Camel for Sale
Cheri heard the roar of a car coming down her street too fast. She went to the window and rolled her eyes when it turned into her driveway and stopped a foot behind her little Mazda. Her mother jumped out and slammed the door. She rushed up the walk and jerked the door open, stopping just inside the living room.
“Don’t sign anything,” she ordered, her eyes darting around the room.
“You’re too late, Mom. I signed the final papers this morning. Escrow closes in three weeks.”
The older woman dropped into the nearest chair and glared at her daughter. “Cheri, why are you doing this stupid thing? Why didn’t you discuss this with your father and me? Have you joined a weird religious cult or something?”
Cheri grimaced then tried to turn it into a smile. “No Mother, I haven’t joined a cult.” She turned her head to see her Bible on the kitchen table. “I’ll tell you why I’m doing this if you really want to hear it. But you won’t understand.”
“Of course I want to know. When your father told me you had sold your condo, I couldn’t believe it. You saved so long to buy it.”
“Yeah, but it’s not enough. I have so many blessings, all this, and it’s still not enough.” Cheri looked around the room and sighed. “It’s not enough.”
“It’s not enough,” her mother repeated. “Have you sold it to buy something bigger?”
“No.” Cheri sat on the edge of the leather couch, and folded her hands in her lap. “Remember when I was a little girl and a friend invited me to Sunday School? No one told me what to wear or what to bring. I wore the same shorts I’d worn the day before and I didn’t bring an offering or a Bible. The minute I walked in the door, the little girls in their Sunday dresses all started giggling and whispering. I just wanted to go home, but afterwards the teacher talked to me. I don’t remember what she said, but when I left I knew that God loved me just the way I was, even though I didn’t fit in. But, I think I’ve lost that. I don’t know if He loves me anymore.”
“That’s nonsense, of course He loves you. But what does that have to do with selling your condo? I knew it was that crazy religion of yours. I should never have let you and your sister go to that fanatic church. It’s bad enough that she married a minister and lives in poverty.”
Her mother picked up a picture, glared at the bride and groom posed in front of a church and rammed it back on to the table.
Cheri grimaced. “It’s not about the church. Ever since we were saved at youth group, you’ve never understood. But that is where I learned how God wants me to live.”
“I see. God told you to sell your condo.”
“No. But since I’ve been working and buying things and doing what I want, I’ve forgotten Him. It’s even been a long time since I went to church. So now I’m going to get rid of everything and go back to just me and Him.”
“Can’t you just go back to church? Doesn’t God love you if you’re financially secure?”
“Of course He does. But I’ve got all these things. It’s like I’m trying to go through a door that’s big enough just for me. But I’m like a camel carrying all this stuff and I can’t get through because the door’s not big enough for me and the stuff. I’m too fat with things.”
She gave her mother a sad smile, but received none in return.
“Where are you going to live?”
“I don’t know yet. But don’t worry about it. It’s okay, Mom.”
The older woman pushed herself out of the chair, her hands gripping the arms, and leaned towards her daughter. “No, it’s not okay. You have to live somewhere. You can’t just live on the street. I know you kids. As soon as you get tired of staying with your friends you’ll want to come live with us. It’s nice for you to say God doesn’t want you to have anything, but you’ll be happy to use our things. How can you do this to us?” She turned and stomped to the door. “You’re being selfish.”
Cheri reached out her arm, as if to stop her, knowing it didn’t matter what she said now. As usual, when Mom worried about her kids, she stopped listening. She sounded on the verge of tears, too.
“You won’t have to take care of me; you can trust God, like I am.”
Her mother yanked the door open, then stopped and turned.
“What are you going to do with the money from the sale? Isn’t that a thing too?”
“Yes, it is and I’m going to give it away to someone who feeds starving children, like Food for the Hungry or Samaritan’s Purse. Or would you and Dad like to pick the charity?”
She shouldn’t have said that. Turning again, her mother stomped out, slamming the door behind her. Cheri sighed and crossed her arms. This would have been a lot easier if she had her parents’ support. Everyone else was going to think she was crazy too, even church people.
On Sunday she arrived at church a little late, but she gripped her Bible tighter and held her head up as she followed the usher to a middle pew. It had been so long since she had been here, she felt like a visitor. But no more. She was going to go to church every Sunday, no matter where she was living. During the service it felt good to focus on God instead of herself. After singing enthusiastically, she bowed her head and closed her eyes, resting her hands gently on the Bible in her lap. When the sermon started she took a pen from her purse and wrote a few notes in the margin of her Bible. Afterward her sister, Joanne, gave her a hug and said how much she’d been missed.
