It’s three a.m. in the side yard of a shack in the worst part of town. I’ve got a dirty-faced baby on my hip and there’s a pit bull standing on the septic tank in the next yard over barking his head off. My patient sits on the hood of her ex-husband’s low rider smoking a cigarette and dumpingher pills into a mud hole by the right front tire. Airbrushed across the hood of the car is a cross-eyed Jesus with open arms. She lays her hand on top of his as the still-hot engine ticks. Throughtears she pleads, “Help me Jesus, please.”
The dog is silent. Sirens approach. “Just breathe,” I tell her. “Everything’s gonna be all right.”
The baby fidgets, resting her head against me, staring up into my eyes. I raise one finger and she holds it tight.
I fumble for the words again. “Just breathe.”
Midnight Jesus shares fascinating, bizarre, and sometimes humorous true-life stories of everyday people looking for hope in their darkest hours. Poignant and unpretentious, Jamie paints beauty where at times it seems none exists—from skating rinks and bars, late-night highways and lonely apartments, broken churches and rundown trailer parks, jail cells, bridge rails, ERs, psych wards, and that place over the levee where God laughs and walks through the cool dark night.
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About the Author
Jamie Blaine is a licensed psychotherapist and crisis interventionist who has worked in mental hospitals, megachurches, rehabs, radio stations, and roller rinks. His writing has been featured in such outlets as Salon, OnFaith, Bass Guitar, Drummer UK, The Weeklings, The Nervous Breakdown,and Ultimate Classic Rock.
Read an Excerpt
Where Struggle, Faith, and Grace Collide
By Jamie Blaine
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2015 Jamie Blaine
All rights reserved.
JUST START WALKING
"O God, You know my foolishness."
— PSALM 69:5 NKJV
IT'S 6:35 ON A FRIDAY NIGHT AND I'M DRIVING TO WORK AT the roller rink, taking the back way along the levee and the river's edge. There's a certain spot just past the bend on Summer Lane where the road rises and the sun sits on top of the water, sending shimmers of gold across the wake.
Just a little further and my speedometer will flip to a hundred thousand miles. I drive slower, eyes on the gauge's one black nine. At ten miles an hour, the last tumbler creeps by. Sometimes you have to do something ridiculous to mark the seasons of change in life. So I throw the truck in neutral and let it coast. Climb out and walk alongside with one hand holding the open door.
Everything is perspective, so it seems. The sun bleeding into the river, waiting for the nines to turn. Another Friday night, driving to Skate City in my old, beat-up truck. Actually, it's more like a safari wagon than a truck. I just call it a truck. A crack runs across the windshield and the bearings rattle if I go over thirty-five. I looked into getting that fixed, but it was really expensive. So I just try not to go over thirty-five now. It's working pretty well so far.
There's junk littered from back to front: C-plus term papers and old textbooks, and a flannel board laying in the wayback from that first and last time they asked me to teach kids' Sunday school. Laying on top of Jonah's flannel whale, my ex-girlfriend's Abercrombie jacket, left before she dumped me for the youth pastor from a rival church. He's actually a pretty nice guy. Still kinda hurt though.
I guess what they say is true: you really can tell a lot about a person by looking through his car. Fortunes pulled from broken brown cookies, scattered Subway wrappers, and a legion of empty ICEE cups and Diet Coke bottles. An old T-shirt from the bar where I worked before I started going to the Pentecostal church. A stack of CDs on the backseat, topped by Sabbath's Master of Reality and a praise and worship collection from that Houston megachurch. I wonder if I'm the only guy in the world walking next to his truck, watching the nines roll by, with heavy metal and gospel CDs side-by-side on the backseat. Probably so.
On the floorboard there's a Cousin Itt bobblehead that my best friend gave me. It's got freakishly long hair, a black hat, and sunglasses. "Reminds me of you," she said. I kept the doll on my dashboard for the longest time, but after she died I broke it from the base and threw it as hard as I could against the windshield. But that just made things sadder, so I fixed it up with some superglue and fastened it to a secret spot beneath the seat. It helps somehow, seeing it there. She loved the river and the stars, radical Jesus and ridiculous things. So I salute the waters and everything beyond the sun, remembering her last words to me: Jamie baby, just be you. Easier said, old friend. It seems there's always one thing ending while something else begins.
The shimmers across the river fade to red as the black nine rolls over and the rest give way.
I climb back in, shift into first, and pick up the pace a little. Take a left off Summer Lane onto the highway and into the Skate City parking lot. There's a line out front all the way down the walk. I park and slip through the back door, grab a Diet Coke from the fountain, and cue up my first few songs. I charge the smoke machines, enjoying the silence awhile.
