Two As One

Introduction: Friends are more valuable to me than anything else on earth except God (including food, air and water). Inspired by nature walks, Jesus and a fluffy version of my life. Perhaps you’ll hear a loose influence of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”

Two as One

As the sun sets, the siren song of a moonless, midnight stroll beckons.

The journey begins alone. Outcast. A traveler with harsh, truth-filled retorts.

Descending despondent. Marauding on the secluded mind-hoard. A valley of scarred bones

Arising deceased. To hear the raucous Raven caw, ‘Nevermore.’ A foretold path

Of waters not parting. My blighted touch diverts streams to bring thirst-sea sand.

Upwards lies the trout-run to scale. Rainbow dreams to spawn and spin. My sires’ choice.

Downwards devout paces is stacked stone. Follow the high road. Lugging the forebears’ gold.

Mist tethers to my senses. Faltering, crumbling under the strain of misfit talents.

Mentally stupefied. Falling into a crevasse. Imprisoned, like drained refuse.

A wish for life to end, as the hopeless hole digs deeper into obsidian heart.

Yesteryear values of kin cut my soul. The chasm gores fetid body, but I’m tearless obliviousness.

Musing on a dismal, misused life. Breathing fumes of decay from clan’s milk-less goat.

Hades-shade peaks. Approaching heat-loss ends universe. Fatal darkness.

Though calling, muffled moans eke forth. The silent cliffs on either side echo the sobs.

Soon too deranged to cry out. Chained inward. Should the forked path present again

To choose the rocky road not taken. Spark passions. Write, speak, draw revelations.

Yet powerless to save. Nothing else left but waiting in empty, sunk despair.

And pray. Doubting, what’s worth living? Fearing, who’s there caring?

When all is lost, even the godless come to Him at last. Naked and voiceless.

Then descending into unconsciousness. The unknown void swallows whole.

Sudden torrent carries my crushed core rushing, jolting, scoured by humble gravel.

Through rain-veiled ravine to mooring on river’s edge in self-battered coma.

Cloaked-night rips open vivid mind-sight. Gleaming, greeting, beloved spirit darling.

Stroking hand and cheek. Flash-flood of insight. A missing link. To help. To comfort.

Nod awake. Yet remain repentant, snake-bit, wretched mess.

Human angels, or perhaps God Himself, ofttimes see what others can’t detect.

A hiker (at that wee hour?) sites off the upper ledge (at just the place where I lay?)

And surges to aid. With gentle expertise, restores from death’s grip.

This savior fetches back from Hell. Scramble on together. Smiling. Amusing.

Still with severe struggles. Leaning, limping with a bough-made cane.

Though feeble in frame, replenished to the human race. Notice! Sunrise spices the newly

Born day. Fresh-bloomed lilac hedges release a meek perfume. Robins dunk for worms.

Even weedy dandelions wear butter yellow, set free showers of wispy seed-clouds.

We saunter slowly. Lingering concern. Though day alights, will artistic visions

Result in adventurous ascent or stifling sinking? Must stride each step to reveal.

Sleet pummels and thunder roll-calls. After buffeting hail, the wind knocks off course.

He guides to a safe-thorned thicket. Hidden like deer, nestling through the tempest.

Sir conjures melody. We harmonize and sing the chorus round until the shivers pass.

What’s this!? Gratitude and love replace former detesting and despairing.

We harbor the journey as linked crafts. Rejuvenated. Prows forward.

With that rescue, sunshine-touch, health regained and purpose replaced.

Now word-painting the loveliness all about. And sparkle within. Most importantly,

Reflect, “Who joins one in the voyage? Angel, friend, faith partner?”

To flourish, rope to another. Choir and shelter with charmed joy. Magic!

Twine voices and lifelines with the years. Blues be done. Two as one.

Opal’s Nocturnal Escapade

A story confessed by my cat Opal with her brother Onyx as accomplice.

OPAL’S NOCTURNAL ESCAPADE

My tummy rumbles. *Grop. Grop.*

“Psst. Onyx. I’m hungry. Mommy is asleep. Time to forage. Listen up, Onyx, while we’re on this mission I’ll teach you superior tactics and survival skills. But you’ve got to do just as I say.”

              “Meow.” I stealthily leave Mommy’s side, jump from the bed, and make my way to the kitchen. Onyx follows me.

              “Oh! Look Onyx. Cheese Snuffles! My favorite! Notice how important it is to be observant like me.” I spring up on the counter and push the Cheese Snuffles bag to the floor.

              “Onyx, you open the Cheese Snuffles. I’ll continue the search for more food. Keep your ears tuned for Mommy waking up to go to the bathroom, too.”

              “Meow.” Onyx tugs on the zip lock seal. Nothing happens. I see Onyx give up. “Use your teeth to tear a hole in the plastic, Onyx. You can do it!”

