The Ink Well Prompt #30: The Strength Meets You On Both Sides


Image by Fruehlingswiese from Pixabay

Jules Dubois got up one morning and just admitted to himself – he knew his elder brother, but had not a clue about him.

Jean-Paul Philippe Dubois, retired from both the U.S. Army and Interpol, had a pretty pension and did legal work on a consulting basis both locally in his new home in Lofton County, VA and for international clients. He also worked in his family's new business: Dubois on the Road, the Covid-compliant food delivery business that kept people in need well-fed and other businesses alive feeding them.

From Jules's perspective, the lifelong bachelor had lived up to his calling, and it would be all right at this point for him to sit back and enjoy the fruits of all that labor, maybe at last get a woman, and other than the family business, ride the thing on out.

But, apparently, that was nowhere in Jean-Paul's mind. He quietly and consistently found more ways to to do more in service of his family and the community, each and every day.

“Well, mon fils, consider your father,” their mother Madame Ébène-Cerise Dubois said to Jules about it. “If anyone should be tired and retired, he should be. But he is not. You center in what le bon Dieu calls you to do, and the strength meets you on both sides.”

Jules suddenly realized the source of the resentment he had put into decades of acting out against his family in that moment … his father and elder brother knew what it was to center in, but he had not because he had been so interested in what the world presented to him as a good life: money, women, powerful position, status.

Jean-Luc Dubois, in his youth, had turned from that presentation, and his son Jean-Paul at about the same age had done so as well. Jules realized that both were in mature years living a better life than he, even repentant, was on track to achieve … the lack of the weight and drag of regret counted for a lot, and the solidity of a long life that pleased le bon Dieu counted for a lot. As Madame Dubois had said, “La force vous rencontre des deux côtés” – the strength met you on both sides.

La Force” – Jules had been a huge Star Wars fan, and of course “The Force” was a big deal. It was a way to think about le bon Dieu in a way that made Him available for what was needed, otherwise out of the way … but, Jules knew that was absolutely NOT Who his mother had in mind. She was thinking more along the lines of “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms,” one of the few hymns in English that she liked. Her endless faith came from the center of such a strong embrace, like … like the colossal, loving father that immense Jean-Luc Dubois had been to his own children, and like Monsieur Chaminade, her father, had been to her children as grandfather.

But then again, Ébène-Cerise Chaminade had never been one of those children – and her eldest son Jean-Paul had not either – who had to be physically and forcibly carried away from some wrong deeply desired. Jules remembered being that kind of child with father, uncles, and grandfather. La force vous rencontre des deux côtés had not been a positive thought for him. Yet his brother Jean-Paul was at purposeful peace everywhere, seemingly at all times – carried around by the everlasting arms without a hitch.

“I've always envied you as a man, mon frere,” Jules at last admitted to his brother. “I love you, but I always have envied you that tireless, holy je ne se quois you have as much as Père does. I've experienced pleasures and recreations neither of you can even imagine, and I would have given that up at any time just to understand.”

Jean-Paul considered this with the quiet patience of a man who has to answer to no one but an eternal God. His answer, too, came out of that kind of wisdom.

“You have been told, many times, Jules, but you are built different, as the kids say today – you are a different kind of learner, more tactile and experiential.”

“Yes – somebody finally gets it! I wasn't always trying to be getting into trouble, but how was I supposed to learn about something I couldn't touch or feel or work around!”

“At the Stepforth Study Hall we are using a lot of rubbing alcohol, accounting for the students who have the same needs that you have and simply cannot look at a screen and learn. I suppose just reading a Bible and sitting in church sometimes must have felt the same, growing up.”

“Yes … oui oui … ”

And Jules had to go and breakdown and weep … his elder brother had found places of pain and of brokenness in him he had not known were there.

Jean-Paul waited and prayed until Jules returned.

“The thing about church in general,” the elder brother said, “is that both in the Catholic and Protestant traditions, we emphasize sitting and listening and doing nothing but the prescribed rituals. It is also why many men do not attend – there is no growth, no progress, nothing being built. It starves men of vitality. My church attendance record is about as 'good' as yours, Jules, for the same reason.”

“Really? You're not a big churchman? You?”

“The building is a meeting place. Worship is everywhere, Jules.”

Jean-Paul smiled as he checked his watch.

