I was born into the world January 12, 1962 in Van Nuys, California. My early childhood years could be referred to as the "Ozzie and Harriet" life.
My family was one that many of my friends would have died for. My dad and mom were great parents and did the best they could with what they had. You might say that we were the true American middle class family. One dad, one mom, one boy and one girl -- living the American dream.
Since I can remember my dad was a corporate manager and extremely hard working. He would leave the house early in the morning and wouldn't return until late evening. My mom did volunteer work at the local assistance league until my sister and I were in our teens. Then, she went to work as a legal secretary.
I remember when I was very young the biggest trial we had was how to get dad to roll down the car window when he was smoking his cigarettes. Life was rolling along just like in the movies. I began playing sports at a very young age and by the time I was 8 I had played baseball, soccer, basketball, and anything else that had a uniform; I learned how to snow ski and water ski.
Mom got me involved in the Catholic religion and I made my first communion. The tradition seemed to excite me for awhile and I think I enjoyed it. The problem that I had was that I had to go into a little dark box and tell a man I couldn't see all the things that I had done wrong my whole life (confession). I didn't really think he believed that all I ever did wrong was lie twice, say two bad words, scream at mom once, and take a short glance at my friend's dad's Playboy magazine. Anyhow, after the two "Hail Mary's" and four "Our Father's" I felt better and was ready to go out and see how much more trouble I could get into.
At this time, I began to study classical piano and dreamed of one day playing a concert with Van Cliburn. That career came to an end a few years later when the choice between baseball practice and piano practice weighed against each other. (It also could have been because I froze and went into brain lock in the middle of a recital). Either way, the piano career ended.
By the time I was 10, surfing became a strong desire in my life. School was something I had to do and I never put much thought or effort into it. (An occasional B grade was a highlight.) I went to my first surf camp at 10 and really got a taste of kids who came from broken homes and a drug culture that I had never been around. Everyone smoked cigarettes and it was the first time I ever heard of Pam cooking spray getting someone high. I think they stole it from the cafeteria and it was something that I had to try.
Upon returning home from camp, I felt that my direction in life was beginning to change. You have to understand I was one of the nicest, most quiet respectful young men you would ever meet. But, I felt I needed to check out how the "other side" lived.
The next few years were still filled with sports and normal childhood activities. My sister and I were having the normal childhood sibling struggles, but loved each other dearly.
By the age of 13 things began to change drastically. The beach friends I was hanging around with and my school peers were all moving into a new realm in life. It was party time! Alcohol, drugs and girls began to be a strong desire. Even though we were told not to, the temptation and the desire to participate was stronger than the push to stay away. Sports and school were one side of life, while there began to unfold a hidden dark side.
I was still attending Catholic Church on holidays and on an occasional Saturday evening to soothe my conscience, but religion was dwindling from my window of activities -- fast. By 14 I was introduced to marijuana, and wasn't too excited about it. But, another drug was introduced to me - - it was Cocaine.
Between school, sports, and this new drug, the sky was the limit. The only problem was: how was I, at 14 years old, going to afford it. I saw a great business potential and grasped it fully. The next few years began a crazy roller coaster ride of late night parties, and a growing group of friends who wanted to join the crew. My dad and mom finally caught up with me and that really caused me to do some re-evaluating of my priorities in life. I could see how deeply it hurt them knowing their baby boy could possibly go off the deep end.
As I entered high school I began to get very serious about playing basketball. For a few years I put a lot of my friends on the back burner and began to dedicate my life to this sport. My time was consumed with practice and training for a sport I thought I could possibly become very successful at. But, after a few years my desire to be financially successful was stronger than my desire to live the legitimate way.
My basketball game was improving, but so was the opportunity to move back into the drug world. At 17 years old dad and mom came to me and told me that dad had received a promotion and they were moving to San Francisco. I was going to graduate high school that year and they wanted to know if I wanted to move to San Francisco or stay in southern California and attend college where I grew up. I thought about it for awhile. Move to San Francisco at 18 years old with mom and dad or stay in party town by myself and go through college with my friends - -HHhhmmmmmmmm.
Dad moved up north to San Francisco and mom stayed back for the rest of the school year. Dad would commute back and forth on weekends to see my basketball games. Upon graduation dad and mom sold our house and moved to San Francisco. I enrolled in college and began to play summer basketball at a local junior college. I still thought there was a possibility to be successful playing basketball but things weren't looking so good. In one game there were two guys who came to play one game just to try out. They were both 5' 7" and from a local high school. At the pre-game warm up they both were slam dunking the basketball and shot like professionals. After the game they were sent on their way, but I knew I was in big trouble. I decided at that point that this career was going to have to come to an end.
