I lived a life of enslavement to sin which dragged me through the pains of divorce, jail, addiction, and defeat. Many would have looked at my life and thought there was no hope for someone like me, but God lovingly kept getting my attention and finally set me free.
It all started when I just a boy in grade school. I grew up in an upper middle class family in Allentown. My dad worked as a district manager for UGI gas company, and my mom was a good “stay at home” mom. We belonged to the Evangelical Reformed Church where my mom was a Sunday School teacher and my dad served as deacon, then elder, then head of the consistory. “My brother and I were both in the youth choirs and we attended church every Sunday – and I do mean, every Sunday.” My brother and I were both in the youth choirs and we attended church every Sunday – and I do mean, every Sunday. But there was a different “Jim” that my parents did not know, and my friends at school were beginning to know and like.
I never excelled in school, unlike my brother who consistently got “As.” My teachers and parents would frequently remind me of this. Well, I figured that if I couldn’t be as good in school, perhaps I could do better at other things – the wrong kind of things!
I had a newspaper route and so was the first one up every morning. I knew where my parents kept the liquors, brandies, and wines for entertaining guests. I started by just taking a sip or two each morning. Then it progressed to taking larger amounts and replacing it with water. I frequently took this mix of mine along to school with me and quickly became popular.
Around the same time I started to steal. I would steal from my brother’s bank of half dollars. Then I stole from my aunt and uncle who rented our third floor apartment. By the time I got to junior high school, I already had quite a reputation. I would often go with my dad to the UGI office and check the drop box for him and count the money while my dad did other work in the office. Sometimes I would stuff the bills and envelopes into my shirt until I could get somewhere that I could get rid of the bills and envelopes and keep the cash. I did get caught at this, but it didn’t stop me. Having this amount of money in junior high school made me very popular with the wrong crowd of kids.
When I turned 16 I got a job at a candy and tobacco wholesaler putting tax stickers on cartons of cigarettes. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I could sneak cartons out of the building by forcing them into my pants before leaving each night, then turn around and sell them to other kids at school. Soon I had a quite the reputation: “If you need something and can’t get it, see Jim!”
All during this time I was still attending church, though I was using the offering money my parents gave me to buy cigarettes. I even became an usher, collecting the offering and carrying it to the office to be counted. Many times not all of the money made it to the office!
While I was in high school, I met a girl that no one else seemed to like. We started dating and soon dropped out of school to get married. I enlisted in the Air Force and was away from home for months at a time. I began getting letters from friends telling about how my wife was running around on me. This went on for months and really hindered my ability to work. The Air Force gave me an honorable discharge and sent me home, only to find out that my wife was nowhere to be found. So, I filed for divorce.
Work was hard to find, but I discovered that I had ability at shooting pool and began hustling pool and gambling in bars and clubs. At one of the clubs I got to know a girl and started dancing with her on a regular basis and taking her home. One night when I took her home, her father came out very upset with me and had me arrested for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” for which I served four months in the county prison.
Some time later, I met Laura at the meat packing company where I was the union shop steward. She was living in an abusive relationship with a man and I felt sorry for her and helped her get an apartment. It didn’t take long for us to fall in love and get married.
For the next several years I worked different jobs and tried to get some order and stability into our lives. Meanwhile, my wife’s daughter abandoned her two young children and so we took them in to raise them as our own. Neither of us had been to church in many years but felt it was important to get our grandchildren into church. So we began looking in the phone book and visiting different churches. We finally settled on a Baptist Church in Allentown where we found the people to be friendly and the preaching made sense. After a few months of attending regularly, we were convicted by the preaching on salvation. “After two weeks of praying and crying at night, we came to the end of ourselves and called out to God to save us – and He did!” After two weeks of praying and crying at night, we came to the end of ourselves and called out to God to save us – and He did!
Romans 10:13 says, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
The next Sunday we went down the aisle together, hand in hand, to let the pastor know we had gotten saved. That was in April of 1985.
What a relief! It was like a heavy load had been removed from our backs – it was like nothing we had ever felt before. Everything changed for us from that point on. There was new hope, joy, and peace. We went home that night and the whole world seemed different the next morning, just like the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
From that day on, for over 20 years, the Lord has taken care of us, met our needs, and answered specific prayers for healing or to meet financial needs. Twice doctors said I was a “goner” and gave up on me, but the Lord brought me back. Everything about us we owe to the Lord.
In April of 2007 my wife of 38 years passed away after struggling with cancer for a few years. I was really discouraged and down and went to the pharmacy to get my prescriptions. The pharmacist, Raisa Garcia, was there behind the counter and extended her condolences, but then came out from behind the counter and did her best to console me. She then invited me out to her church and offered to give me a ride.
When I started attending the Lehigh Valley Baptist Church, I was amazed at how easily everyone seemed to follow the sermon in their Bibles. Soon I started a Bible study and began reading and studying the Bible even more on my own. I realized just how far I had strayed from the Lord. It broke my heart and drove me to my knees in repentance and faith to recommit myself to loving and serving Him and not myself. What a great God we have! He was right there all the time, loving and forgiving me and giving me another chance. I know God has a purpose for me yet to fulfill and He will take care of me. I’ll never be alone.