Audience of One

Audience of One

It’s the best day of my life; it’s the worst day of my life.

I haven’t decided which yet. Its fate would eventually be determined by the seventy-nine year old man sitting beyond this window right now. Sir Hugh Wright.

There he sits, his brows knotted in a frown, his hands resting on his cane, leaning towards to the big screen before him.

It’s always been my dream to meet my favorite author. I grew up loving Wright’s stories, following every new novel he wrote, purchasing each new one as soon as it came out. His sci-fi and space adventures were the in-thing back when we were kids in the Star Wars/Star Trek generation, with an added bit of quirky humor and deep values. I became a filmmaker so that I could make stories like his. Forty years of my life have been invested in this journey, working for the big studios just to get a tiny place on previous space operas like this one. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Akpos in Space…

That last one, a comedic piece about an African ‘Mr. Bean-type’ character on a space adventure, had been a financial risk, but it had surprisingly done well at the box office, even garnering a Golden Globe nomination for Best Independent Picture. I had loved the script as soon as I read it, and had taken it to a couple of studios, but I was initially turned down. Some of my filmmaking friends and I put some money together to make this into the best of movies possible. My work on that last one finally gave me a voice in Hollywood, and it was then I heard about the studio that had purchased the rights to Wright’s novels.

Did I submit a script? You bet I did! My tenth submission was accepted, after some modifications by the studio. Some changes to the setting were necessary, especially in adapting a novel from the ‘70s for a 21st century audience.

It was a dream come true. The first of the best-selling Space Junkies series was finally headed for the big screen. And I would be producing it. No one could understand all that I was feeling in those moments. From the casting, through preproduction, filming, and post-production, my dream was taking shape.

It has all been headed toward this very moment, as Wright himself accepted our invitation for a special screening of the movie. There he is now, watching it alone. Per his preferences, the room is dark and the only lighting comes from off the screen. He’s got a glass of water beside him, and he just sits there with his fingers crossed under his chin. The movie has been over for minutes now, but he just sits there staring at the rolling credits.

I wonder what must be going through his mind.

What does he think about the changes we made?

Oh, man … he hates it. He really hates it.

He has not spoken to us in the last two hours. His eyes are fixed on the screen.

Behind me, the door opens. It’s Ryan, my intern. “You OK, Boss?”

I rub my eyes. “Well … you know how it is … Kid.” Actually, he doesn’t, but what can I say? Ryan is as close to me as any friend I’ve ever had, despite the generational gap between us. He never quits making me feel my age, and I never stop making him feel younger than his.

He pulls up a chair and seats beside me. “So, this must be like Christmas for you. You taken a selfie with him yet?”

I chuckle. “You kids and your selfies. I’ll never get what freaks you out about those.”

“Selfies are cool.”

“Yeah, and they’ll die a natural death with time, just like bell-bottoms, muttonchops and disco.”

“C’mon, think of the fans. You can even tweet it, they’ll love it. Lets ‘em know you got the author’s approval. They’ll accept the changes we made in the story better. Least, it’s not as if you pulled a Tauriel or anything.”

I stare out at the man. “Right now, the only approval I care for is the approval of that man over there.”

Ryan arcs a brow. “What’s he still doing in there? The movie’s long been over.”

“I knew he’d hate it.”

Ryan stares at me. “Dude, what’s your deal? You’re a star! Kids come to Comic-Con every year just to get your autograph. Those Akpos guys are still grateful ‘cause you brought their idea to the big-screen. And you’re here, fidgeting, expecting this guy to trash your work?”

I shake my head. “It’s different. I never gave a hoot what anyone cared about my work before. Now, it’s different. You won’t get it.”

I can see him smile in my peripheral vision. He pats my lap. “Hey, you’ll be fine. You put your best foot out there with this. He’s gotta appreciate that.”

“I hope so, kid.”

“I know so.” Ryan pats my shoulder and stares out at Wright past the window. “Sir Hugh Wright. Hey, If I get to meet him, I’d go, ‘Sir Hugh Wright, you write … right?’“

Ryan is not as funny as he thinks he is. “What he’d probably say to that is—“

“Samuel,” a gravelly voice comes in over the speakers. “Can I have a moment with you, please?”

It takes me a moment to gather my thoughts, savouring that old British accent. Hugh Wright has just called my name! “Ah, yes. Yes, of course. I’ll be there in a moment … Sir.”

Ryan gives me a fistbump. “Break a leg. Hey, Francis called. He’s waiting out back to take you both to lunch once you’re done. You tell him that when you get in there.”

“And you pick now to tell me that?” I put on my jacket and adjust my cufflinks. “How do I look?”

“Dude, I’m a guy! What, you expect me to say you look hot?”

I just stare at him. “You’re fired.”

“Yeah, like I haven’t heard that a billion times already.” I keep a straight face as I open the door to the screening room. “Wait, you were joking, right? Sir?”

It’s like I’ve entered into another world in the second it takes me to enter and shut the door. The darkness reverberates with a still buzz that fills my ears. The stillness is eerie and foreboding, with the man still seated ahead, facing the screen.

He hates it, man.

With quivering steps, I approach his seat, never taking my eyes off the bald spot on his head. Now I get to speak with him. Not through a studio rep or anything, but to Hugh Wright himself!

He turns to stare at me, his eyes hidden in the shadow of his brows. “Please, take a seat.” There is only one couch and he is seated on one end. He expects me to sit beside him.

I am Frodo going to meet Gandalf. I am a Pevensie walking up to Aslan. I take a seat beside him.

I should ask him what he thinks. I should ask him if he’s comfortable. I should take control of the conversation. But when I open my mouth to speak, nothing comes out.

Proposing to my wife had not been this difficult.

He inhales loudly. “I take it you wrote the script?”

Does he expect me to respond? Oh, he does! “Yes. Yes I did, sir. Well, not really. Not the final product. It was actually a group effort. I mean, I laid the groundwork, and a couple of other screenwriters pitched in, the studio made some modifications—“

“But you wrote it?” Staring into those ancient eyeballs, I can be nothing but honest.

I nod.

He turns back to the screen for a second. And another second. The seconds that follow are driving me nuts.

He takes off his glasses, wiping his eyes. When he turns to me I finally see that they are moist. “Samuel … there is something I need to tell you.”

No conversation that starts that way could possibly end well.

“Have you ever wondered why it took decades before I finally sold the motion picture rights to my books?”

A thousand responses whizz by in my mind. Because of budgetary constraints? Insufficient CGI? Bizarre hairstyles? But he does not let me respond before he continues. I actually prefer it that way.

“When I started writing, all those years ago, I took my work from a place deep inside. My experiences, my childhood, my agonies, the questions I grew up with, and the future that I desired. My faith. My heart. There was just too much heart in there. They were all like a part of me. I hold my stories in such high esteem, like my own children.” He pauses. “Not that I love them more than my real children. Far from it. Though, on occasion, I did forget my late wife’s birthday.”

I chuckle at his attempt at … self-deprecating British humour? Is that what it’s called?

“I did not want that to be lost—the heart in the story, I mean. I know the procedures that occur in the journey from book to screen … and I just could not afford to let it … go. Apparently, not all books were meant for the cinematic world. I’m sure you would agree.”

I try to read between the lines. He is telling me that this sucked big time, isn’t he?

He expects an answer. “I … agree.”

“I could not afford to let my stories lose that heart in the cutting room. It would be tantamount to suicide.” He turns to the screen. “And I was right to fear.”

Adrenaline runs down my spine. I feel as if I’ve been doused with ice cold water. I have failed…

“Thank you for not letting that happen, Samuel.”

I’m confused. “Sir?”

“Past the special effects and necessary changes to the subject, I could see the hand of someone fighting, trying to save the elements of what made my story … my story.” He smiles, and no smile has ever been so reassuring. “That was you, wasn’t it? You knew what was important and you made sure it was apparent in the picture. And for this I am very grateful.”

I’ll be honest: I was not expecting this. Not at all. I nod, smiling. “We loved your story, sir. It had to be told.”

“You just had to comment and ruin the moment, didn’t you?”

“What? I’m so sorry, I—“

He laughs, patting my back. “You’re a good lad, Samuel.” I haven’t been called ‘lad’ in decades. “What do you say we go get that lunch we were promised?”

“I was just about to tell you, the driver’s here. He’s ready for us. Whenever you’re ready, that is. And it appears you are.”

“Come,” he stands, leaning on his cane. “I feel we’ll have much to discuss, Samuel. Much indeed.”

But, in this moment, I feel on top of the world. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. He thinks it is awesome, and that’s what matters to me.

I could leap through the roof.

As soon as I open the door, I see that Ryan has been listening. He pretends to have been working on something over the phone. He stands awkwardly. “I … I wasn’t listening,” he says. “Scout’s honour.”

I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed or not.

But Wright saves the moment again. “You never were a boy scout, were you?”

 

Six months later…

“Of course, the movie was a total failure,” I say as I turn to Lisa. She lies beside me, staring at me with those magical eyes. “The studio called it a ‘hit-and-miss’ and refused to make sequels. My generation had mostly moved on from the series, and it just didn’t resonate with the new generation. You know how it went. But all that didn’t matter to me. Once Wright loved my take on his work, it was all that mattered to me.” I stare up at the ceiling. “I just wish the whole world saw it that way.”

“No, you don’t. You know that’s never going to happen.” That’s my Lisa. Always blunt to a fault. An adorable fault.

“I guess you’re right. But it would be nice if everyone saw it that way.”

“So he said he liked it all?”

“No, he said all that just to be nice. Over lunch he explained the changes he didn’t enjoy. But, in his own words, it’s not as if he was the one acting it out onscreen. Changes were bound to be a problem.”

For a moment all is quiet. I’m thankful she takes the time to listen to a story she knows already. Perhaps I just needed to talk about it again, because no matter how much I say about how it doesn’t matter, the truth is that it really does matter to me. I still feel hurt that the movie did not perform well out there. It was just one major blip in my career that was better left forgotten. Not to mention all that time and money wasted that was wasted.

“You know what this all makes me think of, though?”

I turn to her. “Hm?”

She inhales and stares at the ceiling as well. “It’s just like how the rest of our lives are. Everyone’s going to have their own opinion of what we do and how we do it. But they didn’t write the scripts we live by. God did. It’s His opinion that counts.”

I smirk at her metaphor. “God wrote our scripts?”

“Uh-huh. He made us, didn’t He? He knows how we should live. Just like Wright knew how the story should be.”

“Hm…”

“The Scriptures are like … well, God’s script for us. A guide to live by. We’re all actors on this stage, but there’s a standard. God’s script.”

“So we’re like movies acting out this script. But not so well, apparently…” I smile as the picture forms in my mind. “You know you’re quite right. You’re very right. I never saw it that way before.”

