In Beckett Reynolds’ life, he seldom hears the word ‘no.’ In time for Thanksgiving, this short story will prompt readers to count their own blessings as they explore the curious life of a man whose every prayer is granted.
“Okay, I really need Thy help. Evac is probably another ten minutes out. It’ll probably take less than that to get to the extraction point. Last intel showed two remaining targets, and I lost contact with everyone else. Air support is twelve minutes out, if they’re coming at all. Do we move? Or do we stay?”
Twenty-three-year-old Beckett Reynolds leaned against a concrete block of what used to be a shop in a province in Afghanistan. It was April 2004, it was 105 degrees Fahrenheit, and his best friend since basic training was barely conscious at his feet with a tourniquet applied to his left leg. Reynolds’ radio was not working, for what reason he didn’t know. He was alone. And yet, he wasn’t.
He did not panic. His rapid breathing had more to do with the fact that he had just carried James here. James had about 70 lbs on him, and that was if Reynolds was weighed soaking wet after Thanksgiving dinner.
His thought process was solely focused on getting them out of there, and he didn’t have time to think about anything else. Except prayer.
“Please answer me, Heavenly Father. I need guidance right now. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” He couldn’t allow himself the luxury of closing his eyes or bowing his head.
Only seconds went by before he heard it. The unmistakable sound of a Chinook descending. It was like the sound of angels singing. “James, let’s go. We’re going.”
His buddy did not respond, but Someone else did. Instantly, Reynolds felt something he had only experienced once before, when he was serving a mission for his church. It was as if, when he moved forward, his stomach decided to stay in its previous position. The feeling was as strong as if something was physically tethering him in place, and he dared not challenge it.
Then shouting, and gunfire nearby. Beckett got down and covered James, his heart racing. “Okay. Okay, I’ll stay put,” he prayed silently, his teeth clenched as he scanned the area. “Thank You so much for telling me.”
The gunfire ceased, and someone yelled, “Reynolds!! REYNOLDS!”
Just as he had felt the overwhelming dread at the slightest movement before, he felt energy surge to his legs and propel him upward. With strength his slender frame shouldn’t have been able to muster, he slung James over his shoulders and moved toward the extraction point.
It was his sergeant. The man was hopping over the hood of a car he had apparently just used for cover. Relief flooded over Reynolds and he felt like springs had been installed in his boots.
He didn’t need to be ordered. The three ran to the medevac together, with Reynolds’ sergeant providing cover right behind them. It wasn’t until the medevac team took James from Reynolds and the young man boarded the Chinook that he had the opportunity to look back. One man in his unit was down in the street, and the body of a sniper from the rooftop laid not far away. Reynolds raised his weapon and scanned for threats, but couldn’t spot the remaining target.
The sergeant jumped on board just as a bullet impacted the ground beneath his feet. “GO! Move out!” the sergeant yelled, and returned fire. Reynolds couldn’t see where his superior was aiming, and soon the Chinook was speeding out of that danger zone.
“Thank you, Heavenly Father,” he whispered. “Thank you so much for answering my prayers.”
With the rotors drowning out all other noise, it shouldn’t have been possible to hear anything at all. But Reynolds heard a voice that spoke to the depths of his soul. With sharp clarity and a calm, reassuring tone, he heard, “You are My friend, and I am with you. Always.”
He exhaled sharply, his eyes wide and his fingers suddenly going a bit numb. He blinked, and the world seemed to change. It was spinning. Everything began to swirl. Were they crashing?
“Reynolds!” his name, yelled urgently but from so far away.
A blanket fell over everything, and his vision rocked backwards into soft, painless darkness.
“Name three reasons for pancreatitis. Go.”
He heard the words, but they didn’t quite process in his mind.
“Hmm?” his head snapped over to Kevin and Matt, who stared at him from across the table in a medical student study room on campus.
“Three reasons for pancreatitis. Come on, we’re almost done here.”
“Oh. Uh…scorpion bite.”
They rolled their eyes.
“Okay, okay, alcohol and gallstones and scorpion bites.”
“And post-ERCP pancreatitis,” Kevin prodded him.
“Right, that, yes.”
“You distracted by something?” Matt asked the thirty-year-old.
Reynolds shook his head and let the two front legs of his chair come back down to Earth from their previously rocked-back position. He leaned forward. “Nah, just…I was actually thinking, after this exam, of starting the online dating process.”
Kevin chuckled. “Okay. Well…good luck with that.”
“Thanks for your vote of confidence,” Reynolds shot back with feigned indignation.
“Do you really think now is the best time to try to date? You have to take Step 1 next year. You want to do that with a girlfriend needing your attention, too?”
“Step 1 will be a bear of a test, but so will everything else. There’s always going to be something. I mean, what are we doing? We’re studying for this exam so we can take it and get better than 70% and then we’ll start studying for the next one.”
“We’re becoming doctors,” Matt told him flatly.
“Okay. That’s great. But when we become doctors, what will we be doing?”
Kevin raised an eyebrow. “Healing people,” he responded as if Reynolds had hit his head and was suffering from a concussion.
“Okay, yeah, and we’ll be getting up and going to the hospital and fixing a patient and then going home and eating dinner and going to bed and getting up and doing it again.”
“Look, I get what you’re saying, you want someone—a significant other. To make life more meaningful. I get it. I want that, too. So go for it,” Matt agreed. “But first, tell me the treatment for pancreatitis.”
“I’m going to make a profile. I found a site and I’ve been thinking about what to write on it. I think I’ll start off with a basic paragraph about myself. Maybe a picture of myself in my white coat. Then she’ll know I’m not just some nerd.”
“Then she’ll know you’re definitely some nerd,” Kevin immediately replied.
“Then she’ll read your paragraph about Battlestar Galactica and see your pictures of your Star Trek action figures and she’ll know you’re definitely some nerd,” Matt added.
