Maybe Marriage Will Stop the Chaos
I had met Jennifer one year earlier in the Summer of 1992, while we were both working at Ron Jon surf shop in Cocoa Beach, FL. That was the Summer break I had taken off from college because of the injury to my drawing finger. She was quiet, calm, and aloof and I was attracted to her almost immediately. I tried a few times unsuccessfully to approach her about going on a date, even leaving a note on her car one time at work, but she was just not interested in me. The end of the summer came and I left to go back to college at George Wallace State Community College in a small town just outside of Cullman, AL.
One year later in September of 1993, I had already dropped out of college due to that second injury on the construction site and I was now making my monthly trips back to Florida, since I was making all that money selling vacuum cleaners door to door. I had also recently been re-united with my long-time family friend John Barber and his wife, and we both wanted to get back into dirt bike riding.
John and Shelva Barber had lived next to my grandparents’ house in Huntsville, AL since I was a small child, and I regularly spent time with them when I went to visit my grandparents. I loved them both like family and they would take me out with them to dinner and even buy me toys. Now that my parents were divorced and I was essentially a fatherless latch key kid, being chased home by bullies most days, my mother was anxious to find a male role model for me. She tried the Big brothers, Big Sisters program for a while, and then allowed John to begin fulfilling that role in my life.
On the Christmas of 1986, he and his wife, with my mom’s permission, surprised me with a brand new 1987 Yamaha YZ 80 dirt bike. I was only 13 years old at the time and my mother and I were so poor that I was qualified for free school lunches and wearing off brand generic clothing which the other kids made fun of me for. Now, I had just received a brand-new dirt bike and it was a life changing event for me. John indeed became like a father figure and he started teaching me how to ride and work on the motorcycles. He also taught me discipline and the importance of working and saving up money by moving lawns, so I could pay my race fees, and buy my own parts for the dirt bike.
It was like a dream come true and a second chance to re-capture the lost happiness and freedom from my childhood. The dirt biking gave me something to sink my teeth into at such a vulnerable time in my life, and my self-confidence began to increase. It also gave me relief from the bullies as some of the kids started respecting me now that I had a dirt bike and I had started racing. Racing motocross is certainly not for wimps. It is one of the toughest sports on the planet.
I was quite fearful and timid regarding things like this and I was given to be a quitter on things I wasn’t good at right away. When I was first learning to how ride the dirt bike, I was following John down the trail and over various types of terrain. We came up to a very steep hill near this pit we had been riding in. It looked so intimidating to me, but since he went up it, so did I. About three quarters of the way up the hill, my dirt bike wheelied up and over and right back on top of me and I fell all the way back down the hill. I was scared to death and I felt like maybe this dirt biking thing just wasn’t for me. I immediately wanted to quit. John came over and said, “no we’re not quitting…it’s just like getting bucked off a horse…you have to just get right back up and do it again.” I nervously made another attempt and this time I made it. I was so relieved and felt so accomplished in that moment. My courage came back and it was a big life lesson for me actually. I did the thing I feared and the death of fear was the result.
Nevertheless, all this new life change and hope was about to end abruptly. One day, John and I were out riding on our trail near the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, AL. My motorcycle was only an 80cc engine whereas he had a much larger 250cc engine. I complained to him that he was throwing up a bunch of roost (rocks and dirt) on my fingers and into my face from the back wheel of his motorcycle when we came around this one corner. Roost from a dirt bike tire can be very painful, even leaving welts and bruises.
I honestly don’t recall how bad my complaining was, but I don’t remember it being worthy of him losing it like he did. He got so mad at me, likening me to a sissy, telling me that what he threw on me was nothing compared to what I was going to experience as I moved up in the ranks racing with faster kids out on the motocross track. Unlike the last incident, where he gently encouraged me to try again, this time he snapped and became a different person. He yelled at me saying, “That’s it…we are done riding you little S!%*#. Get your a$# back on that dirt bike and take it to the house.”
I remember feeling so hurt following him all the way back to the house on a ride of shame. I watched him sitting straight up on his motorcycle with his left hand on his hip just shaking his head almost the whole way back home. I leaned my dirt bike up against the wall in his carport and he told me to just go home. I was so confused and so hurt by all of this. It made me feel like there was something terribly wrong with me.
