Willie Aames on 'Fit Club,'
Faith, and Fame
The former child star and his wife on that notorious 'Celebrity Fit Club' scene and their hope for the Christian community.
BY: Interview by Dena Ross
As an adult, did you find out what the name of that cult was?
I do. In the book I didn't say any names because the people are very dangerous.
How did witnessing your mother's involvement in this cult affect your view of religion?
Back then, I had a couple of people—my grandma was a Christian, and invariably, my mom would drop my brother, sister, and I off at her house for the weekend. She had a picture of Jesus in her room, or she would play hymns on the piano. It seemed different than what my mom was involved with, but I really didn't want to have any kind of religion. It just all seemed crazy to me.
What was the turning point?
I left home right before my 16th birthday. I lived on the streets for a year and a half. I self-medicated with every drug I could get my hands on. By the time I met Willie he was six months sober and he helped me into sobriety through AA. It was the first time that I really had to examine a higher power.
It was Willie who said, "A higher power would be a God of your own understanding and if I'm a drug addict, then aren't I worshiping a drug addict's God?" We needed a God that was so much bigger than us that we couldn't understand Him. That was really the first time I had thought that I needed a God. Then, once Willie and I got sober, I really started crying. Everything that I had held in came out, and I cried for three straight years. I had night terrors. [Willie] held me for three years and did the very best that he could.
He came to me at one point in our relationship and said, "Maylo, I really wanted to be your knight in shining armor. I really wanted my love to be enough to make you whole and well and I'm loving you as hard as I can and you're not getting any better. You're getting worse. You need something bigger than me. I can't fix you."
I was kind of gut-smacked, like "What am I supposed to do now? Who is possibly going to love me more than you and more completely than you?" I just let that set in, and one day I was driving around in the car and heard a guy speaking on the radio who turned out to be a pastor. We went to the church and checked it out, a little bit begrudgingly. But, once we walked in, there was just a truth there. Hope was presented to us in a way that it had never been presented before.
I started having counseling sessions with the pastor there, and he led me to Christ less than a year later. It was just the right time. I realized I did need a God and that I did need a love that was bigger than what any man could give me to fix and fill the hole that was blasted out of me when I was a kid.
What advice do you have for people who are addicted to drugs or have been sexually abused?
If you have a drug addiction, you need help. You need to get into a program where somebody's going to hold you accountable, and you need to get sober and clean. You need to take a moral inventory of how you got there. And you do need God. You need to know that there is something out there that is bigger than you and that you weren't created for that. That's not what you were made to be.
Also, you don't have to remain a victim of your past. You don't have to let that define you. You don't have to let even the bad decisions that you've made in your life define who you are today. Through Jesus Christ, you can have a new life. You are a new creature through Christ. That doesn't mean that all of your memories go away and all of your problems go away. It just gives you peace and grace and a prayer, and a way to lay everything at the foot of someone bigger than you and trust that He's going to take care of it.
Did you or do you ever lose faith in God? Was there a time where it just wasn't enough to help you through your problems?
Yeah. There was a time in the middle of "Bibleman." My husband went church to church, and we saw the underbelly. We had given up an awful lot, and there was other pressures happening.
I had about a year where all of my disciplines were in order. I was on my knees every day. I was in study. I was serving at the church. I was involved in women's ministry. And I could not feel God. I couldn't feel his presence. It felt like my words in prayer were just floating up to heaven like alphabet soup. I got weary of praying and not hearing an answer, weary of hypocrisy that I saw within the church. I finally just had it out in my bedroom with him and said, "You said you would never leave me or forsake me, and I need you, and I'm praying and I'm calling out to you, and I can't feel you. I don't want to do this anymore. It's too hard. "
As soon as I was done praying, something in my heart stopped me and said, "But where are you going to go? Where are you going to go now that you've known me?" It was the first time that I felt the presence of God in probably over a year. For whatever reason, that dry season just pushed me right up to the wall.
Scripture says, "I will never leave you or forsake you, and there's nothing that can snatch you out of my hand." I realized that even my own will, my own flesh, would not be able to snatch me out of his hand. Once I gave my life to him, I'm his. And even in my lowest, most stupid moment where I wanted to cash it in and say forget it, he would not let me go.
That was a great turning point in my faith where I felt so secure. I am His. That's it. Even in my weakest moment, when I don't think I can go on anymore as a Christian or I don't think I can believe anymore, he is there.
Willie spoke earlier about how, more than anything, Christians lack a community. How do you feel about that?
I think that it's a different experience for women than it is for men. We have a lot of women's ministries, we have a lot of women's retreats, we've got Women of Faith, we've got women's Bible studies. There's a lot of fellowship there.
I do think that [the Christian community] is fractured by denomination. I think even within the city that we live in, there are churches that badmouth other churches. I think that is despicable because it really makes it difficult—as Willie says over and over--to witness to somebody and try to convince them to become a Christian when all they see are people arguing.
I think for men, it's a little bit different. But I can't really speak about Willie's experience.
For me, it was growing up without a family. When I became a Christian there was a Christian-ease, a Christian-speak that led me to believe there was this family—brothers and sisters in Christ, the family of God, this big, wonderful, functional family that I could fall into the fold of and finally have the home that I was aching for as a child. And what I found was a bunch of human beings, surprisingly enough, that are just as dysfunctional and broken as anyone that isn't in the church.
We're all doing the best that we can, but, we do need to have more grace. We do need to not use prayer circles as a place to gossip in the name of prayer. We do need to be a little bit more forgiving and not as quick to judge another brother's.
You suffer from lupus. How does dealing with a chronic illness affect your faith?
Dealing with a chronic illness actually was a blessing in disguise for me. I thank God for my lupus. I thank God for everything that comes into my life.
As the oldest of three children in an extremely violent home, I grew up taking care of and trying to patch a family back together. I always felt like it was my responsibility. As a result of that, as a grown woman, I had a tendency to say yes to everything, to take on everybody else's problems, to try to help every single person that came into my life. I didn't know when to say no. Well, once you reach a fever of about 104 degrees, and you have to lay in bed for three days with frozen peas all over your head [and] you realize this is a disease that you can die from, it suddenly became very easy for me to say, "I'm so sorry, I can't do that for you right now. I can pray for you, but I can't get up and actually do that work for you."
The lupus really forced me to put boundaries on my life. I could see that God had been trying to teach me how to do that and to grow up in that area all along. So it's a blessing. And when I am ill, one of the things that it affects are my joints, and I can't walk very well. And it's just a time of quiet. It's also a time to learn to receive from my family, which is difficult. It's like a woman learning how to receive a compliment. It's really difficult for us. We are the caretakers.
God made me lay down. And He made me have physical needs. I had no choice but to allow my family to love on me and to say "Thank you."