Christian Short Stories
What Happened To The Chickens?
By Byron Allenby
“Honey, I’m sorry, but I don’t think I want to wait till we get to Knoxville to stop for lunch,” Grace said to her husband who was driving the family SUV.
“But five minutes ago, you said you wanted to wait. A better choice of restaurants, I believe you said.” Paul replied.
“Yeah, I know but now I'm suddenly starving. Quite strange really.”
“Funny enough, I'm suddenly starving too. You’ve got the map, what’s ahead?” Paul asked.
“There’s a little town coming up, exit’s about 2 miles. Let’s take that and see if there's a diner. Some of these little towns have great food.”
“Yeah,” Paul replied. “And some nearly kill you.”
Paul took the exit into the little town of Valley Oaks. It was a typical small country town, barely surviving, with a main street bordered by numerous shops, many empty and not a traffic light to be seen.
“Look, there’s a diner down there on the right,” Grace pointed out. “There’s a few cars in front so they can’t be killing too many of their clientele.”
Paul pulled in to an angled space a few doors back from the diner and nosed into the curb. “We’ll have to walk a few doors down but it'll give us a chance to stretch our legs.” They had been traveling for several hours without a break and this stop would be a welcome respite for their bodies. They got out of their SUV, stretched, and stepped on to the sidewalk. All the old shops had wide verandas that stretched to the edge of the road.
Paul took Grace’s hand as they started to walk to the diner when they noticed an old man walking in the same direction in front of them, not exactly walking but staggering, and very unsteady on his feet.
Paul looked at Grace. “An old wino.” He pulled her toward the road. “Let’s keep out of his way. He may hit us up for money for his next bottle.” Before they could leave the sidewalk, the old man fell onto a wooden seat positioned against a shop front.
“Look,” Paul said. "He’s passed out.” They kept walking past the old man.
Grace looked more closely at the old man. His clothes were old but of good quality and he was clean shaven. Something stirred inside her. Compassion. She let go of Paul’s hand and went over to the old man.
Paul cried out. “What are you doing?”
“Paul, he's not a drunk. He’s sick. Look at his face. He’s having some sort of attack. It’s probably his heart. Help me lie him down. Use your jacket for a pillow.”
Paul took his jacket off and made a pillow and helped Grace lie the old man down.
Grace spoke to the man. “Can you hear me? Hello, hello. Tell me what’s wrong, what’s happening to you?”
The old man opened his eyes. Grace positioned her ear close to his mouth. “Pills, I need my pills. Prescription in blue truck.” He pointed up the street past where Paul had parked. “Drug store, pills, I need my pills.”
Grace looked up at Paul. “He said there's a prescription in his truck! It's the blue one over there! Take the prescription to the drugstore! We passed it on the right coming in. Hurry!”
Paul ran up the street to the old blue pickup and opened the passenger door. He saw the prescription lying on the seat, snatched it up and ran into the drug store. An elderly pharmacist was behind the counter.
“Quick!” said Paul, thrusting the subscription into the hands of the pharmacist. “This old man needs these pills now. He’s passed out in the street!"
The pharmacist grabbed the prescription and looked at the name on it. “Ben Johnson, silly old coot. He should have been in yesterday for these. I have them ready.” He reached under the counter and handed over the pills. “Here, take a bottle of water as well. Where is he?”
“Down near the diner. My wife is with him. She’s a nurse but you’d better call a doctor as well.”
Paul ran out of the drugstore and back down the street. Grace was still holding the old man and talking to him. She took the box of pills and looked at them. “Angina, he has angina. Paul, help me sit him up while I give him these pills. These just go under the tongue.”
Paul sat the old man up and Grace helped him to slip a pill under his tongue.
Looking at Paul, Grace said, “Glad you thought of the water.”
“I didn’t, it was the pharmacist. Why did he give me water if these pills just go under the tongue?” Paul asked.
Grace smiled. “I suspect the water was for you, all that running and excitement.”
Paul took the cap off and drank. “He was right about that.”
Grace looked at the box of pills. “So his name is Ben Johnson.” She turned to the old man. Color was returning to his face and he was starting to breathe more easily.
“Ben, my name is Grace, and this is Paul. How are you feeling? You look a whole lot better.”
