Jimmie Bratcher — A Miracle Meeting
Volume 2, Issue 2
Written by Jimmie Bratcher and Jessica Strong   

Jimmie:
CapWJimmieandJessicahat can overcome abandonment?  How much love is necessary to heal decades of rejection?  What kind of power does it take to heal a lifetime of neglect and mistakes?  It takes Divine power that can only come from God’s power to save, heal, restore, and forgive.  This is a story about my family coming in contact with that kind of wild, raw power.  God unleashed Himself on my family earlier this year in a manner that changed every aspect of our lives in the most wonderful way.  It is “beyond all I could ask or think.”

As a parent, I only want the best for my kids, but in raising them I have made many mistakes. I have asked God, my wife, and my kids to forgive me; and they have all shown me the honor of forgiving my mistakes and loving me in spite of them.

I thought I could never intentionally hurt one of my kids, but I must confess I have, and I have hurt them very deeply.  But this story is not about my regrets; instead it’s about God’s goodness to my family and His faithfulness to my children even when I was not.

YoungJimmieI have never tried to hide my past from anyone. I have been very vocal about the drug-crazed lifestyle that I lived, and I regret the way I was before I met Jesus. In 1971, I was 17- years-old and crazy. Just being 17 is crazy enough, but when you add drugs and alcohol the crazy is multiplied. I was dating a girl and doing all the wrong things when one night she told me that she was pregnant. At 17, there was no way I was ready for that news, so I simply chose not to believe it. I didn’t hear another word from her for nearly 39 years. But just because I didn’t believe her that night, didn’t mean it wasn’t true. All that time passed and I was hurting one of my own children. Her name is Jessica.

Jessica:
BallerinasWhen I was growing up, I was a bit of a princess — not the pink room, baby doll princess, but the beautiful Swan Lake kind.  I started dancing at 4-years-old and it was then I noticed that when all the other little ballerinas were picked up by their daddy from lessons, my daddy didn’t pick me up; my grandfather did.  At 9 years old I was sitting with my mom in her car waiting for my sister to come out of her friend’s house.  I asked her, “Who’s my daddy?” Probably scrambling for words, she gave me enough to satisfy my 9-year-old curiosity.  She said his name was Jimmie Bratcher, he loved to play guitar, and he had curly hair. That sort of appeased me for the time being.  A year or so later, I was at a friend’s house.  Her dad was home from work and he was laughing and tickling and hugging her.  That was the first time I ever really felt jealous that I only had a grandpa and not a daddy.

As the years went by, life moments happened and I would remember there was no daddy.  At 13, my mother was having a great deal of trouble with one of my siblings and in her marriage.  I was close behind my brother, experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and being tempted by boys.  I was given a choice to stay with my mom or go with my grandparents and my brother. My sister and baby brother were going to live with their dad.  At that moment I wished I had a daddy to go to, but I didn’t and I wasn’t leaving my brother.  At barely 18, I graduated high school where my mother, grandparents, and big brother cheered me across the stage, but no daddy.  I had my eyes set on a guy who was “trouble.”  Partying and running the streets was my life when my grandparents weren’t looking.  A friend asked me what I would do if I met my dad and as I smoked my cigarette and drank my whiskey I said, “I would probably punch him in the face.”

At 20, after some terrible decisions that left me near homelessness, I enlisted in the Army as the only escape I could see from my mistakes. I was terrified, alone, and lost.  There was no one there to guide me, to tell me which path to take; so I told the recruiter, “I’m leaving this month or I’m not leaving at all.”

It didn’t take long for the partying and distractions to catch up with me. When I was almost 22, I got married to a decent guy, but the wrong guy. There was no daddy to walk me down the aisle, and no daddy to tell me he wasn’t the guy for me.  When I gave birth to a son, my mother was there, but no daddy.  At 24, my marriage failed and there was no daddy to wipe my tears.  At 27, I remarried and we had a son, but there was no daddy.  We were stationed out of the country when I was picking out my wedding dress and I wondered, “If we were in the U.S. would my grandfather walk me down the aisle so I didn’t feel so broken?”  I wrote my grandfather a letter and asked him, “If my husband and I ever have a real wedding will you give me away?”  He, of course, said “Yes,” but this should have been a daddy job.

dadgiftboxAt this point I began healing a lot of broken places in my life (or so I thought).  I packaged the hurts, the abuse, and the empty places up in pretty little boxes with bows, and locked them in a closet in my heart never to be seen again (if I had anything to say about it).  One of those boxes had a label that read, “Dad.”

