A Testimony by Michael
Michael is a young man who was stealing for 16 years from people close to him. He didn’t need the money; he stole because of the rush it brought him. It was a way to gain relief from his guilt and shame. Michael spent time in jail, had counseling and felt bad about hurting his family. He tried harder and harder but did not find freedom on his own. As a result of two prayer sessions, Michael has been completely free from stealing and the desire to steal for over nine years.
Jesus led Michael from the “fruit” of stealing, through his:
(Rescued by God’s Light)
By: Michael Smith
“Therefore if the Son makes (sets) you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:36 NKJV
I needed to be set free but didn’t know how. Desperately, repeatedly I had tried to change but Satan had me tied with his chains of deceptions: fear, guilt, shame, and hopelessness and I couldn’t get free.
From the time I was about five years old I had been struggling with my secret and now, at twenty, I was giving up on life. Hopeless for a change in my life, I knew I was headed for prison where I knew I wouldn’t survive because more, of what had caused my hopeless condition, awaited me – sexual abuse – and I knew I couldn’t handle it, I just wouldn’t handle it and I was going to end up dead. So now the devil’s solution of suicide was looking like the only option I had.
How had I gotten to this point? My Dad has told me that until I was about five years old, I had been a happy, cheerful child. One that would love to come into a room where he was sitting and run over and jump into his lap, laughing and giggling, to get one of his bear hugs. But that had all changed now. Something had happened to me and I needed help but I had sworn to myself that I would go to my grave before I would tell anyone.
I believed that I would be killed if I told anyone about it. And, as time went on, I began to feel shame and guilt that it was my fault and I began to believe that even my parents wouldn’t understand or accept me anymore if I were to tell them. I was always angry underneath, I didn’t want to be hugged and I couldn’t control my desire to steal. I knew it was wrong, I didn’t need to steal, it often didn’t make sense and I often stole without regard to whether or not other people saw me. I can still remember to this day almost everything I ever stole in my life. I could sit down and write out pages of what I have stolen and from whom I stole it. The first thing I ever stole was several bags of soda pop cans. I stole them hoping that my parents would realize that not only what I had done was wrong but also that I had done it because this guy had done something wrong to me.
At the time, I collected cans and recycled them to make extra money. And even though I had collected quite a few cans my Dad found the bags in the backyard and asked me where I had gotten them. After dancing around the question and lying, I finally told him where I had gotten them from but that I thought the guy was throwing them out and I also told him that I didn’t know that the person recycled them, but I knew good and well that he also recycled. My Dad had me take them back and return them.
The second items I stole were some GI Joe toys. I, still to this day, don’t remember putting them in my backpack. That’s the one time I don’t remember stealing. We were playing at a daycare and when we were done, two toys were missing. We looked everywhere for them. The teacher searched my bag and found them. I got in trouble and ended up going back the next day with my Dad and apologizing to the kid I took them from.
This process kept growing and growing. At first it was fear, then it was to find relief from the guilt and shame I constantly felt. The rush that came from stealing was a relief from the terrible feelings I felt. I couldn’t go more than two months without stealing. Sometimes I stole several things in a day, everyday for weeks. My Dad would eventually catch me and I would confess everything after some persuasion. This became the trend in my life for the next fifteen plus years. I’d steal until I eventually got caught by my Dad and then I’d make everything right with everyone I’d stolen from and I would be fine for a little while. Then I would be back at it again until my Dad would catch me again. No one, or anything, was safe around me. I stole from my own parents, sister, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, friends, and even from God at church.
Occasionally I would steal from a store. I was completely out of control. It didn’t matter how many spankings I got I couldn’t stop stealing. I got a huge rush right after I would steal and that was probably one reason why I kept doing it. I began to enjoy the sneaking around and the rush I would get while stealing. It was a relief from the other feelings that were constantly in the back of my mind. It didn’t matter if I was the only one in the house, and no one else could have done it, I still stole. There was no logic for my stealing, especially when I got older. I worked hard and had money saved up and was never hurting financially. Often I would either throw or give away the items I stole.
My stealing continued until it came to a head, or so I thought, on December 15th just after my 18th birthday. I was working at Best Buy as a cashier and I stole $500 from the register when no one was looking. When we went to count my till for the night I swiped some cash from another register that was sitting there, to try to cover up the amount I had stolen. My till was short and they sent me home while they tried to figure out what had happened. It was the Christmas rush and the day had been hectic. I came back the next day and I was called into the office and asked some questions. I could have lied and gotten away with it because they had no proof, but I confessed. They called the cops and I was arrested. My Dad had come to pick me up from work that night and was waiting for me in the parking lot until my shift would be over. He was there when I was taken out of the store in handcuffs. I remember looking over to the left where my Dad was parked and seeing his head drop. That hit me really hard. I never wanted my Dad to be disappointed in me; I wanted him to be proud of me.
