Today is month two of our son’s leaving his cold, hard earth and finding full and final freedom in the arms of Jesus. He is home free and we, the left behind, praise the Father for giving our sweet, embattled boy an entrance (2Pe 1:11). These final two posts will be the most difficult in the series, as I want to tell the truth, painful as it is, but preserve the memory of Gra-Gra with the grace and dignity it demands. Thank you, reader, for following along with us…
What does this ‘resurrection body’ look like?…What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don’t look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness…
– Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthian believers (Chapter 15, MSG)
Once upon a Sunday night, my little boy was staring out the passenger window and looking into the evening sky. He was silent for several minutes.
“What’cha thinking about, buddy?” I asked.
He turned to me and I saw the most serious expression on his sweet boyish face.
“Dad,” he began, “you know when the clouds go away they become stars?”
“They sure do, buddy.” I smiled at my prodigy.
Oh, the insufferable ache!
Fifteen or so years later, give or take, I’d be looking into his casket; face, neck, hands and arms – every exposed place – just covered with tattoos. Innocence erased. Boyish wonder swallowed by a life that had stolen away too many spring-times and summer adventures and given only harsh winters in return. My little boy lost. A young man who tried to grow up way too fast and far too free.
Looking back, I’ve said some pretty hard words in my years of life and ministry…but nothing I’ve ever had to say compares to this:
My sweet boy died from a heroin overdose, cold, alone and homeless.
I can’t believe those horrible words just spilled from my fingertips and now smudge my screen. Dark. Unrelenting. Mocking. It’s out there. I’ve actually written it. And now I feel sick.
This same little boy who, on the way home from church on Sunday, with family settled in for the quiet ride, begins singing “I Love You, Lord” word for word – and in perfect pitch – from his little fastened-in car seat? And, oh, did I mention he was only 18 months?…
This same little charmer who sidled up next to his mama and bravely watched a drama depicting the five missionaries who spilled their life-blood in Amazon sand and were added to the hallowed list of martyrs, at which he looked up at her with fiercely honest eyes and remarked, “that’s what I want to do with my life!”…?
My little third grader whose girlfriend Stasia ‘broke up’ with him, then later, on the playground, had told her best friend he broke up with her, which led to said friend pushing Gra-Gra down and calling him a “stuck-up ***-hole”, then mocked him, saying, “aren’t you going to cuss back?” and our Gravy Train picking himself up, brushing himself off and replying with a sense of bravado, “Nope. I’m a christian”, then she called him a “stupid christian” and he just smiled…?
You mean, that brave little guy?
My precious seven-year old who told me he wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up, and when I jokingly asked “you don’t want to be a preacher?” (I never pushed this on him), honestly replied, “I’ll be an astronaut who goes to church and loves the Lord”…?
Our darling first-grader, holding the ‘S’ sign for his Christmas program and standing ramrod-straight and belting out the all-too-famously encouraging Advent passage of Luke 2:10,11 loudly and proudly? Surely not him?…
The very Gra-Gra Scott who changed his “when I grow up” declaration a year later and told us he wanted to be THREE THINGS: “a father, a ‘ski racer’, and a husband”, then proceeded to inform us with utter sincerity “I won’t even kiss a girl before I’m married, and if she asks me to dance, I’ll say ‘uh-uh, not until I get married!'”…?
Our little ‘Bubby’ who would not be silenced on McDonald’s playgrounds, telling other little boys and girls about his True Love Jesus, and Sandy getting a couple different stare-downs from appalled mothers, to which she could only smile and shrug, and the day our little guy actually “led a little African-American playmate named Terrance to the Lord”…?
Him? Dead of a heroin overdose at twenty-four, all alone in the back seat of a car?
Our precocious nine-year old who walked in on Mommy and Daddy one morning in Clearwater, Florida, then ran out giggling and telling Grandmother about what he saw…?
Not my ten-year old little shadow who lamented to me one day he didn’t have a best friend, then me saying “sure you do, buddy, tell me who you’d rather spend your time with more than anyone else on earth” and hearing him say, “you, Dad”…?
Oh, dear God, no…
But…yes. The very same.
I have an entry in my journal, dated July 1, 1999, when Graham was not yet ten, and I’m crying out to my Father in heaven for the soul of my son who was struggling with his young faith, questioning everything about God, already with a scary bent to go every way but God’s way and I’m drawn to a single phrase that apparently reflected the fear I held for my child: “
“Dear God, I beg you, do not let my son run in rebellion…
The prayer that was my mainstay through the second third of his life, written all through my prayer journals, was that the Lord would keep my baby from drugs, pre-marital sex and a prodigal life. I wanted him to go to the altar a virgin. I begged God to make my son “a man You would write about”.
Over and over…
How I wish for better endings.
I’m reminded of a wrinkled piece of paper I carried around the country with me for many years, tucked in with my sermon notes; an illustration I used to highlight the sovereign goodness of the Almighty who can override our wants and plans anytime He chooses, simply because He loves us relentlessly and wants so much more for us than we can imagine for ourselves.
It told of a parchment found in the clothes of a dead Confederate soldier that cataloged the prayers of the fallen man throughout his life, and how nothing turned out as he hoped. The final stanza included the words, “in the end, I got nothing I asked for, but everything I hoped for.”
I’ve got my own stanzas and recollections of our Gra-Gra Scott (there are dozens and dozens more, I assure you), each their own separate “star” in an evening sky clouded right now by heartache, questions, griefs and wish-fors. Even some Dad regrets.
But, in the end, when the clouds roll away, there is nothing left but a brilliant galaxy of truth, lit by the unarguable proof from our Father (next post) that the same tattooed shell I looked upon in his casket two months ago is right now and forevermore adorned with everything his crying heart on earth hoped for: real peace, real hope, real answers, real freedom…real life.
Among those whom we shared a hug with in the five-and-a-half hour long receiving line at Graham’s viewing was a blind man who sees things mere mortals can never see, a friend, arm-in-arm with his wife who guided him to me. Tom handed me a note and told me to give it to Sandy later. He said it was “hefty and robust” and she needed to know what God spoke to him.
Later on that night, home and still reeling from the impending chore of burying our only child the next day, I unfolded the note, read its contents, and silently broke. The words told my wife that “one day you will see your son, running to you, skin gleaming.”
You were right, son. When the clouds go away, they turn into stars. Tonight we’ll look up and ‘see’ you shining and feel you running toward us.
And we’ll be okay.