Storied Past – 14

“Where are u? I need 2 talk,” the text read.

“Jeremy! It’s Ramona,” Becky said out loud. “She must be around here somewhere because she wants to meet up with me.”

“That is good news! I wonder where she has been hiding,” Jeremy responded excitedly.

“Yeah, Becky, where’s she been, I wonder where?” Marcy joined in a little louder.

Just then a voice from the next bed chimed in too. “Yeah, if that’s my Ramona, ask her where she’s been. She’s been darting off for days lately. I hope she’s ok.”

Becky moved around to the other side of the curtain so she could address Mr. Beckett again.

“I don’t know yet. I’m responding to her now by text. I hope she’s ok, too. I was afraid she’d left town or something.”

“Oh, God have mercy,” Beckett sighed. “I don’t know why she would do that. Don’t know why she would just take off without saying anything. We don’t have much family so where would she go. Everything she needs is right here in Maple Valley. That’s what sin does! It will take you farther than you will want to go.”

“She must have thought her options had run out here.” Becky didn’t want to get into a religious argument with Mr. Beckett but she did want to present another possibility. Maybe it would give him something to think about.

“Or maybe she is running from something,” she ventured.

“Well she can’t run from her predicament, that’s for sure. The best thing for her to do is get back to church and serve God.”

Just then he winced with pain. His monitor started ticking faster. Becky darted out of the room immediately to find a duty nurse. Jeremy expressed concern and tried to comfort him. Marcy started praying.

Ramona heard the tone on the phone’s message app.

“I’m visiting someone at the hospital but I want to meet you right away. I need to be at work in 45. Want to come there?”

“K” she responded. “See u.”

An intern hurried into the room. “Excuse me,” he barked, “it looks like he needs to rest. Too much excitement. Maybe you should come back later.”

“No worries. Come on, Marcy, we need to let Mr. Beckett rest awhile.”

They both quickly exited.

Becky usually covered the 2-8 pm shift since she was a fairly new hire at Holy Grounds. Foot traffic was lighter in the afternoon and attracted mostly die hard coffee and tea drinkers. She pulled her uniform apron over her head and clocked in. A few minutes later Ramona strode in carrying a valise and flowered overnight bag. Setting them down near a table in the back she approached the counter nearest Becky.

“Hey,” she nodded to Becky.

“Hey yourself,” Becky said. “Are you ok.”

“I think so. You won’t believe what happened though.” Between espresso pulls and tea steeping, Ramona related the events since storming out of the apartment.

“And that’s why I had to get back here,” she finished. “What do you think it means?”

“Wow, that is quite a story. And I think you are right to pay attention. Sometimes weird things happen to shake up our world so we will change direction.”

“Right?” Ramona observed with the faddish rhetorical question. “But I don’t know what to do, really. I thought I needed to . . . to be done with my situation and move on with my life and then, then just when I take steps to do it, it’s like I get stopped by an angel. How crazy is that?”

“Ramona, I’m here for you. I will try to help as much as I can. If you want to keep the baby it would be hard, for sure, but it needs to be a decision you make and feel you can live with.”

She hesitated for a moment but felt she had to say the next part.

“I know you know this, but remember, it is another real person, a life with a future and a destiny who deserves a chance. I hope you will give that person a chance to live that future.”

“Thanks, Becky. I am; I have been thinking about that part. I need to go, to see my dad.” She dashed out before Becky could tell her anything else.

Mr. Beckett was resting more comfortably now. Reflecting on the past hour or so, he thought about his conversation with Becky.

“I guess I shouldn’t have been so harsh with her,” he reasoned. “After all, she probably doesn’t know as much about salvation and God’s ways as I do, or as much as Ramona.”

“Speaking of Ramona, I wonder if she will come see me. Maybe I should dial it back a little and at least try to be happy to see her. Sure miss her mom.”

Arriving at the hospital, Ramona inquired where her father’s room was and as she got onto the elevator a dread of facing him started to form. How would she explain her actions? Should she say anything about her bus trip? About Edith?

As she arrived at the third floor she decided that maybe avoiding trying to explain everything would be best. Mainly she wanted to see how he was doing and would try to stick to that topic.

Entering room 314 Ramona put on a cheerful face.

