There are times that are so undeniably epic that they cannot be ignored. These moments defy time and motion; droplets of time that hang on the leaves of this life for what feels like an eternity. It is rare to experience and rarer still to recognize but every now and then you come across one of these crossroads. I experienced mine twenty years ago and after making the wrong choice for over a decade I finally had a chance to get it right.
The choirs’ singing is soothing to my weary body. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here. Why did I come? What did I hope to accomplish? The preacher is talking now; he speaks with such authority; yet, his words are gentle. I shouldn’t have come. Surely, by now, it’s too late for me. I have been drifting through this life without ever stopping to see what’s happening around me. I have been making life altering decisions without ever thinking of the consequences.
How did I get here? I had a good upbringing; my father was one of the best pastors in town. He was a strict, yet kind, loving father with a heart as big as all outdoors. My dear, sweet mother raised us with a firm hand and a loving heart. She made sure we were polite, mannerly, well versed in scripture and lived by the golden rule. They both had done all they could trying to raise me and my rebellious nature. The hole I found myself in was not an end result of a loveless home. I did not stray due to a lack of guidance. We were in a tough neighborhood but I was not a victim of my environment. Everything that has happened to me is a direct result of decisions that I made.
Our neighborhood was nicknamed the “cardboard jungle” and rightfully so. This was due to the 1940 cardboard siding that was on most every duplex apartment and the wild happenings on the street. It had been built in World War II for barracks of enlisted men working at an ammunition plant but it was far from the disciplined lifestyle it once knew. Now it was home to low income families and attractive to a vast variety of delinquents.
This jungle was overrun with unruly animals. The drug dealers weaved there web of lies, promising pleasure, promising freedom but all I found was pain and constraints. The more I did, the more I had to have. The harder I tried to break free the tighter the vines wrapped around me. I made this choice. No one forced this on me. This is where I began to be slip deeper and deeper into the jungle.
Being alone in the jungle at night is a scary place. I needed an ally. I chose to join one of the wolf packs that patrolled the streets. I was again made promises. There was the allusion of brotherhood, camaraderie. I needed someone, something to fill this emptiness. Later, I began to see them as a treacherous, filthy, pack of hyenas. There was no brotherhood. There was no camaraderie. There was only the survival of the fittest. Yet, I chose to stay. I chose to conform to their standards. I slipped deeper still.
The darkness loomed at every turn and I managed to fit right in with that unruly crowd. Somewhere along the way I had become a part of the jungle. The time had passed quickly while I wasn’t watching; briars thickened, roots thrust deeply into the earth and weeds grew strong. I had become a shell of a man; a soulless animal, strong on the outside and empty on the inside. I was lost, lonely, and confused. How did it go wrong so fast? I had only made a couple of bad decisions.
I found myself walking in quicksand; barely able to pick one foot up and put it in front of the other. I slipped deeper still. The cords grew tighter and I was unable to break free of the jungle, unable to leave that forsaken place. It had been so easy to get in. Before I arrived I had not known fatigue, hunger and thirst but I grew to know them well. They became my bedfellows, my companions on this journey.
I grew tired of fighting, tired of drugs, and tired of the path I had chosen. I was tired of the loneliness…the emptiness that had become my life. I was hungry for something of substance; something that would stop the pangs, something that would truly satisfy. I longed for the days of bright sunshine, green meadows and cool streams; the days of resting in the tranquilities of life and standing on sure foundations. I longed for something more. Alas, the darkness was thick. I seemed doomed to stay; after all, it was my choice to come.
Then, suddenly I remembered the words of my father. I remembered the scripture that my mother instilled into us at the dinner table each night. I had a choice. Where I was would not define me! Where I was would not be my final dwelling place! I had a choice! I knew what I had to do. I knew where I needed to go. With the stench of alcohol on my breath and smoke on my tattered clothes, I stumbled into this old church and sat down here in the back.
The preacher is giving an alter call now. Every part of my body wants to run out the back, run back to what I know. Then the words of my parents resonate through my ears. It’s all I can focus on. I have to know if this would work. I have to know if this will set me free. This is my last chance. I pull my white knuckle grip off of the pew in front of me and head down the aisle. As I draw closer to the front I feel my feet become a little lighter and something is stirring inside of me. I fall over the wooden altar and begin to pour out my heart. I am sorry for the choices I have made; sorry for the unspeakable things I have done.
As I kneel praying, a shaft of light beyond intense illuminates through the darkness of my life. Refreshing waves of love, joy and peace pour over me and I soak it up. I can’t tell if I am in the river or if the river is in me! I sob uncontrollably. It’s the first time I have shed a tear in over fifteen years! The words of my parents ring true “When you look up; love reaches down.”
Twenty years later, I am still free of alcoholism and drug addiction. That night set me free. The cords that held me bound were broken. I no longer felt lonely or confused. I was no longer sinking in a pit of despair. I was free! I was free at last! The decision to lay down my life; to allow Jesus to mend the broken pieces was the best decision of my life. I continue to face crossroads in my life but now I don’t have to face them alone.