Sometimes, you never know what God has in mind until you get there.
That's got to be the understatement of my life.
My name is Perry Liston. For many years I was a street preacher in Portland, Oregon. But then I met Doc Savage, and everything changed.
"Oak, Southwest First Avenue. Doors to my right," announced the disembodied voice within the MAX light-rail train.
"Is this our stop?" inquired the gorgeous creature at my side. The short-haired brunette was Dot, my bride of these few short weeks.
I shook my head and replied through an ear-to-ear grin, "Next one. Keep an eye out for the fountain on the right as we make the next curve."
Seeing the gyrating of the crowd on the crowded train car, I gripped Dot's hand a little firmer and indicated that we should maneuver towards the doors. The weather outside was comfortable, even though there was more rain this time of year than usual. Regardless of the climate, I knew there would be a crowd at Portland's Saturday Market, and I hoped a certain couple would be down there as well. Considering there was no rain today, it was a good bet they'd be there.
"Excited?" asked Dot with a smile, jerking to the left as the train shook and jolted from speed changes.
"Oh, yes," I replied with a sigh. "This is where I did much of my ministry. I need to be here."
"Like coming home," she commented. I smiled at her insight, and kissed her.
The MAX announcer spoke again, in a male voice with a slight Spanish accent. "Skidmore Fountain, doors to my right."
We were both overwhelmed by the number of people on either side of the tracks. I would have guessed hundreds, easily. The bell rang outside and the train whistle blew to warn people ahead to be far from the tracks.
Dot tightened her grip on my hand and mumbled, "Geronimo," as the train slowed and stopped and the doors parted before us.
Although I had known what to expect, the sudden transition from the relative quiet of the MAX to the excitement of the Market was a shock. The sounds -- amplified by the superb acoustics below the Burnside Bridge -- hit us like a tsunami. We took a couple of steps away from the MAX, necessitated by both those getting on and getting off, and held tight until the light rail moved on. With the barrage lessened, I turned to Dot and said, "So, what do you think?"
"Very ... impressive," she answered weakly, still taking it all in.
We stood on the eastbound platform for a few seconds, as a westbound MAX came and went. By that time, we were becoming accustomed to the immensity of it all, and I was looking around for familiar faces.
I saw one.
With a grin and looking both ways, I led Dot across the tracks to the westbound platform. There, under the bridge, was one of the many street performers who gave character to the Market. He was a long-haired man sitting at the keyboard of an old upright piano. We listened to the melody he was playing, then I leaned in towards Dot and asked, "Sound familiar?"
She shook her head slowly, uncertainly, then stopped. "Yeah," she said cautiously. "That's the guy on your CD."
In the protective shade under the bridge, gleaning every acoustical advantage from his piano, Paul Immanuel Owens was in a world of his own. His fingers moved across the keyboard with a familiarity that came from years of practice and dedication to his music. As he played a delicate tune, his countenance reflected peace and serenity. He was where he needed to be.
He finished the tune to scattered applause. A few people dropped money into his TIPS jar, or approached him for one of his cassettes or CD's. We waited a few moments before approaching. Paul and I made eye contact, and we drew near. He was just as friendly as last time, and I was amazed that he still remembered me. We exchanged greetings and I introduced him to Dot. She commented on his music, and he humbly accepted it. Knowing his busy schedule, we spoke quickly, summarizing the last year. I didn't reveal any secrets, but explained things away by saying that I had been 'traveling around the country,' which is how I met Dot. I commented on how many new CDs were in the worn suitcase Paul used as his display case. "We're going to walk around a bit, but I promise we'll be back. Save me one of everything, including the one I already have," I joked. "My old copy's nearly worn out after all these months."
He promised they'd be there, and we shook hands on it. As we moved on to leave Paul to his weekly concert, Dot told me she was anxious to do some serious shopping.
"Not quite yet, hon," I replied. "I want to check something out first."
The couple stood unashamed, their hands at their sides, offering hand-made, hand-folded gospel tracts. They were quiet and didn't move about, presenting the impression to some that they were performing as living statues. And the fact that they didn't press their tracts on those who came within range set them apart from the usual religious crowd. The short woman stood near the STOP sign at Naito Parkway and Ankeny, and the tall fat man stood across the street from Waterfront Park, facing those who crossed into Saturday Market. The man tried to make eye contact with as many as possible, and both of them had seraphic smiles on their faces.
