The man lay perpendicular to and across the dashed center markings in the middle of the two lane highway. The location was, roughly speaking, five miles from the small town of Mayesville. It was a desolate spot on this warm July Sunday morning at 4 am. The night was at its darkest just before the dawn that comes early in midsummer.
The man lying in the road was Jack Skadigan. As to why he lay in the road that morning is the subject of this story, and, to explain it fully, we must jump back a few years.
Jack was born in Mayesville to a very young single mother, and his father was anybody’s guess. Jack’s mother was unprepared for life and its responsibilities. Responsibility was a load for other people to carry. Her upbringing gave her little, if any, moral training, and she passed that deficiency on to her child. She disappeared into the shadowy depths of the nightlife when Jack was sixteen. Not that it made much of an impact on his life. He was already flying down the road to devastation when she vanished.
You need to know that the town of Mayesville was a corrupt little town filled with citizens of small morals, small ambition, and certainly, small religious faith. The town was run by a mayor that had the sheriff’s department in his pocket. There were two churches that had seen better days and their members were few, self righteous, and had never seen better days. Gossip was the town’s industry. Nobody seemed in a hurry to get anywhere and nobody seemed to care as long as you didn’t threaten their position in the hierarchy. In other words, it was a small town slowly fading away. Nothing short of a miracle from God could save it or its people.
Upon his mother’s departure, Jack’s life changed little. He had been forced into the life of hand to mouth for most of his 16 years due to his mother’s, shall we say, habits. He found food and lodgings with his friends and their families. You see, he was a gifted athlete, and, in a small town like Mayesville, he was treated like a god. He stayed with friend’s parents who were flattered to have the town’s top football and basketball player in their home. Life was good, until…
Jack graduated from high school and headed to the state university on what is referred to as a big-time scholarship. Unfortunately, Jack had none of the discipline, morals, or family background to sustain and nourish his success in sports into life success. He quickly went astray with the help of drugs, no studying, in general, a big head. He was suspended from the football team and, with that, came the plunge into the small-town hell of a washed-out, has-been, former high school sports star.
Drugs became his pastime, then his occupation. Eventually, drugs became the straw that broke the camel’s back. With no family, no moral training, no friends but the drugs themselves, Jack hit bottom and woke up in jail one Sunday morning.
As Jack pried open his eyes to the clanging of the keys against the jail lock, he saw the Sheriff staring at him. It was an ominous stare that sent chills up his spine.
“Jack, I’m giving you two options. You can leave town and never come back, or you can go to the state penitentiary. It’s up to you, boy.” The Sheriff was being kind in justice sort of way. For he remembered the man before him that had no upbringing of the family ways. But, when all was said and done, God had softened his heart.
Jack, without much expression on the outside, stood up slowly from the cot and walked out of the cell saying, “I’m out’a here, Sheriff, and I definitely will not be back to this one-horse town.” Horse…strange that he chose that word.
The December day was cold and bleak, an appropriate setting for Jack’s mood as he stood alongside the highway out of town, thumbing for a ride. He had risen, then fallen. He was at the lowest point of his never-very-glamorous life. He felt like crying, but his upbringing had taught him to bury his true feelings deep inside himself. So, he just stood there, empty, and stared with a vacant look into the distance with his thumb wilting in the air.
When we humans are at our lowest point and all seems lost, that moment is when we are most open to let in a new light, a new belief, a new awakening. Jack Skadigan was vulnerable and ripe for our Lord’s picking. God was about to give this drug dealer and has-been the opportunity of his lifetime. Just as it seemed to be the end, it became the beginning.
After being passed up by the locals that knew him as the trouble he was, a large new pickup truck pulling a large and very fancy horse trailer came to a stop beside him. The tinted window came down and a man in a Stetson cowboy hat was looking at Jack.
“Son, you look like you could use a lift.”
“Hop in and warm yourself up.”
The back door opened and the two cowboys in the back slid over to let Jack in.
