I grew up never believing anyone or anywhere was safe. My father served in the military and was a Vietnam veteran. The military moved us from Spain to the Philippines to the United States, then to Italy and back to the United States, all before I was fifteen years old.
Addiction runs in my family. Drugs and alcohol soothed the pain of having an alcoholic father, a mentally ill mother, and the abuse of molestation. By the time I was 15 I was in my first treatment facility, and by 22 I was in jail.
My dad had a great career and he was a stable provider, but his alcoholism was a source of instability in our home. My mother suffered from an undiagnosed bi-polar condition. She lost touch with reality and suffered from psychosis. She attempted suicide when I was thirteen by overdosing on sleeping pills. Though she left a note on her door to not come in, being a kid I didn’t notice it and found her unconscious and close to death. My job was to try and keep her awake until the paramedics arrived. Looking back, I know God had his hand on me even then, years before I would reach out to him.
Thankfully, my mom survived and was properly diagnosed and put on medication. My parents divorced and my mom moved back to Spain. She is healthy now, living in the United States again, and is a huge part of my life; she is one of my biggest supporters. Still, the traumatic events of my childhood impacted me greatly and I struggled to find my way. I was confused, scared and completely lost. I began drinking and using drugs at fourteen. I fell into addiction early and found recovery early.
After my third DUI in one year resulted in an accident, I knew, at the age of twenty one, that I had to make a change. By God's grace no one was hurt in the accident, but because of it I was incarcerated. After serving five and a half months of a one year sentence, as part of my release, I entered a treatment facility. For the first time I was able to tell the truth about some of the events that had left me so broken.
The day of the accident and my arrest was the start of my journey to sobriety and the incredible plan God has for my life. I was 22 when I started seeking a relationship with Jesus. However, I was not able to grasp the meaning of that relationship or learn how to mature as a Christian. I needed more direction. I began coming to Sandals Church and I would say that I loitered there for many years. I came and listened to the message but I was never able to commit my life to Christ. I chose to spend the majority of my time volunteering in the recovery field. I went to institutions to give back and to try to instill hope in those struggling with addiction. I even met my wife at a recovery convention. Though I didn't fully realize it, God had committed himself to me by gifting me with the ability to lead and walk alongside those desperately looking for that hope.
During those years, I traveled quite a bit because of my work. My wife was attending a group at Sandals Church to recover from a serious food addiction and bulimia. She thrived in her group and began to come alive in a way I hadn’t witnessed before. But we were struggling in our marriage, basically just existing in the same space. I could see that Christ was changing her;looking back, I wanted that change too.
Sandals Church announced that it was having a baptism at the close of her group session. While I was on the road, she called to tell me she was going to get baptized. My first and only thought was, "Wow, you can't do this without me!" I got on a plane because I knew that I had to get home. I wasn't sure if I was coming to just watch her get baptized or if I was going to do it myself. Almost immediately, God started speaking to me. It was pretty clear by the time I landed that I was going to be baptized with her and so I was. When we came up out of the water, she was instantly joyous and incredibly excited and I just stood there with a frightened look on my face.
I wasn't sure how I felt. I just publicly committed my life to Christ and I was afraid.
But God began to speak to me in a real way. He asked me straight-up, "Are you ready to get real?" His question was very clear. I was terrified and excited at the same time. I couldn’t hide it.
On the drive home my wife looked at me and asked if I was okay. I told her, “No, I'm not. God is telling me that there are some things I need to confess to you.” I admitted that months ago I had been going to strip clubs and that I was previously involved in an emotional texting relationship. I had been doing everything that would be part of having an affair without actually doing anything physical.
I told her what I needed to tell her. It was hard. At the time I did not understand why God was asking me to reveal these things but it was really clear that he did and I obeyed. As a result of that conversation and God’s willingness to work on me, we ended up in the Sandals Church marriage minister’s Office. He spoke plain and simple which was just what we needed. He asked if we were willing to stay married and we both said yes. We began the tough job of working through the struggles of sin and deception in our marriage.
Even though it was hard, it was an amazing experience. The minister wasn’t asking us typical counseling questions, “How do you feel?” And then to my wife, “how do you feel?” He was straightforward, “This is what God tells us to do in marriage…” and we did it. We were able to submit to God and his authority and find a balance and began to heal our marriage.
This healing in our own hearts and marriage was great, but after spending time at Sandals Church we realized that we needed to do more. One day as we walked down the main hall, I looked around and thought, “Man it looks so big. How do we get involved? What do we do?” We were on fire for Christ, God was speaking to us in a real and powerful way, and we were working with the marriage minster; yet it was still just us in this big church.
We didn’t know where to start. I asked one of the pastors how we could get involved and he directed us to small groups. Because we were still struggling in our marriage and growing in our faith, we knew we needed to take that next step. We prayed and God confirmed that we needed to be in a community with other Christians. We decided to seek out a small group, which led us to open our own home and host a group. We had great leaders and an amazing experience for two years. Our marriage was restored and God redeemed the sin and struggles of our past.
It was at this point that God put it on my heart to get involved in a recovery ministry. I met with Pastor Adam Atchison, and he and I, along with an incredible woman named Darlene, started the Life Recovery Ministry at Sandals Church. The Life Recovery Bible Study is a mix between a community group, a bible study, a mentoring group and a 12 step program. It meets weekly and is ongoing for those who want to overcome drug and alcohol addiction, food addiction, anxiety, sexual sin, divorce, compulsive behaviors or other life struggles. It is a true extension of the Sandals Church vision of being real and it is a safe place to deal with whatever blocks are hindering your closeness to God.
By design, it meets on Saturdays at 3:00 at Sandals Church, so there is a convenient church service shortly afterward. We have also found that most of our initial calls and requests come from a spouse or a family member looking for help. Because of those requests, we also started the Relational Recovery Support group that meets simultaneously with our Life Recovery group. This group meets as a support and encouragement for those whose loved one is going through the Life Recovery Bible Study and to hear stories of how God has changed lives and discuss devotional reading.
Getting to be a part of that recovery process and give back is an amazing feeling for me. At the beginning, Sandals Church felt huge and now it feels small. Our friends are our family and it feels like home. I think back to that conversation that God and I had about being baptized and him following with the question, “Are you ready to get real?” I now see that God leading me to be open and honest about the destructive secrets in my life was a way for him to clear the slate so that the enemy couldn’t attack me any longer. God was providing a way for me to enter into the amazing plan he has for my life.