When I consider my life today compared to 30 years ago, I am brought to tears. God transformed my broken, bitter life into one of wholeness and love. No one can tell me that God isn’t still in the miracle-working business. My life is a miracle.

My early years were filled with pain. My father was an abuser, and he took out his anger on my mother, my siblings, and me. I hated him for it, and I hated the helplessness I felt as he traumatized us.

The events of my childhood sowed seeds of bitterness in my heart. I resented my father for not loving and protecting us like he should have. His betrayal brought pain that far outweighed any physical blow he could have ever dealt; it crushed my heart.

A crushed heart is the perfect soil for seeds of bitterness, and I tended mine carefully. I watered them daily with thoughts of hate and revenge. At first, these evil thoughts were only toward my father, but they soon spread to the world. Every man was my enemy and responsible for my pain.

Over the years, that bitter root grew strong, and as Hebrews 12:15 says, it caused much trouble and defiled many. Much like my dad, I left a wake of destruction everywhere I went.

In 1972, at the age of 17, I got married and moved out of my father’s house. I couldn’t wait to have a home of my own and fill it with good things. I had met Connie years before at a baseball park. Even as a young boy, I knew she would one day be my wife and that I would be safe with her.

Our love was deep and strong, but the odds were stacked ever so high against us. The first decade as a young, married couple was tough. Broken and bitter, I carried a ton of baggage into our marriage. Not to mention, with no good role model, I had no idea how to be a good husband or father. Thankfully, Connie was patient and loved me unconditionally.

The anger I harbored almost destroyed our family, especially the day my mother showed up at my home with two men—all drunk. By this time, my father was long gone, and my mother, in her pain, had become homeless and addicted to alcohol and drugs. I was so angry with these men who I knew were abusing my mother.

I met them in the front yard with my rifle and ordered them to leave. (Violence was the only way I knew to communicate.) But they didn’t leave; the scene ended with one man shot, and the other lying unconscious on the concrete. I was arrested and charged with attempted murder.

Incredibly, I didn’t serve any time. The local police had witnessed firsthand the life my family had endured at the hands of my father, and they had mercy on me. Somehow, the whole thing just went away.

In 1983, Connie and I moved to a quaint little town in Florida. By this time, we had two little girls. I was doing my best to be a good husband and father, but I was still so full of rage. Thankfully, God sent a courageous man of God to my home to show me a better way.

I was sitting at my kitchen table one Saturday morning, when I heard a knock on the front door. I opened it to find Lonnie Cleveland, pastor of the local Baptist church. He was there to invite Connie, the girls, and me to church. A couple of weeks later, we went.

During our visit, the congregation sang a popular hymn, “Just as I Am.” It spoke of how God accepts people just as they are. According to the song, I didn’t have to bring anything to God except my broken self. This caught my attention. Could God really accept me—a broken, hate-filled man with a trail of carnage in my past?

I wrestled with this foreign concept for a few minutes. Then, I went to the altar to take God up on His offer. Pastor Lonnie led me through a prayer of salvation, and I committed my life to the Lord. I told God, “If You are who You say You are, and if You really will take me just as I am, I will serve You with the same tenacity that I served Satan.” This was quite a promise, as I had served Satan well for many years.

Connie rededicated her life to the Lord that day, too. She’d believed in Jesus as a kid but had strayed in her walk with Him. Not long after, our children put their faith in Jesus, and our entire family walked through the waters of baptism together.

I dove into His Word to learn all I could about Him. But studying the Bible wasn’t easy. Dyslexia made reading painfully slow for me, and I often had difficulty comprehending what I read. Nevertheless, I was persistent in my pursuit of Him. God accelerated my growth as His Spirit helped me understand deep spiritual things. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know.

Connie and I began working with the youth in our church, and then we started going on short-term overseas mission trips. In 1994, we moved to Africa for a year to develop leaders and train pastors to plant local churches.

When we returned home, I sensed God leading me to start a church. For the next 13 years, I helped people grow in their relationships with God and others. But, even as a pastor, I still struggled with my own past. I asked God to help me.

