Jake turned the engine over again. Nothing.
Still covered in yesterday’s Austin City Limits Music Festival sweat and booze, he looked in the back of his car for an easy change of clothes. All his belongings were there, and as he turned back to the front, his eyes settled on the crumpled receipt from his 401K—he’d cashed it out two days ago and given it all to his wife.
And in the middle of the passenger seat sat the directions to his old youth leader’s house in Arkansas. He was going to drive there, murder that man, and then kill himself.
That was five years ago. Now, sitting at his kitchen table with his wife and daughter—preparing to move overseas to share the gospel—Jake and Rebecca can see God’s goodness working through each line of cocaine, each lie to cover his tracks, and each lifeline Rebecca threw him in her own attempts to be his savior.
Jake’s mother left when he was eight years old, dropping him at his father’s house for “the weekend.” Heartbroken, Jake began to attend a church in Huntsville, Alabama, where he first learned to love Jesus. At 11, he was baptized and joined the youth group at his church. “The youth leader took an interest in me,” Jake recalls. “I thought he was my friend, someone I could turn to.” Soon after, that leader decided to show Jake pornography. “It wasn’t the first time I’d seen porn, but to have an adult show it was a whole different situation.”
Jake reported him, and the leader was removed from his position, but remained at the church.
When Jake was 12, the youth leader again approached Jake, and this time the relationship became sexual. The shame swallowed Jake alive, and when added to the abandonment of his mother, Jake began to believe that it was all his fault. He fantasized about his own death throughout his teenage years and begged God to kill him. Because his first sexual experience was with a man, Jake thought he was gay and tried to “prove” himself in high school by sleeping around with multiple girls.
At 21, Jake had his first drink and found what he thought was the cure for his pain. When he drank, he could talk—never about the youth leader—but at least about the hurt from his mom. “I’d drink myself into oblivion and then cry myself into this place of ‘why does my mom hate me?’” he recalls.
When he met Rebecca, now his wife, he was 24, and she was 18. It took another 10 years for Jake to open up about the molestation. Rebecca remembers that she never thought Jake was an alcoholic: “I just thought he was really depressed about his past, because he only talked about it when he was drunk. I was glad he was talking—that it wasn’t just stuck in there.”
Rebecca and Jake dated on and off for a while. Though they had a couple breaks, they always came back to each other. “My heart was always with Rebecca,” Jake remembers.
In January 2007, Jake got his first DWI when he rolled his Jeep through the front of a house on Mary St. in Austin, Texas.
It seemed like a turning point. Jake spent hours in the drunk tank, not knowing if his buddy in the passenger seat had survived. He was mortified that he was capable of what he’d done. His friend did survive, and he called Rebecca to go pick up Jake the next morning.
The incident shook both of them out of their routine, and things started lining up.
Rebecca started going back to church. Jake resisted, but begrudgingly agreed. Later that year, Jake proposed—like a storybook, he slipped a ring on his sleeping beauty while she dozed on the couch one night. He loved every suspenseful moment between the time she woke up and the time she realized there was something new on her finger.
Rebecca also convinced him to come with her on a trip to Nicaragua to provide medical care for the people there. At the end of ten hard, sweat-filled days of serving others, Jake and Rebecca found a butterfly garden near Selva Negra and were married. They enlisted a pastor on their trip to perform the ceremony, and the team who had served with them threw everything together. One man grabbed his guitar, a group of women collected flowers for a bouquet, and another man—a professional photographer—readied his camera. By midday, the Harrisons were married, surrounded by new friends and the beauty of God’s creation.
It seemed like a turning point, but it wasn’t. The trappings of marriage and church attendance simply masked the deep brokenness lurking underneath.
Even with a new bride, a vow to drink more responsibly, and a job he liked, Jake’s depression deepened. He was drinking a bottle of Jameson whiskey a day. He planned his suicide on multiple occasions. He used cocaine regularly. He had an ongoing affair.
They were the darkest years of his life. He believed in God, but he ran to the comforts and escapes of this world to ease his pain. “I wanted relief. All I wanted was some kind of relief,” he recalls.