Reynolds rolled his eyes. “I’m thinking I’ll put some pics of myself in uniform.”
Matt nodded. “Do it. Put your military stuff up there. And embrace your inner nerd, too. Put those Stargate SG-1 pictures up there. But first, tell me the treatment for pancreatitis.”
Three hours later, sitting in a small bedroom with a twin bed and a desk and far too many plastic bins stacked with all his most important worldly possessions, Beckett Reynolds created an online dating profile. He took a bite from his previously-frozen, now-microwaved boxed dinner, and added some information about his perfect match. He should have been studying, but he knew from experience that he could do nothing productive until he made some progress on his latest side-project. “Operation: Find a Wife has commenced,” the thirty-year-old self-proclaimed nerd said. He leaned back as he saved the latest version—what he hoped was the last. He had read and reread his paragraph about 15 times now.
There was only one thing left to do. He finished off the last of his boxed dinner and got to his knees at his bedside. “Heavenly Father,” he prayed. “I’m about to do this thing. I don’t really have time for this. Thou knows I don’t. But I don’t think I’ll ever have time for this. Please help me out here. I’d like to find a wife. I’d like her to be my eternal companion. Not someone I might get divorced from. But the future mother of my children, my eternal companion, with whom I’ll travel the galaxy after I die. That’s what I want. And I’ll love her my entire life, my eternal life. Please help me find her. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
“I forgot my allergy pill. Would you grab it? It’s just over there on the counter.”
Beckett got up and pulled his phone from this pocket. As he reached over, standing in almost the same place as he was a moment ago, he could easily grab the pill bottle on the counter of the tiny kitchen. “Head’s up!” he joked, and Rose put her hand up reflexively. He handed her the bottle, though, instead of throwing it at her. In the same moment, he pushed the power button on his phone to get his screen to light up and give him a list of updates. Nothing.
“The longer you stare at it the longer it’ll take,” she chided him.
He sighed. “It was supposed to populate this morning.”
“So it’ll come up when it comes up. Don’t torture yourself,” she said in a longing voice. “Want to pray before the food gets cold?”
He nodded, and folded his hands. “Would you offer it?”
She smiled and rubbed his arm briefly before she folded her arms. “Dear Heavenly Father, we ask that Thou would bless this delicious, perfect food that my loving hands have prepared for my dear husband while he stared at his phone screen hitting ‘refresh’ on his email app for the past seven hours. We are thankful for the food, and we’re thankful for the outcome of this exam, no matter what it is. We know it is Thy will. We submit ourselves to Thee, Father, and we are ready to do whatever Thou wants us to do. We ask for Thy reassurance and Thy calm spirit to be present in our little home tonight and we say these things in the name of Thy Son—”
“Did you bless the food?”
“Yes, I started with that. In the name of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.”
Beckett took a bite of his favorite lasagna, his wife’s homemade recipe, and smiled in satisfaction. It was the first sign of relaxation from him that day, and so Rose allowed herself a small smile, too. They ate in silence, the tension so thick it seemed to suffocate anything else that might be discussed. Beckett’s hand hovered over his phone several times, but he caught himself and did not try to refresh the screen again.
Suddenly, a message came through on his group chat with his medical school friends. Beckett read, excitedly, “Kevin says his scores are up!”
Rose placed her fork down on her plate and folded her hands, taking in a deep breath as she watched his screen. “Open it, open it,” she said, and leaned forward in anticipation.
“We took the test the same day at the same center, so they should all be up,” he said as his fingers flew all over the phone.
“I know, you’ve said that a hundred times. Open it!”
He found the site and incorrectly entered his password. Then he inhaled through his nose and did it again, and it went through. The site was painfully slow. Rose saw him click on something, and wait impatiently as the file loaded. The screen changed from black to white, and Rose could make out text. Beckett scrolled quickly to the box with his score. And he looked up and yelled, “218!!”
“YAY!!!” she shrieked and jumped up. He couldn’t help but join her, and the two joined in a tight embrace, followed by a kiss. “Residency, here we come!”
Beckett was near tears. “I’m going to residency. I made it. I can get in. I’m going to get in. I’m going to be a surgeon. I have to pray.”
“Let’s go, let’s pray!”
They ran to the bedroom, which was only a few steps away from their kitchen, and got to their knees on the carpet. “Dear Heavenly Father, we thank Thee so much for granting our prayers that I would pass, according to Thy will. It clearly was Thy will. I am just…I’m just blown away, I guess I thought it was impossible with the Step 1 score being so low. I am so thrilled. I can’t even speak. I just want to say—”
His phone dinged again.
“—that we feel like Thou has Thy hand over our family, guiding us and protecting us, and we are so grateful. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
“Amen,” Rose echoed.
He picked up his phone, and saw it was a direct message from Matt. His face fell. “Oh, Matt.”
“Oh, no,” Rose said, and her face contorted in worry.
Beckett looked up. “I don’t know what he’s going to do.”
“Can he pick something other than urology?”
“His dad is a urologist, his aunt is a urologist, his grandfather was a urologist…his dad already plans for him to take over his practice after residency.”
“Is there any chance he could get in if he failed his first attempt?”
“No, not unless he takes a year off and tries again. And even then…it’s urology, it’s extremely competitive. Oh, man. I can’t imagine how he’s feeling right now.”
“Text him back. Don’t just leave him hanging,” Rose urged him.
Beckett rose and walked out of the bedroom, back toward the dinner table. He texted as he walked, and received one reply back. Though he texted back after that, there was nothing more.
They ate again in silence. The mood was strange. It was difficult to be so thrilled about overcoming what seemed to be an insurmountable challenge, even with a mediocre score, when one’s friend was going through a career disaster.
