The sun dimmed behind the approaching train. My heart clamored to escape my ten-year-old body as sweat collected under my nose. Bending my knees, I readied myself to sprint. I can make it, I told myself. Just one more second… Go!

That was a real train, and I did make it…but the adrenaline rush that followed ignited an insatiable desire to tempt fate that ran my life for a long time. For decades, I lived alongside the tracks where poor decisions are made. I knew better, but like Jacob in the Bible, I wrestled with the Creator of heaven and earth (Genesis 32:24). I wanted what I wanted, and I did what I had to, to get it.

Like Jacob before he surrendered to God, I too was a deceiver. I dodged trains, bullies, and cops with one goal: to get away with, well, everything. And all the while, I upheld a glimmering image of success.

Life on the edge was exhausting and costly—and then came the train I couldn’t dodge. The financial, legal, and marital problems I’d been ignoring all climbed aboard an express locomotive headed straight for me. I knew I was done. That’s when I remembered God.

Desperate, I closed my eyes and prayed, “God, if You’re real, snap Your fingers and make all my problems go away.” Somewhere in the depths of my toxic, deluded heart, I actually believed that when I opened my eyes, God would have rescued me…but He didn’t. He let the train wreck happen.

The God who could have changed everything, changed nothing. I ended up in jail, had to attend rehab, and paid some hefty fines. I wasn’t happy.

Sometimes it takes God a long time to do something suddenly.

God knew best because He knew me. He saw right past my lies and straight into my prideful and rebellious heart. He knew that unless I faced the hard consequences, I’d just keep jumping in front of other destructive trains.

My wild and rebellious ways emerged early in life, as you’ve read. I was a small, introverted, emotional kid with an oddly large head, and I received my fair share of bullying in school. That bullying led to more insecurities and an identity crisis. I fought back by setting out to be successful and prove my enemies wrong.

God planted a seed of success in the quiet characteristics that attracted bullies. They also grabbed the attention of influential people like the instructor of the Marine Corps Junior ROTC. He saw something in me and put me in charge of tasks and people. Leadership skills took root and grew.

Promotion came quickly. I was awarded the Legion of Valor Bronze Cross as the number one MCJROTC cadet across six states. I excelled in baseball and had excellent grades too. The odds for success were in my favor.

After high school graduation, I headed to Virginia Tech and enrolled in the Corps of Cadets where I quickly became an esteemed Cadre Corporal. But I had an issue with authority and lacked respect for the juniors and seniors over me. My bad attitude and rebellious spirit led to conduct unbecoming a Marine Corps officer.

During the summer of my junior year, I started drinking and drugging. Then, I started selling drugs and transporting trunkloads of the stuff across state lines. I was keeping up with the rich kids, and my grades quickly took a back seat to seeing how far I could push the limits. Criminal activity was exciting. College dropout became my identity; dealer my job title.

I became more confident and emboldened with every slip past the police. Like a gangster in the movies, I soon believed I was untouchable.

About that time, a girl I had met before my life of crime circled back into my life. Somehow, Sonia, a godly young woman, still carried the same admiration she had felt for me years before. We started dating in 2001.

Not long after 9/11, I had a startling brush with the law. Late one night, I was driving intoxicated from a bar to a friend’s house, when blue lights erupted in my rearview mirror. Seeing the repurposed CD case containing thousands of dollars of dope on the seat, I quickly tossed it out the window and pulled over.

I sat nervously in my seat while one officer approached the car and another searched the ground with his flashlight. Surely I was about to be handcuffed and hauled off to jail. The officer noticed the smell of alcohol on my breath and asked to perform a field sobriety test. Somehow, I passed. Leery of my sobriety, the officer instructed me to park my car and walk home since I lived nearby. I did, but my mind was focused on that abandoned coke every step of the way.

When the sun arose, I crept through the neighborhood and approached my car. There, in plain sight, was the case that could send me to prison. Paranoia hit hard. I was sure the cops were lying in wait, watching me through their binoculars. Only when I was confident the coast was clear did I approach my car, snatch up the case, and drive away. That train was way too close for comfort.

My new relationship with Sonia, the uncertainty of the country’s safety due to 9/11, and my most recent close call severely curbed my appetite for dealing drugs. I sold the rest of my stash and discreetly left the game.

Within three weeks, I enlisted in the Marine Corps but continued to party hard and get high. Somehow, I passed the drug test and was admitted to boot camp. While on active duty, I married Sonia, had two children, and tried to project success. I finished my undergrad degree and earned an MBA. I was drug free, but my alcohol issues had grown.

I was arrested multiple times for alcohol-related incidents while in the Corps, but the arrests happened off base, so the commanders had no idea. I was still playing chicken, still dodging those trains. I was eventually honorably discharged, but I left the Corps in worse moral shape than when I started.

Back in Virginia, life looked good…at least on the outside. I was a functioning alcoholic whose heart, ego, and soul were a mess. Within one year of being discharged, I had accumulated two DUIs, a show-cause charge, and multiple convictions…and I met that locomotive.

I know now that it was God’s grace that kept me from becoming a Marine Corps officer. I was too full of myself, thus unfit to lead. Pride worked like a cancer in my heart, affecting every decision I made and blinding me to the cloud of destruction looming over me (Proverbs 11:2; 16:5,18; 29:23). The fact that my marriage survived is a testament to God’s grace and the love of my wife.

Second only to the Lord Jesus, Sonia is the greatest blessing of my life. She loves the Lord and, for reasons still unclear, loves me. God called her into my life when I was at my absolute worst, and He used her to reflect the love of Jesus to me long before I came to know Him personally.

I didn’t make it easy, but Jesus kept her strong and committed to me even though I failed to honor her and our marriage vows. Sonia spent countless hours praying for me through my years of arrogance, alcoholism, and arrests. And it was her love that finally broke through to my rebellious heart.

The Bible says faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17). It’s true.

Hearing about the goodness of God at home and witnessing His grace operating in Sonia’s life helped bring me to faith. So did the testimonies of addicts in Alcoholics Anonymous and other stories about God’s healing power. Hearing scripture built my faith too. I clung to 2 Timothy 1:7. It promises that I can have God’s power, love, and a sound mind for myself.

On January 24, 2010, I surrendered my life to Jesus. I left the world’s train tracks and sought God’s rails—His guardrails of purpose, provision, and protection. His line, narrow as it may be (Matthew 7:13), has led me down a path of life and success (John 10:10), instead of death and destruction.

God and His Living Word have transformed me—a prideful, selfish man with integrity issues, into a leader. He has blessed Sonia and me in the executive world and at home. Today, we have four children and both lead successful businesses.

My greatest privilege is teaching other CEOs, their executive teams, and business owners how to apply God’s Word and lead like Jesus in the marketplace. The guardrails God set out in His Word never fail to lead to success. (See Joshua 1.)

Maybe like me, you’ve spent years dodging trains. Trust me, the consequences will eventually catch up to you. There’s a better way. Get on the right track, God’s track. Purpose, provision, protection, and a host of other blessings like salvation, freedom, success, abundance, and a new identity are on His line.


Jerry Howard is an executive mentor, speaker, and author whose mission of God is to share the Gospel of Jesus and to “go and make disciples.” Jerry owns multiple businesses and founded iNTREPiD iMPACT Team, a comprehensive leadership coaching and business consulting agency. He is a licensed healthcare executive and has successfully overseen multiple post-acute healthcare centers. He can be reached at