My Dad got out and walked over to the officer and identified himself and asked the officer what was happening. When the office told him, he asked me if I had done it. I nodded my head, yes. The officer then put me in the back of his patrol car and took me to jail. I later found out that if I had stolen one penny less, I would have been given a ticket and sent home. But because it was $500, it was a felony.
I got booked into the city jail. They took my shoes and put me in the cell. They made sure that the heavy door slammed extra hard. I’ll never forget that sound. I hated having my shoes taken away because the concrete floor was super cold and I was freezing. After several hours they brought me out and took my picture and finger printed me. Then it was back in the cell for several more hours. About 3 AM they transported me to Orange County Jail (OCJ). There I went through the whole process again. They kept moving us from cell to cell through the booking process. They have a huge row of cells and they keep moving you. I think it’s to keep you from sleeping. They make it as unpleasant as possible.
I remember hearing another prisoner saying that he couldn’t wait to get through the booking process so he would be put in a cell where he could get some sleep. When it was my turn, I went before one of the officers and answered some questions. And, because it was my first arrest, they decided to release me on OR (Own Recognizance). This meant I didn’t have to put up any bail money. After several hours I was released about seven o’clock in the morning. I called my Dad and he came and picked me up. I remember telling my Dad I didn’t want to talk right then, I wanted to go home and sleep. We talked later on that day. I had no idea what to say. My Dad told me that when he came home the night before and told my mom what had happened, she cried a lot. He said that in all the 25 years they had been married, he had never seen her cry like that. That hit me hard but I still couldn’t change.
We had never needed a criminal attorney and didn’t know any so we ended up having to look in the phone book for an attorney. We came across an advertisement by a Christian Attorney in the yellow pages and decided to meet with him. We ended up hiring him and he went to court with me. After numerous trips to court it came time for judgment and I was given seven months informal probation and 20 days community service which meant working for Cal Trans picking up trash on the side of freeways in those bright orange blazers. As I was in college at the time, it took a few months of working Sundays and days off from school in order to get my time in. My attorney was very supportive. He held Bible studies once a week at the college I was attending and he invited me to attend the studies, which I did. During all of this time, I was going to church each weekend.
About the time that my court mandated service for Cal Trans was ending, the opportunity for going to Thailand as a student missionary and teaching English as a volunteer for a year came up. I finally decided that I would go. Perhaps teaching poor children out in the jungles of Thailand would change my spirituality and I would finally be able to conquer this demon. But throwing myself into doing good deeds didn’t change me because I still believed the devil’s lies. Even overseas I found opportunities to steal and I was no better off there than here in the States.
There is no doubt about it, God blessed me in so many ways while I was there and I wouldn’t change that experience for anything in the world, and despite God saving my life on at least five different occasions and even my doing the Lord’s work full time didn’t make a difference. Not allowing God to show me the lies Satan had me believing in only worsened my plight. One of the vivid memories I have of Thailand is that of vendors at the open-air markets and temples with little sparrows in wicker cages and people buying them and setting them free in order to gain merit. I felt like one of those caged sparrows and I wanted someone to set me free.
I finished the school year in Thailand and came home. I hired my Christian attorney again and went into court and got the charges erased from my record. But I continued stealing until I got arrested a second time on September 10th, just ten days before my 20th birthday. Once again, I had stolen from a friend and this time it was reported to the police. I got arrested on a Friday, which meant I would have to sit in jail over the weekend but with Monday also being a holiday, I had to sit in there until Tuesday morning. While I sat in jail I had lots of time to think. My parents came to visit me several times while I was in jail. Once again, my Dad had no idea who to call for an attorney. We felt embarrassed about calling my former attorney. He had told me that it would not go easy for me the second time around and that I needed to spend more time with God and studying the Bible in order to not succumb again. I had tried to follow his advice and had done a reasonable job of it but I hadn’t changed. Now I was going to need a more aggressive attorney who knew more of the ins-and-outs of the legal system.
