My name is Chris, and I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, who celebrates recovery from anger management issues and control issues and codependency, and who is currently working through recovery from a food addiction.
I really didn't want to do this. I don't think that my story is that worth telling. But my sponsor reminded me that it isn't my story, it is God's story, taking place in my life. I love to tell the story of my God. So I'll tell about his work in me.
I am the eldest of three brothers, born to two university professors. I was born in Casablanca, Morocco in 1952. My dad was American, and my mother is French. We returned to the U.S. when I was a small infant, and my parents set about building their careers in academia. It wasn't too long before my two younger brothers were born.
My dad was a veteran of WW2. He was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps who was wounded in action at Iwo Jima. The war, and his Marine Corps experience marked him for life, and in retrospect, he probably suffered from PTSD; but they didn't call it that back then, if they called it anything at all. Most combat veterans came home, stuffed the emotional traumas down deep, and tried to get on with the business of living.
My mother was French North African, and she was a survivor of the Axis occupation of North Africa — a time of great deprivation which continues to this day to influence her life even though she is now quite wealthy and lives in a fairly luxurious retirement near the beach in southern California.
I grew up in Southern California. My parents had stellar academic careers, and they were professors at Caltech. We counted among family friends more than one Nobel Laureate, world famous physicists, astronomers, and other scientists. My parents were published in their fields. My mother is currently working on her 15th book at age 86. They had lived hard lives, had excelled professionally and built a comfortable life for themselves and the family, and they fully expected that my brothers and I would live up to their standards of excellence. What I learned early on was that it was a standard that I could not hope to attain - at least not by their definition. Also, as modern academics, they tended to take a dim view of the church, and our family was thoroughly secular.
Oddly, though, my mother fulfilled a promise she had made back in France to the priest who married my parents to expose her children to the church. Neither she or my dad would go themselves, but they insisted that I go to catechism, and it was just that exposure to the church, and my parents' obvious disinterest in it, that convinced me for most of my life until the day I was saved that God did not exist.
My father was much harder on me than he was on my two younger brothers. Years later, when I was married and my own son Tyler was just a few months old, my dad was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. We knew from the beginning that it was very aggressive, and that we didn't have much time left with him. The day we found out that he was going to die, he told me, "Chris, don't be as hard on Tyler as I was on you." I was stunned, as this was the first admission on his part that he had been harder on me than on my brothers, something which had been as obvious to them as it had been to me. When I asked him why he had treated me that way, he said that when I was born, all he knew about how to take care of someone under his charge was what the Marine Corps had taught him about how an officer should take care of his men—make sure they are fed before his fed; make sure they have shelter before he has shelter; make sure they have all the tools that they need to do the job they have to do—but he was their overseer, not their friend, confidant, buddy, or any of that, and he expected their absolute obedience. He raised me with an iron fist.
I idolized my dad, as did many boys of my age whose fathers had come home from a war in which we wanted to believe they were all heroes. But although I idolized him, I was scared to death of him. He very rarely ever showed me any kind of affection, and I can't ever remember having met with his approval.
I chafed under my mother's guidance too. She was not affectionate. She did not extend mercy. She was stingy with her time. She was ambitious and busy trying to build her career, and looking back, I think that having a child was a big encumbrance for her, and I think that she probably resented having to take the time to be a parent.
I learned early on to hide the details of my life from my parents as much as possible. I lied about what was happening in school. I stopped sharing my aspirations with them when they either shot them down or ridiculed them. They exposed us to a lot of things while we were growing up, international travel and lots of cultural events and such — things which an adult might appreciate — but it was difficult to get a young boy to take much of an interest in them.
When I was about 10 years old, my mother introduced me to one of her students at the college where she taught. She thought Steve would make a good "big brother" for me. I didn't ask for one, but I got one anyway. I would have rather had my father. It would turn out to be one of the worst things to ever happen to me. It is true that I was starving for adult attention, and at first, I was flattered that Steve wanted to spend time with me. I remember that he had an Austin Healey sports car which was a lot of fun to ride in.
