Archive for April, 2015

Chapter 21 – Halls of Justice

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015


Courtroom_164732cFrom my book Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure, rehab, jail and victory.

Remember when you were a kid? You just could not wait for the big days to come. Like Christmas, I would literally count the days off from Thanksgiving. The anticipation was so pungent that I could nearly taste it.  Yet, the anticipation never quite lived up to its billing. So it seems to be with big days. April 10, 2006 was one of those days for me. It was my day in court. I had prayed about it.  I looked forward to it. I trusted God in it.  Truth won! Vindication is a healing balm.  But my victory was so bittersweet that it did not taste like victory should. I stood on the opposite side of the courtroom looking at Kelly, who apparently against the advice of her friend a district attorney, had filed assault and battery charges against me.  Kelly is a Canadian citizen who had actually lived in our home as our guest for over two years while she was going to college and dating the man who stood next to her.  As she stood there I sadly recalled happier times when she used to refer to me as her “American Dad”.  That was the relationship we had. For years Kelly had referred to my son Michael, who was standing by my side, as her “little brother”. Cathy and I had treated her just like we did Michael. How we had loved her!  From what we could piece together from talking to others, she may have been pressured by Gary, her father in law, to file the charges.   I do know that a few days later, he boasted in an email to me that he is the head of the family and whatever he says “goes”.(1)

It seemed telling to me that when the Judge John Brown asked Kelly if she had anything to say against me, she simply replied “No”. Other than myself, the only other eyewitness to the events of September 6, 2005 choose not to testify against the man she had thrown in jail a few months earlier. And that one little word “No” is the final clue that causes me to know in my heart this whole sordid nightmare most likely is a result of Kelly suffering from past PTSD or some similar condition. If you sort of follow the trail, first Kelly told people that I had attacked her. That morphed into I had her down on the floor and one of the construction workers came in the office and pulled me off. Then it became, “It was so horrible I feared that he was going to break my neck”. It apparently peaked when she told people that she was in fear of her life.  So over several months, prior to her time in court on April 6, 2006 she had a lot to say. When she finally got me when she apparently had wanted me why did she not say one single negative word, not one against me?  I believe that at some point she realized that I had only reignited some very horrible memory from her childhood that she is still to this day keeping a secret. Trust me I have some expertize in that area.  No, she will never to come clean, but she could not bring herself to testify falsely against me under oath before God in that court room. I do believe my theory is at least close to the real truth.

All of the folks standing there on the other side were people we love, who positively impacted our lives, folks I had laughed, cried and shared my deepest secrets. And for reasons none of us will probably ever fully understand, somehow together we all screwed that up.  And there we stood in what the judge called this “church mess”, the worst possible example of Christianity to the other 100 or so people in the courtroom. It did not take the judge long to figure out what was going on. He said the only thing worse than a nasty divorce was a “nasty church split”. He dismissed the charges and ordered that my record be expunged.   Relationships are very precious things and they are delicate. Hopefully someday there will be a healing. None of us are getting any younger or are any of us bad people. All of us carry baggage in life. You have to be willing to let go of it in order to get well. My life is a testimony to that fact.

I learned some very painful life lessons in the seven months leading up to my day in court. First and foremost, relationships often come apart so slowly that often you do not even notice. Secondly, when you do notice something is a little out of whack, address the situation immediately. Not addressing it always leads to trouble. Thirdly, do not assume that people will treat you like you would treat them. Fourth, live in the present, not the past.  Yesterday was yesterday and it is gone forever. There is not a thing you can do about it. Move on with your life and live only for today. Fifth, you cannot control what somebody says or thinks about you, so do not even try. Sooner or later, the truth will always rise to the top.  Sixth, realize that you do not need to respond to every criticism. Finally, in every situation in life ask, “What can I learn from this and what changes do I need to make in the way I do life? When I first wrote those words back in 2006 I naively thought that chapter of my life was closed. How wrong I was. Soon “Moon Mail”, both signed and unsigned would begin arriving both in my inbox and my mailbox. It would prove to be quite a ride. It would also be sad, frightening and very revealing.

Coming up next – “Moon Mail”

Complete beta version of my book  for free Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure,rehab and victory. http://johngouldener.com/?page_id=3877

Misinformation

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Misinformation2There is a lot of talk/debate going around in Christian circles lately over the nature of hell. Someone asked me Sunday what it is like. I replied that I do not know and hope I never find out.  Personally, I find God a much more intriguing subject. Some time ago, a man from London, England contacted me through my blog (http://johngouldener.com). He said if he lived in Nashville, that he would try our church. For most of his life he has not wanted anything to do with God.  He feels that God has let him down too many times. Like so many others, as a child he was terrified of God because his church and his parents taught him that God was up there just waiting to “swat me to like a fly”.

Ouch! What he said resonated with me. Frankly, that is what the church of my childhood taught me or at least that is what I thought it taught. Like the Brit, many of us have misconceptions about God that find their roots in faulty teaching. The problem is, when you believe stuff that’s not true about God, you’ll feel guilty when you shouldn’t. You’ll carry fears you don’t need to carry. You’ll worry about things you shouldn’t. Perhaps, you could even end up like my new friend from across the pond who doesn’t have anything to do with God. That would be a tragedy; all because you misunderstand or you were taught stuff that was wrong about God.

That kind of misinformation will rob you of a great portion of your happiness and you will never be completely fulfilled. It might even cause you to have more than a passing interest in the nature of hell.

Hopefully, you have a best friend — one that you know backwards and forwards. You can probably complete his/her sentences. How did you get to that point? Did you read about him? Did someone tell you what she was like? Did someone teach you about him? My guess is that it was none of the above. Oh, perhaps someone introduced you, but you got to know each other by spending time together. That is the only way you will ever accurately know God. You can begin to get to know God anytime you are willing to shut it all down and spend time alone. Trust me, nothing else will work. Why not start with five minutes right now? I expect He is waiting just for you.

Something to think about

Check out online beta version of  my book Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure,rehab and victory. http://johngouldener.com/?page_id=3877

Chapter 20 In the Jailhouse Now

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Vector illustration of a man in jail

From my book Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure, rehab, jail and victory.

Friday afternoon December 16, 2005 I had just stepped off the elevator at Baptist Hospital on my way to ICU to check on Alexia, the daughter of one of our members who was in a coma and near death when my cell rang.  It was David Raybin, my attorney, who was representing me in what he called “The Great Church Mess”. “John I hate to spoil your day but your friends are on their way to the DA’s office to get you a Christmas present. They are determined to swear out a warrant for your arrest. They have no grounds, but we have to follow the procedure.  I suggest that you go by Capitol City Bonding and have Mary accompany you to the Criminal Justice Center to turn yourself in.  I’ll call her and give her a heads up. That way you won’t risk embarrassment of being picked up at home. You will be out in a couple of hours, you’ll have it behind you and it will be quite an experience. You might get some good stuff for a sermon”. Actually, I felt relief. For over three months Dave had been threatening to have me arrested on a trumped up charge unless I bowed to him. Every time I saw a police car in my neighborhood I had visions of them leading me out the front door of my house in cuffs and everybody in our cul-de-sac looking on. Dave had what he described as a “Countdown Calendar”.  On several occasions since the events of September 6, he had threaten me with arrest by saying things like, “I still have 340 days that I can have you arrested. All I have to do is call the cops”.  At first the threats scared me to death because he is the most tenacious and unrelenting person I have ever known. His tenacity had served him well and was one of the reasons for our success at Highland Park Church.  In fact it was one of his character qualities that I had admired greatly.  But when he used it for bad it was something very frightening.

I had recently learned that somebody had sent a series of threatening emails to another pastor in the neighborhood (1). The emails were sent under the assumed name of “Darren Liff” essentially threatening the pastor with disruption of his Sunday service. At his wits end the pastor had shown them to his friend, Martin Ameroa , who had done some graphic design for us at HPC and had also traveled to Chicago with Dave and me for a conference a few years earlier. Martin somehow traced the threatening emails back to the Robinson Insurance Agency static IP Address (2). Because of Martin’s business and personal relationship with Dave, the pastor did not involve the police. However, he did send Dave an email saying “If you have something to say I’ll be glad to meet with you face to face”. The pastor got no reply nor any more threatening emails.   It is mystifying how you can think you know someone so well, but then you see a brand new side.  That paradox is basic to our human condition. The first time Dave threatened to have me arrested he involved my 89 year old mother into his threat by pointing out how my arrest would affect her. I just looked at him and shook my head.  I had also learned through a mutual friend that he had attempted several weeks earlier to have me arrested, but the DA, who had a child on Dave’s softball team, would not issue the warrant and referred the matter to mediation.  She saw it for what it was when she termed it a “church split” which was exactly what it was all about.

When Dave and his dad took control of the church while I was away at Sierra Tucson, Dave had told Lou Alvarez that only “ten people or so would leave the church”. When their plan started to go south and the truth came out over 300 people left.  Perhaps that fired up their “Let’s have John arrested” juices.  After my attorney’s call I felt like a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders. At least my old friend Dave would no longer be able to threaten me with a ride in the backseat of a police cruiser. I chalked that up as a “W” in my column.  I also naively thought the end of this nightmare was finally within sight. It was Friday night; the jails would be full so I figured they would not waste much time with me.  I continued to ICU and prayed with Alexia’s family, picked up Cathy and we headed to the “seedy side of town” to seek the services of Capitol City Bonding. Somehow God had taken all the fear and embarrassment of what was happening away. I felt like David from the Old Testament, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.” Psalms 23:4-5 (NLT).

Mary was expecting us. She told me I was not her typical customer. I thanked her for the compliment. Mary explained what would happen at the jail. She expected that the whole process would take between two and three hours and that I would actually be in a cell for less than an hour. The rest of the time would be waiting, fingerprinting and having my mug shot taken. Speaking of the mug shot,  Dave’s dad George was kind enough to email it to me many months  later in one of his  ”Moon Mails” with the following note.  “Attached is a classic picture from days gone by. It should evoke some special memories.  We’ve had a sterling time with it.”(2) It is in the appendix. Be forewarned it is scary. I signed all the bail bond forms, Mary gave Cathy her business card and the three of us walked the four blocks to the CJC on a raw December night. While we were walking over, I asked her if she ever had any famous clients. She told me that she was Adam “Pacman” Jones’ personal bondswoman. I never in a million years expected to have anything in common with Pac!   Mary did tell me that he is really a “good guy”.  When we got to the jail we learned that there was no warrant. The clerk speculated that the warrant would not come down until Monday because the warrant office closed early on Friday.  I was extremely disappointed. I would not be arrested that night.  I would have to wait another three days. I did not like that idea, but we made the best of it by going to dinner at Outback.

