“Wha?what is this? Where am I?”
Max had sight but wasn‘t entirely sure his eyes were open. An emerald mist hung in the air and clouded his vision. He blinked. Ghostly forms wandered about. Max strained to hear faint voices then strained further to remember where he was. He had no memory of this peculiar place. Max was afraid to speak for fear he would not hear his own voice. Hearing himself breathe convinced him to utter a request.
“Can you hear me?” Max whispered his appeal, paused briefly then repeated with more clarity, “Can anyone hear me?”
“I can hear you Max.”
The response perhaps should have startled Max but there was slight familiarity in the voice, though he wasn’t sure whose it was or from which direction it came.
“Who are you? Where are you?” Max responded.
“I’m a friend, Max.” A man began to walk toward him through the fog. A white robe was draped across his arm. “Do not be afraid. I am here to help. We’ll take this journey together.” The man seemed vaguely familiar, but Max wasn’t sure why. The man had a kind face which was somehow reassuring to Max. Still, Max was troubled by what the man had said.
“What do you mean by a journey?” Max was confused and afraid. “I’m sorry, Sir, I don’t understand anything about all of this or where I am. My mind? my thinking? it’s different somehow.” Max looked down at his own frame which was engulfed in the dense fog. Holding his hand up to his face, he turned it slowly, studying it. It too was unrecognizable. “My body… it feels… strange.”
“Describe it to me Max.” The man knelt down alongside Max.
“I feel as if I’ve been released from being bound up… as if I had been wrapped up tight in a blanket and now the blanket has been snatched away.” Max looked intently into the eyes of his new-found companion. “What’s happening to me?”
“Max, you are about to embark upon a wonderful new journey. You have been on a journey all along but now you will perceive that former life much differently than before. You will witness things you have never seen. You will delight in new experiences and discover bountiful new revelations. You have completed your test, Max, and now your reward is near.”
“What test? What do you mean by my ‘journey’? Reward?” Max made another quick glance at his surroundings. “Am I about to die?” A sudden rush of panic seized Max but was quickly tempered by guarded hope. “Wait! Am I…? Sir, please ...”
Max suddenly remembered something. The man waited for Max to voice his thoughts.
“I remember now. I was taken to the… to the mansion again. Mom and Dad and many others were talking about me. They tried not to show it but I knew something was wrong. Yes. Something was wrong. I’m not sure what it was.” The man could tell Max was troubled. “Your confusion and fear is understandable, Max. It will subside in time.” The man’s words were reassuring which gave Max an instinctive sense of trust. Despite the unfamiliar setting, Max felt secure enough to confide in this unrecognized, and yet familiar new ally and friend. Max continued to share his heart.
“This may sound prideful, but I always believed I was, well, special somehow. People looked up to me.” Max was surprised that he could state something with such confidence despite the uncertainty of his recall.
“You were and are very special, Max, but in ways you are yet unaware.”
Max wondered why the man could so confidently say such a thing.
“Could it be?” he thought to himself.
“Sir, are you? Jesus?”
The man smiled broadly. “No, Max. You will soon be united with your Savior but in ways you may not yet comprehend.” The man paused briefly then continued. “Before that time and in order to understand these new beginnings, we need to examine your past. Let’s continue. What else do you remember, Max?”
Max closed his eyes. “My memories seem like dreams. And so long ago. I wonder?are they memories of my life or a story someone has told me? Still, I remember? the feelings. Yes, the feelings of both joy and sadness.”
Max opened his eyes then began to share.
“Good morning Mr. Felton. It’s time to rise and greet the new day. A very special day, I might add.”
Max turned in his bed and opened his eyes. Miss Fran had pulled back the drapes. The room was suddenly filled with light; that glorious sunlight. Miss Fran sat next to him with a breakfast tray. She had her usual contagious morning smile. Miss Fran, whose name was actually Francis, was a very pretty young lady. Max had a crush on Miss Fran. But of course she was strictly off limits. She was the servant. He was the one to be served. That was clear to both. Besides, she was a bit too old for him, he supposed. Max looked down at the tray. Pancakes! His favorite.
