At the Ekklesia Project conference, Kelly asked for stories about God's provision and protection, to help encourage people to trust and take risks. I haven't got around to sending any stories yet. But I thought this one might be good--I took early journal entries and developed them into a short story (it's about my first night out without food or money):
In God I trust
I sat down on a bench under a tree, feeling weak and slightly sick. Took a long, slow drink from my canteen. Apparently, I'd pushed myself a little too hard and gotten dehydrated. After a week at the monastery, I had started out early that morning, and had walked hard. I'd been anxious to get going. And the walking had been soothing, in a way. The shoulder of the highway was rough, not built for pedestrians, and the highway drivers weren't used to walkers along that stretch of road. So I had to focus on what I was doing and forget my other thoughts. But maybe I'd been focusing a little too hard. I hadn't even taken a break for lunch, just leaned against a guard rail while I ate an apple and one of the three sandwiches I'd brought with me. I wouldn't make that mistake again. I drained the canteen, stretched out in the shade, and closed my eyes.
When I woke up an hour later I felt better. So I refilled the canteen and started walking again. I wasn't sure how far I would get, but there were several hours of daylight left, and it felt better to be moving. Not knowing how far I would get also meant not knowing where I would sleep that night.
In the quiet of the monastery, early that morning, I'd read again the words of Jesus that began, "I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing..." It ended, "Instead, seek God's kingdom and all these things will be yours as well." I tried to keep my mind on that. But other questions pushed their way in, questions I imagined people demanding an answer for, questions I had to answer for myself before I could even approach those people. "How can you be so irresponsible? How can you ignore your duty to support yourself, carry your own weight, pay your own way?" But how could they be so responsible? Did they really think that they could support their own life, or pay their own way? It seemed to me a dangerous delusion. And an excuse. For the endless gathering and heaping, fencing off, posting no trespassing signs with the threat "...will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law." And for all that backed up that threat. Was Jesus so responsible?
As the sun was setting, a sign told me I was entering the town of Hayfield. And from what I could see it was aptly named. Where would I find shelter for the night? I hadn't brought a tent or sleeping bag. Just a small pouch and an army jacket. Not much. But when Jesus' disciples were sent out, they hadn't taken much with them either.
Then I came up over a rise and saw a little church. And next to the church, a house. And next to the house, a large shelter, with several picnic tables under it. I hesitated, unsure. Then approached the house and knocked on the door--the first of many I would knock on in the years that followed. When the pastor appeared, I explained that I was on a kind of pilgrimage, and was hoping to stop here for the night. The pastor suddenly looked like he wished he hadn't answered the door. So I asked, "Would you mind if I slept under your picnic shelter?" "Make yourself comfortable," the pastor replied.
The table was hard, but I felt excited as I lay there, listening to the night noises, with the pouch for a pillow and the jacket for a blanket. My first night out, and I was sheltered. And I'd been able to knock and present himself, though I knew I'd likely be met with nervous looks and suspicious questions. I was here. And it was okay. The emotions of fear and excitement are so close, I thought. How easy it is to move from one to the other.
The feeling reminded me of something from my early childhood, something so far back I knew it more from stories my parents told than from my own memories. My father was standing chest-deep in the pool, about six feet from the edge, waving for me to come. And I did come. Pumping my little legs, I rushed to the edge and threw myself into the air. Out over the water. But all I could see was the strong hands, and my father's face. There was a terrific splash. And then I was held and was safe and my father was laughing. And I was laughing. "I do it again!" I scrambled out, stepped back, dripping, and again I leapt out over the water that was too deep for me. Again and again. An old lady in a deck chair poked her husband. "Harold, look at that kid."
I woke up several times during the night. Mostly because of the hardness of my bed, but also because of the cold that settled in just before dawn. Then I couldn't go back to sleep and lay shivering in the morning dark, my mood significantly altered from the night before. Why do I have to be out here in the dark, cold and ignored, a nobody? I sat up and looked at the pastor's house. I remembered, with some shame, how the pastor had looked at me. Or am I doing this to myself, God?
I warmed myself in the rising sun, then washed my face and prayed. And ate the last of the food I had brought with me from the monastery. I had brought no money. Not wanting to sit and think about that, I tied the jacket around my waist and started walking again.
After a couple hours, the sun was hot on the back of my neck and I needed a break. So when I came to the neat, white, historic-looking church, I stopped. I drank and refilled the canteen. Then noticed that there would be services there in about an hour. It was Sunday. I wasn't sure how I would be received in churches, but here I was and it was Sunday morning. So I waited.
A woman showed up early, to open the building, so I introduced myself. And she invited me in. I shaved and washed the morning's sweat from my face, and soon after, the pastor arrived. That introduction set off a barrage of questions. His third was, "So how are you financing this thing?" "Actually, I'm not," I replied. He reminded me that Paul had said, "If any one will not work, let him not eat." (I should have reminded him that Jesus said, "Do not work for the food which perishes, but the food which endures to eternal life.")
The congregation was small and the singing weak, but the preaching was good to hear. I didn't join them, though, when they stood and declared their allegiance. To the flag. And I was disappointed to see the small altar decorated with red and white carnations and little American flags, for Independence Day. When the ushers put the offering plates up there, the image was complete. Trembling plastic flags, begging allegiance and promising "liberty and justice for all," surrounding shiny gold plates piled with ones, fives, and tens. Every bill insisted "In God We Trust!" but I couldn't help wondering.
After the service, when I shook the pastor's hand, he told me to wait. And once the people had cleared out he took me to the corner store. There he told me to pick out a sandwich and a soda. Then we walked out together and I thanked the pastor, both for the preaching and for the meal. He smiled broadly. And handed me the change from the twenty dollar bill. "Be careful out there."
I ate happily. Seek God's kingdom and all these things will be yours as well. Yes, I thought. That was why I was out here. For life is more than food. That's what I wanted people to see.
When they stare from their deck chairs and say, "Harold, look at that kid," that's what I want them to see.
That's still true...
(Download this story as an RTF file here.)