Friday, December 27, 2013

In the Eye of A Tiger

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Enough is enough. I’m getting out of here!

She slipped away from the back door of the farmhouse, heading southwest more or less, in the direction of the setting sun.

Captured, then tossed unceremoniously into a potato sack, she’d been torn away from her home just before the cold of winter set in. She’d had no choice but to stay where her captor finally released her. Having been born in a shed, a return to a barn had not been such a huge culture shock. But the world was finally returning to life again and she was anxious to take advantage of the warmer, more amenable breezes. The sodden earth would cushion, and silence, her already quiet steps.

She paused at the edge of the underbrush, took one look back at the house, then disappeared; grey morphing into grey in the dying light of day. There would be no more farm labour forced from her. She was going home.

Impregnated by a wandering feral; who had never returned to see the result of their mutual, and overwhelming, need, she had given birth to three sons — gingers just like their father. They had been noisy and demanding from the moment they had been delivered in the hayloft one cold winter’s eve.

They’re still noisy and demanding, roughhousing all the time, and decidedly ill mannered. I’m not hanging around waiting for the next vagrant to appear and do it to me again.

The next morning found her crouched by a creek at the back corner of the farm. The ice was long gone but the usual trickle of water, swollen by the spring thaw, was now a veritable raging river to her. She hated getting wet, but there didn’t seem to be any other option, unless …

She backed up. Forepaws gripping the ground, she raised her backside off the ground and with an exaggerated wiggle, she sprang into the air — and landed, safe and dry, on the other side of the water. With a bound, she was off again.

Going home — I’ll find it no matter where it is, or how far away. I can, and I will.

The anxiety to go home almost overcame her usual cautious nature. She barreled out of the bush at lightning speed and barely missed being crushed by a four-wheeled monster careening down a side road. Just in the nick of time, she turned in mid-stride and bounced back into the ditch.

Reason prevailed. She waited, listening carefully for the telltale “chug-a-lugs” that signaled the approach of one of the worst enemies of her kind. How often had she warned the kits about the danger? How many dead creatures, victims all, unheedingly sacrificed to the gods of the road, had she pointed out to them?

When the only sounds she could hear were friendly, she crossed to the other side. Something told her that this was the way to go. She would follow, but not too closely, the path the road took. When the monsters passed, she hid in the grasses and reeds. At night she hunted; a task easier now than it had been when she had first come to the farm. At home, she grew up listening for the sound of the can opener and waiting for the currents to carry the scent of meat or milk to her nose. On the farm, she returned to her roots, darting and dashing amongst the grasses and grains, in pursuit of anything smaller and weaker than she was.

Grass yielded slowly to pavement. Houses became more frequent. Monsters to avoid increased. There were more fences to climb, more humans to watch from the shadows of garbage cans. It was necessary to make detours at times, putting distance between herself and others of her kind. Their pungent claim to ownership assailed her frequently as she cut through the heart of town. She confined her travels to nighttime now, passing her days under porches or under the leafy abundance of rhubarb plants.

At last, she recognized streets, yards, and laneways. This was HER territory. She was almost home. The timeless inborn urge strengthened within her, giving wings to tired feet.

She paused under a mock orange bush in her backyard. Carefully, she licked upward from the tip of her tail and washed her face and ears.

Stepping out, she settled herself quietly by the door, waiting.

The door opened, and …

“Mom! Tiger’s come home.”

Meow. Is that a can being opened that I hear?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Mildred's Mouse House

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Synopsis
Millie discovers a unique way of giving Jesus the birthday present He could have used two thousand years ago.

Characters
Mildred, a child of about 7
Robin, Mildred’s 12 year old brother
Mom

Location:
A kitchen with a back door leading to the yard.


Scene One
Mom is in the kitchen cooking. Robin is working on homework at one end of the kitchen table. Mildred is at the other end, elbows on the table, holding up her head with her hands, looking very glum.


Robin (looking up and across at Milly):
"Mr. Henderson paid me yesterday. Now I have enough to do ALL my Christmas shopping."

Mom:
"That’s nice. If you like, we can go to the mall on Saturday. Milly can come with us."

Milly:
"Don’t want to."

Mom:
"Why not?"

Milly:
"Don’t have any money. Can’t buy anything for anybody without money."

Robin:
"I’ll lend you some. Course, I’ll have to charge you interest."

Milly:
"What’s “interest”?"

Mom:
"Don’t pay any attention to your brother. He’s being silly. Maybe you could make some Christmas presents out of things you already have."

Robin:
"I don’t want some of her homemade junk."

Mom (with warning in her voice):
"Robin, that’s enough. With that kind of attitude you don’t deserve any kind of present from Milly. Maybe we could make things easier for all of us this year. How about we write down the names of all the people we are going to give presents to and put them in a hat. Then each of us can draw a name and buy a present for just that one person?"

Robin:
"Hey, then I only get one present."

Mom:
"Robin, Christmas isn’t about how many presents YOU get, remember?"

Robin:
"Okay, okay. Actually it’s not a bad idea. Then I only have to buy one present and I’ll still have money left for me."

Mom (signs and shakes her head):
"Sometimes, I wonder if Scrooge didn’t somehow get trapped in a twelve year old’s body."

Robin:
"What?"

Milly:
"Who’s Scrooge?"

Mom:
"Never mind. It’s not important."

Milly:
"I ALWAYS wonder about Robin. But I don’t even have money for one present. What if I get Grannie’s name?"

Robin:
"That’s easy. Grannie says she’s going to heaven soon and there isn’t a thing that she needs. You wouldn’t have to buy her anything."

Milly & Mom (horrified)
"ROBIN!"

Robin:
"Well, that’s what she said."

Mom:
"You know, I think I have the solution to this problem. How about we don’t buy any presents for anyone this year?"

Robin and Milly:
"Mom!"

Mom:
"No, I’m serious. Whose birthday is it anyway?"

Milly:
"Jesus’ birthday."

Mom:
"Right. So, why are we buying presents for everyone except the person who is celebrating the birthday?"

Robin:
"Cause we have to. We’ve always done it that way. We need to. I NEED Christmas presents."

Mom:
"Look at it this way, Robin. Think of all the money you will have left from your paper route if you don’t have to buy any Christmas presents."

Robin (thinks for a moment):
"Well, there is that."

Milly:
"But, Mom. I still don’t have any money to buy Jesus a Christmas present either."

Robin:
"Jesus is like Grannie. He doesn’t need anything either cause he’s already in heaven."

Milly (throws something at her brother):
"Mom, tell him to stop."

Mom:
"Yes, Robin, please stop being disrespectful. You are right…"

Robin (interrupting):
"See, I told you."

Mom:
"…to a point. How about we think about doing, rather than buying?"

Robin:
"What good stuff doesn’t cost money?"

Mom:
"If we had been around when Jesus was born, we could have done lots of things for him with what we already have. Robin could have given up his bedroom so that Mary could have her baby in a warm and safe place."

Robin:
"Why my room?"

Mom:
"Milly, you could have given him your doll’s bed so that he would have a nice place to sleep. I could have given some of this nice chicken soup to Mary and Joseph and warmed a bottle of milk for the baby".

Milly:
"But Jesus is in heaven, and he doesn’t need me to do anything like that for him now."

Mom:
"Well, you could do something for him, by doing something for someone else, just as if you were doing it for Jesus. He’s like that kind of present. Think about it for a while. Meanwhile son, you and I have a date upstairs with your room. We clean it or we condemn it."

Robin:
"Aw, Mom. You can’t be serious."

(Mom leads Robin off protesting all the way. The lights fade with Mildred still sitting at the table deep in thought.)

Scene Two
The lights come up as Milly closes the door leading out into the back yard. Mom enters with Robin.

Robin (complaining):
"Four hours, I can’t believe it took us four hours to do that room. I’ll never be able to find anything ever again. I’m wiped. I’m starving. When’s dinner?"

Mom:
"Soon. Clear your things off the table. Milly can set it and we’ll be ready to eat."

(The children begin those chores. Mom reaches for her pot holder only to discover that it’s missing.)

Mom:
"Milly, have you seen my pot holder? I thought I left it right here beside the stove when Robin and I went up to clean his room."

Milly:
"I took it."

Robin:
"Well, give it back so we can eat."

Mom:
"You took it? What for?"

Milly (hesitatingly):
"I got thinking about what you said, you know, doing something to help someone else, just as if I was doing it for Baby Jesus. I needed the pot holder."

Robin:
"I knew it. Too much thinking and she’s flipped out."

Mom (in a warning tone of voice):
"Robin. You did want supper, didn’t you?"

Robin:
"Sure. (Pause) Oh, I get it. Zip the lip."

Mom:
"Right. Now, Mildred, explain to me what the pot holder has to do with what we talked about?"

