Brandon is currently deployed to the Middle East. I asked him to send me his faith story, not really realizing that his story is also my story. This was hard to tell, and we don’t share it just to hear our own heads rattle. Hopefully you see grace, forgiveness, hope, all Jesus… The following is Brandon’s testimony.
Deut. 31:6/Heb. 13:5 “He will never leave you nor forsake you.”
My testimony. Hmm. Most of the time I tell the amazing story of how the Lord rescued my family out of alcohol, drugs, womanizing, and near-divorce. It was 1980 and I was 4. My parents had been married only 11 short years to the day when the Lord saved them, stopped our family from becoming another statistic. My parents just celebrated 44 years of marriage on August 9th. Things could have been so different. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you.
I’ve rarely told my personal story. It was rather boring compared to the dramatic Salvation of my parents. Oh, I remember all the evil too well, but life took a very happy turn when I was 4, so I mostly grew up in church. I can relate when Jeneil says she “prayed the prayer” over and over again. Trusting Jesus as a youngster meant no dramatic lifestyle changes. I was relieved to hear one of my older youth group leaders say that believing was a fact, not a feeling. I rested with that for a while.
I left for West Point at 17. Left a small, small town—legally a municipality defined by law as a village. “More cows than people,” I always say. I arrived in New York with all the “city kids” having no idea if someone from rural Michigan could hang with the kids who had all the “stuff” in high school. I made a vow to myself. I would only leave if they escorted me to the gate by force or in a body bag. I also vowed to find out if what I believed about God was True. I spent as much time learning about the Lord at West Point as I did studying. I left after my 4 years believing in Jesus to my bones. All the things I studied as an American Politics major to try to save the world through good policy seemed to pale in comparison to the power of Jesus to really change peoples’ hearts and circumstances.
Life was good. Started off marriage with no children and a 5 year perpetual date with my wife! Even after hearing Rhema come into the world over a scratchy phone in a dirty, sweaty tent in Iraq in 2004, life was still good. Even after finding out our dreams for our firstborn were never to come to pass outside of an autism-erasing miracle, life still seemed ok. But, little did I realize that slowly Jeneil and I were losing our souls. We mourned losing our dreams for Rhema, privately. We both found significance in countless hours completing our Master’s degrees. I worked all day long; went to school at night. We fought to bring Rhema back—one of us up, one of us down. Never in sync. We fought each other. We (illogically) blamed each other in those late night moments. We had our second daughter—Hope; best gift ever, but stress upon stress. Hope was sick too in those early years. I was gone every summer for training and a good number of weekends leaving Jeneil to the depression of our home. We wore ourselves out and left each other in the dust for 3 ½ years. Then, just when both of us were hollowed out souls, I disappeared to Iraq for 15 months. All during that deployment, autism, lead poisoning, house woes, depression, and other crazy circumstances just continued to take their toll.
Still, never did I think it could happen to us. No matter how bad things got, we were too good. Too educated. Too… proud. But, in the middle of my 2nd year-long deployment, our marriage and family had officially failed. I don’t mean it hit some rocks. That was before I left. It hit the rocks and had now sunk. It. Had. Failed. All I could think through the stinging, bitter tears was, “How?” Looking back it was obvious. But, in the small moments over the previous 5 years as we tore our marriage down, we fooled ourselves thinking it would be all right. I knew we weren’t healthy (Jeneil tried to tell me), but we’d be ok. We were B & J. Self-reliant. Financially secure. Professionals. We didn’t need anything—certainly not anyone’s help. We didn’t need…God.
Thank God for faithful, truth-telling chaplains. I remember expecting him to side with me. Instead he looked at me and said “the biggest problem in your marriage is you.” He didn’t mean Jeneil hadn’t contributed her share, he just knew I didn’t need a pity party. He knew I wasn’t good despite my best attempt to place blame. His moral mirror on my heart gutted my self-approval. It also saved me from doing what I had done to my wife for years (and she to me)—tear her down further in our lowest times. Instead, the midst of the pain, Jesus showed up. I remember trying to bathe my wife in love from thousands of miles away over Skype. I remember praying over each word I said—careful to hold my tongue when He said to. I remember sending her flowers like when we first dated. He gave me a brand new passionate love for my wife. One that I still have today.
The Lord pierced my soul more with something beyond saving my marriage. The good chaplain asked me this question, “If all this goes away and you face life without your wife and children, do you still love Jesus?” I recoiled because in my economy following Jesus came with fringe benefits—the most basic was my family being intact. “That’s idolatry,” he said. Confused, I left to think about it. How could something good be an idol? “Anything that takes God’s place as your source of Life is an idol. If God isn’t everything, then even a good thing can be an idol in His place.” God was separating the wheat from the chaff in my heart. It may seem strange to count the most painful chapter of my life as the most precious, but one event captured it all. I woke up in the middle of the night wet, weeping. Iraq was pitch dark at night. All I could utter through the tears was “Jesus” over and over again—and I felt Him there. As crushed as I was, for the first time in my life I got an unvarnished glimpse into my own soul. When all had been stripped away, I knew that the love of Jesus is great and my love for Him was real. In the trial, I chose Him over all else. The feeling of being wondrously rescued that I had wondered about as a kid…well, I got to experience it. No matter the outcome, I knew Jesus would never leave me. I now knew Him at a gut level. I wouldn’t trade that night for anything.
The rest of the story? We made it. God’s Grace was our teacher. The Lord put us back together slowly but firmly, just as He had done with my parents. Things could have been so different. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you.
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise?
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our Home
It’s not our Home… Blessings, Laura Story