“Go for it! Have some fun! You deserve this. Everybody has it better than you. Your mom’s sick. Your dad’s a drug addict. God cheated you. Life cheated you. Everybody cheated you.”
Anger and self-pity fueled me for decades. It never mattered that I knew that what I was doing was wrong. My inner voice always urged me to move forward. I was a victim, and the world owed me.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve felt sorry for myself. It started in elementary school when I began comparing my home life to what I imagined my peers experienced. I could never pinpoint exactly what they had that I didn’t, but I knew it was better. I lost sight of any good thing in my life and focused only on the negative.
I loved my family and knew they loved me, but our home was dysfunctional and chaotic. Dad was a full-blown crack cocaine addict and alcoholic. His addiction brought much grief into our home, especially for my older brother, whom Dad abused. My brother was my father’s stepson; perhaps that’s why he targeted him so fiercely. Whatever the reason, it made me uncomfortable because Dad treated me like the golden child.
Dad’s addiction led him in and out of jail and eventually to prison. It also caused us to move a lot. By the time I was 15, we had moved ten times.
My mother was loving, but she had her own struggles, primarily due to her battle with diabetes. I don’t remember a time when she wasn’t in intense pain or homebound. She ultimately became blind and addicted to prescription pain pills. Her addiction and physical misery made it difficult for her to be emotionally present for my brother and me, but she did the best she could.
Extended family provided much-needed support. My grandmother, aunt, and uncle loved our family well. We often attended church together.
I heard many stories about Jesus when I was a kid. Early on, I believed that God had sent His Son to die for me. I even prayed to receive His gift of eternal salvation. But as often happens, my Christian faith stopped at my head and never settled in my heart.
I had no relationship with God outside of the church, nor was I interested in developing one. To me, God was to blame for the chaos in my home, especially Mom’s sickness. She passed when I was 15, and that was just proof that God didn’t care about us.
Dad was in prison then, and my brother had moved from West Virginia to Ohio. I felt so alone, lost, and overwhelmed by the uncertainty of my future. Where was God, and why was He allowing me to endure such hardships?
Anger pumped through my veins as I recounted how He had cheated me.
My Aunt Kathy and Uncle Herb, a kind Christian couple, welcomed me into their home. They loved, accepted, and supported me daily, and they modeled God’s sacrificial love and faithfulness. Through them, I learned the benefits of hard work and integrity and experienced a stable home life for the first time.
But the anger, resentment, and self-pity inside kept me from accepting their love or God’s gift of a new life. I spent the best years of my life at my aunt and uncle’s home, yet I wasn’t satisfied. By focusing only on the things I didn’t have, I forfeited the very things I had longed for in a family.
During my two years in their home, I partied, smoked, cussed, and messed around with girls. I occasionally dabbled in weed. Tired of their watchful eye, I devised a plan for my brother to obtain legal guardianship of me. Because I was 17, I could make that foolish choice without my aunt and uncle’s permission. They knew it would not end well for me as my brother was involved with drugs too.
The court granted my request, and I moved to Ohio. My brother enrolled me in high school, but after only six months, I dropped out and dove headfirst into a life of destruction. I traded weed for methamphetamines, and for the next 13 years, I served a harsh master.
I did whatever I had to do to satisfy my addiction, including manufacturing and selling the drug myself. My choices caught up with me when I was 30, and I was arrested. It was the first time I’d ever been in serious trouble, and there I was, facing prison time.
While in solitary confinement in jail, I came across a Bible. I opened it a few times, but my heart of stone couldn’t receive anything it had to offer. I still blamed God for my miserable life.
The day before my sentencing hearing, my lawyer visited and told me he was getting me a great deal. His promises brought me a sense of hope. That night I decided I’d better make one more deal. “God,” I said, “if You’ll come through for me tomorrow, I’ll follow You. Do this for me, and I’ll trust You. I’ll even read the Bible.”
But God wasn’t playing my Let’s Make a Deal game.
The lawyer didn’t show up for court. Instead, some wet-behind-the-ears, state-appointed attorney represented me. This new guy knew nothing about my case, and the judge sentenced me to a mandatory three years in prison with no possibility of early release. I sat in disbelief as life as I knew it came to an end.
The officer took me back to solitary confinement. The clanging of the chains connected to my hands and feet was the only sound in the corridor. As I shuffled, I searched for some emotion but felt numb.
Back in my cell, I punched the wall to feel something. Anything. Nothing. I turned on the small 5-station radio in my cell. I couldn’t stand the silence.
“Drunk on a Plane” by Dierks Bentley echoed through the cell. I quickly changed the station. I wasn’t in the mood. Suddenly, “How He Loves” by David Crowder Band rang through the emptiness. It’s a song about the unconditional love of God, and the words brought me to my knees.
