Delmarva Trip, Part 4

The plan when I left the pastor’s place was to hang out with his son Danny and one of my best friends in Delmarva: Jules. We had loosely made plans to get some good grub and maybe some brewskis and just sit around and chat. I was pretty certain no one would get drunk or act overly stupid, since we’re all believers. I went to a liquor store and purchased some suds to contribute and drove to Danny’s. He had moved closer to Rehoboth Beach since I was there last, and Google led me down some of the craziest back roads I’d ever seen in Delaware – roads I’d never seen even though I lived there for 23 years. My face was feeling very hot and pulsating because I hadn’t worn sunblock at the beach earlier that day.

These two guys are both about seven years younger than me. Danny is single and owns a successful construction business. Jules is married to the sweetheart of his youth, and he’s a law enforcement officer. He seemed excited to see me. He and I were especially close, having shared a lot of tough times with each other, but since I moved to NC I’ve only spoken to him on the phone a handful of times.

I had food on my mind because I hadn’t eaten anything since my breakfast at Denny’s that morning. We talked options and eventually Danny drove us to Rehoboth Beach to – of all things – a taco truck that was in front of a bar. I thought he must be out of his mind but he insisted it was the best Mexican food you could get in the area. I ordered a steak burrito, Jules ordered tacos, and Danny ordered a burrito bowl. I was about to sit down at one of the picnic tables near the place when Danny said, “Let’s go get a drink while the food’s cooking.”

We walked into the bar. A live band was playing. It was obvious that the people who worked in the place knew Danny well. He was schmoozing with everyone and ordered us a beer, then he went up front and tried to sit right behind the band. Jules said, “This is too loud. It’s stupid!” then he sprang up and left us, walking away from the band closer to the entrance. We followed him to a table. Danny told me this was where the locals hang out. Something dripped on my head. I looked up and it was an A/C duct that was dripping condensation. It wasn’t a downpour or anything so I didn’t move.

They asked what brought me to Delaware. I think Jules was hoping I would move back. I told them I came to see Danny’s parents, to deliver their Bibles and apologize for the way I left the church years ago. I told them some of the trials that have occurred since I left: getting sick and being out of work, and the story of how I went back to work and ran into trouble when the boss asked me to drive illegally. When I told them how he offered me a thousand dollars to work for six hours and I had to turn it down because it wasn’t legal, they both made a face at each other like I was the biggest fool at the table. I said, “Well, if I’d said yes, it would’ve never ended, the things he was asking me to do and when. It was a test.” I told them I am a son of God and shouldn’t have to beg or violate issues of conscience for my daily bread.

Jules said to Danny, “Yeah, he’s right, man.” But I was thinking of all the other Christians I have told that story to, and how all of them were very supportive and said, “Brother, you did the right thing” like immediately. After that I just sort of listened to them, to their conversation. I was taking their temperature, if you want to know the truth. I wanted to hear what their hearts were focused on.

Danny went outside to get our food from the truck. When he came back, he laid the burrito in front of me. It was the most gargantuan burrito in history. It looked like an infant wrapped in aluminum foil. It was delicious – perfectly spiced to be hot, but not so hot it burned all your taste buds off and made the rest of the meal taste like wet iron. Jules’s tacos looked great too: he said they were the best he’d ever had.

After eating, we rode back to Danny’s and sat at his dining room table. I cracked a brew. Danny’s roommate is a tall boat captain whose name I forget, but man was he tall. I’m 6’4” and he towered above me: I’m not used to looking up at people when I meet them. He seemed like a nice guy. Danny had several huge bookshelves filled with books. The bookshelf in his dining room was so high it had one of those ladders that you can slide to access books on the top shelves. There were books on shelves in his living room and in a lot of bins in the room I ended up sleeping in. I asked if he’d read them all. He said, “No, not too many.” He told me about a non-profit he was trying to start to build orphanages, but said that had taken a back burner to some other pressing matters in his life.

I let them steer the conversation, which was pretty fluffy. Jules was clowning around with crude jokes as he always does. It was getting late but around midnight Danny’s cell phone rang. It was someone named Ryan, and Ryan was phoning us from Danny’s driveway. He came in and went to the refrigerator and grabbed some of the beer that I’d brought. He was a nurse and he’d just finished a shift. I thought it was a little weird to have people coming to your house at midnight and drinking your beer, but Jules said, “That’s just the way it is at Danny’s house.”

In the course of conversation, I learned that Danny always has people coming to his house – including girls. It was clear I was at a bachelor pad, but what I found myself wondering is whether I was at a Christian’s bachelor pad. Jules made jokes about some girls that had been there, at least one of whom Danny had slept with. Jules talked about his relationship with his wife, and honestly his words were very destructive. He talked about the house they’re building. He talked about the things they’re fighting about. He called his wife names that made me squirm. He complained about money, although he and his wife have no children and make probably $150,000 a year in their household. There’s real talk, and then there’s the flaming fire of the tongue, and his was setting things ablaze. The conversation never got to anything very substantial, though I tried to steer it that way by asking them if they’d ever heard any Christian teaching in church about sexuality. Beyond “don’t have sex before marriage,” I mean. I asked them about what they’re reading or studying.

The bond of fellowship in Christ was there with Scott, with Jerm, and with Danny’s parents. We three bonded, yes, but we were bonding in exactly the way the world’s children bond, at the same level. No one was drunk, but between the beer, the foul and destructive language, and the lack of passion I observed, it was no wonder that people could come and go from that house at all hours and not feel uncomfortable or convicted. I wondered where their old thirst for truth went, their zeal for service that seemed now choked by fellowship at a bar and focus on personal business and houses. There was no praise and no glory. I was disappointed. I felt out of place. Maybe it was because I fresh on the heels of the conversation with Danny’s parents, but I found my time with my old friends to be lacking. It lacked grace, power, and life. It was surprising because hanging out with them was the thing I’d most looked forward to in my preparation for the trip. I wondered whether I was being judgmental, or too uptight. I wondered whether our conversations had always been this way and I just remembered them differently. Though I enjoyed seeing them, I felt like something in me had changed and I couldn’t enjoy things like I used to.

