Friday, March 13, 2015

My Husband's Journey with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Over the past few weeks Jake has been writing out his journey of living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and has been sending it out in chapters to his Kingdom Hoops program.  I was waiting until it was all written out to post here on the blog.  In his words....

After a couple week break from the weekly devotionals it is time to get back to it.  To be quite honest, the reason for the break from the emails has nothing to do with me being busy or a lack of time.  The reason for no emails the last two weeks is because of my reluctance to write the story that God wants me to share.  It is a story of a broken young man that suffered greatly from anxiety disorders and in order to mask much of the torment that went on in his mind fell in love with a game.  This is a story of a young man who does not deserve God’s grace and in no way on his own could ever be worthy of a relationship with God.  This is a story about me.  It is a complicated story and one that I will be telling in a few different chapters.  It is also a story of the amazing grace that is offered to all of us through the cross of Christ.  

Chapter 1

I grew up in a home that was not centered around anything involving the church.  Of course we believed in a big God like most Americans and believed all we had to do was to be good people.  I thought everyone went to heaven as long as they did not commit a big sin like murdering someone or breaking the law.  My father was an incredibly wise man who helped to develop many of my character traits that God uses in me daily.  I had a great Mom who had my sack lunch ready every day for school, had my clothes beautifully folded outside of my door each morning, and had dinner ready for me whenever I got home at night.  My parents sacrificed enormous amounts of time and resources to allow me to pursue what many thought was my passion for basketball, which you will see shortly was actually more of just an escape from what my life really was.  From the outside looking in I had the perfect family which led to us having the cool house that everyone hung out at.  

As time went on, the mask of my life just continued to grow in its layers.  I was starting on the varsity team at a 4A high school when I was just in the 8th grade.  My mug was on the front page of the paper every Wednesday and Saturday morning and I was giving interviews to all the local news stations on a weekly basis.  I had the perfect Mom and Dad who I would go to movies with on Saturday nights because they were cool to hang out with.  I was receiving national recognition for what I was accomplishing on the basketball court and was on the path to not have to pay for my college education.  During these days I had a girlfriend that was also a superstar athlete who went on to play division 1 basketball and soccer and graduated as valedictorian from her high school.  On top of all of this I was blessed with a personality that could fit into any situation at any time and had taught myself to smile with everyone.  My life with the masks on seemed like the perfect big screen movie of a young sports star that finds the perfect girlfriend, has the cool parents, and goes on to the perfect life of living happily ever after. 

The reality of my life was quite different.  Every day of my life was an internal war against an enemy I could not defeat.  As I moved in to my teenage years I had no idea what was going on.  My entire day was a constant fight against vain imaginations, irrational thoughts, constant obsessions, and anxiety that I felt on most days would kill me.  My entire life off the basketball court was simply survival.  There were days I could barely get myself out of bed.  Once I pulled myself from the comfort of my sheets the torture of my mind would begin.  In order to appease the anxieties of my mind I created all kinds of rituals and obsessional routines in order to survive another day.  Basketball became my escape where I felt like the constant obsessions of my life could be used for something positive like perfecting my shot, obsessing on my footwork, or picking apart the game of basketball.  The fears and anxieties of life would then subside for the time being as I escaped between the lines.  I literally feared stopping each night because I did not want to return to my life.  My parents would have to come and physically take the ball out of my hands and order me to bed. 

Growing up there was no one to talk to about this as I was sure people would think I was crazy.  My obsessions ranged from everything such as 90 degree angles, white pieces of paper on the ground, to imaginations that I ran someone over with my car when driving home from school.  The irrational obsessions would occur followed by a life altering ritual that involved counting and trying to re-live each moment.  How do you tell someone this?  Especially in my house growing up as my Dad was helping me to become a leader and great basketball player.  We were supposed to be tough, confident, rational in all moments, and certainly not fearful of moments in time.  On the outside I had to keep up the great basketball player role that I played in every gym I went into.  I always wondered if young people would really look up to me if they knew what I went through every day.  Would the TV cameras and newspapers still care who I was if they really knew who I was?

All of this hit a breaking point my junior year in high school when I simply could not get out of bed one morning.  I wanted to be done fighting.  You can imagine how this scenario caught my parents off guard and chaos reigned in the house for a few days.  Within a week I was seeing one of the top psychologists in the Minneapolis area.  I still remember my second session with this doctor during the spring of my junior year.  He gave me some medicine called Zoloft and I still remember the joy that leaped through my body and mind thinking that finally the suffering would be over.  As the weeks went by everything became worse rather than better.  They did what all great doctors would do as they just kept upping the dose of Zoloft that I took each day.  Not only had I become a walking zombie absent of emotion due to the incredibly high doses of Zoloft, but all the obsessions and rituals still had not gone away.   In those days all I could ever think about was how in my whole life, anytime I got sick, I would go to the doctor and they would give me medicine - then within days I would be feeling all better.  But not this time.

