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.
“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.”
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)
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.
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. That’s 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‘. “
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.
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.
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.
…must … make it…
Can’t stop … can’t turn back…
… 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…
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?”
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.
“I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—
nothing living or dead,
angelic or demonic,
today or tomorrow,
high or low,
thinkable or unthinkable—
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.
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.
We were all refreshing ourselves – that’s me and the Twelve, and many of my other followers— by the banks of the Jordan. I love these guys. Many of them have left their families to follow me. Some have brought their whole families along to join us. These people received the words of life into their hearts like bread, and I hoped that they would digest it. Just like we were digesting the meal we were eating at that moment. And it was a very refreshing one, I remember, especially after hours of teaching.
Andrew brought a young man to me. “Master, this is Ethan,” he said. “He brings news from Mary and Martha in Bethany.”
I recognized Ethan from the brief times we spent in Bethany. “Peace be to you, Ethan.”
“And to you, Master.”
“All the way from Bethany? You must be exhausted from the journey—”
He shook his head, barely blinking. “Your people have been very kind to me, sir. But I could not eat now, even if I wanted to.”
I nodded. “And why would you not want to?” I noticed the shadow over his features. Andrew knew it too. He had mentioned only Mary and Martha. “And how is my good friend, Lazarus?”
Ethan looked up at me. “That’s why I’m here, Master. Lazarus, your friend, is terminally ill. He needs you. Master.”
And that was the moment. The moment that altered the rest of the week.
With a word I could have healed him in that moment. Human logic and emotion required me to. I would have loved to. Lazarus. He has been a faithful man, taking care of his parents’ estate since their deaths. No ordinary suitor could take his sisters, not while he was around. And his generosity is overwhelming. His doors are always open to my disciples and I every time we pass through Bethany. Always willing to understand my teachings, Lazarus is a man I am glad to call my friend.
Healing him would bring joy to his sisters. They’ve been troubled long enough because of this sickness.
But I am never alone in these matters. My Father and I go through them together. He knew what was going on. He knew when the foul spirit of sickness took my friend’s body, and His ears were not silent to his cries and those of his sisters. But He had a much better, much Bigger plan.
That was how I knew that Lazarus, my friend, would die.
But the story would not end there. Like I said, We had a Bigger plan:
We would raise Lazarus to life from the dead! 😀
It would be amazing. This would build faith on a grand scale. Especially for Lazarus. He would have a front row seat on Resurrection before most people would. How great his faith would be at the end of all this, for all to see!
This will turn the eyes of many up to my Father, a big boost to their faith. They will see how awesome He is, and what He can do; that He can do anything! They will believe in me, the one He has sent. And my disciples, people like Andrew and even Ethan too, will be stronger witnesses of me and the Life I have come to give.
In the end, this would be best for Lazarus.
But to Ethan, Lazarus was still sick. He still stood there, staring at me, waiting for a response.
“This sickness would not end in death,” I said to him. “But it will be an opportunity for everyone to see how awesome God is, and what He can do. And His Son will be glorified as well.”
“So … you’ll come and heal him then?”
I smiled. ‘Healing’ would not cut it. Just not in the way they were expecting. Ethan bowed and left with a finality, sure that Lazarus would be fine, wondering why I did not follow him.
Mary and Martha would not be pleased at first. Death has always brought pain and despair, especially to the families of those it takes. It would no doubt bring more here. We take no pleasure in that. I am here to bring an end to Death’s tyrannical rule over mankind. But until then, the pain would still linger.
I know there is a glorious end to these things, but the journey to that end would be painful for me and for my friends. For Mary and Martha.
But my Father loves them much more than any human could. The pain and disappointment this death could cause were temporary and inconsequential compared to the Greater Glory waiting beyond this. When God is glorified, what they’ll have is much better than if it were another healing. I loved him too much to settle for that. Something much greater awaited him. There’s a Bigger Picture here.
I love my friend, Lazarus.
