The U.S. of After Chapter 41


Clayton

We floated down river, our boat tied to the boat behind because one of them motors had been hit in the fire fight.  This slowed us down considerable.  I didn’t pay it any mind ‘cause we were safe from the militia for now.  God had done a miraculous work and we were in the middle of his grace.

Gideon and his three buddies were pulled aboard once we made it past the bridge.  Somehow they had managed to get underwater and then swim to us.  That in itself was a miracle worth praisin’ about.

We were usin’ the the motor sparingly so as not to burn it up.  I thought this was a heap of wisdom.  The river’s current kind of picked up once we got down it aways.  I stood on the front of the boat as I had been doin’ all along.  I prayed without ceasin’ as the Bible taught me, and this meant that I had a constant contact with God on a personal basis.  I’d been doing this now for about a solid three days, and there was some side effects finer’n frog’s hair.

One thing was that he talked back.

I could feel his words not in the water or in the breeze or in the chirpin’ of the birds but in a soft voice in my head that calmed me and made things seem so clear that was otherwise muddled by my fear and doubt.  Back at the camp I had just decided that I wasn’t goin’ to be afraid and I wasn’t goin’ to doubt what God could do.  It didn’t enter my mind.

I was glad Ralph and Amy was ok, especially the little girl they’d taken a likin’ to.  It wasn’t long before the two of them had her laughin’ and singin’ little nursery songs.  The three of them looked like a little family just cuttin’ up and carryin’ on.  I figured that was a pretty good thing after all we’d been through, ‘specially for that little girl.

We kind of wondered about that yankee Ethan, but I figured he’d lit out as soon as there was trouble.  I didn’t think he was a real Ranger, anyway.  My uncle was in the army and all of them guys kind of have a way about them, and Ethan didn’t seem to have that way about him at all.  He reminded me of my high school track coach that wouldn’t let me take a break to pee.  I hoped he was ok nonetheless, and said a small prayer for him as well, and forgave him in my heart.

After we’d been on the water for a while, the blister in the sky we called the sun started to goin’ down behind the hill, so we decided to anchor for the night and let the kids swim near a sand bar.  We built a few small cook fires to boil drinkin’ water and cook some of the cans of beans we had stowed.  Some of the men stood as lookouts at the edges of the camp, and two of the braver ones like Gideon decided to scout out around the surroundin’ woods for any threats.  I figured that if they didn’t have at least walkie talkies to communicate, then that was just plain nuts.  Oh well, I can’t tell people what to do.  I just prayed for them.

Amy and Ralph came over to me when we got settled and they brought that cute little girl with them.  Anya was such a sight.  Her dark brown hair blowin’ in the slight breeze made me think of my sister so many years ago.  I didn’t know if I’d ever see her again, but didn’t worry about it.  God had a plan.

Ralph had some questions.  He always had questions.  I gotta say the guy was kind of sweet on Amy, but we all were.  I can’t say I wasn’t a little jealous, but God was workin’ on that.

“Clayton,” he said once we had cut up a bit to lighten the mood.  “I want to tell you that I’m sorry for being such a pain when we first met.  I really feel bad about it.”

“That’s ok,” I said, placin’ a hand on his shoulder.  “We’ve all been through a lot.  Things are backards in the world.”

They both laughed at my accent, and I joined them.  If there’s one thing it’s good for is makin’ people feel good and welcome.  Prolly the reason Will Rogers was so popular.  I happened to look at Amy and caught her gazin’ at me, her green eyes lookin’ so pretty in the fadin’ light.  I felt that something about her had changed.

“I just want to know,” asked Ralph.  “What was all that with the bugs?  They didn’t get in the boat and no one was seriously harmed when we were ambushed.  I just don’t get it.”

“Well, Ralph,” I said, my voice takin’ on a strange quality.  “I suppose the prayers of God’s children were heard.  God hears the prayers of a righteous man, and since the only way man can be righteous is through the blood of Christ, Christ did all that through the prayers of the people who were seen by God as righteous through the shed blood of his son.”

Ralph squinted at me, wrinkled his nose and his mouth formed a smirk.  The Spirit didn’t let me quit.

“Jesus said that anyone who has faith in him would do what he had been doing and that the person of true faith would do greater things than what Jesus did on earth,” I told him, somehow feeling that I was not in control of what I was sayin’.  “I am only able to do these things ‘cause God is doin’ them with or without me.  Faith is what makes us strong, but only God gives that strength.”

Amy and Ralph sat quietly for a minute, and one of Anya’s little friends came over and asked her if she wanted to play.  They wandered to the river’s edge and put their tiny feet in the cool waters.

“I always used to think that these Christians were nuts,” said Ralph, his brown eyes examining the backs of his dark hands.  “They used to ask me to come to their church services and I even went with one of them to camp one year, but all I saw there was a bunch of kids doing what they did in school: getting high, hitting on girls, looking forward to when they were going to prank each other on the last night they were there.  It was a joke.”

“Sure,” I said.  “I don’t have very fond mem’rys of that, either.  I was usually the butt of the joke.”

We spent a few seconds in uncomfortable laughter, and Ralph continued.

“What I’ve seen here is truly a miracle,” he said.  “God is definitely real.  I want to have a part of that in my life.  I’m so guilty of so much stuff, Clayton.  I killed two guys in Norman and…I…I didn’t feel a… feel a thing.”

Ralph’s face tightened as he got real silent.  His shoulders started slumpin’ and the tears started flowin’ out of his eyes.  We put our arms ‘round him and held on to him, and he finally stopped cryin’.  I told him how he could have peace about it by havin’ a piece of God in his heart.  All it took was a little faith on his part.  He promised God to turn from his ways, die to himself, and asked for peace.

“It don’t have anything to do with all them miracles,” I told him.  “That’s just kind of the icin’ on the cake.  The real deal is to have the God of the Universe takin’ up residence within your heart, guidin’ your steps, helpin’ you along the way, and bein’ there for you when that final day of your life comes a knockin’.”

Ralph did want it.  His face changed almost immediately, because two thousand years ago God put Ralph on the cross with his Son and that day Ralph died.  Today was his new birthday.  We walked to the water, waded down to waist level, and baptized him right there, ‘cause that’s what we did in my Momma’s church and so I figured that was ok.  It wasn’t long before others joined us, some of them cryin’, some of them laughin’.  A small group of them stood outside the group and just watched.

I didn’t judge ‘em.  I loved ‘em all just the same.  I didn’t really know where the journey would take us, but I was sure that God was in control and that he would not let us fail even if we died tryin’.

I stood there in the water, laughin’ with Ralph and Amy when out of the woods came the scouts and then Gideon followed by two of the men who were with him, and then came Jacob, limpin’ along, bein’ helped by the other scout in Gideon’s group.

People recognized him right away, and he was mobbed with shouts of welcome and greetin’, and his appearance caused many of the group to question as to whether or not there was anythin’ to this Jesus stuff.

A few people got reborn ‘cause of it, and Jacob let me dunk ‘em, and a few of ‘em wanted to be sprinkled with the water ‘cause of the way they was raised, and it was all the same to us.

We knew what they did.  Family’s family.

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