White Chair Stories

Ryan Ries founder of The Whosoevers

You want to know words that would describe my life? I would just say fun, crazy, and out of control, wild ‘n out, partying, skateboarding. Went to all different countries, surfing, snowboarding. Tonga, Fiji, met with the king of Fiji. Worked with a lot of different bands, slept with girls, got introduced to cocaine. Started shooting heroine. A lot of girls, had a sex addiction. Used them like pieces of meat. I was losing friends that where dying. Putting Ecstasy, heroine, and coke in syringes and shooting it while smoking crack.

Let me start over.

High school’s when it all started. One of my friends introduced me to the rave scene in 1990. To go to a rave, you’d have to call a number at 12 o’clock at night, then they gave you directions to a map point. So you’d drive out to the middle of somewhere in LA. You show up on the corner of the street. You pay $5 to $20, depending on the thing, then they give you a little piece of paper, like a fortune cookie, with the directions to the place, which led you to Compton.

You’d show up in Compton or Watts, in the ghetto of ghettos, like neighborhoods where you could get killed. You pull up, you park your car, you go up to this back industrial alley, to this place. You walk up, you got a wall of music, like 60 speakers, one whole wall. The loudest electronic music, nitrous tanks, pop acid, or Ecstasy or candy flip and you start hallucinating. Going nuts with the loud speakers and nitrous balloons. It’s just a wild ride at that point.

I had a couple of friends that actually went mentally insane. A couple of guys are schizo. One guy jumped off a cliff on LSD and killed himself. Another guy jumped in front of a train. I’m lucky I’m alive. 


I started shooting heroine. A lot of girls, had a sex addiction. Used them like pieces of meat. I was losing friends that were dying. Putting Ecstasy, heroine, and coke in syringes and shooting it while smoking crack.


I grew up in Los Angeles, in Southern California. I would skateboard like a normal kid and surf. And when I was in the 1st grade, I remember finding a big duffel bag of porn magazines in the back of my school. When I got to 4th grade, I saw a video and I kind of started understanding what was going on in those pictures. It just warped things in my mind.

When I got to high school, I got introduced to cocaine. It was more experimental at that time. But, then, after high school, it started getting more of a habit, where it just turned into a routine, where that’s just what I did. That’s just what I did, I just partied. When I started my new job, that’s when everything took off. We were working with a lot of big-named people, so a lot of opportunities opened for Playboy mansion parties, the vivid porn star girls would host our parties.

During the summer we’d go to Europe for a month and a half. We’d film videos, shoot for magazines, travel with musicians and go on tours with them. And, then, we’d do video premieres with our skate videos. I’d wake up, go to work, go skate, go get wasted. Wake up, go skate, go work, go skate, get wasted. But I had the nice house. I had the motorcycles. I’ve literally done laps around the world like three to four times. And, a lot of girls and the drugs, nothing gets me off anymore. I was empty, just nothing made me happy.

Then I did a tour through Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama City. I just did cocaine the whole time. One of our team riders found me in my bed with cocaine all over my face and all over the counter. They couldn’t wake me up. They thought I overdosed. All I know is I woke up the next morning and they said: “Dude, we thought you were dead last night.”


Prove that you’re real to me, because I see religion around me. I see my parents, and these Christians, and I don’t relate to them.


And at that point, I just realized I got to change my life. I went to my hotel room and I was by myself for the first time, and sober for the first time in at least a month and a half. I was at Panama City, at the Sheraton Hotel. I just remember going, “Jesus, if you are real, I need you to prove that you are real to me.”

I just remembered this prayer my Dad would say. He’d just say, “Jesus, forgive me for my sins, come into my life, and fill me with your Holy Spirit.”

I said that prayer. I said, “Prove that you’re real to me, because I see religion around me. I see my parents, and these Christians, and I don’t relate to them.”

And I remember going, “Ok. What can I do now? I need to read the Bible, right?”

And started looking through the drawers. There has to be a Bible in the hotel room, they have Bibles all over the world, I’d always see them. I open it, there’s a blue Bible there. It’s a Gideon Bible. I pulled it out and I just started reading it.

I was waiting for this supernatural experience, you know? I’ve taken a lot of drugs. I’ve seen a lot of stuff and I thought that God was going to show up in his heavenly glory, with angels and what not, but that didn’t happen.

So I got the Bible. I stole it from the hotel. I put it in my backpack, got on the plane, and I was surrounded by all the skate team. They were looking at me and they must have been tripping, because they’re like, “This guy lives his life like a pirate.”

And I remember just looking at them and saying: “You know what? If God’s real, I’m going to find him, because he’s in this book. This is God’s Word.”


You know what? If God’s real, I’m going to find him. because he’s in this book. This is God’s Word.


So I just read that Bible, that Gideon Bible, for six hours straight all the way to LAX. And I remember, I landed and I just had peace in my life for the first time in my life. I just felt peace. The next morning, I wake up and I hear this song singing through my head. I remember just getting up out of my bed, and opening my eyes and I just heard this song singing, “This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in him.” 

And it kept repeating over and over, just like this little song. I’m tripping out at this point. I got to call my Dad. My Dad’s a Christian. He can tell me what this means.

