Among his varied other writing interests, Richard Parr aspires to creating interesting and inspiring stories about life.
Love Bears, Believes And Hopes
It was the fear in his eyes that aroused her greatest empathy, that and his tremulous hand; weak and sickly cool in her own. Squeezing it, she willed her strength into him, praying that this latest “episode” wouldn’t leave her widowed.
God wouldn’t allow it, surely...why would He?
She clung to this, the senselessness of loosing him reason enough to believe it wouldn’t―couldn’t―happen. A nagging voice whispered at the baselessness of such rationale; that’s not faith, it chided, that’s wishful thinking. Unwilling to debate the voice, she countered it with a promise; He will not allow me to be tempted beyond what I can endure. Part of her suspected duplicity at engaging one 'truth' with another, but it served its purpose, allowing her to distance herself from the voice.
Twenty minutes later the episode ended, eliciting a prayer of thanks and further fortifying her fragile hope. Moments later he was asleep, succumbing to the exhausting nature of his illness.
She liked it best when he slept, for its healing benefits, of course, though more the guiltless reprieve it provided her from the worry of his needs. Caring for Robert had become her consuming obligation, motivated by a love just as voracious. Yet it tested her too, a woman given wholly to routine, to allotting time and place to life’s work; schedules to children’s lives; set criteria to the what and where of their recreational pastimes. Against this, Robert’s malady had proven the mountain she couldn’t move, an unremitting interruption to everything her life had been prior. Except for when he slept. In those painfully brief periods she caught up, or attempted to, pulling back the recoverable threads of the days responsibilities and re-weaving them into her matrix.
Letting go his hand she rose, taking his water jug to refill it, already half a dozen pressing needs filling the void of his slumber.
Robert awoke with a single sudden gasp for air, his heart simultaneously skipping its rhythmic beat. He awaited the inevitable sensation of doom that always followed, as if the very atmosphere threatened suffocation. Such always preceded his episodes –a more descriptive term he’d failed to find– followed by a sensation he’d come to fear most. ‘Like a valve opening and all my energy rushing out’. That’s how he’d attempted to describe it, but it didn’t do the sensation justice. He imagined it akin to the very moment before death when the body has nothing remaining but a few feeble heart beats, the energy for the next inhalation already spent.
He feared it and was dismayed that he did so, testament, he thought, to the weakness of his faith. Why would a Christian fear death? His deepest doubts provided their answers: because you don’t really believe; because you’re not really a Christian; because God doesn’t love you; because you’re still lost in your sins and unforgiven...
Desperate, he called his wife. Whenever he fell to such thinking, she always managed to provide the dimension he lacked, whether faith, or reason, or comfort. When holding her hand unpleasant sensations became less consuming, as her voice dulled the clamour of his doubts. Before the episode took hold, he called her.
A heaviness came over him. Time seemed to slow. Yet his mind raced, its pessimistic tendencies already convincing him that this may be it. Here, alone, staring at this ceiling, his last moments.
As if sinking beneath his own body, the energy of life seemed to drain away. All movements ceased involuntarily, lost to a profound exhaustion as paralysing as any nerve damage. The bedroom seemed to oscillate from side to side, back and forth, pulling on him, lulling him to let go and let come what may. He feared that most, the single step that led to who knew where. Feared to take it. Resisted it.
Then Helen was by his side, holding his hand, praying, uttering words that seemed far off but comforting. The sensations began to ease, incrementally tapering away―only to be replaced by the trembling. More a vibration at first, but shaking him bodily at the end and leaving him at the mercy of a far more common exhaustion. Encompassed by it, he closed his eyes and surrendered to sleep.
Two months later
Another medical bill. She stared at the invoice held in her hand, or through it, distracted less by the amount it requested –which they couldn’t afford– then by the ongoing strain that Roberts illness afforded. Bills were mounting, loan repayments were frozen while interest compounded, the kids schooling was behind and the house and yard were an escalating mess. On top of this were the doctor visits, the special dietary requirements, the copious medications, supplements and tonics that hourly needed administering. There just wasn’t enough time in the day to care for Robert, and do everything else.
