I wasn’t raised in a Christian home. I didn’t have God-fearing parents or any real exposure to Christ during my childhood. In fact, my parents were exact opposites. My mother didn’t follow any solid beliefs but considered herself a Catholic by association, and in contrast, my biological father was a devout Hindu. My parents divorced when I was only three years old, so I guess you can say my heart hardened at a very young age. Growing up, I always had two conflicting explanations of God and the after-life, which ultimately led me to believe that there wasn’t one.
My grandparents, who were a little more serious about their Catholic faith, died when I was nine. That was the end of my experience with Catholicism. Around the same time, my biological father moved across the country and started another family. As far back as I can remember, I had no real purpose, no ambitions or dreams. I was just there. Existing.
With no clear direction, I was always easily influenced with the things around me. By the age of twelve, I was already drinking alcohol. By fourteen, I was the neighborhood stoner. By seventeen, I had been suspended from school for selling drugs on campus. The foundation of instability in my life was clearly visible.
My mom, a single-mother, struggled to make ends meet. Needless to say, I had no college fund and my below-average grades and overall lack of interest, left me with zero scholarships. There was little opportunity for me after high school, so I enlisted in the military. The following March after graduation, I was sent to basic training and began my career as a United States Sailor in the Navy. I was barely an adult but being independent was a good feeling. I was forced to suppress my drug-use to pass the military’s entrance qualifications so I resorted to a senseless amount of drinking. By the time I was 19, I was already facing behavioral consequences. A substance-abuse counselor on the military base I was stationed at, recommended in-patient treatment among many other anti-depressant medications.
Initially, I agreed to rehab. I spent forty-one days digging up nineteen years of trauma. At one point, I had a breakdown and refused all further treatment prescribed by the institution. As a result, the military was forced to discharged me with honorable conditions.
When I returned home, my mom had divorced her second husband, sold her house and moved to another state with her new boyfriend. I stood with her for a number of months and began falling back into my old way of life. A self-destructive pattern of drug abuse, drinking, and exhausting my every effort to dismiss the problems within.
Later that year, I began dating a Pastor’s daughter. She would often try to share her faith with me but I continuously shrugged off her words, expressing no interest. During an alcoholic rage I reached my lowest point and found myself arrested and facing a felony. By the time I came back to my senses, I was handcuffed to hospital bed in the psychiatric unit.
This is where I met Jesus. It wasn’t at a church function. It was at the lowest point of my life. I was fully convinced that I was spending the next few years of my life in a cell.
”If you’re real…please help me!” I cried out to a God I didn’t even fully believe in. Seven days later, I was released from custody and enrolled into a treatment program that helped me kick-start my recovery and a friend I met at the hospital invited me to join him at a church service.
Mercy, it’s the only explanation of what had happened. As I continued my court-issued treatment program, I began reflecting on the years of damage I’ve caused in my life. As I became more sensitive to God’s hand moving in my life, the guilt became over-whelming. How could I have so blatantly ignore how many times God has been reaching out to me? All those times my ex-girlfriend, the Pastor’s daughter, had offered me the gospel and I just shrugged it off. It took a rock bottom experience to lead me to surrender.
As I continued to grow in the faith, I was baptized in the name of Jesus. As I was driving home from work one day, I heard an advertisement on the Christian radio station, who was accepting applications for scholarships to a Christian University. With no biblical foundation, except my radical conversion to Christ, I felt the Lord leading me to dig deeper. Moving in obedience, I applied and was awarded a scholarship to CCU (Colorado Christian University) — where I selected Biblical Studies as my major. I had a strong desire to get to know this Jesus that saved me.
The scriptures tell us that God’s peace surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:6) and I am a first hand witness of this divine peace. The original reason that I had gotten arrested before my conversion to Christ was because of a domestic violence case. It took me a while to be in a place of willingness to share this sensitive information– but as I was sharing my testimony one day with a group of friends, His Spirit spoke to me and said, show them your dirt, so I can show them my glory.
My ex-girlfriend, the Pastor’s daughter, and I got into a toxic argument and in my drunkenness– it escalated quickly. I got aggressive, violent and abusive. The exact words in the police report were assault and strangulation, which in the state of Connecticut, is a class C felony punishable by a minimum of one year in prison up to a maximum of ten years. Through grace alone, I avoided incarceration entirely.
Two years after my arrest I was required to follow up with a social worker to report the progress of my treatment. She then continued showed me a picture of myself at the time of my arrest. She told me that she was fully convinced that the person I was on that day and the person she saw at that time, were two entirely different people. She then announced that all charges were dismissed by the court and nothing was added to my permanent record. I was free–indeed.
And this isn’t even the mind-blowing part…
I was continuing my studies with CCU, getting deeper into the word of God. Now walking in new life, my ex-girlfriend and I had made amends. I had a long list of apologies, which included her parents. As I found myself humbly in their living room, seeking forgiveness, their response completely crushed everything I had previously believed in.
“Bryan, we’ve forgiven you a long time ago. It’s what Jesus did for us. If we want forgiveness, we must give it, even before we’re asked to.”
I remember an overwhelming rush of emotion as I sobbed in her parent’s arms. They embraced me without hesitation. On the way there, I was preparing myself to apologize without receiving forgiveness. If someone had abused my daughter, I don’t know if I would be able to stand in the face of her abuser without wanting to retaliate. Their grace didn’t end there. They knew I was eagerly pursuing the LORD and was weeks away from my ordination ceremony, so they offered me a pastoral role at their church. They said God had put it on their hearts long before and they spent weeks in prayer about it.
THIS is how I know, that I know, GOD is real. His grace transformed Saul the persecutor into Paul the Apostle– and this is the same Power I’ve witnessed in my life.