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A Curse Tried to Rip into Their Home

March 8, 2014

From the day I arrived at school, sophomore Alex would show up at my side at virtually every break, either between classes or at lunch.  He was thin, shy and shuffle-footed.  His braces seemed almost too big for his mouth.  He wore a jacket even on the hottest of days.  He always started his conversations with a long drawl.

“Soooooooo, Doctor Zockoll, what have you been doing lately?” He’d sidle up to me as if we hadn’t seen each other in years.  I had just seen him in class.

“Not much, Alex,” I’d almost always reply.  “Life’s been good.  Want to go for a walk?”

He’d remain poker-faced.  “Sure.”  And we’d take a slow lap around the perimeter of the schoolyard while other students shot hoops, lobbed a softball or ran through the grass.

His mind would search for a subject.  “Soooooo, you think the Steelers will win the Super Bowl this year?”

“Alex,” I’d tease, “This is only March.  We have a long way to go until the start of the NFL season.”

“Yeah, I forgot,” he’d reply.

“You want to go shoot some basketball with the guys?” I’d ask.

“Naw, walkin’s okay with me,” he’d always reply.  And so we’d take a lap and talk about summertime plans, the apostle Peter, college preparation, sports… the conversations were all over the place.  Always at half-speed, but always serious.

“Welp, gotta get back to class, ” he drawl whenever the bell rang.  “See ya later.”

He wasn’t unfriendly, but he didn’t hang around too many other classmates.  He wasn’t exactly a loner, but he was almost reclusive at times.

One afternoon I drove over to his home to deliver some homework papers he’d imageforgotten.  I was met at the door by his little brother David and his portly, rough-speaking mother.

“Hey!  You’re a teacher at our school!” shouted David, red-cheeked and grinning.

“I think he’d know that, genius,” his mother said, moving David aside.  She put out her hand.  “Good to see you you. I’m Sara.”

I shook her hand and held out the papers.  “Alex forgot these and it’s a pretty important assignment.”

“Who’s at the door?” called someone with a deep Southern drawl.

“It’s Doctor Zockoll!  He’s a teacher!” shouted David, taking my hand and pulling me into the house.  “Come meet my daddy.  Alex will be home in a few minutes.”

Sara closed the door and smoothed her apron.  “I was just making an early dinner.  You’ll stay with us and eat, right?”

“Well, er…” I stumbled.

“Course you will,” said the father, staying on the couch but reaching out and shaking my hand.  “My name’s Lewis and you’re now part of the family.  Stay and eat.  Mother, what’s for dinner?”

“Wasn’t quite sure yet, so I thought I’d let little David decide,” said Sara, ruffling the hair on the child’s head.  “What do you think we should have for dinner, oh master of the house?”

“Pizza!” David cried, jumping.  Alex came in the door and waved to me.

“Now, you go and get yourself a Pepsi while Mom’s getting dinner,” said Lewis, gesturing to the garage door.  “Alex, show him where it is.”

Alex took me to the garage and opened up a 1950s-era fridge.  I gasped.  The refrigerator was stocked to the front with 16 ounce glass Pepsi’s.  There must have been fifty of them, cramming full every shelf.

“Alex, w-what?  Why do you have so many Pepsi bottles?” I asked.

“Well, ” he replied, looking into the refrigerator.  “Dad was a pretty bad alcoholic.  I mean, he was a real bad drinker.  Then he came to Christ, and he stopped with the booze, but the temptation gets to him sometimes, you know? Mom knew he liked Pepsi a lot, a whole lot.  So this is his, well, his substitute.”

We had a wonderful meal with an amazingly good homemade pizza.  It was a dinner filled with deep, gentle laughs from Lewis, snappy asides from Sara, joyful shouts from little David and funny school stories from Alex.  I grew attached to this family and found myself visiting on a weekly basis.  I got to drink a lot of Pepsi.

Then things took a bad turn.

One day I was called into the principal’s office after school.  “We just got the news.   Little David had been sick and doctor just delivered the news.  David has leukemia.”  I sat down in the chair, stunned.  This little boy, so full of life – !

“How are his folks taking this?”

The principal shook his head.  “I don’t know.  The phone call just came to us, about five minutes after school closed.  I thought you’d want to know.”

