When Ray woke up that cold, overcast winter morning in Appleton, Wisconsin, he wished he hadn’t. He lay in bed thinking life was no longer worth living. The 52-year-old Army veteran had become addicted to the prescription medications he was taking for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and he was struggling with alcohol abuse.
“I felt I had no future. I just wanted to end it all.”
“I got out of bed, took some pills, and sat on the couch,” remembers Ray. “Though I loved my kids and my girlfriend very much, I felt I had no future. I just wanted to end it all.”
Ray had the day off from the telecommunications company where he worked as a lineman. He decided to try to get his mind off his problems by going to a nearby shooting range and firing off some rounds. That always seemed to help clear his mind, at least temporarily.
He didn’t keep a gun in the house, as it might present too great a temptation to take his life during one of his bouts with depression. Ray had lost some of his war comrades to suicide, and he saw the anguish it caused friends and family.
He called a friend who owned several guns and asked if he could borrow one for target shooting. “Are you having problems again?” his friend asked.
“Yeah,” Ray replied despondently.
“Come on over,” his friend told him.
So, Ray drove to his friend’s house and picked up a 9mm semi-automatic pistol.
Life Takes a Sharp Detour
As Ray drove through town with the gun at his side, his plans to go target shooting took a sharp detour. As if being guided by an unseen hand on the steering wheel, Ray drove into the parking lot of a motel. He parked his truck and just sat for a while.
“It would be so easy just to end it all right here and now,” he said to himself. After some time, he got out of his truck, walked up to the motel office, and requested a room.
“I knew once I pulled that trigger, that was it.”
He received his room keys and walked around back to the motel room. He entered, sat on the bed, pulled out the handgun, and dropped a bullet into the chamber.
As Ray sat on the bed, his life flashed before his eyes. Scenes from his childhood, his years in the war, his years raising his children–they all flickered by as his finger rested against the cold metal of the gun. “I knew once I pulled that trigger, that was it,” recalled Ray.
Just then, out of the corner of his eye, something grabbed Ray’s attention. He turned his head toward the nightstand. Lying there was an open book–a hotel Bible placed by The Gideons. For some reason, Ray was drawn to the Bible. Two words seemed to jump off the page–“Follow me.”
Ray loosened his grip on the pistol.
He recognized the text from Matthew 4:19 as the words of the Lord. Ray attended church while growing up, however, what he experienced didn’t reflect anything he wanted to be part of. “I saw people come into church on Sunday, profess one thing, and then on Monday, do something just the opposite.” Even a child can see through the hollowness of hypocrisy.
“Follow You?” he asked with bitter skepticism. “What have You ever done for me?”
“At that moment,” said Ray, “I began to wrestle with God.”
He kept reading. It wasn’t his first time to read Scripture. A few years earlier, Ray’s English instructor at the technical college he attended invited him to church, and he accepted. Ray even purchased a Bible. However, there’s a big difference between keeping God’s Word in your home and keeping it in your heart.
Ray was reading God’s Word with a heart that was more desperate for hope than ever. He began to weep.
Convicted of his sinful brokenness and his urgent need for a Savior, Ray fell to his knees, stretched out his arms like a child reaching for his dad, and pleaded, “Lord, if you’ll take this pain away, I’ll follow you for the rest of my life.” In that desperate moment, Ray’s life changed. As he describes it today, “The Lord reached down, grabbed me, and pulled me into the boat. I felt a comfort I’d never felt before. The Lord showed me salvation.”
Feeling as if the weight of the world had lifted from his shoulders, Ray left the motel that evening and drove home. Along the way, he passed Calvary Chapel church. The Holy Spirit was already at work on his heart. “I knew the Lord wanted me to go there,” he says. That Sunday, Ray experienced his first worship service as a child of God. Calvary Chapel’s Pastor Dwight Douville became instrumental in discipling Ray and helping him grow in the Lord.
Ray Joins The Gideons
It was also through that church Ray met a Gideon named Clem Griesbach. Clem invited Ray to join The Gideons after hearing his powerful testimony. Today, Ray is an active member, helping reach others with God’s Word.
“Every day I thank the Lord for His Word, that it is Truth.”
When out with Gideons placing Scriptures in motels, Ray is reminded of what a single copy of God’s Word found in a motel room can do. From Ray’s own experience, he realizes many people are seeking to fill a bottomless void in their life, and he wants to show them it can only be filled by the loving presence of Jesus Christ. Ray now uses his farm as a retreat to minister to other veterans who are struggling with PTSD. He shares with them his testimony of how the Lord rescued him and tells them they can have that same hope, as well.
Ray is thankful that a Gideon placed a copy of God’s Word in that Appleton motel room. “Every day I thank the Lord for His Word, that it is Truth. I thank Him for the awesome opportunity to share the Word with others,” he says.