I’ve had Terry’s story for six years, but I did not know what to do with it until this work came to fruition. I met Terry in 2005 when I was Produce Manager the first, initial time. My store manager contacted him for an interview. He had years of experience working for Winn-Dixie, one of Publix’s main rivals for grocery retail in the state of Florida. I was not a big fan of hiring from competitors, especially those who stay with the competitor for a substantial amount of time. At that point, I felt they carried too many bad habits. And in Florida it was no mystery about the greatness of Publix, so those who knew better would involuntarily make the move on their own before wasting years at the competitor. Because of these reasons, I always questioned why someone would stay at a lesser competitor and not just make the move to the better company. So, I rarely entertained interviews from the competitor. But my store manager persisted we at least interview him. There was another challenge that lied ahead, one I was not worried about because I had worked with an associate with the same disability and knew it was not a major issue. Terry was hearing impaired. He interviewed very well because he is a great man. He is kind, caring, funny, extremely hard working, and grounded in his faith. That last fact I would not learn until he presented me with his story. I knew he attended church and when he worked for me, I did all I could to give him a Sunday off here and there, but I always gave him Sunday mornings off. He was one of my most consistent workers. I knew what to expect from him and he always did whatever needed to be done to complete the job. I pushed him further than I probably should have with the company, suggesting he go after management because Publix claimed the company would not discriminate against any disability, but he was unable to pass the management testing phases. When I left Publix the first time, not being able to help Terry in the workplace any more was the hardest pill to swallow. But he was left with caring managers. He stayed committed to the store that hired him for twelve years. Then in 2017, he and his current Produce Manager were butting heads and Terry came to the point where he was ready to quit Publix after 12 years of service. The store he was working at was bursting at the seems with business as that area of Bradenton had exploded with growth and there was zero competition in that part of town. Terry was working the sales floor alone during the busiest hours and sent his manager a text asking for help because it was getting hard for Terry to keep the department full. According to Terry, no one came to help him until three hours later. He went on break and didn’t come back. The next day he called out sick and told the produce manager he was not coming back to work until he sat down to talk to the store manager. Terry was ready to quit, his produce manager was attempting to get him separated for abandoning his job. But God had another plan already in place.
While this was all unfolding, I was across town at the store I had been promoted to in Palmetto. This store was right down the road from Terry’s house. He had approached me as soon as I was promoted to produce manager about transferring to my store. Initially I could not afford another full-timer, but I spoke to his produce manager about him letting Terry go. At that point, Terry’s store could not afford to lose a full-timer, especially one with as much experience as Terry had. Terry’s manager was trying to hire someone that would replace Terry, if that happened, he said I was more than welcome to have him. That manager was not happy with Terry’s performance, but Terry had stopped giving his best when he realized he was being taken advantage of for months. We were in a delicate back and forth balance waiting for the right moment when all the cards lined up perfectly to transfer Terry at the ideal time. Then he sent me the text saying he had just walked out and was going to quit. I told him to pump the breaks, pulled my store manager aside and had a serious conversation with her. I assured her Publix could not afford to lose this man and his 12-years of experience. She contacted Terry’s store manager and they talked about the situation. When Terry met with his store manager and they had a meeting about what had developed and Terry’s frustration with his current manager, all parties agreed to transferring Terry to my store. My department became very heavy on hours and I had to loan a lot of associates out to other departments and different stores to keep my productivity numbers where they needed to be. It was a lot of headache for one person, but Terry is the kind of guy people would easily go out of their way to help, because he would do the same to anyone he knew. We made it work and Terry found a new home, hopefully his permanent home at Publix, where he can put in another twenty years and retire. He fell right into our team and did well for me leading up to my final departure from Publix and my deployment. He’s still a great man. A kind, simple soul. And his faith and conviction for Christ is compelling.
In between when I first hired Terry, and when I brought him to my team for the last time, while I was living in Savannah, GA and was pushing my third book, The Savannah Syndrome, Terry contacted me and wanted me to write his story. I was honored and humbled by the thought. He emailed me around 26 pages of his personal biography. I read it. Reread it. Read it a third time. And then I did the most obnoxious act possible. I told Terry I didn’t think his story was interesting enough to be it’s own book. Yes, he was writing to a specific audience, his story was aimed at the deaf and hearing impaired to help motivate them to be believers in Christ and strong in their faith. But Terry’s story of faith was not a great struggle. It was an every day man’s struggle. And that’s what makes it fit into this work so perfectly. It is another testimony that shows the struggle we all have to be faithful to God and the Christian walk. It is another testimony that readers can take comfort in to read that we all have our hills and valleys through this life. We all have times where our faith is put to test. Terry’s story is inspirational. It’s inspirational because it tells the story of a young man, who despite suffering from the loss of one of the best joys of this world, the sense of sound, Terry never blamed God, never questioned his lack of hearing. All his issues with faith came from the pain he’s experienced from other people, not from God. It’s inspirational when a man born with no hearing, without the ability to hear the sounds of this world, still says that he “listens to God’s voice and tries to obey Him.”
BEFORE THE END I HAVE FAITH
I had been thinking about writing the story of my life and THE God for some time now. Then a few weeks before I began, I talked to Ginger, a fellow associate at Publix Super Markets, at the store I used to work at. I told her about my life and God and my thoughts on turning my story into a book, and Ginger said, “You can do it.” She thought it was a good idea since it is the story of my life, and I suppose she is right. But who am I, and why is my story worth telling? Well, I suppose, any person feels that their story is worth telling at one point or another. Every life lived is unique in their perspective and struggles. My story is just a little more unique than most.