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Monday December 19, as I was leaving a meeting at the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office, Mary called. The warrant had arrived. She had told the clerk that I would be in later in the afternoon to surrender. I picked up Cathy and we went to lunch at McDonald’s on Hillsboro Road. While we were eating Parker Sherrill called; when I told him I was I was on my way to jail, and had stopped at McDonald’s, Parker started roaring with laughter about me choosing a “Big Mac as my last meal”.  He got me tickled to the point that my Diet Coke came out through my nose. For some reason when logic told me I should be terrified, we were all laughing under the Golden Arches!  Perhaps God was laughing too. His Word says, “The wicked plot against the godly; they snarl at them in defiance. But the Lord just laughs…” Psalms 37:12-13 (NLT) God is not necessarily logical, but He is always working in our lives if we will just pause in the moment to feel Him and let Him love and guide us. He has shown Himself to be the “Big G God” time after time in my life and this was another example of His unending protection.   We parked at Mary’s office and again the three of us walked back over to the CJC arriving shortly after 2 PM. This time all the paperwork was in order. Mary explained to Cathy and I that I would be released between 5 and 6, and that she would come back over with her for my release.

I gave Cathy my watch, wallet, and college ring. Cathy and Mary then left the building.  I recall feeling very lonely, but still without fear. I thought “This cannot be real” and then a sense of profound sadness enveloped me. The very best friend I had ever had, whom I still loved greatly, was having me arrested without cause, as the court would conclude in four months.  So very sad! I walked into the booking room; a sergeant came over and told me to have a seat and relax. He also said they did not get many preachers. He then recalled that several years ago he did book a preacher for murder. One of the most interesting afternoons of my life was just beginning. I did not have to wait long. The door opened and two officers escorted a handcuffed gentleman who was claiming it was all a “big mistake”.  Nobody I met in jail that day was “guilty” including me! They sat him down and walked away to confer with the sergeant. The guy looked at me and wanted to know why I was there. I told him it was a long story, but the bottom line it was part of a church split. He knew “about those” and proceeded to tell me about his “old lady’s” church splitting. Then he started yelling that it was all a big mistake and he was innocent. I asked him what was going on; why was he there?  I found out during the Church Mess that real life is much stranger than fiction. You just cannot make this stuff up. My new friend’s name was Mr. Peanut and he did have a striking resemblance to the Planter’s man. That very morning Mr. Peanut had been released from the Tennessee State Prison after serving time for robbery. He had been out of prison less than six hours and here he sat in handcuffs in the booking room. Soon I realized that the focus of my sadness had suddenly shifted from me to Mr. Peanut. I wondered what in the world was going on with him that would prevent him from staying out of trouble for even a day? Could he not stay out of jail for one single day? Peanut was stopped for a traffic violation. Since he did not have a valid license the police ran a check on him and found an outstanding warrant for “failure to appear” that was several years old.  I asked him what that meant and he explained that when he was in jail that he had missed a court appearance on another traffic charge, so a warrant was issued for him failing to appear. He said, “Hell, preacher I could not go to court if I was already in jail could I?”  It seemed to me that he had a valid point. He was very vocal about his innocence and several times the officers told him to calm down. Suddenly, he screamed, “This ain’t _______ right. Why am I in cuffs and this guy (that would be me) is just sitting here as pretty as he pleases?” One of the officers replied, “Do you want me to cuff him?” The officer’s question sent a chill down my spine. Mr. Peanut replied, “No”.  With that Peanut and I had bonded a bit like blood brothers. Before long the jailer came and took Mr. Peanut away. We wished each other luck. Our paths would cross again.

About 3:15 Sergeant Williams asked me to come over to his desk so he could do the paperwork on me. As he entered the information into the computer, we talked about the arrest warrant and our churches. I learned that he was very active in his. Right there in the booking room we talked about the possibility of the two churches joining together in some type of outreach. Unfortunately that has not worked out. It was obvious to me that God had put him in my path that day; my booking was nothing like I see on “Cops”!  After we finished he walked with me back to the actual jail area where I was fingerprinted and had my picture taken. Thank God I was not required to hold up a number! I found the entire process both humbling and extremely interesting. When we were finished with that I was told to sit in the hallway and enjoy the “show”.  I soon realized that I had a front row seat for real life “Cops”.  I heard loud talking, then suddenly the door banged open and a Metro Policeman pushed in a guy who was three sheets to the wind. He was cussing and screaming to beat the band. I must have sat there nearly an hour watching a steady parade of prisoners being brought in handcuffs. It was quite the show. Surprising to me it seemed that everybody knew everybody!

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Sergeant Williams came over to inform me that he would have to put me in a cell shortly; he told me what to expect.  As we talked I made the comment that I was grateful for the way I had been treated. He said, “Pastor it is because this is your first visit. The others you see here have been here so many times we know them. It is like a revolving door, but that is the system we have”. I asked him how many of his regular customers had grown up with a mom and dad in the home. “Very few — this is the only life they know.”  Just before five he came back and asked me if I was ready to really see the rest of the jail.  “Yes I am”.  As we walked toward a remotely operated door he explained that I would be in a cell with five other men. The door to the pod opened; as Sergeant Williams stood at the door I slowly walked down the cellblock to an open cell door on the left. It was like being in the twilight zone. No sooner had I cleared the doorway than I heard the sound of steel banging shut behind me. For a split second I was terrified —- until I recognized a familiar face. There was Mr. Peanut! I do not think I have ever been as glad to see somebody in my life. “Welcome to Metro’s finest” he said. Again I saw God’s mighty hand at work.   Standing in that cell with four pair of eyes staring at me, was frankly beyond the twilight zone. It was off the charts!  There were actually five other guys in the cell; however, one was passed out under a bunk.  I sat down on a bunk next to Peanut. A man across from us was bitching because he had been arrested; he said “without probable cause”. He had been pulled over on Ellington Parkway. A search of his automobile turned up a loaded pistol and a bag of crack. He had recently been released from prison after serving time for attempted murder. He was now out on parole. He openly admitted to me that he was guilty, but insisted that his constitutional rights had been violated because he was stopped without probable cause. According to him the whole thing was “A crock of _______ because I was a victim of those mother ______ cops profiling me”. Of course I agreed with him! About that time I heard a racket from under the bunk where the guy was passed out. He crawled out on all fours and vomited all over the place. It was quite the sight and sound! I flashed back to my party days at The University of Tennessee. I silently asked, “God are you still here”? I was pretty sure he was.

Peanut started screaming for the guard to come. Soon the door opened; a trustee with a mop bucket and a garbage mouth entered to clean up the mess. Before he had finished up, the supper cart rolled up with the night’s entrée — two plain baloney sandwiches on white bread and one of those drink boxes of Kool Aide – no chips and no cookie.  I passed on the grub. At that point in time, I do not think I could have eaten one of those if my life depended on it. The door opened again and now there were seven. Like the rest of us he was innocent too. Somebody “set him up”. He did not know the crack was in his car. As I sat there nearly in a trance, I noticed that there was a phone on the wall. A telephone right there in the cell! I asked Peanut what the phone was for. He replied, “So you can call out of this mother ______ hell-hole, but you gotta call collect.” I picked the phone up and called Cathy to make sure she had not forgotten about me. It was surreal. I was making a collect call to my wife from jail!  Her voice never sounded so good.  She told me that Mary had called and told her to be back to CJC around 5:50.  She was going to park at the bonding company and Mary was going to walk with her to meet me upon my release.  As soon as I got off the phone, Mr. Peanut whispered, “Preacher can you please call your wife back and asked her to call my daddy to come down here and bail me out.” Of course I did not mind; Mr. Peanut and I were jail bird buds. Things had gotten somewhat quiet in the cell and I thought that the new guy looked familiar. I knew him from someplace. He seemed like he was eyeing me too. I hoped that was the reason for his attention.  So I asked him, “Where do I know you from”?  He replied that he was thinking the same thing about me. He asked me if I had done time in the pen or did I ever frequent a bunch of places I never heard of.   Finally I asked him if he had ever attended Highland Park Church. He had not. Then he said, “Dude you are the cool preacher; you used to come to the Mission on Thursday nights. What are you doing here? This ain’t right!” I agreed!  It is a small world. I had in fact spoken at the Mission many times. Fifty minutes after the door had slammed behind me it opened again; my named was called. I was a once again a free man. On the way home I asked Cathy if she had called Mr. Peanut’s dad.  She had.  His reply to her was, “Tell that SOB to never call me again”.  How sad!   That afternoon was one I never want to repeat, but it is one I would not take anything for the experience.

Coming up next. My “Trial” and what Judge John Brown had to say in open court.

Complete beta version of my book  for free Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure,rehab and victory. http://johngouldener.com/?page_id=3877

Heart Trouble

Monday, April 20th, 2015

heart-healthWhile finishing the manuscript for my book, Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again (You can read the beta version for free at johngouldener.com), I discovered an email a friend sent to me several years ago. In it he said that his “passion in life is to seek the heart of Christ”.  I cannot say anyone has ever said that to me before; albeit, I’ve read the phrase in religious books. Prominent Christian thinkers down through the ages wrote about it — St. Paul, Augustine, and Thomas Merton to mention a few.  I’ve heard preachers talk about it, usually in esoteric terms requiring more effort to grasp than I was willing to give at the time.  “The heart of Christ” — what exactly does that mean?   Is it simply “Christianese” jargon?  Is it a meaningless clique?  Is it more?  Can mere mortals actually have the “heart of Christ”?

