By the time you read this, my brother Paul will already be gone. He’ll be missed, but I’m comforted knowing he’s gone to a better place.
Actually, he’ll be home from his Walk to Emmaus by the time you read this. The men’s walk is a yearly, three-day spiritual retreat that most later report to have been a life-changing, unequaled awakening. I’m an Emmaus veteran, taking my walk in the mid-’90s. Like Paul, I went kicking and screaming, but for different reasons. He was concerned that buried emotions from his wife Shelia’s death in October might be resurrected before their time.
I kicked and screamed because as an OCD loner, a weekend in Billings with 90 other men and no TV — on Super Bowl Sunday no less — was NOT my cup of tea. More like a cup of hemlock, but my sponsors, Dave and Cindy Beemer, would not take no for an answer when I tried to back out the night before. When Cindy, hoarse from laryngitis, screeched, “You have to go. Your mother has been praying for this weekend,” I angrily growled, “I can’t believe you dragged my mother into this!”
It was dirty pool in my book, because spiritually disappointing my Mother Teresa was paramount to sadism. So I boarded a bus bound for Billings that evening with a dozen other frightened souls. Watching Cindy disappear from my window view, I was every bit the crying schoolboy being taken to his first day of first grade. In my mind, it may as well have been the Bataan Death March.
By comparison, Paul had a walk in the park. He only had to go to Powell, leaving only 30 miles to walk if he broke out. Good ol’ Cody boy Larry Quick was Paul’s kidnap coordinator, and I’m sure Larry’s fairly recent spiritual awakening made saying “no” equally difficult for Paul. As I wrote to Paul in my Agape letter, “By now you’re either be immensely thankful you went, or Larry Quick has made a very powerful enemy.”
I’m betting on the former, and I also wrote that I’m sure Shelia will be getting her Agape message to him loud and clear. I suggested his unrealized reason for going may have much less do with his own Christian walk than someone else’s. There may be someone he’ll meet that desperately needs to hear something he’ll say.
In my case though, God’s plan was definitely all about ME. I went in kicking and screaming and walked out quipping and dreaming. (That made no sense, but I think you’ll agree it almost rhymed.) But it was a spiritual wake-up I wouldn’t trade for all the meatballs in Italy. It launched an official break from my Church of God, Pentecostal upbringing with its paralyzing fear of hell. About halfway through day two, the chilling fear of God’s wrath was thawed by the warm promise of God’s love.
I’ve strayed far too many times since, but love always draws me back, with no frenzied scramble to get “re-saved before the rapture.”
In closing, a word about Gib Mathers and the hope for a miracle. I wish I’d gotten to know Gib even better now that I realize he’s about my age and a fellow, cat-loving bachelor. My few Gib encounters were positive ones — the last being when I met with him for details on a roofing repair I would do on his aging father’s Cody roof. His dad and I had a great talk about when he was Cody’s building inspector decades earlier.
But what stands out most in my Gib history is an excellent, thoughtful article he wrote in ’06 about a Cody high school girl named Nicole Libra. Nicole was a good swimmer, but had a heart attack her senior year, which caused brain damage.
Deeply touched by the article, I quizzed Gib further and felt compelled to write a long, supportive letter to Nicole. I delivered it to her house one afternoon, along with an autographed copy of my book I had written a few years earlier. Nicole wasn’t home, but the family German Shepherd in the yard did try to bite me. Everyone’s a literary critic, it seems. I left the letter and book, and sadly learned a year later that Nicole had died.
I’m guessing more than a few Gib Mathers prayers went up during the Walk to Emmaus. Hopefully there’s a miracle and he’s not at a better place just yet.