In writings and ramblings I offer you hundreds of short stories for your reading pleasure. I’ll add a few each week or so. Each story followed an assigned theme and faced off against other talented authors. The majority of the ones listed below are the editor’s choice award-winning offerings. If you want to download and share please purchase for a dollar or two.
Stories of Hope for the Heart
Stories of Adventure for the Mind
Stories of Life for the soul
Let’s read something together.
An inch short
What if you actually met Jesus and came an inch short of what he wanted for you?
I think it was his laughter that drew me in. Perhaps it was the easy way that children clambered up on his lap and felt at home. I don’t remember ever being able to do that with my own father. A little girl leaned back against his chest and ran her fingers through his beard. He didn’t seem to mind. A young boy held out a dove feather and listened intently as he spoke of how God made that feather to help birds fly and how God cared more for children than for birds.
A yearning inside urged me to step outside the crowd and to leap across that final distance to sit at his feet. The sparkle in his eyes matched his laughter. Pure authenticity arose like bubbles in a breeze. My heart drew me to him like a pin to a magnet but my feet set anchored in cement.
(To read more of this prize-winning story click on the link below)
Two Cents Worth
Have you ever given everything you’ve got and wondered if anyone noticed?
It was the perfect day for this adventure. The sun had already sucked the last dewdrop from the withered grass. The last chicken had offered up a small brown egg for breakfast. The twice used tea leaves stained the luke-warm water just enough to give the illusion of something more. And rubbing the dried jasmine between her palms gave Hannah the joy of imagining Eden at its finest.
There was no one to check on and no one who cared enough what she was up to. The two sets of rags draped off the pegs on the wall seemed to quiver in anticipation. One set was designated for the garden if the rain came again. The other for special adventures like this one. She donned the latter and reached for the small leather purse – her sole remaining treasure.
Shading her eyes, the old woman reached for her walking stick, stretched her back and stepped into the furnace that hovered over the landscape. Her goal perched on an impossible summit. From her little hovel, there was nowhere to go but up. The light glinting off the Temple blinded even her feeble eyes.
To read the rest of this story check the link below
Stepping Into The Light
Ever have that deja vu moment that changes everything?
Have you ever had that sense that you’ve been here before – that you’ve done this somewhere at another time? The craziest things can trigger that feeling. Perhaps the aroma of coffee, tea, perfume or something not so nice. Perhaps the sound of a voice – the tone, a tune, a certain word, a laugh. Perhaps it was the shape or movement of a person as they moved through the corner of your vision. Perhaps it was the texture of a sweater, a quilt or the shifting of the breeze across your face. That sense pulls you to step instinctively toward the familiar.
For me, on this day, it was the darkness. The inky blackness wrapped itself around my soul like a shroud and left me numb. I’d sensed a small taste of this with my sisters when we played hide and seek. I would hide in closets or under blankets and relish the invisibility of resting unseen and unnoticed but this time was different. This darkness left me feeling like I was buried under an avalanche, under a heavy weight pressing my arms and feet into immobility, chaining me into helplessness.
(To read more of this prize winning story click the link below)
Sometimes the things he does leaves you breathless.
We were gasping by the time we reached the summit. Looking back, the pristine waters of the sea of Galilee glistened far below, tiny ships bobbing on the waves. To the southwest, the towering summit of Tabor sparkled with the remnants of snow. Pelicans danced across the sky under the bellies of cotton clouds. The Jezreel valley, spread out like a verdant carpet, invited us to come and rest for a while.
Taking these two days to hike into the middle of nowhere didn’t make sense. The population at Capernaum had exhaled their praise over the touchless healing of a master who would raise up the servant of a foreigner. “Such faith!” we were told hadn’t been displayed in these parts.
(To read more of this prize winning story click below)
Letter in the Sand
What if he wrote out your whole life in the sand for others to see and then wiped it clear?
He knelt in the place of prayer but he wasn’t praying when I saw him. The twitching across his brow, the pursing of his lips, the set of his jaw under that closely trimmed beard – the expression of concentration, contemplation and concern.
The breeze played gently with the dangling bangs across his forehead and danced gleefully with the strands resting on his shoulders. It tugged at the long black robes of the bystanders like a child urging a distracted parent to swing. A puff kicked up a swirl of dust as he patiently nudged the particles of sand this way and that.
The sun pushed off the hills like a teen too tired to leave his place of rest for the task ahead. Shadows crawled across the paving stones like ninjas preparing for an ambush. They marked the pace by which he fingered the sand dragged in on the sandals of myriads of sinners seeking ablution in the holy place.
(To read more of this prize winning story click below)
She was a giant among women in facing down others over human rights, women’s rights and racial prejudice. This first place story is worth a moment to consider.
Standing among the all-time greats like Jane Austen, Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc, Marie Currie, Malala Yousafzai, Amelia Earhart, Queen Elizabeth I, Anne Frank and Florence Nightingale towers a figure cloaked in the shadows of time. She broke the shackles of race, gender and inequality to raise her voice in a time when the world wanted to silence her. She was a giant among us.
Her name elevates her as one of the most powerful human rights advocates in the nineteenth century. Isabella Baumfree was born into a family of slaves owned by a Dutch American named Johannes Hardenbergh. When her master died, she was sold, along with a flock of sheep, for $100. She would be bought and sold several more times. The New York Anti-Slavery Law of 1827 was looming into existence when her owner ignored a promise of freedom. She walked away from the beatings and cruelty, taking her infant daughter, and was converted to a faith that would change history. In 1843, on Pentecost Sunday in a Methodist service, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth.
(To read more of this prize winning story click the link below)
Sky’s the Limit
Ever had that one hero who helped you go beyond your own limits?
In 1928, Amelia Earhart opened up the dreams of little girls when she made history through her solo flight across the Atlantic. In 1937, when her plane disappeared over the Pacific after 25 days of solo flight, the dreams got a little shakier.
My grandmother, Jessie Lynn Maddox, swallowed every moment of air time given to the pioneer aviatrix. Earhart believed, taught and modeled the idea that women could do anything and Jessie believed her. I still have a picture of my young grandmother sitting in a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier, aviator goggles in place and pointing toward the sky.
“Sky’s the Limit!” she told me every Christmas when our family would take the journey cross country to see her. She’d pull out her scrap book and show me the evidence of how she proved that.
“Why do you believe that?” I asked as a precocious eleven-year-old.
(to read more of this prize winning story click on the link below)
Always By My Side
How do you feel when that one who has always been at your side is gone?
The little tike couldn’t have been more devoted on that summer morning if he’d been a golden retriever. He jabbered away like he always did, stopping to pluck up a blade of grass, blowing a head of dandelion down and watching it parachute off into the breeze or patiently crouching to let a ladybug crawl up onto his finger. No matter to me – in my rush to get in our walk I’d forgotten my hearing aids.
The smell of creosol from the tracks was strong but this is where we walked. Usually, we were thirty minutes earlier but my grandfatherly body extended the nap a little longer and he was sitting patiently waiting on the front steps knowing I’d come. I’d never missed. Of course, usually, I was on time before his momma had to run off to the store and then pick up the twins from the day camp across town. The neighbour had been watching him from her garden next door and gave me a friendly wave as the little guy ran into my open arms.
If you would like to read more of this prize winning story click the link below
A small hello
Ever felt that someone noticed you after all?
She was frumpy, wrinkled and grey – the queen of her wheelchair. The flowers in the vase on her windowsill had long wilted and given up their glory. The walls were bare apart from a single picture. The television stuttered its incessant noise in the background as she stared out the window and waited.
And then he was there.
He might have been two or three at best. A dimpled, smiling, bundle of joy topped with a straggly mop of red. His wrinkled t-shirt and scuffed up jeans tied him to the earth and a family not well off. His worn-out Winnie-the-Pooh sheltered in its home under his arm.
(to read more of this prize winning story click on the link below)
Shadows in My Mind
Life happens so fast and you can’t get it back no matter who you are.
A single fallen petal is what it took. The pink rose still boasted a touch of glory but the droop was noticeable compared to last week. The aroma of beauty still hung in the air but the lonely withering pioneer of decay crumpling in on itself at the foot of the clay vase could not be ignored. Another season had come and gone. And somehow, I failed to remember the beginning.
Each season I had promised to make adjustments in line with what I knew was right. The early days had been heady moments of achievement and hope. The people around me had raised their heads like a morning rose at the height of its awesomeness. The compromises had clear rationality and the results seemed to prove that prudence had won the day. None of that helped me remember.
(to read more of this prize winning story click on the link below)
Ever Felt like people just didn’t understand you?
Being a myrmecologist ain’t no picnic but it’s a righteous gig. People get all swivel-eyed when all the kids in the hood call me ‘antie.’ They’ll call out “‘antie,’ I saw you almost hit your noggin’ on the top of my door,” or “’antie,’ I saw you do that standin’ dunk down at the court,” or “’antie,’ I saw you harvestin’ them bottles in the lane.” When you’re six-seven there aren’t too many things people don’t see you do.
My favorite past-time is harvesting cans and bottles with the neighborhood guys to help them fix up their community center. I learned the secret from the ants I work with through the day.
I was six when my Creator told me in his word to study these little creatures and I’ve been doing it ever since. I’ve studied all twenty-six different species of these harvesters but the easiest to work with has been the red. I’ve got an ant farm with thousands of these half-inch biters and that seems to be a real conversation stopper when it comes to my love life.
(to read more of this prize winning story click on the link below)
Sand in My Shoe
Sometimes the journey you intend to go on takes you much deeper than you dreamed.
Sand In My Shoe
It’s an instinct now, extending my left foot behind me and giving it a shake like a dog shedding water after a swim. Four months in the Sahara will do that to you. Sand gets in your shoe. In fact, it gets in everything, even your turban if you don’t tie it right. I am a traveler looking again for home.
The Sahara, as big as the United States, challenges the countries of Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Chad, Niger, Libya, Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, Sudan and the Western Sahara. There were tight restrictions on which sand my feet could walk across and to this day I don’t know if I stayed within my boundaries.
Time ended when I challenged the Sahara. I left my watch, my day-timer, my cellphone, and my calendar in my stored luggage and I walked. After all, I was a traveler.
(To read more click on the link below)
Ssssometimes the liessss can be ssssso ssssubtle.
Eighteen feet of coiled steel, wrapped around the trunk of the lone tree set in the middle of a tropical paradise, concealed the venomous posture of the hooded beauty whispering death to the princess reaching for the fruit. Herpetologists bend over backwards to avoid surprising these fanged warriors but the ‘innocent one’ explored the shadowed foliage, discreetly questioning her guide.
Round pupils fixated on the gentle appendage stroking the beautiful and succulent temptation as the self-proclaimed ‘king’ adjusted his scaley exterior to refract the light into a rainbow of brilliance.
(to read more click the link below)
Generation after generation brings change but is that change always for the better?
The line of articulated buses snaking out of the maintenance yard shushed by the four figures like packed trains delivering passengers to office towers, skyscrapers and university classes. Delivery drivers competed with taxis, mini-vans, SUVs and transport trucks for every inch of tarmac still visible among the steel carriages. A young couple stood forehead to forehead in hoodies working away on their phones – oblivious to the rushing river of chaos all around.
Towering cumulonimbus clouds crowded out the mountains, chasing golfers into clubhouses, shoppers into malls and seniors back into their care-homes. Four generations of Weatherlys under umbrellas ignored the warning signs and hovered over an ancient scrap book.
“I can’t believe you found this,” the spectacled new retiree said. – “This is Vancouver’s history from the first days.”
(To read the rest click on the link below)
Too Many Questions
Have you ever felt like you have more questions than answers?