“I can breathe now. I felt my chest was being crushed before. Thank you for helping me,” Ben replied. He turned to Paul and patted his hand. “Not everyone who's old and can’t walk straight is a drunk. I may be old but I have very good hearing.”
Paul’s face turned bright red and a look of shame spread across his face. “Yes, I'm sorry. I passed judgment without knowing the facts. Please accept my apology. Fortunately my wife has enough compassion for both of us.”
“Forgiven,” Ben replied with another smile. “I’m too old to hold grudges.”
Just then a car screeched to a halt and an elderly man jumped out carrying a medical bag. He quickly walked up to Ben as Grace moved out of the way.
“Ben Johnson, you old codger. You creating trouble again?”
“’fraid so, Doc. And, by the way, who are you to call people old?”
The doctor quickly examined Ben while Grace told him what she had done.
The doctor continued. “You should be very grateful for what this young lady’s done for you. If I had known you were in such capable hands I wouldn’t have interrupted watching Dr.Phil to come and check you over.”
“Glad to hear you’re so busy, Doc,” Ben replied. “I’m sorry to interrupt the only training in psychology you’ve ever had, but don’t worry, they have plenty of reruns.”
“Ben, you can’t drive in this condition. You’ll have to wait for 24 hours,” ordered Doc.
“No buts,” said Doc firmly.
“Where do you live?” Grace asked. “Maybe we could drive you home?”
Doc broke in. “This old hermit lives about half an hour out of town in the mountains. He comes into town once a month for supplies. I’ve only ever been out there once so long ago now I wouldn’t remember how to get there. Ben, stay at the motel tonight and you'll be right to go home tomorrow.”
“I’d rather sleep in the back of my truck than stay in that place,” Ben replied. “The cockroaches are big enough to carry me away during the night. Anyway, I have animals to feed.”
“Well, that settles it,” said Paul. “I’ll drive you home in your truck and Grace can follow us in our car.”
Doc looked at Ben. “Choice is yours, roaches or a ride. What’s it to be?”
Ben grimaced. “I’ll choose the ride. We’ll have to go to the store first, everything should be ready.” Looking at Paul and Grace, he asked, “What are you two doing for lunch?”
“We’ll get takeout from the diner so we can get you home without delay. Would you like something?” Paul asked.
“No thanks, I’ll wait till I get home,” Ben said. “Thanks for coming, Doc. Just send me the bill.”
“Very funny, Ben,” Doc said. “You don’t even have a mailing address. Look after yourself.”
Paul helped Ben to stand and walked him slowly to the old pickup while Grace went into the diner and ordered takeout. She returned in a few minutes and passed Paul’s food through the window of the truck.
“We’re going up to the store to get Ben’s supplies. Shouldn’t take long and then follow me to Ben’s place,” Paul said.
The supplies were soon loaded, and following Ben’s directions, they headed out of town on a narrow rural road.
Ben looked at Paul. “You didn’t need to do this you know.”
“It’s the least we could do after being so rude to you, judging you like that. I’m glad we were there in the right place at the right time.”
Ben mused. “Rather strange that you should be walking past just at that time and that Grace is a nurse.”
“And especially since we weren’t going to stop at Valley Oaks until about three minutes before we came to the exit. Very strange indeed," Paul said.
Ben was silent for a few minutes before he spoke again. “No one has been out to my old shack for nearly twenty five years. The Doc was the last person.”
Paul was stunned. “Twenty five years? Obviously you’re not much of a social butterfly. Were you sick?”
“No,” replied Ben, with a slight waver in his voice. “My wife Ellen died very suddenly and I had to get the Doc to issue a death certificate.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Ben. And you’ve lived alone ever since?”
“Yeah, we could never have children.”
“It must have been very lonely.....,” Paul said.
Ben interrupted. “Sorry to cut in but we need to turn off this road shortly. Start slowing down now. Bit further, bit further. See that patch of dirt there, turn in there.”
“But it’s surrounded by bush. There’s nowhere to go,” Paul said.
“Trust me,” Ben said with a soft smile. Paul turned slowly onto the bare ground and was confronted by trees and shrubs in front and to the right.
