Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Stories’ Category

At the relatively young age of forty-five, Steve Phillips pretty much had it made.  He had a beautiful wife, a couple of great kids, a nice home and a job that he loved.  Despite growing up in a decidedly middle class family, Steve’s talent with all things electronic had made him an extremely successful man.  It certainly didn’t hurt that he entered the industry right as the digital boom was beginning and that he had been a part of various teams that had developed major advances in photography, sound, communications and computer integration.  At what was presumably the mid-point in his career, he and his staff were devoted to research and development; which allowed them to pretty much play with the technology, looking for new innovations.  It was a dream job and Steve was truly grateful for it.  He also appreciated the wonderful lifestyle that it afforded his family. 

Though he was not a deeply religious man, Steve had been raised in a Christian home, married a Christian girl and their family regularly attended a local church.  Though God was not a major topic of discussion at the dinner table, it was something that he and his wife wanted to weave into the fabric of their family life.  From Steve’s perspective, one hour of church a week was a small price to pay for the sense of “eternal security” that it brought him.  At work, he was discreet about his faith; understanding that many technically minded people didn’t share his particular view of such things.  He felt pretty good about the balance he’d achieved with that until he one day overheard his thirteen year old son talking to a friend on the phone.  Within that conversation his son said that he considered “The Jesus Story” to be nothing more than a legend that ancient people used as a way to make themselves feel better; and that the human race had advanced far beyond the need for such “fairy tales”.  He also made the statement, “if there ever really was a God, the power of the human mind has rendered Him obsolete!”  Steve shuddered at the idea that this is what his son had derived from his upbringing, but he wasn’t really sure what he ought to do about it.  The more he thought about it, the more troubling it became to him; and eventually he grew worried enough to actually start praying.  As he whispered for help beneath his breath, his discomfort in speaking to an unseen God started to evaporate, as an idea slowly began to creep into his head.

Steve decided not to let his son (Jason) know that he’d overheard his little commentary on God until after he’d followed through on his idea, which took a few weeks to put together.  As he worked on the project, Steve often found himself talking to God in a way that he never had before and though he wasn’t really sure what it all meant, it somehow made God seem more real to him.  He was excited as he wrapped the finished product up in a packing box on a Friday morning and made arrangements for Jason to receive the package the next day.  On Saturday, when the doorbell rang, Steve smiled to himself and asked his son to get the door.  Jason was so excited about getting the package that he practically pulled it out of the delivery man’s hands and tore the box open without bothering to look for a return address.  He was even more excited when he found that it contained what looked to be a laptop computer.  The only thing that kept him from being sure that it was a laptop was that the machine had absolutely no markings on it.  Even the keyboard had no markings on the keys.  As Jason closely examined the machine, he heard his father’s voice from the other room, “Who was at the door Jason?”

Jason bounded into the living room, both perplexed and excited, as he told Steve about his special delivery and showed him the machine.

“Are you sure you read the label right; this looks like something that would be sent to me, not you” Steve said.

“Of course I read the label right” Jason snapped.

“OK, so who’s it from?” Steve shot back

Jason let out an impatient sigh, as he realized he hadn’t looked at that and his face turned red as he had to retrieve the box to check.

“Look Dad, it doesn’t have a return address.”

“Well maybe there’s some paperwork inside the box” Steve replied.

“No, there’s nothing; I already checked” he said impatiently, as he flipped the machine over.

“What are you looking for Jason” Steve inquired.

“I’m looking for the manufacturer information.  Maybe we can look them up on the web and see if they can send us a manual for this thing” Jason replied.

“That’s a great idea son, what do see?”

“Nothing, absolutely nothing; that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.  How in the world do they expect me to run this stupid machine” Jason snorted.

“Well this was probably some sort of mistake, maybe we should just throw it away” Steve suggested.

“Are you crazy?  Throw away a brand new machine.  No way!” he replied.

“But what can you do with it?” Steve asked

With the wild-eyed confidence of a mad scientist, Jason proclaimed, “Just give me some time and I’ll figure this thing out!”

With that he was off to his bedroom, for what turned out to be most of the weekend.  At times, Steve could hear him yell in frustration at what a stupid machine it was and at other times, Jason would come out doing a little victory dance over something he’d discovered.  During the exuberant times he’d say, “We don’t need no stinking manual!” but in the frustrating times he’d moan, “How am I supposed to do anything without a manual?”  This cycle continued until late Sunday evening, when Steve asked him to bring the machine to the dining room.  As Jason came in, he looked a little haggard and more frustrated than excited.  He showed Steve what he’d been able to figure out on his own, which was actually pretty impressive; but clearly he wasn’t satisfied with it.  When Jason finally plopped down in one of the dining room chairs, Steve asked, “So what’s the bottom line with this thing?”

With a confused look on his face, Jason said, “The bottom line?”

“Yeah” replied Steve.  “I mean is this a good machine or is it a piece of junk?”

“I don’t know!” Jason grunted.  “It seems like it’s got some good features, but I’m not really sure what it can do.”

“So if you keep messing with it, do you think you could figure out what it’s capable of?” Steve asked.

“I’m sure I could figure out some stuff” Jason replied.  “But I doubt I could ever figure out everything it could do without some more information from the manufacturer.”

“So I’m pretty good with computers, do think I could figure it out?” Steve pressed

“You could do better than me, but there are some things that you’d probably never find unless you talked to the guy who designed this thing” Jason replied.  

Steve smiled and playfully said, “Ya think so?”

Jason half smiled back and said, “Yeah, I think so.”

After a little pause, Steve asked, “So was messing with this thing all weekend fun or a waste of time?”

“I did have some fun, but now that I’ve blown a whole weekend on it, I think it was mostly a waste of time.  I’m definitely frustrated with it.  I just wish I knew where it came from and why it was sent to me” he said.

“How would you feel if I told you that I sent it to you?” Steve asked.

“What” Jason blurted.  “Why would you do that?”

“To teach you something about life” Steve replied.

“About life?  I don’t get it; what are you talking about?” Jason growled in confusion

“I wanted to illustrate for you that human beings are incredibly complex machines” Steve said.

“Like this laptop?” Jason retorted

“Yes and like this laptop, their buttons and controls don’t come with labels on them” Steve continued.  “And while we can play with those things for a while and figure out a few things, we’ll never really find out what we’re capable of unless we go back and consult the One who created us.”

“You mean God?” Jason asked sheepishly.

“Yes, I mean God” Steve replied.  “You see Jason, you get to believe whatever you choose about God, but if you decide to live as though He has become ‘obsolete’, you’ll spend your whole life doing what you did this weekend.  You’ll punch buttons and see what happens; hoping that something good will come from it, but never really knowing for sure.  Honestly, that’s how most people live; and if that’s the way you decide to go, at the end of your life, you’ll probably feel just like you do now; like it was all just a waste of time.  But if you believe that God is real and seek His guidance, it could be like what might have happened if you and I would have sat down together with this thing and I could’ve shown you all the incredible features I built into it.”

“But I didn’t know you built it” Jason said defensively.

As Steve stood to his feet he said, “That’s true, there was no way you could have known that I was the one who designed it; but make no mistake Jason, you were not simply hatched or some sort of pleasant biological accident; you were also created.  And if that’s the case, then it follows that you must have a ‘Creator”.  Like me this weekend, He stands at the ready to help when you ask Him and unlike me, He took the time to provide a manual.”  At that moment Steve placed a copy of the Bible on the table in front of Jason.

Jason looked at the book with an expression of disdain and said, “So what am I supposed to do with this laptop?”

“I want you to keep it” Steve replied.  

“For what?” Jason asked.

“To remind you of what it’s like to live life as though you’ve become too technologically advanced to need help and to let the limitations of your own mind become your boundaries for living” he replied.

“So I’m just supposed to let it sit in my room and be some sort of symbol?” Jason asked.

“Well, that’s up to you. Just like what it symbolizes, you have the choice to do something with it or to blow it off.  If you’ll take the time to get with me, I can assure you that this little machine has some one of a kind features that you’ll really love.  If you decide to go it alone, you may or may not discover some of them; or you can simply ignore the whole thing and wonder about what you might have missed.  In the end, it’ll be whatever you decide.”

Steve walked to the doorway and turned back to his son.  “Jason, you know that I love you and you may not appreciate how I went about this, but it’s important that you think about what I am trying to teach you.  It will make all the difference in your life.”

Steve stepped out of the dining room to give Jason some space.  He hoped that it would allow Jason’s defensiveness to wane.  He prayed that God would help his son to see the truth, but he knew that God wouldn’t take away Jason’s ability to choose his own path.  Steve really didn’t expect Jason to say much after that, so he was surprised when Jason came to say goodnight.  Though he was still a little tentative, he did hug his father and told him that he loved him.  As he headed for the stairs, he turned back and asked, “Dad, are you busy tomorrow night?”

“I don’t think so son; what did you have in mind?” Steve asked.

“I was hoping that maybe we could get into some of those ‘one of a kind’ features you were talking about” Jason replied with a smile.

Steve smiled back at him and said, “I’d love that son”.

Read Full Post »

Crossroads

As her mind slowly waded toward consciousness, it was almost as if she was hearing an Ice Cream truck traveling down some distant street, when she suddenly realized that it was the ring-tone from her cell phone.  She fumbled blindly along the bedside table before finding it and bringing it close to her face to check the caller ID. 

“Oh crap!” she exclaimed, as she sprang into a sitting position, clutching the bed sheet over her bare chest.

 A sleepy male voice from the other side of the bed said, “Who is it?”

“It’s my mother and it’s already almost 10:00 a.m.” she moaned, as she punched the ignore button on her phone; “I can’t believe I’m gonna miss class again”. 

“So blow it off and let’s just stay in bed all day” he suggested. 

“Yeah, you’d like that” she said as she gathered her clothes from the floor and headed toward the bathroom. 

“Come on, you can just take that class over again next quarter” he called after her. 

“Oh yeah, I want to explain that one to my parents.  This is the only class I was taking this quarter and the only required course I have left for my degree.  I’m already five years into a four year program and I can tell they’re about ready to cut me off.  Besides, some of us actually have to work for a living” she responded through the cracked bathroom door. 

“Hey now, I’m working on my Masters Degree; can I help it that my parents feel that education is the most important thing?” he retorted sarcastically.

“Yeah, yeah, you’re working real hard” she said, as she emerged from the bathroom, pulling her hair into a ponytail.

“Well if you change your mind, you know where to find me” he said slyly.

“Yeah, in bed no doubt” she said, as she pulled her bag over her shoulder.

“Hey, I need my beauty sleep” he said with a smile.

As she reached the door, she looked back at him and playfully asked, “If I did come back, how could I be sure that my spot wasn’t taken?”

He smiled back at her and said, “No worries baby, even if it was, we could always make room for you too.”

As she closed the door behind her, she mumbled to herself, “In your dreams bud”.

Stepping out of the temperature controlled building into the warm humid air felt like walking into a wall, both physically and emotionally.  She knew that by the time she got back to the dorm, showered and got ready, she’d probably be late for work again; and she also knew that she was pretty much out of second chances with her manager.  She briefly considered skipping the shower, but after the night she’d had, she felt dirty and couldn’t stand the thought of that guys smell being on her.  She hated that she’d slept with him and wondered at why she’d given into it when she’d been able to ignore his come-ons for the last few years.  He was exactly what he appeared to be and she felt stupid for allowing herself to become one of his conquests.  She couldn’t stand the thought that he would now act as though she was one of his concubines.  As she made her way across campus, a sense of abandonment washed over her, as she thought about all her friends who had graduated and moved on with their lives.  The familiar surroundings that for so long had been a source of comfort now seemed to almost mock her.  Here she was, a year past graduation, still without a degree and going nowhere fast.  Her head began to throb, as her brain seemed to be pounding against her temples, reminding her of how much she’d had to drink last night and of how little she’d eaten in the past twenty-four hours.  Just when she thought she couldn’t feel any lower, her phone buzzed with a text message.  When she opened it, she could see it was from her mother; it said, “I hate when you ignore my calls!  We need to talk!  Call me!  Today!”  Now a fresh sense of dread mixed in with her simmering stew of emotions, as she considered how she was going to explain to her parents that she probably wasn’t going to be able to graduate again this quarter.  She fought off the guilt of having wasted their money with resentment at having to explain herself to them.  After all, she reasoned, “I’m a grown woman”. 

By the time she got to her dorm room, beads of sweat were crawling past her ears and down the sides of her neck; as dizziness and nausea threatened to overtake her.  She collapsed in a heap on her unmade bed and felt like crying, but the tears just wouldn’t come.  She had the sense that she was somehow sinking and it reminded her of the feeling she’d get by diving to the bottom of the pool and looking up through the water.  She could feel the pressure all around her, as sounds and images became muted and murky.  She knew that she had to get going or she would lose her job; but she felt too sick to move.  Like an egg in a hot, well oiled skillet, she laid motionless except for the molten roiling within her, until she eventually faded from consciousness.

It was once again the sound of her cell phone that ultimately pulled her back and when she looked at the alarm clock, she was amazed to see that it was already past 4 p.m.  She didn’t need to check the caller ID to know that it was her mother and she knew that she still wasn’t ready for that conversation; so she let the call rollover to voicemail.  After a few minutes, she decided to check her messages and saw that she’d missed seven calls and had three new texts.  Three of the voicemails were from work, with the last one letting her know that she was fired; while all of the other messages were from her mother.  Apparently when she wasn’t able to get a hold of her daughter by phone, she had called the place that she worked.  Needless to say, that conversation had thrown her mother into a state of panic and in the last voicemail she was talking about notifying the campus police.  She knew the longer she waited the worse it was going to be, so even though she didn’t feel ready, she dialed her parent’s number. 

She told her mother that the reason she hadn’t returned her calls or gone to work was because she was sick and had been sleeping, which seemed to calm things down for the moment.  But as the conversation went on, things went from bad to worse; as her mother explained that they were no longer willing to pay for her to stay in college.  She told her that if she wanted continued support from them, she’d have to be willing to move back home and to let them help her make better decisions.  This infuriated her and for the first time in her life, she was openly disrespectful to her mother, cursing at her and telling her that they’d never really supported her anyway.  Though her mother tried to respond, she hung up on her and turned off her phone.  In her anger, she grabbed her bag, which was lying on the bed and threw it at her dresser; spraying makeup bottles, earrings, papers and pictures onto the floor.  In her frustration, she let out a scream, as the dam of emotion within her finally broke loose; sending her tumbling back onto the bed in heaving sobs.  It seemed to her that everything she cared about was being taken away and she suddenly found herself completely devoid of hope.  She wept bitterly for what seemed to be hours before once again succumbing to exhaustion.

The next time her eyes opened, she saw that it was a little after 3:00 a.m. and she felt like a dishrag that had been wrung completely dry.  She grabbed a half full bottle of Mountain Dew from her bedside table and poured it down her throat.  She had to swallow hard to keep it from coming right back up and she could feel it burn everything it touched.  She felt weak and sick, but she knew that she’d better find something to eat or things would get much worse.  She thought about getting some change off her dresser for the vending machine, but she quickly remembered that she’d probably have to search the floor for it.  As she pulled herself off the bed and viewed the carnage in her dorm room, she knew that she just needed to get away from this place.  She spent a few minutes stumbling around the room, stuffing some things into a duffle bag and then she headed for the parking lot.  She didn’t know where to go, but anything had to be better than this.

She normally would have gone to the all-night diner, but she didn’t want to bump into anyone she knew, so she decided to go to the mini-mart by the interstate.  She got a 24 oz. cappuccino; a 12 pack of Mountain Dew, a ham and cheese Hot Pocket and a big bag of Doritos.  She sat in her car for 15 minutes while she finished the Hot Pocket and gulped down most of the cappuccino.  As she pulled out of the parking lot, she saw the sign for the interstate and without hesitation, she headed for it.  Since there’s nothing south of Florida, she decided to go north.  She turned the music up loud, hoping to drown out any thoughts that might want to crowd in and she set the cruise control at 70 mph, hoping to put some distance between her and this place that suddenly felt like a dead end.

For the first couple of hours the trip was almost enjoyable.  She had slept a lot that day and the caffeine was beginning to kick in, so she wasn’t having any trouble staying awake.  It felt good to be on the road, but as the sun came up, the reality of her situation began to push against her.  Pretty much all of her family lived in Ohio and she didn’t want any part of them or that place right now.  She did have an estranged aunt, who lived in the Charlotte area, though she hadn’t spoken to her in years and wasn’t really sure how to get a hold of her.  But since she was short on options, she decided to head in that direction.

Her Aunt Susan was her mother’s only sister, though it was hard to tell they were even related.  Her mom (Ellen) was the quintessential straight arrow, who married her high school sweetheart, had two kids and who wouldn’t dream of missing church on Sunday; while Susan was the wild child; who never married, had no kids and who didn’t seem to care that she’d essentially been disowned by her family.  The one thing she remembered about her aunt was how much she laughed and how that seemed to irritate her mother.  Though she grew up with the idea that her family’s life was normal and that her aunt’s life was a little crazy, her years in college had made her wonder if that wasn’t backwards.  At this point in her life, she saw her parent’s ideas about things like God, sex, marriage, politics… as antiquated and completely unrealistic.  As she thought about it, she could see that she had a lot more in common with her aunt.  They were both the younger of two daughters; both had older sisters who seemed to be perfect little wives and mothers; and neither of them showed any interest in the religion they’d been raised with.  The more she thought about it, the more she was sure that her Aunt Susan might actually be the only one who could truly relate to what she was feeling. 

