Arms wide open
Hi, my name is Richard Brad Dixon and this is my unseen story. I was born to two parents who loved God and walked very faithfully in the church. I remember nothing but incredible warm memories growing up with them. I had two older sisters. We were always plugged into the church.
My dad had started with a small company, when I was a kid, called Blue Bell Ice Cream. At the time it was small, not so small anymore and whenever they would expand their company, which happened a lot, he would usually be in charge of the expansion process. So I think that we moved four or five times by the time I turned nine years old. So it was like once every other year. There’s really no easy way to talk about it, but whenever I was nine, is when my parents divorced. Out of respect to both of them and some other people in my life, I’m not really going to go into the reasons why. But it was an incredibly painful chapter.
I remember it didn’t take long, I think both of my parents were remarried within about 18 months from the time that the divorce was final. And my dad, I mean, there was nobody that could ever rival him as far as my heart, my affection. I mean, he will still to the day I die, he will always be “The Guy.” But I remember just falling in love also with my stepdad. Whenever I got a little older, I turned 13, my dad and I had a heart to heart and I remember coming to a place of just identifying that I needed to have a new start. So to his credit, and really showing just how much he loved me, he signed off on me moving from where we lived, to me moving in with my mom in Arkansas. Once I get there, I’m thinking, Okay, finally, you know, we can try to make sense out of this.
About a few months after I started school, I remember coming home and my mom was waiting for me. She sat me down and she said, “Son, there’s no easy way to say this, but your stepdad has left me.” And I think that that was, that was the beginning of me just not even having somewhat of the mental capacity to handle any more chaos in the home. You know, whenever you’re 13 and you’ve seen your parents divorce, and you’ve seen now another parent walk out on you, that feeling of questioning whether or not you’re wanted, you’re desirable…I mean, that doubt just magnifies.
Shortly thereafter, I go to a church with my mom. We visited a lot of churches, I remember, but this one in particular really hit us both. I remember meeting with the associate pastor’s son who was also in charge of the youth group. We sat down, it was me and it was another newcomer. He explained the gospel in a way that I’ll never forget. It’s like, I remember walking away and thinking, I’ve never heard the Good News expressed like this. And that’s exactly what it was.
After spending some time in that church, I’m building new friendships and there’s this whole group of guys that he introduces me to. These guys become brothers. At this point, I’m about to go into high school and, you know, we’re serving the Lord and we’re talking about launching a Bible study, which we do. That Bible study meets twice a week; we ask him to lead it. I’ll refer to him as “B.” For purposes of this [podcast], B is leading this ministry and it goes from like, the small group of us to like 30 to 40 people, and we’re witnessing to other high school kids, and it was just a sweet time. During this, I am getting personally discipled by B. He’s spending, you know, all of this after-hours time, after church, and after school with me and this small group of guys. It was groundbreaking. I remember being on fire for God, all of us were! It was, it was a special time.
Me and this group of guys, 30 other people that we had met, and B’s uncle, all plant a church in this old beer barn of all places, and we saw God do incredible things. We see this church grow to over 1000 people. It was incredible and here I am, I’m thinking, Alright, you know, I went through a lot of stuff to get to this point. But, you know, thank God, I have this family. Thank God, I have B.
It was around the time that I got a phone call from an old friend, one of the guys who helped launch the Bible study in high school. I was excited to hear from him. I hadn’t seen him in several years. He had someone else there who I hadn’t seen either, in quite a while. And I always wondered, you know, it never really made any sense why they phased off. I never had the willingness to ask them, you know, as far as why they, shortly after we got the ministry kicked off, why they just kind of faded off in the background. But we learned that B had sexually assaulted those two guys, whenever, I guess in their early years of high school. I think I went into shock. I mean, this is again, just another round of me not really having a category for news that I’m hearing about a family member.
I remember that [my] thoughts of God kind of got replaced with thoughts of God/him [B]. Whenever he shares something, or preaches, or has an incredible lesson, then you can’t really differentiate the two. And whenever finding out about B, I, there was a lot of, I think, doubt that got planted, you know, deep inside that I just didn’t really know what to do with.
It was around this time, I remember meeting somebody. After a few efforts and getting a date, we finally started dating and hit a point where we know that we want to get married, and decide why wait, and we get married in school. As I’m trying to finish school, I’ve got a little bit of time left. I can quickly identify that I am probably not ready for this. I mean, I was 20 going on 21 and I just remember being so immature. I mean, we persevere, get through school, juggling being a newly married man and working full time and going to school full time. I get a job offer to move to Nashville, Tennessee. So having never been there, we decided why not? And that’s whenever we started our life over in Tennessee.
