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The Jonah Walk
It was early May and I was at Mahaffey Camp. I'd been there a lot over recent months. I volunteered in the dining hall for retreats, spent endless hours working on the ongoing rehab of my cottage, and used both of those things as a break from the pain and drama at home. I almost hadn't come this time. My  son would be in court for a pre-trial hearing the next day and I couldn't shake the feeling that I should be there. My son was not discussing the case with me so I had little details. Our communication was as fractured as our relationship and there was nothing I could do even if I was there. I knew this from past experience as this was not our first time in the court . I reminded myself that I had scheduled this week at camp long before my son's court date had been determined. I reminded myself of the bazillion times when God had clearly gone before me to put me in the right place at the right time. So I decided to ignore the taunting thought that I was a bad mom for not being there.  I resolved to walk and talk it out with Jesus.

Me and Jesus talk a lot. At camp we walk around the grounds while we talk.  I call camp a "thin space" - as if the space between Heaven and Earth is somehow less there. I don't know if that is theologically accurate but anyone who has spent time there will tell you that somehow it is easier to reach the presence of Heaven when you are there.  The sacred grounds of camp are full of personal spiritual memories from years gone by. Even this winter when I was the only one there I did not feel as alone as I often do.  So, like every other day, I decided to go walk and pray for my son.

 

I was standing in the kitchen of my little cottage  when I made that decision. I aimed myself at the back door and then I thought… "what will you pray that you haven't prayed a thousand times?" That's not an excuse,  it's true. I've been praying the "God-save-my-son-prayers" for over a decade. I have a collection of scripture passages that I pray on repeat along with my own desperate ramblings. God has given me each of those scriptures and praying them makes me more confident. But this day, I had no new words, no new scripture and waning confidence. I looked at the door and thought, "I'm just too tired".  I'm tired of hurting, tired of the same prayers, tired of court dates, tired of kicking the enemy out of my head when he tells me I am to blame for my son's addiction, tired… just plain tired. I decided this would be one of those days that God would just honor my heart's desire in spite of my inability to muster thoughts or words. Maybe I could cash in on one of those the-Spirit-prays-for-you-moments that is talked about in Romans 8:27. And so I decided I wasn't going to go walking. I turned myself around, aiming back at the project I was working on.

The Holy Spirit spoke, "Go", He said. I looked toward the ceiling so God could see my blank face, my empty head and my broken heart. My lack of expression did not deter Him. "Go" He said again. I know His voice and I cannot ignore it.  "Ok.. Ok… I’m going" I said out loud. I grabbed a jacket and like a toddler who had been told to pick up their toys, with head down and feet dragging I headed out the back door. I decided this walk would be from my cottage, past the playground, and around the east trailer park. That is shorter that my normal camp walk and since I didn't have anything to say I reasoned that the shorter walk would be better. I started walking. As I rounded the corner of the playground,  I took a deep breath and murmured out loud "You will have to tell me what to pray…". But before I got all those words out of my mouth, He said "Jonah".

 

I need to pause here and make it very clear that when I say I know His voice I mean that. I can't exactly explain it… but His voice in my head does not "sound" like my own voice or my own thoughts, and when it lands on me, it does so with a spiritual emphasis that no other voice or thought can do. And as for Jonah, there was no reason I would have come up with that. I hadn't been talking about Jonah, I hadn't listened to anything about Jonah, and I hadn't had any conversations with anyone named Jonah. So no reason my own voice would have said "Jonah".

 

The second I heard Him say "Jonah" I began to cry. His voice often does that to me. I hadn't cried in a long time. Something has happened to my emotions through all this pain. If I cried every time I yearned for my son or my daughter or my broken family, I'd be crying all day every day. So emotionally, I've become sort of flatlined. I don't like it but I can't help it.  But when He speaks, that barrier is broken. So, as random as it seemed and with tears in my eyes, I began to walk  while praying through the story of Jonah for my son.

 

I tried to remember all the parts of the story and think about how they related to our story. Jonah was a prophet, who was running from God and his mission. Immediately I was hooked. I literally cannot recount all the times someone has said regarding my son "There's a calling on that young man's life". Even in kindergarten, his teacher told me that he was a leader who didn't want the job. My son made a profession of faith when he was 12 and asked to be baptized in our pond. I think the enemy doubled down at that moment with a relentless attack to kill, steal, and destroy by whatever means possible. So I prayed "Lord, I believe that the day is coming that my son will embrace the calling for which You created him. Thank you for that hope, please protect him until that day comes." The prayer felt good and I considered that Jonah may have more to say.

 

I remembered that Jonah was asleep in the boat that shook with a storm that threatened to destroy everything around him. I thought of my son, high for hours a day - asleep while the world around him is in chaos. Chaos that the enemy has created through the addiction and now my son avoids with the addiction. How I hate the enemy. So I prayed "Oh God!, shake his world, wake up my son."  Another good prayer from the Jonah story.

 

I remembered the sailors in the boat, frantic to solve this crisis. Running in circles throwing their possessions overboard in an attempt to lighten the load and save their lives. I thought of all of us who love my son and are caught up in this madness. Some of us determined to solve this disaster, running circles around him all the while just wearing ourselves and our resources thin to no avail.  So I prayed for those of us in my son's circle. "Lord help us to know what we can do and what we cannot. Be the One voice we follow. Please, free us from this misery". With that prayer Jonah now had my full attention.

 

I remembered when Jonah told the sailors that this was all his fault because he was running from the God who created the sea and land. Even in the midst of his rebellion Jonah knew who God was and took responsibility for the situation. This prayer I choked out with tears. The idea of my son admitting his responsibility and acknowledging God's authority touched my heart's deepest desire. I had a hard time finding words. I remember it came out something like: "Oh God, just do that - oh please do that".

 

I was just rounding the far corner of the trailer park when I began speaking the next part of the story where Jonah told the sailors to throw him overboard.  I acknowledged the challenge here in knowing how the story ends. We know that the sailor's choice to throw Jonah overboard led to Jonah's salvation and even that of the city that Jonah was sent to. But these sailors did not know that. They didn't know what God had planned. If they were going to throw Jonah overboard, they believed they would be leaving him for dead. The moment that thought came out of my mouth, the Spirit said to me, "Are you willing to leave him for dead?". 

