Throughout our lives, many choices are presented to us. Some come to us via our own doing; some are presented to us by those around us. This is a story of both with a surprise twist at the end.
A Late Night Call
The call came after midnight. I had been expecting a certain phone call for some time, but feared it might never come. Six months earlier, I had called all the numbers I knew, left messages and had patiently waited for a call back. Finally, at one o’clock in the morning my phone was ringing. When I heard my long-lost friend’s voice on the other end, I was immediately shaken from my sleepy grogginess.
Months prior to the late night call, my friend had been publicly accused of something he hadn’t done. Actually, his pastor and church leaders had declared his presumed offense from the platform. Their actions were unconscionable. When I first heard of it I couldn’t believe it, but it really did happen! Even though this is an extreme case I’m relating to you, gossip and rumors on any level destroy lives.
As you can imagine, the intense pressure on my friend and his family was unbearable. Everyone was instantly convinced of his guilt, and eagerly helped to spread the juicy, vicious falsehood (with a number of embellishments, of course). Eventually, his wife came to believe the lies. It was a horrible, impossible and inescapable situation. Eventually, my friend cracked under the pressure, packed his bags and left town.
During those terrible weeks leading up to his disappearance, I had done all I could do, but it was difficult. We lived over an hour apart. He was busy trying to salvage his life and make ends meet, while I was working long hours to provide for my wife and four kids. There were only a few small windows of time each week to talk, largely over the phone at night.
To make a long story short, disappearing the way he did only served to justify all the lies. He sadly succumbed to playing the role of the woeful villain in all of it’s full glory. I wonder how many others have been forced to play the villain due to hasty judgments and calloused gossip? In my mind there were plenty of vile, judgmental characters who could have played the role far better than he. I could share more details of the situation, but I won’t. The specifics are horribly messy and I don’t terribly care to revisit them. In short, I hurt deeply for my friend and I was desperate to find him. All I knew to do was to call every one of his numbers—for six long months I kept calling.
Cold, Dark & Dirty
At 1AM I strained to hear Brad’s weary, broken voice on the other end of the phone. His words were simple and direct, something unusual for him. He’s a very intelligent, well-spoken, and witty guy. It was rare that he ever said anything with a few words. He told me where he was, 2 1/2 hours away, and he asked me to come get him now. If I didn’t, he feared he might slip away and never resurface again. I got up immediately, dressed, grabbed my keys and drove off into the night headed north to a place I had never been before.
Three hours later, I found him. He was in a heap, weeping in the middle of a tiny, cold and dirty apartment. It was so strange to see him in this place. Years earlier, he had built his own house. It was beautiful and always well maintained, but that once warm and peaceful refuge was now far removed.
As he cried, I started to pick up and put things into the only small box he had. To be honest, it was all trash. He wanted to save some things but had a difficult time deciding what to keep. Eventually, I picked it all up and took it to the dumpster in the corner of the dark parking lot. He wept as he begged me to pry his hands open and throw the stuff away. Letting go was hard; even though it was all trash it was everything he had left. I knelt down beside him and lifted his head so I could look into his eyes and reassure him: “If there is anything of value in the dumpster, I personally will cover the cost.”
At that moment, he began to weep uncontrollably. I tried to hug him, but his shaking was too much to hold. Eventually, I sat down to rest and wait. A few minutes passed until Brad regained his composure. Looking up at me through swollen, red eyes he asked, “Luke, why do you love me? Why… do… you… love… me?”
I confess, though it sounded like an easy question to answer, I was lost for a second in that climactic moment. All the reasons for hating the unjust situation over the past few months were churning wildly within me with the force of a hurricane. Before I could begin to make sense of it all, out of the eye of the storm came the words, “I don’t know Brad. I honestly don’t know. I just do. I… just… love… you.”
A Watershed Moment
Up until this point, I hadn’t shed one tear during the drive, or in the dirty apartment, or beside the green dumpster. But now, the tears wouldn’t stop falling. In a watershed moment, they flowed from my eyes as if fed by a deep spring-fed source.
Underneath all the lies, worries and painful heartache had quietly rested an undisturbed source of love. Like Yellowstone’s Old Faithful it broke through right on time for Brad and I to witness in amazement. Truly, a surprising love that is more determined than difficult situations and conflicting emotions is a spectacle worth experiencing firsthand—even if the only seat available is cold, dark and dirty.
I’ve had years to reflect on the love that washed over Brad and I in that difficult moment. Though I loved him, the love that broke through that night was A LOVE BIGGER THAN MY LOVE. I hadn’t personally summoned it; I wasn’t responsible for it, nor was Brad’s desperate state. It just was and it was just doing what it always does—existing regardless of the situation and breaking through despite all the heavy emotions holding it deep in the unseen.
If God is love, and I believe he is, then I found God that night. I found him in the most unlikely place, in the most unlikely situation, and in the most unlikely person sitting in the middle of a dark, dirty apartment. I found him… in me. I found him… in brokenness. I found him looking back at me through the red-eyes of my severely traumatized friend. All I know, and all I really need to know is—LOVE IS. It just is. I can’t explain it, but I believe and trust in Him, and surprisingly He also believes and trusts in us. Why? Just because… no further explanations are needed.
How The Story Ends
You may be wondering if this story had a happy ending? Yes, but not in the way you may be thinking. Some things cannot be easily undone or repaired, but the promise of a new beginning is always renewed with each sunrise. I definitely snapped a memorable sunrise picture that night in my mind’s eye. I keep it tucked away in my heart and pull it out often to remember. As for Brad, he eventually found his sunrise too, and I was there in person to celebrate it with him. And yes, I took another snapshot.