A Woman’s Choice Novel Excerpt

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Publication Date: Feb 16 2015
ISBN/EAN13: 1508519374 / 9781508519379
LCCN: 2015902876
Page Count: 214
Related Categories: Fiction / Christian / General

Available in paperback and eBook formats.
CreateSpace: https://www.createspace.com/5322792
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Womans-Choice-Barry-Irwin-Brophy/dp/1508519374 or http://www.amazon.com/Womans-Choice-Barry-Brophy-ebook/dp/B00TSR8VGG/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=

Excerpt from Chapter 1 of A Woman’s Choice

Chapter 1

It was early…way too early to be awake. The sun still slept under the heavens while a misty fog had crept into the streets before the town awoke. Everett, Washington was a tiny city on the outskirts of the Puget Sound. It bordered the threshold of Washington’s mountainous evergreen forests to the north with the tumultuous life of the Seattle city suburbs to the south.
An eerie quietness wrapped the city in an embrace reminiscent of life from the 1900s. The silence of the city could be felt by Katrina as she quickly and quietly trekked through the town. Clutching what belongings she possessed, she focused her attention onto a crumpled piece of paper in her hand, trying to decipher the writing in the dark morning light. The piece of paper echoed its presence like an ancient metronome inside her mind; shaking her with each penetrating sound. What haunted her more were the words on the paper and the decision she wrestled with in her conscience.

Masked and coated with bits of charred eye shadow, Katrina tried to mask her weariness. Like a porcelain doll, she had caked on too much makeup masking the identity of her sorrows; these sorrows, sealed in her hollow shell of existence, would periodically creep out of her body and call eerily out for someone to rescue her.

No one answered her soul’s cry for help. No one ever seemed interested in her long enough unless they were using her for something. She had no one she could trust with the intimate details of her life.

Blonde streaks of cheap hair dye seemed to signify some quality of cleanliness but her unkempt manner left her hidden physical beauty an outward reflection of grotesqueness concealed in the gutters and back alleys famous to this small town. Katrina was a woman of many sorrows.

The rank stenches of toxic and decaying pollutants from factories filled her nostrils as she breathed rapidly while walking the streets of Everett. Seeming to clasp her in its malevolent presence, the accompanying fog invited Katrina to disappear from existence; a self-annihilation to the present problems in her life. All of these combinations of emotions, sights, and smells blended together to remind Katrina it was another Friday morning.

As Katrina turned right onto Pacific Avenue and continued to walk briskly down the street, traffic seemed non-existent during the early awakenings of the day. The sun slowly crept up over the mountains to the east as Katrina scouted the location for the nearest bus stop she commonly knew by heart. Her feet ached like an elderly woman’s flaring arthritis, twisting and grinding her ankles she used thanks to the dingy pair of stilettos she wore; they were two sizes too small. Checking her purse for change, Katrina counted just enough money and a little extra to fund a bus fare to spare her feet from perpetual torture from her stilettos.
Finding it excruciatingly painful and hard to sit on the bus stop bench, Katrina gazed down at her abdomen and resented her pregnancy. What a worse time to be expecting a child, she thought, I can’t work like this.

Having racked up quite a tardy record at her job, Katrina’s boss had threatened to fire her more times than she liked to remember. Now with the pregnancy, he had commented that her weight would also be bad for business; Katrina was forced to solve the problem or die on the cold streets she called home. She had nothing to turn to and no one to aid her in her life. Katrina felt cursed. With every waking moment, the burden of survival was too much.

The pregnancy is too physically draining, she thought, destroying my pitiful life like a cancer. The clinic was her only option of solution. Feeling tears well up in her eyes, Katrina cursed God.

“Why have You done this to me?” she whispered in frustration, “I never asked for any of this! I hate You!”

Katrina’s eyes locked onto her bulging stomach again; her sadistic self-hatred seemed to burn an invisible hole of emptiness through herself. I’m the size of a whale and every guy knows it, her twisted addict thoughts chided through various portions of her mind. I’ll never have someone to call my own. No man wants to shack up with a knocked up girl like me. Katrina endured never ending pain and numbness from these types of thoughts as they stirred her emotions.

An elderly woman approached the bus stop as Katrina began to drift into an unconsciously awake state mostly from the residual hangover of alcohol and drugs from the previous night. Rolling her eyes in judgment, Katrina noted the bright blue dress of the woman. Obviously two decades too old, cackled her thoughts. The old woman appeared so out of place. Something about her presence marveled Katrina though; she could not fathom cohesive words to describe why she was drawn to her. It must be her awkward appearance, Katrina concluded.

“Beautiful mornin’,” smiled the elderly Jamaican woman with a thick accent, “good bein’ alive.”

Katrina’s eyes fluttered a few times in surprise to her address. This lady is crazy, she thought. What a joke laughed Katrina to herself as she taunted the woman with more insults inside her mind: delirious and poorly dressed.

“If you enjoy the rancid smell of pollution,” snapped Katrina as she began to contemplate a method to slip the woman’s purse away from the bench.

“You gotta take one day at a time child. Each one’s a gift from God.”

“Or a curse,” snorted Katrina in arrogance.

“What’s makin’ you think ‘dat?” asked the woman.

Katrina’s mind was bursting with erratic and irrational thoughts. Why are you talking to me, thought Katrina as she felt rage build up inside of her body? Stupid cow, continued her thoughts, how dare you think of something so cruel. Katrina’s negative thoughts bounced from one topic to the next like a tennis ball ricocheting back and forth against the wall. Did she know her life? Did she know her pain? Did she know what it was like to use every relationship imaginable for your own survival? Did-she? Did she? Did-she?! Of course not!

“Do you have the time?” barked Katrina, as she waited for the right moment to slip the lady’s purse unknowingly away from her sight.

“Seven forty-seven,” smiled the lady as she turned to watch Katrina’s feeble hand gently move away from her purse. Just play it cool, she thought, the dumb broad is too old to notice. Feeling paralyzed with embarrassment at her unsuccessful robbery, Katrina felt flabbergasted by the woman’s next question identifying her real need.

“Did ya be needin’ sum money?”

What? She asked what? Katrina said nothing as her eyes widened in utter disbelief and her pupils dilated in confusion at the woman’s response. She should have called the police by now because of her attempt to take her purse. Has not my unkempt manner scared her off, thought Katrina?

The woman continued talking, “You not the only one to grow up on the streetz. I spent twelve years on the streetz of Kingston. How much ya needin’?”

Silence. Katrina did not reply at the embarrassment of her botched burglary attempt.

“Well,” began the woman, “here’s a twentah’. Should be getting ya a bus fare and sum mealz. You children always takin’ without no askin’. No mannerz ‘dese dayz.”

Katrina felt dumbfounded: why did this lady want to help her? No person ever wanted to help her in the past. Why now? Was something different? Had some cosmic exchange of chance transpired in her pathetic life? What had happened? What was…?

“Do ya have a name?” inquired the lady as she reached into her purse and pulled out a pink stick of chewing gum, “don’t talk much? Well, mine’s Anita. Anita Moore.”
“Katrina,” she squeaked in reply. Maybe…maybe I should walk this time, thought Katrina, this lady is way too friendly. The continual chattering of Anita continued to irk Katrina’s thoughts. The lady garbled on and on about her late husband. She must have spent ten minutes chiding away about her life’s story. Boring, boring, and continuing, lamented Katrina.

