Unconditional, p.13

Unconditional, page 13



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Josh, honey, you have to understand that you’re making things harder on your dad. Your father is going through depression right now. Please be the good kid that you always were before. He really needs you right now.

  Those words, spoken by his father’s older sister, Margaret, still haunted him. Even now as he watched his father unpack his overnight bag, using the closet space and top drawer of the dresser to store his clothes. Josh had made some room for him on Wednesday, knowing his father would be spending the weekend with him.

  “I don’t have to go tonight, you know,” Walter Coleman was saying. “I’ll be in the way of you two—”

  “Oh, Dad, c’mon. You’re never in the way,” Josh assured him. “Besides, I want you to hear Valerie play her solo.”

  “Well, that, I am looking forward to.” Dad glanced over his shoulder, grinning. “She’s joining us for our celebration dinner tomorrow, too, isn’t she?”

  “Don’t know yet. I haven’t asked her. Hope so.” Leaning against the dresser, Josh said, “I’m so happy you’re getting this transfer. So happy we’ll be close to each other again.”

  “I’m not far, you know, son. We’ve always been in the same state, at least. But the closer we live to each other, the better.”

  “I agree. Now take your time. I’ll set the table for us.”

  “I’ll just put away a couple more things. Be right out.”

  Your mom took care of a lot of things. She handled the household finances, she went to see your teachers, all of that. She also took good care of you and your dad. He was the one who went to work and didn’t have to worry about anything because your mom had everything under control. He took care of a supermarket all day. Now he feels as if he’s lost. On top of that, he feels like he’s failing you. Please be gentle with him, honey.

  At the time, Josh had resented his aunt’s well-meaning and soft-spoken advice. He’d confused it with meddling and putting more weight on his young shoulders. He had also begun hanging out with a different crowd. A crowd that wasn’t “gentle” with their own families. Or anyone else, for that matter.

  Okay, Dad, look. I’m not going to church today. That’s your thing, going to church. Mine is partying and having fun. I’m young. Maybe later, I’ll think about God. Right now, He’s not interested in me, so I’m too busy for Him, too. I want to live life. Life is short. That doesn’t mean being in some boring church all morning, listening to some boring, old dude read from some boring, ancient book.

  His father tended to alternate between arguing and pleading with him. Even when he was angry and when he’d raise his voice—both of them would get into terrible shouting matches, actually—there was an undertone of pain. Great, soul-debilitating pain mixed with despair.

  That’s not life, Joshua. Getting high and getting into trouble all the time, being with different girls, none of which mean anything to you. That’s not living. And you’re going to die young or you’ll wind up in prison if you keep traveling this same road. If you die, it will be in your sins. Please don’t do this anymore. Please. I love you so much.

  Stop it. Just stop it, Dad! Leave me alone. I can’t wait until I’m eighteen, because then I’m outta here. Gonna get away from you for good.

  What a big shot, talking like that, he thought now as he set the small kitchen table for two. Such big talk from a seventeen-year-old who was going nowhere fast. His grades had tanked. His teachers had all written him off as a troublemaker.

  What a nice boy that Josh Coleman used to be. Now he’s just trouble.

  The local cops knew him by name, and they agreed with the teachers and the administration in his high school. Senior year he left his hair grow out and had the spiky top dyed purple. He shaved only if he wanted to, listened to death metal, and started to ignore Elliot Bauer, his friend since elementary school, in favor of hanging out with his cool, fun “friends”. Interestingly, he got his first—and as it turned out, only—tattoo as soon as he turned eighteen, on his left upper arm. The tat had a crown—not the crown of thorns, but a king’s crown—angled at the top, with the words emblazed in red on a cloth draped around it, KING OF MY LIFE.

  Because there was just the smallest part of him, just a sliver, that didn’t want to erase Jesus Christ completely from his life. Even though he told his friends that he’d chosen the design because it was a symbol for the One his mother had called “the Lord.” She would always say that, that He was the King of her life. Because buried under all that bravado and blind attachment to the world was the Josh who still wanted to believe.

  All that tough, I-don’t-need-God-or-anyone-else talk came to a screeching halt when the police stopped that car at the end of the boulevard with a barricade of patrol cars. He and his friends were ordered, at gunpoint, out of the car. The day they put those handcuffs on him, that seemed so unreal, like it was happening to someone else. The day they fingerprinted him and took his mug shot, when he changed into that orange jumpsuit.

  That was the day he realized the nonstop party really had come to an end. That he was eighteen years old and would be tried as an adult, though he hadn’t been told of his friends’ plans to rob that store. That he was getting locked up, away from his real friends, his father, especially, with hardened men who’d committed murder and other crimes more serious than driving a getaway car.

  “Oh, look at that! That’s an old Coleman family favorite!”

  Chuckling, Josh turned while at the oven. Rather than toasting the ham and cheese on rye sandwiches on the stove, he’d placed them on a cookie sheet in the oven. On each he’d placed tomato slices and added both mustard and mayonnaise. The cheese had melted nicely.

  “Is that enough, you think, Pop? I figured it was an old favorite—”

  “Tomato soup?”

  “Of course.”

  “Yeaaahhhhh!” his dad growled with satisfaction.

  “And we can grab some dessert at church. They always have donuts or coffee cake or something on Friday nights.”

  “Son, that’s fine. I love that it’s an old favorite. Good way to start our weekend off.”

  “Well, then, open the fridge and get our drinks. Because I thought of everything.”

  Walt Coleman opened the refrigerator door and laughed softly. Tomato soup, toasted ham and cheese sandwiches…and cream soda. Neither father nor son recalled how that combination had become a favorite, quick, light and easy meal for them, but eaten together, those three components tasted like happy times.

  “You sit, Dad. I’ll get everything for us.”