The next five years I attended college, worked numerous odd jobs, and began to stir up, once again, the drug sales. I started a few businesses during this time also, but things in my life were upside down. I didn't have any time to think straight, let alone have any direction. Money wasn't a problem, but my drive to be successful was. The only real goal I had was that I wanted to be financially wealthy at the age of 30 -- and retired. I had roughly 9 years to meet this goal. How was I going to do this?
I needed a few weeks to think so I took a trip to the mountains to do some deep thinking and, of course, snow skiing. After a week in the mountains my friends and I became lonely and needed some companionship so one of my friends called down to the city to send up some girls. We waited to meet them as they drove up. We were in high anticipation of the city girls' arrival. About 11 pm a car pulled up with 2 women. The problem was there were 3 of us and only 2 of them. I jumped in the back of the jeep with this gal named Peggy while my friend John drove with Dolores. I don't think I spoke two words to her. We drove off and ended up at one of the local bars in town. As we entered the bar I put my arm around Peggy and stood in front of 50-100 foaming at the mouth wild men and announced that we where on our honeymoon -- just married that day. Then both Peggy and I blacked out and fell over backwards on the floor (what a way to start a relationship). 18 months later Peggy and I were married to the surprise of both of our respective groups of friends.
Peggy had professed to me that she had a relationship with Jesus Christ - something and someone that I had no idea about in my life. I sold Peggy on the idea that we would be financially independent very soon and to buckle her seat belt and get ready for a wild ride. During this time I began to buy and sell apartment buildings and a small real estate empire was born. Debt began to be an issue for the first time in my life as I found myself over one million dollars in the hole: 22 years old, in major debt, newly married, and acting like there wasn't a problem in the world. I remember for the first time in my life truly experiencing what real stress and paranoia was. Not only was I working the real estate business, but also the drug business began to grow rapidly. I would lay in bed at night curled up in a ball rocking back in forth wondering how long all of this was going to last. After a while I made a decision to turn the course of my life fully to the drug trade. After all, the real estate business was just as crooked as the drug industry, so in my mind the transition wasn't a big deal. I continued for years to work with some groups from Mexico and other foreign countries to import and distribute Cocaine and marijuana.
Peggy and I weren't doing well as our marriage was caught up in a wild life of travel, parties, and any and all extra curricular activities involved with this dark world. I couldn't understand how she couldn't get it together after all I was doing for her.
I would hop on an airplane and fly out of town to live my life, while she lived hers. Then, I would fly into town to pay bills and see if she had changed. We soon were separated and on a crash course for divorce. Personally, I was on a crash course for life in prison -- or death. During the next two years I saw two friends murdered, seven arrested and sentenced from 3 to 25 years. It seemed everyone around me was either on his way to prison or just getting out. Life couldn't have been more miserable.
There is a scripture in Luke 9:23 that reads any man putting his hand to the plow and looking back is not fit for the kingdom of God. That was me. I lived my life in the rear view mirror -- one eye on the road and one eye behind wondering if this would be the day that I was finished. Sometimes I was going to do a deal and would hope I would get caught so it would all come to an end.
One night I was driving back from Newport Beach to my home. My partner and I had just completed a deal and both had been celebrating at one of the local bars before going home. I decided to drive because of his condition. On the way (a one hour drive) it began to rain and there was limited visibility. We were in the slow lane and the rain was coming down so hard that it created puddles across the slow lane. We hit the water, hydroplaned 90 degrees into the fast lane and center punched a car in the fast lane -- ruining the car we were driving. We were both injured and limped our way home.
The next morning I couldn't get out of bed. I went to the doctor and the prognosis was that I needed back surgery. Before my final decision, I got a second opinion from a doctor near my home. I remember him telling me how his life had changed because of Jesus Christ, but he didn't intimate to me how I needed a change. The next week I left town and didn't see him again for six months.
Peggy and I were planning for divorce. I was living in the Lake Tahoe area basically hiding out because of some things that had transpired with the police. I flew back one week to finalize some things with Peggy and to see the back doctor again before a trip to Las Vegas to meet some people to organize a business deal. After dropping by to see Peggy I then went to the doc's office. On my way out he gave me a tape and told me to listen to it on my trip.
