First Grief Then God

To any who read this, I pray that my testimony of Jesus Christ will bring inspiration, and if you don’t have a relationship with Him as I do, that this may bring you into one. 

For over thirty-three years of my life, I went through just like many supposed Christians do, knowing about what Christ did on the cross, but it was as if hearing that was a school lesson. Just information but without real understanding. I went through my own share of troubles, trauma-induced depression, bitterness, and anger at many who had hurt me either real or imagined and thought I had the answers I needed. 

I didn’t realize this before but the Holy Spirit had already been working in me for decades and speaking to me to help me make the lifestyle choices I made. My dad, Danny, is a smoker and has been for longer than I have been alive, and I can’t remember how old I was when this happened, but one day when I was either one or four he put a used cigarette butt down still smoldering, and I picked it up to try it, not knowing any better. I remember coughing so hard it hurt, and he tells me that I ended up with tobacco all over my face, which I don’t remember, but in any case, I remember hearing someone or something say, “You don’t want to do that again do you?” and I knew right then that I never would. 

The second time the Spirit spoke directly to me was when I was eight, and I started seeing TV ads talking about how many people are killed every year in drunk driving accidents. Even at that young age, I understood what a terrible thing that is and how it had ruined families. I started wondering what I could do to never contribute to that horrible statistic and if possible what I could do to stop it then one night in bed I heard a voice again telling me that if I never drink then I would be guaranteed never to kill anyone by driving drunk. That night in my bed at the young age of eight was when I swore that I would never drink a drop of alcohol and I keep to that promise to this day.  

The third time happened when I was twelve and in junior high school. At least three of the girls who were in school with me were pregnant at the time. I had been starting puberty and had an idea of what was going on, but I saw that the girls’ lives became a mess because of what had happened and their children’s lives were harsh too. That got to me and made me hurt inside for them, and I knew that I didn’t want to make a mess of anyone’s life that way either. That was when I heard the Spirit for a third time (though I still didn’t realize it at the time) telling me that if I waited until I was married to have sex then it would be much more rewarding and that the children born from that would be blessed. At the time it was more from a desire to protect because I know now that I could have caused just as much pain and suffering by taking many different women to bed and having children with them from that age on, but I made the vow that I would wait for marriage because no girl’s life would be turned upside down because of my having sex with her outside of marriage, and no child would be brought into this world by me unless it was with the woman I married. 

That point was also where my depression started because of the rotten sense of pride. I had the idea that I was somehow above others who did these things or was somehow better than they were. When I would get slapped down by the authority figures for saying something about what was going on, it would hurt and it made me angry. 

This was in late 1987, and that was when other things happened that made me retreat into a shell. My parents had been having problems and they divorced just before Christmas that year. For a twelve-year-old who had strong opinions and was put down by supposed friends because of those, the divorce hurt pretty badly. The following March, my grandfather (my dad’s dad) passed away from a heart attack. I had been around him and my grandmother quite a lot and I was close to them both so his passing was a major shock. The family was devastated too because he wasn’t exactly ruling them all but they all were either kept in check by him or both loved and respected him. I remember him being kind and loving but he could be stern when he got angry even though I don’t ever remember him being angry with me. He and my dad both had taught me about what it means to be a man and how to treat women, and he also started teaching me about faith in Jesus. On a side note, my dad had become disillusioned by the church because of an incident at the church we were going to when I was two, and the church refused to help a member family who had literally lost everything in a house fire, so my dad wasn’t much for the church in general and still isn’t to this day. 

The third thing that happened to me happened after my grandfather’s funeral when I went back to school. I was understandably shattered and I can’t remember how many friends tried to be comforting but some shied away. One girl started getting close to me and was getting cozy too but after a few days of this at school, I got the gumption to ask her out, but she laughed me off and asked who would want to go out with me. It turned out that her boyfriend at the time had put her up to it and she went along. That completely ruined me, and I sank into a deep depression and into a shell, not really wanting to talk to anyone or do anything. The church I was going to at the time was little help because the kids there in the youth group were doing the very things they would preach against and that was making me angrier and angrier, but I was so deeply hurt by all that had happened that I just couldn’t say anything about any of it. That was when the bitterness over what that girl did to me set in and festered along with the things going on with the church youth group I was around. I sat in my shell sad, lonely, and pushing away those who wanted to help but even in all of that I could hear the Spirit telling me to stop and rest here in the shell, and He would tell me when the right time would be to come out, so I waited, only doing the bare minimum to get by in school and interacting with others as little as possible. This was in early 1990. 

