Wrestling with an Angel
A Story of Love, Disability and the Lessons of Grace
“Witty…stunning…striking…humorous and heartfelt.
I highly recommend this wonderfully personal book!”
– Joni Eareckson Tada, Joni and Friends
“C.S. Lewis wrote that he paradoxically loved The Lord of the Rings because it ‘broke his heart’ – and Greg Lucas’ writing does the same for me.”
– Justin Taylor, Managing Editor, ESV Study Bible; blogger, Between Two Worlds (The Gospel Coalition)
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Description & Excerpts..SHARE..
“It sounded at first like something out of an old horror movie. I thought maybe someone was just playing around, but then I heard it again and again, a loud piercing cry, and less like Hollywood every time. The windows were down in my police cruiser on that warm fall day, but I still couldn’t tell where the sounds came from. I began looking around for the unlikely sight of someone being disemboweled in a mall parking lot on a Saturday afternoon. Seeing nothing, and still hearing the screams, I called in a ‘disturbance.’ Around the next corner I found the source of the commotion.”
So begins Greg Lucas' captivating account of life as a husband, a police officer, and Jake’s dad. Jake Lucas, the first of four children, lives with severe physical and mental challenges. Caring for him each day is an ordeal few of us can imagine, and this story of Jake’s first 17 years is not one you will soon forget. But the remarkable thing is how the whole narrative is saturated with wonder at the grace and goodness of God, who brings hope and promise through his Son into the darkest of circumstances.
In this book, we see that Jake’s problems are our problems, only bigger, and the challenges of caring for him carry profound lessons about God’s care for us. Wrestling with an Angel is about tragedy and laughter and pain and joy. It is about faith and grace and endurance and God’s unfailing, loving wisdom daily being worked out in each of our lives, whatever the nature or extent of our difficulties. Here is a book that may explain faith to you in ways you never quite grasped, through a life few of us can relate to. When it is all done, we come away better able to live as Christ calls us to live.
About the Author
Greg Lucas is a husband, the father of four, a police officer in West Virginia, and a graduate of Boyce College.
Break | Equip
Grace breaks us with affliction in order to equip us with comfort and compassion
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
It sounded at first like something out of an old horror movie. I thought maybe someone was just playing around, but then I heard it again and again, a loud piercing cry, and less like Hollywood every time. The windows were down in my police cruiser on that warm fall day, but I still couldn’t tell where the sounds came from. I began looking around for the unlikely sight of someone being disemboweled in a mall parking lot on a Saturday afternoon. Seeing nothing, and still hearing the screams, I called in a “disturbance.” Around the next corner I found the source of the commotion.
A small crowd had their backs to me, watching what I could only imagine was a horrible fight between two grown men. As I rolled up to the scene, I notified 911 of my location and turned on my overhead emergency lights, hoping to disperse the brawl with a sudden display of authoritative police presence. Not until I exited my vehicle, ready to inflict some defensive tactics if needed, did I comprehend what was actually taking place.
Sitting in the middle of the parking lot was a full-grown man with his socks and shoes off, hitting himself in the face and screaming. An elderly gentleman was trying his best to collect the socks and shoes and get him on his feet again. But the seated man, the much larger of the two, would not be budged.
It was clear to everyone that the man on the ground was mentally disabled, and the elderly man was his father. The onlookers didn’t know whether to call for help, offer help, or politely walk away. They seemed relieved that a uniformed official was there to deliver them from their paralyzing confusion.
I immediately cleared the crowd and asked the father if he needed assistance. The elderly man explained to me that he had picked up his son for a day visit from the group home where he lived.
“I knew better than to go at it alone, but sometimes he does really well. I wanted to spend some time with him so I brought him to the mall to get him some new shoes. He was fine until we got to the parking lot,” said the exasperated dad. “When he gets upset he takes off his socks and shoes. His name is Donald.”
At 6’3” and about 220 pounds, Donald was an imposing figure even while sitting there barefoot on the asphalt. He was in his mid 30s with a rough complexion from many self-inflicted scars. His emotions seemed to calm slightly when I arrived at the scene, but his face was still contorted with anxiety as he fumbled with his socks. Donald looked like he could handle himself all right, along with me and his father.
