By Jeff Carrasco
This is a guest post by my brother-in-law Jeff. He's one of the strongest people I know. For his whole life, he has dealt with a chronic painful disease, but I've witnessed him push through the physical, emotional and spiritual weight of it all and still be willing to be used by God. It's our prayer that his story (scars and all) will bring others out of the darkness of shame and grow in a deeper understand of God's infinite grace and mercy.
I’ve dealt with two diseases for most of my life: multiple hereditary exostoses (MHE) and a porn addiction. To save you a Google search, here’s a quick explanation of MHE: I basically walk around with tumors all over my body, ready to throw at me the worst pain ever whenever they feel like they're having a bad day. And trust me, they have A LOT of bad days.
I've taken numerous medications over the years for pain or simply to help me recover from a surgery or procedure. Recently, I was put on a very strong medication permanently to control the pain from my tumors. The painkillers are horrible. I know that they are helping me, but it tears my body up and sometimes feels like it's killing me more than helping me.
Pornography is like a painkiller or even a narcotic. It hijacks the brain, it redefines human sexuality, and in the meantime ruins lives, destroys families, and destabilizes ministries. And honestly my struggle with it made me tired. This is my journey with both debilitating illnesses.
The "discovery" of MHE came when my mom bathed me in the tub as a toddler one day. "What three year old has shoulder blades this big?!" she thought. It's typical for any Hispanic mother to freak out pretty quickly, so doctor appointments followed soon after.
Good ol' Jamaica hospital. Closest hospital to our home at the time and also home to one of the best doctors specialized in dealing with MHE. As a kid, though, that didn't matter to me. I enjoyed my doctor appointments because I loved the beef patties the old man sold outside from his food cart. I would sit outside after my appointment devouring my beef patty and watching my mom eat her favorite, a knish with mustard on it (gross mom...just gross). This was my mini vacation from dealing with Math and Reading with Ms. Goldberg, my kindergarten teacher.
But as time passed, the pain grew worse and started affecting my bones and therefore my growth as a child, I remember seeing my legs start curving day by day, as if someone was slowly about to snap them. The tumors were becoming visible to the naked eye. A quick glance at my arms or legs or any joint revealed their growing size. This was the beginning of a long journey ahead. Little Jeffrey had no idea what God had planned for him.
Mommy, what’s wrong with me?
Health complications weighed heavily on me as a child. I remember doctors rushing in and out of my room and talking in front of me about how many screws were going into my leg.
With my mom at my bed side, a young Jeffrey would barrage her with questions:
I'm scared mommy, what's wrong with me?
Why can't I be a normal human being like my friends?
Why am I connected to all of these machines?
Are they gonna hurt me mom?
Don't leave me mommy, please don't!
I can only imagine my mom shuffling around trying to find the right responses in her head to these questions. Despite the fear welling up inside her own heart, Momma always knew what to say. She would sit next to my bedside and hold my hand and sing church songs to cheer me up. "You're going to be just fine baby. Remember God is in control and He is right here with you along this journey."
Sure, there were good days. But on the bad days, I longed for anything to make things seem right.
“I feel like I’m in trouble”
Unfortunately, I remember the incident as if it happened yesterday. My family and I were involved in our regular Sunday routine of getting ready for church. Complete chaos, I tell you, complete chaos. I just so happened to be the first one ready and decided to watch some TV to pass the time.
News? Boring, and for old people. A preacher? I’m on my way to church; that’s way too holy. I continued to scroll through more channels of things I didn’t care about until I got to a channel that mesmerized me. I remember scene by scene the explicit images and sensual actions of these two grown ups on the screen. Immediately, I felt something wasn't right in me.
Before I could attempt to grasp what I just saw, my mom stormed in. "How did it get there?" she yelled. An awkward silence filled the space between us. Afterwards I spent days trying to figure out why I felt weird inside.
What was the big deal? The people seemed to portray happiness on the screen. Is this the answer to my problems? Hour by hour, day by day I couldn't get those images out of my head.
A couple of weeks later, I was home because of an appointment and my mom was tasked with babysitting our landlord's daughter for the day. I was excited to have someone my age to play with on this mini-vacation from Ms. Goldberg's class.
As mom slipped into the kitchen to whip up something good for dinner and talk on the phone (not much has changed), back in a room on the other side of our apartment things turned bad, real quick.
Unanswered questions from the images I’d seen sparked curiosity, which led to my first ever sexual encounter at the age of six years old. While we did not have sex, we had an experimental, sexual encounter for which we were both equally unprepared and confused about. Awkwardness filled the room immediately afterwards, both children thinking “What just happened?” mixed with the feeling of "I feel like I'm in trouble". With shame, guilt, and fear plastered on our faces, my mom came in to check on us.
"Everything is cool? No issues, right?" she asked. "Yes, mom, everything is fine," I lied straight to my mother's face. That was the beginning of my infection with this disease and it was spreading fast.
Slowly I entered into a world that I had no idea how to control. This looked fun. It felt good. It gave me that temporary "cure" I needed. It was my go-to move when the pressure hit in the fourth quarter. Yet the more and more time I spent discovering, the more deadly it became.