I called him up, and I go, “Hey, Dad. Dude, I gave my life to the Lord in Panama City. I’m coming off drugs. I have a heroine addiction, smoking crack and using a lot of cocaine, and drinking a lot. But, I gave my life to Jesus in the hotel room, but, the problem is, I woke up this morning and I heard this song singing through my head. ‘This is the day the Lord has made.'”

And he said, “Ryan, that’s the Holy Spirit. God is calling you, and he has a plan for your life.”

At that point, I knew that God was real. I just started following him. Reading, praying, going to church. I just decided, I’m not going to sleep with girls, because I know it’s in the Bible that I shouldn’t be sleeping with girls. I’m not using drugs. I’m going to church, but I’m watching porn because I’m like, “No one knows about that, that’s a secret deal.”

But, as I’m going to church, God’s working in my life. He’s transforming my mind and my heart. I also came to this verse in Matthew and it talks about how Jesus said to the disciples, “If you want to be my followers, you have to turn from your selfish ways, pick up your cross and follow me.”


My porn problem and the things I want to do, I’ve got to grab that and throw it on the cross, crucify it, and kill it. My flesh has to die on that cross. I’ve got to follow Jesus.


My porn problem and the things I want to do, I’ve got to grab that and throw it on the cross, crucify it, and kill it. Just the way Jesus hung on the cross with his flesh and died for our sins. My flesh has to die on that cross. I’ve got to follow Jesus. So, I stopped watching porn and I started getting these thoughts of watching porn, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, that’s working in my life, I’m praying to God and I’m yelling to God like, “God, help me! Help me! I don’t want to watch porn, Lord! I want to follow you! I don’t want to say something and do something else! I want to be like you! I want to be like the disciples!”

And I just started following Jesus, and then an opportunity comes up that I go to Israel. I want to go to the Holy Land. I want to go see where Jesus walked. I’m going through the Bible. 

So I called Sonny Sandoval, the lead singer from P.O.D., and said, “Hey, dog, I’m a Christian now, I’m going to Israel, and do you want to roll out?” A couple of days later we ended up in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed to the Father. 

Pancho Juarez, a pastor, gave the story. He said, “You guys, you go make peace with Jesus. Go get rid of whatever you’ve got to get rid of, and leave all that baggage here at the Garden.”

I remember going out there to the garden and I just prayed, “God, I don’t know what you are going to do with me. I don’t even know what you can do with me, or who am I. I don’t even know how I can serve you. But, if you want me to follow you and you want to use me, and you want me to share my story then have someone contact me, outside of my immediate circle, to have me share my story. And if you call me out, then I’ll go and I’ll share my story. And I will not go back to my old job and I will follow you wherever that takes me.”

And I said that prayer, and I happened to get a phone call the next day. And it was this guy, Derek Neider, at Calvary Chapel, Las Vegas. And he said: “Hey, man, I would love for you to come out and share your story at my church. I heard you got saved.”

“Yeah, I’ll come, I’ll come.”

But after I hang up the phone, I was just like, “I was just joking, Jesus! That was a joke. I didn’t know it was going to happen.


After sharing his testimony, Ryan co-funded the Whosoevers. Using music, skateboarding and street art, this organization allows Ryan to openly talk about facing substance and sex addictions.


It’s been five and a half years since I watched porn. But, I’ll be honest, like over the last four years it’s been brutal. I come home and I’m single man, I get those thoughts like, “Go turn on your computer. Go hit that button. Go to Safari. Go for it.”

But, when I start hearing that stuff, the Holy Spirit is like, “No, don’t do that”.

I actually walked into a liquor store the other day and I saw these porn magazines. I looked over and immediately I looked away. And I was like, “Dude, I can’t believe I just looked away”. Because Jesus says that, if you become a new creation in Christ, God renews your mind.

You want to know words that would describe my life? I would say I’m not perfect. I don’t have everything figured out. I’m completely rough around the edges. But, I know that Jesus Christ is the Lord of my life, and I’m going to follow him in whatever he does in my life.

My name is Ryan Ries and I Am Second.

Lynsi Snyder, Owner and President of In-N-Out Burger

I’m currently the president at In-N-Out Burger, which was a little mom and pop burger stand that started in 1948 and grew to be pretty big.

It’s been a part of my life since I was born, being close with different people that work there. You know, it really got introduced into my life when my dad died. Both my parents were very loving. I remember being pretty cheerful little girl that was a little bit spoiled because my siblings were 12 and 16 years older than me.

My dad was really funny. He was a little bit eccentric. He loved to make people laugh, loved to laugh himself. He used to explain songs to me. We had this connection with music. We loved music. He spoke to me like I was an adult when I was 4 years old. He had this wisdom and discernment that I was going to be exposed to so many different things in life; that I was going to need that straightforwardness and that honesty.


And that’s when I really started longing for that attention and that love because my dad was the greatest source for that.


Probably around age five or six we were going to visit my dad in the hospital. And, I thought it was just the hospital he was staying at, but it turned out to be a rehab. My mom explained it that he was just sick. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized he had a drug addiction, from different surgeries he’d had and a lot of pain he’d had in his past. Pain that he didn’t know what to do with.

It was really hard for me to see him fail and be weak because I knew how bad he wanted to be a good husband and a good father. It was a matter of time before the drugs and another woman, and then that was pretty much it. They got divorced when I was twelve.