The realization in my mind that medicine would not take away my torment sent me into a whirl wind depression.  The crazy part is that I hit rock bottom my senior year in high school all the while averaging 30 points per/game, leading the #1 ranked 4A team in the state, and smiling for every camera in my face or young person who wanted an autograph.  For 32 minutes every Tuesday & Friday night everything would go away.  We would sell out high school gymnasiums 2-3 hours before the start of our games as people would come and watch me play.  Yet, the pressure never phased me because what was going on in my real life was the greatest pressure of all. 

During the midst of my most difficult time was the first time I ever heard God’s voice.  At the time I did not know what it was.  I know now that it was that voice on that cold Minnesota night that spared me my life.  That night is still as vivid as any memory I have ever had.  It was on a dark wooded road that connected my house to the place my girlfriend at the time lived.  It was 9:00pm and I was driving home when I had decided that it would be better to die than live with this the rest of my life.  I figured I could drive my car as fast as possible into one of the gigantic trees that lined the road and the torment would be over.  Then I remember feeling a voice say to me just hang on a little longer.  You only have months left to graduation and things will be different once you head to Iowa State.  As the voice told me to hang on a little longer I wept tears like never before.  I decided that night I would hang on a little longer as my journey to Iowa State was just a few LONG months away..........  

Chapter 2

Hope is defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.  The long, painful, and lonely final months of high school had come to an end and only the hope of change carried me through.  My day of hope had finally arrived with a packed car full of all my belongings and one last good bye to my childhood friend (my dog Cricket).  It was now time to pile in the car and head south for 190 miles.  Ames, Iowa provided me a new start.  In my mind it would become a place where all my torment would leave me and I could start anew while hanging on to a game I loved.  I can still remember the day my Dad gave me a final handshake and my Mom, drenched in tears, gave me a final hug.  The hope in which I believed had saved me that night on the dark road was finally here as my parents shut that door behind them.  As the door shut I wept a few tears, some from the realization that I was now alone without my parents, but more so of joy that finally I could start a new life.  A new life away from the pain of my anxiety disorders.  A new life away from the rituals that consumed my life.  I was convinced in the deepest part of my being that I was being released from all the pain that I had bottled up for so many years. 

During the first couple of weeks I was consumed with new friends, new teammates, and life on my own.  I was finding joy learning my way around a new campus and learning how to play basketball at the highest level.  My mind could not consume anything except the joy I felt as all those years of hard work had led me to this division 1 university, where 15,000 fans would soon be celebrating every three point shot I made. 

Then it this could not be happening again.  I had this new hope.  I had found a renewed joy.  I had escaped the prison that I lived in while I was in high school.  This could not be happening again. 

It happened again on a crisp fall day on the Iowa State campus as I walked through the hall of Lagomarcino where my Psychology classes took place.  It only made sense to me to pursue a degree in psychology as I had a desire to understand what took place in my mind during those days in high school.  As class dismissed I had to walk down an unfamiliar hallway to check on an extra credit research project I was going to take part in.  As I placed my name on the line signing up for my extra credit time I turned to begin to walk away and caught an image out of the corner of my eye.  I turned around to check what I had seen and of course nothing was there.  I turned to begin to walk again and then it happened again and I went back and counted to 7.  Then it happened again and this time I stopped and starred down the hallway counting to 77.  Soon I was walking in circles around the building performing all types of counting rituals in order to relieve the anxiety I felt in this unfamiliar hallway.  Nearly 90 minutes went by before I was able to finally get out the front door. 

As I stepped out into the cool breeze of a late fall morning I scurried back to my dorm room.  I threw open my door and fell flat on my face until 3pm when it was time to go to our pre-season conditioning workout.  I laid on that bed for those hours in absolute terror.  How could this be happening again?  I had thought that when I left Oakdale, Minnesota this would all be gone.  Now the reality was that the hope I had placed in Ames, Iowa was now gone.  The hope I had placed in Iowa State men’s basketball was now gone.  The hope I had placed in new friends and a new life had disappeared.  The torment was back.  I had reentered the prison of my mind. 

The part that simply amazes me as I look back on the story is that my success on the basketball court during my years at Iowa State was never affected.  I can now see how the Lord’s hand of protection was on me every time I stepped between those lines.  How in the world could I be locked in this prison of anxiety, obsessions, rituals, and eventual depression yet still be Freshman of the Year, 3-time All-Big 12 selection, 3-time Academic All American.  We won a Big 12 championship, got to the final four of the NIT, and I eventually graduated setting all kinds of offensive shooting records.  All those accomplishments, championships, and records are what people saw but they were just a few more layers of the mask I wore.  

