Branded by His Grace

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Branded by His Grace

Two fathers. Two sons. Two stories. One began in a barn. The other ended in one. I first crossed paths with Marcus Grau on a trail ride in New Mexico. It was one of those annual male bonding events that bring a couple dozen guys in bad need of riding skills alongside a couple dozen men who can show them how it’s done. Marcus was one of those men who knew his way around a horse. Riding and roping were second nature to him. He was one of the few guys I knew who could take a cell phone call at a full gallop. The first time I saw Marcus he was riding alongside his terrific father, Wesley. They also happened to be anchor tenants of a small contingency of men on this trail ride who placed their eternal trust in Jesus Christ. Speaking of his parents, Marcus grew up in the shadow of two people who loved the Lord, loved each other, and loved the land. Wesley and Elnabeth had been ranching a decent sized spread in New Mexico since the time they first exchanged their vows. They passed on to their only son the gritty determination of a seasoned cowboy and the tender heart of a saint. He’d need both of these qualities for the trail God ultimately called him to ride. The first time I knew something was wrong was that third year we all gathered for our ride. Pickup trucks and horse trailers crowded the corral that served as our staging area. I was synching up my saddle and exchanging some nonsense with one of the wranglers when Wesley came walking up, leading his horse behind him. For some reason, he didn’t look as tall as I remembered him. He wasn’t. The burden he was carrying on his shoulders would weigh down any man. We shook hands and Wesley cut to the chase. “Tim, Elnabeth and I really need your prayers for our son, Marcus. He’s sick.” Cancer. It had gotten a major hold on Marcus’ system and in the process sucker-punched everyone in his extended family portrait. Marcus had a wife and three young boys. These things aren’t supposed to happen to men his age. Over the next few days, Wesley and I talked as we rode together and sat by the fire at night. He was rightfully worried, but working overtime to trust God for a good outcome. When we all gathered for our trail ride the following May, I was glad to see Marcus sitting tall on his reddish orange Dunn horse “Denny.” He seemed to be holding the high ground with his medical issues. We all had a great time together. He even gave me a private lesson on how to rope the back leg of a steer. It would be the last time I’d see him alive. No one knew it, but the cancer was simply hiding in the shadows, biding its time, just waiting for the opportunity to make its final strike. In the months that followed, it moved out into the open and took center stage. On February 10th of this year, it finally got the best of him. Wesley and Elnabeth chose to bury Marcus in the middle of a sloping section of pasture about seven miles from their home. Family and close friends gathered in one of the barns on their ranch for a unique ceremony before they rode out to the burial site. It was a crisp, bitterly cold Tuesday; the eve of Valentine’s Day. The mahogany casket that held Marcus’ body sat in the middle of the chilly barn. His brown felt cowboy hat, Bible, and lariat rested on its closed lid. Over to the side, a butane torch hissed as it heated up the tips of a line of long, steel, rods so familiar to the weathered cattlemen and women who huddled around the casket. Cattle brands. They’re a sign of ownership. Wesley had asked a few of the men to bring their brands with them. These were Marcus’ close friends and some of the older ranchers who had played a key role in his life. After all, they had each owned a part of his heart. Wesley shared a few words, and then one by one—starting with Marcus’ three sons—they took their turn branding their mark into the sides and ends of his casket. And then Wesley closed off this time with some words about another brand, the brand under which Marcus would forever ride. It was the same brand that he and Elnabeth had had etched into the top of the case that would hold Marcus’ earthly remains out in the middle of that lonely pasture. Wesley said, “The brand that Marcus is carrying with him now is the cross. How God gave Jesus for us, I’ll never know, because if it had been up to me, you’d all be going to Hell.” Everyone laughed. And then Wesley finished his thoughts, “I wouldn’t have given my son up for anyone, but God gave Jesus up for all of us.” They were the finishing touch to a young man’s story; spoken in a barn of all places. They were words seasoned with hope because of another boy’s story that began in one. A Savior’s birth in a barn in Bethlehem brought comfort to a grieving couple holding a branding iron in New Mexico. They had raised a son who carried on a purpose-driven work and maintained a passion-driven worship so that ultimately he could ride into the presence of a grace-giving Savior. © Copyright Tim Kimmel 2007

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