“I should be dead, paralyzed, or locked up in prison.” I use these words on a regular basis when sharing my life story. I list numerous life lessons learned the hard way, lessons that have left both literal and figurative scars. They also have helped shape me into the man I am today.
Beginning in my teen years and lasting over a decade, I engaged in countless self-destructive behaviors that would lead to jail, rehab, hospital visits, and financial ruin. This is not just another testimony. It is me sharing my experiences and belief that no matter how far we fall in life, there is still hope. Here are 5 lessons I learned by almost destroying my life.
1. The decisions of parents affect future generations.
I was born out of an affair. While the way I was conceived is beyond my control, it surely had consequences as I grew. Although I was not fatherless, per se, my lack of a strong father figure led to many bad decisions on my part. As an adult, I also would have a child out of wedlock. Both of my parents are now deceased. I have forgiven them both, but I still carry the wounds of their decisions. Today, I am fully involved in my daughter’s life and we have an amazing relationship.If you are carrying old wounds from your parents, how will you choose to forgive them?
My hope is she will not experience what I went through and one day will have children within the boundaries of a loving, healthy marriage. If you are carrying old wounds from your parents, how will you choose to forgive them? Consider a face-to-face conversation, writing a letter, or talking it out with a trusted individual, such as a counselor, pastor, or mentor.
2. It’s best to avoid the magnet of materialism.
Growing up, I was given just about everything I asked for. This carried over into my adult life and when it came time for me to manage my own money, I fell flat. I bought all name brand clothes, drove new vehicles, and even purchased several rental properties. My lifestyle was more expensive than I could afford and left me empty. I filed for bankruptcy in the winter of 2008. I had to have everything stripped away so I could rebuild with a healthy respect for money management.
Today, my wife and I live below our means. We demonstrate realistic giving and budgeting to my daughter. I have found I am much more appreciative of what I have now and find greater joy in having less. Take an honest inventory of your lifestyle, too—and decide if you are modeling responsible spending for your children. If necessary, make changes and talk with your family as to why you need to do so.
3. What we’re tempted to do isn’t necessarily good for us.
I always maintained good grades in school, was on several sports teams, and was vice president of my junior class. But in the latter half of high school, I began drinking. It was fun and the girls enjoyed it, too. By my early 20’s, my substance use had escalated from drinking alcohol to using cocaine and ecstasy. I was living a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle: sex, drugs, and alcohol. I was not aware yet that anything pleasurable has the ability to become addictive. Recreational drug use became daily dependence.
The parties, money, and women faded away—but the addiction, loneliness, and self-hatred stayed. It wouldn’t be long before I ended up in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt and again from a near-fatal car accident. How could something once so attractive become so deadly? Today, I no longer live for temporary pleasures and highs. I found love and truth—and nothing I had ever known before can compare to that. Before you engage in any sort of tempting or risky behavior, consider the cost of all you could lose because of it.
4. Sex outside of marriage can be devastating.
As a typical hormone-filled young man, I was always seeking the next sexual thrill. I took tremendous chances with my health in some of my sexual ventures. I filled the gaps between sexual partners with a massive porn addiction. Every illicit sexual encounter ate away at my soul. I treated women like disposable objects and rarely considered their hearts and feelings. Worst of all, it breaks my heart that my daughter has never known what it is like to have her father in the home full time.
Her mom and I were not in a committed relationship and that has brought in a whole wave of court battles, custody orders, and child support over the years. I cannot go back and change the past, but I surely can help shape her future by being a dad who is fully committed to loving and raising her to the best of my ability. Consider the cost of engaging in sexual behavior with anyone other than with your wife—and the fact that it would be the biggest mistake of your life.
5. My deepest need isn’t what I thought it was.
I was not raised in a Christian home and did not begin going to church until my mid-20’s. Several years later, as a new father, I fully committed my life to Jesus. Until then, everything I did was an effort to fill a void that cannot be satisfied apart from Him. What are you filling your life with? And is it really filling you up? At best, does it leave you wanting more? Or at worst, is it hurting you?
Prior to coming to faith, I was trying to fill my life with things that left me empty. I have learned that I am not defined by money, career, relationships, or status. This only happened because I have turned from my old life and in faith, have given Jesus precedence. Even if I lost everything, I’d still have Him and He is all I need. He always has been.
Sound off: What are some of your life lessons learned the hard way?
Huddle up with your family and ask, “What do we value the most as a family and why?”