Milly:
"Well, Jesus doesn’t need a bedroom or a blanket or chicken soup or milk, but I found someone else who does. But my blanket didn’t fit in the bed, so I took the pot holder to use as a blanket."

Mom:
"You used the pot holder for a blanket. What person do you know who would need a pot holder for a blanket?"

Mill: (beginning to look a little worried):
"I don’t know any babies like Jesus that I could do something for, so I thought maybe helping other babies might be okay."

Mom:
"Other babies? What other babies?"

Milly:
"Um. Dad plugged the hole going into the basement last week so that the mice couldn’t get in the house."

Mom:
"Yes?"

Milly:
"Well, He took the mice out of the basement before he plugged the hole."

Mom:
"Yes?"

Milly
"It’s cold outside and they can’t come into the basement, or live in the house."

Mom: (slowly)
"Y-e-s?"

Milly:
"The mice had babies. I saw them in the shed."

Mom:
"Okay."

Milly:
"So I took my old doll house out to the shed. I put it down flat and filled all the rooms up with those wood shavings that dad had in the basement. But I didn’t have any blankets to put on top to keep the babies warm. So I took the pot holders."

Mom:
"All of them?"

Milly:
"Mostly. I’m sorry."

(Milly begins to cry.)

Mom:
"Milly, honey, don’t cry."

Milly:
"You’re not mad at me?"

Mom:
"No honey, I’m not angry with you. You did for those mice what you would have done if Jesus had needed a warm place to sleep, didn’t you?"

Milly:
"I wanted to. I thought that if the mice were happy and warm, Jesus would be too. But I am sorry about the pot holders."

Mom:
"I really do want those pot holders back. But don’t worry. I think I can find something that will work just as well to cover up the babies’ beds and keep all of them warm."

Robin:
"Can we eat now?"

Milly:
"Mom?"

Mom:
"Yes, honey."

Milly:
"I did something else too."

Mom:
"What did you do?"

Milly:
"I took the mice some chicken soup."

Robin:
"You did what?"

Mom (laughing):
"Did you leave enough for us?"

Milly:
"I think so."

Mom:
"Good. Put the bowls out and then you can give thanks."

(Milly puts out the bowls and Mom serves the soup.)

Milly:
"Dear Jesus. Thank you for Mom and Dad. And Robin too. Thank you for giving us a warm place to live, and food to eat. I’m sorry no one was there to give you those things when you were a baby but I hope you like your birthday present even if you can’t enjoy it yourself. Amen."

(Pause)

"And, Lord, please make sure the mice are careful with Mom’s pot holders."

Friday, December 13, 2013

Forever Beginning

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“Grandpa? Grandpa? You okay?”

Joey peered around the corner of the doorway. The groans that had called him away from his play had also sent a tingle of fear up his young spine. The sun had climbed down from its midday heights and now streamed through the windows that looked west across the garden.

“Grandpa?” Once more came the question, this time as a plea.

The boy used to play in the sunroom where his grandfather now lay, stretched out on the daybed. However, since his last heart attack, the old man now occupied the room. The stairs to the bedrooms on the upper floor just took too much effort.

The boy eased into the room. Finally, love overcame fear, drawing Joey closer to the prone figure. He reached out a tentative hand. His parents had told him that his grandfather might not be with them much longer. The family visits had become more frequent. The adults meant to reassure him with such frank talk, but every grunt and groan now filled him with terror.

At Joey’s touch, the old man seemed to rouse himself. He rolled over, squinting at the bright light forming a halo around his grandson’s figure.

“Joey? That you, laddie?”

“Yah, grandpa. I heard you groan, and I thought, well, I thought, …” The boy’s voice trailed away. How could he mention death to a man he wanted to live forever.

The old man chuckled, pushing himself to a sitting position. He took a moment to catch his breath after the effort, then pulled the boy into the sheltered gap between his knees.

“You thought I was dying when you heard the groaning. No, I was just complaining to the good Lord.”

At the boy’s puzzled look, the old man laughed again. “Guess I’d better explain. You go to Sunday School so you know about creation, don’t you?”

Joey nodded.

“Well, things were good back then at the start. Everything was just the way God wanted it. And then…”

Now into the story, Joey was eager to show what he knew.

“Then Adam and Eve ate the apple.”

His grandfather smiled. “Well, it might not have been an apple, but you got the rest right. When those two sinned, the whole world started to die, and it’s been dying by bits and pieces ever since. But just like me, it’s not going quietly.”

By this time, Joey had climbed up on his grandfather’s knees, and then thought better of it as the old man winced. He began to wiggle his way down.

“No, stay. It’s okay. Remember you were telling me about earthquakes and all them plates rubbing together and causing the ground to shake?”

Grandpa’s ears provided fertile soil for the seeds of learning that Joey was accumulating. He was pleased that his grandfather remembered, and smiled in acknowledgment.

“Well,” continued the old man, “those plates bumping, grinding, and rubbing each other are like my knees—they’re telling anyone who’ll listen that the pieces don’t fit right anymore. And when things don’t work like they’re supposed to, they complain.”

“You sure complain a lot,” observed Joey.

His grandfather looked at him in mock surprise. “Who, me?” He laughed, then said, “What does your mommy do when you complain about being sick?”

“She does stuff to make me feel better,” replied the boy.

“Sure. She lets you stay home from school, gives you medicine, and fills you full of red Jell-O®. Well, God’s doing stuff to make me, and the earth, feel better too.

“But, you’re gonna …” Joey’s voice trailed off again.

“Die? Sure.” He hugged the boy close, feeling his anxiety. “At the start everything was good. Now it’s all coming to an end, dying from sin. To get back to the beginning we have to get past the end. The end is where the beginning starts all over again. Dying is an end God planned so that He could fix things, to give us a new beginning, to make us like we once were.”

“Can’t I come with you?” protested the boy, tears welling up in his eyes.

“Not now But, I’ll tell you what; I do know how you can get ready to come, not just for a visit, but to live a beginning that never ends with me and Jesus. Do you want to know how?”

Joey gravely nodded his head.

As the gathering darkness seeped across the tiles of the sunroom, Grandpa’s forever beginning dawned in a little boy’s heart.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Quiz

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When we entered the classroom, our New Testament professor was sitting, perched on the edge of the desk like a falcon anticipating lunch. The slight smile did not bode well for us—he never smiled, at least not in class. There was a piece of paper, face down, on each desk. The dreaded surprise quiz waited like irresistible bait.

“Start now,” he instructed, after we had all taken our seats.

I turned my paper over. After a quick scan, I realized that the questions were based on quotes from the Gospels. We were to decide whether Jesus’ demands on His listeners were too hard, or too soft.

Come follow me…and I will make you fishers of men.

Sounds easy, except these guys and their families survived on real fish. How did they imagine they would support their families? I’d be more than a little concerned under the same circumstances.

I checked the square that read “too hard.”

Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

The Jews must have loved this one, considering the Romans were walking all over them. I’ll bet the fellow the Good Samaritan helped didn’t take his robbery lying down—well, not at first anyway. I might let someone hit me once, but twice. No way.

I marked another “too hard.”

Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.

They probably thought that was a good deal—for the other guy. I don’t mind helping out but I don’t do “door mat.”

Another “too hard.”

My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.

Well, the whip might have been a little excessive. Maybe prayer meetings in Jesus’ day weren’t down to a few little old ladies like they are today. Prayer is kinda passĂ©. Okay, so cheating the visitors wasn’t exactly kosher, but I mean, what’s wrong with a few bake sales and bingos? Gotta get money into the church somehow.

I checked the fourth “too hard.”

Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.

I wonder if He was talking to Judas? He couldn’t have meant the others ‘cause they didn’t have anything anyway. After all a little nest egg, and a nice house in the burbs isn’t bad, is it? A car, and maybe … Nah, the normal stuff wouldn’t lead to greed.

I nibbled on the end of my pencil. The quiz was simple. So far, everything was too hard. Jesus must have been exaggerating for emphasis, overstating His case to get the attention of His listeners.

I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.

The guy was a thief, and he started out by insulting Jesus, just like his buddy. Nope, I’d make him work a little harder, maybe sweat a little, before I’d give him paradise.

I put a heavy, emphatic mark beside “too soft.”

The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.

Believing isn’t work. It’s easy—sort of. You gotta do stuff too.

I checked a second “too easy” though I wasn’t quite so sure on this one.

As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

Okay, there’s love and there’s love. He wouldn’t expect us all to die for Him, would He? Not literally. Mind you, just about all the disciples did. But that was then, and this is now.

I put down a definite “too hard.”

“Put your pencils down,” instructed the professor. “I know I usually ask you to pass your papers to the person next to you before we go over the correct answers. But I’m not going to do that this time. I want you to take your papers home, read through the quotes again carefully.”