In late 1992, I decided to move out from my mom’s and move in with my widowed grandmother because I loved the city of Texarkana, missed it badly, and heard the Spirit say that with my mom was not where I needed to be to heal properly. My grandmother was a woman of great faith and great strength in many ways, and the things she taught me helped me start truly healing from the things that had happened. Very briefly in that time, I considered suicide because I was hurting that deeply, but a Superman comic came across at the exact moment I needed it. The main character was suicidal himself, but after gaining powers of his own and getting back to his apartment then seeing the gun he was about to use, he said, “It’s stupid really, even thinking about killing yourself. Just because all your yesterdays suck, it doesn’t mean you should stop tomorrow. Because you never know what it’ll bring.” That along with the Spirit saying “things will get better and your time will come” kept me from going any farther than that.  

Flash forward to 2005. I had managed to get through college and was looking for work here that would do well but was not having success. I had started coming out of my shell during college and hadn’t found anyone I wanted to ask out. I’d joined and had run across a couple of scammers trying to get me to give them money, but I finally met someone who appeared to be real. Her name was Amy, and we emailed back and forth for a few weeks, then she told me she had cancer. She’d kind of expected me to quietly vanish after telling me that, but she was very pleasantly surprised when about a week later I asked for her phone number. I called her the day after she gave it to me, and we had a good long conversation about a lot, and she was genuinely caring about so many things. That started a good deep genuine friendship, and we had both said early on that nothing could really happen between us because of her condition, but I knew this was going to be special.  

I will spare the details of her initial cancer surgery, but it started in her mouth and after that surgery she had to learn how to talk all over again and wasn’t able to eat anymore, having to go on a feeding tube. 

Amy and I would spend hours just talking about a lot of matters and I got her turned on the show Whose Line Is It Anyway, and my impressions of the performers made her laugh often when we were on the phone. She’d told me a number of times that she needed to laugh after the things she’d been through. One thing about me I haven’t mentioned yet is that I am a movie buff and have been ever since my parents took me to see the original Star Wars in 1977 when I was two. I’ve been enjoying movies of almost every kind since then but I had not had any interest in seeing the Pirates Of The Caribbean series until Amy turned me onto them. She’d talked often about how good they were and how well they were made so I watched the first one and was hooked. We shared so many nights talking about them and also about faith in Jesus. I remind you that I was like many who thought I was Christian but didn’t realize that I’d never accepted Jesus in my heart. One thing Amy told me that really started me thinking about a lot of that was a prayer she told me about after her cancer had confined her to a chair. “Lord, this stinks, it hurts, I hate it, but I know You are in control, You have a plan for me, and I’ll be obedient to Your will even from my chair.” She and I both said a lot of things that made each other think deeply, laugh, and we shared such deep details of each other’s lives, mistakes, and experiences that even though we had not met in person, we knew each other so well that we could tell what the other was feeling or thinking in just the first few words even if we didn’t realize it. In mid-December of 2007, Amy said that a few friends had come over and noticed the picture of me she had by her chair. When they asked her who that was in the picture she said “my boyfriend” and when she told me about that later in the evening after they’d left she asked me if that was ok. I said yes but after that evening I really started rethinking our relationship and realized that I had fallen in love with her and had loved her dearly for some time. I told her about this revelation a day or two later and she said that she’d felt the same but didn’t grasp it until those friends of hers came. 