“It was good to be here. Good worship,” Cheri said. “Hey, I’m going to get rid of some things and want to give you first dibs. Why don’t you come over tomorrow night and look them over?”
“Clothes? I love your clothes and I never get anything new.”
“Yup and some books and other stuff too.”
In the morning she sang worship songs as she looked through her closet for her most professional work outfit. She chose a straight dark skirt and tailored blouse with a blazer. Her short hair just needed a brush, but she took her time with her makeup. There was no point in looking like she was homeless, even if she might be in a few weeks. Humming “It is well with my soul,” she went downstairs for coffee and made toast while it brewed. Taking them to the table, she reached for her Bible. It fell open to Mark 10, the passage she had been reading every day for months. As she read, she pictured the rich young ruler sadly walking away from Jesus, and she became more determined. She too had always obeyed her conscience, and she too knew it was not enough. But she wasn’t going to walk away from Him.
Once at work she went straight to her boss’s office. She knocked on the door and went in. He was seated behind a desk, staring at his computer screen but looked up with a smile.
“Morning, Cheri. What’s up?” He pointed at a chair and came around to lean on the corner of his desk. “What can I do for you? A problem you can’t handle?”
“Not really. I’m here to give my two weeks’ notice.”
His smile faded and he leaned forward a bit. He didn’t say anything; just looked down at her and she felt like she had betrayed him.
“Why?” he finally asked. “Is it another job? Can’t you at least give me a chance to meet the offer?”
Cheri looked down at the fingers intertwined in her lap, then looked up at him. “I’m sorry. It’s not another job. I’m making a new start and I’m trying to walk away from everything old. I need to leave all the things that are keeping me out.”
He frowned. “Out of where?”
“The Kingdom of God. It’s all in the Bible. I’ll show you if you want.”
“Never mind,” he answered, retreating behind his desk. “Will you at least stay to train your replacement?”
“Of course. But I have to be out of my condo in three weeks.”
“All right, I’ll talk to human resources today. But it won’t be easy. You’ve been one of our best workers for as long as you’ve been here.”
“Thanks. That’s nice to know, but it’s not enough.”
He watched her get up, then turned back to his computer screen. She went to her desk and tried not think of what he thought of her and whether she really was crazy. Instead she wrote down a verse she had memorized and tacked it to the wall behind her desk.
“Matthew 6:21 ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’”
That night, Joanne came over after dinner.
“What are you doing? Buying yourself a whole new wardrobe? Are these things out of style already?”
“No,” Cheri answered as she watched her pile the clothes she liked on the bed. “I don’t need them anymore. I’m going to wear jeans and a t-shirt from now on.”
Joanne pulled a sweater over her head and laughed. “You? In jeans? You don’t even own any.”
“Sure I do. They’re not designer, but I have some. I wear them to do yard work.”
“You can’t wear those old things to work. You’re just kidding me.” She laughed again and turned back to the clothes.
“I don’t need to wear them to work because I quit my job.”
This time Joanne paused with a dress half on. She sat on the edge of the bad and stared.
“Does Mom know?”
“Not yet. I’m giving her a chance to get over the condo first.”
Her sister nodded and made a face. “I heard about that.” Her voice changed to imitate her mother’s angry whine. “’I don’t know what’s gotten into her. Why is she doing this to me?’ It’s the kind of thing she expects me to do, not you. What are they going to do without you? Mom says you’re indispensible.”
Cheri laughed. “No one’s indispensible. They’re already looking for someone else.” She got up and walked to the window, staring at the street light without seeing it.
“I wish Mom could understand. It would make it a lot easier.”
Joanne stood to pull the dress over her hips and turned back to Cheri as she zipped it. “But just what are you doing? I gather you’re getting rid of everything, but then what?”
Cheri shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll join the Peace Corps. The important thing is to get rid of all the things.”
“You should understand. You know what Jesus said about treasures and mammon and stuff.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t think you did. You haven’t been to church in ages. Honestly, I thought maybe you weren’t really saved. After all, youth group was pretty emotional and lots of kids went forward but didn’t show any fruit after they graduated.”
“That’s just it. I wasn’t really committed. I was too busy being successful and getting stuff. Now I know it’s in the way.”
“Okay, but Jesus never told us to sell everything.”
“He told the rich young ruler.”
“But he loved his money more… oh.”
Cheri nodded, and she could feel a lump growing in her throat. “Yeah.”
