New Year's Resolution: Surrender the Pen

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Jim Gash is a Professor of Law and directs Pepperdine's Global Justice Program.

The following is adapted from Jim Gash's forthcoming book, Divine Collision.

I can't pinpoint exactly when I snatched the pen from God's hand — I'd had a firm grip on it for as long as I could remember. I felt like I'd done a pretty good job of writing the first forty-two chapters of my story — happy and healthy childhood, thriving and joyful twenty-year marriage, smart and well-adjusted kids, and a challenging and rewarding law professor job at Pepperdine.

I'd given God an important supporting actor role, and He'd played his part well. He'd shown up whenever I needed Him and provided support and strength in times of need. I was pleased with the story I'd written.

And then I wasn't. Or perhaps . . . He wasn't.

It's been more than six years since then, so some aspects are a bit fuzzy. But I remember one moment as clear as yesterday — a half-crazed bearded man, half-laughing and half-shouting from a stage in a jam-packed hotel ballroom near the end of 2009 in San Diego. I'll never forget that image, or what that man said.

"Love isn't just about praying for people or wishing them well from a distance. Love is about being with people and carrying their burdens. Love does!" Bob Goff bellowed at the Christian Legal Society's National Conference.

I'd heard of Bob and the Restore International organization he leads, but hadn't met him yet. That soon changed. And so did my life when I resolved to surrender the pen to God and let Him write the rest of my story.

He didn't take long to shift the story's backdrop from the breezy beach of Malibu, California to the barren bush of Masindi, Uganda. Less than one week into my 2010 New Year's Resolution to surrender the pen, three other lawyers and I walked into a dilapidated juvenile prison, where Bob had told us twenty-one kids languished while waiting for their day in court.

Over the next few days, God introduced new characters into the story, including a desperate teenage boy named Henry who faced two separate charges for murders he didn't commit. As one of only two prisoners who spoke English, Henry became my trusted interpreter for the intensive week of case preparation that followed. As our group departed the prison, God infused my heart with an insatiable desire to prove Henry's innocence and provide for his education. Love does.

Over the next few months, God added even more new characters, including several Ugandan judges determined to improve Uganda's criminal justice system. He designed and orchestrated a dizzying roller coaster ride I never could have imagined and would never have boarded had I known where it was going. After a pulse-quickening climb, it plummeted Henry and me into depths of sorrow we'd never before experienced when Henry was convicted of murder.

"Hold on! Where are you, Lord?" I shouted.

"Do you trust me"? He whispered back.

A series of hair-raising, hair-pin turns unexpectedly transplanted my entire family into Uganda for six months and then skidded me into a place no American had ever been permitted to be — as an advocate in the Ugandan Court of Appeals where I stood beside Henry as his lawyer and argued his case.

"I trust you, Lord," I whispered.

"Hold on!" He shouted back.

The roller coaster rocketed us to heights of joy we hadn't previously thought imaginable as God beautifully choreographed the next chapter of this redemption story of a lifetime. I never would have believed it had God not granted me the privilege to live this story He wrote for me and Henry and our families.

Six years (and seventeen trips to Uganda) ago, I resolved to let the author of the universe be the author of my story, and everything changed. Who is better equipped to write your story — you or God?

This year, whisper "I trust you, Lord," then hold on tight as you surrender the pen.

Jim Gash (right), professor of law at Pepperdine and author of "Divine Collision," and Henry.
Jim Gash is a Professor of Law and directs Pepperdine's Global Justice Program. Jim's brand new book Divine Collision tells the remarkable story of how meeting Henry in a juvenile prison in 2010 radically changed both of their lives and transformed Uganda's criminal justice system.