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Practical Atheism

randomlychad  —  September 18, 2012 — 2 Comments

I’m an adult child of divorce. It’s a part of my story. A large part. If you are familiar with the New Testament, you know the story of Jesus’s wilderness sojourn, and subsequent testing. What did Satan tell him? “If you are the son of God…”

He went after Jesus’s identity. He does the same still. For a child, especially as I was–an adolescent, entering high school–a divorce does much the same: strikes at the core of who one is. I was already struggling, casting about for answers, wondering who I was, when the divorce hammer fell.

As dysunctional as my family of origin was, it was my family, and as Fiona Apple sings it was “all I ever knew of love.” Tolstoy says that all unhappy families are dissimilar; even so, it was my unhappiness–it was a known commodity.

The coup de grace came from a family member who lobbed this bon mot: “It’s always the kids’ fault” into the powder keg.

As if such things never go “Boom!”

The net effect of that explosion was that Satan played my heartstrings like a harpsichord. He had me believing that I was alone, that life was up to me.

I had to take care of myself.

This is a terrible leitmotif to carry into life–let alone a marriage–because it is so isolating. It is bound to leave one, or both, partners feeling like they are entirely unnecessary to the union. “You don’t need me.”

It is a terrible, terrible lie, and is merely another assault on one’s identity. In my case, even coming to the Lord at almost nineteen, it meant that I lived a kind of practical atheism. God had saved me, but I was on my own, adrift, free to live as I pleased. It meant, really, that God was the same kind of Father as my own dad: distant and uninvolved.

Such a lie! And yet my childhood, and my parents’ divorce, set me up for it. Yet I prayed, sought him, and.. didn’t seem to have the same kind of victories I saw in others.

Didn’t seem to have the same depth of relationship. I got jealous, and shut down even more.

The plain fact is that God had been trying to break through for years, but I didn’t hear it–because I didn’t believe I could! That he didn’t, or wouldn’t, speak to me. I belived he was obligated to save me, because he said so…and that was about all.

In the midst of this struggle, I read a book–a well-intentioned, well-researched book–Decision Making & the Will of God, that essentially confirmed my core convictions: that God is not a personal god, and as such has given us all we need in his book, the Bible. Nowhere in its pages did I glean any notion of God desiring a relationship with me. To my soul, it was akin to me saying to my kids: “Here’s a book telling you everything you need to know about life, and me. Why do you want me to speak to you–it’s all written down!” Where is the relationship, the surrender, the trust, the faith in this?

It is just served to confirm what I already believed: God was sterile, distant, cold, uninvolved.

Because, in my heart, I still believed I was entirely on my own. And there’s a thing about such core convictions: they are laid down in pain. According to John Eldredge, such can only be removed by pain.

For years, I just didn’t want to go there–didn’t want to follow Jesus there–into my deepest woundings. Why would he want to hurt me so, to expose these things?

Because he is faithful. And in his fidelity, he is faithful to wound us in the places of our deepest hurts, because he wants to heal them! In order to do so, he has to bring them to light. If you think on it, if you ask him for insight, there is a theme common to your greatest hurts, issues that keep coming up over and over again.

God is the one bringing those things to light–because he loves you.

Will you let him into those places today?

In A Boy and His Drug, I wrote of how I was not only allowed, but encouraged as a young boy to look at pornography. How that period lasted from the ages of ten-eighteen.

In The Unexpected Face of Grace I wrote of how God brought grace, and freedom, to me unexpectedly.

This is the rest of the story.

How I wish that had been the end of the story. How I wish, after breaking free, throwing out all of my posters and magazines, that I had never again looked at pornography.

As much as I’d like it to be true, I can’t say that. You see, as life got hard–had its trials–porn was there, cycling in, and out, of my life. I didn’t want to look, but I did. It was familiar. It was a friend from my youth.

Not really requiring anything from me, it had never let me down. Friends that is the insidious nature of evil, and of the evil one. First to tempt, then accuse. To first tell me “This will make you feel better,” only to follow it with “You horrible sinner! You call yourself a Christian! What would your wife think?”

