Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Shoebox

Martin had fled the words of his mother without a backward glance. He was allured by drugs, sex, and alcohol. Even the birth of his daughter had not given Martin a reason to change his life. His world was dark and silent. His once effervescent smile was now a look of a brooding scowl. He thought his life was nothing but a long haul for survival. Years later he received a package that he couldn’t flee from.

Chapter One

Martin sat cross legged on the floor of his apartment. The front room reeked of stale cigarette smoke. Martin’s apartment was neat and clean but still he preferred to sit on the floor as he went through the shoe box filled with letters. He was going to throw them all away at first. The idea of reading his mother’s mail felt ridiculous since she had been gone nearly a year. When his father left to join a mission in Liberia, he’d sent the shoe box to Martin. Martin was shocked that his father even knew where he was.

He looked out the window at the dark sky. The street lights illuminated the snow that was falling. It felt good to be inside today. There had been nights spent out doors in the snow, rain, and weather. Taking a deep breath, Martin tried to put all those memories away. He had a job now and this apartment was the end result of his labors.

The envelopes were neatly filed in the shoebox. Martin realized his Dad had them all put together according to date. Martin then wondered why none of the letters had been sent. He always thought his mother a bit eccentric though. She was humorous at times too. “Wait a minute you jerk! She had no idea where to send them. So why write them?” He said to himself. He opened the first letter.

My Dear Son,

I was thinking of you today. Actually I seldom go without a thought in your direction for more than a few hours. I was remembering when the doctor held you up and told me that I had a son. What does a nineteen year old girl know about babies? Your father and I thought we could take on the world back then. Mostly though, we were crazy in love and also we loved you very much. We still do, no matter that we don’t see you.

Much of my time was spent at home cleaning, cooking and caring for you when you were an infant. You had dark curls that turned to auburn and then a pale blonde. Your wide eyes would sparkle as you crawled all over getting into whatever you could find that I had left behind. I still remember the time you took a butter knife and unscrewed your high chair. How on earth you did that I don’t know. Then too, I remember the day that someone tried to run off with you in the rain.

I had been at the Laundromat and you were in a baby carrier. I put the carrier on the floor and leaned to put the bag of laundry into the washer. All of a sudden there was a swoosh of air and you were gone. I ran down the street just as the woman was getting ready to put you in a waiting car. The adrenalin must have been flowing that day. It still seems like yesterday. That night your dad and I watched you sleep in your crib for a long time.

I have not heard from you in a long time. I can’t imagine why. I don’t recall any fall outs. So, I would guess your reasons will remain a mystery. As for me, I am still leaning toward the Jesus that I’ve told you about. We are still living down here. Some days are great, some are awful. Sometimes our health is our main news, and other times we are amazed at how the Lord has kept us in his hand. I love you very much.

Until I see you again, remember this.

Psalm 91:1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

Every day I am praying for you.

Love Mom.

Martin sat back against the sofa. He flipped over the date of the letter. What had he been doing then? He was working all the hours he could at a restaurant. It was a minimum wage job. He’d felt cheated that he couldn’t get a good job. The only skills he’d learned growing up were cooking and dishwashing. He remembered his mother always after him to go to school and learn a trade. Martin smirked then. “I was too busy partying to want to do any school work.” He reached over and lit a cigarette.

All of a sudden it was years earlier and he was eating breakfast at his mother’s kitchen table. “Listen Martin, you have a very good mind. Don’t throw it away. This is the time for you to get an education. Your father and I scraped by but you don’t have to. Even if it’s only a trade school it would be better than nothing. I’m sure you could get a grant too. What sorts of things interest you?”

“Whiskey and women! Look Mom, I don’t want some low paying job like yours! Besides, you work your tail off and look tired all day. I don’t have to hurry to make up my mind. Look, there are the guys waiting outside. See ya!” Martin remembered laughing at his mother and jeering about her to the guys. Those same guys were no where around now. One was a police officer, another lawyer, and still another went on to become a chef on a cruise ship. Here he sat on the floor of his apartment. A cold tiled floor.

He got up and stretched out on the couch. Martin looked out the window again and took a big drag on his cigarette. He remembered watching his mother smoke once. What a joke that was. She only smoked for a year or so. He thought he should quit since it took a chunk out of his income but what else was there?

He reached down and grabbed another letter.

Dear Son,

Once again I sit with memories. I think of that skinny blonde who danced in my kitchen. You moved like a snake and it made me think of my own father. Your grandfather could dance! As you know, you wear his face! The smile, the teeth, the nose off center. His nose was broken in a bar fight. Somehow, I assume your nose was broken similarly. I remember you taking my hands and spinning me like a top.

I was making your favorite peanut butter cookies. You were so happy that day. I think you ate a whole batch of cookies while I was baking another. I remember you telling me, “I won’t marry a woman unless she makes cookies like these Mom!” What a clown you were back then. You were sixteen.

Two weeks later you had your father bring your things and you to a friend’s house to stay. My world spun around and left me dazed. Did you know I blamed your father for your first departure? He received the full blast of my fury. You were my precious Martin. No call, no letter, no explanation. But, it was to be the beginning of your disappearances wasn’t it?

The prayers went up for your safety. Not long after that I was standing at the foot of your hospital bed. You had taken an entire bottle of acetaminophen with a quart bottle of vodka. You were on a suicide watch for 24 hours after that.

But, the reason I write you is because I love you. I still pray for your safety. If you get time, please call,

You will never be turned away.


Psalm 107 “10-16 “Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains, for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High. So he subjected them to bitter labor; they stumbled and there was no one to help. They cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.

It was growing late and Martin put the letters aside. He went to the refrigerator and pulled out some left over’s. He grabbed a soda and heated up the food in the microwave. His mother’s letters had made him remember things he wanted to forget.

