Chapter 16 – The Presence
It was Wednesday evening. I was blessed to receive two hours off from work that day; a welcomed gift from my Employer. Nicky, my dear friend, Brad, Dad, Rena, Joel, and my Aunt Sharon were all part of the planning team. Everything was in place for my birthday celebration and I was anticipating the arrival of my Guests. Despite my attempts to get involved in the final details, Rena and Nicky wouldn’t have it. My bossy sister and determined best friend were no match for me.
I gave in and decided to bask in the special treatment by dancing to some of my favorited songs. The living room was sparkling clean and decorated, and It was all mine. I was dancing my heart out when I heard the first guest arriving. It was my twin buddies from Community College, Becky, and Bailey; I was so fond of them. They were light spirited and eccentric. They brought positive energy the moment they walked in. Once they arrived, everyone else showed up within a few minutes of each other. Jason was the last to arrive and as usual accompanying him was his contagious confident and positive demeanor.
The evening turned out blissfully wonderful. It was filled with warm intimate moments with my friends and family who did everything possible to make sure I felt special. Unlike other birthday parties I was able to witness, the last item on the evening’s programme was the presentation of gifts; I was totally blown away. Gifts emerged out of bags and pockets and even from cupboards and corners within my own home. Lost for words and overflowing with gratitude, I received them one by one; I was so overwhelmed with appreciation.
With Jason Emery being my newest friend, I was not expecting to receive anything from him and was astonished when I saw the exquisite gift he presented; I still treasure it to this day. As I carefully unwrapped his present, I felt my heartbeat accelerating. Something in my gut told me this gift was no ordinary gift. As I removed the last bit of the wrapping, I realised how right I was. I stood there staring at the most beautiful gift ever. It was a picture of me standing next to “Whisper Bend River”. My back facing the camera as I stood looking across at the river. You could see the clear water, the smooth rocks, and the sunlight glistening through the trees. It was a captivating picture. Below the picture was a brief history of the River, as Craig explained it that day when we went hashing. The picture was enclosed in an acrylic covered frame with words inscribed at the back which read “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”
What happened next would always be seen as one of the weirdest and unforgettable moments of my life. As I read the words, I felt as if someone was speaking directly to me. Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming presence of someone or something hovering over me and my hands began to shake, and I shivered. I could not understand what I was experiencing because there was no one physically close to me at the moment. It was just me and what felt like a supreme being lingering over me. I then began to feel a warm sense of comfort and assurance, of love and acceptance. Something shifted within my breast and it was as if darkness escaped and light entered. I must have stood their staring at the gift for at least twenty seconds before I felt arms all around me, hugging me. I came out of my trance and to my senses and saw that those hands belonged to Dad, Nicky, and Jason. I felt safe and loved and somehow believed that the moment just experienced was unnatural.
Chapter 17 – The Psalm
The remainder of the week mesmerized like water on the streets on a very hot day. Since my birthday I have been walking on cloud nine and cloud nine seemed to have several steps to another cloud which I wanted to explore. I yearned to understand what I experienced that day; “the presence”. It was Saturday morning and I laid on my bed with my journal seeking to capture my current thoughts and mood.
As I wrote in my journal, I heard the pitter patter sound of light rain on the roof. Without hesitation, I pulled my cover sheet up to my waist. Come rain come, I said to myself. Let me bask in your presence. After updating my journal, I decided to read my bible. Since that unforgettable experience, I have been reading my bible almost daily, starting with Jeremiah 29:11, the verse that was transcribed on my gift from Jason Emery. I later began reading the book of Psalms and was enjoying the journey through the pages. As I read, I found my thoughts drifting back to that moment, at Jason’s birthday celebration, when I looked up to see him staring down at me as if he saw me beyond the surface of my skin. I wondered what made him so different. Why did he seem so deep, so grounded, so hopeful, and so peaceful?
