Oh, Look. There's Jonah.
The doctor thought I was dead. “He’s not growing,” he’d said. But in the 1970s, technologies that we now take for granted were lacking. The doctor’s suspicions were not groundless. After all, my mother’s internal bleeding had necessitated surgery when she was only six weeks pregnant. My future was unclear, but my Mom prayed that God would save my life, and she committed my care into His hands. "Lord," she prayed. "If you will let him live, he's yours."
And He listened.
Memories of home
I was born in an old hospital filled with ashtrays very near the Mississippi River. My parents already had two children, an older brother and sister that were eleven and six years older than me, respectively, and I grew up in a wonderful, loving family which placed a high priority on Jesus.
Home was a double wide trailer on a dozen acres of hilly wooded land in a country neighborhood about fifteen miles south of town and a little more than a mile behind an antebellum cotton plantation. We had moved there when I was ten months old from a company trailer park beside the industrial plant where my father worked as a welder after leaving the family dairy business.
One of my earliest memories is sitting in a rocking chair in my mama's lap, watching a Woody Woodpecker cartoon on a broken wooden console TV without audio as sunlight filtered through reed blinds. The trailer walls were dark wooden paneling, and the carpet was a thick mottled shag.
My grandmother once gave us an old red plastic TV with no picture. Dad put it on top of the TV without sound. When we watched television in the evenings, I was tasked with changing the channel on both sets – with knobs that loudly clicked – so that between the two of them we would have sound and picture. We could pick up two stations with our antenna, WLBT 3 and WJTV 12 out of Jackson.
Out back there was a large wire coop with a number of chickens. I used to help mama feed the chickens and collect eggs. If a chicken got loose, I was the designated catcher. In retrospect, this probably made for pretty good entertainment. Once I had a mallard duck for a pet that we kept with the chickens. I became convinced that it thought it was a chicken. One Easter, dad gave me a little pink chick as a pet, and it turned out to be a rooster which later attacked mom with its spurs and left a scar on her leg.
Near the chicken coop stood a simple, small grey shed that my father had built to house his tools. There was a waist-high section of a cedar log just outside the shed that dad used for chopping cedar kindling. He'd left a stub of a branch on the log to use as a handle. Once when I was very small, he killed off all of the chickens by wringing their necks and then decapitating them with a hatchet on that log while I held a black plastic garbage bag filled with chicken heads. I remember staring down into the darkness of that bloody bag where my gaze was returned by dozens of unblinking yellow eyes.
Once I shot a hole in one of the shed's three windows with a BB gun, and I got in trouble for it. For several years the cutest tiny yellow birds would go through that black hole to nest inside the shed.
There was also a little building for potato storage we called the potato bin – a shed comprised of shelves at regular intervals with hay-covered chicken wire. Once, when I was about three years old, some friends of my parents gave us a black tom cat. After the wretched thing got its claws stuck in my eyelid, dad banished it from the trailer and put it in the potato bin. It left that very night never to be seen again, but we had a feral cat problem afterwards.
There was a woodpile in the backyard that little green anoles would hibernate in. One year, in the coolness of the fall when the lizards began to sleep beneath the bark of those logs, I took a gallon pickle jar and stuffed as many as I could find into it. I must have had a few hundred in there. I put it under the edge of the trailer and promptly forgot about it. Sometime later I noticed a stinking smell near the back steps and found that most of the lizards had died and were rotting. I felt terrible, and I let the few survivors free.
There was an old aluminum boat which hung on the backside of that grey shed. One of my earliest memories is of speeding in that boat across the backwater of the Mississippi River over flooded fields and beneath a stormy sky with my dad and our pastor. They had hung metal trot lines between the partially submerged trees to catch catfish. Sometimes I still dream about it.
I remember seeing both of my parents baptized when I was very small.
We were a part of a small country church with an excellent pastor who placed an emphasis on the truth and absolute authority of the Bible. I loved reading. Books were an enormous part of my world as a child, and this book, the Bible? It was special? I took this lesson to heart.
My love for art stretch back to those formative days in church, too. The backs of the church bulletins were blank, and my parents encouraged me to draw on them as a means to keep me quiet during the service. My sister tells the story that I once, after seeing images of the Sistine Chapel, drew an anatomically correct Adam and Eve much to the chagrin of my parents.
I remember the moment of my conversion like a snapshot. The location and the depth of feeling is cemented in my mind; however, I don't remember the date. I do remember that as an eight-year-old child, my father had explained the gospel to me in such a way that I understood it for the first time and I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I was baptized some time later on Easter Sunday.
We later joined a different church in town. The pastor died of cancer not long afterwards, and his replacement was a friendly, mustachioed man with a habit of shaking everyone's hand as they left. Several years later, I had some questions about Bible translation. I paid him a visit in his office, where he proceeded to divulge extremely liberal viewpoints hidden all the years he had been behind the pulpit. "Take the story of Jonah for example," he said. "Do you really think a man was swallowed by a great big fish? It's a myth. It's not a bad thing that it's a myth, but it's a still myth. It doesn't matter if God actually did that. It only matters that God has the capacity to do that." I was dumbfounded. He loaned me a book on hermeneutics and sent me on my way.
I believed then as I do now: it’s important for a believer to be a part of a Bible-believing church. I couldn't stay with the knowledge that the pastor did not trust the authority of Scripture. I put a tiny sticker with Jeremiah 7:8 on the cover of his book and returned it. I never went back.
At my worst
I went to college and studied sculpture and design. I worked with ink and paper and bronze and stone and wood and I loved it. I loved pouring molten metal and chiseling stone. I liked the tools and the techniques, and I had an excellent professor who I respect a great deal. Nonetheless, I wasn't the best student, and I wasn't in great shape spiritually, either.
Over time, I became increasingly isolated from my family and Christian friends. The first thing to go was church attendance. Then regular Bible reading. Then my prayer life took a nosedive. My passion for the things of God ground to a halt, and I strayed from the faith and did whatever suited my fancy. At the same time, I became the Student Government Association President as well as a Resident Assistant. There was a growing disconnect between who I appeared to be to others and who I was in practice. I was in turmoil, and I'm ashamed to say this was one of my life's darkest chapters. I was a wreck, a wretch, and a worm of a man.
It was there at my worst that I met my best friend, who I've had the honor of calling my wife for almost 15 years now. She's the best person I know.
When Alison and I were newlyweds, we moved back to my hometown where we both landed jobs at the local newspaper. We joined a house church and we grew closer to the Lord. We soon had our first child, our daughter Zoe.
After a few years, we moved hundreds of miles from home after I took a job in Chattanooga. We had no relatives here, so it forced us to depend on each other like we never had before. This was compounded by the fact that we had another child, our son Elijah. Since then, we’ve added two more children: Lily and Samuel. Alison and I have grown immensely as a result, and I love being a dad.
Through all of my life, God has proven Himself to be absolutely faithful. Over time, my faith has grown as I recognize that He will care for me no matter what happens. I have become more content, grounded, and mature. At the same time, I realize my own insufficiency and just how much I depend on the Lord. But He is good, and I know I can trust Him.
And, yes, I still draw in church.