Monday, September 9, 2019

Long-Awaited Answer

Stella pulled the letter from the narrow box in the lobby. The envelope was wrinkled and yellow. One corner, with a ragged semi-circle outlined in a thin faint gray, showed evidence of water damage.

After weeks of nothing but bills and slick, shiny promotional materials advertising pizza delivery, phone bundles, and cable deals, this thin missive looked like a pleasant diversion.

Miss S. Abrahamsonwas written in a boyish hand in the center. But the address was wrong. As her eyes travelled down the yellowed paper Stella realized that she didn’t recognize the name of the street, or the town. Both the address and the name of the town had been crossed out. Someone had handwritten “doesn’t live here” in pinched, crab-like letters. 

There was no return address.

Stella knew enough about the post office to be fairly certain that, under normal circumstances what she held in her hands should have ended up where all the dead go—the round file.

But here it was.

The stamp was green. She looked carefully at it. It was worth thirteen cents and had an engraving of a tank on it. When was the last time stamps had their monetary values printed on them? And who ever heard of a thirteen-cent stamp? And a tank? Then she noticed the postmark, faded almost to extinction. Halifax, N.S. 1943.

Stella was twenty-seven. She was Miss S. Abrahamson—with both feet on the ground and no illusions about voices, or letters, communicating with her from the great beyond, or the far distant past.

She turned the letter over and gently eased back the flap. There was a single sheet of thin paper inside. The stationery, like the envelope, was wrinkled and yellowed.

A thousand thoughts twisted and turned through Stella’s mind. This obviously wasn’t her letter, despite the name on the envelope. Perhaps she had no business opening it. But it was now open so…

Dear Stella,

I have to get this into the bag right away. The convoy is about to sail and of course, they don’t tell us ordinaries where we’re going, when we might make port, or when we’re coming back. 

I’m so sorry we didn’t have hardly any time together before I had to shove off. But I want you to know that you’re the only girl in the world for me and I love you, love you, love you. Don’t run off with anyone else while I’m gone. 

Will write again as soon as I can.

God bless you and keep you safe for me,

Tommy

Stella carefully folded the letter, put it back in the envelope and returned to her apartment. She went into her bedroom, slid open the closet door and pulled out an old suitcase that had belonged to her parents. It was stuffed with old photos and memorabilia that she had kept when the family home had been broken up and sold after her parents’ tragic car accident.

She rummaged through bits and pieces long forgotten. But there was one photo that had stitched itself into her memory. The letter had torn that memory loose and dragged it to the forefront of her mind. Finally she found it.

Her great-aunt, Stella Abrahamson.

In the photo, that Stella was standing in the apple orchard of the homestead that had once belonged to the family. Alongside her stood her brother, David, and his wife, Millie. In Millie’s arms was a baby, Max.

Max had named his daughter after his favourite aunt.

“She was an amazing woman. In those days all the girls got married, People thought you were somehow lacking if you didn’t. She never said why. But something broke her heart and it never healed so she bundled up the pieces as best she could, straightened her shoulders, and took on the world by herself. Always admired that in her.”

Where had the letter been all these years? How did it finally find its way to a Stella Abrahamson, even if it was the wrong one? Had the first Stella believed that Tommy had just sailed away from her to find another girl in another port?

Stella found the most important answer after a long night of research. Only two merchant ships were lost in 1943. Ordinary seaman, Tommy Scott, died when the Jasper Parkwas torpedoed in the Indian Ocean on the 6th of July.

Later that week, Stella leaned over the bedside of an elderly lady and whispered, “Auntie, Tommy loved only you to the end.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Nine Word Sentences

Courage is often measured by risk. It takes courage to live out God’s Truth. The firm, unscalable walls of God’s absolutes are not gratefully embraced. To be the weakest flame of Truth shining in the midst of blackest deception requires the greatest courage. Accepting the possibility of rejection, misunderstanding, and even aggression, requires a risk-taker. His Truth is counterculture, uncomfortable, and razor-sharp. I submit to its Divine cuts and cures in my own life, and stand up for it in a world that prefers its own lies.

Hope is the expectation that what I say, and write, will find its way through the maze of fear, anger, disappointment, doubt, and rebellion that is in us all. Within me lies the hope that the Spirit of God will penetrate those walls. I hope that His word is not sullied by mine. Only His can change anything and anyone. And always there is the hope that the words He plants will change me first.

