Category Archives: Faith

Gone…But Not Forever…

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Graham, sharing with the millennials group in 2012. He was in a recovery program in Atlanta and in a ‘good place’

It’s fitting that before I could post this, my 9th (and presumably last) installment since our son passed, I needed to sit by Graham’s graveside and read it out loud to him. I’m not intending to sound melodramatic, but, somehow, I feel I owed him that. Anyway, you, dear reader, have graced me more than you know for following along. Processing this way has helped ferret out many of the emotions tremendously. Thank you. Oh, and since I’ll still be blogging, come back and visit from time to time. I’ll probably need an ear or a comfy shoulder again soon.

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(Continued from previous post, “Gone…But Not Homeless…”)

It was March, in the year of our Lord, 2003. Our church family was challenged to believe Jehovah-rapha for my healing, to press in, intercede, and see if God wouldn’t take my body and raise it from the prison of paralysis, and grant the healing so many cried out for. Graham, then 13, was out front, emotionally leading the charge.

Before we left for church that morning, this conversation ensued:

“Dad, let’s put the regular van driver’s seat in today.”

“The regular chair?” I asked.

“Yes sir. You’re not going to need your wheelchair after the service. You’re getting healed this morning,” he answered with unhinged exuberance.

I knew that “faith comes by hearing the word of Christ” so I used the moment to teach my boy a little something about how God operates, as best I understood it.

“Has God told you I would be healed today, Graham?” I pressed.

“I just know you will be, Dad!”

“Graham, buddy, I haven’t heard that He will. Only that we are to ask together as a church family and see what God might do,” I tenderly explained.

He could not be deterred. He even held a stiff hand out to stop me.

“I know you’ll be healed today, Dad!”

And that’s when I sensed something dangerous afoot. I had to do something, say something, to help my son see that just because it’s a strong wish doesn’t mean it’s God’s will.

“Graham, what if I’m not healed today?” I pleaded.

He shook his head sternly. He wasn’t hearing that. No way. I was getting healed that morning. End of story. The matter, as far as Graham was concerned, was dropped.

The rest of that morning, I didn’t pray with the couple hundred who gathered around me, pressed shoulder to shoulder, groaning and pleading and crying out for my healing. Instead, I was praying for a boy whose young faith was almost certainly going to take the hardest of hits. I felt Graham at my right shoulder, dying by degrees the longer the prayers went “unanswered”, and knew in my spirit he’d be fully deflated by the end of the morning.

We left that service and I rode the lift up into the van and locked my wheelchair into its place behind the steering wheel. Just like always. Graham, sitting in the co-pilot’s chair, was quiet. Nothing changed. The hopes he’d pinned to my full healing were lying in shattered pieces at his feet.

Later, in the gloom, Graham confessed to something else occurring while all the praying was going on. It confused him greatly.

“Dad, everyone had their eyes closed, but I just watched. I watched you for awhile, but nothing was happening, so I just started watching people.”

There was an unsettled expression on his face that prompted me to ask: “Did you see something?”

“I saw Jesus,” he said.

I didn’t say a word. I trusted my son. If he said he saw Jesus, I believed him. Whatever it was he saw confounded him, clearly.

“He just kinda appeared in the back of the church. Then He passed through all the people and came right up to you.”

“To me?” I prodded.

“Yes sir. He just knelt in front of you.”

“Did you see His face?” I asked, masking excitement.

“Not really. That was a blur. But I remember He put His hands on your legs and I could tell – even though I couldn’t see His face – that He was looking at me.”

I thanked God that night for graciously revealing Himself – in whatever way it was – to the most devastated soul in the room. That experience puzzled, more than moved, our son. He wasn’t making up a story to appear spiritual. No, he was already mad. He didn’t want anything to do with God. But he couldn’t deny…something happened. And was flummoxed.

