Tumbling Down a Dark Staircase


Last updated 2/2/2021 at 2:13pm

Matthew Lancaster on Unsplash

My childhood was dark. First memories are pretty negative. I'm the firstborn of nine children. What I remember of my childhood was fighting, drunkenness and pain. I have a lot of painful memories from when I was a kid.

I do remember the beautiful parts of living on the reservation-how I caught fish and ran with my dog. How I started playing the guitar. But it wasn't until later in life that I came to know Christ and He helped me to live with the terrifying nightmares that weren't nightmares but reality. I lived with them.

My dad was a Korean War veteran. He was hurt in that war, and after he came back home he continued the war in our living room. He'd come home off four-day drunks. I remember hiding under the bed with all my brothers and sisters. I remember putting blankets over them so we couldn't watch what he was doing to my mother.

My mother was standing up to him all night to protect us and coming back to us all bloody. Then cleaning up the floor from his mess.

I remember my dad breaking all my mother's dishes and throwing them at us, busting windows and then passing out in front of us. Stuff like that still scars my memory.

The hardest part was not being able to share it as I went to school. Also, not knowing until high school that there were other Indigenous kids going through similar things with their alcoholic parents. Nobody wanted to hear that; nobody wanted to talk. There were no help groups. It seemed like there was no way out.

I was quite suicidal by the time I was a high school senior. I attempted suicide twice after I left high school. I ran away from my father-not so much away from the reservation as away from him and the type of man he was.

I had a lot of fear as a young man. Fearful of growing up to be a man. Wondering what a man was. Does a man rape? Is a man violent? Is a man a drunk? All these images that my father presented me were totally negative. I really didn't want to become a father or a man. I was really twisted when I got out of high school.

I was a virgin and totally drug- and alcohol-free. I didn't have any of those problems until I gave in to peer pressure in my sophomore year of college. It just all opened up.

All of the dark sides of my dad came back to me. I went through four years of tumbling down a dark staircase.

I'm just glad that I'm alive today. I know that God was watching over me.

I'm amazed at God-how much He loved us in the deepest darkest sin. How He watches after His children and He's with them always.

I've always felt from the time I was a child that I knew God. But I really didn't. I never looked into His eyes. I never walked down the road with Jesus. But I spent a lot of time with people who were suffering. I guess that's what God wanted me to do.

When I was in my drug period, I made friends with prostitutes; they were friends of mine. Of course, they were suffering from drug addictions, being beaten and from abusive homes like I was.

When I heard their stories and why they were doing what they were doing, I cried with them. I identified immediately with their pain.

I don't know how God pulled me through this stuff, but I believe the gifts He gives us, such as art, music, dance, whatever that may be-for me it was my music and my art-got me through those horrible years. Somehow I knew it was a gift. I knew it wasn't me even though I didn't know the Lord. I knew that my music wasn't from my talent. It was from somewhere else.

Who had given these songs to me? How could I play and survive on my own? I knew it was from God. I think He worked in that realm to keep me from falling apart.

My wife wasn't a Christian when I first met her but she ended up going to a Bible study somewhere in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where we were living at the time. I remember coming home after playing gigs all night, getting home at two in the morning, trying to make a living. She always looked like she had a real peaceful look on her face; she had real peace.

One day I asked her, "How come you always look so happy? What's the big deal?"

"It's because of this book," she replied. "I'm reading the Word of God."

"Yeah, right!" I shot back. "You and those holy rollers!"

I'lI never forget the night I first experienced God in His fullness. My wife asked me to come to church with her. I didn't want to go.

"I don't really want to go," I answered her. "I've just got a Levi jacket. I've got these cowboy boots. I wear jeans and I don't have a suit and tie. I've got long hair and I feel like everybody will stare at me and poke fun at me."

"Do you love me?" she said.

"Yes, I do." I responded.

"Do you love God?"

"Yes," I said, believing that I did because I never hated Him.

"Then will you come to church for me and for God? Just one night?"

I agreed.

I'll never forget when I walked in I saw these people and they were dressed nicely and I felt really intimidated right away. The organ was playing and the church was getting full.

"Renee," I said to my wife, "take me to the front."

I don't know what made me do that, but I went right to the front row. That night when the invitation was given for people to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, I went to the altar. Just thinking about that right now causes tears to well up as I think of how much I've been through, how I wasted so much time to come to that point.

I went up and accepted Christ that night. Wow! That was the changing point for me. I've been through ups and downs since then, but I know now that my sins are forgiven. I know who my Savior is. I know now who to talk to, who to go to in times of need.

Before, all I did was turn and cry out, "Is anybody listening to me, man?" But no one could understand my pain.

I want to let other Indian people know that the beauty of this is that the world isn't going to change. It's what changes on the inside. You become a new man, a new woman. The old is dead.

The world is as cruel as it ever was. But when you're walking as a new man in that world, you see things differently for the first time.

There is hope-you can make it. You will survive.

Just let the tears go, cry it out and look to the Lord. He'll lead you out of the pain. He'll put you on another path.

Let us thank the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It was through His loving-kindness that we were born again

to a new life and have a hope that never dies. This hope is

ours because Jesus was raised from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3, NLV)

For more inspiring stories of Indigenous people who have overcome life's trials and grown spiritually, order Conquering Indian.

See page 19.


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