Of course her husband came first, yet she felt stretched by the demand and sacrifices of it all. At first she’d tackled it as she did any challenge, with the confidence of her driven temperament. Now it daunted her. Not with its difficulty but its interruption to life’s progress, life’s plans—her plans. More than a disruption, a serious setback. A detour she suspected didn’t lead back to the comfortable road they’d been travelling.
Ever the optimist, she’d managed to focus on the silver that lined their circumstances, but such an outlook was gradually eroding, giving way to naked faith, an acceptance that she didn’t know what to expect, couldn’t manipulate any remote future, and was left only with the souls need to trust, at last, in God alone.
In truth, faith came easier to Helen than most. As easy as her confidence in numerous things; her abilities; her knowledge; her influence over others; her effortless rapport; her health and beauty. These all contended with her faith in God, strongholds inevitably requiring defeat whenever tests of faith presented themselves. Though never faithless, it took longer sometimes for the counterfeits to fall. Which was also her greatest wonder: how quickly they rebuilt themselves in between such trials, and why she always found herself standing behind the same weak battlements. She suspected it had much to do with the fact that faith in God carried with it no promise of deliverance from difficulty other than the strength to endure it. Counterfeit faiths beguiled upon that reason, promising pleasanter paths than the dark valleys life demanded, while failing to declare that the cost of such byways was growth, character and peace.
Helen grimaced, wondering at God’s patience with her, disappointed He so often found her in the wrong fortress―which He then dutifully demolished before inviting her back to His own. She imagined his fatherly admonition, in time you’ll learn to trust me fully. She took comfort in that. If God could be patient with her, she could too.
Eyes refocusing on the invoice, she sighed. Like most, they hadn’t planned for much beyond the few weeks annual illness at most, a plan proven sufficient through two decades of experience. Except now. Now, a month in, that buffer was a spent faded memory. At two months they were selling furniture and appliances so as to cover living expenses over the Christmas period, and still there were medical tests, treatments and prescriptions to pay for.
They prayed a lot, prayers honed by acutely felt needs into heartfelt petitions, compelling God to consider them mercifully.
God had answered. Helen believed this. From the boxes of groceries appearing on their doorstep when the fridge was empty; the funds that appeared in their bank account from anonymous carers; cardiogram fees waived without explanation; doctors offering their services free for months. These examples, and more, all had deepened the root of her confidence in the faithfulness of God.
...A faith in which Helen would have found greater respite were she currently standing upon its wall. Yet her mind had again fallen to the burden of self-reliance, and she wore it like a like a mantle deigned her by fate; the limited options of a limited being.
Private Health insurance would have been nice, she thought, momentarily regretting the absence of a second income; the one they’d sacrificed so their children could be home-schooled. Another grimace distorted her lip, her children studies now weeks behind. Robert had assured her that scaling back their schooling wouldn’t be disastrous, but she felt that inner pressure of failure, of not meeting her high bar of expectations.
“Oh Lord, how am I supposed to get everything done.” It was a rhetorical prayer, and laced with impatience. “One person can only be in so many places, do so many things in a day. I can’t do it any more.”
Only to herself and God would she make this admission of weakness, her ability to manage life a fine point of pride. It was a pride she’d nurtured and despised in equal measure throughout the years, acknowledging it’s blessing on the one hand, and a cause of so much angst on the other. To be able to master ones circumstances was wonderful, until you couldn’t, then the test was to gracefully accept your own―and others―limitations. This had always been her weakness, upon reaching such limits she became impatient with herself, blaming of others, and demanding with God.
Oddly, for all her self awareness, she'd become master of diminishing Gods attempts to demolish this one stronghold. Always her impatient efforts outdistancing any circumstance that might threaten to break her self-sufficiency.
“Dear Father,” she whispered, “Please help me trust you more than I trust me.”
