Mike shuffled through the lines to pay his entrance fee for the “county fair by the sea”.
“What am I doing here?”, he thought.
Still, he continued forward. He idly ignored the happy family of four with the two year old, laughing in her daddy's arms. Her mother held their four year old son. He ignored the obviously in love couple flirting behind him.
He stared straight ahead with a grim look on his face. He couldn't watch. It reminded him of what he'd once had and lost. The anonymity of the crowd, he hoped, would ease his loneliness.
“That'll be eight dollars, sir,” said the girl in the booth. He paid the fee and meandered off into the fair.
As he watched the nearby ocean, memories assaulted him. His beautiful Evon and little Marie. He could see them playing in the surf. More scenes played across his mind. Laughing at Marie's three year old antics. Evon and he throwing water at each other. Holding Marie on one arm and Evon's hand with the other.
A weary smile crossed his face, only to be replaced by a wince of pain as other memories invaded his reverie. The frantic phone call from Evon. The car parts strewn about the freeway. The angry policeman yelling at him as he slid to a halt near the wreck. Firemen using the jaws of life trying to cut Evon out. He was told, but didn't remember, that he'd kept yelling their names. The terrible feeling of doom that had fallen over him as he saw them lifted from the wreckage. They weren't moving.
He physically ached whenever he thought of them. He quickly averted his eyes from the surf and moved further into the fairgrounds. He took deep breaths and let them out slowly, trying to regain control of his emotions.
“Pastor Moody?” he heard a voice say.
Surprised, he looked up to see two young couples. Aaron and Heather Sinsley and John and Erica Brown. He remembers their courtships and their weddings. Then, the young couples had moved away. The Sinsleys to his North Carolina Marine base. The Browns to Florida. He shouldn't have been surprised to see the sisters and their families together here on the coast.
“Just Mike, please. I haven't pastored for more than a year.”
An awkward silence fell. Some small talk. Some offerings of prayer. Then, the group parted ways. They didn't say it, but they obviously wondered how he could've walked away from his calling. Mike wondered how he could have stayed.
“How could you take them?” he asked God for the millionth time.
Again, no answer came. So, he'd trudged on through the neon lit booths and rusty rides. Leaving his ministry behind, he'd started driving a truck. He made a good living and he wasn't bothered. How could he tell people about the love of Jesus anyway?
A piercing scream caused his blood to freeze. A thousand memories resurfaced. He forced them down and tried to walk away, but the press of the crowd gave him no choice but to move toward the cries of help. Soon, the sirens blared and the police had come, followed shortly by an ambulance. Curiosity overcame him and he made his way to a clear vantage point.
From there, he could see the scene. The young couple that had been ahead of him in the entrance line lay on the ground, their bodies twisted. Their screaming and confused children were being held back by the young couple that had been behind him. One glance told Mike that the couple was dead, having fallen from the top of the roller coaster, somehow.
Renewed rage at a God who would allow this to happen filled him. He tried to leave, but the crowd had him hemmed in.
“How could I have been so blind?” he inwardly screamed. “I told people for all those years how God loves them and he allows this kind of stuff to happen.”
A movement caught his eye.
An old man stepped from the crowd. He had gray hair, carried himself with authority, and used a shepherds staff- of all things.
“Is he trying to look like Moses?” Mike thought.
The man walked right past the officers trying to control the crowd. His attention was focused on the bodies. An EMT tried to block him, but, something about him caused the EMT to allow him access.
The crowd went silent. Hundreds watched as the old man stepped forward, knelt down, layed his hands on the corpses, and closed his eyes. After a few moments, he simply said, “In the name of Jesus, arise and be made whole.”
“Moses” (as Mike now had him dubbed in his mind) got up. Suddenly, the breath entered back into the bodies. The bones that were broken were now straight. The skin that had been opened and pouring blood, was now as smooth as a newborn's. The couple stared at each other in confusion. The other couple, who now had tears rolling down their faces, released the two children. Immediately, the kids ran to their confused and healed parents. The family embraced.
The crowd stared at “Moses” in awe. He ignored them all and headed straight for Mike. A strong hand reached out and rested on Mike's shoulder.
“My name's not Moses, it's Dewain. I've come a long way to see you. We need to go somewhere where we can talk.”
Shock displaced anger, and Mike allowed himself to be led away. They walked right out of the park and down the road.
“Why am I following this guy?” he asked himself. “He could be just out of the psyche ward, for all I know.”
Yet, for all the reasons he could think of to walk away, the memory of those two bodies coming back to life kept his feet moving. As much as he wanted to leave, he wanted answers more.
Dewain suddenly turned left down a well worn path into the woods. The night was dark and the humidity and temps were high. As they walked, Mike kept being hit by tree limbs and palm leaves. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, an opening appeared.
A fire with two tents nearby greeted Mike's vision upon entering the clearing. The tents were little more than white pup tents. A circular row of rocks surrounded the fire. Around this, sat three small canvas chairs. Mike hears the sounds of running water nearby.
“Won't you have a seat, Mike?” Dewain said as he motioned toward the chairs.
“Why are we way out here? You said we needed to talk. We could've talked anywhere. Why here? Wait. For that matter, how'd you know my name?”
“I cannot answer all your questions at once. Perhaps if we were to sit, we could have a better discussion?”
Begrudgingly, Mike sits, as does Dewain.
“Now, I suppose you need answers.”
“Answers to what?”
“To why your life fell apart, of course.”
“And a man who lives in a tent and dresses like Moses is gonna give them to me?”
“Things aren't always what they seem, my friend.”
“It seems to me they are. You want to answer all my questions about life, and you don't even have your own place to live?”
“Like my Lord before me, I have no place to lay my head.”
“How can you possibly understand what I've been through? I suppose you call yourself a prophet. Truly, you're a vagrant psychologist!”