Gazing into the street, Katrina noticed various ancient debilitated buildings that surrounded the city like soldiers inside a fort. Most buildings stood out like weeds in a garden; however, the city’s ongoing development was a fusion of past and present architectural brilliance. Housing the first levels of the buildings were various businesses, cafes, and other assorted shops of knick-knacks reminiscent of the 1900s. The shops were packed tightly together offering a beautifully eclectic visualization of compartmentalization. It was the epitome of an illustration of small town America. Thinking about anything besides Anita’s ramblings was more tolerable.

“Ya know,” said Anita, “if ya needin’ help ‘dere’s a mission down the road.”

“I don’t need help!” screamed Katrina as she jumped up from the bench, tripped and snapped her left stiletto heel, and ran away from the bus stop as fast as a limping individual could.

The echoing sound of scraping heels against concrete and one stiletto pierced her feet in agony with the remembrance of the pain these shoes created. The clamoring sound of concrete seemed quite low compared to the screams her feet yelped out in sorrow. The pain was unbearable. Her emotional torment was illustrated in the repetitive grinding of her feet as she hobbled towards the clinic. She could not deal with the stress anymore.

“I hate You,” cried Katrina as she waved her fists in rage towards God, like a toddler exhibiting a tantrum, “Why have You done this?”

Tears flowed from Katrina’s eyes like a great flood. Slowly feeling her anger bury itself back into her mind, Katrina gathered her rumpled self and tried to locate the nearest coffee shop.

I’m starving, she thought, I haven’t eaten in two days. Her stomach cramped in rebellion as she hobbled down the street seeking much needed nutritious sustenance. Her body was plagued with continual muscle spasms of all shapes, sizes, and proportions while her stick like bones stuck to her skin like old crusted pieces of leather wrapped around tent poles. She felt as though an octopus was wrapping its tendrils slowly around her organs. With each passing minute, she felt her organs ache and convulse under the weight of her misery. Turning from the alley, Katrina glanced across the street and noticed a small coffee shop.

The storefront was like a small shanty squished between two four level brick buildings. No more than ten feet in length, Katrina could see the hazy, blurred windows tinted to produce shade in the summer months. An “open” sign shone its vibrant red color tainted into a cool dark crimson with the added window tint. Extremely old bricks plastered the foundation of the building like old cobblestones lining the streets of some Hollywood rendition of past century living.

Feeling the inclination of some driving force stir her inside, Katrina carefully crossed the street and peered inside the window. Through the distorted bronze glass windows, Katrina watched as an Asian man rustled through different dining materials; trying to organize the cafe before anyone entered.

Placing small sandwiches, freshly made, onto the nearby shelves for purchase, Katrina longed to engulf one of the sandwiches to quench the agony of her starvation. Like a warm touch enrapturing her nostrils, Katrina could smell the different combinations of freshly baked goods complemented with the different blends of freshly brewing coffees. Reaching into her pocket, Katrina pulled out the crumpled twenty dollar bill Anita had given her. Feeling the bill’s crispness between her fingers, Katrina turned around in disappointment as she realized she would have to repress her insatiable appetite for physical nourishment.

Starting to walk up Pacific Avenue again, Katrina fought her emotions from snapping her sanity like twigs. She felt hollow, empty, and lifeless. It was as if Katrina lived inside a cage in the deep dark levels of her body. Her physical actions and expressions were mere random reactions in which she had no control over. Over the years, her real identity had disappeared. Life was pain and that’s all Katrina had ever experienced. God was dead; yet, when the world was silent and all was still, Katrina dwelt on the subject of God more than ever.

There had to be something more; this could not be the epitome of existence. If He is just, why does He allow evil? Why do the innocent suffer? God was a contradiction. God was mere fantasy: an adult version of Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, or an imaginary friend. Yet, something inside of her still felt alien with such thoughts. She could not face the possibility of this nor did she want to examine spirituality. But what she did know was the world was not just…

Turning left onto Rucker Avenue, Katrina watched the cars slowly drive by her. The roads were tar black while different houses and apartments passed as she walked onward like an unfulfilled dream. Tattoo parlors dotted the streets with check-and-cash advance stores waiting to legally racketeer men and women who were struggling financially to survive. Passing by a dollar store, Katrina wondered if any new products had arrived. In America’s weak economy, dollar stores had become the necessities for family survival; especially for Katrina.

Teenagers walked passed Katrina oblivious to the harsh realities of life while overgrown ivies inched along the dark cobblestone supports, holding up various buildings. This area was one of the main streets that intersected other neighborhoods in Everett.

The wind rose in intensity as Katrina turned the corner of 43rd street and Rucker. Most of the sunrise had consumed the residual mist of the morning like a vacuum purging the area of visual distortions created by the vapor. It still left an eerie feeling though, as Katrina could still feel the damp air saturate her body while walking down the sidewalk.

Looking to the left, Katrina noted the apartments and closed her eyes, imagining a fairy tale fantasy of what ordinary life felt like. She could see the aged wooden furniture complementing the serene ivory colored carpet and matching curtains. In her mind, Katrina imagined walking through this home she could call her own. The hallway, she walked down, glistened with silk smooth pearl colored walls. The texture of the walls was cool to touch and adorned with precisely placed pictures of family portraits of her brothers, sisters, mother, and father she had never known. Under her bare feet, the carpet felt like fleece. One could lie on the floor and remain wrapped in its warmth while remembering past days of positive family memories.

Unfortunately, Katrina’s dream of a luxurious life was shattered to pieces…

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G.I. Joe: Resurgence Novella Excerpt

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An Excerpt from Chapter 3. If you like what you read, you can purchase a copy of the ebook at the following link: http://www.amazon.com/G-I-JOE-Resurgence-Novella-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00NMQH27S/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1410986243&sr=8-1&keywords=gi+joe+resurgence

“Thanks for the tech expo but gadgets aren’t really my thing. Give me some knives, handguns, and a hook and chain, and I’ll be fine,” stated Shipwreck as he placed his own reliance in his ability to hold his own in a fight, “Old salty sea dogs like myself rely on our wits and instincts.”

Grand Slam and Stalker glanced at one another knowing full well that Shipwreck had not been encouraged by the gadgets and weapons Grand Slam was able to create; Shipwreck cared more about honing his own physical skills. It was only a matter of time before Shipwreck inquired about a training room.

“So you do have a dojo to train in? Gym? Or something?” asked Shipwreck as he glanced over to a set of punching bags, treadmills, free weights, and sparring mats near the end of the facility.

“Obviously not as big as the two previous Pits but it does its job. We have weights, cardio machines, weapons, punching bags, and a sparring mat,” stated Stalker as he led Grand Slam and Shipwreck to the training room located in the northern section of the building.

Off in the distance, Shipwreck could hear the sounds of a woman hitting punching bags. In the distance, he could see a woman dressed in a black martial art outfit with died purple hair that radiated light like the sun. In her hands, she held two tonfas by which she struck different sized strike bags. As the men came closer to where she was practicing, the woman stopped her strikes and walked confidently over to Stalker.