“Quite smart, aren’t I?”

“No, you’re Lisa.”

“What?!”

“And you know the best part? He doesn’t leave us to try to please Him on our own, or to try to figure out how to act His script well enough. He’s right here with us, in us through His Holy Spirit, helping us live lives that are pleasing to Him. Through Jesus, He’s given us a heart that wants to please Him, and that can actually please Him.”

“So when we do our best, and no one else is pleased…”

“It doesn’t matter, as long as God is pleased. That’s what really matters.”

“Exactly.”

I nod, knowing she really understands how I feel as she holds my hand. “Thanks, Lisa. I’ll never forget. You are smart.”

“I thought I was ‘Lisa’.”

“You’re smart, and you’re Lisa. In fact, you’re the smartest wife I’ve ever had.”

“Right. I’m the only wife you’ve ever had.”

“I know.”

“I should write a book.”

I laugh. “I’d read it.”

“Would you make it into a movie?”

“Well … it depends. Let’s finish this next project with PureFlix, and we’ll see how it goes…”

 

END

 

 

Thanks for reading. Before you go, I’d like to share the lyrics of one of my favorite songs. Its themes are similar to those of the story above.

OPEN BOOK

In the evening, when I start to pray

I think about this day

Another page is turned forever

Another yesterday.

And as the story of my life unfolds

I know You’ve read it all.

Another line to be continued

Will I stand or fall?

Open Book, to You I am an Open Book

You know every page by heart

From the ending to the start.

Open Book, my life is like an open book

As I read between the lines

It’s Your Love that truly binds this Open Book

When the cover of this book is closed

The final chapter read

I hope You find it worth the reading

I hope ‘well done’ is said

Open Book, to You I am an Open Book

You know every page by heart

From the ending to the start.

Open Book, my life is like an open book

As I read between the lines

It’s Your Love that truly binds this Open Book

Cover to cover, Lord, You know me

And what I want to be.

As You read the pages of my life

Please tell me what You see.

(By Petra; Album: On Fire! [1988]; Words and Music by Bob Hartman)

If I Had to Die for Someone

if2

With one final gasp of the acrid air, Martin hurried into the burning building to the screams of the onlookers below. The window gave in to his weight as he stumbled into the smoldering room. In the smoky interior he winced as his eyes watered, his nostrils stinging, heat searing his skin. It was hell.

Help!” The scream came from downstairs. “Somebody! Please! I don’t want to die!” There was more, but it was swallowed up by the roar of the fire and the crackling of burnt wood.

Abigail!

The staircase was gone. Getting down there would be close to impossible. The fire was everywhere, and that breath that still lingered in his lungs would soon give out. Never before had he missed fresh air so.

But Abigail could not die. Not now. Not ever.

Dear God … what do I do now? His shirt stuck to his back, his face matted with sweat. He coughed, desperate for more air. With nothing to hold, he sank to his knees.

“Abigail!” he called. “Where are you?”

“I’m here!” The faint cry reached him. Now that he thought about, maybe she really wasn’t downstairs. What if…?

He bounded towards the toilet, stopping short at the door. It had the profile of a girl on it.

Really, Marvin? Still wondering if it’s OK to enter a girl’s bathroom at a time like this?

He pushed the door in and it shriveled into bits under the heat. There, in the ceramic-walled –and hot— bathroom, curled in a corner, was the most beautiful person he knew. Wide-eyed. Scared.

Abigail. Even with soot on her face, she still looked amazing.

Marvin thrust his hand out. “Come with me if you want to live!”

She just stared at him for a moment, heaving in shock. “Seriously? Like, are you … a firefighter?”

“What … me? No, I’m … Marvin. Marvin Bishop. We’re in the same class. Same school—“

“I don’t know you.” She looked genuinely wary.

“Look, that’s the thing. I figured you wouldn’t remember me. So I came here, to rescue you so you can know me … and I can finally show you how I … how I feel about y—“

“Look, I’m sorry, I’d really love to hear what you’ve got to say, but it’d probably be more interesting if there wasn’t a BURNING ROOM BEHIND YOU! We’re gonna DIE!”

Marvin squinted. “Th-that’s what I said. I came to rescue you and get you out of that window over there, risking life and limb, ‘cause I lov—

“Through that fire? How’ll we get there? I’ll get burnt!”

“Y-you don’t have to. See, I’ll carry you. I’ll protect you—”

“This all just sounds like a really bad script.”

Marvin was stunned. “Do you want to get rescued or not?”

He never got to hear her answer because a burning log dropped from the ceiling and knocked him out.

At least that’s what his friend, Bob’s knock on his head felt like as he woke up from his latest daydream.

“What?” he yelled at Bob, back in their classroom. “What was that for?”

“You daydreaming about rescuing Abigail from a burning building again?” Bob asked, a smirk on his face.

“No!” Marvin turned to stare at her across the classroom. As usual, Abigail was laughing with her friends, oblivious to his very presence. He sighed. “Yeah.”

“Dude … that’s just —“

“Don’t say ‘romantic’,” Marvin interrupted. “The word makes me sick.”

“I was going to say ‘disturbing’.” Marvin shot him a double-take. “Seriously? It’s sick! You want to set a building on fire and put some girl in it just so you can tell her that you … like her?”

“I wouldn’t set a building on fire. That’s crazy.”

“What, you think burning buildings grow on trees?”

Marvin waved him off. “Let’s just forget about this, OK? And I never said I was thinking about that. You did.” He picked a book to start reading. “And I wouldn’t put her in a burning building. I’d rescue her from one. Thats the point.”

“I thought you wanted to forget about this.”

“Right, right, yeah … let’s … forget about it.” He returned to pretending to read. “Never happened.”

 

———-

PRIVATE KEN YOUNG stared at the landscape around as their Humvee bounded across the Northern Afghanistan landscape. The howling winds around them kept reminding him that winter was approaching. It wouldn’t be too soon for his platoon. There was little to look forward to here.

Vasquez nudged him in the side and showed him a picture. “That’s my li’l Whitney.” The joy in his voice only barely masked the choke behind it. “She’s already crawlin’. Should be walkin’ by Christmas, I reckon.”

Ken smiled. It was probably the twentieth time that Vasquez had shown him the picture of his newborn baby girl, a daughter he had not seen since his tour in Afghanistan had begun. Ken could only imagine the pain the man was going through in their separation, so he allowed him his bragging rights.

“It’s awesome, man,” Ken said.

“Should be ropin’ cattle by the time I get back. Just like her Pa.”

Ken smirked. Yeah, right. “You sending her anything for Christmas?”

The man nodded. “Making an Afghan with her name on it.”

Ken nodded. It’d been six months since he’d left the States. He was already missing home, his friends, the life he had been used to. He wondered if he’d ever stop missing it all. Or if he’d ever get back at all.

“You know,” Vasquez added. “She probably doesn’t know me. Has never set eyes on me. Sally put to bed just days after I reported in.” He smiled despite himself. “Gonna take a while for her to accept me as her dad.”

“You’re gonna be a great father, Vasquez.”

He arched a brow. “I think I already am a father.”

“I meant … you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, just foolin’ with you, kid.”

Vasquez chuckled, and then he sobered after a while. He tapped the photograph. “This here … it’s what makes it all make sense.” Ken was going to ask, but he knew it was best to listen when this guy needed an ear. “When this crapfest gets in my head and I wonder why I’m here, why 9/11 brought us to Afghanistan of all places … I think of her. Whitney, Sally … everyone I care about. They deserve to live without fear. And these Arabs do too. And if my toting a peashooter around till kingdom come is going to make that happen … then I sure as heck will tote my peashooter the best I can.”

Ken smiled weakly with a shrug. He’d never seen a purpose to this. He’d always wished he did. Perhaps it’d make it all make sense. Maybe if he was here for someone … somehow it’d all make more sense. “Keeps everything in focus.”

“Thanks for the rousing speech, Vasquez,” Kirk said from the opposite row. “Should get you an Oscar.”

“Oscars are for movies, doofus,” Vasquez said.

“Yeah, whatever, man.” Kirk said. “But you’re wrong. We’re not here because of some honourable piece of—“

“Easy there,” another private said.

“No, he’s gotta hear this. We’re gonna die out here ‘cause we’re messing with something that wants to be left alone.”

“We’re trying to help them—“

“What if they don’t wanna be helped? Al Qaeda is just the beginning, man. It’s not going to end anytime soon. You just wait and see. Soon the body bags would be lined up on the ground, and BOOM! It’s all over. Hastalavista, baby.”

“Well, aren’t you full of goodwill today,” Ken said.

“Wait,” Vasquez cocked his head. “What do you know?”

Kirk stared at him for a moment, then shrugged and spread out his hands in front of him the way he did anytime he wanted to share something. “ ‘Kay, there’s this guy that supplies the base with merch and stuff. Ali? We’ve been talking lately. Told me there’s this group of crazies, a deviant sect, developing within Al Qaeda, destined to take over if Bin Laden dies.”

“How does he know that?”

“Rumors travel fast out here.”

“Bin Laden dead? Yeah, like that’ll ever happen,” another officer added.

“Let’s just say it will. These guys are more brutal, and they’ve got it in their thick skulls that they can model the world after their own brutal image. They’ve already got a name. It’s weird, I know, but I hear they call themselves ‘ISIS‘. “

“ISIS?”

He never got a response to that because, in a second, it was all over. The Humvee hit a mine, and the resulting explosion reverberated for miles. No one survived. Not Ken, not Vasquez, not Kirk – no one.

It was another statistic in the casualties of war on the news that year.

 

———-

I’m sorry that story ended quite abruptly. I hope it’s not too dark for you. If it is, then this part is for you; a light little intermission before the final story, where I explain what all this is about.

The thing is we know we’re not going to be on this planet forever. We know that the only way we’re leaving is either by dying, or in the Rapture, or perhaps on a trip on a rocket from NASA (OK, that one would be temporary, but still…). Death has been a sure part of the human cycle since Eden. It’s like a game that resets over and over again, with new players at each reset: Live, Die, Reset…Live, Die, Reset…Live, Die, Reset…

Over and over again.

But we don’t want to just … die. We know we’re leaving here soon, yes. But if we’re leaving at all, some of us want to leave with a bang! To make a real difference. And it seems the only way to leave with a bang is to die for a cause. For someone or something.

When people die for reasons beyond themselves, they are remembered as heroes. It doesn’t matter how much their lives may have sucked. As long as they had a selfless heroic death, they are hailed for generations.

In stories, sometimes a man may risk his life to rescue the typical ‘damsel-in-distress’. In some tragic stories, this heroic character dies (and I wonder why such stories ever bothered being written, except in some cases where it contributes the story or its central theme). We leave that story remembering them this way.

