At age 17, while working at a supermarket in Nevada, Missouri, Becca Wessley looked on during the arrest of her future husband for shoplifting cigarettes. Without enough cash for both gas and cigarettes, Nate Wessley planned to pay for the fuel at a gas station across the street and steal the smokes at the grocery store. As he slipped a pack into his pocket, the store owner confronted him. Police hauled Nate away in handcuffs. It didn’t exactly mark the moment Becca knew she wanted to spend her life with him.
Though the two had been friends growing up attending the same school, their lives veered toward different trajectories. The sweet Becca treated everyone with kindness; Nate’s life was a mess.
Nate’s parents divorced when he was a toddler and his alcoholic father, Dan Wayne Peck, dropped completely out of his life when he was 10. Nevertheless, Nate was a compliant, straight-A student the teachers loved — until his early teens. By then, his mom had divorced a second time and Nate’s life started to spiral out of control. He began drinking alcohol regularly and using illegal drugs to mask his pain. Though he gave up drugs by his mid-20s, his drinking turned into full-blown alcoholism.
“I had become a wreck just like my dad,” says Nate, 40, “and I hated myself for it.”
Nate and Becca stayed in touch after high school, and they grew closer. After dating for a couple of years, they wed in 2005.
“Becca saw me not just as I was, but as I could be,” Nate says.
Even so, Nate still drank far too much. He bartended by day at a local restaurant and worked the night shift at United Parcel Service. He typically bought a half pint or pint of vodka after his UPS shift ended and drank it before arriving home, hoping Becca wouldn’t notice his breath. He tried to make himself believe tomorrow would be different; but the drinking pattern continued day after day.
“I turned into a deceptive liar who hid in the darkness to shamefully feed my addiction without others seeing,” Nate recalls. “But the guilt and conviction were so heavy I felt as if I were being buried alive.”
One morning, after a night of drinking far too much bourbon, Becca went to work, leaving Nate in charge of their first child, Lundyn, almost 2.
“I was trying to get her breakfast, while feeling as though I might lose my dinner from the night before,” Nate recalls. “I looked into her sweet, innocent eyes and broke down in tears.”
At that moment, everything changed. Nate reached for the bottle he had saved from the previous night and emptied it down the drain. And he prayed, as he’d never prayed before, asking the Lord for help to break the chains of addiction.
Nate’s new determination to see his life change led him to a dilemma about his bartending job. He had a family to support and didn’t know what else he could do. As he prayed and sought answers, he felt he should stay temporarily and be a light for others living as he had. He studied the Word in spare moments and became known as the Bible-reading bartender to regulars, who often inquired about what he read.
“I tried to listen much more than I spoke, ask lots of questions, be the friend they may not have had, and speak into their lives when given the chance,” Wessley says.
David E. Stoecker, founder and executive director of Better Life in Recovery, says he stepped into a church for the first time in over two decades because of the Wessleys. He and Nate had been co-workers at the restaurant, and when he saw Wessley go from a stressed and frustrated bartender to a positive and happy man, he wanted to know why.
“I was an angry agnostic who hated Christians and the Church,” says Stoecker, 49. “I was living with an active 24-year chaotic substance-use disorder, yet they treated me with respect and genuinely cared about me. God used them to get me into church, which led to me getting saved and baptized. If they hadn’t reached out to me when and how they did, I would have died that year due to my addiction.”
Wessley quit the bartending job a year after he sobered up. He continues to work at UPS, where he has been employed for over 16 years. Becca, 40, is a stay-at-home mom to the couple’s eight children: Lundyn 14; Asher 12; Asa 11; Cyrus 9; River 7; Wilder 2; and newborn Adler. Their ongoing openness and vulnerability after the loss of baby Amos, stillborn at 39 weeks in 2017, has provided opportunities to touch other parents experiencing the loss of a child.
Dan Peck had a similar experience with the Lord about the same time as his son. He sobered up and worked to get his life straightened out. Though Nate’s grandmother tried to open the channels of communication between the two, Nate didn’t want to relinquish his bitterness.
However, after reading the Book of Philemon through several times, Wessley realized he had held his father as a “slave” to his own resentment and he needed to change. He called Peck, spoke of his forgiveness, and the two began the slow process of reconnecting.
Today, the two men have a strong, healthy relationship with respect and love for each other. Peck has taught Sunday School for 5th and 6th grade boys at a church in Tyro, Kansas, for over 25 years.
Wessley and his family attend James River Church in Ozark, Missouri, where he ministers with the discipleship team and prays with adherents at the altar.
“In some way or another, we are all just a broken mess,” says Wessley, who recently celebrated 13 years of sobriety. “If God is willing to work powerfully in the life of a ragamuffin like me, He’s surely inclined to do the same for others.”