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Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Contagious Comfort and Mercy of God

One busy Saturday afternoon I was patrolling the local mall parking lot in my police cruiser. It was warm, so I had my windows down enjoying the fall air. As I drove though the lot I heard a loud piercing cry echoing like a sound bite from a horror movie.

At first I thought it was someone just playing around, and then I heard it again, and again. I began looking around the parking lot for someone being disemboweled because that was the sound I imagined would come with being ripped apart. Not knowing where it was coming from or what was happening; I called 911 on my radio and reported a “disturbance” in the parking lot.

As I rounded the next corner I found the source of the commotion. There in the middle of the parking lot sat a full grown man with his socks and shoes off hitting himself in the face and screaming uncontrollably. Hovering over him was an elderly gentleman trying his best to collect the socks and shoes and get him on his feet again.

The man sitting on the parking lot was much larger than the elderly gentleman and could not be budged. A confused crowd was forming around the two and at first sight I thought it was a horrible fight between two grown men. I notified 911 with my location and turned on my overhead emergency lights as I rolled up to the scene. Not until I got closer did I figure out what was going on.

The man on the ground was very obviously disabled and the elderly man was his father. I immediately cleared the crowd and asked the father if he needed any assistance. The elderly father explained to me that he had picked his son up for a day visit from the group home where he lived.

“I knew better than to go at it alone, but sometimes he does really well. I wanted to spend some time with him so I brought him to the mall. He was fine until we got to the parking lot. When he gets upset he takes off his socks and shoes in protest.” said the father. “His name is Donald”.

Donald was about 6’3” and weighed about 220 pounds. He was in his mid 30’s with a rough complexion and many self-inflicted battle scars. His emotions seemed to calm slightly when I arrived at the scene, but his face was still contorted with anxiety as he fumbled with his socks. Donald looked like he could handle himself—along with his father and me.
I knelt down to his eye level (even though he would not make eye contact) and said, “What’s going on buddy?” Again, the father began nervously explaining to me what was wrong with his son. I stood up and listened intently but all I could focus on was the hopeless defeat that saturated this man’s weary eyes and exhausted expression.

“I’m getting too old for this” the man said with a broken voice. I was guessing he was probably in his mid to late 60’s but looked to be 80. He was tall, thin, and frail with white balding hair, wearing a dark flannel shirt and blue jeans. He looked like an old farmer who had come to town in his pickup truck to get some supplies.

“I’m so tired.” He said as he turned away for a moment.

“I know what you are going through sir” I said, realizing how cliché it sounded after it left my mouth. “You do?” he said rather skeptically. “Yes, I do. I have a son just like your son. He’s much younger and not as big, but he has special needs just like your Donald and he displays very similar fits when he doesn’t get his way.”

I placed my hand on his shoulder, “And I know you’re tired.”

I knelt back down on Donald’s level and picked up his shoes and socks. I wasn’t sure how he would react to me invading his space and I fully expected to be kicked or punched by this large, confused man. I slowly unballed his sock and began putting it back on his foot. He extended his leg in a sort of surrender to let me know that he would comply. I rolled the sock gently over his toes to his heal and then up to his ankle. His pale, crooked feet felt cold and damp and his long sharp toenails were in need of a trim.

Probably true to his age-old routine, he extended the other foot for me to do the same. Once I got both socks on, I unlaced his large tennis shoes and one by one slipped them onto his feet. I then cinched them up and gave them a double tie like I had done for my own son so many times before.

A stark vision of Jesus washing His disciples feet flashed across my mind and I wondered if this was what He meant when He said, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”

After getting Donald ready to get back on his feet again, (in a strategic attempt to gain leverage) I asked the father what Donald really liked. “Chicken nuggets and coffee” he replied.

I turned back to Donald and asked, “How would you like your dad to take you to get some chicken nuggets and coffee buddy?” He gave a silent nod of approval and we helped him off the ground and into the truck.

After getting Donald buckled in the front seat, the elderly father returned to his side of the truck with a simple expression of gratitude. He shook my hand in appreciation and said “Thanks” in a broken tone drained by the emotion of the moment.

I shot back with, “No problem, I do this for a living.” We both smiled with a strong connection as I gave him a pat on the shoulder opening the driver’s side door for him to get in.