It’s the simple questions that seem to stump me. Last week my aunt stood with her camera focused on me as I prepared to blow out the fifteen blue candles on my cake and she asked, “so how old do you feel?”
How do you answer that? I feel old enough to know that something isn’t quite right in my world and in my body. I feel like I’m a puzzle piece which people keep trying to fit into a space it doesn’t quite belong. I feel like I’m an instrument in a symphony where the notes I’m playing aren’t quite right for the music everyone else is playing. I feel like I’m the static in the background of the sound system which leaves everyone uncomfortable. All I really want to know is “do I belong here?”
A month ago, I spent time with Troy, our youth pastor. I asked him whether we are just born the way we are or whether we have a choice? At school, we’re being taught about how we can choose to be whoever we want to be. We don’t have to be male or female. We could be anyone of 71 different gender identities. I told him that I had a friend who sometimes doesn’t feel like a guy.
(To read more click the link below)
After the Last MIle
When your last trip is over where will you be?
Earl Muskoni had more nerve than a weasel in a hen house. I found him kneeling on a piece of cardboard torn from a pampers box and etching in another dark purple line on the cherry red 1976 Ford Thunderbird propped up on a makeshift hoist in his driveway. “Looks like my wife’s legs on the beach in Hawaii,” I opined.
Earl grunted but stayed focused on his work. He was decked in a flimsy tank top stretched taut over his bulging belly but riding half way up his back. His faded plaid boxers had no right to be on display in a family neighborhood like ours. The oil rag lying askew over his balding skull shielded him from the blistering sun but it did little to save the lobster red patch on his neck. “You must have a couple hundred thousand miles on this beast by now,” I added.
Earl pursed his generous lips before licking them. His sunglasses rode his eyebrows like a pair of adolescent skateboarders but did little to block the glare causing him to squint at the tiny paintbrush squeezed between his pudgy fingers. “Where are you going next?” I asked.
(To read more click the link below)
The Kid Behind Sid
The greatest of sports stars often have heroes living out their legends in each community.
Rumor has it that Sid the Kid cut his gums on a disk of vulcanized rubber. Before his 1,000th National Hockey League game in Pittsburgh, he’d surpassed 1300 points and proved to everyone that he had been blessed. Every trophy made for the elite athlete on ice would eventually have his fingerprints on it.
‘87’ was born on 8/7/87 in Halifax, Nova Scotia and, before his first winter in ‘87 froze the ponds, he was bashing the sides of his crib with a plastic hockey stick. At two, he was shooting the one-inch disk with accuracy. The ‘next one’, after the great Gretzky, had arrived. He became the only teenager in any major North American sports league to win a scoring title. He was the youngest captain in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup.
(To read more click the link below)
Have you ever played with words so that what once was clear as mud becomes Sacred Lamu – a destination and a dream?
Sacred Lamu is clear as mud until you understand.
Machete wielding tribesmen hacking off coconut rinds, setting out samples, pouring out milk. Glass bottomed boats braving the currents to dump snorkelers in rainbow colored waters. Lemonade squeezed fresh from the nectar of heaven. The wind caressing sail and hair and hats in its own playfulness.
Sacred Lamu is clear as mud until you understand.
Antelope horns mounted on walls and conch shells resting among dried starfish in cemented alcoves in lamp lit snow white guest-houses. Carved chairs once used by Sultans and now crawled over by barefoot children. Ancient garbed peddlers texting on cell phones, figuring out bartering prices and business loans.
Sacred Lamu is clear as mud if you understand.
(click on the link below to read more of this prize winning story)
Where is He?
Sometimes the obvious is just too hard to believe.
The shadows in the cemetery stretched like living streams of darkness across the place of the dead. Only the dead didn’t seem so dead.
One sandaled foot stepped out of the sepulchre, leaving its partner hidden inside the tomb. There was no odour of corruption despite the body that had been buried there. The scent of myrrh and aloes confirmed that this was the space. A bent-over rose did its best to lend its fragrance to the morning.
“Are you sure you heard it right?” A disembodied voice echoed out of the opening to the cave-like entrance. “The shroud is still here but they could have moved him.”
“It’s my tomb!” the sandal-wearer responded. “This is where we brought him. All the women saw us.”
“So, where is he? The dead don’t just get up and walk out. Especially in the shape they left him.”
“I should have asked that gardener near the entrance. I don’t think I’ve seen him around here before. He probably saw who rolled this stone away.”
“Ignore the gardener. Gardeners are paid to look after the dead, not the living.”
The sandal disappeared into the grave again. “I heard from a friend that his followers moved his body. Maybe they think we’re not good enough for them.” The rose shuddered in a gentle breeze.
“That’s not the way I heard it.”
“Yes, but consider the source.”
“You can’t believe everything you hear but you have to believe something.”
“My brother knows one of the men patrolling here last night and he said that the followers stole the body. Who else is going to benefit from all the rumours?”
“I met one of the women at the marketplace and they told me that they heard from other women that they saw him. I don’t know why they had to go and get other spices when we already used up everything we needed.”
“The soldiers say the followers stole his body and the followers say the women saw him alive. Do you think they’re in this together?”
“If you ask me, there are too many people trying to get attention as if they’re in on the latest happenings. This all could be fake news.”
“Do you think I should take this shroud home?”
“Don’t even touch it. You know you’ll get defiled from touching anything belonging to a dead person.”
“But what if the rumours are true?”
“The ones that say he’s alive.”
“I guess then the shroud wouldn’t belong to a dead man anymore but he was definitely dead when we wrapped him in it.”
“Do you think someone brought him something else to wear?”
“Don’t even think about it. You’ll start rumours you don’t even want to dream of.”
Gentle steps, as light as a feather duster’s brush, approached the tomb. The rose stood erect in the ray of light highlighting its dazzling crimson. A voice like a bubbling brook floated into the crypt. “Nicodemus, Joseph, I’m here.”
“Nic, who is that?”
“Joe, I think it’s the gardener.”
“Listen, if you have something more than rumours about where the body went, then please get back to your work. We’re busy trying to figure out what happened here.”
“He isn’t in there,” the voice declared.
“Now, that’s obvious. Did you move his body somewhere?”
“Did you see anyone else move his body somewhere?”
“Big help you are. So, what do you know?”
“He’s alive!” the voice said clearly.
“I see the women got to you as well,” Joe said. “Listen, I don’t know who you are but we’ve got to make an important decision here and it can’t all be based on scuttlebutt from people who know nothing. Now, do we touch this shroud or don’t we?”
“I think it’s clear we’re defiled. Now, we need to be purified. It would sure make it easier if he was alive.”
Reflection is an art and a science if you really want to go past the surface.
The glint off the lake’s surface blinded me a moment in a reflection that caused me to squeeze my eyelids tight. A shimmering double rainbow had been bridging the gap in the hills and I had been marvelling at the wonder of God’s creation. The sun had crept under the tumbling cloud cover as the raindrops dangled on the ropes around me. Was there really a Creator who had unrolled all this for someone like me?
When I peered tentatively through my eyelashes, a darting arrow of sparrows flitted across the bow of my ship – up and around in a flurry of feathers. The water lay still, flat and dark as settled tarmac. Only the dazzling reflection interrupted the tranquility.
“You’re rather naïve, you know?” She twists the ruby ring on her finger – my mother’s.
(to read more click the link below)
What does your favorite coloured Jelly Bean remind you of?
Calvin Henry sat quietly on a swing observing the Portland traffic shushing through the slushy streets. His worn mitts had holes big enough to fit a golf ball through but he held onto the ropes and ignored the biting cold which decorated the tree branches and porch eaves with three-inch icicles. A businessman walked by munching a hotdog from a food cart and Calvin’s stomach gurgled.
Calvin watched a little boy dropping jelly beans one by one into a coffee cup by the bus stop. Blue, red, green, blue, white, red, green. The bus pulled up and the boy’s mom grabbed his hand and pulled him up the stairs while he cried.
The landscape wrapped itself in a cozy blanket of white as alderman Thomas Jefferson Jenkins rushed past the feeble yellow tarp bowed under the weight of the snow. He would have missed it if the teens having a snowball fight had better aim. The slush ball hit what appeared to be a snowdrift piled up against the Kensington Community Church but the hollow echo in the stillness stood out.
He stopped and considered what he was seeing. The weather had already slowed his trek to the council meeting where the city leaders were devising a plan to care for the 2000 homeless in warming shelters.
(to read more click the link below
Do you remember that one fleeting love?
I still remember standing with Pierre Garnau on the Pont d’lena. Pierre was a local artist I’d met in a café on my first trip to the city of love. The Pont d’lena was the closest of the eight beautiful Paris bridges within sight of the Eiffel Tower. Most people view this engineering marvel from the right bank of the River Seine but Pierre had marked his spot dead center on the bridge.
“This view humbles me,” he said. “I walk away a changed man every time when I see how Gustave Eiffel silenced his critics by believing in the vision no one else could see.”
The first time I visited the ‘metal rocket’ chosen as the winning design in the 1880 World Fair to mark the one-hundredth’s anniversary of the French Revolution, Pierre and I biked to the bridge near dusk and waited. He made me sit with my back to the tower until the blanket of darkness had wrapped itself around everything. Gently putting his hands over my eyes, he had me turn and then stare into the mesmerizing golden candle shooting into the heavens. The only comparison I had was the Christmas Lighting ceremony I’d seen in New York, but this was more. Perhaps it was the magic of being with Pierre in the place where hearts find each other.
(to read more click the link below)
A Priceless Find
Remember finding that one lost treasure you thought you’d never see again?
It was the first time I’d done it blindfolded. Gulls screeched nearby. Children laughed. The whine of an engine zoomed by. A briny breeze filled my nostrils with ‘iodine’ and a fishy smell. “Marine worms and algae creating bromophenols,” I said. “Dimethyl sulfide – bacteria consuming dying seaweed. Do you realize there’s a billion tons of that stuff in the ocean being converted to a gas which can impact climate change?”
“I think you’re missing the point,” my partner said. “Kick off your flip-flops and walk.”
Burning crystals attach themselves to my soles like butter to toast. “Ouch!” I walk quickly and the warm blanket of fire works up between my toes and wraps itself along the side of my feet.
(to read more click the link below)
That Sinking Feeling
Ever find yourself in a situation where you took one step too far?
Ever had that sinking feeling? – when you know you jumped in with both feet only to find yourself up to the neck and about to go under? There’s only one word at that moment. “Help!”
I don’t know if it’s a guy thing but I didn’t get up that morning planning to do anything extreme. Maybe it was the bad news that we’d lost one of our own – one of the keeners who had been taking a lot of heat over the past few years. Not everyone is ready to join up with trendsetters but this was a shocker.
Our little cohort had planned a get-a-way to regroup and grieve a little. Down time is essential for bonding and renewal. Still, we had the crowd that followed us like groupies.
They were like little robins, gulping down anything they were given. Feeding the mob was a miraculous event I hardly got used to. I was one of the gang who hoped they would all leave us alone. But they stayed like the smell of fish on your clothes.
(to read more click the link below)
Some of the wonders of the world bring about the most amazing surprises.
There’s no custom imprinted on the sands of time stronger than a kiss and there was no better a place to perform the ancient rite than in front of the carved red-rose sandstone rock carving
considered one of the current seven wonders of the world. At least, that’s what I told myself when I spotted the brunette ogling the Al Khazneh treasury in Petra, Jordan.
She turned her back to the structure and held up her camera, self-consciously slipping her scarf onto one shoulder and pasting on a smile as bright as the north star. She fidgeted with a dangling earring, corralled a stray strand of hair behind her ear and raised her chin just enough.
The mingling crowd behind her seemed to interfere with her plan for the shot and she lowered the camera, glancing over her shoulder, exposing a necklace of emerald jade stones. A dozen camels piloted by Bedouins sauntered through her view. I made my move.