But what about the girl, the damsel that’s left to go through life tormented by traumatic images of the man that loved her and that died instead of her? The therapeutic sessions she’d have to go through? The resistance she’d have to other men because of her perceived devotion to the dead guy?

OK, I almost digressed there. But, at least Shakespeare had the decency to not allow even Romeo and Juliet to end that way…

 

Soldiers risk their lives for a cause they believe in. A country, a home, an ideal … or, admittedly, the paycheck they’d get (though I doubt that last one is a factor for most). They are trained for the worst, to be the ones to bridge the gap where others never could, to do what’s necessary to secure the country to which they are loyal. And many die in this effort; some forgotten by all except their families and those that loved them.

 

When I think about these scenarios, I wonder if I’d ever do that. Would I willingly give my life – as in, die – for a person, or a cause? Is it worth it? Sure, there’d be lots of honour and stuff, but I’d never get to enjoy it. My family would miss me. Sure, we’ll meet again in the future, but then they’ll have to endure unnecessary hurt.

Is it worth it?

But, in a sense, it seems exciting. Not to just die and go back into the earth, but to actually die for a reason. It comes with this surge of adrenaline, dying for something bigger and something better.

What would I die for?

I hope I’ve jolted some questions in your mind. What would you die for?

Would you die for anything?

Here’s the last story … and then … I’ll be back (hey, anyone else notice the Terminator references so far?).

 

———-

Winter’s cold winds washed against the man’s coat as he trudged through the snow that night, a sack lugged over his shoulder. His breath came out in heaves, trailed by short steamy wafts.

Katya’s old bike still stood in the lawn, draped in snow and ice. He decided to carry it in later. It would be good to finally meet his family after so long.

He sneaked a peek behind him. The neighbourhood was quiet. He turned and knocked. He could have tried the secret knock, but he wanted this to be a surprise. Who knew what they could expect in times like these?

After a tad suspicious thirty seconds, he heard a strong female voice call out. “Who’s out there?”

He could not hold it back any longer. “I’m home, my darling.”

It took a moment, and then she hurriedly unbolted the door. She was in a scarf and her characteristic brown blouse, a hand on her chest. The shock and beauty in her face warmed him to his heart as he dropped the bag and held out his arms for an embrace.

“You … didn’t use the secret knock,” she struggled to mutter.

“I wanted this to be a surprise. I’m sorry—”

“Pyotr…” She hurried into his embrace. “You’re back!”

“I love you, Corrie,” he whispered. What was that? He should be hurrying inside in this cold. But that was the only thing left to say in his melted heart after the sight of his beloved. “The Lord has kept me. I’m home.” They kissed.

Man, I’ve missed home!

She pulled back and held his face in her hands. “You’re home…” Her eyes were moist, her smile curving into those beautiful cheeks. “Oh, thank the Lord. Quick, come in, come in! It’s cold out here!”

Pyotr picked the bag. “Really? Cold? Somebody should’ve told me.”

“And don’t think I’m kissing you again until you brush those teeth.”

“I’ve missed you too, Corrie…“

“Pyotr?” It was Ivan, his brother, peeking from a doorway. “It’s you! You’re back! Thank the Lord!”

It was his brother. Faithful Ivan. Pyotr smiled and came over to embrace him, as Corrie hurried in to tell the others.

“You didn’t use the secret knock,” Ivan whispered.

“I know, I’m sorry, but you were all faster this time. I could have been the police. Can’t be too careful, these days.”

“How’d you get past the border?”

“Not now, brother. I just want to have a nice dinner with my family.”

“We’re being followed more and more these days. We have to be careful.”

Pyotr placed the bag by the doorpost and stretched in the warmth.

“Is that it?” Ivan gestured towards the bag.

Pyotr nodded. The stash of Bibles and Christian literature was the result of the contributions of believers in the West, so that Pyotr’s people could have the words of God to live by. In the radical Communist stronghold on their region, uninstitutionalized religious activity was rapidly becoming more illegal in definition. Believers were sequestered to hidden secret gatherings when possible. Without these books, much doctrine was subject to the whim of those that taught it. But it was Pyotr’s dream and the dream of thousands more, to get these into the hands of those that needed it the most.

Ivan palmed through the sack, poring through one book.

“Papa!” Katya bounded out of the dining room and into her father’s arms.

“My, how you’ve grown!” Pyotr exclaimed.

She giggled. “I missed you, Papa!”

“I missed you too, my angel. Let me look at you. My, you’re beautiful as ever.”

“You didn’t use the secret knock, Papa. We were all scared getting everything out of the way—“

“I know, I know. And I’ve been rightly chewed out for that. I’m sorry.” He stole a glance at Ivan as he ruffled her hair. “Dear God, I’ve missed you.”

“Papa, why are you … smelly?”

He tried to stifle a laugh. “Papa’s been on the road for days, dear.” He leaned in and whispered. “I haven’t had a bath in—“

She pulled away and covered her nose, laughing. Pyotr chased her around, laughing. It was good to be home, with the people he cared about. “I’ll take that bath, don’t worry.”

“Did you bring a present for me?”

“Now, Katya,” Corrie was back. “Let your father have his space. He needs to meet everyone.”

“I actually brought one especially for you, Kat,” he said as he followed them in, Katya on his arm. It was a colouring book of Bible stories. “I’ll give you in a moment. You just wait.”

“Brother Pyotr!” One, and then another, called from the dining room. It was like heaven to him. There was Old Mark, Vlad the baker from Leningrad, the Stefanovichs together, the Groznyys … and many others he did not know, all families united by one faith in one God through Christ.

All he had been through on his trip suddenly felt worthwhile.

It is worthwhile, Pyotr.

After greetings all round, they then settled to pray, thanking God for Pyotr’s safe delivery through the tight security at the borders, for the sake of the Gospel. Never before had he felt so close to heaven.

It couldn’t get any better than this…

As footsteps bounded down the stairs, Pyotr realized that all was not well. They were faster and more resolute as they approached. He opened his eyes and his gaze fell on Katya, her eyes still shut. Corrie was staring at him, worry etched on her features. She knew.

“Run,” he mouthed.

But it was too late. Patric, their lookout stationed in the attic, stumbled in. “They’re coming!”

The next moment, just one moment, that passed among them all dragged for a few seconds. In that time, the enormity of the situation dawned on them all. Pyotr’s eyes were still on Corrie’s. Lord, save us. He realized that he should have been suspicious when he noticed the deserted streets. Who knew how long they had been watched? But now… dear God …

And then the scurry began as everyone tried to hurry to the basement. This was no drill. But that was when the front door burst open with the police officer at the door preceded by an icy cold wintry draft.

“Hold it right there!” the officer yelled. “If anyone moves we will fire!”

To shrieks and screams, more policemen bounded in, weapons trained on them. Pyotr tried to take a headcount. Everyone was still here … right?

The captain walked in, and the other officers surrounded them. Pyotr recognized him from border patrol. Had they followed him since then? Their eyes met. The captain snarled.

“Get him!”

Pyotr stood tall. “This is my house. What’s going on here?”

Two officers grabbed him by the arms, to Corrie’s screams. When the Captain raised his hand to slap her Pyotr edged closer but was summarily stomped to the ground by a boot. Corrie covered her mouth, tears trickling down her face.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…

The captain walked around Pyotr, staring him down. He finally stooped and placed his baton under his chin, nudging his face up. “The sack. Where is it?”

Pyotr would not reply. I will fear no evil … for You are with me…

After a moment, the Captain struck him with the baton, cracking his jaw. “Search the house!”

The officers smashed all the windows, flipping furniture over, all in an effort to trash the place. Books toppled to the floor, leaving the room a cluttered mess.

“I know you carried a sack in. If there’s anything incriminating in there, I swear you all –all of you, including that little girl – will never see the light of day ever again.”

Pyotr stared up at his daughter. She looked scared. It had all happened so fast. No child should have had to see this. It’s going to be OK, my dear.

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me…

He sneaked a peak at the doorpost where the bag was supposed to have been. It was gone.

The captain followed his gaze and headed for that area.

“Here,” an officer said, holding up the sack. “Found it.”

The only problem was that the sack was empty. How did—? Pyotr turned and his eyes fell on Ivan’s knowing gaze. He had emptied the bag before the soldiers came in. Good one, brother. But where had he taken the Bibles? Had someone escaped with them? Who wasn’t here? That Patric kid, where was he? Had he taken them?

The captain squeezed the sack in his hands, fuming.

You have prepared a table before me, in the presence of my enemies.

The officers flung the dishes of food against the wall, breaking the table in two.

You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows…

The captain was visibly furious. He wanted to break something … or someone. And Pyotr was unfortunate to be the subject of his anger.

Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…

“I know you’re all spreading sectarian doctrine, poisoning the minds of our good citizens. You’re a cancer, I swear! I’m of a mind to arrest you right now. But let this be a statement.” He pointed at them all, staring at Pyotr. Then, with pent-up rage released, he kicked his head in, smashing his cranium in.

Katya, I’m sorry you had to see this…

The captain waited a couple of seconds more, and then pulled out a pistol. Carrie was barely containing herself now, weeping with all she had.

He trained the gun on Pyotr’s head. Adrenaline washed over his body. “Tell me, Pyotr Konor, are you a follower of the Christian doctrine or are you a citizen in good standing with the community? If you are a good citizen … then renounce this Jesus. Right now.”

They all stared. This was it. The moment of truth.

Pyotr’s eyes could not leave Katya’s. She was scared, her gaze panicky. What’s going on, Papa? She would probably have wanted to ask. Why is this happening to us?

He knew that his choice right then, what she saw, would have its effect on her. Probably for the rest of her life. Lord, keep her…

And Corrie… Dear God, Corrie… How could I have been so blessed to meet a woman like you?

I love you. I really do.

I know you understand.

“You’re trying my patience.” The captain said, his anger grating through his words.

…and I will dwell in the house of the Lord … forever.

The Bibles were out of reach of these men, and that was a good thing. Many would get their hands on those books, and the church would grow. If for that reason alone, Pyotr hoped it was all worth it.

And with that, he leaned forward, eyes shut, and placed his forehead on the nozzle of the pistol.

Amen.

 

———-

 

I grew up reading and listening to stories like that last one. I always wondered what I’d do if I was asked to renounce Jesus or die. Would I give in?

I’d like to say that I’d never give in. I’ve always believed that I would never give in. But, until that day comes, if it comes, I guess I may never know the answer to that.

Or do I?

We’ve come a long way from just ‘leaving with a bang’ now, huh?

