He raged–raged–against the God in whom he did not believe, once the horrible news sank in! The young man cursed God with a fury so intense it propelled him on a 23-year-long course of anger and violence.
“When the hurting began, I ran away and began drinking again. I lashed out at everybody!” Seeking greater relief from the guilt pangs, he switched from alcohol to methamphetamines. “Right out of the gate–I slammed some speed!” The behavior eventually led to prison: “I became a convict–three terms–six violations for drugs and theft.”
Ensconced behind the closed doors of the intake office of the Santa Monica Adult Rehabilitation Center, Thomas Donovan, 47, pauses from the tense dialogue. He relates how he has returned to this facility regularly for chapel services since his 1998 graduation “because these are my people.”
A member of the Santa Monica Corps Council, Tom is excited about the adherent class that he is teaching. “My pastors, Majors Ron and Marilyn Bawden, are working with me, and I try to be of as much service as I can.”
The strong man’s voice quivers as he relates the horrific event that defined his life. “I was 23 years old, doing really well,” when the word came. Along a lonely stretch of highway, his wife, Kathy, and their two small children were killed in an automobile accident.
“When I should’ve leaned on Jesus for support–the God I didn’t believe in–instead I cursed him! I just couldn’t understand why–if God wanted to take somebody–he didn’t take some of the evil people in the world! Why didn’t he take me?” Through the decades that followed, Tom seethed in his anger toward God.
In November, 1997, he checked into the ARC out of prison “only to get off the streets.” Tom vividly recalls the instant he first became aware of God’s presence. “On February 9, 1998, I was attending a required Bible study led by (intake counselor) Robert Taylor. I had heard the gospel story before, but now suddenly I comprehended it. For the first time in my life, I knew God was with me.”
Tom shares how Robert guided him through those baby steps with Christ. “I started to recognize myself in the mirror. It was amazing to me! For the first time in I don’t know how long, I felt compassion. My parole officer once called me despicable. My life was all about the dope–if I didn’t have any and you did, you were in jeopardy. Today all I really want from others is to be acknowledged as someone who won’t hurt them anymore. I feel so good about life.”
God is healing another piercing wound in Tom’s heart–one which hearkens back to childhood. He tells the story: “My parents were alcoholics. At 16, I came home to find them drinking hard and my dad choking my mom. I pulled him off her, and he began to whip on me. The next morning, my mom told me I had to go because my dad wasn’t going to put up with this kind of behavior–what went on between them was their business! When I returned, my stuff was packed. The incident separated us.”
The decades of pain are evident in the tone of Tom’s voice. However, his expressed wonder at the tenderness of God’s love far overshadows the testimony of pain. “Now this is the bottom line for me,” he says. “I have this little teeny brain. When I try to figure things out by myself about how everything fits together, I can’t make it work.
“So I depend on what the Holy Spirit gives me–the strength to get through my day trusting him. I feel God loves me, so I try to put one foot in front of the other and do the best I can.”