“When you know your why – the How is not that difficult.”
I grew up in Garland Texas. My dad was a doctor, and my mom was a speech therapist. I had an older brother, two older sisters, a dog, a cat, and lots of neighborhood friends to play with. We lived in a thriving suburban area. We never wanted for much. My dad got a huge promotion at the hospital, and we moved to the big time – Highland Park. We again had a huge house, a dog, a cat, lots of neighborhood friends to play with. Life was awesome, and God was at the center. My mom and my dad were very avid believers, and we were always at church and around the church. We knew we had a lot, but we didn’t act as we did. My dad was always out helping people, and my mom was always involved in some kind of Bible study and around all her friends. It was amazing, but I didn’t know it.
One day, I woke up in a strange room. It seemed like I was having a lucid interval in a dream. I’m in a white room and I hear whispers around me that are so irritating. I cover my head and ears. All I want to do is sleep some more, but the lights hurt and voices around me keep urging me to move. Hands are pushing and pulling on my body. My head hurts so bad, and I can’t move my legs. Then it goes dark.
I looked up and saw my grandmother sitting on a bench and drinking coffee next to a window in this strange room. I’m in a bed. “Where am I?” I asked. She said in a frustrated tone like she’s repeating herself, “Jeff you’re in the hospital. You had an accident 3 weeks ago. You had a bad head injury and were in a coma.” Then it goes dark again.
I’m coherent again. I’m wearing a gown with cords attached to me. A lady with short hair started shaking me and said with a big smile on her face, “It sounds like they’re gonna let you go home today!”
“What? Where am I, and what happened?” I thought. My mom walked In with a big smile on her face. Then it goes dark again.
It’s morning again, but this is familiar. I’m in the same room and the same lady who was here yesterday is taking my blood pressure and blood. My head hurts really bad and my legs are tingling. My grandmother is here. She was here yesterday – I can remember. She told me what happened again. I told her I remembered. Then I felt the bad pain all around my eye and neck again – and I remembered feeling the pain yesterday too.
On Wednesday, January 24th, 1996, I had gone to bible study at my church. I was wrestling with another kid who put me in a headlock that made me pass out. He didn’t know I was unconscious, so he let go and I fell to the ground – headfirst on the pavement. All the other kids, who were standing around, said it looked like someone dropped a watermelon. They called 911, and my friend ran to get her dad that lived across the street. He was a doctor – and he cared for me until the ambulance arrived.
I was in a coma for 4 days, then in the hospital for 3 weeks. I had a traumatic brain injury. It didn’t require surgery, but I was still severely injured. I went to cognitive rehab for 7 months to get speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, counseling, behavior training, emotional coaching, swallowing/speech techniques, and to re-learn other skills that get
damaged in patients with a frontal-lobe brain injury. I now have extreme attention problems
especially with working memory when describing something or explaining something regarding detailed events. I was not allowed to play any contact sports, and I couldn’t ride a bike or do anything where I could hit my head. I was very impaired, so my parents expected very little hope for me being a functional teen and eventually an adult.
Cognitive therapy was the bright spot of my day. Everyone was smiling, nice, and wanted to take care of me. I had to stay at home on the weekends, and I couldn’t go to high school anymore because I couldn’t remember details about anything. I was taking a lot of meds to curb my mood and help me with symptoms. They made me forget I was impaired. I struggled with concentration – even to the point that I forgot my feelings from day to day. I lost contact with my school friends and built a buddy-like relationship with all my immediate family.
They were all I had. I went to church Wednesday and Sunday and I prayed a lot. I started lifting weights and playing guitar at home to entertain myself. My life was simple. I didn’t worry about any problems or aspirations because everyone else just took care of me. I stayed in a routine. It was like I was a young child again, safe and protected.
I started going to school again in the fall of 96. I excelled at school, but I stayed at home on the weekends to workout and play guitar by myself. I was lonely and I felt like a loser. I had lost my ability to interact with others in social situations, and I could not figure a way out of it. I couldn’t talk about or verbalize any of the feelings I had, somewhat because I was so medicated, but also because I couldn’t keep a train of thought long enough to remember how I felt.
During Christmas that year, my parents surprised us by taking all the kids on a cruise. It was amazing! Me and my older brothers had our own rooms and were free to do whatever we wanted! We ate tons of food, went to the casinos, pools, restaurants, and they were drinking. I vaguely remember the doctors telling me after my accident that if I ever used any more of the “stuff” they found in my body, it would kill me! Next, I remember thinking, one drink won’t hurt. So I ordered the strongest drink a 16-year-old could think of – a strawberry daiquiri! I picked it up and thought, if it kills me – it kills me. Bottoms up! All of a sudden, my personality came back. I was laughing and care-free. I wasn’t afraid. I felt a warm sense of ease and comfort and thought everything was going to be ok now.