I am one of just 360 million people in the world that are either hearing impaired or deaf. While that number may seem high, that is just over 5% of the total world population. I was born in Ohio and my family moved down to Florida when I was one. My parents did not realize I was deaf until I was two years old. I am sure this will garner some unnecessary criticism of my wonderful parents, so just remember this is a journey to help create better Christians. Passing no judgement on my parents, I had not talked as a baby, which my parents thought was due to the fact that my two older brothers waited on me so much that I did not need to talk. When my parents first took me to the doctors, the doctors said that I would be completely deaf in my right ear and partially deaf in my left. With both my parents being strong Christians (my dad was and still is the pastor for his church), they told the doctors that they believed in divine healing and through prayer, God would heal my right ear enough that I would be able to hear with the use of a hearing aid. By the third visit to the doctors, the docs were questioning my parents and asking them what they had done because I was suddenly responsive to sound tests in both my ears. My parents just replied “prayer.” After that the doctors referred to me as their “miracle baby.”
From the moment my parents learned I was deaf they did everything they could to make sure I had every advantage that a regular hearing child would have. I had special training at my house as a baby by a specialist who taught my mother how to teach me to talk. My mother would place my hand on her throat so I could feel the sound and watch her mouth. With my hand upon her throat, I would watch her mouth make the sounds to each letter, consonant, and word. She would then take my hand and place it on my own throat so I could practice making the same sound for every letter, every consonant, and every word. My mother would help me hold up a mirror so I could watch the motions of my mouth, to further mimic what I learned from watching my mother talk.
My parents realized I lived in a world built upon verbal communication and sound, so, therefore, I had to talk. My parents pushed me to learn how to speak and read lips as well as learn to sign. I used the feel and sight of sound to learn how to mimic what came naturally to most of the world.
I started preschool at Bayshore, where the deaf children went in Manatee County. It worked well for me that first year, but once I started Kindergarten, the curriculum was much of the same learning from preschool. I was also put in a special education class with mentally ill and handicapped children. My parents were concerned about this situation because, while my hearing was impaired, my brain was not and I would not have access to curriculum that really challenged my mind and learning ability in a classroom like that. My parents took me out of school and my mother home schooled me. The school did not like this because they received government funding for having me in their system. This created a difficult relationship between my mother and the school. They required my mother to bring in all my school work and materials so they could go over them every three months. We knew other home schooled children whose parents were not required to do the same. But my mother did as they asked and home schooled me until the sixth grade. My parents decided at that point that I should be able to have more activities with children my age, at school that is. I had been interacting with other kids my age since I was six, when I became the first deaf child in Manatee County to play little league.
Playing baseball was fun. It was also very hurtful.
I started with t-ball when I was six, playing one season before moving into regular little league baseball. The first three years I played for Bill Graham Ford. The kids on the team treated me like I was dumb for being different. They were young and did not understand that my differences did not hamper my ability to play.
My father was the manager of the team, which made it hard for me. But what was really tough was being different. The boys on the team would make fun of me because I couldn’t hear. I was unable to wear my hearing aids to play so my father bought me an autotrainer. The autotrainer is a system where the coach would wear a microphone around his neck and I had head phones so the coach could talk to me. It was different and I was different so the boys on the team would make fun of me. I hid it from my parents as long as I could. By my third year of little league I didn’t want to play because of the cruelness of the kids around me and I finally had to tell my parents why I didn’t want to play. As hard as it was to endure their insensitivity, I continued playing for three more years until I was thirteen and I finally quit baseball. While I missed the sport, I would soon be entering high school, and there I’d meet and make some real friends, and continue to impress those around me.
High school was tough. I am almost completely deaf, I hear very little without hearing aids. When I was younger, doctors told my parents that hearing aids would not help me hear at all. Technology has improved hearing aids a lot since I had started wearing them as a kid. They have improved greatly since I wore them in high school, to the point now in my life they over magnify certain sounds and I have to take them out. But during high school, my hearing aids helped me to hear the world around me, but the school system thought I needed more than just hearing aids to succeed.
Because of my hearing impairment, when I began high school, Manatee High wanted me to attend special needs classes, but my parents refused. They had to fight the school system again. The first time my parents met my homeroom teacher, she told them that I couldn’t make it. My parents told her that I would indeed make it, and if I didn’t, I would still go through high school on my own terms. My parents did not want me to graduate and get a piece of paper that meant nothing. So I began high school as every other kid did.
I had two best friends since middle school: Robert and Josh. We got along great and had lots of fun until we started high school. Robert suddenly no longer wanted to hang out with Josh. Robert no longer wanted to hang out with Josh because of the color of his skin.
I asked Robert, “What’s wrong with Josh? There’s nothing wrong with Josh.” Then I pressed Robert more and asked him if he liked certain musician and athletes that were the same skin tone as Josh. Robert said he did like those people and I questioned him why he liked those men when they were the same as Josh. Robert’s only response was that it was okay they were “black” and he just did not like Josh because he suddenly felt that Josh was “stupid.” I knew it was wrong and I did not understand why Robert suddenly had decided that Josh wasn’t worth our friendship. Josh had no idea Robert felt this way and soon Robert would force me to have to lie to Josh about me hanging out with just Robert. So I lied to Josh and felt really bad about it. I should have just ended my friendship with Robert then, but when you are deaf and most of the kids around you would rather ridicule you then be your friend, any friend, whether good or bad was unique.
Robert would get kicked out of high school around 1995 but Josh would go on to graduate in 1997 and join the Navy. He told me that I should join the Navy as well to make good money, but I told him I could not. When I was younger I had wanted to join the Marines or Navy for six to eight years, and then become a career Police Officer. But in high school I realized that I could not do any of those things because the Armed Services required you to be able to hear and I, of course, lacked that ability.
While in high school my father approached me about my beliefs as a Christian, how I felt about church, and other things I did not believe in at the time. My parents are Pentecostal Christians and never missed attending church. My father is an ordained minister. He was ordained in the Assembly of God and the Church of God. I was raised as a Christian and taken to church by my parents when I was young. I would continue to go on my own for the rest of my life. But during high school I was more of just a body in the congregation and not a fully devoted, or believing, spirit. My father must have sensed this, which prompted him to ask me about my faith in high school. I suppose since faith was such a big part of my upbringing with both my father and mother telling me about God that I felt my faith would just be natural and I didn’t think my relationship with God and Jesus was that important. It happens that way in minister’s homes, and if it is not caught, it can be damaging to the children.
