Dean Watson carries a .30-06-caliber bullet in his pocket, a reminder of the shot that ripped through his skull and turned his life upside down Christmas of 1972.
The accidental shooting near Union Springs, Ala., left him slumped on the floorboard of a car. He drifted in and out of consciousness as his hunting buddies frantically rushed the 27-year-old to a doctor in Columbus, Ga.
He thought he was dying, and no one would have doubted him. But the reality proved quite different - he was at the beginning of a new life, one that would lead him to serve as a preacher, evangelist, artist and writer.
The accident "was the biggest blessing of my life," said Dr. Watson, pastor of Bethesda Baptist Church in Harlem.
He combines preaching and sketching to illustrate biblical lessons with glow-in-the-dark chalks and black light. "When I turn the natural lights off, the black light (scene) jumps out," he said.
One of his favorite images is the eagle. It dominates the 16 drawings he intends for He Sees an Eagle in You, the book he is finishing, his second. The first was his testimony.
An eagle will fly into a storm, he said, knowing that he will fly higher and with less effort because of the storm - and Christians should embrace adversity for the same reasons.
"Not all things are good, but God is a sovereign God. He can turn a tragedy and make a blessing come out of it if you are in the hands of the Lord," he said.
When he regained consciousness in the hospital, his thinking was erratic, his thoughts like static on a radio. The doctors had removed what they could of the bullet fragments. It was too risky to remove all of them, they said.
The left side of his brain, the part that controls walking and communication - talking, reading and writing - was severely damaged.
The week leading up to the accident, the salesman had been crowing to himself about a record number of sales. The antique business he ran from his home was also doing well. But now he could no longer talk. He could neither read nor write. He couldn't walk.
Paralyzed on the right side of his body and sightless in his left eye, he was dependent on his wife and three daughters, ages 2 to 7.
For the next two years, his wife, Linda, drove him five times a week to a rehabilitation hospital in Montgomery, Ala., about an hour's drive from their home.
Montgomery was a concession won from the doctors at great effort - he had managed to wiggle the fingers on his right hand in time to convince them that he didn't need to go to a more intensive therapy program at another center, one that would take him far from his family.
Montgomery meant he could stay with his family.
Though he regained some function through therapy, he felt like a failure, and depression set in, he said. "I was praying that the Lord would give me something to do, and he gave me the ability to be an artist."
He had done some sketching in high school but had never developed his talent, preferring sports instead - he pitched with a Baltimore Orioles farm team briefly before he went home with arm trouble.
Another patient in rehabilitation taught him to paint, he said. The countless hours he spent with his artwork "helped me get out of depression, and it gave me more ability to concentrate."
He has created more than 150 oil paintings, many richly detailed portraits of wildlife and hunting scenes.
Dr. Watson surmises that the undamaged part of his brain took over the work of the whole brain, something that happens with stroke victims.
He had sensed a call to preach as a teen but had put God on the shelf while growing his businesses. The call resurfaced a few years after the accident.
He walked down the aisle of his home church in the mid-1970s and committed to becoming a preacher, though the people in his church wondered how he could work and preach when he could hardly talk, he said. "I still had a speech impediment."
When he told his doctor he was leaving for seminary, the doctor "scratched his head for 10 minutes and said 'Dean, who called you to preach?"' Dr. Watson recalled with a laugh.
Still on disability, he enrolled in Florida Baptist Theological College in Graceville. After four years and no longer on disability, he graduated. Later he earned a master's degree from Luther Rice Seminary in Lithonia, Ga., and two doctorates from Covington Theological Seminary in Rossville, Ga.
He has served as pastor at several congregations, including One Way Baptist Church in Martinez in the 1980s, and traveled, mostly in the Southeast, as an evangelist.
"It is a miracle for me to carry on a conversation. People aren't supposed to be able to do what I do," he said.
Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or email@example.com.
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