Martin turned on the television and popped his feet up on the couch. The news was all about the weather. Martin was suddenly no longer listening. He was remembering when he was in the “click”. He was popular and had felt powerful. Thinking back to those days reminded him of the times he’d been embarrassed by his parents. He couldn’t remember why, but he just didn’t want them around his friends. His friend’s had laughed at him when his mom went to get him off someone’s roof after a party. He didn’t remember climbing the roof. He remembered his mother covering him with a blanket. What had she said that night? He was too drunk that night to remember much. He’d stripped and climbed to the roof to dance the Macarena. He blushed just remembering it all.

Funny though, he didn’t remember anyone at home ever mentioning it. He did remember the night he’d snuck a girl into then house and his mom coming home from work late and finding them on the couch. His shoulders shook as he still remembered his mother’s hand grabbing the naked girl and thrusting her out the front door. She’d thrown her clothes at her afterwards. The rest of the night was a blur. Those were the drug initiation days. He’d get dime bags and party.

His soda sizzled down his throat as he tried to remember the things he’d done. He remembered going to the second Woodstock. It was a wild time of booze, drugs and violence. He’d ended up grabbing his friends and ditching the place. They’d gotten jobs as security. Some security! When the mob found out some of the bands couldn’t make it, they’d threatened to burn the place. They ended up sleeping in the car halfway home because they were too bombed to see the road.

His mother never knew about that time. He remembered his life after high school graduation. He’d gotten a job from a local thug. All he had to do was sit in the driver’s seat of a car as they drove to NYC once a week with money. He held a sawed off shotgun under a blanket. He was always afraid he’d shoot his leg off. Yet, the night that they had bought coke to bring back he was glad he’d had the shot gun. Three huge guys dressed in drag had tried to overpower the two of them. Martin’s friend [shotgun] came out of hiding and the goons ran.

That job had led to an arrest. Somehow, he was let go. He couldn’t understand why he was let go until much later. The friend Martin had driven with was a king pin. Without realizing it, Martin had given evidence to bring one of the biggest drug trafficking rings in NYC to an end. All he’d said was where they went, the street gave the NYPD all they’d needed.

The snow was piling up against the window sill. Martin put his dirty dishes in the sink and proceeded to wash the day’s dishes. No sense washing them in the morning. He’d learned to save dish detergent by washing dishes once a day. No one had to tell Martin how he’d gotten to learn the perks of poverty. He had done it to himself. For almost twenty years he’d drank and drugged himself to bare bones poverty. The once slim waist had given way to a pot belly.

Once the dishes were done Martin brushed his teeth and got ready for bed. He had to be at work by five a.m. He wasn’t looking forward to the walk in the dark cold snow but there was no help for it. He had no car and no cab money.

The following day Martin stood washing dishes at Sam’s diner. Sam liked Martin; he could use him as a cook when they got busy. Plus, he now had someone renting the upstairs apartment he owned three blocks away. Martin kept the place clean.

Sam wondered at the quietness of this man. He flashed a smile to the ladies on occasion but other than that Martin was a mystery.

The diner had a rush hour and soon Martin stood shoulder to shoulder with Sam as they flipped pancakes and slung hash. The mechanics of a good short order cook looked like a practiced ballet as Martin and Sam worked together. By the end of the day, Martin was ready to sit down with coffee.

As he was stretching his legs and getting the kinks out of his neck he observed a couple in a booth. He watched as they held hands and said a quick prayer. His mind went back to his parents. It didn’t matter where they were, they stopped to say thanks. He lit a cigarette as he looked out the diner’s dirty windows. South Street looked just like it did when his mother brought him here for lunch. Sam was a young skinny guy with hair back then. Martin remembered his mother always wanting to treat him. “Just for you Martin!” She’d say when they went out. He tried to put all that out of his head.

The break ended and soon Martin was up flipping hamburgers and frying potatoes until two p.m. Sam was locking up when he noticed Martin staring out the window. “Martin, is everything all right?” Sam expected a shrug or a “Nothin” as Martin usually said little. He was surprised when Martin told him about the box of letters. “It just creeps me out is all. I mean, I stopped making contact with them years ago. We don’t have anything in common. Yet, my mom was writing me all the time. It’s like she’s talking to me from the grave or something.” Sam shook his head. “Was she a bad mom?” he asked.

“Well, no. I mean I wasn’t abused or anything. I just can’t explain it.” Martin zipped his jacket up and stretched his knit cap over his head as he headed out the back door. Even though he had no car, he still needed food. He’d have to carry something home. He walked into the supermarket and grabbed a few things.

Sam scratched his head and took off for home. “He sure is an odd one” he thought.

“Hey Martin! You up for a poker game tonight?” Joe called out behind the counter. “I get off at seven!”

Martin usually jumped at the poker games. He was a good player and usually made some extra cash this way. Plus, the guys supplied snacks and drinks. Tonight though, he felt out of it. “Not tonight Joe, I’m tired and I’m gonna crash for the night. See ya later!” Martin waved as he walked out the door.

No matter how long he’d been walking, Martin never got used to the sting of winter weather on his face as he walked home. “Mom always says she prays for me. Why don’t I ever get anything out of it? A car, a decent job, might be nice. Nope, she tells me I’ve got this rich inheritance. I wonder if she found any gold after she died!” Martin muttered to himself until he turned the key in the lock of his apartment. He set the bags of food down and removed his shoes and socks. The coat went to its hook with the knit cap over it.

“Let’s see, do I want to listen to classical music or rock? Jazz? Maybe.” Martin turned on the stereo and flipped through the channels. “Healing rain, coming down, coming nearer to this old town.”, reached Martin’s ears. “Hmmm, Mom’s old station. I don’t think so!” Martin put on some classical music but still heard the song of “Healing Rain” as he put the food away.

After a quick shower and donning his sweats, Martin collapsed on the couch. There, sitting on the coffee table was the shoebox as if to say “Welcome Home”. Marty laughed at that thought. He reached over and picked up another of his Mother’s letters.

“Dear Son,

I wonder where you are today. I wonder if you are healthy and if you are sheltered. It’s the normal course of life when a parent has to let go of their child to make their own way in the world. However, the silence between us is not normal. There is nothing I can do beyond prayer. Yet, prayer is the most powerful tool.