And that’s why I waited and let him die…
…For a time.
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. [They were His dear friends, and He held them in loving esteem.]
Therefore [even] when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He still stayed two days longer in the same place where He was.
JOHN 11:5, 6 (The Amplified Bible)
To be continued…in FAITH
>> and HOPE
A.D. 33 (give-or-take-a-few-months)
I remember that week in detail. It would not be the most pivotal week of my mission on earth, but it was memorable all the same.
Everything I do these days is to prepare the people –my people— for the Kingdom that I’m bringing. Many of the things I teach them are still unclear to them. But when I am ‘lifted up’ they will understand. The Holy Spirit will make it all clear to them in high definition. But for now, for them to get it then, I must make the hard choices. I must make the sacrifices. It will bring glory to my Father.
In that day, they will truly see.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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
If you knew what’s good for you, you’d be watchin’ your language.
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.
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!
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.
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.
But I’ve already done it all.
For every fine she’s gotta pay, I went and took the fall.
But … but, that’s not fair!
It’s not your call.
She deserves to rot in jail!
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)
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.
Don’t cry, my dear. Don’t let ‘im get to you.
I can’t do this—
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.
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.
Do you mind if we continue?
GROOM (to BRIDE):
I love you.
BRIDE (to GROOM):
Uh … ‘scuse me. Can we … um … move on.
BRIDE (same time):
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?
Sir, please … this has been a long day.
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)
A year ago, on this day, I posted the first of what would become a trilogy up on my blog: The Love Revolution: http://www.emmanuelpresents.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/the-love-revolution/ It was one of my most intense stories, and I still cringe anytime I read it. Imagine living in a time and place where using the word ‘love’ was forbidden. Weird premise, eh? Check it out, it’s pretty cool. And dangerous.
Love is one of my favourite themes in stories (hey, I said ‘love’ not ‘romance’) and I enjoy portraying it in my characters’ stories. I believe our lives are one big love story, about God’s pursuit of us and our response or rejection. He woos us, embraces us, saves us, forgives us — He loves us. He leaves tiny Love notes around for us to brighten our days, like a beautiful sunset, a satisfying meal, a timely kind word, or even a contagious smile from a stranger passing by.
And in the most overt way, He showed it by dying in our place for our crimes. He rose to life, and gave us a new life, with a clean slate, to live with Him for all eternity.
In the year since the Love Revolution, I’ve learnt that everyone of us desires to be loved. Go ahead, deny it; say it’s too mushy. But really, we do! We want to be listened to, to be appreciated, to be understood, and even to be cut some slack even when we don’t deserve it. We really want to be cared for, deep down.
And then there’s God, Who burns with Love for us, and we don’t even realise it sometimes because we don’t see Him. So here’s what He does: He makes love packages out of the willing.
Imagine that: being God’s love note to someone. Imagine being a living retweet of God’s Message to the world: I LOVE YOU. Imagine being willing to listen to someone who doesn’t know when to stop, but who needs someone to listen. Imagine being a blessing to someone in need. Imagine being the reason someone smiles.
Truth is, it’s not going to be easy. We have needs to, don’t we? How can we keep on giving without expecting anything in return? Can we?
When we recieve God’s love to us, it fills us to overflowing. We can love with abandon because we have been loved by Love Himself. We would be able to love anyone, anytime, whatever the circumstance.
That’s what it means to be a Light in the Darkness.
It may not always be easy, I know. But with God in you, you can be the embodiment of His Love. Ask God to love others through you, and watch Him do just that.
The Love Revolution continues today, through you and I.
Would you dare?
Thank you for reading this to the end. Here’s a special teaser for you: I’ll be posting another ‘love’-themed story this season. Will it be like the Love Revolution? Maybe not. But I can tell you that it’s creative, and ”It’s gon’ be GANGSTUH!”
God LOVES you SOOOO MUCH!
