The Word of God

Epiphany on the Back Patio

An adult hipster son and senior father sitting on sofa indoors at home, talking with coffee mug in hand

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” John 3:16-17

Moving back into his dad’s house was humiliating enough but to add further ego injury to self-pitying insult, the old family pet, perhaps on its last proverbial leg, just chewed up his favorite running shoes. This was a “double-whammy” because he loved those shoes and while they literally took him everywhere their tattered remains reminded him how shredded and lifeless his life had become. He just couldn’t get it together and get his life off the ground especially with layoffs, constant cutbacks, and the collapse of his dreams and ambitions. His meager savings only went so far and although he was grateful, he had to face harsh reality and come back home where those dreams first took shape and give it another shot. His best bet, he thought, was to enroll in a local trade school and recreate himself. His father seemed to have been living in a parallel universe with similar but not equal issues brewing overhead like a threatening thunderstorm. “So close but so far” was the way he described his situation to the lifetime neighbors who would still listen. After raising two strong boys and a beautiful, talented daughter who had all moved out of that spacious homestead years before, he and his wife were just two years away from paying off the house and enjoying the future of retirement they had often discussed, even while they were dating. All that evaporated in a seemingly horrible flash of tragedy when she suffered a burst aneurysm. He had to refinance the home to help pay for the uncovered medical expenses and of course, her sad funeral which comprised, in his heart and soul, the longest day of his life.

Living together under the same roof was at times awkward and yet strangely comfortable. Both men were stubborn in their own way and didn’t really talk about their problems and struggles much. Their relationship was good at the present moment, but not great. It had been so wonderful growing up because it was like they were best friends. But at some tender, delicate point in the history of their family, the young son at sixteen suddenly discovered that he knew everything while his dad at midlife never seemed to receive enough thanks and gratitude for all the sacrifices he endured. These two men, who actually began to look a bit alike in these later years, drifted apart a bit which became painfully obvious when their wife and mother abruptly left them. And yet, as God would have it, they were a family again.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:9-10

One night, in two different bedrooms of that lonely old house, two different self-conversations were taking place. The father longed to help his son but did not want to hurt his pride or back hand insult him in any way, shape or form. His son counted the situation as unfair for his dad to have to work so hard all over again after a very full life of tireless dedication accompanied by a loving heart that just would not stop giving. They both decided to do something quite heroic and selfless, like father – like son, but behind the scenes so as not to disrupt their father-son relationship which was slowly regaining ground and depth.

The local grocery chain needed graveyard employees to stock the shelves overnight to be ready for the onslaught of customers for the following day. They also needed early morning drivers to haul inventory to and from the warehouse right before the stores would open. Over the next seven months, the son would wait for his dad to get to bed, early as was his custom, then carefully leave to start the graveyard shift to stock the shelves. And like clockwork, an hour or so after he returned and tried to get some sleep before training school, his father quietly got up, made his coffee, pet and fed the dog, and drove away to haul inventory for about five hours every day except Sunday. 

Midst this amazing scenario were at least two fascinating marvels: the first was how their little secret was so carefully guarded by them for each other, and how they never quite figured out how each month, the bank never called about the missing mortgage payment and the school never said anything about the expected mounting tuition and computer fees that had yet to be paid. It was funny in a way because both men had worked at that same location as teenagers and there they were again, many years apart, and traveling under the moonlit sky like two ships passing in the night.  Even the familiar, uniform, loose-fitting, bright blue company shirts had not been altered over the years.