Do you know your mother? I was thinking of my own mother. I saw her as the tired woman who worked all the time and when she was home she worked again. Yet, later on in life I learned my mother was a dancer. She loved to boogie! Once, she had been skinny. After five children and two miscarriages plus three divorces she became a different person. Yet, that is the only person I knew.

It dawned on me that you grew up seeing me much the same way. Did you know why I went to work? I had no high aspirations to be a career girl. I wanted you to have nice clothes. Your father always worked steady. I just was trying to help with the extras. So, when your little brother was five years old I started looking for a job.

The first one I found was at a hamburger joint. Your father and I didn’t want any babysitters for you. So, I took night jobs and he worked days. Our days off together was always a holiday. From that job, I began looking for something with more scheduled hours. I found it in a nurse’s aide position. Once again it was 3-11. I hated being away from you. That is why whenever we were able, we always took you places. It was a holiday to be able to be with you.

I remember the amusement parks, Howe’s caverns, out to dinner or even to the movies. It wasn’t money wasted if it was spent with you and your brother. Your father was as excited to go as I was.

I had always wanted to be a writer and housewife. Your father had wanted to be an industrial arts teacher. Well, we rushed in and had a marriage and baby in my senior year. However, we aren’t sorry about you. We are sorry we didn’t wait until we had better jobs and more knowledge.

I was a very ignorant mom. Remember, I was only 19. I went from staying overnight at my friend’s house to planning meals for our family. Your father used to roller skate and bowl, he played basketball and baseball. All of a sudden he was dad and husband.

You grew up watching many arguments. I wonder if you heard the laughter. To this very day your father and I can make each other laugh hysterically. We’re like the old sit com of “Burns and Allen”. It can be 6 a.m. and the alarm goes off. Rather than reach over and shut it off, your dad does a dance in the bed to whatever music is playing. Cracks me up every time!

When I am not exhausted I am bantering back and forth with him. It takes quick wit and eye contact. I love nothing better than to get him going! His eyes bug out and his teeth are bared. The chest puffs out and just before he thinks of something to say…I show a couple of facial dimples and say “Gotcha!” It’s been over thirty years and the fun is only better.

I never liked cooking! I bet you never knew. I cooked because I had a family and thought I was supposed to be Betty Crocker. In your teenage years I always loved to praise your attempts at cooking. That way, I’d get a night off while you cooked! Sorry son, but I was a master manipulator!

Laughter is good Martin. I pray you laugh often.

Love Mom

Martin was indeed laughing as he put the letter down. He remembered his mother goading his dad without him knowing it. Then he remembered something else. His father always was stroking his mother’s arm or hugging her. He and his brother used to get embarrassed because they were always kissing. “Yeah, they really loved each other.” Martin stopped and thought of the many girls he’d dated and jilted. He could have been married so many times. Now, it didn’t look promising. Who’d want a loser like him?

He sat back and remembered the time his father had gone off with the guys after work on a Christmas Eve. He didn’t tell his mother and she was prancing around the house in a rage. He heard the commotion after his father turned the key in the door. Then he heard the crash. He was laughing as he remembered the scene. His mother was on the floor on her knees saying “Wake up Jeffrey! Don’t go dying on me! It’s Christmas!” She had pulled the pendulum clock off the wall and hit him over the head with it as he came in the door.

Martin laughed again. “Poor Dad never knew it was coming! Man, that woman had a temper!” After a while his father had come around and his mother was kissing and hugging and saying how sorry she was. His father had been a little tipsy from the time out with the guys. Martin laughed again as he remembered his father’s remark before going to bed.

“What did you do? “ Martin smiled as he remembered his poor father that night. He had gotten up slowly and couldn’t figure out why his wife was upset. He thought he’d fallen by himself. “I wonder if Mom ever told him.”

Martin looked back at the letter. His mother had scrawled the scripture of

Proverbs 3:1 “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart…”

Martin quieted at that verse. He laid his head back on the couch cushion looking at the ceiling. The memories were a jumble as he fell asleep.

“Martin, the Lord wants you to call on him. There’s a plan for your life. Remember, your middle name is Emmanuel. “God is with us” His mother’s face looked happy. She reached out to touch his hand.

The music played on as Martin slept.

A few hours later Martin awoke shivering. It was dark outside and Martin realized he’d been asleep for two hours. He felt like he’d just spent a few hours with his mother. Quickly he got up and got ready for bed. He was standing in front of the sink brushing his teeth when he looked up and saw the reflection of his face. How many times had his friends told him how much he looked like his mother? It felt weird since he’d always considered himself a good looking guy and his mother was definitely not male looking. But, in that instant he could see his mother’s eyes and even hear her laugh as he laughed at himself.

Martin brought the shoebox into his bedroom and flopped down on his bed with it. His bedside lamp turned on with a touch from Martin. “Let’s see where was I?’ he asked himself. He thumbed through a couple letters he’d already read until he came to the right one in order. His mother always liked to have a sense of order in everything. He remembered her cleaning up their home on her days off. “Is that why I can’t stand to have a messy apartment?” His friends had chided him for being a neat freak.

He flipped open the letter. As usual it started simply “Dear Son,”

“It’s a wonderful day today. I’ve been taking walks outside and watching the wonders of color as they seem to bloom before my eyes. Do you remember the walks we took in Crandall Park each spring? Well, down here there are parks all over. The retention ponds are havens for all wild birds. I see sandpiper cranes, white cranes, seagulls, sea turtles, and all sorts of birds as well. The green palms with manicured green lawned golf courses make a beautiful back drop for the colors of the wild life. Yet, even more beautiful are the places where no lawn is mowed and only nature paints the pictures.

How I love to grab a picnic lunch with your dad and go to the beach. It costs nothing but there is no price I can think of for the value of the beauty. Do you remember the vacations to Florida and the cruises we took? How I love the smell and sounds of the sea. We walk along sandy beaches and let the water rock us back and forth…”

Martin laid his head down on the pillow and remembered. “Martin, don’t forget your sunglasses and tanning oil.” His mother shouted after him. He was running out of the cabin to reach the promenade deck and check out all the sun bathers. The scene changed and he was suddenly thinking of the day spent snorkeling in the Bahamas. Yes, he remembered the vacations. He laid there thinking of the times they went camping as well. Blue Mountain Lake was gorgeous. The camp fires at night, the smell of bacon frying on a cast iron grill outdoors in the morning and the days spent swimming and fishing. He shook his head and yawned as he went back to the letter he was reading.