She was jarred from her meditations by the chime of the front door bell. Peeking through the louvres of the study window she saw Robert’s work manager, in his right hand an envelope.
I’m a forty-five year old living in an ninety year old body, Robert lamented inwardly, watching his hands tremble in his lap. No longer bed-bound, his energy now extended to short bouts of sitting and reading, yet he struggled to find any satisfaction in such ‘progress’, Helen’s assurances notwithstanding.
“Healing takes time,” she’d encourage, earning the barest nod in response. It didn’t feel like healing, he wanted to say, Decrepit and useless is what it felt like.
Further deflating his mood was learning that people rarely recovered from his particular malady—only five percent. He could only assume the remaining ninety-five endured shortened lives in various states of dilapidation. That the worst symptoms could last typically five to ten years wasn’t encouraging either―if you chose to live that long; many sufferers ended up taking their lives in despondency.
Sitting there, staring at his trembling hands, Robert thought he understood such a decision. Life seemed so futile when the energy to live it was absent. Such weariness was hard to explain, and he doubted he’d have comprehended it prior to the experience, knew he would have doubted it in others; it’s hard to empathise with an invisible condition. Now he understood first hand, even the passive act of reading draining him to a point of dangerous exhaustion.
He sat, very still, listening to the children go about their lessons, his wife busying herself in the kitchen, the garbage truck noisily working its way through the neighbourhood. Which meant it was a Wednesday ...which meant nothing. Would have a few months ago, but days and weeks had become insignificant, though he was thankful he no longer hung on the minutes between episodes. Death didn’t seem quite so close now, but wellness seemed no closer. It was instead limbo, that tormenting place where you’re not dead but might as well be for all that life afforded you. Like being stuck fast in a crack, he thought. Immobile, only the flitting fractions of others lives visible as they passed by your prison.
Robert knew he was being fruitlessly pessimistic and faithless. Yet trusting God to work all things for the good seemed an unassailable podium at present, far too elevated for his current mindset. Likewise, knowing that others were starving in Somalia, dying of Ebola in Uganda or being slaughtered at the hands of some tyrannical mob in the Middle East, translated nothing of gratitude into his circumstances. In fact, others suffering seemed irrelevant. Whoop-dee-do, I can breath and eat when others can’t, Yay for me. He’d always questioned the assumption that suffering found its palliative perspective when compared to those who had it worse. Those poor people are starving, I’ve only got a migraine, I feel so much better now ...Not!
Robert’s mind took a nosedive into its cloud of cynicism, yielding to self-pity. Anger followed shortly after. He felt justified letting it, his thoughts weaving a convincing tapestry of injustice, why me? Indignation, it’s not fair. And impatience, how long? Impatience inevitably led to further anger and anger to despair, adding sadness to the stillness of his day.
Sadness creates its own version of calm, and on reaching its centre Robert became aware of the inimical thought cycle he’d created. Of course, sorrows calm inevitably leads to self-condemnation. So it was with guilt and a resigned sigh that he leaned over and begrudgingly picked up his Bible.
He had a love-hate relationship with scripture. Loving the God they revealed, longing to understand him and his purposes, but hating the negative view of himself he was so often left with afterward; condemned, deflated, hopeless. Why he felt such mystified him. Others didn’t find it so. His wife delighted in the Bible. Reading it was a highlight for her, refreshing, uplifting, encouraging. Over the years Robert had attributed his negativity to many things; being a worse sinner then others; being unacceptable to God; being faithless. However it was always Helen who managed to recapture his spiralling self-contempt and earth it in reason. He was about to call her, but stopped himself. She’s busy enough, he thought, opening his Bible to the book of Job. Ambivalent, he started reading, managing to reach chapter five before exhaustion found him.
“I tried.” he mumbled, disheartened, dropping the book in his lap with an attitude no lighter and decidedly at odds with the story of a man whose only qualification for hardship was blamelessness. How is the average Joe supposed to relate to Mr Job Perfect, he thought, feeling qualified for quite opposite reasons to the stories hero; a deservedness to his woes. Of course, Robert couldn’t place his finger on what crime exactly he was being punished for; conceding that there were far too many to choose from.
