Nut gathering. My Dad loved the outdoors and planned activities for us no matter what the season until the summer I turned eight. A massive heart attack that year sharply limited his ability to get out and about for the rest of his life. But before that, every autumn he would take us to Sanders Park in Kenosha County, just about ten miles away from our home. Tucked away among the scarlet maples and rust-brown oaks were amber-leaved hickory, black walnut and butternut trees. Of course the squirrels had been there before us, but we still found a peck full of sweet wild nuts. Getting to the nutmeats wasn’t easy; as we would help Dad hull the nuts our hands would end up stained brown…a color that would stay on our skin for days. Sometimes getting at the meat of Scripture isn’t easy, either, but the “stain” of it colors our souls for eternity.
Changing leaves…yellows, reds, purples, golds, nature is clothing herself in one last glorious display of beauty before shedding her finery and exposing her filigree of bare, dark branches. Just so, Jesus compared the fleeting glory of the lilies that prospered in the fields of Judea with the glory of Solomon’s embroidered robes. Yet even though such God-breathed beauty catches the breath in our throats, Jesus also reminded us that it was temporal and temporary. As the trees are clothed in glory, so the Father will also clothe us in the righteousness purchased by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross…a glory that will never fade or fall.
This is from a few years ago. I don’t sit out like this nearly enough anymore.
This morning I woke early. Too bleary-eyed to see the time, I stumbled to the bathroom and then back to my bedroom. But a strange wakefulness kept me from going to bed.
The atmosphere in the house was heavy, warm, and redolent with the garlic and onions I had used in Sunday night’s soup. All of the windows were closed since the cool snap we’d had last week. I opened the front door and while humid almost to the point of fog, the air was refreshing but warm for this late in September. I picked up a footstool and set it on the front stoop. I’ve sat out here at all hours of the night and am grateful I live in a town where it is safe to do so.
Across the street, all of the houses were dark, save the new neighbor’s. They have a tendency to leave their very bright porch light on all night long. It’s annoying, especially when my eyes are trying to adjust to the darkness. The only other lights are the amber streetlight on the corner and Schlafke’s 40 watt yard light. My juniper tree blocks the street light from the north.
This morning, the sky is slate blue. Full harvest moon was yesterday, so the slightly lopsided, nearly full moon, at its zenith, dominates the night sky, sending the stars into hiding. At first glance, the sky appears to be perfectly clear, but a faint hazy ring around the moon belies the presence of a high, translucent scrim of clouds.
I’ve been in this house more than 28 years now, and gazing at the dark wall of foliage that blocks the western horizon, I muse at how those trees were once only as tall as the houses in front of them. Now they tower 50, 60, 70 feet into the air. I still miss the linden and maple trees that used to grace our block. The air is still and not a branch stirs. But the night is not silent. A manufacturing plant broadcasts a pervasive hum. The highway a mile away resounds like a distant surf, ebbing and flowing. Occasionally a dog’s bark breaks into the drone.
I close my eyes, just to drink in the peace. The grumble of a car’s ignition brings me back to the present. When I open my eyes, I can see dim lights at the Brown’s, the new neighbor’s, and the rental house across the street. The sharp cry of a killdeer announces a city beginning to awaken. More and more traffic on the surface streets makes its presence known. The sky is lightening and now the wind chime above my head sends forth a single note. Headlights flash across the facades of the houses across the street and then a car rumbles down my street.
My friends talk about praying “in the Spirit,” by which they mean speaking in a prayer language also known as tongues. It’s a way they participate in those “groanings too deep for words” that the apostle Paul talks about. I don’t have that particular gift, it seems. But somehow, in the silence my heart is lifted and wordless praise flows through my spirit.
I love these times in the dark of night.
The sounds of a waking city grow. The killdeer cries again. A dark form darts across my field of vision. A rabbit. Ironically, I can’t actually see it, but I can see the shadow cast from the porch light across the street. I know it has seen me and for a heartbeat, two, three, six, ten, it sits motionless. I shift in my seat and it takes off across the lawn. While the western sky is still dark, the moon has drifted closer to the treetops. A star appears. No. It’s moving…a jet, too high to make a sound, or perhaps even a satellite floats eastward. Behind me, to the east I can almost feel the false dawn. I turn to go inside and back to bed. It’s 6:00 AM.
The Effectives (With apologies to Zenna Henderson)
Sasha scurried through the darkened yards, thankful for the fog and that in this part of town neighbors did not believe in fences. Neither homes nor streets showed lights, but over her shoulder to the southwest, Sasha could see a glow on the misty scrim — the Fairgrounds — this region’s detention center.
“Fool!” she thought. “You are a fool to come this close.” But her mission demanded it. In one of the small houses nearby was a Survivor and it was imperative that Sasha get to her before the authorities.
