A man stands in the shadows at the end of the park path, hesitating to enter the gate into the green oasis. The street behind him is strewn with refuse from an overturned garbage can. Alley cats and crows pick through the malignant mess.
There is a bench a few yards from the entrance. He glances behind him, to the left and to the right, shuffles over, lays a newspaper over the bird droppings and sits down. Young mothers gossip and giggle as they watch over their toddlers in the sandbox. A boy on a bicycle whizzes past, oblivious of his presence. Mallards waddle over to paddle on the pond. The man pulls a napkin from his pocket. Pigeons gather at the sight of the bread crusts he tosses in front of him. A smile softens his face. The man inhales and exhales deeply. Memories of a life left behind appear in his mind’s eye.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Joseph used to say this to himself every morning before he went to school. His buddies even joined him for Vacation Bible School that summer. He was popular in junior high and friends followed him to the home meetings of Young Life.
How could such a positive foundation have ended up so badly? he wondered.
Was it in junior high when he hadn’t prepared for the biology test because of the flu? He had simply turned his eyes to see his neighbor’s answers; not really that big of a deal. In fact it seemed so harmless, he found his eyes wandering even when he had studied. He just couldn’t resist the temptation. What others didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. Right?
Entering high school, he challenged himself to “be the best that you can be.” His parents were proud of him; his grades would prepare him for college. Burning the midnight oil studying for exams, though, Joseph tried the uppers a friend offered. No one would be the wiser.
While still trying to live a righteous life, attending Campus Crusade for Christ, fear crept in when his girlfriend said she was pregnant. The secret abortion, which should have made everything right again, only compounded his guilt.
Joseph took the counselor’s advice to try for a scholarship to a Christian College in a neighboring state. This could be the break he needed; he could turn over a new leaf and start over fresh. No one would have to know.
He thought he knew all the answers about the meaning of his life. So, why did he withdraw from his family concerning matters of the heart? How could his friends believe that he really had it all together? Life was so simple before; now it was complex. Drinking solitary beers after a ball game was just his way to unwind.
Consistently good grades earned him proud slaps on the back. The Dean affirmed that he was a natural leader and suggested he become a youth pastor. How could Joseph say no without jeopardizing his ideal image in the eyes of this influential figure?
He chose the church furthest from home; his pedestal came crashing down when his illicit affair was discovered. Castigated, shame washed over him...
Too restless to sit any longer, he left on the opposite side of the park. Looking across the street he was drawn to the open door of an ancient cathedral.
Standing in the shadows of the nave listening to a compelling voice, his heart quickened. Moving closer, he could see no one there. But the voice was loud and clear, saying, “... If you hear my voice and open your heart, I will come in. If you confess your sins, I will forgive you... I will never leave you...”
Tears welled up in the man’s eyes as he followed the beckoning voice to the altar. Knees met padded stool and arms fell across the railing, his head bowed low. Gentle words were drowned out by his inconsolable weeping. Joseph confessed heartbrokenly as the charade of his life reeled past; the deception, the self-righteousness. He cried out, “O God, I am sorry for my sins, please forgive me! I hear your voice, Jesus, come into my heart; I give You my life! Oh, never leave me again!”
He rose, cradling the stray cat in his arms, “Let’s go clean up that street and I’ll give you something to eat!” Peace followed the purring and purposeful steps faded in the distance.
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