Friday, December 21
“Try that scene again,” Jeff called from his usual seat in the second pew. “It was good, but this time, try to make me believe that you’re actually invested.”
As the actors began the scene again, Jeff smiled to himself in contentment. It seemed that when he wasn’t stressing out, the actors didn’t either. At the beginning of the week, they had had their lines down almost perfectly, but over the past two days, their bearing and carriage had become significantly more believable. Either he was a much better director than he knew, or his assistant was correct.
“The funny thing about nature is that while working hard is important, it isn’t the only aspect at work,” Samuel had told him while they were getting ready for practice. “You can work and work and work and get good, but when you turn everything over to God is when you’ll have great results.”
“You’re saying that I shouldn’t care about the play?” Jeff asked, puzzled by his new friend’s comment.
“Not at all,” Samuel explained. “Ephesians 6:7 says that you should do whatever it is that you do like it is for God. You wouldn’t do something halfway for God, so you never should. What I’m saying is that you should not care so much about the things that you do. Do your best and God will take care of the rest.”
“That’s really easy to say when you aren’t invested in something,” Jeff said. “Once you’ve put hundreds of hours in, though, it’s hard to let God take care of the results.”
“That is certainly the truth,” Samuel agreed. “I never said that it was easy to turn things over to God; that would be a lie. Humans tend to want to control everything as if they can, by sheer force of will, make things happen the way that they want them to happen.”
“I’ve met people that can do it,” Jeff said. “At least, it seems like they can. Everything works out for them.”
“There are people who are better at that than others,” Samuel agreed. “The thing is that no one, no matter how good they may appear to be at what they do, will succeed all of the time. Eventually a situation will come along that they will not be able to handle. God is the only one whose plan works out one hundred percent of the time.”
“I understand all of that up here,” Jeff tapped his head, “but it’s so much harder to actually commit to action based on that. It’s one thing to know it but quite another to act on it.”
“That’s the way things always are with God,” Samuel said. “Since it’s almost Christmas, let’s take a Christmas example. Think about Joseph. All that he knew was that the girl that he was supposed to marry was already pregnant. An angel told him that God wanted him to go ahead with the marriage, so he did. Do you think that it was easy for him? You can bet your sizable yearly tuition that it wasn’t. But he obeyed God and things ended up working out.”
So he was supposed to be like Joseph minus the wife and child part. Except that the analogy was a lot closer than he had initially realized. This play had consumed his Christmas break. It was his baby, one that he had to turn over to God. Well, he would certainly try to do it. Samuel had yet to steer him wrong and besides, what he was saying made sense. And so he had stopped worrying about the play so much. Of course, he still did his best and coached the actors to do so as well, but the results were much better than he could have possibly hoped for. God certainly had more to do with it than anything else had.
“Let’s call it a day,” Jeff told his cast and crew after another hour of practice. He had planned to go for another hour and a half, but decided against it. Things were coming along much better than expected; in fact, if today was any indicator, the play would be of much better quality than he had ever planned. Besides that fact, it was almost Christmas for goodness sake. The actors should be at home right now spending time with their families not slaving away for so long on something like this.
“We won’t be having practice tomorrow, but we will have an optional meeting at 10 o’clock,” he told everyone as they were leaving. “We’re going to go out into the community and do some service. It’s a good experience and helps you get in the Christmas spirit. Believe me, I know.”
“If you’re going back to the soup kitchen today, I’m headed that way myself,” Samuel said, startling Jeff. He hadn’t seen Samuel hang back and had assumed that he was alone in the church. In retrospect, it was a foolish thing to assume since Samuel always stayed until the very end.
“Yes, I was going to head over there,” Jeff said. “Just have to lock up the church.”
“Sure thing,” Samuel said. “I’ll wait for you.”
“How long have you known Samuel?” Jeff asked as he and Steve cooked in the kitchen. Rather, Jeff did whatever he was asked to do while the larger man banged pots, pans, and utensils around. By some miracle that was beyond his ability to comprehend, the process managed to produce food and lots of it.
“A long time,” Steve said as he continued to banged metal on metal. “I haven’t seen him in almost a year, but that isn’t unusual for him.”
“What do you mean?” Jeff’s face was one, big question mark. “Why would he only work here sometimes? Doesn’t he live here?”
“Not really sure if he has a permanent home, but it certainly isn’t around here,” Steve said. “He drops in every once in a while to help out here and other places around town. He usually brings a friend or two when he comes though I don’t think I’ve ever seen the same one accompany him twice.”
"You said he helps out other places around town." It was a statement, but Steve understood the question well enough.
"He's big in the charity and volunteer worlds here," the big man explained. "I don't know this for a fact, but I would bet that he is known in most of the churches and charities in town."
Which would explain where he had heard that Jeff needed help with the play. Any number of people could have tipped him off about that. Which begged the question...
"How long has he been in town?"
"I'm not saying that he came here as soon as he got in, but the first time that he showed up here was four days ago, I think. I remember it was Wednesday."