(to read more click the link below)
Be Where Your Feet Are
What does it take to be fully present in your world?
It was a Saturday morning and I was watching my grandmother’s lip quiver as she lifted the Lavender Rose teacup for a sip. Her nose drank in the steamy scent of the Earl Grey before any other part of her body. Her shaky hands couldn’t knit her matchless quilts any longer but she continued to gather all her muscle memory to get that cup up without spilling a drop.
My mother would always send along fresh chocolate chip cookies and a small carton of milk for me. I would be there an hour and would catch up on all the adventures of a lifetime ago. I was in my early teens and suffering my first crush. He played football and I tried to cheer when I could focus. I had run out of things to say in this weekly visit with “gram” so I took the plunge.
“Gram, how do you show someone that you really care about them?”
She arched her eyebrows but didn’t stop the sip. When the teacup had found its nest in the saucer again she smiled and that’s the first time I heard a saying which would change my life. She said, “Be where your feet are.”
(to read more click the link below)
One hope- one regret
Have you ever made a mistake so big you would give anything to take it back?
Over sixty million have been murdered because of one regretted choice made by my friend’s grandmother, Norma McCorvey. She was the plaintiff, Jane Roe in Roe v. Wade back in 1973. I’m glad that despite her dark beginning she made it her life’s mission to overturn that Supreme Court legislation. Many times, I heard her say in public and in private, “I am dedicated to spending the rest of my life undoing the law that bears my name.” Although she failed in 2004, she emptied herself trying.
She wasn’t exactly Moses on mission to bring down the wrath of the Almighty on a people determined to destroy the unborn and she wasn’t exactly Noah on mission to construct something designed to save chosen ones from a flood of destructive legislation. She was a humble woman of a late faith whose eyes had been opened.
The fact that my friend has a grandmother is almost a miracle of history since her mother was the third child – the one McCorvey focused on when, as a twenty-one-year-old single mom, she declared in an affidavit that she was pregnant and didn’t want to be.
Fortunately, she was born and then adopted by a loving family. Unfortunately, McCorvey was ambushed by two lawyers with a mission of their own.
My friend would often call me to join her at Starbucks or another coffee shop to rant over the latest things she had talked over with her mother. She came loaded with documents, youtube videos and documentaries. I was thoroughly caffeinated and covered in the stench of the bitter bean by the time the clock reminded us of hours passed.
I still recall biting into a strawberry scone while hearing that the chief justice Henry Blackman had invented the idea of three trimesters in order to declare in what ways abortion would be accepted by the state. One document of the court transcript recorded Blackman’s comment that “if prenatal personhood is established the case for abortion collapses for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the forteenth amendment.”
Now, McCorvey wasn’t baptized as a Christian until 1995 but when she came out as pro-life, she was a raging bull for the rights of the unborn. She forsook her lesbian lifestyle, her work at the abortion clinics, and proved that transformation was possible. A simple chart on a wall showing the developmental stages of a pre-born baby turned on a light for her. She stated clearly, “I don’t believe in abortion even in an extreme situation. If the woman is impregnated by a rapist, it’s still a child. You’re not to act as your own God.”
Norma never attended court and she never had an abortion but the courts used her situation to open up the door for others. A companion case kicked the door open further by declaring that while abortion should be restricted in the third trimester to issues of health, health could include the physical, emotional, psychological, familial or the age of the mother.
Norma’s story has often had me reflect on the mission of my own life. Her book “I am Roe” inspired me to write. Words seem immortal and have the power to change generations and nations years after one is gone.
Despite Norma’s birth in Louisiana, move to Texas, abandonment by her father, divorce of her parents, troubles in boarding school, theft, time as a ward of the state, rape, marriage at age 16, divorce, drinking and drug problems, lesbianism, loss of her three children to adoption and manipulation by ambitious lawyers, she surfaced by God’s grace to embrace a faith that set the course of her mission.
It seems that even if a worthwhile mission falls short that there are others who will pick up the cause and stand on our shoulders to advance truth and grace further.
Once upon a time my friend’s grandmother stood as a broken human being and stared at the chart of a developing baby. Her eyes were opened to realize that God had a mission to populate his world with boys and girls made in his own image. She recognized that no one, not her, not her lawyers, not even Supreme Court judges had the authority to dethrone God’s mission of populating heaven with those he loved.
I haven’t had coffee and scones with my friend for the past two years. She’s been busy walking in her grandmother’s footsteps setting her own mission to save the unborn.
Sometimes funny people can make all the difference in our lives when we least expect it.
Uncle Beazley should have been the unfunniest man in Chicago. A pregnant walrus waddled with more elegance and held its belly in with more dignity. The red handlebar mustache grew like a bush over his nose and mouth but he still managed to stuff the hole in his face without hindrance. A green knit stocking, he must have found at a church bazaar, flowed down his back ending in a stream of yellow tassels. Big green rubber boots completed his outfit even when the heat threatened to melt a hundred pounds off his backside.
What made him funny was the two dancing Pomeranians which hovered around his legs like pigeons looking for birdseed. From the time I watched them hover outside the door of a Starbucks I was hooked. They took cuteness to another level. The bright keen eyes of the “little brown fox” watched my every move with vigorous panting while the fluffy snow-white stood immobilized like a marble statue, hardly breathing.
The moment Uncle Beasley stepped out of the door they bounced like jack-in-the-boxes. “No, no, SoSo” he squeaked. The two stopped. “Flow, flow, SoSo” he ordered and the two twisted in circles as if chasing their tails. Cookie crumbs drifted onto the green boots and the pups licked them off with hardly a break in the action.
(to read more click the link below)
Butterscotch or Chocolate
Young life is something sweet we love to remember.
Summers in Vermont were an unforgettable part of my first love. Visitors might rave about the cheese, the maple syrup or Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I fell for the dimpled brunette serving it all in my uncle’s soda shop. Every time I wandered in and ordered ‘a scoop and a drizzle’ she’d drawl “Butterscotch or chocolate?”
Uncle Jerry used to brag about there being more cows in Vermont than any other state in the country with his own stock of two hundred being about average. Aunt Margie whipped up her specialties in the bakery next door and when I’d torn my eyes off the whirling waitress in the short-striped skirt, I skipped next door for a pastry. A fresh warm treat always waited and when I held it up, raising my eyebrows, the smile lit up the room. “Want a drizzle more icing on that?” she’d ask.
On the wall of the soda shop, there was reason to linger. Famous framed quotes of Vermonters lined the walls. “I have disposed of all my property to my family,” Patrick Henry said in his patriotic way. “There is one thing more I wish I could give to them, and that is the Christian religion. If they had that and I had not given them one cent, they would be rich.”
(to read more click on the link below)
Perhaps a Little Salt
Editor choice award-winning short stories to share with your friends.
Perhaps a little salt.
It wasn’t the flies crawling through his hair that got me. It was his choice of dinner.
I was standing outside the market in Kabale, Uganda when I noticed the four boys trying to catch objects being tossed out of a huge blue metal dumpster. The ground around the bin was heaped with shredded plastic bags and rinds and refuse of every describable kind.
Being new in town, I wanted to find out what was happening outside the dingy hotel lobbies and sparse cafes set up for the tourists heading west to see the gorillas. It seemed that every second body on the street was pasted to the seat of a Chinese made bicycle.
These two wheeled wonders wove around potholes and buses and trucks and cars with amazing cargo. One bicycle carried a huge pig tied up for market and another carried a cow held down by two men. Several of the bikes carried flocks of chickens or huge loads of pineapples or bananas. Some with special racks carried dozens of large cases of sodas or beer or shortening or other canned goods.
(to read more click on the link below)
The Soul Souther
Stories to fill your soul
The Soul Soother
I think it was the soother. Or maybe it was the arms thrown back in abandon. Whatever it was I couldn’t help noticing.
With the challenge of a dozen decisions that had to be made yesterday, I flumped down into the airport lounge and flipped open my laptop. People were waiting for permission, for answers, for direction. My temple pulsated with a beat that Tylenol would barely control. The pressure cooker in my head had been building all day as meetings ran late, another strong perfume wearer trapped me in the elevator for 15 floors, the taxi was caught in rush hour, the check-in line seemed extra long in the airport, the ticket had complications and security insisted on rummaging through my neatly packed things and invading my body space with a pat down.
And that’s when I looked up and saw him. He might have been shy of his first birthday but he’d lived long enough to know what mattered.
(to read more click the link below)
Deeper on The Inside
Sometimes life Just hurts.
“It’s not what happens to you,” the voice echoed. “It’s how you respond to it!” The belt dangling from his hand undermined the wound embedded deeper than my skin. Of course, If I’d been guilty it might have hurt less. His fruity breath and sweat was gag-worthy but the iron tinge of blood from the tongue I’d bitten kept me focused on my grubby bare toes.
The rat in the corner waggled its whiskers in expectation. I’d often dropped a morsel or two just to keep him coming out for company. There isn’t a cobblestone floor cleaner than mine. Perhaps the sweeping helps my sanity but it is a work ethic I learned along the way. I really thought I was on my way up – despite the chaos of my early life.
Sometimes, when you’re part of a dysfunctional family, the nightmare never ends. A blended family only complicates the mix. I actually had it good as the youngest of 12. I was clearly the favorite and flaunting that status may have been a weakness. The beatings I’d taken and the abuse of being shipped out of the house was a good recipe for bitterness. (To read more click the link below)
The Price of Tears
Sometimes it’s best to not make assumptions about others.
Have you ever had your perfect dinner party go completely wrong? I mean completely. If I ever doubted how wrong it had gone all I had to do was to look down at the broken alabaster pieces swept into a corner.
In reflection, I had no warning that things could go wrong. The evening sun left a gorgeous glow of pastel reds, pinks, oranges, yellows and blues crowding the skyline like some child had emptied their painting palette on heaven’s walls. A sympathetic breeze nuzzled the branches and the leaves of the palms and provided an orchestral melody of peace. The gladiolas in the garden perfumed the air with a tantalizing welcome to the dozens of guests who had shuffled in out of the business of life to taste of the delicacies loitering on the two dozen tabletops around the garden.
The guest of honor chatted freely with those who sidled up to meet him and the laughter and ease he brought made it all seem so right. I could hear the schmoozing. “Bethany is so honored that you’ve taken time from your busy schedule. Simon is so grateful that you’ve honored him with your presence.” All the words that should be said to stroke the right egos.
I probably should have screened the guests a little better. Perhaps I was in too good a mood after getting a clean bill of health. After all, my original diagnosis had been soul-wrenching but this wonder-worker had done what no one else in the medical profession had been able to do.
(to read more click on link below)
The First Time
First love doesn’t always happen at first glance – but sometimes it does.
The first time I saw you running past the for-sale sign and into the house across the street I smirked. The cap clung precariously to the back of your head as you held it with one hand while your feet flew up the eight steps and through the door. You never saw me peeking out of my upstairs bedroom window but the corners of my mouth curled with curiosity.
The first time I saw you climb the old oak in your yard, chattering like a monkey to your little sister on the blanket below you, I grinned. Your shoelaces flipped and flapped and your tennis shoe almost slipped off the branch as you hung on with sheer joy. You never saw me staring from behind the front room curtains but the arches of my eyebrows rose with anxiety.
The first time I saw you throwing the frisbee to your Golden Retriever, as she writhed in the air to snag the white disk, I chuckled. You had one arm out of your sweatshirt and the sleeve flopped up and down as you threw and then rested limply like a dead snake while you waited for your dog’s return. You never saw me covering my mouth to stifle the sound but I hid behind those garden bushes for the whole half an hour.
