One Honest Moment That Changed My Life
From the outset, the direction of my life seemed pretty well mapped out. I grew up in Memphis, the only child of the executive vice-president of the largest cotton warehousing company in the world. Mother came from a socially prominent southern family, and my uncle served in the U.S. Congress and was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. I was sent to private schools, graduated from Sewanee, and earned my MBA at Wharton Business School. On the surface, my life appeared to be heading down a well-worn path–a path that did not include God. As I look back, I can honestly say I am not where I thought I would be.
Although being an only child focused my parents’ attention on me, it also meant I had no sibling with whom to share pain. I needed to share because my mother was an alcoholic. I was about eleven when her drinking problem became apparent to me. It was a major source of the ongoing dissension between my parents. My father was rigid and authoritarian, and belittled and snickered at the way my mother or I did things. I felt like I was always walking on eggshells, afraid I would do something wrong. He got angry with my mother when she was drinking, and I would withdraw or, with great anxiety, try to keep peace between my parents. Keeping peace consisted mainly of trying to convince Daddy that Mother was not really drinking-after all, she told us she wasn’t.
Gradually, I adopted a coping mechanism which today we call Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder (OCD). With me, this manifested itself as mental ruminations specifically in the "religious" area. For example, if I had a "bad" thought about God, I had to immediately think, say, or do something to offset the thought, or else I was convinced Mother would get drunk as a result of my initial thought. I realize that this sounds crazy, and it is; yet it negatively affected me in all aspects of my life.
The problem was all consuming. All day every day my mind was filled with all sorts of obsessive thinking and reasoning. In the middle of the school hall I would kneel down and pray some compulsive prayer. If I had a bad thought in the middle of a syllable I was speaking, I had to go back and start the sentence again. Being on the high school football team should have been a highlight of my high school years. It wasn’t. I remember the scene clearly: twenty-two players on an enormous field. During time-outs while other guys were standing around talking, I was kneeling down with my head on the ground. Perhaps oddest of all was that although I felt embarrassed, no one said anything about it. I knew I was different from other people, but I didn’t know why. What was going on? I couldn’t stop it and I couldn’t define it. There wasn’t a name for this craziness at the time.
Needless to say, these obsessions about God had nothing to do with a real and right relationship with Him. I associated God with ritual–repetitive, ritualistic, compulsive behavior. They were simply manifestations of the obsessive (the initial thought)–compulsive (the offsetting response) disorder.
Life was awful, but I didn’t really know what the problem was or if, in fact, I was that abnormal. Either I did not get the job at hand done at all, or I worked very hard to get it done, since my brain was working on only a fraction of the "cylinders" that others’ were. I was not able to have a series of connected thoughts without them being grossly affected by my ruminations.
Life definitely was hellish. In school I would try to force information into my already overworked brain and hope it would come out in a satisfactory manner when required. Even my speech was disjointed and slow, and I would hang on to certain ideas because my mind did not easily jump from one thought to another.
In addition to the OCD, I developed a perfectionist attitude; my father’s rigid expectations of me led me to have unrealistic expectations of others and myself. I was unduly hard on myself if I made the slightest error or social blunder and I was also hard on those I worked with. If anyone criticized me, I felt hopeless, destroyed and enraged since I felt so weird and unacceptable anyway. This sense of inferiority influenced my performance in academics, sports, extra-curricular activities, and my relationships with people, which, in turn, further reinforced my sense of inferiority.
During all of this time, my parents and I were members of a fairly large Presbyterian Church. My father was an elder there, and we went pretty regularly, assuming my mother was not drunk. It’s ironic, but I depended on my parents a lot for decisions since my mind was occupied with my obsessions and compulsions. Salvation was preached in our church, I imagine, but I certainly don’t remember it being stressed. In fact, I thought people who took their Bibles to church were almost "holy rollers." Most of my religious efforts were wrapped in the OCD ruminations and not in Spirit-reality.
The net effect of all of this was that I became extremely self-centered. My life revolved around how I was going to get through the day. I couldn’t take any-thing in stride. Any slight both enraged me and made me feel inferior. Someone could say five things about me, four of which were positive, but I would remember the one negative and discount the validity or importance of the positives. At the same time, I looked at other people with a condescending, critical eye. I might see somebody on the street, dislike his appearance, and decide that the person was stupid or worthless–without knowing anything about him. I felt life was pretty much the pits. Though I did not lack for any-thing materially, mentally and spiritually I was a wreck. My focus was solely on myself. Even my concern about my mother’s drinking was mainly about how her behavior affected me.
