Saturday, October 10, 2020

Are Christians Judgmental and Critical?


All Christians are taught through every sermon, lesson, and song that they hear --- not to be afraid of information, knowledge, awareness, discernment, life-measurement, critical examination, uncovering faults and flaws. Considering what might be true, or important, of value, of worth, what might be applicable or on point.

We read the Holy Bible every day and it is filled with with bad news and Good News about us -- and everybody else in the World. On every page there are laws, rules, statutes, commands, commandments, orders, instructions, revelations, and observations.

We believe that the Bible is God's Word - and that through it He is trying to show us what is wrong with us, and what is wrong with the world.  He wants to save us, but before He can we have to be aware of the danger, of the need, of the problem.

The Bible calls itself a Mirror - and it is not always kind, or gentle, and it does not always show us what we want to see.

Yes, I know that we are most often criticized by other people when we measure THEM. We do appear to be crossing a line when we thrust OUR Mirror into THEIR faces.  When we show THEM what the Bible not only says about US, but what it says about ALL People.

It is thought to be one thing when we choose to examine, sift, measure, weigh, and judge OURSELVES --- but quite another thing when we foist that same philosophy or belief or approach to life upon OTHERS.

I get it.

And some Christians use what they consider to be Truth as a weapon, or a cudgel,  or a blunt object.  The Truth CAN cause harm, it can damage, it can curse, and it can damn.  We ourselves know and have felt all of these painful effects.

But in most cases (I know in mine), we just see you dancing too close to the edge.

We truly believe that you might be heading down the wrong road.

The bridge is out.  The food is poison. The building is on fire.  

I guess that any unsolicited advice, statement, negative word or contrary opinion might be unwelcome at all times - if such things never had the slightest potential of diverting someone from disaster, or catastrophe, or calamity.

But most Christians are just very grateful - that someone said something to them that needed to be examined.  Something that was different than what we believed or what we wanted to believe or even hear. Someone told us their Truth. Someone held a Mirror up to our face. Someone told us that our slip was showing, our zipper was unzipped, our makeup was smeared, our hose had a run, there was toilet paper stuck to our shoe. Our hair was sticking up in the back and our socks didn't match.

They were not trying to hurt us, they were trying to help us.

Yes, it embarrassed us. It made us mad. It called us out, it called our hand, sometimes it called a spade a spade. Sometimes it was wrong, or I chose to judge it so.

But - ultimately I am glad for all of the contrary words that have been poked at me from the mouths of critics, teachers, coaches, parents, grandparents, professors, preachers, teachers, and prophets throughout my life.

I am no longer afraid of hearing anyone's Truth.  I may never make it MY Truth, but I am willing to hear all of it.

Quote your scriptures and Holy Writings to me. Tell me about your beliefs and all of its teachings. Show me how I compare, how I fall short by its standards. Show me the error of my ways, the difference between your ways and mine. 

Share your political platforms, your scientific proofs, your moral treatises.  I do not fear them.  I am not offended by them.  I welcome them.

If I tell you to go away and leave me alone - I expect you to comply. If you send me away, I will go and be silent.  I will never be forced to expose myself to your words, and I have no desire to force what matters to me upon you.

But if I believe that the building is on fire, I'm probably going to tell everybody in the building.  The building may NOT be on fire. That is up to you to decide. Don't dismiss me as a lunatic until you have examined the halls and smelled for smoke.  Don't be angry that I woke you up for a false alarm, though I guess it really is none of my business.

Here is some unsolicited advice (but you ARE reading my words): Don't dismiss anyone who wants to interact with you. Be careful.  On your guard. Don't believe everything that you hear or see.  But listen, weigh, sift, sort, examine, test, try, discern, discriminate, judge.

The building may actually be on fire.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

It Was a Wonderful Life

(A Fictional Alternate History Short Story)

It was a Wonderful Life

by Dennis Bain
July 4, 2001

My Doctor (read shrink) has suggested that I take a swing at writing as a part of my therapy and recovery.  I have been preaching and speaking publicly since I was fourteen and that has been my primary mode of expression or my means of communication.  I'm not as comfortable or as experienced with the written word.
I have produced a number of formal papers, articles, book analysis's and reviews while pursuing my academic degrees and I wrote a few articles for The Ardmore Shopper while I served as pastor at Wooley Springs, but I have never considered myself a writer or thought that I was very good at it, or that it had any particular therapeutic effect on me (or my readers).

The only time in my life that I have intentionally sat down with pen and paper in hand to record my thoughts was when I kept a journal while on my mission to India.  I was there for several months (September to December) in 1974 and hand wrote about thirty pages describing our day to day travels and activities.  I recorded some of my thoughts and reflections.  I'm not sure that I have ever read the words that I penned since I recorded them or that I could even now lay my hands on the pages that are stored in some box in the attic or in our storage pod.

And I guess that Terri still has my letters of love and devotion stacked away somewhere, but there are no sonnets among them.  I have serenaded her with Hooked on a Feeling (and other popular love songs from the radio) but I have never written her my own special song or a poem.

I think that that is the extent of my writing.  Not too impressive, nor formative of any kind of foundation upon which to rely for a beginning now.  But I guess I'm willing at this point to try anything suggested that will drag me into making more progress. 

I began in college on the old manual Underwood typewriter and used it in seminary, and I graduated to using an electric typewriter when I began my doctoral work but one of my tech-geek church members has loaned me his personal computer to use as a word processor for the office and I'm tackling this personal project on it with fear and trepidation.

Computers are becoming increasingly popular (and their appeal is not entirely lost on me), but until now I have not been bitten by the tech bug and wonder if it will provide some kind of magical inspiration for pouring out my thoughts in this medicinal homework assignment.  I know how to turn it on and open the typing program, but for now that is the extent of my knowledge.  Jonathan thinks that I now have a game in my study and it is all that I can do to keep him away from it.  The greatest embarrassment would be if he was allowed to turn it on and he actually became more adept at using it than me.

