By Joel E Parker III
Stars. A flash of blue. The cold asphalt under his head. A growing numbness that spreads up his body. The smell of burnt gunpowder. These are the first things he notices as he lies on the street and slowly regains his senses. Just moments earlier, there had been a sudden eruption of violence on this street that ended when these men, the officer and his attacker, fell to the ground.
As the officer laid there, his thoughts went over the last few minutes. He had been sitting at a stop sign when the green late-model Impala passed on the cross street in front of him with it’s busted rear taillight winking at him as it passed. He turned to follow and activated his blue lights to stop the vehicle. It pulled to the side immediately so he called in and got out of his car to approach just as he’d done more times that he could count. It was here that things suddenly went bad.
Halfway between the two cars, the driver jumped out and swung around his right hand, which was holding something. It could have been a cell phone but he knew from what he saw that the guy wasn’t looking to make a call. His hand started pulling his own pistol out of its holster when the driver started firing. He felt a thump hit his vest and then felt two more hit lower and there was pain…a lot of it. He fell back onto the street but was able to return fire as he laid there. He saw at least two of his rounds hit the driver in the chest and he dropped like a sack of potatoes. His gun started to feel heavy and his hand collapsed back onto the ground.
That’s how he finds himself here. Lying on his back in the street. Cold asphalt chilling the nape of his neck. Blue lights from his car flashing over head and a weight on his chest that was slowly falling away to numbness. He’s no doctor but he knows enough to know that feeling nothing is a lot worse than feeling pain. At least the night was clear and the stars were bright.
It was getting harder to breathe so he willed his hand to move. His right hand didn’t want to cooperate at first but slowly it began to slide across the ground. With a grunt of strain he got it to his chest and let it lie on his stomach where he felt something warm and sticky. With effort, he raised his hand up where he could look at it because his head refused to lift up no matter how hard he tried. He only got a moment’s glance before his hand fell to his chest but it was enough to confirm his fears. In the flash of blue lights and the dull glow of the street light several yards back, he was able to make out a wet dripping stain on his hand. Blood. He realized that at least one of the bullets must have passed under the bottom of his vest.
He knew he should call for help but checking for blood appeared to have taken the last ounce of strength he had left and nothing else would move. There was no pain, at least, and the only feeling he had came from how cold the back of his head felt with the December asphalt seeping up from under him and he couldn’t help but marvel at how bright the stars were tonight.
He could feel his body slowly getting weaker as he lay there on the street. He wanted to call for help and wanted to hang on but his body didn’t match his will. As he lay staring up at the sky, his mind drifted to his family. His wife and daughter. They’d be at home sleeping right now. Oblivious to what had happened to him. Not knowing that this may be the last night of restful sleep they’d enjoy in the days to come.
His mind focused on the color of his wife’s eyes and the sound of his daughter’s laugh and then he slowly started to close his eyes to drift away to whatever lay beyond the stars.
His eyes jerk open and frantically look around the area. For a moment, when he knew he was teetering on the edge, he heard his daughter’s voice in his ear. It sounded as if she was sitting right next to him. His heart started to hammer in his chest as he searched for the impossible. There was no way she could be here. She was six and at home in bed. She couldn’t be here.
It took a moment for his mind to move beyond the shock of hearing that voice and focus on what he had heard. “ABC, Daddy.” What did that mean? He knew he’d heard her say that but he couldn’t remember when. When he tried, he got the image of her in a white dress, sitting in his lap, and with a look of such innocence and happiness on her face that he thought just the memory of it would make his heart burst.
As he lay there with his life slowly leaving his body, his mind wasn’t there but was instead eagerly searching his fading memory for the meaning of what he heard. He couldn’t explain it but he knew that recalling exactly what lie behind that simple statement was the most important thing he’d ever done.
He tried. He really did but there was too much blood loss and, no matter how strong the man, the body can only take so much. Eventually…whether it was seconds or hours, he couldn’t tell…he felt his mind start to fade out again and his eyes started seeing those wonderful stars floating overhead.
A deep fear filled him as he felt his life slipping away. He didn’t know what was going to happen and he was scared. Scared for his family being left behind without him. A young wife without a husband. An innocent daughter without a daddy. He was also scared for himself cause he didn’t know what came next. Would he close his eyes and disappear into nothing? Would he float above the stars? Would there be a white light and the embrace of lost relatives? He didn’t know and damned himself for it.
As his eyes closed, he suddenly caught the trace of an odor. It was as clear to him as if he’d just buried his face in his daughter’s hair. It was her shampoo. He knew it as well as he knew the lines of his own face. He’d smelled it everyday for as long as he could remember. It was the smell that shocked him back and it was the smell that brought the memory rushing back into his body.