“When I am asked ‘where is your God’ I am tempted to jump and proclaim ‘are you blind? He is everywhere! Yet, I know that the eyes are dulled when we seek out substitutes to fill our minds and hearts rather than seeking out the One who made it all. The beauty around me speaks for itself but while I was held on an 11-7 job I still knew that beauty was all around me. I pray you will ask God to let you see through His eyes my son. There is beauty in such a small thing as a twig. I pray you reach for Him. I pray you have joy. Love Mom”

Martin tucked the letter back into its envelope and put the box on the bedside stand. He turned out the light and lay in the dark for a while. He remembered something his mother used to always say. “Martin, I know that getting drunk and doing those drugs seems fun now and makes you happy. But, think about this. You have to keep going back to get a fix or a drink but with Jesus, his mercies are new every morning. If your happiness depends on what is happening around you then it’s not joy. Joy comes from within regardless of the happenings around you. Joy comes from Jesus.”

His mother was always preaching that line to him. It made no difference to him at the time. He wanted whatever his hands could get their hands on. He fell asleep thinking of all the things his hands had touched over the years.

The alarm clock woke him as he was dreaming. He was sitting in his kitchen making a list of all the things his hands had touched. Martin was glad to wake up and jump into the shower. His mind was reeling as he walked through the early morning snow to Sam’s diner. He suddenly saw the moon glistening on the iced over mounds of snow. “Hmm pretty” he thought. Up above him he heard the music from another alarm clock. “Open the eyes of my heart Lord”. The song stayed with him until he arrived at work.

Chapter two

Judy’s heels clacked against Martin’s tiled floor. “What on earth you got there Marty? Some old love letters?” Martin quickly put the letters away under his bed.

“Naaa, just some stuff my mother forgot to mail me. Dad mailed them to me before he took off for Liberia.” Martin straightened and gently ushered Judy out of his bedroom. She had once lived with him. The lack of money and depression had driven her to find her own place. She showed up at Martin’s apartment today to return his key and give him back some things she’d found that were his. She found them as she unpacked. Judy didn’t tell Martin that she was moving in with another man with more prospects.

Judy swatted the cat as she sat down on the sofa. “So, what’s new?” she asked. Small talk was all she could think of. Martin wasn’t in the mood for small talk or Judy.

“I was just getting ready to leave. Come on, we’ll walk out together.” He replied. Martin suddenly spied the stiletto heels. “Did you really walk in the snow in those?”

Judy hadn’t wanted Martin to see the car so fast. “Well, no. I drove here. I have a friend’s car.” All of a sudden Martin took in the total package. Judy had straight hair that she usually wound up. It was down today. She’d worn black slacks with a lavender blouse. She was dressed up. Martin figured out quickly that the clothes, the car and the attitude lately added up to one thing. Judy had another guy. He was surprised that he didn’t really care.

“Don’t worry Judy, I don’t care. Listen, I’ll see ya later.” He dismissed her with a wave and walked down the street. A couple of guys who were regulars at Sam’s place had invited him for a game of pool. Martin walked down the steps to the pool hall and was met with the smell of stale beer and cigarettes. The place had a bar with several lighted beer signs that made up most of the lighting in the place. The light over the pool table illuminated Jake.

“Hey, you finally made it!” Pull up a stick and let’s get going. Did you bring your cash? Cause I brought large pockets to put it in.” He laughed.

Martin smiled a little. He could hold his own with a pool cue but he knew better than to bet high stakes with Jake. Jake was closing in on forty. He was divorced twice with four kids from three different women. Yet, he spent most of his time here. He drove taxi and hung out at the diner otherwise.

“My mother would love my new friends” Martin thought. He remembered her visiting with a guy Martin had had for a room mate. His mother was laughing and talking with this guy for a half hour as Martin packed up for yet another time. Turned out later that the guy was gay and Martin had called his dad to come get him a few weeks later. Martin picked up a brown long neck and swilled his beer. Soon, Martin had lost ten dollars and Jake was smiling. Martin had drunk just enough to be a gambler that night. “Let’s try again Jake!”

“You’re crazy! I’m going to get a steak out of these winnings. Let’s go.” Martin won back his money and then some as others joined in thinking Martin would lose his shirt. It was two a.m. when Martin stumbled into his apartment. After removing shoes, socks, coat and hat, Martin stretched and belched up some of the beer. “That’s disgusting!” he thought he heard his mother say.

“Man, for a minute there I thought I should say ‘excuse me’” he laughed to an empty room. Martin discarded his clothes in the hamper and got into something comfortable. He took out the shoe box and laid it on his coffee table. Martin grabbed something to drink and rubbed his eyes. The dim pool room always made his eyes aches. Out came the next letter.

“Dear Son,

I was thinking today of Kaitlin. My, she must be 13 years old now. I wonder if she ever thinks of her father and the other half of her family….

Martin put the letter down fast. He balled the paper into a fist and threw it across the room. Of course Kaitlin was thirteen. “Martin, some day that girl is going to come looking for you. A little girl will always be curious about her father. You mark my words son, this is not over.” His mother’s words had held so much conviction that day. Martin put his head back and took a deep breath. He’d been twenty one and the girl was a beauty. Martin had a steady stream of girls back then and he didn’t treat this one any different. Only different thing was that this one was an innocent and had gotten pregnant. Also, he’d cared about this one.

The girl’s father had connections in local government and had Martin’s background checked. It didn’t take long for him to go to Martin after the baby was born. “I know all about you. I have been polite for my daughter’s sake but not any more. There’s a baby to think of. I want you to disappear from her life. Here’s the deal. You go away and you won’t ever be asked for child support. You stay around and I’ll put you away. Believe me, between the drug deals, stealing, and prostitution I’ve got you nailed. Yes, I know things even my daughter doesn’t know. So, what’s it going to be? Either way I don’t want you near my home. You show up and you’ll go away for a long time.”

