My testimony of God’s work in my life
I am not going to spend a lot of time on my early years because they are hard to talk about. Even though my parents were married and lived together, I grew up in a divided home. My mother was a Christian and my father was not. Having one parent take us to church and the other not be involved was quite confusing. My childhood was not filled with very many pleasant memories. I cannot recollect a single family vacation or even a day trip where we all were together. My mother would go on vacation without us and my father would work. My older sister Andrea and I would be left at different random houses with people from the church so my mother could have a “break”. I have an older half-brother as well. He has always had a wild side; the FBI would show up at our house searching for him, and seeing him on the evening news because of multiple crimes was not that uncommon. He was put in prison with an eleven year sentence when I was about seven.
There was always one place of solace and fond memories though and that was when my grandparents would drive 40 minutes one way every Saturday morning to come and take my sister and I there house. They have always been the steadiest and most loving people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. These times spent with them were some of my best memories growing up.
Going to church when I was young did have a positive impact on me. I was saved when I was five years old and had a real relationship with Jesus. I was proud of being a Christian and would talk with people about Jesus. The church provided another good environment compared with my home life that was full of tension and abuse. Unfortunately the tension and abuse came from my Christian mother and I learned at an early age that your words didn’t have to match your actions. It was my mother’s example that showed me how to be a master of duplicity. We were not allowed to watch MTV or listen to secular music but I wanted to do those things so I figured out how to get around her. I started to learn how to be bad without getting caught and my life became even more confusing. School work came easily to me, but because I went to eight different schools, I never had the chance to excel. I don’t know why but my mother would change my school every few years and I got used to being the new kid. At the age of 12 I was snorting Ritalin and then going to church on Sunday. This progressed quickly in my teen years to the point of where I was bringing and selling marijuana at a private Baptist school. I would go to Royal Rangers on Wednesday night and then go out in the woods and drink with friends on Friday night. My mother’s actions continued to get stranger until one day, when I was 17, she just left. We were not sure where she went and it took several months to track her down. I found her living with another man from the church. This put me into a tail spin. That’s when my addiction started and I stopped living a duplicitous life. This was a very pivotal time in my life; I was 17 and had no direction. I was never once sat down by any adult and talked to about higher education. I was never guide to get student loans or anything to do with the college process. So I just went to work and started making money.
At first I was addicted to doing the wrong thing. Drugs, drinking, selling drugs, raving, or sleeping around; I did it all. If it was something my mother would disapprove of, I went out of my way to do it. This is when my re-occurring nightmares started. I would wake up sweating from the same dream several times a week. In my dream, my mother was trying to smash down my door and I was trying to do all of my drugs before she got in. This dream cycle went on for months. It made me angrier and I turned to more drugs. At 18 I went to my first “rave.” This is where I found Ecstasy and Ketamine. I started using Ketamine on a daily basis for two years. Soon my perception of reality became very twisted. I became very reclusive and my whole life revolved around doing and selling drugs.
I eventually built up a tolerance to the club drugs and they stopped working for me. At this time I decided to make a geographical change and moved to Florida. At first things went well, until I found crack cocaine. It didn’t seem to matter where I was, I could find drugs. My addiction continued to escalate until I was smoking crack every day. I once went 30 days without eating; you know it’s bad when other crackheads are trying to buy you a sandwich. My hands and feet were going numb and my sense of reality became more twisted. Craziness followed me everywhere I went and I eventually got sick of it. I called home and my sister sent me a ticket to fly back to New England. When I got home, everyone that I used to do club drugs with was now smoking coke. Soon I was freebasing all of the time. When cocaine wasn’t available we would smoke crystal meth. It got so bad physically that my hands would not stop shaking and I kept having dizzy spells and passing out. This was especially dangerous because I was doing construction at the time and always climbing ladders. By the grace of God I never had an accident. I was working every day and getting paid $900 a week but by midnight on payday I would be broke. This went on for several months until one day I was driving to work and I just decided that I had had enough of the madness. I turned my car around and went to see my friends Kris and Randy from the church where I grew up. They called Pastor Paul Berube in Nashua New Hampshire. I went and saw him and he made some phone calls to get me some help. First we called Teen Challenge in Manchester, but I thought that would be too close to home. They told us about Teen Challenge Vermont, so arrangements were made for me to go there. I left Paul’s office that day to settle some of my affairs and was to return later that evening. The first place I went was to my grandparents. I wanted to make them proud after all that they had done for me when I was younger. Then I went to see my drug dealer. I wanted to get high one more time, but when I told him what my plan was he refused to sell me any meth. I returned to Pastor Paul that evening ready to surrender. He wasn’t as confident as I was about my intentions, so men from the church took shifts sitting with me all night to make sure that I wouldn’t leave. The next morning I was driven to Teen Challenge in Johnson Vermont.
