For those that are late to the party, the following is the second in a series of posts where I am seeking to tell the story of how I came to know the Lord. The first installment can be found HERE (read it first!).
It was late October 2006 in Knoxville, TN. The darkness in my life had grown oppressively thick and there was an increasing hopelessness that it would ever be able to be navigated. Personal sin had led to incredible breakdown – mentally, emotionally, and physically – made all the more devastating because I was bankrupt spiritually. Initially brought on by a traumatic drug overdose, three years of panic anxiety was about to literally run me into the ground.
Scenes from the night it all came to a head are etched in my memory as though it happened yesterday. I remember where I was standing at that flag football game when I had the very clear and horrifying sense – spindles reeling, rope fraying – that I was about to lose my mind forever. After leaving suddenly, I remember where I got in my truck and called home. I remember where I was pacing back and forth at the apartment when expressing my desperation to my dad. And more than anything, at the lowest point in my life, during the worst panic attack of my life, I remember the words Dad said to me on the phone.
My mom and dad became Christians when I was a little boy. Apparently Dad had a foul mouth when I was a baby, but I honestly cannot recall a single time that he ever uttered a cuss word. God changed him. He was always very kind and consistent, a loving husband and father who worked hard and provided a steady presence of love and leadership in our family. Of course, he too is a sinner and would be the first one to tell you so. Like many parents, he didn’t let my brother and I fail enough. He didn’t always give us the kind of stern confrontation that we needed. At times he was an enabler. But the God of all wisdom knew exactly what he was doing putting Dad at the head of our family. My brother and I would both tell you that it was his character, compassion, and grace that showed us so much about the Lord. So it is ironic that it was his confrontation and refusal to enable that led me to the Lord in the end.
As we talked on the phone, I told Dad that I was done. I couldn’t go on. There was nothing left. He wouldn’t have been a fool for thinking me suicidal. At the very least, I was ready to leave Knoxville and head back home to Memphis. Mom and Dad were my safe place and I thought that if I could live with them for a while maybe I could get better. I could finish school back home.
Dad’s response was simple and clear. I believe it was his finest moment as a father when he said to me, “Chris, you may not come back home because I am not the One you are looking for.” Full stop. I don’t remember what else was said – I’m sure he told me he loved me – but the message was clear and we hung up. At his oldest son’s most desperate moment my dad understood that I was made for God and only God could give me the kind of help that I was longing for. The panic did not subside.
In utter desperation, I frantically entered my apartment, went to my room, and shut the door. I remember calling two dear friends that I thought would be a comfort during that time. Neither answered. I had tried every way to put it off for years, but the God of the universe had an appointment with me that he intended to keep.
Of necessity, one who battles frequent panic attacks has to come up with some way of coping. One way is with a benzodiazepine like Xanax. However, at the time the doctor thought better of prescribing such a powerful drug to a loose canon like me. Smart man. Without the help of medication it’s not so much that you figure out how to escape a panic attack, it’s more like you figure out how to cling to the inside wall of the tornado until it spits you out. One of my coping mechanisms was splashing water on my face. Another was, no kidding, running sprints down the street. At least then I could explain to myself why my heart was racing a hundred miles a minute. At this particular juncture I chose the water, which had never helped less.
For three years I had lived without peace. Many nights I would lay awake feeling like a sumo wrestler was sitting on my chest. Others I would self medicate to at least ensure the forced (though troubled) sleep that a large amount of alcohol provides. All of it led me to this night in the bedroom floor, the constant anxiety having made me feel like an old man – I was 21 going on 90. At this particular moment, I lacked the physical strength to stand up. I was literally brought to my knees and was once again sure (as I was at the height of every panic attack) that this was the moment I was going to die. Even though I had experienced this sensation hundreds of times since that night in the hospital 3 years prior, it never got easier. In fact it only grew more frightening and more sobering… not necessarily that I was going to die, but when I died I knew I was going to meet God and I knew that the meeting was not going to go well for me.
At that point in my life I did not have a Bible and had not been in church in years. But the Hound of Heaven was after me and He would not relent until I was set free. I reached for a Christian book that sat on my shelf collecting dust for who knows how long. I believe it was an old girlfriend’s mom who gave it to me. That little gesture was about to change my eternity. I opened the front cover and began to read, something to the effect of “you are never too far gone,” something about God’s grace. I was familiar with the concept of God’s grace, even grew up in a church named Grace, but this was the concept come to life. Head bowed, eyes closed, I cried out to God from the heart. I’m not sure if I even spoke the words above a mumbled panicked whisper, or whether they made any sense coming out, but the cry of my heart that night is still crystal clear in my mind to this day: “Lord, if your grace is like they say it is… if you will have me… take my life and do something with it.”
For years I had prayed for God to help me, but looking back those prayers were nothing more than asking for God to remove the difficulties in my life so that I could go back to being lord of my life. This prayer was different. It was a prayer of repentance, turning from my sin to God, and surrender, turning over the reigns of my life to the One to whom they rightly belong. The Lord had brought me to the end of my rope in order to show His power, His mercy, and His grace, as he rescued me from the front porch of Hell and started putting the broken pieces back together. The angels rejoiced in Heaven as this sinner repented and rested in Christ.
And I mean rested. It was peace like a sunrise in my soul. Peace unlike anything I had ever known before. It was nothing my dad or any human being could give to me. God Himself had visited me and had given me new life. I crawled into bed and slept like a baby for the first time in years.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.Ephesians 2:8-9