As I was driving to Las Vegas I popped the tape in and began to listen. This guy was talking about our eternal destiny and he said that there was a heaven and a hell. He said that if you didn't receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior you were going to hell.
For the first time in my life I realized that I was going to hell and I was scared.
When arriving in Las Vegas, the people I was supposed to meet were running a day behind schedule. There I was, alone in Vegas and realizing, that I was all alone. I spent the night in a huge suite by myself and tried to forget the conviction I was under by partying all night. I felt like I was going to die. At 7 am I crawled out of my room and laid by the pool until my meeting that afternoon, then I drove home. On the way I listened to the tape once more and decided that it was finished -- I was quitting!
(Over the years Peggy would pray at every meal and talk to me about her faith in Christ, but needless to say, she was my biggest supporter of the life I had been living.)
Upon arriving home I walked in the house and there was Peggy. I told her there was something I needed to talk to her about. I knew she knew I was serious, because I didn't normally talk to her the way I did that day. I said I was through with this crazy life and that I was quitting - it was all over. I still can remember her reply. She said, "What are we going to do for money?" I wasn't ready for that reply because I hadn't thought about it yet. I turned to her and said, "Why don't we start trusting in that God you keep talking about?" Then there was silence for about an hour. I never left again and from that day on we began rebuilding our marriage.
I started to attend church in our community that had a congregation of about 100-200. For three weeks I went to church on Sundays but I was carrying around the world on my shoulders. I had to talk to someone and find out what Christianity was really all about so after service one Sunday I asked the Pastor to come to my house because I had to talk to him. He said he would love to and showed up at our door the next Monday eve. He walked up to the house with his two young disciples, excited as ever. I sat them down and for the next two hours began unfolding for them my life - every dirty detail. I watched their faces slowly drop throughout the two hours until finally the Pastor said they had to go. He said he wanted to pray with me and I thought: here it comes, all right. He prayed something like, "Lord thank you for Cliff and the change in his life, bless him tonight, Amen." Then they got up and scurried out of the house. I didn't know if I scared them or if they had another appointment, but they left fast. I asked Peggy what that was all about and she didn't know. All I knew was that I still had that weight in my life and didn't understand salvation at all.
One month later Peggy and I were in Fresno and went to a Sunday church service where the Pastor gave a clear presentation of the Gospel. The Pastor asked if anyone wanted to receive Christ. I immediately got up and dragged my miserable self to the alter in a heap of tears. The moment I received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I was free. My life on the planet could have ended at that moment -- I had peace, real peace. There was no more paranoia, fear or worry -- Christ came into my life just as He said He would.
My life began to change drastically. You see, there wasn't any money coming in, and everything was left scattered around the country: homes, cars, boats, money etc. After all, those things no longer belonged to me. The person who owned them was now dead. I trusted the Lord day by day for every provision. I couldn't turn anywhere else.
People have asked me over the years how I got out. Was it easy to break away? My reply has always been "No, it wasn't easy, but it was necessary."
Many temptations came my way, but every time they came, I stood on God's Word. He would always see me through and make a way out.
I studied my Bible every moment I had available and searched for the answers to every problem I faced. One year went by and I began to help in a small group Bible study. Prayer became my favorite time.
I got a job back in Costa Mesa California, which was about one hour from my house (when there wasn't traffic, two hours if there was). I pumped gas and washed windows for $6.00 per hour 12 hours per day, 6 days per week. I would read my Bible between cars and basked in the peace of God. I would get my paycheck and after taxes and gasoline expenses it wasn't enough to pay half my house payment, but I cried every Friday because of how gracious my Lord was and that I had a legitimate paycheck.
I continued to study and started attending Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, Ca where I began in ministry teaching the Bible, discipling new believers, and serving in any capacity that the Lord opened to me.
Today, Peggy and I have 3 beautiful children, we are partners in our own service business, and serve in the ministry. We are so thankful for what we have and for what the Lord has done.
If you find yourself like I was, alone and desperate, reading this and knowing you don't have a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, you can settle this issue in your life right at this very moment. You see hell is a real place. The bible tells us that neither is their salvation in another, for there is no name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved, and this would be the perfect time to ask Him into your life.
Pray this prayer,
Lord Jesus, I am sorry for sinning against you. I confess my unbelief. I believe that You died for my sins, that You were buried, and that You rose again and are alive today. Come into my life and be my Lord and my Savior. I want to live my life for You. Thank You, in Jesus name I pray, Amen.
Originated September 30, 1999. Modified October 12, 1999.
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