That evening they celebrated with pie. Rose had purchased it to either be a consolation prize or a celebratory dessert. They watched a movie they had planned to watch as either a way to take their minds off something they could do nothing about that evening, or a way to finally relax after a tense month, waiting for that Step 2 score to populate.
Finally, it was late evening, and Beckett glanced casually at his phone again to see that there was no reply from Matt.
“Maybe you can call him,” Rose suggested.
He nodded. “I’ll do it from the car.”
“Why? Do you think—”
“So I can tell him he’s talking to me without you there if he asks to be alone,” Beckett responded. He stood up, grabbed his keys, and said, “Love you,” absently as he headed out the door.
Once in the privacy of his vehicle, he called Matt, and got no answer. As only Beckett did, he tried again just as soon as he hung up. He repeated this process fifteen times before an annoyed Matt answered the phone. “What is wrong with you, man? Why do you do that?”
“It gets people to answer.”
“It’s obnoxious,” Matt accused. “When do you even call it quits? You have to eventually, because sometimes people legitimately don’t have their phone on.”
“I usually stop after twenty.”
“It’s stupid and immature.”
Matt’s charge was not a playful, friendly jab. He sounded very upset.
“Well, I don’t want to talk to anyone right now.”
“No, you definitely don’t. Because you passed. You passed, didn’t you? And you want to go into something that’s not nearly as competitive as urology. So you have no earthly idea what I’m going through right now.”
Beckett was silent.
“My entire life is over.”
The thirty-two-year-old nodded, though Matt couldn’t see him.
“What am I going to do? I mean, what am I actually going to do? I don’t have a plan. It was this or nothing. I could take it again. I could just not submit it. I could just submit the Step 1 score. It’s suspicious but I could take it again and they’d see two attempts, but maybe the score would be good enough to make up for it. It’s worth trying, I think. I mean, the alternative is to just apply to anything. Internal medicine. Or psychiatry. Just anything.”
“You could do that as a stopgap. You could apply to safeties.”
“Yeah. Safeties. No one needs to know unless I actually match to one of them.”
“Right,” Beckett agreed.
Matt was silent.
Beckett wanted to give him space to speak, but finally the silence was going on for too long for his short attention span. “Are you gonna be okay tonight, man? Want to come over and spend the night on the couch or something?”
“There’s no room for three people to stand in your place, Reynolds, let alone sleep” Matt said, and Beckett laughed, relieved his friend had made a joke. “Plus, you’d make me watch Battlestar Galactica.”
Another uncomfortable silence ensued, and then Beckett said, “So call me tonight if you need anything, okay? Anything at all. Doesn’t matter what time it is. I’ll put the ringer on loud.”
“Okay. Hang in there. Things are gonna work out.”
There was no response.
“Call if you need something, man. Goodnight.”
He ended the call, and stared uncomfortably at his screen. He folded his arms almost reflexively. It just seemed to be the right thing to do right now, to pray about this. He bowed his head and closed his eyes. “Would Thou please help Matt? Give him what he needs to get through this, whatever that is? Help him see what he needs to do to move forward. Give him comfort. I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
It was 0223. Reynolds would never forget the time that he saw on his phone through eyes blurred with recent sleep. His messenger app glowed with a message from Matt. “Can I call?”
“Yes,” he typed back immediately, sleep gone from his eyes as he swung his legs out of bed and staggered out of the room. He didn’t even wait for Matt to call. He just made the call himself. “Hey,” he greeted, and leaned against the wall as he looked out the window at the parking lot of the low-income housing establishment. “What’s going on, buddy?”
There was no answer.
“Matt?” Reynolds asked after a moment. “You there, man?”
“Tell me…what was that episode you talked about of that dumb Star Trek show? That you brought up in class that one time?”
“The chief engineer or someone, who got depressed and was about to…and they found him and you thought it was an alternate reality because usually sci fi shows don’t take characters to the edge like that and then have it be real, right? You thought it was all going to go away by the end of the episode, but it didn’t? It was real life?”
Beckett frowned, and nodded. “Yeah, I kind of remember bringing that up.”
“Why don’t you ever talk about Afghanistan?”
The question took him by surprise. “What do you mean? I do talk about it.”
“No, you don’t. You mention it when you’re trying to win a debate with some ignorant 22-year-old. You said you were wounded once. Just once. Never talked about it again. Never talk about any of your buddies from there. You talk about sci-fi shows…you hide behind them. They’re just a cover. And you still get everything you want.”
Beckett clenched his teeth. “Sure you don’t want to go into psychiatry after all?” That was apparently the wrong thing to say. He could hear the sound of something shattering against a wall, and he grimaced. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that right now. That was stupid.”
“I…I can’t do this, man.”
“Yes, you can,” Reynolds answered immediately. “You already came up with a plan.” He heard Matt snort. “Look, there’s always a way forward. I know this seems like the end of the world right now.”
“You don’t get it. I mean, maybe you do, and somewhere deep down you get it and you’re going to be here one day, like me, but in the mean time you’re just going to hide under your sci-fi because it’s the thing that’s keeping you from getting here. And part of you is aware of it, and that’s why you brought up that episode.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Matt, but it sounds like you’re not in a great place right now. Have you been drinking?”
“Because you’d disapprove of that, wouldn’t you?”
“That’s not why I said that,” Reynolds retorted. “I’m concerned about you and the things you’re saying. You’re not making logical sense, and you’re slurring your words. Wanna come over? Or I can come over there.”
“No. No, I just called because…I don’t even know why. There’s nothing that can be done now.”
“I think you called because you need a way out. I’m offering you a way out. Whatever you’re thinking about doing, you don’t have to do it. There’s a better way. Right? I’m coming over.”
“Whatever. Come over or don’t. I don’t care. Nothing matters anymore.”
Reynolds headed back to the bedroom and fumbled around the top of the dresser to look for his wallet in the dark.
“Beckett?” Rose asked drowsily.
