The Beginning And Ending Of Poverty

The closing thought of Genesis chapter two is this: “The man and his wife were both naked, but they were not ashamed.”  These words remind us that the Garden of Eden was a place of beauty, a place free from poverty and a place completely unmarred by sin and it’s polluting, crippling and heartbreaking effects.  The Garden was the birthplace of intimacy with God, self, creation and marital harmony.  Adam and Eve’s world was a paradise.

There’s an undisclosed amount of time that elapsed between Genesis chapters two and three, when the serene habitat turned ugly; when poverty began.

Adam and Eve’s sin caused incredible pain, damage and sadness.  Four relationships were corrupted that day as a result of a single sin.  The first corrupted relationship was the relationship Adam had with God.  Now afraid, Adam hid from God among the trees of the Garden when God came looking for him.  Second was Adam’s relationship with himself, as he no longer saw himself as God saw him.  Adam now saw himself as “naked” – a realization the Bible suggests God never intended.  Third was Adam’s relationship with Eve.  Adam blamed Eve for the debacle in the Garden, and thereby damaged his relationship with her.  Fourthly, Adam damaged his relationship with the rest of creation.  God cursed the ground as a result of Adam’s one (and our subsequent) sin and forever the landscape of the planet was altered.

When you hear or read the word “poverty”, what comes to mind?  For most people, the tendency is to think of poverty in the context of a lack of resources.  However, that’s just one facet of poverty.  Every one of the relationships corrupted in the Garden creates it’s own aspect of poverty.  The corrupted relationship with God creates a spiritual poverty.  The corrupted relationship with self creates a poverty of being; not seeing yourself as God sees you.  The corrupted relationship with Eve creates a poverty of community.  And, the corrupted relationship with creation provides a poverty of stewardship.

Poverty, simply defined is this:  a deficiency of necessary or desirable ingredients or qualities.

What did Christ accomplish when He died on the cross?  Certainly His death heals and restores our relationship with God or alleviates our spiritual poverty.  But, Christ’s healing doesn’t stop there.  His death brings restoration to all of the relationships corrupted in the Garden and helps us live in right relationship with God, with self, with others and with the rest of creation.  Oh, the power of the cross!

We are all poor – just in different ways.  My poverty isn’t a spiritual poverty.  I’ve asked Christ to forgive my sins, submitted to His Lordship over my life and trust Him for my salvation.  No one would ever look at my life and think I suffer from a poverty of stewardship.  But, I am poor.  I suffer from a poverty of being.  I don’t see myself as God sees me.  Sometimes my poverty of being affects the relationships around me and contributes to my poverty of community.  Again, we are all poor – just in different ways.

Because of my poverty of being, I work too much.  I care too much about what people think and say about me.  Most, if not all, of my dysfunction finds its root in this poverty of self; poverty Christ died to heal.  As simple as it sounds, I just need to live in the confidence of knowing Christ’s death brings healing to all areas of my life; His death heals all of my poverty.

When Jesus cried, “It is finished,” from the cross as He was dying, He knew He had set in motion God’s intent for the restoration of mankind and creation.  Christ took our death to give us His life and took the consequences of our unrighteousness to give us His righteousness.  The finished work of Jesus Christ is inclusive of redemption, regeneration and heals all the facets of poverty.

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Living On Purpose: One Day At A Time, Part Two

“Happy birthday, son”, words from a June phone conversation I had with my father for my twelfth birthday; my birthday is in April.  He never took the time to get to know me as my parents separated and divorced while I was still in diapers.  An absent father has been one of the many events that have shaped my life.

I remember standing in the hospital on March 31st, 1992 and holding a five-pound baby boy, my first child, promising to always know him.  I promised to be ever-present in his life.  I promised not to treat him as my father had treated me.  I was going to provide for him, teach him to become an honorable man and model an authentic relationship with God before him.  On February 26th, 1993, I made a similar resolve as I spoke over my second son and promised him the same proactivity as my first son.  These are promises I have kept now for nearly twenty years.

