunity for me to see him and it felt good to finally lay that burden down. I've grown to understand through my own experiences, that he too may hold such strong angry emotions because of things attributed to the same misunderstanding of life and maybe even a poor upbringing. I have sincerely prayed for him before God -- having understood that it is God the Father who reveals Christ to us by His Holy Spirit and I truly wish no one will ever be left standing on the other side of that wall on the final day; including him. God's majesty and sovereignty was greatly exalted when I saw how God was even in control of the bad things that happened to me in my life, and how He was using them to bring about His will for my life. That guy may have intended evil against me, but God meant it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
I see that our God definitely answers prayers when they are according to His will and the Word of God showed me that there is much available that is within His will for us, His children. His love is one that does not require anything in return. These experiences have helped me to learn to love others that way also. His love is certainly more than enough for me, and those who truly know Him easily overflow with love and goodwill towards others.
God IS love.
Now I would love to go on telling you of every single thing that Jesus had said and continues to reveal day by day, but as the Gospel writer John wrote: 'Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.' (See: John 21:25). I'm starting to get the picture.
I see now that everything we all are really searching for can be found in plain sight at the cross of Jesus Christ! It is at the cross of Christ where all the mysteries of God are fully explained; the truth about His holiness, His justice, His mercy, His wrath, His holy hatred of sin, His love, His grace, His perfect obedience and sacrifice for all!
There are no words to express what this love has done to me. I've put off writing such a testimony for I knew for certain that no amount of words would ever be worthy nor could do justice to fully capture all that might convey the true glory of God to others and the profound truths He has and continues to reveal to me day by day, but my Heavenly Father has asked me to do this. If this is all I can offer Him for all He has done for me, then I pray that my faithful obedience and shameless honesty in my testimony of some of what I've been through and what He has done for me in this lifetime will lend to further exalt his glorious name and help you to get to know Him just a little bit better.
He is worthy of every tear I have ever shed my entire life to come to this point of brokenness so that I could fully grasp the depth of His love and share in this great joy. If the world hates me for proclaiming His name, it will surely never stop me from doing so until the very end just so that many might also have the chance to know Him also.
I pray you find what you are searching for in the face of Christ.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
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"And this gospel of
the kingdom [Jesus
died for sinners] shall be preached in all the world for a
witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come."
(Quote from Jesus Himself: Matthew 24:14).
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