Joanne threw her arms around her and held her for a minute. “That’s hard, really hard. Are you sure that’s what God wants you to do? Maybe you should talk to Rick about it.”
She shook her head, knowing that if she said anything she’d start crying. Selling her condo and quitting her job had been easy compared to her sister’s sympathy. She picked up a shirt from the pile on the bed and folded it. Joanne started putting clothes in a bag.
Cheri blinked her eyes a few times, swallowed and spoke softly. “I’m getting rid of everything in the house. You should take anything you want. Even the books. Maybe you and Rick can come over on Saturday.”
Finding ways to give away her things was harder than she had anticipated and she spent every night on the phone arranging pickups or packing things into boxes. A used book store in town was glad to get her books, but asked for an inventory list. She sat on the floor in front of the bookcase and added each book to the list before she put it in the box, stopping to read sections from her favorites as she worked. When she came to her children’s books, she dropped the pen and notebook on the floor and stared at the half empty shelf in front of her.
“What have I done?”
She leaned forward, wrapping her arms around her stomach and let the tears drip down her face. She tried to picture the rich man walking away from Jesus, but only saw herself in dirty jeans on a street corner. It wasn’t too late to change her mind. She could get an apartment and look for another job. She didn’t have to live on the street. Curling herself into a tighter ball, Cheri sniffled and rubbed her face across her shoulder, spreading the tears. Her stomach and head hurt and after a while she got up to blow her nose and take an aspirin. Then she went to bed and lay on her back, eyes open, staring into the darkness.
In the morning, before she dressed, she went into the living room and finished packing the box of books. She taped it shut and went back to the bedroom to get ready for work. That night she once again read Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” But she lingered on the first part of the verse. “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”
“I want you to love me,” she cried. “Please, God, help me do this.”
She spent her last night in the condo on the floor. Joanne had begged her to stay with her, but Cheri refused.
“I can’t start my new life by mooching off anyone,” she had explained. She also forbid Joanne to come over and begged her to keep Mom away. “I need to do this by myself. I’ll keep in touch, I promise.”
She had already sold her car to a downtown dealer and had arranged to keep it until today. They thought her request that the check be made out to a local family center was unusual, but eventually agreed to do it. She brought the car in early and put the check in the only purse she had kept. It held a small Bible, her empty wallet, a travel kit with miniature toothbrush and soap, and a change of underwear. She laughed at herself, wondering where she would have a chance to use them. Walking down the sidewalk to the family center, she started to hum “Jesus loves me.”
There were several people in the large room she entered and she could smell fresh coffee. A woman was pouring milk into paper cups for some children seated at a low table. Toys and books were crammed into a bookcase behind her. One of the walls was painted with a bright mural of a hill with three empty crosses. Under it three teenagers lounged on frayed couches playing guitars. No one spoke, but the music stopped and everyone stared at her. Cheri nodded at them and crossed the room to a door marked “office.” She knocked and opened the door when a voice called “Come in.”
A young man sat behind a rusting metal desk. He smiled when he saw her.
“Good morning. What can I do for you?”
Cheri smiled back, liking his warmth. “I have something I need to get rid of,” she said. “I hope you’ll take it.”
“If we can use it, I’d be delighted to take it. What is it?”
“This.” She opened her purse and handed him the check. While he stared at it, she gazed around her at the peeling paint and cracked window. Looking back at the man she smiled again.
“We can use it. Thank you. But why? And why us?”
Cheri shrugged. “Why not you? You’re helping the poor aren’t you? I’m just being obedient.”
“Well, God bless you. Why don’t you have a seat? Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“No, I’m sorry. I have to go.”
“Please,” he stood up and leaned toward her.
The coffee smelled good and he was nice, but she didn’t want to be one of his poor people. God was going to take care of her. She hurried out without looking back. On the street, she went around a corner and kept walking. Eventually she came to a small church, crammed between run down shops. Scratched wooden doors stood open and she paused in front of them. She hesitated, then walked up the steps and peered inside. It was dim, the only light coming from the early sun streaming through the stained glass window behind the altar. Cheri looked around, but the little chapel was empty. She walked down the aisle, careful not to make any noise, and knelt below the altar.
She looked up at the window and saw a picture of Jesus. He was standing alone looking out over the church, smiling slightly. His hands reached towards Cheri, beckoning. Under the window were the words, “Come follow me.”
Taking the Bible out of her purse, Cheri opened it to Luke 18:29. She whispered Jesus’ promise to herself. “No one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will fail to receive many times as much in this age and in the age to come, eternal life.”
**All scripture references are from the New International Version
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