Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Runner

Years ago, Simon and Garfunkel produced a smash hit called “The Boxer,” a song about a young man’s struggles in life.  This blog is dedicated to “The Runner,” my athletic young son and his own struggles.  In my previous article I talked of Aaron’s athletic giftedness in his youth.  Speed and elusiveness made him a very unique performer.  On the football field, Aaron was like a white version of Barry Sanders: shifty, fast, and explosive.  Once he got around the corner, there was no catching him-he was bound for the end-zone.

Over the years, however, as Aaron became entangled in drug abuse, I witnessed him running in a much different way.  He was no longer running from opponents on the field of play, but from the law: police officers pursuing him in an effort to bring him into custody.  Strangely, as a grieving father aware of Aaron’s life threatening addiction, I found myself rooting for his pursuers, wanting him to be caught for his own well-being.

One morning, a female deputy appeared at our door with a warrant for Aaron’s arrest.  Aaron was in bed when she arrived.  We awoke him and informed him of what was coming down.  As Aaron emerged from his room, he asked the deputy if he could get some t-shirts from his room to wear to the cold confines of the Ingham County Jail.  The deputy obliged.  I went into my room to get some additional t-shirts for Aaron for Aaron to wear to the jail.  I then knocked on Aaron’s door, offering him my shirts, but there was no answer.  I opened the bedroom door to discover he was gone!  His window was open and he had jumped two stories to the ground.  The runner fled, and was clean out of sight in short-order.

Clearly angered, the deputy tried in vain to find Aaron, but was unable to locate him.  Later that morning he returned to our home and lied down and passed out from exhaustion.  Though it pained me to do so, I called the Sherriff’s.  Moments later, my son, the runner, was arrested in my bedroom.  The female deputy had returned with another officer, who pulled his gun and pointed it at Aaron as he lay in my bed.  This image remains in my mind to this day.  In my bedroom, our teenage addict was hand-cuffed and taken from our midst to jail.

Another dark night will always remain in my memory, as drugs continued to run rampant in Aaron’s life.  It was a cold, brutal Michigan winter night, with the temperature below zero.  Aaron had another warrant out for his arrest due to drug offenses and the cops were on their way once again.  Just before their arrival, the runner once again leaped from his bedroom window and fled for places unknown.  The Sherriff’s came in large number, along with police dogs.  They searched the surrounding neighborhood for an extensive period of time, unable to find Aaron.  Finally, a frustrated deputy told us they were leaving due to the extreme cold, knowing Aaron would eventually come back home (he didn’t even have a coat on).

The runner did return that night.  Looking out my window, I saw a dejected figure, the image of my young son walking slowly up our dark road.  Amazingly, the runner had raced to a sub-division a mile from our house and as the cops and dogs approached, climbed into a garbage can at curb-side and pulled the lid down.  The cops and dogs were right next to the garbage container, but couldn’t find him.  Ever-fast, ever-elusive, the runner had escaped the law, returning home in a nearly frost-bitten condition and in great discomfort.  What to do now?  Aaron was back, in our home, hurting and in pain.  Our parental instincts told us to take him in, minister to his hurt, love him.  But he was still bound to drug addiction and his life as a result was still in grave danger.  The runner was a heroin addict, and our family was in turmoil.

I called the police, reporting that Aaron was back in our home.  Law enforcement officers returned late that night, and the tired, hurting, dejected runner was taken away to jail once again.  There were other times in this wild period of our lives when Aaron ran.  He tried to run from police while on probation one summer night in downtown Mason when his car was pulled over.  Wearing flip-flops, the runner couldn’t gain too much speed, and after falling down, he got back up and started running again as several officers closed in.  At close range, Aaron was tasered in the back by a Mason cop, who shot him 3 times, dropping him to the ground.

Then there was another morning I recall.  Aaron was scheduled for an appearance in Circuit Court, and it was certain he would not be returning home with us-he would be going back to the Ingham County Jail.  How I dreaded those court dates!  Drug addiction is a disease which jail time cannot cure-but what else is there?  As his mom and I escorted him to the entrance of the court building, the runner suddenly pulled away, just as he had in so many football games in days gone by.  Away he ran, in pouring-down rain, down Kalamazoo Street in Downtown Lansing.  Like his opponents in football, I knew I couldn’t catch him.  His mother and I appeared in court without the runner, another warrant was issued and he would once again find himself in jail.

