Category Archives: Short stories

FEAR ITSELF: The Man of Galilee

But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.
Mark 16:6,7

“…and Peter.”
Those words kept ringing in the Galilean fisherman’s ears all night, filling him with both excitement and dread as his boat bobbed on the waters of the Sea of Tiberias. The salty scent of the sea and the cool breeze had been commonplace to him for much of his life, but after a three-year stint away from the trade, he realized that he’d missed it. The familiarity of the scenery was probably what he needed right about now.
Simon and his brother Andrew had left their fishing business to follow their teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. Oh, but he was so much more. This miracle-working rabbi had changed their lives with his message of bringing God’s kingdom to the world, and showing that it starts in the hearts of men. Simon – or ‘Peter’ as Jesus called him, the unshakeable stone – and his friends were convinced that he was sent of God and was, indeed, the son of God. Those last three years had changed their lives forever. Most especially, those three days at Passover.
Jesus was killed by the people. It was a spectacle that ruined Passover for the whole nation gathered at Jerusalem. His followers had all gone into hiding in the days that followed, afraid they would be next. And then on the third day, Jesus suddenly was not dead anymore. The grave was empty.
He was alive. Again, it filled Simon with both joy and dread.
…and Peter…
The past few days had been filled with some of the most extraordinary events. The women had seen an angel at the tomb, telling them that Jesus had risen. And, sure enough, Jesus appeared to the disciples and spoke with them. He had since been seen at different places, interacting with the people, walking with some as they travelled, coming and going as he pleased, encouraging them. These were truly exciting times to be alive.
But for Simon, as excited as he was, he needed a return to some normalcy. He had decided to go fishing when some of the others asked to come along.
“Ugh, how you folk do this is beyond me,” Thomas said from the stern. He had not been a fisherman before and had come along just to be among his friends.
“For starters, by not making comments like that,” Andrew came back.
“We’ve been here all night!
John smiled. “We’d make a fisherman of you yet. Like my Pa used to say, no fishin’, no eatin’, no sleepin’. We die here.”
Thomas blinked. “Well, looks like we really don’t have to die anymore, eh?”
James shook his head. “It was just an expression. An anachronism, really—“
“I mean, I wouldn’t have believed it myself, but I put my finger in the nail hole of His hand, man.”
“We were there,” Andrew said over his shoulder.
“We should be out there, showing Him to the world. It’s nothing short of incredible. One moment he’s dead and we think we’re goners, the next he’s right there, standing in front of us.”
John chuckled. “You’ve been going over the same thing all night.”
“I mean, I didn’t believe you guys before. It was going to be the last time I allowed myself to accept the supernatural. But then He called me by name. As if He knew.”
“He always did know,” Nathanael said. “Things men weren’t supposed to know, He knew. Like the time he first met me, he told me where I had been earlier that day …”
And on and on they kept recounting events from their times with Jesus. Words he had spoken before suddenly made more sense in hindsight.
But for Simon, memories were what he was running from. The particular memory of that night. The night he denied knowing Jesus.
He had always known himself to be courageous, strong and always ready to take risks for a worthy cause. Maybe that’s why he had stuck out here all night, to once again prove to himself that he was strong and rugged. Because that one night, in the face of something he should have stood for, he had cowered like a rat.
Jesus had known beforehand too, and warned him.
The night Jesus was arrested Simon was ready to die for him, or to even rescue him. He had even snuck around the high priest’s house during the hearings. But then he was found out.
First it was the servant-girl that recognised him as one of his disciples. Sharply, without giving it a second thought, he retorted, “No way! I’m not!”
It was just strategy, he had thought. Soon enough he would be able to get in and get Jesus out of there.
Then as he warmed himself by the fire, someone asked again. “I am not one His disciples!”
But his accent gave him away. And then he found himself believing what he was trying to say. For that moment, swearing and cursing, he yelled, “I have no idea who you’re talking about! I don’t know this Jesus! I have nothing to do with Him!”
And the cock crowed, just as Jesus had said.
He was Peter, the unshakeable stone, the courageous disciple. The one who had always been with Jesus. The one who had seen Moses and Elijah appear to speak with Jesus. The one they all looked to. But when it really mattered, all of that was gone. For the first time, he saw the weakling that he was. That he had always been. He felt nothing like a Peter anymore. Beneath the unshakeable stone that Jesus had thought he was, he was simply Simon, son of Jonah.
