The God who knows us.

It was nearly 12pm, Sunday the 8th of May 1994, when we received the phone call. That day was special on many levels: It was mother’s day. It was also the last day I was to see my father alive ever again. Dad was dying from an aggressive form of leukaemia. He had only a few short weeks before, come out of hospital recovering from a prostate cancer operation, which he had been told was successful. Only to be given the prognosis a week or two later he had an aggressive form of leukaemia. My dad was a hard man. He was old school. He taught us that men don’t cry. He wasn’t harsh in an abusive way – though if we mucked up, he would only have to start to unbuckle his belt and we knew we had better stop, or cop his strap over our bare butt.

Dad’s relationship with his father (my grandfather) was strained. They lived on a large sheep property in Wingello, south of Sydney. His mother died when he was only 14 or so, and he was shipped off to live with an uncle and aunty. In those days, it wasn’t considered right for a single father to look after his children and so tradition and culture dictated that he go and live with his aunt and uncle in Sydney. Sadly for him, within 12 months they both passed away and he found himself homeless with nowhere to go. A friend took him home to his place, introduced him to his mum and said he has nowhere to live – and his friends mum promptly told him, yes he does, and took him in as one of her own there on the spot.

There is a saying that you can take the boy out of the bush – but you can’t take the bush out of the boy – and dad was a classic example of this. He had been taught to hunt, fish, and butcher animals at an early age, which was a normal part of rural life. When he was seven, he was given his first rifle and was expected to bring a rabbit or a hare home for the pot. Dad longed for the rural life and ran away a number of times from those caring for him, only to be found hiding out in the back of the family property; and was brought back kicking and screaming that he would return once again.

Dad had three other interests. They were cycling, boxing and dancing. And he was very good at all three. His wardrobe was full of ribbons he had won from dancing on local, state and even Australia levels – my aunt says he could have gone onto representing Australia on an international level; only he met a girl, who for a variety of reasons didn’t like him dancing and he stopped. The relationship turned sour a few years later and they both went their separate ways. Eventually dad took on an apprenticeship as a photo engraver and became a skilled tradesman. He worked for one of the major Sydney newspapers, where they would engrave on copper sheets the pictures that the papers would eventually print with their stories. Most of those engravings were destroyed, the copper recycled and reused over and over again. However Dad kept some of them, and I have 2 of them hanging above my desk. My aunty also has a couple of others that he did. Sometime later, he met my mum, they were to marry and have three sons, and with yours truly being the oldest. When his second son was born – because of the difficulties of night shift and the ever increasing change of technology in the printing industry, dad could see the writing on the wall that photo engraving was a dying art – he changed careers and became a horticulturist, where he was to eventually own his own nursery and indoor plant hire business. He was to become the first plant hire business to put live plants into a MacDonald’s store in Australia. He must have been doing something right, because within 6 months, he was asked to put plants into all the stores in the Campbelltown, Wollongong and South Coast region.

We had a family tradition of always going down to my grandfather’s farm every school holidays in May. By this time, pop had sold his previous farm and bought another one further south, at a location called Oallen. There we were taught to shoot, hunt, fish, and bush craft. Though when I turned 7, my dad said to mum, “How blinking stupid was his dad giving him a rifle at the age of 7.” And I had to wait till I was 14 before getting my first air rifle. Pop’s property also had a number of old gold mines scattered around it. Most were deep pits that we dug into the ground and we never refilled. You could see the mounds of dirt around them, often filled and covered with gum tree leaves, with a gum tree growing out of them. We were always taught never to walk over them, as it could have been easy to fall through the litter and never be found again. The Chinese were smart cookies – they discovered a spring on top of a hill, dammed it, and built a water race from the top of the hill to the creek bed at the bottom. The race was at least a kilometre in length and much of the walls were still in existence when I was last there. Sadly, pop sold the property. After his death I was to find out he had spoken to my aunt, asking her if he thought that her son and I might have like to have it ourselves. She told him no – without asking either of us – as she was protecting her son’s advancing military career. Years later I was talking to my cousin about this and he was still spitting chips, saying he would have loved to have taken it on – which echoed my own sentiments.

