Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Inspiration [3]

A beautiful story that I just read, mashaAllah! A bit lengthy but I guarantee it's worth your precious time! :)

A Long and Winding Path: My Journey to Islam  [owner of americanrevert]

In 1982, I was born into a lower-middle class, not particularly religious Kentucky family. I got most of my religious understanding from my God-fearing, Baptist grandmother who was a member of one of those churches where they only have lethargic organ-led hymns— no clapping hands, no sudden hallelujahs or praise Gods, only the occasional cough to break the silence during the sermon. It seemed joyless, a hassle for the congregation to dress up and make it out on Sundays. As important as my grandmother made church seem, I didn’t see that same enthusiasm on any other face. The confusion had already begun to settle in.

I went to Sunday school, read the Bible, even went to “Vacation Bible School” every summer during my childhood, but I never felt the Holy Spirit descend on me and guide me to eternal salvation through Jesus Christ. I prayed, begged, groveled, spent much of my younger years on my knees asking Jesus to come into my heart and save me from Hell; he never did. Every time I went to church someone asked if I was ready to be baptized, I never was. Christians tried to explain the feeling of having Jesus in their hearts, I just never felt it. A kid who knew he was going to Hell, I lived with dread until I was 12 years old, the year I lost faith in everything.

The summer between seventh and eighth grades, I had lost touch with the church and developed other interests and relationships. However, I still believed in God and had that invitation for Jesus to come into my heart, out floating in the air, somewhere between the heavens and the earth, and I was still very much waiting for his RSVP. And then something that I never dreamed would happen, happened. My uncle, who had recently evicted his step-son, was murdered. When he came home the next night and opened the door, his step-son was there waiting with a loaded shotgun. My uncle turned to run, got hit in the back at close range with the first shot, but he kept running. A block and a half down the road, he took another hit in the back. This one, I was told later, would most likely have killed him, but when he fell he kept going, as far and as fast as he could. His step-son caught up with him, put the barrel to the back of his head, let it linger there for awhile. Witnesses said my uncle continued to beg and plead for his life right up until he pulled the trigger and ended it.

I was devastated. My uncle was a good man and I just couldn’t fathom that a loving God/Jesus could ever let something like this happen to him. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it being “his time to go” or “God’s will.” My whole world had come unbalanced from the actions of one useless and heartless human being and I couldn’t cope with it. It was this lack of coping ability that eventually had me stealing alcohol from my parents, lying in my room at night, drunk out of my mind, and crying; I spent a lot of time pondering God and Jesus and everything that I knew about religion, Heaven and Hell, and made one last heartfelt (though drunken) attempt at a connection with my creator. It was not answered. I decided then: it wasn’t God that allowed my uncle to die, because there was no God; there was nothing.

My teens and early twenties were a blur. I spent a lot of my time messing up, never really completing anything. I wasted whatever money I made, drank my self stupid, toyed with drugs, stole, had a series of empty, emotionless relationships with girls; I was pretty much out of my head. Looking back I sometimes wonder how I ever even survived those years. By all accounts I should either be dead, maimed, or locked away in jail. Nothing was sacred to me, nothing holy. I made great fun out of saying horrible things about God and Jesus. My life had no purpose and I felt like I was just killing time until I eventually died or killed myself.

In 2005 I found out I was going to be a father— shocking, but not at all unexpected. I guess I just figured it would never happen to me. The girl I was with at the time and I had a very rocky, somewhat poisonous relationship. We both knew it was doomed to collapse from the beginning, we were just too dumb or too afraid to be alone. I decided if we were going to have this child, it would be a good idea if we got married. I really wanted to, and I tried to make it right, but it never was. We had our moments of happiness, but they were always short lived. September 5, 2005, my son, Jackson, was born, and although I now had a reason to get my life together, I didn’t. My relationship with my ex-wife never improved; it actually got worse. A downward spiral, it slowly deteriorated until we were both doing horrible things, hurting each other. But for some reason I wouldn’t give in. I’d hang on no matter how much it hurt, because I thought I was doing the right thing for my son. Finally, it all came to a head and I made an attempt to take my own life.
(I didn’t think much of it then, I guess I thought it was just a coincidence, but after taking a couple thousand milligrams of Zoloft and Prozac I decided to give one random friend a chance to save my life. In arrogance I chose the one friend I knew would be of no help. The one friend who would not answer the phone, or be of any help at all, because he lived a few states away. But he did answer the phone, and he was in town. Alhamdulillah!)

I spent about two weeks in a mental hospital. When I was discharged, I didn’t want to go home, but in the end I went back to the poisonous relationship, a desperate last attempt to make something my heart said could never be right, right. It didn’t work. I enrolled in college that fall, and we finally separated for good before the spring semester started. It wouldn’t be the last time I would have to deal with her of course, because it was only a few months later, after I had moved to Arkansas, that she filed a restraining order against me, ruling I was to stay 1500 feet from her and my son, having no contact with either of them. To make a long story short, I didn’t do what I was supposed to do, and in my youthful arrogance, or ignorance,

I just ended getting myself into more trouble.

Things seemed to be getting a lot better with my life. I had moved to Arkansas after meeting the girl that would eventually become my wife, I had a job, we had shelter, we had food, and we had each other. Times were hard, but we always managed somehow to make it through. We loved each other, and that was all we needed. After Christmas of 2008, it all finally caught up with me. Even though I had begun paying my child support on a regular basis and had started making some ground paying up on the past balance, they came for me. I ended up spending two weeks in the county jail awaiting transport back to Kentucky to face the judge for my felony non-support charge.