But now Jesus was alive.
The angel had told the women, “Go tell His disciples, and Peter…” Jesus had not rejected him despite his denial. He should feel loved, grateful, thankful … but it made Simon feel small. Weak. Helpless. He did not deserve this.
Jesus had appeared to them, but He’d not mentioned the denials. Would He ever?
Simon turned to his friends and caught John’s stare. The younger man had been there that night, but he had not mentioned that bit to the others. No one knew of his denial of Jesus. They would never believe it.
Just as they never would have believed Judas would betray the Master.
“Got new orders for us, Captain?” John asked.
Simon was about to respond when a voice called from the beach. “Shalom aleichem, young men! Got any fish?”
“This would be embarrassing,” Thomas muttered.
“Not yet!” James called. “But we will! Shalom!”
“Way to keep the faith…”
“How ‘bout you cast your nets to the right of your vessel?”
“Just as well. The spectator thinks he knows how to fish better than us —“
“THOMAS!” they all turned to him, weary of his sarcastic banter.
“What?!”
Simon grunted, pulling up the nets. “We might as well. Don’t make no difference, anywhichways.”
“You know what this reminds me of?” Andrew piped.
“Don’t,” Simon said under his breath.
“We all know this story,” John added. “When you first met Jesus!”
“Don’t need to recount it,” Simon said.
“What’s your deal?” Andrew said. “Why are you so down when we’re all… whoa, didn’t expect that.” He pulled harder at the net. “Guys, are you seeing this?”
Simon was feeling it more than seeing it. The nets were suddenly getting tauter by the second. And heavier. It could be anything … but he knew it couldn’t be just anything except…
“Ah!” Thomas yelped as a fish splashed on his face and down on the deck, to the amusement of the others. And more fish came up. The net was tipping the boat on its side as it filled with more fishes, piling and squirming in.
“Is this really happening?”
“Good Golan Heights, put your backs into it!” Simon yelled. “We’ve hit the mother lode, boys.”
“Oi, again with the anachronisms,” James muttered between pants.
Simon felt a nudge. It was John, looking back to shore. “Isn’t this the kind of thing He’d do?”
Simon followed his gaze. The stranger on the beach was still standing there, a smile barely visible from this distance. Barely familiar, if Simon allowed himself to go that far.
John turned to him. “It’s Him! It’s the Master!”
Simon knew. Like in a dream, he realised he had really always known. He knew with all his heart that—
“Whoa! Hold on!”
But Simon had already grabbed his coat and leaped into the sea. He came up for air. “I’m OK! Tie the nets to the stern and drag it to shore.” And with that he swam, hurrying towards shore. Hurrying towards Jesus.
The Master stood on the shore, grinning. A fire of coals lay by his feet, and sure enough fish was roasting on it. He had bread in his hands. Wait, if He already had fish why was He asking for fish? And He still grinned, a twinkle in His eye.
“Master…” Simon ran into His embrace, still wet and cold.
“It’s about time, My friend.”
The others arrived by the boat, the net dragging behind them. If sight were any judge Peter guessed there were over a hundred fish caught. If he were still in the business this would have been a windfall. Amazingly, the net had not broken. But the Master was here. The disciples hurried over to him.
“You guys have been at sea all night,” He rubbed his palms. “Join me. Let’s have breakfast.”
It was just like old times. After they had laid out the fish to dry they sat with the Master as they caught up on everything that had been going on. Nothing else felt wrong in the world when they were with the Master, even though they could not keep their eyes off the holes in His hands no matter how hard they tried. Even Simon’s fears seemed to hang somewhere in the back of his mind now.
When they were done, Jesus turned to him. “Simon bar Jonah. Do you love me more than these?”
“Without question, Master.” He felt the gazes of the others bore into him. He felt John’s the one who had been there that night. He had once felt like the Master’s most loyal follower. Not anymore. But he wanted Jesus to know that he did love him. “You know that I love you, Master.”
Jesus nodded. “My lambs, I want you to feed them. Feed my lambs.”
So Jesus still trusted him with responsibility, just like always.
But He wasn’t done. “Simon bar Jonah. Do you love me?”
He had not put the comparison with the others this time. Simon’s response was less confident. “Yes, Master. You know that I do. Love you.” He gulped. “You know that I love you, Master.”
Jesus nodded. “Feed my sheep.” He sidled closer. “Simon bar Jonah. Do you love me?”
It was the third time.
Just like the three times he denied Jesus.
He knows! And He’s telling me that He does.
“Lord, you know all things. You know that I really do love you.”
I am sorry, Lord.

