Storied Past – 5

“Ramona! What are you doing here?” her father repeated, this time more irritated. “Where have you been? I’ve looked all over for you. I haven’t seen you for two days and I’ve been worried. I called the police this morning after looking for you all last night. Where did you go?”

“I . . . I just had to leave for a while. I needed some space to . . . “

“Well, you coulda’ said something.” He interrupted. “You had me scared. You need to come home right now.” He seemed to be gaining speed, anger and volume all at once.

“Well, I think I am, no I know I’m OK and I will come home soon. I just need some space; to think and figure things out.”

“What’s to figure? You are pregnant, in trouble and in sin. You need to get saved,” he spat out. You’re lucky I haven’t thrown you out. I’m still your father and I say you need to come home.”

“No sir,” she countered. “I am staying with a friend and I will be just fine.”

Becky had observed the interaction from a few aisles away and felt like it had escalated more than necessary. She stepped up to the cash register. “Could you call 911 please? I hope everything will be OK but just in case.”

“Sure,” the cashier said.

As she returned to her previous position a safe distance away she saw Ramona’s father reach out and grab her arm. “I said, you need to come home, right now.” Ramona pulled back so fast she knocked over a display of windshield wiper fluid. A couple of bottles split open spreading bluish liquid over the surrounding area.

“Dad, I said I am just fine. I will be home soon. Now could you just leave me alone for a while? Please don’t cause a scene.”

“Well, I guess you already caused a scene, didn’t you, when you went out, got drunk and got all knocked up from some guy you didn’t even know. You’ve probably been sleeping around, too. You’re a whore and damned for Hell.”

Ramona started. She had never heard her father talk like that. But then the impact of what he had said infuriated her. “I was not sleeping around! I have been your perfect little girl all my life trying to please you and the church and now you call me that? I hate you, I hate you!”

Just then the squawk of a police radio coming in the front door demanded everyone’s attention.

“Hey, Hey,” the officer called out. “Let’s calm down and tell me what’s going on.”

“Nothing, officer,” Ramona’s father replied. “I was just leaving. I’ll see you later little Miss sleep-around. Don’t think this is over.”

“Now wait a minute, mister,” the officer known as Riley demanded. “You are not leaving that soon. I want to talk to you first. Here, step outside for a minute. And you stay here in the store, young lady. I want to talk to you, too.”

Ramona looked over at Becky, her heart in her throat from fear. Where did that talk-back spunk come from? She never talked to her father that way before. She guessed she would be in trouble with him for weeks because of it. If Mom were still alive she would be disappointed but she knew Mom would be at least understanding and loving through all this.

Come to think of it, it started to make some sense. Since Mom died her father seemed to become more harsh and demanding. He went to church more like he was off to war or something. When they came home he was more rigid and mechanical around the house. “Everything has a place and there is a place for everything,” he kept saying, as if he were getting OCD or something. Structure, organization and perfect behavior were the most important values. No time for fun anymore.

Becky had walked over by this time and touched her elbow. “I’m so sorry, Ramona. Are you going to be OK? We can go. I still have a few more days until Saturday to find a scarf.”

“Probably should go. I feel weak in the knees. But the cop wants to talk to me first.”

After a short conversation with Officer Riley they headed back to Becky’s apartment. It was still cold out and Ramona clutched her coat closer. She did need to go home and get some clothes to wear. She really hadn’t planned on being gone long when she left yesterday. Now, with her father’s behavior, it made things more complicated. Should she just go on back home or stay with Becky a couple more days?

Turning to Becky she said, “If it’s OK with you Becky, I think I may need to stay with you a little longer but I need to get a change of clothes. Could you go with me? I’m not sure how my father will act when I get there.”

“Of course, Ramona. And yes, you may hang out with me until you get things straightened out with your dad.”

They caught a bus for the ride over to Ramona’s neighborhood. These colder days would eventually give way to the warm spring season but winter seemed to refuse to let go of its grip. Gray, cloudy skies and the accompanying rain squalls were the norm now and this afternoon was no exception. They seemed to overshadow Ramona and eerily prophesy that dark forces were in control of her destiny. The awful dream from last night stole back into her memory in an effort to confirm a hopeless feeling that had nagged her subconscious recently. Why had all this happened to her? What good could possibly await in her future now? What a mess this was.

The bus stopped at East Granite Street where she and Becky got off. Walking two blocks up brought them to a crème colored bungalow with chocolate brown trim where Ramona’s family lived; that is to say, where she and her father lived. Since mom died it hadn’t seemed much like a home. Oh, the place was clean and decently appointed, as it had always been but the warmth of her mother’s graceful spirit was missing, replaced by the drab clamminess of legalistic rule minding imposed by her father.

