No Greater Joy…

Walker & us at Farm58.jpg3 John 1:4 says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in truth.” I would assert the opposite is also true. I have no greater agony than to fear that my children are walking in deception.

Most people are unaware of the nightmare we’ve lived through with Walker for about two and a half years. As an extrovert, my natural tendency is to process my thoughts out loud and I tend to feel better by talking about what I’m going through, so it has been difficult for me to keep what we’ve been going through private. Plus I value transparency, and I am a firm believer that when we are open about our struggles, we open the door for God to use His people to pray for and minister to us. And then God also beautifully uses the struggles we go through to comfort others when they go through difficult times.

However, both Wally and Walker repeatedly asked that I not tell people what was going on. So, we only shared what we were going through with those closest to us and those who needed to know.

God began breaking the darkness apart with His light, bringing an end to this death with new life at the perfect time, the time of resurrection: Easter. Though that weekend, it was hard to see more than a flicker.

Here we are, just three months later, and after seeing such a change in him and asking permission to share his story, we have just received these words from him on Friday: “I think it sounds great. I would love for people to be encouraged by the good work God has done in my life. I’m excited about being able to use my story as a witness and testimony to show people how loving and good God is. He saved me from so much pain by bringing me to Renew….”

 I’ll share more about Renew after I share how he got there.

All Is Not As It Seems
In February of 2016, to the best of our knowledge, Walker had everything going for him. God had blessed him with a great job at Eaton at the end of December 2014, and by early 2015, he’d decided to move into his own apartment. He would come by for dinner a few times a week, and Wally would do his laundry. Walker seemed to be in a good place as a responsible young adult, providing for himself, taking online college classes, and engaged to a girl he was crazy about.

But all the lies and deception were shattered late one evening after we’d gone to bed, when his fiancé called sobbing, asking if she could come over. She began telling us of the lies and deception, of her suspicion that he was smoking pot, which had just been confirmed that evening, after she’d already caught him a couple of weeks before and had told him it was a deal breaker if he ever did it again. We advised her that she had no choice but to break the engagement—that the last thing she wanted was to be married to an addict.

Before Walker came to see us the next day, we prepared as much as we could by praying and researching as much as possible about marijuana use and addiction. And after praying for wisdom to know what to do, we asked God to use Google to help us find help and resources.

So, when he came over, we hugged him while he cried. He told us he was sad for disappointing us. He said he felt like the black sheep in our family. Wally told him we have multicolored sheep, and we love them all. He cried about losing his fiancé. And we mostly listened. And we asked open-ended questions to get him to share his story to help us understand when it all started, when he first tried pot, what motivated him, how often he did it, what he gained from it.

And in light of how important it was for him to be independent and how important he said his fiancé was to him, and him knowing that he risked losing all of that by smoking pot, we wanted to understand what made it worth the risk.

He talked freely as far as we could tell. He told us the friends he’d smoked with and how it would betray his trust if we said anything to their parents, so we told him we wouldn’t, though we often prayed for them and wondered if we’d made the right decision. (By the way, he explained to me that whenever people his age talked about “smoking,” they always meant “smoking pot,” not cigarettes.)

drug-addiction-are you an addict

 

He talked about being depressed and how it helped him feel better. And how he’d been smoking about 5-6 times a day for months. He’d struggled with an upper respiratory infection he’d not been able to get rid of, and I said maybe that had something to do with it. He said he’d add a little weed to his sweet tea and all his friends loved it. He said he’d thought about quitting and had stopped for maybe five days while he was so sick, but then started back.

I asked if that didn’t sound like an addict.

marijuana-thumb legalizationHe argued that it should be legalized, that it was not as bad for the body as alcohol, all the typical arguments. We had many conversations along those lines where Wally and I tried to be reasonable and really listen to him rather than just react give a knee-jerk reaction. Our biggest concern was not marijuana itself, but the root of why we were even having the conversation—why he even wanted to smoke.

I shared with him my memories of before I came to know the Lord, before I began to have a personal relationship with Christ, before I came to grasp how great and deep and wide and strong His love for me was and made Him the central focus of my life, where I completely surrendered all my thoughts, desires, and actions to Him. Before that time, I smoked pot regularly. I was a wild party girl at Ole Miss. But I shared with him how once I came to know the Lord, I completely lost the desire for all of that, so it was just hard for me to understand why he would want to smoke.

But Walker wasn’t sure about his faith, so we also talked to him about the Lord, again trying to ask questions and listen and not beat him over the head.

Hold On for a Ride that Would Rip Our Hearts and Test Our Faith
Walker’s journey took us on the most vicious roller coaster ride imaginable the rest of 2016 and early 2017. Had we known what we were in for, we would have buckled up and held on for dear life. But we never knew when we were about to come crashing down the next hill or get our hearts yanked around. Thankfully, God had us securely in His grip the whole time, even when we didn’t feel His presence at all.

