It was my Junior year of college. I stood on a couch in the middle of a dorm room, bible in hand, preaching to a bunch of drunk college students. I mean, no joke…literally, a bunch of drunken college students. I was not a partyer or a drinker in college. But I was a friend to many who did party and binge drink. I went to many parties with them. I was their designated driver. I got a lot of free meals that way. I had no problem mixing it up and having fun with the best of the partyers. I just did it sober. I didn’t begrudge them of it. I just tried to be a witness by showing them you could have just as much fun without it. I made that choice mostly because of my personal Christian convictions. But I also made that choice because my dad was an alcoholic, as were many in my family history. I was living through that trauma at the time, and I was always aware of where my choices in this regard could land me.
Nonetheless, these were still my friends. They loved and respected me, and I respected and loved them. This is probably the only reason they gave me the platform they gave me that night. Typically, you try this and you’d probably get thrown out the window on your rear end. But something worse actually happened to me that night.
Let me be clear. I’m quite sure that all of my preaching was not motivated by love for them or for Jesus that night. I’m sure that in some twisted way, being that my dad was still an alcoholic at the time, I was preaching at my dad and myself as I looked at them. I was likely wailing against them for the hurt that was happening in my own personal life.
Then it happened, as I reached the crescendo of my sermon, one of my childhood friends who I grew up with and went to the same church with, and who knew my family very well, yelled back at me, “Your own daddy drinks as much or more than anybody in town!” Of course, I was already aware of this. I just didn’t know anyone else was aware of it. I did my best to hide it from people. And now, everyone in the room knew it. The self-righteous preacher was the son of an alcoholic. It pierced through me like a knife. I stepped off the couch. The sermon was over. The room fell silent. There was nothing left to say. As I walked back to my room, heart-broken, I muttered to myself, “They’ll never change.”
Over 20 years later, I had a chance encounter with that same childhood friend who yelled at me about my dad that fateful night in the dorm room. Unknown to me at the time, after graduation from college, he had spent most of the years fighting alcoholism himself. As a matter of fact, he almost lost his life because of it. In that moment, the very first thing he said to me was, “I’m sorry for what I said to you that night about your dad. I know I hurt you.” I was confronted with the reality that up until that very moment I did not remember that night for over 20 years. My brain had likely suppressed it due to the trauma it produced.
A few more years went by and fast-forward to January of 2021, when I heard him give the eulogy at his brother’s funeral. I knew I had to reach out to him. We arranged to meet for dinner. When we sat down, my first question to him was, “Why did you apologize to me and how did you remember that night?” Being sober for five years now, he spoke of how part of the 12-step program was to apologize to all the people you hurt. But more than that, with tears in his eyes, he said he knew the night he said it, even in his drunken state, he hurt me. I never knew.
He went on to tell me that after battling alcohol addiction for much of his adult life, he had decided that he could not stop drinking and was beyond hope. So on the last night he would ever drink again, he got in the car and started driving. He decided he would drink until the point that he either died or would pass out and have a tragic car crash and die. He passed out, and by the grace of God, his car came to a slow halt in the middle of the highway at 4:00am in the morning. As he sat there, a stranger appeared out of nowhere and pulled him over to the side of the road. The stranger looked at him and told him help was on the way and that he would pray for him. That night, after blowing into the breathalyzer, my friend’s blood alcohol content was beyond the lethal dose anyone should have in their body. He should have been dead. He was not. He never saw that “stranger” again. He’s been sober since. You tell me.
As we spoke, I was amazed. This was not the same person I knew all those years, and most certainly not the one I drove around while he was drunk so many times. He pointed to God and Jesus being the only reason he was still alive and that his family was still together.
I prayed for my dad for over 20 years to get sober, but there were times I lost hope. He finally did get sober and our relationship has never been closer. I walked away from my friend that night in a college dorm thinking he’d never change. And here we sat, 29 years later, with me being amazed at how much God had changed him.
God has never ceased to astound me with how much He can change a life with His amazing grace. That night in that drunken dorm room, I exhorted the group of drunken friends to try and sing the hymn “Amazing Grace.” I was convinced that my childhood friend, with whom I grew up singing that hymn in church together, would not have the conviction to sing it while drunk. But he rose and sang it to the top of his lungs with the rest of them that night. I was amazed. But I was even more amazed last week, when that same friend sat across a table from me and spoke of the amazing grace of God that had kept him, saved him, and never let go of him all those years. I would have never thought it possible. But God can change anyone.
I don’t care who you are, what you’ve done, where you’ve been, or how long you’ve done it. It doesn’t matter how hopeless your situation may be. God can change anyone. I’ve seen that miracle with my own eyes. No one is ever beyond hope…no one. Of course, it’s still hard and it’s still a fight, but God had redeemed my friend’s brokenness after all those years. He had redeemed mine also. We were both changed and awash in God’s amazing grace…together.