I knew from experience that he wasn’t thanking me for helping him or his son as much as he was being grateful for receiving empathy instead of sympathy. Sometimes just being aware that someone else knows—I mean really knows—what you are going through is enough to bring great comfort in the midst of great despair.

As the two men drove off the parking lot in the old pick up truck I watched as the weary dad lifted his arm and placed it around the shoulder of his son. A prodigal never finds love so satisfying and sweet as he finds it in the unconditional arms of his father.

I realized I had just experienced a divine appointment. In response, I stood for a moment on holy ground praising the God of mercy and comfort, asking for more strength for the future with my own son. My worshipful prayer sounded like this:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)


  1. Surely you did not expect me to get through this without crying? I've been reading your blog for a short while now...I am always blessed.

  2. ok, my new friend Greg, i rarely cry but you have me bawling. God BLESS you as you tenderly fulfill your calling in the powerful role of law enforcement. I praise God for your example of authority in Christ. And I wish you lived next door. How we fear a run-in with the law (my son is a wanderer) and yet you renew my hope that compassionate assistance is there. incredible story because it's true:)

  3. It was a divine appointment for both of you, I'm so glad you were there for Donald, and for his father.
    God is good, all the time.


  4. here via Whitestone ... so glad I came

  5. been reading you for about a month, i share most of your material on Facebook, encouraging all my friends to take time to read and consider what you have to say. thank you for your words, they are a blessing to me.

  6. Came here via Tim Challies' blog ~ beautiful.

  7. Thanks for posting this. We all need a reminder to show Christ to the world through our actions.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. This is a great post Greg. Thank you.

  10. Came here via Challies... Glad I did. Years ago I Worked with lower functioning adults in a sheltered workshop--some of the holiest moments of my life were there.

  11. I too came via Challies. A very encouraging reminder to live this day as a servant and not for myself.

  12. Amen and amen, dear brother. Thank you for this reminder of how broken we all are in this world that surely is not the way it's supposed to be; and also how great the love and power of the triune God are---I can't wait until Christ returns again in glory. Creation groans. One day, all will be well. Thanks again for your ministry. Your sister in Christ,
    Tara B.

  13. This is one of the finest pieces I have read in a long time. I read a good bit... and this is one of the finest pieces I have read in a long time. Thank you for this story and the insights that come with it. Well done.

  14. So touching. thanks for sharing this experience.

  15. Tremendously encouraging and edifying post. Thank you.

    Warmly in Christ,

  16. I also came via Challies, and I am bookmarking your blog and sending it to all my friends. The Lord is sending lots of prayers your way. Thank you for this unique, beautiful, and God-centered perspective!

  17. Thank you for sharing brother.

    Love in the Truth.

  18. Came via Challies as well for a wonderful start to a new day. Praise God and thank-you!

  19. Oh this is beautiful. I can't quite imagine your feelings as you saw what might have been a glimpse of your own future...and yet you reached into it with humility and love and self-sacrifice instead of pulling away.

    My two autistic sons (ages 14 and 12) are high-functioning, so there are differences relative to your situation, but I fully expect to be mothering needy adult "children" into my old age. I was 31 when I had my first son, so I was no "spring chicken" to start with. I have often faced the prospect of this lifelong draining with dread, I confess.

    But God is pouring out his grace, and it is enough. And you have provided a much-needed reminder that God's grace doesn't always come as an invisible, intangible balm applied to our hearts. Sometimes it comes with skin on. Thank you for letting Him wear your skin on this day.

    May God bless you and your family abundantly today!

  20. wow..thank you for sharing..

  21. Wow, it's great to read a story like this.

    So many times, the public's encounter with police is generally not positive, at least the times it's reported in the paper.

    I really appreciated hearing a story of how most imagine the Police to be, especially a Christian Police Officer.

    On another point, the different between sympathy and empathy cannot be emphasized enough.

    It is so true.

    Thanks again!

  22. I came via Chalies also, but glad I did. Lord bless you. It is a lesson for us all.

  23. Wonderful. Thanking our Lord for your divine appointment.

    (also via challies!)