On April 10, 2017, I wrote the following in my prayer journal:
Oh Lord, how I praise You. How I thank You for this time with You. And how sad I am that I haven’t made myself write the past few days. What a roller coaster it has been. Thank You for Your grace that has carried me.

 “Around 12:15 AM Thursday night, Wally and I were awakened from a sound sleep by his phone ringing. I heard Wally answer it, and it sounded like he was crying. In all the years we’ve been married, I have not heard him cry, nor seen him cry. Ever. And I heard him say, “Why have you done this?” I can’t remember what else he said. He may have asked that question a couple of times, and at that point, I guessed it was Walker.

 “I didn’t know if he was in a ditch somewhere. Or if he’d left for Nashville and was calling in desperation because of the loss of Beau (his four-month-old German shepherd best friend, who’d been his constant companion since his engagement ended), and if he’d just decided it was too much…

 “The simplest and most likely is usually the right one—the one I didn’t want to believe because I wanted to trust him, and he’d promised me he wouldn’t smoke any more.

 genius-pipe-smoked-min“But as a dog returns to its vomit, so Walker returned to his sin. When he came here (to French Camp, where Wally and I serve as houseparents in a boys’ dorm with about ten boys, ages 6-11), he was at the bottom—as he admitted. And we told him he had a choice to make. We had hoped he would choose You, Lord…

 “Lord, it is astounding to me that he could see Your provision for him—in how FCA provided him a place to live and food—completely free, and that You would give him this new awesome job with Pepsi with this great boss making more money than he has ever made with a company he’s impressed with, and that he would hear me say how whether he thinks it’s stupid or not, it is illegal to smoke pot in MS, and if he decides he wants to do that, to please just move somewhere that it’s legal. That he’s had this job three weeks and he has just gotten his second check and decided to do that.

Walker and Beau puppy

“Lord, is that why You took Beau from him?

“Was all this a part of Your saying to him, ‘You shall not make for yourself an idol.’ That if he was going to worship weed—if he was going to look for joy and happiness in pot or Beau or independence or anything other than You, that You were going to take it from him?

 

 “So, what happened was that Walker had gone to Kosciusko and had a drink and then got lost trying to get back to FCA and made a U-turn on a double yellow line where he thought no one was around, but 10 seconds later, he saw blue lights. And he’d smoked like 15 minutes earlier. So, he had maybe 8-9 grams on him and two pipes. So, he was arrested for a DUI, paraphernalia, possession, and given a ticket for the illegal U.

 “He couldn’t leave the Leake County Jail in Carthage until 6:00AM, so Wally and I tried to go back to bed around 2:00AM, setting our clocks for 4:30AM so I could leave by 5:00. Wally would have to wake the boys at 6:00, so I had to be the one to go.”

 I prayed and cried the entire hour drive. Wishing I had a friend I could talk to, in addition to the Lord. I hated that it was 5:00 in the morning. Then I remembered that my brother and sister-in-law are not only in Eastern Time, they are early risers. So, I tried to call. Not getting an answer, I left a message, and Tiffany called back as I waited for the detention center to open. It looked more like a prison than a jail, with it’s rows of barbed wire looped around the top of the very well lit chain-link fence. Evidently one side is a jail and the other side is a prison.

 “Walker had given us the number of a bail bondsmen, but I didn’t know you could call them 24/7, and I hated to wake her in the middle of the night, so I waited until 5:45 to call. The bond was $475, plus $25 cash jail fee, which I ‘happened’ to have with me. Thank You, Lord. That in itself was pretty amazing since neither Wally nor I keep cash on us most of the time. Two $10s and a $5 exactly. Thank You so much.

 “The total for the fines is $1800—or just about. Which he has to pay when he goes to court. Lord, we always prayed our kids would get caught. Thank You. Now please chase him to You.

 jail-handcuffs“He said he didn’t get much sleep. The cell had no cots, just a cement ledge just wide enough to sit on, and it was freezing in there—that he was so cold he spent most of the night huddled in a little ball in a corner with his knees tucked up under his shirt trying to stay warm.

 “Two other guys in orange jump suits were in there with him. One was evidently mentally ill and mumbled all night, and spit up into a drainage hole all night long as if he were vomiting. The other had been sitting when Walker walked in, and as soon as Walker sat down, he got up and came over to him and said, ‘You’re in my seat.’ So, Walker told him he was sorry and didn’t know, and got up, and then the guy sat where Walker had been sitting, and Walker went and sat where the guy had been sitting, and that’s where they stayed.

 “They fed them breakfast around 4:00, which consisted of pancakes, grits and bacon, but Walker said it was all so nasty, he couldn’t eat any of it except the pancakes.

 “The tow for his car was another $270. We drove out in the country to the wrong place outside of Kosciusko first, and then had to go all the way back like we were going back to Carthage, so we drove almost two hours just to get his car.

