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Choosing God's Mark to Transform Your Life
By Kim Goad, Janet Bostwick Kusiak
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2012 Kim Goad and Janet E. Kusiak
All rights reserved.
Showcases: Choosing Your Artist
They are ... the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor. —Isaiah 60:21 (NIV)
One of the last tattoos I got is ... a picture of Jesus's face superimposed over a cross. He's on the same leg with the demon with no eyes. When I look at myself now, I see what I couldn't see then. This was spiritual warfare, taking place subconsciously on my body. The soulless demon. The face of Jesus. The battle had begun. —Josh Hamilton
Tattoos were first introduced to the United States when German-born Martin Hildebrandt tattooed both Union and Confederate soldiers in their camps. Tattooing reached its "golden age" in the 1940s when sailors returned home sporting their new body art. Tattoo popularity spread to include bikers in the 1950s, hippies in the 1960s, rock stars in the 1970s and 1980s, and athletes in the 1990s. Now, tattoos have become part of the mainstream. According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of people born between 1961 and 1981 have at least one tattoo.
For the 60 percent who don't have a tattoo, Josh Hamilton has done his share of picking up the slack. But long before the star outfielder for the Texas Rangers ever thought of getting the first of his twenty-six tattoos, Josh was marked by a dream to play baseball. At six years old, he was throwing a baseball at fifty miles per hour—so fast that the other parents complained that their kids were in danger of being hurt. The Tar Heel League bumped him up to his brother's team of fifth through seventh graders.
As a teen, Josh was ranked by Baseball America among the top five high school players in the country. He was so heavily scouted that he even missed his senior prom in order to avoid any potential scandals.
At eighteen years old, just two days after his high school graduation, Josh was drafted—as the number one pick in 1999—by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The dream that had marked his early childhood was becoming a reality, and he inked a record $3.96 million signing bonus.
In his book Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back, Josh explained that his original ink began to be smudged when he was in a major car accident in 2001, resulting in a back injury. Unable to play the sport he loved and being isolated from his family, Josh began frequenting a tattoo shop in a Tampa strip mall; it became his second home. In tattoo lingo, showcases are people who display on their bodies a lot of work from the same artist. Now, with nothing but time and money, Josh would spend hours in the chair, numbing out, letting the artist decide what he wanted to ink onto Hamilton's body. He was fast becoming a showcase for that artist, and the marks would prove to be more than skin-deep.
Josh's story has similarities to the story of the twelve Israelite spies. When God brought the Israelites out of slavery and was ready to bring them to the land he had promised them, Moses was instructed to select a leader from each of the twelve tribes to go and stake out the land. After forty days of exploring the land, its towns, its people, and its vegetation, they came back and reported this to Moses: "We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! ... But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large." Only Caleb said, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it." But the Bible says that those against Caleb spread fear throughout the Israelites, saying, "The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size.... We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them."
Josh did what so many of us do. We imprint on our minds that we are grasshoppers. Then those around us see that ink and treat us according to the mark we've taken on for ourselves—that we are small, insignificant, a failure. And what does that tell people about the Artist we're showcasing? The Bible says we are "God's handiwork," "the work of [his] hand," and created for the display of his splendor." Do we believe that? What's more, do we really allow it to change the way we identify ourselves? Does it challenge us to live differently, to go forth and take possession of whatever God has promised for our own lives?
Which Artist Is in Charge?
When asked to explain the meaning behind each of his twenty-six tattoos, Josh half laughs. "The truth is, most of the time I wasn't interested in what they were putting on my body ... the artists were in charge." And, left in charge, what they inked included a number of demons on his body. He said that what started out as a release eventually became another master to obey—a master that first showed up in a premonition during his first summer in the pros.
He was playing center field at a night game and a thunderstorm was looming. He describes it like this:
There was lightning in the distance, and the clouds lit up every few seconds as they bounced our way. I watched, interested in the formations and curious about whether they would arrive and wash out the game.
I have difficulty describing what happened next. The clouds kept moving, and suddenly a demon's face appeared, superimposed on the clouds. It was jumping out at me, and it made me rock back on my heels. I got chills. The face was grinning, almost taunting.
The vision stuck with me the rest of the game. I didn't know what to make of it, but I didn't feel I could ignore it. There was something there for me, some message or warning.
After the game, walking back to the motel, he and his roommate noticed a bluish light coming from their room. They both remembered turning off the TV and all the lights. Nothing seemed amiss when they entered their room. His roommate headed straight for the bathroom and Josh went to turn on the TV. What he saw stopped him dead in his tracks. There on the hotel television, Hamilton reports that he saw an image of clouds similar to what he had witnessed from the ball field. Except this time, rather than a demon, he believed he was seeing Jesus, reaching out to him.
