God Speaks Through Mr. Brownie

lighthouse08The table is very cold beneath you, the environment is sterile. Suzie is uncharacteristically quiet as a mouse up against the wall, watching you. She has finally run out of anything to say. You can tell that she is glad that it is not her on the table. You are both waiting for the nurse to return with the doctor. The procedure will be today. Suzie will leave the room as soon as the doctor returns for a quick, final consultation. He is going to explain the procedure step by step so you will not be afraid.

When you arrived, getting through the phalanx of angry people protesting the abortion clinic had been very upsetting. Northwestern Medical Center was on a list of hospitals that the conservative organizations targeted for TV coverage. Today they had definitely been out in force. Their faces were coming at you like stretched drama masks rocking back and forth. Their mouths looked like gashes in their faces. You could not believe the hatred of these people. In the back of your mind you were telling yourself that they would not physically assault you, but their raised placards and fists made you unsure of this thought. Their shouts were both accusatory and condemning. You were a baby killer and you were going to hell. Weren’t these people supposed to be Christians? They seemed so dangerously unbalanced. They shouted at you and shook their signs up into your face. The cardboard rattled against the signs’ sticks like the warning of a snake.

Mom pushed them away from you and Suzie, shouting expletives furiously, bravely, and all three of you had dashed for the sliding glass doors of the outpatient entrance. Then you were within the quiet sanctuary of the hospital. The nurses who had witnessed the assault were exclaiming their outrage and rushing to comfort you.

The protestors’ assault was bad enough to jolt you to the full realization of why you were here. They were out there for a reason, and that reason was now you. Disquieting thoughts rushed through your head. You can’t believe you got yourself into such a hot mess. The whole idea of a surprise pregnancy scares the bejeebers out of you and grosses you out at the same time. If this pregnancy is allowed to progress, your belly will stretch out like a basketball is stuffed in to it. The idea is so sickening it is enough to make your stomach turn.

Your normal weight was alright. Still, there was always room for improvement. Losing a few pounds wouldn’t hurt, but you’ve always been able to suck in that diaphragm and keep that tummy flat when nice-looking guys were around. Now it was harder to get that belly flat, and to your own eyes, you look noticeably rounded.

You lift your shirt to see a full view of your belly. It makes you feel strange that some foreign object was growing inside you. The clinic gave you an estimate of twelve weeks of life so far. They showed you pictures where this baby was all huddled up in a ball, looking like nothing much, but you could sure see all the fingers and toes. The nurse told you that you were in the first trimester. No one at school could tell you were pregnant so far, and thankfully, no nosey teachers had approached with unwanted advice.

You had told only your BFF, but Suzie confessed that she told another friend. That had made you mad as hell because the girl Suzie told was your boyfriend’s sister. And John’s mom and dad didn’t care for you too much. You were afraid that Danielle might blackmail John with this tasty bit of information. The knowledge was too close to John’s parents’ ears for his own comfort. He had been so upset and scared that you’d both had a big blowup with Suzie over it. Finally, everything calmed down. Suzie had penitently apologized. She swore Danielle to secrecy and promised not to tell anyone else. John was afraid out of his mind that not only his mom and dad, but his football coach and other friends would find out. He did not want this information all over the school.

Just in the last year, within your core little group of friends, Ashley and Brenda revealed that they were both pregnant within two months of each other. Brenda had brought her baby to term and decided to keep it. Her life drastically changed. She couldn’t go to parties or concerts she was invited to. No more football games. Her texting was rushed and. Sometimes she didn’t answer back at all. It was hard to make plans to go anywhere with her because she needed to get a babysitter. Her life seemed no longer her own. The baby took up every waking second.

Ashley had delivered her baby, but her mother insisted coldly that the baby be given up for adoption.

You heard the horror story of how Ashley had been forced to hand her newborn baby over to an adoption agency, and how she cried and cried and cried. But her mother would not relent. The baby was a girl, and the hospital whisked the baby out of Ashley’s hands and into the arms of a representative of the adoption agency. There were two parents somewhere in the Los Angeles area, waiting impatiently for their bundle to arrive.

No one would be waiting for your bundle. You decided, almost from the beginning, that you would terminate this pregnancy. You couldn’t conceive any other plan. You did not consider yourself to be brave enough to keep a child or to adopt one out. Neither scenario appealed to you. After all, you do not know this child. If you got rid of the fetus, it would be like x’ing it out and going back to the way things were before you had this strange invader developing in, and living off your body without your permission.

Your fifteenth birthday party was only two weeks away. It had been planned by your mother to be a small affair, but an intensely personal one. Your father was coming from Texas, where he had decided to move after your parents’ sad, but amicable divorce. It had been four years since he left, and in that time, he had not remarried. Mom saw it as a sign that, deep down, he was still in love with her. She was still holding a candle for him. You know that means she wants him back, but so do you.

A sudden shudder creeps through your body. If Dad knew that you were pregnant, he would tell Mom that she was a bad mother, and force you to live with him in Houston for good. Not just long, friendless summers. You would lose access to Mom, John, and all your friends. You would be living in a place where you knew no one.

John had refused to be with you when you finally got the nerve to tell Mom. Her behavior was predictable. Mom had a fit in your bedroom when you told her that it was morning sickness that was causing you to stay home from school. She demanded to know why you didn’t take the Morning After pill. She said that all you would have had to do was march your missy ass into a drug store and ask for that pill from the pharmacist.

