Wyatt was always around. It seemed like he was there at every significant moment in Thomas’s life. As Thomas struggled through puberty and the rollercoaster of growing up, Wyatt was there. As he sought earnestly for the approval of others, Wyatt was always near. Never far away and never lacking for an opinion or advice, Wyatt was there. Even as an adult, Wyatt was around.

As Thomas’s family once again filed into church, Thomas would fulfill his duty as a good church kid. There was never a question; Sunday was simply the day they all went to church. They would pile back into the car when it was over and resume the rest of their “last day off from school for another week” day. But this day was different. This day, Thomas would be baptized.

It had started when Thomas’s little brother told the preacher he wanted to be baptized. Thomas decided he probably should be, too. He was the older brother, after all. It was what good church kids did. So the day had arrived and Thomas would finally get to see the inside of the baptismal pool. It would be something he’d remember. As Thomas came up from the water, he knew “Christian” would now be added to his comfortable church kid moniker. He thought maybe he’d feel something different, but mostly he just felt wet. But it seemed to be the right thing to do.

His parents made sure he and his family were always in church on Sunday. This was what church families did. Wyatt agreed. At least Thomas got to change into his comfortable clothes before they got home this time. That, at least, was something.

In sixth grade, things change daily. One day, you can be making layups, and the next, you trip over your own two feet. One day you’re satisfied with bikes and basketballs, and the next, you’re stumbling over something you’d never thought about before, but will find it hard to keep your mind off, now that you know it’s there. Your mind has been opened to a new world where you’re always the coolest guy around – you’re always the undisputed star. In this world, you’re not the awkward growing boy. Even if you don’t really know how everything looks yet, you can put together a pretty good picture with just a little effort and let your mind take you places you’ve never been before. Thomas was already good at that.

In sixth grade, you make new friends with little thought of how or why. On this day, he’d made a new friend. The invitation seemed cool enough and Thomas decided to hang out with his new friend after school. They were 11 years old, but something dark had already been invading their thoughts and minds and now, for the first time, the graphic images of scantily clad women sent their hormones into overdrive. They learned quickly to keep their thoughts closely guarded and hold those images and the accompanying fantasies locked away for their mind’s eye only. Wyatt confidently told them how to cherish those images and use them over and over until new appetites begged for newer and more graphic images to feed on. The Playboys weren’t the beginning. They were just fuel for the fire Thomas and so many of his friends had already set ablaze in their minds. He didn’t recognize the chain because it was soft and supple and made him feel amazing, even if a little dirty. Thomas and his friends still played ball, but in moments of sweet seclusion they each carried their own theater to replay and augment and enhance every image and star in every frame. Wyatt, of course, told them it was perfect like that. Thomas and the others believed him. They were becoming real men. It was a label they proudly wore, even if they only wore it on the inside.

By high school, Thomas was good at playing his part. He was a “Christian.” His family went to church. He was a jock. Even though he played sports, he didn’t really hang out with the other guys, because they were getting into some things he wasn’t ready to try. Their new interests made him feel awkward. Somehow, he never fit in. He was always scared of how his parents would react if he got involved, so he chose not to get involved in most of those things. Wyatt didn’t always agree, but Thomas knew his own parents better. Besides, there was always Thomas’s private world. No one else knew about it – no one else needed to know. Those first images were pretty tame compared to what Thomas wanted now. But he could still carry his badges without anybody suspecting anything was wrong. Wyatt assured him it was completely normal. Every guy did it.

Thomas attended one party at the end of his senior year in high school, but it still made him uncomfortable. You could call him a good kid, but it was really just because he feared his parents. Wyatt was persistent in trying to convince him to do more, but Thomas was trying to hold up an image, even though he felt empty and void inside. Nobody needed to know that, though.

Initially, college didn’t change his life or circumstances very much, as Thomas stayed at home to go to college locally. He hung out with the guys that hadn’t gone away yet. Most of them were a year younger, so they were still finishing up high school. They would play ball together and hang out. Thomas still wasn’t very comfortable in his own skin most of the time.

When his old friends came back from college, they all decided to hang out. After a long day together playing ball and just being together, they decided they wanted to go drinking. Thomas still didn’t want to go, and they knew it. But, just like Thomas thought they would, they decided to go anyway. They just left him there without ever looking back. Thomas cried all the way back home. He hurt inside. At 19, he knew most of his convictions were pretty weak or easily broken, but standing up for this one really hit hard. This moment would be etched in his memory. Wyatt knew it would be this way. He’d told Thomas as much.

