So much has happened over the years, that is difficult to find a starting point. These verses have resonated with most of my life, so let’s start there:
“D’you think I’ve lost the plans I drew up for your life?” says God. “That they’ve fallen down the back of my desk, or got snarled up heavenly red tape? No, they’re open, on my desk, permanent. They’re plans to do you good, not to pull you down. Plans that’ll be worth waiting to see in 3D. You’ll call out for me and I’ll be all ears. You’ll look for me and you’ll find me if you really look. I’ll bring you back from slavery. I’ll draw you back like a magnet pulls in iron filings. I’ll welcome you back from your time in exile.”
Not exactly what you were expecting to read? Well, it’s Jeremiah 29:11-13 with a slightly different twist by Rob Lacey. But, that’s not the point. The point is that all my life God has plans even during the times when circumstances would suggest otherwise.
The Hole in My Chest
I was born with a condition known as pectus excavatum or “sunken chest”. My chest has an indention about the size of a golf ball in it. It is harmless for the most part, but gave me respiratory problems as an infant.
I was born in Mineral Wells, Texas, a city famous for it’s natural springs of mineral water and the once majestic Baker Hotel. Aside from those two facts, there is not much more of interest I can tell you about the town, except for the local favorite swimming hole. There was a creek outside of town that was wider during the early summer days due to rain in late Spring. On the other side of the creek was a fantastic rock ledge that every boy should climb when they get the chance. It was full of crevices and cracks, and small platforms that were perfect for jumping off of. I was 5 years old and I wanted to be on that rock!
So I did the only sensible thing to do for a 5 year old and I decided to “swim” the creek to the other side on my own. It was a matter of seconds before the current took me under.
My grandmother was downstream when I went under. It was into her that my lifeless body drifted down stream. She thought it was one of my uncles goofing off, trying to scare her. My grandmother turned around to find my floating corpse. Well, at least that is my understanding of what happened, because I was dead at the time.
I was undoubtedly rushed to the shore where a stranger did CPR on me. My sternum crushed under the pressure of pumping water out of my lifeless body and as such, the whole in my chest is larger than it should have been. Needless to say, I was brought back to life that day. Amazingly, no one knows who the man was that saved my life. Once he handed me off to my mother, the stranger left the beach without ever giving a name.
And so my testimony begins with the fact that God has always had plans for my life.
My Father’s Death
At some point, we moved to Louisiana, where my father’s side of the family lives. I grew up in a vastly different world than most of the kids I knew as a child. Our family started with my father (Alex), my mother (Brenda), my brother (Chucky) and myself. We lived in a house my father built outside of town. As a child, I would have described it as “the middle of nowhere”. There was no running water & some of the floors were made of packed dirt. My brother and I took baths in the pond, in the sink, or in the rain water we caught in 5 gallon buckets. We used an outhouse for a toilet and food came from game my father killed, whatever was grown and charity. Occasionally, we made it into town for groceries. We were poor, but made the best of it building forts, climbing trees, and having mud ball fights.
It was also at this house that my father grew marijuana in the back yard and spent many nights getting drunk. It was in the house where my brother and I were physically abused with water hoses, fan belts, and other assortments of improvised belts. It was at this house where my brother and I were sexually abused by our cousin when my parents drove into town to buy groceries.
It was also at this house that I walked outside to find my father dead under his car. He had been welding that day and it started to rain. The welding machine short circuited and the frame of the car acted as conduit for the electric current, which electrocuted my father. My mother and I were making sandwiches for lunch at the time. She asked me to go get him for lunch, and I found his lifeless body. The only things I remember after that point were us running down the road to my grand parent’s house and then my memory blacks out.
So where exactly were God’s grand plans for me?
Back to Texas
As you can imagine, my mother did not take this well. She packed us up and headed for Texas, where I would spend most of my growing years.
The years went by after that with ups and downs. My mother turned to alcohol to drown the pains that often accompanied her as a widowed single mother of two. I remember her having several boyfriends over. Some were good and almost felt like what a “father” might should be like. Others were also alcoholics and treated us like rag dolls when it came to discipline.
One afternoon in particular, we came home from school to be locked in our bedrooms. Through the walls we heard items being smashed, screaming, shouting, & words no kid should ever hear. Finally, my mother came to let us out, only to be dragged down the hallway by the hair of head. Being the oldest, I ran to her defense. I was grabbed by the throat and slung across the room. It was then that the boyfriend put a gun to my mother’s head and threatened to blow her brains out, if we didn’t shut up.
Fortunately, the gun was not loaded and after a while the boyfriend calmed down enough to go out drinking again. My mother packed us up to head out of town with no where to go. We hopped on the next Greyhound bus and headed for Georgia.