Feeling that this was obviously connected with what had happened during the game, Josh felt that he was being sent a message and that it was his job to figure out what it was. "So, with the events of that night providing the push, I lay in bed in a West Virginia motel room and thought seriously about the role of Jesus Christ in my life, and how I was supposed to respond to His message."
It seemed as if he might then begin to choose some different marks for his life, but somewhere between the deep impressions of that night and October 2005, Josh decided to showcase a different artist.
The next few years were gouged by drug abuse, baseball suspensions, rehab stays, hospital visits, dangerous threats from drug dealers, and the heartbreak of those who loved him.
On a fateful day in October 2005, Josh woke up after a crack binge in a hot trailer surrounded by strangers. He had loaned his truck to a dealer to get more crack, but the dealer hadn't come back. He walked trancelike down a two-lane highway and eventually found a pay phone, where he called his estranged wife, Katie, for a ride. Josh said, "I was a bad husband and a bad father, and I had no relationship with God. Baseball wasn't even on my mind." But on the ride home, Katie told him about a dream she had—one where God impressed upon her that He was going to bring Josh back to baseball, but that it wouldn't be about baseball. It would be for something much bigger. Josh blew her off.
While Katie believed that God was going to bring Josh back to baseball for something bigger, she wasn't ready to let him come home. With nowhere else to go, Josh showed up at his granny's house. Mary Holt, who had always provided a safe haven when he was a little boy, took one look at Josh's wrecked body and said, "I'm tired of you killing yourself.
I'm tired of watching you hurt all of these people who care about you." She took him in and forced him to rest, and for the next few months, she nourished him back to physical and emotional health. God used her as an instrument in the process of rein king the original etches that had marked the early years of Josh's life.
It wouldn't be easy, though; the smudges and smears of the ink he'd been showcasing were stubbornly stamped on his being. That first week, Josh had a nightmare, which he related to an interviewer:
I was fighting the devil, an awful-looking thing. I had a stick or a bat or something, and every time I hit the devil, he'd fall and get back up. Over and over I hit him, until I was exhausted and he was still standing. I woke up in a sweat, as if I'd been truly fighting, and the terror that gripped me makes that dream feel real to this day. I'd been alone for so long, alone with the fears and emotions I worked so hard to kill. I'm not embarrassed to admit that after I woke up that night, I walked down the hall to my grandmother's room and crawled under the covers with her.
The next night, Josh picked up a Bible at the foot of his bed and asked God for help. He came across this verse: "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." "The devil stayed out of my dreams for seven months after that," Josh said. "I stayed clean and worked hard and tried to put my marriage and my life back together."
Grasshoppers or Conquerors?
Josh desperately wanted to get back to playing baseball, but his more recent past was chiseled into his memory, and he was afraid of again disappointing those who loved him. One day while eating at the kitchen table while his granny did the dishes, he told her he didn't think he'd ever play baseball again. As he tells it, his granny turned back to the dishes and smiled to herself. She would tell him later that it was at that point that she knew he was at least thinking about ball, and that she knew that meant he'd get back to playing ball.
Crediting God and Granny's approach to rehab, Josh was sober for eight months and returned to baseball in June 2006. A few weeks later, the devil reappeared in the same old dream, but with an important difference. Josh said,
I would hit him and he would bounce back up, the ugliest and most hideous creature you could imagine. This devil seemed unbeatable; I couldn't knock him out. But just when I felt like giving up, I felt a presence by my side. I turned my head and saw Jesus, battling alongside me. We kept fighting, and I was filled with strength. The devil didn't stand a chance. You can doubt me, but I swear to you I dreamed it. When I woke up, I felt at peace. I wasn't scared. To me, the lesson was obvious: Alone, I couldn't win this battle. With Jesus, I couldn't lose.
About 275 years after the Israelites had crossed the Jordan to claim God's promise for them, they would again face what looked like giants. For seven years, they had been hiding in caves from the Midianites, who would invade and destroy their livestock and crops. The Bible says the Israelites finally cried out to the Lord for help and, once again, God came to their rescue. The angel of the Lord found Gideon—hiding in a winepress, threshing wheat there so the Midianites wouldn't discover it. And when the angel of the Lord found Gideon, this is what he said to him: "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior."
Mighty warrior? That's not a tattoo Gideon remembered getting. He was hiding out in a winepress, for crying out loud! Even Gideon thought it was ludicrous (one might even say as ludicrous as calling a crack addict a Major League Baseball All-Star). He said, "What do you mean, God's sending me to save Israel from the Midianites? I'm from the weakest clan and, not only that, I'm the least in my family!"
