Brad* grew up the target of his stepfather's abuse, while his mother idly stood by.
"I would sometimes come home from school and he would have a ping pong paddle in his hand and he would just hit me around the head for no reason."
"It made me feel worthless. Like, why was I even born? Why couldn't there be a family who would love me?"
As a teenager, Brad longed for attention from older men. He was 16 when he met a gay couple who introduced him to sex and drugs.
"I was living a homosexual life because I was seeking attention."
After Brad graduated from high school in 1998, he frequented gay bars in California, seeking out men who would shower him with gifts, money, and drugs in return for sexual favours.
"It just put this euphoria in me that I felt like I was on top of the world. Everybody wanted me. Yeah, they had their own agendas, but I felt wanted."
Then in 2001, Brad learned he was HIV positive. He plunged deeper into his lifestyle to mask his depression.
"This was a choice, a consequence of the lifestyle I chose to live and rather than man up and deal with it, I just dove into destruction. Every day I woke up all I wanted to do was be dead. I would even pray, 'God if you are real, just let me die'."
my past.By 2009, Brad had AIDS, was still battling drug addiction, and in a relationship that had become violent and abusive. However, things took a turn for the better when he met a Christian family who frequented the restaurant where he worked as a server.
"They knew that I was living a homosexual lifestyle. They didn't judge me. They didn't condemn me. They just loved on me. It was like I started building a relationship that was a healthy relationship," Brad acknowledges.
That helped him see that the man he was with, and the ones before, had been using him all along. "This person made me think of every bad thing I had ever gone through my whole life, by manipulating me to buy drugs. And I said 'I'm done."
By now, Brad realized if something didn't change, he wouldn't survive.
"I had just got so burnt out and worn down and physically ill, that I could no longer take it. I could no longer live that life and had I continued to live that life I probably would be buried in the cemetery right now."
Finally, Brad broke off the relationship and moved out. He started volunteering at a thrift store run by the family from the restaurant. As they continued to love and accept him, he realized his only hope was through Jesus Christ.
"The love that they have as a family is the love I've wanted to have my whole life. And I knew that if God could give it to them, because that's where the love comes from, He could give it to me, but there were things I needed to do to change."
Brad prayed with them, and surrendered his life to Christ.
"I said Father please forgive me. I know that I'm a sinner. I have blasphemed you and the Holy Spirit. And I ask you to forgive me. I repent and I ask you to come into my heart and to guide me and lead me in my life. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen."
"It's the only time in my life that I felt peace. It's almost like the cartoon where the cloud is always over him. Well I went from darkness to light shining in and through me."
He joined an addiction recovery and discipleship program at the family's church and overcame his addiction. "I have not had any homosexual tendencies, act outs, or desires in over six years. That's totally God."
With his AIDS under control through medication, Brad is enjoying a healthy, active life. He's also thankful for the love of his wife and her three children.
"I have a family that loves me like I always wanted my family to love me. I now have peace from Christ and the whole time I was searching for love I was looking in the wrong places. All I had to do was look to Jesus. Everything I have ever wanted, He's all that in one.
"He has completely transformed my life. My life today is better than any day in my past."•
*Not his real name