Thomas started going to the parties with his friends. He still wouldn’t drink or smoke, but he’d hang out with them just the same. One day, he was with his friends at a coffee shop as they were smoking their cigars. Thomas’s younger brother was with him. Thomas took the cigar and started smoking it, then offered it to his brother. Wyatt had assured Thomas that no one got addicted from just smoking once. So he offered it to his brother and pushed him pretty hard to take it. “What’s the big deal? You won’t get addicted, if that’s what you’re scared of.” Thomas’s brother was feeling the peer pressure pretty hard – and it was all coming from his older brother. Thomas would later realize this was not one of his shining moments. However, he’d gotten over the hurdle of not smoking. He could hold onto his rules about not drinking for a while longer if he wanted. For now, fitting in was the word of the day. Thomas was doing just fine at that, Wyatt assured him.

By 20, Thomas decided this time, he would join in the drinking. He told his friends he planned to drink. He was excited about it. So were they. Why not? This was a milestone for Thomas. Of course, once he started drinking, he didn’t want to stop. He was completely hammered. He threw up everywhere. On the way home, he had to stop several times just to throw up. But he’d shown his friends he could drink as much as they could. They could call him a drinker now. He knew they’d respect him for it. He desperately wanted their approval, though he would never have said it out loud. He’d been seeking their approval all along. Fitting in was still the word of the day.

Thomas dated. He even hoped his friends were a little jealous of the girls he had. If a girl pursued him, Thomas pursued right back. He was quickly head over heels. He’d do anything to make the relationship work. He’d bend over backwards to make it work. Of course, sex was always part of the relationship. It never dawned on him that some of the girls he dated just made the void inside him greater. The blinders he wore shouted, “We’re just all having fun, being young, doing what everyone else is doing!” The mirror, however, looked back with eyes empty and unfulfilled. So he drank more. He dated more. One night after a pool party, doused with loads to drink ,Thomas had his friends follow him home in their car. When he got home, the door was locked and he couldn’t get in. It was late and Thomas didn’t want to wake his parents, so he decided to sleep in the yard. His trunks were wet and he was getting cold, so he ditched the trunks and curled up naked in a fetal position.

He slept there all night… Naked, cold, and alone.

It was a funny story he told his friends later. He never mentioned the emptiness and purposelessness he was feeling, though. That he kept to himself. He was messed up, but he pushed that deep down inside. Messed up and reckless – those were labels he’d keep tucked away so maybe even he wouldn’t have to see them. But Wyatt and his friends were still impressed – or at least he hoped they were.

At 23, Thomas moved out of his parents’ house into his own apartment. It was another milestone. It was freedom – finally. He could drink when he wanted – even at home. He could have girls over as long as he wanted and no one would care. He could come home however and whenever he wanted. It was free reign, just what every young man wants. But he rarely ever drank at home by himself. He wanted to be around people. So the partying continued.

He’d been working at a local steakhouse for some time now. On his first day his friend Dan posted on the board, “Say hello to my friend Thomas, he’s gay!” Some people knew he was only joking. Some didn’t. Thomas was willing to play along whenever it suited him. He wasn’t ready to make it a permanent label, but he was willing to wear it like one of those “Hello, my name is…” stickers. It was temporary and could be pulled off whenever he liked. That’s when he met Alaina. She was nice to him and he noticed. But she was dating someone else, and so he backed off. There were other fish in the sea and he was satisfied to catch any one that pursued him hard enough.

Thomas had made a deal with his parents that he’d go to college and work and pay for half of his schooling. They’d pay the other half and he’d be able to get out debt-free. Thomas, however, had gotten into the habit of hanging out with some of his friends from work and spending about half of what he made at the bar. He was digging himself into a deep hole, but Wyatt and his friends were always there for a good time, and the new Thomas was always good for a party. So although it wasn’t every night of the week, the times Thomas drank, he drank to excess and would usually end up throwing up at the bar. The four years of college had ended, but he still wasn’t finished and his parents were through paying their share. Thomas started putting his tuition on his credit card and drinking away most of what he made. You could have said he was out of control, but that was a badge he didn’t want to wear – even if it was true.

When he was involved sexually, it was usually because he was dating someone. It had become the norm. However, one time Thomas started a relationship by sleeping with someone – someone he would never have dated if he’d been thinking clearly. The next morning, he was surprised to find his affection for her growing, simply brought on by their sexual encounter. They continued their involvement. She was an alcoholic, and together, they spiraled deeper into an alcohol-filled abyss. Thomas remembered that he wasn’t raised that way, but he felt trapped. After a few months, they broke up, but the connection had been made. Once again, the hurt came on like a stampede. The breakups were harder and more damaging. Thomas’s sexual relationships had excited chemical connections in his brain that seemed to almost tear apart when the end came. It was painful. Emptiness was palpable, but Thomas continued. He’d adopted Wyatt’s motto, “Why not?” Thomas pursued fulfillment – something that satisfied his deepest longings. He was reaching and grabbing, but what he was left with was the wind. It blew through his life, but he couldn’t hold on to anything that mattered. Wyatt reminded him that the “it” he longed for was just around the next bend – through the next binge or on the other side of the next heartbreak. Thomas kept searching.

