Thursday, March 14, 2019

Al begins writing an Eternal Story

Al stammered, “What do want me to do?” Close to being speechless, he continued, “I do want to be faithful to what God wants from me. There is just so much I don’t understand.”  Rose responded back, “There is a lot you will never understand, at least not here. In a few minutes precious folks will begin coming in. I am going to take care of them. They are going to have the most fantastic meal in their memory. As they come in, I am going to tell you about their lives. I want you to write it all down. And, don’t just write what you see and hear. I want you to write what you sense.”
Al asked, “Can you explain a little more to me? I’m supposed to try to find out what has been going on around here. Gracie is expecting me to come back with a story or a dead end.” Rose said, “I know this is confusing. Your story will come together, but in a different way. As time goes by, you will understand the purpose of your writing. And, I am going to help you see things that have been hidden. Kind of like your camera on the ground.”
Rose got up from the table and said to Al, “I’ll get you a cup of coffee and be right back. And, by the way, in two minutes an elderly man by the name of Gene, is gonna be coming in. When he does, I will be paying attention to him and what he wants. I will come by and tell you about him. Make sure you’re ready to write down his story. You do have your nice leather portfolio from Gracie, don’t you?” Al looked at her nervously as if he didn’t know if he should smile or look worried.
Two minutes later an elderly man pushed the front door open. He hesitated a moment, looking around. His feet shuffled on the old linoleum as he made his way towards the tables. Al noticed a few things right away. He looked like the world had been hard on him for a long time. He wore a waist length brown corduroy coat. The stubble on his face and the hair on his head was the same length. As he walked past, Al noticed a skin condition on his chin and around his mouth. The way he puckered and moved his lips told Al that the elderly guy was missing most, if not all of his teeth.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Al meets Rose

Walking towards him, Rose was carrying a cup and saucer. She set them down and said, “I told you who I am, who might you be?”  Al introduced himself and told her he was reporter from Salmon Stream Crossing. Rose said, “A reporter, what in this world brings you up here?” Al said, “I’m just following up on a couple of things. Seems people say they see strange things along the river.” Rose answered, “Near as I can tell they say strange things been happenin on this river for a couple of hundred years.” “Well,” Al said, “What do you make of it?” Rose answered, “Nothin happened around here that wasn’t supposed to be happenin.”
Rose turned and went back behind the counter. Looking over at Rose he thought she looked familiar. His mind went back to Sarah and their time on the coast. “No it couldn’t be,” he said to himself. “Wasn’t the woman at the old roadside diner, wasn’t her name Rose?” 
“Rose,” he said, “Could I talk with you for a couple of minutes?” “Well sure,” she said. Coming over to the table she sat right across from him. Al asked, “Have we met before? You look familiar to me?” She answered, “Well we sure could have. I’ve been all over and there and back a few times.” Her answer didn’t do anything for his confusion. So, he decided to ask her a direct question. He asked, “Have you ever been in southeast Virginia?” “I suppose I have,” she said.
Rose said, “I suppose this is all pretty confusing to you. You come in here and I haven’t given you a simple answer to any of your questions. You really don’t know why you are here, do you?” Al’s response to Rose was quick, “Well, yes, I do know exactly why I’m here. I’m here because strange things have happened along this river for a long time. And, just a few days ago a guy walked into my office, telling me an incredible story about a man, a boat, and the two times he thought he saw the boat vanish. That is why I’m here."
Rose smiled and said, “That is what brought you here. But, that is not the reason you are here. I wanted you to come here for a story that will help lots of folks.” Al’s chair ground on the old wooden planks as he tried to pull it back.  She said, “Leaving won’t answer the questions still in your soul. You asked me about the south. I know more about you than you realize. I know about the diner, and Bee. I know Sarah and how she broke your heart. I know about your little baby girl. I know about Agape Station.” Al was as still as concrete, stunned, as she continued, “I know Stan, the hotel manager. And. I know Edith.” 

