Image: two younger daughters, circa 2003.
I’ll never forget the moment of hypocritical fear driving to work hungover to breathalyse fuel tanker drivers. Or, the time I was once again racked with guilt for smacking a daughter so hard it left the welts of my fingers on the back of her leg. Or, for that matter, the time I left my then wife all alone at a work dinner function, so I could investigate a theft at a service station in another state.
Those heady days in 2003 were a far cry from the heady days in 2004. March 23rd and 24th of both years provide the stark contrast. 2003 I am drunk and stoned at home with my family celebrating Australia’s victory over India in the cricket World Cup Final, and hungover the next day, I fly to Melbourne for a Shell Oil Company national conference. 2004 I’m in a completely different job, the Gold frequent flyer card gone, attending Bible study, and I go home alone, my family in another man’s hands.
Such contrasts. So materially blessed one year, career going well, family seemingly happy, by all appearances living the ‘good’ life. So materially vanquished the next, left with nothing of the former life, lonely oh so lonely, but with a passion for parenting and a heart on fire for God.
One year I was a hypocrite high on the preciously regular margins, the next I was a man with integrity and nothing to show for it.
I deserved for that old life to end. It was the best thing that could’ve happened. I couldn’t see it at the time, of course. I was too broken, too upended, too blindsided to know God was doing me a favour.
And such favour was not for my favour, but for the Kingdom’s favour. A poorly run life is not rewarded by favour unless there is repentance. I’d been far from a satisfactory husband (as I look back from this man’s viewpoint). I’d been a father too frequently in those two preceding years who was present (when he was not travelling) only in body, not in mind or heart or soul.
What happened? I was given an abrupt awakening. Life changed overnight on September 22nd. On the 22nd I was married with a beautiful family home and three daughters, and on the 23rd I was a single man living the mission of his life in trying to win back his wife with limited access to his children. The first step was an AA meeting. This followed an AA meeting the following night, a Wednesday night, and then another meeting on the Thursday. I didn’t know what had hit me.
All up in the eleven months until August 2004 I attended 160 AA meetings and shared at most of them. That’s about 20 hours of saying, ‘Hello everyone, my name’s Steve and I’m an alcoholic…’ I’ve been sober ever since — nearly fifteen years of sobriety.
Sure, I hadn’t been jailed because of my drunken sprees, but I had found a way to drink to excess three to four nights per week just to manage stress and feel good for ten years. I just loved the life of pleasure after work. I loved jet setting the state and country at the company’s expense. And I was also a comparative workaholic. I had learned to give the company everything and my family relatively nothing.
A year on, and I was on a fast-track to ministry — to the giving of my life to the Lord for His use — even if I still pined so much for my former world to re-envelope me. It wasn’t to be. The door had swung shut to a life I so desperately wanted. The door had opened to something I was reluctant to walk through.
I was once a back-slidden Christian who hadn’t really found God, I found God through utter rejection and sheer brokenness, and I was given a pastor’s heart for faith, repentance and reconciliation.