A Thought and Its Journey
by Jeff Ebert, Set Me Free Ministries Team Member
In high school I was pretty big on sports. People liked to watch me play, and coaches would ask me to play for them. It was something I enjoyed doing, and I was good at it. I wasn’t too bad in academics either. I received several awards at the high school level in academics and also received multiple scholarships for college.
For college, I decided on a private institution and became a straight A student. I still played basketball when I could, but my focus was academics. Since I had received a top scholarship from the institution, I was focused and determined not to let them down. And I didn’t. I was a tutor in accounting and math classes when I was a freshman. A freshman teaching sophomores, juniors, and seniors; needless to say, my head was expanding. A teacher sat me down halfway through the year.
Professor: What are you doing here?
Me: Going to college?
Professor: You belong somewhere else; this school is not for you. You are missing out on education.
And so, grateful for the encouragement, after graduating with an Associate of Arts degree, I transferred to a university. While there, I not only excelled as an accounting major, but I was still playing basketball when I could. I even spoke to another private college basketball coach and got to practice with them once in the summer.
My grades were on the rise, and my head was getting bigger. I was doing the things I wanted. I wasn’t tied down with family life. I was thinking only about myself. And even though I never fully got into sports at the college level, their interest in me still helped develop my ego.
College ended, and the job market approached. After several offers from multiple big cities in different states, I decided to accept something closer to home. I found myself in a city about 50 miles from my hometown. The job was great; I scheduled my own hours, I had off every holiday possible, and I received great pay and benefits. This was 2009—the peak of the economic downslide. So as I was receiving this gift while my peers were not, it made me think, “Yeah, I’m better than them!”
At my job, I was a high-ranking individual. CEOs of smaller companies that the main corporation held reported directly to me. As a 22-year-old, for the first time, I realized I was frightened. I had 50-, 60-, and 70-year-old CEOs coming to me to make decisions for their companies. The first couple of months I was a nervous wreck. As time progressed, I realized I had found their favor, because they knew I had the education and the knowledge to help guide their decisions. That resulted in a feeling of being, well, too comfortable. And yet, at the same time, I was on top of the world.
After great success on the job as the youngest person to ever hold my position and handling the most companies on my team, things were looking good. Sports were a distant memory, and my job and money were my focus. I was single and living the “dream” bachelor life. I didn’t care about other people. I didn’t have to worry about a family. It was just me and my agenda. My agenda took an abrupt turn when I started to get greedy, and my knowledge and education got to my head. I started to think that I could beat the system.
I began to gamble. I started, little by little, going to casinos. Eventually, my gambling was in full force; cards were my poison. I knew that I could beat the system, and I tried for months and months. But, trying to beat the gambling system was a huge mistake. After months and months of struggling for cash, lying to those around me, and trying to cover everything up, I broke. I took from society, I took from my employer, I took from my family, and I took from myself. I compromised everything I had learned, everything I wanted to be. I became a thief.
On the day I was arrested, I remember thinking the handcuffs were the worst feeling that I had ever felt. There didn’t seem to be a feeling in my entire body, but I felt the handcuffs. I felt the physical pain. I didn’t cry. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t yell. I was emotionless.
I became an instant people watcher. I remember vividly the jail doors being shut—the sound they made, the walls on the inside, and the people and what they wore. And then there was me putting on the jumpsuit as if I were a sheep in a flock. I didn’t sleep at all. Although it was a surreal experience, I remember it like it was yesterday. However, two and a half years later, I still don’t believe it happened to me.
It was Saturday morning, and I hadn’t slept a wink. I had been awake a complete 24 hours. Then, at 10:00 a.m., they called my name along with some other kid. “Roll up,” they said. I went to the guard and asked, “What’s roll up?” The guard simply said, “Means you are getting out of here, so pack your things.”
My thoughts raced. Did someone bail me out? Why am I being released? I went through the release process with this other kid. When we were done, his family was waiting for him to take him home. No one was there waiting for me. I went outside and sat on the steps. No one was there to drive me home. No one had come to my rescue. Why was he being driven home, and I wasn’t. The worst part was the jail door slamming behind me. Not even the jail wanted me.
I picked myself up from the steps and started walking. I walked to my car, not knowing what to do or where to go, but I walked. I walked for an hour.
Then I realized what had happened to me. The entire time I had been blaming God. I had been without God for a while. I had religion, but I was just going through the motions. I asked Him, “Why would You do this to me? Why won’t You help me?” As I walked, I realized that I had thought I was better than God. Then my perspective changed, and I began to think, “Why would I do this to You God? Why would I do this to myself?”
I saw the light. This whole time, I had been blaming God for situations I had put myself into, for the mentality that I had, and for the place in life I was going. I blamed God. I started to realize God loved me so much that He gave me the freedom to choose. I could follow His path and believe Him, or I could say I was better than God and feel His wrath.
In order to rebuild my life, I had to admit what I had done. I had to admit the wrongdoing and accept that it was my choice, not anybody else’s, not even God’s. I had done this to myself. I then had to understand why God allowed me to go through this. I realized that I could dwell on the trial and the pain, or I could allow God to change me through it and make a difference.
Today I am a youth sponsor at many locations. My motto to the kids is this: “If you are selfish, you don’t have God. If you have God, you aren’t selfish.” My word of advice to you is this: you cannot be better than God.
God created you, not the other way around. In John 15:5, Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” Once you accept that and realize that God deeply desires a relationship with you, your perspective on life will change. You will no longer be blaming God for your trials but will instead allow Him to use those very trials and tribulations to bring transformation into your life. When others see the transformation in you, God can use that to reveal Himself to them.
You have the choice. Fortunately for me, I learned that I had a choice. Yes, I learned it the hard way, but I’ll never forget it! I realize now why no one showed up to drive me home from jail. I realized God needed to show me that I needed Him. And even though I didn’t realize it then, I realize now that He is with us, no matter what. He picked me up from those steps and “drove me home” to Him.