Some famous guy once said that something to die for is definitely something worth living for. (You probably need to read that again and think about it. And, while we’re on the subject, I don’t remember the famous guy that said it first. But he said it, and I said it now, so I guess that makes it TWO great guys that have said it now … OK, I was kidding there. But, seriously, you probably need to read that sentence again. Have you?)

So I could go with a bang for something, yes, but would I live for it? If it is worth dying for, then it is probably worth living for too, right?

But living for something is much harder than dying for it, in my opinion. Don’t think so?

Think about this: If I died for something, everyone would know when it happened. I would not need to do anything more, because my statement has been made in my death. It’s done once, and that’s it.

But if I were to LIVE for such a thing, now, no one may know at first. It would show in my lifestyle. I may not get the rewards or any public acclamation immediately … or ever. I would give my every word, my every waking moment, thinking about what more I could for the person or the cause for which I’m alive.

I would lose my identity for that thing. It’s like a living death in itself.

And I would ask myself, “Is it worth it?”

That’s what love is. You love your wife or husband, so you live for them for the rest of your life.

It’s what being a parent is like. You love your children, so you stick with them and raise them. You’re not bothered if they do not appreciate you or not, or if they’re naughty or not. You hang in there, diligent make them better because you love them. Even when it’s not convenient, you hang in there.

It’s what life in the military is. You lose your right to a unique identity for the discipline and uniformity needed to operate as a unit, for a common goal.

It’s what living for Christ is like.

Love is the defining factor in all these examples. Paul knew what he was saying when he wrote that “…if I have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2) We could offer our bodies to be burnt instead of someone else that deserves it, or give all we have away, or win all awards we can, but if it’s not done in love, then all we’ve been doing is making noise. Anything outside this is not life.

We may not all have to decide who we’ll die for at gunpoint, but we can choose who we live for. We may not all have to ‘die’ because we serve God, but we’re all called to live for Him.

In Romans 12:1, we’re encouraged to “…offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy (separated) and acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service.” It’s the only reasonable way to live. Every waking moment: our eating, sleeping, breathing, surfing the Net, watching movies, gisting … give it to Him. Let Him define them for you.

Like I like to say, it’s sacrifice, but that’s the only way we’ll ever find true freedom.

And it’s awesome! The good thing is that, He doesn’t leave us to figure out how to please Him. When we believe in Him, He lives through us, working through us to make us want to do what pleases Him, and to actually do what pleases Him. We can decide to get with the programme and allow Him to use us and make us all He wants us to be, ‘cause that’s the best we can ever be … and it’s a bazillion times better than the best we think we could ever be!

Soon, you’ll realize that there’s no better way to live; that there’s no other way to live.

Than to live for Him.

The point has never been who you die for.

It’s who or what you live for.

Heroes & Villains

Heroes and Villains

You’ve probably noticed that superhero movie franchises are becoming a thing these days. With every new year, the number of such movies released increases. And it is not going to end anytime soon.

The recent rise in superhero movie franchises is just the product of a sentiment that has been building up for ages. Throughout all time, we’ve all found ourselves intrigued by stories with heroes defeating villains, good triumphing over evil and happily-ever-after endings. We love these stories because of the much bigger picture that they paint. Or maybe this picture is all too familiar to us. Maybe we want these stories because we see ourselves in them, somehow.

Stories have come a long way since … well since as far back as they’ve been around. But we don’t just narrate events in our stories. Some say our stories influence our lives. I think our lives also have an impact on the stories we tell. It’s a circularly-causal relationship between stories (art) and life.

The classic ‘good-and-evil’ story thread was built on absolutes. They usually had heroes of impossibly ultimate charisma rising up to defeat villains with evil intent, monsters that were evil for the sake of being evil, in whatever form they took. The Heroes were people with good manners, good hearts, and conveniently excellent muscular form (wink). The Villains were dark and ugly to behold. Some deceiving through their words, some bruising with their might. Myths and legends of monsters terrorizing villages, and demigods rising up (or coming down) to defeat those monsters, sprang up through the ages. They filtered into fables and stories over time.

These days I find that I’m drawn to stories that have believable villains. When I was younger, the villains in most stories I came across were all evil just for the sake of being evil. But these days, stories have villains that actually think, and that you agree could exist. They are actually endearing in their own creepy, demented ways.

“D’you wanna know how I got these scars?” *

“There’ll be nothing but fear and darkness … and me…” **

“Showdown at midnight. Wanna trip, baby?” ***

Creepy.

If you did not get those references, the first is by the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), the second is from Pitch Black (the Boogeyman) in Rise of the Guardians (2012), and the last was from Marsuvees Black in Showdown (Ted Dekker).

In these guys –be they good or bad guys – we see a little bit of ourselves, and that is what makes them endearing or repulsive to us. Either way, they make us interested in the story.

This is what makes your story a winner: when your audience can identify with at least one of the characters, or the circumstances in which they find them. It pulls us into your story so that we subconsciously have a friend in your fictional world, heightening the reader or viewer’s senses and emotions, so that every plot point affects us almost as much as it affects your characters. Our new friend keeps us coming back for more, to check up on him or her, joining them on their journey through the pages.

(SIDE NOTE: Jesus did this in His parables too. Whether His stories were about a sower sowing in a field, or a woman looking for a precious coin, or a woman trying to get the attention of the judge before her case came up, His first century Judaean audience could identify with the situations described in His parables. This was part of what set His teachings apart from those of the liturgical sermons they were used to hearing. They could actually see themselves in His stories, and could see their application to life.)

Storytellers (writers, filmmakers, etc.) these days have realized this secret to some extent, and that is why the heroes in our movies are a bit flawed, and no longer the ultimate models of humanity that used to be iconic. The flaws may be personality problems or just unfortunate circumstances that scar them for life, making them more human to us. Bringing them down to our level, so to speak.

  • Peter Parker (Spider-Man) has acrobatic skills, a sense of humor, and can shoot webs, but he lives with constant guilt because he feels responsible for his uncle’s death. And his city thinks he’s a nuisance, no matter how hard he tries to convince them he’s not.
  • Tony Stark (Iron Man) may be a billionaire genius that has a mechanical suit that helps him fly and shoot lasers and missiles, but he’s still got a piece of shrapnel near his heart and he lives moreorless on life support. (Sure, he finally got rid of it in the movies, but he’s got more challenges coming his way. Trust me.)
  • Bruce Banner (the Hulk) may be the strongest there is, but he still can’t control his rage or himself. And, seriously, who wants to go out with a big green rage monster? The future only gets worse for this guy, no matter how much good he tries to do.

I could go on and on with—

  • Oh yeah. Bruce Wayne (Batman) lost his parents when he was a boy. He grew up in this dark and brooding phase that’s affected him, even as an adult.
  • Thor has got complicated family issues—

OK! That was me geeking out a bit there. Sorry. The point is that the writers make us see that these heroes aren’t so perfect after all. And we’re OK with that because, we know we’re not perfect either. We may not be so far off from these guys, after all. And if they can save the world, so can we (on a different scale, no less, but still…).

But it’s not only typical of superhuman stories. Some of the more human stories show people without a chance of winning any battle suddenly rising as the hero through selfless acts. Characters like the little hobbit, Frodo in Lord of the Rings, who saved Middle Earth by taking the evil ring to the place where it could be destroyed; or Samwise Gamgee, his devoted friend that encouraged him along the way and helped him up when he was weak. We like these guys not because of their strength or abilities, but for the strength of their hearts.

 

And then, [Scottish-sailor’s-accent kicking in] “Therrre be Villains…”

Now, if you’ve noticed, the best Villains are those that believe, in their own demented way, that they are actually doing the right thing. There is nothing as dangerous as a man who perpetrates evil and yet sincerely believes he is doing the right thing. The suicide bombers on the news today have taught us that. This approach to the villainous character amplifies his (or her) humanity. We loathe and/or fear them for the evil that they do, but we also understand that they’ve just been affected by something or an incident in their past that warped their sense of right and wrong. As they say, “It all takes one bad day.” Just one bad day that messed up with the rest of their lives. We empathize with them, and wonder just how the hero is going to defeat this character. Somewhere deep inside us, we hope for his (or her) redemption or satisfaction. We do not want to admit it, but it’s there.

I’m not saying that these guys are good, and I’m not saying I agree with them. I do NOT. They are evil, and that’s that. But those strong stories accentuate their humanity by showing, for example, how much these guys love their own children, or loved ones.

  • The Evil Stepmother wants her daughter, instead of Cinderella, to marry the handsome prince. It’s not her fault that her daughter’s not as pretty as Cinderella. (you can blame the Disney artists for that one … lol)
  • Gothel (the Witch in Disney’s Tangled) stole Rapunzel because she wanted to always look young. The girl’s hair gave her the power to prevent aging.
  • Erik Lehnsherr (aka Magneto, from the X-Men series) is a mutant who hates humanity because he grew up among people that hated and maltreated mutantkind. His parents were even killed in a concentration camp. So his entire life is one long crusade to create a world where mutants can live free, even if humans have to be trampled on to get there.
  • The Joker (Batman’s foil and archenemy) just wants to have some fun. He’s crazy and demented, yes, but he wants the thrill of some real fun; be it through chaos or … more
  • No one believes in the Boogeyman (Pitch Black in DreamWorks Animation’s Rise of the Guardians). How else would he get some attention, except by scaring people with nightmares? [and seriously, his ‘Night-Mares’ were actually dark horses that ran at night. I loved that pun]

Some stories, however, dare to shatter any hope that there’s any humanity in the Villain(s) and present us with some of the darkest creatures, with no love or life left in them. They are not just evil for the sake of being evil, no. They show us just how evil they are… and it could get really dark. These are also interesting in that they show us that evil is just that: Evil, and not something to be meddled with. Deeply, dark, demented and torturous evil. It pushes the storyteller, who wants to wrap up a good story, to write a reasonable hero or a believable heroic circumstance with as much depth and power and goodness to defeat such an evil character. How the storyteller pulls this off will tell on the quality of his or her story, and on his or her heart as well. If they could get the story to such a dark point, they should be able to bring us back to light.

But even these dark villains have a goal. They want devastation and destruction and death because that’s the only way they could ever get satisfaction.

 

In his classic ‘Mere Christianity’, C.S. Lewis explained that because creatures were made by God, the Good God, that’s why they all desire something good. Be it love, or satisfaction, or a thrill, or a home. We all want good things, deep down. For Villains, it’s not so easy to figure this out. But deep beneath all their quests for power and control is a desire for something good. Our quest is supposed to lead us back to God—the Good God. But sometimes we don’t see that far. What makes the difference between a hero and a villain however is how we go about getting that good thing we desire.

A good man asks. A bad man steals.

A good man works. A bad man kills.

The Good or evil we do is a result of the contents of our hearts.