Later that morning, she sent a text message to her older sister (LeAnn), who was able to respond with their aunt’s home phone number.  That afternoon, when she called the number, a man answered, explained that her aunt wasn’t able to come to the phone, but said that he was willing to relay a message.  When she explained that she was Susan’s niece and that she’d hoped to come by for a visit, the man, who said his name was Bob, seemed sure that Susan would be excited and gave her directions to the house.  A couple of hours later, as she turned onto their street, she found herself hoping that Bob was right and that her aunt really would be excited about her just showing up this way.  The neighborhood and the house weren’t as nice as she had imagined they would be, but the thought of getting out of the car was enough to make her dismiss any concerns about the quality of the accommodations.  When she pulled in front of the house, she could see that it was in even worse shape than most of the others on the street; and she began to realize that she clearly had some misconceptions about the kind of lifestyle her aunt lived.  When she flipped the visor down to see what she looked like in the mirror, she could barely recognize the face staring back at her.  The image was startling enough that she decided to drive back into town to find a bathroom to clean up in; but before she was able to restart the car, a man walked out the front door with a big smile on his face and made his way to her door.  Knowing it was too late; she opened the door and prepared herself to be pleasant.

“You must be Sarah” he said.

“Yes and you must be Bob”, she replied.

“Yes, that’s right.  I’m your aunt’s, uh… friend” he stammered, as his face turned a little red.

“Well it’s good to meet you Bob; where is Aunt Susan?” she asked.

“Well, she’s not feeling very well, so we’ll have to go in to see her” he said.

“Oh, you should have told me she wasn’t feeling well; I could come back another time if you want” she offered.

“No, no, I think now is a good time” he said sheepishly.

Sarah could tell by the look in his eyes and the tone of his voice that there was more going on than what he was saying, but she figured that her aunt would probably explain it to her.  As they came to the front door, Bob turned and said, “Please don’t mind the mess; things are a little hectic right now.”

Considering Bob’s warning and given the outward appearance of the house, the inside was much nicer than she expected.  It was small, dark and a little cluttered with furniture and knick-knacks, but it seemed pretty clean and kind of cozy.  As they stepped into the living room, she could see that there was a woman propped up on the couch, with pillows behind her and a blanket pulled over her; but Sarah couldn’t tell if it was her aunt.  The woman seemed to be staring intently at the television and didn’t seem to notice them.

Bob said, “Susan, there’s someone here to see you.”

Susan looked horrified when she saw Sarah standing next to Bob and said, “Oh God Bob, I don’t want anyone to see me like this!  Who is this girl?”

Sarah understood how her aunt might not recognize her, but her words still made Sarah feel awkward and out of place.  She could feel herself shaking and her voice cracked, as she said, “Aunt Susan, it’s me – Sarah”.

Susan squinted for a moment before blurting, “Oh my God!  Is that my little Sarah?  Come over here and give me a hug baby!

Sarah moved quickly to her and knelt down next to the couch.  Her Aunt Susan wrapped her arms around her and gave her a warm squeeze.  As they separated, Sarah could see tears in her aunt’s eyes, as she said, “God!  You are the picture of your father aren’t you?  Look at you – all grown up.  I think you were ten or eleven the last time I saw you and now you’re a woman..  God, am I old or what?”

Sarah didn’t know how to respond to anything her aunt had said, so she simply smiled, nodded and marveled at how different she looked.  She realized that she must have been staring, as Susan said, “I know – I look like hell”.  Sarah shook her head no, but Susan said, “You’re an even worse liar than your mother – I’m a mess baby!”

Sarah didn’t much like being compared to her mother, but she had to smile at her aunt’s bluntness.  As she got back on her feet, Aunt Susan said, “Here baby, pull that chair over here and sit next to me.”

Susan then called out to Bob, who reappeared in the doorway.  “Why didn’t you tell me this girl was coming for a visit?” she asked in mock indignation.

“Because, you’d have said no.” he replied with a knowing smile.

She smiled back at him and said, “You’re probably right.  Can you get her something to drink and click that television off for me?  I think the batteries in this remote are dead.”  As Bob disappeared back into the kitchen, she added, “He’s not much to look at but he’s a good guy to have around.”

Again, Sarah thought she could see tears in her aunt’s eyes and again she wondered what was going on.  Just as she was sensing the magnitude of her aunt’s condition, her aunt was sensing that the exhaustion she could see in Sarah’s face was from more than just the long drive.  Though they both yearned to speak openly about what was going on in their lives at that moment, they instead spent the next 45 minutes catching up on news about various family members and events of the last dozen years.  Just as the conversation was ready to turn to the present, Bob stuck his head in the door and said, “Nancy’s here”. 

Her aunt explained that Nancy was her nurse and she suggested that Sarah use the break to get a nice hot shower.  As much as Sarah wanted to continue their conversation, she was even more grateful for the chance to clean up.  The events of the last twenty-four hours had made Sarah feel like a miner who was covered in coal dust; so she turned up the hot water as high as she could stand it and let it run for as long as it would last.  Though the surroundings were unfamiliar, her aunt’s warm welcome had managed to calm her and she emerged from the shower feeling a lot better.  By the time she made it back to the living room, the nurse was gone and her aunt appeared to have dozed off.  She tried to be quiet, but when the floorboard squeaked beneath her feet, her aunt’s eyes popped back open.

“If you need to rest, I can leave you alone for awhile” Sarah said.

“No, no, honey.  I can always rest later; I don’t want to miss the chance to talk with you.  Bob is getting us some food, so let’s get back to our conversation” she replied.

As Sarah settled back into the chair, her aunt asked, “So what’s brought you to Charlotte?”

“You” Sarah replied with a smile.

Susan smiled back at her and said, “OK, let me re-phrase the question.  What caused you to suddenly come and visit your old aunt, who you haven’t talked to in almost a dozen years?”

Sarah’s face became flushed with embarrassment, as she replied, “I’m not sure really.  Things aren’t good at school right now and I didn’t want to go home either; so when I thought of you, I figured that this might be a good time to visit.  Of course, I had no way of knowing that you were sick and if I need to go, I completely understand.  I can always come back some other time.”

“No, no honey.  Now is definitely the time to visit” she said with a sigh; and as her face grew more serious, she added, “I’m pretty sure that there won’t be ‘some other time’.”

“What is it Aunt Susan?” Sarah asked quietly.

“Cancer” she replied, as her eyes once again seemed filled with tears.

“Is there anything they can do?” Sarah pleaded.

“Not really; I’ve been battling for the last couple of years, but it’s all through my system at this point” she said.

“How much time are they giving you?” Sarah asked

“No one talks about an amount of time anymore, but I can tell you that Nancy is a Hospice nurse, so you can probably fill in the blanks” she replied, as a tear escaped down the side of her face.

“I’m so sorry” Sarah said breathlessly, as she once again knelt beside the couch and embraced her aunt.  They held each other tightly for a few minutes, as they both grieved over the years that they’d lost.  It seemed somehow unfair to Sarah that she’d finally rediscover her aunt, only to lose her a short time later; and as Susan held her tearful niece, she wondered if this is what it would have felt like had she become a mother.  These thoughts drove both of them deeper into their sorrow and more firmly into each others embrace.  It was finally Aunt Susan who broke the moment.

“Look at us, a couple of blubbering idiots.  You didn’t come all this way for this.  I’m not dead yet; we can do this at the funeral; let’s talk about what’s going on with you” she said, as she handed Sarah the tissues.

As Sarah wiped the tears from her cheeks, she sheepishly said “There’s really not a lot to talk about”

Susan rolled her eyes as she quipped, “C’mon honey, I may have retained much of my youthful beauty, but I wasn’t born yesterday.  I could tell from the moment I saw you that you’re tied in knots – what’s really going on?”

Sarah started slowly at first, talking about her unfinished degree and the loss of her job; but the more she opened up, the more foundational the issues became.  She spoke of how her sister LeAnn was the “perfect” child and how she never really felt like her parents were as supportive of her; she also admitted that in the years she’d been away from home, she’d really come to question a lot of the things they’d taught her.  Susan listened intently and Sarah sensed that she truly understood and empathized with her.  Just as she was confessing that she was at a loss as to what her next move should be, Bob walked in with a big box of Chinese food.  After they sorted through the Sweet & Sour Chicken, the Moo Goo Gai Pan and the Lo Mein, Susan picked the conversation back up.

“So OK, I get that you’re feeling pretty alienated from your folks, but what about your sister?” she asked.

“I don’t know, I think she wants us to be close, but I have a hard time dealing with her.  She’s always talking about her husband and their baby; it’s like she thinks that she’s got it all figured out and that I’m just the clueless kid sister.  I guess I feel like she’s always judging me” Sarah replied.

Susan’s expression grew pained and her voice seemed low, as she asked, “Is that what she’s really doing or is that just how you’re feeling?”

Sarah was surprised and a little confused by the question, as she replied, “I guess I’m not sure what you’re getting at.”

“Look Sarah, you know that your mother and I haven’t spoken in years; do you know why that is?” she asked.

“No; mom would never talk about it and even though LeAnn always seemed to keep in touch with you, she never seemed to know anything either” she replied.

“The truth is that I felt pretty much the same way you do.  I felt like my parents always favored Ellen and that I never measured up in their eyes.  Just like LeAnn, your mother married her high school sweetheart and had her little family, which only made the comparisons seem worse.  Everyone went on and on about Ellen and her perfect little life; and even though I never heard anything negative said about me, I always felt as though I was some kind of disappointment.  I hated that feeling, so I stayed away from my family for the most part.  When my mom died, I showed up at the funeral with a Bloody Mary in my hand, trying to drink my way out of a hangover.  Your mother tried to keep me from making a big scene, but I resented what I saw as her interference and in the course of less than a day, I managed to pretty much alienate everyone in the family.  The crazy thing is that it was the first time that your mother and I exchanged some truly hateful words and I never dreamed that those would be last words we ever spoke to each other.”  Tears streamed down Susan’s face, as she stopped to regain her composure. 

Though Sarah was gripped by her aunt’s story and empathized with her sorrow, she was still struggling to make the connection between that story and her relationship with LeAnn.  After all, they never fought and she would never dream of drinking in front of her family.  In a feeble attempt to comfort her aunt, Sarah assured her, “I can’t imagine LeAnn ever really saying anything hateful to me.”

Her aunt seemed to understand that Sarah was implying that something like this probably wouldn’t happen to her and with a new edge in her tone she replied, “The truth is Sarah that LeAnn doesn’t need to say something hateful.  For years I told people that your mother called me a whore and a drunk; and you know what, I really believed that was true.  But about a year ago, when I first realized that I wasn’t going to survive this cancer, I had an incredibly vivid recollection of our conversation that day and I realized that what she’d really said was ‘you don’t want people to think that you’re a whore and a drunk’.  As I thought back on it, I realized that she was just trying to keep me from embarrassing myself and our family; but because I’d already concluded that I was being judged, all I heard were the words ‘drunk’ and ‘whore’.  Now it seems to me that you’re in right about the same spot as I was and that it may not take much to get you over the edge.  It sounds like you’re already wanting to distance yourself from your family and I’m sure that you can think of at least one instance where your hurt or frustration pushed you into saying something that you later regretted.”

Sarah’s mind immediately shot back to the last conversation she’d had with her mother and to the surprisingly harsh words that had come from her mouth.

“You see, when you get a chance to sit around day after day, pondering the reality of your impending death; you start to see your life through different eyes.  You start to realize the difference between what was real and what was simply perception, or maybe even imagination.  You know, when my dad left my mom, it felt like he was rejecting me too.  The truth is that he never did reject me, but because I felt rejected, I rejected him.  When your mom left for college and I had to live alone with our mother, who was in the midst of having a nervous breakdown, I felt as though she had abandoned me.  The truth is that she’s always been there when I needed her, but because I felt abandoned, I’ve let myself be angry at her for all these years.  When your mother first got with your dad, I laughed at her, because he was a nobody and I felt like she could do much better.  But the truth is that your father is a great guy and I now realize how lucky she was to find someone who loved her like that.  I remember when she got pregnant and how crazy I thought it was that she’d forfeit her whole life just to have a kid; but now I see that the truth is that you guys have been her greatest joy and that I was the one who really forfeited my whole life.  I’ve rationalized every hedonistic urge with the idea that I wanted to have ‘no regrets’ at the end of my life and now as I face that moment, I find that I have nothing but regrets.  I’ve been from here to Paris, to the Great Wall of China and back again; I’ve smoked, snorted and injected all the best drugs; I’ve had sex in elevators, on airplanes and on the beach; I’ve skydived, white water rafted and bungee jumped; I’ve pretty much tried everything that the world said is truly living and now I realize that I somehow managed to miss what life is really all about.  I’ve scoffed at religion and thumbed my nose at God, because I felt like it was nothing but a crutch for weak minded people, but now as I face my mortality, I find myself praying that there is something more out there and if there is a God, that He can forgive me for denying that He was real.  If you would have only come a few years ago, we could have cracked a beer together and I’d have told you ‘to hell with college and with a family who doesn’t really understand you’; but you came today and now I know better.  When I look at you, I see me twenty-five years ago and it scares the hell out of me.  For God sakes Sarah – don’t be like me!  Don’t throw away the things that really matter because it’s too hard or because it doesn’t ‘feel’ good.”

Sarah sat in stunned silence; overwhelmed by the sheer breadth of what her aunt had said.  Somehow it felt like an indictment and as though a glass of cold water had been thrown in her face.  It wasn’t at all what she’d expected and yet everything her aunt said seemed undeniable to her.  Somehow the moment reminded her of the scene in the Wizard of Oz, where the curtain is pulled aside and the illusion of the ‘Great and Powerful Oz’ is dispelled.  That moment always seemed bittersweet to Sarah, because while the illusion of the ferocious Oz was broken, so was the illusion that he could somehow get her home to Kansas.  Again, she realized that she must have been staring at her aunt, as Susan said, “I’m sorry honey; I didn’t mean to preach at you.  I guess I’m kind of losing it.”

“No” Sarah interjected, “I think that I probably needed to hear that.”

“Well, maybe you did” she chuckled, “But don’t kid yourself, I really am losing it.  The other day I was watching the ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ and they were eating at the ‘fancy eatin’ table’; you know, the one with the nice green tablecloth and the built in cup holders.  I was laughing at the absurdity of the idea that they would mistake this billiard table for a dining room table, when it hit me that this was like an analogy for my life.  Here I spent all this time trying to make it work one way, only to find in the end that it was designed to be something totally different.  I remember being in college and feeling sorry for my friends who were ‘stuck’ in relationships, while I was ‘free’ to live the ‘good life’.  To my way of thinking, I was getting fresh hot meals, while they were stuck trying to warm up leftovers; but now I look at their lives and realize that I was the one who was missing it.  I was snatching up all of the forbidden fruit, thinking that it was passion fruit – but now I see that none of that passion was really for me, it was just for the momentary thrill of the ride.  A few months ago, I realized that all I really wanted was for someone to love me; and the crazy thing is that I’m the one who kept that from ever happening.  Whenever anyone got too close, I’d run them off.  You know what else; I realized that every time I had sex with a guy and he’d leave, I’d experience that same sense of rejection I felt when my father left.  Is that insane!  I mean this is the most painful moment of my life and yet somehow I find a way to re-live it over and over again.  And as if all that isn’t twisted enough, here’s another crazy idea – it occurred to me one day that Bob might actually love me.  I mean, we’ve been living together for about five years and he’s really been nothing but good to me.  For a long time I figured that I was just someone to split the bills with and a steady source of sex; but I haven’t worked in the last couple of years and since they chopped my breasts off, I really don’t like to be touched; and yet here he is, still taking great care of me.”

“So what’s so crazy about that?” Sarah asked.

Tears once again began to pour from Susan’s eyes as she said, “The crazy thing is that I can’t seem to love him back.  It’s like all my circuits are fried.  I’m so grateful for him and all that he does for me.  I’m so touched by how he cares for me and yet somehow my heart is completely numb.  It makes me feel ashamed, because he deserves someone who will love him back and I want to be that person, but its like my heart is already dead.  God Sarah, don’t let this happen to you; don’t live the life I did.  I’ve missed it, but there’s still time for you!”

Again, Sarah fell into Susan’s embrace, as some emotional pocket within the both of them seemed to burst open. Sarah could feel Susan’s great love for her and the deep love that she had for her aunt; and as they wept together, years of pent up hurt and frustration seemed to pour out of them.  After several minutes, Sarah pulled her head off Susan’s shoulder and cupped Susan’s face in her hands; and as she looked deeply into her eyes, she said, “I love you Aunt Susan”.  Susan beamed back at her and said, “I love you too baby”.  Sarah passed Susan a handful of tissues and grabbed another bunch for herself, as they both tried to regain their composure.

