Bang! Bang! Bang!
The sound catapulted its way into Cassie’s consciousness. She bolted upright in bed, staring at her bedside clock in confusion.
What on earth?
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Realization finally dawned. The front door. Someone was pounding on the front door.
The 38-year-old single mom scooped up her robe with shaky hands, stumbling out through the living room. A sharp cry escaped her lips as her shin collided with the coffee table in the dark.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Cassie flipped on the porch light. A police officer stood at her door, a patrol car in her driveway.
The boys! It’s gotta be the boys. They’ve been in an accident. Lord, please no. You know they’re all I’ve got left. I should have never let them go. Seventeen is too young to be closing at the restaurant.
Cassie threw open the door, heart pounding in her chest.
“Sorry to bother you in the middle of the night, Ma’am—”
“Are they ok? Are my boys ok? I should have never…”
Her words trailed off as a familiar car pulled into the driveway. She sagged against the doorframe in relief. They were safe.
Jake was driving. He cut the engine and leapt from the car, leaving the door open. Ethan practically fell out of the passenger side and stood beside her in seconds.
“Mom! What’s wrong? Are you okay? What’s going on?”
Cassie wondered when she had morphed from the protector of her children to being protected by them. The concern etched across their faces mirrored the worry in her heart just moments ago.
“Wow, you have your own bodyguards. Matching ones.”
Cassie had nearly forgotten the officer. He stared up at her identical, 6’6” sons. His reaction didn’t surprise her. Having one NFL-sized son was enough to garner attention. But two? Seldom could people hide their interest in the dark-haired twins.
“Let’s try this again. I’m sorry I scared you—all of you.” He glanced back at Cassie and offered his hand.
“I’m Officer Greene, and I’m only here to ask your help. We’re hoping you have some information about a missing person.”
Cassie’s mind sped through her day. She’d worked her usual shift at a local motel, cleaning rooms. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
“How can I help?”
“I understand you were at the jogging trail near the park this morning?” Officer Greene asked.
Cassie’s face registered surprise until Jake jerked his head toward the carport where her 1998 Ford Escort was parked. Her parents had gifted the vehicle to her during a tight financial spot a few years ago. The wide red stripes painted down each side advertised her movements in their small Ozark town, but she didn’t mind, as the absence of a car payment greatly outweighed anonymity.
At Cassie’s nod, the officer continued. “Did you happen to see an elderly man wearing a red plaid vest anywhere along the trail? He’s been missing since early this morning.”
Cassie’s heart rate had nearly slowed to normal but sped up again at the man’s next words.
“He’s diabetic and has missed two shots already today. If he misses another one, it could be fatal.”
Eighteen Hours Earlier
Cassie’s feet beat an even rhythm on the paved jogging path, her favorite place to run in town. The path ran parallel to the river, although dense woods obscured any view of the water. Every quarter mile or so, benches dotted the sides of the path. After about two miles, it emerged from the woods at a small dam, a favorite spot for local fishermen.
Cassie glanced down her watch. Perhaps it was the fact she was running a bit late for work, but her time was good this morning. Real good.
If she kept up this pace, she was on track to set a new personal best time. A smile stole across her face. It was always a great feeling to write a new personal best in her journal.
Passing the one-mile marker, Cassie rounded a bend in the trail and spotted an elderly man resting on a bench. His plaid vest was a bit outdated, but it did give him a distinguished air.
He lifted a hand in greeting but spoke no words to Cassie’s chipper hello.
Two hundred feet up the trail, Cassie heard the voice. Not audible, but just as clear as if coming from the phone strapped to her arm.
Cassie kept running.
She knew the voice; she’d been a child of God long enough to recognize when her Father was speaking.
Really, Lord? Right now? Can’t I just check on him on the way back? I’m on track to make a personal best this morning.
And if I go back now, I won’t have time to finish my run. I’ll have to head straight home to shower and get to work in time. Sacrificing an hour of sleep to get here this morning is pretty much going to be wasted.
Cassie sighed. Turned around. And jogged slowly back to the bench.
“Back so soon?” The old man’s eyes shone with mischief. “Don’t tell me a young lady like you ran out of steam already.”
Cassie immediately liked the man. His face was creased with the lines of a thousand smiles, and the cool breeze stirred wisps of sparse white hair on his forehead.
“Nope! I’ve got plenty of steam, but you look a little lonely. Just wanted to make sure you’re okay.” Cassie stood with her hands on her hips in front of the bench, still a little winded.
“Well, now, I sure appreciate that. Why don’t you have a seat. I was feeling a mite lonely.”
After a couple quick stretches, Cassie eased down on the bench and turned to face the elderly man.
“I jog this trail a lot, and I’ve never seen you here.” She noticed an olive green tacklebox beside his feet. “You going fishing?”
It soon became apparent that the man loved to talk. In a matter of minutes, Cassie learned his name was Jedidiah (although his friends called him Jed), he had lived in their little town most of his life, he preferred Fords over Chevys (but it was just a-okay with him if SHE liked them Chevys), and that his wife’s name was Mable.
