My phone rang and I could tell by the caller ID that it was David. I waited for the automated voice to explain to me that I was receiving a call from an inmate at Norfolk MCI, then some warnings and disclaimers before I pressed 1 to connect.
“Hello!” David called into the phone, starting a timed conversation that would be periodically interrupted by beeps, recordings and then abruptly terminated after ten minutes.
David has been in prison for over 12 years now for the murder of my son. You can read more about our unlikely meeting in the Visit. He calls occasionally, writes sporadically, but I consider our friendship to be valuable. He is bright, candid and upfront. I can tell when things are not so good and I try to encourage him and point him to Jesus. The last talk we had he was upbeat and reflective. He was allowing God to shape him, to change some things that needed changing. Then he said this;
“If this is what it took to get me to this place, it was worth it.”
My first thought was,
That is a heart God really loves. Then my next thought was,
Wait! It cost my son’s life.
The paradox threw me and I could only be silent. I had to think this through.
Jake is my youngest son of three boys and the least crazy. Spence was the lead Risk-Taker and Miles loved following his brother so they both wore me out when they were little. I felt like part lifeguard, referee and guardian angel, with my Mommy antennae always high and alert, ready to rescue them from tumbling off cliffs or being swept out to sea. I took them to New York City once and my hands were perpetually locked around their little arms the whole time. It was exhausting.
But one time I took Jake to a swimming pool. There were lots of people from our church there, and maybe because Jake had more common sense than my other two boys I did not watch him as carefully. But something made me look up from a conversation I was having poolside to search for him, and my eyes locked onto his little face just as it was about to go under the water. He couldn’t swim.
He didn’t look terrified. He had inadvertently slid into the deeper end of the pool, and now on tiptoes he realized he was in big trouble. He just looked for me. He didn’t even call out. I yelled at another mother who was just a few feet away to grab him. He was pulled up and out, humbled and safe.
I think this is how we are with Jesus sometimes. He calls us deeper and deeper and then there are times that are terrifying because we think, “This is too deep. I can’t swim. I’m going under.” But then our eyes lock onto his and we know we are somehow safe.
People my age are very inclined to safety. I had a patient several weeks ago who was fairly healthy and just a few years older than me. He told me he and his wife had just finished remodeling their home, making it “handicap-friendly” by widening the halls, doors, putting in a wheel chair ramp, grab-bars, and a handicap accessible tub. I assumed they were accommodating a very disabled relative or friend. No, he shrugged. We’re just getting ready for when we get old. I was astonished.
I bet when Jesus first said, “Follow me,” his disciples were filled with a great sense of adventure and awe. The crowds, the miracles; how glorious1 But as time went by, many walked away. “Your sayings are too hard,” they said. In other words, the water was getting too deep.
Jesus consistently told them that to follow him would be hard. Crazy things like;
To gain your life, you must lose it.
If someone takes your shirt, give them your coat.
Bless those who persecute you.
Now take up your cross and follow me.
Many walked away. And by the time Jesus carried his own cross to Calvary, everyone had forsaken him, except John. And his mom. As they watched a horribly beaten and disfigured Jesus breathe his last breath, I doubt they understood even a fraction of the magnitude of this event. Oswald Chambers said,
“There is an aspect of Jesus that chills the heart of the disciple to the core and makes the whole spiritual life gasp for breath.”
I remember sitting in a chair in the ER January 26th, 2002. My son’s lifeless body lay on a stretcher in the next room. I held his wallet in my hands. In it was a card with Jeremiah 29:11 printed on it. I read it, searching for answers already.
For I know the plans I have for you…Plans? My mind reeled. Everything I thought I knew about God, now, I’m not so sure. He looks …different. Chambers continues,
“Jesus Christ had to fathom every sin and every sorrow man could experience, and that is what makes Him seem strange…”
How far will I really follow Jesus? I’ve been following Him for 26 years so I know I will not turn around and go home. But will I fall asleep in the garden? Will I run for cover when persecution comes? Or just tone it down a bit so that everyone likes me, because now that Jesus saved me, I’m pretty darn nice. And do I have to actually hang out with the poor, the drug-addicted, the convict? Let’s just invent a new program and throw money at them. Drive-by compassion.
I think the measuring stick God uses for how deep we really go in for him is in relationships. It’s great to work in a food pantry or street-preach or sing in a choir. But Jesus touched people, ate with people, wept with people and healed those who asked. Some were rich, some crazy, many were “untouchables” that he went ahead and touched anyway. He went in deep, all the way. This is love defined.
It’s awkward for me, this relationship thing. It’s never been easy and if it weren’t for Jesus, well I’d probably be dead, but if I were alive, I would be in living in a tree-house in the woods with a big No Trespassing sign stuck to the tree, like the Lorax. Instead, He gives me David Myland, and others, to love and encourage and say Yes, it is all worth it. And more than that, it is a high honor to follow Him. It is joy unspeakable and full of glory.
When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. Isaiah 43:2 NLT
In fact, you can go deeper still.