I have come to the conclusion that to have the heart of Christ is not technically possible on earth. To have it would require perfection. Paul tells us that only comes in heaven. However, I am just as sure that we can come reasonably close and much closer than we are at this moment. I am confident that “reasonably close” is what all of these men meant when they wrote about the “heart of Christ”.

For me to have the “heart of Christ”, I must strive for a Jesus style of unselfishness. Right off the bat that requires me to be “others focused” instead of “me focused”. I came out of the womb with me-centric heart trouble.  The implications for my life, if I should actually flip-flop that setting, are enormous. Am I willing to let others go before me? What about my plans and priorities? They will have to come second, third or even further down the chain.  To have the “heart of Christ” requires a radical compassion of constant outpouring of one’s self to benefit others. Without that, it is meaningless “Christianese” mumbo jumbo. However, with it we can change the world.

Philippians 2:6 -7  (NLT) Though he was God,  he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;  he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got quite a ways to go to get my heart trouble under control.

Chapter 19 Now What?

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

ok-now-whatFrom my book Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure,rehab and victory.

The wheels of the Southwest 737 hit the runway at exactly 6:59 PM, a full six minutes ahead of schedule. As we taxied toward the gate, the captain said, “Welcome to Nashville. It is 74 degrees, partly cloudy skies and the wind is out of the southwest at 5-10 MPH”. I was home! Now what? That was a remarkably paradoxical moment in time for me. Over my lifetime, I had landed in Nashville perhaps a hundred or so other times. Each of those was accompanied with the classic feeling that it is nice to be home.  However, with this landing things were different. Part of me was indeed happier than ever before to be home; but there was another part that was terrified. In a sense I kind of longed to be back at the safety of Sierra-Tucson.  As the plane made its way across the tarmac, there was a battle raging inside my soul for which part of me was going to be in control of my life from that point.  Would it be faith or fear?

Making my way through the gate and into the terminal, I thought about what I was going to do with the rest of my life. The truth was I was clueless. Three months earlier, I had stood on the stage of our new building facing a roaring crowd of nearly 800 people, as we dedicated what turned out to be the grand climax for Cathy and me of a twelve year journey helping our incredible team to build Highland Park Church. I understood that chapter of our lives was now forever in our rear view mirrors. Life seemed very black and hopeless.  I was wallowing in a pigsty of largely self-imposed pity, doubt, hurt and shame. After nearly five weeks of intense therapy to peel back the layers of my life,  my emotions were raw and fragile as eggshells. Walking through the corridor with a carry on over my shoulder, I feared I was going to start crying. Approaching the unsecured area of BNA, I was finally able to catch a glimpse of Cathy and Michael.  My God what a beautiful sight they were! I recall thinking, “This must be how it feels to be released from prison”.  In a sense I had been — a prison of my own bad choices spread over many years of trying to cope with being me. Even thought I was a free man, I would choose to live in fear for a few more months.

No sooner had the car doors closed in the short term parking area, than the tears cascaded forth from the deepest recesses of my soul. I remember thinking, “What must Cathy and Michael be thinking?” Yet, I was powerless to stop them. I cried nearly all the way home. I had lost our church, a few people whom I had mistakenly thought were my friends, let down 800 or so other people who had trusted me to lead them and damaged my relationship with Cathy. I felt like a hybrid concoction of a sucker, a fool, a loser and a cry baby thrown into a blender and pureed at a super high speed.

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As best as they could, Cathy and Michael tried to support me. Michael stayed at the house until late that night fielding questions from me about how the betrayal had actually gone down. He related how Dave had told him a few weeks earlier, “Michael, I am between my best friend and my wife. If I choose my best friend, my wife will leave me”.  As much as I would like to believe that he was caught between a rock and a hard place, I knew that was not the case. His actions would later prove that his words were just so much “Robinson BS” and most likely an attempt to shift the blame for his betrayal to his wife.

The next day Lou Alvarez came to the house with even more bizarre and ominous details of what taken place. He told me how he and my sister, Kathy, had successfully pressured Dave to show him, Dave and Diana Mitchell, my sister and sister in law the security camera video of the alleged incident. As I already knew, it did not support the Robinsons’ specious claim that I had been in a rage or that there was any kind of violent argument between Kristen and me. It showed Kristen and me calmly talking and Glenn walking away from us without even glancing in our direction. Unfortunately for me, the camera angle did not show me put my arm around Kristen nor did it contain any sound. When church members later demanded to see the video at a church meeting, Dave refused and said it was “too graphic”. The truth was it graphically proved he was a liar.  When church folks started asking Dave tough questions, I was astounded to learn that he had ramped up into overdrive what I believe to be his narcissism – driven compulsive lying nature; albeit; I am no psychologist. For starters, he told some of the church people that I was a gay.  I was stupefied!  In Lou’s presence, I called Dave on his cell. When he answered I said, “Dave do you think I am a homosexual? He replied that he did not. When I asked, “Then why did you say that?” he blamed it on my sister, Kathy, for upsetting him in the meeting when the security camera video was shown. He said, “I just said it to get her to off my back”. I suppose that is a perfectly logical answer from a son of a father who taught him that he is to be both “sanctified” and “perfect”.

During our brief conversation, I told him that my phone had been ringing constantly and that the church that the two of us had helped build for the last twelve years was on the verge a total collapse. He asked two questions. “Who has called?” and “What can we do?”  I purposely ignored the first replying, “We tell the true story and let the chips fall as they will.”  Dave replied “We have to figure out how and what we are going to say, but I do not want to come to your house or you come here. Where can we meet?”  Lou and Ann were leaving town for a short holiday at first light, so Lou suggested that we meet at his pool house the following day. Dave and I agreed to meet at 11 AM. Frankly, I thought that just maybe we could still avoid a full split of Highland Park Church.

The following day Dave called me on my cell, as I drove on Woodlawn Drive, abruptly saying he was not going to meet with me. It seemed clear to me that Poppa George had used his family veto power to sabotage our meeting in order to maintain his new found control of Highland Park Church. Several months later, George would shamelessly brag to me that he is in control of his family. In our phone conservation, Dave said to me, “I do not want you to ever call me again, but it is OK for Michael to contact me”.  I thought that was a bit strange, but we were in strange times.

My phone continued ranging literally off the hook. Over the next couple of weeks, I got well over 250 phone calls and visits of support. At that time, I had two land lines at home. On several occasions both of those were in use or ringing while I talked on my cell or vice-versa.  Many of the calls and visits brought new revelations of additional lies (1). It soon became apparent that Dave was so compulsively lying to save his tail that he was unable to remember his last lie; because often he contradicted himself with the next.  That prompted my dear friend Jim Fyke, who at the time was Commissioner of Environment and Conservation for the State of Tennessee, to remark, “In time Dave would be exposed for what he is because he would be unable to remember what lie he had told to whom. We soon found that Jim, in addition to being an amazing public servant was also quite a prophet.

Sadly, I learned that Dave and his minions had told gay people that I was homophobic, straight people that I was gay and black people that I was a racist. Whatever lie would do the most damage to me with a particular individual was told. For instance on October 9, 2005 he told Lou Alvarez, Kathy Kirkham, Dave and Diana Mitchell that he caught me downloading porn on the church office computer and that “John and Cathy’s marriage is on the rocks”. He went so far as to say that I was sleeping at the church because of my “troubled marriage”.  He told Irene Lowe that I had physically abused both my son and wife. Wilma Cooper told me a heartbreaking story that brought more tears to my eyes. While I had been away she had gone to Dave’s office to give him several cards of encouragement that she had written to me. Wilma had asked Dave to get them to me; he promised her that he would. They never came. Wilma later called to tell me that George had called her and asked her to “misremember” another conversation she had had with Dave. Several other people told me that they had inquired to Dave where they could send cards while I was at Sierra Tucson. Dave told them I could not receive any mail whatsoever. People called to tell me that Dave had told them that I had lost my mind and that the doctors at Sierra Tucson had told him that I would never recover. Of course it would have been against the law for anyone at Sierra Tucson to talk to Dave about me. Clearly, any thinking person who had known me and without an agenda could see through the Robinsons’ deceit.

I am not capable of expressing the sick feelings I had when I learned of the wicked litany of spurious words coming from the mouth of a man whom I had loved like a brother, a man whom I had always put his welfare before my own, a man that Cathy and I had helped put through college and finally a man whom I had mentored from a clerk’s job with a highly perilous future at mom and dad’s family business to the co-pastor of one of the most successful churches in Nashville. At every opportunity, during our time together at HPC, I had gone out of my way to promote Dave to our congregation. That is an indisputable fact.

73

However, the fact for me was at that moment in time, I was unable to process any of what I was hearing. To be betrayed and then lied about by someone you love has to be close to the top of the pain scale. I had not been prepared for what I was hearing from so many people. I became so depressed that I wanted to die. While still in Arizona, it had been easy to figure out that the Robinsons’ thrust for power and control, along with Dave’s need to please his dad and finally be number one at something — anything was behind the split. That was obvious, but never did I imagine the depths into their personal cesspool they would sink to try to not only take the church, but destroy me personally. Knowing the dysfunctional Robinson family dynamics, I could wrap my mind around them taking the church piece of the pie, but the concerted attempt to destroy me by lying as long as it would take, I could not deal with that. Now years down the road and with much more perspective, I am sure that was not their original plan, but when church people did not buy their highly fabricated allegations about the incident involving Kristen and me, which I was technically guilty (2), but certainly not morally or intentionally guilty. As those people demanded to hear from me, because of their character, the Robinsons were forced deeper into their family vault of lies, distortions, jealousy and highly fermented hate. I believe that their actions had their genesis in the pit of hell itself, but I might be giving the Devil too much credit.

Be that as it may, once again, real life had proven to me the unfathomable power of evilness in formally decent people, who I believe both surrendered their souls not only to the Devil, but also to the insatiable drive of their hyper inflated egos.  Their despicable lies were incalculably more painful than the loss of the church. Had it just been the brick, mortar and the note to the bank, I would have been wounded deeply, but not nearly destroyed.  Their focused attempt to annihilate me, my wife and my son,(5)  sent me into a chasm of total and complete despair and into a depression so deep and intense that I considered taking my life. I actually thought out how I might do that. I owned a handgun, a 32, but I was afraid that might just wound me without killing me.  One night I lay awake thinking about buying a shotgun. I kept coming back to the effect that taking my life would have on my family and that the Robinson’s would surely spin my suicide as a victory for them. By taking my life I would get them off the hook. When I figured that out I scratched that option.

