Written by James Ramsey
Twenty-two years ago, I was struggling to figure out who I was and why I was here. I was someone who didn’t fit into the box where I was told I belong….and that I would fit if I’d just work harder. Even though I was a creative person, I was told that the future was in Computer Science and that I needed to study that in college. So, I went off to Texas State in San Marcos and failed miserably. To be fair, I failed before I got there. I was already knee deep in coping with my sense of failure by numbing the confusion with drugs and alcohol. My identity was wrapped up in being the life of the party and spending most of my waking hours intoxicated. There were two things from my childhood that I stood firm on. From my dad came a work ethic to never let anyone outwork me and from my mom came, “just do whatever makes you happy”. So, I did whatever made me happy and did it better than anyone else. Really… I was good at it!
The problem is that I hurt a lot of people in the process. Of course, I justified my actions for years. That was until my selfishness led me to betray a dear friend and cause extreme damage to someone very dear to my heart. At the time, I was good friends with Justin and Jeremy Furstenfeld with the band Blue October. Jeremy and I were roommates and great friends. Justin and I had a special connection that not many people were privileged to have with him. We were family together for quite awhile. Even though I didn’t know what my purpose in life was, for the first time, I felt freedom to express sides of my personality that I hadn’t before. That was extremely refreshing.
However, eventually my self-seeking mindset would cause severe affliction to someone I cared deeply about. I had an affair with Justin’s highschool sweetheart. They weren’t together at the time, but she was still a big part of his life. They shared a huge chunk of their teenage years together and were still really close friends. After a while, someone told Justin they were suspicious about our relationship. Justin asked if she and I could meet up with him one night and he asked us if it were true. I looked him straight in the eye and told him it wasn’t. Knowing the damage it would cause, I justified the lie by not wanting to hurt him. There was some truth in that, but the fact of the matter is that I was a coward and took the easy way out. After all that, I knew I needed to try and straighten my life out. So, I moved back to Houston.
Not long after moving, I went to Austin to see Blue October play on 6th street. Before the concert, I met some friends at another bar and they told me that Justin now knew everything. She had confessed the relationship to him. I told my friends I was going to leave and they talked me into staying. Before the band went on stage that night, I was walking around and I ran into Justin. We were face to face and neither of us said a word. I had never seen an expression of emotional pain like I did that day. The pain that I caused cut him so deep and was a wound that would not soon heal. I left that night and vowed to never cause him to see me again. I should have asked for forgiveness. However, I thought that if he never had to see me again, that would be best. I was wrong. Leaving it like I did only caused more damage. I decided to cut myself off from everyone I knew that had a connection with him. That way I wouldn’t take the risk of him seeing me again. The weight of shame and failure ate at my soul in the coming months. I was at a place of despair and it got worse as time went on. I tried to continue to numb it by feeding my addictions but the aftermath only fed the torment going on inside of me. Then I started to feel something that I’d never experienced before. Something was pulling at me but I was still blinded by my pride and wasn’t willing to let go.
A few months prior, I received a letter from my grandmother while I was in the hospital after a near death accident while driving intoxicated. In this letter, she tells me that I was made on purpose and for a purpose. She said that God loved me, that no matter what I had done in life, He wanted a close relationship with me. She told me that He loved me so much that He sent his son Jesus to die for me. She said that if I would give my life to Jesus, that I would be saved and redeemed by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. She went on to say that God will use me in big ways in my life. Here I was in the hospital from drinking and driving. I was a disappointment to everyone around me. I was a failure and she was telling me that God can use me in big ways. Though I wanted to believe her, I couldn’t see how it was true and I chose to keep living on my own. However, the words that my grandmother spoke did impact me. She lived 12 hours away so I didn’t see her often. But when I did see her, she had something that I didn’t see in other people. There was a joy and peace about her that was intoxicating. I did want what she had.
So, in the coming months, I wrestled with God. This wasn’t something that I was indoctrinated with or that I felt pressured to do. Trust me when I tell you that no one was going to pressure me into anything in life. Remember, I did what I wanted regardless of the consequences. This was as real as anything I had felt before. It’s like I was in a deep pit and someone was lowering a rope and kept telling me to grab hold of it. All the while, I wanted to grab the rope but wasn’t willing to let go of the idea that I could crawl out myself. I would climb up a few feet and then fall back to the bottom. However, this call to pull me up out of the pit kept getting stronger.