Martin sat there in silence. It sounded like the life of someone on a television show. But no, it was his life. It had happened so gradually. He got up and went to retrieve the crumpled up ball of paper.

“I know that you know what sin is. It is something that goes against God. But, I also know you’ve heard the word of God enough to know that He is a restoration God. Think of this Son, no matter where you are today…he wants to restore what the locusts have eaten. What are your locusts? Actually, that does not matter.

I know that sounds odd. But, sin number 1 and number 14 are all sin. If we call out to God and admit our sin with a heart of repentance…he hears and forgives. Now, that doesn’t mean we won’t have to walk through some manure. We have to deal with some of the effects of sin, but we can be free of the sin itself and move on. I say these things to a blank piece of paper in hopes that the Lord will find a way to give you the encouragement somehow. He is a restorer.

I remember the look on your face when you looked at your daughter. I also know you refuse to speak of her. Never have I thought it was because you were unloving. No, something had happened back then. I may never know what. But I want you to know Martin, God is a restorer. If you ever want to have Christ in your life I give you this caution. Never try to find Him on your own terms. He is the mighty creator, everlasting and eternal God. No, we must relate to him on His terms. Humble, repentant, and eager to obey. Love Mom”

Martin was tired but he understood his mother’s letter. He folded up the crumpled sheet of paper and put it back into the envelope. He then got up and put the shoebox back under his bed.

With the lights out and the cat snuggled up to his legs, Martin slept. In the morning Martin ate and then got ready for his day off routine. He had laundry and had to walk to the Laundromat with it. His coat had gotten torn somehow near the sleeve. “Never put torn clothing in the wash Martin or the tear will be worse.” He heard his mother’s voice. “This is creeping me out.” He sewed the sleeve with a small sewing kit he kept over the refrigerator. He then got ready and bundled up the laundry and scooped up his detergent. Martin headed downstairs to walk a block to the nearest Laundromat. He was just putting his quarters into the washer later when he heard his mother’s voice again. “We may be poor but we don’t ever have to be dirt poor”. Martin shook his head to clear it.

After he’d loaded the machine he sat down and watched the television that was perched in the corner near the ceiling. The news was on and Martin soon grew bored. He looked out the window and noticed there were still newspapers on the stand. Martin went outside and bought a paper. The sounds of the horns honking and people yelling were the sounds that Martin had grown used to. These were the sounds of the city. The hot dogs could be smelled as well as the pastry shop’s cakes. Martin would have loved to live in a suburb. It’s not like he’d never seen anything but the city. But, a guy without a car and little money lived the best way he could.

“Down south there is a church on every block” he heard his mother’s voice again. Martin thought he was going nuts. He made a decision to throw out that shoebox as soon as he got home.

Chapter three

Martin didn’t throw away the shoebox. He left it under his bed for a few days. One day about a week later Martin was flipping hamburgers when he heard a familiar voice order two cokes, a hamburger and a hot dog with large fries. He wasn’t sure but voice sounded so much like a girl he knew fourteen years ago. Slowly he turned around and spotted the same girl in a booth. She was sitting across from a young teen ager with long black hair and big blue eyes. Martin froze on the spot. Sam took the order and shoved the slip in front of Martin.

Martin’s hand trembled as he put the order together. He tried his best not to turn around again. He kept busy cleaning the grill and chopping onions for the next day. Some of the regular customers arrived and sat at the counter. One of them hollered “Hey! Martin! Give me a cheeseburger on rye to go! How you doing these days Marty?”

Martin had no choice but to respond to the customer. As he turned around the two ladies in the booth also turned and faced him. He gave his usual polite nod and went back to work hoping that the girl wouldn’t recognize him. He was not surprised when the woman didn’t speak to him. As they were getting ready to leave, the woman and her daughter walked up to the counter to pay for their lunch. Martin handled the transaction without dropping the change. All of a sudden the young girl looked at Martin’s face. Martin felt like he was being dissected. “Hello” the girl said.

Martin’s face flushed and he answered “Hello” while darting his eyes to the girl’s mother for any signs of recognition. She merely smiled and thanked him for the change. The woman left a tip and they walked to the door. The young woman turned around again and stared at Martin. “Is that him Mom?” He heard her ask as they went out the door.

Martin realized then that he’d been holding his breath and let it out. He couldn’t imagine what the girl had meant. He took a break and sat in the back trying to regain some composure. Sam went back and saw him sweating and shaking. “Hey there, you feel sick? Go on home. I can handle another hour alone. Go on. You look awful.”

After Martin got home, he looked in the mirror. He really did look awful. He looked like a tired old man. His ruddy cheeks were flushed and his eyes were red. He was still shaking. “What the matter with you? It was just bound to happen sooner or later. So, they ate lunch and took off. Cathy won’t ever come back knowing I’m there. Relax man!” He sat at his table for an hour talking to himself and willing himself to calm down.

A week later Martin was cleaning up the grill for the day when Cathy came in the door. “Sorry, we’re closing up. I can fix you a cold sandwich but the grill is down for the night.” He spoke without turning around.

“Martin, I need to talk to you.” Martin dropped the spatula and turned around. Cathy was alone this time.

“Look, I know this is weird but I really do need to talk to you.” She stood frozen waiting for him to reply.

“Well, sure” he said. He walked around the counter and turned the open sign to read closed. He turned off the overhead lights. The restaurant was still lit up from the sun shining through the windows. He sat down and looked at Cathy. She looked older and definitely nervous.

“Let’s see, where to start. Kaitlin just found out that you are her father. I got married after we split and she always thought Keith was her father. Keith died last year.” Cathy took a breath and looked like she was going to cry. “Martin, Kaitlin is sick. There’s no easy way to put this. She needs a kidney! Everyone on my side of the family tested to give her one and we simply aren’t a match. I know you have a rare blood type, like Kaitlin. I know this is bizarre but I had no where else to go. She’s on a waiting list.”

