During recent days, various national media companies have run uncomplimentary articles about Barrett Riddleberger from Greensboro, NC because of a photograph with his wife that appeared on the home page of a dating website. The articles discussed his felony conviction as a young man because of relations with an underaged teen. Barrett is a friend. After that horrible time when he was a young adult, he repented and was able to turn his life around. Wonderful things followed. Barrett has a dramatic story to tell, and he wants to share it. What follows is his own account:
I divide my life into three distinct periods.
The first, from birth until age 18, was spent being raised in a nominally Christian home. External appearances were perfectly fine. But inside my childhood home, my siblings, my mother and I were the victims of repeated, violent abuse at the hands of my father. I do not share this to elicit sympathy or to offer an excuse for my later behavior; but instead my intention is to provide context for all that follows. The violent abuse even occurred on Sunday mornings before church. When we arrived for church services, my father would then walk to the front row of the sanctuary and take his place beside the other deacons as if nothing had happened.
Because of this upbringing, I hated church and everything about organized religion. I even hated God and wanted nothing to do with Him. This laid the groundwork for the second phase of my life.
The second phase was roughly from age 18 – 26. I label that as a period of rebellion and narcissism. I was living for short-term pleasure but was miserable and empty inside. I was discovering that the sexual revolution was a lie.
And then I suddenly experienced a major wake-up call with my arrest. It struck like a jolt; and I became aware that I had become an addict. A very long 15 months elapsed from the time of my arrest to my felony conviction. During that time period, I searched my soul and gradually came to an understanding of the gravity and magnitude of the bad decisions I had made. I was in the midst of an existential crisis.
Over the next year, I began to think back on some of the better parts of my upbringing—my Sunday School teachers and pastor, and of course, God…. Jesus. The problem during my rebellious period was that I had displaced the anger from my father’s abuse on to God Himself. But I was now instead facing the consequences of my own sinfulness.
My church upbringing fortunately instructed me as to what I had to do.
One night, I prayed to God, repeatedly, as I repented. At that time, I remember feeling that I was almost in a pool of sweat. I knew there was no option but to admit that I was a sinner; and threw myself at the foot of the cross where I knew Jesus was there to save me. He had already paid the price for my sin and was ready to receive me as His own that night. Once I accepted Him as Lord and Savior, I knew exactly what to pray for: strength and wisdom for all that would follow.
My next task was to stop getting together with my previous friends. I also began attending church, where I found people who were wonderfully kind and sincere. They welcomed me, prayed for me and received me into the church family. They were truly Christians.
By the time I had to appear in court, I had become a Christian, and my life was in the process of changing dramatically.
The third stage of my life had begun, and it encompasses the period from roughly age 26 until the present time.
A year later after this all took place, I went to visit my father. Surprisingly, he remarked that I was a “totally different person than I was a year ago.” That was the best compliment I could have ever received from him. God helped me to forgive my Dad. Things were never perfect after that, but they were much better than they had been. By the time I was ready to get married, our relationship recovered to the point that he served as my best man.
I had previously failed out of college twice. But I went back to college once again; and this time I paid for it myself. Because of the change that had taken place, I made the Dean’s List.
With God’s grace, my wife and I are now in our 22nd year of marriage. We have three wonderful children. At church, I have served as a deacon and Sunday School teacher. At one point, like many others, we assumed risk and started a business; and were fortunate enough to succeed. I discovered the field of Christian apologetics which deals with defending our beliefs. I even have been privileged to be involved with the work of one particular international Christian apologist who helped me to learn to use logic and reason to make sense of the past, always pointing to Christ.
But the overriding theme of my life for many years had been enormous guilt and shame because of the events of my young adulthood. I tell people that I have a PhD. in the field of shame. For twenty years after my arrest, in spite of the transformative change in my life, I felt a black cloud following me around. There was still a nagging pain I always felt. But in 2014, while meditating on the scriptures, Christ took care of that also.
I found a particularly instructive verse in the New Testament:
2 Corinthians 7:10 (NIV) – Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
In my mind’s eye, I saw Christ on the cross. I finally realized that His cross was big enough for all my sin and shame. And I was finally relieved of it. I understood for the first time that I am not a Christian because I am a good person; rather, I am a Christian precisely because of my sinfulness. In the depth of my shame, Jesus Christ became the hero of my life, and dealt with all of it.
During the twenty years I spent under a black cloud, I became more dependent on Christ. I learned to rely upon Him and his word every day. And in the most difficult moments, He helped bond me to Him. He walked alongside me with all the challenges and anguish I faced and gave me comfort and wisdom.
No matter how bad you may have messed up in this life, Jesus is ready and able to save you, transform you and give you a new life. Come to the cross, repent of your sins and ask Him into your life as Lord and Savior. Let Jesus be the hero of your life story too.
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