Escondido – Chaparral, California
“Hey,” she said, brushing Jacob’s arm as he awoke.
“It’s me, I just got here a couple of hours ago.”
It had been a mere six weeks since Jacob left Chicago with his marriage hanging by a thread. He had been used to not seeing her for over a year at a time during his military deployments, but the past month without her had seemed to stretch on for ages. He surveyed her lovely face, her light blue eyes, her dark blonde hair that fell carelessly below her shoulders. He had gone so long not feeling anything that he felt overwhelmed by her beauty, as his affection for her rose like fire in his heart.
“I’m so glad you came,” he said, clutching her hand, “I have missed you so much.”
Sophie smiled gently as she squeezed his hand, “How are you feeling?”
“Sore, and a bit groggy, and embarrassed about taking such a nasty spill. I never thought I would get banged up almost as bad as I did in the war.”
She laughed, “Well, I’ve always told you how much I hate you riding those damn motorcycles.”
“Yeah,” he said, “One of a thousand ways my life would be better off if I listened to you better.”
“Keep talking like that, soldier. I like it.”
Jacob cracked a wide, sarcastic smile, “Let’s not get carried away there. Tell me how you are doing.”
“I’ve been holding up all right. My parents came in from the suburbs to stay with Rachel and Evan while I am out here.”
“How are kiddos?”
Sophie said, “Other than worried about you, they have been doing well. I think they’re excited for spring; it’s been a really gray winter. They’ve been fighting off cabin fever. How about you? How has your time been out here?”
“I can definitely see God’s hand in it. I’ve been doing a lot better.”
Jacob sat up in his bed, “I was such a mess when I came back from Gdynia. I don’t think I had allowed myself to see just how badly I was doing. My faith was in tatters; the past few years of fighting had really taken a heavy toll on me. Between spending time with Daniel, getting back to church for the first time in years, and having work to put my hands to has been really good for me. For the longest time, I felt like God had forgotten me, and with how the world seems to have gone to hell over the last few years, I just couldn’t see his purpose in anything. The only way I knew how to cope was to drink, but as he’s been working in me I have been able to put the bottle down.”
Tears were streaming down Sophie’s cheeks, “That’s the most you have opened up to me in years, Jacob.”
Sophie was torn. She had waited so long for Jacob to open up to her, but now that he was beginning to, she felt the anger and hurt of the past few years rise in her. Sophie was a tender soul, kind and honest, but her faith had taken as much of a beating as Jacob’s had. In reality, she was hanging on by a thread. The life that she had hoped to build together with Jacob was so far from the reality of being married to him. She didn’t know how to reconcile her love for him with the disappointment and hurt in her own heart. While she had been a Christian since her college days, her own sense of God’s love, presence, and purpose was almost totally lost. Hearing that he was making headway in his own personal battles was bittersweet because she was so embroiled in her own struggles.
“Sophie, I am so sorry,” he said, “I know I haven’t been much of a husband or a father for a long time now. I am so sorry for falling down, for not being who you need me to be. You deserve better.”
“It’s been so lonely, Jacob. It’s like I have been married to a ghost. I know you have been through so much, but that doesn’t take away the hurt. I just didn’t know how to reach you. While you have been struggling, I have, too, and I have had to do it alone.”
He said, “I know it hasn’t been easy to be my wife. All I can do is ask you to forgive me, Sophie. Maybe someday we can start bridging this gulf between us.”
“This is a start.”
“Yeah, I suppose it is,” he said clasping her hand with both of his, “But, there’s something else that I need to tell you. I don’t know how to make it not sound crazy.”
“What is it?”
Jacob began to recount how he felt that God had started speaking to him. He told her about what had happened in church a few weeks ago, how he felt that Christ himself had gripped him and told Jacob to remember him during communion. He recalled how the night before the accident it felt like God was speaking directly in his heart about how he had not forgotten him. He described how hearing God, maybe for the first time in his life, was bringing real healing to his troubled soul, and how he was beginning to sense that God had a purpose for him.
“That doesn’t sound so crazy,” Sophie said, wishing that she could hear God speak to her in a similar way.
“I know, but that’s not the crazy part,” Jacob hesitated. “A couple of nights ago while I was sleeping I had, well, I had an experience that I can’t quite explain.”
As Jacob described his experience, he felt Sophie’s hand go limp, growing noticeably colder in his hands, before she pulled it out of his grasp as she said, “Jacob, that is crazy, and honestly, scary.”
“I know. I was terrified, too.”
“Do you think it was the morphine, or the fact that you have been through so much trauma?”
“I’m not sure, honestly. I know how morphine dreams feel, but this was totally different.”
“I don’t know how you expect me to take this. My husband comes back home a broken drunk, goes off to California, and says he is some kind of prophet now. How is this anything but crazy?”
