The Making of a Man

Chapter 1: The Boy and the Knob

Randy looked with a terrible fear at what he held in his right hand. The last thing his father had said to his three sons before going to work was to leave the new radio alone.

“That’s not a toy boys and it cost me good money,” he said as he grabbed his lunch pail. “And I better not catch you playing with it,” he continued as he headed out the door.

Randy knew what “good money” meant. His father worked hard at the factory in Bloomington, the big town just a few miles down the highway from their little rural Illinois home. The money his father earned was just enough to make the car payment, pay the mortgage on their mobile home and the land it sat on, and buy the food and clothing needed to keep his young family of five going. But once in awhile his father was offered overtime; extra hours that paid time-and-a-half. Those overtime hours didn’t come often but when they did there were a few extra dollars in the pay check.  This was the “good money” that could buy a little something beyond the necessities; like the radio his father was looking forward to enjoying…and whose volume knob had just come off in Randy’s wayward hand.

“Oh Randy!” his mother exclaimed as she stepped into the room and saw her son and the hole in the radio where the knob was supposed to be.

“Mom!” Randy wailed as he turned to his mother lifting the radio knob up for her to see. “Mom!” he cried again as tears began streaming down the little five-year-old’s face.

They both knew the punishment little boys received for messing with something that had cost good money. Even now Randy was imagining what his father would do when he came home and saw the condition of his prized radio. There would be loud angry words of consternation shouted at the child; consternation that he could have a child so careless, so disobedient, so dumb. Then the belt would come off from around his father’s waist. He would firmly grip the miscreant by the upper arm and begin laying hard, quick licks with that belt across the boy’s backside and legs. Those licks hurt terribly. They would be hard enough to raise welts, but not quite so hard as to draw blood…usually.

“Let me see it,” Randy’s mother said as she took the knob from his hands. She looked intently at the stem of the knob, lined it up just so with the corresponding metal prong on the radio, and then with a little twist and downward pressure, clicked the knob back in place. Good as new.

“Oh thank you, thank you!” Randy cried as he hugged his mother’s waist. He had of course tried putting the knob back on himself. But, it was beyond the abilities of a five-year-olds’ dexterity and experience. His mother’s deft motions and consequential successful reattachment looked like magic to the little boy.

“Thank you so much mom!” he said once again from a truly grateful heart.

“That’s alright,” she replied, “that’s the same thing Jesus did for me.”

“Jesus? Who is that mom?” Randy asked.

“Jesus is God’s only begotten son, Randy,” his mother began. “He came to take the punishment we all deserve for the bad things we have all done; for the sins we committed against our Heavenly Father. God’s word tells us ‘The wages of sin is death.’ Jesus took our deaths for us. He died in our place,” she finished quietly.

Randy thought about that for a few minutes. He thought about how being bad was not a little thing. If being bad brought licks with a belt from an earthly father, how much more fitting that it should bring death from a heavenly father; who was so much higher, bigger, and better than any father here on earth could ever be. Randy suddenly felt the same gratitude for Jesus’ act on his behalf as he had felt for his mother’s act of fixing the radio; only more so.

“If Jesus did that for us, what can we do for him, Mom?” Randy asked. It just seemed imperative to Randy that he be able to respond in some fashion to such grand kindness on the part of this Jesus.

“Randy,” she began, “the only thing you have to give Jesus, that he would want, is your heart.”

“How do I do that, Mom? How do I give Jesus my heart?” he asked.

“Well son, you simply tell him how sorry you are for your sins and ask him to forgive you. Then you tell him you want to give him your life, all of it. Then you invite him into your heart.” She answered.

Randy sat quietly for a moment, thinking about it. Soon his mother told him it was time for his afternoon nap. He got up quietly and walked down the hall to the bedroom he shared with his two older brothers. When he saw the bunk bed against the wall the most natural thing in the world to him at that moment seemed to be to kneel and talk to God. He told God how sorry he was for all the bad things he had done; like breaking the radio. He asked for forgiveness. He thanked Jesus for dying in his place. And then, he invited Jesus to come into his heart just as his mother had explained it. When he had finished talking to God he climbed up into bed to take a nap just like his mother had asked of him.

