Reading a past post on my facebook from 2008, I was reminded of my uncle. My Uncle Jeff was the 5th child in a 6 child family. My grandparents were not well off, they worked hard for what they had. My grandpappa was a carpenter/handyman and my grandmother was a waitress and secretary. The kids were pretty close in age, and they were a force to be reckoned with. They fought with each other frequently, but heaven help you if you messed with one of them!
Jeff was different, even as a little boy. He was visibly smaller in stature and was picked on far more than the other kids. He was scrappy though, and he had a very sweet heart. He was 11 when I was born. There are pictures of us swinging on a tree swing together, me being only 3 or 4. To be honest, I don’t have a lot of “childhood” memories of him. I remember him and my other uncles putting up a basketball goal and me trying to help. He was telling me to move or I was gonna get hurt when I got popped in the face with the pole. Most of the time he was with his friends. A lot of my memories of him in the “early” years are from photographs. He was a very handsome young man. He kinda looked like Kevin Bacon when he played in “Footloose”.
Then, he changed. He became gaunt. He became loud. He became disrespectful. I was young, so I don’t think I really realized what was happening.
But, as I got older, I became more aware of what was going on. My uncle was a junkie. Alcohol and drugs ruled his life. We used to eat dinner at my grandparents every Sunday evening. My grandfather (who was also an alcoholic) was normally already riled up by the time we got there. (The three youngest boys still lived at home, so you can imagine the fights!) I knew it was alcohol – my parents were honest about the problem. Uncle Jeff normally came down the hill, swaying and staggering, later in the night. He would come and sit down, talking and laughing loudly. “Do you remember my belt buckle I lost in the lake at the old house?” he would begin our conversation by asking. “No, Uncle Jeff, I don’t.” At this point I knew he was doused. “Well, I had it on and went swimming and it came off and I bet it’s still in that lake! Hehehehehe! One day I’m gonna drain that lake and go find it!” Yep. He was gone. And he was loud. And he smelled. This usually led to an argument between the siblings, the older ones scolding him, the younger ones yelling at his comments or actions.
When I was in my 20’s he got very sick. His liver was all but gone. We put him on the prayer list. We prayed over him. He was anointed with oil. He was healed! We just KNEW this was gonna be the turning point. His life was gonna change. No more substance abuse, no more jail, no more beatings from other druggies. Nope. He was gonna straighten up. We were all gonna be there for him. This was it.
Fail. Major fail. For some reason, he just couldn’t do it. I watched him deteriorate. It was so very sad. He lived with my grandmother, so my kids got to see him often. My kids loved him, he was unique, he was different. He loved art (Zeb’s favorite). He told Anna she was a princess and gave her random presents. Judah was just a baby during this time, but my uncle found a way to shower him with gifts also. You see, these items were so special because he didn’t have a job. The gifts he gave were ones he bartered for. My kids didn’t have a clue, but they hung onto every gift.
He was pitiful looking. He couldn’t stand straight. He was stooped. His skin was green and leathery. His hair was long (he thought he looked like an outlaw so he kept it that way!).The more time that passed, the sicker he became. He was taking medication for all sorts of health issues. He was moody due to this, and his feet swelled to the point of his skin breaking open. He would groan with pain often, and each medication had a purpose and a side effect.
In 2008, things were getting pretty bad for him. The medication that kept his liver functioning was making him miserable. His feet were swollen, his skin cracked and bleeding. We had a family get together in the fall, someone’s birthday I believe, and he came – which was abnormal. He stayed for the whole time, making sure he spoke and conversed with everyone. He was happy. He was peaceful. Before he left he told each and every person that he loved them.
Not too long after that, on a Sunday morning, my mom found me in the hallway. Prayer was needed and urgent. Grandmother was at home trying to get him to the hospital, he was very sick. Mom had to go to her house and demand him to go. Finally, he went. I arrived that afternoon to my mom standing outside the e.r. entrance. It wasn’t good. For two days he was in i.c.u. There he was, this tiny little man, hooked up to machines that were keeping him “comfortable”. My grandmother was a mess, she didn’t want to let go. Not now, not yet. Apparently, he had quite taking his liver medicine days before. On Saturday, he made his neighborhood rounds, talking with the old folks he was close to and joking around with his pals. Saturday night, the coughing began. Sunday morning, my grandmother awoke to find her son laying in the bathtub, covered in his own blood, which he had been vomiting up. He was ready.He was done with the pain, done with being uncomfortable. Now, we were left to watch him die. Which is what we were doing. We were trying to comfort my grandmother, keep up with what the doctors were telling us, and keep up our own sanity. He would mumble and moan, writhing in the bed. It was excruciating. His entire body was shutting down and turning on him. Any medication that was given only helped specific internal body parts, meanwhile, others would fail. My grandmother decided, after much pleading and explaining, to stop all meds – except the pain medications. His blood pressure was dropping, and if they gave him medicine to help it, it would only prolong the inevitable. We gathered around his bed, a family united, as the Holy Spirit came and ushered him into heaven. How could THIS man be ushered into heaven you may ask. At the family get together, he specifically sought after my mom and told her of his encounter with Jesus recently. Yes, I saw the trees sway outside when he coughed up blood for the last time. I knew he was being swept away. We buried my uncle 3 weeks before his 30th birthday.
I spoke to my youth group about this experience. I read out of “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (The Chronicles of Narnia). How well did the cousin Eustice represent my uncle. His addiction led him into becoming a dragon. His heart turned soft once he was transformed into the “terrible” dragon. The only way he could be fully restored into a boy again was by Aslan removing the ugly dragon skin.
I believe with all my heart, that God restored my Uncle Jeff into a “boy” again. He removed all of the dragon skin. The years of abuse were wiped away. He could stand tall (though I believe he probably fell to his knees in worship!). He was made whole.
“The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. but the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I dont know if he said any words out loud or not.
I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and , instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.
But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.
Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
Thne the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.
Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’ve no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them.
After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me – (with his paws?) – Well, I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes – the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. and then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream.”
Often we have addictions, not as devastating as drugs or alcohol, but addictions none the less, that place scales on us. It could be working, t.v., internet, just being selfish – anything that may take up our time that could be spent with not only our family, but God too. Our skin may become heavy, our attitudes rough and our hearts hard. Until we come to recognize our addictions, and seek out healing, we can never be truly whole. Just as Eustace struggled with taking off the skin and it returning, it’s not easy to let go of somethings. We may try hard on our own, but it keeps coming back. But, when we seek out healing from our Heavenly Father, and we let him do the removing (which will most of the time feel like it goes “straight to the heart”) we can bathe and be healed, cleansed and restored. So, in tribute to my Uncle Jeff, I leave you with what I think he would probably want you to know. Don’t give into peer pressure, love your family, seek out God daily, and never put the bracelet on!