My children have grown to be fantastic young men.  I’m very proud of them and excited to see how God will use their lives in the years to come.  It hasn’t been easy but it has been rewarding.

Twenty-six years ago, parked on the shoulder of highway 167 in my Subaru Brat, in Renton, Washington I envisioned what my life would become.  Today, with very few exceptions, I’m here – I won’t stay here – mind you – I’ve got work to do and places to go.  But, my life is exactly where I purposed it to be.

Let me share with you how I got here: one day at a time.  Don’t leave – I know that’s a simple statement but one that needs a bit of explaining.  So stick with me…  Everyone in life – every day of his or her life – develops.  We develop emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and physically.  Unfortunately, most people develop solely reacting to situations and circumstances.  Like a pinball, they’re flung to and fro never really knowing which way is which.  They wake up, work a lot, play little, have families, experience joy, pain and disappointment.  They live life never really knowing who or what they’re becoming.  The whole of their existence has been one reaction after another.  That’s no way to live – but it’s how most people live.

Instead of living a reactive life – be proactive.  Determine who you want to be and where you want to go and get there – one day at a time.  Over the last couple of decades I’ve developed a system that I call My Personal Development.  It’s currently in the form of a Microsoft Excel file that you can download here if you’re interested.

Let me tell you how I use it:

Everyday I ask myself thirteen questions based on the virtues Benjamin Franklin asked himself.  I also evaluate the steps I take to becoming a person of influence.  I follow everything up with a quick journal entry that begins with the word, “Yesterday”.  I find it helpful to look one day over my shoulder so I can make mid-course corrections and stay proactive in my development.  In the journal portion, I write about the previous day and evaluate my contacts, conversations, regrets, and moments of celebration.  If, during the course of the journal entry, I discover something that needs corrected – I make it right as soon as possible and optimally that day.  Mornings are my most successful time to use the system.  You use it when you feel it works best in your schedule.  The important thing isn’t the time of day; the important thing is to use it everyday or most days.  Be consistent, proactive and get there one day at a time!

Living On Purpose: One Day At A Time, Part One

The “S” curves along Interstate 405 South to State Route 167 were usually slow at this time of day.  Beginning about 2pm, traffic on any major roadways in and around Seattle are equivalent to the cholesterol clogged arteries of anyone on a steady diet of biscuits and sausage gravy for breakfast, McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese and fries for lunch, and Pizza Hut for dinner.  Within a half mile of pulling onto 167, I was bound the shoulder because I could no longer see the road through my tears.

Rewind about two hours…  I was just finishing class for the day at Northwest Bible College when I heard about Darrell, a local pastor who I idolized, thought was a great example of someone who knew and followed God, and someone I had no idea what was really going on in the darkest corners of his life.  Darrell flushed his vows when he left his wife, family and church to find solace in the arms of another woman: the church secretary.  Rewind another year and you’ll discover another idolized pastor, named Robert, who’s erring decision involved not the church secretary, but the church piano player.

I was devastated; sitting on the shoulder in my 1984 Subaru Brat trying to convince myself it was worth driving another foot further.  It was Wednesday and we had youth group at the church where I was a youth ministry intern.  I usually arrived at the church around 3pm to set up, connect with students and get ready for the night.  However, today I wasn’t going to make it by 3pm.  And, I didn’t make it by 4pm.  I literally sat on the road for a couple of hours praying, asking questions and making life long resolves.

One of the questions I asked:  How does a guy walk away after standing at an altar – before God, a pastor, a soon-to-be bride and a gathered audience – and make vows that 20 years later seemingly mean nothing?  The only answer I could come up with then and still today is this:  One day at a time.  The adverse question gets the same answer:  How does a guy remain faithful to his God, wife, family and church – even after 20+ years of marriage?  The answer:  One day at a time.

An affair.  It begins with little lapses of judgment – things thought to be harmless plant the seeds of demise.  Every decision changes the trajectory of our lives until one day we stand at the point of folly; a leap we’ve been preparing to make for a long time.  Then, in a moment of self-described weakness, life is forever altered.  Everything is ruined.  As far as I’m concerned, you don’t get the benefit of the “weakness card”.  You’ve purposed in your heart to go there as soon as the right situation presented itself.  Sin always results in death.  In this case, it’s the death of your moral authority, potentially your family and any aspirations you had professionally.  The consequences are the same for the church as in the marketplace; your choice brings more change than you planned for.  It’s time to start looking for moving boxes.

