"God had brought me back like the prodigal son."


When I was a little boy, my mom made me go to church. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy it, and looked for any excuse not to go. Typically, the old “I don’t feel good” excuse was the one I tried the most often. But, my mother, being the wise woman that she was, saw right through that. “Well, if you don’t feel well enough to go to church, then you’ll have to stay inside the rest of the day.” The thought of that was worse than the idea of having to go to church, so most times I went along. I knew how it would go each week. They would sing some songs, some guy called “Pastor” would get up and talk for what seemed like forever, and when it was over, I’d talk a little with the other kids after church. That last part was enjoyable. The only other thing I liked about church was that they had Bibles in the pews. While the “Pastor” was speaking, I would read the old stories about Adam and Eve, Noah, and Moses and the Red Sea, Abraham. I was fascinated and could read them over and over. That, I think, more than anything else, sparked a light in me. I believed those stories, and if there was anything to look forward to come Sunday, it was being able to read them during the service. Well, I liked the music, too.

Soon, though, my life took a dramatic turn for the worse.

Soon, though, my life took a dramatic turn for the worse. I had been living with my mom Pauline, two of her sisters, Madeline and Clara, and my grandfather Frank in a big house in New Jersey. My grandfather, who I affectionately called Daddy, got very sick. We were very close, and when he wasn’t at work, he would take me everywhere with him. I knew about prayer, and believed that God heard and answered. I prayed that God would heal Daddy. I visited him in the hospital, believing that he would be coming home soon. But Daddy died soon after going into the hospital. I was devastated. There was a hole in my life now that I couldn’t fully comprehend. I just felt like I was in a thick fog, and couldn’t see anything clearly. I was confused as to why God didn’t heal my grandfather. It went against everything I had heard and believed about Him being merciful, powerful and gracious. Then, Aunt Madeline, my favorite aunt, got sick and died as well. I could not believe it! I prayed for her recovery as well, but to no avail. I think she died of grief over her father’s death, but I didn’t understand it then. I just lost another close family member, and I wasn’t even ten years old!

My mom moved to North Carolina not too long after Daddy’s and Aunt Madeline’s death, and we started a new life there. Another sister, Genevieve, lived in Durham, and my mom wanted to be closer to her. I was trying to adjust to a new school, new kids and a new church. (Yes, I still had to go.) I was nine and had to do as I was told. After about 3 years, my mom also got sick. She had had a stroke. She couldn’t walk without assistance, so she was now using a walker. I was the man of the house, and had to take care of her as best I could, but frankly, I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t know how. So some neighbors would watch over her while I was at school, and help whenever they could. I prayed that God would heal my mom, but she soon had another stroke and a heart attack. I had to go live with my Aunt Gennie because I couldn’t take care of my mom anymore, and she definitely couldn’t take care of me. When my mom went into the hospital, I was terrified. I feared that God would not answer my prayer to heal my mom, and I couldn’t understand why. I began to harbor bitterness and even hatred in my heart towards God. Why was this happening to me? Either God wasn’t listening, or for whatever reason, He had decided to take away everyone I loved. Had I done something to offend Him? In my mind, I was just an innocent victim; a kid! Did God not love me?

Aunt Gennie got sick and her condition deteriorated very quickly. By this time, I was just sleepwalking through life. That’s when I started immersing myself in music. It was my escape from reality. I felt I had no future in the actual world. Most of my family was gone, so I ended up in New York with my Cousin Lennie, my Aunt Clara’s son. He was the only adult young enough to have the energy to take care of a 14 year-old. Much of the next two years of my life are a blur. In that time, my mom had died, Aunt Gennie had died, and I ended up back in NC with a friend from church who could take me in. Marilyn Gasswint. She had two young children of her own, and was estranged from her husband, but she had compassion on me and let me stay with her for a brief spell. And I spent most of my time listening to my music.

Back to Lennie. but this time he was in California. His job had moved him out to San Francisco, and I ended up doing my senior year there. After having discussed what my plans for the future were, (I had none), it was decided that we go our separate ways. I tried to explain that I couldn’t possibly think about a future with all that had happened to me. But he told me I needed to grow up like yesterday. Lennie wanted me to go to college. I wanted to start a career. At the time, I was working at McDonald’s, and had been offered an opportunity to go to Hamburger University, their franchise training program. I wanted to one day own my own McDonald’s franchise. He told me that if I took that route, I would have to pay for half of all expenses, or move out. It was San Francisco, and I simply would not have been able to afford that. I relented, and applied for college. The school was Allan Hancock College in central California, and I arranged to live in off-campus housing there. I didn’t want to be there, but I didn’t want to live with Lennie anymore either. After fooling around and not going to class, I eventually had to leave. I ended up in Rohnert Park at Sonoma State University, where I basically did the same thing. Nothing. I got kicked off the grounds by campus police after my funds ran out, and after asking around, and relying on the kindness of strangers, I ended up in Santa Rosa. Bus money had been given to me by a kind police officer. He told me there was a rescue mission there, and I might find a place for the night. I arrived and decided this was as low as I could get.

