In preparation for The 4th of July (or Freedom Day as I like to call it), I asked my wonderful husband if he would write something. This is our incredible nations celebration of independence, but it also marks his 5 years sober. It only seemed fitting, not only to celebrate this miraculous milestone and how 5 years ago today, his deadened heart beat again, but also what our incredible God has and continues to do through him, bringing light to a struggle that so many suffer from.
We live in a broken world full of broken people. None of us have arrived, have it all together, or win the award for “most gracious” when facing hardship head on. We all need something (Someone) greater than ourselves. To live a life of “just trying to be better” is rooted in a self-strength and a bootstrap mentality that ultimately enslaves in the long run. We can’t do this life – this wild, joyful, incredible gift that is equally painful, confusing, and all around heartbreaking at times – we can’t do it by ourselves, in our own self help “wisdom” or successes or strivings for more. Inside each of us is a deep need to be known, loved, and understood for who we are at our best, our worst, and everything in-between. We all struggle- every single one of us – but the question is, do you live out your struggle in secret and despairing? Or, do you bring it into the light, with someone you trust, and trusting in the love of God even on your most horrific of days. Life is messy. Our hearts are messy. Our pains and trip ups, mistakes and obstacles, ways we’ve really screwed up, hurt others, or devastated our own soul- it all has a purpose- in the grand story of Gods Kingdom, he enters and whispers “I have a thing for you…yes, even now!” In the noisy clatter of our own mind, self condemnation, or hopelessness, God longs to enter and offer a way out. Sometimes, he delivers us completely. Seemingly overnight. And other times, he delivers us through his guidance. He teaches us, with great truth, grace and love how to conquer. How to become fighters of light against the darkness in our own soul. He enables us the authority through Jesus to split the spirit in two, marrow and all, dividing the light from the dark.
There’s something about a person who’s endured this fight. Who’s lived to stand on the other side with joy and proclaim to those who’ve suffered the same “I made it out. You can too. There’s more to life than this. The struggle doesn’t define you. Freedom can be yours.” Something about a person who has reached the end of them self, whose looked to the magnificent face of Jesus and said, “You must do this. I can’t.” There’s something about a person – who’s been through the trenches, the pain, the heartache, whether by their choices, the doings of another, or simply the hand they were dealt – who knows what it’s like to have nothing left in the emotional and physical reserve to merely “get through it,” but rather, to allow the weight of the affliction break their heart so the only One who can mend it may find his way in.
Our stories, no matter how tattered, ragged, or embarrassing we may feel them to be, can change the life of someone. You never know who may relate to what you’re going through, what you went through, and the struggle you can’t seem to shake. The greatest gift we are given is our opportunity to have a relationship with Jesus, and then with one another – for life was not meant to be lived alone and struggles were not meant to endure in solitude.
We can find rest beneath the refuge of the Almighty who tells us that our suffering is not in vain. Every sin is covered by his love, “for love covers a multitude of sins,” and the God of Heaven and Earth knew what your struggle would be, before you ever did – he knows how to enter, he knows how to rescue, and he takes great delight in doing so.
None, absolutely zilch of your pain or sin or mistakes or suffering is wasted if you give it all to Jesus who “turns all things to good for those who love him.” It’s a radical mystery- and it’s true.
Even now, in this moment, God is pursuing your heart to reconcile you to the Father. In other words, he wants to make you whole. Whole in him. Though we try to find satisfaction, worth, and value in worldly things, they fall short every time, only widening the gap between the Father and child relationship; reminding us all the more that the emptiness we feel cannot be quenched by the finite, but only the eternal.
To any person reading and struggling, God’s love for you hasn’t wavered based on your progress or lack thereof. It’s as constant, deep, wide, and high as it’s ever been and ever will be. Your pain is not a waste, your sin is not too big, and your heartache is not the end of your story. He did not create you to simply survive, he divinely fashioned you to be “more than a conqueror.” It takes effort, diligence, prayer, and hunger to seek him – but of course, none of this is done without his unfailing love and abounding grace that envelops it all – and above all else, it requires that you embrace surrender, knowing full well that God loves you right where you’re at, and he’s in control, no matter how out of control you might feel. Those who cling to their life, inevitably lose it. But those who lose their life (to him), find it.
Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like you and me.
From the words of my husband – here is his story:
From Death To Life
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” – Ephesians 2:13
So far in this journey of life I have yet to meet a person who has not experienced heartache of some kind. It is a thread, often tragically, woven throughout our stories. As I look back on my life, my heart soars with the visions of a joyous childhood, and plummets with the memories of personal deprivation and self-destruction. Growing up in the typical middle-class family, my childhood was filled with family vacations, little league baseball, and pointless fights with my sisters. The family environment I was raised in was deeply devoted to God, safe, fun, and an excellent atmosphere for a young boy to flourish. I had everything I could ever need. I have many friends that survived the horrors of broken families filled with abuse, neglect, and every other form of dysfunction, yet this is not my story. My mother and father provided for me a safe and loving family setting in which to thrive. The soil of my life was ripe for success and upward mobility.
