Jamie Blaine’s life isn’t exactly going as planned. When a twist of fate places the late-night psychiatric crisis guy on 24/7 call, his insomnia ramps up to desperate stages as he veers closer to becoming the very kind of person he’s trying to save.
After a well-meaning colleague offers a workbook promising “the divine secret of life,” Blaine throws himself into the stereotypical journey of self-discovery with hilarious and heartbreaking conclusions that are anything but clichéd.
Jamie travels time to untangle his own story of God through the wilderness, battling alligators, acrophobia, anaphylactic shock, Christian tricksters, Christmas, insomnia zombies, hymn-singing bridge jumpers, preteen bullies, paranoid ER patients armed with knives, hatchet-wielding housewives, septuagenarian pugilists, locust swarms, and ghosts of the present, future, and past.
If you’ve ever felt lost and stumbling, like you’ll never find your way to purpose, plans, or the promised land, Mercy Never Sleeps is a traveling companion, a field guide to making peace with your own rambling path home.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)|
Read an Excerpt
SOME KINDA HELP, RIGHT NOW
I have become a brother to dragons and a companion to owls.
-JOB 30:29 (JUB)
SOME NIGHTS IT SEEMS LIKE THE WHOLE WORLD IS coming apart at the seams.
I'm driving down Sixth Street with the rain coming down in sheets, on my way from one psychiatric crisis call to the next, from hallucinations at the city jail to a suicidal math professor in Skylark ICU to a distraught divorcee at the Malibu II apartment complex out past the mill. I'm on my way to see a lapsed prescription-pill addict at the Westwood ER when my cell buzzes with another call.
A hysterical voice rushes in before I can say hello. "Oh my gosh, thank you, thank you. I need help! I need help right now!"
"Whoa. Calm down," I answer. "Tell me what's going on."
"I can't do this anymore," the woman cries. "I've got the pills laid out. They're right here. I'm looking at them now."
The phone hisses and with a click it dies. I pull over to the side of the road, dial back, and she answers on the first ring. "Sorry," I explain. "I'm driving, and the reception's real bad. Tell me what's too much to take."
"I got fired at work, my husband's been running around with some girl I thought was my friend, and I had knee surgery and now it's even worse than it was before." She spits everything out rapid fire. "How many reasons do y'all need? 'Cause I've got plenty more."
"There is no y'all," I tell her. "It's just me. But I'll try and help you best I can."
She's fading in and out, so I start the truck again and drive in circles, searching for a steady signal on higher ground, trying to find a place where we can hear each other clearly enough to talk more than one broken sentence at a time. I catch garbled snippets about a pistol and lots and lots of pills. It's a tough decision, and I've got to make it on the fly. Can I try and direct this person over the phone, or is it best to simply go to where she is?
It takes four tries, but I confirm her address and let her know I'm headed that way, keeping her on the phone as it crackles until the line finally goes dead. The highway splits at a boat landing and disappears into thick black forest. I dial Westwood ER.
"I'm hung up in some drama," I tell Dr. Black. "But I'll be there. Probably bringing another one with me."
"Roger that on the drama." Black sighs. "We'll save a room."
I'm deep into the trees when the crisis line rings again. "Will God forgive me for this?" the woman asks, crying harder now.
"God forgives us," I tell her.
"How do you know?"
Working psych crisis requires someone equal parts missionary, daredevil, detective, magician, tracker, and theologian. You wear a lot of hats once the sun goes down. You wing it and do your best.
"If humans can forgive each other for so much terrible stuff, then don't you think God's gotta be bigger and better than us?"
"That's what I'm hoping," she says, her voice cracking but clear.
"Me too," I reply. "Listen, I just turned off the highway. Hold tight, okay?"
There is a long pause and the sound of one deep breath. "I'm holding best I can," she says, and the line goes silent again.
I turn left at the wagon-wheel mailbox and drive three-quarters of a mile to a long driveway in the middle of a serpentine curve. One low light shines in the distance from a small brick rancher in the middle of a barren field. I pull in close and take a minute to ready myself for whatever comes next.
The front door flies opens. A woman rushes onto the porch, wrestling a bag behind her. The rain is heavy in the headlights. I reach for the door to make a run for her, but before I can get out she is hobbling toward me fast as she can. She yanks the passenger-side handle, but it's locked. I reach over and pop the latch as she beats against the glass.
"Take these," she says, hustling her stuff inside and shoving a Ziploc bag full of pill bottles into my hand. "And wherever we're going, go quick. My husband's coming."
