Once That, Now This

Once That, Now This

In the late 1980s, my mother was putting herself through nursing school while raising three young kids by herself. Every dollar that came in had a job, and there wasn't much room for reassignment. One day, my middle sister, Kylei, told my mom that her shoelaces broke. Shoelaces are inexpensive, but to my mom this meant going through the thinly stretched budget to find where she could tug a little without it snapping.

She didn't want to burden her young daughter with the knowledge that our family's lack of financial leeway meant that the smallest bump might as well be an earthquake. She did need to prepare Kylei for the possibility of going without shoelaces for a little while, though. "Well, money is tight right now, but God can always provide for us." My mother led Kylei in a simple, short prayer asking that God would make a way for her to get new shoelaces.

There was a local barbecue place that had $2 kids' meals on Tuesday nights. Every week, we would head over and get three of them. My mother would eat whatever was left of mine. I was a toddler, so I was generally more interested in playing with whatever prize came with the meal than actually eating. That next Tuesday, after my mother and sister said the prayer, the prize for each meal was a pair of shoelaces. Kylei's came with two.

My mom was excited: they had prayed for God to provide a single pair of shoelaces and, almost immediately, he had provided four. She wanted to tell everyone about what he had done for us. Imagine her shock when people in our church told her that God didn't care about shoelaces. It was just a coincidence. She should get over it and stop being foolish.

But it didn't matter what other people said. My mom used this story as a lesson for her children in the coming years. No matter what our financial situation was, we were never allowed to say or imply that we were poor. How could we be poor when the creater of the universe was watching out for us? Nothing was too big or too small for him.

Even shoelaces.

I was sitting on the floor of my living room. I didn't know how long I had been sitting there. It had taken so much effort for me to get out of the car, open the front door, and get upstairs that I welcomed the ease of sitting motionless on the floor. Every step of every movement took distinct, conscious effort. My phone lay open on the floor next to me. The call with my mother had only ended because she had hung up to call my middle sister.

Kylei was still on the phone with my mother when she found me. I could hear a shakiness enter her voice when saw me sitting there. "Mom, he looks like the patients I worked with." She stooped down in front of me. "Michael, when did this start?"

"After," I said with much difficulty. With an equal measure, I finished the thought, "work."

She helped me up off the floor then down the stairs to her car. The world outside was a blur the entire way to the hospital: by the time my eyes began to focus on something, it was already a long way behind us.

Kylei checked me in at the ER. The nurses took my vitals and put me in a wheelchair. As they wheeled me back for some tests, one nurse said to the other, "He's only 19." It was a fairly unnerving thing to hear one health care professional loud-whisper to another. I tried to tell her that my ears still worked, but the words wouldn't form correctly. They drew blood, took scans of my brain, and a number of other procedures that I can't fully recall.

Eventually, Kylei was allowed back to sit next to my hospital bed. She told me that a lot of people from the church were praying for me. We passed the time waiting for results by watching bad TV because YouTube and Netflix weren't really a thing at that point.

Eventually, I figured out that Kylei was barely containing her anger. Hours had passed with only the occasional nurse poking her head in to say that the doctor should be there in just a few minutes. They couldn't or wouldn't give any information about what may be going on, what might have gone wrong with my brain or its connections to the rest of my body.

At about three in the morning, I was able to say a full, but short, sentence without pausing. For the next couple of hours, Kylei kept me talking while I tried to move my arms and legs without thinking literal, exact commands at them. It was morning by the time the doctor graced us with his presence, and I was whole. When he realized that I was fine, the grave look on his face fell away. He set aside his clipboard, had me say a few things and walk around a little, then discharged me.

In the car, Kylei was still angry. "That jerk was trying to say it was all in your head. I saw you. They all saw you." For Kylei, it was either real or I was the best actor any of them had ever seen.

"He couldn't exactly say that it was a miracle," I said, trying to lighten the mood.

My sister and those nurses knew what they saw. I knew what I had experienced. The doctor didn't know what to make of it. At nineteen, I had something resembling a stroke and walked away from the hospital without any long term effects.

John 9 tells of a man who was blind from birth. Even the disciples were looking for some way to blame the man or his parents. But Jesus looked at him with compassion. Jesus healed the man, allowing him to see for the first time in his life.

People were incredulous: some knew it was definitely the same man but couldn't reconcile that with his ability to see. Others saw his sight as evidence that the man was only a lookalike. The formerly blind man told anyone who would listen that he was the same man. When asked how he could see, he gave the barebones of the facts as he knew them.

John 9:11 (ESV)
He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' So I went and washed and received my sight."

When asked by the religious leaders, he still kept it quite simple.

John 9:15 (ESV)
So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, "He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see."

This man who had been miraculously healed did not give an opinion of what happened until asked by the very religious leaders who were arguing in front of him.

John 9:17 (ESV)
So they said again to the blind man, "What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?" He said, "He is a prophet."

The religious leaders did not like his answer, so they sought to discredit his testimony. They brought in the man's parents as witnesses, demanding to know if he had actually been born blind and, if so, how he had really come to be able to see. For his parents' part, they would only testify to what they had firsthand knowledge of: that their son had, in fact, been born blind. For the rest, the man's parents told them to ask their son.

John 9:24-25 (ESV)
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, "Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner." He answered, "Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see."