I am confident I would never have done that, but I did have those thoughts. Those thoughts scared me greatly!  Thank God Parker Sherrill ignored Dave’s injunction prohibiting the sending of cards to me. Parker sent me a wonderful card of encouragement. I had called him on September 27 so he knew the truth. In the note Parker asked me call him when I got home. So the morning after thinking about buying the shotgun, not knowing what else to do, I reached out to Parker; we scheduled a meeting at his house for 8 AM the next morning.

Driving to Parker’s, my mind was thousands of miles away. As I was passing the Harpeth Hall School on Estes Road, I noticed a policeman on the roadside up ahead holding a radar gun pointed in my direction. I immediately glanced at my speed and thankfully I was doing 32. No problem I thought. It is funny now, but it never occurred to me that I was speeding through a 15 MPH school zone! The ticket brought me back to reality.

Parker was able to discern that I was in trouble both mentally and emotionally.  He had invited Steve Renner, a man whom I did not know at the time to join us. They jointly came to the conclusion that I was in need of immediate help and did not need to be left alone. That was a Friday morning; Parker suggested that, along with our wives, the three of us go to his lake house on Tims Ford Lake for the weekend. Both Steve and Parker agreed that I needed an attorney to address some of the most odious of the Robinson lies.  Steve made some phone calls and quickly put me in touch with Barbara Moss of Wyatt, Tarrant and Combs, LLP. Barbara is an amazingly compassionate woman, who immediately swung into action to warn both Dave and Glen of the consequences of any further lies.  Her letters got their attention as the most egregious of their cache of deceits came to a screeching halt at about the time Barbara’s courier hand delivered the two letters the following week. I have no doubt that God himself directed me to Barbara.

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We all agreed to meet at the lake house later that afternoon.  When I got home, I had eight or ten voice mails. As bad as I felt, God allowed me to begin to soak in the outpouring of love from so many people. Actually, many of them I really did not know except to say “hello” at church. A few I only knew from attendance cards and had never actually met. One of the early calls came from Matthew Marth our top singer at HPC. During the call he said, “John I do not know what to do”. I replied, “Matthew, you need to stay at HPC”.  As Cathy drove us to the lake house, my cell phone rang. Dave Robinson was calling. I answered by saying, “Dave I thought you did not want to ever talk to me again”.  He accused me of inciting church people against him. I retorted, “Dave, your own lies may be inciting folks, but I do not know what you are talking about. One of the reasons I have left town is I want this crap to cool down a bit”. I told him I was going to spend the weekend with Parker and Susan and would be away from my home phone on purpose.  He then asked specifically if I had heard from Peggy Sells. When I replied that I had not, like a child he claimed that she was on “Kristen and my side”. I did not believe that for even a millisecond.  Then the same Dave Robinson, who two days earlier made a great big production in telling me to never call him again said, “If you need to call me, only call my cell”. Bingo! Since at that point in time, Dave was only in his church office on Wednesdays and at the Robinson Insurance office at his parent’s house the other days of the week, it was clear Dave did not want his daddy to see any calls from me on the insurance office phone. It was also apparent to me that poppa George had most likely put him up to telling me to never call him.  In all probability, I expect he was in the room with Dave during our previous phone call.  It was amazing the power Dave had apparently surrendered to his dad. But I knew how much Dave longed to win his father’s approval. That is a need every man has to deal with and one he had acknowledged to me openly on previous occasions.  It is a need that I myself had struggled greatly.

Several years earlier Dave had come to my house quite upset because George had told him that he was going let Galen come into the insurance business. He claimed his dad had promised him years earlier that would never happen. Dave was in tears; he talked about taking his life. I was worried about his welfare. During the conversation he told me that George had always favored Galen and that this dad had never told him that he loved him. I explained that was the case for many people, but that I quite certain that George was proud of him in a big way. I encouraged him to sit down with his dad and be honest about his feelings. He came up with a plan where I would meet with his dad to tell him how upset he was. That night I met with George. The following day the three of us met for lunch at Shoney’s Restaurant in Bellevue and during the meal Dave finally heard the words he had longed to hear for 36 years. “Dave I love you”. The folks around us must have been taken aback to see three guys crying. It was a good cry and a special day. Galen never came into the insurance business.

When Cathy and I arrived at the lake house, Parker and Susan were there and Steve and his wife Donna arrived shortly. During dinner I learned that Donna was a therapist. She spent the entire weekend being there for me and Cathy. It was an incredible experience!  A perfect stranger, who undoubtedly had other things to do, gave up her weekend to help a man she did not know. Before Friday night was over, I felt like I had known Steve and Donna for years. Parker and Susan are the most giving folks I have ever known. I retrospect it was just like them to take me under their wings at a time of my greatest need. One of the joys of our lives  is that out of our relationship with Parker and Susan, since that evening Cathy and I have become much more generous people one on one with folks who are in need.

Saturday, morning I got a phone call from Peggy Sells. I told her that I was at Parker’s. She said, “I will be there tonight”. That was truly music to my ears, but I tried to talk her out of driving all that way, but she insisted. She was exactly what I needed. When she got there she said “We are going to kick Dave Robinson’s lying ass”.  When she said that it was like lighting a candle in the dark, for the first time in very long time, I was able to faintly see a future and even though did not know where the journey before us would lead,  Peggy’s kick ass statement gave me my first flicker of hope in a very long time.

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Worthy

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

LivingWorthyoftheGospel2At the “Y” in Bellevue, on the check-in desk, there is a small plastic bucket containing what they call “Spiritual Vitamins”. In reality, they are small multi-color slips of paper with assorted Bible verses printed on them. As folks come and go some will grab a “vitamin”. It is amazing how they can speak to me. This morning mine read, Let your conduct be worthy of the Gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27 NLT).  As I was working out, I began to think of the implications for the world if everybody heeded that simple ten word command. Walter Scott would be alive. Most of our problems would be solved. There would be no war, hate, lies, envy, lust, pride, hidden agendas, broken relationships, crime, greed, abuse, betrayal, or selfishness. In short, there would be no sin. We would have no need for locks, cops, guard dogs, prisons, lethal injections, the CIA or the FBI. Sadly, on a global scale, thousands of years of recorded history demonstrate that, more often than not, folks have failed miserably adhering to that particular Biblical sentence.  As I moved to the bench press, I shifted the context of my thinking from global to personal. While adjusting the weights, I realized that I have failed countless times to obey or even consider that verse as I do life.

Most of the time I do pretty well, but the ten words on the “vitamin” are not about most of the time; nor are they about other people. They are personal. They are about me and how I choose to spend my time. Each day my choices will determine whether I am worthy or not.

Something to Think About

Check out online beta version of  my book Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure,rehab and victory. http://johngouldener.com/?page_id=3877

 

 

Chapter 18 -After the Music Stopped

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

Southwest Airlines JetFrom my book Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My personal story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, failure,rehab and victory.

The days immediately following September 6 were an especially stressful time in Cathy and my relationship. I had never told her the truth about what had happen to me as a child. Of course when it came out like it did it was like her getting broadsided by a ton of dung. Barely twenty-four hours earlier, all she had to worry about was a husband who was addicted to “the best job in the world”.  Now, he was an emotional basket case who was nearly non-functional, crying most of the time and maybe even suicidal.   The person who came home from the office did not bare a faint resemblance to the man who had walked out the kitchen door that same morning with a gym bag over his shoulder.   She was shocked, angry, hurt, confused but maybe mostly disappointed because for thirty years of our marriage I had not trusted her enough to be honest with her. Those days were not warm and fuzzy for either of us. The truth is they were horrible days and I suspected that our marriage could actually come to an end as a result.

On Saturday September 10, we went to Prime Trust Bank near our home to get the money to pay for my treatment. We knew most of the officers as we had been banking with them since our construction loan thirty years earlier. I shudder at what they must have been thinking, when we came in surely acting strange and me looking like a cast member form the “Walking Dead”, to transfer into checking a large amount of money out of a CD that I had just renewed a few weeks.   When it was all said and done, we transferred $35,000.

Since the day in the spring of 1987 that we begin tithing, at least ten percent of our income to whatever church we were attending, God has provided for us financially. As I type I realize, somewhat ironically, that the reason that we chose to tithe was because of the example that we saw in the Robinson family. Regardless of what happened, I know that the good that I got out of those relationships far exceeded the bad. I have no doubt on that.  A few years earlier we had come into a modest inheritance. Most of that money we had put into retirement accounts, so funding my treatment was not an issue. We were fortunate in that there was never any panic about the money. That was a true blessing I did not fully appreciate for some time after September 6, 2005.

As Cathy was driving me to the airport on Tuesday September 13 for my flight to Tucson, I was barely functional. I had had nearly no sleep for over a week and had lost several pounds and looked like death warmed over. I was also crying. In fact I cried off and on now for a week. Maybe I cried more than I did not cry. I was scared of going to Sierra-Tucson. I was scared of what was going to happen when I returned. I was scared of what was going to happen to our marriage and I was scared of what people might think of me when the word filtered out that I had been abused. I was afraid that my life-long fear of being abandoned was happening and I could not do anything to reverse it.

During my flight to Tucson I felt like a frightened child. I thought back to a spring afternoon in early May when I had stood alone on a hilltop looking down on our sixty-six acre campus and our brand new state of the art building, which was the grand culmination of our highly unlikely twelve year dream.  Through God’s guidance we had traveled light years since our first “practice service” with about ten people in the round room at Brentwood Academy in the summer of 1993. I thought about the journey and God’s amazingly talented team of everyday people that he had put together which had turned our  dream into fact.  A dream for what we had called “a different kind of church” that had its genesis in the hearts of six people had come to fruition and quite frankly it was way beyond my wildest expectation.  Sixty-six acres in the center of town only a mile from the expressway, an incredible building seating 800 people and carrying a debt of only slightly over 1.5 million put Highland Park Church way ahead of the curve.  Obviously, I knew in my head that along with the others I had played a pivotal role in all of that. As a result of my coming to Christ in 1987, I had been the original vision caster.    I had worked the first seven plus years without pay. Cathy had given up being a stay at home mom so we could continue to eat along the way. I knew that without us there would be no church. Yes, I understood that. I had all the head knowledge, but as I stood there on that hilltop with a gentle, spring breeze blowing  I did not feel one morsel of personal pride or sense of personal accomplishment at all in what my eyes were beholding down below — none.