As people looked at me from the rafters of Hilton Coliseum I was living the life that so many people could only dream about.   Except no one knew that off the court my life was a spiraling mess.  My life was not only consumed with the anxieties of my mind but also with protecting my image from the thousands of fans and young people who looked up to me.  The layers of the masks that I wore in high school became thicker and thicker.  I could be in a full conversation with someone while performing some mental ritual in my mind.  At the same time that I was engaging in the conversations I was struggling with the 90 degree angles in the room.  Random people could come up to me on Welch Avenue in Ames and ask for a picture and I could stop, put on the most joyful smile in the world, and turn around and pick up 4 white pieces of paper trying to suppress the anxiety in the pits of my stomach.   I had mastered manipulating my situations and had created a heightened awareness of my surroundings just to make sure no one would discover who I actually was.  I had a reputation to live up to and if I was ever discovered to be who I really was what would people think of me? 

At night I would make sure I would always be the last person out of Hilton Coliseum as I did not want anyone to ride with me in my car.  I would shoot and shoot and shoot until everyone left.  Everyone around me thought it was just my work ethic, but in reality I did not want anyone to ride in my car, because some nights it would take me two hours to travel 5 miles from Hilton Coliseum back to my apartment.  I would have to repeat the route 7 times, or 17 times, or maybe even 77 times before I would pull into my parking spot and head into my apartment.  All of this was going on and yet there was not one person in my life that had any idea.  My parents were 190 miles away and they were easy to lie to on the phone.  I wore so many masks that I could put different ones on based on the situation in order to be the person that I thought everyone wanted me to be.   

During this struggle I learned the most valuable lesson of my life.  I learned about the reality of hope within our circumstances.  I learned that a true hope will never be found in our circumstances.  Many of us live our lives this way believing in a hope that cannot fulfill and certainly cannot save.  Many of us have a hope that when we have a certain amount of money everything will be made new.  Others have a hope that when we get that new job or that promotion then things will be made new.  Others find hope that when they meet that right person then things will be right.  So many have a hope like I had that was found in a new place and new surroundings.  I believed with every fiber of my being that when my hope of Ames, Iowa and Iowa State University came to pass my life would be different.  Instead all of my hopes in the things, places, and people of this world let me down.  This type of hope had no saving power in my life.  This hope could not release me from the prison of my mind.  This hope could not remove the layers of masks that I wore.  This hope could not save me and could not make me new. 

The hope I thought I had found had let me down.  However, there was a hope that found me amidst the lowest moments of my life.  A real hope found me that had the ability to save me and would unlock the door to the prison of my mind.  A hope found me that offered the ultimate saving Grace...  

Chapter 3

In Chapter 2 I talked about hope being defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.  As I study this definition now, I know looking back that this was not the hope that I encountered at the lowest moment in my life.  Actually I had no expectation of ever being rescued from the prison of my mind.  My only desire each day was to survive another day with as little anxiety as possible.  I did have a hope each day but that hope, no matter how hard I tried, would never satisfy me.  No matter how many threes I made, how many games we won, or how much attention I received, it could never satisfy.  The hope I had was actually no hope at all.   
Over the years I began to learn about a hope that could satisfy that is found in a God that takes all the wisdom of this world and flips it upside down.  I discovered a God that pursues us when we are without expectation and without any desire for the hope that He provides. 

Much of the wisdom of the western world is for us to be in control.  We are supposed to control our destiny, our success, and our hope.  In my days of despair I was no different as I wrestled and fought each day until God came knocking on my door in hot pursuit of me.  I was not searching for God and had no interest in being one of those church people.  Despite my lack of desire to find God as I wallowed in the depths of the pits of my life, a Savior came and rescued me and gave me the hope to unlock the door of my internal prison. 

As I’ve learned more about God and the life of Jesus, there is a consistent pattern throughout scriptures of how God pursues people that many times, in the beginning, have no intention of pursuing Him.  Over and over again God came after individuals like David, Moses, Elisha, Matthew, Zacchaeus, Mark, Paul, and so many others.  These individuals were just out living their lives as shepherds, tax collectors, fisherman, and Pharisees when God came to them in their most mundane moments - never to live their lives the same again.  My story was no different.  One day I was without any desire for God and soon I would never be the same again. 