And then it hit him. Something was different. He never took a nap without a terrible fuss first. And he never obeyed willingly unless there was just no way around it. Something was definitely different inside. He felt clean. More than that, he felt like a good little boy, and that was certainly new.  And there was a fullness inside him that had not been there before; a peace or happiness or something.

“No,” he thought. “Not something but someone is in my heart.” And wonders of wonders, he knew it was Jesus. He fell asleep with that realization marveling around in his conscience.

When Randy woke up, the first thing that came to his mind was he still had that feeling of fullness and goodness inside him. Jesus was still there! He quickly got up and told his mother about his prayer and how Jesus had forgiven him and had come into his heart. His mother held him close and told him how glad she was; perhaps with a little skepticism that a child could understand and receive the gospel at such a young age. But Randy knew without a doubt, for the rest of his life, that on that day, while kneeling at that bunk bed, he had been born again.

As far as I know, Randy’s earthly father never knew about the broken radio. Or if he did know, he must have forgiven and forgotten, because Randy never did receive the licks he deserved for breaking it. He received grace instead.

“’I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.”
Mark 10:15-16 (NIV)

© RandySmith2013

Chapter 2: No Way Home

I would agree with most that “a house does not  make a home.”  But I would also contend, from personal experience, that some houses are better suited for home making than others. And some rare few seem almost to compel their inhabitants to prosper in life and love, hope and plans, laughter and relationship. The house that Randy and his family moved into just before he started his second year of elementary school was just such a one.

It was just on the edge of the Bloomington/Normal metro area in a small subdivision called Clearview, which was not quite new, yet not quite old either.  It wasn’t nearly as rural as their last home, where counting the freight cars on the trains that passed in the distance might be the highlight of an afternoon.  And yet, it wasn’t nearly like Bloomington proper with its cement walkways, rushing traffic, housing projects and school gangs. It was instead set just perfectly somewhere in-between.

The Clearview subdivision consisted of two streets running north and south, parallel to each other and roughly a block long. Each street was lined with 15 houses to a side; each house with a small front yard, moderate-sized fenced backyard and an attached one car garage.  A gravel road connected the two streets on their southern ends and their northern ends fed into a typical two-lane blacktop road. A half mile to the west was the elementary school Randy attended; surrounded by small stands of timber, a meadow and a couple of plowed fields. Within sight to the north was the huge screen of the Bloomington drive-in theatre and the Smorgasbord restaurant. Highway 51 was to the east; just near enough that one could hear the ceaseless sound of fast moving tires rolling across the cement, but not so close as to pose a threat or nuisance. And just on the other side of the gravel road to the south was an open field a kind hearted farmer left vacant so the neighborhood kids had a place to play baseball. Randy’s house set perfectly in the center of this idealic Midwestern setting.

The house itself, while not being large, was more than comfortable compared to the mobile home Randy’s family had traded up from. Its two bedrooms were adjacent, with his parents door just a step from the primary bathroom and the boys bedroom door opening into the small living room where the family gathered to watch TV. The kitchen did double duty as dining room with a table in the middle that could seat six if you really tried.

Just off the kitchen was one more room and it was Randy’s favorite. It was a playroom on the back of the house but they called it a den. This was the place Randy and his brothers could “roughhouse” without getting yelled at. It was their refuge when the weather was bad. And since the door to the backyard was right next to the dens gas space heater, it was the place you came to warm up frozen fingers and toes and dry out wet socks and mittens after wintery snowball wars.

Simply put, the house nurtured family love because it was small enough to be full. It was full of furniture that was for use, not for show. It was full of closets that held their off season clothing, extra blankets and precious Christmas decorations. The walls were full with pictures of aunts, uncles and grandparents who lived far away and pictures of places they’d been and places they yet hoped to see.