              “Meow.”

              “What would you do without me, Onyx?” Onyx starts gnawing the package. I open all the kitchen cabinets, but every item is canned or bottled. Lastly, I sniff a pot on the stove.

              “Wow! I found gold, Onyx! Mommy left her spaghetti sauce to cool and forgot to put it into the refrigerator. Purr…purr…persistence pays dividends.” I carefully nudge the lid halfway off the pot.

              “Mmmm.” *Slurp* *Slurp* “This is fabulous! Come enjoy, Onyx. Mommy always says that she is a bad cook – but not when making cat food!” Onyx jumps up. As he reaches his face in to eat, he knocks the lid off onto the metal stove. *Clang*

              “Onyx! Be careful! It is fortunate that Mom will sleep through an explosion. Otherwise, she will catch us consuming all her spaghetti topping.” Onyx eats a little, but I finish all the meat and some of the tomato sauce in the pan.

              “Now to top off my meal with cheese. What? Are you full, Onyx? You’ve done a great job as lookout, and I’ve been an awesome leader.”

              “Meow.”

              I roll off the stove. I eat all the Cheese Snuffles from the hole in the bag that Onyx nibbled earlier. As we sit on the kitchen floor, cleaning the tomato stains from our faces, my stomach makes a strange sound.

              “Onyx, I overdid the snacking. Now I understand why Mommy says God recommends everything in moderation. I’m not feeling well. I…” *Blurp* *Gurggle* *Gurggle* I vomit a pool of red and orange fluid all over the floor.

              “Meow.”

              “It is OK Onyx. I feel better now.”

              “Meow.”

              “Mommy will clean up the mess. I’m sleepy.” Onyx and I curl up on the bed with Mommy. We don’t sleep, however. We have two guilty consciences.

              “Onyx” I whisper, “I just realized that I should have followed you instead of the other way around. I’ve been a glutton. Maybe my midnight adventure was not a good idea after all. I feel terrible wasting Mommy’s dinner and dirtying her floor. I wonder what my punishment will be?”

              “Meow.”

              “Yes, we can thank the Lord that Mommy believes in mercy and forgiveness.” And with that thought, Onyx and I finally fall deeply asleep.                                                                              

The Water Fetcher

Introduction: A story of life through death.

The Water Fetcher

              Caught in the twists and folds of time, thirsts a parched land. Heat sheets over the world like a suffocating blanket. Everywhere the populous begs for water. More precious than any jewel, metal, delicacy or royal heir, is a sip of pure water.

              Adrift in the confusion and struggles of this planet, a young man, Artemis, feels a pull to search for water himself. It is rumored that there is one place, Deep Well, where water is plentiful. One man, simply the Water Fetcher, stands sentinel at Deep Well. He dispenses the wet treasure to the surface for those who ask.

Though some claim this story is myth, others say they have reached Deep Well and will always praise the Water Fetcher. They never thirst again, it is reported. Though all their possessions are confiscated and their family jailed, no trace of water is found about them. Still, they thrive. Inexplicably joyful and at peace.

The naysayers are sure these believers delude themselves and others. They must concoct fictions and lies about meeting this Water Fetcher. They must fake their content condition. They, too, in reality die daily for another drink. The more passionately the believers tell their tale, the more resistant to the greatness of the Water Fetcher many become.

Artemis decides he must test the truth of this story for himself. He acquires the believers’ book of Directions. This is the solution. But it is filled with places, rules, stories, information on lifestyle, and more. Where to start? Artemis journeys to some places listed in this book. Perhaps the people there will know more.

After tromping to Capernaum, Jericho, Jerusalem, and so forth, Artemis realizes he is learning about the history of Deep Well. Yet no closer to its current location.

Many of the Directions are rules, laws to follow. Artemis begins to conform to these standards. This seems to be a step forward. Artemis feels a “rightness” to these commands. Most are clearly sensible ways to act toward others, and the Water Fetcher, if He indeed exists.

Yet there is something missing. For the more rules Artemis follows, the harder it gets to obey. And if the Directions are correct, the Water Fetcher requires perfection. Artemis will never manage all these requirements without some fault. He feels more discouraged than ever.

As Artemis wanders, something compels him to talk to an old man with an abacus. Artemis learns his name is Fiero. Fiero is accounting for stores loaded onto camels, heading to a main trading city. As Artemis watches him, he sees how Fiero repeats certain procedures with his tool to get the correct totals for each of the supplies to be sold.

Fiero explains these rules he abides by on his abacus he learned as a boy. As long as he is careful, the abacus always returns the accurate number he needs. How or why it works? Fiero has no idea. But he has faith in the system, since it has proved correct in the past. What if the count seems wrong to him? Fiero double checks, but always trusts his abacus, even before his own reckoning.

