the Prince of Peace

Once, a very long time ago, there was a land full of people.

It was an extensive society with a great history. There were stories of triumphs and failures, of peace and war, of unity and division.

These people lived in a land that was growing weary. For thousands of years people had lived and died here. Some had lived long and happy lives and died quietly in their sleep. Some had lived but a brief breath of a moment. Others had lived “normal” lives with happy days and sad days, rich days and poor days. Regardless of the life lived though there was a dark cloud of discontent that had settled over the land. The people living there now could not remember a time without the cloud of discontent.

There were stories of another time, maybe even another land nearby where days were only sunny and delightful and full of life. Some of the grandparents and great grandparents still told stories of the sunny days in the happy place. They would explain that everyone living at that time did not grow tired. People were not hurt, not sad, and they lacked nothing. They never got sick. They had all they needed and more. Many people would scoff and laugh at these stories. It was difficult to imagine and those days, that place, just seemed like fairy tales to the people living here and now.

These days were plagued by people who did not have what they needed to live. For some people in this land, that meant they were hungry many days. Some people, however, had so much food they made themselves sick. Some people, even for some of the kids, did not have a safe place to live. Others lived in homes with high walls and barbed wire so no one else could enter. Some had broken hearts. Still some had angry or lonely hearts. There was great lawlessness and frequent chaos. People worked hard but did not ever achieve what they’d hoped. Whatever the case, this place no longer had sunny, happy days.

There was one family living in this time—the dark time—that had heard the stories of a happy place not so far away with sunny days. Not only had they heard the stories, they’d seen them. Their great-great-great grandfather had written the story down. He had written a book that not only told of the sunny days in the glorious place and plentiful food and happy hearts, it told of a man. He was the main character of great-great-great grandfather’s book. He was known as the Prince of Peace.

It was a fantastic storybook! It told all about this good and kind man who was also rumored to be an heir to the throne of this glorious land. When the family would read about him, they would always whisper the part “heir to the throne.” The story told of how he would concern himself only with loving others. It told of how he would give away riches to anyone living under his rule. It told of how he made beautiful places and delicious foods just by saying a word. He taught people to love one another and live together with joy. And everything he did was for the good of his people living in his glorious land. He just sounded too good to be true.

Great-great-great grandfather Hope had passed the story and the book down to his son and to his son and to his. Now the family of Hope lived here in dark and desolate times and found it hard even for them to believe. They would leave the book on the shelf. They had once read it regularly and found it gave them encouragement, but as the days seemed to grow longer, always with more work to be done, they read the story less and less.

The youngest of the family, however, refused to let go of the Hope family storybook.

His name was Trust. He had, as soon as he was old enough to read, asked every day to take down the story book from the shelf so he could study it for himself. In the beginning, his mother Weary would not often let him see the book. She was afraid that the worn pages would tear and the Hope story would be marred. She also knew that her husband Busy would not be thrilled with the idea. He didn’t object to he book for mere subject matter. He objected because it was one of MANY things he considered a waste of time.

Staying after school for a game of tag—waste of time. Reading the comics—waste of time. Reading books not necessary for work—waste of time. Busy always had more to do and why would he give up time he could be using productively?

Trust was relentless. As days seemed to only grow darker, and longer, Weary would relent. She knew Trust had little to be excited for and he was an obedient boy. She wished for him to have the joy that her own father-in-law had had before he died. Her father-in-law, Provider, had held fast to the Hope family story. As he had aged and grown sick, she thought he might have let go of the Hope story, but he did not.

She knew that Busy would not be home to see Trust read the book, and if he did not see, he would not know about the waste of time.

So like his grandfather before him, Trust would read the story and find himself thrilled by the Prince of Peace. Even when his own school and work day was long. Even when it was well after dark and he felt like his mom, Trust would at least open the book. Though hardly anyone believed the way he did, Trust thought in the deepest, quietest places of his heart that this dark and sad time could not be all that there was. He believed and he could hardly even admit this to himself in his room all alone—that there really was a Prince of Peace and he really did live in a glorious land and he really did take care of all his people and he really was (whisper) heir to the throne.

When Trust was very young he would tell people unabashedly about the story. They would nod and smile and pat him on the head. As he had gotten older people would smirk and stop listening. So he stopped telling. He so wanted someone else to be excited with him. He had often thought of entrusting the story to his very best friend at school—Ornery. Ornery was a good friend though Weary wasn’t always sure about that. What Trust loved so much about him was that once he was your friend, you knew he would never not be your friend. If nothing else, he was loyal.

After much worry and internal debate, Trust decided to share the story with Ornery. It was hard to find time since everyone his age not only went to school, they all went to work for several hours after school. They even worked on weekends. Today was a special early release day from school and they did not yet have to be at work. He had ceremoniously led Ornery to his room, shushed him along the way, closed and locked the door. Ornery was a little confused by the big ta-doo Trust had made but he also thought this must be something good. Whatever it was, Ornery was curious. Trust carefully slid the book out from under his dresser. Trust instantly was overwhelmed with the excitement of the story. He talked fast and furious as explained the book, and the story, and described the Prince of Peace. Even though he spoke so fast Ornery could barely keep up, Trust still whispered heir to the throne.

