TITLE: "Back on Course"
By Venice Kichura
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The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name' sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou annointest my head with oil; My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.
Pastor Mike carefully read the familiar words of the 23rd Psalm ever so slowly that hot, grave July afternoon when Emily Rose Heberle was laid to rest. He wanted the words to penetrate the inner soul of the dead woman’s grieving husband, Jim Heberle.
But today they were only empty words to the man who’d just lost his wife--- just words preachers recite at gravesides.
If the Lord was still his shepherd then why was his Emily Rose taken from him so prematurely? This question gnawed at his thoughts as a rat gnaws on wood, constantly replaying on his grieve-stricken mind, groping for answers.
Not long ago the scriptures were life to Jim, a former alcoholic who’d found deliverance from his demons. He’d finally found serenity in trusting in Jesus Christ, his good shepherd. It was through his beloved late wife, Emily Rose that he’d been introduced to the Savior. Whenever he’d shared his new found faith he’d always ending his testimony with, “I’m so thankful God reached out and turned my life around. I almost went off the dead end of no return, but God pulled me around in the right direction. He set my foot me on the right course."
His cup had overflowed with sorrow for most of the rest of his 59 years. He’d been divorced twice and hadn’t seen his only son since he was nine. More than twenty years ago, his first wife, Georgia had taken their nine-year-old son, Timothy James, better known as T.J., and had moved far away from Okalahoma shortly after their divorce was final. Rumors were she’d fled the country and moved to Canada. She’d been granted full custody of T.J. because Jim had landed himself in jail at the time of their divorce. His run in with the law regarding a failure to show up for another DUI court hearing took away any visitation rights he would have received.
A family had been torn apart. That’s what alcoholism does to families.
He remarried shortly after his release from prison. This time he’d married another alcoholic. His second marriage didn’t even last a year. Then almost 15 years later he met Emily Rose Miller, the woman he should have married the first time around. When he first laid eyes on her, she was his nurse as he recovered from a serious automobile accident. She had the most delicate features, clear set cornflower blue eyes, and soft slightly grayed, chestnut curls that bounced when she laughed. She looked much younger than an older middle-aged woman and she was known for her warm smile, which reflected the Savior that lived in her heart. Just as Jim, she didn’t have any family. Both parents had died and she was an only child, never marrying until her late forties. They had each other and that was enough. They’d only been married for five short, yet they were the happiest years of his life
Closing his Bible, Pastor Mike helped Jim out of his graveside chair, while his wife’s casket was lowered into the ground.
“If there’s anything we can do for you, please let us know“, he said, giving him one of his long hugs.
Jim lowered his head, staring at the dry-parched summer ground, as Pastor Mike held him close. Then he glanced up into the warm, caring brown eyes of his pastor.
“I appreciate that, Pastor,“ He said. He then shifted his head back down, and walked away.
“That goes for me, too,” Another deep masculine voice resonated from behind him.
But Jim couldn’t even make eye contact with his boss, Larry. He just managed a quick forced half-smile and muttered, “Ok, thanks.”
He knew these were empty words, too, and that his boss was counting the days until he retired from his draftsman job. Since he’d found Christ and sobriety, he’d been able to hold down a job for five years. That was a record for him, a man who’d been through almost as many jobs as the years he’d been working. However at the KOA Design Enterprises, he was the old guy on the block and he knew his boss was concerned about all the money that had been drained from his company’s health insurance plan for Emily Rose since she’d battled breast cancer. It was only three weeks ago that his boss had hinted, “Aren’t you retiring next year?” These were hard, cruel words to a man who finally had gone back to college to complete his draftsman training once he’d found sobriety. His Emily Rose had worked two jobs to help his dream come true.
“Let me know what I can do,” said Mary Kate, the church organist. “Remember now, we’re family,” she said, gazing directly into his tear-stained hazel eyes. Her saccharine sweet voice sounded sincere enough, but Jim felt she was only being nice.
He softly whispered another “thanks”, telling himself, she’s only church family. I have no real family. I need a family to be there on the other side of my door when I come home. I don’t even have a pet to slobber on me. Oh, how he already missed his beloved Emily Rose.
He did have two sisters on opposite coasts---one was an alcoholic, the other, in the final stages of Alzheimer’s’ disease. He couldn’t communicate with either one. And somewhere in the world was a young man who resembled him, someone he’d searched for years. He’d had finally given up.
Jim barely stood 5”4” and had sandy auburn hair, graying at the temples. Rough, blotchy skin and a network of fine wrinkles on his fair sun-damaged face added at least ten years to his age. A marked decrease in body fat led to a sharper, more prominent nose and ears.
That’s what alcoholism does to a man.
“Let me take you home, “Pastor Mike offered, running up to Jim as approached the hearse.
“Well, all right, Pastor. Thanks.”
Pastor Mike motioned to the funeral hearse driver to go on ahead of them, and escorted Jim to his car.
“The trip back to Jim’s house was a quiet one. We wanted Jim to initiate any conversation, remembering how his friend sometimes didn’t like people who talked too much. The sensitive pastor thought of how lonely Jim must be with no family to share his grief and knew Jim wanted silence, so he gently squeezed his arm, periodically as he drove. Jim looked up and smiled slightly as if to say, “Thanks for understanding.” The unspoken agreement for silence spoke volumes of care.
Pastor already knew about the son he hadn’t seen for twenty years. He had counseled his recovering alcoholic friend as part of working the 12 steps of his Alcoholics Anonymous recovery. Pastor had been silently praying for him to someday find his long lost son, who would be around thirty years old. He thought of his own three young sons waiting for him at home and couldn’t imagine the pain of not knowing where they were.
