Climbing up the grassy knoll, satchel and canvas in hand, the old gentleman trod carefully to his usual perch, a gnarled rock that was washed a clean slate gray from centuries of cleansing rains.
“Can’t believe it’s been another decade, Lord,” he marveled.
Flexing his arthritic fingers, much like a withered tree branch in a strong gale, Murphy painstakingly set out his palette and brushes on the paint-spattered tarp he had unfolded and laid beside him on the ground.
“Please guide my hands, Lord, so that the breathtaking beauty you have created can be captured and shared with others.”
But, he didn’t begin yet. First, he took deep breaths of the unpolluted clear air, welcoming the gentle breeze caressing the wisps of his remaining gray hair gently across his furrowed brow. Then, with a deftness born out of weathered experience, Murphy began. Bright and muted colors soon spread across the canvas in harmonious layers of depth and acute perception. As the sun beat stronger, beads of perspiration dotted the artist’s forehead, but so engrossed was he in his endeavor, he did not notice the heat. Hours later, Murphy laid the brush down. He stood, relieving aching muscles and creaky bones.
“What cha’ doing, Mister?”
Startled, Murphy turned toward this unlikely visitor, wondering at his presence.
“Well, son, I was just finishing my painting. What do you think of it?”
The boy came closer and perused the canvas, every once in a while glancing up to the mountain landscape to compare the artist’s rendering to the actual scene before them.
“I like it. Your colors match almost perfectly.”
He studied the painting awhile longer and then turned to the old man.
“Why’d you leave out the 4-wheeler trail and put in those funny-lookin’ flowers? By the way, my name’s Devon. What’s yours?”
“You can call me Mr. Murphy.”
“Are you a neighbor?” Devon asked, pointing to the village down below.
“No, rather an old acquaintance, rather. I come here every ten years to paint.”
“Why only then?”
“Son, it’s a long story. You see, forty years ago on this very spot, I met Jesus and I come to remind myself of that time.”
“Awesome! What’d He look like?”
Murphy sat back down on his rock and patted the empty space beside him.
“Sit down here, son, and I’ll tell you all about it.”
And the old man told the boy his story.
Forty-one years previous, Murphy had been a “rough-rider”, a ‘devil-may-care' aging motorcyclist who, along with his buddy, Jim, made treks all over the world to find worthy challenges for their daring stunts. They drank hard, they played hard, and they didn’t care who they hurt along the way.
“Until this very day forty-one years ago when we rode up this mountain,” Murphy continued. “Jim’s bike was actin’ up and so I took the lead for our descent, just to make sure Jim could make it okay.”
At this, the old man’s eyes watered. He gulped a few times and cleared his throat.
“I landed with a victorious whoop before I gave him the thumbs-up signal. Then I discovered a mire of quicksand gobbling up my cycle. I tried to signal him to veer to the right; but, like I said, his bike wasn’t steering the best. He sailed into the air and in attempting to turn, crashed against that old elm,” Murphy continued, nodding his head in the direction of a much-scarred tree below. "They said he was killed on impact. No helmets in those days.”
“Wow,” Devon murmured softly. “What happened to his bike?”
“Landed smack on my face,” and the old man traced his shaking finger along the faded scar across the width of his forehead. “Couldn’t save my eyes, though. After the surgery, I came back up here and prayed for God to forgive me. You see, I figured I had killed my friend and I felt like his blood was on my hands.”
Devon stared at the old man’s eyes and then at the painting.
“But, then how . . .?”
“I paint from those memories, son. The scene was permanently burned on my heart, I believe, and God helps me to recapture it in honor of His forgiveness and faithfulness so that I can explain Him to others. Would you like to hear more about Him?”
And the old man and the boy are next seen kneeling beside the rock, arms wrapped around each other, seeing Jesus together.
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