“Look left,” Ben said. “There’s a narrow, grassy road between the trees and shrubs. Go up there a few yards and stop. Have to put this old clunker in 4 wheel drive. Grace will need to do the same.”
They stopped and got out as Grace pulled up behind. Paul walked over to her.
“Seems like we have to drive up this road in 4 wheel drive. You okay with that?” Paul asked.
Grace smiled. “Well, if Ben’s old rust bucket can make it, ours should glide over the dirt road.”
“Okay then,” said Paul, and he leaned over and gave her a quick kiss.
Paul got back into Ben’s truck and set off slowly up the mountain. The road was in fairly good condition and the journey was not as bone jarring as he had anticipated.
“Do you keep this road graded, Ben?” Paul asked.
“Yeah. I have a small grader I use for keeping it up. Haven’t done it since the last big rains, but it's not too bad.”
“I’m surprised. I thought I would have all my bones jarred to pieces. I wouldn’t imagine that your truck’s had the shocks replaced within the last twenty years?" Paul said smiling.
Ben nodded in agreement. “I replaced them just before Ellen died. Good timing as it turned out. I had bought this truck a few years before and used it to bring all the building materials up here for the shack we built. Springs and shocks were really bad by then.” Ben stopped talking for a minute then he continued on. “The road was pretty rough then. When Ellen died Doc helped me to put her in a casket and I was able to take her down to the funeral parlor nice and gentle. I didn’t want her bouncing round all over the place. Pretty silly really. I knew it was only her body and she wasn’t really there anymore but.....”
Paul remained silent, leaving the old man engrossed in his thoughts.
Suddenly Ben spoke again. “I don’t know why I’m telling you all this. Haven’t spoken to anyone about Ellen since I buried her all those years ago. Must be getting soft in the head.”
“Or just plain lonely,” Paul suggested. Ben did not reply and silence ensued.
A couple of minutes later they suddenly came out of the woods into a wide clearing dominated by a large two story clapboard house, it’s walls embracing many multi-pane windows on both floors. Several steps led up to the entry doors.
Paul gasped. “This is the shack? Is this what you and Ellen built all those years ago?”
Ben looked at him in amusement. “What did you expect, a log cabin? A tent, maybe? I may enjoy living in the wilderness but I’m no raving tree hugger. I like my mod cons.”
Paul chuckled and pulled up at the front door. Grace parked behind and came over to them, helping Ben out.
“What a beautiful place you have, Ben. Is there a Mrs. Ben to share it with?”
Paul quickly interrupted. “Ben was telling me about his wife, Ellen…she passed away many years ago. But he and Ellen built this place.”
“It’s beautiful, Ben,” Grace said. "You both did a great job. Anyway, enough of this chitchat. We have to get you inside. You’re not looking too good at the moment.”
“Yes, I’m feeling a bit funny. I think I need to sit down and have one of those tablets,” Ben said.
Paul and Grace helped him up the front steps to the front door. “Got a key, Ben?” Paul asked.
“Don’t need one, just turn the handle. The critters around here haven’t learned to open the door yet.”
They helped Ben inside and into the lounge room. He pointed to a big old comfortable arm chair positioned in front of a huge fireplace. “Over there,” he said. Grace sat him down and slipped another pill under his tongue.
“Too much excitement for you today, Ben. Just relax. I see you have set the fire. It’s a bit chilly. Would you like me to light it for you?”
Ben nodded. “Yes, thank you.”
“Consider it done,” Grace said and soon the flames were dancing merrily across the fireplace.
Paul called out. “I’ll bring in Ben’s supplies.”
“Okay,” replied Grace. “I’ll stay with Ben. Can I make you a cup of something, Ben?”
“Tea. Use the kettle on the stove. Bottled gas.” Ben said in response to Grace’s unasked question. “There are some cookies in the cupboard and fruit on the counter-top.”
Paul finished unloading the truck and soon the three of them were sitting around the fireplace drinking tea. Ben had recovered quite well.
“I see you have power. How did you get electricity up here?” Paul asked.
“When we decided to live here and build this place there was no way I was going green and living with kerosene lamps and washing in cold water. I came from New York and I loved the quietness and solitude of this place, but I wasn’t giving up all the modern conveniences. I brought in a large generator that supplied power while we were building and then it supplied power for the house. A few years ago I put in a large solar unit that supplies more than enough power for light and hot water, and then some.”
