In the garage Oscar had stacks of stuff. When I stopped by on Saturday the door was up, and Oscar was standing there, hands on his hips. Tension was in the air.
“Hey, guy. What’s up?” I inquired.
“Sun’s up. I’m up,” he cracked with a droll smile.
“I’ve gotta get her loaded. Bess and I are going fishing on Monday. The trouble is, I can’t fit it all in.”
One look around would verify that. His old brown van, alias “Bess,” was there, along with boxes of all sizes on shelves along the back wall, drawers ajar on a big black tool chest, and some smaller containers lined up on a piece of plywood, set across a pair of saw horses. A sleeping bag was thrown over the back of an old folding chair. A backpack was propped up beside the back door. I’d call it a disorganized mess.
“Is it always this much work to pack up for a fishing trip?”
With a shake of his head the old man gestured towards the door leading to the kitchen. Wordlessly, I followed, and we sat at the kitchen table. He poured me a cup of coffee from the electric percolator and then rolled his eyes.
“Guess I’m not as young as I used to be.”
“Hey, none of us are.”
His eyes lit up with some unspoken thought. He spoke slowly then, and I saw through his irritation. “Used to do all of this and more in an hour. But, I’m going anyhow.”
A youthful determination crossed his wrinkled face. Old age and declining health was taking its toll, but Oscar was going fishing!
“’Fishing’ must be your middle name,” I remarked. “Tell me about some of the places you’ve been.”
That was the right thing to say, I’d later remark. Old Oscar came to life, regaled me with some doozies, as he called those experiences. What a vibrant, engaging man he’d been in his prime. Only one thing troubled me, and I knew that today was the day.
“You know, Oscar,” I began, “you’ve lived here in Palacio for five or six years. I’ve never seen you in church.”
“No, and I can be honest with you. I don’t see any use of it.”
“I appreciate that you can level with me, Oscar. You are a man of good reputation, and I admire your truthfulness.”
“Well, here’s a compliment for you, youngster. I just feel like you’re not that pushy type.”
A little more banter passed between us, then I knew the time was right. My heart was thumping with a little more emphasis than usual.
“You know what comes to mind? You’re getting so organized for a week-long trip. You don’t want to forget anything important. You’re cautious, conscientious, careful. But that other trip you’re taking, well, you haven’t planned for it at all.”
His voice crackled, “What?”
“I see you putting all that effort into a fishing trip. But I guess you haven’t taken care of yourself, planning and preparing for that Big Trip. You know, that Big Trip that everyone takes, sooner or later!”
“Oh,” he fumed. He pursed his lips, then reached for some difficult words. “Haven’t thought about dying since Ruby passed on.”
What I said next had to have been especially orchestrated by God’s Holy Spirit. I wanted to say it all right, but I’m no preacher or evangelist. I just know Jesus, and I wanted Oscar to be ready to meet Him. “Hey, there’s a lot of guys who are busy, successful, maybe even sensible like you. I respect you, Oscar.”
He stared at me with those steely gray eyes. Was he expecting a wisecrack or a put-down? I couldn’t tell. Gently, I pressed on. “I know you’re busy and all, right now. Let me just leave you with something to think about.
“When you look up at that night sky and see those tiny specks of light they are really huge. That stuff didn’t just happen by itself for no reason. There really is a Creator. The good news is He loves us mere human beings. And He made the only way there is so we could go to Him when we die. Eternity, that endless time of living, grabs your attention when you settle down to think about it.” At that I stopped and waited for his reply.
“You’re making sense, youngster. Let’s hear the rest of the story, if it doesn’t take all day,” he smiled.
“Picture taking a trip with no suitcase, no truck, no gasoline, no tools and spare parts. Worst of all, no GPS or detailed map. No one to go with you, no one to follow behind. No AAA to come and bail you out of unknown trouble on the way.”
“I’m with you, so far,” he nodded.
“Dying is a one way trip. Dying means this body got too worn out to go on living. But the real you, your spirit is eager to go on, exploring, enjoying, discovering more about that tremendous Universe and the God who made it all.
“People from earliest times had a sense of fear or respect. Some worshipped stones and trees and statues and . . . well, no history lesson is needed,” I continued weakly.
“A bunch of that religion stuff is pure bologna!” Oscar exclaimed.
“People do weird stuff, bad stuff, hateful stuff. That’s what the Bible calls sin. But God wanted people to take notice, learn to do better, and want to be good. Only God’s Son did everything right. What a man! You would have loved Him, right off.
“Jesus came to show us, teach us, heal and save us. Our response is to acknowledge Him, own up to our own incompleteness and carelessness and sin. Jesus died, shedding His blood so we could be forgiven. There is no other way to be forgiven.
“Christians aren’t perfect. Some are a good example of what to do, others are an example of what not to do. One Bible verse that means a lot to me is this one, ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ God loves you, Oscar. Invite Him into your life.”
All of that was a mouthful, but I needed to say it while my bravery was still strong. At this point I took a deep breath and added, “It’s not your money, your reputation, or your good looks that gets you into Heaven. How about it, Oscar?” With his gray eyes misty Oscar took that opportunity.
What I mean is, Oscar sealed the deal. Soon it was time for me to run. Sure enough, Oscar remembered where Ruby’s old Bible was in the bookcase, and I showed him where the Gospels of the New Testament were.
All the stuff in the garage, all the stuff in the world can’t go along on that Final Trip. Seems like we get bogged down with the Here and Now, and forget about Forever, which we are all headed to, sooner or later.
Oscar opened his eyes to his opportunity. How about you? Where are you, on the list of Seven Big Essentials?
Is there actually a God?
Why on earth am I here?
Does my life matter?
Why is life (and other people) unfair, difficult, confusing, etc.?
What will happen to me after my body dies?
Can I prepare in any way for life after death?
How can I know the Bible is the “right book”?
Opportunity is a gift from God. Jesus said He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to God, but by Him. Dying is a trip that’s unavoidable. He wants you to respond to His love. Welcome your opportunity today. + + +
by Elaine Hardt ©2007