That was when I started making a plan. I was working at Walmart at the time, and the store was being remodeled and almost rebuilt. Nobody was going to be allowed to go on vacations until it was finished in June of 2008. I started planning to take my vacation in August to give the vacation rush time to cool off, but I was going to go to Minnesota, propose to Amy, and hopefully marry her as soon as it was possible. This was the very first time I had been in love, and she had made me happier than I had ever remembered being. All of us knew she didn’t have very long, but I wanted to make her remaining time in this world as happy as she had made me. That was not meant to be because she passed into glory on April 23, 2008, at 8:10 am. We had thought that she had at least a year left and possibly more but we learned the night before her passing that her lungs were almost completely full of tumors and fluid. The miracle was that she lived as well as she did because she never did get the unbearable pain that many cancer patients have, and she was able to keep pace when playing with her two young nieces just a week before her passing. She was a living and spiritual miracle in Christ in many ways. I told her once that she had a lot of admirers here because of her strength in dealing with her cancer, but she immediately replied that she’d rather the Lord get the admiration because it was His strength that kept her going. 

Amy’s passing away was devastating for me and it was made bearable at the time because of how far her condition had advanced, but that was the Spirit reminding me of that fact. I managed to get bereavement leave to go to her funeral and made it to Minneapolis the morning of the funeral. I know now it was the Holy Spirit giving me the strength to keep it together because I was one of three who spoke, sharing memories, sharing our love for her and shared that I wanted to marry her. Amy’s parents and family were more than gracious and accepted me as if we did get to marry. Her aunt Lisa told me that my being in her life brought a light to her eyes when someone would even mention my name and that Amy seemed overall happier than she’d been since her diagnosis. 

After her funeral and coming home, my grandmother noticed how low and how sad I was but that I wasn’t as down and depressed as I was after all that happened in 1988. My grandmother was another major influence in my life because I had lived with her through all of this that happened with Amy, she knew how I felt, and how much I loved her and had even talked to Amy herself a few times. My grandmother had been an integral part of my healing emotionally and she was a lady of faith herself but she never shoved Jesus down my throat as others had in years past. I moved in with her and she showed nothing but loving graciousness, and support, and was the wisest teacher in many matters. She needed me though as much as I needed her because she was the kind of lady who wanted and needed someone to take care of, but even with that she knew I was getting better emotionally and taught me that all I’d been through was preparing me for all that happened with Amy. Now it was time to start over in my search to find someone to love, but my Lord had other plans. 

For a few months, I muddled through work, and still had not made any new friends, had been building my movie collection but there wasn’t any real joy in it or in much of anything. On October 30th of that year, 2008, that night I was sitting at my computer after my grandmother had gone to bed and was watching the fourth Rambo movie again. As horrifically violent as it was, it was making me think about Amy because there was a character who was tougher than most people could have been, and Amy in real life, was still tougher than most people had been. I was listening to Stallone’s commentary while watching it this time, and the last scene was making me think even more about Amy because Stallone was talking about the character being almost completely alone during all four movies. That made me think about how alone I felt before meeting Amy, and how alone I felt all over again now that she was gone. The very last scene was of Rambo walking all alone on a highway back to His father’s horse farm. I was as close to falling apart in despair as I had ever been but that was another time the Spirit spoke directly to me in the still, small voice, but I heard it as clearly as I can hear music when it plays on my iPod. He said “Hey, listen. She’s with Jesus now. If you accept Him, then one day you’ll get to see her again but here’s the best part. You will never ever be alone again.” At 10:39 pm on October 30, 2008, I finally accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior after over thirty-three years of thinking I already had. I did break down in tears at that instant but instead of despairing, I was feeling the Holy Spirit coming into me and filling me. I hadn’t felt such joy since the first time Amy told me that she loved me. I knew almost nothing about Jesus and didn’t realize the extent of my sins but I accepted Him as my Savior because I didn’t want to be alone. 