My physical therapy over the last six months has progressed from once a day during my last months in the hospital and then once a day for six weeks while in rehab to three times a week after release from rehab.  I'm now down to once a week at Mobile Physical Therapy.  I can drive myself over there with little difficulty and have been working out there under the supervision of Jake the Pain Afflicter for the past two months.

I use the term progress loosely, but perhaps also pessimistically.  I have regained a great deal of mobility and the only contrivance I require is a cane.  I am probably at a point where I might get a little stronger or have a little more endurance, but my hip will never heal any more or get any better structurally.  And I have come to the point where I have resigned myself to the fact that the pain will be my constant companion until I die.

That is one element that has placed me under the care of a psychiatrist.  But, of course, I am wrestling with several sources and levels of pain besides trying to get around with a shattered hip.  We all are.

The deal -- or the proposition -- was, "If you'll go, we'll all go."

So, once a week I see Dr. Sonata, Terri sees her once a week and Jonathan sees her once a week.  On the last week of the month we all meet with her for a family conference and head session.  We talk, she takes our emotional temperature, checks on how we are doing on our meds (Jonathan has been excluded from that, he's doing well enough to have been taken off his medication), and assigns simple goals or tasks for us to apply ourselves to individually and as a family unit.

My new assignment is therapeutic writing.  How am I doing so far?

I feel better already.  Can I quit now?

Being an invalid (over-extended word) has taken its toll on my Positive Thinking and motivational gear (not to mention my faith) and "Can I quit now?" pops out of my mouth a little more easily than I would like to admit.  Jake hears it almost every week but I think he's a little deaf.  I need to speak with his superiors about getting him some hearing aids.

Well, if I can't quit yet I've got to find a place to begin.  I'm told that I can't just write a lot of nonsense, my journal should probably be like a memoir or diary.  Doc has suggested that I tell the story or describe the last year and a half in my own words.  Writing will get it "out" and maybe reading it will help me to find some answers, or get some peace of mind that right now is lacking.

But I have wasted a half ream of paper trying to write a simple chronicle and that doesn't seem to be what I want to do.  Just the facts?  No, that won't do.  I guess if it is going to be of any value for all of my effort (I'm such a busy cripple!) it will have to be reflective or interpretive.  I doubt if there is any part of the facts that might provide an answer or inspire any peace or closure.

So, here goes . . . .

It was a dark and stormy night.

Actually it wasn't at all, but I've always thought that if I ever sat down to write the great American novel that I would start it with that line from Snoopy.  It began on what had been a very pretty, sunny day that we all thought was just another one of those great days of which our lives, until that day, had been composed.

Our lives individually, and over the years as a young family had been composed almost entirely of one great day after another.  It was a wonderful life.

I guess that that thought is as good a place to begin as any, because for the most part our lives and our time on this earth together had been perfect, with no complaints or regrets.  And it is probably not reasonable that one tragedy in a family could threaten to cast a pall over all the good that had preceded it and stain or ruin everything that was to follow it.  It doesn't seem reasonable, and Dr. Sonata says that it is not inevitable.  We don't have to be doomed to be eternally in a state of grief or sadness.

I've been looking at that whole picture.  The picture of the wonderful life with one awful bloody stain in it.  I guess that everyone that has been through some kind of trauma has thought the thoughts of, "What should I have done differently?"  What could I have done differently that would have created a different life, taken us down a different path, altered our lives so that this tragedy would never have happened at all?

I don't feel that our loss happened as some punishment from God for having made a wrong turn, a wrong choice or having taken the wrong road.  First of all I don't believe that God is that vindictive or that the Will of God is that restrictive or narrow.  Second, I truly can't find a single element in our journey that appears upon examination to have been a misstep.

The only missteps that are apparent are some of those that I have taken since having been shot.  Everybody tells me that I use my cane on the wrong side.  Since my right hip is the source of the problem I should use the cane in my right hand to support that weak side.  But it just seems more natural to lean a little farther to the left, placing my weight on the cane in my left hand while flailing my whole right arm for balance and stability.  I win any way, it's my cane and my hip, I'll limp them around any way that makes me happy.  As if limping around in any way at all could really makes me happy.

I have replayed it all over and over in my mind . . . so I guess that putting it down on paper won't be all that much different.  Maybe I'll be able to put a circle on the page at the exact point that, if changed, would return our daughter to us and place me firmly on two good legs again.

I would even be completely happy to keep the shattered hip to have Charise back, but I can't see some kind of replacement scenario that would involve a teenage girl shooting me with a high-powered hunting rifle that does not also involve our baby.  The pain in my hip and up my spine is a nagging and throbbing inconvenience that ebbs and flows according to how effective my medicine is on any particular day . . . the pain in my heart is almost unbearable and it doesn't ebb or flow.

Charise was born in West Memphis, Arkansas on a Friday afternoon on August 17, 1984.  I'll start my journal there because I know that that was not a mistake.  It wasn't a wrong turn or a part of the story that needs to be changed.  I wouldn't change that part of the story for anything in the world.  Terri nor I would ever give her up to spare us any future pain or loss. 

She was such a joyous surprise to us and truly a gift (from the Greek word charis)from God after eight years of childless marriage.  It had been a happy and wonderful eight years but the arrival of our daughter multiplied our joy and magnified our happiness beyond description.

Our friends at the Vanndale Baptist Church were witnesses (literally) to Charise's arrival but only got to see her grow for six months of her new life before we moved back to Alabama to serve as pastoral family (and now not just pastoral couple) to the Wooley Springs Baptist Church.

This was our first major fork in the road after Charise's birth.  Were we wrong in leaving Vanndale?  Did we leave too early or too late?  We had a very good ministry there and we loved the people dearly.  They were sad to see us go and we hated to say goodbye, but we were ready to get back home.  We had accomplished everything that we felt that we could on that field and in that place.  There was a very real sense in which we felt that our work, God's work through us, was finished there.  The church was debt free, all of the children of the members of the church had been saved and baptized, the members there seemed to be maturing and growing and I had finished my M.Div. degree at the Mid-America Seminary in 1982, two years before we left.