 “Walker called his boss and told him he had a personal emergency and would be late. So he was able to go to work.

 “But one of the conditions of Walker being at French Camp was no drugs. We knew and he couldn’t stay at FCA. It’s a school, and now he had a criminal record. So, while I was gone, Wally went to tell Bruce, (our supervisor, the V.P. of Student Life).

When I got home around 10:00AM, Wally and Stewart Edwards, FCA President, were sitting at the table. Stewart was so awesome. He cried with us and prayed with us, and at the end gave us his cell and said to let him know if we needed anything.

 “I talked to G.M. who told me about their son and how similar his situation was, and that they were able to get him court-ordered to go to rehab with Teen Challenge. I talked to Tiff who told me about Renew, a ministry of Calvary Chapel—that has a 99% success rate, and the guys she knows who’ve come out of it, and how Christ-centered it is. It truly is a worship problem, Lord. She also told me how hard it is to get into. Then Jad sent me the contact info, and I tried to call 2X and left messages, and amazingly, the guy called me back about 2 hours later.

 “And then he said to ask Walker to call him. His name is Andrew and he said Walker’s story sounds so much like his—also a middle child with high achieving older sibling. Also a college drop-out. So Wally and I met Walker at 2:00 that Saturday to help him move his stuff and to talk. Lord, we are amazed at how it went.

 Two Choices
Wally told Walker that we thought he had a problem, whether he thought he did or not. He told him we weren’t going to pay the almost $2,000 in court costs, that he didn’t know how he was going to make it, that it was only a matter of time before his boss found out if he tried to live out of his car, that he didn’t have money for rent or gas, that the money in the paycheck he’d just gotten was only enough to cover about half of what it cost to pay his bail, jail, and car tow.

Then Wally told Walker about Renew, a ministry of Calvary Chapel, Chattanooga. The guys in their recovery program spend six months working on a farm and then six months in town serving on their janitorial staff. He told him the time away with no pressures would probably be good for him.

Wally told him if he would agree to do that, it might be possible to get his fines reduced or suspended altogether, but even if not, if he would go and complete the program, we would do whatever we could to help him with costs.

At that point, we didn’t even know if a bed was available at Renew. And we told Walker that too. That we might need to look at other options. But we told him to go ahead and call Andrew, and we would pray he could get in.

Through a series of phone calls, I found out that the person in the legal system we needed to talk to was the prosecuting attorney, Doug Crosby. So, I called him and explained our situation and asked if he would be willing to ask for the judge to suspend his fines if he went through recovery. And he said he would be willing to ask for that, but that it would be the judge’s decision, ultimately, but that if Walker completed the program, he would be willing to ask.

Then he told us we should also get a defense lawyer to file a non-adjudication statute. We had no idea what that was, but found out afterwards that MS has a law that allows first-time non-violent offenders to have their record purged, which is HUGE. Talk about seeing the Good News of what Jesus has done pictured in real life!

So, then I talked to my dad, a retired attorney, who I knew occasionally had handled defense cases over the years to see if this was something he could do. He said he could find someone who could, AND he would pay the legal fees.

Still, though we saw all these answers on the one hand, every contact with Walker became more difficult as he seemed to become more and more angry and incensed about his circumstances.

From Walker’s perspective he was a victim. He talked of all the people he knew who did so much worse than he, who couldn’t believe he was going to recovery.

From our perspective, he was on a path of self-destruction, and every bad thing that happened seemed to be a consequence from a bad choice he’d made.

On April 13, 2017, I wrote the following in my prayer journal:
“You know how weary I am, how tired I am from our struggles with Walker. I don’t understand why You have not answered our prayers. I do not understand why we’ve been on this roller coaster with him the past two and a half years.

 “It’s as if I’m in labor with him all over again. I remember the pre-term labor and the trips to the doctor and hospital, wearing the TOKOS monitor twice a day and faxing my contraction report, the fear that he would come early and die, and the fear that I would not be able to bear the loss. Once we had him and he was so incredibly sweet and cuddly, the easiest and most pleasant of all the babies we’d had, and so incredibly loveable, it was all worth it.

 “I remember the fear I felt when he was taken from my arms at 3 months, first for the CT scan, and then for the nose surgery to remove the cyst—the fear that we could lose him—that You could take him from us and I wanted to be okay with that—for him not to be an idol. I never wanted to love him more than You.

 “I remember struggling with him in worship as a little guy—how he would scribble so loudly, it not only distracted me, but I imagined everyone within earshot. And it hit me that I could discipline him for the behavior. I could insist that outwardly, he go through the motions of worship—that he sit still and quiet—and I could discipline him if he didn’t. But I could not make him worship. I could not control his mind or heart. Only You could give him a heart and mind that wanted You. I prayed that You would.

 “I pray again now, and I plead it. Would You remove from him his heart of stone and give him a heart of flesh and move him to seek You and follow You with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength—that he would tell others about You? That we might enjoy sweet fellowship with him? That You might use him greatly for Your kingdom?

