I’ve craved attention for as long as I can remember. Money, material things, sports, people—you name it, I’ve used it to make myself look important. I’ll be honest: my prideful desire to be the center of attention came with big price tags. Yet no matter the cost, I kept paying the price.
During the 1980s, my father hit it big financially. Suddenly, our family went from living on a teacher’s salary to having wealth. But all that money wasn’t cheap.
Before I go any further, I want to set the record straight. By telling my story, I don’t mean to disrespect anyone. I love my father, two sisters, and my mother, who is now deceased. I am grateful for their presence in my life. My father has done so much for me. He’s never once turned his back on me, even when my actions made a mockery of our family name.
My parents sent me to military school when I was 10. I’d been challenging their authority since the day I could walk, and they were tired of dealing with my rebellious self. Instead of that being a solution, however, it made things worse. Kids were raising kids; how could that be anything but a recipe for disaster? The school was full of bullies and other rebellious youth like me who had money and the means to everything. I attended the school for several years.
I was so immature. I didn’t understand the importance of hard work or the value of earning money. Instead of counting my blessings, I squandered them like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32).
That money was a game-changer for me. As I got older, I had lots of attention-grabbing items like a Mercedes, expensive jewelry, and top-of-the-line clothing. Money brought many “friends.” Too bad I didn’t realize then that most of them weren’t really friends; they just wanted the money in my pockets. But even if I’d considered their motives, it wouldn’t have mattered.
Real friends or not, these people made me feel important and needed. Everywhere I went, I flashed those dollar bills, bragging about what my family owned and who we knew. I was the king of name-dropping.
On September 22, 1990, I went out drinking with a former cadet who had been expelled the year before. My coach begged me not to go, but I didn’t listen. Hours later, I was thrown from a vehicle going over 100 mph. My pelvis was shattered and my left leg detached from my body.
Miraculously, the doctors were able to piece me back together. They used muscles from my abdomen to reattach my left leg. My right leg was severely injured too. I remained in the hospital for three months, fighting serious infections and undergoing multiple surgeries.
During one of the surgeries, I am sure I saw a vision of hell. It reminded me of a Mario Bros. video game. I could see myself running and then falling suddenly into utter darkness. Perhaps God was giving me a warning about where I was heading if I didn’t change my ways. You’d think this might make me take a good hard look at my life, but it didn’t. I was 17 years old and far too important for that.
I had survived the accident, but emotionally, I was a wreck. Several colleges had offered me soccer scholarships, but now, I was just this skinny, frail kid with a busted-up leg. I couldn’t play soccer if my life depended on it. And then there was the fact that I would be finishing my senior year at a local high school where I was not the Big Man on Campus. Instead, I shuffled through the halls, imagining ways to get back into the limelight.
I graduated in 1991 and began a 10-year college career. I worked the system and stayed in school, living off Dad’s money. A decade of nonstop partying led to countless bar brawls, two DUIs, and more car accidents. But no matter how bad the situation I put myself in, Dad was always there for me. Regardless of my bad choices, I could always count on a “get out of jail free” card at his expense.
At the clubs, I made sure everyone knew about my wealth. I’d tell anyone who’d listen about my limo companies, gyms, restaurants, warehouses, construction companies, and hotels. I bragged about the beach home and the penthouse I owned.
Lies. Lies. Lies. None of that was mine; it was all my father’s.
Around 1997, I got into weightlifting. It was a great way to satisfy my ego. That scrawny kid from high school was gone. The bigger and stronger I became, the more attention I got. Soon I turned to steroids to increase my size and strength, and Big Mike was born. People couldn’t help but notice me; I was huge—your typical meathead. Everywhere I went, heads turned, and people called out my name, “Hey, Big Mike! What’s up, man?” I loved it!
In addition to the steroids, I began using ecstasy. Big Mike knew how to party. I lived it up, all for the sake of trying to be somebody because, inside, I was pretty sure I was a nobody.
Then, one night, the party ended, and I woke up in complete mental anguish, surrounded by darkness, and terrified to death. My heavy steroid use had led to suicidal depression. The darkness lasted for days, and I couldn’t eat or function normally.
I felt like a guinea pig as doctors searched for a drug to bring my mind back into balance. Eventually, they found the right meds to help me. I knew by that point that alcohol triggered my depression, so I tried not to drink because the darkness terrified me. Occasionally, however, I’d lose control, go out and get drunk, and send myself right back into a living hell. The darkness that enveloped me in January of 2004 almost destroyed me.