“Wow,” Paul said. “You must be really handy with your hands. Sounds like you can do anything.”
“You can, if you set your mind to it.”
“Paul, please help me take these cups and plates to the kitchen,” Grace said.
“I can help,” Ben offered.
“No,” Grace said graciously. “You just sit there and rest.”
Paul and Grace gathered up the cups and plates and took them into the kitchen. Speaking quietly, Grace said to Paul. “I’m concerned about Ben’s health. I don’t think he should be left here alone tonight. Are you okay to stay?”
“Sure, if you think it’s necessary. We don’t really have to be home till tomorrow.”
Grace smiled. “Okay, then let’s tell Ben we’ll stay if he’s okay with that.”
They went back into the living room and sat down with Ben.
“Ben, I’m concerned about you. You’re still not feeling very well are you?” Grace asked.
“Not really,” Ben replied.
“Well that settles it. If it’s okay with you, Paul and I are going to stay the night and be here if you need help. We were coming back from a camp so we have our sleeping bags and pillows so we won’t be any trouble for you.”
“I would like you to stay,” Ben said smiling. “Other than not feeling well I’ve enjoyed talking to you. I’d forgotten what it was like to have company. As far as sleeping here, there are three bedrooms upstairs with comfortable beds and plenty of linen which unfortunately hasn’t been used for years so it's probably musty.”
“Sleeping bags are fine for us,” Paul said. “However we’ll take you up on the beds. Sleeping on the floor is a bit too primitive for me. I’ll get our bags out of the car and take them upstairs.”
“And there are two bathrooms upstairs and plenty of hot water. Feel free to shower.”
“Why don’t I start dinner now? Then we can have an early night. Is there anything you like?”
“There are some chicken fillets in the fridge,” Ben said.
“Good. I can make a nice meal out of those with the vegetables you bought today.”
Paul went and brought their bags in and Grace went to the kitchen to start preparing the evening meal while Ben sat staring into the fire. Moments later Paul came back downstairs.
“Ben, it’s beautiful upstairs. I love the wood floors and the beautiful windows. You’ve done a fantastic job. Hey, we might not want to leave,” he said smiling.
“Thanks. It’s a shame the rooms have never been used. I’ve become too reclusive over the years. Just having you and Grace here has changed the atmosphere in this place.”
“Then we’ll have to come back and visit you if you’d like.”
“That sounds good to me. Where is home for you?” Ben asked.
“Hendersonville, just north of Nashville. Not too far away. Oh, I just remembered. You said that you have some animals to feed. I can do that for you.”
“Thanks,” Ben said. “Just some chickens. Give them the kitchen scraps and some laying pellets which are in the chicken shed. You can lock them up for the night. If there are any eggs, please bring them in.”
“No problem. I’ll do that now. Where’s the chicken yard?”
Ben pointed. “It’s out the back behind the house. There’s a little track. You can’t miss it. Go out through the kitchen and see if that lovely wife of yours needs anything.”
Paul went into the kitchen and checked with Grace. “Ben,” he called out. “She’s fine. Dinner will be ready in about 40 minutes.” He then turned to Grace. “I’m going out to feed the chickens and get the eggs. There should be some kitchen scraps somewhere around here.”
“In the bucket on the floor,” Grace said pointing. “I wondered what that was for.”
Paul took the bucket and went out the kitchen door. He found the track Ben mentioned and walked through the trees until he came to a clearing. There he saw a large yard enclosed by a 6 foot high wire fence. At the far end was an 8’x8’ shed. He entered the yard through the gate and the chickens, approximately 12 of them, came running up expectantly. Paul tipped the bucket of scraps onto the ground and stood back and watched with amusement at the ensuing melee. He walked over to the shed and looked into the nesting boxes and collected all the eggs. He then scooped up some laying pellets and put them into the feeding dishes near the shed door. The chickens, having devoured the scraps came running over and started on the pellets. Paul left the yard and sat on the grass nearby. He took in the stillness of his surroundings, broken by the clucking of the chickens.
