The Roughest Ward

Written by Richard Drebert

(c)Good Catch Publishing

 Kenny:

If he got to my .45, he would kill me.

We writhed on the barroom floor, slick with beer and blood. I gouged, kicked and kneed — but the man was stronger. I felt his legs lock around my waist as he smashed me over and over with one boney fist. His other hand groped down my right hip to my leather holster, and we shared a moment of truth.

I jammed my hand into a painful place, squeezing with all my might, praying for agony to channel past the booze to his brain, and suddenly he shoved away, howling, like he was repulsed by my badge. I cuffed one brawny wrist on the fly and barely secured the other before I heard the shell chambered.

Did the suspect have a friend?

My holster was already unsnapped; I drew my Colt and pulled his face close to mine. I shoved my pistol’s cool barrel against his ear, hard.

“If I see that shotgun, you’re a dead man. Got it?”

We stumbled out of the bar, and comrades in blue deposited the man in a cruiser while I assessed my bruises — I’d be hurtin’ tomorrow.

“I heard someone rack a shotgun, but I couldn’t see it. Pretty dark in there …”

Officers now crossed the bar’s threshold to jar loose versions of the “truth.” I had answered a call from the bar manager about someone who stiffed the bartender and then fell asleep on a stool. When I woke the man, he leaped on me like a grizzly, and the fight was on.

Now I sat in a patrol car, a little dazed, thinking how lucky I was that he didn’t pull a knife. I had just successfully blown past my year’s probation as a police officer working the notorious 5th Ward in Houston, Texas, a nationally reputed breeding ground for vice and victims.

From the bar, officers were marching out a wizened elderly black woman, and a cop behind her wore a grin as he proudly carried her scuffed-up sawed-off shotgun. The old woman grinned, too, right at me.

“Baby, y’all think I wuz gonna shoot YOUR a**?”

“Yes, ma’am, I did.”

My cohorts in blue were studying us like we starred in a great beer commercial.

“Nawww!” she said, throwing her arms in the air. “I got out that shotgun ’cause I wuz gonna teach that son of a b**** ya don’t jump no police!”

It was a tableau for all of us to remember — one of the few times a citizen stood up for a police officer in the hostile 5th Ward. More often than not, the victims even hated to see a badge.

At 20 years old, I was rewarded with a loyalty from these men, veteran officers, often murdered by the ones they were sworn to protect. They called me brother.

Soon I agreed with their judgment of the world around us: It was all going to hell in a hand basket. And this included my marriage. I embraced their unwritten code without question: If you’re not wearing blue, you must be sh**.

 

Virginia:

In my early 20s, I was in a party mood — damaged goods from Humble, Texas.

Each morning I drove 40 miles to Houston for work at the constable’s office, where I was “Jill-of-all-trades” — the girl at the counter who knew where everything was filed. My self-esteem lived at the Harris County Courthouse in those days, but when I was alone, I felt used, polluted — Seth had seen to that.

I was barely 18, never dreaming that a local boy would “drug” me to numb my moral defenses and rape me.

I had scraped up my courage and confronted Seth.

“What? Come on, I never did nothin’ to you!”

Was I wrong? Had I dreamed it? It took months, but I finally pieced together the truth like a shattered mirror, and I gazed at my misshapen image every day since. Who would have believed a silly Sunday school girl, anyway? Maybe Mother, who struggled with three jobs and four children … but what could she have done? I confided in a girlfriend, and I knew I had to try to just “get past it.” At least I had memories of being a good girl …

Party mood. Dancing and drinking with friends helped me reassert my “woman’s right to choose” and say NO to a man! Or “yes,” if I felt like it — and “yes” got me pregnant.

God was really pissed off, now. All the years he had invested in me — from the nursery to Bible camps — shaped by perfect church attendance so that little Baptist girls of Humble could follow in my footsteps …

All bets were off now.

“Hon, it’s not life until there’s a heartbeat.”

I sat in the Planned Parenthood office, my own heart slamming my chest, searching for a way out of consequences. The “embryo’s” daddy wanted nothing to do with me anymore. What if I lost my job? And what would people think of me?

