In high school, musician Craig Aven got appendicitis and was put on medication following his surgery. Unfortunately the drugs became a habit and an addiction he couldn’t break.
“I found that pills could make me feel momentarily, very happy. I actually liked myself and others when I took them. I felt great. So I took pills, until they took me. When those didn't affect my feelings enough, I turned to whatever drug would do the job and I spiraled into bondage. I began to experience hopelessness and real despair, using drugs I never thought I'd use. I was hooked and hopeless.
"My life was really in a terrible place," he admits in a Youtube interview.
Craig sees it as God's grace that he was pulled over by a police officer while under the influence of six different substances. "God would use this to nudge me out of hiding and today I am so grateful."
Craig had been raised in a Christian home. Both his father and grandfather were pastors. His parents were also musicians and songwriters. They performed regularly in church contexts and Craig began travelling with them and his two brothers at three or four years old. At an early age he also learned the piano, and wrote his first song at age 11, for a girl in his youth group who had been involved in a bad car accident.
As a child Craig committed his life to Jesus, asking God to forgive him for his wrongdoing and be his best friend, and his faith developed along with his love for music.
"The joy and excitement I had growing up was real, and the desire for God was put in me very early on as a result of my parents living out Christ before me. The Christ I saw in them was the Christ I wanted in me," he remembers.
However, having got hooked on medication in 2005, Craig began living a double life – worship leader at church and drug addict on the side.
After being arrested and with the support and prayers of his church, Craig joined Teen Challenge in Cinnicinati in April 2008, admitting that he needed help to get clean. At the time he was "completely broken" he confesses. The following January he graduated the program, having kicked the drugs and says "I saw God restore my life".
"I began to really believe that my sin is what God dislikes, and not me. That it's all about relationship and not rules. Through study, prayer and application, my view of God and how He sees me dramatically changed. It is God's love for me that compels me to change, not the fear of being unloved. I don't view instruction and obedience as a burden anymore, but rather freedom and life. And as a result, I'm drawing nearer to God than I ever thought possible," he wrote in a Teen Challenge brochure in 2010.
My sin is
and not me.Later Craig met his wife, Tess, with whom he is now raising four children.
"I am so grateful for what God has done in my life. He has given me so much more than I deserve or that I thought I was capable of handling," Craig enthuses.
The couple are so passionate about sharing the love and goodness of God with others that they sold most of their possessions, gave away the family dog and now travel around the United States in an RV, singing and sharing their stories wherever they have an opportunity.
Craig's most famous song is "The Sweetest Gift", which he wrote for a child his wife miscarried in 2014, to remember that "Although this year I have a broken heart/... Grieving that we're apart/But the sweetest gift is knowing where you are/You're with the Son of God/ You're with the Prince of Peace."
It gained the attention of well-known instrumental artists The Piano Guys, when pianist Jon lost his daughter Annie in a hiking accident last year, and he and cellist Steven produced their version of the song with Craig, which has had more than 1.6 million views on Youtube.•