Sam looked at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. Not a pretty sight. But it’s not all my fault. Tonight’s events probably had a bit to do with it. But once I change into these clothes, then what?
“That’s a good question, Sam. This is the point where you jumped ship when you jumped ship. What will you do now? Are you hoping to run away again?”
You know I want to, so there’s not much point in me denying it. But I can’t do anything if You don’t play your part. I may want to disappear, but You have already said ‘no’ once tonight, and I suspect You might well say no again.
“And you could very well be right, Sam.”
So I’ll have to stay and face the music, won’t I?
“You sound like you’re a condemned man facing a firing squad. You’re a hero out there. Go and enjoy the meal. It’s very good. And they want to honour you for what you did. That’s perfectly natural. You can’t blame them for that. And they want to hear what you have to say. You wanted speaking rights, and now you’ve got them. Just a nice little group—nothing too threatening for your first time up.”
They may think I’m a hero, but I certainly don’t. I wasn’t the one at work out there.
“We were partners, Sam. You needed Me, and I needed you. That’s been the plan all along. Can you imagine thousands of people in New Zealand or millions of people throughout the world doing what you have? Would the world be any different?”
Well, if that’s what You want, why isn’t it happening? Surely You can…
“It will only happen when people partner with Me. It can’t come from people working together to make the world a better place. No group, no church, no political system, none of the good intentions of men can make it happen. I’m the only One who can make it happen. That’s the way I created it. I’ve told man that’s how I want it, and I don’t intend to change My mind.”
We’re real slow learners, aren’t we?
“I just need a few people with enough belief to start. Then others will help to make it grow. I’ve been here before, many times, but haven’t had enough people willing to keep it growing.” Sam felt an incredible sadness in that thought. “But I’m the One who gave man free will, so I’m the One who pays the price.”
No pressure, huh? In my case, I mean.
How can an incredibly sad thought also laugh? “Well, Sam, technically speaking, you’re right. Any pressure you’re feeling isn’t coming from Me; it’s coming from you.”
“Think about you and your kids. You wanted certain things, but they didn’t. As a loving father, did you force them to do what you knew was best, or did they have to find out the hard way, the same as you did? Did you pressure them to conform to your will, or did they have free will to choose their own paths. And if they did feel pressure, where did it come from?”
I think I get it. And we face pressure every day. Advertising is nothing more than pressure.
“Something like that. Now, hurry up, or you’ll spoil everyone’s meal, including yours.”
Sam straightened his borrowed shirt, pushed his hair back into place, and started for the door. I’m not looking forward to this. I need Your help. He stopped for a moment to stack his dirty clothes into a plastic supermarket bag. Where should I leave these?
“Ahh, Sam,” he heard the voice of his host as he pushed through the door back into the dining area of the restaurant.
But his words were lost in the explosions of several dozen camera flashes. Sam looked off to his right to see a sizable crowd of excited onlookers. He could hear people calling his name and asking questions.
Just smile and keep walking towards your table, he thought.
“Do you feel a bit better now?” Jason asked as he escorted his guest of honour to the best table in the house. Thank heavens it’s well away from the door and all those people.
“Yes, much better thanks. And thanks for these clothes. I hadn’t realised what I looked like. No wonder your lady at the desk was a little taken aback.”
They reached the table where David and Manny had made themselves comfortable. Jason indicated Sam should sit in the chair with the best view of the lake, and then he sat down beside him.
“That crowd must be a bit of a problem, Jason. Sorry if I’ve messed up your well organised systems.”
“I’m not worried,” he said casually. “If nothing else, it’s free advertising. This place will be on the front page of every paper in the world tomorrow, and for all the right reasons. You can’t pay for advertising like that, Sam.”
“I guess not.” Well, why not? It’s not as if I staged the whole thing for his benefit. Why shouldn’t he get something out of it? “I don’t know about you guys,” he said changing the subject, “but I’m starving. And I have it on very good authority that the food here is great.”
Manny sniffed quietly. “Yeah, it’s not bad, Sam,” he allowed, managing to keep a straight face as he did so. “But you should see what my old mum can do with a bit of fresh cod. She could show these fancy cooks a thing or two.” Then he broke out into an incredibly infectious giggling laugh.
