Names and places altered to protect privacy; A true story, published with permission.
Breaking a Person
Sowing the Seeds
Danny had a fairly typical early childhood. He was popular at school, generally good at most sports, and particularly good at school-yard games. He was also daring; there was no tree he wouldn’t climb, no jump he wouldn’t attempt on his bike and no risk he wouldn’t take. Danny also enjoyed a great deal of freedom, his parents allowed him to roam the streets and countryside around home largely without restriction as long as his room was clean, his few chores were done and he was home in time for dinner. He’d often ride his bike for tens of kilometers, gone all Saturday, through the neighboring valleys. He and his friend would stay out past midnight over the hill eeling.
Most of the time Danny was happy. But there was a dark side to him as well… a nasty temper which he could sometimes barely constrain. He would let it loose in the backyard when no one was looking and find something to destroy. He would just pound and pound and pound until it was smashed to bits. Early on he was a bit of a bully, picking on some kids for no reason; later he would be on the receiving end. He acquired a filthy mouth to go with his filthy temper, and often used his words and wit to expertly and mercilessly tear other kids down.
Always outwardly charming, Danny led the “discovery” of girls when he was 10 and bore the ridicule of the other boys when he started dating (such as it was) Hazel, the prettiest girl in his class… until several months later when the tide changed and all the other boys decided girls were okay after all. Danny had many “girlfriends” during the next two years until he went off to an all-boys school in the next city for the remainder of his primary and secondary education. Danny was actually very shy, but nobody knew it because he hid it with a false bravado; in fact most people wrongly thought him self-assured, cocky, even arrogant, for most of his life. Approaching girls, total strangers, with no prior social contact was very hard for him and so he didn’t have quite as many girlfriends after that.
Setting the Hook
Danny was about 13 when another boy from school showed him a pornographic magazine for the first time. The effect on him was instant and visceral when he looked at the naked woman; it felt like a caged animal roiling inside him. Masturbation followed immediately after and these twin demons would torment Danny for nearly three decades. (It would be almost as long before Danny realized that in “that moment”, with this beautiful stranger on the page in front of him, he felt accepted and loved.) The guilt would inevitably follow and always, afterward, “our accuser, that is the Devil” would remind him that he was a worthless sinner at heart; enmessed in this secret sin that few would know about. Each time afterward he would feel worse than ever, but always the beautiful sirens would call again.
Danny was about 14 when things began to change socially. He noticed that he had very few friends. Indeed, from the ages of 13 to 15 he actually had only one real friend, Shad. He and Shad would spend all weekend together writing computer programs from magazines, learning how they worked and modifying them to do different things. But at school, Danny began to notice feeling lonely a lot of the time and he and Shad drifted apart when he was 16. Danny also got into a lot of fights at school and the other kids made fun of him. He’d noticed, too, that while he still made girlfriends regularly they never lasted long. Danny began to suspect that people didn’t like him very much and they talked about him behind his back.
He was about 15 when he first became aware that he craved the companionship of girls because his parents never showed him any affection at all (in point of fact, the first time that Danny can now recall his father hugging him was when he was 20 and departing for the airport to leave the country). Around that this age of 15 Danny ruminated despairingly in home-room one day, “What’s the point of this life? I’ll work hard, and be successful, and get rich and then one day I’ll die. Why not just end it now and save all the trouble in between?” Danny didn’t realize it at the time, but the constant cycle of relationship and rejection was taking it’s toll on his heart. Growing slowly, day by day, was a profound sense of worthlessness.
Meanwhile, girl after girl accepted him, then soon rejected him and broke his heart. And depression began to loom on the horizon.
A New Hope
Then Danny had an amazing encounter with God. He was 16 and staying for the weekend with his brother Jake. Heading home from Catholic church on Sunday morning it occurred to him that he had an hour to kill before Jake and his family would be home, so he decided to wait outside their church. At first he determined to wait outside; but the wind was cold. Then the foyer floor was too hard. So he ended up sitting in the back of the church. Danny was astounded – the man up front was preaching from the Bible and it unexpectedly made sense. What manner of church was this?! Then everyone stood to sing and like the well-trained Catholic boy he was, Danny sang along. Abruptly, on the second song, Danny became acutely aware of the truth of what he was singing, about Jesus being Lord. A moment later he was in his seat weeping quietly as an otherworldly presence enveloped him – he was in the presence of Almighty God. Ah, but it was wonderful and terrifying all at once. After a few minutes the service ended and the presence lifted. Danny spoke with a man who explained about salvation. They prayed and although nothing happened as Danny left the building he thought to himself, “Well, I guess that settles it, God is real.”
