Truck driver Anthony Bootes has had harrowing experiences with suicide, rape, loss and rejection in his life, yet he found healing and wholeness through a series of events that began as he was embarking on a murder-suicide plan to end his pain.
Anthony grew up in Townsville, Queensland, attending various schools, moving around a lot and constantly getting into trouble. In November 1987, when Anthony was 13, his father, who suffered from Parkinson's disease, committed suicide by shooting himself at 5am one morning.
Anthony was the one who found the body. His life was turned upside down but he wasn't offered any counselling to work it through.
His loss and trauma were then exacerbated when his martial arts instructor started sexually abusing him, until Anthony's mum sent him away to boarding school.
Anthony ran away from there and was kicked out of his next school for calling in a hoax bomb threat, which is how he ended up in a horse riding school for troubled teens.
"The horse riding school taught me a lot about horses, and also taught me life skills and how to behave around other people. It was the best 13 weeks of my life," Anthony remembers.
From there he began working as a jackaroo, then studied at agricultural college. When Anthony was offered a job driving a water truck, he moved to Charters Towers just before his 18th birthday.
On his birthday, Anthony's boss got him drunk, and raped him.
"I didn't tell anyone about what had happened to me. I moved away and went from state to state working on cattle stations. I was just surviving the best way I could. I turned to alcohol and ended up an alcoholic at the age of 23," he recounts. When he was hospitalised with alcohol poisoning, and told that if he kept drinking he would die, Anthony quit.
Following a failed marriage, and several jobs and moves, Anthony met an 18-year-old from Wagga Wagga, who travelled around with him for a while in his truck. When he tried to end the relationship, she revealed she was pregnant.
"I didn't even know how to look after myself, let alone a child, but it takes two to make a baby so I packed up and moved to Wagga as well," he continues. The couple lost a second child at just six weeks old and then had a third little girl.
The pressure on Anthony to drive longer hours in order to earn more, caused him to start using the drug speed to stay awake.
At that time, after more moves, Anthony bought a house, hoping to give his family some stability.
"I thought this would make me happy but the bills and debt, which I hadn't taken into account, put more pressure on me to drive even more to make more money to support the home budget and my drug habit," he explains.
Eventually, his wife gave him an ultimatum – 'us or speed' - but when Anthony tried to cold turkey off the drugs without any help it ended in them separating.
His wife took up with another man and Anthony was only allowed to see his daughters for two hours at a time, on supervised visits.
That was when he hit rock bottom.
"My depression and stress levels were so high I couldn't see any more hope in this life, so I was going to end it by driving the truck through the house that we bought and kill my wife, her boyfriend and myself," he admits.
While Anthony was writing a suicide note, his phone rang and it was a Christian man, Graham Hood, who knew Anthony's sister and who ran a programme called Recovery Road. He and Anthony chatted for about two hours and Graham promised, "I'll ring you every day until you get out of the darkness back into the light".
Through an amazing "coincidence", Anthony's boss called the same day to say they had got a new trucking contract to Brisbane, where Graham was, and Anthony was able to go to meet his rescuer in person. The men spoke for hours, they watched the Christian movie Courageous, about fatherhood, together, and Anthony was invited to stay for dinner.
"I asked if I could have a shower before dinner," Anthony recounts, "and Graham said to me, 'Ask God into your life while you are in there'. So [in the shower] I said, 'Righto, God if you want me to believe in You then You better send Your only Son Jesus to me because I have got nothing else to give in this life of mine.' Well, I came out of the shower feeling peace - no more anger or hurt, and this pain I had had in my right arm that went from my ribs to my fingertips was gone."
Just as the shower washed his body, that prayer washed Anthony's soul clean of his past, his pain and his sins. "You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." (I Corinthians 6:11)
He says, "That night I lay on the bed with my arms outstretched like a cross rebuking Satan and his demons out of my life in the name of Jesus. All these black shadows left the room and I fell asleep and woke up to a whole new different life."
The following weekend Anthony went to church with a cousin, whom he found out had been earnestly praying for him. There a woman he didn't know gave him a Bible. He then joined a Bible study group.
In 2013 Anthony had the opportunity to *share his story over the radio and was overwhelmed by the response from people saying how much it had helped them to forgive others in their lives.
The following year he married for the third time, to Sarah. Anthony stopped driving long-haul trucks last year after being involved in a fatal crash (that wasn't his fault) but previous to that he had a big sign on his truck declaring "Forgiveness Matters".
Indeed it does. As the Bible says in Mark 11:25-26 "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses."
And Anthony's life is proof that no matter how you have been sinned against, forgiveness is possible by the grace of God.•