Psalm 86 says, “When walking through the Valley of Baca, leave a well in the valley.” We have all gone through those tough, dark moments in our lives. In finding a way to make it through, we have the power to share our stories to help others do the same. Pastor James Ford Jr. from Christ Bible Church has gone through the unimaginable loss of a loved one from suicide. In this first episode of a three-part conversation with Tina Fornwald, he tells us the beautiful love story between him and his wife—from the moment they met to overcoming divorce and finding Jesus Christ in their marriage. Pastor James then shares the transformative moment that took him from Pittsburgh to Chicago, from a drug dealer to a pastor.
Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.
I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.
Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide
How To Contact Pastor James Ford, Jr.:
Pastor Ford: https://www.facebook.com/pastorjamesfordjr/
Pastor James Ford Jr. YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@PastorJamesFord
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My Twelfth Rose: A Story Of Love, Bipolar And Suicide With Pastor James Ford Jr. – Part 1
We are in my hometown, Chicago, Illinois. Oftentimes, I tell you that the word hood means family. I am here in my hood and having this conversation with Pastor James Ford at his church here in Chicago. I want to warn you that this conversation can be heavy. This is a conversation about suicide. If this is a trigger or something you feel like you should not take part in, I ask you to refrain from reading this.
If this is something that you feel will help you and will be welcoming and something that you can learn from, I encourage you to read this three-part conversation with Pastor James Ford. This information is impactful and informative, and I believe that you will find information to help you heal from the suicide loss of a family member or something that you are struggling with. Let’s get into the conversation’s part one now.
Our guest is Pastor James Ford from Christ Bible Church. We are in my hometown, Chicago. Hello, sir.
I’m well. You?
I’m doing good. Thank you for allowing us to have this conversation. I appreciate your willingness to bring your voice to this conversation.
We’re all going through the vicissitudes of life. It’s a part of life. When we talk about the gospel, the old preacher used to say that the gospel is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. For those of us who have experienced the loss of loved ones, especially our spouses, Psalm 86 says, “When walking through the Valley of Baca, leave a well in the valley.” The idea was that you’re in a desert place, and people would find water but then they would hide it. He said, “Don’t hide it. Put a sign up.”
Baca means weeping. When going through the valley of weeping, leave a well. In other words, you came through and found a way to make it through. Put a sign up so that others can follow that and get their thirst quenched too. I believe that’s what we’re doing. We’re saying we have gone through some things. We have experienced some things. We want to as much as possible help others who are going to go through the same thing that we have gone through.
You have defined the entire premise of the show from my personal loss of my husband, connecting with other people, and seeing the suffering, the loneliness, the inability to connect with other people, and the inability to be able to outright honestly share that weeping, discomfort, and the desire to connect with other people to understand what I’ve experienced, not to be a crutch that I don’t learn how to walk this walk on my own but every now and then, I want to tap into someone else who understands to have had that great love. Before we jump right into that, who is this great love? Let’s talk about how you met.
I met my wife, Leslie Ann Ford AKA Sugarbabe, my twelfth rose, or my caramel mocha latte.
I want to hear a breakdown of all these. Let’s go.
She’s my twelfth rose. She loved roses. She got roses every week, sometimes twice a week. Fifty-two weeks in the year, she got at least 52 roses, not a dozen sometimes 2 or 3 times a week because she loved roses. I came up with this.
He knew she liked flowers and he gave them to her. I want to make sure that they get an educated moment.
The first time I did this, I don’t know where I stumbled on it but I said, “I love that idea.” I took a rose out and brought her eleven roses. She said, “Preacher, they got you.” I said, “What do you mean they got me?” “There are only eleven roses here.” I said, “There are twelve.” “That’s not Greek or Hebrew. There are only eleven roses here.” I said, “I beg to differ with you. There are twelve.”
She said, “Why don’t you count them?” I said, “Put them up and I’ll count them.” She put them up, and I said, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11.” I pointed at her face and said, “Twelve. You are my twelfth rose because your godly personality and your beautiful spirit are greater than the beauty of all of these eleven roses.” Long after they become potpourri, you’re going to continue to blossom in the bloom. You’re my twelfth rose. I called her my twelfth rose.