He pondered the experience for weeks after that, slowly coming to the conclusion, “If God is real and Jesus is Lord then I guess I need to submit to him, and that’s going to mean I will have to change.” He met with a friend of his older brother Peter, who seemed to know about this sort of thing, on Easter Monday 1986. He told this man what had happened, they prayed, and it happened again. Except this time it filled him inside as he declared his repentance; speaking in tongues even though he had no idea what that even was, Danny was saved from his sins. In all the years following, though they were often dark, he never doubted that first encounter with God.
Danny left the Catholic church a year or so later and eventually joined a local Pentecostal church. He learned to play drums and played in the band; he led worship; he preached sermons at church; he preached on the streets; he went on mission trips; he led the youth group for a few months while the Youth Pastor was away completing his Bible College studies. He felt God calling him to ministry. Things were bright for a while.
But the stage was already set. Against a backdrop of loneliness, heartache, feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness and secret sin, he was dealt the first of three specific blows. Blows, he realized only much, much later, that were designed to break him.
Danny started his first job and made a promising start to his career. Natural talent and years of writing computer code almost every day had paid off. After a false start with one company he landed a good job in town making about twice the usual starting salary for a kid with no degree, fresh out of school. At six months in he received a double-pay-grade increase and promotion, and six months later another. Danny was feeling pretty proud of this achievement.
One afternoon at home the talk turned to money and his father asked him what he was making. Rather proud of himself Danny told him. In front of his brothers his father announced, “It’s a sad reflection on society, when one so young, with so little education and experience can be making so much.” Danny fled the room before the others could see his tears; the man whose opinion mattered to him most had just handed out an indictment that not only was he worthless, he was exemplary of all that is wrong in society. He didn’t know he was making almost the same as his father had made most of his adult life. Nevertheless, a part of his identity died inside that day. Over the next 15 years he would be a workaholic, putting in 80, 90, even 120 hour weeks, and every pay day he would feel like he didn’t deserve the money he received. Deep inside he was afraid that one day his employer would realize he was not as good as they thought he was – that he was a fraud. It was reinforced one day years later when his two bosses sat him down after a period of low productivity and told him, “If we were paying you on your productivity this month, you wouldn’t be eating.” But, like his Dad, they didn’t know.
Girls came and went, and the wounds grew deeper. All the more he hid his true self.
Exacerbating things, Danny was an idealist. He constantly worried that what the Bible said was true differed from what he experienced in life. And, of course, always the secret sin remained and the dark thoughts whispered in his mind, “you are not worthy”. The tension built until it felt almost unbearable at times.
It was a normal Wednesday evening at youth group Bible study. At some point during the study the room darkened for Danny and the thoughts in his head yelled, “It’s not right, it doesn’t work”. He got up abruptly and left without a word.
He drove to his favorite spot by the river at the north end of town, but this evening, though it was warm and sunny it felt overcast; a pall hung over him like a dark cloud. The place where he always felt at peace left him feeling restless and alone. He left.
Heavy metal music pounded from the speakers as he drove off; the song that came on was “Alone in Suicide”.
Who cares, who weeps? All is lost and the sickle reaps.
Blank eyes look deep, love and hope crumble to my feet.
I don’t care if I’ve made my mark on this angry world that’s left me in the dark!
Just cut a message on my stone, “I want to be alone” (I wanna die!).
Darkness seemed to move with the car.
Feel the knots twisting inside as I look to the bullets to be my guide.
In a razor’s edge should I confide, to open my veins and bleed them dry.
Oh, the endless pressure, how can I cope? I try to release but the valves are broke.
A psychotic grasp upon my throat, I wanna hang the rope!
He would take the usual route home, on the new city bypass road. It had earned the nickname “Death Road” due to having seen eight fatalities in the first eight months of being open.
Death you feel is your friend As it calls from the black unknown.
Voices hounding at your mind echo to the bone…
Alone in Suicide!