That Saturday morning was very surreal. I was introduced to Pastor Rick Welch and was informed that it was a 15 month program and not 90 days like I was expecting. I got up and immediately left his office to go have a cigarette. I was met by a staff member on the front walkway and told there was no smoking. I just about lost it and my feeling of being ready to surrender was nonexistent. I wanted to run, but my ride had already left, so I stayed. The first few days were extremely rough for me. I was so used to doing whatever I wanted when I wanted, that fitting into the program structure was very challenging. It was Labor Day weekend and they took us for a BBQ at a local picnic area. I tried so hard to sneak off and bum a smoke, but the staff was on me before I could make a move. By Tuesday morning I was really ready to go. I refused to participate in the program and told them I was leaving. They took me downstairs to see Pastor Rick, but I wasn’t listening to anything he was saying. In those days if you wanted to leave, you and all of your stuff got dropped off at the local grocery store. I found myself standing all alone in Morrisville Vermont with no hope and no future. I tried to call everyone I knew to come and get me. Even my drug dealers told me to go back to Teen Challenge because I needed help. I bummed a few cigarettes off of someone and started the long walk back up the hill to Teen Challenge.
The trip up the hill that day was filled more with defeat than surrender. It was the day that I faced the fact that I was a foolish person. I was so worried that they would reject my return to Teen Challenge because of my previous attitude, but that was not the case. Like the prodigal son, the staff came out and met me with open arms. The next few weeks were a hard adjustment period for me. I started to fall in with the wrong crowd and kept getting in trouble. This finally came to a head about three weeks in when I got into a physical confrontation with another student. I thought for sure that I would be kicked out of the program and was nervous when I went to go see Pastor Rick. He had something other than dismissal in mind. He chose to put me on a “talk fast” instead. It didn’t mean that I got to talk real fast. It meant no talking for two weeks! Anyone who knows me will tell you that I like to talk so this was a very hard discipline for me. It was through this talk fast that I started to rekindle my relationship with the Lord. I couldn’t talk with anyone and no one wanted to listen to me, so I had to start praying to Jesus just so I could have someone to talk to.
That was when my life started to change. I couldn’t be duplicitous with the Lord and He helped me to take a good long look at myself. I didn’t like what I saw. The poor examples that I had seen growing up were what I had become. I realized that this wasn’t the life that I wanted to live. I started making every effort to do the right things. I stopped hanging out with the wrong guys and started to grasp hold of what the Teen Challenge program was trying to teach me. I found that the better I did, the more responsibility I was given, and the more responsibility and trust I earned the better my self-esteem became. It didn’t take long before I was being placed in positions of leadership around the campus. I was made the monitor of the education portion of our day. I took this task very seriously, which is ironic because I used to be the biggest disrupter of the class before my talk fast. The structure of the program continued to stay the same, but somehow it became easier. Years later as I reflect back on it I see that it was my perspective that had change not the program. It seemed easier because of Christ in me changing me.
At seven months into the program, I was transferred to Teen Challenge Brockton for the second phase of the program. I remember the night of my transfer as another lonely point. It was like being switched to a different school again like when I was younger. All new faces and new opportunity’s to hang out with the wrong crowd. This was a pivotal point in my life. I had always chosen the wrong crowd to associate with, but not this time. My time in Vermont had taught me to seek out those that were making positive decisions in there life. I was given a lot of responsibility very quickly in Brockton. I was put in charge of part of the education department. I continued to learn many things about myself and about how to handle people and situations during my time there. At 12 months I was transferred back to the Vermont Campus. Upon my return, I was made the Admissions Coordinator as well as Pastor Rick’s personal assistant. I use to drive drug dealers around and now, through the grace of God, I was driving around a Pastor!