Aaron was labeled in the court system, ironically, as a “runner.”  As a father, I had witnessed this kid run in football games through the years, and his exploits brought me great pleasure.  Conversely, seeing him run from the law brought me great pain.  The obvious question, as I look back on those stress-filled days, is this: what was my son running from?  The answer to this question is manifold.  Obviously, Aaron was running from the consequences of his drug use.  He dreaded jail, a place where he was treated as a vile criminal-lodged with murderers, rapists, armed robbers, drug dealers, and the like.  In jail, he received minimal help for his addiction and psychological issues.

But Aaron wasn’t just running from the consequences: he was running from the cure.  From age 15 to 21, he simply did not want to change.  He did not want to give up the drugs which temporarily relieved his pain, and ruled his life.  He, quite honestly, was not yet ready, or willing, to quit.  Aaron did not think he was able to conquer this “demon” that ruled his life, and so he kept on running, much to our dismay.

Aaron was also running from himself and the painful issues in his life which he had come to believe were insurmountable.  He was wounded.  He had experienced enormous pain in his young life which he could not understand.  And finally, Aaron was also running from God-The Lord he had trusted in at an early age, but had allowed painful circumstances to enter his young, fragile life.  And so he did what came naturally to him as an athlete: Aaron ran, for 7 long years.

Aaron was, and is, a child of God, and like the Old Testament prophet Jonah, Aaron, the runner, was finally captured by his loving God and was brought into submission.  Jonah was one of the original “runners.”  He rebelled against God’s calling and tried to run from God’s presence.  But God “tackled” Jonah, swallowing him up in the belly of a whale (a place far worse than the county jail).  The new Jonah emerged from his captivity to do God’s Will.  The runner was tackled, and great things resulted in the aftermath.  Likewise, my son, Aaron, the runner, was “tackled” by God.  “The runner” was brought into submission and Aaron surrendered.

Surrender, I believe, is the key word.  It is only when the addict reaches this point of giving in and yielding to change and recovery that they will truly find peace.  10 ½ months clean, my son, the runner, is headed up-field today on the gridiron of life.  He is scoring touchdowns every day in his life of recovery.  And the wild stories of his past-and ours-serve as a ray of hope for families torn by addiction!

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Life of Recovery

Recovery from heroin addiction has brought me so much-more than I could have ever imagined.  Not only has it brought me satisfaction, restored family relationships, pride in my life for once, and the ability to enjoy life with a sober mind, it has enabled me to be a responsible citizen for the first time in my life.  When I was still actively using heroin, my image of a life in recovery was somebody who is always miserable and not able to enjoy anything.  I envisioned myself moping around my whole life, depressed without my drug, counting down the days until my life ended.

It’s amazing the way we can label something we have never even tried to do as just automatically bad.  That is all out of fear, fear of the unknown.  For years I feared being sober.  I imagined my life was going to be horrible, not able to experience any joy.  Boy was I wrong.  Trust me; I still have very tough times.  There are still days that are very hard to get through, but they pass a lot faster than they used to.  There is no such thing as a life without any hardships or heartache.  But I am here to tell you that it is possible to enjoy a life of sobriety.

I really feel like it is necessary for me to communicate to people still using drugs that you can get sober and ENJOY life.  I was once that person who thought there was no pleasure in living sober, so I really feel the need to be that person to show others what life can be like if you just give recovery a try.  I want to be a living example that things indeed get better.  I want to be a living example of God’s grace and mercy.  I want to show the world how powerful God is.  If he can turn a hopeless heroin addict like me into the person I am today, well, he can do anything, and he can do for you what he did for me.