And that’s when I really started longing for that attention and that love because my dad was the greatest source for that. One day, I was on my way to school and he’d called in the morning. I talked to him and I was rushing him off the phone because I had my hands full and that was the last time I talked to him. My world shattered.

After my dad died there was no way I was going to be alone. He’s gone, so I had even greater reason to fill the void. I got married at 18. I had graduated a few months before that. It wasn’t right. I knew that. That small still voice had told me don’t do this. And I did it. And I paid the price with a divorce.


Another divorce. Another affair. I couldn’t feel like a bigger failure at that point. I just couldn’t recover who I was.


And jumped right into the arms of someone else. At that point, I realized I’m pretty much the outcast in the family. Now, I’m divorced and I figured I might as well just embrace this. Started smoking pot, drinking, which were things I really wanted to stay away from after watching my dad. I realized that I’m going to follow the footsteps of my father and I’m going to meet an early death if I do not get right with God and follow him, because the enemy just wanted to wipe me out.

I could let go of the pot and the alcohol, but letting go of the guy was different, because being alone…I just didn’t want to be alone. I just was praying and asking God to give me the strength to do what was right. I knew that I couldn’t go back home that night and sleep with my boyfriend. I had to tell him, ‘Hey this isn’t happening. If you are going to do those things, don’t do them around me.”

He ended up getting saved, so I then I’m like “Okay, now we can get married.” It was the fast track. We got married in November. Was it really the right thing? I can’t say because I have two precious children from that marriage, but 6 years later, another divorce, another affair.

I couldn’t feel like a bigger failure at that point. I just couldn’t recover who I was. I was so alone. Didn’t last long. I ended up in another relationship. We ended up having a child together. We got married. And I married him because I didn’t want to be alone. He married me because of money. I was cheated on off and on for three and a half years.

The first time I found out he cheated on me I was like, “Well I deserve it. I’m paying for it.” He cheated on my while I was pregnant. Disrespected, never had I been talked to like he talked to me. Treated like trash. It was the worst time of my life.


God took me to a place that I’ve never been before and he showed me that in that time where I felt more alone than ever, more of a piece of trash than ever, more of a failure, that he was there. And he was ready to love me.


You can see how someone who just wants that love and appreciation was just getting further and further from what she wanted. Started believing the lies that I deserved that, that God’s punishing me. The things that can be said can cut you very deeply and can change who you believe you think you are.

I just continued to put up with it. No way could I get divorced again. I mean how old am I and I’ve been divorced a handful of times, really? It was terrible. It really pushed me. God took me to a place that I’ve never been before and he showed me that in that time where I felt more alone than ever, more of a piece of trash than ever, more of a failure, that he was there. And he was ready to love me and fill that void.

And he’d been there all along wanting that, but he needed me to let go of that tangible person. It was my dad first, then it was the next guy, the next guy. I was never willing to just let go to see that God had something better.

I was forced to this time because this was someone who was just throwing me to the curb. I was divorced again. And I knew it was time to just take time away. That time alone was some of my greatest memories with God. It was an alone that was okay because I wasn’t completely alone because I had the Jesus that walked on water, healed the sick. I had that Jesus filling that void, touching my heart, pouring into who I’m called to be and who he sees me as, rather than who I’d believed I was because of the things I’d done.

I really value the love and good times I had with my dad but even that can’t compare to the love that God has for me. It likes you’re a little kid riding a bike for the first time and your dad is proud cheering you on because he helped you ride that bike. And God got me back up after all of these failures and he can lift me up and see me go forward and I know that he can be glorified.

And riding a bike and a proud dad and the Creator of the niverse being able to use you is like… wow.

My name is Lynsi Snyder and I Am Second.

Remi Adeleke #rethinkyourheroes

When I was a kid, my mom would take my brother and I to the movies. It was somewhat of a pastime for us to detach from our life and turn to this new world through film for two hours. This movie by the name of Bad Boys came out, which was directed by Michael Bay. That was the first movie I remember seeing where there were two heroes who looked like me and they weren’t playing thugs or gangsters or drug dealers but instead they were playing heroes who were essentially running, gunning and saving the day.

A year later Michael Bay’s second film The Rock came out, and that was the first time I was exposed to Navy SEALs. I was just blown away by this portrayal of men who were coming out of the water going into this place to go sacrifice themselves to save others. That really resignation with me and I thought if I was to ever turn my life around, that’s what I would do.

Ever since I was young I always wanted to control things. When I would want something I would literally, if I had to, I would run through walls to get it. I’ve always felt like I’ve needed to be the one to make things happen in my life. And it’s hard for me to trust people or to trust something outside of me.


When my father died, I took in any and everything that I felt would satisfy that paternal void, that would teach me how to be a man.


Through culture, music, I was constantly bombarded with this message that said, “You’re a young African American male, you need to be a hustler, or you need to be a thug, or you need to be a player.” Because I didn’t have a positive male role model to tell me otherwise to say “No. This is not what a man is. This is what a man is.”

I started out stealing from my mom that progressed to running scams and that progressed to selling drugs. When my father died, I took in any and everything that I felt would satisfy that paternal void, that would teach me how to be a man. One day I was laying in bed and this voice, whatever it was, it was a voice to me but it just kept on pressing upon me that I needed to join the military. I needed to get out of New York and joining the military is what I needed to do.

