I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was twenty-two. That, however, was neither the beginning nor the end of my struggles.
My early life was troubled, not from abuse, or neglect, but from my own bad decisions. I was the oldest of three children, and while I was fortunate to be raised in a stable, two-parent home, the difference in my sibling’s ages—I was five years older than one sister and eleven years older than the other—left me feeling like an only child. My father? While I have memories of us occasionally going hunting and fishing together, he was a hard worker and not around much. I missed him . . . a lot. The bright spot during those years was the time I spent working on my grandparent’s farm. We became close. I learned their values and absorbed their healthy work ethic. They’d share stories at the dinner table about what their lives used to be like when they were growing up. They made me feel like I belonged, and I embraced their New England self-reliance and independence—the feeling that you could handle your own problems and didn’t need anybody’s help. Unfortunately, the future revealed a flip-side to this coin, and it wasn’t a good one.
Sports were important to my father. Upon finding some newspaper clippings in his desk, I discovered that he had captained the high school basketball team all four years he attended. My parents, recognizing that sports wasn’t one of my strong points, expected me to do well academically, but didn’t put any pressure on me athletically. They didn’t have to; I put it on myself. Hungering for my father’s approval and knowing how important sports was to him, I tried to succeed both academically and athletically. While I failed in sports, I did succeed academically, my straight-A’s in the eighth grade giving me the recognition and self-respect kids need at that age. Then I went to high school, and everything changed.
Before I entered high school, our town and eleven others had joined together to provide a building for twelve hundred students, and I was in for a surprise. The curriculum at my small grade school was at least a year behind the larger junior high whose students now comprised most of my classmates. I couldn’t keep up. Shy, not wanting to appear stupid, and buying into my grandfather’s rugged self-reliance (“It’s a pretty sad man who can’t handle his own problems”) I didn’t even consider asking for help. My grades plummeted. This was in the late sixties—the era of long-haired pot-smoking hippies and Viet Nam protests on college campuses like Kent State. Rebellion was in the air, and to escape my troubles at school, I joined the rebellion. Now that I was doing poorly academically, the grade school friends who had always resented my good grades now accepted me easily. Like me, they were failures—in sports, academics, or both. We rebelled against everything: the “system,” the war, the government, and anything else we could think of. At first for fun, and then to deal with life, we drank and spaced out on drugs. “Free love” was in, and my conquests soon gave me bragging rights among my friends. In reality, I was shy around girls, and they often rejected me.
Underneath all of my outward rebellion, however, I was hurting, and deeply. By not asking for help in school, I had thrown away the opportunity to turn things around—the opportunity for success. My life was over; at least that’s how I felt. I had failed academically, athletically, and with women. Unable to share those feelings with my parents, or even with my friends, I rebelled, seeking relief from the overwhelming feelings of failure by turning to drugs and alcohol. In looking back, however, I now see my rebellion as a cry for help—a cry that no one heard.
When I was nineteen, I married someone who had grown up in the same rebellious culture of drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll. Our marriage changed things, and the love and acceptance I now felt did away with my need for drugs. My struggle with alcohol was more difficult, however, and continued for the next few years.
The real turning point in my life, however, came when I was twenty-two: I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. My new-found faith now became the guiding principle of my life, and the Lord started to work in me, or I should say “us,” for my wife went along with me in this new direction. Still, it was a long time before God removed the greatest sin that plagued me, one so subtle that I wasn’t even aware of it until several years later.
By the time I became a Christian, we had already started a family, and we began attending church regularly. Things went fine for the next ten or fifteen years as our family grew. I served as a deacon and Sunday school teacher, a member of the local school board, and was promoted at work. Reflecting on what I had accomplished during those years, I felt pretty proud of myself. As a Christian, of course I believed in God, but I never depended upon him for anything. I didn’t need to; I was doing pretty well on my own. Then, my dream turned into a nightmare.
My wife wanted to return to her life of partying, announcing it with the news that she had cheated on me. Afraid of losing her, and persuaded by the doctors that she was mentally ill, I sought her acceptance by giving in to her, and we returned to our former lifestyle. Instead of remaining true to Christ and serving as a “light in the darkness,” I became her accomplice, joining her at the bars and in partying. With my family life threatened and my marriage disintegrating, the old and all-too-familiar feelings of failure resurfaced. To deal with them, I returned to drinking. Then, as if all this wasn’t enough, my vision deteriorated and I became blind. Afflicted with a genetic eye disease, I soon lost my driver’s license, and because my job required me to drive, I also lost my job. The extensive inner turmoil I was going through in those years made me emotionally unavailable to my teenaged children at the very time when they needed me the most. That still bothers me. With everything I was losing—my vision, my marriage, my family, and my job—I felt like Job in the Bible.
Desperate for answers in a life spiraling out of control, and drawn by memories of the peace and happiness accompanying my past relationship with Christ, I returned to church. I joined a small group, and it was there that I met Frank, a man who had been through the same things I was experiencing. He understood, and he cared, and that combination made all the difference. God placed him in my life at just the right time, and the dam broke. I shared with him things I hadn’t shared with anybody, and as I did, a tremendous weight lifted from my shoulders. Encouraged by his response, I also opened up to my pastor, and through the two of them, God delivered me from the very sin that was standing in the way of my healing—the self-sufficient mindset that refused to ask for help—the “I don’t need God’s help or anyone else’s; I can take care of myself”—attitude that was separating me not only from others but from the God who loved me. The Bible calls it “pride.”
Through Frank and my pastor, God not only forgave my pride, he delivered me from it. With their help, and for the first time in my life, I was able to trust Christ completely—with my marriage, with my children, with my blindness—with everything. It was truly miraculous. I discovered it was also a process, a learning experience. After you’ve spent your whole life depending only on yourself, casting yourself on God—asking him for help and trusting him—is a response that takes time. With help from my pastor’s counseling and the support of Frank, I came to realize that no matter what I did, I could not change my ex. At first, I thought I could rescue her and fix her “mental issues.” Then I realized she didn’t want to be rescued. In the end, my deliverance from pride, learning to rely on God, and opening up to others didn’t save my marriage, but it did give me a whole new life.
I went back to college to learn a career that didn’t require me to drive. During this time I heard about Celebrate Recovery and became involved in their Friday night celebrations. Frank became my accountability partner, and with his help, I worked through my first step-study. I also worked through the Seven Steps to Freedom in Christ with Pastor Piers. I learned that even though I had failed, God had forgiven me, and if I followed his precepts, he would also restore me. Indeed, he was already doing it. Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for good and not for evil – to give you a future and a hope.”
I’ve grown a lot through Celebrate Recovery: learning how to sort through the pain in my life, recognizing the fear caused by my inability to trust God, learning to forgive others instead of becoming bitter and vengeful, and accepting God’s forgiveness for myself. In Jesus, I know God understands my feelings of rejection. He suffered the greatest rejection of all when He bore our sins on the cross and was rejected by God because of them (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
God promises to restore those who turn to him, and I know that to be true. He has brought a wonderful Christian lady into my life, and our marriage has led to a wonderful, blended family. I have my college degree and a new job. I’m resuming my church responsibilities and leading Step-Studies in the church’s Celebrate Recovery program. Looking back, I believe the pain I went through was for a reason: to support others as Frank supported me. As I’ve set my heart on this, I’ve seen people healed from depression, anxiety, fear, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, sexual addiction, abuse, and relationship problems. Leading unbelievers to Christ, restoring wounded Christians, and discipling new ones, Celebrate Recovery is a helpful addition to any church. Because of it, the Lord’s words to Joel now apply to me: “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locusts have eaten.” (Joel 2:25)