A common prayer of mine became,

For Graham, I pray that a great and mighty olive tree would grow from his tender shoot and that future generations would be blessed through him. May he not “settle among the Philistines” but always pitch his tent in spiritual places, leaving altars to You everywhere he goes, and may he constantly be seeking to build new altars to You! May the fire never go out. May faith be his walking stick, and obedience his shoes, and may Your provision always fill his backpack every mile of his journey with You…

The pull of darkness, however, was irrefutable and our gorgeous son, in spite of God’s tender overtures, lacked the intent to refuse its draw. He was defiantly pitching his tent toward Philistia.

There was no lack of warnings, mind you. One of Graham’s strongest champions, his school administrator who loved him unconditionally, once looked into his eyes and said, rather brokenly,

“Graham, you have had so many chances to repent – more than most. Just remember, young man, GRACE REFUSED IS GRACE REMOVED.”

Dark storm-clouds began to move across his countenance. His sweet face turned sullen and hard. In short order, he was devolving into a slave of darkness, feeding himself the opiates of satan’s kingdom to compensate the emptiness within. He hated God, hated me, hated church, hated ministry, hated…yes, I’m very certain, even himself.

Many have commented on his tattoos and have seen it as a positive expression of his artistic side. I’m sure there’s s o m e of that but I also have an altogether different take on it. While I was so proud of his script (handwriting was never his specialty!) and how beautifully his drawing was evolving, many of his own tattoos were also ugly and dark. I sensed for some time that the way he inked his body reflected how he intrinsically felt about himself, deep down, minus the masks.

I know others will take issue with me on this front, but I know my son better than anyone except his mother, plus I know a thing or two about the nature of evil and how it manifests. It eats from the inside out.

I also know that 24-year old Graham was tired of his rebellion. Living in opposition to the higher plan of God does that to you.

It exhausts you.

It leaves you empty and unfulfilled, running on putrid fumes.

In the fullness of Graham’s shortened time on earth, God intervened and mercifully rescued our boy and received him home. God’s grace does that. It takes what the enemy means for evil, turns it upright, and creates something beautiful from the wreckage of our choices. Something praiseworthy.

This GLORIOUS REVERSAL first became evident to us when Dr. Venugopal, the attending cardiac ICU doctor at the Univ of MN hospital, called me at 5:30 p.m. on December 16th. I had been expecting her call for several hours so I had my pen and little notebook handy to write down everything she said. The last word we got was that Gra-Gra was found alone in a car, unresponsive at the scene, likely an overdose, but that he was on some sort of “blood warming” machine and that the next 24-48 hours were critical to his survival.

That’s all we knew.

So I’m driving Sandy to the airport so she can catch a flight to Minnesota to be with her baby boy and we’re scared and we don’t know details and we just want someoneanyonetocall
andletusknowthateverything’sgoingtobeokaywithourGraGra
andwhyisn’tthedoctorcalling…?

We pull up to a Zaxby’s because Sandy hasn’t had a thing on her tummy all day. The drive-thru lane is wrapped around the building for the supper-time rush, so my lovely goes inside, discovers she has no appetite, orders a drink, then visits the ladies’ room.

And.

You guessed it.

While I’m waiting in the van, Dr. V calls.

I pull out my pen and moleskin notebook. I need to write it all down, word for word, can’t miss a detail because I’m not, by nature, very detail-oriented (except in my writing) and I’ll need for Sandy to be completely in the loop.

“Mr. Mitchell?” the female voice responds when I say hello.

“Yes?” (Pretty sure my voice cracked)

“Mr. Mitchell, I’m the doctor in the cardiac ICU here at the hospital. You can call me Dr. V because my name is pretty long…”

My heart is in my throat.

“Mr. Mitchell, what do you know at this point?” she asked kindly, like a gentle counselor, not professionally.

I told her.

“Mr. Mitchell, I understand your situation is that you’re in Georgia?” Her voice lilts on the end.

“That’s right.”

Dr. V sighs. And pauses.

“Mr. Mitchell…”

I’m ready, pen in hand. Can’t miss anything she says.

“…If only there was some other way to do this…”

I thought she meant having to give all the medical jargon over the phone rather than face-to-face.

I thought…

Rather, she said ten plain words: “Mr. Mitchell, I’m so sorry, but your son is…”

Oh God

“…GONE.”