A few more years passed and it was 2007.

I wasn’t in the military anymore.  Things were ok, but not great. There was still a lot of drinking and a lot of wandering around in the dark.  I had been searching for “something” for a couple of years without much success, until I walked into a Christmas Eve service with one of my boys where my life was changed forever.  I had no idea what God had in store for me.

At this church service I crossed paths with an old friend from my military days where she was very much like me: broken, surviving life, and getting by on the lies of the world.  That’s who she was then, but the girl I saw before me was something different.  Someone different stood there.  Over the next year, I accepted Christ into my life and realized the difference in her was Him.  Seeing the difference He made for her, and what I saw in her eyes and her actions, made me hunger for Him too.

By summer of 2010, I was on fire.  I couldn’t get enough Scripture, Bible studies, or serving in ministry.  In June, my sister called me and said a preacher at her church gave the most amazing testimony and the music was amazing, and that I should look him up online.  I asked her his name… Jimmie Bratcher.

I dropped the phone, stunned.  When I picked it up, I asked her if she knew who that was, but she didn’t.  When I told her who Jimmie Bratcher was to me, we both cried.

A few months later God started telling me, “I have something for you.” “Don’t be afraid.” “Trust Me.”  There is no clarity to what He was whispering, no specifics, just “trust Me” and “surrender.”  Over the next few months, broken pieces of me were healed.  Things were stripped away and replaced.  A dear friend, knowing that I knew how to find my dad, asked me, “What have you done about the father situation?”  I told her “Nothing” and boldly stated, “Until God says I have to deal with it, I’m just not up for that right now.  I’m quite happy to pretend like it’s not there.”

Jimmie:
February 13, 2011 was a busy weekend.  Sherri and I were speaking at a marriage seminar, and I was getting ready to speak for the sixth time that weekend, when I heard a voice in my heart say, “I’m going to change your life.”  I knew that voice to be the voice of God.  In my mind I started trying to reason just what that change was going to be.  We finished the last service and headed for the airport to fly home.

On the way, I received an email from Jessica’s mother.  It was the first time I had heard anything from her since that night in 1971.  The email read like this: “I think it’s way overdue for you to meet your daughter and grandsons.  Look her up on Facebook.  Her name is Jessica.  She doesn't know about you yet.”

I responded immediately, expressing my desire and delight to meet Jessica, went to Facebook and sent her a friend request.  Then I started feeling a very, very deep grieving in my soul; it was as deep and heavy as anything I have ever felt.  It felt just like I had lost a close loved one.  It was a prayer very deep, very heavy, and more like a groan “Oh God, Jessica.”  It was all I could say. She was all I could think of.  I was barely functional from that moment on.  I had hurt one of my precious children and all I could do is cry out to God for His help “Oh God, Jessica.”

Jessica:
In the middle of the Daytona 500 and my preparations to run errands, I stopped to check my email and there it was: a friend request from Jimmie Bratcher.  Dumbfounded, I showed the computer to my husband who looked at me funny and asked if that was the guy that’s supposedly my dad.  I nodded, numb.  I walked out to the truck and headed toward town.  I don’t remember the drive.  I remember talking to my sister and telling her what had happened.  She consoled me as I bawled with fear, grief, distress, confusion, and so many other emotions I cannot even identify.

Then my phone bleeped: an email from my mother. “Call me when you can talk, it’s important.”  My mother never does that.  I called, and before she can say anything I asked, “Is that who I think it is?” Sure enough, it was.

After what seemed like an eternity of crying, blowing my nose, and asking God if He thought this was funny, I wandered through the store like a zombie getting the items on my list.  I got back in the truck, drove home, and promptly fell to pieces.  For three weeks after that, I processed the emotions through prayer, Scripture, talking to my husband, friends, family, and a counselor.  I wandered through work every day the same way I wandered through the store on February 13th.

In every Scripture and devotional I touched, God showed me, “It’s going to be fine.  Just listen to Me and I’ll get you through this.”  Everything pointed to a few specific things.  God’s wisdom and love shined so brightly in this time. “Don’t be afraid.  Don’t rush.  Take baby steps.  I won’t let you fall.  Trust Me, this is good.” As much as I wanted to ignore that friend request, I couldn’t.  On March 8th I sent him an email that said:

“Years ago I dealt with my emotions surrounding your absence and packed them up in a pretty little box in my heart.  Now, after living my life not knowing of my father, the little girl in me wants to run to you, arms wide open; however, the women in me wants to ask where you’ve been and why now.