It was a surreal moment. Years of anger and resentment toward God drained from my heart in tears. I was so tired of fighting for my rightful place in this world. It had only led to one painful, lonely, rock-bottom place after another.
In that humble posture, I heard God’s voice. “Trust Me anyway.”
I reached toward the small window at the top of my cell and surrendered to the love of Jesus. “Okay, God. I will trust You anyway!”
Immediately, His presence engulfed me and the space around me. Peace replaced years of frustration and fear. Love replaced hatred and bitterness. Suddenly, unexpectedly, I no longer felt like a victim. It was an instantaneous transformation of the heart.
Back in general population, the guys immediately knew something was different.
“What in the world happened to you?” they asked. Just a few days before, I’d been dealing and stealing. Now, I wasn’t even cussing.
From then on, I read the Bible daily and sought God’s will. I was about to spend three years in prison and—I must admit—I was afraid. But knowing God would be walking through those prison doors with me brought comfort, courage, and confidence (Deuteronomy 31:8).
I wanted to honor the second chance God was giving me and do my part to better myself. If I wasn’t willing to invest in myself, I certainly couldn’t expect anyone else to care.
I sensed God telling me, “If you’ll commit yourself and do the work, I will help you get to where you need to be.” Now that was a good deal!
My first commitment was to obtain my GED. Since math had always been a difficult subject for me, I asked another inmate to tutor me. Every day after lunch, this former doctor helped me. It wasn’t easy preparing for the GED, as the test had recently become more complex. I studied for hours daily. It’s like they say: Nothing worth having is easy.
I scored so high on the test that I was asked to tutor other inmates for the GED. I couldn’t believe it. For the first time, I was a leader. That alone was a testament to what God can do.
Not only had He saved my soul, but He helped me understand things I had struggled with before. He was changing me, making me a better man. I found the confidence to pursue a college degree from Ashland University. They offered an associate’s program to incarcerated people that other universities would accept.
I studied hard and was amazed when I made the dean’s list. I’d never cared to apply myself in school, so I’d had no idea what I could do academically. Once released from prison, I completed my education and received my associate’s degree from Ashland.
God’s Spirit continually reminded me, “You’re worth the work, Ronnie.”
I had never felt worthy of anything good. Nor had I believed I could ever be anything other than a drug addict. But God thought differently about me. He didn’t see an addict or a boy raised in poverty who’d lost his mom and dad. He saw a son whom He loved.
Believing I was worthy helped me continue down this new path. It wasn’t always easy. There were many times, especially after I was released from prison, that I was tempted to quit college and return to where I’d been. But God kept spurring me on. “You’re worth the work, Ronnie! Keep pressing forward with Me.”
After I graduated from Ashland in 2018, I became a youth pastor at a local church. I wanted to help kids discover their worth in God.
For so long, I had wanted nothing to do with Him, and now, I was bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others! People used to cross the street to avoid me. Now parents and youth were coming to me for advice. It was incredible.
Only God could transform this dirty, lying, and conniving manipulator into a man other people trusted.
New doors began opening for me, and I left my youth pastor position to travel nationwide, sharing my story. I also took a job at Christian Healthcare Ministries. God brought promotion after promotion as I stayed faithful. It’s just like Luke 16:10 promises: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (NIV). Today, I am over the training and development of more than 300 employees.
This incredible new life started with a simple: “Okay, God, I’ll trust You anyway.”
The moment I died to myself and my perception of life, God raised me. He gave me new eyes and a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26) and set my feet on a new path (Proverbs 3:5–6). And as I humble myself before Him daily, God continues to lift me (James 4:10).
Not too long ago, I had John 3:30 tattooed on my arm. It helps me remember the important words of John the Baptist about Jesus. “He [Jesus] must become greater; I must become less” (NIV).
John knew the secret to life: more of Jesus, less of self. It’s the only way to experience the abundant life Jesus promises in John 10:10.
How about you? Will you choose to trust God anyway? Will you lay down your anger and disappointments, uncurl your fists, and open your heart to the One who loves you—even if life hasn’t happened like you thought it should? And will you believe that you are worth a better life?
Right now, your experiences might have brought you lower than you ever imagined possible. I know. I’ve been there. But I’ve learned that with Christ, rock bottom is a great place to lay a foundation for your new life (Matthew 7:24–27).
God’s got good plans in store for you (Jeremiah 29:11). How can you experience them? Remember John 3:30. More of Him and less of you.
Trust God today. When you do, He won’t waste any time restoring and rebuilding your life.
I won’t promise His plans will be easy. But no matter what you face, God’s goodness will meet you there. And His grace will help you move forward to great heights.
Don’t focus on that thing you never had. You’ll miss the better thing God has for you today.
RONNIE HOPKINS is the training and development coordinator for Christian Healthcare Ministries. He is also a spokesperson and advocate for educational opportunities in prison.