Adults have to be kidding. No teen in her right mind would have the courage to go into a pharmacy and ask for an abortion drug! Everyone would know what she was doing! Why do these idiots think teens would chance sex in the back seat of a car with a guy that isn’t wearing a condom? Because they don’t want everybody in their business. After all, just because you sleep with someone, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get pregnant. Ashley slept with at least three guys before she got pregnant. Sarah has never come up pregnant yet and she slept with zillions of guys.

You would laugh it this was not all so serious. You have been in a drug store with John before and watched him trying to buy condoms. It had been somewhat humorous to watch him in the condom aisle, pretending to be looking at something else because he didn’t want the old lady customer near him to know what he was there to buy. Then ultimately, John would chicken out. He didn’t want anyone to see him picking up the box, and he didn’t want to go through the check stand either. The cashier would laugh about the same box of condoms when he tried to buy them. Who needs the comments? John was disgusted at the amount of time it would take to buy a simple box of rubbers, and condoms were horribly expensive. What should have been an in and out purchase became on odyssey. John had decided that it was worth it to chance a pregnancy. He said he liked the feeling better with nothing between the two of you.

At the time, you thought that he was probably right. Buying condoms was embarrassing. It was easier to chance it.

Now, here you were on a cold, hard table, moving uncomfortably with crunchy, sterile paper sticking to your suddenly perspiring body, waiting for the doctor to come in to return you to your former self.

You were charged $300 for a twenty-minute procedure. Your mom’s emergency fund supplied $100. That money was kept for unexpected household expenses, and mom was not too happy about having to give it up. Mom had been able to scrape another $50 from her bank account. She personally borrowed $100 from your grandma by telling the elderly woman who it was for last-minute birthday party favors that she had forgotten to add into her expenses. Gramma was crabby when she forked over the money, and reminded Mom that because she was on a fixed income she would have to be paid back. The last $50 came from Suzie. Her mother had given her the money to go to a concert. She pretended to go and hoarded the money, which she handed over to you at school.

It was a big surprise when the clinic asked for an additional $75 for some unexpected expenses you had not budgeted for. When it was obvious that you did not have the extra funds, and that your mother had a good chance of going into a nuclear meltdown, the clinic waived the last part of the fee for an immediate payment, and asked Mom to sign papers saying she would be responsible for a later payment. She signed.

It was agreed that Suzie would step out of the room when the doctor came in, but Mom would stay for moral support.

The clock on the wall began to tick louder and louder and louder as each minute slid by. Where was the doctor? You began to feel more and more sick. Was this the right thing to do? What would people think if they found out? You could not wait to be rid of it. Everything would be the same when it was gone. No one had to know. Well, Suzie and Danielle and Mom and John knew, but that was it . . .

What would the baby look like if it was born? Would it have black hair and blue eyes like John? . . . Or, green eyes and brown hair like yours? Would it be a boy or a girl? If you had the baby, not that you’re going to, but if you did, would John marry you? . . . Or, would John not have anything to do with you after that? What would happen to school? How would you even finish? Mom told you from the beginning that you were definitely not ready to be a mother. She could not get you to do your own laundry or clean your room, let alone take on the responsibility of caring for an infant. Mom had already warned you that she was not interested in raising another child, that she would not babysit or help you care for a child.

Mom let you know that she was trying some dating web sites, and if Dad didn’t come back to her, she intended to marry again. She has let you know in no uncertain terms that when you are 18, she is moving to Florida and you are moving on with your own life. That is only three short years away. She let you know she feels too young to be a grandma. There will be no support, financial or otherwise, coming from her end. You are entertaining the idea that she is with you today to make sure the deed is done. But you don’t want to think about that too much. That would be too horrible to contemplate.

Mom does let you know that she is sorry that she has not helped you get on birth control sooner. She was not sexually active when she was fourteen years old, and she thought that you would not be either.

Your mind is spinning with one sorrow piling on another. Even though you are flanked on either side by what appears to be your support team – Mom and Suzie . . . you feel all alone. You’re wondering if it’s too late to reconsider. What if John realized that the best thing to do would be to marry you? What if Mom realized that being a grandma wasn’t so horrible? What if John’s mother didn’t dislike you so much? What if  . . .

Too late. The doctor enters the room and the nurse begins to bustle about beside him, laying out instruments. Suzie slips out of the room. Mom looks at you encouragingly. The doctor approaches you with a fixed, pleasant smile on his face. You are given quick instructions and then told to scoot yourself to the end of the table and put your surgical sock-covered feet into the stirrups. He slips a surgical mask that is hanging around his neck up over his face.

The doctor’s conversation with you is supposed to calm you. It is about mundane, everyday things. The tone of his voice is mellow and you find yourself in a conversation about what kind of fun things you will be doing this coming summer in Houston. You are calmed into thinking the doctor is doing you no harm at all. You can hear a strange sucking noise coming from a slim, metal instrument in his hand, but his voice and the vacuum have a lulling effect on the moment, and these two ordinary things both seem so natural that you accept them as background noises to an unusual circumstance that is being made, at that moment, common and unthreatening.

When the doctor is finished, the vacuum snaps off. He puts the instrument down and tells you that you have been a very good patient. He makes polite small talk but you can tell that he is trying to exit the room. He explains that he is behind schedule and that he has several other procedures to do that day. The nurse stays to give you post-operative instructions. You find that it is over in a flash. You are disappointed that the doctor didn’t show more sorrow over a such a sad and final end to the life of a baby. You almost felt, in a strange way, that it would have made you feel better if the doctor had held your hand and told you how sorry he was that you had to make this momentous decision alone . . .