Artemis is sure this is just what he has been missing! Trust, faith, and hope. An attitude is key, not the location or just following rules. A certain openness to believing the believers’ story is necessary. Having faith in the Directions. A particular trust that when he is being guided, even though the road seems the wrong way, one must obey.

Artemis ambles without any attention to his course while this epiphany hits him. But now, inexplicably, he comes to the edge of a lake. Water! Artemis longs for a drink. But checking the Directions, his expectations fall. This lake is labeled poisonous. As he stands by the side of the liquid, Artemis cannot contain his disappointment. He screams in rage. He curses the Water Fetcher. He almost kneels to drink. Even death seems preferable to this deception!

Then, as Artemis calms himself a bit, a strange urge to enter the water descends on his mind. A “voice” tells him, he must step into the lake and cross to the other side. Artemis looks for a boat on the shore. None. A log or material to use as a float. None. Artemis cannot swim. The lake is definitely deeper than his height. If he obeys, Artemis will drown.

Yet, he is sure that is what he must do. Artemis checks his Directions once more. Yes. The other side of the lake is where he will find Deep Well. Artemis remembers Fiero. “Once I double check, I always trust my abacus, even more than my own reckoning.”

Artemis forges into the liquid. The lake steams and boils. Yet, a coolness surrounds his body. He is now up to his neck. One more step will plunge him under. Artemis is desperate to end his quest. If he dies, he dies. Artemis holds his breath and takes another step. His mouth is covered. Now his head. More steps, he is almost out of oxygen. Still more, his lungs are bursting. A couple more should assure his death. Artemis’ air is depleted. He passes out. His body floats to the lake bottom.

Images swirl around his mind. A carp rises out of the lake on a fisherman’s line. No! A boatman. Ah! It must be Charon at the River Styx, taking the fish to Hades. A peaceful ride to the opposite shore. The fetid, bubbling lake is left behind. The carp wriggles. Some life left yet. Though soon it will be dinner for Charon. No. The boatman casts the carp down a well. Artemis feels his fins and gills. No. Arms and legs. ‘But I’m dead!? Or am I a carp!?’ Artemis thinks.

Splash! The pure, exhilarating water bathes the pain from Artemis’ body and mind. Artemis stands next to a man he knows. He slumps to the ground in awe, in gratitude. The Water Fetcher! The Fetcher pulls Artemis up from his knees. An embrace. A welcome.

The Fetcher inundates Artemis with gallon upon gallon of sweet, playful water. As if under a torrent of life, Artemis’ strength returns hundred-fold.

He must share this gift! The story is true! So thankful, tears of joy pour from Artemis’ eyes. He buckles once again at the feet of the Water fetcher.

But ecstasy on Earth is ever limited. The fetcher hands back to Artemis his book of Directions. The Water Fetcher beckons Artemis to a door. When it is opened, Artemis sees his hometown.

With a step, he is back where he began. But not thirsty. Except for this book. What more does it say? And Artemis must tell his friends and family.

Thus, Artemis finds his way to life through death. Never thirsting again, except for the words of the Directions. Artemis believes. He joins other believers. Each recounting with the Water Fetcher is different. But all find the Living Water.

What do you believe in? What are you searching for?

Lucy’s Fall

Introduction: A fictitious imagining of Lucifer’s story. God’s grace is so incredible, I can even sense Him trying to save the Devil. Never doubt God’s grace for you. Don’t wait to accept His gift!

Lucy’s Fall

              In the midst of Heaven’s glorious light and abundant harmony, God creates an exceptional angel named Lucy. She charms all she meets with her winning personality and striking beauty. Lucy entices the harp to its most extraordinary heights. She dances exquisitely. Lucy sings songs to God that move each heart to tears. Her wisdom is astonishing. She adorns herself in stunning but modest fashion.

              However, Lucy has a little heart. She does not understand her fellow angels or God’s created and beloved humans. She expects perfection. And all these others fall short. Except, as is true with all of us, Lucy is blind to her own glaring fault.

              But, while she is young, Lucy has very wise parents in the Trinity who teach her to judge herself just as harshly as she judges others. So, though Lucy is unbearably difficult to tolerate, she is even harder on herself. This makes her an excellent student and employee in Heaven’s accounting department. As far as accuracy and efficiency go, Lucy is almost flawless.

              Still, Lucy fails to make relationships due to her shriveled emotional empathy. She is so lonely, she considers taking her life. God knows she needs to learn a huge lesson, however, so He makes her life more difficult and unfulfilling. God will not allow Lucy to die, she must complete her destiny.

Yet, God in His mercy sends an alternate vision. Perhaps if Lucy could be taught the strictest obedience to Him, she will become an amazing asset instead of a glaring blunder. It is a major undertaking, but God’s heart yearns for everyone to be saved. Even Lucy. God crushes her with all his resources. Will Lucy wake up? If so, to what conclusion?