I knelt down to his level (even though he would not make eye contact) and introduced myself. “I’m Officer Lucas, but you can call me Greg. What’s going on, buddy?”
Again the older man began nervously explaining to me what was wrong with his son. I stood up and tried to listen, but all I could focus on was the exhaustion and defeat in this father’s eyes. My attention came back to his words when I heard him say in a cracked and broken voice, “I’m getting too old for this.”
I guessed he was probably in his mid- to late-60s, but he looked to be nearly 80. He was tall and thin and frail-looking, white-haired and balding. He wore a dark flannel shirt and blue jeans, like an old farmer come to town for supplies. I could only imagine the hurt, disappointment, and weariness this man had experienced over the previous thirty years. But I didn’t exactly have to imagine everything.
As he turned away for a moment, frustrated with the scene his son had created, the father muttered, “I’m so tired.” I paused for a moment to let him regain his composure. Then I realized why I was there.
“I know what you are going through, Sir,” I said, recognizing at the moment it escaped my mouth how cliché it must sound.
“You do?” he said skeptically.
“Yes, I do. I have a son just like your son. He’s much younger and not nearly as big. But he has special needs like your Donald, and he throws very similar fits when he doesn’t get his way. His name is Jake, and he is my life’s great challenge.”
I placed my hand on the dad’s shoulder and smiled, “And I know you’re tired.”
I cautiously knelt back down to Donald’s level and picked up his shoes and socks. I wasn’t sure how he would react to me invading his space and I fully expected to be kicked or punched by this large, confused man. Slowly I un-balled one of his socks and began putting it back on his foot. To my relief, he extended his leg in a sort of surrender to let me know he would comply.
I rolled the sock gently over his toes to his heel and then up to his ankle. His pale, crooked feet felt cold and damp, and his long, sharp toenails were in need of a trim.
Probably true to his lifelong routine, he extended the other foot for me to do the same. Once both socks were on, I unlaced his large, worn-out tennis shoes, slipped them on his feet one at a time, and cinched them up and gave them a double-knot like I had done for Jake so many times before.
A stark vision from John 13 of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet flashed across my mind, and I smiled as I thought to myself that the Lord may have had even this day and this parking lot in mind when He told His confused disciples, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”
I was beginning to understand that there was much more going on here than a simple police response to an unspecified disturbance at a mall.
Once the disheveled, child-like man was ready to get back on his feet again, I asked his dad, “What does Donald really like?”
“Chicken nuggets and coffee,” he replied. I turned back to Donald and slowly but excitedly asked, “How would you like your dad to take you to get some chicken nuggets and coffee, buddy?” He gave a silent nod of approval and we helped him off the ground and into the truck.
After buckling Donald in, the elderly man returned to his side of the truck with a simple expression of gratitude. He shook my hand and thanked me in a voice drained of all emotion. I shot back, “No problem, I do this for a living.” Despite my official duties that day, I knew from experience that mostly he was thanking me because I could offer empathy and not just sympathy. Sometimes just being aware that someone else knows—I mean really knows what you are going through—is enough to bring great comfort in the midst of great despair. We both smiled with a freshly strengthened connection as I opened the driver’s door for him.
Just before climbing into the truck he turned to me and said, “You know it gets worse, right?”
“What gets worse?” I asked.
“Your son,” he replied. “It gets worse as they get older and you get older. They get stronger and you get weaker. You still love them the same, but it becomes impossible for you to take care of them. Even short visits become like this—impossible.”
His words crushed me as I began to see myself in his weary face. I struggled to find some departing words of encouragement and hope—words for two desperate dads living in different seasons of the same struggling life. “Grace is like that, you know,” I said in response. “It exposes our weakness in order to give us greater strength. I guess that’s why we all have to depend on someone a little stronger than ourselves.” At the moment, it was the best I could do.
“Yeah, I guess so,” he replied contemplatively as he shut the truck door. “Thanks again, friend,” and he drove away. As the two men rolled off the parking lot in the old pickup truck, I watched the weary dad lift his arm and place it around the shoulder of his disabled son. A prodigal never finds love so satisfying and sweet as he finds it in the unconditional arms of his father.