“Don’t sentence yourself to the misery of raising an unwanted child. It won’t be fair to either of you …”

The lady was so nice and helped me make an appointment for my abortion. The ache in my soul came the evening my baby was taken.

Party on.    

Kenny:

I stood on the porch, humiliated.

“Eleven years old, and still wetting the bed?! Young man, shame! You just stay out here.” The screen door slammed, and I slumped into a patio chair. Boys and girls in the cul-de-sac stared, covered their mouths and laughed as I tried to hide.

A diaper. Me! This is my punishment for having an accident? My stomach felt like I swallowed a bar bell as anger welled inside me. Mom did this. I could just … kill her!

“Hey, Diaper Boy!”

I forgot Mom. My eyes dropped to my thighs, and I winced. How could I ever face my friends again? Rage churned inside me again — the same rage I would feel as a police officer, when I arrested a pimp or child molester. The same rage I would harbor after I discovered my wife with another man; I was a hair’s breadth from finding myself on the wrong side of prison bars.

***

In my senior year at Roscommon High School, law enforcement entered my bloodstream when I rode along with Jack Biggar, the chief of the township police department. It was customary for kids plotting an uphill climb to the police academy to answer dispatches with officers as work experience. The big man in a blue uniform mentored me, a boy starved for a man’s affirmation.

Dad had been over-occupied much of my growing-up years with hours of overtime as a machine mechanic at plants like Chrysler and Ford Motor. Mom stayed home, lonely, managing my brother and me. She worked at the Baptist church as a volunteer, and sometimes Dad was an usher, when he wasn’t away at ball games.

Dad loved his church softball tourneys, and I stepped right into his baseball cleats as a school jock. And slipped on a football jersey. Then hiked up basketball shorts for a time, until Dad’s belittling as our coach ripped off any joy. He had been an all-American, and I never measured up, but we won it all that year.

Mom divorced Dad. She remarried, and Dad seemed to soften some, pining over what he had lost. I spent time with him during this troubled season of life, and he finally remarried. I wasn’t motivated by any deep sense of kindness from the Man Upstairs in those days. In fact, I had scrapped religion on the school playground in eighth grade, right after our family imploded. No one at the church we went to even knew Mom and Dad were having trouble — or no one cared.

“I don’t get it, God. Why let my mom do this? She works in the church nursery. Dad’s an usher. My grandpa is the church treasurer. Is it my fault? Do you think I’m too fat? What’s the matter with my family? What’s the matter with me?”

So many questions — and not one soul in my church of 1,400 took the time to read the questions screaming in a broken little boy’s eyes. It was too risky: I was diseased by DIVORCE.

“Go get Sammy. I don’t want him sitting with Kenny anymore.” My best friend’s mother whispered it to her husband, and I heard. It sank deeply into my psyche, and a twisted resolve set as hard as stone: “If this is what God is like, I don’t need him.”

Besides, I had friends now who liked me. And they offered sweeter enticements by far: weed, sex, liquor — approval.

I stayed away from church, except an occasional foray with my grandmother, a woman who was kind and loving and who I desperately wanted to please. But long after I graduated from high school, I refused to let the religious hypocrites under my skin — for me, they had a disease now.

***

“Son, when a police officer does something wrong, we stick him on a polygraph. He tells me the truth or gives me a d*** good reason why he failed it. Son, you failed.”

It seemed like a deal breaker before I even started. How could I get into the Houston Police Academy if I failed the lie detector? I had already applied at the Troy, Michigan, police department, and my application had died. I had applied at Southfield, Michigan, and it died. I had applied at Ferndale, and that one died.

But Houston had called me in! I flew in an airplane for the first time, on my own dime, and walked from my motel to the Houston Police Department where I found Sergeant Fox.

Under the sergeant’s steely gaze, I rifled my mind for an errant falsehood, but came up shiny-clean.

“Sergeant Fox, I don’t know why I failed. I told the truth.”

