Testimony #4: The “Good” Christian

 Hello, my name is Mike – a thankful follower of my Lord Jesus Christ, and celebrating freedom from alcohol, tobacco, depression, pornography, and a host of other issues.

I was born into one of the most normal, functional American families that anyone could have asked for.  I was the first born child to a Christian Mother and Father, where my father worked hard to provide for his family and worked at the same company for 30+ years.My mother stayed at home with my brother and I.  She cooked and cleaned every day; We were always taken care of.  We had – and have – a very stable and happy family.We always attended church every week.  In fact, most of the time, it was 2-3 times per week.  I was always involved at church.  I was active in the choir and youth group. My Aunt was a missionary in India for 20+ years so I was exposed at an early age to missions, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and a variety of cultures and foods.  I saw the faith that my family had in God…and I saw that faith lived out on a daily basis. After graduating High School, I felt mission work might actually be in my future.  Instead of going to college like all my friends, I went to a Bible school where we heard the Word preached and taught every day.  It was a very legalistic environment where women were not allowed to wear pants and hell, fire and damnation were preached regularly. I stayed at this school for 3 years and made my best attempts to be “good”.  I went to “alter calls” and sought after what I believed were God’s requirements; Somehow, I always felt inadequate, depressed, not good enough, and ultimately a failure at being “a good Christian”.  I imagined God having a gavel in His Hand, ready to strike me down when I failed or stumbled in my thoughts and deeds.  I was in the prison of self-righteousness. I needed distraction from my own failure so I began to judge other  Christians as simply “Sunday Christians” – going to church on Sunday and then living the rest of their lives however they wanted.  They didn’t really know Jesus.  Church was just a glorified social club where you went to meet the right people and look like a good citizen.

I began to become disillusioned with church and the whole concept of God.  I had tried.  I had called out to God: and while I would experience some brief emotional relief, the self-criticism and guilt would inevitably creep back in, leaving me more depressed and discouraged than ever. You see – I realized I had been experiencing God through someone else’s faith….not my own.  So I began to doubt….to question….to use my own logic.  And, despite the internal fear of being struck dead by God, I turned away from the church.  I mean, I would still “talk the talk” to keep peace with my family, but I was in the process of seeking a way out. I left the Bible College, got a job in my hometown, got my first apartment. I began living a fairly normal life.  In fact, over the next several years I tried out several different “careers” – and while I did OK, I still never thought that I had found my true “calling”. I began serious dating around this time and fell into my first codependent relationship.  I didn’t know what it was at the time, but it was painful.

Eventually, I made the decision to go back to school.  I went to Clemson University, where I majored in Chemistry.  I was an older student at this time, but I still looked really young, so I got away with not really telling anyone how old I was.  All they knew was that I was old enough to buy beer and to get into a bar.   I was in a fraternity.  I became very active in the theater. I began to experiment with marijuana and various other drugs that were popular.  The guard rails came off….and it felt good.  God didn’t strike me down, so He must either approve or not care.  I could party and still succeed with my school work – so I did it all guilt free.  I was successful at Clemson.  Not only did I succeed in my school work, but I succeeded in the theater and was nominated for acting awards.  I was cast in multiple musicals.  Acting was natural for me.  At this point, I had become good at “playing a part” in life.  I could lie and get away with it (for a while).  I could carry out relationships without letting the “real” me out of the box.  I had no fear of being on stage.  I ate up the attention and learned that being someone else could actually be a relief (for a while).

Now, in the realm of religion, I still felt a strong pull to the spiritual realm.  But this time it was in a different direction.  In my vast wisdom, I thought that organized religion as a whole was simply an old man made structure to keep the masses from disobeying.  You just threaten them with eternal damnation if they go outside of societal norms – and it will keep most of the people in line.  Otherwise, there would simply be chaos. That was my wisdom.  And, in my search for real religious fulfillment, I began my initial dabbling in the occult.  I had friends that read palms, read tarot cards, told fortunes – and they were good at it.  I was intrigued, but this was simply a seed planted that would take root later.

At Clemson, I met my future wife.  We dated through graduation – and were still a couple when I left for graduate school in Washington, DC.  She still had one year left at Clemson, so I would make frequent trips.  Like I said, this wasn’t my first codependent relationship. I didn’t realize my happiness was bound to hers.  I made every sacrifice possible in an attempt to keep her happy.  But it was simply selfishness in disguise.  We were married in 2001 and eventually moved back to SC where both of our parents lived and were both able to find great jobs. We settled into our married life. We looked like the typical young married couple – doing what young married couples are supposed to do.  We didn’t have children yet but we did get a cat and a dog…and another dog….and another dog.  We bought a new house at the end of a cul-de-sac in a new neighborhood.  We had the great jobs, good friends, nice cars…Basically everything a young married couple could want. 