My wife, at this time, is setting aside her career pursuits in hopes of starting a family. So as I’m slaving away from my job and we’re really getting established there in Nashville, nothing’s happening. So I remember having this thought, It’s nothing for me to go get tested. So I go and have a doctor visit, and he calls me a few days later on the job and says, it appears that you have a condition. One that is going to prevent you from being able to have children naturally. So I remember at the time asking, you know, “Is this like a less than 1% chance?” And I remember him telling me, “No son, there’s not a chance, you’re looking at 0%. If you’re going to want to start a family, you’re going to need to go down the adoption route.” Yet again, here I am, and I don’t have a category for what I’m going through, you know, the cards I’m being dealt as a man. So I think that I just became more numb. I just didn’t know how to process anything of the past, let alone at this season of life.
While we’re going through this, I remember going to church one Sunday, and Pastor Ray asks for us to open up to “John.” Here I am cycling through the pages and we land on a verse and I kind of go off topic reading this verse. It was like the first time, I just was finally able to be completely honest with myself. I remember looking down at the page, reading the verse and saying, “This is BS. There’s absolutely no way that this is real.” So all of that stuff that was down deep inside, just had started making its way to the surface. Now at this point, I’m actually thinking these thoughts, audibly to myself. I’m now hearing these voices in my head, as far as you know, the reasons why it would make more sense for me to not be married to my wife, versus staying in the marriage and trying to continue down this life that doesn’t seem to be going well. Eventually those voices go from being small to being the overshadowing voices that I’m hearing, and coupling that with not believing that this Christian God really wants me if He actually exists. So I decide, enough’s enough and I walk out on my wife.
Looking back, it’s easy to just see just how deceived I was. I remember meeting with a lot of, you know, friends during that time, and family members, my mom, especially being the first one to say, “Brad, You’re being deceived.” And I didn’t want to really hear any of it. I was ready to kind of make my own way at this point. So I remember jumping on the interstate and driving back to Arkansas to stay with friends. As I’m on the interstate, I remember looking over, and of all people, I see my sister-in-law, my wife’s sister, driving alongside of me! Like, hundreds of miles away from Nashville, which is also where her and her husband lived, just around the corner from where my wife and I lived. And I’m thinking, this is awkward, as I’m driving.
A few days later, I got a call from them (my in-laws) and they had been praying for me. They were really wanting me to go check out their church. So I’m thinking, No way. I have no interest. My heart, at this point, is just as stone cold as it could be. Then the day before Easter, they call me and they say, “Hey, we really want you to go to church tomorrow. We’re going to be up in Chicago, leading worship.” –They were musicians at this other church. – “But if you can’t go to this church, go to any church, you know, go to our old church even.” And so I kind of say to myself, “No, I’m not.” But you know, Wes, my brother-in-law at the time, is still just asking me and so I say, “Okay, I’ll go. I guess I’ll go to one of the later services if I do.” And so he says, “Thank you.”
I go later that night, and live it up with some friends of mine and I remember, it’s now getting super late into the night and I’m remembering Wes’ request. Wes and Hannah – Again, Wes is my brother-in-law, Hannah, is my sister-in-law, at the time. – go to the early service at this church up in Chicago. A lady walks up to them and asks them, “Is there anything that I can pray for you about? I just feel the Lord is drawing me to you guys to pray with you.” And so Wes says, “Yes, I have a brother-in-law who’s lost his mind. He’s left his wife. He’s turned his back on God, I have no idea what else is going on with this guy, but will you pray for him?” And it’s around like 6:30, getting close to 7:00, where the sunrise service is going to start. And as they’re praying, she tells them, “I can see him, right now. He is getting in his car and he’s driving to church.” Wes is like, “I doubt that. I bet he’s sleeping. But maybe, you know, God’s doing something for later on today.”
Little did he know, whenever I got home that night before, and again, it’s like 3:30, I sat on the edge of the bed. And I remember as I was coming down, I just remember feeling this gravity hit me and I couldn’t shake the reality of God just pouring out through Wes and Hannah. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the faithfulness of my grandparents, and my great grandparents, the love that my parents had for me, like I couldn’t, or my sisters. I just, I couldn’t put my thumb on it and it bothered me so much that I sat at the edge of my bed from that time until 6:30-7:00. The second that I could leave that house and get in my car, I did, to go to that very first opening service that Easter weekend. At this point, now I’m just, I’m hopeful, still majorly in doubt, as far as all of the things that I had learned before…If they were truly real, if this God really wanted me.