He began to pass out copies of the same quiz as he continued speaking.

“Reconsider your answers and pray over them. Then do the quiz again. Tomorrow I want you to come back to class prepared to tell us what you discovered. What adjustments in your thinking have to be made in order for you to bring your life more into line with Jesus’ words and example?”

Something told me the homework would be the real test.





Matthew 4:19
Matthew 5:39
Mark 10:43, 44
Mark 11:17
Luke 12:15
Luke 23:43
John 6:29
John 13:34

Friday, November 29, 2013

Looking For Mittens

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I raced up the stairs, took a sharp left turn at the landing, and flung myself on the bed. The springs creaked. The little bounce was reassuring as the bed reacted to my slight weight. It was time for a few hours of uninterrupted reading on a Sunday afternoon.

Was it spring, or fall? Memory fails after all these years. It was cold; that much I do remember. The window was closed and a light rain spattered against the glass. I settled in for my read.

Normally anyone’s adventures would be enough to hold my attention against all other time snatchers. This afternoon was different.

A sound, foreign to the creaks of the springs, the squeaks of the stairs and the occasional clicking on and off of the furnace, niggled at the back of my mind. I tore myself away from a hero pursuing a heroine across the seven seas and listened more intently to the real world.

It sounded like scratching. That’s it, I thought, a tree branch making friendly with the window, egged on by a matchmaking wind. I went back to my book. A half a paragraph later, I stopped reading.

Can’t be a branch. There isn’t any tree outside my window.

Logical. I got up from the bed and took the one-and-a-half steps to the window.

It must be a wire from the line that runs to the top of the house from the street.

I studied the situation with all the wisdom of an almost teenager. The wires looked fine and nothing seemed to be rubbing. In fact, I couldn’t hear the sound anymore. I went back to my book.

Just moments later the scratching returned. I stopped to listen, trying to determine where the sound was coming from. It stopped. I read. It started. I stopped reading. I got up from the bed to hunt for the sound. It stopped. I went back to the bed and to my book. The scratching started up. We led each other a merry dance for a good while.

Be quiet and just stay still and listen. Don’t move. It’s not outside, it’s inside, and it’s in this room.

The room was small and I knew that eventually I’d find the source of the scratching. It stopped when I made noise, so if I was quiet I could follow the sound to that source—I hoped.

It’s not coming from under the bed, from the night table or the bookshelf. The dresser is the only other place. Can’t be that. What would be making a noise in the dresser?

I tiptoed over to the dresser. No scratching. However, this time I stood still, frozen in place, and waited.

There!

The sound was coming from the second drawer of my dresser. I was the coward who never came up the stairs without switching on the light first. I was the wimp who checked behind the doors and under the bed for bogeymen. I cautiously eased the drawer open inch by inch; afraid of what monsters might be hiding there.

This “monster” was fat and had stripes—Tiger.

Three little kittens, They lost their mittens …*

I might have been willing to sacrifice my mittens, but I wasn’t prepared to let Tiger use my sweaters as receiving blankets. I still haven’t discovered how a pregnant cat found a big enough hole in the back of my dresser to crawl through. There was no way she could have gotten in the front way without me seeing her. However she did it, Tiger was now happily snuggled into my sweaters in preparation for impending motherhood.

“Mom!” I yelled, as I grabbed the cat.

We had carefully prepared a comfortable maternity suite for Tiger in the basement. Of course, that wasn’t her choice. For being a feral cat brought up in a barn, she still recognized the luxury of life in my sweater drawer.

The next morning, I went down to see how nature was taking its course. Tiger was hard at work.

I raced up the basement steps.

“Mom, there’s one.”

I ran down the basement steps, then yelled again from the bottom: “Mom, there’s two.”

Finally, all the kittens were safely delivered. I think I was more exhausted than the new mother. After all, I was the one running up and down the stairs.

Now I remember; it was Easter, the obvious time to celebrate new life. Tiger and I certainly did.



*Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme, Author Unknown

Friday, November 8, 2013

From Where I Sit...

MMS (Google Images)
A timeless sea calls my name.
The bow of a great ship cuts through the waves
As distant shores recede.
A plume of smoke
Heralds the appearance of a cutter,
Her Majesty’s royal navy approaches
To relieve me of my gain,
Ill-gotten though it may be.

The swelling tide resolves into clear blue sky
And I take to the air,
The controls of the biplane jammed between my knees.
The Baron hovers at my left
Ready to blow my wooden craft to splinters.
His mirthless smile fades
As I barrel roll right
To live, and to conquer, some other day.

I gently land upon a grassy field
Where timeworn hovels circle round.
The steed is now with mane and hoof possessed
And calmly waits outside a door.
Inside, a gentle damsel, in clean though tattered dress,
Receives a heartfelt plea.
The lord of the manor woos a peasant girl,
Love knows no class, no man-made boundary.

Then, transported once again,
I stand before a stern-faced judge
To plead a case.
Life or death is his to command, and mine to stay.
Words flow like molten glass:
Suggesting, explaining, convincing,
As twelve solemn souls reflect
On my eloquent logic and undeniable wisdom.

The roof opens, revealing starry heavens,
As I soar away to strange planets and distant moons.
A universe invites my curiosity, challenges my understanding,
And stretches my imagination.
Who could invent such creatures? Or such creations?
Nevertheless, I will follow,
Willing crew in an improbable starship
On an impossible voyage.

The Milky Way becomes a human tide
Of people broken and in pain.
Masked and gowned, I
Bend to their needs, bow to their grief,
And batter at the gates of disease and death.
They do not relent
But defeat me in the end:
Though not forever.

For at last, not limited by human imagination,
I am liberated by Divine Truth,
And see myself as I truly am;
The “before” and “after,” sovereignly crafted,
Still in the state of becoming
The completed work upon which He writes.
Here, I am the true heroine and he, my Knight.
The sequel is yet to come, the end already revealed.

From where I sit
There are no limitations, boundaries, or walls.
Only here is it possible to become
A pirate sailing in the Spanish Main,
Or a pilot facing some mortal foe in a brutal war.
From where I sit, I am transformed,
Becoming that gentle lass
With her noble lover on bended knee.

From prosecutor at the bar, to pursuer of the heavens,
Changing to healing hands with noble cause,
Then, wonderfully, renewed by Grace’s words.
Hear me now, and see my joy.
Feel my satisfaction and sense within me,
The delight which is only found
Here, where I sit, as I read
From the pages of a book.

Friday, November 1, 2013

From Rags to Raikes

Google Images
“Wretched urchin. Move for your betters!”

Sam pulled his cap down far enough to hide his eyes as he stepped into the gutter to let the elegantly dressed gentleman pass by. He didn’t want the man to see his disgust.

I ain’t no urchin. I’ll wager I works mor’an you do.

The boy-man clutched his lunch bucket with a tighter grip. He was coming into Covenant Garden Market. Even a poor boy like him was a target for the snatchers. The tightly packed crowds made it impossible to tell whether a strange hand was in his pocket or if he was just being jostled by the mob filling the streets. Sam noted that there was a copper on the corner looking to catch a hapless soul in the act of relieving some innocent of his wallet or watch fob while he was stopped to watch the Punch and Judy show. Justice in 18th century England was harsh. Newgate Prison was an ever-present reality. Sam knew children who had been transported to the colonies for stealing a loaf of bread. He’d hung around in the gallery of the courthouse and heard the ominous words:

“The law is, that thou shalt return from hence, to the place where thou camest, and from thence to the place of execution, where thou shalt hang by the neck till the body be dead! dead! dead! and the Lord have mercy upon thy soul”.

Sam’s father had been the condemned.

He sidestepped around a mercer’s sign swaying drunkenly above him as the famous London winds picked up.

Fallin’ soon that’un is.

He dismissed an errant though. The gentleman who had just shoved him aside would be well served to have the rotten wood fall on his head the next time he ventured here. The market was ripe with diverse smells fighting for supremacy. Fresh bread battled rotting fruit. The fragrance of violets occupying the flower stalls competed with the pungent offal covering the cobblestones.

A carriage rattled by, its wheels spattering passers-by with something brown, wet, and unpleasant. A washerwoman shook her fist at it, railing at its occupants as she rubbed in vain at the spots on the sheets she was delivering to a client.

It was getting late. The vendors were packing up their wares. Sam’s mother was waiting at home. He hoped for some black bread and a bit of soup. The meagre wage he earned at the factory barely put food on the table.

Six days a week, 12 hours a day, Sam worked. The market, so noisy to the rich folk from St James, seemed quiet to him even at the height of its busiest day. The pounding and clanging of the machines in the yarn factory would literally deafen him someday. Every bone rattled in its socket, every nerve jumped to the beat, making awful music on his mind as he laboured for enough to keep him and his mother alive.