As he pulled up to Jim’s small white-framed house, Pastor Mike broke the silence with another offer to help. “Again, “I’m here when you need me.”
“Yeah, I know, Pastor. You care. Means a lot.”
He gave Jim one last bear hug and then drove off.
Jim may have been all alone, but the demons of his old addiction had returned, uninvited, to keep him company. He pulled the dark living room drapes shut and wrestled with his demons..
There’s nothing to live for, he reasoned. I have no purpose.
There’s no other way but to carry out my plan. He was listening to the lies of his old familiar demons as they flashed false images of serenity, sparking glasses or red wine and eternal rest, through his troubled mind. He wanted to be with his Emily Rose, again. Surely God would have mercy on his soul. Surely God would understand. Surely He’d wouldn’t let him slip into the fires of hell, but would understand and pull him in the right direction where he’d spend eternity with his beloved Emily Rose.
He rummaged through his bedroom closet and found the bottle of Old Port white wine he’d buried years ago, under the winter blankets. Then he went into his bathroom medicine cabinet grabbed a bottle of aspirin. Only two pills left---not enough to do the job.
He had to make a trip to the pharmacy. Driving off, Jim thought of his brothers in Alcoholics Anonymous. They, too, meant well, but he felt he didn’t know them well enough to even call anyone and talk about his pain. He had a little notepad of first names and telephone numbers stashed somewhere in this cluttered old pickup, but didn’t know where it was. Was this thought a cry for help? He wondered.
His AA brothers only knew him as “Jim”. He hadn’t even reached out to find a sponsor while in AA, yet through the prayers and support of Emily Rose, he considered her his sponsor, the one who kept him on the road to sobriety. And now she was gone.
Pulling into the pharmacy parking lot Jim parked his car and sat still. Indecisiveness flooded his confused mind. Did he really want to do this? If only there was someone who cared for him. Someone there at home who could help him fight these demons.
He went into the store and picked up the bottle of aspirin, waiting in line behind an old woman, humming, “Jesus Loves Me.” A full-fledged war between heaven and hell was battling out in full force in his troubled mind.
Driving back home, he wasn’t sure if should carry out his plan. He just knew he couldn’t take any more pain. He was weak and couldn’t fight the demons. He just wanted all the pain to go away. He felt God would understand if he did carry out his plan.
Turning onto his narrow tree-lined street, he notice a light tan Honda Accord parked in his driveway and a young man emerging from his car.
Oh no, not company? He thought. Who would be here at this hour?
A short, muscular young man, about his height and bone structure, slowly walked toward him.
He bounded out of his pickup, too scared and confused to even speak yell, “who are you and what are you doing on my property?”
The two men’s eyes locked as they studied each others’ faces. The young man had a thick crop of sandy red hair, ruddy complexion, and a peppering of freckles on his nose. Jim froze in disbelieve as he noted the same wide gap between his teeth that he had.
Could it be? After all these years? Jim couldn’t believe this could be true.
He opened his mouth but before he could speak, the young man, with warm tears dripping l from a face exclaimed.
Jim dropped his bag with the aspirin bottle and threw open his short weathered arms and the tears fell from both their identical wide-set hazel eyes. The only difference was one set of eyes registered many more years of heartache and pain.
“Dad, it’s really you!”
“I’ve been looking for you for the past twenty years,” Jim, said, scanning his face.
“So have I,” his son said. “I’d hoped to find you when I moved back to Tulsa after graduating from architect school last winter. You name wasn’t in the telephone book and I couldn’t even find you on the internet---even with an unusual name like “Heberle”. Then, just when I was about to conclude you were either dead or moved away, I saw in the obituaries where a woman named Emily Rose Heberle had died. I read on and was shocked to learn that you were her surviving husband. I was so thankful the obituary included where you lived And, I’d planned on coming to the funeral but my car wouldn’t start, so I spent the afternoon putting in a new battery. I’m so sorry about your wife, Dad.”
“We had an unlisted number when moved here. I didn’t want my old drinking buddies to find me once I got sober“, Jim said. ”I’ve been sober now for five years, son. I’m not the same dad you knew as a little boy. I’ve changed.”
“It’s you, T.J. It’s really you! After all these years! I tried to find you but your mother disappeared with you after the divorce. Some folks said you all had fled to Canada. I’m so sorry, son. I wasn’t the father you should have had as little boy. But I’m there for you now, son. I’ve been set free!”
Hearing his own lips proclaim his freedom some how did set him free. He knew he’d won the battle in his mind. The demons had lost.
“Dad! “ This is an answer to prayer. They locked arms & hugged, again.
“I’ve just opened up my own architectural firm. I remember how you wanted to be a draftsman, how you only lacked a few semesters in getting your degree. Could you work for me? I need you, Dad.”
“Oh son, I‘d love to work for you, remembering the fate awaiting him at his old job. In fact, I am a draftsman now. I need you, too, son. More than you‘ll ever know.”
”But most of all, there are some Heberles that need you just as much as I do.” T.J. said, motioning for his sons to get out of the car.
“Come on out, boys and meet your grandpa.”
“Two pint-sized, freckled, identical twins, about five, with hair as red as their dad’s, climbed out of the car, sleepy-eyed, clinging onto worn out blankets.
“My wife left me for another man when I became a Christian,” “We just can’t go back to that empty apartment, yet, “T.J. said.
“T.J., I’ve found the Lord, too, son. He’s my Savior, my shepherd, and my deliverer.” Just as you, I’ve been born again.” He then made a mental note to flush the Old Port wine down the toilet as soon as he got back into the house.”
“Thank God you’re alive, Dad!” T.J. exclaimed.
“Yes, son, thank God I am alive!”
“Thank God, he's still turning me around in the right direction. It's good to be back on course."
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