Part 1: Shaking…
He laid there in his bed, shaking uncontrollably. Like a tired, cold dog just fresh from his bath, Derek Stevens could not stop shaking. His wife, Patricia, held him and gently caressed his back. Derek felt momentary relief and true gratefulness for his wife’s compassion, but the shaking would not stop.
“You need to get some sleep,” his wife said in a gentle whisper. “I – just – can’t,” Derek said in a choppy and rhythmic pattern that mirrored the shaking of his body. “What are you going to do?” his wife asked. “I need to use the bathroom,” he muttered with frustrated overtones.
As Derek got out of bed, he stiffened his body, trying to stop the shivering and shaking. It didn’t work. He staggered to the bathroom that was just down the hallway from his bedroom. As he arrived at the bathroom sink, he began to dry heave. His belly seemed to convulsive violently, trying to erupt something from out of his mouth. Combined with his shaking, Derek felt woozy, weak, and (worst of all) humiliated. He made his way over to the toilet and hugged the porcelain pot, hoping to vomit. “Dear God, help me, help me, help me…”Derek pathetically prayed through spits and drools.
Indeed, Derek was overworked, overstressed, and overburdened. In a word, he was overwhelmed; and all of this stress was fighting back by means of destroying his physical health. There had been warning signs for many years, telling Derek to slow his pace and catch his breath. Warning signs like disrupted sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating at work, and increased anxiety, but he had ignored such signs, determined to keep on going. Don’t ever give up, he consistently thought to himself.
After a few more minutes in the bathroom, dry heaving and shaking, he heard his phone ring. A shot of terror ran through his body and his blood began to curl. Derek had begun to hate the sound of his phone. Someone was always calling with some concern, or emergency, or heartbreaking news. Rarely did anyone call with good news; and at 11:00 at night, this was most definitely not good news.
Just as Derek’s ringtone went off for the fourth time, he picked it up. Caller ID revealed the caller – Haddie Nobels. He inhaled deeply and blew out the air through flared nostrils, bracing himself for what awaited him on the other line. “Hello,” Derek answered with caution. “Yes, Pastor, I’m sorry for calling so late, but it’s kind of an emergency. Would you be able to come by the house for a few minutes? Jared and I really need to speak with you.” Derek analyzed the crackling in her voice, trying to decipher what dilemma he was about to walk into, but his mind raced in a dozen different directions. This could be anything, he thought to himself. “I’ll be right over,” he said reluctantly…
Part 2: Abandoned…
Patricia rolled over, unable to sleep. “Who was it?” she asked with concern. “Haddie Nobels. She says it’s an emergency. I really need to get over there.” “What is it this time?” Patricia groaned. Derek’s mind continued to race as to what problem awaited him at the Nobels’ house. Did they have another fight? Did Jared get violent with Haddie this time? Will they finally pull the plug on their rocky, volatile marriage? Derek’s mind sputtered different thoughts from bad to worse. “Your blue jeans are in the dryer,” Patricia said, disturbing Derek’s thoughts of doom and gloom. “Thanks,” he said, irritated at being jilted from his thoughts, but thankful for clean blue jeans.
Derek hurriedly put on his clothes and then looked at himself in the mirror. A red polo, blue jeans, and sneakers stared back at him from the mirror. I wonder if red is too aggressive of a color, he thought to himself. He quickly dismissed the thought as overly-picky and hyper-analytical. Indeed, Derek had a problem of overthinking just about everything, and this little habit, though at one time he thought it was a gift, drove his wife bonkers. I’m sure the color red will be just fine, he imagined his wife saying.
Derek then took a hard stare at his face in the mirror. He felt old, but his face looked young…Perhaps too young. He often got raised eyebrows and small smirks whenever he would introduce himself as “Pastor Stevens” during hospital visits. He could tell that most people doubted his abilities because of the appearance of youth that donned his face, and some were so bold to actually voice their concerns over his appeared age. But at age 35, he was glad to look younger, not older, because internally he felt old…Perhaps too old.
