Ninth grade was the year things went from bad to terrible. My parents had just recently gotten divorced, yet my dad was still facing financial and legal issues. To be frank, he was looking at 4-5 years of jail time for stealing money (he swored he didn’t do it; we’ll never know the truth).
The second semester of school had just started. January 2nd, 2007 was the date. The day before, my brother Chance, my mom, and I went to the movies and saw The Pursuit of Happiness. It was a tearjerker about a father and his son. Well, back to January 2nd; the day after seeing a touching movie about a father and his boy; the day my father committed suicide. His obituary says he died January 3rd because that’s the day they found him, but I know the truth. He had done it the night before, shortly after talking to me on the phone. I still remember that conversation.
“Hey son,” he sounded desperately earnest.
“Hey…” I bitterly spit out. At that point in time, I was furious at him for what had happened to our family; I’d found out of the affair he’d had on my mother in a marriage that I thought was the epiphany of a perfect husband and wife.
“Guess who I talked to?”
“Scott Bell. You remember that game you had against South Gwinnett when we won by one point? We were talking about that long run you had. You hit that hole, never got touched, and never looked back. That is one of the fastest I’ve ever seen you move!”
Of course I remembered. How could I forget? I remember nearly every football game I’ve ever played. And that was certainly towards the top of the list of favorites. “Nope…”
“You… you don’t remember?” he asked, though he knew me well enough to know I remembered. He sounded crushed.
“Nope. Don’t remember.” the resentment in my voice cut him deep.
“Huh… Well, I guess I’ll let you go. I love you very much, son, and I’m so proud of you.”
“Okay. Bye.” I handed the phone to my mom. She laughed for some reason after he said something. I learned a few minutes later that the first thing he said to her was, “Well, he sounds like he hates me..”
I know he did what he did after that conversation because of his watch. He had a watch that if it didn’t feel body heat long enough, it would automatically stop. He left that watch for me. The time read 8:30 when I saw it. I had talked to him around 7:15. I assume he took it off before he proceeded with the deed.
January 3rd. The first day back in school after winter break. A day full of reviewing syllabuses, finding out which classes you have with friends, and trying to get back into the weekday routine. After this school-day would be when my world would be flipped upside down. At around four in the afternoon, my aunt showed up at my house, and my mom went outside to talk to her. A few minutes passed before boredom kicked in, and I stepped outside to shoot some basketball. I instantly heard my mom sobbing at the end of the driveway, and saw her sister holding her. I went back inside. Someone died. I knew that much. Pop, my grandfather. I braced myself for the news. They both walked in and just instantly came to me. The look on their face said it all. It wasn’t pop. It was my dad, not my mom’s. No… it can’t be. My worst nightmare had come true. A heart attack finally got him. His health was in the dumps, so that was what I thought happened, or maybe it was what I had hoped had happened. My mom sat me down about an hour later…
“Son, your father didn’t have a heart attack”
“What? What do you mean? How did he die then?” I was still oblivious to the bomb she was about to drop on me.
“He… He shot himself”
No words came out of my mouth. As a matter of fact, nothing even came to my mind. It was as blank as a fresh sheet of copy paper. My mind literally couldn’t accept what it had just heard. This was the beginning of a long story of denial, grief, bitterness, loneliness, abandonment; you name it. I felt it. I experienced it.
Growing up, my dad and I were two peas in a pod. My family always considered me his little clone. He grew up in Meridian, Mississippi. I grew up in Grayson, Georgia, so I rarely saw my family two states away. However, every time we did visit, they couldn’t believe how much we looked alike. My mom would always comment on how much we acted alike as well. I mimicked him in every aspect of my life.
As a kid, you think your parents are superheroes, but I thought my dad was a superhero among superheroes. He literally could do no wrong in my eyes. He coached me in multiple sports, including football, basketball, and baseball. Also, he knew my golf swing better than anybody, so if something went wrong, he would have a fix immediately.
He attended Mississippi State, so I always joked that he brainwashed me into liking them. But liking is an understatement. I bleed Maroon and White. Ever since I was a kid, my obsession has been Starkville, Mississippi. Even though it’s not a prestigious school academically, I’ve always dreamed of attending that school. However, a combination of fear and a high-school-relationship prevented me from attending the school of my dreams. I was afraid of leaving home to go somewhere 6 hours away and not knowing a single soul. I was afraid of not fitting in and afraid of not making friends. I was afraid of hating the school of my dreams if I didn’t excel the way I’d always dreamed I would.
