At work the next day, Alex could think of nothing but Annie. He was at a loss to explain to her why this was so important to him. He’d tried everything he knew. But things just hadn’t been the same since his accident.
He stood at the café counter, waiting for customers. Alex remembered back to the days when their relationship had been all laughter and fun. Annie was that kind of girl. Her crazy, curly brown hair and her sparkling green eyes seemed to advertise her zany, bubbly personality. She was the life of the party, and together they were always cracking each other up. She was beautiful. She was fun. She was perfect for him, or had been. But his month in the hospital had sobered him a little, and Annie just didn’t understand.
He loved that she wanted to start a snowball fight or play a game of chase through the snow. At least, he used to. But it seemed now like there were so many more important things to think about. Every day, people were dying without knowing Jesus. How could he just stand by and let that happen? It was just too important. It was time for them to take life a little more seriously.
He’d tried to explain to her that their old dreams of living for their own family and their own comfort was no longer enough for him. But she simply didn’t seem to want to hear about the inward journey he’d been taking. She’d never seemed to want to hear about what he felt God was showing him. She’d always told him to “stop being so morbid” whenever he tried to bring things up in the hospital. And now, it seemed like all they ever did was fight. This was not good. Not good at all.
“Can I help you ma’am?” Alex asked without even looking up. But then he heard a familiar voice, “Alex. How are you?”
“Oh, hi Sara!” He gave a small smile. “It’s been a while. How are you doing?”
“Fine, fine, Alex. But you look a little worried, honey. What’s on your mind?”
“How long do you have?”
“Why, all the time in the world. I’ll just get a cup of coffee and one of those whole wheat bagels, and I’ll be sitting right over there in the corner.” Sara pointed to the table on the far side of the café area, right next to the stack of mystery books. “You just come on over whenever you have a minute, and I’d be happy to listen to anything you have to say.”
Alex handed her the coffee and the bagel and caught her eye. Her warm brown eyes arrested his attention, and her angular face softened as she smiled. Her whole demeanor was open and welcoming as she gave him a knowing glance. Then she turned to take her food to her table. Alex stared after her, barely seeing her long jean skirt and wool sweater. As she made her way to her table, Alex shook his head to clear it and turned back to the next customer.
But his mind immediately turned to his youth group days. Sara Locke was one of his old youth leaders. She had always been the watchful, quiet kind of leader who saw so much more than what you said or did. How many times had she looked at Alex and asked him a question or challenged him to think about something that cut straight to the heart of his struggle? And she had been so kind to both him and Annie when he was in the hospital. Yes, she could be just the person to help them. Maybe she could help him explain things to Annie.
It was half an hour before Alex had a bit of a break. He looked over, and Sara was still there, sitting at the table in the corner. She sat properly, her back straight. Her long, thick brown hair hung just past her shoulders, lightly streaked with grey. She held a book in her left hand, and a journal lay on the table in front of her. Every once in a while, she’d stop her reading and write a few lines in the journal. As Alex approached, she paused and took another sip of her coffee.
“Sara?” Alex asked. “Is it still okay if I sit down?”
“Of course, honey. What’s on your mind?” She smiled gently, put down her book, and gave Alex her attention.
Alex saw only warmth and understanding in her eyes and started sharing. He shared in fits and starts at first, struggling to find words. But as he warmed up, he was able to tell her everything.
“Sara, when I was laying there in that hospital bed, I just had so much time to think. And it seemed like I had this movie of my life playing over and over. The question that kept coming to my head is, was it worth it? Was what I had been doing and giving my life to worth it?”
“I felt like I’d been spared for a reason, you know? And I remembered that trip that we took to the Philippines, do you remember that?”
She nodded and smiled, so he continued, “Sara, I knew on that trip that God had a calling on my life. I knew that I was supposed to be a part of his plan to reach the world. And I don’t know what happened. Somehow, during college I forgot about that. And it broke my heart to realize that nothing I’d been doing was worth anything at all. I think I just got caught up in making myself a comfortable life. And Annie and I, we had these dreams of having a family and a life together. So I forgot about that calling for a while. But in the hospital, it all came rushing back. And I knew that something had to change.”
