On Fire

Sharing the love of God through poetry,
testimonies, bible studies and letters
 to an atheist and a teen.



Set FreeHopelessSet Free


This book includes my life story, how death row touched my life, how God and his people touched my life and 100 of my Poems To God, many with the story behind the inspiration for the poems. Each chapter opens with a poem composed for that chapter. What follows below is the rough draft of chapters one and two.

As you read on, in later chapters, you will notice a softening of my heart towards those whom appear here in the early chapters. It will soon become obvious that this softening is a result of the mercy, love and forgiveness God has extended to me and that through my trials, fires and mountains God has opened my eyes to just how good and decent these people were in the core of their hearts. I did not see that for many years after my conversion, and certainly did not see it as a child. I see it clearly now. God has been so merciful to me that I was inspired to write, as the last line of my poem "Mercy", the following, "I must take this mercy, and pass it on to you!" The poem "Mercy" appears as my first Poem To God on my home page. May God bless you as you learn more about my heart, my healing, my mission and the move of God, my Father, in my heart. In the words of many who are encouraging me and supporting this ministry, "It is not about us, it's about God"!

Me  Cousin Karen  Grandma

Me, My Cousin Karen And My Grandmother, Circa 1958
Karen was killed at the age of 16 in her first car while I was
incarcerated in a state correctional facility for juveniles.

Chapter 1


I've never seen my father, all my mother did was lie
And now you're asking me to trust some God in the sky
My uncle used to beat me, others laughed, but I would cry
Instead of going on living, this little boy wanted to die!

I used to go to church back then, but always felt so funny
Other kids wouldn't play with me, it had something to do with money
I cried to God, and asked him why, but never got an answer
Now you ask me to believe this God heals even cancer?

I used to go to school each day, in clothes that were not new
I wanted to hide in the walls of our house, but that would never do
You must go out and face the world, it's time to be abused
Just go out and go to school, ignore the holes in your shoes!

The pain was real, it hurt so much, I cried each night in bed
And when I asked why we lived like this, mom screamed, "I should be dead!"
Oh boy, I thought, mom hates this life, and only wants to die
I wonder why the neighbors laugh whenever we walk by?

My little heart grew callouses, it was hurt and beat so much
And now you expect my calloused heart to feel Jesus' gentle touch?
All the years I've spent in the world, were only to survive
And now you tell me Jesus loves me, and surely will provide!

I listen to the words you say, I want them to be true
So I open up my calloused heart, to let this love get through
Tender areas are now exposed, the pain is real again
And there you sit, smiling and saying, "Jesus is your friend!"

My heart cries out, "Don't trust this man, he's just like all the rest!"
I tell my heart, "Please don't worry, I'll only do what's best!"
My heart rebels and screams at me, "It hurts, it hurts, you fool!"
"Don't you see what he has in his hand, it's some kind of brand new tool!"

My heart retreats to heal it's wounds, it hides back in it's box
It's taken with it all the keys, now I'll have to pick the locks
The last one clicks, the top comes up, my heart looks up in fear
"Please, please, just go away, and let me stay in here!"

I grab my heart, and pull it out, my hands are wet with tears
My heart is not believing it'll be different than other years
I tell my heart, "We must have faith, that's what they say to me!"
My heart gets mad and screams and shouts, "Show me something I can see!"

My heart is very slippery, and quite hard to hold onto
The tears are rolling form it's cheeks, "What are you trying to do?"
So once again, I take the time, I try and try to explain
"Be patient, be patient my wounded heart, you'll learn not to feel the pain!"

"You and I together heart, must learn to trust the Lord!"
"Together we must learn my friend, this pain can be ignored!"
"And when I want to run, my heart, you must grab me by the arm!"
"For it's hard for me to tell you this, but I too share your alarm!"

