Paul Peterson drove at a forced leisurely pace through the traffic jammed city streets filled to capacity with evening rush hour commuters. He was oblivious to the mass of humanity-driven machines surrounding him for his mind was in the process of replaying a story. A story begun many years previous. A story containing the aspects of faith, of love, of despair, of redemption, of miracles that only a loving God could bring about.
Paul and Tricia, his wife, at the beginning of this story were the parents of two children, John of four years and Nathan of two years. Husband and wife are both twenty-eight. The two have been inseparable since first meeting seven years previous. Paul was tall and Tricia short, opposites attract. The pair leaned toward the devout as to their faith in Jesus. With the coming of the children, their faith was beginning to mature and solidify as was the bond between them. They were materially poor, but spiritually rich.
About a year after God gave them the gift of Nathan, the housing industry collapsed and, with it, Paul's job. Framing houses was not a high paying or glamorous job much less one with advancement possibilities. That negative fact was balanced by the fact he was doing it to get his foot in the construction business door. His goal was to become a licensed remodeler. Behind his back, whispers could be heard about his talents which appeared to border on the genius. Realizing he needed experience, Paul set about that process with a passion. Unfortunately, the collapse had created circumstances whose results were to form a fatal crack in their fragile financial life. One thing led to another. Not even minimum wage jobs were available. As a last resort, the car had to be sold to pay rent and put food on the table. Neither was Tricia successful in her quest for a job that had to take into account time for her two baby boys. Life seemed to disintegrate overnight. Paul became angry with the church. People wanted to give them money, but he was proud and refused. He wanted a job not a handout. His blindness to God's instrument of aid would take them into a nightmare world most believe could never happen to them.
Paul's thoughts traveled to parents. Many financially suffering young couples can turn to their parents for aid. Paul and Tricia did not have that option available to them. In Paul's case, he never knew the identity of his father, and his mother was an alcoholic with no visible means of supporting herself much less a son. He had found a job sacking groceries and stocking at a shabby grocery store downtown at fourteen. School was abandoned out of necessity after grade nine. Tricia's family background was no better. That commonality made them feel comfortable around each other as well as making them self reliant. Another positive benefit of their dysfunctional upbringing was the ability to find joy while possessing few of the amenities most Americans take for granted. But this situation was testing the strength of those abilities. In the back of his mind, lay the thought that he had been selfish and full of pride when he so brashly refused the aid offered by their church family. Definitely, he should not have withdrawn his family from the church. He was failing miserably as a husband, a father, and chief provider. He and Tricia were the sort that did not use their upbringing as an excuse for failure. They used that upbringing as motivation to do better. Their vow was to create a good and firm family unit and to be parents their children could be proud of. Their vow had nothing to do with money, but this situation was taxing that vow.
He was an independent, intelligent, and, as we have seen, a stubborn man as was Tricia the same as a woman. The biggest problem was that he refused to admit he couldn't do it by himself...that he needed God's help. His stubborn blindness prevented his seeing the difference between a handout and a hand-up. The blind young man couldn't see God extending his hand through his Church brethren.
His thoughts turned to the painful evening he took the family into the homeless shelter. Paul and Tricia prayed together most of the night with the two boys locked securely between them. God had forgotten them or they just weren't important enough to save. A desperate struggle ensued to keep their waning faith alive. By the third night in the shelter, Paul was close to giving in to the depression that naturally sets up business in people living in such degrading circumstances.
At least they had a place to sleep and two meals a day. They slept in one of the many small rooms packed with twenty to thirty other people and families. It reminded them of the concentration camp documentaries concerning the holocaust during World War II.
To help defray shelter expenses, guests were required to perform duties around the shelter to pay for their lodgings and meals. The work was simple.
The fourth morning Paul was outside sweeping the sidewalk and picking up trash while Tricia and the boys worked inside preparing the dining room for the noon meal which fed hundreds of lost souls. It was meaningful work, but work that took them nowhere on their journey to escape this lost and bleak world.