Georgia On My Mind
I liked the Georgia part of my life. For the most part, things slowed down a bit. We had enough grits and sweet tea for a lifetime. My mother met a new guy and we ended up living with him for several years. The best way to describe him would be a “good” guy. He drank, but never seemed to be drunk. He genuinely made me feel proud of myself and while we were still poor, I didn’t mind so much. I also remember having an uncanny amount of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys while in Georgia.
I wish I could say that the Georgia part lasted, but it didn’t. After about 4 years of living with the “good” guy, we left. My mother could not let go of the alcohol and refused to get help. The “good” guy was tired of coming home to a drunk and was furious when my mother would leave us boys on her drunken rampages. He gave her an ultimatum to get help or leave (we boys were welcome to stay). My mother chose the latter and before we knew it, we were off to live with her cousin in another part of Georgia.
At some point, I had enough of living with my mother and decided that the best thing for me to do would be to live with my family back in Louisiana. So, I rebelled until I had my way and it cost me very dearly.
Since my father died, my mother received social security checks to help cover the cost of raising us. It was with this knowledge that my uncle (my father’s brother), took me in. He knew that would mean extra income for him and his wife. The money went to them fixing up their truck, buying them a mobile home out on a lake. Meanwhile, I was left to eating out of the school dumpster. Their stuff was so infested with roaches that within a matter of months, the new home was unlivable. I would open cabinet doors and a piles of the germ infested bugs would fall to the ground. For some reason, the food out of the school cafeteria dumpster settled better for me.
I tried writing my mother letters to tell her of the situation (this was before emails were around). My “aunt” would take them out of the mail box without me knowing, so they were never sent. Eventually, my mother wanted to know why she had not heard from me in a while and came to visit. That’s when we headed back to Texas.
Half Brother & Back to Texas
As I mentioned, I have a brother named “Chucky”. He is actually my half-brother. When I was about a year old, my mom cheated on my dad with Chucky’s dad, Charles Burleson.
While I was in Louisiana, Charles had reached out to my mom, and they were going to start a new life together. When I met him for the first time, I was actually excited. He sold me on talk about going to church and how he believed in God. I was naive or most likely, desperate, and agreed with my mother to move back to Texas. By this point in the story, I was in my sophomore year of high school. Being a young man, I guess Charles knew he had to win me over to get my mother to move back with him.
Once we moved in with him, it was a completely different ball game. It was all alcohol, drugs, and sexual promiscuity.
I was furious and weak. It was during this time that I started watching pornography late at night on Cinemax. I can’t blame him for that though. That was me. In some ways, it was a form of dealing with puberty and a sense of escapism. All this to say, that my walk with Christ was not always perfect. While I remained close to Him through the years (He was my fortress), I made shameful mistakes.
High School Years
School was always tough for me. My brother seemed to fit right in. I on the other hand often went the entire day without talking to anyone but teachers, making me prime target for bullies. By High School, it had calmed down and that’s where I my best friend at the time.
Chris Brown and I took chemistry class together my junior year of high school. Through his persistent attempts to chat, I eventually opened up.
After meeting Chris, I started going to the church where his father was the pastor. It was at this church that my life in Christ blossomed. For the first time in my teenage years, I had some incredible friendships through the youth group. I even dated some of them! (sorry to those who suffered through that with me).
Eventually I graduated high school and I went to college at Wayland Baptist University. Three years in, I met a girl and spent the next 17 years together with her. During that time, we would bring three incredible children into the world.
On August 8, 2001 (one year to the date), our first child was born. Caedmon got the short end of the parenting stick because we didn’t have a clue about what we were doing. We did our best, went through some pretty rough times, and 5 years down the road, we had our middle child, Presley. Fast forward another 4 years, and our youngest child, Hendrix was born. We named them after musicians in case you were wondering: Caedmon’s Call, Elvis Presley, Jimmy Hendrix. Though I would deny ever listening to the last two bands.
I worked at Wayland several years before accepting a job in Midland, Texas. Again, a God intervention. The company that I now worked for had recently acquired another company. They were a Dell shop and my current company is an HP shop. Naturally, they had to replace all the Dells!
While they were replacing them, my ex mother-in-law gave my contact information to one of the IT personnel. He held on to the sticky note because he felt that God was leading him to. Several months later, I would apply for the job and have an interview that would eventually lead to a life changing career.
It is truly a small world after all. Right before I left for college, my sister was born (we are 17 years apart). Because of this, I never really had a chance to see her grow up or connect with her. I never thought I would say this, but Facebook actually saved our relationship. Through social media, I am able to stay connected and catch up on all those missed years.
The Worst Year of My Life (so far)
In January of 2015, Amanda approached me and said that she didn’t understand why she should have to spend the rest of her life with someone she picked “before she was of the legal age of drinking.” Our lives together had some ups and many downs, having been married so young. We talked and she backed down off the edge.
