“The plans of the LORD stand firm forever” (Psalm 33:11)
Once upon a time I was engaged to a man who wasn’t Alan.
I was 19, but before I tell that story, I should back up a little bit. When I was 17 I got a job at a coffee shop, Jitters. This was, of course, because Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and now The Dutch Bros. were on every corner. Our store was quaint. The owners, Misty and Phil, opened and closed the store everyday. They were like pseudo-parents for all of us youth who had afternoon/night jobs. We had regulars, and I knew them all by name. I loved my job, especially being on the drinks line- I could turn them out in record time. My favorite though, was opening the store on a weekend. I would come in at 6am and help Erin who had been there since 5am and together we would rock the morning craze.
Next door to us was a Papa John’s (free pizza!) and all the pot heads worked there, including my friend Bill. Bill was the ultimate hippy. He had curly brown hair with these natural blonde highlights that crested his shoulders, a ‘stashe, and he would hacky sack with his Bob Marley hacky on his breaks outside of the store. (I’d always have to remind him that he couldn’t sit and take his smoke breaks while eating pizza at our tables.) He was an all-around chill guy. One of his friend’s was Nick, who wasn’t an all-around chill or nice guy really, but I liked him. He was a couple years older than me, and though he delivered pizzas some days, he was mainly a piercer at a well-known shop downtown. I was still in high school, but the allure of this mysterious guy had me. We dated on and off for months, I graduated high school, moved out and got my own apartment. Nick would show up and disappear and always leave me feeling worse about myself than before he showed up. He didn’t add much to my life… except for the fact that he introduced me to one of his best friends.
When I met his friend, Mike, I sorta knew he was special. He was kind, thoughtful, deep and soulful. He was a marine. He had grit. He had a story. Like we all do. His mom had recently died in a tragic car accident with his half-brother Travis in the car and she left his two half siblings to live with their aunt. Mike was working at Papa Johns on the side, and selling drugs to support his family back in Ohio. Somehow this made sense to me. Mike was building his empire and quickly became a name in Vegas. We began dating, and then moved in together and then sold drugs together. Mike was addicted to Marijuana, and yes, you can be addicted. I watched as he wretched in the shower every morning after trying to detox for drug tests as he tried over and over to leave the life of a drug dealer. Hard as he tried, the task was too difficult. He continued to build his empire and the bigger it got, the more we began to unravel. Somewhere along the way the sparkle left his eyes. Before long, his younger half-brother had moved from Ohio to Vegas to live with us, along with another of our drug dealer friends, Josh. I became house mom to a bunch of drug dealers. When one of them went missing, I spent days calling the hospitals and jails. Turns out he was in Juvenile Hall. While we thought he was 18 and graduated, he was really a high school dropout and had been caught trying to sell on his old high school campus.
Mike’s brother, Travis was a good kid, but he and Mike fought a lot. Mike, the older brother, Travis the know-it-all who couldn’t take advice and learned all things the hard way. Then 9/11 happened and it shook us all. With all the impending talk of war, Mike wanted to re-enlist in the Marines (that’s another story for another time), and on September 16, 2001, Mike proposed to me in Mt. Charleston. I began planning the wedding, but it wouldn’t be long before we would have serious problems.
Mike had been tipped off that someone had rolled over on him and given his name to the cops, and sure enough, one day I came home to my apartment, and it had been raided earlier that day. Mike cut a deal and rolled over on the next biggest dealer up the chain. Then he decided to flee the state. Mike spend 30 days laying low in Ohio. The problem was, he left me to deal with any fall out, physical harm, and danger by myself, along with his younger brother Travis and Josh. By time he returned there wasn’t any amount of money or dream that could have kept me in the relationship. My heart was crushed that he would leave me to deal with whatever blowback may come from his decision, and I decided being a drug dealer or the wife of a drug dealer wasn’t a life I could any longer lead.
I painfully broke off the engagement. I helped Mike and Travis pack. I drove them along with Josh to the airport. Mike begged me to change my mind. It was truly one of the hardest decisions I could have made for myself. As the elevator doors closed, so did my heart. In that moment, I wasn’t sure if I would ever be loved as much as Mike had loved me. I wasn’t sure I could ever have someone to take care of like I did my three boys. I failed at getting married, just like I had failed at so many other things in my short life span. I slid down the wall and sat on the ground and cried. and then I just sat there.
During the loneliest time in my life, and one of the darkest periods, I would find the greatest hope in Jesus and it wasn’t long after that my decision to put my trust in Him that my faith would be put to the test.