And the window (or door) that opened at Wooley Springs seems upon reflection and examination to have been divinely and providentially placed.  Our ministry there was to become one of our most successful and fruitful works.  If we had stayed in Arkansas a little longer we probably still would have eventually moved back to Alabama.  We just wouldn't have been able to go to Wooley Springs.  It would have been another Alabama Church in a different city.

We served and ministered at Wooley Springs for fourteen glorious years, saw the church grow from running between sixty and seventy in Sunday School to running nearly three hundred by the time that we left.  We were a part of countless successes and victories, many baptisms and additions.

Jonathan was born to us there on June 23, 1987 -- doubling our joy and happiness, and I finished my last three years of schooling to earn my doctorate at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Our work at Wooley really began to take off during our eighth and ninth year there.  And I confess that during my tenth year as pastor there I was beginning to wonder if my work there was complete and I told Terri that I thought that it might be time to move forward.  I really didn't want to go back to school but most of my close friends from my seminary days were already tackling their doctoral degrees and that task was beckoning to me with a steady hand and a constant draw.  But I was trying to ignore that attraction and I began talking to friends outside of the church about my thoughts on making a move and I even circulated a few resumes to see if God might use them to give me some direction.

I had a few nibbles on the line several months after initiating these steps but nothing really promising or eye-popping turned up.  However, quite a bump and stir was created when a pulpit committee from a church in Decatur showed up unannounced and uninvited one Sunday morning. 

A sister-in-law of one of our Wooley Springs members lived in Decatur who had no idea that I was contemplating a move, who had not heard a whisper about my interest or come within ten miles of one of my resumes, sicked her church's pulpit committee onto my name and they showed up off radar and out of the blue for one of our Sunday morning services.

It created a bit of a ruffle at Wooley Springs.  People called me; one of our Church Deacons came over to the pastorium to ask me point blank if I had been in on the committee's visit.  I assured him that I had not but I did not reveal to him that I had been thinking about a move.

I spoke with the chairman of the committee that visited the next morning by phone.  I was minimally familiar with the church when it had been in its heyday, but I learned from the chairman that they had been declining in every area that a church can decline since 1974. There were only about forty or fifty attendees in Sunday School at the time of their visit to meet me.

They operated under the burden of a tremendous debt that had been incurred during their time of optimistic growth. Their philosophy of "If you build it, they will come" had left them with a monstrous building complex to maintain and a base ministry field that was transitioning out. The families that composed their target demographic were moving into the suburbs. 

To make matters much worse, many faithful members who had expressed deep concerns about going into such debt to build an elaborate empty facility became angry and left the fellowship.

I had no experience in leading a declining church that was located in the middle of a fleeing community. To grow a congregation back to health that had been steadily declining for twenty years seemed beyond my experience, my knowledge, and my wisdom. I am an optimistic leader and I have great faith that God can do anything, but I doubted my suitability as the instrument that God was choosing to use to guide this desperate family of faith to a new beginning.

I declined the committee's invitation to talk further and turned to smoothing the feathers at Wooley.  There was no permanent damage done and the shakeup gave us all an opportunity to reevaluate where we were and where we were going.

No more bombs dropped, my phone quit ringing and I'm sure that my resume disappeared off of the face of the earth.  School was still beckoning; when I called my old friends to invite them to come lead in revival or some other special function I was now introducing them as Dr. Bob, Dr. Jack and Dr. John.

But I didn't want to enter seminary just so that I could keep up with the their academic progress.  I knew that I should only go because God wanted me to go.  I lost any desire to seek any immediate change of location and hunkered down to stay where it seemed God had put me for the time.

Wooley continued to grow, we were reaching many of the young families who were moving into our growing neighborhood. We built a new Family Activities Building during my eighth year there and we would have to remodel the whole church facility to accommodate God's Blessings.  It appeared that we might have to begin having two Sunday morning worship services and eventually build a new sanctuary.

The church increased my salary because of the new growth and we began hiring additional staff and paying to have more of the church administration performed by additional professional ministers.  I led the church to sell the pastorium, increase our pay again and give us the opportunity to buy our own home.  We moved into our very own first home on Thatch Road in 1995.

With the upward trend, the new home and the new salary I really had no excuses for stalling any longer, so, in September of 1996 I enrolled in the Professional Doctoral Program at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  It didn't seem to spook our folks very much but eventually this very element would prepare the way for our leaving under less surprising and more acceptable circumstances.

In May of 1999 I became Dr. John Dennis Bain and during that same month I was contacted by the First Baptist Church of Foley, Alabama.  They never sent a pulpit committee or required me to preach a trial sermon.  We did drive down to Foley to meet with them and discuss our ministry and theirs.  They extended a call to me to become their new pastor immediately, approval by the church was assured to be a mere formality.

I promised them that I would return home, pray about their invitation and give them my response as soon as I had an answer.  We came home and I prayed while Terri packed.  She figured that all we really needed to take with us was our bathing suits, sun screen and shades.

Charise was fifteen years old and would be attending the Foley Intermediate School on South Cedar Street (just a few blocks away from the church) and Jonathan would begin the sixth grade at the Foley Elementary School that was on North Cedar Street just down the way.  They had the summer to make friends, enjoy the beach, get past their sadness at having to leave Ardmore and their madness at me for having dragged them away from the only home that they had ever known.  The beach part didn't hurt. I was soon forgiven.

One of our new members at FB (a real estate agent) helped us find a beautiful new home down in Bon Secour near the river inlet and our fairy tale life escalated into undreamed territory.  Charise joined a local city softball league team that was in the middle of their season and Jonathan signed up for band camp with his new best friend Jeffrey (son of our new next door neighbors). 

Charise's athleticism opened the door to her new life and home and the baby fat was beginning to fall off of her, too, which made her popular with the boys.  I always thought that she was beautiful whether short, fat, snaggle-toothed or freckle-faced and as it turns out . . . I was right.

