On October 18, 2015, His Way celebrated its 19th one year graduate. While one year of sobriety is a great accomplishment this graduate’s story is even more remarkable.
Chad had already suffered many years of loss due to substance abuse and the crimes that come with it. He had spent a combined seven years in prison not including a multitude of shorter jail incarcerations. He came to His Way on May 9, 2014. His primary desire was to get whatever help he could possibly receive in order to avoid spending the majority of the remainder of his life in prison for pending legal charges.
He entered our program, but only lasted twenty days until he was dismissed for rules violations. We resolved this situation quickly and he was able to return. Having seen Chad’s track record up to this point, we had little hope for success.
He lasted another three months until he was dismissed again for testing positive for a banned substance. We had struggled with his rebellious spirit throughout that period and were not surprised at his final dismissal.
But it was during his thirty day suspension from the program that Chad shared how the Lord truly began to capture his heart. When he reentered for the third time, he was a radically different person. He graduated the initial six-months of our program on April 9 2015, exactly 11 months after he had begun this journey with us, as our 131st graduate of His Way. He volunteered to commit to another six-months in our Advance Recovery Group. This group is designed to assist the staff and mentor new residents while continuing to solidify one’s own recovery.
During this period, Chad’s changes began to become more obvious. He was the first to volunteer for the least popular service opportunities such as driving residents to work every day at 3AM. He never grumbled about it, but later shared how that early morning time in the van was great personal time with the Lord.
Chad began to allow God to change his natural bent for conflict instigation and stirring up of strife into a compassionate concern for each resident’s personal recovery. He kept his eyes, ears, and most especially his heart, tuned to the one struggling with sobriety and staying the course.
At his one-year graduation, numerous graduates returned to the program to share with current residents how Chad had convinced them to endure when they already decided to check out. They gave much of the credit for their own success to Chad.
When I asked Chad about a week before his graduation, what changed? He responded, simply, “God changed how I thought.” I inquired about how that happened and he shared that he wasn’t quite sure, but that while he was out for that second time he decided something had to change so he surrendered everything over to God.
As I reflected on his explanation for this radical transformation, I was amazed with the insufficiency of his explanation. It was too easy and simplistic, and also too incomplete to explain such a dramatic change.
As I probed him for further explanation, I was blessed with an illustration that helped me see more clearly what Chad was talking about.
I know very little about cars. If my vehicle begins to misfire, my first reaction is to pretend I really didn’t notice it and hope that it goes away. But when it persists, due to my lack of automotive knowledge and experience and my sheer desire not to have to deal with it, I will attempt to justify it. “Old cars just run rough,” I reason. Or, “Everyone’s car probably has a similar problem.” Or, “My vehicle isn’t as bad as others I have witnessed.” The reality is I am just trying to excuse my lack of automotive knowledge and my inability to do anything about it.
Others may respond to this automotive problem by trying to fix it themselves though lacking the knowledge, tools, or experience to do so. These “shade tree” mechanics will usually create a greater mess, so that the vehicle may not run at all.
But the third and final option is to take it to a knowledgeable, well-trained mechanic; surrendering the vehicle and problem to him, he returns it in a few hours as good as new. The mechanic doesn’t explain how he did it or what tools he used, even if he tried, it would be a vain attempt with someone as ignorant and mechanically declined as me.
I just drive off confident that I know to whom I can surrender my vehicle.
The internal, eternal transformation of God within us operates similarly. We simply surrender our lives over to Him, trusting Him, and He returns it to us inexplicably changed.
So let’s stop ignoring the obvious misfirings of our lives. Or attempt to excuse it by assuming others just have the same problem and I’m not as bad as someone else. Some of us will flock to churches, read books, attend seminars, or seek counseling all in a quest to discover the magic formula that God has for us to change our lives.
While the real truth is, Chad’s truth – just surrender to God and let Him change you into what He envisions you to be. As the old hymn says, “Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” Jesus offers us all, “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.”
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (II Corinthians 5:17)
“Behold, the new Chad!” The transformation of Chad is truly an unexplainable gift of God.