Sam entered a narrow alley. He walked, his body hugging the crumbling walls, watching his step so as not to fall into the rancidity of the gutters. The unwitting walked in the middle, often getting the contents of someone’s chamber pot dumped on them from an upper level window for their trouble. He headed toward a narrow staircase at the end of the street. Wearily, he climbed it, greeting neighbours as he went. He reached the third floor. At his push, the door opened into a small room, lit only by a stub of a candle on a wooden table. The smell of turnip and potato greeted him. There was soup tonight. The end of a loaf sat beside his plate and the kettle whistled on the hob.

He shared his day with his mother.

“Be you goin’ tomorry, Sam?”

Sam barely knew the name of Robert Raikes. He only knew that some rich toff thought that educating the poor and teaching them moral values would help keep them out of jail. History would dub this philanthropist and publisher, the father of the modern Sunday School. Each Sunday morning Sam went to Mrs. Peachtree’s house, one of “Raikes’ Ragged Schools”, where he learned to read and write with the Bible as his textbook. In the afternoon, after reading his lesson, he went to church. He learned more about the God his mother often named, but whose nature and purposes were so foreign to a boy from the slums of London.

Sam remembered his father.

“Sure, Ma, I be goin’”.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Telegram By Train

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“I’d rather not go, Dad.”

Mr. Thompson turned back from the curtained doorway of the train’s compartment to look, with some distress, at his slightly built teenage daughter.

“But Charlotte, it’s a long trip to your grandmother’s. You have to eat.”

“It’s okay. Really. You and mom go to the dining car. I’ll stay here with Susie. We can get something at the snack bar later.”

At the mention of her name, a pudgy six year old, currently kneeling on the seat, looked away from the window. She had been watching houses and fields rush by at a dizzying pace as the overnight train to Pembroke began to pick up speed. She stuck a thumb in her mouth and looked a little sadly at her parents and sister. She waited, knowing what the theme of the coming discussion was going to be, and how it would end.

“Charlotte, I wish you wouldn’t be so self-conscious. That’s why you don’t want to go, isn’t it?” argued Mrs. Thompson. “It’s been a year since the accident. You’ve got to stop thinking about the scars all the time.”

How do I stop thinking about it, Mom? The space is blank where my picture should be in the 1957 Central School Yearbook. How can I forget the grease fire in the kitchen, the pain, the surgeries, the lost summer. I missed my Junior High Graduation and when all my friends were starting their first year in High School, where was I? Still in rehab.

The train swayed, clicking and clacking around a bend. Susie, already off balance and unable to catch herself in time, bounced off her bigger sister, dislodging Charlotte’s hand, up until now tucked out of sight in her jacket pocket. Even after a year, the sight of the patchwork reddened flesh marked with tucks and puckers where the grafting had taken place, startled her. She shoved the offending hand back into her pocket.

“Please, Mom, I’m really not that hungry. Besides, Susie won’t eat all that they’ll give her anyway.”

It was a lame excuse and didn’t deceive anyone.

Susie had scrambled upright again, and crept over to her sister’s side. She pulled on Charlotte’s sleeve.

“I’ll stay with you, Char,” as though she were the baby-sitter and not Charlotte after all.

Clickety-clackety, clickety-clackety, Heswatchingoverme. The rails began to sing as the train picked up even more speed.

“Okay honey,” conceded her father with something of a sigh. “Stay with Susie. But your mother is right you know. You can’t keep your hand in your pocket forever. I know some people have been mean to you, and insensitive about how you feel. It’s been hard to ignore the stares and the whispers. But the fire and that burn and those scars didn’t suddenly make you less of a person. It’s not your hand that counts; it’s what’s in your head and in your heart.”

She was listening, but Mr. Thompson was sure she wasn’t hearing what he was trying to say. He gave up.

“End of speech. Just so you know how much we love you just the way you are.”

He leaned over and hugged both of the girls.

“We’ll be back soon,” he said, taking his wife’s arm to steady her as they headed down the narrow aisle that led from their bedroom through the coaches to the dining car. It was a long walk. They were at the end of the train.

Clickety-clackety, clickety-clackety, Heswatchingoverme, repeated the rails.

Charlotte sat still and quiet, as the soothing rhythm and swing of the train began to calm her. Her father might not have believed it, but she really had heard what he had said. It sounded right. But it felt so wrong. Then, a sharp tug on her sleeve and an impatient, “Char!”, broke through the wall of her thoughts.

Susie wanted to share the discoveries of her new world. She was fascinated by the buttons and levers that operated the ventilation system, the call button for the steward, the miniature sink, and the midget-sized bathroom. When she ran out of things to push, pull and exclaim about, Susie went back to the window. But it wasn’t long before the little girl grew tired of watching the scenery flash by. Even Charlotte was about to be lulled into thought-less sleep.

“Char, I’m hungry.”

She shook herself back to reality and big sister responsibility.

“Okay, let’s go down to the snack bar.”

“But I’m tired. You go.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea. I shouldn’t leave you alone, and besides how can you want to eat and sleep at the same time. That’s a contradiction.”

“A what?”

“Never mind, Sooz. It doesn’t matter. Can I trust you to stay here and not move a muscle until I come back. No matter what?”

Clickety-clackety, clickety-clackety, Heswatchingoverme, came the reminder from the tracks below.

The little girl nodded her head up and down slowly, as if she was struggling with a huge decision. She was. Susie wanted to go. It would be exciting to see more of this wonderful train. But all that excitement was just about to put her to sleep.

“You’ll come right back?”

“I’ll be right back. I promise. But you have to stay here, okay?”

Char wagged a finger at Susie, perfectly imitating their mother. Her little sister was already curled up in a corner of the compartment’s red leather seat. She was having a hard time keeping her eyes open. Charlotte was sure that at least one member of the family wasn’t going to be walking the aisles of the train for a little while.

She tucked a blanket around her sister, and then slipped through the curtain, letting it swish gently behind her. She decided to close the sliding door so that Susie wouldn’t be disturbed. There was no one else in the passageway. The sleeping cars were deserted during first call for supper.

Charlotte straddled the aisle trying to adjust to the swaying of the train. The clickety-clack was less noticeable out here. She’d have to go through this car, then two others, before she arrived at the snack bar. But they were all sleeping cars so she didn’t expect to meet anyone. She would need both hands to hang on while she rambled and rolled through the back end of the train.

It’s so ugly. I’m ugly.

She raised her injured hand to grasp a door handle as she reached the end of the car.

She pulled open the sliding door that separated the cars. The little square box between cars smelled fresh as outside air whistled through the cracks in the metalwork at her feet that marked where one car began and the other left off. As the sliding door glided closed behind her, she looked at the puckered checkerboard of scar tissue that snaked from fingers to wrist, and then disappeared underneath the sleeve of her jacket.

The doctor told me the scars would fade—sort of, someday. It doesn’t save me from the stares and whispers today. That new boy in class took one look and walked away. I was sure he was going to ask me to go to the fair with him. Mom said he wasn’t worth crying over. Dad said he was immature. Truth is, nobody wants to be seen with a cripple.

That morning it had happened again. When the Thompson family boarded the train a man had come hurrying out of the compartment beside theirs. He had almost run Charlotte in a race to get off the train, and then back on, before the trainman called “All aboard” for the last time. In the minor collision that resulted, some ash from his cigarette had fallen on her sleeve. Quickly she tried to brush it off and in doing so, had exposed her scarred hand to the stranger.

“Oh my!”

He had stared for long seconds at the raised welts, then turned away, muttering apologies.

“I hate this!” Suddenly aware that she had spoken out loud, she looked around to see if anyone had heard. She saw no one.

Clickety-clackety, clickety-clackety, Heswatchingoverme. The message from the rails knocked at the wall of self-loathing that barricaded her heart.

Charlotte knew that God had heard her. Since she had burned her hand she hadn’t talked to God much, except to complain. She knew she shouldn’t. But that didn’t seem to keep her from doing it anyway.

Where were you, God, on the day of the fire? I believed in you and you let me down. I hate being different from everyone else. I’m sick of explaining about the accident. I’m tired of people feeling sorry for me. No one sees ME, they just see this ugly hand. Dad keeps telling me that there is a reason even when I can’t see it. But why did you let this happen?

“Can I get you something, Miss?”

Startled, Charlotte looked up into a smiling black face. She had been so caught up in her thoughts that she had passed through the sleeping cars and arrived at the snack bar without even realizing it. The red-coated steward hovered, waiting for her request. She felt very grownup with all this undivided attention. She pretended to be her mother and chose responsibly—an egg salad sandwich to share and two apples. She paid the money, being careful to protect her hand from view as she counted out the right change. With the bag tucked under her arm Charlotte hurried back the way she had come. For the first time all day, there was a faint smile on her face. Eating on the train meant no dishes to do after supper.