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You sit straight up in bed with sweat beading on your lip and in your hair line. The digital clock on the nightstand beside your bed reads 12:08 am. The date reads out Friday, August 10, 2012. You feel supremely confused. You must have come back from the outpatient at the hospital and slept all the way until now. But Friday the 8th is the day the procedure had been set at the Northwestern Medical Center for 2 pm sharp. It can’t be Friday. You reach across and grab your cell phone. The screen says that it’s Friday, August 10 at 12:09 am.

You feel stunned by the vividness of the dream. It had been so real. You wonder if God has been talking to you.

On the other side of your room, something catches the peripheral vision of your right eye. It’s the long neck and the face of a stuffed giraffe that you carried around with you when you were two years old. His name is Mr. Brownie The toy has seen better days. Right now it is being lit by a street light that is peaking in through the second story window. You realize you had dreamt the entire procedure in true color. You cannot believe that the abortion is still waiting for you on Friday at 2 pm at Northwestern Medical Center, Dr. Irvin Arthur presiding.

You throw back the covers and sit up restlessly. You stand and look down over Hello Kitty pajamas. You pad over to the beat-up giraffe. It is in a pile of other stuffed critters on a shelf by the window. When you turned 13 you had taken all of your stuffed animals off the bed and banished them to a nearby shelf to proudly mark the turn to teen. You scoop up the prized animal. There is a worn tag still hooked to its long orange and brown neck. As you read it, tears begin to slip down your face. “I love you forever, Princess. XOXOXO No matter what you do, no matter where you go, you can count on me! Dad”

The toy is a ridiculous stuffed giraffe with one button eye. You can’t believe it’s talking to you without saying a word. God is talking to you.

line05“Yello . . .” A sleepy male voice answers. “Hello. . .”

You don’t know what to say, so you’re quiet.

“Who is this?” He asks in a crabby tone. “I’m gonna hang up if you don’t answer.”

“Dad? . . . I need — to come to Houston . . . for a little while. Do you think — that would be okay?”

“Brook? What’s wrong?” He sounds suddenly more alert. “Is something wrong with your mother? Are you okay?”

“Mom’s fine. But, um, I’m in trouble.”

“What’s happening? What’s wrong?”

“Dad, I’m pregnant. Mom wants me to have an abortion. I need help. I need help!”

“Shit! No, no. Oh my God, Brooke!”

“Don’t be mad, Dad, please. I need help.”

“I’m not mad, Brooke, it’s just a lot to take to at 2 am! Of course you don’t have to get an abortion. I’ll be on the next plane out of Houston and I’ll be there in the morning. Tell your mother I’m coming and you’re not going through with it. You’re coming home with me. I’m going to take care of everything . . . Don’t you worry.”

You begin to cry and you can’t stop.

“Princess, You’re going to be okay. We’re going to work through it. Everything will be alright. Daddy loves you . . .”

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East Beach, Galveston Island, Texas
August 2014

You put down your book, yawn, and dip your toes into the warm sand at the edge of your beach towel. You cannot imagine a scene more idyllic than this day. The weather was mild, neither too warm, nor too cool. Luca is sitting in the sand nearby, blissfully playing with a small pile of pastel shells. Next to him are three large sand dollars. You cold see him trying to be more gentle with them because you told him that if he did not break them, you would use the sand dollars to buy ice cream when you left the beach. The look of suspicion on his sweet little, rosy-cheeked face had been fleeting as his desire for a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone wiped out any hint of disbelief.

You watched as he appeared to study each shell with great interest. He dropped them one by one into the bright orange, plastic pail you had purchased for him at one of the many kiosks that dotted the water front. The yellow shovel was stuck in the sand next to him, forgotten for now because of his fascination with the patterns on the shells.

Luca was talking to himself in earnest. You could not hear what he was saying, except that you could make out two words from this very serious conversation, and those words were,  “Ice cweam” and “Gwampa”.

Your mouth curved into a smile of pure pleasure. Luca is so beautiful. You do not have to wonder anymore what he would have looked like. He is sitting right here in front of you, the absolute love of your life. His hair is black with lots of silky curls. You have a hard time telling the barber to cut his hair short because all those curls would be cut off.

It creeps you out a little that everyone wants to put their hands in his hair. Old ladies approach you in the store to touch his adorable, little, cherubic face and run their fingers through his hair. Young women stop you on the street to tell you how darling he is. Right now those curls were moving around because a light breeze is rifling through his hair. John had won the hair war, but at least you found yourself in the shape of his eyes and their color. Luca’s eyes were green like your own. His dad’s blue eyes would have been nice, but God had chosen a pretty fine combination and you didn’t need any more reminders of John.

A lot had happened in the two years that have just passed. When you got off the phone with Dad, he insisted on speaking to Mom and all hell broke loose. You could tell the conversation on the other end of the phone was not good. Mom began to scream at him and finally slammed your cell phone down so hard that it broke. Mom was so mad that she would not speak to you, just huffed around. When Dad arrived from Houston, he collected you in dead silence. The atmosphere felt like it had been poisoned. You were sorry that you had caused this bad blood between Mom and Dad, but you realize their relationship had never really been that great.

When you were on the plane back to Houston, you began to cry again for all that you were losing as the plane lifted you up and away. You had lost John, Suzie, school, Mom. You were preggers, and if felt like life as you knew it had ended. And it did.

You kept in touch with Suzie for a while. John told everyone at school that the baby was someone else’s. He said that you slept around and that he had broken up with you in disgust.

John’s parents contacted Dad and told him they wanted a DNA test done on the child to make sure the baby was John’s. They let Dad know that unless they could prove the baby was John’s, they would refuse to pay even one thin dime to help raise the unborn child. They believed that if the baby was John’s, you had gotten pregnant on purpose to trap John into many years of support payments.