An acquaintance approached Thomas about his drinking. He assured the man he wasn’t an alcoholic, that he was in control. He didn’t even drink every day. Then, he overcharged on a $15,000 credit card limit and the collection calls began. Wyatt, who’d been with him for so long, began to use words like ‘wasted’ and ‘worthless’ when he was describing Thomas. ‘Drunk’ and ‘pervert’ would surface as well. Thomas was headed downward quickly.

Seeing the hole he seemed to be digging, he chose to live the next 30 days without a drink – whether by financial necessity or choice, his addled brain wasn’t sure. But something had to change. His grandmother had become aware of his financial problems. A lady from a collection agency encouraged him that he needed help. He was beginning to see himself, and it wasn’t a nice picture.

By the end of the 30 days of sobriety, Thomas could feel his head begin to clear from its alcohol fog. He began to look at so many of the things in his life and decided they needed to change. When he got involved in a church softball league and was being pursued by a girl there, he began to ask himself if he’d be better off after they dated, or just further into the pit. He began to make choices rather than always being led by his passions. Little by little, things changed. It was gradual. There were still rough days, bad friendships and failures, but looking back, he could say something had shifted.

That summer was different. Thomas chose not to party with his friends. He chose people to date without being concerned about impressing his friends. Eventually, he even began to pursue someone that hadn’t pursued him first. For the first time, he made a decision based on prayer rather than desire. Shannon was different. As she and Thomas began to date, she introduced him to some Christian books – How To Listen to God by Stanley and others. After they broke up, they continued to hang out as friends. Thomas began to seek after God with a new passion set ablaze. He read these books and more just because he wanted to – something he’d never done before. He began to think that maybe Shannon was the one with whom he’d spend the rest of his life. That would fall through, but that, too, would push him to a place he’d never been before.

One Sunday, years before, Thomas sat in a Sunday School class his brother was teaching and listened as his brother told how he’d had to come clean to his wife about all the rotten things he’d done and how that had hurt her. Thomas didn’t want that to be his story. In the midst of feeling lost in his sexual relationship and drinking, Thomas heard the truth in his brother’s words. At that time, he was too afraid of what he would lose. But years later, God did what only He could do one afternoon.

Thomas sat on his bed and listened to Casting Crowns over and over, and suddenly something in him broke. Whatever God, in His grace and mercy, did in that moment, Thomas couldn’t be the same again. The country music that had been so much a part of his life and had fed his emotional nature was replaced by Christian music, which fed his soul like he’d never believed possible.

He would read Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. After his relationship with Shannon was completely over, Thomas went to his parents’ home and tore through the book, seeking hard after God.

As always, Wyatt showed up. He berated Thomas day after day. He wanted him to go back to all the things they’d done together – all the fun they’d had. He reminded him of all the stupid things he’d done and how he’d never be anything else. He told him he didn’t really have faith. This had all been a lie. He screamed at him, “This is the faith you’ve been running after and look what it’s done to you.”

It was at this point that Wyatt revealed his true identity. He was not just a voice in Thomas’s head – he was Satan, and had always been.

Satan tried to convince Thomas that this faith he was talking about was just garbage. The argument heated up as Satan reminded Thomas he was a drunk and a loser… worthless and hopeless. As Thomas curled up in the floor, Satan began to beat him and kick him. The pain was as real as if someone was actually standing in the room, abusing him, and it was coming harder by the moment. As Thomas screamed in agony, “You can beat me all you want, but I’m not going back there! I’m not going back to that life! Beat me to death, but I won’t give it up!” Thomas realized Wyatt – his constant companion for so long – was the archenemy of his eternal soul. There were no red horns or pitchforks, just chains that he’d been wrapping Thomas in for years. When he left, Thomas picked up another book, Just Like Jesus, and began to tear through it, too. More of the chains began to fall away.

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The label now was ‘desperate’ – desperate for God. He wanted all he could get. He wanted to be crazy for God. And God was ready, too. He’d been preparing for this time.

Thomas and Alaina began hanging out in late March of 2007, just before he turned 26. He remembers many times being a jerk to her over the years they’d known each other. But now, it was different. Things certainly weren’t perfect, but they were both in a place where they wanted to grow closer to Christ. Wyatt continued to show up at times. He was always so persistent. Many times Thomas withstood by God’s power. Sometimes, he was too weak to ask. But the victories were greater and more frequent.

