Mar 30, 2023 880 John Edwards

Christ Over Cocaine

Despite growing up as a Baptist, alcohol, drugs and college life threw John Edwards into a whirlwind, but did God abandon him? Read on to find out.

I was born and raised in a Baptist family in midtown Memphis. I never had a lot of friends in school, but I had a lot at church. That’s where my community was. I spent every day with these guys and girls, evangelizing and enjoying all the things that you did as a young Baptist. I loved that period of my life, but when I turned 18, my friendship group dispersed. I was still uncertain about what I wanted to do with my life while most of them went off to college leaving me, for the first time in my life, without a community. I was also at the point in my life where I had to decide what to do. I enrolled at the University of Memphis, a local university, and joined a fraternity. It was then I began to get involved in drinking, drugs, and chasing women. Unfortunately, I filled this void with all the activities that you see in a lot of movies and started drinking and chasing women. One night I made a bad decision–one of the worst decisions of my life–to do cocaine. It plagued me for the next 17 years of my life.

When I met Angela, my future wife, I overheard her say that the man she would someday marry had to be Catholic. I wanted to be her man. Even though I had not been to church for over 10 years, I wanted to marry this wonderful woman. Before we married, I went through the RCIA program and became a Catholic, but the truth of the Catholic Church never took deep roots in me because I was just going through the motions.

As I became a successful salesperson, I had a lot of responsibilities and stress. My income was entirely dependent on the commissions I made on sales and I had very demanding customers. If a fellow worker made a mistake, or caused an issue, I could lose our income. To relieve the pressure, I began to throw myself into drug use at night, but I managed to hide this from my wife. She had no idea what I was doing.

Shortly after the birth of Jacob, our first baby, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She had just two weeks to a couple months to live and that really threw me over the edge. I remember asking God: “How can You let a lying scumbag drug addict like me live, but let someone like her, who has loved You without fail her whole life, die? If that’s the kind of God You are, then I don’t want anything to do with You!” That day, I remember looking up at the sky and saying: “I hate You and I will never worship You again!” That’s the day when I fully turned away and walked away from God.

The Turning Point

I had some customers who were very difficult to deal with. Even at night, there was no respite, with texts threatening to take their business away. All the stress overwhelmed me, and I threw myself into the drugs more and more each night. One night, around two in the morning, I suddenly woke up and sat up in bed. It felt like my heart was going to blow out of my chest. I thought: ‘I’m gonna have a heart attack and die’. I wanted to call out to God, but my proud, selfish, stubborn nature would not give in.

I didn’t die, but I resolved to throw out the drugs and pour out the alcohol…I followed through with that in the morning…only to buy more drugs and beer in the afternoon. The same thing happened over and over again—customers texting, using drugs to fall asleep, and waking up in the middle of the night.

One day, my desire for drugs was so great that I stopped to buy cocaine on my way to pick up my son, Jacob, from my father-in-law’s house! As I drove away from the drug dealer’s house, I heard a police siren! The drug enforcement agency was right behind me. Even while I sat in the police station being questioned with my leg chained to a bench,  I still thought I was going to get out of this. As a super salesman, I believed I could talk my way out of anything. But not this time! I ended up in jail in downtown Memphis. Next morning, I thought it was all just a nightmare, until I hit my head on the steel bunk.

Dangerous Waters

When it dawned on me that I was in jail and not in my home, I panicked. This can’t be happening…everybody’s going to know…I’m going to lose my job…my wife…my kids…everything in my life…” Very slowly, I began to look back over my life and think about how this all began. That’s when I realized how much I had lost when I walked away from Jesus Christ. My eyes filled with tears and I spent that afternoon in prayer. I would later realize that this was no ordinary day. It was Holy Thursday, 3 days before Easter, the day when Jesus chided His apostles when they could not watch one hour with Him as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. While I talked to Him in prayer, I received a deep sense of certainty that Jesus had never left me, even when I had walked away from Him. He had always been with me even in my darkest moments.

