Long Island, New York

I started prepping for the Long Island trip in July. I knew very little about Long Island, other than it’s where the Hamptons are. I assumed not everyone in Long Island lived in the Hamptons, just like not everyone in Dallas lives at Southfork Ranch. Which comparison is meaningful to .01% of humans who might eventually wander through this blog. Other than the Hamptons, all I really knew about Long Island was that it was a land mass and was significantly larger than Wichita Falls or Portland. And there’s a medium there.

I downloaded a map of the Long Island Railroad and made it the desktop image on my primary workstation. I had a vague notion that, while in Long Island, I would try to ride the entire Long Island Railroad while praying. I studied the train station names on the map for a week before I did any research about Long Island itself. Looking at the LIRR map, one can’t help but notice that most of the stops are in the western half of the island. Except that I didn’t really notice that design feature initially. It was the west end of island I was ignorant of. I assumed there had been some development out yonder. But I was initially focused on getting the LIRR map on my computer and figuring why the airport named Islip was in Ronkonkoma and not Islip.

Throughout the Triangle process and up until July of this year, I never quite knew what to do with the ‘Long Island’ phase of the thing. Wichita Falls is basically a large ‘small’ town, spread out in the North Central Plains of Texas. It was simple enough to rent a car, drive a while, and pull off the highway at a motel. From that motel I could set out and easily do whatever I needed to do. Portland is definitely a real city. A very walkable city. No need to rent a car in order to cover a lot of ground there. What about Long Island? It’s really big, and there was a distinct process by which it dawned on me that Long Island is that giant island very visible on a map of the US Atlantic coast. It seemed likely that ‘one’ simply didn’t show up for a long weekend and canvas the place for Jesus. Or whatever it was I was supposed to be doing. Not that there was necessarily any “supposed to” about it all; the voice didn’t give any instructions, per se; it just named the places.

So it was with all that unknown rattling around in my plans that I opened the Wikipedia page about Long Island, in early August. I had psyched myself up to fight through dry facts about average annual rainfall and fabulous native vegetation. I assume those elements are described later in the wiki; I myself never got past the first few paragraphs that caused me to slam spectacularly into the inside of my own skull. In anticipation of the boredom, I was skimming over text. And so I deftly skimmed right into, “…the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens…La Guardia and Kennedy International Airports”…1400 square miles…7.7 million people.

!!!

I stared at the monitor, at the ceiling, at the walls…very still and suddenly aware of being infinitesimally small. I started to laugh at the absurdity of it. I started to be really pithy and suggest to God that He had perhaps given the message to the wrong person. But I didn’t. For starters I was too subdued for pith. Secondly, I knew He was incapable of doing anything wrong. Which meant that He was sending me to Long Island intentionally. It was humbling to the extreme. All I could do was bow my head, wipe my tears, and tell Him, “I don’t know what to do.” And, “Thank you.”

Apparently I had eased myself into believing that I was doing the Triangle thing under my own power to some extent more than was true. I never actually believed I understood the spiritual subtext, and I certainly knew I wasn’t capable of making up the wild stuff that happened on the trips. But I think I got more comfortable than I should have in my role as the traveler who had no agenda and no particular fear of the touring unknown. That role is no stretch for me; and I didn’t know the extent to which I’d assumed it until I faced the true magnitude of the ‘Long Island’ point of the triangle, courtesy of Wikipedia. If I am a meticulous planner, a perfect packer, an intrepid wanderer, all of that and much more was absolutely impotent in the face Long Island, New York, and its implications in the Triangle. I told God as much: “I’ve got zero. I bring nothing to the table here. I have no idea why you are asking me to do this. I can be a warm body who puts one foot in front of the other, but You have do this.” Over the next couple of months, I distilled all that down to one quietly obedient consent: “I will go.”

“I will follow where you lead.”