"Ready?" asks Mr. Ric, the rink owner, with his hand on the door.
"Ready," I reply.
The front doors open and kids rush in with a racket of laughter, girls dancing and singing along, black lights and cotton candy, arcade games beeping, birthday cakes and disco balls, the smell of hot popcorn and dirty shoes, grape Bubble Yum and junior high perfume.
Skunky Boy skates up fast and barrels over the counter, feet in the air. The kids call him Skunky because he's tanned deep brown from the Southern sun and sports a white-blond faux-hawk. He's making his second pass through fourth grade this year. His mom drops him off with his little sister Lizzy two hours before the rink opens, on her way to wait tables at the Pancake Den.
"Can I borrow a dollar?" he begs, out of breath.
"You mean borrow as in you're gonna pay me back?"
Skunky grins and ducks his head. "Jamie, can I have a dollar?"
"Maybe," I say. "What's it for?"
"If I had another dollar, me and Lizzy could split a Frito Pie," he says, emptying a handful of grimy change onto the counter. "We're starvin'."
"You been digging in the couch cushions?"
"Mama's ashtray," he explains.
I pull out a wadded dollar and iron it straight with my hand. Skunky reaches quick and I anchor it down with my thumb. "Guess who's helping me with trash tonight?"
"Lizzy is?" he replies.
"Okay, me," he says, raking the fauxhawk tall with his fingers. "I will."
I lift my thumb and he snatches the cash. "Aw, I'da helped you anyway, Jamie," he says. "Even if you didn't give me no dollar."
"Thanks, my man," I tell him. "I'll remember that next time the cans are overflowing with birthday juice."
"Melted birthday cake," I remind him, "mixed with melted ice cream mixed with a bunch of dumped Fanta Orange."
"Yuck," he says, skating away. "Let Lizzy get that."
"Everybody make a straight line in the middle of the floor," I call out over the mic. "It's limbo time ..."
I skate out and hang in there for a good five rounds until some little gymnastics brat eliminates me at the third mark from the bottom rung.
"Cheater," I tease, as she takes a victory lap around the limbo stick.
"Loser," she taunts, as I roll back toward the front.
As "Limbo Rock" fades I grab the microphone and speak to the jam-packed crowd. "Keep your food and drinks in the snack bar area at all times," I tell them in my DJ voice. "Skate with the flow, and if you fall down, get up quick as you can. Slow skaters stay to the inside lanes. Are you ready, Skate City?"
I kill the lights and hit the strobes and ten spinning disco balls. Clouds of cherry-red smoke billow from the fog machines in back. "Are ... you ... ready?!" I repeat. The kids all scream, hands in the air, as another roller-rink Friday night gets under way.
Later, as I clear the floor for the night's first couples' skate, a woman from the moms' section approaches the booth.
"You're gonna need some wheels on your feet if you're coming to ask me to skate," I jibe.
"Not quite," she replies. "But I've been watching you from over there and wanted to ask a question."
"You wanna know if I'll play the Bee Gees?"
"Little before my time," she says. "That's not my question."
"Are you a college student?"
"Yes ma'am," I answer. "Tryin' to be."
"Ma'am, I like that," she says. "What's your major?"
"Really?" she exclaims. "Wow."
"Well, it was," I confess. "But then I switched to English."
"English," she nods. "So you want to be a teacher."
"Not even remotely. That's why I changed to biblical archeology."
Her brows knit. She's nodding slower now. "You want to be Indiana Jones?"
"No ma'am, I don't think so. I'm probably about to change again."
She smiles like she gets it now. "You don't know what you want to do."
"I don't have a clue." I fan my arm out over the rink floor.
"I mean, come on. Once you've had the most awesomely fun job ever, what else is there?"
"Guess so," she laughs. "Does roller rink DJing pay the bills?"
"I'm director out at Forest Hills Psychiatric Facility," she says, passing me her card. "You seem pretty good with people, kids and all. I'm looking to hire a new night tech. It's a great little college job."
"Psychiatric," I reply. "Is it dangerous?"
"No more dangerous than skating," she says. "Probably."
"Okay, maybe," I tell her. "You need me to fill out an application or something?"
"I think I know what I need to know," she says, heading back to the moms' table at the snack bar's edge. "If you're interested, come see me next week."
"Sure you don't wanna hear the Bee Gees?" I call.
"Why not?" she replies. "Everybody loves the Bee Gees."
Gymnastic Brat and Skunky Boy skate up and knock on my glass. "Uh, Jamie?" Brat snaps, in a tone way too smart for a seven-year-old. "Where's my dollar, huh?" She taps her foot, holding out her hand.
