July 6, 2018
40 years ago today, I made a decision that dramatically changed the trajectory of my life. An only child of parents who divorced when I left home for college, God saved me from the chains of addiction that devastated my family. Shortly after arriving at Duke University, I was invited to a Bible study in my dormitory. Several months later, on July 6, 1978, while repenting of my sin and deciding to follow Jesus, I was baptized, receiving God’s forgiveness and a new life of purpose and hope. I am so grateful to my friends Gary Knutson and Doug Jacoby who helped me find God’s grace. And though the time was relatively short, the process was not easy.
God’smercy went even deeper than the forgiveness of my sin. He gave me the power to live a life free from the chains of addiction that had and would plague my immediate family.
Both of my parents were alcoholics: Mom was a fall-down drunk who was medicating her loneliness, and Dad was an aloof, mind-numbing drinker. Mom screamed for attention, Dad withdrew. And I was caught in the middle. To outsiders, my parents were young-looking, athletic, and fun. Inside of our home, however, it was a different story. In fact, in addition to any genetic predispositions, I developed some of the personality traits that would make me even more vulnerable to addiction. I became a perfectionist, focusing on academics and anything I could control to find a mooring in a home environment that was not safe. I found it difficult to process or share my own thoughts and emotions because there was no safe way to do it, and that was the example I had at home.
Like me, my mom was an only child. My dad had a sister who was also an alcoholic, married to a violent drinker. My grandparents were not drinkers, but my parents, and aunt and uncle, lived the “normal” party lifestyle and then used alcohol to regulate their thoughts and emotions. The consequences were disastrous.
Mom died at the age of 44, dying in a fire caused by her drinking. Dad was twice-divorced, living his final years with my wife, Maureen, and me, drinking steadily in his final days. The oldest of my two cousins died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 50. The younger cousin continues to be plagued by drug and alcohol addictions.
There but by the grace of God go I.
College life was the time when I, too, could have joined the party scene and then learned to use alcohol and/or party drugs to regulate my own emotions – a slippery slope with the risks and consequences suffered by all in my immediate family.
But God gave me a craving to find him and know him, and to learn about forgiveness, love, and hope. He caught my attention within days of arriving on campus. And the rest, as they say, is history, or his story.
God has shown his mercy to me, giving me a life of forgiveness, purpose, and hope. Where I’ve lived, who I married, where I worked, and how I have spent time and money, have all been different.
Everything has not turned out perfectly. Some of my adult children have had their own struggles, but by the grace of God, they have a different parental example, and have or can find true north.
Today I take time to be grateful, but also to dream about the future. What will the next chapter look like? What kind of old(er) man will I be? What impact/legacy will I leave behind? What adventures are in store in the next 10-30 years?
I am so thankful to God that he not only forgave me, but he has continually given me the strength to overcome the challenges of my personality and upbringing. He also gave me my wife Maureen, who has broken similar chains, and we will celebrate 35 years of marriage in a few weeks! Additionally, in giving us a life of purpose, God has been able to use us to help many fall in love with God and experience the same grace and mercy.
Titus 2:11-14 captures God’s grace, power, and hope for my life:
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.