Dad was so mad that he agreed that you would get a paternity test. He wanted to take the case to court. He wanted to turn both parents upside down and shake their pockets out. He wanted them to pay for what their son did to you. It was embarrassing and you were glad that you were not there for all of the bomb fallout.

When Dad finally realized that John was denying he was the father and was telling everyone that you had slept with at least three other guys, that was the last straw. Dad was so furious that John was smearing you, he called John’s house and told them all to piss off. He absolved them of any responsibilities and rights. He would raise the child himself with no input from them. Ever.

At first, John’s attitude mystified you. You believed you were in love with him and he loved you. But love does not betray, and after a while, you begin to wonder what you had seen in him in the first place.

It wasn’t long into your pregnancy that you found out from a mutual friend that John and Suzie were dating each other now, but you were very shocked to also hear that Suzie was pregnant. If that turned out to be true, John’s parents were going to have a cow. You wondered if Suzie would make an appointment at Northwestern Medical, or if she would keep her baby.

Your gaze is now welded on Luca’s sweet little face, and a small tremor moves through your body as you come to a full awareness of a hard fact. You had had an appointment with the honorable Dr. Irvin Arthur to suck Luca out of your body in pieces. After all, you did not know him as a person. Even though he was forming in your body, you did not know him.

The peaceful, happy moment of watching him play saw you frozen in horror as your mind considers the destruction of this darling little specimen of the human race. He has bright, inquisitive, green eyes, fluffy, silly, dark curls, pink-tinted cheeks, and a mouth that was shaped like a little bow.

You can’t even begin to contemplate what your life would be like without him.

What if you had destroyed him? You realize that you would have destroyed yourself. Your relationship with John had not been that great, no matter what you told yourself at the time. John was bad-tempered and mean. He looked at the other girls at school all the time and compared you to them. He would tell you that you were a little too fat for him, or if you blonded your hair, you would be prettier.

John made you feel depressed and sad. It shocked you now to think about it. You had allowed yourself to be victimized by a creep.

Living with Mom had not been a piece of cake. She was moody and hard to please. She was more worried about herself than you.

Suzie turned out to be not much of a Best Friend. Since she had decided to go out with John she stopped communicating with you completely. Not that you really cared. No big loss. You found out that she didn’t just tell Danielle about your pregnancy, she spread the news all over the school.

School work had been boring and a drag. You wanted to be a beautician. Why was it necessary to learn Shakespeare and polynomials?

It was hard to admit, living with Dad was a lot easier than living with Mom. At least you could reason with him, and he had stepped up to his role as grandpa.

Dad purchased everything you need for a nursery. Luca has a bassinette, a baby-changing station, a playpen, numerous toys, diaper bag complete with accessories, a rocking chair, bottles, rattles, a balloon wall mural, a light that cast colors and stars on the ceiling, and a puffy airplane mobile for the crib that would be moved in soon. He even went out and purchased a year’s worth of diapers from newborn to toddler size.

Dad went to Lamaze classes with you, helped you finish high school on-line by your seventeenth birthday, and was planning to help you register this fall for junior college classes.

Thankfully, Gramma Keats was close by and the three of you balanced work schedules so that Luca would be with one of you most of the time and at daycare for only a few hours a day.

“Mommy . . . ?” Luca’s sorrowful face broke your reverie. “I boke a dollah.”

He stood. Tears were slipping down his face as he showed you one of the sand dollars in two halves. The delicate body was a structural crumble in his hands.

“I boke a dollah.” Now he was wailing. His heart was broken.

“Luca, how many more dollars do you have left?”

You watch him drop the two broken halves and retrieve the two whole creatures that he had laid carefully on the sand. His baby voice says mournfully, “Two.”

“Well, you’re in luck, Baby. Today you only need one dollar to buy ice cream.”

“One dollah?” Luca is shrieking in sheer child joy. “Mommy get ice cweam too.”

You sweep him up into your arms and you are shrieking together like a crazed pair of dopes, twirling around and around until the pull of the sand under your feet completely exhausts you. You’re laughing and saying together, “Mommy get ice cwean too. Mommy get ice cwean too.” You don’t even care if everyone on the beach thinks you’re crazy. Finally, you stop yourself from another fit of silly. Before Luca, you never laughed so much.

As you pack up your beach gear, Luca is chasing a sand piper. The bird is used to beach visitors and barely acknowledges his presence. Luca tries to catch the bird, but it easily evades the chubby hand reaching for it.

You found that living in a big city where nobody knows you has its charms.

Having Luca had been as hard as hell. You could not conceive of anything that had ever happened to you in your entire life that had been that horrifying. In the beginning of the pregnancy you were sick in the morning every day for four months. You did not want to get out of bed. Dad had been late to work zillions of times. He felt sorry for you and held your lolling head as you barfed and barfed and barfed into the upstairs toilet. There would be no downstairs for you for a very long while, by choice.

Your new cell phone was your only contact with the outside world, and you really weren’t using it much.

Delivering the baby made you feel like you had been ripped apart. You were in labor for eighteen hours. Your mother had refused to be with you at all. Your dad was so tired he looked like a zombie. He had big, black circles under his eyes from fatigue, but he was still trying to be encouraging to you, still trying to keep a good attitude, and doing a better job than you were at that moment.

Finally, the baby made an appearance The name you had chosen went out the window and you gave him Dad’s name instead. Dad cried when you called him Grandpa. Tears of happiness.

A noise from Luca brings you our of your thoughts. “Ooooh. Ice cweam.”

Someone walks by with a double-decker cone. Luca is mesmerized. So are you. Again, for that moment, you cannot take your eyes off of him. It is like looking at one of God’s masterpieces.