Immediately, I could feel the Spirit starting to work in me, and at the time I didn’t really have a church home because I had lapsed from attending Trinity Baptist sometime before that. The Spirit told me that I needed a fresh start at a new church home, and I was looking into several churches here in town. Some didn’t hold any interest for me, but I got a nudge from the Spirit when I came across FBC-Texarkana’s website and started exploring that. I started going on the first Sunday in December and heard my first sermon from Jeff Schreve, then when I went the next Sunday I knew that this was where the Spirit wanted me to be because I could feel the nudging to move my membership here but I was held back from going forward and making my profession. I was told to wait for the next week and I officially joined the church on Dec. 21, 2008. I continue to learn and grow from Pastor Jeff’s sermons and learned more in the first three months going there than I did in all thirty-three years I’d lived before that. He and I have spoken a number of times in his office and he was quite impressed by the choices I’d made in my lifestyle but it was the Spirit’s work in me that makes my testimony valid. I learned that I could do absolutely nothing on my own and that it is only through the Spirit leading me and my faith in Christ that makes anything possible. 

 About three years after all of that, I met a lady online named Heather. We started talking about a number of things deeper than many couples when they are first meeting such as how we viewed specific matters of our respective relationships with Christ. To her surprise, she and I have agreed on every aspect. We’re talking about a lady who is J.B.U. educated and learned more about some theological matters than I have as of yet, so she knows her Scripture and our Lord. For my part, my spiritual education was only a few short years old and mainly from my pastor at the time. When we talked about our lives we shared everything and frankly, I didn’t hold back when I told her about my past. The few women I had started to talk to after Amy died would disappear on me or shove me into the friend zone just as Amy said supposed friends did when she told them she had cancer. Heather was different because she loved the story.  

When things turned serious between us then my story meant more to her because in her own words “I knew that if you loved that deeply before, then you could love that deeply again.” She was absolutely right. The only requirement I had in choosing who I would marry was that she at the very least accept the fact that my past was what it was and I let the Lord handle the rest. She lived in Rogers, Arkansas at the time while I was in Texarkana but after about five months of talking (almost every day in one form or another as I had gotten to with Amy), we met in person when she came to Texarkana just after Thanksgiving of 2011. We had agreed to meet at a local Baptist bookstore there and after having a coffee we went someplace where we were completely alone and could talk in total privacy. I did not want the local gossip mill to start working on us so we talked about more private matters and in the end shared our first kiss. That moment was when I knew I wanted to marry her. We could have slept together and nobody, but us and the Lord would have known. Both of us were sorely tempted but she had wanted to wait and I had my vow so as badly as we both wanted to make love at that moment we did not.  

That Sunday she came to church with me and knew already that she loved me as much as I had fallen for her but it became deeper for her when she saw that I was working with the Special Friends class since her youngest brother Dave has Downs Syndrome. My ease working with them (with Downs and those disabled without Downs) made me more endearing in her eyes but at the time I didn’t realize it. Having fallen in love for the third time (first Amy, then Jesus, and now Heather) and after having been reborn and being rebuilt bit by bit, it had dulled my senses to a degree but I knew what I had wanted to do dealing with Heather, praying that if it was the Lord’s will that He would bless the plans I had made and the life I wanted with her. 

I was still living with my grandmother and I had wanted to have her meet Heather but that weekend I wanted to have time with her by myself to see if it was time for them to meet. The hours at the job I had at the time made it tough for me to go to her and my grandmother’s health was declining so I decided to wait until travel was easier. Christmas came, but on the 27th, my grandmother fell for the first time. Her condition was bad enough that I had her taken to the hospital and she didn’t come home. On New Year’s Day of 2012, she passed away. Two days before that she was in a comatose state and I had my last words with her. Her heartbeat had been high and her vital signs had seemed to indicate that she was in an excitable state. My stepmother and youngest brothers were in the room with us but when I leaned in to have what turned out to be my last words with her I told her about Heather.  