So there I was at Iowa State, living my life trying everything to save myself from the pits of my anxiety disorder.  I tried medicine and psychologists.  I tried gaining intellectual knowledge. I read books, and studied articles.  I attempted to rely on my own willpower and even tried just escaping into the world of basketball.  Nothing seemed to help for any sustained amount of time no matter how hard I tried or how much I knew.  Then without pursuit, knowledge, or any part of my own strength, God showed up in the form of people and circumstances.  God used a girl from a small town in Iowa named Janel, a basketball manager named Dave Edwards, a church called Cornerstone, and a list of miracles that could fill countless pages… 

When I arrived at Iowa State I was not the quickest athlete on campus, certainly not the most athletic, and to compound my problem, not very flexible.  Coach Eustachy needed me on the court offensively but did not have a strong desire to have me on the court defensively.  With that being said the day I walked on campus I had my very own speed/agility program that would be closely monitored each morning. 

Every morning I was at the Lied Rec Center on campus by 6am for 30 minutes of speed/agility training, 30 minutes of Yoga, and 30 minutes of a specialized stretching routine.  I would then be out of the Lied Rec Center by 7:45am and would head immediately to my English Comp class.  My class did not start until 9am and since I was a paranoid Freshman, I was worried about being late so I would always arrive early immediately following my morning workout.  During my early arrivals I discovered this couch right outside of class that fit my body perfectly where I could squeeze in a 45 minute nap.  As the 8am class dismissed, this very attractive girl would shake my shoulder, wake me up, and I would then head into class.  There were days I would just pretend I was sleeping just so she would wake me up!!!  We never exchanged many words but God had a plan to use her in my life.  We continued to run into each other in the elevators, in the dorm halls, in the cafeteria, and other random places throughout campus.  During one of our random encounters she invited me to go to something called Salt Company at a church called Cornerstone.  As a division 1 athlete I lived a life centered on me and had no real need for a God other than myself.  I am sure my self-centeredness did not surprise God as He orchestrated putting my life back together on His hope.  God knew I had no interest in Him, but He also knew that I would have a great level of interest in this shy, brown haired, small town girl.  Only because I held out hope in dating this girl, I agreed to attend.    

Janel was not a Christian at this point in time either and her friends had invited her to Salt Company and in exchange she invited me.  I remember walking into that Thursday night Salt Company feeling quite uncomfortable and wondering what in the world I was doing.  I even became more uncomfortable as this band came up on stage singing crazy worship music while the people around me lifted their hands up to the ceiling.  What was this?  Where was I?  This experience better get me another date with this girl.  These were just a few of the thoughts going through my mind at the time.  There was also one other thought that was on my heart that night.  From the outside looking in I had everything the world could offer.  I had a full college scholarship, was a recognized face wherever I went, and I was on one of the top 10 teams in the country getting ready to win a Big 12 title.  Despite all these things the world could offer, these people with their hands lifted high clearly had something I did not have.  They had a peace and joy about them that did not exist in my life. 

I left that night quite curious and anxiously waiting to attend on the next Thursday and the next Thursday and the next.  I did not fully understand what I experienced that first night but I knew I wanted to experience it again.  I was not ready to give up all the worldly things that controlled my life, but God started something that first Thursday night that would cause my life to turn ever so slightly. 

Then God, as He so often does, sent a second person into my life.  His name was Dave Edwards and he was one of the managers on the Iowa State Basketball staff.  Every time I struggled or hit some adversity Dave would be there to share a bible verse with me.  Dave was one of those types of guys that never really got the fact that I was not interested in his random life lesson bible verses.  I never gave Dave the time of day when it came to his Bible verses and like we too often do as athletes, he became the butt of random jokes in the locker room many times.   Dave never let our mockery discourage him and never gave up on getting me to listen to what God’s word had to say.   

Dave was up to his ways one night after we had just gotten beat on the road again, and this time by a below average Missouri team.  Down the stretch I had a handful of missed defensive assignments and took a real bad shot with about 2 minutes left in a tied ball game.  After the game I got a Larry Eustachy butt chewing that was not pretty and could never be repeated in detail.  To say that I was down after the game was an understatement.  As we boarded the plane, Dave walked back to where I was sitting and opened his Bible to the book of James - Chapter 1.  He told me to read James chapter 1 and that everything I was going through was God’s plan for my life.  At this point in my life I still had no intention of giving up anything in my life for God.  This God stuff was still crazy to me and I had very little belief that it was even true.   However, that night I was so down with my play, and the prison of my mind was only getting worse in my day to day life that I was up for giving anything a try, even if that meant reading this Bible. 

As the plane took off that night I began to read through the first chapter of James.  I did not understand most of what I read with the exception of verses 2-4 which spoke to me in a unique way.   James 1:2-4 read as follows - Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  Those verses rang in my head for not only that night after the Missouri game but for weeks, months and eventually years to come.  The verses contained in the beginning of the book of James would wind up leading me to God in the most unexpected places at the most unexpected times. 