While sitting in jail my Dad narrowed the list of attorneys down to several possibilities but was finding it difficult reaching a decision so he asked me to pray. I’ve got to tell you, praying seemed useless to me. I had prayed a lot for help to stop stealing, and for other things. It seemed like no one was listening to me. I didn’t see or hear any answers. When my parents came to see me they said my sister didn’t want to come because she didn’t think she could stand to see me behind bars. She wrote me a letter telling me she loved me and was praying for me. Hearing that and seeing how hard it was on my parents pushed me over the edge. Sixteen years of pure hell was enough and I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t stand letting my parents down yet again and seeing the pain in their eyes. There was no hope at all in my future.
I had seen lots of counselors. I had been to several Christian psychologists and had been referred to a criminal psychologist, who also happened to be a Christian, spending hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars on them and still I had not been cured of “my disease.” I made up my mind in jail that I was going to end it all. There was no hope for me, I had looked all over for help and was still screwing up.
Sometime on Monday a verse, I had heard hundreds of times before and never thought twice about, popped into my head: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” I didn’t believe it at first. I thought to myself, that can’t be true. WHERE ARE YOU?! I wrestled back and forth for the longest time.
The devil was definitely battling it out in my head. It was all out war. I kept trying to claim that verse and every time I tried to do that a voice kept telling me, “He doesn’t love you. He doesn’t care. Where is He when you need Him most? Nowhere! It’s hopeless; you’re never going to get help for stealing.”
It got to the point after an hour or two that my head was just throbbing. I couldn’t take it any more. I did pushups trying to clear my head and to rid myself of the frustration and anger. I did pushups till I collapsed from pure exhaustion. Still my head hurt. I finally curled up into a little ball on my cot and began to cry. I cried out to God in my head. Lord, help me! Almost instantly my head stopped hurting and I felt a peace come over me and I drifted off to sleep.
The next day I was to appear in court so, on Tuesday morning, I was transferred to the courthouse and placed in a holding cell. The lawyer my parents had arranged for came to visit me at the courthouse. He introduced himself and told me what was going to happen. Finally about 2 p.m. I went before the judge and my lawyer was able to arrange my release. So at 5:30 p.m. I was released. My parents met me and we went home.
That night I had a serious talk with God. It went something like this: “God, You have to help me! I cannot continue like this anymore. I’m self-destructing and my family is agonizing over me because of it. This cannot continue. You have to help me and I have to see that You have helped me, or I will end it myself. Also, I’m facing prison time since this is my second offense. If I am going to live, You have to get me out of it somehow. I don’t want to meet ‘Big Bad Bubba’ in my cell one night. If I go to prison I will end it. Help me or it’s over. I have to see You working in no uncertain terms.”
Over the next six months I was in and out of court before I was sentenced. I signed a plea bargain agreement saying that I pled guilty to grand theft but that the court would put a lid on my sentence of 120 days. Before the agreement was suggested, they were talking about one year in prison. What the Lid meant, was that I could not be sentenced to more then 120 days in prison. A couple of weeks later my lawyer met with the judge and the prosecutor and they said that they were going to sentence me to 90 days in county jail and 3 years probation. My lawyer said he was going to try to get me into a private jail that he knew about.
When the final verdict came down my lawyer had negotiated that I would do the full 120 days but that I could serve the time in the private jail with three years probation. The judge and prosecutor agreed and I was sentenced.
My lawyer came back and said, “This is much better. The private jail has people with minor offenses and you’ll be able to sleep with both eyes shut at night.” It wasn’t cheap though, $75 a night, but I was able to sleep at night and get out for the hours during the day when I would be at work and then I would have to come back after work.
It was somewhat like a hotel, check out in the morning and check back in at night, except, I wasn’t free to go anywhere I wanted or do whatever I wanted. There were restrictions, but God solved the second part of my prayer. I was able to serve my time with no problems and get out. I wasn’t able to get out of doing time, but I was safe and my parents and friends were able to visit me on Sundays at the private jail.
A month or so after I got out of jail, a friend approached me and said that she had heard from a classmate of mine that I had been arrested and was it true? I told her “yes” and I told her a little bit about my problem. She then called her mom over and her mother told me that she had been through a powerful form of intercessory prayer ministry seminar herself and that it helps with all kinds of issues that people deal with. She told me some more about it and I decided that I’d like to try it. I needed to try it, I had to try it, I was drowning and I knew it. I had served the Lord for a year in Thailand, I had been reading the Bible and numerous spiritually uplifting books, and I had been attending church every week but I hadn’t changed. It was obvious that despite all I had done, I couldn’t change. It was just a matter of time before I would get arrested again, for the third time, and this time I would be sent away for a long time and it wouldn’t be at the local “hotel”.
