Caleb felt his side start to hurt. That ever-familiar stitch in your side that warns you to stop running. Fear grasped at his lungs, making it even harder to breath. He sucked in the frigid air, it’s dryness sucking his throat dry. He choked on the lack of moisture, and clutched at his chest in a futile effort to calm the fire in his lungs.
He pulled to a stop, the rocks in between the railroad ties rattling beneath his feet. Placing his hands on his knees, he looked back the way he had come. He probably ran the longest he ever had in his life. He couldn’t even see his usual marker that told him how far he had gone.
A sob fought its way past the pain of being out of breath. His lungs may hurt from his run, but it stifled the pain in his heart. The yelling always made him want to run. Running wasn’t an option. It was something he had to do. Whenever they started to argue, he would sneak out the back and run as far and as fast as he could. It dulled the pain. Created something new to concentrate on. No matter the season, no matter the weather, he would run. Sometimes dripping in sweat, other times feeling the chill wind whip his face and chap his lips.
Nothing was more painful than watching your parents hate each other. Seeing every snide comment, every angry word, every moment of yelling was like a dagger to the heart. He had prayed, but over the last few years, it had only gotten worse, not better. Where was God? Grandma had always said that the Lord was with you in every moment, and that He had a marvelous plan.
With a scream, Caleb scooped a rock from the rubble at his feet and hurled it as far as he could. Gasping for breath, he stomped back and forth across the bridge, slamming his foot down hard on each railroad tie. Some marvelous plan. God didn’t love him, he couldn’t. He probably hated Caleb and was ruining his life to punish him. His parents didn’t really care, all they cared about were arguing with each other and proving the other one wrong. His Grandma had cared, but she had died only a few months ago. No one cared. What was the use?
The pain of it threatened to drown him. What was a kid to do? He wished he wasn’t alive. Wished for one second that he had the power to take away the pain he lived in. The urge to run again rose in him. As the pain strengthened, so did his desire to run it off. His side still ached from his previous sprint and his legs felt watery, like jello.
“WHY?!?!?” He screamed. His throat hurting with the effort. “WHY do you hate me?!” He leaned heavily on the guardrail, looking down into the gulley below.
“He doesn’t hate you.”
Caleb gasped and turned quickly, falling against the guardrail. A man stood there. Thick beard hiding most of his face and his eyes peeking out from beneath his beanie.
“What do you know?” Caleb warily regained his footing and watched the stranger. He had a rifle in his hands.
“I know more than you would think.”
Caleb gulped. “What are you doing here? How did you know I was here?”
The man chuckled, his eyes twinkling with amusement. “I was out hunting and heard you shouting. You probably scared all my game off.”
Caleb shivered and wrapped his coat closer. Now that he wasn’t running, the cold November mountain air cut right through him.
“Well, to get back to what you were sayin’, He doesn’t hate you.” His eyes suddenly grew serious.
“God of course. Isn’t that who you were talking to? He’s pretty much the only one out here.”
Caleb felt uncomfortable. He was talking to a strange mountain man who was carrying a gun. Real smart. “I guess.”
“Well, He doesn’t hate you.”
Caleb’s temper flared. “Why do you keep saying that? How would you know anyway?” He folded his arms over his chest and burrowed his chin into his collar, hoping to keep his neck from the cold wind.
“Because I know. He cares about you.”
“No, not whatever. He loves you. So much so that He sent His son to die for you.”
The words sounded familiar to Caleb. His grandma had said them often enough. But for some reason they also felt new. He had been contemplating killing himself, but something always stopped him. The idea of the pain trying to kill yourself would cause was one of the things that had stopped him. But now, knowing that God had sent His son to die. To be hurt. For Caleb.
“How do I know He died for me?”
“Because he said so. And it would be pretty stupid to have your Son die for no reason.”
Caleb nodded. “I just don’t want to hurt anymore.”
“I can’t guarantee that you won’t hurt any more, but I can tell you that God will help you bear it. He will take your burdens son.”
Caleb felt the tears come to his eyes. That was all he wanted. Maybe he could get along if someone would just make the pain a little easier.
“How do I –“ Caleb hesitated, not know how to phrase his next question.
“How do you give Him your burdens?”
“Well, do you believe that Jesus died for you sins? Do you believe that He was the son of God?”
Caleb nodded. “Yeah, but why did He let all this. . .bad stuff happen?”
“He didn’t cause it son. People have to choose their own way. Whoever it is that has hurt you, they had to choose their own way. God doesn’t want to force us to love Him. He wants us to have a choice, or it doesn’t make much sense, does it?”
Caleb contemplated the matter. It made sense. If God forced people to do what He wanted, He wouldn’t be anything more than someone who made slaves. He nodded again.
“Good, so the bible says that if you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is the son of God, then you can be saved.”
Caleb knew that Jesus was the son of God. Grandma had always told him that. He knew it had to be true. Grandma never lied and she had said that the bible never lied either. “I believe that Jesus is the son of God.”
The man’s face broke out into a huge smile. He set down his gun carefully on the railroad ties and took a step forward. “Then just tell Him how you feel son.” His voice was soft, calm, peaceful.
Caleb nodded. At first he felt awkward, it felt strange, but as he continued to tell God what his troubles were, the lighter he felt. The pain slowly washed away. “Please take my burdens God, they are too heavy.” A sob broke his words in two and the weight lifted. It almost felt physical, but Caleb knew his heart felt light as if it could fly away.
He grinned up at the man, tears on his face, but he didn’t care. He didn’t have to say anything. The man just smiled back with tears of his own in his eyes.
He took one of his gloves off and stuck his hand out. “Welcome to the kingdom little brother.”
Caleb grinned and took the offered hand.
“What’s your name?”
The man smiled wider. “Caleb was a strong man of faith in the bible son. I will pray you will be just like him.”
Caleb nodded. “I guess I better get home.”
“Probably, it I pretty cold out here.”
Caleb turned to leave, but when he reached the end of the bridge, he looked back. “Wait!” he shouted, even though the man looked like he had no intention of leaving the bridge. “What is your name?”
“Peter!” He shouted back and waved. Then he bent, picked up his gun and walked to the opposite end of the bridge. He waved one last time before he climbed down next to the girder and disappeared below the bridge.
Caleb took off running for home. His parent’s argument had to be over by now. And even if it wasn’t he now had something to strengthen him. A song his grandma had sung to him swelled in his heart.
In Christ alone, my hope is found. . .
Let me know what you thought in the comments! I love hearing from my readers! I hope this story touched you as it has touched me.
By God’s Grace,