This song is an intimate expression of relationship with God. It’s also my best work of orchestral instrumentation, with distinct themes and an inspired arrangement. May it bless you.
“Sounds like the beach,” one of my friends said. An instrumental with Vintage Case keyboard over an acoustic guitar strum in the background and a Wurlitzer lead.
Craig had a building out back of his property in which he housed the little church, nothing fancy, just a garage used by the previous owner to store big rig trucks. He had insulated the walls and installed heat and air, but it still had it’s original concrete floor, painted the color of brick. When Lenny walked in, all he saw was an open space where everyone stood. He thought that strange, though he had misjudged, because at a certain point in the meeting, the folding chairs were dragged out and set up for the more traditional time of teaching. What he saw at first was a large open area with a small podium up front where someone stood to lead the others facing him, waving their arms in the air, singing and praying.
Craig met him at the door.
“Lenny! Glad you could make it. Really, I’m glad you decided to come. I’ve been thinking about you all week.”
“Me, too, Craig.” There was so much he didn’t say that floated through Lenny’s mind that he couldn’t choose one thing and decided to stay quiet.
“It’s pretty informal here. You’ll see Cammy and Caroline. They’re here already. And Bobby will be speaking in a moment. He’s over there. You might want to say hi.”
“Oh, okay,” Lenny said, looking around to take it in.
Craig gave him one of those comforting claps on the back with his big hand and left Lenny to himself.
Two harmonious female voices filled the high ceilings with jangling acoustic guitars and a light drumkit punctuating their song, words praising God which seemed to inspire hands waved in the air and a slight bounce from foot to foot. Even though they did not move in sync with one another, everyone seemed to move almost the same way. There was boisterous singing coming from some and intermittent exclamations from different parts of the room. Lenny saw Cammy first. It was no surprise. He was beginning to understand he kind’a liked her. He’d been through it so many times before, he didn’t even take himself seriously anymore. He took note and scanned the room for the other two friends he hadn’t seen yet.
Caroline was pivoting in place towards the front of the congregation with her usual lack of inhibition. She saw Lenny when he looked at her and waved a big hello. She bounced her way towards him in time with the music and greeted him gladly.
“You made it!” She folded him in a completely natural embrace with absolutely no sign of awkwardness or hint of offense to be felt from either of them. It wasn’t so much the way the little church might have all their members do, it was just Caroline. What a strange quality of comfort in her own skin she had. It was as soothing and relaxing, as welcome a quality, as just about anything you would encounter. Lenny thought later when he was at home remembering the evening that the only thing he knew that compared was the way God himself made him feel when he was talking to him.
And in his later years, looking back on this night, Lenny would realize the quality he felt in Caroline’s welcoming embrace was no less than the presence of God.
When he saw Bobby over to the side, Bobby was already looking at him with that wide grin of his and flipped his hand in a quick hello to make sure he caught Lenny’s eye. Lenny found himself walking without thinking, drawn to the friend who, when he had introduced himself, had introduced Lenny to the avenue of connection that edifies God’s family in one body of people.
Lenny arrived at Bobby’s side in the pomp and circumstance of a newly welcomed child of God, no fanfare, only an unseen weight of import heralding the spiritual awakening, angels standing at attention, inaudible trumpets singing Lenny’s hallelujah-rejoicing.
“Lenny,” Bobby said, and gave Lenny a big hug. “I knew you’d come.”
Lenny had the fleeting thought that it was strange to be hugged by a man, but it was dismissed so quickly that the thought that followed it was the only thing that registered on his face.
“How could I not? There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
Bobby drew back and gave Lenny a hearty shake before he let him go. He could have said more, but he didn’t want to scare Lenny away before he had a chance to get comfortable.
He put his arm around Lenny shoulder. “You ever seen anything like this before?”
Lenny looked slowly around the room, this time seeing some of the faces which at first had their backs turned. Light seemed to come from their eyes, smiling and singing their praises to God. No one seemed left out. All seemed equally enraptured. There was a communal feeling amongst them as if the joint effort of worshipping God brought them all along together.
He almost wondered out loud, but smiled instead, realizing he was at a loss.
“Can’t say that I have. What is this?”
Bobby drew back his arm and grabbed one of Lenny’s shoulders.
“This, my friend, is praise and worship.”
With that Bobby turned from Lenny and walked up to the podium. When the song leader saw him coming, he stepped down and Bobby took his place.
“Can you bring the music down a little. Y’all know how I feel about music.”
The music came down to a volume low enough for Bobby’s voice to be heard above it.
“That’s right, our praise and worship is not in the music or the song we sing, but in the heart turned to God. Someone told me one time, ‘Worship stops when the people can’t hear themselves or others around them singing.’
Our hearts are turned to God, right?”
Some of the patrons spoke a random, ‘Yes!’ which now could be clearly heard.
“Well, let’s continue… Father,” Bobby said, now closing his eyes, “We’re here for you. We’re here to be with you. We know you never leave or forsake us.” His hands were lifted up as if to grab hold of God. “Thank you for being here. We don’t welcome you here, Lord, because you’re already here. We just thank you for being here.”
Bobby paused to hear the music and then began singing softly with it. His voice was pleasant. He did not sing to be heard above everyone else. People followed suit, singing, some more loudly than others, but this time none singing as if to drown out the music in their own ears, but appropriately at the level of volume in the room, harmonizing and blending with the rest of the congregation.
“Father, you are the one,” he continued, “You are the one we come to. You are the one we see in our minds, looking to you with confidence that you are here.” He paused to consider that thought with everyone else. “We worship you. We worship you.”
Bobby stepped to the side and picked up a guitar sitting behind the podium. He began playing with the music, effortlessly finding the chords, blending with the song from the sound system. The song faded out at the end, but Bobby kept playing, playing softly and praying once again with the guitar providing background.
“Lord, we worship you. Lord, we worship you.”
By the time he had spoken the second ‘Lord,’ he was singing the words. He continued on one note, speak/singing his words along with the music.
“We worship you. We worship you. We lift you up. You’re in the highest place, and we worship you. You alone are worthy. You alone are Lord. You alone are worthy. We look to you, we look to you.”
The song began to take shape, to acquire a melody as Bobby added notes, first down, then up.
“You alone are worthy. You alone are Lord.
“You are magnificent. We worship you, we worship you.
“You alone are worthy, you alone are Lord,
“You are magnificent, we look to you, we look to you…”
The last line did not resolve, but ended on a note that suspended the congregation in expectation, or the suggestion, of more.
Then Bobby sang the last words higher, emphasizing:
“We look to you, we look to you, we look to you…”
And the congregation followed.
“You are magnificent,”
And up again:
“We look to you, we look to you, we look to you!”
And the congregation followed.
Then it seemed that the congregation really did start looking to God as they were singing the words, because people started drifting off on their own, some singing, some speaking their own words to God. Yet as their movements flowed together without being planned, so did their song and their praises, no one rising above another for more than a moment emphasizing a phrase that sounded fraught with meaning, or singing a word or a note that blended beautifully. Not all voices were perfect, but all were edifying. Not all sounds were harmonious, but they were glad.