However, this also is not my story.
I was not that high-school kid that blatantly rebelled without care or respect for authority. I rarely ditched class, and was terrified of getting in trouble. I believe this stemmed from a deep, seemingly tectonic, insecurity and fear of being seen as different and ultimately rejected. This created in me an unquenchable thirst for validation and a misguided striving for self-worth that always seemed beyond my grasp.
Enter drugs, alcohol, and sex.
These things are extremely powerful, especially to the developing brain of a teenager. When I began dabbling in these counterfeit forms of joy I had no idea I was starting down a road that would ultimately lead to my complete undoing. While at first fun and exciting, drinking and using drugs immediately became the most important thing in my life. The scariest part is that there was no real period of innocent, recreational use as is many others’ stories. I knew as soon as I got that first buzz/high that my mind worked differently than most. I am an addict, and I have known it since I was 16 years old. It didn’t take long for it to get bad enough that at 19 my parents arranged to fly me to the east coast to meet with a renowned counselor. Yes it helped, temporarily, but my addicted mind never went away. I can even remember taking handfuls of Tylenol PM in the hotel room each night just to feel something other than myself.
Needless to say, my addiction spiraled out of control for years and years. Name a drug and I can tell you how I have used it to destroy my life. There were periods of hope, but those were always brief and followed by the conscious, outright insane, decision to again go down the rabbit hole of deep addiction. When you are a full-blown drug addict, whether you want to or not, you associate and partner yourself with the evil sides of this world. Your friends become predators, your surroundings become dark and oppressive, and your hope for a life free from pain vanishes. I continually found myself in rooms surrounded by the likes of hardened criminals, violent skinheads, the kind of company found in nightmares. All because I was a slave to a chemical. If you were to ask me if I wanted help, if I wanted to stop, I would have told you yes. However, in my mind, I knew there was no hope for me. I knew I would never be able to not choose the drink or drug. I knew I would die a tragic, young death. I would join the group of famous renegades who all died from drugs or suicide in their late twenties, only without the fame or any recognition other than an obituary in the newspaper on page C17.
I constantly envisioned my family burying me with tear soaked faces, wondering what they could have done to get through to me. The truth is, there was nothing anyone could have done to save me.
My addict life accelerated to the point of critical mass at the age of 25. At the tail end of an 8-month Methamphetamine binge, I had reached my point of no return. I had hit many bottoms before, all with different levels of pain and sorrow, but this time it was different.
There was nothing of myself left in me.
The levels of depravity and personal despair I had willingly involved myself in had completely enveloped me. I had thought of suicide many times throughout my life, but this time it wasn’t just an idea, it was my only way out. All I wanted was to no longer exist, to be free from what I had become. With easy access to a firearm where I was living, the decision was made. That night, as I wrote what would be a short, pathetic suicide letter, my heart broke completely in half.
My life, which started with such hope and promise, would end with a flash and a note.
Yet on the darkest day of my life, where all hope had vanished, HE showed up. He had actually been there all along. In that place of total emptiness, Jesus, the Risen Savior, quietly whispered in my ear a word of love. Here I was, broken, addicted, in blatant rebellion against God, yet he chose to pursue my ragged, shame-filled heart without regard for all the ways I had disgraced him and myself. Jesus didn’t wait for me to repent, to turn from my ways, or to become a better person. He came to me in the midst of my brokenness and said, “My Beloved, I know your pain. I feel your heartache. I have loved, and always will love, you deeply and relentlessly. I have seen your rebellion and the twisted ways in which you searched for love and life. I have great plans for you. I am incessantly bragging to my father about you. Will you take the risk of letting me love you for who you are right now, not who you think you should be?”
My answer of “Yes” has and always will be the single greatest decision of my life.
5 years ago today, I took that risk to let Jesus love me completely, and he has set me free from that dark life of alcohol and drug addiction. It hasn’t been easy, and there have been plenty of hills and mountains to climb along the way. I haven’t always felt joyous and free, but what I always have known is the faithfulness of my Heavenly Father. He is a good, good father… it’s who he is. And I am loved by Him, it’s who I am. His goodness seems to never end: I have a family who has walked with me through this journey and who loves me unconditionally; I am about to graduate from an incredible University (better late than never!) with a pastoral degree; I have a job that fulfills me; and the greatest of gifts, I have met the woman of my dreams. Cortney has become the woman of my reality, a wife with such faith, courage, and depth that I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life exploring the magnificent mysteries of her.
On this Independence Day, I celebrate the freedom of life and spirit that were undeservingly gifted to me by Jesus of Nazareth. He has healed my broken heart. He has quenched my thirst for life. He has renewed my hope and paved the way for my adoption into Sonship with the Father.
Jesus called me home. He is calling you too…