Signs of Spring

Signs of Spring

Maple taps…the sap is running. Amazing how that works, isn’t it. The sap needs warm weather to reawaken it so it can feed the tree, but it also needs cold nights to produce a good flow with a high nutrient (sugar) content. God says of Scripture, and of Himself, taste and see how sweet. Just like the maple tree, we need to store that sweetness deep in our roots for the dormant seasons, but then we need let it flow and nourish others.

Melting snow…step outside. You can’t actually hear the snow melt, but you can hear the sound of running water…in the culverts on country roads, down the sidewalks in the town and just about everywhere. And just as water is running freely everywhere at this turn of the seasons, believers are to be streams of living water, sharing the gospel. Sure, some may only be a trickle while others are a river, but even a little rivulet brings new life.

Longer days…Isn’t it wonderful to step outside at 7:00 in the evening and still have light? Just about everyone responds to the lengthening of days with a spring in their step and a lightness in their moods. It’s as if our bodies know that our Creator designed us to be creatures of light…creatures craving and seeking His light and the light of His word.

Birds calling…in the Song of Solomon, spring is signaled by the calling of the turtledove. Around here, the cardinals have been hanging out at our feeder all winter. But now the males are staking out their territories, perching on the highest branches and singing their songs over and over again. Sure a naturalist might say it’s just instinct, but they sing with such joy and passion and persistence! Surely we can sing our Father’s praise with joy and passion and persistence, too.

Crocuses and snowdrops…such tiny, delicate flowers. Yet, they are able to push their way up through rock-hard frozen soil, spread their leaves out to the pale sunlight even with snow half-covering them and bloom with abandon in harsh circumstances. We are called to bloom where we are planted and to bear fruit…or blossoms…to bless others.

Ice break-up and rising rivers and creeks…even the smallest creek is choked with blocks of melting ice and out of its banks with snowmelt. Beautiful as Spring is, there are dangers associated with it. Small streams can carry away surprising amounts of soil and even roadways and bridges. Larger rivers can reach far from their banks into yards and basements and block roads and cause immense damage and even loss of life. Whatever is not firmly grounded can be swept away. Just so a believer not firmly grounded in Scripture and in fellowship with a local church can get swept away by the powerful currents of the world around us.


The Zombie Within

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6:3-4

Zombies are “in” right now. Movies and YouTube videos and even television commercials are made about zombies. Thousands play the game “Zombie Apocalypse” and entire internet forums are devoted to discussing the best way to prepare for and defend from an onslaught of zombies. I even have an acquaintance, a militant anti-theist who regularly rails against “your flying spaghetti monster in the sky” God and anything supernatural yet has a genuine, serious fear of zombies. Imagine that! Dismissing the eternal and very real God of the universe as a mental aberration at best and an outright lie at worst but fearing an imaginary, fictional creature! Well, I have news for my anti-theist friend…and for you as well. Zombies are real. Yes, you read that right. See, a zombie in Voodun tradition is a person who has died, been buried, and then been brought back to life but without a soul…in other words, an animated corpse.

The zombie master then sends the undead creature out to perform his will and destroy all life it comes in contact with.

“No such thing!” you scoff.

The truth is, every Christian has a zombie within. As the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans, when we believed and received the truth of Jesus Christ, we died with Him. Like a zombie, our old nature – the old Adam, the old Eve – was buried, not in earth, but in the waters of baptism. Like a proper corpse, that old nature is supposed to stay dead and buried. But there is a zombie master, our adversary the devil. And he calls forth our inner zombie to rise from its watery grave. All too often, he succeeds.

But there is good news. Ask any fifth-grader how to destroy a zombie and he will respond, “Shoot it in the head!” That’s right…aim for the head…and the heart. Filling your mind with the transforming, living power of the word of God is the necessary ammunition for annihilating the zombie within.


So This Is How It Is

I grew up Roman Catholic. There. I’ve said it. Baptized at one month, First Communion age seven, Confirmation age ten, twelve years of parochial school — run by the Dominicans, no less. (For those unfamiliar with the Catholic religious orders, the Dominicans are just one step removed from the Jesuits when it comes to emphasis on doctrine and academic rigor) I had pretty much given up on God because it seemed to me that He had given up on me by age fifteen, although I didn’t announce the breakup to my parents until I graduated from St. Catherine’s High School at seventeen. My father simply said, “Your decision.” My mother cried.

At age 20, God had chased me down through the persons of Sue Dubinsky Twombly, Steve Pederson, and Tony Burke. I tried for a year to reintegrate into the Catholic Church, even to the point of teaching Sunday Preschool. It didn’t work. So I entered the world of Evangelicalism. It was like stepping into a Baskin Robbins. What flavor should I choose this month? Some of the flavors were interesting indeed: Christian Reformed, Assemblies of God (can one get more polar opposites?), Independent Bible Church, Baptist, Methodist, and narrowly escaped a Shepherding house church movement. Finally, I ended up where I am — a tiny, Charismatic congregation affiliated with the Fellowship of Christian Assemblies that meets in a former funeral home.

I don’t mention my Catholic background much, except among my church family. Partly because of my extensive, extended family (I have/had 65 first cousins, all raised Catholic) that includes priests, nuns and even a bishop. Of course, that same extended family now includes atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and Unitarians. Mostly it’s because I don’t want to offend, but it has oalso been due to comments from my Uncle Red to my mother: “Don’t worry. She’ll come back (to the Catholic Church), unless she marries a Mennonite.”

Without a doubt, my Catholic education has colored what I believe. Yes, in my doctrine heavy religion classes for twelve years I paid attention. (I was also asking questions beginning in second grade that got me into trouble) There are elements that I miss. But I don’t foresee going back. Yet there are doctrinal points that Evangelicals can learn from. The biggest one is unanswered prayer — especially when it comes to healing.

After breaking several bones in childhood, I developed juvenile arthritis. I also suffered from severe dysmenorrhea, and had a go-round with ovarian cancer at age eleven. That was the physical aspect. From first grade onwards, I was the subject of intense bullying that included third degree sexual assault by older boys in my school when I was in sixth grade. At home, by age eight, my father was disabled and bipolar and our family fell into poverty. That was the psychological/emotional aspect. Regular, though intermittent physical pain combined with psychological trauma led to pervasive depression. Is it any wonder I gave up on God?

God did not give up on me, though at times I still wonder about that. See, as I’m rapidly closing in on 70, the pain hasn’t gone away. The arthritis has continued to worsen to the point the orthepedist bluntly stated I need new knees. After an overdue appointment with my new primary physician, I was referred to a cardiologist. Fortunately, the ticker is still ticking away fine. But conflicting theories from a rheumatologist and a neurologist still have not explained why I am partially blind in my left eye. The cardiologist printed out the list of ailments, illnesses, disorders with which I have been diagnosed. It filled an entire page. Physical pain is a daily companion. Negative changes in my circumstances, such as the deaths of my eldest sister and her youngest son, the imminent departure of friends to far away, trigger a recurrence of depression.

If you’re still reading this far, I am both impressed and somewhat astonished. In the Charismatic circles where I have landed, there is a huge emphasis on healing. Even back in my college days, I was told my physical ailments could be relieved if I simply had more faith. Over the years, in my church, many messages have been given, in a challenging tone, that it is God’s desire to heal and that depression is a choice. Along with those words comes the unspoken implication that if one is not healed, that if one still struggles with depression, one simply does not have enough faith…which of course, leads to feelings of guilt which leads to greater depression.

Over against this Evangelical doctrine of healing is the Catholic doctrine of suffering. As a schoolchild, I was introduced to stories of the lives of the saints in first grade. At the tender age of six, I began learning of the suffering and torments of the martyrs. A little older, and I learned those early church fathers (and mothers), if they were not under active persecution, often sought out physical pain in the form of the misericord, hair shirts, or chafing chains. Why? Because the Apostle Paul wrote that it was a privilege to share in the sufferings of Christ. I knew by the time I was seven years old that Paul had asked God to remove his “thorn in the flesh” three times and that God had said, “No.” That God had said His grace was sufficient. And so Paul said he would glory in his weakness so God’s glory would be magnified. Thus, at a age ten, after having walked the four blocks to school on crutches and grumbling about it, my teacher told me to hush up and “offer it up” and to be grateful I was being counted worthy of partaking in Christ’s suffering.

That is where I am today. I have prayed for relief from both the physical pain and the psychological darkness that engulfs me. My Pastor, the members of my congregation, my friends have prayed the same — countless, innumerable times. Yet even as I type this, my knees ache and a there is a shadow over the bright sunshine. And I wonder how many other people find themselves in the same place…caught up in some sort of pain or darkness and wondering why.

Yes, I know there will be some who will say that old Catholic doctrine of suffering is exactly what prevents my healing. There will be certain Evangelicals who will say that the gifts of healing ceased with the canonization of the Bible. And I suppose there will be some Catholics who will say that God only grants miracles to those who are especially worthy. What matters is this: the reality is that some people are healed and some are not. Some will only experience healing on that day when they stand face to face with God. And somehow, don’t ask me how — I don’t know, God’s glory will be made known in that weakness. Until that day, God’s grace is, must be sufficient. All I ask is that fellow believers offer that same grace.