“It seems I am always on the verge of tears these days. It’s hard not to look at what I can see. I see a young man who is living in his foolishness and rebelliousness and doesn’t seem to care. He thinks it’s ridiculous that he’s going to rehab. He’s going, not because he wants to, but because he doesn’t see he has any other choice.

 “Lord, would You use the court trial to help him appreciate more of what the gravity and serious of all this means. I think of how Phil Bivens told me that in TN it would be a mandatory 48 hours jail time, and the way he’s behaving, I almost wonder if it would do him good to go back to jail. He keeps thumbing his nose at the law as if he’s above it somehow. So even when he got back on his feet, he turned right around and did the very thing he said he wouldn’t do—smoke pot in a state where it’s illegal.

 “Thank You that he got caught. Thank You that he got to spend a night in jail.

 “Lord, it’s like he’s just going from one empty cistern that can’t hold water to another. And why? Ultimately because he doesn’t want Your authority in his life. Oh Lord, would You break him down? Would You break him open? Only You can do that.

 On Fri, April 14, 2017, I wrote the following in my prayer journal:
“Oh Father, thank You that You are my Father, that You love me, that You are always working what’s best for me, even when I can’t see it or don’t feel it. Please help me to believe it. I’m having such a hard time right now. And yet You keep showing up. You keep providing. You keep carrying me.

 “Yesterday and the day before, You drew me to pray Ezekiel 36:26-27 for Walker. I think even before we went to see The Case for Christ—maybe? I remember thinking as soon as she prayed those verses for Lee, thinking, YES—pray those for Walker. And I prayed them for him right then during the movie.

 “Maybe then I wondered if I’d prayed those verses before. Verses that have meant so much to me ever since the first time I ever read them because I felt they so beautifully described what You did in my life that day in Hefley Hall, room 109—the day I surrendered—gave my life to You.

 “Oh Lord, that is what I long to see Walker do—completely surrender—to quit bowing up in rebellion towards You—towards us. How can he on the one hand say he’s got the best parents in the world, and then turn around and treat us like we are literal doo doo or garbage—something to be stomped on or turn his nose at? He has used us. We have let him. He is our son, Lord. What would You have us do?

 Renew Farm 58“Please open up Renew today so that we can take Walker there tomorrow. It would be so nice to have the peace of knowing he’s there and settled.

 “And Lord, most of all, will You break him open and turn him to You, just as You did me? Would You enable him to know and believe that You really are there and would You help him to surrender to You?

 “Father, thank You for this chapter—10—in The Broken Way, and how it shows me my unwillingness and my resentfulness toward Walker and the suffering he’s caused. Thank You for the reminder that love is patient—willing to suffer long. Help me to join You in this suffering for Walker, to know what that means. Help Wally and me to keep drawing near without enabling him and to know how. Please forgive me for not loving him like he needed—for not being the mother he needed. Would You pour in the balm and oil and soothe all the hurts where I’ve failed him, Lord?”

 God Answers Specifically
Just a few hours after I’d prayed the prayers recorded above, Wally got a call from the director of Renew. Not only did they have a bed and could take Walker the Saturday of Easter week, but normally, they require a face-to-face interview for admission, but Andrew liked Walker so much from their conversation, that they were going to skip that and go ahead and admit him. AND, we could take him the next day!

Not only that, since it was Easter weekend, all our boys in the dorm where we serve as house parents were going home, so we had the weekend free and wouldn’t have to worry about finding a substitute to stay with them while we took him.

Though he was angry, and on Friday night said a number of things that seemed like he was trying to provoke me, God preserved us on the drive over to Chattanooga. He made it loud and clear I should keep my hopes and expectations low when he said, “Don’t expect to see any major changes, Mom.”

Wally and I both wrote him as soon as we left to make sure he’d have mail that week. They allow immediate family only to visit the third Saturday of every month. They are not allowed to have cell phones or any devices, so they have no contact with the outside world. They are only allowed to correspond with immediate family, and all letters are read to make sure both outgoing and incoming mail will not disrupt the work God is doing in their lives through the program.

On Fri, April 21, 2017, I wrote the following in my prayer journal:
“Oh Father, thank You so much that though I am faithless, You remain faithful. I am sorry for doubting You. For doubting that You will work things out for the best. And yet, I’m staring in the face of Walker’s bad choices—3 years of foolish choices where he has not learned from all the negative consequences and has thumbed his nose at You and all Your goodness to him.

 “James 1:17 Thank You so much for leading me to think about this verse today—how that every gift is from You. Lord, I think about how in the midst of the struggles and wilderness and darkness, that You continue giving.

 “Thank You that Wally and I had the money to pay for the rest of Walker’s tow and bail and jail fee without it putting a financial strain on us, that You brought a buyer for our house and have moved us to save and people to give so that we have a financial cushion so that in the midst of Walker’s bad decisions, we are okay financially.