Anyone who saw them knew exactly what they believed, expressed by the tee-shirts with the words JESUS SAVES FROM HELL on the front and REPENT OR PERISH on the back -- in letters large enough to be seen from almost a block away.
Dot and I moved around to a position where we could observe them without being spotted by the man. I tilted my head in their direction and asked, "See them?"
Dot squinted. "The ones with the shirts."
"Gotta give 'em credit ... just standing like that with those tee-shirts is a bold move. I take it you know 'em?"
"Uh huh. Mark and Karen Eidemiller." I paused. "Watch, and learn."
We watched them for several minutes, observing how the public responded to their presence. Many people walked past them as if they didn't exist. Others gave them encouraging words, thanking them for their boldness, and the quiet way they witnessed. Others responded with hateful words, cursing and visually trying to elicit a negative response. But instead they got love, friendly smiles, and silence. And, in the midst of the crowds, there came the occasional person taking one of their fliers. A few even asked for them. The couple surrendered the tracts without pressure, rarely speaking unless spoken to, always smiling and being polite.
"Very cool," commented Dot, awestruck. "It doesn't matter to them if they take it or pass."
Suddenly, three teenage boys in black punk garb approached Mark via Waterfront Park. The lead punk took one of the offered tracts, then deliberately shredded it into several pieces and dropped it ceremoniously at the big man's feet. Then he grinned, but only for a moment. Mark's countenance didn't waver; his smile may have even grown a degree. The punk growled in frustration, then continued on with his fellows.
"Woah!" said Dot in awe.
"Mark and Karen have been out here for several years, and they've probably seen it all. Those punks wanted to push Mark's hot button -- get a Christian to screw up his witness so he can justify his own garbage." I paused. "I'll give you odds that Mark saw them coming. He was ready."
"He saw the punch and ducked it."
"More or less. Despite what we see, they're not idle; they're praying like crazy for each other, the people around them, and for the tracts that leave their hands."
"So when are we going to meet them?" she smirked.
"Now. Here's what I want you to do ..."
With only a sideways glance as she passed Karen, Dot walked over to Mark and gave him her most innocent smile. "Hi."
The big man had seen her coming. Shifting on his feet, he smiled back. "Hello."
"I'm looking a friend who might've come this way."
Mark's head tilted slightly. "I see a lot of people."
"Yeah, but he said you know him ... Perry Liston?"
Looking at her with a shocked expression, he said, "Perry? I was thinking about him just this morning."
I repressed a giggle at Mark's comment, mischievously slipping around from behind. My goal was to surprise him without causing him to react in his flesh. So timing was essential.
A moment later I was within arms reach, and made my move. Plucking one of the tracts from the fingers of his right hand, he responded as I hoped he would, by turning his head in my direction. His expression was momentary shock and surprise, followed by an explosive grin. "You snot!" he interjected.
I remained calm, commenting tongue-in-cheek, "You know, it's just too easy to take advantage of you."
Quickly stuffing his tracts into a tummy pack, he hugged me like a long-lost brother.
"Man, is it good to see you!" he said, emotionally. "We've been missing you."
I caught my breath. "Yeah, well ... I've been busy."
Glancing over at Dot, he commented, "I can guess. So who's your accomplice?" He angled his head in her direction.
I moved around to Dot and wrapped an arm around her waist. "Mark, I'd like you to meet Dot ... my wife."
Mark froze in astonishment for a moment. I could see his eyes misting over with emotion. "Thank You, Lord," he said softly, grinning. Then he lovingly wrapped his arms around us both while repeating, "Praise the Lord."
After a few moments, he released us and said excitedly, "You gotta meet Karen!" Then he headed in the direction of the corner where the short woman with the brown hair looked in our direction with a perplexed expression.
With Mark a few steps ahead of us, I leaned in and informed Dot, "She's blind."
"Karen, Perry's back in town," he eagerly announced as we approached. "And he's not alone."