Death road loomed ahead as a wild musical interlude played. Danny was hardly conscious of the music but it resonated with his heart – he connected to the desperation, loneliness and despair. As he entered the undivided road and accelerated to the 100 kph speed limit a voice whispered in his ear, “They call this death road; you could end it all now. Just drive head-on into an oncoming car – at a combined speed of 200 kph it will be over in an instant and you won’t even feel it.”
I used to honor my day of birth, cherish life and place it first.
But now I view it as a curse. Dig my grave and rent the hearse!
Yes, every morning I take a walk that leaves me trapped in an empty box.
A liar’s face and a voice that mocks, I want to stop the clock!
The sky seemed to darken a little more.
Death you feel is your friend, as it calls from the black unknown.
Voices hounding at your mind echo to the bone…
Alone in Suicide!
Danny thought, “I’m going to do it,” and he pulled the steering wheel hard toward a car in the oncoming lane. In that moment three things happened in quick succession.
First, the steering wheel wouldn’t move.
Second the bridge of the song began to play.
Salvation calls (to the lonely).
On the abused (redemption falls).
God gave his all (that you might know him).
Tear down the walls! What have you got to lose?
Salvation calls to all of the lonely people.
Tear down the walls, you’ve been abused.
God gave his all to all of the lonely people.
He stretched out his arms and died for you!
Third, it was as if a wave of light and peace rolled across the car and swept the thoughts of death away; the sky was suddenly clear and sunny again. Danny rejected those thoughts even as he tried to comprehend what had just happened.
Looking back on it later, Danny realized that had the song not connected with his despair, he might never have identified with the hope of those final words.
For a while he was at peace with himself. But the litany of girls went on, accepting him, rejecting him and wounding his heart; he didn’t realize that his unmet emotional needs were driving them away. The secret sin continued, like a dog with a bone; he didn’t realize that his unmet emotional needs were driving him to it.
Two years later, Danny was getting restless at work. The poison of his father’s words was bearing fruit, and he increasingly felt inadequate at his job, despite a veritable litany of letters of commendation. So he decided to pursue his earlier calling for the ministry. He never was very certain that God was telling him to go, but go he did. Selling everything he had of value he packed up, left New Zealand for Australia to attend Bible college. He left behind a great and secure job in a great location, a promising career that was poised for launch, and a girl that he dearly loved, one of only three in his entire life, in pursuit of God’s calling. Running from a false sense of inadequacy.
Things were tight; the job market in Melbourne was dry and Danny spent most of the year unemployed, just barely getting by with a few dollars in the bank at any given time. But he made wonderful friends and it was an adventure. But at Bible college the dissonance between his ideals and experience continued to grow and it unsettled him deeply.
The second blow came mid/late in the school year. One Friday evening Danny was feeling particularly unspiritual. He just wanted to stay in and watch Die Hard on TV. But putting down his “fleshly” side, he dragged himself to church for prayer before going into town to preach and share the gospel on the streets. While they prayed it rained. The rain in Melbourne comes intermittently and year round; when it does rain, it tends to rain hard for a short time and bring up the oils baked into the road surface in the intervening heat.
On the way into town the car two ahead of Danny lost control and spun 360 degrees. The car in front of him came to an abrupt halt. Danny aquaplaned on the water and oil into the back of it. The car behind plowed into the back of Danny’s. Danny had only been able to afford the compulsory third-party insurance required by law. When the dust settled on the insurance, Danny’s car was a total write-off and the money he received from the damage to his car’s backend went straight to the person he’d hit. Danny was left with $120 and a totaled car. The car was his only asset of value; he now literally owned only the clothes in his wardrobe.
The next weekend was a ministry trip. A group of students went to a church and took over for the weekend. Danny lead worship on Sunday morning and preached the message on Sunday night. On Monday morning he was called out of class to the dean’s office. The dean explained, quite kindly, to Danny that the college had received a complaint from the church he’d just been to, specifically naming him, describing what a horid person he’d been to the congregation, both in his worship leading and preaching. Judgmental, arrogant, condemnatory… the words dulled to a silent hum as he heard that he’d given up everything he owned to be a complete and utter failure. The dean didn’t know about the car, nor about the endless search for work, the empty bank account, the career and the love he’d left behind. All of which was put lie to scripture when it says “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts, no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.” Since Jesus doesn’t lie, he could only conclude he was not fit for God’s work.