Miss Fran noticed the look of approval on his face. “I thought you might enjoy these. A special breakfast for a special boy on this very special day. Oh! I don’t suppose I can call you a boy any longer”, Miss Fran exclaimed. “How does it feel to be a teenager now?”
Max thought for a moment then shook his head. He was actually more excited about the day’s journey than entering the teen years.
“When do we leave?” Max asked.
“The limo is scheduled to pick us up at 9am. We have a lot to do between now and then so let’s get started.”
“Is Peter coming?” Max asked.
“Yes, and many other friends as well.” Miss Fran replied.
Max couldn’t wait.
A limousine pulled up out front. Spreading out alongside the limo was Max’s home. It wasn’t his real home, of course. It was the boarding school where he attended along with other boys and girls. It was a well respected school offering a fine array of programs for those fortunate enough to attend. Ivy hung from the stone facing. The long halls created a maze that seemed to have no end. Max had lived there for several years. His parents visited often. Even though Max missed seeing them, he knew they wanted the best for Max. His life was good and he was grateful.
The doors to the school opened. Several squealing boys and girls came streaming out, chaperones in tow. They entered the limo and fought over who should have the window seats. Max didn’t mind giving up the window seat. It pleased him to know he could make someone else’s ride more enjoyable. Besides, he wanted to sit next to Miss Fran. He sat between Miss Fran and his best friend Peter.
“Is everyone buckled in?” Mr. Scott sat next to the driver and turned to face the students. Everyone liked Mr. Scott. His first name was Ernest. Other teachers and staff called him Ernie but the students were not permitted to refer to their teacher’s in such informal terms. Mr. Scott was the Cultural Activities Director as well as being a renowned athletic coach at the school. “All right then. As you all know, today we are privileged to take a safari where we will be studying the habits of native African wildlife.” A cheer went up. Mr. Scott again turned to face his young passengers. “I heard a rumor that we have a new teenager onboard. Is that true?” Max just smiled as everyone yelled, “It’s Max.!”
Games were played and songs were sung as they cruised along toward their destination. Soon, however, many of the young passengers were lulled to sleep by the drone of the limo’s engine. Although Max wasn’t sitting next to the window, he could feel the warmth of the sun upon his face. His bask was short lived as he heard Miss Fran ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up Max?” Max had pondered that question before but still was uncertain of his life pursuit. “I don’t know,” he answered.
Miss Fran turned and smiled at Max. “Everyone has a purpose, Max. You may not know what that is just now but if you allow God to lead you, then, in time, you will suddenly realize you have been fulfilling that purpose all along.” Max wasn’t real sure he understood what Miss Fran meant by that. She was always so affirming and encouraging and Max was grateful to have her in his life. Max recognized a compassionate quality about Miss Fran. She often spoke of Jesus. Max wasn’t sure how to respond to Miss Fran so he just said what he thought she wanted to hear. “I’ll try and be good, Miss Fran.”
Miss Fran turned again to face Max. “That’s a wonderful goal to have, Max, but more important than that is to keep your eyes on Jesus. Get to know Him and you will find that goodness, God’s goodness, will become a part of who you are, not the goal itself.” Max suddenly felt a little uneasy. He was even less sure about what he should “be” when he grew up. Peter wasn’t going to let him ponder much longer as he suddenly yelled out. “We’re here!”
Max did not know his geography very well. He knew they lived near a place such as this but he had never actually seen such a site. He was certain this was what they called the great Serengeti of Africa. Whether true or not, this was just how his memory served him. Animals of all kinds grazed along the road. An ostrich came bounding up to the window. The children had been given food for the animals. A man in green clothing had warned them not to turn the windows down too far if they didn’t want a long necked ostrich poking its head in their business. His warning had gone un-heeded. The window was open too wide and the ostrich couldn’t resist. The children squealed with delight as the ostrich confidently stretched his head, ready to nab its prey. Max froze and his eyes widened. The ostrich beak came down with a jerk as cup and food went flying. Everyone laughed hysterically. Peter, who sat next to the window, quickly rolled it up and then asked, “Do we get to shoot any of these animals?” Mr. Scott laughed. “Not on this trip Peter. Maybe one day when you are older you can go on a safari hunting trip.” Mr. Scott added.