After a few minutes of them both being lost in their thoughts, Sarah broke the silence.  “You know how you talked about the difference between how things feel and how they really are?”

“Yes” she replied.

“Well, it may ‘feel’ like it’s too late, but the truth is that it’s not too late” Sarah said as she picked up her cell phone.

“What are you doing?” asked Susan.

“I’m taking care of what really matters” she replied, as she pressed the speed dial and handed the phone to Susan.

A look of panic flashed across Susan’s face as she tentatively put the phone to her ear.

“Hello… Ellen”

“Yes…it’s me…Susan”

“Yes, she’s here with me and she’s fine”

“Amen…I love her too”

“Yeah, I’m OK…Well, I guess the truth is I’m pretty sick, but I’m glad that Sarah is here.”

(through tearful eyes & with a cracking voice) “Yes, I’d love for you to come!”

“Please hurry Ellie!”

Read Full Post »

“Ladies and Gentleman, it is my profound pleasure to introduce to you the man that you’ve named the National Educator of the Year for 2004, Mr. Lester Sherman”. I stood back from the podium, as a thunderous ovation rose from the crowded ballroom floor and I watched in amazement as my old friend made his way to the platform. This was one of those moments in life that you never see coming; a moment too surreal to be imagined. After all, who would think that a powerful group like the National Education Association (NEA) would be acknowledging the work of a man who spent his entire career in education toiling at a secondary school in the ghetto’s of Baltimore. He looked so out of place in this room and with these people, but I knew that if anyone deserved this award it was Mr. Sherman and I also knew that whatever he’d have to say would be memorable. When he reached the platform, he gave me a long and very sincere hug before he turned to address the audience, who were still on their feet and clapping enthusiastically. He seemed a little embarrassed by all the fuss, but not at all nervous, as he began to speak.

“Thank you very much for your kind welcome and thank you professor for your generous introduction. I can tell that you must have taken some “Creative Writing” classes somewhere along the way, as that synopsis of my career in education sounded far more grand than I remember it actually being. I am certainly honored to be here tonight and humbled to have been chosen for this prestigious award. I must admit to you that I am somewhat baffled as to what exactly qualifies me for such an honor; but I’ve learned that if I question an unexpected blessing, it steals the joy of it; so I will set aside my confusion and simply be grateful for this special recognition. One thing that I am pretty sure of is that this award is not the result of any one thing that I’ve done, but the culmination of over forty years in education. As I’ve thought back on those years and recalled the many amazing people that I’ve encountered along the way, there were three very special people who stood above the rest and who I wish to acknowledge tonight. Their influence on me has been most profound; and since this gathering is a celebration of “Educators”, it seems fitting to recognize those whose lives have taught me so much. The first of those special people is my beautiful wife Jeanette. We have been married for over thirty-five years, we’ve raised two beautiful children together and we spent over twenty-five years working together in the school system. She’s taught me just about everything that I know about giving and sharing and patience and love. She has been my fiercest advocate and at times my toughest critic. She is everything that I am not and I’ve come to rely on her strength and wisdom just to make it through the day. I am forever grateful to God for blessing me with this amazing woman to share my life with and I can’t imagine who I would have become without her.”

The attendee’s once again rose up, giving Mrs Sherman an enthusiastic ovation, as the people at her table pushed her to her feet. This clearly pleased Mr. Sherman, who smiled broadly. As the applause subsided, he continued on.

“The second person whose life so profoundly impacted mine was that of my mother [Mrs. Mary (Wilson) Sherman]. Though she went on to be with the Lord a couple of years ago, there is not a day that goes by that I am not touched by her influence. Though she was born into a difficult circumstance and endured many painful things, she refused to feel sorry for herself or to use that as an excuse; and as my sister and I grew up, she refused to allow us to do that either. My mother understood that the cost of blaming someone else for the condition of your life was the power for you to change it. As a young person I didn’t appreciate her view of this; I felt like I had a right to feel sorry for myself; but with the benefit of forty years experience at an inner city school, I can now see that it is a trap that few kids from the ghetto avoid and that even fewer emerge from. Though my father abandoned us before I was old enough to know him, my mother was unwilling to accept what people assumed was her fate. She often worked more than one job, while attending nursing school and raising two kids by herself. If she ever complained, she never let me hear it; and though it took some years, she eventually did become a nurse. When she got a job at the hospital, we were able to move out of the projects and into a little apartment near where she worked. It wasn’t a whole lot bigger or nicer than the place we’d moved out of, but it was the beginning of a new and better life for us. A few years later she married the associate Pastor from our church and we were finally able to move into a house of our own. As I look back I realize that my mother’s life taught me that no one can respect you, if you don’t respect yourself; that your circumstances won’t change until you are willing to be changed within your circumstances and that anything of lasting value can only be attained through perseverance. Her unwavering faith in the goodness of God and her confidence in His destiny for me, have been beacons of hope throughout my journey; and her legacy is one that I pray will be passed down through my children’s children.”

 The attendee’s once again broke into a loud, sustained applause, as Mr. Sherman seemed overwhelmed with emotion at the memory of his late mother. He pulled a handkerchief from inside his jacket pocket, dabbing his face and clearing his throat before continuing.

“Last, but certainly not least, is a lady who more than any other person shaped the way I think about education and maybe more rightly, about life itself. Her name was Thelma Watson and she was the first Principal that I taught under when I arrived at PS 236, some forty odd years ago. To my shame, I will admit that I didn’t really want to be there. I felt as though I had escaped life in the ghetto and I had no desire to go back. Though I liked to brag of my beginnings on the ‘mean streets’, I also wanted people to know that I was an educated black man, who had risen above his past. In truth, I perceived this assignment to my old neighborhood school as just another example of how the white school administration wanted to keep a young black teacher from ever really succeeding. And though I never spoke any of that out at the time, Thelma Watson had no trouble in reading me like a book. Anytime she sensed my bitterness or frustration rising up, she’d say, ‘Lets check our attitude Mr. Sherman’, which always managed to make me feel self-conscious. I remember thinking that she couldn’t possibly understand, because PS 236 was exactly where she wanted to be. In my cynical young mind, she was one of those idealists’s, who was trying to save the world; while I counted myself a realist, who understood that some things would never change. I saw this ghetto school as little more than a stepping stone to bigger and better things, while she viewed it as her destiny. I had hoped to just bide my time until I got a better offer, but about half way through my first year, Mrs Watson made it her mission to change my mind. I wish I had the time to share with you all of the wisdom that she imparted to me in those years and to tell you of the many unorthodox ways she used to make her points, but for the sake of time I will share just one story, which I hope will give you a sense of this amazing women.”

The audience seemed captivated by Mr. Sherman’s words, as they sat quietly while he took a sip of water and continued on.

“One day, late in my first year, Mrs Watson stopped me in the hall and told me to come to her office during my off period, which was always right after lunch. Though I was mildly annoyed by this intrusion on what I considered to be ‘my time’, I told her that I’d be there. When I arrived, I was surprised to find that she had a young student in her office and that she wanted me to come in anyway. I knew the boy’s name was Marcus, but he was too young to be in one of my classes, so I didn’t know anything else about him. Mrs Watson asked Marcus to find something in her office that made him think of when he was ‘little’. I remember chuckling at the absurdity of the inference that Marcus wasn’t ‘little’ any more, but Mrs Watson better understood the mind of a child and so Marcus immediately popped up and headed for the toy box in the corner. He quickly emerged with a plastic locomotive, which he set on the Principal’s desk. When she asked him why he’d picked that, he said that his momma always read him the story, ‘The Little Engine That Could’ when ‘he was a baby’. She then asked him to pick something from the office that made him think of where he lives now and to my surprise, he went over and picked up the vase of flowers from Mrs Watson’s windowsill. When she asked about it, he told her that he picked them because they smelled good and that they reminded him of his momma and sisters, who always smelled good too. Finally, Mrs Watson asked him to pick something that showed what he wanted to be when he grew up. Again Marcus rummaged through the toy box, eventually producing a medieval knight on a horse. When asked, he explained that he wanted to grow up to be the bravest knight in all the land. After sending Marcus back to class, another child, who looked about the same age, was brought in. I didn’t recognize him, but Mrs Watson introduced him as Cory. She then repeated the same process with him that she had with Marcus. Cory picked a toy mouse as the object that reminded him of being ‘little’ and he proceeded to tell us of the time his hand had accidentally gotten caught in a mouse trap. He picked a toy gun as the item that reminded him of where he lived, because he said he would often hear guns go off at night; and finally he picked a little Indian figure, shooting a bow and arrow, saying that it reminded him of his hero Robin Hood, who stole from the rich to give to the poor. After some pleasantries, she sent Cory back to class and then turned the conversation toward me by asking what I’d derived from all that. I tried to come up with something intelligible, but honestly I was completely stumped, so I simply shrugged. She went on to explain that these two boys were actually cousins, whose mothers were twin sisters and that they were both being raised in the same tenement building. She also said that these questions were meant to demonstrate how the children viewed their past, present and future; adding that she’d felt that they had done just that. I remember thinking that it was crazy to believe that you could derive all that from kids randomly pulling toys out of a toy box and as usual Mrs Watson didn’t seem to need for me to say it to know how I felt. She went on to argue, ‘If it is truly the environment that these kids are growing up in that is destroying their future, then why do these two boys, who are the same age and live on the same street and come from the same DNA, view their worlds so differently? Why does Marcus remember being encouraged and loved, while Cory remembers being hurt; why does Marcus think of the sweet smell of home, while Cory senses the danger all around him; why does Marcus still believe that he can be a Prince, while Cory believes that the best he can do is to steal from the Prince?’ The normally composed Mrs Watson had turned into a wild-eyed preacher on me and to be honest, I was having a hard time swallowing her message. Again, she read my reaction and added, ‘this is just like you and me Mr. Sherman, we both come to this same school everyday, we deal with many of the same people and we have many of the same challenges; but the way I choose to view it gives me a sense of purpose and fulfillment, while the way you choose to view it causes you to be frustrated and bitter.’ I found her pointed assessment of me to be highly offensive, though even then I recognized the truth of what she was saying. It was all more than I could take in at that moment and she seemed to understand that too. Through gritted teeth, I managed to ask to go back to my classroom and as I walked down the hall, I promised myself that I was going to quit. Somehow, by the grace of God, I made it through the rest of that day and as I left the parking lot that evening, I once again vowed to myself not to come back; but Mrs Watson had succeeded in sowing the seeds of change within me and probably for the first time in my life, I was forced to take a good hard look at myself. All that night, I couldn’t shake the image of those two little boys and I had to admit that I had a lot more in common with Cory than I did with Marcus. I didn’t like that and I found myself wanting it to change. I still wasn’t sure that I could accept that her little test was even valid, but something about it was absolutely compelling to me. I dragged myself to the school that next day, not because I wanted to be there, but because for the first time, I felt like there was something for me to learn there. Mrs Watson wisely gave me a lot of time and space, allowing the wheels of my own mind to turn; and I began to listen, to watch, and ultimately to learn. And the more I did this, the more I grasped the wisdom of what she was teaching me.”

Mr. Sherman once again dabbed his face and sipped his water before continuing.

“I began to realize that I’d gotten into teaching for the wrong reasons; that I really just wanted people to recognize me as an educated black man and not to see me as some Negro from the ghetto. Unwittingly, I had passed judgment on my old neighborhood and on the people who lived there, including the very children I was supposed to be helping. To be quite honest, I didn’t believe that a kid like Marcus stood any real chance of becoming a Prince and there was a part of me that wanted to warn him against having such lofty aspirations. But Thelma Watson believed; she truly felt that there was nothing that these kids couldn’t accomplish and I realized that if I couldn’t come around to that way of thinking, I had no business staying at the school. The last thing that these kids needed was yet another voice telling them that they had no future or encouraging them to view themselves of helpless victims of a corrupt system. As I watched Thelma deal with these children, I could see that she had become a source of inspiration and hope for them and I found myself wanting to be like that too. She not only believed that these kids could do it, she expected that they would do it and she had no problem in letting them know when they were falling short of their potential. She wasn’t willing to make excuses for them and she wouldn’t accept excuses from them or anyone else. It took some time to sink in with me, but slowly my mind was changed. As the years went by, I began to see that what people said and believed about these kids wasn’t nearly as important as what they said and believed about themselves. As I reflected on my own life, I realized that it had been my mother’s faith that a better life was attainable for us and her willingness to pay the price, which had actually changed the course of our lives; and I began to yearn for that in the lives of these kids. I stopped being focused on the rampant racism that was especially prevalent in that day and I quit ranting about the blatant corruption of the system, because constantly pointing those things out made them seem insurmountable. I came to believe that hope was such a powerful thing that racism and corruption couldn’t withstand it; and I soon found that such a belief was contagious. Now don’t misunderstand, that didn’t mean that everyone suddenly grabbed a hold of this idea or that every kid magically succeeded. To be honest, for every one success story, there have probably been thirty who never made it; but because of the profound influence of Mrs Thelma Watson, I came to believe that it was worth whatever that one might cost.”

The audience once again rose to their feet in thunderous applause, which seemed to linger for even longer than before. I knew Mr Sherman well enough to know that he’d want to wrap things up quickly, so I wasn’t surprised that as soon as the ovation started to wane, he quickly resumed speaking.

“My dear colleagues, I will confess to you that I never once tried to duplicate Mrs Watson’s little demonstration with Marcus and Cory; and I’d be the first to admit that this methodology was something less than definitive; but I would also have to testify to the fact that there was something to all that. You see, I got to watch these two young men grow up and I got to see their lives bear out what Mrs Watson had said that day. As a matter of fact, it was Thelma that I stood with at Cory’s funeral; just weeks after his nineteenth birthday and within a few days of him being shot to death during a Liquor Store robbery. On Thursday afternoon we wept bitter tears at our inability to reach Cory, but on Friday morning we returned to work at PS 236, with an even greater sense of urgency to press on. I wish that I could tell you that Cory was the only one we lost, but I couldn’t begin to number the one’s who didn’t make it. I have cried many tears in the last forty years, but not all of them have been in sorrow. You see, every once in a while, a little one grabs a hold of hope and runs with it. It’s a beautiful thing to watch and it renews your spirit to keep up the fight. Marcus was one of those children. Despite all of the obstacles and all of his supposed disadvantages, he just kept getting stronger and stronger. Just a few short years removed from Cory’s funeral, I once again stood with Thelma, as Marcus received the first of his college degrees. On that day, our tears were filled with joy, as we marveled at the power of hope. It wasn’t long after that wonderful experience that my dear friend and mentor, Thelma Watson retired; handing the reins of PS 236 over to me. Though she’d had many opportunities to go elsewhere during her career, she chose to end it where it began; just as I will do at the end of this school year. Some might view that as tragic, but I’d submit that there is no better place to be than in the place you feel called to. Thelma knew that she was created with a purpose and with all that was within her she tried to fulfill that purpose. I will tell you that there is no more meaningful life than that. Thanks to her influence, and that of my wonderful family and friends, I will depart your ranks with that same fulfillment. I again want to thank you for this wonderful recognition and as a fellow educator, I want to challenge you to truly invest yourselves in the opportunities that you’re given. Never forget that educating means far more than simply passing on information and that without hope, there is no bright future for the emerging generations. Finally, I want to thank my dear friend and colleague, Professor Lindsey for coming all the way from Virginia, just to introduce me tonight.” With this, Mr Sherman motioned for me to come to him.

As I quickly made my way to his side, he put his arm around my shoulder and said, “If you read your program, you probably already know that Dr. Lindsey is a professor at Hampton University and the head of their History department; but in my heart he will always just be a little bright-eyed boy named Marcus.

” With loud cheers and whistles, the attendees again rose to their feet and the room seemed to shake with their applause. As Mr. Sherman and I stood together, looking out over this unlikely scene, I too found myself amazed by the power of hope.

Read Full Post »

In the Still of the Night

I made one last check through the building before I set the alarm and pulled the back door closed, locking the deadbolt. It seemed much colder than it had just a couple of hours earlier, when I had decided to walk the few short blocks to the Church Board meeting. Of course, maybe it wasn’t the external temperature that had changed as much as how I was feeling internally. On my way to the church, I was still sensing the warm glow of dinner with my beautiful family; but now as I headed home, I was faced with the reality of an increasingly dysfunctional church family and the knowledge that as the Pastor, I would be expected to do something about it.

To be honest, it had been a fairly typical Church Board meeting, which for me was a lot like throwing myself against a brick wall; but somehow my sense of discouragement was even more profound than usual. I understood that there would be a time of transition after I accepted this position, but just eighteen months later, I was beginning to believe that our differences might be irreconcilable. The same members of the Church Board that had assured the congregation that my relative youth (28 yrs old at that time) and inexperience as a Senior Pastor weren’t a problem, were also the one’s who had managed to vote down every substantive change that I suggested. This situation had really drained the joy out of my calling and instead of feeling like I was serving the Lord, I felt like I worked for the Church Board. It wasn’t clear what they’d seen in me during the interview process, but whatever it was, they were clearly disappointed with what they’d gotten in the deal. The weight of that disappointment settled in on me, as I pressed my way through the cold night air toward home. Still months short of my thirtieth birthday, I felt suddenly old and very tired.