When he finished speaking he stared at Ornery expectantly and nervously. He knew this would not end their friendship but it might make it a little tougher. Ornery stared down at the pages of the book and then at his friend. Slowly a grin spread across his face. This was the best story he had ever heard. It was beautiful and exciting and full of hope. “May I hold the book?” he asked Trust carefully.

Trust was so relieved that Ornery was even interested, he handed it over gingerly and held his tongue on telling him to be careful with it. Ornery turned it over, turned pages slowly, felt them between his fingers. It was an amazing book. What amazed him even more though was the obvious belief that Trust had in the story. He loved the idea of believing like this. He sat quietly looking for a long time. So long that Trust became nervous that his mom would want to know what they were doing.

Finally Ornery spoke. He explained that years ago he had heard his great aunt tell a similar story to his older brother. He had been expected to listen but could not sit still long enough to pay attention. After hearing Trust explain it, all came rushing back. The memory of visiting his great aunt in the Old People Place, the weird smell in her room, her breath that smelled like cheese when she tried to kiss him hello. But now this story was familiar. She had told it with a twinkle in her eye and he had ignored it. Just like his brother Erratic had.

He flipped again through the pages and stopped short as he reached the end of the book. Trust was eagerly awaiting its return. Ornery just stared though. “What about this ripped out part?” he asked casually.

“WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” Trust replied loudly. “Nothing is ripped. I take great care of that book and mom will kill me if I don’t,” he said as his voice got higher and more nervous.

“Right here,” Ornery pointed.

How he could never have seen it before, Trust did not know. The hours he’d sat studying and pouring over its pages. This was the last page, the very end, next to the cover. As he looked he could clearly see it had not been haphazardly ripped out, it had been carefully cut maybe even with a sharp edge. It was cut cleanly, up until that last fiber near the top of the page. You could see the torn feathered edge at the top part where it had been pulled free at last.

He was appalled, devastated, confused. Trust stared hard and his eyes began to water. First for fear for himself, and then for disappointment. It didn’t make sense. The story ended well, it wasn’t like you finished reading and thought something was missing. Why would a page be gone? Who would take it out? Why? As his mind sped along every theory it could muster he could only murmur aloud.

Ornery looked at his watch. “I have to go,” he said flatly. “The Farmer expects me early since we got out early.”

Trust nodded as he left. He was numb with disbelief. As he began to grasp the notion that someone deliberately removed whatever was at the end of the book he began to think about who it could possibly be. In his lifetime hardly anyone looked at the book. In his mother’s maybe only a few more. Beyond that he did not know.

He had to know and he had to find the missing page.

The following day Trust talked to Ornery about it at school, probably too much. They had to sit out of recess because of talking during the lesson. They did get to sit close enough though to continue the conversation. They agreed that the page had to have been removed for a bad reason. If it was something good, why would it be removed? Then again, maybe it was something someone thought was crazy or too good. They could not agree on motive but they could agree they wanted answers.

Their plan developed throughout the day. The best they could figure was to start with Trust’s house. Since it had been there for years, at least see if possibly someone at home took the page. On Thursdays Weary cleaned the house of their neighbor up the hill. It was one day the boys knew she would not be home for at least a two hour stretch.

Next Thursday they would have to sneak away from school during recess, take a look around, and make it back before the kids were called in. Trust had NEVER considered anything like this before but he could not explain the weight of what he was feeling. This was something so big, he just knew it.

On Thursday they began a frantic search of the small house. Nervous and excited they were still careful to return things to their original positions so that there search would not be discovered. They checked kitchen cupboards, bedroom bureaus, the desk Trust shared with his older sister. They looked carefully through mom’s only personal space at the end of her closet. Nothing. Their time was quickly running out.

Standing in the main hall of the home, Trust realized he had to search Busy’s desk. He’d almost started there. If he was wrong and he messed something up there the consequences would be severe so he’d subconsciously avoided it until now. He began to rummage. It did not take much, however. There were several cubbies on the mid section of the front of the antique desk. There were envelopes standing on end in the second cubby that Busy used for mailing off bills. Slid further back from all the envelopes was a yellowed sheet. He immediately recognized the texture and size and even the cut and torn edge. He motioned to Ornery as he pulled it out.

As he unfolded the sheet he realized it was more than he could have imagined. It had to be the too-good-to be true option. There was a map. There were directions. There were beautiful drawings. He could not fathom what he was seeing. He could not believe it had been removed from the book.

Ornery brought him back to reality as they realized they only had six minutes to get back to the school yard. They ran fast, Trust with a giant smile on a dark day with discontent all around.