One day, Steve took me for a drive into the mountains, and we hiked up into a secluded area. He eventually steered the conversation toward sex. That was the day that he became my abuser, which lasted for something like a year. That first day was also marked by a car accident. Steve lost control of his sports car in a turn on the way home from the mountains, and I hit the windshield and was knocked out. I acquired a scar on my forehead above my left eye to remember that day by.
Eventually, my parents found out about the abuse, but their reaction was not what I would have expected. To this day, I cannot explain it, but they continued to invite Steve into our home, even to spend the night, and the abuse continued. It finally stopped when he left college for the military, but it set the pattern for large parts of my life for the next 4 decades.
For one thing, it reinforced that I had no value as a person. I was not worth defending or protecting. My dreams for the future were unimportant, ridiculous, or not worthy of the level of excellence that my parents set for the family. For another thing, it taught me that sex was about conquest, perversion, and pure physicality absent of emotion or trust or love. It also taught me a deep and abiding shame in myself. Shame because I did not fight back. Shame because the other person was a man. Shame because, even though I knew it was wrong and was terrified about others knowing about it, it felt good, and that meant that I must be a bad person.
The one thing I did at around age 10 or 11 which my parents encouraged was to study the guitar. It was 1962, The Beatles were just starting to make a name for themselves, everybody (at least in California) thought they had a folk singer inside of them, and the guitar was becoming a popular instrument. I believe that this is a gift that God gave me, even back then, because when nothing else seemed to be going my way, I could play my guitar and sing - things which gave me a lot of comfort.
In my high school years, my parents enrolled me in an exclusive boys prep school. I didn't want to be there. I wanted to be with my friends in public school. I had trouble fitting in. These were all "rich kids," and I couldn't compete with the lifestyle they took for granted. I enjoyed some of my classes, but I had become rebellious in general, and specifically undisciplined. Although my academics suffered, there were two areas in which I did excel, and that was football and swimming. Those were two endeavors which I was able to do well in by pure dint of effort, entirely on my own, and the physical exertion drained the depression and anger which was building in me. It was something that nobody could take away from me because I was the one who did the work to make it happen. But during three years of football and swimming, my dad came to one game, and two swim meets. My mother never came to any of them. This further reinforced my belief that there was nothing I could ever do which would get my parents to approve of me.
When I was about 14, I discovered drugs. It started with pills, stolen from somebody's parents' medicine cabinet. But pretty soon, I was smoking pot. When I discovered marijuana, I fell in love with it. I couldn't get enough. I loved the euphoria. I loved the pleasure of it. It made me laugh, when little else did. It made me feel witty and smarter than I thought I was. I began experimenting with stronger highs. I smoked hash, opium, pot dosed with heroin. By the time I graduated from high school in 1970, I began experimenting with psychedelics, mostly LSD, and after graduation I gave myself wholly over to those things for a time.
I had also became sexually active during my teenage years. I had little or no consideration for the girls themselves. I showed them the same treatment my abuser had shown me, and which my parents had apparently sanctioned. My behavior was completely selfish.
I had some minor success as a musician from age 17 to about 20, and I got to rub shoulders with some very famous people — names that many people would still recognize today — and one of the things I came to realize was that they were all just as jacked up as I was, using drugs to bury hurts, so I learned early on that big money wasn't necessarily going to make me happy, but smoking dope would. So I kept smoking marijuana, but I stopped, for the time being, using any stronger drugs.
When I was 19, I met my first wife, Nancy. I fell head over heals in... ...fatuation. But, she was a headstrong girl from Texas, very "liberated," as they called it back then. It wasn't very long before we moved in together and got an apartment in Hollywood. From there we moved to New York City. Nancy had been a model in NY before I met her, and she wanted to resume her modeling there. We lived there until late 1972 when we came back to Texas and got married in El Paso in January of '73. Then we moved to Austin. Then to El Paso. Then back to California. Then back to El Paso. At each move, I either had given up a decent job or quit school. I enrolled in UTEP, and then transferred to Texas A&M to enroll in the pre-vet program (she transferred to UT, maybe out of revenge, and we saw each other on weekends), but I never graduated because Nancy wanted to move back to New York. It seemed like she couldn't be happy anywhere, but I was killing myself to try and keep up with her, and making some pretty big sacrifices along the way to try and make her happy. Sound familiar?