I spoke to announce my location. "Hi, Karen." With a grin that matched Mark's, she opened her arms for a hug, and I walked into it. A moment or two later, I introduced her to Dot.
"Alright!" she squealed joyfully. "Praise the Lord!" and gave Dot a hug that momentarily took her breath away.
While the women embraced, Mark leaned towards me. "Praise God you finally found someone," he said, his hand on my shoulder. I could feel the love radiating from my elder brother in Christ. "So what's going on? The last time I talked to Jack was around Christmastime, and you were involved in some sort of outreach in Vermont. Why Vermont?"
I knew this moment would come up eventually. "How 'bout if we talk over dinner?"
"We're open. Izzy's?"
I shook my head. "Too ... public."
"Public," he repeated, our eyes connecting. "You have a suggestion?"
"We've got a suite at the Mariott. Why don't we meet up when the Market closes and go there."
His eyes went wide. "A suite at the Mariott? What, did you get rich all of a sudden ..." He grinned mischievously. "... and are you willing to share the wealth?"
I chuckled and sidestepped the issue. "How about we meet you back here at five?"
Mark conceded. "We'll meet you over there." He pointed to a group of benches in Waterfront Park.
There was another round of old and new friends hugging, and we branched off in separate directions.
"Okay," I announced official-like as we wandered into the marketplace. "Let the shopping begin." The myriad smells of food quickly had us by the nose, so we got a 'elephant ear' pastry and some lemonade from one of several vendors, and nibbled while browsing.
Our first stop was to find something to put the rest of our intended purchases in. For that, we got a couple of brightly decorated handmade 'Betty Bag' packs. As we shopped, a few items were for us, such as a large bag of Kettle Korn and the complete set of Paul's CDs. But most of the items were gifts for others. Polar fleece hoods for Johnny and Monk. Some perfumed 'bath bombs' for Carrie, Lea, Amy, and Amanda. Some flavored jellies for Jack. Happy Hounds dog treats for Renny's basset hound and Amanda's hearing-ear dog, and a selection of 'Cute Buns' hair wraps for all the ladies. Some gel-based scented candles for Lea. A jar of eucalyptus herbal balm for Monk. And on and on it went.
I've never tired of seeing Saturday Market. It's the largest open-air craft market in the United States. During their open season, regardless of the weather, there's always the familiar and the bizarre. To state that the Market was filled with diverse and colorful characters was an understatement. Everywhere we looked, there were canters and artisans, musicians and just entertainers, tourists and vagabonds, performers and panhandlers.
There was one entertainer named John, who appeared to be the shabby reincarnation of Elvis. He was tall and skinny, and wore thick-lensed glasses. I knew John from years back, and we ribbed one another for a few minutes before he spontaneously broke into a rendition of "Love Me Tender". His voice was rough, and his showmanship was clownish, but his heart was in the right place, and it was clear that he loved the attention.
As he serenaded us, I lovingly put my arm around my wife and held her close as I remembered the last time we heard that song. It was in a theme restaurant in San Francisco, just around the beginning of the year, during Dot's personal crisis that resulted in her acceptance of Jesus Christ into her life, and, incidentally, paving the way for us to get married. Ignoring everything else around us, I looked into her bright brown eyes and thanked God again for bringing her into my life.
Dropping a large tip into John's guitar case, I directed Dot away from the ersatz entertainer and headed west away from the Market. As we strolled, I couldn't help sharing stories and anecdotes from my years down on the streets. Good and bad, they all came together for God's glory.
We also observed how other religious and pseudo-religious groups were accepted in this very-public forum. Near the fountain at Ankeny Square were the Hare Krishnas dressed in their familiar salmon robes, hawking and attempting to sell their books.
We continued to talk as I took Dot up Burnside Avenue for a couple of blocks, then turned right. In the middle of the block, I stopped. Dot looked around, rather puzzled. I paused dramatically, then smiled and pointed across the street at what appeared to be an ordinary storefront. Then I introduced, "The Mission."
At first, Dot didn't make the connection. Then, as her eyes grew wider, she stared at the storefront with wonder, and gasped, "You don't mean THE Mission?"
"Uh huh," I acknowledged with a nod. "This is where it all began."