He’d been sitting in his chair in the living room watching the beginning of some game on TV when his wife and daughter came in from church. They were later than usual and he could remember being curious about why. His wife walked in and smiled at him and his daughter ran in and practically dove into his lap. She was excited and seemed about to burst with her need to tell him the news.
“Daddy! Daddy! I did it! I did it!”
“Did what, sweetie?” He glanced up at his wife who had a mysterious look on her face. Her eyes had a misty look to them and she had a little half-smile on her face. She was looking at them and it was as if she wanted to laugh and cry all at once.
His daughter looked up at him and said in a rush of words that came out so quickly that he had to really focus to hear them, “I asked Jesus into my heart and now he’s gonna live there forever and then one day I’m gonna go and live in Heaven with Him.”
He looked up at his wife and could see that she was actually shedding tears now. She’d been going to church for the last year. When they’d gotten married, church wasn’t an issue. She’d grown up in one but seemed to have lost interest. He’d never had time for all that church-stuff and, since he became a cop, didn’t care for it at all. He’d dealt with these churchpeople enough to see that it was all for show.
About a year ago, his wife lost her grandmother to cancer. They’d been close and she’d taken it hard. Her grandmother had been a Bible thumper and she’d given her old family Bible to his wife. With that gift came an obsession. She’d started going to church and, within a month, had started to take their daughter with her. She’d tried to get him to go but he refused. After working all night dealing with the lowlifes in this town, the last thing he wanted to do was go to church and sit next to them while they pretended to be better then anyone else. It was one of the few fights he’d won. She’d leave pamphlets lying around and she’d try to get him to come to church parties with her but he saw what she was up to. He wouldn’t let himself be suckered into church anymore than he’d let himself be dragged.
Now, he found himself holding his innocent daughter, looking at her open face, and knew that he couldn’t crush her happiness so he decided to play along. “That’s great, punkin. Just great.”
“Yeah, Daddy. It was easy. Miss Tracy told me how to do it. It was just ABC.”
“ABC?” He asked without realizing it. He didn’t really want to talk about this but the question was out before he knew he was going to say it.
“ABC. Accept. Believe. Confess. A. B. C.” With each repeated letter, she counted off with her fingers. Her openness and excitement was cute.
“OK. I’m happy for you. Now, what do you want for lunch?” He was hoping he could change the subject and move on but his daughter was more focused today that he’d ever seen her.
“Does Jesus live in your heart, Daddy?” The question was asked with such seriousness that he was stunned into silence for a moment. His daughter’s eyes had suddenly changed. They’d gotten more serious. More focused. He could tell that his answer to this was important.
“Well, honey, I don’t know. I’ve never looked and he hasn’t paid any rent so I just don’t know.” He reached out and gave her a little tickle and a smile hoping that, if he was playful enough, she’d get sidetracked and forget this. For once, though, he wasn’t getting off that easy.
“Miss Tracy said that you have to know if he’s there. If he’s there, you feel different and think different. Miss Tracy said that you have to ask Jesus in and, when he’s there, he never moves out. He lives there forever and never leaves. Miss Tracy said that we have to do that to go to Heaven.”
He could suddenly feel a tight little ball of anger appear in his stomach. Anger at his wife for encouraging this mess. Anger at this “Miss Tracy” for preaching this garbage and even anger at his daughter for forcing this on him.
“Sweetie,” he said with just the barest tint of aggravation in his voice, “I don’t think you have to have Jesus in your heart to go to Heaven. You just have to be a good person. Try to help other people and live a good life. That’s all, baby.”
He saw his daughter's face twist up into a frown and was taken aback when she turned her eyes up to his because the look in those eyes were much too old to be gazing out of a five year-old's face. “No, Daddy. You’re wrong. We can’t be good enough on our own to go to Heaven. We have to have Jesus and it’s easy to know Him. It’s just ABC, Daddy. Look.”
She pulled a coloring book out of her little child’s purse. On the front was a picture of a dark-haired man in robes holding a child in his arms with a flock of what appeared to be sheep around them. The title was “The ABC’s to Salvation”. Before he could do anything to stop her, she had opened it up to the first page and begun flipping through the book. He didn’t have the heart to try to stop her so he decided to simply ride it out.
The first page showed a picture of a child standing before the dark-haired man (obviously this must be Jesus). The child was standing with his head down and his hands were holding a broken toy firetruck.. From the look on the child’s face, you could tell that he was extremely sad but the look on the man’s face was benevolent. Almost aggravatingly so. A little word bubble came up from the child saying simply, “I broke my brother’s toy.” Above all of this written in big letters was “Admit honestly to God that you have sinned and disobeyed Him.”
