Today I opened my email, and received a message from Liz, a longtime reader of this blog. Just 7 days prior to this post, her life, and the life of her son changed in an instant. Her wish was to tell this story to many, and it’s my honor to allow her story to be told today.
Bob and Matt,
Your blog has blessed my life a lot. I would be honored if you would publish this on your blog. Yes, this is my true story. Thank you, Liz.
Yesterday I said goodbye to my son, Adam. He wasn’t going off to college or the service. March 3, 2011, my 17 year old died of a drug overdose.
Let me tell you about my son. He was brilliant with a genius IQ. He was funny and loved to make people laugh. In fact, you may have seen him walking through WalMart wearing his bright pink bathrobe and pink fuzzy hat. He wore it just to make you smile and brighten your day. He loved doing that. He had the type of charisma that filled a room when he walked in. He was bold. He wasn’t afraid to be unconventional to get his message across.
He had a vision and a plan for his future. He was going to college to become a counselor to help troubled teens. He was going to make investments so that he could live on his investments and help the teens for free. He told everyone that the most important thing was a relationship with Jesus – that it wasn’t about the religion thing but about being “down with Jesus” – making Him your best friend. When our pastor shared this at the funeral, we overheard his friends say, “So that’s what he was talking about. We get it now.”
How, you ask, did a young man with a heart like his end up dead in a drug house in the middle of the night?
Adam, obviously, had a dark side too. He had a difficult childhood and struggled with his identity. I spent five years fighting for him. It was a difficult battle – one which I mostly fought alone. You have no idea how hard it is to find a Christian man willing to see beyond the multi-colored hair and black clothing with chains on it. Most of my Christian friends looked down on him and avoided him. Through God’s grace, Adam got into enough trouble that the state finally sent him to a residential facility for almost two years. It was there Adam reconnected with the God of his childhood and found his calling. He graduated from high school a year early and enrolled in our local college. Six months after getting home, he died.
Why did this happen? How could this happen? When he came home, people were distant. The only group that was willing to get in the trenches with him and welcome him with open arms was his druggie friends. They were the only ones that reached out to him – that called him – that showed their intent through their actions. I really don’t think anybody else understood the shame he still carried. I really don’t think anybody else knew that part of him still believed he was dirty and didn’t deserve love. They didn’t understand that he needed people to hold his arms up and not let go. Sure, people told him to call them when he’d run into them on the street but very few took the initiative to invest in him and call him.
I do not blame the “Church” per se. I just want people to be aware that we, as the earthly representatives of Jesus, need to be willing to get our hands dirty. We need to be like Jesus and eat with sinners and tax collectors – in today’s culture that would be Goths and death metal fans.
We do not have a crisis with our children but rather a lack of role models. One third of our daughters will be raped by age 18. This means one third of our sons are rapists by age 18. I hear people say we’re in the end times and that’s why our culture is depraved. I say baloney. WE are our culture. We are focusing on retreats and dinner parties and pretty Christmas concerts to entertain ourselves with while our children are dying around us. WE are part of the depravity.
I hear people say, “Love the sinner but hate the sin.” I say baloney. How can you do that when a sinner’s identity is their sin? They don’t know the difference and they think you hate them. Love the sinner and let Jesus clean up the sin. Our job is to take the sinner’s hand and put it in the hand of Jesus. That’s all. When we see a child abusing their body, we need to see the torment behind the self-abuse. We need to believe in them. We need to believe in their calling. We need to love them and show them who Jesus is.
The next time you see a young man dressed in black, please look past the exterior. Please realize that he is just like my son – desperate for love but too afraid to ask. He needs you to love him. Don’t worry about saying the right thing. Just love him. He may fight you at first. Don’t quit. Just love him.
All it takes for evil to prevail is for good to stand by in silence.
Please, we encourage comments, but we also encourage you to not allow this story to just stay here. Who will you tell it to? If you have the means, please feel free to share Adam’s story with others.
