Scene One: The Call
She pressed “7” for delete in a small rush of rage. Incredulity, really. Perhaps some people in Washington were only pawns playing games, but she was here because of what she believed in. As tough as losing a job was, she’d rather pack and go home any day than work for them. The job offer did nothing but confirm how deeply entrenched they were in mere politics. As her finger lifted, something in her mind shifted although just the slightest nudge. She heard her own recently spoken words: to her friends, at church back home, before she left: “You know, I hear people talk about how you shouldn’t discuss gay rights unless you at least have one gay friend, but seriously—when was the last time most liberals sat down with a conservative Christian!? When was the last time they talked with—let alone worked with—someone who really believes in God and holds the convictions our Constitution was written with!?” But the message was already deleted anyway. She threw the phone into her bag, settled the straps back onto her shoulder and rounded the corner. Then she felt the bag do its familiar buzz–the senator’s office was calling again. The nudge nudged again but Jess nudged back more firmly and silenced the call. It would only be a waste of time.
She walked on listening to the swish-swish of her pencil skirt and trying to formulate a plan. If nothing else, there would at least be grassroots campaigning to manage and while it wouldn’t be as intoxicating as working in the halls of congress she reasoned she’d still be contributing to the party’s success in a tangible way. She walked past the Christopher Columbus fountain, now empty for the season, and across the street to catch the metro. The coffee shop called—a little caffeine couldn’t hurt the brainstorming. She stood in line, glanced around and nearly missed her chance to call her order in. “Oh, sorry-yes, tall cappuccino. Jess.” Seeing someone praying in public in the city would have caught her eye any day, but she knew who this was. Right then, apparently, the prayer ended and Jess found herself caught staring.
“Hey, Jess Wright, right?”
“Well yes. Is it James?… you work with Senator Wallace, right?”
“Yeah. Funny that I would run into you—the only reason I even know your last name is because he had one of the other guys in the office trying to catch you today. Heard what happened, sorry.”
“Well, thanks—I mean, I understand that the finances have to prioritized these days but of course I’ll miss being there. There’s still plenty to do.”
James looked confused. “Well you’re right about that, but… did you talk to the Senator yet?”
“Um—one tall cappuccino, thanks—well I’m just still trying to figure everything out, you know. Look I’ve got to catch my train, so if you’ll forgive me I’ll have to…”
“Oh, right! Well, we’ll be seeing you!”
Now it was her turn to look confused. “Um, yeah… see ya.”
Jess swish-swished even more determinedly as if walking itself was productive. At least it was away; away from the events of the day and the confusing conversations. In fact, she could make it productive and head to the party headquarters instead of her apartment; the caffeine was working already! She followed the signs for the capitol south metro stop and boarded the train, enjoying a feeling of purpose. The train lurched forward but then stopped, still in the station. The lights buzzed off as the passengers looked at each other and around. They sat there for 7 minutes, each second pressing on Jess’s nerves—it took barely more time than this to simply walk to the headquarters from Union Station. To make things worse, along with the darkness and waiting, there was a woman singing to herself. She sang in the old lady way of hovering around the notes but never quite on them. After a minute she stood up, assembled her load of mismatched packs and bags together and walked down the train till she came to Jess. “God bless honey” Jess heard in the same shaky but sure voice—she looked up. In front of her face was a brochure with a familiar rainbow logo and behind it a toothless grin. Of course. “No thanks.” But the figure didn’t budge and after several uncomfortable seconds sat down directly across from Jess. “Honey, you don’t look so well. Would you mind if I prayed for you?” People in the vicinity either looked up or pretended not to hear. Jess squirmed. “Well, I’m a Christian; I’ll be fine, thanks.” As much sense as this made to Jess, it apparently meant something different to her new companion: “Oh praise the Lord!” Her hand went up and her eyes rolled back in her head. “Jesus Savior Lord Almighty, I bring before you my dear sister…” Jess stood up and walked to the door and pushed the emergency bar to open it. She ignored the agitation of the other passengers as the door cracked open-she knew there were no other trains at this time and she could just hop across the tracks and then walk the 5 blocks to the headquarters and probably end up beating this one. She stepped through the now spring-less flapping door and found the ground with one foot. As her toes touched the ground she heard the screams of the wheels and the beastly groans of the train coming to life. Lights flashed and with one scream Jess fell under the train.
Scene Two: A Prayer and a Rescue
The light was so bright and words seemed so much bigger than they were supposed to be. She opened her eyes all the way and it got better and kept getting better. Within a few days the doctor came to discharge her. “You realize there’s no way you should have survived what happened to you, right?” He smiled. “Your mother and father insist upon telling me it’s a miracle and while I wouldn’t normally use that language, I can’t think of anything else to call this.” Jess smiled at her parents and then back at the doctor. “We believe in a God who does the impossible.”
Jess stood back with her church that Sunday, surrounded by the people who had prayed so desperately and now smiling so broadly. She sang the praise songs like never before, so grateful to be alive and back with these people. When the song service was finished, the pastor asked her to come forward and just share a small testimony with the church about the accident. “After that, would you mind if I prayed for you?” She laughed a little. “How could I say ‘no’ to that!”
