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An Inner Storm
Just short of that famed rod-iron gate the silver Porsche comes to a halt, the entrance to the home of Jonathan Elwood Macloney III. The initials “J. M.” embedded in the gate identifying him, also known as “Johnny Mac” since his birth, as the owner of that residence situated in the center of Macloney Drive. His neighbors refer it to, near and far, as simply “the mansion.”
The remote button pressed, the gate slides open, allowing the silver Porsche to wind its way up the long, curved driveway as the north wind whistles through the trees. The car stops in front of the mansion where much of Johnny Mac's free time is spent, alone.
There in his Porsche he remains momentarily, meditatively upon his house – his own creation, built with pride, earning the envy of everyone he knew… yet, he frowned. Whom did he really know? Jennifer? No, he had spent so much time and effort building the business, designing the projects, and making money that he’d neglected learning to understand people. He had no contacts outside the office, other than those who envied him. He thought that was all his happiness needed. There he sat, on that cold December night, recalling his evening’s pleasure, totally immersed in wealth, yet dreadfully alone.
How he would have enjoyed learning to know his secretary well, becoming so close that they might share something real instead of the dry relationship they maintained in the office. She always accepted his invitations to dinner, but nothing ever came of those, no matter how he would have liked it to.
Not a different evening
This evening was no different. She talked about a lot of things, including their mutual friend, his office manager, Michael. Johnny Mac's contribution was barely small talk, largely about the stormy weather brewing outside.
Although he had noticed her dimpled smile and shimmering blue eyes, he couldn’t look into those eyes romantically and say, “Jennifer, I need to hold you.” He didn’t know how. He did acknowledge, “Our times out together have been few and far between.” She nodded in agreement. But where was he to go from there?
Nor could he put his arms around her as they watched a parade go down Main Street a few Christmases ago. Standing in front of him, she pulled him close to her, perhaps for warmth, but was this a hint she wanted his arms around her also? If it was, he didn’t get it.
Alone in his Porsche, Johnny Mac sighed. He did answer her questions about his habits, but when she asked him about his churchgoing… that was awkward. He hadn’t attended church since he was a child; his work took every minute of his time. She and Michael went to church together occasionally, as well as to concerts and on picnics. Johnny Mac did very little of that with Jennifer or anybody.
Looking for a way to evade the issue of his church attendance, just in time the tuxedo-clad waiter approached the table with the check. Whew, he thought. Rather than paying with his credit card, however, Johnny Mac pulled a Ben Franklin from his wallet. “Keep the change,” he said, handing the bill to the waiter. The waiter left with a broad smile.
Johnny Mac then returned his attention to Jennifer, smiling. “Shall we leave, lest we get snow-bound?” he asked. “The wind outside sounds mighty fierce.” Yet the South’s winters were nothing like what he was use to in the North where he grew up.
Outside, in the cold night, Johnny Mac saw another opportunity to embrace her but didn't take it, couldn't. Jennifer hugged herself, pulling her coat collar up around her ears. She's so pretty, Johnny Mac thought, his hands stuffed into his own coat pockets.
A large raindrop splattered on the windshield of his Porsche, breaking the spell. “Perhaps a storm is coming after all,” he said to himself, exiting the car.
Inside his home he found superficial warmth and security. The fire in the fireplace at last ablaze, he reclined in a favorite chair, enjoying a cup of hot chocolate. He turned on the television and watched the evening news. He was amused. The coming of the South's unusual winter storm was every channel's lead story that evening: people rushing home, evacuating the city, jamming the supermarkets, stocking up with canned goods, flashlights, batteries, and fuel. They were preparing for the worst, preparing for the coming doom.
Before long, as the television's eye beamed through the darkened room, Johnny Mac fell fast asleep. In flashes, an inner storm seized his dreams:
The pretty blonde girl on the playground had admired young Johnny Mac. “Johnny has a girlfriend,” his sixth grade classmates taunted. Shyly, Johnny Mac denied it...
Bang! Johnny Mac saw his dad flinch from the sudden smash of the fry pan his mom flung at his head. Then the quarreling got intense....
Riding along a ribbon of highways, young Johnny Mac admired all the tall buildings. Someday, he thought, I'm going to build those....
“But it's all going to end,” the preacher said. “It will all fall down...” For lack of understanding, at a tender age, fear gripped Johnny Mac. “As in the days of Noah...” the preacher continued. Tossing and turning Johnny Mac looked for a way out....
A dead cold
The fire had longed died to gray ashes when the telephone jolted Johnny Mac out of his sleep. “Oh, man,” he yawned, “What a nightmare!” He discovered he had spent the entire night in that recliner.