One view turned into two views, then three views, then I just completely lost count. Staying busy didn't help. Nor did attempting to ignore it as I went about my school life. I learned soon enough I wasn't the only person exploring this world. I remember friends from school would bring dad's “stash” or an older sibling thought it was funny to let their middle school brother bring rip outs to school and show it off to his friends. This wasn't enough for me. Those feelings I felt as a six year old in that room grew into a hunger and something I needed to enjoy and feel again. I was enslaved to it.
I'd read how pastors, families, ministries fell because of this disease. The way it exploits women made in the image of God into an image made for a man’s lust. The way it turns children of God into sexual slaves. The way it made me look for a companion to be my porn star rather than look for a woman who feared the Lord. Or simply the way it drew me further and further away from that thirst and hunger in serving God wholeheartedly. I was ready to give up and give in.
I once heard a speaker say there's nothing sweeter than that phrase "But God." I fully committed my life to Jesus Christ at 14 years old, sitting in a trailer in New Hampshire. I had been attending church and involved in many ministries during my teen years, all while being shackled to my addiction to porn. Broken relationships and "friendships with benefits" were a normal routine for me. I knew the chaos I was causing but didn't care: I was having "fun".
Then came the day I couldn't take it anymore. I had had enough of pornography keeping me away from a true gladness and appreciation for God and for people. I knew there was only one way of getting back on track. I had to expose myself and my sin. I had to tell someone, and face the reality of my dirt being out there.
Looking out my bedroom window one day, I feared what people would think. What about my family? And my mom? I knew for sure she was going to disown me after this.
But God. He had a different plan.
As tears streamed down my face, my mom looked straight into my eyes with concern, and told me to calm down and talk. I told her EVERYTHING. In total shame, I braced for the worst. Instead, my mom gently responded, "Jeffrey, I love you." Then she lifted my head, pulled me close to her and told me everything was going to be all right.
A spirit of freedom came over me. I knew this was the first step in what would be a challenging healing process. In one simple loving response from my mother, I experienced God's grace and His power to break chains.
"Grace that is greater..."
And he lived happily ever after.
Yeah I wish. It is still a temptation. Temptation abounds living in the city I live in (New York), and with the wandering heart I have. The temptations remain, but grace abounds all the more in Jesus Christ. For me, the secret has been having a close-knit group of guy friends who provide true accountability. With them, it’s not taboo to bring up the topic of sexual temptation. It’s freeing to know that they know my whole history, yet still choose to be in my life and ask me the hard questions.
One of my favorite questions posed by Jesus is in the book of John, with the story of Jesus’ encounter with a man who was an invalid for thirty-eight years. Jesus simply asks him "Do you want to be healed?"
On the surface, this may seem like a silly question. Of course this paralyzed man wanted to be healed. He probably dreamed of walking around on his own instead of feeling like a burden and needing people to carry him everywhere. As the story continues, Jesus tells the man to stand up, and the man immediately stands up and is healed.
Many times in my own life I hear that question being posed to me. Do I want to be healed? Am I willing to take that next step to be healed? Am I willing to let God be God?
In May of 2015, I went in for a simple surgery to remove a tumor in my chest. Been there, done that. But a month later, I developed a really bad infection that eventually caused my right lung to collapse, and made it almost impossible for me to breathe. I was admitted into the hospital and stayed there for a whole month.
During a small procedure in the operating room, I went into shock and stopped breathing. I remember not being able to speak and an alarm going off signaling all doctors on the floor to run to my room. All around me, doctors started screaming, "Jeffrey stay with me, stay with me. Don't close your eyes Jeff, keep them open, keep them open.” Reality hit as the doctor looked me in the eyes after I was stabilized and said, "We almost lost you there, buddy."
I fell into deep depression after that. I realized I couldn't conquer my health complications this time. They beat me. There was no fight in me left. Each passing day, I grew angrier and snapped at my closest family and friends. I contemplated suicide. I thought that taking my own life would be the easiest thing to do and the quickest cure to everything.
I thank God that He surrounds me with friends who know the right words to say in those situations and the right wisdom to share with me. One night during my hospital stay, one of my good friends stayed up for hours for me on the phone, and put things into perspective for me. The physical and emotional pain was so great during that time that it blinded me from my purpose in my family and my church. When I was feeling worthless and helpless, Jesus reminded me (through my friend) that I am valuable.
I sit here today and can't help but be in awe of all God has brought me through and, how He continues to sustain me each day. Every day, it’s a new battle and my heart wanders plenty of times. But like the invalid in the story, I had to respond to Jesus’ question and have a desire to be healed. Whether it's my past porn addiction or my inability and struggle to accept that I can't conquer every health complication, I need to allow God to heal me. The process hurts but the progress is worth it.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
- What skeletons are still in your closet that need to come out?
- What's holding you back from responding to God asking you, "Do you want to be healed?" How far are you willing to allow yourself to be entangled in your addiction or struggle without seeking wise counsel?
- How can you use your story to encourage another person out there? It takes one phone call, one email, one sit-down for lunch or coffee.