“Hi Dad! Are you feeling better?”

“Hey, pumpkin. You did come. I was hoping you might.”

“Yeah, dad, I’ve been . . . occupied, but I really should have come sooner. I’m sorry. Are they treating you alright?”

“Yep, except they keep waking me up every two hours to give me shots. Won’t let a guy get any rest. And that new friend of yours came in a couple of hours ago and, well, I . . . ”

“Who came in? You mean Becky? Did she come to see you?”

“Well no, she came to see the guy in the other bed. She didn’t know I was here. That guy was in an accident with a pickup. I think the pickup won.”

“Ouch!” Ramona said. “Who is he?”

“Don’t know. She didn’t know either at first but then I heard her say she recognized him from work.”

Ramona stood up and peered around the curtain. A scream shot out from her mouth and she just as quickly slapped her hand up to stop it. It was too late. The young man’s eyes opened just enough to see where the noise had come from and then they opened all the way with a terrified look.

Storied Past – 13

Mr. Beckett had just finished breakfast. The remote control was in his hand and he was trying to figure it out. This was a relatively new experience for him as television was looked down on by the church. “Devil-vision,” the Pastor used to call it. “Just another way for Satan to get a hold on your family,” he said. But since he was in the hospital and he was captive to this bed . . . and, since he didn’t ask for it, it was just there, he felt like he had a free pass to explore what was offered.

But interrupting his well rationalized curiosity of forbidden treats was a walk-in who looked vaguely familiar along with a young man and a vagrant.

“Do I know you?” he asked.

“Oh, not really,” Becky returned. “I was with Ramona at the Mercantile store when you . . . uh, when I saw you talking to her. I heard you had a heart attack. Are you feeling better?” This was more awkward that she wanted but knew that since she had spoken first she had better follow through.

“Oh, that.” Beckett exhaled slowly. “Yeah, I was kinda stupid. Yes, I am feeling much better, thank you. Did you come up here to see me?”

“Well, no, not really. I wasn’t expecting that you would be in the same room. I mean, I, we, came to see the guy in the other bed. He was in an accident and was nearly killed.”

“They brought him in here earlier. He looked pretty bad. Do you know him?”

“Well, not yet. We’re hoping we can find out soon. Um, nice meeting you.”

“Yeah, you too.” Beckett said.

Becky walked around the curtain to where Marcy and Jeremy stood looking at the young man laying very still. There were traction devices holding up a cast on one leg and a partial body cast enclosed his upper body and left shoulder. The essential feeding and medicinal tubes were attached to him. It reminded her of that scene in the last Matrix movie where all those babies were in clear cocoons attached to feeding tubes waiting for their bodies to be harvested. Yikes!

His eyes were closed and his face puffy. Wait; his face! She had seen this guy before! Where was it?

 

Ramona’s journey seemed to be taking forever. She needed to get back and talk to Becky; to see what she had to say about all this weird stuff going on. Only another hour or so and she would be home.

The weather continued to be mild; a little brisk, though. Big, cumulus clouds were spaced so that the bright sunshine made it seem a little warmer than it really was.

Ramona started thinking about her father. She did leave him when he probably needed her to be there; to be supportive even if she was angry with him. That part made her start to feel bad about her behavior. If only he could understand her! If only they could have a relationship more like when Mom was there. He acted happier back then—not so intense.

But the confusing thing to her was that Becky was a Christian too. Yet, their dispositions were quite different. Her dad was usually uptight and appeared angry and sullen at times. Becky never came across like that. What was the difference? As she thought about it, even though people at church seemed friendly, there was this . . . undercurrent of tension, like people weren’t really free to be normal. Like someone was always watching to make sure they didn’t break the rules.

Maybe that was it! That was what she was trying to characterize in her mind. She wanted the freedom to be herself. To live life being real, not who someone else thought she should be. Couldn’t she just enjoy being a young, energetic girl; just go do fun things with friends and not feel like she was being spied on by God’s secret agent pastors?

Of course, not everything she enjoyed was frivolous. Helping people inspired her. She remembered the warm, benevolent stories from the Bible, especially those where Jesus was often visibly affected by the plight of the poor or sick. He healed them and taught about loving and caring for one another. She was always deeply moved when she saw others in need.