 

Guh! I stopped walking. It was like a supernatural gut punch. I had to put my hands on my knees to keep from falling over. It's interesting to me how the physical body responds to spiritual and mental prompts. I think this is evidence to the wholeness with which we are created.  I stayed in that position, staring at the ground, trying to think. I wanted to keep talking this out with God but I couldn't get any words out. In my son's brand of addiction the words "leave him for dead" literally mean dead. I have planned my son's funeral during many sleepless night. I was bombarded with a horrific memory reel of times that my son and his demons danced on the line between life and death. I remembered the times me and those demons battled it out. One time in particular, I stood over him in a sort of slow motion daze and thought about not administering CPR and not calling EMS. I clearly remember the thought in my head "this misery can just be over". Half a second later I came to my senses. I called 911 and did my best to revive him until the emergency squad got there and took over. I watched the physical battle and felt the spiritual one. I have often wondered what would have happened if I had listened to that voice and had literally left him for dead. I still feel guilty for that thought even though I know it was from the enemy of our souls and not me. Ugh. So in this moment when God asks if I'm willing to leave him for dead, it's a real question to me. If God was being literal I cowered at what awful things we might be headed for. And if God was being allegorical it felt cruel. I lingered with my hands still on my knees. I fixed my eyes on gravel of the broken road around my dusty shoes.  Once I was breathing at a normal tempo, I found a one word response…"ok". I said it out loud over and over and over to God. "Ok… (breath) ok… (breath) ok… (breath) And then I disciplined out the words "ok… leave him for dead, what are you asking me to do?" His answer was instantaneous…"nothing". I didn't even know what that meant.


I shook my arms as I walked back to my cottage, as if I could dispel all the emotion. I felt a little dazed. I think that's normal when Heaven and Earth collide in the way I had just experienced.  My mind bounced between the high of God's presence in the walk and the angst of all those memories.  Back at the cottage I did some clean up and went to bed. I was spent.

 

I couldn't sleep. If I had not listened when God said "Jonah", I would have missed this difficult but incredible experience. I wanted to capture that moment of obedience and formulize it somehow so that I would never miss a conversation with Him. Years of my Christian life are marked by prioritizing what I did for God rather than my relationship with Him. The intimacy we have now is a relationship I want to become deeper and richer. I knew this walk was an example of that and I kept playing it over in my head.

 

Back in my snug little cottage I wrestled with sleep. Finally, it occurred to me to read Jonah. What jewels would I find when actually looking at the text instead of relying on my memory? So I reached for the night light and my Bible, both beside my bed, and began to read.  Up until now, I could not have told you how many chapters were in the book of Jonah or how the book even ended. As I read, I discovered that during my walk I had almost prayed through the first chapter. What remained was when the sailors threw Jonah overboard, the storm ceased and they vowed to serve God. Even Jonah's rebellion had led to others knowing and following the true God. Oh Yes! A clear look at God using our worst to accomplish His best. There was one more thing about end of chapter one. It was the first of many times in the coming chapters that the text would say "God arranged". In this first instance, God arranged the fish.

 

The Fish
I have a hard time thinking of Jonah in the belly of the fish without remembering my childhood Sunday School classes in front of a felt board. All the characters playing their roles with little effort and Jonah sitting in the fish cooking a meal over a campfire while other sea creatures swim by. Good grief! The real story is gritty and painful as Jonah cries out from the "land of the dead".  I don't think Jonah knew he'd been swallowed or had any indication that this was a rescue mission. If the sailor's hadn't dumped him, we wouldn't have the crazy fish story. I want my life to make God known. If I get to do that while telling a story, I feel particularly comfortable in my earth suit. So like the sailors, I determined to be obedient and let the story unfold. The idea that I might be in the middle of another story that only God could write changed my mood. I felt the smile on my face and headed into chapter two. 


I often pray scripture. Whether I am looking for words of gratitude or pouring out my heart over some petition, scripture gives me the words I need. I also feel a certain expectation in these type of prayers. Certainly God must be quick to listen and respond to His own words right? I discovered that chapter two is Jonah's prayer. He acknowledges God and looks to Him for salvation. 

 

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish.  He said,

“I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble,

    and he answered me.

I called to you from the land of the dead,[b]

    and Lord, you heard me!

 You threw me into the ocean depths,

    and I sank down to the heart of the sea.

The mighty waters engulfed me;

    I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves.

 Then I said, ‘O Lord, you have driven me from your presence.

    Yet I will look once more toward your holy Temple.’

“I sank beneath the waves,

    and the waters closed over me.

    Seaweed wrapped itself around my head.

I sank down to the very roots of the mountains.

    I was imprisoned in the earth,

    whose gates lock shut forever.

But you, O Lord my God,

    snatched me from the jaws of death!

As my life was slipping away,

    I remembered the Lord.

And my earnest prayer went out to you

    in your holy Temple.

 Those who worship false gods

    turn their backs on all God’s mercies.

 But I will offer sacrifices to you with songs of praise,

    and I will fulfill all my vows.

    For my salvation comes from the Lord alone.”

 Then the Lord ordered the fish to spit Jonah out onto the beach.

 

I was stunned. God had done it again! Could there be any more accurate description of the agony my son was living in. "Great trouble, Land of the dead, imprisoned, jaws of death, … and then "God's mercies, salvation, songs of praise…"  I would not only pray this for my son, but moreover, I would pray that someday this would be his own prayer. I was even more convinced that God had sent me specifically to this book of Jonah. It was for us at this time. Our own guide. I rested that night in awe of His love.

 

I was home from camp a few days later. I saw my son once in the coming week and it was not good. I spent time quietly debriefing with Jesus. We talked about what I was now calling the "Jonah Walk" from the week before at camp. I thanked him for His voice and for talking to me so clearly through His Word.  We talked about His words, "leave him for dead" and "nothing". I'm not sure I could be any more hands off than I already was with my son. It had been a long time since I had made any real moves on his behalf. He is a young adult, making his own decisions. Recent times made it hard for us to communicate at all and it was quite clear he didn't care much about what I had to say anyway. At best I was the broom that came after each disaster. Prayer was where I labored for him - and my daughter, but that's another story.  I can't remember the last time I didn't feel like I was living under the weight of all my family's bad decisions, mine included.  This would not be the first time God has used scripture to remind me of His control and my need to release it. That's an ongoing theme for us. So, maybe God's words were not about my son's death and me sitting idle, but rather trusting God with my son's life and me letting go of responsibility. Such freedom when I really trust God with actions and not just my words.

