“Your cheatin’ heart will tell on you…” The silence of the late night in our quiet neighborhood was torn by the words, bellowed from the front porch of the little house behind us. In between the phrases, the mutilated chords sounded from the old battered guitar in Ricky’s hands. The nearly forty year old man was inebriated again, drowning his unhappy memories in the bottle, as he always did when life got to be too much for him. The little rental house had seen a parade of interesting characters in the years we had lived in that old house, and Ricky and Joy seemed determined to leave their mark on the block in which we lived.
Through a number of conversations and interactions at odd times of the night and day, I pieced together their story, at least the part they wanted me to know. They had moved here from a neighboring state partially to escape the horrific memories of a young child killed in a freak accident, and also to escape the stigma of what was considered a mixed-race marriage. She was nearly full-blood Choctaw Indian, while he was White, with no trace of Native-American heritage, evidently a union just as objectionable in the culture of southern Mississippi as if a White man had married an African-American woman. They thought that a new start in far northwest Arkansas might be just what they needed to get straightened out, both in their marriage and in their addictions. Unfortunately, moving doesn’t leave behind memories or harmful behaviors, and they quickly found themselves foundering in the same disastrous pattern again.
A couple of weeks after the concert on the front porch, I heard Ricky’s voice clamoring at the foot of my front steps. “Hey Paul! Come out here! I want you to talk to me about Jesus!” First of all, you should know that when Ricky wasn’t impaired by alcohol, he was one of the softest spoken men I knew. His voice was never raised and if he had stood next to the door and called me, I wouldn’t have heard him. Quite clearly, he was drunk again, but he wanted me to talk with him about my faith, so I did. I spent an hour with him and his wife in their tiny living room, with both of them paying close attention, well…semi-close attention. They seemed to nod every once in awhile and it was pretty obvious that in spite of their concentration on my words, there wouldn’t be much memory of the conversation in the morning. I suggested we talk about it again some other time and said goodnight. The next day, neither Ricky nor Joy wanted to discuss anything more momentous than the weather.
And, thus is was, whenever we talked. If they were sober, no mention of beliefs would be countenanced. But the next time they went on a bender, the shout at the foot of the steps came like a thunderclap. This time, I suggested calmly that, since they weren’t themselves, it wouldn’t be beneficial for me to talk with them just now. I would however, be happy to talk with them anytime they were sober. Ricky went home, but we didn’t talk about it again, since they wouldn’t allow it. I was stymied. I couldn’t share my faith verbally, so I did the only thing left for me; I tried to show them God’s love in my actions.
Ricky lost his license (for obvious reasons), so he needed transportation to and from work, about a mile away. I drove him a time or two, but couldn’t be around every time he needed transportation, so I gave him my old Raleigh bicycle to ride. There was one semi-humorous episode that the bicycle engendered. One night, there was a knock on the door and Ricky was there. “Paul, you’ve got to call the police! Someone has stolen your bike!” Knowing that he was impaired again, I suggested that it might just have been misplaced. After a few moment’s thought, he brightened. “That’s it! I left it up the street at my friend’s house. I’ll go get it now.” I thought about his condition, but didn’t stop him. A few moments later, I heard the sound of the bicycle’s brakes coming down the hill and knew he had found the bike. Of course, the sound of the brakes was prelude to a loud crash and muffled curses as he ran off the road into the ditch. I waited and he re-appeared a few moments later, this time pushing the two-wheeler. “I’m all right!” he shouted as he passed. “Just a scratch!”
We had many opportunities to show God’s love to this couple in the next few months, but the most intense was the day Joy decided she had had enough and took an entire bottle of Tylenol to end it all. They were both drunk and it took quite some time for Joy’s action and the consequences thereof to penetrate Ricky’s stupor. He called 911 and we became aware of the situation when the ambulance arrived, its siren screaming. The paramedics refused to allow the drunken man in the ambulance when they transported his wife to the emergency room, so I took him in my car. I have to admit, it was embarrassing to get out and go into the hospital with him. My reputation! What would my friends or customers think? The doctors even refused to talk with him in his condition, so I refereed for them. After finding out that Joy would recover, although with possible permanent damage to her liver, I took the man home to sleep it off.
I know of one more blow that life had to deal to this troubled pair. It was one of the last times I was to see them. Ricky was cold sober as he asked me for help one more time. They had gotten word from Mississippi that their oldest son had been killed in an automobile accident. As usual, they had no funds and he asked to borrow some gas money. We didn’t have much back then, but they needed it more than we did so the bill was placed into his hands as I said, “Pay it back if you can. We’ll be praying for you.” They were gone a couple of weeks and came back, but only stayed in that house another few days. Ricky and Joy moved away, giving no indication of where they were going. I still don’t know where they are today.
What an anticlimax! I can hear the exclamations now, “You made us read all that for this lame ending? No miracle turn-around, no ‘happily-ever-after’ conclusion?” I promise you that no one is more disappointed in the ending than I am. I invested my time, my money, my bicycle; I invested myself! And this is what I get? Nothing! No happy resolution, not even a vestige of hope to reassure me that my expenditure wasn’t wasted!
Ah! But it isn’t the ending. For all I know, it was just the beginning, or possibly even just a continuation. I wrote in my last post that our accomplishments are always a team effort. I’m still not sure if that message was helpful for any of you who read those lines, but it was more like a slap in the face to me. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t do the planting for Ricky and Joy. They had some knowledge of who God is before I met them. I just watered what someone else planted and the conclusion doesn’t depend on my efforts. I may never know the rest of the story. And, finally, that’s okay with me. It’s not my responsibility to manufacture happy endings. That’s completely in Somebody Else’s hands. I’ve got my commission and I’ll keep plodding along, keeping my eyes peeled for the next soul that needs a drink of cool water. That, I can do.
“Where there’s life, there’s hope.”
(Terence~Roman playwright and dramatist~195 BC-159 BC)
“Morever, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.”
(Holy Bible~I Corinthians 4:2)