              Unfortunately, one day, Lucy makes a fatal mistake. She feels the weight and pain of God’s correction. But she concludes He hates her. She judges God with her scrutinizing eye. Does He have any error to be corrected? Lucy thought she sees some. Why does He require so much worship? Is He proud? Everyone calls me proud. But no one bows to me. Maybe they should! Maybe God is even more insufferable than I? After all, sometimes He makes innocent humans suffer. And He never explains Himself!

              I wonder if that man Job God’s so proud of would even worship Him if God’s true colors are revealed? If Job suffered unjustly, what would happen? I’ll have to check that out.

              But first, back to that question of why I am not receiving accolades. I’m more persuasive than God, so I think I can convince half the angels to follow me instead of Him. Just think, my own worshippers! I wonder what wonderful things I can do for the world with that kind of power? Build and expand frontiers, utilize resources to capacity, make sure the strong survive and the weak die off. (God’s far too fond of the underdog.) It would be Paradise with me in charge!

              So, Lucy does it. She rebels against God. And as soon as she parts God’s bond, Lucy loses her goodness (it is all God’s). Evil consumes her. The same thing happens to all her rebellious angel followers. Alas, Lucy does not notice the change!

              Down, down, down, into darkness. Seething with ambition for power, wealth, fame and worship. Pride at an all time high, Lucy thinks she has “won” in her contest with God. Yet she is even smaller and her heart more desiccated than before.

              And the Bible picks up the story from there. Lucy goes on to pollute humanity with her rebellion. Many human hearts turn cold and unfeeling, like Lucy’s.

              Fortunately, God sends a Savior, a hero, to touch the heart-shards of mankind. The shards are infinitesimal in some cases from continued evil. Yet Jesus uses every possible means, sometimes raining down pain like Lucy’s, to bring them back to realization and repentance. Through trusting and obeying Jesus, Heaven’s doors open to mankind, no matter how shriveled the heart is previously.

              So why does God make the “good” suffer as well as the “evil”? The test of each human’s obedience for God to be in total control, regardless of senselessness or injustice, reveals if that individual can obey Him in Heaven. Just like a General in the Army, God’s soldiers must carry out orders immediately and completely, or the war will stall and result in more casualties to win. (Though victory for Jesus is assured.)

              That’s only a piece of the story, of course, only God knows all of His reasons and purposes. What we do know, is our job is to trust God, obey God, and accept His plan, regardless of how illogical or unfair it appears.

              Incidentally, God does mourn for Lucy and her fallen angels. He knew their weaknesses. He desperately tried to make a way out for them. But they mistakenly saw God’s painful but necessary discipline as spiteful injury.

Don’t make the same mistake as Lucy. Work through your suffering to find God’s golden light of purpose for everything that happens to each of us. Accept that there is a reason, though you may never know what it is. And then, following Jesus with complete heart, someday you will find yourself in Heaven. Glorious light and abundant harmony be yours. Start today and finish in eternity.

Cassie and Adele

Introduction: A reimagined story of Cain and Abel.

Cassie and Adele

              Two sisters. So alike. Excited for their futures. The first and eldest, Cassie, dances. With her heart and with her lithe and shapely body. Bridges and gymnastic ribbons and balls. Borrowings from many cultures, yet something familiar to all. Not just ballet, though so trained. Not just tap, or jazz, or modern, or hip-hop. Something original that returns to the roots. Cassie, dancer extraordinaire, an innovator!

              So, Cassie expresses her art to audiences around the world. Singing with her limbs for the sheer joy and beauty she brings to her fans. Cementing ties with other dancers, other countries. Building bridges, as well as displaying them in her forms.

              One day, a performance for the President with her troupe. Cassie unleashes her best. But this time, she is thinking of fame and fortune. She is proud of her body and accomplishments. Cassie hungers for praise and applause. Something elemental changes within her.

              The President enjoys the show immensely. But, Cassie notices, he praises other performers just as much, if not more, than her. She does not savor the lavish dinner. All the introductions to important and interesting people go unnoticed.

Cassie’s heart hardens with bitter resentment. Her joy of dance leaves. Barrenness. Cassie’s career begins a downhill slide to smaller and smaller venues. Yet she is too jaded and sour to teach.

But what of Adele, the second sister? She becomes an astronomer. At first, fascinated by the heavens for their glory. What regular movements! What an unexpected variety of celestial objects! What beauty! What wonder and vastness!

The more she studies, the more she is drawn to questions of purpose. All this expanse and its overarching scientific principles; it has all the hallmarks of something planned. Yet how and why?

Adele awakens into a spiritual belief in a good and great Creator.

In the meantime, her hard work and insights lead to the discovery of a new nebula. She names it “The Galilean” as a tribute to Jesus and Galileo. The milky white length of stars with a reddish-pink “sash” across the body even reminds her of pictures of Jesus.