Fast forward to years later, dad had told us all about his prognosis. He point blank refused to have chemo. He had worked with poisons most of his life, and wasn’t going to put that stuff in his body. Plus he was told it only had minimal chances of healing him of this disease. I was 26 years old, and I was standing in the kitchen talking to dad. By this time he had become a born again Christian and he had remarkably changed. In the kitchen he dropped a bombshell, saying to me, “Craig, I regret never putting my arm around your shoulder, telling you how much I love you!” I was 26 years old. And for the first time in 26 years I was hearing my dad tell me he loved me. I couldn’t handle it. I was already struggling with the emotions of dad’s impending death and didn’t know how to handle them. Many more emotions were forcing their way up from deep within and I said to Dad, “That’s ok dad, we have more important things to talk about!” The truth was, we didn’t have more important things to talk about. Nothing could be more important than that conversation which I was not able to have.

Dad was eventually moved into palliative care at the hospital, and I visited him on Mother’s Day, to find him alone in a room with no food or water. The hospital water tasted foul. I likened it to dam water that cattle had stood in. So I made the hour round trip from Camden Hospital back home to pick up a jug of water and bring it to him. Though our house had been connected to town water, it was the sweetest town water I had ever tasted, and still believe that is the case today. I think it had something to do with the new main water pipes which had only been laid a few years before. Dad took some sips and then told me it was time for me to go. Reluctantly I left, and went home, numbed, not sure when I would see dad again. That night at 11:45pm, we received a call to come to hospital and give dad our last respects. When we arrived, had had already gone.

Dad had brought us up that men don’t cry. I didn’t know how cry. A huge part of me wanted to; but, I buried the pain, deeper and deeper and tried to ignore it. My brothers, uncles and I were his pall bearers and I don’t know how I carried his coffin out of the church. At the grave side, I wanted to throw myself down on the coffin and scream my guts out; but, the upbringing I had about men not crying forced me to show the stiff upper lip. That night at home during the wake, I cracked jokes. It was my only way of handling the grief and pain. And in my joking I stopped others from grieving also. A friend’s dad was a few weeks later to tell me, “Craig, you need to go out down the back paddock and throw yourself down and have a royal paddy.” But, the reality was, I couldn’t. Eventually the grief ate away at me, and while doing night shift as a security guard, I was playing with the gun and shot myself in the leg. Even shooting myself in the leg didn’t make me cry. A good friend was to tell the story many times about how when he visited me in hospital, I asked the nurse if I would be able to play cricket. (I was hopeless when it came to anything that had to do with a bat, ball and running) She told me, “Yes Craig, you will be able to play cricket!” She looked like she wanted to belt me one, when I replied, “You beauty, I have never been able to play cricket before; amazing what a bullet in the leg will do for you!” Shortly after I was released from hospital, I was sitting out the front of a local pub, when a visiting hoon decided he didn’t like me, and wanted to belt the daylights out of me. I quietly said to him; “Mate, you don’t want to get me riled up. Please don’t get me riled up. I am going to court soon, for shooting someone. A lot of peeps think I am nuts.” He scoffed at me and I said to him, “If you don’t believe me, go and ask the bar maid.” He went inside and I never saw him again. Later the barmaid told me, he came up to her, pointing to me, saying that wanker out there reckons he is going to court soon for shooting someone. “She said, “He is right, he did shoot someone, he shot him in the leg, and the poor bloke is only just out of hospital!” She then said, he turned a real funny colour and walked out the side door really quick.

