"We cannot expect to understand God. His ways are far above ours. As high as the heavens are above the earth" Pastor John Resley
“Does anyone know what today is? Anyone at all?” The Luminous Ms April Anderson, in fine form addressed her 9th grade history class. “It is Casimir Pulaski Day! The first of March is Casimir Pulaski Day. The obvious question is who or what is Casimir Pulaski?”, My mind was anywhere but on Casimir whose-its-fritz. Ms Anderson Continued in her melodious alto siren’s tones, “ Well He was a revolutionary war hero appointed by George Washington himself. He fought in many battles and is to this day referred to as the father of the American Cavalry…” The glorious wonders of the female mouth never fail to astound a fourteen year old boy, and Ms Anderson’s lips in particular held the whole of my hormone driven attention. Actually they reminded me of someone. I think it was the oldest Vontrap girl from “Sound of Music” you know “I am 16 going on 17”. Yeah I could watch that movie all day…well that scene anyway. My reverie was cut tragically short when this angel on earth spoke my name.
“Andy” suddenly I realized the whole class was looking at me. Say something stupid! My mind was whirling all I could manage was a pathetic, “uh”
My idiot best friend covered his mouth to stifle a laugh.
“What was the date of that battle Andy?”
“1492?” A shot in the historical dark I admit but something important happened in 1492 right? The class fell apart with laughter. Ms Anderson favored with a smile in spite of herself.
“1783 the battle of Yorktown was in 1783” she said. “Try and stay with us Andy ok?” I am 16…. Those lips sang to me that is for sure!
After class, walking down the hall, my mouth covering friend Ryan wouldn’t leave it alone. “Dude you were drooling on your desk!”
“I was not ok I just….well can you blame me?”
“No I just thought it was funny”
“Don’t you think she looks like that chick from Sound of Music?”
“The one that spins around on top of the mountain?” he twisted up his face. “I thought you had the hots for Melinda Halsley.”
“shut up” I smiled and shoved my friend. Time to change the subject “hey am I still comin’ over tonight?”
“I don’t know man Lanie didn’t feel good last night so she stayed home from school today. Dad took off work to take her to the doctor.” Ryan had a twin sister who was almost closer to me than he was. Lanie was my only real “girl” friend.
“Is she throwing up or something?” Was Ryan blushing? “What?”
“No it’s like female stuff.” He rolled his eyes. “Dad was freaking out he didn’t know what to do and Aunt Holly is out of town this week.” Ryan and Lanie’s mother had died when they were very young and “Aunt Holly” Pastor's sister usually took care of the girl stuff, training bras, shaving legs, and definitely female problems fell under her jurisdiction. I felt sorry for Ryan’s dad he was in way over his head.
“You wanna come to my house then?” I sure didn’t want to go to his now, “we can rent a movie or somthin”
“Yeah” Ryan looked as relieved as I felt, “I’ll call my dad”.
Ryan slept over at my house that night, one of a thousand nights at my house or his; playing video games, or watching movies until 2am when we fell asleep, not waking until noon the next day. Ah that was the life; baseball, bikes, and the pool in the summer, Basketball and football in the fall. Snowball fights, sledding, and hockey in the winter. Life was rich and we were loving every minute of it, but somehow even then I knew times like these were not going to last. We awoke to a clear and blustery March day. The sun was out for the first time in months but it was still cold. We walked back to his house a couple of blocks away to do more of nothing in a different location.
Ryan and Lanie lived with their dad in an “ancient” house that I was convinced must be haunted. Red brick on the outside, a detached dilapidated garage with their long unused Cadillac rotting in it, hard wood floors, ornate antique molding on the doors and a hardwood staircase with a plush rug running up the middle of it. It was a huge house, but they weren’t rich or anything. Their dad was our pastor, and the house was owned by the church, so they got to live there as part of his compensation. As nice as it was it always felt a little creepy. They had huge trees in the back yard and a tree house we built with their dad a few summers back. There was a giant grey weeping willow tree in the front yard. Every time I saw it I thought about Ryan and Lanie’s mom and how she died. The tree really had nothing to do with her death. She died in a car accident, but it served as some reminder for me of the sorrow that still hung in Pastor Resley’s eyes, even when he smiled you could see it. Sometimes I caught him looking at Lanie and tearing up. She looked so much like her mom. I never said anything about it to anyone but I will never forget the love I could see there; even ten years after her passing. Some men, it seems, are meant to suffer.
Ryan and I walked into the house and through the parlor to the kitchen. Ryan went to the fridge to grab some Pepsi for us. Did you ever notice pastors never drink Coke?
“I’m home!” he yelled to no one in particular. The big hairy sheep dog Larry came bounding in from his bed. He was old and mostly deaf but one of the sweetest dogs you ever met.
“Hiya Larry” I scratched behind his ears and he licked my hand “Where is everybody boy?”
“I’m in here” Lanie’s voice came from the TV room at the back of the house. I shuffled back there with the dog at my heels.
“Hi Lanes, what you watching?” I was trying to stay as far from the subject of her problem as possible.
“Nuthin’ really I have been watching this cardinal build a nest in the back yard all morning.” She pointed out the French patio doors to the small bird house in the back where a bright red bird was indeed building a nest. “Isn’t he pretty?”
“I don’t think I have seen a cardinal in a bird house before have you?” I said “shouldn’t the girl be building the nest? Guys don’t do that do they?”
“I don’t know for sure. I just like watching him. It makes me feel better. I didn’t have a good day yesterday and today hasn’t been much better.” she had tears in her eyes now. I felt bad for her. If I was feeling awkward around her how bad must she feel?
“When’s your Aunt Holly going to be back in town?” I asked.
“Not until next week, but I talked to her on the phone last night and she prayed with me. I just wish my mom was still around.” Lanie looked at the floor tears flowing down her cheeks, and sighed deeply. “It’s not fair Andy. Daddy doesn’t know what to do. Aunt Holly can’t always be there. She has a life of her own.” I handed her a tissue from the box on the side table and sat down on the couch. “Sometimes I get angry at God. Didn’t he know I would need my mother? Didn’t he know how devastated Daddy would be without her? He still feels like it is his fault why do you think he doesn’t drive any more? How can God be loving if he takes the ones we love away?” I didn’t know what to say. I had a knot the size of my fist in my stomach.
“I know Lanie I don’t get it either” I offered weakly. “I’ve heard your dad say that God has a plan and that He knows what is best even when we don’t”
“How can this be what is best? How do I learn to be a woman when I don’t have a mom around to show me? Who am I going to talk to about the guys I like? Who’s going to tell me who I should marry?” she sighed loudly this time and looked up at me. “Well at least I have you! Best friends?” she asked
“forever.” I blushed then; all this talk of boyfriends and husbands. I wasn’t used to Lanie talking that way. We sat there together on the couch just staring at the TV for a while neither of us watching it.
“Anything good on?” Ryan came in and grabbed the remote flopping down between us and began flipping from channel to channel aimlessly. “scoot over sicky! You’ll get your girly germs all over me.”
“I am going to bed” Lanie got up and walked out of the room annoyed. I thought about following but I wasn’t allowed in her room anymore. Something about growing up and changing. It was her dad’s rule.
“What’s up her butt?” Ryan said “I hope she isn’t like this from now on. I’ve heard of girls getting moody around ‘that time of the month’ but gimme a break”
“Sometimes I wonder if you two even live in the same house.” I told him. He gave me a quizzical look but I brushed it off and stood to my feet.
“I’m goin home alright?”
“You mad or somethin’?” he asked
“Nah I’m just bored and I still have homework from yesterday to do.” I was lying.
“Alright see ya.” He frowned
As I walked home that day I couldn’t stop thinking about Lanie. I still really felt bad for her. She was just not herself today. Lanie was usually so… alive. She was the only girl I knew that could hold her own in baseball and basketball against guys her age. She never backed down when guys would pick on her, in fact I had seen her come back with lines that would have made ME cry. So not like any other girl I knew that I usually didn’t even think of her that way. She was as much, “one of the guys” as her brother Ryan. Why was I thinking about her so much anyway? Something about our exchange that day haunted me; those words she had said. “At least I have you.” All of a sudden I didn’t feel like thinking about it any more.
Chapter 2 “Sometimes God comes out of nowhere and surprises us with a blessing we had no idea was coming..." Pastor John Resley
The next day was Sunday which meant church and all that goes with it. The morning before church was always a frenzy of activity. We would invariably oversleep, and Mom would wake me up in half a panic. By the time I was ready and got downstairs I would run into Dad who could get ready in 15 seconds flat and would be in his sport coat and tie pacing the floor saying things to me like, “if your mother ever got anywhere on time I would die from the shock.” And “I haven’t been anywhere less than 15 minutes late since your mother and I were married!” Yelling at the ceiling periodically, “it’s 10:25 dear!” Mom never dignified him with a response. By the time we got in the car Mom and Dad were either full fledge arguing or worse, so annoyed with each other that they wouldn’t talk at all. This particular Sunday it was the silent treatment. Any other time I would break the silence with a comment or question, but today I was lost in thought. I was still pondering what had happened the day before; or rather I was pondering WHY I was still pondering what had happened the day before. That five minute non-conversation had rerun in my head a thousand times.
We pulled into the church parking lot and got out of the car. Our church was a nice sized “A” frame, brick building of brown and black coloring. We were a small Pentecostal congregation of about 150 people. Pentecostal churches are a rare breed. We are typical Bible belt Americans but with a wild side. We sang loud, sometime people jumped around and danced. We spoke in tongues we would prophecy with hearty, “thus sayeth the Lord’s”. As far as we were concerned God was alive and active in our little congregation. We prayed for the sick and sometimes people were healed. We had summer youth camps, missions fund – raisers, pot lucks, and prayer meetings. As a child you don’t see these things as odd or different this was home, but as with the rest of my world this was changing as well. I had begun to bump into different flavors of Christianity that did not believe as we did. Some of them that thought we were dead wrong or if not wrong then just plain crazy. I had begun to wonder about God and our church and if we really knew as much as we thought we did. I didn’t like to think about it for to long because it scared me, more than I would consciously acknowledge, but I could feel a whole slew of questions coming that I wouldn’t be able to ignore forever.
We went in the glass doors on the side of the building where everyone was going in. We were surrounded by familiar people. Children and adults I had known my whole life. All dressed up in their Sunday clothes, talking and laughing, big smiles on everyone’s faces. I immediately separated from my parents who were now pretending they had never fought this morning, and I headed down the hall to my Sunday School room. When I came around the corner not paying attention I ran smack into Lanie and knocked her onto the floor.
“I’m so sorry!” I said reaching for her hand to pull her up. I took her hand and I looked at her and it was like electricity shot through my body. The hallway turned upside down. I didn’t know whether I was going to throw up or fall down. My heart turned inside out and my longtime childhood friend in that instant became the love of my life. She looked up at me and for a moment. I couldn’t read her face, her head fell back and she let out a laugh. She didn’t stop laughing either she laughed for a good thirty seconds.
“What is funny?” I smiled uneasily in spite of myself.
“Your face Andy Thomas! You look like you just got pantsed in front of the girl’s gym class!” she laughed again, “help me up”
“OK are you alright? I am so sorry!” I was reeling; what was going on?
“You said that already genius, I’m fine I just fell down!” she was brushing her dress off with a radiant smile dancing in her eyes. My God she was gorgeous! As soon as that thought ran through my head I wanted to push it away. I couldn’t be in love with my best friend! This would ruin everything, but what was I supposed to do? I was smitten as much as any man has ever been! My eyes wouldn’t leave her face, my heart was in my throat, my palms were sweating and the blood had run out of my head. I could hear my own heart beating a crazy rhythm in my ears. My whole world was collapsing.
“Andy quit looking at me like that!” she was searching my face quizzically now and blushing slightly. “I’m ok really! Sister Gavin is going to be mad if we don’t get to class.”
With that she turned and walked away. For a moment I was stuck to the floor. My feet wouldn’t obey me. I realized I was looking at my hands for no reason. The hallway was mostly empty now all the kids in their classes and the adults as well. I was alone. Not knowing what else to do I sheepishly followed her into the small class room.
We sat in our usual places among the rows of plastic chairs Ryan on one side of me and Lanie on the other. Sister Gavin, a shriveled up, 150 year old lady who had been teaching the 7th and 8th grade class since the stone age was calling the class to attention. The whole class was a blur. Lanie was everywhere around me; my every nerve alive to her presence. I could smell her hair. The aroma of peaches and cream. I must have smelled a thousand times I never realized how amazing it was until today. I heard her laugh and there was music in the air. She raised her hand to answer a question and I noticed her wrists, they were beautiful. What was going ON! This was just plain weird, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t look at her as Lanie Resley any more. She was some new being, some angel from the heavens, and I was completely utterly and in all other ways captivated. When class was over I excused myself to the restroom just to escape her all encompassing presence. Ryan went with me, I couldn’t stop him.
“Dude what is up with you?” He asked
“What do you mean?” I knew what he meant but how could I tell him?
“You’ve been all weird since History class on Friday.” He said “Oh…” he paused and started laughing his obnoxious laugh, “I get it now!”
“You get what?” I asked in petrified fear of discovery.
“You are in LOVE aren’t you?” My astonishment and embarrassment must have shown on my face because he laughed again and harder this time.
“No I’m not!” I protested with as much false conviction as I could muster. How could he know? Was it that obvious? Oh my GOD did Lanie know?
“You’re in love with Ms Anderson aren’t you!” relief flooded my chest like a burst dam inside.
“What?” I exhaled.
“I saw her walk in behind you and your parents this morning. That’s why you went all moony eyed and bowled Lanie over”
“What? I didn’t even see Miss Anderson this morning!” I wasn’t lying. I hadn’t seen her that morning. I was to busy falling in love with his sister to see anything.
“Oh sorry did I insult your girlfriend? When’s the wedding? I can’t wait to tell Lanie!”
“Dude SHUT UP you can’t tell her!” I grabbed his arm to keep him from walking away. “Oh so it IS true! I knew it! I knew it yesterday when you said you had “homework” to do. You never do homework on Saturdays! You are just trying to impress her aren’t you!”
“Whatever just don’t tell Lanie ok? Promise me!” I begged like a man asking for his life.
“Alright alright I promise I won’t tell anybody.” He crossed his heart, “for real man I won’t!”
“Ok. I just don’t want anyone to know yet.” So he believed I loved Ms Anderson who cares I had loved her Friday but now she had no place in my heart.
We went into the Sunday service just as the organ and the piano were getting revved up for another rousing Pentecostal worship service. The worship was great and the sermon was fiery, but I heard none of it. I was lost in the world called Lanie.
Chapter 3 “The Apostle Paul said the he did not consider the trouble he experienced here on earth even worth comparing with the joy that we will inherit in the life to come. I’m still trying to really get a hold of that.” Pastor John Resley.
Sunday night was the “youth night” at our church. We were too small a congregation to have a pastor just for the young people so Pastor Resley taught, but we didn’t have to dress up and the music was better on Sunday nights. Lanie sang on the stage with her dad and he played guitar and sang.
The afternoon had done little to improve my mood or my tunnel vision. We always did Lunch with our extended family on Sundays. Uncle Mike, my dad’s younger brother, and his wife, my Aunt Terry and their three kids, all much younger than me, came over to our house and we had a big meal. What that basically meant is that after dinner I got to baby sit for free for several hours. I usually didn’t mind. I had a lot of fun with my cousins most of the time but today was not that kind of day. I wanted to be left alone to brood and figure all this out.
Now after chasing toddlers all afternoon I was forced to confront the very object of my confusion with no time to talk myself out of this whole emotional debacle. I had briefly considered feigning illness in an attempt to skip church, but I decided against it due to the fact that, though I didn’t really understand my feelings on the matter, I really couldn’t wait to see Lanie again. Hence I followed my heart, or maybe just my hormones, back to church and the awkward atmosphere I knew I would find there.
My only consolation was that as of this moment Lanie had no idea. The confusion, the chaos of emotions that seemed to consume me was in truth all mine. Ryan was convinced I was in love with my history teacher, and Lanie was clueless that anything was going on at all with me…or so I thought.
After the service was over she came bounding over to me and grabbed my hand.
“We need to talk” she said as she led me out the door. I followed her without a word my heart again ringing in my ears and the blood rushing to my face. What was this about? We walked down the hall to one of the classrooms in the church now dark, empty and quiet. She led me inside turned around and closed the door. Lanie collapsed against the filing cabinet that held all the Sunday school paraphernalia for the three year old class and sighed a long sigh.
“I need your help!” she said intently
“With what exactly” I said, glad this wasn’t about me.
“I really like someone and I need you to find out if he likes me.” My heart fell through my feet to the floor.
“Who?” I asked this because I needed to know who to kill. It’s amazing how fast a teenage boy can go from being scared to death by his own feelings to being ready to fight for the heart of the woman who doesn’t even know he has feelings for her.