The following years honestly were bearable. The fact of my father’s suicide just didn’t register like it should have in my mind. It’s almost like my body created a self-defense mechanism of just bottling everything up and blocking out any bad thoughts. I have to admit, it worked well enough to get by the rest of high school. I wasn’t the happiest kid by any means, but I wasn’t severely depressed either. I put on a mask and just acted like nothing had happened.
Looking back, my mind was in denial. Crazy as it may be, a part of me would question the possibility of dad still being alive. What if he faked it? What if he’s out there right now, waiting for the time to knock on my door and be reunited with his long lost clone of a son?
As I said, I put on a mask. Whenever I returned to school, I could tell my friends on the football team didn’t know how to act towards me. I never talked about my dad to anybody, including my family. I just didn’t like to think about it. It wasn’t fair and I knew there was nobody who could understand.
My mom offered one time to go get help professionally, but I refused. I didn’t think those people could understand because; like I said, nobody could. Nobody knew what it felt like to have their father take his own life away. Nobody knew what it felt like for your mentor to just give up on everything, including you. Nobody knew what it felt like to be abandoned in this world. Nobody knew how it felt to have their entire childhood ripped away from them, and to be forced to grow up.
Socially, I was still adequate. I refused to face the music of the truth of my situation. Around my peers, I went on as if nothing had happened, but I took out all my emotions on my mom (bless her heart). I blamed her for everything. If she had just stayed with him, he’d still be here… Also, I blamed myself. Whenever I could escape from the world and be by myself, I’d shred my character apart. I hated myself. You could have saved him, I told myself, but you were too busy pouting like a spoiled brat to show even a shred of generosity towards your own father when he needed you the most. No matter how irrational the thought was, I would still think it. I couldn’t forgive anybody, including myself.
Even though I’d played football my entire life (literally, I started the first year you can start; age 6), I quit after my sophomore year. I hate the coach. That was my reason at the time. The real reason I quit – the reason buried deep down inside me subconsciously – was to get back at my dad. It was an immature decision done out of spite. It was a small token of revenge paid to my dad for giving up on me. You gave up on me, so I’m giving up on football. Looking back, this is the one thing I wouldn’t mind changing about my past. I had a starting spot on both offense and defense waiting for me, and I threw it away to vengeful thinking.
I focused on golf, and I was dang good at it, if I do say so myself. I had the lowest average on my team my final 3 years of high school, and lettered my freshman year. However, I could have been much better. I didn’t work near hard enough, and this was yet another area of my life where I was extremely bitter.
My dad was my own little Hank Haney. He always had a drill to fix whatever went wrong in my swing. It was awesome to have someone at your disposal who knew your swing better than you know it yourself. Man, we played every Sunday too, and he’d always beat me. He was truly an amazing golfer. One week, he caught fire. And I mean FIRE. He shot 69 and tied the course record one day. That day included a hole-out eagle on a par 4 from about 160 yards away. The very next hole, he drained a 40 foot bomb for birdie. That made him -3 thru 2 holes. Later that week, he got a hole-in-one and a round of 70. Not bad. I remember, it would make me furious as a kid. The competitor in me wanted to beat him so bad, yet I rarely even got close.
Bitterness led me to be lazy and not practicing during the off-season, and whenever regular season rolled around, I was always trying to change something in my swing, and I rarely ever had a round when everything “clicked.” I just wanted his advice. That’s all I wanted. I even tried lessons, but they just weren’t the same. Maybe bitterness isn’t the right word to describe the feeling. No, it was more of sadness. I missed him, and he introduced golf into my life. He taught me what I knew, and made me passionate about it. My dad leaving this world made it a very emotional sport for me, and mentally, I just wasn’t in the right place during those years for golf. It’s like Bobby Jones said, “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course… the space between your ears,” and the space between my ears just wasn’t working properly.
