A brief summary of what has gone before: I grew up in a family that neither attended church nor saw any reason to do so, and they passed that on to me. My first interaction with organized religion was being taken to a revival meeting (maybe I should say, being snuck into one) at the age of ten to be baptized, because my dad felt he needed to insure I would be on the right side when Jesus came back for His people – a fairly common concern in America in the late 70’s, I must admit. Under those circumstances, I made what I felt to be a sincere profession of faith and was thereby “saved” for all eternity. Secure in that knowledge, and with no one even trying to tell me any differently, I proceeded living any way I wanted to, guided by a vague sense of “morality” that only required me to be a generally nice person and not intentionally hurt anybody. I had adopted a rigid sense of personal responsibility for the outcomes of my life, with no one to blame but myself if things went badly, and no one to credit but me if they went well.
As you may imagine, things went badly. I lied to people and manipulated them with no remorse when it appeared to serve my own interests; I drank, used drugs, was sexually active at an early age. I married very young, was unfaithful to my wife, neglected my children when those responsibilities interfered with my “freedom”, and later divorced that wife. I got into trouble with the law and spent some time in time in jail; this of course derailed a promising career in engineering. (People generally won’t hire felons for positions of responsibility, who knew?) Through all of this, I never once considered turning to God for help, or thought that I needed Him; after all, He had already done His part: He had made me to be successful, with talents and abilities that only needed to be applied, and He had sent Jesus to be my “get-out-of-hell-for-free card”; if I was a failure, then it was obviously my own fault, and therefore up to me to fix myself and live up to my potential. Once I had learned to act right, God would begin to bless me again – I expected that He would keep me alive so I would have an opportunity to improve, but otherwise I was on my own. It would take both a national tragedy and a personal one to teach me how untrue that was.
By 2001 I had settled into a fairly stable relationship with the woman who would become my current wife (we were not married yet, though we presented ourselves as such; while I had separated from my first wife several years before, I had never “gotten around to” filing the divorce) and was beginning to prosper in my career in commercial construction. One morning in September, I had just gotten back to the hotel room (the project required us to work at night so the store could remain open for business during the day) and flipped on the TV to CNN while I did paperwork and called the office before heading to bed. I glanced up briefly to listen to reporters talking about an accident involving an airplane which had struck one of the buildings at the World Trade Center, and then sat in stunned disbelief as a commercial airliner flew directly into the South Tower. I knew instantly that this was no accident, and that everything was about to change. I had no idea how true that would turn out to be, or on how many levels.
The first change was a decision to walk away from a growing habit of cocaine abuse which Karen and I had shared for about five years; like most people, we started off with small amounts used only infrequently, and like most people it grew into a regular part of our lives – a line item on the weekly budget alongside the groceries and utility bills. (We would never admit it, of course, but by then we were high-functioning addicts – far from bottoming out, but addicts nonetheless.) In spite of this, we were able to make a clean break, and walk away; the biggest difference was the manner in which we did so. My wife has always been a woman of strong faith, and in her time of need she turned to the Lord, in prayer and repentance, and leaned upon Him to see her out of the darkness. I, on the other hand, maintained steadfast confidence in my own abilities and willpower – all it required to quit, was to decide to quit, and then follow through on that choice. The idea that I could not change on my own never occurred to me, and certainly I didn’t need God to help me – once again, I was still alive and rational, so His part was done and the rest was on me.
One cost of that decision, however, was that I needed to change jobs, as one of my main suppliers worked in the office there and had developed a scheme to embezzle funds from the company, funneling them to workers who would trade the cash for drugs. (Karen never knew about this separate pipeline I had developed, I was much farther into my addiction than she was.) As long as I was getting high, this didn’t bother me; once I stopped I had to get away or risk being ensnared when the truth finally came out – it always does, eventually. So I moved on, found another job, and I didn’t get caught – you will see those words again, many times before we are through.
I’m going to break here; the next chapter of my tale is a story I have shared in other places and other times, but it always takes a toll on me to relate. In effect, it’s the story of how I died and was born again, in the most Biblical sense of those words. I know it seems like I’m dragging this out; maybe I am, just a little, but I promise in the next installment I will push through to the end and get us up to current times. Thank you for your patient endurance, O Constant Reader…I believe you will be rewarded.