We were always a little more concerned about Jonathan.  He seemed to always be a little less adaptive.  He was undecided as to who he was, what he was, where he was going, or what he was going to be.  He had tried the sports route that his sister had laid down before him but it never seemed to be his bag.  Band came completely out of nowhere from his own choosing and we were taken aback but happily surprised at his new passion and we were immediately supportive.

A decisive element was Jeffrey, who was a Godsend to us . . . and to Jonathan.  He had already completed a year of beginner's band at FES and his invitation to Jonathan to join him in the trumpet section at band camp was the clincher.  We didn't know it at the time but a friendship had been launched that would last a lifetime.  Our son had the best friend that he would ever have in his life. 

Since our first day in South Alabama until now, if you see Jonathan, Jeffrey is never going to be far away.  And if you can't find either of them, listen for the sound of video games and you'll find them both.

In all of the anguish that we have been through this past year, Jeffrey and his family (the Almonds) have been an anchor for us.  Stan and Theresa have been there for us and Jeffrey has been there as a rock for Jonathan.  Jeffrey and the band family have both been a great part of what has shielded Jonathan and kept him even healthier than either of us emotionally.  We could see God's hand working for our son then and He continues to work now.

When Terri and I moved to Memphis in 1979 to attend seminary for my Master’s work everybody in our family came for a visit . . . or to visit Graceland.  Elvis had died the year after we married (I remember Terri, Mother, and I heard the news on the radio driving in Canada in my new Toyota Corolla) so, Graceland mansion became a popular pilgrimage spot in the south.

We convinced ourselves that everyone was really coming to see us and not Elvis and cheerfully adopted the role of tour guide.  It was okay.  That was the greatest distance that we had ever lived from home and we were always glad to see everyone, no matter what reason.

Now we lived only twenty minutes from Gulf Shores and had a home with two spare bedrooms.  As soon as we could unpack and arrange our furniture we started having company again and it was very welcome.  Everyone in our family loves the beach and it had always been so expensive to get away to the sand and the sun.

It was a great joy for us to have Mother down for a week (she came the week that we moved to help us unpack, stock the shelves and get the kitchen in order).  Bob and Beth came down; Bob drove his truck down and pulled a trailer with one of his tractors on it to help me with some yard work and landscaping.  I couldn't have done it without him.  Beth helped finish off the move by helping Terri hang new curtains and blinds and get all of our pictures on the walls.

Joey and Lori and the girls came down for a weekend and left the girls to stay with us for two weeks.  We cooked out almost every night on the grill, drove down to Orange Beach for supper a couple of nights.  It was good to see our family enjoying the blessings that God had provided for us and we did not take any of it for granted.

My Brother, Danny, and his wife, Liz even got to visit us from Augusta for a weekend our first summer in Foley.  They arrived late on Friday night, we did the beach thing on Saturday, they worshiped with us on Sunday morning and then headed back to Georgia.  They sang for our folks during the morning worship service and we had a great seafood dinner after church.  Their visit was too short but we were happy to have them and they were happy for us in our new home and place of service.

My Step Mother, Helen's health had been declining and Daddy was devoting all of his time to taking care of her.  They never got to come and visit us in Foley together; I know that they would have enjoyed it.  They always came to see us no matter where we moved to in our ministry and we always enjoyed having them as company.  Helen passed away during the fall of our first year in south Alabama without ever having had a chance to be our guest.

When Daddy got things settled away after Helen's death he came and stayed a week with us.  He was very sad and very weary but he enjoyed his time with us and it gave us a chance to minister to him in a way that we had not been able to during all of the commotion over our relocation.  Listening to the waves crashing into the shores washed some of his worries away and being away in Paradise for a little while was very restorative.

Looking back.  Reading what I have typed this far.

Wasn't it all as it should be?

Hadn't it all had the marks of having been God-ordered? 

Happy successes, glorious blessings, mixed with sad partings, and new beginnings.

I can't find an errant step, a disobedient turn, or a rebellious action or motive.  I can't see a day or a moment that I would have changed or that I think now should have been different.

God began blessing our work at Foley First from the very moment that we arrived there.  We were graciously, happily, and enthusiastically received.  They were growing and healthy before we arrived and I was able to pick up the ball from a very successful and well-loved predecessor and to begin building through my own leadership immediately.

There was no need for Terri to get a job outside our home, so she continued to serve as a devoted pastor's wife in the church, she and Theresa double-teamed the Band Mom thing, and served as taxi driver for the various ball teams.  Whenever I couldn't find her I knew she was at the beach.  When she couldn't find me . . . I was at King Neptune's.

At this point most of the pieces of our coming sadness were in place and the stage was almost completely set even though we didn't know it.  Of course Terri and I have both micro-"what-iffed" that day in search for possible differences.  Yes, there could have been a death in our family and we all had to be out of town --- even for one of the year's most important games.  And even if Charise was injured and would not play that day she would still have been sitting on the bench or in the gym somewhere and would have still been a target.

What if there had been an extra armed policeman in the gym lobby that night?  What if a tornado or hurricane had caused the cancellation of the game?  What if the gun case had been locked when Melanie went to get her father's rifle?  What if the ammunition had been stored in a secret place instead of in the gun case?  What if she had been caught when she was sneaking out with the weapon?  What if Charles and Samantha had been a little more sensitive to the mental condition and pain of their daughter?

What if I had been a little quicker?  What if I had started moving down the bleachers a little sooner?  What if Melanie had responded differently to the out-stretched hands that were to be the last act of compassion that my daughter would ever extend?

It was the most natural thing in the world for Charise to move right from summer softball, into school volleyball and then into school basketball.  I'm just glad that our school didn't have a soccer team!

She excelled at sports from the very moment that she started T-ball in Ardmore.  She loved it and we loved watching her.  Terri had a secret athlete hidden inside of her that she had never been able to release and I was an old has-been athlete who enjoyed reliving those days.  But even though we could play games through Charise vicariously, she wasn't playing for us . . . she was playing for herself, and for the love of the game.

Any game, any time.

