Storied Past – 21

“Is Pastor Marlowe home?”

A distinguished man stood on the porch. He was dressed well and looked important.

“Uh, yes; yes he is. Please come in. I’ll tell him he has a visitor. I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name,” Mary Elizabeth queried awkwardly.

“Oh no, my apologies. Please tell him Judge Parker would like a few moments of his time, if at all possible. Thank you, miss.” He stepped into the small entry.

“Of course; I’ll be right back.”

“Dad, there’s a Judge Parker here. He said he’d like to see you for a few minutes.”

“Judge Parker? Oh my; I wonder what he wants. Thank you, Mary Elizabeth. I will be right there.” Marlowe looked a bit rattled. “What in the . . . ?” he thought. He went out to greet the visitor.

“Judge, welcome. What brings you over today? I hope I don’t have an unpaid parking ticket.” Marlowe gave a nervous laugh. “Thank you, Mary Elizabeth. Could you give us a few minutes alone?”

“Pastor Marlowe! Great to see you again. It’s been a while. And is this Mary Elizabeth Hammberg, wife of Ed Hammberg?” he asked.

“Yes sir,” Marlowe answered. “That is, she is married to him, yes. What does that . . .”

“Oh, good!” the judge interrupted. “I’d love to have her be part of this conversation, if you don’t mind, Marlowe.”

“Well, does it concern her?” Marlowe was puzzled at this request.

“Actually, I believe it does, and should. May we sit down and talk someplace?” They gathered in the pastor’s office with the two residents wondering what this was all about.

“Thank you Pastor for giving me a few moments. I’ll get right to the point.” He paused for emphasis. “I’m sure you are both aware that Ed was involved in an accident a couple of weeks ago.”

“Yes,” Pastor Marlowe said. “I had heard something about that. Is he OK or did he wind up in jail?”

“Well, he is fine. No injuries that I am aware of. I assigned him some community service in place of incarceration. He has started that already. What I want to talk about though is why you, young lady, are living here with your parents and not with your husband. Did he mistreat you in some way or is there some other reason?”

“No, he has never hurt me. My father said . . .” She apparently thought better of the direction she was headed. “Well, Ed started drinking some and my father thought he might hurt me. He insisted, er . . . suggested that I come back home for a while.”

Marlowe butted in; “Well, I felt like he was developing habits that could cause problems down the road for Mary Elizabeth, Judge, so I . . . suggested that she come home until he got straightened out, that’s all.”

“Mmmm,” Judge Parker intoned. “But he never physically or verbally abused you or caused you to feel afraid?”

“No, never, Judge. He came home after work a little late sometimes and I know he had been to the pub but when he came home he usually just went to bed. A few times he seemed angry and spoke rough to me but he wasn’t mad at me. Seems like there was something bothering him, like he was angry about something or someone.”

“What do you think was bothering him, Mary Elizabeth?” The Judge probed a little, hoping to get to the bottom of this. He had known Ed since he was a pipsqueak and his family as well, so the recent behavioral acting out wasn’t adding up.

“Well . . . I’m not really too sure, Judge. I noticed it a little while after our wedding. We do still love each other so I don’t think he was sorry we married or anything.”

“You know folks; I’ve known the Hammbergs for many years. They have lived in the Valley for more than thirty-five years and have been a good, solid Christian family. Ed’s dad and I went to college together and I have been in their home many, many times. I watched Ed grow up with his two sisters. I saw how he treated them and the way he honors his parents. He has always given my wife and me the utmost respect. So his behavior the last little while really puzzles me. And, it seems to have started not long after he and you, Mary Elizabeth, were married.”

“Well, I . . . I don’t know. Yes, he, or rather it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me either.”

“Well, people change you know, and sometimes they aren’t always who you think they are,” Marlowe interjected with a hint of sarcasm.

Judge Parker looked directly at the pastor.

“Yes, that is true, Pastor, but they don’t usually change overnight like that unless there is a motivating factor in their environment. In Ed’s case, it seems like what he has been doing is some kind of coping mechanism for, as you pointed out Mary Elizabeth, some pain or disappointment he has been experiencing. My years of judicial experience and psychology training years ago have taught me to look deeper than the presenting misbehavior. Usually, there is a reason.”