When my wife and my mother-in-law came to visit, I was filled with anxiety. I was expecting my wife to say: “I’m done with you. I’m leaving you and taking the children!” It felt like a scene from Law and Order where the prisoner talks on the phone to his visitor on the other side of the glass. As soon as I saw them, I burst into tears and sobbed, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” When she spoke, I could hardly believe my ears. “John, stop…I’m not going to divorce you. It has nothing to do with you, but everything to do with the vows we made in the Church…” However, she told me that I couldn’t come home yet, even though she was bailing me out. My sister was supposed to pick up that evening from jail to take me to my father’s farm in Mississippi. It was Good Friday when I walked out of jail. When I looked up it wasn’t my sister waiting for me but my father. I was nervous to see him but we wound up having the realest conversation we had ever had on the hour and a half car ride down to the farm.

A Chance Encounter

I knew that I had to do something to change my life and I wanted to start with Mass on Easter Sunday. But when I pulled up at the church for the 11 o’clock Mass, no-one was there. I began to hit the steering wheel with my fists in disappointment and anger. For the first time in 10 years, I wanted to go to Mass and nobody was there. Did God care at all? The next moment, a Sister pulled up and asked if I wanted to go to Mass, then she redirected me to the next town where I found the church filled with families. This felt like another crushing blow because I wasn’t with my own family.

All I could think about was my wife and how I longed to be worthy of her. I recognized the priest. The last time I saw him, many years ago, I was with her. When Mass finished, I remained in the pew asking God to heal me and reunite me with my family. When I finally got up to leave, I felt an arm on my shoulder which surprised me, since I didn’t know anybody there. As I turned around, I saw that it was the priest who greeted me warmly, “Hello, John”. I was stunned that he remembered my name because it had been at least five years since our last meeting, and that had lasted for about 2 seconds. He took my hand and told me, “I don’t know why you’re here alone or where your family is, but God wants me to tell you that everything’s going to be alright.” I was flabbergasted. How could he know?

I made up my mind to change my life and go to rehab. My wife came with me when I was admitted and returned to bring me home after 30 days of outpatient care. When my children saw me walk in the door, they cried and threw their arms around me. They jumped all over me and we played until it was time for bed. As I lay in my bed, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude to be there–comfortable in my house with air conditioning and a TV that I could watch whenever I wanted to; dining on food that wasn’t prison slop; and lying in my own bed again.

I smiled as if I was king of the castle until I looked over to Angela’s empty side of the bed. I thought to myself: “I need to change my whole life; stopping the drugs and alcohol isn’t enough.” I opened my bedside table, looking for a Bible and found a book that Father Larry Richards had given me at a conference. I had only read 3 or 4 pages back then, but when I picked it up that night, I couldn’t put it down until I had read it cover to cover. I stayed up all night and was still reading when my wife woke at 6 am. The book quickened my understanding of what it meant to be a good husband and a father. I earnestly promised my wife that I was going to be the man she deserved. That book set me on a course to start reading Scripture again. I realized how much I’d missed in my life and wanted to make up for lost time. I started leading my family to Mass, and prayed for hours on end each night. In the first year, I read over 70 Catholic books in that first year. Little, by little, I began to change.

My wife gave me an opportunity to become the man God called me to be. Now, I’m trying to help other people do the same through my podcast ‘Just a Guy in the Pew’.

On Holy Thursday, Jesus prepared to die, and I chose to die to my old self. On Easter Sunday, I felt that I was also resurrected with Him. We know that satan may be quiet when we’re on a path far away from Jesus. It’s when we start coming closer and closer to Christ that he starts to get really loud. When his lies start to surround us, then we know that we are doing something good. Never give up. Keep on persevering in the love of God, all through your life. You’ll never regret it.

Article is based on the interview given by John Edwards host of “Just a Guy in the Pew” podcast through the Shalom World program “Jesus My Savior”. To watch the episode visit: shalomworld.org/episode/jailed-cocaine-addict-finds-christ-john-edwards



John Edwards

John Edwards

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