he choir’s singing is soothing to my weary body. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here. Why did I come? What did I hope to accomplish? The preacher is talking now; he speaks with such authority; yet, his words are gentle.

I shouldn’t have come. Surely, by now, it’s too late for me. I have been drifting through this life without stopping to see what’s happening around me. I have been making life-altering decisions without ever thinking of the consequences.

How did I get here?I had a good upbringing—my father was one of the best pastors in town. He was a strict yet loving father with a heart as big as all outdoors. My dear, sweet mother raised us with a firm hand and a loving heart. She made sure we were polite, mannerly, well-versed in Scripture, and lived by the Golden Rule. Despite my rebellious nature, they did all they could to bring me up right.

We lived in a tough neighborhood, but I was not a victim of my environment. Everything that happened to me was a result of the decisions I made.

Our neighborhood was nicknamed the “cardboard jungle.” This was due to the 1940s-era siding that was on most every duplex apartment and the wild happenings on the street. The complex was built during World War II for barracks of enlisted men working at an ammunition plant, but it devolved far from the disciplined place it once was. It became home for low-income families and attractive to a variety of delinquents.

This jungle was overrun with unruly animals—drug dealers who weaved a web of lies, promising pleasure and freedom . . . but all I found was pain and constraints. The more drugs I used, the more I had to have. The harder I tried to break free, the tighter the vines wrapped around me. I made this choice. No one forced it on me. This is where I began to slip deeper into the jungle.

Being alone in the jungle at night is a scary place. I needed allies. I chose to join one of the “wolfpacks” that patrolled the streets. I was again made promises. There was the allusion of camaraderie. I needed someone, something to fill this emptiness. Later, I began to see them as a treacherous pack of hyenas. There was no brotherhood; there was only the survival of the fittest. Yet, I chose to stay. I chose to conform to their standards. I slipped deeper still.

The darkness loomed at every turn, and I managed to fit in with that unruly crowd. The years passed quickly while I wasn’t watching. Briars thickened, roots thrust deeply into the earth, and weeds grew strong. I became a shell of a man—a soulless animal, strong on the outside but empty on the inside. I was lost, lonely, and confused. How did it go wrong so fast? I had only made a couple of bad decisions.

I grew tired of fighting, tired of drugs, and tired of the path I had chosen. I was hungry for something of substance— something that would stop the pangs and truly satisfy.

I remembered the words of my father. I remembered the Scriptures my mother instilled into us at the dinner table each night. I had a choice.

I knew what I had to do—I knew where I needed to go. With the stench of alcohol on my breath and the smell of smoke on my tattered clothes, I stumbled into this old church and sat down in the back.

The preacher is giving an altar call. Every part of my body wants to run out the back—back to what I know. Then the words of my parents resonate through my mind. It’s all I can focus on. I have to know if this will work—if God can set me free. This is my last chance.

I pull my white-knuckle grip off the pew in front of me and head down the aisle. As I draw closer to the front, my feet become a little lighter and something is stirring inside of me. I fall over the wooden altar and begin to pour out my heart. I am sorry for the choices I have made—sorry for the unspeakable things I have done.

As I kneel praying, a beam of intense light illuminates through the darkness of my life. Refreshing waves of love, joy, and peace pour over me, and I soak it up. I can’t tell if I am in the river or if the river is in me! I sob uncontrollably. It’s the first time I have shed a tear in over 15 years! The words of my parents ring true: “When you look up, love reaches down.”

Christ is setting me free! I am no longer lonely or confused—no longer sinking in a pit of despair.

Twenty years later, I am still free of alcoholism and drug addiction. The deci- sion to lay down my life, allowing Jesus to mend the broken pieces, was the best decision of my life. I continue to face crossroads in my life, but I never face them alone.