“I’m headed to Matt’s place,” he responded. Just then, the artificial static that told him the phone line was open was suddenly replaced with silence. He pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at the screen. Matt had ended the call. He promptly called him back.
“Drive safe, okay?” Rose requested.
“I will. I love you.”
The phone continued to ring, but Matt did not answer. As soon as Beckett ended the call, he pressed the call button again. He repeated this process again and again, as was his norm. But Matt did not answer. Worse, the calls began going straight to voicemail. He had turned his phone off.
“Heavenly Father, please don’t let him do something stupid that’s going to ruin his career,” Beckett prayed as he got into his 20-year-old car and started the engine. But as soon as he began the prayer, he was hit with an odd feeling in his chest and gut. It was the same, but more intense, than the time he was standing at the baggage claim in the airport and felt like his bags were gone—not just misdirected, but gone forever. It was the same feeling, but a bit less raw and painful, as when he had stepped into the hospital tent where the combat casualty team had worked on James. It was the same feeling, but accompanied with much more dread, as he had experienced right before the presidential election results were announced and he learned his candidate had lost. Each time he had prayed for an outcome, and he had received that feeling. And he had changed his prayer.
“Okay, Heavenly Father….then I just pray for him. Whatever is happening, I know we are eternal beings. I know all things happen in accordance with Thy will and Thy timing. Would Thou please be with Him? Please just help him. Wherever he is and whatever he’s about to do, please help him.”
It took fifteen minutes to get to Matt’s place. When he got to the ground level, he was able to get into the vestibule but ringing Matt’s apartment doorbell did not result in an answer. After twenty tries, Beckett tried Matt’s next door neighbor.
Finally, an annoyed-looking man in boxer shorts and a t-shirt stepped out of the elevator and said through the glass, “What is your problem? You wake up my kid!”
“I need to get to my friend. He lives next to you. I think he’s in trouble.”
“How I know you not some robber or something? Get out, call your friend later.”
“I’m worried he’s going to do something stupid!” “Heavenly Father, please soften this man’s heart. Let me in…”
The man seemed to stare at him, and then rolled his eyes and opened the door. “You think your friend suicides himself?”
“I really hope not,” Beckett said through clenched teeth.
The man pressed the elevator button, and they stepped in together. They reached the third floor, and Beckett ran down the hall and knocked on Matt’s door. “Matt! Open up, it’s me. It’s Beckett!”
There was no answer.
He tried again, this time louder. Matt’s neighbor caught his hand and said, “You wake everyone up! We call the police. If you think your friend is in trouble, we call the police.”
“Is that the right thing to do, Heavenly Father? If Matt is just drunk and doesn’t want to answer, I’m going to make a total fool out of myself.” But the impression was clear immediately. Beckett nodded. “I’ll call.”
It took only ten minutes for the police to arrive. But in the mean time, Beckett received a prompting to ask the neighbor to call the landlord. He agreed. Once the police arrived, Beckett was easily able to explain the situation to the officers.
One of the officers knocked on the door. “Mr. Hadley. Mr. Matt Hadley, this is the police. Open the door.”
There was still no answer.
“We definitely want to check on your friend but we’re going to need someone to open the door for us,” the other officer told Beckett.
“I call the landlord,” the neighbor said. “He coming now.”
The landlord arrived in another ten minutes, bringing the count in Beckett’s head to about thirty-five minutes since he last spoke with Matt. “Please prompt him to open the door for us, please don’t let him refuse, Heavenly Father.”
“What’s going on?” the landlord asked, concern evident in his voice.
Beckett explained quickly, and the officer who had knocked on the door said, “We’ll need you to open the door for us, Sir, so we can do a welfare check.”
“Of course. No problem. He’s a good tenant. Pays on time. Never had any problems. I hope he’s okay.”
It was as if time slowed down as the landlord put the key in the slot and turned the knob. The door could not have opened any slower than it did. Beckett’s eyes scanned the portion of the apartment visible from the door, but the officers pushed past him and entered first. “Mr. Hadley? Police. We’re checking in on you, your friend is concerned.” Beckett stood in the doorjamb because it seemed to be the right thing to do, with the police checking the place out first. But he immediately abandoned his post when he heard the officer’s words.
“Mr. Hadley? Mr. Hadley? Mr. Hadley, can you hear me?”
Beckett’s stomach plummeted to his toes as he followed the sound of the officer’s voice.
“This is Officer King, requesting EMS to 435 West Johansen Street, Mulberry Apartments, third floor, we have a young adult male unconscious, no pulse, starting CPR.”
“I’m a medical student—I can help, I’m CPR certified,” Beckett immediately said, and dropped to his knees. It was a surreal experience. His hands methodically pumped downward on his friend’s chest and all he could envision was the CPR dummy Matt and he had worked on together two months ago. “One…two…three…four…five…” the counting was automatic, and it was as if someone else was speaking the words.
After some amount of time—two cycles of CPR—Beckett noticed hives and swollen lips. His eyes fell on a bottle of vodka, and an empty pill bottle. While waiting to give two rescue breaths, he read the word ‘sertraline’ and realized that Matt had been on an anti-depressant. Beckett had no idea his friend was depressed. But what was the source of the hives? He searched his memory as he compressed his friend’s chest.
“Peanuts! He has a nut allergy,” Reynolds declared just as the EMTs came in and took over.
It was as he stepped back that he noticed an open jar of peanut butter in the bedroom as well. And a note. It could not have been a clearer suicide attempt.
His heart was pounding. He didn’t see anyone else in the room but Matt, and he heard no one else’s conversation but the EMTs. He had been calm during CPR, but now that he had nothing to do but watch, he felt his stomach twisting and dropping to the floor. “Heavenly Father, please don’t let him die. Please save his life. Please, he’s my friend. Please.”
