The day I was born, the doctor told my parents that I would not live through the night. My lungs weren’t fully formed & I was well under weight. HE WAS WRONG. I spent 33 days in an incubator before going home. I am a “Preachers Kid”. My father was in the Navy & my mom was in the Army. Both entered the service to escape negative/abusive home-life situations. My father’s father was a strict, abusive German Dutch disciplinarian & my moms father was a raging drunk. Both died before I was born. My first real childhood memory has affected me almost all of my life. My father “disciplined” me by holding me over the stoves burner & burning my leg. I have a nice scar on my leg that has always reminded me of that day. I remember growing up believing that I was bad.
My father was preaching full time at small Independent Fundamental churches from as early as I can remember & us kids were expected to be angels, but of course we couldn’t be. Anything that we did that reflected poorly on him always brought his anger & wrath. I had 3 brothers & they’ll all tell you right off that I took the brunt of my father’s verbal abuse & anger. I was very strong willed & I openly defied him. My strong will & rebellion made him focus his anger & punishment on me, to my brothers relief I’m sure. As Mike says, “he took a lickin’ & kept on tickin’”. As a kid I stayed out of the house as much as possible & avoided my father as much as I could. To this day I cringe at the sound of an old Volkswagen engine, as that used to mean that my father was almost home. Physical & verbal abuse was the norm at home & I was told that I wouldn’t amount to anything. Nothing in the world scared me more than hearing my mom say “I’m going to tell your father when he gets home”.
My home life was definitely confusing as my dad was the only father on the block who would come out of the house on occasion to throw a baseball or a football around to us & the neighborhood kids. Sometimes he was a decent man, but most of the time I was afraid of him. Church was just as confusing. My brothers & I would get caught doing something stupid with the other church kids, but because we were “PREACHER’S KIDS” we were the only ones punished. As far as I was concerned God was a “killjoy” & probably disappointed & angry at me. As a family we went to church every Sunday morning, evening & every Wednesday night, and most weekends had some church activity that we were required to attend as well. Not recommended–required. I slowly learned to play the church game & “did my time” cleverly most of the time, but my disdain for the church & “Christians” in general was becoming greater & greater. I thought they were so “square.” I couldn’t live up to their pious list of “do’s” & I didn’t like their arbitrary legalistic list of “don’ts”.
I started hanging out with the “bad kids” at school & in my immediate neighborhood as much as I could get away with. Life began to be a big lie as far as where I was going & who I was with. By the time I was 15 I was drinking alcohol when I could get it & began to experiment with drugs. Actually pot was not a “gateway” drug for me, as I was taking speed, codeine & other drugs long before I ever smoked my first joint. This was the early 70’s & drugs were everywhere. There wasn’t any drug that I couldn’t get & I tried all of them. I began selling drugs too so that I could get mine for free. I was pretty clever at hiding this from my parents & the kids at church were so wrapped up in their little cliques that no one ever suspected me.
Drugs were just a way of numbing the pain & anger that I felt inside. The anger inside had been festering for many years & after an incident where I was punched down the basement stairs twice by my dad, I bought a pistol from a biker guy I knew & had begun plotting a way to kill him. I hated him. I was going to get even.
Before that could happen, something very extraordinary happened. One night at a rock concert I got extremely high on some drugs & on the way home I experienced a very bizarre event. I heard my name called down out of the sky. At 2 am, in an open field, by myself, with no one around, I heard God call my name. I heard my name called out of the sky. It was just like Samuel described it to Eli in the Old Testament. Now you can scoff at this all you want, but I believed then & still do believe to this day that God was talking to me. The event intrigued me & scared me both. Whether it was real or an audio hallucination is open to debate, but I knew that God was reaching down to me & He had certainly gotten my FULL attention. After much conviction, two weeks later, on April 5th 1974, I prayed to accept Christ as my Savior. The next morning I told my parents what had happened & a few weeks later I was baptized.
The fall of the next year I enrolled at Calvary Bible College. I have no idea why I went. I guess I was afraid that if I stayed in St. Louis & got a job, that I would fall back into my addictions again. My parents were alumni & suggested I go there because it was perfectly aligned with their fundamentalist beliefs. To my chagrin, they were right. I had a hard time at school. I didn’t agree with their narrow & legalistic dogma. The atmosphere there was very pious & frankly…..in my opinion, un-Christian & I rebelled against it. I think the only reason that I never got kicked out of school was because my parents were alumni. I left for summer break after my 2nd year very disillusioned with my progress as a new believer & I was very discouraged. I quickly began to fall back in to my old habits & behaviors.