I didn’t tell them any of this – I’m still debating whether I should – but it was very clear to me that when the Lord led me away from Delmarva, He was wise to do so. It was necessary. It was like another confirmation that I am in the will of God being where I am.

Danny allowed me to crash in one of his spare rooms. I went to bed around 3, but before I went to sleep I set an alarm for 7 because I wanted to have time to say goodbye to Jerm – who lives an hour away almost – before I left for NC.

Next morning, I got out early. I drove to Jerm’s and had a cup of black coffee, and we chatted for a bit. Then I hit the road. Somewhere near Virginia Beach, Jules called. He said he wished I’d given him more notice before coming, because he’d rather have sat down just the two of us for breakfast or something. He said there was no way we could’ve had a serious conversation the night before, because it was a mixed crowd or whatever. I didn’t say so, because I wanted to think on things before I spoke, but I knew he was wrong about that; the night before was a missed opportunity, and it wasn’t my fault. I told him I couldn’t talk to him long because I was about to go across the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel, which is 26 miles long and has terrible phone reception. He asked me to call him back sometime.

I haven’t yet.

The trip back was mostly uneventful. I stopped at Stuckey’s to get some salt water taffy for the kids and a pecan log for myself. I ran into some very heavy rain and hail near Emporia, Virginia. I listened to Kishi Bashi, The Naked and Famous, and The Postal Service. I mused about the main thing I’d learned: I am in the right place, at the right time, with the right people. There is nothing to do but wait on the Lord. I won’t really know the destination He has for me until I get there. In the meantime, there is a joy in the journey.

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Delmarva Trip, Part 3

The truck shop shower was spartan, but adequate to the task. I texted the pastor and his wife before I left Laurel to let them know I was running a few minutes late – I was only about 20 minutes from where they lived. They greeted me with a hug, but I was a little self-conscious that I was still slightly damp from my shower and I figured they’d suppose I was sweaty. Anyway I presented their Bibles to them. John’s was a 1964 Thompson Chain-Reference, King James Version. When he sent it to me the cover was falling off, but the pages were in good shape, though slightly yellowed with time. I rebound it in olive/brown distressed goatskin.

Alice’s was also a TCR, but New King James Version. Hers was much newer and was filled with notes and highlighting and, at first glance, appeared to be in much better condition. In fact, she’d attached a note that she didn’t think it needed a new cover at all; she just wanted the pages resecured to the binding. But when I looked at it, I could see that its signatures (the folded layers of pages that are sewn together through a book-block) had failed in addition to the glue, which meant that the Bible would soon come apart, even if I reglued it. Through texts and phone calls I informed her of the Bible’s actual situation and that I thought the best solution would be to rebuild the whole thing. After a bit of back and forth, I learned that she wanted the archaeological supplement left out of the rebind to reduce the Bible’s girth. I suggested that we just rebind ALL of the Helps section separately, and she liked that idea. The result was that it was like rebinding two Bibles. So hers took a lot more time and problem-solving, but in the end the main Bible itself was reduced to two-thirds of its original size. I rebound it in navy blue goatskin, with raised hubs on the spine, and I rebound the Helps in the same material, but without decoration.

I’d suggested the idea of rebinding a Bible for each of them as thanks for their many years of ministry into my life, and Sikki’s life. I chatted with them for some time about things that had happened since we left Delaware, and John and I talked in particular a good while about the Word and what God is saying to the churches. I was amazed that many of the things he was relating to me were almost verbatim what our pastor in NC has been teaching recently. It was really nice catching up with them.

Before I left, I got to the real point of why I wanted to see them. I recounted how so much of my life in Delmarva seemed to be about losing things: how it felt like God was stripping things away. Many of these things were iniquities and sins that needed to be exposed in the light, but others were just difficulties and a sense of emptiness – even with church life – that I just couldn’t understand at the time I was going through them. I told them that God had helped me see that when He wants to build something eternal in a person (or marriage, or group), He begins with the foundation. The wider, taller and more powerful the structure, the deeper the foundation needs to be. But before a good foundation can be laid, a lot of rocks and roots and impediments must first be removed. I told them much of our time in their church was just that: removing of things. False beliefs, assumptions, traditions of men, expectations. John and Alice were extremely loving and helped me and Sikki through many difficulties. Whenever I called, they answered. But towards the end of our time there I became critical of many things in the church, and even of him (the pastor). I was upset that the men of the church were so disengaged and that there didn’t seem to be any passion for Christ in the congregation. As I did in my situation at work, I tried to change things from the inside – even if that meant making some waves. But I was frustrated and even angry that so one seemed interested in what I was trying to say. We left the church without really saying goodbye, and the members of the church whom I had known for nearly two decades knew we were offended. Perhaps it was a relief to both parties when we left, but there wasn’t closure because we left without a word. That was wrong. That wasn’t love.

I told them it was wrong, and that I had always regretted it. I told them of the huge part they played in “laying the foundation” of my life, marriage, and ministry, and thanked them for their faithfulness. I wanted them to know I loved them and was sorry for how things played out. John and I were near tears, and he was very gracious (as I knew he would be). We parted with hugs again and I felt right then that my trip had not been a waste of resources, but was a redemptive moment in the timeline of my life.