River of Heaven

This isn’t my story, it’s his. He talked, I listened. And I tried to quiet the skeptic who lives inside my brain.

The tale takes place at night. There are hardly any cars on an old two-lane highway near the Louisiana-Texas line.

He is a middle-aged ironworker, walking the shoulder with a sack over his back. An army duffle bag, olive drab. The same pack he’s been carrying since Korea.

The steelwalker’s personal life is a mess. He’s left his home and his kids. He cries a lot. He has pushed away his family. He’s isolated himself. And he’s tired. Tired all over. Tired of being alive. Tired of… Everything.

But he likes to walk highways. And he particularly loves the Milky Way, which is his travel companion this evening.

In most cities you can’t see the “River of Heaven,” as it was known in ancient Japan. There’s too much skyglow in urban places.

Last year when he was working the iron in Detroit, he never saw the Milky Way, the bright city lights obscured it. He did a stint walking skyscrapers in Tulsa, too. Couldn’t see stars there, either.

But in quiet parts of Texas, the ribbon of the Milky Way eases through a pristine purple sky and puts on a perfect show. Yes, tonight is a perfect night.

And if all goes according to his plan, this will be his last night alive.

A truck stops beside him. The brake rotors grind, blue exhaust coughs from a tailpipe. A white-haired guy in a crushed cattleman’s hat kicks open the door and says, “Need a lift, pal?”

“Nah thanks, I’m alright.”

“You sure? Be glad to carry you somewhere.”

The ironworker thinks about the stranger’s offer. His feet are sore. His knees aren’t what they used to be. He glances at the sky one last time. “Hell… Why not.”

He throws his bag into the bed and crawls into the front seat. The old cowboy asks the quintessential hitchhiker question: “Where you headed?”

“Anywhere.”

“I can take you far as McKinney. ‘At’s where I’m going.”

“Fine.”

And they’re off.

The old truck whistles through the night like the Wabash Cannonball. The ironworker soon notices the guy’s cab is plastered in religious paraphernalia. There are bible-verse throw pillows, Greek fish galore, and the portrait of a famous woodworker dangling from the rear view mirror.

Great. Another holy roller. Texas is full of them.

“You some kinda preacher?”

The old cowboy shrugs. “Not really.”

For the first few minutes the ironworker awaits the altar call. He’s braced, a sermon is coming, he just knows it. The ironworker comes from a whole family of holy rollers, they always find a way to work a sermon in there.

But it never happens. Instead the two speak about normal stuff. About life. About work. Finally, the old man points through his windshield. “Look at that pretty sky.”

“Yep.” The ironworker glares out the window at the Milky Way again, and indeed it’s one for the books.

The “Winter Street” is what the ancient Scandanavians and Swedes called it. The “Great Fence of Stars” the old Irishmen used to say. The nicknames for our island universe date back as early as the human tongue.

The cowboy breaks the silence. He looks at the ironworker and says in a barely audible voice: “Don’t do it, Tom.”

The passenger is shell shocked. He nervously laughs. “What? How do you know my name?”

Silence.

The old man says, “Don’t do this.”

He laughs again. This is unspeakably eerie. Who is this guy? Then the ironworker’s heart begins to race. He wants to leap from the speeding vehicle and put some distance between himself and Oral Roberts. “What’re you talking about?”

The cowboy locks eyes with him. “Don’t. Do. It.”

And the cab is suddenly filled with quiet. The same quiet that predates man and all his demons. The same calm that comes before tornados. Silence has a sound, you see. And it’s a holy sound that existed long before the stars.

“You’re crazy,” the iron man says. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Let me outta this truck.”

The cowboy merely smiles, he holds out his old hand. The ironworker looks at the weathered paw, but isn’t sure how to respond.

“Go on,” says Cowboy. “Shake my hand. Ain’t gonna bite.”

So, he takes the old man’s hand and pumps it. The palm is rough and warm.

The old man squeezes. “Your daughter. Do you know she prays for you every single day? Fact, she’s probably praying right now.”

“How do you know that?”

“How do you not?”

The ironworker’s throat tightens. Something in him is moved. Moments pass between them. An eternity.

“Don’t do it, Tom.”

The steelsmith nods solemnly. He breathes an earnest response. “Okay.”

“Okay what?”

“Okay, I won’t do it.”

The cowboy squeezes again. “You mean that?”

“Yes. I promise. I won’t do it.”

Cowboy releases the ironworker’s hand and claps the man’s shoulder. Without explanation, the old poke pulls to the side of the highway and his following words are not a suggestion. “Go home.”

