When I was six years old, my father walked out with another woman. Night after night, I prayed that God would send my daddy home, but it didn’t happen. The message I got from Dad’s abandonment was, “Jay, you’re a loser. You’re nobody.” After he left, Mom hit the bars to find love; she was blind to the destruction and violence she brought into our home. I started sleeping with my Louisville Slugger baseball bat, and used it more than once to stop the man who was beating my mom or beating me.

I would say, “Mom, let’s get some help,” but she was too embarrassed. “We’ll be okay,” she’d answer, hiding her pain behind plastic smiles. I got used to men moving in and out of our house, until the summer that one of them brought his older son. That’s when I learned firsthand about sexual abuse.

Six or so men came and went from our home, and then one came who promised to stay. He said, “Jay, you can call me Dad.” I was so excited that I went to school the next day and told my friends about my new dad…but it wasn’t long before Bob was out drinking night after night. I was ten years old and desperately wanted a dad, so I rode my bike to the bar and pleaded with him to come home. He said, “Jay, I tell you what—if you’ll get on your knees and beg me, I’ll come home and be your dad.”

So I got down on that filthy, sticky floor and begged, pouring out the last drop of hope in me. But Bob started laughing, and just as quickly, the men in the bar joined in.

The light went out in me that day. Tears no longer came, and I decided I would never ask anybody for anything again. I blamed the God I didn’t know for the pain and abandonment I felt, for the violence in our home, the adultery that destroyed my mom, and the abuse that scarred me. Years passed, and my life became one of drugs, alcohol, arrest records, and destruction. I began as a victim, but soon became the villain of my own life, making one poor choice after another.

I’ll never forget the first time one of those Jesus freaks in high school said, “God wants to be your father, Jay.”

I scoffed, “If God is anything like my father, forget it!” Inside, I hoped there was something to it, but the darkness in me overruled. I pretended the shame and the pain didn’t matter, but the lonelier I felt, the louder and more destructive my behavior became. Yet, when everyone else turned away, God came looking for me.

All it took to get me to that first home Bible study was an invitation from a couple of cute girls. I had no idea that my life was about to change forever. I sat on the floor, shirtless, listening and shaking my shoulder-length hair to cover the shame on my face. My heart pounded as the host called out, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done—God loves you and has a plan for your life. You can always start over. Stand up tonight and give Him your heart.” My mind flashed to summers with drunken shrimpers as they sorted through the trash in the nets and threatened to throw me over with it. “Why would God ever want my life,” I thought.