Recovery not only has blessed me with sober fun, but it has blessed me with responsibility.  I am actually relatively busy today in my life.  I would like to write a little more but I just don’t have the time to post a blog every day.  For so long I envied people who were responsible and could go to work or school every day without even thinking about it like I do.  I really wanted what those people had.  I just didn’t know how to get off heroin and straighten out my life.  Even if I knew how, I didn’t have the confidence.  For a long time I thought that it was impossible to quit heroin.  I thought that way for years, that there was no way out of the mess my life had become.  I sincerely consider it a miracle that I found the strength to finally give it a try.  I reached a point where I just couldn’t take any more pain.  My life was so miserable that I was willing to give the fear of the unknown a try.  I finally found the willingness to do whatever was necessary to recover.

I am now here, sober.  I will have a year sobriety in May.  I go to college for social work so I can eventually get a professional job working with drug addicts and to be able to expand New Life Recovery to offer professional services.  Right now, though, I am at the point where I can use my story to help others.  I have been traveling around to various places around the state to share my story of recovery.  God is really working in my life and using me and I feel so grateful that he is using my story.  I really feel that if I can make this a positive and use my past to help others then everything in my past will be worth it.  I don’t want all of my pain and misery I experienced in heroin addiction to be for nothing.  I want to use it and that is exactly where God is leading me.

I am very excited that I can now use New Life Recovery as a new platform.  Not only am my Father and I sharing our story through our blog, but we are now starting to offer to go share our story in person through speaking engagements.  We went down to Jackson last week and spoke at a church and talked about addiction and gave our testimony.  Also, my recovery coach (who is also the Director of the Ingham County Families Against Narcotics) has been taking me with him to give presentations about recovery and to talk about FANs.  All of that experience speaking in front of people has given me the confidence to speak in public to big groups of people.  I really feel God calling me to use that confidence and offer speaking presentations as a tool of New Life Recovery, so that is what I did.  It might take a while to get the word out, but this is a start.  I am very excited to see where God can take us and how he can use us.

All of this is happening because I finally found the strength and willingness to follow God’s path he laid ahead of me.  The Lord put certain people in my life and they showed me the way to recovery.  I really want to encourage you, if you are reading this and are suffering from an addiction or are suffering from a loved one’s addiction, please get ahold of us.  Please reach out and let us show you the way, just like somebody showed us the way.  We keep what we have by giving it away, and that is what I want to do for you, give away my hope of recovery.  It is possible.  God can perform miracles-but we have to let him.  Have a great day everybody!

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Lost Dreams

As parents, we all have dreams for our children, wanting to see them succeed and make the most of their lives.  In my youth, my Dad was convinced that his left-handed hitting son was destined to be the next Ted Williams (his all-time favorite baseball player).  Later on, when I began preaching, my Dad started calling me the next Billy Graham.  In 1991, my third son was born and Aaron grew and began playing sports.  I, like my father, had big dreams for this kid with special, God-given abilities.

Through the years it was a pleasure to watch Aaron excel in baseball, football, and basketball.  Now, I realize that all sports Dads think their kids are the best, but believe me, from a very early age it was clear that Aaron was a natural.  At age 7, Aaron was chosen to be on a baseball team composed of 10 year olds.  He was just a little fella, much smaller than all of his teammates and opponents.  At the first game of the season in Stockbridge, I was stunned to see Aaron warming up to be the starting pitcher.  We were so nervous, but Aaron was up to the challenge, pitching a great game and leading his team to a victory.  I was both proud and relieved!

As the years unfolded Aaron continued to amaze people with his ability.  He made plays that were unbelievable: on the diamond, hard-wood, and gridiron.  Aaron always seemed to come through in the clutch when a game was on the line, with a big hit, sensational catch, crucial basket, or dazzling run with the football (I have game tapes with documented evidence, LOL).  One coach in Aaron’s youth called him a “gamer,” the ultimate tribute to an athlete.  I was dreaming that my son might have a chance to do what I dreamt of as a kid-making it to the big leagues (or at least college ball).