Marlowe could hardly sit still. “Well I had counseling training when I went to Seminary, too. These kinds of behavior are, at the root, sin. So when someone goes out and gets drunk there is a simple answer; he or she needs to get saved!”

“Pastor Marlowe, I don’t think every situation is quite that simplistic. And, in my court room, I try not to rush to judgment but try instead to look behind the behavior for a cause. Sometimes folks just need a little understanding or someone to take the time to help them process through a past or present issue. Seems like that would be how you would operate in your position too, don’t you think, Pastor? Kind of like how Jesus did with everyone, except the religious elite?”

“Er, yes, of course. Like Jesus did. Right.” Marlowe realized he had been set up.

“And, going one step further, aren’t we all glad we didn’t get immediate judgment for our past sins and “mistakes?” Judge Parker looked directly at Marlowe again, hoping he got the implicit reference.

“Oh, absolutely, Judge, absolutely. I completely agree; couldn’t agree more. In fact, Mary Elizabeth and I were discussing their getting back together again right before you came. Right, sweetheart? We were just saying that it might be good for them to have another go at it; that he was needing help with his recovery. Yes, I completely agree.”

“Well now, that is good news, Pastor. Let me know if there is anything I can do in addition to the community service piece. I am looking forward to reconciliation and recovery for this couple. I believe that’s what God would want, don’t you agree?”

“Yes, your honor, yes I do. That’s what God would want. Amen.”

“Wonderful! I will excuse myself then. I am hoping the best for you two, Mary Elizabeth. Oh yes; there’s no need to share our conversation with Ed. He has enough to worry about right now. Good day!”

“Thank you Judge, thank you very much,” she mumbled.

Mary Elizabeth couldn’t quite grasp what had just happened. Stunned at the influence the judge apparently had and her father’s sudden reversal she wondered how, or what could cause her father to change his hard views so quickly. Did the judge elicit that much respect from Marlowe, or . . . or did the judge have some kind of power over her father? Did he know something? What was it?

– To Be Continued –

Storied Past – 20

Mary Elizabeth Hammberg, Ed’s wife, had been thinking for several weeks about him. They had talked fairly often, but since her father had insisted she come back home until Ed straightened himself out, she had been confused about her role and her future. She did want to be a wife to her husband; after all she did love Ed, and she really didn’t want to live apart from him.

Ed was always kind to her; well, except when he was drinking. But deep inside, she believed that it was his way of escaping her father’s strong micromanagement of their marriage. There weren’t many places where Ed could make his own decisions so he seemed to choose to drink just to prove he had some control over something.

One time he shared with her that her father was so finicky about what they could and could not do that Ed found it impossible to find activities outside of the stringent church schedule. Everything seemed to be classified as a sin and he said he never really knew where he stood with God. At least when he was drinking, he and everyone else knew he was a sinner.

Like some other young girls and particularly those in her church, the ideal marriage was one in which she was a homemaker without an outside career; a good, loving wife and somewhere in the near future, a mother. How would that ever happen for her now? She respected her parents and all but she really wanted her own home, too. And this arrangement was not what she had dreamed about.

She wished she could have a conversation with her father and just talk about how she was feeling. But she didn’t really know how to do that. He was not that type of a father. Once he had made up his mind about something that was it. No negotiating or listening to reason.

Other kids at school used to talk about outings with their fathers; “daddy dates” and such. She didn’t recall ever doing something so fun and having her father’s love and attention focused on just her. Her father loved her; she was pretty sure about that. He loved her in a righteous, protective, responsible way; but not affection.

Affection. That’s what she got when she started hanging out with Ed. He was a gentleman; chivalrous even. He always opened the doors for her, smiled and paid attention to her exclusively when they were together. She loved getting the attention and feeling valued by this handsome guy. And, like often happens, that led to places they shouldn’t have gone. Thinking about it now she didn’t regret it necessarily, but she guessed should have waited.