Lenny closed his eyes and swayed with the singing, saying under his breath nice things to God. After a generous amount of time, Bobby began to play another song that people apparently already knew, singing with him and carrying the song in the chorus while he dropped back and let them lead themselves. After a while everyone seemed to have had enough, and Bobby brought it way down, saying a final prayer of thanks and blessing. Caroline, still hopping slightly, said encouraging things to Bobby about how much she had enjoyed ‘their time in the Lord.’ He chuckled, said thanks, and put up his guitar while Craig came up front to join him.
“Aw, that was good!” A man with a big voice and an even bigger smile spoke up from the small congregation.
“You like that, Bill?”
“You betcha! That just made me feel so good. I can hardly explain it.” He looked at Craig with his beaming face, and took a breath. “But I’m gonna try.”
“Go right ahead, Bill,” Craig said.
“All I know to tell you is I feel clean, clean like a fresh wind blew through me.”
“Mmm,” Craig’s deep hum. Others exclaimed, too, a lively interaction.
“Hallelujah!” a sole voice in the group said, followed by claps, hums, and amens.
“Feels good?” Craig said. “That’s God! He feels good!”
People started exclaiming and moving and ‘woo-hooing’ and saying, ‘Yeeeah!’
Craig leaned back and admired it. “Well, you know what, I’m not going to get in the way. Let’s just praise God!” Those folks started jumping and hollering.
Gradually though they began to quiet themselves. They closed their eyes and began to focus on the presence of God they felt in the room with them. It was as if their faith in God being there was making him real.
Then it was as if the movement and the calamity gave way to stillness. People barely made a sound as the room was filled with a heavy weight. It was heavy in the air. It was as if God weighed down on them like a blanket.
Lenny felt it. It wasn’t unlike the times he’d spent with God alone. There was something different about it, though, something stronger, sharper. He didn’t know what it was, but he knew it was God. There was a kind of expectation of him in this presence. It felt like God was a moving force that required him to move with him. It was active. It felt like questions behind a vail drawing him to go and learn of the mysteries behind it and deep things that could only be found in God.
Lenny sensed a vail.
He was surprised when he felt a gentle touch on his arm. His eyes flew open to see Craig looking into them, whispering something to Lenny.
“What do you see?” Craig said.
“I see a vail.” Lenny was shocked the way it shot out of his mouth, but Craig had known the exact question to ask him. How did he know he’d seen something?
“I didn’t know,” Craig said. “I just said what was in my heart. That’s what you should do right now. Just say what you hear in your heart.”
Lenny’s voice wavered as it came out, but it was strong. “I see a vail. It’s blue and velvet, a beautiful vail, and behind it is the Spirit of God. He’s saying come in. He’s telling us to come in.”
Lenny stopped himself. That was all he had heard, so that was good.
Another man beside him exclaimed like Lenny had just opened a door and let him through.
“I see that vail!” he said. “It’s blue and beautiful. I’m going in. I’m going in!”
The man moved his hands like he was pulling back a curtain, and started to exclaim, but went immediately silent. Only faint murmurings slid past his lips, an enraptured gibberish.
Others were already there. Some swayed ever so slightly. Some looked as if they were concentrating on the private things God was telling them.
Craig squeezed Lenny’s shoulder and moved on, leaving him in God’s capable hands. Lenny looked inside and spoke to God as the others were doing, speaking low as if God was in his chest to hear the words before they even came out. Inside himself the words sounded resonant, echoing in the space provided by God’s singular attention. Lenny did not know that this place of trust and companionship with God in his heart was the key to everything. He would know it one day, but it would take time. For now it sufficed to be satisfied in it.
To be spiritually minded. It was the thought that woke Lenny up in the morning. To be spiritually minded was life and peace. That was what Romans chapter eight said. Then there were Jesus’ words from Matthew 6. “Take no thought for your life, for what you shall eat or what you shall drink, or what you shall wear. Is not the life more than meat, and the body more than raiment?”
These words had always captured Lenny’s imagination. He remembered them from his once in a blue moon attendance of a Methodist church when he was younger. The few times he had heard these words, they had stuck in Lenny’s mind. They had not always been remembered, but when he was reminded of them, they grabbed his attention, saying ‘this right here is from God.’
There was an ache that came from these words. It was a truth greater than himself, that went beyond his understanding. How could he be sold out to God like this? He could see in them was the promise, the possibility of God providing for him like he did for the “lilies of the field,” and “the birds of the air.” In them he heard a life lived so close to God that the whole world depended on him. There was a utopia in them, a possibility of God being truly Lord over all people, and all things.
Lenny’s walks were usually trips to the store or walking to work, but today he was just out to see the world. He started on his usual route, but when he got to the corner he would turn to go to work, he kept going, heading towards downtown.
By the time he got to city-center, there were people coming and going from every direction. It was the late morning rush when some were just getting to work, and others were making a quick run for breakfast or coffee in one of the many shops. One person lugged a long canister to the print shop, moving quickly. Others walked slowly in groups of three or four fanned across the walkway with the shorter shapely women in attractive skirts on the inside setting the pace.
Lenny followed one of these groups into a coffee shop, thinking to himself that he ought not be motivated by the sight of those ladies to do so but couldn’t be sure that he wasn’t. As he waited in line with the ladies inching their way towards the counter just a few feet in front of him, he busied his mind with other things and kept his eyes, for the most part, elsewhere. His ears on the other hand were pricked by some of the conversation between the ladies and the two men who accompanied them.
He kept hearing snatches of ‘God-this,’ and ‘Jesus-that,’ which of course made him curious. He sidestepped a little closer to hear more clearly what they were saying.
“Don’t you think he knows that?” one of the ladies said, only slightly under her breath, but loudly enough for anyone interested to hear. “He does know, and he cares.”
“I know he does,” her female companion answered.
“Right, he’s always there for you,” the deep voice of the taller of the two men cut through, a resonant low hum.
“I know he is. Sometimes I just need—sometimes I just need a reminder.” You could hear her voice becoming stronger. “You’re right, of course you’re right. Sometimes I wonder what I could be thinking.”
Lenny saw the other woman’s face turned half towards him now to speak clearly to her friend. He could see her smile beaming confidence, but mostly exuberance, a glow which he believed immediately was God shining out of her as she echoed her friends sentiment.”
“That’s how we all are sometimes, Caroline.”
‘Oh, yeahs,’ comforting, coming from the two men.
“That’s why we need Jesus. We all need help sometimes. We never stop needing help.”
A little chuckle escaped her friend. “You think it’s always going to be like this?” A full blown laugh came out of her now. “You mean I’m always gonna be falling flat on my you-know-what and having him come along and pick me up. ‘Come on, Caroline. Get up here and dust yourself off.”
She had the other three laughing now.
“You know what it’s like.”
She had caught the attention of the man in the line in front of her with her giant laugh and he was looking hard at her now.
“C’mon, buddy, I know you’ve fallen flat on your butt before. We all have.” Caroline smiled warmly, pausing to see how he would respond.
He gave Caroline a cool, passionless stare and huffed. “Fallen on my butt, alright, but ain’t nobody come along and picked me up,” he said, drawing back resentfully.
Caroline, two seconds before almost blubbering into her sleeve, reared back to let him have it.
“Got yourself up? That’s what I thought, too, at first, till I wound up turning right back around and falling down again. C’mon pal. You don’t really think you’re getting yourself up all these times. Haven’t you learned by now you’ve got to have help?”