The virus had, it seemed, come out of nowhere, out of the secretive East. It might have been contained early on, but through willful ignorance, it had spread — from the village of people so starved of protein that any creature was literally game to the industrial city of more than ten million souls and from there to the high fashion centers of the world — Milan, Paris, London, New York. Although the original victims were poor, now the virus claimed the globetrotters — media stars, millionaires, congressmen, and even world leaders. There was no preventative. There were no effective cures.
The answer came from Germany. The Prime Minister had been exposed. Despite official pronouncements that she had tested negative, she fell ill. The Prime Minister was on a ventilator in a secure, private hospital suite, but hope for her life was fading. The medical team was grasping at straws. It was a lowly intern who broached the idea.
“If the reason this virus is so deadly is because the body has no antibodies to fight it, what if we inject antibodies that recognize the virus? Antibodies from a survivor? “
“Preposterous!” the senior virologist snorted.
But the other team members overruled him. On the floor below, a young pastor was taking his first tottering steps after fighting the disease for two weeks. He was the same blood type as the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister’s personal physician approached him.
“I am delighted you have survived this terrible ordeal. Your body has now created antibodies that can defeat this virus. It may be possible that those antibodies may be able to save the lives of others. I know you are weak, but may we draw a unit of blood to test out theory?”
The pastor thought a moment, and said, “Of course.”
Almost before the words were spoken, a phlebotomist hustled into the room, followed by the rest of the medical team. During the procedure, the pastor reclined with closed eyes and silently moving, prayerful lips.
The virologist continued to sputter, “This is most inappropriate!”
“There is no time!” snapped the Prime Minister’s personal doctor.
The transfusion took place immediately. Within the hour, the Prime Minister’s breathing eased. The vent was withdrawn. In two hours, she was awake and aware. And within three, she was standing beside her bed demanding her clothes.
In this country, initially, the virus was not taken seriously. Then state by state, the Union instituted precautionary measures, from publicizing health procedures to full lockdowns. The crisis brought out the best in many people. It also brought out the worst — from those who used it to further political ends to hoarders to those who looted shuttered shops and vacant homes.
Reports flowed daily from Hollywood, New York, Washington D.C., that this movie star, that this business tycoon, or that senator tested positive. They spoke hopeful words to the camera as they went into quarantine. They had reason for hope. After all, they had access to the best medical teams the nation had to offer. But then they started dying.
The search for a cure ratcheted up to the highest priority. Appeals went out to survivors to donate blood. Many were reluctant. Financial incentives were offered and the donors trickled in. But the results were unimpressive. Only one in twenty transfusion recipients recovered. Still, that ignited hope and the net was cast wider.
But then the Vice President fell ill, followed by the President. Both were treated with transfusions. Neither survived. The opposition party used the opportunity to seize control. Martial law was declared. Transfusions from survivors were no longer a voluntary matter. Thousands of survivors, some as young as ten or twelve, were rounded up and herded into ICE detention centers which had been emptied for the purpose. There, willing or not, blood was drawn, tagged, and shipped to hospitals. Each unit was tracked. Where the transfusion was ineffective, the donor was released. But when there was a recovery, the donor was removed to a secure research facility where blood was drawn again…and again…and again.
Roundups were carried out from coast-to-coast. For the most part, in areas such as Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, the results were the same — one in twenty (or fewer) were efficacious. But there were pockets where the numbers were different — 40%, 50%, even, 80%. Places like Franklin, Tennessee, Asheville, North Carolina, and Sasha’s hometown in the heart of Wisconsin. Immediately the focus of the raids shifted. The National Guard moved in.
As knowledge of the raids spread, fewer people submitted to mandatory testing or sought medical help for symptoms. Sasha was a survivor. When she learned that she had been exposed, she went into seclusion in her uncle’s hunting cabin deep in the Chequamegon National Forest where she weathered the disease alone. Thus, she was not on any official list. Yet she felt deeply responsible for the lives of others. The problem was that blood drawn from detainees was not going to general hospitals. Instead, it was being funneled to the private clinics of the rich and famous and politically powerful. As soon as Sasha recovered, she joined an underground network of survivors donating blood to be used in treating ordinary people. In the network, donors were true volunteers, giving only as much blood as was healthy. And unlike the blood from conscripted donors, their transfusions were 100% effective.
Still, it was not enough. That was why Sasha’s mission was so important. The woman she hoped to spirit away this night was a member of a small church. She had been among those who tested positive for the virus but had not required medical treatment. Ava was scheduled to be detained the next day. Sasha reached her target. She scratched softly at the back door which was immediately opened. The woman’s dearest treasures were stowed in a large backpack which Sasha shouldered. Silently, they crept back the way Sasha had come to a house a few blocks away. They would go no farther this night. A vehicle moving after curfew would be too easy to spot.
In the morning, their host, none other than the town’s police chief, treated them to a delicious breakfast. After, they hid in the back of the Chief’s SUV. He drove them to the industrial park on the outskirts of town. They exited the vehicle inside a massive manufacturing plant. From there, they were led to a small door hidden behind a sliding wall of shelves. Stairs led down to a long tunnel that proceeded to another set of steps leading up. The door opened to a swell of music and the welcome of a young man speaking German accented English.
