Matthew 28:19, 20
“Man! This is some kind of storm. Been driving six hours in this junk. Need a rest.” He flexed his shoulders, then his back.
Ahead, neon flickered through the rain. “Ahh, Decker’s place. Home away from home. Thank. You. Lord.” He dropped the truck down a gear, coasted his truck into the empty parking lot.
“Sarah, coffee, please!” he hollered from the doorway. She grinned. She liked Johnny Berglund, always glad to see him. “Comin’ up, Johnny lad. Sugar?”
He took his jacket and cap off, shook his head.
“No sugar, kiddo, just black. How’s the old man?’
“Says he’s still slaving over the hot stove. We know better. Say hi.”
Johnny looked through the pass-through into the kitchen, saw Decker sitting down, reading the newspaper.
“Hey, Decker! How’s it goin?” He waved.
“Night like this? Whaddya think? Lucky to have any customers – even you.”
“Hey. Be nice. You’re lucky to have me anytime, Bud.”
“Yeah, right. Want something to eat? Got some nice chops.”
“Mmm. Sounds good, but not just now. A cup’ll do me for now.”
Johnny sat on a counter stool, sipped his coffee and gazed around the room. One other customer, a worn-out looking blonde, sat at a table, staring out the window. She glanced to see who had come in. Her short blonde hair showed dark roots, looked like it had been scrambled by the storm.
He looked away when her fingers gingerly touched her black eye, traced the cuts on her cheek.
Johnny looked at Sarah, raised his brow. She shrugged, shook her head.
He got up and walked over to the girl. Half-smoked cigarettes filled the ashtray. A small puddle glistened on the table. Rain? Or tears?
“Rough night,” he said.
She looked at the storm. Her fingers picked at a chip in the Formica tabletop. He sipped his coffee and watched the rain. “Get lost.” Raspy smoker’s voice.
“What’s your name?”
“Go away.” She glanced at him again. Seemed okay. So what. A tear slipped down her cheek.
He hesitated. “Most folks call me Johnny.”
“So?” She took a cigarette from a crumpled pack. “Chris.”
“I’m not here to hit on you, Chris, but I can tell you’re hurting. I just thought maybe I could tell you about someone who can help. If that’s okay.”
She glared at him. “You a dealer?” Her voice was hard, ragged.
“No! No, nothing like that. I just want to tell you about this guy I know, my best friend.”
“Stick it in your ear! I‘ve got enough problems!”
“Want some fresh coffee?”
“No! What part of ‘go away’ don’t you understand!”
“Yeah. No. Wait. Yeah, okay. I’d, uh, like some coffee.”
Johnny waved at Sarah, help up his cup, pointed to it. She brought the pot, refilled their cups, went back behind the counter.
“Okay if I sit?”
Johnny folded into a chair, opposite the woman.
Chris stared at the table, mumbled, “So, who’s this friend?”
“Chris, can you look at me?”
She raised her head. Craggy-looking guy, fifty or so. Nice eyes, brown, caring.
Johnny said gently, “He’s Jesus. My best friend is Jesus.”
Chris slapped her hand on the table. “Oh, great! Now I got me a Christer! Don’t I have the luck! And you’re the do-gooder’s gonna save my soul. Terrific. Beat it, White Hat. Leave me alone.”
He didn’t move. “Chris, how ‘bout you hear me out? What have you got to lose?”
A cloud blew across her eyes. She finger-combed her hair. “Okay, White Hat, take your best shot, I’ll give you that. But you gotta know, I think men are worthless, every one of ‘em. Can’t never trust ‘em ‘cause they always want somethin’ ‘an they’ll take an’ take an’ take an’ leave you nuthin’ but empty.” She lit her cigarette, blew smoke and sneered at Johnny, “And you’re a man.” Her words spat out like venom.
“Chris, wasn’t too long ago I was down so far, the bottom looked like up. I was so wrecked that I expected to die, even wanted it. But one night, this guy sits down with me, tells me about Jesus. What he said made sense. Long story short, Jesus changed my life, saved it.”