© 1988   Jay L. Zumbrum
In Jesus Precious Name
And for his Glory

    I am 8 years old, it is 1:00 AM, and I have just been awakened by my mother once again. I still sleep with my mother because I am too afraid to sleep alone. Not only afraid, but terrified!
    I don't know who the man is, I've never seen him. But I know he is there. My mother has seen him, she has described him to me in great detail.
    He is a big man, very large, he has a pull over wool cap that he wears when he is prowling around our house. My mother says that he lives down over the hill from us.
    For two years now I have snuck down over the hill and sat there for hours, trying to see the man who peeks in our windows almost every night. But I've yet to see anyone that looks like the man my mother has described to me. If I could just get a look at him, see what he looks like. Is he really as ugly and bent over as mom says he is? "God, oh God, why doesn't he just leave us alone?"
    Every time he comes, mom wakes me up, lets me know he is there! Then she screams at the top of her lungs, "Get out of here, leave us alone, I've already called the police!"
    I don't know why she yells that she's called the police, we don't even have a phone, and I know the man knows this! He's been in our house before, while no one was home. I've never seen him, but mom has. She's seen him run out of the house as she was coming up the street from work. Mom is very brave, she's chased him on several occasions!
    I've often wondered why mom has never really called the police. I've asked her about it several times. She tells me that by the time they would get to our house, the man would be gone anyway. I've also wondered how she knew the man had been in our house for sure. She says she knows because she can tell that the furniture has been moved around, but it always seems to be in the same place to me! But then again, my mother would never lie to me, would she?
    I don't honestly remember how old I was when I finally made my mom give me my own bed, but I remember the terror I used to feel going into that room at night. I would go to sleep with the light on and mom would have to come and turn it out after I was asleep. Many times I woke up in the middle of the night screaming, "Mom, are you there?". She always was.
    And the nightmares, God, they were awful. The man my mom had told me about would be chasing me and I would start out running very fast, but the same thing always happened. The harder I would try to run, the more my body would become paralyzed. It was like my muscles were caught in syrup, and the syrup was getting thicker by the minute. It would get so thick that I could not move. I would try to scream as loud as I could, but the syrup had stopped even my voice! it was a terrifying feeling, not being able to move as the man drew closer and closer. Just as he was about to reach out and grab me, I would wake up. I would try to scream for mom, but nothing would come out, and in my heart, always the same scream, "Oh God, help me, please help me!".
    The years passed by slowly, as they do for a child, and as I became older and more aware of my surroundings, I began to realize just how poor we really were. I also discovered something else. Other kids had fathers who lived at home, I had never even seen mine! Mom never talked about him and I never asked. It was easier to just accept that I had no father. But deep down inside, I wanted to have a father. One who would help me when older kids in the neighborhood picked on me, as they always did, whenever they caught me alone somewhere.
    I would come home crying and tell mom what had happened, and she would get wild, she'd fly out of the house and run to the neighbor's house and make a real big scene, and the next day at school it was even worse! I just wanted to run away and hide! I hated my mom for being so poor and for making such scenes.
    I was always afraid to make friends, because every time you made a friend, they always wanted to come over and see your house. My house was not a home. I hated it. Everything was old and the furniture was tattered and worn, and as I look back now, I realize that even then, mom had started to give up on life, she just did not keep a clean house.
    One of my uncles lived down the street from us and he would always come up and yell at mom about the way that she kept the house.
    At this point, you must understand that my mother was one of 12 children, she was the next to the youngest, she was considered by the family to be retarded and was removed from school in the third or fourth grade to stay home and help her mom around the house. So to her brothers and sisters, she was already an embarrassment to the family. When she came home pregnant with me at the age of 31, pregnant to a man who was married to another woman, the family decided that I was not coming home from the hospital! My mother would have none of that, and all through her pregnancy, my soon coming birth had become the focus of a war zone!
    My grandfather had died years before I was born, all the brothers and sisters had gotten married and moved out, so when the time came for me to come home, I would be coming home to mom and grandma.
    It was only after mom brought me home from the hospital, grandma still did not want me to come home, that grandma finally softened her heart and decided I would stay a Zumbrum. Grandma lived until I was 7.
    Now, back to my uncle from down the street!
    He would come up the street yelling and screaming at mom about her housekeeping, then he would turn to me and yell and scream at me. Sometimes he would just haul off and crack me in the face, other times he would use his belt.
    I hated him, I wanted to kill him, and I would lie in bed at night and fantasize about what I would do to him when I got older and bigger.
    I did that with a lot of people. After the first few scenes my mom had made when I had been picked on, I decided I was better off if I never said anything to her. I actually became embarrassed that she was my mother. I know how much that hurt her now, but then, I was just angry! Angry at her, angry at my uncles, and very angry at God!
    All these feelings and emotions I turned in on myself. I would never tell anyone how I really felt. That was leaving yourself wide open, and I had had enough of that! I just decided that I would never love anyone because all people do is hurt you, and when I got older, no one would ever hurt me again. I would have a gun, or a knife, and I would use it! NO ONE WAS EVER GOING TO HURT ME AGAIN!
    And I would make sure that I always had enough money. I was sick and tired of going to the neighborhood store with notes from my mom that asked for a list of things, and at the end always said that we would pay for them just as soon as we had the money! Dear God, I hated having to do that!
    I was going to get a job, marry a nice girl, (the one area of love I left open), and treat her like a queen! And if anyone ever made fun of us, I would simply catch them alone some place and kill them! NO ONE WAS EVER GOING TO HURT ME AGAIN! (Geeze, did I ever have a lot to learn about women! :)
    "Dear God, why did I have to be born to this lady, and why couldn't I have a father, what did I do to deserve this? Oh God, I hate you, how can you be so cruel?"
    The saddest part of my early childhood was the fact that no one ever took the time to tell me that God loved me and had sent his only Son to die on the cross for me. Had I known that, things might have been different!