Dear Brave one,
That you have returned in search for more is evidence of your courage. I must conclude my story. I could not continue my account of what transpired when my friend, Marcus, was crushed for I was overcome. But if you have not read the first or second volumes of this missive, I urge you to seek them. You alone know where you shall find what you seek.
But I must conclude.
There we stood before the cracked ground on which Marcus had been crushed. My dear friend, the closest thing I had had to a brother was gone, crushed into the broken pavement.
I stared at the Great Cross before me. For God’s sake, this had to mean something. For that brief moment, the Cross was no longer a sacred symbol. It was a horrible thing to me, foreboding in my sight. It was a sign of God’s judgment. Just like the judgment meted on Marcus. Was God so cruel?
The broken pavement was an icon to us all that said: ‘Beware! He loved, and was crushed for it’.
So also was the Cross, Arnold. So was the Cross.
Was this what God had done for us? Was it what He demanded of us all? To put our very lives at stake? To present ourselves for crushing, by loving others? Like Agnes, who had just spat on Marcus’ dead body? Agnes, the woman he had loved. He had dared to love, and died because of her. But she spat on him.
Had I spat in God’s face before? Have I rejected God?
The lords had decided to burn Marcus’ remains, to remove all records of his existence and of the proceedings of his trial. They would not make a martyr of him. The only memorial would be the broken pavement by the Cross, as a deterrent. His name is now a warning. The message had been passed. No one should dare utter or consider the Forbidden Word ever again, or they would be crushed.
But the full import of that message did not resonate within me until I retired to my home. I kept wondering why God would demand this from us, to risk death so that another undeserving one may live.
As soon as I got to my door, a couple stopped me. “We’re very sorry for your loss,” the man said. I turned to them, trying to understand his message. He seemed truly concerned.
“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you very much.” I was amazed and shocked that they had considered me.
“Here,” the woman gave me a bouquet of flowers. I took it, wondering what had prompted this. No one had given me flowers before, for any reason! My heart soared.
“What should I do with them?” It was a stupid question, really. I just did not know what to say.
“To let you know that you’re on our hearts,” the man said, mustering a smile. Then he whispered, “And so is Marcus.” I smiled at him and dipped my head.
They were a very queer couple. As they walked away, I noticed they were holding hands. The norm was for the man to walk ahead of his wife. Everyone knows that. But this couple held hands. I did not know then that something more was happening.
A boy and his mother came later with some pie. “In case you needed to eat,” the woman said. “I know I couldn’t eat when my husband died.” I welcomed them in, wondering what had prompted this. I had barely spoken when I heard another rap on the door. And that is how it began. Friends, fellow soldiers, neighbours, different kinds of people came to my house that day, to simply ‘apologise for my loss’. But it was more than that. These were people that I had seen every day, and not given a second thought. Here they were, showering me with such kindness.
Love. We had all grown up without hearing or knowing that word. Now we had all seen it on radical display for all to see.
I love you, Arnold. I remembered Marcus’ note to me.
Perhaps we had been capable of love for so long, but had not pursued it. We cared for our families and friends. But how far were we willing to go? Even for those we did not know?
It was new not just me, but for everyone. It was insane. They had all come, just to share a kinship with the memory of my friend, Marcus. They did not see him as a heretic. They saw him as a hero who dared to rebel, because he finally understood something called ‘Love’. Now here we were talking and laughing as friends do. There were no differences between us for the moment. We all had shared in the horror of watching Marcus’ selfless death. The implications were burnt into our hearts forever.
“And the lady did not appreciate his sacrifice,” I heard one woman say.
“No,” her husband said. “He, uh … you know … had that word for her.”
“The Forbidden Word.”
“Yes,” the man said, carefully staring into her eyes. “That … word. But we all know what it means now, don’t we?”
“Death,” his wife intoned. “It can only mean death to whoever is foolish enough to utter it.”
And he held her hands and stared into her eyes. “I love you, my fair queen.”
It was a commitment, right there. He was committing himself to die for her, if the need arose. It was a commitment to live his life so that she could live fully. His wife let the tears flow. “I love you too,” she whispered.