 It was during that long trip back to Kentucky that things started to make sense to me. The extradition process for a prisoner is not like they make it seem in the movies. I was placed in a cramped van, shackled from head to toe and forced to endure these marathon drives through cities and states nowhere near my actual destination. The easiest route between Arkansas and Kentucky is obviously through Tennessee.

However, we went through Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and then Kentucky; picking up a dropping off prisoners all along the way. It took four days, with a 24 hour layover in Omaha, Nebraska so the drivers could rest.

I was away from my wife; I didn’t know whether or not I was going to end up in jail, or prison. All those years of burning the candle at both ends, running like I had no responsibilities; it all finally caught up to me.

All the questions I’d avoided, all the memories I’d suppressed; everything hit me at once, and I prayed. I humbled myself, begged a God that I wasn’t even sure if I believed in to help me, to guide me, to show me out of this mess that I had gotten myself into. And it hit me— It wasn’t like God speaking to me, or the highly spoken of “Jesus coming into my heart,” or anything like that. It was a calming feeling, like a friend placing a hand on your shoulder when you’re down, telling you it’ll be okay; the feeling I’d been longing for since I was a child. But I knew then that I had a responsibility: now that I believed, I had to find God again, find what I believed and how to practice it.

My father helped me get a lawyer and paid my remaining child support, and the judge reduced the charges to a misdemeanor. I was free, and I went back to the business of living, and now the new business of finding God. When I was younger I had read the Bible, and found a lot of issues with it, but I figured with the wisdom of a few years, and possibly the guidance of God, I would be able to understand it and put it into practice. I was wrong. It was still the contradictory, confusing mess it had always been; and the trinity? I thought maybe I was simple-minded for not being able to wrap my mind around it. I spent a lot of hours reading, thinking, trying to make sense of it all. But I couldn’t. All I knew for sure was that I believed in God with all my heart, and I knew that He had always been there; it was I who had denied him, not the other way around.

I eventually gave up altogether on the Bible. It didn’t make sense to me, and no one could offer a good explanation, so I knew that it wasn’t the truth. It couldn’t be the word of God if the average everyday guy couldn’t understand it. Life carried on. One day my wife mentioned something about traveling abroad, maybe teaching English in Yemen. Always down for an adventure, I was all for it. Whereas she had spent some time in the Middle East as a child, I had never even been out of the country. What I did know was that there were a lot of Muslims in the Middle East, and I would have to learn to understand their culture to get by over there. I figured the best way to learn about Muslims and their culture would be to read the Qur’an, so I went out and bought a Yusuf Ali translation.

I remember cracking open that green and gold, ornate cover, and feeling I was about to discover something wonderful— I did. By the time I finished Surah Al-Fatiha, I knew I was Muslim. The simplicity of it astounded me. It didn’t beat around the bush and meant exactly what it said. It was beautiful to me. I continued, learning everything this book was teaching was everything that I had already believed. The problems that I had with Christianity were solved with Islam. I spent the next few weeks keeping it to myself, curious about the reaction I would get from my wife if I just suddenly said I want to be Muslim. But I kept researching Islam and falling more and more in love with it every day, and eventually it did come up. We discussed it at length and both came to the consensus that we would seek out the closest mosque and do whatever it was we had to do to become Muslims. I got online, found the e-mail for the Islamic center in our area, and asked them if it would be alright if we came out to visit and talk about taking our shahadah.

We went in on a Thursday and spoke with the Imam and two very nice brothers. What really struck me was how they wanted to ascertain that I understood what I was getting into, that I understood what Islam was, that it was a way of life, not just a religion. The thing about Christians is they’ll take you in and baptize you before you can blink, whether you know what Christianity is or not. These brothers wanted to make absolutely sure we had no concerns or doubts about it and didn’t pressure us, didn’t rush us to make a final decision. They listened to our questions and answered them as best as they could. It was such a refreshing change from everything I had ever known about religion. If I wasn’t sure before, I was absolutely sure at that moment; I was Muslim.

The brothers let me join in on Maghrib prayer, even though I was lost. Afterwards I said the words that changed my life and made me who I am today. “Ashadu an la ilaha illa’llah, Ashadu anna Muhammadan Rasulu’llah.” Alhamdulillah! With that oft repeated phrase I began to make the necessary changes in my life. I quit drinking alcohol, removed pork from my diet, stopped cussing, and although it has taken me almost a year, I quit smoking. I started devoting my time to prayer and the study of Islam. I have come a long way, but I know that there is always a chance for me to do better, to grow. I thank Allah each and every day for guiding me out of the darkness and in to the light of Islam, into submission to the one and only God, into a better way of life.

Looking back, I know that I knew nothing. The events in my life that I blamed God for, I can only thank him for now. Remove one little event from that chain, and I may not have come to Islam. Allah has a plan for each and every one of us, and we have no chance of ever comprehending the plans of Allah; He knows what we know not, and He guides who He wills. The second that I humbled myself before Him and prayed sincerely for His guidance, He guided me. SubhanAllah! It was a long journey from Baptist upbringing, to the loss of faith, and to Allah’s guidance finally setting me on the straight path. Allahu Akbar!

Beautiful ~



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