“A, Daddy, means to Admit. Admit you are a sinner. You have to do this because you can’t have sin in Heaven and you can only get in if you tell Jesus that you are one.” At this she paused for a moment and twisted her face as she wrestled with an idea. When she reached her conclusion, she added, “He already knows you are a sinner cause he knows everything but you have to tell him you’re one so that he knows that you know too.” She looked up at him and nodded at him to make sure that he was able to follow along with her. He nodded back without really thinking. His mind was too busy desperately looking for a way to get out of this.
She then looked to the next page. It appeared to be another scene following the last. The next picture shows the same little boy standing and looking up at a cave with a large rock next to it, Jesus is standing in the opening with his arms spread out wide. You can easily see the holes in his hands where nails were supposed to have been and, on the hilltop behind them both, you see three crosses silhouetted against the sunset. Jesus is smiling down at the child. No word bubbles this time but printed at the top of this page is, “Believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose again. His blood was shed to pay for your sins.”
“See, Daddy. B means to Believe. You just have to believe with all your heart that Jesus is God’s Son and that he died for us. But you also have to believe that he didn’t stay dead because God wanted him to live for us.”
He had to speak up at this point. “Baby, I’m sorry but you can’t live again after you die. It’s not how it works.”
“It did this time because that’s what God wanted and He can do anything.”
Not knowing why, but unable to stop himself, he asked, “Well, then, you said Jesus was God’s Son but He let Him die and He let people hurt Him. No daddy would let his child suffer like that. Why would He do that to His own Son?"
He was proud of his logic and felt that this would make his daughter begin to see a little reason here but, it didn’t work. Logic doesn’t affect the wide-eyed faith of a child. She looked right back at him and said, “Because He loves us, Daddy, and He wants us to love Him. That’s why Jesus had to die. He did it so we could go to Heaven. Jesus died so that our sins don’t count. All we have to do is believe that He did that for us.”
She once again gave him that little head nod to make sure he was following her and then turned to the back page. On this page, we once again see that same little boy with Jesus. This time Jesus has knelt down and He and the boy are embracing each other. There is now happiness on both their faces and a word bubble rises from Jesus saying, simply, “I forgive you.” They have a little cone of light coming down on them from above and the scene has a beautiful house in the distance. On the top of this page is printed, “Choose to trust Jesus alone for the forgiveness of your sins.”
His daughter looks for a moment with him at this page and then speaks up. “Now, Miss Tracy said that the C was for confess but the book said choose. Miss Tracy said they mean the same thing. Miss Tracy said you just have to confess to Jesus that He is the only one that can forgive us for sinning and ask Him to take the sin away. Miss Tracy said that, when you do that, Jesus washes the sin away and then He lives in your heart forever and, when you die, you get to go and live with Jesus in Heaven. Isn’t that nice, Daddy?”
The eyes that looked up to his were so open and hopeful of the right answer that he had no choice but to give it. “Yes, it is nice.”
Hope filled her face. “Will you do it, Daddy? Mommy did and so did I. We’re gonna live in Heaven one day. Do you want to live with us in Heaven?”
He looked at her pretty little face and couldn’t help himself. “Of course I do, sweetie.”
“Then you’re gonna ask Jesus in your heart?” You could practically see the excitement coming out of her.
He looked up to his wife. She was still standing just outside the kitchen looking at them with that same look on her face and she had tears in her eyes. He looked down to his daughter and saw the happiness in hers. His heart felt strange and he knew that he wanted to believe what she’d said to him but his mind refused to make that leap. He looked at her and said what all adults say to kids when they don’t really have the best answer, "I’m gonna think REAL HARD about it, okay? I promise.”
His daughter’s look of disappointment was unmistakable. “But, Daddy, if you die without Jesus in your heart, you won’t go to Heaven and you won’t be there with me and Mommy.” Surprisingly, she sounded like she was about to cry.
He was so shocked by this he spoke quickly without thinking, “Daddy’s not going to die, sweetie. I promise you. I’m gonna live a long time with you and Mommy and you don’t have to worry about that.” He hugged her fiercely just to let her see how real and strong he was. To let her feel that her daddy was there and wasn’t going anywhere.
She let herself be hugged but she didn’t look at him or answer him for several moments. After what felt like hours, she got up and stood in front of him. She looked at him and said in a quiet voice, “I want you to go to Heaven, Daddy.” She then turned and slowly walked to her room leaving him sitting in his chair without a thing to say.
The memory suddenly fades away. He finds himself back on the street staring up at the sky. He can feel his heart slowly beating in his chest as the emotions from that day sweep back over him. He has heard all his daughter said to him that day once again but this time his mind and his heart are in agreement. He was foolish to think he’d live forever. He knew that his life was slipping away and he was about to slip off into an eternity without being ready.
Tears started to roll out of the corners of his eyes as he stared unblinking at the stars above him. He whispered, “I believe. Oh, Jesus...I believe. Please. Forgive me.”
As that last focused, coherent thought coursed through his mind, he closed his eyes one last time to the light of the stars above.
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