This time, it was more intense than ever, and I was overwhelmed by suicidal thoughts. I couldn’t escape from the darkness that controlled my mind.
I kept calling my doctor, begging him to help me. “This stuff is not leaving me, doc! I’m going to die!” I’m thankful for the doctors and all the help the Lord sent my way. It’s only by God’s grace that I came out of that season alive.
I finally realized that if something didn’t change, I was going to die. It was only a matter of time. I ended up attending a local church service where I heard about Jesus and how He could help people like me. When the pastor presented an invitation for people to receive Jesus as their Savior, I went forward, grabbed the microphone, and told everyone I was giving Jesus a try.
That was the start of my journey with God, but it would take another 17 years before I placed Big Mike on the altar, took my eyes off myself, and quit trying to be somebody I wasn’t.
Life was better for a while, though, as I became involved in the church. That year, I met a beautiful girl named Liz. She’s God’s greatest gift to me. I invited her to come to church with me, and she did. Within two years, we were married. That was 2007.
From the very beginning, Liz was all-in with the Lord. But for some reason, the closer she got to God, the further I ran from Him. It wasn’t long before I started slipping into my miserable world again, and for the next 15 years, Liz lived a private hell. I’m so grateful she never gave up on me.
By 2008, my left leg was in excruciating pain, and I decided to amputate it. I had to have two amputation surgeries and endured a lot of pain before I achieved the desired result. Believe it or not, I was back in the gym a week after surgery in a wheelchair. I even took up boxing! I wanted to inspire others not to give up. I wanted my journey to prove that anything is possible. My heart was in the right place, but the desire to be seen was still present.
Still miserable in myself, I’d plan trips to get away and drink. In 2010, after getting drunk, I had another episode of suicidal depression that lasted for days. I was away from my family at the time.
It was so dark and long, I was sure I’d die. Five days later, I finally came out of that pit, and I vowed I’d never get drunk again. That’s the one good thing that came out of that dark season—I’ve stayed sober now for over a decade.
When I wasn’t in the gym building my ego or home making life hard for my wife, I was working for my dad. He had created a position for me in his company, spending thousands of dollars on equipment so that his lost son could manage his vacant warehouses. I mowed, shoveled rocks, washed walls, cleaned ditches, repaired insulation, and removed ant hills.
I knew I was wasting my life. Countless times, I sat on my dad’s mowers and bulldozers and just cried. I’d look at those enormous, vacant warehouses and remember how Dad always said an empty warehouse (one without tenants) was the largest casket in the world. I felt like those warehouses.
I was empty and waiting to be filled with life. And not just any life, but the everlasting, abundant life that Jesus alone can provide (John 3:16; John 10:10). I needed His Spirit to fill me and lead me. And I desperately needed a purpose.
One day a lightbulb went off in my head, and I said to myself, “If Dad’s going to put me to work on these big empty buildings, then I’m going to get them in top shape and find tenants.” I’d never had a thought like that before. Suddenly, I wanted to make Dad proud of me. I’d been such a mess-up my whole life.
Working for my dad, I finally learned the value of work and money. I began learning the business and taking some initiative. Little by little, my hard work paid off. I soon found a small tenant, then a larger one, and then a long-term tenant, paying top dollar.
Looking back, I can see that when I started honoring my dad instead of using him and stealing from him, my life began to change. When I started being faithful in the small things like cutting grass, my life became productive. It’s just like the Bible says in Luke 16:10, if we are faithful in the small things, God will open doors for greater opportunity. Exodus 20:12 also says if we honor our parents, life will go well for us.
Although things were better at work, my relationship with my wife was still strained. We lived in the same house, but emotionally, I was miles away from her and our two children. That is, until God revealed Himself to me in a new way.
With God, there are no coincidences. There are, however, divine appointments. His timing is always perfect.
We had been attending a new church for over a year by then. I enjoyed the message every week, but I had not yet experienced a complete heart transformation. I was a hearer of the Word, but not a doer (James 1:22). God was about to change all that. He was about to take Big Mike down once and for all. And He used my young son to position me for the fall.
I had decided to stay home that Sunday. But then, Asher ran up to me with his beautiful smile and said, “Come on, Daddy, we’re going to church.” He was so excited; I just didn’t have the heart to let him down.