That afternoon he soaked it all in. He knew he would have to return the map to its hidden spot or risk being discovered. He recognized locations on the map. Everything did not have the same name now, but he could tell based on a couple of major landmarks in town. He knew where the old church was. It had long since been unoccupied. People worked too hard. There was no time to rest, to go to church. This map pointed beyond the old church and down a side street that no one in their right mind would drive, much less walk down—the Robber’s Highway. These were definitely walking directions. The map’s final destination was what mesmerized. There was a gorgeous colorful picture sketched there. He did not understand all that he saw, but it looked like a golden road, jewels everywhere, trees drenched in fruit he had never before seen, bright light, and oh-so-sunny skies. It was as if that one corner of the map lit up the rest of the dark page.

The road to get there was quite dangerous. Everyone knew that those who had completely given up to broken hearts, to anger, to hunger, to the worst of the worst spent time along the Robber’s Highway. They hid in the darkest places. There were dumpsters and a couple of shacks nearby. There were stories of people stealing, killing, destroying.

This map led down this road and it looked like through a what was drawn to be a dark and scary overgrown forest. At the edge of the bright and beautiful spot it looked as though there was an enormous stone wall. In other words, getting to this place must be nearly impossible.

He looked at the margin of the page and recognized Busy’s handwriting. There were notes scribbled here. One said Strength, May of 1990. The other said Creed, September of 2012. He wondered if Strength could refer to his great uncle he heard about. He was a huge man, powerful, scary if you did not know him. He did the hardest work around with the greatest ease. People from all over would come to him for help and he almost always did. Trust had never met Strength. He knew he’d been in a terrible accident and didn’t live past his 30th birthday. He didn’t know the date of Strength’s death but thought maybe this was what it meant. He just didn’t know if had anything to do with this map or if his dad had used it to jot down notes before he’d realized what he was writing on. Perhaps if he knew who Creed was it would make more sense.

At school that week Trust found that answer without even trying. In his history class they were talking about local historical figures. Turns out Creed was a local lawyer who had been known for his innate sense of justice and his desire for righteousness. He was also known as a brilliant man. Some thought he was a genius. He knew the law inside and out and was able to apply it and use it and help others with it. He firmly believed that if people just knew and understood the law, their land would be a better place.

The teacher explained that after years of service he believed he could find a way to restore their great society. He thought he knew of a way to eliminate discontent. He set out to teach the outcasts that they just needed to know the law.

People thought that Creed had lost his mind as he’d aged. The teacher lowered her voice as she explained that he began to believe in some crazy stories of living happily ever after with a prince in another kingdom, somewhere without lawlessness. That is not something that will be on your test she said. It is only local hearsay she said. Sadly, Creed died out on the Robber’s Highway she explained. The vagrants there did not appreciate being told they needed to obey the law. He was found bloodied and bruised at the edge of the mysterious forest. It was a mysterious story on its own but now considering Trust’s map discovery, it was miraculous.

That evening at dinner was rare because Busy made it home in time to eat before the kids had to go to bed. Trust was particularly geared up over his newest discoveries. Though he thought he might be a bit daring to ask, he could not resist. (They were after all studying this in school.)

“Dad, have you ever heard of Creed? Creed Justice?” he asked at the table. Busy looked mildly surprised and said yes and wanted to know where he’d heard of him.

“We are studying local history and our teacher told about him today and about how he was killed back off the Robber’s Highway.”

“Wow, what are they teaching you guys these days? Why in the world would they give you those kinds of ugly details?” he replied.

“Well, we weren’t supposed to know about how he died or how people thought he was crazy at the end and looking for a way out.”

“Out of where?”

“Here.”

“I don’t know what you mean, son.”

“The teacher said we aren’t supposed to talk about it but that Creed was trying to point people to another place, a better place, ruled by some kind of prince.” Trust said as if he was unsure, even though he was absolutely positive. He didn’t want Weary and Busy to know how much he knew of the story and the implications, much less begin to understand that he actually thought it was all true!

“Well, that sounds a bit much,” Weary said as she stood to collect plates.

“This sounds like a waste of time to me,” his dad replied as he picked up his brief case and headed to his desk. Trust would have been worried except he’d slipped the page back into its spot this afternoon while mom vacuumed. He had copied down every detail of the map he could. He’d tried to recreate the intricate drawing. He written his dad’s scribble notes in the same spot.

He helped his mother and his sister with the dishes and then hurried to his room. He locked the door and opened the book. He pulled out his hand copied map and studied it some more. What if Strength had also died trying to get to the sunny place where the prince ruled? He thought. I mean, what else could this place on the map represent he thought. What if someone who’d needed help came to Strength because they had heard of the prince and the glorious land. What if he had tried to find the way?

And Creed, he was such a smart man. People thought he was a genius until they thought he was crazy. What if he knew something Strength did not? What if he had recognized a better way?