As I reached the house, I tried to put on a brave face for my wife Emily, who was always concerned about how I was doing; but thankfully I found that she’d fallen asleep with the kids in our bed. They looked like three little angels, as our little boy Scott (4 yrs) was curled under one arm and our daughter Emma (6 yrs) was snuggled along her other side. This scene managed to warm me for a moment, but that warmth was quickly dispelled by the thought that I was probably disappointing them as well. After all, Emily and I had really prayed before accepting this position and it seemed to be such a great opportunity for our whole family; but now it felt as though I was somehow blowing it for all of us. The more I let that thought hang around, the more out of breath I felt. I quietly hung my coat on the door and shuffled down the hall, to the room I used as an office. There was enough light coming through the window that I didn’t need to turn on the lamp as I made my way over to the chair and collapsed in it. As I sat in that quiet, dark room, my head began to swim in a flood of thoughts and emotions. I could feel despair rising up from within me and as it stuck in my throat, tears began to stream down my face. It all seemed so overwhelming and I felt helpless to turn this tide of emotion. Through my tears, I began to pray, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus; Help me Lord Jesus! When I am weak, You are strong. Oh Lord, I am so weak right now. Please Lord! Come quickly! Apart from You, I can do nothing; please Lord come!” The weight of my head seemed to pull it back against the chair and with my eyes closed I whispered “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus”, over and over again, until I felt myself slipping into the space that lies between waking and dreaming. As I allowed myself to drift further into that state, I felt the tension begin to evaporate within me, as a profound sense of stillness overtook me. This sudden revelation of peace resonated deeply within me for only a few precious moments, before what seemed to be an audible voice jerked me back. Though I wasn’t quite sure what the voice had said, my eyes shuttered open to identify its source; and to my surprise, the room was now filled with warm light, which I had to squint against. As my vision came into focus, I was startled to find a man sitting in the chair on the opposite side of my desk and as my eyes finally adjusted, I could see that man was Jesus.

“Oh Lord” I gasped, as a sort of panic swept through me, wondering whether I should be standing or maybe bowing down. But in spite of my overwhelming urge to move, I couldn’t seem to get any part of my body to cooperate, as I remained in a dumbfounded heap. He smiled warmly, seemingly understanding my inner turmoil and said, “Peace”, “be still”. At His words I once again felt the tension melt away from within me, though I continued to stare at him in a kind of stunned silence. I began to wonder if this was just my imagination or a dream or maybe even a vision of some sort; and He once again seemed to discern my thoughts.

“What difference does it make?” He asked.

“I guess I just want to know that this is real”, I stammered.

“I am really speaking to you, if that’s what you mean”, He replied.

I wondered for a moment if that was what I meant, and then quickly realized that if He was speaking directly to me, it didn’t really matter what my state of consciousness might be. As quickly as that was resolved in my mind, I found myself wondering why He was coming to me in this very tangible way.

Again, He smiled at me and said, “Our conversation might be more comfortable for you if you’d ask these questions out loud.”

This caused me to smile, because the idea that He was discerning my thoughts was more than a little uncomfortable; though I also understood that just because I verbalized my questions didn’t mean that His ability to know my thoughts would be in any way diminished. Nevertheless, I asked, “Why have you come like this Lord?”

“Because you called on me my son”, He replied.

“But I’ve called on You before and I’ve never encountered You like this Lord”, I said.

His face seemed to grow serious as He said, “Trust me when I tell you that you’ve never called on me like you did tonight. I have never known your heart to be as troubled as it is right now and so I’ve come to you in this special way. Tell me son, what is it that has so vexed your soul?”

I had to think for a moment, as the Lord’s sudden appearance had seemingly chased away the anguish that I’d been in only moments before; but as I shifted my thoughts back toward the situation at the church, those familiar feelings of discouragement once again rose to the surface. I wasn’t really sure where to begin, so I simply said, “I feel as though I’m failing Lord.”

“Failing at what son?” He asked.

“Everything Lord”, I exclaimed. “When we arrived here, I felt sure this is where You were calling us to be and I could clearly see how You might use me in this church and this community; but now I’m not only wondering whether this is the right place, I’m wondering if I was really even supposed to be a Pastor at all. I don’t seem to have any aptitude for it.”

His eyes were filled with compassion and they seemed to look right through me as He said, “Let us begin with this matter of your calling”.

“What do you perceive it to mean when someone has a calling?”

“That You have called them to do something”, I replied.

“And so do you feel that I have called you to do something?” He asked.

“Yes Lord, I do”, I answered.

“Do you remember when you first sensed that I was calling you to be a Pastor?” He went on.

My mind instantly flicked back to that moment, when at 15 years of age, I felt certain that the Lord was calling me to be a Pastor. The memory of it brought tears of joy to my eyes.

“Yes Lord, I remember it clearly.”

“Do you remember me sending others to you, who confirmed this calling?”

Again, my mind was flooded with images of the many people He’d used to confirm this to me. “Yes Lord” I replied.

“So how have you come to doubt that you’ve been called?” He asked.

“It’s the people Lord, they just don’t seem to respond to me”, I said in exasperation.

“But son, calling doesn’t have anything to do with ‘the people’; calling is between you and Me. I call and you respond. Is there any doubt in your mind that this has transpired between us?” He asked firmly.

“No Lord, there is no doubt”, I admitted sheepishly. “But if You’ve called me here, to these people, then why can’t I seem to reach them? Surely You wouldn’t call me to a people who You knew would reject Your message”, I added.

“Son, no servant is greater than their Master. When I came to this earth, the Father sent me to a people who He knew would reject not only the message, but the Messenger. Indeed, narrow is the way and few ever truly find it; yet it is my heart that all would be saved and none would be lost. So the branch is extended to all, even those who will never accept it.”

I felt embarrassed by how obvious His point was and by the fact that I’d somehow lost sight of all that. But even if I now had to admit that I was “called”, I could not shake the sense of frustration at my lack of genuine progress. Before I could say anything, Jesus went on.

“So you mentioned that when you arrived here, you could see how I might use you in this church and in this community. What did you envision that looking like?”

“I guess I saw a growing and vital church; where we would be soul winners, turning the hearts of the people in this community back to You and defending the faith to a culture that is growing increasingly hostile toward your message”, I replied.

Jesus seemed to nod His head as He said, “It is no wonder that you are tired and frustrated, you are trying to do things that I never called you to do. You have no ability to ‘win souls’ or to ‘change hearts’, these are things that only I can accomplish through my Spirit. Where did you get the idea that this was what I was calling you to do?”

Again, feeling somewhat embarrassed and even a little confused, I mumbled, “The Great Commission?”

“The Great Commission, as men have come to call it, doesn’t say anything about winning souls or changing hearts. It speaks of making disciples, which is something entirely different. The best way to make disciples is to be a disciple yourself. If those who claim my name would simply live as they profess to believe, this process would go on with little conscious effort. If ‘Believers’ could be identified by the fruit of my Spirit and by the way that they loved each other, I could add to their number daily, just as I did in the early days of the church. And where did this idea of being a ‘Defender of the Faith’ come from?”

“I guess it is rooted in the idea of apologetics. In seminary we studied numerous classic books by people who’ve come to be known as ‘Defenders of the Faith’. Even Your word says that we always ought to be prepared to give a defense of our faith”, I offered sheepishly.

“The nature of faith is that it cannot be defended; and while I won’t speak of the books that I didn’t write, the scripture says that you should be prepared to give a reason for the ‘hope that you have’. This of course presumes that my children would live in a way which might cause someone to ask such a question. Unless hope becomes visibly manifest in their lives, the source of that supposed hope becomes of little consequence. I would suggest to you that the culture isn’t growing more hostile toward my message of hope and love; they are instead growing more hostile toward a religious system which doesn’t seem to offer them either one. I have called my people to live by faith, not to be defenders of it.”

While I had no trouble understanding or accepting the truth of what the Lord had said, I immediately began to struggle with the implications of it. I found myself wondering if I really knew what it meant to be a Pastor; and though I could tell that He’d discerned my confusion, He waited for me to speak “Lord, since so many of the things I’ve been taught about serving You seem flawed; I’m wondering if I really understand how to answer this calling that You’ve made on my life.”

The Lord again smiled at me compassionately as He began to speak, “When your daughter Emma was born, did you really understand what it meant to be a father?”

“No Lord, I definitely did not”, I replied.

“Yet, on that day you became a father nonetheless. How have you handled fatherhood in the days since then?” He asked.

“You know that answer better than anyone Lord. I have tried to be faithful to the things I know to do and I have prayed fervently for Your guidance, protection and intervention in the areas in which I’m unsure”, I said.

Smiling, the Lord said, “Indeed you have; and do you feel as though your prayers have been answered?”

“Yes Lord I do; I’ve seen your hand move on behalf of my family over and over again.”

“And so you would agree that you have learned about being a good father, by being a father and by asking me to guide you from day to day.”

“Yes Lord, I would agree with that”, I replied.

“And so it is the same with being a Pastor. On the day you recognized your calling you could not have expected to know how to be a Pastor; you simply knew that you’d been called to it. But by taking the days that followed, one at a time, and seeking my guidance, I will teach you all that you need to know. The danger of the training that you received in seminary is that you might emerge believing that you had been fully equipped and that you no longer need to seek my specific guidance. Just as a few parenting classes wouldn’t have been sufficient to transform you into a good father; neither can your pastoral training really provide what you need to be a fruitful pastor. You need only do what you’ve done in raising your family, be faithful to the things you know to do and diligently seek my guidance for everything else. You are my sheep and my sheep know my voice, even if they don’t fully grasp how that works. Trust that I know how to speak in a way that you can receive and that I am working all things to the good. You are not failing, you are learning, and believe it or not, you are growing. If you will come to me when you feel overloaded, I will show you the things that you are carrying that I haven’t put in your hands and I will give you rest. Remember that the ‘work of God’ is simply to ‘believe in the One whom He has sent’ and that all you can do is plant and water the seeds. Leave the matter of ‘increase’ in my hands.”

Listening to His words brought such a sense of peace and an understanding that I’d really lost my perspective about my part in all of this. In truth, I’d just taken my eyes off the one thing I needed to stay focused on and things just spiraled from there. Knowing that I was where I was supposed to be and that the Lord was not disappointed in me, made all the difference. The only lingering doubt was my fear that I might still manage to let Him down somehow. This time, He didn’t wait for me to express it.

He asked, “What do you expect from your little boy (Scott)?”

I pondered this for a moment, but really couldn’t think of anything. “He’s only a little boy Lord, I don’t really expect anything from him”, I finally replied.

“That’s all you are to me. I’m not going to expect anything from you that you’re not capable of; and even if you’d happen to fall, it won’t catch Me off guard. I don’t expect perfection, I’m only asking for sincerity”, He said.

As His words continued to resonate within me, I began to feel like a little boy; one who was under the watchful eye of his loving father. In that moment, my ability to conjure an anxious thought almost seemed to be suspended and I felt somehow renewed and revitalized. As I closed my eyes, I could see my little Scotty, curled up on my lap, with his head against my chest; and I realized that this was actually a representation of me with the Lord. Just as Scotty had done with me so many times before, I could feel myself melting into His loving embrace. The feeling was so tangible that I could almost sense His chest rising and falling against the side of my face and His breath upon the top of my head. Like a spoonful of sugar poured into a hot cup of coffee, I felt as though I would simply dissolve into Him, never again to be separated. I felt weightless and in an atmosphere without friction, as I drifted into the most profound state of rest that I’d ever known.

Hours later, my eyes blinked open long enough to see that the illuminated numbers on the clock in my office read 3:15 a.m. It occurred to me that I should go to bed and normally sleeping in my desk chair would have been too uncomfortable to endure. But my body was so relaxed that I decided not to move. Though I could still sense the profound presence of the Lord, I was a little disappointed to realize that this whole encounter had most likely been a dream. It had all seemed so real to me and I guess I wanted it to be something more than just a dream. But I remembered what the Lord said about “really speaking to me” and so I pushed those feelings of disappointment away and abided in His still discernable embrace. After more hours of profound slumber, I awoke to a room filled with sunlight, the smell of fresh coffee and the pleasant sound of my wife’s voice.

“You must have been really exhausted to have slept in that chair all night’, she said before adding, “I’m guessing that means the Board meeting didn’t go well.”

I sort of bobbed my head in agreement, as I took the cup of coffee from her; though I was still too groggy to really speak. I knew that Emily would want to hear the details of the meeting and I really wanted to tell her about my dream, but before we got a chance to say anything else, a little voice from down the hall called out “momma”. As Emily went to check on that, I looked at the chair on the opposite side of my desk and a sort of dull ache rose in me to see Jesus sitting there again. I knew that He was still with me, but I had so loved seeing Him right there. Again, disappointment tried to creep in and again, I pushed it away.

Just then, my little boy slowly made his way into my office, carrying his stuffed rabbit (Roger) by one ear. His eyes squinted against the sunlight, which was pouring through the windows and he didn’t look as though he was quite ready to be awake. He made his way around my desk and without even really looking at me, he crawled into my lap and laid his head on my chest. I couldn’t help but feel that God was once again speaking to me and as my arms wrapped around little Scotty, I could feel the arms of the Lord wrap around me. I could feel an ocean of love pouring from the Lord to me and from me to my precious little son. It was overwhelming, as tears of joy and gratitude streamed down my face. I was lost in the moment when a voice from the doorway pulled me back.

It was my little girl Emma and she asked, “Why are you crying daddy?”

“Because I’m very happy sweetheart”, I replied, as Emily came back into the room.

“Oh, good” she said, as she bounded back down the hall.

Emily seemed to be studying my face to see whether I was telling Emma the truth, or if I was just saying that for effect. She must have been satisfied that I was being honest, as she said, “I’m glad to hear that honey; I was pretty worried about you last night.”

“Really, what got you so worried?” I asked.

“Well, I woke up a little before midnight and I saw that you weren’t in bed yet. So I decided I’d better check on you. In the hallway I saw that the light was on in your office and I started to come in; but then I heard that you were talking to someone. At first I thought you may be on the phone, but then I heard the other person speaking to you, so I decided not to intrude. I was surprised that you’d have someone over to the house at that hour, but I had a sense that everything was alright; so I figured you’d tell me about it later.”

I felt electricity spiral through my body, as I realized that the Lord was once again confirming the reality of everything that had happened between us last night. I was humbled and amazed by His grace and mercy toward me; and overflowing with gratitude at His great love. As my emotions broke open and I began to openly weep, Emily looked concerned.

“What is it honey; I’ve never seen you like this before”, she said.

“That’s because I’ve never been like this before honey”, I replied. “Sit down in that chair and let me tell you about it.”

Read Full Post »

The Casting Call

There was a young man, who loved the theatre and who aspired to make a name for himself on the world stage. He had toiled in the relative anonymity of the local and regional theatre for several years, where he had distinguished himself as a highly valuable member of the troupe. Beyond his genuine stage presence, he had demonstrated a talent for directing, designing and building sets, and even a knack for promotion. Though he had enjoyed these formative years, he felt ready to take the next step and so he arranged for an interview with the head of a prestigious, international theatre company. Because of this troupe’s prominence within theatre circles, the young man assumed that it would be difficult to obtain permission for such a meeting, but instead he found that his request was granted immediately and without condition. On his way to the interview, as he walked through the hallowed halls of the companies main offices, he pictured his name on the placards that hung immediately adjacent to each office door; and he couldn’t help but feel as though he’d finally arrived. When the receptionist led him into the office of the theatre company’s head man, he was duly impressed by both the office and the distinguished looking older gentleman who arose from behind a massive desk. After some brief introductions and pleasantries, they both sat down to talk.

“Well you certainly have a varied and impressive resume; I’m very interested to hear what has brought you here today.”

“I guess I’d like to begin by telling you what an honor it is to have this opportunity to speak to you. I have always admired your work and you have really been the inspiration for my love of the theatre. I would certainly consider any opportunity to work with you as a dream come true.”

“And is this why you’ve come today; for an opportunity to work with me?”

“Yes Sir, it is. As you can see from my extensive resume, I’ve been involved in many different aspects of the theatre and I’m sure that I could be an asset to your company as well.”

“I have no doubt that such a gifted man could indeed be an asset; but in what capacity is it that you envisioned providing such benefit?”

“Well, I guess if I’m honest, I’ve pictured myself as a sort of leading man; though I understand that I’d have to work my way into that spot.”

“I must commend you for your honesty, but as you probably already know, we have an established leading man, who I would consider to be irreplaceable.”

“I do understand that Sir, but maybe I could be his understudy. You know, just in case he can’t go on for some reason.”

“Well, in all my years, there’s never been a time that he couldn’t ‘go on’ as you put it. Maybe it would be more fruitful for us to consider something else.”

“I thought that might be the case, so as you can see from my resume, I also have a lot of experience as a director.”

“Indeed you do; but I’m sure that as someone who has followed my career, you’re aware of the fact that I personally direct all of our productions.”