The first time I saw you scramble out your door to catch the school bus I was sure you wouldn’t make it on time. Your backpack hung heavy off your shoulder and you held it with the hand which grasped your ripping lunch bag. You never saw me while you snagged the escaping apple, bounced up the stairs, helloed the driver, and walked right past me to the back. I was the one behind the upside-down math book.
The first time I saw you get called to the front of the class to do your report on metamorphosis I was sure you looked at me and I wished I had a cocoon to hide in. Your voice squawked a little and someone laughed while I felt like melting butter in empathy with your embarrassment. You may never have really seen me as you looked past me toward the boys at the back, but I was the one quietly cheering you on.
The first time I saw you at church with your family you definitely looked like you were out of place. Your head looked off-centred as you craned your neck to examine the stained-glass murals telling the old old story. You may never have seen me watching you stand in silence while we sang, and slump a little while the message went on so long, but I was the one three rows behind you, skipping Sunday School for the first time to be with everyone else.
The first time I saw you at the dance you looked strangely out of place. You watched the square dancing and the line dancing with a strange longing. I watched your right foot tapping as you sat on that bench pretending to care more about your iPad then the girl who kept trying to get your attention. You may never have seen me but I was the one who left the punch on the bench right next to you as I passed by.
The first time I saw you see me I had no words left to say. I held my phone against my ear and didn’t hear a thing my friend Jenny was saying. I watched you take a step in my direction and my legs turned to jelly. You may never have seen me before but I couldn’t doubt you saw me now. I was the one trying not to get hit by the car as you rushed to save me.
The first time I saw you across the table on that first date you had no trouble eating your burger and fries while I couldn’t even take a bite of mine. The ice cream was easier but I almost died when you had to wipe that glob off my nose. You may never have seen me before but now it seemed there was nothing you didn’t see.
The first time I saw you standing at the altar, smiling, head wobbling like a falling top in joy, bouncing on those feet like a Tigger, bow tie crooked, I relished the sight of what God had planned from before time began. I admit, my heart has always been askew.
Ever met someone who never seemed ready for what really mattered?
Desmond Matthews spent his final days on a ventilator waiting for his body to overcome the virus. The machine methodically pushed oxygen in through the endotracheal tube and sucked the carbon dioxide out. He was no longer aware of the masks and gowns hovering over him nor was he aware of the angelic beings hovering just a little higher. Others, once special, had stopped enduring the ticks of the clock in the waiting room, stopped their prayers in the chapel, and released their tears in the social isolation of their own sanctuaries.
The last call to the nursing station had come from his ex-wife. “Hello, this is Natalie Matthews. Any change in Desmond?”
Silence. “No, we’re still waiting.”
Desmond had displayed his nature from birth – he showed up ten days late. The development charts his parents faithfully looked up meant nothing. Oh, he was cuddly enough and his smile kept his parents patient while he delayed crawling, walking and potty training. His parents even tried the marshmallow trick. They showed aunts, uncles and grandparents that if Desmond was left in a room with the promise that, if he didn’t eat the marshmallow in front of him, he could have two later then Desmond would wait. Every single time, Desmond waited – studying the marshmallow.
“He’s going to be a very successful person,” one uncle noted. “All the psychologists say so. The marshmallows prove it.”
Desmond delayed finding his stride in school with academics and relationships but it came in time. He outwaited the patience of his football coach, his soccer coach and his piano teacher until they moved on to others. He outwaited the interest of dozens of girls when his smile, easy-going nature and wit drew them like moths to a flame.
“He’s just biding his time until the perfect girl comes along” his sister confided to one interested friend. “If you just wait around him enough, he’ll notice you eventually.”
Sure enough, a dozen years after education was a distant speck in his rear-view mirror, Desmond noticed and wedding bells chimed. “I think we should go to church together,” Natalie urged.
Desmond nodded. “We’ll see. I’m busy with work right now. You go ahead if you want.”
She did. While Jeffrey, Lynn and Bethany were growing, Natalie tried again. “I think we should go to church as a family.”
“We’ll see,” he said. “I’m still busy with work.”
A colleague at work shared the good news of Jesus. “Desmond, did you know that Jesus loves you, came to earth, died for your sins and rose again to intercede for you.”
Desmond smiled and nodded. “I grew up with it and my family is closely connected with First Baptist and First Presbyterian. I’m getting a few things sorted out and then I’ll figure all that sort of thing out.”
On his seventeenth anniversary he arrived home to an empty house. The card on the table sat untouched as he turned on the news and waited for his family to come home. Chinese take-out satisfied him as he hunkered down with his computer. He’d delayed sending an ecard for this special occasion until now. Other things caught his attention. Soon after mid-night he brushed his teeth and muttered through the froth – “it’s Friday, probably took the kids to her sister’s.”
Sunday night he reached for the card still on the table. It wasn’t an anniversary card. “Thanks for the memories,” it said. “I hope you can make more on your own because we won’t be around for them.” No signature.
The next week crawled by at work. “How’s the family?” someone asked. “The usual,” he said.
The driveway continued to be empty, the house dark, and the fridge empty. “I’ll just wait,” he coached himself. “She’ll come to her senses.”
He called the pastor. “Have you considered your faith?” the clergyman asked.”
“I’m waiting to sort out a few other things,” he said hanging up.
When the virus closed down the world, Desmond waited to socially distance, waited to don a mask and gloves, waited to check his temperature. He wandered the streets aimlessly.
When the neighbour called 9-1-1 about the collapsed man lying on the sidewalk outside, Desmond was already delirious. The ambulance arrived within fifteen minutes and the General Hospital staff processed him quickly into an isolation ward.
In his induced coma, vague flashes of life slipped through his mind. There was something he still needed to do. With his last breath he gurgled “not yet!”
Feed My Sheep
Have you ever felt like you had gone beyond redemption?
I can tell you that my stomach was churning a whole lot more than the lake I bobbed along on. The gulls dipping their wings into the brisk breeze navigated the currents far better than I had been navigating the life currents which almost cost me everything. My buddies on this fishing excursion seemed glad to be away from the hectic pace we’d been keeping.
As night descended, the full moon bounced like a ball off the distant hills and into the inky blackness above. Slowly the blanket of stars covered the land like a quilt. I read them as easily as I read the letters from my friends. They sang of the Creator and lullabied my soul.
Tension had kneaded my muscles into petrified knots and the nickname “Rocky” was bandied about with mock laughter by the others. My calloused hands caressed the ropes and netting of the ship and my bearded face soaked in the wind as if remembering the days when all was peace.
Nate, John and James didn’t hesitate to join this liberating adventure. We were soaking in a reality that none of us could fathom on our own. We’d oriented our whole lives around the dreams of a teacher who had turned our world upside down. Many of our peers thought we’d fallen off the deep end in giving up our financial security and status. It hadn’t taken much thought to march along with someone who seemed so confident, so at ease with life, so fluent in his connection and communication.
Of course, that was before I’d blown it.
I have to admit, I was confident that I had the inside track on figuring out the lessons that we were being taught. I had nodded with the rest of them. I had looked down on those who hadn’t been chosen to take this extra special instruction on what life could accomplish if I followed whole-heartedly.
We must have checked the nets a dozen times. Nothing. I knew the fishing spots and the others looked to me for the next place to cast. Apart from once before I had never had such poor success. The darkness hid my embarrassment at promising pleasure and delivering emptiness.
By dawn we were all done. We’d passed the hours with stories of the great things we’d seen as we learned together. Students honor teachers and we had tried many times to imitate the model. Some days were better than others. The highs carried us through the lows and the rebukes when we couldn’t grasp what we were being taught.
On the shoreline an early bird set down the first footprints before the lapping waves. He watched us carefully as we took one final cast and called it a night. He didn’t seem to be any of the locals we knew. Someone eager for breakfast without having to do the work of catching it himself.
As we pulled in the net he called out, ‘Friends, did you get any fish?”
“No,” we called. It wasn’t the answer people were used to hearing from me.
“Try the right side of the boat and you’ll find some,” the stranger called.
“Easy for him,” one of the others muttered. “If a professional can’t find fish how does he think he can?”
“Just do it,” I said. “We’re heading in anyway.”
When the net pulled taut I feared a snag. “Careful, I said, don’t rip it.”
“It feels like fish,” someone said. “I started to pull in the net and there was no question. The net was alive.”
John tugged on my arm. “It’s the Lord,” he said. “Remember last time this happened?”
I catapulted over the side of the boat and splashed my way to shore. “It’s you. It’s you.”
The others pulled a net filled with 153 fish up onto the shore while the teacher offered us fish he had already baked. We added to his breakfast preparations and feasted like never before.
As I sat, stomach full, heart happy, mind cart-wheeling with wonder, he took up his teaching again with three questions that were darts. “Do you love me more than these?” Over and over.
He knew and that’s all I could say. “Lord, you know.”
Surely, I had disqualified myself from anything he might desire from me but then he gave me those life giving words. “Feed my sheep.”
In my failure I learned a lesson I would never forget. Teaching out of my weakness shows his strength.
God’s Candy Store
A sweet look at the wide variety of God’s grace on display.
God’s Candy Store
She was sweet in any language. Deep chocolate eyes set in a licorice face told you so. Her tapestry of tangerine, spearmint, strawberry and lemon accentuated the sparkle flowing from her heart. Desperate hands stretching skyward reached for life. The call of the drums awakened her soul. In this place there was plenty of room for a refugee from the Congo.
A blueberry swirl of fabric wrapped itself around the aging form of the woman with the pumpkin pie complexion. Her caramel arms folded like toffee around her body. She swayed gently in rhythm with the subtle sounds of the violins. In this place there was plenty of room for a former Buddhist from Burma.
The hazel irises focused intensely on the words flashing freely on the screen. Ruby lips wrestled to find the words that prompted the depths of emotion found in freedom. Salty tears trickled down as shattered fingers twitched instinctively with the piano. The weathering of time and abuse marred the original scotch mint visage. In this place there was plenty of room for a long lost survivor from Siberia.
Latte was on his outside but espresso was in his bones. The bass guitar drove him to move in praise of the Amazing Grace that had freed him from his shackles. His candy cane covering and his numerous amber trinkets distracted no one. In this place there was plenty of room for a recovering addict from Columbia.
She was simplicity in cinnamon. Honeyed hair flowing forward as she bowed. Silence swallowing up her mind as images and impressions come her way. The pretzels imprisoned inside release. Her hands unfold. In this place there was plenty of room for a young model who had walked the streets and the catwalks of Paris.
The flavor of his smile matched the cranberry-mocha fudge tones of his skin. His people had long settled these lands. He understood the secrets of the forests and the complex remedies hidden in the herbs. His ears knew the voice of the bear, the eagle and the wind. Only now was he discovering the voice of his Maker as the Word came to life. In this place there was plenty of room for a descendant of Sitting Bull.
They nestled in tandems and in trios. Some settled alone. Away from this place, swallowed by busyness, parenting, learning, spending, tensions of life. Here surrounded by the tanginess of grace, compassion, forgiveness, hope, trust and peace.
They were skittles scattered across the floor of the Maker’s home. They were M&Ms left out on display to salivate the observer. They were gourmet jelly beans and sweet tarts calling for passers by to taste and see that the Lord is good.
Together they spilled out of God’s candy store to bring their joy to the world.
Does God hear our prayers?
It’s the eyes that give them away. Turning when you seek to probe for answers. Examining the delicacy of the weave in the curtain, fixated on the leftover deposit of soil on the floor, captured by the sight of a darting swallow just outside the window. No matter how well I know them they cannot hold my gaze.
The shoulders are drooped slightly more. The tone of voice edged with respect and hesitation a little too much. Creeping in, creeping out. Reading each other’s eyes without saying a word. “Will he live – will he die?”
