Always There

The first thing I can recall of my childhood is of looking back as I  was running from my mom. She had a wooden spoon in her hands, and her rumbling steps were gaining on me as I ran out of the kitchen in our old three bedroom house in Sparta, Michigan. Oddly enough I can’t remember the ultimate conclusion of the chase, or the incident that sparked my punishment; I only remember the joy and fear of running, wildly making my way through the house in an effort to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon. I had no idea at that young age how dysfunctional my family was. I had no idea the sin that had been handed down from generation to generation, or that the enemy had such easy influence over me and my family. I didn’t know that my life in that home would shape who I was for a large part of my life. I only knew it was fun to run, fun to laugh, and fun to get into mischief.

When I look back now, I can see how important it is to instill the love of Christ into my children. I went 38 years of my life without understanding how important that is. How much pain and hurt could have been avoided had I known this? I will never know, but that is just one of the glories of grace; it does not matter. Jesus died on the cross so I do not have to wallow in my past. I can rejoice in my future, in the future of my children, and in the knowledge that God got me through it, and has a lot yet in store for me.

As we drift back to the dark cloud of my childhood I can put my age at
around five or six. My memories are cloudy on specifics, at least the specifics I want to remember. The painful memories come easy enough though.

My family was a father and a mother who never loved each other in my presence, and two brothers, both much older than me. I can’t remember a time where my parents were happy. They were not happy to be together, and not happy about where life had taken them. They were and still are perpetual victims of society. Nothing is their fault, rich people, religious people, people in power; they all hate my parents and try to keep them down. I was raised with this mentality, to think that everyone is out to get me, to keep me down, that they are happy and wealthy because they took it from me to get there. What seemed a “normal” family to me back then now seems so strange and alien. There was no love, very little laughter, and lots of yelling and screaming.

Looking back I almost feel sorry for my dad, being stuck in such a loveless marriage for so many years. If I could only go back and let him know that the answer is not pornography, but a relationship with Jesus that could fulfill his needs, my life and that of so many others I have affected would be so different. Dad had a stash of porn he kept under the stairs in a “secret” alcove in the pantry. I was a kid and not really interested in that stuff. I wanted to play war, ride my bike, and try my best to act like my big brothers. When there is so much evil in one place though, it can infiltrate even the daily life of an innocent child. It started one day when my parents were invited to a family gathering that did not include children. My oldest brother, who was the person I looked up to the most, came into my room after my parents had left. I think he was around fifteen or sixteen at that time, and I was so happy that my brother wanted to play, to spend time with me. It was the worst day of my life. He made me look at the porn then decided we should act out the scenes in the magazine. I was torn between wanting my big brother to like me, and the awful feelings it made me have. Later, after I had stopped crying and came out of my room, he buddied up to me, and brought me outside to have my first cigarette with him. I was just a little kid.

This went on for well over a year. Each episode was worse and more destructive and painful than the last. At some point, and I am not sure why, it just stopped. The damage had been done though. I was confused about sex, love, lying, pain, relationships, and how I fit in in this family. I never told anyone even though I knew it was wrong, but didn’t know how or what to say. I was so confused about if it was my fault. Was it normal? Was I overreacting? I just buried the pain and feelings deep inside, locked them away, and didn’t tell anyone for a long time.

My mother will often tell of how when I was little, she does not have a picture of me where I am not crying. For a year and a half of my life, I cried every day. I remember looking out my window through the screen in my room, at the bright sun, the green grass and watching the leaves dance on the old maple tree I swear was trying to cheer me up. I would watch kids walk by, playing, kicking a soccer ball down the street, and I would cry. I would watch squirrels get chased by birds, chattering their funny calls up and down the trees in our yard, and I would cry.

I can’t honestly say why I never told anyone anything. I was five or six, and my memories are distant. I only know that not a day goes by where I don’t hug my kids and tell them I love them. If I see my children in pain, physically or emotionally, I will break down walls until I know why. I am their protector, and I take that role seriously.

