MY FIRST TEN YEARS
I am a 40 year old male who grew up in Toronto, Ontario. I regularly attended church as a child. The first 10 years were reasonably uneventful. I went to church every Sunday and I was baptized mainly because my friends were going to do this and I did not want to be left out. In those early days I remember a sense that God wanted me to serve Him in some way and shared this dream with friends and family often. It was no secret that I wanted to be a preacher. In my early teens my parents decided to move us to a newly built church closer to home with a young peoples’ group. We began attending church and got very involved.

SEVEN YEARS OF SEXUAL ABUSE
During my 10th year I experienced sexual abuse, which became an ongoing issue that would cloud everything I did for the next 7 years and would haunt me throughout my adult life. My parents sent me from doctor to psychiatrist and then back to doctors trying to understand what caused this well-adjusted intelligent child to become a frightened, miserable young man who slowly receded into himself.

Without sharing the details, I can tell you that experiencing sexual abuse is horrific, destructive, damaging, and humiliating beyond description.

EMOTIONAL SCARS OF CHILDHOOD
I had heard the term ‘fag’ and ‘queer’ used against me since I was very young, school kids, siblings and yes, even the young people at my new church! I knew I was different or unique and saw no reason to change that. I may have cared more than the average kid about how I looked, dressed, spoke and yes, I was a neat freak.

I was flamboyant, a bit loud, more than just a little on the talkative side and had a real flair for the dramatic. I want to stress that at this point in my life I did not know or understand what the term ‘fag’ and ‘queer’ meant. I knew they were not nice words. I knew they were hurtful words – but I didn’t know what they meant.

WHERE CAN I RUN? TOWARDS DEATH OR IN ANOTHER DIRECTION?
At 17 years of age, when a bright future as an intelligent adult should have been beckoning to me on the horizon, I was seriously considering taking my life. It was at that point I decided to leave home. I was not running TOWARDS a homosexual lifestyle I was running AWAY from abuse, not even thinking about where I was going or what might happen to me. All I could see was the need to run. I had run away numerous times before but I knew it would be different this time. I took my backpack, stole some of dad’s “secret” stash of cash and I ran. I ran through the ravine behind our house determined not to look back. I got on the Go train and off I went to downtown Toronto.

At the time all I could think of was “I was free at last” or so it seemed.

A FREED BUT VULNERABLE BAPTIST STREET KID
In an instant I had become a street kid. I met a man who befriended me that first night. He invited me to go for a drink at a place called ‘Chaps’. I politely explained apologetically that I did not like country music. He laughed at me and explained that Chaps was a gay bar – cheap beer, no i.d. required and a cool crowd. I was shocked that there were people living openly like this and they had a place to go to. Sadly I was to find out the focus of much of their lifestyle was a bar.

I was surprised over the years at the number of men and women I met who felt ostracized from their families and churches. I wasn’t alone.

WILL ANYONE CARE? WILL ANYONE SAY THEY’RE SORRY?
Those first days and weeks you slowly begin to realize nothing will be the same again. It was over: no more church, no more sisters to wake in the morning, no more playing, no more laughter and there was going to be no salvation from this decision. No “amber alert”, no search party for me, no tearful reunion, and the most painful of all – no apologies or explanations for what had happened to me. During the ongoing abuse I felt all of it must have been my fault, something I had brought upon myself. Somehow the deafening silence was a confirmation of those thoughts.

During the following few years I would move from place to place, always a hard worker always believing no matter how dark it got that God wanted more from me.

IS THIS THE RIGHT PATH FOR ME?
Thankfully, I was good at computers, software and numbers and gradually worked my way up to a successful career – all of it with a grade 10 education.

My partner (at the time) and I bought and sold real estate and built a comfortable middle class existence together; but still that voice I had heard most of my life was always speaking to me about the path I had chosen. I decided to get involved as a volunteer in the area of palliative care. My friends were dying of AIDS all around me and because of my Christian upbringing I wanted to help them and their families. It was a journey that saw me work with 85 families all in one year and every patient dying.

I really thought God would somehow show me mercy and save me through my good works.

CRUSHING NEWS AT 23: HIV+
August 2nd , 1989 does not stand out for me as my older sister’s birthday but as the day I found out I was HIV+. I was just 23 years old and my doctor with tears in his eyes explained I could very well be dead from AIDS by Christmas. I remember very little of the walk back to my apartment; I remember little of the discussions with friends but I DO remember thinking – “This is it? This is all there is?!!” Had I struggled for most of my life just to die alone, in a hospital, surrounded by fear, with no one to hold me or to care for me?

CHEMOTHERAPY AND MY NEW JOB
As my health began to fail because of an AIDS related cancer I pushed on and accepted a very senior position in a large firm. I had arrived, first class travel, large budgets and staff. I would go to chemotherapy on Thursday afternoon and be back in my office by Monday fighting to keep it all together.