“Help, shmelp,” he said. “You got to help yourself. Ain’t nobody gonna help you till you help you, that’s what I know. Why,” he sniggered, “You really believe in that God nonsense? What a load of shit.”
He sauntered backwards with a look on his face like he’d just flattened Mike Tyson. He duckwalked a couple of small steps in place with what he considered a convincing swagger and might have plinked a chaw of tobacco into the back of a spittoon if it had been a hundred and fifty years ago.
Caroline sized him up. “That’s alright. You keep thinking that. God knows how to get through to you.”
“I ain’t scared of him!” he bellowed defiantly for the whole world to hear.
“Scared of him?” Caroline looked surprised. “It’s nothing to be scared of. You think God’s up there keeping score, trying to decide who to strike down next? God’s not like that.” She took a step back now and brought it down a notch. “That’s alright. He’s going to help you. He’ll show you when you least expect it. And don’t worry. You won’t even mind by the time it comes. It’ll just be a gentle whisper—” She looked euphoric now. “He’ll speak so soft and nice to you, he’ll be able to knock you over with a feather.”
And with that Caroline reached out her hand and touched the man’s arm as gently as you could imagine. He tensed up for the briefest second, and then froze.
“Get off me, lady,” his voice boomed. He jerked backwards and stumbled away from her. Every eye in the place was on them now.
The tall guy with the group Lenny had followed into the shop shook his head, smiling. “Caroline,” he said, and shook his head some more, moving slightly towards the agitated man to impose himself between them. He looked back at Caroline and said in a low voice meant only for her, “That’s why you’re our little evangelist.”
“We’re sorry, sir. Caroline just gets a little carried away sometimes. But nobody’s hurt, right?”
The man stood up straight and shook himself. “Naw, man. I’m fine.”
“Okay.” He moved in and offered his hand to shake. “No hard feelings.”
“No, no hard feelings.” The man shook Caroline’s tall friend’s hand.
Lenny was flabbergasted. He took it all in like a little bird being fed worms from his mother’s mouth. He had never seen such a bold, amazing witness to God. He didn’t even have a concept of a Christian who lived and breathed so simply and securely in God that he or she could walk though life minding their own business, and be so prepared at a moment’s notice to move smoothly in response to the world’s opposition. They were unfazed, he realized, as he watched this little group continue on, paying for and gathering up their coffees, casually make small talk with their regular inside voices, and generally set the whole shop full of people at ease who were only a moment before nervous and a little afraid.
He watched them walk away from the counter hoping he didn’t miss his chance. After getting his coffee, he saw that they had found a table in the shop. He spotted a seat next to them and took it. A month ago he might not have felt comfortable introducing himself, but in the same way that the Word of God had given him the thing worth talking about, it gave him now the reason for sharing with who he was hoping would be his new friends the joy of the Word, and the companionship of Jesus which he was sure would not be unwelcome.
Before he spoke though, Lenny was stilled with the thought, I am a different person now. I feel like something. I feel like I can talk to these people, and that I have something to say, something worth saying. I’m not even intimidated by that pretty girl, because I’m not talking to them because of that. I’m just interested in Jesus. How did this happen?
He realized instantly that it was God. God had changed him. In his mind he spoke to God. God, you took nothing, and made it into something. It was a surprisingly profound thought, so in his mind he said it again. You made something out of nothing. Thinking about himself of course, Lenny was amazed that he felt so differently. He could see that he had actually changed.
“At least that’s what this guy right here knows, isn’t it?”
Lenny was woken up by the voice of the man sitting closest to him. It was the shorter of the two men who Lenny had not heard speak up till now. Lenny looked to see his face smiling genially, his stubbled chin poking out, looking unabashedly at Lenny with a comfort level that made him feel accepted, even before he opened his mouth. The man’s other three friends all looked expectantly at Lenny with the same expression on their faces.
“Don’t you?” he said. “You know what it’s like to know God.”
Lenny’s whole face blossomed into a smile. How did he know! If nothing else, this was the highest compliment.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “Yes. How did you know?” Lenny shook the startlement off himself. “I don’t know how you knew, but I was just sitting here thinking about talking to you, and I knew we would be friends.”
The group looked slightly amused, each looking from one to the other with small exclamations of surprise. All except for the man closest to him who had started the conversation. He looked decidedly unsurprised, staring at Lenny with the confidence of one who had seen what he had seen and was instantly convinced. He looked unflinchingly at Lenny, a wide, matter-of-fact grin, as if he’d known him his whole life.
Lenny didn’t even wait to be asked, but scooted his chair over to their table.
“Oh, yes,” Caroline echoed. “Come and join us.”
“I believe I will!”
Lenny was surprised at the jovialness with which he spoke, so earnest and casual. My, he had changed!
The tall man with the deep voice spoke. “You know Caroline already,” motioning to her. “My name is Craig. And this is Bobby and Cammy.”
Cammy was the pretty one. Lenny did note that in spite of himself.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you Lenny,” Craig continued.
“You, too. Nice to meet y’all.”
He took a polite second to look at each face around the table and land on Bobby sitting next to him.
“And you,” he said. “Why do I feel like I know you already?”
Bobby smiled a little wider and rocked in his seat. “Maybe you do.” He looked around at his three friends and they shared a laugh. “Why does it seem like you know us already?”
Lenny thought. He didn’t know why, but he did feel that way.
“I don’t really know, but I do.” He had to think a little more, looking from face to face, considering his emotions. This was something he wanted: friends. Also, friends who had more experience with God than he did.
His eyes narrowed a bit as he started to say something, pausing under the weight of it.
“I’m a new Christian. Up till now I haven’t had anyone to talk to about it. There’s my friend, Bill, but he doesn’t understand. I’m just giving him time.”
Lenny looked down, thinking. Looking back to his new friends, he continued.
“He’ll come around. I know he will. God promised me—”
Lenny stopped himself.
“That’s alright. You can say that. ‘God promised you,’” Bobby encouraged.
Lenny was startled he had put it that way. “Yes. God promised me that he would do his part. He kept telling me…” Lenny realized at this moment how strange it sounded to say that God was talking to him, but knew that his new friends probably knew exactly what he was talking about, and gained new confidence.
“He kept telling me to be patient and wait. He would get through to Bill if I left it alone.”
Bobby said to Lenny, “Some plant, some water—”
“But God gives the increase!” Craig’s low hum finished his friend’s sentence.
Wow. They knew that verse, too.
Lenny spent an hour or more talking to his new friends. He told them about his new experiences with God, and they amazed him with tales so similar to his own that he learned God helped other people in the same amazing way that he had helped him. Their stories were unique in their own ways, but the same in so many more. God was always kind. He was always patient. He was always helpful, teaching them how to know him, how to get the truth from him when the whole world lies to you. God was a Father, a hands-on Father with his children.
There was only one interruption to their euphoric little chat. On his way out of the coffee shop, the illustrious customer who had objected to Caroline’s evangelical laugh planted himself at the end of their table on two widespread feet and tried to lambast them again. Each person in their little group seemed to have something to say to him, calmly for the most part giving him their reasons for loving God the way they did, dismissing most his objections to the existence of God with testimonies of wonderful things he had done in their lives.
“How do you know that was God,” he would ask. And they would tell him in no uncertain terms exactly how they knew.