Once I was an adult, had a job, and lived away from my parents, I focused my concentration unhealthily on how I could get ahead in business. When my mother told me my father was dying of colon cancer, my main concern, after the initial shock, was that this knowledge would not interfere with my focus on business. Since I felt like I was working on only a fraction of the brain power of the rest of the world, I didn’t want anything, not even my father’s impending death, to interfere with what I had going on in my head.
By this time in my life I had turned my back on God. I associated Him with my mental obsessions and, frankly, did not give a rip about the Gospel. I inwardly ridiculed Christians and resented evangelism. I even remember thinking and saying on occasion that if anyone ever asks me whether I am saved, I will respond, "No, and I never will be if you don’t leave me alone about it."
While living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (I was working with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company), I met my wife-to-be, Sanda, on a blind date. We drank and fought a lot about the pros and cons of the Vietnam War on that date. However, I was attracted to her, and she was from a well-known family, so I pursued her. She was not that interested in me, but she did keep going out with me. She had attended a Presbyterian Church when growing up also, but she was as disenchanted, sarcastic, intellectually "superior" and discontented as I was. Three tumultuous years later and after I had moved back to Memphis, my hometown, we were married. My parents had changed churches to the Episcopal Church. After members of their church contacted us, we also joined. Actually, I had been a member of an Episcopal Church prior to moving back to Memphis because I thought it was good for business, and I felt better when I went.
We both became actively involved in the church, and I ended up on the Vestry. Although the church presented another avenue for me to seek approval-and move up the ladder–it did not offer any meaningful answer to my needs. In this church, however, there was a small group of people that Sanda and I were drawn to who portrayed a totally different Christianity from the Bible thumping, tacky and bigoted picture of Christians that I had ridiculed for so long. They seemed to have a warm solid foundation of peace that was 180 degrees from where I was. What I needed was a Monday morning religion-some answer to get me through the day. These folks offered me a picture of what I really wanted-peace.
Later that year during an evangelical revival fellowship weekend organized by our church friends, Sanda and I made personal decisions for Jesus Christ and were saved. The guest pastor, Sanda, and I were riding in the car between sessions. Both of us were searching to find out how to grab hold of what we were seeing that these others had. Nobody ever talked about how to become a Christian. As we talked, the pastor, in an effort to get us out of our intellectual gymnastics, said, "Oh, just do it. Take it by faith." My "decision" was somewhat through the back door-in an "Okay, what the heck" way. But by this time we were both desperate and willing to try almost anything. At that time I made an inward surrender to Jesus Christ.
Shortly afterwards I joined a weekly Christian sharing group for business-men, and for the first time I was somewhat honest with peers about my problems. I was also more open to the struggles that others went through. This level of honesty and transparency relieved me of some of my sense of shame and isolation.
A few years later a business opportunity took me to Jackson, Mississippi. When, after seven months, that business relationship collapsed, I was on my own again in a town in which I did not have a lot of experience but had developed a few contacts. In addition, my OCD was still full-blown and raging. I spent enormous effort trying to fight off thinking I was different, attempting to feel like everybody else, and denying the severity of the problem. Eventually, I became desperate to learn how to get God’s help in a practical way. I began to pray and ask God for help with trying to make it through the affairs of everyday life.
I decided to get a real estate license, since I had extensive experience in the real estate business, and subsequently, started my own company in real estate brokerage. This took place less than a year after we moved to Jackson. During those early few months in Jackson, we were introduced to people who would change our lives forever. Sanda was invited to a women’s Bible study/sharing group. Its members had come to know the spiritual reality of Christ’s Spirit working in us/as us once we are born again. We became involved in couples’ activities with them. Two people involved in this group were Tom and Page Prewitt. Through them we were introduced to Norman Grubb.
