The scene before me as I sat atop a rock on a high slope was very familiar. Brown hills lay to the left, to the right, and in front of me, toward the west. It was wintertime in southern Mexico, and nature was dormant, waiting for the rainy season to arrive once again.
The rains, when they come in early May, last only long enough for farmers to plant and cultivate their produce, and then vanish quickly away. By December the hills begin to change from green to brown, and the drying soil transitions from dark brown tones to red. To the untrained eye, the winter panorama makes it appear that all nature is dead, but that isn’t reality. Among the layers of shades of brown, life in many forms continues.
To me, the landscape was beautiful, but soon the sun would descend behind the hills and I would be alone, far from everyone. My thoughts longed to dwell upon the scene before me, but I had learned that every time I rejoiced in something beautiful, the misery I was enduring seemed worse.
If I could rewind my life and start again; if I could have another chance to make things right; if I could just clean up the past and start over—maybe my life would be different, I thought.
Once again I reflected on all the harm that my drug and alcohol abuse had brought upon my family and friends, how much sorrow and despair they had endured while trying to help me overcome my addiction. As I sat there, the guilt and remorse intensified. If there were a way I could heal all the hurt I had caused, I would not hesitate to take it. But it was impossible to repair the damage.
No matter how many times I had apologized and asked for forgiveness, I had continued to hurt people. I couldn’t seem to escape my addictions and their consequences. My family and friends had finally chosen not to have me around them anymore.
As daylight turned to dusk, the guilt and remorse turned into loneliness and despair. To combat these feelings, I began reflecting on better days, when as a child I shepherded goats on these same hills. I remembered helping the female goats deliver their babies, and the joy that gave me as I carried the little ones on my shoulders. I also remembered the happiness the newborn goats brought to my family. Every time a newborn came home with me, the whole family would come out to see it and give it a name. I also remembered my mother faithfully waiting for me at the goat gate as I brought the goats back home from the hills. She would smile and say, “Hurry! Supper is ready. You have to eat.”
I looked toward the west as the sun began to sink from sight. Darkness was only moments away. Reflecting on the good days of my childhood had resulted in only temporary peace. Despair once more settled upon my heart.
I had been staying in an old, abandoned building. I trembled inside as I thought about spending another cold night in that place. What scared me most, however, was knowing that I was going to wake up to another day. I had nothing to look forward to. I had lost all that was dear to me—my family, friends, job, and dignity were gone.
I remained where I was, even as darkness began to embrace the place. After all, it would be better to go down to the village later, when the possibility of running into other people would lessen.
I then began to contemplate my life. It had been a long time since I had been sober. Several times I had tried to quit, hoping to achieve a normal life—but all the promises I made to myself, my family, and my friends had turned out to be empty ones. I had asked the “saints” for deliverance, and had even gone to a witch doctor. Nothing worked. As I dwelled on my past failures my situation looked hopeless. A new fear then came over me as I began to see death as the only way out.
Then I thought, What about God? What if He really exists? What if He is out there somewhere and I can call on Him for help? As this possibility took hold in my mind, I began to pray: “God, I’m not sure if You exist. I don’t know where You are. I don’t know anything about You. All I know is that I can’t live this way any longer. I beg You, if You exist and can hear me, please come and show Yourself.”
Nothing happened, so I called out a second time.
“God, if You exist, please come and show Yourself.”
As I finished speaking, something began to happen. My surroundings appeared different. It seemed as if time had stopped, as if nature itself knew that something great was taking place. As I sat there motionless, I began to sense a wonderful, peaceful Presence, and I no longer felt alone. I could not fully understand what was happening, but something in my heart told me that God Himself was there with me. I fell upon my knees and with tears in my eyes said, “So there is a God; this is the God that people talk about.” I prayed, “Thank You, God, for listening to me. Thank You for Your comforting presence.”
I don’t recall how long I knelt there, but I remember descending the hill and heading back to town. Something had changed inside me. A sense of hope had become rooted in my heart. I felt that I could visit my family.
A few days after my encounter with God’s presence, and with the support of my family, I went to an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) rehabilitation center and was diagnosed with a severe addiction to alcohol and other drugs. I was accepted as an inpatient. Three years later, I completed my recovery plan. The God whom I had met in the hills had helped me to stay clean and sober. I was fully detoxed, my mind was clear, and in my heart I had begun to worship the God who delivered me.
I later took Bible studies from an Adventist pastor and concluded that it was Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who had come to the brown hills of southern Mexico to seek and save His lost sheep. My Savior took me upon His shoulders and brought me home.
Today, by the grace of God, I have a loving relationship with my family. They recognize that Jesus has transformed my life. God has also given me many friends who love me and whom I love dearly. He has also opened the way for me to attend Weimar Institute in California, where I am learning how to share my faith, hope, and joy with others. Soon Jesus will send me to be a shepherd—this time not for goats, but for precious souls.