An Unforeseen Meeting
“That was a really great trip! Wasn’t it Dad?” a child’s voice from the backseat said excitedly.
Alan Dean glanced momentarily from the road over to his pregnant wife, Louise in the passenger seat. He smiled and rubbed her—now very large—belly. After receiving a warm and encouraging smile in response, he turned his attention back to the road.
The Dean family was heading home from a two-week summer vacation at their cottage on Lake Wallenpaupack in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The ride home was always pretty boring. There’s nothing interesting to look at on I-80 except trees. Sure, they’re beautiful; but more so in Autumn, when the leaves are changing colors. This was still the tail-end of Summer, and all the trees looked exactly the same—not much variety, all passing in a blur of green. So, it was a welcomed relief for Alan when he heard his nine-year-old son’s question.
He looked up to the rear-view mirror and caught his boy staring out of his window thoughtfully. “Yes, I agree. That’s really nice to hear Brian. I’m glad you enjoyed yourself. What was your favorite part?” he inquired.
Brian looked up, met his father’s gaze in the mirror and answered, “I loved water skiing! It was hard to stand up at first, but I’m glad you made me keep trying. I would’ve quit, if you and Mom didn’t tell me not to give up.”
Louise chimed into the conversation, “That’s a good lesson to remember in general Brian. There will always be difficult things that you will have to face in life. Some of them might seem impossible at the time. But, nothing is impossible for God. He always has His own reasons for putting us through hard times.”
“Like what?” Brian asked curiously.
It just so happened at that very moment that Louise noticed a hitchhiker a little ways ahead of them. The man was sitting on the side of the highway, leaning on a large camping backpack behind him. His arm was outstretched with thumb extended, indicating the need for a ride. Louise used this chance to further support her life lesson, “Can you see that man sitting way up there? He probably thinks that life is impossible right now,” she then turned to her husband and said, “Alan, I think we should pick him up.”
Alan reluctantly agreed, saying a little prayer aloud so his family could hear it, “Lord, thank you for this opportunity to help someone in need. Use us to show him that nothing is impossible for You. Please protect us. And allow us to take this man where You want him to go. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Louise respectfully waited until the prayer was finished, and continued when Alan switched on the emergency flashers, “You see Brian, it looks like this guy was about to give up trying to get a ride. God orchestrated it so that we would be driving by at just the right time to help him out. There’s a reason that he’s here right now and that we’re here too.”
Brian contemplated this briefly. But when the car began to slow down and pull over onto the side of the road, he was distracted by the vibration of the car as the tires rolled over the rumble strips lining the shoulder of the highway.
The car came to gentle stop and the man stumbled to a standing position. Alan craned his body carefully over Louise and yelled out of the passenger-side window, “Hey man. Where’re ya headed?”
“Nowhere in particular. Just makin’ my way cross-country,” the man announced as he leaned in the window allowing the family to get a better look at his dark, haggard face. His dreadlocks where pulled back and tied behind the back of his head, but were long enough to hang over his shoulder and cascade into the window when he bent in to talk.
Brian never encountered anyone who looked like this guy before. He thought he must be very strong, since he had piercings in his ears, eyebrow, nose and bottom lip. There were tattoos all over the exposed arms that supported the man as he leaned in the opened window. His clothes seemed to be much too big for him though. And there was an unusual smell that emanated from him when he spoke. The strangest thing about him was that his eyes seemed to dart around a lot, not looking in one place for very long.
“We’d be happy to give you a ride. We can take you as far as the Jersey border, if that’s alright?” Alan said cheerfully.
The man reached behind his back with his right arm, but Brian couldn’t see what the man brought out to show his mom and dad. “You can just take me to the nearest gas station, if that’s alright?” the man stammered.
Although Brian didn’t quite know what was happening, he could sense a wave of uncomfortable fear sweep over both of his parents. Louise opened her door and got out, allowing the man to take her seat up front after placing his oversized backpack on the seat next to the back door. Louise calmly, but promptly, scooted around the bag, sat next to Brian and whispered to him, “Pray for protection Brian. Like you heard Daddy pray just before.”
He wasn’t sure why she told him that, but Brian obeyed and said a silent prayer in his mind as the car cautiously made its way back onto the highway.
Trying to ease the tension, Alan mustered up the courage to ask, “What’s your name, friend?”
“I’m not your friend. But, my name is Terry,” the man answered.
“Well, I’m Alan. That’s my wife Louise. And… I don’t remember that kid’s name behind me…” Alan said jokingly.