I didn’t have a serious relationship until my senior year in high school. I began dating a girl by the name of Erin. It started off fantastic, yet I still didn’t think it would develop into anything too serious, considering it was our senior year in high school. I didn’t really have a reason for beginning the relationship, but the next thing I knew, it was serious. We were inseparable that final year of high school, and before we knew it, the year was coming to a close, and decisions were soon to be made. We didn’t want it to end. It was too good, and for the first time since dad died, I was happy. She filled the hole that he had left me with. She was the first person I even talked to about my dad, and that was a pretty big step considering that I didn’t even talk to my family of the matter.
I was clueless as to where I was going to attend school until, to my surprise, the chance to attend Mississippi State arose. A combination of my SAT scores and my dad being an alumni enabled me to get the entire out-of-state tuition to get waived. They had unique benefits of such for students as myself, who lived outside the state of Mississippi. (Looking back, this was a sign from God Himself, considering I’ve never heard of another school doing something like this) So the decision for me came down to: Mississippi State, or follow Erin.
Erin was a talented athlete, and had an opportunity to play basketball in college, so her decision came down to: play basketball at LaGrange, or follow Michael.
To the point, we followed each other to Georgia Southwestern State University. It was a school we were both willing to go to instead of our alternatives.
My freshman year of college was the best year school-wise up to date. I made the Dean’s List, earned Hope Scholarship, and joined a fraternity. I had made a getaway to Georgia Southwestern State, and I was extremely motivated. Motivated to create a new life for myself; a life that gave me freedom to do what I want. Or as my buddy Greg says, “To make it.”
“To make it” frankly means to have a lot of money. Nothing more, nothing less. I had no dreams of family or being a good person. I just wanted things this world can give. I was heavily under the influence of a secular life view which has been fed to the people since the 1940s by the media. This view basically claims that we are our own gods. It encourages to have an “open mind” so we can look to ourselves to make up our own rules as we go. We decide what is wrong and what is right. There is a problem with this view: if everyone makes up their own rules, then how can there be a set right and wrong? There can’t, and this allows evil to run rampant in our society.
This perspective burnt me out after a year of being independent and in college, to where I just couldn’t go on anymore. After one year, I rarely ever went to class, started experimenting with drugs, and my grades plummeted. The perspective left a hole in me that couldn’t be filled. Yet I put so much pressure on myself to fill it. I shut everybody out who tried to help and put it all on my shoulders. I refused any help because I felt as if nobody understood me. There wasn’t a soul that I could relate to; not even my girlfriend.
Severe depression kicked in. And I don’t mean ‘woe is me’ depression, I mean ‘hm, maybe I should just park my car in the garage’ depression.’ I had no hope for anything. I literally didn’t want to live. My life teacher had given up on me, so why shouldn’t I just do the same thing?
Truly, it wasn’t a bad school at all. There just wasn’t much to do, and a lot of kids grew up together, so there were few people like us who weren’t from anywhere near Americus. However, we both enjoyed our first year of college. She joined a sorority; I joined a fraternity. We were both excelling academically and still surrounded ourselves with friends.
However, it wasn’t too long until my baggage caught up to me, and I brought us both down. We decided to stay for the summer and take classes. I can handle it, right?… Wrong. I got a job at the golf course that summer working 30 hours a week in the hot sun. I lost most of my free time and was soon over my head. Even when I had time to myself, I was too tired to do anything. That led to me becoming extremely burnt out, and incapable of escaping. When you’re the only cart guy at a golf course, they need you on the weekends, so I rarely was able to get away and refresh. That meant that whenever I did get to go home and see my family, I wouldn’t want to leave, and it would only make me even more depressed when I was forced to go back.
So, between working, school, fraternity life, and a girlfriend, I lost myself. I couldn’t cope with everything and was soon in deep over my head. I burnt out like a candle, and was without God at the time to carry me through. This led me to turn to the wrong things to help. To be frank, drugs. I began experimenting, and soon I didn’t know who I was anymore. I went from a 3.2 GPA to barely being able to pass a class. I lost Hope eligibility in the snap of finger. I was a lost soul who just literally wanted to die. I couldn’t eat everything on my plate. Actually, I could barely eat food. Needless to say, I became severely depressed.
I had no doubt in my mind there was no God. Christians are just too dumb for science. That was my thinking. Why would a God allow me to feel the way I do? Why would God allow the things that had happened to me? If He exists, then He ruined my life. I had nothing to live for anymore. No hope. No dreams. I got to the point to where I could barely put together a sentence. And forget having an intellectual conversation with me; that just wasn’t possible. I was a walking zombie.