“The machine says you lied when we asked if you stole something.”

I paused, reaching deep for control. “I’m manager of a theater back home, with five showings a night. I deposit $10,000 to $15,000 a night sometimes. And I’ve never been a penny short. You can verify it.”

My face was hot, and it wasn’t the Texas sun. I shifted uncomfortably in a pool of sweaty silence as Sergeant Fox took my measure.

“Okay,” was all he said.

I left the room, deflated, and flew back to Detroit, where I worked — and Houston detectives were suddenly all over me. Questioning former and present employers, school teachers, friends, family.

“Can you start training in eight weeks?” Sergeant Fox’s voice seemed almost friendly over the phone. “You passed your background checks.”

I closed out accounts, kissed my girlfriend, Christa, goodbye and flew off to Houston with $550 in my wallet and a suitcase. I was 19.

***

“You’re old enough to save the world, but too young to buy bullets …” In my 16 weeks of make-or-break drills and training, former Army Ranger Peacock was inspirational and stone-hard on his cadets. “There’s a big difference between pain and hurt. Pain is when you’re in the back of an ambulance bleeding, heading for the hospital. Hurt is JUST IN YOUR MIND! Suck it up!”

I graduated top of my class, and they gave me a choice of Houston police stations. For me, it was no contest. One station stood out like the goal after a 30-yard catch.

“If you don’t fit in at the Northeast Station, they’ll shoot you in the back.”

This was where the action was.

So the rookie rode the 5th Ward, patrolling the bowels of Houston each evening, and living the fool with an unfaithful wife, whom I could never love enough to satisfy.

Virginia:

You’d think I might have learned.

But a woman whose life is wrapped up in herself can be self-destructive in her search for a meaningful life. This time I didn’t seek counsel from someone whose salary was tied to the blood of frightened girls and babies. I let my beautiful daughter be born, pink and lovely. Jenn’s innocence changed my direction — innocence I experienced again and again through her. I determined that my girl would NEVER know the pain I had. It suited me fine that her father wasn’t interested in Jenn.

I had a great job, good benefits and help from my mom, as she could, whom I had supported when she was in need. After a difficult divorce while I was a sophomore, Mom had needed me to care for my brothers and sisters while she worked. Now she stepped in to help me. I went back to Humble, Texas, with my baby girl.

I found that my faith had roots after all. My hard knocks had only dusted off the abiding hopes I had for Jenn and myself. Now, if I could somehow convince God that I was worth another try …

Kenny:

I stalked the streets on nightshift patrol in the most notorious, crime-ridden district in the nation, except, maybe, the Bronx: the 5th Ward. Perfect. If there was a God, he had abandoned Houston’s district to the devil and his gangs north of Buffalo Bayou.

My first call as a rookie-in-training was a double shooting, at a house where two “brothers” were drinking hard and long. One man sat with his hands around a mass hanging from his belly; the other curled next to him, fiddling with two leaky red holes in his abdomen.

This was no ride-along.

“Call it in,” my partner groused, and I heard my own officer’s voice report the macabre scene, requesting an ambulance.

“They aren’t long for this world.” He pointed at one: “Shotgun.” He nodded at the other: “.357 slugs.”

Houston’s inner city at night has a seductive, desensitizing effect on police officers, drinking in the ambience of death while on patrol.

A rookie officer in the 5th finally hardens to the mayhem or must bulk up an immunity with some “force” to shield him from the corruption that rails against his soul. For pimps and whores, drug dealers and gangs, life is penny-cheap (at least when it’s not their own), and a palpable lust clings to every drop of Texas sweat — even if you wear blue.

When my wife, Christa, hit the streets as a rookie police officer, she ran wild. She had joined me in Houston before I finished the academy, and in months she vamped a new spin upon “to have and to hold” — among my fellow officers. She graduated the police academy, too, but the seductive Houston streets lured her away.

