Chapter 13—Sunday afternoon in the Ozarks
Jake, standing behind Poppy and Kate, stared at the computer screen.
TinaTX signed off at 1:35.
Poppy turned in his swivel chair and looked up at Jake. “She’s right, you know; she can’t marry an unbeliever. Well, she could, but she’d live to regret it. It would be like hitching one of your big loads behind a mule and trying to pull it across the country that way.”
“It doesn’t matter now, does it?” Jake asked, miserable down to his toenails. “Besides being a heathen, according to all of you, I’m in trouble with the law.” He glared at Poppy, willing him to contradict. “And how much good has being ‘born again’ done Tina? She gets mixed up with a loser like me—“
“Whoa!” Poppy interrupted. “None of that ‘loser’ talk in this house.” Looking around he saw Kate and Austin taking it all in, eyes wide. “Kate, why don’t you take Austin out to see Hyacinth’s new kittens. I think they’re old enough for a gentle visit from you two.”
Kate nodded in the direction of the bench next to the door. “I borrowed some tennis shoes for you, Austin. Now slip them on and we’ll sneak a peak at the sweetest little baby kittens you’ve ever seen. But they are awfully tiny; we’ll have to be extra careful.”
Jake, after waiting silently until Kate and Austin left the room, stood up and began pacing. “I am a loser. What else would you call a guy that drove around the country feeling sorry for himself and not having stones enough to figure out a way to take care of his own little boy? A loser, that’s what. Or worse.”
Poppy started to speak, but Jake shook his head violently, “No! I’ve been a fool. A self-centered, immature fool. I should have seen the divorce coming. I could have figured out that something was messed up. Then maybe I wouldn’t have been such a good target when the police didn’t believe me about Joey’s injuries. I set it up for them.”
Jake saw Poppy raise his eyebrows. “You know how they say an armadillo will jump up in the air when a car’s lights hit him so the grill smacks him head-on?” He pounded his fist in his hand to demonstrate the impact. “Well, that’s about how it went down. Two years ago, when I freaked and drove Joey out of state, it was a perfect set up for the cops—crossing a state line automatically makes it a felony. Now I did the same thing with Austin. Who is going to believe that I didn’t even know he was in my truck until I’d driven out of Illinois and into Missouri.”
He pulled his hand over his face again. “I couldn’t sleep last night. I kept thinking of Tina, and of Austin’s family, and of you, and I thought it would be simpler for everybody if I just drove my truck off one of these cliffs and got it over with. You could call Austin’s people to come and get him, Tina would forget me, and the whole world would be better off. Much simpler all around. No trial, no appeals, no prison time. Save the taxpayers money and everybody could get on with their lives.”
At Poppy’s shocked expression, Jake said, “Yeah, well, I’m still here, right? Because even if I had the guts to take myself out, which I probably don’t, I can’t! I can’t, because…” his voice faltered, “Joey,” he whispered hoarsely. “My boy. I have to find a way to help him. There has to be something somebody can do for a little boy who is being hurt.”
He dropped into a chair and slumped over, head in his hands.
“Surely there’s a way to find out what’s actually going on with the child,” Poppy said, his hand on Jake’s shoulder. “Where is he living? Couldn’t you hire a detective or an attorney to look into it?”
“My attorney told me there was nothing I can do to have the court injunction set aside,” Jake answered, “But you’re right. Maybe a private detective from a different city—one who wouldn’t know where all the bodies are buried or which powerful people to avoid.” He sat up straight and looked at Poppy hopefully. “It could work, don’t you think?”
But before Poppy could answer, it hit him again. “It’s too late! It’s been two years. Two years! No matter what I find out, it’s probably too late to help Joey.” He groaned. “What if it’s too late? What if nobody will do anything because I’m in jail for this mess I’m in right now?” He flinched as a new thought hit him. “What if Joey hates me for leaving him there?”
“Don’t go what-iffing yourself into another depression,” Poppy warned. “You have to stay strong and focused and see this thing through, for your own sake as well as your son’s.”
“My own sake? I don’t give a rip about my own sake! But I don’t know if I have the “stuff” to pull this off. What am I going to do? I don’t know what to do.” He stood up and slammed both hands against the wall, hanging his head down to his chest. “Oh, GOD! HELP ME!”
“Now you’re talking, Jake.” Poppy put his arm over Jake’s shoulder and led him back to his chair. “You have more than you can carry; you need help. You need the Lord’s help.”
That made him mad.
“Look: My mother was one of your so-called ‘born-agains.’ She went to church every time the bell rang and sometimes she was the one ringing the confounded bell. She led the church choir and forever ran around the house singing hymns. ‘I will sing of my Redeemer…’ ” he sang in falsetto. “Where was ‘the Lord’s help’ during all those months when she lay dying, in horrible pain, from cancer? Where was He? I can live without that kind of help, thank you very much.”
Silence hung in the room, yet Jake’s own voice echoed inside his head, angry, miserable. “Where was He?” he had mocked. He felt sick. Sick of himself. Of his life.
“Where was He, Jake?” Poppy asked quietly. “Did your mother ask where He was?”
Jake shook his head. “No,” he said, his voice tear-filled. “No. She said ‘He’s here, Jacob. Jesus is here. I’m not afraid.” He looked up at Poppy. “Honest. That’s what she said. And she didn’t seem to be afraid. In fact, she…” he swallowed hard, “she wanted me to sing with her at the end. ‘Sing Jesus Loves Me, Jacob,’ she said.”
Tears ran freely now, and he didn’t bother to wipe them away. “But I didn’t. I wouldn’t. I couldn’t sing!” he gulped. “And now it’s too late. Too late!”
“Oh, Jacob,” Poppy said, brushing Jake’s forehead like a blessing. “It’s not too late, son. It’s not even too late to sing for your mother. I’ve an idea that she would know, somehow, if you could acknowledge that Jesus does love you.”
“Can you help me, Poppy?” Jake whispered, wiping his eyes on the backs of his hands. “No matter what happens with a detective or with Joey, or even Tina, I can’t live inside this head of mine, knowing all the pain I’ve caused. I can’t stand it! I don’t know where to go with myself. I’d rather be dead than live like this.”
“I don’t want to mislead you,” Poppy said gently. “Opening up your heart and your life to the Lord will definitely bring you peace and hope. Even joy. But that doesn’t mean all your troubles will go away. I can’t guarantee that Tina will marry you or that you won’t go to prison. But if you let Him, God can give you direction and the strength to do what you must do. He’s the One with ‘the stuff.’”
Jake nodded with every sentence Poppy spoke.
Neither man noticed Kate and Austin standing quietly by an open window while the Great Burden Bearer reached into a sunny late afternoon in the Ozarks, collected tears shed there, engraved a new name in the palm of His hand, and branded Jake’s new, clean heart with His own Name.
And in the land where time is not
an angel summons Edith Garret to witness
a new name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Jacob Philip Garret
A great company of angels stands mute
while Edith leads the redeemed in a rousing Hallelujah Chorus.
The heavens ring with joy. Amen! Amen!
Hallelujah! The Lord God reins!
The angels join the applause.
Our God Reigns!