“The simple believes everything,
but the prudent gives thought to his steps.”
Proverbs 14:15 ESV
At the end of the previous post, I announced that “I had found the foot of the stairs, and I was about to begin climbing them.”
Things didn’t happen exactly that way, and certainly not that quickly.
I was excited, for sure, but then the reality of my situation set in. The weight of the legal problems I faced seemed to have the potential to crush me. The bright red freshness of the scars on my neck, which I saw each time I looked in the mirror, were reminders that my suicide attempt and subsequent arrest had finally stripped the blinders completely off and revealed the stunning fact that my entire life – all 56 years of it to that point – had been lived with no real purpose other than an apparent ultimate goal of self-destruction which had almost been achieved. Those scars would eventually come to mean something entirely different to me. At my baptism on February 15, I announced to the congregation of Capitol Hill Baptist Church that, “These days, when I look in a mirror, the scars on my neck serve as a reminder how far away from God our disobedience can lead us.”
But that day in 2015 was still a long way off.
In August of 2009, although I was alive, things still looked pretty bleak and I thought about the ‘stairs’ I had to climb and just how many there were. The situation I was in, and the events of the previous week, combined to momentarily overwhelm me. Even though I should have probably just taken the first step and begun to climb the staircase, in actuality the first thing I did was to sit down and think about recent events. In addition, negative thoughts about the way I had lived – indeed, wasted – most of my life were given way too much prominence in my mind and I momentarily turned my back on the steps that needed to be taken and I was feeling more than a little lost and alone.
Don’t get me wrong. I was elated to be in possession of the knowledge that my life had been saved through what I somehow knew was the direct intervention of God. Even in the earliest moments of my new-found faith, this was one salient fact that was never in doubt. From the moment I opened my eyes in Jackson Memorial Hospital and realized that I was not, in fact, dead, I knew that God was responsible. Unfortunately this knowledge, rather than immediately putting me at ease and providing me with comfort, presented me with an entirely new set of problems to address which were summed up in the question I asked my sister after receiving the gift of the Bible she sent to me: “Now what do I do with it?”
That is the simplified version of my sister’s response and it does, in fact, lie at the very center of building a relationship with God, learning the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and discovering how those things can change our lives on earth and provide us with eternal life in God’s Kingdom.
But those revelations would come later, because for the moment, in spite of the basic wisdom of my sister’s response, I still found it necessary to ask myself, “Really, what am I supposed to do with it?”
We have all seen this, heard this, and said this. The significance of the statement is most often minimized, but it really does represent one of those basic, inescapable, and important truths of life: Whether it is a journey, a task, a flight of stairs, or a walk across the country, we will never arrive at the completion of whatever it may be if we fail to begin. To begin, we must take the first step.
Once we take the first step, we discover that there is no such thing as a ‘second step’ or a ‘third step’. There are only a thousand first steps, for each step we have taken becomes part of our past and the journey we are on begins anew.
For me, at that time in late August of 2009, one first step was to take comfort from the way my new Bible felt in my hands and to stumble through the unfamiliar territory of words that would, over the course of the next several years, come to represent all of the answers I ever sought, and provide me with all of the wisdom I could ever seek. A new life had been given to me and I wanted to know why. I instinctively knew that the answer to that question lay in the written words that, at the time, made me so uncomfortable.
Becoming comfortable was not anywhere near as sudden as the discovery of my new-found faith in God. I struggled for the entire 8 months in which I remained free while awaiting resolution to my criminal case. While the specifics of that resolution was uncertain, one things was not: Prison was most definitely in my future. My hope was that prison could be avoided, and my first attempts at a prayer life were filled with requests for that to be the case, but it eventually began to sink in that God had a different plan for me than the one I thought I wanted.
Once I accepted the reality of the immediate future, I looked to God for the courage, strength, and wisdom to face what I needed to face and to do it in a manner that would help me to grow in my faith. As God had planned, it was while in prison that I would learn to be prudent and give thought to the steps I was taking as I made the Word of God the Light that lit my path and the source of the ‘spiritual breadcrumbs’ I would discover along the way.
And it is in prison that we will examine some of those ‘thousand first steps’ which led me away from the floor of that bloody shower stall to this new life that is a remarkable example of God’s mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love.