For years I had shut down any hope for God’s mercy in my life. I had interred the need for Jesus in junior high when his church scorned my family, but in my fury at Christa and her lovers, I felt dread penetrate my God-proof vest. I prayed desperately for a change in her heart, knowing that deadly distractions patrolled my mind. My partner depended upon me — but I was losing control.

Where is she today, and who is she with? I seethed at my impotence in reining in the chaos in my marriage; divorce documents had been served, but Christa still bedeviled my heart.

“Officer Martin, your wife has been Life Flighted from a rollover accident on Highway …”

My heart sank, then leaped at the thought of a reason to reconcile. I rushed to Christa’s bedside, my anger muted by love and concern — her male companion was dead; there were questions about who was driving, and alcohol may have been involved.

In the months that followed, I renewed the vows in my heart for Christa and set aside my body armor so God could touch me again — it was the first time in almost a decade.

My dilemma: As Christa recovered, she still nursed an unspoken contempt for me, much like I felt from the streetwalkers I arrested. We still lived separately, and her interest in religion seemed as closed as her heart when I suggested we seek spiritual help at a church.

“Church is for people who can’t handle reality, Kenny.”

When my supervising sergeant pulled me aside one day after my shift, my world fell in on itself. Few, if any, affairs are safe from the radar guns of trained police officers.

“Kenny, your wife’s messing around on you, again.”

I had a hard time digesting his words, and I got defensive. “Christa’s still laid up. She doesn’t even have a car.”

He didn’t meet my gaze, like he had just arrested my relative in a sex sting. “Just thought you should know.”

Now I had to be sure.

Dressed in black, armed with a sawed-off shotgun with a folding stock and a .45 pistol, I staked out our house as though the woman I loved was a trafficker in cocaine. Hours passed, and I felt relieved — then she came out of the garage on a bicycle. Seething, I followed her to a fellow officer’s home and snuck around back to a deck with a hot tub.

I watched them together in revulsion and anguish.

A hair-trigger away from killing them both.

It would be a crime of passion, and I added up the years I would spend in prison. I was 22 …

Go HOME! The d*** voice in my head crescendoed, and I pried myself from my mission. I turned on my heel and faded into the darkness, images of my wife and the man seared into my mind.

“Remember. Everyone lies here in the 5th Ward.” It was one of the first lessons I learned as a rookie. No one told the truth when it came to his or her guilt — no one. No one wanted to face the judge. I didn’t even try to confront Christa again.

***

The bright blood-red Target store was crowded with women when I bought the plastic shower curtain and comforters. I could have been filling a shopping list for my “sweetie,” but in reality, I had a date with my Colt.

My back throbbed low and hard as I drove home. Days before I had chased down a car-theft suspect, who hopped a 10-foot fence. In pursuit, at the top of the fence, I lost my balance and plummeted atop a pile of bricks. I ran down the suspect and cuffed him before giving in to the agony. Now, on disability leave, I had time to drink and think.

I called Christa one night, and after a short cussing out, she hung up on me — but the phone didn’t disconnect. Her diatribe continued, and I heard the chuckle from a man in the room. She ended with: “The biggest mistake I ever made was marrying Kenny …”

Something snapped. Perhaps it was time to leave this dung heap called earth for good.

“Diaper Boy!”

You’re a nobody. You can’t even keep a wife satisfied.

A ceaseless tirade in my head continued for days as I drank and remembered.

I carefully spread out a comforter on the sofa, then the plastic shower curtain on top. I placed the next comforter on the plastic and covered myself with another blanket. I had perfectly planned how to check out without leaving a mess for loved ones.

Then, slowly, I placed my service weapon in my mouth, pointing it upward at my brain.

Dad would find me in a day or so — he was coming to visit. The thermostat was on a cool setting, so I probably wouldn’t stink. My gunsmith had adjusted the trigger mechanism for “light” pull, and I squeezed the hair-trigger — but the pistol seemed stubborn. My police weapon was my companion, my savior, my protector, and I knew its action like my own digits.

Why doesn’t it fire?

Like a sudden electric shock, a thought lit up my brain: “I forgot to call MOM!” She had made a lot of mistakes in her life, but I owed her a goodbye.