“Michael Warren!” the name left her lips like a sacred utterance whispered low and carefully so every syllable rang with significance. Yeah she liked him, and I felt my unspoken hopes and dreams fly away with that assurance as I melted into despair. If my face reflected any of my inner anguish Lanie didn’t notice.
“There is just something about him, well of course he’s gorgeous, but beyond that I think we have a real spiritual connection. We were talking about God tonight, he is just so smart!” typical Lanie she could never finish a sentence when she was excited. It was so adorable. This sucked.
“Why me?” I asked almost on accident
“Because you are his friend and my BEST friend silly! Besides, you’re sneaky enough to ask him without letting him know how I feel. Come on please I am DYING to know!” Would I ever be able to tell this woman no? She was irresistible!
“Oh alright I will ask him.” I hate myself. “We are supposed to be playin’ ball tomorrow at the dirt field I can ask him then.”
“Will you come over after and tell me what he said?” Her hopeful and pleading expression made me want him to like her even if it meant my heart was broken.
“Immediately after, I promise.”
Chapter 4 “People have tried to tell me that God didn’t take her from me. They just don’t understand that feeding me that lie doesn’t keep me from being angry at God. He did take her and He knew He was going to. The thing is that somehow, and I don’t know how, but it makes me need Him more. It makes me love Him more.” Pastor John Resley
I was walking down the street of our town kicking the dust and heading nowhere. My spring jacket, almost unnecessary in the warmth of the unseasonable weather, was hanging open and my hands were in my pockets. When I looked up I was at our town cemetery. For some reason the peace of the graveyard called to me and I went in.
The broad gravel drive that wound around the headstones crunched under my tennis shoes as I walked. I heard a bird and looked up to catch a flash of red as he flew by. I looked over in his direction and my eyes landed on one of the markers, fairly new in comparison to many of the others, its inscribed face was mostly covered in brown leaves deposited by the wind since last fall. I brushed the leaves away to see the letters etched in the black stone. “Rhiannon Gabrielle Resley”. It was Lanie’s mom. I stepped back a few feet to get a better look and realized that the stone was not alone. I don’t know how I missed it before but there to the left of Mrs. Resley’s headstone was another. This one had just been laid. In front of it was the freshly turned earth of a newly dug grave and written on it was one name. My heart sank and my eyes blurred with tears and I couldn’t read, but I didn’t have to. I already knew who was laid to rest here…
I sat straight up in bed, my face wet with tears, I could taste them in my mouth. My heart was beating like a drum in my chest, and my sheets were soaked with sweat. It was only a dream, “Oh thank God.” I said and meant it.
The next morning I got up early and left the house. I had to know. I had never been to the “Navy Yard” before but I knew right where it was. The sign over the wrought iron gate said “Morford Cemetery” but we all called it, “The Navy Yard”. A whole group of young men from our town, including my great uncle Burt who I never got to meet, had died while in the Navy in WWII and they were all buried there. There was a large memorial in the center of the cemetery to their sacrifice and bravery. It probably used to be beautiful, but no one kept it up so it was dilapidated now. Vines and black stains from 30 years of rain covered its aging surface. I had a sense of Déjà vu as I walked down the gravel drive. It was a much colder day than in my dream but everything else was the same. I had never had such a vivid dream in my life. I remembered every single detail down to the exact location of the stone. Before I knew it I stood before the dark marble slab looking down on it with disbelief. There it was, just like I dreamed. The same pile of brown leaves the same etching in the stone. How could I have known? I had never even seen a picture of this place and Lanie’s dad had forbidden either of his kids to ever come here. “Your mother is not in that cemetery” He always told them. “She is in Glory with my Jesus, and I refuse to weep over a plot of dirt in a place of death when I know how alive Mommy really is.”
I sat down on the grass with my legs crossed in front of the brooding marker. There was no stone on its left like in my nightmare, only an empty plot. I think I would have been more relieved to find that space taken. At least then I knew my dream would never come true. I sat silently for a minute then I heard the bird from my dream and looked up to see a cardinal sitting on the headstone. I had only seen one of these red birds a few times in my life before this spring. He flew away and I wondered if he was the same one I had seen at the Resley’s house a few days earlier. This was all so unreal. What did it mean? Was she really going to die? I tried to shake it off but I just couldn’t. It was only a dream! I stood to my feet again and said it out loud this time, “it was only a dream” the sound of my voice was weak and frail in the crisp air, but it made me feel better just to hear the words. I turned then and made my way purposefully out of the cemetery. I determined then and there that I would forget what I had dreamed. I had to. I had to get to school and afterward the game and a horrible question to ask a squirrelly little geek
Chapter 5 “Life is full of twists and turns, surprises and disappointments the most important thing is to remember who holds our path in His Almighty scarred hands” Pastor John Resley
When I arrived at the dirt diamond after school the next day the guys including Lanie’s love interest Mike Warren were already throwing the ball around. We had planned this game for weeks now. This was the first time the field was dry enough to play on! I looked down from the hill to see my friends picking teams. I was late.
“Hey loser! Get over here so we can play!” Ryan had spotted me. I ran down the hill to the dug out, picked up a ball and winged him with it right between the shoulders. “Who’s the loser now loser!”
“You punk!” he yelled and threw his ball at my head. The afternoon went on like this, boys being boys, until the rumble in our stomachs gave us to know that lunch was long since past. The easy rhythm of being on the field with my friends had replaced my nervous tension and I felt like myself again. We started for home when I remembered my promise to Lanie. I made some excuse to go back to the field and then ran in the direction I had seen little Mikey Warren go. I caught up with him as he stooped to tie his shoes. Without looking up he said, “whadaya want Thomas?” calling each other by our last names always made us feel more grown up.
“Nothin’ Warren I just promised somebody I would ask you somethin’!” I replied.
“Well what is it?” he said eyeing me suspiciously.
“What do you think of Lanie Resley?” I asked my stomach twisting in knots.
“Lanie Resley? Why?” he asked not looking too excited about all of this.
“I don’t know. Ryan asked me to ask you. Made me promise. He thought you might be trying something with her. He saw you guys talkin’ yesterday and got suspicious. You know protective brother stuff and all” I was shocked at how good that lie sounded.
“You really want to know?” he asked leaning in close, “She thinks I like her but really she’s kind of annoying hanging around me all the time. I mean if she were pretty or something I wouldn’t mind but,” That is all the further he got before my fist stopped his mouth. He fell backward and I was on top of him in an instant. I held my forearm against his throat so he couldn’t breathe. I looked in his surprised and frightened eyes and spoke like my Dad does when I am really in trouble.
“Listen good butthead” I really didn’t know many other bad names. “If I ever see you talking to or even looking at Lanie again I will kill you. Understand?”
“Mmm” is all he could manage to get out. That’s when I realized how red and scared he looked. I stood up and brushed myself off. Young Mr. Warren just lay on the ground coughing and crying. My hand hurt. I looked at my fist and saw blood on my knuckles. My vision blurred and I realized I was crying too. I didn’t know what else to do so I just walked away and left poor Mikey Warren in the dirt to lick his wounds.
I walked and walked and when I came to myself I was standing in Lanie’s yard. There in the bird house the cardinal was building his nest. This time I could see the female as well with her more bland brownish red feathers. I came around the house and there was Lanie. She was sitting in the porch swing on the screen porch. She was fidgeting and nervous. She was watching the road. She was looking for me. I had come up from behind the house through the back yard and she hadn’t seen me yet. It was only then I realized I was going to have to tell her something about what had happened that day. I had no idea what I would say. I considered slipping away but knew that would only delay the inevitable and if she found out about my little encounter with her would be boyfriend from anyone else but me it would only make things worse.
“Uh…Lanie?” I said cringing. I startled her and she almost fell out of the swing.
“Andy! I have been waiting all…” she saw my face then and knew something of what I was about to say. I saw her eyes fill with tears. My heart broke.
“Don’t tell me!” she said quietly, “I don’t want to know”
She turned abruptly and without a word proceeded inside. I heard her shuffle inside and the slam of the screen door. I sat down on the porch steps and cried a bit myself. What a day.
That night my Dad got a call from Mike Warren's dad. I was grounded for a month.
Chapter 6 “When the book of James says, ‘count it all joy when you experience trials’ it was not just a suggestion, living with joy in the midst of hell on earth may be difficult but it is also commanded. Truly it is the greatest witness any Christian can give to the world of the sufficiency of Christ” Pastor John Resley.
The next day Mike's black eye and bruised ego was the primary topic of conversation at Morford Jr Sr High. This had a completely unexpected side effect. I was the same guy but the whole school saw me differently. Eyed suspiciously by the teachers, Ms Anderson said she was disappointed in me. Only days ago that rebuke would have laid me low, but it made no difference to me now. I was all of a sudden respected by the other guys but the reaction I least expected was the reaction of the girls! They watched me walk down the hall, talking behind their hands and giggling. It didn't take me long to find out why.
"Are you in love with my sister?" Ryan was not a man for subtlety
"Uh" was my only answer
"Mike Warren is telling everyone you are. He said you beat him up because you saw him talking to her. He said you are crazy! He said you made him promise never to talk to her again!" Well he was half right.
"What! He said some really mean things about her and it made me mad!" I said trying to avoid his original question.
"What did he say?" Ryan's face changed then understanding breaking over his features
"It doesn't bare repeating believe me" I replied; had it worked? "Did he tell Lanie?"
This above all other questions was foremost in my mind. Had she heard Warren's claims? I hadn't told her about the beating I gave him there hadn't been time.
"She's really mad at you" Ryan said
"Why is she mad at me?" I shouted again
"Cause I guess she liked him and you made him to scared to hang out with her anymore. He won't even look at her!" Ryan shook his head in disbelief "Dude I didn't know you had it in you!"
"Shut up!" I said. I hadn't even thought about how my encounter the day before would effect Lanie. It was over so fast! Now the whole world knew about my love for Lanie except for the ONE person who I might want to know. Lanie herself. I was despised by the only person whose opinion mattered to me! I felt wretched. I had never felt so wretched in my life. What was I going to do? "She's my friend. I couldn't let him talk about her that way!"
"Why did you even talk to him in the first place?" Ryan asked
"Lanie asked me to" I replied, "she wanted to know if he liked her"
"Oh" was all Ryan would say, "Look I'll talk to you later I want ALL the details! I never liked that jerk anyway!"
I closed my locker and turned to walk down the hall but was halted by a sweet sound.
"Andy?" It was Lanie
When I looked up and saw her the world went away. Her brilliant green eyes were angrily boring into mine, her clothing a bit disheveled, her hair slightly out of place.
"Can I talk to you?" she asked simply.
I only nodded my head. I followed her down the hall to the library. The school bell rang but I paid it no mind. The class schedule was the furthest thing from my mind. She sat in one of the orange plastic chairs arrayed around the tables and gestured for me to sit there beside her.
"Why did you do that?" she asked quietly.
"I don't know what to say to you Lanie" I was literally shaking. Did she notice?
"He said some things about you" she said. "Did you tell him to stay away from me?"
"Did you tell him you…” she trailed off. Not looking at me she didn't want to end the sentence so I saved her from it.
"No, I only asked him if he liked you or not" I answered. It wasn’t a lie, but it felt like one. “he said some mean things, I won’t tell you what they were, but before I knew it I had hit him. I’m sorry Lanie. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” She looked at me then for a long time. Or at least it FELT like a long time. I had nothing left to say so I stayed silent. I had so much more I wanted to say but knew I never could. I couldn’t look her in the eye.
“You just surprised me, that’s all” she said. “Surprised and disappointed me” There was a flash of something behind her eyes when she said that. I knew then that our friendship would never be the same. Something had changed, in both of us. Something big. She stood up and pushed in her chair. She looked at me one more time and walked away. She didn't speak to me again for several weeks.
Chapter 7 “A thousand years is like a day to God and a day like a thousand years. Time is the whole world to us; it is nothing to Him” Pastor John Resley.
Time flies when you are having fun, that’s what they say, to be honest, I never really noticed, what I HAVE noticed, however, is how gruelingly SLOW time CRAWLS when you need it to go faster! The week after the whole “Mike Warren incident” as my parents came to call it. I spent grounded in my room copying whole pages of the Bible. This was my dad’s favorite punishment suggested of course by Pastor Resley. Lanie avoided me at school all that week, which was easy for her to do because we didn’t have any classes together. The next two weeks Lanie and Ryan went to their grandparents’ house. They went down there every year for these two weeks and spent the first warm days of spring in Florida with their late mother’s parents. They always came back with sunburns and extra spending money from the generosity of their “Mimi and Paupa”. Usually one of these two weeks fell on the week of our spring break from school, but by some happenstance of scheduling that wasn’t the case this year. So the last week of my month’s absence from the only adoration of my teenage heart was spent with my parents in that same Sun drenched godforsaken state. Florida! I spent the entire week on the beaches of the Atlantic pining for the only one on earth who could have made that place more beautiful. If I had known the events that were to follow these blessed days I would have savored them. When we got home from our vacation, me sporting a sunburn of my own and my first shave, the peach fuzz had just gotten ridiculous, all Hell was about to break loose.
After unpacking the car with Dad I eagerly asked my mother if I could go to Ryan’s. She nodded and told me to be home before dark and I was on my way. The month of separation between Lanie and myself had swept all hesitancy out of my young heart. I had thought deeply about our friendship from the days of our early childhood until now. I realized that we had been on a collision course since the moment we first met. She had been my delight and I her protector, she was my comfort and I was her safe place. It had always been this way Lanie and Andy best friends and I had believed it would always be. Only the advent of hormones and the beginning of mental and emotional maturity could have shaken this foundation, and now our relationship had now changed. I knew then that I could never again be her friend only. I would never again be satisfied with that. Now was the time, for better or worse, that I would have to take a step into a new world, and as soon as possible. I had done nothing but think of her since she had been gone and I meant to see her and maybe, if the time seemed right, tell her how I felt. I was rehearsing what I was going to say to Lanie as I walked down the street when I saw Lanie’s Aunt Holly drive by, a worried look on her face. Lanie was in the back seat and it looked as if she had been crying. I ran to the house and found Ryan on the front porch. He looked worried too and he never got worried about anything.
“Ryan what’s wrong?” I asked
“Andy! Dude I haven’t seen you in forever! You’re all red!” he said looking up seemingly relieved to have something else to think about.
“Where were Aunt Holly and Lanie off to so fast?” I asked
“There’s something wrong with Lanie’s leg. It hurts really bad. It started last week on the way back from Mimi and Paupa’s house. She kept saying her leg hurt and they thought it was just from sitting to long. It hasn’t stopped since then and now it is REALLY bad. Lanie’s been crying and hurting all day. They prayed for her at church this morning but it still hurt so Dad called Aunt Holly to take her to the ER to do an X-Ray or something. He thinks she might have broke’ it or cracked it without knowing.” Ryan looked at me and I saw for probably the first time in my life how much he deeply loved his twin sister.
“I’m sure she’s fine” I reassured him hoping I was right. “how was Florida?”
Ryan and I talked for quite a while and then I went home.
The next day began much like any other. I got ready for school. I ate my breakfast. I left the house to walk to the bus stop. Everything seemed normal, but all that was in my mind was Lanie. She hung over every thought, every action, every bite of Lucky Charms. I wasn’t really worried about her ER visit except that I didn’t want her to miss school again today. I spent the 10 minute bus ride planning my encounter with her very carefully. I was going to get a pass from my study hall to go to the library where she spent that same hour as an assistant. There, in the place of our last meeting, I would make my confession of love. The first thing I would do was give her the “4H stone”. When we were younger we had found an old green clover pendant in some of her mother’s things. A symbol of her mothers Irish heritage, it was a piece of cheap costume jewelry, but I had liked it. I remarked that it looked like the 4H symbol. I asked if I could have it and Lanie said no, that it was her mothers, and she would never give it away. I got very upset and ran out of the attic. On my way out I slipped and fell and broke my collar bone on the stair. Lanie felt so guilty she came by the house to see me and gave me the trinket. The next summer she had a really bad throat infection. Her throat had puffed up to 3 or 4 times its usual size. I felt horrible for her so I gave her the stone back. Over the years it had gone back and forth probably 5 or 6 times it was our way of saying sorry and it always made us both smile. It’s magical how much little things like that can mean so much. It meant so much more to me now. I knew the time had come when I needed to apologize and so once again the stone would change hands. Hopefully this time it would be endowed with a whole new meaning.
I ran up the concrete steps toward the school door and saw Ryan standing there waiting for me. I knew instantly from the look on his face that something was wrong.
“There is something wrong with Lanie” is all he said. My heart fell through my feet and the blood left my face. “They took her to another town to a big hospital for tests.”
“What did they say was wrong?” I asked trying to speak with a completely dry mouth.
“They don’t know” he replied, crying now. “it’s her bones….” Behind him the school bell rang loudly. We were late.
“When will we know anything?” I asked quietly looking at Ryan’s face even though he couldn’t look at me.
“I don’t know, not ‘til tonight I guess.” He looked at the ground and shrugged wiping his nose on his sleeve.
