Three Strikes and You're Saved!
"You ever heard the expression, 'three strikes and you're out', Billy?"
"Yeah - from my little league coach," Billy sneered.
"Well, this aint little league, it's the big leagues. The real thing. And this is strike number two. One more and you won't just be out, you'll be sittin' the bench for a long time. A wooden bench in a jail cell. Now go on. Next time I call the cops."
There were a lot of "strike three's" but Mr. Jenkins never called the cops. He always let Billy go with a stern warning, reminding him he don't offer no five-finger discounts. I can't blame Mr. Jenkins for being too easy on him. Mr Jenkins knew that Billy didn't have a daddy and his mama was drunk most of the time, leaving him to care for his four younger brothers and sisters. He'd busted Billy for stealing food, clothes, toilet paper, and even caught him trying to stick a pair of winter boots down his pants for his little brother, Kenny, during a blizzard one year. Kenny only had a pair of worn out tennis shoes with holes in 'em. "His toes will freeze off, Mr. Jenkins!" Billy said.
Billy's excuse for his stealin' was that he wouldn't have to if his mama could heave herself up off that couch and hold down a job. Mr. Jenkins didn't say it out loud, but I knew he whole-heartedly agreed. That's why he let Billy get away with taking the stuff he needed, once in a while "catching" him, just to scare him a little, let him know what he was doing, though noble, wasn't right. He'd quote the Bible to Billy, verses about stealin' bein' a sin and all. But then he'd tell Billy how much God loved him, even though he was doin' things that were no good. Billy used to laugh about it afterwards, mockin' Mr. Jenkins about bein' so righteous, a Bible-thumpin' lunatic, is what he called him. I even remember him laughin' the day Mr. Jenkins died of a heart attack on the floor of his general store. Billy made some joke that night about how he wouldn't have to listen to any more Bible verses ever again.
Well, Billy got older and graduated to stealing bigger things, like stereos, television sets, and eventually cars, which is what finally landed him in a jail cell. It seemed Billy was in deep, looking at some heavy-duty prison time. When I went to visit him, His face was haggard, hair unkempt, eyes empty and sad. I had pretty much forgotten about Mr. Jenkins until Billy asked me a question that day.
"Do you think if Mr. Jenkin's woulda called the cops all them years ago…you think I'd be here now?"
How could I answer? What could I say? I sat silent for a minute and thought about his question, mullin' it over in my mind. On the one hand, if Mr. Jenkins had called the cops, Billy mighta learned there were consequences for his actions at an early age. It coulda stopped his other stealin' altogether. Maybe today Billy would be a loving husband, daddy to some kids, workin' a real job…it didn't seem likely, but you never know.
On the other hand, if Mr. Jenkins had called the cops, maybe Billy woulda ended up even worse off. Maybe it woulda made Billy mad and made him do even worse things than steal. Maybe Billy'd be servin' a life sentence by now, or worse, maybe he'd be…
I looked at Billy, who was waitin' for an answer. I knew he wanted me to say the right thing, somethin' to make him feel better, maybe, about what he did. But what could I say?
I took out my Bible and laid it on the table. I took my time thumbing through 'til I found the verse I was lookin' for. It seemed Billy was getting' impatient, his fingers tappin' on the table between us. But he didn't throw a fit when he saw The Good Book; in fact, he seemed anxious for me to read from it.
"Ah, here it is," I said. "But before I read it to you, let me just say that I have no idea what woulda happened if Mr. Jenkins had called the cops. It aint worth it to look back. And that leads me to this…in Philippians three verse thirteen - 'No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusin' all my energies on this one thing: Forgettin' the past and lookin' forward to what lies ahead.'"
