I’ve always thought from the beginning that one day this whole thing would be turned into a real life Hollywood movie. “Let’s Get Famous: The Bling Johnson Story”. I’ve always told myself and some close friends that if it did turn into a movie, it was going to be hilarious, but it was also going to be honest and real, even if that meant painting me in a bad light. Oh yeah, and I want Bradley Cooper to play me.
See, I’m just a normal guy. My real name is Lee Burnette and I work as a Social Media Strategist for a Fortune 50 company. I produce video content, write technical blogs and perform a number of “nerd” tasks from 8-5, 5 days a week. What, did you think Kid Rock’s real name is Kid Rock? It’s actually Bob Ritchie. And like Bob, what you see on stage is not always the whole story. His on stage persona is carefully crafted to be genuine, but also to entertain, similar to mine.
I got married at 24, had 3 kids and was married for 13 years. I loved it. I was a great dad, I spent time with my kids working on homework, playing with them, taking them to church and everything a normal dad should do. I loved my wife. We had our differences from time to time, but I would have taken a bullet for her, and she knew it. I had a thriving business that I built with a lot of help from a great friend and successfully stayed self-employed for 10 years. We had nice cars, a Harley, a boat, a nice house. Everything that on paper pointed to a successful life at that time.
Then it all began to fall apart. When the economy and real estate market started to nose dive around 2005, my business suffered. Looking back there are a lot of things that I could have done differently and better, but the downfall had already begun. My marriage was suffering. It was dying. I’m not going to get into the details of why, because the fact is there was plenty of blame to go around and we both could have been better spouses to each other. I respect her as a mom and we are friends to this day. However, I will say that the downfall of our marriage caused me pain in a way that I never knew was possible. And it hurt. After all, I had loved someone for over 14 years at that point, and I was losing it all. The worst part was there was nothing I could do about it. I would wake up at 4am sweating. My stomach was cramped up. The second my eyes would open I was thinking about everything. During the final stretch of our marriage I lost 27 pounds in just over a month. I was in the gym every morning by 5 not because I wanted to be there, but because it was the only thing that I could think of to do that would get me through the next 2 hours of the morning until the kids woke up and it was time to get them ready for school. Let me be clear. Not everything was her fault. There were plenty of things I could have done to be a better husband. I accept full responsibility for the parts of the failure that were my fault. Either way, the pain was unbearable, and it lasted for years.
After the split, I went downtown Austin one weekend night with my video camera. Had some fun, interviewed some people and put the video on YouTube. People watched so I did another one the next weekend and even more people watched. I started going to Texas Longhorn’s tailgates and filming, then hustling to get a free ticket to the game, which somehow I was always able to pull off. Then some of my friends started to go filming with me and we had a blast! There is nothing funnier than someone who has had a few too many stumbling around 6th street and the look on their face when they see a video camera and lights. Our downtown videos are still some of the funniest clips we have.
Over time I built a following on Facebook. I always said if the views ever go down, I’ll stop doing this. They never did. People were starting to tell me they really thought I was funny. I started to become known downtown and people started taking pictures with me. It was on a small scale, but I was becoming a mini-celebrity. And I loved it. Not because I liked the attention. That was nice, but the real reason was because I felt like for the first time in a long time, people valued me. I felt important for the first time in many years and I’m not gonna lie. It felt good.
Here’s the part of the story where I should spin it a little so I don't look so bad, or I can be real. I’m going to get real for a second. For the next year or so I was still in pain from my failed marriage. I felt like I had failed at the one thing I was supposed to MAKE work. I allowed that pain to eat at me. As a result, I went about my weekends with one goal in mind. That was to have fun and detach from my real life, which was miserable. I’ve never been a big drinker, so that was never an issue. To this day I’ve never smoked pot or done drugs in my life. But I did like it when I would get attention from girls. I am not going to sit here and act like I was a saint for the next 12 months, because I wasn’t. For those of you that might have come into my path during that time, I’m sorry if I ever hurt you. I was avoiding my feelings at all costs and would not allow anyone to get too close to me. One word I swore I would never feel again was vulnerability. And I was successful. I kept everyone at arms length and wouldn’t allow anyone in. To those of you that I affected with my mindset during that time, I’m sorry.