By the end of it, huffing and puffing, he stormed out of the shop, slightly less full of himself and a little cowed. As before the four friends set everyone at ease with their light manner for a couple of minutes before they gathered their things and left, Lenny in tow.
On the street the conversation continued as the little group took in the sights. The culmination of their afternoon was an invitation to come to church with them, which Lenny had made up his mind to accept even before they offered.
Lenny’s walk home was filled with the thought that he could hardly wait.
The rest of that afternoon and into the evening, Lenny opened up to Bill as he had done many times before. He had no idea all the things he had to say until they began to pour out of him. When Lenny told Bill about finding that verse while he was watching the house in the mountains, his journey through the Bible over the following weeks trotted out behind it. His discovery of stories in the Bible he never knew were there came out. Finding phrases that had always meant something to Lenny when he’d heard them in passing, and then discovering that they were there in the Bible had him shaking his head and clasping his hands, struggling to make Bill see.
Bill was seeing a new person. He was seeing the Lenny that he always knew was there, hidden away from the world. At first he was worried, but as the confidence in Lenny became clearer, and the colors which he’d seen faintly became brighter, Bill became convinced that his friend was experiencing something real. He had heard stories about this. He had just never seen it before, and in a friend, it was mysterious and rattling, because Lenny was not making this up. Bill knew that, and in Lenny’s words was beginning to be opened up to him the possibility of a bright world gradually shining through and overcoming his own lackluster reality.
Was it too much to hope for? Could this bright, perfect place be his too? He was curious, curious in a way that made him really want it, but he had no idea whether he might ever know it for himself. It seemed beyond him.
Lenny saw the inward struggle of his friend, and his heart went out to him. He wasn’t sure if Bill needed reassurance that he was alright, or if was just judging him, but he chose to believe the most hopeful version of Bill’s needs which he felt as a glimmering possibility deep in his heart.
“Hey, Bill,” Lenny said, a fountain of love welling up inside him. “You know, you can have this, too. And then we can be brothers in this, like we already are in life. We can get to know God together. I’ll do my best to show you how. It’s not even hard.”
Lenny had not thought about this before, but he was seeing just how much of this had been God’s leading. To try to tell Bill how to do it would basically be saying, ‘Trust God to show you.’ He wasn’t sure how helpful that would be.
“Bill, you just talk to God. He’s listening, right now even before you say anything. He knows you’re going to say it. Just talk to him, and see if he doesn’t answer.”
Bill twisted his mouth and jerked his head backwards, a heart full of doubts.
“Just talk to him? It doesn’t seem like it should be that simple.”
Lenny thought about his own experience.
“It is that simple. That’s what happened with me.”
Lenny turned his eyes away for a moment. He remembered having that thought, ‘What if God was really in your heart,’ and tried to recall what happened next, or what led up to it. He remembered he had corrected himself for looking up. He had told himself that if God was in his heart, he need not look up to see him. He looked right there with him. He had believed God was right there with him.
“The most important thing you can do is look for God to be right here with you. That’s where he is, not somewhere else, not up in Heaven. I mean, I suppose he is in Heaven, but he’s here with you, too, and he wants you to know he’s there for you in your heart already. He wants you to know him there. Here…” Lenny said, looking at Bill and holding his hand over his chest. “He wants you to know he’s right here, and he’s here for you to know.”
“Don’t I need to get saved first?”
Lenny thought about himself. He had not had some conversion experience the way they preach it in church. He had not said, ‘Lord, forgive me for my sins.’ The truth was he already believed in Jesus before God ever spoke to him. It was why when he heard God, when he looked for God in the air around him, there was no question in his mind that his experience was with Jesus. Lenny knew that Bill was the same way. Lenny and Bill had always believed in Jesus.
So Lenny asked him, “Aren’t you already saved?”
Bill faltered a bit. “Well, yeah, I guess I am. But I mean, don’t I have to go up in church and pray with the preacher or something—no, wait a minute.”
It was filtering it’s way through Bill’s head.
“I know better than that. You’re right, Lenny, we’ve always known God was real.”
Bill looked between his knees at the lake, glistening beyond the deep blue shadow of trees.
“I just didn’t know he could talk to me.”
Lenny’s heart went out to his friend, but he had no clue what to do other than to leave him in his dilemma. He didn’t feel much like joining Bill in drinking the rest of the beer, which after the two Lenny did drink, Bill made up for by drinking until he passed out slobbering. He couldn’t help feeling a little bad for him, but at the same time he also felt he had to maintain his own commitment to God, and had a tinge of resentment, not towards Bill, but towards the idea of blurring his senses to avoid the clear, sweet influence of God in the sober and pristine night. He watched his own vision blur as he drank his beers and began to drift into a wavering state, and couldn’t escape the distinct impression that what he was feeling was a cheap substitute for the blessed calm of knowing God. He had finished the first one and just started on the second when he decided he didn’t want any more. It didn’t have the same appeal as it once did.
Lenny volunteered to drive when they went home the next morning. Even after a sobering crisp sunrise and a delicious, hearty meal of lovely trout, Bill was just a bit shaky still. Lenny would have offered even if that wasn’t the case, though, to try to make up for the state in which he felt somewhat responsible for having put his friend. He took it easy over the bumpy dirt road which stretched about five miles to the highway in solemn silence.
Bill’s head dipped low and he napped.
Lenny stopped at a gas station for refreshments, the first sugar he’d had since they left. He loved that the air was still crisp as he tromped through the lot into the store and filled the tank. He opened the truck door with a creak and threw a pack of Funions at his friend which he knew were his favorite. Bill startled awake, said thankyou, popped it open and poked two fingers inside.
Bill looked quizzically into his bag of chips. “Why’d you let me drink so much last night? I could’a used a chaperone.”
“I tried to stop you. You feeling better? I got you a water.”
“Oh, fair to middlin’.” He scooped another chip out of the bag contemplatively. “You know what I was thinking? I was thinking you ought to be a preacher or something.”
“Oh, stop it!” said Lenny.
“Yeah. You’d make a good one, up there with a white suit, preaching in parking lots and TV and whatnot. You’d be a right good old one.”
Lenny glared at his friend.
“No?” Bill asked. “What’s the matter, you don’t want to be a preacher?”
Lenny started to respond, but caught himself. He wouldn’t let himself be baited. Bill had tried this last night, but he was drunk then, so it didn’t amount to anything. Now when he said it, it sounded a bit mean.
Lenny had been through things like this with Bill before. Most friends had. He knew the best thing would be to let him cool off. They didn’t say much the rest of the way home, but Lenny prayed under his breath. Bill tried a couple more barbs and went silent.
When the sun was at it’s warmest, Bill seemed a bit more coherent. They agreed to disagree for the time being. Though Lenny still held out hope, he realized his friend had to make his own decision. Lenny couldn’t make him talk to God, or be the one who talked for God. It was between Bill and God alone.
He’d said his peace. Still, it was his best friend in the world. His emotions told him to try harder, but in his heart there was a definite something holding him back. It told him to wait. It made him think of something he’d read: “Some plant, some water, but God gets the increase.” The Bible always seemed to make Lenny feel better. This time it made him feel he had done his part. Be patient, and let God do his.
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Cozy in their spot, Lenny and Bill watched the tranquil lake and dozed a part of the afternoon away. When dusk began to settle, they uncovered their canoe from its hiding place and set on the water a while with their reels propped against the side, lines dangling, drifting lazily.