I should call Helen, he thought, afraid the mounting void of gloom and doom would overwhelm him. Low self-esteem, Helen called it. She read a lot about such things and over the years had developed an emotional intelligence beyond most others.
He’d just made up his mind to call her when he heard the front door bell chime.
“I don’t know what to say.” Robert lay, holding the envelope Brett had just handed him.
“You don’t need to say anything,” Brett replied, “the boys simply thought you needed it more than they did, with Christmas so near.”
The ‘boys’ were Robert’s work colleagues, what they thought he needed more wastheir Christmas bonuses.
“And don’t even think of saying no,” Brett added, noting Roberts hesitancy, “it’s non-negotiable.”
Robert felt an uncomfortable lump form in his throat, momentarily preventing speech.
Helen had no such concerns, stepping forward she hugged Brett unreservedly and invited him to stay for coffee. He declined.
“Need to get back to work,” Brett said. Though Robert guessed the truth. His boss felt as emotionally uncomfortable as himself.
They said goodbye, Helen seeing him to his car. Returning to the house, she joined her husband in staring at the envelope.
“How much do you thinks in it,” she asked
“Don’t know,” Robert replied, still stunned. He tore open the envelope to reveal a wad of fifty dollar notes. He begun counting them, each note constricting his throat further.
“Sixteen hundred.” he barely managed to say.
“God is good.” Helen blubbered almost incoherently. She laughed and wept simultaneously.
Robert looked up, struck by her words. God is good. He placed the notes on the bed spread. “God is good,” he whispered again as if the words were profound.
“Do you think that’s one of the reasons God allows suffering?”
Helen stared at him, caught off guard by the random question and unsure of its temper. “What do you mean?” she asked hesitantly.
“To give others a chance to shine, do you think that’s a reason we suffer?”
Helen tilted her head, considering, “I’ve never thought of it that way before.”
“It just struck me, that God takes opportunity through the hardships of our lives to present the best reflection of himself in others.”
“That’s a beautiful thought.” Helen said.
Encouraged by her comment, Robert attempted to expand on his epiphany,
“It just occurred to me that we tend to obligate God with our well being, though it’s the very thing He obligates each of us to fulfil toward one another.”
“True, but God still works outside human agency.” Helen added, concerned Robert was robbing God of his providence over humanity.
“Yes, yes,” Robert mumbled, vexed by the spanner she’d thrown in his intended argument. He loved to think deeply, though lately had begun to feel diminished in the skill; another symptom of his illness he guessed.
He questioned if anyone could claim more than a dim understanding of God, attained through bumbling grasping rather than any real clear-sightedness. It was a question designed to make his own perceived ignorance fit better, but deep down he rejected it, believing such souls existed; though it hadn’t been intellect or mind-bending elucidations that had gained them such insight, rather humility. Obeisance, and the revelations God gives to such.
Robert longed for such insight. Sometimes it seemed to him that he stumbled around gigantic craters of profound truth, so large his mind couldn’t see from one side of them to the other. Walking the perimeter presented other perspectives, but only at the loss of those previous, and each so vast it was impossible to fathom a single perspective let alone weave together what was remembered of all the others.
Not for the first time Robert wished he could plug into Gods eye-view of things. It was important to him, being able to make logical sense of life. And futile, he suspected, considering that God’s perspective was a planet sized crater at the edge of which humans struggled to understand the merest nuggets he proffered.
After a moment he tried again, “I think God prefers it when people provide for each others needs rather than leaving it up to Him. Therefore suffering sometimes serves to remind us of this preference.”
“I like that,” Helen said, “But isn’t it also true that there are some needs we simply can’t provide for each other, therefore maybe suffering also serves to remind us that there are greater questions to answer than simply how to alleviate our own and each others suffering.”
Robert nodded and then lay back, impressed by his wife’s thoughts, but drained by the mental exertion of the past ten minutes.