 “Thank You for my friendship with G.M and that in Your providence, they’ve walked this road before us, and knew of the possibility of having fines suspended if Walker went through recovery.

 “Thank You for the friendship with the DA in Dburg, that he was able to help me in knowing what to do, and thank You for getting me in touch with the right person—the prosecuting attorney in Kosciusko. Thank You that though he is the prosecuting attorney, that he told me about the non-adjudication statute that can expunge Walker’s record of criminal charges because it was a non-violent crime and first-time offense. Thank You that he told us we needed a defense attorney—which we would not have gotten otherwise.

 “Thank You that my dad is an attorney and that he led us to Cody and was even willing to pay the legal fees. Thank You that Cody was able to work it out so that Walker doesn’t have to go to court until after the 12-month program.

 “Thank You that when I went to get Walker, it was between 5-6AM, and the only person I could think to call was Tiff. Thank You for the Renew program and the lives You’ve changed and saved through that program. Thank You that Jad was able to get the contact number and that Andrew called me back within hours of my calling him.

 “Thank You that they had a bed. Thank You that they could take Walker Saturday. Thank You that we had already made plans to go to Nashville, and that it worked out that we could have just a little time with Jad and Tiff and then spend a couple of nights with Forest and Elizabeth, and hear such a great message from Jeff Sunday and take the Lord’s Supper and visit with Jeff and Cathy.

 “Thank You for Dr. Tom Manning and how he helped us order Walker a new set of contact lenses.

 “How I pray that You would bless all those who have blessed us. I thank You that each of these gifts have come from You—who James calls here, the ‘Father of lights,’ reminding us that the first words You spoke were “Let there be light,” and the light shone into the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it.

 “You have shown Your light into our darkness. Forgive me for focusing on the darkness and not on the light. Because You are the light. Be Thou my Vision, Oh Father of Lights—with Whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

 “With You there is always light and no darkness at all. Now, will You not finish the work by shining Your light in Walker’s heart?

 On Mon, April 25, 2017, I wrote the following in my prayer journal:
“James 1:17-18 …here in v. 18, I read, ‘In the exercise of His will, He brought us forth by the Word of Truth so that we might be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.’ And I’m reminded of other verses like the one in Romans that says ‘faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of God.’ It is Your Word that You use to give us faith. And I think of how You’ve grown and established my faith by leading me to study it, read it, meditate on it and memorize it.

 “And I’m so thankful that Renew is Word-based…Would You please open his eyes and mind and heart to receive Your Word?

Since I’m finding much repetition in my prayer journal, I’m only selecting excerpts…

On Tues, April 26, 2017, I wrote the following in my prayer journal:
“I pray again for Walker as he begins the second week of working on the Farm. Would You soften and tenderize his heart, even as he plows and tenderizes the ground he farms? And would You bring a rich harvest that would bless many even as that farm blesses many throughout that area?

Crops at Farm

 

 “Father, over the course of Walker’s life, I’ve seen him be like the footpath, hearing the message with his ears, but his mind and heart so hard that the devil came and took it away, preventing him from being saved, (not necessarily eternally), or at least having life in You now.

 “I’ve seen him be like the rocky soil, hearing the message and receiving it with joy, but because it doesn’t have deep roots, he believes for a while, and then when he faces temptation, he falls away.

“And I’ve seen him be like the thorny soil—receiving the message—but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And that is also my fear about now—that we may even see some good fruit come from him being in this Renew program, but that when he gets out, that message will be crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life and he will forget You.

“Oh Lord, please cultivate in him good rich soil where Your Word and his faith can take deep root. That he would have a good noble fresh heart who hears Your Word and patiently produces a huge harvest.

 A Word from Walker
The first letter we received from Walker, was 2-3 weeks after he arrived. He talked about struggling every day with doubt and disbelief, but said, “I am trying my best to keep my heart open and praying daily for God to show Himself to me and meet me in my disbelief.” We were encouraged just to read that he was praying that for himself!

He also wrote in that letter, “I have a lot of time to spend in my own head with my thoughts. It’s very easy for me to think about all the reasons that I want to simply walk away from the farm….I have to be in constant control of my mindset. Sometimes I let my thoughts slip away and roll down a steep hill of sadness and negativity, thinking about all that I have lost and the things I could have done differently…”

 He told Wally, “I wish you were here to hear me speak so highly of you. About your wisdom and ability to teach. I feel ashamed that I haven’t told you myself, but I respect you more than you can possibly imagine. You are such a good and clear example of what a man of God should look like. I truly believe that God blessed me with some of the best parents…”

 And he went on to both of us, “I am so sorry for all the pain and stress I put you and mom through. I was unbelievably selfish to try to go back to my old habits behind your back, after all you’ve done to help me.”