*

Some time in the spring of 2014, I used an online email form at soundofheavenmovement.com to send them a note about the Triangle. I don’t remember now what I said in the email; but I think I had already been to Wichita Falls and had decided that encouragement of the faithful was to be a theme of my travels. I wanted to encourage that particular Long Island church that God was raising up random people to pray for Long Island. I figured that any church with a designated prophet on the leadership team would be interested in the story. I never heard back from them, and I got wrapped up enough in Portland-Long Island and other life demands that I didn’t follow up.

**

On Wednesday evening, before my Friday flight, I got out a road atlas and rechecked the distance from Wichita Falls to Portland, versus the distance from Wichita Falls to Long Island. They weren’t identical. The best I could come up with was about a twenty-mile difference, with the distance into the furthest possible point in Long Island reaching the southeast suburbs of Portland. WOE, I HAVE BEEN LIVING A LIE. SORT OF.

I entertained some doubts about the trip. What if, after all this time and the two crazy previous Triangle trips, nothing noteworthy happens in Long Island? Does that mean none of this is significant?

***

Aaand then Wednesday night happened. And Thursday.

****

My plan for leaving town on Friday was to make a scheduled cross-city round trip by car, go back to my apartment, walk to the light rail stop with my backpacks, and take the light rail to DFW. It was a meticulous plan, because I am a meticulous planner. The problem was that I didn’t allocate time in the plan for me to meticulously leave my only copy of my trip itinerary on my desk at work. I spent an unexpected ten minutes on the trip home going by the office to get my itinerary. Back at my apartment I put on my jacket, hat, back pack, and day bag and then headed off to the light rail stop.

In the days leading up to departure, I kept telling myself that a meticulous planner would take a timed walk to the light rail stop, so as to figure out how much time to allow for the walk on departure day. Otherwise, there’s a big fat unknown variable right at the front end of the venture. Which means the meticulous plan isn’t. Half way to the rail stop on Friday morning, I knew I’d never reach the rail stop in time. As I had been for three straight days, I was solidly in the mode of blur-go-do-respond-act. In that predictable state it is best to be working from a meticulous plan. I had no such plan that morning, apparently. In the spirit of improvisation, I sent a text to my breezeway neighbor, asking if she was awake. She replied and said yes. I called her and asked her to come pick me up and drive me the rest of the way to the rail stop.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have L as my neighbor for the better part of five years. Given the transient nature of apartment life, it’s a small miracle that she’s been a constant, while every other unit in our building has turned over occupancy at least once, some of them three times. She’s friendly, engaging, and trustworthy – and she didn’t hesitate to come pick me up at the spur of the moment that morning. Under less demanding circumstances, I’d have been embarrassed to call someone and ask them to bail me out. Time was too short for pride.

L drove to the grocery store, and I got in her front seat. I looked at my watch. “It’s too late to even drive me to the rail stop now. If you’ll just take me back to the apartment, I’ll call a cab.” “Where are you trying to go?” she asked. “DFW.” “Well, I can take you, I think.” L did a quick assessment of her person: just woke up; no shoes; hadn’t brushed her teeth. “I won’t be smelling your breath,” I joked. She wasn’t amused. But she was a huge blessing. Are you kidding me? At the spur of the moment, she’s volunteering to drive me across the metroplex in rush hour so I can catch my flight? Indeed, she was.

There was approximately zero chance that we’d go all the way to the airport without L asking why I where I was going and why. After we chatted about some trials in her family life, L asked where I was going and why. It’s gotten to be second nature enough now that I just launched in to an explanation of the Triangle, while giving a brief history of my relationship to church, Jesus, faith, miracles, etc. We had a nice discussion about it all. L got me to the airport with much time to spare. Thank you, God, for giving me such a great neighbor for so many years.

