Sunday Profile: ‘I made a deal with God — kill me or fix me’
Brad Walston has lived on a commune in Maine, worked as a ballroom dance instructor in Albuquerque and operated a carousel at a zoo in Florida. He’s overcome methamphetamine addiction and kicked a drinking habit that three rounds of treatment couldn’t cure.
Today, he’s presiding over Easter services at the Carbondale and Basalt Community United Methodist Churches.
Pastor Walston, 52, remembers the moment 12 years ago when, drunk and destitute, he got down on his knees and submitted himself to faith.
“I made a deal with God — kill me or fix me,” he said. “You have to be careful when you ask God to take your life, because he doesn’t hear it the way you mean it. I haven’t had a drink since that moment, and I haven’t wanted one. I don’t want to go back there.”
A former choir boy, Walston hadn’t paid much attention to his Methodist roots since he left New Jersey to study music at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. There, he fell into drinking and partying and ultimately dropped out.
He first encountered methamphetamine while living in Southern California.
“First it was just for special occasions,” he said. “Then every week became a special occasion. Then it was just weekends. Then the weekend started on Friday. Then Thursday. Then Wednesday.”
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The meth followed him even when he moved to Hawaii, sealed in baggies and mailed in greeting cards, and alcohol was omnipresent. The owner of a theater troupe he worked for in New Mexico even ran a local tavern on the side.
“I had such a good time, and I just about drank myself to death,” Walston said.
WHEN CHANGE CAME
Although he checked himself into rehab, it never seemed to stick.
“I went three times, and none of the three was successful, but I got really good at answering all the questions right,” he said.
The last clinic, a facility in Estes Park, sent him on to a halfway house in Florida.
“Six months in a halfway house gave me six months to plan my next drink,” Walston said.
It was there that he had his epiphany, and things began to change.
“I really felt like I’d come home,” he said. “Once you’re sober and you start to allow God to work in your life, God starts to work in your life. The most effective and heartfelt prayer is the one that says, ‘God help me.’ Part two, then, is to let him. You have to give up control of your life and let God do what God’s going to do. You have to die to live. You have to surrender to win. I totally gave up who I thought Brad was and I’ve been recreated as a new person.”
He took a job as an insurance receptionist and found that Palm Beach Atlantic University, just a few blocks away, offered a ministering program. He graduated in August 2008, completing a degree “on the 45-year plan.” He became active in the local church, teaching Sunday school and serving as interim youth director before he was accepted into Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
‘I’M HERE TO HELP’
Two years ago, he was appointed to serve as pastor in Carbondale and later part time in Basalt and Thomasville while he finishes seminary.
He brings a somewhat progressive philosophy to the church. The sign out front reads, “All are welcome,” and that’s the core of what Walston has to say.
“I’m not here to decide who’s worthy of help; I’m here to help,” he said. “When Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbor,’ he didn’t mean to tell them that they can’t be here. ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ Those are the parts people forget. The phrase ‘Namaste’ has become so popular. It means, ‘I see the divine in you.’ If I can see the divine in you, why would I marginalize or exclude you? I want to lift you up.”
Carbondale has had a few lessons for him, too.
“I’m constantly reminded of all the things they don’t teach you in seminary,” he said.
Things like administrative work, or tending the large garden in the back of the church and keeping the ditch pump running.
Next week, he will find out whether he’ll be elevated to a provisional elder. After that, he may stay in Carbondale or move on to another call.
“In my dreams, my first appointment will be my last appointment,” he said. “I like them, and they seem to like me pretty well. I’d love to just stay here, but it’s not about what I want. It’s about where God wants me. That was the deal I made.”
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