“And what was that, Alex?”
“Well, I knew that I needed to give more thought to sharing about Christ with the people around me. And I wanted to make sure that Annie and I were living for something bigger.”
Alex drummed his fingers on the table.
“But things got really hard when I left the hospital. I went back to my life–the life that didn’t include much of God except for church on Sundays–and there’s been a lot of tension since then. And Annie, well, I haven’t been able to explain this to her. She doesn’t understand why I’m so worried about all these people around me. And I don’t really know what to do to help them, and I seem to be botching it all up anyway. Should I just give up on the idea, and go back to life how it was before the accident?” Alex paused.
Sara just took a sip of her coffee and kept silent.
“But I really don’t think I can do that,” Alex continued. “It’s like all along, this is who I was supposed to be. I was supposed to care about the people around me. I was supposed to be living with purpose and mission. For a while, I forgot. But I remember now, and I can’t go back. What do I do, Sara?”
Alex looked at Sara and then looked down again at his fingers.
Finally, she said, “Alex tell me this. Do you think that your new value system is incompatible with Annie’s?”
“I think it might be. I don’t want that to be true, but I think it’s possible.”
“Do you think that there’s a chance to save the relationship?”
“I want there to be! But I’ve been trying to explain where I’m coming from, and I’m just not getting through.”
“Do you think she shares your Christian faith?”
“Well, she definitely believes in God. She grew up Christian. I know that she thinks it’s important to go to church because we do that together every week.”
“Yes, that’s right. I remember now. Hmm . . . . Well, do you think she’d be willing to think and pray about this and maybe learn with you for a little while–about this idea of mission and ministry and how that fits into her life, or how it fits into your lives together?”
After thinking for a minute, Alex replied, “Yeah, I think so. She’s always wanted us to go to church and do stuff like that together.”
“Well, what if we met together, maybe once a week, and talked about this? We can call it a Bible study or a discussion group. Or you guys can just come over to my house for coffee, and we can chat. But it sounds to me like there are some deep issues here and that it would be really good if you and Annie could work them out together. I’d be happy to help you if I can.”
Alex leaned back into his seat, some of the tension leaving his frame. “Yeah, I think that sounds like a good idea. I really have no idea what to do. I don’t want to break up with Annie. I love her. But this is not working, and we need help. I just don’t know how to explain anything anymore.”
“Okay, Alex. If Annie agrees to come, you guys just pick a night next week. You can come to my house. But before you come, I want you to read Luke 15 together, okay? And see if you can determine what the point of the three stories is.”
“Thanks so much, Sara. I mean it. I’d better get back to work now, though. I’ll call you.”
“I’ll talk with you soon.”
As Alex got up to go back to the counter, Sara smiled to herself and then prayed quietly. “God, please be with Alex as he speaks to Annie. Help him to have clarity and sensitivity as he asks her to do this.”
She picked up her coffee again. She was inwardly thrilled to have seen Alex here today, and she was excited to be a part of his journey. She’d always liked Alex. He had been the class clown of the youth group, always full of surprises and mischief. She’d always thought of him a little like a jester. He had that kind of goofy appearance that was made for laughter and fun. Everyone loved him, and he’d always had the ability to get other people to do crazy stuff right along with him. But there was more to him than that. His questions during Bible studies had always been deep and searching. It was clear that he had a deep desire to know and please God, and she’d always hoped that he would stay true to that.
And during the short time she’d sat with Annie during one of Alex’s long surgeries, she’d sensed a very sincere person. She had no idea what Annie truly believed or what she cared about, beyond Alex, but she was hopeful. Yes, she would be praying for Alex and Annie.
Back at the counter, a new question was weighing on Alex’s mind. How was he going to explain this to Annie?