“Hello,” he said sleepily, speaking into the telephone.
“Good morning, Sir,” the voice responded.
“Michael?” Johnny Mac answered, surprised that his office manager was calling him so early.
With further conversation, Michael informed Johnny Mac of the weather conditions and urged him to close the office for the day. “Turn on the television, Sir,” he said, “and get the reports yourself. Most everything is shut down today, and likely to continue so for a while.”
Peering out a frosted windowpane at the snow-covered ground, Johnny Mac responded with a solid, “No.” Continuing, he urged Michael, “Keep the office open for all who can make it in. I’ll be there myself shortly.”
Not golden silence
It was a cold, gray, lifeless drive downtown; the icy streets crackled and crunched beneath the car’s tires. The city’s skyline silhouetted on the horizon. His own high-rise office building, too, was lifeless and dark; not even Jake the security guard greeted him. Johnny Mac was alone – thirty floors up.
Responding to his answering machine’s flashing red light, Johnny Mac played back Michael’s message, explaining why he couldn’t grant his boss’ request. Infuriated, he gazed momentarily out the window behind his desk, noticing all those tall buildings blanketed in icy sheets, like looking into a deep freeze; many of them were his design. Suddenly, the ice-sheeted buildings resembled a motion picture screen, reflecting his childhood memories of the winters in the north: snow-forts, snowball battles with neighbor kids, catching snowflakes on his tongue, making angels in the snow… Oh, what fun! Where has it all gone? He wondered. Where have they all gone?
Turning from the window, he left his office – his inner, semi-private sanctum. Upon Jennifer’s desk he turned her “Jesus is the Answer” loose-leaf Scripture calendar to today’s date: Friday, December 21, the first day of winter. Yep, he thought, chuckling, winter has definitely arrived all right. “And it’s losing me lots of money, too!” he said angrily, his fist pounding the desk. Subconsciously, however, his mind’s eye caught other words on that calendar page and pondered, He who has friends must be himself friendly.
Suddenly, a strange stillness filled the room, as if no one was there at all. No more chuckles, no more flashing red lights on the answering machine, no ringing telephone. Nothing. Nobody. Silence, but it wasn’t exactly golden. He sat for a while, unsure of the minutes, at Jennifer’s desk, head in hands, perplexed. Then, exhausting a deep sigh, he suddenly realized it wasn’t worth it with nobody else around.
Breaking the solitude
A week later, the ice and sleet having practically vanished, the downtown streets once again bustled with traffic; the sidewalks held pedestrians, briskly scurrying about their business or pleasure. One would never know the devastation of the former week had it not been for the still lingering frigid air. The sky was clear, blue and sunny.
Jennifer entered Johnny Mac’s office, carrying folders of work – letters to be answered, inquiries, etc. – and placed them on his desk. Noticing her boss’ sullen appearance, she asked tenderly, “Something bothering you, Johnny?”
“Just concerned about the party tonight at my place,” he answered. “I’ve never done anything like this before. It has always been difficult for me. I always thought I was most happy with my career that brought me all this,” he said gesturing about the office of his accomplishments, “and even in my solitude,” he continued. “But I was wrong. I’m wondering who will come tonight if anybody will come.”
“I saw the announcement on the bulletin board,” Jennifer said. “I’m planning to be there. Sounds like fun.”
“I was hoping at least you would come,” he responded.
“I’ll see that others know about the party too,” Jennifer assured him.
“Thanks, but it’s not required, you know. I mean only if they want to. They must want to come. It’s understandable if they don’t come. The announcement was almost a last minute thing,” Johnny Mac responded shyly. “They may have other plans.”
“Sure,” Jennifer said, sprouting her dimpled smile, yet a puzzled countenance.
“You’re such a good friend; you’ve always been that to me.”
“Thanks, sir.” She paused momentarily. Then, with no further word coming, he had turned about peering out the window, she exited the office.
A new day dawns
The preparations done, except for a few last minute touch-ups, Johnny Mac examined it all again. In shimmering foil, HAPPY NEW YEAR hung above the fireplace, a Christmas tree sparkled in the corner, sandwich bits, cookies, etc., and a pink punch ornamented a linen covered table.
All was set. Except for the caterers who waited in the kitchen, Johnny Mac was alone, nervous. Who would come? Would anybody come? He mused. A clock chimed the hour. Any time now. He waited. You can’t expect them to come right on the hour. Nobody does. In his favorite recliner he leafed through the pages of a business journal, discovering it was one he had read before, a favorite one, the contents of which he exhausted.
Then, his waiting ended; the doorbell chimed. With a start he looked up at the door. They’re here. At least somebody is.