  “Oh, I can at least get our drinks. So good to see cream soda. You know, my store doesn’t carry that brand anymore? Shame. The other brand’s not as good.”

  “I’ll make sure you have some to take home with you before you leave.”

  The soup was ready, so he allowed the sandwiches to toast a little more but turned off the oven. In the meantime, he ladled soup into two bowls.

  “Don’t go through all that trouble, Josh. I’ll be moving down here in a couple months, so I’ll keep it stocked for us.”

  “It’s not any trouble, but that sounds good. Sit. Relax.”

  “I like this little apartment. Perfect location, too.”

  Josh nodded, setting down the bowls and grabbing the potholders.

  “I like the fact that it’s in the heart of town. You got all the shops right here,” he said. “Park’s right across the street. I like that. The river walk’s like a mile and a half long. When I can get a run in, I do six miles on it. You know, going back and forth.”

  “Very good. I need to start exercising again. Haven’t made time for it in a while.”

  “Oh, no? Well, the gym on the other side of Hathaway is only ten dollars a month. No signup costs, either. Nice place. Clean. Lots of machines, plus the free weights.”

  Things are so good now, Josh mused. The way they should have always been.

  Later, on one of his visits to see his son, his father had admitted that he’d prayed for him daily. He’d asked God n
ot to allow Josh to be high and kill himself or someone else while driving, and to keep him from overdosing or dying at the hands of drug dealers.

  Please, Lord, let him turn from those ways. Save my son, Lord, please. Do whatever You have to, only please, don’t let him die without You.

  That was the prayer his father had once told him he’d prayed, months before Josh was released. While still in prison, he’d given his life to Jesus Christ.

  He regarded his father now as they sat down together to pray before their meal. Josh reached across the table for his hand.

  “You pray, Dad,” he urged.

  “Okay, son. Father, thank You for this food that was so lovingly prepared. Thank You for my son and our relationship. Thank You for answered prayer—I’m getting my store and my transfer, thanks to You! And most of all, thank You for Your Son. In His name, we pray…”

  “Amen,” Josh whispered.

  “Hmmm. Good,” Walt remarked after sampling the soup. “We have to tell Campbell’s.”

  Though he knew his father was jesting, Josh proudly informed him, “Nope. That’s not Campbell’s. I made it myself from scratch.”

  “Really? From scratch? No wonder I can taste basil—”

  “Fresh basil. I got this cool pair of scissors that cuts herbs. Just a recipe I found online. I make it pretty often, so I know how to make it now by heart.”

  “Impressive. Very good, Josh.” His father tasted his sandwich. “And this isn’t American, is it?”

  “No, it’s Gruyère. I used it once for something else. It’s like a really good Swiss.”

  “We’re going to start calling you Bobby Flay.” Dad laughed. “Good job. You know, I think either your church is doing you a lot of good, or having a Christian girlfriend is helping you grow in the Lord, too. I’ve noticed that about you, besides your newfound flair for being a chef.”

  “It’s probably my church. I haven’t been going out with Valerie that long yet.” He hesitated. “She doesn’t know…yet. You know. That I did time.”

  Walt held the next spoonful of soup poised near his mouth. “Oh? Not sure how to bring it up?”

  “Yeah. That, and I’m hoping she gets to know me first. Because I’m not that guy anymore, Dad. But I’m afraid that if she knows, she’ll think less of me. Maybe she won’t want me anymore, because we’ve even had a chance together.”

  “Well, pray that God prepares her heart before you tell her. And pray that His will be done. If she’s the one for you, she won’t care about your past. She’ll love you the way you should love her: unconditionally.”

  Josh nodded. “I hope it is His will. I know whatever He’s got planned for me is great, but…”

  “But this girl is very special to you.”

  “She is. And I know that’s crazy, because we haven’t known each other that long. But ever since I met her, Dad, I can’t stop thinking about her. She’s the most wonderful girl ever. Is that crazy?”

  “Crazy? No. That was what your mother meant to me.” Pausing, his father went on, “And I knew very early on in our relationship, too. There was never any woman like her in my life, and there would never be anyone ever like her again. But your mother loved me unconditionally. The Lord won’t accept less than that for you, too, son.”

  It would hurt if she chose to walk away. Josh didn’t know how to come out and admit that and still salvage his pride. His father understood, though, and nodded.

  “Just be the man you are now,” he advised. “Because that other Josh is gone. Be the man that God knows you can be. Who you are in His eyes.”

  “That’s what I hope she sees.”

  “And don’t take too long to tell her the truth, Josh. Don’t withhold that from her. Be honest. If she’s a decent girl, if nothing else, whether she decides to stay with you or not, she’ll respect you for being honest with her.”

  I wish I’d never done those things now. Then I’d have no past to be ashamed of. Because I am ashamed of what I was back then.

  Admitting to that would cast a sad shadow on the time together. Instead, he shifted gears and shared something else that had been on his heart for quite some time.

  “Oh, and, um…I feel like God is calling me to a ministry,” he said, picking up his sandwich. “He’s been putting that on my heart for a while now.”

  “The ministry? Really? That’s wonderful—”

  “No, not like a pastor or youth pastor. Nothing like that. I think the Lord is calling me to a prison ministry. What Richie did for me, I want to do for someone else.”

  Josh almost held his breath, waiting for his father’s reaction. His best friend, who didn’t have a personal relationship with the Lord, had expressed concern.

  Sure you want to do that? I would think you never wanted to go back to that place again. Can’t you do something else instead?

  Dad was smiling but his eyes moistened and reflected pride.

  “I had a feeling the Lord would call you to do that someday, when you were ready,” Dad said. “You would be good at that, Josh. Pray about it. And call Richie. I’m sure he’ll have good advice for you on how to get started with your ministry.”


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