My hand, holding the pen, was shaking. A blast of sorrow came through my insides and exploded out my mouth. I don’t usually cry hard. My eyes get watery and leak, sure. My voice cracks, yeah. I pause to collect myself, certainly. But this was so sudden, so unexpected, a dam inside released and oceans of sorrow – years of pain and pent-up sadnesses – broke out and through.

I heard Dr. V saying other words but I, for whatever reason, put down my moleskin notebook and picked up a white piece of paper in the cupholder. Who knows why? It was a receipt from an earlier stop. I turned it over and wrote a single word:

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I’m almost finished, you’ve been so patient to make it this far, but I beg you to stay with me because the next paragraphs are the most critical. They put the “amen” to this epic story. Read on, I beg you. You won’t regret it.

Earlier that same afternoon, as Sandy raced home from an early shift, to pack and race again to catch a flight out of Atlanta, a myriad of thoughts whirled through her mind. At the forefront was her son’s soul. She cried. She prayed. She veered through traffic. She stormed heaven.

God, who was already cradling our boy, prompted Sandy, through the chaos, to play her worship CD. He always seems to speak to her through music. Her finger touched play and the disc responded with the song, “Amazing Grace, My Chains Are Gone.”

Meanwhile, I’m sitting at the dining room table, waiting for Sandy to get home and I’m crying out for my son’s soul at the exact same time. I’m thinking the next day-to-two-days is crucial, so I’m praying that God will intervene. I honestly was thinking this will be Graham’s ‘wake-up call’, that he’ll somehow survive, and I’m asking God to run ahead and use it to redeem him from his broken path.

And turn his heart toward home.

Little did I know he was already there.

Once upon a time I’d been given a word for Graham: “as long as you’re looking for a way out instead of the way HOME, you’ll always remain a prodigal.”

Recalling that truth, I prayed this scary turn of events would turn our prodigal son home.

So I prayed. And, just as Sandy was prompted to push play to hear from heaven for herself, the Father of mercies niggled at me to open the Bible app on my ipad and read the “verse of the day.” And this is what it was:

Psalms 85:2-3
You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you covered all their sin.
Selah
You withdrew all your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.

Maybe my theology is askew here, maybe my imagination is running awry, but you’ll be hard-pressed to convince me otherwise of what I believe my son’s dying moments were like in the realm of the Spirit.

I believe the adversary – satan – was fully convinced Graham Scott Mitchell would be his. As our baby man was expiring in that back seat, the accuser was posturing for his claim, talons snicked, breath hot and visage contorted with hellish glee. He had won. He was sure of it.

But in those last milliseconds, as our son’s breathing slowed to a final heave, a Voice thundered in the heavenlies. As his last gasp pushed through the natural realm and into the unseen, I can almost hear what the Almighty commanded as He dispatched His guardian escorts:

Psalms 87:4-6
Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;
behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush —
“This one was born there,” they say.
And of Zion it shall be said,
“This one and that one were born in her”;
for the Most High himself will establish her.
The Lord records as he registers the peoples,
“This one was born there
.”
Selah

The great deceiver was himself deceived in the end.

HALLELUJAH!

Dear reader, if you’ve journeyed with me in these few posts, you’ll agree that these truths buttress and serve as soluble bookends to our boy’s life and are our unarguable and unchanging testaments to this God-story:

The LORD gave…miraculously
The LORD has taken away…mercifully

Thank you, merciful God, for setting Your affection on Graham, and seeing him Home before the darkness swallowed him up. I know You ran to meet him, because You never disowned him, and that’s how You treat Your own. Thank you for letting us have those very last words with our boy: “I’m so glad your mine” (Sandy) and “I’m so proud of you” (Me). Now he’s safe, he’s gleaming and he’s free.

Amazing Grace, his chains are…GONE.

Sleep Sweet In Jesus, Baby Boy (cont.)

