Real, Authentic Hope by Tony Peterson

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

– Jeremiah 29:11 

For my 17th birthday my mother bought me a cross necklace. This cross was made up of three nails – one long vertical nail, with two intersecting nails. Also, attached to this necklace was a small dog tag with Jeremiah 29:11 engraved on it. This verse speaks of the Lord having plans for those of us who follow Jesus. These are plans of prosperity and welfare. His plans for us don’t make way for evil in our lives, but rather supply us with hope and a future. At the time I received this necklace from my mother, I had a lot of hope for my life and a very promising future. I had just graduated early from high school and was set to attend college in the fall with a full academic scholarship. My plans for my life included seeking a pre-med degree and figuring out which field of medicine I wanted to go into. My future looked bright and I was filled with lots of hope.   

Near the end my first year of college, I was in a car wreck. The driver of another vehicle ran a red light and smashed into the driver side of my car. It wasn’t long after the accident that I was prescribed pain medication for my injuries. Oblivious at the time to the destructive potential of pain medication, I began taking them as prescribed but soon found myself overusing the medicine. Not realizing it at the time, I was forming a habit that took away the physical pain, but masked my spiritual and emotional despair.  

The use of pain killers and alcohol continued to progress in my life. By the time I was 20, I was living a full-on double life caused by my addiction. I tried hard to look like everything was going well in my life. But in truth, I was manipulating those closest to me – friends and family – in just about every way possible to get the money and resources I needed for more opiates and alcohol. This cycle of addiction, hopelessness, and despair continued in a downward spiral. At 25 I met the woman of my dreams and made it my full-time obligation to keep my addiction a secret from her and the rest of the family. We married four years later on September 2, 2017 in a beautiful ceremony. Again, I was filled with hope. Hopes and dreams of a bright future with my newlywed wife; hope that we would build a beautiful future together; hope that perhaps my addiction and problems would go away now that I had a great woman in my life; and hope that we would be blessed with a beautiful family, wonderful jobs, and live happily ever after. I had the wrong type of hope. 

The hope that I was living by was a worldly hope. It says: “I hope that I get that job”; “I hope that mom makes a full recovery”; or “I hope that all of this mess in my life works out”. You see, a worldly hope is nothing more than a wish. The way the world views hope is a mere desire that things in life will work out. There is no power behind this kind of hope, no source of inspiration in it or foundation beneath it. This was the kind of “hope” I had in my life immediately after I got married. A kind of hope that wished all the problems in my life would simply get better; a false hope where making one good major decision means that everything else would suddenly work out perfectly and for my good. This is a worldly kind of hope and not only was this the kind of hope I had for life at that time, sadly, this is the kind of hope I believe most people live by today. 

Three months after we got married on December 21st, just before Christmas, I overdosed from fentanyl and my heart stopped. I came back, only because God breathed life back into my body. A couple hours later, the paramedics found me and hit me with Narcan, with the intention of stopping me from going into further overdoses. There was no more hiding, no more manipulating, no more secrets. At this point, my newlywed wife, her family, my family, and all my friends knew there was a major problem. My wife made the difficult decision to separate from me just three months into our marriage. Of course, I didn’t understand or support that decision at the time. I simply thought, “how could someone that loves me so much abandon me when I need her the most?” I later realized that not only was this the hardest decision of her life, but the correct one. We spent the next 327 days separated. She spent this time on self-care, praying, reading God’s word, searching for answers, and waiting on God to prompt her to the next right move. In contrast, I spent those days doing the polar opposite – going even deeper into the darkest place I have ever been in my addiction. I had become completely hopeless. 

On January 21, 2019 I walked into the Frederick Rescue Mission deep in the destruction of my drug and alcohol addiction. I walked in hopeless, full of broken relationships, a broken marriage, and in despair. Within the first 10 minutes, after praying in my dorm I could feel presence of the Lord like arms wrapping around me and hugging me. This experience was so powerful that I wrote about it in a letter to my sister. After my 30-day “blackout period” was over, she was excited to tell me the exact prayer she and my niece prayed that fateful day (the day I left for the Mission) was that “God would wrap His loving arms around me and not let go.” I count this amazing event as a divine encounter with God that put me on the trajectory of following Jesus and walking by faith. 

As I began my recovery journey at the Mission, I saw God at work in my life and countless lives around me, and I finally had real authentic hope. I saw a community continuously pull together in support of the Mission to help “save lives now and for eternity.” This is rescue mission in the truest sense. The loving people of the Changed Life Recovery Program and the entire staff at the Mission, helped in my rescue mission. As I continued to walk by faith through the program, I began to grow my physical, emotional, and mental health, and to grow spiritually while following Jesus. As I type this article, I am approaching just shy of celebrating two years of sobriety. My wife and I have made a full reconciliation in our marriage and we now have an amazing 9-month-old baby girl. We continue to walk by faith, together, keeping Jesus Christ as the foundation of our lives and marriage. Next year, I will continue in my new career, with my second year as an intern minister at the Frederick Church of Christ, as well as graduate with an AA degree next semester and continue to seminary next fall.   

Tony with his wife and daughter

Today, my life is full of hope. But not the mere wishful hope that I once lived in; instead, I walk in the assurance and confidence of biblical hope. When the Bible talks of hope, it is in the expectation that something will happen. The reason the hope of the Bible is a confident expectation is because of the saving work of Jesus Christ. Because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross, we can live with confident expectation and assurance in the abundant life He calls us to now and for eternity! The beautiful thing is that this type of hope is offered to everyone. When I walked through the doors of the Frederick Rescue Mission on January 21, 2019, I had no hope at all. I was full of defeat and beaten up by the cycles of addiction, but God had a different plan that I didn’t even know about! This was a plan not rooted in my demise or for evil, but a plan filled with prosperity. This plan is built on a future and a hope for my life. This is the plan that I get to walk in because of the amazing hands the Lord continues to use at the Mission! And now I can walk in the prosperous future the Lord has for me with a biblical hope – a confident expectation in the work Jesus is doing in my life!