My grandmother and I had talked often over the years we were together about the kind of woman she hoped I would meet, fall for, and eventually marry. Heather is the woman my grandmother wanted for me because she fits what my grandmother had hoped for in every single way. Able-minded and educated to be fit for a career but willing to stay at home to take care of it and the children we would have, stubborn enough to have a no-nonsense attitude and not take any crap from anyone but knowledgeable enough of Scripture to submit the right way to the man that God had picked, and as willing to love me with her whole being as I would be, with only God being loved more. When I whispered in my grandmother’s ear that Heather is the very woman that she had been describing for all of those years then my stepmom said her vital signs slowed and she seemed to relax for the first time since she had been in the hospital. The peace in my mind over telling her I intended to marry Heather and her relaxing after I told her seemed to be a sign of her giving her blessing. 

The next time Heather and I were together was a few days after my grandmother passed and just a day or two before the funeral. This time she stayed with me in my home while my dad and stepmom were there too with my brothers. She saw how my family had started to implode and had even sat in on the discussions on how we would deal with the fallout of my grandmother’s passing. As hard as it all was, there was the peace of knowing that she was at last with Jesus and not suffering her degrading body any longer. In the middle of the discussions, my middle brother Wyatt said to us that he knew we would get married and that he could tell because of the way we looked at each other. 

The signs of divine intervention really showed themselves with the story if my proposing to Heather. After waiting to marry Amy and having her passing happen when it did, I did not want to wait to marry Heather. A lot of prayer and planning went into finding the right ring and the right time to go to her and propose but I knew the Lord would handle the details that I didn’t know about such as a time. I found rings at Walmart, of all places, that had cross designs prettier than those I had seen anywhere else so those rings were pretty much dropped in my hands. Of course, needed to be resized and I had made plans to go to Rogers on a Tuesday to be able to go to a prayer meeting at the church she was attending. The rings had taken longer than expected to be resized because the store where I bought them had accidentally forgotten to send them in when they had initially said they would so the store had the shipment with the rings delivered express. The Tuesday that I had planned to go to Rogers turned out to be Valentine’s Day but I was in the middle of a romantic daze with my intentions, the lingering fear that I would be turned down, the grief over my grandmother, and dealing with the fighting from 2 of my grandmother’s children to realize what day it was. I had arranged a few days off from work to go to her but I was working that Tuesday and couldn’t leave until the freight delivered to that store had been processed and made ready for sale. Calling Walmart didn’t bring any news on when the rings would be arriving but the freight was finished with only 10 minutes before I could leave and make the trip in time to go to the prayer meeting so I rushed to Walmart to check for the rings one last time, and if they weren’t ready then my proposal would wait. That scared me worse than the fear of her turning me down but when I got to the store they said that the rings had literally arrived about 5 minutes before I walked in. After a profuse thank you to the store and paying for the rings I hurried back to my car and started the longest physical drive I had made up to that point. I was absolutely sure of my intentions and prayed that the Lord would guide my actions in this as I ask His guidance in all things. The trip went smoothly and I went to a gas station that she wanted me to go to so she could drive to her church and have me follow her since I didn’t have any idea where it was. It would have been a dumb idea to propose in a gas station parking lot and as crazy as I am, I’m not that crazy. I ended up proposing on bended knee right outside the doors to the fellowship hall just before 6 pm that day. 

I had not met any of Heather’s family before that night and she didn’t know when I was going to propose. All she had said of me to that point was that I was a friend but that night she was able to introduce me as her fiancé and her dad was the one who took our engagement pictures. The people who were there had quite the surprise when she introduced me and showed off her ring. That evening was eventful because I met most of her family for the first time. I had brought my laptop with me and was playing a Lego game on it when her youngest brother Dave came to sit in my lap. That was a turning point because Dave can be a measuring point to tell if someone will be a good fit for the family or not. His climbing into my lap convinced everyone there because he hardly ever climbed into anyone’s lap. 

We didn’t do the usual sort of marriage counseling since we lived 5 hours apart and doing it by video call wasn’t a viable option so Heather’s pastor at the time Jack suggested we go to a marriage retreat called A Weekend To Remember that was having an event in Rogers a few weeks after she and I met with Jack to talk about all of this. In another case of divine help, the event was held in Rogers at that time, and my pastor from Texarkana, Jeff, and his wife were two of the headline speakers. Five weeks of counseling sessions crammed into three days was both fun and intensely informative, leaving us more affirmed that we were making the right choice by marrying. 