Beckett followed the ambulance to the hospital. He walked through the doors of the place he and Matt had completed an Internal Medicine rotation together. He went straight to the emergency department, and found Matt’s room. Everyone was busy, and Reynolds wouldn’t get in the way, but he waited politely outside the glass door, watching with a stunned gaze as yet another friend was at the mercy of physicians and nurses. “Please, Heavenly Father. I know sometimes Thou wants us to beg. I’m begging. I begged to get into medical school. I begged to find a wife. I begged to pass Step 1 and Step 2…I am begging now. I don’t think there’s anything else I could do. Man, I wish Rose was here.”
As if on cue, his phone rang. It was Rose. “How’s he doing? Any updates?” she asked.
He exhaled, and stepped away. “Yeah…some updates.” He proceeded to bring her up to speed, and she was predictably kind and thoughtful. And then she reminded him of why she was his eternal companion with a suggestion that both brought light to his heart and gave him something to do—a purpose.
An hour later, while his friend lay in a hospital bed, intubated and sedated, Beckett Reynolds laid his hands on Matt Hadley’s head and uttered sacred words to Heavenly Father. It was a blessing of healing, and as Beckett spoke, he reflected that this healing blessing seemed to work both ways.
“Hold this retractor here. Give me good visualization,” he instructed the medical student. “Excellent. What do you need?” he turned his head slightly to address the circulator who was holding his phone. “Is it a page?”
“Your wife texted. Would you like me to read it or show you the screen?”
“Show me the screen, please.”
Beckett read the words of his wife’s text and his eyes widened in surprise. Suddenly, he wanted to do everything in his power to finish this surgery as quickly as was safe and reasonable.
A half hour later, he stood in the hallway leading to the ORs, his phone on wifi calling so it got a signal down here. He waited impatiently while it rang.
Finally, she picked up.
“I got your text! I didn’t want to respond because I wanted to call you and actually talk to you about it. I assume you’re talking about—”
“I can’t believe it! Is this really happening?!”
“Yes! Yes, it is! It’s positive! It’s finally positive!”
Years of IVF treatments, a reproductive-organ-saving surgery for Rose, doctor’s visits, two failed adoption attempts, and endless prayers—fasting prayers, prayers in the Temple, pleading prayers while kneeling at his bedside every night—had finally culminated in this.
Reynolds suddenly had the impression that he would remember this hallway for the rest of his life—standing here, receiving life-changing news. He immediately prayed aloud, “Thank you, Heavenly Father! Thank you! Oh, YES!”
“We should go out and celebrate tonight.”
“Yes! Let’s go to that new Italian place, the one that opened up near the airport.”
“And let’s get ice cream afterward.”
“Yes! Yes, definitely!”
“And let’s go to the Temple this weekend!”
“Of course we should!”
“We’re going to be parents!!! This is really happening!” Just then, his phone beeped with another call, and he remembered he was at work. “Look, I hate to do this—”
“Go, go, save the world! I’ll see you tonight, my love!”
“See you then!”
The forty-year-old physician ended the call and switched over to the other line. It was a number he didn’t recognize. But then, that was not entirely unusual. “Dr. Reynolds.”
“Captain Reynolds, my name is Jake Samuelson, and I’m an assistant to the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Director would like to have a conversation with you today or tomorrow morning if your schedule permits.”
Reynolds’ eyebrows ascended on his forehead, and he blinked. “Um…yes. Of course. Is my commanding officer aware of your call?”
“Yes, he is, and I’m authorized to tell you that he has approved the assignment. I am also authorized to tell you that pending the outcome of your conversation with the Director, that you will be activated sometime in the next thirty days.”
He nodded slowly, and said, “Okay. Alright, let’s schedule this phone conversation.”
Later that evening, he drove home with his wife in the passenger seat next to him. Both were dressed in their snazziest clothing, having just enjoyed a delicious dinner and dessert. But neither spoke. Rose looked over at him and placed her hand on his leg. “Are you worried?”
“Is that why you’re so quiet? You’re worried about being a dad?”
He chuckled. “No,” he said immediately. “No, we’ve waited so long for this…I am more than ready. I want to be a dad yesterday. I want to be a dad five years ago.”
“You’re very quiet.”
“Is everything okay?”
“Yeah…yeah, I just have something I’m sorting out. Something I need to pray about.”
She nodded. “Okay. Well…let me know if you want to talk about it.”
He looked over at her and smiled his thanks.
That evening he knelt by the side of his bed, his head bowed against his folded arms as he prayed silently, privately, to his Father in Heaven. “It was my idea. I did this. I saw what was happening on my last deployment, and I prayed at that point to know if it was right to bring this up. And I felt that it was. I really thought that Thou wanted me to come forward and say something. And then as things progressed I really felt that Thou had wanted me to work on this, and volunteer myself. I prayed about it. I fasted. I went to the Temple and I asked for Thy guidance. And now…Father, I don’t want to go out there and potentially miss the birth of my first baby. We have fasted and prayed and hoped and dreamed and yearned and cried and pled with Thee—we have BEGGED Thee—to let us have a child. And now…why would Thou give me the prompting to do this knowing that we were about to have a child?! I don’t understand. Please, Father, help me understand. Help me understand what Thou expects me to do. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
There was no immediate answer. Just silence, and the sense that his world was about to change, and that he was merely a passenger on a ride.
He knew it was a dream. He knew immediately, as if he had stepped into a movie theater and sat down to watch a show. He watched himself, at age seven, kneeling at his bed, bowing his head into his folded arms and uttering a prayer.