Clickety-clackety, clickety-clackety, Heswatchingoverme, the rails called again.

Charlotte had passed through the first two sleepers, and was almost to the end of the second car, when she noticed something odd. There was a smell that hadn’t been there before. It was very faint, just a hint of something… like smoke.

It must be my imagination.

She pulled one set of doors open, crossed through the box that separated the cars and stopped outside the sliding door leading into the last car. She put her hand on the door. She looked around, then sniffed the air like a bloodhound separating scents in the breeze. Maybe the wind was blowing back the smoke from the engine. She peered through the small window in the door. It was black inside. Had it been that dark before? Charlotte slowly pulled on the door. It had only slid open a fraction of an inch, before she knew where the smell was coming from. Thin, wispy smoke trails reached out for her. She could feel heat on her face. She slammed the door shut, petrified.

Fire! There’s a fire in there somewhere. Sooz … Sooz is all alone.

The train raced on unaware, and for an eternity of seconds, the terrified teenager stood rooted to the spot. The song from the rails was blotted out by the jumble of words tumbling through her head.

What do I do? Run for help? Yell? Run to Susie. I can’t. I’ll get burned again. Was there something to pull? Did Sooz show me a cord to pull for emergencies? I’ve got to get to Susie, but how …

Clickety-clackety, clickety-clackety, Heswatchingoverme.

A door in her mind opened even while the sliding one stayed tightly shut. Something entered, and turned every inward thought of Charlotte’s, outward, leaving everything around her clearly focused.

There was a red emergency handle above her head, embedded in the side of the car right beside the door. She didn’t have to read the sign above it to know what it was for. She reached up and yanked the handle as hard as she could.

Clickety-clackety, clickethhhesssssssssssaaaaaaaaaaaavvvvvvvvvvveeeeeeeeessssss…

She could feel the train slowing, bumping and jerking as though it couldn’t make up its mind whether to stop or go. Somewhere far away someone applied the brakes. The sudden change in forward motion threw Charlotte off balance. She dropped the paper bag, scattering food across the passageway.

It took Charlotte what seemed like a million years to pull herself to her feet.

Somebody will come to help us soon.

She knew Someone was already there and she knew what He had prepared her for.

I can’t wait. I have to go now. I have to get Susie.

She flung open the door, pulled the bottom of her jacket up around her face covering her nose and mouth, and plunged into the deepening darkness of the corridor.

The acrid smoke brought tears to her eyes and temporarily blinded her. She felt her way along the passage desperately trying to remember what lay between her and the compartment where Susie was.

How many doors were there between the beginning of the coach and the end? Why didn’t I pay more attention to things around me instead of thinking so much about myself? If I had, I’d know how far I have to go.

She swayed back and forth, feeling her way, clutching at curtains, stumbling up a little step, not sure whether the train was moving or whether it was the smoke making her dizzy.

The coach seemed to go on forever. It was hot, but she didn’t dare take the jacket away from her face. If she lost it, the smoke would finish her off.

Charlotte reached out to grab a new handhold. A sharp, searing pain shot up her injured arm. She drew back, quickly falling to her knees. That wall was hot—hotter than the rest. The smoke seemed thicker here.

Oh Lord, help me. I have to get to Susie.

With superhuman strength, the teenager pulled herself along the floor. As she reached out, her hand struck a solid object. She slid closer, pulled herself up and realized, even light headed as she was, that she had come to the end of the train. The entrance to their compartment must be just back a little way over to the right.

She stumbled back a few steps, reached out for the door that she had closed when she had left Susie …

Thank you Lord for making me think to close the door.

… and fell through the curtains into the room. It was gray with smoke, but the pale light filtering through the car window revealed the still form of Char’s little sister. Just as she had promised, Susie hadn’t moved from the spot where Charlotte had left her. Char threw herself across the narrow space toward the little girl.

“Sooz, Sooz, wake up. WAKE UP! Please, Sooz, can you hear me? Susie …?

Then, even the little bit of light there had been, faded away.

________________________

“That hand’ll blister, Mr. Thompson. But she’ll be fine.”

Faces swam in front of her eyes, and voices faded in and out as Charlotte tried to focus, pulling herself back from wherever she had been. Four heads became two—one her dad’s, the other, a redheaded man in uniform. The sun was shining. She coughed and the man in uniform pulled a plastic oxygen mask away from her face, allowing her a gasp of real air.

“Susie?” She croaked out the word.

“Your mother has gone with her to the hospital. But she’ll be okay. She inhaled some smoke, but your quick action pulling the handle and alerting the crew made all the difference. And if you hadn’t closed the door to the compartment, well …”

The redheaded man’s admiration was plain. Charlotte pushed herself up.

“And the man next door?”

The trainman shook his head.

“Didn’t make it. He was smoking in his compartment and fell asleep. The cigarette caused the fire.”

The uniformed man moved away, leaving father and daughter alone. Mr. Thompson reached out and pulled Charlotte into his arms.

“Dad, I think I know the reason now.”

“Reason?”

“The reason why God let me burn my hand. He needed me to know what it was like so that I’d go and get Susie.”

“But weren’t you afraid?”

Char thought for a moment.

“A little. But God sent me a message and told me not to be.”

“A message? How did He send you a message?”

Mr. Thompson was sure that Charlotte was about to quote one of the many Bible verses that she had learned by heart in Sunday School. So when she said …

“Oh, He sent it by rail.”

… he didn’t know how to respond.

She looked at her scarred hand, and laughed.

“It’s toasted on both sides now”.

Her father was astonished. What had happened to the self-conscious, fearful, resentful girl of just a few hours ago?

“You won’t be able to use it for a while. Do you mind?

“I wasn’t using it anyway, just hiding it away. I think maybe it’s time it stopped hiding.”

Mr. Thompson squeezed Charlotte a little tighter.

“I’m not sure what happened here but I’m glad you are ready to wear your scars with courage.”

Charlotte rested, secure in the arms of both of her fathers—the human one and the heavenly one. Then …

“I won’t have to do dishes at grandma’s, will I?”


Lynda Schultz©February 2006

Friday, October 11, 2013

Mala Praxis

This story is true. 

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Some animals, like their human counterparts, are born to trouble.

Patches came to us under difficult circumstances. I was spending the summer overseas working with a team of young people who had come to do youth work in the city. My plan was to return permanently after raising sufficient financial support.

A couple of days before the team left, a group of the teens went down to the common area of the apartment where I was living to spend some time with the local kids. When they returned they brought with them a muddy coloured kitten, small enough to fit in my hand. They had rescued the poor creature from some kids who were tossing it back and forth as though it were a ball.

What was I to do? They were leaving and couldn’t take the kitten with them. No one had any idea where its mother was. Certainly we couldn’t return it to the plaza for the kids to further abuse. I offered to take the kitten if one of my colleagues would look after it until I returned.

A year later, I was back. The kitten, now called Patches because the “mud” colour had eventually developed into a very pretty combination of black, orange, and white, became mine.

Patches was not a friendly cat. Who could blame her considering her start in life. She disliked people, tolerating their presence—barely. She wouldn’t sit on my lap, or purr. She refused to allow anyone to pick her up.

When the time came for her to be spayed, I took her to a nearby vet. After all these years, I can’t remember who recommended this particular doctor but Patch was destined to suffer once more at the hands of a human.

I picked her up at the doctor’s the day after the surgery. The vet sternly told me that I would have to change the cat’s bandage twice a day. The wound had to be washed and sterilized with an antibacterial agent. She handed Patch back to me. The cat’s body was wrapped in a huge white bandage.

When I was a kid we had a family cat—a feral that came and went as she pleased. We never took her to a vet and never had her spayed. Lacking any experience with vets, I had no idea that this one probably got her license to practice out of a cereal box.

Later that first day, I tried to catch Patch. The bandage had to be changed. The cat was not planning on cooperating. To my horror, I realized that the bandage was sticky. It was stuck to Patch’s hair—all the way around her body. There was no way it was going to come off.

I called in a couple of friends. Would they be willing to hold Patch down while I tried to get the bandage off? They agreed. I’m sure they repented of that madness soon after we began what was to be not only traumatic for all concerned, but downright dangerous.

Patch fought tooth and claw. She wiggled like an eel, refusing to allow us to cover her eyes (they say it works for a frightened horse) and there was no way to explain to her how necessary the process was.

The bandage would not come off. It was stuck for life.

Scratched, bitten, and bleeding, we finally concluded that the only thing we could do was to cut it off. That meant cutting Patch’s hair off all the way around her body. She wasn’t going to lay still for that either. How do you tell a cat that lying still is a smart move when a stupid human is using a sharp object to cut Elastoplast® off her body?