Fearing what lay ahead while listening to the hum of the Southwest 737 as it streaked west it occurred to me that maybe that day was a premonition of what was to come. Perhaps my time at Highland Park Church was over. Maybe God used that day as preparation. Maybe I would literally no longer be a part of that great campus. A few days later as I tried to explain my feelings in group while  at Sierra Tucson; I described it as kind of like I was watching an exciting movie, but I was not in it. I was not the star, co-star, supporting actor, or even an extra. That kind of feeling had been a basic facet of the diamond of my life as far back as I can remember. Other than carrying a tune and golf, I have been blessed with a fair amount of success.  But even with all the praise and accolades that I have received over my life, until my time at Sierra Tucson, I could not feel any of it in the fiber of my being. What I have come to learn and realize is that I am just one of millions who, for one reason or the other, have detached themselves from their achievements because of their toxic shame.

As I made my way to the baggage claim I felt like a little boy. I was afraid of the unknown. I was clueless what rehab would be like. I wanted to be back with Cathy. More than anything I wanted to be in control. My instructions said that my driver, who would take me out to Sierra-Tucson, would be holding a sign that would say “Fred”. What if he is not there? Oh, he will be there, they must pick up “nutcases” like me all the time. At what they charge they will not screw up meeting me. Stop worrying! There he is! Fred looked like white haired angel. As we made eye contact he flashed a warm smile as he extended his right hand while saying, “Welcome to Tucson, John. You have nothing to worry about. Everything will be OK.” For some reason I believed him. On the drive over Fred was very encouraging. I could tell that he was the real deal. I recall thinking, I hope he is the one who will take me back to the airport in 30 days. I was sold on Fred, but not so much as to my immediate future.

We drove through downtown Tucson out into the high desert and the stunning Santa Catalina Mountains. Even in my condition those mountains rising out of the desert floor were an incredible sight to see. Unfortunately, my sightseeing tour was short lived. As soon as we pulled into Sierra- Tucson my fear came rushing back full force. As I checked in I had to surrender my phone, wallet, medications, laptop and control. All I got in return was a plastic water bottle. I felt shortchanged. Upon completing the registration process, each new patient is assigned a room in the detox wing. Fortunately I was only there the first night as my physical exam showed that I was free of any drugs or alcohol. I did not sleep any the first night so I had ample opportunity to reflect on the horrible fact that I was in the detox hospital room. The next day I was assigned a room with a roommate. He seldom got out of bed and snored a lot.  Burt from New York City and John from Music City made quite the contrasts. The only thing we had in common was that we were both there and did not wish to be. Burt disappeared after ten days. I heard that he was asked to leave.

The second night, after dinner, we all gathered outside in a circle in a huge recovery meeting. Between 2000 and 2005 I had attended around 1200 Twelve Step meetings. But none were as impacting and life changing as this one was going to be as I sit under the stars in the Arizona desert with fifty or so people I did not know. Finally my turn came. “I’m John, I’m from Nashville Tennessee. I am here to deal with trauma from being sexually abused by a priest at my high school when I was fourteen. I kept it a secret until last week”. The thing that amazed me was that the very secret that I had kept for 45 years somehow rolled off my tongue with ease and precision. Not one person got up and left. Nobody abandoned me. They loved me and I loved them back. From that moment I was cool with Sierra – Tucson. I made some very good friends and left my fear of what will people think if they know in the Sonoran Desert that night. It was gone and would never come back. I make a habit of recommending Sierra-Tucson to folks because a miracle happened to me there on the second night and there were many more to come.

Every Sunday afternoon, while at Sierra Tucson I called Cathy.  Those calls were a strain on both of us. They were not what you would expect from a husband and wife who had to be apart for an extended time. The truth was we were in our own isolated worlds of confusion, hurt, uncertainty profound disappointed and fear separated by almost the entire continent and what seemed like millions of questions without answers.  Consider the fact that Cathy had been married to me for 30 years, when she was abruptly blindsided by Glenn Cole’s malevolent revelation of my childhood abuse.  That was promptly followed by my emotional / mental breakdown. Then within a matter of a few days, I had left town for treatment, more or less looking and acting like a complete basket case, leaving Cathy holding the bag back home.  So during that critical time in our relationship, we both were in the initial steps of our own personal healing journeys, but with miles and miles ahead before we would attain any sense of normalcy again. When I called her the afternoon of October 2, 2005, the instant Cathy said “hello”, I intuitively knew that something was very wrong in Nashville. The very next thing out of her mouth was “John there is something I have to tell you. I have talked to the people at Sierra Tucson; they think this is the right thing to do.  John, Glenn has moved into your office. Dave is not going to let you come back.”

That particular moment in time is etched into my brain like the day   President Kennedy was murdered. I can remember every minute detail of our conversation.  My pain was immediate, profuse and excruciating, as I know it was for Cathy also. There was a feeling of a death-like grip talking hold of me.  I retorted, “Why did you tell me this now? I am 2200 miles away and there is nothing I can do from here. Cathy, why didn’t you wait until I got home to tell me this?  Her reply made perfect sense, but at the time it did not register at all. “Because you will need some help in dealing with this new trauma. I have talked to the people out there. They will be there for you. They will help you get through this.”

Right then I noticed that my lips were dry and parched, as was my throat.  Sensing that phenomenon, my mind flashed back to my cotton mouth of September 6, when I had to excuse myself in the midst of my emotional breakdown to get some water. Fortunately, this time around, I was already holding a bottle of chilled water; I sipped it as I listened to my wife, in essence,  tell me that the church which we had spent the last twelve years sacrificing to build,  had been taken from us by my best friend, Dave Robinson, under the presumed tutelage of his jealous father.  If you ever played sports and had the wind knocked out of you that is about how I felt. In my ears I could hear the thundering beat of my pumping heart; it seemed as though it might explode with each mighty thrust. The “fight or flight instinct” kicked in.  In a matter of seconds, my mind replayed my twenty year relationship with Dave. They were mostly good memories, but in hindsight and in my recovery, I now see all the multiple red flags over those years

So as I listened to Cathy on the phone, I felt like crying, but I did not.  I knew the truth of what she was in the process of explaining to me; yet, something deep inside me thought, “No, somebody is going to shake me and tell me that this is only a nightmare”. I guess my emotions unconsciously held out hope that somehow things would magically become like they had been before. From two time zones away, Cathy, was trying, as best as she could, to support me, even though she was as devastated as me. In my absence, Dave had pulled a bloodless coup, unilaterally fired Cathy as children’s director and told her not to come onto the church property. Dave’s true character had manifested itself unfettered. I felt completely lost, alone and without hope. For some reason, I recalled the words of my friend Eric Armstrong. During his time in prison, during a desperate act of self-defense, he had stabbed another prisoner to death. Eric once told me that when he had been in solitary that he felt so dark and alone that they had to “airmail me light”. As we talked I felt like I was in absolute darkness. I longed for even a shred of a ray of light because I was very frightened.  I became aware of a pervasive evilness that I reckoned had its genesis in Dave’s very soul. Several times in our marriage, Cathy has said that I was the most naive person she had ever known.    I had trusted my best friend, who had promised to help me deal with my abuse. He had promised me that “I will take care of everything while you are away taking care of yourself and getting well. If Kristen is still pissed off when you get home, you can work at your house until she gets over it.” (2) At his insistence, I had agreed with a counselor, whom I barely knew and who was a friend of Glenn’s, to go to Sierra Tucson for thirty days in patient treatment of trauma for my childhood abuse.  Because I thought Dave was my friend, I had blindly trusted him.  At the time, under my diminished mental condition, I had failed to factor in George, his jealous dad, who in my thirty day  absence saw his opportunity to get something he later unabashedly admitted  to Lou Alvarez, in a clandestine  meeting at Palmer Park, that he had always wanted —-  “a church like this”. In that same conversation he told Lou, “I have finally got my son back”. (3)

The previous August, on a Wednesday night, George had stopped to chat with me in the hallway of our new building. While he was marveling at that wonderful structure, as was his usual habit, he repeatedly and rapidly picked at his left chest with his right hand. That is a reoccurring tic that always seemed to manifest itself most, whenever he was serving up a double portion of his ego-based bull shit. He said to me, “John it is remarkable what you and Dave have accomplished since the Franklin days. (4) And you know John, I have never been jealous of you”.  Ding, Ding, Ding!  I mentioned George’s remark to Cathy as soon as I got home.  She immediately said, “Be careful because what he is really saying is that he is jealous of you”.  Cathy is almost always right about people. She had long before seen through George Robinson.   That evening I knew she was right on target with her assessment of George, as I had already heard the bell ring loudly earlier in the evening.

When we got off the phone, I did not know what to do, so I just sat there in silence trying to absorb what I had been told.  Since I was a little boy, when my mom had depended on me for her emotional support, I had always known what to do in any and all situations.  I had been wrong many times, but I always had a plan. This time I had no plan. It was surreal; I did not want to do anything.  Specifically, I recall not wanting to fight.  Many times during adulthood, events as simple as a word inflection or a look would trigger what I called “my little boy feelings”.   This was one of those times that the little boy trapped deep within me was feeling particularly venerable and really very small. In typical little boy thinking, I considered running away. At no time during this mess did I ever want to fight for what was being taken from us. I never considered doing that. After being the primary force behind Highland Park Church from day one, I simply decided to give to Dave and George what they craved enough to possibly risk forfeiture of their very souls and just walk away from them. To be perfectly candid, I am not sure why. Since that terrible day with Father Hollis, I had stood my ground, but not this time. I think part of that stemmed from the fact that I loved Dave and Kristin with a near unconditional kind of love, a love that, even today, the embers still continue to glow a bit.  Secondly, and perhaps even more causatively, was that I was extremely codependent on Dave. I think we had both realized years earlier that our relationship was no longer a healthy one. But neither of us had a clue what to do about it, so we chose to do nothing. Doing nothing seldom make things better.

