Don "Known, Needed, Loved"

Photography by    Randy Bacon

Photography by Randy Bacon

My name is Don and I hope you see a theme that is intrinsic and evident throughout my journey through life so far. As much as I seek to avoid telling you a story that resembles a sermon, greater is my desire to remain truthful, real & loyal to that theme that has characteristically steered my journey to where I’m at today…

I was raised going to a Baptist Church and thought of myself as always being a Christian. My parents strayed from church and their walk which left me to interpret God, the meaning of life, marriage, and many other things, as best as I could with what I had been provided. I did what I thought I was supposed to, in that I lived my life on my terms and turned to God during times of helplessness, hopelessness, or any situation I couldn’t resolve on my own, which created overwhelming anxiety and a sense of no direction. Then I became angry and frustrated when it seemed he wasn't answering. My conditional turning to God continued in my life until one day as I found myself in my fourth failing marriage, estranged from my two older children & failing my two younger children partially due to a toxic lifestyle of actively abusing alcohol to escape the painful life I had created for myself and once again contemplating suicide.

Allow me to provide a little perspective. Although I made it through school having no clue what profession I wanted to pursue, the inner need to serve others and do whatever I could to help those around me led me to the police academy and a successful career in law enforcement that lasted fifteen years, five of those years as a D.A.R.E. Officer, and two of those years I received awards for M.A.D.D Officer of the Year. The relevance of these facts surface as you continue to read my story. My law enforcement career spanned from 1993 to 2008. I then continued to help & serve in the healthcare field and also appreciated ten years as a Security Specialist on the Missouri-1 Disaster Medical Team. I don’t share my pedigree to boost my own ego, rather to provide perspective to the weight of the trauma I experienced when the bottom fell out of my life.

Life began to spiral out of control for me in 2008 and I hit bottom in that very same year. I was fired from my job and ran into multiple closed doors when I tried to bounce back. I was unfaithful to my wife. A very long & painful battle for custody modification ended with a phone call from my attorney with a harsh realization that I would have to accept going from being a part-time father, to a part-time, part-time father. As my problems mounted, I desperately sought relief from the weight of the pain and sense of failure piling up. I began to believe that life would never get better as I found myself facing struggles and challenges that I simply did not have the tools to employ to help me cope. Eventually, I just wanted to stop waking up and living in pain, hurt and sinking further into a life of failure. I faced multiple legal challenges because I was trying to remain functional as I slipped further & further into alcohol abuse. I was arrested multiple times for DWI and to this very day, I am so thankful I never physically hurt anyone in a horrific accident.  

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Even though I knew I should not drink and drive, and even though I knew that alcohol was not the answer to my problems and would or could ever solve my problems or lead me back into the lifestyle I once had. I quickly realized I took for granted most of the benefits of life I used to enjoy, on many levels. The pain and hurt was so great, my days soon revolved around doing whatever it took to not feel. The only time I couldn’t feel was when I was sleeping. Therefore, my alcohol abuse became a continuous cycle of drinking until I passed out, and when I woke, I would just continue the cycle. For the better part of three years, this was how I lived, on a couch, with no purpose or goals in life. This pattern couldn’t continue forever and for me and where I was mentally, there was only one way out.

On March 9th, 2011 the enemy had poured so many toxic lies into me and I was convinced that an alcoholic who was a poor excuse for a father, an even worse husband, who had just wrecked his wife's Mercedes; had no place in this world. I was at the point where I knew that I needed to stop ruining the lives of those who loved me and if I really loved them, I would do them justice by ending my life. Yes, the enemy had some really good rational lies that helped me rationalize my actions when I pulled the trigger that fateful day. I found my service weapon as the tool to take care of business. My mind was so unstable that I had decided not to shoot myself in the head because I didn’t want my children to find that mess; seems logical, until you consider that I had concluded that that mess was too much, but that finding their father dead was okay. That afternoon I shot myself in the stomach and coupled with severe intoxication, I quickly lost consciousness and breathed my last breath...or so I thought.  

A week later I awoke in the hospital with very little memory of what took place, but the overwhelming feeling of guilt & shame covered me thickly. The surgeon that saved my life walked in the room and looked around to as if to make sure no one else was there as he looked me in the eyes and said, "Look, I don't say this to people but someone was looking out for you that day. When they radioed and described what they were lifeflighting in, I thought for sure, you would be dead on my table. When I cut you open, I looked for damage but somehow the bullet missed every vital organ, vein, vessel and ureter. You nicked your bowel and I had to cut out about six inches. You’ll have a colostomy for about twelve months and then it can be reversed. You’ll be fine.” He started to walk out of the room and then stopped just before reaching for the door, turned, and said, “What I don’t get is how a 9mm bullet that leaves the barrel at 1200 feet per second travels less than four inches and stops before taking out your spine.”