“Gut morning,” he said. “And welcome. Sasha, thank you for bringing our new friend. I am Pastor Willem Steinhoff, and if you will permit, I will give you a tour of our refuge before I show you to your quarters. Sasha, I will see you later.” He took Ava by the arm. “You are wondering about my accent? I came before the travel ban to visit my cousin, a doctor. I had news to share about the cure. You see, we discovered the secret to the effectiveness of our transfusions, although the scientists refused to believe us. It is a simple thing, perhaps too simple for the very sophisticated and educated. Ah. This is our infirmary.
With that, he led Ava into a bright and cheerful room lined with two dozen recliners. Half of the chairs were filled, attended by phlebotomists collecting blood. Here too, the music was louder. The occupants of the chairs, some with their free hands waving above their heads, were singing along. “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation…”
When I was substitute teaching, I would hear middle and high school students talk about “My Space” and how easy it was for them to send messages…sometimes right in the middle of class. At the time, I had no interest in social media. Yes, there were two special interest chat rooms I participated in, but since I had no internet connection at home, my online time was limited. Then, about ten years ago, my boss at the radio station insisted that all the staff join Facebook to expand the station’s reach to our listeners.
What a revelation that was! I made many of the naïve newbie mistakes, “liking and sharing” and “pasting and posting” many memes and stories that appeared to be faith-based but were actually ruses used by hackers and spammers and their bots to accumulate personal information which they could either sell or use for their own nefarious purposes. Slowly, I came to realize that I, like so many other Christians, was gullible when it came to certain things that were labeled “Christian.” Once I became aware of this, I also realized it was nothing new. My eldest sister’s husband was a very early computer nerd. I’m talking about the machines that required 500 square feet of air-conditioned “clean” space and were operated by instructions punched into checkbook-sized cardstock. He discovered computers while in the Navy, got a technical institute degree and then went to work for what is now McDonnel-Douglas Aircraft in Missouri. Those were the folks who designed and build the earliest computers for NASA in the 1950s.
I got into a conversation with him at the time my library was installing an automation system and telling him how at least once an evening I had to crawl under a table to disconnect and reconnect cables because the system kept crashing. That’s when he told me the story. (Just to be clear, my brother-in-law was known to tell some whoppers, so I have no way of knowing if it is true, and he’s no longer on this planet to either confirm or deny it)
I have to go back to the year 1965. One day our school principal, Sister Marie DeChantal, burst into our sixth-grade science class. She had just opened the day’s mail and had received a mimeographed notice from another school principal. The missive contained the account of how NASA computer scientists had been attempting to use a computer to create a calendar that could go back to the beginning of time. They thought they had the program nailed, but every time they ran it, it would crash at about 3,500 years ago, and they couldn’t figure out why. Then one of the technicians remembered the story from Sunday school about how Joshua commanded the sun to stand still to give the Israelites time to win a battle. The scientists then entered that information into the program and it ran perfectly. Sister DeChantal was flushed with excitement. “This shows that science now proves the Bible is true!” And of course, we all went home and told our parents and siblings about the miraculous thing NASA computers had done.
Of course, it was all a hoax. But those purple mimeographed sheets made their way from one end of the country to the other. Interestingly, 55 years later, it still occasionally pops up in email chain letters. What my brother-in-law told me was that he and his coworkers were the instigators of that hoax. Although raised Catholic, he was contemptuous of religion and considered religious people to be gullible fools. His coworkers felt the same. And so, they dreamed up the story. They printed it up on some NASA letterhead and sent it off to a science teacher at one of the St. Louis Catholic schools. From there, it spread cross country with an amazing speed. And my brother-in-law and his friends had a good laugh at how stupid religious people were.
Facebook daily proves that not just Christians are still extremely gullible.
Still there were many fascinating things to see on Facebook. One which was particularly amusing was the “Russian Life Hacker.” He would demonstrate the way most people did commonplace things – everything from folding a fitted bed sheet to cracking an egg to applying a bandaid. Then he would declare, “You’re doing it wrong!” and perform his “new and improved” method to accomplish the task. While that particular man seems to have disappeared from Facebook (although I’m sure his shenanigans are still available on YouTube), the “You’re doing it wrong!” culture has spread throughout all social media platforms.
Storing your potatoes in the refrigerator? “You’re doing it wrong!” Washing your cast iron skillet? “You’re doing it wrong!” Putting pineapple on your pizza? “You’re doing it wrong!” (Well, if you do put pineapple on your pizza, you are doing it wrong) And on and on it goes. Never mind that you may have been successfully using a particular method for ten, twenty, thirty or even fifty years, you’re still doing it wrong! Once I got past the initial surprise, which was followed by irritation when I discovered the “new and improved” system didn’t always (or ever) work, I settled into the attitude of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and scrolled past any further claims.