Jacob looked intently at her, “Sophie, I don’t know how to explain it to you in a way that doesn’t make me seem totally insane. I am not telling you that you need to believe me, or even telling you how you should react. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for you to hear this. All I am telling you is what happened.”
“And you believe that this was real, that God really spoke to you in a vision while you were high on morphine?”
Jacob looked out to the window, searching for an answer, some way to settle his wife, to convince her that he hadn’t just lost his mind, then answered, “I, I know it sounds insane. I don’t know what it means, and maybe I have lost my mind. But, I can’t deny what happened, nor can I deny that through all of this, God was reaching out to me.”
Sophie rose from her chair beside Jacob’s bed with angry tears in her eyes, “I was hoping that you coming out here would help you make sense of things, Jacob. That I might get the man I fell in love with back. Maybe you feel like you have turned some kind of corner, but to me it sounds like you’re just slipping further away, or you’re delusional, or worse. I don’t even know how to respond.”
“I wasn’t trying to tell you how to react,” he said, “I was just trying to tell you what really happened.”
“Well, I don’t know what to say,” said Sophie, as she coldly walked out the door.
As the door closed, Jacob felt an icy blade pierce his chest. He had left Chicago unsure of where his marriage was headed, and now he felt even less sure. Anger filled him as he wished he could undo what had happened to him. How could God possibly allow Jacob to experience something that would drive them even further apart? He ached bitterly for her, fearing he might lose her forever, and the pain of that thought was nearly more than he could bear. Even in that moment, when he felt that everything he held dear was on the line, he could not deny what had happened to him. This made him feel powerless, as he began to realize that there was no way to convince anyone of what he had experienced, not even his own wife. If there was any truth at all to this vision, it was for God to convince others, because this was utterly beyond his ability to control. Jacob was beginning to see that, if what happened to him was really from God, it could cost him everything. He prayed from a posture of complete helplessness that it would not cost him Sophie and his kids.
Tina was setting her dining room table when Sophie came in the front door. It was obvious from the mascara streaked down her cheeks that she was deeply troubled. She set a stack of plates on the table and hurried over to Sophie and embraced her as she sobbed. Tina held her tightly and let her cry for several minutes.
As Sophie gained her composure, Tina said, “Tell me, what’s the matter, sweetie?”
Daniel entered the foyer where Tina stood with Sophie, and Sophie said, “Jacob told me about what happened to him a couple of nights ago.”
Tina sighed heavily and said, “I see.”
“Did he tell you guys, too?”
Tina answered, “He and Daniel talked about it. Daniel let me know what happened.”
“I’m scared,” said Sophie.
“I would be, too, sweetie. That’s pretty ‘out there.’”
“It’s crazy all right,” said Sophie, as she shook, “My husband thinks he might be some kind of prophet, and that the world is coming to an end. I can’t be the only one who thinks that it’s nuts.”
Daniel interjected, “How about we go sit down in the living room and talk?”
Sophie, Tina, and Daniel made their way to the couches in the living room and sat. Sophie felt like she was full of lead as she sank in the couch next to Tina, and Daniel took a seat in the chair across the coffee table from them.
“Am I wrong for thinking he’s completely lost his mind?”
“No, Sophie, you’re not wrong for how you feel,” said Tina, “If I were in your shoes, I’m not sure I would feel any different.”
“What do the two of you think since he told Daniel?”
Tina nodded toward Daniel, and he took her cue, answering, “Sophie, as much as I would want to tell you what to feel or think about Jacob’s experience, that is not for either Tina or me to decide for you. I knew Jacob as a boy, and, as I have had the chance to get to know him as a man over the past month, all I can tell you is that I don’t think he’s crazy, regardless of what his experience was.”
“So, you’re saying that you believe him?”
“What either Tina or I believe won’t be much help to you as you decide what you think about what happened to Jacob.”
Sophie nodded, knowing that whatever conclusions she was going to come to regarding what happened to her husband, needed to be her own. She turned back toward Daniel and said, “I’m not even sure I believe that God can speak to people like that anymore.”
“I don’t blame you, Sophie. I grew up believing that he could not. But, this is where it gets tricky – I don’t think there is any way for us to come to a rational conclusion about what he experienced. I don’t think we can either prove them. Knowledge fails us, because I don’t think we can know if God really spoke to him or not. If God did speak to Jacob, that truth will only be made known in time. If it’s true, it’s true regardless of whether you, Jacob, or anyone else believes it or not.”
Tina chimed in, “That doesn’t change how it must make you feel, sweetie. I grew up with more of an openness to God speaking to his people, even in the present day, but that doesn’t mean we can figure out one way or another what really happened to Jacob.”
“What should I do, though?”
Daniel answered, “The first thing I would tell you is to give yourself some time to figure that out. You don’t have to rush to decide what you believe, one way or another.”
Sophie responded, “Well, I can tell you that I am going to need a lot of time for this.”
“You should take all the time you need,” said Tina. “You both have already been through quite a bit before adding this into the mix.”