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As the tears came and the guilt and shame were slowly washed away, I clearly saw that God chose to let me know and make it very real to me that he was in fact very real and very much alive and at work in our lives. I had always heard stories of God and had an idea of who he was, but that never really meant anything to me personally and with vivid reality. This was the day God chose to reveal just how real he was and just how huge of a role he was to play in my life’s journey. He also knew that for me, I would need to be shown all of who he was in doses. This was my first real life dose of God and it was surreal and unbelievable. The reality of God didn’t miraculously fix every issue in my life that was the source of pain and hurt, so as you are probably guessing, while recovering from my injuries, I began to abuse alcohol again.

The toxic and destructive alcohol filled lifestyle resulted in yet another DWI arrest. This time I was charged with a felony and the weight and seriousness of life, which should have registered a long time prior to this, became very, very real & I was terrified. Ironically, I was arrested in the jurisdiction where I was formally a deputy sheriff and upon being booked into jail, I was immediately placed into protective custody. Protective custody for a cop in a jail filled with criminals sounds like a good thing on the surface, however, the reality is that I was all alone in a jail cell for twenty-three hours a day with nothing to do but get into my own head. Although I was let out for one hour a day, it was usually at 2 or 3 in the morning so I couldn’t call my children, family, or anyone.  

After about four months into a seven month period of being incarcerated, I was standing in my cell one day when a guy came around with a cart of books. He stopped at my cell and asked me if I wanted one. Even though I was extremely bored and desperately searching for something to do to occupy my time, I really did not like to read. So, I looked at him and asked him to give me the smallest book he had. He handed me a small book that was around three-hundred pages called, “The Shack.” The day came when I was forcing myself to read and I came to the part in the story where the main character was speaking with an angel. Prior to this point in the story, his four year old daughter was kidnapped, raped & murdered when he took his kids on a family camping trip. As he is speaking with the angel, she points out that he has two children left but he can only save one and must choose. He tells her, I love them both, I can’t choose. She insists that he must choose. He begins to break down crying and insisting he loves both of his children and cannot choose. She reveals to him - neither can God. We are all his children and he loves us all. I suddenly felt like I was punched in my spiritual gut as I suddenly realized from this story, that God loves me as much as he loves the Pastor behind the pulpit, even with all of my screw ups and mistakes.  

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I hit my knees and cried out to God in desperation and feeling as though a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I was raw and real and honest in realizing that forty-three years of my best planning lead me down a path that ended in a jail cell, removed from society and my loved ones, and being of no use to anyone, especially myself. It was during those key moments of realization where I truly understood that even though I thought I was saved and walking in this world as a follower of Christ, without the genuine surrender of my control that leads to fervent submission to Christ’s will and purpose for my life, true salvation was questionable.  

Even though there were no magical moments and the sky never split open with angels singing my name, without a doubt, things began to change. Shortly after, I was told that my brother had decided to post my bond and I was able to begin my merge back into society. Although I hadn’t noticed right away, I realized a few weeks later that I had not thought about consuming any alcohol. As my life slowly improved and the problems and pain dissipated, I had no need to numb out by abusing alcohol. I also began to examine just what went wrong along the way that lead me into that season in a valley. What I discovered was the theme I was speaking of initially. I was missing many of the psychological and social tools that are gained in life through parenting moments and from the benefit of having that vital spiritual foundation to always fall back on.  

Although there are absolutely life challenges that come with being labeled a convicted felon, I continue to find that if I accept ownership of the control and choices I had that lead to that label, then no one else can continue to pick up that label and throw it in my face. I’ve also come to realize that this world often convinces us to hide our mistakes, cover our scars of life and even pretend to be someone we are not. However, following that plan never leads to genuine success & fulfillment that results from our true character and life experiences. When we courageously share our life’s journey in raw, honest detail, what happens is your story becomes someone else’s life preserver and even the springboard that launches them into their intended life journey.  

I am living an incredibly fulfilling life, working part time in the medical field while launching a venture to travel as an inspirational speaker. My life is full of friends and rebuilt family relationships as a result of my journey. I have found the inner purpose of my life and I face each day with anticipation and expectations of meeting new people to share the good news I’ve discovered. I hold no reservations in taking the opportunity to begin investing in those relationships to eagerly shed truth into the dark, shadowy lies constantly heard in this world. Confidently sharing with every person I meet that they are known, they are needed & they are loved.

Life is the gift of the opportunity to set out on an adventurous journey to discover your “why” and to pursue that courageously with full confidence that there is no “how” that can stop you.

November, 2018

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