“How come you can think up this stuff,” Helen asked, “but still struggle with God loving you?” bewildered by the bi-polar nature of her husbands spiritual life.
Closing his eyes to the brightness of the ceiling light, Robert only harrumphed good naturedly, as baffled by his own self-opposing reasoning as Helen.
Respecting his fatigue, Helen picked up the money and begun recounting it; something she’d wanted to do since the envelope had first been opened.
Peeking from under an eyelid, Robert smiled, amused at the contrast between them, imagining the budgeting machinations currently churning her thoughts. Not that he hadn’t also bent his mind to overcoming their cash-strapped circumstances, he just did so from a sense of duty rather than insecurity or desperateness. Helen, on the other hand, could lay awake at night thinking about money; and frequently did.
They were both good savers for the same reasons; he didn’t think about spending, and Helen couldn’t bring herself to. She considered it temperance on his part, but in truth it was simply indifference. Money was a tool to get what you wanted, and what he wanted rarely required much money.
For all her moolah motivated angst, Helen’s gift was undoubtedly administrating it. Finding the cheapest bank fees, the most cost effective insurances, and cut-price fuel bowser; all things Robert associated with nail-pulling but was time well spent for Helen.
With an indecisive sigh, Helen palmed the cash and pushed it back into the envelope.
“If you’re going to rest,” she said, standing, “I have school work to do with Jason.”
‘Alright love,” Robert replied
He was woken shortly after by fighting words from the next room.
He was a twelve year old boy in all ways good and annoying. He currently sat at his desk with one ear resting on its surface, his hand scribbling doodles in front of his face.
“Sit up properly.” his mum said, walking into the room.
“I am.” he knew he could get away with at least one such response.
“Have you finished your maths?” She wasn’t going to play.
She rifled through the pages of his school work, “Jason, there’s a whole page of work missing.”
“What!” Now he was miffed, “You never told me I had to do both pages.” Which technically was true, although he knew it wouldn’t stand up in mum’ courtroom.
“No, I said do your maths, and-”
He cut her off, “And I did. How was I supposed to know you-”
She cut him off, “Because we’ve been through this a hundred times before, you-”
“No we haven’t.”
“Jason!” Dad’s nettled voice sounded from the next room.
Jason fell silent.
“Jason.” Dad called again, with a further edge to his voice that said it wouldn’t go well to keep him waiting.
“Coming,” he answered, avoiding his mum’s withering gaze; she hated it when the kids disturbed their father.
“What have I told you about arguing with your mum?” Robert asked, already regretting that he’d got involved.
“It’s not me you have to say sorry to.”
Jason half turned to his mother who’d walked up behind him, “Sorry mum,” he mumbled unrepentant.
Robert rolled his eyes in exasperation, “So sincere.” he said to his son, avoiding Helen’s gaze, having noted her frustrated expression; he was interrupting her schedule.
“Look, let’s give your mum a break, is there any school work I can help you with.
“It’s alright Rob, I’ve got to do maths with-” Helen began.
“Dictation,” Jason cut in, grasping at any opportunity to delay more multiplying of fractions.
“No, we need-,” Helen began, but was cut off this time by Robert.
“Oh let me honey, it would help me feel useful, and give you a break I’m sure.”
Her hands went to her hips, her typical battle stance and the equivalent to natures scarlet red in way of warnings. What would give me break is if you’d hurry up and get better, she thought, but said, “I don’t need a break, I’m fine. You just focus on getting better.” she regretted the last words as they left her lips; seeing Robert’s gall rise at them.
“And why on earth does my focus have anything to do with my speed of recovery?” he trumpeted in escalating octaves. He felt blamed, “You make it sound as if it’s my fault I’ve been sick so long.” Which actually fit well with his own warped self-assessment theory, except to hear it suggested from his wife hurt more; the one person he relied on to disprove such.
“Look, let’s not argue.” Helen began, but was distracted by Jason leaving the room.
