Putting on the Armor of God

May 31, 2010 at 4:36 pm Leave a comment

   Jean Michaels is petite.  Casual observation suggests she’s not capable of hefting heavy loads.  This misleading first impression supports the adage that appearances often deceive. 

Jean has always had a bit of spunk to her personality, but she didn’t necessarily see herself as a warrior.  Born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 1954 to a photographer dad and his homemaker wife, she spent her growing-up years working in the family business with her four siblings, and going to church every Sunday. 

“Dad was a good, frugal businessman,” says Jean.  He trained his children in every aspect of daily operations, and they established a solid, middle-class lifestyle.  “We had a lake cabin and snowmobiles, and we were the first family in the neighborhood to have a color television set!” 

When Minnesota winters became tiresome and Arizona friends spoke of good opportunities there, the family relocated to Phoenix.  Life seemed pretty good.

Still, being ripped out of familiar surroundings just as they were starting their junior and senior years of high school was rough on Jean and her older sister; finding a place among cliques of teenagers who had been together since elementary school was daunting. 

In 12th grade Jean joined the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America to get a head start on charting a career path, but a persistent sense that something was lacking impelled her to seek emotional connections outside of school.  Shortly after her 1972 graduation she became a licensed cosmetologist, and that same October married a slightly older fellow from a troubled family. 

Jean worked as a hairstylist until her first son came along in late 1973.  Her husband attended church with her, but there were hints that living his faith did not come easily to him.  By 1976 she sensed that she had married for the wrong reasons and fled back to Minnesota with her son to make a fresh start.  When her husband followed, pleading to keep the family intact, they decided to try for that new beginning together.

Following their relocation, she welcomed two more sons into her family, one in 1978 and another in 1981, but her feelings of being controlled, of not providing the best environment for her children, and of not being “equally yoked” intensified.  After 20 years of good faith efforts, she finally left the marriage.

Divorce was a wrenching choice for Jean, and some Christian friends were less than supportive, but she and her sons found peace in the decision.  “My bible became my lifeline,” she recalls, “and Corrie Ten Boom and Marie VonTrapp were a great inspiration to me.  Reading about their lives helped me to grow and to strengthen the foundation of my faith.”  She would rely on that strong foundation as she worked long hours making a life for her boys, and strode into an unpredictable future.

Step one, buying a duplex with proceeds from the sale of the family home, turned from dream to nightmare when she lost most of her possessions, including her copy of the purchase agreement, in an apartment fire two days before the scheduled move.  Through the financial losses and emotional trauma, her faith was sustained by the Lord’s steadying hand – and sometimes by His voice.

“We were going to go out one door and I heard someone say ‘do not come out this way,’ so we went the other way, knocking on doors to [alert our neighbors].  Once we were out, we saw the way we were going to get out was in flames, and we would not have made it.  There was no way anyone was in there telling us not to come that way, except for God.”

Earthly assistance came from coworkers, family, and friends, who helped them replace lost belongings, and from the lawyer Jean hired to fight the unscrupulous seller whom she had naively trusted to rewrite the purchase agreement.  “Even wrong decisions, made with a right heart, in faith – God will bless those efforts,” she declares with well-earned conviction.

As her children grew older and more independent, Jean began a relationship with a new believer and found comfort in attending church with him.  One year into the relationship his brittle diabetes caused kidney failure and heart problems, which soon led to his premature death.  Alone again, Jean thought about the joys and sorrows of her life, when “God was always there to pick me up.”  She leaned on her Heavenly Father in prayer, asking Him to lead her to “a ‘healthy,’ godly man; a man who not only believed, but who would challenge and inspire me in my faith.”

In the fall of 1996 she met Ron – also a parent to three sons.  They married the following year, and once again life seemed pretty good.  Excellent, in fact.  Ron was adored by her children and brought to the relationship a love of family and the outdoors, and a guileless enthusiasm for his faith.  “I am a worrier,” Jean explains, “but Ron has the faith of a child – never questioning, always trusting God to work all things to the good.”

How that trust was to be tested would have been inconceivable to the newlyweds.  With each holding government jobs with good benefits, Ron was able to indulge in his beloved sports and entertain his ten siblings in his relaxed new home environment.  He and Jean even took ballroom dance classes together.  Threats of disability or major crisis didn’t seem within the realm of probability – but then, this was not mathematics, it was life.

Sports injuries are common, and those injuries sometimes require surgery, but it is only a freakish fluke that leaves a person with debilitating chronic fatigue, severe fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, and memory loss in the aftermath.  Three years into their marriage, following two operations to repair a muscle torn playing volleyball, Ron became one of those unfortunate statistics known as a medical mystery.