Then, I reached my breaking point.
I woke up one morning, after binge drinking the night before, to a phone call from my dad that my mom had passed away. This was an unexpected tragedy. My mom was healthy and had no major health issues. My mom had been my savior. She was the one person in life that I could go to no matter what and know that she’d be there with open arms. Her death was like cutting my lifeline.
I hit the lowest point in my life and I was done working at it. That day I experienced what my grandmother had. Though it was the worst day of my life, it ended up being the best day of my life. As if heaven came down to earth, God met me on my knees on my parent’s driveway in Martindale, just a few miles from San Marcos. I felt the love of a Savior that I was meant to have. I gave my life to Jesus that day.
Some of you may not believe in Jesus and that it’s just a crutch for weak minded people. I can tell you that what I experienced was supernatural. This wasn’t the result of me needing a crutch. Jesus met me where I was and I was reborn into the person that I was meant to be. Sure, I was still a mess in many ways. But I no longer lived in the shame of my past. My confused identity was now transformed into an identity as a child of God. I was created to be someone that I hadn’t been before and for the first time in my life, I was hopeful about becoming that person. I no longer had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t.
For the next 6 years, my relationship with Jesus grew and He started molding me into the man that He made me to be. However, there was still a core principle of my purpose that I didn’t understand. See, up until that point, God existed for me. Don’t get me wrong, He was using me in many different ways and my ability to sense His direction in my life was growing stronger. But under the surface, it was still about me. I then read a book called The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. The first sentence of the book said “It’s not about you.” Say what?! That statement really caused me to question my motives. My relationship with Jesus was still on my terms. Did I want Him involved in my life? You bet I did. But in all honesty, I wanted Jesus to follow me, not the other way around. My “Yes” to Him was always conditional on whether or not it fit within the parameters of the life I wanted… that I thought I deserved. Although, Jesus calls us to much more. All throughout the bible, God paints a picture of how we are created FOR HIM. Colossians 1:16 says”…all things were created by Him and for Him”. We exist and have breath in our lungs for Him. That’s the “Why”.
Now, many people think that surrendering to Jesus diminishes the uniqueness in how He created us. When in all actuality, it reveals the extent of that uniqueness and how it plays a part in His overall plan. Did you know that scientists estimate that there’s a one in sixty-four billion chance that two people have the same fingerprint. God is way more creative than most people realize. There have been billions of people with different variations of personalities, gifts, and talents. Not to mention the plethora of cultures and ethnicities that He created which produce a countless amount of unique people in which no two are the same. God didn’t do all of that for us to exclude those differences and expect, for the most part, all of us to think and act the same. We are created in His image and He made no mistake when He created each of us..
After everything happened with Justin, he wrote a song called “James” in which he expressed his disgust and anger toward me. Maybe you’ve heard it before. It revealed the worst mistake I ever made and the affliction that it caused Justin. It’s a descriptive song and I deserved to have my failure broadcast for thousands of people to hear, always knowing that my failure was in the light and there wasn’t anything I could do to shove it back in a closet. I’m sure there are still people today, after all these years, that listen to it. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy knowing how people felt about me. Every now and then I’d go online and see a blog where people would be bashing this “James” guy for what he did to Justin. I’ve been called every name in the book. Yet, reading those statements would keep me in a humble place. They would remind me of the pain that I caused Justin and believe me or not, I cared very deeply for him……and even though God had forgiven me of my mistakes, the grief that I had for my friend never left me. It also grew my affection toward Jesus that poured His grace on me and brought me out of the pit of hell and into this amazing life as His kid.
About ten years after all this, I saw that Blue October was playing a concert in Houston. I happened to do business with the venue and thought I could get back to where Justin’s tour bus was and ask him for forgiveness. I showed up the morning of the concert and went and knocked on the bus door. A guy answered and told me Justin was with his family and that he’d be back later. I sat in my truck for the rest of the day hoping that I’d catch him when he came back. I prayed all day. I knew God wanted me to do it but I was a nervous wreck.