Skunky offers a clueless smile, chili all over his face. I sigh and turn my pockets inside out. "Last one, girl," I tell her. "DJ broke."
"Ugh," she grunts, disgusted. "Maybe DJ need a real job."
SUNDAY MORNING AT THE PENTECOST AL CHURCH. SWEATY men in flashy suits jump pews while big women swoon, sprawled out in the aisles and covered by shawls with Bible verses embroidered at the fringes in silver and blue. The congregation sways, singing seven-word songs, eleven minutes long. Holy Rollers have the best music by far, that electric mix of country, soul, and rock and roll, slain in the Spirit and Jericho march.
Pastor Reddy paces the pulpit, preaching fire so hot the people fan themselves with the programs. Then he takes us to the mercy seat with tears streaming down his face. He circles round again, higher, faster, louder, until at last the congregation collapses at the altar begging for second chances to start again. Chaos and ecstasy, laughter and tears, shouts in tongues and hallelujahs. Sweet Jesus, earthy and concerned and always so very close.
What am I doing here? I do not really know. I grew up Catholic and was Southern Baptist for a while. I spent a season in agnostic curiosity after things fell apart. Maybe it's the music or the emotion or the spectacle of it all. Maybe it's nice for church not to be so robotic and dull. Maybe I'm looking for something too. Sure, some of these people are flaky, and a lot of them are just plain nuts. But the ones who are genuine have a joy and peace that is truly unique. For that alone, it's worth checking out.
Pastor Reddy had a preaching program on Saturday afternoons back at the gospel radio station where I DJed, and sometimes we'd hang out and talk after the show was done. He seemed pretty easygoing off the mic, a decent enough guy. I told him I worked days on Christian radio and DJed in bars at night. I didn't see any problem with it. To Reddy's credit, he never criticized or pushed. He seemed sincerely interested in me, asking questions and listening to what I had to say. When he invited me to church, I showed up and liked it enough to keep coming back.
The Christian station fired all the DJs and switched to sports talk. For me it was the bar on Saturday nights and Sunday morning church for a while. Then I started playing guitar and singing for a gospel band. Next thing I knew they were asking me to speak at a few church functions here and there and help with the youth. That's when I quit the bar. I figured it was the right thing to do.
Truth is, sometimes I'm torn. We probably need more church folks who work in bars. On slow nights I would bartend, and I enjoyed taking care of people, listening to their stories, and putting them in cabs when they were too far gone. Apparently Jesus spent a lot of time in bars, so there's gotta be some message there. Jesus also really upset a lot of church people. Sometimes it's hard to know the right thing to do. That's why I catch Pastor Reddy in the foyer after service to see what he thinks about taking a job at the psych ward. A second opinion never hurts.
"Psych ward?" he asks. "Doing what?"
"Don't know, really," I tell him. "Just working with people and stuff, I guess."
Reddy has this habit. He looks you straight in the eye then he half-smiles and looks all around you like he's checking out your aura or something. Then he'll speak.
"I feel a peace about it, little brother," he says. "You can help teach people about Jesus. God could use you to change a person's heart."
"Really?" I reply. "You think?"
The preacher smiles bigger now, with no direct reply. He stoops in and loops his arm around me from the side. "God rarely gives specifics," he tells me. "He says, 'Just start walking and I'll show you the way.'"
"Start walking," I repeat.
"Yep," Reddy says. "That's how you find the way."CHAPTER 2
THIS IS NOT TV
"Lord, you tricked me." — JEREMIAH 20:7 NCV
FOREST HILL S IS A PSYCHIATRIC WARD LOCATED OUT PAST the mill in a small Southern town, a catchall for addicts, schizophrenics, people too depressed to function, bipolar housewives, obsessive-compulsive cutters, anorexic beauty queens, and sullen, wayward teens. It's a sprawling estate with a long, narrow drive that cuts back off the main road. The central hospital looks like a big, brick rancher from the front, but individual units stretch far back into the pines. There are horses and a swimming pool and a full-sized gym.
Great job for a college kid. Psych techs get free meals, use of the laundry, time to study. Every night there're movies and dominoes and volleyball. Punctuated by patients screaming profanities, occasional naked anarchy, and free-for-all psychotic wrestling matches.
Straitjackets have recently been banned, labeled inhumane, so when something breaks loose, it's up to the techs to lock it down with physical restraints. I know a few holds from buddies in the wrestling business, and an old cowboy bouncer taught me this secret: Be kind, keep your cool, make it your goal that no one gets hurt, and things will almost always end well. Other than the occasional carpet burn, he's right.