Eons seem to pass before the bandage was removed. Patch looked like she had been the loser in a run-in with a lawnmower with a dull blade. If looks really could kill, I’d have been dead ten times over. She wouldn’t come near me for days.

Antibiotics? Another bandage? Not a chance. I tried making a cloth diaper to cover the incision, a dumb idea, which quickly went out the window with the roll of Elastoplast®.

The body healed exactly as the Divine Creator of cats had planned it to do since before the beginning of time—without my “help.” Patch eventually learned to purr and in her last weeks of life, she sought out my lap.

And I never went back to the cereal box vet.


Note: Mala Praxis means malpractice.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Charlie's Escape

A children's story this time, written back in 2006.

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 Willie took good care of all kinds of things. He cut grass, took out garbage, washed cars, went to the store, started supper before his parents came home from work and delivered his papers right to his customer’s doors, instead of throwing them into hedges like some kids did. Willie felt warm all over when people were happy with his work.

It wasn’t often that Willie had trouble taking care of all his jobs. In fact, he never had any problems at all until he agreed to take care of Charlie.

Charlie was Mrs. McFee’s parrot. She thought Charlie was very special, and wouldn’t leave him with just anyone. Actually, Mrs. McFee hardly ever got to go away just because she didn’t have anywhere she thought was safe to leave Charlie.

Willie delivered the paper to Mrs. McFee’s house. She was so happy with how well he did his work, that she asked him to look after Charlie while she went to visit her cousin in Minneapolis.

“I’ll only be gone for a week,” she said. “And, I’m sure that I can trust you to take care of my precious Charlie for me. He’ll be no trouble at all.”

On Friday afternoon, Mrs. McFee drove up to Willie’s and delivered the parrot. Charlie looked very peaceful, sitting quietly in his cage. Willie knew he had to take good care of the bird. Mrs. McFee trusted him.

After supper, Willie changed the water in Charlie’s dish, and gave the parrot a piece of banana. The boy stood beside the cage, just looking. Charlie looked back.

Willie’s dad came into the room. “You know, son, that bird looks mean. You’d better be careful how you handle him.”

“Don’t worry, Dad. He won’t be any trouble.”

Charlie did have an odd look in his eyes. But he seemed quiet enough.

And Charlie was quiet—until six o’clock on Saturday morning.

“F-e-e-e-e-e-e-,” screeched Charlie. Charlie liked to call Mrs. McFee’s name every morning just as the sun was coming up. And he kept hollering for a whole hour.

By the following Friday, Willie’s parents were getting a little upset with Charlie. The early morning screech was bad enough, but that wasn’t all Charlie did to make life difficult. Charlie also knew how to get out of his cage. How he did it was a mystery. He zoomed around the house as if he owned the place. The parrot loved to corner Willie’s dog, and refused to let her escape from under the couch until Willie lured him away with a piece of chocolate bar. Charlie didn’t do anything without expecting a reward, and chocolate was his favourite. During that week with Charlie, Willie used up almost his whole allowance buying chocolate bars for Mrs. McFee’s parrot.

Sometimes Charlie would sit quietly in his cage. But no one was fooled. The whole family knew that he was plotting some mischief. Charlie screeched and whistled. He bit. He upset his water dish, and threw his food all over the floor. There were moments when Willie wanted to wring that parrot’s neck. But he had to take care of the parrot or Mrs. McFee would be disappointed in him.

It was Friday afternoon. Charlie had escaped from his cage once more and Willie had just coaxed him onto the point of an umbrella using a piece of candy as bait. He held it just out of Charlie’s reach until the parrot stepped onto the umbrella. Then Willie slipped him into his cage and hooked the door closed.

“Whew. That should take care of you until Mrs. McFee comes home tonight,” he said to himself.

Willie went out to deliver the rest of his newspapers. The sky was dark. A few drops of rain began to fall, and off in the west he could see lightning flickering. He walked a little faster. Willie didn’t want to get his papers wet. His customers wouldn’t be too happy trying to peel open wet newspaper.

When Willie returned home, the sky was black. The lightning was much closer now. The house was strangely quiet. No screeching or whistling could be heard. Willie went to check the cage and what he found made him shiver. Charlie was gone.

Willie looked everywhere. The dog was sleeping peacefully. There was no mess on the floor to tell Willie where Charlie might have been. Nothing was out of place, except— Willie looked closely at the porch door. The bottom corner of the screen had been pulled away. The hole wasn’t very big, but it was big enough for a parrot to squeeze through.

The boy almost cried. Mrs. McFee would be coming home soon. If he lost Charlie, she’d never trust Willie again to take care of anything for her.

He searched every bush in the yard. He checked under the porch. Then, as he passed underneath the elm tree in the front yard, he heard the familiar cry, “F-e-e-e-e-e-e”. Willie looked up and there was Charlie, perched on the very end of the highest branch. Maybe there was still a chance to catch him.

Willie dug into his back pocket for a piece of chocolate and started up the tree. He didn’t even wait to throw off the big canvass bag he usually carried his newspapers in. He could only hope that Charlie didn’t move. So far, so good. The parrot just sat and stared. By the time he got to the top of the tree, Willie was scared. The limb of the tree bent under his weight. If the branch broke, or if Charlie flew away before Willie reached him, what would he do?

“Lord Jesus, help me not to be afraid. And make Charlie be good for a change,” he prayed.

Suddenly, Willie had a horrible thought. Even if he did catch Charlie, how would he ever get him down? He’d be doing well just to get himself down, much less a miserable, fighting, biting, screeching, flapping parrot.

“And please Jesus, get us back down on the ground okay.”

Charlie spread his wings, and the boy held his breath. The parrot settled back on the branch, watching his pursuer. Willie took a deep gulp of air and held out the piece of mushy chocolate.

“Here Charlie, come on, that’s a good bird”, he said as calmly as he could.

Charlie took a step towards Willie. He wanted that candy, but he was too smart to not know what was waiting if he tried to grab his reward. The parrot backed away.

Staying as close to the safety of the trunk of the elm as he could, Willie slowly slipped out of his jacket. Charlie watched every move, but this time he didn’t even twitch a feather.

There would be only one chance. If Willie missed, Charlie would be gone forever.

By now it was raining hard, and Charlie wasn’t happy about being wet. He ruffled his feathers and pulled his head down as close to his body as he could. For one second he looked away from the boy.

Swis-s-s-s-s-h, and the jacket was over the parrot’s head. Willie gently pulled the whole bundle into his lap. Charlie couldn’t fly away, and he couldn’t bite through the thick cloth. At least Willie hoped he couldn’t.

Willie slipped parrot and jacket into his paper carrier, and began the long climb down the tree. Until Mrs. McFee came, he didn’t let Charlie out of his sight for one second. He wasn’t going to lose the parrot a second time.

Later, as Mrs. McFee loaded Charlie into her car, she praised Willie’s good work until he turned red with embarrassment. He felt warm all over for a long time after Mrs. McFee and Charlie had driven away. Being trusted to do a good job was important to Willie, even when the job hadn’t been easy.

Something brushed his face, and he laughed as he looked up and realized what it was. One of Charlie’s feathers, caught somewhere up in the branches of the elm tree, had shaken loose. Willie tucked it into his pocket. He’d keep it beside his bed to remember Charlie by.

“Thank you, Lord Jesus.” And then he added, “And please, could you make Mrs. McFee’s cousin come here to visit the next time?”

Friday, August 30, 2013

Desk Dirge

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I cleared my desk,
I did, you’ve seen—
The wood was shiny,
Bright and clean.

All projects done,
All deadlines met,
All papers filed,
With room to let.

But, while asleep—
It must have been,
Disaster struck my little desk
Destroying all that had been clean.

A flare-up of an awful sort,
An upsurge came, tsunami-size.
My quiet reverie all forgot,
Vacation not to be my prize.

The work appeared,
Paper scattered all around;
A flood of lists, to do, to don’t,
Now unhappily abound.

The wood is covered on my desk
As suddenly objectives change.
Who knew last night the wave would come
And take control as though a mange?

The lamp is lit, there is no choice,
Work must be done, no matter what.
This rash of chores still face me here,
No end in sight to this great glut.

In vain I cry, “oh mercy, please,”
I’m overwhelmed by this great wave
And long for that once sweet, clean desk
And all the promise that it gave.

A pill, a prod, a puncture won’t
Relieve the problem now at hand.
The onset of some long, hard days
My future now for me is planned.

I make this desperate last appeal,
Oh clean desk, once so pristine,
So virtuous, so neat and nice—
How could you do this, why so mean?

Hostility has broken out
Between we two
Your outburst has me quite confused
I thought our friendship was like glue!

Together we would plan ahead,
I’d do my part then sleep in peace
With the assurance that as I slept
Work wouldn’t procreate, increase.

