Fresh Water - Full Version
Part 1 – Looking Back
Tom lived in a quaint, small town just outside of a large city, much like the one he was raised in. It had been a while since he’d had time alone with God, so he thought he would take a walk by himself along a nearby lake to thank Him for all He had done for him throughout his life and to sit by the water again like he used to long ago.
One of the things Tom loved to do growing up was to sit by a small, spring fed lake called Little John, sipping a bottle of his favorite beverage, listening to the birds sing, the wind blowing over the water up into the grass, and smelling the fresh, clean air. It had been a long time since he’d had the chance to visit that favorite spot in West Michigan. Today seemed just like one of those days, and as he sat by the water, the memories of his life began to flood through his mind.
Tom grew up in a small town near Lake Michigan. Everyone there lived life like they were in the 1950s. People knew your name when you walked down the street (not to mention other details of your life they probably shouldn’t know). The local downtown was where everyone shopped, fellowshipped, and celebrated holidays together.
His family had lived there for more than three generations and had established a good, honest reputation in town. It was Tom’s upbringing he credited for his down-to-earth approach to sales making him one of the leading salesmen at every company he worked with (not to mention the work ethic he’d learned as a child to be persistent, apply himself, and never give up).
At sixteen, Tom was active in music and the community, but there was something missing. He found his faith one weekend while attending a youth event. Though he didn’t understand it at the time, he wanted more. So, over the course of several years, he poured himself into the Bible, church, and anything he could read.
By the time he was ready to graduate, he was certain he was meant to leave that small town in pursuit of an education at one of the top Christian colleges in the nation. After applying and getting his acceptance letter, Tom saved money by working at the local grocery store and found a way to pay for his first year with the help of financial aid. It was hard on his mother as she never imagined her son would leave the town her family had lived in for so long. Making it even more difficult for her was the fact that he was her only son.
Finally, the day came for him to leave. Tom had packed his Chevy Vega station wagon full of what clothes he had, his instrument, all the music he could listen to on the road, and $300 in his pocket. After giving her a long hug, he said goodbye to his mother who stood in the driveway, tears flowing down her face, and he jumped into his car speeding off on his way to find the answers he was looking for.
Part 2 – Summer Wisdom
The following five years seemed to fly by as Tom pursued his degree in Bible Theology. It seemed every hour was filled with study, activities with friends, and work. Through it all, he never stopped thinking about those he left behind and the many lessons he’d learned growing up in the small West Michigan town.
When school let out for the summer, on several occasions, Tom spent his time working as a part-time youth minister and youth counselor. His work was rewarding, and he learned just how little he knew about handling teen and family related issues.
While working at a youth summer camp in Indiana after his first year of college, Tom was leading the kids in an evening service when, afterward during the prayer time, he felt a heavy burden for someone who was there. He couldn’t get it off his heart and decided to ask if there was anyone who had recently just gone through something tragic.
After waiting for what seemed like minutes, two young children came forward to the front, tears flowing down their faces. Their counselor reached over and told Tom they had witnessed their parents commit suicide only a week before coming to the camp. Their grandparents needed to get them away from the situation so they sent them there hoping it would help them cope with the loss.
Tom reached down and held them in his arms crying while he prayed for them to be protected, loved, and comforted. The entire camp then circled around to hug and encourage them for the rest of the evening.
Walking back to his cabin that night, Tom was shaken by the needs he’d sensed with the kids. His dream of pursuing the path of ministry just became real and he knew it. So much of his time had been focused on his own dreams, ideas, and plans. His protected life growing up wasn’t perfect by far, but he never knew the kind of pain those young kids were facing.
That night, Tom couldn’t sleep and for the rest of that summer, he wasn’t able to get the two hurting kids off his mind. The encounter not only shaped his view of ministry, it shaped his view of himself. Sadly, he knew he had much more to learn about life than he did the Bible. Somehow, deep inside, he knew those painful lessons he would have to learn were coming. He just didn’t know when.
Part 3 – Lost Love
Never at the top of his class, Tom struggled through some of the more difficult courses toward the end of his time in college. It wasn’t until he met, and began dating Sue, a nursing major with a fanatical dedication to studying, that he decided to pour more time into the library study hours where she was most of the time in order to spend time with her. In the end, it paid off for him and he improved to an 'A' student in most of his courses. Unfortunately for Tom, however, he didn’t score as high in his relationship with Sue.