“And where are you going?” she asked, laying her hand on his shoulder.
“To get my dictation.” he replied, attempting to shrug her hand off.
“No, we’re doing maths.”
“Daaad.” Jason ducked under her arm and made his appeal to his father stretched out on the bed.
“Do what your mother says.” Robert responded, eyes closed and seriously regretting he’d got involved.
“Well he wouldn’t be asking if you hadn’t suggested it.” Helen humphed, picturing her whole day schedules falling into ruins as these wasted moments ticked by.
“And you said I could.” added Jason in emphasis, hands on hips facing his father in fair replica of his mum.
Robert’s temper flared. With eyes heated, he raised his voice further, “And I suggested it so as to be helpful, but if you-”, he physically checked his anger by bringing his hand to his mouth and squeezing his lower jaw, frustrated that he couldn’t simply storm out of the room. “Fine,” he said through clenched teeth, “forget I offered.” Ending with resolute tight lipped stare at the ceiling.
“Stop fighting.” This from Amanda, their phlegmatic ten year old. Roberts elevated tone had activated her must restore harmony button.
Helen ignored her, “Well, run your suggestions by me before telling the kids in future.”
“Aww mum.” lamented Jason, seeing dad had given up the cause. “Can’t I just do a bit of dictation with dad and finish maths later.”
“No, your mum doesn’t want my help.” Robert added petulantly.
“I didn’t say that.”
“What, so you do want my help?” Eyes now boring into her.
“Oh, for goodness sake,” Helen wanted to say more, but bit down to prevent further decline in the conversation. She had to be the mature one in this instance, her inner dialogue coaxed. Robert was understandably frustrated and feeling unneeded. After all, he’d been sick for months and become understandably impatience with it.
She took a cleansing breath. She sympathised, really, wondering how on earth he endured such lengthy convalescence, especially in light of the grump she knew she became after only a day of illness. God knows our limits, she thought, attempting to bolster tolerance for his current behaviour.
“So can I or can’t I?” Jason whined.
“It’s up to your mum.” Robert replied, and Jason turned expectantly to her.
“Alright,” she caved, earning a glowing smile from Jason. She couldn’t help but smile, but tempered it with a condition, “But as soon as you’ve finished, we’re doing maths. And no buts about it.”
“Thanks mum”, Jason said, throwing his Dad the work book containing the list of words he was learning to spell.
“But don’t take too long with it,” Helen said as she left, knowing how distracted they could both get when together.
“How many words I gotta read?” Robert asked, argument forgotten.
“All of them.” Jason said
“All of them! There must be a hundred here.”
“Alright, well the sooner we start the sooner we finish.” Robert said with a grin, “Spell Gynaecomastia.”
“What?” his dad's voice was all innocence.
“That’s not on the list, and probably not even a word.”
“Is so, and very embarrassing too, if you have it.”
It was too hard to resist, “Why, what does it mean.”
“It’s what they call it when men grow breasts.”
“Is not,” Jason laughed, his dad always joked, “that can’t happen.”
“No seriously, look it up.” Robert replied, “generally effects men who suffered concussion as boys.” Knowing his son had been knocked unconscious several times.
Jason raised his eyebrow, unsure whether to believe him or not.
Helen’s voice came from the next room, “I’m listening.”
“Ok,” Robert said with voice lowered, “how about Quadragesimal.”
“Dad.” Jason whispered back
“Ok, Ok. Spell Magma.”
For the next few minutes Robert dictated his sons grade-seven spelling words, Jason scribbling furiously in a contest to keep up with his fathers pace.
Twenty-seven words in, Robert got that fearful feeling. The sensation had changed over the past months, no longer as frequent or severe, but nonetheless robbing him of all vitality. He slumped against his pillow with a grunt.
Jason knew what was happening, had seen it often in the past months. As with every other time, the same sense of dread took hold.
“Mum,” he called out tremulously, “Dad’s having an episode.”
Helen hurried in, kneeling by the bed to hold Robert’s hand, a deep frown creasing her forehead.
