Meet Bradley…

For seven miserable years I lived my life how I saw fit and turned my back on everything I had ever been taught. My moral compass went completely off the rails. The biggest regret during this time were the choices I made that led to the loss of my amazing and beautiful wife.

Bradley, 34
Incarcerated: 7 years
Housed: Danville Correctional Center, Illinois

The biggest life event that shaped me into the man I am today is one that gets me through the hard days and has had an everlasting profound impact upon my life. I grew up in a Christian home with two wonderful parents, I was saved and baptized at an early age and attended a private Christian. It was during my junior high years that I began to act out and began to doubt my Christian upbringing. 

I was around the age of eleven and the school year was  ending. Our class had been studying different world religions. As I studied, I began to have serious doubts about my own faith. Some of the questions that swirled through my mind were: is God really real? Or, have I been brainwashed, is Christianity the right religion and are we seriously the only ones who have it right? Is there really only one way to heaven? These questions occupied my mind so much that it was all I could seem to think about. 

One Friday night, just before bed, I was saying my nightly prayers. I suddenly recalled the Bible story about Gideon and his fleece. I thought I too would pose my own test for God. God are you real and if so is the Christian faith the right way to go? God, if the answer is yes, then send me a rainbow as a sign. Oh, and God, make it appear on a cloudless sunny day with no rain. God, I’ll give you three days to answer. Wow, was I ever bold, like I could test God and tell Him what to do. How foolish I was, I don’t recommend anyone ever trying this approach. After prayers I proceeded to fall asleep, and by the next morning I had totally forgotten about my prayer. That very Sunday began like any other typical Sunday for my family. I begrudgingly went to church with my family, and immediately after we met my grandparents for lunch. As we traveled on that hot cloudless and perfect sunny day, I was busy entertaining myself and my younger sister in the rear of my grandparents’ huge Chevy conversion van. Suddenly, from up front, my dad said, “Kids, come up here and see this rainbow”. This got my attention and suddenly I remembered my prayer from two nights earlier. As I stood in the center of the van, peering out the front windshield, crowded between my father and his father, sure enough, off in the distant blue yonder there it was a big beautiful rainbow, perfectly positioned just off to the left. Then, to my surprise, and what made this so impactful, my mother said, “oh, look there’s another one over here, have you ever seen anything like it”? So, as I ran over to the mid passenger side of the van, to peer out,  sure enough, there was another big beautiful rainbow in that perfectly blue, sunny sky. Instantly, I again thought about my prayer. Technically I did ask two separate questions, I suppose that this would mean God said yes to both. However, I kind of felt like He may just be showing off, just a little bit. After a few minutes the excitement wore off and I went back to playing, I pondered the goodness of God and that my prayer actually worked. 

Sadly, as the years went by and I married and started a family of my own, I found myself living the double life that far too many so-called Christians try to live. We’d go to church regularly on Sundays, but the second we were dismissed we’d live like the devil for the rest of the week. I was such a pro at this, so much so that when my riotous living placed me into a situation that got me falsely accused of a crime I didn’t commit, I was stupid enough to think that the God I only worshiped on Sundays for an hour would rescue me. When my actual innocence failed to come to light and I was convicted, just like a three year old, I threw a royal tantrum. I became angry at God; I cursed Him and told Him I no longer wanted anything to do with Him. I was so angry, and I felt so betrayed by God for Him not getting me out of my mess that I literally, and I say this with deep sadness, flipped Him the Bird!

For seven miserable years I lived my life how I saw fit and turned my back on everything I had ever been taught. My moral compass went completely off the rails. The biggest regret during this time were the choices I made that led to the loss of my amazing and beautiful wife. I destroyed my family and like too many families these days mine was torn by an ugly divorce. Interestingly, enough during my divorce I started to pray again and seek comfort in the church. This didn’t last very long, for when my marriage wasn’t saved; it left me feeling stupid and foolish for even thinking that religion would work.

Eventually, I found myself in another jail cell with nothing but a Bible to read. I figuratively blew the dust off the Bible, and opened its precious pages for the first time, in a very, very long time. That is when in His graciousness, God began to lovingly deal with me as I read. I came to the ugly realization that my way wasn’t working and that His way was best. Right then and there I promised to serve Him for the remainder of my days. I knew it would be hard, and that I couldn’t do it half way. I was in it for the long haul, it was all or nothing. I wound up being convicted and sent to prison, but I totally deserved that. In prison I attended every church service and Bible study I possibly could. I enrolled in correspondence courses that taught me more about God and required deep studies in His word. I grew so much, in that short period and the time seemed to fly by. Soon, I found myself being released. Sadly, my freedom didn’t last. Three months after release, I was sent back to prison for violating parole and was facing the possibility of new criminal charges. Those charges were undeserved, I prayed mighty hard, but I was convicted. 

This was the ultimate low point, alone in a dark prison cell. I began to question whether or not God could really forgive me. Could He really change my life and turn it around? How can God use someone like me? I’m an outcast, unforgivable, undesirable, and undeserving, I am scum, no I am lower than scum, I’m the scum on the bottom of the scum’s shoe. Then a chapel line was called, I’m not sure even why I went, was it boredom or some misguided obligation I felt toward a God I thought couldn’t possibly want me. Yet, I went, and as I was sitting in that hard plastic chair in the prison’s chapel, feeling lower than scum, the minister took the stage and he began to preach. He preached about Israel and how they were consistently rebellious toward God. Yet, time and time again, God was patient with them and when they’d repent He always took them back. Suddenly, somewhere a hope buried deep inside of me began to stir. To this day I can’t honestly tell you what that preacher preached about for the remaining time. Instead my thoughts were drawn back to those two rainbows and God’s answer to my childhood prayer almost twenty years earlier. Like lightning it struck me, seemingly out of nowhere! By the direction we were traveling those years ago, almost due north, that first rainbow I saw was located on my left side, meaning it would have been in the western sky. The second rainbow was on my right side, and there in the eastern sky. So what’s that got to do with anything you say? Do you know after the lightning comes the thunder clap? Get ready for the thunder! In Psalm 103:11-12 God says “for as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is HIS mercy toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions (sins) from us” What this is that I’m one hundred percent forgiven, and as long as God is on His throne, nothing can ever change that! As my eyes blurred and the silent tears began to fall down my face like a raging river, tiny rainbows reflected from the ceiling lights began to appear as I lifted my head upward and mouthed my prayer of eternal thanks to the… one true God.

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