Impact when given a Second Chance

It was a hot summer day in Huntsville, Alabama. Typically, a great way to cool off would have been to run under a sprinkler in the front yard. But today, we decided to go catch tadpoles in a stream at the top of the mountain. Armed with sandwich bags and a red wagon, we trudged up the long road to the stream. The stream was cool, and we filled two baggies with tadpoles. I’m not sure what our plans were for these poor trapped tadpoles, but nonetheless, it was a successful trip. We stood at the top of the hill looking down at the long road ahead of us. Wouldn’t it be fun to ride the wagon down? The others were too afraid. But I wanted to show them that I could run with them. After all, they were much older than me. They were 5th graders.

I sat down in the wagon, and my legs couldn’t reach the ground. I was on a mission. This death-defying ride would have put me in the stratosphere of coolness. Just before I took off, my older, wiser sister stepped in and said “Hold on. Let me get the tadpoles out of the wagon”. Off I went, screaming down the hill. I had hair then, and it was whipping in the wind. This may have not been the best of plans. The last thing I remember was rolling through the curve on two wheels when I hit the manhole cover. The wagon flipped, and I slid face-first down the hot paved road. I remember lying on my friend’s kitchen counter, with his mom patching me up, wondering why I’d been so stupid.

Forty years later, I was lying in a bunk bed in federal prison, wondering how I’d been so stupid. I had been involved in a multi-year, multi-billion dollar accounting fraud at a Fortune 500 company. I wasn’t the victim this time. The victims were the innocent: the investors, other employees, the families of those who lost their job. Once again, I had jumped on a wagon, but this time it took more than rubbing alcohol and gauze to repair the damage.

How did I get consumed in such unethical behavior that led to fraud? After all, I was raised in a Christian home and church, and “believed” in Jesus Christ as my Savior. But in hindsight, I’ve realized that my beliefs were shallow. My beliefs were a one way street- thinking that I “was good” in the sight of God because I believed in him. Where was my abiding? Where was my relationship? Where were the fruits of my Christianity? They weren’t there. Through 14 months in prison, and the years leading up to it, I prayed. But what was I really praying for? Looking back on it, my spirituality was built on sand, not on rock. “Lord, please get me through this.” Was I praying to be his humble servant? No.

It wasn’t until 2 years after prison that I truly discovered Jesus Christ. My life up to that point of time had been filled with seasons of sin. A divorce. A fraud. A second marriage whose roots were planted in sin. I’m thankful today that the second marriage of lies and sin didn’t last. It was a marriage that was not blessed by God.

There had to be a turning point. I was the bad tree that hadn’t borne good fruit. In what I consider God’s intervention, I met a fellow on a golf course, a former preacher, who I struck up a meaningful friendship with. Through God’s grace, he walked me through the parable of the sower of the seeds, and I realized that my spiritual life had always been choked out by thorns, the trappings and sins of this world. I came to know Jesus Christ as my true Savior that day.

Today I’ve been blessed with the ability to be a public speaker (something that once terrified me). I speak on ethics and the consequences of unethical behavior. I warn students of the many perils of the business world, and I implore leaders to lead by action rather than words. Through this, I feel that God has given me a forum to sow seeds, and hopefully some will bear fruit. Frequently, in a one on one session I am able to share God’s wonderful provision for my life, and my calling to now work for Him. In secular groups, I attempt to weave in the spiritual components of my story, without it necessarily being a direct testimonial. In Omaha, a former Marine came to me in tears over a business dilemma that he was facing. In Louisville, a woman said that I brought “closure” to a good, but painful business decision she had made five years earlier that others had criticized her for. In Toronto, a man said that I had helped him build a new foundation for his life. God put the words into my heart to speak to these people. I frequently receive emails from folks who I will probably never see again, but who say that they recognize the spiritual healing that I have enjoyed, and how they want to commit to the same. There are many others that I may never hear from again, but I hope that I have pointed out a meaningful path for their life. My prayer is that with humility, and obedience to God’s callings, that I may take a long period of darkness and turn it into light – for God’s glory. To the many people who were hurt years ago by the company fraud, all I can say is that I’m truly sorry, and I deeply regret the hurt that it caused others. Hopefully, if I’m effective in what I do today, I can prevent another such fraud from ever occurring. By the way, Dee and I (my first wife and the mother of my children) are happily remarried. God is so good. (Weston Smith)