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Each and every evening, Sandy prayed over her baby boy – even into his young adult years – the words “Sleep sweet in Jesus…” Night was never Gra-Gra’s favorite time, alas he didn’t sleep through the night until he was 11 years old. These were his most vulnerable hours, those pre-nighty-night moments. Before drifting off to sleep it was mommy and son time and that is when our son often opened up about the things that either bothered or mattered to him. So, Sandy would climb into bed with her beautiful baby boy (at whatever age) and listen to his dreams, fears, burdens, day’s recaps and tomorrow’s plans. I can still hear Sandy call out in her same sing-songy way, “Gra-Gra, time to go night-night!” and our little man reply, “I don’t want to mommy.” But then, knowing he so disliked the night, would help him ease into it by indulging their sweet ritual. I wish for just one more night I could hear the soft murmurings through the bedroom walls of my son’s meaningful conversations with his mommy.

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I edged my wheelchair closer to the edge of the platform. My innards fluttered but it wasn’t because hundreds upon hundreds were pressing into the auditorium. It wasn’t because the eminent Greek scholar, Spiros Zodhiates, was seating himself near the front, right under my nose, or the fact that I was sharing the pulpit of a venerable pastor whose flock was in my care for the next hour. My belly dipped because Sandy was crying.

Oh no. What’s this?

Did I say something wrong in the young adult assembly? Was Sandy taking the heat for some blunder of mine? Did I offend that young girl Sandy was talking to as they whisked me away?

Sandy climbed the platform steps. Her eyes weren’t just damp, they were shimmering pools.

“Did you see that girl I was talking to just now?” Her whisper modulated and seemed strained.

I nodded carefully, dread and fear seizing me.

She choked back a sob. “Do you know what she told me?”

Here it comes.

“She said…she said…” Her head dropped as she collected herself.

Oh, dear Jesus…

“She told me she wants us to have…to have…(more soft sobs)…she said she wants us to have her baby!”

You could’ve knocked me over with a feather.

That petite young vessel with the large blue eyes was the answer to our heart’s petitions. In one single morning, a condensed moment in time, the sovereign will of God broke into the narrative of our lives via an obedient stranger, expelling our beaten-down, shot-through hopes, and breathing an Emmanuel into the aching void.

Our ‘savior’ with a cute round belly was seven months along and appeared as excited about the prospect as we were. She had been eyeing another couple for her baby but couldn’t get a fixed peace in her spirit and when she heard one statement in the young adult class that morning she knew why. During the Q&A, someone asked us about children. Perhaps it was the way the query was framed, but I thought the inquirer wanted to know if children’s ministry was included in our calling. I said no.

“No,” they elaborated, “I mean, do you have any kids?”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I apologized. “No, unfortunately, we don’t have children…”

Sandy broke in. “Do we want children? Oh yes. We’ve been praying for over six years and we’re still hoping for a miracle –”

I interrupted her, chuckling: ” — because, well, we’re not getting any younger!”

My handlers were already moving in my direction so that would have to be the final question. Someone prayed a quick benediction and hands gripped my chair’s push handles and another was clearing a path. I turned toward Sandy and started to mouth something to her when I noticed a girl swoop in and pull my wife aside. Obviously with child, I first noticed her red-rimmed eyes and a countenance that broadcasted a need to talk to my bride right away.

I caught Sandy’s attention to let her know I’d see her in the main auditorium…which catches you up to the opening of my post today.

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Friday, September 29, 1989
Rocky Mount, NC

The phone rang in our hotel room.

One, two, three pushes on my wheels and I covered the ground to the nightstand and answered a call that would change our lives permanently.

“Scott?”

“Jill? Is everything all right?”

“As a matter of fact, it is. Congratulations. You’re a Dad.”

And there it was. In three monosyllabic words my entire resume changed. I wasn’t just a preacher. I was a Dad. And Sandy wasn’t just married to a paralyzed man, she was a mommy. How beautiful of God to accent His breathtaking plans by having our messenger be the very vessel who bore our son. Such gilded grace still leaves me bowed down with praise.