I didn’t know what to believe in high school. I thought that when I died I would just go to sleep or that life just ended. My dad told me different. He said to me, “No, Terry, when you die you go to Heaven or you go to Hell.” I did not understand him and asked what that meant, and he explained how Jesus died on the Cross so that anyone who believed in Him could be saved and have everlasting life. This was tough to understand and I spent a few days thinking about it. After thinking about what my father had said I came home from school and told my dad that I was ready to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior and become a born again Christian. My dad and I began to pray together during my sophomore year in high school.
The next two years flashed by in a blink of an eye, and soon enough, Josh and I were seniors. I was ready to graduate, but I failed the High School Competency Test (HSCT) twice, which would have allowed me to graduate. I got to a point where I was ready to give up because I did not think I could pass the HSCT and would never graduate high school, but my parents refused to give up on me. They continued to pray for me a lot and helped me work hard with my teacher/interpreter every day until I was able to pass the HSCT and graduate high school in 1998. That same homeroom teacher who said I couldn’t graduate high school approached my parents during my graduation and said, “I was so wrong. Terry did well. We are so proud of him.”
I should have filled my graduation day with joy and pride, but I allowed disappointment and anger to infest this special day. I was mad that Josh did not attend my graduation, as I had for his the year before. I would come to understand later in life that Josh was busy training for the Navy still and he had problems with a quick marriage and an quicker divorce. So I was not able to share my accomplishment with my two best friends. Regardless, I was now a high school graduate, a young man who overcame a momentous challenge and graduated like almost every other student, without special education, with only the aid of special love and special prayers, and a whole lot of especially hard work.
The Real World
My friendship with Robert continued after high school We would go out to bars and clubs almost every night. He drank a lot. I wasn’t into drinking, yet, because I was not yet 21. I found full-time work for Chris Craft, a local boat manufacturer, and part-time work for Petsmart. I was busy working those two jobs and hanging out with Robert in my free time when Jesus called my grandfather home on March 1, 2000.
My grandfather was 92 years old and hospitalized in the city of St. Petersburg, FL, about a half-hour drive north of where I lived. On that day in March his heart finally failed and my mother contacted me at Chris Craft. I went with my parents to St. Petersburg to meet with the doctors and begin preparations to have his body released for burial. It was a busy day and we were not able to tell my grandmother of her husband’s passing until later that evening. My grandparents had been married 63 years, a lifetime of love. The day my grandfather passed, my grandmother was in a separate hospital, Blake Hospital, which was back in Bradenton, the city south of where my parents and I lived. She had been at Blake since she had suffered from a stroke when she was 90. When my parents and I arrived at Blake hospital later that evening, I went to my grandmother’s room but she was gone. I asked her nurse where she was. Her nurse told me that I had to go to the main office on my grandmother’s floor. My parents and I would wait there for almost an hour when the doctor finally came in . My grandmother’s doctor told us she had been trying to get ahold of our family all day and had wondered where we had been all day. My father informed her his dad had passed away that morning.
The doctor responded, quite bluntly, “I am sorry for your loss, but I have more bad news. Your mother passed away this morning as well.”
It felt like my head was going to explode. I was overwhelmed with grief and loss. Both my grandparents had passed away on the same day in different locations. After my grandfather had died early in the morning and we had left for St. Petersburg to the north, not even ten minutes had passed when the doctor at Blake had tried to get in touch with my parents because my grandmother had passed away to the city south of us. 63 years of marriage and they left this world almost simultaneously. It’s a storybook ending to a long life lived, a miracle and blessing that Jesus called them to Him at the same time, so they would never have to experience the loss of one another.
Of course, when my grandparents passed, my relationship with Jesus and God was shattered and broken. I did not see the beauty of their journey into eternal life as the couple they were here in this world. Instead, the loss of both my grandparents seemed like a cruel twist of fate and tragedy. We had the funeral for them together and weeks would pass but I remained in a deep state of sadness and depression. I turned to alcohol for comfort.
I started drinking with Robert and another friend at Applebee’s. We would go there often and slowly I got worse and worse, drinking more and more to try to make myself happy. I began to think about Josh again and how I had not heard or seen him in a long time since he joined the Navy. He had stopped writing me letters and I thought he had stopped caring about me as a friend. Robert and I continued to go out almost every night. We began going to the casino in Tampa and the dog track in Sarasota. I didn’t gamble, but I enjoyed drinking at those locations, or at Robert’s house, or any bar. Robert always wanted to be around girls in places we could drink and socialize with them. He would be jealous of most of his other friends when we were around girls, but he was not jealous of me, so that helped strengthen our friendship. Robert wanted the girls and the money. He would constantly get drunk and be late for work. He wanted to party all the time. And as I was dealing with the death of my grandparents, so the drinking helped numb that loss. I was going to parties and drinking so much that even once I fell down in a parking lot right in front of a moving car. Luckily that driver was sober enough to be able to stop before running into me, or over me. I could have been seriously hurt, or even killed. Of course, I did not even know this happened until the next morning when Robert told me about it. That night made me angry at myself and my current drinking problem. Even my parents noticed my drinking habits and they were not happy about it.
Robert began taking advantage of our friendship and began to ask me for more and more help with his finances. I helped him pay for a new motor for his car, which he promised to pay me back for, but he would also ask for extra money for needless things like video games, movies, spending cash. I consistently made the mistake and kept helping him out. He would end up owing me thousands of dollars and then he suddenly financed a Harley Davidson F-150. I was shocked and hurt that he somehow found a way to pay an expensive truck payment but had never made an attempt to pay me back. Despite us being friends for over 12 years, Robert had no desire to pay me back. I stopped hanging out with him, which helped me start to cut down on my partying and drinking.