We took care of her mom who had Alzheimer’s for seventeen years. I would give one rose to her mother. The first time I did that, she said, “What’s this for?” I said, “You don’t know what one rose means?” “No.” “It means I love you.” I would give my wife the eleven and give her mother the twelfth. Whenever her mom went back to Pittsburgh, I would save one rose for her later on.
I call her my caramel mocha latte because she’s hot, yellow, sweet, and smoking. I called her Sugarbabe because I’m old school in this house. I grew up in an era where we watched the black and white TV of our neighbors. There was a show called The Real McCoy’s. Luke would call his wife Sugarbabe. I said, “If I ever get married, I’m calling my wife Sugarbabe.” I tell everybody, “She’s gone now. I’m sugar-free.”
How did you and Sugarbabe meet?
We met when she was the grand old age of 8 and I was 12. She was in third grade and I was in seventh. I would come from high school to elementary school to get her books carried up Brushton Hill. This is in Pittsburgh on the corner of Brushton and Monte Cello. I had a friend. He lives in New York. He’s a musician. His name is Christopher. There was my cousin, Ed, who is no longer with us. We were on top of the hill, and we saw Bill, who is my brother-in-law, and his two sisters, Linda and Pudgy or Leslie. We said, “Who were they?” “That’s my friend Bill.” He waved and said, “Go down here. You talk to Bill. We will talk to the sisters.”
My wife was very tall for her age. She didn’t want to be bothered. I walked up to her and said, “How are you doing? What’s your name?” “My name is Leslie. Everybody calls me Pudgy. Why do you want to know?” I said, “I want to know because one day I’m going to marry you.” She’s like, “Get him away from me.” I said, “How old are you?” She said, “Eight.” I said, “What grade are you in?” “Third.”
I said, “If you didn’t want to be bothered, why didn’t you say, ‘Don’t bother me. Get away.’ Why did you have to lie?” She said, “Bill and Linda, tell him how old I am.” “She’s eight in the third grade.” I thought, “I don’t believe this but I don’t care.” She was my height. She wore a bra. That’s how she got her name Pudgy because she was so big. Your friend, Jerry, who I call Tookie, will let you know that they used to think that my wife was her mother. She got pictures of her and my wife where my wife looks like she’s her mother.
There’s a striking resemblance between all of them. Looking at Pudgy’s picture there, I could see Jerry all there. Looking at the pictures of their mom, you cannot deny it.
They all got their beauty from their mother. This was taken three months prior to her going home to be with the Lord. She was a beautiful woman. She was beautiful inside and out.
Since she was eight, you didn’t get married right away. How did that work?
That was eight years later. Her mom tried to break us up because they were a nuclear family with a father. I grew up in a small family of 10 with 9 boys and 1 tomboy. It was a single-parent home on welfare in the projects on Brushton Avenue. They had a home. He worked in the steel mill. They were middle class. She did everything to break us up but we all know now hindsight is always 20/20. The more she tried to pull us apart, the closer we got.
Suicide: The more she tried to pull us apart, the closer we got.
For the parents, that’s a tip right there. If you feel like your children are dating someone, or if you’re trying to pull it apart, you are pushing it together. You want to step back sometimes and let it work itself out. I came from a nuclear family. My dad was a Chicago police officer. My mom was a stay-at-home mom. We would walk to school and come home for lunch, and my mom would have food for us. I can relate to that nuclear family and what that looks like. The parent is wanting to protect their child. We don’t get to see the future but they are looking to try to make what’s best for us. If you’re a parent yourself too, you’re doing the same thing now.
Little did we know. We dated for eight years. I was in the scholar’s program at Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh. I wanted to be a doctor but I met her and stopped studying and everything. I would be at her school to carry those books up that hill. I wasn’t playing any games with that.
You have become a doctor of people’s hearts in a different way. We will get to that.
Even for her mom, for the things we went through early, and then for me to turn around and be the one that would be taking care of her for seventeen years was oxymoronic and paradoxical. We forsee that. We would even laugh and joke, “There was a time I couldn’t even stand you.” I said, “I know because I couldn’t stand you either.” She would say, “Look at what God has done. You are my primary caregiver. I never would have thought anything like this would happen.” I said, “I never would have thought anything like this would happen too.” We don’t know. She got pregnant at 16 and I was 20. I’m working on my book and some of the stuff I will reveal there. Her mom said, “You’re going to jail.”
