I was raised in Santa Ana, Ca. by my mother and older sisters. My father was in and out of my life with an emphasis on "out". I grew up in the streets surrounded by gangs, murder, drugs, crime and poverty. I did well in school and was usually the most gifted kid in my class. I had a bright future ahead of me if I could just stay out of trouble. I managed to get myself in some minor mischief growing up, but nothing serious. Not until my senior year in high school. That is when I was befriended by a man who exposed me to the world of drug trafficking. He was a major player and I quickly went up the ranks and before I knew what happened I was in way over my head. After years of living a life of fast cars, parties, jewels, gold, and cash, lots of it, I grew weary. I wanted out. I was tired of looking over my shoulder, watching my mirrors, right turns, and police scanners. I needed a change.
In the summer of 1990 I began hanging out in Los Angeles and Pasadena. I was trying to meet people who didn't know who, or what I was. I could be anonymous. One night I agreed to meet a female friend at a nightclub in Alhambra called "Caddies". I drove there by myself and sat at the bar alone. Not long after I arrived I was approached by a young lady and she offered to buy me a drink. I accepted and began to have a conversation with her that lasted till the club closed. During that time she asked me some questions but one in particular I can still remember. "What kind of car do I drive?" My answer, a truck, just a truck. For the record, my original date never showed up. (more on that later)
Fastrack to the club closing. We walked out and she walked me to my car, which to her astonishment was not a truck at all. It was a shiny new white BMW convertible with all the bells and whistles. It happened to be her dream car. I had some explaining to do but I managed to keep her as a friend. We dated a few times and I really liked her. She had a good job at UCLA and was very independant. I wasn't used to women who didn't have their hand in my wallet. I introduced her to a few of my friends and we had fun together, like two regular people dating.
Not long after we started dating, I just stop responding to her pages and calls. No explanation, no breakup, no ties. I felt I couldn't bring her into my world without ruining her life. I had to let her go. She would be relegated to the history books of my life and I would move on.
I began dating another girl whom I did manage to stay with longer, even moved into a condo I rented for her. I bought her a brand new car and got even further into darkness than I ever thought possible. I was buying cars, blowing money on foolish things and relishing in the notoriety that came with the lifestyle I had chosen. I was right back in the life I was desperately trying to get out of. It was like the scene in Godfather III when Michael was sitting beside a casket and cried out to God "Just when I was getting out, they pulled me back in!"
December 11th, 1991
Everything changed around noon on that day. That is the day when a whole music stores employees were replaced by undercover officers and I was arrested for drug possession with intent to sell. Lots of it. My world as I knew it was turned upside down. Virtually everything I owned was seized and I was given a 1 million dollar bail. Not only that, but I had to prove any money put up for my bail was not ill-gotten gain. That was the least of my problems. My real concern was the people I was associated with. They knew I could turn several cities upside down and were determined to keep me from talking. Lucky for them, I never considered it. Lucky for me, they never acted on it. I didn't even entertain the idea for a nano second. I did the crime, I would do the time.
I remember sitting on the cold cement bench in the cell wondering what just happened. My mind was going 100 mph and I had no idea what would happen next apart from me staying quiet for my families sake and my own. I can remember vividly never talking to God. I wanted to talk to my lawyer, I wanted to talk to my mother and reassure her I was ok (for now). I wanted to get out and just wanted to get a bail and get out. I knew I had the resources to fight my case, but I never asked God to forgive me. I made bail on Friday the 13th at 9PM and walked out of the Orange County Jail and never returned.
I remember getting in my sisters car and the first thing she told me was "you are never going back to that life. In the morning you will get up at 5AM and go to work with Jim and learn to be a mechanic. You will start at the bottom and work your way up till we know what is going to happen with your case." I did just that and that marked the beginning of my career. I discovered I had a natural gift to troubleshoot and repair engines, transmissions, and hydraulics. I honed my skills at welding and fabrication as well as electrical. Within a year I was in my own service truck on the freeways fixing trucks alone.
In 1998, on my birthday, I pulled a business license and began my own business. I started as a sub-contractor for my sisters business and landed a small trucking terminal in Anaheim, CA. Before long I had all the trucks (43), 63 trailers and 7 forklifts along with 2 yard holstlers full time. I worked 6-7 days a week from 5am to midnight sometimes sleeping in my service truck. I was a work-a-holic. By then I had my son living with us and my oldest daughter was 6 years old when we watched the World Trade Center go down live on TV. I woke up late and my wife and I were glued to the TV for 3 days. We were heavily vested in the trucking industry at that time. I had all my eggs in one basket. I was making a real good living and that all came to a halt after 911. As bad fortune would have it, my primary client underwent a major computer system overhaul and it was a failure. They began to take really long to pay me and we began to have serious money problems.
During this time my wife worked at UCLA and rode a van pool to work. She would leave at 5AM and would not get home till 6PM. She was under a lot of stress at work and we began to have a lot of marital problems. We both began to get very un-happy and we were looking for escapes. We would party with people we shouldn't have and before long, on my birthday in 2002 we had a huge fight and she locked herself in my daughters room and did not come out for 3 days. Each night I began to get very distraught and would lay in my bed with my daughter and just hold her tight and would think about the family breaking up. What would happen to her? To me? To my mother that lived with us? I was really scared. I also began to feel a tremendous amount of guilt over what I had done in my life while involved in the drug trade. It was the first resemblance of conviction.