 

Sentencing in my son's case was less than two weeks away. The prosecutor and my son's defense attorney had reached a plea deal and my son would be going to prison. I tried to dismiss all the horrible thoughts of prison that ran through my head. We've been in this place before and it was hard to believe we were here again.

I suppose every mom would say that their son does not belong in prison or in any other unfortunate place. But, I feel particularly entitled to those thoughts. I remember my son as the soft boy who would call me into his room at night to answer questions about God. I remember him as a first grader who came home reciting the events of the day - "prayed with Susan" and "told Bobby about Jesus" were in the same sentence as "played dodgeball", and "had a big chicken nugget sandwich for lunch". I fondly recall the time he rolled down his window and stuck his head out of the moving car while saying "Hey God…" because I had just told him he could talk to God anytime and anywhere. I had taught my kids that our walk with Jesus was an ordinary part of life and that had manifested for my young son. And then came that systematic, relentless onslaught of the enemy against my family that I mentioned earlier.  Still, I know the calling on my son's life is to know God deeply and to make Him known. During a previous incarceration my son made steps in his faith. I told him that he better learn to do that on the outside because God had a right to put him wherever he would serve Him best. If my son would only serve God when he was incarcerated, it was not unreasonable to think God would allow that.  So here we were again with prison on the horizon. At least he would be alive.

Mid-week I was standing outside praying like I do every morning asking God to prepare me for whatever was coming next. He reminded me that I still had two chapters of Jonah to read. Hmpph! Why hadn't I thought of that. I got my Bible, and walked next to the flower beds as I read the final narrative of Jonah. Turns out Jonah was still sort of a schmuck. I wasn't impressed by what he did and there was not a glorious ending. Bummer. But what I did see were the words "God arranged" over and over in those final chapters.

 

If I was to continue to believe that God was using this book as a road map for us at this time, then those words were ours. I continued to pray that my son would reach for God like Jonah did in chapter two and I prayed that I would have senses ready to recognize whatever God was arranging. I confess, I was having conflicting thoughts.  On one side I had been told to do nothing, which felt like freedom and relief. But on the other side, I knew that I was right in the middle of this Jonah thing and that whatever God was arranging was likely to require something of me. I hoped I wouldn't screw it up.  I determined not to overthink. If God was going to use me in some active role He knew how to get my attention. I spent the rest of the week praying those same prayers. Each day was one step closer to sentencing and one less day I had to worry if my son was breathing.


It was 11 pm Sunday night, one week and one day from sentencing, and ironically it was also Mother's Day.  I was asleep - the phone rang. When my phone rings at 11 pm it's not good. I have more than one family member living in the ditch.  I didn't want to answer the phone and thought about not doing so. Immediately the words "God arranged" showed up on the back of my eyelids -  so I fumbled with the night light and answered the phone. It was the police. Guh! They described a current and violent situation with my son and asked me if I would come get him. By this time I was outside in my pajamas trying to make sense of the details they were giving me. The officer stated that he knew my son had sentencing in a week and asked me if I could keep him until then. It seemed a strange request. If half of what I was being told about his behavior was true, he could easily be charged with a number of new offenses and kept in jail. In fact that sounded like a good idea to me. If he's in jail he'd be safe until sentencing and the rest of us could relax for a few days. So far the police have never missed an opportunity to levy charges against my son so it just didn't make sense. All of this was going through my head while the officer on the other end of the phone was waiting for my answer. He asked again, "Will you come get him?". I couldn't answer. Remember the seemingly opposing thoughts about doing nothing but having the niggly feeling that somehow I was going to need to be involved? Well here they were. Like a duo fighting it out in my head. Was this me messing up where God told me to do "nothing", or was this my call to action for whatever "God arranged?" I told the officer to wait a minute so I could think.

The officer must have thought I was nuts. I stood there, silent on my end of the phone, trying to ignore the pressure of the moment and make a wise decision. I was calm. I reasoned that if we were walking through Jonah, we must be in the "God Arranged" part of the story and I should act.  I quickly told God if I was wrong that I was trusting him to fix what I was about to screw up. So, I told the officer I would come get my son.

I don't remember the 20 minute drive to pick him up. It was another one of those emotionless actions that I have become accustomed to. When I arrived all parties involved were on deck as fragments of the drama were reported. This story will not include those details but I will say it was bad. My son was angry and loud. His eyes were cold and dark. He got in my car, blurted out a stream of obscenities and then we drove home in silence. He crashed on the couch. I made a bed on the floor in the middle of the room so I could keep an eye on him. He was restless, but that meant he was breathing. It was a long night.

 

The next morning he was pretty quiet and he did not appear high. I knew his drug use was so extreme that eventually he would have to use or the physical and mental pain of withdraw would set in. I remembered my rule about not getting high at my house and wondered how I would manage that for the next week until sentencing. All my attempts at rational thought were blurred by a sadness that is hard to describe. The day just went on in silence.

 

By midafternoon, it was obvious that he had still not gotten high. He is literally two different people. The high one is short tempered and condescending in a way that makes me feel small and stupid.  The sober one is respectful and rather melancholy and reminds me of his younger self. I was wondering if he had some plan I didn't know about. Was the dope man making a delivery? Was my son planning to escape from my house? Did I need to lock up my purse? I just wanted to know what I was preparing for. We didn't have any discussion of the previous night or his current state, I just asked him, "How long before you start hurting". He answered, "Any time now". But he didn't move and I got the feeling he wasn't going to. He seemed resolved to what was coming. Then it struck me, maybe he wanted to detox before going into prison. Detoxing there would be brutal. I asked if that was his intention and he said it was. I heard "God arranged" in my head and got busy preparing for detox. We had done this before but I knew this was going to be the worst either of us had ever faced. I made a quick run to the drug store and then set up bed linens in each bedroom for the quick changes that would be necessary over the coming days.

I was dreading what was coming but I was honored to serve my son in his good choice. Also, I knew I was in the middle of something that "God arranged" and that felt cautiously wild and exciting. I knew now that picking my son up the night before had been the right thing to do. How good of God to use that drama to get my son somewhere safe to detox. I wasn't wrong, but God's best arrangement was still to come.