Thirty-seven years is not enough. That’s all I can say. This pain and discomfort. This humiliation of being helpless and now almost hopeless. This constant examination and probing. Not even being able to drag myself up those ten steps to relieve myself in some sense of dignity and privacy.
Hour after hour I watch the shadow trace the journey of the sun down those steps. One step – one hour. Day after day.
Surely there are better words to hear than ‘put your house in order, you are going to die.’
I am cocooned in a death wrap as if already preparing to become a mummy. And the march of that shadow is unstoppable.
‘Don’t I get a second opinion?’
Only one set of eyes refuses to look away. And those eyes I would rather avoid. “It’s God’s design! You won’t recover.”
Turning my back on the pronouncer was all I could do. “It’s God’s design. Why? What have I done? Doesn’t the good book have something better to assuage my fevered brow? Isn’t there any word from the Almighty that might renew my hope?”
No response. A quick glance shows the room is clear and the agony finally escapes my soul in a prayer to the God hiding firmly on the other side of the plaster sitting inches from my nose. “Don’t you remember, God? Don’t you remember how I walked before you so faithfully? Don’t you remember how I served you with my whole heart? Don’t you remember how devoted I’ve been and how many good things I’ve done for you? Was it all a waste?”
Shoshana drapes a blanket over me, easing the harsher nips of the icy tentacles squeezing my breath away. She wipes my brow with a cool cloth. My ribs are burning from the pain of the heaving caused by the violent weeping that captures my soul and escapes my lungs.
Few dare to comfort the doomed. It is too awkward. There are no words to say.
I’m sure my cries are heard throughout the whole place. “Where is the God who heals? Where is the God of mercy? Where is the God of hope? Where is the God of justice? Is this the way your servants are to remember you when they give their lives to you?”
The footsteps down the stairway are clear. I know them. The pronouncer of my doom. No doubt returning to silence me.
“Three days,” he rumbles.
“Three days for what?”
The old prophet transfers a handful of amber pulp to one of the attendants waiting for me to die. “Plaster this poultice of figs on that boil. Three days. He’ll be fine.”
“What do you mean I’ll be fine? You just told me that I had to put my house in order. That I was going to die. That I wouldn’t recover.”
The prophet’s shadow falls on the wall. “God heard your prayer. He saw your tears. The God of your father will deliver you and this city for his own sake. You’ll get to live an extra fifteen years.”
“What sign do you have for me? How can I be sure the priests will give me a positive health report?”
“Hezekiah, pick a sign – something great. How about getting the sun’s shadow on these stairs to go forward or backward ten hours?”
“It would be too easy to make the shadow go forward. Move it back up the stairs. Turn back time. Take me back before I heard this bad news.”
I watched Isaiah prostrate himself on the mosaic tile and cry to the heavens even bolder than I. I kept my eye on the stairs and sure enough. The darkened bottom step glowed in brightness. Then the ninth began to swallow the shadow. Then the eighth. The seventh. The sixth. The fifth. The fourth. The third. The second. The top.
Every step is life. Hallelujah. God hears our prayers.
Not here! Not now!
Every once in a while you meet those rare people who stand out from the crowd.
“You’re not powerless,” the bristling redhead hissed through her teeth. “Get off your backside and let them know you’re the new Rosa Parks, the new Cesar Chavez, the new Martin Luther King Jr. and you’re on a mission to change your world.”
“All I really wanted was to have a space to pray,” I told her.
Chloe Adams paced back and forth behind the ball diamond like an army sergeant marshalling her troops even though there was only one freshman recruit, me.
“You’ve got friends, right?” she barked as she slung her JanSport backpack down on the bleachers.
“I guess,” I said.
“Good, go get ten of them and we’ll plaster this place with posters, letters, verses, emails and Instagrams until they see we’re serious.” She flipped open an iPad. “Prayer ought to be allowed.”
“What if no one wants to come?” I asked.
“Nonsense,” she snapped like a rabid bulldog. “Twenty percent of educated people are ready to boycott something if they can believe in what you’re saying. Get them here and I’ll get them believing.”
I surprised myself by convincing twelve of my classmates to check out the ‘flaming chick’ who was out to change the world. I also promised to treat them to a Starbucks if they showed up after class.
Chloe stood on an upper bleacher and peered over us like an anteater examining the ants below. “There’s one thing for sure, troops.” She raked her fingers through her strawberry bangs with one hand and pointed at us with the other. “You’re not going to take down Nike or Nestle or another one of those soul-destroying companies. Fortunately, we’re here to stand up for our rights as God-fearing, Bible-believing, life-loving citizens of this great country. Do I hear an amen?”
Corky Evans was the only one who yelled “Amen!” but it was enough to get Chloe going again.
“We’ll start with a sit-in at the doors to the cafeteria. That’ll get their attention. Take away their food and they’ll listen.”
Corky raised his hand as if he was still in class. “Isn’t it the teachers stopping you from praying? Why take it out on the students. They’ll just get mad at us?”
Chloe stomped down to the bottom bench near Corky. “Unless we get the rest of those desk-pilots in formation we’re not going to strike the heart of the enemy. We are David against Goliath here. We are fighting for the fundamental rights of our freedom.”
Angel Haskins spoke up. “I came for the Starbucks and the show. You think kids like us can really change anything? I can’t even get my math right.”
Chloe stepped back up to her perch, the sun glistening off her head and making it seem aflame. “It only takes one to change something,” she said. “First, we learn the chant. ‘Not here! Not now!’ Now, together.”
We practiced a few times, got instructions on how to get posters made up, and then I took everyone to Starbucks. Half of the group thought Chloe was out of her mind and thanked me for the show.
To my surprise, Chloe had twenty students supporting her in the lunchtime boycott. By the end of lunch, a third of the student body was primed for a sit-in. She had changed the chant to “Pray here! Pray now!” I’m not sure half the kids knew what we were talking about but it sure got the attention of the teachers.
Principal Shelby threatened us all with suspension if we didn’t get back to class. A few of the students got up and left.
Chloe pulled out her Bible and started reading to all of us. Something about Elisha and Arameans and the fact that there were more with us than against us. Then she started saying the Lord’s prayer. “Our Father who art in heaven…”. She had given us copies so about ten of us stood and read it with her.
It wasn’t the most memorable result in history, but I sure had time to pray at home for a few days and I learned that standing up for what you believe can make a difference. When my favorite companies tout the lengths they are going to, to support the LGBTQ community, I sometimes have to swallow twice at not giving in to my habits of buying that product anyway.
Chloe Adams got transferred to another school and I heard she ended up as a missionary somewhere. I like to think that our boycott was a springboard for her world-changing ministry.
Together Tastes Better
Ever got lost along the way?
TOGETHER TASTES BETTER
“Zucchini! In cake? You’re kidding.”
Marty’s shoulders tensed. Her fingers put a death grip on the summer squash.
“Mom, please, I don’t want to be your Weight Watcher clone.”
Marty planted her palms firmly on the granite countertop and refused to bite on Steven’s barb. The distorted reflection of her animated son danced ghostlike in the stainless steel splashguard. Although he’d shot past six feet, he was still her little boy ranting and raving about his vegetables.
“Steven, have you found a church yet?” Marty guillotined the cucumber-like offender in half and began to shred it on the grater.
“Mom, I’m talking about destroying chocolate cake. What’s that got to do with church? God and me are good by ourselves.” Marty finished grating then rinsed and dried her hands. She picked up a white plastic bottle.
“Steven, twist your tongue around this.” Marty poured out a generous thimbleful of baking soda into her palm, turned slowly, and faced her recalcitrant son. A smidge filtered down to the terrazzo tiling.
“If it’s anthrax I’m past that addiction.” His playful smirk was still disarming.
“Try it.” Marty’s gaze faced him down. “Just a lick. Dip your finger into each of these ingredients and tell me which ones you think will be good in your chocolate cake.”
The aspiring physician dropped his back pack on the oak leaf table and ambled the few yards toward the mock laboratory. He watched his mom carefully sprinkle the baking soda back onto the measuring spoon. “Thought science was done for this year.”
“Just try it.” Marty stepped back and propped herself against the ebony French Style Refrigerator.
Steven gamely extended his digits and implanted his fingertips into each of the receptacles. The brown sugar and the white sugar received a “thumbs up”. The margarine and the oil got a so-so. The three eggs were by-passed. The vanilla received no comment. The sour milk got a scowl.
Steven glanced at the other containers and turned to his mother. “You’ve got the recipe. All this stuff is probably here for a reason.”
“Do you trust me?” Marty sashayed over to the counter and grasped the mixing bowl.
Steven wasn’t quite ready to concede. “With everything but Zucchini.”
“Just watch.” Marty mixed sugar, margarine, oil and the eggs with vanilla and sour milk. “Now try the other things.” Marty picked up a second mixing bowl.
“Tell me what they are first.”
Mother and son bantered back and forth. “Flour.” “Bland.” “Salt.” “Salty.” “Allspice.” “Spicy.” “Baking soda.” “Pass, you’ve had your hands all over that stuff.” “Cinnamon.” “Are we there yet?” “Almost, try this. Baking cocoa.” “Hey, this is bitter.”
Marty folded in the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon and then poured the variegated powders into the butter mixture. As she reached for the grated Zucchini Steven put up his hand in mock protest one last time. “Please, mom, do you really need the Zucchini?”
“Trust me,” Marty said as she dumped in the shredded greens and mixed. The final product was dumped into a greased 9 x 13” pan and sprinkled with chocolate chips.
“At least you’ve got one good thing in that cake,” Steven muttered as he picked up his back pack and left the room.
An hour and a half later the Zucchini-chocolate cake was ready for testing.
“Just try it,” said Marty as she extended a plate to Steven as he sprawled on his bed with another Grisham bestseller. “At least try a bite.”
“Even if it’s good I’m still not going with you to Weight Watchers.” Steven scarfed down the cake like a long lost street urchin and looked up pleadingly for more. Marty couldn’t help grinning.
As she turned into the hallway to retrieve another piece Steven hailed her. “Mom, I figured out the Zucchini – church thing.”
“O yeah!” Marty sauntered back toward her son.
“Yeah, things taste better together. It’s like Zucchini-chocolate cake. Some things you put into the cake aren’t so great by themselves but when you put them all together they’re pretty good. Same, in the church – we can all hang out alone but it’s when we all blend together that somehow God makes a creation that really tastes good. Do they still have that Young Adults group on Fridays?”
“Seven o’clock,” said Marty as she wiped a crumb from the corner of Steven’s mouth. “It’s good to have you home again.”
Daisy In the Dark
Do you ever reach back and try to capture that perfect moment?
Daisy in the Dark
I cringed as the door creaked. Those footsteps were coming in my direction. Again. Every Saturday it’s the same routine. Just the two of us. But I didn’t need that routine today.
I didn’t need Andy reminding me that us writers don’t live in the real world. That condescending tone really gets to me. “Shelby,” he’ll say as he puts his right foot up on the chair, “the sun’s been up for five hours and you’re still here with the curtains closed.”
My neck and shoulder knots pretzel together. Today, I know just what I’ll say. “This laptop doesn’t need any more light to work its magic.” He’ll yank open those chartreuse curtains with that meaty paw of his and stand staring out into the alleyway. I won’t be able to resist getting in my digs. “Andy, you’re no different. Only difference between us is that your dreams are stuck in your head and mine are down where people can enjoy them.”
He’ll boomerang the hatchet right back. “Girl, all you’re doing is throwing words out there to people who don’t even know you. This stuff isn’t real.”
Today, I need to get it clear. “Andy, when I write about babies it’s because I know babies. When I write about flowers it’s because I know flowers. When I write about God it’s because I know God. My stories make life come alive for people.”
