Updated: Oct 27
“Mr. Umidi, you will need to have your lower lumbar spine fused with screws and rods.” It was the spring of 1993 and although this news was not surprising (having been previously recommended for surgery back in high school), I was optimistic this could finally bring substantial pain relief. I scheduled the procedure, and everything seemed to fall into place for a successful surgery.
Recovering in the ICU, I was on a morphine pump when I experienced an allergic reaction, sending me into Code Blue with a sudden and severe drop in blood pressure. While being attended to during this emergency, I had a near-death experience (NDE). As I hovered above the doctors, I witnessed them as they worked to stabilize me. I was fully aware I was outside of my body and pain-free while washed in bright light. I felt calm in the moment and fear was nonexistent. Was my NDE an indication there was a unique plan for my life or was this just a random event?
As I assessed my future, laying in the hospital bed, I couldn’t have imagined just how difficult the next few years would be. Unbeknownst to me, the surgeon used non-FDA-approved hardware in my spine that were “experimental”, and the screws eventually came loose within the first year. I found another surgeon who was willing to redo the surgery; however, the damage done during that first surgery was irreversible. I would end up having 4 spine fusion surgeries over the next few years, and, as a result, I felt my life slipping out of my control.
The New Normal: The new normal for me was dealing with doctors’ bills, insurance claims, rehabilitation, continued severe chronic pain, and plenty of prescription meds mixed with alcohol. I had been out of work for 2 years due to the complications and failure of the second surgery to relieve the chronic pain. So, I was in my early 20’s with a failed marriage, no job or career, and a child with special needs to care for, when I began to doubt that the Lord had a plan for my life. Deep depression and chronic sleep issues left me in a state of disbelief that my life was worth living.
As I reflected on my youth and the experience of being a preacher’s kid, my understanding was that God had my back, and that if I put my trust in Him life would go my way. Those early beliefs proved to be distorted and as I suffered alone in my spirit, I experienced a deep and lasting sense of hopelessness. Where was the power of God to relieve my pain? Why was this happening to me? I didn’t have the answers to these questions, and as a result, I fell out of relationship with God. I had given up believing that He really cared about me, instead thinking He was indifferent to my problems and certainly not a loving God I could trust. Without the benefit of close relationships, I felt alone in my struggle as I continued to self-medicate.
Growing up, I was always afraid that I would end up in Christian ministry like my dad. I was young and embarrassed that my dad was a preacher. All my friends’ dads had cool jobs and they weren’t getting teased at school for being preachers’ kids. This fear of going into ministry lasted well into my teen years. I recognized from an early age that the Lord was close to me—but did He really have a plan for my life? Could I really trust Him?
The Prophetic Message: At random times throughout my journey, my mind would wander back to my teen years at my church youth group and the experience of having a traveling preacher pray a blessing over my life. My mom had the prayer typed up and gave it to me shortly thereafter, but I came across it again while I was recuperating. Here I was, newly separated from my wife and living at my parent’s house with zero hope for my future, when this prophesy found its way into my life again.
“One more young man here in the pink shirt. I’ve called you with a holy calling, I’ve loved you with an everlasting love; I’m wooing you. I’m drawing you close to myself. My son, I’ve drawn a circle around your life; I won’t let you out, I won’t let the enemy in—you’re mine. I’m standing to your defense. I am refining you on the inside, I am tuning your spirit.”
What? What did he say? How can this be true? I felt so very distant from that period in my life that I barely remembered this preacher. What do you do when you come across something as meaningful as this prayer? I shoved it into my Bible and put it onto the shelf where it sat for years, gathering dust…out of sight and out of mind.
But Psalm 33:11(NIV) says, “The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” Today I can speak of the gloriousness of this verse, but at the time this truth was dead to me.
“The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” Psalms 33:11 (NIV)
It’s one thing to say that I believe in God, but it’s another to say that I put my trust in God. I like what Brennan Manning says in Ruthless Trust, “Against insurmountable obstacles and without a clue as to the outcome, the trusting heart says, Abba, I surrender my will and my life to you without any reservation and with boundless confidence, for you are my loving Father.” It would be decades before I could honestly embrace this statement, for I was as far away from trusting in a loving God as a preacher’s kid could get.
I would go through a divorce, more surgeries, bankruptcy, and foreclosure of our house before I’d eventually find my way again. Those early years of great challenges took a huge toll on my life and spiritually, physically, mentally I was worn-out before I reached 30. How do you recapture what you’ve lost, and could I trust in a loving God? As I stepped out in faith, I found myself no longer living in fear but in hope and anticipation of what my future held for me and my second wife. There was a newness to my life, and I was looking forward to a full restoration of all that I had missed out on. According to the dictionary, “to restore” means to “bring back to a former or original condition.” When something is restored in the scriptures, however, it is always increased, multiplied, or improved, so that its latter state is significantly better than its original state.
In anticipation of this next season of my life is where I found fellowship with the Lord again. The Bible says in 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV), “If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will l forgive their sin and heal their land.” As I sought out the God of my understanding, I repented of my unbelief and doubt and humbly asked for wisdom as I sojourned down this path. The false religious concepts that I believed were that the Lord was going to make everything work out ok for me and the way I thought it should go, but these expectations were unrealistic and only increased my sense of disappointment with God.
“If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will l forgive their sin and heal their land.” II Chronicles 7:14 (NIV)
The first couple of years of my second marriage were challenging, and we both found meaningful work and developed new friendships that last to this day, although I still suffered with back pain, depression, and a dependence on opioids and alcohol. It wasn’t long before I found myself back at that familiar state of doubt—unbelief that God was who He said He was— my protector and lover of my soul. I was angry that the forward momentum I had made was slowly moving me in the opposite direction. I still believed in God, but I no longer trusted in Him. Caught between the desire for hope and the desperate reality that life had not panned out the way I thought it should, I gave into my doubt and proceeded to do life on my own terms.
