“Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man,
but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel.”
“The getting of treasures by a lying tongue
is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.”
The Man took a deep breath, trying to slow his rapid heartbeat and to stay his rising temper. He massaged his temples with one hand while he pressed the phone to his ear with the other. He hated feeling desperate and vulnerable, but this is exactly how he felt at that moment.
“Meg, please don’t cancel on me,” he finally pleaded. “I’ve really been looking forward to this.”
“I don’t know what to tell you…he doesn’t want to come,” she quickly replied, and he knew she just wanted to get this phone call over with. He could hear the discomfort in her voice. “If it were me you wanted to see, I would have no problem pushing myself through an awkward situation. But he is just a kid. I just don’t think it’s fair to make him suffer through a weekend away because you have some guilt complex now.”
The Man felt his defenses rising as she spoke, and her final words were like a dagger to his heart. He knew he was losing control of this conversation, and he did not like to lose. But for once in his life, this really wasn’t about winning or losing. This was about seeing his son.
“I’d hardly call it suffering,” he started defensively, then he stopped himself. He knew this was not the direction this conversation needed to go. He took a deep breath, clearing his mind, and he started again.
“Listen, Meg, I…I know I’ve been a lousy dad.” She interrupted his reply with a short, sarcastic laugh, and he struggled to continue in spite of her response. “I’m a changed man, though. I promise. I just want one chance to make it up to Zach. I want to get to know my son, to show him that his dad really loves him. I know I can’t change years of rejection in one weekend, but I have to start somewhere. Please, just give me this chance.”
She was silent for a moment, and The Man took a slow look around his office while he waited. Rich, mahogany furniture filled his spacious corner office. Neat, organized files were carefully placed on his desk, and the lamp cast its warm glow across the desk’s contents. Sunlight poured in from massive bay windows, and he looked out to see the lake below. His office sat on prime real estate, and they paid a pretty penny for this suite. “Money begets money” was the motto of his law firm, and so far, it had proven true.
In every way, he was a man of success. In every way, that is, except in the area of his personal relationships.
He looked to his right, and on the floor sat that old, beat-up briefcase. He still felt shame when he remembered clutching that thing when his very life hung in the balance. What was he thinking? What a fool he had been!
But he knew what he had been thinking. The Berry files were in that briefcase, and he had been returning from his trip with a signed and notarized confession from Nick Berry. Who cared if Nick Berry’s confession might not be true? Who cared if The Man might be sending an innocent person to prison, while protecting his client in the end? Even in death, The Man had been consumed with winning a case.
“I don’t know why you can’t just leave things well enough alone,” Meg finally responded with frustration, snapping The Man back to his present reality. She let out a deep sigh, and he knew she was struggling, possibly weakening. She had always been weak when it came to him. Most women were. Good looks, success, money…he had it all. Well, at least he had thought he did. That is, until he’d met The Boy and his parents on the train.
“He’s happy, you know,” Meg said. “He calls John his dad.”
Ah, yes, The Man thought as he rolled his eyes. John. The man who married my high school sweetheart. The man raising my son.
“Meg, I know you don’t want to force Zach to see me, and I get that. It really hurts me to know that he doesn’t even want to see me and that he calls another man ‘dad.’ I’m so thankful John has stepped up in the years while I’ve been pursuing my own interests, but…”
“You’ve never wanted to be his dad before! Why now?!” Meg interjected with passionate frustration. The Man could hear tears in her voice. “Isn’t that what you said to me after you got pregnant our senior year in high school? Have you forgotten your last words to me? ‘There’s an easy fix to this pregnancy Meg! But if you decide to keep this baby, don’t come crawling to me for help!’” She spouted his own angry words back to him, and he winced with the forcefulness and selfishness of his ways. “I’ve never bugged you for involvement or help. I never have asked you for money, not even when you became some hot-shot defense attorney! Why do you have to rock the boat now?”
The Man heard the anger and bitterness in her voice. He couldn’t believe how much hurt and pain he’d caused others because of his many foolish, selfish escapades over the course of his life, but he was finally seeing it all clearly now. In some ways, he almost wished he could go back to his ignorant days before the train wreck…before meeting Jesus. Continuing in his foolishness seemed easier than righting the many wrongs of his life. But he also knew that this wasn’t true. The destruction of his lifetime choices was finally catching up to him, and it certainly wasn’t easier facing that. He needed to reconcile with so many, and it was only through God’s grace that he would be able to do so.
Feeling helpless for the task at hand, The Man silently prayed a desperate prayer. Lord, help me! How do I convince Meg that I have changed? How do I show Zach that I truly do love him? Only You can bring healing to these relationships. As he prayed, The Man realized he needed to take a different approach. He needed to humble himself. He inhaled slowly as he collected his thoughts.
“Meg, I am ashamed of the many hurtful things I have said and done over the years, to you and to Zach. The hurt clearly goes much deeper than I realize. All I can say is…I’m so, so very sorry.” He heard Meg crying softly as he spoke. “I was nothing but selfish in those high school days. And now, my son is 12 years old, and he doesn’t want anything to do with me. He doesn’t even know me! The blame lies with me and me alone. I am so sorry.” His voice cracked as he spoke, and he knew that for once, these tears were genuine.
“Please, Meg, just give me this one chance this weekend. I’ve been such a fool my entire life, and I want to make things right now. Please.” He spoke with such compassion, and he felt as if he were giving his closing arguments in the most important case of his life. Only this time, he was completely telling the truth, and he’d never felt such desperation to win as he did now.