It was hours before Trust could fall asleep and when he did he dreamed of an amazing place where people did not work all day and all night, where people did not go hungry, where his dad would be willing to waste time. He dreamed of people being kind and helping one another, obeying the law. Just before morning light he dreamed of the Prince of Peace. He felt warm and relieved and peaceful. In the dream he came and looked Trust in the face. Trust told the Prince about the beautiful place he was thinking of and how he longed to find it. The Prince smiled and said, “I am the way.”

Trust woke suddenly. For a moment he thought the Prince was there. He could not handle it. When he realized it was only a dream, his excitement dimmed and yet he still felt hopeful.

As he worked at the grocery the following afternoon, he stared out the window onto the sidewalk. He saw a young boy asking a lady leaving the store for some change or a piece of bread. The lady almost looked sympathetic for a moment and then quickly put her head down and moved past the boy. This boy didn’t go to school. Trust had seen him before but had been told to stay away from him. Someone said his mom had worked near the Robber’s Highway. Trust couldn’t image. He didn’t know how it could be safe. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the second half of his roll from lunch. He reached down for his dustpan and took it to the front door to empty. He didn’t even look at the boy as he handed him the bread and hurried back in.

As the door closed behind him, his decision was made. He was going to try and follow this map. There are too many people with too many hurts. We cannot go on like this. Maybe it’s dangerous. I dreamed of the Prince of Peace. He said he was the way. I have to know. Maybe I’m going crazy like Creed.

But he didn’t care.

He nonchalantly told Ornery the next day that he was going to follow the map. Without missing a moment, Ornery said I’m going too. Trust was surprised and happy. Ornery looked nervous though.

“What is it?” Trust demanded.

“I have to tell you something.”

“OK.”

“I am afraid you will think I am crazy,” Ornery explained.

“Really? After all I’ve told you lately? After saying I want to follow a map to who knows where, a map that leads through some dangerous spots? Please, just tell me.”

“Well, I had this dream,” Ornery began. Trust immediately began to shake on the inside and held his breath without even realizing it. “We were in the beautiful place from the map. And, well, I saw the Prince of Peace.”

Trust stared with his mouth hanging open, eyes welling with tears.

“He talked to me,” Ornery continued. “He said, ‘I—Trust cut him off mid-sentence.

“He told you he was the way, right?!” Trust almost shouted.

Wide-eyed Ornery stared back. Now his mouth was hanging open. “HOW DID YOU KNOW?”

“I had the same dream.”

The began to plan for their trip to find the glorious place. They knew the direction they needed to head and they knew it would be dangerous but did not think it far. Still, they wanted to be sure they had plenty of time to get there without being noticed as gone. The only logical opportunity was next week. On the fourth weekend of the month, kids were allowed to have a Saturday off from their apprenticeship. Rarely, Weary would let Ornery sleep over on that Friday night. Occasionally, Ornery’s mother would let Trust stay over. They decided they would both say they were staying at the other’s home. This way they could leave Friday afternoon. It didn’t get dark until 9:30.

The week seemed to go on for months. They could not wait until their journey.

Friday afternoon finally arrived and the boys met behind the grocery store. They had decided they would not try to bring a weapon of any kind. It seemed like the logical thing to do considering they were headed for the Robber’s Highway. Somehow much of this did not seem logical so they were going without. They did however bring jackets and masks. They thought it best to wear some sort of protective gear for the overgrown area, if they made it through the highway.

The made their way past the old church. Kudzu covered the side of the building and wound up to the roof peak near the steeple. It didn’t feel right. As they looked at Trust’s map the turned the corner and saw darkness ahead. This was more than the usual cloud of discontent. This was a deep darkness, visible everywhere. There were two men ahead on the left side of the road who looked as though they could barely stand. There was a woman opposite them in torn clothes and matted hair. A little boy sat at her feet crying. She rolled her eyes.

Ornery touched the sleeve of Trust’s jacket. They pulled the masks down over the faces and moved forward. They stayed in the middle of the road and both barely breathed. The lady perked up and half smiled. She asked if they had any money on them. The boys shook their heads no simultaneously. The sped their pace. “You don’t gotta be like that!” she yelled and the little boy cried louder. They heard a scream down the alley. They thought someone was saying help. They looked straight ahead.

The two men stared at them. One whispered to the other as he stumbled their way. The boys moved faster. “Get over here!” The man yelled through crooked yellow teeth. Trust froze. He had always been considered an obedient kid. Sometimes he didn’t like the way he always listened to older people. He knew he didn’t have to listen to this man and he was scared, but for some reason he stopped. The man was in front of him breathing heavy with an evil grin.

“Where you two goin’?” he demanded. “You don’t live around here.”

“No, we don’t.”

“Then WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU ARE GOING?”

“We are following our map, just passing through.” Trust sputtered.

“You don’t know the way,” the man slurred.

“The Prince of Peace is the way,” Trust said trying to sound confident.

Fear flickered in the man’s eyes and he backed away from the boys. He grabbed the other man by the crook of the elbow and they stumbled into the dark together.