Let me back up and fill in some of the gaps; the other side of the story. On January 24, 1996, I went to Wednesday night bible study to meet up with some friends to drink, smoke, and get high. One of my fellow hoodlum friends put me in a headlock. I passed out and fell. I was rushed to the hospital and was in a coma for 4 days. I woke up and I started screaming at the staff, my family, and my visitors all kinds of horrible things to let me out. They tied my arms to my bed to restrain me from hurting anyone (and myself). I had a seizure, and they assumed I would have more. I wanted to get out more than anything else – so I could anesthetize myself. I was like a caged animal.
Behavior limiters are impaired when the brain is damaged. That’s why I was screaming at people when I woke up. I couldn’t control my emotional outbursts. I only recall bits and pieces of being in the hospital, but I clearly remember how I felt. I felt remorse about how I was living my life. I had tons of shame and guilt. I just let it all come out with my inhibitions gone. My emotions dictated my behavior – especially all the fear I was feeling.
He’s such a nice boy – how could this have happened? Let me explain.
My dad had suddenly passed away when I was half way through 6th grade. Our perfect little highland park family was turned upside down with immense pain, fear, uncertainty, bitterness, yelling, emotional outbursts, and disorder. It was so hard on me and my family. If I had not found alcohol and drugs shortly after that, I would probably gone crazy or killed myself. I had no outlet! I believed that how I was, and how I felt at the time, were as good as it’s ever going to get. I completely withdrew after my dad died. The king was gone. I thought I would just have to fade away into the mass of existence, and never do anything worthwhile or meaningful in life. I didn’t have anyone to rely on. God had damned me I thought. We went to a counselor from time to time, but I never really honestly talked about how I felt. I just made myself sound like i was ok, and tried to make her and everyone else believe me.
I asked my older sister one night to go buy me a “flask” of Jim Beam. I hid it in the corner of my room. A few days later, I took a pull off that bottle, and it had a burning warm sensation going down. I choked another few big swigs down, and I again felt a warm sensation all over my body. I felt so much relief. I kept this up for many nights in a row, and kept it going with more bottles. My personality completely changed, and I created a new “fake” me to keep myself safe from others. I was 12 years old.
Church was such a great way for me to cleanse myself after a week of immersing myself in Sin and darkness. Every summer, I would go to church camp. Each time, after being convicted during the quiet times and sermons, I would break down and confess to my cabin counselors about my alcohol abuse. We would come up with a plan of action for me to stay accountable, and every time I would break it within a week of getting back home! I never confided in any of the counselors after camp was over. I never told my mom or step-dad either. I just wanted everyone’s temporary acceptance so I could justify my careless destructive behavior. As long as I had your acceptance, that was enough justification for me to continue doing whatever I damn well pleased. So I didn’t really have a belief and trust in Christ. I had an ego that said you believed I was now ok and I was now free to do what I want and that God would forgive my sins no matter how I lived.
By age 14, I was a full blown alcoholic/addict. I drank most nights during the week and definitely every weekend night. I used any substance I could get my hands on. I bragged about it to my friends. Some of them kept up with me. I would steal things from anyone I could – including friends. I destroyed property. I also discovered I could steal lawn equipment from back yards and sell it when I needed money. I stole everything. I was so selfish. I was a hellion to my parents. I disgraced my family name. My accident at church occurred not long after this behavior.
Back to after the accident.
I had gotten pretty in shape from lifting weights and focusing on self care. It’s not like I was hanging out with anyone after school, so exercise was my hobby. It was an outlet. Remember – after my brain rehab I started high school back again, my parents had taken us on a cruise where I began drinking again. In the next spring semester at school, I hooked up with some kids who were into partying. We started hanging out. They were all going out to play baseball. I had previously lost all my confidence – but NOW I had it! “Liquid courage”! I went out to play baseball with them – and I hit the game winning home run during the first game of the season! What had happened? My inhibitions were gone! I wasn’t afraid because my feelings of inadequacy were smooshed by my liquid confidence. My FEELINGS were fixed. I had arrived!