One day I was introduced to someone named Becky. The only reason I’m mentioning her name is because so many of you know her and her story is one that has inspired many people. She is a beautiful and classy woman and one of the best people I have ever met. We began to date right as the tv show was starting to air for the first time. She would come to all the shows, bring her family and friends and we began what turned into a great relationship. She was the first girl since my divorce that I allowed into my heart. And it was real. Things were moving along at a good clip and we were both happy.
The tv show continued to gain momentum, ratings were growing and our live crowds were too. Life was good and for the first time in years, felt like things were clicking along in a
good way. After about 7 months of dating Becky, we filmed an episode of the show at a venue here in Austin. The crowd was awesome. We had hundreds of people laughing, having a great time and the
band rocked it that night. People were coming up to me after the show asking to take pictures with me, complimenting me on all the success, Becky was there by my side and it was
The next morning I had a 6am flight to Orlando. A journey that I have made most every month since my ex and the kids moved back to Florida 3 years earlier. As well-known as I was the night before, I walked into the airport and no one knew who I was. It was a quiet morning and I got on the plane to make that flight back to see the 3 kids I love with all my heart. I had a great trip with them. They are 13, 11 & 10 and are at ages now where they talk with me about things going on in their lives. School, boys, the latest drama that most 6th-8th graders have with their friends. It was great, yet I felt guilty. I felt like a horrible parent. How could I be living in Austin while they are living in Orlando and growing up seeing me once a month. What weighed on me even more was how could I move forward with Becky, who has a beautiful 6 year old daughter, when I couldn’t even be a part of my own kids lives. When I got on the plane to fly back to Austin I cried. Almost the whole trip home. Thank God I had huge sunglasses on cause I was a mess. When I got back I began to be distant from Becky. I withdrew and I let that continue. The whole time she still loved me. She was understanding. She was there for me no matter what. And I let it go. I let HER go.
After a couple weeks I realized I made a huge mistake. I convinced her to give me another chance because I loved her. And she did. Until I let it go a second time, then a third. By that time she was hurt by my wavering. And who could blame her? Heck, if she was my friend I would tell her to never talk to me again. Here’s the amazing thing about Becky. She has her head on straight. She handled everything with a grace and class that I had never seen before. She still talked to me, still would go to lunch and still communicated with me. In the months after that I moved on with my life. Much of it was posted on Facebook for her to see and I know it hurt her. That was never my intent, but I know it did.
My biggest fear through all of this was that my kids would be hurt if I moved on with someone else that had a daughter. My fear was that they would think that if I got married to her or was even in a serious long-term relationship with her that I didn’t love them as much anymore. That scared me to DEATH and is the ONLY reason I let Becky go in the first place. AND I WAS DEAD WRONG.
Over my past 3 visits with the kids we have talked in detail about that. We talked about Becky (who they love) and even their own mom who has found a guy that is good to her and the kids and makes her happy. For the first time I began to think that it IS ok if I move forward.
Last week, through some events and realizations that I won’t go into out of respect for Becky, I realized that for the first time, I was losing her. It was through these events that I realized I had screwed up. Bad. I tried to fix it. I was honest and sincere in everything I was saying to her and made every attempt to reconcile. She was never mean or rude (and I deserved for her to be), but she wasn’t giving in. I wrote her a card and let her know what I was willing to do if we could make this work. And I meant and still mean every word. And I was getting nowhere. And I deserved every bit of it. I had months of chances to fix it and I didn’t. While I still feel that my head was messed up about the kids being so far away, I finally came to the realization last weekend that I was using that as a crutch and acting like a victim. Does it hurt? Yes. But I knew it was time to move forward and make this right.