We had a short engagement. I proposed on Feb. 14, 2012, and we married on June 9, 2012. Our marriage had a full list of hard times just in our first year together. From a miscarriage to three full moves, there should have been enough fights, arguments, disagreements, or whatever you want to call them that would strain many marriages. Heather and I however have yet to get into a major disagreement. Our method for dealing with the issue when things get stressful is to step back and see where our irritation/anger over the situation is really coming from and we figure out how to deal with whatever is happening.  

The final sad part of my testimony is this. What I meant when I said that I had to wipe away the family that my grandparents built is that I had to break away from almost all of the relatives. My grandparents’ only daughter and their youngest son had turned out to have major problems with me since before I was born. I only learned of this through my grandmother’s journals but it did explain some of the coldness I had seen, but I thought it was just personality traits in those two. After my grandmother’s passing, the daughter made a few attempts to take as many of the physical things as she could. In her will, she left me everything she had and I didn’t realize the full scope of it until after she was gone. Her youngest son made a few attempts to take all of the money that he could but the will stopped him too. When all of that was revealed, enough things happened and enough things had simply seemed to vanish that I had to formally kick them out of the family. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and it hurt deeply for a few reasons. First was that I had loved them naturally and deeply. When the daughter’s husband passed, she had come to the house with my grandmother and me for a while and I held her while she had some of the deepest sobs I had ever seen in person. Maybe it was foolish of me but I thought that being able to share the burden of her grief would have brought us closer. Later when I tried to correct her for trying to start a public spat with me, she sent her younger son to threaten me physically while her own daughter tried to threaten me legally. For my wife’s safety, I had to drive them away and that loss still hurts. From what I have been able to glean, they have not changed. The youngest son tried to convince my dad, who had been named executor, to put aside the wishes of his own mother and make me give him his fourth of the whole thing, but that was quashed quickly. I realized that if contact with the youngest son and daughter continued then they would keep bringing problems.

Secondly, it all happened not long before I married Heather so when the wedding happened the groom’s side of the church was almost empty. In the midst of such a joyous occasion that was a sting, mild as it was. Despite having to wipe away the family that had been built, the Lord gave my to a lady who truly is worthy of taking up the mantle of matriarch and making a new chapter of our family legacy.

To honor the only past relationship I have, I had wanted to name the first daughter I would have after Amy but by the time I met Heather, all of the joy and frenzied planning that went into all of our proceedings almost made me forget that part about naming a daughter but Heather was the one who first said that she wanted to name our first daughter after my late fiancée. I had not brought it up and said that I had planned to tell her about that but had forgotten to say it just yet. We had planned several baby names just in case of whatever might happen. Boy or girl, or twins, both sexes together or mixed, we had the names settled quickly.  

Our conflict resolution has never had us resenting each other and we make sure to keep Christ at the center of our marriage. The rest of my marriage with Heather has had a lot of struggles but whatever has happened to us has only made our bond stronger. From family trouble on both sides, to money troubles/job loss, to our spending habits, and even down to how we wanted to arrange our home every time we have moved, so far the closest we have come to a real disagreement is which actor was the best to play Alfred in any version of any of the Batman franchise. Much of the time we have such a connection that we think of the same things before the other says it. Praying about how to deal with things the right way has proven to be the best way since many times our own way would have been disastrous. Having Christ as our center just shows us that trusting Him in all we do is the only way to have any kind of good life, whether in times of plenty or in hard times of whatever nature. 

– Pat Fyffe

You came near when I called on you; you said, ‘Do not fear!’ “You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life.

Lamentations 3:57-58 ESV

My name is Pat Fyffe. After losing my teenage years to a depression induced mental exile, I emerged to find that I was an heir to a strong legacy of faith left when my grandfather passed. But to inherit that legacy, I had to sweep away the family that he had build with my grandmother and have faith of my own. To do so, I had to become, as Scripture describes, a new creation. I became a disciple of Christ. The above testimony is how that came to be.

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