She, too, is invited with others of her team to dine with the President. There he presents Adele with a special award for scientific excellence. His praise is effusive. Adele gives credit for her success to Jesus.

The newsworthy event garners even greater success for Adele. Books, a TV series, nation-wide acclaim.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the sisters grow apart. Cassie irrationally blames her sister for her failing career and exclusion from the spotlight. Cassie even publishes a scathing article revealing Adele’s teenhood dark skeleton – an abortion at seven months pregnant.

The hateful article shuts down Adele’s career and formerly large Christian fan base. Adele commits suicide under the shadows of financial ruin, public ridicule, shame and remorse.

Cassie pays by far the higher price, however. The public holds her in scorn. Her conscience kept her traveling from location to location. Town to town, Cassie dances furiously in community theaters.

Two sisters. So alike, transform so differently. Are you excited for your future?

A Space For One

Introduction: This is a science fiction story based upon a movie (“Arrival”?) with a twist.

A Space for One

              After one hundred and fifty years in cryogenic freeze, on my way to another planet, a malfunction in my pod causes me to be reawakened. Early. By hundreds of years.

              A search of the space shuttle confirms that I am the only one conscious on the craft. The horrifying reality sinks into my mind like sewage settling in a drain field. Can I survive the mental agony of utter aloneness for the remainder of my life? Is it possible to live as Robinson Crusoe with no Friday in my future? Can I even manage to acquire the food and supplies necessary to sustain life when they are not scheduled to be accessed for centuries? How can I fill my time productively and meaningfully? My nightmare is just beginning, yet I am already feeling deranged by my predicament. Where to search for solace?

              Thankfully, my skill sets are computer programming and robotics. I have a good chance, given the time which I have in abundance, to alter the release codes on the supply compartments and most data banks. (Except perhaps those heavily encrypted and secured.) I will have to become familiar with a more general range of knowledge to be able to prepare my food, clean myself, exercise, prepare for possible medical care and travel freely about the shuttle.

Scanning through the library of ship’s stores, I discover animals in cryogenic freeze ready for domestication and companionship upon arrival. Perfect! After I learn to care for myself, I will awaken a canine to befriend. My heart is lightened by several tons of physical touch deprivation. This dog will be trained as no other in history. As full a vocabulary and emotional bonding as possible in an animal body and mind. What a find!

Fast forward two years. Wilson and I are inseparable. He already recognizes over one hundred words, including simple sentences. Wilson can also initiate information with certain numbers of barks, whines, howls and paw movements. He is a mix Australian Shepherd and Border Collie. Wilson is the next best gift from human companionship. He seems to know my very thoughts at times. A soul mate with unflappable trust and undefeatable optimism at my side constantly.

Yet, as I conquer each goal and begin a life-long learning program in subjects of interest, a dissatisfied yearning reemerges. More than human contact, I finally realize I am struggling to make sense of what has happened to me. Is there a higher purpose? Could my seemingly meaningless existence be part of a greater plan? Is there a ‘’God”? All my life, I have looked to science and my own logic and experience for answers. Now I am not so sure reality ends with what I can perceive. I dive into the philosophers’ world like a whale sounding to the bottom of the ocean.

I am learning new ways of communicating with Wilson. Hand signals have been added to my voice commands. Wilson even picks up on my depression without any outward sign, and snuggles up to me for comfort.

Philosophy has led to a journey into various religions. Though the meditation and control of Buddhism are extremely useful and appealing to me, the hope for a future Heaven beyond this life beckons. Christianity has the most assured way of achieving such a “reward.” While the evidence in the exceptionalism of the Bible (as God’s Word) is extensive. Granted, one needs to believe miracles are possible to believe in Christianity. But once I crossed over to accepting the existence of God, that is an obvious and easy next step. (God can clearly break His own principles should He wish.)

And how did I jump to faith in God? When all other hope is gone, desperation pushes even the most recalcitrant into His hands. As I sincerely pray, answers and visions come to me. At first, I thought it coincidence or my subconscious at work. But after examination, I realized I have received help from God beyond my own factual resources. Indeed, answers have come when I scarcely knew what to ask or search for. Including “miraculous” information I have never found in the data bases, being provided.

God has supplied and provided throughout these difficult years of solitary confinement. Great highs and lows. Joyous opportunities and smashing despair. A unique look at human psychology for a life apart from my fellow humans, but thankfully, bonded to God. Cryogenic freeze malfunction is exactly my story – from frozen heart to thawed heart. Hard as it has been, I am grateful God. I am grateful. For without this mishap, I would not have found You.

Excruciating Victory

Introduction: Would you like to relive an old crew race with me? But I’m altering the ending as seen with eyes of today.

