Tag Archives: life

PORTAL: An Afterword

Hi there! Emmanuel here!

If you’re here too then I assume you’ve read my story, Portal. Thank you so much. I’d really love to hear your thoughts. If you haven’t already, click on the link right here.

The undercurrent of Portal, is that many of us find ourselves held back by things in our past.

Like Tolu, some of us are encumbered by the fear of the future and its uncertainty.

Like Riley, many of us are affected by the pain and hurts we have experienced in the past.

And, like Frank, many of us are held back by the guilt of the wrongs we’ve done, and by the pain we’ve inflicted on others.

Moving on from these is never easy. I have experienced all three of these, and I have seen how they have influenced my actions, affected how I related with people, and determined the decisions I made. Unknowingly, I was trapped in those points in time and was navigating the present from those places. Influenced by the insecurities of my guilt, protective because of the hurts I experienced, limited by the uncertainties of what lay ahead.

I wish I could say there is a portal of some kind that you can pass through that will makes those things fade away. But then, I have found that there is. This story is a picture of how, through Jesus, we can find the confidence, healing and forgiveness we need to face the future.

For those of us afraid of the future and its uncertainty, He encourages us to trust in Him. Trusting Him means following Him. When we do, He will guide us every step of the way. We may not know where we ought to be five years from now, but at least we know He is with us and we know how He expects us to navigate the times. He is our Light, so we never have to walk in darkness. He has given us His Word so that we can learn of Him and know what He desires. His Word is like a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths (Psalm 119:11).

For those of us held back by the pain of our past, who find ourselves responding to people and circumstances from that hurt, He empathises. He promises healing for the broken hearted (Luke 4:18) and joy in the places of weeping (Psalm 30:5). He will carry you and keep you through it all.

And for those of us who can’t get past the fact that we have hurt someone, inflicted pain on someone, ruined something… Guilt is terrible in that it makes us feel we’ve earned the darkness it brings us into. Guilt is painful, no matter how earned it is. And while, yes, conviction is good, Jesus offers to all that come to Him forgiveness. Forgiven, He gives us the strength to forgive ourselves. And for those who we have hurt, we find the strength to apologise, to mend the friendships we can.

As one who is navigating these zones too, I cannot say I have all the answers. Many of these things, I have to keep reminding myself of every single day; that I have hope in Christ, that He has healed me, and that I am forgiven.

Our stories may differ, but there is the One Portal through which, if we take it, He will lead us in the right ways our souls have always yearned for. It’s called ‘the path of righteousness’ (Psalm 23:3). We will find our solace and peace in Him, and we can enjoy every moment of every day, just as He intended it.

In His Light, we see that He had given Time meaning.

Time in itself is seemingly amoral, giving as much opportunities for decay and corruption as it does for growth and development. The difference is what we do with it. When we are in Christ, He gives us wisdom on how to navigate these times and to make the best of them.

Ephesians 5:17 puts it this way:

Make good use of every opportunity you have, because these are evil days.

Don’t be fools, then, but try to find out what the Lord wants you to do.

I take special comfort in one of David’s Psalms in 31:15 where he says:

My times are in thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me.

He was confident that, even though he had enemies, he had help because his times were in God’s hands. It reminds me that, it doesn’t matter what season I am in: be it a height or a low, a win or a loss, as long as I am following Jesus, I am in God’s hands.

He will perfect all that concerns me.

From someone who is learning along the way, I pray you find the healing and strength in Jesus to move on. There is so much more to life that He has for you. You’ve got a whole lifetime to discover it.

God bless you all!

Grace, Truth, Love and Life

While It’s new and refreshing
It doesn’t always look dashing.
It’s covered in the grime and scrapes and scars
It risked in coming to where you are
To pull you up to where He is.
The cost of love, of sacrifice.
Goodness defined doesn’t always look nice.
This is what Grace looks like.

It sets before you a Standard
Far better than the you you’ve known.
You realise there’s a change you need.
And it tells you, “You are not alone.”
It builds you up, opens your eyes
Drops all masks and every guise
Leaves no room for lies.
That’s what Truth looks like.