Sexual fidelity went out the window in our marriage fairly early on. We were both guilty of it. We aborted two babies. And finally, in August of 1978, Nancy announced that she was leaving me for a new boyfriend. I asked her to be kind and not try to move back in, that we were through. A few months later, I moved back to California, and our divorce was finalized in 1980.
I had found that I wasn't good at being single or being married. I wasted nearly 4 years in another relationship trying to rescue a daughter of alcoholic parents by trying to make up for their deficiencies in her life, but in the end, her neediness was more than I could satisfy (sound familiar?), and we broke up. I drifted from one relationship to another, not interested in being attached, just seeking sex. During this time I discovered cocaine, and it nearly consumed me. I also started racing motorcycles in sanctioned road racing events. When I look back at it, it was incredibly self destructive to be using a drug that impaired me, and then going out on a racetrack and going 140 mph through a turn on a motorcycle. But I think that I just didn't care. I didn't seem to have much to live for. I didn't feel like I had a future that was worth a plugged nickel, and I didn't feel like I was important to anybody unless I was doing expensive drugs or expensive hobbies. By then, I had pretty much given up playing my guitar because I had lost the love of the instrument. I simply didn't have a reason to play it.
That is when God stepped back into my life. Oh, I know now that He believed in me all along, waiting for me to mature to the point where He could begin to mold me, but you see, I still didn't believe in Him. In 1987, I met Robin one night in a bar. Later, after God saved us, people would ask how we met, and she would try to say "in a restaurant" before I could say "in a bar." It was a bar that served food, and we were both there to drink. We both fell hard for one another right away. That night when I got home, I knew she was "the one." And she said that when she got home that night, she had closed the door to her room and said to herself, "that's the man I'm going to marry."
I was high on cocaine the night we met, and again the next night when we went out to dinner together, but I realized that this wonderful girl was never going to have me in her life if she knew that cocaine was part of the deal, so I quit. Cold turkey. I never used cocaine again from that day forward. I never smoked pot or used any other drugs again from that day forward. I have been clean, if not entirely sober, since 1987.
So, what did I replace the drugs with, since I was not sober-minded? Food was certainly one thing. For a while, pornography was another. Anger was another. And control was another. I began to gain weight. I weighed 185 lbs when I met Robin in 1987. For some time, I was able to slow down the physical effects of my addiction. I had a gym membership and I worked out. I was still racing bikes and I needed to be in shape for that. But eventually, the weight packed on, and I've never been remotely close to my old weight since. I weighed 325 lbs just a few of days ago. It wasn't all from out of control eating. There was still illness and injury to come which affected my metabolism and limited my physical abilities, making the problem even worse.
Our son Tyler was born in January of 1990. The apple of my eye. The day he was born, my parents came to see him at the hospital. My dad got misty eyed and thanked me for giving him a grandson. That was the first and last time he ever thanked me for anything. He didn't know he was sick yet, but we lost him to the cancer just 8 months later. It was his dying that made me start thinking about my own mortality, and what might lie beyond the grave.
September of 1993 found Robin and me at a non-denominational worship service. We had joined a multi-level marketing organization, and they had quarterly "business meetings" which were really just big cheer-leading rallies. And on Sundays, they had these worship services. The reason we went to this one was because the speaker from the night before was going to be speaking at the service, and we just wanted to hear more of him. I don't even remember what was said at that service, but it jogged our souls, and that afternoon on the way home we talked about what we believed in, what we thought God was like, even if there was a God, and what we wanted for our son.