I had been awake for 24 hours straight, and I wearily dialed her for our last “chat.” But Mom wouldn’t let me off the hook for seven hours straight. She wore me plumb out, talking. Somehow she sensed my desperation, and when I hung up the phone, I just passed out. A man’s commanding voice woke me.

“You don’t think you have a reason to live, but I am the only reason you are alive.”

I scrambled to shake away cobwebs and grabbed my .45.

“Who’s in my house? Show yourself!”

A police officer is trained to hunt down a suspect in a building, and I followed protocol — every room and cupboard and closet — and came up dead empty. Every door was still locked, and it began to prickle my neck hairs when I realized that I stood in a supernatural scene: God had saved me and was asserting who was really in charge of my life — or death.

Dad arrived the next day.

Virginia:

I’ll never date a younger man; I’ll never date anyone in law enforcement — especially a cop; I’ll never date a guy who’s blond …

I studied Kenny’s blond hair and hazel eyes — a police officer and younger than I was by years — at a breakfast date. We had danced the previous night at my birthday party, and his openness and honesty had deleted my “nevers” one by one.

At the constable’s office, I had barely noticed him; just another uniform needing help with paperwork, a little cocky and jawing with the women at the counter. At my birthday party, I took pity on him, all alone, and introduced him around. Our dance was a surprise — as was his attentiveness toward me and my feelings for him.

“Hank Williams? Hmmm.”

“He’s performing at the Summit.” He seemed excited and looked even younger as he tried to clinch the date while chewing pancakes.

I really had to think. Jenn was 11 months old, and I had a pretty stable life, working, caring for my daughter and attending church regularly — and my heart touched God’s presence more often lately. I was understanding that Jesus had forgiven all my past, and it changed me! Would a relationship with Kenny threaten my progress? I decided to put the man to the ultimate test.

“I love Hank. Sure, I’ll go — if you’ll go to church with me Sunday.” I watched him stop chewing and cogitate for a couple seconds.

“You drive a hard bargain, but, yeah, it’s a date.”

And Hank was great. The next morning, Kenny picked Jenn and me up for services at my Humble church, all of us dressed to the nines. He savored my daughter’s every little move and cry, and my heart began to melt as I watched them together. I worried that I might be falling in love, and it was no secret to me that Kenny’s heart was already open to a relationship, too. As the weeks passed, it became harder for us to part company after dates.

Obviously, he had been scarred by his childhood, and his heart still suffered open wounds from religious intolerance. Now he was very wary of trusting church folk at all, and I understood completely. Fatherless Jenn had shocked church women I knew, but I was learning that God spoke to me where his people gathered, even if a few were the rude and judgmental.

From Michigan, Kenny called me one night. He was trying to leave his past life behind him and start fresh in his home state, and I had no idea if it was God’s will for Jenn and me to be part of his life at all. He sounded sad on the phone.

“If I get this job in Michigan, will you and Jenn come?”

It took me a moment to digest what Kenny was saying. “No, not as your girlfriend.” My tone was final and a little irritated, and he quickly changed course.

“I wouldn’t want you to, Virginia.”

Silence.

“Are you asking me to marry you?” His divorce had been finalized only weeks before. What was I getting myself into?

“I dunno. Do you want me to?”

I sighed loudly into the phone. “Kenny, that’s got to be your choice …”

Kenny didn’t take the job in Michigan. He came back to Houston.

***

“You’ll both burn in hell if you wed that man!” This was the general consensus among my friends at Humble church. Kenny’s divorce (on top of my “Jezebel” past) promised to corrupt their holy atmosphere in the church if we married. We endured their religious haranguing for a time, countering their baseless assertions with some words from the Bible that we learned by reading books like Ed Dobson’s What the Bible Really Says About Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage. We also sought counsel from other pastors and finally felt secure that God forgave our past mistakes and would bless our union.

After we married, we found a place to help us rebuild our wrecked spiritual foundations, a Bible study group that we affectionately called Charbroiled-Chicken Bible Study. I was 29, Kenny 24, when he resumed his police patrols in the 5th Ward, and I found myself pregnant with another baby, our first son, whom we named Kenny Martin, III.