With her husband unable to work, his days filled with the tedium of television and frequent, futile visits to specialists, Jean reconfirmed the importance of her faith.  Believing that nothing was going to happen to them that they and God together couldn’t handle, she and Ron prayed for the serenity to accept afflictions beyond their control and worked to change what they could.  It was a formidable test, but they kept their perspective, knowing that others dealt with worse hardships.  

While they were busy coping, events worthy of a miniseries script began to unfold with a telephone call from the police department in Ron’s hometown.  The authorities wanted to re-interview him about the death of a young man he had attended a party with twenty-five years earlier.  At the time of the incident twenty-seven individuals were questioned, but without any sign of a struggle the coroner listed the cause as “unsolved, violent death,” and the police closed the case as a hit and run situation. 

Now the Target Corporation was offering grants to resolve cold cases – an opportunity for cash and notoriety that local law enforcement couldn’t resist.  In an unusual move, the current coroner changes the autopsy conclusions of her predecessor in order to reclassify the death as homicide, which qualifies it for cold case funding. 

This much Ron and Jean know.  What they don’t know is that overzealous investigators have zeroed in on a vulnerable, mentally challenged man who happened to be at that same post-bar-closing party with many other young adults from the area, and have frightened him out of his wits with fabricated claims of physical evidence.  Confused and malleable from hours of relentless questioning, this individual who had not even recognized Ron’s name or photo when the interrogations began was now naming him as the party responsible for the victim’s demise.

At 4:00 p.m. on Friday, November 4, 2005, Ron is wrapping up a session with Matt, his prayer partner from church, and they are chatting at the open front door.  A half-dozen police officers suddenly appear on the front steps, grab Matt and put a gun to his chest, then shove Ron back into the house, red laser dots from their assault weapons targeting his chest.  A handgun to his head and one to his chest, Ron is taken into custody, as he cries out, “Why are you doing this?” 

Ron is charged with first-degree murder, handcuffed, and marched past gawking neighbors as he tries to mentally prepare for spending a night or two in jail while this mistake gets sorted out.  Nothing can prepare Jean for her next telephone call from Ron.

It will be one year before Ron’s case comes to trial.  Because it is a first-degree murder case, bail is set so high he can’t cover it and attorney’s fees both, and because he is a county jail prisoner, he must fight for even the minimal equipment and services required by his illness.  He will lose teeth from lack of treatment and a second mortgage will cover only the initial legal expenses.  Throughout the twelve months, Jean will shed so much weight that her family fears for her health, and will make countless 60-mile round-trips to visit her husband. 

By trial time, Ron declares that the jury is certain to see through the flimsy case the prosecution is offering in place of actual facts, only to question himself:  “I never thought the arrest could possibly stick, either.”  He and Jean accept wholeheartedly the promise of Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,'” but still struggle to find peace.

They also battle evil in the insidious guise of individuals cloaked in the official mantle of “justice crusader” who become blinded by their own ambitions.  Jean leads a prayer in the conference room every morning of the seven-day trial, and asks friends and relatives to join her large prayer team as well.  “Sometimes, you just need one other person to share your concern, and pray with you.  But when you are fighting evil, you need an army of people to pray with you, and you need to put on the armor of God,” she tells those around her.  

Witness after witness testifies that Ron is a peacemaker, not a fighter, and the defense exposes claims of non-existent physical evidence, but the judge refuses to dismiss the case.  The dramatic answer to their concert of prayers comes when Ron’s lawyer, knowing coercion took place and sensing an edginess in the “eye-witness,” asks, “You really don’t know what happened out there that night, do you?”

“No, I don’t,” comes the response.  “The reason you don’t know what happened out there that night is because you were never there, were you?” “No, I wasn’t.”  Then, pointing to Ron, “Neither was he, was he?”  When the witness responds, “No, he wasn’t there either,” the prosecutor attacks her prime witness, shrieking, as if it were a shocking revelation, “You lied?  Why?”

This impulsive demand leads to more truth than the prosecutor wants to hear:  “Because they told me that if I didn’t tell this story that they wanted me to tell, that I was going to go to prison for the rest of my life.  I can’t do it anymore.”  The jury is out only 20 minutes, fifteen of them spent filling out the paperwork required to register their “not guilty” verdict.  The nightmare has finally ended, the truth has prevailed, and Ron and Jean will soon spend their first night under the same roof in over 12 months.

Of this most grueling experience of her life, Jean now says, “There is a purpose for suffering and there are blessings in hardship.  It strengthens others to see the endurance of the faithful, and it gives them an opportunity to reach out in faith.  Someone from church called me every single morning of the trial with a verse of scripture.” 

 As for Ron and Jean, they prayed daily from Ephesians during their year of battling darkness, and they still have those favorite sustaining verses posted on the mirror they use every morning:   

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”    Ephesians 6:10-13


Entry filed under: People of Faith and Courage. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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