I decided to go back to KC to go to UMKC to pursue a sociology degree, where I had a government grant lined up. Again, I wrongly surmised that by coming back to KC I could escape the temptation to do drugs again. I was wrong. A month after I started at UMKC, my grant fell through, so I quit. I was severely disillusioned & not knowing what to do, I moved in to an apartment with my old roommate from Calvary who had gotten kicked out. Within months I was partying again.
In the apartment downstairs was a lady who was deaf. In the apartment upstairs was a girl named Deb. I played my music loud & she didn’t like it. Three separate times over a weekend, she came downstairs & beat on my apartment door & threatened to call the police unless I turned my music down. The third time that she knocked, I agreed to turn the music down if she went out with me. To my surprise, she said yes. I dated this 5’2” blond haired “ball of fire” for 7 months & fell in love with her. We were married on April 18th, 1978. Deb & I both brought some baggage into our marriage. I still carried the scars of my physical abuse, drug addiction, anger, rebelliousness & fundamentalist legalism. Deb was raised in a Catholic home & I knew that she was a very fragile person, but I loved her very much. We were both pretty new Christians & we spent the whole of our marriage of 20 years riding the roller coaster of 1 step forward 2 steps back in our walk with the Lord.
It is embarrassing & also hard for me to explain how I could do more drugs after I was saved, than I did before, but that’s exactly what happened. A few years after we were married I had fallen into using crystal methamphetamine. I was using pretty heavily for over a year & went days on end without sleep. Of all of the drugs I had taken, this particular drug had the most physical draw on me. Not just a mental addiction -but a physical one too. I can’t remember how many times that I was so bummed out & had called out to God to help me. I was selling it too, in order to get mine free. One day I went to my meth dealers house to buy a couple ounces & he came to the door & told me that he was no longer selling the stuff. He said that his wife had been on him for about a year to go to church with her & that a few weeks back he had accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior!!!
I was just flabbergasted…. My drug dealer had just accepted Christ & here I was, a Christian, wallowing in my drug addictions. I felt terrible, but as I walked to my car, God spoke to me that this was His answer. He had just answered my prayers. He had taken away my supplier. God used a drug dealer to help me stop this addiction. I took this as a sign from God & I never touched ANY hard drugs again. I took this as a spiritual victory, but I never took the necessary steps to recover completely. I now wish that I had. I inevitably fell back into drinking & smoking pot & just gave up. I really wanted to serve the Lord & to do what was right but I just couldn’t break free. I had found a couple of churches that I liked over the years, attended regularly for a while, but because I was too ashamed to ever tell anyone about my struggles, & because I felt so guilty, I quit going.
I’ve been blessed & have had good health my whole life, but Deb was slightly sickly the whole time we were married. When her mother passed away, she fell apart. I was not a strong Christian man at the time & I didn’t know how to help her. I would find her at 4 o’clock in the morning, on the couch, just wailing & saying “I want my mom back” over & over. I would put my arms around her, love & hold her & tell her that her mom was not coming back. Little did I know that 4 years later I would be on that same couch saying the same thing. One night when I came home from work her complexion was yellow. I knew immediately that she either had hepatitis or her liver was failing. So I picked her up(kicking & screaming), put her over my shoulder like a fireman would & ran out, put her in my truck & raced to the hospital. I was praying for a miracle. I was very afraid & I contacted every Christian that I knew & even though I was not living the Christian life as I should, I reached out & asked them to pray for her. Hundreds of people were praying for Deb. Funny thing, it seems like the only time that I sought out good Christian people or asked for Gods help, was when I had a crisis. That was on a Monday. On Wednesday, she went unconscious & I never got to talk to her again.
On Saturday morning Oct. 23rd,1998 I watched that monitor by her bed go down… down … down …until it flat-lined & the one I loved more than anything in the world went to be with the Lord. I died right then & there in that hospital room that morning. I can not describe the pain, the grief, the despair & the loneliness that I felt. For months on end I was just numb. I was angry with God that He had let this happen to her & that he didn’t save her. I was angry at myself for not being the Christian man that I knew that I should have been. If only….If only…. If only (fill in the blank) I didn’t handle her death properly & I began to drink………heavily. The grief & despair was just overwhelming & worst of all, I blamed God for it. Looking back now I just wish that someone would have taken a little interest in me & my situation & had come along side me & helped me during that difficult time. Now God was there & He wanted to help me, but I would not accept His loving, helping hand. I chose to do it my way…….by drinking & smoking pot.