She turned the key in the lock and pushed the door open. She invited Becky to go in first. Suddenly a strange feeling came over her when she crossed the threshold. What was it? Walking through the living room into the kitchen she nearly tripped over her father’s shoe. Then a horrified scream vaulted past her brain and out of her mouth.

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Storied Past – 4

Becky and Ramona walked down the stairs and out onto the sidewalk. They said nothing as they crossed the street and over two blocks to a storefront. Becky stepped inside and Ramona followed cautiously. Inside it smelled of breakfast but there were no cash registers or menus in view. They walked past a line of people Ramona would describe as losers. Street people, she determined. Not the kind of folks she was used to socializing with. She sure didn’t like the prospect of eating breakfast with their ilk.

“Good morning, Marcy,” Becky greeted a heavy set woman in line. She returned the salutation in a loud, raspy voice.

“G’ morning, Becky. Who’s your friend?”

“Her name is Ramona. Everyone say hello to Ramona. She is hanging out with us this morning.”

“Hello, Ramona.” Several folks called out. “Welcome to City Reach, Ramona,” said someone else. City Reach? What was that?

“What’s this place all about, Becky?”

“Well, the mission group I am part of started a program here to help folks who are homeless and hungry. They come Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings for a free breakfast and someone to talk to. We are a little short on staff right now but usually there are 7 or 8 who come and eat with them and listen to their stories.”

“Hmmm. That’s a little different, listening to their stories. Usually missions try to cram Jesus down their throats along with the oatmeal. How is it working for you?”

“Well, it isn’t always easy, listening to other people share their life stories. Sometimes they ramble on but it’s usually because nobody wants to take the time to listen to them. There are some amazing stories of God activity here, though. Our challenge is to listen and gently point out to them how God has been there, present in their lives, even in the pain and disappointment of living. Sometimes they can see it, sometimes they are oblivious but we have to try.”

“There are some success stories, though. Eben over there, the guy with dark hair, is a Muslim. He started coming about six weeks ago. One of our staff started a conversation while eating with him. Eben was very skittish at first but he was hungry so he stayed and eventually shared his story. He and his family grew up in the Sufi tradition. Our staff guy, Jeremy, told him about Jesus’ non-violent teaching of love, even for the woman who was caught fornicating and was condemned to die by the religion police. Jeremy told him some other stories of Jesus and finished up with the statement that God loved all people, Jews, Arabs and Gentiles alike. Eben was thoughtful. Of course, he had heard stories of Jesus. Muslims think Jesus was one of the five greatest prophets the world has ever seen but not Messiah.”

“Wow, that’s interesting,” Ramona said.

Yeah an’ Eben loves Jesus now!” Raspy voice Marcy butted in. She had snuck up on Ramona’s blind side. “He loves Jesus now,” she repeated for emphasis.

“Yes,” Becky confirmed. “And we are excited about that, aren’t we Marcy?”

“Yep,” Marcy said triumphantly with a big smile. Ramona noted the two missing teeth and the remainder quite deteriorated. “I’m gonna find a place for you guys to sit and eat,” Marcy offered.

“Sounds good . . . I think,” Ramona said hesitatingly. “Thank you, Marcy,” Becky cheerfully returned. Becky steered Ramona over to the end of the line which was now much shorter and closer to the food.

“Uhhh, Becky, what’s her story?”

“Marcy? Oh she was a meth addict for many years. She lost all of her family because of it. You can probably tell she lost her health, too. She came in here a few months ago. We were able to work with Social Services to get some help for her. They allowed her to stay with us during treatment so we could coach her. Four weeks and many hours of conversation and praying later she asked if she, too, could be a disciple of Jesus. Want some pancakes?”

“Oh, uh yes, of course. I guess I’m starving.”

After taking the pancakes and some scrambled eggs she turned to look for Marcy. Marcy waved way too much for the situation, which kind of embarrassed Ramona but she signaled that she saw her and started over. Becky had paused to answer someone’s question so Ramona was left to Marcy’s mercy.

“Do you love Jesus?” Marcy boldly and loudly demanded. “Well, I . . . I used to,” Ramona admitted. “I don’t know what happened but I think I lost him somewhere back there.”

“Oh don’t worry, Marona, he’s still there. I know because I found him when I turned around and went back home,” Marcy said reassuringly. “He’s still there.”

“It’s Ramona, Marcy.” Becky quietly reminded her as she sidled up and sat down next to Ramona. “Oh yeah, I’m sorry, Ramona, I forget things sometimes. I forget.” Marcy said more quietly now.