A few days after that night in Missouri I was having one of those days.  I was having one of those days where my irrational thoughts would lead to irrational rituals which caused my life outside the lines of a basketball court to be absolute misery.  That day I had grudgingly made my way out of my apartment to my CompSci class that was easily the most boring and mind numbing class I ever took.  As the professor stood at the front of the room my mind raced with a million different irrational thoughts as the anxiety ripped holes in my stomach.  For some reason that day before I left my apartment I had put my Bible in my school bag.  The only Bible I owned was a Precious Moments Bible that was bright pink that my aunt had given me when I was in 2nd grade.  I had found it packed in a box back in the corner of my closet a few weeks earlier, and that morning I grabbed it for reasons I still can’t explain.  As my anxiety seemed out of control sitting in that classroom, I pulled out that Bible from my school bag as I wanted to go back and read the part from the book of James that Dave showed me a few days prior.  I was just hoping to glean something from those words that would help me in this moment.  That day as the professor continued to go on and on and on I decided to just keep reading my Bible.  I soon had read chapter 1 of James and then chapter 2 and then eventually into chapter 3.  Chapter 3 is all about taming the tongue and that day I felt convicted in a way I had never been before. 

Where I grew up and how I grew up combined with being a division 1 athlete made it not uncommon for many unwholesome things to come out of my mouth.  There was rarely a sentence that ever came out of my mouth that did not contain a cuss word or two.  That day while sitting in CompSci class I made a deal with God.  I would not encourage this method of following after God, but at the time I did not know anything different.  In the middle of class as I read chapter 3 I began to talk with God.  I still was not sure if all this Bible believing, church going, Jesus on the cross stuff was real so I simply asked God to reveal Himself in my speech.  I said, “Ok God, if you are real, then I will stop swearing.  Despite the environment I am in, and the way my friends talk, if you are real, God, you will tame my tongue and change the words that spew from my lips.” 

Then it happened like I cannot explain in words.  From that day on my speech would never be the same.  It was like suddenly the normal talk that came from my mouth had changed.  It did not mean that I still didn’t drop an unnecessary word or two, but my daily, common speech had changed.  I would be surrounded by teammates, coaches, and friends that cussed like normal but something had happened to me that day in CompSci class.  This God who I was not convinced existed had answered my prayer and suddenly my ears were being opened to the things in God’s Word.    

My life was never going to be the same again.  While I was lost, God began to use people and circumstances in my life to show me a hope that the things of this world could never offer.  God was real and our relationship was just beginning.  Despite the blessing with my speech I still wondered if this God that changed the words that flowed from my mouth could really unlock the prison that was in my mind.  Did this God really have the power to give everlasting life and to heal the most broken of men?  God had found me but would I surrender my life to His unending Grace that had the power to heal?  As you conclude reading this chapter I hope that God is speaking to you through this like He spoke to me in weird, unexpected ways.  Nothing is unexpected in God’s kingdom and like He did with me, I pray that God is using this story to find others who desire a hope that can rescue, heal, redeem, and save!  Jesus died for each of us on that cross and rose three days later so that we can all be unlocked from the prison of this world with a Grace that none of us deserve!  

Chapter 4

One of my favorite life stories in the Bible can be found in the book of Judges Chapter 6.  This particular piece of scripture involves a guy named Gideon who was responsible for leading God’s people against a group of people called the Midianites who worshiped god’s of Baal.  Why is this story so intriguing to me?  Because I can see myself so clearly reflected in the life of Gideon.  Before we get to all of that let’s look at few excerpts of Gideon’s life. 

When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land.

To give you an accurate picture of this time in history, this is shortly after God had led the Israelites out of Egypt and out of the land of slavery.  This is a time after the Israelites had seen God rescue them from the ruthless dictatorship of King Pharaoh in Egypt by helping them to escape through the parting of the Red Sea.  What else could these people want?  Why could they not fully trust in the God that had already rescued them once?

17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”

As God is calling Gideon to lead the people against these false gods of the Midianites, Gideon wanted God to reveal Himself one more time just so he could be sure God was with him.

22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”

God did as Gideon had asked Him and revealed Himself.  Yet Gideon still struggled to be sure!

36 Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised— 37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” 38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.

Come on Gideon where is your faith?  Have you not already seen God multiple times?  Yet this is how so many of us live life - constantly wondering if God is really with us.  Can’t you see yourself in Gideon?  I know I can.  God has shown Himself over and over to me yet I still have had doubts. 

39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.