It’s not many jobs out there where you can get paid to you know, jump out of planes and go after bad guys, protect those who couldn’t protect themselves. Essentially be that guy who stood in the face of bullies and said not on my watch.

My acting coach, he trained Stella Adler. Stella Adler was a proponent for actors getting out of their environment and traveling the world, seeing different cultures, tasting different foods, experiencing love, experiencing pain, experiencing all these experiences that life has to offer, and then taking those experiences and cataloging them so that actor is able to pull from those experiences to bring the character to life.


I was at the lowest point I had ever been in my entire life. I literally began to cry out to Jesus. “Help me, Jesus. Help me.”


Going to cold weather survival training in Alaska, and while I would walk through this wilderness I really had time to reflect upon myself in the silence because it was completely silent out there. I’d began to think about how I treated my mom and how I treated people I claimed I loved. I would think about things that I did in the past and I still yearned for that paternal presence.

I couldn’t really sleep and then I began to have suicidal thoughts. I was at the lowest point I had ever been in my entire life. I didn’t know anything about the Bible but by a simple ounce of faith I literally began to cry out to Jesus.

“Help me, Jesus. Help me.”

Then I began to surround myself around Christians who didn’t just read the Bible but they actually lived the Bible and I began to pray and all I wanted to do was be with him and do for him and forsake that life I used to live and live this new life with him. My whole life was dramatically changed. I just like I felt God telling me you need to join the military, I felt God pressing upon me the importance of it’s time for you to get out of the military, it’s time for you to move on, I have something else for you.

I didn’t know how I was going to pay the bills. I was expecting to have all these opportunities for speaking engagements because I got into speaking and that didn’t happen. The phones didn’t ring. I began to get really nervous because I knew that I had only about six months of savings. I have a wife and she’s pregnant with our first son. We’re just barely scraping through, like we’re living paycheck to paycheck.


It just didn’t work out the way I expected it, and when it didn’t work out I got so frustrated. I got mad at God. It was silence. It was silence.


I had financial problems and then to compound the financial problems we had significant marriage problems. And the marriage problems were so bad we both contemplated getting a divorce. It just didn’t work out the way I expected it, and when it didn’t work out I got so frustrated. There was a point where I got mad at God. Did I hear you wrong? Was I supposed to get out of the military? Was I supposed to make that decision? It was silence. It was silence.

Around that time, I received a phone call from a lady who I worked with years prior, she cast me in a TV show by the name of The Last Ship back in 2013 for a day of filming.

She said, Well, I’ve been trying to find you for this movie that starts filming tomorrow.”

I was like, “Ok what move is that?”

She said, “Well, its Transformers.”

I started out as a day player, two weeks later I was called back for three more weeks of filming. I started to get lines from the director, which was unusual for me because I was like Wow I’m just a background extra.

He said to me, “Hey, the director wants to upgrade you to a principal role, are you available to film for the rest of production?”

And I said, “Absolutely.”


I know that his plan is better than any plan that I could ever have, even though his plan may not make sense to me.


The director happened to be Michael Bay. The same one who inspired me to be a SEAL. You know when you look at my story going from the Bronx, to the military, then to special operations out of that in a marriage, being a husband and being a father and then, now having a career in acting in the film industry. There’s one word I could sum it up with: God.

And so he’s been with me throughout my entire life. He’s seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. And he’s used it all to bring me to where I’m at today. I don’t want to force things anymore. I just want to allow God to do whatever it is that he wants to do in my life.

If he wants to take me out of this acting career next week then so be it. If he wants me to get back into the military, so be it. If he wants me to go into ministry full-time, so be it. If he wants me to take up a job, I don’t know, as a pilot or whatever, so be it. Because I know that his plan is better than any plan that I could ever have and even though his plan may not make sense to me. Within his plans is everything that I need and everything that not just good for me but good for my family as well.

Nashville Predators- Mike Fisher

I’d get the question: “Hey, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

And it was: “An NHL hockey player”.

That’s all I wanted to do. I remember just the anticipation, I loved to compete.I  loved the speed of it. I loved to score. I grew up in Peterborough, Ontario. Peterborough was a hockey town, so it was filled with hockey rinks. I tried balancing that with school and church and family. 

Hockey is stats-related, performance-based sport. I think that carried over as a kid into just trying to be a good kid. At six years old, I was about to go to school and I asked my mom if I could ask the Lord into my heart. I still remember where I’m on my knees and prayed with my mom.  


I make it to the NHL. I’m making a great salary. I made my childhood dream. Everything was great on the exterior, but in the interior, not good at all.


I left home at seventeen. I was drafted into the Ontario Hockey League, so I went away at seventeen and left family and friends, and the security of home and church. I was playing with 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 year-olds and I struggled. I was trying too much to fit in. I was focusing for so long on what I can’t do. I can’t swear, can’t drink, can’t have sex. I can’t do all these things. And meanwhile, inside, I’m not focusing on that relationship with God. Hockey took over.

