Updated: Apr 5, 2019
Jane Phinney |
Robert Bruce Whittingham was born in 1959 to a military photographer & an insurance secretary. Because his father died when he was 6 years old, & his mother favored the “party” life, Bobby was primarily raised by the house keeper. Until the 8th grade, he lived in the garage of their house because the home bedrooms were occupied by female members of the family & by the maid. But he enjoyed the freedom given to him, & he liked living in California.
When Bobby was 13, his family moved to Mexico for a brief time. During his formative junior high years, he got caught up in the pot-smoking & drinking lifestyle of his affluent classmates. So, when it came time to return to California, he sold everything he had to stock up on cheap Mexican pot. In search of a blanket, his mother discovered his hiding place & threw it all away…much to his dismay!
School was a struggle. Although fluent in Spanish, Bobby lagged behind in other academics because of problems caused by dyslexia. In 10th grade he worked at a golf course & eventually he dropped out of school when he was 18. He started working as an electrician at 19 & later was employed at a skateboard park. It was here that he met a friend, while playing poker, who got him a job as a roofer—the beginning of a 30-year career with the same company. Because Bobby was a hardworking, on-time employee, he excelled. But he also had multiple injuries from his job, including stitches, hot tar burns & a broken back.
When Bobby’s mom offered to pay the expenses, he moved to Kansas with his family. She funded the renovation of a large garage, the place he still calls home today. Her health was failing & she eventually died from cancer. The family was plagued with dissension, caused by infidelity issues & the stress of settling their mother’s estate. Tensions rose & the family was divided. At this point, Bobby’s life was filled with drinking & he hung out with friends who supported his habit.
In 2009, Bobby met the family who purchased his mother’s former home. One day, their 3-year-old son came to his door & rang the bell. When he opened the door, little EJ said, “Mr. Bobby, Jesus loves you! You need to ask Jesus into your heart!” Again & again, over the next 3 years, EJ would seek him out. “Mr. Bobby, we pray for you! Mr. Bobby, you should let Jesus into your heart.” When he would buy beer, EJ would run out & tell him it wasn’t healthy for him and that he should drink milk or water instead. Bobby repeatedly heard, “Beer is bad!” Whenever he went outside, EJ would greet him or talk with him while he worked. Week after week, EJ’s entire family would pray for the Lord’s intervention in his life. Then their church started praying. But Bobby continued to drink.
Heavy drinking led to many embarrassing situations during these years. At one point, when Bobby was unable to pick himself up in the yard, EJ’s family had to help him out, in his exposed state. His head was cracked open & required stitches. Because of near death experiences, an ambulance was called on more than one occasion. In desperation, Bobby tried to end his misery by overdosing on pills. But at every turn, people were in place to help preserve his life. Karen made the final call to 911 & saved his life. EJ’s parents invited him to church & EJ kept telling him about Jesus. A high school classmate witnessed to him on Facebook. And a former poker friend explained how to pray & invite Jesus into his life. All these seeds took root, late one night, when Bobby was watching TV. He responded to an evangelist’s invitation to pray & he received Jesus Christ.
For 18 months, all seemed well. Bobby’s drinking was under control. He was motivated to work & to participate in life. But dark days were ahead. Bobby’s drinking worsened & his liver started to fail. He would drink more to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. One day while talking to EJ’s parents, he showed them a massive bruise that was forming on his abdomen. The father simply said, “Bobby, you’re dying inside!” At the hospital the doctors told him that his liver was in distress & he would die if he continued to drink. Three days later, when he was released from the hospital, Bobby determined that things had to change.
Bobby started feeling supported when EJ’s family invited him to come for dinner, weekly. After one of those dinners, he agreed to come to church. He was nervous, having only been once in his life. But now, Bobby says he’s happier than he’s ever been—as is witnessed by his sisters, doctor, & friends. He’s motivated to take what he’s learning & apply it to his own life. He says, “It feels good to FEEL good!” Bobby’s home is clean, alcohol free, & after losing 45 pounds in five months, his liver has returned to normal.
What Bobby is most excited about is what is being taught in Church. He reads everything his pastor gives him, even when he doesn’t understand what some of it means. He is beginning to hear an internal voice that tells him to “STOP!” when he thinks about drinking or smoking. Where once he didn’t believe he would ever reach 60, he’s now excited about life, sharing his faith with family & friends, & is ready to live into his 90s! 😊
I never knew Robert Bruce Whittingham’s story until a few weeks ago. But I’ve been hearing about “Mr. Bobby” for about 5 years from EJ, & his family. I once met pre-Jesus Bobby at a church potluck. He was clearly uncomfortable, disengaged, & wanted to leave…which he did—quickly! Presently, post-Jesus Bobby sits across from me every Sunday. He is alert, engaged, teachable, & asks questions. When I walked into church 4 months ago & saw him there for the first time, I literally didn’t recognize him. I had to ask, “Is THAT Bobby??”
I wanted to share “Mr. Bobby’s” story because it touched my life. I wanted to share his story to show how the uncommon grace (Jesus) displayed in everyday life, by ordinary people, can alter another life…for eternity. And I wanted to share his story so you could picture a persistent little boy, reaching out to a dying man— dying in every sense of the word. I’ve heard Bobby say that EJ was his guardian angel. Clearly, the Lord used the innocent, straightforward words of an unashamed child to reach a broken man. The Word says we’re to humble ourselves & become like children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 18) Children recognize their hunger & they aren’t too proud to go to their provider & ask for food. In like manner, all of us are born spiritually hungry. Only Jesus Christ satisfies those cravings. Only pride (thinking we can fix ourselves) will keep the door closed when Jesus knocks. (Rev 3:20) If you don’t believe me, just ask “Mr. Bobby.”