God Never Gave Up on Me

by Mikelle Challenger on April 01, 2017

God Never Gave Up on Me

The lethargic teenage boy lay motionless on his bed as he stared at the tiles of the ceiling.  He was tired of the constant battle against “The Crusher” and  wanted to give up and let him win.  The Crusher was the nickname he gave to his frequent bouts of deep depression. Realizing that yet another medication for his depression was not working, the boy sighed as he closed his eyes and surrendered to the darkness. 

Soon he was asleep and dreamed a dream that almost three decades later he still recalls with perfect clarity, “I was in a dark warehouse.  A big hangar door opened up and there was bright light and I heard a voice say to me, ‘Before you become all you were created to be, you must defeat the Jack in the Box.’  A hideous monster came in the warehouse and attacked me. It was all the terrifying things that nightmares are made of rolled into one. I remember that I wasn’t afraid but instead I was mad and fought it. After I killed the monster, the door opened back up and I flew off into the bright light.  I remember that I was flying over the United States and saw other people that I knew.”  

The teen woke up and sat on the edge of his bed. Suddenly his body shot up, blasting through the roof.  He recalled, “I am talking out past the earth.  I was super high.  The higher I went, the faster I went, and the faster I went, the more exhilarating it was and the more joy I felt.  Then suddenly, but very gently, I was returned to the edge of my bed.”  He paused and then explained, “The first one was definitely a dream but the second part…what was that? I think that the point of the dream and vision was to tell me in no uncertain terms that God was not done with me yet!”  Jim Rannik, is an IT support specialist in Sagemont Church’s IT department where he has given support to computers and technology for the past year.  

Born August 1973 in New Orleans, Louisiana to teenage parents, his first two years of life were spent in a playpen with chicken wire covering the top.  He stated, “My basic needs were met but I was never held.”  Like many severely neglected children, by the time he was two years of age, Jim was not able to walk or talk.  He and his older sister were placed in foster care where Jim was diagnosed with a developmental disorder now known as Autism.  

They were soon adopted by a couple who lived in the suburbs of New Orleans in Harvey, Louisiana.  Jim spoke with little emotion as he stated, “My adopted father is an immigrant from Sweden. I know very little about his past but he evidently had serious problems because he physically and emotionally abused me for years until I was a teenager.”   Jim described himself at that time as being a loner who was passive-aggressive.  “My dad terrorized me so I had a lot of rage and anger inside of me as a kid. I acted that out by stealing things and taking advantage of people who are weaker than me.” 

Jim’s childhood was “very difficult” and “really rotten.”  School was a never-ending series of migrations and failures, especially in the subject of math.  Each year his parents would move him to a different school, hoping for better results that unfortunately never came.  The same thing occurred with going to church.  “My dad was completely a non-existent spiritual leader and my mom was the only one interested in spiritual things but she never felt comfortable with churches.  We were always moving churches and schools so I never developed lifelong friends.”

When he was ten years old, his life was forever changed the summer his mom sent him to Camp Pearl.  There Jim surrendered his heart and life to Jesus. “I came back home from camp and I was a little evangelist.  I was telling everyone about Jesus and what He had done for me.  One day my mom pulled me aside and said, ‘That is good and we are happy for you, but that is not something you need to share with everybody.’  Eventually, we stopped attending churches altogether, but I never stopped reading my Bible.”

In 1987, Jim was in the 8th grade and doing miserably, when his dad came home early from work one day.  Jim became frightened so he ran to a nearby Catholic Church. He recalled, “The doors were open, but no one was inside. I went in and threw myself down on the altar and basically cried out, ‘God, Help me! I can’t be in this situation anymore with this abuse and this loneliness.’  God instantaneously answered that prayer because that night I was put in a psychiatric hospital for three months and I never went home to my parents’ house. The first thing I did when I got into that hospital was to try and tell them that my dad was beating me and abusing me and tormenting me and all this stuff.  Nothing came of it.”  The psychiatric hospital experience was not good, but it got him out of a much worse experience at home. 

After three months in the psychiatric hospital, 14-year-old Jim was moved to a long-term residential treatment center in Gulfport, Mississippi where he remained for a year. With each month that passed, his family had less and less contact with him. Then Jim was moved to Brown’s School Community Living Program in Austin which was a treatment center for teenagers and young adults with primarily psychiatric disorders or emotional disturbances.  After three months of zero contact with his family, the psychiatrist told the 15 year old that his parents no longer wanted him.  He was told that his parents wanted him to live his own life and not think about them anymore. Jim recalled that dark moment, “I was shocked.  It was awful.  I had been abused and rejected my whole life but this was the ultimate rejection.  When your mom and dad don’t want you anymore, that was the worst thing ever.” It was during this time that Jim experienced several dreams and visions which strengthened his faith in God and gave him hope for his future.

Robert Solis, who is now the Assistant Principal for the special Needs Department for the Texas School for the Deaf in Austin, Texas, worked at the Brown School for 12 years.  Midway through his tenure at Brown School as the Center Supervisor, he first met the “troubled, but sweet” 15 year old. Robert shared, “I remember that Jimmy was one of the younger residents and very vulnerable because there were other young adults who were tougher and he was someone who could be picked on.”  Robert continued, “After his parents abandoned him, there was no one paying for him to be at the Brown School because it was a private institution. That program was very expensive. The program was at its full capacity of 19 patients so we had enough profits that the higher-ups didn’t know.  Our administration did a good job of keeping him under the radar because we didn’t want to put Jimmy out. He was very immature at the time, even for his age.  He lived there two years for free!  When Jimmy was getting to be about 18 years old they finally found out that we had someone taking a bed for free. They gave Jimmy one month to find a new place.  They asked me to do it.”  