“I was telling Ramona about how you have changed since you have been coming down here, Marcy.”

“Oh yeah, I changed a lot, haven’t I? Want some ketchup for your eggs Ramona?”

“Thanks, no. Uh, Becky where is the restroom? I’m feeling a little noxious.”

When she returned, the three women visited until most everyone had left the room. Becky rose to take her dishes to the back kitchen area and Ramona followed. The small space was sparse but clean. Ramona asked, “Can I help wash up?”

“Sure. If you can rinse those plates I will put them in the washer.”

“Marcy has had a pretty tough life, hasn’t she? It really is amazing she is still alive after all those drugs and stuff,” Ramona said thoughtfully.

“Yes, it is amazing. But God’s love is more amazing because He still loved her even when she was at her worst. She had nothing to bring to the table, so to speak, but God saw beyond her hurt and physical condition and steered her here one morning. She was hungry and we met that need. She was in an emotional and mental state that prevented her from being in close proximity to the others here. We called the county Human resources and they assisted us in getting her help. If you could only have seen her before . . . oh, my goodness, I have to scoot! But you could come with me.”

“What’s up, Becky?”

“I have to look for a new scarf. Brad invited me out Saturday night and I really have to wear something different. He’s seen everything I have in my closet! Won’t you say you’ll help me choose?”

“I’ll try. I . . . I haven’t been shopping for a while. I guess I’ve been hiding from people.” Ramona looked tentative.

“Oh, sweet!” Becky said. “I need to go by the house to grab the blouse I’m wearing first. They hurried back to the little apartment chatting all the way. When they arrived, Ramona waited just outside the door.

As she recalled the past twenty-four hours, Ramona felt Becky was one person she could like—could have as a friend. Why hadn’t she met her before? Why did she seem like a real person, not fake, like she was the same person in real life as she was when she was helping people. That was a change from her social circle at church. It was like they all wore masks. Even people at the bar she frequented seemed fake; like they were always trying to con the opposite sex with clever seduction techniques. Well, she had to admit, it worked on her. That’s why she was in this fix now. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” she told herself. If only she could turn the clock back!

On Main Street they found the mercantile store and headed to the back where the clothing section lived. The smells in that store were so familiar to Ramona. As a little girl she used to come in with her parents for weekly items. Her father liked the hardware department with the tools that seem to attract all men everywhere. Her mother gravitated to the fabric section with the large bolts of variegated material. Ramona breathed in the mixed odors of the past reminding her of days when life was more peaceful and more predictable. Closing her eyes for a minute she silently wished she could return to that time. Suddenly, her reverie was smashed to pieces by a familiar voice.

“Ramona? What are you doing here?” her father said.

Storied Past – 3

Ramona eased herself into the well-worn but comfortable sofa as Becky went into the little kitchen. Ramona looked around at the sparse but comfortable surroundings. There was a small table covered with a plaid tablecloth and two chairs. Family photos occupied three wooden frames on the wall above the table. A floor lamp and end table with some unopened mail completed the furnishings. To the left, past the half open window she could see the door to the bedroom. Becky lived much more simply than Ramona was used to. By this time Phredy had settled down on his pillow next to the kitchen door. Just then Becky returned with some hot water, honey and lemon.

“Here. This should help you feel better. It’s what I have whenever my stomach gets grouchy, which is pretty often since I . . . well, I don’t need to talk anymore right now. I’ll get some blankets. You can sleep right there on the couch.”

“That sounds good. I guess I am exhausted. I do have to ask you something, though. Are you one of those . . . Christians? Are you being nice to me just to win some goodie, two shoes points?”

Becky smiled. “I have heard about that kind of Christian, in fact, I used to be one. Now I guess I see being a follower of Jesus a little differently. It’s not about doing good stuff to impress Him and other people. For me, it’s about being real and loving all of God’s creation, no matter how badly they have messed up. I don’t mean “let it all hang out real” but I mean genuine and truthful real. It is hard to do but that’s why I have to let Jesus help me be real and help me love people. Does that make any sense?”

Ramona’s forehead wrinkled up. “I need to think about . . . to process this, I guess. Most all the Christians I know seem to have a Sunday face or one they use around other Christians but they really aren’t very accepting of people who don’t go to their church.” Ramona realized she had raised the volume of her voice a little too much for the time of night. She continued more quietly but more intense. “They act pretty content to have Holy Club meetings when just across the street are some broken and messed up people. Why can’t they just walk outside and use some of their righteousness to fix the neighborhood?”