Light Begins to Dawn
His next letter was around the second week in May:
“My time at the farm has been a struggle, but it’s definitely getting easier. I really think that my prayers daily are being answered in regard to asking God to give me courage and strength and wisdom and a heart to serve and submit…I also pray for both of you and each of my siblings every night before I go to sleep. I pray that God will give both of you strength and encouragement and comfort, because I know that the work you do on a daily basis is far from easy and it gives me the utmost respect and admiration for the godly servants and examples that both of you are. Those boys are blessed beyond measure to also have you in their lives filling the important role of parents and teachers. You have taught me so much about what it means to give tough and unconditional love when it’s needed the most. You should never ever feel like a failure as parents, because both of you are truly an inspiration, and I know for a fact that the people around you would agree….

 “While at the farm, there is a set reading list we are allowed and encouraged to read from. A number of these books are by a pastor named Andy Stanley. Since y’all read a lot, you probably already know who that is, but I didn’t. Apparently I had already read some of his work when Dee gave me his book The Principle of the Path. Anyway, there is a particular book of his that I would recommend and encourage both of you to read called It Came From Within. You can probably finish it in less than a week even with your hectic schedule. In this book that is primarily about heart change and looking at your own heart, Stanley discusses 4 major reasons that can cause the heart to be ‘sick’: anger, guilt, greed, and jealousy. The one that convicted me the most is guilt.

 “I have acted selfishly and poorly towards so many people, primarily those that I love the most. I know that through Christ my sins towards others are forgiven, but one point Stanley makes is that often times repenting to God is only a temporary relief for our guilt, like Tylenol for a broken finger. To truly conquer your guilt, the main antidote is confession, not only to God but also to the people you’ve done wrong. It’s no doubt to any of us that I’ve done both of you terribly wrong, and I am truly and deeply sorry.

 “I’m sorry that I used both of you for my own selfish gain. I’m sorry that I took for granted the love you so graciously give me when I do absolutely nothing to deserve it. I’m sorry I’ve broken promises, and lied to you and deceived you over and over again. The way I acted said I don’t care about anybody but myself, and it brings me so much shame. I know I that I have caused great pain and suffering and stress in both of your lives as a result of my selfish actions. You did nothing to deserve the hardship I put you through, and I hope that neither of you blame yourselves for my failures and foolishness; it’s all on me. I have acted with total disregard to the feelings of the two people who love me the most and have done everything in their power to give me a good and happy life.

 “It is unspeakable joy and blessing to know without a doubt that you both love me in a way that you would immediately forgive me after all the harm I’ve done and pain I’ve caused. I know that I have broken both of your hearts in so many ways, and I have no excuse. I am truly sorry and I want to ask for forgiveness from both of you for all of my selfish wrongdoings towards you. I want to be the best son I can be not only because of what Christ has done for me, but also because of what both of you have done for me. I love you because you first loved me; love that has never waivered. I want to make you both proud of the man that I will become, and for both of you to take pride knowing that you played a crucial role in my life that will shape me into whatever God has in store for my future. You are the best role models in my life for the family that I one day hope to lead. I thank God every day for choosing you as my parents. He gave me some of His best, because He always knew that’s what I would need.

 “You are both an inspiration and encouragement to me daily. I reread the letters you’ve sent…I love my family and feel so incredibly blessed to be a part of it…God is answering all of your prayers for me, of that I’m certain.

Life on the Farm
He wrote me a very sweet letter for Mother’s Day, and his next told about life on the farm: “Every morning at 6:40AM, the lights in the bunkhouse come on. But most of the guys are already up. From 7:00AM to 7:45 everybody is downstairs ready and quiet to do devo. Any getting up or making noise during this time is highly discouraged. Then we get dressed/ready for the day and make our beds and all meet in the dining room for breakfast around 8:30. Breakfast rotates from cereal and bagels, eggs and sausage, biscuits and gravy, homemade oatmeal, or a mixture of any of the above. My favorite is the biscuits with strawberry jelly. I could eat 6 of them, but we usually only get 2. However for most meals we usually have the option for seconds, which I almost always go for. I’m gaining weight at almost the same rate as when I first came to French Camp, a pound a day. I really think I could hit 200 lbs before it’s all said and done, which was my original goal to hit by June. Right now I’m at about 182 from the 170 I was when I got here.

 (Note: At 6’3”, Walker shared with us while he was with us at French Camp how he’d always been embarrassed about his weight. When he first arrived at FC, he hovered around 160-165.)

Walker & Abigail cow“After breakfast everybody disperses to do their chores and meet back to start work around 9:15. Right now my chore is to milk the milk cow, Abigail. This chore is done twice a day, once in the morning and once after dinner. There are 2 milk teams of 2 people each, so a milk team goes to milk every other day. In the morning I get up around 6:20 every other day and go milk with my milking buddy, L. Who is also 21….Drug addiction is the most popular reason guys are here, but there are a few alcoholics and some guys who just want to commit their lives to Christ and learn and grow through the farm. But we are all broken men in need of a Savior, and having that in common certainly makes us all equal brothers in our struggles.