 

I will never adequately tell the story of the week that followed. It has taken me four months to write this section of the story. Every time I try I have to fight for my thoughts. I think it is because during that week at my house a war raged. A war that the enemy ultimately lost and thus does not want told. To me, it seems a spiritual story for which there are no earthly words. Perhaps in Heaven I will have a bigger vocabulary. My house was the thin space for that week. A physical place where the battle in the heavenlies manifested. God has made us in His image; physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. These cannot be separated from each other. When we are sick, all areas suffer. And when all areas are under God's authority we are truly healthy.  My son was fighting symptoms in every area and it was brutal. I  exercise the authority of Christ in my home and so while I cared for my son physically, I fought for his freedom spiritually. We were both in a battle and it was all consuming.

The days just rolled into each other. His body was wracked in pain as the drugs left his system. The pain is so intense that it is easy to see why detox is so very difficult and often not successful. In addition to pain, my son was sick and never slept. I can truly say in spite of my best efforts, he did not sleep for seven days. On day two I hired a massage therapist and by day three he was taking safe but strong sleeping medicines and muscle relaxers yet nothing worked. The mental anguish that the lack of sleep caused him had to be torture.
 

The spiritual part of this is hard to describe. I knew the enemy was close to my son, taunting him with the easy fix of just getting high. My son would move from bed to bed and from couch to chair over and over. I just prayed. I prayed inside, I prayed outside, I knelt by my son and prayed, and I held him in my arms and prayed. If I was capable of standing on my head I would have prayed while doing that. Somewhere along the line I noticed that he had given up his resistance to my expressions of faith. I read out loud from Jonah as I stood over him; "You're in the fish", I told him. If he heard me he probably had no idea what I was talking about.

 

One night I told him that we should play my audio Bible because the enemy wouldn't like it and would leave the room. He agreed. I tuned in on and laid it next to his head. I knelt next to him with my arms draped over him and begged God for relief and sleep. I kicked the demons out of the room for the gazillionth time. I was exhausted and felt somewhat defeated that I could not pray whatever needed to be prayed so that my son could rest. I went back to my room and hashed it out with God. At the end of my prayer I remember saying "if your love could just fill that room the enemy would have to leave and my son could sleep".  I hadn't prayed that over my son, so I went back to his room, knelt on the floor next to his bed,  and begged for God's love to fill my house, this room and my son. My son jumped off the bed and ran to the bathroom where he was sick for the next thirty minutes. All I can tell you is that something in him did not like the love of God.

 

By Thursday he was able to eat.  We talked about going to camp for the weekend. I thought that would be a good place for him to rest. Every time we tried to make that happen there was an obstacle. By Friday afternoon just as I thought we had a clear path to go,  his wife needed to borrow my car. I decided it was not for me to keep trying to go and perhaps being at home was more of what "God arranged."

 

We were finally able to have some light conversation and he started talking about the coming sentencing day. "Don't you think they would rather send me to New Destiny where I can get the help I really need?". That was a loaded statement. New Destiny is a Christian treatment center just 20 minutes from our house. Over the last six months my son had made a number of references to having talked with them and even said he had gone to visit. If I encouraged him to go he would shush me and tell me not to press and that he would go when he was ready. He never went. What I found interesting about his question is that he called it "the help he really needed". Did he finally own the truth that he needed God? I wished we were months earlier when the opportunity to present New Destiny to the court would still have been an option.

Since that was not the case, we began to make plans for his sentencing day in court. He would be taken into custody from the sentencing hearing so he needed to be wearing anything he wanted to take in with him. This meant multiple pair of white underwear, socks, and t-shirts. I headed off to the store to get what he needed. But, before I left I sent an email to New Destiny asking them to make a place for my son. I had no idea how that would work but I didn't want to look back and not have tried.

 

By Sunday his eyes looked alive. I could see the frayed mental state left by the detox and lack of sleep but even so he was improved. Even though we were both exhausted, I jokingly asked, "Ya want go to church?". To my surprise he said "sure". And so off we went. My son is tall, very handsome, and has a commanding presence. But these days, his appearance is diminished. He looked small to me. The musical worship at Freshwater Community Church is divine and I prayed that my son would feel the presence of God and remember it by this time the next day when he was in custody. The speaker this day was Pastor Len Maher who years earlier was my son's youth pastor. He loves and trusts Jesus in a way that just oozes out of him. Today, his message was specifically to the graduating seniors. I wondered how my son would endure a message given to young people about their bright futures as he was facing a bleak one. Rather, Pastor Len's context was about what happens when life does not turn out the way you plan. He used Joseph as a reference. There were so many touch points that related to my son, but when Len said "Joseph was 28 years old and going to prison", I about fell out of my chair. My son is 28 years old and tomorrow he would be incarcerated.

"God Arranged" just rang in my head. If my son had slept, or we had gone to camp,  we would not have been there this morning to hear such personal words. Within minutes of the service ending, friends gathered to pray over my son. I remember how slight his boney shoulders looked under their large hands. If I could have cried I would have completely lost it, but those emotions would not come out for a long time. Instead, I stood off to the side and snapped a picture. This was a divine moment that "God Arranged".

 

My son followed this service by going to church with his wife. I dropped him off a block away so he could walk in on his own. I don't know what that service was like but I can imagine it was more of God reminding my son of His love and presence. After church, they all landed at my house.  I watched from the kitchen window as they visited outside. Levi was laying in the grass with his wife Kristen sitting close by. I prayed as I have done for years, that if this marriage was God's will that He would bind them together in a way they could not separate. Their two boys climbed all over Levi and I fought for the words to pray thinking of how difficult the coming months would be without their dad. I stood at the window for a long time, I didn't want these moments to end. Levi still hadn't slept. I expected him to crash at any moment. Finally, I left the window to check my email, hopeful for something from New Destiny but there was nothing. This time I went to their website and sent a message from there. Again, I had to try.

