So the deepest era of drug horrors was over, and I was about to venture into a new period of my life, one that was moving upward into sanity and clarity. It was a rocky path, and not one that appeared picture perfect. But God was doing something that I wasn’t aware of at the time. Little did I know that He would use music to capture my attention, and the very thing that had once provided the soundtrack to my existential despair and addiction would play a crucial part in my redemption.
In the summer of 1999 I officially graduated high school, making it out by the skin of my teeth. And then after my last bad trip, I embarked upon a summer full of beer, pot, adderall and cigarettes. My girlfriend Jamie and I were back together, for she had left her boarding school in Pennsylvania to come home permanently. I chose not to work at a job all that summer, and we partied our brains out. Her parents became more accepting of our juvenile love affair, and actually began letting me stay overnight at their house! Me, an eighteen year-old, with their sixteen year-old daughter. It’s hard for me to believe. I have a baby daughter that is one year old, and couldn’t even imagine this. But I suppose they thought that I was good for Jamie. I suppose in a way we were good for each other, because we were beginning to get out of the drug scene and support each other. But looking back it’s weird to realize that we were permitted to live in monogamous promiscuity.
At the end of that summer, Jamie’s wealthy parents agreed to take me with their family on a trip to the British Virgin Islands. This was literally one of the most amazing vacations I had ever been on. We snorkeled in beautiful blue, deep ocean landscapes colored with coral and fish I had never seen. I stayed in a room on a cot with Jaime and her sisters who were sleeping in beds! Again, looking back it seems so weird and creepy! I was eighteen, which was a legal drinking age on these islands. So I pretty much behaved as an alcoholic the entire time- drinking from the morning until the night and getting sloppy and crazy. I talked to many locals and got turned on to old school Caribbean dub step music. Some old alcoholic Islander hooked me up with a cassette tape.
Not long after that trip to the Virgin Islands, Jamie convinced me to come and join her at the Lutheran Church her parents attended. Something in me was actually interested in going. I was likely coming off of a hangover, but I do remember sitting in the pews, and a deep rush overcame me. It reminded me of the feeling I had during having a brush with death during my worst bad trip on mushrooms and crying out to God. The mushrooms hadn’t induced the feeling, but more so my fear of dying had sobered me for one moment and given me a small glimpse of hope. This feeling of numbness and joy came over me that was greater than any high I had ever had. I started to uncontrollably weep, right in the middle of this service! From then on, I wanted to keep going to this Lutheran church, just to experience the liturgy, Gregorian chant-style worship, and overwhelming presence of this mysterious God that was beginning to reveal Himself to me.
I was even baptized at this church, which was contrary to their infant baptism doctrine. The pastor and congregation really embraced me though, a long-haired, burnt out, beer drinking maniac. The morning that they baptized me, I had drank about twelve beers the night before. I was incredibly hung over. I later realized that most of the congregation at the church was likely in the same state of mind. Like a newborn baby, they sprinkled me with water, and initiated me into the fold of the Lutherans.
After this, many of my friends chastised me and told me; “Watch out for those people! They’re just trying to brainwash you and take you away from having freedom to do what you want.” But I was committed. I wanted to begin to change my ways. I told Jamie that I wanted to quit smoking pot and cigarettes. She agreed to join me in the venture of leaving dope behind, though she wasn’t quite ready to quit smoking cigarettes.
It was September of 1999, and the future was looking brighter than it had for me since I was in sixth grade. I was enrolled to go to college at Akron University. I had a new job at Arabica coffee house in Hudson, Ohio. Jamie and I’s relationship was better than ever. I had decided to quit pot, and even accomplished quitting cigarettes amidst shots of espresso and frustrated madness. I had even become a “religious” person. I was going to church every Sunday. I definitely drank myself into oblivion on Friday and Saturday night. But I was starting to feel like a functional American hypocrite.
All of this wouldn’t last long though. By November of 1999, I was smoking pot daily again, and Jamie was doing it with me. I dropped out of college because I didn’t feel like doing the work. I stopped showing up at church on Sundays. Jamie and I plunged further into sex, dope and beer. Heck, my Dad would give me pot whenever I wanted it, so I started letting him supply me again for free.
By the winter of 2000, I was back in a gutter. I even remember when the ball in Times Square dropped on midnight of January 1, 2000. This was the era of the Y2K craze. Everyone thought that all the computers in the world were going to shut down when we entered the millennium. Some thought that we would all burn up in the apocalypse. As that ball dropped, I was sitting in a basement, stoned and drunk out of my mind, watching MTV with a bunch of other wasted people. I thought to myself in a moment of fear, “O God, please don’t let the world end right now! I wouldn’t be ready to die and meet you! I’m a waste of life!” The ball dropped, and the relief on the faces of MTV Video Jockeys paralleled my relief, but didn’t quench my inner despair and worthlessness.