I never knew how much those events twisted my thinking until I was saved, 33 years later. I went through life, a pretty smart kid, but not quite fitting in, anywhere. Friends would come and go, but never any close friends, especially guys. I was not about to let someone get too close to me ever again, especially a dude. Luckily I loved to read, so I could escape, and learn, and transport myself from the reality of my life to the fields of made up worlds. I could understand that hard work and attitude is what made you successful. So I worked hard, and learned how to act like I was happy. I adjusted my attitude to succeed. I got out on my own at the age of 18. I was married at 21, owned a home, and thought I was doing OK. I wasn’t. Someone kept whispering in my ear that my wife was not enough. Smoking was not enough, drinking was not enough. The pain I had locked away so long ago was leaking into my heart. It poisoned every relationship I had, and was now starting to leak into my marriage.

No one had taught me how to love. How to be in a relationship where there is trust and security. My parents hated each other, and the person I had looked up to the most in life had destroyed my innocence and view of sex and love. I messed up, starting with porn, and ending when my wife and I got a divorce. I had developed one friendship in this time, and instead of helping me when I needed him, he helped me fall farther. I know now how important it is to surround yourself with good people, who love you enough to tell you when you are being destructive to yourself and others. I am ashamed of how I treated people, and lied, and schemed, and found every way I could think of to try and fill that huge hole I had inside of me. When something is broken we bring it to a mechanic and it is fixed. I had no mechanics in my life. I did not have faith in God. In fact, I often wondered, “If there is a God, why does he hate me so much?”

I remember the first person I told about what happened was my wife at the time. We had been invited to a family gathering, and I did not want my children around my family or my brother, for obvious reasons. That combined with constant nightmares, waking up screaming, gave her a clue that something was going on. I told her everything. It was so hard to let someone in on that. I opened myself up for so much more pain to come. She encouraged me to tell my parents what had happened when I was little. I did. I am not sure what I expected to happen. Maybe some tears, some hugs, an apology about letting me get hurt. I should have known better. We were at their house, and they asked me to leave, then did not speak to me for about two years. My brother eventually died of a stroke, and amazingly my parents called me, and wanted a relationship with me again, as long as we never bring up the past. I want nothing to do with them until they accept Christ. Once they do, I think they will understand how they treated me, and will apologize. It is now hard to be around people who are so despair-driven.

Once you are stuck in a cycle of despair, hate, pain, sin, repeat . . . It is hard to break out. I know; I lived it every day. I was a professional sinner. I lied, cheated, stole, drank, was promiscuous, and pretty much ruined my life, while pretending to be as normal as the next guy. Rules did not apply to me. After all, I was already sure that God did not care about me. I remember one night when my wife and I were fighting about sex. I wanted it all the time. I can see now that sex had taken the place of love, and I so needed to be loved. I needed sex to feel loved. She didn’t, and looked me in the eye and said, “If you want sex that bad, why don’t you call your brother?” I left and found the nearest bar. I think that hurt me more than the abuse did when I was a kid. Our marriage didn’t last long after that.

After my divorce, my children being the only thing that kept me looking forward, I fell into an even greater hole. While I was with my children I would do my best to remain as good as I could. When they were not with me the depravity knew no limits. I am now so ashamed of the things I have done, but again, thank God for his grace, that I may give it up, be forgiven, forget those things, and move on to do those things God has planned for me. I still cry out loud when I think about it. He gave me his grace, when I had done everything in my power to push him away. While my mother and father still wallow in the despair of self-pity, the Lord got me out of there, gave me an awesome family, and now I can try my best to worship him, and to give him the praise that I am not fit to give him. He deserves my best, and he has it, every day.

I had given up on ever being happy. I was truly at the bottom of my life when I met my current wife and best friend. We met through an online dating service. She said later she was online that day to cancel her account when she saw the mail I had sent her. I can honestly say that without her, I would likely be in jail, homeless, or dead by now. For the first time in a long time I had a reason to act like a man again. I straightened up, got a new job, and began rebuilding my life.

