As a writer, using words as part of my life has been important for a long, long time. It's something that calls for me to use my mind, heart, and soul in the creative process.
It’s been quite a journey, starting all the way back to when I knew that I wanted to be a sports writer in high school.
At that point, I wanted to go cover every major sporting event in the world – World Series, Super Bowl, Olympics, Final Four, World Cup, you name it. My dream was to work for a major metropolitan newspaper in the United States, and I did reach that point…only to have heartache along the way.
I started my career as a clerk in the sports department at the Beaumont Enterprise in Beaumont, Texas (where I was raised). A decade later, I was hired as a sports copy editor for the Houston Post – a newspaper where my uncle had been managing editor for back in the 1970s (he’d long since retired when I got there in 1993).
This was my dream! It was coming true! Yet the personal life – something that was definitely a trend in my world – drove a knife into it. My mother went into the second of her long nervous breakdowns, leading to numerous hospital and treatment center stays, doctor’s appointments, long drives between Houston and Madisonville, Texas, and pretty much not allowing for “free time” outside of night work. It took a toll on me mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
I’d kept working in the corporate world all along, first for Jefferson-Pilot and then The Hearst Corp. (owners of the Enterprise) and for the company run by William Dean Singleton, owner of the Post. Corporate management is a very weird animal to figure out, especially when it comes to connecting with employees and seeing them as human beings.
After the Post was sold to the Houston Chronicle (owned by Hearst) and closed its doors in 1995, I started searching for a new role outside of newspapers and journalism. My entrepreneurial spirit kicked into high gear, launching Influence Communications and The Writing Coach over the next few years. Neither one clicked. I was a miserable flop at it all.
Because I needed the money (a trend you’ll notice here), I went back to working part-time at the Chronicle in 1999 and would, at times, work 12-13 straight days (my choice) in different departments. I was working hard for the money yet sacrificing my soul along the way.
In 2003, I did leave the Chronicle on my own choice (another oft-repeated trend) to pursue a life as an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church. I spent a year before this time being guided and assisted in the process. I did a lot of reading and writing not only about biblical interpretations but also understanding Methodism itself. Taking the journey proved exciting as I entered TCU’s Brite Divinity School and was on my way…until that trip ended after a failed evaluation.
Left with little choice, I again turned my attention to newspapers and took a job in Kerrville, Texas…only to be fired three months later because I didn’t muster up to the managing editor’s demands. I loved living in Kerrville and dreamed of being there a lot longer. Three months later, I landed another gig in Killeen, Texas and moved to the area, then – for the first of four different times – moved to live in Austin, Texas. I loved that town ever since I was a kid because my father grew up there, went to The University of Texas at Austin (as did my mom) and I’ve loved the Longhorns ever since.
I always sought to grow and rise to another challenge. After 15-plus months in Killeen, I took a job as news editor for the paper in Laredo, Texas, along the US-Mexico border. I’d never lived in a border town before this time, nor had I really spent time in one either. It was a different landscape for sure and I learned a lot in this first of two tenures there. Unfortunately, depression – a stalwart emotional state within my family – bit my ass really hard in 2005. I was simply “going through the motions” of life on the outside and seeing darkness on the inside. It was miserable. I finally told the editor, who remains a true friend to this day, that I had to go get some help and leave.
So I did and moved back to Austin (time No. 2) and lived there for about 18 months. I sent out resumes, made phone calls, went to networking events, used social media, etc., and still did not land a full-time role. I was financially supported by my family during this time, and I’m grateful for it. That also came with an emotional price, too.
Family dynamics always blended in with my professional life. There never was a separation between “Joe goes to his job and we leave him alone” and “Joe goes to his job and we call him when we need him no matter what the problem is at all.”
No wonder I ended up in therapy.
No wonder I drank a lot.
No wonder I kept running and running and running.
Therapy helped me. It helped me reconcile with my father in 1997 after being apart for more than a decade, leading us to become best friends and really close all the way up to his death in 2004. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wish Dad had lived a few more years because it felt like we were just getting started.
It also helped me deal with unresolved emotional issues stemming from my youth and my relationship with my mother and her side of the family. I found my way out to the Arizona desert for a week at a treatment center in 2001, and it proved to be a pivotal turning point in my entire life.