The next meeting was on the 22nd and 23rd of January 1994, and this time we went to the service because we wanted to know more. The message was given by a pastor who described how his son had become a believer early on, and how through all the difficulties of their turbulent relationship during his son’s teenage years, it was the fact that they were not just father/son, but also brothers in Christ, accountable to one another and to the same God, that saved their relationship. I didn't know enough to know what I wanted for myself from Jesus, but right then and there, THAT was enough. I have loved my son without reservation since before he was born. If THAT could save my son and me from what my relationship with my dad had been like, then I wanted it. So at the end of the message, with all eyes closed and all heads bowed, I raised my hand, and I prayed the sinner's prayer, and Jesus reached down and lifted me up. The miracle of it, besides my own salvation, was that unknown to me at the time, my wife had raised her hand and prayed the sinner's prayer. We got saved together — a blessing for which I am eternally grateful — and my son was delivered from having the kind of relationship with his mother that I had with mine.
We started attending church the very next weekend at a wonderful church in Pasadena. We never looked anywhere else, and Lake Avenue Church was our church home from January 30, 1994, until we had to move to Texas to follow my job in 2006. In 1996, when my son was 6 years old, a neighbor who was the children's pastor at Church on the Way led Tyler to Christ. We were now all believers together. During this time, life went on. I continued to grow in the Lord. I volunteered as a small group leader in the high school ministry. And one day, at a mid-week ministry gathering, I told the girl who led worship with her guitar that I know how to play and was interested in helping her out. That was the day that I discovered why God had given me that gift to being with. He took it from me because I wasn't using it to His glory. He restored the love of it to me when I learned I could use it for that purpose, and I have been either leading or helping to lead worship ever since.
I had some health challenges along the way. I was diagnosed with hypertension in about 1995 and have been dependent on medications to keep my blood pressure under control. I came down with Graves Disease in 1999 and had to have my thyroid gland destroyed by radioactive iodine swallow and I'm now dependent on thyroid medication. In late 2001, while lifting an amplifier off stage, I heard and felt a pop in my back. I was unable to walk or stand more than a few minutes at a time after that, and finally had a disc removed and some vertebrae fused in 2004. The effects of that linger to this day, which is why I move so stiffly now.
In April of 2006, we relocated the company I worked for to Dallas, and I lived in a hotel room apart from my family for a couple of months until the school year ended and they could join me here. It was a hard and lonesome time, but once they got here and we bought our house here in Grapevine, things looked like they were going to turn around for us. God led us here to 1:21 Community Church, and being a member here has been a major component of my growth as a believer. But we didn't know that we were headed into what was to become the hardest time of our lives as a family.
In February of 2007, my in-laws moved here to be near my wife, who was their only child. What my father in law never told any of us was that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer back in California. Bob kept it from all of us until he was too sick to cover it up any longer, and we moved the two of them out of their apartment and into our home where we could take care of them. He was a believer, and on Wednesday, September 26, 2007, he went home to Jesus. He was the closest thing I had to a father since my own dad died, and more of a dad to me than my own father had been, and I loved him and still miss him very much today.
Three days later, on Saturday the 29th, my employer, who was a friend of 15 years from our old church, whom I had worked for for 9 years, and who had also joined 1:21 after our arrival here, committed suicide during a visit to his mother back in California. The Monday following that, my mother in law announce to us that she had found some lumps in her breast. And to add insult to injury, our cats of many years both had fallen very ill, and we had to have them put to sleep that same day. For the next 6 weeks or so, my job became keeping the company afloat until my deceased employer’s wife could sell off the company's assets and close the doors.
I found myself unemployed for the first time since 1990, having dragged my family across half the continent, my father in law dead, my boss and friend dead, with no income, and a very sick mother in law. Without a doubt, my life was out of control. I tried. I really did. But it was collectively just too much for me, and things were becoming unmanageable. I sought counseling, and my counselor advised me to come to CR. For a long time, I avoided it. Then Jason Palmer, whom many of you know, started asking me if I would be willing to help out with CR worship. Again, I avoided it. I guess I thought that it wasn't for me. But finally, after he persisted, and Erica Boutwell asked also, I agreed to do it, and I started attending CR in early 2008.