With that, the middle-aged man steps out of the truck. He takes his duffle bag. The vehicle disappears in a cloud of exhaust. Truthfully, I’m not sure how much of this story I believe, but that’s the way old Tom told it to me.

And for any hopeless soul reading this, that’s how I’m telling it to you.

51 comments

  1. Lucretia Jones - May 20, 2021 7:16 am

    I have been transported by a great peaceful loving spirit enabling me to know and feel the worth of a soul. Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  2. Christina - May 20, 2021 7:18 am

    Trucking with an Angel 😇

    Reply
  3. Mark D MacIntyre - May 20, 2021 7:32 am

    Believe it Sean. The Lord has given me words of knowledge for certain patients who cross my path in the Emergency Room where I work. Some of them have looked at me with huge eyes and asked me, “how do you know that, I’ve never told anybody about that”. Other’s just nod as a tear rolls down their cheek and they say “thank you”. Believe it Sean!

    Reply
  4. Joe Dorough - May 20, 2021 8:34 am

    Wow. That’s awesome! Chills and goosies!

    Reply
  5. Johnnie Skaggs - May 20, 2021 9:11 am

    Thank you, Sean. Yes, God works in these ways as well as what we perceive as normal ways every day. I have seen it many times in my lifetime of 85 years. God does say in Isaiah 55: 8-9 that, My thoughts are not you thoughts and my ways…… After walking with him for for 57 years, I know that is a fact. God Bless You and your family. Keep up the good writing.

    Reply
  6. Dianne - May 20, 2021 10:09 am

    We aren’t expected to understand all of His ways, and this was definitely one of His ways. I believe this “story”, Sean. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  7. Lander - May 20, 2021 10:34 am

    Sometimes the strangest things happen, help comes, and you don’t do it. And other times, somebody says no. I’m glad the stars were a little extra bright that night and Tom said, “Okay, I won’t.”

    Reply
  8. Margaret Cade - May 20, 2021 11:12 am

    I believe him. I pray Tom walks with Jesus for the rest of his life. Our God does hear our prayers, and He heard the prayers of Tom’s daughter. I hope he has a wonderful life. ❤️

    Reply
  9. Debbie g - May 20, 2021 11:12 am

    Powerful message

    Reply
  10. Karen Holderman - May 20, 2021 11:20 am

    I hope someone who needs this reads this. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Anne Arthur - May 20, 2021 4:49 pm

      Wow. Touching story. We never know where angels come from and what they look like, but they are around us in the most astonishing ways.
      Sean, you are a gifted storyteller. So glad I signed up for this.

      Reply
  11. C - May 20, 2021 11:23 am

    Absolutely.

    Reply
  12. Ann - May 20, 2021 11:49 am

    It’s so full of…….❤️🙏🏻

    Reply
  13. Leigh Amiot - May 20, 2021 11:50 am

    Read this to my husband as we drank coffee.
    His response: That would make a movie.
    This recollection would fit nicely in Billy Graham’s book “Angels”.
    I believe in angels.

    Reply
  14. Al Cato - May 20, 2021 11:57 am

    All it takes is a little faith. Hebrews 11:1

    Reply
  15. Gay - May 20, 2021 12:01 pm

    Grace can’t be explained

    Reply
  16. Jan - May 20, 2021 12:21 pm

    Our God is an awesome God … He works in mysterious ways.

    Reply
  17. Edwin G Staples - May 20, 2021 12:38 pm

    This is a good one Sean, Been there done that.

    Reply
  18. Bobbie - May 20, 2021 12:45 pm

    How many times have I said, ‘this is your best’….too many to count, but this is definitely one of them! I love the line, ‘silence has a sound.’ I believe Tom’s story…I believe in angels….I believe prayers are answered. A beautiful story. I pray he is alive and well with his family. God bless you Sean for sharing. For giving us all a little more faith in this time when is needed more than ever.

    Reply
  19. Susan Kennedy - May 20, 2021 12:58 pm

    I believe…💙

    Reply
  20. Wendy H - May 20, 2021 1:26 pm

    Sean this story gets better every time I read it.