About that time, I looked up and saw Maureen Jones standing in the lobby watching me.  I walked over to her and related my conversation with Cathy. She hugged me and suggested that we hook up with Katie Moss and the three of us go for a hike in the desert. God in His divine protection assigned Maureen and Katie as my tandem guardian angels for the remainder of that horrible Sunday afternoon.  Our time together was exactly what I needed.  I felt Maureen’s and Katie’s love for me, as the three of us journeyed along the forbidden trails of the Sonoran Desert. I knew Maureen and Katie were there because they loved me. And oddly, I was able to soak up their love like a sponge without any feelings of unworthiness. Writing this nearly ten years later, I now realize that by accepting their love that awful day, it was a sure sign that my rehab was producing fruit. Even in the midst of my profound pain, I sensed that my life was in paradox mode.  I felt my recovery was taking hold.  Yet, that afternoon, under the crystal clear Arizona sun, suspended in an incredibly deep blue sky,  like some kind of fire hot Christmas ornament, as the three of us walked upon God’s fantastically beautiful desert canvas, I did not have a clue what to do next.  As we neared the end of our hike, perhaps fifteen yards ahead, a rattlesnake slithered across out path. It was the first one that I had seen; although, I had been warned that the desert was full of them. It was months later, during a time of reflection that I realized the hidden meaning of the snake.

When we got back from our walk, I soon realized that every staff person was aware of what had gone down in Nashville. Each made a point to reach out to me. Cathy was right, as usual; it was best that I learned of Dave’s betrayal while I was at Sierra Tucson.  The staff helped me to understand my feelings and well as Dave’s actions. More importantly, they let me begin to process them, verbally, emotionally and spiritually.  When asked for one word to describe my feelings, I immediately responded, “confused”.  That confusion would follow me like a dark and menacing shadow until Monday April 10, 2006.

One day, in a session Mary Harper, my therapist, made a reference to the “known and the unknown” in my situation. I actually laughed and accused her of being a student of Donald Rumsfeld. (8) That was the first laugh I could recall in almost a month. I cannot remember the exact context of her comment, but the bottom line was something like,   what I already knew about Dave’s actions, as bad as that knowledge was to me, at least I knew about it. What I did not know was what else his newly liberated ego was cooking up on his fast track climb to be top dog for the first time in his life and escape his self-perceived, perpetual second-string life.  I never saw him that way, but I knew that was the way he saw himself when the lights were turned off.

What a son does or does not get from a father always has a profound effect. It seems clear to me that Dave’s betrayal was ignited by the unquenchable need to feel affirmed by his dad. To have that need realized, Dave willingly paid a huge price. God’s design of each human being contains a phenomenal healing ability. That Sunday, Dave’s hatchet job was just underway and with each day it became clearer to me that his sinister intent was like a snowball rolling downhill. As it grew in size and speed he decided that he would  destroy me however he had to. Fortunately, God protected me from the full force of his butchery.

On October 14 a few days before I left for home, in a phone conversation Dave told me that if I attempted to come back to HPC that he would have me arrested and he was thoughtful enough to remind me what that would do to my mom and that if that happened she would learn of the abuse. He said the media would have a “field day”. He then instructed me to call him cell and leave a message that I had decided not to return. I did that as soon as we hung up. What was so amazing about was that I did not have any trouble whatsoever in doing that.

Before we hung up Dave told me that I should sue the Catholic Church for “big bucks” and even offered to put me in touch with an attorney. He also suggested that I write a book about my abuse, saying “You might end up on Oprah”. This is that book; that was the first time I considered writing this one. Good ideas can come from strange places. Then he went into damage control mode when, he told me that my friend, Lou Alvarez wanted “to throw me under the bus, but that I (Dave) would not let him”. Of course I knew he was lying.  He also said there were “many rumors” about me at church. I responded, “I bet there are; why not just tell them the truth about what is going on?” He replied that if he did that people might feel for me over Kristen (9). When I inquired as to the nature of the rumors, he replied that for one, Sam Garrett was “stirring up trouble”. He said that Sam was telling people that I was a racist. I pretended like I could not know Sam Garret, but the truth was I knew Sam well.  I also knew that Dave was on one of his trademarked lying binges.  In fact, as he was talking, I imagined him having to look away from the phone, as he lied to me. Dave had spent a great part of his life looking away when he was talking.  He is not an eye contact kind of guy. During my stay at Sierra Tucson, I learned a great deal about liars.

By coincidence, when I returned home, Sam Garrett was one of the first people to contact me. I met with Sam and his lovely wife Linda. They told me that when they had gone to Dave to see what had happened to me, that Dave had told them, “John is a very sick person; he is a racist and that has finally caught up with him”. Linda interjected that it was obvious he was lying because she had known me since my building supply days when I had regularly called on her company. She said, “Dave could not look us in the eyes at all”. Sam told me that he “jumped all over Dave about the racist comment” and told him he was going to tell me about it as soon as I got home. Obviously, when Dave claimed on the phone, that Sam was the source, he was merely trying to cover his tracks.  I thought to myself. A lot has changed over the past month, but Dave has not.

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Special People

Monday, April 6th, 2015

7840_chelsea-home-jersey-2013-14-with-special-1-printing---xxxxl_03_lThere are a bunch of guys and gals at the “Y” who are training like crazy for the Music City Marathon. I know exactly what they are going through. Many years ago, at the peak of my running addiction, I decided to run a full marathon and to do whatever it took to succeed. I trained at 50-70 miles per week for months. Running before the sun came up and after it had gone down were common. I ran when it was hot and when it was very cold — every day come hail or high water. I looked like skin and bones. As nutty as it may sound to you, it made perfect sense to me.

The day of the race the weather was perfect, in the mid 50’s with a fine mist for the first ten miles or so. As I ran along, I never had any doubt that I would finish without puking, stopping or walking.  Those were all a part of my four-pronged goal. I didn’t puke, stop or walk, but I also did not finish in my personal goal of under four hours either.  However, crossing the finish line was still an experience that I’ll never forget.  It was pure joy, euphoria and satisfaction rolled into one. As exhausted as I was, I sure felt good about me. I felt invincible.  I recall that day in Huntsville with an enormous sense of personal pride and accomplishment. Like the time is was briefly in jail, I would not take anything for the experience.  I also, never had a desire to do it again.

So why did I do it?  Why did I go through all that to run 26.2 miles with a few thousand others? I did it for me; I did it to feel good about me. When it is all said and done, we all have an inherent soul need to feel good about ourselves, to be winners, to be special, to stand out.

 We all have different ways of trying to get our needs met – some better than others.   I expect that may have been the reason that when many of us were in college, we kept count so we could tell our buds how many Buds we had downed in a given time. Of course we always lied about it by adding a fudge factor.  We all have a God-given need to have folks think we are special.

Most all of us have stretched the truth a few times for that very reason. Whereas the beer drinking was more about fitting in; running 26.2 miles was more about standing out.  Either way, it is about feeling good about ourselves and that is a normal desire.  Another way to have that desire met is for someone to simply tell us we are special.

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My Book  “Unscrewed – Becoming Whole Again” My personal story of abuse, addiction, shame, guilt, rehab/ recovery  and wholeness. Free at  http://johngouldener.com/?page_id=3877

Chapter 17 09.06.05 The Worse / Best Day

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

 

64227399God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Paslm 46:1-2 (NLT)

I punched my passcode into the office wing main door at just after 6 AM on Tuesday September 6, 2005. While opening the door I noticed a smudge on the glass from my wash job the previous day. After starting the coffee, I got a wad of paper towels and polished it away. I then took the paperback book and carefully removed the blank page where I had written the couple from New Orleans name the prior Sunday. I recall thinking, “Good as new”.  I then dropped it off at the bookstore and made my way through the main lobby into the auditorium. To be in that great space alone talking to God was the spiritual highlight of my daily routine.  Dave and I had argued about the issue of the cross on the building, paint colors, wall hangings, the sign and a few others, but we had agreed on the layout of the auditorium and it was perfect. Much of the western wall was constructed of large picture windows framing a meadow that ended at the edge of a thick forest.  We knew that a huge buck called our sixty-six acre campus home along with many other critters. So that morning I was not surprised, in the midst of my conversation with the Father, to see a doe and her fawns grazing at the edge of the woods.  The tranquility of that peaceful moment was a gift from the Lord.  Just a few weeks before on July 3, 2005 we had held our first service in this very spot. The contrast from the hype of that day until the present, now just God, the deer and I, could not have been greater. Opening day the auditorium had been packed; the excitement of an impossible dream realized was off the charts. For over twelve years the dream had slowly but surely morphed into reality. What an honor it was to have been chosen by God to be a part of that amazing team and this incredibly different kind of church. Yet with that said, the interlude between that opening day of celebration and fulfillment and the present had been painful for me on several fronts. In the church world constructing a building, particularly the first one, can easily cause some wheels to begin to fall off the wagon. Often the pastor does not survive. Ours was no exception and that should have been no surprise because, as incredible as our team was, we were still an eclectic group of flawed human beings. Each of us brought our God given gifts and talents to the table. We also brought our weaknesses.

During my prayer time I begged God to give me the strength to make some critical changes in my life. I remember specifically asking for His power and leading to do certain things that I had, up to that point, been unable or perhaps unwilling to do. As I prayed I recall being in a near panic. To be honest I am not sure I thought God would help. I knew what I needed to do but I do not think that I thought I could do it.  That was the last solitude conversation with God that I would have on Knob Hill.

Shortly after 11:00 AM, as I was finishing up the final draft of the coming Sunday’s message, “Believing that Dreams Come True”, I received an email addressed to all staff from Kristen that read: “We are not running the bookstore like we did at Hillsboro High School.  Now everything is inventoried and if you get something out you must make sure that it is taken off the inventory.” Instantly I knew that my taking of the paperback book the previous Sunday to write down the Katria couple’s name was what prompted the email.  So I responded, “If this is about the book I took Sunday, I have already put the book back into the bookstore.

