Kary Oberbrunner: Trusting God's Plan
By Amy Reid
The 700 Club
“I felt horrible. I felt like an imposter. I felt like I’m only one step away from being found out. I was a very highly functioning individual that had a secret story,” says Kary.
Kary Oberbrunner had just met the woman of his dreams. He was a seminary student; a pastor. But he had a secret addiction. The secret started early, when Kary was just a boy.
“I just remember as a young kid being made fun of a lot: I had a girl’s name growing up; I hated it, I had a stuttering problem as a young kid. Words were very important. As a kid, if some friend called me a name, I remember it really affected me,” says Kary.
Kary’s family was deeply involved in church, but Kary didn’t think he could be honest with God about his feelings.
“I kinda believed the lie that when you go to God, you go to Him all cleaned up. You don’t come to Him upset, angry, frustrated, you just put on a smile and you serve Him with your performance,” he recalls, “I had an Awana leader who committed suicide. A classmate died of brain cancer. When I was 10 years old, my mom had two strokes. These were examples that just kept piling up more and more.”
Kary didn’t know how to express the pain he was feeling.
“The normal ways that people cope—some people use tears--I didn’t trust tears. I cut off emotion. I think emotion, for me, was unsafe. It meant weakness. And so I was just going to suck it up, deal with it, and move on. I would be alone and I would actually bite my arm. And there was just something about seeing the pain that made me feel better,” he explains.
Kary’s stoicism finally crumbled in his last year of high school.
“I was a state qualifier for the wrestling team, and this was my dream, wrestling. This is what I was good at. Right before the wrestling state tournament, I had gotten injured, had a concussion and had to drop the team, drop the tournament,” Kary remembers.
All that was left was the school play...
“I’m on stage and it’s my turn to give my lines and I stand up to speak and everyone thought I was joking cause I couldn’t get my lines out, and the whole cast starts laughing at me,“ Kary recalls, “And I told God, “I’m done.”
Then Kary’s dad had a massive heart attack; God seemed as distant as ever.
“I felt like God could do anything any time. And let’s face it, God let His own Son, Jesus, be killed. So I didn’t feel very safe with God. And that was really a time where I first remember using a knife to self-injure. It was this emotional overload. I didn’t pursue the paths of drugs or sex or those types of things, I felt like I knew where all of that would lead, into more pain. So here I am trapped. Suicide’s wrong, it’s out of the question. Sex, drugs, all that’s wrong. And yet I have intense anger. Where do I go with that? And I went to myself,” Kary says, “I had a conversation with myself through self-injury, and at least with self-injury I could control how deep, how long the cut was, how often. And I didn’t have to really deal with God. I kinda describe it as a spiritual Heisman, where if you know the Heisman pose, I kept God pushed away with my hands and I said, ‘No way are You coming into my heart, Lord.’”
Kary graduated from high school and decided to attend seminary with a definite goal in mind.
Kary remembers that time clearly. “I felt like rather than run from God, I’ll go into the profession where I can control God, you know. I’ll appease Him with my actions. I’ll get on His good side with ministry, but I will completely be absent from Him with my heart. So it was a very tough, dual world that I had. I had my private world and my real world. And as a result, I was really in torment.”
The dual world Kary was living in took its toll, and he retreated even further into self-injury.
“I felt horrible. I felt like an imposter. I felt like I’m only one step away from being found out, “ he says. “Another thing was punishment. I did not feel okay with being imperfect. I felt like God wants perfection and I can’t be perfect; therefore I’m evil and wicked. And self-injury was away for me to be authentic. But there were deep times where I felt so intense with my anger, at God and myself, that I would actually carve those words into my body: “loser.” “failure” “disappointment” “rejected.””
Seminary got even tougher when Kary learned that he would have to take a counseling class.
“I would have never chosen counseling. I did not want to get close to my issues at all,” Kary laughs, “But because I wanted to be an Air Force chaplain, my mentor, Dr. David Plaster, said, “Man, if you’re going to be with soldiers, if you’re going to be in war-time situations, you need to go and do an MDIV in counseling.””
About that time he met Kelly, a fellow counseling student.
“I was the poster child for conformity at the seminary, and she was the non-conformist,” Kary recalls. “And I was drawn to her, but I was also scared. Pursuing love meant pursing the potential for pain.”
In spite of his insecurity, Kary and Kelly got engaged. But then Kary was forced to take off the mask completely.
“The professors are saying, “Look, when you’re counseling other people in your lab situations, you’re not going to their places of pain. Why not?” And they began to really get into my issues,” Kary says, “And now I’m caught. I knew to enter that world would be to release control, and that was so scary for me. That was the breaking point where I said, ‘No longer am I going to wear this mask.’ And so I did go to my professor and I remember showing him the marks. Rather than acceptance, this professor told me I wasn’t fit to be a counselor.”
When Kary got his grade back…
“I had failed the class,” he recalls. “And I was so angry because I had trusted God. I had stepped out and taken off the mask. And by doing that, I felt like God had let me down. I moved from displaying anger at myself, and instead I displayed it upon God. I remember just pouring out words, yelling, shaking my fist at God, and that was the moment of breakthrough when I felt like finally it’s not me carrying this anymore.”
Kary started being honest with God –and other people--about his feelings. He recalls that process: “What I really began to find was a language for my pain. I had people, like Dave Plaster, like Kelly, that modeled to me love and acceptance even though I was imperfect and that really propelled me forward.”
Kary went to counseling and his healing has taken time, but today he is walking in the freedom of knowing that he can trust God with his pain.
“Before that I viewed God as distant, He’s separate from my pain, He’s removed, He’s watching it from a distance. All of this changed when I had an experience with my first son. We were at the pediatrician’s office when he was only one month old and in walks the nurse. The nurse has four honking needles. And my son – I’m holding him and he’s looking at me and I’m looking at him and we’re having this moment like nothing’s wrong, the world’s right, and everything’s cool,” Kary remembers. “And she stuck him with the first needle. And my son looks at me and just screams--just yells. And I’m holding him and the nurse says, “You’ve got to hold him tighter cause he’s, you know, he’s squirming.” And the second needle, the third needle, the fourth needle, and now my heart’s breaking. And I realize in that moment: This is the way God feels when we experience pain. He’s not over there saying, you know, to the angels, “stick him again.” He’s actually the Father who’s holding us tight. I couldn’t get on my knees and explain to my son the reason for the pain cause he can’t understand it. It’s the same thing in our lives. God can’t get on His knees and explain to us why He’s allowing the pain. He only can hold us tighter. And that’s how I see God now. I see God as this loving Father who holds us tight, holds us close, and every time we experience pain He says, “I wish I could take it for them, but I can’t. So all I can do is hold them close.’”
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