“Heavenly Father, it’s me, Beckett. I’m about to get baptized soon, but I’m scared of the water. Don’t tell anyone, please. It’s embarrassing. I just pray that Thou would help me not be scared, so I don’t look dumb in front of Greg and John. I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
The scene flickered and suddenly he was watching an older version of himself, this time behind the wheel of a car, taking driver’s ed. “Please help me stay calm. Please don’t let me freak out and slam on the brakes when I’m trying to merge into all this traffic. Please let me stay calm this time. Please help me calm down. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
And again—this time, he was on a C-130, headed to Afghanistan. “Am I really doing this? I’m really doing this. Father, be with me. Calm my spirit. Let me remember that Thou art with me always. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
Another flicker, and he was sitting in a college classroom, taking an organic chemistry exam. “I failed this last one, and I really don’t feel confident right now. Please calm my spirit, let me have confidence in Thee and in me, and help me persevere through this and finish on time. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
“Okay, Heavenly Father,” his dream-self communicated. “I get it. Thou wants me to have confidence in Thee and not be afraid of this mission. This mission that was my idea in the first place. I get it.”
“I don’t think you do,” the Director of the CIA said from the seat beside him on his left. His head snapped over to the man, and he found himself in the movie theater he had before imagined. “You haven’t seen the entire picture yet.”
He looked back to the screen, and again his memories enveloped him, and he was back at age 8, playing in the yard. “I pray that we’ll be safe and know what to do so we’ll not get hurt while we play today. In the name of Jesus Christ—oh, and I ask that Thou would bless the food. Amen.” His young self took a big bite of his popsicle and he promptly got a brain freeze. His friends laughed at his funny face, and the scene fast forwarded to the lot of them about to cross the street on their bikes. But something made him slow down—he didn’t know what. He was halfway across the street and slowed nearly to a stop for some inexplicable reason when a car came barreling through the intersection, crossing in front of them, going the wrong way, and swerving back into its correct lane. The driver slammed on the brakes in a delayed reaction. And everyone seemed to take a breath. Counting themselves lucky, they all continued on about their business. “A coffee mug had spilled,” the Director said, and Beckett realized that this memory had all but faded from his consciousness, until now. He had never had an explanation of what happened with that car. But now he remembered his prayer for safety.
“Do we move? Or do we stay?”
His twenty-three-year-old self asked the question from under a blazing hot sun in the middle of a battlefield in Afghanistan. He inhaled sharply as the memory flooded back to him. James. James’s last few hours on Earth. But Beckett had been protected. The scene zoomed out and he saw the snipers—the ones that would have taken him out, had that prompting not pinned him to the ground, preventing him from moving. That feeling, that unmistakable feeling—he would never forget it. “You had no way of seeing those snipers,” the Director commented.
“Are you saying that the Lord always keeps me safe?” Beckett asked.
He saw himself perusing a recruiting page with Reserve pay and benefits. And then getting to his knees, folding his arms, and asking if he should commission as an officer. “The pay for a surgeon is obviously very good, but I’m not actually doing this for the pay, Lord. I just want to know if Thou wants me to serve my country again. Please guide me. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
The screen flickered again and he saw himself and his wife sitting in a doctor’s office, holding hands. The doctor left. “We should pray to know what to do,” Rose said, and he nodded readily.
“I feel like we should keep trying IVF. But you’re right, we should pray about this. Maybe the answer is to pursue both IVF and adoption.”
They knelt on the linoleum floor together, holding hands as they asked their Heavenly Father for direction.
“You’ll find you two are not dry trees,” the Director said from beside him, and he looked away from the screen and over to his guide once more. “This is just one of many, though you have had to be patient and trust in the Lord’s timing.”
He soaked in the information. “What are you trying to show me?” he asked, feeling like there was a central message here that he was missing.
“Your life has a pattern,” the Director told him. “Watch, and then listen.”
He felt like the entire room accelerated, as if it was one of those roller coaster rides with a screen. He gripped his seat as he flew through space and time, and memories flooded his vision and enveloped his view. He was no longer staring at a screen, but zooming through time, watching snippets of his life pass by beneath him as he looked down and caught them as quickly as they came.
“I really want us to win this game…”
“Keep me safe.”
“Be with me right now, I’m so scared…”
“Please let Mom and Dad stop fighting.”
“Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m so happy, Heavenly Father, THANK YOU!”
“I hate him, but I shouldn’t, and I really need Thy help to not hate him. Please soften my heart.”
“Help me remember the things I’ve studied.”
“Please help me to focus right now.”
“Should I go to that party or not?”
“Please, I really, really, really want her to say yes when I ask her to the dance.”
“Is this the right school for me?”
“I’m about to do this thing, Heavenly Father, please let me know if it’s not right.”
“Do we move? Or do we stay?”
“I can’t understand this stuff! I’m not good enough! Heavenly Father, why did Thou send me here if I’m just going to struggle through it and fail?! I don’t understand! Help me understand!!”
“I would really like to find an Eternal Companion.”
“I feel like she’s the one. Is she? Please send me some road blocks if this isn’t right.”
“I just want to know if Thou wants me to serve my country again.”
On and on the memories of his prayers—a lifetime of prayers—sped by, one after the other as he rolled on above them, watching himself speaking to his Father in Heaven. And it slowed down for one memory in particular. He saw himself in uniform on his last deployment, kneeling at his cot.
“Thou sent me here on this assignment…and Thou put me in this place, to see what I saw, and now I have to decide if I’m going to come forward with this information and suggest this mission. I feel like it could be big. I feel like I’m in the perfect position to do this thing. I have the perfect cover as a surgeon. My entire unit could be deployed so no one would suspect the real reason for the mission. But I could put myself at risk, and Rose would be without a husband…and my entire unit could be at risk. Is it fair to put them in this position and they wouldn’t even know what’s happening? Should I volunteer to do it, Father?”
“Beckett Reynolds,” a voice boomed from his right. He turned, and immediately squinted, unable to look at the brightness emanating from the figure who now sat next to him.
He fell to his knees, his breath catching in his throat. He was unable to speak.