“Feed my sheep.”
Peter blinked. Really? Despite all that You know? You trust me to feed your people?
Jesus looked up at the others, bringing them into the conversation. “You see, when you were younger, you could dress up and go and do whatever it is you wanted to. When you get older, others will help you get there. You will be too frail to.” He looked into their eyes. “Sometimes your spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
He had said the same in the garden, before his crucifixion. Simon remembered this well, because Jesus had said it to him.
“This is the death that would glorify God. The more you grow in My grace, the more you will see My strength aiding you, empowering you in all you need to do. Your dependence on Me, not by your strength. Not the strength you think you have, but the one I give. The arm of flesh will fail.” He turned to Simon. “It always does. This is the death that glorifies God. The death of self, so that My life may flow through you. Without me, you really can do nothing.”
He placed His hand on his shoulder. “Follow me.”
There was something about knowing that Jesus knew every detail of him – his strengths and flaws – and still accepting him that assured Peter that he was in the right place. In the day of adversity, his strength had failed. But this strength that Jesus was promising, this Holy Spirit that He had been promising to send from the Father would help him to be and do all that he needs to. To stand in the face of adversity, to walk in His Master’s footsteps.
To follow Jesus.
And, yes, now he felt like an unshakeable stone. Unshakeable, because he would be held not by his own power, but by the power of God.
Yes, he knew he really was Peter.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Peter in a letter to the exiles of the dispersion, circa A.D. 65-68 over 30 years after the Resurrection

(1 Peter 1:3-5)

—–

To every one of us, our courage can only carry us so far.
And when our strength fails, it makes us feel less than we thought we were. It makes us doubt our strength.
But God sees that. He does not berate us for acting or being weaker than we ought. No, He comes to our very level to show us His strength and enablement, and by His love brings us to His level. As we grow to trust Him more, our confidence in Him is restored, and we grow in Him. Soon we realise that what made us afraid really is nothing in the face of the Lord who is alive in us.
Like David said, “…when my heart is overwhelmed, ‘Lead me to the rock that is higher than I!’ ” (Psalm 61:2)
God’s perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). His love toward us makes us realise then that He does not come to judge us for our fear. He comes to calm our hearts so we can see Him bigger than our fears, and we can trust in His strength.
And that’s what He delights in. Like a Father, He embraces us and sings in our ears, surrounding us with songs of His deliverance (Psalm 32:7). Telling our hearts of His power to save and deliver. This is how He casts out our fear. Through His words to us.
Therefore, we cannot afford to be distant from God’s Word. It is how He speaks to us, through what He has said as it is written. The Holy Spirit is alive and at work in us to give us understanding and to guide us.

This is the ultimate victory over fear, God’s love for us. He showed this completely in redemption, coming as Man to die and rise for our sake, to make us free from the bonds of sin and death.

Our awareness and acceptance of His love toward us is what frees us from fear.

Everything that could ever defeat you has been defeated by Jesus’ death on the cross. Through His victory over death, He has taken away its sting over you. You need not fear death, or anything else. We are more than conquerors ‘…through Him that loved us!’ (Romans 8:37)
I consistently remind myself of the fact that if God loves me that much, He would not let evil befall me. It is not His nature or desire to. So even if there is an appearance of evil looming, like the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil “For Thou art with me.” (Psalm 23:4)
Your victory over fear is not in your confidence in yourself. Rather, it is in your confidence in God’s love for you and His power at work in you. The more you give yourself to His Word, the more your heart receives His songs of deliverance, and the more your mindset is transformed to see your fears as the shadows they simply are in the face of the One Who is in you. Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.
So even if you’ve ever given in to fear, it’s OK. All Jesus asks of you, from wherever you are in your faith walk or lack thereof, is what Jesus has asked of us all. Just as He said to Peter. It’s His Way, the only Way that gives you Life, and Love.
“Follow Me.”

