Chuck Rhoades grew up in the small town of Bowie, Texas, where church attendance was as much a social construct and cultural expectation as cheering for the local football team on Friday nights. As a child, Chuck was in and out of church and considered himself a Christian, but he was wired to be skeptical from birth. The doubts that plagued him and the hypocrisy he observed eventually fueled within him a complete disregard for the gospel. He had moralism but not much else.
Then, something unthinkable happened. Some might say Chuck became a statistic—one of 39 million American children who have been sexually abused. Not many in his small town sympathized nor identified with Chuck. Much worse, they spread word of the atrocious act. Nothing could supersede the loneliness and shame that Chuck felt.
As a teenager, Chuck had a passion and aptitude for technology and computers well before IT became a trend, but very few people he knew shared this interest. Not playing football or any other sport only furthered his isolation. So he compensated for lack of friendship by controlling his surroundings, suppressing the underlying fear of not being accepted. Convinced that people wouldn’t like him, Chuck would give them a reason not to before they had the opportunity to decide for themselves. He was a ferocious cynic and domineered every argument.
Chuck’s insecurity and need for control only magnified after marrying his wife, Kristina. They had two children, but Chuck developed a fear of engaging and playing with them. Participating in silly and kid-like activities would create too much opportunity for others to ridicule or belittle him. He refused to attend birthday parties or family events and, as far as Chuck was concerned, his day was over when he returned home from work. Frustrated with Chuck’s behavior, Kristina chose to lean on the Lord and trust in Him to equip her to love and care for the children alone, essentially.
One afternoon, Chuck’s son asked him why their family didn’t go to church. In that moment, Chuck realized the day was soon coming when he would have to talk to his children about his faith. If not him, someone would one day influence their impressionable minds and hearts, and that painful reality haunted him. Chuck had never truly felt the weight of the gospel and the magnitude of God’s grace in his own life. How could he offer his children something he didn’t possess?
Soon after his son stirred these thoughts, a friend from work began sharing the gospel with Chuck. For the first time in Chuck’s life, a follower of Jesus was being honest and patient with him. He wasn’t able to provide Chuck with all the answers, but Chuck was far more moved by his co-worker’s non-judgmental demeanor and honesty than he would have been by canned answers. This friend didn’t accuse Chuck of lacking faith, as many believers had in his past. Chuck deeply feared being known and judged, especially by the Church. But when this friend openly shared his own struggles, past hurts and fears, it kindled Chuck’s desire for that same freedom.
Shortly after, the Lord appeared in the last place Chuck thought imaginable: a tattoo parlor.
Shortly after, the Lord appeared in the last place Chuck thought imaginable: a tattoo parlor. Chuck’s tattoo artist was also a believer in Christ and shared with Chuck about his church and volunteering with the youth. “Kids?” thought Chuck. “I could never.” What he didn’t yet understand was that his disconnect from children, even his own, was actually a wall of self-protection, a reflection of the same disconnect Chuck felt with his heavenly Father.
The tattoo artist invited Chuck to visit The Village and, a week after Easter, Chuck and his family decided to check out the Denton campus. Not wanting to be seen, recognized or engaged by anyone, Chuck ushered his wife to the back pew. As though spoken directly to him, the pastor addressed Chuck’s concerns for his children: “Do you really believe that because you tell your kids with your mouth how important God and the community of faith is, while living your life contrary to what you say, that they will practice what you speak rather than what you do? I hope that we will feel the weight of rebellion in our lives and no longer pursue other things as primary instead of our relationship with the Lord.” For the first time in his life, Chuck heard the gospel with open ears and an open heart.
Over the next few months, Chuck listened to the podcast of every sermon while driving to and from work. He began meeting with a pastor and braved one of his biggest fears by joining a men’s Home Group. While being transformed, Chuck continued to carry an immense amount of guilt for being a distant husband and father. He was hesitant to share with Kristina the changes taking place within him out of fear of vulnerability. But God, in His goodness, revealed to Chuck that he no longer had to bear the guilt of past failures because Jesus bore it all on the cross. God gave Chuck the strength to confess to his wife, “If I truly believe what I say I believe, then everything in my life has to change.”
Over the next year, Chuck and Kristina were humbled by the magnitude of God’s grace in their lives. As a couple, they have learned to forgive one another, and the trust in their marriage has been and continues to be redeemed. Chuck has since been baptized, and, in him, the Lord has revealed a gift of teaching and conquered his fear of vulnerability. Chuck and Kristina are now faithful Home Group leaders and premarital counselors, desiring to share the beauty of God’s redemption in their lives.
While Chuck’s desire at first was to guide his children into heaven, the Lord’s plan was to guide Chuck’s heart to Him. Chuck will forever look at his children and picture them leading him to his heavenly Father.
Oh, and on Sunday mornings? Chuck can be found in Kids Village, singing, dancing or sometimes even rolling on the ground, doing all the things that only children would be foolish enough to let anyone else see them do. Because that’s what Jesus does when He redeems a life: He sets it free.