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Annual Gathering 2016
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Chris Coursey's Testimony:

I’ll never forget my alcohol counselor swearing at me out loud as she watched me walk into her office after I received my second DUI within a year. She hoped to never see me again after my first round of counseling. Now I faced jail time and hefty fines. I had stopped trying and was dying.

My mother had faithfully driven us kids to church every Sunday. At five years old I told her, “Mommy, when I get older I want to be a pastor.” My dreams took other forms too; I wanted to be a movie star, baseball, basketball or a racquetball player.

Even though I had talent, intelligence and many things came easily for me; I would blow one chance after another. I quit time after time. In grade school I found school, learning and testing easy. My teachers and principal recommended me to take an entrance examination at an elite school. I took the test but I purposefully flunked so I could stay in my grade school with my friends.

My fears slowing took over my life but I thought I was having fun. Ask me if I was afraid and I would have laughed, unless you asked about public speaking. I was terrified!

I loved sports. I played baseball in particular, from little league up to high school. I quit playing my senior year in high school in spite of possibly playing college ball. My coaches and other players kept asking me to play but I was bent on full time rebellion. No responsibility, discipline or sports for me. I remember the knot in my stomach when the season started.

I prayed to be influential and have meaning and still assumed I would fail. In spite of doing what seemed like all the right things, I believed Jesus was too busy. I thought He forgot about me. I noticed that the people who went to church looked unhappy and seemed phony instead of joyful like the songs they sang and the Bible stories they read. Something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. I was confused. I finally gave up on God.

I have a lot of examples in my life where I quit trying because I figured I would fail anyhow. This is a common theme since I can remember. Sadly, many of the things I quit were actually things I was good at. "At least if I quit it doesn't look like I failed. Quitting gives me control,” I told myself.

I hurt many girls because of my fear of rejection and failure. I often ended dating relationships and friendships because of underlying fears and trust issues. A girl would start to really care for me and I would bail.

I went to an extreme and began to live dangerously. My high school and early college years were marked by reckless abandon. I drank excessively. I smoked and partied incessantly. Blackouts, drinking and driving and self-destructive actions were routine. I ended up in scary places. I was lost. I gave up hope. I daydreamed about my funeral and wondered if death would be a relief. I had quit again.

In college I went from straight A’s to partial attendance in class. Speech class was an absolute nightmare. The very thought of public speaking put me in a panic. I am not talking about sweaty palms and butterflies; I was paralyzed by dread, panic, anxiety and worry sweeping over me. Intrusive thoughts seemed to control me: What if I say the wrong thing? What if the class laughs? What if I mess up? What if I forget my lines? What if I fail?

For two years I tried and failed to beat the terror of speech class. I finally transferred as a sophomore rather than a junior due to the missing speech credit. My terror started again in the new college because I still had to take speech to graduate. Now the classes were larger. Fear fueled my drinking. That is when I got the two DUIs.

Because it fit my major I decided to try an internship with a Christian counseling ministry. My first few days included observing prayer sessions. The sessions were intense. My fear rose and by the end of each session I had pushed my chair into the very corner of the room. In three days I decided that praying with people was not for me. I was going to quit. I would get away from this terror once again. That evening I told God, “You have the wrong man for this job. If you want me to do this work, please show me. Otherwise I pack my bags and leave tomorrow.” I quickly turned off the light believing I would leave the following morning. 

A strange and sudden thought woke me up. “Isaiah 61” hung in my mind. “Where did this come from?” I asked myself. I did not understand what “Isaiah 61” was or meant. It sounded like something that would be in the Bible, so I turned on the light and grabbed the nearest Bible. In the index I discovered there was a book of Isaiah. Surprised, I searched to see if there was a 61st chapter. There was. After reading the chapter in two different Bible versions I concluded that God was speaking. The chapter’s theme was what I saw the previous three days - counselors “preaching good news to the poor…binding up the broken hearted…proclaiming freedom for the captives.” I found myself doing what I had not done in a long time. I bowed in prayer and worshipped the God who hears.

