One of the most unforgettable calls I have ever received came from a woman I had never met. This mother had endured such severe parental pain that just hearing her describe it nearly moved me to tears. Her son at age twenty-seven had died in prison of Leukemia only a few months before he was to be released; a sad enough tale in itself, but that was only the tragic end of her story.
At fifteen and intoxicated, my caller’s son had ended the life of his eighteen-year-old girlfriend. As a result, he became the first fifteen-year-old in that state to be tried, convicted and sentenced as an adult, resulting in a thirty year prison term. Later, however, due to his exemplary conduct and educational achievements while in prison, he would have been paroled after twelve years. Then Leukemia overruled the parole board, preventing this grieving mother from bringing her son home alive.
“How did you survive?” I asked.
“By the grace of God,” she replied.
My caller that day wasn’t the first mother to have needed the grace of God to make it through a severe trial brought on by one of her children. Nor is she the only mother to become an innocent victim of alcohol’s devastating effect on her family.
John Newton, whose father ran a bar, brought great grief to his mother, a devout woman of faith. Regardless of the bad reports about her son, she kept praying for him; often while she labored over her washboard.
John had left his home in England while very young, choosing the life of a sailor. And the news that floated home about him wasn’t good. He had become involved in slave trading and fallen into such a vile lifestyle that the “saved a wretch like me” line in the first stanza of the hymn he later wrote is understandable.
John Newton traveled far but was never beyond the reach of his mother’s prayers. Then one day, during a storm at sea that he thought would end his life, John remembered the faith of his mother and trusted her Lord as his own.
After surviving the storm, John began to study the Bible and at the age of thirty-nine was ordained to the ministry in the little village of Olney, near Cambridge, England. His mother’s prayers had finally been answered.
Most of the congregational singing in Newton’s day consisted of Psalms set to music. John finally discovered that simple heart-felt hymns added greater impact to his preaching and when enough hymns couldn’t be found, he started writing his own. The most enduring of these has been “Amazing Grace,” which is still a favorite of millions.
There are even “Amazing Grace” groups that meet in prisons and other places to talk about this old hymn and tell what it means to them, unaware that their favorite hymn is a washboard tune, born before it was written in the life of a praying mother who found God’s grace sufficient during a tough time.
What’s so amazing about grace? It is the vehicle of God’s love that arrives at the door of the weak and undeserving offering forgiveness and new life. And it’s still available to mothers and others like you and me.
Roger Campbell is an author, a broadcaster and columnist who was a pastor for 22 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.