Chapter 1: First Contact

We are on the verge of a great adventure, and not even our own ill-will can keep us from it.K.W. Black


Kurt had a small knot in his stomach, but it wasn’t a bad meal that gave him butterflies. He felt a chill go down his spine, but it wasn’t a chill in the air that gave him the shivers—after all, it was the third week in June. Cape Cod was feeling more like summer every day.

Nope. Physically, he was fine.

Kurt had just moved back to Orleans, his hometown, after being gone for 15 years. One would usually think it would be satisfying to move back home: a sense of familiarity, a sense of belonging, even a sense of peace. But “hometown” didn’t mean that to him.

He had a business opportunity he wanted to pursue. His friend Mark was an entrepreneur and had discussed starting a new business with Kurt over the last several months. Kurt was excited about nurturing a start-up company with his old pal from high school. The two of them had big dreams back then; they both envisioned being wealthy, popular, and living well. For Mark, the dreams were only the beginning. Unfortunately for Kurt, he knew all too well back then that they were only that: dreams.

Any time Kurt thought about his upbringing, childhood, and the empty feeling of powerlessness over his own life, he shuddered. He was filled with conflicting emotions and flooded with memories. For years, all he knew was a shameful disgust of his own self and an ever-present rage deep within him. He didn’t know what he even felt about the past because he was so lost, so confused, so unable to make sense of it all.

It took lots of money to pay for the countless hours of therapy, but the dividends paid off. He came to realize that his anger, in part, was over a tremendous feeling of powerlessness. But, now he knew—and in knowing, he had power. When he realized he had given away his power to make decisions, he took back his power. When he was able to forgive himself, he took back more power. In finding out that he was worthy of love, he took back even more power. That sense of self-worth gave him the ability to let the shudder pass without any further thoughts.

Kurt knew the risks of moving back to Orleans. He knew he would have to face his past; but, it was okay. It was time. It was time for him to move on with his life. It was time for the healing to reach a final stage. So, with a deep breath, he turned off his truck, got out, and walked into the Dunkin’ Donuts.

He looked around, wishing that little nervous twitch in his stomach would disappear. He knew that it would be better for him to find someone from his past quickly so he could get it over with. Kurt scanned the Dunkin’ Donuts. As much as he didn’t want to admit that it affected him, he felt relieved that he didn’t know anyone there. He turned his attention to something much more important: figuring out which kind of breakfast sandwich to have with his coffee.

After waiting in line and receiving his order, he made his way to an empty table for two with a Cape Cod Times under one arm and both hands armed with coffee and sandwich. He put his breakfast sandwich down, twirled his coffee in a circular motion to mix the sugar and creamer evenly, plopped the paper on the table, and sat himself down. All was well with the world—for the moment.

A few minutes later, Kurt looked up from his newspaper to the line of people entering the Dunkin’ Donuts. He noticed a well-honed man about his age. He was dressed for work, as was just about everyone else in this small town. However, his clothes were much neater and cleaner than most carpenters. Wait, Kurt thought to himself. Could it be—?

Their eyes met. After all those years, the eye contact of long-time friends still has a certain ability to make two souls connect. There’s an unmistakable “snap” when the two of you lock onto each other.

Usually, two friends who haven’t seen each other in years would make an explosive greeting to one another (or, at least, a noticeable ear-to-ear grin, depending upon the surrounding environment). One would think that two men who had moved to the same neighborhood as boys, played together, got in trouble together, and generally grown up together would feel a great deal of warmth in seeing the other person; but, such was not the case. This is what Kurt hated the most. What he received from his friend Gabriel was what every Community member displays when they see ex-Community members: a polite (albeit insincere) smile and a nod.

“My, these Christians, how they love one another,” Kurt mumbled to himself with a combination of pity, disgust, and trepidation as he looked back down at his paper. He sighed and thought, Here we go.

The jumble of feelings that Kurt felt was not out of anger, but rather out of all of his experience from the past living at the Community of Jesus. The pity he felt was for his friend Gabriel and all others at the Community who were trapped—locked in the prison of the mindset that ruled Community life. The disgust he felt was directed toward the leadership of the Community and for the stranglehold they held over their subordinates, the members—and over him when he had lived there. His trepidation was due to two facts: that he hated conflict, and that he knew any attempt at logic with a Community member was nearly futile—nearly. There is always hope.

And while Kurt hated this rumbling mixture of feelings, he knew it wasn’t a bad thing. It simply meant that he was human. He wouldn’t feel any of this if he didn’t care. He cared about his friend, about his friend’s wife and family, his own family, and almost all the people he grew up with. He just wished that—

“Hello, Kurt.” Kurt flinched slightly because he was startled. Even though he expected it, the greeting interrupted his thoughts.

“Hey, Gabe,” he quickly said as he looked up at his old friend, who was standing next to the table looking down on him, coffee and donuts in hand. Kurt instantly felt compassion for his childhood friend. “Have a seat.”

As Gabe sat down, both men adjusted their seats in a moment of uncomfortable anticipation. No one was at war, but it sure felt like it. Both men were hyper-aware and on the defensive.

Gabriel reached across the table and Kurt met him half-way. Even with the palatable discomfort, the men shook hands warmly. Each one let the other know that they were truly happy to see their old friend, despite the battleground positions.

"Good to see you again, Kurt."

"You, too, Gabe."

And with that, the two men embarked on a journey that would transform their lives.


—  next chapter  —