After completing his assigned chore, Paul found himself bent over leaning his forehead on the broom while he steadied it with his hands. He was half praying, half muttering, "No work, no car to look for a job, no money to take a bus to job hunt, no..."
His out of character self-pitying lamentations were interrupted by the awareness of a hand on his back. He looked up to see a man dressed in a simple light jacket with a plaid shirt underneath and khaki pants mixed with a pair of middle aged brown brogan shoes in need of polishing. It was the warm carefree smile that really drew Paul's attention.
The gentleman slid his hand underneath the jacket into his shirt pocket and pulled out a business card and stuffed it into Paul's hand saying, as if they were best friends, "Take that there card and go two blocks down that way and turn north one block. That's the First National Bank. Ask for Red...can't miss him. His hair matches his name or vice versa. Heh, heh, heh, Red's the only one that don't need a name badge. Everybody knows him."
Paul looked down at the card that read: Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord's unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him. Psalm 32:10 NIV
As he raised his head in confusion, the man was nowhere to be seen. He had evaporated into the people-filled sidewalk. Confusion intensified.
After moment of muddled contemplation, he rushed into the building and bundled up the family. Tricia was no different than he was. She was full of questions for which neither had any answers. The shared conclusion was the man was mentally challenged. However, the family needed something to relieve the tedium of shelter life, even if only for a wild goose chase. If there really existed a Red, he would most likely have them thrown through the bank doors into the street. After three days, going on four, of no bathing, the four were ripe to the nostrils.
As Paul continued driving his way slowly through the heavy traffic, his thoughts drifted to the journey down the crowded sidewalk with two young children and no stroller...another amenity most take for granted. Feelings of shame rose within him as he recalled the one-legged man leaning against the storefront window that asked if he could spare some change as they made their way to the bank that day. In the past, he had made derisive remarks about people on street corners with signs asking for money to feed their families. The fear of becoming one of those people was a driving force that kept him from total collapse during the shelter stay. His prayers contained requests for forgiveness for saying such things about those people.
He recalled glancing at Tricia's face as they navigated the crowded sidewalk and the feelings of helplessness and sorrow that came over him as he thought about how he had failed to provide for his family. How sorry he felt for her marrying such a failure. Why did she stay with him. She was such a good and loving wife. She deserved so much better.
Tricia had caught his look. Lately, she had seen it appear as though Paul had put on a mask. She felt the overpowering need to put a stop to that mournful beaten-dog look. She stopped abruptly grabbing his jacket sleeve stopping him dead in his tracks and causing a fifty person pile up in the crowd behind. "Paul Peterson...look at me! We are going to make it out of this mess and we are going to be stronger for it. You look at me, Mister! I love you. Money comes and goes but our love is forever and, on top of that, the Lord loves us. Now...let's get to that bank and see if Mr. Red is real."
Paul happened to glance at the people held up behind by their sudden stop and was shocked to see them all smiling and shaking their heads in a you go girl fashion. It made him feel so proud of Tricia and so in love with her. The lord had given him one fine woman for his wife. His steps lightened considerably after that.
Paul brought the van to a stop at a red light. A few seconds later he was back in his memories.
The four of them had walked into the bank and up to the nearest open teller and asked for Red. The teller smiled and pointed to a very red haired gentleman in a very un-bank-like red suit. As they walked up to Red's desk, Paul extended the card. Surprisingly, Red took the card without looking at it instructing them to sit down while scrambling to grab more chairs to accommodate the entire family.
Red made sure everyone was seated before he said, "We have any kind of soft drink, coffee, milk, white or chocolate, that you want. Jerry, would you get these good folks whatever they need, please, sir? Oh, yes, we have every kind of donut or pastry you can imagine. I tell you what. You boys go with Jerry and pick out whatever you want. We have some give-away toys back there, too."
