My name is JP Hayes and I’m truly honored Mandy asked me to share my journey to finding meaning and purpose in life. I was born and raised in a small town outside of Atlanta, GA known as Newnan. Newnan’s claim to fame is being the hometown of Alan Jackson. Yes, way down yonder on the Chattahoochee…well you know the rest.
Growing up in a small town, we spent a lot of time outside. Whether it was playing sports or being boys and causing mischief in the neighborhood, I was very active and could be described as a thrill seeker and was always adventurous. Like most kids at a young age, I played baseball and soccer - I excelled and got to play on travel teams for both sports. Those were some of my favorite childhood memories. Since I was so busy on the weekends with sports, church was not a top priority for me. Even though my mom would drag us all there on Sunday’s, I did not have a personal relationship with Jesus. I believe since this was a foundation early on in my life, it allowed me to find a safe place to run when I had nowhere else to turn years later.
During my years of playing competitive sports, I formed relationships with guys that were both good and bad. For whatever reason, I gravitated toward the friendships that were bad. One in particular, who I will refer to as Tom. Tom and I played on the same baseball team from the age of 9, and got into a lot of trouble together both on and off the baseball field all the way into high school. When I arrived at high school, my main focus shifted to golf and it became my everything. Because golf became all-consuming, I didn’t really do much outside of golf so I felt like I needed to “fit in” more which meant going to parties on the weekends.
During my freshman year, I played a pickup football game and ended up injuring my hand. The injury caused me to be in a cast for 3 months. I missed out on a major golf tournament in Hawaii that I was really looking forward to. During this time, I started regularly drinking and using drugs on the weekends. This started me down a path I would spend 7 years trying to correct.
During high school, I ended up being arrested for DUI’s, multiple drug possessions, battery, and a host of other convictions. I was kicked out of school and it ended up taking me four different high schools before I finally graduated with a diploma. I had no desire at that time to go to college (I have since graduated from Mercer University with a Bachelors in Business Administration in 2016). Instead, I decided to start selling drugs while working full-time. At this time, Tom dropped out of college. We started hanging out more and actively lived out our addictions.
After leading that lifestyle for 7 whole years, my last arrest led me to jail, which was the only option for me. I was sitting in my jail cell knowing that my decisions led to these consequences and I realized I could not continue down this destructive path. Not knowing where else to turn, I decided to open a Bible. The first book I started reading was James, since that is my first name. After reading through the book of James, my turning point in life happened in my jail cell.
James 1:2-4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trails of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
We all face difficulties in life, but we do not know the true depth of our character until we face adversity. For me in this situation, I had to make the best out of my circumstance of being in prison. I had been stripped away of everything and had nothing but a Bible, so I decided to lean in and begin my faith journey to understand God’s will for my life. I’m so stubborn and hard headed, I needed to be put in a prison in order to start following and pursuing Jesus. My sentence was 3 years and I ended up being released after 14 months due to good behavior, but still had to serve out a lengthy part of my sentence on probation which still has its challenges today.
I put together a list of things I wanted to do whenever I was released, and the number one item was to attend Buckhead Church in Atlanta. I had never spent much time in Buckhead, much less been to a church in Buckhead. The first Sunday I attended was Easter 2010. My sweet sister joined me and I was so overwhelmed, in a good way. The weeks following, I drove one hour each way from Newnan to Buckhead for the 9am service and sat by myself.
Eventually, I attended gatherings and groups that would help set a trajectory of my life to follow Jesus since I decided to completely disconnect from all of my friends in Newnan. I began to meet people through different activities, one of which was a kickball league. Needless to say, I never lost my competitive edge. It was through these friend groups that I started to build authentic, genuine friendships that were Christ-centered. When I stepped foot in jail, I decided I could not drink alcohol or do another drug in my life. It can be a little challenging at first, but after turning down a drink over and over people would stop asking. Alcohol and drugs were never my problem, I was.
In these friend groups, I met Kelly. We started out as friends and I definitely started liking her before she came to her senses and felt the same way. True story, I finally worked up the courage to ask Kelly on a date and as I was taking her home, I asked her to go on another and she said no! Being the persistent individual I was, I accepted the challenge. It took 3 months for me to get the second date. In her defense, my story comes with a lot to take in! During our dating, engagement and marriage we have faced all kinds of different challenges, but through it all we have never lost our faith. We celebrate 5 years of marriage in a few weeks! The challenges life has thrown us in these 5 years has been an amazing, and an emotional rollercoaster.
2 years ago, we moved so I could pursue a new career in Houston. We were three years into marriage, and had been struggling with infertility (if you have not read my wife Kelly’s blog post on Waiting, please do yourself a favor and go read it!) for over a year. We decided we needed a change to get out of our comfort zone of Atlanta and move to Houston. My past prevented me from getting a real estate license in Georgia, and Texas laws were favorable with my criminal background so I decided to pursue a license in Texas. Kelly left an amazing job in Atlanta, so neither one of us had a full-time job in our new city.
I kept thinking God was saying, “Just TRUST me” so I leaned in. After being denied a license in Atlanta and once in Texas (a few months prior to moving), God showed his faithfulness once again, and I was granted a license in Texas! It was a joyous day indeed.
I cannot go any further without mentioning the countless friends, mentors and family members who wrote letters, recorded videos and constantly encouraged me, and of course my wife, Kelly, who was with me every step of the way and helped organize a three-ring binder that was 500 pages! Without all of that support I could not have done it without YOU, so thank you! As I write this from our house in Houston, Texas, I’m just blown away with how faithful God has been over the years.
God was always there with me, pursuing me, but I wasn’t in a place to accept Him (much less anyone else) into my life. Seeing grace abundantly being poured out from friends, family members, the church and Kelly, has allowed me to accept that my sins were washed cleaned due to Christ’s crucifixion. I’ll celebrate 10 years of sobriety this year, but life hasn’t been perfect or super easy since my decision to follow Jesus. As a matter of fact, we have been in a very difficult season of life as we have struggled for over 3 years to get pregnant and start a family, but I am reminded of what God has done up to this point and know He is with us and is writing a beautiful story. I am so thankful for my rock-bottom moment because it led me to the never-ending love of Jesus Christ.
If you are currently going through a difficult time/trial, I want to remind you and encourage you that God is near and He requires us to trust him in the midst of hardship. We are promised storms in this life, but it’s how we react and respond to what we know is true of God’s promises that will show our trust in Him and all He has for us. Don’t lose faith.