The Rifleman
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The Years Before
Chapter 22 - Bible
Written by Michelle Palmer

It was late December. The wind was howling fiercely as Lucas pulled his coat tighter and threw another log on the fire. “It sure is cold,” Johnny grumbled from his place at the fire. “Sure wish I could be home right now.”  Johnny shivered. “What do you suppose your family’s doing right about now?”
Lucas turned and saw Reef Jackson sitting on the other side of him. “Ohhhh…It’s Christmas Eve. I’m sure they have different traditions now, but I bet Tiffany and Emily have a tree up and decorated. Presents for the children are under the tree. Knowing Peter, he probably has some sort of romantic gift for his wife…”
“And Margaret?” Johnny asked as he took a puff from his cigar.
“Margaret…” Lucas mumbled. “Ah yes. Margaret has the Gibbs’ house decorated from top to bottom.” A strong wind suddenly blew through the camp. Lucas huddled a bit closer to the fire and shivered. His teeth chattered something awful as he continued to remember. “Aunt Jenny has her famous egg nog out in the cold staying cool. Margaret is smiling as she wraps those fancy bows around the presents. Tomorrow, Margaret will light those candles she insists on putting on the tree. Around noonish, the McCain family will start showing up after celebrating Christmas at their own home. Margaret always goes all out and…” Suddenly, Lucas stopped when another gust of icy wind blew right through him. “I’d settle for almost anything right now!”
“Who’s Margaret?” Reef asked from beside Lucas. “She part of your family?”
“Not yet,” Johnny answered with a wink. “But I expect he’ll change that as soon as he gets back.”
“Ohhhhh…” Reef nodded in understanding. “She your girl?”
Lucas glared at Johnny as he stood up. “I think I’m going to bed. Goodnight.”
The next day, Lucas woke with a depressed feeling. Today was Christmas, and he had a deep desire to go home and be with his family. He heard someone talking outside his tent. Slowly, he stood and walked out. “And there were in the same country shepherds watching their flock by night when behold…”
Lucas was suddenly transformed back in time. He saw his Father sitting at the chair near the Christmas tree with his Bible on his lap. Ruth sat just beside him and the McCain children all sat on the floor. Julie sat between her husband’s legs as she leaned her head against his chest. They were mesmerized as Marcus read the Christmas story. Lucas remembered that was the highlight of his day. He had forgotten all about that.
Lucas turned and hurried away. But his heart felt as icy that morning as his body had felt the night before. There were no drills that day, and the day was long. In fact, the remainder of that week seemed long. There was something missing…something different in him. Lucas remembered the incredible joy he felt as he walked into Gettysburg a few weeks ago. He remembered even singing the words to that song, and singing wasn’t something he engaged in often – at least not since joining the war.
January crept onto the camp. Still, Lucas felt something was missing. He went through the drills and training exercises. He fought alongside his fellow enlisted men when skirmishes came up. But still…he felt like there was something missing.
Then one night, Lucas walked past a tent. His eye caught the Private sitting on his cot with a Bible in his hand. His face was baptized with understanding and reverence and….peace.
Lucas remembered the Bible he had with him earlier in the war. He had been much like that Private. Every night before going to bed, he spent time in the Bible. He read the words that brought him closer to wisdom and helped him cope with the day to day losses. And he wondered…when was the last time he had picked up his Bible and read the words? He stood outside that Private’s tent as his mind thought back to that day. He saw himself sitting on the bed two weeks before Gettysburg as he read the words in the Bible. He couldn’t even remember what he had read, or even why he had sat the Bible down that evening never to pick it up.
The words echoed in his mind.
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