Trust grabbed Ornery and the moved off the highway in the direction of the overgrown path at the edge of the massive forest. It was dense and dark, but you could almost see a soft glow deeper in. They were afraid and excited. As they moved closer to what looked like used to be an entrance. They saw massive trees overgrown with vines of all types. There were massive thorns everywhere. It was an immensely tangled mess.

It looked like this was the end. There was no possible way they could cut through this, even if they’d had the tools. It was like nothing they’d ever seen. Ornery was sure he’d seen a snake slither under the far corner. That was unacceptable.

They looked at one another. I don’t know what I was thinking Trust thought. Then he said it.

“You were thinking we’d find a way. You were thinking we’d be heroes. You were thinking everyone could follow us and find relief. Find comfort. Find him.”

“Yes,” Trust replied.

There is no way through he said suddenly through tears. They held onto one another, though they had never done that before. Trust cried not caring what Ornery thought anymore. Ornery patted him on the shoulder. It was quiet and still.

The boys noticed a fragrant smell. Trust breathed in deeply and stopped crying. He looked up at the top of the tangled mess and saw multiple rose blooms. He must be smelling them. He dropped his head again.

He turned from the dense overgrown area and saw a warm and radiant light moving ahead of him. He reached out and grabbed Ornery’s arm hard though he didn’t mean to. Ornery lifted his head. He clearly saw it too. The light moved closer and the closer it got, the more they could see it wasn’t a light, it was the shape of a man—but not like any man they had ever seen. It was him.

The instant they fully recognized who they were seeing, the could not withstand it. They both fell to the ground, excited, trembling, out of control.

“Boys,” came the most radiant, comforting voice they had ever heard.

They both slowly looked up at the Prince of Peace. “Ornery, Trust, get up.”

He knew their names. They could hardly contain themselves as the stood before him.

Trust spoke, “We thought we could find your place. We had a map. Busy said no. Creed might be crazy. There is no way through.” Trust didn’t make sense as he spoke. It seemed clear before the words got tangled on their way out of his mouth.

“I am the way,” the prince answered, just as he had in their dreams.

He moved past the boys and began to walk straight into the thick overgrown path. The boys didn’t know what to think. As he walked he didn’t just glide through, untouched. The thorns began to sink into his skin. He began to bleed.

The boys were horrified. This doesn’t make sense they thought. If this is the way to his place, he knows how to get there. He is not like us, he should not be hurt. But he was.
The snake they’d seen earlier slithered through and under. Clearly the prince was unafraid, but he was hurting. He pushed through and his strength began to move the mass of branches and vines and thorns. He was clearing it as he went. It was not easy, but he was making progress.

He told the boys, “Follow me.”

Carefully they moved ahead.

He continued on. By now his clothing had ripped. The sharp pointed vines and branches were leaving terrible marks on his skin. He breathed heavy.

They followed slowly and suddenly heard a shout. The drunken man from the highway charged at them. He held a bat. He swung wildly and the prince stepped between them and the man. He took the blow. He bent low and then stood again. The drunk man was afraid and fled. There was an immediate bruise across the side of the prince. He turned back into the brush and continued ahead.

The boys were undone. “Please, you are hurt. There has to be another way.”

“I AM the only way,” he replied. “Just follow me.”

They both were crying now, watching as he moved slowly, deliberately, powerfully, and painfully ahead.

It seemed like hours. It seemed like evil was all around and yet the warm glow of his presence held it at bay.

Finally they saw a giant stone wall. It was massive and thick and looked like it weighed tons. The more they looked, the more they realized it wasn’t only a wall, but a gate. It looked as though it could possibly be raised but not without some massive piece of equipment. As they strained to see the top, the glow radiating from over the top was incredible. They thought they could hear some kind of music even. They couldn’t begin to fathom what it might be like on the other side.

The prince looked worn. There was so much blood. His skin was torn in places and he breathed heavily. “It’s time to go in,” he said.

“But how?” Trust said almost exasperated.

“I am the way,” he said almost with a smile.

The Prince of Peace reached down and began to lift. It was a struggle, but he slid his fingers that were calloused and worn beneath the edges of the massive stone. For the first time Trust could see his hands were already scarred. He strained and pulled and the sound of the stone grinding on the pieces next to it was overwhelming. The crevice now visible between the ground and the bottom edge was blinding. The light from within pierced the darkness all around. He lifted slowly, steadily.

The boys shielded their eyes.

“Go in,” he said as he strained with his might to hold open the massive stone.

They looked at each other and then walked across the threshold. As they crossed over,
they could only gasp at all the beauty before them. They’d never seen the sky so bright and clear and beautiful. There was not a single cloud of discontent. Birds chirped. The wind whispered sweetly. The air was rich and fragrant. Ripe and glorious fruit dripped from the tree branches and a bubbling brook ran between the trees. Cozy cottages dotted the green hillside. Peace rested on this place. They felt strong and restored immediately as they crossed into the land.

