Chapter One: The Sound of His Voice

An Inner Nudge

 With a child-like heart of love,
At thy bidding may I move,
Prompt to serve and follow Thee —
Loving Him who first loved me.

-Jane E Leeson

 


As a civil trial lawyer in Houston, Texas, I frequently encounter tough characters. A few years now into this beat, gruff judges no longer frighten me and frowning juries do not send an automatic chill down my spine. Even blustery attorney adversaries, those who can’t complete a sentence without cursing and who willfully obstruct my efforts at every turn, normally leave me unruffled. That said, nothing had prepared me for what happened when I encountered the man I will call T.J. Thompson.

The ex-convict with a receptive heart.

Although afflicted with multiple sclerosis, T.J. was used to driving a car without difficulty. One morning as he approached an intersection on his way home from some errands, the driver of an empty school bus ran a stop sign directly into his path. Suddenly T.J. had to make a life-and- death choice. He could swerve head-on into oncoming traffic. Going the other way, he would crash into a telephone pole at 35 m.p.h. Or he could keep the wheel straight and take his chances with the empty bus. He chose the bus. The school district refused to pay for his medical treatment and T.J. came to my firm for help.

Whenever a case involves unusual facts or a client presents a special challenge, our prelitigation section is known to brief me by memo before the initial client conference. Such a memo preceded T.J.’s arrival to my office one day in 1993.

“This client has M.S.,” the memo said, “and moves about in a motorized cart. He spent considerable time in the penitentiary in years past and he has developed quite a ‘potty’ mouth.” The memo noted that T.J. could be demanding or even outrageous. “Unless you take firm control of the situation from the beginning.” it warned, “this client may pose a constant problem.”

The time came for T.J.’s initial conference and the receptionist paged me. Things started a bit ragged when I forgot his name en route to the reception room. “Mr. Thomas?” I inquired, looking around the half-filled room. No answer. Then I spotted the small motorized cart. Walking toward its occupant, I said it again. “Mr. Thomas?” The man sitting there glowered. “Thompson!” he said. “It’s Thompson. Are you Mr. Fudge?”

“Yes,” I answered. “I’m sorry, Mr. Thompson. Let’s go this way to my office — it’s a more direct route.”

I led him down the long, straight hallway employees use, rather than taking the usual, more impressive, half-circle past busy offices and conference rooms bustling with activity. Inside my office, I invited him to park himself across the antique oak partner’s desk which once belonged to my father. After several maneuvers with his vehicle, T.J. situated his cart and settled himself in it.

“I understand this is your second accident.” I said, pausing for him to answer. He did not reply directly. Instead, he launched into an embittered description of his lifelong problems, generously spiced with four-letter words and other invectives. Yet his voice, which was loud even when calm, seemed to transmit pain more than belligerence. And whenever he used profanity, he instinctively lowered his tone.

Something inside me said that this man needed to ventilate. so I decided to listen rather than interrupt. Eventually he appeared to be at a stopping point. “We could probably visit all day,” I said softly, “but we had better focus now on our business or we will never get through.”

For the first time, he smiled. “Yes,” he said. “I need to finish and go home. I take care of my 93-year-old mother, all by myself, 24 hours a day. I cannot leave the house unless someone else comes to be with her.”

My inner sense was confirmed. There was more to this man than the harsh exterior. As we continued our business, that inner conviction grew. Despite T.J.’s rough background and salty language, I sensed a heart desperately lonely and wounded in many ways. “Most of all,” I thought, “he needs a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” I prayed silently that God would open a door for me to witness to him about the Lord, and determined to speak out if God cleared the way.

As T.J. and I concluded our immediate business, there came another inner sense. “You should pray for this man,” it seemed to say. “Now. Out loud. And touch him to demonstrate Christ’s love.”

As crazy as it sounded, I believed the impulse came from God. But I also knew that God does not overpower people, or impose himself on them beyond their consent. So somewhat hesitantly I said. “I would like to ask you a personal question that has nothing to do with our legal business.”

He nodded. Almost before the words were framed I heard myself ask, “Do you believe in prayer?” He paused a second. “Yes,” he said, with some conviction. He seemed to anticipate what might come next.

“This is very unusual,” I began. “I have never been in this exact situation before, but I feel that I am supposed to pray for you. God gives us our life and health every day,” I continued, “and he loves us very much. We have all sinned and broken fellowship with God. But God loves us so much he sent his son Jesus Christ to die on the cross to forgive us. Someday he will raise the dead and restore the universe he has made to its perfect state. There will be no more suffering or disease or death then.”

I paused. T.J. was still listening. “Sometimes,” I continued, “because he is powerful and good, and because of what Jesus accomplished by his death and resurrection, God gives healing now as well. It is a small sign of his coming kingdom, and a tangible reminder that he loves us. If you don’t mind, I think I am supposed to come around there and put my hands on you while we pray.”

“I would like that very much,” T.J. said, twisting his spasmatic shoulders as if to prepare for what was coming next. I walked around the desk, placed both hands lightly on his shoulders and quietly began to pray. I thanked God simply for the daily gifts of life and health, and acknowledged him as the all-powerful Creator on whom we depend for existence every moment. Then, without fanfare or special words, I asked God’s healing mercy on T.J. — for his multiple sclerosis, for the injuries he sustained in the automobile collision, for all the psychological and spiritual pain he carried from whatever source. Finally, I requested that God would make himself known to this man in a special way, and eventually draw T.J. to know Jesus Christ who shows us God’s love in human terms.

The prayer ended, I returned to my chair behind the desk. For a moment there was an awkward silence. Then T.J. spoke. “Thank you,” the ax-convict said softly, wiping the moisture from his eyes. What he related next still leaves me speechless — and confirms more than ever that the God who knows all details and circumstances of our lives had brought T.J. and me together that day.

“There is something very strange going on here,” he said. struggling for words and for the composure to express them “When I was growing up many years ago, my mother used to pray for sick people. She put her hands on them, too. ” His voice broke momentarily and he cleared his throat. “When she did, people often said they felt heat from her hands go through their body. My mother prayed for me many times as a child and young man. But for some reason, I never felt the heat from my mother’s hands.”

I trembled in awe at what my ears were hearing, and what they were about to hear next. “When you prayed just now,” T.J. continued, “I felt . . . .

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