 

I have a small group from church that meets on alternating Sunday nights, this was our night. I was not about to leave my son at home alone and I didn't expect he would not want to go with me. So I was surprised when he said he would go after my half-hearted suggestion that he join me. Our group didn't have anything planned that night other than just hanging out and having food so it was a good night for visitors. I messaged my daughter and suggested that she come too. Afterall, she wasn’t going to see her brother for a while. The group meets at my friend's house about a quarter mile away. Levi wanted to ride his electric skateboard. I supposed he was grasping at last moments of freedom so I gave him no resistance. I followed behind him at a bit of a distance to make sure he made it. Balance on a skateboard that is moving 20 mph is challenging enough let alone doing it in his physical state.  I finally had to pass him when he got held up by some parked cars. I snapped a picture when I passed. I took notice of how slight his frame appeared.

 

My friends treated my kids warmly. These people have invested in my family to the point of sacrifice many times. Now, they have so much skin in the game they just refuse to let go. We sat in a circle on the patio and ate. Conversation ranged from the mundane to the direct. Levi's presence was a challenge because both versions of him had showed up. The soft broken guy who needed help and the over confident pseudo-thug that I wanted to smack. Silently, I prayed for holy duct tape for his mouth. I prayed that my friends would not notice or judge if they did. They didn't know about the torture of the last week and would not likely understand anyway.

 

In typical form, my friend Bruce pushed Levi for conversation. Levi began again to talk about New Destiny and how he had hoped to go there. This time he credited himself for that not happening due to his inability to communicate with his attorney over the preceding months. It was a sad statement but I was glad that he took responsibility. And then, in the most casual of tones Bruce says, "Oh, New Destiny? I know the director. Let me give him a call". I watched as Bruce pulled the contact from his phone and left a voice mail asking the director if he would call the court of Levi's behalf and arrange intake for the next day". Clearly, Bruce did not understand how this all worked and his message left me annoyed. Asking for intake the day you are being sentenced is not possible, so we were asking for something that was going to end in a "no". That's bad salesmanship. We needed to ask for something that left the door open to possibilities - even though I had no idea what that would be. Simultaneously, I realized I was witnessing something that if it worked had no explanation except God's intervention. This was a much better thought. I have long believed that God wants stories for which only He could get the credit and surely without strategy from me. Perhaps I was watching one unfold. Maybe this was another "God Arranged" moment. I felt both options deeply. Like my son I was double-minded and I didn't like it.

 

My friends gathered around Levi and prayed for him. My daughter Molly stood in the group and like the others placed a hand on her brother. I stepped back and snapped a picture.  The story teller in me is compelled to have evidence of these moments where such tragedy and beauty coexist. I could see hope on Molly's face. It was for her as much as for her brother - but that's another story. I thought we might have a bona fide come to Jesus moment. I think that a lot.  So I was disappointed when just moments later my kids left abruptly. Their departure was so casual that it almost squelched the presence of God that lingered from the prayer.


God Arranged
Monday morning came much too fast. I came after another sleepless night. Levi dressed for court, but really he was dressing for prison. He would be taken into custody directly from the court room and transported to county jail to wait future transport to the prison. Only the clothes he was wearing would be allowed in. Undergarments are only allowed in white, so I gone to the store and purchased "whites" for him. That's underwear, t-shirts, and socks. He was wearing three pair of each. Even with all that underneath, his hoodie and sweatpants were loose. He looked the part and it made me sad. Kristen picked him up and they went to have one last breakfast together. We had to be in court at 9 so we agreed to meet in the courthouse hallway at 8:45.

I checked my email one last time hoping for a response from New Destiny. There was nothing there. I headed for the door. My phone rang - it was Bruce. He told me to call New Destiny right away because they were holding a bed for Levi and he gave me the direct number for the intake coordinator. I fumbled my words and made the call while I was walking out the door. The man who answered asked me to call back at 9 when he was in the office. I did my best to explain that by 9 we would be in court and if he had something to present to the court I was going to need it before then. He seemed to understand the urgency and he agreed to send the email right away. It would then be my job to get it forwarded to Levi's attorney Mr. Jacobs. Months earlier, Levi had left the business card for Mr. Jacobs on my kitchen counter. I dug through the pile where I had stashed it and hurried out the door.

I drove the 15 miles to the courthouse checking every couple minutes for the email. It wasn't until I was in the parking garage that it finally arrived. I wondered how I was going to get Mr. Jacobs, who I had never met, to present this option to the court. Options are pre-trial fodder. By the time you get to sentencing your destination is already determined. Asking the attorney to do this on the day of sentencing had the potential to make him look incompetent and irritate the court. Irritating the court could even result in them levying a stricter sentence then the compromise they reached in the plea deal. My head spun. I pictured the attorney telling me to go pound salt and wondered if I had watched enough Law and Order episodes to beg the court's indulgence and present this sentence variant myself. I rehearsed what I would say standing in front of the judge.

 

I knew we were in the middle of a "God Arranged" drama. There was just too many pieces of this last minute Hail Mary to be anything else. It had the look and feel of other times I had witnessed God's hand in my life. The difference was this time it was my son at risk not me and that made me nervous. I'm willing to be wrong on my own account but not my son's. I know that real faith would take risks in other people's stories as well and I want my kids to see that in action. I called the attorney to try and give him a heads up but did not get an answer.

 

This is the hardest part of the story to tell. Each of the characters had the opportunity to completely destroy the option I was going to deliver. Each second felt long and heavy and at the same time it was happening fast. I found everyone in the hall outside the courtroom. The man I assumed was Mr. Jacobs approached Levi and they began to chat. So, this was it - I had to interrupt, introduce myself, and ask him to present this alternative sentence of time at New Destiy to the court. Before I could speak, Levi and Mr. Jacobs had come to snarky words about the existing plea deal. I was stunned when I heard Mr. Jacobs say; "I think I need to recuse myself and you can get someone else." These two couldn't have a civil conversation about something that was already decided let alone the monkey wrench I was about to toss into the mix. I couldn't figure out what to do. I wanted to step in but if I made either of them mad this could go from bad to worse fast. If it's prayer when you say to yourself "oh God help me!" then I was praying in spades. My heart was pounding, my hearing got a little dull, and my face get hot. I stepped between Levi and his attorney and told him about the email from New Destiny that I had just forwarded to him. Levi turned and walked away which was a relief. Mr. Jacobs listened while shaking his head and giving me a sour lemon look as if I was crazy. He opened the email on his phone and then looked at me and said "This is not how this is done". And he recited everything I was already thinking about the plea deal and the possible opposite outcome by being so presumptuous to the court . I could hear every word of our conversation and I just kept thinking how tragic this would be if my insistence irritated the court and backfired. 