I think that I thought I would just swoop in and be a blessing to all these "needy people." I did not know then how much you all would bless me. I cannot express enough what CR has come to mean to me, and I can tell you for a certain fact that I was humbled. I began through CR to learn a new side of my King.
I had given up on finding a new job by then. I was 56 and unwilling to start all over again with a new career at a new company. The jobs I knew how to do were becoming scarcer due to industry changes. And so, I arrived at the decision in May of 2008 to start my own business as a website designer.
During the next year and half, we nursed my mother in law through bilateral mastectomies and radiation therapy. She never really regained her health, and taking care of her became more and more of a full time job for my wife. In late 2008, she started taking a turn for the worse and was in and out of the hospital. And during all of this time I was also trying to grow my business, get plugged into the local business community, and everything that goes with that.
Before Barbara went into the hospital for the last time, I was able to share Jesus with her, and she accepted Him as her Lord and Savior. We soon learned that her cancer had returned and metastasized and was terminal. She spent most of the last month of her life in a convalescent hospital before we brought her home to die. When she learned she was home, she smiled and was at peace for the first time in a long time. She slipped into a coma the next day, a Wednesday. The next Monday, I left CR right after the teaching because I sensed that this was the night it would happen. I rushed home and walked into her room to check on her, just in time to see her take her last breaths. This wonderful, funny, quirky, generous woman who had made up for everything my own mother never gave me was gone.
But truly, it is through all of this hardship that I came to really believe Philippians 1:21—"To live is Christ, to die is gain," and it has become my life verse. This church, and CR specifically have been my lifeblood. I completed a step study the summer before last. It was through that step study that I began to really work the steps. I was already a believer, but I was having trouble letting go of everything and giving it back to God to bear for me. It took doing my inventory to confront the abuse in my past and deal with it. It was hard to face both the forgiveness and the amends. Most of the people I’ve wronged, like those girls I treated so badly, I no longer know how to reach them. Some, I just remember their faces, but not their names. So I’m trying to make a living amends by patterning my life after the 8 principles. I seek through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God. I've been able to forgive my parents. I have forgiven my abuser. The step study helped me to identify my food addiction, and now I’m trying to work the steps to get a handle on that. And I guess doing this testimony is part of my learning how to put the 12th step into practice, and reach out to others, and be used by God to bring His good news to others.
It's getting time for another step study soon. I am in many ways still a very old-fashioned guy, a throwback to the '50s and '60s. I find it hard to talk about my problems to others because I don't want to sound like I'm whining, and it sometimes still feels "unmanly" to me. Doing this testimony is putting me waaaaaaaay outside my comfort box. But the longer I go with CR, the easier it gets, and there are many days now when God has shared some insight with me, he is SO merciful and kind, and I don't always know if it is something I learned at CR, or during my quiet time, or listening to my pastor teach, or while singing a song to my King, but I often feel like those closing scenes in Forrest Gump, where the mood is melancholy, but peaceful. The world is green instead of barren, and I have stopped running. I feel reconciled to my past. God truly has me in His hands. It is a good place to be. There are still layers to my personal onion which need to be peeled back, but I am less afraid of the pain than I used to be. And if there is anything that anyone can take away from my life that will help them with theirs, it is not mine to hold onto. That is not what my King would have me do. Let me tell you about My King.
Dr. S.M. Lockridge said in his famous invocation given at a Baptist convention: "Well, my King is a King of knowledge. He's the wellspring of wisdom. He's the doorway of deliverance. He's the pathway of peace. He's the roadway of righteousness. He's the highway of holiness. He's the gateway of glory. He's the master of the mighty. He's the captain of the conquerors. He's the head of the heroes. He's the leader of the legislatures. He's the overseer of the overcomers. He's the governor of governors. He's the prince of princes. He's the King of kings and He's the Lord of lords. That's my King. Yeah. Yeah. That's my King. My King, yeah."