“Yes sir, I did know that; but I thought that maybe we might work together; and who knows, one day you may want to hang up your director’s hat and I’d be ready to step right in for you.”

“To be honest with you, I can’t really picture myself ‘hanging up my director’s hat’, so maybe we should consider some other alternative.”

“I certainly understand sir, so maybe I could just start out with some set design. I’ve got a lot of valuable experience as a designer and a builder.”

“I’m sure that in the regional theatre there is much demand for such things, but this company has been established for such a long time that I can truly say that everything has already been designed and built. We simply rely on our stage hands to put things in their proper place. Thus, it seems doubtful that this would be the place for your diverse set of talents.”

Clearly disappointed, the young man continued, “Well, it’s not really my favorite job, but I have had a lot of success in promotions. I really knew how to pack them in back home.”

“I’ve no doubt that is true, but our productions are by special invitation only. Unless someone receives a personal invitation from me, they won’t know to come.”

Exasperated the young man whined, “Is there no place for me here?”

To which the older man brightly replied, “Of course there is a place for you.”

“We are always in need of extras for the stage or help with the lighting or you might even be used as an usher.”

An incredulous look swept over the young mans face as he exclaimed, “An extra!” “Lighting!” “An Usher?” “That is all you would offer a man of my experience?”

While the older man’s eyes remained full of compassion, his voice took on a deeper timber, as he explained, “As a man of the theatre, you should know the importance of how extras flavor a scene and bring it to life. Like salt in food, we may not always notice its presence, but we absolutely miss it when it’s not there. It is much the same with lighting, which is certainly an integral part of creating the tone and context for every scene. These elements are an essential part of pulling people into the story. And as for being an Usher; even when someone chooses to accept my invitation, there still needs to be someone to help them find their seat. While none of these may have been the role you picked for yourself, they are all a vital part of what we’re doing here.”

The young man hung his head in silence for a few moments before quietly saying, “I’m sorry sir, this just isn’t how I envisioned it.”

As he rose to leave, the older man stood to his feet as well, and extended his hand. As they shook hands, their eyes met and the older man said, “That’s a shame, because I was really looking forward to working with you.”

The young man left the building, greatly saddened by all that he had heard.

I felt like the Lord gave me this little story as a parable; where “the theatre” (in the broad context of the word) represents the knowledge of God, while the prestigious, international theatre company (specifically) represents the Kingdom of God and where the young man represents those who the Lord has gifted and called to His service. I sensed Him saying that while all have been given good gifts, and many have been called, few are willing to play the role that He’s cast them in.

Read Full Post »

As I closed the door of my locker, and spun the combination lock, I could see the other guys on my shift shuffling into the locker room. They looked about as enthusiastic to be there as I was. The first night of midnight shift was always a killer, mostly because no one sleeps that day, and then they show up at work just about the time their body decides it’s time to go to bed. I had tried to lie down just after dinner that night, but it didn’t seem to help much. Since I was already in my coveralls, I headed toward the break room, figuring I could read the paper until the foreman showed up to give us our job assignments.

 

One of the few benefits of working the late shift was that there were always plenty of newspapers leftover from the guys on dayshift. When I got to the break room, the only other person there was an old timer named Bill. He wasn’t considered an old timer because of his age, which I would guess to be somewhere in his mid-fifties, but because he’d been at the mill for over thirty years.

 

He worked for the Carpenter Shop, like I did, and he was sitting in his usual spot, sipping coffee and reading his Bible. As he peaked over his reading glasses, he said, “There’s fresh coffee over there”. I gave him a quick nod and headed for my cup. Bill and I rarely worked together, as he and another old timer (Henry) normally worked the shop, while I was generally assigned to projects out in the mill. I’d never really made any kind of effort to get to know him despite the fact that he’d always been pretty friendly toward me. While a lot of the old timers treated the younger guys like dirt, or as if they were invisible, that didn’t seem to be Bill’s way.

 

For a long time I rationalized that the reason I didn’t hang around him was because he was older and married… but after my recent conversion to Christianity, I had to admit to myself that it was really all that Bible reading that had kept me at a safe distance. Though I’d never heard him preach at anyone, I couldn’t help but think that, given the opportunity, he would. Needless to say, he’d been the butt of many jokes over the years, but I think that most people secretly respected him.

 

Given all of the changes that were going on in my life at that moment, I would have loved to have sat down and spoken to him about some things, but I was still having a hard time letting any of my co-workers see the change in me; so I sat down and started scanning the sports page instead.

 

I’d only gotten through a couple of lines before I heard a commotion in the hallway, with the sound of loud voices and laughing only slightly muffled by the doors to the break room. Within a few seconds, a group of my boisterous co-workers came bursting through those doors. I could now see that it was a few guys from the Pipe shop and a girl named Tonya, who was a laborer. As usual, Tonya was spewing obscenities of a highly sexual nature and she had her hands all over one of the guys, while the other two guys seemed to be cheering them on.

 

Tonya was notorious at the mill and stories of her midnight shift exploits were legendary. As I watched, I caught a glimpse of Bill out of the corner of my eye and I could see a pained expression on his face. I was suddenly embarrassed when I realized that Bill had witnessed similar scenes, with me falling into Tonya’s web, on many occasions over the last seven years. Something inside of me wanted to tell him that I wasn’t that same guy anymore, but I also had to admit that there was still something inside me that found Tonya’s sexually charged behavior enticing.

 

I’d hoped that the change in me would have been enough to erase those feelings, but instead, it was just enough to make me feel guilty about having them. I had no trouble understanding that getting involved with someone like Tonya was the road to nowhere and I definitely didn’t want to go back to where I’d been with her; but as I watched her seemingly trying to seduce this young man, I found myself feeling a little jealous and left out. She must have noticed me staring, as she broke away from her young prey and started walking toward me.

 

“What’s the matter Danny, do you miss me” she taunted, as she unzipped her coveralls to the waist. “Come on baby, it’ll be just like old times” she said, as she seductively straddled the bench I was sitting on.  I could sense my face turning beet red and I felt suddenly paralyzed as she began to push her body against me, eventually reaching for the zipper of my coveralls. My mouth and throat were so dry that I was sure that I wouldn’t be able to make a sound, but my hand suddenly jerked to life, intercepting hers, as the word “No!” somehow managed to escape my lips. Because our faces were so close together, I could see the surprise and hurt in her eyes; and I realized that the firmness of my grasp and the tone of my voice had somehow caught her off guard.

 

Though our eyes were locked for only a few seconds, I felt like I looked right into her soul and it was heart breaking. While her physical beauty hadn’t diminished much in her forty something years, I could sense the damage inside of her. At the end of that brief moment, she pulled away from me, moving back toward her original target, as she muttered, “your loss”.

 

By now, the break room was beginning to fill with the night crew and I remained motionless; feeling like someone who’d just swerved out of the path of an oncoming eighteen wheeler. I felt sick to my stomach as a picture of my fiancé flashed through my mind; and I wondered if she’d still want to spend her life with me if she knew that I was the kind of man who could fall to a woman like Tonya.

 

I felt ashamed and confused, and I was still very much in my own little world, when a hand on my shoulder managed to pull me back into the moment. When I looked up, I found that the hand belonged to Bill and when our eyes met, he asked, “Are you OK?” I managed to weakly nod my head to indicate that I was, though I wasn’t necessarily convinced of it. Before he could say anything else, the foreman came in and began to give us a shift briefing.

 

At the end of the briefing, the foreman explained that Henry’s wife had called to say that he’d been admitted to the hospital with chest pains earlier that afternoon. He then told us that I’d be working with Bill in the shop until Henry made it back to work. While I’d been looking for a chance to talk with Bill, the incident with Tonya had really dampened my desire to talk to anyone. Bill picked up his Bible and headed for the break room door before he looked around to see if I was coming. I pretended not to notice him waiting for me and after a couple of seconds he went on without me. I realized that though I’d managed to avoid him for the moment, it was probably going to be impossible to avoid him for the entire shift. After grabbing a couple sections of the newspaper, I also headed for the shop.

 

When I got there, Bill was filling the coffee maker with water. As he looked up at me, he said, “I figure we’ll need this tonight”. I once again nodded at him, still not wanting to get involved in any sort of meaningful conversation. After he got the coffee maker going, he came over to the bench I was at and said, “On the first night of ‘mids’, Henry and I normally sort through the scrap box, make shim bundles and clean out the dust filters on all the machines. We’ve learned that it’s not a good night to try to do any kind of precision work.”

 

As our eyes met, I managed to say, “Sounds good”. Bill then moved over to the scrap box, while I started removing the filter housing on one of the belt sanders. I was relieved that Bill didn’t press me to work side by side with him, as the knot in my stomach began to slowly unravel.

After about an hour, I was feeling a little more relaxed and I noticed that Bill was taking a break. He was pouring himself some coffee, so I decided to join him. As I sat down with my coffee, he asked, “You doin’ OK?”

 

I wasn’t really sure if he meant doing OK with cleaning out the machine filters, or doing OK after the thing with Tonya, or just doing OK in general; but I said, “Sure, how are you doing?” He went on to tell me that he was a little worried about Henry and that he’d been praying for him. Unconsciously, I mentioned that I’d been praying for him as well, and I could tell by Bill’s expression that he was surprised. I suddenly realized that I still had the desire to tell Bill about the changes in my life and so I decided to seize the moment.

 

“I’m a little new to this praying thing” I admitted, before adding, “I really didn’t get serious about God until just a few months ago”.

 

“Really” he replied. “What caused that to change for you?”

 

“I suppose that it was my fiancé and her little boy. She’s a good Christian girl and being around them for the last several months has made me see things differently. The closer I’ve gotten to them, the more I’ve wanted my life to change. A couple of months ago, I answered an altar call at her church and I asked the Lord to come into my life.”

 

Bill smiled as he said, “That’s great Danny, so how’s that going for you?”

 

‘Well, I thought it was going pretty good. Of course that was before tonight’s little incident with Tonya. Now I’m not so sure.”

 

Bill looked confused, as he said, “What about the incident with Tonya makes you doubt your decision?”

 

I could once again feel my face turning red with embarrassment, as I admitted, “I guess I just thought that I was over stuff like that; now I’m wondering if I wasn’t just kidding myself about this whole thing.”

 

“I’m a little confused Danny; you told Tonya ‘no’. That seems like a change to me. It sounds as though you feel like you somehow failed that test.”

 

“Yeah, I guess I do feel like I failed. I mean if I’m totally honest; there is a big part of me that really wanted Tonya to keep going tonight. Here I am about to get married to a girl that I really love and I can’t even resist someone like Tonya, who I already know that I don’t want to be with.”

 

“But you did resist her” Bill countered.

 

“Well I guess that’s true, but if my life has really changed, why would I still want to go there with her?” I asked.

 

“So you’re thinking that if this commitment you’ve made to God and to your fiancé is for real, then you shouldn’t feel tempted to sin anymore?” he asked.

 

I knew right away that couldn’t be right, but I had to admit that on some level it must have been the way I was thinking. Still, I couldn’t seem to let go of the idea that I’d failed and so I replied, “I guess not, but if Tonya had done that same thing to you, would you have been tempted?”

 

Bill paused for a moment, as though he was measuring his words carefully. “As a purely flesh and blood man, I absolutely would have been.”

 

“But aren’t we all just flesh and blood?” I stammered.

 

“We weren’t created to be ‘just flesh and blood. We were created in the image of God, who is revealed to us in three persons; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Like Him, we are made up of three parts, which for us are body, soul and spirit. Our soul is that part of us which is eternal; it is the essence of who we are, and where our mind, will & emotions come from. Our body is that part of us that God gives to fulfill our mission here on earth; and our spirit is the part of us that allows us to stay connected to the spiritual realm, which is the dimension in which He dwells.  Though we tend to think of ourselves as a body that has a soul, we’re really a soul that has as body.  In the end, the soul goes on, and the body is cast aside.”

 

“Our flesh is not unlike that of the other animals here on earth and in those times when we choose to suspend the higher aspects of our design (e.g. our conscience), we can and will live on a purely instinctual level. On that level, it would be nearly impossible not to respond in some way to the invitation that Tonya was offering. But the thing is that God never intended for us to live on a purely instinctual level. He gave us a mind, a will and emotions to keep those more animal instincts in check.”

 

“I’ve seen you fall to Tonya before, so what do you think was different tonight?”

 

“I guess I’d just made up my mind that I wasn’t going to go there?” I said.

 

“You see, you’d made up your ‘mind’ and then you asserted your ‘will’. That didn’t erase the instinct within you to accept her invitation, but it kept that instinct from becoming action. That’s how it’s supposed to work and tonight it did. You may see it as a moral failure that you had the urge to give in to the seduction, but I feel certain that God sees it as a victory that you exercised your will not to give into that urge.”

 

I’d never heard anybody talk like that before, but what he said made a lot of sense, and it seemed to lift a great weight off of my shoulders. Maybe I wasn’t as bent on evil as I’d feared; but this whole topic of sexuality reminded me of one of the few apprehensions I was still battling about my upcoming marriage, which centered on the idea of having sex with the same person for the rest of my life. After all, I’d been having sex since I was a teenager and at almost 31 years of age, I hadn’t been with the same women for more than a year.

 

Though Beth (my fiancée) and I hadn’t slept together, and as much as I looked forward to that experience, I had a hard time imagining that after many years it wouldn’t become rather mundane. I hated that thought, but I had to admit that it seemed inevitable. Since Bill apparently understood some things about all this, I thought maybe he could help me; unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to find the words to ask.

 

Without thinking, I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind.  “I guess I’m just having a hard time figuring out what it is that God thinks about sex. I mean, I’ve always thought of sex as being kind of dirty, and maybe even ‘ungodly’, but He’s the one who invented it, so there’s got to be a way that it’s OK with Him. I really want to get this part of my new life right.”

 

“That’s good Danny, you’re right to want to get that part right; it’s important. I don’t claim to be any sort of expert on the subject, but let me ask you a question.  Is fire a good thing, or bad thing?”

 

“A good thing” I replied.

 

“What about fire on your curtains?” he said.

 

“OK” I admitted, “that’s not good”.

 

“So what about fire in the fireplace?” he added.

 

“That’s a good thing”

 

“What if it’s the 4th of July?” he challenged.

 

“OK, I get it.  Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad.”

 

“That’s right!  Ultimately it depends on the context.  In the right place and at the right time it is one of the most wonderful gifts mankind has ever known.  In the wrong context, it can be powerfully destructive.  It’s the same way with sex.”

 

“Though I don’t pretend to know God’s thoughts, I’m pretty sure that He doesn’t think of sex apart from love. To Him, sex is simply meant to be a physical expression of love and unity. When we have sex outside that context, we’re totally subverting His design. Another thing that I’m pretty sure of is that sex was meant to engage not only our body, but our soul and spirit, as well.  I don’t suspect that many people experience it that way.”

 

Something in my expression must have given away my surprise at that statement, as Bill seemed energized by my reaction. He continued, “You see, the flesh simply wants to feel good, and so something like what Tonya was offering would undoubtedly be pleasurable on that level. The problem is that we don’t live on that level and our soul yearns to be loved and valued. For our souls, a quickie in the Janitor’s closet can leave you feeling pretty empty emotionally. Sex on that level is really reduced to being more of a bodily function, much like going to the bathroom.”

 

I couldn’t suppress a smirk at Bill’s comparison of a quickie to going to the bathroom, which seemed to make him feel as though he needed to explain that statement. He said, “No really, just like those times you’ve ‘really got to go’, you feel like you might explode if you don’t get there; there’s a great sense of release and relief when you do get there; you wipe yourself when you’re done, and an hour later, you don’t even remember that you went.”

 

His explanation somehow managed to wipe the smile from my face, and while what he’d said seemed almost vulgar, I couldn’t deny that it was absolutely true. A fresh wave of shame rolled over me as I remembered some of my experiences in places like the Janitor’s closet.

 

He went on to say, “The problem is that there is no way to experience sex on a purely physical level. We may suppress our thoughts and emotions in the midst of those experiences, but our souls are there, and they are damaged every time we are joined with another soul, and then pulled apart. You see God really meant it when He said that two would become one flesh and there is a bond that is formed, whether we intend for it or not. For a couple that has resolved to share their lives together, this bond only makes them stronger. But for the person who couples and uncouples repeatedly, there is a ripping of the fabric of their souls. Do you remember when we built that little platform for the CEO to speak from at the company picnic?”

 

“Yeah” I replied.

 

“Then you’ll also remember that we built it with screws instead of nails. Why did we do that?” he asked.

 

“Because we knew that we were going to take it down after the weekend and we wanted to be able to reuse the wood. If we’d have nailed it together, we’d have torn up the boards getting those nails back out” I replied.

 

“That’s exactly right! And having sex with someone you’re not going to stay committed to is just like building that platform with nails. Whether you understand it or not, you’re putting it together as though it’s going to last forever, when you really intend on ripping it apart at the end of the weekend.”

 

I was amazed at how practical that explanation was and how well Bill seemed to understand all of these things. I wondered how I’d never heard anyone talk about stuff like this before, and I wondered where Bill had learned it. I was soaking it all in and he just kept rolling along.

