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One Face in a Sea of People
By Joshua Hillliard

The chill came from the wind, not the water rolling down my face. So, this is what it feels like to be a reborn? Cold and wet. Funny, that’s probably how I felt when I first left the womb. I didn’t feel like a new man though. Not on this day. My rebirth came a few weeks prior.

 Liz James Photography

For a year I’d tip toed around Christianity, claiming to be saved. I called myself a Christian, yet all my old self remained. Though I wanted it, there were things I wanted more. I was still a man of the world holding on to my old life. I wasn’t ready to be reborn.

                My childhood was shattered early on with the divorce of my parents around age 5. My father disappeared and did not resurface for  years. My mother remarried but my new step-father quickly departed to serve a two year jail term for narcotics possession. Being the only boy in the house with 4 younger sisters and having no spiritual foundation, I quickly was lost.

                “Lost” doesn’t begin to describe it. The truth is that from an early age sexuality dominated my life.  In my earliest memories I was extremely sexually aware, not only of myself, but of others around me. I don’t know how I got this way. I have no memory of that. Who knows, it could have stemmed from sexual abuse that I’d blocked out.

                Inevitably, I succumbed to pornography. It seemed to pop up everywhere, from my uncle’s house, my grandparents’ home, friends’ houses, even on occasion my own home. From a very young age I always managed to find it. Not that it was given to me; I just for some reason knew to look for it. I became a pornography addict around the age of 6. As I said earlier, by this time, I was very sexually aware, even experimenting with other kids my age before I began school.  With my mother seeking out the attention of men and preoccupied with drugs and alcohol I began to develop a strong desire to seek out validation from women to make myself feel better. In a strange way, pornography did that for me. It made me feel like someone cared about me, even though they were just images, not meant for a child to see.

                My life began to spiral out of control. I’ll spare all the details but aside from my growing sexual addiction I also endured a second divorce between my mother and step-father.  I sank into a depression as men began to parade through my home. I finally decided to move in with my biological father, who I barely knew. My father had remarried and it seemed like I was entering a happy, stable family. Unfortunately all that stability drove me in to a depressed and rebellious state.  Shortly after my 13th birthday I was arrested and placed in jail then moved to a foster home. I felt abandoned. My only joy was the pornography that still managed to find its way into my hands.

After about 2 years my father and the foster family organization decided that I could return back home. I was ecstatic. Then, in less than a year after returning a third divorce came this time between my father and step-mother. My father later would admit to me that for a time he blamed me for his divorce. He has since apologized for that but at that time I just completely shut down. I was 15, had lived through 3 divorces, been arrested, and spent two years living in foster care where I was just “another kid in the system”.  I had moved in with my father after my mother’s divorce in an attempt to escape the craziness of my life. Instead the craziness followed me.

I first attended a Lutheran Church with a small congregation of less than 100 people with my father. No one ever talked to me or explained what Christianity was. I didn’t really understand what was going on; yet I always liked hearing the sermons. One day when my pastor found out I had never been baptized, he denied my taking communion in front of the whole church. I was so embarrassed and I felt so rejected that I stopped going. The pastor offered to baptize me quickly, but it was too late. I no longer desired to make a commitment to something that had rejected me. Church was not for me.

                In my eyes; my family failed me, the church failed me, and society failed me. Pornography was a way to escape, a way to feel good, and a way to be accepted by women.  It was a drug, giving me a consistent high, and falsely filling me with the validation I so desperately craved. I was in deep, ensnared by evil.

                At 18, a few months before I graduated high school, my rebellious state and addictive mindset brought me into conflict with my father. I was kicked out of my house and spent the next few months bouncing from friends house to friends house to finish school. From there I moved out of the state to go back with my mother. That arrangement lasted about a month. One night I tried to stop my mother’s boyfriend while he was beating her up. With his hand around my throat I was asked to leave. I was once again homeless but this time I didn’t have my friends to rely on. To escape my crazy life, I joined the Navy. With no place to live, no income, hungery, and in full survival mode, the escape was so close that I felt like Indiana Jones diving for a closing chamber door, pulling his fedora through the crack just as the vault was sealed. Sadly I was so desperate to escape that I had forgotten all about my sisters. I left them behind to fend for themselves. Two made it through after suffering through drug and alcohol addiction, one is still trapped in her addiction, and I’m sorry to say, my youngest sister did not survive. I remember standing beside her coffin thinking I was her big brother, the one that was meant to protect her. Instead I was the one chosen to read her obituary.