The law of God shows His righteousness
From which we all fell short.
But His grace and truth came in Jesus Christ
Bringing all the Life and help He’s got.
Hor all that trust in Him
He holds in life through thick and thin,
Cleansing us from sin.
That’s what His Love looks like.

This teaches us to honour the Lord Not to take for granted His Cross
To follow Him in love and trust Counting as gain what, for His sake, is loss.
In surrender to His Sovereignty
We find our true identity.His divinity in my humanity. This is what Eternal Life looks like.🙂

P.S.: I fear that in my attempts to rhyme
Deep truths were oversimplified. But painting pictures in your heart is what this was for
As the Lord beckons you to explore His ‘more’.
😉

Thoughts on Eternal Life

Think of the pages of a book. Each page is a 2-dimensional construct, with length and breadth. But the book as a whole is in 3-dimensions: length, breadth and height.

Our lives in space time are like a single page in the volume of Eternity.

On this page we consider life in the dimension of length (years) and breadth (achievements). So when we hear the term ‘Eternal Life’ our first inkling is that it means living longer. But it’s so much more. It has more dimensions to it; height and depth, if you will. It is God’s Life not on the grade of man’s.

It’s God’s gift to any who believe and recieve. Maybe that’s why Paul would pray for believers in Ephesians 3:18 that they would come to “…comprehend what is the breadth, length, height and depth.” It’s all encompassing, having promise in this life and beyond what this life can fathom or contain.

In Ephesians 3 Paul continued that he prayed for them “…to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge.” This part always fascinates me. It’s like plugging into a socket, but then that socket shocks and changes you forever. When we give our lives to and recieve Life from God, the course of our history and future, and our very definition of what life is aligns with His because we are assured of His love toward us. Even when there are challenges we are confident that He will keep us and/or show us the way out or give us the wisdom to solve it. We see no need to be covetous because He will never leave us nor abandon us (Hebrews 13:5) and with Him we have ALL we could ever need.

Such a person, who is assured in God’s Love and becoming a channel of His love to others, will live and do things at the scale of God’s standard more and more. He/she would live beyond him/herself and is more likely to recieve ideas and concepts that will bless others. The passions on God’s heart become their passions, and the temporal pursuits that this plane seems to offer either fade away into nothingness or gain more value in the light of God’s purpose.

Jesus called it Abundant Life (John 10:10), Life to the Full. Like a stream that becomes a rushing spring, gushing above and beyond the normal river course.

Height and Depth.

It’s where we’ll only ever truly find purpose in our life’s course. And as we follow Him it becomes clearer.

Just thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been learning. Hope this blessed you.

What does God’s Eternal Life mean to you? Do share.

😁

THE VALUE OF ONE

A couple of weeks ago, I misplaced my phone. While it occurred at a very dry time financially for me, I saw some things that I’d like to share. Life, as they say, doesn’t stop for us to contemplate our navels, so I had to start the process of getting another.
The major factor here was getting a new SIM card.
I first had to get a sworn affidavit from the Ministry of Justice to attest that I had indeed misplaced my SIM card, a process that took quite a while. But oh little did I know that I was just getting started. I needed to take the affidavit along with my National ID card to the office of my service provider. And of all times, this was a period when MTN was hosting customers for a new batch of registration. Every time I went to their offices I met crowds so thick I couldn’t even get in the gates. Many had come as early as before 6am to beat these crowds. Over and over, I would get to the offices and not get in.
All of this for a card and microchip tinier than my smallest finger. No, really, I checked!
After days of trying, I was finally able to get it on a Friday morning (yes, I had to go there as early as 6am).
And while this was not the most convenient of times, it was the best time because, in completely unrelated events, that office was burnt by folks agitated by the reports of xenophobic attacks, just days after I finally got my SIM card.
I pursued that SIM because much of my work and friendships are based on contacts and communication, all dependent on the SIM card. Without that tiny card, I was unable to get a lot done. Not to mention the hundreds of valuable contacts that I lost with my old SIM. But with this new one, I’m rebuilding the contacts database and adding new ones, one number at a time.