Almost a year later, I was driving down the street and I saw Josh walking on the side of the road back in Vegas. Truth be told, I was getting a ticket for not registering my car. Josh walked over to the cop and said something, to which the cop then walked over and asked if I knew him and said he had something important to tell me. The cop finished writing my ticket and left the scene. I remember slowly walking towards Josh, wondering what he would have to say. My brother, who was still in high school in the back of my car and we were on our way to youth group. I cautioned him to stay in the car.
Josh had tears in his eyes. He apologized and kept his head down as he admitted he didn’t know where to start. Things had gone really bad in Ohio. Travis and Mike’s fighting had escalated. Travis was addicted to cocaine and on one all-too-familar night, the boys were fighting. Samantha, their younger sister was the topic of the discussion. Mike got violent and hit Travis, and the court recordings report describe Travis’ description of what happened next. Travis went upstairs, and retrieved his gun from his room. It took him approximately several minutes before he began to walk back downstairs to where his brother was. On the way, he closed his sister Samantha’s door. He looked Mike in the eyes and fired 7 shots hitting him in the chest and heart. He died on the scene.
I could barely breathe. I was having trouble standing so I sat on the sidewalk. I cried, I screamed. I said goodbye to Josh and somehow drove to youth group. It was amazing how much Mike’s death affected me, then and even now to some degree. I remember taking weeks off from work. My roommate and best friend had posted scripture all over the condo we lived in. My heart completely shattered. I knew Mike wasn’t “the one,” but if losing someone who wasn’t “the one” could hurt so bad, what would it feel like to lose a spouse or a child? This event, would shape much of who I became. I said I wouldn’t date again, and I didn’t until I met Alan (almost 6 years later). But my heart was as cold as ice. I learned not to cry. I learned not to feel. I learned that I could trust work, my hard work for the Lord. Feelings and emotions were messy and to be avoided at all cost. Honestly, I am still working on this.
I struggle to cry. I struggle to feel. And yet, when I let myself feel, it’s the most intense overwhelming sensation. I’ve yet to find a balance. I’ve endured a lot of counseling in the name of becoming healthy and whole. I am getting there.
I wonder sometimes what my life would look like if things had gone differently. I wonder if I too would be dead.
I know I would never have met Alan or have a powerful, redemptive marriage, or a relationship with a savior, or have my three daughters whom I cherish more than life itself. I am grateful for these tangible reminders of the Lord’s good love for us.
September 15th, 2003. The day Mike died. It’s been 15 years. Travis is still serving his sentence; 15 years to life in prison. I wrote him once. I wanted to know why he killed such a kind beautiful soul. Travis’ response was “pipes burst under pressure.” I never wrote him again. But I think of him every year, and I wonder how he has aged. How he has changed. I wonder if he knows Jesus? I wonder if he finished school in prison? I pray for him and I hope I see both him and Mike in Heaven someday.
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD” (Isaiah 55:8)
Alan asked me why I wanted to share this story and further, why I would give so much detail. I gave him a quick response, but it’s something I’ve pondered. Why did I want to share this part of my story? And why so vividly?
The answer is in 2 parts:
First, I like my writing style. It’s cozy. I imagine we are sitting in my living room, chatting about life. My sentences are incomplete and sometimes so are my thoughts. But that is real life. in my living room, we are sitting with our feet tucked under us on my grey couch. The diffuser is going with a blend of holiday, clove, lemon, and On Guard. I’ve offered you tea, coffee, or water. I am most definitely drinking coffee. In my living room, anything goes and everything is sacred. You don’t have to shy away from saying something on your heart, or worry about offending anyone. It’s a safe place. It’s inviting, and warm. We celebrate together, and we mourn together. This is reflective of how I write.
Second, I share stories to give glory to God, and give hope to others. I’ve shared this story with mom’s who have kids in dark places. Mom’s who pray for their kids and wonder if all hope is lost on them as they spiral into dark places. I’ve shared this story with new believers who have come out of similar situations and wondering if they can move forward in the light of Christ or if they will be pulled back into a life they no longer want to live. I’ve shared this story with teens, who know the truth and are experimenting with darkness. I’ve shared this story with teens, who have never heard the truth and do not know of the beauty and joy that can be lived in the light of Christ and will wipe away their tears and heal their pain.
Ultimately I share so intimately because I believe it brings glory to the Father. I pray as you read these stories you connect with Him. You see the goodness in your own life, in your own story, in your own pain and the wounds of your past.
I pray for you to find him through this blog, and know that whatever the world throws your way, his ways are always higher and better.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).