The sun is warming up the day, and my boy sits next to me in our aging van. He’s chattering away like a child on Christmas morning as we bounce along Sweetwater Road. He keeps looking at the piece of paper he holds on his lap, almost reverently, then smiles out the window. I can see the reflection of his delight in the glass. Then I feel him looking at me, studying me. His smile fades.
I’ve been sullen as he’s jibbered away, unresponsive, except for a forced smile here and there along the way. He knows it’s fake. My child reads me like a book.
“Why can’t you just be happy for me, Dad?” he challenges.
He’s now fairly crumpled the paper in his unstrained fist and waving it in my face, but not disrespectfully. He doesn’t want a fight, not today of all days, heavens, and Lord knows neither do I.
“You want to know, Graham, why I’m not thrilled with this news?” I reply. “Truly?”
He doesn’t respond because he already knows.
The folded sheet in his hand is the news our son’s been waiting for. It’s an official letter from his probation office telling him he’s been cleared to move out of Georgia, that he’s to report to his new probation officer in Minnesota by such-and-such a day. Such-and-such a day was too close for my heart to accept, and so, as we took our backway home, I simply couldn’t rejoice with him. His take was I was peeing on his parade.
Perhaps I was.
“Graham,” I continued, attempting to avoid any tone of argumentativeness, “your Mom and I are sad because we may never see you again –“
He stopped me right there.
“But I’ll come back!” he offered. “Birthday, Christmas, whatever…it’s not forever, Dad.”
I pressed in a bit more.
“Son, I’m just not sure it’s necessary for you to move away for you to be safe from drugs. You know as well as I do, they’ll find you wherever you go…”
He sat back and fixed a frustrated glare straight ahead and was silent for a couple ticks. He knew he wouldn’t change my mind. When he looked back at me, there were tears.
“Dad, you just don’t know how bad it is! I can’t stay here, don’t you see? If I don’t get out of Atlanta I’ll die!”
I didn’t know it at the time but this would be one of our final face-to-face, father-son conversations. As we approached the stop sign to turn left onto Lee Road, I told him whatever happens we loved him, and I ended our painful discussion by telling Graham, “We won’t stand in your way, son; and we won’t make this hard for you. If this is what you feel you have to do, we support you.”
I pushed down on the turn signal to go into the turn.
Ironically, a half-mile back, on Graham’s side of the van, we had just passed the very cemetery we’d lay his body to rest – nine months hence – in a cold, driving rainstorm, two days before Christmas.
▪️ ▪️ ▪️ ▪️
Today Graham Scott would be 26, making it his second birthday in heaven.
🎉🎈🎂Happy birthday in heaven, son! 🎉🎈🎂
It’s not been a good day down here, however. I don’t think it’s about our son’s passing or not being here, necessarily. It seems it’s just life stuff. Bad days are rare for me. I mean ra-are. But I have them. Today seems to be one. I was outside earlier where and when I meet with the Lord each day, but I wasn’t feeling it.
Being in nature, listening to its distinctive rhythms, watching it unfold and spread its beauty usually does it for me. But today, silence. Birds weren’t showing themselves. Butterflies were too neurotic and preoccupied to light. Gnats and mosquitos wouldn’t stop pestering, and flies were trying to drown in my coffee. My prayers, often so easy and fluid, were limply waving at glory and getting no response.
And the Word. Why, the sure-fire solution to what ails me, kind of plopped like soggy corn flakes on my soul.
What gives, God?
My daily reading told me to read John 1 and 2, and I do what I’m told for the most part. Now, those two chapters are dynamite on steroids any other time. I mean, Jesus coming with grace and truth, grace following grace, taking away the sin of the world? C’mon. That’s the sweet spot for sure.
But today, nothing. Soggy corn flakes.
Then it happened.
Look again, Scott.
I do what I’m told, remember?
Instinctively, I knew where to look. No, not in the scriptures I just read, but to my daily reading schedule. Horror of horrors, I misread my assignment!
It didn’t say,
I switched the H!
I was supposed to let Father speak to me from Jonah! Not John! (No offense, John)
Okay, I thought, now we’re getting somewhere. I pretty much hurried through chapter one, excitement slowly mounting. It began to ebb a trifle when I finished, untouched yet, but I still had one more chapter to read. It wasn’t a long chapter, however.
God, please say what You’re gonna say in these 10 verses, or today’s gonna have to be chalked off. Please. Speak.
And, boy howdy, did He ever.
You know Jonah. His rebellion, his long run, his far fall. You also know chapter 2 becomes autobiographical; it’s not background or third-party perspective. We’re hearing from the man himself, and he’s describing for us what might very well be his last moments on earth, in the depths of the ocean, in the stomach of a great fish.
Now, may I insert here that I’m completely convinced and at peace – no doubting – that our Gra-Gra is with Jesus. Except for a dream of Graham screaming from the pit of hell a couple days after his death (quickly shaken off; God doesn’t use fear tactics on His broken-hearted children), I’ve swum in the grace-ocean of peace that he’s with His Savior in glory. Sandy too. This is an entirely settled matter for us.
Having said that, it sure was awesome to have God give me a first-hand glimpse into what might have been Graham’s dying moments on earth. Read these words and see if they might not also apply to someone at death’s door, swallowed in the foul waters of overdose, receiving the mercies of Jesus to cry out,
REMEMBER ME, LORD!!
…the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O Lord my God.
When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
Was Graham right to move from his only home? I don’t have an answer for that, but I know I can’t question God and I don’t want to second-guess my boy.
All I know is, he’s not in that cemetery we both passed by, and where Sandy and I make a regular stop to ‘talk’ to him. He really is home. He made it. God remembered him in his dying hour.
Happy birthday in heaven, son.
And say thanks to Jonah.