One day at a time.  What if we decided – one day at a time – to remain pure, faithful and forthright?  That’s what I decided over 25 years ago on the side of the road near Renton, Washington.  Over the last couple of decades I have been developing a system to help me keep short accounts with my character, resolve and relationship with God and others.  I call this system, My Personal Development.  Next week, I’ll share with you the details of this system.

Until then, check the trajectory of your life.  Where are you headed?  If traversing down a dark path, stop and turn around.  On many levels, you cannot afford the damage, pain and death that moral destruction brings.  What you’re deciding to do is decidedly not worth it.  Stop and turn around.

How The Nature Of Man Affects The Nature Of Our Marriage Relationship

It was one of those sleeps that when you wake up it takes a few minutes for everything to come into focus.  God had caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, removed a rib from his side and used it to fashion Eve.  It’s uncertain what first caught Adam’s eye but one thing is certain, Eve was striking.  “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called ‘woman’, for she was taken out of man.”  The Genesis account teaches us about the nature of man and the nature of the marriage relationship.

From chapter two we know that God placed Adam in the Garden second only to Him; to maintain and care for it.  Specifically, God gave Adam the responsibility to name all of the animals.  The power to name is the power to lead.  Part of man’s nature is that he is a leader.

As Adam was naming and cataloging the creation, certainly he noticed Mr. and Mrs. Giraffe and Mr. and Mrs. Rhinoceros and Mr. and Mrs. Alligator, etc…  Watching the creation propagate the earth, Adam realized that he had no counter part.  However, life in the Garden was helping develop the second nature of man; creation was teaching Adam to love even before Eve was made.   Part of man’s nature is that he is a lover.

Listen up:  How we lead and how we love affects the nature of our marriage relationship, which is also found in Genesis.

One of the natures of relationship found in Genesis is that there’s a partnership.  Eve was fashioned from one of Adam’s ribs; part of him.  In a marriage, there’s a partnership.

The second nature is found in 2:24-25, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family.  The man and his wife were both naked, but they were not ashamed.”  Genesis 2:24-25

Another translation says that the two ‘will become one flesh’.  In this case of the union of husband and wife, when the two become one, there’s permanency; the second nature of marriage relationship.

Let’s put this all together:  How we lead and how we love affects the nature of our marriage relationship, which is partnership and permanency.

Stop and think about any marital strife you’ve experienced.  No matter what it is, the strife can be traced back either to a failure in leadership or a lack of love.

Here’s a sampling of common strifes gripping marriages that I encounter almost weekly as a pastor:

Arguing over finances?  Poor leadership.

Extramarital affair?  Lack of love.

Addictions?  Poor leadership and lack of love.

Drifted or grown apart?  Poor leadership and lack of love.

Lack of convictions or godly values?  Poor leadership.

Differences in parenting styles?  Poor leadership and lack of love.

A failure in leadership or a lack of love can and will affect a marriage partnership and its permanency.  Let us lead and love well.

God’s Expectation: Be A Good Steward!

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a Gatorade bottle being placed on the ground through the cracked driver’s door of a running Honda Passport.  I witnessed the sequence of a pulled back hand, a closed-door and the appearance of backup lights indicating the exit of an individual apparently ignorant of what it means to be a proper steward of the earth.

The next moment found my index finger tapping on the driver’s side glass and my eyes meeting the sheepish stare of a caught litterbug.  The driver opened her door slightly and I opened my mouth.

“Are you really going to litter like that?”, I asked.

“It was his bottle,” she responded, pointing to someone in the back seat.

Somewhat dissatisfied with her answer and noticing three other pupils, I asked again.

“Are you really going to litter like that?”

“No,” she said embarrassingly picking up the bottle.