Just as the footsteps prepare to cross the threshold into my office the National Anthem erupts with volcanic volume from the phone. “I’ll have to turn that down,” I chide myself. Those worn brown Foamtreads of Andy’s make a detour toward the kitchen. I’ve got another minute.
The notes from my small group catch my eye. I re-read Ella’s for the tenth time. Ella is the soul sister who first walked me into the light and then teased me into putting my soul down on paper. She also talked my daughter Jessie into giving Bible school a try before her internship. I hardly notice the knock at the door. But I know I have a minute.
I reach for the dregs of my instant coffee. The bottom looks like something left over from the Mississippi flood. A new idea pops into my brain. I set the cup back down on the corner of my walnut stained desk and start pounding the keys again.
I mutter under my breath as the story takes shape. “She was a tangled mangle of mesmerizing motion. A whirling dervish of passion and color. A sensation of steel and fabric woven into a tapestry of spinning grace and leaping desperation.”
“While the music pulsated and drove the crowd to their feet in frenzied support the miniature torpedo on ice pirouetted and spun to a mind numbing stop directly on the face-off circle. An unchoreographed roar exploded into bedlam. She remained frozen in place and let it shower down around her. Her final dance was over.”
“While the rosebuds arched like rainbows onto the arena surface Katy unfolded herself like a Monarch emerging and finally dared to breathe. A prayer of thanks escaped from her soul. Before she could take a single step a jolt to her side made her gasp for air.”
I almost seizure as two hands clamp down on my shoulders. “Hey mom, that is so good. I didn’t know you wrote. I totally get what you’re saying.”
I can hardly believe what I’m hearing from my daughter. “You do?”
“Mom, I didn’t go to med-school for nothing. You were really watching my heart while I did all that figure skating. You saw me as a champion. I am so blown away.”
Andy stumbled into the room and endured the cascade of superlatives that Jessie dumped all over me. She wrapped me up and pulled me to my feet for a bear hug. Passion pumped out her pores. “Mom, I brought you a daisy to brighten up your day. We’ve gotta get these curtains open cause daisies don’t grow too good in the dark.”
For some reason the sunshine reached right into my spirit. It warmed me to the core. I felt the kiss of God coming from my daughter’s lips.
I never noticed that kiss when Andy opened those curtains. I could have jumped into my story, laced on Katy’s skates, and done her encore for her. This Daisy had found sunshine. “Who said writers don’t know how to do life?”
This Side of Mid-Night
Do you have someone special whose voice still guides you?
This Side of Mid-night
“God, she’s only eight.”
Marc watched helplessly as the doors to the pediatric surgical center crashed open and then swung shut in his face. A last glimpse of his daughter Disney was obscured by a sea of aqua masks and tunics pushing the gurney and working to intubate the gasping girl. His stomach involuntarily heaved and he staggered back against the wall.
If only Melanie were still here. Or Emery. He couldn’t do life alone. Not this life.
Marc forced his hands into the front pockets of his jeans and strolled dreamlike to the massive window in the visitor’s lounge. No moon tonight. The clouds shuttered the heavens. It was mid-night inside and out.
A rib thin Coyote prowling for stray cats skittered through the dim glow of the street light on the edge of the parking lot. A wheel chair sat abandoned in the handicapped stall. Life was out of control this side of mid-night.
“God, she’s only eight.” The hoarse whisper bounced eerily off the empty concrete walls.
In the chaos of Marc’s mind images began to form of when he was eight. A funeral. His dad’s. Soldiers. A flag over the casket. Trumpets. Guns. A hero gone. Mom. Alone. Broken. Crying. All the time crying.
And then Mrs. Rhoda Belamy in Sunday School. “Marc, God will never leave you nor forsake you.” “Marc, you’re loved. You’re special.”
How often those words flooded back. His first job flipping burgars. He was sure he’d be rejected after stuttering through the interview. Those words held him. “Marc, you’re loved.”
Marc and Melanie were freshman lovebirds. M & M – a sweet combination. Marc was so fixated on proving himself in his job he hardly noticed the distance growing. When the fights became bitter and the fear of rejection paralyzed him Mrs. Belamy’s words humbled him and called him to love better. “Marc, you’re special.”
The birth of Disney erupted a fountain of joy. Bubbling up day after day. Everything was sunshine. The birth of Emery two years later was everything darkness. An emergency Caesarian. The deep post-partum depression that refused to lift. The endless crying through the night. And then the evening Marc arrived home to find his son face down in the fish pond. Even Mrs. Belamy’s words abandoned him.
Mid-night arrived that day as Melanie’s mind snapped under the pressure. Marc was left alone with Disney. It was her fifth birthday. He’d never had to do a party before. He wasn’t even sure where the candles were.
The images now tumbled in on him. So strongly that he staggered toward the couch and collapsed face down. There were no more tears. His eyes were as dry as his soul.
The texture of the couch revived memories of Mrs. Belamy’s jacket as she bear hugged him into submission each week. She loved him fiercely even when he graduated from her class. She prayed for him often. He knew by the questions she asked. He wished he could have said good-bye.
His foster family didn’t believe in God. They belittled Marc’s requests. Sports eventually swallowed his time and energy and emotion and allegiance. He didn’t need anyone or anything. Until now.
It was well after mid-night. Marc needed help. He needed hope. Finally, the words of Mrs. Belamy broke through. “Marc, God will never leave you nor forsake you.”
“God, she’s only eight.”
“I’ll never leave you nor forsake you.”
The words punched into his heart like a battering ram. They left him disoriented and mesmerized. “Mrs. Belamy?”
Silence suffocated him into stillness.
“I need you. Disney needs you.”
Still the silence.
“God, she’s only eight.”
“I’ll never leave you nor forsake you. I won’t leave her or forsake her either.”
A hand gently shook Marc’s shoulder. Marc found himself on his knees with his face buried into the cushions. He turned, dazed, and stared into the eyes of the surgeon.
“Marc Jamieson, I presume? I’m Dr. Martin Belamy. You can see your daughter now. She’s going to be just fine.”
Marc felt the tears flooding. “Dr. Belamy?” He shivered involuntarily. “Any relation to Rhoda Belamy?”
The doctor beamed. “Of course, she’s my mother. And it’s funny you should ask. In some strange way I felt like she was talking with me while I was helping your daughter.”
Marc shook the extended hand. “I know what you mean. You wouldn’t happen to know of a good Sunday School where Disney and I could go, do you?”
They Call Me Trash
Ever Wish You were Someone Different?
They Call Me Trash
It’s Sunday and I almost missed her face in the sea of lips and eyes and noses. I think it was the trickling tear that grabbed my heart and held my gaze. After Tuesday I didn’t think she’d have the fortitude to be here.
Tuesday, we’d been in court. Tuesday, hope melted. Tuesday, Jenny’s 16 year old daughter gained her freedom and left for good. Now it’s Sunday and Jenny desperately needs to hear His Words of Hope. I set my Bible down carefully on the podium crafted by the late Arthur Higgs.
It’s Sunday. Angelina and Joshua are collapsed shoulder to shoulder like two saplings beaten down by a storm. Angelina offers a faint attempt at a smile as I catch her eye. The bruises are faint but still visible. Joshua’s head is bowed in defeat. After Thursday I didn’t think they’d have the will to be here.
Thursday, Angelina and Joshua were called again to their son’s school. I sat with them through the tears. The minefield of a new country, new home, new language, and new jobs had been too much. The explosion was serious. Their son Samuel had become a wrecking ball at school and at home. Angelina tried to restrain him and endured the force of his anger. Now it was Sunday and these parents craved God’s heartbeat. I double-check the big red digital numbers ticking by at the back of the sanctuary.
My fingertips massage the intricate grains on the polished edges of this refuge as solid as Gibraltar. It’s as if my fingertips are preprogrammed by the dozens who inhabited this haven before me. My forearms rested comfortably on this solid mantle years before I knew that there were actually studies in ergonomics explaining the way people interact with furniture and objects. For me, the important thing has always been my interaction with the people. Now, I see them in a new way.
Frank hunches in by the wheelchair of Hazel. Fifty-seven years of faithfulness didn’t preserve them from a doctor’s wrong prescription. Now, May’s mind wanders and whispers like the wind. Her body wilts like an under watered willow. On Friday we sat together wondering why. No answers came. Only the unending nightmare. Yet, here they are. Thirsting for relief from parched spirits. After Friday, I didn’t think they’d have the endurance to be here.
Anton pushes through the back door and lopes down the aisle with that lopsided grin of his. He looks to see if I notice that he’s late. Yesterday, he beamed his way through our baptismal class. He was like a kid with a strawberry Sundae doused with extra whip cream. And sprinkles.
Anton arrived from Russia two years ago. In his family, he alone believes. He soaks up truth like a sponge and squeezes out joy at what he hears. He moves to the front of his seat and leans forward in anticipation. I reach for the Words of Truth he longs for.
“Today, we’ll read about the greatest picture of hope the world has ever seen. Please open your Bibles to Revelation 7.” I take in the rustle of pages and quickly check to see that the PowerPoint has flooded the screen behind me. One more glance in front.
In the back corner Rose and Paul sit wrapped in the brilliant sunshine colors of their native Congo. Rose sits comfortably with her hands settled on her womb. 25 weeks along now. She called me late Tuesday afternoon. Hysterical. In emergency. A serious diagnosis for the baby. We prayed. Others prayed. The sun came up. Another check – up. All is well. Take it easy. The Congolese sure know how to dance. That was Tuesday and Wednesday.
Today is Sunday. Rose and Paul look for His Words of Peace and Comfort in a river of emotions water-falling through their hearts. I didn’t think they would have the health to be here. I thumb open that great letter to the seven churches. Revelation. A message for all people of all times.
From the time Ezra the priest stepped onto a raised platform to read God’s Word. From the time others explained the reading, God’s people have come yearning for truth and hope and life and grace and understanding. They look for divine encounters that will give them what they need to face in the days ahead.
Today is Sunday. They call me Trash. Sometimes I wish I was the pastor and not just the custodian.
Sometimes we meet characters who change us for a lifetime and beyond.
From day one, Beruz bugged the boogers right out of my being. Pardon my language. Before you trash my story let me explain.
I’ve worked in libraries for fifteen years now and I know my way around. For some reason I get stuck with training the newbees. I’m sure it’s because everyone thinks I’m as patient as Joshua waiting for the walls of Jericho to fall down. Most of the newcomers are youngsters looking for their first job because nothing else worked out.
But Beruz was different. I caught him lying on his back in the middle of the history section staring up at the stacks and stacks of volumes all around him. He was hugging himself and making “mmm-mmm-mmm” noises of delight as if he’d just tasted the sweetest treat you could imagine. His crinkled eyes were topped by two giant runaway white caterpillars. Above his lip quivered another hairy snow patch half the size of a dust broom.
I stood directly over him and scowled. He grinned up with a double Cheshire-cat special and held up his hand. I assumed he was reaching out to greet me and he assumed I was trying to help him up. He pulled on me hard and, since I hadn’t braced myself, I tumbled down on top of him.
I rolled off quickly but not before Diane, the head librarian, stepped into the aisle to witness the kalele that erupted from the wild laughter of the crowd and Beruz himself. My cherry tinged complexion didn’t help ease the tension.
Beruz leapt to his feet, held out his hand to me and said. “I Beruz. From Iran. Love books. Want job.”
Diane watched me ignore the extended hand and get to my own feet. She then reached out for Beruz and pulled him down the aisle away from the majority of onlookers. I took a coffee break and decided that Beruz was now on the persona non-grata list and someone to tuck away in my worst nightmares column.
Two days later I was half way up a ladder shelving new acquisitions when I felt a hand on my shoe. Beruz was kneeling by the ladder and holding my foot. Firmly.
