Hijacking My Past: Josiah Chandler
Maybe you know what it's like for loss to upend your life, even as a child. Josiah Chandler does. But despite raw pain, he knows what it's like to move beyond emptiness and anger.
Josiah Chandler knows what it’s like for loss to upend your life. But despite raw pain, he also knows what it’s like to move beyond emptiness and anger.
Hijacking My Past: Josiah Chandler
Shelby: Alright Josiah, how old were you when your father abandoned you?
Josiah: I was six years old, a month and a day. I remember it like exactly to the day, when he just didn't come home from work. I remember like sitting at the table waiting for dinner, waiting for him, but yes.
Shelby: Did he just move out of your life completely then, and what did that look like?
Josiah: Yes, he got remarried. I remember feeling kind of betrayed in a way, because of that. So once he got remarried, like, that was kind of the end of it.
Shelby: Somewhat anxious, always authentic. This is Real Life Loading…
I'm Shelby Abbott, and I'm here with Josiah Chandler. He's a junior at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Okay, obviously life as a little boy lacks a significant amount if there's no dad around. I've even experienced that a little myself. So what's your story related to him? And like, do you remember him being a presence in your life?
So why don't you walk me through a little bit of what happened with you?
Josiah: Yes. So I grew up like when I was super young, my father left. And so I was like six years old and I was a weird kid. I was a weird, dumb kid. I remember around that time, I really don't remember much, and so looking back to my dad and my relationship with him, I really can't remember any really memories of him and him being around.
I do remember that day that he didn't come home and kind of like the aftermath after that, but really nothing before. So I really don't have any good memories of him being like a loving father or really there. Like when I was six years old, I used to go outside and eat sticks. Like, so there's really no, like, there's no memory of like anything along those lines. Like, I was so young. So like. It's just like a weird time. So like, it's really hard to look back and see all that.
Shelby: Yes. Why do you remember that day specifically? You said it was vivid getting ready to eat dinner. What was significant about that day? Obviously that he didn't come home, but like, why?
Josiah: Yes, that was really the day that everything changed. He tried to take his life twice that day. That's the reason he didn't come home. So, really from that point forward it was really just my mom kind of versus him. There was a lot of hurt in all those things. There was a lot of resentment between his kids, like me and my siblings and him, because he was just constantly bad mouthing my mom, and kind of trying to turn us kind of against her - all those things. Really that day I remember specifically just because that was the moment everything changed for me.
Obviously, like, I had a father up until that point. But at that point, moving forward, it kind of really became something else and it was different. It was hard. So, I remember that day specifically because of those reasons. And it just all changed after that.
Shelby: Did he leave then, after the two suicide attempts? Did he leave your house?
Josiah: So, he was in a hospital for a couple of weeks. My mom kind of told me and my other siblings that he was kind of working some other things out. So he kind of stayed at my aunt and uncle's house after that.
He was around and for a couple of years after that we had visitations and all that stuff. I don't remember exactly, I think it was like a Tuesday or Wednesday we'd see him and then we would like switch off every other weekend we would see him. And then there was just a lot of like financial troubles that we were experiencing, because he was suing my mom a bunch and didn't want to pay for us and all those things.
Josiah: He wanted her to go to work and so we couldn't afford to live in the house we were living in and just all these things. Then we had to move and, and he remarried. And so this is probably a couple years after, I was probably around nine or so when we would see him, like every once in a while. It kind of progressed less and less we were seeing him up until the point where he got remarried. Then he kind of just stopped seeing us period. Like, he had visitation rights, but he just made no effort.
Shelby: Okay so, you and I know your brother Joel, how many other siblings do you have?
Josiah: Yes, so I actually have, four siblings. I have an older brother, Caleb, who's older. He passed away in a car accident when he was three. I would never met him. He was older than Joel. Then there's Joel. He just graduated from Virginia Tech. And then my older sister, Grace, she's a, now a senior at Longwood, and then me, and then my younger sister, who's a junior in high school. There’s a bunch of us.
Shelby: Yes, there's a lot there. You know, I understand that kind of weird, bizarre world. I used to have like summer visitation rights with my father. So my folks got divorced when I was three. Then my mom remarried when I was six, and she married my stepdad who was in the military. We ended up moving pretty much everywhere after that, because military kids go all over the world. But we would be long distance from where my father was and he would keep in touch with me and my sister, but we'd have a summer visitation. So we'd be with him for like eight to ten weeks over the summer. And it was it was very much like that, I dare to say on both sides with my dad bad mouthing my mom all the time to me and my sister. And he would want to not want to pay child support. He was like, your mom's just using this money to buy clothes and that kind of stuff.