“Sophie,” said Daniel, “I completely agree with Tina, you need some time to sort this out for yourself. All I would tell you is to remember that this is probably as terrifying for Jacob. If you are able to look at him and this experience as distinct but related, I think it might help. I know he loves you, he has spoken so highly of you since he has come here to Chaparral, and I know he is scared that he might lose you because of what happened.”
“But, we were hanging on by a thread before this happened,” said Sophie.
“I know, sweetie,” said Tina, “and this only makes figuring out what to do even harder. When you have given yourself enough time to process this, I think you are going to have to decide whether or not you can accept Jacob, and embrace him as your husband, regardless of what he has or hasn’t experienced.”
“But, what if I never can believe him? What if I think he’s crazy? How could I trust him?”
Daniel said, “Sophie, the only perspective I can give you on that is that I don’t think he’s crazy. I don’t pretend to think that that solves the problem for you. What has happened is between you and God and Jacob.”
Sophie nodded in agreement, “It’s just so confusing, I wasn’t ready for this at all.”
“I don’t know anyone who would be,” said Tina as she put her arms around her.
“So, you guys aren’t going to tell me what you think about this?”
Daniel said, “Maybe someday, after you’ve had a chance to process this for yourself, Sophie.”
“It would be so much easier if you could tell me what to make of this,” laughed Sophie, as tears streamed down her cheeks, “But you’re right, he and I need to figure this out together.”
The afternoon light brightened Jacob’s room the next day when Sophie came through the door. Jacob was sleeping, and a Bible was on his lap. The conflict raged inside of her, as she looked at her husband; part of her still loved him, and another part wondered if she even knew him anymore, or if she had ever really known him at all. The only peace she managed to find from her conversation with Tina and Daniel was that, at some point, she was going to have to make up her own mind. She knew as she looked down on Jacob as he slept that she was not even close to ready for that, but she also knew that she didn’t want to leave for Chicago with so much still up in the air. She sat down next to him and grabbed his forearm.
He slowly opened his eyes and turned his head to see who was waking him. As soon as he saw that it was Sophie, he quickly roused himself awake.
“Hey,” she said, giving him a moment to gather himself, “I know our last conversation was tough, and I don’t want to leave everything up in the air before I go home.”
“I’ve been worried sick since you left,” said Jacob, “I felt like I was going to lose you forever.”
“Look,” she said, “I can’t tell you one way or the other what I think about what happened to you, and I am going to need some time to work through this for myself.”
“I figured you would,” he said. “What does that mean for us?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. I wish I could give you a better answer than that, but I just can’t right now. We weren’t exactly doing well before this happened, and this just complicates things even more.”
“I get it,” said Jacob, “So, what do you want to do?”
“For now I am going back to Chicago. I promise I’ll do my best to work through this. Right now, I honestly think you’re either hallucinating or both. But, I am not sure even about that. So, all I can promise you is that I’ll spend some time praying and working through this the best I know how. I’m planning on staying in touch with Tina because she’s someone I feel like I can talk to, but I don’t know how long I am going to need at this point.”
Jacob looked at her and smiled, “I’m just glad you came back to see me. I understand you need some time to process this, so take all the time you need.”
Sophie got out of the chair, “Thanks,” she said, “I’ll try not to take too long.”
“Hey Sophie,” he said as she was stepping toward the door, “I just want you to know that no matter what you decide, I love you.”
Sophie smiled at him, “Thanks, Jacob. Just focus on getting well for now; you’ve got a long road ahead of you. We’ll talk as soon as I get back to Chicago.”
“Okay, I will.”
As she left the room, Jacob felt torn between the deep uncertainty he had felt the night before, and the glimmer of hope that he and Sophie could work things out. He knew that much of what she decided was beyond his control, and that she would have to work things out with God in her own heart. The only thing he could do was pray and trust and hope against hope that God would help them through this together.
A few minutes after Sophie left, the phone in Jacob’s room began to ring.
Jacob picked up the phone, “Brandt here.”
The voice on the other side replied, “Brandt here.”
Jacob’s heart leapt out of his chest, “Malachi, is that you?”
“Sure is, baby brother! Since I am calling your hospital room, I gather you’re pretty beat up. How the hell are you?”
“As ever, amigo, as ever,” said Malachi, “Look, I don’t have time to talk. I called to tell you I am coming to Chaparral in a few weeks, so you need to hurry up and get better. We’ve got work to do.”
Jacob said, “I’ve got so much to talk about with you, man. I, I just can’t believe you’re calling.”
“Well, believe it, brother. Trust me, we have a lot to catch up on, but I can’t stay on this line. I’ve gotta go.”
“I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you, too, baby brother. Now stop being such a sentimental sap and get your ass out of there ASAP, I’ll see you in Chaparral soon.”
As soon as Malachi finished talking, the line went dead. Jacob could hardly believe himself. Malachi was alive.