“Father, what a beautiful peaceful place you have created here. Thank you for bringing Ben across our path. Help us to be a blessing to him. Please restore his health.” Paul stood up and went into the yard again and spoke to the chickens. “Alright girls, time for bed.” He attempted to shoo them into the shed without much success. After about 20 minutes he finally succeeded in getting them all in. He locked the door and went back to the house.
Grace looked at Paul questioningly. “What took you so long? Laying the eggs were you?”
“Very funny. They wouldn’t go into the shed. I’d get them all in them one would run out.”
“The secret is to wait till it’s nearly dark,” Grace said. “They go in by themselves.”
“And how do you know that?” Paul asked.
“Ah, you’d be surprised at the scale of my knowledge,” Grace joked.
“Well I’ll try your theory some other time. What do you want me to do with the eggs?”
“Wash them and put them in the fridge. Then you can set the table and carry the food in.”
Paul set the table and helped Grace with the food. Soon the three of them were sitting at the dining table ready to start.
“Looks better than anything I’ve knocked up over the last few years. You can come back anytime,” Ben said.
“Do you mind if I say grace?” Paul asked.
“No, that’s alright. Haven’t said it myself for a long time,” Ben answered.
“Father, thank you that you brought Ben across our paths today and that we were in a position to help him. Please bless this food to our bodies and us to your service. Amen.”
“Amen,” said Ben. “That was short.”
Paul chuckled. “I’m hungry and I’m giving thanks not preaching a sermon. Maybe at breakfast I might feel a sermon coming on.”
“Are you a preacher?” Ben asked.
“No,” Paul said. “But I’ve spoken at church a few times.”
Silence ensued while they enjoyed their meal. At the end of the main course Ben said. “Anyone for dessert? There’s ice cream in the freezer.”
Grace scooped the ice cream as Paul made the coffee. Once they had finished their dessert and coffee Ben looked at the younger couple with a smile on his face.
“Thank you so much for what you’ve done for me. I appreciate you staying.”
“It's our pleasure. If you need us during the night just call out,” Grace said.
“If I get sick and it’s anything like today, I may not be able to speak. However, I have a loud bell Ellen used to ring when she wanted me in for meals. I’ll get that out and ring it if I need to. Once again, thank you so much. I’m not used to having people doing things for me. Too old and independent. Good night. See you in the morning.”
“Good night,” Paul and Grace said. They cleared the table, washed and dried the dishes and then went upstairs to bed. They slept soundly and were woken in the morning with the sun streaming in their window and with the sound of Ben singing away softly in the kitchen.
“Wakey, wakey,” Ben called out. “Breakfast in 20 minutes.”
Paul called back. “Okay, we’ll be there.” He turned to Grace “He must be feeling a lot better if he’s cooking breakfast. We’d better shower and get down there. There’s two bathrooms, one each. We’d better hurry.”
They came downstairs together to be confronted by a perfectly cooked breakfast of bacon and eggs, hash browns and toast, orange juice, and an assortment of jellies.
“I thought you were sick. You must have been faking it,” Grace said giggling.
“I do feel so much better. Haven’t felt this good for years. You didn’t pray for me, did you?” Ben asked Paul.
“Guilty,” said Paul. “It was while I was feeding the chickens. I asked God to restore your health. Just a quick little prayer. My God doesn’t mess around, sometimes. I wish He answered prayer that quickly all the time.”
“Well, I’m grateful. Now let’s sit down and eat.”
“Now wait a minute. I feel a sermon coming on,” Paul joked. “Guess breakfast will have to wait awhile.” He chuckled and said another short prayer. Then they helped themselves to the delicious breakfast.
“You’re not a bad cook yourself, Ben,” Grace said.
“Makes a difference when you have someone to cook for,” Ben replied.
After breakfast Ben took them for a walk and showed them his land. “I have over a hundred acres here. Lots of woods and quite a few patches of open ground. Sometimes I just sit and the wild animals, none that are dangerous, come up to me. They’ve gotten used to me over the years and know I’m no threat to them.”
After returning from their morning stroll Ben went into the kitchen. Moments later he returned with steaming cups of coffee. They sat in front of the fireplace to enjoy the warmth of the fire and their cups of hot coffee.
“How did you come to find this place, Ben?” Paul asked.