IT'S MY FIRST NIGHT AFTER ORIENTATION. I'M WORKING ON my own. There's a rush of static before the announcement breaks over the psych ward PA system.
"Dr. Strong, PICU."
There are four main units at Forest Hills Psych: (1) Adult, (2) Addiction ADU, (3) Adolescent, and (4) Acute PICU: Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit, a superlockdown for severely violent or psychotic patients.
"Dr. Strong, PICU!"
Code Blue calls for resuscitation. Code Red is for fire. Code Black for severe weather. Dr. Strong means a combative patient or assault — all staff arrive stat.
I sprint down the long hall from adolescent, past addiction, and take a right through the adult unit. There's a narrow pane in the PICU door. Through it I see a giant man with savage eyes, wearing white pajamas with big green stripes. He shouts, "Die Devils!" and heaves an end table into the Plexiglas.
"DR. STRONG, PICU!"
Jackie, the RN, has barricaded herself in the nurses' station. She bugs out her eyes and waves me in. I turn and scan the east hall. The west. The wall clock reads 1:13 a.m. No one else is coming. Green Stripes growls about Uncle Sam's cameras and kicks through the wall. The nurse has spotted me; it's too late to slip away. The patient turns, his arms and chest puffed out; we stare at each other through the pane. He's a lot bigger than me. Older and slower maybe, but infused with the power of psychosis. Help, I pray, paralyzed but too curious to turn away. The acid smell of adrenaline is in the air. No one else is coming. I fumble for my key and open the door.
"Easy," I tell him as I ease into the room. "Easy." His snake eyes follow me, flickering red as he picks up a nearby chair and holds it high by the legs.
I grab a chair, too, and we circle each other like gladiators.
Why did I grab that chair? Because it's like I'm watching this on TV. Yet it feels like I'm on TV too. So if this were a movie, what would I do next?
Swing first, my senses tell me. He's huge.
"Don't hurt him, Jamie," Jackie wheezes, calmer now. "We don't need no more lawsuits."
Nobody gets hurt, I pray again. This is not TV.
We lock eyes with chairs up, waiting. "Go on, kill me, Mole Man," Green Stripes cries. "You been wantin' to long enough."
"No, brother," I tell him. "I'm just here to help."
His shoulders slump; he looks confused. "All I wanna do is go home," he says.
Excerpted from Midnight Jesus by Jamie Blaine. Copyright © 2015 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
Author's Note: Tiny Sparks, xvii,
Introduction: Shotgun Jesus and the Empty Spaces, xix,
PART I: ALL THE FALLING STARS,
1. Just Start Walking, 3,
2. This Is Not TV, 12,
3. There but for the Grace, 16,
4. Monk by Default, 24,
5. Gotta Run to Keep from Hiding, 29,
6. Oceans of Grace, 33,
7. Ramble On, Ol' Blue, 39,
8. The Golden Tickets of God, 44,
9. Golden Tickets II, The First Clue, 51,
PART II: STRANGERS AND ANGELS UNAWARE,
10. Into the Vent, 59,
11. Life Is Crazy / Amazing Grace, 65,
12. Brother John and the Ragged Stragglers Band, 74,
13. In Your Dreams, 79,
14. The Kingdom Is Now, 85,
15. Jumbo Thin Mint and the Jaundiced Chimp, 93,
16. This Is the Mattress Trick, 97,
17. The Epiphany of the Holy and of the Absurd, 103,
18. Walk on Water, 110,
19. Crazy, Messy Things, 116,
20. Just One Sign, 126,
21. Bad Jamie and the Old Rugged Cross, 131,
22. Pick Wonder, 136,
23. Treasures in the Dark, 140,
24. Of Pomp and Circumstances, 147,
PART III: SCARS, STARS, AND JESUS IN THE DARK,
25. Like Chainsaw Juggling or Wrestling Bears, 155,
26. Sunshine Someday, Maybe, 162,
27. Believe the Best, 166,
28. Jesus Laughs (I Hope), 173,
29. Handshakes and Side Hugs, That's All, 182,
30. One of Us, 187,
31. Save a Star, 191,
32. Standing on the Hilltop with Both Hands in the Air, 198,
33. Black Belt Bible Monsters, 205,
34. Christmas Crazy at the Dollar General Store, 211,
35. Drive On, 217,
36. Head Down, Do Right, 223,
37. Thanks for the Push, 226,
38. Pretty Dang Sweet, 230,
39. Better than Zaxxon, 234,
40. Let Go of the Ropes and Fade Away, 241,
41. 777: Favor, 247,
42. Wherever You Are Tonight, 253,
43. Just Keep Walking, 257,
After the Credits Roll, 261,
About the Author, 293,