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Treasures of Darkness
They loved their son, but his behaviour was out of control. What would it take to turn Jonathan's life around?

September 22, 2004. It was dark by the time Scott Mitchell drove out of the church parking lot and headed home. The meeting had been good and the prayer support encouraging, but even quiet praise songs playing over the car stereo couldn’t still the turmoil in his spirit. Scott and his wife Connie had tried so many times to help their drug-addicted son. Fresh out of hope, they had one last chance but it hung by a slender thread. “Oh God,” Scott had prayed more than once, “I’ll do anything. Please save my boy!”

Connie and her family in happier days, left to right: Sadie, Scott, Jonathan (back row), Connie, Chad. “My husband’s life was not wasted and some day we’ll see the whole picture.”

A member of the pastoral team at Cedar Mill Bible Church in Portland, Oregon, Scott Mitchell was a gifted counselor and speaker who loved music and practical jokes. After graduation from Prairie Bible College in 1977 he married Connie and began ministry in a small church in Washington State.

They were eager to start a family but it was 3 1/2 years before their son Jonathan was born, followed by daughter Sadie. The Mitchells returned to Three Hills, Alberta where Scott became Dean of Men at Prairie Bible College and the arrival of a second son Chad rounded out the family circle. But all was not well.

Bright, but over-active and constantly in trouble, Jonathan proved to be a challenge. It wasn’t until second grade that he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. The condition was poorly understood at the time and while medication helped him do better at school, the side-effects were extreme. When the Mitchells moved on to graduate school and pastoral ministry in the US, it became necessary to home-school and provide tutors for their son who simply could not cope in a classroom setting.

His behavior grew dangerous and by the age of 13 he was using alcohol and marijuana. Soon it was methamphetamines. Recalling how she had prayed so long for this child and dedicated him to God even before he was conceived, Connie struggled to understand: “He was so loved and wanted; why was this happening? We felt like terrible parents and went in all different directions trying to find help.”

But things only worsened as Jonathan’s drug use made him paranoid and delusional. One July day in 2004 Scott found him wandering in the house after overdosing heavily on over-the-counter medications.

Doctors in intensive care labored to save the boy’s life, telling his parents that even if he survived, he would likely need a liver transplant.

In desperation they turned to their church family for prayer support and against all odds, Jonathan pulled through. His behaviour was still extremely confused and psychotic but he understood that his life was in ruins and needed to change. After a long search, the Mitchells found a promising treatment program in New Hampshire and hopes rose once more. Then the axe fell. Jonathan was arrested for public disturbance and faced six months in jail.

His parents had always made it clear that Jonathan would have to face the consequences of his own actions. This time, however, Scott felt compelled to go before the judge and plead for leniency. They had almost lost their son and the New Hampshire program was his last chance. They dared not miss this opportunity. The judge agreed. After giving the boy a stern warning, he sent him home in the custody of his father.

With so much family stress, Scott and Connie were looking forward to some time away together in New Orleans—until Connie tripped on the stairs and broke her foot. In spite of their disappointment they had no choice but to spend their holidays at home. It was a good week nevertheless, with plenty of time to laugh and enjoy each other’s company. On Wednesday evening Scott went to a planning meeting for their men’s ministry at the church, leaving Connie resting in bed.

He came home to find that Jonathan’s girlfriend, a fellow addict, had arrived at the house. Knowing what a negative impact she could have on the boy at this crucial time, Scott went downstairs and politely asked her to leave. Soon Connie heard Jonathan’s angry voice and the slamming of a door. Moments later another sound made her reach for her crutches and hobble to the head of the stairs.

Scott had locked the basement door when the young people left, not realizing that Jonathan was barefoot. Nor was he aware that his son’s irrational fears had prompted him to buy a small .22 caliber handgun. When he couldn’t get back in, Jonathan took the gun in his left hand, smashed the window glass and unlocked the door.

Grabbing the shoes, he left without a word, completely unaware that the weapon had discharged.

Scott looked up at his wife in shock as a sinister red stain spread across his shirt.

Connie discovered her husband standing at the bottom of the stairs in shock with a sinister red stain spreading across his shirt.