Broken in his spirit, he left the administration building. Unable to face the others he walked home. Upon entering his apartment, the months of anger, frustration and disappointment overflowed and he hit the floor on his knees and told God he could stuff his bleep bleep Bible College up his bleep bleep bleep. He raged on, through the ceiling at a deaf and uncaring God for what seemed like hours, but was in reality mere minutes, before his anger was spent and he was hollow inside. And another part of his identity died. He no longer trusted God – Jesus had profoundly let him down.
Broken, And Bleeding
Danny managed to finish Bible College and even graduate with mostly very good grades, but the ministry dream was dead. He sought work, moving to Sydney Australia, finding a new job as a software engineer after a long search, over 100 resumes sent out and about the same number of cold-calls on the phone. The next couple of years were dark and Danny seldom went to church.
And girls came and went, and the wounds grew deeper, and still no one knew his secret fears.
Uppercut and KO
The third blow came, unsurprisingly, at the hands of a woman. Like all of his previous relationships Danny committed himself too soon and too deeply. He was in love with this woman and his heart was entirely hers. For six months it was awesome and he was just biding his time before he proposed. In his heart he was already married. But he was still a workaholic and time was a precious commodity.
One Saturday afternoon as he was pounding away on the keyboard of his portable computer deep in the zone, she was pushing him to stop working and spend time with her. Danny hardly even registered her pleas, being ten levels deep in code, as they say. He pushed her away and said, “Leave me alone woman! Why don’t you go and make me a sandwich.” If only he knew how much those words pierced her soul. She saw a vision of her future and it wasn’t good. On Monday morning she called him on the phone in tears and said it was over. Just like that. For him, no warning, no preliminaries, no nothing. A hundred to zero in ten seconds flat.
Because he was so invested in the relationship it had the same effect on him as a divorce. For months he was a hollow shell. He retreated further into work, often crying at his keyboard. The pain was more than he’d ever experienced in his life and was almost unbearable and he vowed, “I will never allow myself to love another person like that again.” Ah, if only he knew the hurt that vow would bring later.
They did eventually make up, but it was never the same. Danny could not trust her, in truth, he could not trust anyone anymore. The relationship turned sour and, as he had in the past, he tried vainly to recapture the lost intimacy by allowing it to become sexual. But that only piled on the guilt of sin. So when his boss called him at work one afternoon and asked him if he’d like to go to America for a while, he jumped at the chance and was on a plane by that Saturday. He quite nearly literally fled the country and the situation.
Inside he was now quite convinced he was worthless. He was a worthless employee; he was a worthless minister; he was a worthless person.
In America girls came and went, and the wounds grew deeper, and even still most people never knew his secret fears and secret sin. It was during this time that the depression and loneliness really took hold.
He worked insanely long hours for the next two or three years. When he wasn’t working, he was driving his turbocharged sports car at reckless speeds, frequently exceeding 90 MPH on freeways limited to 50 and 60; exceeding 100 on country back-roads limited to 55, or doing 50 in a 25. Looking back, it was miracle he was never stopped – any one of these infractions would have lost him his license, many could have sent him to jail on a gross misdemeanor and, had he been involved in an accident, a felony. Any criminal charge could have cost him his ability to remain in the country resulting in deportation on release from jail. Apparently, God is more merciful than he realized.
He was mired in his secret sin, sometimes driving an hour or more to buy a magazine of which he was ashamed, for fear of being recognized. He still went to church, playing on the worship team, even for a time directly leaving the arms of a girlfriend with whom he was sexually active to go play drums, only to return to her afterward. The hypocrisy crushed him, but he so desperately needed to feel loved by someone that he just suppressed it and compartmentalized his life. He tried many times to break the addiction, but the specter of loneliness haunted him and always he’d come back to that moment when he felt loved and accepted by a dumb, unseeing photograph in a magazine or stranger on cable TV. It was pathetic, but it was better than nothing. He believed he would not be able to kick the habit until he got married and found an “acceptable” outlet for these strong sexual desires God had given him. He still didn’t realize that it was not sexual desire that drove him.
And all through this time his faith was increasingly shaken by the nagging feeling that scientific progress was progressively rendering the Christian scripture more difficult to believe. In his deepest heart he knew that God was real, but the intellectual dissonance grew year by year and even his own hypocrisy increasingly belied his beliefs. His personal experience testified to the impotence of faith to effect real change in a heart. As the internet became commonplace in the 1990’s, and more information (and pornography) became available to him this rift between intellect and faith grew wider.