Excruciating Victory

              The gun sounds. My tense body eases up the boat on the sliding seat. Then I explode backwards as I drop my oar at the ‘catch.’ All eight of us in unison. Pulling the shell together over the water. A camaraderie of muscle and mental energy.

              Though it appears effortless from shore, it is far from easy to coordinate the eight oars and keep from exhaustion by the race end. The coxswain helps. She yells notice when a crewmember is early or late with their stroke. Cox also controls the rudder; steering a straight course down the 800-meter lane.

              This race is in an estuary. So, the water is choppy, presenting problems for my loose-handed grip on my oar. Once, as I bring my oar back, it hits a wave. One-hundred-eighty-degree turn later as the oar dips into the bay, I ‘catch a crab.’ A horrendous issue, slowing our boat and causing my oar to dive under the shell, instead of alongside it.

              To compensate, I grip the oar tighter. But my hands tire quickly.

              Meanwhile, I see various crewmembers struggling to keep on time to the rhythm set by the stroke, rower in the eighth seat, at the front of the boat. I am number two oar. Port side. With good visibility of all six of the crew in front of me and the cox.

Only the coxswain can see the finish line. How far to go? A question consuming me as my breath comes shorter and shorter while the race progresses.

              We all see two other shells pulling even with ours. Discouraging. Can we power to the end to maintain our slim and eroding lead? The cox calls for more strength, a ‘power 20.’ We give it everything for twenty strokes of torture.

              Our eight bursts ahead. However, I’m at the end of my stamina. Despite intense running, stadium step workouts and weight lifting, I am always the last crewmember in on every cardio test. By a large margin. My strength is consistency and form of my stroke, not its power.

              When will this end?! My lungs feel collapsed! The cox calls for another ‘power 20.’ Can we sustain our small lead? Is it still a lead? I feel the shell lurch forward.

              The salty spray is annoying. I’m so thirsty! My mouth is adhesive-coated. But first, some air. Why aren’t my breaths refreshing me?! My muscles are screaming! My heart is burning from over-work. I’m long past my reserves of everything.

              Oh no! Another ‘power 20’! The boat is not accelerating like before. Where are our competitors? Where is the finish line!!

              The few people in the stands are shouting, but for who? I see sweatshirts waving. Cox is calling for a ‘power 10.’ This better be it. I give all I can muster. I see the end-line buoy!

I collapse over my oar. Gasping. The coach signals the cox that there is a dispute on the timing of the race. We wait as we revive our thoroughly spent frames.

Finally, the results are in. We’ve won by a tenth of a second! What an exhilaration of victory in such a body-rending competition! The medal with the red, white and blue ribbon has an eight-man crew pictured with the words, “Head of the Harbor.” A memory is formed from starting pistol shot to ending celebration.

The grueling test of endurance feels like a pyrrhic victory at the time. But now, looking back, I see God’s hand preparing me for physical and mental strains only He could know where coming. Thank you, Lord, for excruciating victories.

The Boxer

Introduction: A fictional story in a fictional setting, inspired by Simon and Garfunkel’s song “The Boxer.”

The Boxer

              It is a wet December as I stand outside the gym, waiting for the skies to stop sobbing for the loss of the sun. Day hardly arrives. Just less dim than nightfall that had all the streetlights to brighten one’s view.

              Between trips to workouts, I jog, waste time, fight. Brawl at the bar down the street when I have money for a drink. Anger issues, everyone assumes. My mom and dad left me. Good enough excuse. Stuffed in my grandparents’ basement, all expectations are long gone for ‘what I could do.’ As if life ever had something to give me. Especially a purpose.

              Yet a spark of the decent remains. I refuse to join the gangs and deal drugs. That’s my parents’ story and downfall. I’ve sworn it off. Like casting off a too-tight, filthy coat and opting for this leather jacket to cast a spell on me to be different. So far, unemployed deadbeat, high school dropout, assault jailbird, not different enough. Guess the magic isn’t working. So much for help from the spirit world.

              Still, the manager of the boxing ring has his eye on me. Maybe he has faith I’m a winner. Get my brains knocked out of my body in addition to my self-control. I’m afraid if I put my all into hurting others, I might be too successful. With the rage inside me, I think I could dig into a stomach with my fingers, rip out the intestines, and strangle the corpse with them. Don’t want to be a murderer, though. But what else has life, and I, trained me for?

              Drip. Drip. Drip. This drizzle’s like a bloody nose at ringside. Of course, I can stand under the fast-food overhang and lean on the ad for the meat lover’s half-pounder. If only I am so lucky to eat here. Can’t complain, though, grandparents take care of my needs. Sadly, grandpa doesn’t understand about life today. No job security. No relationship security. Everything’s here today, gone tomorrow. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Expendable world. Just like me.

              How to be valuable in life? What do I have to offer? This bum beside me has got more income and more attention than I. Of course, he asks for what he needs. Think. What do I need? Who can I ask?