I then continue to read over the upcoming message and then I hit “print” and walked thorough my open doorway into the reception area to the printer which was spitting out the copies. Kristen was at her desk eating yogurt and granola, which as I recall may have been a prepackaged unit with separate compartments.  She looked up and said, “It did not matter that the book had been put back; you should have never taken it in the first place”.  People saw you take that book and just walk off”. Again I explained about the couple and not having anything to write their name on, etc. By this time I was back standing in my office doorway. Out of the corner of my right eye, I noticed Glenn exit his office and walk down the Kid’s Klub hallway toward the auditorium. He did not look our way.  She continued saying that “It did not make any difference that the service was about to start, that I could have gotten a bulletin, gone to your office for a paper or got a tablet out of the bookstore closet.”  Kristen’s mouth was still going full tilt trying to make an issue where there was no issue. She went so far as to suggest that some people saw me take the book and may have thought I was stealing it.  I laughed at her and said, “Kristen there is no way on earth anybody thought I was stealing a book. Let’s drop this and don’t your ever chastise me about a paperback book again. You are way across the line.” I then walked over to where she was sitting, stood next to her, put my arm around her neck and said, “Kristen I love you to death, but sometimes I could break your neck”.  From my perspective it was an innocent kind of happenstance way to end the back and forth of the tiff. I do not recall her saying any more. My guess is this encounter may have lasted three or four minutes.  I did not sense that either of us were angry.  In hindsight I acknowledge that it was indeed a violation of Kristen’s boundaries and I should not have touched her regardless of the intent.  Obviously, I am very sorry.

When I got back into my office I noticed that I had apparently left the final page of the message in the copier. So I went back to the copier; Kristen was at her desk finishing up her yogurt. As I passed through the threshold of my doorway I said, “But I admire your spunk”. I meant that sincerely and still do.  I retrieved the missing page and went about my business. It saddens me to say that as far as I can recall that is the last conversation that Kristen and I have had. I pray that someday that might change. A few minutes later I noticed Kristen walk to her car and drive off.

Perhaps thirty minutes later, Dave and George came charging into my office, screaming and yelling that I had violently attacked Kristen in a fit of rage. Neither of them asked me what had happened or John what is going on?  Dave was amped up like he was when we got into the argument over the number of ushers a few years earlier. Just like then, he threatened to punch me out.  He was saying that when Kristen arrived at their family insurance office that she was “terrified, hysterical and could hardly speak”. The whole time George was saying, “John you know what you have to do”.  I was clueless about what I had do. It was like an out of body experience.  Dave was screaming that he should have me arrested. I said guys, “I do not know what is going on but I didn’t attack Kristen, I would not even call it an argument. It was more of a ‘tiff’”.   Dave continued screaming about calling the police and putting me in jail. Looking back I wish that he had because most likely that would have short circuited the entire situation by injecting cooler heads. Since she obviously was not injured, it would have at worse ended up being a “he said / she said”. All this time George was saying, “You know what you’ve got to do” like one of the old 45 RPMs with a stuck needle. I suggested that I would gladly take a polygraph; that offer still stands today. George, not Dave, responded, “No we do not need a polygraph. We know what you did. Now you need to resign.”  I never responded to George.

Here I was standing next to my best friend of over twenty years. The man who had actually lead me to a relationship with Jesus Christ and his dad were telling me how awful I am and I need to resign, only a few weeks after our twelve year quest together  had been realized. Frankly it was almost more than I could absorb. Realizing that the situation was totally out of control, I suggested that we go down the hall to a classroom to lessen the chance of a visitor walking in on this quickly unfolding spectacle. When we got there Dave continued to hammer me and George kept calling for my resignation.  At one point my mouth got so dry that my tongue was actually sticking to the roof of my mouth. So dry in fact that I had to call time out to go to the kitchen for a bottle of water. Thankfully that had never happened before or since. Trust me, a sticking tongue is quite an awkward experience.

Just after I returned with the water, Glenn came from his office to join the fray.  The very first thing that I can recall him saying was, “John this is all about what you told me about you being abused by that priest.” At my wits end I had told him that in confidence about a week earlier. No sooner had the words left his lips, I had an emotional breakdown. I began weeping and wailing with the tears flowing like white hot rivers off my cheeks. Forty-five years of carrying the shame of being abused were exposed in an instant without notice for two of my best friends to see by Glenn’s betrayal of a very personal confidence. I had confided in him only because he had a psych degree and I was at the point where I did not feel I could not keep the secret any longer.  I am quite sure my emotional collapse sucked the air out of the room. Immediately the three of them began telling me how much they loved and cared about me and that they were going to help me. George prayed for me. It did not register with me at the time, but neither Dave nor George expressed any surprise when Glenn dropped his bombshell revealing my deeply buried 45 year old secret. As I write this ten years down the road, I find that somewhat odd. Neither of them asked Glenn what he was talking about. My only conclusion is that he had already told them.  Be that as it may, their mood did instantly do a 180 from hostility to “We are here for you”. I am unable to adequately describe the feelings that I was experiencing from Glenn’s proclamation. I expect that for a time at least the original issue of the incident with Kristen had been overshadowed by my complete breakdown. I realize that most people who are reading this will not be able to appreciate the dark fear of discovery that an abuse survivor lives. It is a constant fear of “what will they think about me and will they abandon me?”

Glenn quickly suggested that I should call his shrink, Dr. Pete Harris, for an appointment to start working on the sexual abuse issue. For the time being, there was no more talk about what “I had to do” or calling the police. I was able to contact Pete a bit later after I got some semblance of self-control. Unfortunately I could not see him until September 8.  I later invited Dave and Glenn to accompany me for my appointment with Pete.  One reason I suggested that was to have somebody other than those involved know what had happened with Kristen.  Later when I got my bill there was a charge of $125.00 for Pete meeting privately with Dave and Glenn on Wednesday prior to my appointment on Thursday.  All of us already knew each other since; Pete had been our neighbor for the years the church office was on located on Music Row. In that September 8 meeting with Dr. Harris, Dave and I were able to come to an agreement as to what had actually happened as far as the physical contact with Kristen was concerned: I had put my arm around Kristen’s neck, there was no physical injury, there was no cussing and that I had said, “Kristen sometimes I could break your neck”.  Dave refused to sign off on my complete sentence, “Kristen I love you to death but sometimes I could break your neck”.  I took what I could get. Dave preferred to call it a chokehold.  We further agreed not to discuss the incident with the church members.

Pete was able to quickly discern that the critical issue for me at that particular time was to immediately begin the process of working through my childhood trauma. He strongly advised that that I go to Sierra Tucson (sierratucson.com) for a thirty day inpatient stay in its highly respected trauma treatment program.  As we approached that subject Dave and Glenn both said that they “loved me and would be there for me” when I returned. Dave said something to the effect that going away for a month will be good because, hopefully in thirty days Kristen would be past the incident. He went so far as to say, “If she is still pissed off when you get back just work from your house for a while. It will pass”. As he and Glenn were leaving. Dave patted my foot and said, “It will all be OK”.

The following day, September 9, 2005 Dave apparently wasted no time in telling Lou Alvarez, the man whom God had sent us a few years back to head up the acquisition of our property and the construction of our building,  that I had attacked Kristen in a rage and violently put her in a chokehold.   Lou was our key lay leader of HPC and by far our biggest donor to the building fund.  He promptly came to my house and was shocked at what he saw when I answered the door. I looked so bad that he insisted that he take me to lunch.  We went to the City Limits Café in the neighborhood. I may have eaten a bite or two but at that time I had no interest in food. By the time I weighed in at Sierra Tucson a week later I had lost nearly nine pounds. Since I was pretty much a walking basket case now that my well-kept secret was out, I allowed Dave to do the Sunday 11 message which I had already printed the day of the incident. During that service I made an announcement written by Dave and Lou that I was taking a thirty day sabbatical. After the service I met with Dave in his office. This time he did not pat my foot and say. “It will all be OK”. Instead he looked at me and said, “John you are the worse of the worse”. About two week earlier I had baby sit his two young children at the church while he and Kristen shopped. That had been common for years.   As whacked out as I was, it seemed obvious to me that someone, most likely George, was exerting a strong influence on Dave to make the most of my emotional collapse.  Driving home it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to pick up a tape recorder.

On Monday September 12, the day before I left for Sierra Tucson, Dave called me at home. Unfortunately I took the call in my kitchen so I was not able to activate the recorder.  After a bit of chit-chat he said, “We have decided for you to resign”. I assumed that “we”  included his dad for sure and possibly Kristen and Dave.  I literally begged him not to do that to me. I was crying. His response was, “We can have you arrested”. That mantra would be repeated time and time again as he effectively used it on me to get his way for the next five weeks.

I reminded him that only a few months earlier I had refused to  accept his resignation when I learned that he had secretly given himself a raise to more than cover his pledge to the building fund. That day he was the one crying. I was merciful; Dave had no intention of returning the favor. He then proposed that I send him an email saying that I had attacked Kristen both physically and verbally, that I was going to Sierra Tucson to work on what he referred to as “You anger issue”. And that I was willing to work out of my house when I got back from Sierra Tucson.  In my diminished emotional state over my “outing” by Glenn Cole, I emailed my “confession” which was word for what he had asked me to write.

A few minutes after I hit send he called back and said the email was “good” and that it showed my “good faith” as I was taking responsibility for my actions. He then said that he had “talked to an attorney and that since I was going to be away for 30 days that I should resign as senior pastor while I was away”.  He then said that the attorney had said that normally this should be done by registered mail, but since we are such “close friends” (I am not making this up. Truth is much better than fiction) it would be OK to do it by email”. He then dictated to me my resignation. “I resign as senior pastor of Highland Park Church and continue as an employee at will.”  He said that we are doing this for two reasons: “If any emergency comes up while you are away that as ‘co-pastor’ I could act in your place.  Secondly and more importantly, it would be a ‘sign of good faith’ to Kristen that you are taking responsibility and  willing to cooperate to do whatever was necessary to work on ‘your issues’. Then when you return you could revert back to senior pastor when Kristen has gotten over everything.  Of course that smelled like three day old road kill to me but I sent it anyway. By that time I would do anything to keep from being abandoned. All of my life that had been my chief fear. If people found out they would run from me. I was whacked out but I realized my worse fear was in the process of coming true. I was able to record that call.