A court room is supposed to be a place of order. The judge is tasked with keeping that order and making sure that the case proceeds according to the laws of that jurisdiction. In certain types of cases, a jury is responsible for rendering the verdict. The lawyers try to convince the jury that their side has presented more valid and believable evidence. In a criminal trial, the prosecuting attorney must prove the case against the defendant "beyond a reasonable doubt," while the defense attorney tries to prove that there are reasonable reasons to doubt the guilt of the defendant.

The lawyers don't just shout their opinions. They must present evidence. Some of this evidence comes in the form of physical objects, artifacts from the events in question. A murder weapon with the defendant's hair follicles, fingerprints, blood, and saliva on it would serve as a testament both to the defendant's guilt and his stupidity. Most cases are not so open-and-shut. I'd venture to say that it's rare for the physical evidence to be so strong that the prosecutor feels comfortable just playing show-and-tell.

Lawyers can also call witnesses to the stand, living testaments of the defendant's innocence or guilt. Eyewitnesses testify about what they saw, heard, felt during the events in question. Character witnesses testify about the morals they have seen the defendant display in the past. Expert witnesses testify about what they know about the case based on applying the knowledge and wisdom gained from being in their field.

Every kind of witness testifies about their experience out of their own understanding.

Acts 22:15 (ESV)
"...for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard."

1 John 5:10-11 (ESV)
Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

Words like "witness" and "testimony" get thrown around so much in Christian circles that it is easy to lose sight of their original meanings. The man in John 9 learned quickly that they are sometimes used both ways at once: not only was his healing experience used as a testimony to others in public but he was also called to give his testimony in a sort of religious court.

Unfortunately, his examiners were not out to find the truth. They were interested in ways to discredit Jesus and annoyed by any arguments in his favor. If someone was giving evidence for Jesus, it had to mean that they were already his follower.

John 9:28-29 (ESV)
And they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from."

John 9:30-33 (ESV)
The man answered, "Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."

John 9:34 (ESV)
They answered him, "You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?" And they cast him out.

For this man, his reasoning was self-evident:

  1. If God doesn't listen to sinners...
  2. If no one has ever healed someone blind from birth...
  3. If Jesus was able to open eyes blind from birth...
  4. Then Jesus is not only not a sinner, but he's even greater than those who came before.

It's telling that those leaders did not outright disagree with the statements leading up to his conclusion. They had tried to discredit this man's testimony because they knew that it was damning to the case they were trying to build. When they couldn't discredit him, they decided to instead disregard him.

My question is this: was the formerly blind man's testimony a failure? Did he fulfill his role as a witness?

People in the church told my mother that God didn't care about shoelaces. That it wasn't providence, but coincidence, that had solved our dilemma. But my mother knew what she had experienced. The words and opinions of others could never take that away unless she bought into them. Instead of denying her experience, she continued to use it to teach her children and to encourage others when they were facing hard times.

She was once in need of shoelaces; now her need was met.

I had symptoms that led multiple health care professionals to believe that I had experienced a stroke. The doctor was condenscending and rude when my symptoms cleared up. I never saw what those tests and scans that he set aside said. But I knew what it felt like to be trapped inside my head, unable to properly move and speak as I had just hours earlier. I knew the fear from my own anxiety-driven visions of what my future had in store, what doors were no longer open to me, what the full scope of my limitations would be. I knew that others were praying. I knew that my symptoms left after medical investigation, but not remedy.

I was once locked inside my own head; now I was free.

That formerly blind beggar had never seen the faces of the people who gave to him. He had never seen the money for which he was begging. He had never seen the meager food it was able to buy. When Jesus healed him, an entirely unknown sense, a completely new way to experience the world was made available to him. The religious leaders of the time wanted answers, but he only really had one.

I was once blind; now I see.

In his understanding, that meant that this Jesus had to be from God. The religious leaders disagreed and tried to come up with explanations for why that wasn't true. They couldn't discount the facts of his testimony, they couldn't take his incredible experience from him. So they tried to reframe it.

That's what happens with witness testimony. It helps one side's argument and hurts the other. The lawyers take it and use it as yet another piece of evidence. Sometimes, it's handled in a way that the witness feels is unfair. Maybe the prosecutor twists it to disparage the witness's son who is on trial. Maybe the defense attorney argues that you lied for attention or your own gain.

No matter the testimony, no matter the audience, there will always be ways to reframe what you said. That's why it's so important to remember our calling. We are not called to be the jury or the judge. We are not called to be the prosecutor or defense attorney. We are called to be witnesses. Our duty is not to convict hearts but to give testimony of what we have experienced in our walk with God, how Jesus being our Lord has changed our lives, how the Holy Spirit is leading us as we walk in him.

The healed man was thrown out after giving his testimony. Even so, the reaction of his audience is not the scale by which his success or failure as a witness is measured. He was obedient. He spoke the truth he had experienced.

John 9:25 (ESV)
He answered, "Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see."

You know your experience. You know your testimony. You don't have all the answers, but you know what you once were and what you are now.

I was once angry; now I'm at peace.

I was once filled with hate; now I'm filled with love.

I was once an orphan; now I have been adopted as a child of the most high God.

I was once that, now I am this.

That is what God desires. That is what God asks. That is what is pleasing to our Father. We must trust him with the rest of the courtroom.