Having never dated in high school because of his insecurities about his eyes being crossed from the time he was a child, Tom avoided girls thinking they wouldn't want to date him. After his first year, he learned he could have them fixed with his insurance covering the cost, so he quickly had it done. Shortly after, he realized girls liked him after all and lost himself in the attention, until Sue came along.
Their relationship rapidly grew closer and before she graduated, Tom decided she may be ‘the one’ for him. Sadly, Sue didn’t feel the same way as he did as she had her career in mind, lived in California, and had a father who felt she needed to find someone more suitable.
She graduated a year ahead of Tom, who was pursuing a five- year double major, and left for home. Within a month of leaving, she decided it was time to cut the ties with her long-distance college relationship. Over the course of a quick phone call while he was at Naval training in San Diego, Sue let him go. Tom had joined the Navy Reserves during his Junior year to help pay for college and was pursuing a career as a Naval chaplain.
Heartbroken and disillusioned, Tom went back to college after his summer training determined to keep pursuing his Naval career. Having struggled with rejection most of his life, it was particularly difficult for him, so he turned to dating a different girl every other week and quickly built a reputation as a ‘flirt’.
It wasn’t until one spring night while sitting outside the dormitory with his new girlfriend, that Tom was confronted by his wing RA, Joe. Joe had caught them kissing and knew Tom was struggling with a need for acceptance. That night, he sat him down and warned him of the dangers he was facing and how those temptations could cause him to fall one day. Tom listened and broke off the relationship, but he still hadn’t dealt with the insecurities of his past that would, eventually, come to haunt him.
Part 4 – Generation Gap
Graduation came and went. As Tom began his graduate studies, he found a job at a local church working as a Youth Pastor. The Methodist church, across town from school, was a great place to put into practice some of what he’d been learning over the past few years and provided a steady income while he pursued his master’s on the path to becoming a Naval Chaplain.
Although rewarding, the church wasn’t without any challenges. The senior members often challenged the ideas of the younger ones whose kids were in the youth. They wanted to keep things just as they were. The parents wanted more lively music, fun activities for the kids, and to reach out more to the community.
In the middle of it all was Tom’s pastor, Jim. Jim was six feet four inches tall, wore glasses with a shaggy mustache, and had a down-to-earth sense of humor. Jim’s ability to ride the line between the younger generation and old was what kept him there, and it allowed him to reach out to the youth in ways he wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
Jim wasn’t just Tom's boss, Jim became a father-figure to him. Many times, when Tom felt frustrated and like giving up, Jim would sit down with him and walk him through the situation often ending with them both having a great laugh together. Jim’s sense of the practical was something Tom admired. His love for his family was also something he looked up to, often seeing Jim needing to defend them from those who opposed him at the church.
Through that first year of work there, Tom learned a great deal, not only from his pastor and friend, Jim, but from the parents and the youth. Some of the kids didn’t have parents who were supportive of them. Some came from broken homes, some had parents who were alcoholic, and some had abusive parents. The church became their home. Others had parents who loved volunteering and financially sacrificing to support the youth. Somehow, they all blended together to make for a magical year for Tom and one he would always cherish.
It was later in that first year of seminary that Tom received his commission into the Naval Reserves as a Chaplain Candidate. He was now on his way to fulfilling his dream. Despite the loss of his first love and the small challenges with the senior church members, life was going as he’d hoped. He now had everything planned out and God, it seemed, agreed.
Part 5 – “I’m Calling You to California”
Summer couldn’t come fast enough for Tom after his first year of seminary. With his work at the church along with his studies, he had a full schedule. Now that school was nearly out, he could completely focus on the youth. So, he thought.
Just as school was ending, before heading across the driveway to the church from his parsonage, Tom had a knock on the door. It was Sue. She had been in town and wanted to see how he was doing. Tom was shocked and yet glad to see her. He hadn’t totally let go of Sue over the past year, and to see her at his door left him nearly speechless.