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Colossians 3:14

As the seasons began their predictable moments of change and color, startling weather patterns emerged and brought unexpected bursts of thunderstorms one particular week. Although those who had called this place “home” were most accustomed to these dramatic climate mood swings, there were at least two who were not prepared. One particular gusting downpour caused momentary havoc at the store. The shelf-stocking son had been delayed and several trucks had been damaged by hail. This placed him much later than he realized to get home and get ready for school this time with no nap to revive him for the day ahead. “Thank God,” he thought, as there was a full moon to light up the drenched streets. His dad was right on time as he prepared for his day, perhaps unlike any other, and wondered why his son’s truck was already gone. And that’s when it happened. Out on the back patio, they met, one dry, one wet, both in loving astonishment for when they clapped eyes on each other, wearing that familiar uniform albeit cheaply embroidered with the store’s logo, they both immediately and simultaneously realized what had been going on for months. And with the gentle moonlight blessing their love and admiration for each other, they embraced and cried with any relatable words escaping them only to let the dawn slowly envelop them with the greatest discovery of this powerful force of wisdom and courage that would, from that moment on, ever shape their worldview, and respect that most fathers and sons could only imagine. Sometimes the hardest lesson to realize in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn. Both men decided to cross the bridge to each other and seek always to be at peace. Imagine a world where this is the rule and not the exception.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born and knows God.” John 4:7

Years have passed and the father has gone to meet his wife in their heavenly reward. Today that young man who finally got his act together has begun his own legacy of life and limb and with a wife and two young sons, his hands will be full. When they first bought their new home, miles away from his childhood neighborhood, he insisted on building an outdoor attached patio in the backyard. His wife and children understand what the back patio means and why their dad spends much-needed quiet time out there. Unquestionably, he insists on having all his most important conversations and moments outside on the back patio. It is almost a shrine and when anyone ever asks him why it’s so important, he loves to retell the story of how he found the greatest discovery under the moonlit sky after a refreshing rain.  His new dog just stares and wonders why he keeps hiding his running shoes.

He loves to say that everyone needs a back patio.

Maybe he’s right. 

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7

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Freedom at 5:11

wine glass tipped over with spilled wine surrounded by pills and full ashtray

As her perception of life as she knew it felt, the tiny bed was hard. It was one of those awful moments when the question races through the mind like a lizard on a hot sidewalk, “How did I even get here?” No one wants to have those nights and hardly anyone is ready for them. Neither was she. While the people at the rehab facility were nice enough, she did not want to be there, but she had no choice. To say that her whole world fell apart is to put it mercifully succinct. Not only her world, but her universe, and those closest to her, were taken up in the firestorm of the familiar mantra of alcohol, drugs, and rocky, opulent luxury, leaving an unhealthy and tragic pile of discarded casualties, including her husband, children, business, and bank account. 

“Out of the depths, I call to you, Lord; Lord, hear my cry!”

After a few hours of the most horrible and sickening nausea she could ever recall, with both an empty stomach and a soul that felt as if she was in free fall through a bottomless pit, she knew it was time. It was time to make the decision that was nestled deep within her tortured existence, and call out to God for whatever was left in their torn relationship. That wondrous moment arrived when as soon as she called out his name, a powerful, yet gentle aura of peace spread over her like morning dew and she knew that home would be rehab for at least three months of intense therapy and that this same person living in a tireless and meaningless cloud of ruthless storms worse than darkness, would emerge victoriously. She gently turned on her side and in the bleak, painful, and murky shadows, and saw the bright orange numbers of the digital alarm clock that looked as if it was purchased in the eighties. It seemed to burn the actual time into her brain, which houses memories that were about to be reconfigured and renewed in these final minutes before the dawn. 

It was 5:11.

The next couple of months, as she imagined, were the “best of times and the worst of times,” to quote Dickens. They were horrible because she had in fact lost everything that helped define her life thus far. She had burned every bridge imaginable, and left little than the clothes in the Hefty bag outside her door, and her driver’s license sporting a picture that screamed, “Help me!” through a forced smile that attempted to portray a life well lived when that was the farthest from the truth. 

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and I hope for his word.” 

One thing about herself that she liked the most was that she saw herself to be remarkably tenacious and resilient, especially after those first twenty-eight days of seeing life through sober eyes. She had done remarkably well in therapy and responded in a real, and at times, overwhelmingly honest fashion that helped her recovery, to an amazing degree, but also assisted those around her who were as lost and desolate as she was upon arrival. However, another real breakthrough and access to full recovery were to meet her after her time at the facility, upon her “graduation.” She had literally fallen off the face of the planet and nothing would or could ever be the same. However, as attached and stubbornly addicted as she was to the poisons of the soul which had earlier nearly destroyed her, she was equally poised and ready to begin again, from the very start. She had no home, no family, and no livelihood to speak of, so she began where everyone starts again: at the bottom. She would later say that hitting rock bottom had at least two wonderful aspects and comforting issues: it was bottom and the Rock was Jesus. 

