Matt Coker | @BackRowOnline
I wasn’t even there when it happened, but it’s still one of the worst things that I can remember.
The night I was arrested, my wife of 16 months was in the car with her parents when they had to pull over. In a parking lot, in the darkness, my wife was so worried, so heartbroken, and in so much pain that she violently threw up.
Over the next couple years, while waiting on a court date and then spending 6 months in prison, my wife would be the strongest person in my life. She had to be, because I was a wreck.
I’ll never know how arms as small as hers were strong enough to keep a man my size from falling to pieces.
For the first several years of our marriage, I was a mess. Everything was focused around me and my problems, and my wife bottled her issues up, to be strong for me.
But the damage being done inside of her and to our marriage because of me was growing. Time and time again I failed, slipped, relapsed, lied or got caught. Time and time again, I told her that this was “the last time.” I told her that I would be honest with her. And when things went wrong again, I told her everything was fine.
I told her she was the most important person in my life, but I was lying. If that were true, I would have put her needs above my own, but instead, I selfishly focused on myself without a second thought.
My actions forced my wife to sleep alone for 6 months. No one to hold her, to cuddle with her, to talk to her as she drifted to sleep. No, my interactions with my wife were cut down to ten minutes a day on a smelly telephone and a handful of letters.
My wife bottled up her emotions for so long that, for a while, she had a hard time feeling anything. She had to learn how to feel again, learn how to soften again, learn how to stop bottling things up.
Even to this day, our marriage feels the ripples of the stone I dropped in the water when I was 11-years-old. And while there hasn’t been a time when either of us wanted to separate, there have been times when neither of us were happy in our marriage.
We’ve been married nearly 11 years, and every one of them has been hard. There have been times when I wasn’t sure we were going to make it. And while my wife would chastise me for trying to take all the blame, I’m sure that if I had gotten my life straight before marriage, or, at the very least, had the courage to be honest with her, we would be a lot better off now.
A few years ago, I was accused of having something wrong with me that causes me to hide away from people, groups, parties, etc. Even though they were my friends and they were just joking, I got very offended. Irrationally so.
I am an introvert in the truest sense of the word, but that doesn’t explain it all away.
The truth is, yes, I am hurting. I am always hurting.
Every day, it is a struggle to not hate myself.
Every day, it is a struggle to let myself feel happiness that I don’t feel I deserve.
Every day, it is a struggle to convince myself that my wife could possibly love a man like me.
Every day, it is a struggle to remember that I belong to the God of redemption.
Every day, it is a struggle to breathe.
When I was 13, I was 6 inches away from killing myself. I held a Swiss Army knife over my chest and was mustering up the strength to plunge it into my heart, because life had gotten so bad at the time, I thought I would rather be dead.
But when I was 13, nothing that was happening to make me miserable was my own fault. It was all external forces compounding around me.
Today, I still feel the weight of every time I purposefully did the wrong thing. I have to remind myself every morning when I wake up that Jesus promised to carry that burden for me, that this baggage isn’t my responsibility anymore. Some days I do better than others.
I go through periods where I feel like a goldfish, with only a small window of memory. I remember everything God has done for me since I turned my life around, all the blessings, all the promises, all the restoration, and then I go to sleep and wake up without even a trace of that stuff on my mind.
The truth is, I’ve been clean for over 5 and a half years now, I’ve earned back the trust of my family, friends, and church, my wife and I have been blessed with enough money to meet our needs, and the most exciting and terrifying of all, a baby boy, now nearly 2 years old.
So, when I admit that I still struggle accepting these gifts from God, especially the gift of a clean slate, people question my faith. They tell me that I’m doubting God, that I’m not trusting Him, that I’m being tricked by the Devil, or even that I’m not really saved.
These are the main reasons I rarely open up about this stuff. Not because I think they’re right, but because I just hate talking about it.
But honestly, I’m in good company. Adam, Eve, Paul, Peter, and Heaven knows King David, as well as so many others in the Bible, struggled with feeling ashamed for the mistakes of their past.
That shame doesn’t live in the soul. The soul is cleansed by God. That shame lives in the heart. The human heart, that aches every time I think about the terrible things I’ve done to those who loved me and all the times I turned away from God in favor of my own selfish desires.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9 ESV
I had 11 years of innocence before I started living in sin for the next 13. Now, I’m working on my sixth year of earnestly trying to be the man God wants me to be.
And I know one thing He wants me to be is free from my past. He wants me to let it go, to stop letting it creep back into my heart and make me sick.
I’m working on it, but being happy with myself is something brand new to me. Being happy at all is something I’m not entirely used to.
One of my beloved friends from Celebrate Recovery is a man named Miguel.
Just a couple of years ago, he was a drug addict, life in shambles, destined for jail, death, or at the very least, strung-out unhappiness for life. But, after an invite from his uncle, he made the decision to take the bus to our town, get in a program, and start attending CR.
He's now clean, recently married to a wonderful woman of God, and is soon starting an outreach for struggling and addicted teens in the community. He’s still a little rough around the edges, but he is a huge inspiration to me and probably a lot more people than he realizes.
He’s gotten his life turned completely around and has been taking leaps and bounds in the right direction. He still has to deal with his share of life’s problems, but he handles them and keeps on smiling.
He never stopped trying.
That’s the big difference between him and me. I stopped trying. In fact, I stopped trying several times in many different areas of my life. Giving up and giving in became the easiest thing to do. And it’s been the hardest of all my habits to break.
I have to remind myself every morning that I’ve got to keep trying. Keep trying to leave my burdens and baggage in God’s care. Keep trying to be more outgoing and adventurous. Keep trying to be more trusting and forgiving (of others and of myself). Keep trying to be the man God is still turning me into.
And that is one thing that I can promise you I will always do. For the rest of my life, I will always keep trying.
One of the greatest pieces of wisdom I’ve ever learned is that God doesn’t expect perfection, just perseverance. As long as we keep striving to be more and more like Christ, we are going the right direction, and that’s the most important thing for a Christian.
I might be ashamed of myself from time to time, but one thing I will never be ashamed of is my Savior. And I have been given mercy, grace, and a second chance that won’t disappear just because I feel like I don’t deserve them at times.
I am a new man. I’m not the same man I was before. That’s already true.
Hopefully one day soon, I’ll understand that.
Matt Coker is the Ministry Director of The Back Row. He is married to a beautiful woman he met when they were both in youth group and they have one mischievous son together. Matt collects Funko Pop figures, loves time travel movies, and enjoys jerky meats. You can contact Matt via the contact page or on Twitter at @BackRowOnline.
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