Once again Gideon was in doubt and asked God to reveal Himself yet again.  I know if I was God I would have slapped Gideon upside the head or I may have just went and found someone else to work with.  However, what I have discovered about God is that no matter how many times we seem to doubt Him or even fail Him, He never turns from us.  We may turn from God but God never turns from us and I had the opportunity to learn this lesson as God began to rescue me from the prison of my mind. 

Gideon is me and I am sure Gideon is many of you.  By 2003 I had seen God show up in my life in many ways from the people He put in my path, to His Word coming to life when I read it, and to God literally changing the words that came out of my mouth overnight. 

Yet, no matter what ways God revealed Himself in my life I still doubted.  I can still remember a point in my life in which my doubt was the highest.   I had done the Christian church thing and said the prayer of salvation - believing that Jesus had died for me on that cross and rose again three days later overcoming all of my sin.  Just because I had become a Christian did not fully relieve the doubt that I had deep in my soul. 

At this point in my life my college basketball career was coming to an end and I was beginning to wrestle with what the rest of my life would look like.  I felt as though God was asking me to walk away from all my personal desires that had consumed my life for so long.  I had opportunities as my college career was concluding to continue to play professionally over-seas.  I could have stayed on with Coach Morgan as a graduate assistant working my way up the ranks of division 1 coaching.  I also had opportunities with ESPN to begin to cover Iowa State and Big 12 games as a color guy.  I was presented with so many incredible opportunities but there was something deep in my soul that was telling me there was more, and I felt that God was pushing me out of this type of world.  My relationship and understanding of who God was was very immature at the time.  I felt that I could not pursue any type of deeper relationship with Christ if I stayed in the same world that consumed the first 22 years of my life.

In order to walk away from the opportunities I had, I needed to know that God was real and that He was actually with me.  Like Gideon I asked God to reveal Himself one more time and this time He would have to enter into my darkest pits.  I did not just want God to reveal Himself to me but I wanted Him to rescue me from the prison of my mind.  During my years in college my obsessive compulsive disorder had only gotten worse and more life consuming.  However, it was not like I did not have answers.  As I was falling further and further into the bottomless pit that was obsessive compulsive disorder, I was also pursuing a psychology degree in which I began to learn how to treat something like obsessive compulsive disorder.  In all of my studies, there was only one concrete way to begin to overcome this disorder and it is through something called behavioral therapy. 

Here is an example of behavioral therapy.  I have an obsession to pick up a random white piece of paper.  Normally the compulsion would be to pick it up, but in behavioral therapy you change the behavior and instead walk away.  By walking away you have a major anxiety attack that may last some duration of time - let’s say 60 minutes before the anxiety would dissipate.  The next time I would see a white piece of paper and again don’t act upon the compulsion to pick it up, the anxiety attack may last 59 minutes and 30 seconds.  Every time that I did not act upon the obsession the anxiety would get less and less until eventually the behavior changed to where I no longer would have obsessions over something like a white piece of paper.  Unless you have gone through something like this there are no words that can actually describe the anxiety that is experienced.   When I faced this type of anxiety I truly thought I was going to die and for however long it lasted I was literally paralyzed with fear. 

I knew what the answers were in order to begin the healing process but I wanted no part of it because no human strength can actually see an individual through the process of behavior therapy.  I wanted this to all go away but I was not strong enough to do it.  Then one night I sat down to watch the movie ‘A Beautiful Mind’ with Russell Crowe.  In this movie the character that Russell Crowe played struggled with vain imaginations like obsessive compulsive disorder, and it destroyed his entire life.  Then towards the end of the movie he decides that he is going to overcome his disorder by putting himself through what essentially was behavioral therapy.  As I watched the movie and saw how this character, which was based on a real life man, was able to do this and restore his life, I felt like God said to me that night that I was to take the same steps. 

As the movie concluded I laid in my bed the entire night terrified of what my upcoming months and years would look like if I started in on this path.  That night I cried out to a God who I just barely knew and pleaded for Him to come with me on this journey.  I told God that night that if He was real He would need to reveal Himself by being by my side every step of the way.  I pleaded with Him to be my strength in order to not act upon the hundreds of obsessions I had each day.  I told God that night that I would give up everything this world could ever offer me if He would just hold me up and strengthen me during this process, and ultimately bring me healing. 

I woke up the next morning and the process had begun.  I have never told anyone about those months of absolute torture that I would experience, but through every moment God never left my side.  He held my right hand when I was curled up in a ball not able to move from the anxiety.  God gave me the strength every time I needed it to resist an obsession and to fight the anxiety. 

However, through all of that I did not develop my absolute hope in Christ during the moments He strengthened me. Rather, I developed a trust that will never leave me because God never left me even when I ignored His promptings and failed the tests.  What do I mean by that? 