I switched churches, moving to a big church based out of Palmetto. I tried to go to this church for six months, but it was hard for me to hear the message or read the Pastor’s lips. No matter where I sat; front, middle, or back, I had a hard time following and at the time they did not have an interpreter. So after six moths I went back to the church my Dad was the pastor at.
I began to attend a community college, Manatee CC (which is now a 4-year university, State College of Florida). I enjoyed those classes more than any technical college I had tried in the past. In 2004 I had to have my appendix removed and during the surgery the surgical team left part of the IV in my right arm and it took three months of me not being able to fully use my right arm for my doctor to discover what was wrong.
Shortly after this, Winn Dixie was closing stores around Florida and I learned the store I was working at was scheduled to close. My produce manager instructed me to fill out an application at Publix. I had tried to get hired at Publix four times before and I tried to tell her I would not have any luck, but she angrily insisted I go to a particular store where she had already met the store manager. She said she would put in a good word for me. So I went in a filled out the application on a Saturday. The next Sunday, my mom took the phone call from Publix to schedule an interview. This would be when I met Jason for the first time. He and the store manager, Kim, were a hard working team and they welcomed me and gave me a great start to what has been 13 years now. I had spent 13 years at Winn Dixie, but I was hired at a higher pay rate at Publix and have since made more and more money as my experience and time grew. While I started at a store across town from where I lived, I have since been able to move stores to the Publix right down the road from my old Winn Dixie. Jason explained that story already. Now I am working with another of my old manager’s, Will, who unfortunately had me as his full-timer at Ms. Kim’s store when I continued to go through more and more health issues.
I was having horrible pain in my gut and side. I went back to my doctor who told me and my parents that he would have to do surgery and he felt it was took risky and refused to do any. We were forced to threaten him with finding another doctor and if they found an issue that was the fault of this original doctor we would hire a lawyer. My doctor decided to do surgery and found a build up of scar tissue where they had taken out my appendix. My hospital doctor told me that even after cleaning up the scar tissue, I most likely would have constant pain from the original surgery. This made me mad and I cursed at God. I blamed God for the problems in my life: the pain I was experiencing in my body, the mounting hospital bills, the fact that my only friend had taken advantage of me for years, and my loneliness in not finding a girlfriend to share my life with. Even thoughts of suicide crept into the back of my mind. I did not understand why I was suffering so much in my life. I worked hard, tried my best to read and understand the Bible, and did all I could to find a church that I would be able to hear or have an interpreter for.
After that breakdown the pain began to subside in my side. I was invited by a friend, Morgan, to play softball for his church. I continued to take a few classes at college, attended church every week, and did my best to read and understand more of the Bible. I cut my drinking down a lot, I only went out one or two times a month, sometimes every other month. It was this time I went to my dad and asked him about my hearing loss for the first time. I asked him if I was born deaf or lost my hearing as a little boy. My Dad said that I was two when he first noticed that I did not respond to him calling my name. He said they took me to my pediatrician and the doctor told them I was deaf and would never be able to hear. That night he was playing cowboys and Indians with me and I was not talking and the realization that I was mute and deaf broke my parents’ hearts. They cried that night and he said they began praying for me. They prayed for me every day for miracle healing. Then one day, during the same type of playing, cowboys and Indians specifically, I began to talk and respond like I heard something. My parents were thrilled and excited and my dad said they continued to pray every night for more and more improvement in my hearing. This was the story of me becoming my doctor’s “miracle baby,” where the doctors once believed I would not be able to hear at all and my hearing miraculously improved to only 75% hearing loss and with the power of hearing aids, which continue to improve, I have been able to hear better and better throughout my life. But when my dad first told me this story, I received it with anger and strife, taking my loss of hearing as a something I caused on myself. I blamed myself for every bad thing that happened in my life. I broke down that evening in my parent’s back yard, crying out to God for help to make my life better and change my heart to better the rest of my life.
That evening I realized I was missing something. I realized that I had put myself in a lot of bad choices in my past. I had continued to be friends with someone who took advantage of me and kept me trapped in negative situations. I realized I shouldn’t have been going out so much and drinking and partying. I should have been focusing on school and bettering myself. I saw that my parents had always been setting the example for me. They did not drink, did not go out and party. They went to church every week and read the Bible and prayed everyday. They had absolute faith and belief in God and lived their lives to emulate that. I had been lost and finally realized that despite my devotion to attending church and reading the Bible, I still did not have the faith my parents had. I was lost. But I had finally come to the realization how lost I was.
The next day I began my day with prayer. I continued to go after the Bible, even though I still struggled to understand parts of it, I kept reading. I got back in the gym and soon softball season started back up and I kept playing with my friend Morgan. I continued to work at Publix and took more college courses in the fall of 2011.
In October of that year, my friend Eric, who is also deaf, who I had known since middle school, went with me to see my favorite NFL team, the Denver Broncos play the Miami Dolphins in Miami. I had been a Broncos fan since 1983 when John Elway was a rookie. In the 2011 season, the starting QB for the Broncos was Tim Tebow. Tebow led them to a comeback win. It was an exciting and fun game. I posted pictures of Eric and I at the game. The next day, a casual friend, Katie, liked my picture from the game and sent me a Facebook message asking if I would want to go bowling and get dinner together. She left me her number.
I had known Katie for sometime. We met at Wet ‘N Wild day for the Deaf. The waterpark, which unfortunately closed down in 2016, hosted an annual day where only hearing impaired could come to the park. It was a great event that at it’s height, drew what I felt was close to 10,000 deaf people every July.
Katie and I went out bowling and grabbed dinner at Applebee’s. It was a good night together and we chatted throughout the evening. Two week’s later we went shopping at the local outlet mall. Every time we hung out together, Katie would want to make plans to do something else. I was surprised she wanted to spend so much time with me so I asked her if she was looking for a relationship. Her answer was “yes.” And in return, she asked me the same question, to which I gave her the same answer. I told her I wanted a relationship as well, and I immediately explained some of the problems of my past. I told her my struggles with my faith, surgeries, drinking, and bad decisions I had made in my life. She revealed to me that she had made plenty of mistakes in her past as well. I explained to her that I went to Church every week. She was a Catholic, but that seemed like more of a title than a true relationship with Jesus and God. I told her I would always be going to Church every week and read the Bible often and would help her become as strong a Christian as I was becoming. She told me she understood and was willing to try, but wanted to take the chase after Jesus “slow.”