She would ask Becky about that, too. She seemed to live life like that. Ramona thought helping people who were poor and needing some help and friendship might be a good thing for her, as well. That City Reach place was doing stuff like that so maybe she could volunteer there sometime.

 

Marcy stared at the man lying silently. “He kinda’ looks dead, Becky. Is he breathing?” she whispered with a coarse voice. Whispering was not comfortable for Marcy.

“Yes. His heart is beating. Hear that bleep from the machine over there?” Jeremy answered for Becky. She was a bit stunned yet.

“Jeremy, this was the guy that came into Holy Grounds a few weeks ago.” She murmured. “He was hitting on me, trying to get me to meet him after work.”

“Seriously?” he whispered back. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure it was him. He was nice but a little too syrupy for me. I didn’t buy what he was selling. Besides, Brad and I are still seeing each other and I didn’t want to ruin that.”

“Shoun’t we pray for him again Becky ‘n Jermy, shoun’t we?” Marcy asked in her best gravelly whisper voice. “We could just ask God to help him git better quick so we could git him saved,” she offered.

“Sure, let’s pray.” Again, Jeremy intervened for Becky who was still in shock at the discovery. He reached out and laid his hand gently on the man’s shoulder.

“Father, please watch over this man and bring healing to his broken body. Allow us an opportunity very soon to tell him about your love for him. Thank you.”

In the next bed, Mr. Beckett lay quietly, straining to hear the conversation. The TV had lost its attraction for the moment. He had never seen these people in church yet they prayed with such brazen faith. And that odd woman who massacred grammar; she didn’t look like a Christian either!

“Pretty scruffy, if you ask me,” he thought. “I don’t know how God would listen to her dressed like that.”

Just then a vibration jolted Becky into cognizance. It was a text . . . from Ramona!

-To Be Continued-

Storied Past – 12

In the O R, medical practitioners in blue scrubs darted back and forth with efficiency and skill. At one point, the patient nearly required no more attention as his heart flat-lined, but after quick work by the med team and recent fervent prayer by Marcy, he was brought back from the brink.

Three hours and forty-five minutes later, they were able to deliver him into a room in ICU to wait for his destiny. The fifty-something year old man in the next bed inquired about who was bunking with him. The male nurse only shared that he had been in an accident and needed time to recover.

“How awful,” he thought. “I wonder if I know him. Hope he has good insurance.”

A smallish town like Maple Valley does one thing really well—gossip. By 10:30, the coffee establishment, Holy Grounds Coffee Company was buzzing with details of the accident just down the street. Few people seemed to know many facts but speculation was in abundance.

For instance, the mystery man at the center of the story was unknown but several people suggested it might have been a young man on their block. An older, farmer type gentleman even called the neighbor in question only to be told, “No, it wasn’t my boy, he’s still sleeping.”

Ed Hammberg, the truck driver in the accident, was a wreck himself. He kept telling the other employees at the beer distributorship where he worked that he, “just didn’t see him, I just didn’t see anybody! All of a sudden there he was and I couldn’t do nuthin’ but hit him. I prob’ly killed him; I’m goin’ to jail for sure this time.” His supervisor finally sent him home insisting that he take something and get some rest.

Ramona awoke as the scratchy loudspeaker intoned the imminent schedule. “Bus leaving at 8:05 for Chehalis, Centralia, Tumwater, Olympia, Lacey and points north. Please step out to the bus for your driver to check tickets. Thank you.”

A quick glance at her phone told her she had 12 minutes to get a ticket and head out to the curb. Stiff and cold from the long night on the old oak bench gave her a bit of an attitude. But gathering her thoughts and recalling why she had to sleep on the “far-cry-from-a-Beautyrest” reminded her of the sudden itinerary reversal.

She tore over to the ticket counter. Inquiring whether her destination was for sure in the 8:05 departure, the agent assured her in the affirmative that she would be back home by 1:00 p.m.

It was brisk outside, as she queued up behind two others waiting for the driver to check them on. A cast of big, billowy white and grey clouds moved with synchronous beauty against a rich, deep blue background, illuminated brightly by earth’s closest star.