At nineteen, I make it to the NHL. I’m making a great salary. That’s it. I made it. I made my childhood dream and everything was great on the exterior, but in the interior, not good at all. I remember signing my first contract. I was nineteen years old. It’s kind of a little bit unbelievable. That’s every kid’s dream, to sign a contract, and I remember going out that night to a bar, gettin’ drunk, making a bad decision, and waking up the next morning and feeling like the worst piece of crap that I could ever felt like.

There was a lot of inside feelings of a lot of different things. I was letting people down. I was letting God down. I was trying to hide, trying to pretend like everything was great. Still go to church, but maybe be hung-over. Not really into it, but just putting up a facade. When I did a Bible study with my cousin, who I was living with at the time, at the age of about 22, I get to a scripture, Luke 9: 23-25, and it says:


“If you want to be a follower of me, you have to put aside your own selfish desires, shoulder your cross daily and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it, but if you give up your life for me, you will find true life. What do you benefit if you gain the whole world, but lose your own soul in the process?”


I remember that scripture just hitting me, that was for me. I’d reached my dreams. I had money and everything. I thought I was cool and it just wasn’t working. I knew where the answer was, but I hadn’t been looking for it in the right places. Through a process of just praying and getting in the Word with my cousin my life was changed. For the first time, I remember thinking: “Man, this is really real.”

It wasn’t because of my parents. It wasn’t because I was supposed to be in church. It became real to me. It didn’t happen overnight, but slowly God changed me on the inside. I started to not worry about the dollars, but just focus on just pursuing him. And slowly, God started to just bring up stuff. I started to confess things in my life that I wasn’t proud of. God just kind of released that. It wasn’t religion anymore, it was a real relationship and it was awesome.

Game day, I start to get goose bumps, thankful to be able to do what I love to do. I fail, definitely. I’m on the back end of my career. I’m a guy that’s kind of not very patient at times, and I’m a slow healer. But I finally figured out that it wasn’t just about performing. It was about just accepting his love in spite of our failures and our mistakes. That love of the Father is unconditional, and that’s a pretty good feeling to know how much he loves me.

My name is Mike Fisher, and I Am Second. 

Mike Fisher is a recipient of the NHL Foundation Player Award, recognizing commitment, perseverance, and teamwork on and off the ice. He has played in the NHL since 1999 with the Ottawa Senators and then in 2011 with the Nashville Predators. In 2016, he was named captain and is currently playing for the Stanley Cup against the Pittsburgh Penguins.


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Josh Turner: God inspired me to write “Long Black Train.” I wrote this song, by myself, in my apartment, and it came to me in a vision. It’s a vision of this long, black, beautiful, shiny train, and people are standing out to the sides of the track, watching this train go by, just craving to get on it.

Brian Birdwell- 9/11 Pentagon Attack Survivor

The moment when you are 15-20 yards from an 80 ton jet coming through the building at 530 mph with 3,000 gallons of jet fuel, and you live to tell about it– not because the United States army made me the toughest guy in that building, but because the toughest man that ever walked this earth 2000 years ago and sits at the right side of the father had something else in mind.

The morning of September 11, I stepped out and went to the men’s restroom, and took care of my business. I was about 7 or 8 steps out when flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon at the intersection of the fourth quarter in the E ring at about a 45-degree angle.  I was thrown around, tossed around like a rag doll inside. I was set ablaze, breathing in black putrid smoke, inhaling aerosolized jet fuel, with the temperature of that air somewhere between 300-350 degrees.

You could see flesh hanging off my arms, my eyes are already beginning to swell closed, and I had no hair. The front of my shirt is still intact, my access badge and my nametag are melted, but still hanging covered in the black soot and scorched blood.  My arms are skinned alive, my pants are gone, I only have my leather belt and a portion of my pants that are in the immediate area of the belt. The flames were consuming me and I expected to pass away.

It’s really the definition of terrorism because it combines two things: One, receipt of a life threatening injury, I mean, set on fire the way I was; but combined with the blackness, the darkness and inability to navigate. Just moments before I was in a hallway that I was exceedingly familiar with, I knew exactly which way I was going. Then in that next moment on the impact of the aircraft I am being set on fire, sustaining a life threatening injury with no way to escape, and no way to know which way is to safety or to danger. That darkness and that blackness is what really captures your heart in the panic. When you meet those two circumstances, those moments seem to last an eternity.

I did what we in the military are never trained to do, which is surrender. I came to that realization that I was no longer struggling to survive, but I had stepped over that line from that desire and zest for living which we were created with to that acceptance of my death and recognizing that this is how the Lord was going to call me home. I screamed out in a loud voice, “Jesus, I am coming to see you.” Yet that didn’t come, and I lay there thinking all right Lord let’s get on with this thing. But the Lord had other purposes.

I used the wall that I had been blown up against to get up; and as I was staggering down the hallway four men, Bill McKennan, Roy Wallis, John Davies and Chuck Knoblauch come out of the B ring door area and Roy can see me, he sees me coming out of the smoke and staggering in the hallway. And in their haste to pick me up, Bill, Roy, Chuck and John each grab a limb and give that exertion to get up but I didn’t come with them.  It’s similar to that paraffin or hot wax you stick your hands in and after the wax cools it will just peel right off, and that’s what happened when Bill, Roy, Chuck and John each grabbed a limb and go to pick me up, they pulled chunks of flesh off of me and that’s my first insight into the pain thresholds that are ahead of me as a critical burn survivor.