Katie was the first relationship I had with a hearing-impaired woman. All my relationships in the past had been with women who did not have any hearing disabilities. We began to date, we went shopping, went out to eat often, and we did a lot of things for fun. Katie attended my dad’s church with me. I warned her that it would be hard for her to understand because my dad spoke quickly and filled his services with a lot of talking which I usually had trouble following. But after that first Sunday, Katie said she was able to easily understand and follow my Dad’s preaching. So we kept attending his church together. After a few weeks of dating, we became a “Facebook official” relationship. Katie was very excited for me to profess our relationships status on social media. The next day, we went to Sea World and had a great day together. I presented her with a new NIV Bible so she could read the Bible with me. A few weeks later, I bought her annual passes to Busch Garden and Sea World, and she surprised me with passes to Universal Studios. She always wanted to help pay for things and did not want me to spend all my money for us to spend time together. This made me want to spend even more money on her. I wanted us to both have a fun time. I wanted to make her happy, which made me happy. We spent Thanksgiving and Christmas together, splitting the days with her family and my family. Katie was the first time in my life that I had a girlfriend during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Her family liked me a lot and my family liked her just as much.
During the next three months, Katie and I spent a lot of time together. Then in March, her parents moved to a different condo. I helped them move. After the move Katie seemed upset with me. I asked her what was wrong. She had questions about the Bible and when I tried to explain, I was a little assertive and slightly condescending that she was asking me tough questions. I would have to apologize and explain to her that I was not that strong myself in my understanding of the Bible. I told her I would not push her so much to read more and more of the Bible. I did not want to make her mad, but I wanted her to know Jesus more and become a born-again Christian.
The following Wednesday, during Bible study with my Dad, he invited her to attend our family vacation that we were planning at Walt Disney World. She said she wanted to go, which surprised me. We had been going to the theme parks we had passes to, but this would be our first trip to Disney together, and my first time bringing a girlfriend along for the family vacation. At a recent trip to Sea World, we had told each other we loved one another for the first time. We continued to do more and more, from watching movies to visiting places like the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to see Winter after we watched “Dolphin Tale” together. I spent as much time with her as I could. I decided to take almost a year off of college as balancing two jobs, working out, studying the Bible, and spending time with Katie was too much to handle. I was also looking for my first house.
Throughout all of this I continued reading the Bible every day and praying extensively for Katie to accept Jesus as her personal savior and be born again. I was hoping she would make this decision very soon.
A few weeks later, Katie was not feeling well. I went with her to visit three different doctors before they had decided she needed to have her gallbladder removed. She kept telling me I did not need to stay with her but I never left her side. It took three doctors to make the decision to remove her gall bladder. The last doctor scheduled the surgery for the next month. When she had the surgery I stayed with her about three hours while she rested. She was released the day after the surgery but ordered not to work for a month so she could heal properly. While she was recovering, I visited her home 4-5 times a week, whether I was working or on my day off. We watched movies and played games together. One day when we were watching TV she apologized, thinking staying with her was “boring” to me. I told her it wasn’t boring at all because I felt “so excited to see” her and being with her made my feel happy. I continued to tell her if I wasn’t there with her I would be home bored and would be missing her too much. She laughed at this and I continued, letting her know I was “for real, I am not kidding, because I am still happy with you. I still love you so much.” This made her smile and happy. I kissed her before leaving for the night.
We still lived apart because I believe that was the right thing to do. I believe the Bible instructs that a couple should not live together until they are married, and then they will live under the same roof. I also did not believe in divorce because Jesus specifically says this is a sin that does not please God. I had told Katie in the past I believed in working through any problems once I were to get married and I would never get a divorce.
A month passed and Katie was back to work and we were back to spending time together at Florida theme parks. One day while I was at lunch while working at Publix, Katie text me and said that her mom was very happy she was with me. Her mom was impressed and pleased that I helped Katie at the hospital and at their home. I text her back that I would always be with her because I loved her forever. She replied that I was a wonderful man, that I was always nice to her and always good to her. She said she would also always take care of me as well. We text each other saying we loved one another. I went back to work. By all appearances, I felt like I had met my future wife. This would all begin to unravel within weeks.
But before that point began, we had another family vacation to Walk Disney World. This time we stayed for a week. Katie and I went to Sea World and Universal Studios together to get some time to ourselves. I had a great time. She was a wonderful and sweet girl, I viewed her as the most beautiful woman in the world. I continued to pray for her and her family. She had not yet confessed her love for Jesus and become a born again Christian. But she was still coming to church with me every week. She attended church with my family and I the Sunday after my birthday. Our relationship was moving along in the right direction. I could not have been happier.
Then, just weeks after my birthday, the first Sunday when she did not meet me at church caught me by surprise. I did not get upset or even bring it up the first week. Then the next Sunday, she did not come to church again. She never brought it up in conversation, so I did not either. Then another Sunday, and another. On the fourth Sunday I finally text her after church to ask where she was and why she had not been coming to church for the last month. She told me she had been going to the beach every Sunday morning. I let her know I was upset with her. The next day we met for lunch and I told her I was hurt and angry that she had been skipping church, not explaining why, and then just going to the beach. I personally, always made time for church, despite having to work most Sunday’s, I would go to church and usually go straight to work after so my Sunday’s were very busy. She did not say much as I explained how important I felt it was for her and for us to attend church together. She was a little shocked that I was that upset over it and was afraid I was about to break up with her. I assured her that I was not going to end our relationship, that I loved her very much still and I was not going to give up on her. She said she was not going to give up on me either and that she did not want to be single again. I said “me neither!” She smiled and we made up. I was sincere that I wanted to be with her forever, but what I did not know yet was that I would eventually have to chose between her and my devotion to Christ. Her missing church was the beginning of our end.