As a freshman at Mason High School in 2005, Aaron began the football season as the quarterback, making amazing plays passing and running.  At a game in Fowlerville, something happened that I believe is relevant to his eventual entry into the drug world.  After rolling out and completing a beautiful pass 35 yards down-field, a Fowlerville defender drilled him at full speed with a “cheap shot” to the chin after the play was over.  Aaron was delirious for an extended period of time and taken by ambulance to Sparrow Hospital.  So severe was this incident that the game was suspended.  He suffered his second concussion that afternoon (he had sustained another one the previous year in baseball), and we would later learn that he suffered some brain impairment from these injuries.  Aaron would return to the field a few weeks later and in his first game back at Eaton Rapids he scored 3 touchdowns and ran for over 250 yards.  Yes, his Dad was doing a little dreaming-the next Barry Sanders, perhaps?

In spring of 2006, Aaron was the key member of Mason’s freshman baseball team, playing a variety of positions and hitting for a very high average.  Again, I was just in awe at the things my son did on the baseball diamond.  At year’s end, the coach named Aaron the MVP and presented him with a trophy with his name inscribed as Most Valuable Player (a memento he cherishes to this day).  But that memorable season would be his last.  Our dreams began to unravel quickly…

You see, Aaron excelled on the diamond in 2006 despite enduring enormous emotional pain.  In addition to his concussions, he was grieving the loss of several family members who were taken in a relatively short period of time.  Moreover, in April 2006, I, his Dad, was abruptly fired from my position as Pastor at Eden United Brethren Church after 14 ½ years.  This unexpected and unjust action heaped immense emotional pain on this 14 year old boy who loved his Dad.  Aaron and his family were forced to vacate our home-the only home he had known.  We were homeless and had to take up residence with friends.  It was that summer in 2006 when Aaron turned to hard drugs to alleviate his inner pain.  The “dream” was beginning to fade.

As football season arrived in August 2006, Aaron decided that he no longer wanted to play, despite my pleas for him to do so.  Mason’s varsity coach called us after the first day of summer practice, asking why Aaron was not there.  This fine man, Jerry Van Havel, called 3 days in a row.  He had big plans for Aaron and he cared about him as a person.  On the third try, the coach persuaded Aaron to come back.  Aaron participated in the grueling two-a-day practices and shortly before the season began, he was slated to be the starting half-back.  Then, before the team’s first scrimmage, Aaron quit.  We did not know it at the time, but drugs were already ruling Aaron’s life.  Lost dreams!  Aaron would never play another day of football.  I personally mourned this void in my life.

As the year 2006 ended, the focus turned to baseball.  Mason had a new varsity coach, a man well known in Mid-Michigan for his prowess in developing players and advancing the best to the next level.  He was aware of Aaron’s abilities and had him slated to be his starting center-fielder on the Varsity team as a sophomore.  A great opportunity was presented to Aaron.  But once again, drugs stepped in the way of our dreams-Aaron’s dreams and mine as a father.  Aaron would never play baseball again, all because of drugs.  I must admit that personally, I took this quite hard.  He was such a good baseball player.

Lost dreams.  That’s what drugs produce, in the life of the addict, as well as their parents.  Throughout Aaron’s childhood and youth, I looked on with pride from the bleachers, often amazed at the accomplishments of my son.  As drugs overtook my son’s life, I mourned for what heroin took from my son, an athlete with unique abilities.  In all honesty, I mourned for myself, as well.  As a father, I had high hopes and aspirations for my boy, and drugs took them away.

But today, Aaron is 22 years old and I realize there are far more important things than sports.  Sports are fleeting: they are only for a season.  My dreams for Aaron in the sports realm were lost because of drugs.  Now, an even bigger, more important dream has arisen.  Aaron, by God’s grace, is putting his life back together.  He is over 10 months clean and Aaron is touching people’s lives with his testimony!  God has brought my son through the fire of addiction and he is beginning to make a difference in the world.

Yes, one dream was lost, but a more important dream is unfolding.  God is putting the pieces back together in Aaron’s life.  He has developed a personal relationship with Christ, praying and reading the Bible every day.  Aaron attends Sunday school and church every Sunday.  He is an assistant to our youth pastor.  Aaron is leading a youth group meeting at New Life Fellowship on Wednesday nights.  He is attending Lansing Community College and aspires to helping others in some form of ministry.