I carried the pain of grief for four years. I tried to numb the pain with drinking; it didn’t work. I tried to keep my life busy and it didn’t work. I became a travelling insurance salesman. And towards the end of 1996, I was staying at a pub at Gunning where I picked up a bible from the chest of drawers and started reading it. I read that bible for the next 2 days. I couldn’t put it down. I read how God sent his son Jesus to a world that was broken by sin. How Jesus healed the sick. Cast demons out of those afflicted by demons. How he fed the hungry. How he cared for the down and out. And I started to pray, and ask God if all this was real. I soon quit that job and on the 9th of March, 1997 found myself pinned to a church pew for a number of hours, where God revealed the truth of who he was to me. He became real to me. I knew my sins were forgiven. In that moment, I became a changed man. I became changed to the point where the thirst for alcohol was gone. I also could no longer look at pornography. Though I had some other addictions to battle, they being masturbation and gambling.

A few months later I was at a church camp, where some people offered to pray for me. We were standing up after the service and they laid hands on my shoulder and head and started to ask God to bless me. I heard God speak to me, telling me, “Craig, it was time to cry!” Emotions started to bubble up from me, and I shunted them back down, saying, “No way, I am not crying!” A second time, God spoke to me, in this most gentle and beautiful voice, “Craig, it’s time to cry!” At this I took a boxing stance, I held my fists up as if I was going to fight God, and told him I wasn’t going to cry. A third time he gently told me, “Craig, it’s time to cry, and cry you will!” With those words, two big arms came out of the air and gave me this huge gentle and fatherly hug. It broke me. Tears started welling up in my eyes. Pain started to bubble up. I couldn’t stop it. And so I ran out of that room, into my dorm and collapsed on the floor balling my eyes out. The buried pain ripped out of me. It ripped from deep within and I screamed. I cried. I balled. And the immense deep river of pain continued to pour out of me for the next 4 to 6 hours. Then it stopped.

I stopped crying. But, a soft laughter started to well up with in me. I started to laugh. And before I knew it, I was rolling around my room laughing. I couldn’t stop. It was as if an invisible person was sitting on me tickling me. And I laughed for the next 4 hours. I couldn’t stop. I was filled with a tremendous sense of joy. I finally fell asleep and woke up radically changed. 2 nights later I was sharing my testimony when people started to cry. God started working that night in the lives of others who were carrying deep and buried grief. People were being prayed for, and the next night, we heard many other testimonies of where God brought healing through forgiveness, reconciliation and the healing of other deeply buried grief.

But, despite my being radically changed, I still battled a chronic gambling and masturbation addiction. A few weeks later I cried out to God to deliver me from these addictions. I had no control over them. The next day at church our minister said if anyone wanted to come forward for prayer, to come forward after the service. I did, and he told those who came forward, “Don’t tell me what you want, tell God, what you want!” I quietly told God, God, I need you to deliver me from these addictions, I can’t do it on my own.” The minister laid hands on me, asking God to bless me and to answer my prayers. I was thrown backwards onto the floor. Voices in my head told me to get up off the floor and go out the church with them, as they had to go!” I knew they were demons, and I said, “You have to go, I don’t want you in me, I am not going with you, go!” With this, three demonic figures rose up out of my body, and walked out the church. I laid there for a few more minutes, with a deep sense of peace coming over me. This sense of peace filled me, flowed through me and covered me. And I got off the floor, totally unharmed. And from that moment, I was free from the demonic grip of gambling and the fantasy of masturbation.

This happened in 1997 and till this day, I have been free from the addiction of gambling, pornography and alcoholism. And though I was to experience a near soul destroying journey of life 10 years later, which is a story for another time, the truth is, God became real to me. His forgiveness of my sin became real. His presence in my life became real. His healing hand on my life became real. His power to deliver me from the demonic became real. And in the process I was to begin the journey of what it truly means to become a real man.

Perhaps something in my testimony has touched your heart also. If so I would like to pray with you. Father God, I pray for those who are carrying grief, pain and shame. I ask that you will reveal yourself to them. Show them how much you love them. Fill them with your Holy Spirit. Deliver them from the evil one. Cause them to cry out to you. Cause them to know your deep love, your real forgiveness. Help them to forgive others. To forgive themselves. To forgive circumstances of life which have embittered them. Bring blessings, freedom and reconciliation I pray, in Jesus name.

 

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About Craig Benno

I'm an average aussie guy who has lived perhaps a not so average life.
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