He had given up reading the Bible years ago, and prayer was largely only something he did at church when he was called on. Danny still believed because of that undeniable encounter years ago in the presence of God, but oh, it was hard! In the end the conclusion was always that there must be something deeply wrong with him.
A Light in the Darkness…
In 1997 Danny met the woman he would marry, though his heart was still walled off from ever letting someone in. In fact, he nearly reached the point of breaking the engagement once, but the Holy Spirit managed to get a quiet word in as he drove to her home after work one day, whispering that this was the one he had chosen. After the wedding he thought that now, surely, he would be able to stop the secret sin, and was genuinely surprised that it retained it’s hold on him. Even more disturbing was the fact that he felt unable to emotionally connect with his new wife in a real way. He was experiencing the outworking of his vow, “I will never love someone like that again.” So the secret sin remained, and after several more years of battling it, he would finally give up and resign himself to the idea that this was a struggle he would carry to his grave.
For the year leading up to his marriage and the year following the financial picture was looking great. With a salary+commission structure Danny was making plenty, and the low-end projection was to pass 300K within a couple of years with 500K+ looking like a strong possibility soon after. Danny would have to wait until 40 to comfortably retire, instead of the original plan of 35, but it was still in the ballpark.
… Meets Reality
Then the dot-com bubble burst and a few months later the World Trade Center towers came down, and the mid-sector software market essentially shut down as America entered the first of two major recessions in the 2000’s. Seemingly overnight, Danny went from making thousands extra in commissions to making just enough to pay the bills soon after the birth of their first son.
The years passed and the family grew, one, two, then three boys. His hardness of heart and his fears prevented him from connecting with the children as well, something he would come to deeply regret when his eldest was a teenager; the lost years. He could not let his wife and kids in – the risk was too great and he was too broken. The children became, to him, a mere expense that he had to cover, a line item on the budget sheet. He was glad to visit the surgeon and close the conduit after number three. The plans of real wealth evaporated as the reality of middle-class life set in. He was not really surprised, though, for years he’d known he wasn’t worth much anyway; this was just reality catching up. The burden of being sole provider weighed heavily on Danny; self reliance comes naturally when you’ve learned you can’t rely on anyone else, not family, not lovers, not even God. He knew he was a workaholic, but he couldn’t stop.
Broken and Lost
Pornography, now freely available over the internet in it’s most graphic forms, was a frequent pastime. He knew he would turn to it whenever he was depressed, which was often, or things weren’t going well in life. He had long ago figured out what his primary triggers were, depression, fighting with his wife, failing his kids, failing to “come through” at work and most of all the deep abiding loneliness that was his constant companion. He’d try to arrange things to not be alone during those times, but friends were few and the desire to be feel loved (even if it was a completely contrived love) was very strong. He didn’t even fight it anymore.
By the late 2000’s depression had now become a regular experience, though he would not admit to it using that word, not even to himself. Many days it would take Danny an hour to two just to work up the wherewithal to get out of bed and face the day. Then, in 2007 the bottom fell out of the boat. It was a normal morning (normal, that is, for Danny). He woke at eight, and crawled out of bed at nine with his heart sagging around his ankles. He went to the bathroom and stared into the mirror at himself. And life as he knew it irrevocably changed in a moment.
Danny thought to himself, “I am done. Christianity simply doesn’t work and I can’t pretend anymore that it does.” For about ten minutes he just stared. He didn’t know who he was if not a Christian, but at the same time he knew he couldn’t be a Christian anymore. Finally he thought, “I don’t know what this means or what to do, but I do know I need to brush my teeth.” And the morning progressed like that, “I know I need to get dressed”… “I know I need to eat”… “Drive to the office”… One little step at a time, just the next thing was all he could manage.
As he entered the building and walked to his office that morning, he passed the office of his friend and boss. As he always did, Hank called out, “Hey Danny! How you doing?” Danny started to respond with the socially acceptable “Good! Good!”, but he choked on the words. Literally stopping in his tracks he backed up, looked at Hank and said, “Actually, anything but good. Really, I’m doing completely shitty. Do you have some time to talk.”