Derek took a quick look at his watch, 11:20 PM. He turned from the mirror that hung on his bedroom door and approached his wife who was half-asleep in bed. He took a good long look at her. How grateful he was for Patricia. She was such a beautiful woman with golden brownish hair, an athletic face, and full lips. Derek bent down to kiss his wife, who returned the kiss with a small peck. He smiled. He loved the way his wife’s lips felt on his…So soft, almost feathery, and always comforting. “I love you,” he whispered. “Love you too,” she sleepily replied, trying to give him a smile.
Derek tiptoed out the bedroom door and continued to step lightly down the hallway, past his children’s bedrooms, and then down the stairs. The stairs creaked and groaned as he placed his weight on each step. Indeed, he loved the way his old house creaked, revealing not just old age, but distant memories and subtle charm. I sure hope this creaking doesn’t wake the kids, he thought to himself. However, before he could fret any longer over the thought, he was already down the stairs and making his way out the front door.
The old wooden door closed hard behind Derek as he struggled to pull it shut. Out on his front porch, he stopped to take a look around. Between the bright streetlight and the full moon, he could clearly see everything. Looking out over his nicely manicured lawn, he noticed that his shaking had stopped. “Finally,” he muttered out loud, somewhat relieved that the shaking was over, and somewhat irritated that he even had to deal with this issue in the first place.
He then walked towards his vehicle that was parked in the street. His vehicle was a sturdy 2003 Chevy Blazer, maroon in color. Maroon was his favorite color. It reminded him of his time in the military as an Army paratrooper, wearing a maroon beret. It also reminded him of courage. Yes, to Derek, maroon was the color of courage. And according to Derek, “Courage, next to godliness, is perhaps the most important virtue a pastor can possess.”
As he neared the Blazer door, he was struck with the coldness of the fall night air. Fall was Derek’s favorite season. All the coloring in the trees made his imagination percolate with thoughts that God, the Grand Designer, would take out his paintbrush every year and color the trees bright shades of yellow, red, and orange. However, the jagged coldness of this particular night, made him shudder at the thought that winter was coming; and winter, unlike fall, was not his favorite season at all.
Entering his vehicle, he quickly placed his “pastoral toolkit” into the passenger seat. His must-have-tools for daily efficient ministry, included: 1) His black, leather-bound Bible, tattered from years of use, 2) A brown, leather-bound planner (a paper brain never forgets, he thought to himself in amusement), and 3) His cell phone, the battery charged at just 89%. Derek truly loved his Bible and his planner. Totally necessary for pastoral ministry, he confidently thought to himself. He picked up his phone and then set it back down. “A necessary evil,” he jokingly said out loud.
He then put his Blazer into drive and set out toward Haddie Nobles’ house. He had been there enough times to know that it would take approximately 15 minutes to arrive at her country farmhouse. Driving down the road, he turned the radio on. A few seconds later, he decided to turn it off. I’d better use the drive time to think and pray, he thought to himself. Derek would often use his drive time to think and pray, occasionally indulging in the radio as a way to distract his heart and mind from the stresses and tensions of ministry.
“God help me help them,” Derek muttered out loud with some degree of fervency. “God, I just can’t do this without you. I’m too weak and too dumb to help Haddie and Jared on my own. Please help me help them.” Derek listened to the gentle humming of his motor as he made his way down Chestnut Street toward 5th Street. He so wished for God to audibly speak back to him…to say something – anything, but Derek never heard the voice of God. In nearly seven years of pastoral ministry, he never heard God speak. Yes, surely, he had seen God work in his life, his family’s life, and his church’s life, but never had he experienced something as supernatural as hearing the voice of God.
And you never will, the Darkness seemed to hiss. Your God has abandoned you, the Darkness kept taunting. Such invasive, depressive, and demonic thoughts were a constant theme in Derek’s life and ministry. Indeed, he never seemed to hear the voice of God, but the voice of Evil seemed to register into his heart and mind on a frequent basis. “Abandoned?” Derek questioned the Darkness. At times, it certainly felt like God had abandoned him in the middle of nowhere…