“Don’t worry about Manny, or his mother,” the doctor said. “You have been well informed, Sam. The food here is excellent. It’s one of the reasons I keep coming back.”
“And what are the others?” Sam asked, half expecting another response from Manny that would provoke another outburst of mirth. But David got in first.
“I know the owner,” he said seriously. “He’s not a bad bloke, and he looks after his friends.”
“So how did you all come to be his friends?” Sam asked. It was a whole lot easier to have them do all the talking. It gave him time to figure out how to speak when the time came.
The three of them looked at one another, trying to sort out who would make the explanations. Jason began. “David came through here as locum a few years ago, and he would come in here quite often.”
“And Jason came to see me almost as often,” David added. “I got to see quite a bit of him, one way and another.”
“Jeez, not a pretty sight, eh, Doc?” Manny wasn’t going to be left out. He lowered the beer glass he had just emptied and said, “Couldn’t you do something about his looks at the same time, mate? I mean, look at him, man. Not even my old mother could love a face like that.”
“I thought your old mother could do anything,” Peters felt the call to defend his honour if not his looks.
“No, Jase, not everything,” the doctor disagreed. “She hasn’t saved us from bringing Manny into the world?”
“That may be so,” Manny wasn’t to be outdone. “But at least she taught me the value of humility,” he added with what could almost have been a straight face, at least until the other three collapsed with laughter.
“Yeah, and modesty too I suppose?” Peters added, which started the laughter off again.
“So how do you fit in, Manny?” Sam asked.
The doctor got in first, “The same way he fits in anywhere—by sheer force of his personality—or at least the bulk of it.”
Jason Peters looked a little more serious as he answered, “Manny is a bit of an institution around here, Sam. He owns a local trucking company that I need to stay in business. He’s a hunter and fisherman of some renown and a musician of considerable talent. But he’s always been welcome here since the night he took on a group of young punks single handed when they were robbing me and beating me senseless. He knows how to handle himself, don’t you Manny?”
Manny looked slightly embarrassed by the compliment. “But it was nothing. They were just some visiting kids who went too far. I just booted their arses and they took off. But hey, Sam, I wish I could have thrown them the same way you threw me tonight, man. That was spectacular. I just feel sorry for the poor bastards who cushioned my fall. How did you do that, man?”
Oops, the conversation has come back to me again. But I guess I have to start sooner or later. “It’s a long story, Manny.”
“I’ve got all night, man. It’ll probably take that long for this bloody place to get the meal out, and then it’ll probably be half cold. My mum, she would never…“
“I’d like to know too, Sam,” the doctor interrupted. “Besides, anything would have to be better than hearing about his mother again.”
There was a lull in the conversation as a waitress brought them an entrée of all manner of seafood.
“Thank you,” Sam said quietly as she set the plate in front of him. The girl looked at him, holding his gaze for what seemed like several seconds, but didn’t say anything. She then moved on and positioned plates in front of the others. The diners watched in silence until the girl returned to the kitchen.
“Do you always have that sort of effect on young women?” David asked. The other two watched him for an answer.
“Not that I’ve noticed,” Sam admitted.
“Well,” the doctor replied, “you’d better get used to it if you’re planning to keep doing the sort of things we saw outside.”
He’s asking what I’m planning to do next. “I don’t think I have too many options, David. Do you?”
“Beats me,” David confessed. “But then the whole thing beats me. It blows away everything I’ve learned in 20 years of practicing medicine. How do you explain it?”
The big question, the one I hoped to avoid.
Sam looked at the three men. He saw no humour now. He saw more than polite curiosity. He saw a hunger to know and a plea for understanding—his understanding of their hunger.
“I can’t explain it, David. I don’t mean to sound evasive, but it’s the truth. I’d love to explain it to myself. A few months ago, I was just like you guys. I couldn’t throw Manny or do any of those other things. If I want to stay sane and keep going, I have to tell myself it’s not me. That’s what I said to you guys downstairs, remember? That’s what I hold onto.”
“Well if it’s not you, then who is it?” Peters asked.