I returned to my police cruiser, drove to the far end of the parking lot, and fell to pieces, wrestling hard against the tears of stored-up emotion liberated though this unexpected encounter. Through force of will I soon regained my composure, hoping no one had glimpsed this tough, stoic, in-control cop crying like an infant.
The thought of it ever getting any more difficult absolutely devastated me. As hard as it had been, I had always clung to the hope that someday it would get better; someday it would get easier. I lived with an unspoken assumption that someday Jake would learn to use the bathroom, someday learn to communicate his needs, someday be less frustrated, less combative, less compulsive, less confused. That someday I would be able to hold it all together and be the dad I ought to be for Jake.
The cold, hard truth had hit me like a storm. It might actually get worse.
My body will get older and weaker and Jake will get bigger and stronger and more defiant. His needs will increase as my abilities to care for him decrease. No matter how frail I get, Jake will never be able to care for me—it will never be that way with us. Jake will always need to be taken care of, and someday I will not be able to give him what he needs.
I hear religious-minded people say all the time with good intentions, “God will never place a burden on you so heavy that you cannot carry it.”
My experience is that God will place a burden on you so heavy that you cannot possibly carry it alone. He will break your back and your will. He will buckle your legs until you fall flat beneath the crushing weight of your load. All the while He will walk beside you waiting for you to come to the point where you must depend on Him.
“My power is made perfect in your weakness,” He says, as we strain under our burden. Whatever the burden, it might indeed get worse, but I know this—God is faithful. And while we change and get old, He does not. When we get weaker, He remains strong. And in our weakness and humility, He offers us true, lasting, transforming, and undeserved grace.
It is this grace that enables us to do more than survive in this world. Grace enables us to thrive in the presence of this world’s sufferings while magnifying the One who breaks us with affliction—that He might equip us with comfort, compassion, and strength to give to others.
In the midst of this deep, celestial moment, I realized I had just experienced a divine appointment. This was not just a providential assignment for an empathetic police officer sent to help a weary father with his disabled son. This was more, a lesson of grace that would stay locked in my own heart until I would need it most in the months and years to come.
And I would need it.
In response, I stood for a moment on holy ground praising the God of mercy and comfort, asking for more strength and grace for the future with my own son. My worshipful hymn and prayer of praise sounded like this:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
endorsements & reviews..SHARE..
“Witty…stunning…striking…humorous and heartfelt. In our culture which is so quick to devalue life, Wrestling with an Angel provides a fresh, honest look at one father’s struggle to embrace God in the midst of his son’s disability. Can sheer laughter and weeping gracefully coexist in a world of so much affliction? Greg knows all about it. And inside these pages he passes on his lessons of grace to us. I highly recommend this wonderfully personal book!”
– Joni Eareckson Tada, Joni and Friends International Disability Center
“I didn’t want to read this book. I knew these tear-stained but hope-filled pages would jostle me out of my comfort zone and shake me up. C.S. Lewis wrote that he paradoxically loved The Lord of the Rings because it ‘broke his heart’—and Greg Lucas’ writing does the same for me. And it’s for that reason that I heartily commend this book—especially for dads. This is just the book many of us need to taste afresh the goodness of God and the grace of the gospel even as we long for the day when this broken world will be made right.”
– Justin Taylor, Managing Editor, ESV Study Bible, blogger, Between Two Worlds (The Gospel Coalition)
“This is not primarily a book for parents of special needs children. There is only one disability that keeps a person from heaven. It is not physical or mental like Jake Lucas’ condition. It is the sin that lives in our hearts. Jake’s father, Greg, is a captivating storyteller. When he writes about life with Jake, I recognize God’s grace and loving persistence in my life. I want more!”
“You will laugh; you will cry. You will feel sick; you will feel inspired. You will be repulsed by the ugliness of sin; you will be overwhelmed by the love of God. Greg Lucas takes us on an unforgettable ride on the roller coaster of Christian experience, as he extracts the most beautiful insights into grace from the most painful experiences of life. This brutally honest and deeply moving book helps us to see that we all have special needs that only a special Savior can supply.”