Action follows direction, or desire. Procrastination is a soft bed and a beckoning pillow. It beguiles, promising a better day tomorrow. But it is the enemy of the mission. I will do what I promised God to do, not hastily, but neither laggardly nor lazily. I must do what He commands, obedience being the ultimate end of love. I will not wait for others—neither for their companionship on the journey, nor for their affirmation. I will take the steps He orders and speak the words He commands.

Leaning doesn’t come easily. The past necessitated independence and initiative—a product both of heredity and environment. Now, decades later, with habits entrenched, it is hard to rest in the Lord, on the Lord, because of the Lord, and trust Him to do His work in me. It is not a question of doing nothing but of abiding in Him and allowing the “being” to morph into the “doing” that will bring Him glory.

Listening for His voice among a myriad of other voices, including my own, might be the greatest goal of all. The world makes too much noise, as though more volume could overwhelm the sickness that eats the soul. Then comes the still whisper of the only voice that matters, the only sound that counts. He speaks, sometimes in volumes, sometimes just a word—JESUS. When peace ceases, when hate rules, when sadness overwhelms, I will listen for His voice. I will listen hard. 

Encouragement, even its smallest grain, spurs me on though I hesitate to seek it. Somehow that seems too self-centred. But as a plant needs water to thrive so does the soul need encouragement to blossom, to strive, to find meaning. It seems that every time I want to quit, God comes along and send me just a smidgen of “Keep going! Don’t be discouraged!” I am so slow to catch on, too easily distracted and too easily disheartened, too overcome by fear. But I take what He has repeated over and over again and hug those words close to my heart, plant them in my head, and fortify my resolve.

Nourishment to my soul is Your Word, O Lord! It satisfies even the deepest needs. Yet how little time I truly spend at feeding from the bountiful table that You have laid out. I nibble when I should gorge. I pick when I should finish a full plate. I turn my nose up at the servings I don’t particularly like, forgetting that they too are all part of the same dish of “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”* Make my hunger for You more acute that my hunger for anything else.

Grace takes me back to that spot on a hill where, shadowed by a cross, I am told everything I need to know. The debt is paid, the account is closed. I am forgiven. I am free to be everything His sufficient grace has designed for me. Grace lifts me onto my Father’s knee.

Excellence, not perfection, is the endgame. Perfection doesn’t happen here, but excellence does. I will do my best with all that He provides. I will do my best, not to bring myself glory, but to bring glory to Him by bringing others just one step closer to Him. I will strive for excellence because He is excellent. Though the brightness of my efforts amounts to the barest twinkle of the smallest star, I pray my life will be a reflection of His.

*Charles Wesley

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thirteen Reasons to Keep the Doors Open

Pixabay
While fog wept outside the door, the air hung heavy with regret inside the old church building. Of the dozen people gathered around the table, only one was male. However, not even the virtue of gender could make Thomas Stone a leader. Thomas breathed a sigh of relief when Cora Wilson called the meeting to order. As church clerk, Cora was the last, and highest, vestige of authority left. The pastor had departed in disgrace, leaving a decimated congregation in his wake.

Cora carefully explained the situation. She didn’t miss a miserable detail—which was why she was the church clerk. By the time she was done, it was painfully clear that the options were few.

“So, what do we do now?”

Matilda Manheim was 84. Faded blue eyes shifted slowly from one face to another, challenge written in every glance and punctuated by her terse words. She was a charter member of the congregation, had survived two world wars, the Great Depression, been widowed and left destitute at the age of 40, and still raised three fine sons on her own. Tillie wouldn’t give up without a fight—and she still had plenty of fight left in her despite her age.

“Maybe the denomination could help us out?”

This come from Sadie Waters, a quiet, tremulous voice that caused Matilda to crank up her hearing aid so that she could catch every word. Other voices answered.

“Fat help they’ve been. Wasn’t it them that insisted we pay the pastor a year of severance? Darn near broke the bank.”

“Yah, we got to show Christian love, which was more’n he showed us with all his high jinks.”

Cora could tell that the conversation was headed downhill—and quickly. There was still a lot of healing needing to be done. The wounds were still seeping.

“No use us crying over spilt milk. What’s done is done. We have to move on; to think about our future.”

“They could help us find a new pastor,” insisted Sadie.

Jane Stephens sighed, still smarting from the severance issue and her husband’s resignation some months previously from his position as treasurer and church member.