That did not appeal to Max, however. He would prefer to film one of those animal documentaries he had seen on TV. Maybe that is what he could do with his life someday, he thought. But was that enough?
“Why was that event so memorable for you Max?” the man asked. Max thought for a moment. “I think it’s because for the first time I began to consider my purpose for living. Miss Fran and Mr. Scott were more than just teachers. They truly cared about us. They seemed to find their purpose in serving us. They both remained in my life for many years to come and helped shape my life. I wanted to touch lives too but wasn’t sure just how to do that. Still, I knew God would lead me.”
“How did you know God would lead you?” the man asked. Max again had to stop and reflect. “Maybe it was because of the love I felt from those around me. I knew God was involved in that so I figured he could keep on directing my life.”
“I see,” said the man. “Let’s keep exploring. What else comes to mind, Max?”
Max glanced around the room. People and objects still remained behind a thick blanked of fog. Max strained to remember. He was perplexed as to why his memories seemed so long ago. Perhaps death freed the mind of all the worries and anxieties brought on by the world. That must be it, he thought. A sense of peace was beginning to engulf him and his fear was subsiding. He was becoming excited about the possibilities of what might lay ahead, but for now was enjoying the opportunity to look back on “the test” as the man had called it.
“And now, students, ladies and gentlemen, please help me welcome this year’s key-note speaker, Max Felton.” The crowd rose to their feet and a cheer went up. Max felt a warm acceptance as he walked slowly toward the center of the stage. He had returned to his alma mater where he graduated several years before. Mr. Henderson, the school principal, walked towards him with his hand held out to Max as he ventured toward the podium. Max used a cane and walked with a limp. The audience continued to cheer. Max stumbled briefly as he neared the podium but stabled himself. Mr. Henderson held his hands out to the crowd and motioned for them to lower their voices and applause. A hush fell over the crowd as Max began to speak. Max cleared his throat. He was nervous. He glanced across the room. There was his Mom and Dad. Miss Fran, who was now married, sat with her husband. Mr. Scott too was there. He saw many of his former classmates and friends. He was suddenly overcome with emotion and felt like weeping but remained composed. He once again cleared his throat and began to speak.
“I want to say, first of all, that I am thankful to Mr. Henderson for inviting me here today. This place means so much to me. I made many close friendships while here. Many of them are here tonight and remain in my life to this day. I gained a great deal throughout my years here at this school. You have gained much too. I hope you know that. Your instructors are devoted to seeing that you obtain the most out of life and go on to fulfill God’s unique purpose for each one of you. You see, my hope is that you will not merely look at what you can get out of life. Yes, I know that for some of us life can be very difficult. I know that all too well.” Once again Max almost lost his composure. He continued. “Most of you probably know about my accident during my race. It was a time of both great joy but sorrow as well. Yes, I lost some things but I gained so much more. You see, I discovered that life is not about the things you obtain. It is about giving. Even when obstacles and challenges come our way, we can overcome and end up giving much more than we received. You have benefited greatly by the example and service from your outstanding instructors. You can learn from them and do the same.” Max felt a lump form in his throat. He found he could not go on. There was an awkward silence as Max attempted to form his words. He looked briefly over at Mr. Henderson who then started toward Max but Max motioned him to stop. He looked back at the audience then uttered a silent prayer, “God, show them your love.” Someone from the crowd yelled out, “We love you Max.” That was it. Max began to weep.
The man listened intently as Max retold the events of his life and then asked, “Why was that occasion so emotionally overwhelming for you, Max?”
“Like I said, those people were all so special to me. I found it hard to express my gratitude. Quite honestly, as I remember back, it still seems as if I am telling the story of someone else’s life. The events seem both real and unreal at the same time or as if decades have passed and those memories have been altered within my mind. But this I know… the love is real, sir.” Max raised his voice. “The love for them is real! Each student, each instructor was special. I felt the same thing about my own life. Please understand. I’m not suggesting that I was better than most?just different and unique. I felt God wanted to use me in some way but was never sure just how.”
“When did you first sense this Max?” the man asked.