In that instant, this simple brick-and-mortar storefront took on a holy significance comparable to the empty tomb. This was where, over a year ago, I'd been preaching the night a confused, troubled bronze-skinned giant walked in off the streets. This was where he recognized the emptiness of sin within him and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. This is where, over soup and sandwiches, I invited this homeless vagabond who identified himself as Clark Savage Jr. to stay at my home. And this is the place where Almighty God decreed would start the chain of events that would result in Ms. Dorothy Brooks from New York City becoming my bride. Beyond the imagination of mere mortals, to say the least.
Dot summed it up well. "Oh, wow," she said breathlessly.
"I don't believe in coincidences," I mused aloud, smiling. "And God is so good."
"Amen," she softly agreed, squeezing my hand.
Many people would never know the significance of this place in Portland's Skid Row. To many it would be an eyesore, something to be torn down and replaced with an office building. To others it would be a tool to use to survive, somewhere to get a meal and maybe a place to sleep, and maybe some clothes or a blanket. But for us, hugging and kissing and joyfully crying together while strangers walked past us, this ordinary storefront was the most graphic representation of how a loving God could change two lives forever.
It was indeed a very special place.
At precisely 5:00, the normal chaos of Saturday Market expanded geometrically, as the artisans and craftspeople packed things up to close for the day. Crews of volunteers and staff pushed heavy steel carts like possessed juggernauts. Vehicles of all types moved in as close as humanly possible, no matter how disruptive it became. The goal was 'get in, load it up, and get out.'
Having given Dot a heads-up on what to expect, we held onto each others' hand and ventured through this gauntlet. We sidestepped a couple of runaway carts, then swung around a pickup truck and froze moments ahead of an oncoming decal-laden van. We cut through Ankeny Square -- where they couldn't park -- to get to Naito Parkway, where we crossed into Waterfront Park. From one of the benches near the seawall, Mark Eidemiller waved at us.
Together, the four of us walked slowly away from Saturday Market, along the seawall. We'd hardly gone a dozen yards when Karen boldly asked, "Perry, Mark? Would you mind if Dot and I walked together?" There were no objections, so Dot came around to Karen's side and offered her elbow at Karen's suggestion. Dot laughed at something Karen whispered to her, and the ice was broken. Soon they were walking several paces ahead of us.
I commented to Mark, "She's still just as outgoing as ever."
Mark nodded and grinned, "Yep."
We walked along the waterfront for a few steps. Mark finally spoke. "I have to admit, you've roused my curiosity. You're gone for over a year, seemingly traveling across the country. You return, with a new wife no less. And you've obviously come into some bucks." He stopped and faced me. "So what happened?"
I walked over to the seawall and looked out. A few small boats cruised along the river, and I quickly prayed about what to say. Then I responded. "Mark, do you recognize the name Andrew Blodgett Mayfair?"
Mark thought a moment, then answered, "Sure ... Monk Mayfair. One of Doc Savage's team." He paused, then recited. "Let's see. There were five of them. Monk, of course ... Ham ... Renny ... Johnny ... and Long John."
"Long Tom," I corrected.
"Thanks!" Mark grinned sheepishly. "So what's with the history lesson?"
I faced Mark and looked him in the eye. "Monk Mayfair is my grandfather-in-law."
"So tell me a little about yourself," asked Karen. "How'd you meet Perry? How long have you been a Christian?"
"Well, the first part's a long story. And I've been a Christian since the Second of January."
"Oh, really? So what's your story?"
"Your testimony. How'd you come to know Christ?"
Dot was silent. Karen read her hesitation. "You've never told anybody your testimony, have you ... 'cause maybe it might reveal some things about your past you don't want anybody but God to know ... and you're a bit embarrassed?" She smiled. "Am I getting close?"
"On the nose," replied Dot with a smile. "Are you always this direct?"
"At times. Don't sweat it." They took a few more steps. "Tell you what, let me tell you a bit about how I came to know the Lord ..."
"Your wife is the granddaughter of Monk Mayfair?" softly exclaimed Mark.
"Yeah," I confirmed. Then I took the next step. "And there's more."
Noticing the distance between us and the ladies, we continued walking. Mark was quiet. I knew he was thinking things over. "More? What? Next thing you'll be telling me is that Doc Savage is still alive."