No family left. No job, nothing but the clothes on my back, no place to live.

No family left. No job, nothing but the clothes on my back, no place to live. I was a twisted ball of fear, anxiety and animosity. I hated God for what He had done to me, and now, here I was at Santa Rosa Rescue Mission, a Christian organization that helped the homeless! Every night, it was required to attend service if you wanted a meal and a place to lay your head. And every day, there was a work party around noon to earn your spot as well. I complied, because I had nowhere else to go, but occasionally, I would end up sleeping under freeway overpasses simply because I was tired of hearing the Gospel message, and didn’t want to participate in the work party that day. Stubborn! On nights when I did attend the service, (usually hunger drove me there), I would hear the same message over and over and over about God’s love and grace. Yeah, right! Easy for you to say. You don’t know what He’s put me through. He doesn’t love me. He doesn’t give a rip about me and what I’m going through, nor what I’ve been through. These messages were a joke, and I was tired of hearing them.

This went on for about a year, and I got so sick of hearing the gospel message, that I just tuned it all out. I couldn’t care less anymore. One night, a pastor came and brought his gospel choir. God knew how important music was to me. His Spirit reached out to me through music. The choir sang a song called “Soon And Very Soon” before he delivered the message:

Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King
Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King
Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
We’re going to see the King

What did that mean? I believed in a heaven and a hell, and for the first time in my life, I feared I was going to the wrong place. The pastor got up and spoke about what Jesus did for all of mankind. And for me. He gave meticulous details about the trial, suffering and crucifixion of Christ, and why He endured those things for me. It was like hearing a verbal description of the movie The Passion of the Christ. And then he gave a salvation call. A struggle was going on inside of me between the God who I thought I knew and the living God who was here right now. I was still furious at God for the past and present, but I could not deny the eternal truth of the cross. I determined that if Jesus could take my punishment to save me, take away my sins, and give me eternal life, then I could walk up the aisle of that little rescue mission chapel and accept His precious gift. At 20 years old, I gave my life to Christ, initially for fear of hell. But I’ve come to know Him more, and now I can sing without fear that whether I die, or He comes back first, soon and very soon, I’m going to see the King, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, I’m going to see the King!!

You may wonder how I made the leap from pure hatred of God to loving Him so much. Not much of a leap, really. It happened gradually. Just as the losses of my family piled up over time, my healing took some time, as well. Some people learn of Jesus through His Word and prayer. I learned of Him through my life circumstances. I was a brand new Christian, and was still homeless, and would remain so for another year or so. I had many doubts about how my life would end up, but was sure of where I would spend eternity. At that time, I believed that Christ had set me free from sin, and had made me his own. But I still didn’t believe that He got involved, or even cared about, the day-to-day things that I was going through.

Some people learn of Jesus through His Word and prayer. I learned of Him through my life circumstances.

Several months after receiving salvation, I found a little part-time job at the local mall at a place called Orange Julius, a fast food joint in the food court. I was unaware that I was undergoing a change. I had been having no success finding a job before, and now, I had found one! And to my surprise, I believed the Lord had blessed me with it! I could not dismiss getting saved, then getting the job as mere coincidence. It was as if God was saying, “This is for you, my child.” Then I eventually got a better job, and started going to a nearby church called Open Bible Church. I met some friends there, and we became roommates in a small apartment near the church. I had a job. I had a place to stay, This is great! Keep doing stuff for me, Lord!

When I had first gotten saved, my hatred of God began to change to mistrust. As time passed, mistrust changed to indifference and complacency. I rarely read or prayed. I just coasted. I kept God in the background of my life, unwilling to risk fully trusting Him. I was happy to receive God’s blessings, but had an attitude as if He owed them to me for what He had “put me through.” Yes, I was grateful, but wary. For me, everything still was temporary. Nothing good ever lasted. People died and left you. Whatever you intended to do, all your efforts would be futile because in the end, it would all come to an end. So I was always expecting God to prove that He wasn’t the God I thought I first encountered: the God who hears prayer, but is indifferent. The God who couldn’t care less about how a little boy would feel about losing everyone he loved. I was holding God and everyone else at arm’s length. It was too painful to allow someone to get close and then lose them. And whatever I did, I never gave it my all. What was the point?