There were sore muscles, bumps and bruises, heat and thirst.  Practices and games.  And very strong competition . . . and not just between teams and schools but also between teammates. It is a part of sports, a part of playing competitive games.

Charise was an excellent athlete and would become a player, a mover and a shaker --- a starter --- on any field that she walked onto.  On any court.  I guess we just expected that and did not think much about it when it happened.  We signed her up, she put on the uniform and she always played well.

I can't speak for Terri but it never entered my mind for a single moment that when Charise took her place on first base that she was taking someone else's place.  Someone who may have played first base ever since they were a little girl . . . until Charise Bain moved to Foley.  Someone who played on the volleyball team last year but was having to sit on the reserve bench with very little playing time . . . because of the new girl.  Someone who had been the point guard ever since she had put on a basketball uniform but was now relegated to watching from the foul line.  I realize now that each one of those sports positions represented a different girl and maybe a disappointment.

Melanie Trumond had filled one of those positions and felt that disappointment.  Terri had volunteered to keep the score and record book for the team during games, so as always she knew all of the girls and their parents better than I did. From my observation through a video camera lens and even from Terri's closer perspective, neither of us saw even a hint of the kind of trouble that was brewing.

Melanie was not a multi-sport athlete like Charise, she only had a passion for basketball.  Her older brother had been a star basketball player for Foley High and had been part of the team that had led the school to its first State Championship.  She had grown up bouncing a basketball and she had played the sport from the time that there was a team for her to sign up for.  By the time that she was fourteen she was already nearly six feet tall and had always taken the spot under the goal without question or challenge.

Melanie was a good athlete and had a lot of heart but she was a little clumsy physically and didn't have a sharp or quick mental reaction time that is so crucial for playing most of the game in the paint.  Her size had always been her greatest asset but as she grew taller her ball-handling skills and game intellect did not.

When Charise tried out for the school B Team she told her coach, Rhonda Cline, that she would be happy to be Melanie's backup on the court after she finished off the volleyball year.  FHS has never had a great volleyball team and they improved a little bit with the addition of the Ardmore Bomber but there was no risk that tournament play or post-season play for the team would cause Charise to miss very much of the preparation for basketball season.

Coach Cline had an assistant (Joe Kennedy) but there were no other qualified coaches on the school staff who could serve in her capacity, so she coached the B Team too and worked it out so that Joe (and one of the girl's parents) could be with the team when there was any kind of game conflict with the varsity schedule.  We had never seen an arrangement quite like this and were surprised that there was less provision from a school the size of Foley, but it appeared that they had been making it work for several years so we accepted it without question.

Charise’s team finished a mediocre volleyball season and she began practicing with the  Basketball Team.  The B team and the Varsity squad practiced together and the drills, play-running and scrimmaging between the younger and the older girls worked fine.  It actually stretched the younger girls to have to compete with older and more experienced players and was the perfect setup to allow an exceptionally talented younger girl to take a shot at moving up to Varsity early.

And that is exactly the door of opportunity that Charise found.

She started out right on the ground floor as a newbie, without any special regard from Coach Cline for her star performances and winning record from Ardmore High.  She was Melanie's second on the B Team and began working very hard behind her during practice and rode the pine during all of the exhibition games that they played pre-season.

But the Coach's game philosophy was to award start-position to the players that performed the best during practice prior to each game and Charise was demonstrating not only that she was an excellent player but that she had the potential to become a game and team leader.  This is a rare kind of athlete that all coaches are always on the lookout for.

Melanie started at the point guard position on the first game of the season out of deference to her previous year's service there but by halftime it became necessary to position Charise there for the remainder of the game in order to pull out a win.  The Lady Lions won in the final minutes against Mobile Christian 67-63.  Charise only played half the game but scored 16 points, had 13 rebounds and 6 steals.  Half of her points were foul shots where she was 8 for 10 from the line.  This single game and showing not only locked her as a starter and team leader for the B Team but would assure her lots of floor time during her first season with the Varsity Team.

Charise started every other B Team game that year in the point guard position and averaged nearly 40 minutes of playing time each game.  She always dressed out with the Varsity team and traveled with them for away games.  She averaged 10-15 minutes playing time for each of those games.  The Varsity Lady Lions starting point guard (Melissa Smith) was a senior that year and her graduation would place Charise in place to become the starting point guard on the varsity squad during the next season.

Seeing that happen early in our arrival in Foley was just another part of our happiness and a part of what we would have described as a part of how God was blessing us in our new home.  Charise's rise to prominence as an athlete at FHS was not mean or vicious or directed at anyone in any way to be hurtful or spiteful.  Every step just seemed like the usual give and take of competitive sports.  Perhaps we were insensitive or unobservant but I can truly say that we saw no harm in our arrival on the scene or the part that we played as a new family in a new town.

The Trumond's were not a wealthy family, they did not attend church or circulate much socially in Foley.  Terri and I never met or knew Charles and Samantha Trumond before the shooting, had never seen them at any of the ball practices or games.  They had four children:  Todd, the oldest, who had played varsity basketball at Foley in 1992 and then gone on to play college ball at USA (the University of South Alabama in Mobile), Maria, the next oldest was married and had moved away before we became citizens of Foley, then Joseph and finally Melanie.

I've learned what little I know about the family since the shooting.  Some of it from friends or church members, most of it from reading articles in the newspaper.  I was told that Samantha and her daughter, Maria, attended the memorial service at the church in Foley but Charles did not. 

I have never felt that knowing more about Melanie or her family or their background or circumstances would answer any of my questions or explain to me what happened and why.  I don't think that something like this can ever be made to make sense or to seem logical and rational.

But it seems that Melanie's only social contacts were her teammates.  The only attention or recognition that she had ever received from anyone had been because of her performance on the basketball court.  She did reasonably well academically and hoped to follow her brother's footsteps from high school basketball into a local college.  Todd had been the only member of the Trumond family to have ever attended college.  Basketball had made it possible for him to move up that ladder and to get away from what may have been an unhappy home environment.

