FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. – In God’s remarkable plan of creation He made man in his own image. Every person has the privilege of daily writing a new chapter of his/her life on beautiful parchment pages provided by God.
Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world where sin abounds. Consequently, our lives are scarred by sin, failure, guilt, heartache, disappointment, pain, sorrow, loss, and death; and as we daily write the chapters of our lives, the pages are often tattered and torn by those experiences that cause us to stumble and fail. Sometimes a beautiful chapter can be spoiled when we yield to some temptation or experience some unexpected adversity or find ourselves plunged into some season of mourning.
Jay Gardner knows something about the torn pages of the chapters of his life. Gardner was a splendid athlete at Shamrock High School in Decatur, playing football. He later joined the U. S. Navy, where he served our nation and honed his skill as a boxer. In fact, he qualified for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles as a boxer.
Some years later he was married, and he and his wife had two children. They became a part of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Duluth (now North Metro First Baptist Church in Lawrenceville) where Gardner rededicated his life to Christ. He grew as a Christian and Pastor Frank Cox saw God at work in Jay’s life and believed that God was going to use him in a special way. One Sunday Cox called Gardner up in front of the church, blessed him, and had the church vote to approve him as a candidate for admission to a seminary to prepare for some area of ministry.
As sometimes happens, the devil apparently saw Gardner as a threat to his malevolent kingdom and began to torment and tempt him. Gardner said, “Satan’s attack was relentless. I began to see visions and demons. The devil’s onslaught was so brutal that I went off the grid and foolishly turned my back on God.”
Gardner’s marriage began to disintegrate. He sought to escape life’s realities through alcohol and drugs. His life of crime started in 1994 and ended in a robbing spree in 1997.
Because of his affable personality Gardner became known as “the gentleman bandit.” It has been reported that one hotel manager stated, “I would have hired him as an employee if he had not robbed us.”
His unbridled lifestyle ultimately resulted in a 20-year prison sentence. He was convicted of armed robbery, but claimed he was not armed. In Georgia, a thief does not have to possess an offensive weapon to be convicted of armed robbery. Any device having the appearance of a weapon qualifies as “armed robbery”.
Gardner was in prison from 1997 to 2017. He declares, “Prison is a place where there are no colors and no gifts. Everything is either black or white; and no prisoner is permitted to receive gifts.”
In 2000 Gardner saw a man wearing a necklace of colorful beads. He explained, “I had to have that necklace because of the beautiful colors. I don’t remember exactly what I gave him in exchange for the necklace – probably a bag of coffee. But once I had that necklace, I was content.
“It was at that point that I began to sense God’s voice again, and He was asking, ‘Son, do you know what you have? Those beads are about love, grace, forgiveness and even the cross.”
Gardner discovered that although the beads were rock solid, they were made of torn pages of paper. He stated, “God seemed to be saying to me that the necklace was a reflection of the torn pages of my existence and that He could still make something beautiful out of my life.”
Twenty-two years ago, while still in prison, Gardner, using his own creativity and ingenuity, learned how to make the colorful beads from torn pieces of paper and fashion them into bracelets, necklaces and crosses. His life began to change, and he realized that the jewelry he was producing could be used by God to share a radiant message of hope, peace, and strength. He soon discovered that what he was doing was giving him a renewed purpose and mission.
In a recent dining experience Gardner mesmerized the waitress at his table when he asked her, “What do you think this bracelet is made of?” She offered her guesses but was astounded when she discovered that the beads on the bracelet were made of torn pages of paper.
Then Gardner explained to her how the bracelet represents the torn pages of our lives – the sin, sadness, and sorrow we often experience. The waitress, Theresa, began to weep as she thought of her grandchild who was in the hospital. It provided the perfect opportunity for words of consolation and a prayer right at the table in a rather crowded restaurant.
Pastor Frank Cox and Gardner have reconnected and in a recent interview the North Metro pastor commented, “I believe in Jay. He has a winsome personality and is highly motivated to do something great for people everywhere. He has been through a season of great testing and come out a better man. He has established an amazing ministry in Torn Pages and developed an evangelistic tool that could create a movement.”
Gardner has four primary pillars or purposes for making and distributing his products. First, he wants to pass on the gift of hope, peace and strength to others who have torn pages in the chapters of their lives. Second, in Georgia, 20,000 prisoners are released from their incarceration each year with $35, a bus ticket and the clothes on their backs. Unfortunately, forty percent of those prisoners will return to prison. Gardner wants to use his ministry to lower the percentage of prisoners who err and face additional detention.
Third, Torn Pages provides direct economic aid for developing nations. For example, there are 28 women in Uganda making the jewelry out of torn pieces of paper who are able to support 130 children in three villages. Fourth, Torn Pages partners with other non-profits to help them serve others with the gift of hope, peace, strength, and volunteering.
It is Jay’s prayer that thousands of churches use his ministry concept to comfort the afflicted and reach those who are lost and without Christ. He is available to speak in churches and share his testimony of restoration and hope.