Jeanie & Jeremiah 3
Storyteller: Jeanie Bream
Writer: Sheila Holliday
“For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Looking back on the struggles and tragedies in her younger years, Jeanie Bream now realizes that God had a plan for her life.
“He was developing my strength, stamina and character,” she says. “I no longer wonder why I went through the things I did. If you trust, you don’t have to ask why.”
When Jeanie was just 2 years of age, her father, an alcoholic, abandoned his wife and five children. As a child living in Fontana, CA, she didn’t understand how destitute her family truly was. She still remembers the day around Christmas time when the fire truck came to their home to bring toys, and how delighted she was to have a doll to share with her younger sister.
When she was age 8, her mother remarried, but having a stepfather was worse than not having a dad at all. Both parents were heavy drinkers, and the children endured frequent and often violent fights. The family depended on the welfare checks her mother collected. Jeanie grew to hate the new “dad” for his hateful ways. Jeanie remembers him getting angry with her mom for spending money on milk for the children.
The one stabilizing force in their chaotic lives was their granny, who lived with them. Jeanie, her sister who was just 11 months younger, and granny slept in the same bed. Because granny had a serious heart condition, she would often awaken in the night with chest pains. Jeanie’s took on the responsibility of waking up her mom to tell her, “Granny is hurting,” and her mom would administer nitroglycerin to relieve the pain. One morning after such an episode, when Jeanie was 8 years old, she awoke to hear her mom crying in the kitchen. Granny did not respond to the medicine. She was gone.
A Spiritual Void
With the exception of a bust of Jesus’ head in her parent’s home, Jeanie’s family had no spiritual presence. School provided an escape for Jeanie, and she excelled in her studies. She made a best friend, and often stayed at her house to avoid home. By the time Jeanie was 17, she moved in with one of her older brothers and earned her own money working two jobs, as a steakhouse hostess and an A&W Root Beer carhop. She continued her schooling, and earned her certificate as a medical assistant.
Not long after leaving home, Jeanie met the man she would date on and off for the next 15 years. They bought a house and lived together, but he was a womanizer. When she would confront him about cheating and lying he would dismiss her by telling her to shape up because he “only liked to be around happy people.” Finally, she moved out, eventually buying her own home in Ontario.
“After living through my parents’ divorce and having my own hurtful relationships, I decided I’d had enough,” Jeanie shares. “I dated a lot, but my heart was closed. My success at work and having gotten my home became my focus and was enough for me.”
A Heart for Friends in Need
Jeanie made friends easily, and was always quick to help someone who was in need, including one of her dearest friends who had been diagnosed with the breast cancer that would end her life. Her friend wished to run the Los Angeles Marathon before she passed, and Jeanie stepped up to run along with her, an experience she says she will never forget. Walking alongside friends and family who were terminally ill was to be a big part of Jeanie’s life. In a span of about 30 years, Jeanie has “walked to death’s door,” as she calls it, with at least 20 close friends and family members.
During this friend’s illness, the friend was invited to her uncle’s church for a healing seminar. The friend later told Jeanie, “I thought I was going there to pray for physical healing, but I soon realized it was a different kind of healing. It was a healing for my soul.”
That year when Christmas came, just months before the friend would pass away, she was looking for the perfect gift to give Jeanie to express her love and appreciation. The friend later told Jeanie she decided the best gift she could give was a four-page letter she penned to Jeanie about who Jesus is and what He had come to mean to her. Jeanie thought it was a lovely letter. She cherished it and filed it away.
By now, Jeanie was excelling and advancing in her career with the San Bernardino County Court system. Within a few years Jeanie met Bert, who was working as a court administrator. They dated for 10 years before Jeanie and Bert married. She eventually moved to Bert’s home in Orange County. While loving Bert and grateful for the stability he provided, she also resented having to leave the career, reputation and friends that had become a big part of her identity. She wondered why she needed to leave that all behind and relocate to Orange County.
Learning to Trust in the Lord
During that time, Jeanie’s sister, who was having some health concerns, was receiving visits from a Christian neighbor. The neighbor sat with her, encouraged her during times of illness and shared about her faith. The sharing of Jesus and love invested led Jeanie’s sister to asking Jesus into her life.
Jeanie recalls, “My sister was only a year old when my dad left and she really seemed to miss not having a dad in her life. Later in life she had been molested by our step-dad. As a result, she seemed angry and bitter, and she would lash out at everyone close to her. She told me she was incapable of apologizing, though she knew she hurt people. One day after she had accepted Jesus, when Bert, my mom, my brothers and I were at her house, she went around the room and told each of us she was sorry for something specific she had said or done to us over the years. It was a powerful testament to how God had changed her heart and was working in her life. That noticeable change piqued my interest in who this Jesus was.”
In 1997 when Jeanie learned her sister was dying from lymphoma, she went to Bert and told him she needed support to get through the crisis, and thus wanted to find a church home. They began going to church and soon after Jeanie prayed for Jesus to come into her heart. She expected big changes, but nothing seemed to happen.
In 1998 Jeanie was at her dying sister’s hospital bedside when her sister’s pastor came to visit. As he was about to leave, Jeanie remarked, “I asked Jesus into my heart, but I don’t think he heard me. Will you pray with me?” The pastor walked with her to the courtyard outside the hospital and prayed a simple prayer with Jeanie.
“I trusted the pastor as someone who might have more authority and a better standing with God, and yet I still didn’t feel for sure I had been saved,” she says, fighting tears. Still, Jeanie stepped out in faith to join an “intense” discipleship group at their church. The group led her to memorize scripture, fast from media, and spend time in prayer. As her faith began to grow, her heart began to heal.
With her sister’s passing, Jeanie stepped into the role of grandma in her sister’s place. Her niece had twin boys and they all lived in Orange County. One of the boys was born with congenital heart disease and required open-heart surgery at two months of age. Being available to be with them during those hard days answered the question she raised about why she needed to go to Orange County. It also was an introduction to sick babies and children in hospitals as this same great nephew has had many health challenges since birth. “Now the twins are 14, and they’re both knocking baseballs out of the park,” she says with a laugh.
Belonging and Building Up God’s Family
Jeanie and Bert joined CrossPoint church in 2014. Within a year, she was invited to join the Ronald McDonald House ministry. A group of CrossPoint members visit the house every week to prepare and serve breakfast for families whose children are hospitalized. Each visitor to the dining room is warmly welcomed. Jeanie or another team member will introduce themselves as members of CrossPoint, and ask the parents if they would like prayer.
“I soon realized that God put me in that ministry because I have walked that walk,” says Jeanie, who is now the leader of CrossPoint’s Ronald McDonald House ministry. “Through the hard times and the relationships in my life, He has formed my heart to serve those families with compassion and understanding, as a reflection of His love. I know he loves me so much, and now I have the opportunity to give love back to others who are hurting. I marvel at what God lets me do and how he stretches me and uses my gifts. I never dreamed I could represent him in such a satisfying way!”
Today, Jeanie no longer needs the accolades she received from the judges at work for her fulfillment. She reflects, “My priorities have changed. I once thought I had life planned out perfectly with what I could personally accomplish. I learned that any satisfaction that came from my own efforts was fleeting, and I was wearing myself out trying to do more and be more. Bert and I have learned to approach life decisions differently by praying about them, together.
“Now I know that Jesus is all we need. I get so much peace from knowing he will never leave me or forsake me. He is the only dad I ever needed; I just didn’t know how close he was."