She moved in front of the mike and squinted at the smiling faces in front of her. “What can I say? I prayed to God and he saved me! The last thing I remember was everything just going completely dark. My legs fell down and I tried to hold on to the door but couldn’t keep my grip and then I was under it. Well, I said the darkness was the last thing I remembered, but actually it was…” She struggled to control her voice. “Praying. I remember praying. I didn’t even know what in the world God could possibly do or even if I got a complete sentence out, but…” Amens while she paused again. “The world rejects the idea of a miracle and would rather trust in anything else, but today I’m standing here to say this: God is in the business of saving people!” doesn’t give the double meaning of belonging (i.e., salvation belongs to the Lord)
Scene Three: The Bare Minimum and the Excess of Mercy
Jess was medically cleared and she had found a job closer to home with the campaign, but during the week following the accident she continued to receive calls from Senator Wallace’s office. She finally returned them only to get an office assistant with instructions to schedule an interview for her, so with a sigh of exasperation Jess gave in and scheduled it. She needed to go into the city to get her things out of her roommate’s way anyway. In her mind, this was her main reason for the trip so she didn’t even dress up—jeans, sweatshirt and a ponytail. She ran an errand on the way and arrived five minutes late to find the Senator himself waiting for her. After a minimum of small talk, Jess felt the need to express her disinterest in the position. The Senator was surprised but polite and was getting up to leave when he noticed her shirt. “What does that mean?” he asked, pointing to the symbol on the front. It was an old shirt her youth group had designed after the youth pastor preached a series on peer pressure. It had the words “peer pressure” in a circle and a cross over it stamping them out. “Oh, this? Oh, it’s such an old shirt—made it with my church when I was in high school. It’s supposed to show how, um, other people’s opinions don’t define us because of what God did.” The Senator had a quizzical look and Jess felt her heartrate go up as she fought the nudging again. “Well that’s certainly a powerful message for young people. I wish I could help my own kids with some of these peer pressure situations and I have to say I never thought of that connection. How does that work exactly?” She swallowed. “Well, it’s, um, really about the idea that the most important thing in life is God and if you’re right with Him—through the forgiveness in Jesus—then other people’s opinions won’t shape who you are or give you hope or despair.” No wonder your children are dealing with this—look at your own political history of catering to every whim! They were now at the door and the Senator saw the verse on her back. To her great discomfort, he read it aloud: “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” She laughed nervously and quickly made her goodbyes, cleared her room and left the city.
In the next few weeks several unpredictable things happened. First, the Democrats shot way ahead in the polls. There were several contributing factors in recent events but their glee reeked of cockiness. Second, Jess’s pastor from the city called her and asked her to come back and work at the church part time. Apparently the daily lunch prayer hour they had run for several years was now extraordinarily busy and they needed extra staff to provide the lunch and pray with newcomers. Even though her job would end with the election, Jess turned him down. But soon the news of a spiritual awakening in Washington was too big to ignore, even by the major news venues, even in an election season. All over the channels reporters showed congressmen and congresswomen holding prayer meetings in their offices or leaving the building to pray at nearby churches. Jess felt her stomach churn when she recognized that nearly everyone they were showing was a democrat. Typical liberal media.
The election came, the democrats won and Jess watched with disgust as the president quoted Scripture in his victory speech. Hypocrites. Between losing her job (and income) and the images plastered everywhere of democrats praying and leading bible studies and the president claiming a mandate, Jess felt absolutely depressed. How could God let all this happen? Everything she had lived the last year of her life for was now gone. They had been there all along fighting for Biblical values and trying to do what was right and run a clean campaign and here are these guys at the eleventh hour pulling God in, using him. And God letting it work.
Scene Four: Debating the Definition of Mercy
There weren’t many jobs available and Jess had tried them all. Even her own father, a business owner, couldn’t give her any work—he was in the process of cutting back as it was. The days of exuberant worship were gone now. Some days she tried to pray and listen to Scripture, but the words seemed like they were written for someone else. What was the point of believing all these words of God when he himself didn’t come alongside to back them up? Did God’s promises mean anything if years of faithful work and faith could lead to this: a tough economy, disillusionment and His apparent blessing on sinners. The final straw came in the mail. While seeing the congressional seal on the stationary was painful enough, it was the handwritten note from Senator Wallace that really hurt. It was a thank you note for a conversation, her so-called interview a few months back. Because her shirt and two sentences had started something in his life, something with the Bible, with God, with his family and his whole life. So he’s one too. How dare he blame this on me. This is exactly why I tried to avoid this conversation, God! How could you let this happen!? It was that night that Jess was back in the hospital and this time it was no accident. Wish God would have left me alone to die under that train. Would’ve been easier than this anyway.
Before she was discharged, her father came in, eager to share something. “Jess, guess what—remember that big client I told you about, the one I pitched to last week? I thought I’d never get the contract, but they just called me and it’s mine. You know what this means, right? I’ll have loads of work now and you’ll be my first hire of course!” Jess smiled, a smile so real it started tears. “Dad, you have no idea how good that is to hear.” “Well, maybe I have some idea. You’re due for some good news. ‘A merry heart does good like a medicine,’” he quoted. Thank you, God, for letting the contract work she prayed as she fell sleep that night, comfortable and unworried.
But in the morning her dad called; the client had backed out—her job was gone. She sat on the couch, fuming. She drank her coffee and turned the T.V. on but she didn’t taste or hear anything but rage. Her stomach felt like an unmoving smoldering rock sending sparks throughout her entire body. Where are you now? What’s the point of letting me live if you give me nothing. Nothing. Unbelievably, Senator Wallace’s face appeared on the screen in front of her. He was leading a prayer meeting; the camera scanned the room where hundreds of people sat with their heads bowed. She pressed the power button and stared unblinking at the shrinking pinpoint of light on her parents’ old set. How dare you take this job from me?! Where is your goodness and mercy now? She took another sip of the Maxwell House. Man, I really miss my cappuccino.
*it’s not about the train.