When God Is Near

Our 17 year old son, whom I’ll call “Brendan,” for the purposes of this post, has obsessive compulsive disorder. One Monday night in early March, I was out late teaching at a nearby community college and his OCD acted up. He had quite a blow-up and my wife, concerned that she wouldn’t be able to handle it, called the sheriff.

The sheriff who came to the door wasn’t in a mood to talk, wasn’t interested in taking Brendan to the hospital, but arrested him, throwing him into the car in cuffs, with no shoes and without his glasses. Because he’s 17, they didn’t take him to juvenile, but to the main Harris County Inmate Processing Center, a slaughterhouse that process 500 criminals a day. It was nearly noon the next day before I was able to bail him out.

Brendan is a good, sweet kid, and that night, in that cell surrounded by hardened criminals, he was scared to death. He called several times in a panicky voice, but there was nothing I could do in the face of the mindless bureaucracy that had ensnared him.

When I did get him out, he told me that it wasn’t entirely a night of fear–there was someone there who looked out for him.

That’s all he said about this guy, though.

The next day I had lunch with Kendall Turcios, the pastor of the Houston International Seventh-day Adventist Church. We had pre-arranged this lunch to talk about my journey of faith. But for the first half hour we talked about Brendan’s situation. I described him as being in the jail, scared to death, incongruous as this young kid in his stocking feet wearing the “Jesus Loves Jeans” t-shirt he had gotten at a recent Adventist youth event. I told him about the guy who looked out for him, and Kendall, well aware of the kind of place the IPC is, was amazed–“God surely sent his angel to be with him.”

I went to church with Joy and the kids the next Sabbath, and afterwards Kendall grabbed me and Brendan and said, “I know the name of Brendan’s angel.”

He had gotten a call from Pastor Josue Murillo of the Galena Park Spanish SDA church. Murillo asked, “Was one of your kids in jail this week?” Kendall responded, “How do you know?”

And Murillo proceeded to tell him about someone who had been attending his church since January. This guy, whom I’ll call Ricky, was driving down the highway and got pulled over for some minor traffic violation. It seems he had some warrants out for prior tickets, which he was going to go down and pay in the morning. The sheriff would have none of it, and took him to jail.

So here he is, a guy trying to get his act together, trying to start anew, and he’s on his way to jail. His cousin, a cop, told him it would be dropped quickly and he’d be out. But the jailers told him that they were going to transfer him to the county lock-up.

Ricky was praying and wondering what could possible be the reason for him being in this situation. He was a big guy, with a past he’s not proud of, but he was nervous. It was a rough place. Ricky was thrown into the cell and immediately an even bigger guy came up and said, “I like that shirt. Give it to me.” Ricky responded, “Over my dead body.” The guy backed off and said, “I’ll deal with you later.”

Then Ricky looked over and saw a young kid who looked more scared than he was. And he decided—“I need to look after him–he won’t survive in this place.”

Ricky noticed this scared kid was wearing a “Jesus Loves Jeans” t-shirt, with “I am a disciple on the back.”

“Man, what’s this?” “It’s a t-shirt from a retreat I went to.” “What? Are you a Christian? What are you doing in this place?”

And Brendan told him.

“What church do you go to?” “The Houston International SDA Church.”

“What?! You go to an Adventist church?! I go to the Adventist church!!”

And he proceeded to lecture Brendan on the need to get his act together.

As Kendall related this side of the story to me, I got tears in my eyes and goosebumps on my arms.

Last week we met Ricky and his wife. Kendall was going to be preaching at a “Jesus Loves Jeans” event starting last Saturday night at the Houston Central SDA Church, and he wanted to tell this story–and wanted to baptize Ricky and Brendan at the end of the sermon. Ricky had readily agreed–he knew he had to take the next step. Brendan was a little scared, but he, too, decided to take a step of faith. And so that night Brendan and Ricky were baptized, along with Ricky’s younger brother, by Pastors Turcios and Murillo.

This story reminds me what I have always known by faith, that God is with us in our deepest despair. He is with us in the midst of our darkness. But few of us ever have such striking examples of it.

2 thoughts on “When God Is Near

  1. Oh, I disagree! We are just too preoccupied with “other things” to notice the frequency of them, or, God’s anonymous grace is a reflection of his pure and inimitable (though we should try)goodness. Your story is touching and I hope it reminds us all, of the major and minor miracles that occur in our daily lives with nary a notice.

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