She had been following his work at the church through some mutual friends and was wrestling with her emotions about breaking things off with him. Deciding to visit Tom was more a test of those emotions than anything; she wanted to prove to herself that she’d made the right decision. Tom, preoccupied with his work, wasn’t ready for her to appear at his door. After a few minutes of awkward conversion, however, he and Sue fell right into each other’s arms. Both knowing it was wrong, they put their feelings aside and lit the flame once again.
Later that day, Sue had to leave back for California and told Tom she would call. He wasn’t sure what to think about what had just happened, so he decided to put the brief reunion with her back on the shelf of life to lay in wait for what the future may hold. Not surprisingly, it was only a matter of a weeks before Sue called him saying she still wasn’t ready for a committed relationship. Tom was hurt, but this time around, he was ready for the rejection and let her go.
He kept himself busy with the youth over the next month. When he wasn’t working with them, Tom was spending his time playing his guitar out in the open field behind the church likely driving all the neighbor’s crazy with his ‘Bob Seger’ style of playing.
One of those nights while he was outside playing, in early July, Tom heard a voice he’d learned from experience, may have been God, saying, ‘I’m calling you to California’. Even though that was all he heard, in his heart, he knew what he must do. Strangely, it had nothing to do with Sue, which he knew everyone would assume. This was different. It was a knowing and a sense, without any doubt, that he needed to look for a job there right away.
Within a few short weeks, through the leading in his heart, Tom found an open position in California and made the decision to walk away from all that he had worked so hard for. He resigned his position as Youth Pastor at the small Methodist church, quit seminary, and packed his car with everything he could fit. After a tearful goodbye with the youth, Tom headed for California. Tom would soon learn that he had just made a decision that would change, not only his own life, but the lives of many others.
Part 6 – On the Rebound
Little did he know it but growing up in a small west Michigan town hadn't nearly prepared Tom for what lay ahead of him. His new position provided him with an apartment in the upper level of the church and a nice base salary to keep him going. The church, located in the Central Valley, was known by many in the area because it sat right on one of the major freeways connecting northern and southern California. It was a new church building with a faithful, medium-sized congregation. The pastor, passionate for the community, began the church some fifteen years prior.
Excited to dive right into his work getting to know the youth and learning all about his new home state, Tom was the star attraction when he was introduced during the family picnic on his first Sunday. It didn’t take long for some of the single girls to take notice of him that first day, but He was too busy to notice back. Tom was asked to preach the next week and if he would like to have a special song for the service. He chose, ‘The Old Rugged Cross’, one of his favorites, to be sung just before his message.
As he sat back in the speaker’s seat the following Sunday morning, the pastor introduced the special song and that a girl he'd seen at the picnic, Sandy, was going to sing for them. When Tom looked up, Sandy was standing directly in front of him when she took the mic. He tried to act as though he hadn’t noticed, but her beauty took Tom by surprise. Embarrassed that others would notice his surprise, he tried to look away. After the service, impressed with her singing, and looks, even though he knew he was still on the rebound from Sue, Tom decided he may need to get to know her better.
Within a few weeks, Tom and Sandy began dating sparking what would immediately turn into a whirlwind relationship with half the church pushing him to date her, and the other half saying he needed to be careful.
Sandy, who aspired to compete in national beauty pageants, had competed in many local pageants throughout the state, winning several of the larger ones. Dating Tom seriously, meant she would have to give up her dreams in order to be a preacher's wife; something that would grow into an issue between them. Tom also learned her family had differences with the pastor, his boss, which was becoming a problem. Determined that no one was going to make the decision for him on whom he should, or shouldn't date, even though he was so new to the church, Tom blindly pressed ahead.
Over the next six months, he and Sandy decided to marry quickly before others could talk them out of it. Tom, feeling pushed into commitment, felt entrapped as their relationship became more and more rocky due to the stresses of the church, Sandy's quick temper, frustration with those who would try to control them, and her family's differences with the pastor. He knew he was putting his position in jeopardy. Nevertheless, Tom and Sandy pressed on determined to prove everyone wrong and they were married that December.
Part 7 – A Dark Figure
If the six months leading up to the wedding were rocky, the honeymoon, and what came after, made them seem like a walk in the park. Tom and Sandy planned to take a cruise to Mexico which, with the culmination of a closet spaced room, sickness, terrible weather, and bad food, made them long for home after the first day.