 

“Have you ever seen or maybe even been in a relationship that was clearly not meant to be, yet that you couldn’t seem to get away from?”

 

As I thought of my on again, off again relationship with Tonya (amongst others), I nodded in agreement.

 

“Well, I’d suggest that this is because your souls have been joined together and even if, on an intellectual level, you know that the relationship is no good, that bond keeps pulling you back toward them. I’ve watched many people, who were in horribly abusive relationships, break free from their tormentor, only to willingly go back to them sometime later. People are baffled by that, but I really believe that this soul tie has everything to do with it. I’ll even go out on a limb here and say that I’ll bet that when you looked into Tonya’s eyes tonight, you could feel the turmoil inside of her.”

 

I was blown away that he’d say something like that, and even more amazed that he was exactly right. For every point he seemed to be making, I could think of a sexual experience that in some way validated its truth. While it was certainly helping me to understand why marriage was the context God created for sex, it wasn’t really touching my fears about what sex might be like after marriage. I decided to try to get Bill to talk about that some.

 

“So I think I understand the problem with casual sex and sex outside of marriage, but I don’t really know many married couples that seem to have a great sex life. Surely that’s not God’s plan either it is?” I asked.

 

“You’re right, that’s not God’s design either. Unfortunately, I think that this is a subject that the church has avoided talking about, so even people who call themselves ‘Christian’ often have their ideas about sex shaped by the culture. The culture tends to make everything about ‘me’, while God tends to make everything about someone else. How many times have you heard people talk about their ’needs’? You know, ‘I’m a man and I’ve got needs…’ or ‘my needs aren’t being met’. Again, that kind of attitude simply reduces sex to a bodily function.”

 

“If a husband makes sex all about getting his needs met, he’s likely to make his wife feel like a piece of meat and after a while she won’t want any part of it; and if a wife simply makes her husband feel like she’s ‘doing her wifely duty’, that man is likely to fall to the first woman who shows more than a passing interest in him. Even though the stereotype is that men go for younger and prettier women, from what I’ve seen, they actually go for the ones who seem to be excited about being with them.”

 

“A healthy sex life is the by-product of a healthy relationship, so the focus can’t be on what happens in bed, it has to be on what’s going on in the relationship itself. If you can look at your wife and feel grateful for what she brings to your life, you’ll have taken the first step to a great sex life. If you can express that gratitude to her on a regular basis, you’ve built a great foundation for intimacy.”

 

Bill got up from the bench, walked over to a cabinet by the wall and pulled something from the shelf. When he returned, I could see that it was a beautiful hand-made box, with amazingly intricate inlaid pieces, that were stained in different shades. When he opened the box, I could see that it was a hand-made chess set. The pieces were each hand carved and the board had squares inlaid with alternating wood grain patterns. It was truly one of the most beautiful sets that I’d ever seen and Bill asked me to take the pieces out and to look at them. I found myself being very careful with them and studying each detail. After spending a few minutes appreciating this amazing work, Bill asked me what I thought.

 

“Incredible” I replied.

 

To my surprise he said, “What’s so incredible about a bunch of scrap pieces of wood?”

 

“Scrap! This set is hardly scrap” I answered incredulously.

 

“That’s where all these pieces came from” he said. “Every one of them was once a piece from the scrap box.”

 

“But they’re not scrap anymore, they’re beautiful!” I replied.

 

“You’re right that they are beautiful, but don’t you see that it is because someone saw the potential in them and cultivated it. Someone patiently worked with each piece and poured their love and effort into them. By the way, that someone was Henry. He made this set for his grandson. Relationships are a lot like this set, they all start out as hunks of unfinished wood. What you wind up with in the end depends on how much of yourself you’re willing to invest. Did you notice how you handled these chess pieces? You were almost reverent with them.”

 

“Of course I was, they’re one of a kind” I interrupted.

 

“That’s right!” Bill replied. “And so is your fiancé. She is a one of a kind, she was handmade, and she is even more complex than the beautiful in laid patterns on this box. If you can continue to view her like that, your love will only grow richer over time. If you will spend your life together touching her, and studying the intricacies of her being, just like you did with those chess pieces, you will never struggle in the area of intimacy.”

 

“Can you imagine how heartbroken Henry would be if one day he finds this chess set dumped in the bottom of his grandson’s toy box? I think that must be how God feels when He sees us cast aside one of His children. What destroys most relationships is simply taking each other for granted, and not valuing what we have. Even though most couples vow to ‘love, honor and cherish’, almost none of them ever do.”

 

Bill must have recognized that his words were beginning to overwhelm me, as he stopped and apologized for preaching. I loved what he was saying, but I wondered if I could live up to all of that. He went over and got the coffee pot and refilled both of our cups. When he sat back down, he seemed calmer and a little more down to earth.

 

“My wife and I have been married for thirty-five years and we never slept together before we were married. She was a virgin, but unfortunately I was not. I was drafted into the Army on my eighteenth birthday and was sent off to boot camp right after graduation. I was convinced that I’d probably never make it out of Vietnam alive, so I decided that I was going to experience everything that I could before then. I’m not proud of how I handled myself in those days and it was pretty amazing how much experience I gained in just a couple of years. The things I saw in Vietnam make Tonya and the janitor’s closet seem innocent.”

 

“When I made it back home, my thinking about sex was all wrong and I wondered if I’d ever be right again. When I fell in love with my beautiful girl, I prayed that God would change my mind and show me His way; and for the last thirty-five years, He’s been doing that.”

 

“The first thing that I had to learn was to keep all of my sexual energy pointed toward my wife; for me she’s the only truly ‘sexual’ being on the planet. My relationship with every other woman is either like the one I have with my mother, my sister or my daughter. I don’t let my mind imagine what it might be like to be with someone else and I don’t let myself look at things that create such an image in my mind.”

 

“Even though everyone refers to it as ‘making love’, I doubt that most people ever really do, and that’s ultimately what it’s all about. When I’m with my wife like that, I want her to feel loved. Successful sex for me is when she feels loved, honored and cherished. Believe me, that’s aiming a lot higher than just an orgasm. I don’t make love to her body; I make love to her soul and so sometimes making love is simply holding her instead of having sex, or letting her sleep because she’s exhausted.”

 

“After some years, I realized that my love for her was a pitifully small thing when compared to God’s love for her; so I started praying every time that we’d come together, that God would let her feel His love through me. When that happens, it becomes a body-soul-spirit experience. Believe me, once you’ve made love like that, you’ll understand that God was the one who invented sex and that His way is far better than anything that we could come up with. Once you experience that kind of thing, you realize that it’s the ‘real deal’ and that all that garbage the world peddles as ‘hot sex’ is just a poor substitute. I mean, you’ve probably been with a lot of women by now, has any of that really brought you the happiness that you were looking for?”

 

I nodded, indicating that it hadn’t.

 

“Do you think that someone like Tonya is feeling better about herself and about her life, by having sex with all these guys?”

 

I once again shook my head, agreeing that it probably wasn’t.

 

“And yet, the culture has sold us on the idea that someone like you is giving up the good life, so that you can spend your life with someone that you love?” He added.

 

Of course he was right and I began to think of all the crazy things about sex that I’d believed over the years. Even though I could see what he was saying, it was still hard to imagine that it could be that great after thirty-five years with the same woman. I tried to imagine Beth and I in thirty-five years, but I just couldn’t get a picture of it in my mind. Finally, I managed yet another generic question. “So it’s never gotten old for you?”

 

“Nope” Bill replied instantly. “The longer I’ve been with her, the more reasons I’ve found to love her, and the more history we’ve shared. She’s such a part of me that I can’t imagine life without her. Again, the world says that sex is driven by physical attraction, and maybe even chemistry, but the truth is that those things are only necessary when you’re having sex with someone you don’t love. I can’t see my wife objectively; I love her too much to separate how she looks from how I feel about her. When I look at her, I don’t think about what her fifty-five year old body might look like; I think about the incredible beauty that I’ve found within her heart.”

 

“When we make love, I’m too close to her to even see her body. My eyes are normally closed and when they’re open, they’re looking into her eyes, which are the windows of her soul. There’s nothing that will warm your soul like looking into the eyes of someone who truly loves you. That never gets old. We may not have sex every day, but we find a way to ‘make love’ every chance we get.”

 

Again, I wondered if Bill just wasn’t a better man than me. I knew that I loved Beth, and I was excited about sharing our lives together, but I wondered if I could ever get to the place that he was describing. Even though what he’d said seemed to challenge all my preconceived notions about sex, all of my sexual history seemed to validate that what he was saying must be true. As much as I felt like I had more questions, I couldn’t seem to think of one to ask; and Bill finally said that we ought to get back to work. As amazing as that conversation was, we never did get back to it; not on that night or any other.

 

With the benefit of the twelve years’ experience that I’ve gained since that conversation with Bill, I can now see that night was probably some sort of divine appointment. It was truly a turning point in my way of thinking. I did marry Beth, and we had a couple of beautiful children together. And I can honestly say that I love her even more today than I did back then. Bill was right, I can’t be objective in the way that I look at her, nor do I want to be. I never knew that life could be this meaningful; she is my soul mate. With three young children, we don’t always get to the sex part, but just like Bill said, “we find a way to make love every chance we get”.

Read Full Post »

Though it was still early, the day seemed to be off to a dreary start; especially for the 1st day in May. Low clouds clung to the mountain peaks and a steady drizzle came down, as it had for the last several days.  The chill in the air, and the dimly lit horizon seemed fitting for the somber gathering of spirits that made up the war council.  It was indeed rare that they would gather together, especially in an earthly location, but it was as the Overlord had commanded.

 

Each warlord eyed the others warily, wondering if one of them might know the reason for this sudden gathering. They were all keenly aware that the master wasn’t one to seek input from his subordinates, or to give them praise, so a weighty sense of dread draped their processional into the abandoned shaft opening.  It wasn’t a very hospitable setting, but as spirits they tended not to pay much attention to aesthetics, and thus it served its purpose.  They arranged themselves as they knew the master would expect, and they braced themselves for the inevitable unpleasantness to come.

 

The Overlord’s entourage arrived with surprisingly little fanfare, and he quickly moved to his station at the head of the council. As the warlords began their customary declarations of worship and submission, the master waved his hand to stop them.  “Enough!  I don’t need any of that right now!” he snarled.  He shot them a brief look of contempt, but he seemed more distracted than angry.  He sat, staring at his hands, as though he were deep in thought.  The warlords sat in complete silence, afraid to arouse his anger.

 

After what seemed to be several minutes, and without raising his eyes from his hands, the Overlord muttered, “It’s over”.

 

Again, the warlords sat in silence, too petrified to ask what he was referring to. Finally, Nardus, who was the oldest of the warlords, spoke.  “What is over, sire?” he asked timidly.

 

At that, the master’s furious eyes rose toward the council as he hissed, “this insidious little game of war you’ve been playing!”

 

Nardus was clearly confused by the statement, but measured his words carefully as he declared, “My lord I can assure you that we have not retreated on any front, and I feel certain that we are on the brink of yet another great advance in the west.”

 

With his words dripping with sarcasm, and a strange half smile on his face, the Overlord replied, “Ah yes, the west. You’ve certainly invested heavily there haven’t you?  Unfortunately Nardus, you’ve just lost your queen in the west, and you’re rapidly backing into checkmate.”

 

Confused, Nardus said, “I don’t understand sire?”

 

With his expression becoming more serious, the master said, “It’s your boy Adolph, he’s dead.”

 

A low hum of murmurs rose from the council at the news, and Nardus failed to conceal his shock. “How did it happen sire?” he asked.

 

“He did it himself. Not surprising really, I mean you can only contain so much insanity in a man before he destroys himself.”

 

Again the room was silent for an uncomfortable amount of time before a young, aggressive warlord named Lymbach spoke up. “There is still the war in the east sire!” He said in an optimistic tone.

 

Again, the Overlord glared at the council, “It’s over you fools! ‘The Allies’ have developed a doomsday weapon and it’s just a matter of time before they use it. Your pawns will fall in the east even faster than they have in the west; and before you know it your ‘World War’ will give way to world peace.”

 

Every member of the council hung their head in shame, knowing better than to utter anything more that might appear to contradict the master’s conclusion.

 

After several more minutes of silence, the Overlord rose to his feet and began to speak. “It is unfortunate that I have allowed you to be called ‘Warlords’, because it is so clear that you have little understanding of how to wage war.  You’re all so eager to make it a show of brute force and that is a war we cannot hope to win.  Don’t you see how attacking from outside one’s borders causes the citizenry to unite and galvanizes their resolve.  It stirs up all sorts of virtuous sensibilities and minimizes their more base instincts.  Instead of taking advantage of their natural depravity, you are cultivating what makes them our adversaries.  Instead of using them as puppets, you are making them into formidable foes.  Enough of this foolishness!  If you want to bring a house down you don’t throw rocks at the windows, you go after the structure that holds it up, and that sort of attack must come from within.”

 

The members of the council were now hanging on his every word, as he continued to pace and speak. “This idea of fighting toe to toe and face to face is much too civilized.  It makes the distinction between what is good and what is evil too apparent to them.  The way you win at war is to get them to the place that no one is really sure who the enemy is, or what the truth is.  That’s when you can get them to fight amongst themselves and where their natural sense of self-righteousness will guide them.  Never allow the battle lines to be clearly drawn.  Once you achieve that kind of ambiguity, you can sell them anything as long as it comes wrapped in a package that keeps them stirred up.”

 

The master paused to look into the faces of the council members, as if to see whether they were grasping his words. Nardus again spoke. “Sire, I can certainly see the wisdom of your words, but how do we move them from the place of their impending victory to this place that you have described?”

 

His question caused the Overlord to smile knowingly as he said, “It is much easier than you’d expect. If there is anything worth taking from history, it is that mankind cannot handle prosperity.  Just as the battle galvanized them, victory will surely make them proud and complacent.  It is fertile ground for their vain imaginations.  You need not dissuade them from their celebration, indeed you ought to encourage them to celebrate excessively.  Encourage them to feel good about themselves, to feel as though the days of sacrifice are over and the days of reward are at hand.  Help divert their dreams of freedom to dreams of prosperity; their covetous nature will make it easy.  Slowly redefine their most sacred tenants; reduce peace to nothing more than the absence of war and peace loving to nothing more than a lack of willingness to fight for what they believe.  Encourage them to view freedom as nothing more than the absence of constraint and to mistake winning for victory.  Inevitably their carnality will carry them along with very little effort on your part.  Give them catchy little phrases like, ‘Make love, not war!’  They will use such ideas to justify the exploration of their lusts and for their unwillingness to reach beyond themselves.  The generations born to such a people will have no concept of the truth or of sacrifice or of the eternal battle between good and evil.  Indeed, the very concept of good and evil will become abstract to them.  Believe me, if we are dutiful and patient, there will come a time when they doubt our very existence.  Without a shot being fired, this new empire will crumble from within, and ultimately be devoured by a people who truly understand what is good and what is evil.”

 

At these words, the entire council broke into cheers and exuberant praise. Moments later, as the Overlord’s entourage departed, every member of the council was awash with a fresh sense of hope for the future.

 

That is what I remember of my first council meeting, and I must admit that as a young demon I was somewhat skeptical about this plan. But in the relatively short period of time that has passed since that spring day in 1945 I have come to see the genius of the Overlord’s tact.  Indeed the young republic of that day did go on to become the most powerful nation on earth, with no foe on the horizon with the capabilities to bring it down.  Even so, the steady erosion of their own national character has weakened them from within, and they have now come to the point that they stand divided and on the brink of collapse.

 

I remember the master talking about attacking the foundation of a structure and it occurs to me that for a nation built upon Judeo-Christian ethics that is exactly what we’ve accomplished. Their Jesus claimed that He was “the way, the truth and the life” and yet in these few short years we’ve convinced them otherwise.  They’ve exchanged the belief that He is the only way for the belief that there are many ways (i.e. pluralism); they’ve exchanged the belief that He is the embodiment of truth for the idea that every man gets to define truth for himself (i.e. humanism) and they’ve come to a place of such low regard for life, that thousands of lives are destroyed each day in the name of personal freedom (i.e. abortion).  It’s not that they’ve stopped believing that there is a God; it’s just that He’s become irrelevant to them.

 

The generations born into this culture tend to have voracious appetites, under-developed consciences, and little sense of obligation toward their fellow man. They tend to believe only in what they can feel or explain, so just as the master prophesied, most cannot even fathom that we demons exist.  I’d love to take the credit for these rapid advances, and to be sure we’ve made our suggestions, but in truth they’ve really done most of it themselves.  Had they even resisted a little bit, we’d have had to take a step back; and I shudder to think of what might happen if they’d ever unleash the whole arsenal of weapons they’ve got at their disposal.  But for now they’re too busy battling each other to bother with us.  For us it’s a lot like watching a beautiful sunset.

Read Full Post »

“Warning – the following story is satirical and not meant to be viewed literally.  The writer’s intention was simply to expose the absurd lengths to which ‘tolerance’ and ‘political correctness’ can be taken.”