The Peterson's looked at one another in a mixture of confusion and awe. Then Paul interrupted saying, "Uh, sir, we're not here to borrow money. Although, we could use some of it right now."
Red looked at them and let out a loud laugh after which he said, "I know you are not here to borrow money, but you go right ahead and enjoy some of the goodies we have. By the way, Jerry has seven children of his own and is a saint with children. I didn't mean to shuffle the kids off with a stranger. I should have asked first. My apologies. Now you enjoy the refreshments that will be here shortly while I help Alice get your checking account finalized. We have your debit cards and checks ready. We just need to activate the cards."
Paul shot back with, "Hold on Mr. Red. We don't have any money. I didn't know this was a gimmick to get customers in here. We're really sorry."
"You just relax and I'll explain everything after I finish with Alice. Oh, Alice just loves kids. She'll die if I don't grab the kids and take them over for a visit." Red flew off to the lounge room to check on the kids progress and escort them to see Ms. Alice.
A short time later, Jerry walked up with coffee and an enormous plate of donuts and pastries. "I guess Red told you he was taking the kids to see Ms. Alice, right?"
Paul remembered how by this time he and Tricia were in such a state of shock that they just muttered unintelligent things and stuffed their mouths with sugary luxuries they could only dream of at night. They hardly noticed the bank staff crowded around Alice's desk in the far distance of the huge bank lobby taking turns holding the boys whose faces were covered in various shades of lipstick by now and arms full of toys and other staff holding the overflow toys.
About a dozen donuts later, Red approached at the head of a mob of staff with the boys hidden in their midst. He carried boxes of checks, debit cards , and most peculiarly cash...quite a stack of it.
"Mr. and Mrs. Peterson, these are your debit cards and here is a box of checks. If you need more, my card is on top of the box and here are a few more to put in your wallets. My cell phone number is the best way to contact me after hours. You will not have the need of a check register of course. Your account balance will always be $10,000.00. If anyone ever wants confirmation of funds, just give them one of my cards and myself or anyone here can verify the funds are available. Here is $1,000.00 cash for those kind of necessary transactions. You can always go to any ATM and withdraw cash to replenish this."
Tricia was sobering up fast from the sugar high. "Whoa, slow down a minute! We either won the lottery or you have mistaken us for someone we are not. We cannot take this money. And...what kind of bank is this anyway? All these happy people and giving away money...who gave us the money? Nothing's free..."
Everyone smiled as Red looked them in the eye saying, "Love is."
At that time, Alice, a tall and heavy set sixtyish woman with a smile only a grandmother could possess, plowed through the crowd carrying the lipstick twins to announce, "Red, Mr. Harriman called down to say he is going to lunch and would like to take the Petersons to have lunch with him and he can take them to the dealership to look at vans before he takes them to the church. I'm going with them to take care of these precious little things while they eat and look at vans. Mr. and Mrs. Peterson, you are going to bring these too little angels to my house Saturday so they can play with my grandchildren that are near them in age. We'll have a cookout and the kids will have a ball."
In spite of being overwhelmed, Paul interrupted, "Who's Mr. Harriman?"
Red's red head perked up and tilted back, "Mr. Harriman is the bank president. You'll love him. He has twelve children, seven adopted. He just cannot stand to miss seeing the families and visiting with them."
In a begging manner, Tricia asked, "Mr. Red, what about the money? Please...what is going on?"
The crowd became quiet once the realization came over them that the Petersons were feeling besieged. Red looked warmly at them both. "It is quite simple. The lord has answered your prayers, and you have been chosen to serve him in a very honored mission to spread the good news to others like yourselves through deeds. At the very edge of what appears to be destruction, the Lord plucks the faithful like a feather from life's pitfalls. Don't you understand? The Lord gives seemingly the most unlikely people his most important missions. If you look deep into your lives, you will see how he has been preparing you for this mission all your life. God never forgot nor ignored you in your pain and suffering. He was merely preparing you. He loves you unconditionally as he does all his children. Things will slow down and understanding will come in the next few days. Enjoy the celebration for now. You have earned the right to celebrate and free yourself of stress. Accept that which the Lord has given through the instruments of his will. As far as the money, we could give you all the money in this bank and, if you had not the love you possess, you would have nothing. So you see, you have been rich all along. The money...merely a tool. Let us all give thanks to our Father for bringing to us this wonderful family."