“About thirty years ago I was a banker in New York. Very successful I might add. Had a bundle of money and really didn’t need to work full time anymore. Always loved the mountains, the solitude, the peace and quiet. I was on holidays for a few weeks with Ellen and driving nowhere in particular and we stopped in Knoxville for lunch. We saw a real estate office and we were looking in the window and saw these 100 acres for sale. Sounded just like what I had been dreaming about so I bought it sight unseen. Best thing I ever did but the worst thing I ever did,” Ben said.
“Really, how can it be both?” Grace asked.
“Well, after Ellen died I had plenty of time to think and I came to realize that all this was my dream and not Ellen’s. It was me who wanted to experience and enjoy the peace and solitude of the mountains. Yes, Ellen was okay with it for a short time but she was always restless after a few days. You see, she enjoyed the big city and had many friends. They didn’t just sit around drinking coffee. They spent their time helping the less fortunate, the homeless and the poor. She was always cooking meals and visiting people who were sick. She often stayed overnight with single mothers and helped them with their children and housework. We even went to church every week though she was a lot more committed than I was. I had no trouble with the money she spent to help people. I was just more skilled at making it.”
Grace prompted Ben. “And by bringing her here so often you came to understand that you were really taking her away from what she loved to do.”
“Yes, and she never once complained. Her desire to help others was more like a calling on her life. She had such a passion for those who were suffering and in need. After I realized this I was overcome with guilt for a long time and longed to reverse the course of our lives but of course it was too late. It’s my deepest regret that will be with me until I die.”
“But...,” interrupted Paul. “If it wasn’t for you and your ability to make money as a banker she might not have been able to do as much as she did. Did it occur to you that God gave you that ability so you could partner with Ellen?”
"Yes,” replied Ben. “I also thought of that later and that gave me some comfort. We were able to fund several homeless shelters and still do to this day.”
“Ben, we all have regrets in our lives. We’ve all said or done things we wish we hadn’t and hurt people we didn’t want to hurt. That’s a result of our sinful nature which I’m sure you heard about in church.” Grace said.
“Yeah, well it’s been a long time since I went to church.”
“Ben, we don’t have to have these regrets and guilt weigh us down and affect us for the rest of our lives," Paul said. "God is able to forgive our sins and failures if we confess them to him and take the pain away. The bible says that we will be like a new person.”
“I can remember that religious stuff from all those years ago. I’m not sure if I believe much of it any more,” Ben replied.
“It’s not about religion, Ben, it’s about relationship, a relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s through Jesus’ death on the cross that we can find forgiveness for our sins,” Grace said.
“Well,” replied Ben. “I sure don’t want a relationship with someone who kills people.”
“What? Are you saying Jesus kills people?” Paul exclaimed.
“Yes, he killed Ellen.”
“How do you mean?” Grace asked.
“Well, we were asleep in bed the night she died and something woke me around 3:00 in the morning. There appeared to be a light at the foot of the bed. Suddenly Ellen sat up and looked toward the light. A beautiful smile lit up her face and she reached out her arms toward the light and said, ‘Jesus, you’ve come for me.’ She fell back on her pillow and she was gone. Later they said she had a brain aneurysm,” Ben said.
“Oh, Ben, that must have been such a shock to you, so sudden and unexpected,” Grace said sadly.
“After all these years I can still see and feel everything that happened that night.”
Paul interjected. “So you thought that if Jesus was there he could have stopped Ellen from dying?”
Paul continued. “And you've been angry with Jesus ever since?”
There was silence in the room for several moments. Then Paul spoke softly. “Ben, did it ever occur to you that Jesus revealed himself to Ellen for her sake? That He wanted to be with her at the time she died so she wouldn’t be afraid and to take her to heaven with Him? You said she had a beautiful smile on her face so she wasn’t worried or afraid. That’s why He came, for Ellen.”
A shocked look came over Ben’s face as he fought to digest this new revelation. He sat still in his chair for several minutes, and with tears flowed down his cheeks. He stood quickly and rushed out through the kitchen and into the woods.
Paul got up to follow him but Grace put her hand on his arm to restrain him. “Leave him be, he needs time to think. Paul, what you said to Ben came from the Holy Spirit. God is dealing with the bitterness and anger that has controlled his life for all these years.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Let’s pray for him.”