But…internally, we were both miserable.  We were both struggling to make ourselves stay happy; and in her struggle to be happy, my codependency was in overdrive.  I was straining with everything in me to do the right things to keep her happy.  In a way, it was similar to my initial attempts at a personal relationship with God.  You see – I thought I had to do things to make Him happy – and when I did not sense God’s approval on my life, I would nose dive into depression…then eventually, apathy.  “If I can’t make God happy, why even try anymore?”  This type of apathy began to creep into my marriage slowly…until, after 3 years of marriage; my wife had an affair with a coworker.  She wasn’t getting the affection or appreciation she wanted at home, so she went outside the marriage to get it.  Discovering this was emotionally devastating, but I was determined to work through it.  Sacrifice in the name of serenity or keeping the peace.

We made it through that episode; but essentially nothing changed.  We got along and moved forward in our search for happiness.  We didn’t desire to be involved in a church.  We simply ran on the wheel of trying to make our possessions or our friends or our hobbies the only source of happiness.  I can tell you this never works.  It’s like riding a stationary bike – there’s plenty of movement, but you are not going anywhere.  Both of us were still suffering from emptiness and searching for something to fill that void. My wife increasingly turned to her career.  She was good at what she did.  She was smart and advanced quickly.  I, on the other hand, was still feeling the spiritual void. This is when the seed that was planted began to sprout.  I made the decision to research Wicca (Witchcraft).  I started out reading books, but quickly found myself reading Tarot cards.

In 2008, my wife approached me about a (what was supposed to be) a short term separation.  I was not for it. My parents were my marraige role model and had been committed to each other through good and bad so I, naturally, was against any separation.  Never the less, I gave in and made the sacrifice to keep the peace.  I moved out into a small apartment and here my life began to unravel. I found that I did NOT like being alone. I always had an easy time making friends and meeting new people so I decided to go to the bar. What had been “Social” drinking now became an everyday thing .  It helped to get my mind off my failing marriage and unfulfilling career. It drove the pain away for periods of time.

Another thing that I turned to occupy my mind was theater.  I was active in College Theater, but hadn’t performed in years.  Now being alone, I decided to go to an audition. I was cast in the first show at our local community theater “The Odd Couple”.  I had a blast doing it! It took up a lot of possible alone time where so I didn’t have to be by myself.  I could maintain denial that anything was wrong at least for a little while. One Sunday I was in the car just driving around and decided to call my wife. To my complete shock, a man picked up. Too stunned to say anything,  I quickly hung up. In that moment all hope for reconcillation with her was over.  I then decided I was going to find out what was going on use it all against her.  The bitterness of revenge.  I was in so much pain that I wanted her to feel it too.  The opposite of love.

A few days after that phone call I decided to break into our house when she wasn’t there. I found her personal journal where she written down everything. I discovered she had met a guy named Greg and started a relationship with him while on a Cruise I bought her and her friends to celebrate her 30th birthday.  The journal contained all the evidence I needed. I quickly made copies of everything, returning it so it looked like nothing had happened. I took the copies to an attorney where I filed for divorce. While the divorce was proceeding, I continued to search for ways to cover the pain and the fear of being by myself.  I continued drinking.  I continued in theater.  Eventually landed a role at the local college, where I met a girl and began a relationship with her.  This was a continuation of my attempt at pain relief/pain avoidance.

I was still working at the time, but that was about to come to an abrupt end.  One Monday after at evening at the bar, I decided I would call in sick to work and go to the bar when it opened at 11:00 am.  Not a problem, but this carried into the next day and the next, and the next until one whole week went by.  I cleaned myself up and decided I should probably go into work the next week.  I tried to claim stress from home and the ongoing divorce, but after a few days they eventually called me to human resource where I was shown the door.

I now had a severance package and am unemployment check and plenty of free time.  So I became a regular at the local bar.  I would frequent the bars and strip clubs.  But the party money started dwindled.  Soon I was simply down to an unemployment check and that didn’t last long at the bar.  Food and rent became less important.  I spent all money on alcohol and my codependent relationship the latest girlfriend. This cycle continued until I could carry on no longer.  My relationship fell apart and I ended up living with my parents. It was embarrassing but it did force me to curb behaviors.  My parents didn’t tolerate drinking. They tried to influence me to attend church but I wasn’t interested. The divorce was finalized. Somehow I was able to find a job through a friend of the family in Orlando.  It basically fell in into my lap and just what I needed: A fresh start. I moved in spring of 2010.  But I continued to drink. It was still a daily thing, but I was able to work and function.  I became increasingly involved in the Wiccan community and explore the beliefs.  In fact, I used this belief system as something to bring my addictive behavior under control.  I tried to use self-discipline. It worked for a little while but slowly things began to unravel again.