Maybe her luck was finally changing. That was a shallow thought! She was taught that luck had nothing to do with our lives as Christians. Everything was either in or out of God’s will.

“Ticket please,” the driver requested.

She found a seat near the back hoping that this time she could sit alone. She didn’t want a repeat performance of her last ride! After a few minutes the bus backed out headed for the freeway. Her neighboring seat remained empty.

“Excellent,” she reckoned. “I might even recover some sleep from last night’s miserable experience. At least the seats have some padding.”

Closing her eyes, her thoughts wandered. She felt a twinge of . . . hope; a topic of thought that had been lost back there somewhere. These unusual events appeared to imply that this might be a day offering the nearest thing to hope Ramona had felt for several months.

Maybe it was the “Angel Unaware” Edith experience that caused this feeling. Maybe it was the eerily prophetic baby articles that prompted this expectant promise of near optimism. In any case, fear and anxiety for the future shrunk just a modicum allowing this strange, forgotten feeling of hope to resurface.

Another awareness crept up; this one from a place deeper inside her. Going so far away from home for the reason that had motivated her was really terribly self-centered. Actually, her whole life these last few years had been somewhat; ok, a lot self-centered. But was she only thinking of herself? What was wrong with that? Since turning thirteen or so, she knew she had become more contrary of her parents’ wishes and direction.

Not grasping that disagreement is often a typical behavior that arises from a child differentiating from parents, her sub-conscious defaulted to her religious training for answers. Obedience to the Pastor and her parents was tantamount to obedience to God. “Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect,” scripture said and God expected perfection!

This rebellion on the outside had now borne fruit on the inside. Not only had Ramona gone out and sinned against God and everybody else, she wanted to erase that sin by running away and even murdering an unborn child. As she thought now, this had to be a completely self-centered pursuit. She could never be perfect again. She was ruined. She was doomed to hell and she knew it.

But if that was the case why did she feel hope? Wasn’t her sin beyond hope? Could she ever be free from shame and guilt again? Wasn’t sex outside of marriage unforgivable, like divorce?

Becky finished dressing and reached for her phone.

“Hey, Jeremy.”

“Hey, Becky. Did you hear about that bad accident yesterday?”

“Yeah. In fact Marcy called me because she was there when it happened.”

“Oh, that’s awful! Is Marcy doing ok?

“Well, that’s why I was calling. I want to find her and take her with me to see the guy in the hospital; to see how he’s doing. Want to go with us?”

“Sure, let me finish a few more sentences on my blog and I will meet you.” Jeremy was a part time journalist/writer/author of Christianity and culture themed topics. “At the hospital then?”

“That works just fine. Say in an hour? I need to be at work this afternoon.”

Becky headed out to find Marcy. She was homeless but there were some predictable areas of downtown she could usually be found. Today was no exception. Becky found her engaged in animated conversation with a street friend. Marcy stopped when she saw Becky approaching.

“Morning, Marcy. I am headed to the hospital to see the young man that was in the accident. Want to tag along?”

“Yep, I sure do! I was just telling my friend Robin here all about it. Turrible accident! I’m s’prised if he din’t git kilt! I’m s’prised if he din’t. Do you think he’s dead, Becky?” She asked excitedly.

“I think we would have heard, Marcy. But I’m meeting Jeremy there in a few minutes. Let’s you and I see if we can find him.”

“Awright. But we prayed so I think he’s gonna be there. He might need to git well but he’s gonna be there, I just know.”

Finding Jeremy and the room where the young man was quartered proved fairly easy. After all, since this was a fairly small town, this was not a large facility.

She went up to the top floor to Room 314 and as she entered she started to walk past the first patient toward the back bed.

She glanced at the first bed’s occupant.

“Oh, Mr. Beckett! I wasn’t . . . I guess I didn’t think you . . . how are you feeling?”

Work is Calling

Do you have one of those 9-5 jobs, or midnight to 8 am jobs? Or, maybe you are subject to your employer’s whim of whenever they need you. Do you enjoy what you are paid to do? Does it satisfy your need to be creative or productive while serving others? Maybe you wonder if your career has any meaning at all, or is it something to be endured like a dentist appointment.