“Dad… I’m Brian… silly,” came the response from the back seat.
“Oh yeah. That’s my son Brian,” Alan playfully confirmed.
Terry turned around to look in the back seat and exclaimed, “Nice to meet you Brian. I’m Terry. How old are you?”
“I’m nine. We just had the best vacation ever! We stayed at our family’s cottage on Lake Wallenpaupack for the last two weeks.”
“Oh yeah? What kind of things did you do there?” Terry asked in a more conversational tone.
Brian continued enthusiastically, “We went for hikes in the woods, had a campfire every night, read the Bible together on the dock, and my Dad taught me how to waterski!”
“Really? That must’ve been hard?”
“It was. But my parents encouraged me to keep trying and taught me that nothing is impossible for God. He helped me do it! I learned not to give up, no matter how hard something is.”
“That’s good advice,” Terry said as he turned back around to face forward. Then, he asked more sarcastically to no one in particular, “The Bible huh? What are you guys, some kind of Christians or something? My mom found Jesus after my dad left me and her. That was a good crutch for her to support her through life. I found alternative forms of medication to be my preferred method of coping with life.”
“Yes. We are followers of Jesus,” Louise proclaimed from the back seat, “But, He’s not our ‘crutch’. He’s our Life!”
“That’s great. Whatever works for you,” Terry rebutted.
“Did you ever read the Bible for yourself?” Alan asked with a smile, “It could change your life, you know?”
Terry guffawed, “Please. You believe that book of myths and fairytales could change someone’s life? It didn’t change my mom’s life. It just made her more judgmental. She said that was because she loved me more and wanted my life to change for the better. But… whatever.”
A few minutes of silence passed, then Terry blurted out, “There’s a truck stop at the next exit. We can stop there.”
Alan complied and followed the exit signs to the truck stop. Once pulling into the entrance, Terry directed him to a space between a few tractor-trailers parked behind the gas pumps.
After turning off the car, Alan looked into the rear-view mirror at his wife and requested, “Why don’t you two go inside and use the bathroom? I’ll catch up in a bit.”
Brian walked hand-in-hand with his mom into the store. He heard her say softly, “Please save him Lord,” but, the way it was phrased made it unclear as to whom she was talking about.
Several anxious minutes followed as mother and child went to the bathroom and then wandered around the store. Finally, a nervous Louise commented, “Let’s see how Daddy and Terry are doing, shall we? They’re taking a long time to come in.”
Making their way back to where the car had been parked amongst the semi-trucks, Louise noticed that she could not see the tires of their car under the gigantic obstruction. As she and Brian came around the front of the truck, Louise saw a person lying on the ground under one of the trailer tires. Her heart sank and a faint, “No!” came from her choking throat. She hastened her pace and as they drew closer, she could see that it was the bloodied, discarded body of her husband. He had been stabbed multiple times and left there for dead. Their car was nowhere in sight.
She ran over, threw herself on the body and tried using her hands to apply pressure to the bleeding wounds. Holding Alan’s head in her lap and wailing profusely, she screamed out, “Alan! No! God help us. Somebody… Help! Help us!”
Brian just stared in utter shock and horror—traumatized by the thought that he was looking at his father lying dead in the arms of his hysterical mother.
Seven years later-
“Baughman!” a thundering voice echoed through the concrete hallway as a prison guard made his way to the cell, “Baughman, you have a visitor.”
“Who is it?” the man in the cell inquired, slightly confused.
“I don’t know? Some teenager. Says he knows you,” the guard replied as he began to unlock the gate of the cell. “Hands!” he then demanded and locked a pair of handcuffs around the man’s wrists.
The two of them made their way slowly down the corridor, chains clinking all the way to the visiting room. The prisoner was placed in a seat at a desk in front of a large pane of bulletproof glass that looked like a bank teller’s window.
A young man came into the room on the opposite side of the glass, sat down and took a deep breath before speaking, “Hello Terry. Do you remember me?”
“Uh, no. Wait… you’re not here to tell me that I’m your Dad are you?!” the arrogant voice asked.
“No. But, you knew my Dad,” the straight-faced teenager stated, waiting for recognition to kick in.
“You’re that kid, aren’t you? Brian… right? Hey man, if you’re here to make me feel guilty about what I did, I’m sorry about what happened with your dad and everything. If you haven’t noticed, I’m already serving my time for that.”