Now I have to wipe off the dust and look at it all again. For a very long time I was hurt and felt rejected and unwanted; at other times I was incredibly angry that there would not be a father to see me dance, watch as I graduated, or give me away when I got married.  After so long you’re here and it’s hard.  Not unwelcome or unwanted, but very hard, but thanks for showing up.

Jimmie:
It seemed like forever.  I grieved as Jessica processed the pain of me “showing up.”  But now it was time for me to do something I should have done years ago: be Jessica’s father, and I welcomed this opportunity.  First, I needed to do one of the hardest things a father has to do: admit his mistakes and ask his children to forgive him. So I wept and wrote for hours, trying to find words that would heal.  I knew that God was at work in every part of this wonderful event.  He was reaching down through my past, back to a time when I didn’t serve or know Him.  He was showing my family and me His wild, out of control, crazy love for us.  His love started to pour out of every one of us.  I have never experienced anything like it before — so deep, so sacred, so beautiful.

I asked Jessica to forgive me when she could and then I tried to answer her questions.  We began emailing back and forth and on March 10th, I received this quote from Jessica: “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been different.”  WOW.  How does that happen?  How do you go from being abandoned to being accepted?  It has to be Divine; it has to be God’s power unleashed in a willing heart that’s walking on the same road Jesus walked, the road called Forgiveness.  It is beautiful.

What about Sherri, Jason, and Amanda?  How did they feel?  How would they handle this huge change in our family?  Friends that knew what was happening asked, “How’s Sherri?”  Sherri and Amanda said the same exact thing without knowing what the other had said.  Sherri came to me and said, “We have a great life, a great family, and a great marriage, but I’ve always felt like something was missing and Jessica and her family are the missing part.”  A few days later Amanda said the exact same thing.  Jason’s approach was completely different.  He said, “Well, I’ve heard all those wild stories about your past so this doesn’t surprise me at all.”  All of them are thrilled.

Then Jessica invited Sherri and me to have dinner with her and her husband on March 14th.  I was completely thrilled; for the first time I would hear her voice, see her smile, and feel her touch.  As we pulled into the parking lot, there she stood.  She looks just like me — I mean exactly like me.  As a father, I know what it is like to see your child for the first time.  I saw it with Jason and Amanda, and now Jessica.  What would her first words be?  Would she... could she accept me?  There we stood, face to face.

I waited anxiously for her first words.  Now friends who know me know that I never use words like “Hi or Hello;” I’m just too cool for that!  I mainly say “Hey” (with a very cool nod of the head.)  There we stood, face-to-face, and then she said “Hey” (with a very cool nod of the head!)  It was like I was listening to myself.  It was so wild!  She said “Hey, I’m a hugger.”  Then she threw her arms around me and we wept.

We then went into the restaurant and sat staring/ studying each other’s face.  For me it was shocking.  It was like looking at me in the mirror (except a much prettier version of me.)  We stared at each other back and forth, it seemed like for hours.

Then again I asked Jessica to forgive me.  She listened to my request, then reached across the table, grabbed my hand and said “Well, you’re here now and we can’t change the past, so we’re cool.”  It had happened!  Forgiveness had happened and from that point we began.  We started sharing our lives with each other.  It was, and still is, a wild discovery as we uncover traits in each other that only God could have made.

Jessica:
From February 13th until March 8th, I wrestled with the emotions that were swirling around me.  No matter how I tried to ignore this request, and how I tried to let my busy life of work, family, and friends overcome me, it wouldn’t.  Every sermon I heard, every devotional I read, every scripture I pondered, God kept saying one thing to me: “Trust Me.”  I continued for three weeks to ignore that friend request and the possibilities it held.  Everyone I talked to was someone who hadn’t grown up with a father and had later met him.  They warned me, “Be careful, you don’t know how it will end.”

A coworker of my husband told him about meeting his dad and how it ended with this coworker saying, “Please leave and never come back.”  But God continued to say, “Trust Me.”  Finally, after receiving a message asking if he could come to my house, I looked at my husband and said, “I don’t think I can ignore him anymore.”  So, together we sat down and wrote an email in reply.  As we wrote, we laughed, and there was peace.  There was no fear.  All my anxieties left me and I was comfortable for the first time since February 13th.