 

He turned toward the courtroom door pausing long enough to look at me and say "This is already a done deal". That statement landed in the pit of my stomach. The truth was it isn't a done deal until the judge agrees and lowers his gavel.  Inside I was screaming truth about God being our only judge and Jesus being our true advocate. Outside I knew that my words had the weight of three years on them and I better deliver them in a way that made the idea desirable. "God Arranged" right? I had to speak. I took a breath and responded to his done deal comment with a tender and sheepish "well not really".  And with that we filed into the courtroom.

 

My friends, Doug and Kristine joined us in a show of support. Kristine sat on my left. Kristen sat on my right and Levi next to her. Court was called to order. Case after case came before the judge . Each either a simple arraignment or a sentencing. In each sentencing case the judge would comment on the agreed upon plea, the defense attorney and prosecutor would concur, the judge would hit the gavel to his bench and move to the next case. The routine of it all felt sad. Mr. Jacobs was sitting in front of me to my left. I wondered what he was going to do. If he didn't present this alternative plan, I wondered what I would do. Would I stand, and interrupt the court? I leaned forward and adjusted Mr. Jacob's standing suit collar. I prayed over and over that God would tell Mr. Jacobs what to do. Levi sat with the hood of his black sweatshirt on his head. I thought the look rather off-putting and worried about how it appeared to the court. I rarely tell my kids specifically what to do, but I made and exception and told him to take the hoodie off, which he did. We waited. Somewhere between hour two and three, Mr. Jacobs turned around and said to me; "I'm going to try and soft sell this". I responded with a simple "OK".

 

After three hours, the court asked for recess. Mr. Jacobs stood and asked if his case could please be heard before the recess as he had to be in another city for another case. And so finally Levi's case was called. Levi and Mr. Jacobs took their place at the defense table on the left, opposite the prosecutor at the table on the right. The judge began the same way he had every other sentencing we had heard that day. "I understand we have a plea agreement in this case." The prosecutor, while never looking up from his paperwork, began to state the agreement. He only had a few words spoken when Mr. Jacobs interrupted. He begged for the court's indulgence, apologized for the last minute disruption, and began to describe the plan for New Destiny Treatment Center. He described how the defendant's mother had just gotten the assurance of intake that morning and how he himself had just looked at the email for the first time. I was watching the prosecutor, who still never looked up. I noticed him give the slightest upward nod as Mr. Jacobs continued to talk. I knew what the nod meant no matter how small. That was a sign of agreement. I grabbed Kristine on my left and Kristen on my right and muttered "they're going to go for it". My face got hot and I was shaking. Mr. Jacobs tried to continue his humble presentation but was interrupted by the prosecutor… I held my breath. Without looking up, the prosecutor waved his left hand the direction of the defense table and in the most anti-climactic fashion said. "Yea, whatever…that's fine". And just like that my son who was dressed for prison was headed to New Destiny.

 

Because Levi is married, his wife and kids were allowed to visit without any waiting period. Me and others had to wait for 30 days. I was happy for the wait. I wanted to put my brain, body, and heart into a padded room and just leave them there for a while. I trust God with restoration but I didn't really know what I should be doing or feeling. I process emotion slowly and right then I couldn't feel anything. I've said before that the crash at the end of addiction leaves the onlookers with shrapnel and I had been bleeding for a long time.

 

It was now summer and I was either at camp or at home getting ready to go to camp. It was a wonderful place for the presence of God to heal wounds and I took full advantage. I kept this story to myself and spent my time enjoying camp activities and people. The people who were visiting Levi reported a new man. They had stories and pictures of his physical and spiritual health. Stories of him pursuing Jesus and reaching out to other residents. "Follow and Lead" has been one of my scripture prayers for Levi. It's taken from Mark 2 where Jesus calls Levi the tax collector. He simply says "Follow Me" to Levi, who not only does so but immediately invites others to meet Jesus. I believe that prayer for my son was answered long ago but like in Daniel 10, the answer got hung up by the evil resistance. Could it be that the answer was finally fulfilled!

 

The next three and a half months of his 9 month sentence to New Destiny passed and while I had little personal knowledge on the details of Levi's transformation, I knew God was at work. My daughter Molly, got involved in the outpatient counseling program at the same place and for the first time in a long time I could see Hope on her face. That's another amazing story.

 

The first time I visited Levi for a church service I was nervous. By all accounts I would be sitting with my son, a new man, who I didn't know. I've said over the years that I didn't care much if the young version of my kids liked me but I would rather that the older version of them knew I had taught them the truth and always been honest. I still hold to that but I'd be lying if I didn't say that I still wanted this 28 year old young man to like me. I believed it easy for the old him to like me as a product of needing me while in his broken state. But what about the new him, this young man of faith and purpose, what would he think of his old tired mom? Fortunately, there was not a lot of time before the service started and we found distraction from the awkwardness. The very first song was "Scars in Heaven". I couldn't believe it. Like so many times before I didn't know if I should laugh or cry. This was the song I had planned for Levi's funeral. And when I pictured it being sung his participation was not part of the scene. But here we were singing it together, even though I noted that neither of us were doing it out loud. I tried to squint away the tears, I didn't want my suppressed emotions making their debut here. I was so aware of God's presence in this moment it was all I could think of. I thought of how He was with me all those sleepless nights and how He knew then that this song would mean something very different that I thought. I didn't know if the tears I was trying to squint away were ones of joy or pain and I think likely both. I would have kept them if I could.
 

In early September and I was at camp like usual. Every time I looked out my back porch I remembered the first Jonah Walk. That walk had started something that had been emotionally overwhelming and up to this point, I avoided engaging too much with that memory. I had spent the summer making new spiritual and personal history at this sacred place. And little by little I was healing and feeling. So on this day, 127 days from the very first Jonah Walk, I walked it again. I made a cup of coffee and traced that same path. Out my back porch, to the right around the playground and then east out around the far trailer court and along the back row of cottages. I hovered for a second at special marks along the route as I remembered that first walk. But this time it was not angst and desperation that held me there but rather Thanksgiving. And just like the first time, I cried and still needed God to give me the words.