Through it all, what was impressed on my mind was that I was like that SIM card to God.
Now God is Self-Existent, and He does not ‘need’ me for Him to Be or to do all He wants to. But I was lost and separated from Him. He found me and made me New. Now, not only is He working in and with me, He is working through me to reach out to many. Just like a SIM card.

We are, each and every one of us, valuable to God. His Salvation Plan was much sacrifice on His part. It wasn’t convenient in any way, but He came and died and rose for us. Even the timing of Jesus’ coming was not convenient. His parents were looking for a place to sleep as His mother was entering into labour, for one thing. But, like the Scriptures say, it was in the fullness of times. There were lost souls before He came, and there are lost souls after the time He came, but His one sacrifice is the one we all look to and, believing, are saved.
That was the one time in history where in the land of Israel the prevailing execution style (imposed by the Romans) was crucifixion, in fulilment of the prophecies that His hands and feet would be pierced (Psalm 22:16)
This was the one time that a civilisation, the Roman Empire, had such a reach through the then known world so that as the Gospel spread in it, seeds would be planted that would reach into every sector and would go to the ends of the world as travels, trade and exploration expanded.
This was the one time in history when the Jewish nation still existed as an entity in their land, where the Passover fulfilment of Christ’s sacrifice would be clearly understood by the nation He was brought into. Every type and shadow illustrated in the Law, such as the Temple, was still fresh and apparent in their eyes, and as the apostles interpreted them in parallels with Christ’s sacrifice, listeners and readers could attest to it. Even non-Biblical sources from that era have documented evidence of Jesus, His miracles, His death and the believers’ beliefs in His resurrection.
This one moment in history, the timing of the coming of God as Man, could not have been at a better time. His teachings and the changes He wrought in the lives of those that believe in Him have been instrumental in much of the world’s systems of morality, emancipation drives, social justice and educational advancement, through the ages.
The world still has problems. Humanity is still in the throes of mortality. But everyone who believes in Jesus and His redemptive sacrifice for our sakes has His Spirit in them, His very Life animating their thoughts and actions and helping them all He made them to be. Just like a SIM card in a phone.
And when He comes to call us to Himself, all who have His ‘SIM Card’ will answer His call. Mortality will be consumed by Immortality, and the ‘Becoming-like-Him’ process we’ve been gradually going through would come to its “full-fill-ment”, just as it’s always meant to be. And will be like Him and with Him forever as He makes all things new.

You are very valuable to God. He would go to the ends of the Earth, to Hell and back, for you.
And, guess what? That’s EXACTLY what He did.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
ROMANS 8:38-39

PS: I have since gotten a new phone too, so, happy ending!

THE RIDER: Wilbur’s Story … The Animated Short

What do you do when a story won’t leave you for two years?

That’s kinda what happened to me.

Hi there! Emmanuel here! I want to present to you a little animated short I worked on and to explain some of the thoughts behind it.

Here’s the vid:

So what’s this all about?

The main character in this short, Wilbur, is a side character in a larger story I’ve been working on called The Rider. Like all my other stories, The Rider is especially dear to me because I see it as a depiction of a journey I find myself on much of the time.

The Rider is a parable of how our lives can be defined so many times by our activities. We find ourselves many times in a pointless race. Many of us are running after achievements and a better life. Many of us are running away from the poverty and strain of our backgrounds. We find ourselves plunged into this throng of motion, we lose ourselves in the midst of it all.

We desire some things, legitimate desires all. But there is one major glitch in the system: we are broken. And that’s why we remain stuck.

Truth is we are all thirsty. When we break down all our pursuits they usually come down to satisfaction, relief, rest, affirmation and acceptance, love. All good things. We pursue them in fame, in entertainment, in career pursuits, in our relationships. But the very problem of our broken nature, of our thirst, is that we cause so much destruction in our wake. We lapse into addictions, sap all the joy out of our relationships, ruin ourselves and hurt those around us, all in the pursuit of our satisfaction.