You Shall Love the Lord your God
Danny told Hank what had happened and Hank listened, saying little. When Danny was done Hank just said, “I’ll pray for you. Promise me this, before you make any life-altering decisions go and talk to your pastor.” Danny grudgingly acquiesced and later that day, though he didn’t want to, he called and made an appointment anyway, since he’d given his word.
That began months of one-on-one counseling with his Pastor. Starting there, over the next 10 years, Danny’s theology and identity would be razed to the ground and rebuilt from the foundation up. He pulled out of the worship band and, for a long while, most weeks he wouldn’t have even gone to church if his wife hadn’t insisted.
With All Your Heart, Sould, Mind & Strength
Danny learned many things over this time. That his foundation had been based on experiences, not theology, and that as a soldier engaged in a war his experiences were misleading as to the underlying reality. That Jesus never promised a life of ease in this world’s realm. That he didn’t even really understand the basic doctrines of Christianity – he would be 44 before he grasped the basic doctrines of the Trinity and the dual natures of Christ reasonably well.
He’d been told from very early on that the mind gets in the way of the heart, that he “thinks too much”. But to the complete contrary he would come to realize that his intellect was not the biggest obstacle in his walk with God, it was his most valuable asset, for what the mind receives the heart believes. He came to treasure the words of St. Paul, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” And as he studied, and grew, and read the church fathers and explored the doctrines of Christianity, his mind was renewed along with his faith. For the first time he fully engaged his whole being in his walk with God and it was transforming. Slowly, painfully, desperately so, but transforming nonetheless.
By no small coincidence, it was about this time that Danny read a book by Gerald Schroeder, a physicist and Hebrew scholar, called “Genesis and the Big Bang”. For the first time in his life, though a voracious reader, Danny encountered another believer offering a way that mainstream science could be reconciled with the Bible; without contorting the Word or relegating it to a mythological or purely poetic status; without degrading it to less than the inerrant revelation of God. He was astounded! Why had no-one ever told him these things before?!
He began to search out other works by people who held the Bible in the same high view but also thought that the science was credible. He discovered a wealth of resources that reconciled the word of God with the discoveries of modern science and which treated those discoveries with the appropriate weight according to the evidence backing them. After weighing the evidence, from both scripture and science, Danny became convinced that old-earth special creation (OEC) offered the best explanation of reality. A huge intellectual weight was lifted from his shoulders as he was freed to follow the evidence where it leads.
Breaking the Stronghold
In late June, 2010, newly turned 41, Danny was in Oregon visiting his brother Peter. While there he had a few hours to himself and picked up a book that was on the living room coffee table, “Theology of the Body For Beginners”, written by Chris West. A Catholic theologian, West’s ministry was expounding on Pope John Paul II’s teaching of what it means to be a sexual being, delivered in a series of sermons by the Pope over several years. Danny was intrigued, even though he did not really grasp it’s significance. Mentioning it to his brother later that day as he got ready to leave for home, he learned that a 10 hour seminar by West called “Naked Without Shame” was available for free download online. Was it really just a coincidence that he’d recently replaced his old car stereo with an MP3 capable player? As he left, the CD began playing and over the next four and a half hours something new rooted deep in his heart. By the time he pulled into his garage he knew something significant was happening.
Over the next six months he listened to that CD every time he was in the car. Commuting to work five hours a week; on weekends, everywhere he went. Although it drove his wife a little nuts, there was a profound work being done that he didn’t understand. It was two months later that he first realized he hadn’t viewed pornography or masturbated since June. But he’d done two months before. Still it was unusual. In September he was still “dry” – now this was really strange, mostly because he wasn’t climbing the walls. Still he dared not believe; he’d failed far too often over the last 30 years. September rolled into October, then November. Danny not only hadn’t slipped, but couldn’t recall the last time he’d been tempted. But, maybe that was just because the only laptop in the house was broken so the temptation to view porn had largely been removed. Still he listened to “Naked Without Shame” over and over. As December dawned Danny finally began to consider he might be free.