The truth is we are all Heroes in our respective stories. Heroes, flawed by weaknesses but still trying to do what’s right. And we fail. Time and time again.

But we are also the Villains of our stories. Villains, making selfish decisions and feeling selfish emotions that tear us apart until we have attained or apprehended what we desire, no matter what we do to get it. Don’t believe me? All it takes is ‘one bad day’ to show what’s really in our hearts. When push comes to shove, how do we respond to the impossible circumstances and conflicts we face? How do we take on the battles we face without and within?

How do we get those things we desire?

Heroes at heart, but Villains too.

One bad day away …

This conflict we face on the inside is what pulls us toward the conflicts we see on the big screen, or in books, or even on the news. Whether the story is set in Middle Earth, or Narnia, or a dystopian future or the Victorian past, we feel we are in the same world with the characters we have come to love so much because we’ve been there before, facing those familiar struggles.

 

How do we get that ‘Happily-ever-after’ ending that we desire?

Is there a Happily-ever-after?

Did God put this desire for good in us and leave us to wander? Like a sick Toymaker winding his toys and leaving them to simply jerk around the room until they are simply wound out?

 

No.

Heavens, NO!

Ha!

 

He is the Good we want. He is the Love we’ve sought. The Freedom we’ve ever hoped to gain.

He is the Spring to satisfy our souls’ deepest thirsts. The Fountain to cleanse us from all that is bane.

 

Coming to Him for help would mean burning away a lot of pride; the very same pride we’ve built up as a defense to protect ourselves from the antagonism around us, but the very same pride that’s also killing us from within. That which we want to be cleansed of keeping us from That which would cleanse us.

Surrender.

Not to the evil, but to God.

Surrender everything that you hold so dear to yourself. Surrender all that you’ve accepted yourself to be and accept who God says you are. Surrender your will and your right to complain, to act, to live … to be. Surrender yourself.

Myself.

It’s very difficult, but it is the only way we can truly be free. And when we do, we find that we’d been prisoners all along. We wonder why we had not surrendered sooner.

 

So the Hero and the Villain are at war to this very day. To this very moment.

That ‘one bad day’ will come. The Bible calls it ‘the day of adversity’ in Proverbs 24:10. It says:

[If] you faint in the day of adversity, your strength [is] small.

The ‘day of adversity’ may not be an alien invasion, but it could be something as small as an opportunity to get what you want by lying or cheating or taking advantage of someone. It could also be an opportunity to do the right thing – it depends on how you see. How do you see?

The one that will rise up in that day is the one who has won in the heart. Good or Evil.

We were never meant to fight this battle alone.

We weren’t made to.

 

There really is a Happily-Ever-After, my friends. It is not going to be a mushy lovey-dovey ending, but a satisfying one. And there are many confrontations and battles between now and then.

But only Good can really give us the Good we desire.

Only God can bring us to God.

And He did. Through Christ. The battle that needed to be fought has been fought and won for us by Him already. He only asks us one thing.

Just one choice can make a difference that would ring through all eternity.

Surrender.

Why so Puddleglum?

Puddleglum-COLOURED_labelled

What do you do when all you’ve ever known to be true suddenly doesn’t feel so true anymore?

NOTE: If you want to read about the Art of Puddleglum, i.e. the picture up top, you can follow this link.

Puddleglum is a character in The Silver Chair, the sixth book (or fifth, depending on your point of view) in C.S. Lewis’ series, The Chronicles of Narnia. He was a marshwiggle, a weird creature who lived by a swamp, and had a mildly amusing pessimistic outlook on life. In the story, he joins Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole on their quest to find the lost Prince Rilian, following a set of clues given to them by Aslan.

I would have told you the story, but I feel that it’d be a mega-spoiler (and you’re like, “C’mon! The book’s like 50 years old already!”). Let’s just say that by the time they find the prince, he’s the brainwashed prisoner of the evil Lady of the Green Kirtle. They release him, but then the Lady walks into the room.

She doesn’t snap at them, but she cheerfully hypnotizes using the enchanting tune of her harp and the whiff of a secret powder she dumps on the fireplace.  With every word she speaks, with every strum on her harp, she almost fully convinces them that everything they’ve known to be true was made up, all in their heads.

First, they knew that they were in the kingdom of Underland (yes, it was literally miles underground). They knew they had come from Overland, the land above the surface. Or had they? Were they really sure there even was such a land among the rocks and mortar in the roof of the cavern? (Another character later comments on how weird it would be to live in a world like ours, a world without a roof, with just open sky above) She made them believe there was nothing beyond the dreadful world underground that they could see at the moment.

Then they asked about the Sun. About Narnia. About Aslan the Great Lion. And she convinced them that those concepts were merely flights of fantasy based on things they could see around.

Her words (however enchanted they were) made them reconsider their beliefs in these things; things they had always accepted to be true. Sure they had fleeting memories of daylight, of their home world, of the Lion, and of words spoken to them before. But these memories were fading as she spoke and strummed on her harp (or maybe it was a ‘lyre’ … see what I did there? ;) ), the mist of the ‘Decepto-powder’ filling the room.

Until Puddleglum stomped out the fire and ended the enchantment, to the Witch’s horror.

Here’s that part of the story and what he said:

“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

Wow.

 

I like Puddleglum because of his decision to believe in the Truth –to fight for it— even when his mind did not agree. Even when he was being convinced otherwise, he still held on in faith. It was not easy, but he did.

Life may present us with a couple of facts. But that’s what they are: Facts, and nothing more. But don’t let them make you doubt the Truth. The facts are like holograms, translucent 3D images in space. They last for a while, but they only appear under certain conditions. They would change with time. They look real, but they are not necessarily real. We may feel them, but our feelings are really subjective neural experiences (OK, enough geekspeak from me).

The Truth, like Ted Dekker (one of my top favourite authors) loves to say, is just beyond the skin of this world. Beneath and beyond all we can see is another realm where everything is the way they really are. It’s the Kingdom of God, a world where everything is in obedience to God. You’d see that something actually happens when you pray, that something happens when you speak, and that there’s a lot more going on around us than we can see with these eyes.

Jesus is the Truth, and what He says is true. No matter how the facts appear, don’t make the mistake of thinking the facts are the Truth.

You may have no family with you now (FACT) but that does not mean you’re abandoned.

You may not have money in your pocket at the moment (FACT), but that does not mean you will never be successful in life, financially or otherwise.

You may have failed a course or two … or more (FACT), but that does not mean you’re a failure.

You may have prayed for the sick and nothing seemed to happen (FACT) but that does not mean Jesus was lying when He said you would pray for the sick, and they would recover. It doesn’t mean that your salvation is inferior, either.

I guess Faith counts when its feels like there’s no reason to believe. That’s when it counts. And that’s when it’s hardest. We can’t do this on our own. We weren’t made to. Hang on. Ask for His help. He will help you. You’re not alone in this.

I should know. I’ve been there. A lot of times, actually. One of such times I cried and cried for strength, but it didn’t seem to come as suddenly as I expected. I was too scared to let anyone in on what was bothering me, so I slapped on my trademark smile. I didn’t want my doubts to bring them down too. I felt so alone deep down, desperate to scream, to breathe. Trusting in God suddenly felt futile. I know I encourage others to remember that He is always with us, but I didn’t feel Him near right then. I didn’t feel Him at all, period. I felt like a fraud, like I was just going through the motions. I gotta tell you, it was scary.

But He was there. Is here. Man, He is. He’s been here all along.

You know what? I guess I got used to feeling that way. I preferred to ignore God. And when I didn’t, I felt as though I was the one person in all history that He had wronged. It felt easier to ignore Him and His things. But He had not wronged me. What had just happened was that, like the kids in the story, my ears were filled with the wrong tune and that’s what I was listening to. The Liar’s lyre.

So what did I do? I don’t know, really. I’m supposed to tell you that I prayed more and studied the Bible more, and that that’s I got more strength, but that’s not what happened. To be honest, I didn’t feel I’d get anything from praying. When I read the Bible, it was as if there was no life. That’s where I was. I was supposed to stir up strength from my spirit within, but I felt too weak. Worn. Tired. And because my mindset was warped, so were my decisions. And, sure enough, somewhere deep inside, I blamed God for all of this. To most readers this scenario may sound weird, especially to those that know me personally. But I hope there’s someone out there that understands. Even if no one does, it’s OK. You don’t have to go through that. Just keep your mind on the right stuff. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I thank God for exposing me to the right words. Like that verse that talks about how God is our Hiding Place, Who surrounds us with songs of deliverance (Psalm 32:7). Though I was blinded to see His faithfulness towards me, I could see His faithfulness toward others, so I knew He was still out there somewhere. It’s like being in a dark basement, with a few pinpricks of light stealing in through cracks in the wall. I sought those spots where the light was peeking through, ‘cause that’s where I felt safe.

I realized that though I may be special, I’m not so special that His loving kindness would extend to all except me. I was hearing His words, but I wasn’t listening. For the longest time, I wasn’t listening. But He got through. Ha! He made sure He did. No matter how long it took, He hung on.

Why did it drag for so long? I guess I was a hard nut to crack. God did not leave me be. He kept making sure His words broke through the thick clouds around me, until I could finally really hear His songs of deliverance again. His words of Truth and encouragement.

He was trying to get to me all along.

That’s the annoying thing about Grace. No matter how hard we try to earn points on His scales, He shows us that He’s the One that gave us whatever points we’ve got. He’s the One helping us up.

I still have lots of questions, I won’t lie. I still do. But I’m learning to trust.

I’ll trust.

Man, I don’t usually get so personal in my writing. I prefer using a character in a convenient story to pass the message across, but I guess I just wanted to do this. Hope it’s worth something, though.

This is real life, man.

But, enough about me. Back to the point.

 

Sometimes the lies look like facts. Sometimes it’s easier to accept the lies than to fight to listen to God’s Voice of Truth.

We may be walking in caves as dark as Death with no light in sight (FACT), but we must not let that make us forget that there ever was a Sun. That there is still a Sun out there.

Don’t let circumstances make you forget that there’s a Son, either. And He’s not just ‘out there’, He’s ‘right here’ with you. The Son of God that died and rose to make you fully free – free to live, free to be! He’s alive! He’s broken the chains and blown the prison doors and nuked the concentration camp and placed you in another country, so you have no excuse for allowing the tunes of the Liar’s lyre to become your reality. God is holding you up, so trust Him. Let His words, His songs, break through to your heart. They are working on you. He’s working on you.

You may not feel it, but He’s after you. He’s surrounding you. Ah, if you could see His hands around you, trying to squeeze the darkness away. If your eyes could be opened so you can see what’s really going on!

There’s a battle going on, my friend. A battle for your soul. There’s a wooing going on, and each side is desperate for your heart.

