A prodigal son finds Jesus

by Lori Astle

“I love you,” I said as he walked out the door. He turned toward me and gave me the nod. “Later,” he said. I watched him through the window until he was out of sight. It was the last time I would see my 20-year-old son.

Later that day I left for the coast with some of the women from our church, The Bridge Bible Church in Bakersfield, Calif., while the guys headed to M24, a men’s retreat at a ranch in the hills just outside town. This was going to be a “manly retreat” with fishing, motorcycle riding and shooting guns. The men of our church were asked to invite any man, saved or not. In addition to the guy stuff, they were going up to the mountain to worship God and to reach out to each other with love and encouragement to live their lives as men of God. It was my husband’s first retreat.

My husband, Bryant, had been transformed by the amazing grace of God just nine months earlier. For nearly 20 years Bryant had been held captive by the sin of anger and drugs. The wounds in our family were deep, but God’s healing love was doing a mighty work in my husband and also in our children and me. Natalie, our daughter, was being transformed by the power of forgiveness and our son, Nick, well, he was watching.

Nick…I loved him deeply and unconditionally. He had begun to walk down the same road his father had been down. My heart ached watching him feel so lost. I prayed for Nick faithfully and my hope never wavered that God would reach him someday. Nick's dad invited him to join him and our son-in-law, Rodney, at M24. Nick was drawn to his dad's walk with God, and followed him up to the mountaintop.

Peace on the mountain

Later I heard the stories of Nick's mountaintop experience. How my Nicky found peace, of the glow on his face as he felt forgiven and set free. How he sang praise to Jesus and that as he left for home on his motorcycle he said, “It was the best 24 hours of my life.” This prodigal son once was lost but now was found!

My Nicky opened his heart to Jesus on the mountaintop and then met Jesus face to face on the way back down. He was in a motorcycle accident and died a few hours later.

Saturday, May 31, 2008, was the day Nick began the eternal chapter of his story. The next morning was Sunday. As I sat with my heart broken and my mind in shock, I asked Bryant, “What now?” My husband looked at me, paused only a moment and then stood and said wholeheartedly, “We go worship Jesus.” My husband who was once so lost himself had been found. Bryant, now truly a man of God whose new life led his beloved son to the mountaintop where he found and worshipped Jesus, was now leading me in my sorrow to worship Jesus.

The moment we walked into our church that morning, I knew that this was where God was going to pour out his comfort to our family. Many of the men who had shared the experience with Nick on the mountaintop and the handful of men who had been on the accident scene with Bryant were there that morning. A special bond had formed between the men of our church.

Our pastor, Jeff Gowling, gave a powerful message that Sunday asking the question, “Is God still God no matter what?” It is a message I have listened to a dozen times, and each time the answer remains: Yes, even though he took my son, God is still God no matter what.

Praying for open hearts

Pastor Jeff came to our home the following day and walked us through planning a memorial service. We knew Nick had many unsaved friends, and both Bryant and I wanted the gospel to be preached at his service. Our hope was that hearts would be opened through preaching the gospel. We prayed, “Please God, even if it’s just one.”

The plan was to preach the gospel boldly, clearly and without compromise. The church made “salvation packets.” At first they made 20 and then decided to have crazy faith and make 50, just in case.

The memorial service for our Nick was amazing! It is a day that comes to me in bits and pieces—it is just too overwhelming as a whole. Over 650 people gathered to honor Nick and comfort our family. As I watched the slide show of our precious son’s life, a million memories flooded my heart…a beautiful baby, a sweet brown-eyed little boy, a young man grown so tall and handsome. Our hearts grieved the loss of a son, brother, grandson, uncle, nephew, cousin and friend.

And then we worshipped Jesus! Our entire worship band played at the service and we raised up holy hands and worshiped with our whole hearts, praising our Savior and King. Then Pastor Jeff spoke with the power of heaven, telling of the saving grace and love of Christ. Pastor Jeff lifted Jesus so high there was no heart that couldn’t see him.

Miracles and lessons

And then a miracle happened—not just one, not 20, not 50 miracles. As Pastor Jeff invited people to open their hearts to Jesus and find the same peace with God that our Nick found on that mountaintop, 100 people stood and came forward to receive Jesus.

The months that followed Nick’s death have been filled with the ache of loss. There have been many tears, yet God is still God no matter what and bigger than the hurt. We as a family and a church family have learned the power of our transformed lives.

We’ve learned that the unsaved are watching and that living out our faith will draw people to our Savior, just as my husband’s life drew Nick to the mountain. We have learned the power of preaching the gospel boldly and without compromise as Pastor Jeff did. And in telling of my Nicky being saved just hours before he went home, we are able to speak of the importance of being ready to meet Jesus face to face.

When my final chapter here on earth is written and I see Jesus face to face, my question there will not be “What now?” for I am confident I will be worshiping Jesus eternally. Instead, my question will be, “Please, can I hold my baby boy now?”

Lori Astle is a florist and owner of Cinderella Flowers in Bakersfield, Calif., and the joyful grandmother of two-year old Emily and a grandson to be born this summer. Lori and her husband renewed their wedding vows in January 2009 on the occasion of their 25th wedding anniversary. 

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