“Wow,” Becky exclaimed. “There was a bunch of hurt right there on the surface, wasn’t there my friend?”

Ramona laid back against the sofa. “I’m sorry, I’ve just been so angry for years that I just don’t buy it when Christians talk a good line about living perfect like Jesus but don’t do what Jesus did in the Bible. Am I wrong? Didn’t he go out and heal people and teach on the mountains and cast out demons and stuff?” Ramona shuddered at the visual that came into her mind of the naked guy in the Bible with demons hanging all over him. He probably got a group discount everywhere he went. But, she recalled, the next chapter in his life brought a huge, wonderful change that the whole town recognized.

Becky answered in a soft, confident voice that calmed Ramona down. “No, you are not wrong about that. I believe Jesus wants us to be like he was and is and be His hands and feet to all we meet. That mission might start in the church community but it really has to be carried out in the local, social contexts where we live, work and play.”

“That sounds different than how I was raised,” Ramona reflected. “I really did mean it when I said, Thank you. I’m sorry I raised my voice. It wasn’t against you.”

“I know. It’s OK. I should really let you get some rest. We can talk more tomorrow before I go to work. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.” Ramona laid her head back. How different this evening had turned out. Could she dare hope to think that God would have had anything to do with it? Wasn’t God angry with her? After all, she went to that bar. God had nothing to do with that. She agreed to go with Paul, or whatever his name really was. She drank whatever it was that knocked her out and she got knocked up. It was all her fault, all her bad choices. God would be right to be angry. He had warned her plenty and now she was simply reaping what she had sown. Justice. She got what she deserved. It was no one else’s fault but hers.

She dreamed fitfully; dreams of demons dancing all over her pregnant tummy. They were laughing and screaming epithets and curses, telling her it was over, she might as well die, kill the baby and die. God hated her because he hated sin with a perfect hatred and she had sinned, therefore He hated her. Twisted dark demons with sulfur smells and glowing fingernails tried to tear at her body, all the while yelling foul words. She tried to run but her feet were rooted in the mucky mud and she sensed they were sinking, sinking and being pulled down by a senior demon with an upside down face of Pastor Marlowe. Then the ground started to move, slowly at first, then a full-scale earthquake moving.

“Wake up, Ramona, wake up. You were screaming in your sleep.” Ramona jerked awake realizing it was Becky shaking her that seemed like an earthquake.

“Wha-a-at?”

“You were screaming. What in the world were you dreaming?”

“That’s just it,” Ramona retorted, “It wasn’t in this world.” She related what she remembered about the dream to Becky.

“That’s awful, Ramona, just awful. But the truth is, there are spiritual forces out there that are against you. They want you to be so discouraged that you give up; maybe even kill yourself. But you need to know that Jesus has good news for you. He loves you and wants to be part of your life.”

“I know that religious talk! Church has been most of my life all of my life,” Ramona said. “I was there all the time, every time they had church and music practice and I even got stuck cleaning the church with my dad way too often. I’m sick of church. Why do you think I’m in this mess? I’ll tell you, because I had to get away from all the church, church, church stuff. You can’t tell me Jesus loves me when he took so much of my life and forced me to run away from His rules and let me make choices that wound up with a baby I didn’t want. That’s not good news!”

Becky didn’t answer right away. She knew Ramona had to get it off her chest. Years of anger, pain, rules and her recent wrong choices had left her with hurts that deserved more than a hasty defense.

“I can’t possibly know how you feel, Ramona but I think I understand where your anger comes from. Life has taken a hard left turn for you after such disappointment from people you didn’t expect to hurt you so much. Maybe you can rest a little before morning.”

Dawn stole into the room. Ramona dressed quickly and waited for Becky to come into the room. A few minutes later she entered carrying her coat.

“Come with me,” Becky said cheerfully. “I have something I want to show you and then we can have some breakfast.”

Storied Past – 2

This is a story about failure, sin, pain and redemption. The names and story are fictional. It is ultimately God’s story because redemption happens through the faithfulness of God working in humans. They are amazing, adventurous followers of Jesus who desire to see His Kingdom influence increase until the reign of Shalom is a reality.

Storied Past – 2

“Hello?” The voice took on a human shape. “I thought I heard someone as I was walking Phredy.”

“Phredy? Who’s that?

“My mutt dog,” the voice returned. “Oh I’m sorry,” as she moved the light away from directly shining in Ramona’s eyes, now red from crying. “What are you doing here? Are you OK? Do you need some help?”

“I’m OK, I just, I don’t know. I just needed to get away somewhere and think.”

