Feature

Mistaken Identity

By and

Many people start the stories of their lives with: “When I was born…” My story, however, starts before that. After my brother, J.C., was born, my mom had an intrauterine device (IUD) implanted that was supposed to prohibit her from having any more children. Just three months later she was pregnant with me—the device had failed.

I was a MISTAKE!

Because of the IUD, the doctors told my parents that I would be physically deformed, mentally challenged and plagued with medical problems my entire life—which, they said, would be very short anyway. I was born January 20, 1973. Two days later, the Supreme Court legalized abortion. Had the law been passed a couple of months sooner, my parents probably would have been convinced to abort me. Mom and Dad were always careful to call me a “pleasant surprise.” It didn’t matter though, because I knew that if they had had their way, I would not have been conceived. I not only believed I was a mistake, I lived as if I were.

As I grew up, I was known for stupid and reckless behavior. The summer of my twelfth year, I had two experiences that should have left me staring into the face of Jesus. My sister, Jeanie, J.C. and I were on a train trestle above an eight-lane highway. My hearing has never been great, and my siblings heard the train—but I did not. I felt the vibration and as I turned to look, I was astonished at what I saw… No time to run. Only react. A near miss. After the train passed, I came to my senses and shimmied over to where my sister stood sobbing. I grabbed her by the waist and screamed, “Boo!” She turned around and punched me square in the face, knocking me to the ground.

That same summer, Jeanie and I were riding our bikes to the store when I pulled out in front of a car… I flew off the front and slid across the concrete for about 30 feet. My sister was screaming and crying, but I couldn’t figure out why…until I looked down. From my neck to my ankles I was one big, bleeding road rash.

Much of what I did
 for jobs and for fun was 
high risk. One of my first 
jobs after quitting school
at 15 was washing high-
rise windows. I fell on many occasions, once from five stories. I landed in a row of bushes and ended up with some minor cuts.

I lived recklessly because 
I really didn’t believe I had a right to life. Although still just a kid, I felt the full weight of believing that I was a mistake. Through all of the stupid run-ins with traffic, trains and the like, violence was always the undercurrent of my life. I punished people for how I felt about myself. My brother and I fought wildly and then always made up. But everyone else felt the brunt of my wickedness. I was not angry; I was wicked. I enjoyed hurting people.

By the time I was 15, I had become an accomplished martial artist. Kids my age were no challenge for me. I fought with adults… One night, a guy with a knife jumped me. He started the fight. I finished it. I beat him so badly his own mother didn’t recognize him.

The next day, I found at least 50 men—the family of the guy I had beaten up—standing in front of our house, shouting at my father. I threw a bottle at them and prepared to fight. My dad pulled me into the house and pinned me against the wall. More seriously than he had ever spoken to me before, he said, “You are a fool. These people want to kill you, son!” POLICE? Ya’ll go on home now or I’m gonna call the cops! Dad was shot! My dad ran inside and fell on the couch. To this day the bullet remains in his side.

You would think that that would have been enough, but I kept on fighting, kept on hurting people. When I was 17 I came to Colorado, where my mother was living. With some of my brother’s friends, I started committing small crimes, vandalism and the like.

We were always looking to fight. One night in October 1990, three of us started a brawl with six Japanese students who were hanging out in a park… It wasn’t a fair fight. We really beat them up. This would be my last high-risk experience in the free world. I was found guilty of 22 felonies. “You are sentenced to 75 years in prison!”

Soon I would find myself in the “hole”. Solitary confinement. Inmates called it the “dark side.” “This is where they deposit mistakes! This is exactly what I deserve.” BUT…

I found a tattered Bible. Over the next four months, I read that old Bible from beginning to end five times. When I left the hole I was not the same person. I had found the Light on the “dark side”! I was transferred to Colorado’s most violent prison. Frankly, I was scared! I was so new with the “Christian” thing that I was not sure if God could really protect me. But I knew I could, so I did what I had always done when I was scared: I smashed out a secure place for myself with violence. And I survived.

In 1996, I was sent to Texas, where God would finally get my attention. And He used just three simple words! I was placed in a cell with a guy who was sleeping, so I went out into the “pod” until he woke up. There, I used very foul language and was a bit of a loud mouth. I didn’t know that my new “cellie,” Josh, had awakened and overheard. When I returned to the cell to put my things away, Josh was lying on his bed with his Bible open. I pulled out the Bible that I had received in the county jail…

“Hey, nice Bible.”

“Yeah, I’m a Christian, too.”

“I can’t tell!”

Josh had heard me speaking in the pod, and my speech was anything but Christian. He was honest enough to tell me the truth— if I was a Christian, he couldn’t tell. From that point on…I have been living for God, and I have not looked back!

Overall, I spent 20 years and 5 months behind bars. I did my best to apply myself to all that God had for me, but it was never easy. One of the hardest things a man can do is live in prison while being completely sold out to Jesus Christ! While it was tough, it has been my joy to serve God and to grow under the Christian men He put in my life.

In 1997 a friend of mine asked me if I would write to a woman who wanted a Christian pen pal, a friend. I said, “Sure, but I’m not really looking for a romantic thing.” Without meaning for it to happen, she received my first letter on Valentine’s Day. We did the “friend” thing for about a week! We were married two years later, and we have been blessed beyond belief. Susie’s daughter, Chelsea, does not remember when I was not her dad. I can’t imagine loving anything or anyone as much as I do my two girls!

God has used them to teach me more of what it means to be a godly man, things I never would have learned without them. And if I am honest, there are many times when I would have probably given up if it were not for Susan and Chelsea. Oftentimes when I wanted to do what I knew was not right, I would think to myself, How will you ever explain this to the girls? It has been hard to see them suffer for my sake, but I can’t imagine my life without them!

During the last decade or so of my incarceration, several chaplains groomed me for ministry. Along with extensive training in theology, these men taught me much about what it means to be a counselor, teacher, preacher and pastor. In addition to the chaplains, God placed many other men in my life to sculpt me. One of the biggest milestones in my training, next to my salvation, was learning the doctrines of grace. Again, God would use three simple words to persuade me. A mentor and I had been going back and forth for months, and finally one day at lunch he said… “It’s one tree. It’s one tree.” Over and over, he repeated himself, and I realized that God’s people are one Church, from Adam and Eve right up until now. That truth blew me away and was the final blockade to be destroyed.

I was finally able to put my life in perspective. God had ordered the good and the bad. In everything that happened, even before I was born, God’s providential hand was over my life. While I hate the wickedness I did, all of the stupidity, God was watching every step. Nature and medical science could not keep me from being born. The Supreme Court of the United States of America could not snuff me out in my mother’s womb, because He knew me, He formed me and He wanted me to live (Psalm 139:13–16). Through all of my irresponsible acts, which should have killed me, God protected me, even from myself. I was His perfect plan, and He chose me because of His great love! I WAS NOT A MISTAKE!

Even your worst sins can be used by God; He will redeem your past. Give yourself over to the idea that He is bigger than your history. God loves you. You are intentional. You are not a mistake!

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