I tried to pull away but couldn’t. “Safe,” he said. “I help keep you safe.”
Diane appeared again and moved him back to her office. That mustache sure captured the imagination and probably a lot of dinner items as well.
A week later I was back up on the ladder. This time I kept watching to see if my guardian was anywhere close. There weren’t enough books in the Christianity section to fill a shelf and just when I decided I needed a metal bookend Beruz came around the corner.
He seemed to read my mind. “What you need younger lady?”
“Book end. I need a book end.”
He randomly picked a book off the shelf and held the binding end up to me. “Book end. Good book.”
“No!” I said firmly. “Boooook Ennnd.” I formed my hand into a shovel shape and attempted to jam it under the book on the top shelf.”
“Ahhh…” He now opened the book and held up the back page for me to see. “Book End.” His triumphant smile kept me from boiling over.
“No! No! No! Book end!”
“Yes! Yes! Yes! He wins.”
“Isa. Jesus. I read book end. He wins.”
I looked at the volume he held in his hand and only then noticed it was a Bible. I hadn’t picked up a Bible since my mother had thrown my Gideon’s New Testament in the trash. I’d never even got to the beginning, never mind the end.
His smile lit up the room and I descended the ladder. “Yes. I read book end. He wins. I show you.”
And that began my Fridays with Beruz. I taught him English and he taught me about Jesus. He took me to a church and I learned that God loved me and a whole lot of other things. Beruz would sit beside me with his eyebrows twitching up and down and a smile just splitting his face. It was that love of Jesus that captured my heart.
Last week, Beruz surprised me with a birthday gift. 12 blue metal bookends with two words. ‘He wins’.
Yesterday, back to back with a suitcase in between, we read Revelation. We’re the strangest bookends you could ever imagine. But Jesus really does win. He won me.
Changing the World In Your Pajamas
Now, anyone can change the world from anywhere.
Changing the World in Your Pajamas!
“Who do you think is going to read that noise?”
“It doesn’t matter. I just need to say it.”
“Who do you think you are? You’re no Arianna Huffington sitting there in your baby dolls. You’re as arrogant as the gingerbread man on the nose of a fox.”
“It’s just important to me, that’s all.”
“Banging on that laptop is not going to change the world, girl. It’s a mess. Do you think that Boing Boing is going to pick up what you’re saying? People don’t care about some Dalit pastor in India who is back in prison for the tenth time.”
“His words made a difference for me. I’m hoping that mine can make a difference for him.”
“Geek speak won’t get you anywhere. Why don’t you call up Michael Arrington at Techcrunch. If you don’t have a name then what you say doesn’t matter.”
“I just want people to realize that someone has a heart for the invisible people of our world.”
“But look at this stuff. It’s like you’re performing an emotional autopsy on yourself every morning.”
“I’ve got nothing to hide.”
“How many people read what you’re saying?”
“So far, around eleven thousand.”
“How did you get that many people to find a pajama hacker like you? And don’t tell me you just prayed about it.”
“Actually, I just clicked onto LiveJournal, chose a layout, set down some options with buttons, images, tagboards, maps, and comment boxes. I told pastor Kumar’s story and put on some pictures from my trip to India.”
“So, what keeps people coming back?”
“I’m researching everyday about the Dalits and I post the links and information and pictures fresh. People want to know this stuff so they can pray, or write their politician or even help with donations.”
“What are you writing now? That piece you did about the way those Dalit kids have to clean the public toilets was gruesome. I didn’t realize that there are almost 18 million Christian Dalits with practically no rights in India. You make it sound like it’s apartheid all over again.”
“So you’ve been reading what I write?”
“Only to make sure you’re not embarrassing me. You won’t believe how many emails I get from my friends talking about what you’re doing.”
“How much do you know about the Dalits?
“I saw a couple of days ago how you said that if we took the entire population of the United States and took away everyone’s rights then we’d have an idea of how many people are being persecuted without a hope for help. I just can’t understand how that can happen.”
“Dalits are forced to live in segregated colonies. They can’t use the same wells or temples or tea stalls as caste Hindus. When there was an earthquake in Gujarat the blood supplies had to be marked according to the caste of the donors. A Dalit woman was stripped and beaten to death because she walked in front of two upper-caste men with an empty bucket. A Dalit teenager was beaten to death because he picked flowers from a Hindu’s garden.”
“You’re pretty passionate.”
“Our leaders are so focused on our economy that they really aren’t paying attention to the invisible people in our world. I’m hoping my words make the invisible a little more visible.”
“You’re okay for a little sister.”
“You’re not going to believe what the government is doing now to squirm out of bringing justice for their own people. They’re so afraid of political fallout that the president and prime minister and half the senior ministers are speaking out of both sides of their mouth. The church officials are going to withdraw their support. You wait and see.”
“So, what can I do to help the cause?”
“You can start by getting me a latte. Then you can get into your pajamas and grab a computer.”
Under Wings of Hope
It’s not just anyone who would lay down their life for you.
Disney Harrall will never forget his last day in battle. Bagdad had never been a picnic and it certainly wasn’t in this conflict with Iran. Tension mounted quickly and the canvas medic’s tent provided poor protection. The warning siren sounded when he was halfway between his bunk and the cookhouse. There was no time to run before the world exploded all around him. As his nostrils filled with cordite and sulphur, a heavy weight kept his head pressed into the still damp earth.
Within minutes the muffled all-clear sounded and Disney started to explore his new world. He was alive – that much was evident. The fire shooting up his right leg blasted a warning message to his brain before he tried to move. His left side and arm responded slowly to his commands to flex and move. His mouth and nose sheltered under a filter resembling feathers.
His fingers curled up and touched the object. It was definitely feathers – a chicken. A verse his brother shared that morning chimed in his mind, “Surely, he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers.” He didn’t know about being saved from the fowler’s snare but he knew he’d been snared by the fowl. But what else had protected him? The next words rang in his ears. “You will not fear the terror of night nor the arrow that flies by day.”
Garbled voices mumbled their way into his vicinity. The chicken was gently pulled away and the face of his sergeant pressed down close to his. “Hey, Dis,” she said. “What say I give you a once over before we try to move you. That leg looks like it needs some TLC.”
The great weight was eased off his back and legs but a hand pressing his shoulder down kept him still. “Give us a few minutes to stitch and bind that limb, Dis,” the sergeant said. Looks like you might get a free trip to see your family sooner than you thought.” She wiped the dirt off his nose and cheeks, ran her fingers through the hair above his ears, and eased his helmet out of the way. “Tell me about that girl of yours waiting to give you a hug and smooch.”
“T’aint no girl awaiting,” he said. “Part from my brother Hank, I got no one.”
“Tell me about Hank,” sarge continued. “Is he older? Is he a believer like you?”
“Yessir, sarge. Hank runs the mess tent across the way and he’s been a believer long as I can remember.” He tried to push up but sarge kept a firm hand on his shoulder, holding him in place. “From the time I was young he’s been watching out for me.”
The medics finished binding the leg, patched up his arm and then carefully rolled him onto a stretcher. The swirl of dust filled the compound and sarge covered his face with a mask. “Tell me more about this brother. Some kind of chef traipsing out here to feed you with momma’s cooking.”
Dis shielded his eyes, resting his wrist on his forehead. “Sarge, the mess tent didn’t get hit, did it?”
“No sir, the grub is still there sticking to those metal trays like glue.”
“Funny thing, sarge. Hank was going to give the crew a chicken dinner today. I should have had someone give him that chicken sitting on my face.”
The world started swaying as the medics jogged him toward a waiting ambulance. Dis raised his good arm. “Sarge, tell Hank where I’m going. He’d want to know.”
Sarge stepped into the ambulance with him and laid a hand on his head. “Dis, I think Hank is the one who wants you to know where he’s going.”
“I hope they aren’t reassigning him. He just got here a week ago.”
“No, Dis,” Sarge said. “They aren’t reassigning him, ever.”
“What do you mean?”
“Dis, you know how you said your big brother has always been protecting you?”
“Well, he kept that up right until today.” Sarge tightened the oxygen mask. “He’s the one who jumped on you to save you from the missile fragments. Dis, your brother will be waiting for you in heaven.”
That last day of battle rocked his nights for years. One day, while watching chickens, his brother’s voice reverberated loud and clear. “Under his wings you will find refuge.” It was then, hope and faith slowly resurrected.
What if you’re all alone at Christmas?
The red-tasselled knit cap bobbed up and down outside Ketchum’s Department Store. The little boy attached under the cap was like a yo-yo as he stretched on tip-toes to see the display train scooting in and out of the mountains and towns. His deep chocolate eyes sparkled in the glow of the Christmas lights as the last rays of the day slipped unnoticed behind the distant hills.
The urchin’s slightly chapped lips didn’t stifle the smile that broke out spontaneously each time the train whistle erupted at the little crossings. Clenched fists and involuntary shivers revealed that his raggedy maroon windbreaker wasn’t enough to warm him. The tennis shoes, one with laces missing, clung precariously on his feet as he continued to bob up and down.
The old man hugging himself in the shadows near the Safeway Dumpster across the street noticed it all. His sharp eyes frequently scanned the streets up and down for any sign of a parent or guardian who would claim the boy. Thirty minutes passed and no one came. Still, the boy bobbed. The lights on the store dimmed and the last of the laughing employees locked up and strolled down the block without even a glance at the small boy.
Creaking knees and a muffled humph betrayed the sloth-like movement of the huddled figure in the shadows. He unfolded himself from his accordion position and flared his elbows to stretch his tightening shoulder muscles. In slow motion, he retrieved a duffle bag from off the ground. With precision steps, he moved toward the little one so focused on what was just beyond his reach.
A single car slowed in front of the store as the man reached the curb and he hesitated. The driver noticed the closed sign but not the little boy and he moved on.
The first flakes of a promised flurry began to fall as the vagabond stepped carefully off the street and over the curb. The boy had crossed his arms and was vigorously patting himself.
The man noticed the name “Marvin” stitched across the chest of the windbreaker and he used that to his advantage. “Marvin?” His voice was gentle and compassionate and brought no alarm for the boy. Marvin turned to stare up at the over-coated giant with his khaki duffle bag. “Emmanuel” was scrawled in black felt near the zipper.
“Marvin, where’s your home, boy? It’s late to be out here on your own. You should be home having Christmas with your family.”
Marvin turned back to stare at the train without saying a word.
“Where’s your family?” probed the old man as he tugged his baseball cap a little snugger against the breeze.
It was just a whisper but the old man’s ears heard it clearly. “No family.”
“What do you mean, ‘no family?’ You can’t be out here on your own like this. You’ll freeze to death.”
The old man looked at the boy’s reflection in the store window and saw the tears streaming down. The glisten in those brown eyes was gone. The smile on those little chapped lips existed no more.
The unzipping of the duffle bag prompted the boy to turn and watch the old man pull out a vest and heavy sweater. Without asking for permission the man shrouded the boy with his wares. The boy accepted the action without comment. A pair of mittens was extracted from the bag and pulled over the shaking hands. Everything was three sizes too big but somehow it was all just right.
“Used to be my boy’s before he and his momma died in a car crash.”
“My momma died having a baby and my daddy disappeared. Isabella says I’m just a refugee.”
“Marvin, I need your help. Down at the shelter they’re setting up for a celebration. It’s Jesus’ birthday today and you’ve been missing out on the party. I know who you are. I’ve been watching you. Did you know Jesus was a refugee just like you? When he was just a little boy even smaller than you.”
“Someone gives parties to refugees?”
“The best parties. They even have a train that has to be set up. Think you can help with that?”
“The best train just for you.”