The thing is, while all these things are good, they wouldn’t satisfy because, and gear up for this, they were never meant to. They were meant to be enjoyed, not abused.

God our Creator became a man like us so that He could tell us that He has the water to satisfy our thirst. But get this, this Water is Alive. He called it Living Water. He said, “…whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14 NKJV)

The Life that He gives fills us and overflows, so not only do we not have to thirst again, but we can fill the need of others.

We can enjoy our career pursuits and relationships and journey because our affirmation and satisfaction are not dependent on them. We can live beyond our needs and limitations, and love without fear.

In the short above, Wilbur’s dissatisfaction with his life causes him to leave his family and the life he had. By the time he realises what he has lost, he has already caused so much damage and heartache. He decides to return home to make things right, but he hasn’t the strength to make it back.

Our broken natures are our very weakness. It is why our true journey begins when we come to see that we cannot do this on our own. Surrendering to God is admiting we haven’t got it all figured out. When we trust our lives to Him, He gives us the strength to live and do all we are meant to. To mend what is broken, and to live in His rest.

So why haven’t I finished the story?

Because, even though I’m one of those that have surrendered their lives to God, I still find in myself the predilection to see life from the perspective of thirst. I find myself seeking affirmation and fulfilment in the approval of others, and it never satisfies. It is to people like me that Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20 NKJV)

I constantly need to let His reality overshadow mine. I need to drink of His water, to drown in it so that all I see in life is through His lenses. We all do. So that we don’t live the life of thirst when our very spirits are bursting with His Life.
So, yeah, I’m on that journey through the desert. I haven’t figured it all out. But even if I don’t, I’ll trust in His supply. I’ll soon be done though.

For as many in the desert as well, I hope you find the One Who is Living Water, and find that He is the One that’s been seeking you all along.

God bless you!

What are your thoughts? Do you find yourself in similar paths sometimes? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Accepting Identity

Accepting Identity_2

Hi there!

In my previous blog post I wrote about how humans like to conform to certain laid down labels and stereotypes for a subconscious sense of belonging. I wrote about my own journey into figuring out which one I fit into, and I must say, putting it all down there was quite … releasing. I didn’t put in everything I had wanted to, but it was okay.

This one is about moving on from there.

You see, in trying to pick an appropriate label, we can sometimes be like the girl who walks around a room, looking at pictures of flowers on the table and trying to figure out which one is the most beautiful. She would learn something, of course, and may find out which of the flowers is the prettiest.

But then, someone opens the day and calls to her. “Hey, girl!”

She replies with a reserved but cute smile. “Hey.”

“What you doing?”

“Looking at pictures of flowers.” She holds up one picture. “I think this one’s quite pretty.”

The person smiles. “Come on outside. You’ve been looking at pictures all this time. I want to show you real flowers. Flowers you can touch, you can smell, you can see in … well, in 3D! You think you’ve seen ‘pretty’? Wait ‘til you see the real thing.”

 

__________

We have lived our whole lives in the room full of pictures.

We’ve lived our lives searching for identity in the options laid out by those that have gone ahead of us. We tack on labels popularized by the media in movies and music and novels and the news, picking those that seem to describe us best. We consider ourselves based on our nationality, our background, our race.

But God comes from outside the room and says, “I’ve got something better for y’all. A New and Better Identity.”

Come out. Let me let you in on this Identity a little bit.

Coming to Christ is like stepping out of the room. We receive a new life with this new identity; a new history, a new future, a new background.

With His blood, Jesus “…purchased men unto God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9) When you buy something from a store it belongs to you, not to that store anymore. It’s no longer called “that shirt on the Top Shelf, Aisle 5, Megabuy Stores”. No, now it’s your shirt. It’s called “my shirt.”

You are God’s own.

He makes you His child with the full identity and rights of a son, an heir of God. Imagine being the heir to Bill Gates estate! Pretty tight, huh? Now imagine being the heir of the Creator of all things. Now THAT’S bigger. MUCH bigger than we can or could ever imagine.