“This is our newest member of the Joes, Gwen Patrenko, from Bucharest, Romania. She goes by the code name Queen of Hearts. She is our fourth member,” announced Stalker.

Shipwreck snickered at her code name, “Much of a card player are ya or were you a queen of some province in Eastern Europe? Where’s the King of Hearts?”

“There is no king,” responded the Queen of Hearts in a cold Romanian accent, “But if you must know my card game of choice, it’s Blackjack.”

“World champ a few times too,” announced Stalker.

“So no Scarlett, Cover Girl, or Bombstrike?” asked Shipwreck as he began to size up the Queen of Hearts’ potential as a new Joe, “Couldn’t convince them to join ya?” Shipwreck scoffed at the Queen of Hearts as he thought about all of the G.I. Joe leadership they needed but was quite absent given it was just Stalker, Grand Slam, and himself.

Stalker shrugged off Shipwreck’s biting comments, “The Queen of Hearts was highly recommended by Bombstrike and Scarlett.”

“So she’s a copycat of them or something?” Shipwreck asked satirically.

“I copy no one,” she answered sharply as she placed her tonfas back into her holsters on her hips and reached for a towel to dry the sweat from her brow.

“Got that cold Eastern European personality, too,” chided Shipwreck.

“We figured the two of you would get along well,” joked Stalker as he patted Shipwreck on the back.

“Those were some fancy moves back there,” said Shipwreck as he crossed his arms in defiance, “Any combat experience or did Stalker drag you away from some second rate rec center martial art class?”

“I have plenty of combat experience to handle someone like you,” she replied coolly, “Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Eastern European states civil wars, just to name a few. Unlike you, my military experience is relative and not found in the pages of some history book.”

“Sharp words, doll,” stated Shipwreck defensively, “Listen, I’ve been fighting wars before you were in diapers. I could take you in five minutes.”

“You look like a drowned dog who doesn’t know when to lay down and die,” replied the Queen of Hearts, “You’re out of shape, too.”

“I like her,” smiled Shipwreck as he admired her abrasive personality, “She’ll get along great here.”

The Queen of Hearts walked passed Shipwreck and glared at him with disgust. “Let’s see if this old sea dog has some fight left in him,” challenged the Queen of Hearts.
Shipwreck smirked at the challenge and felt adrenaline surge through his veins. The Queen of Hearts tossed Shipwreck the old familiar kusarigama. Shipwreck reached out with his left hand and caught the hilt of the attached sickle while snatching the end of the chain with his right hand.

“Not quite my hook and chain but it will do,” spoke Shipwreck as he stood in a kusarigamajutsu attack stance with the sickle raised in his left hand, chain wrapped around his back, and the ball in his right hand, “Snake Eyes taught me a bit with the kusarigama. I won’t go easy on you.”

The Queen of Hearts smiled defiantly, “I don’t expect you to. I only hope you defend the honor of Snake Eye’s tutelage. If you get winded before we finish, just surrender before you break a hip.”

The Queen of Hearts prepared to fight Shipwreck with her two tonfas as she moved into an attack position. Stalker and Grand Slam glanced at each other as their expressions livened with the anticipation of the coming fight. Between the Queen of Hearts’ impressive fighting skills and sassy personality paired against Shipwreck’s abrasiveness and own combat experience, the two of them knew it would be entertaining.

Like his brash personality, Shipwreck chose to attack first by spinning the ball of the kusarigama. He flipped forward and swung the ball towards the Queen of Hearts in multiple offensive strikes. The Queen of Hearts rolled to her left side missing Shipwreck’s strikes and thrust her tonfas towards his ankles scooping him off his feet. Shipwreck flew upwards but managed to keep his ground and retaliated with two thrust kicks towards the Queen of Hearts. She blocked and countered the kicks with two tonfa jabs to Shipwreck’s wrists. Trying to ignore the pain, Shipwreck took the opportunity to wrap her wrists with the chain and tried to drag her to the ground. With some quick Aikido moves, the Queen of Hearts slide under Shipwreck while pulling him off his feet and flipping him onto his back. She was able to pull herself free and then prepared a strike toward Shipwreck’s neck. Both fighters stopped sparring and walked to opposite ends of the dojo; the other Joes could sense Shipwreck’s pride had been hurt and humbled.

“She…got…lucky,” panted Shipwreck in brash defiance as he bent over to breath more steadily, “My…concentration…slipped.”

Stalker and Grand Slam chuckled to themselves as the Queen of Hearts adopted another offensive pose with the tonfas, taunting Shipwreck to spar once more.

“Best two out of three?” challenged the Queen of Hearts.

“Sounds fine to me,” breathed Shipwreck as he quickly moved to a neutral stance with the kusarigama.

Immediately, the Queen of Hearts raced forward, spun into a cartwheel, and struck at Shipwreck’s left knee and right ankle. Shipwreck countered the move with two thrust kicks while swiping at her with the sickle of the kusarigama.
Thwack-thwack! Shipwreck stumbled backwards as the Queen of Hearts landed two hard jabs to his left side with the gyakute grip technique of the tonfas.

I can’t give in now, winced Shipwreck as he mustered up the strength to block and parry the Queen of Hearts’ unrelenting attacks. Shipwreck encircled the chain around his body to build momentum and then thrust it towards the Queen of Hearts’ right ankle, scooping her off balance. She countered with a strike to Shipwreck’s shoulder that he blocked. Seeing his winning opportunity, Shipwreck thrust the ball around the Queen of Heart’s wrists, tossed her forward, and then pinned her to the mat.

“That makes us even,” grinned Shipwreck as he released her and two of them walked back to their apposing sides of the sparring mat.

The Queen of Hearts said nothing in reply as she calmly assumed a neutral stance and prepared to take on Shipwreck once more. Shipwreck grinned and looped the chain around himself and charged towards her. The Queen of Hearts leapt over Shipwreck, flipped backwards, and struck his shoulder blades with her tonfas. Shipwreck staggered a few times but quickly launched the sickle behind him to snag the Queen of Hearts. She smiled in anticipation of his attack, deflecting the chain, and wrapped it around Shipwreck’s legs, tripping him up. Next, she struck him in the sides and cartwheeled in front of him. Shipwreck felt himself stagger but swung the ball towards the Queen of Hearts with all his might. Turning sideways, the Queen of Hearts slipped pass the darting ball and chain striking Shipwreck in the ankle.
Immediately, he dropped to a kneeling position while the Queen of Hearts prepared a final blow to his neck. Anticipating that she would try another final strike, Shipwreck ducked as the Queen of Hearts swung her tonfas at his head, looped the chain around her wrists, and flipped her over his head. Shipwreck smirked in satisfaction, but his cockiness lowered his ability to anticipate the Queen of Hearts round-house kick to the stomach.

As her foot slammed into his gut, Shipwreck felt his breath leave him as he dropped to the floor and began to gasp for air. The Queen of Hearts had won the third round leaving her the champion of their sparring match.

I was beaten by a rookie, thought Shipwreck between gasps as the soreness in his muscles began to subside the longer he rested on the floor.

“Pride a little hurt, Shipwreck?” teased Stalker.

