Monday, October 25, 2010

Top Shelf Blues

Last night I knelt to pray and began to repent of sins of the past, I'm talking years ago which I'm sure I had already asked forgiveness for but just to make sure... As I prayed, I began to relive those mistakes I made, and then self-condemnation began to set in. In my soul, I began to panic a little. I was supposed to be spending time in God's presence but it seemed my mind jumped in a time machine that hurled me back to those uncomfortable scenarios. I called out to God, asking Him to assure me of His company and His love for me. Then He brought to mind what had happened just that afternoon with my son.
     In the past, Max has climbed up on his toy box and then on to his dresser to get an item off the shelf that is not necessarily meant to be played with. I've caught him doing this and he was punished for it. I don't want those shelves to come falling down on him, so he needed to understand this is not acceptable. I told him if I ever caught him again, he would be (severely punished).
     Yesterday I heard a crash in his room, but it sounded like toys falling out of his closet so I didn't investigate immediately. A couple minutes went by and there had been this consistent scraping against the wall sound. Fearing the paint being scratched, I called out, "Max, what are you doing?" His answer was a cry of desperation. I walked in to find him standing on his toy box trying with all his might not to drop one of the shelves he had been forbidden to touch that was teetering in his failing grip. When he saw me,  a look of sheer terror came over him and he began to cry, still trying to hold up the shelf. I stood there looking at him not knowing what course of action to take because I remembered what I told him would happen if I caught him up there again, and his reaction told me he remembered it too. As I wondered what I should do, my anguished son looked at me desperately wanting some help but realizing he was also staring at his rightful disciplinarian. Marty walked in and immediately went to his aid. Then he had a time out while Marty and I discussed his consequence. The girls were going to a costume party, but Max would not be going for disobeying and knocking the shelf off the wall. It wasn't what I originally guaranteed him, but it would have to do.
     Marty left with the girls and Max and I stayed home. I asked him if he was ever going to do that again and he convincingly shook his head no. I asked him if he was sorry and he said yes. I couldn't get the look on his face when I walked in on him out of my head. He knew he blew it big time and he expected me to react a lot more strongly than I did, because I said I would. But I love him. I felt bad for him.
     We watched some videos together while we had "just the boys" time and the night ended pretty normally, except for the last several nights, Max has wanted Marty to put him to bed. Not last night. For some reason, he wanted me to tuck him in, which I was happy to do, complete with a story, some tickling, a little rough housing and pillow fighting before lights out.
     This whole scenario came to mind as I knelt before God that night in fear of being scorned for my way past sins. I know a good father disciplines his kids, but did God see the terror on my face as I prayed? He's a Father, my Father, just as I am to Max. I'm sure He looked at His boy in that moment and His heart strings were pulled because He loves me.
     After God showed me His heart for me through what happened with my son, I immediately got up and went in to Max's room to adjust his covers and stroke his head. I may be 42 years old, but I have to admit, I wouldn't mind at all, whether I was aware of it or not, if my Father came in to my room to check on me and give me some late-night love especially in light of how imperfectly I may have behaved that day.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Shock

     I grew up in what seemed like a typical family. Mom was a "homemaker," Dad drove big rig trucks to bring home the bacon and I had three older siblings, 2 sisters and a brother. This was life as I knew it, until one day around the age of 10 my dad called me and my brother into my parents' bedroom. I racked my brain trying to recall if I had done anything worthy of being punished, but drew a blank so I had no idea why were having this private and ominous meeting. My dad began to explain to us that he and Mom thought it was time that my brother and I knew something. Prior to marrying each other, he and Mom had both been married before and my sisters were not his biological daughters, instantly making them my half sisters in theory. We were shocked. One of us started crying (I think it was my brother. He was always more sensitive than I was). This news could not be grasped. It was disillusioning, painful, and... well, shocking. Things were not as they seemed and I walked out of their bedroom in a fog.
     I remember walking across the street to a friend's house trying to wrap my mind around this bombshell and realizing there was nothing I could do to change this newly revealed truth about our family. And as life went on, things didn't really change among the Couch members. The fact that my sisters were technically my half sisters remained just that, a fact, and never had any bearing on our relationship even to this day.
     A couple posts ago, I guess I dropped a bombshell. "I Was a Two-Faced Pastor" has become my most visited posting on my blog, greatly surpassing all others. And even though I wrote it so it might possibly help others who are struggling, I didn't anticipate the shock value it would have on those who thought things were one way but are now different in their eyes. To those who may be disillusioned or hurt by it, I can understand.
     The book of Nehemiah tells the account of Nehemiah hearing the news that Jerusalem's walls have been burned down and the city is in ruins making it a mockery in the land. Nehemiah was compelled to do something about it so he returned to the city, organized a working crew and watchmen on the walls to protect them as they built, and even endured threats and plots against his life if he continued with his mission. My soul was like that city. I was broken down. The enemy was laughing at me as I lived in shame and embarrassment over my shambles of sin. But the Lord graciously sent people my way to help me rebuild. He blessed me with a wife who chose to forgive me and work with me through the laborious process and is now willing to stand beside me and minister to others who may be suffering just as we were.
     I know there are people sitting in the pews at church silently struggling in similar ways as I did, I know marriages have dried up because of addiction issues, I know there are pastors who are in the same kinds of chains that I was in, and because I know this to be true, I want to help rebuild. That's why I was so candid 2 posts ago. If I hadn't been so honest, I never would have talked to yet another soul this week battered by the effects of pornography addiction. I have to hold out hope. And when people see that I was struggling just as they are because I shared out of my brokenness, they finally see that there is hope.
     So, sorry for "The Shock." In time, I hope these newly revealed facts about my life can be just that, facts, and I hope it won't have any bearing on our relationship... because we are still brothers and sisters.  