I sat down in a pew all by myself on the side of the church that was pretty vacant. It being the sunrise service. I’m sitting there and get through worship. Pastor Dan walks up. And again, this is my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s former church that I’m just strolling into. Pastor Dan starts giving his sermon and halfway through–stops. [He] says, “I feel like I need to share something. It’s a little weird for me to say this, but who am I to get in the way of something that God’s wanting to communicate?” And he says, “There’s someone in this room who’s running from God. There is someone in this room who is going through the end of a marriage and I’m here to tell you that there is a Savior named Jesus and His arms are wide open. His family is waiting for you.” It’s at this point, I think for me to say that I’m just crying in the pew doesn’t really do it justice. I’m ugly crying at this point. I get through the service and, man it just, I wish I could say that that was like the end of me running. It wasn’t. But that was the beginning of me just not being able to reject Jesus. I felt Him constantly. Like, turning on the radio, I remember, my favorite musician comes out with a song titled “Don’t Leave.” I’m listening to other music and just feeling the presence of God just pursue me.
The divorce goes through and I wanted to be as close to my family as possible. So my job at the time was willing to transfer me from Nashville to Dallas, around the corner from where my sisters and my mom live, and not that far from where my dad lives. So I landed in Dallas. And let me tell you something, I remember that first day, being in my apartment, and just the true weight of everything hitting me in a way that I had never felt. I was done. At this point, I was done running, I was done. Believing those lies that I was hearing, I was finally able to separate what I had experienced as a kid and a teenager, and even partially as an adult, from what the gospel actually says. It was such a sweet time, feeling God’s Spirit.
I remember deciding to, I’m just going to start praying and talking to God, like I’m talking to you right now. And one day, I remember this overwhelming desire to watch the film Castaway, which I hadn’t seen in years. I felt like the Lord was just leading me to that movie and so I put it on. Without going into the details of the film, I remember it was Tom Hanks being on a beach with a volleyball. But here’s the story of this guy who lives in Tennessee, goes through this major life experience that leads him to Texas to start a new life. Like, this is crazy. And I remember feeling this desire to try to reconcile with my wife, and to really just kind of go through a real season of repentance. It was there when I learned that repentance isn’t just a singular action, but it’s a road. So I am now at this point of just being open to whatever God has in store and about a year passes. Then I find out that she’s dating somebody and I knew immediately whenever I heard that she was dating somebody that it was probably serious. I remember finding out that she had got married soon thereafter.
Once again, I’m feeling this calling to just revisit Castaway, and I remember putting on the soundtrack in the background and praying to it. I’m listening to it in the car, while I’m working, while I’m working out…and that Sunday is Easter Sunday. At this point, now, Easter has a really special place in my heart, you know, and I’ll never forget going into service that Sunday. For whatever reason, this old Baptist Church that never breaks from the norm, especially whenever it comes to the music, three or four songs in just starts playing the theme song to Castaway.
Once again, I’m in a church pew, and I’m losing it. My friends are with me this time, I’m not by myself, and they’re looking at me like, Is Brad ok? I don’t think he’s okay. I think we need to probably take him out to lunch, you know, cheer him up a little bit. But I was so happy. Like, I mean, I just remember feeling, just once again, the presence of God surrounding me like the wettest blanket you could find, but it wasn’t a wet blanket. It was Him and it was His Spirit. And I think what it did was, it wasn’t just a coincidence. It was beyond just coincidence and nobody could convince me of that. It was also beyond just this random time. I mean, this is again the second Easter that He is very uniquely speaking to my life.
But I remember just feeling Him inviting me into this space where He wanted me to be because it was where He was and it was there where He wanted me to heal. He wanted me to deal with all of this history that I had dealt with, with the church and with fatherly figures and my own sin and just the grief of it, and my own decisions that led me to that point. I remember feeling Him utter this sense of just, “Brad, I’m with you. It’s okay.” And those are my words not His, but just knowing that…And it was that inner-knowledge that entered in and it was through these rather extraordinarily extraordinary circumstances, through people and through two churches, that He just made it so evident.
My story is complicated. It has lots of ups and downs, like a really good roller coaster at Six Flags. But I have come out of the other side of it to be able to tell you that, without a shadow of a doubt, He’s real. Without a shadow of a doubt, His arms are wide open and it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, what’s been done to you. I’m here to tell you that He is right there and His arms are as wide as the east is from the west. So my hope and prayer is that you, hearing this, will be encouraged and will all the more pursue Him. Thank you for listening to my unseen story.