Nearly two hours passed before they heard the kitchen door open and close. Ben came into the room. There was a look of real peace on his face.
Grace addressed him with compassion. “How are you doing, Ben? You look like a new man. There’s something different about you.”
“You’re right,” replied Ben. “I feel totally different. I feel so peaceful, like all the anger and resentment has drained out of me.” He looked at Paul. “Your words hit home like a sledge hammer. All this time I've been looking at Ellen’s death only from my perspective, my own selfish point of view. Never once did it occur to me to look at it from Ellen’s perspective. And I automatically blamed Jesus for her death and for not stopping it. And, because of that, I stayed angry with Him all these years."
Ben sat in his arm chair. “I’ve had time to think out there. It was as if all my thoughts during the time I did spend listening in church, and all my thoughts following Ellen’s death have come together with clarity. Death is an issue we humans don’t like to address. We think that God is obligated to give us all a long and healthy life and die in our old age. We just never know when it's going to happen.”
“That’s right,” Paul said. “Death only makes sense in the light of eternity. This earth is a temporary stopping point. At death we pass on to heaven or hell."
"I realize the choice is ours and it was something I needed to address. I've always believed Ellen went to heaven when she died, and it wasn’t just because of all the good things she did for people. I remembered that we both made a decision to ask Jesus Christ into our lives. It was because of Jesus’ death on the cross that made it possible for her to enter heaven and I’m so glad she did. As for me, I prayed the same prayer but had fallen away and become a very poor follower of Christ. Today, I've made peace with my Savior.” His voice broke and tears started to run down his face “I asked Jesus to forgive me for being so angry with Him and to cleanse me from all my sin. I thanked him for being with my beloved when she died and for taking her to heaven. And I look forward to seeing them both when my time comes.”
Grace and Paul stood and went over to Ben, wrapped their arms around the old man and rejoiced with him.
Later, after lunch, they prepared to say their goodbyes. "I sure do appreciate everything you've done for me,” Ben said.
“I’m sure it was a divine appointment," Paul replied. "God had this planned for a long time. He just had to bring everything into alignment. His timing is perfect.”
“We'd love to see you again, Ben. Let's plan to get together soon,” Grace said.
Shortly thereafter they departed, leaving behind a very different man than the one they had first met the day before.
It was over twelve months, interspersed with frequent phone calls and several weekend visits, that Paul and Grace maintained their friendship with Ben. But early one morning the phone rang in their home and Paul answered.
“Is this Paul Stewart?” asked the voice on the other end of the phone.
“Yes it is.”
“This is Doc Benson from Valley Oaks.”
“Hi Doc, what a surprise,” Paul said. He then realized that the call was probably not a social one. “Is everything okay with Ben?”
“Well, yes and no,” replied Doc. “Ben came to see me a couple of days ago saying he wasn’t doing so good. I insisted he come and stay with me. Then around 3:00 this morning, I woke up for some reason and noticed a strange light coming from Ben’s bedroom. I went and looked in and there was this light at the foot of his bed. Suddenly Ben sat up and looked toward the light. A beautiful smile lit up his face and he reached out his arms toward the light and said, ‘Jesus, you’ve come for me.’ He fell back on his pillow and died instantly. I’m sorry to bring you the bad news, but believe me, he died very happy. I hope I go like that. Anyway, he told me sometime ago that if anything happened to him to contact you.”
“Thanks for letting us know, Doc. Who’s arranging the funeral?”
“I’ll do that. The funeral will be on Friday. He’ll be buried beside Ellen in the local cemetery,” Doc said.
“We had arranged to come and stay with him on Friday anyway and stay the weekend. We’ll still do that.”
“Paul, I also found an envelope addressed to you in his belongings,” Doc said. “There may be some requests concerning his property. I’ll contact his lawyer.”
“He probably left everything to the charitable trust he and Ellen set up,” Paul replied. “Thanks again for calling, Doc. It’s sad news for us as we’ll miss him, but good news for Ben. He's seen his Savior face to face and he’s with his Ellen again. We’ll see you on Friday.”
Paul hung up and went and told Grace the sad news. That Friday they drove to Valley Oaks and met Doc at the church. A few of the townspeople that had known Ben were gathered to pay their last respects. Following the service Doc gave Paul the envelope Ben had left for them. Paul and Grace drove up to Ben’s house, once again taken by the beauty and tranquility of the place. They made coffee and sat down to read Ben’s letter.