Toward the end of the day, I decided to write a letter to Justin asking for forgiveness and telling him that I’d given my life to Jesus and that I wasn’t the same person that I once was. Just before dark that evening, I went and gave it to the guy on the bus and asked if he’d give it to Justin. When I left there, I called my wife and she asked if I was at peace about it. I told her I wasn’t and that I’d come pick her up and we’d go back to the concert. I called a friend that organized the concerts there and he told me he’d put a couple of tickets at willcall. By the time we got there, the concert was about to start. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get backstage to visit with Justin. There were thousands of people there and I was unsure how I was supposed to fulfill whatever God’s plan was that night. I showed someone our tickets and they walked us down to our seats. I hadn’t looked at the tickets prior to that. Our seats were on the 2nd row, center stage. There wasn’t anyone sitting to the right of me and there wasn’t anyone in the seats in front of us on the front row. Now, you have to know that God orchestrated all of this. Trust me, I wasn’t eager to do this. These are the hard moments that we try real hard to avoid in life. The whole concert went by and I never felt like Justin and I made eye contact. At the end of the concert, Justin stepped forward and gestured to me. I’m not certain what his feelings were at that moment but I was at peace about what God had led me to do.
Then, about two years ago, God started stirring something else inside me. Through a few different ways, I felt God calling me back to San Marcos. Keep in mind that I hadn’t gone back to San Marcos in twenty+ years. When I left, I wasn’t going back. The last place I wanted to be was somewhere that had a memory around every corner that would take me back to the biggest mistakes that I made in life. I didn’t want to visit, much less move there. However, God has used my mistakes for His glory many times in my life. This was just another way for Him to reveal that His plans are not my plans, and His ways are not my ways.
The other thing that was stirring in me was some sort of reconnection with Justin. This time, however, it wasn’t necessarily about forgiveness. I started having dreams about God using Justin and I to bring Him glory by sharing this story of reconciliation and redemption together. Now, what on earth was I to do? How awkward is it to get in touch with someone that you betrayed twenty years before and tell him about this. I wasn’t sure how to get in touch with him. I found three different addresses under his name online. I picked one and mailed him a letter. About a week or so goes by and I see a missed call from a number listed in LA. I listen to the voicemail and it’s Justin telling me that he forgives me, to “Let go and let God”, and for us to reconnect. I tried calling him back but the number acted as though it was disconnected. I wasn’t sure what happened and thought I’d let God make the next move since He was obviously the one in charge of all this.
Not long after this, a pastor friend of mine mentioned to me that he and his wife felt called to plant a church in a college town. I asked him where and, of course, he said San Marcos. The strange thing was that I felt like he and I were going to do something like plant a church together in the future but I had never expressed that to him. This was just a confirmation to me that God was definitely leading us back to San Marcos. When my wife and I visited San Marcos for the first time, I wondered how I would feel when memories started popping back up. Thankfully I felt no shame. I felt like God was telling me that He took care of that shame a long time ago and that I didn’t have to carry that burden. He told me that it was time for me to go back to San Marcos and share the love of a man named Jesus with people searching for hope and meaning in life as I was when I lived there.
So, in January of 2020, we moved to San Marcos. I now serve alongside some amazing people as the Pastor of Missions & Mobilization at The Well Community Church where I get to help others find their true purpose & identity in life. It’s amazing how God takes us full circle sometimes in life.
God has orchestrated every aspect of the process of getting here and getting plugged into what God was doing here in San Marcos. We prayed for the right home for us and we ended up renting a house from an amazing couple that lives next door. It just so happens that they’ve known Justin and Jeremy for twenty years or so. They met them not long after I moved from San Marcos. They all lived by each other years ago. Of course, everyone in San Marcos knows who Blue October is, but I didn’t think I’d move next door to friends of theirs. That’s all God right there! He then helped me get reconnected with Jeremy.
A few weeks ago I ran into Justin at a local hiking trail. It was such a blessing to see him again. We hugged and shared a sweet moment. Two guys once living in darkness but now living in the beautiful light of redemption, made possible only by the saving grace of Jesus. I’m not sure what God has in store next. I’ve seen God do impossible things and I’m sure this will be no exception. What I do know with all certainty is that I’m loved, and I know how I was made, and for what purpose. I know without a shadow of a doubt “Who I am” and I look forward to what’s to come.