Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: The Kingdom of God (03/12/09)
TITLE: Reader's Choice
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This Gate taunts me. Sometimes I see it in the distance and avoid it early on, but just as often it appears from nowhere as it does now. Here I’m given the choice of how I want the story to continue. I can pick “a” or “b”. The only two alternatives I’m ever offered.
The first time I stood before this rugged structure, I was just a boy. I peeked ahead in the story and saw that “a” led to The Kingdom of God, while “b” led to Death. But it was my father who pressed me to decide, and my mother had told me he was no good, thus I chose “b”. When I stepped back on the road, I looked up, expecting Death to descend.
The second time the Gate found me I was drinking beer with my wrestling buddies, and it appeared in the cemetery where we were goofing off. The Pastor, who preached behind its wooden slats, seemed nerdy, and I closed my ears. Besides, I was at a cemetery—Death was the logical choice.
Thereafter the Gate surfaced more often, and I began running. After college, I moved to the city, but it popped up at co-workers desks and airports. I bumped into it at a Billy Joel concert. No matter how sophisticated the road, the Gate followed. I never opted for “a,” as I had completely ceased fearing “b,” which brought pleasure, not Death.
One of those pleasures I even married.
Her name was Ava and she was lovely and filled me with new longings. We had two boys and life was phenomenal. I was floored the night I came home and found the Gate inside our bedroom. I ran my hand over a post, surprised to find it splinter-free. She was behind it pleading with her eyes, her hands, her heart. Fortunately, my pride reminded me of what a traitor she was.
Since that night, she's awaited me at the Gate.
Once I actually climbed the stone wall surrounding it and walked along watching her, peering down into her restrictive little world. My boys, who had joined her, quietly fished at a small pond. They spotted me and dropped their sticks. They yelled wildly for me.
“I’m jumping,” I called back, finally wanting to forfeit freedom. But she told me I couldn’t come that way—I had to enter through the Gate. I loathed her then and her pious ways and joined a company that worked in some “-stan” country where I hoped the Gate was forbidden.
But wherever I’ve traveled or hidden, or whatever I’ve done to eradicate it from my life, I haven’t been able to dodge it—only becoming more desolate with each attempt.
I fold the story back in thirds and scrape it along the scruff of my cheek.
My eyes close and the Gate immediately materializes. It seems less physical and more spiritual than ever before—wood yet light.
Ava’s nowhere in sight. It’s just the Light and me. A last willful fiber dissolves.
There is really nothing but to choose “a”.
As I enter the gate, my heavenly Father welcomes me into His kingdom—into His brilliance.
My wife comes forward and takes my face in her hands, kissing each ugly feature.
“Where are the boys,” I ask in our joy.
“It’s been a long time,” she answers. “They are journeying on their own.”
My regrets weigh heavily.
She soothes me: “We’ll visit them before making our next choice.”
“Next? I thought I was done.”
She laughs, spreading her arms wide and I turn a complete circle. There are paths winding in every direction, leaving from the spot at which we stand. They aren’t marked with “a” or “b” but with numbers, and they go so high I get lost counting. Some are missionary paths leading to various continents, while others are local paths where the light simply shines. There are paths for professionals and homemakers, for artists and scientists, for leaders and followers, for Baptists—both dancing and non-dancing. The paths go on and on and on.
“Done?” she says, “No, this is only the beginning.”
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