Bitterness, anger, loneliness, and many more negative emotions took control of me. Or to sum it up, the devil took over in me. I blamed all my problems on everybody around me and refused to credit any of the responsibility to myself. The only thing I gave credit to myself was hate. I hated to look in the mirror because I hated to see myself. I even blamed God for my problems, though I didn’t believe in Him at the time. If He was real, then He took my dad away from me and I couldn’t let go of that. If dad was still around I wouldn’t be how I am. My life revolved around this bitter thought.
It doesn’t take Dr. Phil to guess that my relationships wouldn’t last much longer, whether it was my friends or girlfriend. We soon broke up that summer, and I began to realize I had no more real friends. My baggage became too heavy and drug me down to rock bottom, where I was on my own level of self-pity and misery. There was nobody I could relate to, and I didn’t want to relate to anyone because I knew there wasn’t a person who could understand the pain I felt constantly. There was only one thing that I knew: I have to move home..
So I gutted out the fall semester, and it was the hardest few months of my life. It was the definition of a constant grind. As I write this, my stomach starts to churn just thinking about how difficult it truly was. It’s these few months being over that make me not desire to re-do my past. I moved home immediately after the school semester was over, and a huge monkey was off my back. That was half the battle to just get out of that town. However, I still had lost who I was and had a very long road to travel. I was still extremely depressed. I couldn’t focus on any task and could barely roll out of bed. Nothing was funny to me. I felt empty and just numb inside. I had no hope and no joy. Whenever I didn’t have a numb feeling, the baggage I was carrying would inflict a feeling to where I wished I was feeling numb. My mom noticed that I was a wreck, and when I asked for professional help, she agreed.
“Oh wow… well, Michael, you have a severe case of depression,” the doctor told me. No, you don’t say? It was nearly off the charts. Not to mention I discovered I had ADHD, which made sense because of my lack of focus.
I started taking multiple antidepressants and ADHD medication. It helped some, but I was still hopeless, bitter, lonely, and well, you get the point. I felt as if it just made my life tolerable. I was still lost and not enjoying life. I plateaued at just above rock-bottom, and the fact that professionals couldn’t cure me made me feel even more hopeless. Like I said, it just made life tolerable. Until one day it all changed. Like the snap of a finger, I found what I had needed all along. Let’s just say I’m one of the most blessed kids in the world.
On February 2nd, 2012, I learned I was one of God’s chosen ones. He flipped the switch in my brain and swept the cobwebs clean.
“Open your eyes.” I heard the voice of God as clear as a whistle. Ironically, my eyes slammed shut as I laid in bed late at night. I know it was Him because I’ve never heard such a voice. I never knew it was possible to have such an authoritative, yet such a kind voice. I still have a hard time finding words to describe it. I don’t believe there are human words to describe such a sweet, soothing voice.
“Wake up, can’t you see? The world is crumbling around you, and if you don’t open your eyes and wake up, you’ll crumble with it.” That hit home. I was instantly aware of how much evil exists in our world, and how heavily I’d been influenced by it. I saw the truth for the first time, only by the grace of God. I began the longest prayer of my life, begging for forgiveness, thanking Him, for I felt like the least worthy of people he could have chosen. During this long prayer, I had no awareness of my physical body, and my eyes remained tightly closed the entire time. The only awareness I had was the presence of God in that room with me and my soul which God showed me Himself. God showed me the truth. When I opened my eyes I was standing in the middle of my room, tears streaming down my face, smiling bigger than I ever have before, and my hands were pressed together tightly in front of my lips from praying. I had no recollection of getting out of bed.