I jumped in my car and raced to their house.  If there was anything I could do, any comfort I could bring…

I pulled up to their home and saw the front door wide open.  I ran to the porch.  “Lewis?” I called.  “Sara?”  I glanced inside.  “Alex?  David?”  Things were shoved all over the place.  Had they been in such a hurry that they actually knocked over furniture…?

The house had been robbed.

Somehow, someone had heard about David’s diagnosis.  When they realized the family was racing to another city to get treatment, they broke in and stole everything they could get their hands on.  Television, stereo, even the little jewelry that Sara owned.  The place was a mess.  The police combed the place but there were no clues. In the panic of the robbery their pet dog had been injured and died.

You couldn’t make this stuff up.  It was like a curse lowered itself on the household.

Their child had leukemia.  Their house had been cleaned out.  Could things get worse?

Yes.

The next week, Lewis was at work and fell.  He injured his back so severely that he was out of work.  Totally. The insurance company was playing hard-to-get on both David’s treatments and Lewis’ financial help.  The family was penniless, and  David was just starting chemo therapy.

I stopped by the day after they arrived back.  Sara was just pushing some of the furniture into place.  Lewis was trying to get help at a clinic.

“Sara,” I said simply.  “Are you okay?”

She stopped and sat on the arm of the couch.  “Brad, let me tell you something, okay?  Lewis is my second husband – my first husband was kicked to death in a barroom fight.  I was just as much a drunkard, and I remarried within a year to a guy who was just as bad – he’s Alex and David’s stepfather, you know – and he’d come home sopping drunk every day.  Every day, Brad.  He’d slap me around and scream at the kids.  One Christmas Day he came stumbling into the house, shoved the tree over and fell on the couch and started snoring.  The boys were crying and I sent them to their room.  Brad, I had a frying pan over his head, ready to bash his brains in, but the only reason I didn’t do it was because I knew if I was in jail I wouldn’t be able to take care of the children.  It was torture, Brad.”

She paused.

“Then Lewis and I came to Jesus.  What a change.”

“Believe it or not, it was at a Vacation Bible School celebration for little David.  He received an award and we went to see him get it.  The preacher talked about Jesus and we knew Christ was who we needed.  From that day, both of us changed.  Through all of this,” she swept her hand around the messy room, “I take it – well we take it one day at a time, trusting Jesus.  Look, I’m okay with all of this as long as Lewis doesn’t go back to drinking.  And we’ll walk this day by day with little David – bone marrow transplant stuff and chemo, all that.  As long as Lewis doesn’t drink, well, that’s a victory that day.  We’ll take the next day as a new challenge.  And if little David doesn’t make it, then we know we’ll see him in Heaven.  But we’re going to take this one day at a time.”

I was fighting back the tears, but I saw the truth of Psalm 37.  ‘ Trust in the Lord and do good… commit your way unto the Lord…’ I mean, I really saw it, and it was amazing.  The thirty-seventh Psalm was coming to life before my eyes. Day by day the Bible was being played out by real people in real life.  No complaints – as cheery as ever, in all of this poverty and pain.  They were taking David for chemo treatments.  They were packing simple lunch bags for Alex.  They were rationing their gas, even pulling change out of the couch to keep things going.   It was a walking Bible epic, played out by this simple family – day by day, week by week, month by month…

Happy was the day when I showed up and saw the answer to a patient reliance on the Lord.  In one week, all the insurance kicked in, plus back pay for Lewis.  David’s treatment costs were covered, to the penny.

And best of all – David was in remission.

It was like Christmas in the home. I got to be with the family as they celebrated and even had new ten-speed bicycles for both the children.

Alex sat back on the couch and grinned slowly.  “Soooooo, I guess through all of this I really learned a lot about trusting the Lord.  It really has made me stronger.  Man, I really learned a lot.”

So did I, Alex.  So did I.  More than you’ll ever know.

Little David survived the leukemia battle and is alive and well and robust these many years later.  Alex has a fine Christian family as well.  Lewis and Sara have since gone on to be with the Lord.  I’ll see them one day in Heaven, and we’ll all sit down and have a loud, laughing time with some homemade pizza.  And possibly a Pepsi or two.

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