So we'd like have this negative view of my mom because of that. But then when we get with my mom, I remember this actually when I got married, this sounds really weird, but for the longest time, the word, the Abbott's, was like a bad thing in my house. Because when my mom would talk about the Abbotts, which was my dad's side of the family, it was always this very negative connotation.
I remember when I got married, people would call me and my wife, Rachel, the Abbotts. And for several years, I like kind of recoiled at that because my mom spent so much time bad mouthing my father and his family as well. So I felt like this weird... tension, this negativity and positivity at the same time.
Was that true for you as well? Or was it mostly just he is bad or she, I don't know if you believed him at all when he would say bad things about your mom.
Josiah: Yes, again, we were, I was so young. So it was mostly, I would say, kind of just a blur with all that.
Shelby: Six to nine is kind of hazy anyway. Yes, exactly.
Josiah: All those sticks I was eating. [Laughter}
Shelby: So yes, I got to stop eating dirt and sticks, man. That'll do it to you. It will blur up your brain.
Josiah: I learned eventually. But yes, I would say like it was a lot more on his side, kind of bad mouthing my mom and kind of saying like all these things. Like it was mostly on his side - like your mom's doing these things and these bad things and all this stuff. So yes.
Shelby: Okay, so the divorce happened, then you had visitation rights, and then he had visitation rights for you. Then three years later, around the age of nine for you, you said that he got remarried. Like, did he just move out of your life completely then? And what did that look like?
Josiah: Yes. So once he got remarried that was kind of the end of it. We didn't see him at all anymore.
Shelby: At all?
Josiah: There was, I mean, there was probably a couple of times where we saw him, like once or twice. I really don't remember, because it was so long ago and it was just so confusing. Well, once he got remarried, he kind of cut off all contact with us as his kids.
He was suing my mom a couple of times. So there was court cases and all those like legal stuff that, we weren't a part of. But he wasn't present in our lives whatsoever. My mom made him updated and stuff on what we were doing, like soccer and just different other sports and other activities that he could be a part of, but he made no effort.
Shelby: Dude, there's so much I want to talk about, but for the sake of time, we probably can't get into everything about it. But I ended up crafting a letter of forgiveness to my father, which took me several months to write, like maybe four months to write. I ended up sending it.
I was listening to a Tim Keller sermon. [Laughter] It's always a Tim Keller sermon for me. It was one of the things that he had said in there was, “You grant forgiveness before you feel it.” And so, I crafted that letter after 30 years of not really being connected to my father. And I did it, I granted forgiveness, It was something I needed to follow through with between me and the Lord. Then when I sent it, I have gradually started to feel forgiveness.
I want to ask you several questions, including how his absence affected your view of yourself and your own value. And maybe you could talk about that, but I also wanted to know how your view of God was shaped as a result of a father who was just like, nah, and kind of dropped you and decided to, I'm guessing, start a different family.
Josiah: Yes. Man that kind of rocked everything, because we grew up going to church, and that was just a time where I would see my friends, So that's all that it was to me. I did a really good job of playing the Christian role. I knew all the right answers for Sunday School and all those things. Over and over again, we would hear, like I would hear in church, “God is your father in heaven. He cares and loves you.”
In my mind, I said, “God is my father.” Okay. Like this guy's everybody's father though. Like what makes me different than that? And my view of my father here on earth, he abandoned me. He didn't love me at all. He wasn't present, and I wasn't good enough for him.
And so that kind of instilled in me just so much heartbreak and so much pain. And that just put up so many walls between me and God and my relationship with Him. Yes, that definitely like shaped the rest of my life for sure. But like my walk with the Lord that like kind of set me up for a big uphill battle to kind of get to the point where I recognized and understood what it means to like have God as your heavenly father.
Shelby: Yes, to trust someone as good and loving and caring and accepting. Was there a point where you turned the corner? Because I know you're walking with Jesus now. I want to hear like how the transition happened.
Josiah: Yes. I would say probably one of my biggest struggles in my walk with the Lord is I haven't had that moment where it all clicked and it all flipped and now I'm a Christian. So, I struggled with that for so long because my dad left and abandoned me. I felt like I wasn't good enough. I kept waiting for this moment where I was enough. I was going to be enough for God and I could have a relationship with Him. Newsflash, you're not going to have that moment all the time.
I feel like for so many Christians these days, so many young people, and people like walking up into their faith, they're looking for this moment. There are people that have these miraculous moments, and it changes everything and it's so great and those are powerful. Those are great stories.