"Whoa, lady," I protest. "I'm just, like, the crisis counselor guy. You shoulda called the police."
"My husband is the police."
My head drops against the window, and a sound comes out of my chest like air from a punctured balloon. "Ohhff ..."
"Look, I didn't know what else to do!" she says. "I was too chicken to use a pistol, but I had the pills all poured out and said, 'Hey, God? If you're really up there and if you care and if there's some reason you need me sticking around, then you're gonna have to send me some kinda help, right now.' And not thirty seconds later your TV commercial came on and said, 'Need help? A crisis professional is standing by. Call now.' Well, if sitting three hours on your bathroom floor crying and trying to get up the courage to take enough pills to end your life isn't a crisis, I don't know what is. Now hurry, or we'll both be in it deep."
"He's just a small-town cop who thinks he's big and bad," she says, curling her lip with disgust. "But if you can get me to my sister's in Spring Hill, her stepdaddy is the judge. He might be able to help me there."
I hold up the baggie of pills. "Were you really gonna take all these?"
"Seriously," she says, measuring a millimeter between her finger and thumb. "I was this close."
"I don't know about Spring Hill," I tell her. "But I think I can get you somewhere safe."
I hit the gas and throw gravel all down the side of her Taurus as we fishtail back up the drive and turn right onto the break in the serpentine curve. She whips around to look behind us.
"Car coming," she warns.
I check the rearview mirror. Twin beams approach from the other side of the bend. I pull over and kill the lights.
"Why are you stopping? Go! Go!"
I lock the hubs into four-wheel drive and barrel through the field, driving blind. She braces herself with one arm on the console and the other against the door. We hit a series of ruts, the wheels of the Trooper bouncing hard but plowing on. She cusses with every rut until I slide around a patch of thicket at the far end of the curve and park. Distant headlights gleam toward us through the pines. They turn and motor slowly away.
"Ma'am?" I say, my heart still pounding in the side of my neck.
"This is a little beyond my level of crisis expertise."
The engine ticks as we sit in silence, waiting until the taillights vanish from sight. I reverse to unlock the hubs and ease back onto the road.
"Where'd you learn to drive?" she asks.
"Dukes of Hazzard reruns."
"Yeah." She pries her fingers from the door. "That makes sense."
We wind back up the same highway with rain pelting the windshield and an old green suitcase between us on the seat. "I'm Jamie," I say, reaching over to offer my hand. "Nice to meet you. Sorry it's under circumstances like this."
"April," she replies, pushing wet hair from her face and ducking her eyes. "I sat next to you in Dr. Engle's class, freshman year. Just my small-town luck. It's okay if you don't remember me."
I glance at her. "I remember. Been a few years."
"Seems like twenty, with all that's happened to me since then. You meet this person and they seem so perfect at first. Then you get married, and everything starts falling apart. Money problems and in-l aw problems and fightin' all the time. The one thing I never thought he'd do was cheat. You think you know somebody, but you don't ever know." April starts to say more but stops herself and looks away. "We don't have to talk about all this right now, do we?"
"We can talk about whatever you want."
"I wish I'd just stayed in college like you." She leans in and looks across the suitcase. "So you're the crisis professional standing by?"
"Six at night 'til six in the morning. Six days a week."
"How in the world did you end up with that job?"
I keep a pair of knock-off Wayfarers in the side-door pocket. I reach down and slip them on. "I'm on a mission," I tell her. "From God."
She doesn't catch the reference, so I take off the shades and tell her straight. "I was splitting the shifts with my boss and dee-jaying at the roller rink to make ends meet. But then the rink got hit in that freak storm about the same time my boss relapsed and had to go back to rehab. So now I'm the crisis professional standing by all the time."
April stares like maybe I'm making a joke. "For real?" she says.
"Seriously," I reply.
The windshield wipers mark time as white lines and telephone poles blur by. "I remember you used to show up for class looking like you just woke up, wearing that same black cowboy hat you got on now," she says. "You were real quiet back then. I thought you were majoring in astronomy."
"I did too."
"What ever happens?" I ask, shaking my head and flipping up my hands before grabbing the wheel again. "Life gets strange."
She settles back in the seat, and we ride awhile without speaking.
"Math," I confess.
"Astronomy math was kicking my behind, so I switched to psych. Psychology is like science without all the calculus." The words hang before I clarify. "Or maybe it's emotional calculus instead."
"Never was much good at calculus," April says.