            Back in the 1960’s, when I was studying Journalism at U of C, in Berkley; I learned that the success of a story isn’t so much about how well it is written, but about how much people want to read it.  To that end, I’ve made a career of picking intriguing and often controversial subjects to write about.  While many have disagreed with the things I’ve written, they’ve never ignored them and as a writer that is very gratifying.  When this assignment presented itself, even I had to think about it for a minute; but it was a short minute.  What journalist worth his salt wouldn’t want to sit down for a few minutes with arguably the most prominent figure in the earth’s history?  With assurances from both sides that everything would be handled with professionalism and respect, I embarked on this remarkable assignment.

Reporter:  Sir, I know we only have a few minutes, but I must say that I’m humbled to actually speak to you in person.

Lucifer:  Please call me Lucifer and the pleasure is all mine.  I’ve long admired your work.

R: I guess before we start I have to admit that I’ve been really surprised by this whole thing.  Did you ever think that you’d be doing an interview like this?

L:  Well, as recently as fifty years ago I wouldn’t have thought it was possible, but things have really changed in that period; there is such an openness now that didn’t exist in this country before.  I think that is what made this possible.

R:  Absolutely, we’ve really come a long way.  I’m hoping that people who read this interview will just come with an open mind.

L:  That’s all I’m after too.  I’m not one of those my way or the highway kind of guys, I think that everyone has to draw their own conclusions.  I’m just about being open to new things, new ways of thinking, not just accepting everything that you’ve been taught.  Unless we open our minds, we’ll never find new truths and we’ll never progress.  That’s what these last fifty years have been about, “progress”.

R:  It has been an amazing time.  As someone who’s observed a lot of history, what do you think has really made the difference in this last half century?

L:  I guess I’d have to say “freedom”.  You know a lot of the things that I’ve said and done over time have been misrepresented; I’ve always been about personal freedom.  I think that the rise of democracy in America and its eventual spread around the world have really ushered in a time of unprecedented freedom.  In this current era, we’re progressing from a time of national freedom, to a time of personal freedom.  Despite what my opposition has portrayed, that is all I ever wanted.

R:  Would you consider yourself a patriot?

L:  Absolutely!

R:  As a person who shares your passion for personal freedom, I guess I find it hard to understand why everyone wouldn’t be for that?

L:  I’m sure you’d get a variety of answers to that question, but if we’re really honest with ourselves no one wants to live in a cage.  Those who’ve traditionally opposed me have always wanted to throw up boundaries and I’m just against that. 

R:  What do you think that they hope to gain by putting all these boundaries in place?

L:  Control.  I mean honestly, what else could it be?  It’s all about one group trying to inflict their will on another; it is so base and animal like.

R:  On a personal level I’m right there with you, but how would you answer your critics who claim that there are absolute truths and standards that must be adhered to?

L:  I’ve got no problem with them adhering to those truths and standards, I’m just saying don’t inflict them on me or on my kids.  They certainly have a right to set those standards for themselves, but freedom dictates that every man should be able to decide for themselves.

R:  Well, I promised myself that I was going to steer clear of the whole religion issue, so maybe we ought to move on to something else.

L:  Well that’s fine, but for the record I’m not opposed to religion, even though much of it is opposed to me.  I believe that’s part of the freedom that every man has; I’d even go so far as to say that I’d love to see a whole lot more religions come to pass.  I think that there ought to be religions for every different type of belief system that’s out there.  I’m for people being passionate about what they believe.

R:  That’s really great and so opposed to how you’ve been portrayed by your adversaries.

L:  Well, as I mentioned before, I’ve been greatly misrepresented.

R:  That seems like a good segue way into the next part of my interview.  In journalism we often like to ask some kind of random questions, to give the people a greater sense of the person; you know your interests, your likes, your dislikes…  I can already see that you’re much different from the way you’ve been portrayed and I want to try to convey that to the people.

L:  Sounds good, shoot.

R:  What would you consider to be one of your hobbies?

L:  Music.

R:  Really, I wrote for Rolling Stone magazine for many years.  What kind of music do you like?

L:  All kinds really, though I must admit that I’m very partial to the oldies.

R:  Really, listening to your critics I would have thought Heavy Metal of Rap would be your thing.

L:  Don’t get me wrong, I certainly enjoy those too, but there’s nothing like those old songs to take you back.  There’s just something about them that goes right to the soul.

R:  Would you consider yourself to be sentimental?

L:  Definitely.

R:  How about television shows?

L:  I tend to like sitcoms, reality shows and every once in a while the Shopping Channel.

R:  Really, I think the stereotype of you has been more toward the heavier forms of entertainment.

L:  Well, like with the music, I have an appreciation for all of it; but I think that it’s good to laugh at ourselves and maybe a little at each other too; so the sitcoms are good for that.  I think reality TV has helped everyone to see that we’re all just people, with our little character flaws and our struggles.  I believe it has helped people to feel less guilty about just being human; and what can you say about the Shopping Channel: I mean sometimes you just got to have it.

R:  Again I find myself agreeing with you, but how do you respond to the critics who say that the entertainment industry is immoral and isn’t upholding good family values?

L:  Well, I guess I’d have to ask, whose family, whose morals and whose values are we talking about.  To me, if these programs didn’t represent someone’s values, then no one would watch them and they’d go off the air.  The fact that people love these programs tells me that they are representative of their values.  I think what you have is a very small group of people who want to control what everyone else is watching.

R:  Well I can see that our prescribed time is about up, is there any thought that you’d like to leave with our readers?

L:  Well, I hope that this bit of time that we’ve shared helps open people up to some new truths.  There are a lot of myths that have followed me through time and I certainly don’t have the time to try to dispel every one of them.  I just hope that as time goes on, the people of this country will continue to teardown those last vestiges of intolerance remaining from our early history and that democracy will now do for personal freedom, what it did for national freedom.

R:  Thank so much for your time Sir.

L:  You’re welcome and please call me Lucifer.

            As a reporter, all I can do is report what I saw and heard; or maybe in this case what I didn’t see or hear.  What I didn’t see was horns, a tail or a pitchfork; what I did see was a very open minded, rational being.  What I didn’t hear was the vehement, intolerant rhetoric of his critics, but instead the pleas of someone who passionately believes in tolerance and personal freedom for all men.  While I only spent a few minutes with him, it is hard not to find the man and his arguments compelling.  I believe that if anyone will just come with an open mind, he’ll make a lot of sense to them.  I believe his philosophy could be the vision for this country’s future.

Read Full Post »

As she stepped out of the hotel lobby and onto the busy Manhattan sidewalk, she could sense the electricity in the air.  The boulevards were jammed with people and cars, not unlike the streets that she’d grown up with in Calcutta (or Kolkata as it is known in India).  But to her the atmosphere was totally different.  Despite the affluent appearance of her hometown, she viewed it as a monument to a bygone era; an oasis of civility in a largely third world culture.

*

New York City seemed different to her; modern and progressive.  America was not some third world country; it was the nation of the great middle class, where average people expected the next generation to progress beyond the current one.

*

As she walked along the crowded avenue the possibilities seemed endless, as exotic smells filled her nostrils, unfamiliar sounds rang in her ears, and inviting scenes seemed to unfold at every turn.  She found it intoxicating, as she spent hours strolling through shops, galleries and plazas; simply taking in the ambience of the city.

*

Every once in a while, a wave of sadness would wash over her as she remembered that the Travel Visa, which allowed her to be in this country, would soon expire; and that she would have to return home.  This trip had been a graduation gift from her parents, and she was due to start Medical School in a few weeks.  But this is where she wanted to be, and the thought of going back was excruciating to her.  She quickly pushed these thoughts and feelings aside, as to not waste the precious time that remained.

*

As she passed through the doorway of the exclusive restaurant, she saw Michael waiting for her.  When he saw her, his face broke into a broad smile.  Failing to conceal his excitement, he quickly made his way to her.  He helped her with her coat and they were soon seated at a little table by the window, which overlooked Times Square.  She had met Michael a few days after arriving in New York, and he had persistently pursued spending time with her ever since.  He was a successful business man, in his mid-thirties, and he seemed very eager for them to cultivate a relationship.

*

While she had every reason to be attracted to Michael, his earnest manner made her somewhat uncomfortable.  She loved the places that he’d taken her, and enjoyed the attention that he lavished upon her, but she couldn’t seem to get herself excited about the relationship that he seemed to long for.  As they waited to order their food, Michael stared at her intently; totally enthralled by her dark eyes and almond colored skin.  Yet, she seemed oblivious, as she stared out the window, apparently mesmerized by the bustle of the cityscape.

*

After their food was ordered, Michael’s face grew serious.  He told her that he understood that her time in America would soon be over, and of how sad he was at the thought that they might never see each other again.  Though his grief seemed to rest more on the latter thought, hers rested firmly on the former.  His face brightened some as he explained that it didn’t need to be that way.  Reaching into his pocket, Michael produced a small felt covered box, pushing it across the table to her.  A wave of trepidation swept over her as she realized what was happening.

*

His face was glowing with love as he said, “You could stay here and be my Bride”?

*

Her head spun at the sound of his words.  She knew that her feelings for him were not nearly as strong as his were for her.  Truthfully, she didn’t really know him very well; though she had to admit to herself that her desire to know him better wasn’t that strong.  On the other hand, agreeing to this proposal would mean that she could remain in this place, which she’d come to view as a sort of paradise.  The thought of returning to the oppressive atmosphere of her homeland was overwhelming to her.  The thought of becoming a naturalized citizen in this country was like a dream come true.  This was her chance for the life that she yearned for; how could she even consider saying no.

*

As she opened the felt box, she saw the spectacular diamond ring that he’d picked out for her.  He pulled the ring from the holder and taking her hand, he gently slipped it onto her finger.  It fit perfectly and flashes of light erupted from it with every movement; she found herself captivated by it.

*

“Do you like it?” he asked.

*

“Oh yes!” she replied, without looking at him.

*

When she was finally able to pull her eyes from the ring, she looked into Michael’s face.  She could see that he was stricken in anticipation of her answer.

*

She finally whispered, “How could I say no?”

*

Michael made no attempt to conceal his delight, and people from other tables began to look at them.  She was embarrassed, but he was unashamed to share his joyful report with anyone who would listen.  As Michael ordered Champaign for everyone in the restaurant, and continued in excited conversation with those around him, she stared out the window at her new home, and smiled.

*

_______________________________________________

*

This story is derived from a vision, which was received during a time of prayer.  While I’ve added some detail to make the scene more accessible, the vision itself told the same story. 

 *

At the end of the vision I felt like the Lord said, “This is a picture of my Bride.  She yearns to live in my Kingdom, she yearns for the things that this marriage will afford her, she yearns for the treasures of my store houses, but she doesn’t necessarily yearn for Me.” 

*

While the Lord intends for His Kingdom to be inviting and to be lavish with His children, I believe His heart yearns for a Bride who will love Him for who He is.  I pray that we would become such a Bride.

*

From the book, “Along the King’s Highway” by Bryan J. Corbin

Published in 2008 (ISBN 978-1-4363-6965-7)

Read Full Post »

Painless

As she stared at the shelf full of reference books behind his desk, it occurred to her how worthless all that education had been; after all, she’d been coming here for months and he seemed unable to help her. Maybe it wasn’t his fault, maybe it was the “science” of psychology or maybe she was just beyond help. Whatever the problem was, she found herself with no desire to go through this exercise again. The only reason she’d come was because it was what everyone expected her to do and if she hadn’t, they might think that she didn’t really want to get better; but if she was honest about it, she’d long since given up on the idea of “getting better,” she just didn’t want to hurt anymore.

“So how are you doing today, Kathy?”

“Same as always, Doc.”

“How is that?”

“Come on, Doc, do we really need to go over it again?”

“I think it helps to talk about it.”

“Who does it help? Certainly not me. It helps you, because after all, if I don’t talk you don’t get paid.”

“So we’re feeling frustrated today?”

“Very good, Doc, you’ve already zeroed in on the problem. How ’bout we just refill my Prozac prescription and call it a session?”

“Kathy, I know that you’re frustrated, but how can you get better if we don’t talk about it?”

“The better question is how will I get any better by talking about it? We’ve been talking about it for months and I’m not any better. How is talking about it more going to help?”

“Are you saying that you want to discontinue our sessions?”

Her mind began to reel; she clearly had no interest in continuing these discussions, but if she stopped therapy, what proof would there be that she was really trying to change her life and who would write her prescriptions for anti-depressants? She pictured her husband with that perpetual look of concern on his face and she wondered how much longer he would stick with her; she could hear her mother’s voice saying, “I just don’t know if it’s safe for Kathy to be alone with the children anymore,” and of course she thought of her two beautiful kids. Thoughts of her children were about the only thing that seemed to be able to cut through the chronic ache of her soul, but even those moments of warmth were cut short by the fear that if she didn’t improve, they would eventually be taken from her. She couldn’t think of any good answer to the doctor’s question, so she decided to stall.

“You know what I really need, Doc, is a smoke break.”

“Alright, Kathy, you go ahead and take a few minutes, but think about where you what to go from here.”

“Got it, Doc.”

She made her way out of his office and down the hall toward the elevators. She could feel her hands shake, as though she had over-caffeinated, but she knew that wasn’t it. As the anxiety began to overtake her, she could feel her legs grow weak. Instead of getting on the elevator to go to the smoking area, she made her way to a chair in the little waiting area at the end of the hall. She collapsed into the chair and tried to calm herself; leaning her head back against the wall and taking deep breaths. After several minutes, the turmoil that seemed to be rising up from the pit of her stomach gave way to a pounding in her head. While she was grateful that her heart was no longer racing, the dull pain in the back of her head seemed to be growing and moving in behind her eyes. This is how her life had been for as long as she could remember— a series of aches and pains and fears. There had been moments of joy and even hope, but they never seemed to last. She was just so tired of fighting it and she had the sensation that she was falling backwards. “I just don’t want to hurt anymore”, she whispered beneath her breath. At that instant, a loud voice boomed in her ears, “There’s more that can be done for you.” She recoiled at the sound and was startled to find a man standing directly in front of her. He was a clean cut, good looking man with dark hair and clear gray eyes, whom she guessed to be in his twenties. His posture and expression seemed non-threatening, but the shock of the moment caused her head to throb and her eyes struggled to focus.

“Excuse me, were you talking to me?”

“Yes, I’m sorry to have startled you. My name is Luke and I work here in the building”

“Oh, well, okay—what is it that you said?”

“I was just saying that there are other treatments available for people like you.”

“What exactly do you mean by “people like me?”

“Well you’re Dr. Smith’s patient, right?”

“Well yes, but how do you know that?”

“Like I said, I work here.”

“Are you a doctor?”

“No, I’m more of an administrative type, but if you’re seeing Dr. Smith, then I know that your current treatment consists of counseling, because that’s all that he does”

“Well, I thought that was all anyone did in this place.”

“Oh no, there is much more that happens in this building.”

“Really, like what?”

“There are all sorts of treatments that go on, many of them are so cutting edge that they are still considered experimental, but no one who has been willing to go through these advanced treatments has ever walked away disappointed.”

“Really, why haven’t I ever heard of this before?”

“You know how doctors are—they don’t want to admit that they don’t have the answer for you. Dr. Smith is a fine psychologist, but has he really helped you?”

“Well no, but that might not be his fault, I haven’t exactly been the most cooperative patient.”

“But you’re still hurting right?”

“Well, yeah, I am.”

“So you need something more advanced to deal with your pain?”

She took a deep breath and for a moment considered her life. There wasn’t any part of it that seemed to be functioning well, and the sharp pain in her head seemed to epitomize her condition. She let out a loud sigh as she said, “Yes, I do.”

“Then why not give it a try?” Luke suggested.

She sat staring at him, with a confused look on her face. She wondered who this man was and why he even cared, she wondered if Dr. Smith was expecting her back by now, and she considered what her husband might think of her talking to this young, good looking man. Waves of confusion washed over her as she considered what to do next and then she suddenly shifted in her seat.

“I need to call my husband,” she said, as she fumbled through her purse for her cell phone.

“Why?” demanded Luke, in a voice that seemed to be shaded with agitation.

“Because I don’t know whether our insurance would cover something like that, and he would know” Kathy responded; pulling the phone from her bag.

“Well cell phones don’t normally get much reception in this building and besides, you don’t need insurance,” Luke shot back, almost defensively.

Again, confusion washed over her. She could see that her cell phone was getting perfect reception, but if she didn’t need to know about the insurance there really wasn’t any reason to call home. But why wouldn’t she need insurance for this treatment, and wouldn’t she need an appointment, and why was this Luke person so intent on getting her to do this? She felt uneasy as her thoughts swirled and her head continued to pound into the backs of her eyes. She just wanted the pain to stop and no one seemed to know how to help her. Now this stranger comes claiming that there is a way to feel better and that she didn’t need insurance to get it. 

“I don’t understand—I can get this cutting edge treatment and I don’t need insurance?”

“I told you, these treatments are considered experimental, so they need people to be able to prove that they work. You’d be doing them a favor.”

“Is it safe?”

“No one has ever walked away disappointed.”