In the end, my love for Christ would be more powerful than my love for Katie. I did not want our relationship to ever end. I had believed Katie would be my future wife. But we were traveling down two different paths for the most important journey in life. For Katie, she did not seem to even want to travel on the path to salvation. I was running as fast as I could toward Jesus. I tried everything I could to get Katie to catch up to me. I tried to find her more interesting Bibles. I tried “The Action Bible,” a beautifully illustrated Bible that reads like a comic book. I loved that book. I found it much easier to understand a lot of the stories in the deeper books of the Bible by the illustrations in “The Action Bible.” Katie was not interested in that version. She had stopped reading the Bible altogether. That made me upset. But it did not hurt me as much as when I found out she had stopped praying.
That discovery came on a day when we spent the morning at Living Word Christian Store to help kids learn American Sign Language. Katie and I went to Starbucks after working with a great group of children. I noticed that Katie seemed upset. When I asked her about why she was not happy, she informed me that she was sad because she knew she would never have children of her own. I asked her why not? She said she was too old and too tired. I disagreed with her. She continued, brining up that she had heart surgery when she was young, and she was afraid her heart would not be able to handle a pregnancy. I told her about my brother, Bill, who had a ruptured testicle when he was young and given a diagnosis of a 50/50 shot of ever having kids. He and his wife tried to conceive for 15 years. 15 years of disappointment were lifted up by 15 years of prayer and faith. And then, finally, after 15 years of marriage, 15 years of heartbroken prayers, God finally answered them and they were blessed with a beautiful baby girl. Katie did not seem impressed with that story. I told her she could always adopt and she immediately said “no.” So then I asked her, “when was the last time you prayed?” She did not answer me. I told her I was still praying for her everyday. She would not even look at me. I did not understand why she was so defensive about my faith. She stopped talking. I stopped talking. We sat at Starbucks for another ten minutes, neither of us speaking or signing to each other. Even for a person who could not hear, the silence was deafening.
I took her home. Then I went home and immediately went out to my backyard. I fell to my knees and began to cry. I was mad. Not at Katie for her lack of faith. Not at myself for asking her to be as devout as I tried to be. But I was mad at God. I continued to question Him and blame Him. I thought it was unfair that my longest relationship was being tested because Katie refused to have the same faith as I did. I had never felt the way I did for Katie with any girlfriend I had in my past. And Katie and I had eclipsed the six-month mark, which was when all my other relationships had fallen apart. We were not at that point yet, but we were getting closer. And closer.
The next day we text each other and apologized to one another. We went out to eat that evening and I asked her to “not give up.” I told her she “still had chance to accept Jesus,” and that I “loved (her) so much.” We kissed. I told her that she was the first woman I had ever cried over. Our relationship temporarily seemed to be on the mend. Then as summer turned to fall, near the end of September, on a Wednesday afternoon, Katie text me and told me she was not coming over to my house for our weekly Bible Studies. She had also been absent from attending Church for a month again. She text me and said she needed a break. We were going to take a week off from one another. I had never heard of such a thing, but I agreed to it.
The week almost stretched into two weeks before she agreed to meet at Cracker Barrel for breakfast. While we were talking, Katie told me that she didn’t want to accept Jesus Christ as her Savior and that she just wanted to remain a Catholic (she obviously did not understand that in order to actually BE A Catholic, she had to accept Jesus as her Savior). To Katie, being a Catholic just meant attending a Catholic Church on the major holidays and proclaiming she was “Catholic” to anyone who asked. She was not willing to put any of the intellectual or spiritual commitment into being a Catholic, let alone a Christian. She confessed that she could not understand my Dad when we went to his church. But she didn’t want to go to any other church, like one with an ASL interpreter, because she did not want to upset my Dad. But she said she was not going to go to Church as much. And she continued to state she was not ready to accept Jesus as her Savior. She asked if I could continue to be with her under those circumstances. I was stunned. Hurt and broken. But I did not want to lose her. I told her I had to think things over. I still loved her. I did not want to lose her. But there was one I loved much more than her.
Just two days later, that love would prove to be more important. I had come to my decision. We had another deep conversation after attending her niece’s play. She was not budging on her position. She was going to go to church when she wanted, which was much less than she was going at this point. Despite being “Catholic” she denied Jesus as her Savior. She just wanted to go to Church a few times a year (what’s the point?!). I told her that my commitment and love for Jesus was much greater than that. We agreed to be friends and we broke up.
I kept it together until that evening. Then I was back in my backyard, weeping and crying out to God.
“What have I done?”
“Did I do something wrong?”
“Please tell me! I need to know. I need an answer.” I yelled at God. I yelled as loud as I felt like I could. I cried and prayed for over two hours. I went to bed late, got little sleep and went to Church that next day filled with anger and sadness.
That afternoon I went to my Dad’s office and told him what had happened. He offered no words of hope or encouragement. He was surprised we had broken up. He also thought we were a perfect match and would be together for a long time. I left his office feeling no better. That Sunday ended and another Monday began. I was hurt, my heart was broken. I had ended the best relationship I had ever experienced. 11 months before, I had thought Katie would be the one I would marry. We seemed to share so much in common. But when it came to the most important characteristic, our faith and level of devotion to the Lord, we were complete opposites. I was at the point in my life when I had to keep the plow moving straight. I could no longer look back.
So I kept my eye on that distant image: salvation through Jesus Christ, and I pushed the plow ahead.