Now let me be plain: Satan didn’t make me sin. I sinned–I chose to heed the voice of temptation. And true to his nature, the enemy was there to ensure I received a proper beat down for my choice. He’s not known as the “accuser of the brethren” for nothing.

In my guilt, and shame, I would cry out to God, confess to Him, tell Him how sorry I was. But in that spirit of that shame, believing I was alone in my wretchedness, I never told another human soul. And there was my undoing: I told no one. Not my wife, friends, anybody.

I bore the burden alone.

And so it went for many years–lather, rinse, repeat.

Until the time where I either wasn’t careful, didn’t care, or wanted to be caught: my Internet history found me out. Or rather my wife found my Internet history.

And what a blow that was–to me, yes, but much more to her. What do you suppose Satan’s message was to her? That her husband’s involvement in pornography was a way to anesthitize his pain, and stemmed from his childhood?

Not even close.

It was: “You’re not enough.” He looks at this stuff because you’re not enough woman for him. Thereby compounding his lies. He took my sin, and used it to assault her in the very core of her being: her femininity.

Even though to me it was never about sex, but rather medicating the pain of a life I couldn’t control. It was my besetting sin.

How I wish I’d never hurt her in that way, could take it all back. But I can’t. However, it is now covered under the blood, and not something I struggle with anymore.

Why? Why don’t I struggle with it? Why is it not cycling into, and out, my life like before?

There are five key reasons:

1) I have a God Who loves me enough to not leave me as I am.
2) I have a wife who, despite the pain I caused her, loves me enough to not leave me as I am. And who encouraged me to seek help.
3) I found help at Celebrate Recovery, and confessed my sins to similarly struggling men. I was astounded to learn that I wasn’t alone. Of all the lies Satan tells us, that’s got to be the biggest: that we are alone.
4) As corny, as cliché as this may sound, God spoke to me through Dr. Phil. The good doctor was doing an episode that featured a segment on porn, and said something that was seared into my soul: “That’s somebody’s daughter.”

That’s somebody’s daughter. I have a daughter. Would I want someone, somewhere, looking at my daughter? That thought alone brought me up cold–because the answer was a resounding “NO!!!!”

5) There is accountability in confession: by choosing to put my story out there I disarm the enemy. He’s no longer able to accuse me here in this place–because it’s not a secret anymore. And having done so, I was again astonished to learn that I’m not alone.

——————

Mike Foster of POTSC says this: “Being brave with your story gives others the courage to be brave with theirs.”

Anne Jackson puts it this way: “By going first, you give others a gift. The gift of going second.” Meaning someone has to be brave, be courageous, share the uncomfortable–because you never know who you’re going to encourage by doing so.

Will you be brave today, give someone the gift of going second? You don’t have to share here, but please do find somewhere to share. You’re not alone.

If you have seen the movie Braveheart, you know of the scene where
young William’s father is brought home to him, on a cart, dead. You may also
recall that, after the funeral, an imposing, battle-scarred man
arrives unlooked for. This is William’s uncle Argyle. And his
frightening visage is grace’s unexpected face.

Of all the things he does for William, the most powerful is to,
despite his heavy loss, let him know that he is not alone in his suffering.

Grace once came to me like that–unexpected, unlooked for. Only his
face was not that of a battle-scarred Argyle, but that of my stoner
friend, Pat. His wounds, the ones I could see, were the battle scars of adolescence:
he bore the telltale pockmarks of acne.

Pat was a husky, olive-skinned Italian. And oregano was not the only
herb he was fond of. We were the same age, had brothers around the
same age, and were fast friends from about 1978 until high school.

Then our paths diverged, and he got into drugs. Somehow, God knows, I never
got into pot. I smoked–cigarettes, cigars–chewed tobacco, drank. But
somehow drew the line there. I don’t know why. Certainly I was wounded
enough to make drugs an alluring escape. All I can surmise is that it
must have been the grace of God protecting me (even before I believed
in Him).

