GRACE IN ACTION - What Recovery Looks Like from The Summit

by Chad Marvin

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As a recovered alcoholic, I often look back on my moment of clarity and the series of events that prompted an about-face, snapping me to attention and giving me enough courage to never pick up another drink. Those events took place over a week's time or so, beginning with the evening of Friday, September 28th, 2007. I won’t share every detail here, but I will share a few things, beginning with this. If it weren’t for the Summit Church in Boise, the probability of me being around would, at best, be poor. I don’t mean "around" as in locale. I mean alive.

When we think of grace, many of us immediately go to Calvary’s cross and the work Jesus did there, shedding His precious blood, the atonement for our sin, giving His life for you and for me. Rightly so. This was Christ’s ultimate grace in action sacrifice. Why shouldn’t we think of it first? But what does grace in action look like now, two millennia after the cross? What I mean to say is … if we can imagine the church as the arms of Jesus reaching out to those God has placed around us, what examples of grace strike you? What grace stories have you experienced? Where does your mind's eye transport you? I will always and forever (at least until I see Jesus) be transported to the beginning of my recovery - a Sunday morning at the Summit Church eleven years ago.

A little history.

I grew up in a Christian home, accepted Jesus as my personal Savior at the age of seven and was baptized at sixteen. My parents drank only occasionally for anniversaries. Even then, I recall full glasses of wine being emptied into the kitchen sink after a sip or two. If there was any left in the bottle, I’m sure it was emptied as well, never stored. Drinking just wasn’t their thing and because I didn’t grow up around it, it wasn’t my thing. Looking back, the first time I recall consuming any alcohol was in the form of beer at a party in college. I felt so uncomfortable around it that I drank two or three sips over the course of the entire evening (like mom and dad) and left the rest.

It wasn’t until years later, celebrating with my wife (our 1st anniversary), that I had let go some of those uncomfortable feelings about alcohol and decided to have a mixed drink of vodka with orange juice. This was my very first encounter with hard liquor. Without any experience, I poured my own concoction that evening. I knew it was going to be strong. My wife jokingly warned me. We toasted, then drank. I can't say for sure why I downed the whole 6 oz glass at once. Maybe I was just trying to be manly or goofy. Who knows? Whatever the reason, I did it. Down the hatch, gone in an instant. Now, if you will, this is where I'd like to have your full attention because even though the focus of this article isn't on the topic of addiction, it's important for you to understand how real and frightening the disease of alcoholism is.

Compared with the number of experiences I've had in my life, there are few which I remember in vivid detail. One of the few is the first day I met my wife. At seven-thirty in the morning she, a complete stranger at the time, knocked on my practice room door on the music campus of Grand Valley State University and asked me if I’d like a cup of coffee. That was that. As of this writing, we’ve been married for twenty-five years. Another is our wedding day; the whole day. When I think of it, it’s like watching a classic film that never gets old. In fact, it gets better with each viewing. There are a handful more. Included are three things that I remember in pristine living color from the minute and a half following my inaugural consumption of that mixed drink.

The first thing I remember: I didn’t like the flavor of the 80-proof liquor that was in my orange juice. It burned my mouth and it tasted like bitter poison as it went down. The intense aroma that followed, hit my nasal passages hard and reached all the way up into my sinuses. It reminded me of the ether I was once required to breathe as a 5-year-old child, just prior to having one of the most dangerous surgeries of the day. In a split second, I relived the sheer terror of lying on the operating table, breathing in that nauseating gas and staying awake just long enough to think about death - before slipping into complete nothing; utter darkness. Yeah, that's messed up.

The second thing I remember: As terrifying as all that first part seemed, it only took about 45 seconds for an intense euphoria, induced by the vodka, to hit me like a ton of bricks. At that moment, (and I mean this quite literally) all my stresses, all my heartaches, the weight of the world, all of it vanished. I felt completely free from everything that weighted me down. This 6 oz glass of liquid, all kidding aside, instantly became my best friend in the whole wide world. There was nothing like it I had ever felt before and there was nothing else I wanted after ... except more.

The third thing I remember: I looked at my wife, who couldn’t believe I had downed the whole glass, and said to her, “Wow, I really like this feeling”. With the most intense look on her face I have ever seen even to this date, she said, “That’s not good”. She immediately took the glass from me and dumped the remaining bottle of vodka down the kitchen sink.