He took a deep breath. “I’m an alcoholic. I mean drinking was my life. Everywhere I went, everything I did called for a drink. I was convinced I couldn’t do anything without a drink in my hand. I drank every night, got seriously drunk every weekend. Wasted. Did it for years, had ten dozen excuses to justify it. Problem was, every one of those excuses were lies.
“Inside, I was convinced I was worthless, a waste of skin, so I numbed out with booze. After a while, it didn’t help, but I kept on drinking because I didn’t know what else to do. Over those years, I did a lot of really rotten things, mostly to people I cared about.”
He took a deep breath, let it out slowly. “My wife divorced me, took the kids. Lost my home, my job. Everything.
“This guy who told me about Jesus, he came up to me just like this, sat down, said my life didn’t have to be the way it was, said there was a way out, a good way, a better way. And when he told me the way out was through Jesus, I said the same thing you did. Didn’t want any of it. But I listened. That was five years ago. I’ve been sober for four.”
He looked at her face, thought he saw a glimmer of interest.
“It wasn’t easy. I fought with alcohol for another year. Finally, with the help of an AA group at church, I managed to shut it down. Never could have done it without Jesus.”
“Get off your high horse, White Hat! So you’re an alky, big deal. Alkys are dime a dozen. You don’t know nothin’ about me, ‘bout what I’ve done.” She turned her head, looked out the window, took another cigarette from the pack, didn’t light it.
When she turned back, her face was red. “Look at me, man! I’m a 42-year-old hooker, have been since I was 19. I’m a junkie, White Hat. Booze is nuthin’ to me ‘cause there ain’t no drugs I never used. I had a kid, social workers come ‘n took her away ‘cause I couldn’t raise her proper. Don’t know where she is now, wouldn’t even know where to look. This afternoon, my rotten pimp beat me half to death. When he was done, he stomped out and I said to m’self, I can’t do this no more, so’s I hitched the first ride I could get and here I am. An’ Jacko’s out there somewhere, lookin’ to rip my head off. And now you’re telling me that Jesus is gonna kiss it and make it better? Come on, get real!”
They watched the rain quietly for a while. She looked at him and swore, her voice grinding like broken glass. “I’m so scared, White Hat. I got nothin’ ‘cept a habit that’s like to kill me, no money, no friends, no place to go. What am I supposed to do?” Tears on her cheeks mimicked the rain.
“Chris, there’s nothing Jesus won’t forgive. He’s the turning point, he’s your new beginning.” Johnny reached across and touched her hand as she wept.
“How about if I pray?”
“Yeah. Please. Please pray.”
He took her hand. “Dear Jesus, I’m with Chris here, who’s feeling lost, without hope. Lord, Chris needs your help and I want to pray for her, ask you to bless her. Pour out your love on her, give her the strength she needs to come to you, to let your truth heal her heart. Let her know you’re there, that you’ll never go away. Show her the way you’ve prepared for her. Save her life, Lord. And Lord – that peace you told us about, the peace that comes when life makes no sense – please give that to Chris. Thank you, Lord.”
They sat quietly for a long while. Chris said, “White Hat?”
“White Hat, you know, no one’s ever cared about me without wanting something in return.”
He smiled at her. Her blue eyes shone.
“I think maybe I’d like to try to get my life together.”
“Good call, Chris.”
After a while, Johnny asked, “Chris, got somewhere you’d like to go from here?”
She told him.
“Well, hey, that’s right on my way. C’mon, I’ll give you a ride. I know a couple of folks at a church there, they can help you out, get you a place to stay for a while, get you connected with a recovery team.”
Her smile was thin. “Okay. But I gotta freshen up.”
Johnny stood near the door, put his jacket on, held his cap. Sarah came to stand next to him. “Another one for the King, huh.”
“One for Jesus, kiddo.”
“Amen, bubba. See you next trip.”
“Sure thing, Sarah. Have a good night.” He waved on his way out the door. “Hey, Decker, see you soon.”
Johnny walked out to the parking lot, looked at the night sky. Maybe the rain is slacking off. “Thank you, Lord. Thanks for Chris. And thanks for Decker, you know, for telling me about you.”