At the entrance of the open door a pretty blonde girl stood, her blue eyes shimmering, her dimpled smile radiant, admiring the man before her.
“Welcome, Jennifer. I’m glad you’re here. Come in.”
Crossing the threshold, she embraced him. He responded with a generous hug.
Others soon followed, one by one. A new day had dawned, a new year; a new life had begun, as if a lull in a storm.
Ten years later
“Do you think he’ll remember us?” Michael McClendon asked his wife, Jennifer, as he pulled up to that famous rod iron gate where behind it stands “The Mansion”.
“I’m sure he will,” Jennifer answered. “We’ve been a good influence on him, in his coming to the faith.”
“And he’s been a good influence on us with those monthly paychecks we’ve received through those years we’ve worked for him,” Michael chuckled.
“We may look a little different because of the passing of time obviously, but, yeah, sure, he’ll remember us. He having not yet seen the kids though, that’ll be a surprise to him.”
“Hey!” Michael exclaimed. “Look, there’s a surprise right there,” he pointed, “The gate is already open? Do you think he knew we were coming?”
“Well, for sure he did,” replied Jennifer, “Since you called him this morning. But as I have heard, that gate has always been open ever since that New Year’s Eve party he threw for his company those many, well I guess, ten years ago now.”
“Wow, and look again there. I guess he really did learn how to be friendly,” Michael said again noticing a sign as he drove through the gate.”
“Right there on the front lawn for all to see,” Jennifer beamed sprouting her dimpled simile noticing that sign as well. “WELCOME FRIENDS,” she read.
The sun was shining brightly that cool spring day – no harsh wind, just a gentle breeze – Holy Week it was, Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday.
Through that gate, the car wound its way up the familiar long, curved driveway stopping in front of Johnny Mac’s house, built with pride earning the envy of all. But all that has changed since the dawning of that new day having begun those many years ago.
Surprised they were to see the wide front door of the house opened. Johnny Mac as well standing outside.
Johnny Mac opening the car door, Jennifer stepping out he greeted her with a friendly hug. “Welcome, Jennifer,” Johnny Mac said.
“Thank you Sir,” she said, as she opened the car’s back door for her young son also to get out. He so eagerly did, that he might meet this “Johnny Mac”, whom he have heard his parents talk so much about.
Around from the left side of the car came Michael, holding a little girl’s hand. She too sprouted a dimpled smile, she eager also to meet this friend of her parents, their former employer.
“Michael, welcome,” said Johnny Mac firmly grasping the hand his office manager of those earlier years.
“Thank you, Sir,” Michael responded. “It is good to see you again. It has been a long while.”
“Yes, indeed it has. Too long perhaps,” Johnny Mac said. “But you can cut with the ‘Sir’ now – we’re friends – no longer am I you guy’s ‘boss’,” he said. “And there’s only one sir these days and forever, as you both know – Sir Jesus.” Agreeing, Michael and Jennifer nodded.
“And who are these lovely little people?” Johnny Mac asked with a smile, turning to the children, now side by side in front of their mother.
“I think you can guess, Johnny,” Jennifer said.
“Yes, of course,” responded Johnny. “And what may your name be little girl?”
“Jenny Margaret McClenton,” the girl answered, sharing her full name, eyeing up at her mother.
“Well Jenny Margaret McClenton. Is Jenny short for Jennifer?” Johnny Mac than asked. “I mean, after all, with your dimples and blonde hair as Mrs. McClenton here,” he nodding toward Jennifer, “you just gotta be named after her, your mother.”
“Just Jenny Margaret, Johnny” Jennifer answered, “Not exactly as my name. Yet, named somewhat after me – the Jenny part – and my sister Margaret.”
“And how old might you be, Miss Jenny?” Johnny asked. “Ah, let me guess. Um, he said, rubbing his chin, eying up and down little Jenny, “Maybe ten?” he said.
“Yes,” Jenny answered, “that’s correct.”
“And how ‘bout your brother here, Miss Jenny. He is your little brother, right?”
“I’m David Michael McClenton,” the boy answered, speaking up for himself to the gleam of all. “And I am eight years old. Michael is my daddy’s first name.”
“Ah, yes, how well I know. Just like you both,” Johnny Mac responded eyeing Michael and Jennifer, “you have lovely and intelligent children.
“Ah, well, now,” he then suggested, “Let’s all go inside, shall we? See I have set before you an open door, inviting you to come and dine.” He gestured toward that open front door. “I’d like to catch up with you, and you catch up with me the happenings through the past years, as Molly gets our lunch together. For sure we have a lot of catching up to do.