This entire conversation occurred in the parking lot of Redamak’s in New Buffalo, on the shores of Lake Michigan.  I flew to the area to attend meetings at Willow Community Church 25 miles northwest of Chicago.  I had just finished having dinner with friends who live in the area when I exited the restaurant and headed to the back of the building where the main parking lot is situated.  Those who know me know that I’m no environmentalist in the political sense of that word.  However, I do believe God expects us to exercise proper stewardship of the world.

God is the Creator who loves and cares for nature, but not over His love and care for humanity.  Man, above all created things, has been given stewardship responsibilities over the earth.  After the debacle in the garden, enmity developed between man and nature.  As a result, Adam was forced to exploit his physical environment to survive.  This is one of the many effects of sin.

The Christ-follower’s view of the environment needs to be garnered as God intended it.  Understand that the natural flora in which God placed Adam required no exploitation for him to survive; everything for sustenance was provided.  Genesis 1:28 teaches us, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground.”  The words, ‘subdue’ and ‘rule’ were given to Adam before he sinned and contextually cannot give us permission to abuse and distort nature.  On the contrary, the context promotes stewardship.

Biblical stewardship is probably best illustrated with the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30).  The scriptural definition of stewardship is caring for someone else’s property with the goal of improving that property.  So subduing and ruling, with regard to the environment, mean caring for God’s property as God’s chosen steward, thereby making it better.  We are to intelligently manage the resources God has given us, using all diligent care to preserve and protect them.

The Bible also teaches that God did not create nature primarily for man’s use.  The earth and everything in it are God’s and for His good pleasure (Psalm 24:1).  Throughout scripture, God demonstrates that He personally cares for nature and finds absolute joy in His creation (Psalm 104:10-14).

As followers of Christ, we should be known as good and proper stewards of God’s creation.  Begin today subduing the earth as God intended – as a diligent steward.  Rule over all created things, as a conscientious steward.  This was God’s expectation for Adam and subsequently, it is God’s expectation for us.

Praying for you.

Job’s Resolve

Without a doubt, the story of Job is one of the most mesmerizing, puzzling and unpopular narratives in the Bible.  Job was a godly, moral and blameless man whose life personifies a bad movie script.  In Scene One, everything he owns is stripped from him.  Then, some freak desert tornado incises the house where his kids are having a shindig, collapsing the roof and smothering everyone inside except one courier.  As if that isn’t enough, Scene Two leaves Job scraping his carcass with glass just to relieve pain left by head to toe lesions.  Torture, agony and despair are inferior words that pale in comparison to the reality of the situation.

Job is a universal and personal story; a tale, perhaps, too close to home.  It’s conceivable to cry, sympathize and identify with Job because we are not sheltered by unspeakable pain.  I’m encouraged by Job.  His life is a profile of courage in the face of adversity.  He did not give up on his character, give in to his pain, or give way to Satan.

I’d like draw attention to Job’s resolve in Job 31:1, “I made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I entertain thoughts against a virgin?”   This verse and resolve, seems oddly placed considering the underlying message of the Book of Job.  But, follow me here…

Job has been running on reserves for a while now.  Like anyone in his situation, Job is confused and hurt, both emotionally and physically.   About out of gas, he begins to reminisce; hoping someone left behind five gallons of fuel for him to find.  There’s got to be something there to help him get through another day.

Like an artist, Job paints a picture of his former happiness.  He was prosperous; even his foot print showed evidence of abundance.  Job’s riches, benevolence and kind treatment of the needy had earned him respect.  Reports of his philanthropy could be heard in the neighboring towns and back patters were on every corner.  Gone.  They’re all gone.  It’s all gone; reduced to a distant memory.  There isn’t any lasting happiness to be mined in the days gone by.  In this life you cannot retrace former footsteps to pick fruit from a joy tree.  Your feet will trod wherever your eyes lead.  Job, the former no longer remains – it’s gone – so why go looking for it?  There’s a reason God put eyes in the front of our heads.