“My momma told me that every time the train whistle goes it’s her blowing me kisses. Now I’ll always know she’s near me.”
“This is Christmas, Marvin. Let’s go. Your momma and Jesus want you to get your kisses.”
The experience of surprises takes even the most loyal to the extent of belief.
Everything about that morning was odd.
The clouds shrouded the shoulders of the hillocks like a silky wrap on a beggar. The moon hid its face. The thick weave of mists shaded out the first probing tendrils of morning light. Towering sentinels huddled together in a melded forest, drooping feathery wisps over the shadowy trail.
“Do you think they’ll come?” A whisper from the world beyond.
“Listen!” A hidden one hissed.
The chill penetrated the bones of the figures creeping through the graveyard. One, two, three, four, five, six. Sandals scuffled gravel, nudging aside wilted flower and mud clods alike. Probing for one safe step. “Why didn’t you bring more oil – for the lamp?” The tone was tense – the phrases clipped. A woman.
“How was I supposed to know it would take so long to gather everyone and find the spices?” Another woman. “You can’t have enough spices at a time like this?”
Whispers at the edge of the garden vibrated between chattering teeth – unaware of the hidden ones. “Did we have to come so early?” A third. “I should have brought another cloak.”
Bats swished through the ghostly ruins of a crude shelter, soaring over smoldering embers, still hissing under the impact of a midnight sprinkle. “What’s glowing?” the first woman asked.
Two of the shadows glided toward the embers. “It’s a torch! And there’s still oil here.”
“Light it up.”
The area flared alight and a fox on the fringes slipped away.
“Strange, look what else is here. A soldier’s boot, a sword, a cape and a pair of knucklebone die.”
“Do you think we should manifest again?” The echo inside the small cavern reverberated with power. A mouse abandoned a sunflower seed and scurried away from the entrance.
“Just enough to be seen but not enough to paralyze.” A wind funnel twirled across the clearing and then back again to the cavern entrance. “You saw what happened when we moved the stone.”
“Did you see the looks on their faces? Reminded me of when we took the wheels off the Egyptian chariots in the middle of that sea. It doesn’t seem to matter how we show up – they still shake to the core.”
The trembling trios tip-toed their way toward the tomb. “It’s open!”
“Are you sure we’re in the right place?”
“The guards are gone!” A woman retrieved the sword, pointed it menacingly into the darkness and then abandoned it. “Now, who’s going to help us?”
“Didn’t you think the six of us could handle a rolling stone?”
“If the Sabbath hadn’t come so soon after he died the men could have finished their work. We should have waited for them to come with us. I’m not sure I can look on his body again.”
“Wait out here!” the first instructed. “Go walk around the garden and take a few breaths. I’ll get things ready.”
“Okay, easy now!” The hidden ones trembled in anticipation.
The first woman eased into the darkness with the torch then slowly rotated in place. “He’s gone!”
“What?” The second woman stepped into the space and pressed against the shroud. “Nothing! Do you think someone took him?”
A third and fourth crowded in after them.
The gleam out of nowhere blinded the searchers and the torch thudded to the ground. The women prostrated themselves, gasping for breath.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” the first voice boomed.
“Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee,” the second added. ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’”
On their knees, the women glanced at each other and smiled. “Yes, we remember.” The brilliant light dimmed as the hidden ones returned to the world of timelessness.
Scrambling to their feet the four pushed past the last two, stepping into the darkness. “We’ve got to tell the world. He has risen! He has risen!”
The sun shredded the cloudy mists as the women pounded on the door of the upper room. Groggy men opened and the news trumpeted like the glory of heaven now glowing outside. “He’s alive! He’s alive!”
The bedraggled grievers gathered their cloaks and gazed at the gaggle of good news givers. “What? We saw him die,” they mocked. “This isn’t the time for nonsense. If Jesus arose, surely he’d tell us.”
Odd, isn’t it?
A Deaf Uncle
Some of the most famous people have a history few of us know.
The nine-year-old orphan shuddered through the harpist’s offering as another large breasted woman enveloped him, soaking his face with her tears. The shrill wind bolted through the opening door like a water-soaked cat and clawed past the buttons on his silky shirt. The stone mansion’s oaken doors herded minions of the elite into every nook and cranny as they nibbled at the caviar and other delicacies circulating on trays carried by proper maids in flouncy gowns and bodices.
“I hear the old man left this poor child to the guardianship of Ludwig,” muttered a woman overhead as if he wasn’t even in the room. “How is a forty-five-year-old celibate going to care for an orphan? Especially when he’s going deaf.”
The glowering eyes hovered over him. “You think this orphan is going deaf?”
The buxom protector pressed her hands hard against his skull, slightly above his ears. “No, I said Ludwig. Are you going deaf yourself?”
The man covered his own ears. “Sorry, the piano started. Who is that playing?”
The crowd surged into a compact mass like sardines bundled into a net. “That’s the uncle. Ludwig. He’s from Belgium you know.”
The man pushed back and formed a small sanctuary for the woman and the boy. “I just came from the Russian front where Napoleon is in full retreat and all that banging sounds like I’m back in the battle.”
A quick elbow from the woman to the soldier’s mid-riff raised a grunt. “It’s a wonder they let you in among the civilized. He was taught by Haydyn and Salieri you know. Even Mozart was impressed when he heard him in Vienna.”
Another voice interrupted. “He stretches the limits of emotion and bends every rule of the classics. I’m not sure anyone can teach him.”
The soldier snatched a goblet of wine from a passing tray. “What good has he done for this world?”
The woman smirked. “I heard he wrote his third symphony in honour of your man Bonaparte until the little man declared himself as emperor.”
The boy squeezed through several legs and hips to get closer to the mesmerizing music resonating through the room. His uncle had been entertaining the family as long as he could remember.
“What happened to the boy’s mother?” The voice filtered through a pianissimo section. “It seems odd to will the child to a brother.”
“She’s a ‘queen of the night’ according to Ludwig. Fancies herself a trophy of the chivalrous sorts. Plays and parties are her world.”
An elbow connected against his jaw. “Sorry, lad. Wonder if I’ve met her? Her name’s Johanna, right?”
“Never mind her, look who’s standing by the piano.”
“Who is it?” A bearded chin jutted in the direction of a quartet of violins assembling around a lean aristocrat with piercing eyes. Curls nestled around his ears like squirrels in hibernation.
“It’s Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He’s a poet, novelist, artist, critic and playwright. I hear Ludwig’s been putting some of his work to music.”
The boy crawled through the last legs and stood near his guardian. Ludwig turned and a glint in his eye joined the smile on his face. “Come, come, Karl,” he beckoned. “For you and the good Lord above, I will compose music for the ages. We must get you the best teachers so you can carry the baton of this marvellous discipline.”
“Uncle,” Karl spoke up. “Why have you never found a woman to help you create a son for yourself?”
Ludwig raised his eyebrows and scanned the crowd nearby. Turning toward Goethe he said “Little does the boy know I have a love which may never be returned. Even this week I have written a letter declaring my heart. Now, all I need is the nerve to send it.”
Facing Karl, he placed a hand on his shoulder. “Son, from the time I could crawl my father put me before a keyboard and filled my head with music. She is my one true love.” He placed his hands on the keyboard and let the music grow. “She grabs my deepest emotions and transports them into union with the creator of all emotion. That is what I live for and that is what I hope you will one day also learn to love.”
Karl nodded and backed away from the guardian whose heart had been taken. Looking toward the chaplain he raised his chin and walked as stiffly as a soldier. “I am yours,” he said, “until I am God’s.”
Everyone looks for heroes. That’s not always what you find.
She might have been five-foot-tall if life allowed her to test her feet. A little Yoda bundled in her thick sweater and jogging suit. You wouldn’t see her face on the cover of any superhero comic book. Her wheelchair measured her stooping neck at my waist. “Sign this!” she whispered, pushing over a receipt, exposing boney wrists the size of a farmer’s sausage.
“How do you do it?” I ask. “You’re here three times a week, hour after hour, sorting over more numbers than I can imagine and you never complain.”
“Oh, I complain,” she says. “When I missed my wheelchair getting off the toilet last week and had to lay on that cold tile in a locked bathroom for two and a half hours before someone found me. Oh, yes, I complained. Then there’s the time that thief walked in here and stole my purse and the other time I got locked in my office and the alarm was ringing and I couldn’t reach up to shut it off.” (To read more click on the link below)
Every met the kind of person who is skeptical about everything?
If you met Ralph you’d never forget him.
Ever met a person like that? Someone who sticks in your brain like a fly to flypaper? Like gum to your shoe? Like a grape stain on your best white Sunday shirt?
Still remember, don’t you?
Ralph was different than most people I know. I wouldn’t dare comment on his glasses, the chicken-feet spreading from the edge of his squinting eyes, the deep furrows above his brow, or the reddish tufts that clung to the undersides of his chin. He was fairly invisible until he opened his mouth.
He transformed skepticism into art form. Sarcasm into a cat-a-nine-tails. Slang into the king’s English. He made doubting Thomas look like a passionate believer.
He mesmerized me, terrified me, intrigued me and humoured me all at once. I spent nine years sitting at the work station next to his before I caught on.
Ralph was responsible for our software development and he used his tongue to slice and dice everything that was brought to his attention.
Someone would bring a product to his desk and he’d use every verbal form of humiliation he could think of while examining it. The other developer would cringe. The individual would be left defending their product and making incredible claims. Ralph would add a few more comments and then state ‘yeah, and pigs can fly. Take it to Ingram.”
‘Take it to Ingram’ was my signal to take one last look at it to see if we could find value in it. Sometimes I did. If it was completely hopeless Ralph would trash it without a second thought. ‘Pigs can fly’ was Ralph’s way of saying that the impossible had happened. He saw potential to be impressed. He just didn’t want anyone else knowing that.
It was a dreary Friday in November when Ronnie started dropping by Ralph’s desk. She wasn’t exactly a poster girl but there was something about her that kept you looking back for more.
She would walk by his desk and drop off a pamphlet and a Mars bar or a homemade cookie. Ralph usually had the candy bar or cookie in his mouth when he opened up the paperwork so I was never sure what he was mumbling about when he looked at it. Whatever Ronnie left usually went in the trash.
I raised my eyebrows. He muttered, “God stuff.”
I asked, “Me – her?”
“When pigs can fly,” he said.
Two weeks before Christmas, I was trudging up the inside stairs after being at Starbucks and I heard Ronnie and Ralph talking on the landing above me. I pasted myself to the wall and made like a fly listening in. She was as sweet as honey and he was about as lemony as they come. The conversation had something to do with the latest thing she’d left behind and it only lasted a minute before they got into the elevator.
It was the New Year when I saw Ronnie sauntering her way over to Ralph. Usually Ralph ignored her but this time he stood and smiled as she approached with another treat. He took the small book she gave him and flipped through it. She stepped close and pointed out something on one of the pages. He read it and then uttered his famous line. “When pigs can fly. Take it to Ingram.”
She looked past him and caught my eye. A hook harpooned my heart. She walked away for a month.
Then she was back. This time the Mars bars and cookies came to my desk once a week. Also the paperwork which turned out to be stories of people who had amazing things happen when they followed Jesus. She would never stop – only leave them on the edge of my desk as she walked by.
The last Friday of May I couldn’t stand it anymore. Ralph had given me the signal that there was potential in this and I’d read it all carefully. It was distracting me from my work.
As Ronnie approached on her usual rounds I got up and nodded my head for her to follow me. We sat in the cafeteria and began to talk. And talk. And talk. Day after day after day.
It took two years but one day I stood at the front of a church with Ronnie and gave her my vows. When we shared our big kiss I turned to Ralph standing nearby. “What do you know?” he said. “Pigs can Fly!”