“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
–John 16:33 (NLT)
Conner’s mind cleared as he drove, but like a fog that slowly burned off, his thoughts still remained in a layer of haze.
After meeting with his boss, the case-worker had been in a state of shock for the rest of the day, but now he would make an effort to organize the unruly thoughts that plagued him. For starters, he decided he would have a good meal.
Conner pulled into the parking lot of Pete’s Pizza Palace. Pete’s was a bit on the expensive side, but Conner figured he needed a treat tonight. Aside from providing some great comfort food, Pete’s held some pleasant memories of Conner’s late wife, who had loved eating out just as much as her husband.
All at once, Conner’s cell phone rang, rousing him from his thoughts. But he decided to ignore it as he got out of his car and headed towards the restaurant.
On the other side of town, Ellie sat alone, brooding in silence. Her ears perked up when she heard a muffled noise that she couldn’t quite place. Wondering where it was coming from, she got up and paced the floor. Then, realizing it was her cell phone, she searched even harder, trying to find it before the call went to voice mail.
In case of emergencies, only one person had her number, and that was her best friend. What could have gone wrong in Ellie’s absence? Ellie knew she had to find that phone before the guilt ate her up.
“You’re selfish, and you shouldn’t have gone off on your own,” said a nagging little voice in her head.
As the cell phone search continued, the threats from her inner voice only got worse. “You knew she wasn’t well, but you left anyway. You call yourself a friend?”
But Ellie also knew she couldn’t go back if she wanted to, because she was stuck here without a dime. So, in tears, she reached into the closet, dug in her purse, and finally pulled out her still-ringing phone.
Ellie breathlessly tapped the screen, accepting the call. To her surprise, a strange voice began jabbering at her, without any greeting whatsoever.
“You’re the only one I could call on!” The stranger was shouting like a desperate madman. “I’ve got to tell you about the meeting …”
Ellie interrupted with relief in her voice. “Calm down, sir. I’m afraid you have the wrong number.”
paying no attention, the foreign voice continued. “I’ve got good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first?”
“Well,” Ellie said, “I could always use some good news, but you still have the wrong number.”
“I’m sorry,” the stranger finally croaked out. Apparently his mistake had hit him at last. “I don’t know how that happened. I’ll just take the pills now.”
“Pills?” Ellie bolted upright. “Wait! What do you mean?”
“That’s the good news. I’m going to take the whole bottle of pills in 5 minutes and end this whole charade.”
“Don’t talk like that!” Ellie screamed. “God loves you!”
“Oh, yeah? If God loves me so much,” the stranger retorted, “then tell me why I’m in this situation. I just can’t go on.”
Ellie knew that if she didn’t keep the man talking, he would make good on his threat. So she asked him in a husky voice, “What situation is that? It must really be terrible.” Ellie silently cried out to God for wisdom as the man began his story.
“You’ve got that right! I’ve lost everything! My wife is dead, my eyesight is gone, and there’s been a big blow to my health. And to top it all off, Friendly House, the group home where I live, will only be open for 30 more days.
“You’d think I’d be happy about that, because here it’s more like existing in a bad dream than living. But I don’t look forward to being left out on the street.
“I’m confused by the way I feel. I’m scared stiff, but those despicable Friendly House people have shut me in a room that’s more like a box than anything.”
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Ellie couldn’t help gasping. “That’s understandable, and terrible.”
“Yeah, exactly,” the stranger went on. “My life is nothing but emptiness, and I don’t intend to go through that for another day.
“This horrid room is right by the front desk. It’s really just a remodeled supply closet, with no windows. Because of that, you can’t help overhearing the nurses. I usually don’t pay any attention to them, but this time there was something different in the air, so I listened.”
“What do you mean?” Ellie probed.
“Well, instead of laughing and heading for the break room like they usually do, their voices sounded tense. I heard someone say, ‘You’re the head nurse here. Why didn’t you tell us if you saw something coming?’
“‘It would have meant my job even sooner,’ she snapped, ‘and maybe yours too. We’ve got to make the best of things, so I took an early retirement.’
“‘It must be easy for you to philosophize,’ another voice chimed in. ‘In 30 days we’ll all be out on the street, while you’re sitting on some beach.'”
Unable to stop herself, Ellie blurted out, “When Friendly House closes their doors, where are you going to live?”
“That’s the 64-dollar question,” the distraught caller sighed without missing a beat, “and that’s also why I’m so upset. Don’t you get it? I have mixed feelings. On one hand I hate this place, but on the other hand I’m afraid I’ll end up on a park bench somewhere.
“There’s really no reason for me to go on,” the caller said with finality, “and my watch just told me the 5 minutes are up anyway. I’ll just swallow these pills and be free of the whole mess.”
“No!” Ellie began to scream, but she was interrupted by a click on the line. Ellie knew he had hung up.
Throwing the receiver down in defeat, she collapsed on her bed. She frantically begged God not to let this lost stranger take the pills. “Let something stop him, Father! Even if I wanted to call him back, I don’t have anyone to read the caller ID for me.”
Then Ellie heard what sounded like a gentle voice … or was it a strong impression? In either case it wasn’t an audible message, but the words were spoken definitively, in a way she hadn’t heard in years.
“Help him give his burdens to Me,” God told Ellie, as she marveled in silence. In response she prayed softly, “Help me call on You through the night, Lord, as well as remaining faithful tomorrow. My life will never be the same, because I know getting this phone call wasn’t an accident.”
Still feeling somewhat anxious, but wanting to leave things in God’s hands, Ellie decided that the best thing she could do was go to bed. She needed to get some rest for her appointment at the church tomorrow. Besides, how could she call the police about the stranger who had called her? She had no idea who he was or where he lived.
In spite of her prayers for the stranger’s safety, she tossed and turned all night. Finding sleep almost impossible, she turned on soothing music.
Waking up late from a fitful sleep and still haunted by the strange call, Ellie found that she was just as troubled as she had been the night before. “What could I have done to keep him on the line?” she wondered. Then, thoughts of the sweet voice she’d heard the night before came to mind, enveloping her in peace, and relieving her of the tremendous guilt she felt.
falling to her knees, she waited expectantly, but she was only greeted by silence. In the midst of the quiet, a strong resolve filled her with determination. Ellie knew she had to call the stranger back. But she was confronted with the same problem as the night before. With no one available to read the caller ID, how would she get his number?
Ellie always did her best thinking on her feet. Still puzzling over the situation, she hurried into the bathroom to get ready for church. Since she was unfamiliar with the layout of the room, she bumped into things on the way, but she hardly noticed because of the thoughts going through her mind.
The slam of a car door caught her attention. She hoped that wasn’t Will.
But sure enough, the phone on her nightstand rang. Ellie was told she had a visitor in the lobby. She said she would be right down.
Ellie didn’t want to be rude, but whatever Will had to say wasn’t as important as talking to him about last night. They had to let the man who called know that God could fill the emptiness he felt. They had to interveen on his behalf, if it wasn’t already too late.
To Be Continued …
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