I found my thoughts switching to the negative zone of my searching mind. Is Jason as sincere as he seems? What if he is not real? Maybe God was trying to warn me about him through my dream. As I laid there pondering, somehow it did not feel right thinking those thoughts. I immediately shook myself out of my foolish imagination. I had to admit that Jason Emery had shown himself to be a well composed, respectful young man who, unlike most men I knew, was not interested in flirting with me. He acted as if he wasn’t aware of how strikingly attractive, he was. He portrayed a stillness and a rich character that appeared to be firmly planted. I became aware of my fingers playing with the edges of the pages of my bible and urged myself to get back on track, looking at the Psalm in front of me. It was Psalm thirty-four. I read to my heart’s content. It felt strange but wonderful. I found myself lost within the poetic and uplifting rhetoric of the psalm. The Writer appeared to be declaring his promise to praise God.
As I read, I wondered what would stir someone to write such exalted and glorified literature to a God no one has ever seen; a God that seems to be sleeping when evil prevails. It was another moment of doubt as I struggled with what seemed to be a desire to know more. After reading the entire psalm, I decided to call it quits for the day. As I walked out my bedroom door, my mobile phone rang. It was Jason Emery! Instant happiness flooded by spirit as I hastened to answer the call.
Chapter 18 – The Church Invitation
Jason’s rich mellow voice responded to my greeting, “Hello, Maxine, how are you?” “Great, Just finished journaling and reading my bible.” There was a brief pause then Jason said, slowly, “sounds…. good.” His tone seemed to suggest that he understood exactly what I was experiencing. This guy knows everything, I thought to myself. We chatted for a while and then Jason invited me to accompany him to Church. Instantly, I felt uncomfortable, as I did not expect the invitation. I think my experience of church was limited to my childhood days since we all lost interest as we grew into our teenaged years. For me church seemed like a routine to be practiced so that you can appear as “good” in the eyes of others. Except for the great moral values that we learnt during Sunday School, it felt very boring and lifeless and for the most part, I didn’t see any difference between those who attended church and those who did not. I considered though, that this was not necessarily the experience of others.
As I took a brief trip down memory lane, I felt more and more uncomfortable. Jason waiting patiently on the phone for an answer. I found myself tongue-tied for a few seconds, then blurted out like an injured puppy, “Yes!” “Is everything alright?” Jason asked. I nodded my head then erupted into laughter, “sort of.” Confused thoughts stormed my mind. I was very uncomfortable with Jason’s invite, but I blurted out “yes”. What is wrong with me? As if he sensed what was taking place, Jason indicated that he would touch base with me later that day concerning arrangements for Church and we said our goodbyes. Whew! I can breathe, I thought. I needed to seriously get myself together. I thought to myself, Jason must think I am a psycho.
I made my way downstairs wondering what everyone else was up to while I was up in my room being sane and crazy at the same time. Rena was nowhere to be seen, Dad was at the dining table with his laptop and eating what seemed to be breakfast. If was just about 9:00 a.m.; the rain ceased, and the sun came out in its full golden splendour. I walked over to the living room where I found Joel crouched on the floor over something that seemed to have captured his attention. “What are you doing?” I asked, with genuine interest. Joel seemed happy to see me and shared every bit of detail concerning his school project. I fixed myself some cereal and joined Joel on the floor and immediately became involved with Joel and his project. He was attempting to create a model of the Solar System. “Do you know that Jupiter is the largest planet?” Joel asked, with his brown eyes twinkling with excitement. “I believe so, I must’ve learned that in school years ago.” I answered.
That morning, we spent about an hour and a half working together on Joel’s Project. For me it was time well spent and I knew Joel appreciated the attention and the support; it was a while since we did something together, just the two of us. Despite the fact that he can be annoying, I loved my brother so much and admired his determination to do well in school. If Mom was at home, she would’ve certainly been in our company. Mom was always available for school related activities.
As we wrapped up for the day and began tidying up, I told Joel that Jason invited me to Church on Sunday and was completely moved by his response. “Yea? That’s cool! I like Jason! He is like the big brother I always wished I had.” From my bent position with pieces of construction paper in my hand, I stood up straight and looked at my brother straight in the eye. “Never heard you say something like that before, you know, about having a big brother. Maybe God is answering your prayer.” “I don’t know, maybe,” Joel replied. “Jason is a keeper though, he’s different.” Joel’s words forced me to sit and ponder for a minute. He was right, Jason was different and certainly a friend to cherish.
Do you think Maxine’s perspective on church would ever change?