  24. Thanks. I shared this with others. Came through Challies' link.

  25. Exactly what i need to remember as a pastor...
    sharing your story with others. thank you..

  26. I came here through T. Challies also. . . Excellent post! Very moving!

    God Bless,

  27. Dear Greg,
    Our son-in-law forwarded to us a link for your blog.

    I am deeply greatful to him, and our Great God, who loves and cares for us all, so very well.

    I will share the post with my wife this evening.

    I still have wet eyes as I type this reply.

    We too have a child with special needs, and the encouragement of others is so helpful.

    Keep loving and caring....


  28. Man, truley amazing. I came via Tim Challies. You sound like an amzing Man of God. I need folks like you in my life.

    Thomas S. Barnes

  29. I saw this posted on facebook by my pastor, all I can say is I'm glad I took time to read it. We are all that child and we want to cry and throw a tantrum when things don't go our way. Thank you for being the hand of Christ to this "child" and reminding us how patient He is with us everyday.

  30. I you would like to invite you to visit Spiritual Sundays http://bloggerspirit.blogspot.com
    Read some of the posts and consider linking yours. We need more men in our circle of Christian bloggers. P.S. I am a former Sp Ed teacher, now working as Recreational Therapist. So, I really enjoyed your blog!

  31. Dearest Officer Greg, my Mother sent this moving and exceptional story to me. If it wasn't for my Faith in My Lord and Jesus in my heart and the pure insight and gracious knowledge of our Holy Spirit plus the never ending support from My Mom, I wouldn't have known how to continue on day after day. Being a mother of 3 children, and my last child my daughter, who is about to turn 22 yrs old in about 10 days. I have raised my children in a single parent household, so when someone mentions the word "Lonely" or "Alone", I identify in a silent way of my own. My daughter is Develop Mentally Slow. I would volunteer in her Special Ed. Class as often as they needed me, she was only 3 yrs old when she began. And I have to tell everyone who reads this reply to your Blessed Appointment, which it so totally was. My message is this.... After I would be finished volunteering in my daughter Sp. Ed. Class for a party or whatever was asked of me, I remember this feeling with such over whelming emotion that as soon as I left the classroom on my way to my car, I would completely break down sobbing out of control unable to drive. The experience in the Moderate to Sever DISABLED,
    HANDICAPPED class touched me in such a manor that it broke me dwn to a state of being humble.. Humble in the presence of my God, a God that has givin me such a special gift. It's so true when they say, "God won't give you anything that you can't handle". Lean on Jesus- He will never forsake thee. I would be crying, sobbing tears of Thankfulness and feeling so Blessed that my precious daughter that God gave me to love, nurture, care for, that I was blessed by her Never ending SMILE- GOOD NATURE-LOVELY CHILD OF MY GOD, she was a blessing to everyone that met her. Everyone knows who Katie S. In our small town. Love just poor's out of her. I also felt a tremendeous sigh of relief leaving the Handicapped classroom. Because we need to be Thankful and to remember always not to wallo, stomp our feet, or say Oh, Woo is ME, poor ME!! Because it's not always about ME. Be grateful, Thankful for the circumstances and the life that you were givin, cuz Baby.....it could be "OH SO MUCH WORSE". and when I would look around that Classroom and see those other precious children all their pain and suffering they must endure here in our earthly bodies and their
    Parents tired, drawn discouraged face's. I would just look to the heavens and BE THANKFUL FOR THEIRS ALWAYS HOPE IN CHRIST! one day they will be made whole, bodies restored soaring up thru the clouds to meet The lord of all in the sky! Praise be to God!
    Let Go and Let God!!
    So, God Bless you kind Sir, a Man of God, a Man who upholds the Law's of both God's laws and Man's Laws. A man- a father- A loving Daddy. I thank you for sharing your story and letting US out their know WE ARE NOT ALONE!
    Proud to call you a Friend of Mine , your's always in Christ.
    Susie Coors Phelan, Ca

  32. All of God's children have special needs. Our Heavenly Father has enriched each of our lives with personal experiences through which we have the glorious opportunity to speak to the needs of others.

    2 Cor. 1:3-4
    Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; 4Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

    God bless you for showing us exactly what that means.

  33. that was a wonderful, touching read. God bless and protect you as you work and impact the lives of the people around you. and may He continue to empower you as a loving father too.

    via challies (everyone else is announcing they came via tim's blog, i feel strangely compelled to also do the same!)

