My story starts before I was even born.
My parents’ marriage was doomed from the start. I was only two when my mother ran off leaving my three-year-old sister and me with our grandparents. From that point, childhood memories are a mixture of anger, pain and loneliness. Abandoned by my mother, I was often clueless about my father’s whereabouts, while his girlfriend – a cruel, angry and violent woman ‘looked after us’. She wasn’t nice and would get angry with us kids and hit us. She would get angry a lot.
Dad wasn’t there
One day, Dad left us at a big house. He said we were there to stay for a while. I cried a lot, but nobody hit me and there were loads of other children. I celebrated my seventh birthday at the big house. They gave me my first-ever party with a cake and everyone sang ‘Happy Birthday’. But Dad wasn’t there. I felt so alone. This was my first experience of the social care system. Eventually Dad came back and took us to our new home. It was cold, damp, grey and bare, apart from a bed, a blanket and a billion bed bugs. We were always skint. At least there was no money for food and clothes, only cigarettes and beer. Dad kept the bookies busy, always blowing his wages on the horses. His girlfriend would send me to fetch him. I daren’t return without him or she’d hit me. I thought perhaps if I was kind to her, she’d be kind to me. So I bought her a box of chocolates; she punched me in the jaw. I really was alone. Despite her calling me thick and stupid, I passed my 11 Plus. The grammar school, however, wasn’t what I’d expected. I had a uniform, but no gym kit. I had to play sports in my new grey trousers and they got muddy. When I got home she beat me again. I didn’t fit in at the school. All the other boys had nice clothes and fancy watches with calculators. I would shuffle around the playground so that nobody saw my worn-out shoes. I was 13 years old …. and angry! Angry at my dad, the world, and myself. I felt helpless. I wanted somebody to suffer. Somebody had to pay for what she’d done to me.
Sometimes I walked in the fields behind my house and thought for hours. I looked at my school friends and wanted to be them, but I was not. I was the scruffy kid with holes in his shoes. At 14 years old I made a decision that would impact my life for almost a decade. I would simply refuse to follow the rules. I had had enough of adults ordering me around. No more pain, no more suffering, no more fear. But it led to a downward spiral of self destruction.
For the first time, I began to question life. I knew it didn’t last forever. A friend had been stabbed in the chest with a kitchen knife and died in the car on his way to hospital. He was 15. Two other friends died in a car accident – smashed to pieces by an underage driver without a licence. Then my social worker committed suicide…
Who is God?
I thought I believed in God, but who was he? What did he have to do with me? What had he ever done for me? I couldn’t answer those questions and it seemed that nobody else could either.
School was no longer the refuge it had been. It was the bane of my life. But it ended quickly when I threw that chair at my teacher! I left hating the place and all the teachers in it.
My first job in a factory lasted three days. I got into drugs and crime.
Here I was, no food, no money, no home. What was the point of it all? There’s no one out there! There’s no hope! There’s no God!
One girlfriend and an abortion later, I felt empty inside. Why couldn’t God answer my questions? ‘Somebody out there must be able to help me?’ I pleaded. ‘Perhaps Mum? Perhaps she loves me?’ I didn’t know. Had she ever loved me?
Christians kicking around
The first time I met the Christians was at a game of football. They just turned up one day, out of the blue, and invited us to play football with them. I was slightly suspicious. Maybe they were the police? One asked, ‘Hands up if you’ve ever heard of Jesus Christ?’ Then another said, ‘Jesus died for our sins.’ ‘I knew it,’ I thought. ‘They’re Bible bashers.’ ‘Jesus wants to have a relationship with you, Mez’, another said.
‘Well that’s a real comfort when I’m sleeping on my floor tonight’, I grumbled. ‘If God loves me, then why does my life suck?’ ‘Because of your sin.’
‘Sin? Why don’t you and I go outside and see if your Mighty God can stop me kicking your backside, freak!’
A few weeks later I got into a bit of trouble in a nightclub. The big one went down first as the bottle smashed his forehead. The smaller one fell screaming when the broken stub cut across his eyes. It was over in seconds. The police were waiting for me outside. Six months imprisonment.
Then I got a letter from one of those Christians. They wanted to visit me. Whatever for?
They travelled 250 miles to visit me for 15 minutes. They even brought me a personal stereo so I could listen to music. That was something! But during the visit they never once referred to Jesus or God. That was a first! I began to think that maybe there was something to this Jesus stuff after all. Eventually I got an early release.
‘This time I’m going to sort myself out. No more booze. No more drugs. I’ll get a job, a house, everything.’
When I stepped outside the prison gates, I took a deep breath. ‘The first thing I’m going to do is go to the bakers and get a chocolate éclair.’ But I saw wives and girlfriends, parents, children greeting all the other prisoners. A wave of regret swept over me. ‘I haven’t changed. I’m still a drug addict with a chip on each shoulder, and once again I’m alone.’
But this time there was one difference, this time there was Matt, one of the Christians. He was going to let me stay with him. That was fine – as long as he didn’t start with all that God stuff. I wasn’t that grateful. Two weeks later, though, I met an old pal who offered me some weed for old times’ sake. I tried to turn him down, but then I got invited to ‘a little party.’ I turned up and the drugs came from nowhere. I didn’t go back to Matt’s for three days. I knew there had to be more to life than this. I hated myself for what I was doing to myself.
Back at Matt’s, the Christians came to visit. ‘Have you repented of your sin?’ ‘Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?’ ‘Is Jesus Lord of your life?’ All I could say was, ‘Get out of my face.’
After a response like that the last place you’d expect to find me is in church. But after all that one day I actually did go to church. There was a bloke speaking at the front. When I asked what he was doing, Matt said he was speaking to God. And that was just the first of a line of throw-away comments but then… ‘If I became a Christian would I have to pray like that? ‘No. Why? Are you interested?’ ‘No, just asking.’
Then another question, ‘Matt, if you become a Christian, does God forgive you for everything you’ve ever done?’ ‘Yes. God remembers our sin no more. Why? Are you thinking about the gospel?’ ‘No, not really.’
Finally Matt asks me a question, ‘Mez, have you thought any more about eternity?’ ‘Nah.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘It does my head in.’
But the truth was I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think. I couldn’t even have a fag in peace. I couldn’t focus on anything other than Jesus. He was in my head constantly. ‘I have to talk to God. I don’t want to. But if I don’t I’m going to explode. OK, God, here’s the deal. I’ll give up smoking and doing drugs, if you prove to me beyond all doubt that you exist. I can’t say it fairer than that, can I?’
Then, on the 3rd of May 1995, I was sitting on a park bench – my head well and truly mashed! I hadn’t had a fag in three days! I just looked at a flower and realised that this flower had not got there by accident. It was-n’t the result of a cosmic explosion millions of years ago. It was created – clearly designed. God was a reality that I had to face.