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Keeping Your Closet Happy

I was bidding on Ebay and the description of the item  explained that it was unused and from an estate sale. I could tell that the seller wasn't even a relative of the deceased which provided quite the revelation. The former owner never used the item I was bidding on and didn't have anyone to pass it on to for their enjoyment. This was very sad to me. It was purchased, then put away, then sold by someone who had no use for it or emotional attachment to it, to a complete stranger. I then realized I had such things in my closet and in boxes in the garage that I had been holding on to for years, even decades, but what for? To keep my closet happy? I was an Archie Comic Book fan as a kid. In college, someone had some old Betty and Veronica stationary that they had from childhood and they gave it to me. The nostalgia factor was off the charts. The box was stylin' with 70's designs and the word "groovy" was even printed on it. Though I wasn't about to send any of my close buddies a letter on Betty and Veronica paper, I kept it. The stationary moved with me to addresses in Cupertino, Sunnyvale, back to Cupertino, and finally to my current residence in Santa Clara. After the Ebay bid, I came across the groovy stationary and decided it's days in my closet were numbered. My girls started getting into Archie Comics so I sent each one of them a letter on the stationary so they can keep them and have them when they're older (I'm holding on to them to make sure of that). I happened across an old greeting card I bought in the 80's just because it has a bunch of Motown lyrics printed on it.  I sent it to Marty as her "card of the week" (for those of you who know that about me, yes, I still send my wife a card a week and have since we were dating). I was holding on to these Burger King Disney Collector cups from the mid 90's, still in their boxes, which also moved from address to address until I finally realized these would make perfect drinking glasses for our family. Even today, I was going through a box from my office filled with pez dispensers and superhero toys and Peanuts paraphernalia that I had collected over the years, and I gave it all to my kids. It was like Christmas to them. They were so happy, and I thought, Why would I keep this stuff hidden away in a box when it brought such joy to my children?
     I don't want to die and have a bunch of unused stuff in boxes. I want to see these items enjoyed today while I'm still here. So I say, use 'em or lose 'em.

Friday, October 8, 2010

I Was a Two-Faced Pastor

I'm going to be bold. I'm going to be real. I'm going to be honest. I've learned that as I share out of my brokenness, it connects with other people's pain and they can relate and hopefully start to heal. But I want to start with a positive and don't forget this: I am a better husband, father, and minister now more than I've ever been with still lots of room to grow, but the road to today was not easy for me or my wife. Pastors aren't perfect. They're actually human, FALLIBLE beings that sometimes screw up. They struggle with sin issues and temptation, and sometimes they even give in, perhaps a lot. I was in that boat and I didn't know how to get out. From adolescence my fantasy world was an escape from the pain I experienced as an awkward teenager and from the dysfunction of my family. The problem was, my fantasy world came with me into adulthood and even into my marriage. Though I was a virgin when I got married, the guest stars in my mind didn't think I was. Oh, I tried to live a pure life. I had an accountability partner and everything. That's all you need, right? It wasn't enough because I kept returning to the sexual scenarios I came up with in my brain. And when a computer entered our home, pornography eventually did too.
     So there I was, a pastor who would preach about sexual purity but struggled remaining pure himself. I tried. I made promises, I made vows to God, I would have streaks of success whether they were weeks or months, but eventually I always seemed to return to my vomit continuing the cycle of pre-ocupation to temptation, to acting on it to repentance and shame.  And it was in that time of repentance that I would feel I could go on with my ministry because everybody sins, right? And God forgives, right? Finally I couldn't take it any longer...
     Several years ago, circumstances in my ministry and personal life made me come to grips with my hypocrisy. I could not live like this any longer. I confessed everything to my wife that I had been in denial about for years and we began, together, the long hard road of recovery. Coincidentally, Marty had just got a new position at a counseling center in San Jose and started seeing clients dealing with sexual addiction. She soon asked me if I thought I was an addict. Of course I wasn't! Addicts do this and act like that and need this and look like that. Then why couldn't I stop a behavior that was killing my spirit and drying up my marriage? Why was I living in direct contrast to my own morals and ethics?
     After seeing a therapist, joining an SA group and working the 12 steps, I realized I was an addict. That's what my brokenness looks like. We're all broken, and this is my area. As mentioned, its been a long, hard road, one that I'm still on with my wife by my side. We've had to work separately, but most importantly, together on finding healing and restoring our marriage. And we are burdened for those who are still silently struggling with similar issues. Thus, this new chapter of our ministry, "Missionaries to Ministers."
     So I end as I began: Today, I am a better husband, father and minister than I've ever been. Don't think of me as the pastor who's a sex addict, think of me as the guy who's finally walking in freedom.