But there is one area in which the “you’re doing it wrong!” culture causes me distress. I came across it just a couple of weeks ago. The banner of a well-respected Christian website declared something along the lines of, “If you’re only spending ten minutes a day reading a Bible verse, you’re doing it wrong!” Now the body of the article went on to explain that it takes more than ten minutes a day to develop an intimate relationship with Jesus. Then it went on to set out the systematic plan of Bible study and prayer necessary to “grow” in one’s faith and in the Lord.
Please, don’t get me wrong. Spending an hour or more a day in Bible study and prayer is something to be treasured. Not everyone has that capacity in either time, lifestyle or ability. One of the very first Bible studies I was challenged to undertake back in 1973 when I surrendered to Christ, was to read the gospels land look at every encounter Jesus had with individuals. What I discovered (what I was meant to discover) was that no two were the same. Even when He healed people of blindness, he used differing methods. So it is, down to this very day. Jesus deals with each person as an individual. There are great scholars, fluent in ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek, who can parse every sentence in Scripture. Or others who can quote Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Arminius by heart. They have great knowledge. But, as my Pastor said in one of his recent sermons, there is a big difference between growth and fruit. To illustrate, he contrasted the 60-foot tall silver maple in his backyard that showed magnificent growth but no edible (at least to humans) fruit, to a dwarf apple tree that produced a fine crop of sweet apples.
Or to put it in human terms, I am guardian for an uncle who has Fragile X Syndrome. He knows enough of the alphabet to write his name, but no more than that. But when my cousin drove him home from his last stint in a rehab center, he spent the hour-long drive singing hymns. Now, does Uncle Robert, with his limited cognitive ability, have an “intimate” relationship with God? I believe he does.
Most of us will fall somewhere between a scholar like Francis Schaeffer and my Uncle Robert. Some of us with more retentive memories may have entire books of the Bible memorized verbatim. Others may simply remember the gist of the stories. Some may spend hours on their knees in deep intercession, or using a prayer language. Others have “prayer attention deficit disorder” – and have to keep saying, “sorry, God, my mind wandered off. Where were we?” Some can compare and contrast the teachings of the great theologians at the drop of a hat. For others their theology consists of “Jesus loves me. This I know. For the Bible tells me so.”
My point, (finally!) is this. Just as Jesus dealt with each person He encountered in a unique manner, so He does today. If all you have time for, between your spouse, the kids, housework, and your job is ten minutes, five minutes a day to scan a Bible verse, but you love Jesus Christ with all your heart and you follow His commands to the best of your ability, confessing to Him when you cannot, You. Are. Not. Doing. It. Wrong. You are doing it all right.
What a glorious night, or rather early morning, to be out! On the road, the sky stretches from horizon to horizon, illuminated by a brilliant full moon that shames the stars into hiding. Patchy fog hangs in shallow, ragged veils just inches above the dark mystery of the green corn. The light of the moon turns the earth-bound clouds into filmy, white puffs of cotton candy that swirl across the landscape.
Highway 10 is bordered on both sides by numerous ponds that have disguised the gravel borrow pits that were dug when the new road was constructed. Their waters shimmer in the lunar glow, still, dark, and serene. The mists crowd their edges but do not cross over and lend apparent substance to the moonpaths reflected in their inky mirrors. They remind me of the meres of Middle Earth, or the pools of the Gateway between Worlds. On such a night, who knows what might emerge from their depths to mount the shimmering trail across the fields.
With windows open, the mild night air imparts a chill through the moisture it carries. Occasionally a wisp of fog dances across the highway, ethereal and translucent. But in other places, it thickens, congeals, caught in the driver’s headlights and obscuring one’s vision. On such a night, who knows where one might be when she emerges from the mist…just a little further down the road…or perhaps Middle Earth or Elsinore or Narnia. Ah…the prosaic rules this night…and the road continues on, as do the fleeting nighttime hours. Home and a bed are calling and eventually the road, that as Tolkien says, “goes ever, ever on,” turns into a homely driveway and to a broad night sky tamed by the border of rooftops.
“Now we see through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face-to-face.” 1 Corinthians 13:12
Most Christians are familiar with this Scripture verse. Have you ever seen an eclipse of the sun? Days before the anticipated event, newscasters warn against watching the eclipse directly, even through sunglasses. Eye damage and permanent blindness can result from gazing upon the full light of the sun. What damage these mortal bodies would sustain if we were to gaze upon the full glory of God!
Before an eclipse, instructions are given for making a pinhole camera that projects the image of the sun on a piece of paper. The silhouette of the moon can be observed as it transverses the face of the sun. Or one can watch the eclipse on a video monitor as cameras with the proper filters record the event. These second-hand experiences however, are not terribly satisfying. Once-a-week sermons or books by noted Christian authors are good things and should not be ignored. But if they are the only experiences one has of God, they are second-hand sources.
Once in college, a classmate brought an extremely dark piece of glass to campus during an eclipse. It was the faceplate of a welder’s helmet. Through it, a welder can observe his work in the heart of his torch’s fire. The glass was dark enough that I could watch the progress of the eclipse directly, but in complete safety.