 “Anyway, L and I head out to the cows with the milk pail, some soap water to wipe off Ab’s udders, and some oil to put on them. We tie Abs up and set down 2 buckets on either side of her and clean off her udders, then oil them and put some udder butter on our hands to help the process. Then we milk her! It usually takes about 20 minutes before she’s empty. Once we get back with the milk, all we do to it is run it through a grated filter to get out the flies and/or poop, then it goes in the fridge to be drunk! It’s actually some pretty delicious milk, but you know I love milk any way. All in all, it’s a pretty cool process…

 “There are several jobs that people are assigned. Most guys start out in the garden, which is where I am. A typical day would consist of scuffle hoeing weeds, laying down tarps, planting stuff, or a mixture and sometimes other odd jobs. Soon we will be harvesting which will have us very busy. I’ve also helped out with the landscaping crew, weed-eating and push-mowing. I push a non-self-propelled push mower for 8 hours on Wednesday, and man, was it a workout. That’s another thing, we’re not allowed to workout until after we graduate. Leadership views building our bodies as a potential idol and distraction, which makes sense. Regardless, all the hard work makes everybody ‘farm fit,’ so there’s not a whole lot of complaint.

 “Other jobs that are assigned include animals, kitchen/laundry, landscaping, and ‘houphouse,’ which is kina the birthplace of all the garden plants. It’s sort of a green house that nurtures baby plants until they’re ready to be planed in the garden. I’ve helped out there a few times, but it’s very detailed work that often times requires plenty of patience.

 “We eat lunch at 12, which is typically something like PB&J, tacos, ham and cheese sandwiches, chicken salad sandwiches, quesadillas, or hotdogs. Usually with chips on the side. We drink water most of the time but sometimes have kool-aid or Gatorade mixed for dinner. We go back to work until around 4-4:30 when we shower, and then have dinner at 5:30. Dinner is always the best meal of the day. Meals range from hamburger and fries to taco salad or spaghetti or lasagna or stir-fry or pot pic, almost always delicious. We also get desert 2-3 nights a week…Needless to say, we eat pretty good here. Mixed with the hard work, and it is hard, it’s a perfect recipe for weight gain like I want, so that’s definitely a blessing.

 “Every night after dinner we some something at 7PM, 3 nights a week are group Bible study type discussions, Wednesdays we’ve been watching an Andy Stanley video called Love, Sex, and Dating, which is pretty interesting. Friday or Saturday night is movie night, and on Sunday night we watch the service recorded that morning at Calvary Chapel.

 “Other than that, we pretty much just hang out! We read, play cards, play ping-pong, take naps, or just sit around and talk during down time. Down time is any time we aren’t working or at a scheduled meeting….

Yeah…But Is this Change for Real?
As our correspondence continued, we continued to be encouraged. I read his letters again and again. I wanted to believe everything he wrote. But in light of the past three years, it was difficult for me not to be somewhat skeptical. We’d see him show momentary light before. How did we know this was going to be any different? I didn’t write Walker about my doubts at this point. The last thing I wanted to do was anything to discourage him. But I continued praying for him.

On Tues, May 16, 2017, I wrote in my prayer journal:
“Father, how I pray again for Walker. Thank You for his letter and for the change that appears to have come over him. Lord, so many times I think we should have named him Jacob because he has been such a deceiver. Lord You made Jacob into Israel—Your chosen people. Would You do that for Walker? Would You cause him to live up to the words he professes? Would You continue the work that You’ve begun?

 Visiting the Farm
Walker & us first family visit at FarmOur first visit with him was Saturday, May 20. Family visitation is the third Saturday of each month from 9-12 EST. He gave us a tour of the farm, and I took pictures and recorded him explaining and describing what they did so I could share with others. He was so different from the last time we’d been with him.

The best part of the visit was when he asked our advice about something. I couldn’t remember him ever wanting to listen to our advice, much less ask for it. After we told him our thoughts, he totally floored us by his response. He said, “That’s really good. I’m going to do that.” Then he told us how just that morning he was reading in Proverbs about how “without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors, they are established.”

The fact that he was not only reading God’s Word, but applying it, doing it, as James 1:22 says, brought such confirmation to my heart that God was doing a genuine work in him.

At that point, I felt confident enough to share with him about my initial skepticism—because I could also share with him why I had been so encouraged by our visit with him. Still, I wanted to challenge him some. My fear is that once he completed the program next Easter, he would wonder himself if everything that happened was genuine. I would prefer that he ask those questions and face those doubts now, while he was there. So, I wrote him.