Jason Geldworth drew a shuddering breath. In the waning glow of his headlamp he could see the tunnel he had been traversing the past four hours continued to narrow. Now, he could no longer crawl on his hands and knees, but was forced onto his belly with forward progress laboriously earned by digging in his elbows and pulling his body along. He fought to still his mind, the thought of the 200 feet of rock and soil above him bearing down on his crawl space threatened to crush him as surely as the inhospitable Mars surface itself. It was time for a rest. He was barely able to pull his supply pack past his ribs to retrieve a bottle of water. After a carefully measured four swallows, he switched off his headlamp, closed his eyes and listened. Aside from his ragged breathing and pounding heart, nothing. Silence. Blessed silence. In the colony, even in his 6’ by 8’ privacy pod, it was never silent. In the enveloping dark, in the cushioning silence, Jason slept.

Jason was a groundhog. The colony was divided into four echelons: the Corporation masters, the supervisors, the topsiders, and the groundhogs. The Corporation masters lived on the surface in domed communities. Rumor had it that each of them had his or her own four room house within the community. But that was just rumor. Jason had never seen it. He had never even seen the surface of Mars. The supervisors also had surface dwellings. While that was also communal housing, each supervisor had 100 square feet to call his or her own. The topsiders, although they shared bunk quarters with the groundhogs, spent their working hours on construction projects on the surface and their leisure hours in large caverns reserved for them where male and female topsiders could mingle freely. The groundhogs, like Jason, lived in gender segregated colonies consisting of their working space, a small commons area for non-working hours, and a privacy pod for sleep. Groundhogs were never allowed on the surface. As a groundhog, Jason spent ten hours a day in front of a computer screen monitoring oxygen levels in the domes and construction sites, weather – or at least as much weather as Mars had, and ore transport and traffic. Eight hours were allotted for sleep and the remaining six hours and 39 minutes were Jason’s free time – or at least as much as groundhogs, or even topsiders could ever count themselves free. 

As Jason slept, he dreamed. He dreamed of a second-floor apartment on Milwaukee’s north side. He could see pictures on the wall – pictures of a handsome man in a dark blue uniform with his arm around a pretty woman holding a swaddled baby – his father, his mother, and himself. Jason never really knew the man in the uniform; he had been killed in the line of duty during one of the many riots that ravaged the inner city. And while his mother bore a resemblance to the smiling woman in the picture, he could only see her with sadness in her eyes, graying hair, and premature wrinkles. But her voice. Oh, her voice. Jason could hear her voice…reading him stories, telling him about the man in the picture, singing him to sleep. With a chill, he also could hear her warnings: warnings to come directly home from school, warnings to not hang around the skate park, warnings of what the Corporation did with fatherless boys. Jason had ignored those warnings. Ignored them and had been caught up in one of the Corporation sweeps through his neighborhood. Children under the age of fifteen and children with two-parent homes were released. The others…  Jason soon found out the others were sent to a residential facility for a year. There, they underwent test after test to determine their strengths and abilities – and day after day of indoctrination. At the completion of the year, they were lined up to receive a physical. The last thing Jason remembered of his life on earth was the injection for the “vaccine.” When he next woke, he was on, or rather under, the surface of Mars.

Jason’s attempts to recapture the pleasant parts of his dream were what woke him. Panic nearly swallowed him as he felt the utter dark press in on eyes and mind. The fog cleared and he switched on his headlamp. Jason knew where he was now. He was escaping. Escaping to what, he didn’t know but for the moment to be out of the colony was enough. He looked at his chronometer. Twenty minutes. He had been asleep twenty minutes. They would know he was gone by now, but would they know where he had gone? Jason had been here two Martian years – nearly four earth years. By his reckoning, he was now 21, but such things as birthdays were not celebrated in the colonies. In fact, nothing that could remind a groundhog or a topsider of Earth was celebrated. That Jason could remember his past at all was an anomaly. Supposedly, the injection that sent him and all the other consignees into the long sleep erased all memory so that by the time they were wakened on Mars, they were blank slates – or almost blank slates – the Corporation’s indoctrination – the indoctrination that told them they were either groundhog or topsiders, were born either groundhogs or topsiders, and would always be groundhogs or topsiders owing total loyalty to the Corporation – was supposed to be the only thing they knew. 

Somehow, with Jason, the process failed. With that failure, from his very first day on Mars, Jason’s one thought was escape. After a few confused and  nearly disastrous attempts to discover what his fellow groundhogs remembered, Jason carefully kept his memories to himself. Yet he knew there were others like him, others who retained the memory of their life on Earth. Usually, they went mad. Now and again, a groundhog, and sometimes even a topsider, would lose it. The madness took several forms. Sometimes the person refused to come out of his privacy pod and report for shift. Other times he would start weeping, or screaming while on shift or in the commons or attempt to destroy his workstation. Some even managed to steal a pass to the access ports and head towards the surface. And some committed suicide. When it happened a squad of supervisors would descend, immobilize the person, and take them away, never to be seen again. Rumor had it they were taken to the surface and exposed where they perished in the thin Martian atmosphere. 

In Jason’s subterranean, Martian world, each colony was made up of interconnected caverns. One cavern held the workstations, another the commons area, and a third the privacy pods, bathing stations, and toilets. Meals were served in the commons and were delivered through the access ports. Jason knew that the food had to be prepared somewhere and he knew that the colonies also needed to be connected. As time went by and Jason’s skill at the monitors improved, he discovered he could tap into other channels than the ones he was assigned to monitor. He learned to hide his searches deep in the bowels of the vast memory banks to which the all the computers were connected and to limit his searching to no more than a minute at a time. It was in this way he discovered the tunnels, now long forgotten, between the colonies. With the exception of the spaceport, all the initial development on Mars had been underground. Only as the Corporation’s profits began to increase exponentially, were surface facilities developed, leaving the subterranean areas for the brainwashed and memory wiped workers. After two generations, general knowledge of the original underground network had disappeared.  It was to these tunnels Jason retreated when the memories and constant noise became too much for him. He was always cautious to be back where he was supposed to be when he was supposed to be there so as to allay suspicion.  After a mild Marsquake he found the crack. Over time, he picked away at it. The crack opened into a small cavern, but a natural cavern, not one that had been engineered. The cavern tapered as it went back, but the rear wall was not a wall at all but a bend. Beyond the bend was a tunnel, the tunnel Jason was now traversing. This tunnel was not on any of the charts of the early development of the Corporation’s Mars holdings, but as far as Jason had been able to determine, it ran parallel to the passage to the spaceport.

Jason had planned for months. He had squirreled away the energy bars groundhogs were given while at their workstations and retrieved a number of bottles from the recycler which he had filled with water. The headlamp he had cobbled together from bits and pieces he had scavenged from the topsiders’ quarters. The batteries had been a more difficult problem. He could only steal them one at a time and needed to allow weeks between thefts so the loss would not be noticed. The same, cautious process was needed to acquire the topsider protective clothing he now wore.

Another hour of squirming along on his belly passed. To Jason’s relief, the tunnel widened and he could once more crawl on hands and knees. One more hour and it would be time for Jason’s shift to begin. They would begin looking for him in earnest. Jason’s last theft had been a blatant one – an access port pass. He hoped the missing pass would direct the Supervisors’ search efforts to the surface. As much as was possible, Jason had wiped the history of his searches from his workstation computer, but a really talented programmer, like himself, would eventually be able to flnd it. By then, Jason hoped to be either long gone…or dead. An hour later, Jason’s progress came to a halt. Dead end. He could not go forward but he was never going back. Faced with a hopeless dilemma, exhaustion overtook Jason. He did the only reasonable thing he could think of. He slept.

A vibration and a bass rumble wakened Jason six hours later. Marsquake! Fear of being buried alive set Jason’s heart pounding, his breath escaping in rapid gasps. He could hear rocks tumbling in the darkness beyond the glow of his headlamp. Closing his eyes and clutching his knees to his chest, Jason could hear his mother singing to him when his fears ran rampant in his childhood nights. “Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so…” He mouthed the words of the song that had soothed his boyhood fears and recollected the stories his mother had read him from the Bible. Was Jesus here on Mars? Jason prayed…and then slept some more.

All was quiet when Jason opened his eyes again. He had slept another two hours and his headlamp barely flickered. Jason switched out the batteries. In the renewed gleam, he examined his surroundings. Rocks had fallen next to the dead end. Above the fallen rubble, the end was now not quite so dead. A hole, two hands’ width wide and four hands’ width high gaped above the rubble pile. Jason thrust his headlamp through the opening and could see light reflected from machined walls. The spaceport tunnel! He pulled a purloined pickaxe from his supply pack and began widening the aperture. In half an hour, he was able to slip through the gap. What a relief! To be able stand upright once more! Jason stretched and groaned, working out the tight spots in his muscles. He was hungry and thirsty, so he dug into his rations. He wasn’t fully satisfied when he stopped eating, but he was feeling much better. He stowed the remaining food and water away, slung his pack over his shoulder, and began to walk. The tunnel floor before him was covered in a thick layer of unmarked dust.

Jason had progressed a quarter mile when he came upon a steel door set into the side of the tunnel. He tried the handle and to his amazement, the door swung silently open. As he entered, lights came on. This frightened him as he imagined a power surge appearing on one of the monitors. He swiftly shut the door and looked for something to secure it and was relieved to see that the door itself was equipped with a bar which he swung into place. Feeling safer, Jason looked around. He felt as though he had entered a time machine or a museum exhibit. Along the rear wall ran a bank of obsolete computers and communications equipment. Over the consoles a framed picture on the wall held the portrait of a boyish appearing man. The plaque on the frame read, “Elon Musk.” Comfortable chairs, not bolted to the floor, faced each screen. Two doors each graced the parallel walls. Opening them, Jason discovered the ones on the left led to privacy pods, though considerably larger than his own. Each held a bed, A chest of drawers, end tables on either side of the bed and shelves filled with books. Real books. On the right side of the room, one of the doors opened to a tiny bathroom. Driven by curiosity, Jason turned the tap on the sink. The tap sputtered and gurgled for a long minute before emitting a thin stream of brown water. Jason quickly turned it off. Water was precious on Mars and its use was carefully tracked. The other door led to a storeroom. Jason was amazed at what he saw. Apparently when these quarters were abandoned, no one saw fit to empty them. One side of the room sported shelves filled with prepackaged meals and bottled beverages. On the other side, more shelves held clothing, bedding, tools electronic equipment, and more books…equipment manuals. Jason could live here for weeks.

