Bitterness and How It Broke Me

I hate John Cribari. Well, I used too. Let me explain in detail what I mean by that statement. You see for the longest time I had a bitter hatred towards my older brother, John Cribari, and it nearly decimated me. But before I explain my personal story of bitterness, let me take you back to the beginning of this whole story. 

My brother John and I at one point in our lives were like two peas in a pod who did everything together. We were the best of friends and loved playing with each other in our youth as boys usually play. Some days it would be a race in our grandparents backyard to see who was the fastest and other times we would play pretend at the apartments we lived at in Thousand Oaks, CA imagining that we were protecting Helm’s Deep from thousands of Uruk-Kai. He was usually Boromir or Aragorn, while I was usually Faramir or Gimli fighting off swarms of foes left and right.

The neighbors were never really fans of our imaginative adventures, so we would sometimes include them in the action and just pretend they too were Uruk-hai. That didn’t end too well most of the time, but then again how do you stomp the minds of children whose whole childhood was woven by the influences of mighty men of fiction and history? Men like Maximus Decimus Meridius, William Wallace, Joshua of the Bible, David’s Mighty Men, and so many more that inspired my brother and I to be men of valor who stood for something. Men that stood for the oppressed and fought against the oppressors of this world that meant nothing but harm to others. This is the way that our parents raised us during our childhood and into adulthood.

Yet, at a very early age our times in boyhood were not so squeaky clean like I wished they could have been. At the ages of 7 and 8, sometime in May of 2005, our old friend David from Thousand Oaks introduced us to pornography among other things that would forever leave a mark on us. For about a year, summer to summer, we would watch pornography at his house for hours and then return home all while under our parents noses. We quickly realized two things at the end of that year: we were not being the men of valor our parents raised us to be and that we needed to stop.

So at the end of the summer of 2006, we made an oath to each other and to God that we would stop swearing, watching pornography, and all the other junk that we did behind our parents backs. The way we sealed this oath was ironically by cursing as much as possible and as loud as possible for 60 seconds. No seriously, that’s how we sealed our oath with the one true God about changing our old ways by getting it all out of our system permanently. So we thought at the time was the most logical decision. We were 8 and 9 at this time with our birthdays shortly coming up in June.

Shortly after our birthdays, I got saved at Calvary Chapel Oxnard’s VBS at the end of June in 2006 and to be honest I do not know when my brother got saved in his life, so you’ll have to ask him yourself if you ever have the pleasure of meeting him someday. But I can say that our lives did change from that point onward. We would study the Bible every night before bed for hours as we read of our favorite heroes like David, Gideon, and other Biblical men who were men of valor. It was in this great season of our lives that we went through 1&2 Samuel, 1&2 Kings, and 1&2 Chronicles during a time of getting right with God. These studies were usually led by John who has always been the extrovert and initiator among the two of us when it comes to really anything.

It was not until we moved to Colorado in July of 2007 that things began to change for the worse between us and inside of ourselves as we were entering middle school. We began to go back to our old ways even after having sworn to God to never return to those truly foolish ways. For me, it was during the second half of 5th grade that I slipped back into pornography and it was not until the second half of 8th grade that I truly stopped that godless habit. While this happened to me, John was badly influenced by the world in middle school and he even told my Dad not to let me go to public middle school due to how worldly and sinly it was for him there. To put it bluntly, he got hurt and permanently marked by the world. For our family, it was really hard to watch him enter this prodigal son type of season where he dabbled in both the things of God and the things of the world.

Now as we both were slipping down the slope of sin during this time, everyone thought it was just John who was struggling with the influences of the world, but I too in fact was struggling as well. The thing is that people only thought John was prodigal because they saw with their physical eyes, but if one were to look with spiritual eyes at this time, then they would have seen that we were both being prodigal sons. We were both sinning heavily, yet only one of us had outward symptoms that others could physically see. As my parents were scrambling to fix their eldest child, they never truly realized that they had another prodigal son.

So over that period of time I grew very bitter towards everyone, especially my brother John. I grew bitter towards my parents because they were trying to help John, but didn’t bat an eye to help me from my perspective. Being diagnosed with Autism at 1½ , asking for help from others has always been extremely hard because I have always felt like the “special needs” child who never could keep up with others my age and that I was always dependent on others for help. 