But most of the time like you're not going to have that or it's a progression. I would say I remember when I was real young like ninth grade. I was dating this girl, and that was like the first time I put myself together for somebody. I was so broken inside and I just was so empty, and I just desired to be loved by somebody so much. I was dating this girl and I put all myself together. I was dumb and naive, and I thought I was getting married to this girl and all these things, right? So I pieced my broken heart together for her, and gave it up to her and she cheated on me and that shattered my world.
That threw me for so many more loops, and those walls that I had kind of started to lower, went straight back up. Those walls were in between me and the Lord and those walls were in between me and really everyone else in all my other relationships. That really affected me going forward, like all of the relationships with close people, close friends, and family. I knew that they were going to abandon me, because that's all I'd ever known. My dad abandoned me, this girl, like all these things, right? I had known abandonment.
So I would push people away before they could leave me. I would test people over and over again. There was one friend in particular. We became like best friends, like super, super close. Me and her were really good friends. We also liked each other and there was kind of a flip flop between what to do with all that kind of for a long time. And over and over again, I would just push her away and I would just test her. That really like broke her. I did not treat her the way she deserved to be treated and the way she deserved to be loved.
I was not a good representation of that, and I hurt her tremendously. That kind of made it impossible for her to continue to be my friend. So eventually I pushed her away so much that she just left, and that was my doing. That was not because of her, but that was because of that's all I had known. So I knew that in my mind, in the way that I had been treated and loved by people in the past. I knew that, okay maybe she's going to abandon me, so I just kind of did it myself, and just blew it all up myself. I lost her. I lost that friendship and I lost really everything. That threw me for a really, really dark loop, and I really struggled for a really long time after that.
I felt like so empty. I remember I would go on these walks in the winter for hours. I just felt so empty inside, and I really had no point to live. I had no desire to live. Looking in my future, I saw nothing. It was just empty. I just felt so broken and I felt so alone. And that time period really lasted for a really long time. I just continued to live my life, just kind of day in and day out. It was quarantine time, so... I wasn't really getting out of the house much. I wasn't really seeing much. So I was just sitting around like just super, super depressed and just really struggling for a really long time.
I wouldn't really say until I got to college, really, that was about a year and a half later than that. But I got to college and I knew something had to change, right?
Josiah: Before I had gotten college to this summer, before that I kind of spent the whole time kind of trying to get these feelings back. I was numb to everything. I was numb to just all emotions. Really the only thing that I could feel was all this pain and I felt it like deep down in my heart. I didn't actually feel it outwardly. I couldn't cry. I couldn't do all these things. I was really struggling, and I couldn't express my emotions.
Josiah: But I could kind of put together these little glimpses of feeling, and those were all things of this world. So I could do that with girls, or I could do it with pornography, and things like that, right? They would give me temporarily highs. And so, for a really long time, I could get that for a moment, but it would push me even further down.
It wasn't until I got to college and I started going to Cru® and I saw these people who were my age, who were authentically living for the Lord and walking with God, that I said, “There's something there. What is different about these people and me? Like, why, why are they feeling happy? Why are they feeling these true joys and feeling this love?”
I want that. I need that. I felt so alone. I'm at college now - all the people I grew up with all my friends are gone. I'm here by myself and I need something. That thing I ultimately know I was searching for was the Lord and my actual true relationship with Him.
And so it was really a really long, gradual, like downhill to this point where I recognized that I needed that. When I got to college, that was a time where I said, “Okay, I need to join some sort of community, some sort of Christian community.” Because I knew God was around. I didn't really question that God existed, but He was kind of in His own box, and I was in my own box, and we didn't really interact. It was kind of our own worlds. But looking back to my entire life, I can see that God was working. But in the moments, it didn't feel like it. But I know it to be true that He was. I saw these people living for God, and I kind of would pray and say, “God, like come into my life. I need to feel you. God, come into my life. I need to have this relationship with you.”
I was, I was just hyping myself up and hyping this moment up to happen where it would all click. And I just wasn't getting that. I just felt like I wasn't doing it enough and I wasn't enough for God. That continued for a really long time. It really wasn't until the Spring Gathering, that was like a big Cru event for the Tidewater area in Cru.
Shelby: Yes. So it is like eight, nine months after you got to college.
Josiah: Exactly, yes. It wasn't until I was playing the Christian game for a while in Cru and going to different things and I saw these, these relationships and I knew I could have that. I heard Brian Barnett speak, who you're good friends with.
Shelby: Yes, he is a very good friend. Had him on Real Life Loading too.
Josiah: Exactly, yes. He gave a message, and he talked about Matthew 16:25. It says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it and whoever who loses his life for my sake, will find it.”
