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By Dave Franco - July 27, 2012

Fourteen-year-old Michael Dotts was doing his best to fit in at a high school party. It was something he was used to. He tried like crazy to fit in everywhere he went. He noticed that a crowd had converged around a young man who wore a hustler’s smile and one finely threaded coat. He sported a flashy watch that revealed itself every time he handed someone a little bag and took some money in return.

“Who’s that guy?“ Michael wondered. “And why does everyone like him so much?”
When Michael finally got a chance to meet him, things got a little clearer.

“You’re new,” said the suave character in the coat. “You buyin’?”

“Am I buyin’ what?” Michael replied. He handed Michael a bag with a smile and a quick tip of his head. “See ya ‘round,” he said.

Standing there in the middle of the room with a bag in his hands and a quizzical look on his face, Michael suddenly found the answer to his problem. “That’s what I’m going to do,” he thought.

What he was going “to do” was numb the pain of having been molested by an older cousin from the time he was five until he was eleven. The result, among other tragedies, was an acute social awkwardness that plagued his young mind. He would do anything to stop the ache of loneliness. Now he had a plan. The thought of it was exhilarating. 

Soon Michael began running pot for neighborhood dealers and making a few bucks here and there. It wasn’t until he started making deals for himself that he felt the rush that came with instant friends. Smiles came at him from every direction. From the coolest dudes to the hottest girls, he was in the inner circle. 

He had grown up in a Christian home and had given his life to Christ as a young boy, but God had never offered him the kind of excitement he was feeling now. God was not even in the back seat of Michael’s life. He had been left along the road many miles ago.   

When Michael graduated to selling harder drugs, the rush of power was palpable.  With a phone on his shoulder, a gun in his pocket and his hands on a steering wheel, he was a high-powered drug empire in a low-profile, vintage ’57 Bel Air. He was negotiating with associates, making deals, selling, popping and injecting drugs every chance he got. 

In business with a couple of friends, they rented a penthouse in a high rise downtown and they felt like the kings of San Diego. With drug contacts in Mexico requiring that they cross the border, they used all the well-worn tactics that border police look for every day, baggy clothes, drugs forced into seams, girls who stuffed their undergarments with pills and faux compartments in cars. And yet they were never caught.

The way they saw it, they couldn’t be caught. It was the “chumps” that got thrown in the slammer. When you’re this good, you’re good as gold.

With their pockets stuffed with drugs and just enough booze money to buy some attention, they rolled into the San Diego club scene and scored big every night.  After closing they would take the 2 a.m. walk to their cars with so much money, cash would literally fall out of their pockets. Michael couldn’t believe his job was to party.

What could be found inside Michael…read like an inventory list at a police lock up.

His entire life was consumed with just one thing. There were no other thoughts, no other desires. His mind floated in a narcotic high while his body was thumping with the sweaty pressure to better his next deal. Twenty-four hours a day, the poison he was selling coursed throughout his veins. What could be found inside Michael at any given moment read like an inventory list at a police lock up: uppers, downers, barbiturates, meth, acid, pot, XTC, heroin, cocaine, opiates, oxycontin. He began to notice that time started to shrink. The days were flying by like a video on fast forward.

Michael would rather shoot up than eat. He’d rather set up the next deal than sleep. His drug consumption reached levels that should have killed him a hundred times over.

He began to apply pressure to the people on his “owes me” list in a way he hadn’t before. Guys who owed him money could clear their debt if they “collected” from the guys who owed him bigger dollar amounts. He was now running a thug operation.

Michael was 35 pounds lighter than he had been just a year prior. His mind was so impaired from his chemical intake—plus the strain of almost no sleep and very little food, that a switch in his mind seemed to flip. He was now going to burn through everybody around him to get more of what he wanted, money, drugs, access. It almost didn’t matter who you were. If he knew you, he was going to try to burn you. He ruined his relationships with his suppliers above him, his buyers below him, his business partners and even his friends. In a matter of days, he had lost everything he had built up. The money, the penthouse, the car, it was all gone.

A few weeks later, the boy who didn’t like being alone was just that. He was a hollow-eyed junkie walking the streets of El Cajon without a friend in the world. He was still busy trying to score the next deal, however. He had to. There was still a memory to numb.

One morning, even though it had been months since he had let his family hear his voice, he thought of calling and going home. Even though he wasn’t keen on hearing everything his mom would say once she saw his condition, the idea of sleeping in a normal bed did sound worth the grief. He called and they agreed to meet in a church parking lot near where Michael was living.

Laurie and Stan Dotts, who frequently assumed Michael was gone forever, had seen Michael look horrific before. But nothing could prepare them for what they saw that day. Michael was just a boney figure, slouched in the sun. As they pulled up to him, the cross from on top of the church was in view. When Michael got in the car, Laurie pointed directly at the cross and screamed at her son, “That’s the only thing that will save you, honey! That’s it! There’s no hope without that!” she said, tears bursting from her face. “And I have something else to tell you too, Michael,” she said. “We’re not taking you home.” Michael couldn’t believe what he was hearing. This was his long-suffering mother who loved him unconditionally. She would do anything for him. Now she wouldn’t even take him home?

“I know your patterns, Michael. I know what you’ll do—what you’ll take from the house. I am not your answer. I can’t do anything for you. Only that, honey. You’re only hope is that.”