After about 3 years of my own control methods, I added more liquor to the mix.  The chains started to get heavier and before too long I found that I needed a drink before I could go to sleep.  When you add stress of everyday life to this mix, the alcohol becomes necessary to cope. You can’t physically function without.  During this time, I received a diagnosis of testicular cancer.  This allowed me to take time off work but the treatment plan was just a quick surgical procedure.  With this extra time off, I quickly spiraled.  I was staying with a friend, and we would drink ourselves in and out of consciousness.  I would wake up to my body craving another drink.

Thankfully, a friend realized I was in trouble and helped to pick me up.  On the way to the hospital, she asked if I wanted her to call my folks.  I was so sick at this moment that I didn’t care.  I knew I needed help.” Yes, call my Mom.”  My parents came and after the hospital stay I stayed in a hotel with them for almost a month.  I sobered up but I was so physically spent that I literally had trouble walking. Gradually, my health recovered. While my parents were with me, they opened a door that I would later walk through. They began sharing messages from Pastor Perry Noble at Newspring Church, SC.  What I heard – although I did not want to admit it at the time – was new.  It wasn’t the message of condemnation or damnation. It was a message of grace and mercy.  I began to really see Jesus. A man that could make men drop stones from their hands and walk away. Deep inside I began to feel the need for Him in my life.   

I was hard headed though. 

My parents eventually returned home. I returned to work. I felt better. Stayed sober for a while.  At least a few months. I was able to go to the bar with friends and just have water or tea, but soon I started to just have”a couple of beers”… then more beer….then some liquor until I was heading right back into the same pit. The break finally came when I started dating someone who was also a heavy drinker.  We drank heavily every night until I started to miss work again.  You see – I could not sleep without the alcohol, so when I would wake up, I will simply have to get a drink to fall asleep again.  This short term romance ended, but the chains stayed on this time and they were heavier than before.  My place of employment had no choice but to let me go.  I found myself without hope, without money, without friends, broken and at the end of myself.  I could not do it anymore.  I cried out for help, but this time I cried out to the God of Grace.  I finally saw my need and realized only Jesus could meet it.

I contacted my family and told them my situation.  My aunt told me about a Christ centered recovery program in Boone, NC.  I would have to contact them directly and request an application, but it was faith based and amazingly didn’t cost anything to go.  I returned to my parents home in SC and began preparing for recovery. The recovery program said I needed to bring a Bible.  In my broken state, I remember taking a Bible off the shelf of my parent’s home.  I sat down and placed the Bible in my lap. I opened the first page where I read, “For Mike, from Nita May 2005” God had been pursuing me for longer than I knew.  With my interest increasing, I opened the Bible and a small piece of paper fell into my lap.  On this paper, one verse was highlighted:  II Kings 20: 5 “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears.  Behold I will heal you.” The healing had begun.  I started attending Newspring Church on a regular basis while I waited for my time to check in at the recovery program. Soon, the wait was over and I checked in. I was blessed every moment I was there.  I found that I was not alone, that Jesus truly loves us. He pursues us. And He has a plan for each of us!  

My 10 weeks came and went quickly.  I returned home where I immediately began volunteering at Newspring Church and attending Celebrate Recovery on a weekly basis. I wondered whether I would be able to find work again in my field.  Within weeks I was getting numerous calls and interviews. In just a few weeks time, I had a job with a great company in NC.  God continued to pour blessings on me! I worked during the week in NC and would return home on the weekends to work with the CARE Team at my church. Inevitably, I would find myself praying with someone who was bound up in addiction. I really understood where they were coming from but I also knew what Jesus could do with their brokenness.

After several months at my job in NC, I began to get persistent calls from a company in St. Petersburg, FL.  They contacted me about an immediate position – and I felt God pulling me in that direction so I responded.  They flew me down for the interview, but I was confident that the job was mine.  I knew God wanted me here for a reason, so I leaned in – they offered me the job. Back in NC, I gave my notice but God was not done with me there.  On my next to last day, I had a co-worker come up to me.  We were making some small talk and then, he said, “Hey! Have you ever seen the pictures of Greg (our co-worker) when he was working as an entertainer on a cruise ship?” It was that Greg. The Greg that my wife had an affair with had been my co-worker this whole time.  It was as if God slowed time down. I had become friends with him! God’s message to me in that moment was simple: Even in the worst moments of your life, I am still in control. I am in control of all things.  Who else could take that chapter of my life and redeem it?  He is in control.  He is good and He is the one who heals us. When Jesus brought me to himself I knew that my days on the sideline were over.  I knew I had to continue to grow in my new life with Him.  I had to become – and stay – actively involved in a church and a continual recovery program.  

To anyone here reading this that believes they have gone too far for Jesus to reach, let me tell you, You Haven’t!  Jesus doesn’t ask or expect us to clean up before you come to him.  Just come.  Just as you are right now. Jesus said in Luke 5:31-32 “Healthy people do not need a doctor – sick people do.  I have come to call not those who think they are righteous (or the “good” Christians),  but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”


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