– David P. Murray, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary
“It is the rare book that makes much of God and our dependency on Him while also celebrating His goodness through hard things. Using his own example of parenting a child with significant disabilities, Greg demonstrates what relying on a sovereign God through extreme difficulty and suffering looks like. This book is a gift to the church, and particularly to men who need an example of masculine, Biblical leadership in the face of complex, confusing, and overwhelming circumstances. If you have ever confronted hardship and questioned God’s goodness, this book provides a real-life example of trusting in the promises of God.”
– John Knight, Senior Director for Development, Desiring God
“Jesus told us that we must suffer with him in order to be glorified with him. All of us in Christ face different sorts of trials, but they are all shaping us up for the same purpose: conformity with Christ. In this book, Greg Lucas gives insight into his own experience of cross-bearing. A family facing disability, or those who love and minister to people in such situations, will certainly benefit from this story.”
– Russell D. Moore, Pastor; Dean of the School of Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Author, Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches
“Greg communicates from a heart that loves Jesus deeply and does not shy away from the theological challenges his family context brings. Throughout the pages of this book, Greg has captured personal glimpses of grace in both amazing and, seemingly, mundane ways. Amazing as seen in God’s sovereign hand of protection. Mundane as portrayed in what would normally be a simple task but with Jake requires great grace. It is the grace Greg has described as amazing ‘grace-ability,’ on display in their son’s disability. As the father of a child with special needs, I wholeheartedly recommend Wrestling with an Angel.”
– Justin Reimer, Executive Director, The Elisha Foundation
A must read…
I could not put this book down. Bravo to Greg Lucas for writing such a compelling and honest book about finding the grace of God in the midst of loving and raising an autistic child. This is a must read:
Parents of disabled children will laugh and cry as they read and relate to the stories; they will say “Amen” to the affirmations of God’s grace and the lessons learned; and they will be encouraged and instructed by many other insights into God’s grace that they might not have considered before.
People who know and love families with disabled children will have a greater appreciation and understanding of their world.
Still others who are trying to make sense out of any kind of adversity and wondering where God is in it all will benefit from this heartwarming and insightful book.
One of the touchstone books of my life…
“Haven’t reviewed a book in a while. So a miracle has happened and I have indeed finished a book and feel good enough about it to actually write something concerning it. Most of the time, when I finish reading a book I usually don’t have a strong compulsion to want to tell people to go out and read it right away. This however is not the case with "Wrestling With An Angel”. This book by author Greg Lucas has become one of the touchstone books of my life. I don’t think I am saying that too lightly.
Greg Lucas operates a blog that I was pointed to by Jason Chang (hat tip engage). Gauging from how I responded to reading some entries in his blog, I clearly recall telling Susan right before I started reading, “Susan, I think this book is going to ruin me.” Wrestling With an Angel is a collection of short essays that Lucas has written, recounting experiences he and his family have with his mentally handicapped son. In humorous, heart wrenching, and pride crushing honesty, Lucas recounts how God has worked both in his life, the life of his son, and the life of his family. The absolute best thing about this book is his willingness to not back away from the hard truths of scripture, to look unflinchingly into what the Word of God says about our sinfulness and to accept it. Here’s an excellent excerpt:
“(Speaking of the Gospel) But how is this applied in the life of an individual who cannot respond in faith or who does not have the ability to comprehend the basic truth of the gospel? I’m not thinking of the native in a distant, unreached part of the world, someone who at least has a general revelation to point him towards more specific revelation. I am thinking about my 17-year-old son, who literally has the mental capacity of a 2-year-old.
Many Christians approach this sticky theological topic with their feelings, bypassing biblical study in the fear that truth may not be as comforting as their emotions. We want to believe that infants, very young children, and mentally disabled people are basically innocent in the eyes of God. Should they die without having attained a certain degree of mental capacity, we assure ourselves, they are necessarily saved from His wrath. Certainly this is how God would do it, right? This rationalization feels good and makes sense to our heart."
Amazing! Certainly true and certainly things that I have thought. This kind of intellectual and theological integrity drove me to find comfort in the cross and in the love and grace of God. So theologically and intellectually this book is a complete win.