He showed me the importance of letting go of my anger and forgiving my father. The process started right after 9/11. Osama bin Laden had just unleashed his terror on US soil. As a pastor, I knew my congregation would be looking for answers. They were angry and wondering how a loving God could allow such pain. I was struggling to find answers myself.

As I prayed over the message, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart. “Blaine, Osama bin Laden is not evil.”

What? I did not like what I was hearing. How could God say that? Did He not see the horrific aftermath of this man’s actions?

But the Holy Spirit continued. “He is an agent of evil.” And then God went on to remind me that He had created everyone, even men like Osama bin Laden, in His image, but that many have chosen not to follow after God’s ways. Then He continued, “Your father was also an agent of evil. And you, Blaine, were an agent of evil, too.”

My heart stopped, but then I began to understand how, yes, we have all been created in God’s image, but many of us have opened our hearts to the evil one—Satan—to be used by him to bring destruction into this world. He is the real source of evil that is out to destroy the world and every image-bearer of the Most High God. (See John 10:10.)

This revelation rocked my world, and my heart began to soften toward my dad. All my life, I had viewed him as my evil enemy, the source of my pain. Yes, my dad had done horrific things, but the spirit at work within him was that of Satan (Ephesians 2:2). My struggle wasn’t against flesh and blood; it was against dark forces (Ephesians 6:12)!

I had been in the wrong fight my entire life. Suddenly, I understood that to fight against dark forces, I needed new weapons. Second Corinthians 10:4–5 confirmed this: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.…  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (NIV). If I wanted to win this war, I would have to win the battle of my mind.

I set out to renew my mind with God’s Word (Romans 12:2). Because of my father’s betrayal, I had many wrong mindsets toward people. For example, I wrongly assumed that every man would betray me; that their only intent was to hurt me. So to protect myself, I made sure I hurt others before they had the chance to hurt me. I had major trust issues that prevented healthy, loving relationships.

God also showed me that in addition to His Word, I had many other powerful weapons—things like prayer, praising God, coming together in agreement with other believers, and proclaiming the name and blood of Jesus Christ—at my disposal. So I went to battle, and with God’s help, I began to win the war! (See Ephesians 6.)

Incredibly, over time, my relationship with my father was restored. I got to lead him to the Lord and even had the privilege of baptizing him. He never apologized for the pain he caused his family—I don’t know if he ever realized the full extent of the trauma he caused. Regardless, God’s love healed every wound I carried. Talk about a story of redemption! Before my mother’s death, I had the opportunity to lead her to the Lord, too. God is good.

I used what I had learned to teach my congregation how to win their battles. Then, I met a man who was involved with prison ministry, and he invited me to go into the prison with him. Once there, I knew right away that God was calling me to minister behind prison wire. There was a world of people just like me who needed to know who their enemy was and how to defeat him.

I started going to a nearby men’s prison once a month to preach. I sensed God, however, calling me into full-time ministry, which would require me to let go of the church I had birthed and to release my business. It took me two years to give God back what was always His.

And then, in 2005, He entrusted me with the startup of a new organization, Xtreme SOULutions, to help men and their families prepare for reentry into society. Connie and I witnessed God transform the lives of many people that society had thrown away and labeled as unsalvageable.

In 2017, Connie went home to be with the Lord after 45 years of marriage and decades of serving the Lord together. Losing her was difficult, but God faithfully healed my broken heart. And then, last year, He blessed me with a beautiful, godly wife who is a colaborer with me for Christ. Kimberly has sacrificially devoted her life to helping the men in our program and their families—it has been her heart for a decade. She has become like a mother to the men in blue, and they love her dearly.

Looking back, it is obvious to me that God has always had a plan for my life, even when I couldn’t see it. Just as He promised, He has taken everything the enemy had planned for evil and used it for good (Genesis 50:20).

Maybe you’ve experienced evil in your life. I want you to know that God has a plan, and He is ready to restore and redeem everything the enemy has stolen from you. Don’t lose hope. Run to the One who has already defeated your enemy. With Him and His weapons, you can win every battle!