Advertisements

FEAR ITSELF: The Man of Arimathaea

After this, Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus…’

John 19:38

“Prefect of Galilee. Procurator of Judea. It’s a promotion, they said. It will be a breeze, they said. Well, you know what I say? These Jews are impossible! Every month another uprising. But today, today was the worst!” Pontius Pilate trudged down the steps with his servant barely keeping up.
“It’s not the whole council that’s in the court, sire. Just one of them.”
“What more do they want? To get archers to impale the Nazarene while he’s on the cross too? What, a crucifixion’s not enough? Gods, I’m not shouting all of this, am I? Hope he doesn’t get that idea from me. Sounds don’t carry to the court from this stairwell, do they, Gaius?”
“Not that I know of, sire.”
Pilate grunted. “You were never a good liar, Gaius.”
Soldiers stood at attention as Pilate walked into the courtyard. The Jewish council member turned to gaze at him with forlorn eyes, nodding in greeting. “Most excellent Procurator—“
“Yes, yes, we haven’t got all day.”
“I am Joseph, sir. Of Arimathaea. Member of the Sanhedrin.”
“You lot have interrupted my peace twice today over that man. This had better be quick. You’re here to request for the Nazarene’s body.”
“Yes I am, sir.”
“Tell me this, Jacob, tell me this—“
“Joseph.”
“— you Jews are becoming more Roman with your bloodlust. Never more so than this morning. ‘Crucify him,’ the crowd chanted. ‘Crucify him!’ I understand that you hated the man, but what more do you want with his body?”
Joseph had the carriage of a man familiar with the norms of standing and speaking before authority. But his shifting eyes belied his courage.
“Not all of us ‘hate’ him, sir.”
Pilate arched a brow. “You just didn’t agree with his doctrine.”
Joseph winced. “Sir, I want to give the Teacher the good burial he deserves. I own a sepulchre over by Golgotha. A stone’s throw from the crosses. Whatever the cost, I ask for his body.”
Pilate folded his arms. “This is new. Does Caiaphas and his other cronies know about this?”
Joseph nodded slowly. “They will. Eventually.”
Pilate arched his brows. “And you are ready for their vitriol?”
“Better now than never, sir.”
Pilate took a step closer to Joseph. He too had listened to the Nazarene speak. He too had had his own questions about him. Even his wife had been tormented with nightmares on his account. Something about all this did not seem right. “You were on the Council this morning. You sat there as your people called for this man’s death. But you remained silent.”
“Yes, I did. Because I knew there was much to fear from my people. Hate is a terrible thing in the heart of man, sir, especially when he thinks he hates in the name of God.”
“The man claimed to be God, if I recall. A bold claim among your people. Said he had a kingdom not of this world.”
Joseph nodded, the forlorn gaze remaining in his eyes. “Yes. Yes he did.”
“Seemed to think he really was all that, if you can believe it.”
Joseph looked up at him. “I believe he was who he said he was.”
Pilate smirked. “And yet, he dies on a cross like any mortal.”
Joseph stared away. “Yes, he does.”
“Caiaphas wouldn’t take your words lightly. You could lose your place on the Council.”
Joseph shrugged. “I have considered all of this. I know the cost. But to be silent in the face of truth … I can do that no longer. There are worse things than death, sire. This man did not deserve what he got. My position, my standing … the Council, it is nothing in the face of what is true and right and just.”
Everyone who knows the Truth hears my voice, the Nazarene had said juat this morning.
The sound of Marcellus, the centurion, marching into the hall from outside jolted Pilate from his reverie.
Pilate nodded. “Be that as it may, you would have to wait until after he dies. This may take a couple hours, or days—“
“The Nazarene has passed, sir.” Marcellus said, his helmet in the crook of his hands as he saluted. “He’s dead.”
Pilate grunted. “Now that was fortuitous. One could say a deus exit machina, amiright…”
But the horror on the Arimathean’s face silenced him. This man was grieving.
Pilate pursed his lips. “Few things make a man take the risk you have taken. Love, sometimes. Maybe honour. In this particular case, I am not certain they are mutually exclusive.” He nodded. “You will have his body. Go, give him the burial he deserves, Joseph of Arimathaea.”

