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The Prodigal Son Returns

A Testimony of Redemption by Joshua Garrison

As a child I would often hear my grandmother say, “all things work together for those who believe and have faith.” I must admit that when I reached my teenage years, it was a phrase that I would often brush off with little regard. Although I was brought up under biblical teaching and influence from a young age, it would still be more than two decades before I truly came to experience the glorious reality of what my grandmother was saying.

I was 14 years old when I started drinking and smoking marijuana. At the time, it seemed like fun; sneaking out at night, causing trouble with the kids from around the neighborhood and punishing my liver with the “liquid courage” needed to spice it all up. The consequences were harmless at the time and being grounded for a week was a petty fine to pay for all the “fun” that I was having on my nightly excursions. Little did I know then that this so called “fun” would carry with it much stricter consequences as time drew on (Heb. 11:25b; Gal. 6:7-8).

When I was fifteen, I was delivered an unexpected surprise, literally. My girlfriend of six months was pregnant and I was going to be a father. This was a tremendous responsibility and, being that my father had been absent for my entire childhood, I made a personal vow that I would never put my child through the kind of pain and abandonment that I had experienced growing up.

Although my intentions were good, I was still an immature child myself and had a hard time holding up to my personal convictions, however noble they may have been.

In the beginning, I thought I had it all figured out. I was a sophomore and decided that I should start working to support my new family. So, I left my high school and transferred into a charter school where I was only required to attend class for three hours a day. Everything seemed great. I would go to school, then to work and spend the evenings with my family, but it was soon proven that I wasn’t finished with my rebellious old ways–and wouldn’t be for quite some time.

I came to find out that many, if not all the students at my new school, were like me. They liked to smoke, drink, curse and cause a ruckus. It came to a point where I would get high before school every day. Most days this would lead to skipping school altogether.

Toward the end of my junior year, I was introduced to a new “friend.” That friend was methadone. Methadone is a synthetic opioid used to treat heroin addicts and causes a very similar high to the drug itself.

I was hooked.

I realized that I didn’t need alcohol or marijuana to get by. I could find euphoria in a different kind of bottle. A pill bottle. I sought out whatever kind of pills I could to create a better and more fulfilling high, even to the point of mixing pills that shouldn’t be mixed to fabricate my own endorphin filled “paradise.” My drug use was out of control.

At one point, after my first underage drinking citation, my mother thought it might be beneficial to go stay with my grandmother in Florida. The plan seemed fool-proof. I would go there, get a job and be far away from the mess I was in at home.

The only problem was that no matter how far away I ran, I could not escape from myself. After three months, two overdoses, and almost getting my grandmother evicted from her home, I was booted out of Florida and sent back to Minnesota in worse shape than when I left.

I was nineteen years old. I had a two-year-old son, a heartbroken family and a raging drug addiction that I didn’t understand. I was living in such shame that all I could do was continue to drown out my guilt with pills, alcohol and marijuana. I believed in God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, but at that point God seemed more distant than my own estranged father.

During this time, I held various jobs, all of which were unmanageable due to my addiction. My mind and body were a mess, and I was watching every relationship around me crumble. I thought I had reached rock bottom; but, as I have come to learn, rock bottom is simply where you stop digging. I still had a shovel in my hands.

I started to seek a stronger high to fill the emptiness inside. That was how I first became introduced to black tar heroin. It became an immediate addiction. Before I knew it, I had plunged into the depths of a world of darkness that I never knew existed. Everything else faded away. My son’s mother left me and over the next eight months, I burrowed deeper into this twisted rabbit hole until I lost everything.

In March of 2012, I had nowhere to go. My mother suggested that I enter The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Program (ARC). Although I fought it for a time, eventually I entered the program.

The ARC is a six-month Christ centered recovery program that focuses on restructuring old patterns of living and reforming the mind through biblical instruction and discipleship.

I came to realize that drugs and alcohol were not my true problem; they were my solution. Once the solution was taken away, I was forced to come face-to-face with the real problem. Myself. I was rebellious, stubborn, full of pride and arrogance, selfishly living for only myself without any concern for those around me. For so long I thought I hated myself for the way I was living, In reality, I loved myself far too much. That was why I sought out my own pleasure, regardless of how it affected my loved ones.

The ARC is very focused on establishing structure in the lives of those who have been so long without it, and this did not sit well with my rebellious nature. There were many rules to follow. Most of them seemed far too tedious for my liking, and I didn’t want to submit. This resulted in many write-ups and disciplinary actions. I remember getting terribly frustrated with the resident managers every time they wrote me up. At one point, I almost left the program altogether.

About three months in, something changed. One evening I was reading my Bible and came across a verse in James that took me by surprise. It said,

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy” (1:2).

I remember complaining out loud to the Lord about this, saying, “You want me to count all this joy? There is no joy to be found! Don’t you see the mess I’m in?” Even though I received no audible response, the answer still came. I couldn’t get that verse out of my head. I would recite it word-for-word, over-and-over throughout the day until it started to become a reality.

During this time at The Salvation Army, I learned about myself and about God. I had found new knowledge that was waiting to be applied and a desire to put into practice the principles I had learned over my six months as a resident. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen immediately. I graduated from the ARC in September of 2012 and didn’t end up getting completely sober until June of 2014.

I was living in my truck and sleeping in the parking lot of the church I grew up in. It was there that the Lord took a hold of me and drew me closer to Himself than I had ever been! I started to examine the Scriptures daily and a deep longing for what was written in their pages. I recognized that these were the words of truth that I had been so desperate for. Prayer started to become a great joy, and I began to experience the presence of God each day.

I was homeless, sober and filled with more joy than I had ever known!

Since then, the Lord has truly restored the years that the locusts had eaten away. I am 26 years old and happy to say that, by the grace of God, I am the husband to a wonderful wife, and father to beautiful children. We are growing as a family each day in the love and joy of our precious Savior Jesus Christ and look forward to what He has in store for the future.

I have come to a point where I can finally say with my grandmother and saints all around the world, that all things truly do work together for those who believe and have faith.

This article was originally published in the May 2019 issue of The War Cry.

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