“Do not be afraid,” the figure’s voice rushed through his body like a forceful wind. His surrounding vision was gone, and all he could see was the brilliant white light in front of him. “I am a messenger from our Father in Heaven.”
The voice of the angel resonated through his chest and rattled his ribcage. He felt the words penetrate into the center of his being.
“You have been chosen, set apart, and prepared for an important mission. Cease not your prayers, and continue forth in faith.”
He somehow managed to nod, his mouth agape as he tried to acknowledge his willingness.
Then the figure was suddenly gone, but a voice whispered in his ear the soft, unmistakable words, “The Lord has granted every prayer you have ever prayed.”
Though this truth was whispered, it was as tremendous a revelation to his mind as the words of the angel. He was nearly knocked over backward, stunned. In silence, he watched the vision of his prayers envelop him again, and he zoomed through the memories, witnessing the answer to every single one of those pleas to Heavenly Father. And then he saw answers to prayers not even prayed yet. A slow car in front of him once made him miss an accident several miles ahead. Kevin chose to eat in the cafeteria one day and so they met and became friends. Kevin’s tutoring had gotten him through the hardest of the medical school classes. Rose had forgotten to cancel her membership to the dating website, and had received his message the next day. From profound events like that one down to the minutiae of every day, he soaked in the memories.
He could scarcely breathe. Each granted prayer was a thing of beauty that brought him to tears, until he found himself overwhelmed with gratitude. He could no longer even look. He could only sob in thanksgiving.
Laying on the ground, eyes closed with tears streaming down his cheeks, he heard the words he had heard those years ago in Afghanistan after he was wounded. Whispered gently into his ear, permeating his soul. “You are My friend, and I am with you. Always.”
Suddenly, he was awake. He sat upright, breathing as if he had just run up a flight of stairs. He exhaled again, and blinked. Reaching over, he touched his wife’s shoulder and she inhaled, turning toward him.
“Rose,” he summoned her, his voice still emotional and catching in his throat. “Rose, wake up. There’s something I need to share with you.”
The little girl looked down at her shoes as she folded her arms and took a deep breath. “I don’t know what to believe. I’m ashamed,” the twelve-year-old looked up at her grandpa with the same beautiful blue eyes she had inherited from her father. “I don’t want to feel this way.”
Beckett remembered looking into those eyes for the first time, shortly after his first son’s birth. Those eyebrows that always seemed concerned, or kind, or loving. That face that seemed to hold an infinite capacity for love. He certainly had no shortage to give to his son or to his granddaughter.
“I’ve prayed,” the twelve-year-old little girl continued from beside him on the couch, “But I don’t feel like He answers my prayers. I told all of this to my dad and he wanted me to come here to talk to you. That’s why I’m here.”
He nodded knowingly, having already spoken with his son on this topic. He placed a caring hand on her knee and said, “I happen to be just the person to talk to about this.”
“I figured,” she said, and laughed as she looked down again. “I don’t get to come here all that often.”
“I know,” he said sadly. “I wish that was different. I’d love to have you more often. But with the time we have, let’s address this concern of yours. You’re having some serious questions about your faith for the first time.”
She nodded, and did not look up.
“And you did the right thing. You studied your scriptures and then you prayed.”
“I did both.”
“But you don’t feel like the Lord answered your prayers.”
“No. In fact, I don’t hear anything from him,” she said, troubled.
He nodded. “How are you praying?” he asked.
“Usually right before I go to bed and right when I get up in the morning. I, you know, I pray like everyone else.”
“Many people have many different ways of praying,” he told her. “Tell me about yours.”
She sighed and said quickly, as if running through a grocery list, “I do what I’m supposed to do. I fold my arms, and I bow my head and close my eyes and I say ‘Dear Heavenly Father’ and I thank him for the day and I ask him for what I want and then I say ‘in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.’”
“That sounds horribly boring,” Beckett said with a smirk. “How do you stay awake during a prayer like that?”
She stared at him, and he chuckled.
“I’m not trying to make fun of you, Claire. I’m pointing out that your prayer sounds very mechanical. Very…rehearsed. It doesn’t sound like a conversation at all.”
“What do you mean ‘like a conversation’?”
He smiled, and leaned in. “I know your parents have told you that prayer is like having a conversation with God.”
“Sure,” she acknowledged. “But that’s just how He has a conversation with us. Through prayers.”
He shook his head. “No, no, no. I mean, yes, that is how the Lord converses with us—through prayers—but no, a prayer is not just a device to be used. It’s the way you convey your deepest worries, your most troubling doubts, your most glorious triumphs. It’s the way to really talk to God as we are talking right now to each other.”
She seemed perplexed. “But how can you have a real conversation if He never answers back?”
He smiled again, and nodded. “But He does answer back. In fact, I can say with confidence that He has granted every prayer I have ever prayed. And I know that He will give me everything I ask for.”
Her eyebrows descended, and she shook her head. “No way. If that were true then there would be no problems ever, because you’d just pray for them to end. You’d just pray to end world hunger and war and whatever else is a problem.”
He continued to smile as she thought about it.
“How do you know He will grant you everything you ask for?”
He nodded slowly, digesting her question. He had told the story to his son when he was about her age. He could feel that now was the right time for her. “Well…a long time ago, before you were born, I received a special message. I believe this message was from an angel. It was through this angel’s message that I came to understand that I had been given what I thought, at the time, was a unique gift. I thought that every prayer being granted was something I uniquely experienced. Something the Lord had done for me in His great goodness. I had the privilege to hear and see every prayer I had ever prayed in my life, and I watched as they were granted, one after the other.”
“You mean there wasn’t a single prayer you ever prayed that He didn’t give you what you wanted?” she asked in disbelief. “If that’s true then why haven’t you prayed for all of the world’s problems to go away?”