When drug addiction took away our dreams, God, in his infinite mercy, brought new hopes and dreams into Aaron’s life, as well as mine.  Aaron is now on God’s team-the only team that truly matters.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Only one life, will soon be past.  Only what’s done for Christ will last.”  Drug addiction will ultimately result in lost dreams.  But there is a Higher Power available to us.  The Lord is in the business of restoring lives and creating new and even greater dreams if we will only trust Him!

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Going In A New Direction

Today as I was driving home on U.S. 127, I was passed by an Ingham County Sherriff’s van.  This large, white van is used to transport inmates to and from court.  My son was a passenger in this van many times during his years of substance abuse.

Throughout Aaron’s struggle, whenever I would see “the van” on the highway, my heart was saddened.  It reminded me that Aaron was in jail, having lost his freedom due to drugs.  “The van” also reminded me how totally out of control Aaron’s life had become and it depressed me.  Even now, I still have flashbacks on occasion when I see this vehicle.

But today was different for me.  As the Sherriff van went by, I felt gratitude.  At that very moment, Aaron was a passenger in his recovery coach’s car.  They were on the highway, headed for Big Rapids, Michigan to speak to a group of people about starting a F.A.N.s outreach in that community.  On that night, Aaron would be sharing his testimony, speaking publicly about his drug use and recovery.

As that van went by, it blessed me to think that at that very moment, Aaron was on the road with his coach and mentor to try to help other people who have loved ones addicted to drugs.  Aaron doesn’t ride in that van anymore.  He is going in a new direction: clean, sober, and doing things he never dreamed he would do (like speaking before a crowd).  This quiet kid has also shared his story in South Lyon, Michigan, and Jackson, Michigan on two separate occasions, one of them where he received a standing ovation at a fundraiser dinner designed to provide funding for poor people in need of rehab.

Being the humble guy that he is, Aaron didn’t tell us about the standing ovation!  His recovery coach told us and it made me feel good.  Another ironic thing about that event in Jackson is that Aaron traveled to it with a local judge and sat next to the Honorable Donald Allen at dinner.  Talk about a turnaround!  Here’s a kid who has stood before judges in court many times, and now he sits and eats dinner with one.

Thank God, Aaron is going in a new direction in his life.  We know there will be bumps in the road along the way, but as long as he stays focused on recovery and continues to grow in his faith, Aaron will be blessed indeed.  We believe God has a plan for this young man.  God will take Aaron, a former passenger on that Ingham County Sherriff transport van, where he wants him to go.

I want to encourage parents who are currently grieving over their sons and daughters addiction.  Your child may be incarcerated.  You understand what I’m talking about when I describe episodes of sorrow induced by something like a Sherriff van.  You are hurting big-time and you feel there is no hope for your kid.  Well, there is!  Your child can also go in a new direction.  Don’t give up.  In the meantime, you need help and support for yourself.  I urge you to come to the monthly Families Against Narcotics meetings at University Lutheran Church in East Lansing (last Tuesday of each month at 7:00 PM).  I also endorse getting involved in Al-Anon on a weekly basis.  And, as Aaron always writes in his blogs, feel free to contact us at New Life Recovery Outreach.

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A Boy is Healed

One of the exciting aspects of my son Aaron’s recovery from heroin addiction is that doors are beginning to open for him to share his story publicly with others in various places.  As a recovering person, Aaron has a passion to help others who struggle with addiction.  This coming Sunday, Aaron and I have been invited to share our “story” at a church in Jackson, Michigan, speaking to a youth group, as well as their parents.  We thank God for this opportunity to reach out, and pray that God will use us as his instruments.  Here is a preview of what I plan to share with these precious people.

As I thought about my part in this presentation, a gospel story in Matthew 17 came to mind.  The heading over this passage in my Bible states, “A Boy is Healed.”  In this story, a very troubled Dad approached Jesus on behalf of his young son.  Kneeling before the Savior, he asked for mercy on behalf of his son, whose life was out of control.  The Dad diagnosed his son’s problem as Epilepsy-a condition which causes loss of control of the body; fainting; shaking, and the inability to move.  The caring Father told Jesus that his son “suffers severely and often falls.”  The boy’s Father could not help him.  Further, the loving Dad took his son to Jesus disciples, but they were not able to help him, either.  This sounds a lot like drug addiction and the effects it has on its victims and families.