Happy to have a power source, Jason plugged in his stolen tablet. He had taken every precaution he knew to shield it. Now, he could listen in to communications in the colonies. It had been sixteen hours since his escape, ten hours since the search had begun. As he had hoped, the search had focused on the access port. After several hours, the supervisors concluded he had made it to the surface and perished outside. He was written off as a suicide and the case was closed. Now, unless someone picked up anomalies in power and water usage and tracked it down to these abandoned facilities, he was safe. And the good news was that after a Marsquake, there would be anomalies for weeks, if not months.

The next few days, Jason ate, slept, and equally devoured the equipment manuals and books. Especially valuable to him were the schematics of the spaceport. Even though they were 50 years old, the basics had not changed. With his tablet, Jason learned and memorized the routines and flight schedules of the spaceport. The antique coveralls in the storage room were not significantly different from those of the current crews. Jason also learned that the spaceport was one thing not owned and controlled by the Corporation. It had been endowed by the Mars Project founder, Elon Musk, and had successfully fended off every attempt by the Corporation to acquire it.

Three weeks later, Jason was ready. An Earthbound ship was scheduled to depart the following day. Jason had tapped into the ship’s inventory and had managed to offload sufficient cargo to account for his weight and supplies. He had acquired the necessary codes to gain entrance to the unguarded ship before the crew boarded. Tonight was the night. Dressed in the antique coveralls Jason emerged into the spaceport just after midnight. He found his way to the one pressurized cargo hold and set up his makeshift launch mattress. Mars might have lower gravity than Earth, but liftoff still generated a lot of G-force. Now he just had to wait and hope he wasn’t discovered before launch.

Liftoff occurred with the Martian dawn. Pressed into his mattress, Jason could scarcely breathe for several long minutes. He was past the point of no return. Now, he needed to make his presence known to the crew and hope they wouldn’t jettison him out the nearest airlock. Jason floated in the dark to the cargo hold door. As he turned the handle, lights came on and alarms sounded. He was quickly surrounded by two men and a woman. He had expected anger and hostility but was surprised to see only relief on their faces. Their crisis was merely a human being, not a mechanical failure. It took a bit, but once Jason explained who he was, the security team brought him to the ship’s captain.

Captain Elizabeth Sutton greeted her stowaway kindly. “This is a first. I’ve never heard of anyone escaping from one of the Corporation’s slave labor camps before. I am glad to know it can be done. Those things are an abomination! The question is now, what do we do with you? Mass, fuel, food and water are all carefully calculated down to the last ounce on these journeys. We have to account for that and feed you.”

Jason interrupted. “I brought food and water with me.”

“How enterprising. But enough for seven months?”

“Seven months? I didn’t know it took that long. It’s one thing I didn’t research. When I was taken, the last thing I remember is being given an injection and then waking up in my colony on Mars.”

Captain Sutton frowned. “Seven months under sedation. It’s a wonder you survived. I’ve heard that many don’t. Well, taking into account your own supplies, the rest of the crew can plan on short rations for the trip. We don’t dare short our Corporation passengers, however. And speaking of the Corporation, we also need to keep you out of their sight. Nice uniform, by the way. It’s old, but it almost looks like one of ours.”

“Captain,” the first mate interrupted, “that gives me an idea. Those Corporation types never pay attention to any of the crew other than yourself. So, if he looks like a crew member, what says he can’t become one?”

“Good point, Rogers. So, what skills do you have?”

Jason answered, “I’m A groundhog, A programmer. I hacked into the Corporation servers while I lived in the abandoned spaceport communications center.”

Sutton grinned. “Excellent. I can use that. You will be able to earn your passage back to Earth. Sutton, find quarters and a uniform for our newest crew member. And, Mr. Geldworth, welcome to the Muskmelons.”

Seven months later on February 2, Jason Geldworth stepped out of the Cargo ship Elon and into the Texas sunshine. And the groundhog saw his shadow.



Twenty-one, twelve. According to some folks, the world is supposed to end tonight. Others interpret the date to signify that rather than ending, the world will be transformed. If it is, it will not be the first time the world has been transformed. We celebrate the most significant transformation of the world just a few days from now…the coming of God to earth.

Ever wonder what the world was in the beginning? Scripture says it was “without form and void.” Other translations say, “formless and empty,” “waste and void,” “barren with no form of life.” And all covered by deep, dark waters. But then it was transformed. How? By the Spirit and the Word of the Living God.

God, Father, Son and Spirit, thought and then spoke. The land was gathered up into one place, the waters consigned to another. Light consolidated into flaming spheres; one set just close enough to warm and energize the earth and to reflect from moons and planets, the others flung across the expanse of space.

He spoke again and velvety grass, delicate flowers, nourishing grains, succulent fruit trees, towering redwoods all came into being. He spoke again and jeweled hummingbirds, majestic eagles, comical puffins, singing whales, tiny minnows, leaping porpoises, briliant corals, transparent jellyfish filled the skies and the seas. Another word and mighty lions, fluffy sheep, sleek pythons, lumbering elephants, playful otters, long-necked giraffes traversed the forests and fields. They acknowledged their Creator and all were at peace with each other.

Song:“All Creatures of Our God and King” verses one, two and five

When the earth was filled with His wonders, God selected the most beautiful flowers, the choicest fruit and trees and made a garden. There he put the crown of His creation: a man and a woman – drawn from the soil but filled with His breath of life, earthy yet god-like, made in His image. “Cultivate the earth, transform it,” He told them.

Transform it they did…but not as God intended. For they listened to the voice of the evil one and disobeyed the one command their Father had given them. The earth was indeed transformed. Thorns sprouted upon roses. Thistles invaded the grain. Lions devoured lambs. Mosquitoes sucked the blood of living beings.

At that point, the Creator could have abandoned his grand experiment to entropy and chaos. He could have destroyed it and begun again. Instead, he held out hope to the children of His heart. He promised a Redeemer…One who would transform not only the earth, but their very hearts. He spoke a word of encouragement: the Redeemer would be born of woman and defeat the evil one. (Genesis 3:15)

Song: Comfort, Comfort You My People – verse one

Adam and Eve lived a long time, nearly a millennium, according to the Bible. Some of their children walked with God; many did not. In just ten generations, all but eight of their descendants had forgotten the Lord…and God once more determined to transform the earth. Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives, together with pairs of all the creatures of the earth would be the only ones to survive this transformation. In just under a year and two months, the world was changed forever. As Noah and his family worshiped the Lord, God promised never to destroy the earth with water again.
Time and again, God wrought transformations – the transformation of a pagan tribesman into a man who not only spoke, but bargained with God; the transformation of a barren, elderly woman into a mother; the transformation of seventy people into a nation of millions; the transformation of a dreamer into rescuer; the transformation of a lowly, forgotten shepherd boy into a king; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Deborah, Samuel, David…to them and through his prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, Micah, Zechariah, God repeated His promise of a coming Redeemer King. The promises were veiled in prophecy, and the One they described hardly fit the description of a king.

Time and again, the Lord called His people to transformation. Time and again, the people strayed. Yet always there was a remnant, a few who remained faithful, who yearned for the coming of the promise.

Song: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

In the fullness of time, God the Father again prepared to transform the earth, not through flood or earthquake or fire, but through Himself. Over and again God gave to his people prophecies of His coming…but not as a conquering hero who would crush their enemies, but as a suffering servant, One who would pay the price of mankind’s rebellion.

Song: Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Once more as a result of their unfaithfulness and coldness of heart, God’s people felt the steel of oppression. Once more they cried out to Him for deliverance. And now the stage was set. In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. (Luke 1:5-7) Another barren old woman was about to be transformed into a mother and a doubting old man into a father.

Was this miracle child to be the One? No. But he would be a messenger, a herald, one who would go and tell when the time was right.

Song: Go Tell It On the Mountain

The transformations continued. In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-38)

An unsuspecting fiancé, surprised, shocked and disappointed to find that his beloved was suddenly pregnant, would be transformed into a rock of protection for his bride-to-be and his foster child. This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1: 18-21)

On the international stage, another transformation, centuries in the making had occurred. An enormous portion of Europe, northern Africa and western Asia had come under the control of one city…Rome. Wars, diplomacy, intrigue, murder, had consolidated absolute power into the hands of one man…Augustus Caesar. Whether he desired to know just how large his empire was, or more practically, how much wealth he could amass through taxation, he declared that a census be taken of all his empire. In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. (Luke 2: 1-4)

Song: O Little Town of Bethlehem

And there in the chilly fields of a tiny village the heavens were transformed by the appearance of the heavenly host to a band of outcast, frightened shepherds. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Song: Angels We Have Heard on High

Invisible to all but a few, earth became transformed by the appearance, in the form of a tiny baby, of the Son of God, born to a poor carpenter and his virgin wife. We all know the story…how she gave birth to a boy, swaddled Him in strips of cloths just like any ordinary baby, and put Him to bed in a manger, an animal’s feeding trough. Poor and outcast, shepherds came to worship Him. Later, wealthy men of science, astrologers, the Magi came to pay Him homage.