“Well,” he continued, “It’s a little more complicated than that. A little later, after I was on my way to do something with my Reserve unit that was quite dangerous, Satan came to me and reminded me of one experience where God had not granted the prayer I prayed.”
“Oh,” she said, surprised. “So…you doubted?”
“Of course I did. I was very worried—it rocked my world view. It made me doubt my experience with the angel. Did it happen, or was it just a silly dream? Here was this example of when my prayer wasn’t answered. As Einstein said, ‘a million experiments can prove me right, and it takes only one to prove me wrong.’ Or something like that.”
She stared at him with rapt attention.
“Let me tell you about that prayer. It’s a sad story.”
“I can handle it.”
He smiled, and patted her knee. “I know you can. I was in medical school. My good friend was very depressed, but I didn’t know it. He was struggling, and I never saw it. And then he failed a very important test. A test that was going to probably prevent him from carrying out his life’s plan the way he thought it was going to go. It was a catastrophe for him, professionally. And that evening, he tried to take his own life.”
Her eyes widened.
“I prayed that he wouldn’t do anything that would ruin his career. As I prayed, I felt pretty quickly that it was not going to turn out the way that I had prayed it would. I knew going into the situation that he was probably going to do exactly what I prayed he wouldn’t do.”
“And I guess he did,” Claire said.
“Indeed he did. He attempted suicide and almost died. And as a result of what he did to himself, he suffered consequences for the rest of his life. Physical consequences that would prevent him from doing the career he planned. So it seemed that the Lord did not always grant my prayers as I thought He did.”
“What did you do about your doubts?” she asked curiously.
“Well, I prayed,” he said, and shrugged. “That might seem like a bad idea, I suppose, because we were just talking about the subject matter of my doubts being that the Lord doesn’t answer my prayers.”
“Well, He doesn’t answer all of your prayers.”
He pointed at her briefly and said, “And that’s the crux of where I was wrong. He does, in fact, answer all of my prayers. He answered that one, quite quickly, with a prompting that I wasn’t going to get what I wanted. And then I changed what I wanted pretty quickly, as well. I asked for the Lord to be with Matt—my friend. And He was. Matt’s experience could have been much, much worse. I gave him a blessing of healing, and later on shared my faith with him. He didn’t decide to be baptized, but he spent the rest of his life searching for a relationship with God. And in that search he became converted to another church and got very close to God.”
“Why didn’t you just pray for Him to join our church?”
He laughed. “See, this is the problem, Claire. There is a difference between prayers answered and prayers granted. The Lord answers every prayer whether or not He grants you what you have prayed for. And I am not special in that all of my prayers are granted. Everyone has the same power. You have the same power within you.”
She shook her head.
“No, listen before you decide you don’t. I wanted my friend to go forward on the path that was wrong for him. I wanted my friend to become a urologist as he wanted, but that was not the Lord’s will. And as soon as I prayed, the Lord answered me, and gave me the information I needed to learn—that it was not His will that Matt would do what I wanted him to do. Does this make sense? The Lord didn’t give me what I asked for, but He answered my prayer. He gave me what I needed. In that moment, that was knowledge.”
She looked a bit confused.
“The Lord is not a vending machine,” he said with a sarcastic laugh. “You don’t put a prayer in and a snack pops out.”
“That is not the way He has granted every one of my prayers. And that is why I can’t simply pray for all of the world’s problems to go away and have that prayer granted. But it is the case that, throughout my life, more often than not, my will was aligned with His. And so it seems that He granted many of my prayers. But this wasn’t an easy thing to accomplish. It was anguish waiting to get pregnant—and then when we finally did get pregnant with your dad, I had to leave immediately on an important assignment. A dangerous assignment. It was very hard to align my will with the Lord’s at that moment. And that’s just one example—there are plenty more.”
She grew sober and nodded briefly. “So…you’re saying that you were given a gift of having a will aligned with the Lord’s?”
“I believe I am no different than anyone else in the world. Especially not you. Your spirit is so sweet, so curious. You have within you the same exact power as me, to have every prayer granted. And imagine, Claire, imagine,” he took her hand, “imagine for just a few moments, close your eyes and think of what the nation and even the world would look like if everyone was listening carefully for the Lord’s answers, and changing their prayers—their deepest hopes, despairs, and triumphs—to be aligned with the Lord’s will? Imagine what good that would do for our world. Imagine what good an individual could do for the nation and for the world if he just listened not for his own desires, but for that of his perfect Father in Heaven?”
There was a knock at the door, and Beckett turned his head. “Come in.”
“Mr. President, I’m so sorry to interrupt you,” a man in a suit walked into the Oval Office, and closed the door behind him. “The Prime Minister has landed at the tarmac. We really have to go, Sir.”
“Of course,” President Reynolds stood from the couch, and held out his hand to his granddaughter Claire. “Think about what I’ve said. I promise you, if you do what I suggest, the Lord will not only answer your prayers, but will grant your prayers as you pray for the Lord’s will. And you’ll be a powerful force for good in the world. Now go and do all you can to serve Him, in whatever ways He wants you to.”
She smiled, and nodded. “I will, Grandpa. Thanks for chatting with me.”
“It’s my pleasure.” He buttoned his suit, gave her a kiss on her forehead, and followed the man out of the Oval Office.
“Sir, the Prime Minister has expressed a desire to hear your counsel on what to do about the situation in Ukraine. I have something drafted up if you’d like to review it on the way there.”
He nodded. “Of course,” he said, and took the offered tablet. “Though this is an issue I’ve already researched and prayed about quite a lot. I think I’m ready to discuss it.”
“I figured, Sir. A lot of people are saying you were elected for this issue in particular. A commentator penned a column the other day that said you’re an expert in getting what you want.”
With a smile, he approached a portrait of George Washington. “I think,” he said thoughtfully as he paused briefly in front of the portrait, “that I’m instead an expert in asking for the right things.”