16 and 20 is a bit of a difference.
I was a grown man. She was still considered a child. They weren’t going to. Mom was going to put my little self in jail. Some things happened, which should have given me an awareness but she had done some things and told them, “If you don’t let us get married and sign that paper, then I’m out of here.” Her dad signed it and we got married. I tease people and say, “We got married in May and our son was born in September.” That was the biggest 9-pound and 2-ounce preemie I ever saw in my life.
Surely, this didn’t happen beforehand.
In the first three years of our marriage, we didn’t know the Lord. We were getting ready to get a divorce. We both came to save faith in Jesus Christ on the same night. That was the transition for not just our marriage but our family. Jesus made a difference in our lives.
I want to pause for a moment if we may. This show is in 56 different countries for a lot of different people. I don’t want to take for granted when you say who Jesus Christ is that everyone automatically knows who that is and what that means. Would you take some time to unpack that a little bit? Someone may have an interest and might not understand that.
I believe in the Bible. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man, woman, boy, or girl comes to the Father, who we call God, except through me.” I believe that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh who died, was buried, and rose again on the third day. On the Cross of Calvary, he took the sins of the world, past, present, and future on himself. When one believes in those facts, then what he does is he takes away our sin and clothes us in his righteousness so that now when God looks at me, he no longer sees my sin. He sees his son. That’s what I mean by that.
It was a transition. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if any man, woman, boy, or girl be in Christ, he’s a new creature. Old things have passed away. Behold all things are becoming new.” I became a new creature in Jesus Christ. Some things began to change right away. I used to push drugs, carry a pistol, club, bar, and all that. That went right away. Some of the other things were processed because 2 Corinthians 5:17 is in the Greek language called present participle, “All things are becoming new.” I’ve been a Christian for over 40 years and I still have some of my old habits. I am not going to tell you what they are but God has made a transition. It made a difference in our marriage and our family. We became the patriarch and the matriarch of our family. People look to us quite a bit.
Thank you. There’s one other question I would like to ask. How does one accept Jesus? Can you explain what it is? How did that happen to you?
You believe the facts. I said what’s called the sinner’s prayer. God is not listening to words. He’s looking at hearts. Romans 9 and 10 says, “If thou shall confess with thy mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised from the dead, thou shall be saved.” Verse 10 says, “For with the heart, man believes under righteousness. With the mouth, confession is made unto salvation.” I liken the heart to the well and the mouth to a bucket. If it’s in the well, it will be in the bucket. That’s it.God is not listening to words. He’s looking at hearts. Click To Tweet
You believe what the facts of the scriptures tell us that he is. When I did that, the Bible told me that the Holy Spirit who is God came into my life and gave me a new nature or the nature of Christ. Now, I am a believer in Jesus Christ based on the commitment that I made. Anybody can say the sinner’s prayer. You invite Jesus to come into your life, “I believe that I’m a sinner. I believe what the Bible says about who you are, what you have done, and your death, burial, and resurrection. I believe that. I accept that. I accept you as my personal Lord and Savior.” It’s that simple.
I want you to explain that because that is a pivotal point in your life. In transformation, sometimes people hear what sounds like a catchphrase or a small sentence but maybe have not been in a space where they have felt comfortable asking someone unless it’s in a public forum. People feel embarrassed but they want to understand. Thank you for taking the time to break that down. You talked about how that changed your life. Other people in your family started looking to you and Pudgy and asking how could their life be transformed. How did you get from Pittsburgh to Chicago?
I had told God that everywhere I sold drugs, every corner I stood on, every bar, and every pool hall in Pittsburgh, I would go back to and share what happened to me and how I came to faith in Jesus Christ. In the process of doing that, people would notice and ask me to speak to youth. People started saying, “You might be a preacher.” I was like, “No because I used to sell drugs and I sold drugs to preachers.”
There was one preacher. When I was unsaved, I was going after this woman. I didn’t pull her but a preacher did who was already married. I said, “I want nothing to do with those guys.” I rejected that. My pastor at that time was Charles Francis Tame. He had the distinction of being an Anglo pastor of a predominantly Black church on Tioga in Pittsburgh. He saw it in me and began to work with me.
