Katrina

KATRINA

katrinaphoto1smFrom my book Unscrewed: Becoming Whole Again. My story of abuse, shame, guilt, addiction, rehab and victory.

Hurricane Katrina was the costliest natural disaster in our country’s history, amassing over 81 billion in property damage. More than 1800 people died in the actual storm and the subsequent floods. Being a weather junkie, I had tracked Katrina on The Weather Channel from the time she had formed over the Bahamas on August 23, 2005 until landfall near New Orleans as a Category 3 storm on the morning of Monday, August 29. There was cataclysmic destruction along the Gulf coast from central Florida to Texas, much of it due to the storm surge. Most of the fatalities occurred in New Orleans which flooded as the levee system catastrophically failed.

On Wednesday August 31, 2005, Dave Robinson walked into my office during a CNN Breaking News segment showing the devastation in New Orleans.  Cathy and I had already made a contribution to one of the Katrina funds; yet, I felt that, as a church, we should reach out financially to aid the victims. At that horrible point in time, I believed that nearly everyone in our country wanted to help, but were unsure what to do.  Dave suggested that we take up a special Katrina collection on the following Sunday. At that time, I had no idea that in four days in a sense I would become one of Katrina’s final victims.

Sunday September 4, 2005 at about 9:55 AM, just before I walked out on the platform to start the service Ken and Craig Adkisson stopped me to introduce, Mr. and Mrs. Jones, a couple who had fled New Orleans because the hurricane had devastated their home. I believe that Mr. Jones was a New Orleans police officer.  I looked for something to write their names on, so I could properly introduce them to our congregation.  I did not have a piece of paper.  Since we were standing in the church lobby next to our bookstore, I reached over and got a paperback book off one of the shelves.

I recall noticing bookstore volunteer and Kristen’s best friend, Pat Perry, staring at me as I reached for the book. I opened it to the last page, which was blank on both sides, where I wrote down the couples’ name. Then with book in hand, I rushed to the stage as the service was starting and I was schedule to do the opening. A few minutes later, I had the refugee couple stand to be recognized. The gracious couple received an incredibly warm reception from our church family and I believe that we collected $5,800 for the Katrina relief effort.

I left church that day thanking God for sending us the couple from New Orleans, because through them, I sensed that we had all made a personal connection with the plight of the folks on the Gulf. Later I would spend quite a bit of my time rethinking the implications of their visit. I can tell you that after much reflection, prayer and therapy I still feel that way. To be able to say that is a gift directly from the heart of God Himself. God is always faithful! But He never promised His faithfulness would be easy or cheap.

My shame-based addiction and dependence on Highland Park Church had grown exponentially each year since our first service, in an almost empty Looby Auditorium. Someplace during the ensuing twelve years, I had gotten to a point in my life that I could no longer recognize the line that separated me from HPC. We became one big glob of cells!  Like every other addiction, a tolerance developed which meant that I needed a bigger hit of Highland Park to keep me high. Therefore, I found it an incredible rush to immerse myself nearly to my eyeballs in “God’s Work”.

In the spring of 2002 when we purchased our office building on Music Row, my church addiction cranked up appreciably; but when we moved into our building on Knob Hill it rocketed into the stratosphere.  Looking back with a well mind, I clearly see things that I never saw at the time. One of them is how unhealthy I had become, both in my addiction to the church and my codependency on Dave and to a lesser extent to his family.  That was my bad. Monday September 5, I rolled out of bed at 5 even though it was Labor Day 2005.   Due to the holiday, the gym was closed until later in the day so I drove directly to the HPC campus. On the drive over, I recall thinking that it would soon be fall because the days were getting noticeably shorter on both ends. After starting the coffee, I made my way to the auditorium where I regularly commenced my work day by having a chat with God. I loved that space immensely. And I used it for much more than Sunday services.

