I awoke to pounding at my front door: “Mario Azar, open the door. This is the FBI.” Instinctively, I ran to the bathroom and called 911. My wife went to the door, and when I came out of the bathroom, several FBI agents and police officers stood in my hallway with guns drawn at me. It was like a scene out of the television show CSI, but this was real life.
My story leading to this point included setbacks and uncertainty, which caused me to shake my fist at God. But what I didn’t realize until I nearly took my life was that God in his love had a plan for me.
I was born in war-torn Lebanon. I was taught to be vigilant of my surroundings, and I learned to descend to shelter each time the bombing started. My uncle and cousin were killed in the war, and I feared for the lives of my father and brothers.
When I was four, my family immigrated to the United States. I grew up in a Catholic household but went to church only to appease my parents. I couldn’t understand why God allowed my relatives to die.
My dream was to play professional soccer. For years I practiced and attended training camps worldwide, which led to a $25 million contract offer to play professionally after high school. But during a game my senior year, a defender kicked me from behind. The impact dislocated my knee, tearing my ACL and destroying my meniscus and my dreams. I cursed God’s name, not able to see that he had a different plan.
During high school, I met a girl online. Michelle was a Christian and encouraged me by sharing Bible verses. Five years later, we met in person when I flew from New Jersey to California. It was love at first sight.
After college, I took a job in Tucson, Ariz., with AOL, an online service provider, and eventually popped the question. We planned to settle in Arizona after Michelle finished school, but seemingly overnight, I lost my job when corporate moved our call centers oversees.
Around the same time, Michelle secured a teaching job in California, so I packed up and moved to California, where I stayed with one of her friends until Michelle and I were married. After several months, I landed a job as an Information Technology (IT) contractor for an oil company. Two years later, needing benefits, I requested permanent employee status but was denied.
During this time, my mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer. I wondered why God would do that to a woman who had spent her life serving him. I flew to visit her. The next day she slipped into a coma and never woke up.
Having found new employment with Toyota that included benefits, I abruptly quit my IT job. I was denied my final two months’ pay and was escorted out of the building when I returned to plead my case.
Now, not only was I devastated over my mom’s death, I was angry with the oil company for stringing me along with no intent of hiring me full-time when I needed benefits and angry because they owed me a lot of money which I needed for funeral expenses.
I wanted revenge, so I used hidden email accounts I had created when I left the oil company to take its entire computer network down from California to Alaska, meaning the company could no longer monitor its pipeline underwater. I could have caused an environmental hazard if there was a leak and no one knew.
A few months later, the FBI came knocking.
I confessed everything during a four-hour interrogation and said if given the chance, I’d do it again. But I was in big trouble. By accessing a protected computer without authorization, I had broken a federal law and faced up to 10 years in prison.
Had I talked with Michelle and released my frustration earlier, perhaps I wouldn’t have done it. But God had to break and rebuild me piece by piece.
Sure that Michelle would leave me, I entertained the thought of suicide. The night I planned to take my life, I went to Facebook to leave one final message. The first thing I saw was a video. I don’t know how it made my feed, but I clicked it and heard the gospel like never before.
I started bawling. Noticing my cousin was online, I reached out. He had gotten saved several years earlier, but when he’d preach the Gospel, I’d tell him to shut up. Now I knew we needed to talk.
When he called, I asked how I could survive my troubles. He told me to put my faith in Jesus and encouraged me to pray. I wondered where I’d get a priest at that hour. Assuring me we could talk directly to God, my cousin prayed. Peace covered me. I felt a touch on my shoulder and heard a voice saying, “It’s going to be okay. I am here.” I surrendered my life to Christ.
The next day I told Michelle what had happened, and we started attending church. I shared my story with our couples’ Bible study leader. Instead of throwing me out, he knelt beside me and said, “Mario, your sin is no greater than mine.” I finally understood God’s unconditional love for me.
After court dates spanning two years, I received my sentence—six months of home confinement, five years probation, 200 hours of community service and a $50,000 fine. While I was on probation, we moved to Huron, S.D., to get a fresh start.
God has taught me that his plan will be carried out, not mine. Now I can’t help but live for him because I understand what he did on the cross. I can’t find love like that anywhere else.