Returning to California feeling exhausted, they came to their church apartment and realized it had been vandalized by well-meaning friends playing a joke on them. Although funny, some of what they did was hurtful to Tom and mocking of them both. On top of this, he realized his mother-in-law, whom they’d given a key to their apartment to help clean while they were gone, had come in and found the mess. Running into the pastor, she then argued with him over the whole marriage and whether they were really in love.
Tom learned of the discussion and that it hadn’t gone well. Feeling pressured by his new in-laws, he decided he needed to quit his job immediately. He now found himself without a home, a job, and newly married. Tom’s family, all in Michigan, were too far away to help them, so they moved into a small one-bedroom shed behind Sandy’s parent’s home.
Racked with school loans, new debt from the wedding, little money in the bank, and living with his in-laws, Tom felt defeated. It was all he could do to trust his faith, and himself, to get out of the hole he had found himself in. The past six months had turned his life completely upside down.
After looking for a few weeks, the thought came to him to call a church in Southern California he’d heard of while in college. The church, he later learned, was at one time, one of the largest in the country, but over the years had lost members due to multiple controversies surrounding finances.
Unaware of the history, Tom called the church and was able to quickly arrange a short interview with the pastor who happened to be in their area. The pastor and his wife asked them to join them that weekend at the church for a conference to see what they thought.
Tom and Sandy drove to Southern California the following Saturday morning with a new sense of joy and hope. The pastor paid their expenses and provided them a nice room in the hotel directly across from the church. The church was also next to Disneyland, something Tom and Sandy were excited about when thinking of the possibilities for their future kids. Everything seemed perfect to them; until that night.
After an evening full of meetings, being introduced to new people, the prospect of a new position at a famous large church, and the great location where they would be living, Tom could barely sleep. Finally nodding off after 2:00 a.m., he was awakened by a frightening dream.
In his dream, Tom saw a dark figure standing in front of the church they were visiting. He knew it was the senior pastor but couldn't see his face; just his form. He had a sudden sense of emptiness, and danger. A voice spoke to him in his dream saying, ‘I’ll open the door for you here, but it will not be an easy path. If you chose it, I will be with you, but you will have great pain.’
Shocked by the vividness of the dream, Tom awoke in a cold sweat. Trembling, he told Sandy what he’d just dreamed. His instincts were to leave and not come back, but she was too blinded by the opportunity, the possibility of working in a large church, and the fact they had nothing to go back to. After talking it over with her and her encouraging him to keep pursuing the job, he decided the most prudent thing to do would be to stay on the path and take on any challenges that may come later. Sadly, they would quickly learn that Tom’s dream was more than just a random dream.
Part 8 – Baby Grace
Within only a few weeks, Tom and Sandy packed what little belongings they had and moved to Southern California to begin, what they thought, would be a fresh new journey together. All the while, Tom couldn’t shake the menacing memory of his dream.
For the first few months, things were great. Their new upscale apartment, the church people, and even Disneyland next door, made it seem as though everything was falling into place.
It was at that time when Tom was sitting in the front row of the church before the main service and saw a little girl with blond, curly hair run down the aisle. A still, small voice spoke to him saying, ‘I’m going to give you a little girl just like that one’. Excited, he told Sandy who immediately started making plans. One of the first things she did was to have a doctor in the church check to be sure they could conceive.
Tom was working in his upstairs office that following week when he got the call from Sandy tearfully saying the doctor told her they wouldn’t be able to have children. Her voice was trembling as she explained how the doctor told her she had an underdeveloped uterus. It was as though a load of bricks fell on their dreams. From that moment on, with the same attitude that drove them to marry quickly, they were determined to prove the doctor wrong by trying to have a child just a few months into their marriage and new job.
Tom recruited the entire church to pray for them and within just a month of trying, Sandy became pregnant. Miraculously, she carried the baby full-term without any complications. To both of their surprise, the baby was a girl with blonde hair. They named her Grace in thankfulness to God.
Despite the miracle child and all the joy around her being born, Tom and Sandy weren’t doing well. Disappointments in their pay, Tom’s having to work long hours at the church, and Sandy’s own regrets about walking away from her dreams, all added up to countless arguments. Tom was beginning to feel more and more isolated. By the time she arrived, Grace was a welcome relief from the marriage that seemed to be already on the way down.
