Real men cry. Alone in their cars. In the school parking lot. After their daughter's basketball game.
I know this to be true because that's what Andy Benes did. And Andy Benes is a really real man's man.
On the man front, Benes was the 1988 college player of the year, the first pick in the 1988 MLB draft, and in the same year won an Olympic gold medal. He pitched 14 big-league seasons, recording 2000 strikeouts (he led the National League with 189 K's in the strike-shortened 1994 season). And there's also this: Benes is (still) built like a power forward-think more Karl Malone than Kevin Garnett.
But what's more impressive than his stats or stature is Benes' authenticity. He talks freely about his personal struggles; he owns up to the strife he caused his family; and he credits God for fixing these issues.
That rainy St. Louis night, when he sat sobbing in his car, marked the turning point for Benes – as a husband, a father, and a follower of Christ.
"I had worked really hard in the St. Louis community to build my reputation," says Benes, who pitched for the Cardinals from 1996-97 and from 2000-02. "People knew me as a good guy. I was very involved in the community; did lot of charitable things. But ultimately, what was going on inside my home…was that I had worked so hard outside the home that I didn't do what I needed to do as a father and as a husband. I had sinful habits in my life that were more important to me than making sure that things were good at home. For me, alcohol was an issue, and that created a lot of our marital division."
According to Benes, that division came to a head when his wife Jennifer said to him, "'You know, everybody here in St. Louis loves you and thinks your great except – me and your children. Until you figure out if you want to be a part of this family…then go be with all the people that think you are great and love you, because we don't.'"
Talk about a pitch that sends a message, thrown straight at the heart.
"So after that middle school girls game I'm sitting in my car. My wife and kids are going back to my home, and I was going to stay with my mom and dad.
And it just hit me. I started sobbing, and God just kind of shook me. He said, 'What are you doing? I can restore what's been broken, I can restore those relationships. But you've got to get on board with Me – it's not about you driving the bus, it's about Me driving the bus.'"
At that point, Benes states, he was finally ready "to give up the reigns" and make Jesus his Lord, not merely his Savior. So about 15 years after he accepted Christ's sacrifice for his sins, Benes says he asked God "to be in control of everything," instead of asking Him to take control only when he "had a crisis."
And God did indeed take the wheel. As He always does, when genuinely asked.
Yet though salvation – Christ saving us from our sins through His blood-is a momentary occurrence, sanctification-making Christ our Lord – is a process, often a challenging one. Benes sums up sanctification well: "It's me trying to grow more like Christ. It's a daily deal."
And an individual is responsible for keeping up his or her end of the bargain. That is, sanctification isn't God's job alone.
So Benes did what he had to do – make his focus has active and intentional: first on Jesus and then on his family.
God did what only He can do: heal. Completely.
"It's amazing how God has reconciled what was broken…it's an amazing thing to me," Benes admits serenely, pausing as he reflected on how God renewed his relationships with his wife and children.
Andy and Jennifer, married 25 years on March 21 this year, now counsel other couples; they use their marital past to change marital futures.
"We're open and honest about where we've been," Benes states. "We say, 'We've been in your shoes and we know it's hard, but God can restore. He designed marriage. He can fix it.'"
For real, man.