“where you headed, son? Said the man driving as he turned around and smiled at Jack.
“Anywhere but here.”
The driver stepped on the accelerator and the diesel motor roared into action. The cowboy beside him looked Jack over saying, “You look like a stout old boy. You ever do any ranch work?”
“I’m Clint and this is Ken beside me and that’s Mr. Wells, our boss and owner of the Bar S Ranch, driving and there beside him is Mrs. Wells. What’s your name?”
Jack nodded with a bashful, quick look around at everyone. “Jack – Jack Skadigan”
There was a short silence after the introductions while everyone silently assessed the situation. Jack looked up, noticing Mr Wells staring at him in the rearview mirror.
“Jack, you looking for work, son?” As he stared piercingly into the mirror at Jack.
“Well, I ain’t got a job. Guess, I am.”
“You said you’d never done ranch work?”
“We can always use a extra hand on the ranch, and you look like a good young man to fill that slot. Clint and Ken are top hands and good teachers. The jobs yours, if you want it. It comes with a good place to sleep, and nobody cooks a finer meal than the Mrs.”
Clint broke in, “You won’t find a better place to learn ranching skills than the Bar S, and Mr. and Mrs. Wells are the finest people you’ll ever work for.”
Jack looked around suspiciously at everyone. “I suppose I could give it a shot. What else have I got to do.”
Mr. Wells, still staring into the mirror at Jack, said, “One rule Jack. All the hands and Mrs. Wells and I attend church on Sunday morning together. Is that going to be a problem?”
Jack didn’t give the reply any thought. “Whatever. No big deal.”
But…it was to become a big deal, the going to church on Sundays, that is. Jack was beginning to feel something foreign deep inside. He had never been called son. He felt something warm when he heard that, though he didn’t show it on the outside - yet. Looking at the Wells, he got a good feeling, a safe feeling. Like, maybe, just maybe, things were changing, changing for the better. He looked at Clint and Ken. Never had he seen employees appear so very relaxed and sincere about liking their jobs and the people they worked for. These were hastily gathered feelings, but they would come to bond themselves inside him. Jack felt, for the first time in his life, secure. “Were there really people like this in this world?” he mused inwardly. Was his rough exterior showing signs of dissolving?
Months passed into years, as Jack merged himself into life on the Bar S Ranch. His athletic skills served him well in his work there. His rough exterior, over time and with great patience and love by the Wells and those working around him, began to soften and a light began to fill the void within. Those around him noticed it. In private conversations between them when Jack was not around, they spoke joyfully of the transformation from a seemingly dead spirit to one of a God loving and serving spirit.
The day Jack Skadigan rose voluntarily on his own freewill to give himself to the Lord was the day all knew his transformation was complete and sincere. It was a day of great celebration on the ranch. Jack, who had never known the love of a mother and father, was asked by Mr. and Mrs Wells that day if they could officially adopt him as their son. Yes, he was in his thirties, but it was an offer he had longed for. He accepted their offer with one stipulation. He had a mission to perform for the Lord. Upon his return, he would take on the new title of Jack Wells. First, he had to put Jack Skadigan to rest.
The car sped off into the distance after the man, that had picked up Jack hitchhiking, let him off at this desolate spot five miles from Mayesville. Jack got down on his knees and began to pray on this warm July Sunday morning.
“My most holy and loving Father, I ask that this thing I am about to do is for your glory and is to fulfill your will. I do this not to tempt you, but to show my faith in and love for you for the love and treasure of forgiveness you have given this undeserving soul. I do this to bring glory to your name and to restore your glory to the people of this poor town. I do this so that they may be rescued from their inequities. Please, Father, be with me and keep me safe and give me the courage, strength, and wisdom to carry this out. In our Lord Jesus’ name I pray this, Father. All glory be to you. Amen.”
