Christian Short Stories

Conversion Near Tollgate
By Web Ruble

Web writes: "A former hooligan, soldier and journalist, I've travelled the devil's backroads before consumption by the Holy Spirit."

He looked me straight in my bad eye and said, "Who do you think you are? God?"

It was Devlin Butoric's response to my statement that I didn't need to be concerned about the Lord, as my accomplishments were the result of my own self reliance.

I had also said that I figured I was a good person and therefore didn't need to be terribly concerned about the afterlife.

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about," he said. "You ARE a good person but you DO need to understand that Jesus loves you and that you need to love Him back."

And you can imagine how the conversation went. One voice from a believer, and the other from one who really wasn't concerned about all that stuff.

I had to wonder intermittently -- how did this all come about anyway?

Well, that involves going back a week or so. To wit:

Trees -- stately and lots of 'em -- grow in Walla Walla.

The old timey city of 30,000 people sits out on the rolling open near Wallula Gap, Wailatpu, and not far from Tollgate and the Blue Mountains. It's also in the middle of Eastern Washington's vineyards , and wheat and sweet onion fields.

Nevertheless, green trees and lawns luxuriate there in profusion.

That's why when I lived in Columbia Basin's desert-like Kennewick, I would occasionally drive to Walla Walla on my day off -- just to see the trees and perhaps soak some of the ambiance of historic-classy Whitman College.

Obviously, I admired Walla Walla. It was my soulful place when I was hostage of the semi-desert, some 40 miles west.

However, since I have been living in bushy green, dynamic Portland for some 25 years, I hadn't been to Walla Walla much. It's hasn't been exactly on my way to anywhere.

Well, I got a call from Dev about a week ago who wanted to meet me in Walla Walla at the Acey Ducey for a 1 p.m. lunch on Wednesday.

I hadn't seen Dev for a thousand years, it seemed. When we were in high school. we were both such houlihans -- sort of Black Hand wannabes. Now he was almost robed -- a strong, profound lay leader in Spokane's Manito Presbyterian Church.


Not "a man of the cloth," as they say, but headed that way. I couldn't believe it. There's gotta be a story here, I thought. Over the telephone last weekend he mentioned being under care and perhaps headed for San Francisco Theological Seminary at San Anselmo.

Enticing was the fact that he was attending a lay conference in Walla Walla. And I loved Walla Walla. So I lurched at the chance to re-visit Walla Walla and Dev at the same time.

"Hey," he said. "Let's do it! Lots of catching up to do."

Wednesday was my day off at Portland's daily newspaper So there I was on my way to the land of the Jolly Green Giant.

I was looking forward to our chat-and-chew, but I was sure he would try to convert me into being a believer.

Well, I was not disappointed.

"Who do you think you are?" he said midway through lunch.

I had just told him that heretofore I had been self reliant, which I thought was necessary in my competitive situation in liberal Portland.

I said that I believed I had talent and just needed a break to get a leg up on the competition. After all, a reporter wasn't considered worth a toot or one of the Big O's top five, if he or she didn't bust a big story.

However, I hadn't. Time was running out, and the really good stories I had come up with were not considered much by the alleged politically correct staff and editors. I was on enough of an ego trip to where that really bothered me.

I told Dev of my frustration and that I soon may be totally lost as I was approaching retirement.

That's when he pushed aside his linguini, rolled up his sleeves and began to bore in.

"Hah! Don't give me that," he said. "Your productive life is just beginning.

"Jesus died a horrible death. He did it for you, me and everyone else. Jesus came to Earth to save us, and 33 years later did it by so dying horribly on that cross."

"Well, that's ecclesiastically great, " I said. "But save me from what? I didn't ask him to save me . . . so don't hold me hostage to His foolish sacrifice."

Ooops! I spoke before I got my survival brain in gear. I actually feared my questions would anger him (and God) and destroy our friendships.

However, it didn't seem to phase Dev. You see, he was on a mission. He just plowed on. My guess is Dev in recent years had been through this same juncture so many times that it was routine.

" . . .Save us from sin," he said. "We all fall short of the glory of God. We were born that way. We need to be born again. We need to realize that all of the talents we have are gifts from Him," Dev said. "And that He expects us to use them in doing His work. Not to ego-trip out. We need to use our talents to help others and further God's kingdom. 'When you help the least of them my brethren, you do it unto me,' Jesus said."

I was silent for a while, letting Dev's words sink in. Finally I said, 'But if I go along with that mood, others will use it to blow me away. I'll get nowhere. I'd ruin my career that's already teetering on the brink. I'd be a doormat."

"No. Jesus doesn't want you to be a doormat," Dev said. "There's a line between you, your ego and what the Lord wants you to do. It's hard, I am sure, to know where that line is. But ask Jesus in prayer. He'll help you. The Holy spirit will guide you as to when to speak up and what to say. We need to stand for our convictions. Hang the temporary demotions.

"If you do that, you'll be more successful and as successful as God intended. You'll know joy, have the world's greatest purpose, and be happy. Believe me! You'll be glad you did.

"I know that this is coming at you all at once, like a tidal wave," Dev said. "But think about it. If you later get into the true spirit but still need help, call me. You know where to find me in Spokane. You have my number."

After that we finished off our peach pie ala mode. We said hasty good byes. He returned to his conference. I hit the road.

Somewhere along the way -- perhaps as I was approaching a barren wilderness of Boardman -- it came over me like a burning bush:

Your success has been just out of reach, and that's probably because what you have been striving for was not meant to be. That'll probably not change. But your attitude toward it can change . . .it's certainly worth a try . . .No! It's worth a commitment.

Go for it!

(© 2012 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)

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