Melanie drifted back to reserve point guard in Charise's first season at Foley, sullenly played from the bench during the second season but did not try out or return to play during that third and fateful season.  We were saddened to have lost any teammate but we really had no idea how hurt, disappointed . . . and angry Melanie had become over having lost something that mattered to her more than we had realized.

Whenever we win . . . someone else loses.  Sometimes when we excel it is inadvertently at someone else's expense.  In sports, in school, at work and in life in general we are all moving and hope to move upward, to climb, to prosper and to succeed.

There are, of course, many unscrupulous and vicious people in the world that intentionally use others as foot mats or stepping stones.  There are dream crushers and conniving charlatans that take advantage of the weaknesses or flaws of other to advance themselves to profit and gain.  But we have never been among that crowd.  And our daughter was never of that mind or spirit.

Most of us who want to grow and succeed would be more than happy to take everyone with us and often can see that our successes and victories can be helpful and beneficial to everyone else around us.  I didn't supplant or replace anyone to become the pastor of the church where I serve but it could have very well happened.  Even pastor's fail or fall sometimes and God can bring in someone else who can continue the work without loss or interruption.

We have celebrated Jonathan's moving gradually to first-chair trumpet in the band and have never imagined for a moment that such a wonderful achievement might be a circumstance that might threaten his life or our happiness as a family.  We cheered for every point that Charise made, every ball that sunk, every shot the striped the net.   But we would have been just as happy and loved and cheered her just as much if she had sat the bench every game, played only a few fleeting moments, and only scored the occasional point.  What if she had been a poor athlete?  What if she had become a cheerleader instead of a player?  What if . . . . .

No one had any clue at all about the cauldron that was boiling in the heart and mind of Charise's former teammate.  No one had any idea of the gall of bitterness that was brewing just out of everyone's sight. 

Charise has always been loved and liked by her teammates in any sport.  There have always been, of course, minor jealousies and tiffs for every kind of reason, but nothing out of the ordinary or beyond what you would ordinarily expect. Charise has always been friends with her teammates and they have always been her social circle and world.

When Melanie failed to show up for tryouts and practice during that final season Charise spoke to her at school and tried to encourage her to come back to the team.  I know that she called her on several occasions to try to get her to come to some of the things that the girls were doing on weekends but she was always rebuffed without any promise of reconsideration.  She attended her classes at school, kept to herself and gradually blocked off any contact and friendship that she had had to any of her former friends.

Honestly, she drifted from my mind and my memory when she left the team and when I saw her enter the gym that day I didn't even recognize her at all. A totally strange teenage girl walked into our world in an unforeseeable murderous rampage with a high-powered deer-hunting rifle and killed one of the greatest treasures of my life . . . and blew me into an oblivion from which I may never recover.

The 2001 season was over for the Lions but the Ladies had had a better year.

They were number one in the county, undefeated, and were scheduled to play to in the area tournament.  Foley was hosting the area games and we had no doubt that the Lady Lions would dispatch their opponents handily and might soon be playing for what promised to be the school's first girls basketball State Championship.

Charise had had a great year, I had filmed every minute and we didn't miss a single game at home or away.  I was sending videos back home to all of the family members and every member of the family got to travel down to visit for a least one game during the season.  She had averaged over 20 points per game and had double-doubles for more than half of the games and two triple-double games.

High school sports is a pretty big deal in Foley and when the area tournament came to town everybody in the city turned out.  The games were single-elimination and we drew a good leg on the schedule and played well against every team that we faced.

The final game came down to Sidney Lanier HS of Montgomery and FHS.  We were favored to win and the State playoffs were scheduled to begin in one week.  We were already packing our bags and making hotel reservations in Birmingham.

We knew that we would have to get to the gym early that night to even get a seat and of course Charise had to be there two hours before jump ball.  I had my camera charged with two extra batteries and extra tapes in case the game went into overtime.

The parking lot was almost full and the gym was already packed when Terri and Jonathan and I arrived a full hour before game time.  A section had been reserved for the band, they didn't have to dress in uniform but they were there for this special occasion to support the girls and play.  Terri headed to the score bench, Jonathan split off to join the band and I took my camera position in the bleachers.

I picked a place behind our team about twelve bleachers up and down toward the middle of the gym.  From the inside there were two access doors on the east and west side of the court that led to the lobby.  The main entrance to the facility was a central double-door, the concession stand was at the east end of the lobby.  A faculty member was set up right in front of the lobby entrance selling and taking tickets.  Soon the lobby was full, the bleachers were full and people were standing against the walls on the north and south ends of the court at either goal.

Terri was seated at the score table at the half court line just a little to my right and near the floor level.  I couldn't see Jonathan from where I was sitting but I could hear the band making racket and the cheerleaders were down on the floor just in front of them.

The game was scheduled to start at 7:00 and everything was already wild on both sides of the gymnasium by 6:30.  The Lady Lions came out in their sweats at about 6:45 and began their final warm up on the court.  Sidney Lanier joined them on the court at the south end to my right.

The game started on time with Charise in the center of all of this hoopla for the jump ball that would start the game.  We won the jump and controlled the game from the very first bounce.

After only six and a half minutes of play we led SL by a score of 18 to 8 and we had all of the momentum.  As usual I was seeing the whole game through the view-finder of my video camera.  Charise was at the foul line on the north end of the gym to my left near the lobby entrances.  The opposing cheerleaders were leading in a chant of "miss that shot" and I was zoomed in for a tight view of Charise as she bounced the ball on the foul line.

At the very moment that the ball hit the foul line the second time before she posed to throw the first ball, the sound of a gunshot exploded in the lobby.

I know now that it was a gunshot.  I don't think I knew it then.  I'm not sure that anyone in the gym recognized what the sound was and only about half of the people there even heard it at all.

Melanie Trumond had driven her dad's pickup truck right across the grass at the main entrance to the gymnasium, up onto the sidewalk and almost crashed into the entrance door.  She turned off the engine, jumped out of the cab and pulled her father's deer rifle out from behind the seat.

