Fiction by Gary Piper
As the morning sun sent it warming rays of light into the sleeping face of Harold Chee the 62-year-old minister began waking up. “God,” he muttered, “Why can’t the nights last longer? It seems as if I just went to bed.” Several minutes later with both eyes open Harold lay motionless as if waiting for an answer. Cynthiana his wife of 48 years lay undisturbed still fast asleep. It had been 5 years since Harold retired from his job as a shipping dispatcher and as hard as he could he couldn’t break the habit of waking at the crack of dawn.
“Yes dear,” he whispered, “Go back to sleep.”
She mumbled something unintelligible and was out again.
Still laying quietly the Harold’s mind wandered through time had it been only two years since he and Cynthiana’s dream of moving to the Smoky Mountains became a reality? The last 8 years of their lives had gone so fast but it was as if time had somehow slowed down. Could it be the slow paced life of the mountains or could God have somehow slowed time as a way of blessing them for the sacrifices made during those last eight years? Harold chose to believe the latter.
Slowly rolling over and sitting on the edge of the bed Harold sat facing the sun suddenly he became aware of the sounds of nature filtering through the open windows. Again his mind drifted back to the days when the sounds of cars, trucks, motorcycles, and emergency vehicles set the pace for his day. “God, words cannot express the depth of my appreciation for bringing our dreams to reality,” he prayed silently. Several minutes later dressed and walking down the stairway leading from the bedroom loft to the living room he paused briefly to again give thanks.
Walking to the kitchen Harold filled the coffee maker turned it on and headed for the bathroom to get ready for the activities scheduled for today. Ten minutes later sitting in the den looking out on Wears Valley below he opened his appointment book, his first appointment read, “Visit Sister Gretchen, 4321 Mountain View Road, Maryville, 9:00 AM.” The smell of fresh coffee coming from the kitchen caught his attention.
A few minutes later Harold slid open the doorway leading to the deck and walked into the morning air. Since their log home was high enough at this time of day it was like walking into a cloud. Taking a deep breath of fresh mountain air he suddenly became aware that he was not alone, “Good morning Jesus,” he said out loud as if Jesus had been on the deck waiting for him. Instantly a bird began chirping to his left as if Jesus was saying, “Good morning Harold.”
“Gotta go to Sister Gretchen’s house Jesus,” Harold said out loud as if Jesus were sitting across the table from him. Gretchen and her husband Seth moved to Maryville, Tennessee from Chicago. In their mid eighties they’d had been lifelong believers of Jesus Christ and were elated when they discovered Harold and Cynthiana were Christians as well. It was Gretchen and Seth that made their home available for the Maryville Mission of Jesus Community Church to meet. Seth was now in a nursing home and in the last stages of Alzheimer’s, since Gretchen was unable to drive it was usually Cynthiana who took her to see Seth. Today it would be Harold’s turn.
“Lord,” Harold’s voice broke the silence, “Probably a gazillion people have asked you why it’s necessary for someone who’s given their life to you to suffer with such a dreaded disease so one more person asking won’t hurt.” Once again the pages of time began flipping backwards and Harold relived the final days of his father-in-laws death from Alzheimer’s. There is victory and healing in death he thought.
Since being ordained a Minister many years ago Harold’s spirituality had deepened far beyond his wildest expectations. Suddenly deep within his spirit Harold was not sitting on the back deck of his log home he was sitting in the Throne Room of God’s Eternal Kingdom and sitting across the table sat Jesus. The phrase “Minister of God’s Kingdom on Earth” resounded deep in his spirit and suddenly the mystery surrounding Gretchen and Seth’s life became crystal clear yet the barrier between human understanding and Celestial language prevented him from fully understanding it. Suddenly the telephone ringing interrupted his thoughts. He hurried to the phone before it woke up Cynthiana. “Hello, Chee residence, Jesus is bigger than life,” he tried to keep his voice quiet.
“I just love the way you answer the phone,” he recognized the voice of Gretchen.
“What can I do for you young lady?” he answered quickly.
Suddenly there was a deep sigh coming from the other end, “What’s up Gretchen?” he asked in a more serious tone.
“I know you’re coming in an hour but I’ve the feeling we need to go to the nursing home as quickly as we can. I hate to bother you but can you come right away Brother Chee,” she replied.
Harold could always tell when Gretchen’s spirit was nearly broken because she always called him Brother Chee so without hesitation he replied, “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Harold checked to see if Cynthiana was awake after seeing she wasn’t he returned to the kitchen and wrote her a short note, “Something’s wrong at Gretchen’s. Had to leave early I’ll call when I find out something in the meantime put both of them on the Internet prayer line. Love ya.” Harold chuckled to himself as he signed the note with Me2.