Robert spent the entire month finding funding and a place that would take Jim.  Robert explained, “To me, Jimmy was getting put out to the wolves.  I wish I could have taken him in, but that would have jeopardized my job.  In that month’s time I found a place for him to live. Once Jimmy was outside the Brown School he contacted me frequently.  There were a couple of times where he was moving one place to another and I would help him move.  I remember one time he called me and said, ‘Bobby, this place is horrible.  There is a prostitution ring going on! I need to get out of here!’ I always helped him any way that I could.”

Now almost three decades later the two men remain friends.  Robert smiled as he stated, “He survived. I mean, look at him now! He is an amazing person!” Robert became emotional as he added, “I am proud to call Jim my friend. I want to say that I love Jim very much and I think his story is a true inspiration to us all. His inner strength which is bolstered by his faith has helped him become the honorable man you see today.”

Jim shook his head as he explained, “I was highly motivated to get out of adult foster care which was a terrifying experience.”  By 1995, then 22, he ended up at the Harbor House where he was able to earn his GED and got a contract to start his own janitorial business. He also enrolled in community college despite his struggles with math classes. 

During this time Jim continued to read his Bible, attend a local Baptist church and worship his Heavenly Father. He shared, “I had gone through the process of forgiving my earthly father for what he did to me.  It had been my habit in life to wake up and have rage against my dad for all the things he did to me, but one day I woke up and the rage was gone. In its place was pity for him as a person. So I wrote him a letter and basically said, ‘I forgive you because God has forgiven me for all the things I have done.’”  Jim then located an aunt and she contacted the family.  He smiled as he continued, “I am sure they were scared to death that I had found them, but it was just unconditional love and acceptance.”  

That led to a short visit. Jim took a bus from Austin to New Orleans. He discovered that things had gone very poorly for his family. His father had become an alcoholic who almost died of cirrhosis of the liver and his mom became sick from chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.  His dad had filed for bankruptcy and his mom moved to Houston after separating from his dad.  Jim shook his head, “I was shocked at the state of my family.  Over the past seven years God had continued to build me up, train me and make me stronger while they had completely collapsed as a family. At the end of that stressful three-day visit, I just remember thinking, ‘Good grief, I have it good. I can’t wait to get back to my normal life!”

As a result of that visit, Jim reconnected with his mother in Houston and moved in with her and a younger sister.  He joined the singles department at Houston’s First Baptist Church (HFBC) and used her car so he could work as a bagger at the local Randall’s Grocery Store.  After three months, her car was repossessed by the bank and Jim was upset that he wasn’t able to get to work.  He ended up borrowing a friend’s bike but not long after arriving at work, he received a call from his mother. “She told me, ‘Jim, Don’t come home I don’t want you anymore’.  I said, ‘Wait a minute.  You said all things are good and now you are saying you don’t want me…again!’”  

From that point there were more years of separation as the pattern of rejection continued.  His parents, who had reunited, now lived in northwest Houston while Jim remained near HFBC.   Then in July 2007, Jim’s mom passed away from her longterm illnesses.  His dad began drinking alcohol again but Jim continued to reach out to him.

Jim moved in with his new friends from HFBC which he admitted was really the first time he had friends.  One friend was Steve Diserens who led a group of 13 men at HFBC for “Quest for Authentic Manhood.”  Steve shared, “I met him in the spring of 2011 when he joined our group.  It was clear that he was hungry and motivated and was “open” to really explore and “get” whatever we discussed about God.  It has been a joy and honor to journey together for the past six years. It is Jim’s willingness to yield and go with God regardless of the challenges ahead that makes him such a godly man who I am so proud to call my friend.”

A few months after meeting Steve, Jim met Kristie Benton in HFBC Singles Sunday School class.  Kristie chuckled as she shared, “Jim first noticed me at the New Year’s Eve 2012 party when we ended up riding in the same car.  My impression was that he was a nice, friendly guy and seemed sweet, but I had no idea he was interested in me at all until we ended up at the same house for a game night on Valentine’s Day.”  On their second date Jim shared his life story with Kristie who was “overwhelmed to discover all the things that had shaped him into the sincere, sensitive, and caring man that he is today.” 

They married the following year and now, five years later, Kristie has witnessed even more transformation firsthand, “I have seen him become a wonderful spiritual leader for our family, a willing servant for our church, and a true blessing to his in-laws.  I have also seen him go from being a quiet and reserved guy to a loving and playful dad.  Jim is my answer to prayer.  We have been so blessed in the few short years of our marriage which now includes a beautiful baby girl and another one on the way.  I can’t wait to see all that God has in store for us and our growing family in the years to come!” Jim proudly showed off pictures of his one-year-old daughter, Emily whom he adores.

Another blessing for Jim was that after years of praying for his dad and loving him unconditionally, his dad became a believer. Jim smiled as he shared, “When Dad came to know the Lord it was a radical change.  He is definitely a different person. I am getting to know the ‘new’ him.  He is not the man he used to be with a completely different personality.  Now he talks and is outgoing.  It is really hard to explain.” Jim’s dad remained in northwest Houston but remarried in December.  He dotes on his granddaughter, and even attended her first birthday party.

Jim continues to walk with the Lord and continues to experience His blessings on his life.  This summer Jim is expected to graduate from Alvin Community College with a degree in Broadcast Television and Production.  He shared, “One of the evidences of God’s work in my life is the big change in academic success from repeated shortcomings in my childhood such as failing in math to now finishing at the top of my class and getting an A in a very hard math course.”  He is also a contributing author for The Perfect Journey book in which he wrote the chapters on Christian problem-solving like dealing with depression.  Jim smiled as he shared, “The prognosis for me at the time I was in the healthcare programs was that I was either going to be in jail or dead!  That is what the professional opinion of the outcome, but God never gave up on me.”