Song: We Three Kings

But then He vanished into obscurity…hardly the characteristic of a king…yet not for long. Last heard of as a boy of twelve, He returned as a man to preach the coming of a new transformation…the transformation not of the physical earth, but the transformation of people’s hearts

Song: O Come All Ye Faithful

The story is not yet done. Darkness and earthquake signaled the next transformation as the price for our sin was paid upon a wooden cross on a forsaken hillside. And then death itself was transformed as Jesus conquered it and arose in glory. Frightened fishermen, tax collectors and rebels were transformed into bold messengers of a new world to come, one that has already begun. And as they were transformed, so to are we…and commanded to go forth into the world to continue its transformation.

Twenty-one, twelve. Some say the world will end tonight, others that it will be transformed. We who believe on the Son of God know that one more great transformation is coming…a transformation that will change all that is broken, evil, dark and frightening into a world of justice, righteousness, peace and glory. As we wait, with great anticipation, let this night be one in which He once more transforms our hearts.

Song: Silent Night


A Service of Lessons and Carols

The Christmas story. It began in light and ends in light. For once upon a time, before there was time, the Creator God, together with His image, the Son and their Power, the Holy Spirit, existed in uncreated light. Then with the Spirit brooding over the face of the darkness, the Creator said, “Let there be light!” And there was light. And God saw that the light was good and God separated the light from the darkness. And God called the light day and the darkness, he called night. Genesis 1:3-5

Into that created light, God planted a garden. And into that garden, God planted a man and a woman. In that perfect place, the man and the woman enjoyed both kinds of light, the created and the uncreated. For in the daytime, the bright new sun shone kindly upon them and in the evenings, the uncreated God of the universe with His glory but slightly veiled, walked hand in hand with the woman and the man, as a man might walk with friends. But the woman and the man listened to the voice of darkness. They listened, they sinned and they hid from the light. God knew what they had done and into the darkness of mankind’s sin He said to the servant of darkness, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed. You shall bruise his heel, but He shall crush your head.” So the promise was made to redeem the children of men. Genesis 3:15

Seed time and harvest followed each other without number. Again and again God chose certain men and women. Abraham was called to walk with God in a desert night. There under the light of myriads of stars, he was told to count the heavenly host. Just as innumerable as the stars would his descendants be. With Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David He made covenants and called the people to a life of holiness. He promised Moses, “The Lord your God will raise up a Prophet, like you from the midst of your brethren, and I will put words in His mouth and He will speak all that I command.” Deuteronomy 18:15

Again and again, the people turned from the light of His word, the light of His law, the light of His temple to the darkness. Again and again, God anointed prophets to renew His promises, to remind His people of the Light to come and to call His children back to Himself. In one such age, teetering on the edge of calamity, one such prophet spoke, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. And light shall shine upon those who live in a dark land. You will multiply the nation and increase Your people’s gladness. Their gladness, the gladness of harvest will be Your very presence among them.” Isaiah 9:2-3

Yet again the man of God spoke of a time to come, a time of promise, “The Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and His name shall be called ‘Immanuel”

which is ‘God with us.’ For unto us a Child will be born. Unto us a Son will be given. And the government shall rest upon His shoulders. And His name shall be called, Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace, there shall be no end.” Isaiah 7;14, 9:6-7

Carol: “Unto Us a Child Is Born”

Looking to the future, he said yet again, “Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord, the uncreated light of heaven is risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples. But the glory of the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. The nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your rising.” Isaiah 60:1-3

Carol: “Arise, Shine for the Light Has Come”

Still the people did not listen for long and calamity came. In the midst of captivity, the promise of the Creator did not die. God called yet more men and women to speak for Him and to them He gave visions of the light to come. “Behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven and He was brought near to the Ancient of Days. And there was given to Him dominion and the light of glory, that all nations, tribes and tongues should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away nor ever be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13

Even after the people returned to their land, even after the temple had been rebuilt, even though they no longer followed after strange gods, yet their hearts grew cold. The glory of the Lord departed from the temple and for 400 years, darkness covered the face of the world. Yet still, the Spirit of God brooded over the face of the darkness. From the realms of uncreated light, from the highest of heavens, “…in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee named Nazareth. He was sent to a virgin named Mary, engaged to a carpenter named Joseph who was of the house of David. And the angel came to her and said, ‘Greetings most favored one!…fear not Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive and bring forth a Son and you shall call His name, Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High God and the Lord shall give Him the throne of His father, David. He shall rule over the house of Jacob forever and of His kingdom, there shall be no end.” Luke 1:26-33

Carol: “Welcome to Our World”

So the Light of the universe left the splendor of heaven and entered the darkness of a woman’s

womb. The promise was about to be fulfilled. “Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that a census be taken of the whole inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to register for the census in the city of his forefathers. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the village of Nazareth, to Judea, the city of David, which is Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, in order to register, along with Mary, who was engaged to him and who was with child.” Luke 2:1-5

Carol: “Breath of Heaven”

“And it came about that while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her first born Son and she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the guest rooms.” Luke 2:6-7

Carol: “Away In a Manger”

A manger. An animal’s feed trough in a dark, shallow cave. This was the cradle for the Light of the world, the birthplace of the promise of God, first spoken in the light of a garden many millennia ago. Though humble and crude, the stable could not contain the glory of eternity. “In the same region, there were shepherds staying out in the fields, keeping watch over their sheep by night. An angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were greatly afraid. The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all people; for today in the city of David, there has been born for you a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find the child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest. And on earth, peace among men with whom He is well pleased.'” Luke 2:8-14

Carol: “Angels We Have Heard On High”

“And it came about when the angels had returned from them into heaven, the shepherds said among themselves, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the Baby as He lay in the manger. And when they had seen this, they made known all they had been told about the Child…and the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen.” Luke 2:15-20

Carol: “What Child Is This”

The good news about the promise of God to redeem the children of men is that it was not given just to one people. Nor was the message delivered to just one, tiny, insignificant, occupied nation. The light was manifest far and wide. In a distant land, far to the east, scholars studied the light of heaven. A startling message was written upon the sky. “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, wise men, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’ When King Herod heard this, he was troubled and all of Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet, “and you, Bethlehem, land of Judah; are by no means the least among the rulers of Judah. For out of you shall come a ruler, who will shepherd my people, Israel.”‘” Matthew 2: 1- 6

Carol: “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

“Then Herod called the magi and sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go. Search for the Child. When you have found Him, report to me that I might come and worship Him too.’ And having heard the king, they went their way and lo, the star they had seen in the east went before them until it came and stood over where the Child lay. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. They came into the house and saw the Child with Mary, His mother. They fell down and worshiped Him and opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.” Matthew 2:6-11

Carol: “O Come All Ye Faithful”

Glowing angels, brilliant, erratic stars. The glory of eternity veiled in the flesh of a tiny baby. The story of Christmas began in light and it ends in light, though not quite yet. For over the manger cradle lies a shadow–the shadow of a cross. Even in this moment of joy, we cannot forget that shadow. Without it, remarkable as the events of 2,000 years ago were, the birth would be just that of another small child and no one would now object to seeing it depicted. On the other side of that final shadow the uncreated Light of the universe shines out unveiled upon the earth. We celebrate and remember that “in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, made of woman, made under the law,” and “made of Himself no reputation but took the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of a man,” but who still is and ever will be “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.” “Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh,” “being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, of whom He said, ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.'” Galatians 4:4; Philippians 2:7; Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 3:16; and Hebrews 1:3, 6

From the other side of the grave, the Light of the universe rules now in uncreated glory. Still the story is not ended. Just as the sun gives light to the moon which brightens the dark skies of earth, Jesus Himself says to each of us, “You are the light of the world. A city set upon a hill cannot be hidden. Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify the Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14, 16 So put up a string or two of Christmas lights. Light a candle. Kindle a fire. Share the light of Christmas with those you meet. Celebrate the Child, who is the Light.

Carols: “Celebrate the Child “I Will Worship”


Carol: “Silent Night”


An Other Christmas

November 26

It has been exactly one year since my husband, Jamben, now James Caphtor and I, Admah, now Adelaide celebrated the feast of Thanksgiving with our Amish friends in the rural north of the state of Wisconsin. We arrived on this planet, refugees from the Imperium, nearly two years ago. It has been nearly two years of discovery, adaptation, joy and pain.

Enroute to this, our sanctuary, we had no idea the planet was populated. Our prophet only gave us the coordinates he had received in a vision when we fled the deadly persecution the Imperium unleashed upon the followers of Jothavah, the Herdsman and Pneumos. Upon finding this world inhabited, we decided that it would be best to separate into small family clans and disperse among the various nations and people groups rather than remain as a group of 137 souls. Well, now 149 souls…22 infants have been born among us. In this way, we have assimilated into the surrounding peoples. Our homes are now in places with names like Russia, India, Europe, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Australia, here in the United States of America and China.

James and I, along with my brother Abraham and his wife Polly, have found a fulfilling, if sometimes puzzling life here on our farms. Following the example of our neighbors, they are  homeschooling their five children. It turns out Wisconsin is friendly to such endeavors.  Our son, Jesse has just begun to walk. He is the greatest joy we have experienced. We have grown close to our Amish neighbors, but some of their community are uncomfortable with us worshiping with them. So, we have found a small church in the closest town that has embraced us as family. Unlike our immediate neighbors, the members of this congregation are curious about us and ask many questions. We cannot tell them we come from another world, so as much as I hate falsehoods, we say we are from a large city by the name of Los Angeles in the state they call California. Upon hearing that news, the church members offered us much sympathy. When pressed further as to the conditions there, we merely shake our heads and they say they understand. They congratulate us for “getting out.”