Sam wanted to break some of the tension. “Well,” he said, “I can tell you one thing; it’s not Manny’s little old mother.”
It had the desired effect. The three of them laughed and relaxed a little. But only a little. They wanted a whole lot more than a casual throwaway line.
“I can only tell you what happened to me,” Sam began. “The best part of a year or so ago, I went through some pretty horrendous stuff. I lost my wife, Amanda, in a home invasion, and I was truly bent out of shape. So I decided to…” Sam’s cell phone interrupted him. “Excuse me a moment.”
Sam glanced down, intending to turn the phone off, but stopped when he saw the caller’s identity.
“Hello, Sarah. I was hoping to catch up with you. Where are you calling from?”
“We’re about 30 feet away, on the road outside, Daddy. We’d love to come in and see you, but there’s no way we can get through the crowd. More cops have arrived to keep the crowd from breaking your door down. When are you coming out?”
A look of great joy replaced his annoyance at being interrupted. “Hang on, Love. I’ll see if the people here can help get you in to join us. How many of you are there?”
“Just Terry, Eddie, Melissa and me.”
“Hold on, I’ll ask.”
Sam lowered his phone to the table top and turned slightly to look at Peters.
“Jason, it’s my daughter and three friends. They’ve come all this way to see me. Can we get them through the police cordon downstairs, so they can join us?”
The restaurant owner grinned. “Sure,” he said. “We could let them in a back entrance, which is locked from the inside. But ask them to try and be inconspicuous. We don’t want a whole crowd breaking in that way. I’ll get one of the pot hands to go out that way. Get your daughter to cross over the road and out of the crowd, so he can find them. He can bring them back in.”
“Why don’t you explain all that to her, Jason?” Sam suggested as he passed the phone across. “Her name is Sarah. She’s the one you saw on TV.”
“Of course, I remember now. That Sarah Long. Look, why don’t you guys enjoy this while it’s hot, and I’ll sort out getting them in. Excuse me.” He took the phone, stood up, and walked off towards the kitchen.
“Good idea, about the food,” Manny enthused. “This is great. I should eat with you guys more often.”
O’Conner nodded. “Yes, but hold the story for a moment if you don’t mind, Sam. I’m sure Jase won’t want to miss anything. Here, let me top up your glass.”
They ate in silence, enjoying every mouthful. The chef has really excelled himself tonight.
“That’s all under control, Sam,” Jason Peters said as he rejoined them. “They’ll be here in a few minutes. I’ve got someone coming to set more places.”
“It’s very generous of you to go to so much trouble for us.”
“Stop apologizing, Sam. It’s our night for celebrities. First you and now your daughter, who was something of a celebrity before all this…” Peters fumbled for the right words, but finally gave up searching and said, “… whatever ‘all this’ is. You were about to tell us more when you got the phone call.”
“Can we wait until the others get here?” Sam asked. “They haven’t had any explanation about ‘all this’, as you so rightly call it, either. It’s hard enough once, so I’d prefer not to try and explain things twice.”
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The three men all agreed simultaneously, each in his own way, and all four of them returned to clearing the remnants of their respective entrees. Moments later the plates were removed, and more staff began to re-set the table in anticipation of the rest of the party arriving. Sarah, Melissa, and their two escorts appeared just as everything had been made ready.
The four men stood up and introductions followed. It took a while before things had settled to the point when Sam felt he could continue.
“Well, like I said, I had big problems after what had happened to me, especially losing Amanda. While I appreciated the few good friends I had, the rest of the world carried on as if nothing had happened. It hadn’t for them. But I wasn’t them. So I went off to a bach in the Sounds. I wanted to get away from all the distractions for a while and sort my head out.”
He paused before continuing. “In the light of what’s happened since, plenty of people might wonder if I succeeded—me included. I was there off and on for weeks and nothing happened. Nothing at all. I’d pretty much given up any hope of finding an answer to my misery. Then one day out of the blue, when I was sounding off about what’s wrong with the world, a voice in my head started talking to me. Then I went to sleep on a rock by the beach, but I woke up on the floor of the bach. That sort of thing gets your attention, right. That’s when I knew God was the One talking to me. Me—a total heathen, a bush Baptist of the old school. It sounds crazy now, just as it sounded crazy then. But I was desperate enough to listen to anyone or anything that could make any sense of the mess I was in.