Because of its small size, it was also full of family. Randy rarely entered a room without seeing one or more of his parents or brothers already there. The house was full of conversations, arguments, laughter and sometimes crying. The house remained full, year after year, with all that comprised Randy’s life. And although he was not necessarily aware of it, Randy’s life was one filled with a sense of contentment and security. And it was in just such a moment of secure contentment, at sometime in his eleventh year, that all came undone forever; never to be restored, never to be theirs together, ever again.

It was after dinner and dishes were done. Randy and his brothers had moved into the living room to watch a movie. His parents stayed in the kitchen and were talking in low voices. It seemed a little odd that they had stayed behind since the family usually watched TV together, but not odd enough to spark interest, so he began to lose himself in the movie’s plot and action. He was pulled out of it by his Father’s low call from the kitchen

“Boys,” his father called. “Turn off the TV and come here a minute. I want to talk to you.”

They did as he said and found him sitting in his customary place at the head of the table. Randy’s mother was standing behind, facing away toward the sink.

“Sit down boys.” He said. “There is something I need to tell you.” They all sat down in their normal places around the table and waited. This was different and Randy felt a bit unsettled, but not yet alarmed.

“Boys, you know how sometimes a father doesn’t live with his children?” he asked. They all nodded, still totally oblivious to the devastation already upon them. “Boys,” he continued. “I am always going to love you. I am always going to be your father. But I am not going to be living with you anymore.”

Randy’s heart plummeted. He had heard of children whose fathers didn’t live with them. Those kids were followed by words like “divorced” or “separated.” They were kids from what was known as “broken homes.” That’s what happened to other kids but not to him. It just couldn’t happen to them; not to their family.

Randy’s oldest brother Lester, who was 16, looked at his father with disbelief and asked chokingly, “But why dad? Why are you leaving us?”

His dad looked down at his fingernails for a few seconds and then without lifting his face said, “I don’t want you boys to hate me, but I’ve done something that maybe I shouldn’t have. I met another woman and fell in love with her, and she is pregnant. I am going to go to live with her and we are going to have another family with this new baby.  I hope you boys can understand and someday forgive me,” he finished. And then he began to cry.

Randy looked up and saw his mother’s shoulders shaking from great sobs she was trying to contain. He looked at his two older brothers and saw shock and pain and disbelief. Then he looked at his father weeping with his head lying on his arms.

Why is he crying? He thought. He did this to us. Why does he get to cry? Randy felt a little sick to his stomach as his father slipped from being a superhero to something else; he didn’t know what, but something……much less.

He wanted to shout, “Wait a minute guys! Just hold on a sec! Why isn’t anyone bringing up the obvious? Do the math guys. We are three sons here and she is only having one. Doesn’t that mean he should stay with us? Please somebody say something to make this all stop.” But no one did and neither did he. They all just kept crying.

He thought he heard someone asking  “Why dad? Why?” as they wept uncontrollably but he wasn’t sure which of his brothers it was. And then he looked up and saw his mother’s face. It was filled with anguish; anguish at her own loss competing with anguish at her inability to protect her sons from loss. When Randy saw that look on his mother’s face something went click inside him. A determination set in; a determination not to let his sorrow add to hers. He wiped away tears that up till then he hadn’t realized he had shed. He put the pain in a bottle and stopped it up firmly with a cork pressed down hard so it wouldn’t come lose accidentally and he put that bottle away….. somewhere. Then he tried to look strong for his mother thinking even if I take just a little worry off her it will help some.

“That’s okay Dad,” He said after some time while patting his father’s tear soaked arm next to his. “Don’t worry. We don’t hate you dad.” Although when he looked at his mother and brothers weeping, he wondered if maybe he wasn’t supposed to hate him a little. Didn’t their sorrow demand some sort justice; some retribution for the one who caused it all? But he found he couldn’t hate his father anymore than he could comfort his mother or brothers or himself for that matter. This was all just too big for him to comprehend, let alone affect in any meaningful manner.