Her heart longed for closeness with someone. She felt so disconnected; like she didn’t know where she belonged. Pastor Marlowe (why couldn’t he just be her dad?) always maintained his pastoral air even in front of his family.

“Set apart,” was what he would say. “I must be set apart unto God and not become entangled in the affairs of this world.”

Really? What about real life issues? What about real pain, like she was going through right now? After all, she reasoned, she did get her father’s permission to marry Ed and now she was pulled out from her home by the same man. She understood that Ed needed some help but she was willing to walk through treatment with him, or whatever.

It was mid-morning. Her father was no doubt in his office downstairs. Maybe she could try to talk with him. But what would she say to get through to him?

She knocked on the office door. “Come in,” her father called out.

“Good morning, Dad. I want to talk to you.”

“Of course; just a minute.”

Mary Elizabeth stood waiting for Marlowe to finish the sentence he was writing in some notes. He was editing a personal testimony story to be introduced next Sunday. There were many of these that members of the church could take and hand out to friends and family they wanted to invite.

“OK, Mary Elizabeth, what can I do for you?” He continued working.

“Dad, I’ve been thinking about Ed.”

“Uh huh.”

“Well, I . . . I kind of miss him,” she said.

“Oh, I’m sure you do?” He still seemed otherwise occupied.

“I am going to move back in with him,” she stated with uncharacteristic confidence.

This got the man’s attention. “I don’t think so, Mary Elizabeth. Don’t you remember the hell you went through? Is your memory that short?”

“I remember, Dad, I remember. I also remember that Ed couldn’t seem to do anything right either, according to your opinion. We never really had a chance to figure out for ourselves how to have a relationship with each other because you were always interfering.”

“What? Watch your mouth, young lady! I’m still your father.”

“Yes, but you are not my husband. I am married now and I intend to go back home and be the wife I need to be to a sick man that I still love.”

She got up, wheeled around, and quickly exited the room, slamming the door behind her.

Just then the front doorbell rang.

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 – 11

This is a continuation of a fictional story I started several months ago. All episodes are available on this blog in the archives. The characters are fictional but certain events are in my own history and perhaps yours. Thank you for reading.

Ramona hurried back into the small town bus station with her suitcase and the small flowered bag that Edith had been carrying. The contents, a soft blue blanket and a box containing a baby pacifier, still left Ramona with a cautious hopefulness that somehow, some way this horrible experience could be rectified.

It was dark outside by now and the station was quiet with only a few main lights on. She checked for the next bus north and groaned when she read that no more buses were scheduled that night. What would she do? Sleep on one of these hard benches, she concluded. That didn’t sound fun at all but after finding a corner with some privacy she settled down for the long night ahead.

Wednesday night prayer meeting was well underway. Three hymns had been sung (in their entirety, except for omitting the third verse) when Pastor Marlowe got up to read the prayer requests to everyone.

“Sister Jacobs called in and requested prayer for herself. She has extreme pain in her left shoulder and really wants to be here on Sunday. Her grandson has been on her heart for weeks, too, as his parents seem to be going farther away from God. Please pray for them.”

“And don’t forget Ramona Beckett. You all know she has left the Lord and is careening down a path that will take her to certain disaster. I saw her father this week and he is so broken up over it. Pray that God will sustain him in his resolve to keep the faith. Pray that he will recover quickly from this heart attack.”

Everyone nodded with a knowing affirmation of the serious nature of Ramona’s recent failure. Several other requests were listed and then they all knelt down for the requisite time of petition and thanksgiving.

Near the back a tall, good-looking young man sat awkwardly, wondering how he could gracefully exit without drawing attention or conversation. “This is so weird,” he thought. “I sure made a mistake coming here!” No one had greeted him yet, although several young people glanced his way when they entered at the start of the service.

When he realized now that everyone had their faces buried in the pew he decided he could slip out relatively unnoticed. It did seem that they had some kind of ritualistic agenda that he didn’t understand and they weren’t about to include him anyway.