Rebecca saw her husband’s burdens and desperately tried to take them on herself, believing she could fill the hole in Jake’s heart. On her shoulders, she’d always felt the heavy weight of others’ salvation, both eternally and temporally. She needed to fix and protect the people in her life, and she carried this savior complex into her marriage with Jake. Inevitably, this burden unraveled her to the point at which she had no fight left in her. “His final spiral down felt like eternity, but it was really just a couple months,” she remembers.
It was the summer of 2010. Rebecca knew something was up—she knew Jake’s behavior had changed—so she confronted him. Jake admitted to aspects of the truth. Yes, he’d had an affair, but he promised it was a one-time thing with someone Rebecca didn’t know. In truth, it was habitual and with a mutual acquaintance from Jake’s work.
“You’d think seeking pleasure in that avenue would be satisfying, but that affair made me more miserable than anything else,” Jake recalls. “I hated that I did it. I hated that I couldn’t stop.” He hid so many things from Rebecca that he felt like he was living a complete lie. And Rebecca was frightened for Jake’s well-being. He’d call her late at night, drunk and suicidal, and she wouldn’t know where he was.
“At that point, I was just really trying to control him—to get him to go to therapy, get him to see a psychiatrist, get him on medication. It was just about fixing him, because he was so suicidal I thought he was going to kill himself and it would be a reflection on me as a wife—that my husband killed himself because I wasn’t good enough. It was shameful for me to have a husband going through this and not be able to fix him. I even tried to get him committed and took him to a psychiatrist, but he’d had a good day that day, so he seemed fine and wouldn’t share the truth, so this plan just blew up in my face,” she remembers.
“I knew he was still having an affair. I knew he was still drinking. He didn’t come home at night. I felt like if I did nothing, I was going to come home and find him dead. I couldn’t watch him just kill himself.”
Rebecca spent that summer talking to a Christian therapist, her best friend, and God. They were the only ones who knew what was going on, and they were her lifelines. “God gave me this compassion for Jake—it wasn’t humanly possible,” she remembers. “That’s how I could stay with him, even though he continued the affair, continued to drink, continued to lie.”
But even with that compassion, she was still terrified about what was going to happen to Jake. She called her best friend sobbing one Thursday afternoon, saying that Jake had to get help or she was going to leave. She remembers telling her friend, “There’s no way he’ll choose me.”
Rebecca’s friend replied, “Our God is a God of miracles—He can do anything.” And Rebecca deemed this would necessitate a miracle. There was no way. So she prayed for a miracle.
That night, she went home and gave Jake the ultimatum: pick your lifestyle, or pick me.
And he didn’t pick Rebecca. Jake packed up his things, left for his alcohol-and-drug-fueled weekend at ACL and a final fling with his mistress, and prepared himself to confront the youth leader who was, in Jake’s eyes, the root of all this evil—his alcoholism, his drug addiction, his affair, and his deep, deep pain.
He’d given up. He was so entrenched in shame that he couldn’t imagine God would ever want him. He remembers, “I didn’t want to be accepted back into God’s embrace. I wanted to die. I’d do a lot of cocaine and feel my heart and just beg it to please, just, stop.”
When Jake finally got back after ACL to his 1991 Buick La Sabre, isolated in the center of an empty parking lot outside BJ’s Brewhouse, he was ready to do what it took to end his pain.
And then his car wouldn’t start.
Phoneless, he walked fifteen minutes to his wife’s grandmother, hoping to find Rebecca there. To her knowledge, Jake had planned to go visit his father in Florida. Rebecca opened the door to find the last person she expected. Head down, Jake asked for her help with the car. She paused, and then replied, “The only way I’ll help you is if you come to church with me.”
Hungover and out of options, Jake agreed. They fought the zoo of traffic and arrived, finding seats eight rows up in the back bleachers at Austin High School where The Austin Stone Community Church holds Sunday services. Jeff Mangum was teaching a sermon called “Faith Is: Seeing the Unseen,” and it seemed to Jake that God had orchestrated the whole universe so that he could hear this sermon at that exact moment.