Then again, this is the same God who "calls things that don't exist into existence." The rest of Gideon's story and the miraculous battle against the Midianites is in Judges 6 and 7, but the bottom line is that God did, indeed, use Gideon to lead just three hundred men to defeat what many scholars estimate must have been hundreds of thousands of enemy soldiers. This time, instead of doubting grasshoppers turning away from God's plan, mighty conquerors were born of faithfulness to God's calling.
"Addiction is a humbling experience," Josh admitted.
Getting it under control is even more humbling. I got better for one reason: I surrendered. Instead of asking to be bailed out, instead of making deals with God by saying, "If you get me out of this mess, I'll stop doing what I'm doing," I asked for help. I wouldn't do that before. I'd been the Devil Rays' No. 1 pick in the 1999 draft, supposedly a five-tool prospect. I was a big, strong man, and I was supposed to be able to handle my problems myself. That didn't work out so well.
No matter what happened in the future, Josh had finally rejected his grasshopper tendencies and had become God's warrior, claiming God's true mark for his life.
Eight months later, he was once again playing in the majors, ultimately for the Texas Rangers. On July 14, 2008, which he has described as one of the most exhilarating nights of his life, he hit twenty-eight homers in the Home Run Derby in Yankee Stadium (the next highest was eight) while the crowd chanted, "Ham-ilton. Ham-il-ton. Ham-il-ton." Two weeks prior, playing the Yankees in New York, the crowd had chanted, "Josh smokes crack. Josh smokes crack." But, like Gideon, Josh Hamilton isn't after the applause of men; he's chosen to showcase the Master Artist.
There was yet another Israelite who learned the importance of showcasing the right artist over listening to man's opinion. He had three older brothers in the army, fighting in a battle twenty miles or so southwest of Jerusalem. One day, in the hopes of getting some firsthand news from the front line, he delivered food to his brothers and their commanding officer. When he arrived in the valley where the battle was taking place, he learned that the enemy had made an unusual challenge: "Our best soldier against yours in a single combat. The winner of the match determines the outcome. If our soldier kills your challenger, you accede to our demands; if your soldier is victorious, we'll surrender."
It was a tempting wager. As uncommon as it was, if a soldier could prevail in the challenge, many resources and lives would be spared. There was only one problem: no soldier was willing to volunteer for the task.
Then this young man showed up. He was incredulous: "Who does this guy think he is, insulting Israel's army?" When he offered to take up the challenge in this one-to-one combat, he was mocked by his own brothers and dismissed as naive by the commander in chief of Israel's armed forces. Refusing to allow that ink to penetrate his thinking, the boy swore that before the day was over, he'd have the challenger's head. And he picked up his weapon and did just that.
The year was around 1024 B.C. The place was the Elah Valley. The boy's name was David, and his weapon was a slingshot. Before David killed Goliath, he made it perfectly clear whom he was showcasing: "This day the whole world will know there is a God in Israel!"
As Josh Hamilton told us in a phone interview, when the fans voted him into the 2008 All-Star game, he didn't feel as though he deserved it compared to other players. He said he prayed about it and that it was impressed upon him that he would be given the opportunity to showcase Christ. At the end of the Home Run Derby, Erin Andrews, reporting for ESPN, did, indeed, approach him and asked him what had been the most memorable event of this season, the All-Star game, and the Home Run Derby. Josh said, "I just got this big grin on my face and said that it has been sharing Christ with millions of people."
Josh has many trophies in his showcase—four-time All-Star, American League MVP, American League Players Choice Award for Outstanding Player, USA Today American League Most Valuable Player, the Silver Slugger Award, the American League batting champion, and the American League Champion Series MVP. Yet, like David slaying the giant so that the whole world would know there is a God in Israel, Josh is interested only in showcasing his Artist. Of God, Josh said: "He's not worried about accolades, or trophies, or anything like that. He's worried about how can I glorify Him in everything I do." Josh also said,
This may sound crazy, but I wouldn't change a thing about my path to the big leagues. I wouldn't even change the 26 tattoos that cover so much of my body, even though they're the most obvious signs of my life temporarily leaving the tracks. You're probably thinking, "Bad decisions and addiction almost cost him his life, and he wouldn't change anything?" But if I hadn't gone through all the hard times, this whole story would be just about baseball. If I'd made the big leagues at 21 and made my first All-Star team at 23 and done all the things expected of me, I would be a big-time baseball player, and that's it. Baseball is third in my life right now, behind my relationship with God and my family. Without the first two, baseball isn't even in the picture. Believe me, I know.
Excerpted from Inked by Kim Goad, Janet Bostwick Kusiak. Copyright © 2012 Kim Goad and Janet E. Kusiak. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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