So Randy checked once again on the cork in his pain bottle and determined that not being a burden to the others was the best he could do. After all, they had enough grief of their own without worrying about how he was doing. With that mindset in place Randy accidentally, and permanently, severed himself from his family and the mutual support that might have been. And to one extent or another each member of the family did the same as they attempted to deal with sorrows on their own without burdening the others.

And the house in Clearview was no longer a home. It was just the place you went to after school while you waited for the next day to begin.

“Look, your house is left to you desolate.”
Matthew 23:38 (NIV)

© RandySmith2013

Chapter 3: Intervention

Randy trudged alone down the black top road that led from his school to his home. The months and seasons passed as they are want to do, without regard of the fact that his world no longer functioned as it use to, and in his mind, as it ought to. It was a hard truth for him to learn that nothing in his life, no matter how earth shattering, was going to stop the weeks from becoming months or stop autumn from becoming winter or winter becoming spring. And, since the world wasn’t going to stop turning, Randy wasn’t going to be able to stop walking to school every morning. He wasn’t going to be able to stop learning the subject matters his school teachers and mother insisted were essential to some future life happiness–a life and happiness that seemed too distant and too ethereal to spark much hope or ambition in his current mind-numbed and heart-numbed reality. Randy wasn’t going to be allowed to stop sitting at the lunch table and hearing, if not actually listening to his schoolmates happily prattling on about Christmas vacations, new shoes, or a myriad of other trivia that those whose lives haven’t been shattered deem to be so important. And Randy wasn’t going to be able to stop walking home each afternoon to a house that was no longer a place to be… but rather just a place he went; because there was no other place to go.

In one way it was rather a good thing that time kept marching on even if it was annoying to him now. It had taken time to transform that first crushing heart-break into the constant but bearable ache he felt now. And although time may not have healed, it had certainly helped. He may not be thriving but he was functional; which was more than could be said about him on one particularly dark day a week or so after his father’s announcement and subsequent departure.

He had been sitting at his desk semi-listening to what Mrs. Gibson, his home room teacher, was saying when suddenly and without warning he was overcome with a deep, heart-rending sorrow. He couldn’t understand let alone control what was happening to him. One moment he was following what she was saying and the next he was sobbing and weeping right there in front of the whole 5th grade class. He was mortified that they would see him like this but for the life of him could not stop the tears from flowing or the great sobs from racking his chest. Evidently, heartache was never meant to be stowed in a bottle no matter how noble the reason or how tightly one corked it. Evidently his pain-in-a-bottle had fermented and had not just come undone, but had exploded.

His teacher, taken by surprise by his outburst asked, “Why Randy, what is it child? What is the matter?”

“My parents are getting a divorce!” ripped from his lips between sobs before he could think to stop it. And then nothing followed but great heaving sobs, hot tears, and shame.

Mrs. Gibson quickly moved from behind her desk to his side and led him to the hallway; away from the shocked stares of his friends and classmates. “That’s alright Randy.” She said gently while bending down to offer her handkerchief. “Sometimes these types of things can overwhelm us and we just need to cry; in fact can’t help but cry.” She continued. Then she hugged him with a hug that he would remember for the rest of his life. For hidden in that hug were unspoken assurances of understanding, encouragement, and empathy….of shared sorrow. He knew she was not just feeling sorry for him but was actually mourning with him. It was a gift she gave that day that though words cannot do it justice would best be described as having come from the very heart of God. Then, after that special embrace, she gently laid her hand on his shoulder and led him to the school office, and after talking for a few minutes with the principle she arranged to have his mother come to take him home.

It took some time for Randy to convince his mother that he really was alright; that this breakdown had been just a one-time thing. And in fact it was, for nothing even remotely like it occurred in the ensuing months. It was as if what started as a deluge of sorrow had settled into a slow, miserable drizzle.