The old man's face reddened and his countenance grew fierce. With authority in his voice, the man stood and faced Mike. “If you won't ask your questions, then maybe I should ask some of my own.”
The authority in his voice and the fire in his eyes caused Mike's angry retort to stick in his throat. The prophet continued. “Who do you think you are? How could you just walk away from the lives that the Holy One intrusted to your pastoral care?”
“How did you know...?”
“I know far more than you could possibly imagine, boy! Life is hard. Sin ravages the land right down to its roots. Souls die and face eternal flames every hour of every day. Some of those that trusted God have walked away because of your lack of a backbone. Did you think that the world revolved around you? Did you think that you had control? Only one being in the universe has control, Mike, and you certainly ain't him! How could you just walk away from them?”
Mike angrily stands. “Evon and Marie were my life! I'd die a thousand deaths for them at any time. Yet, God saw fit to take them from me. What did they ever do to deserve that? How could a truly loving God allow them to die- mangled in a car like that? How could I tell people about a loving God after seeing that? What testimony could I possibly give them that could ever compare to the loss of my family?”
In the past, on the few occasions someone had questioned him for leaving his ministry, Mike's angry retort had shamed them and turned them away. Not now.
Dewain got nose to nose with Mike, his eyes glared and veins extended on his forehead. “How DARE you! How dare you stand here in your arrogance and blame your loss and your own lack of intestinal fortitude on the almighty.”
“HE is always right,” Dewain screamed. “HE is righteous. HE is Holy. HE knows all and sees all.”
“If he's so righteous, then WHY did he take my family?” Mike's hands shook with his pain.
The prophet now spoke in a softer tone. “Evon had cancer, Mike. She was going to die a slow and painful death. Marie's life would've went in a downhill spiral from losing her mom.”
Shocked, Mike asked, “How did you know about her cancer? We'd just found out.”
Dewain gently placed his hands on Mike's shoulders. “I am his emissary, Mike. I spend my life going where he sends me. He gives me tasks and messages. He tells me what I need to know.”
When Mike looked up, he saw tears rolling down Dewain's cheeks.
“I've walked in your shoes, Mike. I lost my son. I wrestled with the very things that are tearing you apart now.”
“So...” Mike paused to get his composure, “God took my family?”
“But, you just said...”
“I told you what God knew. God didn't take them, though. The enemy of your soul caused their deaths in order to destroy your life and ministry. The Lord simply allowed it, because it suited his purposes.”
“It showed mercy to both Evon and Marie. They are both in eternity, happily engaged with their savior and the many that have gone on before. They have no more pain or suffering.”
“That's fine and wonderful for them, but what about me?” Mike said. “How can I.... How can I continue without them?”
“By giving it to him, Mike. This experience can either break you or make you. He longs to hold you in his arms. He desires to ease your pain and comfort you.”
“I walked away in anger.” Mike said- as he shook his head in defeat. “He won't have me.”
“Yes, he will.”
“But, the Bible says 'No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.' He wouldn't want me.” Mike started to walk away.
Before he could leave the clearing, Dewain responded, “Mike, it also says 'If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.”
Mike froze in mid-stride. Could it be? He looked back at the old prophet.
Tears flowed down his face. “Yes, son. He is willing and able to forgive you. He is ready to use you again.”
Mike remembered his wife and daughters deaths. Yet, now he could almost see... Wait! This isn't in his mind. Suddenly, as if through a window, he could see them! They were running towards the clearing. His clearing! They were laughing and smiling. They ran right up to Dewain.
Dewain was now facing away from him and hugging Mike's family. Yet, his clothes were changing texture and color. His skin darkened and, as the prophets robes slipped down his arm, Mike could see a nail scar on his wrist.
“What in the world....?” Mike whispered. He tried to step forward, but it was as if an invisible barrier were there. He lifted his arms and tried to reach for them, but his hands could go no farther than his feet. He screamed their names, but they couldn't hear him. Tears rolled down his face. He balled his hands into fists and dropped his head, his eyes closed against the sight.
“Why, Lord?” he asked. “Why show me this? Are you trying to taunt me? Haven't I felt enough pain?”
Gentle hands gripped his shoulders again. “I show you this to help you see where they are and what's awaiting you on the other side- IF you return to me. They truly are in a better place. Walk with me down the path's I choose for you. You will see them again in glory.”
Mike's knees lost their strength and strong hands guided him to the ground. Strong arms embraced him, as he began to pour his heart out. All his pain. All his hurt. All his anger. All lain at the master's feet. When he finally reached the end of himself, strength infused his being.
Mike stayed there, engulfed in love like he'd never felt. When he finally opened his eyes, the old man smiled.
“Shhh, son. What you have seen and felt, go and tell. Others need to hear your testimony. Go and tell them what great things God has done for you.”
“But, I'm not worthy.”
“You've been made worthy, son.”
Suddenly, as if a mist were being blown by a gentle breeze, Dewain and the rustic camp site began to disappear. The voice repeated, as if on the air, over and over, “You're worthy, son. You're worthy .”
A sharp raven's cry broke the spell. Mike looked around in surprise. He stood in the same clearing- alone in the sunshine.
“Was it a dream?” he wondered.
Immediately, a familiar “still small voice” inside him answered, “look down”.
He could see two sets of footprints- his own boots, and a set of bare feet that looked as if there was a hole in the middle of each foot. A soft smile appeared and fresh tears ran down his face .
“Thank you, Lord. Thank you.”
In response, he heard, “I love you, son.”
As he turned to leave, the old Shepherd’s staff was still there against an old oak.
“Take your staff, and go tell them of my love.”
Mike picked up the staff and headed back into the rest of his life and ministry. He'd been gone too long already.