You can guess the rest of the story. The substances eventually took over and dragged me down with them – hard! I would go out every night promising myself I would only have 1 beer. Every time I would wake up the next day not knowing where I was the night before or how I got home. I almost always blacked out. I even tried to stay away from alcohol by only using drugs. But I would use drugs and find myself drinking again. Then, I would always get violent or crazy. I started slowly introducing hard drugs just to prove to others I could handle it, and that I wasn’t afraid. However, then I got addicted to them. My grades slipped, I started getting in trouble, I started fighting all the time (and not winning), stealing, cheating, robbery, armed robbery (BB gun) – and living a lie because my life was completely intolerable. I started stealing lawn equipment again to support my “powdered medication” habit. Unacceptable became acceptable. I eventually had some major consequences from my abusive behavior. They threatened to kick me out of my private rehabilitative high school. It was very apparent to everyone around me that I had a substance problem. I didn’t have anywhere to go, I was a prey to misery and depression, I was full of self pity, I was full of fear, every day was the new worst day of my life, I couldn’t control my emotional nature. One day, my parents changed the locks on my house and wouldn’t let me in. They sent me to alcohol and drug rehab – and because I was with the right people, there was enough honest prayer, I was broken enough, and because God is faithful – it worked!
I was introduced to a 12 step recovery program. I had previously been to psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors – but I just told them what they wanted to hear. This was a place run by other recovering people. They had been there. I told them that alcohol and drugs were the only psychiatric medication that worked for me. They told me, “you’re in the right place, keep coming back.” They explained the purpose of the 12 steps and told me to start reading a book. I assumed they thought I wouldn’t be able to understand unless I read their manual. Reluctantly, I followed their suggestions, and did what they did. I met friends who I still live life with today. I saw adults I knew from my church as a kid. I saw teachers from schools I had attended. I encountered famous athletes, actors, politicians, doctors, lawyers, professional people, and tons of young people. I had never experienced such a wonderful fellowship of alcoholic, dope fein survivors that were so fun and exciting to be around. My imagination and a new sense of freedom was almost immediate. I fully relied on these people – I trusted them above anything else. I relentlessly worked those steps and developed a new conception of God.
By the spring of 2000, I was still inhibited from my head injury and was still taking a ton of meds. I had graduated high school and attended a local college along with many of my recovery buddies. I had become a heavy smoker and coffee drinker (thanks recovery friends). I stayed up every night till 3 am or later. I could not stay on track! I was on a constant emotional roller coaster. One minute I was super happy and excelling at school, my job, and my relationships. Next, I was flooded over with exhaustion and terror! I had stopped working the steps of my program. I stopped praying and I failed to enlarge my spiritual life. I finally resorted to drinking and drugs again for a short period of time (in 2000) and then nearly really went totally off the deep end. I prayed and literally begged God (who was so distant to me now) to please make this stop! I AM NOT IN CONTROL OF MYSELF!!!! I had to drop out of college and start working. My neatly laid out plans didn’t work! But – the God idea did. Shortly after, with the help of my recovery friends, I was able to stop again.
I realized then that I had been separated from God for nearly 5 years. I would pray, but it seemed like HE was completely silent in return. The program I was in gave me a few set prayers, but they were empty coming from me. I could’ve summed up all my prayers as “please give me everything I want and here’s how to do it Amen”. I had a flimsy belief in God. I was fully self-focused. “God reveals to me your will so I can decide whether to do it or not”. Since I didn’t get a response from God, I tried everything to prove that HE was not real because I was hurt and I had become distant. I studied all kinds of other philosophies trying to disguise myself as someone who had it all figured out. I even blamed my failing on GOD! Although it was his fault, I still didn’t believe in him! I was clean and sober (again since 7/2/2000), but my life was going nowhere. I was a waste of space, and I FELT it. My feelings and thoughts were sunk because my own resources failed utterly!
In 2004, I had a brief period of success at my odd job I had. I had to take a licensing exam, but I was still having major sleeping and focus problems from all the meds I had to take. I prayed really hard – and even cried out to GOD for help! I hardly believed HE was real or at least he sure didn’t believe in me! My belief system had been totally dismantled. I felt very alone in the universe. I was completely broken, but I was sober. So I had some faith that life would change. I just kept my feet moving, and took the next right action.
Next, the thought came to me to STOP taking all the meds I had been prescribed after my head injury. A week later I saw my doctor and explained the symptoms I was experiencing. He slapped his hand on his forehead and said, “when did you stop taking the meds?!?” I told him I would rather deal with the memory loss, jumpiness, and mid day exhaustion than have all the other side effects caused by the medication! He looked me square in the face and said, “Jeff, the brain heals itself over time.” He said that patients with a traumatic brain injury often take meds for a period of time but it is only therapeutic for a while. He said the brain does heal and will continue to heal – provided other factors change. Dieting, exercise, a normal sleeping schedule, etc. all contribute. I took, and passed, my state insurance licensing exam shortly after. My confidence soon returned, and I started exercising again. I started going to sleep earlier and quit smoking to excess and drinking so much coffee.