“My soul looks for the Lord more than sentinels for daybreak.”  

Thanks to many, most of which had been in the same proverbial boat, she had help. It was going to be a long road but she was convinced that the journey would be life-giving as well as life-changing. She remembered reading John Stenbeck in college who wrote that “people don’t take trips, but rather trips take people,” and she fully agreed with that now on several levels. 

Her story continues to be re-written even at the publication of this post. People who meet her today feel a sudden gush of optimism and hope even without her saying a word. She is a walking miracle and never overlooks the chance to tell others about this “dramatic novel on two feet,” as she likes to kid without adding one more fascinating detail about the whole experience. 

Before applying for and receiving funding for a degree to recreate her professional life, one that required much sacrifice on many levels, she had to produce her birth certificate required to obtain a passport for an overseas practicum. She had learned to be patient and she knew how to teach it as well. The process of obtaining this document seemed so much trouble, but in the end, it would be worth it on at least two different accounts. The first, of course, would allow her to move forward and here is the second:

The long-awaited text finally reached her smartphone with the message that her certificate was ready but that she had the option, since she was still living in the same city, to go in person to actually sign for it or pay some bizarre amount of money to have it sent to her by some special courier arrangement. Being quite thrifty these days, having squandered so many funds on things that never truly satisfied, she decided to make a morning of it, and retrieve this timely document and meet up for lunch with her sponsor with whom she had maintained a healthy friendship. It was all so providential. Her birth certificate was ready for her and all she had to do was sign! 

The following scene was almost magical, as if time actually slowed down as she stepped outside into the bright sunlight with a cool, whispering wind caressing her ever so gently. She carefully opened the envelope and reviewed all the information. As she read the names of her parents, she sighed a little remembering them fondly, long ago passed from this life to the next, and shedding a tiny tear of longing but hope as well. In retrospect, this was to help moisten the very groundwork of her soul for what was to happen next. She read the actual time of her birth:

It was 5:11.

It would be over dramatic to say that she stood paralyzed. No, it was more like a slice of heaven raining down upon her, filling her entire being with such an innate amount of joy that clearly defied definition or, at least at that particular moment, explanation. You see, as she tells people today, the time of her rebirth in this life corresponded directly to the time of her physical birth on the planet. This coincidence was not lost on her and most likely will never be. She found her own life and freedom at 5:11, discovering that it was as precious and priceless as life itself, fresh out of the womb as it were, and she was never, ever going to lose it. 

“More than sentinels for daybreak, let Israel hope in the Lord. For with the Lord is mercy, with him is plenteous redemption. And he will redeem them from all their sins.” 

Every day you and I have myriads of opportunities to find the greatest treasures that exist within and all around us. This is why deep, abiding friendships are so necessary for the journey. More than that, we must encounter the Lord Jesus, who like for our friend who found life and freedom at 5:11, stands ready to hold us and mold us and prepare us for a journey that oftentimes escapes sufficient explanation. Open up the Bible today to any page and let the Word of God just permeate and touch you. Talk to Jesus. Let him know how you are feeling right here, right now. This is the stuff that makes of a miraculous, breathtaking, and wondrous life. This is the kind of life that Jesus truly wants for us, to thrive and not just survive. It is a life that continues to grow deeper with the passing of each day. It becomes a life where you can’t wait to get up in the morning to see what is waiting for you and feel a little tinge of sadness when it’s time to go to bed. 

Everyone has a 5:11. What is yours?

“Live life to the fullest. You have to color outside the lines once in a while if you want to make your life a masterpiece. Laugh some every day. Keep growing, keep dreaming, keep following your heart. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Albert Einstein

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