I was holding onto so much, all these things that I wasn't ready to give up, because they were temporarily giving me these highs. Temporarily I could feel this like love that was there. In that moment I knew I needed to give up everything to have a relationship with the Lord. I really needed to surrender my life to Him and to give up all of these worldly things and all these things that weren't giving me true fulfillment. I needed to give up my life for Him and give up these friendships and these things that I was holding value to, and I wasn't holding, below Jesus in my relationship with the lord.
Shelby: They were idols. They were idols.
Josiah: They were idols exactly. It was a really long process, but ultimately I got there slowly, and I’m still a work in progress, right? I would say I went on summer mission this past summer and it was amazing. It was the best summer of my life.
But I'm continuing to work in that moment and to have those moments. I have them all the time now. I've recognized that. These aha moments that God is real; God is with me; and God is working. I've actually had them all along. But I just needed the blinders to be taken off, so I could see them, because I was hyping them up so much.
Shelby: Yes, this is really important. Because I think a lot of people do look for that like one moment. Like it was at a concert when it happened, and they shared the gospel. Or it was this moment someone sat down with me and explained it to me, and I made that decision right there. A lot of people have that. I have that - like that happened for me. I remember the exact moment it happened for me.
But there are so many people who it's a gradual process. Then they get to a point where they reflect back on their life and they go, “I know what I am now. I know what I believe now. I will would confess Romans 10:9. “I would confess with my mouth and believe in my heart that Jesus is the Christ that He saved me from my sin. That He offers me forgiveness that He is my King, and I submit to Him.” [Paraphrased]
Don't be discouraged if you might be listening, don't be discouraged. I didn't have that moment. Josiah is an example of that. He doesn't have that specific moment, but he does have the genuine article. He believes in his heart and he confesses with his mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord. So yes, I'm glad that you're helping to unpack that a little bit.
I really wanted to know, since you're in your early twenties, what ways do you want to shift your legacy from something like what you experienced toward a new vision of manhood maybe eventually fatherhood - if God has that for you, or Christian leadership? How do you want to shift your legacy?
Josiah: Yes, I would say I truly want to live my life and rewire my family to reflect Christ. I want to be an authentic man of God day in and day out and reflect that in everything that I do. Something I desire is to be a husband and to be a father and all those things I didn't have in my life. I desire to do it right, but I can't do that unless that’s through Christ. I desire to walk with God every day and have Him be reflected through me in my day to day life.
If I can do that and I can do that day in and day out, then all those things and all those other opportunities that could come to me. Lord willing, I will be a father one day and Lord willing, I can be a husband to somebody. But If I walk my life today with Him and I do it tomorrow, and I reflect Christ in everything that I do, I will be reflecting Him throughout my twenties and throughout all those things.
So, truly that is one way I want to love other people first and love first and show people that I'm there and I'm present. And I do love them and I care about them and I'm not going anywhere.
Shelby: You know, I would guess, and I don't know this for sure, but I would guess that the temptation for you would be to think, “I am never going to be how he was. I am never going to raise a family the way that my father did. I am never going to treat my wife the way that my father treated my mom.”
To a certain extent, that's like good, but if that's happening with a vindictive mentality, if it's happening with like this, forget him, screw him, like I am going to act... Your father, he still has control over you.
Josiah: A hundred percent.
Shelby: He still has like... influence over you in a way and that is a poor thing. It's great that you would want to live your life differently and raise your kids differently and treat a woman differently. Of course, yes and amen. But if you're doing it as a knee-jerk reaction to say, “I'm going to do the opposite of what that jerk did in my life. He still has control over you. Have you forgiven your father?
Josiah: Yes, I would say I have forgiven him. It's definitely a process though. I've learned that it's more of a “I have to understand and come to grips with what happened, and that I was abandoned, and I was hurt so deeply.” It's not wrong for me to take all those things and feel them and say, “Wow, this is hard.”
Shelby: Sure, of course.
Josiah: Then kind of where it changes from kind of sitting in there and being hatred or being filled with hatred - and bitter and all those things is just kind of sitting in that. But the forgiveness is then turning from that and saying, “Okay, I forgive you because God has forgiven you first.”
This isn't something that I can do on my own. I can forgive him and I do have to continue to do that and continue to change those moments. But then I go forward from that and say, “Okay, now what I choose to love you and I choose to forgive you, and I'm not forgetting what you did and I'm not forgetting all of those things. I'm not kind of pushing those feelings aside and pushing them down because that's not helping. But I'm allowing myself to feel those and process that and then move forward. That moving forward is crucial. So yes.