I walked away to hide my own tears.
Something was being stirred in our hearts. I was not the only one that felt it. Marcus had been on to something after all.
We had all thought the Forbidden Word was vulgar, but now we saw it for what it was.
It is so divine, that it is dangerous. No one can forget the cracks. Love is death, we knew. It is not a word to be used lightly, except death is meant.
It had taken one man to dare to seek Love, and to proclaim it for us to know.
I heard no one else say the word, but for that moment we shared it. All around, here were people apologizing for past hurts, laughing over awkward situations, crying, talking, and sharing. That was Love. We could not say the word in public, but we could live it. Because we knew it was right.
I was in heaven that day. Marcus had not died in vain.
But it only lasted that day. By the next day, everyone returned to their secure lives. Yesterday was forgotten. Reality had dawned. There really was a law that still banned even the very thought of the Forbidden Word. I saw people on the streets walk by each other, as though they were strangers. I saw husbands walk ahead of their wives. I saw young men argue with one another. I held out hope that none of these were the ones that had come to my house yesterday. I hoped they had understood what love is, and vowed to follow God’s way of Love. Like I had.
I could bear it no longer. Mortals are incapable of continuous love. But I wanted to be capable. I could not bear to live if I knew I was not following God. Marcus’ death could not be in vain.
I had to leave Duchinson that day, vowing never to return. I wanted to be free to pursue God and His love in a land where freedom to love is not denied. Not just to honour Marcus’ memory, but for myself as well. I too was incapable of love. There I was criticizing the townspeople, instead of loving. I needed to find God’s love for myself.
I have been free to find Him. I have leafed through the pages of the Holy Bible, and they burst with such love and justice. Now I see what it was that Marcus’ saw. I cannot live without loving, for God wants to love through me.
Jesus did not remain dead. He arose, and came with an even greater life for us to live, if we accept it. I have, and now my heart burns with such love for others. Now I can love without condition, without precedence, without expecting reward. I am filled with God’s Love, and I must share it. This flame cannot die.
In this time, I have seen how ‘love’ is said in the most appalling ways in other lands. I am even more broken at this. ‘LOVE’ is said so flippantly and leisurely. Everyone says it, but few mean it. It tears my heart every day. They do not know. They are free to pursue God’s Love, and to express it. Why must they pretend to love, keep speaking about it, but not show it? I began to understand why our fathers had put a ban on the word, however wrong they were. It is too sacred for mortals, without the spark of the Divine.
But now I know that I must return. This Light must shine in the darkness. My home is Duchinson. For here, we have seen the risk that love is. The cracked pavement by the Great Cross remains for all to see that Love is Death. But there is no better way to live. I know we know what love is. We experienced it that day. Why not forever?
I urge you, dear brave one, to join me in this cause. Find God’s Love. We may be denied the right to speak the Forbidden Word, but we are surely not denied the freedom to express it in every way. We will not be silent, for we cannot hide the truth that changes everything. We will be seen, even if not heard.
Be sure of this, we will be crushed.
It may not be by the mallets of the Crushers, but worse – we will be rejected. Many will not see or understand our sacrifice. Most will despise our acts of love toward them, and the rejection may be as gut-wrenching as the Crushing. But we will take the risk. We will remember our Lord’s words when he urged us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him. We will take our deaths with us. For it is God’s way.
We will bring death upon ourselves so that others may live.
We will let the light shine through the darkness.
For LOVE’S sake.
For God is LOVE, and anyone that does not love does not know God.
And I hope that, one day, when I finally meet my maid, I will be willing to give my all for her. I know that when we stand before our Master, He will tell us that we were right to follow His Way of LOVE, as He instructed us.
Redeeming Love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.
I leave you with the words of one that found our Master’s love, and learned to live it.