Just a few days after this incident, I heard my mother tell John on the phone, “Michael is my son. If you want a son, have one of your own,.” and then she told me that I could not see him ever again until I was 18. I asked her why she was doing this and she would never give me an answer. Even though I was hurt by what John said and did, I was even more hurt that I was no longer going to be able to see him or go riding together any more. To me, that dirt bike had been a source of salvation in my life.
Six years later, when I was 19 years old I found John and Shelva and reconnected with them again. John and I both wanted to get back into riding and since I was earning a good bit of money selling vacuums I started looking to buy one. I found a great deal on one in Florida, so I went down to stay with my dad and step-mom again in Cape Canaveral, FL, while I made arrangements to pick up the motorcycle.
Jennifer had lived on the same street as my dad, so when I drove down the street, I saw that her car was still at the same apartments. I stopped and knocked on her door and she didn’t even seem to remember me. I then saw her and her family at the beach a few times and finally I invited her to join my friend and I to go to the National Kidney Foundation Surfing Contest in Cocoa Beach, FL. She agreed to go and within one week, we were in love with each other.
Then I had to leave to go back to work in Alabama. I went by the public library where she was studying for school to tell her good bye and to assure her I’d be back soon and often. Since I had purchased a dirt bike and didn’t want my mother to know about it, I made arrangements to leave it at John and Shelva’s house on my return trip home.
I dropped off the dirt bike and spent the night with them. I received a call the next morning from my mother saying, “Michael, there is a girl sitting on my couch named Jennifer and she is looking for you…is she pregnant son?” I was shocked and a little afraid all at the same time. This almost felt like something a stalker would do. I assured my mother that Jennifer and I had just fallen in love the previous week but we had no sexual relations. With nothing more than the address of my grandparents’ house in Grant, AL, Jennifer had decided to take some time off school and follow after me, some 650 miles away in Alabama. She stayed with my mom and I for a few days and then returned home to school.
I thought I could go back to Florida once a month to see her, but I soon lost that job selling vacuums and was now working in a car stereo electronics store. I no longer had the money or the freedom to go back and forth to Florida and I started making more and more unwise financial decisions. My mom found out about the dirt bike and we got into fights about money and she eventually kicked me out of the house. She started telling me that it seemed like I had a black cloud always flying over my head. I started moving around from house to house with several friends until I ended up having to live with my boss because I had nowhere else to go.
I was still spending money like I was making as much as I did when I sold the vacuums. It seemed like I was spending about $1.50 for every dollar I earned. I was blowing it all on car stereo electronics and motorcycle stuff, even borrowing money from others to keep my head afloat. I couldn’t see how sick it was at the time, but I just couldn’t stop spending money. It was like a drug addiction perhaps. I had a very blindly optimistic and foolish attitude and I just kept justifying it all by saying that things would all work out somehow in the future.
This tendency to overspend had been there for several years. I remember when I was in college there was a time when I only had $10 left for food and gas to get me through the rest of the week. I ended up at the music store and I couldn’t stop myself from buying a $7 tape that I just had to have, which left me only $3 for food for several days. I would regularly make these kinds of terrible risky choices, throwing caution and prudence to the wind. I always counted on someone bailing me out, especially my mom, or on my being able to somehow work out a deliverance for myself.
I was still avoiding the obvious external evils and sins throughout this time, but I kept making these foolish decisions regarding my finances. One time during a long stay with John and Shelva, they approached me and asked me if they could share something they saw in me that was similar to something John was experiencing. That’s when they began to tell me that John had been diagnosed with something called manic-depression or bipolar disorder and that he was taking medicine for it.
As they started explaining this was perhaps a medical condition I might have, they asked me if I was willing to visit John’s Psychiatrist for an interview and possible diagnosis. Immediately, I felt some sick sense of relief that perhaps all my foolish choices were not really my fault. I agreed to go to the Psychiatrist and realized that if I could just answer the questions properly, I could indeed be diagnosed as bipolar and then be able to say, “All these foolish choices aren’t really my fault. I have a chemical imbalance that is making me live like this.”
