My Faith Walk
I was staying with my aunt Cherry at the time, and remember that it felt so good to me, going to church with my family and friends at Emmanuel Temple church.
It felt like God was right by my side. After church one day, while taking a short cut home by cutting through a neighbor’s yard, I woke up a sleeping dog who didn’t appreciate the intrusion on his territory. The chase was on as I jumped fences, terrified that the dog was gaining on me. Desperately I prayed for God to stop that dog from getting me just as he managed to bite my backside, taking a little chunk with him. Even so I managed to outrun him, and always felt it was because God had heard my prayer.
My Dear Mother never ceased to take us to church, hoping to instill us with God’s Love but honestly, all I seemed to get out of it was the enjoyment I had from singing along with those Gospel church choirs. Even so, my mind was always elsewhere. I felt restless, trying different denominations as I grew older to see if I could experience God’s guidance in a more real way. Eventually I just became discouraged and confused. They all seemed to focus on the practical, instead of the spiritual nourishment my soul craved.
Gradually I stopped seeking spiritual food and lived life as it came at me. As the years went by it seemed that I only turned to God when things were desperate in my life, like when I almost died by drowning in the Hudson River while trying to escape being chased and shot at by drug dealers. Believing I was about to die I again appealed to Heaven and again Heaven reached out to me, giving me the chance I asked for. Unfortunately the bargain I made in exchange for my life was soon forgotten once I’d recovered, and I was off again, doing my own thing, living irresponsibly. I didn’t understand at the time the truth of God’s Word in Galatians 6:7 “Do not be deceived; God will not be mocked by mere pretensions. For whatever a man sows, that and that only is what he will reap.”
That day finally came when, living recklessly and out of control, God called in His account with me. My actions finally brought me to the point of suicide to avoid paying the consequences of my actions when those plans were interrupted by a prayer. If I survived this deadly game of Russian Roulette, I would get serious about serving Him. Finding myself still alive after the first trigger pull, I decided to accept responsibility for what I had done. The police were at the door, ready to arrest me and before long I was in prison. But once again all thoughts of serving the Lord were forgotten.
The only mindset available to me was survival as I understood it, which was fighting and defending what I thought was my honor. When inmates slandered me by using racial slurs, I saw red and finally managed to fight my way into maximum security isolation for a couple of years. While there I started a hunger strike, hating the food. Instead I started feeding my soul with books that drew me closer to my Lord and Savior, Who I had been avoiding and neglecting for so long by indulging my impulsive nature. As I continued to nurture my soul and spirit with God’s Word and other Christian books, I began to experience a peace that had never been in my life before. My hunger strike had turned into a fast and a hunger for God’s anointing.
As the days in solitude went on, so did my encouragement in the Lord. I felt His presence with me in that place meant to punish, but that instead had become my haven. I felt infused with Divine Energy and began to receive insight. There were no distractions to inhibit all that the Lord wanted to teach me, giving me the tools I needed so badly to begin living life the way I had always desired but had been unable to. He was teaching me that the root of all anxiety is when we separate ourselves from our Source, making us ‘self-conscious’ instead of ‘God-conscious’. I could easily imagine how Adam and Eve must have felt after deliberately separating themselves from their Source, the naked fear and panic that came with the loss of connection. I learned through God’s Word that we accumulate things to provide a false sense of security, overvaluing the physical and temporal and undervaluing the spiritual and eternal.
During my incubation time in isolation, where God and I finally made our vital connection, I started my journey with Him towards my ultimate goal of spiritual victory that could withstand all that life threw at me. Change came in segments as I processed through the carnage of my past. Added to this was the unbearable stigma that I now felt as a convict. The way the system viewed me was so different from how I saw myself. To them I was an unconscionable monster that had no worth. As if the sins of my past were not enough, they had tied even more on to make their image of me complete. Somehow they manage to imprison me with a life sentence and I puzzled over and over how this could have happened. Yet with the Lord as my teacher, I gradually surrendered more and more of myself to Him and began to find and accept a deeper understanding of God’s Word as my personal truth. I started testing what I had learned. Was I more than what meets the eye? Whenever a negative thought would arise I would shut it down by focusing on my blessings and seeking solutions to the challenges I was facing. Slowly the belief that I was broken and inadequate began melting away as I devoted more and more of myself to my spiritual walk.
Even so, disappointment after disappointment took its toll and after serving 18 years of my sentence and being dismissed and discarded by the parole board at my hearing as if I was irrelevant and unchanged, I struggled again with despair. I didn’t know any way to make sense of the prison experience any more, since I had worked so hard at being accountable and to becoming a man I could live with without shame. Somehow all that was lost on these people. They insisted on seeing me as I was and not on the man I’d become. I did not know how to think about my life with the hope of freedom dashed. As I worked through this disappointment I began to long again for the peace I had once felt when first coming to prison, in that isolation cell. Maybe I should surrender my decade of clear conduct and request to go back to that haven as I once knew it, to find out what God was requiring of me. I kept calling out to Him to meet me here, in this place, to help me understand. “Please Lord, help me grow closer to You so I can bear this life.” But when He attempted to answer this call, I was skeptical and resistant. He seemed to be instructing me to attend a religious meeting held by volunteers each month at the prison. It wasn’t religion I wanted, but God Himself.
As I argued with Him about going, I found myself walking into the meeting, almost against my will. I noticed someone I hadn’t seen before who captured my attention because I heard the Lord speaking to my heart that this person could provide me with the answers I was seeking. After the service I requested a word with her and asked if she would consider being my spiritual mentor. With her agreement I began a whole new chapter to my faith walk. She provided me with a Bible translation that opened God’s Word to me in a more intimate way, and her guidance and challenges to certain thought patterns have been just the answers I had been seeking the Lord for. Her mentor-ship has deepened and instilled in me a trust in God’s benevolence and given me a serenity I never knew before.
My spiritual practice now involves making time each day for devotions that include reading my Bible, journaling and meditation, simply sitting in silence or out in the yard by myself listening to what the Lord is saying to me. I can better understand what I am growing through and why! I am able to see and feel the Divine Hand always working on my behalf. My life is a journey and a testament to this truth. Even when it appears that things are falling apart, God is in the crisis waiting to be seen, and heard! Like the great Walter Ciszek wrote about in his experience in a Soviet prison, we must see God in all things, good and bad. His favorite saying was, “This is the will of God for me today.” Romans 8:28 God makes it clear that he causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him.
As I now see it, life is not worth living if I am not doing God’s will and serving others. The Lord brought me to this place in my life to show me His grace at work, to open my eyes, and to prepare me for ministry in His kingdom. My constant prayer goes like this:
“Heavenly Father, I worship You, and ask that you take my life and use me for Your honor and purposes, not my own. Please take all of my life and give it real meaning through obedience to Your Son. Thank you for loving me and for Your complete forgiveness for all my past wrongs. I will walk in Your truth and praise You until You bring me to your mansion that awaits me. Amen”