Because of the winding mountain roads the drive to Maryville was about 40 minutes from Wears Valley so he had ample time to pray. “Father,” he began, “I am placing myself into the extended hands of your Holy Spirit seeking inspiration and wisdom beyond my own ability. I am sure something is going on with Seth; perhaps his journey on this earth is coming to an end. If that’s the case please temper every word I speak with the glorious peace and joy of Jesus.”
Pausing for moment he pushed in the cassette tape turned up volume and the voice of Fernando Ortega filled the van singing, “And when I die, and when I die, and when I die give me Jesus.” Instantly Harold knew this would be the last time they’d be seeing Seth alive.
He turned off the cassette player and said, “Thank you Father.” Silence once again returned leaving Harold with his thoughts and emotions. For the next 30 minutes or so Harold experienced a series of mixed emotions. What would he say? Should he tell Gretchen of his experience at all? Was the experience even real? What would he say to Seth? With emotional storms raging in his mind deep in his spirit Harold felt a familiar sense of peace.
Before he was ready Harold turned his van into Gretchen’s drive way turned off the motor opened the door and headed for the porch. He’d taken only a few steps when the screen door swung open and Gretchen emerged, “Let’s go Brother Chee Seth’s not going to make it,” she said in a loud rapid voice.
“What do you mean he’s not going to make it? Did the nursing home call,” he asked turning and walking back to the van? “The nursing home didn’t call God did,” she replied getting into the front seat.
Several minutes later they were headed toward the nursing home neither speaking yet both deeply involved in prayer. Harold was the first to break the silence, “God told me too,” he said.
After a brief period of silence, “I know,” the elderly lady answered back, “Seth and I have been praying about this day for quite awhile now. It will be you that will see him home.” Again silence filled the van.
At first the words went over Harold’s head but suddenly they echoed back, “It will be you that will take him home.” The words suddenly hit his mind with so much force he nearly lost control of the van. “Surprised are you?” she asked.
“Surprised! Surprised isn’t the word for it,” Harold responded.
“Do you know what the most important thing is to a person who is dying?” she asked.
He hadn’t really thought that deeply about it, “Not really I guess,” he replied.
Turning and looking directly at Harold, Gretchen started, “Neither had Seth or I before you came into our life. Oh, Seth had the normal I want to live feelings. The normal questions like what will Gretchen do without me? What’s it like to die? But there was always a nagging question just out of reach.”
Harold could tell the words were getting difficult for her so he asked God silently to strengthen her. God’s answer was almost instantaneous because as she started again the pain in her voice was gone. “Seth and I discovered shortly after you moved here from Michigan that one of the greatest gifts God has been your ministry.”
It always made Harold feel uneasy when it sounded as if someone was giving him the credit for his ministry because he knew where the real power came from. She paused for a second smiled and then said, “Before you get a big head it’s really the ministry that comes through you that has the depth. We thank God everyday you’ve availed yourself to his Ministry.”
“Thanks for taking me off the hook Gretchen,” he interrupted her, “Please continue.”
Smiling, “Thank you young man. Shortly after you moved here you preached a sermon about our deep-seated need for eternal life and in it you talked about eternal life. Do you remember it?”
“I don’t remember it word for word but I know the one you’re talking about,” Harold answered.
“It wasn’t so much the words, “Gretchen explained, “It was the Spirit that accompanied the words. It was as if someone opened a curtain and Heaven lie sprawled out before us. It was so real but it only lasted a few seconds. Several days later as we sat in the doctor’s office being told Seth would be dying soon that we discovered we experienced the same thing. Do you remember my original question?”
Harold had been so engrossed in what Gretchen was saying he’d almost forgotten what she’d asked him. After a slight pause Harold repeated the question, “You asked me what the most important thing is to a person who is dying. Right?”
“Well do you know the answer now?” she asked.
Harold couldn’t give her an answer because he hadn’t really had a chance to think about all that Gretchen had said. He still struggled with his part in taking Seth home. “Gretchen I don’t have an answer. I suspect it has something to do with life after death but it’s like a big puzzle and I’m trying to get all the pieces to fit.” As he spoke tears began forming in his eyes.
“Harold you are a minister of God’s Kingdom on Earth, yet at the same time God has blessed you with the Ministry God’s Kingdom in Heaven as well. Through your ministry Seth and I have tasted the sweetness and peacefulness of what life will be like for Seth today. The need of a dying person is to experience reality of life and at the same time embrace the blessing of eternal life. Many people know of eternal life but not many have tasted it.”
One of the calls Harold felt God put on his heart was to make Jesus real to as many people as possible. “To make Jesus real to people is what evangelism is all about,” he’d say to young ministers. Could it be now God was calling him to make his Kingdom of Heaven real through him?
“One of the things Seth talked about was his fear of dying,” Gretchen interrupted his thoughts, “And it was strange because he was not afraid of death it was the afterlife he feared. Over and over he told me if he could only experience a small portion of what awaited him he’d not fear dying. Several months after you moved here Seth asked you to prayer for the final days of his life, do you remember it?”