“I seem to recall this even at a very young age.” Max was surprised he could state this with such certainty. “When I was very young my Mother and Father were very attentive to me. I think they too knew that God had a special plan for my life. We must have been well off financially because I remember servants attending to our needs. I always had a chauffeur driving me around. My father would leave and be gone for days at a time. I was always so happy to see him return. Yes, I was happy most of the time. But I was very sad when my parents decided to send me off to school. I overheard Mom and Dad talk about me one night. What they said did not make a lot of sense to me. Even now I don’t recall the reason for sending me away. I felt love and acceptance from them and so I believed somehow this was a good thing for me.” Max paused to reflect. How could he remember these events but still feel as if they weren’t entirely accurate?
“Max, do you recall an event which took place a short time before you gave that speech?”
Max looked puzzled. “How would you know about that?”
“Part of my purpose is to know the events of your life”, answered the man.
“Then why are you asking me these questions?” Max did not mean to sound rude. He was starting to become curious as to why he was being asked to reflect upon his life.
“The questions are for you Max, not me. It is necessary for you to gain a proper perspective on your life. The life you lived on earth prepared you for your life to come. Everyone has a particular view of their life but oftentimes that perspective is skewed. It is not until death that mankind is given the opportunity to gain a true understanding of that life. They may see their lives as one thing but God sees it in an entirely different manner. God, through his sovereign will, pre-ordained the people and events of your life, Max. He created you with unique qualities and gifts in order to prepare you for service in His Kingdom. Your life was indeed a test, Max Felton. You had choices to make. Basically the choice was to lean on your own understanding, your own perspective, if you will, or lean on God’s perspective. Who was in control of your life, Max? Was it you or was it God?”
Max’s thoughts were racing. Max knew he needed to provide an answer but wasn’t sure just what to say.
Max looked down at his own chest. He put his hand over his heart and was intrigued to find a heartbeat. He held his hand to his mouth and felt breath flowing through his fingers. Max muttered to himself, “Even in death?” He then looked up at the man.
“Sir, I know this. My life, however it is defined, is in God’s hands. You see, Sir, I knew I could not always make good decisions on my own. Quite frankly, many choices were made for me by others. I was privileged to be surrounded by wonderful people who looked after me and loved me. I often felt I must submit to their guidance. As Miss Fran and others spoke of Jesus, I felt as if I already knew him somehow. I sensed his presence through the love they showed me. They served me, yet I was envious of what they had. Maybe not what they had, so much, as who they were. I recognized that others did not have the privilege and prestige I had experienced. I wanted to give back. I wanted to help people. I’m not sure I did that very well.”
“You did that very well, Max.” The man leaned forward and continued to listen intently to what Max was saying. “Do you wish to continue?”
“Yes”. Max wanted to keep exploring.
“I asked you about a particular event. I am sure you know the event to which I am referring”.
The stadium was filled with spectators. Max had trained long and hard for this moment. Everyday Mr. Scott would meet him at the track. He began his training while still in school but this was several years later. His friend, Peter, had trained along with him but had been eliminated early on in competition. Max continued to win race after race and had now made it to the finals. Walking toward the starting block, he gazed up into the stadium. Somewhere in the crowd were his Mom and Dad, Miss Fran, Peter, and many other friends. “Could this really be happening?” he thought. He was actually participating in the Olympic Games.
“Runners take your mark.” The starter yelled. Max glanced once more over at Mr. Scott who gave him a nod. Max took his position. BANG! The gun went off and Max leaped from the starting line. Even as Max thought back on that race he could still remember the adrenaline pumping through his body. He remembered too the words of his coach, Mr. Scott. “Keep your eyes on the finish line.” Every muscle in his body ached as he strained towards the finish. Max wanted to win. Winning was everything. After-all, he had always been a winner, always at the top of his game, adored by many and successful in all his pursuits. Max was ahead but he could sense someone coming up on his left. He held his breath and gave it all he had. Max concentrated on only one thing: breaking that ribbon and winning the gold. Extending his chest, he leaned forward and then ... something went terribly wrong. Max had apparently fallen. So hard, in fact, that it knocked him out. Max had ruined his chances to take home Olympic gold.
“Did you really fail to bring home gold?” The man looked intently at Max.
“Well perhaps I found gold of another sort,” answered Max.
