The ex-addict who found his place at the table
Steve Berry’s life of abandonment, drugs and desperation found redemption in community around an old dining table
Steve Berry's story is proof that you can't go back, but you can start over. Watch his short video above, and read the story behind the story ...
When Steve saw the table, he knew it was the one.
He’d gone looking for a dining room table after he was inspired by a message one Sunday at NewSpring Boiling Springs about the importance of community in a believer’s life.
The pastor had pointed to a dining room table on stage filled with Thanksgiving food, and suggested everyone had the opportunity to bring people together like that.
As a former addict, the table was more than a visual. It was a symbol of the life that he was looking to live. The life that he’d always yearned for.
“I could never find happiness," Steve says. "I was searching for something. I couldn't be content with anything, no matter what I did.”
I felt like the guy in the room that nobody wanted around.
Out of Place
From as early as Steve could remember, he felt out of place, like he didn’t belong, even in his own family.
His mom was only 16 when he was born, “a child raising a child,” as Steve puts it. She loved Steve, but she was either at work or hanging out with friends. Steve’s biological father was mostly absent, too, in and out of prison.
When his parents divorced, Steve was 2, and when his mom remarried, he just felt “in the way” in his new, blended family. Most of his young life was spent with extended family members — grandparents, aunts, uncles, babysitters.
“I felt like the guy in the room that nobody wanted around,” he says.
The desire to belong drove all Steve’s struggles with substances — starting with alcohol at 9, when he got drunk on moonshine; pot at 11; and then a range of drugs, ending with crack cocaine.
If family meant using, and hanging with a rootless, rag-tag collection of drunks and addicts, scraping by on whatever cash they could earn from part-time jobs, selling drugs or doing petty crime, it seemed like a good trade off.
“I was looking for something or somebody to accept me,” he says. “And those people accepted me.”
I didn't care about nobody else because nobody else cared about me.
A Family Neglected
Steve got married when he was 18, and had two children in his 20s, but in the cruel logic of the streets, he was too caught up in his lifestyle to love and care for his family.
He worked a number of jobs — cook, truck driver, line worker — but he didn’t feel any particular responsibility to keep one long term. Lazing around and playing video games seemed better some days.
“I became like the most selfish person you'd ever want to meet. It was all about me and what I could do for me, and I didn't care about nobody else because nobody else cared about me.”
Steve’s life went into a tailspin after he started using meth and crack regularly with a friend and coworker in 2007. In his 30s, crack took complete control of his life.
“It was unbelievable what I would be willing to do to get it,” he says. “It had a hold on me that I could not break from.”
The inevitable crash came when he started writing bad checks to buy it, and he found himself convicted and sentenced to 14 months in prison — 6 months behind bars, with time in a high-security unit.
[The apostles] had problems just like I had … And Paul being in prison — I just felt a connection there.
Steve met Jesus in prison after he asked for a Bible from the chaplain. He wasn’t searching for God; he was just looking for something to read to ease the boredom.
He read the Bible cover to cover, and what he discovered in the Bible’s pages was a cast of screwups and misfits that he felt he could relate to, especially the apostles Peter and Paul.
“They had problems just like I had … just regular guys," he says. "And Paul being in prison — I just felt a connection there.”
It was no “jailhouse conversion,” if you mean the way some choose a religion out of desperation or just to have some boundaries and routines.
Steve sincerely made Jesus his Lord and Savior, and he left prison on fire for Jesus and wanting to serve God with his life.
But when he discovered his wife had left him for another man during his prison stretch, he felt hopeless and defeated. It was all that it took to plunge him back into addiction and send him careening off the rails again.
I felt like it was Jesus speaking to me, and I was ignoring him.
The end of the line
During this backslide, however, Steve had a conscience.
Not even after marrying his new sweetheart he’d met on Facebook could he escape the unrelenting self-hate of living in outright rebellion against Jesus.
“I felt like it was Jesus speaking to me, and I was ignoring him. Because I wanted what I wanted, not what He would want.”
One night, he bought as much crack as he could — 3 grams — with the explicit goal of killing himself.
Sitting there on the sofa, as the drugs began to take their potentially lethal effect, he felt himself falling into a void of blackness. He heard a voice calling to him three times. Then he heard the words, "Come to me,” and he knew it was Jesus.
“'Why would you have anything to do with me?' he remembers telling Jesus. 'Nobody else loves me. Why would you?'”
Steve begged Jesus to spare his life and promised to follow Him.
I started growing as a person, and I started learning how to care about other people's feelings.
Old Life Gone
And so it turned out. Steve got up off the couch that night and never again touched drugs of any type. He and his wife put Jesus at the center of their relationship, and they were introduced to NewSpring by a friend.
For the first time in his life, Steve found a true community — not the broken and selfish kind he was familiar with through a lifetime of drugs; the kind that focused on whatever people could get from one another.
No, this was a church family simply and selflessly giving love, care, and support out of the goodness of God’s love.
That prompted him to volunteer in the church — praying for people in the care room and loading the portable campus in and out.
“I started growing as a person, and I started learning how to care about other people's feelings.”
The transformation of Steve’s life was a story that he wanted to share with anyone who would listen, so when it came to the fateful “Come to the Table” message, he was ready to step out in faith.
The table showed me that there's another way to live.
Sharing The Table
The following week, when he saw the table in the storefront, Steve only had $40 in his pocket, half of which he needed for a tank of gas. He heard the Holy Spirit prompt him as he stared at the simple, dark brown, oval dining table and chairs in front of him, on sale for $175.
The store didn’t do layaway, but somehow, after a little bargaining, the salesman agreed to hold it for a couple weeks with a $20 deposit.
“I believe that table’s supposed to be mine,” Steve told him.
The first weekend the table was inside his Inman, South Carolina, double-wide, among the first guests was a homeless man who had given his life to Jesus and was to be baptized the next day. Since then he’s invited neighbors, former addicts, and family members.
“The table showed me that there's another way to live. You don't have to be suspect of everybody, and you don't have to take advantage of everybody. You can actually help people, and be there for people, and discuss problems with people, and pray for people. I don’t care who you or what you’ve done. You can come to my table, and we can talk about it.”
I have an overwhelming urge to tell people what Jesus has done for me.
In the tight knit community of his campus, word of the table spread quickly, inspiring others.
Soon, a men’s group had decided to load up Steve’s table on a truck and bring it to a dinner party for the men’s wives and families. One by one, everyone took turns sitting at the table and sharing stories about what Jesus had done in their lives.
Then a Facebook group also was created, Community Prayer Group, now boasting 560 members who daily share praise reports and prayer requests.
“I still get people coming up asking me ... ‘Tell me the story about the table,’ ” Steve says.
The table has come to symbolize the turnaround of Steve’s life, from lonely and self-centered, to loving and focused on others. It’s a transformation he knows is only possible in Jesus.
“I have an overwhelming urge to tell people what Jesus has done for me, and how he's worked in my life and changed my life,” he says. “I didn’t know what love was. I learned how to love through the church, through the Bible, and through the table. [Love] is what I was looking for, and that’s what I never got.”