As our gift’s bearer broke the news, Sandy sagged to the floor. Her mouth flew open, covered with a shaking hand, and remained so throughout the call. We hadn’t expected our little guy/girl for another three weeks. What’s this? We’re potential parents already?!? He’s here???

He?!?

I’m not sure I was hearing everything from that point on. I know I heard something about how beautifully delivery went, that he was ready, wanted out, needed to see the world, etc. I did hear he was healthy. All ten digits. A tiny little peanut. Six pounds, 9 ounces (if memory serves), 19 inches small.

Sandy is waving. She’s jumping up and down, stifling yelps. I’m watching her, grinning from ear to ear. Stunned. My bride is listening as I’m relaying every word, hugging herself, mouthing questions, dancing a quiet jig in the corner. Our baby is here, nine hours away.

I’m saying stupid things like, “uh, well, Jill, Sandy and I will leave first thing in the morning…”

She’s waving me down.

What?

Her head is on a high-speed swivel, ranging back and forth, almost violently. She’s frowning.

Oh.

“Ummm, Jill, check that. We’re leaving tonight. (I pause) As soon as we get packed.”

I look at my lovely to see if it’s okay that I said that. I mean, at this point, the clothes on our backs might be sufficient for her. She nods her head vociferously.

I told her we’d see her around seven a.m. and ended the conversation. I stared at my wife who wanted to hear everything again. She said there’s no way in, well, that place, that we’re staying another night (no, she didn’t say it, but I knew she thought it). She knew I was drained from our 6 days’ ministry in nearby Tarboro, that I didn’t have it in me to drive, that she would sit in the pilot’s seat and “fly” to Chattanooga. I said I was more than fine with the arrangement. I’d better be, or she was determined to be a single parent.

I don’t remember the trip. I think all four tires gripped the expressway once or twice, but the journey from childlessness to parental bliss was a blur and blaze and we arrived at Erlanger Hospital just after dawn. As we neared Jill’s – and our baby’s – room my heart was caught inside my throat and Sandy’s was pounding in her chest and we paused a tick and breathed deeply before entering the room where we hoped Graham (not yet named) would be.

As we entered, Jill saw us and smiled. Her room was arranged so that her son was in a crib behind her headboard. She explained it was precautionary as she didn’t want to go through the pain of looking at him constantly, lest she change her mind.

Thank you, Jill, for bravely following the Lord’s heart. I don’t understand such letting-go love but will never question it.

My first look at Graham is a snapshot in my memory. His beautiful blue eyes were wide open and alert. He was following sounds and looking for all the world like a veteran at this living thing. He was gorgeous. His skin creamy and soft, reddish-blond hair light and wispy. Small as a peanut.

The next hours were a mist. I remember our dressing him the next morning for the first time. Our plans were to take our baby to a relative’s house in Chattanooga as we had not yet secured legal permission to take our baby across the state line into Georgia. We were going to get him all squared away in Sandy’s sister’s place then fly like the wind to meet with child services in Marietta and get the okay to bring our baby all the way home.

The hospital didn’t permit the hand-off on the premises, so Graham’s birth mommy had to hand him to us in the parking garage. Oh, the pregnant drama of that moment! In her shoes, I don’t know how there’s grace for such a thing, only that there is because I was witness to it.

As Sandy retrieved our Taurus, Jill and I waited by her family’s car. She began to climb into the front passenger seat of their car with baby in hand. My heart seized. Is she changing her mind? She has every right to…but…please, God…

And then, as when a dreamlike spell is broken, her eyes blinked. “Oh,” she said, “I think he’s yours to take home…” She handed the tiny bundle to my waiting arms as Sandy drove up. With some very hasty good-byes (understandable), she disappeared into her front seat and the car sped from the garage. Sandy and I stood, baby in arms, and watched the tail lights move out of sight.

The would-be parents carried their blessing to the rear passenger side and set him in his car seat, missing one very important detail. As we sighed, smiled and giggled, I put the car in drive and lurched forward, a brand new family pointed toward home. Only, as the car started forward, the car seat, baby and all, surged and our baby nearly went bottom-up as the seat was not clipped to the back seat.