One in seduction, One in Love.

One for destruction and One for Life.

The Liar wants to keep you shrouded in a cloud of darkness. The Truth wants to make you free, and truly free at that.

His words are real and true. Let them be your reality. Keep on studying what He’s said, and talking with Him. It’ll change your mindset.

Your feelings may not all change in an instant. But they also could. But whether they do or whether they don’t, you’ll be fine. Even when you mourn, Jesus says you will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). It’s not His desire for you to mourn, but even if you do He’s got you covered.

You see, the lies may be like those holograms. Holograms are particularly crafted to appear through some optical hijinks, subject to the directed lighting in the room. But the Truth has always remained. It’s the Pure Light that drives away all illusions.

And the Truth is that God loves you, and He’s got you. He would not let any evil come to you, and He would help you make an impact so great it would blow your mind (in a good way J ). His plan is for you to be satisfied and fulfilled in life. To thrive, not just to try to survive. What’s waiting beyond is so much better than anything there’s ever been. We can’t even imagine it, but He reveals it to us by His Spirit in us, His children.

So trust Him. He can be trusted.

And when you do, that’s when you’ll find the strength to stomp out the lies and shine Light into the Darkness, to encourage and comfort others.

To remind them that our Father has never left us. He’s right here.

Even in the deepest throes of Underland.

 

‘Where can I go from Your Spirit?

Or where can I flee from Your presence?

If I ascend into heaven, You are there;

If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there…’

PSALM 139:7, 8

The Stuff Friends are Made Of

The Stuff Friends are Made of 3

Old Peter Macready was a really old man

With skillful hands and a very sharp eye

He was an inventor. A creative one indeed

For he made everything he could ever desire.

From the chandeliers to furniture to cutlery

To the finishing. His creativity knew no end.

There was nothing in his house that wasn’t made by him.

Except the fact that, in all this time … he’d made no friends.

 

In his eighty years on earth he’d met many people

Men and women, boys and girls, since he was born.

But none were the kind he’d want for a friend.

And none ever asked if he wanted one.

 

“I don’t need ‘em”, he said. “I don’t need ‘em at all.

“If I ever needed something, I never had to search

I just made it instead.

Piece of cake! I’ll just make!

Making a friend of my own shouldn’t cost me much.

 

He tried to make his own little wooden marionette

Like the one that sang the classic, “I’ve got no strings.”

But it could do nothing else. It had no brain.

And to this day, that’s the only song it ever sings.

 

So he made an android robot that could do much more.

It was sentient, intelligent, and good with chores.

But it kept trying to terminate him and take over the world

So he had to turn it off, after losing a few doors.

 

He tried to use a Professor’s famous solvent: Chemical X

To make daughters of his own, like the cartoon’s story went.

But with nothing nice to add to the Sugar and Spice

The resulting volatile mixture simply destroyed his basement.

 

After months of explosions and whole room implosions

He found that a new friend was nowhere near.

With a sigh of disappointment, he gave up on his desire

To have friends. After all, he’d been fine for many a year.

 

After all…

 

(sigh…)

———-

KNOCK-KNOCK

(Silence)

KNOCK-KNO—

(A creak as the door slides open)

A boy in a uniform stands at the door, a brown package in his hand. Actually, he is too old to be called a boy, but too young to be called anything else. He probably isn’t even 18 yet.

I should say something … but I don’t know what to say. I frown instead.

He raises a hand to wave, even though I’m right in front of him. “Hi … sir. I’m Justin. Is this Mr. Macready’s house?”

I nod slowly, wary of troublemakers like him. “I’m Macready.”

He nods. “I’m a mailman. Well, obviously, ‘cause I’m clearly not female …” He pauses. He must expect me to say something, but I know not what. He keeps oscillating about his feet like a pendulum bob. “OK, most people get that joke the first time, so this is a little embarrassing—“

“I’m not expecting any mail,” I interrupt. “There’s nothing here for you, boy.”

“It’s Justin. And, yes … I mean, no! No, you’ve got no mail. Actually, you never get any mail, I think. But I couldn’t help but notice that there’s always smoke coming out of at least one of your windows. No one on your street seems to know what’s going on with you, sir, so I was …” he rolls up a sleeve and scratches his forearm. “I just wanted to make sure you were OK. You know.” He nods, pursing his lips, his gaze not shifting from mine. “That’s it.”

He doesn’t seem to be up to any trouble. I nod once more. “I’m fine.”

“OK…” he turns to stare back at his bike parked by the curb, and turns to look at me. His gaze strays behind me. “I guess that’s – WHOA!!! What IS that thing?!”

I turn abruptly to see what’s got him all startled. It’s my old android, resting in the kitchen doorway in the last pose it’d taken before I shut it down. It’s been too heavy to lift, so I just left it there. Now this boy has seen it. “It’s nothing—“

“Nothing? That’s a robot!” He’s a little overexcited. “WHOA!” He’s still staring around at everything he can see through the doorway. My portraits, my carpentry and –

BAM! I shut the door and stand in front of him, my arms folded. He’s seen enough. “Is that all?”

“You’ve got some crazy stuff going on here, dude.” He says. “I mean ‘sir’.

Crazy? Dude?

“I mean, it’s crazy, but only ‘cause it’s good. As in, it’s so good that it’s crazy. Like, crazy good. I mean,” he tries to find another word. He gives up. “I’ve said too much already, right? Like, I should probably just shut up and get going.”

“That would be preferable, yes.”

“OK, I know when my eVite’s expired.” He walks away. “You’re alright, sir. Been good meeting you.”

But now he’s leaving. This … ‘dude’ had cared enough to ask how I was. And I felt … good about it. It was bizarre, but good. I hoped he would return someday.

“Thank you.” I manage. He stops and turns. “Thanks for coming over … boy.”

He smiles. “Actually, it’s Justin. But I guess we could go with that.”

 

———-

 

And that wasn’t that last they saw of each other.

Justin became Mr. Macready’s new friend.

As soon as he entered the inventor’s house the next time

His exuberant excitement seemed to know no end.

 

Mr. Macready learnt a lot about friendship from Justin.

For he observed that the boy had taken the first step.

Perhaps that’s the way to make new friends.

Not to wait for them to come. But to reach out a hand.

To help.

 

He learnt that you can’t make them out of what you see.

Friends aren’t made from things. They just happen to … be.

At the end of the day, Mr. Macready could say,

“The best ingredient for friendship is me!”

 

———-

“Hey,” Justin says after taking a bite from the cookies he brought over this time. “Where’s that creepy song about strings coming from?”

My Statue of Liberty

 

My Statue of Liberty_final2

We sailed for weeks; spent months at sea
With nothing but ocean and sky to see.
Hoping we’d reach our destiny
The land of Hope. Home of the Free.

They say its citizens are live truly free
In that place, life needs no remedy.
It’s where I’ve always wanted to be.
I hope that there’d still be a place for me.

I was below deck when my mate called out to me
“Come out!” he yelled. “Come out ‘n see!
I can feel it beckoning on me?
Is that the monument they call Liberty?”

I reach the deck in a hurry
And see the sign that takes away all my worry
I’m home at last. It’s all been worth the fuss.
For this Statue of Liberty is a Great Big Cross.

My Statue of Liberty_thecross2

It’s Not About Me

I was walking up the street one day with my eyes on my phone, scrolling through my email. I just happened to look back up at the road in front of me when I saw that there was suddenly less road and more …well, pole. Yup, I’d almost walked into an electric pole. It was then that I realised I had to pay more attention to the world around.
The whole ‘scrolling-through-my-phone-while-walking-on-the-road’ bit is a habit I’m trying to stop. I think I picked it up as a reflex response to avoid the awkwardness of staring at people walking toward me. I’d either be checking my mail or checking out the latest ‘share’, ‘comment’ or ‘like’ on my last post (narcissistic much?)
But I realise that I’m cheating myself of other things. Like the world around me. The people around; yes even the ones I’m trying not to stare at.
While I’m dipping my head into cyberspace I’m missing out on the opportunity to be a blessing out here in the real world. They’re the ones I’m supposed to reach out to, right? I shouldn’t be all wrapped up in myself or I’d miss out on all that.
It’s not about me.
It’s not about you.
Our lives are too big and too full for it to only be lived for ourselves. But you know what? We are also too tiny and infinitessimal for us to be the centre of our own lives.
We were made to live for God, and God’s all about reaching out to others. Showing them Love. Giving them Life. That’s what we’re made for.
You’ve got a LOT to offer, some of which you’re yet to discover. You’ll see them when you actually reach out.
So don’t be all “me, me, me!” You’ll miss out on the other notes in the beautiful harmony of God’s Creation.
So flash a smile to someone today. You never know how far it could go.
:)

FATHER OF CHIBOK

Father of Chibok

…must … make it…

Can’t stop … can’t turn back…

I must…

… must …

… SIMBI …

With every step, Adamu ibn Gafar’s heart pummeled harder into his chest. His breath had turned to intermittent gasps. His strength was giving way. But he could not stop. Would not stop. His rifle weighed heavy on his neck by the strap.

A dry wind caressed his bearded face as he crested a knoll, leaving a gritty taste in his mouth. The valley before him, dotted with trees and sparse undergrowth, was laid out bare like an unfurled scroll of green and brown. The Sambisa forest. It would have been the perfect landscape were it not for the dark secrets hidden in there.

How many nights had it been now? Seven? Eight? Yes, eight nights since he’d left the village.

Three since he last ate.

Two since he last drank water. Dirty water, at that.

His head was already feeling dizzier with each new hour. He could feel every bone in his body. He knew he should have turned back a long time ago, but he had to keep his attention on something more important. His sole purpose for being here. His only purpose for living now.

Simbi … Simbi … must make it… It had become his mantra.

He did not even know where he was going. Everyone knew that the terrorists sometimes set up camp in this forest, but they were also constantly on the move. Only God knew exactly where they were. Gafar knew that he would most definitely die out here. His next step could plunge him to his grave…

Something about that thought must have been taken seriously, because the next thing he knew was that the horizon was rising unnaturally. The sandy ground was rising to his eye level … and growing darker. His scraggly beard bit into his skin as it touched down on sand.

Am I … falling?

BAM! His world faded to black.

 

———-

A crackle played at the back of his mind as he slowly regained consciousness. It could’ve been gunfire in the distance. A salty tang filled the air, assaulting his stomach. Oh, that churning curling feeling. How hungry he felt. Slowly, one of his eyes peeled. There was a fire, alright, but it wasn’t gunfire. More like a camp fire. It was in sharp contrast to the dark night around.

Wait a minute. Camp fire meant camp…

…and camp meant…

People!