I only know anything at all about these first events from having read them in the local newspaper months after that awful day.  Witnesses who were in the school parking lot and loitering around in the gymnasium lobby gave precise details to the police investigators and later to reporters.

There was no sound of the arrival of the truck, perhaps if she had actually crashed in through the front door it might have given the people in the lobby a little warning and more time to react.  As it was, very few people even noticed as the truck came to a stop a few feet from the entrance, but some saw Melanie as she stepped through the door with the rifle in both hands, slung low at her hips as she strode in.

Those who saw her in that brief instant moved instinctively away from her position toward any route that might lead to cover.  Mrs. Haynes, the ninth grade English teacher who was collecting tickets and money, sitting squarely in harm's way, was frozen with fear.

But, Mrs. Haynes posed no particular obstacle or threat and Melanie grimly marched around her without even giving her a glance.  Officer Mike Olsteen caught her eye, though, as he leaned on a trophy case against the south wall of the lobby drinking a cup of coffee from a Styrofoam cup.   Melanie raised the tip end of her rifle and fired a round into the officer's head from fifteen feet away.  That had been the sound that we all had heard as Charise lined up at the foul throw line.

There were Foley Policemen all over the school grounds that day but most of them were working traffic and patrolling the parked cars that filled the school parking lot and every street that was near the school property.  In the past there had never been any kind of disturbance, lawlessness, or violence inside the gym during any kind of school athletic event.  But, there had often been fender-benders on the street and in the parking lot before and after games and there was a history or minor vandalism to the vehicles that were not watched in the lot and surrounding area.

The only officer inside the gym at this particular time was Mike.  He was to be joined by three other policemen when the traffic detail was considered completed.  Their usual pattern for retiring to the inside was to do so about eight to ten minutes after a game or event had started.

In this brief window of time there was great outside security and poor inside security.  I'm not implying that the Foley Police Department was at fault, their strategy for guarding the safety of the school at such gatherings was a reasonable one.  Nor should Melanie be perceived as a cunning planner on this point.  I don't think she had given much thought or planning to these kinds of details.  It just happened that she began to execute her rampage at just the right time . . . for her.

Inside the gym I heard the shot that killed Officer Olsteen.  I turned my head toward the lobby door that was closest to me.  I kept the camera trained on Charise and rolling to see if I could tell what the disturbance was without losing the foul throw.  When screams irrupted from the lobby I was sure that something awful was wrong.

Several people poured into the gym proper from the two doors to the lobby.  They looked panic-stricken and didn't stop inside the entrance.  They kept moving south, some of them even ran across the court oblivious to the game, the players, or the referees.

I didn't know exactly what was happening in the lobby, but I didn't think that there would be a foul throw.  I must have lowered my camera arm at that time and focused both eyes on the left door to the gym lobby.

Melanie entered the gym in the midst of still scattering lobby bystanders and she strode straight to the Lady Lions team bench and killed Rhonda Cline with a single gunshot to the chest.

Rhonda's body flew backward from where she had been struck and sailed over the metal chairs that formed the Lions team bench.  The impact carried her to the second row of bleachers behind the team.

Have you ever seen that magic trick with a bowl of water and black ground pepper?  You fill a small bowl with ordinary water, sprinkle black pepper all over the surface of the water until it is covered.  The pepper floats on the surface of the water.  You then can take dish-washing detergent and put a little on the tip of your finger.  When you touch that finger with the detergent on it to the surface of the water in the bowl, all of the pepper will run instantaneously and magically away from your finger to the outer edge of the bowl.

For some reason that's what I think of when I think back to that moment in the gym.  I could sense (more than see) every person in that gym fleeing madly away from what was happening in that northwest corner of the gym at that moment.  But not everyone was running away.

Coach Cline had been frozen with shock at the sight of Melanie raising the gun as she marched with determination directly toward her.  And I saw Charise leave her stance at the foul line and begin walking resolutely toward her angry friend.

From the sound of the first shot in the lobby until then was only a few seconds. Everything seemed to be happening in a jar of dark molasses.  Slow, dreadfully slow. I learned later that even though I was up and to the right from where Coach Cline was hit that my clothes and face had been spattered with her blood.

I still have the video cassette upon which I was recording that day.  It was returned to us by the police after they viewed it and made a copy of it for evidence.  I have never watched the tape.  I don't suppose I ever will.  I have picked it up to destroy it or at least throw it away hundreds of times but never have.

When the police came to interview me in the hospital two weeks later after viewing my tape and sorting through tons of other tapes and other evidence they told me that I had brought the camera down to my side when I saw Melanie enter the gym.  The camera was still running and collecting sound but the only video it was capturing was an upside-down film of the people who had been sitting behind me.

I don't remember very much of what happened exactly --- and of that I guess I am grateful --- but I am told that upon seeing Charise step toward Melanie I jumped in two strides down to the floor of the basketball court.  I had dropped the camera at my feet and it continued to record the sound of the melee.  I do remember running toward Charise. Melanie chambered another round with the rifle bolt and slowly and deliberately turned . . . and fired.

Charise was hit in the chest in the very center of her heart.  She lost consciousness upon impact and was lifeless before her back hit the gym floor.

I remember that the whole universe disappeared in that moment and all I could see was my daughter.  Her head was thrown backwards and her knees buckled and she fell straight back with her feet under her body.  Her forward momentum as she had started towards Melanie had prevented the impact from lifting her or throwing her backwards.

I don't remember sound.  I don't remember hearing the shot.  I couldn't hear Charise but I could see that she was speaking to Melanie as she moved toward her.  I know that she mouthed the word, "Melanie" and I believe that her last words might have been, "Give me the gun."

I don't remember anything else after Charise fell.

I'm told that Terri was only a few steps behind me when Melanie bolted the gun a third time, turned toward me and fired the last round that she would expend on that day.

I guess that she thought that I was coming for her.  I wasn't.

