In 2015, I held up a cardboard sign in front of my entire church. On the front of the sign I had written three simple words.
Divorced. Dying. Lost.
Those three words described a good portion of my life, a life filled with pain, sickness, and loneliness.
But thankfully, that’s not where my story ended.
That was the first of the three words written on the cardboard sign I lifted up at Munger Place Church.
The story of my divorce actually started on a Monday in 2001. That morning, the toes on my right foot felt oddly tender. I didn’t think much of it at first, but as the weeks went by, my sore toes turned an angry red and became inflamed. The pain moved up my leg to my hips, back, and into my shoulders, hands, and anywhere there was a joint or cartilage.
I went to the doctor and found out that I was suffering from an autoimmune disease called psoriatic arthritis.
In just two years time, I became confined to a wheelchair. I could no longer work due to pain and fatigue. I slipped into a deep depression. I lost my will to live and simply gave up.
My wife, Karen, and I divorced after 20 years of marriage, and I moved back to my hometown of Brownwood, alone.
Psoriatic arthritis continued to ravage my body. Doctors put me on a new treatment to alleviate some of my symptoms. The problem was that very treatment left me vulnerable to infection. In 2009, while on a fishing trip, I contracted an infection in my foot.
The steroids they gave me only compounded the problem. After a month, my leg was severely infected, twice its normal size, and in danger of being amputated.
To understand why this was such a devastating blow, you have to know that I had also been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, a disease affecting the liver. So when doctors gave me antibiotics in an effort to fight the infection, it actually sent me into liver failure.
When I was discharged from the hospital, I was still very sick. I could barely walk, friends had to bring me food, and I suffered from hallucinations.
To me, it seemed as though my life had already ended. I was confined to my bed, depressed, and ready for my life to end.
My ex-wife (bless her!) and my best friend quickly moved me back to Dallas for treatment. The doctor who treated me told me that, in a nutshell, “You have zero chance of being alive in two years without a liver transplant.”
We immediately began the transplant process and my ex-wife, Karen, graciously agreed to be my caregiver, meaning I would be living with her until the surgery was complete or I died.
I had been on the transplant waiting list for nearly two years, when one day I woke up with severe chest pain, barely able to breathe. I was rushed to the hospital where I slipped into a coma.
Doctors told my family that I had a serious lung infection, and that it was likely terminal. I was going to die, and there was nothing they could do for me. It was time to make the funeral arrangements.
The turning point
On the eighth day of my coma, at approximately 6:45 am, I flatlined and died.
The first recollection I have was feeling a sense of overwhelming love. I found myself in the arms of a large man I immediately knew was God. For the first time in my life, I felt no pain or worry. Nothing mattered anymore.
It was so incredibly overpowering. I knew God loved me so much, and all I wanted to do was to stay in His arms forever.
God said to me, “I have a present for you.”
I was startled as God handed me an ornate wooden box. I asked whether I could open it and God said, “It’s yours to do with as you please.”
I opened it, realizing what was inside, “This is my depression.”
“Yes,” God said.
I asked if I could indeed do anything I wanted with it. “Yes,” was His reply. I climbed down out of His arms like a small child crawls down from a parent’s lap.
I threw the box as hard and as far as I could, before climbing back into God’s waiting arms. I then asked God what I could do for Him.
“You need to find a church, a small church with strong fellowship that works with the community to help those who are less fortunate because that is what makes you happy.”
I nodded. “Yes, you are right.”
Then God added, “Your family is broken and you need to fix it.”
The other side of the cardboard sign.
I told you at the beginning that the three words written on the front of my sign were not the end to my story. That day, in front of the entire church, I flipped my sign over, revealing new words written boldly on the back.
Restored marriage. Restored health. Peace. Praise God!
I woke up in the hospital eight days after slipping into that coma. I remember having no idea where I was or how I’d gotten there. But I was deliriously happy.
Both the doctors and Karen were shocked to find me awake. Karen and I started crying. We hugged as I began to tell her all about my experience with God, and how God wanted us to be reconciled. And in February 2013, Karen did indeed marry me a second time.
I also received a life-saving liver transplant, ultimately ending my battle with the infection that had put me in a coma.
What would your sign say?
I am a living testimony to how God can transform a life, no matter how broken or hopeless it may seem.
At Munger Place Church, Karen and I have made great friends, celebrated a new life, and given back to others by serving our church community. God continues to bless me with health and happiness - two things that, at one time, seemed impossible for me to have.
What would your sign say? What three words would you write to describe your life?
Those three words don’t have to define you. God wants to take the broken parts of your world and make them new again. I know this, because that’s exactly what God did for me.
If you’re willing, what could God do with the other side of your cardboard sign?