The sound of sirens wailing echoed down the hospital hallway as Mrs. Francine Lopez made her way to room eight. With her pastor walking by her side, she wondered if she had run out of time. She had spent the better part of forty years of marriage trying to bring her husband to the Lord. Pastor Richard Hutchins tried, as well, but to no avail. Hernando Lopez was both a proud and stubborn man. He’d rather spend his Sundays watching sports and drinking beer.
“You must not give up hope, Francine. The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
“I understand what you are saying, Pastor. What’s going to make him change his mind now?”
“Don’t underestimate the Lord.”
“Don’t underestimate my husband. Stubborn old fool.”
They stood in front of room eight, listening to the heart monitor.
“He needs you now, Francine.”
“Listen, I have to go check on another sick member of the flock. I will come back and check on you later.”
“Thank you, Pastor. I can manage from here.”
She watched as he disappeared down the hallway. She turned her attention back to her dying husband. For once, he actually looked peaceful. Since his major stroke, a few days earlier, he was unable to fully recover. The doctors said he was lucky to be alive and gave him only a few short days before he would pass away from her. She sat down on a chair next to his bed. She sat back in the chair and closed her eyes. She remembered that one special day, forty years ago. It was the only time she had ever seen Hernando in a church. He was a proud Hispanic man, muscular and as handsome as any man could be. He was twenty-eight when they got married on that cool April afternoon. She was only twenty-two. She waited nervously in the room reserved for the bride and her bridesmaids, staring at herself in a cheval mirror with gold accents along its frame. Many thoughts were running through her mind. Was she marrying the right man? She was a born again Christian and he wasn’t. He was dead set against the whole notion of being a Christian. Every Sunday she faithfully sat in the pew, wishing he was there sitting by her side. He was like a sheep that had strayed away from the flock. Her heart told her to marry him, and maybe one day he would change his mind. Pastor Richard Hutchins waited peacefully in the church, waiting for her to enter and march down the aisle. Her marriage to Hernando was like any ordinary marriage; it had its ups and downs, but she faithfully stood by his side throughout it all. Every Sunday had become a routine, him lying on the couch watching TV as she got ready for Sunday services. Over time, she gave up even asking if he was going to church with her. She remembered the one day she invited Pastor Hutchins over for dinner. She was hoping he could bring her husband to the Lord. She was desperate and was willing to try anything. Sitting around the table, Pastor Hutchins watched as Hernando opened his can of beer.
“Hernando, your wife tells me you got a raise at work. There must be some good money in plastics.”
“It puts food on the table.”
“One of life’s simple pleasures, Pastor. I’m sure you know nothing about beer.”
“Don’t like the taste of beer.”
“I guess it’s an acquired taste.”
“I have acquired a taste for something,” said Pastor Hutchins. “The word of God.”
“Here we go. I knew that topic would come up sooner or later.”
“Why do you resist the topic of the Lord, Hernando?”
“I never needed him in my life. I’m doing just fine without him. Look around you, Pastor. I have everything I need. I have a roof over my head, a devoted wife, food on the table, and a good paying job. What more could a man ask for?”
“A place in Heaven,” said Mrs. Lopez. “I want you there with me.”
“I don’t believe in Heaven.”
“What do you believe in, Hernando?” asked Pastor Hutchins.
“I believe in sports and beer.”
“But those things won’t get you to Heaven.”
“Depends on what side of the fence you are on, Pastor.”
“What do you mean?”
“Heaven is what you make of it. It’s no place way up in the sky. It’s right here, Pastor. Heaven is all around us.”
“I have a confession, Hernando. I only agreed to marry you two because I really believed you would have found the Lord by now.”
“Is he lost?”
That was the first attempt Pastor Hutchins made, trying to bring Hernando to the Lord. She continued to watch him lying silently in the hospital bed. She knew it was going to take some kind of miracle to bring him to the Lord before he died. Francine felt her eyes swell with tears. Too many painful memories. He had felt the same way about children. It was not a subject he wanted to talk about. Every time she brought up that she wanted children, he would change the subject. She often thought about getting a divorce, but she was true to her convictions. Divorce was out of the question. Beer and sports had consumed his life, but she had to stand by his side. She felt helpless.
A nurse went over to the bed and peered down at Hernando. She watched him for several long minutes, and then turned to face Mrs. Lopez.
“Is there anything I can get for you, Mrs. Lopez?”
“He’s still with us.”
“But for how long?”
“Only God knows that, Mrs. Lopez.”
“But Hernando doesn’t know God. He only knows his sports and beer. He has no time for the Lord.”