She hit me in the right hip and every bone shattered into a million pieces.  Sometimes I'm happy that I lost consciousness immediately.  I did not regain consciousness for two days -- blood loss almost ended my life that day, too.  I'm happy that I didn't have to deal immediately with the death of my daughter or with the grief of my wife and son.  I didn't have to notify our family and friends that Charise was dead.

But I'm sorry that Terri had to deal with all of that alone.

Of course, she wasn't totally alone.  Our church and friends surrounded her and enveloped her in care and help immediately.  But it would have been better if I had been there to help her and Jonathan.

I don't remember being Med-Flighted to the USA Medical Center in Mobile.  I don't remember the surgery or the first time that they say that I regained consciousness.

I didn't get to attend my daughter's funeral and it was several days after the funeral before our family could make it to Mobile to see me.

I have been able to travel to Decatur a couple of times.  When they finally placed her headstone and we all went back home on Mother's Day and put fresh flowers on her grave.  The church has called an interim pastor and is paying me full salary until I can return to my full pastoral duties.  I go to the office several days a week and I have picked up my studies again, but the church insists that I do not pastor right now.  They have given me an open ended Sabbatical and have been very gracious and helpful as they have ministered to us.

I am physically able to get back to work now but I know that I am not emotionally or spiritually well.

I am not angry at God because an 18 year old girl took the life of my daughter.  I can't even find a way to be angry at Melanie.  Two Foley Policemen subdued and disarmed her one second after she fired her last shot in my direction.  Her case is in the court system, she has undergone extensive psychiatric examination and her legal and mental future is undetermined.  The circumstances surrounding her killing spree, her access to her dad's weapon and his truck and all of the other details and diaries will be combed over for months and perhaps even years to come.

The Bain family is not involved or interested in any of that.  There is nothing that can bring Charise back and pursuing some kind of retribution against Melanie or her family would not make us feel better.

It was a wonderful life . . . my daughter's life.

And our life was wonderful, too.  But it's not wonderful now.  I don't know if it ever will be again.  I'd give anything in my life to have her back.  I would change anything that ever happened in our lives before that moment if it could place us on a path that would lead us to a different universe . . . an alternate reality.

And I would be happy in that reality and thankful that God had spared us a nightmare far beyond any sleepless night that we had ever had before.

There's my story.  Depressing reading isn't it?  Thankfully I have several different kinds of pills and a psychiatrist to help me through.  I don't know how to help you through yours.  Go talk to your pastor.  Maybe he can help you.

If you saw my wrong turn in this tome please let me know what it was.  If you can put your finger on my mistake or the path I should have taken I'd like to see it.

But I'll bet that you can't see it either.

It was a wonderful life.


This was an awful story.

Every word was painful to write. I'm glad that it is finished.

It was like pulling a poisonous thorn from deep in my flesh or opening an infected wound so that it could drain and heal. 

I asked my wife, Terri, to read the story and she hated it even more than I. She was angry that I had required her services as editor and reviewer, and I understand. Her feelings were warranted.

This is my one and only personal alternate history production. I may never attempt such a thing again.

I've used us, our life, our names, and a portion of my family's reality to tell the story of what did not happen. A story that might have happened, but didn't.

I actually wrote the story sometime in 2008, though it presents itself as having been penned in 2001. I was recovering from some very serious bouts with depression and darkness at the time. I was very angry at God and wrestled with Him daily about a dozen different aspects of my life and ministry.

I was in the deep, throwing life-lines and grappling hooks toward anything that floated near me -- and this story is something that caught hold. I hauled on it, and it saved a part of me. It was an important step in many ways. 

First, it knocked the edge off of my anger. The difficulties by which I'd been besieged had not even come close to the most terrible kinds of things that could have happened. My troubles were not as devastating as events in the lives of others, about which I knew or was aware.

Second, I found ways to plug my imagination into my faith that I had never explored before. I found and began to explore and develop my writing as a healing instrument instead of just imparting knowledge or experience. This story may be the first work of fiction that I ever put on a page. It was a beginning.

"It could be woice!" (Igor, Young Frankenstein).

That placating statement had never appealed to me before. Ha!

Could you actually cheer yourself up, or pull yourself out of a pit by imagining that -- however bad it was -- it could have been worse?! The pit could have been deeper? The pit could have filled with water? The pit might have a lid on it?

As it turns out, desperate people have known this philosophy since the beginning of creation. It is a way of dealing, of coping, of getting father down the road in a crisis.

I believed that I had made a terrible mistake.

I had made a wrong choice.

I took a wrong turn and took my family with me.

I had missed God's Will for my life and ministry. I had destroyed God's Plan for my life and I was irrevocably off track. My future was broken and it could never be fixed. I was out of step, out of sync, out of the groove that I was supposed to be in.

I could never be happy again. My relationship with God would never be the same. I couldn't go back and I couldn't go forward. I was stuck in the dark. Forever.

But -- it is now 2018 -- and I am happy. 

Not because all of my problems are solved or because all of my broken toys have been repaired. I didn't go back -- but I am going forward. I am no longer in the dark . . . and yes, things will never be the same as they were before. They are not the same, they are different. Things have not returned to being the same as they were, and many things are better than they were.

I have never served at a Church in South Alabama. The scenario described in this story is one that would have fit my vision for the future. It is one that I would have thought was perfect. This might describe where I thought that I was going.

It was not.

My relationship with God is different than I have ever known or imagined. Different, and in some ways better. It is more real and has greater substance. It takes much, much more to rattle my cage, badger my faith, or thwart my intent. I have more resolve. Deeper insight.

But like the Patriarch Jacob -- I have a new name and I walk with a limp. I'm a little beat up, scarred, and calloused. I'm a different person. A different husband, father, pastor, friend.

I still fall into the Pit occasionally. And sometimes the lights go out. But I have learned many ways of crawling out, crawling into the light.

I hope that you didn't enjoy reading this story as much as I didn't enjoy writing it, or editing it for this publication. It may never see the light of day itself, other than here on this blog. It is a peek inside my soul, and I'm a little embarrassed for others to see it.

It was a wonderful life.

It is again.