So Pat cycled in, and out, of my life throughout the high school
years. Our biggest falling out had to do with something said in passing about my aunt. I didn’t see him for sometime. And one day, he dropped by unexpectedly. We had shared some in
our appreciation of the feminine form, swapped magazines.

In fact, it was about magazines that he’d come by. Thinking that he
wanted to borrow some of my goods, we went to my room.

“Dude, aren’t you sick of this?” he asked.

“What?”

“The porn, man, the porn.”

I took deep breath, exhaled, took another. Realized I was.

“Yeah, man, I am.”

“Let’s trash it, dude.” It took a moment to register what he’d said. I swallowed, took a deep breath, and said:

“Okay.” So that’s just what we did: took down the centerfolds, gathered the
magazines, trashed them all.

I felt so free, so gloriously free. Here was Pat, the stoner I
couldn’t get to give up weed, calling me out about my porn, recognizing my addiction (but not his own. And isn’t that the truth? We so often lack necessary perspective about ourselves). Looking
back, I realize it was God moving, perhaps getting my house in order: less than a year later I would bow
the knee to Christ, make my faltering profession of allegiance in a speeding car.

————-

After that day, I never saw Pat again–until his brother’s funeral.

Grace often comes like that–wearing a face we don’t recognize. Look
for it, and you will see. And how I wish that was the end of my
involvement with pornography (oh, it was–for awhile).

How has grace come to you unexpectedly?

A Boy and His Drug

randomlychad  —  August 27, 2012 — 11 Comments

'Porno Cherry' photo (c) 2008, Anthony Easton - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Last week, in my post “Do You Want to Make Love?,” I wrote:

“Though he didn’t have the words at the time, he medicated the pain away with a drug already known to him:

Pornography.”

This is the story of a boy and his drug.

It was 1979. Though there had been wounds, and indeed misunderstandings, the red-headed boy was largely happy. The future lay before him. Like James Bond in Moonraker, perhaps he could one day head out into space? There were still possibilities in those days: His family was yet whole, and while not perfect–not by a long stretch–there was security in that. His dad, though he didn’t know how to be one, was at least there. Most of the time, anyway.

Though he didn’t quite cheer his son’s successes, he wasn’t yet veiled away, lost in a cloud of unemployment, alcohol, and affairs. But soon he would be lost in the fog, unable to cope with his diminishing glory. From youngest plant manager in his company’s history, to the shuttering of the plant–all in the span of a few short years.

He was a man, carrying a wounded boy of his own inside, who didn’t know who he was apart from his accomplishments. His very identify was assaulted.

And when his sensitive older son began to intuit that something was up, a wall, veiling: Dad was lost to him. It was then, in midst of questions he couldn’t voice, the boy found Eve.

Nature, and Satan, are alike in that both abhor vacuums. The boy knew an ache, but didn’t have to words, or the maturity, to put a finger on his soul’s deepest need. So when the counterfeit offered itself–cheap, easy, free–his heart leapt within him! Oh, he came by it innocently enough: there at the barber shop, amongst the combs immersed in jars of blue sanitizer, the sounds of shears and clippers, the smells of talc and hair, the barber with his beard trimmed just so, in his bright, starched white shirt. There she was, amidst all the other magazines–People, Us, Life:
Playboy.

It’s very name was evocative: it emanated cool, and stood out like a tall drink of iced water on am arid Arizona day. Whatever it was, it promised refreshment to a ten year-old’s parched soul. Ah! The glories of it! Eve was beautiful! And the feelings stirred inside? The boy didn’t know them, but he did know:

He felt alive. For the first time in sometime, he felt alive. And his mother was with him, there at the barber shop, approving of his burgeoning “curiosity.”

If only she knew. Knew just how rent the fabric of her young son’s soul was. Would things have turned out differently?

Maybe. But that’s a question without answer; what was, was this:

The boy, once entranced, shortly thereafter was allowed to take his favorite magazine home. And not too much later–still ten, maybe eleven–had a subscription in his name to Mr. Hefner’s gentleman’s magazine.

All with his mother’s approval. His dad neither knew, nor cared.

