Despite a Southern Baptist upbringing as a young boy, I am not a religious man. And when I moved away from home at 17, I moved farther and farther away from organized religion and closer to the dark things of the world. Drugs and alcohol were a big part of that. These substances represented an escape from a life that seemed to be spinning out of control. My problems would fade away for a bit when I started drinking each day – but by the next morning, they were worse than the day before. Always.
I drifted for ten years ending up a homeless, suicidal alcoholic in New York City in the late 80s. While drifting, my only touchstone to God was when I’d sometimes come across a TV preacher named Dr. Charles Stanley. Whenever I’d see him, I’d stop and listen. I don’t know why, but Dr. Stanley had a way of explaining a very confusing concept in simple terms that somehow cut through all the layers of fear I’d accumulated during my journey – and set my heart at peace.
That was it. Those unexpected moments flipping through channels and seeing Charles Stanley were my only touchstones to God. And light. And peace. The rest of my life was chaos.
But then a miracle occurred. I had decided to end my life by jumping in front of an express train, but that day I was asked for an ID when I tried buying the booze I needed to muster the courage to carry out my plan. I lost my driver’s license to a DUI years earlier, so had no ID. When I complained to the store owner, he gave me an option of either leaving his store, or being shot. I sincerely thought about the latter for a second, but opted for the former. There was another package store on the next block, after all. So I stormed out and as I crossed the threshold, I stepped into a blinding midday sun. Then I heard a voice in my head that said, “My son you have another chance.” I dropped to my knees right there in Hell’s Kitchen and wept.
That was 31 years ago.
With no insurance or resources to get clean in a rehab, I joined AA. I attended multiple meetings per day in the beginning. I listened, shared, and began learning how to live without alcohol by watching others do it. And throughout this time, I experienced too many miracles to list. When I needed a friend, someone appeared. When I was hungry, food was provided. If I’d already gone to two meetings that day but someone came over to take me to another, I went. And I always needed to.
I learned how not to drink in the program, but the most important thing AA did was humble me enough to accept that the only way my life was going to change for the better was if I stopped directing it. They talked about a “higher power,” and story after story inside those rooms referenced the freedom in allowing this “power” to guide their lives.
Religion was never part of it. It was all based on spirituality. The supernatural. A world no one could see, but you had to believe to benefit from. At one point early on in my recovery, I told an old timer that it felt like I was being brainwashed. He took a sip of coffee, smiled, and said, “Jimmy, people like us – we need our brains washed.”
Through Alcoholics Anonymous, I learned how to live in faith. And my relationship with my higher power, who I call God, not only continues today – but continues to strengthen.
Compared to who I was in 1991, my life today is a miracle. I am surrounded by people who love me. I have a wife. We have two daughters, a house and a couple of cars. I have a college degree, a career and yes, a driver’s license. I have received everything I have ever wanted in life – all because I put my faith in God.
This is not to say that the past 31 years have been easy. No one gets their life back from where I was without a lot of work. A lot. And of course not everything goes perfectly. I stumble and fall constantly. I fail daily. Despite hitting my knees every morning asking to do God’s will, I take it back just about every day in some capacity. I’m human, after all. But the older I get (aka the more I practice), the more I’m hyper aware of God’s presence in my life and slowly and surely life continues evolving into this beautiful movie where I can find gratitude in nearly everything. So long as I’m looking for it. So long as I’m open to it.
During the Covid lockdown, my family began taking daily walks together with our dogs. Until Covid, our lives were too busy to carve out 30 minute walks together. It was during this time when the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library launched the Bookmark the Town project where people would put placards in their front yards with the titles of books they recommend, along with the author’s name. I noticed that in our neighborhood most of these recommendations were for children’s books. But then one day during our walks, I saw the name Dr. Charles Stanley written on one of these signs – why did that name sound so familiar? The title of the book was “Jesus, Our Perfect Hope.” I took a photo of the sign. Charles Stanley, I thought, why does it feel like I know him? Then it hit me. He was a guiding light during my walk through darkness.
A few years before Covid, I committed to reading The Bible. I’d never read it in its entirety, and I was curious how this book had such an important impact on the world. I read one chapter per day, and am now almost halfway through the Old Testament, after starting with the New.