Michael stood alone in the parking lot and watched his parents drive away. It was just him, a church and a cross. Laurie broke down so hard she thought she would die.

Michael thought of a plan B. He found a way to get to his grandparents house and he broke in and stole $400. He rented a room at a motel, made friends with a straggler who he met on the street and they spent the night smoking crystal meth.

He…stole $400. He rented a room at a motel, made friends with a straggler who he met on the street and they spent the night smoking crystal meth.

Over the next few days they tried their hand at stealing and doing deals in corners and back alleys. But the friendship was short lived. Michael’s body couldn’t keep up. His muscles swung in the wind. He could barely lift himself off the oil stained and garbage covered ground behind a bodega.

And that’s when the voices started talking. “Go ahead,” they’d say. “Kill yourself. What’s the point? It’s over for you. You can’t amount to anything. Kill yourself now, do it now!”

He began to believe that they had it right. “I am nothing,” he thought. “I have a gun. I should just do it and get it over with.”

His mind then warped into a strange tunnel, a swirling vortex. There was a wall at the far end and he was traveling faster and faster toward it. He knew that once he hit the wall, it was all going to be over. Will it feel like the blunt force of a wall, or will it feel like a bullet ripping through my brain?”

With the voices carrying him along, he began to give in. It would all be over soon.  “I’m going to do it. I’m really going to do it,” he told himself. Then suddenly, the voices quieted and a subtle, single voice broke through the din. “At least call your mom and dad and tell them good-bye and that you’re sorry,” it said calmly.

His dad answered the phone call that Michael planned to be his last. He didn’t care about the apology. He just wanted to know where his son was. He told Michael to wait for him so he could pick him up. Desperately tired and weak, he sat right were he called his dad, and waited.

When his dad picked him up, he took him to a Christian rehab center in El Centro. His body was full of the most aggressive drugs imaginable. But he went cold turkey. His body turned inside out for eight days.

On the ninth day, he walked into the chapel with all the energy of a water-soaked dollar bill. As he sat down for the service, there was a cross at the front of the room. The worship music began to play and in the first few notes, a powerful, new desire came over him. Greater than the drugs, money, or popularity, he wanted the King on the cross. He began to cry, but it was more than a simple cry. A Godly sorrow spilled out of him, a guttural vocalization even he didn’t recognize. Everything he had been holding back from shame and guilt, to anger and bitterness, burst forth from his eyes and nose like an opened fire hose. The Holy Spirit was cleaning out this child of God. He stumbled up to the altar and collapsed violently at the cross. There was a resounding thud.

He stumbled up to the altar and collapsed violently at the cross. There was a resounding thud.

It turns out the wall he had envisioned hitting was actually a floor.

For the next three months, Michael did almost nothing but praise the Lord. And yet, even with the experience he had just been through, Michael started to take some control back from God. He felt invincible.

He went back home and in just a few weeks he was running with his old crowd again, doing and selling drugs. A friend called Michael and asked if he could bring him a gram of heroin. Michael walked out of his house and into the sites of five police units who were waiting for him. It turned out that his friend was offered less jail time if he would give up a fat cat.

Michael begged the judge to return him to the rehab center and it was granted for one year.  While working at one of the rehab’s fundraising car washes, he saw a Rock Church sticker on a car. “Oh, hey,” he told the driver, “my parents just started going there.”

“Hmmm,” said the driver. “I feel like the Lord is telling me you need to go to the Rock’s Impact 195.”

Yeah, whatever.

On the day he was released nearly a year later, he had nowhere to go. He said to God, “OK, Lord. I’m all yours. You gotta lead me. I’m only going where you tell me to go.”

He was thumbing through a pile of notes and papers and came across the guy’s number from the car wash. “Impact 195,” he thought to himself. “Maybe I’ll try that.”

It just so happened to be “Bring Your Friend to Impact” day. He walked into a class and it hit him like a bolt of lightening. “This is where I’m supposed to be, this is it!” he kept thinking. A smile plastered itself across Michael’s face. The saving grace of Jesus came to him in the eyes and embraces of all the people there. Impact 195 offered him something profoundly important to do, people who love him as well as help him discover more about the lavish love of Jesus Christ. He didn’t feel lonely and awkward any more. In fact, the more himself he was, the more loved he seemed to be. Awkwardness has no power in the face of that.

After just a short time, the young man who had plummeted to the depths of human existence was high atop a Oaxacan mountain, chipping away at the jungle while trying reach a village to tell them about Jesus. He rescued young boys and girls from the slums and sex trade of the Dominican Republic. He now regularly visits an orphanage in Tecate, Mexico where he spends days playing with the kids and telling them about a King who has come to save them—just as He saved him. His life radiates joy and gratitude. Says Michael, “I was already in the grave. All that was missing was the dirt and gravestone. Now I live a life filled with joy and purpose. How can I not tell others about a Savior who offers that kind of love?”

Best of all, Michael forgives his molester and genuinely hopes he has a blessed life. “I used to try to numb the memory of what he did to me,” he says. “But God has given me the opportunity to forgive him and I get to feel all the glory that comes with it.”


Michael met his fiancée, Danielle, at Impact 195 and with a team that includes their mothers, they will leave for a missions trip to Tanzania in August. They will be married February 22.