Dustin’s Decision by A.P. Maddox is a story I wanted to include in Little CAB Press’s 2016 Spring Anthology: A Time to Blossom, however I didn’t finish it in time. So I’ve decided to post it, in its entirety, here.
I wrote Dustin’s Decision after much prayerful consideration about a young friend who struggles with addiction. I realize when it comes to addiction there are no easy answers, quick fixes or one-size-fits-all categories, so the following may not be suitable for everyone but if this story can help even just one person then I’m thankful to God for helping me to write it.
By A.P. Maddox
though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
The early days of spring were warming fast—promising a hot summer. Dustin pulled off his jacket and sat on the wooden bench on Mr. Crawford’s back porch, waiting for him to come out and give him his daily work instructions. Dustin was fourteen and had been hired by Mr. Crawford to do chores around his farm after school each day.
While waiting, Dustin pulled his cell phone from his pocket and looked around in all directions to make sure no one was watching before he clicked on the internet. He soon became engrossed in the images he selected to look at and was no longer paying attention to his surroundings.
“Oh boy,” Mr. Crawford said with a cough, rounding the corner and catching a glimpse of what Dustin had been watching. “You can’t un-see that, can you?”
Dustin quickly clicked his phone off and shoved it deep into his pocket—feeling his face turn red with embarrassment. He sat motionless, expecting to be reprimanded and sent home.
“C’mon, we’ve got lots of work to do today,” Mr. Crawford said, motioning Dustin toward the barn.
Dustin followed in silence, looking toward the ground—afraid to look up—afraid of seeing the disappointment on Mr. Crawford’s face.
Mr. Crawford took a green plastic bucket from a shelf in the barn and tossed it to Dustin. He pointed toward the large plastic barrel full of chicken feed and told him to fill the bucket.
“Ya know, when I was your age I used to look at pictures like that too,” Mr. Crawford remarked.
“You did?” Dustin slowly asked in surprise, while filling the bucket and daring to look up a little.
“Ashamed to admit it, but yes,” Mr. Crawford answered. “We didn’t have cell phones and internet back then though, so it was harder to find but still we’d get a hold of a magazine or some playing cards that had those kind of pictures on them and stuff, and yeah, we’d look at them, me and my buddies.” He shoveled dried corn into a wheelbarrow for the cows and continued. “These days they call it ‘pornography addiction’—of course back then we didn’t know we were addicted—but looking back I’d have to admit we sure did do it a lot and we went to great lengths to see it.”
“But at church you seem like such a spiritual kind of guy,” Dustin said in confusion. “You don’t still look at that kind of stuff do you?”
“Oh no way, those days are long gone,” Mr. Crawford stated while shaking his head.
“But, how did you stop?” Dustin asked.
Mr. Crawford sat on a long bale of straw and motioned for Dustin to sit as well. He put his hands on his knees, looked over at Dustin and began to relate his story. “I got a girl pregnant,” he stated.
Dustin’s eyes widened in surprise as he asked, “Really?”
“Actually to be fair that’s not exactly when I stopped,” Mr. Crawford continued. “But it was the beginning of the end of it. You see when I was a dating in high school I used to look at girls the way I would look at those pictures. I’d decide whether or not I wanted to date a certain girl based on whether or not I thought she’d look like those pictures without her clothes on. Then once I’d get them out on a date, my main goal was to, well, you know, get their clothes off. So it was only a matter of time before one of them got pregnant but in those days you didn’t just walk away, you did the right thing and got married and took care of them. But even that didn’t stop my foolish behavior.” He stopped and shook his head. He looked sorrowful and took a deep breath before continuing.
“I ended up cheating on my wife and, well, she found out. I figured she would be mad but what I didn’t figure was how hurt she would be—and that’s what finally got to me—the hurt I caused her. Before she found out, she had always looked at me like I was some knight in shining armor or some kind of prince or something but after she found out, well, she wouldn’t really look at me at all and then when she did look at me all I could see was the pain on her face and the disappointment in her eyes. You see, she had never known I had looked at those kind of pictures and had messed around and stuff. She thought we were just kids in love who had made a mistake but then did the right thing by getting married. She didn’t know what a complete jerk I was.”
He sighed before going on in a more resolute tone. “That’s when I got on my knees. I didn’t pray for God to make her stay with me, instead I prayed for Him to help her do what would make her feel happy again. I wanted her to be happy so badly that I just prayed that God would help her to do whatever she needed to do to be happy again—even if that meant leaving me! Then one night after the baby had gone to sleep I asked her to pray with me, I told her she didn’t have to say anything that I would do all the praying. So we got on our knees and right there, right in front of her I begged God to forgive me for hurting her and I begged him to forgive me for all the stupid things I had ever done. I begged and I cried and I begged some more and when I finally said amen, I looked up she was crying too. So I told her how very sorry I was and I told her I would understand and support any decision she made, even if that meant leaving me. I told her I just wanted to see her happy again.”