Shipwreck felt like swinging a punch at Stalker for his jeering response but was too busy nursing his injuries. He knew he could still hold his own in a fight, but the sparring match had revealed areas of refinery needed in his combat technique.

“Shut up!” he said as the Queen of Hearts walked over to him and offered Shipwreck her hand to pull him up.

“Not much for chivalry are you,” taunted the Queen of Hearts, “At least lose honorably.”

Shipwreck grabbed her hand and was hoisted back onto his feet as he muttered to himself.

Grand Slam and Stalker tried not to laugh in front of Shipwreck as his pride was damaged by the loss, but every time he would turn his back to them the two of them would snicker quietly.

“I can hear ya,” called Shipwreck as he limped a bit while walking behind the Queen of Hearts as the two of them headed towards Stalker and Grand Slam.

“So now that everyone has been properly introduced,” teased Stalker, “Let’s discuss our rescue mission in detail.”

Reference
Brophy, Barry Irwin. G.I. Joe: Resurgence: Book One of the Nest Trilogy. Seattle: Amazon Kindle Worlds, 2014. Amazon ebook.

Novel Excerpt: The Weak and Foolish Things of Seattle Chapter 3

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“Maybe if James wouldn’t try to change things, we wouldn’t be in this predicament. My family served in this ministry twenty years and we have watched pastor after pastor come and ruin this church. He’s no different!” screamed Bill at Jerry as they continued to argue about the condition of the church.

“Maybe if you weren’t so egotistical we would get stuff accomplished! Sitting in this meeting makes me sick!” replied Jerry as he slammed his fists on the table, “I’ve tried to make this ministry work but no one will get behind my ideas!”

“Your ideas are horrible and pathetic! We’re not some wacko church from the seventies! You can’t even run the building!”

“I’d be able to run the building if everyone would stop trying to do their own thing! You can’t even DO the simple tasks I ask!”

“It’s not my job to be a maid in this building!”

“Maybe a little respect once and a while might change your family life!” Jerry’s words stung Bill.

“You son–!”

“That’s enough!” screamed Hank as he tried to maintain order between the two gentleman ready to kill each other, “I don’t want another word from any of you unless I say so! This is a board meeting! Let’s try to act civilized!”

James scratched his head in agitation as he realized he was experiencing another board meeting from hell. To make matters worse this meeting was an emergency meeting to discuss how James would receive an income.

“Let’s all pray first!” order Hank as he wiped the sweat from his face with his shirtsleeve.

“It’s not Sunday, Hank,” snarled Jerry in arrogance, “How can I pray with this animal across from me!”

“I’ll open in prayer! I pray God would judge you!” replied Bill angrily as both men began to turn red. James could not stand it any longer.

“ENOUGH!” he yelled as he tried to keep his anger at bay, “This is a CHRISTIAN BOARD MEETING! Why do you two act like a bunch of kids? We’re supposed to be CHRISTIANS!” Feeling disgusted, James closed his eyes as the room became deathly silent.

“God bless this time, Amen,” rushed Hank as he opened the board meeting up for discussion, “as you know this ministry is dying.”

“No it’s not! This is completely unres–,” blurted Bill as James immediately cut him off.

“Let Hank finish…”

“Two more families have left, not to mention we don’t have a worship leader anymore. The building is falling apart, we’re behind on bills, James has missed two paychecks, and YOU want to argue that we’re O.K.?” said Hank as he directed his statement at Bill before thrusting a report sheet in his general direction.

“That’s why I’ve called an emergency board meeting,” began James, “we need to talk about me getting a second job.”

“Completely outrageous!” Jerry burst in reply, “who ever heard of a pastor working a regular job?”

“I’ve got no choice. I’m already behind on payments,” angrily stated James.

“Your job is here!” demanded Bill.

Jerry and Bill seemed stunned at the statement but Hank understood the reality of the ministry. Families were leaving on a weekly basis. No worship leader and no children’s ministries sent many families leaving in multitudes. The atmosphere of the church on Sundays was not very welcoming either. Walking into their service was like walking into a morgue; many people were cold and apathetic, not to mention the place was full of dead faith. A colonoscopy seemed more bearable than sitting for more than five minutes in the cold unwelcoming service.

“I understand your point,” sympathized James, “but this is only going to be temporary—until we get things going again.”

“Well I don’t like it,” stated Jerry as he crossed his arms in disapproval.

“No one does, but I have no choice. I feel God wants me out in the community meeting people. This will be a great opportunity,” said James as he tried to envision a positive result of his decision.

“Or you could step down…” said Bill as he shot a dirty look at James.

“I’m not stepping down…God hasn’t spoken to me or anyone else about my leadership,” replied James as he fought with every bone in his body to stop the anger that stewed inside of him.

“God speaks to me all the time about your leadership. He will remove you from this ministry!” replied Bill sneeringly.

“That’s not what He has said through other people,” coolly responded Hank, “Watch confusing your opinions with God’s. God’s in charge here Bill, you might want to rethink your comments.” Both men (Bill and Hank) bit their tongues in silence, as they kept quiet.

“Moving on!” announced Hank as he rolled his eyes in frustration and continued, “All in favor of James getting a temporary job?”

“Second,” stated Jerry.

“James?” asked Hank already knowing his answer.

“Of course,” added James.

“Bill?” asked Hank.

“Whatever!” replied Bill as he grabbed his mug of coffee angrily and took a few swigs.

“Motion is James will get a temporary job until the ministry restarts,” stated Hank as he checked off the discussion on their meeting agenda, “Next order of business is the volunteering of the church at this year’s Sea-Tac fair. I’ll pass this on to James to explain it.”

“Moving on to new business. To help pay the bills for this place and to reach out to the community, we have been offered an opportunity to help out again at the festival with trash duty this Saturday. Hank can’t make it but I’ve got some youth who would like to. It will be only for a few hours and we’ll get paid five hundred for the day. Any of you guys think you’ll be there?”

“I guess you can sign me up. Only a few hours right?” asked Jerry.

“Yup,” said James.

“O.K. add Bill’s name too!” said Jerry as he tried to arouse Bill’s short temper.

“What?” snarled Bill in disgust, “I see what you’re doing, Jerry. I’ll definitely be there.”

“Motion to allow the volunteering at the Sea-Tac festival,” continued Hank.

“Second,” stated James.

“All in motion say yay?” ordered Hank.

“Yay!” echoed the sarcastic remarks of everyone in the room.

“Settled then, Saturday clean up at the Sea-Tac festival for five hundred dollars to pay bills. Anymore issues that need to be discussed? We have no more topics on our sheet in new business. Did I mention we are going to have to start renting the building out?” stated Hank.

Silence filled the room in reply.

“Completely outrageous!” yelled Bill as his anger began to boil and bubble again, “Why do we need to lend our building to a group who doesn’t even follow our doctrine! Let them rent a lodge or something. This property is sacred!”

“It has to do with cost, Bill,” coolly replied James as he shook his head in frustration, “the five hundred from the fair will help us get by this month but what about the future?”

“Unrealistic! Who wants to rent from us anyway?” barked Bill as he tried to destroy the idea.

“Maybe some A.A. groups. Maybe a new church plant. We’d only need a few to keep this property afloat,” explained James.