He remains with you forever, and He produces from within you a nature of love, of joy, of peace and serenity, of patience and perseverance. He makes you kind, good, faithful, to not find the need to insist on your own way, and to be self-controlled.

Sounds like the perfect human being. Actually, it’s so much more than that: He’s making you like Himself. That’s much more awesome than being the perfect human being.

The earth and all that is in it is your inheritance, to take care of and to prosper in.

As a child of God, He gives you the ability to heal the sick, to cast out devils, to live supernaturally, and to be an all-round blessing.

That’s what He promises. That’s the new identity He gives.

 

__________

But the girl in our story has grown used to the room. It’s not her fault, though, ‘cause she’s been in there all her life. But now she’s been invited to come out.

“But I’ve never been outside before,” she says.

“I have,” he says.

“What does it look like?”

“It’s … beautiful. There are flowers, lots and lots of flowers. And not just flowers, my dear. Grass, trees, animals! The blue sky, the amazing clouds taking different forms, the water flowing, the breeze in your face … and you can feel it all.”

“I’ve never seen these things you’re talking about,” she says. “I don’t even know if they really exist.”

“They all do! My dear, they are! And it’s all just outside, waiting for you.”

“But…” she crosses her legs as she takes a step backwards. “I’ve been doing pretty well in here. I don’t need to go out there. I’m fine where I am.”

 

__________

We like to hold on to the reality we are familiar with, to the life we are used to, to the things we have seen and experienced. Even the bad memories and painful experiences that we’ve gone through. We want to hold on to it all because, good or bad, they have all contributed in building us into the people we are. In a sense, we see them as a part of us. And as much as we want to let go, we really don’t want to. We are comfortable with them.

We want to stay in the room, while God has a whole world that He’s prepared for us – OUT THERE.

The world we know pales in comparison to the awesome life he offers. We think we are comfortable where we are … but we haven’t even a clue what ‘comfort’ really is.

True comfort can only be found in the one that made us, God.

You know the hardest part? Accepting.

Accepting the new identity that God offers would require giving in. It would require admitting that we were ignorant and wrong in staying in the room of pictures, and that He’s been right all along. It punctures our pride, the shield we’ve given ourselves to building all this time. It shames what bliss we thought we had to think that there is greater bliss beyond, bigger and better, just a door away.

And that’s how we miss out on God’s greatest gifts.

But when we do accept, we realize that we’ve been wrong all along.

When we do accept this Identity that He gives us, we come to know that we’re already accepted. That we’re affirmed and accepted by the Ultimate Dad, who defines fatherhood for all.

There is no more fear of rejection. There is no need to prove anything ever again.

We’ll come out of the room into an awesome new world that makes the room of pictures look like nothing but a mud shack.

It’s a new identity.

And it’s for us all.

For you.

 

__________

“What if I get hurt?” she asks. “Every new picture I’ve seen in here promises something better, but … it never lasts. I’m tired of getting my hopes up.”

“It’s OK. I know. What’s waiting for you outside this room is much bigger and better than you can imagine.”

“I’ve never been outside before.”

“All the more reason to come. It’ll be OK.”

“What if it’s not? What if it’s not everything I’ve hoped it’d be?”

“You can trust me.”

“Why?”

And, with a smile he responds, “Because I made it all.” He stretched a hand out to her. “I made it all for you. You can trust me.”

 

(TO BE CONTINUED)

 

———-

Special thanks to my friend and brother, Joshua Babarinde (author of DONUT) for his suggestions and review on this article. You can read his inspiring writing on his site, HeirWalk.

A Quest for Identity

A Quest for Identity

Susan walks into the supermarket looking for some tomatoes. A few paces past the doorway gives her a good view of the grocery. In there, the vegetables and fruits are grouped in different boxes, each labeled so she can pick the one we want. She hurriedly picks one from the box of tomatoes.

“I’d like to buy this tomato,” she says.

The attendant stares blankly at her for a moment. “That … is an onion.”

She blinks, apparently realizing her error. Sure enough, she was holding an onion! The whole box was full of onions. “Oh, dear me! For a moment there I thought the box said ‘tomatoes’.”