 

I saw Levi each week when I would pick him up and take him to see his probation officer. We didn't talk about what you might call the important issues. He didn't offer much information and I didn't ask. It wasn't necessary. He was healing physically, mentally, and spiritually and all of that was visible even if silently. We have a lifetime ahead of us and eternity after that so I'm pretty sure I'll get to hear all the good stuff eventually. We chatted about his wife and kids, marveled about him and his sister both being at New Destiny, and we made fun of my driving. I was a sounding board for some of the inconsistencies he believed he was experiencing in his treatment and yet he ended each of those reports with a comment of gratitude and determination.  I just kept thinking how great it was going to be to get to know my son.

 

On one trip to see his PO, he described some critical thinking about his future, his sobriety, and his family. He had decided that if possible he wanted to leave New Destiny and finish his remaining 5 months in sober living.  He reasoned that sober living would give him a chance to ease back into family and work life. If would give him time to process the stressors that would come with each while having the structure of the sober living environment for accountability. His counselor at New Destiny agreed with this plan. So armed with that approval I encouraged him to ask his PO how to make that happen. His appointments didn't take long so usually I just drove through the neighborhood around the courthouse waiting for him to be done. Such was the case on this day. It was a mere ten minutes from the time I dropped him off to the time he was flagging me down from the corner across the street. He said that his PO thought sober living was a good idea. Levi was prepared with information about the place he wanted to go, known as "Cathy's House". However, the move would require an actual change of sentence so he would have to hire an attorney and petition a judge. Since hiring an attorney was not an option the whole idea fell flat. His disappointment was evident as he explained and he ended with a small sigh. Even so, he closed the conversation by declaring his gratitude for where he was and that he would be content finishing his time at New Destiny.

 

The following Tuesday, September 20th,  I was scheduled to pick him up for his PO appointment at noon. He called me at 10 am and asked me to come early and bring the truck. He told me he would explain when I got there. When I pulled into the parking lot, he was standing next to all his belongings. His frailness staure of a few months earlier had been replaced by a strong and commanding physical presence. But the look on his face was worried. I got out of the truck. He didn't explain, he just handed me a letter. It was from one of the New Destiny facility directors. It read exactly as follows:


This letter is to confirm that Levi was discharged for conduct inappropriate at church. He made a paper airplane and after the service started throwing it around and our director does not take kindly to playing around in/after the church service as the pastor who volunteered was still in the facility. Levi will be allowed to return after 30 days if there are beds available. He was a solid client and working hard on getting a better understanding of himself, growing his family relationships, and opening up about his issues. He just made a mistake that is inexcusable in our facility but not so egregious that he won't be allowed back.

 

I am going to resist comments on sentence structure, grammar, legalism, and the absence of mercy to a people group that knows such brokenness and bias. The result of those thoughts are negative and discouraging. I am grateful for the care my son received at New Destiny and I will leave justice and grace in the hands of God who alone is worthy to dispense them. My son and I discussed the letter and the scene of the offense. And even though we were both afraid of what the outcome might be, we laughed that a treatment center director had to write a letter about a paper airplane. Ultimately I told him that the letter said far more good things about him and the progress he had made. Surely his PO would see that. The problem is that he was under the sentence of the judge to complete the program at New Destiny. Any violation of that order could and would invoke his original agreed up on prison sentence. When I dropped him off at the courthouse I didn't know if I would pick him back up. The letter of the law would have him taken into custody. As I watched him walk into away I silently begged God to surround him with His peace. I drove away from the courthouse into the surrounding neighborhood like usual trying to collect my thoughts. I wish I could describe a litany of bold trust filled prayers that followed. But the truth is I was struggling to collect my thoughts. At each stop sign I would check my phone. Sometimes nothing and sometimes a text from Levi that said "still waiting". Levi is very well spoken and I knew if he could plead his case to his PO she would be sympathetic. I also knew that this was not up to the PO but the authority over her. I remember feeling a little dizzy as I made another trip around the block. I needed to stop and pray.

I pulled into the parking lot of Cups Café. It's a Christian coffee house and I deliberated that the holy grounds could only help my petition. I opened my car door, put my feet on the pavement and just rambled to Jesus. I had no eloquent words but I knew I didn't need them. I waffled between prayers to rescue him from prison and prayers to use him in prison. He had been incarcerated many times before. If such was the case again, I believed that this time he would be going with Jesus and for Jesus. I smiled at the thought of my son working for the King behind enemy lines. Twenty minutes passed. That's twice the time of his usual PO appointment. I imagined him in handcuffs being taken to county jail to await transport to prison. That mental image made me both sad and proud. My heart hurt for the anguish he must be feeling. I thought of his wife, his boys, and our family. When would this end? Goodness, when does motherhood get easy? 

 

Another ten minutes passed. My phone buzzed, it was a text from Levi. "If I don't make it out of here…" and he gave me some instructions about getting some stuff to one of his friends at New Destiny. I wanted to encourage him. I replied that he was not sitting there alone and that God was not at all surprised by this turn of events. Those statements are true but they felt very cliché in that moment. I tried to remember all the points of this story up until now. Levi knew I had begun writing it down and he knew it had something to do with Jonah. This felt like a rubber to the road moment where I needed to be bold in that journey God had started with me months earlier. But there wasn't anything new in Jonah to lean on. The final chapters are all about "God arranged" moments and we had already seen that in the courtroom 4 months earlier. "God arranged, God arranged, God arranged", I repeated it. Still leaning out of my car, I grabbed my phone and used my Bible app to see what the word "arranged" meant in the original text. It said "provided, arranged, Appointed, Prepared, Designated, commanded".  So I sent Levi a text with those words. I told him that was where we were in the story of Jonah and that was what God was doing for him right now. I waited. Two minutes later  he texted: My PO and her supervisor are with the judge right now. Both on my behalf
I responded: Your real advocate is before the Throne so…The longest five minutes ever slowly ticked by before my phone alerted an incoming message. I rolled the phone over in my hand with my eyes closed. I didn't know if I wanted to open them for good news or just keep them closed so to delay bad news. I looked. It was Levi. His message read: "On my way outside, I'll be out front".