Martin’s mind was buzzing from the fact that Kaitlin was sick. She looked like a normal teen ager to him. “What do you want?” he asked.

“Well, I want Kaitlin to live.” Cathy answered. “But, Kaitlin wants to meet you. I’m not sure what she expects and I don’t want her to get hurt. Would you agree to meet her? I’d be there of course. She’s got tons of questions and I don’t think she wants to ask you for a kidney without getting to know you first.”

Martin took a breath. “God is a restorer” he kept hearing his mother’s voice in his mind. “Look, I don’t mind at all. Uh, I don’t do drugs anymore Cathy. I do smoke and spend a lot of time at the pool halls…”

Cathy interrupted him. “I know what you do. Daddy had you investigated. You’re pretty mild from the Martin we used to know. He’s gone now Martin. Freak accident last year. Anyway, he had you investigated to find out if you were in any way able to help Kaitlin. This has been a battle for a few years now. She acts like any other kid except for going to dialysis twice a week. I had to move to the city to be closer to the hospitals. I got a job teaching school over at Weaving Elementary. The benefits are great and the cost isn’t the problem. The problem is we need a kidney. This is a lot. Even if you don’t want to donate your kidney, Kaitlin wants to see you. Can I come by with Kaitlin some time next week?”

The room was spinning a bit for Martin. His long lost daughter wanted to see him. She thought it would be rude just to ask for his kidney. He smiled at the thought. “Hello, may I have your kidney? By the way let’s have tea.” “Look that would be fine. I’ll do my best Cathy. If I’m a match it’s a done deal. She may not know me but she is my kid. I want her to live too.” He wrote down his address and handed it to Cathy. I’d rather you come to my place where it’s a little more private. Or, do you not want anything private? Do you feel better out in public doing this talking thing?” Martin cleared his throat. He was remembering how frightened Cathy was the last time she’d seen him.

Cathy looked at the address and said “Is Thursday night ok?” Martin nodded. Cathy stood up and looked down at Martin. “I really don’t know what to say. I am glad you didn’t slam the door in my face.”

Martin shook his head. “I’m not a monster Cathy. Just a screw up. See you Thursday.”

Thursday came and Martin was petrified. He paced his apartment and kept dusting and polishing. When he heard the knock he raced down the steps to open the door. Cathy looked a little nervous but Kaitlin looked excited. Martin could see the twinkle in her eyes. Those eyes looked familiar. “Oh no, she has my eyes, I have my mother’s eyes. It’s like looking at a young Mom. “he thought. Martin tried to put that out of his mind.

Once they were upstairs Kaitlin noticed the cat. Oscar was an old grey striped cat. He was huge by cat standards. “Oh wow, you have a cat. Hi there!” Oscar loved attention and soon he was swirling around Kaitlin’s legs to be petted.

Cathy accepted the coffee Martin offered and Kaitlin said she would just drink water. She had brought her own bottle. Martin smiled as she sat at the table so much like an adult. Kaitlin was short he noticed. Cathy was five foot eight. Must be a throw back from his mother he thought.

“I just found out that you were my father. I am fourteen and just seeing your face for the first time. Why?” She said as she sat down.

The teen ager sat quietly for a while. “Why didn’t you come see me?” She was looking Martin in the eye and Martin felt his blood pressure hammer through his veins.

The room went silent as father and daughter locked eyes. She was only fourteen and Martin knew he couldn’t tell her in great detail. No child should have to listen to the reality that they were sitting across from an ex drug dealing king pin, and someone in and out of jail from theft. He wouldn’t tell her he’d been homeless. He wouldn’t tell her about all the women. But what should he tell her?

“There is no explanation that would be right. I’m glad you had a dad who loved and cared for you Kaitlin.” Martin could tell Kaitlin was getting angry but he was at a loss.

“Was it because my mother wouldn’t marry you?” the child in Kaitlin came out.

Martin was startled but he answered quickly. “No, you have a wonderful mother who was responsible and always there. The fault lies with me Kaitlin.”

“Tell her Martin.” Cathy spoke as she reached over the table and touched Martin’s hand. “Do you want me to help?” Martin nodded.

“I met your father at college. He was wild and funny. I wanted to be wild for a while. Your father was always at a party. But, I soon learned that he was into drugs and alcohol.” Cathy stopped and waited for Martin to proceed.

“I was a drug addict. I also liked to drink. Most of the time I was so stoned I didn’t know what was happening. I never held down a job for long. If your mother had married me I wouldn’t have changed Kaitlin.”

Oscar jumped from his perch on the sofa to where Kaitlin was sitting in a chair. She leaned down to pet him before she spoke. “Uh huh”

Martin settled back in his chair. He felt himself get comfortable for perhaps the first time in months. “Kaitlin, you would have been ashamed of me around your friends. You would have been scared even. I would have been that awful guy who comes to see you on week ends.”

“Well, who are you now?”

Cathy took a sip of coffee and spoke. “Good, that is what we would both like to know. Martin, who are you now?”

“It’s been a long haul. I’m off drugs and only drink beer. Not all that much either. I work for Sam at the diner. My life isn’t that exciting. I like to watch movies, play pool and poker.” Martin realized that his resume was lacking. Yet, he was encouraged when he looked over at Kaitlin.

“Do you ever go to church?” Martin felt the room tilt. He thought he heard his mother. “Mom and I go to a great church. Do you believe in God?”

Martin started to laugh and couldn’t stop. Finally he looked over at Cathy. “Did you put her up to this?” Cathy sat stiff and shook her head no.

“It’s true Martin. We are Christians. We met a woman at dialysis and she sort of pointed us in the right direction. Our Kaitlin made some friends and learned a lot about the bible. She sort of ran with it. I can’t believe how fast she learned.”

“Oh, I didn’t just learn. I found the real deal!” Kaitlin beamed. “So, you didn’t answer my question?”

Martin smiled without knowing it. “Yes” Kaitlin smiled again. “So, could you come to church with us?”