As shameful and tragic as it was, I escaped. But unbeknownst to me, along with the Indiana Jones fedora, I pulled my addiction through as well. Pornography was easy to acquire in the Navy and now I could legally get it on my own, but shame kept me in a state of always trying to hide it. When I started dating conflicts began arising. For the first time I was starting to get validation from real women, not just pictures. It was too late though. Since my mind was twisted with sexual perversion, my attempts at healthy relationships failed.

                Needless to say I developed a double life of my relationships and my addiction. My relationships were doomed from the start because not only did I have a pornography addiction but also abandonment issues, codependency, and still no spiritual support structure. I was heading for destruction. Though I knew it, I couldn’t stop it. Sadly, I hurt some good women along the way.

                In 2002 I married a wonderful woman. Just like the Navy, my addiction followed me into my marriage as well. I tried to be a good man. I even went back to church and found encouragement in a small group. Still my addiction raged behind closed doors with the introduction of internet porn. If pornography was like cocaine, then internet porn was my crack. In time I destroyed my marriage. My addiction to pornography took everything from me, my wife, two step-sons, my respect, and almost even lost my job. I divorced and wanted to be away from everything and everyone.   I was a mess of a man until a godly woman came into my life.  (You didn’t talk about divorce? What happened to the marriage?)

                On Memorial Day 2011, my new girlfriend brought me to The Rock. Though going to church hadn’t worked for me in the past, I wanted to impress her so I went. Then a strange thing happened, I started listening and liked what I was hearing. The message spoke to me. Although I was in a building full of thousands of people, the message seemed to speak right to my heart. With my girlfriend’s encouragement I began taking steps to the Lord. By the end of the summer I asked Jesus into my life. A lot of my action at this time were to find favor in my girlfriends eyes, and not the Lord’s. I think God saw this and realized that in order for me to be healed I had to learn to rely on Him alone. Also, my pornography addiction was beginning to rear its ugly head again. As hard as I tried to hold it together, my relationship fell apart again. I was left with broken hearted. Still, the Rock Church appealed to me. I could sneak in, get lost in the sea of faces, hear the message and then sneak back out.

                No one noticed me, no one but Jesus. He began talking to me through my devastation. I learned that as long as I held onto addiction I would never have a healthy relationship. Jesus wanted my first healthy relationship to be with Him. If I could learn to rely on Him for everything then He would work to heal me.

                Then one night it happened. The Lord’s army had been marching steadily to the stronghold that is my heart. The devil still possessed it, but I held the key. Many times in my life I tried to defeat Satan under my own power, always succumbing to his will in the end. This evening was different.  As temptation began to press in on me I finally realized I could not defeat him, and for the first time in my life I truly turned the key and opened my heart to the Lord. I spoke to Him saying that I was completely powerless. I asked Him to please enter my heart and rescue me from Satan’s grasp. I told Him that I trusted Him. With that I pushed open the doors!!!

                                                                       Liz James photography

If you think God is all kind and merciful, one that only knows love, then you would not have recognized these angelic warriors who rushed in to dispel this usurper that night. They were fierce and fought with all the power and might of the Almighty Himself. Still an entire lifetime of evil doesn’t just pack up and move out when then Lord comes calling. A deadly battle raged for my heart that night, one that I could not participate in. In fact, after tossing and turning for what felt like hours, praying prayer after prayer, professing my helplessness, I finally passed out from pure exhaustion.

                Sunlight appeared through the window of my room as my eyes slowly opened to the morning. I stood up. There was peace, such that I have never known in my whole life. I knew Jesus had won a great victory as I slept. The Lord’s banner now flying high within my heart I was brought to my knees in thankfulness and overwhelmed with excitement. The devil no longer lived here. Jesus has freed me and taken back my heart for His own. Satan’s army still sits outside the gates trying to tempt me to allow him back in, but my heart belongs to the Lord now. I trust He will protect me.

                The Lord took back my heart. Now, exiting the water of my first “real” baptism I acknowledge to the world just what he has done.

                Though still a broken man, my foundation is being remade. The Lord is mending my broken heart. Pornography remains a mouse click away, but the Lord is fortifying his position inside of me. Yes, the wind sends chills against my cold, wet skin. But with the wind also comes hope, hope that I have never known, a pervasive hope.


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