I sent the email on March 8th.  I explained to him my apprehensions in meeting him, but that yes, we could meet.  My only concern at this point was that we wouldn’t get along or be able to have a relationship.  I soon saw that fear alleviated.  He and I began exchanging email and text messages.  Over the five days we waited for that special day to arrive, I realized something was happening that I never could have hoped for:  I had a Daddy.  I wasn’t angry or abandoned or rejected or alone anymore.  That little girl had won, and the woman was whole.  God took away all my pain from the years of rejection and abandonment, and I was able to see a love I never imagined from both my dad and my Father.

On March 14th, when I watched them pull in, I kind of giggled to myself amidst my nerves and said to my husband, “They weren’t kidding when they said they were a couple of hippies; that’s definitely a hippie vehicle.”  I saw before me an aging white van and a long haired guy driving.

When he got out and walked around the van, I realized I was looking in the mirror.  For most of my life, I thought I looked like my mother, but was I wrong! When I said, “Hey, I’m a hugger,” the shakes left; the nervousness and anxiety were gone.  As we hugged, I knew this was the start of something incredible.  I knew I had my daddy for the first time in my life.

Jimmie:
In the next few days, so many wonderful miracles were revealed to us as Sherri and I met the four grandsons, each a gift from God.  As we shared stories, Jessica looked at me and said, “We have all this history or lack of history; this is what it’s like: It’s like a book and God has turned the page and the page is blank and we get to write whatever we want.”

Easter Sunday morning, 2011, was our first church service together.  I was up early thinking about the day when Jessica gave me a gift, a coffee mug covered with daddy names and full of her favorite candy bar (that just happens to be mine, too.)

As I wept, feeling the love of the moment, she touched my face, looked me in the eyes and said, “It’s just like you were always here.”  What mercy, what forgiveness, what love made it possible?  It was the love of an out of control, loving God who made us to be family.  It was and is “beyond all I could ask or think.”

Forgiven, accepted, reconciled; you would think I would be whole, but still in my heart I felt that gnawing of guilt, shame, and regret. I mentioned it to Sherri, Jason, and Jessica while we were talking one day.  It was like they unleashed a torrent of rebuke on me, not harsh but loving.  As I listened to their words, these words from Jessica penetrated my religious, ego-driven heart: “I won't live my life like that and I don’t expect you to live your life like that either.”  I was stunned and said “I don’t have a problem with the guilt and shame, but the regret — you’ll have to give me that one.”

What?  I think I’ll just hang on to this destructive emotion that God, Jessica, or none of my family was expecting from me.  I wanted to hang on to the past while everyone else was moving on.  It was crazy.  So, like guilt and shame, I said goodbye to regret and embraced the overwhelming love of my family and Jesus.

What have I learned now months into our lives and families being transformed?  First, all things really are possible to those who believe.  They really are.  Second, love never fails.  It is the indefensible strategy of Heaven.  Third, after talking with hundreds of people with similar stories, something common has come to light: Like Jessica and hundreds I have spoken with, the thing that keeps us apart is no one knows what to do, so no one does anything.  We just don’t know where to start, so rather than risk making a mistake or being hurt we do nothing and live separated.

I know there are many of you with similar stories, so we are going to ask you to do something!  That’s it: “Do something.”  What?  Pray?  Yes.  Believe?  Yes.  Listen to God?  Of course.  For some, your something will be to do nothing.  For others, it may be to wait.  But for some of you, it will be to make the call, do the research, and take the trip.

We (my entire family) were all missing something wonderful — something that would heal us, something that would fill is.  We all knew something was missing, but we couldn’t see it.

For many, what you could be missing is that one act of forgiveness that leads to overwhelming love and acceptance.  For others, you may need to receive forgiveness that has been offered.  I just know that life is too short to live with your heart full of the hard things life may have thrown at you, when God can and will give you a new beginning.  He can give you a new start.

I invite you to take this wonderful journey and experience His love and forgiveness. PivotPointEndingBug

TheFamily

The Reverend Jimmie Bratcher is the President and Founder of Ransom Ministries, Inc., which is dedicated to assist churches with evangelistic services and to model effective ministry beyond the walls of the Church.  Evangelist, author, singer, songwriter and guitarist, “The Rev” preaches in churches every Sunday, but on Saturday nights you’ll find him sharing his amazing testimony and blistering guitar licks onstage in blues clubs and at music festivals, prisons and biker rallies throughout US & UK.

He has appeared at venues along with Christian artists including Mercy Me, Newsboys and Third Day, and with blues/ rock greats including Leon Russell, ZZ Top, Bob Dylan, Grammy winner David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Otis Taylor, and Hubert Sumlin, one of Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”

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