Then came the perfect storm. Danny finished work for the Christmas break badly behind on an important project, which made him depressed. His wife received a newly repaired laptop for Christmas from her father, restoring access to pornography. In the week after Christmas he had a massive fight with his wife. The next day he lost his temper with his kids in the worst way he could ever recall; even today he is haunted by the vision of the stark, naked fear in his youngest boy’s eyes as he screamed in rage. Then his wife departed for the long weekend for a trip, the boys went to stay with their grandparents and Danny was alone in the house. In the wake of massive failure as a man, as a husband, and as a father, Danny had never felt more alone and despondent in his life (and that’s saying something).
He sat and stared at the laptop, contemplating whether to go there. But then a strange thing occurred. He realized that he didn’t want to do it – he just felt no desire at all to meet his need in that way. “I am not that person anymore”, he thought. It was in that moment, his weakest, most vulnerable moment, with all of his triggers occurring at the same time that he realized, “I really am free”. He was still depressed but turned to God in wonder and in repentance for his behavior. As JP II said, “True freedom is not the freedom to break God’s law, rather, it’s the freedom to fully conform to that law because you no longer desire in your heart that which is contrary to the law.”
Now when lingerie commercials came on it was easy to skip them; same too for the inevitable “obligatory love scene” that seemed to be in every movie. When he caught glimpses of women’s bodies, as is impossible to avoid in a society which worships sex, the old fire would flicker and be immediately doused by a sense of sadness at these people exploiting themselves; they no longer aroused like they did before, in that visceral, animal way. And he felt a deep and abiding compassion for those still bound in the chains.
The chains were gone, he’d been set free… the stronghold in his life was broken.
Perhaps most amazingly of all, the stone wall around his heart began to come down, ever so slowly, one block at a time, as he let his wife in. No longer afraid of pain, he had a new understanding of what it meant to be called to sacrifice himself for his wife “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”. He began to see his wife for the amazing, lovely woman that she really was. He “forgave” her for failing to meet a need she was never meant, nor equipped, to meet. With that release of her obligation to him, he began to connect with his wife in a whole new way. With the new integration of his body as a real and essential part of his person, the two became one flesh as he let his heart open to her and risked loving her, not just “like that”, but “more than” he’d loved the one who’d broken him.
With the influence of JP II’s teaching, his eyes had been opened in a whole new way to see people differently. He slowly began to prize people and relationships more than things (it would take quite some years to develop, to be sure). The way he saw his kids changed too, and he let them in (though to this day he still regrets the time lost with his eldest, that he may have passed on the legacy of disaffection to another generation). He just saw people… differently now. Not that this happened all at once; rather, it would unfold continuously over the coming years. And it started with a Catholic Pope – who’d have thought?
It was slow going changing the habits of a lifetime, and Danny still struggled with depression and with retreating to the self-defense mechanisms he’d used for decades. But now, fully convinced of God’s ultimate goodness he went on. Years ago he’d forgiven his father and was now rebuilding that relationship by means of video-conferencing. He continued to struggle with a poverty mentality and with the lack of financial success. His failure in this area fed the depression, which grew despite the recent victories and changes. He thought if he could only be more “godly” the sadness would go away. Danny didn’t know he had a chemical imbalance in his body. He began to pray again, but still neglected scripture for the most part except when studying.
Financial freedom came in an unexpected way. Even though they habitually gave generously, Danny often resented it and wondered when the “pressed down, shaken together and overflowing” bit was coming. One morning as he was walking and praying he asked, “God, would you provide for all the things we need to do to the house?” To his great shock God immediately responded, “I already have.” Now Danny could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that God had unequivocally spoken to him in the past. Taken aback he thought, “What?!” The response, in his head, but not in his own voice was, “I already have. You know that investment account you have in case you lose your job? You can use that for anything you want if you’ll just trust me for your job”. Danny thought, “Really?” God responded, “Really!”
He pondered this for some weeks before broaching the subject with his wife. As it turned out, she was feeling the same leading. “We could lose everything, you realize that, right?” he questioned her. However they were in agreement that if losing it all was the result then so be it, they would start over if necessary. Two days later Danny called the broker and each week for the next three large checks arrived and were deposited. It turned out to take time to spend a large sum of money prudently, but spend it they did on all the things that had been waiting for lack of money. A little over two years later it was gone.
The very next month decades of mild insomnia became an acute sleep disorder that sent his productivity into a nose-dive for almost an entire year.