The way I countered this emotionally painful aspect of my life was to never seek the help of others by being a “lone-wolf” of sorts because I thought that people were unreliable and were holding me back from being like all the other kids. So I taught myself a lot of things like how to ride a bike in 6th grade and how to write legibly. This is something that I still struggle with as a grown man who is still not like everyone else. I grew bitter towards others because it seemed like they had it all together which just reminded me that I didn’t have everything together, including living with a mental disorder.

While my bitterness grew for those people in my life, it never truly reached the amount of filthy bitterness I had towards John. I blamed him for leading me astray and alienating me from the world by being homeschooled for all of middle school. I blamed him for breaking his oath to God, for hurting our family and others with his actions of outward rebellion, and in a sense for leaving me behind as I once followed his example when we were right with God. 

I felt so isolated during those long 3 years and wanted to get back at him for all he did to me. So I ignored his existence, I brought up strife in our family in order to isolate him like I was isolated, and in a way made him the black sheep of our family. Sadly as I reflect on this period of time, it worked and he became the black sheep that our family was ashamed to be affiliated with for a long time.

It was not really until the summer after 8th grade that I rededicated my life to God and my sinful habits became past habits, but the one thing I did not let go of was the bitterness towards John which would eventually come to haunt me. During the summer, I grew a lot as a Christian in my faith and went all in as far as knowing the truth went, but the bitterness stunted my growth like an anchor to a sinking ship. I could have been so much stronger in my faith as I was entering public high school, yet like Jacob when he wrestled with God in Genesis 32:24-32, I would not let go of this bitterness and instead clung to it even more than before. 

As I attended Eaglecrest High School for 2 years, John was already going there and was very well known there. Every teacher I had would ask “Are you John’s brother?” or mistake me for John all the time because of our facial similarities. I wanted to deny it a lot of the time, but I always accepted my family relations with him. It was humiliating because I didn’t want anything to do with him during this season.

I find it ironic that as all of this was going on, I as a freshman in high school was anointed by God to lead the Christian club at our school called “First Priority” for those 2 years. Funny how God can use someone as flawed as me to reach people flawed like me. And use me He did as I became known as “Bible-Man” by my peers at school, relentlessly defending the faith and even had several debates at school in the courtyard. A courtyard  I would later nickname “The King’s Court” because the Holy Spirit would do some crazy stuff through me during those debates. 

Anyways, as freshman year was ending my bitterness was at its peaking point. Myself being clouded with my false assumptions, hatred, bitterness, and all out rage towards John led me to the decision that I had to stop him from hurting our family anymore. So I plotted to kill him and and had every intention to do so. That intention and desire grew and grew as the summer of 2013 came by when my bitterness had hit its absolute peak.

But God had other plans and on July 10th, 2013 God did something I never saw coming: He protected John from me and the intentions of my selfish heart. Similar to how God did the same for Israel in Exodus 14:19 when He stood against the Egyptian armies as they hunted Israel down. 

Before that day though, God had given me a series of 4 dreams that were exactly the same each time in May, June, and July of 2013. In the dream, I heard a voice say something of a warning and that I shouldn’t do something. It’s hard to remember the exact wording, but the message was quite clear: don’t hurt John. 

Next in the dream, I was looking from a first person perspective and saw that I was lying in a hospital bed. Then I looked around and my entire family was in the room surrounding the bed I was laying on. After that I would wake up, but the message was clear and despite it I clearly disobeyed God because my heart still had the intention to kill John.

It was a late Wednesday night and the family was coming home from church, except John and my younger brother Nathan were home that night and didn’t go to church. As my family was pulling onto our street, we abruptly stopped because there was a large tree branch across the road in front of our house and our neighbors house. So we all jumped out of our truck to pitch in and move the branch from the road onto the side of the road along with our neighbors. 

After moving that branch, we helped move other branches that were scattered across the road because there was a windy storm that was brewing during church and was ending by the time we came to help that had nearly destroyed the cotton-wood right across the street from our house. Once the debris had been removed from the road there was one problem: there was a large, loose branch hanging in the cotton-wood and hovering over our neighbor’s car.

So our neighbor moved their car and my Dad pulled out his ladder to shake the branch down while everyone was clearing the area. It was at this moment that everything became complete chaos because as the small branch was being shaken down, the entire tree shook, the wind came back which caused it to shake more than before, and then one of the main branches, reportedly 50 to 65 feet in length according to my brother Corban, fell. 