I put my hand on his shoulder and led him into the school. I guess we could have ditched but it wouldn’t have made either of us feel any better. We were in for a day of waiting and worrying and there was nothing to be done about it.
When I got home I saw my dad’s car in the drive way. He wasn’t usually home by this time. I ran inside to tell him hello and found he and my mother praying at the kitchen table. I knew instantly something was wrong. They heard me come in and turned; they were both crying and I realized they had been waiting for me.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, a sick cold feeling filling the pit of my stomach.
“Sit down Andy” my dad said quietly “we need to talk to you”
“It’s going to be ok honey” my mom said trying to calm me. “Jesus knows what He is doing even when we don’t”
I started crying now.
“Son” my dad said, “Lanie is really sick. She found out from the doctors today that she has cancer in the bone in her leg. Pastor called me himself to ask me to pray. He was crying on the phone, I’ve never heard him like that. Not even when Rhiannon…..” My dad’s eyes filled again with tears and his voice broke, “He said they can give her medicine and later do surgeries and things like that to try and make her better, but they don’t know. Andy….she needs our prayers now because it may be that only Jesus can help her….”
“He HAS TO!!” I interrupted, my vision blurry with tears, rage, and confusion. “Dad he HAS TO HELP HER!” My mom tried to hug me but I pushed through her arms and ran out the back door. I couldn’t see and I didn’t care where I was going I just ran. I don’t know how long I ran but when I came to myself I was standing under the weeping willow in the Resley’s yard. Lanie was inside. I knew she was. I couldn’t go in. I didn’t know what I would say or how I could say it. My feelings were swirling around my head like a swarm of flies tormenting me. I couldn’t move. I could barely breathe.
“A letter” I heard myself say, “I’ll put it all in a letter”. I ran home, tears still stinging my eyes as I ran, and the words began to come even before I got there. I opened my spiral notebook and began to write. I wrote and wrote in my scribbling hand. I made confessions. I made apologies. I said things to Lanie that I never thought I would be able to say. I told her the truth of what happened with Mike Warren. I told her about the day I fell in love with her. I told her I was sure, positive, that Jesus was going to heal this cancer thing and that she should be strong and have faith. I told her all that was in my heart and on my mind. I cried as I wrote, and my tears stained the pages. They were smearing the letters in places, but I didn’t care anymore. Lanie would know my heart no matter the cost. Even if she tore the letter to pieces and told me she never wanted to see me again she had to know how I felt. It was all I could do.
It was late when I finished; after midnight, but I could not wait one more minute. I quietly went downstairs and snuck out of the house. I walked all the way through town and snuck up to the Resley’s house. As silently as possible I placed the letter inside the screen door and eased it closed again. It had one word written on the envelope “Lanie”. I knew Lanie always let the dog out that door first thing when she woke up in the morning and so I left it for her to find. Along with it I put a bound bundle of Golden Rod, the only flower I could find at midnight, and in the envelope itself I had lovingly placed the 4H stone.
I didn’t sleep a wink all night I lay awake praying for Lanie talking to God with tears streaming down my face. I felt different now. I felt older, more mature, like the silliness of youth was far from me and I was now an adult. In many ways I suppose that was actually the truth. A change had come over me and after the events of the days to follow I would never be the same again.
Chapter 8 “All the drama of this earth does not go unnoticed by our God. He knows every tear and feels every groan of grief. He is with us through it all and through it all He loves us” Pastor John Resley
When the first blush of pink lit up the eastern sky in the morning I got out of bed and walked to the Resley’s house again. In the early light of day things looked so much different then they had the night before. Hope filled my teenage heart. Surely God would heal this angel on earth. He would never take away a pastor’s wife AND daughter. He would not have let me fall in love with Lanie just before he took her. This was as certain as the concrete beneath my tennis shoes. God would not let my Lanie die. He couldn’t.
As I approached the house I saw Lanie’s bedroom light on. She had the only bedroom on the ground floor of the house. The Master Bedroom; it had been her Father’s room but as Lanie got older he decided she needed a private bathroom more than he did so he moved upstairs and she moved down. It was always the cleanest room in the house, not to mention the cleanest bathroom, but I wasn’t allowed there anymore of course. I saw the shadow of her form cross the light of the window and was startled. I hid myself where I could see in but she couldn’t see me. It was then with a shock that I realized she was reading my letter! Not only that; she was almost finished with it. All of the confidence and passion with which my letter was written ran out of me. What had I done! My whole heart was in that letter and now she was reading it! Now for better or worse she would know….well she would know EVERYTHING! Oh God what if she didn’t like me? What if she rejected my advances? How would I ever face her again? The worst part was she was everywhere around me at school, at church EVERYWHERE! I had ruined my own life and never knew it! How stupid I had been to write that horrible letter! I nearly ran to her window and snatched the letter from her hands but then she turned into the light… I saw the corner of her mouth….. she was smiling!!!!!
Hope soared within me. Could it be? Was it possible she felt the same? Was it possible she could find a place in her heart for me? Oh my God I was almost flying now! I slowly walked away from the house. My feet were hardly touching the ground. There was a buoyancy in my chest that lifted ever upward. The smile could not be wiped from my face. Tears were beginning to form in my eyes. I turned to see her one last time. She was leaning against the window pane, the letter still in her hands, the light of the red sunrise shining on the tear stained note that carried my fragile soul. She held my heart in her hands, and now she knew it.
I didn’t go home. I walked to school. The doors were open so I went in. I had never been to school this early before. Some of the teachers were there chatting over coffee in the halls or getting ready for the day. Somehow seeing them like this , outside the schedule and bustle of the school day, made them more human. I was wondering what it must be like to be a teacher. Seeing kids come in and out year after year. Growing up, graduating, passing, failing, maturing it all happens before their eyes. Some of these teachers probably know the kids better than their own parents do. How sad. My mind was swirling in this way when Ms Anderson walked in, her radiant smile brightening the half lit hallways.
“Hi Andy!” she said, “What are you doing here so early?”
“I couldn’t sleep” I answered.
“Is everything ok?” she asked looking concerned.
“No, not really” I replied
“What is it? Do you need to talk to someone?” she put her hand on my shoulder.
“It’s Lanie………” tears were in my eyes. I realized then that other than in my letter I had not talked to ANYONE about any of this.
“Come on in Andy.” she said motioning me to the classroom, “we’ve got time”
I told her everything. I couldn’t believe my own words. It came out without thought and without caution. I even told her how I let Ryan believe I was in love with her just to avoid the subject of his sister. She listened and smiled, and when I got to the part about Lanie’s illness she cried with me. When I was finally done she looked at me and put words to the question that ruled my thoughts.
“Well what are you going to do now that she knows?” hearing the question come from her mouth felt strange. It took this from the realm of teenage fantasy and emotion to the real world. I realized in that moment that I was the one to decide what the next step would be. Then something crystallized in my mind. Now is the time. There was no going back. If she was to stay sick she needed me, if she was to be healed she needed me. I can not miss the next few days and weeks for anything. From that moment forward I was committed. The decision was not looming in front of me it was already made. I was hers, whether she wanted me or not.
“Miss Anderson I am going to love Lanie. That’s all I know how to do.” I said staring into space. I turned to look at her face. I could tell she was moved and yet there was something else as well.
“You know Andy” she said “I can admire that. I.....I just need you to be careful. In times like these people’s hearts can run away with themselves and they can do things they regret for a long time, say things they don’t really mean….You and Lanie are so young. There are lots of things you just don’t understand yet.” She paused then searching my eyes for understanding. I think she found it. “Just…be careful ok?”
I left Miss Anderson’s classroom thinking about her words of caution. I knew she was trying to protect me, and I was touched by her concern, but determined. At that present moment I had NO idea what I was determined to do but I knew nothing would stand in my way. The busses had arrived and kids were streaming into the school. I went to my locker to grab my books for my first class when Ryan came up to me with an ambiguous look on his face. He didn’t say a word he just handed me a folded piece of paper, touched me on the shoulder and walked away. I watched him walk away with slight amusement and confusion. I looked down at the piece of paper it had one word written on it in handwriting I immediately recognized. It said “Andy”. There was a pressure in my chest and a lump in my throat. Here it was; her answer. I simultaneously wanted to tear it open and bury it somewhere never to know its fateful contents. The combination of staying up all night, and my high level of stress and emotion got the better of me then. I ran to the bathroom and lost my breakfast. The school nurse called my mom and I went home.
All the time in the nurse’s office, all the time in the car on the way home, that note squirmed in my sweaty hand. I pictured its ink seeping into my blood stream and poisoning me. One time on the 5 block ride home my racing thoughts welled up in my stomach and we had to pull over so I could vomit my angst onto the ground. We got home I stumbled up the stairs to my bedroom tears hanging in my eyes. I would have been sick again but there was nothing in me to come out. I shut my door and lay back on the bed. The note had now become fully a part of my hand but I did not even for the briefest of moments forget that it was there. It was the heaviest, largest note in the history of the world. It filled my room with its lovingly written address. “Andy” was written in Lanie’s handwriting on every wall and all over the ceiling. I closed my eyes and it was there burning in gaudy neon on the underside of my eyelids. Ok…… I had to open it……and I had to open it… now.
The rustling of the paper was loud in my ears as I opened the little note. I caught a glimpse of the lines written in her sweet penmanship and my vision blurred. It obviously said more than just, “ewww no you jerk stay away from me”. I fell back again on the bed exhausted. Ok that was all the further I could get for the moment. I took a few deep breaths regaining my courage and sat up again. I began to read:
Wow. That is pretty much all I have to say right now. Wow. You have been my best friend for as long as I can remember. I love that you gave me back the 4h stone. I had almost forgotten about it and seeing it again after all this time made me feel better than I have in a long time. The past few days I have cried more than I have ever in my life. I have never been this scared. I have never been this worried about Daddy. I have never been this overwhelmed. Your letter, as surprising as it was, has been the best thing that has happened to me since the beginning of all of this craziness. I really don’t know how to answer you except to say, “I don’t know”. I mean my best friend is in love….. with me? That is just…..amazing and scary and totally makes me forget about all of this crap about my leg. If for no other reason than that, I thank you for your letter. I guess I know now why you beat the crap out of Mike Warren. Thank you for that too by the way.
The obvious question is, “what do I do now?” I wish I could just say, “I love you too” and run into your arms forever but Andy I might be dying. I know you believe I will be healed, and you might be right. I hope you are. I don’t want to die. Especially not now, but I just don’t know.
Andy I can’t. I am glad you love me. If things were different…. But I won’t pretend they are. Andy romance and that kind of love are complications I could do without for now. I already feel guilty enough for doing this to Daddy, Aunt Holly, and Ryan. I cannot wreck your life with my stuff by making you more involved than you already are.
I need you to be my friend. I need you to keep praying for me. I need you to forget you love me. If you really love me you will do that for me.
I am so sorry Andy.
I stared at the page. My mind was totally blank and all the emotion that had been a deafening roar was silent now in the ears of my heart. My room like my heart was silent. The only sound I heard was a soft ringing in my ears. I put the letter down on my bed, and shuffled out into the hall.
"Would you like some toast honey?" My mother called up to me sweetly from downstairs. I found my voice and it sounded surprisingly normal.
"yeah momma, that might help. thanks" I replied.
I walked slowly into the bathroom and stared at my own face in the mirror. I felt like I was looking at someone I didn't know. My skin was pale, my hair out of place and my eyes were empty of any hint of hope or despair. I did not know how to feel. I wanted to feel something but my heart would not stir. It lay dead within me.
As I stared into my own eyes I rehearsed the simple words of the letter. "If things were different...But I won't pretend they are....complications I could do without....forget you love me....forget you love me...forget you love me....forget you love me.....forget you love me.............
A single solitary tear ran down my right cheek. Forget. That is the one thing I could NOT do. My love was as much a part of me now as my eyes or my hands, I could sooner forget to breathe than to forget to love Lanie Gabrielle Resley. As I sat there numb I willed my mind to work but it would not. The storm of thoughts that had flooded my mind was calm now and there was no stirring it up again. So I stared at nothing in the deafening silence that surrounded me inside and out.
A soft knock at the door startled me out of my eternity of solid emptiness, “I have your toast sweetheart” my Momma said softly “Can I see your face?” I opened the door and looked at my Mother. I realized I hadn’t looked at her face, not really looked at it, for a very long time. She was beautiful and I noticed then how different she looked to me now even though she still looked the same. The change in me had made a change in her or at least in the way I saw her. She was not just “mom” now she was a woman. No longer invincible and unchangeable, in fact she looked tired, she looked worried, but mostly in that moment to this young man she looked like home. All the fountains of emotion that had been dammed up inside me broke in that moment and I collapsed into my Momma’s arms. I became again the little boy that I had been only a few short weeks before. I cried harder than I ever remember crying, my Momma just holding me and stroking my hair.
Chapter 9 “Prayer, the cry of the human heart unto God, can change anything, governments topple, wars are won and lost, salvation is released and healing sent, all by the power of prayer, but the most important thing it changes is the heart from which it springs” Pastor John Resley
Tuesday night was our regular weekly Bible study. Several families got together at a friends’ house to study through the Bible verse by verse. The children were not exempt from this although we were not really expected to participate. After dinner and a short song service we would retreat to the basement and goof around while our parents discussed the scriptures together. I was feeling much better and had, for the most part come to terms with what Lanie had decided about our relationship. If she needed a friend I could be that. It was still quite awkward however when we had to face each other that night. I was all tied up in knots and nervous to see her. I kept watching up the road for the Resleys as they walked down the street together toward the house. When I saw a chipper Ryan leading the way I immediately lost my nerve and went into the house and down to the basement. I waited there in eager anticipation for them to arrive. I heard the noise upstairs as they came in the house. Everyone would be hugging and maybe, because of the situation, crying a little. Pentecostals are loving and emotional people. It is our nature. By now everyone in the church would have added Lanie to their prayer lists and been calling out her name before the throne of Heaven without stopping for several days. We all believed that God would heal her; maybe even tonight. Ryan came down the stairs alone. Poor Ryan, he was hurting. This was affecting him on more levels than he knew he had, but he didn’t want it to show. His twin sister may die, his fear of losing her had always been exaggerated by his mother’s death and his father’s deep rooted fear of losing either of them. His desire to look strong was exaggerated by the fact that he knew his father and his sister needed someone to lean on. It was too much for a fifteen year old kid. The war almost split him at the seams. “Hey man” he said. I wanted to hug him, but 15yr old guys don’t hug; even Pentecostal ones.
“Hey” was my lame response. There was an awkward silence. Neither of us wanted to talk about the past few days but neither of us had anything else on our minds. He was the first to think of something and he asked me about a video game he had heard about on the radio. We chatted about it for a while when Ryan said something that made me laugh. Oh that felt good. I didn’t remember the last time I had laughed. I am sure it had been only days ago but it might as well have been a million years ago. We chatted together and laughed some more for a while and then we heard the sound of raised voices from upstairs. We both knew what was happening. They were praying. We walked up the stairs curious to what exactly was going on. We opened the door at the top of the stairs and heard singing and loud praying and things like, “In the name of JESUS” and “Yes Lord!”, and “Cancer we rebuke you!” etc. They were praying for Lanie. When we went into the room we saw them all 9 or ten adults surrounding Lanie who was seated in a chair. Pastor John had his hands on his daughter’s leg and he was crying. The others were standing around her and were laying their hands on her head and shoulders. This kind of thing was very normal at our church it happened all the time. This is how people were healed. We had seen people healed. I had seen it with my own eyes and it was during prayer like this. I believed in my heart that it would happen. That was all it took; right? I walked over immediately and laid my hand on Lanie’s back along side my parents. I began to pray. I cried. I begged God to save her life. I told Him I knew He could heal and that I was sure he would do it again. I told Him that I KNEW He loved her and that He would heal her. After 15 minutes or so the intensity of the prayers began to wane and then stopped all together. Everyone was sniffing and blowing their noses. Lanie had her arms around her Daddy and he had his arms around her and they were both crying. I watched them for probably 30 seconds. They were whispering to each other and we couldn’t hear what they were saying, but they were smiling and that hadn’t happened in a long time.
We broke the group then and did the other thing that comes most natural to Pentecostals, we ate. Lanie was occupied with several of the other church ladies getting everything ready for the crowd. I watched her. She was amazing. Laughing and talking with ladies that were all decades older than her without even a hint of self consciousness. Her smile was radiant. Her laughter lifted everyone in the room. Her shimmering green eyes held me in a daze of wonder. Then she raised those incomparable eyes and looked at me. I froze, not sure how to react. I was supposed to forget I loved her. She relieved me of the tension when she smiled at me and waived me over. I slowly walked having no clue what she was going to say or do. She put her hand on mine and said sweetly.
“I want to talk to you Andy but not here. Can we hang out after?”
“Yeah sure” I said infinitely more calmly than I felt.