Love suffers long and is kind;
Love does not envy;
Love does not parade itself;
Is not puffed up;
Does not behave rudely;
Does not seek its own,
Is not provoked,
Thinks no evil;
Does not rejoice in iniquity,
But rejoices in the truth;
Bears all things,
Believes all things,
Hopes all things,
Endures all things.
And be sure of this:
Love never fails.
Fare thee well, Brave one.
THE LOVE REVOLUTION
Beware! Reading this may be dangerous for you. There are those who would kill to get rid of this missive. But my message must get through. This voice, crying in the wilderness of blindness and deliberate ignorance, must be heard! For I write of things that must not be spoken of. Things that will change everything, if accepted. It is with quivering hand that I pen these words.
My name is Arnold, son of Heimich the lumberjack. Our town of Dutchinson in the hill country of the Scots is famous for its iron stand on law and order. Everyone knows their place. The young defer to the elders. Our wives respect their husbands as the head. Even our beasts have learnt who is boss. Everyone knows their place. There has been peace for as long as we all can remember. Everyone knows that disobedience to the Church and the Council will be punished.
Especially if the Forbidden Word is uttered.
Like any village, we have our own criminal elements. There are drunks, molesters, thugs – the worst of the underworld. But our soldiers have been worthy protectors. I know because I am one of them.
The man whom this script concerns is one of controversial record in our village. His very name is deemed a curse. I may be fearful of many things, but the loyalty of friendship is one thing from which I shall never recoil.
He is my friend and brother-at-arms, Marcus. Son of Gaulea.
(I have warned you. You have my blessing to rip this paper now, while you have the chance)
A truly great man he is, if there ever was one. We have fought back-to-back in battle, slain many beasts, and vanquished many foes in the name of the king. I know he is a great man of valour, but not as others know him to be. For I know that there was never an enemy that could take him down, never a foe to weaken his resolve, never a cause to bring him to his knees…
Until he told me the very words that will forever shake my world.
“I’m in ____,” he said. I hesitate to pen the exact word he said. For it is forbidden.
I gasped. I could not believe my ears. I pulled him away from the thoroughfare and dragged him into my house.
“What did you just say?!” I yelled in his face as soon as the door was slammed shut.
The usual smart expression on his face was gone. He was as sober as could be. “I said that I am in –“
“I heard what you said!” I whispered hoarsely. “Have you lost your mind? Have you no sense of the danger lurking behind those words? What do you think you’re doing?”
“I cannot pretend any longer, brother,” he said, a hint of a sob in his voice. “I ____ Agnes.” May the Lord have mercy on me for even thinking that word.
It was all clearer to me then. Marcus’ eye for the beautiful, but pompous, daughter of Lord Morrison had not been lost on me. No man in the village, however, gave her a second thought for she was legendary for her sharp tongue. The barracks rang with distorted tales of her pride and arrogance. No man considered her for a wife. But my friend saw something none of us could see. I just thought it was madness.
I knew my friend was of strong countenance, but also gentle at heart. He would not give himself to a dream (and that is what I considered this to be; nothing more) were not his heart pulled by it. If it were not worthy of consideration, he would not yield to its pull. He did not deserve to be crushed so.
“‘No one shall speak the Forbidden Word’,” I reminded him of the law.
“That is irrelevant,” he said. “I can’t pretend anymore. I can’t hide this—“
“Longing, yes I know.”
“It’s more than that,” he whispered. I sat, trying to stare him in the eye. His eyes were glistening with tears. Oh, Marcus.
“I know. You’ve told me for so long. I know you want Agnes –“
“I ____ her, Arnold!”
I stood to check the windows as I tried to tell him to be calm. “You can’t go around using that word, Marcus! It’s Forbidden!”
He was shaking his head vigorously. “No. No! I will lie no longer. What I have for her goes beyond wanting, or longing. What has overtaken me is different. The words you speak of are superficial. Carnal. It’s not her body I’m after. It’s her heart…”
He was losing himself. I had good reason to be worried. And worried I was.
