Lives battling anger and addiction are met by God’s grace.
“She’s always taking on another project,” Jim says with a smile.
Brandee and Jim Cranfield had spent the morning moving items into the newly completed church building for St. Paul, Adams-Friendship, Wis. Now they were loading up bookshelves to take home and paint so that they looked nice in the new church.
Brandee and Jim have lots of projects keeping them busy these days. They are remodeling their home, working on fixing a vehicle for a friend—in addition to vehicles of their own—and chasing after kids and grandkids who need a little help or encouragement. “All my projects are ten-year projects at this point in my life,” says Jim. “They’ll get done when they get done.”
The look in Brandee’s eyes tells you that she’ll see them get done sooner than ten years. “We love doing stuff together,” Brandee says. “It’s one of the reasons I married him.”
Three years earlier, marriage was not something either Jim or Brandee were even remotely thinking about. They had both taken a long and winding road to find each other, but God had plans for their journey that neither of them expected.
Surviving difficult childhoods
Growing up in Des Plaines, Ill., Brandee had a loving but also challenging relationship with her parents. Alcohol and abuse were common companions at home. When Brandee was 9 years old, her mom passed away from breast cancer. “Thirty years ago, treatment was new, and funds were low . . . we were poor,” Brandee remarks. At the age of 10 she was behind the wheel trying to drive her father home when he was drunk. “I grew up way too fast too soon,” Brandee reflects. “My mom took me to Catholic church where I was baptized and later confirmed, but after she died, I got mad at God. And I stayed mad for about 20 years.”
How amazing it is to remember that no one is so lost and confused that God cannot find them and bring clarity to their lives.
For a long time Brandee would go to sleep crying and wake up crying. Anger, pain, and meanness were how she describes her coping mechanisms. But despite the rocky start to her life, she found her tumultuous relationship with her father was still a close one, and one that would improve when he quit drinking later in life. And so, when her dad passed away, it was different than it had been when her mother died. The anger and pain were not the same. Yet her relationship with God was not a whole lot better.
Brandee got married at 18, but the marriage was over in three years. She said she’d never marry again but found herself married once more. This time her husband left after nine months—and he took their kids. Brandee started drinking. “It only took one, and one is never enough,” Brandee remembers. Her battles with alcohol led to her spending a total of about two years in jail.
Meanwhile, Jim grew up in Louisiana before his family eventually made their way to Wisconsin. He remembers his mom sending him on the bus to a Baptist Sunday school while she tended to the bars she ran. Jim recalls, “My folks would go to church once in a while, but basically I think they sent us to Sunday school so they could get five kids out of the house for a bit.”
That loose connection to a church would end, however, when they moved to Wisconsin. It wouldn’t really start up again for almost 40 years. “I believed in God. I guess I always figured if I died, I was going to heaven. I figured I was all good,” Jim says. “Now after studying the Bible, I’m more aware of where I was really going back then and aware of what God really says in his Word about my relationship with him.”
Jim spent much of his life working as a diesel mechanic, truck driver, cook, and bartender. He got married and had children, but the marriage didn’t last. “I’ve personally come a long way,” Jim says, “but I won’t get into all the details.” A life lived around the bar scene led to a long relationship with alcohol and short relationships with people. “As I’ve come to know God’s Word, I’ve come to realize how bad I was to people in my life,” Jim reflects. “These days, I’ve found myself more and more thanking God for the people and things in my life.”
Making needed connections
When Brandee and Jim met three years ago, they were both self-admitted “bad drunks.” She was visiting a bar he worked at and, at first, they didn’t like each other at all. But they began seeing each other even though they were both dating other people as well. Eventually Brandee asked Jim if he wanted to stop seeing other people and go exclusively with her. He wasn’t sure how serious she was. Then she asked him to go to church with her and work with her to quit drinking. “Oh, she is serious!” Jim remembers thinking. “And then I started taking it seriously too.”
Brandee had made connections with church even after her painful childhood. She’d found a church that offered a Mothers of Preschoolers group as well as a Celebrate Recovery program for addicts. But it was while spending time in the Adams County jail that Brandee made connections with St. Paul. This local WELS church offered Bible studies led by lay men and women twice a month. “I really enjoyed my time in jail getting to know the ladies, Joanne, Becky, and April, who’d visit and share God’s Word,” Brandee says. Brian Schmidt, St. Paul’s pastor in Adams at the time, also met with Brandee in jail and went through Bible classes with her.
After finishing her time in jail, Brandee continued taking additional Bible information classes. God kept working on her heart through his Word. Eventually she brought Jim with her, and God got to work on him too. Just like Jim and Brandee, the Lord doesn’t mind taking on a number of projects all at once.
Growing in faith
Thinking back over their lives—especially the past three years—Jim and Brandee marvel at God’s plans for them. “God puts you in places at certain times to meet certain people for certain reasons,” they agree.
When Brandee asked Jim to come with her to church and then Bible study, things began to change for both of them. Neither of them wanted to waste time. “That’s where God’s helped a lot,” they concur. This past summer they got married in an outdoor worship service that allowed friends and family to hear God’s Word and see them make their promises to each other.
For many St. Paul members, this was a special day, one for which to be thankful. Jim and Brandee are thankful too. “I don’t think you’d have thought you were getting married at 58,” remarks Brandee to Jim. “I never thought I was getting married again!” says Jim, laughing. “Me either!” Brandee says. The Lord had other plans. His work on them individually brought them together in marriage.
God’s work on them isn’t over. Much like Jim’s “ten-year projects,” God continues to work patiently and consistently on the hearts of his people. Jim and Brandee have quit drinking and now find themselves working on new things in their walk of faith. Jim spends every morning and evening in Bible study, reading from an app on his phone. They still come to Bible information class even through they’ve been through it before. Brandee is eager to help those in the community who are walking where she has walked. Brandee comments, “If it wasn’t for God making me better and helping me with people in my life, I don’t know where I’d be. Right now, it seems like everything is going forward, going up.”
Jim and Brandee are great reminders of God’s grace and patience. The Lord has shown them both what true forgiveness and peace are in Jesus Christ. They are discovering new ways to serve the Lord in their home, church, and community. They are continuing to grow as God works on their hearts with his Word to convict and comfort them with law and gospel. How amazing it is to remember that no one is so lost and confused that God cannot find them and bring clarity to their lives.
Author: Jasper Sellnow
Volume 107, Number 12
Issue: December 2020