I successfully beat that occurrence and was faced with treatment decisions regarding my HIV. I had never been very comfortable with the choices the medical community were offering. Most of my friends were dying or dead and I saw no visible proof that any of these treatments were working. I decided to do nothing but get on with my life and deal with health situations as they arose.

DISASTER JUST AROUND THE CORNER
Doing things my way seemed to work; my career was really taking off and I transferred to another Canadian city as my role in the company expanded. Little did I know disaster was looming. The first sign of trouble was in October 2003. I was in a teleconference and was speaking to a board member. I was forming words in my head but only grunts were coming out of my mouth.

Thinking I was overworked I went home and laid down. As I lay there, a sense of dread overcame me. Something drove me to get up and call out for help. By the time the ambulance arrived, I could no longer speak or walk. Later I was to find I could no longer write as well. I would spend the next six months painfully relearning all these skills before I could return to work.

The doctor’s words were not promising. The virus had made its way into my brain and an MRI showed permanent damage had occurred. There was also the possibility it would only get worse. The fatigue, memory problems, mood changes and other small things I had been ignoring for some time now were signs of dementia related to the HIV.

GRASPING AT STRAWS – HELP ME! I MUST SURVIVE!

I remember giving up hope of ever being normal again and the terror associated with the word dementia and the knowledge of what that could mean for my future. I was ill but still trying to manage my career; at the same time my partner was leaving me – how could I possibly survive? I was looking for anything to help me get through it.

And that’s when it happened – it was so innocent – it was just this one time – just one hit – just one line – and suddenly it all seemed so clear to me – COCAINE. A friend suggested cocaine would help my fatigue so I would have the energy to go out with him one evening. It would change my mood in an instant. That night COCAINE convinced me it could change my life.

The company I worked for informed me it was going ‘public’ and so, the demands on me continued to grow. I was always fighting something – fatigue, work, relationship, money etc. There was always something wearing me down. I thought: why not try a quick line of cocaine in the bathroom to help me focus better! Before I knew it, the trips to the bathroom were becoming more and more frequent.

LINES OF COKE NOT ENOUGH ANYMORE
Eventually the combination of health, work, relationship and cocaine made it all come crashing down. No longer were the lines of coke I snuck in the washroom enough. I lost my job, my partner left and I sat at home hoping the next hit I did would fix it all and things would return to normal.

I had begun on a path to sheer hell that would teeter on the brink of madness. I became severely paranoid and began to display manic behavior. It became harder and harder to live in the real world. A nursing team assigned by a caring doctor came to see me at the house one day. The nurse did my blood work and we talked. She used a portable sharps container to dispose of a needle she had used and left it at my house.

COULD THIS ONE FIX END ALL MY MISERY?
I had NEVER used a syringe but there I was about to try it on myself anyway. Again the cocaine convinced me this was the true fix. This could not fail; it would be the answer! Not knowing what I was doing, I jabbed myself several times having watched the nurse and finally got it, I did not know what I was doing and injected almost ½ gram into my veins. I knew deep down what I was doing, I was trying to finally end the voices, guilt, pain, self doubt and hatred once and for all – it was suicide.

The drugs, emotional problems and disease had all come together in that moment and I wanted out.

AN EMPTY HOME AND EMPTY HEART
I survived that attempt and was sent home to an empty house and still the same situation I had just tried to escape from. I would sit in my room rarely leaving it. I had stopped eating and would shoot up, each time thinking this would be the one that would make me feel great. I would get up and fix everything.

I was in and out of hospital, fighting infections in my hands and feet as I struggled to find veins to use each time. Right arm, right hand, left arm, left hand, left foot, right foot each failed hit causing my weakened body to become infected. Trips to the hospital; a small break with no cocaine while I was treated with IV antibiotics; then back out – only to start the cycle all over again.

No more did I hear God’s still small voice, for my body was failing fast. Everything I had worked so hard to achieve was gone and so again I decided to commit suicide. This time I would use more cocaine. l remember the feeling as the cocaine began to paralyze my muscles, my organs shutting down and my throat closing. I was making this deafening groaning noise that seemed to come from the depths of my insides. Had I finally done it right?

Again I would awake in the ICU unit of an emergency department – I was still alive. I can’t describe how I felt because I was in a constant haze of cocaine and other drugs administered to help me, but again was sent home to exactly the same environment.

2005: THE DARKEST MERRY CHRISTMAS EVER!
During Christmas 2005 I was too stoned to even put up a tree and even if I did, there was nothing to put under it. Friends finally put it up and decorated it before leaving to visit their families. The fun for me was long gone and so were most of the friends. The party was no longer enjoyable and they had moved on to other things. During that Christmas I laid on my couch for almost a week without moving once.