Dustin’s eyes were wide with rapt attention. “What happened after that?” he asked.
“Well, it was hard for her,” Mr. Crawford said with a heavy sigh. “But she decided to stay and when she did, I decided I was going to do whatever it took to become the man she needed me to be! And since I had lost the magic of her looking at me like I was some kind of prince, I deciding to begin looking at her as though she were a queen—a queen whose favor I needed to regain. So I sent a letter to the woman I had cheated on her with, to let her know I was very sorry for my foolish behavior and I wasn’t going to see her anymore because I was going to spend the rest of my life being the husband my wife deserved and I told her I hoped one day she’d find someone who would do that for her too.”
He stopped for a moment, in quiet contemplation and took a deep breath before continuing. “It wasn’t over yet though, I felt I needed to have another prayer about it. So one night I got out of my bed after the baby and my wife had gone to sleep and I knelt to pray. This time while I was praying—asking for forgiveness again of all my awful sins and all the hurt I had caused…”
His voice began to draw out slower, as though he was relating something sacred to him, which he didn’t often share. “In my mind’s eye I saw myself in a river being baptized by the Savior Jesus Christ and coming out of the water clean and bright and feeling light and happy. Then I waded to the shore and walked up the bank where there was a spirit, in the image of a man, standing there waiting for me. As I walked, he walked beside me and I knew it was the Holy Spirit.”
He paused again and looked at Dustin thoughtfully—as though he wished Dustin could see what his mind’s eye saw that night—and feel what he had felt. With a hope-filled smile, he gave Dustin a pat on the back and told him, “Now every time I do something foolish like yell at my kids or get in an argument at work or do something else I have to repent for, I recall that vision again and I know that as I repent I can be washed clean and have the help of the Holy Spirit.”
Dustin was breathing heavier now as tears welled in his eyes. He looked up at Mr. Crawford and they exchanged weathered smiles as two men—one older, one younger but both in equal need of the Savior’s atonement.
They got up and went about finishing the daily chores, neither of them saying too much more—both in quiet reflection of their previous conversation.
That evening when Dustin returned home, he went into his room alone. Instead of getting out his phone to look at the kinds of things he usually looked at when he was alone in his room however, he put his phone on his desk and went to his bedside and knelt to pray.
He told God how thankful he was for what Mr. Crawford had told him. He told God how sorry he was for all the inappropriate images he had chosen to look at and asked for forgiveness for his bad choices. He pictured in his mind, himself down in the waters of baptism with Christ by his side, baptizing him. He focused on this image as he prayed and begged for forgiveness—and as he focused on the image of himself being drawn from the waters of baptism by his merciful Savior, he felt his sins wash away and felt the sweet feeling of forgiveness come over him. He thanked God for forgiving him and asked Him for strength to go forward with faith and for help to make right choices and to turn away from sin and evil. He decided right there, on his knees in prayer, that from then on, instead of looking at inappropriate images he would read the words of the Lord in the Holy Scriptures instead. He decided that every time he would feel the urge to look at an inappropriate image on his phone, he would instead pull up the scripture app and he would read scriptures until the urge went away. He knew it would take dedication but he also had faith he would be a happier person if he made better choices.
The first many weeks were very difficult for Dustin. He felt a strong urge to look at the images again. He desperately wanted to just look at them, even just one more time and even reasoned with himself that it was really no big deal and he could stop later, when he was older. He told himself, all guys did it, so why was it a problem?
But then he thought, Christ had never done anything like that and never would. Then he remembered how Christ treated women—with kindness, respect and love—and he knew that’s how he wanted to treat women too. So, he pulled up the scriptures on his phone and just as he had previously determined to do, he read scriptures until the urge was gone and his thoughts had been lifted to holier things.
He did this day after day and he continued to pray for help and strength, remembering to thank God in every prayer for the atonement which made it possible to repent. Soon, the urges got further and further apart as he continued to read and pray.
As time went on he noticed his relationships with others improved as well. He was able to make friends with girls more easily than before because he was learning to respect who they were as individuals rather than merely judging them for what their bodies looked like.
A couple years went by and it was time to graduate high school. Dustin sat at the graduation ceremony, in his cap and gown, feeling very proud of his accomplishment. He realized the urges were so weak now and so few and far between that he barely noticed them and they were easier to get over now. He said a silent prayer of deep gratitude to God for helping him to become the man he had always wanted to be—a man in control of his choices and ready for a happy, successful future.
Dustin’s Decision by A.P. Maddox © copyright 2016 by A.P. Maddox
MAYA AND THE MESSIAH and WORTH OF A SOUL