Fast forwarding for the sake of not getting too lengthy here, that wasn’t my last mixed drink and within a matter of a few years, I found myself binging three and four times a week on massive amounts of vodka. I’m sure I couldn’t count the number of times I passed out and woke up next to an empty bottle. One day, early on in my recovery, I attempted to calculate approximately how many. Conservatively speaking, at three binges per week over a period of, say, ten years … well, you do the math. But it wasn’t ten years. It was fourteen, through three worship pastor positions in three churches each church a stepping stone to the next, finally arriving at the Summit Church where I currently serve.  I was highly functional. No one knew about my addiction. I was terribly embarrassed by it, so I hid it well. I hid it from lead pastors, associate pastors, worship team members, choirs, mission teams … everyone. In fact, no one, save for my wife and perhaps a few friends who suspected but weren’t sure what to say, knew anything. I made sure only to drink at home, never in public and never too close to Sunday mornings.

I wanted to stop but I couldn't on my own and I didn't want to ask for help. Not asking for help was my failure. Let me say this again, as clearly as I can. Having a predisposition to alcohol was not my fault. Not asking for help … that was. I had every excuse in the book. As I said before, I was ashamed. I was scared. I didn’t have enough faith to trust what God would do with my private or public outcry. So finally one day, God said … “Enough.”

Then, came grace.

On Friday, September 28th, 2007, I found myself in the back of a police car after driving under the influence. There were no accidents, no injuries. God kept that from happening. Thank you, Jesus. The arresting officer simply saw me flash my lights for some reason, hit the white line and noticed I looked quite tired. For me, sitting in the back of his cruiser put things into perspective and I began to imagine this kind of movie unfold. In the movie, I saw Chad Marvin, a child of the King, who had so much potential but instead of using his gifting, wasted his life away and ruined the lives of others around him. The ending of the movie was terrible. I couldn’t bear it. This had to be the end of my drinking.

On Saturday morning, after being bailed out of jail, I sat down with Jim Steiner, lead pastor of the Summit Church. If you didn’t know anything about this story until now, but you know pastor Jim, this will help you appreciate him all the more. It will also give you a glimpse of what the Summit Church stands for in terms of grace, which is ultimately the inspiration behind this article.

Pastor Jim sat across from me at a table that day in the church library. He did not look at me with judging eyes. He did not frown or show even a hint of disappointment, although I’m sure he must have been somewhat so. He simply asked how I was and then said this, to begin with. “I’ve talked with the board … and we are not letting you go. We love you and we believe in you. There are some requirements we have of you from this day forward, but we are not ..." (and he said it again) "... letting you go.”

I was speechless. Of course, one of the reasons I hadn’t told anyone at any church to this point was because I was afraid I’d be banned from ministry or kicked out of the church or something terrible like that; something I definitely deserved. I paused. In disbelief and in tears I asked, “Why would you do that?”

Then he said these four words that were the very beginning of my healing. He said, “Because, you’re worth it.”

Again, I won't go into detail as to why those words meant so much to me. That's a novel waiting to be written and maybe someday I'll write it. For now, however, I can only say that the way this message was delivered to me gave the moment of clarity I needed to step out of the shadows and into the light. There was no point in hiding any longer. My thoughts were crystal clear. I was at complete peace. I was a child of the King and I was worth it. I can honestly say that simply sitting in the back of a police car would, in reality, not have been enough to break my cycle of addiction. For a moment in time? Yes. But showing real grace? That brought healing power!

The elder board asked me later that day what I wanted to do. They didn’t require me to stand in front of the congregation, but I told them that I believed I needed to. Not only did I feel I owed it to them, but I knew that it was what God had called me to do.

On a Sunday morning, one week later, I stood with worship teams surrounding me and told the Summit Church my story. I told them I needed their help. The congregation rose to its feet and applauded. With abandon, they vowed to help me to recovery. There was a line out the door after service that Sunday, with people greeting me, loving me, sharing their own struggles and victories and giving their assurance that they were there, ready to walk alongside.

I don’t know how you’ve experienced grace. Perhaps you've been the one extending it. If so, thank you. It's because of an individual or a church like you, reaching out as the arms of Jesus that many broken vessels are put back together again. It's why I'm put back together, free from the grip of alcohol for eleven years now.

Thank you, Summit Church! Thank you, Jesus!

With His Music,

Pastor Chad

The Summit Church