“Who’s going to come to a church with a dozen members left, most of them women, no money, and a rotten reputation in the community?”

Another nail smashed into place in the church’s coffin. In such a small town, news traveled fast. Months of conflict between pastor and people hadn’t stayed a secret for long, especially as members abandoned the battle to find peace in other places.

“Nothin’ wrong with women,” muttered Matilda.

“Nothing at all, Tillie. It’s just that none of us are wage earners, not even Thomas. Pensioners can’t carry the church.”

With great tact, Cora left out mentioning single mothers like Sadie, and women like Jane, who were financially dependent on their husbands.

Now there were lots of voices, all with problems, not a single one with solutions.

“Most of our best workers are gone. We need people, even one person would be an encouragement.”

“Preferably one who doesn’t know all the gory details.”

“Now you are asking for a miracle.”

This time it was Tillie who brought the group back to order.

“Are we saying that we close the doors of the church?” she demanded. “If one person can make the difference, God’ll deliver him. Did we lose our faith along with our pastor?”

The silence provided the answer to the question Tillie had left twisting in the cold wind of despair.

Suddenly the outer door swung open and a blast of moist air swept in, pushing an older man ahead of it. The stranger was decently dressed, but looking a little disheveled.

“I’m sorry to disturb you. My car broke down at the end of the lane. The fog is so thick that I feared getting lost while I went for help. I’m looking for 57 Birch Street.”

He laughed as he removed his hat.

“Imagine not being able to find your own house, but I just moved here. When I saw the light from the cross on your steeple I knew that God hadn’t abandoned this old retired preacher.”

The people seated around the table looked at each other in awe. For the first time, Thomas Stone spoke up:

“Welcome, Pastor. We’re what’s left of Bethlehem* Church.”

He turned towards Tillie.

“It looks to me like God might have just provided us with our baker’s dozen.**”




*Bethlehem means house of bread.
** A baker’s dozen is 13.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Argument

Pixabay
The sounds come tumbling,
Cresting the tip of the tongue
With the suddenness of a Spring flood.
Will the force of the argument,
By its sheer volume, dissolve my banks?
Or will reason sweep your detritus away?
You speak. I answer.
Is it you who blithers and blathers?
Or could it be I who dithers and dathers?
Perhaps both.

There is an eddy in the mind
Hidden from the swirl of verbal emoticons.
It says maybe I’m right. Or maybe not.
But the dam must hold against the torrent.
A thought rushes by,
Though, tossed by the current, it passes
Before I can net, then dry it in my mind.
I respond to what is already gone.
Feeling foolish as soon as the words are launched.
The flow has swept both thought and response far away.

Why do you imagine I don’t know?
Why do I think you don’t understand?
Even as the tidal wave subsides
I feel a malevolent current underneath the surface.
Lapping gently, but determinately,
Wearing away that which holds the argument secure.
I resist, shoring, buttressing, sandbagging.
It is no longer the argument, but the principle that reigns.
Do you feel the same?
Does the argument weaken even as the resolve grows stronger?

An ocean is full of things the same, yet different.
Each is right and none is wrong,
Divine absolutes cannot be changed.
But are yours divine? Are mine?
I hug that truth, fearful of allowing it to surface,
To face the light after the dark depths of mind.
You too, I suppose, must wonder
If the storm of opinion has stirred up muddy waters
Disguising truth, faking fact.
Do we hold tight to water in a sieve?

I let my river run again,
Though this time damming its flow.
It is not weakness that stems the tide,
But caution instead.
A strategic retreat, a reversal of the tidal bore
That signals, not defeat, but assessment.
I know, and I think you understand.
You understand, and believe I know—
Something.
And for the moment the waters are still.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Returning Point

Pixabay
The wood creaked as the old man pushed the window open as far as it would go. During the heaviest rains it had been swollen by the damp—and kept firmly closed. Now, dried out, and with the rain stopped, the wood yielded to gentle persuasion, allowing bright sunshine to enter.

Noah shielded his eyes against the brilliant light. He’d opened the window when his floating zoo had come, with a decisive thump, to rest against the mountainside. He hadn’t seen peaks—or sunshine—for a long time. The air smelt blue not green, like water not grass. The birds he loosed came back, unable to find a place to land.