Lucas remembered now what had made him feel so confident and free that day. He had sung the words without thinking. Lucas’ eyes widened as he realized he no longer had a Bible. The Private looked up. They locked eyes with each other before Lucas nodded stiffly and hurried away.
Lucas went to his own tent. He sat down on the side of his cot and stared at his bedside table. It was missing. Lucas stared at the rifle still in his hand. He sat it down next to his cot, but he knew that the weapon he really needed he’d foolishly left behind. He had honestly believed that leaving it behind would make him a better soldier, but he knew now that it wasn’t the Bible that made him hurt that day – it was his putting the Bible down. How it had happened…and why…he didn’t know. But he suddenly felt a longing…a deep thirst to get it back.
Lucas laid down on the cot as his eyes filled with tears. He forced them back, but his chest hurt at the pressure. All these years the faith his parents had taught him wasn’t enough; because it was a faith he’d have to find on his own – when he was ready. And now…he was ready.
The next morning – Tuesday – Lucas was quiet while he ate his breakfast. He tried to think on a way to ask the Captain what he needed to ask. How does a rough and tough Lieutenant such as himself ask the Captain such a personal question? Lucas stood from the fire, tightened his coat as again a familiar coldness came over him, and walked toward the Captain’s tent.
Captain Benton looked up from his desk where he was eating. “Lieutenant, what brings you here?”
“I…” Lucas felt his mouth go dry. He closed his eyes. “I must ask your permission to go into town, sir.”
“Town?” Captain Benton sat down his fork. “What’s the purpose?”
“I…I…” Lucas looked down at the ground.
Captain Benton saw the strain on the Lieutenant’s face and stood up. “Sit down, Lieutenant.” Lucas obeyed and stared at his hands. “Now, why do you need to go into town?”
“Well sir…you see…” Lucas swallowed. “It’s sort of a…personal matter.”
“Personal?” Captain Benton asked. He put a hand on Lucas’s shoulder and felt it’s shaking. “What is it?”
“Well sir, I…I need to go to church and it can’t wait until Sunday.” Lucas lifted his eyes to stare into the Captain’s. Silently, he begged the Captain to understand without more questions.
Captain Benton nodded. “I think sergeant Drako can handle the drills today, Lieutenant.”
“Thank you, sir.” Lucas stood and saluted him. He turned and walked toward the door.
“Lieutenant…” Lucas turned around. “I…hope you find what you’re looking for.”
“Thank you, sir.” Lucas hurried out.
As he rode his horse into town, Lucas allowed tears to fill his eyes. A few tears managed to squeeze out, but he tried to keep them at bay.
Lucas dismounted in front of the church. He looked at the cross at the top of the steeple as his heart swelled. He put his foot on the bottom step and forced himself to climb the rest of the way up. Pausing at the door, he put his hand on the knob and started to turn it. Then he paused, wondering if he was worthy of entering after what he had done.
His hand shook as he opened the door. The squeaking of the rusted hinges echoed in the empty church. Lucas stood in the back and stared up at the altar. So many times, he’d watched his mother walk the aisle and kneel in front of the altar. He’d never done it himself and wondered if he could now. Lucas felt his knees shake as he made his way to the front. He took off his hat and looked down at the giant Bible opened on the communion table. God must have been with him with his hand on his shoulder because as Lucas looked down at the open Bible, he read these words:
“Come Ye who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
He read the words several times as the familiar pressure again pressed on his chest. From behind him, Lucas heard, “Can I help you?”
Lucas spun around at the sudden presence of another. He wondered who would dare interrupt his reunion with God. “Reverend…” Lucas swallowed, his adam’s apple bobbed up and down.
The Reverend stepped forward. “Lieutenant, forgive me. I’m sorry if I interrupted your prayer.”
“I wasn’t…” Lucas felt sweat break out on his face. His mouth went dry and he tried desperately to form the words. “I wasn’t praying…I was just…thinking.”
“Oh. Would you like to tell me your thoughts? Or should I leave?”
Lucas turned around and again looked at the altar. “I grew up in church. No matter…matter what was happening my folks always took us to church. My mother would weep at this altar. Sometimes, my father would join her. I guess it always scared me because…because I guess I didn’t understand why they were crying.”
“I see.” The reverend sat down. “It sounds like you need to talk. My name’s Reverend Warren. I’d like to be your friend.”
Lucas sat down and toyed with his hat as he nervously organized his thoughts. “My uh…” Lucas swallowed. “I guess you could call her my unofficial fiancée…She sent me a Bible shortly after I joined the war. I read from it every night. It brought me comfort and peace, even after my friend’s… her brother’s death. I was able to find peace in the words. But…”
The revered allowed a few moments of silence before he encouraged Lucas to continue by saying, “But?”
“I don’t know what happened exactly.” Lucas lifted his head. “I was in Gettysburg.”
Reverend Warren nodded his head. “I heard the regiments camped around here went there. It was a hard time.”
“Yes…” Lucas swallowed. “I don’t know how it happened, but the last time I read my Bible was a couple weeks before Gettysburg. I usually prayed before going into a battle, like my mother always taught me but this time…” Lucas shook his head.
