I can still remember the darkness of the place overall with its woodgrain paneling and illuminated beer signs that doubled as a clock or a Marlboro adverstisement. The smell of cheap aftershaves like AquaVelva and Old Spice and Black Leather intermingled with the cigarette smoke and bar drinks. For a quarter, an old jukebox would spin three of your favorite Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings or Red Sovine songs that were on the top of the charts in the early 1970s. There was a pool table centered in the small open area of the local VFW hall where I spent many of my childhood days hanging out with my father, who was a member and local commander of the place.
If you are not familiar with VFW halls, they are where Veterans of Foreign Wars came to hang out after serving their country in a designated war zone. These were guys and gals who had seen some bad stuff, participated in it, and was the recepient of all that war had to offer them in return. Some were disable, some were now alcoholics, others just came back to their little towns changed in some form or fashion, and came to the VFW hall to hang out with others who had similar experiences.
And as with any place you have lots of folks, you inevitable get the jerks, egoists and outright assholes of society mystically blended. Including church, work, school, whatever your social gathering is, you know what I mean. One of my favorite old Far Side comics strips showed God as a chef (apron and hat complete) with the world in his left had (as if he had just created it) and with his right hand holding a salt shaker over it in a sprinkling fashion (the salt shaker said JERKS) and the caption read "and just too make it interesting...".
I was probably around 8 years old, hanging out in this environment with my father. I never did feel comfortable there. Ever. It felt strangely at odds with most everything I felt inside. A stark contrast from the beautiful church with stained glass windows, tall white columns, beautiful portraits of scenes from Jesus' life and parables that we attended on sundays and cleaned during the week for extra money. I always felt comfortable, and in some respects, in the presence of the Almighty there. Where one place blared old country music and laughter and coarse language the other provided reflection and quiet and wisdom.
One evening my father came home from the VFW hall extremely angry, I guess fighting mad would be the word. Some drunk had gotten in his face at the VFW and basically challenged his manhood or something (which was a common scenario there...i learned at an early age to instantly drop and get under the pool table when a fight would break out). My dad came home telling this to my mom who was trying to calm him down, and the more he talked the madder he got. I then heard these words from my Dad "I'm going back there to settle this" and he walked out of the front door with my mom pleading with him not too.
and I ran.
I ran as fast as my little legs would carry me.
Ran to the back bedroom. to the small bathroom and shut the door and fell to my knees in front of the porcelain toilet and prayed like I had never prayed before. Little boy hands clasped together tightly and eyes shut so hard they hurt. I felt it. I felt myself praying so hard that I shook the gates of heavan. If God cannot hear the pleading prayers of a scared eight year old, then something in the heavens is wrong.
and then I heard something. It sounded like my mom opening the front door a minute or so later. It was my dad. he was coming back in. He told mom that as he was getting in his car something told him to stop and go back in the house. And he was no longer really mad about it. Still angry about the asshole who treated him that way, but not mad enough to go shrink to that fellows level.
and I was amazed.
I knew then, as I do know, that God actually heard and honored my prayer. Some may call it coincidence or chalk it up to being an eight year old who also believed in Santa Clause at the time, but I know within me that it was God. There have only been two or three times in my life I have had the experience where I was honestly begging god with everything i had thru prayer for something and I knew without a doubt He heard me and answered.
It is truly amazing to experience that. Too literally shake the gates of heaven and feel the response of the Almighty is humbling. Of course I still pray about this or that and it seems rather routine, and I'm not really sure my expectations are that each one will receive the same fanfare as my earlier experiences. And I'm not sure they should.
But sometime, somewhere and some point in your life, you will find yourself running as fast as you can to that safe little place where you will poor your heart and soul out to the living God, begging and pleading. Here's hoping that you Shake The Gates of Heaven. ~npp