Let’s go back to the white piece of paper example.  Let’s say that over a two month period of time I had 100 obsessions over a white piece of paper on the ground.  And let’s say 100 times I was able to fight off the compulsion through the strength the Lord provided me to the point that the anxiety would only last a few minutes.  Then all of a sudden the 101st obsession would occur and I would not rely on the strength that God provided me.  I would act upon the obsession, which then would spiral me back to the very beginning of the obsession where the anxiety would last for the full amount of time and once again consume my life.  I found God most in those moments, and that is where my faith was strengthened.  In the moments I failed He never left me.  He never left me when I ignored Him.  He never hid His face from me and never let go of my hand.  He would always pick me back up and walk with me once again through the valley of the shadow of death. 

Today many people ask me how I can have such faith even in the most difficult of situations.   Normally when I am asked this question I deflect the question and never answer it because how do I ever explain what I have seen and experienced?  The reason for my faith is not what most people would ever expect.  It is not the fact that I was delivered from the prison of my mind.  It is not because I have seen God’s countless miracles and rescues in my life take place.   God gave me a faith that I truly believe can move mountains because He never left me no matter how many times I ignored His promptings or failed to trust in His strength in those days.  Every time that I fell back into the deep, dark pit God would be there to pick me back up to walk with me once again.  The Lord always allowed His face to shine brightly even during the darkest parts of my life.

No matter how many times that you feel that you have failed God He has never failed us and will definitely never leave us.  Jesus has never let anyone down and is certainly not going to start with you.  I pray today that you know He is right beside you shining brightly.  The Lord’s Grace is abundant and He desires for all of us to turn from our ways, and walk in step with His promises. When we find ourselves in a pit He is right there to pick us up.  He picked me up over and over and over again and still does today.  I know that in each of our lives He will always be there with a hope and peace this world can never offer. 

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” – Numbers 6:24-26

Chapter 5

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.   (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

As you have had the opportunity to read my testimony, I pray that you have seen this as a story not about me, but rather a story about my God who has the power to deliver us from the most difficult situations.  I pray that you have seen a story about God’s incredible grace to die a death that I deserved in order to save me from the darkest pits of my life.  As I conclude my personal story there is one final thing I want everyone to know and that is the fact that there is still a thorn in my side.  The Lord has delivered me from the hold that my anxiety disorder held on me, but my God has not chosen to fully remove it from my life. 

For many years I wondered why?  I cannot tell you how many times I have read through 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.  I have used this verse over and over in my life to stay faithful to the Lord despite the thorn not being completely removed.  There have been many days I have wondered why God would not just remove the thorn completely from Paul’s side and I wondered the same thing about my life.   As I have studied the thorn in Paul’s side I have seen many theories and commentaries on what that thorn may have been since Paul never lets us know in any detail exactly what that thorn was.  I believe from what I know is that Paul’s thorn was His past and a constant reminder of what God had rescued him from.  For those of you who do not know the story of Paul I will give you a brief recap. 

Before Paul was Paul he was named Saul and he was persecuting the church.  Saul was literally going from town to town killing and persecuting Christians.   Then one day as Saul was heading to Damascus to continue the persecution of the church, he was knocked to the ground, the Lord spoke to him, and his sight was removed from his eyes. 

Acts 9:3-9
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

Shortly after the experience on the road to Damascus God sent Ananias to Saul to give him his sight back and fill Saul with the Holy Spirit. 

Acts 9:17-18
So Ananias left and entered the house.  Then he placed his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road you were traveling, has sent me so that you can regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  At once something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight.  Then he got up and was baptized.  And after taking some food, he regained his strength. 

After all the things I have read on this thorn I believe that the thorn in Paul’s side was some type of regret, depression, or other vain imagination that constantly reminded Paul of when he was Saul.  Regardless of what exactly that thorn was, Paul believed that God allowed it to plague him throughout his life so that he would never become conceited or prideful of what God was asking him to do.  I believe God also kept the thorn there in Paul’s side in order to provide the constant reminder during hardships and his own persecution of the strength of the God he was serving.

Like Paul, there have been so many days over the last 10 years that I have pleaded with God to fully remove the thorn from side.  Yes, God rescued me from my darkest days, but, He has never fully removed the thorn from my side.  I am always just one sleepless night, one overly stressful situation, or one new uncomfortable place away from my thorn of anxiety to reappear its ugly head.  There have been many nights where I have laid awake in my bed crying out to God to just fully remove it, yet my prayer and pleads are never answered.

Why would God who can restore the sight of the blind, make the lame walk again, and raise the dead back to life not just fully remove all the remains of the anxiety disorder from my life?  Over the last few years I have come to the conclusion that God keeps it right there in my side so, like Paul, I will never forget who I was, where I was, and what His grace has done for me. 