The hum of tires is hypnotic in the rain. Secrets seem safer in the dark. Sometimes it's easier to trust a half stranger than a friend.
"I made a deal with God," I tell her.
She adjusts the air vent down and away. "What kinda deal?"
"You ever wonder how you ended up where you are? Like if it's God's plan or the choices you made or just the way things go down here?"
"Yeah," April says, leaning against the door. "I think about that all the time."
"Two weeks ago I applied for a job putting together bicycles at Toys"R"Us. Before that I was gonna give guitar lessons at the music store. I'm no counselor. I made it through grad school on grace and magic tricks. But every time I try to do something else, it falls through. So whether it's a total fluke or mission, I told God I'm in — whenever, wherever, whatever comes my way. And if they fire me, who cares? It's not like I've got a lot to lose. I'll go back to sacking groceries at the Pig. One way or another, I'll figure something out."
She's giving me that Is-this-guy-serious? look again. Sometimes I do get carried away, but this is one of the parts of crisis I really like. When you meet people in dire straits, you can skip the small talk and get to the deeper stuff of life. Or at least you can try.
The highway comes to a stop at the boat dock. A tangle of balloons hang tied to a cardboard sign: FOUR-FAMILY RUMMAGE SALE: furniture, guns, lots of baby clothes.
Tacked to the marina post, there's a black-and-white flyer for a lost dog. In the photo a mangy little shepherd sits in the back of a pickup next to a grinning kid with dirt on her flowered dress. $20 reward, the flyer says. Answers to Jake.
"So I guess this is why you were willing to come help some strange woman in the middle of the night, no questions asked?" April says.
"Pretty much," I maintain, turning right at the sign. "Plus, I need the cash."
The rain lets up as we approach the lights of town. I pull into Westwood's ambulance entrance and grab a nearby wheelchair.
"Jump in and look pitiful," I tell her, throwing the sack of pills in her lap. "Lot quicker this way."
I roll April through the back door and a nurse swoops in to take her away. "I don't know about the whole mission thing," April calls back over the chair, "but I'm pretty sure you're on one tonight. You saved my life."
"Nah," I tell her, laughing it off. "I was just crazy enough to show up and give you a ride."
"Well, I ain't no great Christian," she says, right before they round the corner to her room. "But maybe that's what your mission is."
Dr. Black steps into the hall beside me. He reminds me of Robin Williams — if Robin was a bass-fishing ER doc from Birmingham. "God must be hard up for angels," he says, flashing his toothpaste-commercial, TV-doctor smile. "You look rough."
"If you're looking for a briefcase and a tie, call somebody at three in the afternoon. This is the best you get at three a.m."
"When's the last time you slept?"
"Thursday," he says, checking the Baker Brother's Funeral Home calendar nearby. Somebody drew a caricature of Dr. Black rising like Dracula from their Champagne Velvet model casket. Marked in big red letters below they advise, "DON'T GET SICK ON A FRIDAY NIGHT."
"I think I slept some Tuesday? For a little while?" I calculate, doing the eyes-up, chin-scratching thing. "You don't look so hot either, y'know."
"Night shift makes you gray," he says, pinching the skin under his eyes. "Our prescription forger's in bed sixteen, pretty cut and dry. Clear him quick and go home. Get yourself some rest."
"Ugh, addicts," I mumble. "My compassion meter's about tapped out."
I knock at sixteen's door before walking in. There's a guy, late twenties, asleep in the bed. His left arm is mangled, and burn scars stretch up to the side of his face. A silver-haired woman in brown slacks and a sweater sits bedside, clutching a rosary, nervously working the beads.
"Sorry I'm running late," I say, sitting in the chair beside her. "Been one of those nights."
The rosary is wrapped between her fingers. She reaches over to take my hand. The stones are cool and smooth, the metal edges sharp against my skin. "It's okay," she says, clutching tight. "God has a plan. If you can help us, it's worth the wait."
The city is a shadow at four in the morning — abandoned streets and dark store windows. I close the ER side door behind me and step out into the lot. In the moment of crisis you simply react, but once things settle, the pieces play back through your mind.
Just my small-town luck, she said. My former classmate was right. Most everybody I see on crisis is some distant relative or friend of a friend, someone I went to church or school with, an old babysitter or the girl who used to cut my hair. Pretty strange finding out your high school crush is hooked on meth or your best friend's dad wears T.J. Maxx dresses in neighboring towns. We are all so many secrets inside.