Jesus, oh sweet Jesus, where, oh where are you
They tell me that you love me, I'm not so sure you do
And I am trying to find you Jesus, I'm looking all around
But all the people that I see, they treat me like a clown!

There is a fear within my heart, it will not go away
So many nights I've called to you, so many nights I pray
Then off to sleep I fall again, lost in nightmare's fear
Will I ever find you Jesus, will people let you near?

My heart is growing harder Lord, as days and years go by
The tears that used to stain my cheeks, no longer find my eyes
The bitterness within my heart, is now a source of strength
This lying thing that they call love, will remain at full arms length!

For I have found another friend, this one, alcohol
With every sip I take oh Lord, I build a bigger wall
And if you knock upon my door, yes, knock on it today
I am afraid I'm much too drunk, I'll just say go away!

©Jay L. Zumbrum
Written for "Who Cares"

    I didn't know that! No one ever told me! Oh sure, I went to church on Sundays. Mom never went, but I went. The church was just across the street from our house and I think the Pastor had talked my mom into letting me go because it was the right thing for a pastor to do.
    It wasn't so bad, I only had a few pennies to put in the collection plate, but the teacher didn't seem to mind. I never did understand though, why I wasn't able to make friends with the other kids. They were always so cold and uncaring.
    We learned all the normal kid stuff from the bible. David and Goliath, Sampson and things of that sort. But I can honestly say I do not ever remember the word love being spoken in any of those classes. It may have been used, but it went right over this young ones head. And I sure don't remember any love being shown in any of those sessions, no hugs or anything like that.
    I guess if I had to sum up what was wrong with my life at that early age, it would have to be the lack of love and caring being shown to me. No one was showing me Jesus. Church was just a place where people went on Sunday. No one in the neighborhood talked about Jesus outside of church. I would go to Sunday school with the same kids who picked on me  and made fun of me during the week. Maybe that's why I never heard the word love. "Dear God, a hug from the teacher sure would have been nice!"
    While I should have been learning about the love and mercy of Jesus, I was growing more and more bitter, even in church! But I sure did love the stories about those guys in the bible, Even though it hurt to go to church and have no one talk to me, I still went to hear those stories.
    As I grew older, the nightly visits from the man down over the hill no longer occurred. I used to stay up at night and wait for him to come. Although I was scared silly, I would sit by the window into the wee hours of the night waiting for this man to come. I would sit there with a club I had made from stuff around the house. I had the window open just far enough so that he would be able to look in, but not climb in. I wanted to get the drop on this guy. I just wanted to see him, just one time! And if he was nuts enough to stick his head through that window he was going to get his skull split wide open! I was scared, but I was angry too.
    I waited many a night, and mom would get really mad at me for sitting by that window. She said I should shut the window and get to bed because the neighbors were going to think I was nuts. In my mind, I was about to become a hero, so I would not listen to mom. I told her when this guy comes this time, I'll make sure the police get him. Mom would get so angry that she would yell and scream and curse and try to pull me away from the window. But I would not leave! I was determined to get this bum!
    But he never came. I asked mom why and she told me he had probably gone somewhere else to prowl. This made no sense to me, he had been coming for years, terrifying me in the middle of the night, and now that I was brave enough to sit by that window and put my life in danger so the police could get him, he would not come! It just made no sense! But my mom would never lie to me, would she???
    The man had gone, but the fear he had instilled in me, the churning gut level fear that I had faced night after night for so many years stayed with me. I continued to have those awful feelings of fear and carried them right into adolescence with me.
    As a young child, the roots of rebellion against my mother had already taken hold and I would stay out past dark. I would be terrified when I had stayed out past dark with some friends, which by now I had managed to make, while playing in the park, and then realizing that none of them were going home my way, would have to walk home in the dark by myself. I would walk way out in the middle of the street, that way, if anyone jumped out of the bushes after me, which I honestly expected to happen at any second, I would at least have a chance to run for my life and scream. Someone would surely hear me!
    I never shared that fear with anyone, I just went through life being terrified of the dark.
    I never shared the hatred I had for my uncle or my mother either, nor for the people who snickered when mom and I walked by. I just kept it all inside that little head of mine, constantly simmering, and every time someone laughed, every time my mother fought with me, every time my uncle yelled at, or hit me, I added another coal to the fire. Another brick to the wall!