“I love ice cweam.” Luca gushes, watching the cone being devoured in the hand of an oblivious customer who is moving away from the line.

“You know what, baby Luca?” You ask.

“Wha?” His bright eyes turn towards you with a question.

“Momma loves you.”

Luca’s mouth curves into a bow as he laughs. “Luca loves ice cweam. Momma loves Luca.”

All the craziness of that first year in Houston is gone, and you realize you are blissfully happy. If you would have gone through with the abortion at Northwestern Hospital, you would have missed out on this. Your eyes mist over and you thank God for an old, silly-looking, stuffed giraffe. At home, that beat up giraffe is now in a glass case that Daddy had purchased. The toy no longer sat in a group of forgotten stuffed animals. It was prominently and proudly displayed in the living room in the glass casing to preserve it from further deterioration.

You had hurriedly packed that giraffe in your suitcase when Daddy came from Houston to get you. You told him about your strange dream and seeing the giraffe on the shelf with the tag hanging off the neck the night before you were supposed to go in for the procedure. You told him that what he had written on the tag when you were five years old made you call him that night. Your daddy listened to the whole, sad tale and came to the same conclusion you had.

The giraffe had saved Luca’s life.

But he explained that the stuffed animal had also saved his.

Dad confessed that he had been really down that night. He was lonely and wanted you to live with him, but he did not think you would make the change from all your friends to a new city. The night that you called, he had asked his girlfriend to marry him. She broke up with him instead. He had been despondent enough to consider suicide. His life appeared to be going nowhere. What you supposed was sleepiness was too much scotch whiskey. He had been handling his service revolver with the intent to use the weapon on himself. He thought that the booze would give him the courage go through with it. Instead, his phone rang.

Luca’s birth had ended up saving Daddy’s life. All of his energy would now go into helping to raise the child. He is so proud of his little baby that he could pop. Life is good!

God reached down from heaven and spoke to both of them through Mr. Brownie.

Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

 horizontalline

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the Mercy of the Crown

lighthouse07med01Somehow you managed to swing it. You told your bosses how important it was for you to attend this funeral service. They had given you the weekend off, but the brass warned you to be back in your office by Monday. Every moment you were out of your office your firm stood to lose much wealth, and so did you. You’ve spent your entire career climbing the corporate ladder. An MBA from Princeton University helped get the ball rolling. You still had to pay your dues and bide your time as a newbie in your field. But as soon as your keen business sense was noticed by top management, things really started moving fast. Now, you’ve finally arrived. It makes you feel proud that you are the top talent for your agency, and they cannot do without you.

You took an aisle seat in a large modern building, secretly thankful that the church did not look like an old-fashioned chapel straight out of a Currier and Ives lithograph. You couldn’t take a Christmas card church, complete with a bell tower steeple. That brought to mind scary scenes from your childhood. But it is still a Baptist church, and this evokes feelings that had long been forgotten.

When you were eleven years old your parents had been in the middle of a horrendous divorce and mom was determined to deposit you in a bustling, loving environment. She believed it would bring you happiness at least one day out of the week, even if that happiness was against your will. So every Sunday your mother would dutifully hand you over to the Junior Church staff of Highland Baptist Church. The halls of the church seemed to be crawling with children of all ages. The well-intentioned adult shepherds would herd you into a multipurpose room where you would sing songs about Jesus and learn Bible stories.

All useless crap, now that you are grown up and living successfully in the corporate world.

You remembered that every Sunday you felt lonely. Lost and scared among all those singing bodies. You had a hard time making friends. You would rather have stayed home with your mother than endure this weekly torment. But mom insisted, and to make her happy, you went along with the plan. You grew up lonely with a lot of questions about God that mom couldn’t answer.

You met Katherine at the university in your sophomore year on the debate team. She peppered you with questions you couldn’t answer. She would not leave you alone, no matter how hard you tried to dodge her. She was somewhat of a tomboy. She wasn’t pretty in the candy box sense and you hadn’t been interested in getting a girlfriend. Just a friend. This one happened to be a girl, but you forgave her for that. She made you believe she could wrestle alligators. That was so long ago. It seemed like somebody else’s lifetime.

You find small comfort in the sight of the gold cufflink peeking out of the bottom of the sleeve of your well-made, navy blue business suit. It is evidence of your success. You examine the expensive watch around your wrist, but you’re beginning to nervously shift the crystal face and titanium links back and forth until you create a red mark on your wrist..

Your decision to take an aisle seat was pre-meditated in case you needed a way of escape. You know that if you let your guard down you could shred your reputation and cry like a baby. You shoot a glance behind you looking for the exit and your eyes make contact with the three close friends that are standing sentinel on either side of the casket, waiting for the service to start. Too late to get up and move now without embarrassing yourself. You nod an almost imperceptible greeting that is returned. The other three pallbearers are her dad and two brothers.

Her husband was obviously unable to bear the weight of the moment. From your vantage point you can see him sitting in the front pew of the church bent over. It looks like he would fall down if he stood up. The promise of his life had been stomped out.

You could feel the sorrow welling up in your throat as it thickens and you dive for the last two mints in your pocket. You realize you would have shown some foresight to have a bottle of water.

The whole incident had been such a freaking waste that you cannot believe that fate had choreographed such a tragic moment in time. And yet, here you all were. Here was your friend of fifteen years, laying in a silk-lined box, deprived of life in a moment of peak pride. Your mind mused sadly over what might have been.