Which was the same day that he had shown up at the church. Assuming that he had visited the soup kitchen promptly after getting into town, there was no way that he could have heard about Jeff from any of the people at the church. Where in heaven's name had this man gotten his information from? Jeff checked himself; he realized that he was probably letting his imagination get the better of him. Samuel had probably checked in on one of the church members upon getting into town and had heard about the play. After all, what was the alternative? He was a super secret spy with connections all over and used them to go around helping people? And if that was the case, what was the problem? Jeff smiled. He'd stick with the secret agent of good theory. It sounded cooler and made for a much better story. A timer alarm sounded and shook Jeff out of his pondering.
"That's the second oven," Steve told Jeff. "Oven mitts are laying on the counter by the stoves. Take that out to the serving line, will you?"
Jeff extracted the food from the oven and held it firmly in both hands as he backed through the door to the dining area. A half dozen workers stood with their backs to him, distributing food to the people in line. After a few seconds of scrutiny, he discovered where the dish he was carrying should go. The heat from the food was already starting to work its way through his mitts, and he moved quickly to dump it into the appropriate serving tray. With the food gone, the dish was much cooler, and he shifted it to one hand. He turned to go back to the kitchen and stopped cold in his tracks, shocked and startled by what he saw. Actually it wasn't "what" but "who." Standing behind the serving counter, dishing out food with the best of them was his almost-forgotten girl-friend Melisa.
Jeff recovered his wits quickly and headed back to the kitchen. He used the empty dish in his hands strategically to block himself from Melisa's line of sight. The last thing that he wanted right here and right now was a confrontation for that is what their meeting would surely turn into. He slammed through the swinging doors more forcefully than was necessary and carried the dish to the sink. Dropping it on top of a mounting pile of them, he grabbed the edge of the counter with both hands.
"Is everything alright, man?" Steve asked, looking up from his work. There was concern on his face.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Jeff lied. "Question: who is that girl working the serving line? She wasn't here yesterday."
"Who, Melisa?" Steve asked with a knowing smile. "Sure is a cutie, isn't she? Came in for the first time two days ago. Sent in by Samuel, like you."
Steve kept talking, but Jeff wasn't listening anymore. Sent in by Samuel, like you; those had been Steve's words. It was one thing for the do-gooder to help with a church play, but this was too much. Messing with a man's love life was off limits. How had he even known about them? Suddenly Jeff wasn't so fond of the "secret agent of good. " In fact, he kind of wanted to punch him in the face right about now.
"I just remembered that I have an important dental appointment," Jeff said, cutting Steve off.
"You don't have to lie to me," Steve said. "If you have to go, I'm not going to question it. Hope you work out whatever it is that you need to work out."
Jeff grabbed his coat and headed for the back door. He was too worked up at the moment to appreciate Steve's understanding attitude. He slung the store's back door open to find Samuel standing on the other side, shuffling packages to free a hand for the door knob.
"You," Jeff growled. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Bringing in the groceries?" There was a puzzled look on Samuel's face.
"Not that, I mean with Melisa," Jeff said. "You had no right to do that!"
"You're going to have to catch me up," Samuel said. "Who is Melisa and what exactly is it that I have done to her that is so horrible?"
"Don't play stupid," Jeff said. "I talked to Steve. He said that you had suggested that she come down here to volunteer."
"I can't say that I know a Melisa..." Samuel started. "Wait a minute! I think I remember that. My friend Michel, you remember her, right?"
"Yes, she fixed the sound board," Jeff said.
"Well, I met her for lunch a few days ago, and she had brought a girl. I think her name was Melisa. It's distinctly possible that I mentioned this place to her."
"So you didn't know about us?" Jeff asked suspiciously.
"What about you?" Samuel asked. "What exactly is Melisa to you?"
Jeff was about to tell Samuel that it was none of his business. The topic was still fresh for him, and it hurt to even think about it. There was also the fact that he barely knew man standing in front of him, except that that wasn't true. It had only been four days since they had met and already he felt like he could tell him anything.
"She is my girl friend, or was," Jeff said. "We had a fight not too long ago and things aren't great."
"That's too bad, but it isn't the end of the world," Samuel said. "Couples fight every day, but they get through it."
"This wasn't just a fight," Jeff said. "We've fought before, but this was much worse. I think it might have been the fight. We may be done for good."
"Why don't you go talk to her?" Samuel asked. "Thinking this and considering that isn't going to help this situation at all."
"I'm not ready for that yet," Jeff said. "I don't know what I would say."
"Which is why you're using the back door," Samuel said, finally putting the last pieces together. "She's in there and you didn't want a confrontation."
"Exactly," Jeff agreed.
"Well, I'll pray for you on this one," Samuel said. "You're going to have to figure this out, but God can certainly help you do that. By the way, can you get the door for me?"
Jeff held the door as his friend awkwardly squeezed through with all of his packages. As he headed down the alley away from the soup kitchen, he thought about what Samuel had said. He would pray about the situation; help from God never hurt. As he began to pray, he suddenly remember what Samuel had said earlier about his play how turning it over to God was the only thing to do. If he was Joseph and the play was his baby then Melisa was his Mary. He would turn it over to God and see what His plan was.