Though subtly at first, we became increasingly aware of the fact that we were controlled by one of two spirits–that of Christ or that of Satan-and that we are merely vessels through which one or the other operates. There is no "just Fowler" out there trying to succeed. Once I was born again–which I was-the Spirit of Christ replaced the spirit of Satan and became my operator. Though I did not really understand how this replacement worked in everyday life, I did stick with this truth and began to try to apply it in a way to suit my needs.
In 1988, a psychologist helped me to somewhat break the obsessive–compulsive hold over me. A year later, medication for this problem became available. I started to take it, and the effects of OCD receded further. However, although I claimed to be living a Christ-centered life, I was still not sold out to it. My focus was to do things the way I wanted to do them, rather than the scriptural way to do them. I would not have admitted it at the time, but I certainly had some awareness that I might have to give up something I didn’t want to if I chose to let Christ work, through me the way He wanted.
Matters came to a head during the weekend of the 1992 Zerubbabel Business Meeting. I was the emcee, as was the norm for our business meetings. Therefore, I had an ongoing responsibility during the entire weekend. I really didn’t want to be there, though. I didn’t like the possibility that I might be confronted about anything in my life. I knew that I could legitimately be confronted. At some point I was asked, "Does this confrontation bother you?" I answered that I was "concerned" about it. That was Saturday morning. At lunchtime, I walked out of the building, got in my car, and left. I did not return, nor did I tell anyone what I was doing. I drove around letting my feelings surface–which was unusual for me. I was very depressed and anxious. I wondered what really was going on with me: at the heck do I want?
Finally that night, Sanda and a man from the fellowship found me sitting in the dark in my car in my office parking lot. We talked for a few minutes. She then left and the man and I talked on. He was trying to reason with me about my spiritual condition. In an unanticipated burst of honesty I said to him, "You don’t understand. You’re talking to me as if I give a damn." The conversation ended, and I took him back to the meeting. I did not go in.
I kept asking myself what was holding me back, and as I probed deeper I realized that what I wanted was simply to be left alone to do whatever I wanted to do-and not have to answer to anybody about it. My enjoyment in life had been reduced to virtually nothing. It consisted of eating a diet cookie I liked and lying on the couch. That realization stunned me. But once I had become honest about what I wanted–to be left alone–I had to decide if that was how I wanted to live the rest of my life. This was a key factor. Finally I was totally honest with myself about what was driving me, what I wanted. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that honesty was the beginning of my turn-around.
The few weeks that followed were horrible. Sanda asked me to leave the house. I did, without any protest, and went to a motel. I read the Bible during those weeks and talked with some others, principally with my friend, Tom Prewitt. I even got to so basic a place as to question my belief in God.
It was time to decide whether I was willing to live a totally selfish life, knowing that this was not a godly way to live. I had enough fear of God to know that I did not want to do just what I wanted to do regardless of what God said. This was a right fear, not like the obsessive-compulsive fear I had always had. I knew I had to pay attention to what God said. I needed to choose between alternatives. On the one hand, now that I realized what I wanted, was I willing to live like that if there was any chance that it was not God’s way? Was I willing not to live God’s way? I was convicted that I was not putting God first, whatever that meant. The alternative was to put God first. at did that mean? What did it mean to be God’s person?
I knew of nobody as committed to trying to be right with God as the group I was associated with for fifteen years. They lived from the biblical truth that once I was born again through faith in Christ, His Spirit was irrevocably joined to my spirit (replacing my spirit hook-up with Satan), and He operates through me to do His will. There is no "just Fowler" to do anything. I told God that I would stand on this fact from that day forward, and if He wanted me to believe differently, He had better make it clear. I closed all "back doors" to living from anything else. In my way of looking at it, I made a pledge to God-a contract with God. This contract with God changed my life. To believe any-thing else was going back on my word with God, and I was not willing to do that. I would no longer wobble between various opinions.
For some years there had been extensive discussion among several in our fellowship about moving to Boone, North Carolina to start a Christ-based Total Living Center. In fact, our fellowship had bought land in 1984 for this purpose. These discussions were beginning to intensify as to when to move. The time seemed right. I had no question about it, given my recent change of heart. So in July of 1992, my family and I, along with a few other families, moved from Jackson, Mississippi to the mountains of North Carolina. During that same summer, our fellowship bought a motel in Blowing Rock, near Boone, which would provide a ready-made conference center, and include accommodations for people to stay long-term.