She had married the love of her life three years ago in a phenomenal Mexican Riviera wedding. You and all the gang had been guests of honor, and the whole trip had been such a blast. And then Wham! Two weeks ago she proudly informed you and your tight group of hard-core professionals that she was leaving the corporate world for a baby. And quickly. Because Zachary was going to be born in four months, and she needed to have time to set up a nursery in her new house. She was getting ready to create a completely non-corporate schedule that would revolve around the baby alone.

Watching one of your best friends go gaga over a baby was inexplicable. You could not put this feeling of high anticipation for motherhood against a girl who swore that she would never destroy her career for a husband and children. Ever. Ever. And in the end a husband and a baby were not the threat to life and limb at all. They had been the promise of the perpetuation of the future.

That bright future ended when she intersected with a sixteen-year-old driver who had not even pretended to yield at a stop sign. The threat had been something unseen but deadly – social media. And it did not kill with a knife or a gun. It killed with virtual words. The teen plowed into the driver’s side of her BMW with catastrophic results. It took rescue personnel hours to extricate her from the crushed interior cage of the car. She died on the operating table after six hours of surgery. You heard that a valiant effort had been made by the doctors to take the child alive, but the baby could not be saved.

That afternoon, the car’s back seat was filled with baby paraphernalia that Katherine had just purchased from Neiman Marcus and every baby boutique she could hit that day. In your mind’s eye, you could imagine her wanting that one quick trip to the Starbucks for an addiction fix. Stopping for the few minutes it took to get something as normal and mundane as a caramel macchiato coffee seemed to have sealed her fate.

You were told that this sixteen-year-old idiot had been inattentively texting some brain-dead drivel to another friend. For the pursuit of nothing, this teen destroyed one of the only true friends you had ever had in your entire life.

Now, Katherine’s husband had nothing but an empty future to look forward to. He could marry again, but you did not think that he was going to. You heard that he had shut the door to the baby nursery and has not entered since the accident. He contacted a high-powered real estate company and now there was a big “for sale” sign in front of their brand new, amazing house that she was so proud of. It was obvious to everyone that he could not bear to live in it any more and was going to down-size dramatically to be alone with his grief.

The teenage driver had lived, miraculously. Lived to text another day. She was being charged with vehicular manslaughter for the two deaths she caused. What a mess she had entangled herself and her family in.

The organ music changed almost imperceptibly to something even more solemn, indicating that the service had started. Out of respect, the congregation stood and turned its attention to the back of the church. The highly polished oak casket borne by your somber friends passed by so close it felt as if you could have reached out and touched it. You were gratified that her family had chosen something that was simple but still beautiful. A huge spray of yellow roses topped its lids. Your girl was born in Texas, after all. Thankfully those lids are going to remain closed because of the car accident. You are relieved that you will not have to be left with the indelible image of someone you have loved for years with a sunken-in face covered in pancake makeup that is supposed to simulate life. That is, if she even had a face to look at.

You steel yourself. That was not a good thought to entertain. Keep calm. By now, you should feel like a veteran of the funeral service. Within the last year you had attended two other funerals. One for your uncle, who lived several states away and who you did not come into contact with that often. He was your father’s older brother. Your relationship with family members from your dad’s side was victimized by your parents’ divorce. And then, more recently, an acquaintance that did business with your company died of a heart attack. You had been friendly with him, but not friends. You congratulated yourself prematurely on the victory of conquering all feelings of fear of death. After all, you had faced down the enemy twice and tucked into big lunch afterward with your friends.

What you really had not given a thought to was that the casket would evoke such an overwhelming feeling of loss and such a desperate need to know where she went. You remember your ninth grade Physical Science class. Mr. Fischer taught an absolute –  You cannot destroy matter or energy.

Matter is a physical substance.
Energy is power, like heat and electricity.

We are flesh and blood. Matter. We are also beings that run on electrical current. Energy.

If you put a log into a fireplace and light it on fire, it burns down. The log is still there, but its substance has been changed into heat and light, and the matter left over is ashes.

You are pretty sure that the energy source inside every human being at the point of death is not put out like a candle. It is finally released from its bondage to the body.

What had they tried to teach you in that Junior Church? Doesn’t the soul survive and go to heaven after the body dies? If so, then that meant she wasn’t really gone after all.

Okay. If that were true, she had to exist somewhere. Her body was in this box here, being prepared to go into the ground, and her power plant had ceased to function. But where is heaven?

Where was she? You can’t just snuff out the life of someone so full of vitality and the desire to live. Someone you felt was so vibrant, amazing and alive. Someone that the world needed in it. How do you just close a book like that before the last chapters are written?

The more you think about this, the more you’re sure that it’s true. It feels like you may have just had an epiphany. Maybe what you had learned was not crap after all. The soul lives on and goes to heaven . . . or . . .

The hairs stand up on the back of your neck. The soul lives on and goes to . . . hell?

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Watching pallbearers slowly march a casket down an aisle in a church house is pretty horrifying, especially when they are carrying someone we love, and we know that we will not see or hear them again on this side. Their voice will never ring out at a party again. You will never hear their infectious laughter and a ribald comeback zinging through the room.

I experienced this intense feeling when a California Highway Patrol officer, who was a very good friend of my husband and mine, was in a minor motorcycle accident but suddenly died as a result of head trauma. No one suspected that he was critically injured, because he was up walking and talking immediately after sliding his personal motorcycle into the side of a vehicle at an intersection. He told the emergency crew that he was fine, and told the responding police officers that the accident was his fault. He had been visiting his mother and was in a hurry to get home. He apparently rolled through a stop sign, hitting a car broadside.

The next day I was told that he was in a coma and had been life-flighted to San Diego. Within hours, his family was making the horrific decision to take him off of life support . . . and then he was gone.