As he lifted further the massive stone gate cracked and was loosed from its bindings. It groaned and scraped and began to fall. The boys looked on in horror as it was began to fall and the Prince of Peace was crushed beneath its weight. It fell back and out and the sound of its landing on the forest floor was unlike any they’d ever heard.

They ran to where the prince lay slain. They screamed and cried and buried their red faces in the folds of his garment. His blood was now on them.

Trust felt a powerful hand upon his shoulder. A more delicate one rested on Ornery’s. They looked up to see Strength and Creed looking down at them.

“He’s dead!” Trust cried out.

“He has opened the way,” came Creed’s reply.

“So what,” said Trust.

“So what? It means everything!” said Strength with excitement in his voice. “This is his land and he has called us here. He called you here but there has never been a way before. He is the way, he made the way.”

“We dreamed there was a place like this and it is more than we could have asked or imagine and now that the door is open, anyone can come,” he continued.

“I thought if I taught people how to follow the law, how to behave and do things the right way, I would be rewarded and people would be allowed in,” Creed explained. “But no matter how hard I tried it was never enough. It only created more lawlessness.”

“My strength was weakness compared to his,” Strength agreed.

“But what now?” came Trust’s quiet, sad voice.

“Now you go and invite everyone in,” Creed said.

“Of course I will, but it will not be the same if he is not here,” came Trust’s reply.

The boys could hardly stand to leave. The slain prince was still beautiful. This place was like nowhere else. They were excited, confused, somewhat frightened, but Strength and Creed helped them up and told them you have to go and tell everyone that the story is true, the way is open, and they are all invited.

Bewildered they made their way home. They passed by the church and found that the vines were no longer growing up the sides. As they traveled, their excitement grew the more they thought of what was ahead. They thought of telling their parents that all their burdens were gone. Weary would find rest. Busy would be still. The angry ones would find peace. The sad people would be happy. The hungry would be full. The sick would be well. The broken would be repaired. The lost would be found.

For the next couple of days the boys told anyone and everyone they knew of all that had happened. They told them they could come along. To their dismay, some scoffed and laughed. Others thought it sounded silly and they couldn’t afford to take time off of work to see if it was true. Many listened. Many thrilled to the idea that they could live a new life in a bright and beautiful place. People talked and readied to leave.

Trust and Ornery led the growing group back across their town and down the Robber’s Highway. They reached the edge of the forest and were delighted to find light breaking out across the hills and through the overgrowth. The way was still open.

When they crossed the threshold again on the third day, every hope was fulfilled. There was joy and laughter and peace. There, on the throne, was the heir. He stood and welcomed them in.

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grief and glimpses of glory

To be alone with me
You went up on a tree
~Sufjan Stevens, To Be Alone With You

When my brother died I looked for him everywhere. I knew without a doubt that his faith had become sight and now he’d seen the King. I know where he is.

Left here on the faltering gray earth though I’d found my sight frequently dimmed. So I would look for him. When the sky was particularly beautiful, I would stare hard at the edges of the lit-from-within clouds thinking I might see a sliver of his healed and whole face. When I drove down the road, I would look to the passenger seat and think for a moment of his nearness. Maybe I could see the outline of him there. When I was out and about, I would often find the shapes of young, shaved-head men. I’d catch sight of one walking away, see the back of his head, and imagine it was him.

It’s silly I know and yet it is comforting. In this lifetime of ours there is much emphasis on sight, on vision. So much of what we believe is correlated to what we see.

Round the clock news channels offer us a continuous view of all that is happening across the gray globe, be it good or evil. If I listen only to these voices though I would absolutely be focused on the latter.

This week, Doris, the wife of a dear Godly friend went to be with our good and gracious king. She’d languished long, aching to go home. Gary had lamented alongside his bride. He wanted her restoration and rescue although separation was an obstacle of heart and mind.

She looked angelic every time I saw her. The brilliant white hair and glorious pale skin and a touch of pink. Despite pain and sadness she still had an impish grin. Faithful 68 years of marriage gave them both a glow of the bridegroom.

I think now the loss is cavernous. When life has grown up around you, intertwined, united with roots so deep, the loss can only tear and undo and hurt. Like the upending of a great and weathered tree, roots are exposed. The dirt flies, the groans are loud and long. The hollow must ache and pull like nothing else. Suffocating.

The eyes tell us she is gone. We see her there, but not.

I think that was a big struggle for letting go of my brother. I did not get to see him again. The brutality of death would not allow it. My mother and I so longed to just see a glimpse of his skin again. Just to graze his freckled arm with a fingertip. To see and know he’d gone on. Maybe that’s why I looked for him everywhere. To my puny mind, I’d not seen his end. I had only had lunch with him at Moe’s, listening to him tell funny stories and watch him laugh with my son and daughter. I had only hugged him that last time, grabbing him, feeling his absolute solid physical presence.

My need to see him however was superseded by his vision now, vision I long to have.

It is vision I pray for Gary.

My brother’s faith became sight; he has seen the King.

