Then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.
John 12:35-36 NKJV
It is hard to walk in darkness. I had spent a few years doing just that. I hadn’t completely hidden the light in my life, but I had unintentionally put some distance between myself and God. I hadn’t walked away, but I wasn’t walking with Him either. My life was in darkness without Him, and I knew it. I just wasn’t sure how to get out of it. It was a question I asked one of the youth leaders at the Catholic retreat. “I know God wants me to open the door to my heart and let Him in. I try to do that and I want to do that, I just don’t know how.”
I don’t know how long I suffered with depression. It wasn’t anything that was officially diagnosed in me either, but it was there. There was a poem I had written in my senior year that was titled “Falling.” I was proud of the poem and shared it with one of the teachers. Of course, reading the poem, it was clear to see both depression and possibly even suicide. It talks about falling, the ground coming, and asking the Lord for forgiveness, that I was dead and I was wrong. When I wrote it, I wasn’t thinking about suicide, but anyone who read it would certainly think otherwise. I did see a therapist for free, at the recommendation of the same teacher, but there was no diagnosis of depression that I can recall. It wasn’t anything that my parents really understood. How could I be depressed when I had a family that loved me and things seemed to be going good for me. After all, it was my senior year, and the best school year I had ever. It was the first year of having close friends that I enjoyed spending time with, that treated me with respect. Even I tried to tell myself that there was no reason for me to be depressed.
I had signed up to join the Air Force upon graduating from High School. I didn’t have the grades for good colleges. Yes, I could have done community college first, but it seemed like joining the Air Force would be a career path for me. I was going in for electronics, even though I really wanted to work with computers. The fear of war in Iraq was a real thing at the time, and joining the Air Force seemed to be a better alternative than the possibility of a draft. So, in the summer after I had graduated, I was sent to San Antonio, Texas for basic training. I remember getting up before the sun, humidity even at that early in the morning, and “black flag” days where activity was extremely limited. Even more, I remember my depression and suicidal thoughts hitting me harder than they ever did before or since. There was a time I even contemplated putting a razor to my wrist, which, thankfully, I didn’t do. I even remember writing a suicide note that I had planned on mailing to my parents. I sealed it, put a stamp on it, but never put it in the mail.
What kept me from the darkest part? I knew I hadn’t been walking as closely to the Lord as I should have been. I was afraid that, were I to die, I would go to hell. I was also afraid of hurting my family. I didn’t want them to suffer by losing me. I clung to Footprints in the Sand, the fact that Jesus was carrying me during my darkest hour. I clung to my Bible, trying to get comfort from His Word. I spoke to the Catholic Chaplain when I could. At home, I was able to combat the stress and the depression through escape. I escaped into fantasy books. I escaped into writing. I escaped into computers. I escaped into Dungeons & Dragons. I escaped into video games. I escaped into my friends. I never ran to the Lord. In that place, I wasn’t able to escape into my normal escapes, and I hadn’t yet fully learned how to run to the Lord. I clung to a poem. I clung to some verses. I clung to my faith. I didn’t cling fully to the Lord. This period was the closest in my life that I ever had been to contemplating suicide. Thankfully, the Lord protected me and strengthened me, even though I didn’t feel it.
After two weeks, the process began for me to be discharged and four weeks after I left, I was back home again. Although now that I was home, what was I going to do? The Air Force was going to be my career. I had no other plans. I had ruined many potential plans due to my poor performance in school. So, the answer, pushed by my parents, was that I was to get a job and go to community college. I had so many bad habits built up from school. In addition, I had an overactive thyroid that hadn’t yet been discovered. Add to that the depression that was still in the dark recesses of my mind. Put it all together, and I wound up failing to complete community college classes, even going so far as to drop out of the class. Even a computer programming class, a class I enjoyed and excelled in, wound up getting dropped. From outward appearances, this looked like a continuation of the bad habits I built up in high school. Maybe it was, maybe it was ADHD caused by the overactive thyroid, maybe it was something else. I can’t say for certain what the problem was, all I knew is something I still remember telling my parents in frustration.