I cannot begin to express the joy of being able to worship our Creator without fear of death. Unfortunately, not all our family groups have found such freedom. We have heard nothing from the nine spies who were settled in China, so do not know whether they are alive or not. But the clan in Russia reports many restrictions. They have encountered an established church that indeed worships Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as do our Amish and Mennonite neighbors and the congregation we attend, but they have many highly formalized rituals and its officiants do not take kindly to questions. Our shipmates near Bathhurst, Australia also face many restrictions upon their movements due to the pandemic, as well as an insistence they receive vaccinations against it. As far as we can tell, the virus does not seem to affect us and we have no idea if the vaccine will cause us damage. While the clan in Uganda are quite happy with their surrounding communities, they are concerned about political unrest. Others, have grave reservations about their ability to maintain their faith, and more importantly, the faith of their children among so many strangers. Although James has compiled a theological comparison of this Earth’s Christianity and our beliefs and has declared them to be compatible, there are those who call it syncretism and whisper the word, “heresy.”

And so, several groups have voiced a desire to return to our ship, the Archon, and search for a different sanctuary. Since I am the pilot of the ship, they wish for me to join them. We haven’t much time for a decision. The Archon, which is now shielded by the planet’s moon, is scheduled to launch into this solar system’s sun in just eight weeks. James, Abraham, Polly, and especially our children are so happy here, as am I. To leave it all behind for uncertain prospects of finding another habitable planet seems foolish to me. I have suggested relocation to these groups since the United States seems large enough for us to maintain disparate settlements without arousing undue suspicion. Some seem amenable, but others are insistent upon leaving.

To that end, we have invited representatives to visit us and discuss the matter in person. For those who face this world’s travel restrictions, they will arrive in their life slips, which fortunately still have fuel and can fly shielded from the various governments’ detection devices.

November 29

I have written that we have experienced much joy in this new world. Today, I weep with the pain of it. One would think that a planet which saw the actual birth, death, and resurrection of the Herdsman, Jesus, would be a place of limitless joy and perfection. Sadly, it is not so. While I was hanging out washing to dry (Mondays seem the traditional time to do laundry, here) I heard a vehicle roar past our land at a high rate of speed. Moments later, I heard a terrible crash and the terrified whinnying of horses. The car had crashed into the rear of the Yoder’s carriage. Their eldest son was taking his younger siblings and cousins to school. I called for James and Abraham and we rushed to the scene.

The wooden carriage lay splintered in the road. One horse lying on its side in the ditch, neighing piteously. The other had broken free and was running down the road. But what pierced my heart were the children. Oh, the children! Abner Yoder was crawling from one small body to another, though he was obviously wounded himself. James called emergency services as we did whatever we could to help. Besides being a teacher, Abraham is a healer. Three of the little bodies were silent and still. Seven were still breathing. Abraham’s skill allowed him to sense the degree in damage in each, but though the Terrans and us are very much alike in many ways, also in many ways, we are different, and he could not use his skills to mend them. Polly had taken it upon herself to contact the Yoders, and soon they and their extended families joined us at the scene. Abraham directed the new arrivals as to how best to aid Abner and the smaller children. Then the ambulances arrived. Again, Abraham gave a description of each child’s injuries, both external and internal, to the first responders. Some were skeptical, but others, from our church acted upon his advice. Then the helicopters arrived to take the most grievously wounded to the nearest hospital.

All the while, the man who had driven the car into the buggy stood alongside his vehicle that was now in the opposite ditch alternately speaking to someone on his mobile phone and cursing loudly. He appeared to be uninjured, but had made no move to assist the children. Instead, as more Amish and Mennonite families arrived, he shouted at them. “Filthy foreigners! You use our roads and don’t pay taxes! You bleed us dry! You’re un-American leeches!” The barrage of abuse continued until the police arrived and an officer bluntly told him to shut up before handcuffing him and seating him in the back seat of police cruiser. The other officer unholstered his gun and did what was necessary for the injured horse. The Yoders climbed into one of the ambulances with their son Abner. After the last ambulance departed and the officers had taken pictures of the scene, friends of the Yoders cleared away the broken carriage and the dead horse. Besides Abner and the children, I was the closest witness of the event. I related how I noticed the sleek black car speed past my yard and then heard the crash. When asked how fast the vehicle was travelling, I needed to do some rather complicated math in my mind. I am an experienced pilot…of both space and land vehicles, but the system of measurement used in this country takes some getting used to. I was able to place the speed at least 70 miles per hour. Our road is rated for 45.

It was nearing the noon hour before we were finally able to return to our homes. James and I held Jesse close for a long, long time. And then I lay down on my bed and wept. If there could be such hatred for little children by a man’s, no, a creature’s (he does not deserve to be called a man) own species, then what would this world’s reaction be to us, who truly are aliens. Perhaps, just perhaps, the dissenters are correct in desiring to leave this planet.

It was what happened next that cemented my commitment, as well as James’, Abraham’s and Polly’s commitments to remain. Two more of the children perished on their way to the hospital. Abner would live, but his injuries would cripple him the rest of his life. The remaining five children would also recover but to varying degrees of health. The two oldest children who died were Abner’s brother and sister. The other three were each from a different family. All told, four families had lost at least one child.

By early afternoon, the Yoder’s yard was filled with both carriages and automobiles. Men went to the barn to see to all the chores. Women carried in baskets of food. Several even brought baskets of food to James and I and Abraham and Polly. They thanked us profusely for coming to the aid of their friends and then told Abraham and James to not worry about evening milking. The love poured out on us was a balm to my grieving heart.

Two days later, funerals were held for the five children. We all were invited. We rode to the cemetery with cousins of the Yoders. To my amazement, there was little weeping. Their preacher spoke of Jesus calling the children to Himself and blessing them, and of the angels of the children who are ever present before the face of God. He spoke of the joys the children now experienced and urged his congregation to live such lives that they may one day join them. And then he spoke of forgiveness. The driver of the car would face this State’s justice, but the preacher urged his people to pray for the man and for his salvation. I was thunderstruck. Yes. I know that the Lifebuch and our prophets commanded us to forgive and pray for the forces of the Imperium which persecuted us and drove us from our homes, but I had never seen such a concrete example of it. Through the pain, joy once again bloomed in my heart and I knew my family and I would not leave this world.

December 5

Fourteen delegates from the clans who wish to relocate or leave have descended upon us. Since we still have access to the Archon’s data systems, we will be able to create new documentation for those who will come to America. That left nine who were insistent upon leaving. They said they simply could not remain on such a fallen world. When James reminded them that our own worlds, our own people were fallen as well, they closed their ears. When their anger against me, upon learning my family would not leave Earth, erupted, James and Abraham stepped between us. They wanted to leave. Without a pilot, they could not leave. I was the pilot and would not leave. Impasse. Even those who wished merely to relocate called me selfish. That night, as we retired, I wept in James’ arms.

December 6

They celebrate a day here called the Feast of St. Nicholas. We woke this morning to find stockings filled with nuts, candies and oranges hanging on our doors. (It is a good thing the delegates’ life slips are heavily shielded. I cannot imagine the fright our benefactors would have experienced seeing ten “flying saucers” in our cow pasture) The gifts were a welcome bright spot in what I feared would be another fractious day. However, it was Abraham’s eldest son Asher who delivered a solution to the stalemate. “Why not teach someone from the dissenters how to pilot the Archon? Then they can leave and you don’t have to”

Poor lad. I scooped him up, kissed him soundly and thoroughly embarrassed him. James and Abraham thought it a brilliant solution. As soon as the delegates reassembled, I told them. “Send me two of your most mathematically and mechanically adept members by the day after tomorrow. I will spend the next two weeks teaching them to pilot the Archon. If at the end of that time, you are still resolute in your desire to depart, the ship is yours.” To my surprise, they agreed and very shortly after, the cows had free run of their pasture once more.

December 8

Parvaden Bestre and Chandrell Marphael arrived at dawn. Within the hour we were on our way to the Earth’s moon and the Archon hiding behind I, 4t. Scarcely underway, my arms ached for Jesse, but my husband, brother, and sister-in-law would take good care of him.

December 9

I never expected to set foot upon the Archon’s bridge ever again. The air felt stale and a thin film of dust coated the consoles, but they sprang to life at my touch. Parvaden and Chandrell were eager students, but there was so much to teach them. Not just the mechanics of the star drive, but the star maps themselves. We were far beyond the reach of the Imperium (may it ever be so!) and the charts from that time were of no use. Of course we recorded every system we encountered on our journey, but we also had no prophet to give the travelers coordinates to aim for. I tried to drive this point home to my students, but Parvaden said, “Even if we die in space, better to perish among the stars than for our souls to fester in that place called Minsk.”

We spent long days as I both taught the pair and created reference manuals for them. Nights, sleep fled as I racked my brains trying to imagine and anticipate every possible hazard the travelers might face. And all the while, I ached to hold my husband and my little boy.

December 22

Today, I depart for Earth alone. Parvaden and Chandrell will remain with the Archon and tomorrow, the dissenters, 47 in all, will begin to arrive. They anticipate leaving this world’s orbit in two day’s time, and may Johatvah, may Jehovah, be with them.

