The sound of shattering glass pierced the Chicago night as my body made contact with the barbershop window. My brother and I had engaged four men in a fight outside a bar, and a fifth ambushed me, throwing me through the glass.
When I stood up, dazed, the first thing I saw was my brother, overcome by emotion. Looking down, I saw my shirt was covered in blood and glass shards were embedded in my arm. My ear was nearly sliced off.
We walked to a nearby hospital, where the next morning doctors told me what I had not realized the night before. Below my mangled ear, a piece of glass had lodged in my neck, centimeters from my jugular vein. It was a miracle I was alive.
At this stage in my life I was angry and desperately seeking my place in the world. Without faith, my seeking led me to try to find fulfillment and acceptance in alcohol, drugs and later, striving for corporate accolades.
Growing up, my family was active in church and I have fond memories of experiencing God as a child. But that began to change as I grew older and began to put social acceptance from peers above my faith and family. At 13, in an attempt to fit in, I started drinking alcohol, and by 15, I was experimenting with drugs. I hid it from my parents by getting straight A’s.
Three circumstances contributed to a growing cynicism: my brother left for college, my best friend’s father was fatally stabbed and my parents separated. I expressed anger by fighting. One night, after fighting at a party, I left hurriedly and was arrested. I spent 28 days in jail. When I got out, I remember thinking life was just a game of survival, and I had to learn how to play it better.
My parents knew I was in trouble and sent me to Chicago to live with my brother. What they didn’t know was he was struggling with the same temptations I was. Moving allowed me to continue to abuse alcohol and drugs without interruption.
The fight that nearly killed me changed things. My brother and I agreed our lives had to take a different path, so I decided to move to San Diego. There I became a bartender and paid my way through college. But an education and life in a bar was not what God intended me to find in San Diego.
I met my wife, Christy, there. Although she had no understanding of faith, God used her to show me how much he loved me. After we agreed to marry, I began working for a broadline food servicing company, where a different temptation surfaced with roots in the same old habits.
In my first year, I made more money than ever before. Seeking affirmation became my renewed addiction as I found my identity in capital, accolades and my national ranking on the sales board. I left my wife in the shadows as I sought corporate success. Financially we were secure, but we didn’t have a relationship.
My world crumbled when I was issued a DUI after drinking at an awards banquet and attempting to drive home. I lost my license for two years and was laid off from my six-figure job.
For the first time since I was a teenager, I opened my Bible. I stopped drinking. Money was no longer a source of pride, as I worked as a restaurant manager at a national chain and made little more than minimum wage.
Christy and I started attending church, and she gave her life to Christ. When I returned to sales after two years, I promised I would be more intentional in being home.
But when I accepted a job in a new industry in Bakersfield, I worked extra-long hours to compensate for the knowledge I lacked. Christy told me she had had enough. For the first time I felt if I didn’t make a change, she would leave me. I saw it in her eyes and heard it in the way her voice cracked when she spoke.
I cried for God to restore my marriage, promising to follow him the rest of my life. I began attending a men’s group and went to a Christian retreat in Atlanta, Ga., where I learned to listen to God’s voice and repent. As I sat by a lake, God asked me to walk with him along the water. He put his hand on my shoulder, and all I could say was, “I’m so sorry.”
I stood in the shallows, letting wave after wave wash over me, cleansing me of guilt and shame. God brought Psalm 42:1 to mind, a song about which I had sung in my pain throughout the drug abuse and violence. When I read it, he flooded my mind with memories, showing me his presence in each of them.
The weekend wrecked me in the greatest ways. I rededicated my life to Christ and have been chasing him ever since. Christy forgave me, and God has restored our marriage. I’ve become a servant leader at work, where others have placed their faith in Christ as a result of my testimony. I live to be a disciple and fisher of men.
God moved in a radical way when I surrendered my will, and I couldn’t imagine life without him. While I still struggle with the temptation of acceptance, God is restoring me. My identity is firmly in Christ.
Brad Newburg’s story, as told to Janae Rempel.