Because of that, I went from odd job to odd job, barely making ends meet. I wasn’t doing as well financially, so I ended up back at the mission. This time I was on staff, but technically still homeless. I met my future wife LIsa around this time. The first time we met, we spoke for several hours. Over time, we became good friends, and I had the honor of witnessing to her, and seeing her get saved. But I also wanted to be more than her friend. She didn’t at the time, and so the relationship didn’t move past friendship. She began seeing someone else, (a story for another time), and shortly after, I received a note from my cousin Lennie. He had somehow tracked me down, and asked if I wanted to come live with him while I got back on my feet. He didn’t want me to be out on the street. I accepted, and made my way to Oakland. I was 24 now, and just drifting aimlessly through life. At this point, I had huge gaps in my employment history, and was again having trouble finding a decent job. I made a monumental decision. I decided I needed to stand on my own two feet. Up to this point, there had been so many people who just coddled me, and did their best to catch me when I fell. But I was determined not to be reliant on anyone to take care of me from then on. I needed to take care of myself. I decided that I needed to get a job that I couldn’t simply quit or easily be fired from. I signed up for military service in the US Army. No one except Lennie and I knew. Lisa didn’t even know until I sent her a letter after enlisting. After basic training and Army school, I got stationed in Augsburg, Germany. Lisa and I corresponded regularly. She had gotten engaged, and I tried to move on with my life as well. I moved in the wrong direction. I started doing what everyone around me was doing. The typical things worldly 25 year olds do.

It seemed fun at the time, but looking back, I was lonely. I retreated to my old friend, music.

When I wasn’t on duty, I’d spend hours in the barracks just listening to music. Then, I was offered an opportunity to join a band. Two guys from Los Angeles were putting a soul band together called L.A. Times, and needed a vocalist. I jumped at the chance! Now, I was fully immersed in music, except now performing it live! It was a lot of fun, traveling around, entertaining soldiers at different bases, and competing in talent contests. We even got written up in one of the local newspapers as up-and-coming artists!

Meanwhile, Lisa and her fiance had broken up. She wrote me about it, and I didn’t know how to feel at first. Glad, because I might have another chance? Angry because I was halfway around the world, so far from her? Depressed because I had missed any opportunity to be with her? A while later, she wrote me and told me that she loved me. She meant in a friendly, non-romantic way, and I misinterpreted her. It took me a while to respond to that, thinking she meant LOVE love. I finally responded, wrote her and told her that I loved her too, in a non-friendly, romantic way. That was certainly an interesting exchange!

Our correspondences became more personal after that. We were getting to know each other in a different way, and were falling in love. She called me during that time, and we were talking about the band, and all that was going on related to it. She didn’t approve, and told me I needed to quit. It was damaging my witness. I balked at the idea of quitting what I enjoyed so much, but the Holy Spirit had sown the seed. Not long after, after I’d had some unsuccessful struggles with God, our group was scheduled to do a show on our own army base. I had to break the news to my bandmates that I had to quit. It was the hardest thing I had ever had to do. Of course, they tried to talk me out of it, but the Holy Spirit gave me the courage to stand by my decision. The show went on without me, and I was heartbroken. Lost something I loved again! But that decision redirected my life, too. I started reading the Word again, and praying more. Lisa and I got engaged. I left the Army, came home, and started attending the church that Lisa was going to. We got married in that church. I got involved in ministry, and was also serving on the worship team.

He had, little by little, helped me to trust Him again, and see His sovereign hand in my life.

What a turnaround! God had brought me back like the prodigal son. He had kept me safe in all of my wanderings. He had, little by little, helped me to trust Him again, and see His sovereign hand in my life. He showed me He did care about the little and the big things, even the everyday issues that I faced. (Ask me about my daughter’s birth some time) Because He cares for me. And He showed me He was with me the whole time. He gave my life a direction and purpose. But it wasn’t until my 40th birthday that the real truth came out. I was thanking the Lord for letting me see my latest birthday. Before I could even get the words out, I started weeping. I could feel His presence in that room! When I was finally able to speak again, I poured my heart out to Him. I told Him that I had hated Him, and had been holding a grudge against Him all this time, and all He had been was faithful. All He had ever been was good. There was such a release that day! I think God longed for me to understand that I could tell Him anything. I think He desired that I know Him not only as my God and my Savior, but my Father and Friend. I’m much older now, and there have been other times when I’ve prayed, and whispers of doubt have lingered. But I trust Him so much more now. Whenever my faith wavers, I think back on what He’s already done, and I know that even if the answer to my prayer is no sometimes, I’ll still serve Him and love Him. He’s faithful. And He deserves all the praise and honor and glory.

Were you touched by reading this story? Would you like to get in touch with Barry and learn more from his experience with God? Get in touch with us here.