Those first years of marriage he battled to keep in custody violent emotions that erupted into accusations and revealed his lack of trust in anyone.

“What time will you be back? Why didn’t you call me?”

I felt like one of Kenny’s “suspects” under interrogation — all that was missing were my handcuffs. A few months after our second child was born, I discovered that I was pregnant with a son, and I helplessly watched the ugly Houston streets seduce my Kenny, day by day.

With one baby in a highchair and the other in my arms, I struggled to remember the promise God spoke to my heart before our wedding: Virginia, you and your husband will serve me.

Kenny:

Strangely, the battle to justify our wedding to religious zealots at Humble stirred up yearnings that I believed were long dead. I read Ed Dobson’s book with an open Bible at hand to confirm that our vows would be honorable — at least for Virginia’s sake — and as I read my little-used Bible, a voice in the depths of my soul invited me to speak back.

I tried, but my mind immediately clambered to old bunkers: Every foul response, every hypocrisy, every rejection I had known paraded like a distracting peepshow in my brain.

Christianity in full color! I had experienced that in Humble, all over again. My rage, almost comforting in its intimacy, drowned out the voice.

“If this is what God is like, I don’t need him.”

For a time I still attended religious services with Virginia, at a large church where I could feel anonymous. I picked apart every meeting like a crime scene, and in time softball tournaments and other activities replaced church on Sundays and evenings at home with Virginia. I avoided crying babies and dinnertimes, my loving wife and my easy chair — all of which was so alien to my comforting “reality” in the squalid 5th Ward.

Beauty and sweetness in my marriage faded like a Texas sunset; I became darkness inside.

Yet that d*** “voice” never let up! And it spoke through people.

Aaron, a rookie officer whom I had trained, came off probation and now worked vice, and he hounded me.

“Come to church with us, Kenny.”

He knew the dual roles a police officer played: patrolling the cruel streets, then driving home to routines, diapers and a partner without a gun — and he somehow handled the quandary with rugged grace. He had been irritatingly persistent, and finally I relented.

“Aaron, look, I have a softball tourney this weekend. I’ll come next Sunday, okay?”

He was beaming in my rearview mirror as I drove off, and I groused a little over giving in to the dogged rookie. The guy was turning out to be a great police officer.

But now he was dead.

I kept my word to Aaron. I stood at the front of his church the next week, studying his lifeless face in the coffin for a few seconds before silently praying, Oh, God. What have I done? Have I walked away so far that you have forgotten who I am? Did I ever really give my heart to you?

It had appeared to be a robbery. At an adult bookstore in Houston, Aaron had been writing a ticket to the owner, and a “customer” fired a bullet pointblank into his back. The young man lay on the floor bleeding, pleading for his life, and the perpetrator’s second bullet went through his chest, hastening Aaron’s soul to Jesus.

Life is fragile.

At home I helped tuck our two babies in bed, knowing that I had to change my way of thinking if my family was to survive the “mean streets” of everyday living.

“Virginia, I don’t even know if I’m a Christian anymore. I feel like I’m heading to hell fast.”

My wife had been praying for this day, and the next Sunday we found a little Berean Bible church to attend. Every word the pastor preached seemed like God was speaking to me, and I walked to the front for prayer.

“I don’t know if I am saved or not. Or if I meant the words I said as a boy,” I told him.

He said simply, “Then do it again.”

I poured out my heart to God aloud: I was sorry for my stubbornness, and I asked forgiveness for the constant desire to do the wrong things in my life. I admitted that I had rejected him, and I promised to change course. I asked him to take charge of my mind and heart.

Baptism in water that night sealed the deal in heaven — but not fully in my mind.

Virginia:

The doctor drew a line across Kenny’s leg and said, “There’s a 90 percent chance that your husband will come out of surgery without about this much.” My stomach flipped, and I glanced at Kenny’s face. The morphine should have dumbed down his mind by now, but he was wide awake.