How dark it is before the dawn!
One weekend shortly after, my friend Rock n Roll Dave asked me to come watch him play guitar at his church, Fellowship Bible Church. Let me just say that by this time – I was AGAINST the church and the people that it produced! The pastor, Gary Brandenburg, was talking about the process of growing grapes. “The growers intentionally limit the amount of water they provide so that the grapes grow fuller, the roots grow even deeper, and the grapes get juicier than they would if they watered them all the time.” That message hit me so hard! It forced me to look back at the struggles over my life and I FELT an overwhelming SENSE of GOD consciousness. I was filled with a PRESENCE I COULD NOT DOUBT (I know now – it was the Holy Spirit!) I continued to go to that church every Sunday and even invited my family to go with me. I finally realized that I am still a work in progress, and that I am just getting stressed to grow more! It is really hard to describe the events that created all the change that followed, but everything started to come together. I had a new sense of purpose and belonging. Things started falling into place out of nowhere. I will just say EVERYTHING CHANGED!!!
I re-dedicated my life to following Jesus late fall in 2005, and wow did my existence turn AROUND! This was not the same Jesus I believed in as a kid, but a new belief structure was built in my heart and mind! It was effortless, and I didn’t make it happen. I started engaging Him to be in his presence. I drew near to him, and he disclosed himself to me. I started getting involved in team sports at my church, and started jogging with some of the members. I had only run previously for punishment during baseball practice in high school. Running was really hard for me. I could hardly breathe! I was still smoking cigarettes a lot, but tapered off hugely. I started losing lots of weight, I was 225 lbs. I wasn’t running fast – I just wanted to run the distance around the track or park where we were running. I stayed in a routine with this group of guys. My faith – and fitness escalated. I learned that Pain is the touchstone of all growth, especially spiritual! I used to run from pain or doing things that were hard. I had a victim mentality. I kept my head in the sand hiding for so long – but now I started to understand. I would get up and face challenges.
And not only this, but we also boast in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces patient endurance, and patient endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope,
“God won’t give you one of his daughters, until you start acting like one of his sons.” – Tom w.
Being full of courage, I met the lady who became my wife in summer 2006. She and I started running together – even on our first date! I ran my first 5k with her. It was so hard, and I even got beat by people pushing a stroller! We kept on training with the group of church friends, and we eventually ran a half marathon! I never thought I would be able to accomplish such a huge athletic feat, but I just trusted the process and kept training. I kept the idea in my head that PAIN is temporary, and God is intentionally stressing me so that my roots will grow deeper. I learned to embrace the pain! I asked her to marry me in spring 2009, and we got married that December.
I learned to use this principle of embracing hardship and pain in my work life. I had previously barely been able to hold a job, but then started taking on more challenging work. I worked my way up at my company from a Helpdesk person in 2004 to a project manager 2009. I developed skills and enough contacts to gain 3 other higher-level jobs with fortune companies, and finally started my own company on a prayer in 2012 (God had an interesting way to answer that prayer. Be careful what you pray for – cause you just might get it!)
I know God absolutely gave me the gift of fitness so I can help inspire others as well as change myself during the process. I decided to run a full marathon in spring of 2008. I had only run a half marathon before, and a 20 mile run attempt with my friend Kevin (the hot dog run). But I had built up so much confidence that I knew I could do it. I embraced the pain. I had to train when I didn’t want to. It was hard – and I had to change my schedule to get my training in. It was even painful at times physically, but the physical pain was hugely outweighed by the benefit of continuing on. Sometimes, the only way through it – is THROUGH IT! I started incorporating Yoga, strength training, and running together per the advice of my fitness buddies. I climbed that fitness ladder to reach my goal of finishing the Oklahoma City marathon! I talked to God many times throughout that training – and race! I also trained for, and completed the Dallas marathon later that year!
Behold, we consider blessed those who have endured. You have heard about the patient endurance of Job, and you saw the outcome from the Lord, that the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
In May of 2010, me and my wife, along with my mother in law and father in law, 3 aunts and uncles, and a sister in law all went to Vegas. My wife was 3 months pregnant. We flew out and back to Dallas and they flew out and back to Austin. On the in-laws way back home from the airport, they dropped my father in law at the hospital with pain in his stomach and chest. The hospital admitted him. The rest of the family headed back home very late that night. On the way home, they merged onto an on ramp to get on the highway when a drunk driver squealed around a corner and hit them head on driving from an opposing lane.