This was different than anything else I had tried before. I scheduled a meeting with Paul who was about two hours away. I had read through a booklet outlining the process that he had sent me and, together with my Dad, who was going to be my prayer partner drove up to see him. Paul and his prayer partner, Guenter, an emergency room physician who felt strongly about the power of intercessory prayer and was willing to give up his afternoon to be a part of this session, were waiting for us. We talked for just a bit about the process, the suffering of Christ and His power to bring healing and wholeness to me. Then we started to pray, asking the Lord to “search my heart and try my thoughts, revealing anything hurtful within me” (Psalm 139:23-24), asking God to reveal the “root” (Luke 3:9) so He could “set me free” (John 8:32) as He placed His truth in my “innermost being” (Psalm 51:6).
We first prayed that God would influence and direct the process we were about to go through and we asked Him to send His angels to provide a hedge around us so Satan and his angels could not interfere. Within 30 seconds I had two memories, involving the first things I had ever stolen. I spoke about both of those memories and then we prayed that God would enlighten me by showing me His truth about those experiences or take me to another memory.
He then took me to the memory of the event when I was 5 years old and an older guy in my neighborhood sexually abused me. I kept trying to put that memory out of my head, I said, “God, You’re wrong, give me another memory. This can’t be right.” I had never forgotten that memory, but I had promised myself that I was never, ever going to tell anyone in my lifetime about it. I was going to take that memory and situation with me to the grave and, in fact, for sixteen years I hadn’t told anyone about that event. No matter how hard I tried to get rid of the memory, I couldn’t. I had fought so hard to keep that promise to myself and it was going to go with me to the grave.
I began to cry because the memory and pain of that event and the shame that had been building up over the past sixteen years just overwhelmed me. I sat there crying for over two hours and tried to get the words out of my mouth about what I was seeing, but I couldn’t. It was like someone took away my ability to speak. I kept opening my mouth, but no words would come out. Fortunately my Dad had brought along a note pad to write notes on and I grabbed it and wrote down that this guy had abused me. My Dad read it to the prayer group and we prayed about it. We prayed that God would enlighten me on it and show me the lies that Satan had told me or take me to another memory. Nothing else came. The memories had come easily before, but it was like someone had turned the switch off. I felt like God was saying to me, “This is it and that’s enough for today. You need to deal with this and come back another day to finish up.” God knew exactly how I was feeling and what I could handle.
I was emotionally drained. I could not have continued on nor would I have been able to have processed anything in my mind. I ended up sleeping the whole way home. But I felt like a huge burden had been lifted off of me and I felt a wonderful peace come over me. After I woke up from my nap I felt rejuvenated. I had never felt so much joy in all my life. I had finally released the burden and let go of something I was never meant to carry.
I went back the next week and was able to piece together some of the pieces. The first thing I ever stole was from the person that had molested me and he had told me that if I ever told anyone what he had done that he would kill me. Being five years old, I believed him. I was afraid to tell anyone, fearing that my life would be ended. Later, because of the tremendous shame I felt, I was also ashamed to tell my parents, thinking that they would think less of me and would not understand.
These were lies that Satan had told me, lies that couldn’t have been further from the truth but Satan had led me to believe them. I had started out trying to get even and over the years when the burden wouldn’t lift, I had tried repeatedly to get relief and a rush by stealing. Perhaps it was a cry for someone to notice by trying to bring attention to what he had done to me, without saying it. I usually stole from family and friends, which is another reason why I was so determined to take my life. It was destroying all my friendships and relationships and, but for the grace of God, I would have ended the destructive process by taking my own life. God showed me the lies that Satan had ingrained into me. Lies which I believed and that were destroying my life. We prayed that God would reveal to me the lies that Satan had led me to believe and that He would release me from them. He did and I haven’t stolen since. Like the little sparrow in the cage, He set me free!
I had tried to change my life myself. I read the Bible religiously, I prayed, I went to church faithfully and I tried everything I could think of but all my good deeds and self-help “works” didn’t help change my life because I still believed the lies that Satan had ingrained into me. It wasn’t until God turned His light on Satan’s lies and revealed to me His truth that I changed. “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32
Why settle for the same day-after-day frustration and defeat when God promises full and complete restoration and healing? “I the Lord have called you in righteousness…to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” Isaiah 42:6-7 NIV. Let Jesus Christ make His presence known to you, remove the wounds (the lies Satan puts in your mind) and set you free!
“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” John 8:36
If you, or anyone you know, would like to talk to me about my experience or go through the process yourself, then please contact me. God helped me and I would be more than happy to help you in any way I can.