On a personal and emotional level, I have never read and cried as much as I have when reading a book. I wept at almost every other page. My crying and weeping must have been terribly distracting to Susan at Starbucks since she was trying to study and the folks around us were probably wondering what was going on. The best way I can describe my personal response to this book is that it feels like I am reading someone who has walked the same path I have walked, just who is a little bit ahead of me. Reading the book both reminded me of my past, my present, and my future as I read about Greg’s past, present and future. I wept for a lot of reasons. Another person who is a firm believer and is walking the difficult line in caretaking. The moments of, “Oh I remember feeling just like that…”.
The book is relatively short, its tenth chapter finishing up at 99 pages. I read it in its entirety in an hour and a half. That is not to diminish the book’s great worth – some of the best and most profound reading I have done has been in short books that were concise and relentless in their points (Knowledge of the Holy).
I highly recommend this book, even if you do not have experience in dealing with the mentally handicapped. The lessons and principles that Lucas shares in his book are valuable to all believers at any stage in their lives. While we struggle and strain to love those who may or may not ever learn to love us back just the way we want we can only be deeply humbled and broken and the deep, rescuing, adoptive love of God."
A reminder of God’s grace…
I just finished a really amazing book: “Wrestling with an Angel, A story of Love, Disability and the Lessons of Grace” by Greg Lucas. It is a short book, only 100 pages, but it is powerful. The author of a book is a father who has a son with some very significant needs. I cried several times while reading the book. It touched my heart. I want to share some things from the book that really spoke to me….
I needed to read this book right now. I have really been struggling lately and this book helped me work through some things. My mind has been consumed lately with things that don’t really matter in the big scheme of things. I have this need to control and fix things…but I just can’t. I needed to be reminded of God’s grace and the strength that only He can provide me. I need to be reminded that He is in control and He is so much bigger than any problem, issue, crisis, or trial that I am facing. I just see a few pieces of the puzzle but God knows what the finished picture looks like. I am so lacking on my own, it is God that gives me what I need for the day. I just need to be reminded of that from time to time. It’s easy to get in a routine and just strive to get through the day and forget that God is eager and willing to help me. All I have to do is ask.
Here are some quotes from Amazon reviews, although you should buy the book here because, even though the book costs less here, Greg Lucas and Cruciform Press make more when you buy it here, compared to if you buy it at Amazon. How can that be? Because Amazon takes a really big cut.
Greg Lucas turns the diamond of grace in such a way that you see facets you never really noticed before. Whether or not you are doing life with someone struggling with a disability, you will be encouraged and challenged by this book. Please do not pass up the opportunity to read this book simply because “disability” doesn’t apply to you…I’m ready for another book by Greg Lucas. -KaleoPastor
Greg Lucas' book is outstanding in several ways. Foremost, it speaks truth…This is a brave and humble thing he does.
The book is also alternately hilarious and heartbreaking…actually sometimes feels like fiction, which tells me it is more honest than most so-called “true stories.” It is brilliantly, yet simply, told. A fine, short work of deep truth, honest orthodoxy. A compelling collection of true tales.
A warning. Be careful. This book will awaken your heart to the beautiful pain of adoption, the eucatastrophic revelation of the heart of God toward sinners. Not sentimental…but heartbreakingly lovely to the core. Sobbing will happen. -S.D. Smith
Greg Lucas takes the moments that get thrown away by many of us, meaningfully and expressively connecting them with evidence of the grace of God in his life. Wrestling With An Angel is much more than an encouraging read for parents of children with special needs. It lifts the gaze of the reader from the monotonous details of personal difficulty to focus on Christ. My church has bought several copies, so should you. -Grace Upon Grace
This book is written by a father. It’s written by a masculine soul. But most of all it’s written by one who has been devastated by the grace of God in Christ….Every chapter is extraordinary, but only because the ordinary has been transformed through the lens of the gospel of which Greg Lucas is a master communicator. I give this book the highest compliment I know how to give: After reading this book, I love Jesus more. -Josh Perry
Here’s a recent interview of Greg.
Greg Lucas, author of Wrestling with an Angel, talks about his son, Jake.