Outside on the sidewalk, Paul decided this church thing was a bad idea. Lately he had felt some strange feeling of . . . regret or something. Not guilt, mind you, just a strange uneasiness that something was missing, so he thought maybe it was church.

He couldn’t put his finger on it. Since he started high school, he had always lived life as he wanted and at full speed. A basketball star since tenth grade, he went on to lead the team as point guard, captain and then to the regional playoffs. Of course, the perks were there; keg parties, grateful adoring fans, and girls. Always girls. His charming personality seemed to get him anything he wanted, with whomever he wanted. Life was sweet; until just recently.

He ambled down the sidewalk, deep in thought. There was an empty, unfilled place somewhere inside that craved attention. For all the women he “conquered,” he should feel self-satisfied and in control. After all, didn’t he actually live the life most men can only fantasize about?

Suddenly, without warning, his consciousness snapped back to acute awareness. But it was too late! The law of physics will not allow two material bodies to occupy the same space at the same time; the truck settled any question about that.

Becky answered her phone. It was 9:30, Wednesday evening. Marcy was hysterical.

“Becky, Becky! Are you there Becky? Sumpin’ turrible bad, Becky. Come quick, sumpin’ turrible.”

“Marcy, what is it? Where are you? Are you OK?” Becky was alarmed now.

“Yeah, Becky, I’m OK but he isn’t!”

“Who isn’t? Is Jeremy OK?”

“Not Jeremy, Becky, him, some other guy. I don’t know who but he might-a got dead, Becky.”

“Well where are you, Marcy?”

“Uh . . . uh, on Main Street, just past that church what you said Ramona went to, just past.”

“Right! Wait right there; I’m going to come over. Is the ambulance there?”

“No, it just happened! It’s turrible bad, Becky. Please hurry. I’m gonna’ pray for him, OK?”

“Yes, Marcy. You pray and I’m on my way.”

Ramona drifted in and out of fitful sleep, if you could call it sleep. The bench was getting harder and less conformed to her body. She considered the possibility that even natural substances had conspired to insure that she would continue to be miserable.

Images of Edith kept floating by in her sub-consciousness coupled with sounds of snoring from some itinerant on the other side of the small station. Ramona pulled her coat more tightly around herself and over her ears to minimize the irritation.

“What” and “why” were the interrogatives that initiated her linear thinking. What did this bizarre experience mean and why had she experienced it. She had heard of visitations people have had from angels but mostly that happened to more deserving, spiritual people, not sinners like her. Edith drifted back into view, snoring with a pacifier perched precariously in her mouth, a blue blanket pulled up over her ears.

Becky ran all the way to where Marcy was. Red and blue lights flashed up the street behind her as she arrived on the scene. A light drizzle compounded the misery and drama of the late evening.

Marcy. Where was Marcy? Then she saw her; crouched on the ground next to a bloody heap, undistinguishable as a person at first glance.

Becky gasped. Surely this was the end for Mr. Whoever-he-was. As she quickly knelt down next to Marcy she could hear her simple prayers of intervention.

“Oh God, please let him live if he don’t know you. I know you so please listen right now. If he ain’t saved, don’t take him away ‘til we can get him saved. Amen!”

“Amen.” Becky echoed.

“Excuse me, folks, I need to get to him,” the paramedic interrupted.

“Oh, sure.” Becky pulled Marcy back from the near corpse. “Let’s stand back here, Marcy. We can still pray.”

“OK, Becky. He’s gonna be awright, though. God tole me. He’s gonna be OK. I don’t think he knows Jesus yet but he will ‘cause he’s gonna be OK, Becky.”

The paramedic team proved it’s proficiency by speedily and carefully loading Paul up on a field gurney and into the back of the ambulance. Minutes later he was rushed through the Emergency doors of the Hospital and into surgery.

Ramona jerked fully awake. What time was it anyway?

“Oh no, really?” she thought. It’s going to be a long night. Only 9:30! Her tummy felt really strange. No, it wasn’t the baby. She knew it would be too early for that: just a weird sensation. She would sure breathe a sigh of relief when some of this would start making sense!