“Sure he does, Mrs. Lopez. Until the very end, the Lord patiently waits for you to answer the door when he comes knocking.”
“He wouldn’t hear the door over the noise from the TV.”
“Well, don’t give up hope yet. The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
She watched as the nurse left the room and continued with her rounds. She stared at Hernando resting on the bed, wondering what he was dreaming about.
Hernando stood shivering in a pasture where it had begun to snow once again. In the distance, he saw a mountain lion walking near the pasture in search of food. Its paws were sinking into the deepening snow. Slowly, he made his way into the pasture. He slipped through the silent snowflakes with puffs of steamy breath being swept away by the cold wind. Entering the pasture, he caught the faint scent of game. As he continued across the pasture, the scent became more distinct. Following the scent, the mountain lion saw a scrawny horse, huddled beside a wooden rail fence. The horse was trembling and breathing heavily and was near death. This was the opportunity the mountain lion was looking for. His intense hunger was becoming too much for him to bear. He cautiously crept closer to the dying horse, anticipating a free meal. The horse noticed the mountain lion coming closer to him, but made no attempt to escape. Within minutes, the mountain lion leaped onto the horse’s back, killing it with one swipe of his sharpened claws. The mountain lion had his meal.
That evening, the farmer found the horse lying dead in the pasture. All around was the unmistakable prints of the mountain lion. Hernando watched as the farmer fell to the ground and wept for his dead horse. He felt sorry for the farmer. He knew the horse had meant a great deal to him. As he tried to turn away from the scene, all became pure white. He felt dizzy, and he felt as though he was going to blackout. Once his head cleared, he found himself sitting in a church pew, listening to a sermon about the Crucifixion of Jesus. He felt scared. It was as though he was being accused of something. The preacher pounded the pulpit and pointed at him with an accusing look.
“You are destined for Hell! Your time is running short! Do you want to spend your eternal life burning in Hell?”
Hernando felt himself being thrown from the pew and tossed straight down into a black hole. Faster and faster he felt himself plunging down the hole. Intense heat began stinging at his face, and an orange glow began to emerge in front of him. In the distance, he could hear many voices screaming in agony, cursing at their tormentors. He found himself standing in the middle of a lake of fire, surrounded by demons, mocking him. He closed his eyes. When he opened them, he was standing in front of a gravestone in an old cemetery. The name on the tombstone was his own. Below his name a message was also etched into the stone. It read, “HE WAS LOST TO THE WORLD.” Suddenly, a strong wind began twirling around him, and he felt himself being lifted into the darkened sky. Once again, he closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he found himself standing in front of a cross, a beautiful man was nailed to it, and several Roman soldiers stood there mocking the man’s name. The man wore a crown of thorns on his head, and stared down on Hernando with a look of contentment. As he watched the man on the cross, he felt a presence standing by his side. This was the man his wife always talked about. He was the man who died on the cross so many years ago. The man wore a pure white robe and had long dark hair and a long dark beard. The man held his hand out to him. He felt calm as he took Jesus’ hand and let him lead him away from the crucifixion. Jesus led him through a magnificent place where the streets were made of gold. He was led to a very large opened book. Jesus turned to Hernando and asked, “Will I find your name written in here? Only if your name is written in this book, will you have eternal life in this place.”
Hernando felt overwhelmed with the beauty of Heaven and fell to his knees.
“What have I done? What have I done to my wife? Please forgive me, my King! Please give me the chance to make things right with you and with my wife! Please forgive my sins!”
“All has been forgotten, my son. Your name has now been entered into the book!”
“Thank you, My Lord! Thank You!”
Francine watched as her husband’s hand moved slightly.
“Francine,” he said in a shaky voice.
Francine made her way to the bed and took his hand into hers and said, “Hernando, I was so worried.”
“Francine. I am so sorry.”
“Sorry about what?”
“The way I have treated you all these years.”
“What are you talking about?” she asked, starting to look scared. “What’s this all about?”
“The Lord! It’s all about the Lord!”
“Hernando, are you all right? You’re not making any sense.”
“Francine, listen. The Lord walks with me. He has forgiven my sins. He says my name is written in the book.”
Francine felt a wave of tears swell in her eyes as she felt Hernando’s hand go limp. Hernando was gone. Francine burst into tears and bowed her head. In front of her, she felt a presence standing next to the bed. She lifted her head up and saw a beautiful man standing at the foot of the bed. He stared down at Hernando and held his hand out to him. Hernando took the man’s hand and they vanished from her view. She fell to her knees and began to pray. Behind her, Pastor Hutchins appeared and asked, “Francine, are you all right?”
“I am now Pastor.”