I closed the book and looked up at Billy. Tears were streamin' down his face. "That's the one," he whispered. "That's the one Mr. Jenkins quoted the day he died. That mornin' he said to me, 'Billy, there's plenty of reason for me not to like you. You done some things to me that aint been very nice. But you know what I'm gonna do, Billy? I'm gonna do what Paul tells us to do in his letter to the Philippians. I'm gonna forget what's behind and look forward to what's ahead. Cause I have faith in you, Billy. I know you'll end up on the right side of the tracks someday.' I've thought about that so many times. I just wanna thank him for believin' in me, ya know? But I guess I'm glad he can't see me now. I let him down." Billy swiped at his eyes and rubbed his nose on his sleeve.
It was then that I knew how to answer Billy's question.
"You asked me if I thought you'd be here now if Mr. Jenkins had called the cops all them years ago. And my answer is no. I don't know where you'd be but I don't think it'd be here. I'm glad you are here though. Mr. Jenkins set the stage for you. Now you just have to act. And it seems to me you're ready to do just that."
I led Billy in the prayer of salvation that day. He's still dealin' with the consequences of his stealin' but he's doin' it with a new heart. And me? I'm takin' care of mama, who's been sober for one whole year now. I'm an honest guy, earnin' honest pay. I even have enough money now to buy my own boots.
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A real grabber and almost tear-jerker! I like the linguistic clips - words ending in in' instead of ing. Really gives it a cultural "feel". The happy ending is bitter sweet...how precious that hope is the bottom line!
This is so good! I was hooked from the title on. I really like the natural feel of the dialouge between your characters and the ending was perfect.
Wonderful story Lynda! After reading the last paragraph the tears started to fall. It was a great story. God Bless!
Lynda, Hoorah! For several years, as a volunteer chaplain, I served in a maximum security jail--a slammer. Many times, there would be anywhere from 15 to 55 male inmates and me with two steel doors between us and the tower. Wrong, there was them, the Lord, and me! People would ask if I were ever afraid. I never was for I knew nothing was going to happen to me that God wasn't permitting. What better way to cross over into heaven than be actively bearing testimony of Him? Also, I sincerely believed there were enough of the inmates that were saved who would have formed a hedge around me had a riot begin. There were so many "Billy's" there; and not many had a Kenny. Once in a while, some who really needed to hear the Word would come only to get out of their cell and would try to carry on their own agenda. That is why your title really got my attention. Whenever this started to occur, I would first gently call them down, informing them that I would have to ask them to leave if they didn't become quiet and cease any unnecessary activity. I would point out that, onced an inmate is made to leave, he can't come back for weeks. Usually that was sufficient. But once in a while, it wasn't. Then I would say something like this: "This isn't my "worship service" or "Bible study". It is God's. This is God's time. God is a jealous God. We have another group coming after we are through.... "You've heard, 'Three strikes, and you're out'. Well, that's not the case here. I asked you once to settle down. Now, while I hate to do this because I believe you dearly need to be here to hear what is being said, I must ask you to get up from your chair and march out to the Tower where they will take you back to your cell." As I was speaking, I would be stepping down from the podium and walking down a aisle between rows of inmates to where the two or three of them were. At my insistance, after trying to stare me down, they would slowly rise from their chairs and, towering above me, leave the room. Much as I regretted having to sacrifice reaching one or two, each week the Lord reaped a harvest. These Billy's, many of whom still had to go on to prison to pay the debt owed to society, went there as temples of God's Holy Spirit--Just like your Billy! Bobbi
Oh... this story left me with tears of joy! Even after having finished the story and all the comments you received, I am still carrying chill bumps. Wonderfully written! We should all be willing to minister to our Billy's. They need us and they are so often overlooked. Jesus would never, never have overlooked them. He even told the thief on the cross that he would see Him again that day... in heaven. I want to see a Billy or two of my own in heaven myself.
This is such a precious story. Your title is awesome. Are you sending these out to get paid? You deserve it. I agree - don't change a word.
Oh Lynda, I've got tears in my eyes. This is an absolute winner of a story. I love it. With love, Deb
I love surprise endings and this was a great one! Thanks for this - it was great. Kay