Doris sees Him now as well.

I read this week of a dear family friends whose two youngest daughters suffer a rare and fatal brain disease. They work hard every day to to care for, enjoy, treasure their girls despite knowing the ache of separation is all too close, too real. Yet their faith holds fast.

They also cling to greater vision. The immediate and unrelenting now forces them to focus on things they cannot now see. The ache and desperation provides greater perspective. Their perspective grows every day as does their vision. It is a vision of glory, of God’s goodness in the darkest moments. It is trusting in what they cannot yet see.

I long for this vision. To step back and get a good glimpse. I think of 2 Kings 6 and the prophet Elisha as he prays for his servant to have vision. Early in the morning the servant finds that he and the prophet are surrounded by the horses and chariots of a greatly troubled Syrian king. He was greatly troubled because somehow this prophet knew what he was going to do before he was going to do it. It was irritating.

The king sought to seize the prophet.

“What do we do?” was the cry of the servant and the calm and measured response came from the man of faith, of sight. “Do not be afraid.” Elisha prayed for the servant to see—and did he.

“so the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

In the moment of fear and desperation, the servant only sees the enemy and imminent destruction. He needed vision and Elisha knew it.

It is the vision we all long for whether we know it or not. We are called to trust. On occasion we are offered a glimpse of eternal proportions.

The only one we are called to fear is God. And He is the one who gives us the sight, for there is nothing He does not see. (Hebrews 4:13, Psalms 33:13)

So I pray now for the hollow and lonely places of those who are hurting and alone after 68 years of communion and oneness. I pray for those who daily deal in the reality of things we only dare whisper to one another. The faith and vision of the King is enough for us all. The tree He went up on has reach even deeper than the roots of the oldest around.

Restored vision is achieved here. This is where we behold full-on the glory and majesty of all we hope for.

When we gain perspective, when faith becomes sight, when vision is restored it is because we understand that the story is not about me. I am not the central character upon whom all hope is laid. Our struggles, our suffering, our grief does not end here with us.

All the world would deceive, would turn us over, like the reflection in the concave mirror of the spoon. Everything is upside down on this side of eternity, us alone, at the center. None can withstand the pressure of being the center of the story. To be the center means being suffocated, eventually killed.

Thankfully that One is not us. That One was killed. That One did upend the tree when He burst forth from that dark, deep, buried place.

We are pressed down, held under, we face the broken, sinful, wretched curse of death. Yet it is in the darkest places that our eyes strain to see a glimpse of light. And here in the dark, it is somehow easier to spot the light. As we draw nearer to it we begin to gain greater vision, to see the story clearly. Here we find freedom to breathe freely as our faith becomes sight.

“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”
2 Corinthians 5:6-9

these aren’t the little things

I didn’t plan to have a fifth child. Actually that is true of the fourth as well. Regardless, it is symptomatic of an underlying idea that I think I am actually in control of something which is pretty funny in and of itself. That fourth child, that fifth, remind me of the Ephesians 3 prayer that closes with the acknowledgement that God can and does do more than we can ever ask or imagine. They are light in a lot of dark places.

Number five came along when all the other four had survived until school age, made it past my fumblings and failings long enough to make into the educational system where someone else could be responsible for their well being for more hours in the day. From the moment I saw that second line on the pregnancy test, I immediately cried out with thanksgiving. Anyone that knows me can easily testify that is not my normal first response to anything. And yet, the grace of God overwhelmed me with this last unexpected gift.

Perhaps it was a foreshadowing of his attitude and nature as number five has had a grateful heart from so early. He thanks me for everything I do for him. Part of it is purely that childlike contentment that seems to allude us once we pass about second grade. But his gratitude is humbling, contagious. I’ve seen it affect others. In turn I am grateful.

So as I approached this school year with apprehension and as much courage as possible, I still dreaded the day this light would go into another realm to brighten others’ days the way he has every one of mine for five years.

The struggle is more than just his departure, it is what it means for me, at home, alone. I have always wanted to work, to find value in a salary and achievement. With my first kids it was such a wrestling match with God. I kept trying to find a way to do more, to be more. He kept providing a way for me to be home, with more kids. This approaching departure from that pattern did not assuage my angst. If I am honest—which I a more often not—in the recesses of my mind I always thought I would “become something” when I had the time to myself.

We live in a world that explains this is only possible outside of home or when a paycheck is involved. It is an ongoing battle for me. It includes my recently inaugurated job search. The kids will be gone, I have to “do” something more. I need to be more than, well, me. As I have not yet found any such job, there is a vague sense of defeat already.

As apprehensive as I was about this moment, my little man was that thrilled. His excitement was palpable. He was so prepared for this departure that I was and am amazed. Here I believe is the contribution of four much older siblings who talk of lives away from home. He idolizes these older brothers and sisters and desires to emulate them. The only natural progression is to go to school the way they all do: junior in college, junior in high school, sophomore in high school and fifth grader pave the path.

