Jesus Gave Me What Boozing and Brawling Couldn’t

My journey from the criminal underworld to the foot of the cross.
ALLEN LANGHAM| MAY 17, 2019

Jesus Gave Me What Boozing and Brawling Couldn’t

Six years ago—lost, broken, alone, and suicidal—I was the empty shell of a once-promising rugby player, shuffling around an exercise yard in a London prison. I was a man of extreme violence who had done seven stretches behind bars.

One morning around that time, I watched a flock of birds take off from a ledge outside my cell. Right then, I knew God was real—and that he had reached down to rescue me from the pit of hell.

A Ticking Time Bomb

As a child, there was violence everywhere I turned. My mother had been widowed by her first husband, abused for 20 years by her second, and deserted by my father (whom she never married) when I was eight months old. She and my two sisters surrounded me with love—I was the little favorite of the family. But she was also a harsh disciplinarian and liberally wielded what we called “the Allen stick” to keep me under control.

Throbbing with anger and resentment toward my absent father, I was constantly getting into scraps with neighborhood bullies, hoping to earn their respect. I was also abused several times: by a family friend, by a boy across the road, and by a man I can’t say much about because I’ve blocked the worst details from my memory.

I had some means of escape. Often I would skip school to go fishing or run off to the woods and dress up as an Army sergeant major, shouting commands at the other kids and exerting control to hide my inner pain. I loved sports and showed potential from an early age. And on Sundays, I would venture out on my own to attend church. At home I was fatherless and abused, but there I felt safe and at peace.

One morning, alerted by the shrieks of my eldest sister, I came downstairs to find my mother dead on the sofa, the victim of a cerebral hemorrhage. Something snapped in me that day—I was only 14—that put me on the road to destruction for the next 20 years.

I went to three schools, getting expelled from the first two for unmanageable behavior. By the time I left home at 16, I was a ticking time bomb—angry, bitter, and lost. My sister ran pubs, and I started down the path of drinking, gambling, and fighting, emulating the “gangster” lifestyle. This was my idea of what it meant to be a man.

But I excelled at rugby, and at 17 I signed a professional contract with Sheffield Eagles. Soon enough, I had far more money than good sense. Craving acceptance from members of the criminal underworld I perversely thought of as “family,” I began fighting for money, selling drugs, collecting debts for dealers, and generally bullying and intimidating my way through life. I walked into my first prison term as a lost little boy trapped inside a professional rugby player’s body.

A Hostile World

It didn’t take long for prison to turn me into a hardened criminal. It was a hostile world—physically, mentally, and emotionally—where only the fittest survived. In prison I developed a heroin addiction, which left me alienated from my firstborn daughter and her mother.

Between sentences, I went chasing the bright lights of London but ended up sleeping on the streets of the Strand. Without the “good fortune” of being sent back, I might have died. Back in custody, spurred forward by a picture of my daughter on my cell wall, I resolved to rebuild my life. During the next two years, I caught up on my schooling and got clean from heroin. But after the next release, I soon returned to my old ways. The vicious merry-go-round kept spinning: drinking, drugs (now cocaine), partying, violence, sex, and before long, a trip back to the slammer.

During my stints in prison, I was always drawn to the chapel. I considered it a place of refuge, just as church had offered a safe haven from the tumult of my childhood. Over the years, I experimented with everything: Buddhism, Hinduism, spiritualism, counseling, course after course, medication—but nothing worked. I was still a wreck. Despite my burning desire to change, I couldn’t find any peace or stability.

Eventually, after stabbing a number of fellow inmates, I landed in Belmarsh, a top-security prison in southeast London. I hated who I had become. With my violent outbursts and paranoid behavior, I had pushed away anyone I ever cared for—and put my family through hell. I was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually broken. Outwardly, I sought “respect” by lashing out against anyone or anything in my way. But on the inside, I remained a lost little boy in desperate need of love and acceptance.

While awaiting trial in a kidnapping and hostage-taking case, I finally hit rock bottom and decided to commit suicide. With tears streaming down my face, I dropped to my knees and made one final plea to God: “If you’re real and you hear me, put a white dove outside my prison window. Show me you are with me!” At the time, I had no conception of the dove being a symbol for the Holy Spirit. I was only looking for some sign of hope and new beginnings.

The next morning, when a flock of pigeons lifted off the nearby ledge, I saw the dove sitting there. Something inside me jumped, and tears of joy replaced tears of despair.