Now seems as good a time as any, Lenny thought. Then he remembered he was supposed to be waiting on God’s leading. Lenny became agitated because of it. He had not learned yet how to yield to God in a challenging moment.
God gave him a little help, then, reminding Lenny of his favorite verse.
He that humbles himself… came to Lenny’s mind. He looked inwardly with a feeling of being caught in a wrong. He focused on the words and purposefully submitted himself to God in his heart, picturing the little child. He imagined the simple, obedient state of mind of a child quietly submitting to his mother or father. Then he thought of it being Jesus. Can you imagine Jesus being the one who called you over? The gentleness of his command, the unquestionable goodwill, the certainty of his authority easing you into calm would pull you in. Lenny imagined that even as he felt that very pull bringing his mind into trusting innocence. Then his heart settled willingly into sync with God, and he was fine again.
The lake was beautiful as always. Lenny sat admiring it. A little fish turning on its side and darting downward plopped his tail on the surface, and Lenny listened to the sound flee over the ripples it had created to the farthest edge of the lake and return to him hollowly, turning the calm expanse into nature’s subtle drum. The lake mirrored pale yellow the slanting light of the late day. The canoe bobbed gently. The small licking sounds of water focused his attention on the extreme lack of noise where, with eyes closed, the few audible reminders of the water’s presence left a cool, reverent hush.
It was very quiet.
When he thought about it, Lenny realized he was at peace in a way he’d never felt before. He was always at peace at the lake, but now he didn’t dread going back to anything in his regular life. Whatever worries had remained at the back of his mind even when he was out here had dissolved. He realized he had let go of stress over regular life issues. He wasn’t worried about his job. God was taking care of him. He wasn’t worried about what his family would think of him. God approved of him. What more could he want?
To his eyes there was a glow in his surroundings, calm in his very own perfect place in the world. There was nothing to dread. He was completely secure in God. The God of all Heaven and Earth held Lenny in the palm of his hand. He felt that. He leaned back and gave a big, long sigh.
Bill looked at him.
“What are you thinking?”
Lenny didn’t answer. Another plop from a rogue fish, and his mind was suddenly filled with an image of Jesus pushing a small boat out from the water’s edge to speak to a crowd gathered on the shore. Lenny saw Jesus standing in a boat in the middle of the lake speaking to people hidden in the dusk among the trees, barely above a whisper at times, yet heard clearly by the silent listeners laid bare with every word.
‘That’s why he did that,’ he thought. ‘Like every little sound out here, his voice would carry across the water!’
He remembered the time he went camping with the Scouts as a boy. There was a mountain which, when he was about halfway up, from a clearing among the rocks, you could speak, and the boys at the bottom could hear you clearly, a natural auditorium.
He thought of Jesus speaking to a crowd from the side of a mountain with the same gentle tone that he imagined his voice would be carried across the water, and realized the Master of the Universe knew how to use his created wonders to amplify his voice as well as any modern sound system would today.
The world must have been much quieter then.
“What is it?”
Brought back from his reverie, Lenny stared wide-eyed at Bill, and for a moment his mind would not comprehend. When he did, he looked at Bill, calculating his response. He couldn’t say anything without letting on about his secret. But then he and Bill had always talked about God up at the lake. Before he could second guess himself, he found himself saying simply what was on his mind.
“Jesus spoke to people on the water.”
“He did?” Bill said, recoiling a bit with the sudden reference.
A small laugh escaped Lenny’s lips as he looked at Bill with smiling eyes.
“Yeah. He would get in a boat and push off the shore where he could talk to the people across the water. Listen.”
Lenny paused to let the sounds of the lake illustrate.
“You hear every little thing out here. Right?”
Amidst the lap of the lake and the tweets of birds echoing sharply from places invisible across the great leap from the covering of trees on the far side, Bill’s face showed steadily progressing signs of comprehension.
“Oh, I see! He could talk from that boat, and everybody would hear him!”
“Well. That’s really something.” Bill was intrigued now. “What made you think of that?”
“I don’t know. I was just sitting here, listening to the sound of that fish plopping on the surface, and it came to me. It came to me. I could just imagine how his voice must’ve carried across the water, and then I imagined he knew what he was doing—and then I saw the whole thing, and Jesus was walking on the water, and speaking from the mountain, and his voice was echoing down in the canyon…”
Lenny stopped short. He looked at Bill with his wonder-filled eyes, then looked away, withdrawing into himself again.
Bill wasn’t sure what to think. He’d never seen this side of Lenny before, and that was saying a lot.
“What’s going on with you, Len? How do you know all that?”
“It’s in the Bible.”
“Since when do you read the Bible?”
Lenny realized it was out now. Feeling the release, he addressed Bill matter-of-factly.
“Since a couple of weeks ago. Bill, I had something happen to me. Something good. Real good.”
“Something happen to you?” Bill looked concerned. “What do you mean?”
“Lenny had never said this before. He had not considered the words he would use. When they came out of his mouth, he wondered how he came by them.
“I had an encounter with God.”
Bill almost sounded mad, but Lenny knew better than to think that.
“He came to me.”
Lenny paused, thinking he sounded like one of those kooks. That wasn’t the way he wanted his friend to see him. So he tried to lead Bill into it the way he now knew the Lord had led him into it.
“Have you ever had the thought, what if God was really in your heart, you know, the way they say he is?”
Bill relented a little.
“Yeah. I’ve heard ‘em say that.”
“Well, he is! That’s what I found out. I talked to God in my heart, and he answered.”
“Aw, c’mon now.”
Lenny realized that wasn’t any better.
“Look. I was walking down the street one day, just walking to the store. And I started thinking about it, and I realized God was there to talk to if I wanted. It just happened. So…”
He paused to let it come out as gently as he could.
“I started talking to him, and he answered.”
“Aw, c’mon, Len. You know what they say about people who say stuff like that. They say they’re crazy. You’re not crazy. I know you.”
“Yeah, I know you do, and I’m not crazy. You’re right. But it’s real.” Lenny looked up into his friend’s eyes. “Bill, God is real.”
Bill sat back in his seat a little bit. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right. Len, we always thought God was real. I mean, look around! You can’t doubt God is real when you look at all this. I know you’re right. But this… Len, I don’t know.”
Lenny couldn’t help a little smile. He knew exactly how Bill felt.
“Hey, I felt the same way the first day. I didn’t know what to think. But God got me through all that. Now I’m as happy as I know how to be. Happier even.”
Lenny shook his head in awe, thinking.
“It’s just amazing. God has changed my life.”
An instrumental acoustic guitar song with horns accompanying. Relaxing, good for meditating.
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Hunkered over a fledgling fire on the gray bank of the lake, the sizzle and orange glow breaking up the blackness of the wee morning hours was causing a stir. Lenny began humming a familiar tune. Bill responded with a jig.
“I love the thought of a fish fresh-caught.”
“Fresh-caught fish, my favorite dish.”
“Do a little jig while I eat like a pig.”
They were taking turns.
“Fishin’ all day n’ matter what they say.”
“Stick my shoe in a gumbo stew.”
“Timbuktoo, and how about you!”
As dumb as it was, the last line was their favorite, almost shouting ‘how about you!’ at the end and always laughing. It was silly, but fun, known only to initiates, and part of their private language.
