In every season of my life, it seems like I have had a favorite, go-to T-shirt. Heck, my son Chris begged me out of one that I loved big time. It not only had the logo of one of our favorite rock bands on it: Sevendust. It also had added value (in his mind) since I once got arrested in that T-shirt. “Daddy got arrested” is always a great story, right?!?!?
I vividly remember my favorite T-shirt from my college years. It had a No Fear logo on the front and the following statement on the back: “IF YOU’RE NOT LIVING ON THE EDGE, YOU’RE TAKING UP TOO MUCH SPACE!” Even from a young age, I thought I had nothing to fear. My love of roller coasters remains still today. My son and I used to watch "Fear Factor" together and he would repeatedly ask, “Would you do that, dad?” At least in my own mind, I always would, so I would reply, “Of course I would.”
But any shine that was on my star back then became pretty dull as my addiction gained its control over me. As I made mistake after mistake and became a disappointment to those I loved most, the toxic shame became oppressive. The negative self-talk screamed in my head. Unchallenged, it was out to kill me. In 2012, on the worst day of my life, only God interrupted my suicide attempt, awakening me in a jail cell rather than at my own judgment day. As the next six years digressed, I now realize that I placed myself in many precarious situations in the crime-riddled inner-city of Cincinnati. When others would ask, I would just boast, "I've lost everything. What do I have to fear?"
Fast forward to three years ago: a man I respected greatly, a true servant to those who struggle, was found dead after committing suicide. He left his two teenage sons with the horror and confusion of that act. So many of us were shocked. An hour after I heard the news, a tremendous grief hit me, and I bawled. Having two grown children of my own, this event impressed upon me just how flippant I had been over the years when it came to suicidal thoughts. What had I been thinking? How could I not take my life more seriously? What was I doing walking through life with such a death wish? Addiction is a horrible thing. It drives a person into isolation. And, in isolation, even the most ludicrous thoughts seem totally logical.
So many times, in the past eight years I have thought, “I’ll never be free. I’ll never be happy. I’ll never publish that book. I’ll never be a good dad.” Yet, I now live in tremendous freedom. I am happy most of the time and filled with joy all the time. ‘That book’ did get published and I hear that it is helping others. And, as far as being a ‘good dad’, I’ll leave that for my kids to agree upon in the months and years to come.
Two months ago, I landed back in Cincinnati to do some work for City Gospel Mission. I stayed inside the Exodus program close to the inner city. But I had the freedom to come and go, unlike when I was a participant there three years ago. My first night there, my impulsive mind convinced me that I needed a Coke Zero. It was only a one mile walk to the Family Dollar, a walk I had made many times before. I was on it.
About 30 degrees outside, I bundled up, signed out and began to walk up Findlay Avenue towards the Family Dollar. I was walking like my mouth was parched from a blistering hot Texas day! But I followed my impulsive mind that night. One-third of the way into the walk, it had gotten very dark as I found myself walking down streets without lights. Then I arrived at the mid-point, an intersection with a run-down convenience store caddy-corner to where I stood. The activity in the parking lot was busy, a large crowd from the neighborhood bustling up next to the store. But I’m fearless, right?
The light turned green and I crossed the street, walking just across from the crowd. I picked up some speed and stared straight ahead. All the sudden, I heard the still small voice. The Holy Spirit is a gentleman and will not scream above my chaos. Yet, in this season of victory, I have ears to hear more clearly when He speaks up. As in my past, the question becomes, “Will I listen, and will I obey what He tells me to do?” It was like a supernatural alarm went off, “Tony, You are truly fortunate to get past here once without trouble. Do not try it again.” As the little corner store and its big crowd began getting smaller in the distance, I was relieved to finally arrive at the Family Dollar. The little bit of ego that I have left kept telling me, “Don’t be a fraidy cat, Tony. Don’t call an Uber. You are fearless, remember?”
It was undeniable: a new fear crept over me. A healthy fear. I bought my all-important Coke Zero, took a big swig on the curb in front of the Family Dollar…then clicked the Uber app on my iPhone. Fifteen minutes later, I was safely back inside the Exodus facility. As the devil tried to mock me, the Holy Spirit gave me a tremendous sense of peace.
What I now realize is that my one-way walk through danger that night has now become my very final death wish. The Spirit of the Living God has finally convinced me to take the years in front of me far more seriously than I took most of the last eight years behind me. There is life to live. There will be grandbabies to love on. There is seed to sow. There is a kingdom harvest to be reaped.
No more carelessness, Tony! Fearless in the Spirit? Yes! But, careless in the flesh? No!
- Tony Green, author of the book Triumphant Surrender