What’s that you say?
Do my ears hear right—
That it’s not your fault that
The flood of projects came to light?

You’re telling me that I’m to blame—
That this explosion on the wood
Lies squarely on my silly head
And means to me not bad, but good?

Now that I think upon the cause
You have a point, I must confess.
If I don’t work, bills don’t get paid
And I don’t eat, then more is less.

Sad, but true, the story tell,
That nice, clean wood is deadly thus.
It needs to suffer the disease
Of work, of challenges, of muss.

Beside the need of worldly blunt
There is another story to be told;
My idle hands and mind would be
No mine of silver or of gold,

But rather hay and stubble grow
And idle time produce no good,
But devil’s playground surely be.
So break out work, oh blessed wood—

That Godly glory shine in me.

Friday, August 23, 2013

God's Gardener

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Mary Moffat stood in silence in the doorway to her home. The baby, her namesake,* whimpered in her arms, aware of a tension she was too young to understand. Mary jiggled her gently and the child fell silent, calmed by the familiar gesture.

The barren landscape shimmered under a blazing sun, heat radiating from the hard baked ground. It hadn’t rained for a very long time—too long. Like mirages in the desert, the scrub and stunted trees seemed to wave and roll in the rising heat, but the delegation of Bechwana warriors confronting her was all too real.

They were not happy.

“You must leave. Because of you, there is no rain. The cattle are dying, the springs are dry, and there are no crops to harvest. If you do not leave our land right now, we will kill you where you stand,” threatened the leader of the group, his spear pointed at her husband’s chest.

Mary shifted the baby to her left side, out of sight of the men now threatening them. Robert stood just in front of her, facing their visitors and partially blocking her from their view.

He had urged her to go inside when the intentions of the Bechwanas had become obvious, to which Mary had replied: “Robert, God made us one, and as one we will face whatever happens.”

She and her husband had been at Bechwana station at Lattakoo in the interior for several years. Robert, along with several co-workers, had arrived in South Africa in 1817, under the auspices of the London Missionary Society. Mary had followed in 1819 when her parents had finally relented, given her their blessing, and allowed her to travel to Cape Town to marry her fiancé.

Robert slowly began to unbutton his waistcoat. Throwing it open, he said: “If you will, drive your spear to my heart.”

For a moment, time stood still. In that brief space, as the implications of her husband’s solemn words settled, Mary remembered her father’s nursery garden near Manchester, where she had first met Robert Moffat. Even then he had been preparing himself for missionary work, convinced that God wanted him to nurture a spiritual garden rather than the physical ones that he first put his hand to at the age of fourteen.

From behind the relative safety of her husband’s body, Mary heard the shuffling of feet and murmuring.

“Robert?”

Anticipating the question, Moffat turned slightly. Keeping his eyes on the warriors now huddled in conference, he spoke softly to his wife.

“I don’t know. I think they were startled by my answer.”

Mary allowed herself a small smile.

“Or your state of undress?”

The threat of death had often hung over Robert Moffat’s head. As a youth he’d gone to sea, causing his mother great anxiety. On his first trip across South Africa, he’d been stranded in the desert without water. In one of his letters to her after that experience he had commented: “I feared that my first trip would be my last; that my dream of planting a garden for God in Africa would end before it had begun.”

Later, Robert had terrified his friends when he mentioned that he was going to move to the kraal of the infamous Afrikaner, a man whose name was hated and feared across the countryside. Not only had God protected Moffat but Africaner, his brothers, and others, became ardent believers under his ministry.

However, the Bechwanas had not been such easy ground to work. They laughed at the concept of salvation. Love didn’t exist in their vocabulary. The only softening they had shown was some moderation in how they went about stealing cattle. They had also gone without the services of their rainmaker—the results of which they now blamed on the missionaries.

Robert had despaired at the lack of response, only to be gently reminded by his wife that the Bechwanas needed to hear God’s Word in their own language before they would be convinced. Robert immediately dedicated himself to that task.

“Mary, look.”

She left the shelter of the doorway to stand beside her husband. The warriors had finished their discussion. As one man, they lowered their spears and turned away. As they moved off, the Moffats heard their leader say to his companions: “This man must have ten lives, since he is so fearless when he is faced with losing this one.”

Once more faith and courage watered a corner of Africa’s garden.

*Baby Mary would grow up to marry David Livingstone

Friday, August 2, 2013

Who Killed Felix Ortega?

It seems like ions ago when the events happened that are fictionalized below. However, we know that people continue to disappear, to be made to disappear, in the interests of political and corporate ambition. God will judge.

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 In the house hugging the foot of the Avila,* the conversation was subdued. The walls had ears.

“Felix has got to go. There are 400 names on his list and ours are among them.” The man slouched on the sofa looked worried.

“Be reasonable,” said another. “Montero got away—jogged away from his secret service minders right into an embassy where he could be sure of being granted asylum. We could easily do the same.”

“They will be more careful now. The leader of our movement walking away from house arrest in the plain light of day embarrassed them,” added a third conspirator.

“It’s only temporary. They will get someone to replace him,” suggested a fourth companion, adding: “We can only hope he’ll be less diligent.”

The subject of the clandestine meeting was state prosecutor, Felix Ortega.** Two years after what many considered a failed coup d’etat, Ortega was working his way through the list of supposed participants. At 38, he was a rising star on the political scene. His success and his public profile had become a threat to many.

Not far away, in an opulent reception room of the official residence of the president of the republic, others were having a similar conversation for different reasons.

“He’s got to go. He knows too much,” insisted the Minister of Justice.

“He’s fair,” said another.

“That’s the problem. Being fair means he is not necessarily going to be loyal to the revolution.”

“So, replace him.”

“No good. To fire him will throw him, and all he knows, into the arms of the opposition.”

Ortega had arrested members of the Metropolitan police, who had been accused of shooting and killing civilians during the march on the presidential palace that began the failed attempt to overthrow the government. He was also investigating the popular mayor of one of capitol’s satellite cities, implicated in the bombing of several embassies. Felix Ortega was tightening the noose around several necks.

In the house, plans were made.

“He has bodyguards. It will be hard to get to him.”

“If we were talking about a gunman, maybe. But a bomb is another thing. He’s taking a graduate course at night. They will guard him, but perhaps not his SUV.”

“Remote controlled?”

“Yes. He is most vulnerable on his way home from the university.”

In the presidential palace, other reasons for Ortega’s demise came to the forefront.

“The commandant wants it done,” said the president’s right hand man. “You know how he hates anyone to get more press than he does …”

“…or be more popular…,” interjected another.

A sharp glance from his companions silenced him. Even here, the walls had ears. They all looked around somewhat nervously as if expecting the Presidential Guard to rush in upon them.

“C-4 will do the job. There will be plenty of opportunity. He’s told us himself that he always dismisses his bodyguards when he goes to class,” said a minister.

One of the men chuckled. “We can always blame it on the opposition—or the CIA. He’ll make a handsome martyr for the revolution.”

On the night of November 18, 2004, a yellow Toyota SUV cruised through the darkened streets of the city. Just five minutes after the vehicle had left the university parking lot, two explosions ripped through the thin black fabric of the night. The car, consumed by flames, continued its forward momentum until it eventually crashed into a store.

Felix Ortega’s death is fact, as are some of the details in this story. The names and faces behind his death remain a controversy. Arrests were quickly made, but few are convinced that the real killers were found. The truth is that jealousy, fear, and lust for power killed Ortega. His death represents only one of many that God will charge to the account of the ambitious men behind the political turmoil that has marked this South American nation over the last ten years.

Paul’s admonition to Timothy is a constant reminder that unless those who rule come to faith, there will be no peace for anyone—including believers.

“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-4


*Part of the Andes mountain range
**Names have been changed.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Bide a Wee, Bully

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From between two of the steel rails in the gate, a rich brown orb placidly observed the crowd. The animal was tightly wedged in the box, but even if he had had more room, he wouldn’t have moved.

“Bide a wee, bully,” his Scottish ancestors would have said. So he’d waited. There was no use wasting his energy at this point. He contented himself with looking, listening, and feeling.

The stands were full of Stetsons, blue jeans, checkered shirts, and leather vests adorned with glitter and glitz—an eclectic mix of real cowboys and wannabes.

He knew the spectators were watching him. He looked back at the crowd with the one eye at his disposal. From somewhere beyond him and above them, he heard the voice of an announcer, made raucous by the public address system in the arena.

“Ladies and gentlemen, cowgirls and cowboys, next up we have Scooter Martin. Scooter is a three-time champion bull rider, so he’s no stranger to us here on the circuit. Scoot hails from Edson, Alberta, Canada, and so far has earned himself fifty-seven thousand, sixty-nine dollars, and change on this pro tour. He’s a winner, folks and so far, he’s the cowboy to beat.”