I believe God never wants me to forget about what my life was like when I had no hope, and He knows the thorn is the constant remembrance that allows me to run the race all in for Christ.  God knew He would be sending me to the ends of the earth where there is so much pain and so little hope, and that I would need to be able to enter in.  God knew the thorn in my side would be a constant reminder that I have to keep going to the pain and not away from it.  God has used the thorn to keep me from enjoying the comforts of this world and from ever chasing after my own desires, and instead to chase after the desires of Christ. 

On Monday, March 16th I head back to Chad, Africa.  Most people believe I go because I have a passion for Africa when in reality there is not one piece of my flesh that actually wants to go.  God is sending me into a country in which no one speaks English, very few believe in Jesus, and a place where persecution is a very real reality.  I am heading into a country where the food is terrible, electricity and running water is sparse, and the temperature is well over 100 degrees.  Not only are the conditions terrible in Chad but God is also sending me during the week of spring break when my kids are home from school and most families are taking vacations to the most beautiful places in the world.  To top it off God is sending me during the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th rounds of the NCAA Tournament.  I want to be sitting on my couch, eating my wife’s taco salad, spending time laughing with my kids. 

There is no passion in the world that can make anyone resist the flesh and endure a plane ride for 22 hours and then a bus ride for 15 hours - five of which will not be on paved roads - just to get to Sarh, Chad.  However, there is a love that will allow you to do that and there is a thorn in my side that never allows me to forget what my pain was like without the hope of Christ.  I believe God knows me personally and He knows how easy it would be for me to forget all that the Lord has done for me in the midst of my darkest moments without that constant thorn in my side. 

For many years I asked God to remove this thorn from my side, but recently I have asked God to keep it there forever to ensure that I always get on that plane, ride on that bus, and endure a life that means doing without in order for God to use me to share the hope that is found in Christ.  Even if that means going to the darkest places of our world.  Because of the thorn in my side I am reminded daily of the grace that I have been given and the rescue that took place in my life.  This constant reminder spurs me on to run the race that was specifically set before me to serve the poor, the sick, the down trodden, and the vulnerable.

I believe when Paul was shipwrecked, imprisoned, stoned, and facing dangers, the thorn in his side was what God used to keep him going in the name of Christ.  I want to live like Paul lived and no matter what obstacles, disasters, or hardships await me, I am fully willing to lay down my life at the foot of the cross in order to serve the God who rescued! 

In my past I ran a race for my own glory and for my own name.  Today I run a race for the God who has saved me.  The thorn that remains in my side will keep me humbled before the throne of grace every day of my life and it will keep me faithful until death, when I will be given the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).  I am humbled to get to run this race for Christ, and I pray that as you have read God’s story of my life that it will help to spur you on to run the race that the Lord has specifically called you to run. 

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.   (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)


Jake Raymond said...

We all have a Thorn in our side. But we are not all brave enough to share. This is a very inspiring story. Thanks for sharing.

Jody said...

Thank you so much Jake and Janel for sharing your story...God's story. There is such freedom in Christ when we take off our masks and live for fully for Him. Thankful for your family who refuse to live a 'normal' life, but a life fully surrendered to Jesus. May our Great God be glorified in everything you do. 1 Corinthians 10:31

Freeway Child said...

Great story, love the part about enduring the thorn for Chad

scott thompson said...

Awesome! Truly. ...... praise God!! You can just sense the genuine working of God through this. Loved the part about Dave Edwards. Seems there's always guys like this that God uses.... the one's that are made fun of etc. .... and then later on we find out the joke was on us! Now it's your turn to be made fun of Jake.... and that is to be treasured! Thanks for sharing. And it's all because........
of Jesus Christ.

Steven Babcock said...

This is a very inspiring story! As you mention the history of your life in basketball and as a local leader of a community, I was one of the many who looked up to you at Tartan High School. I used to shoot hoops daily in my backyard imagining I was, and had the touch, of Jake Sullivan. Later, I was the kid who wrote the story in the school paper the week your number was retired. Still have a signed copy of it somewhere.

Your ability to be open about your struggles, your faith, and your coming to know Christ are even more impressive than your time on the court. Since landing upon this blog years ago I have secretly followed your journey from time to time. God is working through you and am glad he was able to reach you through sending Janel as a messenger in your life. This weekend I am joining hands in marriage with my own messenger from Christ who has truly helped me come to say that I am a Christian. And once again, I can only hope to have the touch of Jake Sullivan by making such an impact on His people both locally and globally. Keep on doing God's work, as you continue to be a leader for many!