Three minutes later, I pulled up to where he was waiting. Like three hours earlier, he was holding a letter. This one was a recognition of his progress and a resentencing to sober living at Cathy's House for the remaining five months of his time. We laughed and said nothing for a minute. I remember the blurry stop sign at the next corner because I had tears in my eyes. I thought about all that God had arranged in this day. I was already scheduled to pick him up, he already had an appointment scheduled with his PO, and a judge just happened to be available. Finally Levi began to describe all that had just transpired inside the courthouse. In the end the judge said "we aren't sending anyone to prison over a paper airplane". We laughed again. I collected my thoughts and reminded Levi that just a week earlier we had given up on the idea of sober living because of the cost of an attorney. Levi looked at me and said "Yup, I guess I didn't need an attorney…I just needed to throw a paper airplane".
 

The End
It was January 14th, 256 days from the original Jonah Walk and once again, I was at camp. I was there for the express purpose of finishing this story.  The temperature dipped to 5 degrees at night and the high was 25. The snow from the preceding days had frozen to a hard crust and the wind was brutal.  My dog, Bowzer, and I were snuggled into the cottage missing our casual walks around the grounds. During the previous year, I had worked hard at completing the renovations on the cottage. One of the projects had been replacing the wall between kitchen and living space with a breakfast bar built. I had imagined it built with the old tongue and groove siding that had once been the wall. That project had become a story all its own. On this day, I was sitting comfortably at that finished bar, even better than I had imagined. I opened my laptop and clicked out the last paragraphs of the story you just read. Levi had continued to grow in his relationship with God and family. It was a miracle. Everything felt like a new chapter. 

 

I had this nagging feeling that the story was a few clicks shy of its intended ending and I asked God, who is clearly the author of this narrative, to wrap it up for me. I listened but heard nothing. Again, I thought of Jonah. We don't know what happens in the tale of Jonah after Nineveh is saved. I wanted to read of Jonah's transformed heart and uncompromising faith. I wanted to read how after Jonah's petition in chapter two he recognized God's goodness and mercy, and on that fuel became a mighty voice for God. I wanted to find his name included on some list of biblical heroes. That would work so well with my story. But that is not the case. The book of Jonah seems a bit of a letdown. It ends with chapter four where Jonah spends the last words we get to read, whining and complaining. I stood in the kitchen looking out the back door of the cottage - right where the story had started. I thought about taking the "Jonah Walk" one last time - out my back door, past the playground, and around the east trailer park. I reasoned that God had started the story on that trek and perhaps He intended to finish it there as well. And just like the first time I resisted. The weather was rough and cold is one of the things I dislike the most. So, I resolved to write the last paragraphs when I got home and hope for some literary bow to wrap the whole thing up.

 

Sunday came and it was time to go home. Packing the truck in the cold wind was awful. Finally we were on our way. I pulled out of the semi-circle drive that my cottage sits on and came to the main road, King's Highway. And I heard the King's voice. "Are you really leaving without taking the walk one more time?" I responded out loud. "Really?"  A right turn and I'd be on my way home in a minute, a left turn and I'd be headed back into camp. I have made an art of letting resistance and compliance dance together in my head and they were doing the cha-cha. A step forward, a step back. Ultimately, I had no choice. God had written a beautiful story and I wasn't going to miss the ending if He had one waiting for me. I turned left.
 

There was no one else on the grounds so I left the truck running on the side of the road. I grabbed Bowzer and off we went. I started talking to God at the same place as I had the first time, at the corner of the playground. This time I started with confession. I admitted that I didn't know if I was doing this because He had something to say or just because I wanted a good ending to my story. Either way, I knew it was important and I didn't want to mess it up with pride so the confession was vital. It was really cold and I forced myself to look ahead on the road instead of keeping my face buried in the fuzzy collar of my coat. I told God I was just going to listen. He didn't speak.

No one had walked the road since the snow had fallen. Me and Bowzer crunched through the frozen surface. I liked the white unmarred path. It felt like we were doing something new. The beauty of the sun bouncing off the snow distracted me from the cold. I reminded God that I was listening, but even that I did silently. This moment seemed so peaceful that I didn't even want my own voice to break it. I made the turn at the end of the trailer court. A few more steps and I would be in that spot where God's voice had put me on my knees the last time. I reflected briefly how amazing His had had been in my son's life over the past months. I felt the freedom He had given me to leave my son in His hands. I breathed in the cold air and felt peace. Big peace. How the Jonah Walk had changed! From a path born out of pain to one marked by peace. Now I knew why He wanted me to walk it one more time.

I rounded the last corner. I looked a few yards ahead at that spot that I still felt wary about. God was still silent and the peace did not leave. A few more steps and I was there. Our entire path had been unmarred white snow, no treads and no foot prints. But here, right in that spot was a giant clump of dirty snow. It was alone on the otherwise smooth white blanket. It was ugly and out of place, the lone obstacle on our path. I didn't wrestle with what it meant or overthink its purpose. I did snap a picture. Then, without hesitation, I kicked it with every bit of strength I could muster. I busted into a million fragments and disappeared. There would be no disruptions of the peace God had given. I knew the story was over. The broken gravel and the angst of the first walk had been replaced by the peace of this new white road. Me and Bowzer climbed into the warm truck and drove home.

 

It took me a month to write out those final details of the story. I tried to sit at the breakfast bar in my home and do it but I just could not. So like all the other times, I packed up and went to camp. I'm here now as I type these final words. I still wonder about Jonah after his big fish story. Although scripture does not tell us any more about Jonah, Jesus himself makes a Jonah reference in Matthew 12. He likens his three days and three nights in the heart of the earth to those of Jonah in the fish. And ends by saying "And now one greater than Jonah is here".  How grateful I am for the sacrifice of Jesus. Without it we would never hear the voice of God or know the Hope of a new road.

 

In conclusion, I hope you have enjoyed this story. Me, Levi, my family and our friends lived it, and I typed it. But make no mistake God wrote it. We are characters in His story. I hope you see His love and providence. Perhaps someday we will hear this tale from my son's vantage point. I would love that. Levi and I have yet to talk about the details of his spiritual transformation and his ongoing journey. I suppose I am the hardest person for him to discuss that with. I wonder if we will ever sit at the breakfast bar in the cottage, looking out over the route of the Jonah Walk and chat. I don't know. Perhaps it will be in the new heaven that we meet occasionally on a park bench to share stories. I'll just wait to see what God arranges.

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