So now as he steadily plodded along, without really thinking, Randy took the first right instead of the second which was his usual route home. Both paths led to the same place but by taking the first right he added a few extra steps and a few extra minutes to his journey. He was in no hurry today and somehow it just seemed fitting for the mood he was in to take the long way home. He was pulled out of his thoughts unexpectedly by the sound of car tires crunching on the gravel next to him. When he looked up he was surprised to see a police cruiser slowly rolling along beside him.

“Hey, you want a ride home?” the police officer asked as he leaned over the passenger seat and peered at Randy through the open window.

Randy just stopped and looked at the officer for a long second uncertain of how to respond. Police cars, as far as Randy could remember, did not cruise the Clearview subdivision. And, Randy had never had a police officer talk to him, let alone offer him a ride home. He didn’t know for sure what to make of this but when he looked at the officer’s face he saw confidence and kindness. It reminded him somehow of how Mrs. Gibson looked at him in the hallway at school.

          So before he knew it he heard himself saying, “Um…sure. I mean if you’re sure it’s alright. I mean…yeah, I’d like that.”

The police officer swung the car door open and with a reassuring smile said, “Hop in son.” And then, “Now which house is yours?”

Randy showed him the way home and when they got to his house the police officer asked if he could come in and talk to Randy’s parents. Randy took him inside to meet his mother. The police office told of how the city had instituted a new program to help underprivileged kids go to summer camp. Each officer was allowed to send one kid to a two week camp with all expenses paid by the city police department. And, he added that while most officers were taking kids from the government housing project, somehow he felt drawn to look for a kid from a more rural setting. And wouldn’t you know it, he just happened to be driving down the street that Randy just happened to take home at that particular time on that particular day.

The officer said he was sure Randy would enjoy the camp if his mother would agree to let him go. Then he showed them a brochure with all the activities a little boy from Clearview would love but probably never get the opportunity to do; things like canoeing and archery, swimming lessons and fishing, horseback riding, campfires, and much more. Randy’s mother gave her permission and it was all set. The officer and his partner would be by three weeks after the school year ended to take Randy and one other little boy to summer camp in northern Illinois.

And Randy didn’t even notice that the drizzle in his heart had stopped and that the sun was beginning to peek from behind the clouds as he began to think and dream of canoeing and archery, swimming lessons and campfires and all the other exciting adventures and activities waiting for him in his immediate future; and as he thought of his new police officer friend that somehow, at just the right time, had found him.

“When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth.”
2 Samuel 23:3-4 (NIV)

© RandySmith2013

Chapter 4: Cake and Ice Cream

Camp was awesome. Randy had spent the last few weeks imagining how great camp would be and he was not disappointed. The entire trip was a grand adventure to the recently turned 12 year old boy; from being picked up in the police-cruiser before sunrise Monday morning, to his return after sunset two weeks later and everything in between. All was new, all was exciting and all was essential in moving him out of his despondent attitude into one with a more positive outlook on life and the living of it.

It began on the drive up to camp as his police officer friend and his partner talked with him about their work and families and asked Randy about his school lessons, brothers, and friends. They seemed genuinely interested in all he had to say and prompted him to share more and more of his life, thoughts, and ideas. This in itself was quite novel to a boy who had been drilled over and over that “children are to be seen and not heard.”

In the nurturing presence of these two young officers, Randy no longer felt like a child. He was beginning to feel a personal responsibility for what he thought and said. And he began feeling a bit more personal ownership over who he was and what he would become. Perhaps it was on that trip, and because he was being treated like more than just a boy, that Randy first began shedding his adolescents and began trying on a new young adulthood. It did not happen all at once of course. And more often than not he found himself slipping back into childhood. But, it certainly was a significant start.

Time flew by for Randy as the miles slipped under the cruiser’s wheels and before he knew it they were stopping for lunch at a little mom-and-pop, red bricked gas station which could boast of having two isles of dry groceries down its middle and a four seat lunch counter on one side. A white two story farm house stood to its left and the intersection of two less-than-well-traveled state highways sat to its immediate right.  It was so quiet Randy could actually hear the flashing yellow light atop the four way stop sign clicking on and off with its incessant perfect rhythm.