Job is in a dangerous and precarious position right now.  Ask any alcoholic.  Inquire of anyone addicted to pornography.  Question anyone struggling with an abusive lifestyle and they’ll tell you they’re hardest hit with temptation when their emotional tank is nearing empty.  Job’s emotional tank was depleted and lust came crouching at the door of his mind.  Consider Job’s resolve again from Job 31:1, “I made a covenant with my eyes, how then could I entertain thoughts against a virgin?”  It makes more sense now, doesn’t it?

Now, let’s apply this to men universally.  Guys, any time we’re tired, hungry or lonely we are more susceptible to temptation.  You don’t have to be an alcoholic to be tempted by alcohol.  Incidentally, you don’t have to be addicted to pornography to be tempted by images on your computer screen.  Our enemy, the devil, knows that when fatigue, hunger or loneliness bumps into temptation all men are at risk.

Pray and ask God to give you the resolve of Job.  Know, understand and manage your tipping points.  Don’t give the enemy a foothold in your life.  Quit trying to convince yourself that you deserve “it” because “it” always leads to sin, regret and pain.  There isn’t a man on the planet who doesn’t need accountability in at least one area of his life that is prone to sin.  For Job, obviously it was lust.  For you, I don’t know.  For me, well, that’s between me and my accountability group.

The Shoe

It’s been nearly six months since Selena and I spent our 20th Anniversary in Playa Hermosa in the country of Costa Rica. Someone described Costa Rica as like visiting the Niagara Waterfalls, the Grand Canyon, the Amazon River, and Hawaii all in one place. The dramatic landscape is filled with great variance because it is between two continents and two oceans. This convergence of land and water makes the region a great bottleneck, rich in ecological diversity.

The first full day in Costa Rica was spent where you’d expect – the beach. While at the beach I found this green suede sneaker wedged between two rocks. I’ve often wondered what the story is behind that shoe. Who did it belong to? Where did it hail from? How did it get there? The following paragraphs are my imaginary answers to these questions:

The Shoe:

It’d been a few weeks since he saw Rose who decided the two hour drive from Memphis to her sister’s house in Tupelo wasn’t out of the question. She had just suffered for twenty clicks of the annual marathon sponsored by St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Twenty-six point two miles translated into five hours of nothing better to do than reminisce about the events of the last year and search for anything that would remind her why this challenge meant so much. The last time Rose and Mary were together was when their father died eleven months earlier. He was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of cancer delivered by a brain tumor; lasting only five of the predicted fourteen weeks. Watching the cancer syphon their father’s life was like watching a cruel wino guzzle a bottle he just stole from the corner liquor store. It would be good to see Mary.

To Dirk, the most striking thing about Rose wasn’t her plenteous beauty but the affectionate, placid way she approached life. It was her mild nature he was uncontrollably gathered to the moment they met at the book store on West Main in downtown Charlottesville. Something from Burke’s seemed appropriate for his soon-to-graduate-from-high-school cousin Mitch whom he remembered being a better than average student. Seeing Rose perusing a library of best-sellers a few aisles over seemed predetermined. It was one of those euphoric moments with rays of light accompanied by a cheery crescendoing chord he was sure everyone in the store saw and heard. However, neither light, music nor other patrons seemed to deter Dirk as a book by John Grisham instantly rose to the top of his list of lame gift ideas. As fate would have it, Dirk just finished his transaction when Rose and he met at the exit of the store.

Offering to get the door for her was something her father would have done for her mother, thought Rose. In an instant, Rose was taken to a surreal place watching her deceased parents interact only to be interrupted as quickly as it began by Dirk’s next words.

“So, you like books?”, a question he immediately regretted. Rose’s giggle seemed to relieve at least some of the pressure caused by his shoe fighting with his tongue for space in his ever narrowing mouth.

“Why would you ask that?”  continuing the giggle…

Relieved that his first question wasn’t ignored altogether and knowing the impasse his previous inquest was about to create, he quickly took a different angle.

“I was hoping to get a present for my cousin who’s graduating next week from high school”, he said wondering if she’d even care.

“And, were you successful?”

“Yes, Grisham’s latest work…”

The fact that John Grisham makes a home in Charlottesville made this gift for Mitch a bit too cliche’ but Dirk didn’t care given his present circumstances.