“Good” she said and went back to her work. The activity of the group for the rest of the evening was a numb and silent affair to me. My stomach was twisting within me. I didn’t know what Lanie was going to say and I didn’t know what I was going to do. There was a dull pressure of tension behind my eyes and a tingle in my hands. After several attempts at engaging me in conversation Ryan moved on annoyed to other friends for his entertainment; I was not available. I was disengaged and distracted. There was a moment in the midst of the evening when I realized how horrible a friend I was being but I didn’t have the strength to shake my lethargy. Before I knew it my thoughts had carried me through the bible study and we were cleaning up the house and on our way out. Lanie caught my eye and motioned for me to slip away. My parents were busy chatting and in no hurry so I disappeared around the side of the house; to await my lady love.
It was a warm night. The promise of summer wafted on the breeze, and the stars were out, bright and enchanting. The full moon hung low on the horizon coloring the whole world with its blue-gray softness. I knew as I took in the scene that I would never forget a single detail of this moment. I filled my lungs with the fragrant air. The tang of newly cut grass mixed with the earthy aroma of the fields wet with dew and the morning’s rain. No cloud was in the sky and though it was not late, the days were not long enough yet for the sun to still be coloring the horizon. Lanie was beside me then. I had not heard her approach nor had she spoken but my whole body was attuned to her nearness. My cheeks flushed as I waited for her to speak. My ears grew warm and my knees weakened. “Forget” she had said. Not bloody likely.
“Wow what an amazing night!”, she said her voice hushed and full of awe. I turned to look at her now although I knew exactly what she would look like. I had seen those brilliant green eyes filled with wonder at the night sky many times over the years. I had seen that sweet mouth half open with fascination and joy, and that angle of her chin slightly elevated to take in the view on camping trips, church outings, and late nights in the tree house in her back yard. I had memorized those features. They were features of my best friend and I had seen them in some of the best times of my life, but as I looked at her she too, like my mother the day before, and my own face in the mirror, had changed. I saw a mark of sadness deep in her eyes, sadness and joy intermingled. It made her look so much like her dad. She was more beautiful than anyone I had ever looked at in my life.
“Lanie” I said softly and she turned those matchless eyes to mine. “I know what your letter said, but…”
“but what..” she said.
“How can I forget?” I asked. “You’re not just some girl….you know? You’re Lanie. My best friend and now…something happened I don’t know how or why but it did and you can’t just be my pal anymore.” I was crying now, as was she “I don’t know what else to say.” Then I did the absolutely unthinkable. I put my hand behind her head, gathered her to me and put my lips to hers. For all of my passion it was my first kiss and was admittedly clumsy in its beginning, but as I lingered there she joined me in the kiss. Our tears mingled on our lips as that eternal moment went on. When we finally drew back from each other we were both sobbing.
“I love you” I said through my tears.
“I love you too” she said without looking at me. Then she shook herself from my embrace and ran away without another word. I stood there perplexed. My head was buzzing from the experience. My lips were on fire from the kiss. She said she loved me and then she ran away. I couldn’t believe it. We had kissed! I had kissed her but she had kissed me back! I had my first kiss! My head swam and a sweet joy filled my heart, regardless of the curious end to our encounter.
Chapter 10 “Love, Friendship, Family, Fellowship all of these sweet joys are what make the journey bright and worthwhile. Not even the darkness of death can steel from the light of love” Pastor John Resley.
I don’t know why but getting ready in the morning has always been a time of deep reflection for me. I have had some of my best ideas and most astonishing self revelations first thing in the morning as my mind emerges from the fog of sleep. Perhaps since the acts of showering and the brushing of my teeth etc take no mental energy at all, my brain takes the opportunity to philosophically stretch its legs. Maybe it is the earthy humanity of personal hygiene that returns me to the basic questions of life. Does everyone progress through their daily grooming regimen with their minds occupied by esoteric questions? Sometimes it is strange things like, “I wonder who invented bread? I mean there was wheat growing wild in the field and a caveman tries it and sees that it is good but where was the leap made from that to, ‘hey lets grind this stuff up, mix it with water and cook it over the fire!’ what steps did that go through before we had something that was even tasty enough to be edible?” Then there were mornings where I dwelt on deep metaphysical questions like. Does the present exist? I mean as soon as we realize it “is” then it is past. Hence the words “now” or “presently” have no meaning really because if I say something is happening “now” we mean that part of it has happened in the last few moments and part of it will happen immediately but even as the word “now” is escaping your lips it is no longer now it is a few milliseconds ago. Yeah I would get lost on that kind of stuff for hours. Am I just weird?
This particular morning my fertile awakening mind was fixed on the greatest of questions; Lanie. I was still aglow from my encounter with her the night before, but the way she had left me was a growing worry in my mind. It chewed at the back of my consciousness with an ever increasing curiosity that I could not escape. She had said she loved me but she was crying and she had run away. I hadn’t seen her again after that even though we had stayed for at least another 30 or 40 minutes at the house. Why would she run away like that? Had I offended her with my kiss? She had definitely kissed me back. She hadn’t stopped crying then however; in fact she had cried harder after the kiss. I didn’t get it. As I got ready for school I mulled it over. I hoped that the day, as it unfolded, might reveal a little more of the mystery to me. I might see Lanie at school or even Ryan. I didn’t know whether or not she would tell her brother about all of this. I hadn’t spoken to him about it. He was the deliverer of her response to my letter but the note he had brought me bore no marks of having been previously opened. The look on his face at the time would have betrayed something of his feelings on the matter, but he had only looked confused. So I did not think he had a clue just yet as to what had happened. As I left my house that day my mind was full of these things tumbling around. The day was cool and wet. One of those days that it isn’t raining but the fog is so such that just walking down the street you get little beads of dew collecting on your hair and clothes. I love days like that! I saw a flash of color in the gray world and looked over to see a red cardinal flying away toward the Resley’s. When, as I walked toward the school that misty gray morning, she came out of nowhere, little water droplets like diamonds on her eyelashes. She said not a word to me, but grabbed my hand, pulling me off the sidewalk and into a little hidden place in the bushes that separated school property from the neighboring homes and yards. I waited for her to speak because I had no idea what she was going to say. She began with her characteristic directness. “Andy, I have thought a lot about everything. I’ve prayed about it a lot. I knew from the moment I read your letter that I loved you. I just didn’t want to pull you into this craziness going on with me. I would never forgive myself if I hurt you, I hadn’t even thought about you like that before but, I….I want to do this. I want us to be, I mean I want to be your, um… do you know what I am saying or do I have to keep going?”
All through her tangled run on sentence my smile had grown wider and wider. My soul was lifted inside me. “No! I mean yes! I mean I know what you mean!” I replied. “You don’t need to say one more word Lanie” she looked at me then. Her eyes were shining with happiness but she had a question there too. “What?” I asked grabbing her hands and looking at the tears that were welling up in her sparkling jade eyes.
“This may sound stupid”, she said half laughing, “but, what do we do now?”
“I have no idea!” I said laughing myself. We both laughed then; tears streaming down our faces. It was one of those moments when the general overflow of emotion is so strong that you weep and laugh and groan all at once and I know no real word for those moments. All I know is I want more of them! After that first wave of joy swept over we started talking about the next few days. What would we say to our parents? I don’t know that this was something most 15 year old couples ever think about, but her Dad and my dad were best friends, and not only that Lanie was sick, and there was the church to think about. That is when it dawned on us. What would we say to Ryan? He was MY best friend, and her twin brother! I asked Lanie what he knew so far and, as I had suspected, he knew nothing at this point. I had no idea how he would feel about all of this. We stayed there and talked for a long time. I couldn’t take my eyes off her face. She looked so happy. I felt so grateful. There was an immediate intimacy restored to us. All of the awkwardness of the past few months was swept away in a moment. We laughed, we told secrets, we made promises we were finally friends again and so much more. Oh the sweet bliss that filled my chest just looking at this angel and knowing she was mine; finally mine. Whatever that meant.
Chapter 11 “ Life comes at us in seasons the winter never lasts forever, unfortunately neither does the Summer” Pastor John Resley.
Over the next few days and weeks there grew between Lanie and myself a golden, perfect, untouchable happiness. We went everywhere together. We laughed, we talked, we held hands, life it seemed had become sublime. We tried to keep it all a secret for as long as possible but Ryan found out pretty quickly, mostly because we couldn’t help telling him over and over. He took it pretty much in stride; trying his best not to let us know how much he hated the idea of his sister and his best friend “going out”. Quite frankly I don’t know why it gets called that. We were barely 15 and couldn’t really “go” anywhere, but that was the terminology. Lanie and I never called it that. That made it low and powerless, like some foolish teenage fling. We were in love and as far as we were concerned this was permanent. This could move Heaven and Earth. This could cure cancer! Oh how I wish we had been right.
Eventually we decided to tell our parents. My Mom and Dad were worried but they sat me down and told me they trusted me to behave toward Lanie as a “Sister in the Lord” and that I should know what that meant. They also told me not to do anything that would endanger our friendship in any way. I promised I would and we prayed together, my Mom cried a little. The next night they invited Lanie to dinner at our house and after dinner they sat us down on the couch together. They repeated pretty much everything that they had told me and then they told Lanie they loved her and they always thought of her as a daughter and that they were praying with her about her health and if she needed anything to just ask. As I walked her home that night she told me how much she appreciated my parents and how at home she had felt in our house; that made me feel good. She kissed me goodnight and I walked on air the whole way home.
Pastor Resley however was another matter. He said nothing to me about it at all. When Lanie told him about us he only shook his head and said he didn’t think it was a good idea but he wouldn’t forbid it. My relationship with him which had been warm and friendly turned to cold, distant and practically nonexistent. He avoided me and to be honest I avoided him. Lanie and I weren’t doing anything wrong but it was just weird thinking he didn’t like what was going on. I wish now I would have been a man and talked to him about it all but you can’t change the past. I cannot blame the man. It was his only daughter. She was deathly ill. He had lost his wife and now faced possibly losing her too, and she was saying she is in love at 15. I wouldn’t have handled it well either.
Lanie kept going back to the doctor every week or so. They had caught it pretty early he had said and they would start with the least invasive treatment possible. Lanie had bunches of pills and stuff to take. They usually made her sick to her stomach but Lanie was a trooper. This medicine they said would not make her lose her hair, but if the tumor got any bigger they would have to changer her medicine and maybe even operate. We prayed earnestly that this “demon of cancer” would be destroyed.
Several weeks later school let out for the Summer. Lanie and I spent the long days of sun drenched glory hand in hand. Ryan and I played in little league and Lanie would come and watch. She would have played softball like she had the other summers but her medicine made her to weak to run the bases so she did not join the team that year. We were a pretty horrible team but it was a lot of fun. One evening I will never forget. I was up to bat. The first pitch was way outside so I watched it fly by the second I swung and missed. The third I hit foul to left field. As I readied myself for the next pitch I heard Lanie’s voice behind me, “hit it out Andy!” she said. I looked behind me to see her standing smiling at the fence her fingers threaded through the links. Her strawberry blonde hair in a pony tail, her stunning green eyes on me filled with a smile. “for me!” she said. How could I say no? I turned back to the plate. The pitcher wound up and sent me the same knuckle ball I had fouled out before. I swung. I felt the connection in my shoulder and watched the ball disappear over the fence. I had never hit a home run in my life. I jogged the bases with Lanie’s cheers in my ears. Everyone else was cheering too, I am sure, but I only heard her, and she is the only one I saw waiting for me at home plate. My team crowded a round me and I felt hands touching my head and shoulders but I brushed past them all and sank into Lanie’s waiting embrace. We didn’t kiss. We never did in public, it would have been a scandal for her father, but I held her to me and she whispered into my ear, “I love you”. Does this sound like a dream to you? Like something out of some sappy movie? I realize it probably does but I promise you it is the truth. Movies, sappy or otherwise, must have some basis in truth, and like a good movie our golden summer was over much too soon.
Our time flew by. The days were bright and the nights warm and clear. One night I snuck out of my house late at night and met Lanie in the old tree house in her back yard. We both knew if our parents found out it would be trouble, but she had gone to the doctor that day and been gone all day. I needed to see her and they didn’t understand that. We laid there in the tree house with the hatch roof open holding hands, looking at the stars and talking, talking, talking. The night was alive with the sound of crickets and the golden flashes of lightening bugs across the lawn. It was pure magic. After a while we ran out of things to say. I kissed her. She kissed me back and my breath grew quick. It was too quiet. My heart began to drum against my ribs. My cheeks got very warm, my palms began to sweat. The atmosphere changed. We kissed again and my whole body responded to her. Suddenly Lanie pushed me away, she sat up on one elbow and looked at me hard. I looked up at her.
“What is it?” I asked expecting a rebuke. Had I gone too far?
“Andy?” she said “do you really love me?”
“Yes I do” I said earnestly looking into her eyes
“Then I can tell you anything?” she asked
“yes” I said, still confused
“I think I might be dying.” She confessed.
“Did something happen at the doctor’s that you didn’t tell me about?” I asked
“No” she said, “they said the tumor is shrinking.”
“That’s great!” I said smiling but she wasn’t smiling, “what is it Lanes?”
“I am not ready to die” she said suddenly.
“I am not ready for you to die either.” I said softly sitting up. “I need you.”
“I just have a really bad feeling deep inside that it’s not ok.” She said, “Daddy says we have to trust the love of God and believe that He hears our prayers, but I can’t shake this feeling.”
“I don’t know what to say” I admitted “I can’t live without you….and besides you can’t die now.”
“Why not?” she asked
“You have to marry me and give me my 7 kids first.” I replied.
“Seven?” she said a smile touching the corners of her perfect mouth.
“At least.” I touched her cheek with my fingertips checking to see if the smile was real.
“I think I could manage that” she said smiling for real this time. I know she thought I was joking, and maybe I was a little, but part of me was deadly serious; at least as serious as I could be. I loved her. I wanted to spend my every minute with her. Nothing in the world could change that. I kissed her one more time and we climbed down out of the tree house. As I walked home reluctantly I kept thinking about what she had said, and my horrible dream of months before came rushing back to me. I stopped in the road in surprise and fear. “NO” I said my voice loud in the twilight silence of the humid night. I pushed the panic down and refused to think about it. If I lost her now I don’t know what I would do.
Chapter 12 “The immortal word of God is my foundation. When I stand on it I cannot be shaken…..much” Pastor John Resley
The Sunday before school started again was a beautiful late August morning. Pastor Resley was continuing his sermon series on Romans. He was preaching on Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose”.
“The Christian has no right to depression.” He said. “Not when we know the truth!”
“AMEN!” three or four people shouted from different places in the congregation. Pastor continued
“We grieve, we mourn for a time, but then, we rest; in the promise that will never fail. We are held firm; rock solid in the hands of Jesus. He saw us in our sin and, Oh the Glory! He took our place! We deserved Hell eternal but He took our place and now we are His forever! For ‘nothing can separate us from His love. Neither death nor life, nor angels nor demons, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation!’ No Nothing!” Pastor paused a moment and looked at Lanie sitting next to me and his voice caught a bit. “Even in the darkest, most frightening of times, even when we do not understand, even when it hurts, even when it is all your fault, even when we deserve the darkness, our lives are in His hands. Not only that beloved, oh thank God not only that. He is working for our good. At every moment and through every circumstance, He is working for our good. He never stops and He never gets tired. Isaiah 40 says God never grows weary, He never slumbers or sleeps. Just when you think He has given up on you He is there behind the scenes doing what it takes to get you through. It reminds me of that old old song “Is not this the land of Beulah” “Oh the cross has wondrous beauty oft I’ve found this to be true for when I’m in the way so narrow I have found a pathway through and how sweetly Jesus whispers ‘take the cross though needs not fear for I’ve trod the way before you and my Glory lingers here’” He was weeping now as he spoke. “and that is the sweetness of it all is it not? It is all for His Glory. If my dying, or living, or suffering or rejoicing can bring glory to the one who saved my eternal soul from everlasting torment to the only one in all of this mess that is really worthy of Glory then so be it. Every last moment of weeping was worth it if it brings honor to His name.” He closed his mouth resolutely, his face lifted to Heaven. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. “My friends you know me. You know my story. You know I’ve seen times that rocked me to the core and I know there may be more to come as the Lord terries, but I can honestly say, my heart is His; no matter what comes. “Though He slay me; I will trust Him”.
I looked around at the congregation. The presence of the Spirit of God was tangible in the room. I could see it on the faces of every person there. His stillness filled the room; other than the sniffling and soft weeping of different ones the room lay silent. Then I heard a sweet voice lifted in song. I turned to see Lanie standing next to me her arms in the air, her face upturned. She was singing, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow! Because He lives all fear is gone, Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives.” The congregation stood as one and joined her in exaltation. The song filled the room and our hearts. I’ll never forget that day. It held my heart above water during the many days that followed which did all they could to drown me in sorrow.