So he waited, opening the window and looking out every day, curbing his impatience. All the inmates were restless, anxious to get out, to feel solid ground under their four feet, two feet, ten feet, three hundred and fifty-four feet, or no feet at all.

They were all that was left, too few to afford to make a mistake and leave the safety of the ark before God had made adequate provision for them. Everything else was gone, a world scrubbed clean by the brush of the Almighty.

They would have to start again.

But the birds had kept coming back.

Then the last one didn’t.

Like an old hound, Noah sniffed green on the breeze, heard the Voice, and turned toward his traveling companions bunched up behind him.

“Out!”

Years later another old man stood outside the entrance to the great city, staff in hand, watching a floodtide of humans and animals flow past, heading toward the wilderness.

They carried, carted, or drove everything they owned—along with bags and chests of items that their “hosts” for the last four hundred years had eagerly thrust on them. Was it compensation for years of ill treatment? Or desperation? The cries of bereaved Egyptians could still be heard even above the tramp, shuffle, and creak of the Hebrews.

When the crying stopped and the anger set in, Moses knew that they would be pursued. He shaded his eyes, looking to see if the end of the column was visible yet. They had to hurry, get as far as they could as fast as they could.

For Moses, what was happening on this day was a kind of redemption. Years ago he had tried to do what God had done today—rescue his people. He’d failed miserably. He carried that failure into the desert. Now, a better and more humble man, Yahweh had brought him back to Egypt, to do it right, to take His people toward a brighter day and greater prospects.

“Forward!”

Forty years later Moses was dead. Joshua felt his absence. For all those years he had followed the old man, listened to his instructions, obeyed his orders, and seen God work through him. Now, the newly-minted leader stood on the shores of the Jordan and wondered if he was capable of wearing Moses-sized sandals…or if he wanted to.

He’d witnessed the stubbornness of the people Moses had led out of the Egypt. Just because those he was leading were of a new generation didn’t mean much. They still had the same genes, and the same propensity to want to do their own thing their own way.

Across the river lay fortified cities, and people stronger and more numerous than the Hebrews he led. He had seen them. Though he knew that Yahweh would give them what He had promised—a homeland—he also knew that gaining it wouldn’t come cheaply.

Still, it was a new beginning. At long last, entrance into the land promised to their forefather, Abraham, awaited them.

The priests stood at the edge of the river. Between them, carefully carried, was the Ark of the Covenant that represented the promise the great I AM had made to them—and the commitment they had made to Him.

They waited for Joshua’s command. Behind them, still and silent, were the soldiers and the citizens of this new nation.

He shrugged off the heavy cloak of his fears, remembering that late night encounter with Someone much senior to him. He may have succeeded Moses as leader but he knew he wasn’t the real commander.

He raised his spear.

“Cross!”

Yes, cross—another new beginning.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Coroner's Report on the Soul of a Nation

Pixabay
I hover, reluctant to detach myself from what has been my home for one hundred and thirty-two years, six months, ten days, twelve hours and fifty-seven minutes.

It isn’t that there haven’t been other moments, similar events and rebellious people just like these, who have threatened my existence before this. Oh, there had been plenty of those! But the Soul-Giver, forever creative and extremely patient, has always made a way to rewind that clock, overcome those circumstances, move or remove a nation.

Sometimes the adjustments have been substantial; oftentimes just big enough to keep me going for a while longer.

My intimate connection to the Soul-Giver prevents me from even considering that the Giver Himself might be cruel or unjust. I accept that my reason for being includes abuse at the hands of those to whom I have been entrusted. The Giver has decreed that no sacrifice is too big, no effort too great, in the quest to restore creation. And so I have continued to root out evil, to stand for truth and right, to promote peace and exercise kindness in spite of every obstacle and every defeat.

But this day has finally come; the day I have longed for, but dreaded as well. The Soul-Giver enfolds and caresses me. This is the good part. He speaks to me gently, without reproach, assuring me that none of this is my fault.

Enough now, my gentle essence. You have fought bravely and done all that you were able to do but the time has come for you to step back, and for me to take a different tack with this part of my creation.

I shudder, for I remember only too well another time when the Soul-Giver gravely pronounced these very same words. I know what they meant to a wayward people He had rescued from slavery and who had thrown that freedom back in His face in order to chase after delusions. The meaning of the Soul-Giver’s words to this new nation and generation is the part I now dread anew. And I weep, for I know what is about to happen to another people who have trampled underneath their feet the heart and spirit of the Soul-Giver.