I began screaming at them to leave me alone, and in my heart and mind am telling them to leave me there to die.  They don’t do that. Chuck actually rolls me over onto the left hand side and essentially the four of them shake hands with each other, grasping each other’s hands and wrists with my body weight resting on their arms acting as a litter to carry me through; I am yelling at them to put me down and leave me alone. I am yelling at Bill because I recognized Bill but Bill doesn’t recognize me. I am trembling violently and uncontrollably. In all my years of triage, the process is to take care of those that are most injured first, the most critical, and Dr. Baxter treats me first, and that tells me how serious injured I am.

We get to Georgetown University Hospital. On the other side of the Potomac River across the Key Bridge – there’s a lot of intensity, a lot of voice commands, a lot of directives; clearly a lot of gravity. Normally in an emergency room situation it’s airway, breathing, circulation; once those three things have been stabilized you’re evacuated to specialized care. But more importantly, when flight 77 makes impact with the Pentagon, as the third aircraft that crashed that day, inside the White House Situation Room Vice President Cheney turns to Secretary Moneta, Secretary of Transportation, and says, “Shut down all air space in the Unites States.”  that includes all medivac helicopters.  

Dr. Williams will not just do his best to stabilize me, but he began the escharotomy, the incisions, and the very ghastly things that have to be done for someone who has been so seriously and critically burned. The finality and permanency of life that I thought I was facing inside the Pentagon– I am now in an emergency room realizing that whatever I do here may be my final acts.  

 So, I told Dr. Williams I wanted to take my wedding ring off, because normally jewelry has to be cut off the burn survivor, whether it’s a ring, bracelet or necklace if that’s the part of the body burned because as swelling of the body occurs but the jewelry doesn’t swell, it becomes a tourniquet. Judith Rogers, one of the nurses in Georgetown that had answered the “all hands on deck” call to the Emergency Room, reaches for the ring as my body is cooled like that steak you take off the grill, and as Judith takes that tug and de-gloves the flesh, there’s exposed bone after she pulls it off, there is blood streaming out of the base of my hand and only the Lord can hear me scream in my mind. I am concentrating on the dignity and the finality of the death that I know I am dying; and saying goodbye to my wife and my son, and the symbolism of that wedding ring.

Mel will eventually arrive at Georgetown. Knowing that she was there was critical to me, more than anything else she was living up to the wedding vows that she had taken 14 years earlier. I am proud of her. I asked for the hospital chaplin, Chaplin Cerillo, to say that final prayer, and it’s just a prayer that says, “Okay Lord, You are in charge here. If you guide Dr William’s hand and the team here at the Georgetown Emergency Room and I survive here, we will salute that flag and move out with that mission; but if you’ve brought me here and your decision is to bring me into eternity silently and quietly under the care and compassion of my fellow Americans, we will salute that flag too.” It was with the strength, not of a soldier, but of my faith in Christ that I could look at Dr. Williams when that prayer was over with and very laboriously tell him lets get on with it,  resting in the comfort of the commander and chief of life.

General Peak very wisely asked Mel, “Has Matthew been up here to see his father?” and she said, “No, not yet.” He said, “You need to get Matthew up here because your husband is dying and your son needs to say goodbye before that happens.”

Matt would make that visit and in 20 plus years of military service, the hardest thing I have ever been asked to do was to say goodbye to my son. I remember watching Matt come in and he came into the right hand side, as I was wrapped like a mummy, with a tube in every orifice in my body. I can’t speak because of the tracheotomy and the feeding tubes and other things; but I can see him walk in and just mouth “I love you dad,” and I could sit there and mouth back to him how much I loved him; and because of that opportunity I had to say goodbye to my son, in that moment I was having my “it is finished moment”.

As hard as that was to physically and emotionally say goodbye to my son, I think about how difficult it must have been for God the Father to say goodbye to his Son for three days, his Son having known the perfection of heaven. In my death, I would be separated from my son, but joined to my heavenly father, whereas Christ’s death separated him from the perfection of heaven and the relationship he had with the Father.

Time will allow me to forgive. In fact, I can’t say that’s happened. I couldn’t look you in the eye and say, “Yeah I have forgiven and moved on,” but I can tell you that Mel and I accentuate the positive of not only having our lives to remain together and watch Matthew grow up, but also having grand kids somewhere in the future and continue to live in this great nation. We don’t think about the difficulty that five particular terrorists put us through, and concentrating on the negative of the terrorists’ actions; but we concentrate on the grace of the Lord’s actions.

You know, I got a purple heart for stepping out of a men’s restroom; and many of our men and women in uniform today earn their purple heart today by stepping out of this great nation into foreign danger zones. Christ earned his purple heart by stepping out of the perfection of heaven. And that’s exactly why the term “I am Second and He is first” is so appropriate.

My name is Brian Birdwell and I am Second.

 


More like this

Blog

The day I lost my first soldier- I glanced at my watch; we were on time. Second platoon was heading out in sector and I felt like things were starting well…then Boom! A massive explosion erupted about a mile and change out. I watch a mushroom cloud rise from the fire. I ran inside the TOC and got on the radio.

How I found myself after I lost my mother to addiction- This past May, I lost my mom to alcoholism and addiction. In truth, I had lost her before that—long before that. But the shock of it was no less jarring.