He was fine; no harm, no foul, except to our confidence levels. Only when our hearts stopped rabbit-beating could we laugh and snort. Graham seemed oblivious. Never even whimpered.

With that and a sound recheck of everything, we moved out onto the street with our baby. In that moment, we were the oblivious ones, not at all aware that in a matter of hours our bundle might be lost to us for good.

The first time.

God’s Job With Me

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I have a disability. I am not, however, defined by it so I don’t consider myself a disabled person but, rather, a person with a disability. More to the point, my paralysis is what God is using – my platform – to demonstrate the out-raying of of His glory to the broken and hurting world around me.

Regrettably, in 1981, before I was introduced to handicapped status, my life was anything but a bright and shining testimony. Rather than traversing about about as a vessel of honor, I was a shipwreck waiting to happen. Had I stayed that course, you would not be reading this version of my testimony, but God, who is wise and merciful, saw an opportunity and put me in dry dock for some woefully needed reparation.

Before our man Job’s colossal Trial, he was a man of moral honor and of blameless character. Here, he and I part company really fast, with a wide berth between us! Before my own divine appointment, while supposedly preparing for a life of ministry at a Christian school in Tennessee, I opted rather to trip the light fantastic my junior year and explore options more cosmopolitan and earthly. Actually, I was more titillated by the prospect of a season in sin than falling headlong into it for fear of turning permanently away from God. That notion did horrify me. So maybe not the far, far country, but a few zip codes away suited me just fine.

Soon, however, the gravitational pull of Vanity Fair overtook me and I reached inside my soul and eagerly picked out some coins and paid the fare of some of its carnival attractions. The labyrinth of neon-lit avenues soon led me down darker alleyways and the introduction to even more seedy venues. These dens of iniquity were not for those who were merely playing at sin but for those looking to be actively employed by it.

Here I felt less in control. No longer was I picking the rides and selecting booths for momentary pleasure but felt they were somehow choosing me. Thanks be to God, my skin prickled. My gut told me to run for dear life. There opened before me a way of escape and I gladfully took it.

Wending my way outward through the maze of attractions, penitently reversing my travels, the carnies looked less friendly than at first, the places and atmospheres more insidious. Just you try and leave, they threatened.

You are trapped here forever…

The tangle of sideshows kept rearranging themselves, confusing the senses, prompting me to feel less hopeful about leaving. I kept running down promising lanes, expecting to pop out onto main arteries only to run into dead-ends leaving me exasperated and hopeless.

The profane grinding of a carnival organ and its incessant melodies sped up creating even more confusion. Sadistic people with snarkish smiles whirled about me and their faces blurred and morphed into visages macabre and demonic. There, in a grotesque blend of Grimm-worthy music and amusement, in the very nexus of Vanity Fair, I stopped and cried out for a supernatural deliverance from my agonies, to the only One who could. If He would even have me.

Miracle of miracles, not only would He, but He came to me with great tenderness and mercy.

The Call of the Carnival is undeniable but the Rescue of the Redeemer is epic!

It was during this episode of Divine Intervention that a friend placed in my hand a golden gift. This friend was well aware of my forays and foraging in the far country and came alongside me to buttress me as I wobbled on renewed legs. His “gift” was a plastic case, no larger than a paperback book, containing four cassette tapes, each a separate sermon from a pastor out west. The sermons were a four-part series of encouragement for those who were hurting.

The title on the cover read, “Gold In The Making”. I was captured.

My friend told me he had listened to Pastor Swindoll’s sermons over the summer and had also been accosted by the teaching that had seemed so alien to our theology: that God uses and even prescribes suffering for His children, that they might deepen in value and expand in power, being made weak in their trials. In short, we need fire in our life to purify, mold and empower us.

The fire softens us toward God and others.

The fire turns us to God in absolute dependence.

The fire increases the brightness of His glory in us.

Whatever this “fire” was, I knew I wanted it. I needed it. One of the sermons was a gem about Job. In that particular homily, Dr. Swindoll focused on Job’s crowning confession as we near the final stages of the debate with his trio of counselors, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar.