On several occasions, when it was too hot to run outside, I would open both sets of auditorium doors and use the entire building as an indoor track. The design of the building had two parallel corridors, front and back, forming a “U” that lead from the office and classroom wing to the main lobby and the two auditorium entrance ways. It made a pretty neat indoor, climate controlled track. I ran laps many afternoons when nobody else was around. Each morning during my prayer time, I would walk the aisles as I talked to God.  We designed the auditorium with large windows on the western wall that gave us an open feel and appearance, allowing the magnificence of God’s nature to be a constant part of each service. Our plan was that in a few years, they would also form the connection point where we would build a larger auditorium with permanent seating. One Sunday while making a point in a message, I happened to glance out those windows to see a doe and her two fawns grazing along the edge of the forest. As a reflex, I almost said, “Wow would you look at that”; fortunately I caught myself just in the nick of time. Yet, to be alone in that huge and silent room and to be able to observe God’s creation was quite an incredible daily prayer experience for me.

So here I was on Labor Day morning, not still lying in bed next to Cathy, but I was at work, with absolutely no pressing work to do or any good reason to be there. As usual, I watered my “babies”, the annuals that we had in huge clay pots at the main entrance; then I inexplicably washed windows!  I mean how sick was I? It mattered not whether I was speaking on Sunday or buffing the floors on Friday, as long as I was doing church duties I was “OK”. On that hot and humid September morning, when I finished up, the windows were spotless, but I was soaking wet from perspiration. As I was bringing the squeegee and the other equipment inside I got a call from Cathy. “Where are you?” she asked. I recall feeling a tinge of shame/guilt when I told her. I suppose in an attempt to mitigate my foolishness, I suggested that she come by and we would go to breakfast. After we returned from our pancake and bacon breakfast at Wendell Smith’s Restaurant, Cathy sat down in my office. I looked over at her and said, “I have the greatest job in the world”. Again, with a clear mind today, I realize that what I should have said was, “Cathy I have the greatest job in the world and I thank you for making this whole deal possible”. She had done just that twelve years earlier, when she gave up being a stay at home mom to go back to work, so that the six of us could plant HPC. That was an incredible act of self-sacrifice.  Without her there would be no church on Knob Hill, because I would have been unable to work for free for nearly eight years.

Cathy’s part was the critical key that unlocked the door that allowed Dave and me to use our gifts in a very public way to develop HPC. Until I started working on this book, I had never thought to give her the credit that she rightfully deserved.  The day we dedicated the building I thanked everybody from Dave to Arthur Boyd, the Hillsboro High School janitor, but failed to mention Cathy. The Bible teaches that all of us will face a time of accounting for our actions on earth. I am certain that when I come face to face with God, my ledger is going to be chocked full with my multiple failures regarding Cathy and my relationship as it related to Highland Park Church.  Not only did I fail to ever publicly acknowledge her critical roll, but I constantly built up Dave as nearly the next coming of Jesus. Ten years down the road and a much wiser man, albeit a recovering codependent one, I am sure I did things the way I did because, due to my sense of shame and unworthiness, I did not believe I could pull HPC off without Dave Robinson. Most likely, I could not have — certainly not to the degree of success we enjoyed as a team.  But I know with certitude that I could not have done it without Cathy. Yet for twelve years, I gave my friend, Dave, priority over my loving and faithful wife. I knew she would never walk away; I feared that Dave might. If it stopped here it would be bad enough, but it does not. Emotionally, I left Cathy for years as I carried on my salacious affair with HPC. I have absolutely no excuse for my unacceptable conduct.

Finally, there is my sin of total and complete failure in leadership, as I stood by like a bump on a log, and allowed the Robinsons and a few of their opportunistic lackeys to take from Cathy what she had unselfishly put her heart and soul into for twelve years. The cumulative total of my actions put her in that vulnerable position.  My guilt is no less than theirs. In my opinion, their maltreatment of her, while simultaneously proclaiming the love of Jesus with their public lips, were hypocrisies of the ultimate magnitudes!

The Bible pulls no punches in teaching that Jesus hated, with a burning passion, hypocrisy of religious leaders. He predicted with crystal clear clarity the fate of such abject people. They will not get away with it.  I am particularly mystified how easily led people like Terri and Kristen Robinson and Trish Rather turned their backs on their faithful friend, Cathy. It is beyond my comprehension how those three sleep at night. As Cathy left my office that Labor Day morning, I had no idea that 168 hours later, for all intents and purposes, I would no longer have the greatest job in the world.

Entire book for free at

http://johngouldener.com/?page_id=3877

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