One good thing happened for me in the winter of 2000. I was promoted to being a manager at Arabica coffee house. Even though I was a college drop out and a total pot-head, they somehow trusted me to manage the store! I was infamous for taking new employees into the freezer in the basement and “smoking them out” with my glass pipe filled with dope. I would tell them it was their initiation into working there. Arabica went out of business by the summer of 2000, and I had certainly played a huge part in its’ demise.
I worked with a person during my time at Arabica who was different than everyone else. Her name was Liz. Liz would never have smoked pot with me in the basement freezer! She was from South Africa, and had a wonderful accent. She was beautiful and confident. She was wonderful with people and a diligent, hard worker. I had tremendous respect for her. She began to tell me about her personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and how Jesus had changed her life. I asked her a lot of questions about this. I often freaked her out, telling her of my wild drug experiences and basically sinful life. She didn’t ever judge or condemn me, but rather seemed genuinely concerned for me. All I knew of Jesus was that he was the center of Christian religion. The Lutheran church I had attended talked about Him, but made Him seem like a great religious teacher, or a really nice hippie who wore white robes, but not necessarily the all powerful Son of God who was ruling the universe and living in the hearts of His people. Liz talked of Jesus as if He was her personal friend and counselor. She convinced me to visit her church, which was called Parkside. It was a humongous mega-plex in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. I showed up there with a huge hangover. My long hair was in a ponytail that hung down to the middle of my back. I came alone in my schwag wagon- the 1988 Buick LeSabre with a duct-taped window, cranking Led Zeppelin as I pulled in to the massive parking lot.
Most of the people at this mega-church viewed me with great suspicion as I walked through the halls, shamelessly smiling at people with a half-drunken smile and trying to be friendly. I met up with Liz and her husband, Rusty. They introduced me to their friend, Chip.
Chip immediately befriended me and wanted me to join his band to play bass with him. Chip had been an ex-extreme skier who used to throw himself off of cliffs for a living. He actually was likely on the verge of making it to the Olympics. But his real, hidden life was filled with cocaine, one-night stands, hard liquor, and marijuana. He got to the point where he was almost put in jail for possession of drugs. This led him to the verge of suicide. Then he gave his life over to Jesus and everything changed.
I began playing bass in Chip’s band. We played original songs he had written about his spiritual journey, and many were overtly about Jesus. Chip quickly became a friend that I would call often for advice. At the time, he was about thirty years old. I looked at him as a mentor. He took me in as a friend. There were even times that I would be in the middle of a party, stoned out of my mind, and I’d pick up the phone to tell him that I was high and ashamed. He would never judge me or talk down to me, but would just assure me that there were better things for me out there than that scene.
During this time in the midst of this redemptive friendship, I became very convinced that the life I was leading basically sucked. One night, I had taken some of my Dad’s mid-grade weed out of his cigar box stash (with his permission from him of course). My friends and I had spent the day roaming railroad tracks, eating hot wings, and smoking my Dad’s dope out of a little glass one-hitter all day.
Later on, it was nightfall and a storm was rolling into the sky. I wasn’t that high. I had smoked a very small amount of pot, and drank two beers. But as the storm rolled in, I began to have what many would psychologically term an LSD flashback. But I’m aware now that it was a demonic attack that came on as my conscience reeled within me about the desire to quit drugs. The dark, grey clouds in the sky looked like skeletons slipping in and out of existence, and gnawing at each other with a faint scream in the distance. All of a sudden, I was cut to the heart. I had the thought in my head to go and confess to my Mom that I had a large bag of Dad’s weed in my pocket. The thought was so intense, I told my buddies as we sat on the front porch abruptly; “Hey guys, I gotta split man. Feel free to hang out more out here, but I’m done for the night.” Without any hesitation, I stormed inside to confront what was eating at me.
“Mom.” I announced abruptly. “Dad has been giving me weed.” I took out the bag of green from my pocket. “This is his pot. I don’t want to get high anymore. I don’t want him to get high anymore.”
My Mom, with a shockingly calm response, as if she wasn’t surprised, but still big-eyed to some extent, said; “Well flush it down the toilet then!”
I flushed it down the toilet.
My Dad came downstairs and acted like this was the end of a long, drawn out ploy of reverse psychology, a typical stoner move.
“Hey Ben, you did it! You finally did what I had been hoping all along! I didn’t know what else to do to get you to quit drugs, so I started smoking pot again and put that pot in my closet on purpose, hoping that the idea of smoking pot with me would finally make you wanna quit!”
“So Dad, you’re going to quit too?” I responded aghast, believing every word he said.
“Yeah man, I couldn’t wait until this happened! I knew it would! I’m so proud of you buddy!”