There was a guest speaker that morning, preaching on the power of the Holy Spirit or, as he sometimes said, the Holy Ghost. This is the first time I remember hearing about the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Spirit? Ghost? Come on, man! I had no problem believing in Jesus, being water baptized, or going to church. But all this talk about some Holy Spirit was making me uncomfortable. At the end, the pastor invited anyone who wanted to receive the Holy Spirit to come forward. People flooded the altar, and prayer lines formed.
Looking for distraction, I surveyed the room. I saw my buddy. Since it seemed everyone else was moving around, I left my seat and made my way to him. Liz stayed in our row, silently rejoicing that her stubborn, rebellious husband was surrendering to God. She had been praying I’d encounter the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit for years and was sure this was my moment. But that wasn’t my intention.
I weaved through the crowd and approached my friend. “Hey, bud, what’s up?” But he didn’t respond. Then I realized he was praying. Not only that, but he was in line to receive the Holy Spirit’s power. What?!
I turned to go back to my seat and suddenly found myself standing in front of Pastor Tyler, one of our campus pastors. At that moment, he had become available for prayer—a divine set-up if there ever was one.
I didn’t want prayer, but I found myself saying, “All right, let’s do this.” There was so much noise around us from people praying, that I couldn’t hear well. But I remember Pastor laying his hands on me and calling me out to God by first and last name. After his prayer, I went back to my seat and stood by Liz; she had tears in her eyes.
We went home, and my mind shifted from the morning’s events to business decisions. Liz and I had been flipping houses for years, and I wondered if we should continue. I wrestled with options, and then, mentally exhausted, I plopped on the bed. A friend had been telling me that I needed to pray about my decisions. Maybe it was time.
From my bed, I started talking to God. It was raw and honest. “All right, God, here I am. I’m Yours. Do whatever You want. If Liz and I are supposed to keep flipping houses, just let me know. If not, show me what to do with the money we have.”
At 5:30 the following morning, I noticed texts from my broker, Kevin. He had sent me two potential house-flip listings. I disregarded the texts because the houses were priced too high. We wouldn’t make any profit. Plus, that’s not how I got deals or found house flips.
But Kevin persisted, and before I knew it, I was standing in the driveway of this potential house. I threw out a low offer, thinking it would get shot down. But the owners were ripe to sell, and the deal closed within a week. God sent us excellent workers to do the work quickly. Seventeen weeks later, we sold the house. We still stand in awe of what God did with that project.
A few days into the deal, I remembered the message on the Holy Spirit, the prayer from Pastor Tyler, and that raw prayer on my bed. Shocked, I realized that Kevin’s text had come at the exact time I’d surrendered my business decisions and life to God. When I’d asked God to show me what to do, He had. Was this what the direction, guidance, and power of the Holy Spirit was all about? It had to be. This deal didn’t happen my way. It was God’s way, and it was better.
I realized, too, I was feeling differently about Liz. I was experiencing a love for my wife that I had never felt before. The pastor said the Holy Spirit would infuse me with God’s love for others. He had, and not only for Liz but for everybody. Suddenly, I was a hugger and lover of people too. What?! I loved them more than I loved myself. I wanted to use my resources to bless others.
Since Pastor Tyler prayed for me and I surrendered my life to God, the Holy Spirit has been at work, shining His holy spotlight into my heart and mind, revealing areas that need change. And He’s helping me change. He can help you too.
Many people wander through life, looking for a magic pill to make everything better. I was one of them. But I’m here to tell you, there’s only one way to bring about real-life change and find a life worth living. It’s through surrendering your life to God, building a relationship with His Son Jesus, and relying on His Holy Spirit’s power. The Holy Spirit of God is the change agent. He’s real, and He’s available to you.
Big Mike died the day I surrendered. Since then, I’ve quit shoving my way to the front for the world to see. Instead, I’ve tucked myself away in Christ, and I’ve become a new man. A man filled with peace and love and joy. I finally understand that I’m enough in God’s eyes. I’ve always been enough, and that’s all that matters.
And you know what? You’re enough too. Stop seeking man’s applause. You don’t have to fight to get ahead or be noticed. Take it from me—that’s a never-ending battle. Surrender your life to God and exchange your ways for His. When you do, the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the grave will lift you out of your dead way of life (James 4:10; Romans 8:11).
MIKE WILSON is a commercial warehousing owner and home purchaser/renovator. An avid boxer and weightlifter, Mike is now in the good fight of faith, lifting Jesus everywhere he goes.