The conversation remained light and exploratory until Dirk and Rose were suddenly snapped into reality by the loud voice of a tennis coach teaching a group of students at Forest Hills Park some nine or ten blocks away from Burke’s Book Store. Dirk was as surprised as Rose at their current location since neither of them lived in that general direction. In fact, Dirk drove downtown for his graduation shopping trip and was in and out of many of the downtown stores. Rose, on the other hand, lived in an apartment on nearby Church Street within walking distance to her job at Martha Jefferson Hospital, the bookstore and the newly discovered Forest Hills Park.

What was it about Dirk that allowed Rose to walk aimlessly with a perfect stranger to a park she’d never been to before? As the thought was resonating in her mind, Dirk asked if he could buy her lunch. “There’s a quaint Chinese restaurant near the bookstore that I passed while shopping”, he offered. “Do you have time to get something to eat?” Rose was familiar with Yaun Ho Chinese Restaurant and had eaten there before. It was quaint, she was enjoying herself and she was hungry… Within moments they were walking again volleying questions like the tennis ball they’d been watching a few minutes before.

Sitting at the table, Rose couldn’t help but notice the resemblance of some of Dirk’s features compared to her father’s. She missed him. It had been three months since he was laid to rest with full military honors at Morningside Cemetery in Brattleboro, Vermont. It was Dirk’s strong yet seemingly gentle eyes that Rose first noticed as they were exiting Burke’s. Next was his square chin that housed straight white teeth. “Daddy’s eyes and chin…” the thought of which brought her an ever increasing sense of comfort and security; things she’d been missing for a while now. Rose’s probing conversation resembled something less than an interview but something more than just casual interest.  The two shared about their childhood, teenaged and young adult lives until the meal began arriving; first egg drop soup followed by a couple other courses.

After lunch, Dirk quickly snatched up the check and distributed the strangely unwrapped fortune cookies. Scanning the bill gave Rose the permission to open her cookie first. “Do not mistake temptation for opportunity” was the equivalent of a fire hose set on a Weber grill with briquettes barely producing white edges. As they were sharing an awkward and nervous laugh together, Dirk reluctantly began to crack open his light dessert comprised of flour, sugar and vanilla. “How could a perfect morning and seeming perfect afternoon be ruined by six lousy words on a little piece of pink paper?”, thought Dirk.  “Who makes up this stuff anyway?”

The next six letters couldn’t have been more disturbing:  HELP ME!

As confusion was beginning to grip Dirk’s countenance, he passed the feeble paper to Rose who after reading it scanned the restaurant for anyone in a desperate situation or hidden cameras thinking possibility they were on a TV reality show and didn’t know it.

“What do you suppose it means”, Rose whispered?

“I’m not sure. Do you think it’s a joke?”

“Hard to say”, not remembering anything about the waitress that seemed out of place. “Look at this paper…it’s white and the note is hand written. What should we do?”

“I’m not sure right now”, said Dirk. “Let’s get out of here and talk about it outside. We can’t risk anyone overhearing us right now.” Near the exit, Dirk made special notice of the cashier as he paid for lunch wondering if she wrote the note or acted strange in any way. “I’m freaked out”, Rose offered as they quickly scampered away from the regal memory being forged at Yuan Ho’s. The thieving hand written note was about to change their lives in ways they were unprepared for.

Outside the restaurant there was a strange sense of normalcy as they stood on the sidewalk trying to decide which direction to go. The warm, humid air outside mixed with anxious sweat slapped Dirk in the face like a soaked dish towel. Two things kept him from running away; one no more obvious than the other.

“What should we do?”, asked Rose. Hesitating for only a moment Dirk said, “I think we should look around. I’ll explore behind the restaurant in the alley and you stay here. Here is my cell number. What’s yours?” The reality of the situation made him regret asking for Rose’s number that way. “If we see anything strange text me or I’ll text you and we’ll meet again. I’m only going to the back of the building.” The couple exchanged cell numbers and Dirk headed to the alley separating Main Street and Maury Avenue while Rose tried not looking suspicious near the front of the restaurant.