“After dinner, come to night service with me, mon frere.

Mon frere, I'm there, no matter where!”

Three hours later, Jules and his brother were riding their bikes along the Roanoke River, as the moon slowly dropped toward its western rest. It was a warm late summer night, and many people were out enjoying.

“People do not think of riding as worship, as praise, or as thanksgiving – but it is all what is in your mind and heart as you go,” Jean-Paul said to his brother when they stopped to rest at a crossroads. “To the pure, all things are pure. When riding I can leave behind the work of the day and clear my mind, and set things in order before le bon Dieu in order to give Him His due for all that He is doing, and sometimes He brings to my mind other wonderful works that I may share in with Him, or solutions to things I am responsible for.”

“Okay, so, after an hour riding around, I get that, I really do!” Jules said. “I see now why you get this in, some time of the day, every day! I was sort of thinking and praying myself for understanding, and I'm getting it!”

“Fellowship with Christ and His own, my brother – it does not take all that we have been told it takes. When we were young, how did we really learn about what it meant to be a Christian?”

“Watching our parents, living with them, learning what they said God was like from how they treated us, each other, our neighbors – yes! We were always different – we lived it!”

“Now also, see here – during the day in the press of life, we all look at the external things the world says are important – we, like Père, are unmistakably Black men in America, and everyone around us that sees us has their feelings about that just as we have our feelings about them. But now, in this shared purpose of the night, what do we all look like to each other?”

“Points of reflected light, staying on a well-lit road so we can be seen in the darkness … oh, now I get it!”

All the Scripture about walking in the light of God, and being the (reflected) light of the world, and staying on the narrow way, and the unity of believers in Christ that overcame the divisions attached to earthly identity – it all came together at last.

And then, along came distraction – a shapely woman paused at the intersection on her scooter, and then came on through, her light hair flying out behind her. Jules just stared, transfixed by this vision of beauty.

“I don't know what is wrong with you, brother,” he said, “if you can look anywhere else.”

“You are thinking about the potential experience. I saw something you didn't see.”

She paused at the next intersection, and then Jules saw it – the light hair was gray. This was an athletic senior citizen, almost as old as Madame Dubois, just enjoying her night.

“She definitely has the love for experience you do, Jules,” Jean-Paul said with a chuckle, “and she has bravery enough for me, but, c'est la vie!

“Man, I almost threw up in my mouth because of what I was thinking, compared to what is real!”

“You are making progress, Jules. You are in and now recognize the struggle everyone who is walking with God experiences. The question is, can you be honest enough with God and refocus to get to what He has for you?”

Jean-Paul checked his watch.

“We need to do about an hour more of riding before we get where we're going,” he said, and took off, his brother following him.

At the stroke of midnight, Jean-Paul rode into a natural cul-de-sac and turned around – and the instant Jules followed him around, he knew the purpose of it all. The moon was setting over the Roanoke River just then, the great bright orb casting a shaft of soft silver and pale gold over the waters.

Jean-Paul let his brother have that breathtaking experience, and then, from memory, recited Psalm 19 … all through the heavens declaring the glory of God, to the testimony all Creation gave, to the additional and far greater insight the written Word of Scripture gave, and the testimony of the author, acknowledging all these things before God and asking to be cleansed of sin, kept on the right path, and … .

“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Strength, and my Redeemer.”

La force vous rencontre des deux côtés” – Jules's mother's words came back to him then … both sides, the internals and externals of a full life in both words and thoughts, the Lord Who was at once the Strength and the Redeemer Who held on with the everlasting arms … and Jules found himself on his knees, at last getting the understanding he had wanted all his life, and overwhelmed in worship, thanks, and praise.

In the morning, Madame Dubois met a changed son.

“I get it now – je comprends,” he said. “I'm never going to be a churchy person, and I probably will never have the knowledge of Scripture Jean-Paul has, and nobody could ever catch up with you and Père on faith … but the burden is off me of trying. I realize there is a place for me to be Jules in Christ, and He planned that for me and was just waiting, and now that I am at last here … je comprends.

Madame Dubois wrapped her arms around him, kissed him on both sides of his face, and wept, not able to find words in any language to express her joy. Jules returned her embrace and experienced the joy of mature Christian fellowship with his mother, for the first time in his adult life.

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