Friday, March 1, 2019

United Hearts

With his foot bouncing a hundred miles an hour on the lower rung of the stool, Jimmy asked Al, “You alright? Please don’t mind me for asking. You seemed a little upset with Gracie.” “Oh, I’m alright I guess,” Al said, “I just think Gracie does too much for me. I’ll talk with her tonight.” Jimmy laughed and said, “That’s exactly what she said, that the two of you would talk tonight.”    
Walking into the living room Al found Gracie sitting in Ray’s chair. A sense of sadness welled up in his heart. He thought, “She will always be drawn to that chair. The smell of Ray’s after shave and tobacco will linger for a long time.” He sat on the edge of the sofa just a few feet from her. “Gracie,” he said, “I want to apologize for what I said at the office. What I really wanted to express to you was, I think you do too much for me. You cook most of my meals, you have been doing my laundry.”
Gracie started to tear up. A moment later she looked at Al and said, “It has been hard these weeks and months, you know, losing Ray. He was such a large part of my life. We loved our work here. For years it was Ray that worked hard. He didn’t want me to work. But, when we came here it was different for both of us. Ray wanted me to work, and we were a great team. I think when I lost Ray I still needed to take care of somebody. I guess that was you.”
Getting up from the sofa, Al walked over to Gracie. Looking intensely at her he said, “I miss Ray. He will always be a very important person in my life. He allowed me to come here, and I will be forever grateful. By coming here I got to know you. You are such an important person to me right now. Please forgive me for being sharp with my words. You are the last person I would want to hurt.” By this time both friends were wiping away tears. Before getting up, Al took both of Gracie’s hands in his and kissed the back of them, “I love you,” he said.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Door Opens Ever So Slightly

Al introduced himself, and asked, “What can I help you with?” As Al was listening, he stretched out the phone cord as far as possible and waved for Gracie to come over. “Sir,” Al said, “I’m going to put you on speaker phone. Is that okay?” The voice on the other end said, “That is fine with me.”

“Okay,” Al said, “Let’s start over. I introduced myself. What is your name? What is going on?” Through the speaker phone, “My name is Charles. I am a dentist in a small town north of Eagle Ridge. I fish the river at least once a week. For the past few weeks I’ve been fishing just downstream from a small restaurant, River’s Edge Diner, I think that is the name. Last week I thought I saw something strange. Today I was at the same spot, and I swear that what I’m going to tell you is the truth.”

Al interrupted, “Excuse me Charles; Is it okay for me to take notes while we talk?” “Sure that’s alright,” Charles said, “You are going to think I’m nuts, so what’s the difference.” Gracie spoke up, “Sir, we are not judging, we want to hear your story.” “Well okay,” Charles continued, “I was at the same spot this morning. And again, I saw this fellow walk down to the river with a man who looked about middle age. They got into the same guide boat I saw last week. They headed across the river and caught the current heading my way. About a hundred yards away….you’re not gonna believe me. The darn boat started to sparkle, like stars were exploding from it, and then they were gone, vanished, and the boat with them.”

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Unexpected from God

Al said, “Gracie, you are a blessing to me and other folks around here. I’m going upstairs and sticking my nose in a book.” On his way up the stairs Al leaned over and kissed Gracie on the cheek. “Good night,” he said, “Thanks for a wonderful evening, and I don’t mean just the food. You are a blessing to me.” Gracie smiled as he went past. She heard him go up the stairs, and she sat back in Ray’s chair. With her eyes closed it would be difficult to see the tiny tear form.
            Al sat on his chair reading for an hour or so and then got ready for bed. He knew the week would be busy, and he was going to be dragging by Wednesday night. As he got into bed and pulled up the fresh smelling sheet and comforter he thanked God for Gracie. Before giving in to his tiredness he thought about the sermon of the morning and prayed that he might be ready for the unexpected from God.
The flashes of light were blinding. Al tried to make out the hands on the big wind-up alarm clock. It was just past midnight. The flashes increased to a steady strobe. The pillow over his head did nothing to mitigate neither the pain nor the nausea. After an hour of wrestling with the light and pain, exhaustion won and the battered man fell asleep.
The morning light found him on the floor, half way to the bathroom.  He didn’t want Gracie to know, so he pulled himself together and made it into the shower. He let the hot water run over his aching and tired body. When he was shaved and dressed, he headed down the stairs and made it past Gracie. Once out the door, he walked over to Chuck’s place.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Gracie comes to church

