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Risking life; Finding faith

Updated: Apr 14

By Mike Braswell

I have always chosen to write stories of encouragement and hope. It has been challenging for me as of late to do so. My heart has been seriously damaged by a series of unfortunate events. My own selfishness has driven me to live in a very dark place. A place where nobody understands me and, therefore, nobody can truly love me. That dark and dreary place where my soul can only be damaged is where life leads me if I am absent from faith. That lonely place where nothing seems to thrive except for despair and anguish. Some call it depression, but it is actually neglection. Neglection of the idea of who God is.

I apologize to the few of you who enjoy my writing. So much of what I have to say is centered around 'family' and close friends. I struggle to find the courage to continue, fearing that my apparent depression might infect others. I know very well that so many of you have been through similar tragedies as I have. I, too, know there must be a way to move forward, to 'advance' my spiritual growth.

In fact, I have found that way and wish to share it with you.

I never would even allow myself to consider the loss of a child because even imagining such a tragedy was more than I thought I could withstand. My selfishness would have never even permitted me to understand that any loss that I might have suffered would be shared by others. I would only see my own hurt if God wasn't present in my life.

That, indeed, wasn't the case. My family, my son's wife, her family, and all those people my son's life had touched; were hurt as much as I was and as much as I was. My faith in God, which I had allowed to be shaken so many times in the past, was never threatened. In fact, when I received that phone call, the one all parents fear, coming so early in the morning that instinct prepares you for it even as you fumble around in the darkness to locate your phone. That heavy weight almost bursts your heart even before you hear the words. It was much more tragic when they were spoken by someone who had already stolen my heart. Someone who had let us know their 'first' child was coming. The child that they both dreamed of so fervently. That grandchild that my wife and I loved even before conception. The son that my own son wanted more than anything else. The son that will now be born without meeting his dad. The dad who will never know that his child was to be a son. Of course, a daughter would have been loved just as much. My son so loved children.

Our family had been sure to always attend our Wednesday night 'family meals' at my oldest daughter's house. We had been doing this well before the announcement that God was about to increase our blessings. Our spirits, though, were significantly lifted by the report that we were about to be further blessed with another grandchild.

God had been so good to us that we had taken his blessings for granted. I honestly do not know how we would have been able to get through the death of our son without His comfort. The son that I had to plead with my wife to try and conceive. We already had two girls, and it was a struggle to support our small family, but I wanted a boy to share my passions with.

Our hearts were full when we learned my wife was carrying our son, although she'd have been just as happy for another girl. Eventually, I, too, would have. My spiritual journey began when I realized that God was my friend. He was there for me and only wanted the best for us all. I had previously struggled with that because I lost some of my closest friends just after we were married.

I sincerely hope that using their names doesn't hurt anyone, but I can not bring myself to omit them. They all are a part of what it took to bring me to Christ. I ran from God for so long and turned to drugs to escape the pain. I only wanted to die. I sought to 'run away' and to tune out the heartache. Nobody understood me, and I am sure many had written me off. Frankly, I didn't care at all. I took many chances with my life, hoping my anguish would end. I felt so much guilt for surviving when my friends had all perished.

David and Dawn were the first to go. My young wife and I had been invited to join the couple on that fateful night. They had left Vidalia and were almost home when the truck they were in ran off of Hwy. 297. She was killed instantly, but David survived and was sent to University Hospital in Augusta.

We risked our own lives to visit him in the hospital on a night when the fog was so thick that there was almost zero visibility. Although I was driving, I closed my eyes and prayed for God to spare my friend. Selfishly did I pray, for I knew their love for one another. I knew because I was in love with my wife just as David was with Dawn. I realized that David could never recover spiritually from losing his Dawn. I only wanted him here for myself.

Somehow after my friend David passed away, I held it together somewhat. My faith, however, was diminished. I took it personally that God had done this to 'Me.' I never considered how hurt the people around me who loved them both were affected. My prayers had seemingly fallen on deaf ears. There was no God.

At David's funeral, I was moved by my friend Gary's grief. I witnessed him bawling yet comforting other friends of the pair. I felt a little jealous that I wasn't the one who hugged and comforted our friends. No, it was my lifelong friend Gary who did that. I began to wonder if something was lacking in me. Why wasn't I capable of comforting others? I know now that it was the selfishness that lived within my own heart.

Then one night, I received that phone call. 'Gary is dead, had a wreck, and was in so much pain that he took his own life before the ambulance arrived.' He and I had used the gun he had taken his life with on many occasions to target practice, sometimes on public property that shouldn't have been used for target practice.

We lived in Savannah by then, but we rushed home. The funeral was the most challenging thing I had experienced at the time. My heart was shredded as I hugged Gary's mother to comfort her. I blamed God, as my heart turned to stone. I soon became addicted to hard drugs and blamed God and myself for the losses I (selfishly) had suffered. I went off the deep end.

I abandoned my wife pretty much. She was raising our two children at the time. I associated myself with some 'big-time' criminals. I hung around with killers and cutthroats. I appeared as a witness on several occasions in Chatham County courtrooms for drug lords and worse. I became lost in the world of cocaine and whatever else came my way.

At some point, I was blessed to have been given the strength to ask for help, but my friend Robbie drowned before I could. I was convinced that 'I was the problem.' I didn't care anymore about living and began taking significant risks with my life. I'd go out twenty miles offshore at night alone in a thirteen-foot boat and fish for twelve hours or more before returning. I had no compass, navigation equipment, or anything else besides what it took to catch fish.

Eventually, I began taking a friend along. He once asked me why I only took him. "Because you are expendable like me." That was my 'matter-of-fact' reply, and my friend accepted it without question. He lost his mother as a teen, and I always knew he shared my desire to 'let nature take its toll.' We both had a death wish but were too afraid to end our lives conventionally.

Out of respect for this paper, I will pause my story here. I would like to resume it in the next issue if I can at least get some response from our readers. While this is a very personal story, it should be told. I can't bear the thought that others like me may have either lost faith or never had it.

That all of this occurred several years ago and I am still here should keep you interested enough to desire to follow up. The fact that even through all the tragedy that has occurred in my life and the lives of those I love should inspire you to reconsider any dark thoughts that may haunt you. If there is a motto to my life thus far, it is, 'never give up.' Seek faith, and you shall find it. I love all of you, and life has taught me that hope will endure when all else seems futile.