"You are helping out at a charitable center by organizing donated items. When searching through an old suitcase, you find a suicide note dated six months prior. What’s peculiar is that you know the person. What’s even more peculiar is that the person is still alive. Write the story about what happens when you pay that person a visit and ask him or her about the note."
I blew my warm breath into my freezing cold hand. I cleared my throat one more time and pushed the anxiety down in my stomach. Finally, I garnered the courage to knock on the door. My stomach turned as I waited for the sound of the deadbolt to disengage.
This started two days ago. I was at Goodwill as I always did on Saturday mornings, helping them sort through newly dumped items from the week. The brief case was pretty simple. Actually rather nice for a Goodwill drop. Fancy brown leather; shiny, gold latches and lock. I did my quick sweep and there, hidden in the top file folder, at the very bottom of the brief case, I found the letter. I usually do a quick glance over something like that to make sure it wasn’t anything of major importance and send it to the paper shredder. But with this letter, I was caught with the opening line, which read:
If you are reading this..
And was followed by a thorough description of why this briefcase would be found either floating down the Manatee River or found in the weeds of some embankment. The letter was a suicide note, a very precise description of the man who had penned the note. My heart stopped as I recognized the address. Then the names of next of kin. And finally, my Pastor’s name was signed at the bottom. I had quickly jammed the letter in my pocket and told the store manager I had to go. I drove home in a daze, the now crumpled letter staring at me on my passenger seat. I was not sure what to do next. The letter had been dated six months prior. And I knew my Pastor had not seen it through, he would confirm that the very next day when he gave a sweeping sermon about forgiveness and moving forward in life. I shook his hand like I always did on Sunday, filling my role as another familiar face and extra name to memorize. That was my only role in the church, until I decided I needed to say something. If my Pastor, the person who inspired me to live and trust God, had come to the point where he was willing to take his life, I felt like I had to at least talk to him.
So there I was, desperately waiting to hear the deadbolt to his front door disengage. I could feel God watching me from high above.
That glorious click and slide finally hit my ears. It was Mrs. Thompson. I asked for her husband. Her eyes filled with tears. She asked me if I hadn’t heard. Offered a kind hand on my shoulder. I stared at her in disbelief. I rebutted. I told her I had just been in church yesterday. I had seen him, heard his words, just as I had the last six months, every Sunday. Tears fell down her face as she said it wasn’t possible. The church was gone.
We are all gone, she said.
I backed off the porch in disbelief, almost stumbling down the brick stairs. I turned to run toward my car. It was no longer there. I looked back at the house and the door was shut again, Mrs. Thompson gone. In her place, yellow police tape lined the door. The grass was tall and unkempt, which I had remembered it being neat and trimmed as I had approached. I ran toward the church.
On my way there I began to notice that there was no one around. No one driving in the streets, no one walking along the sidewalks or sweeping their front porches. No one.
The church was about six miles away, a distance I had never covered running before, but I crossed it with ease today. I approached the last corner, a large concrete building which obstructed the view of the small chapel before I turned and hurried across the street. The church was still there. What was Mrs. Thompson talking about?
I opened the door. The full congregation was sitting in the pews. They turned and smiled at me. At the front of the altar was Mrs. Thompson. She smiled at me as well. But her husband was not standing by her side. I did recognize the figure next to her though. And while He was nothing like all the pictures that filled western culture, He was beautiful. He held out His hand to beckon me forward. As I walked down each pew I noticed that the congregation was transforming before me, their images turning to light and vanishing in a bright fade. And they couldn’t seem happier to be vanishing. Behind them, the pews I walked past were turned to burnt ruins. The front door of the church barely stood, but the walls were burnt down around it.
It’s time to let go, Mrs. Thompson’s voice caused me to turn back toward the altar. It’s time to come home.
It was no longer cold. He held out His Hand. And in my mind, I remembered that day, the fire had swept quickly. The doors had been locked. We couldn’t get out. And now I knew who had caused it. He had locked his congregation in and destroyed us all. And then taken his own life jumping off a bridge.
His hand was warm and gentle. He lifted me up to the altar.
It is time to come home, my son, you are forgiven. You will never have to think of that terrible day again. You are saved.