My friend, I wish to make a strong point here. I’m not dismissing all mental illness as spiritual issues, but I am dismissing 90% of it after having contact personally with thousands of people. As the rest of my testimony will clearly show, my problem was no more of a chemical imbalance than a drunk’s problem is his supposed disease of alcoholism. These are the lies and excuses we make up to justify living in our real problem which is called SIN and rebellion against God. We are liars and we hate calling sin, sin and we hate taking personal responsibility for our foolish and sinful choices. We refuse to come into the light of God’s word admitting our sinfulness, or forgiving those who have sinned against us. Instead we remain in the darkness and we lie to ourselves and say things like, “I’m gay, or I have multiple affairs, or I’m attracted to children, because I was just born this way, or I have a chemical imbalance which makes me unable to keep a job, or to stop making outrageous purchases, or it causes me to suffer terrible anxiety or depression and that’s the reason I can’t live a normal life, or I have a disease called alcoholism which is why I can’t stop drinking and I inherited it from my father who was also a drunk.”
In spite of the fact that the Bible clearly tells us in Deuteronomy 24:16, 1 Kings 8:32, Jeremiah 31:29-30, Ezekiel 18:3-4, 19-20, Mat 16:27, and John 9:2, God no longer passes on the sins of the Father’s to their children, so many still believe this generational curse lie. It too is an excuse to absolve someone from taking personal responsibility for their own choice to sin.
John 3:19-21 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. (20) Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (21) But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."
I am not a doctor or a Psychiatrist, but I have been in contact with and heard the raw personal stories of thousands of people from around the world about the darkest of their problems, torments and anxieties in their life. I have not spoken to a single person yet where I thought, wow, perhaps this person really needs to try medicine.
Out of probably more than two thousand stories and emails I have personally responded to with recordings over the last three years, there has not been one person who was in depression, anxiety, being tormented in their mind, or who had been diagnosed as bi-polar where it didn’t become obvious that there was some root of rebellion and sin in their heart.
I cannot think of a single person in thousands where I was not able to identify either a pornography or drug addiction, love of money, fear of man, dependence on man, or the most popular one unforgiveness either of someone else or themselves, or an outright unbelief and lack of trust in God. That’s why I can say with confidence that I wouldn’t doubt that 90% of so called “mental illness” has its root in spiritual problems and not in a chemical imbalance that needs to be mitigated by manmade trial and error medicines. Many professing Christians experiencing the symptoms of mental illness or anxiety have turned to these drugs. Rather than doing honest business with God about their sin and trusting Him for His grace and deliverance, they have turned to a manmade idol to have their needs met.
Jonah 2:8 – Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
In Deuteronomy 28:28 and 28:65 God pronounced a curse of mental illness and mental anxiety on the Jews if they disobeyed him. In 1 Samuel 16, King Saul was mentally tormented by an evil spirit from God over and over for his disobedience. In Daniel 4:33, King Nebuchadnezzar was struck by God with such a terrible mental illness that he was given the mind of animal and became like cattle, eating the grass of the field. In Matthew 18:34 Jesus said anyone who doesn’t forgive his brother from his heart will be turned over to tormenters. In Mark 5 the Gerasene man was driven to such madness of mind by an evil spirit that he would cry out loud and cut himself with sharp stones. In Galatians 6:7, it says men reap what they sow; if they sow to the flesh they reap destruction. In 1 Corinthians 16:22, Paul pronounced a curse on all who do not love the Lord, and even though many think they love the Lord, God defines love as obedience to His commands (John 14:21-23, 1 John 5:3). The majority of mental illness, anxieties, and tormenting thoughts in the Bible are all connected to disobedience or not trusting God. True peace comes from getting our heart right with God, not from manmade pills and it takes faith to believe this. Let God be true and every man a liar.
Isa 26:3 You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.
Joh 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
In rare exceptions, I can see God uses things like a messenger of Satan for Paul which was sent to torment him in 2 Corinthians 12:7, or Charles Spurgeon’s battles with depression, as thorns in the flesh to keep his servants humble. However, it must be pointed out that these thorns in the flesh are not what characterized their lives. Their lives were characterized by steadfast faith, godliness, and an abundance of fruitfulness for the kingdom of God. Their thorns were used to keep them low, not to keep them ineffective.