          After speaking briefly with the attendant, they left the police cruiser to have its tank filled, oil checked and windshield washed while they went inside to see what was on the menu. Randy ordered his first ever deli-style roast beef sandwich, which to him seemed very mature, and drank his first ever Yoo-hoo chocolate drink, which most certainly did not. He soon determined Yoo-hoos could be considered appropriate even for his new found maturity since his two police officer friends were enthusiastically gulping down theirs in an evidently ongoing competition for the bragging rights of fastest soft drink drinker. The partner won if you didn’t count against him the Yoo-hoo running down his chin and spewing from his nose from trying to laugh and drink at the same time.

His new found role-models of mature manhood next began arguing over whose turn it was to pay and after settling the dispute with a spirited game of rock-paper-scissors loaded back into the cruiser for the last few miles to the lakeside camp. Randy basked in the presence of these two young men, reveling in how fortunate he was to be accepted into their easy company. He felt very aware of a true sense of gratitude in a heart to often accustomed to taking everything for granted.

Camp itself went by in a flash. It seemed he had just been dropped off one day and was being picked up for the return trip the next. His days were filled with swimming lessons, canoe trips across the lake and overnight campouts down the river. He learned to fire a rifle, shoot a bow and arrow and ride a horse. He was introduced to new games and songs from kids who came from all over the state.  And he was introduced to his first crush as he became hopelessly infatuated with a little brown eyed girl who didn’t seem to even be aware of his existence.

On the last day of camp however, he also learned that with these creatures of the fairer sex, things are not always what they seem. Randy was standing next to the police car surrounded by a good size group of his new friends. They were busily wishing each other well and saying their last goodbyes. Suddenly, the object of his unrequited affections stepped out of the crowd and unexpectedly but firmly placed a kiss on his lips and her phone number in his hands. Oh how his police officer friends cheered him for that little conquest while his head spun and his cheeks burned. By the time he gathered himself enough to have a coherent thought she was gone; back into the crowd out of sight and out of his reach. Her phone number however was still in his hand. And the memory of the feel of her lips and on his remained for a very, very long time.

Randy stared out the window for most of the ride home; watching the scenery as it blurred by. He tried to put into order the things he would tell his mother and brothers. He felt it best to keep the kiss a secret but the rest of his monumental adventure must be shared. It was all rich. It was all meaningful. It was all so overwhelming and he knew it would be difficult to describe. In what seemed like a blink they were pulling into his drive-way and he was walking down the sidewalk to the front door with the cry, “Mom I’m home.” already forming on his lips.

His oldest brother Lester opened the door to greet him. “Hey little brother,” he said enthusiastically. “Good to have you home. How was camp?”

“It was great,” Randy replied. “I’ll tell you all about it in a minute. But, here are mom and Steve?” he asked while trying to look past him for his mother and middle brother. Steve stepped into view and then quickly walked across the living room to give him a little welcome punch in the shoulder.

“Good to have you home Randy. We missed you,” Steve said with a warm smile

“Yeah I missed you too Steve but where is mom?” he asked once again.

“Here Randy,” Lester said handing him a little slip of paper. There was a phone number on it. The second  one he had been given that day. “Mom told us to have you call her here when you got home.”

Randy just looked at the paper for a moment. It seemed a little odd that his mother wasn’t home and he did not recognize the number he held in his hand. He made his way to the phone and dialed it. An unfamiliar  voice answered after a couple of rings. Randy explained who he was and that he was calling for his mother. After a brief pause his mother’s voice came across the line.

“Hi Randy,” she said, “Welcome home.”

“Thanks mom,” he replied “But where are you?”

“Well Randy, I have some great news,” She answered . “I’m at a friend’s house and we have been waiting for you to get home. I….. Well I guess I should say we…. I mean…Yes…. I mean we are getting married tonight.”

“You’re getting married?” He asked. Not sure he was hearing her right. “What do you mean…. No, I mean who….. Who are you marrying mom?”