The attendant notices that she was right. There had been a labeling error. But he tried to shrug it off. “Well … one man’s tomato is another man’s to-mah-to–”

“An onion’s not a to-mah-to–”

The attendant folded his arms. “Look who’s talking. You thought it was a tomato.”

“You can’t accuse me. The customer is always right.”

“But–” he sighed. “I’m sorry.”

“See? That would’ve saved you a lotta time, wouldn’t it?”

———-

Labels are a good thing. They keep you from accidentally putting salt in your tea, instead of sugar. We like to sort our fellow humans that way. We stack people into certain culturally accepted groups and relate to them based on the generalized stereotype of the label we’ve given them. Of course I’ve since learnt that people are a lot more than their apparent labels seem to imply. But that did not keep me from yearning for a label.

While we give labels to other humans, we subconsciously find security in appending labels unto ourselves. Once we find that we fit into a particular stereotype we feel secure knowing that we belong somewhere. We conform to the prevailing conceptions and norms of those labels until we somehow forget that we actively tried to become that way in the first place. When we can’t find where we fit in, what our appropriate label is, we feel queasy and set about finding out what our true label is. We all do it.

Stories and movies these days tend to depict that fact, with humans grouped into classes, expected to conform to the prevailing expectations of those classes. That’s what endeared me to stories like The Divergent Series and The Giver.

I know better than to define people by labels and as such I knew that there was no sufficient label for me. But that did not keep me from thinking that lacking one meant I was missing something.

I had made it an ambition not to conform to any predefined notions since I was young. I wanted to zig when everyone else was zagging. For example, while my entire family was in the medical line I chose to study a course that was so not medical because … reasons. In church it was years before I raised my hands in worship or did or said anything everyone else was saying, because I wanted to understand why we had to do those things and what they really meant. But I could not openly defy the status quo due to fear and bashfulness, so I rebelled in private. I listen to rock music in secret, screaming my heart out with the tunes in my head. I embraced my eccentricities because they helped me feel special, different from the clones I saw around. Call me a skeptic. I wanted to be a radical. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t become the ‘Rebel’ I wanted to be. For one thing, I did not have the right clothing; the dark gothic piercings and tattoos. Really, I didn’t even want all that stuff. I might as well have gone about holding a giant sign that read: PLEASE, OH PLEASE, NOTICE ME OH CRAZY WORLD! Also, I love God above all else and any life outside of Him just seemed pointless. So I found my Rebellion in this: while my mates gave their time to youthful pleasures and stuff, I gave myself to God, studying His Word and getting to know Him better. I still love Rock music, though, because the screams, loudness and fast-paced tempo give expression to some of the rage and emotion I love to express. But all the Rock music I listen to is Gospel rock, so while I express raw emotion when jamming out in my room, it’s all to God and in God because it’s the cry of my heart that’s in those songs.

I tried to be a geek.

I thought I saw the qualities of a geek in me and I really wanted to be related to that way. So I beefed up my interest in movies and comic books. I got into the world of Marvel and DC Comics, their movies and TV series, their characters and their backstories. Right now I can say I’m an authority on them all, but that’s a discussion for another day (P.S.: I sooooo can’t wait for Legends of Tomorrow, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, Daredevil Season 2, X-Men: Apocalypse …ALL IN ONE YEAR!!! AAAAHHH!!!) I still haven’t watched all the Star Wars movies, but I’ve caught up on the lore and everything. It was fun. Still is. I think what attracted me to their stories was the consistent theme of uniqueness, of flawed people with supernatural or abnormal qualities that set them apart from the rest of humanity and their desire to fit in or use their uniqueness to help others. I saw myself in that, somehow. It resonated deeply within me. But I could not live a life that was all out for these things alone.

But, you know what? Geekiness never did it for me. Sure, I’m also into computers, but I never got to learn programming. I love and am good at computers and such, and sure I probably spend more time with my laptop than with other humans (and I know that is SO wrong) but I guess what turned me off from going through with it all was the dissatisfaction with the expectations of geekdom. Once everyone sees you’re a geek there are certain expectations and limitations they place on you. I liked geekdom, but I knew I was not a geek.

