Saturday, July 2, 2016

A Junkie Shares about Addiction, Jesus, and the Salvation Army

There is philosophy, the realm of ideas and then there is life in the real world.  Probably the hardest part of Christianity, the gospel and the Bible is translating those teachings into the real world.  

A few short years ago a young man, me, went from all out junkie, serious, near death junkie, to all out sold out for Jesus Christ.  In that moment of justification, in that moment of the shattering of the chains of addiction Jesus Christ did all the translating.

A realm of ideas that I knew very little about, a realm of spirituality, of religion and theology went from theoretical ideas, from foggy conjecture and pithy remarks, to reality.  There were tangible consequences to the reality of Jesus.  It became real to me by the reaction of Christ to a call for help, from me, in 2012.  On a literal date, there was a response.  Not in words, but in a transformation in my life.  

It's been approximately three years and eight months since I was loaded up to my eyeballs.  The realm of being on drugs, being messed up almost constantly had continued form age 16 when my parents divorced and I was expelled from school shortly after, until age 27.  It had been constant.  There had been jail, probation, chaotic moments, hospitalizations, detoxes, and rehabs.  Suddenly in 2012 all of that changed.  

This is my testimony.  It's real.  It's factual.  And it demonstrates a fundamental shifting of my life, from one road to another.  There had been numerous attempts to try for a better direction, sincere attempts, but they had failed.  I don't mean token attempts, but real battles to attempt to get clear of addiction.  Every time I would slide back in.  

After that moment, everything in my life changed.   I began attending a church community, a medium sized church being run out of a high school auditorium.  That would've never happened before, I couldn't want to go to church.  I couldn't care enough to go to church.  It just didn't matter to me.  It never could.  It was as far as New York to Tokyo.  There was nothing there for me, my mindset had been in direct opposition to even the suggestion! 

I began reading the Bible everyday. I found myself hungry for it.  Again, I didn't read books really.  Not unless it was something trendy, to seem cool to my liberal friends.  I didn't read anything but Hunter Thompson and Henry Miller back then.  Nasty junk, really.  The Bible seemed to jump off the page.  I'd read it before, but it had never impacted me in that way in the past.

I began attending recovery groups.  I began dealing with my underlying issues.  I began reading tons of books.  I read C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, A.W. Tozer, Ravi Zacharias, John R.W. Stott, and anything to do with Christian counseling concepts of healing from past struggles.

I put down the benzos and left em behind.  I flushed the clonapin and lorazepam.  I ended my love affair with amphetamines and ambien, all from the doctor of course.  I left behind the weed.  And no more alcohol, wow, alcohol had been everyday.  And the biggest drug, the true killer of Justin Steckbauer, yes, I finally finally put down the dextromethorphan hydro-bromide.  I set aside the awful love affair with the tripper drug, the triple C.  Finally a real nightmare had ended.  These things had seemed so appealing at one point.  By 2012 I had come to HATE every one of those drugs and the awful control they had over me.  I despised the endless highs and lows.  I hated it and I hated myself for what I'd become.  

Hope had been left behind two years prior.  Jesus changed it all.  Who can truly explain why?  It's hard to explain.  The best way I can put it is that there were suddenly powers within me, powers to resist, powers to stand firm, powers to want something better.  Let me say that again, powers to want something better.  Because the biggest obstacle for a true addict is wanting to want sobriety.  It's always a struggle between half of you wanting to quit and the other half very firmly wanting to stay loaded.  Deadlock.  Jesus gave me new desires.  He fired up a revolution in my soul.

Six months later I was baptized before a group of my peers, in water, and I stood before them and told my story.  It was my first sermon, I suppose.  My first message of hope.  

Almost instantly I knew I was called to full time ministry.  I was called to give my whole life to serving God.  It's hard to explain.  You just know.  Plus the trail behind me had been such a perplexing question: What do you want to be when you grow up?  If you recall Ferris Bueller's day off, Sloan and Cameron are talking and Sloan asks him,"What do you want to be?"  He replies, "I don't know."  And she asks, "Well what are you interested in?" And he turns and looks at her and smiles and says,"Nothing."  Same thing with me.  Nothing, yet, everything.  I loved to write.  I loved to read poetry at open mics.  I loved to learn.  And I loved philosophy.  Sure enough, theology was in my future.  

Now at this moment I was riding high on a wave of hope and revolution in my life.  But there is this verse in the Bible, a mysterious verse that challenges all would-be Christians.  It says: "count the cost."  (Luke 14:25-34).  Despite all the modern theos of the free gift, and the love of God, and yes those things are true, but there is also another side to the saga.  There is the side of suffering, of trials, and of painstaking troubles inherent in the Christian life.  

I don't know if I counted the cost.  Though I think I did.  I offered my life to God without reservation.  I don't think I fully understood what the road ahead would be like though.

I became part of a church plant, and I began serving on several ministries at my church.  I kept getting more involved.  It was good, very good.  I was sick and tired a great deal, but I was getting stronger everyday.  I worked the 12 steps and experienced the fullness of a spiritual awakening.  And a real one.  I gathered up my 40 or so credits from the university of Wisconsin that I had left behind and applied to attend Liberty University, the largest Christian college in the world.  Shockingly, I was accepted.  God thing. 