For a long time we were happy. Not real joy, but not pain. We were in a sort of living purgatory. We worked, ate, slept, and went through the motions. It was like living in Jelly. I had no idea when the leak happened, but it inevitably did. The pain and hurt box that was locked in my heart started sending evil into my thoughts and actions. It began to undermine my good sense and we slowly started fighting. I was once again looking for love with sex, and if we didn’t have it enough, watch out.

I did not know that my wife was considering leaving me. I didn’t know that I was going to lose my family again. I didn’t know that as I sat in my office one day, listening to Christmas music. A customer of mine, who I now consider a dear friend, walked into my office and invited me to a Christmas presentation at a local church. I, of course, had no choice; he was a customer. The next day he dropped off some tickets and on Saturday we brought our family to the show. My life will never be the same.

The show was entertaining, and I found myself drawn to the message, to the pastor, to the people who were so welcoming to me and my family. I remember telling my wife on the way home that we should check out the Sunday service. I thought she may have fainted for a few seconds, at least her head bobbed a bit. We went to the service, and immediately drove to the Family Christian Bookstore to look at Bibles. I had never read the word of God, but I had a desire to do so now. I met one of the young men in the choir at the Bookstore as well, sealing the deal for me. I found a church.

In the second week of January my pastor, a man whom I would come to love like a father; well, at least a distant strange uncle, gave a sermon on grace. He said, “You don’t have to change to get God’s grace, but when you get grace, you will change.” It was as though someone slapped me in the face. I pretended to have allergies as my eyes filled with tears and my nose began to run. My wife, without words, handed me a tissue, and I silently wept in that auditorium. After 38 years I got it. I understood that I was not alone all those nights in my bed, curled up and in pain, crying. I was not alone when I hooked up with the wrong crowd in high school and nearly ruined my life. I have never been alone. Jesus has guided me through it. If not for his love I would be a mess. I would be in a ditch somewhere, literally. He guided me out and away from a family that has given up, and that poisons anyone who they associate with. Jesus did that
for me, he loves me, and he fights for me every day. It was a lot to take in, and as I type this tears are falling down my cheeks. Wow. The Lord, who made heaven and earth, cares for me. ME, a lowly sinful man who wasted 38 years of his life feeling sorry for himself.

That little lock box where I kept all my pain, hurt, sorrow, regret, and sin, was ripped out of my heart in one moment, to be replaced by the Holy Spirit. I now look at life differently, and I see those around me in a different light. Everything is so clear, so vibrant. There is little in my life that has not changed. My relationship with my wife is stronger than it has ever been. My children are changing right before my eyes, and for the first time in my life, I have real friends who care about me. I love more, thanks to Jesus. As I love more, I am loved more in return. It is amazing.

My Christian life is growing every day. As my wife and I pray together, and I take on the leadership role in my family, it seems that everyone else is slipping into their role naturally all by themselves. My son and I read the story of David and Goliath last night. He really liked it. Then we talked about what it meant, and the lessons we could learn from it. We will be taking a more active role in church activities and helping. I was asked to be a greeter, and can’t wait to talk to and meet even more new people. If I look back a year and see where I was emotionally, spiritually, and even physically, I have a hard time recognizing myself. It is like I am opposite Scott, a new man; I truly have been born again. I will use this new life to glorify my savior, to live for him, for his glory, and to work his plan. It is so freeing, I can now be happy and filled with real joy for the first time in my life.

My baby girl, who is four, will not go to sleep at night without her Bible stories. I think inherently, we were meant to hear these stories. My wife loves reading them to her, and I sometimes stand outside her door at night and listen to my wonderful wife and my amazing little girl interact while reading God’s word. I am truly blessed.

God has redeemed my life. God has given me hope and love. If I do anything else with my life, it will be to spread his word to as many people as I can. I had never felt the Holy Spirit before, and now I yearn for, and find it, living in the people I now call friends. I can feel it working in my life, and in my soul. I am forever changed, and will now work to help others find the Holy Spirit so that their lives can change as well. God w will win one family and one person at a time. So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.

The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

2 Corinthians 5:16-17

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