Scripture and the Holy Spirit are our welder’s glass. They permit us to gaze in adoration upon the face of God and live. But, oh for the day when the glass is no longer needed!
“It’s not fair!”
“Becky, that’s enough. You know why we said, ‘no’.”
“I don’t care! It isn’t fair! Isn’t! Isn’t! Isn’t fair!”
“Rebecca Marie Elaine Lawson, you are fourteen and much too old to be throwing a tantrum like a five-year-old. Your mother said that’s enough and That. Is. enough!” Thomas Lawson’s voice was hard.
“Darling,” Andrea Lawson took a conciliatory tone. We explained why you cannot join the drum corps. The uniform and boots alone cost more than $200.00. Then there is the $50.00 a month in dues plus the cost of transportation, food and lodging when you have an out-of-town gig. We just can’t afford it.”
“It’s still not fair. I wish I had been born mentally retarded, too. Then maybe you’d care about me as much as you do Teddy.”
“Oh, Becky,” Andrea began.
“No, Andrea. This conversation is over. We do not use the “R” word in this house. And as for you, young lady, one more word out of you and there will be consequences. You will not be going to Penny’s pool party.”
“Consequences, consequences! Teddy never has any consequences and he can yell and scream all he wants!”
Thomas rose from his chair and crossed his arms. “That’s it! You are grounded. Go to your room!”
“Fine!” Becky stomped to the kitchen doorway. There, she stopped and turned. “Just know this. I hate you! Hate! Hate! Hate you. I hate you all!” She fled and the final sound was the slamming of her bedroom door.
“Oh, dear. That did not go at all well.” Asahel sighed to his companion. “What did I do wrong? I tried to guide Rebecca’s thoughts to all the pleasant things she could do this summer – her friend Penny’s pool party, parade and fireworks, a week on her Aunt Susan’s farm riding horses. But she just fixated on this one idea and she does not even really like drum corps. Why, the very idea of marching three miles in the heat would disgust her.”
“You did not do anything wrong, Asahel,” Natanel replied. “Humans at this age are notoriously hard to direct. And as Rebecca does not yet have the Spirit dwelling within her, you are also fighting against the old Eve as well as the hormones in her changing body. As for why she was so set upon joining the drum corps, you saw how her classmate Breanna was boasting about joining on the last day of school. You also heard Breanna say how being in drum corps with Adrian would draw him closer to her. And you know Rebecca has begun to develop feelings for Adrian. She only wants to join out of jealousy.”
“Jealousy. Ugh. That is truly a ploy of the enemy. I must try harder to shield her from it. But tell me, how is it with your charge?”
Natenel beamed. “Wonderful. Theodore learned how to tie his shoes today. And he created a brand new song of praise.”
“Mama! Mama!” Teddy stumbled, sobbing, through the front door. Andrea took one look at her son’s dirt-smeared face, torn jacket, and missing backpack – before gathering him in her arms. He was now taller than her, but she maneuvered him onto the sofa.
“Oh, Teddy, what happened? Where’s your backpack?”
“D-d-d-d-donny t-t-took it. H-h-he s-s-said I owed h-h-h-him m-m-money. Then h-h-he h-h-it m-m-me. I t-t-tried to run away. B-b-but h-h-he p-p-p-pushed me in the m-m-mud.”
“Oh, dear. I’ll have to call Donny’s mother again. Hush, now, Teddy. It will be alright. You aren’t hurt anywhere, are you? No? Just dirty. We’ll get you cleaned up and you’ll be right as rain. I’ll call Donny’s mother and see about getting your backpack.
Watching the scene from the foot of the stairs, Becky snorted. “What you should do is call the police. What is this – the third, fourth time Donny Kingston has bullied Teddy? What good has it done to call his mother in the past?”
“That’s enough, Becky. You’re upsetting Teddy. Mrs. Kingston is a single mother doing the best she can with four kids including that new baby.”
“Hmph,” was Becky’s only reply. But under her breath, she muttered, “If you won’t do something, I will,” and she quietly slipped out the back door.
“Hey! Hey, you! Donald! Donald Duck! I wanna talk to you!” The four boys shooting hoops in the park paused their game. “Donald Duck!”
Three of the boys snickered. One did not. “My name’s not Donald Duck.”
“Sure it is. Quack, quack, quack. I want my brother’s backpack.”
“You’re the retard’s sister? Get lost.”
Becky closed the distance between the two of them. “The only one who is going to get lost is you. I want Teddy’s backpack. And I’m warning you, you will leave him alone from now on or there will be consequences. And I promise you, you won’t like them.”
Donny sneered. “Oohh…I’m so scared. Whatcha gonna do, Retard?”
Becky stared down at the boy. He was a head shorter than her, but stocky. “You really don’t want to find out. Now where is Teddy’s backpack.”
Donny let out a curse word. “Like I said. Get lost.” He turned to walk away from Becky.