Chapter 13 “ We should enjoy the times we have with our loved ones. When you don’t have them anymore you deeply regret every missed opportunity” Pastor John Resley
The next day was our first day of School. I love the beginning of school every year. I love the whole process. Buying school supplies, getting new clothes, new shoes, new teachers, new books, new classes the whole world changes. This year had the added joy of Lanie. She arranged for my mother and I to accompany her and her Aunt Holly to the mall in the nearby larger town of Hartfordsville. “If you are to be seen with me this year Andy Thomas” she had said laughing “then I need to have some input on what it is you are going to wear!” I don’t know how that lucky jerk Ryan managed to get out of this torturous adventure but he did. I was left to be dressed like a human doll for the entire day by my mother, my girlfriend and her aunt. By the end of the trip they remarked that they were adequately satisfied with my attire for the coming year and Lanie assured me that now she would have no reason to be ashamed to call herself mine. To be honest I enjoyed ever minute of that day. I complained and fretted at the ladies throughout the duration of my trial of fashion but it was mostly an act. My mother and Lanie having that much fun together was a sight I will remember for a long time. It was perfect, it was right, truly if the rest of my life could be this way I would never cease to be completely happy.
Our first day as Sophomores was a normal first day. Finding all my new classes and getting lost at least once. Once the correct room was found I had to find a seat close enough to the front so that I can see and learn etc but not so close that I look like a geek. At each passing period I would compare notes with my friends on what classes we have together and so on. I was overjoyed to learn that Lanie and I had three classes together out of the 6 periods of the day and the same lunch schedule. I got to spend half the day with the love of my life. My grades might suffer but it was going to be a great year. The routine of school, church, and home began to make the days speed up again. My life was restored from the chaos and the splendor of summer to the order of the fall’s rigid schedule. Lanie and I were not allowed to “date” or go out alone together until we were 16 so we found as many excuses to see each other as possible. That is why when we both got invited to Michael Warren’s birthday party, regardless of our history with the kid, we decided to go. I bought him a gift certificate to the video rental place having no idea what else to get him and stopped by the Resley’s to walk Lanie to the party. She came out the front door her radiant smile and strawberry blonde locks lighting up my world. I took her hand and we started to walk. As we strolled along down the street in the crisp fall evening air we said nothing to each other. The silence was comfortable and sweet. We walked the three blocks to Michael’s house without any hurry . We got to the door and rang the door bell. Michael’s mother came to the door and smiled welcoming us in gregariously.
“Come on in and make yourselves at home” she said happily. “You can put Mikey’s card over there” she pointed to a table in the dining room. Lanie got grabbed by two girls and disappeared in a cloud of gossip and giggles. I made my way into the living room where I saw Ryan standing by himself looking sheepish.
“Hey man.” I said, “what’s going on?”
“I feel stupid now” he said frowning in his Hawaiian punch
“What for?” I asked.
“Michael just asked me who I ‘brought’ tonight” he said rolling his eyes and making quotes in the air. “Apparently this is a guy/girl party. Like a date thing and I didn’t know it!”
“Oh” was all I knew to say. I felt bad for the guy. He had never had a girlfriend and it was kind of a sore subject for him with the thing going on between me and Lanie.
“It sucks man” he said morosely “I can’t just leave, that would be just as embarrassing as staying, but I feel really out of place now!”
“Is Mike going out with somebody? I didn’t think he was.” I responded hopefully
“Yeah he and Jenny Mathis are ‘together’ now. This is supposedly the real thing. I guess they have been going out for a whopping week or so I’m told. You and Lanes really started something around here.” he said nodding at me.
It was true I suppose. Ever since Lanie and I had gotten together 4 months ago everybody seemed to be pairing off. Prior to us there had been the usual thing with guys and girls “going out” together for a few weeks and then breaking up in a puddle of tears (only on the girls part of course), but nothing remotely serious until now. Still I think it was more the age we were at than anything else.
“Well Lanie doesn’t seem to be interested in hangin’ with me tonight. Jenny and Sarah took her downstairs to the basement as soon as we got here.” I said “the guys are all in the living room.”
“Yeah we’ll see how long that lasts.” Ryan’s voice was rich with sarcasm, as always. He turned out to be right however. When the pizza arrived all the girls came upstairs and I got called to Lanie’s side. Unable to refuse her I left Ryan to fend for himself. He wasn’t the only guy there without someone on his arm but almost. Lanie tried in vain to get him to go talk to her friend Sarah who Lanie said “Liked him” and wanted him to “ask her out”.
Ryan kept saying things like, “If she likes me so much why doesn’t she just come talk to me.” Lanie would roll her eyes and sigh. I just smiled at the poor guy. He had no clue. She finally gave up on him and we all settled down to watch a movie in the living room. Lanie and I sat side by side in the big recliner that was only made for one, but seating was limited. My mind was on anything but the movie. Having Lanie that close to me she was my whole world; all I could see, hear, taste or smell was Lanie. She reached over and interlaced her fingers with mine putting our hands on my chest and laying her head on my shoulder. I squeezed her hand gently and my heart filled to bursting with the delight of my beloved. My eyes filled with tears of joy as love welled up within me. It WAS love it was! There is nothing else it could be. This was an eternal moment and this was love.
“I love you Lanie” I whispered in her ear. “I always have and I always will.”
She brought my hand to her lips and kissed my fingers. She lifted her head and put her chin on my shoulder as she lay next to me. Her breath hot on my neck sent lightening through my teenage body all the way down to my toes. She whispered, as she looked at me, something I couldn’t hear because of the blood rushing in my ears, and kissed my neck. More lightening LOTS more lightening, this was too much for me. I reached for her arm to make her stop and almost brushed her blouse. She pushed me away suddenly.
“ANDY” she whispered harshly and backed away. She had felt my motion and misunderstood my intent but the damage was done. She put the foot rest down on the recliner and stood without looking at me. My eyes searched for hers but she would not meet my gaze. Her face was flushed as she made her way out of the room mumbling something about needing to use the restroom. When she returned she sat on the other side of the room. I was still reeling from our encounter but it hurt to see her arms folded and brows low scowling at nothing and looking anywhere but at me. I did not walk her home that night. She disappeared about an hour later and I didn’t see her again until school on Monday. She was sitting alone in the library at a table looking miserable. I walked in and sat down. She didn’t even look up at me.
“Can I talk to you?” I asked quietly
“go ahead” was her terse reply.
“I am sorry. I missed you at church yesterday.” I said bending down a bit to try and catch her eye. “About Saturday night, I honestly wasn’t trying to make you uncomfortable I was reaching for your elbow, not……anything else.”
“Oh Andy” she sighed sounding frustrated and exhausted at the same time, “I’ve completely forgotten about that.” She said looking at her fingers as they traced the wood grain of the table.
“You have?” I asked surprised. “I thought you stayed home yesterday because you didn’t want to see me!” I almost shouted I was so relieved.
“I did” she said shrugging, “but it was something else too,” tears welled up in her eyes.
“My leg started hurting again yesterday.”
Chapter 14 “ God is not worried about your anger with Him. He understands our pain and sorrow, but that doesn’t give us the right to accuse or reject Him. We have earned every evil that happens to us. It is His love, grace and mercy we DON’T deserve.” Pastor John Resley
“It’s not good” Ryan said, his head was hanging between his knees and his hands were on the back of his neck. He was sitting on my bed that afternoon having just come back from a doctor’s visit with Lanie and his dad. I had wanted to go but Pastor Resley didn’t think it was a good idea. He said “I know you and Lanie have this ‘thing’ going on but that doesn’t make you family Andy. You can talk to her about it when she gets back.” So I was made to wait. Now they were back and Ryan had been sent by Lanie to bring me to her. He wanted to brief me first.
“She’s really sick man.” He said trying not to cry. “They are going to try and do surgery and stuff now but the doctor couldn’t promise us anything. Dad made me leave the room after that so I didn’t hear the rest but I know it was bad. The look on Dad’s face told me the whole story. Lanie just went blank like a robot and won’t even talk to me. All she would say is that she wanted you to come over right now. She is up in the attic with Mom’s old things.”
We hurried back to the Resley’s as fast as our bikes would carry us; the cold wind in my face as I rode only added to the tears that were already in my eyes. I had a sick emptiness in my chest, I felt like I was going to vomit. I used it as fuel for my prayers as I rode. “God don’t let it happen. PLEASE don’t let it happen.” Was all I could bite out. I kept repeating it over and over. I leapt off my bike without braking and ran to the door. I could hear Pastor praying and weeping in the basement from outside. He had always prayed there. He called it his prayer closet. I walked in without knocking and ran up the stairs. I opened the door to the attic and slowed my step as I crept to the top floor of the old house.
Lanie was there sitting cross legged on the floor holding a picture of her mother in her lap. She looked up and tears twinkled in her eyes.
“Hi” was all she said.
I ran to her, knelt down, and wrapped her in my arms. She sank into them welcomingly and began to sob. Her whole body shook with the force of her grief. I wept like a child. I couldn’t stand to see her in such torment. After several minutes we moved from our knees to the floor. We lay there a long time, under the dormer window, in the dying light of the autumn evening. I held her close to me with her head on my shoulder. Her weeping came in waves. She would quietly cry and then be silent again, wiping her eyes and nose on one of her mother’s handkerchiefs. Hours went by. Out side the sky grew dark, the stars came out, the pale harvest moon full and bright rose above the horizon and filled our little haven with silver light. I lifted her chin to look me in the eyes.
“I love you so much” I said quivering with emotion. She said nothing she only kissed me. I kissed her back and passion flowed into the kiss. All my sorrow and fear and grief only multiplied the ardency of my kisses. She responded to me with more fire than I gave, and we gave ourselves up to the incendiary wave. What happened then should not have happened. I will not deny it was wrong. I will not attempt to justify our actions, or elude culpability for that encounter, but I refuse to call it a simple outworking of lust and a couple15yr olds with hormones. I love Lanie Resley. I did then, I do now and I will forever, and she loved me. Wrong or right was not in my heart or mind on that fateful night, neither was lust. Only love. We were caught up. We were carried away. We were foolish, and immature, but we were in love.
I awoke the next morning to the sound of a knock on the attic door at the bottom of the stairs. Lanie stirred then and opened her eyes. We looked at each other and her eyes grew wide.
“Oh my God” she said “what did we do?”
“Lanie” Pastor Resley’s voice called from the bottom of the stairs. “Lanie did you fall asleep up there baby?”
“Andy I am so scared! What’s he going to say?” she whispered urgently getting her clothes together. I was so scared and freaked out I just sat there in shock saying nothing. “Get your clothes on Andy!” she said throwing them at me.
“Lanie honey I’m coming in. I just want to make sure you’re ok” came the voice from downstairs.
“Daddy I’m fine I was just sleeping” she called. “don’t come in…….. I’m not dressed”
But it was too late he was on his way up the stairs. I turned my head as everything went to slow motion a ring filled my ears and my senses sharpened. I saw Pastor Resley’s face rise above the level of the floor with infinite slowness. I watched his eyes lift and focus on my face and then Lanie’s. He took in the whole scene with a perpetual glance. Lanie was standing behind me holding a blanket in front of her half-dressed form; I was sitting up on the floor in front of her, covered by an old sheet, and holding my shirt in one hand and my pants in the other.
The color left his face fleetingly and then came back in a rush of crimson. He seemed frozen to the step he was on. His mouth hung open in surprise. I couldn’t see the rest of him but his face told me everything I needed to know. We all hung there, in that eternal moment, each of us trying to get a grip on what had happened, what was happening, and what it meant for the future. A sound escaped the pastor’s lips, something between a moan and a sigh, and time returned to the universe.
“Wha…….” He said “I……Lanie? Andrew?” I watched in horror as Pastor Resley proceeded through several stages of emotion in milliseconds, from shock, to disbelief, to grief, to pain, to anger and finally to blind rage. “GET OUT!” he screamed not moving a muscle “Get OUT before something really bad happens Andy….IMMEDIATELY!”
He didn’t look at me. His eyes were glued to Lanie. Poor Lanie standing there shaking like a leaf tears pouring down her face unhindered. I took a last glance at the two of them and ran down the stairs as fast as I could, out into the bright chilly morning. It was only then that I realized I had never dressed my self. I had my clothes or at least most of them in my hands but I was not wearing anything. I hid myself behind the garage and put on my pants, undershirt and socks. The shock of the whole thing made me numb and my normally whirring mind was completely blank and silent. I stiffly and quickly half dressed and slipped, in stocking feet because my shoes were still in the attic, down the little hill and into the dew covered fields. I ran.
Chapter 15 “Sin destroys everything. The reason God hates it is because it destroys all the things He loves.” Pastor John Resley
It was several minutes before I came to myself again. I was standing in mud along the riverside and looking at the water the swirls of brown muddy water moved in and out of each other like the racing currents of my tortured heart; emotion rubbing against emotion fear against love, hope against anger, and confusion against guilt. A tumultuous friction of the mind that allowed for no settling of thought no clarity, no focus, only stirring and shaking. I was losing it. I heard a growling roar and turned around to realize it had come from my own mouth. “I have to get a grip.” Finally a real thought. It was a relief to hear my own inner voice. I sat down on a rock and put my head in my hands and my elbows on my knees. Stability on the outside shored up my liquid insides a bit. I took a few deep breaths and came back a little more with each. A flash of red swept through my field of vision, I picked up my head and blinked the blur from my eyes to see a cardinal alighting on a branch above me. The sun shone through the cool morning air into my tree lined grotto. My heart reached for hope and found a hand hold in the streaming light as it fell across the crimson feathers of the bird. I wasn’t ready to smile. I wasn’t even sure it was going to be ok, but the world was not coming to an end. I was here. Lanie was alive and she loved me. That is all I knew, for the moment that is all I needed. I stood up on shaky legs and began walking slowly home.
It came to me on the walk home how worried my parents must have been about me. When your 15 year old son doesn’t come home at night you notice. I was thinking about this and what on earth I was going to say to them when I arrived home and to my surprise Lanie was waiting for me. I had despaired of ever seeing her again but here she was standing in our screen porch.
“Hi” I said tears coming unexpectedly to burn in my eyes.
“Hi Andy” she said. She was a mess. Her hair was all over her head, her eyes were red, her clothes didn’t match. Her shoes were untied and the laces were muddy. Her T shirt was tucked into her jeans haphazardly. “I came over to say goodbye and to bring your shoes.” Her shoulders rose and fell in ragged gasps she had obviously been crying hard.
“Goodbye?” I asked I climbed up the wooden stairs and went through the screen door. “what?”
“We’re leaving town and Daddy says we’ll never be back.” She
“What?” I asked my mind reeling.
“Daddy says we have to go. He doesn’t know I’m here and I can’t stay but I had to see you one last time. I love you. I’ve ruined our lives. It was all my fault. I’m so sorry.” She buried her face in my chest her fingers gripping my shirt as she wept. I put my arms around her.
“Lanie it was MY fault. No one else’s! I let it go! I am the one! For God sake don’t blame yourself!” I said in her ear stroking her hair.
“Andy I’m sorry. I love you. I have to go he is going to come looking for me soon. Just don’t follow me ok? I’ve caused enough trouble.” she didn’t look me in the eye she just let me go and ran limping on her bad leg out through the screen door. At that moment my mother came to the house door behind me.
“Andy was that Lanie leaving?” she asked “Pastor Resley was on the phone looking for her but I told him I hadn’t seen her this morning”.
“Did he say anything else to you mom?” I asked without turning around.
“No; just that he wasn’t sure where she was. Is something wrong? Why are you covered in mud?” She asked growing suspicious. What would I tell her? I couldn’t deal with it right then. I knew the truth would come to light eventually. Nothing this big could stay a secret for long, but now was not the moment. “I just went down to the river on my way home.”
“You are taking all of those clothes off before you come in here young man! If you get mud on my floor this will be the last time you spend the night with Ryan Resley for a long time!” That was when I found out why my mother wasn’t worried sick about me. Unbeknownst to me by good friend Ryan had covered for me and called my house around 8 o’clock the night before asking my parents if I could spend the night with him. It wasn’t a school night and we did this kind of thing a lot so my mom agreed without a fuss. Ryan didn’t know what we were up to up there but he loved us both enough to give us the room we needed. I have not said enough about my best friend Ryan. He carried the same burden I did and more, he had to worry about me. I didn’t give two thoughts to his feelings at the time. I think more and more about him now.
Without a word I took off my pants, shoes, and socks, and my walked in my underwear up to my room. I collapsed on the bed and was asleep before I knew it. I dreamed hazy mixed up dreams of Lanie and red birds and Pastor Resley’s face from the attic and awoke with a start. A car door had shut outside. I looked out window to see a car that looked vaguely familiar but I couldn’t place it. I saw Pastor Resley walking up the stairs of the screen porch and my heart froze in my chest. I couldn’t see his face. Was he here to reveal it all? Had he driven that car? That was when I realized where I had seen the car before. It was the rotting Caddy from the Resley’s garage, the one that hadn’t been driven in probably 10 years. Pastor Resley hadn’t driven anywhere since his wife’s death in that car accident. What would change that now? I was still puzzling over all of this and what on earth it could mean when there was a knock on my door. My Dad stuck his head in, “you awake bud?” he asked. He didn’t sound mad. That was a good sign I guess.
“Yeah Dad I’m up.” I answered pulling on a clean pair of jeans.
