Stories Inspired by the Psalms
Written by Gary Piper
Frank who had been a resident of the Mountain Lodge Rest Home for nearly three years picked up his coffee cup from the table stretching across his bed took a slow drink looked out window and replied, “a desert.”
Henry, Frank’s roommate of four weeks responded quickly, “a desert that’s like a waste land? Life hasn’t been that miserable for you has it?” he asked.
Frank chuckled for a second or two turned and faced Henry’s bed, “that gets ‘em all the time,” he answered.
“You’re pulling my leg then?”
“Pulling your leg? I wouldn’t do that you might fall and go boom!” Frank then began laughing at his own joke.
Several minutes later after Frank stopped laughing Henry replied, “Okay wise guy you got me! Now do you want to tell me the truth?”
“How old are you Henry?” Frank asked.
“To young to be in the place,” he replied.
“From what I hear you’re lucky to be anywhere,” Frank commented.
“That’s what I’m told but sometimes I wish I would have died in that accident. At least I wouldn’t be stuck in this wheel chair for the next 40 years! But what’s all this have to do with what I asked you in the first place,” Henry answered back.
After a brief pause, “when you get my age then you can begin thinking about moving on with the grim reaper but not at your age you talk as if your life is over.”
Interrupting Henry threw in, “it is over!”
Pointing his finger at him, “your life isn’t over its just beginning,” Frank replied, “The old has given way to the new. Your life with two legs may have ended but your life in that wheel chair is just beginning and its wide open.”
“Same old story I’ve heard a thousand times just different words,” Henry replied. “But what does all this have to do with your life spent in the desert?”
“Everything,” Frank answered, “for some the desert is a place associated with death for others it is a place of life. You see it as a desert, you sit in your wheelchair look out over the rest of your life and see nothing but a hot and dry waste land of broken dreams and dried up hopes.”
“Boy! You sure hit the nail on the head with that statement,” Henry replied.
Frank paused again turned his attention toward the window and said, “When I look at my life as a desert I see God. When I close my eyes I can see Jesus stumbling across a vast wasteland of endless rocks and sand all for me and suddenly the desert becomes a lush rainforest filled with life.”
“You’re a dreamer Frank, a dreamer whose only hope rests in an imaginary God who turns deserts into rainforests,” Henry replied, with a bitter tone to his voice.
Not waiting for a reply Henry rolled over so his back was toward Frank he turned up the volume on his television set and closed his eyes. He always hated closing his eyes because each time he did his mind played back the horrible accident that had left him paralyzed from the waist down. Each time he saw it his anger about being alive grew and grew.
“The dream you keep seeing when you close your eyes isn’t a nightmare like you think it is it’s an invitation from God,” Frank replied.
Henry was going to make sneering remark but thought better of it after all Frank was his roommate and was the only person that talked him with him on a regular basis.
“Lord,” Frank began praying in a hushed voice, “My good friend, Henry thinks you are imaginary kinda like that old movie titled Harvey about a giant white rabbit. But you and I know differently don’t we.”
He paused for a second as if waiting for an answer, “We’ve seen it all haven’t we God, life at its worst and life at its best; society at its worst and society at its best; the world at its worst and the world at its best; but somehow through it all I’ve always seen Jesus with his hands extended standing tall in the Sanctuary created by his own life.”
Before he could say, another word Franks mind drifted back over his 91 years. There was his tragic accident that took the life of his parents and he smiled. Next as a 27-year-old sailor, he remembered standing on the deck of the battleship Arizona and watching Japanese warplanes starting their bombing runs and he smiled. Next, he remembered his horrible battle with cancer and he smiled. Then he remembered the slow and painful death of his beloved Marilyn and again he smiled. “We’ve sure have walked the hot dusty trails through the desert haven’t we Lord?”
Pausing again as if waiting for a response, “many think the desert is a lonely place Lord but the one I’ve walked though hasn’t been. Oh, I must admit there have been times when I have felt lonely but only for short periods however. You remember that time when I was laid off from work and my family was nearly ruined financially? Then from out of nowhere, money orders began arriving in mail. Someday I hope you tell me who those friends were.”
Deep in his mind, Frank was hoping Henry was listening and not sleeping. A couple of times he thought of raising his voice but didn’t primarily because he wasn’t praying for Henry’s benefit nor his benefit but to praise and thank the Lord for the consistent and unending blessings over the years of his life.
Henry thought of turning the volume down on his television but he didn’t want Frank to stop praying and he didn’t want Frank to stop because his words were echoing in his heart. So with tears filling his eyes he lay silent pretending to be asleep.
“Lord,” Frank continued, “there have been times when my stomach has been empty and my throat has been dry but your Spirit has always feed my soul and watered my spirit. Some say the desert is very cold at night but even though I’ve shivered many times the warmth of your love has always warmed my heart.”
Frank’s mind drifted again, “You remember that time when I had to make the terrible decision to pull Marilyn’s life support? Boy! The heat of making that decision seemed like I was 90 million miles closer to the sun but then from out of nowhere you shielded me with the Wings of your Spirit and my Marilyn’s life ended in peace.”