Harold had remembered it; it was one of the hardest prayers he’d ever prepared for. He immediately tried to remember the words of the prayer but he couldn’t. “It was one of hardest prayers I’ve ever given,” Harold answered, “I prayed about that one for two weeks.”
“Seth told me when you prayed God would give him the Blessings of the Kingdom of Heaven all his fears were gone, it was as if he’d been there although he had no memory of being there.” As Gretchen related the story Harold recalled the expression on Seth’s face after the prayer was one of peace. “When he told me of his experience deep inside I knew God had indeed ministered to him at a depth far beyond the ability for a human to understand,” tears were running freely down her cheeks. “I thank God every day that he has blessed some ministers with the ability to open up the deepest mysteries of God. I know, when Seth gets home today he’ll find familiar surroundings.”
Seconds later Harold turned the van into the nursing home parking lot. Gretchen was wiping the tears from her eyes. Neither said a word as they opened the doors and began walking toward the front doors. “God,” Harold prayed, “As we open the doors that are before us please open the doors of Heaven and bless us with the presence of your Holy Spirit.” As the automatic door swung open God answered Harold’s prayer. As the two walked toward Seth’s room Harold commented to himself, “Nursing homes in Tennessee smell the same as they do in Michigan.”
Gretchen stopped at the nurses’ station before walking the final steps to her husband’s room, “How’s my man today?” she asked.”
Mary Roome, had worked at the nursing home for about 10 years and over the years had gained the ability to know when the end was near for patients in her care. It was never easy for Mary to tell a loved one of the impending death of someone they loved so deeply but she always managed to do it with a great deal of compassion. “Well Gretchen,” she started, “I think he’s getting the call.”
Gretchen looked at Mary, “I know Mary I got the call too.”
Seconds later the two friends were walking into Seth’s room expecting to see Seth at deaths door they were surprised to see him with eyes open as if waiting for them to arrive. “Hi sugar,” Gretchen called out.
“Hi Seth,” Harold added.
Seth nodded and smiled.
Looking at Gretchen Harold asked, “Do you want me to leave the two of you alone?”
Harold looked at Gretchen for an answer but it was Seth that caught his attention, “No don’t go it’s time.”
The room fell silent Gretchen then moved toward the bed, “I know Seth I thought when the time arrived I’d fall apart but I’m okay. I’ll miss you and don’t want you to go but I can’t hold on to you forever and I know where your going is where you want to be.” Tears were running down her cheeks and falling on Seth suddenly he reached up and wiped her eyes and smiled. She bent over and kissed him for the last time.
As Harold watched the expression of love between the two lifelong companions he himself became flooded with feelings beyond expression. Positioning himself so he could lay one hand on Gretchen and the other on Seth, “Shall we pray,” he whispered? Once again the room filled with silence.
“Heavenly Father,” the Harold began praying, “We have come here to this morning to ask you to open the doorway to your Kingdom in Heaven and permit one of your citizens to enter. Against great odds he accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and throughout his life as a disciple; Seth has faithfully committed his life on the path of repentance. For Gretchen and myself the mystery of death and of eternal life remains as such but as we look into Seth’s eyes we know without a doubt he can see the Glorious Beauty of what we call eternal life. As I feel his pulse becoming weaker and weaker I feel your Spirit growing stronger and stronger. Lord, as a minister I present this good man to you for the blessing that will be his. At the same time Lord I present Gretchen to you also. I pray that the remainder of her days be spent sharing her testimony of your deepening love for those she has yet to meet. I know Lord the desires of her heart are to walk and talk with Seth, accept her sacrifice and grace the remainder of her days with a rich memory of days gone by. Continue to unfold your rich revelation of eternity to those us who will one day walk the path Seth now walks. We pray in the name of Jesus, Amen.”
As Gretchen and Harold stood a voice from the great beyond echoed throughout the room, “It is finished he’s home.” Neither Gretchen nor Harold spoke for what seemed like hours. They hugged each other then Harold left the room headed for Mary who was still seated at the nurse’s station, “he’s home,” he said then headed for the waiting room. As he waited Harold used his cell phone to call his wife with the news. A few minutes later Gretchen emerged from Seth’s room, “Can you take me home now Harold? I’ve some calls to make.”
Hugging the elderly lady once more he replied, “I certainly can and I’ll stay with you as long as you need me.” Looking into his eyes she replied, “We couldn’t have made it without you Harold but if you don’t mind I would rather be alone. Don’t worry about me I’m just fine, I really am. I just thank God you were here to help us through this. I pray that the ministry we received over the past few months would be made available to all people. I know we shouldn’t be afraid to spend eternity with God but in our humanness we are and we need so much the ministry God has given us through you.”