“Joe’s a little odd, but his credentials are solid, and he gets results. Well, not odd, but you know, different.” Jolene switched the phone to her left ear.
Marge perked up. While holding the phone with one hand she attempted to lift the cat from her lap with the other. But Sno-ball resisted with all her claw might. Because of this she spoke a little more sharply than she meant to. “No, I don’t know. What do you mean, different?”
“Well, for one thing he doesn’t just coach his clients; he gets down and exercises right along with them. Has his meals during sessions, too - says it saves time.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad. The main thing is, Kerin is willing. This morning she surprised me by asking if I thought there might be a trainer who would take on someone "in her condition.” I told her there was only one way to find out.”
“Hey! That’s great news! Well, gotta’ run. Keep me posted!”
Evenings from 3 to 11 Joe worked at a fish plant; jogged home, showered, then slept until 7. Classes at City College filled his mornings from 8 to 12; by 12:30 he was back at his apartment, listening to his phone messages. Lunch was yogurt and a fat pita wrap with another to go; he saw clients starting at 1:15 for a little over an hour. That was weekdays: his weekends were booked solid.
Most of Joe’s clientele were women with too much time on their hands and plenty of money to burn. Some of them feared losing their looks and along with it, their husbands; others knew him by reputation and craved to be in on the latest ‘fad person.’ A few were athletes of either gender who needed tweaking and would settle for none but the best. Usually he worked with a customer in their home but if a client lacked proper equipment or space, they met at the gym.
For Joe, body training worked as a way to lose his past. As a boy his parents had exploited and neglected him. The more they yelled at him, the more he retreated into himself. At eighteen he’d married an abusive woman who outweighed him and nagged him into the ground. That was when, out of desperation, he’d first turned to weight training. Three years into their marriage his wife, Arleta, lost her life in a traffic accident involving road rage. The road rage was Arleta’s. Because of the traumatic memories it evoked, Joe vowed he’d never again set foot in the old neighborhood.
One Friday afternoon when Joe came in his phone blinked numerous messages. He pressed play to listen to the first one. “Hi. My name is Marge Whitmire; number: 907-3562. A neighbor, Jolene Ashley, recommended you. You coached her nephew, Paul. I’d like to discuss the possibility of your working with my daughter Kerin; she’s disabled. RA. You can reach us here during the day or at night, but please don’t call after 10 PM.”
Well, that was blunt and to the point. But at least she’s honest.
Though he had training in the field in question, Joe had never coached a disabled person. He wasn’t exactly against it: neither was he entirely for it. He agreed to meet at the Whitmire home but explained, up front, “I don’t know… my book’s pretty full right now. Maybe if someone drops out.” Joe himself was the one who felt the need to keep an out.
At worst, Joe anticipated a self-pitying complainer; at best someone very needy: certainly anything but the winsome young woman he took stock of at their first meeting. Kerin radiated inner peace and self-possession. Self-possession. That was Joe’s first impression of Kerin. Another person might have used the word, composed, or focused to describe her. Or, lovely.
He told her mother, "Mrs. Whitmire, I'll be training with Kerin on Tuesdays and Thursdays, if that suits you."
Mrs. Whitmire snapped at the deal. “You can call me Marge.”
After the first few sessions with Kerin, Joe’s time with her went by faster than he could have imagined, and quicker than he currently wanted it to. For him, this was certainly not the norm. One day as he adjusted a weight at her right wrist, he knew he’d held back as long as he could. “What is it Kerin? Where do you go? I mean I know some of these exercises must be really painful for you, but I sense you’re someplace far away at those times. Is it transcendental meditation? Religion? If it‘s religion, it certainly is different from any I‘ve come across.”
Kerin smiled. “No, Joe I’m not into transcendental meditation. Far from that. And probably not religion in the way… well I guess maybe some would call it religion. But its more than that. I pray. And God takes away the sting.” As she had done many times since her mother first engaged him, Kerin had in fact been silently praying for Joe that very moment.
From the beginning Kerin sensed something hidden in the man: wounds in places deep and too sensitive to be probed. It certainly belied his abrupt demeanor. She also held the belief Joe might resent any invasion into his personal life, so she had chosen prayer as her best option.
“I don’t understand: pain is pain. How do you take the sting out?”
Kerin‘s features softened, “ I’m not sure I can explain, Joe: all I know is I ask, and Jesus puts me in a special place, under the shadow of His wings. When I’m there, the pain tries to reach me, but it can‘t. I guess there’re too many feathers in the way.” Kerin smiled at her silly little joke. Embarrassed, Joe quickly changed the subject.
Some weeks later, at one of their sessions, Joe began to feel some of the many knots deep down inside him… untwist. It was as if something lifted, loosened and let go.
It‘s all because of Kerin, he reasoned. Where he tended to somberness, Kerin exuded light; where he felt abscessed, she ministered ointment. In her presence he knew the quietude of total acceptance.
And so. Along with the story of his past nuptial misery, in a torrent of words, all the agony and emptiness of his boyhood came pouring out. With eager arms, Kerin caught it.
When Kerin led Joe gently to the Lord that day it was not by bombarding him with Christian-ese, as some self-styled evangelists tend to do, but with a unique tenderness, a simple prayer, and afterwards a hug.
Several days later Kerin and Joe were sitting facing one another in Marge‘s kitchen. As they held hands across the table, they talked about tactics they could use for a ministry in Joe’s old neighborhood. Despite the fact it would be quite the challenge for both of them, they were enormously excited. It was a field white for the harvest.
Already Kerin and Joe had offered their lives and gifts freely to each other. Now they were holding them up to the Lord. They could hardly wait to see what He had in mind.