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Celebrating the Breath of Life - Joe Haynes

 “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life [which inspires me].” Job 33:4 AMP

Joe was raised in a family with grandparents who were strict Lutherans but with parents who only attended church on special occasions.  He and his older sister were born and raised in southern California.  His family moved four times, always trying to better their lives with bigger and better homes, before Joe turned fourteen.  At this time Joe began experiencing breathing difficulties due to the California smog.  So the family made plans with about six others to purchase property in Wisconsin where they would take their horses.


However, Joe and his family were the only ones to actually move to Wisconsin, and after six months realized the horse plan was not going to come into fruition.  During the five years in Wisconsin Joe attended three different schools, one middle school and two high schools.  Even though he had many friends while in California, making friends had become difficult as he moved from school to school. 


Once he graduated from high school Joe and his family moved to Las Vegas to be closer to his grandmother who still lived in California.  Two years later his mother’s employment with a mortgage company was expanding, and she was given the opportunity to move to Colorado.  The family moved, but shortly afterward the owner of the mortgage company faced charges for embezzlement and drugs.  Now his mother had no employment, and the family was only able to survive in Colorado for six months.


Finally, in 1987, they moved to Portland, Indiana, because Joe’s father had been raised there.  Joe has remained in Indiana but has lived in five different locations throughout the state: Portland, Albany, Muncie, Warren (where he lived for twenty years), and now Marion. 


Since Joe has moved so often, making and keeping friends has become very difficult for him.  He feels as though he has always been trying to prove to others that he belongs.  As an example Joe shared that his former minister of many years could never remember his name.  Each Sunday he wanted to yell, “It’s me, Joe!” 


Joe stated that he and his father were identical in physical appearance.  While growing up he saw the ridicule his father endured for his size.  This increased Joe’s desire to prove that he belongs and to make himself known to others for who he is and not for his size.


Joe began attending Ball State University where he met his wife-to-be at a fraternity party in 1993.  They spent many hours talking on the telephone and then began dating.  They also began regularly attending the Church of Christ in Markle, Indiana, where her family attended.  They became very involved in the church, teaching Sunday school and joining the church softball team.  Joe also began coaching a girls’ softball team.  When one of their ministers transferred to the Church of Christ in Warren, Indiana, just two miles from their home, they too transferred.  But the church just wasn’t the same for Joe after this minister retired.  He had been not only his pastor but his friend.   


To make a living his wife became the church secretary; he was a supervisor for five years and then drove a semi-truck for the next twelve years.  Because of his work schedule Joe was on the road and away from home for four to five weeks at a time.  When he did return home on Saturday mornings, his schedule would dictate that he return to the road Sunday evening or Monday morning, not allowing him much family time.  His priority became sleep, and he rarely went to church.  After twenty years of marriage and living this type of lifestyle Joe and his wife grew apart.  They agreed on a separation but not until their daughter graduated from high school.  At this time Joe’s wife requested that he no longer attend their church with her family and friends, so for the next four years he did not go to church anywhere.


Joe’s life-altering experience began on April 29, 2013, alone in his truck.  He had been driving for a ten-hour stretch with no breaks to rest.  He chose to park at the McClure Gas Station at the Gas City exit off I-69 where he fell asleep in the driver’s seat.  When he tried to wake up, he felt as though he was in a daze.  He was able to call his mother in Muncie for help, and she came to pick him up.  She immediately took him to the emergency room at Ball Memorial Hospital.  While there a “code blue” was called; his heart rate dropped to thirty-two.  The doctors were convinced that he was not going to survive.


The month before this incident Joe had been to see a doctor because of his horrible, ongoing cough.  The doctor ordered a chest x-ray but was unable to determine if he had pneumonia or a very bad chest cold.  Joe chose not to take any time off from work to rest and recuperate; when he wasn’t on the road, he wasn’t making money.  He later learned that he did have double pneumonia and because of it he was unable to expel the carbon monoxide from his body.  Joe was not aware of the fact that he was actually suffocating from this condition.


