It was December 1st, 1995, when I walked into the US Marshals office at 601 Market Street in Philadelphia a free man – and exited a prisoner. In handcuffs, ankle cuffs chained together and to two other men shuffling to a waiting van in an underground garage.
‘How the heck did I get here?’ was the question I asked myself many times over the subsequent 90 Days in Federal Prison.
Locked up for pleading guilty to multiple felony counts of mail fraud – setting aside other charges that were dropped of aiding and abetting, fraudulently inducing persons to travel in interstate commerce, and money laundering—criminal forfeiture – whatever that is. All stemming from a business partnership gone bad that had begun 11 years earlier.
The Bible is very clear – “No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.” (The Message)
This was one of those times that I needed Him to help me through it. I was terrified of the unknown. Problem was, I put myself there. My sin, my consequences.
I didn’t understand how the wounds unknowingly inflicted by imperfect parents and my individual choices would dramatically shape my view of who I am and who God is. Nor did I understand how the decisions that I would make in my effort to cover those wounds would yield all sorts of dysfunctional behaviors, landing me in this tenuous position.
Facing the facts of my own culpability was the hardest of all encounters. An encounter with my own horrendous choices. That’s code for SIN.
The bottom line, I perpetuated a lie conjured up by my business partner about the success of our consulting clients. We used phony references that sang our praises in an effort to garner more business. It’s that simple. We paid people to exaggerate their success and income levels to give our prospects the idea that buying and selling real estate was easy and they would get rich doing it.
Prompted by a disgruntled employee, it took 5 years of investigation by the US Attorney to hand down the indictments. It wasn’t pretty. My two partners and I would face criminal charges leading to grand jury hearings, multiple trials, and guilty verdicts across the board. As a key witness for the prosecution, I would suffer a much lesser fate. Miraculously I was sentenced to 90 days in a Federal Prison Camp while my partners went away for 2 ½ to 3 ½ years each.
As a Christ-follower, yielding to the temptation to get my own needs met in my own way led to a host of failures. Ones that God allowed as a way of disciplining me and bringing me back to the path of His purposes.
As Paul said to the Galatians, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (6:7,8)
We made millions. Many of those millions were legitimate and many of those millions were not. Ocean front properties, big cars, boats, and traveling the world were no substitute for the Kingdom that God had in mind for me to manage. The stuff the world would consider the spoils of success are temporal and unfulfilling. It was all empty. It led to nowhere but here. As Solomon quipped, meaningless, meaningless – all is meaningless.
My identity was wrapped up in this make-believe world. The world that had no value to the Kingdom of God. In fact, it was working against everything God had created in me and ultimately the purpose for which I was created. But I believed my own press. I so wanted to prove to myself and everybody who was watching that I had arrived and was a significant part of this worldly way.
That is the ultimate definition of brokenness—at least it was for me.
How that would play out over the coming years would have devastating consequences for me and those around me. And rightfully so, at least for me. I deserved the consequences of what was sown deeply into my identity as I acted on the temptation that came with every dollar that passed through my hands.
My brokenness had to be exposed and my fig leaf torn to pieces. I was on a journey that would take many twists and turns but ultimately lead to healing in the very roots of my life. The roots that had been broken in my relationship with Christ and the true self that God had created in me. Not the false self I had created as a mask to hide all the pain that I had absorbed over the previous years.
How did it all begin?
Where did I go wrong?
Was it my fault?
Was it just my sinful nature?
Yes, to the last two.
I realized later that it began with a lie. A lie that Satan perpetrated in my life through a number of sources – by people I trusted most. Yet, they too were broken. It would take years for me to understand the magnitude of that brokenness and what the messages, the wounds inflicted, and the lies did to derail my own journey toward wholeness as a Believer in Jesus Christ.
The One Hitter
I grew up in a home with a father who demanded that I be the best that I could be. No exceptions.
Remembering my Little League baseball days, I’ll share a story that had major implications in my earlier formational journey.
My career in baseball started as a young boy and went all the way through Division 3—college ball. As if it happened yesterday, a particular event stands out most. June 26, 1976. I kept the game ball and put the date on it – between my freshman and sophomore years in college. It was epic. I threw a one-hitter. No walks. I even got the hit that drove in the first run, eventually winning the game 7-0 – a two-run homer. That may have been one of my finest moments. I was stoked. After the game, I got in the car with my parents and my girlfriend, expecting to continue the celebration at our favorite ice cream joint.
In a moment of silence between the smiles and high fives, my father, in true Dad fashion, said, “If it weren’t for that one hit, it would have been a perfect game.” I was stunned. My internal voice said, ‘I will never play baseball for my father again.’
Do you understand the devastating message this sent to my young brain? As men, we don’t have to be reminded of the question that haunts us throughout our entire lives.
Do I have what it takes? To make it in this world. To be everything that I can be?
The answer might be surprising to you, but the reality of the world drives most of us to get our needs met through a standard that is unreachable. We seek to be validated in the wrong way and in the wrong places. What was only intended to come from our Creator, our core longings met in Him, we chase after in the most dysfunctional ways.
My desire for significance was all about reaching the standard held in the highest regard in the world where I lived. Money, prestige, and power. If I could build up the equity on my balance sheet or be known for the size of my corner office on the 18th floor of in a prime location in downtown Philly lined with glass walls and southeast views that rival most I’d ever seen—then I could say I’d arrived. At least until the next opportunity for a higher floor and an even loftier salary. Then maybe, just maybe, I could rest in being as significant as I needed to be to prove my worth, to myself and my father. Or anyone else who may be looking. Now that’s crazy.
We live in a world that wars for our very souls with an enemy who wants to subdue us. The self that God uniquely crafted—to be all that He created us to be, not how the world defines us.
We decide that the core longings only God can meet will be met on our own terms. Sometimes knowingly, sometimes not. It’s uncanny but inherent in our sinful nature. Belonging, purpose, love, understanding, significance, and security – are all meant to be met by our Creator God -as it was in the Garden of Eden until sin entered the picture.
The good news is that for all of us, God will come through. The healing journey need only begin with experiencing brokenness and a willingness to surrender control. From there God can do the mending and the fixing and the spiritual transformation required to live a fulfilled and purposeful life.
The freedom from our mistakes comes from the freedom to fail—the freedom that comes when we embrace our brokenness. God does not look upon us as the world does. He loves us with a love that human beings just can’t grasp. That’s not an easy concept to wrap our heads around. It’s understandable that we would pursue our own agenda. What if we took a different path? Trusted Jesus to walk with us. The Holy Spirit guides us and our Father to direct us every step of the way. To meet every longing of our soul. There’s nothing to prove. The world’s standard of people-pleasing and performance is no standard at all. It’s unattainable and unsustainable.
My dad, whom I’ll see again in eternity, was broken, as was his father and his father before him. Our earthly fathers can never perfectly model what our Heavenly Father intends for us. It’s not possible.
I had to suffer the consequence of my choices. Mistakes aren’t free from penalty. It ultimately cost me my freedom, my finances, and my family. Yet it was the beginning of a healing journey that’s lasted a lifetime.