Not long after our move, Page Prewitt suggested I take some courses or workshops in counseling so that we could have that added academic aspect to our work. I enrolled initially in a course at the local college, Appalachian State University, for the late summer of 1993, and then in two more for the fall. Subsequently, I applied for and was accepted into the Marriage and Family Therapy degree program, which I started in the summer of 1994. My intent was (and still is) to incorporate my training into my basic mission of spreading God’s truth of Christ in us/as us.
Today I see clients on a regular basis and sometimes travel out of town to work with families in their homes. Some are Christians and some not, but I usually try to bring Spirit reality into my efforts with them. After all, this is the real reason I am with them. It’s pretty ironic, because when I was in school the last thing I ever thought I would be doing was therapy. Psychology seemed weird and far-fetched. Of course, at that time the last thing I thought, also, was that I would be a missionary, which really is what I am.
Moving to Boone and going back to school marked a major change in my life. It is an example of what in therapy circles is called a second-order change–a change outside of the existing structure in which I operated. My world view has totally altered. No longer am I a businessman in a specific business in a specific town. I am a missionary with no limits other than those imposed by Christ as to how He wants to operate through me.
The last seven years have been exciting, but they have also been at times traumatic and very painful. My priorities have totally shifted as God began teaching me through difficult circumstances His sufficiency to walk out a right, laid-down life. My friend and Christian brother who had been such a help to me in my own crisis, Tom Prewitt, left our fellowship to pursue what the Bible calls a sin life-abandoning his responsibilities to his family and divorcing his wife with no biblical grounds. This forced me to examine the implications of who I am as a Christ-operated person. I was irrevocably led to take a specific faith stand for my brother, Tom. I am saying by faith that God will make Tom’s sin clear to him and bring Tom back to Himself. To judge by appearances, nothing has changed with Tom. In fact, he seems to be worse. This only strengthens my faith stand.
This faith position has, to say the least, not been easy, but it has totally changed me as a person and led me to know as I have never before that Jesus Christ is the only source of strength in the universe. He is my operator; my human spirit is inexorably joined to Christ. Even Satan’s strength exists only to the degree that Christ lets him have it. My only responsibility is to choose to be a clear channel for Christ to operate through and not to let Satan trick me into thinking that there is some independent Fowler who exists on his own apart from Christ. That lie leads to pride, wrong fear, and, in fact, all the sins of man.
Oddly enough, one result of believing who I am has been learning who I am not-looking at what a sinner I really was in God’s sight: selfish, rigid, condescending, judgmental. At times I still view others and myself from the same Satanic perspective, but whereas in the past I would stop there, now I catch myself purely on what I believe and apply God’s truth to the situation. "Wait a minute! How does God view this person? "I am grateful for the privilege of seeing people the way they really are-vessels of Christ or vessels stolen by Satan; we are all equal before the Cross. at a difference from the judgmental way I used to see people.
Every day it is becoming more clear to me that "Not I, but Christ" is living His life out in my form as I see evidence of this truth in my own life and the lives of others. Once it was only by raw faith I dared to believe this was true of me; but I’ve been living from this truth long enough (even though learning more all the time) to have seen proof of it-in my own life and in the lives of other people.
I have learned the truth of Norman Grubb’s words: "What you take takes you." Taking by faith that Christ is my operator has gradually become reality to me. I now realize that no other way of living is as fruitful or makes any sense in a practical way; and practicality is critical because if our beliefs don’t help us get through the day, they have little value.
God has brought me to where I am today: walking in freedom. I finally have the peace I sought for so long–peace that to the best I know how, I’m living as an open conduit for Jesus Christ.
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 15 No 1
- The Purpose of the Negative
- Editor’s Note
- Moments with Meryl
- A Look at a Book
- Excerpt from The Intercession of Rees Howells
- New York Fall Conference
- The Story of the Ten
- Faith Action
- Tape Talk
- Life of a D.C.D.
- To Think About
- Questions & Answers
- Bible Study: Nehemiah
- From Jollity to Joy
- The Mailbox
- One Honest Moment That Changed My Life
- Area Fellowship News
- The Key to Everything
- Zerubbabel Focus: Zerubbabel Tape Ministry
- The truth is…
- Words to Live By…