Dean’s lamb shank was cooked to perfection and fell off the bone as soon as he touched it. He enjoyed every mouthful and was glad he had decided to go for a light starter of a slice of smoked salmon rather than anything heavier. The lemon tart also looked good. He hadn’t been able to resist a slice for dessert. With cream. He knew, even before he tasted it, he probably wouldn’t sleep well with such a big meal at night. It was worth it though. It was as delicious as it looked and he savoured every bite.
The idea washed over him and he felt as if he had been drenched in a bucket of ice cold water. He shivered. The memory of the dream was still so real. It wouldn’t let him go. He hoped the stories tonight would distract him and help him to forget it. He thought a brisk walk after supper would have done it, but he knew walking would be too much of a struggle. The accident had put paid to such activities.
He shrugged off the thought. His companions deserved better than this. Forcing a smile he turned to Rob who was sitting next to him.
“I was interested in your story about Jacob and how you resolved your anger issues. You said your life changed when you knelt and prayed to Jesus. What did you mean?”
“It was as if the anger melted away and drained out of me. It’s the only way I can explain it. I understand now, so many years later, that the restless sensation I was experiencing was God trying to get my attention.”
Dean, who had been putting cream on his next mouthful of lemon tart, dropped his spoon and looked up at Rob, his eyes wide in shock.
“Wha … what do you mean?”
At that moment Rob became aware Dean may be in the same situation. He put his own spoon and fork down and swung round in his seat to face the old man.
“Dean, God loves us. Each one of us. It doesn’t matter who we are, or what we do, or have done. It doesn’t even matter what we feel, or think, or believe. He loves us. He watches us and calls to us. In fact, a poet called Francis Thompson wrote about it in his poem, ‘The Hound of Heaven’. Do you know it? I can’t quote it but it speaks of how the poet flees from God for years and even tries to hide from him, but God never stops pursuing him.”
“I can never remember what the rest of the poem says. No doubt it carries on in the same vein. But the first few lines are a perfect description of how I was feeling. Do you know the poem?”
Dean nodded, too overcome with emotion to say anything. He knew it alright. It was a poem he had had to teach year after year. He tried to tell himself it was just a clever collection of words. But it had haunted him, every time he taught it, or even thought about it.
Is that what he had been doing? Fleeing from God? Could the familiar sense of restlessness be God? Had he been running away all this time? That was ironic seeing as he had not been able to run for years. He tried to stifle his cynical laugh with a cough.
“Dean, are you alright?” Rob looked concerned. The colour in Dean’s face had drained away leaving him as pale as death.
“Yes. Yes, I think so.” Dean’s mind was racing. “It must have been a pastry crumb, just caught the back of my throat,” and he coughed again to prove his point. Rob was not convinced, but he let the comment slide.
“Anyway, once I had said that prayer, my life really did change. Instead of feeling restless I realised I was at peace, with myself and with God. Do you know what I mean?”
Dean didn’t answer at once. He picked up his glass and took his time sipping some wine as he thought about what he was going to say. His mind was in a panic, racing. Was this what was happening to him? Was he being pursued? How could God love him?
“I know what you mean about being restless. I’m not sure I understand the rest. Let me think about it – maybe we can talk again tomorrow.”
“Of course, just give me a shout when you’re ready.”
Dean did not reply. Rob whispered a quick prayer, asking God to help him with that future conversation when it occurred.
“Coffee’s in the lounge, folks, and whatever else you want to take through with you,” Simon said. “We’re ready to start the evening stories.”
Dean got to his feet as fast as he could, groping for his stick. He wanted to put an end to this conversation. Rob had pressed too many sore spots in Dean’s life. Once again he considered pleading tiredness and having an early night. But it was not late. After all, it was less than twenty four hours before he would be home.
He could do that.
He could do that.
He turned towards the lounge, refusing Rob’s offer of help and an after-dinner brandy, unaware of the fierce glare he gave his dinner companion. He didn’t want to be indebted to anyone any more than he already was. Nor did he want to talk to anyone. He headed for a chair in the lounge and thumped down in it, gazing out of the window at the lake. The soft evening light was beautiful. The lake had a golden glow to it. He really should try to walk down to the shoreline.
Rob caught Simon’s arm as he was about to leave the dining room.
“Simon, we need to pray. Dean seems to be struggling.”
“In what way? With his health? With the pace of the weekend?”
“No, with his relationship, or lack of it, with God.”
Simon glanced through the open doors of the lounge. Dean was sitting there glaring out of the window. His whole posture screamed, ‘Don’t come near me.’
“Let’s ask one or two folks to meet with us after this evening’s session. We can pray together for him then. I don’t want to offer to do so in front of everyone. We’ll do it without him at the moment.”
“Yes, I agree. Let’s do that.”
The two men went into the lounge together, just as Mike was beginning to talk.