This short story is re-printed from the Ancient Paths archives. It previously appeared in Issue 7 (Fall 2001).
The Lord's Tennis Ball
by Chris Williams
I'll never forget the day I became a believer. While restlessly searching the radio dial for something to soothe my agitated soul, I stumbled upon a voice that seemed to speak to me. His words were simple yet direct and had the ring of truth. As if in a trance, I sat and listened at a master’s electronic feet for nearly three hours. "Thou almost persuadest me to buy a Bose Wave Radio," I said as Rush Limbaugh's sign-off echoed into eternity. I had been touched but my heart told me there was something else.
Still longing for fulfillment and half-sick from trying my first Diet Lemon Snapple, I picked up a phone book. "I must talk to a man of God," I told myself.
Scanning the church listings, I came upon the phone number of a congregation near my home. Instinctively, I called and set-up an appointment to talk with the Pastor.
The Rev. Charles V. Churchill was a square-jawed man with coal-black dots for eyes. His perfectly-tailored charcoal gray suit, red silk tie and gold tie tack contrasted dramatically with my outfit. In time-faded blue jeans, rumpled purple sweatshirt and scuffed sneakers, I looked like an escapee from the thrift shop on Rykers Island.
"Thanks for taking the time to see me," I said as we shook hands. There was a framed photo of a mushroom cloud displayed prominently on his desk.
"You're quite welcome. What’s on your mind?" Rev. Churchill asked.
"I think I feel the call of God on my life," I answered, lowering into a hard, uncushioned chair.
Rev. Churchill leaned forward. His pepper and gray crew-cut glowed in the overhead lights.
"Are you ready to pick up your cross?" he asked solemnly. I didn’t understand the theological ramifications of his question but I did notice several cases of Diet Lemon Snapple stacked up neatly behind him.
"Yeah, I guess so," I answered.
Rev. Churchill smiled and scribbled something on a note pad. "It's a blessing to see such a willing spirit," he said, ripping off the top sheet and handing it to me.
"Here's the address for Sweet's Clothing Emporium," Churchill continued.
"The proprietor is one of our elders and the third baseman on our softball team. Why don’t you pay him a visit?"
"Will he help me?" I asked.
Rev. Churchill nodded.
"Brother Sweet has his priorities STRAIGHT," he answered.
"Thank you," I said and headed out to continue my pilgrimage.
When I arrived at Sweet’s Clothing Emporium, the owner was fidgeting with the gold tie tack on his red silk tie. His charcoal gray suit looked familiar.
"Rev. Churchill sent me," I announced.
"Yes, I know," Roger Sweet said. We shook hands and he offered me a Diet Lemon Snapple.
"No thank you," I replied, re-experiencing a bit of nausea. Sweet uncapped a bottle, filling the store with an aroma similar to that of rotting rodent flesh.
After taking a long swallow, he nodded approvingly. "The nectar of Heaven," he said.
That wasn’t the biblical location I had in mind but I kept my peace.
Mr. Sweet recapped his drink, put it on the counter next to the cash register, and pulled out a measuring tape.
"We'll have you looking like a Christian in no time," he said, wrapping the measure around my waist.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"As a recruit in God's army, you need to look your best at all times," the clothier responded, measuring my arm length.
"But, but - "
"- Blue jeans, sweatshirt and sneakers are not the attire of a SOLDIER," he said. A crew cut covered the top of his head like bristly orange Astro turf.
"Oh," I said, deciding to trust this older brother's wisdom. Later, I couldn’t believe what I saw in the mirror. "Is that ME?" I marveled. Looking back at me was a dapper gentleman in a new charcoal gray suit. A red silk tie hung stylishly from his collar, punctuated with a shiny gold tie tack. Imported leather wing tips graced his feet.
"Yes," Sweet answered "You've" stepped out of the wilderness. Now, you’ll need help through the desert." He jotted a name and address on the back of a blank sales slip. "Tell this brother I sent you," he said, slipping it into my hand.
"How much do I owe you?" I asked.
"Nothing. Consider it a gift from the LORD," he responded.
"R-really? T-thank you," I said, choking up. This act of generosity touched me and since my credit cards were close to being maxed-out, I felt especially blessed. Wiping a tear from my eye, I knelt down to pick up my old clothes. Mr. Sweet stepped on the pile.
"Son, if you don’t mind, I'll dispose of these. They represent your old life; you’re a new creature now. Don’t go back to Egypt," he counseled.
Grateful for the guidance and physically unable to move his 200 pound plus frame off my favorite jeans, I decided to leave those filthy rags on the floor.
Before I walked away, Mr. Sweet draped an arm around my shoulder. "Tryouts for the church softball team are next week. We need everything but a third baseman," he said softly.
"I'll be there," I promised, having played quite a bit of ball in my younger days. Sweet gave me the thumbs-up and led me to the door.
My next stop was Michael’s Barbershop. The owner, Caleb Michael, had nearly three chins, bulbous pink nose and snow-white bristles for hair.
"Mr. Sweet sent me," I told him. He grunted and motioned for me to sit down in a barber chair. His charcoal gray suit bore a striking similarity to mine. Empty Diet Lemon Snapple bottles were everywhere.
I lowered myself and Mr. Michael threw a protective apron around me. Seeming to be in a big hurry, he picked up a pair of long, black scissors and began to snip, snip, snip at the back of my neck.
"Pardon me," I said in the politest tone I could muster. "If I want to serve God, does the length of my hair matter?"
Caleb Michael instantly stopped cutting. He spun the chair around so that we were face to face. "Watch your attitude! You don’t want to be a sower of discord among the brethren," he warned. I had no idea what he was talking about but is sounded serious.
"I'm sorry," I said.
"I forgive you," he replied curtly.
Ten minutes later, from the neck up, I resembled a blond tennis ball.
"Lazarus come forth!" Mr. Michael growled triumphantly.
I looked at myself in the mirror and tried not to despair. I guess I'll be a tennis ball for the Lord, I thought. Managing a thank you, I got up and left before he could offer me a Diet Lemon Snapple.
Pastor Churchill was ecstatic when he saw the "new" me. "Glory be!" he shouted.
"I guess I’m ready to follow God now," I said hopefully.
"Slow down, young warrior," the Reverend said "Do you have a Bible?"
I told him I owned a copy of the New International Version. He sighed and clucked his tongue.
"No, no. I mean THE Bible. The King James Version," Pastor Churchill said. He pulled a brand-new, burgundy-colored, leather-flex, large print, red letter edition of the KJV out of his desk. "Take this brother, may it serve you well," he said, placing it in my hands.
"Thank you. Do you mind if I break it in by reading something?"
I picked a verse at random. It was Galatians 3:3: "Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit are you now made perfect by the flesh?"
"Very nice," he commented, glancing at his watch. "Please excuse me, I've got to go visit widows and orphans in distress."
"Is there anything else I need to do?" I asked. Rev. Churchill patted his chin and gave me a long look.
"Have you ever played shortstop?" he asked.