My Testimony: Fixer Upper (Part 3)
Updated: Jan 5, 2021
The following blog post may include subjects inappropriate for younger readers.
READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
(click here to read the previous post)
Beginning at age 13, I loved fixing machines as my way of righting wrongs, mending broken things, and pursuing healing for my spirit. If I could fix a broken machine, maybe I could fix my broken life.
I bought my first classic vehicle at the age of 17 - a 1961 Chevy pickup. I loved that truck and it needed a lot of work, just like my mess of a life. The floor panels were so rusted out that I began to understand how the Flintstones traveled. Every time I worked on a broken piece of that truck, I was working through one of my own personal issues. The more I worked on the truck, the more I healed. I wanted to take restoration of this truck to completion so I could benefit from the most healing for myself too.
During this time, my mother was in need of her own healing and came to expect me to put her needs ahead of my own. When I was tinkering in the garage, she saw that as a wedge between herself and me; she resented my truck and sought ways to remove it from my life. She made it out to be a safety concern, but other vehicles I owned had fewer safety features and she never made a peep. (She only fought against 2 vehicles I ever owned, and that classic truck was the first.) She finally convinced my father to stop letting me use their vehicles to get parts, and I had no other way to get the parts I needed, so I sold my restoration/healing project.
My strong will refused to allow me to stop working on project vehicles. I got a job (for better pay than my father offered) working for a landscape company owned by a friend of a friend, but I was driving my parents’ truck again, and it only got 8 miles to a gallon of gas (which ate most of my paycheck).
While working this job, I discovered a car sitting in someone’s yard that needed a lot of work, but was the most beautiful car I’d ever seen - a red Alfa Romeo GT-V6. I heard freedom calling to me… that little red sports car would be my next season of healing.
I quit landscaping, went back to working for my father, and negotiated a deal for the Alfa for $500 cash. Little did I know how much work it would take to get it running again, but after many hours and nearly $3500 in parts, it ran beautifully. My project came to a tragic end when it was hit by another driver. I took the insurance money and sold the Alfa for parts. My mother persuaded me against fixing cars due to safety concerns, and I stopped pursuing project vehicles for the foreseeable future.
I then bought a 1991 Ford Mustang convertible that needed no fixing. It was a fun car but I couldn’t afford to pay cash for it, so I secured a vehicle loan (the first of many). I became addicted to modifying and racing instead of fixing and restoring. I was always pursuing “bigger and better,” which ushered me into an obsession/addiction for many years and resulted in owning 30 different vehicles in 25 years, never debt-free.
My healing projects had stopped, so I became reckless once again. I was racing anything that had wheels just to feel the high. I became numb to life and turned into a reckless adrenaline junkie.
I dated, but my few relationships were always platonic friendships with females. I had never kissed anyone (or gone further), but the pornography I secretly read and watched was a safer place to deal with my sexual urges than a physical relationship with another person. I was afraid that if I pursued sex with anyone, I would end up hurt somehow, just like every other relationship in my life.
After I turned 18, my family began attending a brand new church in the Annapolis area. I lived as a “Christian,” following my father’s example: be nice at church, but pull out of the parking lot screaming and mentally beating on family.
I became friends with the church’s pastor, a kind man who led me to seek a real relationship with Jesus Christ. My step in faith was real - I wanted to live a life that would cause God to be proud of me. I wanted to finally find true healing from my past. I was baptized by this pastor in the river behind my parents’ house.
Unfortunately, I didn’t understand my step in faith, because in a naïve way I expected God to do more for me than be with me. I expected Him to remove my pain and issues. When my pain didn’t disappear, I kept my disappointment down deep. I was a just as much of a mess after I chose to follow God as I was before.
Now that I was actively trying to seek God’s direction for my life, things got even harder as I worked for my father and still lived at home. I was mentally drained and emotionally exhausted by both my father (at work) and my mother (at home).
My escape was also calling to me more than ever. I spent more time at the race track, tinkering in the garage, and over at friends’ houses.
My father promoted me to a manager position where he pushed his “boss” attitude on me. I began to adopt more and more of his abusive nature and angry outlook as I worked with him; his business mindset was “kill or be killed,” and I grew more calloused and less compassionate to the needs of others. Sensitivity meant getting eaten alive.
And yet God kept pushing me to learn to lead fairly vs being a boss. I grew to gain the respect of those I managed in my father’s business. There were fights almost daily because I wasn’t doing things the way he did, and yet I got better results. Our relationship resembled the fighting Teutuls in an episode of American Chopper.
The more time I spent around my family, both at work and at home, the more I began to go to bars and clubs just to escape. I had been secretly smoking cigars since age 13, and at 21 I began drinking too. I often stayed out until the early hours of the morning and would recklessly drive under the influence of alcohol. I never set out to get drunk, but I desperately wanted to numb my pain.
While I was out on the weekends, God was busy opening a door for me to be a part of the music ministry at our church. I have always loved music (remember how I sang and “played” my guitar as a toddler?) and was blessed to step into the role of audio mixer for the sound system during church worship services. I became deeply involved in worshiping God through serving others as I developed my new skills. I made a lot of friends because of my involvement and began to feel accepted instead of rejected.
While still working for my father, I took a photography course at the local community college. I spent most of my free time enjoying being creative and artistic, which ushered me into the next stage of my life. I became less interested in destructive behavior and more interested in my identity in God and using the talents He gave me to serve others.
My youngest brother’s career goal was to become a helicopter pilot, and after he got his private pilot’s license, he took me for my first helicopter flight. I was so excited because I had just gotten new camera gear and couldn’t wait to use it taking photos from the air.
The flight was so much fun that I wanted to get my own pilot’s license, but my career in photography was taking off. I was invited to apprentice under a very well-known photographer that I met through my father’s business. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn more and grow in an exciting career path.
Though I was gaining more and more distance from my family in my early 20s, devastating news brought me back: my mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. At the time, the prognosis for MS patients was a relatively steady decline in physical abilities with an eventual death sentence. She milked it for all it was worth and our sadness at her condition gave her even more opportunity to manipulate our father and us boys. We bent over backwards for her, and this news pushed me back into compliance with anything my parents wanted.
One fall day in 2001, we were quickly ushered out of the school lab in the middle of developing film and I lost everything I had been working on - once we were out of the building, we learned that New York City had just suffered a terrorist attack and all government buildings were closed until further notice, including our school. Watching the aftermath of 9/11 was difficult - my youngest brother and I wanted join the military to fight back but my mother made sure that she had a say and we never considered it again.
Our family began discussing leaving Maryland because my mother was afraid of more terrorist attacks - several major government defense headquarters were 35 miles from where we lived. She was also concerned that the air pollution and cold weather would worsen her health condition as it had with other MS patients. So we began researching places that had warm weather year-round, no hurricane season and were still within the United States. So we began planning our move…
…for the continuation of this story, click here.