33. Another year... gone. Another year to look forward too. Another opportunity to see how God has brought me this far. 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 your 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!

My younger half-brother, Chucky, also wanted to be on that rock. My mother took him across the creek first, leaving me on the bank alone. 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), 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 often ate whatever game my father killed and food grown from the garden. 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. It was then 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 figurines while in Georgia.

Reader, 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.

Costly Rebellion
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.

Reader, I hate to be graphic, so please skip to the next section if you have a weak stomach. 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 a new home out on a lake. Granted it was a mobile home. 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. For once, she did something right.

Half Brother & Back to Texas
As I mentioned, I have a half-brother named "Chucky". His real name is Charles Burleson, Jr. About a year after getting married, my mother cheated on my father with Charles Burleson, Sr. who was at the very least, a sorry excuse for a man. Once my mother hooked up with him again, we moved back to Texas.

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.

Charles Burleson is a liar. I don't hold that against him though. He doesn't know Christ and should not be expected to live up to those expectations. 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.

Meet the Browns
I was never normal in school. I was always the outcast and lacked any social skills to have any real friendships. But there was a very special friend (and Geek) by the name of Chris Brown.

Chris Brown and I took chemistry class together my junior year of high school. Chris Brown said 'hi' to me every day, even when I ignored him. Chris Brown invited me to his youth group. Chris Brown eventually became my best friend and an anchor in my other wise chaotic life.

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. Don't misunderstand me. I had known Christ before this, but we will get to that in a moment. For now, just know that this family took me in as one of their own. By took me in, I mean they moved me in with them and I had a taste of what it meant to have a "normal" family life.

I met some very good friends in that youth group, many of which I stay in touch with today. I am thankful for that group, because they were the first time in my life that I actually had a stable group to "hang out" with and just enjoy being with. I even dated some of them! (sorry to those who suffered through that with me).

The Plans
After the Browns, I went to college at Wayland Baptist University. I was the first ever to go to college in my family. I plowed through with very little money, often

During my Sophomore year, I volunteered on on ministry team and worked a Disciple Now (think: Bible Study) in Artesia, New Mexico. I had this rule about these DNow weekends: ignore the high school girls. Yeah, it was probably rude, but the whole point of the weekend was to grow deeper spiritually, not have the girls fawn over the college guys. Apparently, my future wife walked up to me that weekend and mentioned her interest in my VeggieTales shirt (told you I had flaws; don't judge). I said "Thanks" and walked off. Didn't want anything to do with her. You know God was laughing at me.

The next year, we had a freshman orientation weekend.  Turns out that the "girl who liked my shirt" was in the pizza line, noticed me and long story short, convinced me to marry her. It wasn't a difficult decision because she literally took my breath away. On August 8, 2000, I pledged "until death do us part" in Artesia, New Mexico at First Baptist Church. I was 20 years old.

On August 8, 2001 (yes, 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 foward 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.

Musical names aside, Amanda has continually rocked my world by homeschooling my kids, ironing out the wrinkles left from a horrible past, loving me beyond my mistakes and failures, and continuing to make me into a better man. I honestly can not imagine my life without her.

I worked at Wayland several years before accepting a job in Midland, Texas. I am now a company trainer at a very successful oil company. I am constantly surround by friends and co-workers who remind me of God's love and plans for my life.

My Mother
You may have noticed reader, that I never called my mother an endearing term like "mom". That is because she was never really a mom to me. If you were to ask me today who my mom is, I would tell you Deborah Wilbourn. Deborah or "Debbie" as she likes to be called, is my wife's mother. From day one, she has treated me like her own and have spent many times in prayer thanking God for her.

The last time I talked to my own mother, she was still living in Mineral Wells. She married a drunkard and continues to live a hopeless lifestyle. I am fortunate to have reconnected with her and we talk about once a week over the phone. Honestly, reader, I am worried that she doesn't have many years left. The alcohol has consumed her. She wakes up most mornings dry heaving from the toxicity.

My Sister
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 Other Stories
There are so many stories to tell here, and I have taken up too much time already. All through out my childhood, I would walk to the nearest church as a child. As such, I experienced different denominations and found an unusual sense of beauty in the different ways we do things as one body of believers. There were times where I built altars in my back yard to God. Other times, I experienced demonic attacks. I commanded dogs in the name of Christ not to attack my brother or I.  My milk carton at school never ran dry. God has done some truly amazing things in my life.

Your Testimony
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.

Thanks for taking this journey with me.