Tears poured down Jake’s cheeks. People around him passed him tissues and squeezed his arm in comfort. Jake remembers so clearly, “I felt like God was in the building right there with me. Everything that Jeff said…”—he sighs—“It’s hard to explain. Jeff said that our God is going to push you to the edge where you have no other choice but to rely on Him—that it’ll feel like you’re falling, and He’ll catch you. I needed to rely on someone way bigger than me. That sermon couldn’t have been meant for anybody else but me. And it just crushed me. I felt like I could reach out and touch God, and He said, ‘Dude, just stop. Stop running, stop doing everything. Let Me help you.’ And I remember just crying. I bawled.”
"The snotty kind,” Rebecca interjects, laughing.
Filling his lungs with air, Jake remembers, “That was the most relief I ever had in my life.”
Here was that turning point they had thought was coming in 2007. And here it was, coming with the full force of God’s power and love in their lives. The Harrisons began to feel their burdens lighten, unaware that God’s plan for them was still very much in progress.
Within 24 hours, they agreed that Jake needed to go to rehab. Tuesday, the Harrisons were on a plane to Florida to a facility that would take Jake.
The plane ride was terrible. The two-hour drive to the center was terrible. They got lost. They fought. But by Wednesday, Jake was in rehab, awakening to the truth of God’s love—that through Christ, Jake and Rebecca had the rest they so desperately needed.
October 20, 2010 was the first day Jake went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and the first day he admitted he’s an alcoholic.
Jake spent 37 days in rehab. At the end, the director of the program looked at the 10 recovering addicts and told them half would be back. To this day, Jake is one of two who never used again. “It’s all glory to God,” Jake says. “It’s nothing I’ve done.”
Rebecca joined Jake in Florida, and they began to rebuild their life together. They attended counseling together and separately, and Jake went to 90 meetings in 90 days. Rebecca began to deal with the pain Jake had caused her—something she’d set aside for a while, by God’s grace, to help care for Jake. She still wasn’t sure she was going to stay with him. Jake was still in touch with his mistress—a different addiction—and Jake thought he could handle it.
And at 34, he still hadn’t told anyone what his youth leader had done—not his addiction therapist, his friends in the program, or his wife. Though he had freedom from addiction for the first time in his life, this secret festered. It needed to be brought into the light, to become light, so that God could keep healing Jake’s wounds and taking on his burdens.
Even when Jake told his addiction therapist that he was bulimic and she asked point-blank if he was molested, Jake denied it. “I remember asking her why she’d ask that, and she said, ‘Well, you’re bulimic, a drug addict, an alcoholic, you had an affair, and you’ve confessed homosexual thoughts. So I figured you were molested,’” Jake shares. “Man, it was so ridiculous that I still couldn’t tell the truth.”
In late 2011, a news update about the Jerry Sandusky Penn State scandal came across the radio one day when Rebecca was driving with Jake in the car. The announcement elicited such a visceral reaction from Jake that Rebecca knew almost instantly. “It was an intuition thing,” Rebecca remembers. They rode in silence the rest of the way home. They went inside, sat on the couch, and Jake finally shared, “I was 11 or 12. It was a man at church.”
“That was all I could get out,” he remembers. “It was the first time I’d ever told anybody. It had been my secret for 20 years. It was terrifying. I thought she was going to leave me—but she just did what Rebecca does. She loved me.”
Slowly, the Lord knit Jake and Rebecca back together. Their faith grew. They abandoned bad habits. They confessed old hurts. They had their first child, a sweet, blue-eyed girl, on August 26, 2012. Jake and Rebecca finally believed that God was loving enough and gracious enough to overcome their pain.
But they were still in Florida where it felt safe. Bit by bit, they began flying back to Austin for long weekends here and there. They never told anyone—Jake was still fearful of what would happen if he had contact with his old way of life or his mistress. God’s faithfulness and protection continued, and soon, Rebecca and Jake were ready to come back to their beloved city.
They moved back to Austin on October 20, 2012—Jake’s two-year sobriety date—and began attending The Austin Stone Community Church regularly.