“How do you know it wasn’t just a dream, Daddy?”
“I thought it was, but I still had the voice talking to me. I borrowed a Bible from a local church, and He showed me things in it, amazing things I wouldn’t have seen if He hadn’t shown me. We began to have conversations. I asked Him about the mess we’re in, and what could be done about it. He had answers. And, unlike anyone I’ve ever heard, His answers made sense. Very early on, I found out He’s a lot more concerned about what’s happening in our world than we are. He told me He can fix it. He wants us to become part of His solution, instead of trying to come up with our own.
“He talked about people in the Bible who could do amazing things. They could heal the sick, raise the dead, move from one place to another in an instant of time, walk through crowds without being seen, speak in new languages, all sorts of amazing things. I asked why we couldn’t do those things now. He said we could. He said He always intended we would do those things, but man chooses not to believe Him. So I asked Him to show me.
He showed me how I could affect plants and then animals. He showed me how to influence the world around me. He told me that’s what life was like in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve worked the garden without raising a sweat. The sweat came later. And then He showed me how to help people. It was little things at first, like a young child’s behaviour in the street or in the supermarket. I could brush my hand against people in crowded places, and I’d watch to see if they seemed to feel better. Sometimes they did.
“This was pretty exciting stuff, as you can imagine. But who could I share it with? Who could I tell? Who would believe me? What would I say? They’d write me off as another religious nut. So I kept asking, and He kept showing me things. I’d try them out, and they would work. I mean, why wouldn’t they? I expected them to, He told me they would, and they did. I found I could move with Him to bless people and help them. The more I wanted that and the more open I was to His promptings, the more people were helped.”
Sam paused for a drink of water. He saw no lack of interest from his audience, so he carried on. “Then when the tsunami hit, I had these amazing visions of people in desperate need. So I asked Him to let me help. Why would I give twenty bucks to the Red Cross when the best will in the world could do only what men could do. With Him, I could do so much more and help so many more people. And best of all, man couldn’t mess it up!
I asked Him to let me go to places where no one would know me. And He did. I think He was having more fun with it than I was, but at the same time, He had a much greater sorrow about what had happening than I had. I would appear, talk to people, touch the sick, and when I asked, He would bring me home again. I got to like it. You have no idea of the incredible feeling you get when you see what He can do.
Then I began to see so much need in so many other places. It was always the same: a dream or a vision of the place, a knowing of what I had to do, and then off I’d go. Every time I began to think of my place in it all, I found myself swamped by the sheer immensity of the need. That brings you back to Earth very quickly. There was so much more to be done. Anything I did was nothing in the overall scheme of things. So I began to ask what the point was if I wasn’t making any real difference, and the world was still tearing itself apart.
He said He knew what I meant. He had been there too.
I tell you guys, it felt weird doing all those things, and He let me have my fun for a while because I had to trust Him and learn how to move with Him in unusual situations. But He wanted so much more. And ‘so much more’ meant many new challenges. The main one was my loss of anonymity.
The visit to the village where I met up with you, Sarah, Eddie and Terry began a big change for me. Up until then, I could go about completely incognito. Now I was unmasked. Everyone knew who I was. People would now want me to explain. People would now come looking for me. That scared me witless, so I left the ship, and you had to face the music and the media. I’m sorry I left you in the lurch, Sarah, but I couldn’t face it.”
Eddie Nolan continued to allow his favourite smile to shine. “Can I ask a question, Sam?”
“Sure, Father. Go ahead.”
The priest took a deep breath and asked, “You obviously overcame your fear in so many ways, so you could do some incredible things. But you seem to be saying you were still afraid of men?”