I tried to be a writer. I’d been writing stories since I was a child and I’ve never stopped wanting to. Creating new worlds and new characters gave me an opportunity to retreat into my imagination, to create a world where everything turned out right, where everything turned out the way I wanted it to. If I had no control over the world outside, I could have control over the little ones I created. I loved it, and everyone called me a writer. But then when you put yourself into the jar of ‘writers’ it places certain expectations on you. When you read the works of others and behold the darkness, loneliness, gloom and bleakness their words are coming from, you wonder if you could ever live up to that, or if you’re in the right room. I understand where they are coming from, and I’m there a lot of times. If that’s what being a writer means, I’m outta here!

I tried to be a comic. To make people laugh every chance I got. It was depressing.

I tried to be an academic.

I tried to be a revolutionary.

I tried this…

I tried that…

I even tried being a romantic, whatever that means. Didn’t last.

I kept trying to fit into a mold, and trying not to fit into others. In the end I never fit into any. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t measure up to some standards and expectations I had placed on myself based on the stereotypes I tried to conform to.

But they never did it for me.

The Labels Just Don't Fit

And it made me feel, somehow, less than others. Not belonging anywhere. I would be walking down the road, trying to convince myself that I’m not the idiot I was certain I was. I felt I deserved crap and so I did not expect the best things to come to me. I’d get into friendships, places and associations and expect things not to work out. Expecting the worst kept me from getting into many things. And when they did work out, if they did work out, I kept expecting things to turn out badly. With no sense of belonging or acceptance, I felt like a vagabond, though I was in no way related to James Bond.

But looking back, you know what I see? I see God walking with me through it all, showing me Himself and in so doing, teaching me more about myself. What I thought was my ‘Rebellion’ in leaving youthful raves and embracing Him was His way of setting me apart for Himself and for His use. My love for cartoons, comics and movies embodied an even deeper love for stories that depict the human situation and our quest for something bigger and something better. He teaches me and shows me how He is turning our stories around so that we can see our need for Him and how He changes us and makes us live as His people in a fallen world, in this world but not of this world. My love for comics and stories also birthed a passion for producing godly and wholesome entertainment.

He used my love for computers to help me get better at computers and to help people with their tech issues. Oh, I get great joy when help someone solve in 5 minutes something that they’ve been trying to solve for hours or days on end. No, I don’t love the misery they’ve gone through, but I love the joy and relief they get when they find it’s solved.

And through my quest for a good jar to jump into in this grocery store, for a good label to tack unto myself so I can belong somewhere and so that people can relate to me in a particular way … He’s been there.

He’s been here.

I see that the labels really just don’t do it. They’re just words on cards that can be taken off. It’s the substance, me, and you, that really matters. You are much more than the labels anyone can give to you.

Nerd, Geek, Slut, Jock, Neanderthal, Liberal, Republican, Conservative, Hippie, Bohemian, PDP, APC, Ajepaki, Ajepako, Ajebota, Ajebo’a, Yuppie, One-Percenter, Klutz, Butterfingers, Four-eyes, Ne’er-do-well, Idiot, Casanova, Area.

Labels.

Labels based on observations, and nothing more.

If you think you are nothing but what the labels say you are, you limit yourself to only a small percentage of all that God made you to be.

Even worse, the labels may just be a lie. A big, fat, blatant, lie from the armpits of the pits of hell.

I see myself as one loved by God. And because I have received His love, I can love Him and love others too. I see things in a bigger, better and brighter perspective. I have a bigger heart and can take anything from anyone. I can take crap, but I can also take a compliment. I can expect much more and I can expect better because God has made me His son. He has given me a life that transcends all mistakes and limitations that once held me down and held me bound. Every day I learn more about who he has made me to be.