Al found his usual seat in church Sunday morning. Larry and Jimmy joined him a few minutes later. As he sat waiting for the service to begin he thought that Pastor Hank must be doing something right. Over the last few weeks about half a dozen new people started attending. The preliminary music was just beginning when Jimmy turned his attention to the door. Both Larry and Al caught Jimmy’s movement and looked towards the door. Spotting Gracie all three men stood up.
Gracie saw the three men right away. She made her way to where they were standing and moved past Larry and Jimmy. She took a seat between Al and Jimmy. When she sat, the other three followed her. Al leaned over and whispered in her ear, “I’m glad you came this morning. I think you kind of surprised a few people.” During the service all three men were dumbfounded as Gracie sang with a beautifully clear soprano voice. More than once the three men stopped singing so they could enjoy the pure voice of the most important lady in their life.
Pastor Hank spoke on, “The Unexpectedness of God.” He used a couple of biblical stories to enforce the truth that what we see as unexpected is not at all. God uses events and circumstances for whatever his purpose is. He said that when Jesus turned the water into wine, it was totally unexpected. He challenged everybody to be ready and expect the unexpected. “And,” he said, “don’t be surprised when God brings it to you.”
At the end of the service Larry excused himself and headed out the door. Gracie tried to talk to him before he left but Pastor Hank was quick to get to the back and welcome her. The pastor talked with her for a minute, and then she joined Al and Jimmy waiting outside. There was a chill in the air as they walked the few blocks down the street.
Before Jimmy turned off Gracie invited him over for dinner. She told him to come around six and not a minute later. As they continued she said to Al, “I was intending on asking Larry over as well. I didn’t want to seem to be forward, but I missed talking to him.” Al said, “I’ll see Larry in a couple of hours. I’ll tell him we expect him for dinner at six.”

Sunday, February 3, 2019

A Gift Foretells the Mystery

On Friday the information from the hospital arrived. Al read through the papers and signed the release form for his medical records. He walked the two blocks down to the post office and dropped the envelope into the outgoing box. He walked back to the office and found Gracie, on the phone, as usual. As he walked past her on his way to his desk, she waved for him to stop. Motioning to the phone, he turned and came back to her desk. He heard her say, “All right Bill, I’ll tell Al and I’ll talk with you soon.”

From the snippet that Al heard, Gracie had his attention. When she hung up he asked, “What was that all about with Bill? Something I need to know?” Gracie said, “Bill called to say they found the remains of an elderly man in the river about two miles downstream from where you and Ray were. The coroner said the man died of a severe blow to the back of his head. And, it would be consistent with a victim falling backwards and hitting his head against a large rock.” Al said emotionless, “I guess that pretty well answers that mystery at the river.”
That evening, while Al and Gracie were in the dining room Gracie gave Al a brown paper bag. “Open it up.” she said. “I ordered this more than a month ago. Folks from the mail order company never heard of us. Seems like some people don’t even know we exist up here. I wanted to get it for you a while ago. Well, anyway, here you go.” Al looked with surprise at Gracie.

Al sat with the paper bag on his lap. He opened the paper bag and then pulled out a plastic bag. As he looked into the clear plastic bag, the brown paper bag fell to the floor. As he pulled out a natural brown leather portfolio his smile brought an instant smile to Gracie.

Gracie said, “I can’t have you going to council meetings and other important appointments carrying around just a tablet of paper, can I?” Al was motionless for a moment and then pushed back his chair, bending over he gave Gracie a hug. He said, “Thanks, I have never had a leather case, and this is beautiful, and my favorite color.”

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Thoughts Behind the Stroy

Some thoughts behind my novel, Encounter at River's Edge. My highest priority in the story was highlighting the wonderful people that I have know in forty years of ministry. Society would label them as extremely religious people. I knew them and know them as men and women who fell in love with God. Their everyday relationship with Christ was as normal as breathing and as vital as the blood coursing through their veins.
They were not caught in the trap of religion, which is man-made and futile.

The main character is Al. He is as baby boomer who represents many of us. His name is pretty common among boomers. He has no last name, which is intentional, because he has all of our last names. The trauma he endured set him on his path, That path was filled with pain, questioning, and ultimately led to his salvation. Though his path is much different than ours, there are many similarities.