My Wife and I were asleep in our bed early that Monday morning in Dallas. I heard my wife’s phone vibrate ring 3 times without her answering. Then my phone rang. I answered – and it was my other sister in law who was not with them. She explained what happened. Mother in law, aunt in law and sister in law were critical and unconscious. We immediately packed bags and headed to Austin at 3am. We first went to see mother. She had broken bones in her upper arm protruding from the skin. Her facial bones were also broken making her unrecognizable. She had experienced extreme head trauma and internal injuries. My sister in law was sitting in the front passenger seat and had 2 crushed femurs as well as crushed lower legs. She could not breathe and they soon after intubated her. Her aunt was the driver, and had a broken shoulder and arm, but had the least injuries. This began a 9 month journey of traveling back and forth from DFW to Austin to help comfort my father in law and helping any way possible. Mother in law didn’t recover cognitively. Aunt is better. Sister in law is permanently handicapped, and the whole family is scarred. We were powerless to help. It was emotionally draining. It IS a huge test on my relationship with my wife and our marriage. We were broken – but somehow we got the endurance to keep going. We sought out help because we had nothing without others.
Together – we embraced the pain and kept moving. We had a lot of marriage problems especially with this happening in our first year of marriage. We joined a class called Marriage Core at church. It was a class for broken people to improve their marriages. It was a 30 week course. We did it twice – one after each of our 2 kids! It was intense! We had prayed and asked for help, and God sent us to the right place. I felt like I was different than others. We felt like we looked bad to our friends. We felt like we were outsiders, but we stuck together, and we grew stronger together in our faith.
Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, putting aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, let us run with patient endurance the race that has been set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the originator and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
In the spirit of growing deeper and embracing the suck – I shortly after heard about triathlons. I figured, biking and swimming are easy, and I know I can run a half marathon, so I will sign up for a triathlon with a half marathon run at the end! I had NO idea what I was doing!!! A 70.3 half Ironman is a 1.2 mile swim followed by a 56 mile bike, and finishing with a 13.1 mile run!!!! People die during these. In 2011, I hired a coach 2 months before the race. I didn’t own a bike, and I had never swam laps, and I didn’t know anything about triathlons!!! Somewhere during this training process, all my self confidence left. I started to break. My belief in myself had to transform to faith and trust in God. My cocky self centered attitude again had to go. I just could not rely on my ego anymore. I begged God to take my yoke! One Mile at a Time, that was my motto. After 2 months of training, and buying a bike, I finished the 2011 Austin 70.3 half Ironman in a little over 7 hours. I was ecstatic! I just prayed and put one foot in front of the other. I knew it would hurt and I embraced it! I developed another new belief and reliance on God. I drew near to him, and he disclosed himself AGAIN.
I have since completed 15 – 70.3 half Ironman races and 5 – 140.6 full ironman distance races. I’ve done numerous marathons, endurance runs, swim challenges, and even 50k and 100k Ultramarathons. I regularly participate in a group of athletes and try to help others reach their goals. I’m not the fastest, I’m just a middle-packer. God has completely changed me through fitness! I just trust the process: pain first, finish, then feel accomplished (or whatever) after.
To sum it all up, It’s 8 miles in the woods – and it’s 8 miles out.
Looking back, I can see that God was there when my father died when I was young. He didn’t make it happen, but he used the faith my father instilled in me to make me grow deeper in my own faith. I started with just a mustard seed of faith. He didn’t make me have the accident at church, but he used it to make me grow deeply in my brokenness and so to a deeper faith and belief in Him. He didn’t make me an alcoholic/drug addict, but he allowed me to be broken and fall almost to death so I could, in turn, help others who are broken in the same way. He used fitness as a means to change my attitude of bitterness and being a victim in life, to a faith in restoration and trust in God’s healing power (sometimes quickly, and sometimes SLOWLY). He didn’t cause my in laws to have the car wreck to destroy the family, but he had used the pain to grow the family stronger together and to create resilience.
This is our temporary home – we are spiritual beings having a human experience. I now know that God is building us all to be useful despite all our defects and shortcomings. Things that are built to last aren’t built fast! Our job is just to keep our bearing despite the obstacles. Have faith, and trudge on – one day at a time.
After all, it was never about me and my will in the first place. It was all about the relationship between me and God. It just took a lot of life to understand this simple truth!
Much love –