Realizing he had been shot, she scrambled frantically down the steps and tried to stop the flow of blood while she called 911. The lone bullet struck Scott in the collarbone and ricocheted down to penetrate the pulmonary artery. Hemorrhaging uncontrollably, he collapsed on the floor and by the time paramedics arrived, it was too late. Scott Mitchell’s life had reached a tragic and untimely end.

Police fanned out in an area-wide search for the gunman but Jonathan was no-where to be found. Connie, Sadie and Chad spent a sleepless night huddled together in shock and grief. They knew that in his psychotic state Jonathan might very well harm himself once he realized what he had done.

The next day the boy reappeared out of nowhere, oblivious to the tragedy. Approaching the policemen surrounding the family home, he demanded to know what they were doing there. When he was arrested on the spot, Jonathan’s paranoia kicked into high gear. Insisting that he was the victim of a conspiracy, he refused to believe that his father was dead until photos of the crime scene were shown to him.

Torn between grief for her husband and fear for her son, Connie was in agony. The question that broke her heart wasn’t why, but why did it have to be this way? “I could have been at peace with the fact that it was Scott’s time to leave this earth,” she recalls, “but couldn’t it have been a heart attack or a car accident? Why did it have to involve Jonathan?”

Evidence would later confirm that the shooting was not intentional. Jonathan had no idea the gun had fired until it was proven that the bullet missing from his .22 matched the one that had killed his father. Stunned and devastated, he accepted responsibility and pled guilty, sparing the family the ordeal of a lengthy trial. However, while Jonathan had meant no harm, the fact that he was carrying a weapon while under the influence of drugs indicated a dangerous recklessness.

Just 23 years old, he was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Young Jonathan Mitchell would spend the prime of his life behind bars.

In the weeks that followed Connie poured over Scott’s personal journals. One entry caught her attention: “When I am tested I will come forth as gold. I may not know where God is in all that is going on, but I know that he is involved.” The scripture that followed was from Isaiah 45: "I will go before you and level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you treasures of darkness…that you may know that I am the Lord…”

Treasures? In such darkness? How could that be? It was impossible not to dwell on the fact that the shooting could easily have been prevented. But for her broken foot, Connie and her husband would have been on vacation. If Scott had not intervened with the judge, Jonathan would have been in jail. Had God slipped up?

Knowing she would drown in the circumstances if she concentrated on the what-if ’s, Connie asked God to keep her focused instead on his love and goodness. All her life she had experienced his faithfulness. Now it was time to stand on that foundation. As her focus became a habit, it gradually became possible to pray that God would reveal himself in this tragedy and that her pain would somehow help others who were suffering.

Feeling that she had some control over her life had always given Connie a sense of security. Now everything had changed without warning and once again there was a choice to be made. Connie began placing both Jonathan and her own future into God’s hands, even though she had no idea what the end would be. The result was that “knowing God was in control gave me hope instead of despair.”

Learning to pray by faith was giving her the strength to refuse to worry. The treasures were starting to shine. Sleep came fitfully in those first terrible nights. But to Connie’s surprise, songs of praise were running through her mind whenever she awoke. Gathering up all her favorite CDs, she played them on the computer all night long and without fail the right words would be there in the darkness exactly when she needed them. On what would have been their 29th wedding anniversary Connie awoke to a special gift from God: a recording of Scott’s beautiful voice singing “Oh, I Want to Know You More.”

Being immersed continuously in praise was having a profound effect on Connie’s spirit. Never before had she experienced such deep pain and sorrow. But at the same time she was finding comfort, peace and joy beyond anything she had ever known. It appeared that the two went hand in hand.

“My husband’s life was not wasted,” says Connie with conviction. “I am continually hearing about the ongoing results of his investment in the lives of so many people. I don’t believe God will waste his death either. Scott had told friends that he would gladly give his own life if it would make a difference for Jonathan. And our son truly has been given a second chance. He might have gone to the program in New Hampshire but I don’t think he would have stayed. Now he has no choice. He finally has a clear mind and is healthy and drug-free and learning to make wise choices.

“God is clearing away my short-sightedness and helping me comprehend that he has a much bigger eternal plan than I can even imagine. He knows the end of the story and some day we will see the whole picture. In the meantime I am content to trust in his goodness and love for my family and for me.”

Connie can be reached at: www.ConnieLouMitchell.com

Originally published in Servant Magazine, Issue 81, 2009.

 

 
 
 
 

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