The church wasn’t much better. What seemed perfect at first, soon became a major disillusionment for Tom. He was beginning to have serious reservations about the pastor whose constant travel, lavish meals for himself and guests, and the lack of funds for even the smallest of needs for the youth, made Tom wonder if something was very wrong.
With just over a year into a job which he realized was becoming what he’d feared, a new baby at home, little money after the bills were paid, and a wife who heaped more expectations on him every day all the while depriving him of affection, Tom felt like a failure. It seemed as if every effort he made to fix things, only made them worse. This wasn’t what he’d dreamed of those many nights playing his guitar under the stars, and he didn’t know what to do about it.
Part 9 – Disillusionment
Grace was a light in the darkness for Tom. She was a miracle baby and became the star attraction at the church. His heart was full of love for her and humbled that God brought her into his life.
The next six months passed by quickly and things at work weren’t getting any better. The longer he stayed, the more Tom learned of the pastor’s choices to serve his own legacy over the needs of the people. Even though he was mingling with a host of ‘Christian celebrities’, he was becoming more disillusioned by the day.
On one occasion, a nationally known celebrity was visiting, and Tom’s job was to pick up their family at the airport. Pastor sent his limousine with Tom so they could pick them up 'in style'. Money was flowing like a waterfall during their meetings that weekend and it seemed to only go into paying for private jets, expensive suits, and lavish lifestyles.
By the middle of the next summer, Tom couldn’t take the double-standards any longer. He was finding himself caught up in the deceptive life of the pastor and knew he wanted out. His roots from the small town in West Michigan were telling him it wasn’t right and that he needed to go. Ironically, the pastor had become paranoid that Tom, along with a more senior pastor on his staff Tom had become close with, may leave to start another church of their own taking his congregation along; something that had happened to him several times before.
On Friday before the first weekend of August, the pastor had his limo pick Tom up and bring him to the nearby train station where he would travel from his lush cliffside home along the ocean. Tom knew in his heart it was time to part ways, and pastor was ready to make the change too. Coldly, the pastor agreed to a quick exit with only the remainder of his pay and said goodbye. It was the last time Tom would ever speak to him.
His heart was broken even more. Tom had served the church faithfully and saw God do wonderful things with the youth. But, because the youth weren’t a priority to the pastor, it was only a matter of time before he would feel threatened by him. Sadly, his dream the first night they had visited, became a reality and now he had nowhere to go, only two-week’s pay in the bank, and a new baby to feed.
Tom quickly called some of the people within the church he could trust to see if they knew of a place his family could temporarily stay until he found work. By what he could only see as a miracle, one of the elders offered a home on his business property for them to live in rent-free until Tom could get off his feet again. Unfortunately, what looked like a miracle meant for only a short time, turned into a long journey into the desert for Tom; literally.
Part 10 – The Desert
With help of family and friends, Tom and Sandy moved into the small house that had been offered to them. The family business owners were saddened by what they had gone through at the church and vowed to let them stay as long as they needed. The only thing they asked was for Tom to keep an eye on things after the business closed at night. The home was located forty miles east of Los Angeles in the hill country known for dry, desert-like conditions. The area was heavily populated with industry and Tom wasn’t sure about staying on the business property with a new baby, but felt they had no choice. Truly, they had moved to the desert.
Distraught and financially strapped, Tom and Sandy fought often. His decision to leave the church, though morally right, left her with nothing to call home as well as a baby to care for. She blamed Tom for their circumstances and resented her life choices, often making Tom feel he could do nothing right. To make matters worse, soon after moving, their car was repossessed and, within a year, they were bankrupt. Yet, through all the loss, they always seemed to have their needs met. Family, friends, and strangers offered help when it was needed; even blessing them with a used car.
Tom worked several sales jobs to help make ends meet, but still desired to find work in the ministry despite all he’d been through. Slowly, he was losing what little fire remained in him to serve. The longer he worked his sales jobs, the less he felt the desire to go back. The disillusionment, rejection, greed, and emotional manipulation he’d experienced had taken more of a toll on him, and his marriage, than he had realized.
Days turned into months and months turned into several years while they stayed in the little home in the desert hill country. It was nearly two years after moving in, when Tom had an offer to help start a small church. His fire was slowly returning, and he was excited again.
