A faith journey isn't always a straight line. The road can be full of bumps and curves, as John Collier discovered.
Collier, of Grand Rapids, came from a broken home. He was 8 years old when his parents divorced. "My father basically was a very violent man who was into drugs and alcohol," Collier said. "On three separate occasions he spent time in prison. I called him a three-time loser."
Even so, Collier grew up craving his father's love and attention. His mother's efforts to keep the family together resulted in another bad marriage, and after several moves his mother settled in Traverse City with Collier and his sister.
Collier always sought a father figure and excelled in academics and sports in school while striving for teachers' and coaches' approval, but he was a discipline problem at home and a runaway at 12.
A Traverse City police officer involved in his foster care placement served as the positive role model he needed, and when it came time to pursue a career, Collier chose law enforcement. He was accepted to the Indiana State Police Academy, and became an exemplary officer, even serving on the elite governor's detail in Evansville. "I loved my job," he said.
His mother settled into another marriage and urged Collier to seek God in his life, but he wasn't interested. His birth father popped in and out of his life. "I always loved my dad and craved his approval, but I hated him, too," Collier said.
The hurt built and eventually affected his career. He began to resent those in authority over his job and developed bad habits. He used alcohol more and started using marijuana.
"I was getting into situations where I normally would take people to jail and instead I would take their drugs and tell them to get lost," he said. He began to pocket the money out-of-state speeders would ask him to mail in as cash bond. His conduct eventually came under internal investigation and he was suspended.
"I felt my life was over," he said. "I was not taking responsibility for my actions and I blamed everyone else."
Disgraced, Collier returned to Michigan where he began applying techniques he learned during police training to burglarize safes, using the cash to buy drugs. Less than a year later he was caught breaking into a safe.
"I didn't exactly have the safe open, but I was carrying a gun. The only thing that saved me was I didn't have a record," he said. He was sentenced to two years in prison.
While on parole, Collier developed an interest in flying and reasoned it might be the key to a new career. He applied to Northwestern Michigan College's aviation program and moved back to Traverse City, but financial aid didn't materialize.
"When I realized I couldn't fly airplanes, I became depressed and started drinking again. I went right back to a life of crime, committing burglaries in Leelanau, Grand Traverse and Manistee counties."
He was arrested again during a burglary of a business near the Grand Traverse/Leelanau county line in late 1991.
While in the Grand Traverse County Jail, Collier recalled the day a short man in his 60s came by. A soft-spoken man, Collier remembers.
"I saw the Bible he carried. He didn't say anything, but he was the first person who seemed to care about me." The man was the late Chaplain Bob Hall of Forgotten Man Ministries.
Hall often stopped to talk, Collier said.
"I began to open up about myself, and he began to share with me about Christ. I tell people Bob Hall introduced me to Jesus Christ," he said.
Collier faced a possible life sentence for the burglaries; "I came to realize I had become the thing I hated most in the world -- my father."
Befriended by Hall, Collier gave his life to Christ in March 1992 in the Grand Traverse Jail. Collier began to study the Bible in earnest through Forgotten Man Ministries. In the months to come, Collier was sent to Leelanau and Manistee counties to face charges there.
In July 1992, Judge Phillip E. Rodgers sentenced Collier to 8 to 15 years. As a convicted habitual offender he was required to serve a minimum of eight years. "I felt my life was over, but in actuality it was the beginning. I needed that time in prison to have God rebuild me, make me a new man."
Collier began serving his prison sentence in Jackson and was transferred every few years to other prisons. Hall and his wife Jamie visited Collier at every facility and kept in touch through phone calls. "They loved me like a son," Collier said.
He also rebuilt his relationship with his mother, and they often prayed during her visits.
"I was ready to start over. Prison was the greatest thing to happen to me," Collier said. "I got a whole new identity that came from knowing Christ. My purpose in life was no longer what I did. My purpose was Christ," he said.
Collier was 42 when released from prison in December 1999. He returned to college to study computers and regularly attended the church where he met his wife. Hall married them in 2000.
And other spiritual events began to materialize.
"I saw my father again. I called his name, but he didn't recognize me. He put his hand out to shake my hand, and I hugged him. I told him I loved him, told him about Jesus and that I had a wife. He was speechless," Collier said.
But his father also was going through changes. Dementia eventually confined him to a nursing home.
"I went every week to see Dad. I told him about God and my life, and for the first time I prayed with my father, and he acknowledged God. I held my dad and we both wept, and I left knowing my father would be with God. I feel I saved my dad."
Collier recalls the year with his father as more precious than any he had in his own life. "I saw him on the Father's Day before he died and told him how proud I was to be his son," Collier said.
His father died in June 2006.
"I know God used me in my father's life, and Chaplain Hall was used in my life. God always knew his plans for me," Collier said.
Collier put his experiences into a book, "Inside Out: A Father's Love," which he began before his father died. He neared its completion when Collier learned of Hall's death on July 6, 2007.
Collier decided to use the book as a ministry tool and started the nonprofit organization Father's Love Ministry. A portion of the book's profits will go to the Forgotten Man Ministry.
His goal is to put the book in the hands of all chaplains across the state who are part of the Forgotten Man Ministry and, in turn, get the book to men and women behind bars.
"I hope the book inspires feedback from the people who read about a police officer whose life was turned upside down and be touched by it," Collier said. "It's also for people who are about to give up on something. When things seemed impossible God offered a miracle in my life. I want people to know nothing is impossible."
Collier will be at Rainbow Bookstore in Traverse City from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today for a book signing and will be at Horizon Books in Traverse City from 1-3 p.m. on June 21.
Reach Gretchen Murray at email@example.com.