Later on the following year I ran into an old friend of mine & Deb’s at a mini-mall in Shawnee. Debi. Deb had been Debi’s Maid Of Honor back in 1984 & I had been the Best Man. I had known her & hung out with her for many years until she got a divorce & then I lost contact with her until after Deb died. We ran into each other at the mini-mall in Shawnee & she invited me to her house that weekend for dinner. We hung out together for 5 or 6 months every single weekend until we finally admitted in the fall that we were dating. We began to fall in love & I truly believed that God was giving me a second chance. Debi was one of Deb’s best friends & she helped me with my grieving process. I thanked God for her love & for her help. It was an exciting time & also a difficult time. I was still grieving & falling in love at the same time. Rather than make some of the same mistakes that I made with Deb, I started to attend Debi’s Presbyterian church in Shawnee & I found the people to be very loving & full of grace. I felt comfortable there. These people weren’t “fundies”……they didn’t have a sin list 1-100 & they weren’t legalistic.
On Labor Day weekend 2000 we were married in that church. We became members & seriously tried to establish a real relationship with the Lord. Debi & I attended regularly & faithfully & although I never was able to stop drinking or smoking pot altogether.
I thought that slowing down was a victory in itself, but I denied that I had a real problem. In Jan. 2002 Debi was diagnosed with “Non Hotchkins Lymphoma”. It was caught it in it’s earliest stages & Debi started chemo right away. I was as fearful as any husband would be, but I was praying & believing that God would heal her. Again, hundreds of people were praying for her. In Aug. Debi went through a battery of tests & the cancer could not be found. I was ecstatic & I thanked & praised God for His healing. To celebrate this wonderful news, we took a vacation to San Francisco & San Diego for 2 weeks. We had the time of our lives.
A month & a half after we got home Debi got the flu, then bronchitis & then in December she got pneumonia. She entered the hospital on Dec. 17th & we tried to celebrate our Christmas in the hospital as best that we could. I brought her presents to her on Christmas Eve & we again prayed for healing. I hugged her before I left for home & told her that I loved her as I had done every single day for the last 3 years.
On Jan. 1st, 2003 I got a call at work that she had been put on a respirator & I never got to talk to her again. I felt the same intense heaviness & fear that I felt when Deb went unconscious in the hospital 5 years earlier, but I convinced myself that God would come through because I was SURE that He would never let this happen to me a 2nd time.
I visited her every day from Dec. 17th until Jan. 3rd & held her hand, prayed with her, read the Daily Bread or the Psalms with her & I told her that I loved her. Even when she was on the respirator & I didn’t know if she could even hear me. Hundreds of people were praying for her. Not a second time I thought……….Please God, not a second time. Then on Jan.13th ,2003 Debi went to be with the Lord.
I died in the hospital that morning. I was just stunned & couldn’t even speak as I walked out of the hospital with the pastor by my side. I told Pastor Randy that I was not going to lose my faith, but I was just completely devastated & I began to blame God for Debi’s death as well as Deb’s. I absolutely couldn’t believe that God would let this happen.
I completely imploded emotionally & I was completely devastated & brokenhearted ………again. I was broken & I didn’t know how to fix me. I no longer knew who I was or how to go on. In the weeks following, I was completely lost. My whole world was turned upside down. I missed Deb & Debi so much that I can’t even put it into words. I had a thousand thoughts going through my mind & I told friends that I just wished that there was a switch on the side of my head so that I could just turn it all off. I was so totally angry at God. I made the same mistake that I did when Deb died & I took all my pain & despair & I just shoved it down inside & buried it. Instead of reaching out for God’s helping hand, or asking Him to help me, I blamed Him & turned my back on Him, continuing to deal with the pain my way…….. By drinking. I will pause for a moment in this testimony to say that my life could have changed at that point, in an incredible way, if I would have simply taken the lifeline that God was throwing me. I chose not to & my life for the next 6 years became a blur of being an angry, grieving, lonely drunk. I was ashamed & I denied that I had a problem to my closest friends & family & I isolated myself from them. My life became a vicious cycle of drinking & getting high, denying that I had a problem, & then despising myself because I couldn’t break free from the pain & shame of my addictions. I felt stuck. Stuck in a vicious cycle of grief, guilt, drunkenness, shame & loneliness.