He hurried to his haunches, scurrying away, but stopped at the sight before him. Only one man was seated in the sand facing the fire, his back to Gafar. He had seen no other human being in days. He noted that his rifle still sat beside him. Desperate not to make a sound, he slowly grabbed it from the grass at his knees.

Could it be? Had he finally reached their camp? Is he one of them?

Struggling to his feet, he sauntered slowly toward the stranger, reminded of the pain in his bones with every step he managed. The man was humming to himself, poking the fire with a stick. He was roasting some fish in the fire, hence the salty tang. Food! But Gafar would not kill a man for food … unless he was a no-good kidnapping insurgent—

But, still… FOOD!

“You’ve been out for hours.”

Gafar stopped. Who said that? He had been certain they were alone. Gafar had not seen another human in over a week. Had this man just spoken? Gafar knew he had been found out. He raised the rifle to the man’s head. He should have said something, but nothing came to mind.

The man turned slightly. “I thought you’d like some food.”

Gafar gulped, his throat dry more from hunger than from fear. “You have five seconds to tell me what you’re doing here.”

The man paused. “Clearly, I’m roasting fish—“

“Are you one of them?” Gafar snapped. “The Haram?”

The man turned and seemed to notice the rifle for the first time, his gaze falling to its barrel. But he didn’t flinch. “Why would I tell you that?”

“Answer me!”

The screeching of crickets in the distance gave an ambience to the scene. “What if I told you I was and you weren’t one of them? Or if I said I wasn’t, but you were one of them? Either way, one of us is dead already.” Gafar froze. The man smiled. “Consider me a friend, mallam.

“I have no friends on this path.”

“Then consider this an invitation. In a land such as this, we could all do with a companion.” The stranger patted the ground beside him. “Come. Eat.” A bowl of already roasted fish sat beside the man. “I also got some bread.” He extended his bag towards Gafar.

Gafar was torn. He should be pulling the trigger, but his hunger was too strong. He snatched the bag out of his hand and reached in for a loaf. Sure enough, he felt the soft loaves of bread in his hands. The aroma was too hard to resist. And he took a bite.

His gastric juices and salivary glands went to work. Goodness, he had not realized how hungry he really was until now. Whoever this stranger was, he had brought some good food. This was like a miracle … if you believed in such.

“You’re welcome,” the stranger muttered, returning to his roasting. “There’s a creek over there. The water’s cleaner than most.”

Gafar sat, taking more of the bread and fish. Out of habit he muttered his thanks. The man looked nothing like anyone else he had seen before in these parts. He knelt at the creek and gulped down a good helping of water. Sure enough it was clean water.

“God must be looking out for you,” the man said. “Few survive days in this forest on their own.”

Gafar did not respond. He preferred not to give much thought to God. He needed not to. For one thing, those perverted terrorists claimed to be fighting in His name. Why would God allow those men to take his daughter away? Either someone or something was wrong in that equation, or there really was no God. It just didn’t make sense. Without answers he chose to remain neutral on the subject.

“There’s a nomadic clan about a day away where we can trade that gun of yours for supplies,” he said. “But they’re always on the move.” Gafar arched a brow at the man, who shrugged. “I’ve lived in the Sambisa for a good while now. I know my way around here.”

Gafar studied the man as he returned to the fire. He wore a woolen jacket over his brown caftan. The white goatee framing his chin gave him a patriarchal look. Had he really lived here for long? He was in no mood for a conversation, but clearly this man was. “I thank you for the sustenance, sir. But one must wonder what would make a man like you to stay in this godforsaken forest.”

The man stared pointedly at him.“I could ask you the same question.”

“My path is no business of yours.”

“I see all kinds of men making their way through this forest every now and then,” he said. “Most with ill-intentions. You don’t strike me as their type.” He cocked his head, ostensibly studying Gafar. “But I can tell you that the enemies you seek will not be taken down with just one rifle.”

Gafar turned to him. So this man had deduced his vendetta. “You’ve … seen them?”

“Everyone knows when they camp, the Haram. Most families left the forest as soon as they started … ‘camping’ here.”

“Yet you remain.”

The man shrugged. “I’ve got greater concerns than my own safety,” he said. “As do you, I presume.”

“I’m grateful for the food, sir, but like I said, my path is of no concern to you.”

“One rifle cannot take down an entire camp of—“

“Sir, I would rather not talk about this.”

“Some would call that denial. “

“Sir, I really don’t like—“

“But you want to talk about it—“

Gafar shot to his feet. “Look! Your attempts to drive me out of my mind can’t go beyond how out of control I already am. I … ha … I … I don’t even know why I’m even trying to talk to you. I should have killed you and made off with your food when I had the chance.”

The man was smiling and it was annoying. “But you won’t, my friend.”

“Don’t be too sure.”

“You may be mad, but you’re not ax-crazy.”

“Yes! Yes! You got me there, old man! I am mad! I’m absolutely crazy! What was I thinking, coming in here with a borrowed gun? And you know something else, old man? I’m dead already. I’m a dead man! This is a dead man talking to you, right here! What have I got to lose?”

“A mad man and a dead man. That’s a very lethal combination…”

Gafar clenched his fists. “Tell that to those perverts.”

“…for you,” the man finished, his eyes glistening in the fire’s hue. “It’s lethal for you. And you know why? I can tell because I know who you are.”

“You don’t know the first thing about me.” The man just stared at him, with what looked like sympathy in his eyes. As far as Gafar was concerned, he was mocking his resolve.

“I know … that you’re a dangerous weapon to anyone that crosses your path now. And that’s because of who you are.” Gafar waited for the punch line. But when it did come it took the wind out of his sails. “You’re a father.”

Gafar froze, at a loss for words.

“They must have taken something most precious to you to bring you in here,” the man continued, his eyes on Gafar. “However insane this is. And I can think of nothing as precious as … as a child. A daughter.” He paused. “Your daughter.”

Gafar just stared at him. Exposed and vulnerable in that moment. Now, when he needed a smart comeback, nothing came. He just stood there and stared. “Well … well, it’s better than just sitting down and doing nothing.” He tried to avoid his gaze. “Like everyone else is doing.”

“How old was she?” the man’s voice was gentle.

Gafar stared into the fire. The thought that had been playing in the depths of his heart boiled to the surface. Simbi’s lost, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

For the first time in days, he let the teardrop trickle down his face. His resistance fell away. The heave in his chest was back. He could feel his pulse thumping in his forehead. He slowly sank to his seat.

The man just stared at him.

“Nineteen,” he whispered. “She was … only … nineteen.”

The crackle of the fire and the distant caw of hawks filled the silence that followed. His heart was breaking again. And, again, he was helpless.

“We hoped this would be the last WAEC that would get her into university. I didn’t think it was necessary. I only wanted her to get married and start a life as soon as possible. Her mother wanted our daughter to have a dream. A future. She made me promise —right there, as her life slipped away— to get our daughter through school. She would become a great woman. A princess that royalty would die for. But you know what? I never really realized how beautiful my daughter was already. A treasure…” he gulped. Now she was gone. Kidnapped. And who knew what else had become of her.

“What I would give for one more moment to hold her … to tell my daughter that I love her. I never told her that. I never … thought I needed to. I thought she always knew. But I would give anything! Even to the last of my cattle and my land, I would give it all. I just want my daughter to be safe…”

He was breaking down in front of a stranger, he realized. He had spent a week away from humans and he had already lost all his pride. “It’s been so long now. I saw that video, you know. They showed the girls, all in black. But I didn’t see my Simbi. They say they’ve been sold as slaves. Others say they’re dead. But I can’t believe that. I couldn’t live with myself if that happened.”

The man had just been listening, now there was nothing but sobbing and the crackle of the fire between them.

“You want to negotiate with them?” the man asked at last. “You mentioned giving your cattle.”

“What choice do I have?”

For a moment they simply stared into the fire. “You really do love your daughter,” the man said. Gafar wiped his eyes. “I know how you feel … friend.”

Don’t say that. You can’t possibly know how I feel.

He placed a hand on Gafar’s shoulder “You will see your daughter again. It’s the hope we fathers have to hold on to.” Gafar turned to him. “The enemy may take our daughters, but we’ll do everything to bring them back. Even to lay down our very lives. Because it’s everything we have to give.

“After all … that’s why I’m here as well,” the man said, turning back to the fire.

Gafar sniffed and turned to him. “They took your daughter too?”

The man stared into the fire for a moment. When he did reply his voice was nothing but a whisper. “Daughters.”

That stopped him. Gafar was shaken. Really?

This gave a whole new perspective to this man. His daughters had been taken as well, and he was here to rescue them. There were things he wanted to ask, but he couldn’t. It was just … surreal. And sad. Very sad. So he does know how I feel. “I’m … I’m sorry.”

How, if there is any justice in the universe, these things could go unpunished troubled Gafar. How could these people continue their evil crusade – and no one else wonders why?! God, are you even there?

“You asked me why I’m here, in this …as you called it, ‘godforsaken’ forest,” the man said, a slight quiver playing at the edge of his lips. “Now you know. I have to be close to my children, somehow. I’ve been here for ages, searching, ready to bring my daughters home.” He smiled, in spite of himself. “I couldn’t live with myself any other way, knowing they’re in the hands of such evil men. I couldn’t afford to.” He shook his head, staring into the distance, lost in thought. “This ‘fatherhood’ thing, it’s … it’s an occupational hazard.”

Gafar sighed deeply, looking up at the stars. “You know, sometimes I think that if I ever brought her back safe, I would take her out of this place. Out of this country. I’d sell everything I have to take us to somewhere safe. I would throw the biggest party ever for her and her friends. I would … I would let the whole world know that she’s the most beautiful girl of all. The most precious jewel to me. I would never yell at her again … ever…”

The man nodded silently. “The Father’s heart.”

For a moment they did not talk. Gafar absentmindedly took some more helpings of the bread with fish. These short silent moments that punctuated their conversation seemed, to Gafar, to bond them somehow. A sort of camaraderie between fathers desperate to bring their loved ones home. Through long and dark nights in the cold, the bites of parasites and the certainty of death, the thought of their daughters home and safe again could be the only thing keeping them going.

The man turned and stared into his eyes again. “You can be sure that I’ll let your daughter know how much you love her so.”

Gafar smiled, as the chilling realization that he would die overtook him. But he nodded. “I’d do the same if I saw yours.”

“Listen to me—“

“—But frankly I just might outlive you, old man—“

“No, wait, you’re not listening to me. I will let your daughter know you love her because I am with her.” Gafar squinted at him. “Right now.”

Gafar tried to make sense of the man’s sudden cryptic shift in gears. “What’re you saying?”

“You know full well what it is I am saying.”

“Who … who are you?”

That enigmatic smile was playing at his lips again. “Don’t you remember me? Adam?”