*****

In the air, en route to the connecting flight in Philadelphia, on which connecting flight I’ll go to Long Island, New York. We are at cruising altitude. Sunlight reflects blindingly off the cloud cover. My head periodically drops to my chest as I fall into sudden sleep. So tired. For the first time since I first heard the Triangle message nineteen months prior, I am aware that this thing is coming to an end. In the beginning I didn’t even know it would become a ‘thing.’ By October 10, 2014, it has come to occupy much of my waking energy. I do not know what it’s about. I believe strongly that I’m finishing with an asterisk by name, in the form a left thigh that will not burn, no matter how strenuously I try to discern any such heat or will it into existence.

Regardless the state of my thigh, I know that I’m going somewhere I supposed to go. I ‘know’ with a confidence that I couldn’t have imagined in March of 2013. And on an American Airlines flight bound for Philly, I am able to think about the ‘supposed to’ in a way that I haven’t had time yet. Thinking backwards through certain elements of this journey: my just-in-time and all-encompassing raise with back pay; the discovery in Wikipedia that Long Island is actually a pretty big deal; Spirit, who lived in all the Triangle points, in the same order I’d heard them; the Texas DPS trooper who stopped me because of my Florida plates; the discovery that there was an isosceles triangle in the riddle; the mysterious message itself, early in a March morning. Reverse the order of that list, and, looking out over the clouds today, I am singularly aware that the Creator of the Universe – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – has sent me. My relationship to Him, with Him, is undergoing a clarification and crystallization. He wants to send all of us, He wants us to do things for Him, with Him, as the co-laborers that Paul described in his first letter to the Corinthian church. This is all real. He is real. And He will send us places if we will listen and obey.

“I will follow where you lead.”

******

“Thank you for choosing USAir. We are now in service to Islip/Long Island.”

There is no cloud cover below us. We’re over the Atlantic. I know that God has sent me to this seat by this window in this plane over this ocean; without me even knowing until well in to the process that I had been sent. I know that if there’s something to be done in Long Island, He will have arranged for it to happen, no matter that I’m the one that had to pick a weekend to get up there and squeeze blood from a stone to make the trip happen. Somehow, He will make it work. I know this, because He got the news of the raise and back pay to me twenty-four hours before I was to fly out of DFW. I know because, if I’d gone to the more convenient Sunday church service in Portland, instead of hustling across town on Saturday, right after arriving at my hotel, I wouldn’t have met Spirit. I know because I’m not capable on my own of naming three completely random places that form an isosceles triangle whose endpoints are situated such that radiating blasts of Holy Spirit power in those points will be perfectly positioned to cover the United States from the outside in.

None of this makes any sense to the part of my mind that still wants to understand something before I’ll deign to call it ‘OK’. That part of my mind is hanging on for dear life. I feel like I’m stuck with two halves of my body in each of two dimensions. Insert Rod Serling opening narrative.

In the near distance I spy the barrier islands, imminently recognizable, that define the south facing side of Long Island. I know them well from the maps that I’ve been examining for two months. I am right where I’m supposed to be.

*******

The hotel shuttle picked me up at the airport. The driver, J, gave me some great intel on what’s good to eat and where. While I was checking in at the desk, one of the hotel agents asked me why I had come to their hotel. “I don’t know,” I smiled. “It’s kind of an interesting story.” I leaned down to pick up my day bag and retrieve the map. The hotel agent and her co-worker E rolled with it. “We’re listening,” said E. I got out the map and showed it to them; and I told them about the voice. “That’s creepy,” said E, but not in a creepy way. It was a fun exchange. I knew I’d probably not have the opportunity to use that ‘I don’t know’ line on many more people.

And so it was that I checked into the hotel as the guy who didn’t know why he was there. Fun. Thank you, God, for the chance to be that guy.

********

Saturday morning I woke up and had breakfast in the hotel dining area. I wanted to have a big hotel breakfast one time, just to do it. After that first breakfast, all others would be the fruit, nuts, jerky, and Clif bars that I brought with me. The sky was overcast, and there was a slow steady rain. Fortunately, I’m a perfect packer. Unfortunately, I managed to not pack either one of the two umbrellas I have that would have fit in my day bag. I treaded water in the hotel pool for about half an hour, figuring I’d spend the rest of my day doing a lot of sitting on the train.