Cubby hole language, that’s what they called it. They forbade each other to use it around anyone else. If one of them started telling one of their secrets in regular conversation, the other would gently remind him to keep their confidentiality, saying, ‘That’s cubby hole language you’re using right there.’ Even their parents, though they might have known what the Cubby Hole was, could only guess to which part of the conversation they were referring, and why.
Bill laid the fish delicately in the pan with a reverent hush bowing slightly towards Lenny, the orange glow filling his features as he leaned forward over the fire. He was grinning. The fish only took a moment to sizzle. The pair fell into the routine of preparation, consumption, and clean up, an orange spot of life bobbing in the dark on the edge of the lake.
As the sun began to eek across the horizon, they noiselessly readied their tackle and reels and scanned the water’s edge for likely spots. Even though they didn’t say anything, each honed in on their joint purpose. Part competition, part collaboration, they would fill their cooler for the day and spend the rest of the time in casual catch-and-release, sunning themselves, and talking about life, but the morning hours were for silent trolling of the water’s edge. They drifted away from each other in their singular purpose, working their way down the banks, and would see one another back at camp around nine.
The phone was a no-no on the lake because the ringer could scare the fish. They didn’t expect to hear from one another, but they did have them just in case they needed to. That was something that had changed since they were boys. Even though, they probably wouldn’t have needed them if one or the other was in trouble. They were in rare sync when they were up at the lake. They remained aware of one another, attuned to the feeling of distress or relative contentment, gathering with their senses the sight, the sound, the scent, the whole attitude of all that surrounded them in the trees and wind and the pin-dropping of sound across the placid surface of the water.
Of course at the lake, you could say that it was practically always an oasis of complete calm. There were no disturbances other than gentle contention with natural forces. The only thing that could alter lake time was a brooding sky. The immediacy of a storm, the announcement of the low rumbling thunder, clarified your focus, brought you into the great, beautiful present, chasing you under shelter with fat raindrops clipping at your heels. That was natural. It was serene. The worries of regular life didn’t hold weight when you were out there. No struggles in civilization were as straightforward, or as electrifying in the moment as a storm.
If the sanctity of the morning silence and its stealth along the banks was held precious, then the relax and companionship between the two friends during the afternoon hours was deeply treasured. Lenny watched Bill make his way towards him along the water’s edge, picking his way through the trees dangling three fish on a string. He had the passing thought whether this was a good time to say what he wanted to say. It was quickly gone, though, with the assurance in his heart to stay relaxed, and not to worry. His jaw tightened in spite of it, steeling himself with his accustomed measure of emotional control as he kept his eyes fixed on the broiling pan in front of him.
“Hey, partner,” Bill said, hanging his string of fish on a branch.
Lenny said nothing, staying in character. He waited for Bill to grab a beer, put his fish on ice, and settle himself on a log.
“Good fishin’ this morning?”
“Oh, yeah. You caught a few I see.”
Bill had just seen Lenny’s catch when he put his fish in the cooler. Lenny was distracted when they started. He was surprised he had caught anything at all. But once he had a bit of a think and felt a whole beautiful set of emotions accompanying a beautiful sunrise with God ministering to his heart, he caught two prize winning fish with a bright and colorful sheen on their scales. He felt like God had given him those fish to honor the time Lenny spent occupied with their conversation. He had spoken almost in a normal voice, far enough from Bill that he wouldn’t notice, abandoning the notion of the silent pursuit in order to have a pristine experience with God out in Bill and Lenny’s special place. In Lenny’s mind, it seemed to have been almost a dedication his time with his friend to God, and he was filled with gratitude.
His greatest challenge now was to act as if everything was the same in front of his friend. Not that he had to, he told himself. It’s not like Bill could read his mind. Of course Bill had noticed when he responded differently earlier that morning. Lenny counted on him to continue to let him be if he said nothing, and like the good friend he was, he knew Bill would do just that.
“Hey, Lenny.” Lenny could hear the laugh in Bill’s voice before he looked up.
“You remember that time when we were kids, and your Dad caught us looking up that baby-sitter’s skirt?”
Lenny guffawed. “Yeah, I remember that.”
“What was her name?”
“Yeah, Marlene.” Bill shook his head. “We couldn’t help it. She was just too much.”
Lenny laughed, blinking tears out of his eyes, remembering how gullible the girl, four years his senior, was when they would throw the ball low enough to make her bend over. He laughed harder when he remembered that she did it every single time.
“I still wonder if she knew what we were doing. She never said a word about us making her reach down and get that ball. Just kept bending over, bending over.”
“’Whew, I’m getting tired.’”
“That’s right! She kept saying that!”
“I know! She had to know.”
Lenny shook his head, still unsure. “Dad sure knew. We didn’t even see him standing there on the porch. When he yelled at us to come in the house, I about jumped out of my skin!”
“How is your old Dad?”
Lenny hadn’t even considered saying anything about this new experience to his hard old Pop. That would probably be a bridge left uncrossed as long as possible.
“Aw, pretty good. You know, he’s getting along.”
“Mom’s alright too. How about you? You’re always asking me these questions…”
They both chuckled. Bill always seemed to be the one who liked to talk.
“Oh, don’t start with me, Lenny. You know when you get going good, you can talk a mile a minute. I still say it’s because you keep it all pent up inside, and when somebody comes along and pricks you with a pin, you just out-with-it.”
Now Bill was really starting to use some of that Cubby Hole language. Lenny instantly recalled about a dozen or so times he had just poured out his heart to Bill up at the lake. Nowhere else on earth had he ever done that, or to anyone else.
“You’re the only one who could get me to do it.”
Bill looked amused. Under the amusement, Lenny also saw he was a little bit flattered.
“Well, that’s what makes us such good friends, I suppose.”
Lenny felt glad looking at his friend in that moment. It was true, so very true.
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“Haven’t heard from you in a minute.”
Lenny’s friend, Bill, had been going through something himself. He had a fine life. He felt good. His job was stable. But something was missing. He wasn’t enjoying hanging out as much as he once did. He felt like even though things were going smoothly, he wasn’t going anywhere. Other people seemed to have full lives. His was just moving along.
He had recently taken a week vacation at the beach. He enjoyed himself, but he had not come home with any earth shattering revelations about what to do with himself. He saved money, so it wasn’t like he dreaded the future. He felt like he was doing well, but that wasn’t enough.
These thoughts weren’t exactly at the forefront of his mind, though. He wasn’t strictly speaking aware that he was bothered by any of this. He rationalized his slight discontentment, tried to tell himself to be happy because he was comfortable. He had friends, had things he enjoyed, like fishing and working in the yard.
There was always one thing that seemed to give him a lift. That was talking to his friend, Lenny. They’d known each other since they were kids, and had never lived more than a few miles apart. There were times they had stayed out of each other’s way, especially if one or the other had a girlfriend at the time, but if they didn’t speak for a month or more, they both would miss it.
Lenny had thought about Bill quite a lot over the last couple weeks. His biggest thought was how, if, and when he would tell Bill about his relationship with God. How did you explain it? Lenny knew Bill believed in God. They had talked about it every once in a while, more when they were younger. It usually came down to them musing about God being real. They almost always came back to how beautiful the Creation was. Surely it meant there was a God. How could you doubt it tucked under a cool hood of trees, sitting on the damp sand at the edge of a lake, looking out at the bright, glistening water on a sunny day while you baited your hook and laughed about something with your bosom friend, and all the world was right?