Days turned into weeks. The pain of loss did not get any better. I finally left my Dad’s church. It was a hard decision, but I had to find a church that made my heart happy, and not just a church I went to out of commitment to my parents. I continued to work two jobs, started working out every single day. Nothing helped improve my mood. I finally decided to try a church called Impact Community Church. I had learned that they had an interpreter. When I met her, I was surprised, it was the mother of a girl named Crystal who I had met in Elementary School. Her daughter was deaf, so Crystal’s mom had long ago learned to sign. The Monday after I attended Impact Community for the first time I happened to catch part of the movie “Fireproof.” If you have never watched that movie, I highly recommend it. I did not get to see the whole movie that day, but for what I did see, it caught my attention and a few days later I mentioned it to my Mom and she told me she had the DVD and also mentioned I watch “Courageous.” Both of those faith based movies helped lift my spirits. The scene in “Courageous” when the Dad thanks God for the nine years he had with his daughter who died in the movie caused me to rethink my actions. Seeing a father thank God instead of being angry at Him really struck a chord with me. I finally went to my backyard and for the first time, I did not approach God with anger. Instead, I approached with thanksgiving, and I prayed to God and for the first time since Katie and I began having trouble, I thanked God for the time He had given to me with Katie. I thanked God for those precious 11-months and asked for the chance to have more.
I thought that would bring me relief. Instead, as I went to sleep that night, I found myself thinking about all the times Katie and I had laid in my bed and watched movies together. I wept into my pillow as I remembered how Katie would always pull me close and hold my arm with her body as we watched the entire movie. I thought about her that way often. I could not help it. I still missed her dearly.
The next day I drove down to the Christian Family store. I needed more movies to keep my mind off Katie. I left the store with the movie “Facing the Giants,” and two books: “Heaven is For Real” and “Unstoppable.” These distractions helped, but they were just putting band-aids on a bleeding heart.
The touching movies and inspirational true stories were momentary reliefs to a still growing depression. I would still break down and cry to God. Now I had moved on to pleading with Him for one more chance with Katie. I continued to buy more books, reading just a couple of pages from seven different books every day. During my lunch breaks at Publix, I would read the Bible on my phone. I prayed at work, I prayed in the morning and at night, I prayed throughout the day. I prayed for Katie and her family. But no amount of praying, reading, or watching Christian movies were able to lift me out of the dark hole I had fallen into. I would have to pull myself out of that hole. Since I had been the one to dig that hole in the first place, I might as well be the one to dig myself out.
My new church, which God had led me to, was the first to throw a line out to me as I wallowed in my own despair. In a powerful sermon, the pastor at Impact talked about letting go of the mistakes of the past and simply moving forward. Then as I continued to read Nick Vujicic’s incredible inspirational book, “Unstoppable,” I read how Nick, who was born with a rare disease that left him with no arms or legs, had spent a period of his life angry at God. But Nick would come to realize that he needed to change first before God would give him what he was asking for. Then in the book “Heaven is for Real,” the pastor, who’s son has complications during surgery where his heart stops beating and the doctors believe he had passed away. The pastor cursed God and was angry at God for taking his son. But the pastor would later realize his error in blaming God. These three influences finally brought me to the final realization that I had fallen back into the trap of blaming God for my circumstances. I began to pray to God and apologize for my actions. I prayed for forgiveness. I prayed to apologize for cursing God. I prayed and accepted responsibility for everything that had happened in my life. I knew at that moment that it was up to me to move past the pain of losing Katie. I was committed to my relationship with Jesus and could not be with someone who would not work at having the same type of relationship with our Lord and Savior.
The next day, while working at Publix, I met a new associate named Ginger who needed help throwing trash out. Ginger was a very nice person and slowly we began to talk at work and get to know each other. She was married with two daughters. She would always ask me how I was doing. I would eventually explain to her about Katie. When I told her that Katie and I did not agree on the commitment of worship between a practicing Christian and a less-than-casual Catholic, Ginger understood and said that religions have ruined Christianity. Ginger would grow to be a strong Christian friend. She would give me more spiritual movies to help continue lifting me out of my hole of depression. I would be doing good, then I would suffer a setback. Setbacks like running into Katie at a dinner for deaf people in Sarasota. This would reignite all my old feelings for her. I was getting closer to finally buying my first house, which was growing in value every week as Florida’s housing market was on the rebound at the end of 2012. After Thanksgiving, with Katie on my mind everyday, I asked her to lunch. This was a mistake that ended with me pleading for her to change so our relationship could actually work. But she was still unwilling to change her faith.
So I continued to consume my free time with Christian books and movies. I joined the Impact Community Church softball team. I was getting closer and closer to finally financing my first house, which would have an amazing amount of equity the second I signed my name to the mortgage. When that day came, and I finally had the keys to my first place, the appraising value had almost doubled from what I financed it for. My two friends, Eric and Morgan, helped me move in. That first night in my house I told Eric and Morgan how God had answered my prayers. I had been praying to find the right house and to get my own place for over two years. God had delivered an amazing deal, practically an instant massive return on my investment. Morgan was excited and happy for me to finally be getting such a great deal. Eric was happy I finally got my first home. I said it was all due to God. Eric was skeptical and just said, “yeah right.” But Morgan agreed, he supported me and told Eric that the Bible says all things will come to those who pray and wait with great patience for God’s response.
The next day my manager at Publix asked me about the new house and I told him how I had moved in and the new appraisal value versus what I had financed it for. He was very happy for me and told a lot of our coworkers and the customers that had gotten to know me over the years of working there. I was congratulated during the next week. Moving into the new house kept me even busier. But that busyness would eventually wear away to moments when I would find myself staring out the window at the sky and realizing how quiet my new home was. I was happy to have my own place, but I felt a greater loneliness living there. It made me miss Katie even more. Getting my first place was something I had sought with the goal of her and I getting married and eventually moving in together. I had abandoned that dream to stay closer to God, yet, I continued to not acknowledge that God was always with me, and I was never really alone.