“I don’t know why this is happening! I want to learn, but I keep hitting this wall. I don’t know how to get past this wall!” I didn’t know, and still don’t know, what that wall was. I don’t know if my parents thought it was just my bad habits or if it was just an excuse. In the end, it really didn’t matter. All we really knew was I wasn’t fully applying myself again, for whatever reason, and I was spiraling out of control when it came to my continuing education. Of course, without that, it meant very little hope for me to get a decent job and be even harder for me to move out of the house.
I worked fast food, then worked in retail. From there, I moved on to security. My education still floundered, when I even went to school at all. Three different community colleges, all three had no classes completed. My depression that lived inside of me festered, as I looked at my life and saw no hope for the future. Maybe I could work as a police dispatcher? I applied, but failed the entrance exam. Maybe I could work in the post office? Again, I applied, but apparently failed the entrance exam. I say I failed both exams because I never got a follow-up call for any additional interviews. Could also have been a lack of education that kept them from reaching out. In the end, I wondered, would I be stuck working mall security for the rest of my life?
All during this time, I was walking on my own. I was walking in darkness away from the light. I still believed in God, I still trusted in Him, but I wasn’t walking with Him like I should have been. I was lost in the darkness, living a life without much hope for the future. While the darkness wasn’t as bad as it was when I was in the Air Force basic training camp, it was there, and I was still clinging to the words of a poem and the Bible that gave me comfort, but I wasn’t clinging to the Lord.
Then one night, the Lord directly reached out to me. When I was working security at a mall, I met a woman who locked her keys in her car, and I helped her contact a locksmith. As we waited for the locksmith to arrive, she talked to me about a business she was involved with. It sounded like a good idea to me. Maybe it was the answer to keep me from working security for the rest of my life. Little did I know, though, the Lord had other plans for me. I got to know this woman more as I became involved with the business. At one point, she invited me to an evening service at her church. I hadn’t been going to church since returning from San Antonio. So, I accepted her offer and went to an evening service at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. It was Pastor Greg Laurie’s church, but if I recall, he wasn’t there that evening. At the end of the service I went forward at the altar call. I did it more because I thought that’s what she wanted me to do, but I know a bigger part of it was God moving.
After talking with a counselor, telling him it was more of a rededication, that I would start going back to the church I grew up in. I didn’t go back to Harvest, but did start going to church with my parents again, as I was still living with them at the time. I still was doing things with the woman I met, and the business, hoping that would lead me where I needed to be. Yes, I was going to church again, but most things really hadn’t changed for me. I was going through the motions, I did want to be closer to God, but I still felt like I wasn’t walking where I needed to be.
The Lord, as always, was faithful, even if I wasn’t faithful. He had a plan for me, even though I was unaware of it. After a bit, I started church hopping. I went to the church I grew up in with my parents, I went to Harvest, and I went to Calvary Chapel Chino Hills. I never really settled into one area, but because of the churches I was attending, I started hearing more about the Harvest Crusades. So, on July 4, 1996, I went by myself to the first night of the Harvest Crusades. I remember The Kry was one of the bands performing and for the first time realized that there was such a thing as Contemporary Christian Music. I don’t recall the other bands there that specific night. I remember Pastor Greg Laurie giving the message. I don’t remember the message now, but I remember quite clearly the moving of the Holy Spirit.
The altar call was given and people were invited down onto the field to give their lives to Christ. I told myself “I don’t need to go down, I am already a Christian.” Another call was given, and I told myself. “I went forward at the church, I don’t need to go forward again.” Then he said something I could not “reason away.” He said “All you prodigal sons and daughters out there…” I tried to find an excuse not to go onto the field, but I knew the story of the prodigal son quite well. I knew that the Lord was calling me down onto the field that night. I knew that He was speaking directly to me. I had asked Him many times since High School, “I know that you say open the door to my heart, and I want to do that, I just don’t know how.” Well, He was finally answering me and I chose to listen.
With fireworks shooting into the sky, I prayed with a group of others on the field of Angel’s Stadium in Anaheim, California, to receive Christ into my heart. It was a rededication of my life to the Lord, not like the one I made a few months prior. This was a first step out of the darkness and into the light. I attended the other nights of the Crusade with a joy that I had never felt before and I had decided to make Harvest Christian Fellowship my new home church. No more church hopping. No more seeking. The Lord had seen me in the darkness, reached down, and guided me back to His light.
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.”
Luke 15:22-24 NKJV