Spit and Dirt – A Story of Grace

Spit and Dirt – A Story of Grace

I would like to introduce you all to my friend, Jonathan. I recently asked him to share his testimony with me and after I read it, I was eager to share it with all of you. His story is one of brokenness and weakness. Thank you, Jonathan, for being willing to share your story of rescue with me and others. As I read your story, these verses come to mind: “The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick.“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:30-32) You can follow Jonathan on twitter: @spitanddirt 

 

“Jesus told them, “Go back and tell John what’s going on:

The blind see,

The lame walk,

Lepers are cleansed,

The deaf hear,

The dead are raised,

The wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side.”

Matthew 11:4-6 (MSG)

——

“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.

“I am dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the Lion.

“Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.”

C.S. Lewis

The Silver Chair

——

I have come to love these passages.  The verses from the publican’s account of Christ describe the experience of my life in every way.  If I write this story out well, then you will see that I was, and continue to very much be, one of the wretched of the Earth.  I have come to start learning in no uncertain terms that God is on my side, though I struggle at times to really believe it; but I’ll get to that.   The passage from The Silver Chair is dear to me for the simple fact that I am an alcoholic.  By my Father’s grace I am sober now, but that was not the case for nearly a decade of my life.  I believed I had found a stream of self-empowerment from which to drink, and deeply I did drink, until the words of the Lion came unbearably true: there was, in fact, no other stream at all.

 

I’ve worn many masks, and I’ve played many games.  I know them well; they are the relics of who I use to be.  I’m grateful, God knows, that they’ve come to lose their luster.  Next to the transformative power that is found only in the grace of Christ, they are insignificant, dull.  In truth, I mean to be done with them for good…but I pick them up, now and again.  They are comfortable and have conformed well to me over the years.  I’d like to take some of them up now, not to put them on, but to bring them to light of exposure for you.  In doing so, I hope to come into that same light myself, as has been written:

 

“Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” John 3:21  

 

I grew up in the Assemblies of God church, a Pentecostal denomination.  Mamma always referred to it as “full-gospel” church.  Over time, I understood that to mean we were basically ok with everything except handling snakes and drinking poison.  Thank God for that.  I would recall my experience with God during my early to teenage years as being the place where the Brownsville Revival and the Prosperity Movement intersected.  While I have no intention to dive into the backstory of either movements, I will say that it lead to some pretty damaging experiences and understandings.

 

For example, it was frowned upon to say we were sick, since the Bible teaches us that “By his strips we were healed”.  Also, we are to “call those things that are not as though they are.”  So at home, we would walk around coughing our lungs up and snotting everywhere, saying “I’m not sick!” On one hand, it’s terribly comical to think about such denial of obvious reality.  One the other hand, the dark side to that sort of theology is that, when sickness comes…you’re often left wondering what you did wrong.  Why didn’t your faith work?  It didn’t matter much in colds and sniffles, because we got better and mostly forgot (our faith got right!).  But when Grandma died of cancer (and she did), it hangs heavy.  Why wasn’t my faith enough?  Had I failed God in some way?  Ultimately, when you hinge unrealistic expectations on the impossibility of perfect personal performance, you’re crushed.  And hope is crushed right along with you.  Worse yet, hope is crushed because of you.  Grandma dies, and it’s your fault.  So you put on the mask of “alive and well”.  You play the “healed” game.  It’s rigged, but you play anyway.

 

If that sounds rough, church life was worse.  There was extreme dysfunction in the church, but it wasn’t spoken about, and I came to believe that this was how church was to operate.  I have many vivid memories of prophesy in our church, words spoken of warrior angels moving up and down the aisles, using swords and sickles to slay all those who were not dedicated to the Lord.  I had people try to cast demons out of me.  I was told that God had written the word “Ichabod” (meaning: The Glory of God has departed) across the door of my heart.  You know, typical hellfire and brimstone…and so I grew up very afraid.   The devil wasn’t hiding around every corner, he was alive and well in me.

 

I was in church every night of the week, and twice on Sunday.  I was involved in the worship team, outreach teams, mission trips; anything and everything I could be involved in to warrant the favor of an angry God.  I could write about this for pages, but I think that anyone who has experienced this gets it. At one point, I was faithfully attending three different churches.  I had talent as a musician, and I knew how to wear the masks (Repentant, Servant, Dedicated, Evangelistic) and play the games (Youth Group, Prayer Services, Fellowship Lunches).  So generally I fit in anywhere I went, feeling very much like I didn’t belong anywhere…except maybe a hole in the ground.

 

I graduated, and believed I was called into full time ministry.  School wasn’t really for me, so I thought, and I found a hands on ministry/discipleship “seminary” called Master’s Commission.  I signed up, and moved to Lafayette, IN. I won’t go on much about Master’s, but I can summarize it by saying it was a good program, but I went in hardened by fear and determination that God would bend to my will (so He could love me).  I came out harder.  I came out hurt.

 

I knew enough that full time ministry wasn’t going to be my next step, so I decided to attend Ball State University.  I was pretty lost, commuting from my home in Marion.  And then I turned 21.  After that, I never attended a class sober.  I excelled in school despite my drinking.   I would wait outside the local bars until they opened at noon, and I would slip from class to bar, back and forth.  I didn’t have any friends (just bartenders and waitresses), I wasn’t plugged in anywhere…but the drink fixed all that.  At least, that’s how it felt.  I would often drive myself home intoxicated after a day of class, a 45 minute commute.  But I felt like I could breath.