On Tues, May 23, 2017, I wrote in my prayer journal:
Thank You for the time with Walker Sat—for the visit to Farm 58. For seeing in the flesh how well he’s doing and how You have anointed that place. Thank You for the glorious day of sunshine and cool and health that we could enjoy each other and Your creation and walk and see all the crops and animals and hear him tell of his work. Thank You for the people You have ther—for their vision and how You are blessing it and changing men’s lives through it. Thank You for how You are changing Walker.

 “Oh Lord, Holy Spirit, Father, Jesus—how I pray this work is genuine. That any shred of him that is people-pleasing or just going with the program just to get along, Lord, that You would cause him to want to be true from the inside out. To be honest. To be a man of integrity. I think of Ps. 51:6: ‘Surely You desire Truth in the inner parts. Teach me wisdom in the inmost place.’ And I think of Ps. 86:11: ‘Teach me Your ways and I will walk in Your Truth; give me an undivided heart that I may fear Your name.’ Oh Lord, how I pray that You would teach him to fear You, for that is the beginning of wisdom.

From Walker’s Own Lips…
We received a couple of other very encouraging letters that I may share later, but at this point, I want to share Walker’s response, which we received the first full week of June, to my probing him with questions about the changes in his life:

In reference to some of what you’ve been talking about, Mom, about what makes what I’m going through real or just going through the motions, honestly I would say that my faith has been real before, but very heavily suppressed. I think Dad hit the nail on the head when he told me my disbelief was not logical, but moral. So really my disbelief has been most prominent in probably the last 3-4 years, mostly because I didn’t like feeling guilty for the way I wanted to live. I guess I figured I wouldn’t feel convicted if I didn’t believe God was real.

 “But just this short amount of time here at the farm has brought me to face the reality of my blatant rebellion against God. And like Mom said, for probably the first time ever, I’m beginning to understand how the Gospel gives me the freedom to observe the law. The book Dad gave me on Romans (Romans for You by Tim Keller) has helped enormously with me grasping that the free gift of guaranteed justification actually produces the motivation to want to follow the law. I feel like I’ve always just had a very broad understanding of grace, even though I’ve been taught good theology most of my life.

 “I don’t know. I guess the only ‘logical’ answer I can think of is that the Holy Spirit is working on me, and I’m actively accepting it and seeking more growth every day. The ‘belief’ has always been there, but this is the first time that my understanding of the Gospel has really given me a strong desire to try to follow the law rather than reject it. Not to say I don’t struggle, because I do and always will to a degree. But thank you for all of your prayers, because they are definitely being answered.

 Second Family Visit
Wally and I couldn’t go visit Walker in June because of our commitments at French Camp. The students are here for 5 weeks, and don’t go home, and there are no weekends off, but it’s all hands on deck, with activities planned every weekend.

Thankfully, Elizabeth and Forest and Ian went to visit.

And More Correspondence…
As our letters to and from Walker continued, God continued encouraging us in the things he shared with us—his concern for the spiritual well-being of others, how he was praying for them, his thinking about his purpose and how God would use him. He talked about wanting to be an encouragement to others.

In the midst of that correspondence I shared with him some material I’d gathered for my new position at FCA as Student Life Coach Coordinator, including a spiritual gift test. And then we were blown away as he shared with us about getting to lead worship with the guys at the farm, which meant praying for everyone as a group, picking a playlist of worship songs that he played, and then praying again at the end.

He also shared that Hosea 2:14-17 is his new favorite verse, which Wally had given to him, and had written below, “This is kind of a summary of your story, isn’t it? And all of ours.”

Walker wrote, “It’s such a beautiful picture of Christ’s love for the church and for me individually. God won back and led me ‘into the desert’ (Renew) and is now speaking tenderly to me. He made my valley of trouble into a gateway of hope. And now I’m giving myself back to Him, as I did when I was young, when I first understood God’s love for me. I can now have an intimate relationship with God as ‘my husband’ instead of ‘my master.’ And now He is wiping away the idols of my life and turning my heart towards Him and His will for my life. I love it.” 

 Third Family Visit
In July, we made our third visit and were excited to have not only Ian, but Jad and Tiff and their family also. Though it rained almost the whole time, it was great to see him and hear him talk and see the difference. He also gave us a letter to send Will, since he doesn’t have access to international mail. And we amazingly were able to get a signal, which we totally did not expect, and we were able to FaceTime with Will, so it was super fun for the brothers to visit.

We won’t be able to go back in August because school will have just started, and we won’t be able to take time off, but already not only my brother’s family, but also my sister’s family, plans to go see him! AND, Will comes home from England on August 4, so he plans to go too!!

Walker still has almost 9 months to go until Easter. At some point, they will move him off the farm to downtown where he will become part of the janitorial team at Calvary Chapel.

I plan to continue posting how he’s doing. But for now, this is just the beginning of a glorious testimony of what God has done and is doing in Walker’s life.

Our prayer is that it encourages you.

I have talked to many people who have gone through or are currently going through similar storms. My prayer is that God will use what He has done in our lives and our family to give you hope.

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