Back to the story. That day at the Psychiatrist’s office I answered all the all the questions successfully, do you have racing thoughts…do you have trouble sleeping at night…do you often feel unstoppable…do you spend money you shouldn’t, etc. The correct answers were very predictable and he diagnosed me on the first visit as being bipolar. They prescribed a medicine and I started taking it.
It’s been so long that I cannot remember how the medicine made me feel or exactly how long I kept taking it but I think it was less than three months. I never took medicine or went back to a Psychiatrist ever again.
I remember also around this time, I was indeed searching for answers about how to fix up my life. Somehow or another I came into possession of an audio tape by Dr. Wayne Dyer. I became so intrigued by how he spoke about God and the things he taught about how to live a life worth living. I kept listening to this tape series repeatedly, having no idea that this was all very anti-Christian dangerous New Age teaching. Indeed, God can use all things together for the good because through this tape series I at least started thinking more about God.
Jennifer and I had maintained a long-distance phone relationship for about 6 months and only saw each other one time when she came back to Alabama on a bus for a few days. Finally, I decided I needed to go to Florida to see if she was the one I was supposed to marry.
When I told my mother, I was leaving to move back to Florida, she told me she needed to meet me and tell me something first. We met at a Shoney’s restaurant off Memorial Parkway in Huntsville, AL. She sat me down and then explained to me that she had been waiting until I turned twenty-one to tell me something but since I was leaving, she needed to tell me now. She told me that my father was not really my father and that John Barber was my father. I was shocked! It’s one thing to find out your father is not your father, it’s a whole other thing to find out one of your best friends who you ride dirt bikes with is really your father.
My mom and John had agreed to wait until I was twenty-one to tell me but since I was leaving AL they wanted me to know because John was interested in having that father and son relationship with me now. He had wanted to tell me for years but didn’t want to hurt my relationship with my dad Michael Chriswell, who raised me. This was such a bitter sweet moment for me. I found myself in a gigantic triangle of confusion and being pulled in three different directions towards my biological father, the father who raised me and now Jennifer.
In the end, I decided to stay with my decision to move to Florida. This crushed John so much that he rejected any type of a relationship with me from then on but it was a price I was willing to pay. I was so drawn to Jennifer amidst all this chaos in my life, because from the outside she appeared to be the righteousness and stability I was missing. As far as legalistic righteousness goes, she was faultless. She was a virgin, she didn’t drink, didn’t smoke or do drugs, didn’t party, was a hard worker, and she stayed away from trouble.
Like Eve to the attractive fruit in the garden of Eden, I was being drawn into a trap because of what I saw with my eyes. I saw the sweet and clean looking nectar on the outside only to be lured into a caged prison like a Venus fly trap that would capture me and hold me until all the life was sucked out of me.
Our dating life was a complete disaster, but the fool in me naturally just kept going forward. There were car chases, yelling and screaming, throwing things, and multiple break ups. One time we had such a big fight that she broke up with me and threw all my clothes over the balcony and kicked me out of her apartment.
Within a few weeks of being gone, I began thinking that since things weren’t working out with Jennifer, maybe it was because I was supposed to be back with my old high school girlfriend named Kristy from Alabama. She was my first real love and the one I had always thought I was going to marry. John and Shelva had also become friends with her and they had told me before I left for Florida that they thought she was the one I was supposed to marry, not Jennifer. Kristy got engaged a few years after high school but she never married the guy. When I asked her why, she said that she was afraid that five years into the marriage, she would still be thinking about me. That set off those sparks in me again and so we decided to meet each other half-way at a hotel in Georgia to see if we should be back together. Of course, one thing one thing led to another and the flesh had its way.
However, upon departing we both realized that we really had nothing else in common anymore and we had both moved on in different directions in our lives. We decided not to pursue the relationship again. Sometime later, Jennifer and I got back together, but she didn’t know that I had gone back and had this encounter with Kristy while we were broken up.
We moved back in together and eventually Jennifer got pregnant. Regretfully, in our spiritual ignorance and fear we opted for an abortion through Family Planning counseling. In my opinion, there was already a root of bitterness in Jennifer’s heart from something in her past before I ever met her, but she would use these two events, my ex-girlfriend and the abortion, to justify her anger and resentment towards me throughout the rest of our marriage. There would be no forgiveness in her heart towards me ever, just a sweeping of it all under the rug.