“Would you explain to me what you mean by that?”
“After my fall I wound up at the mansion, or at least I think it was a mansion. I’m not so sure about anything anymore. When I woke up I was surrounded by Mr. Scott, Mom, Dad, Miss Fran and Peter. Others were there as well. A man from the Olympic committee was there. They had some sort of award for me. I’m not sure what it was. In fact, I’m not sure all of this really happened.” Max placed his hands on his head. “Why are my memories so clouded?!” Doubt was entering his mind. “Did I really compete in the Olympics?” Max asked.
“You did indeed,” the man answered. “What happened after that?”
“The fall?it did something to me, didn’t it?”
“Yes. What do you think that was?”
“I know I hurt myself very badly. That’s why I limped afterwards. It also did something to my head.” Max suddenly wondered if this had something to do with his veiled recollections. He decided to ask the man.
“Sir, I have been wondering why I am having trouble with my thinking. These memories don’t seem real to me somehow. Is this because of my head injury?”
The man’s answer surprised Max. He paused for a moment hoping the man would explain. The man remained silent for a moment but then spoke gently.
“Your head injury is what eventually brought you to this place, Max.”
Max looked perplexed.
“I think it’s time I explain some things to you.”
Max was not sure he wanted to hear what the man was going to say but listened never-the-less.
“Your head injury did not immediately take your life. It helped bring you life. Do you recall talking with God?
“Yes,” answered Max. “I was confused and afraid. I had always been a winner. People had looked up to me and admired me. They had always served me. But suddenly I felt helpless. I began suffering severe headaches. I was dizzy and lost my balance at times. I had nothing else to hold onto. I was aware that people were talking about me. They said things would only get worse for me. As I said before, I knew God was in control of my life but I certainly wasn’t expecting something like this. I had known of Jesus but now I wanted to truly know him… to know him intimately. I told him he could have me. Actually, he must have already had me. I think I finally just got out of the way.”
“Is that what you thought at the time?” The man asked.
Max once again had to stop and reflect. Once again, his mind was playing tricks on him. He could not state with certainty what was actual or imagined.
“That is my impression now. Somehow I believe I must have known that in some other way.” Max was once again perplexed. The man continued.
“You are being given the ability, now, to gain a new perspective on that life which you did not have during your time on earth. You have been perplexed as to why your memories seem so veiled, as if in a dream. That is because you now have a new mind. You even have a new body. You’re soul has always been and will remain the same for it is the unique essence of who you are. Your mind and body had limitations while on earth. Those limitations are being lifted”
Max wasn’t sure where the man was going with this but he was intrigued and wanted to hear more.
The man continued. “Now Max, I want you to listen to me very carefully. God had given you something that was considered different and even undesirable by most people on earth. God saw it otherwise. He gave you this unique quality even when being formed within your mother’s womb. You look back on your life and see it as privileged and successful. Still, from many people’s perspective you were considered disadvantaged even from birth. Would you like to see yourself as others saw you?”
If the man were trying to clear up Max’s confusion he certainly wasn’t succeeding. But Max knew he had to experience all that the man wanted to reveal. “Yes,” he replied.
With that the man waved his hand over the room. The fog immediately lifted and Max could now see the people and objects surrounding him. Max hovered, along with the man, above the room as they watched the events take place. Max looked down and saw his Mother and Father. There, as always, were Miss Fran and Mr. Scott. Others he had known and loved stood over a motionless body lying on the bed. Max heard them speaking.
Francis held the hand of the bereaved mother as she spoke to her gently. “Sarah, Max lived a full life despite his challenges.” Thomas Felton sat next to his son. Mr. Scott stood beside him. “Ernie, was I wrong to let him compete? He was always such a fragile boy.” He looked back at his son. Mr. Scott gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. Tears formed in Mrs. Felton’s eyes. “We tried to give him the things he needed.” She said. “From the moment he was born Max required special care. Tom’s trucking job kept him away for days on end. I had to work extra jobs just to afford the in-home care. Did we do the right thing by sending him to the state school?” Francis spoke tenderly to the mother of the young man they both loved so much. “Sarah, as I’m sure you are aware, Max was a gift to us and to you from God. He brought so much joy and touched many lives at the school. Society might refer to Max and others at the school as disabled but I am here to tell you that your beautiful son was more than able to accomplish God’s purpose for his life.” Max’s mother looked up at Miss Fran. “I can see why Max loved you so much, Francis.”