All of us on the spinning orb have dealt with trauma and pain. Accidents happen that bring injury or death and we hurt. Natural disasters blow away our security and we suffer. Some of us have endured the death of a child and no words can ever explain that pain and sense of loss.

Al's trauma and pain led him to the whiskey bottle. And, contrary to the belief of some it was adequate, for a while. It was only when he was stripped of all dignity and sense of self that his eyesight changed. We are very much like that. After all of our efforts at self-salvation have failed we change our vision.

The part of the story that places Al at The Agape Station is meant to be basic and foundational. Reverend and Mrs. Williams represent all that is beautiful of the gospel message. Taking place in a converted grocery store illustrated two types of sustenance. The first use of the store was obvious. It represents every little market in every town that people depend on for their survival. The use of the store as The Agape Station gives great meaning to the words of Jesus, "Man shall not live on bread alone."

Al, with his life now in the hands of God, understands that life must have eternal purpose. He knows that his life is meant to have an everlasting impact upon the world. With his decision made, he heads off into the unknown and unexplored of tomorrow. It takes great faith and courage to step of the cliff of security and into the void of uncertainty.

Al's journey north, into the unknown, will change his life. New people, new friends, new vistas await him. He will have times of great enjoyment and great loss. The single greatest event in his journey is waiting for him.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Al Talks of the Angel Edith

“I don’t mind telling you about myself,” Al said, “I came close to getting killed, and the results left me with pretty bad headaches and nightmares. Close to a year ago I collapsed, and the doctors found a growth in the back of my brain. They did surgery and told me that my future was uncertain; the growth might never grow again or it could come back.”
Al continued, “I went a few weeks without symptoms. And, I really thought that the headaches and dreams were over. But, they’re not. I can live with what is going on. It might sound strange to some people, probably not you, but, I’m okay with whatever happens. The Lord is in control of my life and I know that.”
He went on, “I haven’t told anybody what I’m about to tell you. On my way here, I think I met an angel. Her name was Edith, and she was one of the sweetest old ladies I ever met. We traveled together for a while and she told me some pretty incredible things. She told me that God wanted to use me in a very wonderful way and she really encouraged me. We had coffee at one of the stops and then she said she had to meet her family and walked away. The funny thing was, she said she was walking around the corner and down the street. When we first got out of the bus, I remember looking around the coffee shop and there were no houses down the street. Just the coffee shop, gas station and a couple of old, abandoned clap-board buildings.”
Pastor Hank said, “That is an incredible story. God must have His hand of guidance on you. I don’t understand what this little town has to do with any of it. But, what I know isn’t that important. It’s what God has planned that is vital. Now, as far as an angel is concerned, that is fascinating. I’ve heard of people who believe they witnessed or talked with an angel. What made you think Edith was an angel?” Al said, “That’s simple. She knew things about me that nobody knew. She spoke with an authority that I’ve never heard before. And, I knew in my soul that there was something strangely wonderful about her.”

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Nightmare Demons Continue the War

Sometime in the night, when the stillness is only interrupted by her nocturnal creatures, flashes of light, a child vanishing in a red mist, and infant cries, sent Al falling off his chair. As he tumbled to the floor, he hit his head on the stand, sending his reading lamp crashing down. As he fought away the voices and the vanishing child, he placed his hand on his forehead, the warm blood covered his cupped hand.

Startled by the noise, Gracie was up the stairs and kneeling over him. “Dear God,” she said, “What happened? Did you have one of your nightmares?” With his hand on his forehead Gracie went to the bathroom and brought a wet cloth. She pulled his hand away placing the cool wet cloth to his head. After a minute she said, “Better let me take a look, you might need a couple of stitches.” Gently moving Al’s hand Gracie said, “I think I should call Doc Sam. You ought to have some stitches” “No Gracie,” Al said, “After it stops bleeding just put a couple of butterfly bandages on it. I’m not going to the doctor.”

By daylight they had finished a pot of coffee. Gracie was trying to convince Al to go downstate and see a doctor. She had told him that the general practice doctor wouldn’t be able to help him. Near dawn he agreed that if things didn’t get better, he would travel downstate and see a specialist. She tried to pin him down to a specific date when he would call and make an appointment. She’d have to be content with his word that if things didn’t get better, he would make an appointment.