Settling into my new home, working two jobs, attending Church twice a week, reading the Bible and other books everyday, still watching faith based movies, and playing softball for Impact kept me busy. The way I played softball had changed drastically since I played with Bayshore Community Church years before. Now that I prayed more and read the Bible every day, I was calm and collect during the games. I no longer let myself get worked up or angry when things didn’t go good for myself or the team. I had changed my attitude watching other sports as well. I no longer let football games get me worked up. I looked toward role models like Tony Dungy who always remained calm and collect while leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was a strong Christian, and would write some inspiring works once he left the coaching scene of the NFL. Another true story about sports and faith that helped me get to the point of peace I was at was the movie “Facing the Giants.” In that story, the coach used to yell at his players and coached with a heart filled with anger. He was almost to the point where he was going to be fired after a failing season. Then he became a born-again Christian and with increased prayer and reading the Bible he changed his attitude, coached with a new sense of calm and compassion and turned around a losing season.
That was where I had finally reached with my softball game. Whether we won or lost, I finally just played because I enjoyed the game. I would no longer get angry or yell during games. I stayed calm, said nothing negative, and had fun. I finally realized it was not about wanting to win every game. There was much more important things in life. Like reading the Bible and praying everyday. Even when we won big rematch’s over teams we had lost to in the past, I remained calm and humble. I have played for Impact many years now. We have had championship seasons, and seasons where we came up short. We had some exciting play-offs, once losing to the best team in the league by only one run in a 16-17 stunner where we had led most of the game. No matter, I have learned that it is about just enjoying the game, the fellowship, and the faith shared with other members of a body of Christ.
Five months after Katie and I decided to be friends, she text me randomly asking if I wanted to get dinner together. I still missed her, still thought about her often, still walked my empty house wishing she was there to share it with me. We went to dinner. She had started going to a different church with one of her friends. She was reading the Bible more and asked about the Bible apps I had on my phone. We spent the evening talking about the Bible and God. I was surprised she had begun to find herself in Christ. We had a great evening talking and catching up. Then our dinner ended. She and I parted ways. That was the last time I talked to her.
I still pray for her, but since then, I have found comfort in knowing that we will forever remain friends. She is and always will be the greatest love of my life, until, maybe the day comes when I meet the woman I will marry. But for now, I am grateful to God for the 11 months I had with her, where I learned what love felt like. I felt the pain of loss, but I know that I helped steer her into a true connection with Jesus and God and not just hiding behind a religious label.
I have written my old friend Josh and confessed to him how I lied to him when Robert no longer wanted to hang out with him (Robert ended up in jail for writing tens of thousands of dollars in fake checks). I made peace with Josh and hope that our relationship will continue to grow and recover.
This is my story I wanted to share with you. I am glad that the author of this work was able to find use for it as an additional testimony. I wanted to tell this story about my past and my relationship with God. I went from a young man who went out to drink many times a week, I did not pray, I did not “know” Jesus and God. I barely went to a church, and really only went because my Dad was the pastor. But my parents never stopped praying for me and God never stopper pursuing me. I should not have been angry when my grandparents passed away. I should not have drowned that anger and sorrow in alcohol. I know now that they went to heaven and their passing was more of a time to celebrate.
While my story was not overly dramatic, I did hit a point where I was at rock bottom, when I was getting so drunk I was falling down in front of moving vehicles. I could have been killed, but God spared me, and I slowly came back to Him. It took me a long time to grasp the Bible and read it with clear understanding. There are so many good translations out there that can bring any audience to know and understand God. I recommend “The Action Bible,” to give you a one of a kind perspective on the colorful characters and stories of the Bible. I recommend reading as many faith based books as possible, and replacing violent and obscene movies with those that speak the truth about God. I have seen God work miracles in the lives around me. My brother and his wife were blessed with a beautiful daughter after years of remaining barren, but never giving up on prayer and faith God would one day bring them a child. My parents’ story about how they prayed when given the diagnosis that I would be completely deaf and I would become the “miracle baby” to the doctors when I suddenly showed signs of only partial hearing loss. God blessed me with Katie and the joy we had is a period of time I will always hold dear. God blessed me with patience to wait to find the right home that turned out to be an incredible deal. I have been blessed with great coworkers at Publix who have allowed me to share my faith and spend fellowship together with.
For anyone who might read this who is deaf, or hearing impaired, whether you are atheist, agnostic, Christian, Catholic, or some other religion; I hope that you do not blame God for your impairment. If you have made mistakes in your past like I have, I just want to assure you, no matter how great the mistakes or the “sin,” Jesus still loves you and is waiting for you. And God forgives all who come to His Son in humble thanksgiving. I have learned from my mistakes and made a better life for myself. I do not want you to make the same mistakes as me. That is why I wanted to tell this story. I want you to be smart and do the right thing for your life that will make you happy forever.
For parents of deaf and hearing impaired children. I just want to stress the importance of teaching your children ASL (American Sign Language), and for you parents to learn as well so you can speak to your child and give them another opportunity to communicate with others. While hearing aides have improved drastically and will most likely continue to improve in the future, knowing ASL helps them, especially in times when an ASL translator is present.
For those who are considering to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and become a “Born-again” Christian, go for it! There are countless stories of people turning their lives around thanks to the healing power of Jesus Christ. If you don’t believe me, just Google it. Look at the stories of sports stars that found second chances through their newfound faith and commitment to Jesus. Find a Christian Family store and take home a few of those powerful memoirs or uplifting movies. Stop filling your life with negativity and whatever is trending. Find the right church. It’s not easy. It took me moving to 12 different churches until I find the one that I connected with and became a forever family with. Don’t lose patience because attending church and having a place to worship is important to help keep your faith strong.
I want to thank you for reading my testimony. I hope it offers some insight and promise. I have come to realize three things in my life: God is great, my life is good, people are crazy. Of those three, only one I can and need to control. God is always great. People will always be crazy. How I view my life is up to me. I know I am blessed and have a good life. I may not be famous or rich, but I have everything I need. I have a wonderful family that I can not thank enough for all they have done throughout my life. I have wonderful friends who will always do all they can to help me out. I met and spent 11 months loving the most beautiful woman, Katie, who I will always say these six words to: “I love you so much, forever.” We have moved on, but we will always remain friends.
Thank you and God Bless you all.