The heartbreaking first part of Tony Nolan’s story is almost too much to stomach, and you find yourself holding your breath, hoping that something—anything—good would happen to him. Even though it’s a memoir, and you know he came out of it for the better, you find yourself wanting to go slap some sense into the adults who caused him so much pain at such a young age.
It’s something you need to hear, though. You have to go with him through the dark places to fully realize the power of his story. It’s something he’s shared all across the country, and now he’s coming to Huntsville on August 4 and 5.
Tony was born in a mental institution in Florida. His mother—a mentally ill, homeless prostitute—wasn’t able to take care of him, so Tony was sent to live with a foster family.
“I suffered unimaginable abuse under the hands of some sick, twisted, really predators,” Tony said of his foster parents.
He was beaten, sexually molested and tortured with burning cigarettes for three years until another family came to adopt him, offering up a $200 fee to take the boy home. In a weird twist of irony, his adoptive grandmother ran the brothel where his biological mother worked.
Things weren’t much better with the adoptive family. They lived in a rough part of Florida known as Sin City” because of the high crime rate. When Tony was a child, his cousin was shot in the head with a double-barrel, sawed-off shotgun.
He was scared, rightfully so, growing up in that area. The man who adopted him coped with the poverty by drinking, getting violent and taking out his frustrations on Tony. Through all the physical pain Tony went through, it was the emotional toll of never hearing I love you that hurt the most, he said in an interview in 2013.
If that isn’t painful enough, his father repeatedly told him he wasn’t worth the money the family spent to adopt him.
Tony remembers his father yelling, “Is this all $200 bought me?”
Dulling The Pain
If there was ever someone who should get a free pass for trying to dull the pain, it would be Tony Nolan. But that’s not how life works.
When he was a teenager, he started a life of addiction—drugs and alcohol—as a way to numb the hurt he felt for so many years.
On February 23, 1989, Tony tried to commit suicide by drinking himself to death.
“I didn’t have a death wish, but I did have a death mission,” Tony said. “I was told I was worthless, and I lived that way.”
He woke up the next day angry and alone in a hospital bed. This wasn’t his first failed suicide attempt, and he had a renewed commitment to ending his life that very day.
However, God had other things in mind.
This is the part of the story where the tides turn, the momentum shifts, and for the first time in a painful story, you see this tiny glimmer of hope.
That night Tony’s brother invited him to a Bible study. Tony went along, not knowing it would change the course of his life forever.
“I went there drunk,” Tony said. “They gave me coffee and Jesus.”
That night, Tony and his brother talked about the Bible, faith, scripture and sin until Tony eventually realized he wasn’t worthless.
One More Twist
In the 28 years since Tony’s brother shared the message of Jesus with him, Tony has been dedicated to using his story as a way to reach others who are suffering and struggling with any number of issues.
Tony spent several days touring with large Christian conventions and well-known Christian artists before settling at a church on the outskirts of Atlanta.
Even though his story reached the good part, the happy part where he could live a full life without drugs or alcohol, there was one more twist that shaped his life.
After Tony became a preacher, he went to another mental institution in Florida to meet his biological mother once again. It was only one time—she died shortly after their reunion.
Tony told her he was a preacher and shared the Gospel with everyone around him.
His mother, still struggling with mental illness, told him about the events leading up to his birth.
“They told me not to have you,” his mother told him. “Well, it looks like God knew what He was doing.”
Tony will be the keynote speaker for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ Power Leadership Training (PLT) Party on August 4. The event will be at the Von Braun Center and will feature a full-length concert from musical acts Crowder and Tedashii.
The party is just part of the Power Leadership Training Conference for middle and high schoolers.
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