What about my career? I went back in 2008 to work in Laredo for nearly two years as business editor, holding down roles as a columnist, reporter, copy editor, page designer, and photographer all for the paper’s weekly business journal product. I got burned out (another trend) and left in July 2010 to move back (No. 3) to Austin. It was another case where “I thought” I had something lined up after leaving only to see it all flop. Consequences hit me, too.
Seeing your car repossessed is no fun (No. 1 of 3 times).
In 2011, I got an opportunity with the El Paso Times to be an assistant city editor – a sort-of leader to help guide reporters in their stories. I was so grateful for the chance and moved from Austin to El Paso. This time, the move to this border town was a bit more comfortable…and I love the mountains anyway.
Yet life again would intercede. In the decade-plus time preceding my move to El Paso, my mother’s health continued to decline both mentally and physically. My grandmother’s death in 2001 left Mom feeling awfully lonely. I made sure she had a lot of help around her but all she wanted was me. That was not going to let me have a life of my own, something I really believe she never wanted me to have at all.
In the months after I arrived in El Paso, her health went down rather quickly. She had been in and out of hospice care for years…but the last time proved to be it as she died in October 2011. My job in El Paso was secure, or at least I thought it was until a wave of cuts began in the Times’ ownership company. My role was cut in March 2012, exactly one year after I started working there. Combined with losing a relationship and my cousin’s death after a brave fight with cancer, I was reeling.
I moved from El Paso to Phoenix for six months, believing that I would find work there. I had to find work out there. After all, the Valley of the Sun was a hot place (no pun intended) to work.
I couldn’t find a long-term role, and had to turn in (repo No. 2) my beloved Ford F-150 truck. It served me so well and I loved that sucker a lot. Near the end of 2012, I moved to Fort Worth, Texas, staying with a friend of mine for a stretch and then finding my own place. I started getting a job here and there, ultimately being able to get myself out of a pretty deep financial hole. It was great. I felt wonderful. I was on track. I was doing life and loving it.
Then I got scared. I started seeing the jobs go away after I pared down three jobs at once to just one, and that one disappeared after a few months of working for a company in the substance abuse field. My fear led me to not listen to my intuition (bad move) and take a role with a newspaper in Casa Grande, Ariz., a town between Tucson and Phoenix.
The pay was OK but not great, yet I believed that I would be able to have freelance work coupled with this job to make everything stay level.
I worked in that role for a family-owned company for about 18 months with one week off. That was it. Again, burnout was my friend and I left on good terms yet totally shot.
I “thought” I had some other work lined up outside of that role, only to see it go up in flames. In a matter of a couple of months, I found myself facing eviction from my home. I stayed until the very last day, hoping against hope that I would raise the money to stay there.
It didn’t happen and I left. A few nights in hotels and good-hearted souls giving me a bed, couch or floor later, I kept looking for work in Phoenix. I had a couple of interviews that went well, yet nothing happened. I applied for a role with a company back in – you guessed it! – Austin and I accepted it because I needed the job and money and to get out of Phoenix.
I dumped a lot of personal possessions there. I’ve done the same thing in recent years, too, stripping down to the bare basics while – again – losing my home because I left a job and didn’t have anything else lined up.
Losses, both professional and personal, have littered my life. Rebounding from those losses and even writing about some of them publicly has been a powerful way to transform defeat into victory.
I’ve had a few relationships in my life yet never have been married and don’t have kids. I have been a cat owner a few times and I dig dogs, too. Heck, I even spent time with an owner of unique creatures and found myself with a python wrapped around my neck for a minute or two.
There is a lot to me, just as there is a lot to you. Our stories might be a little different, yet losses, success, failure, heartache, love, passion, and empathy are all part of them.
My life’s mission statement is this: “I heal emotionally-wounded people through spirituality, education, and love.”
I know. You are now saying, "Um, when did this Jesus thing start happening?"
In 2000, where I began to hear a still, small voice within me. It startled me for a bit.
It continued for a few months. I got curious and wanted to know if this was real or just something I was imagining, so I asked this voice who it was. "It is I, Jesus of Nazareth, speaking to you" was the response.
This is something that has continued since that year and I've kept this part of my life hidden. I mean...who's going to believe that someone can channel Jesus of Nazareth through them? It's Jesus after all.
But I reached a point where I felt like this gift needed to be shared with other people around the world.
This is where "The Jesus Chats" started to take shape officially in December 2019.
Many people have received a message of love and comfort. It's beautiful to know that I can share this gift and it helps people live better lives.