January 24, 2006, our family went from watching the nightly news to being the news story, that day, my niece Jennifer Kesse was abducted in Orlando, Fla. and our lives changed forever.
On the morning of Jan. 24 Jenn failed to report to her job as a finance manager at a well-known timeshare company. She was 24 years old. She was last heard from at around 10 p.m. the night before when she spoke by phone with her family and boyfriend from inside her condominium.
In the weeks following Jenn’s abduction, during the day, our family and friends were busy doing everything we could to raise awareness and handing out missing person flyers at major road intersections, posting them in businesses, and going door to door in the neighborhoods near Jenn’s condo. We were encouraged daily by people who came to help a family in need, a family they didn’t know.
Most nights, I was exhausted physically and emotionally, lying in bed trying to fall asleep, but my mind would not turn off. Thoughts bounced from trying to make sense of what happened to Jennifer to my marriage, business, and kids. Those nights were filled with tears, as my emotions were on hyperdrive, trying to process everything that was happening.
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Those restless nights felt more like a wrestling match with my past while being confronted with the brutal facts of my present reality. Facing reality is painful, but I would learn that it is also beneficial, restorative, and transformative if embraced.
I began crying out to God, which in itself is puzzling since I had walked away from church when I was 14 years old. It has been said that pain is God’s megaphone, and it turns out to be true. He now had my undivided attention. I was approaching my 50th birthday in May 2006 and facing the most desperate and challenging crisis in my life with nowhere to go and no one to turn to but God.
I bared my heart and soul to Him, just like I would with my best friends. For the first time in my life, I acknowledged how out of control my life was while feeling powerless to fix the mess I had created. I was forced to confront the truth about my life in a different way, in a way I would never have chosen.
Every night I prayed desperately for Jennifer to be brought home safely, to have the life she deserved. In those moments, I asked God to take my life so that Jenn could have hers back.
I had hit rock bottom. One night, I remember experiencing a sense of peace during my conversations with God that defied my current circumstances. It felt odd, bizarre. How could this be? How do I have peace when everything in and around me is in turmoil? What did this all mean?
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Pain is indeed a megaphone. I opened my heart to hear what God was saying and embraced a new life He offered. By His grace, I was inspired to write a book, "Aftermath of Jennifer Kesse’s Abduction: An Uncle’s Inspiring Journey and Other Stories of Hope."
In the book, I share my 16-year journey of life transformation, from selfish to selfless, authentically and vulnerably, and introduce readers to inspirational stories of people who overcame unimaginable obstacles.
Inspired hope is not wishful thinking but a confident expectation only found in one person through an intimate relationship that lasts our lifetime. This hope is anchored to a person and a promise - the person of Jesus and the promise - that if you believe in Jesus, you will have life; an authentic and meaningful life resulting from being rescued, redeemed, and restored to a right relationship with God that will positively impact all the relationships in your life.
I need that confident hope and thankfully God gave the strength and patience to persevere over the past 16 plus years. I knew I wasn’t the person I wanted to be, nor was I the husband and father my family deserved.
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The road I traveled included some rocky paths, some slippery slopes, and some uncomfortable terrain that was my life and relationships at that time. As I pursued my new life and preferred future, some of the people in my life may not be happy, it made them uncomfortable. Some believed it was my latest fad. Over time it became obvious it was not.
Thankfully, my wife and family never gave up on me, and most people in my life encouraged and cheer me on to finish strong.
If you would like to change the narrative direction of your life, I found the best place to start is with ourselves. Having focused on becoming the person I wished other people were, I was transformed into a better version of myself, and honestly, I cringe thinking about my old self. Know that I will be cheering you on so that you finish strong!
I do have one request -- that you keep my sister Joyce, my brother-in-law, Drew, and my nephew Logan and his family in your prayers because as of the date of this writing, Jennifer is still missing, vanished without a trace.
One of my objectives for writing this book is that the person or people who were involved in Jennifer’s abduction would know that no matter what they have done, the final chapter of their life stories has not been written. They can come forward with information that will either bring Jenn home or bring closure to our family. Facing the truth does, in fact, set you free, and a new life is waiting to begin.
For more information about the book "Aftermath of Jennifer Kesse’s Abduction: An Uncle’s Inspiring Journey and Other Stories of Hope," visit inspiringhopedaily.com.