———-

Joseph of Arimathaea is another figure that pops up on the stage of Scripture in one or two verses, does something, and pops out. But what he did had an effect on history forever. And it wa an act of courage over fear.
Joseph was a wealthy man and a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Council of leaders. He was a secret follower of Jesus, ‘for fear of the Jews’ (John 19:38). He was likely there when Jesus was being tried, but to expose himself as a follower of Jesus would have risked his position and standing in the community, and even his very life.
But later he courageously went to Pilate the governor to request for Jesus’ body. He had a rock-hewn tomb, something only the rich could afford, and he asked to bury Jesus’ body there.
Going to Pilate was an open statement to all, especially to his colleagues who hated Jesus. This same tomb later caused the priests to request for guards to seal it.I do not blame Joseph for hiding the fact that he followed Jesus at the time. But it tells me something about fear.
One thing that fear does is that it makes us silent in the face of what is right. It makes us comfortable with what is wrong as long as we do not take any risks. But this mindset is what allows evil to be perpetrated, especially in these depraved times.
But Joseph took a courageous step and used his tomb.
Apart from the world outside, for ourselves, fear keeps us from reaching out into the much-more that God has prepared for us. If Joseph had done nothing he would most likely have still had a good life. But he did, and he got into something more fulfilling, being a vessel in God’s hands.

To be a part of what God wants to do in us, vessels in His hands, we need to be courageous.
Do you know that Jesus being buried in that kind of tomb was a fulfilment of prophecy, that he would be buried with the rich (Isaiah 53:9) and that his body would not decay (Psalm 16:10). By acting in courage, Joseph became engrafted into a plan God had set in motion long ago.

Courage is not the absence of fear. Rather, it is doing what is right even in the midst of fear.

For a child of God, our courage is rooted in the knowledge and assurance that God is for us and with is and in us, even when we don’t ‘feel’ it, but because God’s Word says so. And that is Truth.It is why when Joshua became the leader of the Israelites to lead them into the Promised Land, God told him over and over to be courageous. He told him to keep on meditating on the Law, the Words of God. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

You know, Joseph of Arimathaea reminds me of another Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. He too had to make a courageous decision, to stick by Mary when she was pregnant, at a time and in a society that would have shunned them. But he trusted in what God said and courageously stayed with her. This was the kind of man God trusted to father his Son.Isn’t it just like God to place two Josephs, one at the beginning and the other at the end, to take care of His Son’s body?

To conceive, bring forth and nurture God’s counsel in our lives and in our world, we need to be courageous. Fear is just an illusion in the face of what God can do through you. Don’t let it limit you.And when we do what He calls us to, then we find our true and best selves.

Trust in His ability.

Be courageous.

Point to consider: What things do you know you ought to do that fear has fear kept you from doing?

FEAR ITSELF

Ever since the Fall, sin and death have held men and women in bondage, so that life becomes a sprint from birth to death. In the space in between, the enemy has used the fear of death to keep humanity in bondage.
Fear keeps us shortsighted, blinding us to the salvation God has provided.
It keeps is stagnant, afraid to venture out and expand into greater things.
It causes us to base our hopes and lives on variable and fickle things that will crumble.
The fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of loss. All rooted in the fear of death.

But Jesus came to change all that. In His death amd resurrection He defeated sin and death, and came to “…deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Hebrews 2:15
He defeated death and turned into into a doorway to the best parts of our eternity, when it is time.
He is ever with us, so we need not fear death.
Yet, in our lives, we encounter fears in one form or the other.

Over the next couple of days I’ll be putting 3 men in the spotlight. These guys were players in the background during the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. And each of their stories are pictures of some fears we face. We will look at them and see what we can learn from them, and how they overcame fear (for those who did).
The casualty of fear is a price we need not pay. Jesus did, so we can live boldly and free.
I hope you enjoy this series.
Thanks for coming by.

And, here we go…

The Man of Kerioth

The Man of Arimathaea

The Man of Galilee

The third instalment will be posted on Sunday, April 20, 2019

A Fish ‘Tail’

A Fish Tail

There once was a fish named Mee

Who lived in the Galilee Sea.