While helping the church without pay, he found a job working in real estate financing thanks to a friend he’d met through canvassing area businesses. Within only a few months, their finances began to turn around. Still, Tom had a gaping wound in his heart that hadn’t been healed.
During that time, Sandy became pregnant and gave birth to another beautiful girl they named, Gabbie. Tom, now a father of two little girls, had even more motivation to get them out of the home they were living in and into something more suitable. Things seemed to be turning around until that fateful day when the enemy of Tom’s soul came calling.
While he was out doing more canvassing of the area businesses inviting them to the new church, Tom stopped into a local copy center. He began to tell them about the church when they interrupted him saying they knew who he was. Their response shocked Tom and threw him back when they then said they were Satanists and would be praying against the church. Dazed, Tom left and tried to shrug it off as if they must have been kidding. Still, something seemed real about their words.
Several nights later, Tom had a vivid dream of a giant dragon coming after him. The dragon was coming over the hills where he had been canvassing towards where they lived saying, ‘I will bring you down and destroy your work here!’ Tom awoke in a cold sweat praying out loud against the evil he felt envelope him. His body was trembling from coldness and he couldn’t shake the sense that something terrible was on its way to try to destroy him.
Part 11 – Broken
Over the next six months, Tom and Sandy made their way out of the financial hole they had found themselves in. Tom was doing better with his real estate financial sales and Sandy was busy taking care of Grace & her new sister, Gabbie. Still, he wasn’t being paid by the church he was working to help build and he couldn’t get past thinking about the dream he'd had of the dragon coming after him.
They had just moved into a new rental home and out of their ‘temporary’ home in the desert when Tom was out canvassing the area businesses again. While going door-to-door, he came across an establishment he knew wasn’t going to be interested in the church and, for a reason he later could not explain, decided to go inside.
Within minutes, Tom found himself trapped by his own curiosity, weaknesses, and lust. All the pain, rejection, feelings of inadequacy, past failures, spiritual disillusionment, and lack of affection at home, came out all at once. He lost himself in a place he knew was wrong, but he couldn’t find the will to walk out, until it was too late.
Later that night, as he was crying and praying for God’s forgiveness, Tom heard an audible voice say to him, ‘I’ve got you now. You are mine.’ He recognized that voice as the voice from his dream; the voice of the evil one. He prayed against it, and it left him. Tom knew what he had to do. Within a few days, Tom reached out to a close friend to confess what he’d done, but that wasn’t enough.
While driving back from church the following Sunday, Sandy felt something had changed in Tom. She wasn’t one to let go of her suspicions, either. After forcefully pressing him, Tom told her what happened. It was as though her whole world came down upon her at that moment. After being raised with heartbreak in her own family, she had vowed to never let that happen to her. So much so, she had built walls around her heart that kept Tom out emotionally, and physically.
Within a few weeks, she decided to leave Tom and move back home with her parents. Convincing her to keep trying, Tom went with her and did everything he could to help put the marriage back together. Counseling, although helpful for Tom, didn’t seem to help Sandy get past her bitterness despite his willingness to do whatever it would take.
After a long year of trying, she decided to leave him for good taking the girls with her. Making it through the past five years of whirlwind drama, even though he tried his best, he failed. Tom was crushed.
Even though separated, he kept hoping to restore their marriage, until he received a call that would change his life forever. What he thought was hell on earth to that point, was just preparation for what he was about to face.
Part 12 – Letting Go
Living with her friends who were giving her poor advice, Sandy’s anger boiled over into hysteria. She began to believe Tom was doing things he wasn’t. Unable to convince her, he focused on his girls and having time with them. Still, because of her suspicions and control, Sandy kept Tom from seeing them for only a few hours a week.
Still getting himself established with a new real estate financing company, Tom was working long hours and making new friends in the process. After just moving in, while walking up to his small studio apartment he had rented near the girls, a stray cat befriended herself to Tom. Over the course of a week, Tom adopted her as his own and they quickly became close. She was all he had now.
It was only a few months into the separation when Tom had Grace and Gabbie over for a Saturday afternoon. Money was tight and Sanded needed her child support to pay her rent. After arguing with Tom through the door when she came to pick up the girls, he wrote her a check for the last few hundred dollars he had.