Body & Soul
Beginning in December 2014, Danny began waking up early every morning. At first it was 5:00 AM, then it was 4:00, then 3:00, then 2:00 and by January 2015 he was waking up nearly every night about an hour after going to bed and dozing for 15 to 30 minutes at a time for the remainder of the night, getting no restorative sleep at all. One day near the end of January he was at his desk looking at a piece of computer code he had written trying to bring to mind how to change it and he couldn’t do it.
He’d barely slept in a month and realized he could no longer function at his job. He was fine at anything mechanical, motor skills and muscle memory; but for anything even a little bit creative he just couldn’t make the thoughts come anymore. What followed was a battery of non-definitive tests, inconclusive sleep studies, an MRI (Danny now has proof that he has a brain and all the bits are there) and doctor visits. It took months to get no answers and Danny managed with a sleeping pill that bought him 4 or 5 hours a night – enough to get by and keep working.
Then while on vacation in August, the news came through that, after years of health struggles, his mum had passed away. He was on a flight to New Zealand four days later, in New Zealand for a week for the funeral, then on a plane back to the States. The stress of loss, thirty hours travelling each way and the two time shifts took their toll and he came down with a severe flu almost immediately upon returning home. In bed for a week, sleep remained elusive, and returning to work the following week he found he was unable to think creatively again. He gave up working on Monday mid-afternoon, and tried unsuccessfully again on Tuesday. That evening his wife came home to find him curled up in the bed weeping, “I just can’t do this any more.” The next day his doctor diagnosed him as severely depressed, probably induced by chronic lack of sleep, and put him on medical leave. He’d already been off work for almost five weeks. With a prescription for an antidepressant and a strong sleeping medication he went home with instructions to do absolutely nothing for the next two weeks and to have no involvement with work at all.
Danny was blessed with a series of beautiful sunny fall days, during which he slept late and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast each morning in the backyard. Apart from dropping off and picking up the kids at school, he wiled the time away in the sun reading, relaxing and just looking at the trees. He opened his Bible daily again for the first time in some twenty-five years, not because it felt an obligation to, but because he wanted to – and the Holy Spirit met him in that place. It was on one of those mornings he realized that in all his adult life he’d never, ever, truly relaxed – first working constantly in slavish compulsion to a curse and a need to feel some level of self-worth, and then out of fear of losing his job in a depressed economy that never seemed to recover.
Sometimes in the afternoon, he’d take a break from doing nothing and dig some weeds out of the lawn. He watched some TV, but mostly he read, and prayed and did nothing. When he met with the Doctor they agreed that he could return to work half-time for a while and see how it goes. He’d been off work for over seven weeks during some critical projects. His bosses had been incredibly understanding and coworkers had pitched in to cover for him. During it all he never once worried about his job; he figured that was God’s problem now, and in the process he realized that God had granted him financial freedom. Freedom from the weight of the responsibility. He realized he was never in control of his providence to begin with and it could all be gone in an instant no matter how prudent and conscientious he was.
Somewhere along the line Danny’s volatile temper dissipated as well. Perhaps it was the release of pressure. Perhaps the improved sleep. Perhaps it was God’s sovereign hand. Perhaps it was simply his mood being elevated to normal levels. Perhaps it was all of these combined to some greater or lessor degree. But one of Danny’s most joyful moments was the day the subject came up as he was driving the two youngest to school and his son told him, “Yeah, Dad, but you’re not like that anymore.”
A New Man
That brings us to the end of this (still unfinished) story. For many years Danny’s wife had dreamed of completing their family by adopting a girl. Danny wanted no part of it – it was exorbitantly expensive and a huge amount of work to get qualified by the State for adoption. Twenty-some years earlier he’d had a dream of opening an orphanage for Polynesian kids when he was wealthy; that dream had long since died.
But since agreeing to God’s financial plan a few years before, he’d become increasingly more open to the idea of adoption. During that same time a verse from James had become one of his favorites, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Having experienced God’s grace in the midst of a significant trial he agreed to attended an orientation/introduction meeting with an adoption agency. At the meeting, Danny perceived the Holy Spirit drawing him to say yes. He found himself nodding and thinking, “you can’t build an orphanage, but you can take care of an orphan”. Then the person speaking quoted the same verse from James and Danny leaned nearer to his wife and whispered, “I am all in”.
We leave Danny patiently working through the process of State licensing and praying for their daughter, that God would prepare their hearts for her and her heart for them.