“It sounds daft, doesn’t it, Father. But it’s true. I could leave myself totally in His hands, with complete confidence, but I couldn’t face being harassed by men. I’m the kid who wanted to hang out with Dad and couldn’t stand being bullied by the kids down the road. I wanted all the good and none of the bad. But like a kid who knows he’s secure when Dad’s around, I wasn’t in any hurry to grow up. But He knew I needed to overcome my fear and grow up. I wasn’t born to be a child, Father. None of us were.” Sam looked into the face of each one present as if to reinforce the point. “I was born to be a full-grown man. We’re all adults in the making, even if we never stop wanting to be kids. He knew I, we, can do so much more as adults. But I needed to be convinced.”
This time, Manny broke into his monologue. “So what happened? What did He do?”
“Well, it’s simple enough, Manny. He outed me, or He allowed me to be exposed. That’s part of why I’m here.” Sam looked around the group again. “You’re all part of it. He’s using you to teach me. But He’s going easy on me. With you I can learn without too much pressure.
It’s a bit like getting into a cold swimming pool. Some people want to get in slowly, others just throw themselves in the deep end. He knows I want to get in slowly. I want to build up slowly towards the pressures of a press conference.” He eyeballed Manny, Doc and Jason. “That’s why you gents are here. It would be too easy with these three. I know them, and to some degree they know me. With you all here, I have to stretch a little further.”
Jason looked shocked. “Do you mean someone planned the car crash, our having dinner, and everything?” he asked.
Sam smiled as he answered. “That’s exactly the sort of question I don’t have an answer to, especially when we see young people getting hurt like that.”
“How do you mean, Daddy?” Sarah asked.
“If I think about it too much, I find so many things I can’t explain,” her father said. “For example, if God knew the crash would happen, why didn’t He do something to stop it? Is He happy, or at least willing, to see their lives ruined so I get the chance to talk with you? That doesn’t sound anything like the god I’m getting to know. But I did come to Wanaka today, so did those four. We hadn’t arranged anything. It just happened. I was sitting in this restaurant when I got the message to go down to the street. I hadn’t begun my meal. If I had, perhaps I would have ignored the call. Could we have met somewhere else? Of course. Would that have taught me what He wants me to know? Who knows? I’m sure He has other ways of getting me to talk to strangers. But I know He didn’t force those young people to drink and drive, and He didn’t force them to miss the turn and crash. Perhaps He knew the crash would happen and decided to use it for my benefit.”
“And for their benefit too,” Manny added. “And what about me. If you hadn’t come down and sent me flying, I’d be in the bloody ambulance right now, or worse.” He shook his bowed head slowly, hardly able to believe his good fortune.
“You said it, Manny, not me. But who knows? Perhaps it’s true. You see how easily we can start asking questions? What if…? Does that mean…? There are many answers and no answers. That’s what I found so confusing, and why I couldn’t face Sarah and her mob putting me through the mangle.” Sam looked across to his daughter with a mix of love and pride in his eyes. “You know what I mean, don’t you, Love?”
“Of course I do, Daddy,” she answered, quickly and honestly.
“So how do you deal with those questions, Sam?” Eddie asked. “How did you manage to see so much and not go round the bend?”
“It was easy at first because I didn’t have to. I was that child who had total trust his father. Young kids don’t ask their father those ‘what if’ and ‘does that mean’ questions, Eddie. Or I didn’t. I simply believed whatever He did had to be right, and right for me, and He never gave me any reason not to.”
The natural pause gave Jason a chance to ask, “It sounds simple, Sam. Was it?”
“Well, yes and no.” Sam admitted. “Like any kid growing up, I had to learn how things worked. But He’s a remarkably patient teacher. It’s probably easier for the young, some of us are a bit long in the tooth and set in our ways.”
“Maybe,” Eddie murmured. “But you’re fortunate not to have the religious baggage so many of us carry. I suspect you’re a lot more open to the incredible things we’ve seen you doing. Years of conditioning, especially in the things of God, don’t make it easy to change one’s beliefs. And from what you say, so much of it is based on belief.”
“It still wasn’t easy, Eddie. I wasn’t into religious rhubarb, but I had my own belief system to deal with. I believed I had to know and understand everything. I had to plan my way through life. If I wanted anything, I had to be organised, qualified and prepared to work hard for it. Big change required, Eddie. God doesn’t work that way.”