Because Highland Park Church has a digital security system that operates 24 hours a day, there is a video of part of the incident with Kristin. The system does not record sound.  Unfortunately the camera does not show the contact with Kristen. The camera shoots down the administrate hallway from the front door down past the back hallway. The lens is not a wide angle, so it does not show beyond the front portion of Kristen’s desk.  I have not seen the video, but it has been described to me by five people: Lou Alvarez, Dianna Mitchell, David Mitchell, Kathy Kirkham, Judy Gouldener. They told me that the video shows me standing in my open office doorway having a discussion with Kristen, not in a “violent rage”  as has been reported by the Robinson family, but apparently a normal discussion. It clearly shows that I never slammed my office door, as Kristen has told several people.   They say it shows me talking to Kristen; while Glenn in the background come out of his office and then calmly walk down the back hall without ever looking toward Kristen and me.

This incident, be it a tiff or a rage or something in between does not get Glenn’s attention at all.  The video then shows me walk toward Kristen out of the picture for a few seconds. I assume this is where I put my arm around Kristen.  It shows me go into my office and then return, walk toward Kristen to disappear for a second when I went back to the printer which was behind Kristen’s desk and out of the camera range. It then shows me come backing into the camera range with the final page from the printer.  It shows me walking down the hallway toward the restroom area and Kristen calmly walking out of the building.

I had informed my sister, Kathy Kirkham of the existence of the video of the incident. On Sunday October 9 Kathy insisted that Dave show it to her.  He called a meeting after church to discuss her request further.  The five people named above attended the meeting along with Dave, Dave’s dad, George and Glenn Cole.  In the meeting Kathy argued for the right to see the video. Dave kept saying, “No it is too disturbing”.  Kathy can be very persistent.  Finally Glenn Cole screamed with red face and bulging neck veins, “Show them the (expletive deleted) video and then have him (that would be me) arrested when he returns to Nashville”. The video was then shown and the time stamp showed the whole incident lasted about three minutes not the 15-20 minutes that has been reported in various Robinson generated versions of the incident.

I have rehashed the events of September 6, 2005 in my mind countless times. How could Kristen and I have such wildly different versions of the event? I have considered every imaginable scenario from:  “Did I actually do what Kristen claims and my brain has shut it out” all the way to “It must be some kind of conspiracy to take over the church”.  I have no doubt that, as a result of what happened between us that day, it did in fact evolve into a takeover. However, I do not think that is how it started. My thinking, ten years removed, is that when Dave and George confronted me on September 6 that Dave was in fact reacting to a genuinely terrified and hysterical wife but I do not think I was the true cause of her hysteria.

While I was at Sierra-Tucson my therapist first suggested that possibly the key to how the whole incident got so far off the rails was that putting my arm around Kristen’s neck triggered a flashback to a previous violent encounter. She said that it could be something called PTSD.  Then she described how many of our soldiers in Iraq, in their minds relive a past horror of combat as if were happening in the present. Of course over the last ten years I have learned much more about the term, first from my time at ST and because the term as been in the forefront in the ongoing struggle to get our combat vets the mental health care that is long over do. When I returned home, in my aftercare program, I asked my therapist if a flashback was a possibility. She said that it was. I then asked her, “Then isn’t likely that at some point that Kristen will realize her mistake?” “It is possible”, she replied. But then she extinguished my faint flicker of hope when she said, “However, John it is not likely, even if she does come to that conclusion, that she would ever recant. As far down the road as this has gone and as public as it has become, I would be very shocked that she will ever turn around to say she was wrong”.

Some of the most well respected  mental health people in the county, both at Sierra- Tucson  and locally,  were unable to identify any rage characteristics or mental illness whatsoever in my personality. In fact my final diagnosis from ST was “Anxiety Disorder NOS” — meaning that I tended to be tense, worried a lot and feared something bad might happen, rather the “rage disorder” that Dave Robinson falsely claimed that one of the doctors had told him in a phantom phone conversation. Sierra-Tucson, citing HIPPAA Privacy Rules, denies any such contact with Dave.  Actually my discharge diagnosis was “Anxiety Disorder NOS code 300.00”. From scores on my “Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory – III” (See appendix) I scored high in dependence (on others)  — “a pattern of submissive behavior, with a strong need for support, may have difficulty expressing disagreement with others fearing loss of support or acceptance and some self-defeating traits and some obsessive- compulsive features”.  Up until 2005 that seemed to describe me perfectly. Thankfully, I do not think that is an accurate description of me today.  The only times the word “rage” is used in my records from Sierra-Tucson, of which I have a complete copy, is in the context of me describing what the Robertsons and Glenn Cole had said about my behavior on September 6, 2005.  ST was unable to find any rage markers.

Having said all of that, here is what I believe could best explain Kristen’s reaction to me putting my arm around her neck. Let me be very clear this may be wrong, but it is the only way I can make all the pieces fit together without one of us being an outright liar.  Perhaps Kristin had a flash back to an earlier time when someone actually did violently choke her.  I have several reasons to believe that could be the case.  First and foremost, now with a clear mind, I know with certainty that I did not violently attack Kristen or even raise my voice. Although in a pure legal sense I did violate Kristen’s personal space and boundaries when I touched her.

Several years earlier while I was working from my home office, Kristen called to ask if she could come by to talk. Since Cathy and I had a near family-type bond with her, I immediately sensed that something was terribly wrong.  I gave her my standard reply, “You know you never have to call to ask if it’s OK to come here”. Kristen replied that she was on her way. I knew the marriage was apparently going through some rough waters.  For months she had confided in me, on several different occasions, that she was considering leaving Dave. On one occasion that I specifically recall she threatened to take the kids and move to North Carolina.  I considered it just Kristen’s “tough girl” musings. But it apparently was no secret as she had apparently openly told people at a “Scrapbooking Party”. Two of those were her best friend Pat Perry who, I am told, actually encouraged her to leave and Heather Lowery who was horrified to hear it. Heather’s husband, Levi, had recently come to work for HPC as our youth pastor. He came into my office the morning after the party and was visibly upset over what Heather had reported. It told him that it was just Kristen’s “Nobody messes with me” talk.

I assumed perhaps she was coming by to replay the tape one more time and I would give the same advice, “please do not, instead go see Gordon Peerman” a counselor whom I knew. When she arrived at my house she was crying.  In the many years we had known her this was only the second time I can recall seeing her cry. The first was when she was living with us at our home in Kingston Springs, Tennessee, as our guest while attending college. She came home late one night and Cathy and I heard her wailing loudly in her room. We were concerned, so we finally went downstairs to see if we could help her. She was like our daughter. Kristen was  hysterical and gasping as she tried to tell us what was wrong.   She explained that on the way home on I-40 West, she had hit something; she feared that she may have hit somebody on the dark highway. She wanted me to call Dave, who at the time was her boyfriend. I did and Dave and George immediately came out.  It proved to be nothing. There was no damaged to her car.

Immediately, I knew this would be a different kind of visit.  It became one that would, in fact haunt me to this very day. As soon as she came through the front door, with the explosive force of a shaken bottle of Coke, she cried out, “You have to promise that you will not tell Dave I told you this. If you do he will kill me”.  She was an emotional wreck. She could hardly get her words out and was again gasping as she talked.  I was scared. Instinctively, I blurted “I promise”, without an inkling as to what I was committing to.  By this point she was sitting on the edge of an ottoman. I was standing near the fireplace. With deep sobs, Kristen wailed “Dave tried………to………kill me”.  “What are you talking about?” I shouted. “We got into an argument in the bedroom……..he was on top of me…..choking me. I was about to past out when Beth (their small daughter) came into the room crying and he let me up”. Since I knew her husband quite well, I had very serious doubts as to the veracity of her account. I had been subjected to his rage on a few occasions. Even so, I was positive and still am that he had not tried to kill her. Again Kristen made me promise that under no circumstances would I let him know she had told me.   By this point, seeing her condition, I was in a near panic myself.  I was afraid the marriage of two people I loved dearly might actually be unraveling before my very eyes. That was bad enough, but there were also some major personal implications for me and the church. I made her promise that she would call my friend Gordon Peerman that day to make an appointment to see him.  After she left I was emotionally exhausted. I was also frightened. I tried to sort out what I had just heard. I was confused. I called Gordon and left a voice mail and followed up with an email.  Later Kristen told me that she had met with Gordon and that she and Dave had an appointment together the following week. I am certain that Dave did not try to kill Kristen any more than I did. But I can also say with equal certainty that Kristen was  extremely upset when she came to see me that day. I know factually that at least Dave met with Gordon Peerman several times.  In the late fall of 2005 Dave and Kristen met with the district attorney seeking a warrant for my arrest. It is my understanding that the DA was a friend of theirs;  she discouraged them and instead suggested that we all meet for mediation. On November 16, 2005 during a mediation meeting with Dave, Kristin, Rev. Bill Henry and myself, I was forced to bring that event up. Dave angrily denied it ever happened and called me a liar. Kristin did not say a word on that subject.

As I was attempting to sort out things regarding the September 6, 2005 incident, I recalled a time shortly after Dave and Kristen married when Dave was at our house for dinner. I think Kristen may have been in Canada but I am not sure. In any event she was not there. During the meal Dave told Cathy and me that he was “really worried” about Kristen, because he had woken up some nights and Kristen was not in bed. He then found her “cowering and crying in the hallway” just outside the bedroom. He said she would not tell him what it was all about. Dave is by far the most private person I have ever known. For him to share that with us was completely out of his character and a clear signal to me that it was a major concern for him. Later Dave Mitchell, a friend of ours whom Kristen used to work for, told us a story about how one day he had called her at home to tell her that he was on his way to her house to drop off some work. It was the middle of the day. When she answered the door she was armed with a large knife. There is another, I think more telling reason, why I have come to this conclusion, but I will have to save that for another chapter.

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