The question after lunch went like this, “Why do you think they’re so invested in this thing?”
I initially responded, “I have no idea”.
Then…all of a sudden…I said, “Wait, I know EXACTLY why. Because their identity is so wrapped up in this that if it ever failed or if they left, they would lose part of themselves.”
It was so powerful that I couldn’t even believe I said it – I just didn’t understand this before that moment. It’s all about IDENTITY.
I’ve heard Jim Robbins and John Lynch write/speak about this. I’ve read other authors that touched on this, but not directly.
The reason we defend something so fiercely, the reason we hold on to something to strongly, and the reason we spiral into a depression when it’s no longer there – is that we attach our personal identity to a THING or a PERSON.
Here’s the danger – THINGS by nature cannot last forever. PEOPLE are certainly mortal, and they have the propensity to let us down because they are not perfect. So when we attach our identity to a PERSON or a THING, we are on a collision course that ends up in a fireball.
Here’s how I know this…because I do this.
- I am a business owner and an entrepreneur. When my business is good, I am happy. When my business is not good, I’m not. To go deeper, when my business tanked in 2009, it sent me to the hospital eventually with panic attacks. I haven’t hit a home run, let alone an extra base hit in like 3 years. I have this voice in my head, that won’t go away. It tells me I’m a failure in business. I had my shot. I blew it. Success is for someone else. This paralyzes me sometimes. What’s the truth?
- I was a member of a church for 40 years, and a leader there for 20. When I resigned from leadership, I was lost. When I left the church, it was traumatic. Even though Arlene and I clearly heard God call us to do this, the little doubts from others that we are quitting or just bitter hurt me and instead of thanking God for doing something great in our life, I obsess over the handful of doubters – not the people that cheer us on. Can’t I just trust God in this? I’m missing the blessing because I’m focusing on the negative?
Here’s some more…
- I was a coach for 24 years. When I stopped coaching for a season, I felt lost.
- I am a pleaser. If I sense, or know that a person doesn’t like me for some reason, it’s powerful enough to derail my other friendships because I will obsess about the one person that doesn’t like me.
- I am a provider. When I could no longer provided income for my family, when I had to lay off staff, it caused me to go into a mild depression. Hell, it still bothers me that I had to lay off people that did good work and I loved deeply. Sometimes it totally takes a productive day away from me.
- I need to know I’m right. So I enjoy when people agree with me and validate my thoughts and beliefs. There’s safety in numbers, right? If 10 people agree with me, but 1 disagrees, I’m toast. I will obsess over the 1 person.
- Silly, but I am a White Sox fan, and believe it or not, some days my mood is based on the fact the Sox won or lost. Is this normal behavior?
- I am a father. When I have a bad day as a father, and I let my kids down, it bothers me. I then begin to believe I am not a good father at all.
- I am a husband. There are days when I really screw up as a partner and I let Arlene down. It makes me think I am a bad husband.
There’s more, but I think you get the point. Attaching my identity to someone, or something has no positive value to me.
Many of the things I am believing are lies – maybe it’s my enemy, but mostly it’s my own mind.
Yes….this is a battle over my mind. Not my heart. That battle is over. My heart is good. It’s my mind that needs to be renewed. Until I start to live out of who God says I am, I can never really live well. Until I stop obsessing over what other people think about me, I can never really love all people well. Until I begin to separate my identity from my outcomes, I will be paralyzed.
It’s all about identity. Once I understand this in myself, and in others, I can start living a more peaceful life.
When people defend their truth, when they defend their institution, when they question me – it’s not personal. They’re defending their identity. Can I be strong enough to live out of who God says I am? Can I go one step further and see people as God sees them – looking past their behaviors and words and into what’s really happening?
What have you discovered about your identity? Have you experienced trauma yourself in regards to ‘losing your identity’ when you no longer had that thing or person in your life?
I’d love for you to share your thoughts and pass on to friends too.