 

Towards the end of my college career, I met up with a guy that I had been friends with during Masters.  He was playing with a band called Waltz for Venus, and I was asked to join.  I spent many hours a week on the road, between home in Marion, school in Muncie, and band activities in Indianapolis.  It was during a Friday night that our sound engineer from our first recorded album came out to drink with us that he brought a high school friend, Erika.  As a general rule, I don’t believe in love at first sight…but that was my experience.  There’s a really sweet story there, but again, probably for another time.  We were soon dating.

 

Eventually, I proposed and she said Yes.  Which was awesome, because she was way out of my league…but again, I knew how to wear the masks and play the game.  We were planning our wedding when she called me one night (I still live over an hour away) and informed me she was pregnant.  The wedding was moved up, I dropped out of the band, and we settled in for life.  We were married for six months four months before we could move in together, on September 15th of 2007.  My daughter, Keira was born two days later.

 

I had studied criminal justice, and took a job at the local jail.  It was a Godsend for the fact that I was slated for a 16 week internship that I only did for 3 weeks before I was offered the job.  With a newborn, the money was needed. However, that line of work lends itself to unhealthy coping mechanisms.  My drinking was well out of control, and only got worse.  I was blocking out a lot of pain and unresolved issues from my childhood.  I was denying the reality that things were ultimately not in my control.  The lie of freedom in a drink was coming full bloom, its foliage was despair.  Without any realization, I was finding the truth of the verse “Once those cravings conceive, they give birth to sin; and when sin grows up, it gives birth to death.” (James 1:15).  Those deep breaths of which I spoke were getting shallower every day.This gestation continued for a few more years.  My oldest son was born, Griffin Cash.  Then my third child, Henry.  I took a job as a juvenile probation officer with the county.  Life progressed on life’s terms.

 

On a Sunday morning, around 11am, we had taken the family to the pool to swim.  I had worked my way through a good amount of a handle of rum that morning, and had stuck a case of beer in the van.  I would get out of the pool, and go pound down about 3 beers at a time.  This was how I functioned.  After I drank a set of three, I turned around to find myself face to face with my wife.  She confronted me, and an argument ensued.  We packed up the kids, returned home.  In the garage, she told me she was going to take the kids and stay with her mother, but that she was leaving.  Despite the fact that our marriage was crumbling, this was a major shock to me.

 

I remember thinking “I can fix this, I can handle this”…but the masks were failing, and the game was lost.  It was in the moment that God appeared, but it was in the form of being completely overwhelmed.  For the first time, I could talk, charm, or scheme my way out.  She was leaving, I was destroyed utterly.

 

But, as I said, God had appeared, and when I least deserved it, I was shown grace.  I confessed to her that I knew I was completely out of control.  Years of pain, torment, self hatred, all of it spilled out.  Masks came off.  She agreed not to leave, but on the condition that I addressed my alcoholism in a way she felt was appropriate.  So I did.  Again, a story for another time, but grace continued, as it always does.  I came in contact with two books “One Way Love” by Tullian Tchividjian, and “Ruthless Trust” by Brennan Manning, a fellow alcoholic.  During reading this, I heard for the first time what is now a central theme in my faith, that “God loves you just as you are, and not as you should be.  Because no one is as they should be.”  The man who was my doctor turned out to not only be a Christian, but a devout man of God.  I had given up church a long time ago, but between the daily addressing of my addiction and getting together with my Doc and others like him, my life transformed by the power of Christ.  As Jesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matt 5:6).  I read the Bible and tried to understand as much as I could.  I began to develop a relationship with God through prayer and meditation.  I devoured books, despite the fact that my mind was fairly shattered.  I listened to sermon after sermon by Tullian on crpc.org, and there found Steve Brown, JD Greear, Matthew Chandler, Paul Tripp (and others) and the Liberate videos that were posted.  They became a staple in my home, and I would routinely watch at least five or six sermons a day, even streaming them at work as radio.  They were like spiritual manna to me, delivered in my own wilderness.

 

Christ was becoming everything to me.  I devoured the Bible, devoted myself to prayer, these things made possible by grace and favor of God, this was not my doing.  As I grew in faith, I began writing on Facebook.  It was well received, and encouraged me to dig deeper, to share more.  I’ve gone on long enough, I’ll not launch into all the details, but it suffices to say that my struggle with performance surfaced again, the masks called to be worn and the games to be played.  I only add this here to bring to attention that, while we are on this earth, our lives and struggles, even in Christ, are not guaranteed to be smooth.  But what was designed by evil to push me into a bottle and a mask, through grace, only pushed me deeper into the truth that the gospel is as much for Christians as it is for anyone.

 

What I have shared here, I share for one purpose only; to illuminate that despite my continued faults, failures, shortcomings, and complete lack of any merit, God has recovered me to Himself irrevocably through the finished work of Christ.  The wretched of the earth has learned that God is on his side.  Paul says it much better than I;

 

“ Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when God chose you. Not many of you were considered wise by human standards. Not many of you were powerful. Not many of you belonged to important families.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the things of this world that are common and looked down on. God chose things considered unimportant to do away with things considered important. 29 So no one can boast to God. 30 Because of what God has done, you belong to Christ Jesus. He has become God’s wisdom for us. He makes us right with God. He makes us holy and sets us free.” (1 Cor 1:27-30 NIRV)

 

Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

 

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