“Did you go to church when you were little, G-Pa?”
“Well, let’s see now.” G-Pa absent-mindedly rubbed his grizzly chin. “Yes, but very late at night. In those days … the door was unlocked.”
The old man sighed, as if by doing so he could transport himself back in time. He stiffly stuffed a cushion behind his back and leaned toward Alice. With head bowed and eyes focused more on the flowered pattern of the upholstery than her face, he continued to expound with a wheezy voice that rattled with deep undertones.
“The sanctuary, you see, seemed like a haven … and I liked the darkness of the stained glass windows. It was real private in there. Except … sometimes I imagined God was there, too.”
G-Pa stopped to catch his breath. Alice wriggled to reposition herself, her inquisitive blue eyes full of questions. “But why did you go there, G-Pa? In the middle of the night?”
He gestured toward the ceiling with one wrinkly, age-spotted hand, and stabilized himself with the other one as it held a cane planted firmly on the floor. Nose-to-nose with Alice, his eyes opened wide for exaggerated emphasis. “I went because … I just had to!”
Alice’s cherubic face grimaced. “What do you mean G-Pa? Nobody made you, did they? Why weren’t you home in bed?”
One massive white eyebrow twitched wiry hairs this way and that as he prepared a reply.
“My parents weren’t home at night like yours, honey … in fact, my daddy … he didn’t live with us. I didn’t even know who he was. My mama worked nights. The church was right down the street … only we never went on Sunday. At night I guess it just called to me … so I went.”
Alice seemed genuinely surprised by this. “Called you? How, G-Pa?”
He scratched his head and peered over the bent wire-rim frames of his glasses. “It pulled at me somehow … down deep in my heart. Right here.”
The cane clattered to the floor and he patted his chest with his hand.
Alice persisted. “What happened when you went to the church at night? Weren’t you scared?”
G-Pa smiled the crooked smile of one whose creased face had practiced the full gamut of emotion and then permanently locked the evidence in place.
“It was the safest place I knew. I’d walk down that aisle … to the pulpit … and stand there and wonder what it was like when the pews were full. What it was like … to be a preacher and be so close to God.”
“How long did you stay, G-Pa? Did anyone ever find you there?”
G-Pa leaned back as if to settle in for some serious storytelling. “There was a time … when I stayed at church until morning.”
“Tell me, G-Pa!”
“One night I couldn’t sleep. I was so sad … thinking about wanting to find my daddy … and I went to the church around midnight. I walked up to the pulpit … wondering if God was there and if He could help me. I decided to wait for God … right there at the pulpit … and ended up falling asleep.”
“When did you wake up?”
“Next morning the preacher came in and went to the pulpit to get some papers. I was still all curled like a cat … sound asleep. I woke up … scared silly … when his foot touched my back. But he just smiled at me … reached down and pulled me up … and hugged me. That was the first time any man ever hugged me, Alice.”
“Yes, and then with this jolly voice he said, ‘Jesus loves you, sonny…and so do I! Let’s go to my house … and I’ll fix you some eggs and ham for breakfast.’ That’s when ‘love’ became something real.”
“And so did you see the preacher again, after that?”
“Yes … for a couple of years … he was almost like my own daddy. And you know what?
“He introduced me to my real Heavenly Father … the one who will never, ever leave me … even after I die.”
A bright light suddenly stunned him. Had he been unconscious all along, or perhaps dreaming? Instead of Alice, an angelic being sat nearby.
The Death Angel spoke. “Your Father is planning a reunion. It’s time to finish the journey you began so long ago … at the pulpit.”
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