With water all around

‘Twas the best place to be found.

All was just as he hoped it to be.

 

But one day he saw something uncanny

It looked like a shiny little penny

It glistened right there on the seafloor so bare

So inviting for a gastric journey.

 

So, ignoring the warnings he’d always been told

Like how not all that glitters is supposedly gold

He opened his mouth and, with one big gulp

He swallowed the penny.

That’s what ruined his world.

 

For from that moment, his troubles got a head start

His stomach hurt so bad, he wished he could just fart

But the penny weighed heavy and couldn’t be purged

No matter how hard he tried, it just wouldn’t budge.

 

He was stuck in position

With a bad case of indigestion

‘Cause he’d messed up big time. He deserved his lot.

But in a moment’s realisation

He saw there was salvation.

So he looked up and prayed, “Lord, save my halibut.

 

“I know that I’ve been a total fool.

And though I’m stuck in water, this is just uncool.

I’m sorry I messed up. Please help me for real.

I know you can help me. I trust that you will.”

 

It wasn’t immediate. But Mee didn’t fear.

For though it took a while, help did appear

In the form of a hand that broke through the water

And grabbed Mee in a fist.

“Oh crap,” he did mutter.

 

But the hand squeezed Mee and, voila, it was over.

The coin popped out of his mouth. He cried, “Praise Jehovah!”

The hand’s human muttered, “It’s just like Jesus said.

I’m broke, but this coin’ll pay our taxes instead!”

 

So while Mee was glad to be out of his mess

It amazed him that Jesus could use it to bless.

So he mused, “If God could take

The messes I make

And turn them into something great for His Name’s sake

Then I can trust Him to help me

And, in all my ways, lead me

And make me to be all He wants me to be.

 

Every step ordered to follow His own

Every day, knowing I’m never alone.

Every way, making the right decisions.

Guided by His hand.

That’s all my submission.”

 

I don’t know what else happened to the fish called Mee.

Haven’t seen him in a while. I’m just the Narrator.

But now, I figure he’s living a bit differently.

He’s learned a lot. And will learn a lot more.

————

 

This story was inspired by the account in Matthew 17:24-27. Jesus and his disciples entered a town and were told to pay the temple tax, so He sent Peter to the sea and said, “Take the first fish that comes up and, when you open its mouth you will find there a shekel. Take it and give it to them to pay the temple tax for Me and for yourself.” (verse 27)

Some reaches were made here for comedic and rhythmic purposes, so some artistic license was stretched. For example, halibuts are not native to the Sea of Galilee, and we don’t know for certain that Peter was broke, and most importantly, we don’t know how that shekel got to be in that fish’s mouth in the first place. For all we know, it could have been carrying that coin in its belly since it was a wee little baby fish-thingie!

But the point here is that, when we trust God with our lives, He can make something beautiful out of each and every one of us. Of course, His intention is not for us to make mistakes, as some mistakes can totally change the course our lives. But if we trust Him with our lives, He can make it so that it would look like part of a grand plan for something better when we look back on how He’s led us and guided us in and through it all. A loss may look like a set up for another opportunity. A break up may set one up for a new perspective and/or a new relationship. A delay may set one up to find something missing before.

For some of us, it may not be all that dramatic. All the good that may come out of that mess could just be so that your story would be an encouragement to another person going through what you went through, as they see God’s faithfulness even through the adversity in your story. 2 Corinthians 1:4 says, “[God] comforts us in every trouble, so that we can share the same comfort with others in trouble.” (Contemporary English Version) It could be the coin the person needs to be lifted on the inside. That, in itself, is worth it.

This is God reaching into our darkness with His Light, like Peter’s hand breaking into the water to reach that fish. God led the way in sending Jesus to die and rise for us. Through the ages, through our lives, the effects of the Gospel story will continue to reach into our stories, directing our courses to His worthy destination. Himself.

However He does it, God is at work in each of our stories, working it all out for His glory, to show His love and mercy and grace and AWESOMENESS!

He is out for you too.

Your story is not over.

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.

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

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.

GANGSTUH WEDDING

NOTE: Hi there! I’ve always wondered how a wedding with a different theme (Rock or Rap, for example) would turn out. So with the idea, I got to work on this, and this amazing story resulted. Hope you like it!