Unlike any other relationship he’d ever had, Thomas decided to buy an engagement ring after just a short time. He wanted to marry Alaina. She was moving to California for a time and Thomas was going to study in Paris. He was preparing to propose to her there. Why not? They were thinking they’d probably move to California. As they both continued to pursue God, they eventually decided to move to Nashville and live in separate apartments until they got married.

Thomas and Alaina had been disciplined about not getting involved sexually like they’d been into before. Wyatt would have tried to tear them apart any way possible, and they knew it. As they concluded one particular pre-marital counseling session, Thomas was keenly aware he wasn’t really being disciplined about not being sexually active with Alaina. Something wasn’t quite right. There wasn’t really even temptation there that he was battling. He was getting that fulfillment somewhere else. The chains of pornography were still there. His appetites had continued to get darker and more divergent in order to satisfy his fleshly passions. While he loved Alaina and was looking forward to their upcoming marriage, he was still immersed in his private world of pleasure. Scenes both heterosexual and homosexual played themselves through his mind and fed his appetites even now.

The day following their counseling session, when they were preparing to travel back to Nashville, the pastor called Thomas. He’d spent the night wrestling with Alaina in his dreams. He’d known her for some time and he’d heard some things during their counseling session the day before that raised red flags for him. Without warning, he asked if Thomas was homosexual. Thomas was taken aback. That was a moniker he’d never accepted. He’d dabbled through pornography and had those temptations but had never actually been involved with anyone physically. The pastor insisted they deal with these issues if he would consent to marry them. Thomas knew it must have been God. It was an issue he was going to have to submit to The Almighty.

Thomas made time to get away and talk to the pastor. It was weird. He told him everything. The pastor talked to and prayed for Thomas for about two hours and said Thomas would need to tell Alaina everything. It would be the only way to give it to God, because whatever he hid would continue to be a problem. On the trip back to Nashville, Thomas very nervously told her in the car. He was simply floored by her immediate reaction. She said, “I understand.” Thomas knew this, too, was God. That would be a big part of his deliverance. God was blessing as Thomas submitted completely to His will.

Thomas and Alaina both knew what they desired the most was for God to wreck their plans and replace them with His own much better ones. They began attending young adults at Grace Church Nashville. For the first time, they were connecting with a group of people their own age that were totally committed to God. Thomas’s heart wanted to know he could be all out for God. He’d always pursued everything in life with an all-out passion. His pursuit of God couldn’t be any less all-out. The young adult group affirmed his passion and gave him the spiritual permission to run headlong after God no matter what.

Now Thomas asks his wife to hold him accountable to always be all-out for God – to be crazy wild after God with a passion like nothing else. He takes that into his work with FCS (Fellowship of Christian Students), which he took over after working with it at his middle school for three years. He takes it into his relationships with students – loving them and helping them see there’s hope in God. Thomas wants them to know that God can change your desires, fill you up, satisfy you, be the Bread of Life and they truly don’t have to ever hunger and thirst again for the things they thought they needed. Thomas works with the FCS students on Mondays for prayer, Wednesdays after school for two hours and on Fridays. He’s open about how God has changed his life and that now he’s a God-chaser all the way. He’s seen amazing victories with the kids at FCS. They’re experiencing tremendous deliverance and the God who changes people – really changes them.

Wyatt still shows up sometimes, but he doesn’t have much of a voice in Thomas’s life anymore. It’s clear that Wyatt – the “why not?” of Thomas’s life – has always been out to destroy him. That mystery has been revealed – big time! The other mystery – the hidden truth that God wants every one of His creation to know – He’s revealing that, too. He’s revealing it through the students with whom Thomas works. He’s revealing through the friends that encourage and challenge Thomas to always pursue God with passion. He’s revealing it through a wife who loves Thomas just the way he is. God’s even restored the brain of the kid with a IQ of 143 that used to make “D’s” in school. Now he memorizes and comprehends scripture and pours it out for his kids to understand.

Maybe it’s really no mystery now at all that God loves Thomas. Hopefully, though, you realize too that it’s really no mystery at all that God loves you that much. He sees the labels, the monikers you wear, whether others gave them to you or you took them on yourself. He sees them and He’s ready, willing and absolutely able to take the labels and give you a new name – Child of the King… delivered… loved… changed. And that, as Thomas tells his students, is HOPE!

042314KellCH001WEBPhoto credit (all): 535 Photo

“Wyatt” is a transliteration of “why not.” Thomas’ “why not,” the question in his mind that continually directed his decisions for things that were not to his benefit, was not a literal person or an identity in his mind that actually spoke to him. It was, simply stated, the tug on his mind and heart to make bad choices, because, well… “Why not?”

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