So while I’m done with labels and am content with who I am in Christ, I still struggle with insecurities once in a while. Sometimes, simply saying hi, making phone calls and taking phone calls feels like a chore when I’d rather just be left alone. I used to think it was fear of rejection, but it’s just downright rude. I still prefer to stay in the background when I don’t know what to say to people. I still make eccentric wisecracks and artsy quips to conceal all of that, making everyone smile and laugh to avoid exposing myself or feeling vulnerable.

I still zig when prevailing sense says to zag.

I still love Rock Music.

I still read comics, and make some too.

I still write (as in, DUH!)

But beyond all that, I live a life that’s bigger than all that. The life God made me to live, that I may be a blessing to all. And that is how I get better, how I grow into the person He already sees me as.

 

I am ME.

And God loves ME.

I can’t think of a better label than that.

THE ARCHER

‘For sin shall have no dominion over you, for you are not under the Law but under Grace.’
ROMANS 6:14

Lately my mind has been on archery and the movement of an arrow. For the arrow to go far, the archer must pull its tail and the bowstring in a direction directly opposite to its projected trajectory (just follow, I’m unto something here, don’t worry). With his/her target set on the bullseye, the archer releases the arrow and lets it sail through the air. Its path is influenced by prevailing air currents, physical laws such as the downward pull of gravity, and the material the arrow is made of. All of these forces active, the archer’s attention and input is in that initial pull on the arrow. And he/she fires. If it misses it’s intended target, he/she misses a few points. In ancient Hebrew parlance, this scenario is a ‘sin’ (not in the ‘religious’ sense, just as a term, for now), meaning ‘to miss the mark’.

Our lives can be like that arrow. The Ultimate perfect good life is everyone’s target. But our getting there is influenced by conditions within, conditions around, and the downward pull of the Law of Sin and Death (like gravity), which makes man miss the target. That’s what sin is. But you know what, sometimes we don’t even know the right target. God does.
His intended bullseye for us all is much better than the targets we all want to achieve. It’s called ‘The Glory of God’. It’s a life that’s so awesome, it’s victorious over all spheres of life. It’s the Life of God, Eternal Life, and that’s His target for us all, His Plan for us all. So not only do our arrows fall short of that target (Romans 3:23: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God), sometimes the life of man may be focused on the wrong target altogether.
That’s a life under the Law of Sin and Death. With an arrow pointed away from the target, it has no choice but to result in ‘sin’ over and over again.

But then God’s Grace…oh, how Amazing this is!
God’s Grace is God’s energy directed towards us, working through us, helping us, making us reach His bullseye! And you know how He exercised it? He did it, like the Archer, by focusing on the initial pull of the arrow in a direction directly opposite to its projected path: to give us Life, He died.
His Death and Resurrection dealt with every single thing that could have held us bound to sin. He made us free from the Law of Sin and Death and gave us a Life that operates under a new law: the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, i.e. Grace.
So He pulled the arrow (died) and when He released it (resurrected), He rose with us, now we’re in Christ. Identified with Him, we’ve been released with a force so great, no physical laws can stop it. It’s the Power that raised Christ from the dead and set Him far above all principalities and power (Ephesians 1:19-23). And with all those laws silenced, we’re given a Life that reaches God’s intended target for us at all times!
I pray you see and comprehend the depth in this.
This is a Life where sin (missing the mark, and all that could make you miss the mark) has no dominion over you, for you are living a life under the Grace (enablement) of God. It’s His strength, His power, His Life at work in you (Galatians 2:20: I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me).
Whenever, if ever, you feel weak and these things don’t seem true, if it seems your career or family or academics or any other sphere of life seems not to exhibit this life, look again into what God has done for you in Christ. That’s where your victory lies through all eternity. It’s through His death that we have life.
And your faith in His work is what gives you access into this Life of Grace (Romans 5:2: By [Christ] also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God). It’s established in Scripture that when you recieve this Gospel message, it comes with faith, and you have the faith required to gain access. (Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God…Romans 10:17)

So don’t live life as if it’s one hustle to another that helps you survive. Acknowledge and thank Him for His grace at work in you, assured that He’s the one that taking you forward, closer to Him, closer to where He wants you to be.
Let all you do and all you are be identified in this, and you will see His Grace at work.

🙂

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.