The man turned and looked at Max who was starring at the frail twisted body on the bed in front of him. The man spoke. “You see, Max, God, through his sovereign will, chose to give you a different intellect than many people on earth. From the world’s perspective you did not have much of a life. But from God’s perspective you had a full, purposeful life. God’s design for your life allowed others a chance to serve God as they were serving you. Because of you, others were and still are, given the chance to consider their own standing before God.”
Max still focused his attention on the lifeless body before him. “I never knew …I was …considered... different. But then what about my memories? Are they honest?”
The man pointed to framed photographs adorning the top of the dresser.
Max noticed one photo of a large giraffe and elephant standing next to a beat up old passenger van. Hands and faces of smiling children were seen through the windows. There was another photograph of two people standing below a sign reading, “Special Olympics Regional Championships”. Max looked closer. The wiry, bent body of a young man stood next to Mr. Scott. The young man had a blue ribbon draped around his neck and a huge smile upon his face. Max recognized the young man. It was himself. Many other photos showed Max surrounded by family and friends. There was Mr. Henderson with his arm around the shoulder of Max. They were apparently standing on a stage. A podium stood nearby.
The man allowed Max a moment to assess these new revelations. Max then looked up at the man and knew instinctively that he had more discovery in-store.
“You see, Max, God limits each man and each woman’s capacity to know and understand life while on earth. Some are given a high intellect. Some are given less. He did this to show that it isn’t man’s intelligence that brings him into a right relationship with Him. He desires that everyone come to the limit of their own ability to direct and comprehend life. Men think the answers to life come with their own ability to reason. With their mind they try and comprehend God. With the power of their mind and choices they try and appease God. With his mind a man tries to justify reasons for not submitting to the very one who created that mind. A four pound mass of tissue between the ears becomes his authority. People often place the hope of their eternal security within the authority and confines of their finite minds. Some continue to use their own brains to save themselves even up to the moment of death. You, Max Felton, and many others discovered that your authority did not lie within your own ability to reason. God was already your authority, providentially controlling the events and people in your life. You now see that he even decided to give you a life which many others on earth would deem unworthy. But God saw you otherwise. Your life confounded the wisdom of the ‘wise’. And despite your inability to read and comprehend much of God’s revealed words of life, by a child like faith you received God’s Son as he chose to receive you. It was through your life that God touched many others in prodigious ways. Your ultimate purpose is to bring glory to your Creator. You have performed this duty very well, Max. And will continue to do so. The days of testing are over for you Max. Your reward is near. Your Savior is near. Your God is near. Your new life has now begun.” The man then flung the white robe over Max.
And with that the man blew toward the people and room around Max. They disappeared with the fog. Max turned to face the man. “Where is my Savior? I want to thank Him and praise Him.”
The man blew once more. Max suddenly found himself shrouded in light. Max looked around. Crowds of people began to appear. Each one looked eagerly at the others. From a great distance Max heard a cheer go up. He joined the chorus of cheers and accolades of praise. He recognized some in the crowd. They recognized him. Max looked back at the man. “Sir, I never asked your name.”
“You may call me ‘Guardian”. With that, the man motioned Max toward the throng of individuals crowded around a great throne. Max joined the grand reunion with loved ones as they gathered around the One who sat upon the throne. There too sat his reward. His testing had ceased and his transition was complete. Max had overcome.
A hand reached out and began to gather up the photos scattered upon the dresser and place them neatly inside a box. Sarah Felton studied each photo as she delicately stacked them inside the box. She stopped suddenly and looked intently upon one photo in particular. There she was sitting in the stands of the stadium where Max had competed in the Special Olympics. Friends and loved ones were sitting around her waving at the photographer. But who was that man sitting behind her waving to the camera? He had a kind face. He looked familiar but she could not quite place him. She scanned the man’s face and reflected upon her own memories for a moment. She glanced heavenward. “Another one of Max’s fans I suppose.” A tear and smile formed then lingered for a time.