Bill spent a lot of time thinking he wanted life to go back to being like that.
Musing on the phone, Bill lapsed into silence while Lenny waited.
“Thinking about the lake again?” Lenny asked.
“Oh, yeah!” he chortled. “Thinkin’ about that old lake.”
“It’s been a long time.” Lenny only gave it a moment’s thought. “Let’s go this weekend.”
“Hell yeah, now you’re talkin’! Let’s go!”
Lenny hadn’t wanted to cuss since he’d seen God so clearly with him. Though he winced, it was ever so slight, and he had to admit he felt no judgment coming from God because of it. He immediately adopted the attitude he thought God seemed to have, and let it drop without another thought, except this. ‘God doesn’t seem to mind. I know I don’t feel any different about Bill because of it. I suppose it isn’t my place to judge.’
With that Lenny decided not to bring it up.
Lenny had three days to prepare himself before they went. He had been focusing on God, wondering how things would work out with his friend when he told him. Lenny felt the key was to let God be God. He believed if he focused on God, God would give him the answer. He would tell him what to do, and how he should be. He even asked God what he thought he should say, or how. He felt nothing when coming to God about it except that open, simple trust like a child. He looked into God and felt safe, as if God was saying don’t worry about it. All you need is this. Just trust me.
It was a feeling Lenny would learn over the years was truly precious. He was beginning to learn how to trust. He was just like that little child standing there, patient and guileless. He had no plan in that moment, standing before God simply. He was simply himself, and God was the mover. In this he felt complete.
It made Lenny tear up a little while he stood winding string around his lure and thinking about the upcoming trip. God had made things so easy for him. Lenny knew he was real, and standing still over his work table, focused in on that tiny task, the way that God had amazed him with his presence and bolstered his heart left Lenny feeling grateful.
Lenny was a simple enough man to appreciate it. He couldn’t help the feeling that was coming over him. He knew God would always be with him. Right now standing there, it felt like this could never change. God would brood over him. Even as the feeling faded, Lenny recognized that God was staying tangibly present long enough to let him know for sure. He would always be there. Nothing could change it. Lenny felt down deep that it was true.
Bill’s familiar face was a welcome sight. Lenny had spent a lot of time alone since God had made himself known to him. He wasn’t the slightest bit lonely, though, because… well, he wasn’t alone, was he?
Bill had a look on his face that always reminded Lenny of one time when they were boys. It was a pensive look, like he had a secret. Lenny remembered the first time Bill had that look because his parents made him tell them what he was thinking. Bill made up something, and then told Lenny when they were alone about a stash of fireworks they were going to set off in this old man, Pinkerton’s, mailbox.
The reason Lenny remembered it so well is because they got caught. Pinkerton had come running out of the house, waving his cane in the air. Lenny’s first thought had been, ‘Gee, that’s funny. He’s running awfully fast to be needing that cane.’ He was about to find out Mr. Pinkerton only used the cane to ward off dogs and pesky kids.
When that cane came across Lenny’s shoulder, he heard a loud ‘Whack!’ You know how a good whack with something doesn’t start hurting right away. The second or two it took Lenny to feel it was enough time to see Pinkerton withdraw the cane in two pieces. Bill guffawed in spite of himself, one foot slipping under him and going halfway down before the other foot caught him and catapulted him into a dead run.
Even though it hadn’t hit his head, whenever Bill thought of that, he would call Lenny hardhead. Sometimes it was ‘hardhead Pinkerton,’ but both of them knew that he was really saying Lenny was the hardhead—even though it had actually cracked across his shoulder. It was also because even though Lenny had a welt for the next week, it didn’t really bother him.
“Boy, that’s some hard head you got there,” said Bill with boyish admiration. He said it enough times that week for ‘hardhead’ to became a term of endearment.
Lately Bill had taken to shortening it.
“Well, if it isn’t H.H., my bosom buddy!”
“Hey, Bill. What’s going on. You ready for this trip.”
“Don’t you know it. I’ve been looking forward to this since before three days ago. Heck, I’ve been looking forward to this since we left the last time. I wish we could’a just stayed.”
Lenny started to say ‘You and me, both,’ but didn’t. He couldn’t say it, because he felt in his heart that there was nothing in the world that he wanted to change about the last two weeks. If he had been living up at the lake, he wouldn’t have been walking to the store that day, and if he hadn’t been walking to the store that day, he might not have been thinking about God, and none of this might have happened. So he smiled sheepishly, holding his secret inside.
Noticing the strange look on Lenny’s face, Bill asked suspiciously, “What was that?”
Lenny knew Bill wouldn’t ask again if he didn’t want to answer. Lenny pictured himself answering the question later, when they were in their relaxed place at the lake in the ideal moment of tranquility.
Lenny looked down at his pack. He unzipped it and noticed his spice shaker on top. He reached in and grabbed it, and held it reading his homemade label. Bill and Lenny’s Special Blend. Thinking about cooking fish over the fire made his mouth water. Just a touch of spice. Just a little sparkle with the taste of fresh-caught. They had taught themselves to cook with the skin in the pan to give it a little oil for a light fry and crisp the surface where the pan touched. They had perfected their method together, carefully comparing and inspiring technique over many hot panfuls steaming in their faces as they marveled. Their fire would barely smoke. They even had that down to an art, incubating their fish at perfect temperature, two big logs on the outside to hold the pan while the middle burned with orange glowing coals between them.
It was their favorite meal on earth.
On cold nights they’d have a big, woody fire on the side. They kept a spade for digging embers out of that one to add to the grill fire. Tending to their fish on one side and the larger fire on the other, most nights you didn’t need a coat, but add that extra layer, and even in the middle of the winter it was almost as good as a camper.
Lenny held the spice can in the air and gave it a little shake.
“Ooh,” Bill brightened. “Looking forward to that!”
Lenny knew the sound of the shaker would cue Bill into smelling the fish in the pan, feeling the warmth of the fire, and seeing the lake in the gray evening light just like it did him.
“Look what I got.”
Bill pulled a fish out of the fridge. Lenny admired the shiny skin.
“Caught him yesterday. Figured on having ‘im as soon as we get there.”
“I don’t suppose you caught one for me?”
Bill pulled another one out of the fridge. “Got lucky.”
Lenny glanced towards the fridge. “How many you got in there?”
“Just these two. Any more would go to waste. You know by now the cubby hole is gonna be swimming with ‘em.”
Lenny looked up. He hadn’t thought of that. It had been long time since they went to the lake. It would have become thoroughly replenished by now.
“I suppose it will.”
Rattled by the experience, the would-be abductor and stalker shook in his seat. The clammy confines of his car was a paltry sanctuary, but he was grateful for it. ‘Can’t sit here long,’ he thought. He knew the police were wary of people sitting in cars alone. He started the engine and relished the heat for a moment before pulling off.
He couldn’t believe he had come so close to becoming one of those people. He never would have done it. That’s what he told himself. But now he didn’t know if that was true. How much further would he have had to have been pushed to break that threshold and do something awful from which he could never return?
2. Humble Myself
Lenny hardly thought about his ex anymore. When he did, it was with regret for the way he’d reacted when she told him her doubts, but now he felt that there was hope even without her.