In May, the thoughts resurfaced and she asked for a divorce. For three days, I was onboard. Felt like I was relieving pressure that had been built up. For three days, I ignored God. Looking back, it is one of the things that I regretted.
When I couldn’t stand it, I turned back to God and confessed that I was looking for the easy way out. That I was tired of fighting, but with His renewed strength we could come out the other end a stronger, more resilient couple. We went to a marriage retreat, had several months of therapy and in the end, Amanda felt it would be healthier to go our separate ways.
The divorce was in and of itself enough to make it the worst year ever. But I faced another tragedy. On my birthday, September 27, 2015, we made the decision to pull the plug on my mom’s life support. She went into the hospital several days earlier for an infection and the years of alcohol abuse finally caught up with her. The infection spread, causing her body to rapidly shut down. My mother’s passing caused a greater rift between Amanda and myself. In January of 2016, she filed for divorce.
I decided that I needed to pull myself together. With the incredible support of friends and family, and through a great deal of God’s grace, I came up with a theme: Journey. In fact, I wrote an entire blog post about it.
One of the things that God told me during that season of my life was that regardless of whether I got a divorce or stay married, He would bless me. God confirmed these thoughts the summer of 2015 at a prayer retreat. The lady praying over me said the exact same thing that had been resonating in my heart:
“I don’t feel comfortable saying this, but I honestly believe this is what God wants you to hear.” She paused. “Whether you stay married or this ends in divorce, God will bless you.”
I took it to heart and started dating a year later. Eventually, I met Ericka on eHarmony and ironically, she blocked me after a week of talking. Who could blame her? Divorced man with three kids … I completely understood. In fact, I remember praying for her and asking God to give her the resources to keep doing the ministry he placed on her heart.
Meanwhile and unbeknownst to me, Ericka’s mom felt she made a terrible mistake. Her mom encouraged Ericka to call eHarmony and unblock me. When she couldn’t get them to, Ericka found my social profile on LinkedIn and on September 3, 2016 sent me a message:
I had to look you up on Goggle since I was unable to get a hold of
eharmony on the weekend. I will be honest with you. I blocked you on
Friday after a moment of fear knowing that I was thoroughly enjoying our
conversations but knowing that your divorce is pretty recent. However, as
soon as I blocked you I regret it.
But, you know what, I think we have a pretty good communication going on,
and I won’t let fear or the possibility of this turn into something else
I am available if you want to talk.
I was wondering what happened. I had an email saying that you had sent me an eHarmony message. The first time I clicked on it, I received an “error 501” message. Unsure what that meant, I went back to my email and clicked the link and that time I received a “Johanna has left the building” message. It was confusing and I thought I did something wrong. So I emailed eHarmony support and told them the situation. They said they would contact you and if they received a positive response from you, they would connect us again.
I really appreciate you being open and honest with me. I promise it doesn’t change anything for me. Just very glad you reached out. I am enjoying our conversations as well! In fact, I was praying about you this morning. I told God I had not clue what happened (obviously unaware of you blocking), but asking him to give you a platform for helping the homeless, with people and resources.
I can understand your reservations, because on paper the divorce happened only 6 months ago. But that emotional process started long before the official date and I have been on my own for a year. I hope that helps ease your fears and I am always willing to talk things through.
Well, I didn’t see your last message, so I am not sure if you asked any questions. I think I last asked you to describe a perfect weekend.
Looking forward to picking up the conversations again,
Thank you for praying for me. I need all the prayer I can get because I truly want to be in a place in life where I feel fulfilled in my calling of helping those in need, and at this point in my life, I know I can do much more. What do you think God is leading you to do in life? Do you feel satisfied of where you are now professionally or do you aspire for more?
To pick up where we left off, my perfect weekend would include a delicious cup of coffee with Oreo cookies in the morning (love them so much that sometimes I’ll find myself eating them with a cold glass of milk at midnight), a morning walk with my dogs, a stroll down the mall or at Barnes and Noble and finish it off with possibly watching a movie or playing a board game at home with my family.
Thank you for understanding my sudden urge to block you. I’m surprised you don’t find yourself upset or even a bit offended by it. You are quite interesting to say the least.
We married on May 27, 2017.
Those who have been around us for any length of time ask how long we’ve been together. An incredible comment considering it’s only been a year and half at the time of this update. God has blessed me with a new song. I absolutely love this marriage and this incredible woman of God.
By what about you? One of the first things I like to do when I meet someone is find out about if/how they know Christ. What about you reader? I want to read your life story. I want to know where you come from and the joys & pains along the way. Link up your testimony or if you live close enough, let’s have lunch.