The difference in my life was like night and day. Instantly, I had more energy. Instantly, I felt lighter on my feet with a spring in my step. Instantly, I had hope and a future. I couldn’t believe how forgiving Jesus was. I was evil to the core and God chose me regardless. He had me on his list before I was even born. I saw the reasoning behind the events that had taken place in my life. I understood why God took my father away from me. I didn’t need him anymore. He taught me all I needed to know up until God decided to take over. I honestly believe God has special plans for me, and in order for those plans to happen, my father had to leave this Earth. If my dad was still around today, I wouldn’t have any kind of relationship with Jesus Christ. I’d worship the things of this world, the wrong things. I’d still be blind, and have no idea of what He offers. I wouldn’t have eternal life. I am so thankful that He chose me. I’ve never been happier in my life, and never felt so complete and at peace. I’ve never felt so alive. He gave me life again. Literally, God Himself saw how dead I was, and was graceful enough to breath life into me, even though I didn’t deserve such kindness at all whatsoever. I didn’t deserve even a shred of His grace. I was evil to the core. However, for that, the word thankful is a vast understatement. I thank God every day for what He has done for me, and will continue to thank Him each and every day for all of eternity.
As I write this now I still have a hard time finding the right words to describe it. I almost get frustrated trying to describe it because I just can’t put into words how great God is and what He has done for me. There are no human words to describe the great, mighty power of God. He continues to make me stronger as well. Day by day, He instructs me on how to live; He makes it so easy too; I am baffled by how simple life is with Him. He tells us everything we need to know, and if we just trust and have full-hearted faith in Him entirely, He’ll take care of the rest. I went from viewing every day as a curse, to viewing every day as a present gift-wrapped by God. There is no such thing as a bad day anymore. Every day just gets better because it’s an opportunity for God to make me stronger. Just the fact that He has everything planned out for me before I even have a clue of the plan brings tears to my eyes and a sense of eternal peace that is indescribable. I can feel the Holy Spirit alive in me, and it brings tears of joy to my eyes whenever I think of the miracle workings He’s done for me and continues to do for me.
Who knows why God chose me? It could have to do with the people He’d surrounded me with, and the power of prayer. He didn’t just do it for me; He did it for my mom, and others who prayed for Him to come into my life. My mom had been saved only a few years before, but when He woke her up, she was wide awake. She had this fire in her I’d never seen before. Peace engulfed her and a light constantly shined in her eye. I was jealous. I wanted what she had, yet I’d still criticize her and her beliefs every opportunity I’d get. I hurt her feelings countless times, but she always responded the appropriate, mature way. That would make me more mad. I wanted to see her get mad. I wanted to get a rise out of her. But not once did I succeed. She won every battle. God won every battle through her. And I thank God every day for my mother. If it wasn’t for her, who knows how I’d be.
Fortunately, the story doesn’t end here. A few weeks passed and I was getting stronger by the day. Another night, laying in bed, God showed me the path I needed to take in my life. I began pondering my future and where I wanted to get my degree. I had this sudden urgency of needing to go to Mississippi State University. Not wanting; NEEDING. Fear kept me from attending there straight out of high school, and fear still had a hold on me when it came to this decision. So I did the only thing I could do. I prayed. I prayed, and I waited to see if it was truly what God wanted. I was just waiting for one more sign from The Man Upstairs, and I would know that it was necessary to take that path, regardless of how scared I was. 2 days later, I was going through our shed, just looking for items to put in my room. I came across a box with my dad’s initials ‘LMB’ sharpied on top of it. I opened it up, and the first thing I saw was a neatly folded sheet of yellow notepad paper laying on top of everything. It stuck out like a sore thumb. There was something about it. Maybe of how neatly it was folded. Maybe because when I unfolded it, it looked as if it had been written the night before. It read Ultimate Goals In Life, and I immediately recognized my father’s handwriting. I knew instantly it was written for me. It spoke directly to me. The first bullet on a list of twelve was “Worship only one God.” Each item just got better and better. Number seven read, “Whatever you do should be done with every ounce of effort and commitment you have … and then a little extra you didn’t know you had.” Eight, “One should never live life to ‘settle’ for less than he or she is capable of being.” I knew if I stayed home and passed on this once in a lifetime chance of attending my dream school, that I’d be settling, and that was not what God wanted me to do. Eleven read, “Being optimistic is a privilege; being pessimistic is on the verge of being “sinful.” This was very meaningful to me. I used to think extremely negative. If there was anything bad in something, I’d find it. Now, I try to do the opposite, by looking for something good in everything, and it’s something I still work on and pray on to this day. The twelfth and final bullet finished beautifully by reading, “Kindness and forgiveness will go a long way to getting you in heaven. Resentment and envy are names of streets in Hell.” Again, I felt like I was being directly spoken to. I folded the note and put it in my pocket. I had tears streaming down my face again, and that same goofy smile. “Thank You, Lord.” If there ever was a sign, this was it. I knew without a doubt what God wanted. He freed the chains of fear that controlled me and I’m fearless of it now. I’m ecstatic about it. I can’t wait to see the path He has personally carved out for me in Starkvill, Missiissippi. I get giddy just thinking about i