I knew he had intended it as tongue-in-cheek, and inwardly grinned at the truth of the statement. But I kept silent.
Suddenly, Mark was standing in front of me. His expression was incredulous fear. "I was joking, Perry. Tell me I was joking, okay?"
"You're not joking," I said straight-faced, slowly. I looked around us, and we moved back to the seawall. A pair of rollerbladers swept past us. We waited until they were out of range, then I started, "It all began when I was preaching down here at the Mission ..."
"Are the guys still behind us?" asked Karen.
"Yeah. Way behind us. Looks like they stopped."
Karen pointed ahead. "There should be some benches around here. Let's wait for them."
They moved to the wrought-iron benches and sat down. It wasn't the most comfortable, but it was better than standing. Dot rested the Betty Bag at her feet.
"You've been through a lot," observed Dot. "And blind to boot."
"You've been through a lot, too, haven't you."
"Yeah. You and I have a lot in common. Mine came to a head a few days before the end of the year. Perry and I were working together, and we were in San Francisco getting some information. One night, we ran into a youth gang terrorizing a couple. Perry decided to fight them, and I thought he was crazy."
"Sounds like Perry," commented Karen.
"To make a long story short, we used an ace up our sleeve and kicked their butts. But I got hurt." She paused, then continued wistfully. "Perry took care of me ... babied me like nobody ever had."
"Sounds like Perry," she repeated with a grin.
Dot's voice became hesitant, but she pressed on. "Then there was New Year's Eve. He told me he loved me. We kissed. When he took me back to my hotel room, I ... we ... almost ..."
Karen tactfully interrupted her. "I can guess. Unmarried, and not yet a Christian."
She sighed. "Exactly. Anyhow, we didn't. The next morning, we had a chance to talk, and Perry told me about Christ. I had a lot to think about, so I went for a walk ... and ran into an old boyfriend."
"Not good," moaned Karen. "I think I can guess what happened next."
"You're probably right. Anyhow, I was real messed up from that, and went on a run that night. I ran into one of the gang members from the previous night -- the only girl in the group -- and we had a rematch." Dot paused, her throat tightening, and her head drooped.
Sensing the difficulty for Dot to continue, Karen reached an arm around and gave Dot a sideways hug of reassurance. "It's okay," she said softly.
Dot turned to face Karen, and her voice blurted out in a hoarse whisper. "I-I almost killed her!"
"But you didn't," said Karen firmly. "Because God wouldn't allow it."
They sat in silence for a moment, then Dot continued. "I didn't know then what I had almost done. I just felt dirty, unworthy to be loved by anyone. I returned to my hotel room. Perry had been there all night, praying and waiting for me. I didn't want his love. I didn't deserve it. I yelled at him, tried pushing him away, tried hating him, but he just ... kept on loving me. And it finally got through. Through Perry, I saw the love of God and the forgiveness of God." Tears streamed down her face as she relived the moment. "And we prayed."
"Praise God," concluded Karen with another warm sideways hug. As Dot leaned into it, she knew she and Karen would be good friends.
"Since then? Well ..." She held out the hand with the wedding band on it.
Karen felt the movement, followed the arm, and felt the ring. "Very nice. Simple. Feels like lettering, though."
"It is. The band has the word JESUS formed in it. Perry and I both wanted it to be a good witness as well as a reminder."
Dot was startled, until Karen held up her own ring. They were identical. They both started laughing.
We stood side-by-side at the seawall, watching a tug pull a bargeload of timber up the river. Mark sighed heavily. "If I didn't know you so well, I'd say you were on drugs."
"And I'd agree with you." I paused. "Sometimes, if it wasn't for Dot, I'd think this was all some sort of dream."
"But it's not. And you have unlimited financing now? Cool."
I nodded. "I just gave you the headlines. Wait 'till you hear the details. Plus we've got the pictures to prove it. But that's up in our suite."
Mark suddenly looked back at the ladies. "Looks like they're waiting for us."
"They're probably wondering what we're up to. Let's go."
The two men walked over to the bench. "Had a good time?" asked Mark.
"Uh huh," replied Karen, standing and reaching for his hand. "Exchanging stories."
