It all started the day I got a killer headache.
My mom had a cabinet full of left over painkillers from all her surgeries and she began to dig around in it. “Here. Take two of these,” she said as she handed me a small bottle of pills. On the label it read, Vicodin. As a nurse, I was no stranger to medication and I had taken plenty of pills for pain before. But when I took the two Vicodin, all the bells and whistles in my brain went off. What is this? I said to myself. I have never felt so good in my life.
I had been a Christian for a couple of years, and while I didn’t party like I used to, I still drank too much and was well aware that it was a problem. I figured if I could just take the Vicodin, perhaps I could stop drinking because I would no longer feel the need.
Because I worked in a hospital, getting the Vicodin was going to be easy. Patients came in everyday with their prescription painkillers. The doctors would take all the ones they no longer wanted the patients to have and would ask me to me to throw them away. The wolf was guarding the chicken coop.
As soon as I could, I stole a bottle of Vicodin and stuffed it in my sock. I took two from the bottle and looked at it wondering if a second time around with Vicodin would have the same effect as the first. I rather suspected that it might not. Nothing could be that good.
But I was wrong. There in the bathroom at work, with a splash of water from the faucet, I took two more Vicodin and woosh—I was at 35,000 feet in a matter of seconds.
Of course with the feeling so good and the access so easy, what was to stop me from taking four, then six a day? Then eight? Then 12? Suddenly, I realized that the rush wasn’t taking me quite as high as it had before. I upped the amount. I became a pill-stealing machine. The staff at the hospital thought I was a model employee, gladly working six days a week. The truth is, I just wanted to steal drugs. I graduated to consuming 18, then 26 Vicodin a day.
It got to the point where the drugs were affecting me less and less and I needed to take them just to maintain normalcy. From time to time, I found myself without them and the pain of withdrawal was crazy. Not only did my body start to cry out, a wave of depression would come over me and I knew I needed to act quickly.
When I would go home after my shift, I would drink to try to get myself where the drugs no longer did. I was either altered at all times or fighting to be altered at all times. I was fired from two hospitals. I got a DUI. I woke up handcuffed to a gurney. My wife, Alecia would frequently find me passed out on the floor—having crashed into something on my way down.
My life was imploding. Alecia stayed with me even though I was dragging her through hell. She would come to visit me in the hospital room and hold my hand as I detoxed. It was humiliating. It was awful to watch her suffer at my bedside while I was shaking under the weight of guilt and dire chemical need. Internally, my body was violently overturning everything in its way to find any remaining vestiges of the drug.
Determined to come back to life for Alecia, I entered rehab. I prayed and read scripture and told my fellow addicts about the healing power of Jesus. I was an example to them of someone who was holding on to Him for dear life. One day a counselor said to me, “Hey Mike. Mind if I get real honest with you?”
One day a counselor said to me, “Hey Mike. Mind if I get real honest with you? Your Jesus is a front."
“No,” I said a little caught off guard. “Go right ahead.”
“Your Jesus is a front.”
I was completely taken aback.
“I’m not saying He isn’t real,” he continued. “I’m just saying for you, He’s a front.”
I was deeply offended. But here’s the worst part. He was absolutely right. I wasn’t there to let God have his way with me. I was using God as a lid to a pan fire. I just needed to win back my wife.
As soon as I was back on the job, I was back on the hunt. I graduated from taking 26 pills in a day to 40 and I was still drinking when I got home. Forty Vicodin in a day once could kill you.
Years went by. I should have been dead a thousand times over. My body was buckling under the poison. My eyes began to turn dark. All I could think about was how I was going to steal my next bunch of pills. If I scored 100 pills on a Monday, I immediately started strategizing for Wednesday when I would run out and need more. I was a hamster in a wheel.
One day I was sitting at the bedside of a patient named Carl, who was eager to talk to me about God after I told him I was a Christian. In the middle of our conversation, his friend John, who was also a Christian, showed up to visit. The three of us had a great time chatting about God and guitars and laughed that I had played for a while and still only knew four chords. We exchanged numbers and told each other we would stay in touch.
A few days later, I got a message from John. “Hey, this is John,” the voice message said, “I think we need to talk. I think you’re in trouble.”
The nerve of this guy, I thought. I didn’t call him back. But the calls kept coming. I was starting to get annoyed.
One afternoon on a day off from work, Alecia and I took our girls to my mom’s house and then went to a movie. When we returned to pick up the girls, my mom said, “Mike, some guy named John called here looking for you. He said you’re in trouble and he wants to talk to you.”
I was steamed. “Look, this guy is a stalker. If he calls again, tell him to mind his own business!”
A few days later, I attempted to switch shifts with a coworker and completely botched up the arrangement. I didn’t show up for work when they needed me and was fired.
For Alecia, it was the last straw. “That’s it,” she said through tears. “I can’t do this any more. I know you’re using. You’ve done nothing but choose your drugs over your girls and me. I’ve sat by your bedside and held your hand. I’ve kept things together when you couldn’t do it. I’ve been there for you every step of the way. But I can’t do it anymore!” She packed up, took the girls and left for her parent’s house.
I was alone with my drugs—little white liars that had sold me into a life of slavery.
I was devastated. I had been fired from every job I had. We had a $1,500 rent payment due in three weeks and I didn’t have a penny. My unbelievably longsuffering wife was gone. My beautiful little girls were whisked away from their awful dad. I was alone with my drugs—little white liars that had sold me into a life of slavery. I threw them away. Then, for some unknown reason, I picked up the phone. Of all the people I could have called, I called John.