“You’re NOT cutting off my leg!” It should have been a bellow, but he was too weak from blood loss.

The doctor nodded an order to the nurse standing by, and she administered more drugs.

“I’ll do my best …”

The surgeon was addressing me, but Kenny intercepted the pass. “I don’t think you heard me! YOU will NOT cut off my leg!”

I was eight months pregnant with a new baby when Kenny was Life Flighted from a wreck in his patrol car. The doctors did save his leg by pinning him together with rods. I stood in the waiting room, praying, crying, begging that the morphine would take effect. He told me later he felt the drilling in his heel despite anesthesia.

For 35 days, while Kenny lay in traction, I traveled back and forth to the hospital, and when I was home, my babies fussed. My son kicked my ribs, restless to be out. Then Kenny came home. Medics wheeled him up the front steps and left me with a laundry list of instructions for his care.

Bones in both ankles and in the balls of Kenny’s feet were shattered. His nose had been broken and repaired so he could breathe again, and his chest looked as if it had been beaten with a two-by-four. They said he would never walk again.

Our baby, William, was born five days after Kenny came home — and Kenny reentered the hospital for weeks of treatments when William was 5 days old. During his recovery, Kenny often rejected my tenderness toward him, and I blamed it on the agony he dealt with.

Gradually at home, while I cared for my broken man, he seemed to be coming to terms with his new limitations.

Before the accident, Kenny ran five miles a day. He weighed 175 pounds and had single-digit body fat. But after a blood transfusion, his lungs filling with fluid and a host of other health issues, the proud police officer was a husk of his former athletic image. Now he focused on learning to walk again.

In the months that followed, a remarkable healing took place in his body, and his outlook on life seemed brighter at times. He left the wheelchair to learn crutches; he left crutches to use a four-poster cane; then a single cane.

Kenny came back to church and got involved in Sunday school. He sang in the choir, and along with his body, his heart seemed to be healing from boyhood traumas that haunted him most of his life.

But a single upheaval remained for Kenny and me to put behind us. My remaining trust in the man I married shattered like a bullet striking glass, impossible to restore, except by the Creator himself.

Kenny:

Only 11 months after my accident, I was back to work in the 5th Ward. Painful therapy had delivered moderate physical victory over a life sentence of inactivity, and I relearned how to walk.

It was a great day when I strapped on my .45 again and set my cover just right over my brow. My cohorts in blue welcomed me back, and I took a job investigating crime scenes — no more jumping fences or hopping car hoods after suspects.

I fell into familiar patterns of thought: Virginia would ultimately leave me. The beautiful brunette I had fallen in love with had vanished in a plump domestic soup of diapers, coloring books and carpooling. I swam in the same chowder myself when I was home, and I couldn’t wait to get back to my 5th Ward.

God had wrested away the most cherished part of my police persona — my athletic ability — and now I had to reclaim stature among my peers on a new level. As for my home life: I wanted more — I deserved more.

We seldom attended church anymore as a family, but my daughter, Jenn, attended Vacation Bible School at a small church down the street and dragged us to attend a service there.

The pastor’s son-in-law was a police officer, and we hit it off right away. All three kids loved the church, and Virginia seemed satisfied, too, so I donned my Sunday best and smiled my way through services. But inside I wasn’t smiling.

Self-pity sucked all joy from my life on Monday mornings, and an emotional bond that I should have devoted to my Ginger (Virginia), I squandered on another woman. During the months of my emotional trysts, I still guarded my reputation like my police ID. I feared repercussions if I abandoned Virginia, so instead I did my level best to drive her away.

“When are you going to leave me?”

I kept up a drumbeat of carefully-chosen, degrading remarks that often included the threat of divorce.

But she wouldn’t budge.

Virginia held me in an embrace of unyielding faith that I could not break nor escape. She clung to the promise that we would be serving God together someday and placed me in God’s powerful hands to change me.

Then Virginia found out.