“I’d like to discuss the numbers before we commit to anything,” said Jerry as he tapped his pen in agitation.

“I can’t believe you actually want to side with him!” growled Bill, “You’re like the rest of them!”

“This isn’t the time to start World War Three!” yelled Hank as the room became silent, “Let’s just close in prayer and re-examine this proposal another time!”

We might not have another time, thought James as Hank closed the meeting in prayer.

“Thank You, Lord, for guiding this meeting in Jesus name, Amen.”

Chairs seemed to scream in hatred as the men got up from the table and made their way out into the parking lot; James stood silently in the board room, staring into the empty shell of a depleted leadership team.

Why did you call me here, asked James to God? I’ve done everything You’ve called me to. Why is everything falling apart? Am I here to watch this all die? Why did You call me here? Why…Why…WHY?

Feeling sick to his stomach, James dropped to one knee and fought the nauseous taste in his mouth. Frankly, James was disgusted with the church. Some much bigotry, hatred, envy, and malice possessed the souls of the people he knew. A maximum-security prison seemed more welcoming than the people he had to work with at the church. Bill and Jerry paraded around the church their own ideas or philosophies on what should be right, while the two men never seemed to support any ideas from Hank of James. What’s more is both men lacked follow through on their ideas. They could delegate but then again so could every other person in this self-centered world. They lacked action, commitment, and humility. Bill had a violent temper while Jerry indulged more in his own selfish ambitions, trying to get attention and praise for all the work he put into the ministry. Both men were sickly malevolent.

How did they become this way? James always seemed to ponder the question. Maybe years of failure, maybe they never really knew much of God’s love, maybe tough family lives? Bill always disapproved of any activity the church tried to promote, while Jerry could never stay grounded on any activity himself. Bill, more than Jerry, felt like the devil’s advocate. But such thoughts were not proper—thought James—“love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.” James often did pray for them, but sometimes it felt as though God was not listening.

“You had better come quick!” replied Hank, as he burst back through the conference doors.

Please don’t let it be the nativity scene, thought James as he reflected on the last three years previous Christmas displays. It seemed that someone always stole some part of the decoration. Jesus was always taken from the manger and the vandals always took one of the plastic molded livestock.

“It’s the nativity scene, isn’t it,” groaned James as he shook his head in disgust.

“Yup,” replied Hank.

Both men began sprinting down the hall as their steps echoed and thumped with the foreboding truth of what they knew had already happened outside. Throwing the front cherry wood doors open, James stumbled down the stairs and slipped on the pavement, right into a an oily puddle.

“Careful!” cried James as Hank grabbed the side railing and did not end up in the same place James sat.

Pulling himself up, James looked at his oil and mud stained clothes and almost cursed. Holding his tongue, James asked for forgiveness and carefully made his way towards the front of the church. Luckily, most of the shepherds were there; however, two sheep were missing and graffiti was painted over Joseph. The mold of Mary lay six feet away, smashed to pieces, while the baby Jesus was, once again, missing.

“Why!” screamed James as he punched his fist into the ground, “why do I even bother!”

Hank said nothing as he walked over and began to try and pick at the paint sprayed all over the shepherds. James walked silently over to the remains of Mary and began putting them in a pile. Feeling nauseous again, James stopped for a minute, waiting for the bile to come pouring out of his mouth. Nothing came out but James still felt the same sickening feeling. He felt like curling into a ball and dying at the amount of stress he could not carry.

“I don’t know why they always target us,” spoke Hank, trying to get rid of the ominous silence that filled the area. James felt tears building up inside of his eyes and fought violently to keep them contained.

“Let’s just,” began James, “let’s just take the rest of them inside. We’ll throw the broken and vandalized ones into the dumpster.”

James grabbed one of the shepherds and began to drag him by his staff, towards the alley. Hank shortly followed after him with another shepherd. Both men could hear the ear piercing scrapping of the plastic against the asphalt. The sound reverberated through their bodies, as both men felt as though they were being stripped naked and paraded through the city to be mocked at.

“Why are You against me?” asked James to God, softly.

God responded with silence only making the situation worse. James had no idea what he was doing anymore. Maybe he should give up…so many other pastors, before him, had taken that path.

Placing his shepherd against the side of the dumpster, James walked over to help Hank toss the second one in first. Struggling to pick up the heavy mold of plastic, Hank and James felt their knees buckle under the weight as they managed to hurl the shepherd into the dumpster. Turning to the right, they grabbed the shepherd James had brought over; together, both men heaved the second one into the dumpster. Both men felt as though their backs had been twisted and convulsed in manners unthinkable to the human body; maybe it was the overexertion of their tired muscles or the crushing sensation of the yoke’s they bore.

“Let’s go back and clean up the remains of Mary before we bring the other ones in,” spoke James emotionlessly.

Hank nodded in agreement, as both men continued their walk of shame back to the nativity scene (or what remained). Burning oil filled the air as smog seemed to descend on the two of them. Being four in the afternoon, it felt like it was seven at night due to the rapid setting of the sun in the winter. James cringed at the descent of night on the land as it would make it harder for them to finish the job of cleaning up the shattered remains of Mary.

“You should probably head back home,” spoke Hank, “I can call some of the youth and see if they’ll help me—plus it’s getting late.”

“Right,” responded James softly, as he turned around and began walking shamefully back towards the parsonage.

Slowly walking back towards the parsonage, James felt a filthy shame creep over his body. With each step he took, James felt like he was writhing in garbage. His heart ached from the immense pressure of his failures, while his anger flared like waves rolling violently into rocks. How and why they were struggling were just fragments of questions James pondered as he continued to walk passed the sidewalk. Traffic had picked up and James dreamt of throwing himself into an oncoming bus. It would all end; the pain, the suffering, the fighting—all would cease in a simple few seconds. Shaking his head in disgust at the thoughts passing through his mind, James wiped the tears from his eyes and continued walking towards the door of his hovel of a home.

Gazing into the front window, one light was on. Darkness filled the inside void of his house reflecting the blackness of his soul. Stepping onto the threshold of the doorway, James pushed it opened and removed his shoes. Making his way through the house, James turned and saw Kate resting on the couch, to his left. Walking quietly by her, James began to head towards the bathroom. Closing the door quietly, James just sat on the floor and began to sob.

Removing his mud stained shirt and pants, James turned the shower on and felt the warm steam cleanse his mind a bit. Standing up, shakily, he stepped onto the floor mat and stepped into a warm flow of peaceful water. Standing in the presence of the water seemed to offer him peace from the chaotic reality he found himself in. Each drop of water gently fell and seemed to remove one bad memory after the other. Grasping the soap with his right hand, James began to scrub and scrub at his body, as if trying to remove some defect he was unaware of. Thoughts about the meeting and the heated responses from everyone echoed through his soul. Their faces seemed to spiral around him as he felt the water begin to turn lukewarm. Grabbing a towel and stepping out of the shower, James quickly dried himself and walked out of the bathroom motionless.

“I need to rest,” he whispered to himself as James made his way to the master bedroom. Falling face first onto the left side of the bed, James felt sleep coming over his eyes. Instantly, he heard a still small voice in the eternal silence: It has to die.

Darkness enveloped his thoughts as James began to fade into the eternal. Resting in the stillness, James felt his body begin to fall into darkness. With the continued sense of falling he felt, James lay huddled in the fetal position. Opening what seemed to be his eyes James gazed around and saw the infinite. Slowly approaching him from the west, James saw what looked to be a hut of some sort. As the picture began to grow, the hut seemed to magnify into a building. Slowly beginning from the outside and creeping slowly through the wood, a fire began to engulf the building. Trying to scream in terror, James realized the building was on fire. People could be seen talking to each other and sitting perfectly motionless in the conflagration.

“GET OUT!” screamed James as he watched in horror as some of the wood began to splinter and crack under the pressure of the fire.

Everyone in the building seemed to not notice what was happening around him or her. Men and women sat smiling maliciously, as if waiting for the destruction (but never being fully conscious of what was going on).

“ARE YOU BLIND?” he screamed.

James tried to run towards the building but could not move. The more he tried to run towards the building, the more the building began to drift away.

“What do you see?” asked a strange voice from the darkness.

James immediately began to realize the voice was the same person who had asked him last time. At that moment, James received a revelation that he was reliving the dream he had had a week ago.

“They’re gonna die in there!” screamed James in response.

“Without death there can be no resurrection…” echoed the voice once again. Immediately, James felt movement in his legs as he began to run to the building. I have to save them, thought James as he tried to dodge the flames. Ripping the door off of its hinges, James felt a blast of hot air knock him off his feet. Staggering to get back up, James cried in horror as he saw the skeletal remains and chard flesh saturate the sanctuary.

“Is anyone alive?” he cried as he started to make his way into the building. Looking left and right James began to see men and women lighting more fires in the building. Each one seemed to try to light the biggest fire, but never managed to outdo the person they challenged. When one person would bump into another, they would throw their matches at each other, burning their enemies.

“James,” began the voice, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. Will not the fire of dissention spread quickly? Will not the house divided against itself fall into ruin?”

“What about the children?” cried James he turned to the left and began to look for them, “They’re innocent. Would they be punished for their parent’s sins?”

Running down the hallways, James screamed into corridor after corridor of the smoldering building trying to locate anybody stranded in the building. Coming to the first room, he saw a child stranded behind some collapsed wall particles. Chairs barred her in and she sat sobbing, crying out to be rescued.

“I’m coming! I’m coming!” cried James in response but the girl sat scared and afraid.

James immediately decided to run into the room as the walls collapsed on him, splitting the building into two sections, before the building collapsed. Instantly, James awoke and found himself in his bedroom.

“Just a dream,” he whispered as he wiped the sleep out of his eyes, rolled over in the bed, and looked at the clock on his bedside mantle. The clock read five in the afternoon.

Slowly pulling himself up from the bed, James felt groggy and mellow as he journeyed towards the living room. The news was blaring in the background but James paid no attention to the anchors chiding away about various disturbances in the area. Kate sat on the couch, alive and energized from her nap.

“How did the meeting go?” asked Kate in anticipation of James response.

“Pretty…bad,” James laughed in disbelief as he walked into the kitchen and went to find a milk carton.

“Did you tell them about the Sea-Tac festival?” inquired Kate.

“Yeah, I did manage to get some volunteers,” grumbled James.

“That’s positive. How did you sleep?” asking a second question.

“I don’t know. Had a weird dream but I feel better. Did Hank come by?” asked James as he reflected on the nativity scene that had been vandalized.

“Yes. He told me about the nativity scene,” said Kate,

“I was pretty angry at the scene. Three years in a row!” James shrugged the memories off as he walked passed Kate.

“I guess we won’t be displaying another one?” sighed Kate.

“Not anytime soon.”

Reaching for a glass from the cupboard, James unscrewed the cap off of the milk carton and began to pour the milk into the glass. Talking a couple gulps of the milk, James chugged the remains of the carton and wiped his mouth in satisfaction. However, something drew his attention to the television as the anchor began to speak.

“Reports are coming in that a man, Philip Carmichael, was found dead in a dumpster. His body was found by local restaurant owner, Chun Nguyen,” began the news anchor.

“Could you turn this up?” asked James as he motioned for Kate to get the remote.

A quick display of the victims photograph had stirred something inside of James. James felt as though he knew the victim but was uncertain with the mixed feelings of anxiety pouring out of his body. Something continued to stir.

“Sounds sad,” Kate added as they both set their attention on the television.

The news anchor continued speaking, “Nguyen found his body near the local dumpster that his restaurant and other businesses use. Carmichael’s body was sent to Lakewood National Hospital to determine the cause of death. Reports say that Carmichael was a homeless man who frequented the area of downtown Seattle. Not much was known about him.”

“Sad story, did you know him?” asked Kate as she turned to face James and lowered the volume of the television.

“I don’t know…I did meet a Phil the other day. I hope it wasn’t him.” No sooner had James finished speaking his sentence, a current picture of the man appeared on the television screen. James felt sick in his stomach as he tried to choke a response; the inevitable had come to pass.

“That’s him…”

The news anchor continued, “Carmichael had been indicted on fifteen drug charges and had been court ordered to attend rehabilitation. Disappearing a year ago from his family, Carmichael was believed to be missing. Medical officials have concluded that his cause of death was a methamphetamine overdose.”

The only things constant in this life are pain, pleasure and death. The words of Phil once again echoed through James’s mind as he walked out of the living room. I was his last chance, thought James as he continued cycling through the kitchen to distract his mind from thinking about Phil.

“Did you talk with the man?” asked Kate, trying to offer some sympathy.

“I did…” responded James glumly.

“How did it go?”

“He…he was definitely gone. I remember his hands had tons of sores and dried blood. He said he wanted nothing to do with God,” shaking his head at the thought of all the man’s sores.

“Sad…” said Kate as she turned the television volume down.

“Very…I wonder what pushed him to that end?”

Ending the conversation, James walked back into the living room and dwelt depressingly on his state. What pushed him Lord asked James as Kate got up from the couch and walked into the kitchen to accompany James. Feeling boxed in, James walked passed Kate, emotionally numb to his senses. Kate seemed sad but her outward emotions seemed to hide any real indication of problems.

“How are we with bills?” asked James as he tried to look for his cell phone and change the subject.

“Still behind…” murmured Kate.

“I need some fresh air. I’m gonna go hand in a few job applications,” stated James as he reached for a folder that held his newly printed resumes.

Heading to the bedroom, James walked straight to the closet and began rummaging around for a clean shirt and dress pants. Looking to the left and looking to the right of the closet reminded James of his own problems. As cluttered with old and new things like the closet, James’s own problems were scattered too. How could he provide for his family, run a dying ministry, pay bills, and juggle all the emotional baggage of others. Something in his life had to give before he plummeted further into the role of a workaholic. He was near the edge of cracking under the unnatural amount of pressure.

Quickly tying the last button on his shirt, James felt energized and eager to get out of the house. Walking back out of the bedroom, James saw Kate waiting for him. In her hand she held a couple of his resumes. Reaching for the resumes, James took them carefully and tucked them under his right arm.

“Thank you for everything,” whispered James as he kissed Kate on the cheek and headed out, “You help me WAY too much.

“Where would you be without me? I love you,” she replied.

Thank you for her Lord, thought James as he walked out of the door. If it weren’t for Kate’s one hundred percent support of the ministry, James wondered how he’d survive. She was definitely a Psalm Thirty-One woman.

“I love you too,” said James.

Walking quickly down the footpath towards the main street, James decided not to drive his car. While evening was setting in early, James felt a need to enjoy the scenery; he felt the need to embrace the surroundings of the man-nature jungle Seattle defined itself with. Whistling to himself, James began to dwell on the year that had previously passed.

Many people had begun to leave the church way before James took the ministry. Aged in years, many of the congregation members were in there sixties. Some small families brought their children to the services, but most members were Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. From the moment someone walked into the building, a sense of spiritual arrogance could be felt that made you feel incredibly vile. Sadly, many of the members were stuck in their ways and would not even think of anyone else but themselves. What life new people brought to the building was quickly snuffed out with a wet blanket of apathy, selfish ambition, and religious bigotry. However all the problems of the church could not be blamed on the members, James was new to leading a church. He was fresh out of Bible College and four years of youth group experience. Running a church was a new endeavor for him; furthermore James had a bit of a temper that would flare up from time to time. This did not contribute positively either to the ministry but most of the anger stemmed from underlying frustration with how poorly everything seemed to result from the ministry. One could call James’s anger the thorn in his side that God would not remove.

However, James also began to remember how much joy he had at the youth groups. James had originally interned as a youth pastor in southern California before becoming a missionary. After years overseas, coming to the Sanctuary in Seattle had been his pastoral opportunity. During that time James discovered no youth group had ever existed in the fifty years of history the Sanctuary possessed as a ministry. Most did not even consider the youth a viable group of people to impact but James managed to see the potential in them. Being asked to start the youth group by Josh (a frequent teenager attendee), one by one Josh would invite some of his friends. Periodically, other youths would discover the group and seek to join in as well: most instances were initiated by Josh ultimately. They were not the shiniest of kids, but they were genuine and down to earth. The hearts of the youth reflected ambition, passion, and most importantly an infinite amount of hope. Their presence only reinforced James’s perseverance in the Sanctuary of staying.

With job applications tucked under his arm, James decided to detour to the café dubbed the Corner Coffee, not far from the church. The evening was silent (silent for a city anyway) in that most of the traffic was already bumper-to-bumper on I-5; however, every few feet there sat a bus stop with benches of people waiting to head home.

Sitting close to the bus area, a bearded man in a tattered leather jacket and brownish jeans sat playing his guitar and humming a tune; his guitar case lay to the left of him, accepting donations of any kind. Something inside of James seemed to fixate on the man; something compelled him to talk to him. Maybe he needs a latte or something, thought James, as he approached the man.

“Would you like a coffee or something?” asked James.

“Sure,” he replied as he continued to hum away joyfully.

“Any preference?”

“Any kind is good. I’m pretty open,” stated the man.

“O.K.”

Walking into Corner Coffee, James felt the fire of God fall upon him. Stopping for a moment to listen, James felt as through every part of his body was alive with warm peaceful electricity. Inside the café, men and women sat at small two seated tables chiding away about various political, social, and economic topics. A horde of people circled around the bar area. Green and blue signs lay displayed behind the counter, and baristas of all ages scrambled around in an efficient and organized manner assembling the most eclectic blends of coffee the city could imagine. Taking his place last in line, James look up at the menu and began to ponder what he’d like to have.

“Welcome to Corner Coffee, what can I get you today?” asked a young woman in her mid-twenties. James thought for a minute, pondering the plethora of options then decided to go with something basic.

“I’d like to get a tall Mint Frappuccino and could I also get a tall drip,” stated James as the barista wrote the information on a piece of paper.

“Sure,” she replied, “it will be right up.”

Rushing to the right, the barista disappeared behind the counter as James moved to the left, to allow other people to order. Gazing at a newspaper next to a few couches, James picked one of the newspapers up and sat on the nearest Victorian era armchair, awaiting his order.

“Are you blind!?” yelled a man as he rushed through the door and began screaming at all the workers in the area. The intensity in his voice was enough to scare any small child.

“This order is completely wrong! I demand a refund!” continued the man as he threw the coffee over the counter, “I demand to speak with your manager! I want a refund!”

Peering over his newspaper, James began to watch as the man continued to bang on the counter and make a scene. Other men and women pretended to ignore the man and not interfere; they did not want to offend the obviously offensive man. Baristas behind the counter quickly made their way to the manager’s office trying not to be the ones to take the heat. James’s eyes followed the girl that had helped him as the manager followed closely behind.

“What seems to be the problem?” asked the manager.

“I said I wanted EXTRA hot! This is only medium! Are your employees deaf or something?” yelled the man.

“Well, according to health regulations we have to make our coffee at a certain temp–,” began the manager before the man cut her off.

“Whatever! I’m not coming back!” Immediately the man stormed off and grabbed the door violently.

“One tall Americano and one tall Mint Frappaccinno ready,” called the barista as James began to get up from his seat. Without looking James accidentally tripped over the irate man’s leg causing him to curse and stare maliciously at him.

“Are you blind too?!” he yelled.

“No,” replied James, “I apologize.” No point in making the guy angrier—thought James—the guy obviously had more issues than being externally identified.

“Maybe you’d get more service if you remove the bum sitting out front!” yelled the man as he rushed out in disgust.

Some people just have no consideration for others—thought James—as he walked over to the coffee bar and picked up his drinks. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a ten-dollar bill and handed it to the barista who helped him.

“Sorry you guys had to deal with that but you can keep the change,” said James.

“Thanks,” replied the barista as she began to fumble around the coffee bar for something.

“You should take one of these,” she said as she handed him a punch card, “I notice you come in here a lot.”

“Thanks,” replied James as he continued out of café and tried looking for the homeless man.

Listening for the melodic music, James found the man still sitting outside. Again the fire of God seemed to burn all over James as he handed the man the coffee.

“You live around here?” asked James as he took a sip of his coffee.

“You could say that,” replied the man.

“You’re pretty good at playing that guitar,” noticed James.

“Thanks, I’ve been playing since I was a kid. Never really had much family around…I did have a knack for guitar though,” remembered the man as he sipped his coffee.

“Well I’m James Reese. What’s your name?”

“Hmm…haven’t been asked that question in long time. Friends call me Matches but my real name is Colby Langley,” said the man.

“Which do you prefer?” inquired James.

“Matches mostly…Colby just sounds too straightforward. So why did you stop anyway, most people look at me with disgust and walk off.”

“Felt like God wanted me to talk to you,” exclaimed James as he took the lid off of his drink and blew some steam away.

“Interesting,” chuckled the Matches, “I’m been praying for something warm all day. After that snow storm last week, it’s been real hard,” said Matches as he blew on his hands to warm them.

“You’re a Christian?” asked James, puzzled that such a man could be on the streets.

“Yeah…been one for three years.”

“How come you’re out here?” asked James.

“Turn of bad luck I suppose. Does me good though. You learn not to take stuff for granted. It’s amazing how many people write you off like some sort of disease or something,” said Matches as he picked his coffee up and took a few swigs.

