In the midst of a crisis of faith, a man finds hope where he least expects it — his hometown. Convinced of his friend's innocence, James sets out to find the truth. In the process he reclaims a relationship with his father, restores hope to a floundering community, and rediscovers his own lost faith.
James Moore forced himself to blink. “I’ve tried. But this has to be a two-way street, and if you can’t answer my simplest questions, help me at least understand where I’ve fallen short in your eyes…”
Emotion balled in his throat, momentarily choked his breath. He lowered his head. The hands resting in his lap—not resting, wrung together—belonged to an old man. So many years gone, and now it had come to this? A shattered relationship that should have lasted a lifetime. He lifted his head and stared into those glassy eyes. “How can we fix this? How can we fix us…?”
Dust motes danced in the sunbeam streaming through the window, the shaft of light mocking the darkness within him, the twirling specks oddly reminding him of a time when sitting in this humble place made him happy.
That was not today, though.
He turned his attention back to the person responsible for his tattered existence. “You’re shoving me away! Don’t you understand that?”
Fear clamped its fist around his heart. Was this truly the end? What would he do?
...And like Job, a man who experienced enough pain for a hundred men, we too have our hurdles in life that seem to take great and often unfair pleasure in watching us stumble as we try to get over them...
Pastor Barrow’s long-ago words filtered into James’s memory. At one time, he’d believed he could clear any hurdle as long as God was with him. Now he wasn’t so sure. Wasn’t sure he could clear the pain. Wasn’t sure God was with him. Wasn’t sure about…anything.
He swallowed the lump in his throat, but it immediately returned—just one more hurdle he couldn’t clear.
He lifted his gaze to those eyes again. “I love you. No less than the day I came to know you, but if you refuse to be here with me, speak to me, then I have no choice but to walk away.” He despised the whine in his voice. Begging never looked good, and felt even worse. He’d given up everything for this relationship. Everything. It ending this way wasn’t fair.
...But we pick ourselves up, dust off our hands and plant new seeds creating new hope. And we do so not really knowing His plan or what He has in store, but having the patience and faith to believe the reward is well worth the wait.
James shook off the memory. Regret, uncertainty, guilt converged in his gut, thick as dense fog, to cloud his resolve. Should he wait? If he gave up now, he’d lose himself; somewhere deep down, he knew that. But another part of him knew he was already lost. He had to let go. If he didn’t, he’d never find himself again.
Maybe God wanted him to go.
Maybe leaving was part of God’s plan…
Maybe it wasn’t.
Unshed tears clouded his vision as he focused on the statue of a pleading Jesus, arms outstretched as if beckoning James into an embrace. Strange how begging seemed so pathetic when James did it, but so merciful when it came from Jesus. He’d thought he understood what that statue symbolized—the Lord’s desire to embrace all, to forgive all, to befriend all—but lately James felt as though Jesus were giving him the cold shoulder. The arms on the statue might be open, but the real, live Jesus had barred His arms tight across His chest to shut James out completely, and the rejection was killing him.
There was only one solution.
He slid from the pew, stood. “I’m sorry. I can’t continue like this.”
He waited. Waited for the inspiration to stay. Waited for the strength to leave. Waited for any directive.
He closed his eyes, trapped salty liquid behind eyelids heavy with grief. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “Forgive me.” Turning his back on the statue, he escaped into the winter landscape of the heritage site.
The old ball field’s chain-link batting cage rose into the sky, and James stood for a moment, lost in the past, seeing the children of days gone by playing games, running and shouting. Proud fathers stood behind the fence, cheering the kids. He stared, his mind swamping the plea he’d just uttered to the God he’d lost.
A kaleidoscope rushed through his memory, his mother, sitting beside him in church, listening to the preacher. He and the neighbor boy, riding a too-big bike. Watching football on their old black and white TV. Christmases, playing hockey, all of his childhood in this small town crashed through his brain. He suddenly found himself transported to the middle of the hockey rink, lost in the past as if he’d traveled down a road and not remembered the last few miles. He replayed the days when he’d been happy just to be with his Dad, when his mother had bought them cowboy hats and they’d all climbed on the tractor, Mom holding his baby sister as Dad had furrowed the rows.
And then there was the day his mother died…the minister’s quiet words, his father’s withdrawal, his sister’s tears. His own soundless cry to heaven, wanting to know why. James couldn’t go there just yet. He jerked back to the present.
Breathing in crisp winter air, he focused on the other relocated relics of his childhood, and barely gave a thought to the neatly folded black shirt he’d left on the hardwood pew—or the thin white clergy tab that had defined so much of him.