Meg was silent for a while, and The Man knew he needed to give her time to think. He couldn’t push her this time. Finally, she replied.
“Why does everyone else have to be reminded of the hurt you’ve caused so that you can feel better?” She said softly, in brokenness, and The Man knew she wasn’t trying to hurt him or to start a fight with her question. He knew that she needed healing, too, just like Zach. “I will make him go with you this one weekend. But that is it,” she said with finality. “If he doesn’t want to spend time with you after this, I’m not going to make him again. It will take nothing short of a court order for me to do this again, and I mean that.”
The Man’s heart soared, and he allowed himself to smile with relief. “Thank you, Meg! Thank you! You won’t regret it, I promise. I’m going to make things up to Zach, no matter how long it takes. And Meg,” he said seriously, “these aren’t the empty promises you’ve heard from me before.”
“Sure they aren’t,” she replied, and he knew that his promises meant nothing to her. To her and to many others, his promises had always been empty. He was certainly not known as a man of his word.
They ended their phone call quickly, and just in time. His office door swung open, and in stormed a red-faced Chip Maxwell. Maxwell, the senior partner of Maxwell and Monohan, was not a person anyone wanted to face in his anger. Yet The Man knew why he was here. He had been waiting for this confrontation.
“You turned down the Jackson case?” he spewed with anger. The Man looked outside for a brief moment, desperately wishing he was on a boat fishing, or on a bike riding around the lake. Anywhere but here!
“Listen, Chip. I know this was an easy win…but Jackson is guilty. He’s a guilty man.”
“It’s not your job to decide if someone is guilty or not! It’s your job to defend our clients!” Chip shouted. The Man glimpsed outside his open office door and saw the clerks and secretaries trying to ignore the confrontation happening in his office.
Chip continued in anger, “Do you realize how much money you lost our firm in turning down this case? This is big money, and we never turn away big money!” He pointed his finger at The Man as he steadied his voice. He seethed through clenched teeth as he spoke, “You’re going to call Jackson back, and you’re going to apologize profusely for your momentary lapse in judgment. You’re going to take this case, and you’re going to win it!” Chip shouted his final words.
The Man winced as spit flew out of Chip’s mouth. Never before had he been between a rock and a hard place, but that’s exactly where he was now. “Sir, I…” he started, but Chip didn’t even give him a chance.
“I know you ‘found religion’ or whatever you want to call it. I know you almost died, and believe me, we were all sorry to see what happened to you. We’ve been patiently waiting for you to heal from that train accident, and we gave you plenty of time to get back on your feet. But you need to get your act together now. You’re a defense lawyer, and you need to perform as such! You were on track to becoming a senior partner! A senior partner!! But you want to throw it all away because you have a conscience now? Don’t forget how easily replaceable you are. Figure it out! And call Jackson now!”
With that, Chip Maxwell stormed out of The Man’s office with such force that sheets of paper floated off his desk and onto the ground. He looked out his open office door once again, and Sheila, the main secretary, quickly looked away. He felt nothing but humiliation in that moment.
The Man quietly gathered his things and looked down at his two briefcases. The shiny, expensive leather briefcase, the one his law firm had given him when he returned back to work, leaned against his beat-up briefcase from the accident. He remembered the note they had written when it was presented to him in the hospital: “Always the winner! Winning in the court room and in life! Get better soon so we can keep on winning!” The Man cringed with that memory. He remembered how furious he had been at their words…calling him a winner for surviving such a terrible tragedy! The audacity! Kicking the new briefcase over with his foot, he reached to grab his old briefcase instead. He filled it with what work he needed, and he quickly left his office.
“I’m out for the rest of the afternoon,” he told Sheila. Everyone else avoided his eyes, pretending like nothing had happened.
“Yes sir,” she replied curiously. She knew he had not called Jackson yet. “Do you want me to forward calls to your mobile?”
“No. If anyone calls for me, just tell them I’ll get back to them first thing in the morning.” With that, he swiftly left the office and walked to his Benz in the parking garage. His personal parking spot was right next to the senior partners of the firm. He had it all, and now he was possibly losing it all. But was it really considered “having it all” when he’d gotten here based on a life of deception?
The Man stopped at a red light and reached into the side pocket of his briefcase. He pulled out the pamphlet for the seminary and turned it in his hands. Could he really walk away from his life now? All of that money, success, and notoriety? He raked his fingers through his short hair and dropped the pamphlet on the passenger seat. What did God want with him? The light turned green and he continued his drive.
He had begun this drive with an aimlessness, not really knowing where to go. But after a while, he realized that subconsciously, he had been driving straight to church. The man smiled to himself, retrieving his blackberry from the middle console. He punched in the church’s number.
“Hi, Teresa, it’s me,” he said when the church’s office manager warmly answered the phone. “Is Pastor Greg available?”
A few moments later, Pastor Greg’s rich greeting came on the other end of the phone. In the past, The Man would have sought counsel from Maxwell or Monohan in moments like this, but now he realized that seeking wisdom from them was a fool’s errand. Pastor Greg had become quite a close friend and confidant over the last several months.
“Pastor Greg! How are you?” The Man asked genuinely. They chatted briefly and exchanged pleasantries. Then The Man got down to business. “I was wondering…do you have time for some coffee? I’m buying!”