I was dead in my sins

“Hiding became a way of life for me. I was continually in and out of jail. All my friends were druggies, and I did many things I really regret.” – Phil Dunson

“You’re a walking miracle, sweetheart.” Those are the first words Phil Dunson heard as he woke up in a local intensive care unit. After a night of heavy drinking, Phil blacked out as his car reached 100 MPH and slammed into the back of an 18-wheeler on Central Expressway. The top of the car was decapitated except for a corner of the driver’s side, which remained untouched. Gurgling on his own blood and clinging to life, Phil was transported to the ER where they stapled the top of his head shut.


Chaos was no stranger to Phil. Growing up in Oklahoma without a father figure was tough. His mom sent Phil to Christian schools and tried to instill faith and values in him. “We went to every church you could think of,” said Phil. “But our family life was so off-course, I had no reason to think about the Christian life. Alcoholism and domestic abuse so loud that the police would show up at the house were a regular part of my life. Everything around me was inauthentic and chaotic. The turmoil pushed me away from the little I might have known about God.”

The chaos continued when Phil and his family moved to Texas, where he hopped from school to school. He eventually moved back to Oklahoma. Craving stability and love, Phil looked for acceptance in relationships with his friends. “I was the younger guy hanging out with 11th and 12th graders,” said Phil. “I started doing marijuana and drinking, viewing both as steps to become acceptable in other people’s eyes.”

After graduation, Phil started abusing more drugs, eventually becoming a thief and a drug dealer, burglarizing stores and trafficking marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Hiding became a way of life for me,” said Phil. “I was continually in and out of jail. All my friends were druggies, and I did many things I really regret.”

Eventually, paranoia and loneliness took a toll on Phil, and he moved to Dallas to escape. “I needed to get away from the choices and friendships that were bringing me down,” said Phil. “I got a job as a computer programmer and really started excelling. I even visited the Porch at Watermark, but honestly it’s because I heard there were good-looking girls there. I learned about faith in Christ, but I just wasn’t willing to act on it. I had one foot in the bar scene and one in church, showing up with a hangover on Sundays and sitting in the back row.”


Almost nobody makes it out of the ICU alive, the nurses told Phil. But the next day with his head bandaged and swollen like a balloon, Phil was discharged from the hospital. “Walking out of the hospital is when it dawned on me that my life had been spared,” said Phil. “So that same day, with my head still badly bruised and bloody, I asked my mother to take me up to Watermark. When the receptionist asked my mom what we needed, she said, ‘He needs Jesus’.”

Phil sat down with Watermark staff member, Nate Graybill, and shared his entire story. Nate listened intently and then talked about a choice it was evident that Phil had never made. “I had head knowledge of who God was, but I didn’t act on it or live in a way that a Christ-follower should,” said Phil. “Jesus offers me a free gift of grace, but I’d never truly chosen to receive it. That day, it couldn’t have been clearer that I was dead in my sins. In fact, I nearly died underneath that semi truck because of my transgressions. But God, who is rich in mercy, offered me the free gift of grace by which I could be saved.”

Phil is quick to point out that his life didn’t change overnight. It took seven months of Bible study, missteps, relapses and struggles against old patterns to get his bearings. “God gave me life, but I was still tempted to chase death. There were times I would run away from His arms, but God protected me.”

Phil was at a Watermark young adults retreat when the speaker asked a question he will never forget – “Are you all in?” Phil says that question tested his heart and prompted him to get involved in a community group with guys he met at the retreat. “I needed to break off my old friendships,” said Phil, “and fill my life with people who were committed to Christ. I started sharing my story with the guys in my group, opening up about everything from my sin struggles to job decisions. Community with other believers and the privilege of sharing my story with people in other countries are really what God used to change my life.”

Today, Phil leads in Watermark’s young adult ministry and serves with the External Focus team. He believes that his life was spared in the car wreck so that he could be a witness to people who are walking the same path he once did. “Whether they are stuck in drugs, the club scene or a broken family, I’m here to say that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is Jesus.”

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