Gafar was taken aback. He didn’t recall telling this man his name, let alone his first name. “Are you … no … it can’t be…”

He nodded. “I am.”

And he smiled one more time.

 

———-

Incessant chirping played at the back of his mind as he slowly regained consciousness. It could’ve been the sound of angels greeting each other. Perhaps he was dead already. For real, this time. He felt full on the inside. Oh, the blessing of good food. Especially bread and fish … talk about a meal! Slowly, one of his eyes peeled open. There was chirping, alright, but there were no angels. More like birds—

Wait a minute!

As he hurried to his haunches, he was engulfed by the daylight around him. He was still in the forest, birds chirping in the trees. It was another day searching for his daughter. One thing that piqued his attention was that there was no evidence of a camp fire around him. No ashes. He turned and confirmed his last expectation – no creek either. Had it been a dream?

But if it had all been a dream, why did he feel as if he had eaten?

He inhaled deeply, staring up into the bright sky. It was a new day, with new dangers ahead. But never before had he felt so much resolve.

Miracles do happen, he mused.

Picking his rifle again, refreshed and filled on the inside he hurried on into a forest that, perhaps, wasn’t so godforsaken after all. To death. To life.

To his daughter.

For Simbi.

———-

“I’m absolutely convinced that nothing

nothing living or dead,

angelic or demonic,

today or tomorrow,

high or low,

thinkable or unthinkable—

ABSOLUTELY

NOTHING

can get between us and God’s love

because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”

Romans 8:38 and 39 (The Message)

 

———-

FATHER OF CHIBOK

Father of Chibok; Father of all.

I know You hear us when we call.

Thank You because You’re always near.

And, as You’re here, You’re also there.

You’re with our sisters and daughters in captivity.

Keep them, protect them … set them free.

I know You can

‘Cause You’re more than a man.

You loved them even before this all began.

Heal their hearts; heal their minds

Keep them from the fear that binds.

Our hearts go out to them too.

If anyone can bring them home, it’s You.

And Father,

This part is so hard that it barely even rhymes.

Help us … somehow … to pray for and love the men

Possessed by the spirit of terror.

For they terrorize and wish our nation ill

But unbeknownst to them, they are the captives, still.

Heal their hearts, heal their minds.

Free them from the bondage that binds.

Let them know that even in the darkest of forest

There’s a Father that loves them, and in seeking them, You don’t rest.

If anyone loves them, it’s definitely You.

Help us to love them like You do.

O Father of All; Father of Chibok

Thank You ‘cause You answer when we knock.

In the end, we know that Evil’s time is done.

In the End, evil is overcome.

Let Your Kingdom come and make this all right.

The world will be so much better with Your Light.

If anyone can do this, it’s going to be You.

What can we do?

Can You use us too?

Help us to lighten up this world

With your light as we do as we are called.

Reflecting your love to every fellow

That they may know that You love them so.

If You can use anyone, dear Jesus…

…thank You because it can be us.

Love Keeps No Records Of Wrongs

emmanuelonimisi:

Saw this post by a friend and thought y’all would like it. I did.

Originally posted on temissan001:

Hello people! This is a short story I wrote for a writer- friend o’mine a while back.

I usually don’t write short stories but I decided to try it out. Tell me what you think, will ya?

She flinched as she applied a sac of ice against her swollen face.
“I’m not taking him back” she muttered, “I can’t do this anymore”, she
cried. Her mind reeled back to the now famliar routine. A slap, yet
another and then the slamming of fists against her frail self.
Funny how regardless of everything he did, she still always
accepted him back. For he had her bound in fetters and chains. There
was no letting go, or so she thought.
The voice of the door cut her train of thoughts, “come in” she said
absent mindedly as she stared at herself in the mirror. There he was,
somber and all. Before she…

View original 149 more words

GRAVE ROBBER

Grave Robber header

Working on The John 11 Story has been an interesting experience for me. Sure, I’ve known the whole story about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead for years, but taking it from this new angle was a pretty amazing opportunity. And sure enough, it looked as if God had pre-prepared the story to fit the format in which it is crafted here, with specific lessons to pick from on Love, Faith and Hope. And I love the way it all rounds up on my favorite story: Life over Death.

The first installment, Love, tells of the part when Jesus first heard that Lazarus was sick. He loved his friend so much … that he waited and let him die. I gotta tell you, this blew me away. But that’s what Jesus did, because He knew it was best for His friend. It didn’t matter that others would see it as downright inhuman, He saw the Big Picture and He lived according to that.

The second installment, Faith, shows us a little bit about ‘walking in faith’. It’s an assurance we have based on God’s reality that affects all that we do and how we live. Others may not see into this other reality, so walking in faith may look crazy to them. That’s probably how Jesus must have looked to his disciples and friends back then. With discouragement on the outside it can be quite hurtful. But He held on, not changing His conviction and confession.

And then, it all boils down to the final installment. Hope.

To many, hope means nothing more than a baseless expectation. Some even preach and teach –with the best intentions, I’m sure— that hope is inferior to faith. But they are so wrong.

But Hope is a word very dear to me. It’s entwined in my heart and in all my stories. I see Hope as … uh, like a rope –a sure and steady rope— that keeps us connected to our expectation. It’s like you’ve been on a ship sailing, with nothing but water for miles. Then suddenly, your shipmate yells from the crow’s nest, “Land ho!” Suddenly everyone rushes to the starboard side to catch a glimpse of the land to which we’ve been headed and they turn the ship toward that direction. We can finally see where we’re going. In a sense, we feel connected to that place already because, on the inside, we are finally home.

That’s Hope.

For children of God, we have a sure and steady hope waiting beyond this sea we’ve been sailing all our lives. It’s an anchor in another world, waiting just beyond this one. We know that we are going to still live even after we leave this world. And why will we live? Because we believe in Jesus, the One that is Life Himself. So no matter what we go through in this world down here, everything seems worthwhile. It is worthwhile because the satisfaction waiting for us is much greater, much better, more grand, extravagantly more amazing than anything down here. Such joy, such peace, such fulfillment and satisfaction in that Other World called Eternity.

And because of this Hope we have on the inside, we are connected to our Home. We already experience the joy and peace and life and love waiting beyond. It’s a life rooted in Eternity, and we call it Eternal Life. It flows on our insides like a river, and overflows to bless this world. It’s literally Heaven on Earth … through us. That’s what Jesus was probably talking about when He said that “The Kingdom of God is within you” in Luke 17:21.

We know it’s not a baseless hope because of the One Who has been there already, and made a way for us to get there. His name is Jesus. He died and rose to life so that He could open the portal for all that believe in Him to join Him, so that they can also have Eternal Life. Nothing can beat that. Not even Death.

Ha! Even death is no match for Eternity’s Conqueror.

He defeated Death so that we would not have to fear it anymore (Hebrews 2:15). The fear of death keeps us from living life to the full. It holds men in bondage all their lives until it finally snatches them away. But Death does not ‘snatch’ those who have Eternal Life. It serves them to bring them Home, at the right time. If you believe in Jesus, you need not fear Death any longer.

But Jesus ended all that. He literally dealt with Death, and rose up to life. It’s actually more awesome than the way I described it, but you get the gist, right? Because He is alive, our faith is effective! Because He is alive, we have Hope, a real Hope. Because He is alive, we can go the extra mile for others out of Love. Because He lives.

But then, it did not end there. He did not just defeat Death that day. Something bigger is coming.

 

The Grave Robber is Coming.

Here’s how the Bible describes it.

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

1 CORINTHIANS 15:51,52

One day, everyone who believed in Jesus before they died will rise to life and their bodies will become immortal. Death’s very throne room –the graveyard— will be raided instantly, and everyone that belongs to Christ will rise to meet Him and be with Him forever. And everyone who is alive and believes in Jesus will also join them. It would all happen in an instant, ‘in the twinkling of an eye’.

There will be no more death for us ever again. Ever. Forever.

We’ll have finally reached the shore.

———-

That’s part of why I love this Hope, especially since my father went Home a couple of years ago. I don’t talk about it much, I know, but one good thing God brought out of all that is that my attention has shifted from this world to the next. Sure sometimes I get distracted by the holograms of this world and forget my true identity, but my Home –my true reality— is in the next. Nothing fulfils me completely except it’s also rooted in that World. I tell myself, “Oi, if you ever want to see your Dad again, you better be good!” I believe in Jesus. My father also did. Our Hope is in Jesus. And I believe that one day we will both meet together at that Grand Reunion. But I get the feeling that our attention would be taken, not by ourselves, but by the One that got us in this great story in the first place.

Jesus. Eternity’s Conqueror.

So I’m no longer afraid of death because I have Jesus.

But I’m not suicidal, no. I don’t go around looking for death. I just have the confidence to live to the full without being afraid of death. I’ve got the Eternal Life of Jesus Christ in me. He influences how I live, so that I can bring His Light into the darkness around. This is what my life is about. The Hope and freedom that I have in Christ is what I share in my writing and artwork, so that you can see Him in me and come to the Hope we have in Him. You don’t have to fear death any longer.

Jesus is here. He loves you sooooooo much! Yes, He really does. Really.

Come to Him and find Life. Outside Him there is nothing but darkness and gloom and fear and Death.

Have you received Jesus? You can receive Him today.

 

Below are the words to one of my most treasured songs. It’s called Grave Robber, by a group called PETRA, and it explains everything I’ve been talking …uh, ‘writing’ about so far.

 

GRAVE ROBBER

(Based on Hebrews 9:27, John 4:14, 1 Peter 1:24, Romans 8:11, 1 Corinthians 15:26, 51-55, Revelation 7:17)

There’s a step that we all take alone
An appointment we have with the great unknown
Like a vapor this life is just waiting to pass
Like the flowers that fade, like the withering grass
But life seems so long and death so complete
And the grave an impossible potion to cheat
But there’s One who has been there and still lives to tell
There is One who has been through both heaven and hell
And the grave will come up empty-handed the day
Jesus will come and steal us away

(Chorus)
Where is the sting, tell me where is the bite
When the grave robber comes like a thief in the night
Where is the victory, where is the prize
When the grave robber comes
And death finally dies

Many still mourn and many still weep
For those that the love who have fallen asleep
But we have this hope though our hearts may still ache
Just one shout from above and they all will awake
And in the reunion of joy we will see
Death will be swallowed in sweet victory

When the last enemy is done from the dust will come a song
Those asleep will be awakened – not a one will be forsakened
He shall wipe away our tears – He will steal away our fears
There will be no sad tomorrow – there will be no pain and sorrow

 

The day is coming. And everyone will see. Believe in Jesus and receive the life He came to give.

The Grave Robber is coming for His own.

 

We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go.

It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God…

HEBREWS 6:18-19

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