December 23

I arrived home to find it completely prepared for the holiday. James had let it be known at church that I was visiting relatives and the ladies took it upon themselves to see to it that I would have nothing to do when I returned home. Garlands of greenery hung from both porches. A decorated tree was in the common room…with wrapped presents underneath! The kitchen gleamed and a large turkey held pride of place in the cooler. Shortly after my arrival, the Yoders, all seven of them came by for a visit. I could see the ache in Martha Yoder’s eyes, but they spoke nothing but kindness and cheer. Abner was making his way around the room on crutches. My heart burned for their loss…and for their courage. I assured Martha that I had everything under control and that together with Polly, we would be able to prepare our own feast. After all, it was our second Christmas on Earth.

December 24

James, Abraham, Polly and I were eager to attend the children’s evening service at church. My nieces and nephews would be portraying shepherds and angels in the production, and even though Jesse was a toddler, being the youngest available, would be the infant Jesus. Pine, beeswax, coffee, chocolate, and peppermint scented the air of the church as we entered. I could not help but shed a tear as the ancient story was retold in halting words and off-key song. To think these events had occurred on this very world. My mind went back to childhood and my parents telling me the story of how the stars above our homeworld changed their courses and all the prophets of Jothavah, on the same night, received the same dream…of a deliverer who had been born into the Universe, the Herdsman taking on mortal flesh to atone for our unrighteousness. What our people saw written in the stars, happened right here. After the service we returned home and put our respective, very excited children to bed. Miriam Yoder had walked over to supervise the children while we adults returned to church for the midnight service. Lit only by candles, we rejoiced in the fellowship of believers as we celebrated anew the most amazing mystery of the Universe. Then we hurried back home so James could drive Miriam back to her farm.

Jesse was a warm, sleeping weight in my arms when James came in. He told me to put Jesse in his crib and come with him. I wrapped my shawl tightly around me as the chill wind shivered my bones. James carried a lantern and led me to the barn. At first all I heard was the snuffling and snorting of the cows and goats. But then. But then, I heard a baby’s cry. My eyes widened, but James signaled me to silence. The last stall in the barn was supposed to be empty, but it was not. My breath caught as I saw the young man and even younger woman settled on a straw bale cradling an infant. Her skirts and the straw around were blood stained and I knew she had just given birth. The pair turned to us, and I recognized them…Marya and Joe Marphel…Chandrell’s son and daughter-in-law.

Fear filled their eyes. James hurried to reassure them that they were in no trouble. I wrapped my shawl about Marya while James took the baby and we led them into the house. Settling them in front of the fire, I pulled out a clean gown and robe for Marya and one of Jesse’s old onesies and blanket. Then I poured them mugs of hot cider and sliced sausage and cheese for sandwiches. Clean, fed, and warm, Joe told us their story.

“Life wasn’t that bad in Australia,” Joe began. “I couldn’t see why my parents were so keen on leaving. Marya and I had pledged ourselves to each other on the ship, but my father thought we were too young. We renewed our betrothal once we settled near Bathhurst. James, we read your commentary and right away saw the parallels between our faith and Christianity. But my father called it heresy. I know we are supposed to honor our parents, but both Marya and I had reached our majority. We found a church. We found friends in the church. So then, on the same day, we were baptized and married. We told our parents about the marriage, but not the baptism.

So father was in communication with others of our people who also wanted to leave this planet. And when the possibility became a reality, he insisted we come with. Marya was about to give birth and I didn’t want our child to be born, and most likely die in space. Marya’s parents locked her in her room right up until departure time. I told my father I wanted to be in the same lifeslip with her, and he agreed. So then I told Marya’s parents that my father wished for Marya to travel with me since I was her husband. Then the two of us departed with the other life slips, but once in orbit, we changed course and came here and hid in your barn. We delayed reentry as long as we could so there would be no chance of either of our parents coming after us. They won’t, will they?”

James said, “No, they won’t. The Archon left orbit this morning. The ship is big enough that, Joe, if your parents think you are with Marya’s people, and Marya, your parents think you are with Joe’s people, it will be at least a few hours before they know you are missing. By then it will be too late to return.”

I said, “It’s Christmas morning, and it appears we have our very own Christmas miracle. Just look at that darling baby boy. It’s also very late and our family will be gathering here for a feast in just a few hours. So why don’t we find the two of you a nice bed. James, would you mind getting Jesse’s bassinet out of the attic?”

So he did, and set it up in the spare room. In just moments all three of our guests were asleep. James said, “You know, in this world’s Bible, the King James Version says there was no room in the inn. But in my studies, I found that the original language says there was no room in the guest room. I’m so glad we have room in our guest room for our own Christmas miracle.”


Pie Wars

If there was anything Martha Hemmersbach was proud of, it was her family and her Thanksgiving feast. Martha and her husband, Arnold were the parents of eight children, six of whom were grown and flown the nest. The two youngest, twins, Abigail and Amanda were high school seniors. Eldest son, Arnold Junior and his wife Felicity along with their two girls and two boys, lived in Port Wing, just a few miles down the road from the Hemmersbach farm. Arnold Jr. now managed much of the farm work, and as soon as Abigail and Amanda left home, he and his family would move into the 125-year-old farmhouse. Martha and Arnold would then move to the Dawdy house on the edge of the back pasture.

Eldest daughter Anne was an elementary school teacher in Oulo while Frank farmed along with their teen-aged sons. Second son, Andrew, was a realtor. He and Sarah and their daughter lived in Port Wing. Third son Alex and Rebecca were kept busy with their three boys and two girls just outside Ashland with the resort they owned and managed. Second daughter Agnes was a nurse at the hospital in Duluth and married to Phillip, a doctor. They had a boy and a girl. And of course, Amanda and Abigail lived at home. It was Martha’s youngest son who gave her fits. While seven of her children and their families all lived within an hour of the homestead as was proper, Albert and his wife Tiffany both lived and practiced law in Asheville, North Carolina. Martha was certain it had been Tiffany’s idea to hold a destination wedding in the Bahamas, with her brother Trevor serving as best man. While all her family attended the wedding, only Martha and Arnold had been able to make the trip. To top it off, though they had been married for three years, there was not a hint of a baby on the way. Well! At least they were coming home for the entire week before Thanksgiving so Albert could go hunting with his brothers. Martha had spent a week scrubbing down the Dawdy house so they would have a place to stay, even though Tiffany had asked about hotel reservations.

The second thing Martha was proud of was her Thanksgiving feast. Over the course of 40 years of marriage, she had perfected every aspect of it. And it wasn’t even as much work as it had been in the early years since Martha delegated the various elements of the feast, along with her recipes, to her adult children. Arnold Jr. was responsible for the mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and the venison roast; Alex for the Jello salad and candied sweet potatoes; Andrew, the baked squash and succotash; Anne, the baked beans and dinner, and because they  had the farthest to travel, Agnes brought the relish tray, bleu cheese dip, and five-cup salad. The twins would help Martha with the turkey, sage, onion and chestnut stuffing and giblet gravy. Martha would bake the pies: Dutch apple, pumpkin, schnitz, and mincemeat. She had accumulated numerous blue ribbons for all of them at past county fairs. As for as Albert and Tiffany, well, coming from North Carolina, they were guests. All told, the farmhouse would be filled to bursting with 30 people.

November 2, Martha began cleaning and then decorating. The brightest autumn leaves were dipped in a thin coat of paraffin, tied into leafy bouquets filling many vases and scattered singly across the mantlepiece. Squash, corn shocks, pumpkins, and Indian corn graced the wide porch of the old farmhouse. All the leaves of the dining room table were set into place. The extra chairs were brought in from the shed and dusted off. The children’s table was set up in the living room.

Friday, November 19, Arnold drove to the airport in Duluth to pick up Albert and Felicity. Martha proudly showed them into the Dawdy house. “It has two bedrooms, a full, eat-in kitchen along with a fully stocked refrigerator, bathroom with shower and tub, and a living room with a TV and stereo. And we do have Internet. Much nicer than any motel you could find around here.” Noticing Tiffany’s shiver, she also pointed out the Franklin stove, already with a fire burning merrily. “There’s plenty of wood stacked outside, and if you bank the fire and leave the bedroom door open, you’ll be plenty warm all night. Albert should remember how to tend the fire, but if you have a problem, we are just across the pasture.” Then Martha left them to settle in.

The next morning, all the men were gathered in Martha’s kitchen at 5:00 o’clock. She served them a hearty breakfast and handed out thermoses of coffee and packages of substantial sandwiches before they headed for the woods. The family owned 50 acres of forest a half mile away that abounded with deer and other wildlife, so they were sure they would get lucky. As soon as the men were gone, Martha began making pie dough. She would bake the mincemeat pies today, as those had the best staying power. Monday, she would make the Dutch apple and schnitz pies and Wednesday, the pumpkin pies. Arnold would butcher the turkey on Monday, giving it a couple days to hang.

Just before noon, Martha was startled by a knock on the door. Tiffany. She had slept in and now was wondering if Martha had a blender, coconut water, banana, avocado and kale for her morning smoothie. Martha stared. Oh, of course, she had heard of such things on public television cooking shows, but almost none of those ingredients were to be found in her kitchen. She stammered, “Um…well, I have bananas. And a blender (it had been a gift for their 25th wedding anniversary), but I don’t have any of those other things. I don’t even think you can get them at the IGA in Port Wing. I can make you some bacon and eggs for breakfast.” (All the while thinking there were both in the fridge at the Dawdy house)

Tiffany looked horrified. “Bacon and eggs?”

Martha had a glimmer of an idea. If the poor girl couldn’t stomach bacon eggs in the morning, perhaps there WAS a child on the way. “Or, if that doesn’t suit you, how about some oatmeal?”