Now I had visited a Celebrate Recovery group in Leawood a few years before, when I had gotten a D.U.I. A friend at work had taken me & I actually liked it. It felt safe & I was amazed that there was no judgment towards each person’s particular sin & they could talk openly about their own struggles. Obviously these people didn’t rate sins 1-100 like I was taught growing up. Now I did learn some things from those dozen visits, but it didn’t keep me from drinking. I felt ashamed that I just couldn’t & probably wouldn’t be able to quit drinking. I did however see some people there who had found victory over their hang ups & habits’, but I quit going when I got my license back.
Once again I will reiterate that I could have broken this insane cycle if I would have only admitted that I was powerless to change & that I needed God’s help. But I continued making my poor decisions & continued my vicious cycle for several more years. UNTIL one Saturday morning I woke up & just blurted out to my brother that I hated myself & decided that I wasn’t going to put up with being STUCK anymore. At that point, at that moment in time I cried out to God to help me. I call it my “Come To Jesus Moment”. I KNEW that I could not stop my vicious cycle of drinking & smoking dope until I asked God for His help. Until I admitted that I had a problem & admitted that I could not change by myself.
Well my brother & I went downstairs to the computer & typed in 2 little words that has helped change my life. CELEBRATE RECOVERY. We chose the closest one to us & started attending here at Crossroads that following Friday night. Now those dozen visit’s at the Celebrate Recovery in Leawood a few years ago God did not go to waste. I felt reasonably comfortable & safe at Crossroads, but I hated the singing part of the meeting. I even came in late my first handful of times so I would miss the singing. I would stand during the singing & just stare at the screen. I just couldn’t sing the songs that everyone else were enjoying. You see, I had no JOY in my heart. Any joy I had had in my life got sucked right out of my heart the day that Deb & Debi died. I did not know how to get it back.
I had heard about this 12 Step Study thing , but I didn’t think I needed that. After all, I hadn’t had a drink or a joint for over a month. Step Study was for people who had “Problems”-right. Well a good friend of mine from the Leawood CR had stopped by my house & HIGHLY suggested that I try the 12 Step Study. He reminded me of when I told him that I “denied that I was in denial” (yeah I actually said that). I’m here to tell you all that this was the best decision that I had ever made in my floundering life. As the class progressed, I really felt like God was doing something in me & I was sure grateful that he was keeping me sober, but I resisted Him inwardly as we went on. My stubbornness & rebellion almost got me to quit early on, but my friends were encouraging me to in their words, “let the program work”. After so many years of being “stuck” in that vicious cycle of personal failure & insanity, I was willing to try anything. I’m so glad I did.
As I worked the 12 Steps, I realized that there were some deep seated reasons why I had been caught in these addictions my whole adult life, not to mention my own self-willed desire do what was wrong…..to do what I wanted. While writing my inventory, I began to resolve my anger with God, realizing that He had not done something TO me, but rather He was wanting to do something IN me. He had always been there wanting & always prodding me to come back to Him. I had been busy, running away from Him. I was still making the wrong choices that were enslaving me & He was wanting to set me free. I was also afraid to surrender my will as the step says, after all, how could I trust the God who had let Deb & Debi die? He was slowly showing me that His way WAS best for me. I began to release my anger towards Him & asked Him to forgive me for blaming Him & being angry at Him. That’s when His “yoke” became easier.
As I worked the program as we say, I also uncovered & dealt with some deep pains of physical abuse that I endured as a child. I almost didn’t sign up, I was slightly resistant with the program at first & I was tempted to quit because of my own stubbornness, but I stayed with the program as I was encouraged to do so by those who have completed it & I am so thankful now that I did. I am no longer angry at God & as a matter of fact not only has He taught me how to “manage” the pain of my grief & loss, but He is now using me to help other people who have lost someone they love.(Romans 8:28) Oh yeah, one more thing, besides being sober for more than 18 months for the first time since I was a teenager, something else happened. I GOT MY JOY BACK…. How do I know that? Because I can feel that joy well up in me now as I sing those songs on Friday night & at church on Sunday morning & God has put a new song in my heart.