I commenced the program in December of 2006 and decided to stay on and do an internship. I was paid $25 a week and able to have a phone. Pastor Paul Berube blessed me with a Toyota Tercel. He even paid the first year of insurance for me. My friends Kris and Randy blessed me with a laptop. In the span of just 15 months I went from being a junkie to being trusted with my own car, phone and computer. I can only testify that this was through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. My grandparents were proud of me and that was the best feeling in the world. Even though I had finished the program, I knew that I still had a long way to go. So many people trusted and loved me at Teen Challenge that I made the decision to commit three years to the ministry to pay forward all of the blessings I had received. During these three years, I continued to be ministered to. When I got to Teen Challenge, my credit was ruined. Pastor Rick helped me restore my credit. I sold my Tercel and with his help was able to take out a loan and buy myself a vehicle of my choice. Life was good for those three years and I was happy to serve the Lord though Teen Challenge. At the end of my three year commitment, I made several attempts to find a career so that I could move on. Everything that I tried ended up not working out. It was at this point that I decided to make a life changing commitment to the Lord. I set in my heart that I would not leave Teen Challenge until I got a clear call from the Lord that it was time to do so.
After settling this in my heart, things really began to come together in my life. In the fall of 2008 I was asked to take a small crew of men on a local mission trip to help do some remodeling at a single mother’s house in Northfield Vermont. We stayed at Northfield Bible Fellowship for several nights while we worked and the pastor of the church and I became friends. His daughter had just moved home from college and cooked us dinner one night. Afterwards, she and I hung out for a little while. I was very excited; this was the first pretty girl around my age that I had talked to in a private setting in over three years. The job ended and my crew and I went back to Teen Challenge. A few weeks later I saw her father and he told me that I owed his daughter a dinner for the one that she had cooked for me. That encouragement was all I needed. I pulled out all of the stops and made stuffed shells with pan seared baby artichoke hearts. I guess it was a hit because she agreed to see me again after that. We started dating a few weeks later. Our second date was New Year’s Eve 2009. It was a real show stopper; we got to watch movies at Pastor Rick’s house. At that time in Teen Challenge there were “Dating Rules “ which would have scared most girls away. Accountability was a must for all meetings. We had to be friends for six months and were only allowed one phone call a week. After the six months we were allowed to see more of each other and after one year I was ready to ask for her hand in marriage. I proposed on Christmas day 2009 and we were married in June of 2010.
From 2010 till 2012 we lived on the Teen Challenge Vermont campus in staff housing. Our time living on the campus really brought us together. It is never easy getting to know a student in the program, befriending them and then watching as they mess up and leave prematurely. My wife and I were able to pour into the lives of many such cases and we still think about them often. After a few years we were able to save enough to purchase our own home. The next logical step was to grow our family. First we got a dog, but that only satisfied our family wants for a while. We then decided to have a child. In December of 2014 our daughter was born. She was happy and healthy and we were instantly in love. The poor little girl I must have kissed her hundreds of time in the first few hours of her life. The first 24 hours were great until they came to take her for some tests. Life has a way of throwing you curve balls and that Saturday night in December was a big one. Our baby never came back from the test; instead she was rushed off to a NICU at a larger hospital. The old me would have called my drug dealer, but that is not who I am now. Instead I called Pastor Rick and him and I drove to the NICU in the middle of the night and we sat up the whole time praying and waiting on the Lord for the health of my little one. The next day the heart surgeon came and told us that my daughter had hole in her heart. It is not a great feeling to be unable to help your child. I cannot imagine how I would have handled that night if I had not had Jesus in my life to get me through it. We ended up having to take my daughter to Boston Children’s Hospital when she was seven weeks old for open heart surgery. They found not one but three holes in her tiny heart. Again I had to choose to stand strong in my faith and not to waiver. Pastor Rick was right by our side almost the entire week. Through the miracle of modern medicine they closed all of the holes. One pretty amazing part of the whole ordeal was that the piece of material they used to sew over her hole had a perfect image of a cross on it. Praise, honor and glory go to the Lord for bringing our little girl through it all. Now when we go see the cardiologist they can’t find anything wrong with her heart!
My time at Teen Challenge is getting ready to come to an end. I received my clear call from the Lord in the form of my phone ringing. On the other end was a pastor friend of mine from Randolph Vermont. He told me that he was looking to retire and asked if I would like to candidate to be his Associate Pastor. At first I said no thank you, but the Holy Spirit let me know that this was the call that I had asked the Lord for so many years before. I never looked to the left or to the right, and he was faithful to me through my faithfulness to him. It is bitter sweet to leave a place that I have loved for 11 years, but I am ready to be used of the Lord wherever he wants me.
Life in ministry is never easy but it is good. Serving the men of Teen Challenge Vermont will always be one of the highlights of my life. I am excited to see where the Lord can use me in years to come. I am no longer the things I used to be. I am now: a husband, father, pastor, mentor, homeowner, tax payer, and a productive member of society. I was once a foolish thing, but God…
I do not say these things to boast in myself, But to boast in the Lord. 2 Cor 11:30/12:9