"Mark, you've got a very special lady here," commented Dot with admiration.
"So do you, Perry," added Karen. "So what were you two talking about?"
"A preview of coming events," replied Mark.
We continued to our hotel suite. Mark was predictably stunned at the opulence of it all, and the view of the eastside from the sitting room. After a few minutes, we started going through the story again, starting from where I first met Clark. At one point we decided to opt for delivered pizza rather than dinner in the restaurant, enjoying the fellowship. I brought out the videotape of the wedding, and couldn't help cracking up watching Mark wide-eyed and slack-jawed. He was so overcome that I had to describe some of the details for Karen's benefit.
"We had it at Monk's place by the lake -- great view, by the way! -- and flew the guests in. Everything was extremely low-key because of the select names who attended. If the media knew that the surviving members of Doc Savage's crew were gathering in one place, they would've had a field day. And they would've gone absolutely rabid if they knew that Doc Savage himself was the Best Man, with Renny Renwick -- presumed dead -- in attendance."
"That goes without saying," commented Mark. "I can't believe my eyes. That's Doc Savage?"
I nodded. "It was a toss-up as to who was the happiest -- Clark or Monk."
"Granddad was practically floating off the ground as he walked me down the aisle," added Dot.
"I thought I saw Jack there. Was that your mom next to him?"
"How did she take to this unique cast of characters?" asked Karen.
"Actually, quite well. She was thrilled when she found out I was going to get married again."
"She didn't know about my family until the actual day of the wedding, when they all met," said Dot. "We'd kept things mum to avoid any potential 'leaks.'"
"But when she did find out ... wow. She took to them like she knew them all her life."
"Personally, I think the neatest thing was seeing your mom and my grandma swapping recipes."
"Wish we'd been there," lamented Mark. "But we understand."
"Are you two going to be settling down in the area?" asked Karen.
Perry shook his head. "We're having a couple of custom RV's built. One for us, one for Clark. Then we'll be hitting the road again, like the old range riders."
"Cool," replied Mark. "So ... when do we meet the famous Doc Savage?"
Perry grinned. "Let's see how things go once we've got the RV's built. I can talk to Clark, but I don't think he'll have any objections. I'll keep you posted on our timetable."
And on it went until about 10:00. Mark had asked us to church in the morning, and we accepted. Breaking things up, I led in a prayer and Dot and I were soon alone again.
I woke to the sound of my cell phone bleeping for attention. Glancing over, I saw the empty spot on Dot's side of the bed, and heard the sound of water running in the shower. Swinging my legs to the floor, I answered the phone.
"Perry, it's Mark."
"If this is your idea of a wake up call for church -"
"No, it's not. Sorry to call you this early, but I thought you'd want to hear this."
"Okay. What's up?"
"Last night, both Karen and I had a dream about you."
I started to pay attention now. "Really? How so?"
"There were specific images, and it was clear that you were there." He paused. "It involved you skydiving over an island."
Skydiving, I thought? No. Couldn't be. I reflexively gasped, and my mouth went slack. "At ... night?" I stammered.
"We had the same dream," concluded Mark.
"Yeah," I replied incredulously. "But I've never had an interest in skydiving."
I heard a chuckle from the other end of the phone. "Well, brother, I'd say you'd better get one soon. Looks like God's setting you up for something important."
"Yeah," I said half-heartedly.
"We'll see you at church, and I'll see what I can do to help."
"Okay. Later," I mumbled absentmindedly, and ended the call.
Skydiving? The most interest I had in skydiving came from a few action movies I had seen over the years. But I had never imagined myself actually jumping out of a plane. But I couldn't deny the fact that Mark's conclusion was correct, and that God was confirming His will through the three of us to show the seriousness of it.
Just then, Dot came out of the bathroom. A towel was wrapped around her, and she was rubbing another towel through her hair.
"Who was on the phone, hon?" she asked, slightly muffled by the towel.
She sensed my tone. "Is everything all right?"
I shook my head and smiled at her. "Yes, yes. He was ... telling me about a dream he had."
"It's funny you should mention dreams. I had an interesting one last night. You and I were skydiving over an island and ... Perry, why are you looking at me that way? What did I do?"