Lenny’s outlook had changed. He knew God was real. He had thought so before, but now he knew. The only problem was he now had no idea what to do next. He could just wait for God to show him more, and part of him felt that this was his only option. But another part of him believed it meant he was supposed to do something about it.
He felt a little unsure of himself. Whether he stood in his backyard and stared at the sky, or he was going from place to place out in the world, he knew God was with him, and he felt that God was aware of him. But Lenny didn’t know what to do with that. It felt great knowing God was watching over him. He knew his life would never be the same, but he did not know what this new life would be.
Lenny looked at God in wonder.
He wasn’t aware it was happening, but God was leading him. Lenny was about to see something that would show him this was true.
Lenny worked for a moving company. He also had a side-gig house sitting for some of the high end clients that contracted with them. His boss suggested him to clients in need of someone to ensure the security of their properties during their transition. The houses he watched were always very nice.
After work he took his boss’s car which he would park in front of the house so it would look occupied over the weekend. After stopping by the store he was on his way. The long drive gave him time to think. This was the first time he had done one of these jobs since he’d had this experience with God. He wondered what might happen. With the weekend stretched out before him, all he had was time.
The drive was uneventful. If anything he didn’t feel that God was paying him any particular attention. It was just a long ride.
Yet he was thinking about God. He realized that he must be feeling more comfortable with God. Thinking about him didn’t feel so foreign.
He spoke under his breath, “It’s just another day, God.” He glanced at the clear sky, noting the lightness and ease. “Another day with you.”
He breathed in and out slowly, taking it in. “This feels good.”
Lenny watched the hills roll by. It was pleasant. The colors were soothing. The details were crisp. Here he was, appreciating nature again. He looked to God for a moment, remembering their talk about the trees. There were trees here, too, flying by like arrows standing up in the earth, then racing away, revealing wide fields with crop sections like a patchwork quilt furling out to the horizon.
The house was a big, blocky thing with white siding and about fifty windows adorned with dark blue shutters like falsies for blinking eyes. Bushes were casually trimmed teardrop shapes lining the front. All very ordinary. A brush pebble drive curled a half circle to the front door. Lenny parked conspicuously and migrated with his things into the empty house.
He checked all the entrances and windows, took a gander at the water heater, and checked the garage as he always did when first entering a client’s house. They had a pool out back. He wouldn’t swim, but he might sit out in the sun in the afternoon. He put his groceries on the kitchen counter, set up his folding chair and table, and laid out his air mattress to blow up before bed.
He sat for a moment looking out, then dragged his chair onto the porch. His eyes absorbed his surroundings. He scanned the pool and the landscape with houses planted sparsely, connected by a single small gravel drive meandering from house to house.
‘Rustic,’ Lenny thought.
If the driveway and the scenery was rustic, the houses were anything but. Each of them was an individual mansion tucked away in the boondocks. Lenny imagined all the garages with Land Rovers and Humvees inside.
This was the life.
What did you have to do to get a house like this? A life like this? He wondered if their clients had to sell because whatever life that gave them this house had begun to fall through. He could imagine that things would become too expensive fairly quickly at the rate to maintain this lifestyle if one’s source of income waned.
Lenny had the thought he often did in these houses. His side-gig was like getting paid to take mini vacations in exotic places. He watched as the sun went down, the shades of light, purple and yellow, and finally fiery red for that five minute span of brilliance, turn the hills into an ever changing artist’s canvas, the sky being the palate where the colors were toned to the many delicate hues splotched down on us in rapid succession.
He shook his head and whispered complimentary things as he watched the noiseless procession.
“That was quite a show you put on today.”
Lenny was lying down when he began his conversation with God.
He tapped the mattress with his fingers, imagining wandering through the house. He liked to do that at night in these big places. Sometimes he saw something interesting. There was the large polished wood chandelier he had stared at for thirty minutes, trying to decide if it was just decorative, or a piece of art. That had intrigued him. The fireplace made of giant stones had him wondering how they got the stones in place. He remembered lots of fancy, elaborate sauna/hot-tub/bathhouse combos, some with a cedar theme, some in marble. The opulence of these places was sometimes mystifying.
Lenny rose to look through the house. It was an empty shell where a family once lived. With all their things gone, it didn’t feel like there was anything to intrude upon. The empty rooms were impersonal, but beautiful, inviting the imagination to fill them with new things.
He took in the downstairs in a few minutes, then moved upstairs. He felt the calm he was beginning to become accustomed to in knowing God was with him. He didn’t forget about it completely, but it had become a part of the background of his life, accompanying him gently. He felt it now as he moved down the hallway of the second floor, a comfort which he was only just beginning to recognize came from God that settled him into an unquestioning state of receiving grace.
He looked in the first room he came to. He stepped through the door in the pale light from the window that revealed the room in dark blue hues. He saw the far wall with a long counter-style desk built into it and a small lamp which he turned on rather than the overhead light. When the lamp came on, there was a single book under it, colorful, sitting by itself clearly lit. It was a picture book with a long, wide cover, but only a few pages thick. Saying something about Bible verses, as if recommendation enough, he quickly opened it to a random middle page.
There on the page by itself in a festive green calligraphy was this verse:
He that humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven…
‘Humble myself like a little child…’ Lenny thought. ‘Is that the answer? Is that all I have to do?
Lenny thought, that sounds almost too easy. He read it again.
He that humbles…
“Humble myself…” he thought aloud. He spent a moment taking that in. It seemed easy to be humble before God, because he was so awesome. That gave him hope. It seemed like he was already halfway there.
…is the greatest in the Kingdom… he read again.
Lenny looked up from the book. The words had been imprinted on his brain. He pondered, ‘the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.’ Just humbling myself like a little child makes me the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. That wasn’t hard to do. There must be a reason it needed to be said.
He thought about what might happen later down the line if he got the big head. He could see himself getting cocky, opening his mouth when he shouldn’t rather than staying humble and listening to what God had to say. He supposed that’s why it was such a simple requirement, because it was easy to turn away from it. It was also easy not to turn away. The words would keep it alive to him, a simple how-to for pleasing God.
And, ‘the greatest…’ Not, pretty good—keep at it, and one of these days, you’ll get there! No. Humble like a little child is the greatest… My God, that sounded like something he could do. Just be humble like that little child.
He looked down again and leafed through the rest of the book before walking away. Every page was dedicated to illustrating a different scripture. They were written in ways that represented the feelings in the words. The JOY of the Lord was made bigger, the PEACE, LOVE, and a SOUND MIND were in red and highlighted, with large loops in the O’s and D’s, the L was made with a long lower leg that underlined the word ‘Love’.
Lenny could see himself reading more of the Bible. He imagined taking it in like that little child listening to Jesus. He saw himself keeping that attitude as he read. He’d heard somewhere that the Bible was the key to knowing God. “You’ll never really understand the Bible until you read it for yourself,” were the words he’d heard. That had stuck with him.
Lenny had never experienced the Bible speaking so specifically to him. Ever since God had made himself clear, he had been wondering what knowing God would mean in his life, and what he should do. This simple direction, ‘humble yourself like a child,’ felt like something that wouldn’t fail. He knew he was humble. He saw that child standing there in front of Jesus waiting for instruction, yet assuming nothing, and he believed he could be just like that.
Afterall, Jesus had that kind of effect on him.