The Third Day
One the third day I woke up and took a good look in the mirror. I did not like what I saw. I saw a failure.
- Failure as a husband
- Failure as a father
- Failure as a son
- Failure as a brother
- Failure as a neighbor
- Failure as a citizen
- Failure as a businessman
- Failure as a man
For the first time in my life I felt totally and completely helpless. I needed help and for the first time ever I looked for God. I went to my desk and picked up the yellow pages. I opened it to the church section and found the pages with Catholic churches on them and tore them out. I went to my daughters room and opened the door. All I said was "I am leaving, and I am not coming back till I find God." I grabbed my keys and walked out the door determined to find God. I had nowhere else to turn to. I took a leap of faith before I even knew what that was.
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive. - .Jer 29:11-14 KJV
I went to the first church on my list and found an open door. I remember it being empty, cold, and I could hear a pin drop from the other side of the room. I went to the front row and sat down. I looked around at all the statues, paintings, candles, and the alter. I remember the huge cross with Christ hanging on it. None of that mattered to me. I remember looking up toward heaven and uttering these words.
"God, I don't know your name, but I am not stupid, I know you exist. I can see your handiwork in nature. I don't know if you can hear me, but I have nobody left to turn to. I can't do this thing called life anymore, I need your help." I was broken before God. My heart was softer than it had ever been on that day. I sat there and in what seemed like seconds and an eternity at the same time, I felt the burden taken off my shoulders. I felt the cleansing spirit of God wash me, empower me, comfort me, and forgive me. At that moment, I was born again. I was justified, sanctified, and I was a new man. Just like God promises in Jeremiah 29:11-14, I found God. The true and living God. Not an imposter or a phony. I searched for Him with all my heart, I prayed to Him, even cried out to Him. I was turned away from my captivity, I was gathered into the family of God, and I will spend eternity with Him in Heaven.
I'm Saved, Now What?
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house. - Act 16:31-34 KJV
I remember driving home thinking about what I would say to my wife. Would she believe me? Would she even talk to me? Was she even there? It was a long ride home thinking.
I walked in my house and went straight to the room and opened the door again. This time I just said what I knew to be true. I told her what just had transpired and she needs to do what I had just done. Cry out to God for help. I looked up when I heard movement and she said 2 words. "Take me." Take her I did. We went back to the church I had went to. It was locked. I went to another one on my list. It too was locked. By that time I was getting scared. I thought she would give up and tell me to take her home. I remember praying to God. "Please let this one be opened, she will get angry an want to give up."
We pulled up to the sidewalk and I walked up to the big wood doors and they were locked. My heart sank, I was afraid to turn around. I did finally turn around and began to walk down the long sidewalk to the car. As I approached the sidewalk a woman began to cross my path. I remember her being Latina, in sweat shorts and a white T-shirt with sandals. My mouth opened and I asked her if she knew anything about the church being opened or anyone there? I didn't even plan on saying anything to her the words just came out.
She responded with "why do you want to know?"
"I want to go in with my wife and pray"
"Oh, I am the house keeper, I have the keys right here, I will let you in."
Just like that, the providential hand of God is at work in the life of a believer. We went in and sat down in the front row. I repeated what I had prayed earlier, about being a failure and needed God to help me. She grabbed my hand and bowed her head and asked God to forgive her and help her too. And thus began our walk with the Lord. Hand in hand. Forgiven, on the same path, desperately in need of divine intervention, and willing to do whatever it takes to save our marriage. That first Sunday we began to search for a church to call our own.
On the week leading up to Good Friday, our neighbor invited us to church. In faith we responded with yes, we would love to go. Friday at 6Pm we loaded up the family van and drove down to Calvary Chapel San Bernardino. We were promptly greeted at the door by a sweet couple who offered to show us around. They also informed us that our daughter would be having church service with the other kids her age and we would be with the adults in the main sanctuary. The lights dimmed and the music began and people stood and began to sing and clap. The word were on the screen and also on the bulletin. We didn't know these songs, but they sure were comforting. Before long I forgot I was there with my wife. I was so immersed in the spirit of worship, I began to weep. I was being touched by the hand of God. I could feel His presence. I was filled with peace and joy. I forgot about all my problems. I was communing with God.
When the music stopped, and the lights came on, a man came up to the pulpit and asked us to open our Bible. We didn't have a bible. Within 5 seconds bibles were placed in our hand. A gift they said, to keep as our own. We were then instructed to open to the Gospel of John. Where was that? Promptly the person sitting next to my wife showed her and she showed me. I was confused. Where is the priest? Where is the long flowing robe, the incense, the paintings, the statues? I thought this was church. I was clueless. Until Pastor John began to preach. He was actually reading from the bible. The amazing thing was, it made sense. I could understand him. He described the days leading up to the crucifixion of Christ. In detail. Then Christ died for my sins. Willingly.
The lights dimmed and the worship team sang the last song and we were dismissed. I remember getting in the van and trying to think of a way to tell Tish that this was the church I wanted to attend. I was afraid she would say no because she was raised Catholic and all her family is Catholic. I uttered these words.
"I don't know what just happened in there, but I do know that this is the church I want to attend." Her response was this. "Thank God because that is what I was thinking too." We could not wait to come back Easter Sunday. Even my daughter Brandy loved the church. We were home.
To Be Continued...