  34. My sister just passed your blog to me today and I've been reading your posts with the greatest encouragement. Thank you for sharing your experiences with a Gospel perspective. It is a huge blessing for me to read, as my husband and I are also raising a child with special needs. Thank you so much!!! I'd like to link a few of your posts on my blog, if that's okay with you.

  35. How awesome. Thank you for sharing. Wow...

  36. I'm glad my friend Tim Challies called your blog to my attention this morning. I thought about the ways the story of your fatherhood reflects the story of His Fatherhood to this disabled son. You and I like a lot of the same books. If you ever get up north to Buckeye Land, I'd love to have coffee.

  37. Me too---thanks Tim. God bless you brother---isn't God wonderful? :-}

  38. Fantastic and moving story. It's wonderful to see how God works!

  39. This is one of the best blog I ever read, very well narrated.

  40. Greg, I, too, am in tears as I write this. You are a fantastic writer.

    My son is 17 years old and I can totally see this situation happening to us. I do fear the day when I am as old as Donald's father and find myself in his situation...
    Thank you so much for what you did for Donald and his father. I pray that when it's my turn someone like you will be there for us.

    I work part time in a church, and weekly the staff takes turns sharing a devotion. I started your article thinking, "oh, maybe this article could be the topic for my devotion", but too soon into it I was in tears.... I don't want to do that at work so I will have to move on and find something less emotionally charged to be my topic.

    Again, thank you so much for sharing this and for setting an example for others who might not know how to do what came naturally to you....

    Very Sincerely,
    Patty R

  41. Thanks Patty,

    Those who have already gone through the fire and experienced God's sufficient grace are best equipped to walk through the flames with others. God is preparing you for your own divine appointment(s) by equipping you, through the care of your son. Keep your eyes open, the opportunities to provide comfort in the shadows of His glory are all around.

    Thank you for your encouraging words.


  42. You made the morning and killed the anxiety :) Having several awesome young people with special needs , it is easy to pray for many things, a wholly separate matter to get the words through your head:)) You have another fan/ advocate, buddy, whatever the polite respectful term is.
    :) I found you through D. Debbaudt

    <3 to ALL Be safe

  43. Hello again Greg,
    My devotion at church is scheduled for next Tuesday. I have now had sufficient time to read and re-read your story to the point where I know I can do this w/o crying (I hope).

    Last weekend my daughter was home from college for the weekend and so the kids and I went out to run some errands and do some shopping. At the end of our all day excursion she wanted to go by WalMart to pick up some of their $5 movies. I decided that I could NOT go into WalMart with everyone and so we dropped her off at the front and then I, with my other two kids in the car drove away looking for a place to park while we waited. I pulled down the first isle and there appeared to be a fight breaking out between three men. My daughter was scared and insisted that I get away quickly. It did not take long to realize that one of the men had autism and was having a severe behavioral issue. There were actually four ment there, two caretakers and identical twin boys with autism. One of the boys was very calm and passive while the caretakers were trying to calm and restrain his brother. A crowd was forming around the men and people did not know what to do. I asked the caregivers if they needed me to call someone, but they had already done that. I debated whether I could get out of my car, having my own child with autism inside. He seemed to be okay and so I got out of my car and walked over to the boy who was screaming VERY loudly and hitting his head on what would have been the parking lot had his caregiver not taken off his tennis shoes and placed them beneath his head....
    When I got out of my car an observer came over and told me this "this man was severely autistic and I should not go near him". I explained that my own son has autism and has done the very same thing. I walked over to the young man and knelt down to him and started talking. I think the sound of a different voice startled him, he stopped screaming and looked up. I asked him how he was doing and he just stared. I told him that ".... he would be much more comfy in his nice warm car" to which he responded, "car". His caregivers immediately began talking about the car and how they should all get in the car, etc....
    The men, who were totally sweaty and exhausted, helped both boys into the car and headed on their way.
    It all came back to me as I opened my folder, preparing for next week, and saw your blog.

    Thank you, again, for doing what you do!
    Take care,

  44. Incredible! What a great story of God's providence and His equipping you with courage and tenderness for your divine appointment. Sounds to me like your devotion preparation is complete. Thank you for the inspiration and encouragement, and for being a "doer" instead of just an "observer".