Gone. The life of the party had literally been wiped off the white board of life. I remember feeling that somewhere in the world a light went out. I couldn’t believe it.

He had a voice that rocked a dinner party. Our table would be popping with laughter, nonsense, politics, and interesting conversation. Always. You know what I mean. You can see everyone looking at your table, a little irritated, but really because they’d rather be sitting with your happy little group than their quiet, stuffy table party. Even if you were singing an interesting version of “Partridge in a Pear Tree.” We didn’t mind making a spectacle out of ourselves, although it never quite made it to the lampshade-on-the-head phase.

He had clear, sparkling, gray eyes, full of mischief and laughter. Dark hair cut short, of course. He walked with a CHP swagger. When he retired, he fanned out his severance checks like he was holding a good poker hand. A fist full of aces. He was talking about all of the things he and his family were going to do now that he had so much free time on his hands and the money to make it all happen. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars.

He never got the chance. He was dead within ten days of this jovial, spirited display of good fortune.

Twenty-five years ago, he and his wife attended our wedding in Coronado on New Year’s Eve, and even though he was not in our wedding party, he came in a tux. My memory adopted him into our wedding party. That tight little group of friends was in our honeymoon suite the night we married, ordering outrageously priced nachos from room service and threatening to never leave the conversation pit in the living room . . .

He died in 2010. He was given an official police burial. It was an intense and formal funeral. I couldn’t believe that a box could actually contain him. I couldn’t believe I’d never see him again.

I know we console ourselves and each other by saying, “He’s in a better place.” “She’s in a better place.” But truly, if God asked us to trade places, we would decline. I mean, come on, we leave a funeral scurrying away in relief. Glad that we got through it. We don’t really connect with the thought that one day, the person in the casket will be us.

I walked around for days asking him, “Where are you? Where did you go? What’s happening to you? Are you all right?”

I am wise enough to know that once that door is closed, it’s closed. Death is an absolute truth that all of us must understand, because we are hurling to that destination at a rapid pace. All of us.

James 4:14 “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow.
For what is your life? It is even a vapour,
that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”

You may love another person, and you may love them well. But you are ultimately responsible to God for your own life.

Sometimes He gives a person only months, or only a few years to live. He can call home a teen or a young adult who is 26 years old. A forty-year old dies on the operating table inexplicably. A sixty year old who seems to be in good health dies suddenly.

There is no time in your life that God cannot collect you. Remember, you will not live one moment past the time you have been allotted by Him. The date of your death is written in heaven. Only there is a stipulation – God can shorten that time because he is angry at an offender, or He can extend that time because he is showing mercy or approval.

Luke 12:20 “But God said unto him, Thou fool,
this night thy soul shall be required of thee:
then whose shall those things be,
which thou has provided?”

Did you get that? You are alive and sucking in air because, at His discretion, the Crown allows you to be alive. He does not like it when you brag about all of the amazing accomplishments you have done in your life without a mention of Him in your arrogance.

James 1:14-17 “but every man in tempted,
when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.
Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin:
and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
Do not err, my beloved brethren.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,
and cometh down from the Father of lights,
with whom is no variableness
neither shadow of turning.”

The day of death for everyone is unknown to us. If we knew we were going to die today, we would be hiding under the bed, peeking out from underneath the dust ruffle. It becomes crucial for you to understand that we have received a manual from our Daddy on what He expects from us during this short life-time. It gathers dust on the shelf, unopened. Some households have never bothered to purchase that manual and have no idea what is in it. How horrifically dangerous to not know what is in those pages.

It’s called the Holy Bible.

In 1456, this manual was the first book off the newly invented printing press.

It is the parents’ moral obligation to teach their children how to live and how to die. We are afraid to scare our kids with the realities of life and death. We keep our kids home from funerals and shield their eyes from tragedy.

Some people think that death is the end. You go into the ground and it’s over. We simply cease to exist. That is a dangerous pre-supposition. This position should cause the person to investigate further. After all, if the person is right, and we go into the ground, so what? You lived clean all your life with no reward to look forward to, or you lived an evil life with no retribution to fear. In both cases, you died and ceased to exist. But if the person were wrong about the idea of going into the ground being the end , the ancient manual that we were given would testify against us.

So it would stand to reason that you had better be correct about your decision to turn away from Him. If it plays out as He says it will, after death, you will experience a review of your life and you are judged.

Hebrews 9:27 “And as it is appointed unto men once to die,
But after this the judgment.”

From the time you are a little child to your adult years, you are told to live by the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. You think this would probably be enough to get you into heaven. I’ve heard this many, many times. It is what most people think. They can bypass Christ and enter heaven by doing good works.

Titus 3:5 “Not by works of righteousness which we have done,
but according to his mercy he saved us,
by the washing of regeneration,
and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”

v If you do not accept Christ, when you die, you will be judged by every law you have ever broken. Even if you have lived a good and honorable life.

v If you accept Christ, you are righteous in the eyes of God. You have clothed yourself in righteousness by your belief in Jesus Christ. You will not be judged under the law.

The first person that I use as an example may be someone good, who has tried to obey all the laws known and done good deeds. I understand that for some, you cannot comprehend why this person is not accepted by God. But what this person has done is reject the gift of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection openly, feeling that his own sacrifices and good life are sufficient enough to get him into heaven.

Isaiah 64:6 “But we are all as an unclean thing,
and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags;
and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities,
like the wind, have taken us away.”

God will not tolerate the rejection of His Son. It is an insult to Him that you compare your good works to the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross. Jesus’ death gives you and me absolution. Freedom from all the times we have broken the law.