Our work, our vocation, having a job to do was God’s plan from the start. It is one of the ways, if not the primary way, through which we accomplish our purpose here in the earth. I know, you probably have been taught our prime directive was to evangelize the heathens. Do you remember the first job description in history?

The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. Genesis 2:15 NLT

This charge to care for and cultivate was considered the prime role for the newly minted man. We were (and are) created with purpose, creativity and destiny. Anything that occupies our time and energy apart from pursuing and engaging with this assignment can only result in short term satisfaction at best, and long term frustration in the end. At worst, a woman or man will be conflicted about her/his reason for existence and end it all leaving only a life of self-indulgence and guilt as a legacy.

For some, a career is merely a job that provides a paycheck, healthcare, a two week vacation and a bit of retirement. We go home and forget the hard work, the overbearing boss and the never-ending tasks of each dreary day.

But, we are created with purpose and intent. Through vocation, avocation and work we live out that purpose. We contribute, through the work we do, to the greater good of culture, to our deep satisfaction and the purpose of God’s Kingdom, Shalom, by discovering the work that we are created and gifted to do and do it.

Lest you think I’m suggesting all work and no play are the only options, I truly believe play is a huge piece of a satisfying life. (Read: The Well-Played Life by Leonard Sweet) Most religions take themselves too seriously and forget that the creation story proves God himself loves a good time. Christianity has a recent history of emphasizing the seriousness of piety at the expense of richly enjoying the life God gave us.

Activity, or keeping busy, isn’t enough. Having a highly honored position or profile or being recognized by the masses isn’t the measure of faithful service, either. Festus, of Gunsmoke fame was heard to have said, “I think our national symbol should be a mule. Now the eagle is a beautiful bird and all, but I just think he should be down here on the ground where the work is bein’ did.” What he says so well is that the bird of popularity and veneration often doesn’t get as much done as an animal that is generally ignored, or worse.

Until the Reformation of the 16th century, Christianity was heavily influenced by Platonic inspired theology. Strong gnostic dualism shaped the way they looked at creation. Anything material was evil. Depriving oneself of things and being spiritually minded alone was good. Consequently, people who wanted to pursue the spiritual life denied themselves all physical possessions and pleasures in favor of poverty and prayer.

This led to monasticism being perceived as the highest form of spirituality and individual piety the highest form of worship. Unfortunately, these well-meaning individuals deserted society in order to seek personal enlightenment in solitude and temptation avoidance.

But finding rewarding work that promotes and advances the kingdom values and then pursuing that task faithfully in community is what accomplishes our calling and purpose. It is about actually making progressive strides by whatever sized increments toward Shalom in this world through divine directive. To quote Martin Luther; “God milks his cows by those farmers he has assigned to that task.”

Further, God gives us great latitude in how we participate in Kingdom bringing efforts. He has given us the capacity to dream, invent, build, mend, organize and harmonize. Our creative minds are inspired by God and energized by faith to not only be, but do!

Our doing is not ordered by rules or authoritarian constraints of our faith but is animated and freed to do whatever our creative minds and hearts dream up that serve to make disciples and a better world.

Rather than instructing godly people to flee this evil world, the gospel urges Christians to remain engaged in the world so that they might reform their various vocations for the glory of God. Heaven is a Place on Earth: Michael Wittmer

It seems that there is a wide range of human creativity in our works of faith. St. Paul gives space to those who have God inspired ideas by invoking His blessings on those works. What kind of works? Those that minds of faith have dreamed up. They are acts of creativity that promote and extend the Kingdom. Ideas that are wholesome and bring joy and service to humanity; those activities that are building relationships, healing brokenness in humanity and the earth are what the Kingdom seeks.

Because we know that this extraordinary day is just ahead, we pray for you all the time—pray that our God will make you fit for what he’s called you to be, pray that he’ll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that it all amounts to something. If your life honors the name of Jesus, he will honor you. Grace is behind and through all of this, our God giving himself freely, the Master, Jesus Christ, giving himself freely. (2 Thessalonians 1:11, 12 MSG)

So carry on with milking, making, marketing, mining, ministering or plowing with your ass. Do it with a renewed passion out of your calling and gifting. Do it with assurance that it is God-inspired and directed. Be creative. Be successful. Be fulfilled.