“Lord, I’m getting tired and as the time for me to fall asleep rapidly approaches I want you to know with my dying breath I will proclaim your love and I will repeat to everyone I meet the prophetic words of Isaiah.”
“Thirsty deserts will be glad; barren lands will celebrate and blossom with flowers. Deserts will bloom everywhere and sing joyful songs. They will be as majestic as Mount Lebanon, as glorious as Mount Carmel or Sharon Valley. Everyone will see the wonderful splendor of the LORD our God. Here is a message for all who are weak, trembling, and worried: “Cheer up! Don’t be afraid. Your God is coming to punish your enemies. God will take revenge on them and rescue you.” The blind will see, and the ears of the deaf will be healed. Those who were lame will leap around like deer; tongues once silent will begin to shout. Water will rush through the desert. Scorching sand will turn into a lake, and thirsty ground will flow with fountains. Grass will grow in wetlands, where packs of wild dogs once made their home. A good road will be there, and it will be named “God’s Sacred Highway.” It will be for God’s people; no one unfit to worship God will walk on that road. And no fools can travel on that highway. No lions or other wild animals will come near that road; only those the LORD has saved will travel there. The people the LORD has rescued will come back singing as they enter Zion. Happiness will be a crown they will always wear. They will celebrate and shout because all sorrows and worries will be gone far away.” (Isaiah 35:1-10 CEV)
“Wow! How’d I ever remember that?” Frank commented.
“Opps! I forgot, Amen, Lord,” he added
Turning over Henry asked, “you are dying are you Frank?”
Surprised by Henry’s sudden unintended revelation that he’s been listening Frank replied, “We are all dying but I don’t see the grim reaper coming for me any time soon. Why do you ask, Henry?”
“Well, for one thing you told the Lord you were tired and it was getting to be time for you to go to sleep so putting two and two together I had you stretched out and suffering a bad case of rigor mortis,” Henry replied rather sheepishly after realizing he’d just tipped his hat.
“Sorry, Frank I didn’t mean to eavesdrop on your prayer but I couldn’t help myself for some reason even though you were barely auditable above my television set it was like you were shouting. I guess it’s something my imaginary God wanted me to hear?”
“Could be,” Frank replied.
“I need to ask you one question Frank and I need you to give me an honest answer. Okay?”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve lied to anyone and the last time I did it left me with a very bad taste in my mouth,” Frank answered.
“Lava? I’ll bet that tasted good!”
“Just like a mouth full of sandy soap.”
“I take it then you’ll answer me with the truth.”
“Did you say that prayer for my benefit?”
“Why, would it make a difference?” Frank asked.
“Yes, it would. If you told it for my benefit I’d think what you said wasn’t the truth.”
“No one’s gonna pull the wool over your eyes, Henry, are they?”
“The only one I prayed for the benefit was the Lord. I thought a couple of times of raising my voice but then I figured you’d think I staged the whole thing for you. Looks like I was right, wasn’t I?” Frank asked.
“You’re not right on that one, Frank.”
“The Holy Spirit made you keep your voice low because it knew I wouldn’t believe a word you said!”
“I stand corrected. You believe what you heard was the truth then?” Frank asked.
“Not one doubt in my mind. I don’t know how but when you quoted that one scripture it was as if I were suddenly whisked from a desert to a beautiful tropical rainforest.”
Frank turned and faced Henry smiled and said, “I know, it happened to me the first time I heard it a long ago.”
“That same scripture done it for you, too?”
Without hesitation, “Yup, the entire thirty-fifth chapter of Isaiah it’s one of the few things from the bible I can quote from memory and it’s the only chapter I know by heart.”
Both men lie on their beds drawn into their own journey down after nearly fifteen minutes, “Frank, are you napping?”
“You ever get upset with God?”
“Quite often.” Frank replied, “I remember after my parents were killed I wanted to kill him.”
“Because he took your mother and father?”
“Not then, I was devastated by their tragic death and questioned God as to why but I was okay with him. Following their death I lived with my grandmother until she died then I went into foster care. The home I was placed in wanted me only for the money the state paid them. I was so angry at God for putting me in that environment I could have killed him.”
“How did you work through it?” Henry asked.
Frank turned his head and stared at the ceiling and began, “I was watching the television news one night when I heard a story of a young man much like you who committed suicide by rolling his wheel chair in front of a moving truck. When the camera moved to the twisted remains of the wheelchair I suddenly realized I, too was in a wheelchair of my own making pushing myself through a desert headed in the same direction as the young man who just killed himself.”
Interrupting, “You saw me as that young man didn’t you.”
“Yes I did.”
“But I would never kill myself,” Henry said.
“There are different forms of death, Henry. Eventually you would have taken your own life if not physically then mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or all three.”
Henry fell silent as the conversation filtered though his mind. Deep in his heart, he knew Frank was right but now he saw things differently. Turning his gaze at his wheelchair, he began to see possibilities he’d never seen before.
Closing his eyes, “Frank.”
“The rainforest sure looks a lot better than the desert doesn’t it?”
“You know what else?”
“I can see the Lord.”
With an ear-to-ear smile Frank answered, “So can I. I wonder if he’s coming for me.”