Jason knew she was praying, though her eyes were open and plainly focused on his father. She always prayed, about everything, and reminded everyone else of their need to pray too. But Jason couldn’t pray. Not while he watched his dad’s breathing become short and fast, limbs limp, lips blue in a face pale, sunken and still.
Jason stoically stood as if rooted to the carpet, suppressing a strong wish to be elsewhere. He was scared, even angry at this illness robbing him of a father he used to do everything with. Now I can only listen to him read words from my spelling book, he thought, and hardly even that.
Jason missed his father, missed their wrestling on the lounge floor, missed the surprise outings when dad got home from work, missed helping set up camp on weekend trips, working on projects together in the garage. However, a deeper emotion held him―Fear.
He was scared, scared that he might get sick too. They were alike, him and his dad, prone to migraines, allergic to the same foods, even sharing a genetic disorder. Like his dad in so many ways, who was to say he wouldn’t get seriously sick too. Scaring him most was how he’d handle it if he did. He doubted he’d handle it as patiently as his father. Couldn’t imagine how he’d cope not being able to do those things that made life worth living; his BMX racing, remote control cars, long bike rides and trips to the beach.
He stood there in anguish until his father at last fell asleep.
Standing to leave, Helen turned and almost walked into him. She hadn’t known he was still there, absorbed as she was in prayer for Robert, but his expression spoke all the words a mother needed to understand. Guiding him from the bedroom she closed the door and placed her arms around him.
The growing pressure within Jason had mounted to an overwhelming need. In his mothers embrace it translated to a sob. As the first of these broke loose, Helen picked him up and carried him to the family sofa, their place of hugging and sharing, the place where the burdens of childhood were lifted, where parental wisdom was shared and the bandaging of cuts and scraps endured. Feeling his growing weight, Helen wondered if this would be the last time she could do such.
Six months later
God is more interested in growing your faith than relieving your fear, read the small post-it-note on the back of the toilet door. It was hidden among other pearls of wisdom, the door having become the evangelical hub within their home. Any literate user of their lavatory faced it as soon as they sat; bible verses, moral stories, spiritual maxims and godly quotes. It was a holy barrage, so familiar Robert hardly noticed it any more. Except today. For some reason this one note stood out, though smallest, pinned sideways, and written in scribbled script. Robert read it aloud to himself again, “God is more interested in growing your faith than relieving your fear.”
The words plucked a chord, so close to the surface of his needs that he felt a deep seated comfort in their implication—God sought His children’s best in spite of their worst. Robert knew fear was part of his worst.
Fear had always been the great nemesis to his faith; fear of failure that fed a fear of trying; fear of others anger that fed a fear of candour, fear of rejection that kept him fearfully isolated. There wasn’t a corner of his life that fear had not affected, and the courage to face it drained him daily. Which was the problem, his source of courage—himself. Not an ego boasting I’m bigger than anything the world can throw at me type problem, but a soul emptying one, hollowed out by the whittling hopelessness of his own efforts. Spurred by duty rather than promise, resigned to fate rather than providence, resting in how one lives rather than the One lived for. Such demands of self can only ever deflate the soul.
Robert reflected on all this as he read the anonymous toilet message, and the burden of his fear felt lighter in the knowledge that God didn’t despise him for it. To the contrary, He even recruited it. To teach Robert faith.
Reminded of a Sunday school song, Robert began to hum. Before long he was singing,
He’s still working on me
To make me what I ought to be
It took him just a week to make the moon and the stars,
The sun and the Earth and Jupiter and Mars
how loving and patient he must be
‘Cause he’s still working on me
He was disturbed from praising the lofty throne of God from his lowly porcelain one by a knock at the door.
“Dad, could you hurry, I need to go.”
Thirty seconds later he was washing his hands at the basin when the front door bell rang, and Robert made his way slowly to answer it. It was their friends from up the road, Martin and Debbie Pennington...
[to be continued. Please leave your honest comments below]
© 2017 Richard Parr