Without thought, Becky’s foot came up and she planted it firmly on Donny’s buttocks. The boy went flying and face planted in a large mud puddle. Spitting mud, the boy started screaming curses. “I’m gonna call the police. You’re gonna be arrested. We’ll sue you and your whole retarded family!”
Becky laughed. “Go ahead. Call the police. I’ll tell them how you beat up handicapped kids and your friends here can tell everyone how you got beat up by a girl. They’ll love hearing about that at school.”
Donny glared at his pals. “You gonna let her get away with that? Get her!”
Becky laughed again. “Sure, come on fellas. Who else wants a mud bath?” The boys backed away then took off running. Becky spotted Teddy’s backpack under the basketball hoop. “You’re nothing but a pathetic little bully,” she spit at Donny. She picked up Teddy’s pack and headed home leaving the boy still sitting in the mud.
“Oh, my, my, my.” Asahel muttered. “That is not the way to settle a dispute.”
Netanel chuckled. “Well, at least Rebecca no longer seems to hate her brother. She is on her way to becoming a guardian although she is still immature and will continue to make mistakes. But she is learning.”
“I hope so,” sighed Asahel. “How is Theodore?”
“Theodore has withdrawn within himself for the moment. It will be difficult to encourage him to return to school tomorrow. But his parents are showering him with love and he will eventually respond to that. Plus, he is crying out to the Father in his soul and the Father is holding him close as He weeps with the boy. And the Spirit is strong in him. He will recover. And quite honestly, I should have liked to take the flat of my sword to the backside of that bully myself. One can only hope that somewhere down the road young Donald meets and responds to the love of the Prince.”
Becky wrapped the blanket tightly around her, lay down and pushed off, rolling down the steep slope of the hill in Roosevelt Park. Breathless, she sat up at the foot of the hill and her world swam dizzyingly about her head. What a rush! When her head cleared, she picked up her blanket and trudged back up the hill for another roll. Jean, Mary, and Bill zipped past her shrieking with laughter. At the top of the hill, Teddy jumped up and down. “M-m-me t-t-too! M-m-me t-t-too. I want to r-r-roll, t-t-too.”
“You can’t, Teddy. You’re too little.”
Teddy lay down, kicked his heels and began to scream. Jean, Mary and Bill had just climbed back up the hill. Bill looked at the little boy. “Oh, Becky, why did you have to bring him? He always spoils everything. We’re outta here.” The three of them walked away.
“Wait. Wait. You don’t have to go. We were just starting to have fun. Don’t go.”
Bill gave a backward wave of his hand and the trio departed.
Becky threw her blanket on top of Teddy. “Look what you’ve done now! Every time I try to have fun with my friends, you ruin it!” She stalked over to a picnic table and sat with her back to her younger brother. His wailing stopped, but moments later she heard him cry out in terror. Becky turned to look at him just in time to see him sailing off the bottom of the hill and over the edge of the bluff into Lake Michigan and sink with an enormous splash.
“Teddy! Teddy! Oh, God! No. No. No.” Heart pounding, Becky sat up in bed, tears streaming down her face. “A dream. It was just a dream.” But she could not stop shaking and crying.
Soft steps pattered down the hallway and her bedroom door opened. “Becky, Honey, are you all right? What’s the matter?” Andrea held her sobbing daughter.
“Teddy. Teddy’s dead. Teddy’s dead and it’s all my fault.”
“Shh. Shh. Teddy is just fine. He’s sound asleep in his bed down the hall. You must have had a nightmare.”
“But it was so real. Teddy drowned and it was my fault. I couldn’t live without Teddy. I – I love him.”
“I know you do, honey,” Andrea soothed.
“But I’ve been so awful to him. I wished he had never been born. Or at least, I wished he was normal.”
“I know, I know. You have had to deal with something most girls your age cannot even imagine. You’ve had to care for your little brother and have not been able to have a normal relationship with him. But you don’t have to do it alone. We’re here. And we aren’t alone, either. God is with us and gives us the strength to raise both o f you. You aren’t the easiest person in the world to raise, either, y’know.”
Becky hiccupped. “How? How does God help you? Why would He even let someone like Teddy be born? And what do you mean I’m not the easiest person in the world to raise?”
Andrea chuckled. “Oh, child of mine. I do love you. Now just a minute. I want to get your father.” Andrea rose from the bed and quickly made her way back to her own room. A moment later, a yawning Thomas shuffled into Becky’s room ahead of his wife. “What is this all about? I need my sleep.”
“Becky has a question for us. She wants to know how God helps us cope with raising her and Teddy and why He allows someone to be born disabled.”
“Oh.” Thomas was wide awake now. “Tough questions for three o’clock in the morning. God created a perfect world. But our first parents disobeyed Him and rebelled. Because of that, sin entered the world and it was no longer perfect. Human beings, who were meant to live forever began to die. Oh, the first several generations lived nearly a thousand years, but the effects of sin multiplied. Its like a photocopy. It is difficult to tell the first copy apart from the original. The copy of the first copy is nearly as good and the copy of the second copy isn’t bad either. But eventually, information begins to get lost and the twentieth or thirtieth copy has breaks and smudges on it. That is all a consequence of sin.”