The rain cleared. I had the hotel shuttle take me to the Ronkonkoma train station. I saw a train getting ready to pull out. I wasn’t sure which direction it was going. I bounded up the steps and jumped on. When your only goal for the day is to ride the LIRR for the first time, anywhere, praying all the way, it doesn’t matter which way the train is going.

I survey the car and it’s Saturday occupants. I take a seat by the window. The recorded announcer tells us we are all on the train headed to Penn Station in Manhattan. I wonder whether I should go all the way to Manhattan. It would be fun; but this trip isn’t about going to Manhattan. I think it over.

A woman sits in the seat next to me. She is somewhat round and covered in an array of shopping bags. The train heads out toward Penn Station. “Next stop  – Central Islip.” My seat mate takes out her phone and makes a call. She is evidently trying to arrange some travel plans. Unfortunately, ‘they’ are all booked. She calls the person with whom she’s been planning to travel, and breaks the bad news. They had wanted to go on a cruise on the Mississippi River, or some river. I think. She has been on dozens of similar cruises with her ex-husband or ex-man, and he’d been a real bastard on the last cruise. Something like that.

We pull into Central Islip, and a rotation of passengers ensues. “Next stop – Brentwood.” The woman continues her call.  She is delaying some elective medical procedure so she could go on their trip. The doctor told her she could wait. I wonder if I should offer to pray for her. My leg is stone cold. “God, if she says anything to me, I’ll pray for healing. Couldn’t you bless her with healing, so she could plan a trip without worrying?” I wonder, randomly and with some despair, if this trip is supposed to be about encouraging believers in their faith walk, how will I find them in such an enormous place as Long Island. The woman is having problems with her urethra, she reveals to her phone and all the rest of us. Right. So, how to discreetly pray for such a thing, in the event that she says anything to me? She never talks to me. I am aware that I’ve been praying for her and our fellow passengers since around May of last year. Rod Serling moment.

I decide to get off at Jamaica Station in Queens, so as to bounce back east on the Montauk Line. My abrupt plan is to ride as many of the smaller western branch lines as possible on Saturday. At Jamaica I board a train destined for the Far Rockaway station. It’s surreal to watch the places on the LIRR map come alive, after the weeks of looking at that map on my work computer.

*********

Riding the length of the various lines and back allowed for much prayer time. It also allowed for time to reflect on unknown opportunities lost via making my leg go cold. I bounced back and forth between prayer and “what if.” There was no answer to be had, and I unabashedly asked God several times for another chance that wouldn’t come.

I got out at the Far Rockaway station to wait for the return trip. The conductor assisted a female passenger who appeared to be waiting for someone who didn’t meet her as planned. A couple of minutes later, an Uber car pulled up, and she got in. The conductor walked the length of the train to his place of business at the far end. He was a massive man who looked capable of pushing the train back to Jamaica if necessary.

I milled around the station platform and out on the street while waiting. There was a makeshift memorial for someone out on the streetside wall of the station building. Several people had written notes on the wall and left votives in honor of whomever had passed. I took a picture of the Far Rockaway display on the train side and sent it to a friend of mine. There wasn’t much action on the streets of Far Rockaway, that I could see. Eventually, a man climbed the platform and boarded the train, since the doors had obviously opened for boarding of the return trip. I took that as my cue to find a seat and wait for liftoff.

**********

The sun came out and the clouds vanished. I continued being prayerful and regretful. I never could shake the sense that the trip was going to ultimately be ‘less than’ because of my rebelliousness. Was the whole thing a waste? I doubted that. But there’s a lot of ground in between “everything that could have been” and “it’s all a complete waste.” As we rolled back toward Jamaica on one of the Hempstead branches, I figured I could at least call the Sound of Heaven church and ask someone to give me directions to their location from the Deer Park train station. My one scheduled plan for the trip was to attend their 10am service on Sunday.