“Is it organic?” Tiffany asked.

“I’m sure it is,” Martha replied, although she was sure of no such thing. “It’s locally grown.”

“Well, I guess that will have to do,” the young woman said.

While Martha busied herself with cooking the oatmeal, Tiffany wandered about the kitchen. Martha’s list of who was bringing what for the big day was posted on a cupboard door. “What’s this?” Tiffany asked.

“Oh, that’s the menu for Thanksgiving. I’ve shared all my recipes with my children so we will have our traditional feast. If you lived closer, I would have asked Albert to bring something, but after all, you are guests.”

Tiffany surveyed the list, her frown deepening with every item. “What is this?” she did not speak the thought aloud. “No cornbread dressing? No fried okra? No macaroni and cheese? No sweet potato pie, no chess pie, no pecan pie? And she calls this traditional?” What she managed to say, was, “Wow, that’s a lot of food.”

“We don’t eat that way every day. It is after all, Thanksgiving,” said Martha. “Here now, sit and have your oatmeal. Would you like milk with it or butter and maple syrup?”

“Do you have almond milk?”

“Goodness, gracious, no. This is milk fresh from our cows this morning.”

“Um, well. I guess I’ll just have butter, then, and maybe some coffee?”

Martha thought, “Well at least there’s one thing she likes. Although, if she is pregnant, is coffee good for the baby?”

Finishing her oatmeal and coffee, Tiffany returned to the Dawdy house.

By late afternoon, the men returned triumphant. Between the five of them, they had bagged two bucks and a doe and the carcasses were soon hanging from the large oak tree in the front yard. Martha served supper for her husband, the twins, Albert and Felicity – a big pot of chili, green salad, and garlic breadsticks. “Nothing like a pot of chili to warm a body on a cold day,” she said as she ladled out the soup.

“Uh, Mom? Do you have any hot sauce? And maybe some cheddar cheese, Mom?” Albert asked.

“Hot sauce? Cheese? Whatever for?” asked Arnold.

“Well, the chili is a little on the mild side. It could use some pepping up.”

Martha bristled. “I have been making this recipe for 40 years. It was always good enough for you when you were growing up.”

Albert grinned, “Well y’know Mom, tastes do change over time. Tiffany and I enjoy a little heat in our food.”

Martha returned from the kitchen with an ancient bottle of Tabasco sauce, a block of cheese and a grater. “Here you go,” she said as she handed the ingredients to her son.

That evening, after the twins were upstairs doing homework and Albert and his bride had departed, Martha complained to Arnold. “I don’t know what that girl has done to that boy! My chili not spicy enough! She has sure bewitched him! And she wants the strangest food! But then, if she’s expecting, that may explain it.”

“Now, Martha. Aren’t you being a little hard on her? She didn’t grow up around here and her folks most likely did things differently and different doesn’t mean bad. After all, it took me a while to get used to your cooking.”

Martha snorted. “And what’s wrong with my cooking?”

“Nothing, dear. Nothing. It was just different from my mother’s cooking. When Ma learned you put nutmeg in your beef stew, she thought you were crazy.”

Martha hmmphed, but knew the subject was closed.

Sunday, Martha was pleased that Albert and Tiffany joined them for church, and even more pleased that they joined in the worship. It took a while to get free as old friends quickly surrounded Albert and Tiffany after the service to catch up on old times. Albert explained that the church he and his bride attended in Asheville held three services with 2,000 people in attendance at each service. Martha could not imagine feeling comfortable in such a crowd.

Sunday afternoon, Albert asked Arnold if he could borrow the car. Tiffany had forgotten some things, he explained, and would like to go into Duluth to do some shopping. Arnold handed over the keys and warned Albert to watch for deer and be careful of black ice. “It’s been a long time since you did any winter driving.” The pair returned just before 9:00 PM.

Monday, Martha went into hyperdrive. Although Albert dropped in early for a cup of coffee with his father and then went out to help with the milking, Martha did not see Tiffany all that day. She asked Albert what she was up to, but he just smiled and said, “It’s a secret.” Martha did not see Tiffany on Tuesday, either, although she joined them for lunch on Wednesday. “I hope you’re enjoying your accommodations.”

Martha said.

“Oh, they’re fine.” Tiffany responded. “You were right. That little house is much nicer than a motel room. I understand from Albert that eventually you will be moving into it.”

“That’s right. It’s a tradition. Arnold’s parents moved into it when we married and we took over the farm, and his grandparents did the same. I would hate to have to move into town when it’s time for Arnie to take over the farm.” Martha was pleased with the girl’s interest in their family traditions. Perhaps there was hope for her yet.

Wednesday, Martha did not see her daughter-in-law at all, although Albert kept her company when he wasn’t helping his brothers dress out the deer. Martha couldn’t help wonder what the girl was doing all by herself, but she thought perhaps she was preoccupied with the Internet.

The Thanksgiving feast was scheduled for 2:00 in the afternoon, as it always was. Martha was up early. The turkey they had raised dressed out at 30 pounds and a bird that large would take a long time to roast. Their children and families began to arrive just after noon. Albert came over, bearing a long table that he set up on the screened back porch. “What’s that for?” Martha asked.

“You’ll see,” was all Albert said. He then recruited the help of some of his older nephews. Soon a procession of pans, bowls, and platters were brought in and set on the table.

“What’s this?” Martha was puzzled.

Albert said, “Mom, I know you are big on tradition for Thanksgiving. But so is Tiffany. And since this year she had to be away from her family, she brought a little of her traditions with her.” He walked the length of the table pointing out the southern treats: Fried okra, cornbread dressing, macaroni and cheese.

Martha was fine up to that point. But then came the pies. Chess pie, sweet potato pie, and not one, but three pecan pies. Pies? Why, Martha was the best pie baker in Bayfield County! They were her specialty and everyone knew it. Just before she began to splutter, Arnold gripped her elbow – hard. “Now dearest, isn’t it wonderful that Tiffany and Albert are so generous? Just imagine all the hard work she did in an unfamiliar kitchen. It truly is a blessing to have such a thoughtful daughter-in-law.”

“Yes. Yes, I suppose you’re right. Thank you, Tiffany. Thank you, Albert,” she choked out.

Soon, the tables were set, Arnold said grace, and the family dug in. With Arnold’s eyes upon her, Martha was obligated to sample each of Tiffany’s offerings. To her shock, each and every one, with perhaps the exception of the fried okra, they were good! No, they were more than good – they were delicious, especially the pecan pie. In what seemed like no time, Martha surveyed the wreckage. The venison roast was gone, but there was plenty of leftover turkey, as well as the various salads and side dishes. That was to be expected. What Martha didn’t expect was the leftover pie – Dutch apple, schnitz, pumpkin, and mincemeat, as well as the chess pie. But there was not a crumb left of the sweet potato and pecan pies! Never did she expect to be bested in her own kitchen.

Agnes and Phillip left right after the meal since they had the longest drive and Phillip would be on call that night. Happy chatter filled the house as the older grandchildren were given the task of clearing the table and doing dishes under the supervision of their mothers. As soon as the kitchen was ship shape, most of the youngsters went out to play in the barn while the adults gathered to watch football. Tiffany ventured, “What, no Bulldogs?”

Albert laughed, “No dear. It’s pro ball today.”

Arnold was soon snoring in his recliner, so Arnie, Alex, Andrew, and Albert took care of the evening milking. Once that was done, the remaining families left for whome. The twins had friends they wished to visit but promised to be home by 10:00. Martha was left alone with Tiffany. “I’m happy you were able to share some of your family traditions with us today,” Martha said.

Tiffany replied, “I’m glad you enjoyed them. It was interesting to see what is considered traditional here up north. I especially liked the mincemeat pie. I’ve never had that before and I need your recipe. Now I’ll know what to make for Albert next year.”

“I would be happy to do that and before you leave on Sunday, perhaps you could share your recipes for your pies, too.”

When Arnold snorted and woke up, Albert said, “Thanks to my two most favorite women for a fantastic Thanksgiving. I’m looking forward to leftovers tomorrow.” With that, he and Tiffany departed for the Dawdy house.

Arnold shifted in his recliner, “See, Martha. Tiffany is a perfectly lovely girl. The way she can cook, you don’t have to worry about Albert going hungry. And isn’t it lovely to try something new?”

“I suppose,” Martha sniffed. “If only it wasn’t pies.”


Holy Imagination


What a wonderful time You must have had with creation.

In Your mind’s eye, You saw:

                        fiercely blazing white dwarfs

                        friendly yellow suns

                        cool and ruddy giants

                        enigmatic black holes

                        curtains of gold and violet, green and blue and red.

Myriad upon myriad of stars, planets, nebulae, galaxies; and each with a name.

And the morning stars sang together.

In Your mind’s eye, You saw:

                        artery and vein

                        liver and lung

                        joint and sinew

                        muscle and skin

                        feathers – rachis and barb

                        beak and claw

And when the form hovered before You, perfect and complete, You thought color:

                        shimmering emerald

                        glistening gold

                        ruby red

And then You spoke, “Be!”

For each and every creature, atom by atom, cell by cell, You thought structure and form, texture and color and You spoke, “Be!” until the very sphere was filled with life.

Yet, unlike the stars, none were named.

Almost finished, You thought one more creature. A creature, as it were, in a plain brown wrapper. Not very large. Not very strong. Colored by the clay from which You molded him. Not much to look at, though clean of limb and regular of feature. But, Oh! What secrets You hid inside him to be revealed in ages to come:

                                    hazel eyes and skylit blue

                                    shining brown, verdant green and sparkling ebony;

                                    tawny skin and deepest brown

                                    pinkly pale, ruddy hued, and golden;

                                    silken black hair and flaxen tresses

                                    copper curls, wiry jet, and brown and silver.