That next week, Tom received a call from Sandy saying, ‘she was going to get to the bottom of this’ and that he wasn’t going to see the girls until she did. Not sure what she was referring to, he finally pressed it out of her that she was accusing him of hurting Grace. Shocked and taken back knowing he would never hurt Grace, he vehemently denied it to her, but she would not listen.
From that night forward, Tom’s life was changed forever. Sandy pursed her accusations convincing others that Tom was a danger to Grace. Over the next year, Tom fought to have even the minimal visitation with the girls.
Crushed and dismayed, many night’s Tom’s faith, his friends, and his cat, were the only things keeping him sane. The heartbreak of losing his girls, the loss of all he had in the church, and the loss of his marriage, left him in the middle of a spiritual desert in need of fresh water.
Within a year of their separation, Sandy remarried and moved to Texas, taking Grace and Gabbie with her, to start a new life there. Tom tried to stop her but couldn’t. All he had gained in his rights as a father had to be re-challenged once again. Over the next year, the pain and loss were too much for him to take, both emotionally and physically, so finally he decided he would have to settle with Sandy and let go.
After Sandy left for Texas, Tom had moved to the Bay Area to be near family who had moved there around the same time. Now able to afford a better place, Tom rented an apartment overlooking the bay where he would take daily walks and bike rides talking with God. The sea and the air were a healing to his soul. His walks, and times sitting by the ocean, were like pouring ointment on open wounds that were gradually healing over.
It had now been over eight years since moving to California and it seemed like a daze to Tom. He never imagined that he would have gone through so many challenges and failures. If he had known what he would have faced, he may never have obeyed that voice telling him to look for a position there except for one thing; his girls. Knowing his love for Grace and Gabbie made it all worth it to him and he knew he would do it all over again just so they could be born.
Part 13 – Move!
Now that the battle with Sandy was over, Tom began to focus on his real estate finance business and, with his family nearby, he was finally starting to feel like life was turning around for him. Because he owned his own business, Tom could enjoy the freedom of working from home which included the peaceful view of the bay during the day. Occasionally, he even slipped in a small nap between calls just because he could. Life seemed settled for the first time in a long time for Tom.
During one of those helpful naps, he was awakened by what sounded like an audible voice saying, ‘It’s Time!’. Though it was all he heard, in his heart, he knew what that probably meant; to move closer to his kids in Texas. Yet, somehow, he knew it wasn’t to go back to the battle. This was different.
Tom spent the next few weeks praying about what he heard in his dream. Nearly two weeks had passed, while he was sitting on a park bench enjoying the sound of the crashing waves from the bay, when he had an answer to his prayers come to him. In that still, small voice he knew from many times before, he heard the words, ‘I’m going to restore your family in a way you do not expect. I want you to move to Texas, but not to fight. Trust me...’
That was it. He knew what he had to do. Within a few days, Tom had let his family know about his move and was ready to turn in his notice at the apartment when he asked God one more time for a sign that this decision was right.
It was a terrifying thought to be moving away from what he now had re-built considering all he’d been through. Still, part of him was excited about the opportunity to say goodbye to California. The thought of leaving it all behind was appealing, no doubt. Family being close made the decision more difficult for Tom as they had grown close with him spending many evenings at their home playing board games, laughing, and just being together.
The day came when he was going to turn in the two-week notice of his leaving. On his way down, Tom felt a strong nudge to check his mail. He decided to look in the box before going to the office. Inside was a brochure with the picture of a man walking quickly. Written on top were the words in bold print above saying, ‘MOVE!’. It leaped off the page at Tom and his heart raced with a sense that this was the final sign he needed to make the move.
With a smile, and a snicker at God’s sense of timing and humor, Tom confidently walked into the office and gave notice. He was now, officially, on the way to the next step in his journey. He didn’t know what lay ahead, but he knew God was behind it. He knew he wasn’t going to battle again. He knew he was stepping into something far better. In just a few short months, he would find the restoration he was promised, and it certainly wasn’t what he had expected.
Part 14 – Fulfilled Promise
The move to Texas went smoothly for Tom. At every step he knew where he should live, work, and what he should do. While settling into his apartment, he decided one of the first things he would do was find a church. One stood out to him immediately that was just a few blocks up the street. Ironically, it was called Grace.