 

Films

Chris Plekenpol: God must have taken a vacation because there’s no way He can be present in a situation like this. That was Chris’s rationale after being deployed to Iraq where no day, hour or minute was certain.

Chad Robichaux Film: As a police officer, Chad Robichaux had to make a life-or-death decision. As a Force Recon Marine serving as part of a Joint Special Operations Command Task Force, he witnessed unspeakable evil. Eight tours later those memories still haunted him.

Sujo John: When terrorists hijacked planes and rammed them into the World Trade Center towers on 9/11/2001, his life story was altered. As the walls of the towers came crashing down around him, his wife’s whereabouts unknown, and thousands dying around him, Sujo could only rely upon God’s plan for his life. A plan which became real amidst the death and debris of Ground Zero.

Chris Plekenpol

Sometimes, I regret not saving that guy’s life. I mean, sometimes, I sit there and I’m like “you know that’s probably what a Christian would do.” And yet, I didn’t have the guts to do it.  You think you really know God. There is just those moments where I went from this place of being a fan of God, when I was 22, to just having this incredible faith. Where life went from black and white and turned to color, and it just became such a powerful thing. The army kind of sometimes runs a little contradictory to that. So, I just made this call and decision that the only thing in life I wanted to do was share the gospel [of Jesus].

So, I find myself getting out of the army and I’m in Korea and the Colonel gives me a call. And he’s like, “Chris, I want you to take command of this company.”  

So, there is that moment, “Sure, I’ll do one more year. What’s it going to hurt? It’s great leadership experience.”

Well, twelve days after I take command, my Colonel gives me another call, “Hey Chris, I need you to take an assessment of your men. I can’t tell you why, but you can probably figure it out.”  

Figure what out? Well, he told me I was going to war. I was going to Iraq.

A couple of months later I find myself in the sandbox of Iraq. I am now the commander of 100 men, 21 tanks, 7 Bradley’s, which are like mini tanks, a handful of Hummers. I’m standing outside my command post for that first day of combat. I was watching heat waves, I mean it’s hot. Heat waves are bouncing off – it’s 120 degrees outside. And there are my tanks, we’re all out in the sector. I mean, I’m doing this – this is real.


There are three letters that you never want to hear creep across the radio in combat. And that’s KIA.


I glance down at my watch to make sure everything is okay and boom, a massive explosion erupts about a quarter of a mile out. Smoke and fire billow into this mushroom cloud about 250 feet high. Immediately, I run into my command post and I’m trying to figure out from the situation report what exactly is going on.  There are three letters that you never want to hear creep across the radio in combat. And that’s KIA, killed in action.

The first four minutes, I lose my first soldier. Immediately, I run and go grab my M4 carbon rifle, my 9mm pistol. I put my flak vest on and sprint down to my tank. I charge that 50 caliber machine gun, my loader takes a 45 lb., 120mm round and puts it in the breach of the main gun. Then my gunner toggles the switches on the computer, while my driver pushes that 72 ton beast of a machine 42 miles an hour into the west gate.

I align three tanks to pound the north shore with everything we got. These terrorists start to withdraw to the north. I send two tanks across the river to follow. I follow in my tank. 100 men behind me start searching house, to house, to house, to house. And after 7 hours of searching, we find nothing.  


You got one job as a military leader, and that is to bring back everyone home alive. In the first four minutes of that, I fail.


I’m emotionally drained. I go home, back to the barracks and write a letter home to his wife, Kaila, and his 13 year old daughter, Sara, and explain how I let her father and husband die. You got one job as a military leader, and that is to bring back everyone home alive. In the first four minutes of that, I fail.

Spiritually, I’ll be honest with you, it kinda felt like God took a day off. When I came to faith in Christ at 22, we kind of had a deal. Here I am 6 years later and it feels like that whole thing about “I’ll never leave you or forsake you”, it’s kinda church jargon now. But where are you in the moment where my company is in battle, in combat, and I lose somebody and there is that sense that you’re on vacation.

I was constantly out of sector. My uniform is wet with sweat. I’m frustrated. I’m tired. I don’t even feel like I’m a Christian at all. I feel like I’m not praying. I’m not reading my Bible. I’m struggling here. Ultimately, I made a decision and went up to my second-in-command, my executive officer and I said, “Adam, check it out man, I am going down to the chapel in the morning.”


I figure that God is big enough for my worries.


I take a chair and set I set another chair [in front of me]. I just sit there and I talk to God. And I am like, ‘You know what, I’m frustrated. I’m tired. I don’t know if I can do this. I’m lonely. You know, there is no one I can express this fear with; everyone looking to me and  I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders here.

So that frustration kind of mounts and I’m just letting Him have it. I figure that God is big enough for my worries.

This one time, we are out in sector and all of a sudden this terrorist takes a car bomb. It’s not like he has a uniform. He looks like everybody else. He takes this car bomb and he plows it right into one of my men’s tank. The car doesn’t explode. In fact, there was something wrong or he miscalibrated somehow. The detonator didn’t work and he rams the car straight into the tank. You know, this is a 2 ½ ton car running into a 72 ton tank. He loses. He’s knocked out.