When he went home to be with the Lord, he wanted to die on the basketball court. He was the chaplain for the Steelers. He would play ball with them. He would always say, “When I die, I want to die on the basketball court.” That’s what happened. He had a heart attack on the basketball court. God answered his prayer. Our church began searching for a new pastor. The head of our deacon board at that time was a man by the name of Walt Lieber. He’s with the Lord now. He said, “Why don’t we bring Beau in, let him be the pastor, let him go to Messiah College, which is right outside of Pittsburgh for about an hour, and do a dual thing?” They said, “He’s not formally trained.”
That was the catalyst that God used to bring me to the point where I said, “I’ll never be rejected because I’m not formally trained.” I applied to Moody Bible Institute here in Chicago and was accepted. Like The Beverly Hillbillies, we loaded up our truck, moved to Chicago, matriculated at Moody Bible Institute, finished there, went to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and got my Master’s. My Doctorate is a Doctor of Divinity. It was bestowed upon me. That’s why they call it Doctor of Divinity, Pastor James Ford Junior, DD but I call it donated dignity.
When you say loaded up the truck, how many people were loaded up in the truck when you came from Pittsburgh?
There were seven of us.
You mentioned the one child.
We had 5 boys and 2 went home to be the Lord. With three boys, my wife and I moved here and did it like Abraham. We came. I didn’t have a job. We had nowhere to live. God opened up doors and I was able to bring my family up here. I came to this church because I only knew one person in Chicago but he had left this church. When I came here, he was gone. A pastor asked me if I would be interim. I spoke for their youth on Sundays and they liked it. I’ve been here ever since.
Thank you for being part of this conversation. I am sorry for the person that you have lost that is no longer here but I am so glad that you were able to connect with us. I pray and I hope that the conversations have made us part of your hood and we are able to help you and know that you are not alone. We are your community. We are here on this journey with you.
This conversation with Pastor James Ford was intentional to be able to help you and your family members to be able to understand that this journey is hard but there is something powerful that can come out of sharing and talking to help other people to be able to process, move, live, and know that they are not on this journey alone, and there are people here that understand you. Talk to you soon.
About Pastor James Ford Jr.
Pastor James Ford Jr. has served as Senior Pastor of Christ Bible Church of Chicago (formerly South Shore Baptist Church), located on the south side of Chicago, Illinois, for 42 years. He is preceded in death by the love of his life, Leslie A. Ford, whom he affectionately called his Sugarbabe.
Pastor Ford is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and completed his Master’s degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Pastor Ford currently serves on the Board of Directors for Pacific Garden Mission and has served on several boards, including the Baptist General Conference’s Board of World Missions and the Board of Overseers, Board of Directors of the Ada S. McKinley Special Educational Services, Board of Directors of Fellowship Christian Academy, and the Alumni Board of Moody Bible Institute.
Pastor Ford is the senior pastor of Christ Bible Church of Chicago as well as the president of James Ford Jr Ministries, which is a ministry committed to strengthening marriages and developing leaders in the body of Christ. Pastor Ford provides the messages of “Treasured Truth For Troubling Times, which is aired daily over WMBI 90.1-FM, as well as over 160 WMBI syndicate and affiliate stations nationwide and in some U.S. territories.
Pastor Ford is an international conference speaker, seminar leader, and Bible teacher. He has served as an Adjunct Professor at Moody Bible Institute, an instructor for the Pacific Garden Mission’s Bible program in Chicago, Illinois and is a special instructor at the Ecola Bible School in Cannon Beach, Oregon. He has been a speaker at Moody Bible Institute’s annual Founder’s Week and has taught many courses in the Greater New Era District’s Bible program.
Pastor Ford has been honored as “Pastor of the Year (1993) by Moody Bible Institute and was bestowed an honorary Doctorate of Divinity by St. Thomas Christian University of Jacksonville, Florida. He has been lauded as an influential leader in the Christian community by “The Chicago People’s Voice” newspaper and “Man of the Year” by the Chicago Bible Association.
As an author, Pastor Ford is a contributor in the book “A Heart For the City”, published by Moody Press. He has authored 7 books: “When a Man Loves A Woman”; “Seven Reasons Why God Created Marriage”; “When A Woman Loves A Man”; “Living The Blessed Life”; “A New Look At An Old Prayer”; “Rules of Engagement”; and “What To Do When The Devil Talks To You”.