I would spend the next 20 years trying to find my way back. Through years of addictions, depression, and sporadic employment, I found myself on the outskirts of my faith again. I had withdrawn from church and isolated myself as I struggled to make sense of the world around me. I no longer held onto that prayer of blessing but instead gave into self-pity and the skepticism that I would ever be whole.
The Mystery of Grace:
“I do not understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us,” Anne Lamott. Somehow, somewhere, Grace was looking out for me. Despite walking in fear, doubt and discontent, the Lord was still pursuing me. Here I was broken and afraid when I reached out in blind faith asking for Hope to believe again. A belief that the Lord had a plan for my life and that my suffering would not be in vain. These wounds ran deep into the core of my spirit and it would take a miracle for me to trust again.
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)
I was looking for anything to hold onto when I came across that prophesy again.
“…I’m everywhere near you, I’m not far from you, but you must seek me with your whole heart, that I may take charge of your life.” And I see the Lord walking in when you do this when you really seek Him and you really say, “God, I cannot let anything else sway me, You have to do it, You have to lead me, Your will has to be done my life.” I see the Lord just walk right in, and He has it all planned. He has a beautiful plan for your life.
In response to this prophesy I began to search for this God who was apparently on my side after all. What I found was that the Lord required me to fully “buy in” with Him. The first step was to get clean and sober, and so on 01/10/2017, I checked into detox looking for a fresh start. Two days after I arrived, I ran into a friend of mine who had checked in the night prior and we had a sovereign moment of sharing, where we both felt we were in the right place at the right time. God seemed to be saying to each of us that He had not abandoned us during our time of need.
During one of our group sessions at detox, the leader went around the room asking us what we hoped to do upon leaving the program. Specifically, if there weren’t any barriers to achieving our dream job what would it be? When it came time for me to share, a sense of wondrous joy rose up from within me and a voice that I didn’t recognize spoke these words, “I’d like to be a messenger of hope to other alcoholics/addicts.” I had no idea where this thought came from, but on that day, January 14, 2017, my destiny changed. Getting sober was just the beginning of my journey; by grinding out my sobriety one day at a time, I found myself on the other side of this darkness of the soul with a sense of hope for a restored life.
“I have come that they may have life and that they may have life more abundantly.” John 10:10 (ESV)
The Greek word for abundantly is perissos and means, “superabundance, surplus, over and above, more than enough, profuse, extraordinary, above the ordinary, more than sufficient.” Was this verse true after all? Was I witnessing this principle starting to play out in front of me?
Two years into my sobriety, I started posting parts of my journey on Facebook as a way of sharing authentically what the Lord was doing in my life. What began as a once or twice a year share turned into monthly posts and then weekly posts of hope and encouragement for those struggling with addictions. I went on to become a certified life coach, working with others going through recovery, and I’ve since created my blog, Today’s One-Minute Read™ which is now going to be published as a paperback. The journey from where I was to where I am has been monumental. There are no words to describe this transformation as I’m a changed man from the inside out. I’m reminded in Esther 4:14 (ESV), that says, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this.”
Here I am 36 years since that prayer of blessing was spoken over me and I’m finally seeing the arc of my life unfold through this God-story. The decades spent searching for meaning, doubting that there really was a “calling” on my life, to subsequently finding redemption through sobriety, have produced in me a fragrant offering to an all-loving God. What is my response to the work that He’s doing in my life? The Lord calls us to do everything within our power to preserve and enhance the lives of those around us. In addition to evangelizing, we are to work to reduce poverty, disease, hunger, injustice, to take care of the widow and the orphans—essentially, to love our neighbors as ourselves.
“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Romans 11:29 (NIV)
I’m not about “proselytizing,” or “spreading religion,” but rather, sharing the good news that “Christ came for all.” Regardless of your circumstances, and whatever you have or haven’t done in this life, it’s all covered under the blood, and redemption is for all of us. God’s unconditional love is for you today, tomorrow, and forevermore.
It’s ironic, after all these decades I can finally say with pride that “I’m a preacher’s kid!”
Slowly, I’m learning and confirming the gifts and calling on my life, and I’m taking it one day at a time with zero expectations of what my life should look like. I’m less concerned with where I’m going and how I’m getting there, but I’m confident that He who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion. God is still mysterious in many ways and I can’t know the mind of God, but I wake up each day thankful for the gift of life. I walk in the truth that the Lord has redeemed me, He’s called me by name, and I am His. As Henri Nouwen once remarked, “One of the most arduous spiritual tasks is that of giving up control and allowing the Spirit of God to lead our lives.” I confess that I will most assuredly enter into seasons of doubt, fear, depression, and self-loathing, but the transformation and renewing of my mind will undoubtedly lead me back to His promises. I have tasted God’s goodness and I know it to be true at the core of my being.
I still have unrealized dreams, I still suffer with daily back pain, and depression still wields its angry arms in my face, but this is life. Suffering is universal and scripture is clear that we should not be surprised when we encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of our faith produces endurance. Endurance is not easily achieved; it takes perseverance and grit to stay the course, but the rewards are deep and meaningful.
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, The creator of the ends of the earth. Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might he increases strength. But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:28-31 (NKJV)
The promise for you today is, there is a God in heaven who has known you since before you were born. Trust in His ways and know you are exactly where you need to be today. There is purpose to your life, and He has called you to be His witness to the glory of His ongoing work in your life. Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you for a reason for the Hope that is within you, with kindness and respect.
Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning.