I’ve known Myquillyn Smith (The Nester) and Emily P Freeman for as long as I’ve been blogging. They were raised by the author of my guest post today who describes himself as “a guy who should have died but didn’t, with a wife who should have left but stayed.” I hope this post about redemption encourages you as much as it did me. Guest post by Gary Morland, author of A Family Shaped By Grace
In 1985, my wife’s husband is thirty-four years old and an alcoholic who drinks three quarts of beer a day and falls asleep on the floor every night by 7:00 p.m.
He’s a college dropout with no training or skills, no ambition, and no motivation. He’s lost, apart from God, unemployed half the time, and drives an old Chevy Vega with a driver’s side door that flies open every time he makes a right turn. He drinks behind her back and lies about it, and she learns she can’t trust him.
My wife lives with this man in a nine-hundred-square-foot house with lots of arguing, mostly because he’s clueless about how to be a good husband or raise kids. He vows to himself not to have children until he “figures out how to be an adult,” but he never does and here they are, two daughters eleven and eight.
That’s my wife’s life. This is normal for a long time.
I’m the husband.
That’s how our family starts and how it goes for the first twelve years of our marriage. No one has any reason to believe anything will ever change.
Not overnight but over time. Today our marriage centers on grace and patience and caring more for the other person than for ourselves. Most of our arguments are over giving the other person their way (yes, we argue over sacrificing for each other). We’re best friends. Trust dominates and creates an inviting vibe in our home. Disagreements are brief and hardly an inch deep.
We share a rich connection as a family with our daughters, their husbands, and their kids, and people seem to notice.
How does this change happen?
It should have come from the family in which I grew up, but it didn’t. Mine was a nice middle-class family but purposeless, with its own unique dysfunctions. Dad was an alcoholic, and his unstable presence dominated our family mood.
Then I get married and become my wife’s husband. And then I become an alcoholic just like my dad. Three quarts of beer every day for fourteen years becomes another normal. I bring all my dysfunction and ignorance into my marriage, like we all do. And Brenda brings her whole story in too. And together we team up to learn more habits of just reacting, arguing, and being offended and defensive.
Then three things happen:
1. I miraculously stop drinking.
2. Two years later, I believe in Jesus.
3. Six months after that I meet someone who mentors and shepherds me.
These three things change everything, each one piling on the previous one. It takes time and is still ongoing. But once your direction changes, certain things become inevitable. Get the direction right and good things will come.
I don’t know how I stopped drinking. I didn’t go to AA or Celebrate Recovery, and there was no family-and-friends intervention. There is a long period of guilt and frustration and trying to quit on my own. However, unknown to me, Brenda and her friends are praying. One day Brenda confronts me (again), and I’m so tired of lying and hiding I blurt out, “Brenda, I’m an alcoholic.”
She doesn’t get mad or argue. I wish she would, so I could argue back. Instead, I’m stuck with the realization that I just broke her heart. I’m stuck with my bad, lying, drinking self. It’s too much. I know I won’t drink another beer for a while. A while turns into decades. I’m now convinced Jesus got me sober to get me home to him.
Without beer I can think straight, and after two years of straight thinking, my soul becomes convinced that I’m lost, spiritually dead, and separated from God. That’s bad news. One evening, alone in the basement of our rental house in Bettendorf, Iowa, I get down on my knees and give my life to Jesus. I say out loud, “Please take my life, I don’t want it, I don’t know what to do with it.”
That’s good news.
Six months later, I meet the man who will mentor and shepherd me. He invites me to a class he’s teaching at church. He posts a sign on the wall in front of the room. “Think Biblically,” it says. Thinking biblically, he says, means learning to connect the dots. The dots are me, God, family, people, the world, and all our hopes and dreams. The more you see how the dots connect and fit together, the more life makes sense. The more you learn to cooperate with the connections, the easier things become. More good news.
The Bible becomes fascinating to me. The man, Harold, shows me how to apply the Bible to my life. I begin to unlearn some of those habits of defensiveness and emotional reacting. I begin to learn new perspectives and to understand how things work and why and how marriage and family relationships work and don’t work. I read and study on my own and pay attention to people’s words, behaviors, and attitudes. I learn that I really can do nothing apart from Jesus.
Not only do I learn the truth that’s in the Bible, but I also begin soaking up the demeanor and personality behind the words. I hear God’s tone of voice and feel his character of grace, humility, and patience. Slowly over time I sense that unique demeanor and personality of God working their way in and through me.
If you start now, you can end up with a family characterized by harmony and unity, therefore, “as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12).
You’ll end up with a family of grace-filled individuals. Or maybe just one individual.
One individual—you—who realizes you might be wrong.
Who trusts that this one thing—in humility refusing to keep score—creates a growing garden of grace in your family.
And who’s grateful that today is another day to nurture that garden.
Welcome, friend, to walking with Jesus in your family.