The church plant fell apart sadly, poor leadership, and just at that time I was looking for work.  I hadn't worked in years and it was about time I stop mooching off family.  So I applied at a Salvation Army transitional living center.  In fact my dad had worked at a nearby building for more than twenty-five years.  

The thirteen months I worked at the homeless shelter would be the hardest time of my life.  I attended college full time, and at the same time worked full time hours at the shelter, then had a mental breakdown and cut back to part time hours.  The struggles I went through at the shelter were immense.  The battles were constant.  It seemed like I was constantly struggling with emotions, depression anxiety, sleep problems, anger, and inner turmoil.

But I was on fire for the Lord!  Wow!  I was on fire.  I told everyone I could about Jesus.  I handed out Bibles.  I prayed.  And I held recovery groups.  I talked constantly with homeless folks about Jesus and recovery.  Nobody was really listening much, but I was still telling them!  That year was filled with prayer, and dark prayer, prayers that were filled with angst and tears.  

I worked rotating shifts, weekends and holidays, and the hours I was assigned included Sundays.  So I wasn't able to attend my baptist church anymore.  But the officers there and the social services director said that I could attend the Salvation Army services at the corps on Sundays.  The shelter closed during those hours anyway.  So I started doing that.  

Now, I had in mind something much easier than what God was putting before me.  I hadn't begun working at Salvation Army with the idea of getting involved with the army.  In fact I still didn't even know the Salvation Army was a church until I applied for the job and began reading about them online. Even then, no interest.  I wanted to be a Christian apologist or an itinerant evangelist.  It was just a job or so I thought.

Somehow I ended up getting involved in the Salvation Army.  I can't really explain it actually.  I started attending Salvation Army conferences.  I started learning Salvation Army theology.  I started reading about the Salvation Army.  And pretty soon I was shocked to find myself at Salvation Army conferences, and they held a "call to officership" and I was amazed, finding myself jumping up out of my seat and moving toward officership.  I don't know what I was thinking.  It must've been temporary insanity.  Or cult-like brainwashing.  Who knows!  But three different times God gave me a shove out of my seat, to the officership corner of the room.  And I hobbled over there in a frodo-like daze to pray with a DYS or a cadet or an officer, or whoever.  So as I affectionately refer to it, I was kidnapped by the Salvation Army, aided and abetted by God almighty.  

That fall, after leaving the homeless shelter (thank goodness) and I loved the people, but man was it stressful. Probably over 30 different times I had to call an ambulance, the police department, and even the fire department (twice).  Yes, that crazy.  But then things really got out of control, because I found myself moving from home in central Wisconsin to a quaint little sea-side village in upper Michigan.  You really can't make this stuff up.  Upper Michigan?  Does God have a sense of humor?  Yes he does.  

So I must've been in a trance, obviously, residuals from previous drug addiction, and I woke up upper Michigan working as an intern for the Salvation Army.  "Explain that pinhead!" -Bill O'reilly.  Junkie goes in, intern comes out, can't explain that.   And that's where I'm writing this from right now.  From upper Michigan.  It's really gotten crazy.  This has been the toughest few years of my life, though nothing is tougher than to live addicted without hope.  

I committed my life to Jesus Christ, because he swept into my disaster and rescued me from the rising waters.  He saved me, brushed me off, cleaned me up, set me right, set me free, and set me upon the mission I had always been meant to champion.  My whole life I had been looking for the righteous cause to champion, and finally, finally, finally I had found it.  But more so it, and it being He, found me.  Today it's hard man, it's really hard.  I'm single, I don't have many friends, I work long hours, I have to deal with snotty coworkers and difficult situations.  And I have to fight my own inner demons, my own depression, my own bitterness and brokenness and my own tendency toward selfishness and self pity.  But the war is winnable now.  

Count the cost.  Jesus Christ calls us to do something bigger and greater than we can possibly imagine.  It seems impossible, and it is impossible.  Why does God do it that way? Because if it was doable in our own power we might be tempted to think it was all about us.  When it's officership in the Salvation Army, it's too much, too much for Justin alone.  But in Christ anything is possible.  It's gritty and awful, and crying and weeping and living and loving and victory after victory and chaos and order and all manner of new, scary situations, social anxiety, panic attacks, preaching Spirit filled sermons, working long and hard, and feeling darn good about it, standing firm, studying hard, and finding in myself new spiritual muscles, new maturity, and new abilities that I never had before.  Christ is building me into a superhero for his cause.  And a beautiful cause it is, the cause of the gospel, for which Christ died for me to set me free, not from addiction, but from sin. Behind addiction is selfishness, behind selfishness, sin, evil, and darkness.  Christ set me free from all of it.  And more, he called me to serve him with my whole life.  So I'm doing it.  It's insanely tough, but equally amazing, rewarding and wonderful.  What is He calling you to do? 

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