As I read the New Testament, I saw too many parallels between my recovery and Jesus’s teachings for it to be a coincidence. That’s why I knew it was no coincidence that I saw the name of Dr. Stanley’s book on a yard sign in my neighborhood. I ordered it that night and immediately began reading it for daily inspiration. Another arrow in my quiver to walk confidently in a world that would prefer I give in to it.
Reading Stanley’s book became an afternoon routine that I looked forward to. It was like the old days when I’d happen across his sermons on TV. Only now, I was walking in light. And his message that I read each day had meaning, purpose, and relevance.
On December 10, 2021, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. When the surgeon called to tell me the news, I expected a feeling of dread to come rushing in. After all, I’d had a biopsy a few days before as the result of a PSA test which justified it, and knew that there was a possibility. But as the doctor said, “You have cancer and it needs to be removed as soon as possible.” I felt the warm presence of God next to me. It was truly remarkable. In that moment, I knew that He was using me again like He’d used me to share my story of alcoholism over the years which I know firsthand has helped bring freedom to fellow sufferers.
After the call with the doctor, I walked through my empty house filled with the spirit of God. There was absolutely no fear. There was only hope and purpose. I then opened up Dr. Charles Stanley’s book. The title for December 10 is “Obedience Through Suffering” and the message is best summed up in one sentence, “The adversity you are facing today will help you decide whether you really believe in God’s wisdom and provision, or not.”
After reading the affirmation, I wept.
The British poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said, “Nothing is insignificant.” I learned this quote early into my recovery and it’s played an important role in my growth the past three decades. Nothing that happens to me is an accident. But it’s up to me to keep my eyes, mind, and heart open to the miracles around me.
On March 17, 2022, I had radical prostatectomy surgery. Because of Covid, I had to wait months for a room to open up. The surgeon was confident going into the surgery that we’d caught it in time, but the day after surgery he told me that he was shocked to discover the cancer was just 2 millimeters from my lymph nodes (a superhighway for cancer spread.) Waiting another month for surgery may have been too late.
Because it was a minimum 3-night stay, I took Dr. Stanley’s book with me to the hospital. The day of my surgery, its message was about the feeling of hopelessness and how God alone provides hope. Stanley cites David’s challenges in this entry. On March 18, the message was about purpose and includes the line, “The father wants to reach others through you, and he’s given you gifts and talents to that end.” March 19 was a similar message. March 20, etc. etc. The messages in this book seemed to speak directly to me with what I was going through in life. It felt like a miracle.
I can’t overstate how at no point from my initial diagnosis through the surgery, and the brutal two weeks following the surgery, I had no fear. Not of dying. Not of surgery side effects. Not of cancer spreading. Nothing. I have had a pretty remarkable run for someone who was going to commit suicide in 1991. If it was my time now, it was my time. And I’d go out with the grace of God as my light. It was all going to be ok – either way.
The week after surgery, the pathology report came back. It turned out that the cancer was growing from inside out and was Stage 3. I will never forget the surgeon telling me and then saying, “This would have killed you this year.”
On April 22, 2022 I received the pathology report for the important blood work drawn the day before. It was my first major test to see whether they’d caught the cancer in time. The results revealed that my PSA levels had dropped to nearly zero. That afternoon, I read Charles Stanley’s book like I do every day. The title of that day’s reading is “More to This Life” and cites Matthew 10:39 which says, “He who has lost his life for My sake, will find it.” I had to lose my old life to find this new one. Nothing is insignificant.
I owe everything in my life to surrendering my will to a power greater than me. I was utterly lost, and now I’m found.
And while it’s true that things aren’t perfect, it feels damn close from where I’m standing.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays. Love, Jim. ❤️
NOTE: The friend who had the Charles Stanley placard in her yard volunteers with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. I saw her over the summer and my wife insisted that I tell her about how that little placard has actually helped me. Especially during the cancer stuff. She was so moved that she told the library – which in turn asked if I would write a 1,500-2000 word piece for their blog about my interaction with their program. This is the post I wrote. It’s the only way I knew how to tell it. The thing is, when I shared it with them back in September – they essentially ghosted me. They all requested access to the document – their designer, their content manager, etc. But then … nothing. I can only guess that the truth of my story was too controversial for a large audience, or maybe they just think I’m pulling their leg (even though you can buy the dang book and I didn’t write it.) I’ll never know thanks to their sincere lack of professionalism. In any case, this was an important story for me to share. Because sharing our miracles keeps the light shining. And these days, we can all use as much light as we can get.
Nothing is insignificant.