His words echoed in her head; she’d been disappointed so many times. When she was a little girl she dreamed of being older and escaping the life she had known; but becoming an adult had been painful and disappointing. She then believed that finding someone who’d love her would be the thing to change her life, and while she believed that her husband truly did love her, she was disappointed to find out that it didn’t really change how she felt in the deepest recesses of her heart. She then thought that becoming a mother would be the thing that fulfilled her, and while she’d loved motherhood, the nagging pain of the past did not go away. Everything that she’d tried seemed to offer the promise of relief, but each one ultimately ended in disappointment. As much as her good sense dictated otherwise, the promise of pain relief without disappointment was too much to overcome and she found herself trying to stand up. Luke came alongside of her and helped her up. A wave of nausea rolled over her as she got to her feet and the room seemed to be rolling like a cruise ship in a storm. Her head pounded in objection to her movement, but with Luke’s support, she was able to steady herself.

As they moved toward the elevator, he explained that each floor of the building had a different type of treatment and that each ascending level was equipped to handle a more severe level of pain. Kathy wondered out loud whether anyone had ever made it to the top floor and Luke once again assured her that no one had ever walked away from the top floor disappointed. Each time she heard him say it, a flicker of hope would spark within her. As they stepped into the elevator Luke suddenly produced a clipboard with a stack of papers.

“What is this?”

“Oh, just some paperwork.”

“What kind of paperwork?”

“Just some releases.”

“Releases?”

“Yeah, just legal stuff like the fact that you understand that the treatment is experimental, you won’t sue them if it doesn’t work… stuff like that.”

“Why are there so many pages?”

“You know how legal forms are; trust me, you won’t be disappointed.”

It occurred to her to object, but it felt like there was a knife in the back of her head and the idea that she would have to continue on in this pain was more than she could bear. Luke pointed to the signature line on each form, and through bleary eyes, Kathy signed. As she signed the last form, the elevator doors opened and they stepped out.

Luke explained that this floor had something that they called “Affirmation Therapy,” which he described as an advanced form of counseling. He could see from the expression on Kathy’s face that she wasn’t very enthusiastic about more counseling, but he assured her that this would be different from any of the sessions she’d previously had. He introduced her to a small Asian woman who would be taking the lead in her treatment, and Kathy soon disappeared with this woman into one of the therapy rooms. A couple of hours later, Kathy met Luke back at the elevator. She seemed to be a little more clear eyed and in better spirits.

“So what did you think?” Luke asked.

“It was amazing; I’ve never experienced anything like it. For the first time in a long time I feel like I’m not the problem.”

“That’s great; I thought this treatment might really help you.”

“Yeah, every other counseling session I’ve ever had was about what is wrong with me, but these guys didn’t assume that I was the problem. After talking for awhile, they helped me see that my parents really did a number on me, that my husband has really never met my needs, and that even my kids have taken advantage of me. They said that with all that I’ve been through, it was a miracle I was able to function at all.”

“Wow, that’s great. So did they give you any guidance on what to do about all these dysfunctional relationships in your life?”

“Yes, they told me that I just needed to get away from all these people who were dragging me down.”

“Even your husband and your kids?”

“Especially them!”

At that moment, the doors of the elevator opened and they stepped in. Luke asked if she felt ready go home, or whether she felt like she needed some more treatment, and Kathy explained that even though the Affirmation Therapy had really helped, she still wasn’t feeling the way she wanted to; so Luke pushed the button and the elevator began to rise to the next floor. Luke stepped behind her and began to rub her shoulders. At first, she instinctively tensed up, but as she slowly exhaled she gave in to the prompting of his hands. Her husband wasn’t one to give back rubs and it felt great. It crossed her mind that it might be inappropriate for a man she barely knew to be touching her this way, but she consoled herself with the fresh understanding that her husband had never really been able to meet her needs. Her inhibitions began to dissolve as Luke skillfully maneuvered his hands across her back, shoulders and neck. She began to feel a deep stirring that she hadn’t felt in a long time. Just as she began to sense that this impromptu massage might lead to something more substantial, the doors of the elevator opened. Luke gently guided her down the corridor with his hand on her shoulder until they came to the “Psychosensitivity Lab.” After meeting the Head Lab Technician, Kathy was soon on her way for testing. As on the previous floor, the process took a couple of hours and she once again emerged looking brighter and more energetic than she went in.

“Well, someone looks like they’re feeling better.”

“You know, it’s amazing that I’ve never heard of any of this stuff. I’ve been going around in circles for years and no one ever mentioned Psychosensitivities before. This explained so much—no wonder I could never get any better!”

Luke smiled and said, “It just makes sense, just like our bodies are allergic to certain things, so are our emotions. People who don’t have that particular psychological sensitivity don’t understand it, and they want to tell you that there is something that you need to do about it, but just like with regular allergies, we just need to take our medicine.”

“Yeah and look at all the free medicine they gave me!”

“Wow, that’s quite a bag of pills.”

“Yeah, I tested positive for just about every type of sensitivity that they had a test for. What’s great is that I don’t have to worry about being on painkillers or anti-depressants anymore, because all that I need is this (psycho) allergy medicine.”

“That is great; so are you feeling pretty pain-free?”

“Well, those pills are pretty awesome and I’m feeling pretty good right now, but maybe I ought to see what’s on some of the other floors too.”

“Well, we certainly don’t want any unsatisfied customers, so let’s go see what awaits us upstairs.”

With that, Luke put his arm around Kathy’s shoulders and walked her to the elevator. As the elevator doors shut, Kathy looked into Luke’s eyes and said, “I can’t thank you enough for all that you’ve done for me.”

Luke drew close to her and seductively whispered, “the pleasure is all mine.” He took her in his arms and began to kiss her passionately on the lips; her head spun as their bodies came together and despite a momentary flicker of her conscience, the flames of her excitement roared past it. Just as she thrust herself into his kiss, the doors to the elevator opened. She quickly stumbled backwards, conscious of the potential for on-lookers.

Luke seemed amused at her concern and said, “you don’t have to worry, they all know me here.” Taking her by the hand, he led her down the corridor. Her legs felt weak, as little aftershocks from their kiss moved through her. She was now stirred in a way that she had never experienced and was ready to skip this floor to get back on the elevator with Luke. He continued to pull her down the hall, seemingly unaffected by their liaison.

When they reached the counter, there were three young men standing side by side and next to a door. They appeared to be body builders, each wearing a nylon muscle shirt and nylon shorts, and the sign on the door said “Physical Therapy.”

Kathy looked at the men and then at Luke. “Is this what I think it is?” she asked.

“Let’s just say that you won’t be disappointed,” Luke retorted slyly. Once again there was a flicker in Kathy’s conscience, but again, the flames of her excitement overcame it. As she passed through the door with the three young men, she looked back at Luke. He smiled and said, “see you in a few hours,” just as the door closed behind her.

When Kathy emerged from the Physical Therapy room almost four hours later, she was physically exhausted. Her body ached and shook as she tried to walk and she realized that she hadn’t eaten in several hours. She tried to steady herself by holding on to Luke’s shoulder, but he pulled away from her when she touched him.

“Are we feeling better now?” he snarled, as he began walking toward the elevator. She stumbled along behind him in an effort to keep up, but her head was once again pounding against the back of her eyes.

“Are you mad at me?” she gasped.

“Why would I be mad at you?” he hissed back.

“Well you’re the one who sent me in there,” she shot back.

Luke spun around and glared at her, “Oh no, I didn’t send you in, you went under your own power,” he said.

Confusion once again began to swamp Kathy’s mind, “I thought it was what you wanted,” she offered weakly.

“No honey, it was what you wanted!” he boomed.

Tears began to stream down her face as feelings of rejection and shame began to overtake her. She staggered onto the elevator and steadied herself against the wall, as Luke drew his face very close to hers.

“So you must be all better, now. Surely there is no way that you could be disappointed after all of that, could you?” he rasped.

She began to sob, “Please don’t be mad at me—I just wanted to feel better. Please don’t send me away now… please, there’s got to be some way to make this pain go away!”

Luke spun away from her and pushed the elevator button. Without looking at her he said, “Well heaven forbid that you should feel any pain, so let’s go right to the top.” Turning back to her he said, “Because after all, no one has ever walked away from this treatment disappointed.”

There was a moment of uneasy silence before the doors of the elevator slide open and warm, humid air flooded the car. Luke stepped out of the car, but Kathy’s eyes strained to focus. She wasn’t sure what to expect on the top floor, but it certainly wasn’t stepping out onto the rooftop. Her feet shuffled along the graveled surface as she tried to get close enough to Luke to have a conversation.

“What is this?” she stammered.

“It’s the roof,” he answered incredulously.

“But what kind of treatment do they do here?” she asked.

“They don’t do any treatment here, baby,” he said with a smirk.

“But you said that no one was ever been disappointed after coming to the top floor,” she said.

“Wrong again baby; what I said was that no one has ever walked away disappointed before.”

A wave of panic washed over her as she realized that the elevator doors had closed behind her and that there appeared to be no other way off the roof. Every part of her body seemed to be trembling as she began to move away from Luke.

“So you’re going to throw me off the roof?” she gasped

Luke laughed loudly and in an amused tone said, “No, no, I’m not going to throw you off the roof.”

Then, after a brief pause, he turned to her and in a much more serious tone said, “You’re gonna jump!”

His words stunned her and she said, “You think I’m going to jump off the roof under my own power?!”

“Sure,” he said calmly.

“Why would I do that?” she asked.

“Because you can’t stand the pain anymore and this is the only option that you have left,” he said.

“But I have a family who needs me—I have kids to raise,” she pleaded.

“Are you kidding me? Do you really think that they need you? What have you ever done for them? Everyone spends their energy worrying about you. Heck even your kids are more worried about you than you are about them. All you ever do is whine about how much it hurts—it would be a relief to them if you were gone.”

Tears again began to stream down Kathy’s face as she weakly contested, “My family loves me.”

“Sure they do honey, but what will they think when they see all those papers you signed, which give me legal access to your kids, or how about when they see the video tape of you talking about how they were never there for you and what selfish brats your kids are; or how about the video of you and I in the elevator, or even better, you and your three little friends doing ‘physical therapy?’ Face it, babe, you showed your true colors today and once they see how you really are, they won’t want anything to do with you.”

Horror gripped her at the idea that anyone would know the things she’d done and said that day, and she cried out to Luke, “Why are you doing this to me?”

Again, Luke laughed loudly, “I’m not doing anything to you. You did this to yourself. All I did was try to help you, the rest is on you, baby.”

Kathy was now crying hysterically. She knew that Luke was right, he hadn’t forced her into anything and now there was no going back.  Luke sensed her resignation and began to speak more compassionately, “Come on, baby, you don’t have to go on like this. Aren’t you tired of hurting? Come on baby, just say it with me – I just don’t want to hurt anymore, I just don’t want to hurt anymore…”

Kathy knew that she had no more strength to fight and she found herself joining in the chant, “I just don’t want to hurt anymore, I just don’t want to hurt anymore…” as she dragged her aching body toward the edge of the roof. She could feel the weight of all the years on her shoulders and it seemed to be pressing the air right out of her lungs. At the edge of the roof, she leaned against the small retaining wall that lined its perimeter. As she hung her head, she stared at the sidewalk several stories below her and the reality of what was about to happen gripped her. Luke’s chant, “I just don’t want to hurt anymore, I just don’t want to hurt anymore…” continued to ring in her ears, as she slid on top of the wall. She laid on her back, feeling as though she lacked the strength to move, and when she closed her eyes, she could see her children, with their arms extended toward her. They were crying, “Mommy! Mommy! Don’t go!” She again began to sob and she cried out in a loud voice, “God help me! God help me please!”

Instantly she heard the bell of the elevator ring, as the doors came sliding open. Two well dressed men stepped out of the elevator and moved directly toward Luke. Though he struggled, they soon had him handcuffed and were moving him toward the elevator. It didn’t appear as though they had even noticed her and so she cried out to them, “What about me?” One of the officers stopped and came back to her while the other continued to remove Luke from the roof. 

“What about you, Ma’am?” the officer asked.

“Didn’t you come to help me?” she asked.

“Yes, we did, and now we have,” he replied.

“So all you will do is take away my tormentor?” she queried.

“That is all we are authorized to do, Ma’am.”

“But don’t you see that I am still in peril?” she continued.

“Yes, Ma’am, but this peril is now a function of your own will and I’m not authorized to intervene in such matters.”

“Did God send you?” she asked.

“Yes, Ma’am, He did and He gave me a message for you. He said, ‘This day I have set before you life and death,’ and He encourages you to choose life.”

“I want to live, but I just don’t want anymore pain,” she cried.

“Ma’am I cannot tell you what to do, but I will say that a life that has no pain has no love; and a life without love is no life at all.”

“But wouldn’t death at least be an end to my suffering?” she asked.

“Again, ma’am, I’m not authorized to advise you in any way; but I will tell you that there is a suffering that is far beyond anything you have ever known and that what may appear to be a way of escape from this life is likely to be an entryway into the next.”

“But what happens if I choose life today and then find myself again filled with sorrow?”

“Ma’am, choosing life is something that you have to do every day. Anyone who doesn’t choose life eventually winds up right where you are now.”

The officer looked into her face compassionately, then turned and disappearing into the elevator.

Kathy lay quietly on the ledge for several minutes, trying to gather the strength to get up. She knew she wasn’t ready to die, but she wasn’t convinced that she had the strength to live either. Her body ached and as she began to get up, she felt lightheaded and dizzy. As she reached out her hand to steady herself on the ledge, it slipped off the side, causing her weight to shift backwards. Though she frantically grabbed for the ledge, she couldn’t get a grip as her body rolled off the wall and began to free fall toward the sidewalk below. She swung wildly at the air, but there was nothing to grab hold of; she tried to scream, but couldn’t seem to draw any air from her lungs. Amidst the sheer terror of falling to her certain death, she once again saw a picture of her children and mouthed the word “life.” A sudden and violent shudder resonated through her body, and everything became completely still.

After what seemed like a very long moment of silence, a familiar voice rang out and as she slowly opened her eyes, she was startled to see Luke standing directly in front of her. As her eyes began to focus, she realized that she was not sprawled on the sidewalk as she’d expected, but instead was sitting in the chair at the end of the hallway that leads to Dr. Smith’s office. As she pulled her head from against the wall, she felt the familiar throb behind her eyes. As her head began to clear, she looked at Luke and said, “I’m sorry, did you say something to me?”

Luke smiled warmly and said, “It looked like you might be having a bad dream and I wondered if you needed any help?”

“I’m okay,” Kathy stammered.

“Are you sure? I’m pretty well connected in this building and you might be surprised by some of the treatments that are available,” he said with a smile.

“I appreciate the offer, but I think I’m going to be fine,” Kathy replied.

“Well, okay, but if you change your mind, let me know. I’m always around,” Luke said slyly, as he stepped onto the elevator.

The doors closed behind him and he was gone.

This story is a parable of sorts, about both the devices of the enemy and the power of our own mind, will and emotions.  The Bible tells us that Satan’s motivation is to steal, kill and destroy, so it follows that if he had the power to accomplish all of that, he would.  Fortunately he does not have the power to destroy us without our own cooperation.  The scripture tells us that he often comes disguised as an “angel of light”, which is a deception that would not be necessary if he had the strength to over power us on his own.  Unfortunately, we do not always recognize that we are cooperating with him until after we’ve given him a great amount of authority to work in our lives.  Such is the plight of “Kathy” in the story; but even after unwittingly giving herself over to the will of the enemy, he does not have the power to push her over the edge.  The choice to jump remains a function of her own will, as does the choice to get off the ledge after the enemy has been bound.  If the enemy can accurately be accused of working in our lives, we must also acknowledge ourselves amongst his accomplices.  We live in a culture where we’ve been conditioned not to tolerate anything that is uncomfortable, inconvenient or painful, which gives the enemy a large array of tools to work with (e.g. The scripture says that they that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, while the culture encourages us to believe that we shouldn’t have to wait for anything).  Once Kathy got focused on her pain, Luke had everything he needed to get her to the edge of the roof and the very things he had encouraged her to do along the way were the things he used to accuse and shame her when they got there.

 

The story intentionally begins and ends abruptly in order to give the effect of having a dream or a vision.  It is also intentional that there is no happily ever after at the end.  As the picture fades, Kathy has simply made a decision and while that decision has immediate spiritual implications, it does not necessarily resolve her issues or even ease her pain.  It is a very profound and necessary first step on the journey toward healing and wholeness.  There is a world of difference between the desire to be without pain and the willingness to walk through the process of healing; in fact an unwillingness to endure pain will most often preclude us from returning to a state of wellness.  In the final analysis the enemy of our souls does not have the ability to create things within us, he simply exploits what is inherently present; which means that our mind, will and emotions are a critical element of his plan.  I believe that this is why “self control” is listed amongst the fruit of a life guided by the Holy Spirit and why it is vital that we as children of the Living God need to take every thought captive and put all things in subjection to Christ Jesus.  Apart from Him we can do “nothing”, but through Him “all things” are possible.  Amen.   

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »