True Stories of Inspiration and Hope
The following true story was submitted to us by James, from the Great State of Texas.
James punched in another channel on his car radio as his truck slowly made its way home. The heat, despite the fact that daylight had ended hours ago, was suffocating. The sweat dripped down his nose and splattered on the worn, plastic-leather seat covers. “Criminy,” he thought. “If hell is hotter than this, you gotta feel sorry for the damned.”
He had been searching through radio stations, looking for a song that would make him forget about everything that had just happened. To forget about the fact that he had lost about every penny he and his wife had saved during the past five years. To forget about the people involved in the big business venture that had just abruptly ended, with him losing everything and them losing nothing. To forget about the hatred boiling in his stomach for them, and the anger boiling in his stomach for God.He was a good man, in most ways. He did good things. He tried not to pass beggars on the street without dropping a few coins in their direction. He helped people when he could, and prayed for them when he couldn’t. He didn’t kick puppies or beat his wife. Yeah—there’s every indication that James was a good man. And what’s more, he had prayed about this deal… prayed that it was the right thing to do and that God would take care of him.
But despite his goodness and despite his prayers, things hadn’t turned out right, and God (as far as he could tell) hadn’t taken care of him. As soon as he got home, he would inform his wife that everything (except the forty bucks cash he had in the back pocket of his Levi blue jeans) was now gone. They had to start over from scratch, with zero cash and zero assets. It’s not easy for any man to tell his wife something like that. James’ case was particularly difficult, considering how supportive she had been while he had been casually throwing all that money at a dream.
The more he thought about this, the less he felt like listening to music, so he hit the power button on the old, aftermarket radio and let out a long sigh. That sigh quickly turned into a sob, and soon the sweat dripping from his face mingled with the tears pouring from his eyes.
As he neared his own street, the crying still had not subsided, so he drove around the block a few times to let his eyes dry and lose their telltale redness. Once home, James figured it would be best not to beat around the bush. Anger, sadness, despair—whatever lie ahead was going to come no matter how much he sugar-coated things.
“Well Linda-Baby,” he said as he walked through the wooden screen door (the one that always creaked no matter how often he oiled it), “that didn’t work out.” He tried to say it with just a hint of emotion, but not enough to let her know how devastated he felt.
She wasn’t fooled. Perhaps there was some shakiness in his voice, perhaps she could still see the redness in his eyes, or perhaps she just knew her husband all too well. She knew he had been crying, and despite the fact that she wanted to be strong, like him, she broke out in tears as well.
“Hey, let’s not do this,” he said. “The world’s not ending. We’re not ending. We’re still good together, right?”
Linda sniffled and nodded. He wrapped his arms around her and patted her back, feeling the thin cotton of her Old Navy t-shirt against his hands. The softness of her clothes brought out the softness of her gender, and somehow he found comfort in merely touching her.
“Say a prayer with me, will you? We need it right now.”
They prayed together, as they had so many times in the past. It was difficult, considering the blow they had just received. They had always thanked God for their fortunes, and so whether they wanted to or not, they inwardly blamed God for their misfortunes. But their prayer was an act of defiance, as well as desperation. They were desperate for God’s help. They were defiant (or trying to be defiant) against all the hardships that might tempt them into anger towards God and towards each other.
They finished their prayers, never once giving voice to the deep feelings of hurt. “Tell you what,” James said. “I’ve got forty some odd dollars in my pocket that says I’ve still got the prettiest wife. For richer or poorer, I’ll bank every penny on her. Let’s go get dressed up, and just pretend nothing’s wrong for the rest of the night.”
Linda ran upstairs, and James thought he could just begin to see the start of a smile in her eyes. It was foolish, what he was doing. Forty dollars could be gas money for tomorrow or grocery money for the next five days. But he was going to spend it anyway because sometimes a foolish spree could make relationships develop like they were rooted in MiracleGrow. And his relationship with his wife was more important to him than the money. She needed to know that. And so did he.
They went to a semi-classy Chinese restaurant, ordering just enough food so that they’d be able to pay for it and still have enough for a tip. In the center of the restaurant a large fountain sprayed water across a beam of light, creating a romantic twinkle for all to behold and absorb. James stared at the fountain, wondering how much money it could have cost. He caught himself, once again thinking the unmentionable subject for the night, and turned his attention elsewhere.
At the front entrance, he saw one of his old buddies walk into the room.
“Criminy,” he said to Linda. “There’s Rick Lacey. I hope he doesn’t come over here.”
He waved to Rick, who waved back. Rick was holding the arm of a beautiful brunette, and seemed unwilling to turn too much of his attention away from the girl.
“What’s wrong,” Linda asked. “I thought you liked Rick.”
“I do,” James replied under his breath. “But if he comes over, he’s gonna ask how that business venture turned out, and we agreed we weren’t going to talk about it tonight.” What James was really worried about, was whether he’d be able to tell Rick the bad news without breaking into a fresh fit of crying.
She nodded in understanding. The wound was just too fresh, and it was still bleeding. The last thing he wanted to do (the last thing she wanted to SEE him do) was talk about it to an outsider.
They ate the rest of their dinner quietly, not daring to talk to each other about anything that might reawaken the fears and doubts in the other’s mind. They were both relying on each other’s strength and both lending their own strength to each other. A beautiful paradox, which only married couples can ever truly understand.
When they had eaten all they were able, they went to pay their bill. The small, graceful Asian hostess said, “I’m sorry sir, but you’re meal has been taken care of by the gentleman over there.”
She pointed at Rick, who waved to James and Linda and said, “I got you covered. Go have some fun, kids.”
James and Linda smiled, thanked Rick, and ran out the door before their tears of joy could show. The gift their friend had given them (though it would have been very small at any other time in their lives) was so tremendous; they felt as if God had just spoken. The two of them had been on an expensive date (expensive for them, anyway) and through the charity of a friend, still had forty dollars to their name.
“Hey,” James said as he held the door for his wife. “That means we still have cash. Let’s stop on the way home and have dessert.”
They stopped at one of Linda’s favorites—Sonic Drive Inn. The place had been there a while—long enough for cracks to have formed in the parking lot and grass to have poked through those cracks. But in their town, it was still considered a “new” joint because very few restaurants had started there since then. A young, pretty car hop approached James’ window and asked for their order. “We’ll have two large chocolate shakes,” James said. Then he added, “One for me and one for my Babe.”
Linda giggled at this, as she always did when James called her his Babe in public. It was nice to hear her giggle. It erased some of the dread in his heart—made him feel younger. And it made it easier for him to talk to her about the less import (or, in some ways, the most important) things that lovers tend to talk about. Things like the neighbor’s cat, the time James’ mother laughed so hard she spewed milk from her nose, the way cars usually have more character as they get older but Chevettes never seem to have any character no matter how old they get, the funny smell in Linda’s sister’s house, and all sorts of other trivial things that are only discussed in public when there are no pressing matters at hand.
They talked so long, in fact, that both of them jumped a little when the car hop tapped on James' window. “I’m sorry about the wait,” she said, handing him the shakes. “Ted Getspy from the last shift forgot to turn the cooler back on after he cleaned it, so we had to open some fresh ice cream boxes. Anyways, the manager said these are on the house.”
James and Linda gave another obligatory “thank you” and waited for the girl to disappear behind another car before breathing again. For both of them, the breath came out in a long, satisfactory sigh. “We’re still ahead,” James said, his voice shaky again. “I say we pick up a movie on the way home. I think they got the new releases in this morning.”
“Yeah,” Linda replied, “Let’s just go home and cuddle.”
James pulled away from Sonic thinking, “Cuddling sounds good.” To him, cuddling with his Babe was the emotional equivalent of drinking a cold beer after a hard day’s work. It soothed the aches—he considered it redemptive relaxation. He looked over at her. She was smiling, and her smile always reminded him of sunlight dancing along the gentle ripples in the lake he passed on the way to work each morning. Her smile, like her touch, was soothing. “Everything’s gonna work out,” he thought. “Everything’s gonna be fine.”
At the movie rental place, Linda had chosen a semi-chick flick. James didn’t mind. He’d suffer through because he knew he’d be holding her through the entire movie. He’d watch anything for her tonight. As they approached the cashier to pay, the young clerk told them that they had earned a free rental. For the third time that night, James didn’t spend any money.
As they held hands and walked through the exit door, James said, “I wonder if someone’s outside filling up our car with gas?”
On their way home, Linda commented that maybe God really was still watching out for them.
“Yeah,” James agreed, “I guess he’s just got his own set of plans, and my ideas weren’t a part of that. But you know what? That’s okay by me, because he probably knows better.”
“We’re lucky,” Linda said.
“Yeah,” James replied. “We’re lucky.”