Amy was at her breaking point. She was going to take the girls and move in with her parents, as they had been urging. She was ready to end the charade, the vicious cycle of empty promises from her husband Phil. How many times had he tearfully vowed to stop drinking, get sober? She was tired of covering up his drinking problem, but it went far deeper than even she knew. Drugs–cocaine, pills–were consuming his mind, body and soul.
As Amy wrestled with doubt and fear, Phil was on his own collision course with destiny. Literally. What he intended, in his despair, was to end it all. His thoughts raced wildly as he drove toward Detroit to get drugs. The only way out was to kill himself, by overdosing or crashing the car. But something in him, a spark of hope from somewhere (Someone), ignited deep in his soul. ‘Oh, Lord, if You are real, then stop me!’ he cried aloud in his agony. His cry was answered by the Savior waiting to save. Phil didn’t really understand what was happening, he simply felt overwhelmed and had an experience with the Lord Jesus. The ultimate intervention had taken place on a drab, potholed city street, turning a suicide mission into a rescue mission.
He felt so…alive. He called Amy to tell her what had happened, confessing everything to her, finally proclaiming, “I’m going to go to Life Challenge!” A great weariness came over Amy as she listened. She couldn’t put their family through another disappointment. She tossed and turned all night and in the morning knew what had to be done. She headed to their house to pack. How had they ended up with nothing but broken promises, a broken heart, and now a broken home?
Phil grew up in a poor home, a tiny shack in the middle of nowhere in the town of Hartland, Michigan. Rural, lonely, the nearest store miles away down dirt roads.His dad was an alcoholic and addict who walked out on his wife and three young boys. His mom didn’t have a job in those early times, and there were hungry days and rough winters where a noisy hair dryer was the only source of warmth. His mom eventually got a job at a local market, and Phil started working there at 13. That was also the start of his alcoholism, when he stumbled on a tossed out case of beer and drank the entire thing. Then came the pot smoking. It felt good to numb his mind and bury the hurts. Older friends led to harder drugs and his teen years rolled by in a semi-fog. When he turned 16 and got a car he went in search of his dad and had a brief, frenzied period of reunion where all they had in common was drinking and doing drugs. Then, at 21, he met Amy.
Amy knew Phil drank excessively but it didn’t seem unusual to her. Amy thought that Phil would ‘grow up’ and ease off the drinking once they married and started a family. She didn’t know Phil also did drugs and he managed to keep his secret for years. From Amy’s point of view, Phil was a loner who went out and drank by himself. On the surface, to the outside world, everything looked normal. Phil had always worked hard and was now making six figures at the market. They had three beautiful daughters, a house on the lake with fun recreational vehicles, even a rental house. When their first daughter arrived Phil sincerely wanted to change and gave up the drinking and drugs. He did a hospital rehab and stayed sober maybe a year. Then there was AA followed by another stretch of being clean. But the changes never lasted. Each relapse made Amy feel more hopeless and when she discovered he wasn’t just drinking but was doing drugs, she felt utterly defeated.
Yet God had a plan. A divine appointment took place. Phil met a couple, Dave and Sue, who were customers at the market, and an unlikely friendship was formed. They were lovely people, with a big family, and also lived on a lake. And there was something different about them. They were Christians. Little by little, Phil and Amy started sharing what was going on their lives. How Phil’s addictions were affecting them financially and they were struggling to even make the house payment. How he was completely overtaken by guilt and anger and was losing control. Their friends didn’t judge them, they listened, giving loving support and friendship. And most importantly, they started talking–quietly, almost casually–about the Lord. It was all so new to Amy. She was raised Catholic and believed in God but never knew about having a relationship with Jesus. Amy started going to an Evangelical Presbyterian church with those friends, bringing their girls also. All the while, Phil’s addiction was spiraling out of control. Then one day, Phil decided to come along to church. It was no coincidence that a Life Challenge rally was taking place that Sunday morning. They heard the testimonies, stories of deliverance and hope. But Amy never dreamed that hope was for them. She actually cried as she sat there, wishing they had known about Life Challenge years before. It would never work for a married man with kids, she thought. Impossible.They left as hopeless as they had come. A couple of weeks later, Phil hit rock bottom. He got in his car and started driving to Detroit, he had a plan to put himself and his family out of their misery.
When Amy got home to pack and leave Phil for good, there was a voicemail message waiting for her. A woman’s voice said she was calling from Life Challenge and that Phil had been calling the center all night. Amy called back, primarily to let them know that it was too late, “Phil couldn’t be fixed.” The response was unexpected, “He doesn’t need to be fixed, he needs Jesus.” They talked awhile more and Amy found to her amazement that hope was coming alive. Here they were, about to lose their home, she hadn’t worked in years and couldn’t fathom trying to support and care for three kids on her own while Phil was in a program. Yet she felt absurdly hopeful.
It wasn’t long after in 2009 that Phil entered the Life Challenge program.That drive to Detroit was a far cry from Phil’s last one. Then he was headed for darkness and death. Now he was headed for light and life. His first days in the program were not easy.“These people are crazy!” he told his wife. He couldn’t understand the intensity of the Jesus-centric program. During a visit from a Presbyterian pastor, Phil expressed his confusion and was reassured that the absolute love for and from Jesus was just what was needed and he encouraged Phil to stay. Not long after, he experienced that crazy love when he surrendered it all to Jesus Christ. He was delivered from drugs and alcohol, and filled with peace. As Phil puts it, “He completed me, Jesus completed everything.”
Meanwhile Amy was holding the family together, but she was not alone. God was working in her life in beautiful ways through a weekly bible study. There she heard the salvation story, and that Jesus could forgive all her sins. “No matter what the sin,” she asked? To her wonder the answer was yes. She prayed for forgiveness and became a new creation in Christ. With that also came freedom from fear. Amy had been filled with fear ever since she was a young girl. She was afraid of dying, being alone at night, of the kids getting sick. Now, in a moment’s time, every fear was gone. Even though they had lost everything, she knew the Lord was going to take care of them and that He had a wonderful plan for their family. She was right.
Phil was in the program for nine months before returning to his family. About a year after that, he and Amy found themselves at a Life Challenge dinner, never imagining what was next. To her own and Phil’s surprise, Amy leaned over to her husband and said, “I can see us being a part of all this.” Together, they talked and prayed and prepared. Because that is what they do in their marriage, since God has healed and restored their relationship and their family. They describe it as the best of times now, a whole new marriage, a honeymoon that endures.
Fast forward five years. Phil is the Men’s Division Director at Life Challenge. Now he can say, in all honesty, to those struggling with life-controlling, hope-destroying addictions,“I know how you feel. There is hope in Jesus.” In September, Amy joined the LC staff as an Assistant Event Planner in Marketing. As Amy says, “This is not just a job for Phil or me. It is a joy to come every day, because there is such peace and hopeful excitement.” There are four daughters now, sharing the home that God blessed them with, often joining mom and dad at the center. Recently, their oldest girl gave her heart to Jesus and she and her mom were water baptized together. Another chapter in the wonderful story.
Who knew, those years ago when Phil came to Life Challenge broken and bound by addiction, that he would someday be the one telling students how much Jesus loves them, how He has purpose for them? God knew, that’s Who. Because the Master had a Plan.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11