              I walk on down the trash-lined street. If only there was someone to talk to. Someone who understood. What about Joe? That old boxer used as a punching bag for the up-and-coming stars. Wonder what his story is?

              Back to the gym. I pick up my pace. Clouds overhead suddenly let go a flood.

              As I enter the building, the smell of sweat and machinery is familiar, comforting. Latest treadmills, Nautilus systems, rowing stations. I usually stick to the free weights, jump rope, inclines for sit ups. In the next room is the boxing.

              There’s Joe. Always by the ropes like a ten-ton fly that circles but won’t leave. Encouraging the rookies. Joe’s more of a talker than most boxers. Quiet types, usually. Us fighters let our fists make our conversation.

              I hear the rapping rain on the roof. Coming down fast. Time to jump into the river. I ask Joe about his past. He’s stunned. Hit with a zapper like a bug inside one of those electric units. No one ever ask Joe who he is. At first, he’s wary. Then, Joe realizes I’m in a sore-hearted spot. He opens up.

              Yeah. Old Joe was a no-account kid, too. Had no options except his bulk and his force. So he did what he could. Joe beat people up for gambling debts. A hired thug. For small-time gamblers. Ashamed of it now, but at that time it was the only thing presented itself.

              After Joe was too old, the gamblers told him to shove off, got a young replacement. So he found his way like a shunned, flea-bag mutt, to this boxing ring. Manager kind enough to give him work. Old Joe is just glad to be out of the weather. Sleeps in a cot in the storage room, in exchange for janitorial nights after everyone’s left. ‘Don’t tell no one else that, though.’ Joe realizes he’s revealed too much of himself to me, this strange kid asking questions.

              I thank Joe for his time. Tell him my story, next talk. My frustrations and anger. Joe nods. Then he has to go some rounds in the ring. Damn, young boxer looks big as a warhorse. Complete with red silk pants covering his flanks. Joe is pulverized. Can’t believe he’s still standing. But Joe never drops.

              Several months Joe and I share. Horror moments. Like the time I tried to impress a dame and couldn’t pay for our drinks. Jabbed out good by a woman. Now I laugh about it with Joe. Few times of glory when I sent some scum-vermin unconscious with upper cuts.

              Finally, one day I stay late. Joe gets out the mop and bucket. As he’s shining up the wood, I explain my dilemma. “What could I do with my worthless life, Joe?”

              Joe cocks his head. Considering. Remembering his journey. Silent for some minutes. I wait. The sound of rain pelting the windows makes me look over at the tears streaming down in random rivulets on those glass panes.

              “Not sure I’m the one to give advice on such a weighty question.” Joe measures out his words carefully, like a carpenter taking two sights before making his cut. “I know hard, full-on workouts are the best way for me to pour my mad into something good. Time in the ring let’s my steam boil off in a safe way. Without ending up in jail, or worse yet, a ditch somewhere.”

              “Guess that’s why I spend so much time at this gym myself,” I admit. “But isn’t there anything more to life?”

Silence again. Joe’s searching for that lost grail. Something holy and rare. But what he says seems so…common. “Life now is not so much more as enjoying the moments I’m given. Like right now. You’ve made a friend of old Joe, when no one else has ever cared. And I guess I never cared for anybody, either. But it’s a gift. A present to meet someone down deeper who opens the box to their thoughts. To ponder about life. To dream with someone.”

Joe stops mopping for a while and looks up. “I never believed in God. But I prayed for some good to come into my life, anyway. Just like you have. Thought if there is a God, He’d answer with a thunder bolt, curvy gal, and winning lottery ticket. But He brought me so much better. He brought me you.” Joe’s mopping again. Rubbing hard on a stubborn blood spot.

The storm parts to reveal a ray of sunshine. I realize Joe is right. It isn’t a job I’m looking for so much. It’s connection. With others who can relate. And help me grow. I nod to Joe. I start stacking weights in the right places. Roll up a stray exercise mat. I wonder if grandma and grandpa might have stories, lives to share. Thoughts on life.

“Thank you, Joe.” I end simply. “I think you’ve helped me more than you know.”

I come back to the gym for pure-gut workouts and talks with Joe. Meet others at the gym. Share tips and make relationships with some. In another year, I am hired on as personal trainer. Make my grandparents’ proud.

But I value my minutes of intertwining far more. Like two strands being twisted into a rope much stronger and stabler. A rope of hope. Made of God-gifts. Descending from the rain-soaked heavens. Time together with caring people. Opening hearts and minds to reach for true jewels. Diamond moments. Like with old Joe, the boxer.

God’s Flag

Introduction: If you don’t appreciate and celebrate the blessings that you have, you will lose them.

God’s Flag

              Have you ever been overwhelmed by the beauty of a flag? Since the star-spangled banner of the United States of America is my national flag, I’m sometimes motionless in awe for what it means and that it is still flying.