Within a month, Jake and Rebecca heard Andy Kampman talk about going overseas to serve others and share the gospel. Memories of Nicaragua flooded them both, and they remembered how much joy they’d felt. That morning, both felt God wanted them to go overseas. “We’d always had a heart for it,” Rebecca remembers, “but finally, it was the right time. So we thought, Why not now?”
As a next step, they joined a group at the Stone called a Goer Missional Community, or GMC, designed to train and prepare people to share the gospel overseas.
In that group, Jake and Rebecca found a community unlike any they’d ever experienced. At their first meeting, the GMC raised $2500 to help the Harrisons move into their community’s apartment complex. Their generosity and obedience to God was powerful to Rebecca and Jake. “I’d never seen Christians be that way,” Jake shares. “It was an instant family.”
Everything seemed to be working out. They were closer to God than they’d ever been, doted on their new baby girl, and their marriage grew stronger each day. They read the Bible and beamed. They knew now the joy of the psalmist who delights in God’s promise to lift his head up above his enemies and says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
But on the first day they moved into GMC housing, their beloved dog died unexpectedly, curled up on their bed. Then, Rebecca figured out that her eldest sister was doing meth regularly, often putting Rebecca’s niece, Julie, in danger. Rebecca’s sister refused help, and Rebecca had to call Child Protective Services to intervene. Then, Julie, who was 15, got pregnant by a man 10 years her senior. “I had a lot of guilt about that,” Rebecca shares. “I took her to church. I tried to save her. I felt like I failed.”
Everyone argued about what to do with the baby, including the Harrisons. Rebecca wanted to adopt the child, but Jake was worried she was falling into her habit of trying to save everyone. “That was the second biggest blow to our marriage. We fought a lot. We didn’t let God guide us,” Rebecca shares. “It’s just been so much spiritual warfare ever since we said ‘yes’ to going overseas.” While they were fighting and figuring out how to care for Julie’s infant son, Rebecca’s three-year-old nephew Isaac died suddenly in Dallas. “To come home from that funeral and have to find parents for my niece’s baby…” she pauses. “It was just two hard losses in a row.”
With each loss, the Harrison’s GMC wept, suffered, and prayed alongside them. One couple sat outside their door all night and prayed for them. Others buried their dog when the Harrisons couldn’t muster the strength. The GMC reminded the Harrisons of the truths from the Bible that their suffering was not in vain, that the God of the universe loves Jake, He loves Rebecca, that He is truly working all things for the good of those who love Him.
“If any good came out of that,” Rebecca says, “it’s the sense of urgency we have now to see the Great Commission completed. It made me want to see the kingdom come faster.”
They decided to stay in the U.S. another year while they recovered from the losses and allow God to heal them. Since they were staying, they decided to lead a new GMC, and they scheduled their first trip to Central Asia to confirm their desire to go serve the people of that region.
Over the past year, God has taught them how to speak about their joy in Christ and to use their story to demonstrate God’s goodness and faithfulness, even in awful circumstances. It can be painful to keep reliving, but Jake shares, “If I have to make myself vulnerable so God can allow others to be free of their secrets, then great.”
Each of them sees how their story and the choices they’ve made has allowed them to love each other better, to love God more, and to bring the freedom of a relationship with Christ to nonbelievers.
“We want to share about the affair, that God is bigger than it. It’s only God who can overcome what happened to us, what I did to Rebecca,” Jake shares.
“It’s beautiful to stick by someone through the mess and be made more like Christ as a result,” adds Rebecca.
“I think that’s why I love Jesus so much—from where we started, from where I started, now we’ve got two kids, we’re moving to Central Asia,” Jake says. “We’re just normal people. And He’s using us.”
And truly, Jake and Rebecca believe, God has shown them over and over again how His timing, His wisdom, and His plans are the way to find rest for their souls.
Their second child arrived in 2015. Jake celebrated that he’s been sober five years on October 20, 2015. They plan to move to Central Asia some time in 2016.
The Harrisons know more suffering will come, even as they obey Christ’s commandment to go and make disciples of all nations. But now, they have Christ’s example to follow in their suffering—an example of entrusting all things completely to God, even to the point of death.
And in this, they find the rest that only Christ can give. It is the promise found in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”