“I’ll let Molly take the children, if you don’t mind, give them a tour of the house and perhaps a bit of a snack before we dine. You would like that, won’t you children?” The kids rapidly agreed with a beaming positive nod.
Inside Johnny Mac introduced and refreshed again Michael and Jennifer to Molly, his housekeeper – to the kids for the first time – a pleasant African-American woman. She had been with Johnny Mac all the years he owned the company, and still with him now through this more pleasant time for him, even after he sold the company.
The introductions done, Molly offering each a glass of water, she then escorted the children through the house, hand in hand, one on each side of her.
“She’ll give the children a good time,” Johnny Mac assured.
“We’re sure she will,” Jennifer replied, Michael agreeing.
Johnny Mac himself then escorted Michael and Jennifer into the parlor. There they seated themselves on a sofa, he perched on his favorite recliner his hands clasped between his knees. Remembrances of the past years freshly revived as they recalled it all again.
The Catching Up
“You two are a lovely couple,” Johnny Mac said. “Certainly as I see it now, from God’s perspective, you’re certainly His choice for one another.”
“Sorry I stole your girl Johnny,” Michael chuckled, his arm around Jennifer.
“Not my girl, Michael, my secretary,” Johnny Mac replied. He too chuckled. “But seriously she’s a better fit for you any how, being closer to you in more ways than one. If anything, then, I may have been trying to steal her from you. How wrong I was.”
“But that’s where it all begins,” Michael shared, “just friends first trying to determine God’s direction in our friendship.”
“And obviously you two have discovered it, with God’s greatest blessings, and mine.”
“Those two little ones for sure,” Jennifer beamed.
“Ah, yeah,” Johnny Mac sighed. “Those years are history – a thing of the past. Now I know that too, so many years late.
“You know guys,” Johnny Mac continued, “Through all those previous years I realize now that I’ve been… ah, well, stupid, having been so caught up with the things of this physical, temporal realm. May I count them – those things – before you all?” Michael and Jennifer nodded for him to continue on.
“We would love to hear it all,” Michael said. “As much as you would like to share.”
“First,” Johnny Mac began, “how foolish I’ve been to be so fascinated by those ribbon of highways – a youthful pleasure I know – weaving their way through a city, winding about all those tall buildings; ‘sky scrapers’, as such are called. (And to think I’ve desired to build those.) Realizing it now, truly the design of humankind – truly ‘towers of Babel’ as the Lord has taught me from His Word, as I have read from Ecclesiastes chapter 11. Ah, my confusion, not grasping the essence of the real life.” Johnny paused.
With a deep sigh, and choking back some tears, Johnny Mac continues, “Than comes that ‘lustrous’ career I thought was so necessary, fattening up my financial portfolio, but for what purpose? That I may relax through my “golden years” – and here I am – now to be merry the rest of my days, however the many more days there are yet to be for me?
”Oh how stupid I’ve been,” Michael, Jennifer, “craving such earthy, temporal stuff – the pleasures of my youth. Oh, wow! Such is a ‘fantasy island’, as I call it. Or, as the writer of Ecclesiastes has said, ‘Vanity of vanities.' And so, my conclusion of the whole matter, apart from the things of God in this temporal, physical ‘realm’, all such stuff is meaningless, wasted living.
“Ah, but what am I to do about it – with it all now – Michael?” Johnny Mac said, rising from that recliner with a brightened countenance, tears wiped away. “As the Preacher himself realized, concluding, “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
“All of this stuff” Johnny Mac’s hand spanning about the room, “ Was all important to me. But now I think they are worth nothing because of Christ,” As the apostle Paul has written, ‘I think that all things are worth nothing compared with the greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and now I know they are worthless trash.’
Because of him, I have lost all those things the gate to this “mansion” always being opened, to welcome my friends. This allows me to have Christ and to belong to him, and make Him known. Now I am right with God, not because I followed the law, not because of my earthly pleasures, my earthly stuff, or my own good life, but because I believed in Christ. God uses my faith to make me right with him, and Him known.’
“How great it has been these years since that day. Molly will attest to that. And I thank God for you, Michael and Jennifer.
“Speaking of Molly, there she is waving that it’s time to come and dine.”
Gesturing to do so the three – Johnny Mac, Michael, and Jennifer – exited the parlor. They reconvened at the dining table, together again with Molly and those precious little ones, Jenny Margaret and David Michael.
That dining table covered with a linen cloth, overlaid with clear plastic, enabling the embroidered words of Scripture of friends and friendship still to be read. The most prominent Scripture, stitched with gold thread, read, “He who has friends must himself be friendly. But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (See Proverbs 18:24.)
© 2015 Charles Newcombe