In verse 18, Jesus gave a different diagnosis: the young man was demon possessed.  In 30 years as a Pastor, I have never encountered a “demon possessed” person.  But, according to the scriptures, demons are real.  Demons exist in our world and they torment people.  In my experience, I have dealt with many people whose lives are tormented by the devil.  A scripture in the New Testament, 1 Peter 5:8 calls the devil “your adversary, who walks like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”  What a sobering statement!  There is a real devil who seeks to destroy people’s lives.

I would like to talk about one of the biggest ways Satan is controlling and devouring the lives of young people today: through drugs.  Like the young man in Matthew 17, drugs lead to “severe suffering.”  Drugs are Satan’s weapons.  They lead to addiction…suffering…the ruination of lives, and ultimately, the taking of lives.  In Matthew 17, Satan had this young man under his control, and he tormented him daily.  This boy was helpless, and so too, was his Dad, who desperately desired to see his boy set free.  Can you relate to this story?  It is strikingly similar to what drugs do to young people and their loved ones!

Based on my personal experience, I believe drugs are a demonic influence in our present generation.  Drug use changes people’s personalities.  Drugs become the God in the user’s life.  Drugs ruin hopes and dreams.  They lead to legal consequences, jail, and prison.  Drugs tear families apart, and drugs claim lives on a daily basis.

I have personally witnessed the demonic power of drugs in my own family.  I have been a Christian since 1973.  I have pastored 6 churches in a span of 30 years.  I have been married for 34 years, and have four children and four grandchildren.  And yet I, like so many others, have become, as they say, “the face of addiction.”

You see, I was much like the Dad we meet in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 17.  In 2006, my son, Aaron began using drugs, and in a brief period of time, he became totally addicted.  My son was an addict!  His life was out of control.  Allow me to remind you about who Aaron was, and is.  Aaron is a good kid with many fine qualities (caring, sensitive, humble, sincere, and loyal).  He became a Christian at a young age, and was raised in a loving, stable family in a small town.  Aaron has always loved his family-his brothers and sister, parents and extended family.  We are a very close knit family.  He was also an outstanding athlete-a 3 sport star in baseball, football, and basketball.  I truly believed he had a bright future in baseball in particular; he was so gifted as an athlete.

However, the demon of drugs got ahold of Aaron’s life.  For seven long years, I watched him suffer, and like the Dad in Matthew 17, I couldn’t help my son.  He quit all of his sports.  He dropped out of school.  He lost all of his true friends.  He got into legal trouble and became entangled in the legal system.  Aaron spent months in juvenile detention centers, and very lengthy periods of time in jail.  He could have gone to prison.  He was in and out of rehab facilities, and he overdosed on several occasions and nearly died on a number of instances.

By 2013, I was at the point of desperation.  As I have shared previously, I thought my son was going to die and I began to prepare emotionally (if that is possible) for the loss of my child.  Finally, I came to the point of simply letting go and letting God.  There was nothing more I could do.  It was up to God, and Aaron.  Like the father in Matthew 17, I was desperate and all I could do was turn Aaron over to God.

Do you remember the heading I referenced above the passage in Matthew 17?  “A boy is healed.”  Well, in that biblical story, Jesus cast out a demon that was dwelling within that young man.  The boy was delivered and healed!  Jesus Christ has a power over the devil and his demon forces.

Today, the good news is that Aaron has been delivered and he has been healed by Jesus Christ.  Aaron finally reached the point where he truly wanted to be delivered and healed.  He was sick of being sick!  Jesus has performed yet another miracle, and I am so thankful to say that he has been totally clean for 10 months.  It’s a daily struggle, each day at a time, but thank God, my boy is healed.  This, my friends, is our story and I pray that it brings inspiration to you today!

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