Gangstuh Wedding_final

PASTOR:

Ladies ‘n gentlemen, brothers and sisters

We’re gathered here today to celebrate a new vista

In the life of our homey and his soon-to-be wife

In holy matrimony, they gon’ be together for life

The GROOM stands up front, his face spread out in a smile

As He watches his BRIDE walking up the aisle.

It’s all he can do to keep his joy on the down low

He can’t help it no more; so away he goes:

 

GROOM:

From the day I first saw you, girl, my heart went pom-pom.

I just gotta tell you, baby, that you’re the bomb!

They got the models ‘n divas

They got the stars on TV,

But none of them come close

To your amazing beauty.

You are a precious jewel,

You’re the one I love.

You’re a gorgeous gift sent down from up above

It just blows my mind that you said “Yes” to me

Now I can hold you close to me for all eternity.

BRIDE:            

I used to think that love was something I knew

But that all changed from the very day that you came through

You show me what it means to live

You make me feel so free

That’s why I give myself to you for all…

For all eternity.

“Aw,” the congregation coos

In amazement at the PDA between these two.

The Pastor smiles, taking the time to don his specs

As he studies the programme for what comes up next.

 

PASTOR:

Now we get to the part, according to custom

Where anyone against this marriage gets the chance to bust ‘em

So if you got a good reason, it’s time to holler

Speak now on this matter, or just forget it forever.

 

Heads turn, and all over, there are nervous chuckles

Of course no one’s that silly to take on the debacle

Of ruining this wedding. So, with a sigh of relief

The Pastor shrugs, since there clearly is no beef.

PASTOR:

 Well then—

 

Suddenly the door slams open with a BANG!

In the doorway stands a big man with his gang.

Everyone knows this guy; he’s the kingpin

Of the ghetto’s underworld; he’s got the run on things.

Drug market, pimp hustles, they run on his list.

Gang boss, like a Mafioso … you get the gist.

So with a sinister grin, and a confident strut

He walks up the aisle slowly, and begins to taunt.

 

MAN:

Anymore lovey-dovey, you guys’ll make me puke!

Getting married to this junkie? Man, this wedding’s a fluke!

Get a reality check, Mister! Have you got no clue

‘Bout the whore –yeah, I said it— gettin’ married to you?

 

GROOM:

 What gives you the audacity to call my woman a whore?

In my presence? What’s your deal, man? Who do you think you are?

 

MAN(tips hat):

Donnie de V to the I to the L-L-E

That’s my name. Don’t wear it out. I’m that kind of G.

I’ve had a lot of time to get to know this piece o’ garbage

GROOM:

If you knew what’s good for you, you’d be watchin’ your language.

DE VILLE:

She’s a hack, a sick junkie. Was a part of my ring

Till she lost it, got busted, ended up in cling-cling.

And when she got out, I took her up. Made her clean.

Made her beautiful, I tell you. Made her up like a queen.

All the guys in the hood thought she was a looker.

So we cashed in on it. She became a hooker.

But she pulled a fast one

Held me up with a gun

Took my money, slipped town. She’s been on the run.

I reported to the cops, put out an APB

She’s been wanted by the po-po in every major city.

Got no idea where you found her, but you don’t know her like me.

Ask her if I’ve said the truth, and she just has to agree.

So you see, Mr. Goody, this girl ain’t your type.

She’s a fraud. She doesn’t deserve all this mushy hype.

Go get a proper college chic; from Harvard or Andover

‘Cause with this ghetto-trash, you’re history. Your reputation’s over!

Everyone stares at the BRIDE, and they see it’s true.

From her veiled head to the tips of her Gucci shoes

She’s trembling all over, eyes streaming with tears

Donnie de Ville has pulled the cork on all of her fears.

Did she really think that she would get away with this?

But the GROOM takes the floor. He’s not done with his.

GROOM:

 I know ‘bout all this stuff. It’s not news to me.

But there’s something more I want y’all to come and see.

And before the congregation, he removes his wristbands

To show –(GASP!) We can see ‘em! He’s got holes in his hands!

GROOM:

This was the price that I had to pay.

To get my girl a clean slate. To take her crimes away.