“You remember Chuck don’t you?” she asked. Randy did remember Chuck. He was the kind man with gentle eyes who would sometimes be at Jim and Jenna Greenslate’s house when Randy’s family would visit for dinner. Other than that Randy, didn’t know much about him. And anyway, that was all before Randy’s father had left. They didn’t visit the Greenslates anymore and Randy had not seen Chuck since.

“Well,” she continued with some uncertainty in her voice, “Chuck and I have been seeing each other and he asked me to marry him and I said yes. We’ve been waiting for you to get home because we didn’t want to have the ceremony without you. Now hurry up and put something nice on and your brothers will bring you right over. We will wait till you get here then we will have a simple little wedding and some cake and ice cream after. Ok?” she concluded trying to sound cheerful.

“Umm. Ok mom.” He heard himself saying. Then not knowing what else to say he hung up the phone, went to the bedroom, and began taking off his going-to-camp clothes and putting on his Sunday bests.

“Come on, little brother,” Lester said gently when he had finished changing clothes. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

Then Randy followed his brothers out to the car and took his place between them. Camp and all that went with it were no longer important as Lester backed the car into the street and headed into town for their mother’s wedding.

“The wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates have been burned with fire.”
Nehemiah 1:3 (NIV)

© RandySmith2013

Chapter 5: The Drift

Randy flipped open the cover on the composition notebook he found on Steve’s desk. Botany was boldly penciled on the front cover. He had no idea what botany was but was impressed with the neatly printed paragraphs and meticulously drawn pictures of various plants Steve had studied and then described in minute detail. When had his brother learned to draw like that, he wondered.

Randy couldn’t draw anything. He couldn’t even stay within the lines of a coloring book. And, he didn’t like school projects, or even school for that matter. But here before him was a topic his brother obviously enjoyed and a work beautifully done with patience and imagination. It made Randy wonder if he knew his brother at all anymore.

He recognized he and his brothers had drifted apart since moving into their new stepfather’s house on Mulberry Street. All that the house on Clearview offered in fostering familial intimacy, the house on Mulberry Street lacked. First of all it was much larger. The three brothers no longer shared a bed or even a room. They loved having their own rooms – their own private little worlds where they kept their own personal possessions – but, without the forced sharing they were accustomed to, without the arguing over whose turn it was to turn out the light, and without the whispered conversations under the blankets, breath to breath so to speak, they began to drift apart… lose a shared soul.

It wasn’t just the bedrooms though that facilitated this falling away, it was the rest of the house as well. To be fair, it was much nicer than Clearview with a glowing hardwood floor in the living room, carpet in the bedrooms and hallways, and tile in the kitchen. But, it had a major design flaw when it came to keeping a family together. It had a finished basement.

Chuck had kept the ground floor rented out before taking on his new bride with her three teenage sons. He had lived in the fully furnished apartment below. His basement had its own kitchen, living room, bedroom and bath. It even had its own entrance off the back yard. Randy’s mother and stepfather spent most of their time in Chuck’s former residence and the three brothers had the run of the house above. They met together for dinner in the dining room below but other than that, the newlyweds were generally downstairs and the boys upstairs. No one complained. It seemed like a great arraignment for everyone involved. Nevertheless, the boys were slowly becoming strangers to one another and to their parents.

He felt a little pain in his middle as he looked around his brother’s room.  Here was a fully functional brass cannon Steve had made from some old copper tubing with hand carved wooden spoke wheels. And here was year book filled with little comments from kids Randy had never met but who all seemed to know his brother so well. Then there was the fish bowl full of coins. Randy had frequently helped himself to it when he wanted a Hostess cherry pie from the corner store.  “Where did Steve get his money?” he asked himself. “Does he have a job I don’t know about?”