The crowd roared its approval.

“Scoot has drawn himself a new bull, a Red Angus that we haven’t seen on the circuit before. Goes by the name of Butterscotch, and comes to us from the Samuel Jackson farm out near Horsehead Lake in North Dakota. Butterscotch seems to be taking his first appearance mighty calmly as he waits for Scooter to get himself ready.”

The announcer seemed to take delight in pronouncing Butterscotch’s name with more than just a hint of derision. The crowd got the message, and laughed. What kind of bull was a Butterscotch? The bull flicked an ear in mild annoyance.

Bide a wee, bully, bide a wee.

Butterscotch felt the weight of the rider on his back. It was slightly bothersome and Butterscotch wiggled, banging his back end against the rails. He also felt the chaffing of the bull rope around his middle, and the weight of the bell that hung underneath him and kept the rope in place.

Bide a wee, bully, dinna fash yersel.

He settled himself once more, allowing the cowboy to tighten his grip on the leather handle braided into the rope and double-wrap the loose end around his gloved hand. The pulling and pounding on the glove, to make sure the hand was well anchored, furthered annoyed Butterscotch and he tossed his head. The blunted tip of one horn tagged a cowboy sitting on the rails beside the rider. The man drew back quickly.

“Looks like Butterscotch is getting anxious for the show to start, folks,” chortled the announcer, to the delight of a crowd too far away to see the action in the box. The bull relaxed again, conscious that he needed to wait, to be patient.

Guid lad, bully, bide a wee.

“Get ready for what could be the championship ride, folks. Scoot’s settled, and my money’s on the veteran rider over the novice bull. It only takes eight seconds, friends, and Scooter Martin will be collecting another cheque.”

Butterscotch saw, and heard, hand meeting hand as the crowd clapped and roared its agreement. He felt the digging in of the rider’s knees. His time was coming.

If a bull could smile, this one would have done exactly that.

Puir foolish creatures, they give tae ye a name o’ their choosing—‘Butterscotch’— for the colour o’ yoor hide; but they’ve seen naithin’ o’ the colour o’ yoor heart.

The gate swung open and Butterscotch launched himself out of the box with a brutal hind-end swivel followed by a wicked mid-air twist. It only took four seconds to send a shocked and frustrated Scooter scrambling for the protection of the rails as the novice bull took his victory lap around the ring to the howls of the disappointed crowd.

He heard his ancestors, voices ripe with approval:

Bide a wee, Bully—till next time. ‘Tis the heart no the hide that’ll be markin’ the difference twixt guid an bad—be it bairn o’ beastie.*




With apologies to all Scots out there, and any Red Angus bulls who might read this.

Bide a wee = rest/stay a little
Dinna fash yerself = don’t worry yourself
Guid = good
Puir = poor
Tae = too
Ye = you
Yoor = your
Naithin’ = nothing
No = not
Twixt = between
Bairn = child

Friday, July 19, 2013

One Bad Breakfast

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Susan LaFrance wiped her face with a wet towel. The sour acid taste of vomit lingered in her mouth. She had just lost her breakfast in the ladies’ room outside Courtroom B in the Hall of Justice. Getting to the bathroom in time had been touch-and-go. Luckily, lawyers, especially newly created junior partners, always hurried, so her somewhat frantic rush to the restroom had not been commented on.

“Rabbit up and keeled over dead did he, sweetie?”

Susan jumped. Lost in thought, she hadn’t heard anyone enter the washroom. The old woman now facing her was dressed in faded blue overalls and trailing a rather grungy looking mop.

“No,” responded the younger woman, “just a little disagreement with breakfast. And do I know you?”

Old eyes took in the ring-less hand.

“I doubt you’d think so, sweetie, but you sure look to me like you could use a friend. A friend indeed is a friend in need. Somethin’ like that. Anyway, doesn’t matter. Need a Kleenex? I got one of those minty, freeze-your-tongue things if you want, How about an aspirin? No, forgit the aspirin. Shouldn’t take that stuff when you’re pregnant, sweetie.”

“People get sick for any variety of reasons. I don’t mean to be rude, but it really isn’t any of your business. And I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t call me, ‘sweetie’.”

“Sorry, honey. Don’t mind me. Just can’t help helpin’ out, you know what I mean? There’s a vending machine outside. Supposed to be loaded with pure spring water. Hey, I got to remember that one—loaded with spring. Get you a drink if you want. Should drink lots of water when you’re havin’ a baby.”

“No, thank you, I’m fine. I don’t need any water. And I am not having a baby.”

“Whatever you say, sweetie.”

Susan took a deep breath, struggling to hold her temper in check and to recover her lawyer persona.

“Let’s say, hypothetically, that I was sick to my stomach because I am pregnant—which I’m not. Here we are, two perfect strangers in a public washroom. You’ll never see me again and I’ll never see you again. Why should you care?”

“Why not? People go in and out of this washroom all day and half the night. They all got trouble—why else would they end up in the courthouse in the first place? A little carin’ goes a long way I always say. Can’t have enough carin’ in the world, sweetie.”

“You didn’t answer my question. Why do you care?”

“Hypo-whatever speakin’? Make a short story shorter than short. Found a baby on the floor of one of those stalls once. Good thing it wasn’t flushed. Didn’t get here soon enough though. Couldn’t do anythin’. In a better place now but still, a real shame. Don’t want somethin’ like that to happen again is all. No siree.”

“Well obviously I didn’t vomit up a baby.”

“You can’t.”

“Can’t what?”

“Vomit up a baby. Are you sure I can’t get you somethin’, sweetie?”

“I told you, I’m fine. There’s nothing wrong with me except an upset stomach.”

“Yah, I know, you’re tryin’ hard to convince yourself. And you got it wrong.”

Susan was getting confused, and just a bit frustrated.

“Excuse me? Wrong about what?”

“About me knowin’ you. I see you everyday goin’ in an’ out of the courtroom doin’ all that lawyer stuff. You just never noticed me until today. I guess that proves it.”

“Proves what?”

“Always figured, sweetie, that trouble makes people see things different than they ever did before. Now that’s a fact, ain’t it?”

Yesterday it was fame, fortune, and a future partnership with the firm of Barnes and Sutherland. Today … No, today will be the same as yesterday. I am not having a baby. I will not have a baby. I just need some Maalox.

“I have to go.” Susan headed for the door, turning her back on the old woman.

“Sure you do, sweetie. Gotta go save some criminals. That’s a good thing, everyone needs savin’, but …”

“But what?”

“Don’t forgit that baby’s worth savin’. Maybe she needs some good defense lawyerin’ too.”

She?

Susan opened her mouth to protest again that she wasn’t pregnant but shut it before the words formed. Reality overtook pretense and wrestled it to the ground.

Time to stop kidding myself. One bad breakfast could be explained, but six in a row?

Susan turned to acknowledge her unlikely mentor’s advice.

The woman was gone.

Friday, July 12, 2013

I am Maranta

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Twilight descends as heavenward I bend
to embrace its portals.
Evening skies, chameleon as I, rainbow hues reveal:
Blue to orange, pink to mauve, purple to black.
I too am transformed, an aberration
like the human kind who follow my lead.
By day I stretch, verdant greens, spots and lines
in graceful combination,
a tribute to a creative Master.
Designed to delight and inspire,
I reach out to the light, to the Son, to heaven’s gleaming,
soak in its deepest sense;
then give back, exchanging one blessing for another.

I am Maranta.
I caress the light, hiding from its burning
yet seeking its warmth.
As night enfolds the day and holds it close
I retreat into myself, from reaching out
to pulling in.
Beneath the greens of light and dark, the veins and spots
hide another side,
another story.

I am Maranta.
Green turns to purple, the veins marked wine,
the spots of reddish-blue
blood-red against the darkening sky.
A curiosity to the uninformed who view my nature
as strange as that of those who lift
holy hands toward the sky.
I raise my “hands,” though they are not,
toward the One who made me thus.
Why, I ask, am I to be
so different from the rest?
I think He made me to reflect that bitter night,
the twilight of His life when, His prayer released,
He bled.
And vibrant life to death itself committed,

I am Maranta.
At twilight, the green of my life
to purple turns, the blood-red old as death
as to my Master I give myself in prayerful stance
as once He did with committed, dependent heart.
For those who echo my example,
who labour as He, with earnest voice;
be warned.

I am Maranta, an aberration,
as you will be to those who, without understanding,
fail to see that the greening of the soul
requires a purple twilight,
a garden of waiting,
of urgent pleading,
of heartfelt praise,
sometimes suffering,
always committed,
ever faithful
even to the death,
in prayerful pose.

I am Maranta.
Follow me.


The Maranta, more popularly known as the prayer plant, folds itself up at night revealing an undersurface of rosy-purple.