This past weekend I was driving to Florida to see the kids. On Saturday night at 2am I pulled over somewhere in Alabama and pulled into a parking lot. I got in the back seat of my car, pulled out my laptop and wrote her a 6 page letter. In this letter I apologized for everything I ever did. The times I took her love for granted and didn’t commit to her in the way I should have. I let her know, in detail, why I meant it this time.
In the days since all of this, I have felt a lot of pain. But I didn’t really care that I hurt, I was sad because for the first time I felt the same pain that I had been making her feel for
months now. How could I have messed up something that was so good? And was it too late?
During these discussions she asked me a simple question. She said “Do you think God has a plan with all this”? I tried to not answer and she stopped me. She asked me again. “Do you think God has a plan”? Now I have been a Christian since I was 6 years old when I got saved in Detroit, Michigan. I grew up in church my whole life, played guitar and led music in the youth group and college groups. I took my kids to church most every Sunday. I know the right answer to give her, but since the divorce I have been running from God. I don’t know that I blamed him, but I have been running from him. I answered her in my own defiant way. I said “I believe he gives us choices, and I really wish you would choose to give me another chance”. Now keep in mind, this was just last Friday, but WHO THE HECK DID I THINK I WAS?? God had a plan that day, but I didn’t know it.
As I drove to Florida for 19 hours, I thought through every angle of my situation with her. And finally, at 3am in the panhandle of Florida I put both hands on the steering wheel, I looked straight ahead and I began to pray out loud. This was not a normal prayer. This was God and I having a talk. I started by saying “Ok, God, it’s been a while since we’ve talked, but let’s do this”. I told him I wasn’t coming to him to “make a deal” or “if you give me Becky I’ll go become a missionary”. This was about re-establishing communication with him. And I was mad. Why did my marriage have to end. Why did I have to be in so much pain, why did my ex and kids go back to Florida, twice. And now, why did all of that pain come full circle and allow me to mess things up with the one woman who I know loves me for ME. And I lost it. I probably cried for 15 minutes talking and yelling through everything I was feeling. I finally told him I don’t know what to do. Right then it hit me. HE HAD A PLAN. Just like Becky was trying to tell me. Funny thing is the plan may not have had anything to do with her and I getting back together. I believe he used the pain I was feeling for having lost her as a way to break me down and FORCE me to look only to him. He had a plan the whole time and I let my arrogance and stupidity keep me from it for too long.
While in Florida this week I took my lunch break and drove to the church I went to in my early adult life and the one that we went to as a family when the kids were younger. I pulled into the parking lot and walked up to the front door almost hoping it was locked. It was open. I walked in and was hoping security would stop me before I got to the sanctuary, but they didn’t. I walked in to the 4,500 seat worship center and it was completely empty and dead quiet. I sat all the way in the back and looked forward. Thoughts of being there with each of my kids as infants ran through my head. Thoughts of the kids being dedicated as babies and as they got older singing on stage hit me. Like a ton of bricks. I began to cry once again but this time, my tone with God was much different. I wasn’t mad or angry, I wasn’t pleading with him for Becky to return to me. I simply asked his forgiveness for turning away from him for the past few years. For some reason I took a picture of my view and posted it on Facebook. I think I did that as a reminder to myself for later. I added this caption: “After a painful divorce and 3 years of running from God, I can’t run anymore”. One of the comments on that picture was from my Dad. He posted: “As I look at this picture, my prayers for you are being answered. You've gone through a rough chapter in your book of life. My prayer is that the next chapter will have the real Lee Burnette in it. We love you”. Wow. After over 3 years of pain I had finally made a change that my parents had been praying for the whole time.
As of right now as I sit here in my hotel room in Orlando tonight writing this blog, I have no clue what the future holds for Becky and I. I want it to work and I am holding out hope that she
gives me another chance to prove myself. However, I also know this. No matter what happens, she was right. God DOES have a plan and no matter how long we run from him, eventually we’ll stop
running, and when we do, he’ll be right there waiting for us with open arms.
I still love you Becky.