    My mother used to tell me how much she hated my uncle, but as I got older and mom and I would get into violent arguments, (My mom also taught me the fine art of being totally out of control in fits of rage), she would run right down the street in front of all the neighbors and sic my uncle on me. (He also enjoyed fits of rage in front of the whole world. I used to be so glad I didn't have to live with him all the time.) And up the street he would come, belt in hand, to beat me into his way of thinking.
    When you look at the picture of my mother as she appears today, you see a tiny little lady, but she was not always tiny, the years have taken their toll on her. My mother, for most of my life, was almost as tall as I am as an adult. In the last few years, she has continued to shrink in size. So please keep this in mind when visualizing my mother during my growth years. This was no small lady. (written before she passed in 2004)
    By this time I had indeed learned that yes, my own mother would lie to me. About the most obvious of truths she would stand there and lie, and lie, and lie. And if I was able to prove to her she was lying, she would become violently angry and add more lies to the original lies.
    She would constantly come into my room, rummage through my things, break things, (mom had this way of forcing something to work if she didn't understand it, we can look back and laugh now), and then stand there and tell me she had never been in the room, that it must have been someone else.
    It used to hurt so much to know that my own mother would stand there and lie to me. There was only one way I had been taught to react to pain, and that was to get as violently angry as mom did. So I would do just that. Of course this always resulted in "The Attack Of The Wild Uncle!"
    Up the street he would come, fire in his eyes, belt in hand. I would try and try to explain my side of the story, but he never heard a word I said. He was too busy yelling and screaming and using that belt. Back down the street he would go. And there would stand mom, screaming and yelling, "See, I told you what would happen if you didn't listen!"
    "Dear God, all I want is someone I can trust, someone to talk to, someone to love me, Where are you God?"
    I was so confused, I couldn't even trust my own family, how could I trust anyone else?
    As I said earlier, by this time in my life I had found some guys I could hang around with, and as we got older year by year, our priorities changed, as do all children's, as they begin to move towards adolescence. Most of these guys all had dads, (my cousin John didn't), and it didn't seem to bother them or their parents that I didn't have a dad. Of course a few of them had parents where one or both of their parents were usually drunk, so there wasn't too much that ever bothered them anyway. But boy, when they got mad they really got mad, about like mom, and of course this didn't bother me, after all, it's normal for people to act that way. My Mom and uncles do it all the time. So it was the most normal thing in the world for me to hang out with this crowd. (Not all the parents drank or became angry)
    We never had to explain anything to each other. We all knew that the pain was no longer real. Just something to laugh about when we were all alone talking about our parents. And we sure didn't do that a lot unless they had made a scene recently and we had to laugh away the pain again.
    Of course, coming from the types of families that we did usually meant that we seldom had money to do things, so we had to find other ways to have fun.
    It was at this point in my life that I had my first encounter with alcohol. I was now 11 years old , and a little too big for mom to handle all by herself anymore.
    My close encounters of the third kind with this stuff called alcohol started out innocently enough. It was winter time and we were all on the hill by my house sledding. (The one which the man in the night used to come up over to peek in our windows, he was still no longer in the area.)
    One of my friends said he knew where we could steal some beer, and this sounded pretty exciting to me. The only part I didn't like was the actual stealing. There were several of us there who had never had beer before and we had a lot of questions. After all, grownups did some pretty violent things when they drank this stuff. My friend assured us there was nothing to fear, since he had stolen beer from his dad many times and was still alive. So off I went to pull my first big heist.
    I had an easy job, I was the look out. All I had to do was yell if someone came out of the house. The beer was located at a doctor's house and in the refrigerator he kept in the enclosed patio just off the rear of his house. Though I was sure I had the easiest job there, I was still scared silly, and if someone had snuck up behind me and said boo, I would have, well, I'm sure you know what I mean!