Slowly closing Steve’s door, Randy made his way into Lester’s room just across the hall. Not quite as neat as Steve’s, but certainly not messy. Lester had always been the creative one of the three. Here was a puppet he had made from an old doll and a sock. He used to make Randy laugh so hard with his ventriloquism and jokes. Randy also remembered when they lived at Clearview how Lester would make space shuttles for the three boys out of old egg cartons and cottage cheese containers. They were amazingly built and all three boys would play Star Trek together for hours; until mom called them in for dinner. It was Lester who had taught Randy how to make a stick figure superman out of bread wrapper ties. And it was Lester who Randy used to argue with the most. He felt that pain in his stomach again as he looked at the posters on the walls of bands he didn’t know and the dog eared science fiction books Lester loved to read. “When was the last time we talked?” he asked himself. “Where is Lester now and what is he doing?” Randy wondered.

As he closed the door on Lester’s room and stepped into his own, that pain in his stomach became a longing.  He lay on his bed for a moment contemplating that growing longing in his stomach; like butterflies, only worse. To be fair, no one was actually doing anything wrong. Chuck was a good stepfather trying to make his new wards comfortable. He was generous and showed genuine interest in developing each of them into young men prepared to fend for themselves. But Chuck had never had children of his own. Suddenly, he was faced with fathering three wounded teenagers; the youngest of which was headstrong and a little lost with all the sudden changes. And on Randy’s part he still loved his father and was unsure of where a stepfather fit in. Tension began to build between the two and neither one knew how to make it stop.

Randy’s mother was doing her best to adjust to a new marriage and she was concerned about her boys. She had heard of how children from divorced parents tended to get into trouble with drugs and the law. This made her concerned for her sons living now in Bloomington proper where drugs were much more prevalent.

Randy knew she was especially concerned about him. That concern was beginning to cause tension between them too. Her fear for him was like a dark cloud hanging over their relationship. It was rarely spoken of but always present. He just wanted her to believe in him and that he would never get into the kind of trouble she was imagining. And she just wanted him to make it to adulthood without any major catastrophes. Tensions grew, arguments ensued, and drift resulted.

He loved his family. They were all good people with good intentions and good hearts but they just couldn’t stop this drift. Randy found he had much more independence and freedom as a new teenager in his new house and with his new stepfather. He also found independence and freedom came with a price….solitude.  He didn’t want freedom, he wanted family. Independence, he decided, was for someone else. He wanted to be with people who needed each other and who thrived in community.

He sat up as his thoughts coalesced. He  got up determinedly and  walked to the top of the stairs. “Mom,” he hollered into the basement, “I’m going to church.”

“Ok Randy,” she called back “Call me if you’re going to be late.” He put on his coat and headed out the door to Mrs. Prather’s house. She was always good for a ride to Wednesday night services.

That pain in his stomach faded as he thought of the warm welcome he would receive walking through the doors of his church home. His friends and their parents always ask him how he was doing. They legitimately wanted to know about him and his interests. And they would share their experiences and the things they were learning about life and God.  The preacher would open the Bible and teach the most wonderful life lessons about the God Randy had accepted at age five but was just now getting to know.

That night, Randy sat in the pew next to his friend’s father.  All the men wore suits and smelled of cologne at church services in those days. Randy was listening intently to the sermon when his friend’s father shifted in his seat and put his arm on the back of Randy’s chair. Warmth emanated from the man’s side. His arm became to Randy like a bulwark of protection draped behind his neck and shoulders.  For a moment, the memory of his own father’s embrace and the smell of his own father’s cologne flooded his heart and mind, and he began to realize how much he missed him.

Then, he remembered how the preacher had taught that the church is the body of Christ; that the individual members are Jesus’ arms and feet,  eyes and ears, and how Jesus and the Father are one. As this ordinary father and church member was draping his arm across the  back of a hurting teenager’s chair, that teenager became especially aware that through that man, God was embracing the least of His own.

It was in this moment Randy understood God wanted to have a Father-son relationship with him, and had been preparing him to want it as well.  It was also in that moment a slow but steady, life-long drift into his Heavenly Father’s embrace began. He felt God’s blessing and favor on his life, on his future, on his brothers, and even on the house on Mulberry Street.

“In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”
Ephesians 1:5 (NIV)

© RandySmith2013