The room was filled with something beyond words. Martin started to say no, but the words came out “Yes”.

That night after his guests left his apartment; Martin reached into the shoebox and took out another letter.

“Dear Son,

It has dawned on me that I really don’t know who you are anymore. That’s ok. I will speak as though I’m talking to a dying man. Years ago while I worked as a nurse I had the privilege of speaking to many dying men and women. They were afraid. Here is what I said. Always remember what the word says, “If we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Martin if you ever read this letter you need to know that this IS YOUR TIME! Today is the day of salvation. It doesn’t matter what was before.

Love Mom

Martin grinned as he put the letter away. He remembered how stern his mother used to look when she spoke of salvation. She wore a smile and joked easily but when it came to that one issue she was very serious.

He couldn’t believe his own daughter was a Christian. Cathy too. His mother must have prayed hard! For some reason Martin wanted to talk to his father. Unfortunately, he didn’t know how to reach him.

The next day Martin was still thinking about phoning his father. He then realized that the church he went to must know something. Martin looked up the number and placed a call to the pastor.

The pastor invited Martin to come to his office. Martin felt a little strange but he walked to the church. It was snowing a little and quite cold. Martin’s nose and fingers were quite red as he knocked on the pastor’s office door.

“Come in” said the pastor and Martin walked through the door. The pastor had seen Martin walking and had an afghan to throw over Martin after he discarded his jacket. “Well, it’s good to see you Martin. What brings you here?”

Martin told the man that he wanted to get in touch with his father and had no address. The pastor listened and went to his desk to find the address. “I have a phone number Martin. Here’s the address. How about lunch? I’m having a roast beef sandwich sent over from Sam’s, care to join me?”

Martin burst out laughing. “The prodigal returns! First you cover me with the afghan and now we share the fatted calf! Sure, I’d love it.”

The pastor and Martin spoke for most of the afternoon. Martin explained about his daughter and also the shoebox filled with his mother’s letters. “One thing scares me though. After all these years of drugs and alcohol, I’m not sure my kidney would be any good for her.” The pastor took Martin’s hand and prayed for a long time. “God is on the move Martin!” the pastor said as Martin left.

Chapter 4

It was 3 in the morning and Martin woke wide awake. He put his glasses on and turned on the lamp next to the bed. As he swung his legs over the bed, his feet hit the shoebox that was lying on the floor under the bed. Martin got up and used the bathroom. He grabbed a cup of water and looked at himself in the mirror over the bathroom sink. “Man, I look like an old man.” He thought. “Oh come on Martin, you aren’t going to get by on your looks all your life.” He thought he heard his mother’s voice. Martin didn’t believe in ghosts and knew what his mother thought of such things. No, he heard the voice because that is something she’d said and he was remembering.

“How old was she when she said that? I always thought she was old anyways. Old and crazy!” Martin laughed and turned off the bathroom light. As he climbed back into bed his foot hit the shoe box again. He pulled out another letter.

Martin bunched his pillows behind him and sat up near the headboard. He ran a hand through his tousled hair and adjusted his glasses. “Let’s see what the lady has to say today” he said to himself.

“Dear Son, Your father and I went to the park today. We ran into a couple of homeless people. It’s so hard to believe that folks are living out of doors. For some reason I just couldn’t walk away without speaking to them. Your father and I spent a few moments with these people and learned their story. We don’t know if it was true or not. That wasn’t the point. At times like this, I wish I had a lot of money. These folks were hungry so we settled on getting a couple of sandwiches and cokes for them. Who knows if we’ll see them again? We prayed with them and gave them the names of our pastors to contact if they felt like it.

Your father has made it a point to go to the park at least once a week with the thought of reaching out for Jesus. I know it sounds corny to you Martin, but Jesus cares and nudges the hearts of folks like us to do something. I figure if he can do a miracle with a few small fish, we might do something with a sandwich.

No matter what you’re doing or where you are Martin, look up and talk to God. No memorized prayer will do. Speak from the heart. Our human failures do not erase the power of God.

Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Love, Mom. Martin folded the letter neatly and put it back into the envelope. He turned out the light and sat there in the dark. His life was one of survival. There was no rest. He’d missed his chance at a good life by his own choices. Yet, here was a letter from his mother telling him to go to the Lord?

Martin settled down into his blankets and fell asleep. He dreamed that a great man of God was standing before the throne of God. Satan was in a black satin suit with a list of all of the man’s evil deeds. He had worked for God and prayed and trusted God and yet Satan was still there accusing him. With each accusation Martin saw a man in florescent white stating “I paid for that. The man is blameless” Several times Satan accused the man and with each horrible accusation, the man in white fluorescent robes stated “He’s free, I paid for that.” The man in white spoke loud and Martin was fearful. He woke up to the alarm clock feeling like he hadn’t slept at all.

The chilly morning followed Martin as he walked into the diner. He donned his apron and began to fire up the grill. He put the pots of coffee on and put the pancake batter together. Sam was busy putting stock away from the delivery the night before. Soon, the place was mobbed with customers. Martin still remembered the dream he had the night before. The day went by quickly and soon he was walking home. Tomorrow was Sunday and he’d promised to go to church with his daughter and Cathy.

When he was back home he started to sweat. He felt like the world was caving in on him all of a sudden. His dark quiet life was being shaken. He thought he should cancel on the church thing. His mouth went dry and he began to tremble. The thought of going to church was bad enough. The thought of trying to explain to Kaitlin terrified him. “Better just to go through with it.” He said. “Man, mom would be shocked to find me cowing to a kid. Well, maybe not. She predicted that Kaitlin would come after me. ” Just then he heard a knock on the door. He was glad for a distraction from this heady thinking.

Cathy and Kaitlin were on the other side of the door. “We decided to bring some chicken to you so we could eat together.” said Kaitlin. Martin stepped aside to let them in.