“Yep, Mable is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Matter of fact, that’s why I’m out so early.” Jed lowered his voice and leaned toward Cassie. “See, it’s her birthday today. And she loves her a good fish dinner. Don’t ya tell her if you see her though. I wanna surprise her.”
Cassie smiled at his obvious delight in surprising his wife. “Don’t you worry. My lips are sealed.”
“And one more thing,” he leaned in even closer. “I know the best spot around here to catch fish in a hurry. Nope, not off the dam like everyone else.”
He pointed up ahead on the trail. “Just off the trail up yonder there’s a broken-down house. And just past that, there’s a big old rock on the bank. You sit there, drop a line in, and the fish pretty much just jump in your lap.”
“I’ll keep that in mind if I’m ever desperate for some fish.” Cassie glanced at her watch. “Well, it’s time for me to be heading off to work. Nice to meet you, Jed.”
Cassie headed toward the trail head at a slow jog, pausing after a couple hundred feet to wave back at Jed. But the bench was empty.
“There! I can see it!” Jake’s powerful flashlight cut into the darkness. A partial wall, bricks crumbling with age, loomed ahead. “That’s gotta be the old house.”
After Cassie had divulged Jed’s fishing plans, Officer Greene gratefully accepted her offer to help look for the missing man. But really, who in their right mind would turn down the help of twin giants? It wasn’t the first time Cassie had been thankful for her sons’ physical presence.
She ducked under a low hanging branch Ethan held back for her. He grasped her arm for a second.
“Hey, Mom. It’s gonna be okay. We’ll find him.”
Cassie desperately hoped he was right even as dread gripped her heart. The Ozark terrain was beautiful by day but menacing by night. Jagged rocks jutted from the ground every few feet, and branches clung to her arms with every step.
Lord, please help us find him. Don’t let him die out here, all alone.
Minutes seem to stretch to hours before Cassie, Ethan and Jake emerged from the woods. All along the riverbank, dozens of lights flashed. They weren’t the only ones sacrificing sleep tonight. The army of volunteers warmed Cassie’s heart.
Jake shone his light down the bank, taking a cautious step. “Makes you proud to live in a small town, doesn’t it? I’m glad—”
Cassie gasped as Jake disappeared. Sounds of sliding gravel and shattering glass carried up the bank.
“Jake! Are you okay?” Her heart wasn’t going to take much more tonight.
“Yeah, I’m good.” Jake’s voice came from the darkness. “Mom, I’m fine. I think my flashlight’s toast though. Hey, Ethan! Shine your light down here. My foot is stuck and I can’t see a thing.”
Ethan steadied Cassie’s arm as they picked their way down the bank. The beams from their flashlights pooled around Jake. He had landed under a tree trunk, his leg firmly wedged between a branch and the rocky bank.
“Dude! You knocked a tree down.” Ethan knelt beside his brother.
“It was already down, Genius. Help me get my foot out.” Cassie smiled faintly at her sons’ banter. Ethan handed his flashlight to her, and she held it steady as he lifted the branch enough for Jake to ease his leg out.
“You okay? You scared me half to death.” Cassie took a calming breath.
“Yep, all good. This thing must have fallen recently, maybe in that last storm we had. Look, the leaves are still green.”
Ethan pulled a couple leaves from the branch, then played his light back up the bank. “No wonder you fell. Check it out.”
The tree had fallen toward the water, ripping a huge gash into the bank. “The bank is completely gone there. Look, that must be the big rock Jed was telling you about, Mom. If he was headed that direction, he would have fallen too.”
Cassie’s heart skipped a beat. Jed was here, somewhere under these branches.
“Come on, we’re close. I can feel it.” Jake’s words edged Cassie’s hope up another notch.
Dropping to her knees, she shone her light further under the tree and spotted a flash of red.
“Jake, Ethan, there! I think it’s him.”
Once again thankful for her sons’ size, Cassie watched as the twins hefted a large branch off the old man. His face was deathly pale, and an angry gash scored one cheek. She knelt beside him, pressing her fingers into the paper-thin skin of his wrist.
Her fingers found a weak but steady pulse and she nodded up to Ethan, who had Officer Greene on the phone.
“We found him. And he’s alive.”
One Week Later
Cassie knelt to tighten the laces on her running shoes, then eased into a couple leg stretches. Birds were beginning to wake up, their twittering chorus filling the otherwise still air around her. The jogging trail stretched before her, beckoning her to come and run.
Streaks of pink were just beginning to lighten the sky as Cassie started down the trail. She glanced up to the heavens and smiled.
I get it, Lord, I get it. Sometimes going back is my personal best.
From my heart to yours:
Life is full of interruptions. Kids that want our attention in the middle of an important project. Spouses that wait until we’re occupied to ask for help. Friends that call at inopportune times. Strangers that need a helping hand when we’re running late.
But when we look at the life of Jesus, we see that every single person who came to Him for help interrupted Him from something He was already doing. We see that His life’s work was in the interruptions.
Perhaps it’s time for us to let go of Plan A for our day and accept Plan B.
Perhaps it’s time to embrace the interruptions that God sends our way.
It may not save a physical life, as in the case of Cassie’s story.
But it just might save a spiritual life.