Dear Paul and Grace,
I thank God from the depths of my heart for loving this old backslider enough not to give up on me and for sending you good people to straighten me out. (If you are reading this then I am thanking Him personally, ha ha). I cannot thank you enough for being available to God and for being obedient to his bidding to get an old codger like me to listen to what He wanted me to hear. One day we will meet again though not for a while as I feel that God has much for you to do still.
God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him and who are obedient to his calling. You will hear shortly from my lawyer who prepared my will. In essence you will soon be the proud owners of this little 100 acre piece of paradise here to do with as you wish. There is also a sizable monthly distribution from my charity, tax paid, which will enable you to leave your employment and become more active in the Lord’s work.
Finally, there is a small surprise in the chicken shed for you both. You may have wondered what I've being doing all these years up here. Well, I have been busy. Despite not walking closely to God, and being unreasonably angry with Jesus, God has chosen to bless me. He has laid up provision for the vision that He has put on His follower’s heart. I didn't know who that was to be but I've been preparing it for many years. It was only after I met the both of you that I knew who I was meant to give it to. There is a verse in Isaiah that talks about the treasures of darkness, the hidden riches of secret places. Well I have been digging it up for years.
If you go to the chicken shed and pull up the wooden floor, you'll find the results of my toil. What you do with it is between you and God but I believe it’s for you to use for the Kingdom.
God bless you both. See you in heaven.
Paul and Grace looked at each other with amazement.
“Do you suppose he’s talking about gold and silver, maybe gemstones?” Grace asked.
Paul jumped up. “Only one way to find out!”
They ran out through the kitchen and up the path toward the chicken shed. As they arrived they realized the chickens were gone.
"What happened to the chickens?" Grace asked.
"Doc probably found good homes for them," Paul answered.
Paul bent down and started to lift up the wooden floorboards. A tarpaulin covered the whole floor underneath. Paul pulled it back and he and Grace looked at each other in amazement. Covering the floor were dozens and dozens of calico wrapped objects in various sizes and shapes. Grace leaned down and picked one up and unfolded the material.
“Look, Paul, it’s a gold nugget!” Grace exclaimed. They quickly unwrapped several other objects and all contained gold nuggets of various sizes and weights.
“There are hundreds here!” Paul said excitedly. “They have to be worth several million dollars!”
Grace looked at Paul. “When you read Ben’s letter and he mentioned the passage in Isaiah, it reminded me of something, especially now seeing all this gold.”
“What’s that?” asked Paul.
“Remember that meeting in Los Angeles several years ago? There was a prophet there and he told us that God has called us into the media to write and produce Christian films. And he spoke that very verse from Isaiah over us about the hidden riches.”
Paul broke in. “Yes, yes! Of course I remember. It takes millions to make a movie but we couldn’t do much about it since we’ve never had the finances.” He stopped talking and slowly surveyed the scene before him. “Grace, there are millions of dollars here in all this gold. This is the prophetic word coming true before our very eyes.”
“But what have we done over the years to prepare ourselves for this moment?" Grace replied. "We were always daunted by the lack of money. And now that we have the money we’re not ready. And the Lord knows the world needs good, wholesome movies that reveal the love of God.”
“You’re right. We should have been doing a lot more to prepare ourselves for the time when the Lord provided the finances. We need to ask God’s forgiveness for not trusting him to provide when the time was right.”
They held hands and bowed there heads.
“Father, we thank you for the way you work in our lives, for bringing us into Ben’s life and for having Ben collect all this gold when he really didn’t know what was going to happen to it. We’ll be good stewards of this provision so that we can fulfill the vision you have given us to produce Christian movies,” Paul prayed.
Grace continued. “And, Father we ask your forgiveness for not preparing ourselves, for not doing all we could have with the resources we’ve had and for not trusting you to provide as we needed."
Paul looked at Grace. “I think we’ve learned a very good lesson. If the Lord gives you an assignment, gives you a vision to do something for him, then do what you can with what you have and He will give you provision for the vision at the right time."
“Amen,” Grace replied.
(© 2010 Byron Allenby – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)
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