Heart-Burn

You’ve heard that story of Moses . . . you know, the guy whose mom put him in a small basket-boat and floated him down the river when she couldn’t protect him anymore. Long story that ensued but many years later he winds up watching a herd of sheep on the back side of a desert (not sure if the front side was any more attractive).

Anyway, he is strolling along wondering when he will ever get a job promotion when he sees a bush up ahead on fire. He walks over to take a look. Probably the most excitement he’s had in weeks. As he approaches he hears a voice calling out his name. Now this is really unusual, to understate the event, and Moses realizes he is being confronted by the voice of God.

Lots of things to observe here and the story gets pretty bizarre. But I want to stop and ask a wierd question. Have you ever been around God? Ever hear him talk to you? How about a strong Presence that you thought and felt must be what God would feel like.

Most of us who have been around churches and spiritual people have at one time or another had an encounter with God or at least an experience of inner awakening. Do you remember?

Did His Spirit move you; change your pre-conceived notion of the existence or of your relationship with the King of the Universe?

What did He sound like? What did He feel like? How did YOU feel? Did the experience make you DO anything or act any particular way? Does an encounter like that cause or invoke an anticipation within to let it happen again? Was it a scary event?

There have been a few times in my life when I clearly felt His presence that caused a life course change. That is, I knew that I wanted to feel that way again, I wanted to live so I would not be a stranger to that presence.

Yes, I know “God is always with us.” What I want to call attention to is that moment when all other stuff of importance loses color in the warm brilliance of Shalom love. Your demeanor softens, a peaceful boldness comes over and around you. Your heart swells with anticipation as you welcome the largeness of a Presence your spirit longs for–but maybe didn’t know it was missing.

Some friends of Jesus felt this shortly after losing his physical presence in death to despicable murder. They were grieving the loss as they walked together and tried to recall how things used to be.

A fellow traveler joined with them and listened to their sad story. As he shared clips of OT scripture with them, they felt better, even encouraged. They liked what this stranger told them; how they felt with him around. He was so affirming and their spirits were lifted. “Say, won’t you stay for dinner,” one of them suggested.

The stranger agreed and as they laid back on their pillows to eat he broke the bread into pieces and shared it with them. Then the lightning struck! Their hearts swelled, like yours has done. His Presence was expressed in a warm and gentle aura that lingered as He disappeared.

They looked at each other and instantly knew they had been set up for a God moment, a visit from the King. I think this had to be the “ahh-ha” moment of the century.

They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (‭Luke‬ ‭24‬:‭32‬ NLT)

Immediately they jumped up and ran the seven miles back to Jerusalem to find the rest of their posse.

Now, do you remember a moment or two like that? Do you still long for more moments like that or have you forgotten how they can jumpstart your faith? I know we don’t live in those moments very often or very long but we can live FOR those times.

Yes, God is always with us. We do live by faith when we can’t see or feel His Presence. But deep within us is a fire that needs to breathe the oxygen of His Spirit.

The ancient prophet Jeremiah had decided he was through trying to speak for God. No one listened anymore, no one cared about God’s laws, the poor or moral values. Greed consumed the culture. They were religious but not godly. He was just done! Sound like a familiar environment?

“But if I say I’ll never mention the LORD or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones! I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can’t do it!” (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭20‬:‭9‬ NLT)

They don’t know it but our communities are ripe for a visit from God. The Kingdom wants to move into your and my neighborhood. And I would guess you are ready for another visit, too. You can participate in a ground swell of His Kingdom coming by hosting His Presence. Amazing Grace will result as culture changes to welcome Him.

Here is a clip from AND: Gathered and Scattered.

“People long for these experiences where their hearts will burn again. Start by inviting them into some experiences they haven’t had before (or for a very long time). The experiences don’t have to be hard or push them too far; rather, just enough to have them say or think to themselves, ‘That was pretty cool; I think I saw God show up.'”

Maybe you won’t see a bush burn like Moses but his entire nation was moved because of his encounter with God.

If God showed up and gave one of us, or several of us heartburn maybe our nation . . .