“Pastor is here son. He needs to talk to you for a minute.” Dad said looking a little sad. I tried desperately to find some answers in his expression but there weren’t any there. Dad swung the door open wider then and I saw Pastor Resley behind him. Tears blurred my vision of the two all of a sudden as a torrent of coinciding emotions began to pour through me. I managed a choked. “Ok Dad”. Pastor came into the room and shut the door behind him. It was just the two of us now. He didn’t look at me. He sat down on the bed and his eyes stayed glued on the window for a minute or two. I don’t think he was looking at anything really but I know he was having a hard time looking at me. After what seemed like an age of awkward silence he spoke, and a lone tear made its way down the side of his face.
“Andy…… I need to know where Lanie is. I cannot find her. I’ve driven all over town and she is just……..gone. I figured if anyone knew where she was it would be you.” He said that quietly still not looking at me. “I don’t know what is going on in her head right now or yours for that matter. I cannot believe what you did. I never would have thought you two were capable of this, but I am not here to talk about that. I just need to know where my daughter is and since you apparently know her better than anyone right now. I am asking you. Where is she Andy? Is she here?” That is when he finally turned his gaze on me and when I finally looked away.
“She was, but she left” was all I said.
“Did she say where she was going?” he asked.
“No she just left.” I replied “She asked me not to follow her.”
“We’re leaving town Andy” he said quietly. “We are leaving for a lot of reasons and your irresponsibility is the least of them. We need to go somewhere that the doctors can treat her condition and monitor it on a constant basis. Getting her away from you is just an added bonus. I am not going to tell anyone what happened because I want to keep my daughter out of the shame that you two have brought on yourselves. Right now no one knows and no one need ever know what happened last night. Understand?”
“Yes sir” I said, the way he was talking to me hurt more than I could possibly explain. He had never spoken to me out of anything but love before this day. He was my pastor I had gone to him for prayer countless times. He had played and joked with Ryan, Lanie and I when we were younger. I had spent countless nights at his house; eaten at his table countless times. I loved and respected this man, and now he hated me. His deep disdain for me hung all over him and there was no one to blame for it but me. My guilt was complete and total. He stood, turned toward the door, and put his hand on the doorknob. Then he said in a voice void of emotion, “I hope you said goodbye to each other. You won’t see her again.”
With that he left the room closing the door behind him and I was left alone. I lost it. I wept and wept. The grasping despair tore me to pieces. I felt physical pain in my chest. My teeth clenched together and ground on each other. I felt bile rise in my throat. I saw red spots before my eyes and darkness claimed me. My parents found me passed out on the floor of my room. When I awoke again I was in the emergency room with a headache worse than anything I’d ever known. I had a metallic taste in my mouth. When I went to lift my head from the gurney the world spun. I put my head back down.
“Mom?” I whispered. I saw a shape stir near my feet and my mother came into view.
“Oh Andy!” she said, “You gave us such a scare! You rest now and we’ll talk in the morning”
I was asleep again before she was finished speaking.
“Emotional trauma that led to a panic attack and a loss of consciousness”, that was my diagnosis. The treatment was rest. I went home the next morning and my parents after asking me a thousand times if I was sure I was ok went to church to hear Pastor Resley’s farewell sermon. They were calling it a sabbatical. He was, “taking time to take care of his family in this season of crisis.” All I heard was that Lanie was leaving and I would never see her again and it was all my fault. Pastor Resley’s last words to me rang in my ears “I hope you said goodbye” he had said, “You won’t see each other again”. Pastor Resley had finally found Lanie, some one told him they had seen her walking on Hwy 30 that went westward out of town. He apparently knew then exactly where she had gone because he jumped back in the rotted Cadillac and made haste to Morford Cemetery. I found out later that he and Lanie did not return from there until after dark.
Chapter 16: “Memories are a gift from God, but like every other gift God gives Satan loves to use them against us” Pastor John Resley
It was a bitter world I now faced, the golden light that was Lanie had been extracted from my life and I despaired of ever being happy again. The days and weeks moved slowly by, I never spent more than a few moments with my head above the water of my depression. The friends I had slowly distanced themselves. My best friend Ryan was gone. Miss Anderson tried to talk to me a couple times and cheer me up but not to much effect. Church was a waste of time as far as I was concerned. I hated God and God apparently hated me. The church was looking for an “interim” pastor to fill the time while Pastor Resley was on Sabbatical without any luck thus far. Different elders including my Dad would deliver the sermons on Sunday’s but I refused to listen. I knew now the real truth that everyone else denied. Either God didn't exist, or God didn’t care and never had. He treated his servants horribly and either couldn’t or simply wouldn’t hear the prayers of a person like me. I had known beyond any doubt that God was going to heal Lanie, but every report we got from them was bad. She was sick and getting sicker no matter what the doctors did. About five weeks after they left town we got word that the cancer had spread, and even if they did take her leg it would not help her now. It was right before Thanksgiving and the church was holding weeknight prayer meetings for Lanie and her family. I went. I even prayed a couple times, but Lanie kept on dying. There were a few times when I wondered if this wasn’t God’s way of punishing us. We had broken his law after all, but I quickly left that notion behind. The truth was that God just plain didn’t care or maybe he wasn’t there at all. Either way it had nothing to do with me. People get sick. People die. That is how it is and no matter how much you think it will never happen to you or someone you love, it will. No amount of prayer or faith or belief can stop it.
I got letters from Ryan sometimes. They had moved to Chicago where there was a really good cancer hospital. Pastor wouldn’t let Lanie write me. I sent letters to her more than once and they all came back unopened. I put notes in with my return letters to Ryan and asked him to give them to her but he told me his dad would never allow it. He was in school there in the city and hating every minute of it. He missed our town. Ryan told me that Lanie cried for me sometimes. That made me feel worse and better at the same time. He told me Lanie still loved me and always would. Ryan knew she was dying and it broke his heart. He was constantly asking me why God would do this to his sister. Even in all my anger toward God I didn’t want my friend to lose faith. I just tried to avoid the question. On Thanksgiving Day he called me and we talked for a while. Lanie was not allowed to come to the phone but I heard her voice in the background and it tore at my heart. Then I got news that gave me some hope to reach for.
“Dad says we are coming home for Christmas.” He told me “He didn’t say as much, but I think he wants Lanie to be able to see everyone again before….” He left the unspeakable thought unspoken and I loved him for it.
“That’s awesome man! I cannot wait to see you!” I said it and I meant it.
“I don’t think you will be allowed to see her…” he told me quietly.
“I figured as much bud but it will be good just to have you guys back in town.” We said a couple more words then and hung up. I would see her. They couldn’t stop me. Somehow I would see her one last time.
The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas went by in a grey blur of sodden wet weather and pent up anticipation. School let out on the Friday before Christmas and was to be out for two weeks. I was watching and waiting for my chance to steal a few moments with Lanie. Ryan came over on Saturday and spent the night. It was like old times again. I felt some of the darkness that had inhabited my world lose its grip on my heart as we ate pizza, played video games and laughed at stupid inside jokes and memories from years ago. Finally at about 3am the lights went out and Ryan and I were safe in the darkness of my room he on the floor and me on my bed. We started having real honest talk then. We talked about fears and dreams, we held nothing back. Only then did he ask me the question I knew had been laying heavy on his mind since before he and his family had left town.
“Dude?” He began quietly
“yeah” I responded unsuspectingly
“Did you and Lanie…. I mean, that night before we left town…. did you guys?....” he didn’t want to go any further, and to be honest I didn’t want him to either so I answered him.
“yes” I said. Tears came as memory replayed the night. Lanie’s face and the smell of her hair flooded my consciousness. “I’m sorry man, it just…..happened.”
“I thought so.” He said sullenly
“It wasn’t something we planned on. We just got….overwhelmed.” Shame rose up in me again for the first time in weeks. I had ruined everything.
“do you really love her?” he asked me then.
”Yes Ryan I love her. If this isn’t love then I don’t know what it is. I have never felt this way in my whole life.” I answered in earnest. As I lay there on the bed my tears ran down my face into my ears. I wiped them with the heel of my hand and suppressed a sob. “She is my whole universe”.
“I will help you see her then.” He answered. I had not asked because he had not offered, but I was not about to refuse what might be my only opportunity.
“How?” I asked
“Dad is going to be out of the house tomorrow night until late. Lanie is not going to go with him. I can get you in” He said quietly. “Andy…….” He hesitated then
“I won’t let it happen again Ryan; I promise” I answered his unasked question.
“Thanks” was all he said. He rolled over then and went to sleep. I however lay awake all night, my head a flying of gears trying to decide what in the world I was going to say to Lanie when I saw her.
Chapter 17: God is not worried about the anger of men. He loves us too much to let our misunderstandings hold us away from Him. Pastor John Resley
The next day dawned soft, grey and cold. I lay in my bed and watched the moving of the
silent light as it grew from the soft glow of predawn to the chilly light of a winter day.
Any other year on the 23rd of December my mind would have been completely occupied
with the upcoming Christmas holiday. The things I was going to give, the things I would
receive, the food, fun and family would work together to encompass my young mind in wreaths of holy and egg nog, but not this year. This year the world had been cold and dead until the flicker of hope that Ryan brought with him gave me something to warm my
That day went slower than any day in my life, waiting for the time when I would see my
Lanie again, but there is no stopping time, and after what seemed like an age I found
myself crouching in the grass behind the Resley’s home waiting for that old Cadillac to
pull out of the drive. My heart was in my throat. My pulse pounded in my ears and there was a ringing in the air. Excitement made every soft edge of the willow tree stand out with perfect clarity in my vision. I saw Pastor Resley come down the front stairs from the door with a Bible and a portfolio under his arm and a purposeful look on his face.
Without one glance around he opened the car door with a groan of ancient hinges and got
in. The car rumbled to life and made its way down the gravel drive and out into the street. Ryan stuck his head out the door and watched as his Father’s care disappeared around the corner. Then he looked my way and by a backward motion of his head invited
me in. I rose on unsteady legs, took a stabilizing breath and walked to the door.
Mounting the steps my consciousness shifted to a strange surreal broadening of time.
Everything was happening like it was underwater I watched as the door opened with
eternal slowness and I felt myself moving forward drawn as if by some ethereal flow of
energy was baring me along. The inside of the house passed before my eyes a jumble of
shapes and colors until without warning the world snapped back to reality and clarity as
my gaze landed on Lanie. The sight of her both thrilled and shook me. She didn't look the same.
She lay on the couch, her legs covered with a blanket. Her face was beaming, her hair
was pulled back into a pony tail its red-gold had gone a flat old-penny copper. She
had lost weight and her cheek bones were more angular than they had been she had
shadows under her eyes and an exhausted look on the edges of her face but for all the
changes she was the most beautiful being I had ever beheld. She took me in at a glance.
“You look different” she said softly smiling a teasing smile. “you look older. You look
“Thanks,” I said blushing oddly, “you are the most wonderful sight I’ve ever seen”
“I’ve gotten so skinny” she said looking down at herself, “these medicines they have me
on are horrible. I’ve already started loosing my hair” another tear slipped out then.
“I’ve never seen you so gorgeous” I said truthfully, “I missed you so much”
“Merry Christmas” I said and handed her a folded piece of paper. It was a poem I had
written a long time ago and never given to her. A weak gift for the love of my life but
due to the forbidden nature of my visit I thought more might be dangerous. “don’t read it
now" I pleaded.
“If you don’t want me to, I won’t. Merry Christmas. I have something for you but it will
wait.” she put it under her blanket and looked back at me, “I am so glad you are here.”
We chatted for a while then. It started slowly but soon the ease and familiarity came back
to our tones. I couldn’t stop smiling. Neither could she. We talked about the place they
were staying in Chicago, her treatments and how things were going. I gave her all the
news I could think of from town which wasn’t much because I had had my head buried in
grief and anger since they had left. Before too long talk turned to the events surrounding
the Resley’s leaving of town.
“are you asking me about that night?” she asked fidgeting and embarrassed.
“NO!” I almost shouted, I wasn’t quite ready to talk to Lanie about that night. I blushed
in spite of myself and smiled even though I didn’t want to. “sorry no, not that night. The
next day when you disappeared; after I saw you on the porch at my house; where did you
go? Your dad came over and….well….he was looking for you….he drove the car! He
was really worried about you. He told me you were leaving…..”
“Oh then” she said sighing. “I saw things in my daddy that day I have never seen before
or since. When he kicked you out of the house he just looked at me for a long time and
didn’t say anything. I couldn’t look at him. After a long long time he just mumbled, ‘I
can’t talk to you about this right now.’ and then he went down stairs. He was so
ANGRY. I felt so ashamed. What had we done? How could I have let that happen? I
was so upset. I got up and dressed myself. I went downstairs and daddy was packing. I
asked him where he was going and he said he had decided the day before that we were
leaving town. Going to a clinic where I could get help. I told him I didn’t want to go
anywhere. He told me I didn’t have a choice. He said we were leaving and after what
‘you and that Thomas boy have done’ we could probably never come back. I told him I
loved you and I didn’t want to leave you no matter what had happened. He stopped what he
was doing and looked me in the eye and asked me, “do you want to die?”
I just started crying. I couldn’t believe what he had said! I ran out the door. It really
hurt my leg. I ran to your house and waited in the screen porch for you. After that you
know what happened until I left you.”
“I hobbled all the way up to the Navy Yard, my leg really hurt now, but I had
never been there and I wanted to visit Mommy. I just wanted to be alone and I didn’t
think Dad would follow me there” the tears began to come now with the memory but
with them a light rose up in her eyes. “But he did! He drove the car like you said. Andy
you know he hasn’t driven since Mommy died. He drove that rotting old heap all the
way up to Morford Cemetery. He came flying around the corner of the gravel drive. I
thought He was going to run me over. I never even dreamed it was daddy until he came
up out of the car shouting, ‘Lanie! Lanie!’. Then I saw his eyes. He was so afraid. He
wasn’t angry. He wasn’t here to punish me. He was there to find me. He was there to
say he was sorry.” She sniffed and blew her nose.
“That’s all he said. Over and over again he said ‘oh Lanie I’m so sorry. Honey I’m so
sorry I’m so sorry I’m so sorry!’ he held me close and we cried and cried and cried
together. I took him to Mommy’s grave and we held hands and cried some more. He
kissed her tombstone, and then we sat down and talked. We really talked for the first
time. We talked about mom. We talked about my cancer. We talked about you and
what had happened the night before. We talked for hours, until it got dark, and then he
took me home. He told me he understood about what we had done but he couldn’t allow
me to see you again. I told him it wasn’t fair and he said. ‘No it probably isn’t, but that
is how it is going to be’. There was nothing left for me to say. Then on Monday we left
for Chicago and the clinic. These last few months, Andy, have been some of the hardest
of my life. I have been in and out of the clinic constantly. I have been poked and
prodded with needles every day. I have been so sick! I’ve gotten bad news after bad
news, but I know God is in control and I am ok.” She smiled weakly as she looked at me.
“For those first few weeks in Chicago, I was really, really angry. I was angry at Daddy
for taking me from you, from my home, my school, my friends. I was angry at God for
letting me get sick, not healing me. I was angry at myself for what we did that night
before I left, maybe we could have stayed in town longer if that hadn’t happened. I was
angry at Aunt Holly for not standing up for me. I was angry at everyone and everything,
but I’m not angry any more.” She said touching my face. “Not any more.”
“Why not?” I asked my own anger still fresh and alive in my chest.
“Because it doesn’t help, Andy.” She said simply, “it only hurts”
All of a sudden my own pain rose up to choke me. She was right. I was so angry and I
didn’t feel any better for it, but I wasn’t ready to let it go. Not yet. I pushed it away but
Lanie caught something of it in my face because she said.
“Don’t be angry for me Andy. God knows why this is happening. I say that as a fact
because I believe it. I know it better than I’ve ever known anything. It is true, and it is
going to be ok.” She said it so earnestly, so honestly and so humbly I couldn’t respond. I
just looked at her unbelieving. She should be the angry one. She should be furious. She
wasn’t. I didn’t get that.
Ryan interrupted urgently then. I had forgotten he was even there. “Lanes, it’s Dad.”
Lanie kissed me and brushed the tears I didn’t even know I had shed from my cheeks.
“go now. I’ll see you again. I promise” she said.
I shook my head and began to cry in earnest.
“I can’t………” I stammered.
“Go Andy before this wonderful night gets ruined, I love you with all my heart” she said.
I kissed her quickly one more time and she put something warm, square, and hard in my
hand. “Merry Christmas my love” she whispered. Ryan pushed me out the back door as
fast as we could go quietly. I looked up and said, “Thanks Ryan”, but
he didn’t look back. He silently shut the door behind me. I waited until Pastor Resley was
safely inside and I crept away in the frigid darkness of Christmas Eve. After a while I
stopped under a street light and looked at what Lanie had given me. It was the 4-H stone.
I laughed and cried and walked home.