For once in my life I felt and believed that God was with me. He knew me. He was aware of my circumstances. This time I didn’t quit. I finished my internship. I told Jesus I would pursue Him. That path led eventually to THRIVE and discovering the 19 brain skills I needed. For me, it was also the way back to my childhood dreams of making a difference and, yes, becoming a pastor.

I started working with Dr. Jim Wilder developing THRIVE training exercises. I was very attracted to the Life Model and Jim needed a partner to turn the theory he had worked on for decades into practical training experiences. Together we took the Life Model principles and designed training exercises that were as close to ideal as possible. I naturally practiced these skills and exercises myself. I would then test them with volunteers in a community setting. My community included a small congregation where I became pastor. Now being a pastor means speaking in front of people.

Before long I was planning and leading the THRIVE conference training. Being a leader for THRIVE conferences required public speaking. On top of speaking, these public events are often recorded. I found I had another debilitating fear: filming. This is quite a fear for a boy who dreamed of being an actor! I froze in front of a video camera. Paralyzing fear once again overtook me. My thoughts turned disorganized. I quickly forgot my lines. I stumbled over sentences. Fear and unprocessed trauma gripped me. Hopelessness crept in. I was failing, again. 

This time I had new tools to work with. I had a connection with Jesus. I had been learning the THRIVE brain skill of returning to joy from fear and the other five negative feelings. I had learned how fear affects the brain’s control center and how to quiet myself. I was learning the Godsight skill – how to see things as God does. “Why am I so afraid?” I asked Jesus using the Immanuel process we teach in THRIVE and Thriving. What emerged was that I frequently suffered from excruciating severe ear infections as a child. Eventually I underwent ear tube surgery at the ages of 2 and 4 to bring relief to my constant pain. Small tubes were inserted into my eardrums in order to ventilate the area behind the eardrum. Severe pain caused me to lose a good portion of my hearing. As a result, my speech skills suffered. During specific times when words, sounds and language were developing, I could not pronounce certain vowels or sounds. As a result I ended up in speech therapy up to eighth grade. Reading out loud or in front of my class became a source of extreme pain and anxiety.

The Immanuel Process restored me and soon my terror was gone. Interacting with the active presence of Jesus introduced peace and resolution to my life. Meanwhile THRIVE and the 19 skills radically transformed me and my relationships. I felt hopeful. I learned that attachment pain drove my deadly behavior and depression. The Life Model and THRIVE Conference taught me how to recognize my pain and proactively process it. I resolved old wounds that hindered my growth. I no longer stayed the infant who wanted everything to feed me. I grew up. I sought healthy connection with people instead of numbing, withdrawing and disconnecting. I created belonging around me instead of disappointment. I headed toward maturity and wholeness. I stopped drinking.

My joy increased. The newfound joy enhanced my capacity to recover from unpleasant emotions and pain. I discovered helpful, effective solutions to the five levels of pain that defined me. I was no longer immature, unstable and restless. Lies I once believed disappeared. I discovered my main pain and heart characteristic were closely connected. What I used to view as weaknesses were actually strengths. My sensitivity and compassion helped me understand the heart of God. My desire for meaning was an expression of the importance of life and fellowship. I quit living dangerously. I gained confidence. I learned failure is but a word, not a monster. I discovered the lack of maturity makes people do foolish things – even for Christians. I no longer feared video cameras and I liked public speaking. I became a pastor and an international speaker. Now I help others who are stuck, broken, hurting, addicted, fearful and unstable. I no longer dreamed about dying. I started living. 

About that point, early in my career as a prayer counselor, I met a very fearful woman named Jen. Like me, Jen knew there had to be something more to being a Christian than what she had experienced but unlike me Jen was not prone to give up.

Read Jen's Testimony