By Vince Bautista: I tried to make my life look like something people would want to have. I went to church and was involved with the disabilities ministry. I was the funny, crazy kid in class everyone liked to hang out with. I was even a bit of a trouble-maker, and that made me semi-popular.

But underneath, my life was a wreck.

My dad was never there for us; he always worked too long, and when he was there he was working in the yard so he didn’t have to be in the house with his kids. He openly told us he never wanted us in the first place. So from the very beginning, my understanding of love – the unconditional kind you have for your parents and siblings – was mostly nonexistent.

My dad was a very selective person – selective with hearing, selective with memory, and selective with participating in our lives. Worst of all, he was selective in his love for his kids, his mother, his sister, and his wife. His love was selfish – there when we did things he wanted, or, for whatever reason, when he decided it would be there.

He was stuck in the brokenness of his own childhood, the product of a workaholic father and unloving mother. He used that brokenness – his victimhood – to justify the way he treated people throughout his life. By the time he moved out of the house when I was a few months shy of my 12th birthday, the damage was done. If there’s anything positive, it’s that he showed me how not to be a father, and that lesson will help me be a better dad one day.

It was no wonder that when I met Richard, I thought he was the coolest guy in the world. I met him at church, at the disabilities ministry my mom started. He was 8 years older than me and he wanted to hang out with me…and I felt honored. He was the only adult that wanted to hang out with a kid like me. My mom liked him too, and saw him as a positive role model once my dad was gone. Richard seemed to genuinely care about my life, so I was thrilled.

One day, Richard told me how bad his life at home was, and my mom and I agreed it would be great for him to live with us. By this time we were already going to the gym together and taking trips to Disneyland, so he was practically part of the family.

And that’s when the manipulation started.

One of the earliest examples was when I found the Playboy in his room. He caught me, and showed me “what a boy does when he gets excited” to make it feel better. “Christians,” he said, “do it so they don’t go out and have sex before they get married.” I bought into the whole thing, and from there, the envelope got pushed further and further.

We started using the sauna and steam room together after workouts, and that led to the showers. He “protected” me in the showers by standing close to me, and started touching and hugging me in there. Then we started watching videos together … and eventually masturbating together. Every day. Until I graduated high school.

Over the years, the mental manipulation continued. He had me start calling him brother. He became my chief disciplinarian. He convinced me I had a learning disability. He dictated who my friends were, and abused the ones he liked. He taught me to view women as objects.

He even baptized me.

As you can image, I grew into a damaged, depressed, and chaotic adult. I was a drunk. I slept with any girl I could find. I got a girl pregnant, which she then terminated. I bounced from job to job, and was eventually accused of stealing from an employer. I lost faith in God.

Inevitably, I tried to kill myself, and ended up in the psych ward for observation. That was my rock-bottom. And there, in the hospital, my sister came to get me, and took me home. I started seeing a counselor, started going back to church, and even got myself a job. I started recognizing what a miracle it was that I was still alive.

Soon after that, I had a talk with my brother-in-law about Richard, who by now had become an afterthought. He asked me about our relationship, and I finally realized that I’d been molested for 10 years of my life. Two days later, I wrote him an email, and then told my family. I called the police, and he was arrested, tried and convicted of 10 counts of child molestation. He now is serving 150 years in prison.

But the truth is, I forgive him. I want him to know Christ’s love and mercy, and repent of his sins, and one day be in heaven with me. I will relish in us worshipping the Most High together. That is hard for some people to say, but not for me. I know that God heals all wounds and uses the tragedies in our lives to create something beautiful.

I’ve gotten closer to God than maybe I ever would have without this situation. I love the Lord with all of my being. I am the bond that holds my family together, and God is my rock. Because of him, the ground isn’t caving in.

I am not alone. I am not depressed. I am God’s child, and I am People of the Second Chance.