Of course, my Dad was lying… later I would bust him 3 more times with a bag of dope, a glass one-hitter (that he had confiscated on the day I flushed his pot down the latrine), and a roach (or mostly smoked joint). But he finally quit when Jesus grabbed ahold of him in 2005, as this post describes: http://benjaminbradfordwhite.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/how-my-dad-became-a-jesus-freak/
But in the year 2000, everything in my life was rapidly changing. I had stopped smoking pot and popping pills. I drastically cut back on my beer intake. I started exercising and eating healthy. I began to be afraid that having pre-marital sex with my girlfriend Jamie was clouding our ability to see if we were really friends. I asked if we could stop having sex for awhile and see if our friendship was real. During this “break” time, friends of mine told me that she was cheating on me. I began to believe it was true, even though Jamie would deny it over and over again. We broke up. I was in utter and complete depression over it. Ten days after our break-up, I showed up at her house to beg her to leave the drug scene. I found her in bed with another guy, and after having flashes in my mind of committing the criminal act of violent assault on this guy, I stormed out of her house, slamming the door hard enough to practically break the stained glass within it.
It was then the spring of the year 2000. In all of this sadness, sitting at home alone, I pulled out an album that someone had given me as a gift when I was baptized as a Lutheran. It was an album called “the Jesus Record” by Rich Mullins and the Ragamuffin Band. I had avoided listening to it for months, thinking it was just a bunch of ridiculous corny Christian music laden with electric 80’s piano and cheesy cliché lyrics. I put on the first track, which was called “My Deliverer”, and was immediately drawn in to the beautiful natural piano and orchestra laden, haunting melody. The lyrics wooed me in with heartful emotion and truth as they told a story. It didn’t sound like a pretty Sunday school story. It was a story of suffering and oppression, with deliverance in the midst of it. The lyrics sang these words;
Joseph took his wife and her child and they went to Africa
To escape the rage of a deadly king…
There along the banks of the Nile,
Jesus listened to the song
That the captive children used to sing
They were singing…
My Deliverer is coming – my Deliverer is standing by
My Deliverer is coming – my Deliverer is standing by
Through a dry and thirsty land, water from the Kenyon heights
Pours itself out of Lake Sangra’s broken heart
There in the Sahara winds Jesus heard the whole world cry
For the healing that would flow from His own scars
The world was singing,
My Deliverer is coming – my Deliverer is standing by
My Deliverer is coming – my Deliverer is standing by
He will never break His promise – He has written it upon the sky
I will never doubt His promise though I doubt my heart, I doubt my eyes.
He will never break His promise, though the stars should break faith with the sky…
I was crying like a child throughout the entire song. I would later find out that the song was not even sung by Rich Mullins, but by his friend and band-mate, Rick Elias. Rich had died in a car accident at the age of forty in 1997. Before his accident, he had compiled acoustic recordings of all the songs for “The Jesus Record” in a little church by himself. His band-mates had made the album with the help of many people in the Christian music scene, as a tribute to Rich and his life. Rich had been put on a pedestal as a Christian music star, and wouldn’t sell himself out no matter what temptations were thrown at him. He ended up living a life of celibacy, having the leaders at his church receive all of his money, which likely could have made him wealthy, and at Rich’s request, gave him a yearly salary of about $20,000 a year, while funneling the rest into missions work, orphanages, and relief for the poor. In the last days of his life he was living in a trailer on a Navajo Indian reservation, and pouring his life into the Navajo community, while still touring with his ragamuffin band and radicalizing the church with his heartfelt songs that described a true life of devotion to Jesus. A movie about him will be released soon, watch the trailer here: http://ragamuffinthemovie.com/.
I wanted what Rich and his bandmates had. I wanted what Chip and Liz had. I wanted to know this Jesus that Rich Mullins wrote about, who “heard the whole world cry”, and “healed people through His scars”. Chip had once dared me to pray a prayer when I was all alone and wondering about my existence. He told me to simply look up to God in heaven and ask Him if Jesus was really His Son…
One night, not many days after I had cried myriad tears over the sweet music of Rich Mullins, I uttered this prayer. I was sitting all alone in my room past midnight, and having what I then understood to be an LSD flashback. I was looking at the ground, and seeing demonic figures gnawing at each other and convulsing in the carpet below. I cried out in desperation, “God, is Jesus your Son? Then show me! Help me to see who He is!” I saw white sparkles come down from the ceiling and strike the demons in the carpet, and they were sucked back down into the earth. I was filled with that peace I felt during my worst mushroom trip ever, after having a near death experience, and then crying out to God or whoever was out there. I was filled with that peace I had felt in the Lutheran church when I attended there for the first time. The peace was beginning to become a part of my life. Little did I know then of the amazing changes that would happen to me as time moved forward.