“You look scared, and cold, too. Can I take you somewhere and get some tea or something?”

“Well, I guess so; as long as I stay away from that church on Main Street.”

A few minutes later they found their way to Holy Grounds Coffee Company. Tying Phredy up outside, they went in. As they each cuddled a warm cup of tea, Ramona was still teary. Her rescuer looked at her with tender, inquisitive eyes but had said nothing since ordering at the counter. Ramona wondered if she should say anything, if this person would change her opinion about her and get all judgmental. She just couldn’t handle much more of that.

“I’m Becky,” her new friend offered. “What’s your name?” Ramona decided she might as well be civil. “Ramona.”

“Well, can you tell me a little about why I found you in such a strange place on a dark, cold night? I’m guessing you weren’t sight-seeing.”

Ramona really didn’t feel like responding but she figured she should say something since this person had gone out of her way to be nice.

“I . . . I . . . I’m pregnant” she finally blurted out.

“Well, Ramona, I’d like to help you if you’ll let me. Uh, when’s your baby due?” Becky’s voice was soft but contained a gentle strength that also conveyed genuine concern. Ramona shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She didn’t really want to talk about anything, much less her sin, but this whole thing was her fault, according to her father, and the problem was out there now so she’d better just deal with it.

Everybody Ramona knew, and probably some she didn’t know, had heard about the baby but nobody ever talked to her about it. When she was around they just whispered to each other looking out the corner of their eyes knowingly at Ramona.

“Umm, October” she replied. Becky waited a moment before she spoke. “From where I found you and the crying and all, I take it you’re not very excited about it.” Ramona hadn’t thought about that part of it. All she felt was guilt and shame and how this nightmare needed to be ended. The “A” word surfaced in her mind many times a day. But immediately the “M” word came screaming from the far recesses of her mind and she certainly didn’t want to be a murderer.

“No. No I’m not excited, I’m scared. I don’t really know who the father is and my father . . .” Her words trailed off. “Look, could we talk about this some other time?”

“Of course. Can I take you to your house? Oh, your dad . . . Look, I have a place for you for a few nights, if you’re OK with that.”

Ramona didn’t know. She didn’t want to intrude on this new friend’s generosity but she really didn’t have much choice. The bridge overpass idea was much less attractive anyway.

“That would be very nice of you but I don’t deserve any kindness. I screwed up, you know.”

“Well, we’ve all screwed up, Ramona. Thankfully, someone was there for me and loved me through my pain.” Becky led the way out of the coffee shop to her car. Ramona was surprised at herself. Since the horrible experience was confirmed at the hospital, this was the first time she voluntarily offered the truth about being pregnant; and to a stranger! Well, at least it was likely this stranger didn’t know her friends and would gossip. And what pain was Becky talking about? Did she have a baby, too? Maybe she had a dad like hers. In any case, Becky sounded like she had some kind of an idea how Ramona felt. That was comforting.

“I just have a small apartment but you can crash there. I work evenings except Sundays and Mondays so you can have some sleeping privacy. Have you had morning sickness yet?”

“Just a few times so far. It wasn’t as bad as I’ve heard but I definitely hurled.” They both smiled. Ramona started to relax. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad after all. She did need to talk to someone and Becky’s bedside manner made her feel like she could finally let some of her pain out.

A few minutes later they walked up to a modest apartment building. As they headed up the flight of stairs Ramona said, “Oh, I forgot. Thank you for this, and thanks for the tea. It’s been a while since . . .”

“No worries,” Becky quickly replied. “Like I said, I am here to help out. Someone showed kindness to me and changed my perspective on life.” They walked into the tiny but welcoming main room. Phredy was finally free from his leash and bounced around excitedly. “You see, Ramona, I try to be aware of God’s leading and He obviously led me to you!”

“Oh, no!” Ramona thought. She suddenly felt weak in the knees. “Another religious zealot! What did I get myself into? I let down my guard and got trapped by another one. Why was I so stupid? I’m better off dealing with this problem myself.” Fear rushed in and overwhelmed her for a moment. Must condemnation be her lot in life? And this . . . this baby, some people called it a fetus, whatever, this baby was really more like a forbidding, future death sentence. A dark thought clouded her mind for a moment. She could bring this whole thing to a sudden stop. Maybe that was the best. Just end it; maybe her and the baby. That’s why cowering under the bridge seemed so . . . appropriate. The railing above was convenient. She suddenly realized Becky was staring at her with a worried, almost frightened look.

“Are you OK,” she enquired? “You turned real white there for a second. It’s not morning, either. You’d better sit down.”

-To be Continued-