Chapter 18: “Hellos and goodbye’s are the breaths of the soul, the inhale and exhale of the human heart.” Pastor John Resley
Christmas passed the next day in the glow of strung lights, the hum of ancient carols and
the pleasant unpleasantness of a stomach stuffed with my mother’s homemade rolls. The visit with Lanie lit me from within so that I was able to truly enjoy our celebration. My entire extended family gathered so there was more than enough to keep my mind busy, but several times that day I took the opportunity to steal away to a quiet corner or step outside for a moment to finger the 4-H stone and think of Lanie.
Pastor Resley spoke that next Sunday morning and then they packed up and left that afternoon. I only caught glimpses of Lanie as I stood in the field behind their house and watched them get into the old Caddy and lumber down the road and out of sight. I had a haunting feeling that I would never see her again and it filled me with doubt and anger.
Despite Lanie’s exhortations I could not let this go. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right, God didn’t care and I hated him for it.
After new years I went back to school. January is always so tedious and slow coming right after the swirl of December and Christmas. This January was the same, but worse. My melancholy mood and the lack of word from Chicago worked together to make me both anticipate and dread every time the mail came. The first month of the year was almost over when I received more bad news, but this time it wasn't about Lanie. I walked in the front door of the school and a girl who had been on of Lanie’s friends grabbed my shoulder, “Did you hear Miss Anderson is leaving?”
“what?” I asked in disbelief.
“She is moving out of town to be with her fiancé. They are getting married in February
and she has to get everything ready. She is leaving at the end of this week!” The girl
was so taken by the romantic notions of being engaged and marriage she completely
missed the point. The only cool understanding teacher we had was leaving us at the end
of the week. The only adult who knew I could talk to about Lanie was just walking
away! This was so NOT cool! Could anything else in my life go wrong? All I said to
the girl was, “thanks” and I made a B-line to Ms Anderson’s room. She was standing on
her toes to reach the top, of the chalk board writing something for the next class. I
stepped to the door and said quietly,
“your leaving?” It was more a statement than a question.
Without looking away from the board she said “Hi Andy”. She finished what she was
writing and came down from her toes with a sigh. She used a cloth from her top desk
drawer to wipe the chalk dust from her fingers before she finally looked at me.
“Oh don’t look so angry Andy you knew I was engaged and you knew I would be
moving soon.” She sat down behind her desk and motioned for me to sit. I didn’t budge
from the door. “we don’t have much time before the bell rings but I will be happy to
answer any questions you have.”
Other students were beginning to file in and take their seats talking in low voices or
trying to listen to our conversation. I felt the momentum of the whole world spinning
past me and out of my control. My insides were all but numb. God had finally taken
everything from me. Fine. I took two steps backward turned and walked away Ms Anderson calling after me.
I didn’t run. I didn’t need to. I wanted to be mad but I didn’t have the strength. I just went to my first class. All through that school day I was distracted and moody. I ate lunch alone. I walked home alone. I went up to my room and sat on my bed. I lay back with my feet still on the floor and looked at the off white popcorn ceiling. My emotions stayed buried beneath a hardened surface of blah. I stayed like that for a long time. Asking a silent question of the walls. “What is left for me?”
All my friends were gone. My Lanie was dying and in another town. The one person I could talk to was leaving town. My parents couldn’t possibly understand. I couldn’t ever tell them everything about me and Lanie. They would explode and punish me and I would never see Lanie again not even if she did die. It was all gone. Everything. I had no one and nothing and worst of all I could FEEL nothing. There were emotions wanting to come out but they were held in iron knots inside my chest never to be released again. I fell asleep like that. I awoke several hours later with a soft knock on my door. My mother had her head through the door. She looked like she was trying not to look worried.
“Andy honey, your dad wants to talk to you. He is in the den downstairs.” She looked down at the floor and then back up at me, smiled weakly, and walked down the hall leaving my door partially open. I stood to my feet sleepily. Rubbing the grogginess of an evening nap from my eyes I tripped down the stairs and around the corner through the double doors into the den. My father was sitting at his desk facing away from the door. When he turned around his eyes were red and his Bible was open in his lap. I had seen my Dad like this many times, the den was where he prayed. Every day a couple of hours after dinner he would spend his time in there with God. My Dad was far from perfect, but one thing I knew about him is that he was a man who prayed. I look back on it now and I realize those hours were the foundation our family was built upon.
“Hey bud” he said quietly “come on in and have a seat.”
I was immediately nervous. We didn’t talk like this, in his den, both seated and alone, unless there was something really wrong. Either I was in big trouble or something terrible had happened.
“What’s going on Dad?” I asked not sitting down.
“It’s better if you sit son” he said. Did he tear up a little when he said that? I hurriedly sat on the old couch across from my father’s desk.
“Dad what is it?” I asked again.
“Son it’s Lanie. She’s not doing well at all.” He said matter-of-factly. He went on without a pause. “when Pastor was here he said they were only giving her 6 weeks to live. He hasn’t told Lanie yet because he didn’t want to scare her. He just called. They got another bad report today. They are stopping treatment now and sending her home. They said all they can do now is try and keep her comfortable…..they’re coming back to town next Monday. Your mother and I are going over there after Sunday service to get the house ready so they don’t have to worry about it.” The way Dad was talking was odd; like he wasn’t talking to me at all but to himself with me there. Now he turned and looked at me again like he just realized I was in the room again.
“Andy, Pastor Resley said it would mean a lot to Ryan and Lanie if you could be there when they get home on Monday. They need your friendship right now. They need you to be strong. Can you do that?” I nodded silently, earnestly. “Good.” He said and sat back in his chair staring into nothing.
“We really need to be praying for them right now Andy. They need strength and wisdom to walk through this time.” He looked at me then and seemed to well up again. “Andy, I love you so much son. You are growing up so fast. I can’t imagine what life would be like if…. well, give me a hug and go watch TV or something. Do you have any homework to do?”
Just like that life was supposed to snap back into reality, but surreality clung to me as I walked around Dad’s desk and he wrapped me in arms. It was a little awkward since he didn’t get up from his chair, but he hugged me hard and left a wet place on my shoulder from his tears. He patted me on the back and I went out into the hallway.
I was sick. This was it. I was standing at a great divide. Until now I had hoped, at least in some small way, that it was all going to be ok. That the medicine would work, or that the God I had prayed to so long would wake up and hear, but now, in a moment, things had changed once again. Lanie was dying. A grim resolve covered over me like a cold blanket. I had been given the opportunity to stand by Lanie during the last days of her life and I would take it.
On Sunday after church I went with my mother and father and a group of people from the church to the Resley’s house as my father had said. We were going to put the house in order so when they came home everything would be nice and clean and Pastor would not have to worry about it. Mom and several of the ladies worked on the inside of the house scrubbing it from floor to ceiling. My mother made some comment about needing a woman’s touch after so many years of “male management”, she always used to say that anything a man could do, she could fix. I had never noticed the house being dirty but then, I was a teenage boy. My father and the men were working on the outside painting, fixing the picket fence and cleaning out the ancient garage. I was running around helping in any way I could. As evening came we were still working and my Dad sent me upstairs to ask my mom about dinner (she was planning on cooking sloppy joes, a Pentecostal communal staple, for everyone). I spoke briefly to my mother as she was getting cob webs out of a corner and got the answer my dad was looking for, “dinner is in the crock-pot and the buns and chips are on the counter. People should help themselves when they have an extra minute.” She said. I went to head down the stairs when an electric shock ran up my spine. I turned to my left and saw the door to the attic standing a couple of inches open. The last time I saw those stairs I was fleeing the house with my clothes in my hands and not on my body. Before the end of my thought I was through the door and standing at the top of the stairs in the dusty dark. In the half light the smell of the place stirred memories. Bittersweet remembrances of a night that had proved to be the hinge of circumstances never foreseen, swirled through my mind. The nervous ardency of two young lovers caught in a rush of passion, kisses wet and salty with tears, the final moment of decision when we threw off all restraint and reason. That night had been terrifying and wonderful but more than that it had been costly. I reached for the hanging bulb in the center of the attic and pulled the string there. I winced at the light for a moment and then looked around at the mismatched collection of things and boxes that filled the corners of the room. As many times as I had been up here with Lanie or Ryan I had never really looked at the place. It was large for an attic and an odd shape due to the descending of the roof from above. Around the edges and hanging from the rafters were the usual attic fare; boxes and bicycles, half repaired chairs and dusty chests full of worthless pricelessness. The center of the space had been mostly cleared of debris and the bare hardwood floor was dull with age and dust. In the center of the cleared area were some blankets, a few pillows, and a scattering of papers and photographs. The stillness of the room was inviting and almost holy, it was a place conducive to deep reflection and emotion, no wonder this had become Lanie’s refuge in these days so full of both.
I walked softly into the sacredness and sat down amidst the collections of junk. I pulled a blanket to my face drank of Lanie for a few seconds. I put down the blanket and my eyes fell on some of the papers in front of me. I thought I saw pictures of Lanie, but they were not of Lanie, the young lady in the picture was a very young Rhiannon Resley, Lanie’s mother. The pictures had been taken when Rhiannon was about the same age that Lanie was now. The resemblance was amazing. Lanie got her matchless smile and expressive eyes from her mother and they were in full splendor in the photos before me. In one she stood with her arms around some other girls her age, everyone dressed up and smiling at some school function or another. I delved deeper in to the pile. There were pictures of Pastor and Mrs. Resley early in their life together, dating, the prom etc. They had been high school sweet hearts. The smiles on Pastor Resley’s face moved me. I had never seen him smile like that. The tragedy of her untimely death became more real to me in that moment. It had always been one of those old stories you know well but that has no real power in the present. I had no memories of Mrs. Resley, but now I could see that her absence had hung like a shadow over this family all my life. Her death had touched me a million times and in that strange realization I grieved for her. Why was this happening again to this family? Pastor could say all he liked about the love and goodness of God but it rang awfully hollow now, here, in this attic.
I sat the pictures down with a sigh and a flash of red caught my eye. It was an old fashioned card with a cardinal painted lovingly on the front side. I picked it up to inspect it. I opened it and to my surprise it was addressed to ME! It was written in Lanie’s neat girlish script. I read my name again and began the letter but I heard my mother calling from downstairs. “Andy! You need to eat something honey!”
I stuffed the card in my shirt and walked as quietly as possible down the steps.
“I need to use the restroom mom I’ll be down in a minute!” I called. I walked down the hall a ways and went into the upstairs restroom and locked the door. This was the only room in the house with a lock. I pulled the card from under my shirt, sat down on the toilet seat and began again to read:
I am writing this to tell you goodbye.
I found this old card among some of my mother’s things and it made me think of you. I love you Andy. I know, now, that I am going to die. No one has told me that yet but they don’t need to, I know. I don’t know if I will see you again before I go. So I will say what I need to say here and now while I can.
I am so grateful for you Andy. God knew my life would never be complete until I found my love for you, and now I have. I say I found it because I realize now that it has always been there, inside of me, waiting. Like a gift under the Christmas tree it was already mine but I had never unwrapped it. If you had not acted when you did, said what you said, I never would have known. I never would have felt the way I do when I think of you. I never would have known what it meant to love someone more than I love myself. You are the most precious gift I have ever received. Thank you for giving yourself to me.
Please know that you have all of my heart forever.
Goodbye now my love. Please live the rest of your life knowing I will always be by your side. Watching, wishing, smiling and loving you.
There, in the upstairs bathroom, on the other side of the great divide I lay on the floor and wept fully in the cold grip of inescapable grief.
Chapter 19 “Death is the final enemy to be defeated for the believer but rest assured my friends it will be defeated! Pastor John Resley
Lanie arrived the next morning in an ambulance and my parents and I were there. As the long white 50’s era station wagonesque vehicle came around the corner I must have flinched because my dad put his hand on my shoulder. “They have to keep her on an IV with pain medication all the time now” Pastor later explained, “so they opted for medical transport.”
She looked very pale when they got her out but she still smiled at me as they pulled the gurney out of the old fashioned looking vehicle. I kept a respectable distance as the big orderlies wheeled her into the house, but my eyes never left the shrunken form of Lanie. They maneuvered the bed up the three steps and into the front door as the old grey willow tree looked on. I followed them in and came around the corner just as the two men grabbed her on both sides and moved her into her own bed. I was unexpectedly relieved when they rolled the thing out of the house. The ugly chrome hospital monstrosity worked some kind of dark magic on this house; it warped the lines and colors of the place until I was sick to my stomach and even after it was gone that house never felt like home again. Lanie weakly snuggled down under the covers as Ms Peabody, a nurse that would be there with them for a while to help with medicine etc., covered her with a second blanket. I had met Ms Peabody outside only a few minutes ago and she was yet another alien presence in the world; slightly surreal with her white skirt, purple cardigan, folded paper hat and orthopedic shoes, she was cold and efficient but good at her job.
Once Lanie was settled in bed and as comfortable as we could make her; Ms Peabody sent Pastor Resley and I out of the room so she could rest. “I just need a little nap” Lanie said quietly, “I’m so glad you’re here.”
She smiled at me with haunted eyes that bespoke the pain she was enduring. I smiled back and squeezed her hand before I turned. Pastor kissed his daughter on the forehead, whispered some words to her and then followed me out the door. At the soft click of the door closing behind me I felt the world change. Now I was alone in the same room with a man that I used to know and love, but now probably hated me. I didn't know what to say so I didn't say anything. I could almost smell the tension; it hung like smoke in the air. Finally Pastor Resley broke the silence.
"Andy, I don't know what to say to you right now. I only asked you here because I knew it would mean something to Lanie. Do you understand that?" He spoke in a whispered yell; I supposed to keep from disturbing Lanie, but the intended message to me was clear as could be. He did hate me. Nothing I could do, and no amount of time could change that now. "wait outside until Lanie wakes up".
I stepped into the bracing air of the bright February morning and sat down on the stoop. Around the outside of the house came a friendly face.
"Ryan!" I said as I jumped up from the step. "I didn't know you were here!" I shouted as I wrapped my friend in a hug.
"Well where did you think I would be numbskull? My dad is here, Lanie is here, I'm here! Now lemme go!" he said in his unfailingly sardonic way.
"She sleeping?" he asked nodding at Lanie's window.
"yeah she said she needed a nap." I looked up a the window and back at the top of Ryan's head as he shuffled his feet in the dirt. He wore an old camo jacket, dirty Converse sneakers and jeans with a hole in one knee. He was loudly chewing gum like he usually did when he was nervous. I had missed this kid. I wondered what he was feeling, what he was thinking, how he was dealing with all of this hellishness.
We started walking around the house back toward the rotting garage chatting about the small realities of life that we hadn't had a chance to chat about in so long. We were back to being best friends again in moments. We passed the time going back to old places we used to practically live in. I wasn't up to the tree house, it was full of Lanie, but there was lots more to do. Lanie woke up a while later and called for me. Ryan didn't want to go in so I left him in the cold sunlight and went into the house squinting to get my eyes to adjust more quickly to the semidarkness of the indoors. Ms Peabody was busy on the other side of the room with something my eyes went straight to Lanie.
"Hey" she said quietly
"Hey" I said. What do you say? The quiet was awkward, but I didn't have the heart to fill it.
"D'you see Ryan?" she asked finding a subject for me.
"yeah we walked around outside" I sighed, "I missed him a lot"
"Is he ok?" she asked me.
"I don't really know" I replied honestly. "as good as he knows how to be I guess, but you know Ryan; he's not exactly a book."
"not much of a talker" she said.
"yeah". That subject didn't last long.
"don't ask me how I feel ok? That's all anyone ever asks me anymore" she said
"You got it." I answered smiling."did you know Ms Anderson is leaving"
"Is she finally getting married?" Lanie smiled to herself, " that's great" we talked like that for a while. Talked about nothing. It was equally comforting and frustrating. I could feel a building restlessness somewhere in me. I was wasting time. She only had a few days left and how much of that was I going to get to spend with her? I should not have been spending the little time we have left talking about nothing. Yet, to say those things I knew I would regret never saying, meant I was letting her go somehow, and I could not bear to think of that. So I filled the time. I was a fool.
For several days we kept on like that until one morning 3:33AM we got the call. Lanie was not doing well, there wasn't much time. I hurriedly dressed in the darkness and cold of the February pre-dawn. Before I knew it we were in the car and pulling into the drive. Our headlights swept across the yard. I got out and saw my breath against the moonlight. I followed my mom and dad inside. Ryan was sitting with his head in his hands against the wall next to Lanie's closed bedroom door. He looked up at me with puffy red eyes. I felt the floor of my insides fall. I started crying too. I fell on the floor against the wall next to him with my body touching his. He was breathing hard,shuddering breaths; it was finally coming out. The adults whispered to each other but I understood none of it. There were a couple of other church people in the family room with us. Then my name was called. It was my mother. She had gone into Lanie's room and come out again. She looked at me but I could not look her in the eye. The universe was slowing down again. "Andy you need to go in now honey."
I stood unsteadily to my feet. and started walking toward the door. It was open now. I could see pastor on his knees next to Lanie's bed and Ms Peabody leaning over her doing something with the IV. Then I looked at her.