I pull my itinerary out of my portfolio and get the church number. I dial the number and wait. After some rings a man answers. “Sound of Heaven.” “Hello. I’m calling to see if you can give me directions to your church from the Deer Park station.” He asks me how I found out about the church. I tell him that WordPress had highlighted Sound of Heaven when I was blogging about Long Island. Somehow our conversation gets to the point where I tell him that I’d emailed the church to let them know what was going on and to encourage them, that I figured a church with a designated prophet would be into the whole thing. “I know who you are. I know exactly who you are,” he told me. “We got your email. It was the weirdest thing. For the first time ever, a bunch of emails showed up all at once, months after they had actually been sent. I read your email a couple of times and showed it to the other people on our team. We were all very encouraged by it. We read it to our congregation. Somehow, in the chaos of dealing with the delayed emails, no one here ever got back to you.”

The man introduces himself as Bobby Riedel, the pastor of Sound of Heaven. I tell him that I know who he is from the church website. Bobby goes on to tell me that normally there’s nobody at the church on Saturday. Something had happened in the previous days, and the fire marshal had condemned their building. (It would later come out that the fire marshal had been ordered to condemn all Christian churches in a certain area of Deer Park.) The landlord would have to deal with the code issues. In the meantime the Sound of Heaven was moving their services to a Dave & Busters a few towns over, in Farmingdale. The only reason anyone was available to answer the phone on a Saturday was because they were moving their equipment to the makeshift site.

Bobby and I talk for a few minutes. He’s very excited about the timing of my arrival relative to the chaos of their facility situation and the coincidence with the other guests. Bobby says something about how if there’s any time at all, they want to give me time to talk. Pastor Bobby also mentions something about picking me up at the train station, instead of me walking to the church. He will call me back. Great. We end the call.

Is this real life?

I’m back at Jamaica Station. The train arrived during my conversation with Bobby. I find and board the train headed to Long Beach. After months of wondering why Sound of Heaven never replied to my email, the mystery is solved; and in the same disorienting fashion as was revealed the true nature of my raise and back pay. Three days prior I was concerned that Long Island would be a wash. I’m starting to believe that God has set this whole thing up, in part, as a massive surprise party for me. How? I don’t understand…

In Long Beach I called my friend who recommended I start a blog and had his back healed and all that.  I will refer to him as T, because the qualifiers on his person are getting to be too numerous. I told T that I had called Sound of Heaven hoping to find someone who could give me walking directions to the church from the Deer Park train station; and by the end of the conversation, I found out that my email had not only not gone unnoticed, it had been a cause for much encouragement. And they were probably going to have me speak to the church. And the pastor would be picking me up at the train station. T laughed. Sometimes God does things in such a way that all you can do is laugh. T encouraged me to not worry about what I might say to the church. He said he’d give me a call on Sunday afternoon to see how things went. I ate a gyro on the train platform, waiting for the Jamaica-bound train to open for boarding.

Riding to Jamaica I was unable to fully celebrate the events of the preceding two hours. Three weeks later, I’m unable to celebrate fully. I believed on Saturday, October 11, as I do on November 3rd, that something would be missing from the surprise party. And it was my fault. I dreaded the possibility that God would show me an opportunity in which miraculous healing power might have been deployed with maximum effectiveness, were that miraculous healing power still available.

Bobby got back with me and confirmed he would pick me up and that they were going to give me a chance to address the church on Sunday. With or without a warm leg, this was all completely unreal.

***********

On Sunday morning, the hotel shuttle took me to the train station. I rode to Farmingdale, where Bobby picked me up. He asked me to tell the story to his other passenger, a young man from the Jim Bakker Ministries. I told the story and showed them both the map. At Dave & Busters, Bobby introduced me to John, Sound of Heaven’s apostle and main preacher. I met several people on the leadership and worship teams. During the service John explained details of the facility problem and then reminded the congregation of the email from the guy in Dallas. He thus introduced me and gave me the floor. I shared my story with the church. Afterwards, the leadership team gathered around me, prayed for me, and prophesied over me. Many of the prophecies mirrored or continued those that had been spoken over me before; or they reflected reality in my life that I had never shared with anyone before.