Jack walked to the center line marking and lay down across it. He closed his eyes and prayed hard. He prayed so fervently that he didn’t hear the pickup racing up the hill in the dark till the screeching tires brought him back to this world. The head lights were blinding as the light of God within him. He heard two doors open and the footsteps of two people walking toward him as one of them shrieked, “Well, I’ll be darn, its Jack Skadigan! What in tarnation are you doin’ layin’ here in the road, boy? We might a killed ya!”
Jack, stoically, replied, “I’m doing the Lord’s work.”
Both men laughed, “You don’t even know how to spell Lord, much less do his work.”
As the three men were saying those things, another car came rambling up the hill from the opposite direction slowly coming to a stop. An old black man and his wife were the occupants. They were on their way to open up the church where he preached in a town about 18 miles from Mayesville.
The man stepped from the car and surveyed the situation as he walked toward the group. He asked the inevitable question, “What’s goin’ on?
The two men explained the mission for the Lord. After which, the old man turned back to his car at a much faster pace than he had left it, shouting at his wife, “Evelyn, the Lord is doin’ his work before our very eyes. Praise the Lord. That there man in the road is sayin’ he’s there to show his faith that our Lord will protect him through all things and to glorify his name. Lord how you work in mysterious ways and use the most unlikely people to show your power and your love. It’s a miracle before our very eyes, Evelyn!”
She came out of the car to see up close with her own eyes for this was truly something to see and remember.
Other cars and pickups slowly trickled in until there was a considerable crowd of vehicles and their occupants lining the road for at least a mile on both sides of the road. People were leaving their vehicles and talking to one another. The story, as stories usually do when passing from person to person, began to transform…to mutate.
People were verbally passing on to one another that the Lord had lifted a man, before the very eyes of the people that had arrived initially, into the heavens above and out of sight. There was a great light accompanying the man’s departure. The glory of God was all about in the story telling and in reality.
In the middle of all this commotion, people forgot about Jack as they talked excitedly among one another. Jack simply stood up and made his way through the crowd down the road. Few, if anyone, noticed nor knew he had been the center of this event. He had been lost in the retelling time and again…in the mutation process. Of course, that is the way Jack and God wanted it. After all, it was for God’s glory, not Jack’s, and it was truly to become a miracle, though not the miracle people were hearing or imagining.
Jack stopped and looked back on the crowd as he got to the outer periphery of the commotion. He shook his head in amazement, saying, “My dear, dear Father, how powerful and mysterious are your ways. Truly, you are God of all. Truly, you are the only God. Truly, you are my loving God. Thank you my Father, my Lord for using me as your instrument of change for these good people.”
Jack reached into his pocket pulling out his cell phone and dialing the Ranch phone number.
“Mom, my work here is finished. I’m ready to come home.”
On the other end, Mrs Wells shot back without any hesitation, “Just give me directions and we’re on our way, son.”
A few years have passed since that morning on the road outside Mayesville. If you drive into that town today, you might not recognize it, had you been away for a few years. Mayesville didn’t die. No, quite the contrary. It has grown in size and in faith. The word of the July miracle spread like wildfire bringing in people from all over the world and building a great faith in the locals. The two old churches were replaced by several new and very large churches. The many Sunday services and other service days are filled to overflowing with worshipers. How the Lord works in mysterious ways with the most unlikely of his creations to bring his word and his glory, his grace into the hearts of those he desires.
Once in awhile, some of the locals that knew him will say, “Where is Jack Skadigan? Wonder what ever happened to him? He’s probably in prison or dead from an overdose.”
And what did happen to Jack Skadigan? He is no longer. Jack took the name of Wells from his new mother and father. Jack left the ranch not long after this event, much to the happiness of his new parents. Jack became a missionary. He comes back to stay with his parents at every opportunity, but, as the Wells and the ranch hands say, “The Lord has much more important work for him.” Jack’s children come to stay on the ranch every summer to be spoiled to death by Grandma and Grandpa and all the hands. Jack and the great woman he married are real and loving parents. Jack wouldn’t have it any other way.
When you put your faith in our Lord Jesus, all stories have a good ending.