Her face was white as a sheet. Her lips were a bluish-gray. Her brow was furrowed with pain and she kept moving a little side to side like she couldn't find a comfortable position. She didn't see me until I got next to her bed. She grabbed my hand in an unexpectedly quick motion that startled me.
"A note Andy", she whispered quickly, " upstairs in my hiding spot in the attic. I wrote it for you. It has a cardinal on it." she gasped a little.
"I already found it", I whispered to her. "I love you".
Her eyes became clear for moment and she looked right into me. " don't be angry...I love you so much." she spoke intensely and then stopped moving and closed her eyes. For a moment I thought she was gone, but she continued to breathe.
"You need to go now" Ms Peabody said ushering me out.
Lanie Gabrielle Resley died at 5:54 that morning. She had roused a couple more times to say goodbye to her Daddy and Ryan and then fell asleep. She never woke up again. When the hands of the grandfather clock read 5:54 there was a loud bang on the window behind me. I walked to the window and saw a red bird floundering around on the ground below. I heard a sound behind me and turned to see Ms Peabody coming out of the room wiping her eyes.
"She's gone" was all she said, her head hung low. Through my tear blurred vision I saw the fluttering red thing on the ground outside. The cardinal had run into the window but now it righted itself and flew away. I've not seen a cardinal since that morning.
The funeral was scheduled a few days later on the First of March. I remember thinking it was Casimir Pulaski Day, but I could not remember why I knew that. I put on a shirt and tie. I wore my only sport jacket. I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked into my own eyes. Since Lanie had gone I had not shed any tears. I really wanted to, but couldn't. I was numb. The world was a gray surreality that I could see and hear but not believe. I honestly wondered at times if I would wake up and find it all a dream. I secretly begged that I would. I didn't. Lanie was really dead. My Lanie; the only girl I'd ever loved, the only girl in the world was truly gone. There was this incredible empty place in my gut where Lanie had always been, like a rock I could rest on when nothing else seemed stable. Now without that stability my insides were a muddle of shifting sand. I was no longer sure of anything.
The funeral was held at the church. I got out of the back seat. My feet crunching on the gravel of the parking lot. I pulled my coat tighter around me. The sky was low and gray. The cold shade of winter was still lingering over our Midwestern town. My parents and I walked silently into the familiar A frame building. I was shaken by the casket sitting there in the front foyer surrounded by flowers. It was open and she was in it. I couldn't look at her lying there. I wouldn't even raise my eyes to it. People were standing around whispering, looking, and crying softly. I suddenly felt weak; like I couldn't stand. I stumbled to a bench a few feet away and put my head between my knees. Still no tears. I breathed as deeply and regularly as I could; fighting the urge to vomit. It was no use and I wound up on my knees in the men's restroom a few moments later. When I stood up again after I felt better. I washed my face in the sink. I took more deep breaths and looked again into my own eyes. What was I trying to find there? I don't know.
A friend of Pastor Resley's had come from out of town to conduct the service. His words were kind, but empty. I heard them but didn't hear them. Pastor Resley hung his head and wept quietly on the front row. Holly was there with her arm around him and Ryan looking at the floor. The church was full. There were songs about Heaven and people got up to talk about what a wonderful a girl she was. No one had asked me to say anything; not that I would have. At the end of the service the men came up to take the casket down the isle and out the back. I realized as I saw them move that they were about to close the lid and it would not be opened again. I stood in my seat to see her one last time. She looked beautiful. Her strawberry-blond hair was brushed and shining. Her face had a peaceful smile on it and there was color in it again. She looked so alive in that moment that I thought for the briefest of seconds that I saw her breathe, but no. She was still gone. They closed the lid and shut her in forever. The elders of the church were her pal bearers and they took her out.
We went in a long train out to the Navy Yard and buried her next to her mother. I took small notice that they buried her exactly where my dream had told me they would bury her. I had no space for that kind of thought.
Lanie was in the ground. The finality of that fact was underwhelming. It was over and…it was over. My life was supposed to continue as normal, and it did so, mercilessly. Life became as it had been before Lanie. The problem is that I couldn’t really remember what life before Lanie had been like! It seemed like the short time that Lanie had been sick had made up the whole of my life before this strange Lanie-less season I now inhabited. In truth It had been less than a year since her diagnosis; less than a year since when my world turned on its head in a head on collision with a life long friend. Less than a year that felt like more than a lifetime.
People kept asking me if I was “OK”. I would nod and say yes. I went out of my way to make sure everyone knew that I was just FINE. The only person I had much trouble convincing was myself. I wasn’t crying, or falling apart. I wasn’t thinking about suicide or anything like that. I was hanging out with my friends and family and there were even moments of actual happiness in there somewhere, but I wasn’t fine. I didn’t know that I would ever be fine again. There was a hollow sucking emptiness inside that haunted the edges of my emotions. I could ignore it, but only for a few minutes at a time. Whenever I was quiet, whenever I was alone, it was there waiting to ambush me and pull me down. Sometimes I let it. I would descend into a dark place of anger, grief and weariness and be there for days at a time.
I felt the most myself at these moments. Like all the other things I said and did, even some of the things I felt; were all lies, masks I wore to fool everyone, or boots I put on to trudge through the muck of the other people in the world. They were necessary, but temporary. The truth was that I was angry. I was angry at myself for my powerlessness, angry at Pastor Resley for taking Lanie from me for so long. I was angry at my friends and family for not understanding. They should be encouraging my wrath goading me to vengeance, applauding my righteous suffering, but they weren’t. They were smiling and moving on. Lanie was DEAD! Didn’t they know that! The one I was the most angry at however was God. My anger at Him existed on several levels. I was angry at Him for doing nothing while an angel on earth suffered and died. I was angry at Him for expecting me to still believe He loved her, to still believe He loved me, to still believe He was even there at all. I was angry at Him because He offered no answers and I was left to drift in this ocean of disillusionment with no life boat, and no help on the way. I was so angry that I was exhausted by it. I had no energy left to be angry. It was shortly after I came to that realization that I would start moving upward again out of the gloom. I would convince myself that this last descent was the one that cured me, but that too was just another lie. A few days, or a few hours later I would be on the downward slope again sinking below with no hand to pull me upward.
I was in the midst of a pretty deep cycle one Sunday several weeks after Lanie’s death. Church had lost all life for me. I sat in the pew with my parents and stared at nothing until it was over. Mom and Dad would never let me stay home, so I didn’t ask. Pastor Resley had returned to the pulpit about two weeks after Lanie’s death. He was shaken and he cried through almost every message but He remained strong. He was, if anything, more annoyingly Pentecostal than ever. The church new what he had been through and they followed him more fervently than ever because of it all. My parents were talking about the “move of God” that was beginning in our church. I hated the sound of those words. How could anyone love this God? There was something going on however. The services had taken on a new tone. The worship music went on longer and seemed more ardent than ever before. People gathered at the altar in front of the pulpit for a long time after service praying and weeping together. I had seen that before but now it was every service.
The most pronounced change however was happening in the young people of the church. They would raise their hands and shout as they sang. They danced during the faster songs and I even saw young men and women putting their hands on people and praying for them. These were my friends and I didn’t know what was going on with them. Ryan was the worst of the bunch. His sarcastic half grin had been replaced with full fledge eye involved smiles. He started singing with his dad on stage in the Sunday night youth services. He even picked up the guitar. I had no idea he even knew how to play! I saw him more than once strung out on the floor “slain in the spirit”. I had seen that plenty of times but never Ryan! He had taken on a whole new earnestness that was as surprising as it was real.
In my emotional state this was the last thing I wanted to see. The one guy I thought I could have counted on to understand my anger and unbelief was not angry and was FULL of belief. Not just for himself but he started to talk to everyone about it. He was bringing friends to church left and right. They came and they stayed! Some of them became as weird as he was. Whatever was going on was not cool at all. His big smiles and his heart-felt singing were just too much for me. This Sunday was no different.
The service was over. The youth were gathered around the altar praying for anything that moves. Shouting, weeping, singing, doing who knows what. Ryan emerged from the crowd and made a B-Line for me where I sat waiting for my parents. He had a weird look on his face.
“Hey man come to the altar I want to pray for you” was he freaking kidding me?
“no thanks man I’m cool” I said trying not to vomit.
“No seriously Andy I want to pray for you. I will do it right here if you want.” Maybe if I say yes he will go away.
“whatever man knock yourself out” I said rolling my eyes. He put his right hand on my shoulder, bowed his head and began to pray.
“Father I know you love Andy” bull crap I thought, he continued “ I don’t know how he feels about you right now. Show him your love, amen” that was it? No speaking in tongues? No prophecy? I got off easy! He looked up at me and he had tears in his eyes. He turned and walked back to the front of the church.
I sat there in my pew for a moment a little scared. Was something about to happen? I waited. Nothing. No surge of emotion, no Heavenly glow, no warm feelings or tingles, absolutely nothing; so much for the “move of God”. God wasn’t moving. God doesn’t move. My bitterness and anger surged once again at the one who so freely moved to “touch” the crowd at the front of the church but apparently wouldn’t come a few pews back to find me, the one guy in the room who really needed him. Typical. My parents said it was time to go so I stood, shook all remnants of useless hope from my feet, and walked out the door alone.
That afternoon was a normal Sunday afternoon. My dad fell asleep on the couch watching football my mom busied herself in the kitchen and laundry room and I retreated to my room to stare at the ceiling. A million years ago on a Sunday afternoon I would have gone with Ryan and Lanie from church for lunch and spend the afternoon in the company of my friends laughing and having a good time. That time was long gone. A half forgotten memory of another age. Now I waited in my room for dreading the call from downstairs to come and get ready for youth service that night. I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to youth tonight. The Sunday evening services were much more annoyingly spiritual now than they used to be, and after a Sunday morning spent weeping at the altar the young people of the church were likely to be twice as wound up as normal. So I would lie that I had unfinished homework or something equally unoriginal and stay here, in my room, staring at the ceiling.
I lay there on my bed, the noise in my head drowning out the silence of the house when I sat up suddenly. I wasn’t sure why I had sat up. Had I heard something? Was someone at the door? I listened for a moment filled with the feeling that something out of the ordinary had just happened. I realized the house was quiet. Not just quiet but QUIET. There was a stillness in the room that was not normal. I became afraid. I don’t know why but my heart began to beat faster, my mind was completely blank and I sat there almost afraid to move. Something was HERE. HE was HERE. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. A tingling sensation run up and down my arms. My insides squirmed and burned. For some reason I could not understand I knelt down on my floor and put my face in the carpet. I was weeping. A silent thundering invaded my brain.
“My ways are higher than your ways; my thoughts higher than your thoughts. I am here. I love you more than you can possibly know. I am here. I have always been here. I never left. Even when you sin I do not leave. YOU were the one who left. Now you are coming back.” He said.
My walls came crashing down, my impotent rage poured out of me like vomit and left me forever. I choked, I sobbed, I shook and I healed. I don’t know how long I lay there on the floor a mess, but at some point I got up and got in my bed. I awoke the next morning feeling lighter, open, different. The sun looked brighter. Colors stood out gaudily glaring at me in the morning light and they were the most beautiful things I have ever seen. My breakfast tasted amazing which is saying a lot for corn flakes with sugar. I almost danced to school. I was free. I couldn’t get over the weight that had been lifted off of me. I was changed. I had been angry. I had been full of grief and sorrow. I had hated God and all that He had done to me and my Lanie but now…I didn’t. I loved Him and even though I had almost no understanding as to why He had allowed these things to happen I still loved Him. In fact I loved Him more than I had before. Now the love I had in my heart was real. He was no longer a nebulous figure out there like Santa or the tooth fairy. He was real and He had come AFTER me and I was His. I had no more arguments. I was his. I knew Him now, and I loved Him. I have to admit that I was puzzled by my lack of indignation. Why was this ok with me? Why wasn’t I still angry. I still had none of the answers I had asked for, but, at the same time, I had all of the answer I needed. I had Him. After school I had two people to visit. Two people that I knew would know exactly how I felt.
I walked up the road from the school to the Resley’s house as slowly as I could. I wanted to give Ryan time to get home before me. I was nervous, but I was resolute. The gulf between God and myself had been crossed by God and closed. Now with His help I had to mend another relationship or two. I listened to the gravel crunch under my feet as I walked toward the big lonely house. The huge grey weeping willow was blowing in the warming breeze, no leaves on its spindly branches yet. Spring was on its way back to Moreford Illinois. The sun peaked out of a crack in the iron sky and I felt the smile of God in the warmth that poured over me. I was at the front door.
I rang the door bell and heard movement inside. I saw Ryan’s face look through the glass in the door. He smiled but looked a little shocked. He opened the door wide.
“Hey” was his greeting as he looked at me with his half smile. He put his hands in his jean pockets and waited for me to explain myself.
“Hey” I said back not sure where to begin. I had practiced my speech six hundred times on the way up here but now I couldn’t remember one word of it. “I’m sorry” came out of my mouth involuntarily. Ryan laughed and smiled almost a whole smile. He stepped aside and said.
“Get in here” I went in and we talked. I told him what had happened and he listened with a passion I had never seen in him before.
“I am ok now Ry. I feel so good about everything and I can’t even tell you what changed. I just know that I am God’s son now. I know that He loves me. I know He loved Lanie and you and your Dad and that He still allowed Lanie to die. He knew what He was doing. I still don’t know, but He does, and I’m ok.” It all spilled out of me like water out of a burst dam.
Ryan kept saying things like, “yeah” and “I know” and when I was done he wiped a tear from his face with the back of his fist.
“It was like that for me too man.” He said, “The Lord visited me in church a few weeks back and now I am OK. Better than OK. I am in love with Jesus.”
Hearing these odd words come out of my life long friend’s mouth was a revelation. He was serious. He meant every word and He was not ashamed of it.
“That’s not all man.” He said smiling like he had a secret “He’s called me.”
“He’s what?” I asked not getting it at all
“He called me into ministry man. I am supposed to be a pastor like my dad.”
“Wow!” was all I could say. This was unbelievable. My friend the cynic was a full blown Jesus freak and he was going to become a pastor? I never could have dreamed it!
“So speaking of your dad; is he around?” I asked looking beyond Ryan to the stairs and the back of the house.
“He’s at the church” he said looking at me, “you wanna talk to him too? “
“I need to tell him what I told you. I need to tell him I’m sorry.” I said quietly.
“Brave man” he said patting me on the back, “you can catch him if you hurry. He has board meeting tonight at 6”
I left the house feeling great. Ryan and I were friends again, and more than that, we were brothers. The whole world had opened to me afresh and I couldn’t wait to face it with Ryan at my side. My house was on the way to the church so I stopped by there to tell my mom where I was going, but as I walked up the road I saw the Resley’s old Caddy was in my driveway. Pastor was HERE! Part of me wanted to turn around and go somewhere else, but I resisted that urge and walked on into the house. I closed the door behind me and my mom called from the Kitchen.
“Andy is that you? You’re awfully late honey can you come back here please?” she said.
“yeah I’m comin’” I called. I hung up my coat and went around the corner into the kitchen. Pastor Resley was sitting in at our kitchen table with dad and mom was standing beside the sink.
“Good afternoon son. How was school?” my dad said warmly.
“There’s the man!” Pastor said smiling, before I could respond. “Andy can I talk to you?”
“Yes please” I said, my parents left the room without being asked.
“Andy” pastor began. “I felt a prompting from the Lord to come over here and ask your forgiveness”
“My what?” I swallowed. If I had drinking there would have been a “spit take” at this moment.
“Andy I was cruel to you and I have never asked you to forgive me.” He said looking me in the eye. “I was a fool. I was scared and angry and I treated you horribly. I am so sorry for the things I said that day. I know what you and Lanie did was wrong. I’m not excusing you, but I did not act out of love toward you Andy, and as a man of God that was not the right thing to do. I should have walked you guys through your mistake and made sure you healed. Instead I threw you away. I only made things worse for the both of you. I am so sorry. Can you forgive me?”
“Yes” I said my mouth so dry it came out like a croak. I could not believe this day. “I was coming to the church to ask you to forgive me!”
“really?” he said looking at me strangely. “Andy what has happened to you. You look…really different.”
I told him. I poured out my heart to him. I told him the WHOLE story. He was one of the only people who knew most of it already so it felt really good to unload once again. He cried when I told him how much I had loved Lanie. He apologized again for taking her from me and me from her. He listened with compassion as I shared my anger and faithlessness. He listened with shining eyes as I told him about my encounter with God the night before. He shook his head smiling and weeping as I told Him what God had done in me. When I had finished he gave me a big hug. As we stayed in that embrace for a moment a shimmering warmth descended around us. He was here; all around us. I felt hot tears in the corners of my eyes. Healed; unbelievably we were both healed.
It has been many years since that day. I think about Lanie every once in a while. Some days my old anger rises up to haunt me. The death of one so innocent will never really make sense to me. It doesn’t have to. Sense isn’t worth as much to me as it once was, but life! Life means more and more.