The blaring of horns from cars behind him brought Paul back to the present, but only for a moment. His memories quickly resumed their journey through the day he truly fell in love with his wife on that crowded sidewalk when she spoke those words. The day when he truly came to love the Lord when Red spoke those words at the bank and all the other events that transpired.
After lunch with Mr. Harriman and Alice and the trip to the car dealership where the family drove away in a large and wonderfully furnished van, they followed Mr. Harriman to the church where he introduced them to Pastor Franks. In the coming days, the Peterson's, with the help of Pastor Franks and other leaders in the church, became enlightened as to the true purpose behind what seemed like a fortune. Their education began with the appointment of Paul to head up a team of volunteer construction specialists. He would be remodeling old castaway homes for families knocked down by life and unavoidable circumstances. He and his team would then move in families as each home became available.
Tricia learned she would be counseling the families on finances, resources for their children, medical care, and, of course, helping them with needed monetary gifts. The program was low key with no media involvement whatsoever.
Further proof God had not forsaken them and to their total surprise, the key to the first home remodeled was given to them amidst a shower of emotion.
Many years have come and gone since that time. They still live in that same home. Four more children were added to the Peterson clan; two blood children and two adopted children. Gray hairs have dotted the landscape of their heads. A stalwart faith in God buttressed by that same God's gift of wisdom has given their aging faces a look of beauty and serenity only those essentials can give.
Paul arrived at his destination coming to a stop in front of the house where Tricia was conducting a meeting of various social agencies that aid families experiencing a crisis situation such as homelessness with their support programs. Paul and Tricia, per what they felt was God's command through their prayers, were stepping out of traditional boundaries. They had been including in these meetings officials within the local Islamic faith to create an interfaith organization to broaden the reach of their current mission. Great success was surrounding this idea contrary to initial reaction. In spite of their education and upbringing, these two gentle souls had been impressing and inspiring others around them to greater heights and thinking since the fateful day they took this mission so many years before.
As she climbed into the van, they greeted one another with a smile and a kiss. Paul put the van in drive departing for their next destination, the Garcia family. They were to pick them up and transport them to their newly remodeled home.
The traffic was thinning out by this time making the trip much easier. Upon arrival, Paul and Tricia gathered up the Garcia family helping everyone into the van and buckling the younger children in the child car seats. They loved the joyous look on all their faces. It was always the opposite faces they had worn upon their first meeting when an atmosphere, familiar to the Petersons, of desperation hung over the family.
Arriving at the new home, the recipient family, without exception, was met by a large crowd of fellow church members and volunteer construction workers involved in the project. It represented the rebirth of hope and love through the Lord.
When the time arrived to depart, Paul went ahead of Tricia to start the van in order to get the heater warmed up. It was a chilly late fall night. It was dark when Tricia opened the passenger door and climbed in with the smile that comes from doing the satisfying work of being God's instrument for good. The dome light lit up Paul's face enough that she saw tears streaming down his cheeks. "You old softy. You have cried at everyone of these over the years...like I'm any better. It does give one an overpowering feeling of God's goodness and love?"
Paul turned to Tricia handing her a box about eight inches by four inches while explaining, "Look at this. It was lying on the dash when I got in. I locked the van when we got out."
Tricia took the box reading out loud the words on the note taped to the top, "The lord in his infinite wisdom has decided the time has come for the Peterson's to have their own cards." She opened the box and pulled out one of the cards reading it out loud in a halting voice, " Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord's unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him. Psalm 32:10 NIV."