“He knows the way that I take and when He has tried me, I will come forth as gold.”*

The insightful pastor offered an unforgettable lesson, zeroing in on one of the primary Hebrew words in the text. He said the word “way” translates the word ‘derek‘ in the original. He explained it means “bent” as in the bent area of an archer’s bow. When an archer crafted his bow, he was well-acquainted with how much force of pull was needed to create the arch without breaking it. With great care and exertion, the craftsman would pull on each end with his foot unyieldingly positioned in its center, applying just the right amount of pressure so as not to completely break the object, but enough so as to achieve for it maximum effectiveness.

Dr. Swindoll imagined for the listener what the bow might say about the process if it could feel. Perhaps it would question why such merciless mistreatment! But, carrying the parable further along, he explained it is not the archer’s desire to destroy his instrument as that would defeat its purpose, but to fashion it according to his own need.

The point is well struck when we yield to the truth that God applies trials in just the same way for His own instruments of righteousness, always stretching us beyond our own natural ability to learn His super-ability in us. All of this, we realize, is for His own purpose and pleasure, but also our value and effectiveness.

As I listened with heart swelling and eyes blurred by the onslaught of emotion, I decided then and there I wanted my life to hit the mark, whatever it cost me, and utterly for His own glory. Forever and ever, amen.

And so, that’s how I initially became a marked man. My story doesn’t begin at the Ingle’s Memorial Hospital in Harvey, Illinois on the third of September, nineteen hundred and sixty. I like to think it began on the floor of my college dorm room about the time I was introduced to Job, sometime just before midnight in late September, twenty-one years later. I may as well have been a figment prior to that night, artificial and existentially challenged. Trueness didn’t find its way into my empty shell until I laid myself, body, spirit and soul, as a sacrifice to the Lord on an altar of industrial-grade carpet while my roommates slept the sleep of dreaming freshmen.

From my perspective, however, the sacrifice was an embarrassment. I seemed like an inferior lamb, a blind goat, a lame offering in the scheme of things. Would my heart’s Governor accept me on His table?** I carried the stink of sin, the scent of a far country, my carcass pitted with decay from the inside out.

Even so, the Holy One received me, warts, leprosy and all, lock, stock and barrel, though befouled and obscene, because He knows His fire will consume all my worst and produce His artistic best, transforming my drudge and dross into pure gold.

That’s God’s job and He takes His work very seriously. It’s my job to let Him.

From Job’s apogeic confession, I inherited three gleaming truths that still flank and support me as I accept life with a serious disability.

1. God Knows Where I Am

2. God Knows What I Can Become

3. God Knows What He’s Doing To Bring Me Into Fullness

Beneath the thick viscous sludge of dross that clung (and yet clings!) to me, the Divine Assayer saw a vault of priceless gold and made it His perfect plan to get to it. To that end, I made it my constant plea to call upon my Sovereign to administer His Fire to do its necessary work in me, of bringing out a fully transparent sheen, the out-raying of Christ, and making my life a glory to my God and an encouragement to His people.

One thing about ashes, they are visible reminders of a former existence, so when scripture says Job “sat down among the ashes”***, it could also point to a deeper reality that they were a graphic eulogy over his former days, that a new era was commencing, taking him from good enough**** to better, from great to greater, from former glory to grander glory, from fear to faith, from bronze to gold.

“Gold, God,” I sobbed, face buried in the threadbare carpet. “I want to be gold!”

Then: a holy, pregnant pause. “Take my life, take my legs…whatever it takes…”

My prayer ended. I’d said enough, it turns out.

The benediction over my funeral pyre that night, some thirty-two years ago as I rose on Amen legs, could only be heard in the Unseen Realm, sufficing as a Divine Directive, passing from Throne to the powers that waited:

“The kindling and the sacrifice are ready. Start the fire.”

A hasting to do the Father’s will, and these words followed His fiery cohort out of the Heavenly Temple:

“Quickly, now. There’s gold…”

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*Job 23:10
**Malachi 1:8
***Job 2:8
****Job 1:1

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