What little light that flickers against the dark of evil will soon be gone. The sun will continue to shine, but what good is that to blind men? The grapes will ripen; sweet and rich on their vines, only to turn to vinegar in the cask. The harvest will be gathered only produce worm and weevil in the storehouse. Men who dispensed injustice will themselves seek Justice only to hear her mocking laughter as they stare in dismay at their reflections in the cold polished marble of her halls. Club-footed, love twists inward. The gold standard of truth turns green; raped of her purity, beaten and unrecognizable.

My greatest desire is to stay longer. Perhaps there is still something I can do. But I hear the voice of the Soul-Giver speak again:

No, no more. It is too late. Go back, my precious essence, rest and recover. There is nothing more for you to do here. There will be other battles for you to fight, other hearts to touch, other lives to change. These dead can no longer hear your voice.

And at that, I back slowly away, the last vestiges of light and warmth clinging to me. For a while no one will notice that I am gone. It will be “business as usual”. Life will go on until the smell of death grows so strong that even the dead can no longer stand their own stench.

I, the soul of this nation, distance myself from my charges. Though bruised and battered, I am reluctant to go, but unable to stay. But I guard within me the nature of all that is my Maker and because I know that nature, I also know that I will return.

So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice … so his own arm worked salvation … “ (Isaiah 59:14, 15, 16b NIV)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Jail House Rock

Pixabay, Public Domain
Sy and I were minding our own business, just shooting the breeze as we walked. We’d landed in a pleasant enough place, met some nice people. In fact, we were on our way to the river to meet up with some of the gals from the church. They were into praying — the girls seem to do well at that for some reason — and if we didn’t move it, we were going to miss the announcements (we like to get them out of the way first so as not to disturb the flow of the worship). I was already warming up my vocal chords:

Gonna lay down my sword and shield, Down by the riverside, Down by the riverside …*

Not exactly a worship song, but it was my own personal favourite seeing as how I’d spent a lot of years fighting against the followers of The Way before God got my undivided attention.

I was kind of hoping we could get through the center of town without that crazy fortune-teller appearing. She, or her handlers, always seemed to know where we would be at any given time. Mind you, we never made any secret about our schedules. The whole point of being in this town was to talk about The Way, and a public forum was the best way to do that.

Under different circumstances, the girl could have been a poster child for our movement. For days she had followed us, but instead of saying whatever it was she was supposed to say to earn some bread for the dudes who skulked around behind her, she always ended up preaching. It was a good message too: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”** Sy joked that if I wasn’t careful, I’d lose my job. Fat chance, says I, the Boss told me I would preach in Rome and since I hadn’t been there on either of my previous foreign trips, I figured I was not going to join the ranks of the unemployed anytime soon. Besides, the church wasn’t ready for women preachers — yet!

Well, I decided if she was going to preach, she might as well do it from personal conviction rather than against the will of the snake that possessed her. As she appeared at the head of the street and came toward us, I met her with a divinely inspired message of my own:

“In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!”***

It seemed that no one but the girl and us was happy with the result. The town went into a major meltdown. Next thing you know we’re being hauled into court, beaten and thrown into jail. Sometimes, you gotta wonder how a day can go south so fast. Personally, I call it “The Joseph Syndrome.”

Since we couldn’t think of anything better to do with our time — seeing as how there wasn’t anything better to do with our time — we picked up where I’d left off in the morning.

Gonna put on my long white robe
Down By the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Gonna put on my long white robe
Down by the riverside
Ain't gonna study war no more.


It was a long song, and we sang all the verses, interspersing them with the prayers we had not quite gotten to earlier in the day.

There were a few other unfortunates in the hoosegow with us. They didn’t know the words, but by the time we got to the last chorus, they were humming right along:

Ain't gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more …


The earth shook. At first, I thought it was just my enthusiastic toe taping despite being in stocks. The crumbling brick scattering dust on my head, doors jumping from their hinges and chains snapping at wrist and ankle, clued me in. God was adding a big bass to our meager melody.

It never occurred to any of us to run. Besides, I had a feeling that someone else might need help laying down his sword by the riverside that night. As we waited for God’s encore, I wondered if the world was ready for a new genre in music. I’d call it Jail House Rock. That seemed appropriate.




* Down By The Riverside was originally written for the Boy Scouts
**Acts 16:17
*** Acts 16:18