“Have you seen this woman you speak of? She has no heart! She spites the poor, ridicules our fellow men-at-arms, curses all that is right and true! You’ve heard about her! It is only a matter of luck that God saw it fit to bring her forth into wealth.”
“We all have things we need to change—“
“No, I will listen to you no longer. You listen to me! She’s a devil in woman’s skin, however comely and delicate to the eye she may be. You have a good heart, Marcus. At best, you pity this woman. You cannot … desire her!”
Marcus was shaking his head. “I’ve gone beyond desire. It has stripped me of all I have held on to, of all I regard as honour, until there is nothing left but this. I –“
I held up a hand, but he said the word anyway. I sighed. “You are in great need of help, my friend. I can help you no further. You’re sick.”
“Sick with –“
“BAH! Do I look to be in a gaming mood? If you deteriorate any further, I’d soon have you writing…” I lowered my voice to a hush. “____ letters!”
It was meant to be a joke. But then I saw it in his eye. That distant twinkle as he tried to avoid my gaze.
I held his gaze. “You didn’t…”
He winced. “I couldn’t hold back—“
“WHAT?!” I was too late. He had written a letter to her describing his … madness! He had just sealed his fate. I couldn’t help it as tears flowed from my eyes. “What kind of spell has this … witch placed on you?”
“She’s not a witch!” he retorted.
“Why did it have to be you, Marcus? Why? You’re done for!”
He was also crying. “I brought this upon myself, brother.”
I had a mind to draw my sword right then and strike the heartless woman that had done this to my friend. But there was nothing we could do. He had delivered the letter to her already. I paid him no heed then. I resolved to hide him in my house for the night. We would escape together. I would never leave my friend. Never.
But I was wrong. This thing, whatever it was that had grabbed my friend, was stronger than friendship itself. For that very night, he was gone. He had escaped, hoping to see her that night. Such was his insanity.
He had taken the old-fashioned ways, of calling her out by throwing pebbles at her window. His mind was already made up, for his heart was already gone after this … woman. What would make a good man, of whom the world was not worthy, to go after his enemy?
She drew her curtain and opened the window. “Who calls for me?”
Marcus stood from behind the bushes. “It is I, Marcus of Gaulea.”
She stared him down. “So you did come?”
“I came to see you,” he said. “Even in the moonlight, you truly are beautiful.”
She held up a hand. “You think your words move me? Have you no idea who I am? If I did seek a man – and I definitely have found none that suit me – why would he be you? What makes you think you have anything to offer me?”
“I know full well who you are,” he called out. “And I may look to be of poor estate, but I have something more that no other man could ever offer you.”
“Oh, really?” She said in her bewitching playful tone. “And whatever may that be?”
“I truly ____ you.” He said it there again, right by her window. Oh, Marcus…
I can imagine the horror on her face as she looked around. “You dared speak the Forbidden Word?! Are you mad?!”
“If giving you all I have and all I am is mad, then yes. I am mad. But my heart goes out for you, Agnes. I want to get you out of your prison —”
She humphed. It pains me to imagine that she did not know what this man had lost to come to see her. “Sad that you should waste such words on a dame like me. Go to one of the servant girls. They are practically dying to hear such.”
“You like my words?” he actually was hopeful.
“They are the words of a fool!” she snapped. “One foolish enough to break the law, just to prove his folly.”
He squinted. “You wouldn’t call the guards, will you?”
She smiled and shrugged. “I already did.”
And out of the bushes leapt the guards, spears in hand as they surrounded him. They had all heard his words. They beat him with their spears till he was on his knees. All this while, Agnes stood in her window chortling like the witch she was. My friend and brother, Marcus, was taken away in chains.
It is here that I must drop my pen for the night. For the words that follow in this account are of the highest treason. They can kill. I have warned you.
If your heart yearns for more, then you may dare to open the second volume of my message. You alone know where to find it, for I must not be seen with it. And neither must you. The message it conveys must remain in your heart.
For LOVE’S sake.