My life went from being absolutely hopeless, to having eternal peace and joy. I witnessed God at work. I’ve never felt so loved in my entire life. During my dark times I used to always wish that there was something that would just tell me how to live; to tell me how to be; to tell me how to act. It wasn’t fair in my eyes. My dad taught me everything. He was the one I needed the most to show me those things, and he abandoned me when I needed him the most. So I thought I needed him. Now, I know that all I need was with me all along and will never leave me. Now, I know that the only father I need is my Heavenly Father. Now, I’m thankful for everything that has happened in my life; every single particular detail of my life. I wouldn’t trade a second of it because it was all a part of God’s Plan. It was all by His Will. I believe he basically said, “Okay, for fifteen years he will depend on his dad for the guidance he needs. But in order for him to grow to what I want, I’ll have to take over from there. He’ll crumble the next few years, and allow the devil to control him, but I’ll find him when he’s completely broken down and needs me the most. Then, he’ll know what I truly offer.” That is what happened. If life never got as bad as it was, it wouldn’t be as good as it is now. Heck, I didn’t truly have a life for 20 years. I was given life by God himself of February 2nd, 2012. Words can’t describe how grateful I am. I feel incredibly undeserving. I still wonder why God chose me because evil ran rampant through my veins. I was convinced there was no God. I didn’t have proof of His existence, and there was absolutely no proof to me. It was all just faith, and there were no facts to back up that faith. I would even joke, “If God walked up to me and tapped me on the shoulder and proved He was real, then I’d believe, but until I have proof, then He doesn’t exist.” Well, God didn’t just tap me on the shoulder, he slapped me across the face and yelled “Wake up!” Now, I want to tell everyone I know. I want everybody to know the truth of Jesus Christ. It saddens me how many people don’t accept the truth, yet they have little reason not to. I understand, however, because I know how they think because I used to be one of them. A BIG one. I just know that if God can flip my world upside down and make a believer out of me, He can do it to anyone. What He’s done for me is a miracle, and there’s no doubt in my mind about that.
That is what has led me to believe that he chooses us. He knows who will be His before they’re even born. That means He knows who won’t be His. That could offend some people because that implies that God decides who will go to Heaven and who will go to hell before they’re even born. Yet, if there is anyone who reads that, then isn’t that God communicating to you? Isn’t there a reason you are reading this? It could be a sign that you are chosen; you just don’t know it yet. There is a reason this happened to me, and that reason is for God to expand His Power even more to reach others. I’ve learned He uses people to work through in order to reach others. It’s just like Tim Tebow. He uses his success in football as a platform to reach other people, and God has allowed him to be successful in order to reach out to many people. Tim knows that, and gives all the glory to our Well-Deserving God.
Jesus is always knocking at the door. You can still make the choice to be a follower of Christ. He knows what the decision will ultimately be, but He still wants You to make a conscious decision to choose Him. The fact that He is in your life in any way whatsoever is a sign that He’s always waiting for You. It’s never too late. He is all forgiving, and He is so great and powerful. Once He is in your life, there is no need to stress or worry because once He’s watching over you, there is nothing you can’t do because there is nothing He can’t do. It’s like a father watching over his child. Isn’t that father going to do everything in his power to protect that kid? It’s the same way. He is our Father, and we are His children, and He is going to do everything He can to protect His children. He already has everything planned out and will protect His children. Once He chooses you, there is nothing in this world that can take you away from Him, and there is no denying the truth of Jesus Christ, our LORD and Savior. He will have His chosen ones because that is who He wants, and God will get what He wants, 100% of the time. I just can’t believe He chose me, and that is why I am extremely blessed. I just pray that He gave me the right words to put this story together. Although, it’s not my story; it’s His Story. I’m just another saved character in His Story of Life. And for that, thank You forever, LORD. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!