Matches began to move his guitar from the wall he had left it against and towards the guitar case. A few meager dollars lay strewn in the case with other pieces of folded paper and napkins.

“Do you get much for playing?” asked James as he looked at a few pennies inside his guitar case.

“Depends, changes daily like our awesome weather,” chuckled Matches sarcastically, “I gotta take what I get to the others.”

“What do you mean?” asked James, what did he mean by others? Were their more homeless Christians like him?

“When you’re on the streets you have to stick together with someone or else you end up dead. Me and a few other Christians stick together. We may look like drug addicts or gang members but we aren’t. Amazing how fast this city stereotypes us. Well, each of us goes out begging and at the end of the day we pull our money together to buy some food. You could call us urban nomads.”

Walking out from an alleyway, another man wearing an old tattered Mariner’s cap and rugged trench coat stepped into the twilight of the evening. His complexion showed wisdom behind the mask of a middle-aged man. Beard to his shoulders, the man resembled Santa Claus in appearance. He carried a knapsack in his right hand and whistled a familiar hymn, James could not identify.

“You’re back, Ray?” stated Matches stunned, “I thought you were going away for a while.”

Ray just eyed James and smiled in approval as if Matches’s words carried no relevance. Something about his appearance seemed to stir the area with a divine presence. James could not figure out what was going on, but he felt he should definitely listen to the men.

“I’m always around. Though you may not see me I’m always watching, waiting…” smiled Ray having heard what Matches had asked him, “this must be James Reese.”

“How do you know my name?” asked James as he stared puzzled at Ray.

“The Almighty knows everyone; those who hear God’s voice will hear many other things,” stated Ray as James pondered this guy’s appearance.

This guy sounds crazy, thought James, as Matches closed his guitar case and got ready to leave.

“Will we see you tonight?” asked Matches.

“Cannot say…” said Ray as he looked at James a second time.

“Well good seeing ya,” smiled Matches as he placed his guitar on his shoulder and began to walk towards the waterfront, “good meeting ya James. Maybe I’ll see ya around.”

“You too!” replied James as he stood with Ray for the moment. I must be crazy standing here with this guy, thought James as he tried to hide his feelings behind a stern Seattle exterior.

“You’re not crazy,” replied Ray, “God always brings people in at the right time.”

HOW DOES THIS GUY KNOW MY THOUGHTS? James was utterly stupefied by the man’s statement.

“What else do you know about me?” asked James as suspicion clouded his thoughts. Was he going to rob him?

Ray smiled quickly and got ready to speak, “You’re James Reese…pastor of Sanctuary in Seattle church. God tells me your church is dying.”

James mouth now dropped open in amazement. How could this man possibly know that? Was he a denominational member or something? Did he come to a service?

“And I know you are conflicted about the decisions presented before you.”

“Are you a prophet or something?” asked James. James remembered about reading the prophets of the Old Testament but never dreamed he would actually meet one.

“No, I’m not. Maybe we should walk and talk a bit.” James nodded his head in reply and they continued to walk downtown.

“You must be a man of God!” spoke James, dumbfounded.

“You could say that. But I know you are dealing with much,” said Ray as he tried to change the conversation from focusing on him to focusing on James.

“So much! I can’t sleep or eat over this whole ordeal. We’ve got one year to get our ministry up and running. We have no worship leader and practically no more elders.”

“Man’s sin always catches up to him in the end,” spoke Ray sharply.

“Every Sunday I hate waking up to walk back into that building. So many faces are ready to kill me! They blame all their problems on my leadership. I do mess up from time to time I’ll admit that. But how do I live with the fact that God has called me here?”

“Maybe this verse shall answer your questions: ‘Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ ” offered Ray as the two of them walked together slowly.

“Isaiah 40:30-31,” remembered James.

“Exactly…though you grow weary and you have stumbled God will renew your strength in the ministry. Not only will your strength rise but also it will soar like an eagle. This will not be your own doing but the Lord’s doing. Eagles ride the thermals of turbulence. It is in the times of chaos that you will soar high and strong. You will run the race and not grow weary. You will continue walking when you cannot.”

After Ray had finished speaking James felt a fire burning inside of him. He was sweating and his hands were shaking a bit. Every word Ray spoke burned inside of him (not burning as in a pain but burning with passion.)

Ray continued, “You know what you have to do. If you do not trust my words, ask some of your youth. They will provide the answers you know in your heart. When you stand before the multitude, God will give you the words to say.”

James stopped walking for the moment and began to breathe hard as the words of Ray continued to echo inside of him. God felt very tangible to James as the words continued to reverberate through his mind.

Off in the distance all of their walking had led both of them to the waterfront. Being twilight, the sun seemed to divide the water from the sky. Radiantly shinning its glory, James felt he was at the fork of two roads. One road would lead to continued pain and suffering, while the other road would lead to the unknown. The world seemed to be place on James’s shoulders as he turned to ask Ray what he should do.

Looking left, James saw only the reflection of the buildings basking in the twilight of eternity. Confused, James looked to the right hoping to see Ray again. James saw nothing. What had just happened?

Deciding to head back towards to the city, James was once again dumbfounded. He could not speak or think clearly. Why had he come down town? Why was he taken advice from a strange homeless man he had only known for a couple minutes? This all seemed crazy to James as he could not even answer his own questions. Looking at the watch on his right hand, James realized he was holding job applications.

“That’s why I’m out here,” spoke James to himself as he realized it was getting late.

Starting to jog a little, James tried to remember one of the places where he had seen a hiring sign. There was a local mom-and-pop restaurant three blocks from where he stood. Calculating the hour of sunlight left and his immediate location, James felt he should try the restaurant and finish distributing more applications the next day. Jogging a little faster, James began to feel apprehensive as a bit a sweat began to drip from his brow. Reaching a residential street, James quickly stopped to wipe his brow. At least I do not smell awful, thought James, as he waited for the crosswalk to indicate he could cross the street. Flashing a neon sign to indicate “walk”, James continued jogging across the crosswalk and saw the sign for the restaurant. “Help wanted” sat strait in the window, peering out for everyone who passed by the restaurant. Saying a quick prayer under his breath, James reached for the old tattered door and walked inside.

Fragrance of Greek food filled the air while waitresses chided amongst themselves and delivered meals to the nearby tables. As James entered the restaurant the place awkwardly dropped dead silent as he walked up to the nearest table looking to talk to someone. Feeling awkward, James walked up to the hostess, who stood behind a podium to try and lessen the attention he had gathered from his entrance.

“Welcome to Valentino’s. How many in your party?” responded the hostess with much overly bubbly enthusiasm.

“Well,” began James, “I’m actually here to apply for a job. Is your manager available?”

“Hold on one minute.”

Quickly darting out of the foyer, the hostess vanished from sight as James sat down on a nearby antique chair. Squeaking at his weight as he sat down, James prayed the chair would not break while he temporarily rested on it. Seconds later, the hostess reemerged ready to speak to James.

“I believe he has gone home for the night,” she replied.

“Could I leave an application with you?”

“Sure.”

Handing the hostess his resume, James’s head drooped a bit in disappointment. Opening the restaurant door, James walked out hoping to get home and sleep off his day.