“Wow that smells great! Just a second and I’ll get something to drink with it.” Martin found some soda in the refrigerator and brought it to the table. Kaitlin had all ready looked around and found forks. They sat at the table and thanked God for the meal. Soon, Martin was wiping his mouth after finishing up the last chicken wing. “Man that was good! Thanks! But, I think I’m going to have to cancel on church tomorrow.” Martin had said it quickly hoping his thanks for the meal would be an exchange for him not going to church with them.

Cathy looked annoyed but Kaitlin was in a fury. “Cancel? You said you believed in God! You gave me your word that you would go!”

Martin watched as the thin teen ager suddenly turned into a tornado. “Listen, Kaitlin don’t preach to me.” He said calmly.

“Preach? Well, that’s an idea! Dad, I don’t know how much time I’ve got! I could live forever or for a day! I’m not leaving without telling you that believing that there is a God is not enough to go to heaven!” Kaitlin was trembling and her eyes were shining. “The demons believe and they tremble. They know where they are going!” Martin was amazed at the stance his daughter took. She stood like a fierce warrior, looking so much like his deceased mother that for a moment he was afraid. “You know God exists but you don’t know Him! I know that soda exists but unless I reach out and drink it I’ll never know what it tastes like! I won’t nag you Dad, but this won’t go away!” Kaitlin told her mother she would wait in the car before she left Martin’s apartment.

Cathy tried to fix things. “She gets fired up about Jesus, Martin. She’s always been outspoken but it was nothing compared to the way she speaks about the Lord.”

“I hope you’re not trying to apologize for her, Cathy. It isn’t necessary. You know, she is never going to change! Do you remember my mother much? Well, you have my mother’s descendent. I can’t believe it! She never knew her and she speaks just like her! I’m just shocked that she looks so much like her and now has the same spirit in her when she takes a stand for God. I’m not mad! It was just a weird feeling hearing my mother’s words through Kaitlin’s mouth.”

“No Martin, those were the words of God through both of their mouths.” Cathy looked down a moment before continuing. “Can you be ready about ten a.m. tomorrow? It’s a casual dress there. Jeans is fine.”

Martin hesitated and then nodded his head. “See you in the morning.”

Sunday morning was a bright and cheerful winter day. The snow was blinding white. It reminded Martin of the man in his dream. Cathy drove the three of them to the church. When Martin realized where they were going he began to laugh. “This is where you’ve been going?” he asked to no one in particular.

Kaitlin stiffened and turned around in her seat. “What’s wrong with this church?” she asked. Martin smiled as he got out of the car.

“Well, I’ve been here before. In fact, your grand parents used to go to this church. I know the pastor. Can’t believe it can you?” Kaitlin’s eyes grew large.

“I thought you didn’t go to church? I forgot I had other grandparents if I had a different father! Wow, we need to talk!” Kaitlin was getting excited. Cathy put her hand out. “Well, can we find a seat first?”

The pastor walked over to Martin with a grin. “So, THIS is the girl! Oh, Martin! God is definitely on the move!”

Chapter five

A month went by and it was the busiest in Martin’s life. He began going to church on Sundays and found an old friend there. Pete and he were old drinking buddies. Pete was no longer found in the bars. He was a group leader for ten men who had just gotten out of jail, off the streets, or were getting off addictions. He wasn’t a counselor. No, Pete was a group leader and made his home a place for the men to gather and learn about God. Martin joined them.

One night while everyone was praying, Martin felt himself tremble violently. He felt scared and wanted to run. Pete looked over at him and recognized Martin needed to make a decision. “Martin, there comes a time when you need to make the final plunge after Jesus. We’re here to pray with you, but the decision has to be yours. At that time all of the men got up and laid their hands on Martin’s shoulder, head, or back. It didn’t matter where; it was just a point of contact.

To Martin’s shock he began to weep. He asked the Lord to forgive him for living his life setting himself up as the center. He asked for help to change his life. He asked for a clean bill of health so he could help his daughter by donating his kidney. It was a long night and Martin was glad he had the next day off.

The men welcomed Martin as a long lost brother. Each day he received a phone call or a visit from one of them. Martin began to talk to the God that his mother had told him about.

Kaitlin and Cathy went to see Martin twice a week. Kaitlin helped her father with finding where certain books of the bible were. She told him something that Martin would treasure forever. “I loved Keith. He always took good care of me and I miss him. But, I am proud that you’re my father. Even if you can’t give me a kidney, you’re still my dad!”

The doctor ordered several tests and they waited patiently for all the results to come in. Two months later Kaitlin lay on her bed in the hospital. She turned her head as Martin came in. “Hi, I guess it’s time for me to get ready. I wanted to say hi first.” Martin had spent a long time with Kaitlin trying to tell her all about his parents. His Dad had flown in and was excited to meet her. He’d shown her some of the letters as well. Without Martin knowing it, Kaitlin had snatched the last unopened letter and read it. She had it tucked into her gown.

Martin’s eyes grew large as Kaitlin drew out his mother’s last letter. “I want you to read this out loud. Please?”

Martin opened it up and read, “Dear Son, I want you to know that I love you and your daughter very much. I know I will see you again. Until that day, remember the words of the prophet Isaiah in chapter 42 verses 6-9 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.” Martin’s eyes took in the tears in his daughter’s eyes.

“I think the Lord has taken our hands today. We’ll be fine. The verse says ‘the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.’ Did God tell you yet what is going to happen in our future?”

Martin grinned as he hugged his daughter. “We are on a new path Kaitlin. That’s all I know!”

After the operation was over for about a month, Martin spoke to his father. “The Lord did an amazing thing in your mother’s heart, Martin. She didn’t live in agony over not seeing you. She lived in hope and used her time praying often. She used to tell me that her prayers weren’t for you to return to us. She always wanted you to return to Christ. Eternity is forever Martin, that is where you will be restored the time to spend with her. She knew that.”

Martin sat at the table staring out in space. He grinned and said, “Well, her prayers were answered then. Now, if I’m to go with you for a month…what do I need to do?”

A personal note to parents of prodigals.

There is hope in the life of the prodigal. At times we are out of the picture. It’s not about us! But keep praying! Even if we die without seeing the answer. Our bodies die but the prayers that God gives our spirit to pray live on.

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