The gospel according to Hank ...and Holly
I grew up with a Bible in my hand and big chunks of it systematically planted in my heart and mind. For that, I am grateful. Every sermon I ever heard about the poor, wandering, lost sinner sounded eerily like this:
I'm a rollin' stone all alone and lost For a life of sin, I have paid the cost When I pass by all the people say Just another guy on the lost highway
Hank Williams was the singular country crooner of a generation. He lived fast. He lived hard. He lived out loud, recording in mournful song his exploits. And then he died young...somewhere, I presume, on the Lost Highway. He was eight months shy of 30 years old.
Writing this article, I decided to dig a little deeper into the life of Hiram King (Hank) Williams. I knew he was known for having a bit of an outlaw persona. I knew he had been kicked out of the Grand Ole Opry after a bitter and public divorce. I knew he died from heart complications caused - or at least exacerbated - by drug and alcohol abuse.
I did not know that Hank suffered from a medical condition known as spina bifida occulta. His was obviously a much milder version of the condition, but this is the primary physical affliction suffered by my beautiful daughter – and today's birthday girl – Holly.
It turns out, Hank Williams did not abuse substances primarily because of a wayward lifestyle. He did it to mask the chronic pain with which he lived. That pain was mainly physical, but his music suggests it also became mental...and spiritual.
His well-known song, The Lost Highway, whose opening words I quoted above, seems to open a window to a soul, a peek inside the heart of a man who felt he was lost and the way he chose only made him more lost.
The third verse is laced with regret and warning for those just beginning their own journey:
I was just a lad, nearly 22 Neither good nor bad, just a kid like you And now I'm lost, too late to pray Lord, I paid the cost, on the lost highway
Breaks your heart, doesn't it, to hear the cry of the hopeless soul? If only Hank had someone like I did growing up - someone stuffing a Bible into his hand and his brain, stuffing Jesus into his heart.
If only Hank's gospel message was anything remotely like my daughter Holly's. Whatever pain he suffered from a spine defect you could not visibly detect when he was clothed must have paled in comparison to the chronic pain from which she suffers every single minute of her life. Earlier this year, the complications from her disability nearly claimed her very life.
I heard the cries few others have. I wiped the tears few others saw. I listened to the doubts few others know were there. But she never really wavered. She was never really on that lost highway. Through her pain, her own gospel message emerged, and it went like this:
My feet are literally failing me. So is my gut. My back. My heart.
But his grace abounds in deepest waters. It abounds. It doesn’t just trickle in, it floods into the broken pieces of our lives. And he’s a good father … one that loves us, wants us and will heal us. Even if he doesn’t heal these broken bones, gut, back, head, and heart … my hope is still Him alone. And it always will be.
So tonight, I write this for my King. I share this brokenness for His glory. I thank Him for the healing in happy memories, songs of hope and encouragement received by Norwegian strangers. I thank Him for choosing me to bear this cross for His glory and my good. And I beg Him to push my heart to feel the same as my sweet friend, Joni’s:
I really would rather be in this wheelchair knowing Jesus as I do, than be on my feet without him. – Joni Tada I want to desire Him, more than I desire the healing He could give. I want to know Him deeply … and if this suffering gets me there, then bring it on. I’m all in because He is all that really matters.
And I thank Him for sweet reminders that I am His vessel, His glory-story … and always will be.
The gospel is the same, whether you listen to Hank's version or read Holly's. It presents a choice, a path. One is the path to peace even in the darkest night; the other is the path of sorrow and regret, no matter how brightly the spotlight shines.
One way leads you home. The other leaves you lost.
You have this opportunity – this moment – to choose the Lost Highway or the Way of Life. Only you can choose for you.
Contact me if you would like to learn more about this way.
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