The Cowboy Church

A woman in love with a troubled Iraq veteran learns to let go and let God.

By Sherrill Dickey Porterfield, Orange, Texas

As appeared in

The ad in the paper jumped out at me: “Cowboy Church: Come as You Are! Boots and Hats Welcome!” My boyfriend would never go for wearing Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, but “come as you are”? Maybe this Cowboy Church would be good for Jimmie and me.

He’d been back from Iraq for three months but it was like the real Jimmie hadn’t come home at all. Not the sweet man I’d fallen in love with, the one who had talked about marriage, about us growing old together.

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Now he was an angry, depressed shell of a man who refused to get help. A man I wasn’t sure I had a future with. Could a new church help us? Could anything?

We’d met two years earlier. I had recovered from my divorce and was enjoying life again, working as a flight attendant and living in Orange County, Texas, when one night an e-mail from a man named Jimmie popped up in my inbox.

He said he’d been in the Army for 20 years, served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now he was retired from the Army but still in Iraq, working civilian support. “I’d love to know more about you. Write back when you can,” he wrote.

Who was this guy? It turned out that my friend’s husband was Jimmie’s boss. He’d given Jimmie my e-mail address so he’d have someone back in Texas to chat with. At first I was annoyed. Why didn’t anyone ask me first?

But I wrote back to Jimmie and the more we chatted, the more we started falling for each other. He was sweet and charming—a true Texas gentleman.

Four months later, Jimmie got a break from work and came to visit. He was even nicer in person. Handsome too. Real handsome. I’d found the love of my life. But did Jimmie feel the same about me? At the airport we held each other for a long time, neither of us wanting to let go. “I’ll be back,” he whispered.

We Skyped, sent pictures and dreamed of our future together post-Iraq. We talked about getting married, buying a house and settling down here in Orange County. “I can’t wait to spend my life with you,” he said.

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I’d grown up going to a Baptist church with my grandmothers, and though I hadn’t been in years, I still talked to God every day. Thank you, Lord, for Jimmie, I’d pray first thing every morning. Please keep him safe. Let him know I love him.

Just over a year after we met, Jimmie came back to Texas for good. Finally the future we’d planned was here! Hallelujah! First, we’d find him a job, then work on our dream home—the fixer-upper I’d bought for us.

But week by week, Jimmie withdrew. He stopped talking about our future, our hopes and dreams. He stopped saying much at all. He blasted death-metal music and stared at the floor.

If he did talk, it was about fast-moving combat. He’d describe things in horrific detail. “Sometimes we’d imagine the tracer bullets were fireworks,” he’d say in a lifeless tone I’d never heard from him before.

“You’re not there anymore, honey,” I would remind him. But he’d just pull the hood of his sweatshirt over his head and turn away.

That was his uniform now that he was out of Army green: hooded sweatshirts, tank tops, jeans and combat boots. He didn’t want to listen to the gentlest suggestion that he dress up once in a while. He didn’t want to be told anything. By anyone. Especially not about the most obvious: that he needed to get help for his combat trauma.

I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. Except to God. Lord, I prayed, I miss my Jimmie. He won’t listen to me. Maybe he’ll listen to you. Please help him.

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Jimmie had been home for just a few months when his cousin, who was like a brother to him, died. The funeral was the first time we’d ever been in church together. Sitting beside Jimmie in the pew, I could feel his anger and sadness.

It occurred to me that in all the time we’d been planning our future, not once did we talk about having God in it. Sure, I prayed and I knew Jimmie believed—he’d taken his Bible with him to Iraq—but we never really talked about our faith beyond that. Never really got into it.

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Your Comments (4)

A friend sent me this article and I think it was meant for me. My boyfriend has lost his brother and his dad in the last four months and has withdrawn from me. We too had talked about our future together before these tragedies. I haven't known what to do or how to handle it since he barely talks to me. I have told him how I feel and assured him I will stand by him. But I increasingly feel that perhaps God just wants to talk/work with him alone right now. When people say "Let it go, let him go," it sometimes is the hardest advice in the world. This story has a lot of hope. Maybe this is what I should do right now.

PS: I also LOVED 'Cowboy Church.' What a beautiful love story knitted by God. Everything that is meant for us will come to us - in our Father's time - never our own. Amen.

Leovet, that was a beautiful post. Love & prayers to you. I pray that it is God's will to bring the woman of your dreams to you. God never fails!

War does more damage than one might think. Once in combat we are never the same, we withdraw; we're seldom the same person for many years to come. On the eve of our 29th wedding anniversary my wife informed me she was filing for divorce - the usual irreconcilable differences. So much for her vow before Almighty God! That was 16 years ago. Eight months ago I met "the woman of my dreams" while walking 3 miles in a church activities center with a walking track and weight room. I KNOW she is THE ONE. God revealed her in a dream more than 2 years ago, about the same time she was diagnosed with cancer; the exact same cancer attacking the woman in my dream. Today, I'm waiting on her. In time, I believe she will come to believe as I do, this is a God-ordained union to be. God had been quietly, softly working on my heart since our meeting on the track in mid-January 2012. Friday, April 13, 2012, at 3:07AM I awoke praising God for all He had done in my life; especially sparing my life when an enemy bullet passed less than 16 inches from my head before fatally wounding my grenadier crouched next to me April 4, 1968. That April morning 2012 I "let go to let God" have total control of my life. I was "saved" at age 7 but had honestly kept the Holy Spirit locked away in the secret closet of my heart. Life has not been the same since that AWESOME experience. The best help you can give a combat veteran is your love and your prayers. It's never too late to love and appreciate combat veterans in your life. Believe me, I know. As Johnny Mathis said, I'll wait until the twelth of never if need be to claim God's gift.
I'll not leave her nor forsake her, at any cost.

When all else have failed you, remember -- God loves YOU!

Vietnam Combat Veteran in GA