And this one, unadorned, naked creature You also gave a name – Your own. Into this, Your crowning achievement, You breathed the breath of Your life and spoke, “Be!”

To this one, to this man, You imparted Your joy. You shared Your sovereignty, for to this one You brought the others to be named:



                                    whale and stork

                                    and wonder of wonders – woman.

Like Yourself, You made them. In perfect fellowship You walked with them. And yet they, and yet we, turned from You to follow the foetid vapor of a lie.

Think on it! God created His angels, ministering spirits with hearts of flame, millions upon millions, and named each one. He spoke stars and galaxies, nebulae, planets, quasars and asteroids into being and called each by name. Then He imagined each and every living creature and named none but one. And with that man, that man, our forefather God shared the final act of creation: the naming of everything upon the face of the Earth.

Imagine the Father’s delight as Creator and creature shared the unique properties of each living thing and completed the process of creation. Yet, having experienced this intimacy, Adam turned his back on God for a lie. We gasp. We shake our heads. “Not I. Not I,” we say. But only look at what the Father has shown you, shown me, and look at the lies you, I, have believed, have spoken.

But despair not. For the Uncreated became creature. Infinity enclosed, laid, sealed within the walls of a virgin’s womb. Took on:










And when the voice that spoke, “Be!” to angel, star, moth, and man was stilled, laid, sealed within the walls of a virgin tomb, earth and sky convulsed and wept.

In the moment of the night, when light was but a hope, Hope itself and Light answered the Father’s call. More brilliant than the sunrise, Uncreated Creator yet created Man, arose and the lie and the father of lies saw defeat. Seraphim and galaxy, ocean wave and mountain peak, hummingbird and humpbacked whale rejoiced.

With the Dawn came promise. Promise of a new creation. Fellowship restored. Life eternal. Listen, O man. Listen, O woman. Listen to the promise. Believe no more, speak no more the lie. Look upon the wonders of creation, beautiful still, though marred. Look to the promise of the world’s, the universe’s redemption and your own. Listen. Look. Believe – and share the Creator’s joy.


The Hallowe’en that Wasn’t

There’s something special, something important about final events: the last day of summer, the day before you move away from home, the day before one’s wedding, the final day on the job. My birthday is November 3rd. In my small town, in 1969, one of the unwritten rules governing Hallowe’en, carved in granite, was children could go trick-or-treating up to, but not one day past one’s twelfth birthday. Oh, there were no parents, teachers, or police to enforce such a rule – only the ironclad tyranny and scorn of peer pressure. A 12-year-old could technically make the rounds on All Hallow’s Eve if he or she had younger siblings to escort but could not go begging him or herself.

On November 3, 1969 I would be twelve years old and had no younger siblings to supervise. So it was that I was fully engrossed in preparations for my final fling at trick-or-treating. The route was mapped – hitting the old, painted lady Victorians on the lakeshore, then the postulant houses at the convent, and of course the homes of all my neighbors all meant great treats – and a route covering two miles. But what’s two miles in two hours? And with Hallowe’en on a Friday night, I didn’t even have to worry about how late I was out. The costume was ready; I had spent weeks creating a long, lush, black wig out of yarn, found my older sister’s peasant blouse along with her old crinolines in the attic, grandma’s colorful babushka and beads from the trunk, and purchased a bright, full skirt from the St. Vincent DePaul thrift store. I tried to get my mom to let me have my ears pierced, but she refused. Still, I would be the best gypsy on the streets. I was ready!

Then my older sister who had moved with her husband to Texas, went into labor a month early. Mom and Dad flew down to be with her, leaving me in the care of my 17-year-old brother. While it would be different with the parents gone, under the negligent care of Angus, I would get to stay out even later! Evelyn, Brenda, and Cheryl met every afternoon after school at my house to consolidate our plans. Finally, it was Friday morning – Hallowe’en! I couldn’t wait for the final bell of the day. I raced home to double check my costume and was met at the door by Angus.

“Change of plans,” is what he said. His friends, the Christensen brothers Dave and Arnie were headed up north to close up the family cabin for the winter. Angus and their friend Bob were invited along for an end of summer party. The guys would be by in half an hour to pick him up for the weekend.

“So…I’m supposed to stay home alone until you get back?” My mind was in overdrive. This could be the best Hallowe’en ever! Without even Angus to supervise, I could do whatever I wanted! And, since I had been cooking for the both of us for the past week, I wasn’t even concerned about food.

Angus quickly popped that bubble. “No. I’m not that irresponsible. I’ve made arrangements for you to stay with the Christensen’s until I get back.” The Christensens lived on a farm far out in the county. “Pack a bag for the weekend, and we will drop you off on our way out of town.”

“But what about Hallowe’en?” I wailed. “This is my last one and my friends and I have plans!”

“Plans change. After you get packed, call your friends and tell them you can’t make it. But I’m sure you won’t miss out on all the fun. The Christensens might live in the country, but I’m sure there’s trick-or-treating out there as well. Now get a move on – the guys will be here any minute. Oh, and don’t forget something nice to wear to church on Sunday.”

I briefly considered ducking out the back door and hiding in the park until Angus and his friends drove off, but I knew how stubborn my brother could be, so dejectedly, I dug out my suitcase and dumped in clean underwear, a skirt and blouse, my favorite cords and sweatshirt – and my gypsy costume. If I couldn’t be the best dressed gypsy on the streets of town, I would be the best dressed gypsy in the countryside.

An hour later, I watched my brothers and friends depart down the long farm driveway. An hour-and-a-half later, as I helped Mrs. Christensen set the table for supper, I learned to my horror that the Christenens did not celebrate “Devil’s night.” After a lengthy discourse on the evils of this pagan holiday, I realized there would be no trick-or-treating for me this night – and next year I would be too old. I wanted to cry.

I am certain the meal prepared that night was delicious. Mrs. Christensen had a reputation for being a marvelous cook. But to me, it was all tasteless as I dreamed of the Snickers bars, malted milk balls, Hershey’s kisses, and salt-water taffy I would be missing. I wouldn’t even have any candy for the Red Cross boxes at school on Monday morning! As soon as the supper dishes were washed and put away, I asked to be excused and went to my room, or rather, Dave and Arnie’s room. Morosely, I opened my suitcase and gazed at my gypsy costume. So much planning. So much effort. And now, nothing.

I don’t know how long I sat there, but the room was completely dark when a knock came at the door. Mrs. Christensen poked her head in. “Gracious, child! What are you doing here in the dark? I hope you have a warm sweater. If you don’t you can borrow one of mine. We’ll have to hurry. The bonfire starts in fifteen minutes.”

Bonfire? I hadn’t a clue what she was talking about, but I snatched up my sweatshirt and pulled it on. I followed Mrs. Christensen out the door and into their large back yard. I don’t know how I missed hearing them all arrive, but the barnyard was filled with cars and yet more were arriving. People of all ages spilled out of the vehicles and made their way to a ring of straw bales set around an enormous mound of old timbers, long dead Christmas trees, and still green branches.

Getting everyone settled on the straw bales took forever, but eventually all the little children were corralled and silence descended on the crowd. Mr. Christensen stood up and began to speak.

“On this day in 1517 a brave young monk by the name of Martin Luther wrote out a list of 95 complaints against the Roman Catholic church. He had come to these conclusions after several years of studying and teaching the Bible at the University of Wittenberg. He posted his 95 theses on the door of the University church to invite discussion and in the hope of reforming the Church. Instead, he was eventually declared a heretic and with a price on his head, went into hiding. While hidden away in Wartburg Castle, Luther translated the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into the language of the people, which then and there was German. His stand for truth eventually led to the translation of the Bible into almost every language known to man so that the light of the Gospel could be preached to everyone.”

With that, Mr. Christensen thrust a torch into the middle of the wood pile. In seconds, flames were reaching for the sky. Cheers erupted. In minutes, they towered 50 feet above the ground. Adults began assembling a huge quantity of s’mores and handing out caramel apples and popcorn balls. Several men and women took up positions with guitars, a fiddle and a flute and began playing merry tunes that I later learned were actually hymns. As soon as the flames subsided to coals, each child – and me – were handed a long stick to roast our marshmallows for the s’mores. More treats, apple cakes, pumpkin bread, lemon bars, cookies galore and jugs of fresh apple cider were set out on a large table. Just as I was so full I thought I might never move again, a scavenger hunt in the darkened corn field was announced. There must have been 20 kids of all ages, including my own, and teenagers as well who took off for the field equipped with flashlights to search for treasures. Wandering through the rustling cornstalks, I found a small pouch with some chocolate candy, a miniature Bible, and a gold cross on a chain.

Inevitably, I, along with several others got thoroughly lost. Just as panic began to set in, I could hear Mr. Christensen shouting, “Just follow the light. Follow the light.” Looking up, I could see the bonfire once more reaching for the stars. I followed its light until I was back in the ring of straw bales. A few more minutes and all the kids were accounted for. We settled happily onto the straw as the musicians now led the crowd in a hymn sing, beginning with “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” I don’t know how long we sang, but eventually the fire was nothing but embers. Many of the smallest kids were asleep on blankets on the grass. People began gathering their families together and headed for their cars. When the last car departed the farmyard, Mr. and Mrs. Christensen went inside. I was shocked to see that it was after midnight.

And that was how I spent the Hallowe’en that wasn’t.