The doctors tried everything to help Joe.  He remembers asking a nurse if he was going to die, and she told him not to worry about that now.  They resorted to putting Joe into a medically-induced coma and performed a tracheotomy to allow him to be able to breathe.  During his two to three days of being in this coma Joe experienced vivid nightmares that he remembers clearly to this day, even five years later.  The nightmares have caused him such emotional turmoil that he normally doesn’t speak of them to others.  He has only been able to share his entire experience with one other person, a hospital chaplain.  Joe believes he encountered hell during his time in the coma, and he cannot get the images out of his mind.  In these nightmares Joe believed he was in the hospital because he had been involved in an accident with his truck. 


He could see a wooded area with the grass and everything nearby on fire.  He could also see someone in a hospital bed with tubes coming out from their body everywhere.  He was told the accident was his fault, and he caused the person to be in this situation.  He realized later that the individual in the hospital bed was him. 


He then found himself in what he would describe as a basement from a house of horrors.  It was there that he was forced to praise Satan if he wanted any hope of getting out of the horror-filled basement.  Joe did succumb to praising Satan and he did move up one or two levels from the basement where the intensity of this hell was not as severe.  Joe then made the decision to no longer praise Satan; he just couldn’t do it!  But as soon as Joe refused to praise him he was forced back down to the basement where the severity and intensity level were unbearable.  Miraculously Joe awoke and was pulled from his hell.  Even though Joe awoke to find he had a trachea and was unable to speak, with a long road of recovery ahead, he was oh, so grateful for a second chance at life! 


In the past he has tried to tell others about his nightmares but was told they were just hallucinations from the drugs or just in his mind.  Joe says, “No, it was too real, too realistic.”  So this became the turning point in Joe’s life.  He was ready for his life to change so he would never encounter hell again.


Joe was originally admitted to Ball Memorial Hospital but was transferred to Marion General Hospital—although not his choice—for his rehabilitation.  While at MGH, the place he didn’t want to be, the chain of events began that changed his life forever.  It started with the people who gave him such excellent care.  He was so moved by the care and kindness he received that he wanted to pass it forward to others in need.  Even though he was still a patient his wife encouraged him to begin volunteering at the hospital.  In October of 2013 while still in a wheelchair the staff delivered Joe for the first time to the office where he began volunteering by preparing envelopes.  He later volunteered at the Help Desk, assisting others in ways that he never would have imagined. 


Joe has been blessed to meet many people at the Help Desk.  It was there that he was given the opportunity to offer hope and inspiration to others—and their loved ones—who have had tracheotomies.  He doesn’t believe his desire to volunteer is an attempt to change his own outcome but to genuinely help others by treating them with love, respect, and care.  For the first time in his life he was comfortable in his own skin, and the stronghold on Joe’s life to prove that he belongs began to loosen. 


It was God Who brought Joe to Center Chapel Church on that day in June.  He and his wife had agreed that he would move out of their home after their daughter graduated from Huntington High School.   Both Joe and Ed Jeffries had been volunteering at Marion General Hospital for over three years together and had become friends.  Knowing that Ed attended church, but not knowing where, Joe asked Ed if his church would help him physically and financially move from Warren to Marion.  Ed did not know the answer to that question but gave Pastor Mark’s phone number to Joe.  He made contact with Pastor Mark, explaining he was a friend of Ed’s, and then spent the rest of the conversation trying to build up the courage to ask for help from the church—a very hard thing for him to do.


Pastor Mark asked Joe to come to our worship celebration on Sunday, June 18, 2017, so they could meet and talk some more.  Joe came to Center Chapel and Pastor Mark agreed to help him make the move on Wednesday, June 21, just three days later.  Joe had never experienced the body of Christ willing to help him like it did that day!  Pastor Mark, his grandson Clayton, Clayton’s friend Damon, and Pastor David all joined together to help him physically move his belongings to Marion.  They also gave Joe a Meijer gift card for groceries.  That day they not only helped him move physically but also to move spiritually.