—————–

Fast forward a few years:

When an older cousin moved in, the boy–Chad–inherited his magazines. The hook was baited, and he was reeled in like a fish without any fight: for there was no resistance left in Him.

Eve was his religion. His room became a shrine to her mystique, her allure. Where concert tickets, and band posters, had been was her picture–in all its varying forms:

Blone, brunette, redhead, black, white, asian–he loved her. Loved that she made him feel alive. And she was easy, too: he could take from Eve whenever he needed, and she never asked for anything in return.

A setup straight from the very pits of Hell.

And along called “normal,” “healthy,” “curiosity.”

It was anything but. The boy become a man struggle to this day to grapple with the reality of how deeply he was allowed to get into pornography. That his involvement was encouraged, and when it became worship, was ignored. For it was: when the centerfolds went up on his bedroom wall, his mom’s solution was simple:

Close the door.

And her a counselor, a therapist, a woman adept in helping others find hope and healing in their pain.

Her solution was denial.

But to fair, she had no hope in her heart at the time, had watched her marriage of sixteen years crumble, and die. Her own wounds clouded her eyes. Because with dad gone, and with him any hope of learning of healthy sexuality, she was on her own. His leaving took her away from the boy and his younger brother, too.

Despite her learning, and years of experience, she didn’t know how to raise boys. Didn’t know the wound, and couldn’t answer the question: do I have what it takes as a man?

All our little family of three could do was hold onto what we had, and find solace wherever we could.

The boy’s–my–hope, comfort, solace, peace was in pornography. It became my drug of choice: when life became hard, when the questions screamed the loudest, when God seemed far away. Make no mistake: it was never about sex, but about life, about feeling alive, when I felt dead inside. Which is to say that it was idolatry. For what is worship if not a turning towards something for life? Whatever we turn to–whether it be porn, sports, technology, cars, music, food–for life instead of God is an idol. When that thing, whatever it is, takes His place, we are in deadly danger. (Look in the coming days for a post on the devastating effect this had later in life when I thought I had freedom).

It was a long, long time before anyone told me any better.

Have any of you ever been there? Where have you turned to whatever–instead of God–for life?

image

Where do I begin in telling the story that culminated in Colorado this past weekend? There are so many scenes in a life, but which are the defining moments? The ones that tell the story of who we are?

For me, it was the wounding moments; such as:

(Though I don’t recall it) standing outside on beautiful northwestern Pennsylvania day, sun shining bright in the grey sky. It’s humid–as it always is so near to Lake Erie–but despite the stickiness, a father and son are outside playing catch. The boy has the flaming red hair of his father; indeed, there’s no mistaking that he’s his father’s son. The little boy is two, maybe three, his face screwed tightly in concentration. He wants to catch the ball.
He misses. Again.

The father, a young man maybe twenty-seven, or twenty-eight, needs his son to catch the ball. It is an ache within him. He had been an athlete, all his glories upon the field. All of that changed with an injury. He is blessed beyond measure just to be upright, walking, playing here with his son.

The boy again fails to catch the ball.

The father grows ever more frustrated, ever more impatient.

“What’s wrong with you,” he asks? “Catch the ball!” He throws it again; the boy almost… No, it slips through his grasp.

His little lip quivers. He wants to please his father, but can’t quite do it. Each time, it’s just outside of his grasp, just beyond his ability to do what is asked.

But he doesn’t give up.

The father retrieves the ball, throws it harder. Again, his little son fails. He was born prematurely, and maybe his coordination lags as a result? But the boy stays, lip quivering, tears beginning to leak from his eyes.

“What’s wrong with you? Stop crying! Or I’ll give you reason to cry. Catch the damn ball, Chad!”

His father throws the ball again, and again, harder and harder at Chad’s abdomen.

Despite his best efforts, Chad never does catch the damn ball that day. His father stalks off in frustration.

All the while, his mother watches from a window, doing nothing.

————-

How does the boy become a man know this is true? Because, years later his mother told him. And it is consistent with with his experiences with his father.