“John, this is Mike Clark,” I said fighting through my tears.
“Brother, I’ve been waiting for you to call,” he said with a touch of at-long-last in his voice.
I said, “I think I’m in trouble.”
“I know you are,” he said caringly.
John invited me to his work-site to visit him and receive prayer. I was already withdrawing and driving was almost impossible. But when I finally did pull my car up to the site, he greeted me, prayed and handed me a check. It was for $1,500. He had no way to know that was the exact amount I needed.
“Look, I’m holding a Bible study tonight at my house,” he said. “Can you come?”
“I don’t think I’m in any condition,” I said, twitching violently and sweating profusely.
“I think you should come, Mike,” he said, “and bring your guitar.”
Later that evening, I dragged my twisted body to the car and drove, contorted and crying the whole way. The pain my body was feeling was nearly killing me, but the depression that comes with withdrawal was like trying to breathe under six feet of earth. When I arrived at the Bible study holding my guitar and looking like Gollum, John was so glad to see me. “You’re here!” he exclaimed.
“Everybody?” he said to the room of about 10 people. “I think this is who we’ve been waiting for!” I looked around as if to say, is he talking about me?
“Mike is going to lead us in worship!” John said.
They all cheered with such exuberance. I thought to myself, I told him I only knew four chords. What is he doing?
I was so embarrassed I couldn’t even look anyone in the eye when they greeted me. John said, “But first we’re going to pray for Mike. He’s withdrawing from drugs right now so let’s all gather around.”
I was mortified. This guy is crazy, I thought. How dare he tell everybody that? Not that it wasn’t evident. I was flinching so violently I was nearly folding in half.
They gathered around and laid hands on my wet, flinching and tightly-wound body. Then they began to pray. They prayed like I had never heard before—dire, desperate prayer, tongues, words of knowledge. The room was rocking and I was sweating even more than when I came in. I felt like I was 200 degrees. My body wrenched and jerked and convulsed, but I knew something powerful was going on around me. For the first time in my life, I surrendered to how God was moving. I just simply gave in—what else did I have? The prayers continued to ring out as the group called down the spirit of the Lord upon my needy soul.
Like a photograph, they were perfectly still. Is the withdrawl making me delusional?
And then, all of a sudden, my body simply stopped. I opened my eyes to look at my hands and they were no longer trembling. Like a photograph, they were perfectly still.
Is the withdrawal making me delusional?
Everybody looked up to see me examining my still and upright body. It appeared Jesus had calmed the storm. Someone handed me my guitar. “Let’s praise God!” they said. I took the guitar and strummed through the only chords I knew and we sang, making up the lyrics and melody as we went along. I had never felt so happy or close to God before. “This is my God! This is my God!” I cried out. We worshipped for two hours.
When I called Alecia, she was elated. She recognized God’s unmistakable hand. I was not withdrawing and better yet, I had no desire for drugs. Best of all, all I wanted was to get closer to my Savior so that He could have His way with me. For the first time in my life, I was letting God into the core of who I am. No more keeping God out of areas I didn’t want Him to go. I had already been exposed. There was nothing left to hide.
I was playing every week for John’s Bible study when my sister-in-law, who worked at the Rock Church, asked me to lead a small group of about six employees in worship. I did and I loved it. I continued to lead for several weeks. After a brief lull, she asked me to come back and lead again. I jumped at the chance.
Arriving at the Rock with my guitar and a few songs under my belt, my sister-in-law led me to a door. “Are you ready?” she said.
“Sure,” I replied.
She opened the door and I entered into a large room where the entire Rock staff, including Pastor Miles was waiting. There were about 100 people there. I looked at her and said, “What is this?” with worry all over my face.
“I knew if I told you, you’d never come,” she said fearing I’d be mad. “Just do what you do, Mike. It’ll be OK.”
I nervously stood at the mic, swallowed hard and began to sing. Everybody stood and sang and the Spirit moved mightily in that room. Two months later, Stefanie Kelly, the worship leader at the time, asked if I could come and see her in her office.
“What are you doing in two weeks?” she said.
“Oh, I don’t know. Nothing, I guess. Why?”
“I’d like you to put a band together and lead all five services at the Rock. Can you do it?”
I had never even played with a band before. She could’ve asked me to build a rocket and fly to the moon, it was all the same to me. But I knew God had moved in my life, everything about me had changed and my leading worship was somehow an extension of it. Add to that, the request was so bizzare, it just had be God.
Through somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody, a band formed and we took the stage two weeks later to lead worship. I could barely contain myself. I was like an exhaust pipe and God was firing His Spirit through me. It was the most excited I had ever been.
Suddenly I started receiving calls to lead worship at different churches for different events around town. I was only too happy to do it and refused all payment. This was a God thing. It wasn’t my talent or ability or leadership qualities. This was God’s miracle on display. It really had nothing to do with me.
After a few years, Horizon Church asked me to be their fulltime worship leader. It’s the position I hold to this day. I think about my qualifications to lead people in worship and it’s crazy. My resume would read something like this:
Loved by God
Saved by Grace
Grateful with every inch of my being
Know four chords
POSTSCRIPT: After going to John’s house and receiving prayer that first night, Mike went to the doctor for a check up. All prior visits to the doctor, his lab results showed that he was next to death. This time, however, his numbers were inexplicably perfect, even though Mike averaged 40 vicodins a day for seven years