Joe then began coming to Center Chapel; initially he met people who spoke negatively of the church which held him back from attending faithfully.  However, he had experienced such overwhelming kindness that he soon came to realize that the people of Center Chapel are different from other churches.  Many of the people have gone above and beyond in helping him; Jason and Sherry Martin are great examples of those who have done so.  They have been his saving grace here.  Joe feels accepted and has grown to love the people of this church.  At Center Chapel Joe doesn’t feel as though he has to prove himself to anyone.  He is just a person who needs help every now and then as we all do. 


Joe struggles with not seeing his daughter who now attends Ball State University.  He just graduated from BSU last year with his Master’s Degree in Adult Education and Non-Profit Management.  He teases his daughter that he misses her so much that he wants to return to Ball State to teach one of her classes.  She’s not in agreement with that idea!  Joe shared that he was able to work toward his master’s degree twenty years after receiving his bachelor’s degree through financial support provided due to his health issues.  He knows he would never have been able to accomplish this if his circumstances had been different.  Even though Joe wasn’t able to attend his graduation his photo was displayed to recognize and honor him for his accomplishment.  


Joe has always believed in God and has experienced His protection over him in the past.  He shared an experience he had while driving in which God protected not only him but others.  Joe had fallen asleep at the wheel and was awakened just before hitting other vehicles that were stopped in traffic for construction.  He was able to swing out wide and miss hitting anyone.  Some might pass this off as “just an incident” but he knows God was by his side protecting him.  Joe even considered becoming a minister during the last few years that he drove a truck, but his wife wasn’t in agreement so he did not pursue it.  Since Joe is no longer able to drive his truck, he does miss the opportunities he once had to visit the few relatives he has left that are scattered over the United States; he hasn’t been able to visit with them in person for the past six years.


Joe’s circumstances have been overly hard for him to deal with, and he fights depression often.  There is hope that one day Joe will be able to have his tracheotomy closed but he must lose weight for that to take place.  At one point he had lost 135 pounds, but as he dealt with the separation from his wife and daughter, depression crept in; and he began gaining back the weight and retaining fluid.


God has shown him the path he has taken, and he now sees everything so clearly.  If he had not experienced his health situation, if he had not been transferred to Marion General Hospital, if he had not begun volunteering with Ed Jeffries, if he and his wife had not separated, if any events had not taken place as they did, if any of his circumstances had been different, he realizes he would never have known about Center Chapel Church nor met any of the people who attend here.  He would never have experienced the love of God for him in such a mighty way through this church and its people.


Joe now fights to contain his excitement to become more involved within the church as Pastor Mark can get him so excited he could go through a wall if he needed to do so!  Joe has volunteered three times now to do face painting at Center Chapel events. He loves witnessing the joy it brings to the children leaving him with such an overwhelming feeling of excitement.  He has spoken with Pastor Mark about his desire to do so many more things within the church, especially helping others, but his health continues to hinder him from accomplishing them.  As time goes by and as he gets older he knows he must remember to care for himself, but he also believes there must be a reason that he is still here with the trachea and health concerns that he has.  Joe is on a journey searching for what God has for him.  God obviously has an amazing plan!   


Joe stated, “God has changed my life.”  From the moment this happened to him he could see it as clear as a bell.  He knows he is limited, but being at Center Chapel has helped him so much.  It just took him awhile to get the right mindset and getting to know the right people. He belongs here and wants to be a part of Center Chapel.  Joe shared that being here is something worthwhile, good, and important.  It is such a wonderful feeling after the seclusion he experienced from driving alone in his truck for years and even more so after he developed his health problems.  It’s been a long time since he has encountered the love and acceptance he’s received here.  Center Chapel Church is an incredible place!        


        —Leanne Jacob  

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