On his first Sunday, he decided to visit. While on the way into the lobby, he noticed a bulletin board with a flier inviting anyone interested to attend their Divorce Care class. Tom thought to himself, ‘I’ve been there and done that. I’m fine…’ Within seconds, that still, small voice spoke to his heart saying, ‘GO!’. He knew he couldn’t argue with that voice, so he did.
He certainly wasn’t looking to find companionship in the class, but Tom couldn’t help but notice one of the women who was attending; Mary. She had been to the class before, but for some reason, felt she needed to attend again. Her marriage ended over a year prior, so she thought perhaps she could be of help to others.
After the first month of class, on a whim, Tom decided to ask Mary out for a cup of coffee. Mary agreed to go and what was meant to be a brief, casual time together, turned into something much more.
After getting a spontaneous dinner that turned out to be unintentionally fun and romantic, they headed to grab a coffee. While the conversation progressed, Tom knew he was falling fast. Suddenly, out of the blue, Mary told him that, while she was on the way into the coffee shop, God had spoken to her saying, ‘He’s innocent’.
She asked Tom what that meant. Surprised by her question, Tom knew it was God speaking to her. Beginning to cry, he told Mary everything he’d been through in California. With a confident smile, Mary looked at him and felt nothing but compassion and grace. Their conversation lasted until closing and then for another three hours after that. It was a night neither of them would forget and Tom knew then that his life would never be the same.
Mary was remarkable. Her heart, her personality, her family, and, of course, her looks, floored him. The only catch; she had two children and Tom wasn’t sure if they would accept him into their lives too. Over the next several months, Tom and Mary saw and talked with each other nearly every day. The fears Tom had about her kids accepting him nearly all washed away the more they spent time together.
That June, Mary was attending her annual family reunion in Canada. Her grandfather, known for having a word from the Lord for each of his children, and grandchildren, as he prayed God's blessing over them, had a word for Mary this time around.
He hadn’t heard about Tom before speaking to Mary, but he felt strongly to say to her, ‘Go home. Get married. It's OK’. Floored by her grandfather's word for her who hadn't been told about Tom, Mary came back from the reunion feeling at peace and thankful for God’s confirmation that it was alright to pursue the relationship further. Unknown to her, while she was gone, Tom settled in his heart that Mary was the one for him and had made plans to ask her hand in marriage soon.
Within a few days of her getting back from the reunion, Tom took her to dinner and, afterward, for a romantic walk around a nearby lake. They stopped and sat on a bench enjoying the warm summer's evening listening to the wind blow across the water. Tom knew that it was the time to ask. He took her hands in his, looked her in the eyes, and proposed her hand in marriage. She smiled knowing what he was up to and jumped into his arms saying, ‘YES!’…
That night was over eighteen years ago now. Sitting by the lake, nearby where he and Mary now lived, to catch a breath of fresh air and enjoy the view of the water, Tom’s mind came back to the present.
The memories of college, the ten years in California, followed by so many blessed years with Mary and her kids who had become like Tom's own, seemed to all flow together into that single moment. It was as though he could see God's hand at work throughout his life and now understood His purposes in ways he never would have when he was younger.
It was just then, after recalling all the memories, failures, heartbreaks, and blessings in his life, that Tom heard that still, small voice speak to his heart once again saying, ‘I restored your family in a way you never expected…’ Tom smiled and knew that the promise God made to him over eighteen years earlier on the shores of the bay in California, had more than come true through Mary and her children.
But, the voice in his heart had one more thing to say to him. Within a few seconds, he heard the voice say, ‘I will complete my work and bring your children home…’ All grown now with children of their own, Tom’s heart raced and knew what that meant; one day, he didn’t know when, his girls, Grace and Gabbie, who had been separated from him for so many years, would one day be back in right relationship with him.
He knew, without any doubt, that God would complete his work in their lives as well; all in His time and His way. Tom knew that all he needed to do was wait and obey. No matter what the challenge, he knew all things would work together for the good just as they had with Mary and her children. He knew that the old, stale water of the past pain and heartbreak with his own girls, would be replaced by fresh water from above washing away the brokenness and completing the promises of God in his life…
My heart is at rest, knowing all the promises of God are yes and amen!
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