“You’ve come an incredibly long way in a short time,” David commented.
“Yes. And it doesn’t stop anywhere for long. You get used to one thing, but He’s always got something else for you to discover or try. He doesn’t push any faster than we’re able to go. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to work. But I’ve never felt that I’m being pushed into something I don’t want. Yes, from time to time, I’ve needed a kick in the tail, but that’s very different from being forced into something against your will.”
Another pause followed, further punctuated by the arrival of their main course and a wine waiter who recharged their glasses.
They started on their fish in silence until the ever-curious Eddie put down his fork and asked, “Do you have any idea where all this might be heading?”
“No, not really,” Sam replied. “I’ve learned to take things as they come. There’s always a temptation to try and best guess what might happen next, but I try to avoid that. It’s so limiting.”
“Anything I come up with seems so tiny compared to what He can see and what He can do. I’m often being reminded of First Corinthians 2:9. Eye has not seen ….”
Eddie took the cue, “…nor ear heard, neither has it entered the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.”
“Exactly. He can always better anything I’ve thought of, and He has the plan, so why would I want to try?”
“But,” Eddie persisted, “has our meeting here given you any clues about what you might have to do in the future?”
Sam grinned again, and the sense of life within him seemed to almost pulsate. They all felt something hit them, forcing them to lower their knives and forks while it to passed through them.
“What on Earth was that?” Jason asked as he turned to David O’Connor who said nothing, but was obviously listening intently. Had he also been hit?
Sarah knew. She knew from the very depths of her being. Her father looked across to her and nodded. He knew she knew. Eddie guessed. After all, he’d seen Sam in action on board the ship. But he couldn’t have cared less. Like everyone else, he sat there and enjoyed it.
“Hey, Sam, what is it?” Manny managed to get out.
Sam grinned again and said, “It’s Him, Manny. Everyone, I’d like you to meet my Dad. I won’t bother introducing you all because He already knows you better than you do.”
Another wave washed over the table. They couldn’t move, even if for some strange reason they wanted to. Why would anyone want to?
The effects took some time to pass. Terry, who had remained silent throughout dinner, finally spoke. “This is what hit those men on the aircraft carrier. You walked down the corridor and people fell over when you came anywhere near them.”
“You’re right, Terry. All I did was walk. I can’t do anything except walk, talk and touch. It’s not me doing these things—it’s Him. Don’t thank me, thank Him.”
“David, David,” Jason shouted. “Look. I don’t need my glasses anymore. See, I can read the wine list. I can see the specials board over there. You know I needed glasses, David. You said I might need an operation sometime soon. Now…”
David smiled in genuine joy for his friend and patient. “I’m delighted for you, Jase. But pardon me if I don’t swing from the chandeliers. Next to what I saw, but still can’t quite believe on the road outside, that’s not much. It’s not every day that I see a girl brought back from the dead. But bear with me, will you, Jase,” he added, his speech becoming more slurred, almost drunken, with each word. “I’m having some problems…”
Another wave struck him. Dr. David O’Connor went back over his chair and hit the floor, where he lay quietly with a stupid grin welded onto his face.
The sound of his fall caused every eye in the house to turn towards their table. The remnants of the eight were just sitting there. Some were swaying, others held their heads and braced themselves to stop them from falling headlong into their meals. One of the waitresses started to walk towards their table to see if she could help, but she never made it. About five feet from the table, she walked into it, and seconds later she was full length on the floor.
Then another wave struck and began to spread throughout the whole restaurant. The door to the kitchen suddenly opened as someone fell against it. The crash of falling dishes on the other side triggered a wave of laughter throughout the place. Terry found the strength to pull out his small digital video camera and put it on the table to record the incredible scenes that followed. Then he too lost any ability to control the camera, or himself, and he slumped to the floor laughing uncontrollably.
The only two who were able to enjoy it without being overcome were Sarah and Sam. They looked at each other and smiled. They knew. Sam was overjoyed that he was no longer alone. Someone else was on the same journey he was—his own beloved daughter.
Thank you for that, especially that.
“You’re welcome, Sam. Now, don’t let your fish get cold.”