Your thugs did a number on me. Left me for dead.

But that wasn’t the end. Through God, I resurrected.

Every price that she ever owed has been paid for

You’ve got no argument now, Mister. Not anymore.

If you wanna get to her, you’d have to go through me.

‘Cause you got nothin’ on her. Now she’s truly free.

For a moment, it appears De Ville is shocked.

But he shakes his head, clearly refusing to be knocked.

DE VILLE:

She may be out of my hands, but you’ve still got more.

‘Cause your girl knows that she’s still runnin’ from the law.

There’s nothing you can do to end this case.

So the deal with the nails was just a total waste.

GROOM:

 But I’ve already done it all.

For every fine she’s gotta pay, I went and took the fall.

DE VILLE:

But … but, that’s not fair!

 

GROOM:

It’s not your call.

DE VILLE:

She deserves to rot in jail!

GROOM:

Her crime slate is null.

DE VILLE (flustered):

Well, I … I … you can’t do that

She’s mine! She’s a goner! She’s just a…

…a … a… You just can’t do that!

(Audience boos in the background)

GROOM:

You know that didn’t even flow.

You’ve overstayed your welcome here.

Looks like it’s time to go.

Now if you know what’s good for you

You’d be hittin’ the door.

Or I’d just call Security

To sweep you off the floor.

De Ville stares long and hard in hatred at the BRIDE

Who keeps her head down in shame; she won’t dare meet his eyes.

And with a final glance at the GROOM

He snaps his fingers at his gang, and bounces out the room

The congregation cheers in joy, now that De Ville is gone

Looks like the worst part of this wedding is finally done.

But the BRIDE is still shaking, whimpering, and crying

‘Cause they all know about her past now. She wishes she was dying.

 

GROOM:

Don’t cry, my dear. Don’t let ‘im get to you.

BRIDE:

I can’t do this—

GROOM:

Why?

BRIDE:

All that he said was true.

I can’t get married to you.

I’m just not good for you.

My past is filled with crime and scandal and more bad stuff, too.

If you got married to me, my past would ruin you.

And I don’t even know what De Ville’s gonna do to you.

 

GROOM:

I love you, my queen.

I died to make you free.

I live to give you a new life

I’ve paid your every fee.

Your past is over now

As if it never happened.

Don’t let it hold you back from me

My love can never be dampened.

Don’t worry ‘bout the Accuser

De Ville knows he’s a loser.

His day of judgment’s on the way

He’s got Hell’s primo visa.

He wants to keep you from believin’

That my love is real.

But all he’s good at is decievin’

Till he’s had his fill.

But Babe, I truly choose to love you,

No matter what I see.

Your past can’t keep me away from you

It’s just history.

You’re the one for me.

You’re the one I see.

Come, marry me and be with me for all eternity.

The BRIDE’s eyes are filled with tears, but now she can smile

And she just stares into his eyes for … well, a great big while.

There’s not a single dry eye in the building this day.

The Pastor clears his throat. It’s time to get this out of the way.

 

PASTOR:

Do you mind if we continue?

 

GROOM (to BRIDE):

I love you.

BRIDE (to GROOM):

Me too.

PASTOR:

Uh … ‘scuse me. Can we … um … move on.

GROOM:

Please do.

BRIDE (same time):

Please do.

They blush.

PASTOR:

Do you, my brother, choose to marry this woman?

And do you, my sister, choose to marry this man?

To have and to hold, to love and to cherish

Forever and ever … you know the rest of the gist.

GROOM:                                 I do.

BRIDE:                                     I do.

PASTOR:                                 Wotcha say?

GROOM AND BRIDE:              I DO!

PASTOR:                                 You do?

GROOM AND BRIDE:              We do?

PASTOR:                                 What they say?

CONGREGATION:                   THEY DO!

PASTOR:                                 They do?

GROOM:

Sir, please … this has been a long day.

PASTOR:

Oh, I’m sorry. I got a little carried away … excuse me.

(Clears his throat)

By the power that is vested in me

I declare you Man and Wife in holy matrimony.

So you may now, kiss your bride, yada yada yada.

You know the rest. That’s the end. See you at the after-dinner.

 

‘But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners. Christ died for us.

ROMANS 5:8 (NKJV)