“I learned that in Sunday school class,” Becky mumbled. “But why doesn’t God fix it?”
“He will,” Thomas said. “When Jesus returns, He will make all things right again. But in the meantime, He promises to be with us supernaturally through the Holy Spirit. And when we learn to love God and to surrender to the authority of Jesus, He gives us the Spirit to be with us, guide us, comfort us in the tough times, and give us strength. I know you know all this. Your mother and I have told you many times.”
“I know. But I thought it was just something that grown ups talk about and that all I had to do was go to church and be good.”
“Oh, no, Becky,” Andrea said. “There’s an old saying, ‘God has no grandchildren.’ Your father and I cannot believe for you. That’s something you have to do on your own. Do you want to?”
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
“Well, that was intense! And to think, I almost blocked that dream Rebecca had.” Asahel adjusted his party hat.
Netanel hit him with a high five. “I told you Rebecca would come around. But you know, you’re going to have to be especially on guard these next few years. The enemy will do everything in his power to destroy this daughter of our Father.”
“Yes, I know, and I will be. But for now, let’s just enjoy the party. Wow! It’s sure getting crowded in here.”
Rebecca Marie Elaine Lawson placed her left hand on the Bible and raised her right hand. The Judge spoke. “I will ask you one more time. Are you certain you want to do this? Guardianship is not a matter to be taken lightly. You are a young woman and in time, you may wish to marry and have a family of your own. A husband may not want the responsibility of a disabled brother-in-law.”
“Yes, your Honor. I am certain. Although I did not expect to become Teddy’s guardian until we were both much older, the car accident changed all that. Now that Mom and Dad are gone, I am all Teddy has and I will take care of him for as long as I live.”
Asahel and Netanel solemnly watched the scene in the courtroom with a touch of pride. “Rebecca has certainly come a long way from the days when she said she hated Theodore,” Asahel said.
“Indeed, she has.” Netanel replied. “But we must both be even more diligent from now on. Rebecca has not only her own grief to process, but Theodore’s as well. She will need great wisdom to deal with the pain he does not know how to express.”
“Yes, but the Spirit is with them both…and so are we.”
Time does not exist in hospital waiting rooms. Minutes seem like hours when waiting for news. And news, bad news, turns the hours into but a moment. Becky alternated between sitting and pacing. Teddy’s last physical had showed his heart murmur had worsened and the dilation of his ascending aorta had increased. This morning, he had complained of chest pain and shortness of breath. A scan revealed the dilation had developed into an aneurysm. He needed surgery to repair it, but it was risky. Yet going without the surgery was even more risky. Both Teddy’s primary physician and the surgeon had urged Becky to authorize a “do not resuscitate order.” While Becky trusted both of these men, memories of doctors who had been hesitant to treat even minor problems for Teddy because they equated his diminished capacity as incompatible with “quality of life” had soured her on much of the medial profession. But after receiving assurances from both doctors that they would do everything within their power to achieve a positive outcome for Teddy, she reluctantly agreed.
Becky remained at Teddy’s side as he was prepped for surgery. She did her best to soothe his fears and softly sang his favorite hymns. All too soon, he was wheeled away and now, all she could do was wait…and pray.
Asahel hovered protectively over Rebecca as Netanel took his leave. No words passed between them. The both knew the time had come for Netanel to escort his charge home.
While time does not exist in hospital waiting rooms, the waiting does at last come to an end. Becky looked up and then stood when she heard the door to the private room open. She did not need to hear the words to know what they would be. “I’m so sorry, Ms. Lawson. We did everything we could, but the aneurysm ruptured and we could not get to it fast enough. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Becky sank back into her chair. The surgeon and a nurse placed their hands on her shoulders. The surgeon asked, “Is there anyone we could call for you?”
Becky sobbed, “Yes. No. All Teddy and I had were each other. But I guess you could call our Pastor.”
Asahel grieved as he watched the Spirit enfold Rebecca in His presence. He was surprised when Netanel joined him. “Theodore is safe and happy with the Father and the Prince. My charge for him is done. I am more needed here.
At the instruction of the Spirit, the two Guardians unsheathed their swords and took up positions on either side of Rebecca. They faced down the vile creatures that hissed accusations at her,
“You always hated him. Now he’s gone. Aren’t you glad”
“You should have done more for him. Remember that trip to Nashville he wanted to take and you wouldn’t go?”
“It wasn’t fair that you had to carry such a burden through life. What kind of God would make you do that”
As the Spirit sheltered the woman, Asahel and Netanel cut through the ugly horde with flaming swords. None of their filthy allegations reached Rebecca.