“You wonder why you stopped, son?” Reverend Warren put a comforting hand on Lucas’s shoulder. Lucas nodded. “We all go through hills and valleys in life. Sometimes we put the Bible down without realizing it. Small things that happen…and before we know it…”
“I faced…the biggest challenge of my life at Gettysburg. It broke me like…” Lucas shook his head. “I had to take a leave of absence. I refused to pray or go to church. I got to the point of…” Lucas lowered his head, not wanting to admit where his boycott against God had taken him.
“You don’t have to tell me, son. I think I know. And I know God knows.”
Lucas swallowed. “Well…somewhere along the way, I realized I’ve been living my parent’s faith. I understand now that I can’t live their faith. I have to find my own.”
“That’s right, son.”
Lucas allowed tears to fall down his cheeks unbidden. “I left my Bible at home. I thought that…that I could be a better soldier without it. “
“A better soldier?” Reverend Warren asked.
Lucas nodded. “Tougher…not feeling guilty for the killings…for…”
“You know your Bible, I’m sure. Look at the heroes of the Old Testament and those who fought. They had something much more important go before them in every battle. They had God.” Reverend Warren placed his other hand on Lucas’s shoulder as he lowered his voice. “Do you really want to go into a battle without Him?”
Lucas started weeping. He put his face in his hands and shook his head. “Gettysburg was so hard for me…I thought it was because of the Bible but now I realize that…”
“It was because you didn’t bring God with you?” Lucas nodded. “Son, do you believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins?” Lucas nodded again. “And He’ll forgive you if you ask him to.” Lucas nodded again. “Would you like me to pray with you?”
Reverend Warren stood and walked to the altar. Together he kneeled down with Lucas. Placing his hands on Lucas’s shoulders, he leaned his head against Lucas as together they prayed. Lucas found his own faith in those moments. After Reverend Warren finished, he stood and went to the back of the church to allow Lucas time alone with God. Lucas wept. His body shook as he allowed God’s peace to pour over him. The unforgiveness and guilt he had felt fell away that day.
In time, Lucas wiped his eyes and stood up. Reverend Warren came forward with a Bible. He held it out to him. “I’d be honored if you would take this, Lieutenant.”
Lucas stared at the Bible, then slowly took it from his hands. He ran his hand over the black leather and slowly shook his head. “This is a fine Bible, Reverend. I can’t…”
“You must.” Reverend Warren smiled into Lucas’s face. “You cannot go into a battle without the most important weapon. I pray that you make this the most important thing in your life. Not only during war, but when you return to civilian life. When you have a family…use it before any important decisions. Use it when you discipline your children and when you have a decision to make. Read it to your family like your parents did so your children will also grow up to find their own faith and not just live off of your faith.”
Lucas opened the Bible and stared at the words. He suddenly had a longing to read it like he’d never felt before. And he felt a peace like a peace he’d never felt before. “Reverend…I feel like I’ve just been washed in a cleansing stream.”
“You’ve been washed in the blood of Jesus,” Reverend Warren declared. “You are now His son and He will bless you. I pray that someday you can have a son to love so you can experience the love the Father has for you. Go in peace.”
Lucas smiled. He felt like a new man as they shook hands. But as he shook Reverend Warren’s hand, he suddenly wanted to do something he hadn’t done in a long time. He allowed his arms to go around the Reverend in a great big bear hug. When they parted, Lucas laughed as his face reddened. “A Lieutenant hugging a man…I hope God doesn’t reveal this to anybody!”
“I’m sure Jesus hugged those who hurt. If he were here right now, he would have done the same. It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Lieutenant.”
“Just call me Lucas…Lucas McCain.” Lucas smiled as he walked from the church.
My Dearest Margaret,
I have a confession to make. When I left to return to the war, I left the most important thing behind – my Bible. But Margaret, today I found something. It was something so incredible and brought me such peace. I found faith. I know I’ve been living off the faith of my mother and father; but I didn’t understand what they had – not until today when I found my own. My sweet Margaret, I am now at peace. I’ve found forgiveness and I no longer feel guilt.
The Reverend’s name was Reverend Warren. He gave me a Bible to read and I have already spent a great deal of time in reading the pages of this new Bible. Margaret, he gave me a piece of advice, and I’ve written it on a blank page on the back of the Bible. He told me to read this before I make a big decision or before I discipline my children. He gave me a blessing that I might have a son someday so I can experience the love God has for me.
I pray someday I have that son. And when I do, I want to name him after the Reverend. As I rode home tonight, I talked to God a lot. And I thought that the only other man who’s had such an impact on my life is my father. So with that said, I want to name my…our son…Mark Warren McCain.
I love you, my sweet Margaret. I can’t wait to get home and hold you in my arms again. Oh, I feel so wonderful! I wish I could share what I’m feeling with you right now! I can’t exactly share it with the boys here at camp…
I’ll write to you again very soon, my love.
Lucas Mark McCain
(Your future husband)

The Years Before — A Time to Live

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman

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