Afterwards, I sat down, and there was a time of prophetic revelation and healing prayers. It was in this time that they prayed for the man in the wheelchair. All my concerns about my leg and the lost warmth therein came to a head as people gathered around the man and prayed fruitlessly for him to get up. I believe that shamefully frustrating moment altered my spiritual DNA in a way that all of God’s gentle suggesting could not.

After the service several people came and talked to me about my story and message that morning. I felt like I was amongst old friends. A bunch of people went over to the D&B restaurant for lunch, and Bobby invited me. I visited with Bobby and Jay during lunch. Jay bought my lunch. One of the women from the church offered me a ride to the train station, since she was taking Jackie already. I said goodbye to Bobby, John, and Jay, and the nice lady drove us to the station. Jackie and I visited on the platform for a few minutes. I decided to go back to the hotel, rather than going back west to Jamaica for another trip down a branch line. I was tired, and it seemed like the trip was effectively over. I went back to my hotel and stayed there for the rest of Sunday and into Monday afternoon.

************

I rushed through the preceding description of Sunday at Sound of Heaven. I could realistically spend an entire post writing about that morning alone. But I won’t because I need to crank out other material. And anything I write now would only be a description of preliminaries, I think, with much more to come. Sound of Heaven was in some ways the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. After a year and half of wondering, praying, planning, and traveling, Sound of Heaven and I came together that Sunday under circumstances that only God could have organized. We are linked together now for eternity. Before we get into the ‘eternal’ part of eternity, there will surely be more for us to do together in this life. Maybe I’m supposed to move up there? I don’t know right now. The leg thing is taking its rightful place in my collection of expensive life lessons; my relationship with Sound of Heaven will be about much more than that one lesson.

*************

There wasn’t much more of substance to the trip after the Sunday extravaganza. Frankly, I think the initial phone conversation with Bobby was the climax of the trip, if not the entire Triangle venture. If that conversation with Bobby was God yelling, “SURPRISE!”, then the Sunday experience was just the party itself playing out in marvelous fashion. I know there are people who constantly walk in a lifestyle of supernatural perspective and experience. I do not do so, and I wonder if it’s possible to get used to it, to get sensitized to it. I’ve never been more aware of my right place in God’s universe as I was that morning in a Dave & Busters, in Farmingdale, New York, among people with whom God had arranged a meeting before any of us had an idea it was coming.

I spent all of Sunday evening and much of Monday in bed, watching football games and ESPN coverage of same. In the process I wrecked my neck by staying in some posture for too long. I would be in serious pain for the next several days, until I could get in to see the world’s greatest chiropractor.

On Monday, I figured out how to walk to the train station from the hotel. It was a little less than three miles. I took one more LIRR excursion on a branch line. I ate a delicious bowl of linguine with clam sauce and some New York cheese cake at Mama Mia’s and was stuffed for the rest of the day. On Monday night I gave E at the hotel desk the address of my blog. I told her it would explain much about the crazy man in room 209 with the Triangle map.

My travels home on Tuesday were predictably tedious. I was able to catch the Dallas light rail at DFW airport and ride it to within a thirty minute stroll to my apartment. On the planes and on the train that day, I was a weird mixture of ecstatic and morose. Eighteen months and some weeks after that first early-morning message, The Triangle had been completed. I hadn’t finished in optimal fashion, as far as I could tell. But it was done. I had gone where He had led me, where I was supposed to go. I was looking at the rest of my life with eyes and perspective that I hadn’t possessed before the Long Island trip.

One of the ladies who blessed me at Sound of Heaven made a point that God was going to give me more to do because I had proved that He could trust me. I believed then and believe today she was speaking truth. There will be more to come.

And so I wonder and ask often these days,

What now, Lord?

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