Becky braided her thinning white hair. She glanced at her lined face in the mirror and let out a small groan. Just the act of plaiting her hair made her arthritic fingers ache. She supposed it would be much more practical to have her hair cut, but she had always liked it long. Slowly, she made her way to the kitchen and poured out a bowl of cereal. It wasn’t the healthiest thing to eat, but these days, even microwaving breakfast took too much effort. After she placed her bowl and spoon in the sink, she limped to her recliner. She smiled sadly at her parents’ wedding photo, gone now these sixty years. Theodore’s picture stood next to it. He too, was gone, nearly 20 years. She couldn’t understand why she was so tired, so, so tired. She sighed. All she needed was to close her eyes, just for a moment or two…
Becky heard the music first. She had no idea where it was coming from, but it was the most beautiful sound she had ever heard. Then there was the aroma. Roses, but like no roses she had ever smelled on earth. She opened her eyes. Before her stood two men. One was a stranger…and yet not. Asahel took Rebecca by the hand. She looked from his face to the face of the other man. Theodore! But not the Theodore she had known. He was strong and healthy. Wisdom and understanding shone from his eyes. He took her other hand. “Welcome, sister,” he smiled.
Together, the trio turned, then fell to their knees and Rebecca Marie Elaine Lawson heard the one voice she had always longed to hear. “Welcome and well done, My good and faithful servant.”
Signs of Summer
The longest days of the year…who doesn’t revel in the nearly sixteen hours of daylight? It is as if our bodies know instinctively that God created us to be creatures of light…creatures craving and seeking the light of His word and the light of His presence.
Strawberries and raspberries and blueberries, oh my! Eating them, picking them, eating them, preserving them, eating them, with fresh cream…such a wonderful combination of sweet and tart. They remind us of the sweetness of God’s word to us, His presence with us…and the tartness of His sometimes necessary reproof.
Growing season…isn’t amazing how the eye delights in the color green? Our eyes find rest in the verdant color, and yet this is a time of productivity. Farmers say on a hot and humid night, you can actually hear the corn growing. It is like the balance we find in the center of God’s will…working hard at what He has given us to do, yet finding rest in His Holy Spirit.
Flowers…everywhere. From roadside weeds to formal gardens, the earth is bursting with color and scent…attracting everything from honeybees to butterflies. Even Jesus pointed out the glory of the lilies of the field and esteemed it above the richest of Solomon’s robes…and reminded us that though glorious, their beauty is but fleeting. Yet our heavenly Father, if he will clothe the fields with such glory, will also surely clothe us…perhaps not in the latest fashion…but in His righteousness.
Heat…and humidity…after winter’s bone-chilling cold, the first few hot days are so welcome, but when the mercury rises to 90 or above with humidity to match, the heat becomes oppressive. We sweat just sitting in the shade, and are reminded that God told Adam and Eve that they and their descendants (that’s us!) would earn their livelihoods by the sweat of their brows. Yet God also promised a Savior. We are reminded of the consequences of sin and welcome Christ’s sacrifice for our sins more than a frosty lemonade on a hot day.
Mosquitoes…ants…earwigs…ugh! Why did God ever create such pests? He didn’t. I don’t know what purpose those creatures served in Eden, but it was surely beneficial. It was only after the fall, when Satan’s destructive power was unleashed, that they became pests. Yet Jesus told us that when we go forth in His name, we have the power to stop the enemy in his tracks. As for the mosquitoes…we’ll have to wait for the new heaven and the new earth for them to return to their non-bloodsucking ways.
Vacations…from work or from school, who doesn’t love vacations…even when you don’t go anywhere. Vacations are a reminder that God calls us to set aside time to recharge. It’s called “the Sabbath,” and whether you celebrate it on Saturday or on Sunday, it is a time to worship and honor God and make time just for Him.
” …a merry heart has a continual feast.” Proverbs 15 :15b
Oh. Ooh! Ahh! The sky erupts in a golden chrysanthemum followed by bursts that shade from white to green to magenta. The awed crowd trembles with the concussion of each shell and stares, open-mouthed, at the majestic fireworks. How much more majestic is the handiwork of God! We gaze in awe at Hubble’s pictures of nebulae and infant stars, or the Rover’s shots of the surface of Mars. We stare in wonder at crashing waves and howling winds. It isn’t hard to be reduced to humble silence in the face of the works of the Lord.
Whiz, whee, zing, thp.. .thp…thp. What is this? A shell dances in crazy curlicues across the sky in a shower of sparks. The solemn crowd bursts forth into laughter. No, the Bible never tells us that God laughs, but can’t you just see Father, Son and Holy Spirit chuckling together? “Let’s see what they’ll make of this one? How about a duck’s bill? Webbed feet? OK. But also fur. And just to make them really scratch their heads, how about letting it lay eggs and produce milk? They’ll call it a platypus.” What else but divine joy could make great whales leap into the sky just to crash back into the ocean in an explosion of foam or send playful otters chasing each other down a mud slide into a pond?
Yes, the world is in crisis. Disease, famine, riots, war, death are in every headline, on every tongue. But the God who made dancing dolphins, tail-chasing dogs and silly monkeys is still in control. It’s okay to smile.