The non-public nature of an alley keeps it dingy. The lack of light, collection of trash and narrow passages are enough to add caution to any one’s momentum. Turning into the alley, Dirk was asking himself, “which one of these is Yuan’s?” Since none of the doors were labeled, he found himself counting spaces and comparing them with his very limited knowledge of the store fronts on the street side. “It’s got to be one of these”, Dirk thought choosing one of three doors.

Finally, Dirk narrowed it down to one door concluding a restaurant would be throwing away food that would be dripping grease and juices on the ground, which would collect more dirt, grim and dust than one discarding non-food items. The path in front of this door was darker presumably from collecting more dirt and grim which seemed to match his conclusion. “This has to be the restaurant, but now what do I do”, Dirk silently asked himself as he noticed a rusty ladder five feet from the ground affixed to the side of the building on the opposite side of the alley. The ladder led to a metal deck about two stories above the restaurant door and could provide a decent vantage point in which to view any suspicious activity. Without a moments hesitation, Dirk used his arms to begin climbing the ladder until his feet touched the bottom rung and quickly approached the deck. Getting onto the platform, he sat down; back against the wall, facing the restaurant door and pulled out his cell phone.

Sending Rose a text, Dirk wrote, “Dirk here. In the alley and found a place to watch from about 2 stories up. What are you doing?” After pushing send on his phone Dirk started noticing other things about the alley that might prove helpful during the stakeout. His platform was just one in this series of platforms and one of several other sets of ladders and platforms throughout the alley on both sides. Also, handle-less metal doors seemed to provide egress onto the platforms but would need to be opened from the inside. As he began wondering what was inside his door, his phone vibrated.  It was Rose.

“I’m scared.  I don’t know what I’m doing.” Dirk responded, “Can you come back here? If so, I’ll meet you on the ground and help you up the ladder.” A few seconds later his phone produced this reply, “OK”. Dirk responded, “I’ll meet you in the alley. Come quickly.”

Within seconds, Dirk was descending from his observation deck. He felt like a fish out of water waiting for Rose who decided running would attract too much unneeded attention. Every second seemed like ten and Dirk struggled to act naturally when someone from the other side of the alley opened their door, emptied the trash and looked suspiciously his way before disappearing through the same door.

Just as Dirk was beginning to wonder what happened to Rose, she approached him from the opposite direction he expected which startled him. Together they approached the ladder and Dirk helped Rose get her foot on the first rung. Hearing Rose climb and making sure the no one was watching them make their way to the platform, Dirk grabbed the ladder and started his ascend.

The haste of the moment robbed Dirk of the opportunity to give Rose instructions about how to actually get onto the deck at the top of the ladder which ended about twelve inches above the surface of the platform. Getting onto the deck proved to be a little tricky for Rose who paused until Dirk was right below her and could tell her what to do. “Just get to the top of the ladder, put your hands onto the deck and pull yourself up.” Rose’s beauty was equalled by her frailty. Her upper body strength was barely sufficient to pull herself through the twenty-eight inch square hole cut into the expanded metal deck.

Just as Rose made it to the platform, Dirk heard someone opening the restaurant door. The only part of his body not frozen were his eyes which he used to watch someone wearing a white apron carry out two loads of trash and smoke a cigarette. Seeing the alley door close gave Dirk permission to break his frozen state. Since Dirk was at the top of the ladder, he pulled himself onto the platform. Using the wall for extra leverage, he clipped his heal on the metal deck while he pulled his leg through the opening which jarred his shoe loose and sent it tumbling to the ground below. In Dirk’s mind, the shoe couldn’t have crashed any slower.  The few choices he had at that instant narrowed to one when the restaurant door opened again leaving Dirk and Rose in frozen animation and exposed.  It was the apron wielding restaurant worker coming out to smoke another cigarette.

It takes the average person seven minutes to finish a cigarette. Considering it would take all of one second for the restaurant worker to notice the shoe, he had about four hundred and twenty opportunities to do so.

To Be Continued…