Favor Flavor

There is an aspect of grace that I haven’t thought much about. When the phrase unmerited favor is the definition, my mind usually fixates with the unworthy, unmerited, I can’t earn it part. That is, I focus on the fact that it is not about working to be good enough for God’s love. I think I get that piece, and it is very important, but I want to explore the other word. What about the object of that statement; the favor part?

Maybe you were the favorite child, the one who got the new clothes and toys while your siblings got your hand-them-downs. Or perhaps you weren’t the favorite and you got the cast offs from your brother (even if you were the sister). I was the favorite one on which setting the benchmark of discipline was exercised because I am the oldest. I was the guinea pig, the test case. Talk about undesired favoritism!

Favor can apparently be institutionalized. There are world organizations that confer “most favored nation status” on those nations whom the organization wants to honor (or pander to). Politicians do the same with certain PACs or demographics for the purpose of getting re-elected and maintaining power.

We know some folks who are party favors (gifts and trinkets given to us when we attend an event) who we love to be around because they make us laugh and keep things exciting. We hang around them because we feel good about ourselves and forget about the stresses of everyday life. In this context they are a gift to us, a favor we don’t earn but enjoy above our regularly scheduled life.

Speaking of regular life, there are some folks who don’t seem to have favor or blessings of any kind. They talk about never getting a break. They have a poverty spirit; always struggling for their needs while “spending money they don’t have for things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”

Not all who possess little are like this and I want to steer away from measuring favor as the amount of material goods one has. Neither do I want to infer that these people are not followers of Jesus. But we probably wouldn’t consider favoring another if they lived like jerks or lived selfishly or stupidly. Nor do we care to be around them.

There are also those who have a great deal of stuff you wouldn’t care to hang with. They are selfish. They disdain others who are “out of their league” and use power and influence to manipulate and control others. If you are this way, the stuff you have may attract those who are covetous but don’t really favor you. You may have influence or power and others will want to be around you for what you can give them or do for them.

Why do we instinctively pull away from these types of people? Isn’t it because we don’t want to be around them or their ilk? This natural revulsion might clue us in that we were not created to be or live in such a manner?

You’ve met people with favor. You and others want to be around them; perhaps hoping some of their blessing might rub off on you. They are people who are enjoyable, who make you feel valued; people who are wise and discerning, who care, who are generous. Their character and actions are just and gracious, kind and benevolent. But it seems that not all followers of Jesus have this favor.

God loves us all the same but some people have more favor than others.
– Bill Johnson

Jesus’ mother, Mary, was highly favored by God. She had his favor. Take a look again at that wedding where Jesus made some excellent wine from ordinary H2O. When Jesus said that his time had not yet come, the plans were changed. Why? Because of Mary. Mary was so favored by God that the time of Jesus’ miracle working days were started early.

Another story; this from the early church:

And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. Acts 4:33 ESV

I believe the apostles were favored with grace because even though they had just been released from prison, they had such integrity of character that they didn’t allow circumstances to bring resentment, fear or intimidation. They didn’t withdraw to some addiction to find solace or comfort. They didn’t even seek justice for being mistreated.

What they did do was ask God for strength and power to resume ministering just like they had been doing–only ramped up a bit. God favored (graced) them with a fresh dose of Holy Spirit, unity, miracles and community support.

So how does one live so that favor is upon that one? Let me bring it closer to home. How do you and I live so as to have favor with God and humanity?

Divine favor is a unique quality. It is about who you are, not your stuff. People want to be around you because there is something you are that they respect and honor (honor is closely associated with favor; they often seem to be present together).

There may be a time you need something to happen but the facts or the rules or history may be against it coming to pass, yet it happens because someone, perhaps not even intentionally, will arrange it so. There seems to be components of character that invite favor.

Other times, because of who you are, your integrity, your character or reputation, people of influence will honor you with favor when others would not have been able to achieve a solution, success or position.

When we are favored by God, doors will open in front of us. Pathways ahead will be groomed clean and resources will be provided without struggle on our part. People, prompted by something they don’t even understand, will choose you, have favor toward you, call you to a greater position, give you material blessings and honor you because of your character and the favor of God. Sounds like a party I’d want to attend!