When I started working in psych wards, I was still naive and judgmental enough to believe that addicts and mentally struggling people were somehow different. Soon enough the truth hit home: the people I was seeing weren't any less spiritual or smart or privileged than me. Nothing but grace and circumstance lay in the thin spaces between us.
The hospital power plant pumps giant clouds of steam into the sky. Climbing the scaffold to the second-floor rail, I can see the mall where I bought my back-to-school clothes, the library where I checked out stacks of books on magic and space, the apartments where I spent the summers after my parents went separate ways.
I cut through a short stretch of trees at the pavement's end and stand eye level with the back balcony of my dad's old townhouse, 3E. Everything looks different. Everything looks so much the same. A semicircle row of brown-cedar units with yellow bug lights by front and back doors. The slim silver mailboxes sitting between the laundromat and sky-blue kidney-shaped pool.
It's not hard to imagine my scruffy nine-year-old self riding a battered BMX bike down the red-dirt hill that spills just around from where I stand. I walk over and look down to where I crashed into the handrail and knocked a dent in my head, over to apartment 7C where I tried to steal my first real kiss from Ashley Braddock and she blushed and stuttered that she was pretty sure she didn't like boys. The steady trickle of Chance Creek still runs off to the left. Back in the day, the older boys had built a ramp out of plywood and cinder blocks, calling me chicken (and worse) when I was too scared to try and jump to the other side.
Strange what stays with you, the things you remember so clearly. I can still feel the heat of the southern sun, the sting of their taunts as I sat with one foot on the pedal and the other in the dirt. Still see the People's Bank Time and Temperature sign flashing 2:15p.m./102°, the look on Ash's face as the big kids cackled when I turned and rode back into the trees.
How did I end up here, in the place I am today ? Was it choices? Or fate?
I used to sneak out after my dad was sleeping to sit on the hilltop and talk to God. Not official prayers or anything fancy — just talking as if to a schoolmate about music and hopes and girls and dreams. Sometimes, when it was quiet and the wind whipped through the trees, it felt like God was right there, close by, listening and talking too.
You think back to your kid-sized concept of God before so much religion and living and grown-up changes and wonder if you're closer now or were closer then, or if you ended up missing it somehow.
I wonder what my nine-year-old self would think if I could meet him here and tell him how things turned out. Wonder if he would have ever dreamed he'd become some still scruffy late-night crisis guy working at the ER behind the apartments. If he knew he'd still be coming back to the top of this red dirt hill on so many nights.
I close my eyes and wait — for the wind, for God, for my kid self to show. For something. But there's nothing here but old memories. I'm tired, wired from drama and overthinking things again. But as I turn to go, the slightest breeze drifts through the trees. I wait, listening to the nothing-sounds of the night. And when I open my eyes, 3E's porch light flickers back to life.
Excerpted from "Mercy Never Sleeps"
Copyright © 2017 Jamie Blaine.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART I: MISSION,
Some Kinda Help, Right Now, 3,
Drive Home Backwards, 17,
I'll Jump In, 23,
The House of God and Gate of Heaven, 32,
Unknown Journeys, 38,
How Heaven Begins, 43,
The Season of Mad Epiphanies, 54,
No Rush, 59,
Everything Means Everything, 70,
Tuesday's Gone, Ride On, 74,
Jamie, Take the Wheel, 81,
Mama Knows, 88,
Only Faith and Vertigo, 91,
A Thousand Nights of Danger and Grace, 99,
PART II: REVELATION,
See You in Heaven, Friend, 113,
The End of All Things Broken, 122,
Heaven Tonight, 135,
Come as You Are, 146,
Trouble Is My Game, 152,
Don't Let the Left Hand Know, 162,
Try to Enjoy the Ride, 175,
Everything You Lost, 182,
The Desert, 191,
The City of Towering Light, 201,
PART III: GENESIS AGAIN,
Then There Was That Time I Found God and Blew Up the Girls' Gym, 211,
Tomorrow Can Worry About Itself, 221,
Some Kind of Miracle, 231,
One Pale Star, 236,
And That's How I Got the Nickname "Tacos" Blaine, 244,
Life Is Not Forever, Love, 252,
Your Most Fantastic Heaven, 259,
Little Wing, 267,
Jesus Walks Dark Waters, 279,
Cities of Gold on Fire, 283,
The Seventy-Seven Secrets of Life, 293,
Everything Now, 299,
PART IV: CODA,
There Is No End, 305,
Thanks, Disclaimers, and Stuff You Put at the End of a Book, 307,
About the Author, 309,