    It seemed like my friends were in that patio forever, and when I finally saw them coming around the corner I was sure that was the happiest moment I had ever experienced in my life! So my first great Al Capone caper had been a great success. Man, we were going to be legends now! And on top of that, we were going to be drunk legends, making us even bigger legends. Of course I never told anyone how scared I had been standing there taking all of this in. That would not have been cool! Anyway, that fear passed from my mind as quickly as it had come.
    It was party time now, my very first party time, and it was a time that was to open the doors to many, many years of insanity. To the death of friends, to drugs, to overdoses, to accidents in which I should have been killed, to broken bones, gunshots and cuts with knives, to a state correctional facility for teens, to 7 different jails in two states and the District of Columbia, to some of these very friends, here on this day, dying of AIDS many years later, to two of my cousins ending up on death row, (both have now been executed), to some of the girls I knew and would come to know going into prostitution and ending up in prison, to most of the guys that were there that day eventually ending up in jail!
    But none of us saw that now, we were legends, and it was party time! MY FIRST PARTY TIME!!!
    It wasn't a lot of beer, only a six pack, but it was more than enough to give me a buzz. (That was how we referred to anything that altered the way you would normally feel).
    I remember the feeling that came over me as I began to add this new elixir into my life. It did not take long for the transformation to begin.
    I probably had little more than a can that day, but to an 11 year old kid who has felt like crap all his life, this was magic. And I knew from that very day that I had found the potion that would forever change my life. How subtle the enemy, how cunning and crafty our foe. The first thing I did when I realized the magic potion was limited, (a six pack,) was to try and hide another can from my friends so I could have more.
    As I now poured this elixir into my young body I began to realize that the world really wasn't so bad. It all began to look so different. I felt so much more confident.
    I remember thinking to my self, "Boy, where is that girl from school that is so pretty? The one I've wanted to talk to, but have been too afraid to say hi to. If she could only come by now. I would run as fast as I could and fly down the hill at 100 miles per hour on my sled. And after that I would walk up to her and tell her how much I liked her. And of course she would be in love with me because I was so brave to go down the hill like that. 'Dear God, please let her come by!'" She never did that day, I was so disappointed.
    The next morning I awoke in my room and all the confidence was gone. I thought about the girl, and how I would have talked to her and it was all different now. "She'll probably laugh at me because I am so poor. Dear God, I hate being poor! Why can't I have a nice house, and nice clothes, and a Dad who loves me and takes me to ball games and stuff? If I could just get this girl to notice me and to like me, it would make me feel so good. But how could she like someone like me? Look at me, LOOK AT MY MOM! Oh God, I hate you!"
    "Maybe I can drink some beer before I go to school, that way I'll be able to talk to this girl. I know she'd like me if she could only see me when I've got some beer in me. I'm really cool then, that will be the best time to talk to her, for sure!"
    That's what the drug alcohol did for me, it made me feel like I could conquer the world. Here was a kid with no father, a mother who loved him in very distorted ways, because of the abuse she had taken as a child in the family of an alcoholic father, a kid already living in a fantasy world of broken dreams and lies, finding that a drug call alcohol could possibly make all the broken dreams come true because it took away the pain, the reality, and allowed my young mind to travel even further into the world of fantasy and all I would achieve. I knew one thing for sure, without this stuff called alcohol, I didn't have a chance. It was only when I drank that I could see beyond my immediate situation. It was only when I drank that I would even dare dream of talking to this girl. It was only when I drank that I felt bold enough to kill the people who had hurt me for so many years. "Boy, were they ever going to get theirs someday. I live for that day! You just wait uncle Carl, (not his real name), someday I'll break both of your legs and just let you lay there. You just wait!"
    "Dear God, I feel so good when I drink. I don't need you, and I don't need my mom, I hate most people! All I need is some beer and my favorite girl at school, (Who I still haven't talked to yet), and I'll be just fine. The rest of the world can just go drop dead for all I care!" (These were not the exact words I used, but you get the idea) "If anyone messes with me now I'll really hurt them! God, this stuff called alcohol is great!"
    What a sad state of affairs, no one saw what was happening, no one saw me withdrawing into fantasy land, and if they did, they sure didn't care enough to reach out. No one told me God loved me, NO ONE CARED! Certainly God didn't care. I was on my own till the day I died!



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