Shelby: Dude, you are like three decades ahead of where I was. It took me, like I said, it took me 30 years to finally go, I need to do this. But in those 30 years, many people were patient with me. You know, good friends, leaders, even my wife were patient with me. But I don't know if I ever had anyone look me in the eye and go, “You're living a life of disobedience by not forgiving your father.”
Shelby: Of course there's pain and wounds. Those things are probably, honestly dude, they're probably going to be with you the rest of your life.
Josiah: For sure.
Shelby: There's pain that's going to be there for the rest of your life and you're going to have to deal with that. Some of that will come out in situations when like - I have found that when my kids got to the age that I experienced trauma, it came out in my life. I would start acting a certain way and I didn't even know why I was doing that.
I had a counselor saying at one point, my daughter was five, and he goes, “You're thinking and feeling this now, right?” And he goes, “How old's your daughter?” I was like, “She's five.” And he goes, “How old were you when this experience happened to you?” It was basically the beginning of the divorce and separation, that kind of stuff. I told him that. He goes, “Do you think that's a coincidence?”
Josiah: Mm hmm.
Shelby: That your daughter is five and that you were five when you went through those things. And I had this like epiphany, this light bulb moment where I was like, “Oh my gosh, I didn't even know that I was reacting to these situations, because my oldest daughter was like sparking it simply because she was the same age that I went through stuff.”
So there's probably going to be stuff like that for you. I think if you know that, you could prepare for it in advance, to help you when those triggers come along, because they will come along. I think you need to know that. I think also you need to have bold people in your life, like Bible study leaders or people in the church in the future who will look at you and say, “Josiah, you're acting here in a way that is communicating that maybe you haven't fully forgiven your father.”
Shelby: Because I need that still now. I need, like, I need people to look at me and go, “You're still acting like your father is the problem in your life right now. And you said that you forgave him. So I want to keep you to that.” Surround yourself with people who will be bold enough to wound you.
Josiah: A hundred percent.
Shelby: Like wounds of a friend are a very good thing. But I appreciate you doing that. And again, I'm like super impressed. You're turning twenty soon and you're like wrestling with things that I did when I was in my thirties. Good job, [Laughter] I don't know. I'm really proud of you - not condescendingly at all, I'm proud of you.
Josiah: Yes, thinking about what we were talking about earlier just needing to forgive daily, and those things will come up. If I’m doing it all to prove it and kind of stick it to my father of like, “I’m doing this better than you. Like I’m doing it for him. I'm not doing it for myself.
Josiah: And really like ultimately, if I want to be a father and if I want to be a husband, I'm doing those things for my wife and for my kids. I have to continue to forgive my father today and tomorrow and all the time, for them. And not because of him and not to stick it to him or all those things, but I need to do it to love them first, even though they're not around right now.
I need to choose that love first, Because that is actually all I've ever known in my life. God has loved me first, so I need to choose to do that. God has forgiven me for my sins, so I need to choose to do that as well.
Shelby: So good. And again, like, one of the things I tell students all the time and particularly men is hey, “You don't start being a good husband when you put the ring on.
You actually prepare to be a good husband. You start working on that right now. Like, it happens right now.”
You don't, like, all of a sudden have a kid and then you work on being a good father. Like, you work on that stuff right now. Like, you get into the roots of your life and allow the gospel to penetrate those deep, dark parts. Then when you put on the ring, you're prepared. to be able to be a better husband than you ever could have been. Because you did the work beforehand. It's like, you know, if you're going to run a marathon, you can't just like, okay, I'll show up the day the race starts and just run it. No, it doesn't work that way. You've got to prepare beforehand.
Josiah: Yes otherwise you'll crash and burn.
Shelby: Bro, I am, like I said, in the least condescending way possible, I am so proud of you and keep running the race. If you want to walk with God in 50 years, walk with God today. I know you've heard that before, but it's one of those things that I see you doing right now and I'm really proud of you. So thanks for your time today. It means a lot to me.
Josiah: Yeah, thank you for having me.
Shelby: Now, maybe your story isn't like mine and Josiah's. Maybe your dad was present for you your entire life and you have a great relationship with him. And if so, that is amazing. What I want you to see, though, is the finger of God working throughout Josiah's story. His dad may have left him, but Josiah's true and better Father never did, and He never will. So despite all the hurt and heartache in our personal stories, God is always present with arms wide open to accept us as His children.
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I want to thank everyone on the Real Life Loading team. You guys are incredible. I'm Shelby Abbott, and I'll see you back next time on Real Life Loading...
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