It was at this darkest time that friends called from Toronto. Realizing how desperate I was, they drove to where I was and packed me up and had me back in Toronto within 24 hours. Little did they or I know that their intervention was going to change my life for eternity.

My first objective was to get the drugs under control. From that day forward, I stopped using IV drugs but still struggled with the same old issues. Somehow they had packed up and come along with me for the ride!

COULD THERE POSSIBLY BE LIGHT AT THE END OF LIFE’S TUNNEL?
I started going to church again with my mother. I remember my first visit after being away for so many years. Those glass doors opened and the music poured out; the energy in the place was electric and I was truly surprised.

I was not the same person I was when I left but that church had changed just as much – I for the worse and the church for the better! The Pastor had spoken to me a few times but I still was not ready to hear what God had to say to me.

By March 2006, I was now attending weekly and really enjoying the worship service and the preaching. But I was starting to feel ill again after what had seemed to be an improvement upon my return to Toronto. My weight had increased and each day I was seeing positive changes. So now, I figured I just had the flu and spent a week in and out of bed. But one night I woke unable to breathe, bathed in sweat; my heart racing so fast it was pounding in my head. The ambulance rushed me to the hospital. My heart rate was out of control and my lungs were burning as I fought for air.

HOME TO DIE OR HOME TO START LIVING?
During the next 36 hours I struggled to breathe even with the aid of oxygen and my heart rate was still very unstable. My thinking was: I had come home to die. Slowly as I thought about this and wondering if I was ready for it and thinking about the people who would be left behind, I suddenly realized – GOD was not finished me. How many times was I going to stumble to the brink before I would stop trying to figure it out, shut up and listen?

And then, there it was amongst the beeps and sounds of a hospital, that voice had never really left me. That voice and my longing for God just kept getting pushed aside by my own agenda. But now here I was between the wheezing, coughing and pain hearing that so familiar voice still there waiting to speak.

WAS GOD STILL INTERESTED IN ME?
I could hear the voice clearer than I ever had before. Was it possible that after all my years of running and rebellion that Jesus was going to come right here and speak to me.

Could it be true that I need do nothing at all but give my life to Jesus Christ and let Him take on my battle? There was a deep sadness as I thought maybe I had the answer but would still face death this last time. I cried out and asked God with every piece of my DNA. I begged him to help me.

The next day the pastor and my mother came to hospital and for the next four hours he answered questions and explained the wonderful truth that Jesus Christ became my substitute, that Jesus Christ took my sin in His body to the cross.

THE REAL DEAL – HEAVEN WILL BE MY HOME!
It was right there in that hot cramped emergency room that Jesus Christ truly entered into my life. The Holy Spirit was there, Jesus Christ came to me – as I was – where I was – and confirmed to me that should He decide today to take me Home, then Heaven with Him was where He would take me. This was the real deal.

ONE WORD MISSING IN THE DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS
Eventually I was sent home with a failing heart, lungs still struggling and a new diagnosis of advanced stage cancer. Once again, after all the years of struggle I was going to beat the odds so it would seem. I remember getting a discharge paper with follow up appointments and a list of medications I would require. The only word missing on that piece of paper the doctor could not have diagnosed was: REDEEMED.

How many years had so many prayed for me – probably sometimes not even knowing anymore what to pray for! How many years had my mother prayed for my safety and my eternal salvation? How many of her friends joining her in that prayer? 23 years of asking and 23 years of waiting! When the answer doesn’t seem to come, how easy it would have been to eventually move on to others on the list and give up praying for me in frustration. Do we judge God based only on our last prayer which in our minds may have gone unanswered?

God judged me through His Son Jesus Christ in my totality and forgave me totally. When you measure God, think of the miraculous, think of the countless answered prayers, and the work of the Holy Spirit and measure His ability based on that infinite total.

JESUS CHRIST IS MY SAVIOUR AND LORD!
I sit here before you today desiring to be baptized because I am saved by God’s humbling grace and I want to identify with my Savior Jesus Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. I want to walk with my Lord beside me and daily seek to not give Him another reason to go to the cross for me. I know that when my life is over, I will rise to be with Jesus and will live with him forever.

If all I achieve in the life God has left for me is to see one person who realizes through my suffering that they need Jesus Christ and want to take that walk to the cross with Him I will truly have achieved my dream and the purpose God set forth for my life.

I remember as a teen singing this wonderful hymn and I would like you remind you of the words in the chorus, it truly speaks of God’s promise to me. I hope when you sing this you will declare this God’s promise to you as well;

Because He Lives I can face tomorrow
Because He Lives all fear is gone
Because I know He holds my future
Life is worth the living just because He Lives!

One of my favorite set of verses in the Bible is:

When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?
The end of those things is death.
But now that you have been
set free from sin
and have become slaves of God,
the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
For the wages of sin is death,
but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Romans 6:20-23)