Virginia:

My Jekyll-and-Hyde husband suddenly came apart. An avalanche of feelings swept through me when I confronted him with evidence of his infidelity. Did he think I was blind? Phone bills reflecting calls to the same number; night after night away on business? He couldn’t blame the horrid 5th Ward for his unfaithfulness (even if his trysts were only “emotional”), nor could he explain his naked disloyalty. For a time he tried to deny it, but I couldn’t let it rest — not if our marriage was to survive.

“We have an appointment with the pastor, Kenny.”

His face said more than I could have hoped for.

Shame.

Kenny:

I had become my ex-wife. It doubled me up inside, like a baton to the solar plexus. I knew the pain my Virginia was feeling, because I had been on the receiving end once. I opened up to our pastor about my affair, and my reputation was crushed — not ruined among my police peers, or church folk, or even with my family. My self-respect was ruined for me. I saw that my selfishness had nearly lost me the one person in the world who had been loyal. And I recognized Jesus in her devotion. A merciful God had given Virginia the endurance to stay with me, and now it broke my heart: I had caused my wife anguish for nearly as long as we had been married.

I remembered a word, carried in a vision of my little grandmother across my 40 despoiled years: repentance. And suddenly I knew exactly what it meant. My heart was broken, and I asked Virginia to forgive me. I asked Jesus to create a clean heart in me and renew a right spirit within me. I made the commitment to change my direction, and this time I felt different.

Somehow I sensed a fresh desire to serve God by serving my beloved wife. I felt clean for the first time since I was a child.

***

“You know, I think I want to hang up my uniform.” The badge on my chest grew heavier each year, like its purpose was finished and it needed to be retired. I wore a sergeant’s stripe now, but the climb up the law enforcement ladder held no meaning since I had injected my experiences in the 5th Ward with my faith in Jesus.

At a little local church, I had built a youth group. In my ignorance it shaped up differently from the cookie-cutter Baptist meetings. We went out to talk to people about Jesus — even in the 5th Ward! I had never sensed such fulfillment; I felt as if I was moving toward my intended destiny. I loved these kids, I LOVED my own three children and I adored my Ginger.

But I didn’t love the force anymore. I was a licensed minister now and served as the state rep for peace officers for Christ. I visited hospitals and helped grieving families of slain officers. Internally I was growing in grace (I was learning to forgive people who had abused or hurt me emotionally), and I believed that I should target a life of full-time service to Jesus.

It was time to make a crucial move, and I knew it was God-motivated when Ginger agreed.

 

Virginia:

My husband packed away his shield from the Houston Police Department with honors, but Kenny will never be free of the 5th Ward. His experiences are imbedded in every word he preaches, every prayer he prays. He has seen the worst of the world and knows that Jesus is the only answer for victims of lust, greed, rage. Jesus is a victim’s only hope for true freedom and deliverance.

A few years ago, I helped Kenny renovate old offices for a coffee-house, and his God-given vision grew to be a place where hundreds of young people gathered to be loved by Jesus through us.

In his years as a pastor, rugged Kenny-isms have raised a few eyebrows, and I don’t expect him to tone down as he grows older:

“When you’re driving through hell, why, in the hell, stop?

“Just because you were a victim, you don’t have to live a victimized life.”

“Don’t give credit to God that belongs to the devil.”

“If your enemy has a Social Security number and a date of birth, you’re fighting the wrong person!”

Kenny is preaching on forgiveness again this Sunday. He stands on a stage he built with his own hands, and echoes of his battles resound in the souls of a hundred or more.

“Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping your enemy dies!”

And we should know. Kenny and I had to release all the people in our lives from the handcuffs of unforgiveness that bound us, and when we did, the weight of the world lifted from our shoulders.

Now we save a special place in our hearts for people crushed by “religion” and longing for a place to know and grow closer to Jesus. We’re trusting God to fill our sanctuary with addicts and pimps, prostitutes and law enforcement officers, soccer moms and businessmen — most freed from the slavery of sin — and others, weary victims hungry for their freedom, too.

Kenny and I share the vision, and we are living the challenge — together.

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