There is another person that was not represented above. He does not believe there is a God and rejects Jesus Christ, or any form of life after death. He believes that when he dies, he goes in the ground. He can do whatever he wants without fearing justice.

You know this person. He lives his life as a little bastard. He makes everyone miserable. You could be married to him or her. He has lived his whole life screwing people out of money and has had a wonderful time doing it. He is very proud of the fact that he can make it out of the restaurant without paying the bill. If his kid has given yours a black eye, he is proud of Junior’s fighting ability and is waiting for you to come and make an issue about it so he can blacken your eye, too. This type is all around you, waiting to take issue with anything you say so he can start an argument and win it by the volume of his voice and sheer number of words battering you.

This person is not trying to do good works to get into heaven. He thinks that Christians are pushy, holier-than-thou types. Besides, doing good for others is for idiots that get taken advantage of.

He plays golf with you. He is the captain of your bowling team. He is the last thing you see before you turn out the light and go to bed at night.

When God calls him for the life review, this person has a problem. How is he going to justify this life that he has lived? He can’t. He has made it his life’s mission to rip people off. God is going to have this one bound and dragged away in chains. He is not covered by the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 22:12-13 “And he saith unto him, Friend,
how camest thou hither not having a wedding garment?
And he was speechless.
Then said the king unto the servants,
Bind him hand and foot, and take him away,
and cast him into outer darkness,
there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Christians are supposed to explain the plan of salvation to you, and some churches use their time and resources in service to God to do this. But many churches will barely even talk about Christ’s sacrifice and what it means. They sanitize God’s message to you so they won’t scare anybody. Pass the plate, please. Christians are so busy trying to affect the laws to make everyone as virtuous as they are, that they forget that God does not want to judge us under the law. Do you realize that if we were judged for every law that we have broken in our life, we are going to be found guilty by a heavenly court?

God’s message to all of us is simple – I love you. Please be ready when it is time for you to come home. I will welcome you if you are clothed in the righteousness of My Son, Jesus Christ.

There are laws that all heavenly beings, angels, and spirits, must obey. Your free will is inviolate. You are free to do as you choose, and even though God will do many acts in your life to try to steer you towards home base, He will not interfere if you decide to stop and play in the mud. You may decide you like mud, in which case, He will leave you in it until you die. Then, you have to account for what you have done with your life.

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How many people have died just in the time it has taken me to type this missive?

How many have killed themselves?
How many murdered?
How many deaths from cancer and other diseases?
How many drunk driving accidents?
How many drownings?
How many heart attacks and strokes?
How many drug overdoses?
How many alcohol poisonings?

Ecclesiastes 9:12 “For man also knoweth not his time:
as the fishes that are taken in an evil net,
and as the birds that are caught in the snare;
so are the sons of men snared in an evil time,
when it falleth suddenly upon them.”

God has offered us mercy because He loves us. If He did not make a way for us to qualify for heaven, and extend His hand of mercy, He would hand us over to Satan to be led away in chains.

2 Corinthians 6:2 “. . . behold, now is the accepted time,
behold, now is the day of salvation.”

To obtain heaven you must do this simple task: Acknowledge to God that there is nothing that you could do that gives you the right to access heaven. Nothing. He offers entry free of charge, but at a great price to Himself. That is the death of his Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross.

He allowed His Son to be mocked, slapped, spit on, beaten so badly that you couldn’t tell He was a person, then murdered by a mob that would rather have torn Him apart than allow the Romans to put Him on a cross. Then God turned away from His Son while He was dying, leaving Him completely alone. God is sinless, and He could not look at His Son while the sin of the world passed onto Him.

God allowed Jesus to be a substitute for you. He suffered an agonizing torture and death, then a separation from the Father so that you would not have to suffer a permanent separation from Him in hell when you die. He paid for the laws that you have broken.

I know this is confounding, but it is also simple. God did not require you to climb Mount Everest. Christians have canned this confession into a little prayer. The truth is, you need to do almost nothing. You don’t need to get on your knees. You don’t need to put your hands together.

Romans 10:9 “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus,
and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead,
thou shalt be saved.”

The thief on the cross next to Jesus said, “Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” Jesus replied, “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

There’s no baptism. No christening. No confirmation. There are none of the trappings that organized religion has built around God’s simple plan of salvation. Just a true, pure belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. If you fake being a Christian, you do it at your own peril.

John 3:16-18 “For God so loved the world,
that he gave his only begotton son,
that whosever believeth in him should not perish,
but have everlasting life.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world;
but that the world through him might be saved.

He that believeth on him is not condemned;
but he that believeth not is condemned already,
because he hath not believed in the name
of the only begotten Son of God.”

You do not have to darken the door of a church. You do not have to do anything, nor can you do anything, to attain the prize of heaven.

I do leave you with a warning. The Bible says, “Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth.” If you are adopted by Him into His heavenly family, you are now His son or daughter. Jesus is your brother. If you embarrass the family brand, you will be disciplined. God doesn’t really want crappy Christians for sons and daughters. God knows there are already plenty of them. Just watch and see what happens to them. They will be disciplined, or they don’t belong to him.

Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? It can be. I sure have gotten wacked a few times. The only thing that keeps me safe is that I love Him. But I am afraid of Him too. A healthy respect. He’s my Daddy, but He means business.

Today, your Daddy is offering mercy. Judging by how many people you’ve already seen be put into the ground . . . Tomorrow could be too late.

TKP

P.S. Recommended reading – A very slim volume that can be used to save your life, My Descent into Death by Howard Storm. Let’s start an open conversation about an important subject.