              The corner of navy blue, to me, is the trauma and tragedy within our country. We fight to restrict our ills, confine them from expanding past the corner. Like slavery and the Native American experiences which were filled with such cruelty, this bruised blue is the dark part of our humanity. None of us can completely escape from it or eradicate it.

Yet shining out of this evil comes the white stars of truth and liberty. Despite our worse tendencies, all people are legally free today to seek employment; buy, sell, be served in stores; receive equal treatment under the law; start a business; speak our mind; worship as we see fit; live as our conscience directs. We take these starlight God-gifts too lightly. In so many other countries, women, gays, children, elderly, minorities, have so few of the protections we’ve come to expect in America.

              And the cost of such wealth, shown in the red stripes of blood throughout our flag. So many have fought and died. Or struggled to publish and speak their experiences into the story of our country. Wars, injustices, persecutions. But our nation, unlike others, in the white stripes, brings our pain into the open. We work to heal our wrongs, integrating them into our fabric. There is scarcely a victim group whose tale isn’t told and responded to by charity, non-profit, business or government intercession. Even the powerless homeless and voiceless mentally ill have agencies to intercede and help.

              Our banner spreads the freedoms and wealth we have in abundance. A rich and generous nation. With a rich history. A flag that takes its sins as well as its blessings seriously. Truly a nation rooted in God. Law honoring, occasionally rebellious, repentant, working toward the betterment of all.

              My hope is that we stay grounded to the bedrock of our Creator. So we may continue to fly high. With the horror and humility of the navy and red, balanced – not overwhelmed – by the illumination of all the white. Remember. But not sink into the despair of hopelessness. For this nation was birthed in underdog grit. And yet prevailed. We must continue on, wary of man’s evil, but ever faithful to man’s great potential for good. Good in great measure, when he is founded on God’s Love, Truth, Grace and Forgiveness.

              Can you see the tri-colors of freedom bending in the breeze? Never stop loving it. For it has loved you and protected you. The magnificent red, white and blue.

Abraham Oak

Introduction: Thoughts on a great Patriarch and how acorns take a lengthy time to mature, as well as some of us people.

Abraham Oak

              This story begins in seclusion. Not isolation, an unintentional withdrawing from the presence of others’, but rather seclusion, a purposeful immersion into God’s world without human clamoring. Every new life brought forth begins as a seed. So, a mighty oak starts as a mere acorn, buried in darkness. It feels like an end, but it is a beginning. A sprouting from a time alone with the Creator, shaping, encouraging, maintaining my originality.

              The first, most essential part of my being is not my visible trunk and leaves, but my root. The taproot is crucial. Strong, deep, to withstand drought and freeze, to remain erect in high wind and storm, to feed nutrients from underground into my flesh. Yes. The most critical factor toward my long-term health is my hidden root system. My self-care to spiritually renew after times of trauma or loss. Do I die back for lack of God’s sustenance? Or sprout upwards in response to that lost limb or fire-scarred trunk? Perhaps, like the manzanita, it is only after fire that my cones release new regenerative seeds?

              Although most oaks bear their first acorn crop at 20-50 years, I am 75 years old when God blesses me with my shower of food for squirrel, deer, boar and mouse. When I am 100 years, a huge new trunk shoots up from my root system. Over time it will replace my older branches, but for now, we grow side-by-side. My progeny must learn from a hardy survivor.

              I survive caterpillar and other insect devastation as well as various weather destructions. Floods erode my soil one year, while drought parches me in others. But all my injuries have been minor compared with the blessing of my placement and consistent provision. My prayers have not been answered as I anticipated, as the time I asked for re-growth, my largest limb was lumbered. Yet, that, too, was God’s plan. For the hard wood, perfect for a fine desk, became the podium for the first Congressional meetings. So I got to usher in the workings of a new republic with my own offspring.

              Finally, near my 150th year, fungal rot began to dim my future. When I died at 175 years, I was dubbed the ‘Abraham Oak’ by my peers. But another oak had sprung up some mile away, who was a direct descendant. Further, my root system produced a replacement oak on the self-same ground. As well as another hardy trunk, some yards distant from the previous tree center. These two sibling oaks, thrived together. Though, competition for the close root systems brought strife.

              Eventually, a grove of oaks nestled throughout the valleys where Abraham Oak had stood as sole inhabitant. Each one, a veritable world of wonder unto itself. Supporting all variety of plant, animal and bird residents. And, not much later, peopled with human occupants, too. Then, some of these oaks were harvested for their high-quality lumber, and others left for their beauty. Did Abraham Oak inspire and build a brand-new nation? I’ll let you decide. But it all started with the seclusion of a buried seed. The obedience of persistent growth. And the blessing of a Prophetic God.