“No Terry. I’m not here to make you feel worse about what you did. I’m sure you’ve been suffering with enough guilt. I’m here to get something off my chest. Personally, I’ve been struggling with pent up anger and hatred toward you for the last seven years. I just came here to tell you that I am sorry for that. And…” Brian took another deep breath, without taking his eyes from Terry’s, “I forgive you for what you did.”
Terry’s eyebrows furrowed in a look of curiosity. He thought for a moment then said, “What? Why would you do that? How can you do that? I killed your dad!”
Brian’s eyes stared to glisten with tears before he answered, “Yes, you killed my dad. But, that’s not all you did. You may remember that mom had been pregnant at that time. Well, due to the stress and heartache of the situation, she lost the baby and ended up having a nervous breakdown. They said it was a form of PTSD. My human nature wants to hate you for all of that. But, I am commanded to love my enemies, and forgive those who hurt me. If I truly want to claim that I’m a follower of Jesus, I need to do those things, no matter how difficult they are.”
“That’s crazy! You’re crazy! Look, I’m really sorry about your family and all. But, I’ve heard enough. Are we done here?” Terry asked, exasperated and bewildered at the thought of the further damage he had caused.
“Sure. I made my peace. I said what I wanted to say. And, believe it or not, I mean it. I forgive you. I want you to have this,” Brian concluded by handing the guard a book.
The guard leafed through it to ensure there was no contraband inside, then walked it from one room to the other and gave it to Terry who scoffed, “Are you kidding me? You really are relentless, aren’t you? A Bible! Seriously?”
“Please read it. Start in the book of John. Then read Romans. They will help you understand how I could do what I did, even after what you had done to my family. Hopefully, it will help you forgive yourself. I’ll be praying that you will understand what you read and that your life will be changed. Just like your mother wanted for you all those years ago.”
“Yeah, whatever. Thanks.” Terry said spitefully and stood up to leave. He left the Bible on the desk, but the guard picked it up and took it with him as he followed Terry out of the room.
“I’ll see you later Terry,” Brian remarked as he watched them both walk out of the room, not looking back.
That night, Terry couldn’t sleep. He laid there on his cot with troubling thoughts swirling around in his mind. ‘How could that kid possibly forgive me for what I did? I even indirectly killed the baby and put his mom in the loony bin. Man, that’s messed up! And, how did he remember what I said about my mom anyways? I don’t even remember telling him that.’
With nothing better to do and to get his mind off of it, he decided to read his ‘gift’. He searched for John in the table of contents and half-heartedly started reading. Before long, he found himself so engrossed in the story that he was already finished. So, he turned back to the table of contents to find Romans next.
Realizing that he still wasn’t tired, but hungry for more, he devoured the book of Romans in a little less than an hour. He mulled over everything he read. Then, he said silently to himself, ‘Jesus… I don’t know how this works. But, I am sorry for what I did. I think I’m beginning to understand how Brian could forgive me, and I ask that you forgive me too. Help me to believe that you died for me and that you will save me. Help me to love others the way I saw Brian show love to me… his worst enemy.’ And, with those words, he finally fell asleep.
The next day, during chowtime, Terry couldn’t shake the haunting thoughts from the previous day. Was he really forgiven? Did he have that ‘eternal life’ that he was promised if he believed in Jesus? The answers to his doubts didn’t come directly, but a huge, baldheaded man did.
“Hey Dred. You know what today is?” the man said as he sat down heavily next to him. His gold tooth flickered through a devious smile. Terry glanced down under the table and a makeshift blade flashed in the light, “It’s redemption day!” the man said softly as he thrust the shank into Terry’s side. He continued stabbing over and over until Terry breathed his last breath and slumped over the table in a lifeless, bloody heap.
When he opened his eyes, all he could see was blinding light, completely surrounding him, penetrating everything. Light that seemed to comfort him, holding him like the arms of a loving mother coddling her child.
Next, he could just make out the silhouettes of three figures coming toward him. “What is this? Where am I? Who are you guys?”
“I am Jesus. The One you put your faith in last night. You are exactly where I wanted you. Welcome into my Glory,” the brightest of the figures said. Overwhelming joy and absolute peace radiated out from the voice and embraced him in incomprehensible love.
“And, who are these two?” Terry asked, striving to turn away from the sheer brilliance to look at the others.
“This is my daughter, Grace. You never met her on Earth. But, I am sure you remember me. I’m Alan,” the other man said as he reached forward and hugged Terry warmly, “That was a really great trip! Wasn’t it, Friend?”