After transferring to another prison in Leeds, I began praying and studying the Bible in earnest. Reading Joyce Meyer’s Battlefield of the Mind, I stumbled across a chapter where Meyer describes taking the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, rolling it into a ball, and laying it at Jesus’ feet. I decided to do the same with my rage. Before going to sleep, I closed my eyes, imagined Jesus on the cross, balled up my rage, and surrendered it to him. When I awoke, I felt peace like never before.

The Long Refining

Being a Christian—and turning away from drinking, drugs, and sleeping around—hasn’t been easy. (It’s tough having a functioning conscience!) At first I was on fire for Christ, and my zeal would outrun my better judgment. I would strike up conversations with complete strangers and probably put them off forever. I would go to pubs to tell people about Jesus and—still enslaved to old habits—end up drinking to excess. On one occasion, I found myself in bed with a woman after trying to share the gospel with her. I needed serious refining.

But God, in his patience, kept using this broken vessel for his purposes. He has given me the privilege of going into prisons—at first under the supervision of more mature Christians, then increasingly on my own—and testifying to the hope and forgiveness he offers. I have spoken to rooms full of men convicted of the most heinous crimes, including pedophiles and murderers, and seen them reduced to tears. At a key moment when I wondered where my life was going, God helped me launch a ministry (Steps to Freedom) that reaches out to young people abandoned by society. He let me return to my first love, sports, as a chaplain serving several teams.

Miraculously, God has even given me my family back. It has taken years, but one by one he has repaired broken relationships with my sisters and their families, with my three children, and with the father who deserted us so long ago.

The refining process has been long and hard. But bit by bit, it’s polishing me into a trophy of God’s grace.

Allen Langham is the author of Taming of a Villain: A Message of Hope (Lion Hudson).

 

Original here

 

A D-Day hero makes a life-changing return to Normandy at age 94

June 6, 2019 By Martha MacCallum

WWII veteran on traveling back to Normandy for the first time since D-Day

The words used to describe the heroes of D-Day are not the current lexicon we tend to use for success. Humble, selfless, brave. Those are not words we attach in 2019 to superstars. They are words attached to warriors who are willing to die for a day they will never see, for the price of freedom, for those they do not even know.

Jack Gutman, who suffered from severe PTSD and the alcoholism it saddled him with, rejoiced this week because France was so beautiful and the people were so kind.

He never made it past the beach in 1944. He stayed down there while others went up and over the cliffs.

BRET BAIER: D-DAY WAS A GRAND GAMBLE

He was just 18, but he bore the heavy burden as a medic on the sands, of saving those he could and lying to those he could not.

He held their IV bag or their heads while they passed on. He says he knew in the frantic chaos of the beach that the boys who cried out for their mothers, had only him. That he would have to do. His face might be the last thing they saw on this earth. So he did the best he could to reassure them that they would be OK. That he was with them. That help was coming. Anything that would ease their pain, until they breathed no more.

He was 18.

rt, Jack went face first into his plate. He says it was so embarrassing. He felt terrible for his family and himself. Still, it had to happen. It was a low that changed Jack’s life.

After that that he finally listened to his daughter the therapist. She helped Jack get the help he needed. He is so honest about what happened because he wants some of those 20 vets who take their lives every day to know that there is another way.

Sobriety and therapy changed Jack into a man who at 94 decided it was time. Perhaps now that Normandy was no longer slamming wave after wave on him at home, he could go to Normandy.

Heroes of D-Day: Veterans remember storming the beaches of Normandy

So this week Jack and his son Craig, took a journey together to the place that had seared itself on Jack’s heart.  He got on the plane and took the long trip to Paris and then the bus to Normandy and then Jack saw that beach again for the first time in 66 years.

He walked the rows of white crosses and that was where he wept. Their pristine white shapes stand snapped at attention, tall and fresh like the boys below once did.

Jack saluted them. Promised he would never, ever forget them.

He thought about all the life he got to live. Marriage. Children. A daughter who saved him and a son who helped him heal by being at his side as he walked the rows.

He said, some of these boys I tried to save.

It always haunted me, said Jack, could I have done more?

But mostly Normandy transformed into a place of gratitude for Jack this week. He met the people of the villages they fought to liberate. Everyone was so nice. France was so pretty.

He’d only seen the beach.

He said of his return, it changed my life! Again. This time by softening his worries, laying them down.

Jack and others told me this week that at times they felt like celebrities. And celebrate them we should. Not because they are glamorous or athletic, but maybe because they are not. They are what we should all want to be, though.

Selfless, humble and my goodness, so astonishingly dashing and brave. These men are true heroes. They battled the Germans, and so many like Jack, silently battled their demons, wrestling with them all these years.

But Jack won. And we salute you, Jack. We salute you.

 

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