    Reply
  21. Cathy Boswell - May 20, 2021 1:32 pm

    There are angels all around us

    Reply
  22. Suzi - May 20, 2021 1:53 pm

    I believe it to be true

    Reply
  23. Dave Conkle - May 20, 2021 1:54 pm

    Wow ! Great one today Sean . God Bless You . Dave

    Reply
  24. Cathy M - May 20, 2021 1:55 pm

    There are many people who are lost in the wilderness and can’t see their way out. Tom was saved and he shared his story. Everyone has a story and I believe we are called to be noticers and encourage the lost souls. Step out on faith , hold a hand. It can save a life. Just ask Tom. Thanks Sean you never fail to inspire me to be a better person

    Reply
  25. joan moore - May 20, 2021 1:58 pm

    My friend picked up a hitchhiker in the cold rain years ago and when she stopped the car,he had vanished, so yes we often entertain angels unaware.

    Reply
  26. Gary - May 20, 2021 2:00 pm

    Angels 😇 come in many forms , you just never know !

    Reply
  27. Joretta Parker - May 20, 2021 2:01 pm

    Angels on earth. I really believe this. Wonderful way to start my day, thanks Sean.

    Reply
  28. deronsmith - May 20, 2021 2:03 pm

    You can’t outrun the Almighty!

    Reply
  29. Tim Peace - May 20, 2021 2:36 pm

    Powerful….

    Reply
  30. Becky - May 20, 2021 2:44 pm

    Wow

    Reply
  31. Sarah - May 20, 2021 2:46 pm

    Thank you, a good reminder not to keep silent when the lord wants to speak through your lips.

    Reply
  32. Rhonda Williams - May 20, 2021 2:50 pm

    Sean, you wrote this is such a way that it put us right in that truck’s cab with Tom! You used your gift of writing to remind us that we have a very resourceful Lord! He is always aware of our challenges and loves us more than we can imagine! Brilliantly done!!!

    Reply
  33. Brenda Petty - May 20, 2021 3:02 pm

    Sean,
    Thank you for sharing Tom’s story and reminding us of the power of prayer and faith! I pray that Tom and his family are together and doing well.
    God bless you for sharing your talent with us! 💗

    Reply
  34. Patti - May 20, 2021 3:44 pm

    I believe in God and I believe in miracles. 💙 Thank you for passing this experience along to us.

    Reply
  35. MermaidGrammy - May 20, 2021 3:58 pm

    There’s no telling how many lives you saved today. Thank you

    Reply
  36. Linda Moon - May 20, 2021 4:54 pm

    He cries. Most men I know don’t cry a lot. I’ve heard a lot of preaching in Texas and once had a rival who was from McKinney for a beautiful boyfriend in Ft. Worth. Tom’s story just might save another “Tom”. I wish “our “Tom” hadn’t done it. Keep telling LIFE’s stories for the souls of us readers, Sean. No sermons needed. Just stories.

    Reply
  37. James Gee - May 20, 2021 5:14 pm

    I’m living the life I’m living today because someone told me the same thing… Best trip I ever made!

    Reply
  38. Bill - May 20, 2021 6:03 pm

    Neat story…..

    Reply
  39. Cindy Foster - May 20, 2021 7:00 pm

    Great story! THANK GOD FOR HOLY ROLLERS! I am one! And YOU need to be! 🙏
    Acts 2:38
    Love your writing!

    Reply
  40. Deborah Blount - May 20, 2021 7:33 pm

    God moves in mysterious ways. I’ve seen and heard too many such stories not to believe that. God is love. Pure and simple.

    Reply
  41. Ann - May 20, 2021 8:01 pm

    I believe it–God always knows our needs

    Reply
  42. Patricia Gibson - May 20, 2021 8:29 pm

    I believe it🙏

    Reply
  43. MAM - May 20, 2021 8:47 pm

    It has to be a true story, because God, I believe, is beginning to get to lost souls to bring them back into the fold! Well told, Sean!

    Reply
  44. Steve McCaleb - May 20, 2021 9:53 pm

    Mysterious ways…yes Lord.

    Reply
  45. Bernadette Wyckoff - May 21, 2021 12:27 am

    Angels are everywhere in life. Have met a few myself. They have a way of always sending you home. Love never ending. God bless you Sean.💛🙏💛

    Reply
  46. Melissa Smith Nelson - May 21, 2021 4:10 pm

    I always wonder what I am suppose to learn when someone comes and tells me a story. I am gonna ponder this one and look for where the River of Heaven is running through my life.

    Reply
  47. Bob Brenner - May 21, 2021 9:16 pm

    I could see the Milky Way in my mind as you described it! Thanks 🌌

    Reply
  48. Peggy Thompson - May 22, 2021 2:02 pm

    Wow! I believe him….angel of God…so powerful & I know he went home. I pray he has Our precious Lord in his life.

    Reply
  49. johnallenberry - May 23, 2021 9:30 pm

    All I can say is Thanks.

    PhDude

    Reply

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