The entire gas tank explodes. We have this massive inferno moving from the rear of the car to the front of the car, where these bombs are. So, this terrorist rolls out of the car. He wakes up because the heat must be just incredible. He’s starting to roll away from the blast. And there is a moment. I’m not going to lie to you. I could have saved his life. I saw it, but I didn’t do it. There’s that moment, I was not willing to die for my enemy right now. I’m not willing to do it. And so I watch him. The explosion erupted and we watched his body ripped apart. After the explosion, the dust settles. I jump off my tank and I sprint up to his body. I watch crimson fill the sand.

I’m that terrorist.  When it comes to how I’ve affected my life towards God, I’ve been an enemy of him and yet he didn’t sit back in his tank and just watch me die. He decided to come from heaven to earth and take that blast for me. Life is so short and so urgent. We just have this need to share the hope that we have with people who have no clue. I look at that terrorist and there is no way that I would ever go and save that guy’s life, because I am not that kind of hero. I am not willing to go and risk my life for an enemy. Yet Christ did that very thing for me. I owe him everything and that is why he is first in my life, because he was willing to do what I was never able to do.  

I am Chris Plekenpol and I Am Second.  

 

Chris Plekenpol: Watch Chris tell his story in his own words.

Chad Robichaux Film: As a police officer, Chad Robichaux had to make a life-or-death decision. As a Force Recon Marine serving as part of a Joint Special Operations Command Task Force, he witnessed unspeakable evil. Eight tours later those memories still haunted him.

Brian Birdwell: One minute he was visiting the bathroom down the hall from his Pentagon office. The next minute he was burned over 60% of his body from an unknown explosion and resulting fires. That was the hell unleashed on Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell on 9/11/2001.

Sujo John: When terrorists hijacked planes and rammed them into the World Trade Center towers on 9/11/2001, his life story was altered. As the walls of the towers came crashing down around him, his wife’s whereabouts unknown, and thousands dying around him, Sujo could only rely upon God’s plan for his life. A plan which became real amidst the death and debris of Ground Zero.

 

Singing country music, that’s what I’ve always dreamt of doing as a young boy. Growing up in South Carolina, it was out the ordinary to dream such a dream.

I haven’t always been the guy that walks into a room and automatically the attention is on me. I’m normally the guy that stands off in the corner. Singing allowed me to express myself in ways that I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. I don’t feel like God called me to be a gospel singer. He didn’t call me to be a Christian singer, he called me to be a country singer, and I just happen to be a Christian.

The one thing that I had to overcome was negativity. The idea that dreams can’t really come true, I never wanted to believe in that.

I grew up in a little place called Hannah, South Carolina, a little farming community a long way from any kind of big city. The first real album I owned was Randy Travis’ Storms of Life, and that was the album that really made me start dreaming of the possibility of doing this for a living. I moved to Nashville in 1998 to get a record deal and try to get my foot in the door. I didn’t really know what I was doing.


The one thing that I had to overcome was negativity. The idea that dreams can’t really come true, I never wanted to believe in that.


God inspired me to write “Long Black Train.” I wrote this song, by myself, in my apartment, and it came to me in a vision. It’s a vision of this long, black, beautiful, shiny train, and people are standing out to the sides of the track, watching this train go by, just craving to get on it. At the same time, they know that this train leads to destruction, it leads to emptiness, it leads to nowhere, but yet they still want to get on it. This train was a physical metaphor for temptation.

I wrote three verses and a chorus that night in my apartment, woke up the next morning, I wrote the fourth verse. And at that moment in time when I laid the pen down, I said nobody’s ever gonna want to hear this. It’s too old-fashioned, it’s too old-timey, it’s a gospel song, so this is probably not going to end up on one of my records in the future.

And a friend of mine walked in and she said, can I hear it? And I was like well, sure. I played it for her, and she said you need to play this for such and such, and so it just snowballed from there. I ended up playing it for recitals, and all kinds of stuff, did demos of it. A girl in my class heard it on that demo, played it for MCA, they heard it. This was the song I played first time on the Grand Ole Opry, and got two standing ovations and an encore. I was completely unknown to the audience that night. It became the title track of my first record, it became my first hit, it helped me sell a million copies of the first record. So there were a lot of people hearing this song, a lot of people being touched by this song.


It’s about changing people, it’s about touching people and influencing people in a positive way.


That was the moment that I realized it’s not about the money, or the fame, or the glory. It’s about changing people, it’s about touching people and influencing people in a positive way, and so from that point on, that’s what I’ve tried to do.

“There’s a long, black train
coming down the line,
feeding off the souls
that are lost and crying.

Rails of sin,
only evil remains,
watch out, brother,
for that long, black train.”

There’s no song that I can write, there’s no record that I can make that’s going to save me. I do need a savior.

“Look to the heavens,
you can look to the skies,
you can find redemption
staring back into your eyes.

There is protection,
and there’s peace the same,
burning your ticket
for that long, black train.”

I’m thankful to have Jesus as my savior. My relationship with God has always been one where I’m talking to him all day, every day, about anything and everything. It’s just a continuous ongoing conversation that I have with the Lord, and I feel like that’s brought me closer to Him. It helps me think through things clearly, I feel like it’s given me wisdom about other people, about myself, about the life that I live. Ultimately, I get my joy from him, and always put him first.

My name is Josh Turner, and I Am second.