As the largest branch began to crack in the darkness of the night, everyone scrambled left and right. The scariest part was that no one could see it, so we all just fled in every direction from the tree hoping it would not hit us. As I looked up, I barely saw the top of the tree, so I sprinted from where I was standing in the street and was going full speed. Little did I know that the branch was falling directly my way. 

Then everything went black, but I was fully conscious. It was just pure darkness for about a minute, yet it felt like forever. For a second, I thought to myself “Crap, the atheists were right. I’m dead and there’s nothing.” Soon my state of nothingness ended and I was awoken by the excruciating pain of the neighbors moving my broken body from the street and onto my driveway, but they soon just put me back onto the ground because there was not much they could do.

The emergency responders soon came and took me to the hospital where I stayed for several days. The morning after the accident I woke up and it played out just like the 4 dreams I had beforehand. I woke up in a hospital bed with my family surrounding me wanting to see how I was doing. It was absolutely mind-bending to know the dream and have it unfold before my very eyes because of the evil intentions of my heart. It was after this humiliating moment in time where my bitterness began to fade as I was deeply humbled by God. For about a month, I wore a neck brace and even for the first two days of school as a Sophomore in high school which only added to the embarrassment of it all. God had broken me along with my bitterness.

It took a long time for my bitterness to go away completely though and it would take almost 1½ years before my bitterness finally left completely. Although it was in that time that my bitterness for John was slowly, but surely being replaced with love for John. It was not until November 15th, 2014 after John and I got into an argument that I broke down. I couldn’t handle hating him anymore. 

My only option was to love him at this point in my life because I was so hurt by my own bitterness that I grew weary after having had it for so long. It was this night where I told him everything and asked him for forgiveness for all that I had done. He did the same for his own mistakes and we after years of conflict were finally reconciled as brothers no longer at odds with one another. It truly was one of the greatest days of my life because the burden of bitterness that had been upon my shoulders was replaced by the security of forgiveness.

For the past 10 months our lives have both been on a resurgence since there is nothing holding us back now. John is currently in California playing college football at Moorpark college, pursuing a degree in Kinesiology, and working on receiving a certificate for Personal Training. I am currently pursuing my AAS in Directing/Writing at the Colorado Film School, preparing for my next Strongman competition, and hoping to become the Lecrae of Hollywood so to speak by making quality films that reflect the Creator. We even have a friendly competition between us to see who is the strongest concerning certain lifts like Back Squat, Benchpress, and Push Press. Now that it is love that binds us and not bitterness, we have the God-given opportunity to seek our passions as men of God, men of valor.

You see bitterness is a lot like raising your fist up in the air at someone you hate and then repeatedly punching yourself in the face. For one it looks really stupid and it accomplishes absolutely nothing. James, the brother of Jesus, once spoke about bitterness in his letter to Christians dispersed throughout the known world and said the following about the matter:

“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (NASB James 3:13-18).

If there is bitterness in your heart then hear from me, the guy that looked like a pale giraffe for half a summer because God had to put me in my place for my bitter heart had taken over, and let go of your bitterness. Don’t do what I did and try to solve problems in the feebleness of your mind. God is love and therefore I now strive to reflect that love as a “Little-Christ” in every relationship because it is God who abides in me. Molding me into the man of valor I have always desired to be in my life as I grow older and older.

To John I say this: thank you and I love you more than ever before as my big brother always watching out for me. You were never close to the perfect example, but neither was I or ever have been for that matter. But it is the very fact that you tried to be a man of valor like the ones we read of and pretended to be back in the old days when an apartment staircase could become a castle with a dash of imagination that matters. 

Your boldness has helped me breakthrough my own shyness and introverted habits as I have grown older. You taught me many things in my life that I am truly grateful for like that one time we stood in a parking lot all day as you showed me how to catch a football or the time you protected my little rear by standing in front of me when I talked a bunch of smack-talk to a group of college kids back in middle school. 

You’re a lot like a stone traveling through a river: rough at first to be around, but over time you show how smooth you are, especially on the dancefloor and the football field. Always caring for others and not afraid to give it your all in whatever you do. Thank you for the wrestling smackdowns, the brotherly pep talks, and especially for the consistency in your life as you strive to be as real as possible in every aspect of your life. I love John Cribari. Well, now I do. Until next time, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

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