Heb 12:15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
About a year after our marriage, she found a note Kristy had left in my glove box which I never knew was there. Indeed, my sin had found me out (Num 32:23). She drove up to my retail store work place and started yelling and pounding on the store glass while I was in a meeting with all of my associates. I was in shock and could not believe the rage she was displaying in front of everyone, as if there was no one around. When I got into the truck, she went into a rage screaming at me about the note. She turned sideways and started kicking me with all of her strength like a little kid throwing a temper tantrum. At one point, I noticed she had a kitchen knife behind the seat. I was so afraid of her out of control behavior that I lied and told her that Kristy and I had only just met with each other but there had been no sex.
There was no way I could keep this lie. I have never been able to do so, thank you God. When I was five years old, I went to the local store with my friends. We were all supposed to steal some candy. I joined in with them and stole a tootsie roll. As we left the store, I walked around the corner and I just couldn’t do it. At five years old, all by myself, I walked back in that store and walked straight up to the counter and told the man I had stolen the candy and I was very sorry.
My mother says she only knows of one time I lied to her in my whole life. I stole her VCR and pawned it while I was in college because I was desperate for money. When she asked about it, I lied hoping I could get it out of pawn before she found out. Now, this lie about my ex-girlfriend was eating me up inside. My conscious was screaming for relief such that even though I knew she was going to flip out, I needed the relief of being freed from the lie. I worked with a guy for years who I knew had cheated on his wife one time and as far I know he has never told her. I often wondered how in the world he could sleep at night with that lie for so many years. He must have seared his conscience as with a hot iron.
We were in our third-floor apartment when I finally told Jennifer the truth one day and apologized. She again went into a rage, throwing the ironing board down the hall at me and into the wall. She ran downstairs and kicked over my $6,000 motorcycle right off its kickstand and onto the pavement. She was screaming so loud that the neighbors called the police thinking someone was killing someone.
No matter how many times I apologized and no matter how many times I reminded her that she had broken up with me and kicked me out of her apartment when this happened, it did not matter to her. No matter what I did or said, she would never forgive me for this for the rest of our marriage. It came up over and over in many arguments. The devil had outwitted us both and this unforgiveness in her became a bitterness that destroyed her and our marriage.
Just like Saul’s disobedience brought the torment of evil spirits in 1 Sam 16, who were then used to torment David, this bitterness in her heart invited the torment of devils into her life which would torment me for the next fourteen and half years.
Jesus warned about this very thing happening in the following passage.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" (22) Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (23) "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. (24) As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. (25) Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. (26) "The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' (27) The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. (28) "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. (29) "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' (30) "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. (31) When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. (32) "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. (33) Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' (34) In anger his master turned him over to the jailers (KJV – tormenters) to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. (35) "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." - Mat 18:21-35 NIV
This is one of the reasons why forgiveness is so crucial for Christians. We all hurt each other and we all make terrible mistakes, but the greater sin is not to forgive those who sin against us. That brings death and torment to our hearts and invites the demons of hell into our life as fair game.
2Corinthians 2:10-11 If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. …. in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
I had become convinced that if I just married Jennifer all the problems and fighting would finally stop. It was a marriage made in hell, but allowed by God for very good reasons. He had indeed let me put the rope around my own neck, which He was now going to use to oppress and control me for a decade and a half.
I was a good-hearted fool who wouldn’t be tamed and she was a stone hearted Pharisee who had to be the ruler. I was zealous, careless, foolish, ignorant and driven. She was judgmental, demanding, unforgiving, unyielding, and unbreakable. She never forgave me from her heart for any of my mistakes and she would do anything to control me, even lie and falsely accuse me.
After many years of marriage, the only way for me to keep the peace was to always be the one to say, “I’m sorry” and even to take responsibility for things I never did. She had a snake in her heart, but just as Christ said of the Pharisees, you couldn’t see it from the outside. She grew up in a family that had mastered image management but at the forsaking of true internal righteousness.
1 Samuel 16:7 The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."