First day jitters were nonexistent for this one who knew his friends were waiting for him in the classroom. (Kids he’s never met are already friends in his mind, be it the playground, the classroom, or passing by on the street.)

Approaching this day made me ponder Abraham taking his promised child to that mountain top. I too, bore a child in old age. Mine was unexpected delight. I cannot fathom the strain and the foreboding as Abraham followed God’s directive to do away with this long-sought-after, long-awaited light of his life that promised so much more for future generations. Surely his knees were feeble beneath him climbing to that inevitable place. Mine were, just getting out of the car to find the kindergarten classroom.

Abraham followed through. But God followed through first. He provided a substitute to foreshadow The Substitute for us all. And there is the origin of gratitude.

My kindergartener hardly looked up from the table once he found his spot. He immediately chose a crayon and went to work. I didn’t drag it out to appease my own pitiful departure. My brave and beautiful fourth went happily to her classroom.

The older siblings have graciously been given a new venture in a Christian school. When I say given, I mean it wholeheartedly. It was another unexpected, highly unlikely happening at the hand of God. As I left them at their new school, I thanked God for delightful surprises like these–this child I didn’t expect, this school I didn’t think possible.

As soon as the quiet approached and I understood where I now find myself, I focused on being thankful, dwelling in the gratitude. Thankful to my Better Way who has provided all along the way. The One who is in control despite my illusions of such. I thanked Him and then thought of my new life without kids during the days. I still have much responsibility for them, to them, even when they are not in my presence.

I thought of the parable of the talents. Immediately I think, I am that guy who only was given one because I don’t have much responsibility, no job of significance. In attempting to stop the negative strain, I thanked Jesus for this role even while thinking I am something of failure alone. Being a mom is not the role of great value, but there is even less of me when they are away. I am not the one with the 5 talents who doubles the fortune. But as in Matthew 25, I want to be faithful, to be commended for being faithful over a little. I prayed as I drove home alone, “Help me to be faithful in the little things.”

I believe He answered immediately:

“These aren’t the little things.”

I gasped.

My precious people are not the little things. I have made them this in my hierarchy of provable success. This life I have been given is not of little significance. There is great responsibility. This is my assignment for this moment in time. Yet I have continued to make plans, believe I am in control, and think I need so much more.

The plans have been made for me and they are those of the Ephesians 3:20 and the Isaiah 29:11 kind. It’s better than I’d hoped for. It’s more than I can ask. I have a future and a hope, whatever that may be. And I am following my kindergartener’s example by clinging to gratitude in this moment.

power outage

Early morning hours in frozen February, the thunderous rhythms of a hovering helicopter shake our home. The sound made us believe the chopper landing pad could be our deck. Weary we woke and through the cold under the blankets, bleary-eyed, we asked why? The day and evening prior had been equally unusual between transformers that looked and popped like firecrackers on summer days and heavy laden ice limbs all around. These are more than unusual, at least for those of us who reside in South Town.

The moments before we lost power, we were cuddled by the fire and snickering at flickering lights. I remember that fleeting thought, “it would be kind of fun if we lost power.” Then it was gone and we reveled in the novelty for the night. We played games, and watched a movie on the iPad in the dark. That type of novelty fades as fast as the battery. But this brutal cold morning is begun by helicopter surveying damage from fallen trees, one in particular. This oak tree must have been one hundred and fifty years old, 90 feet tall, and its fall demolished a no longer occupied homestead just around the curve of the road from our home. Local news knew it was an attention getter so the helicopter over head became just that for all of us sleeping, huddled, awaiting power.

Power would not return for another day and night. Our firewood stockpile kept us going as did our warm cars and the ability to charge devices that would keep us connected. When we were able to venture out and survey the destruction first hand it was startling. We would later learn that many others saw it first for their power was working and it was, of course, on the news.

Grateful no one was injured, it was sad to see such a massive tree go down and destroy anything nearby. Like any death, there is sorrow and a requisite adaptation to the new life on the other side of it, without it.

Winter is not my favorite season though my northeastern husband thoroughly enjoys it and all it entails—snow shoveling, wood chopping, even driving in dangerous conditions. To me it is vast and empty and dead feeling. The world around seems to sleep the sleep of death. Of course it can be beautiful as evidenced by this ice storm. Trees sparkle in sunlight as they are armored in glass like chain mail. That is a particularly temporary beauty. Signs of life are all but obliterated as cold months pass.

This once vibrant tree that has seen generations come and go has even succumbed to the death of winter. It is the reminder we are not getting out of here alive. As the agent says to Neo in The Matrix as they do battle, “Do you hear that Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability. That is the sound of your death.”

Yet in these long months where dark days loom large, I think of seasons of life not of the literal variety. We seem to remember them as sharply as those days we are without power because they feel like that. When we encounter a dark season, a time of struggle we feel as though we have no power. Life is hard and we long for relief, for light.

I can point to several specific ones in my own lifetime. When my brother died unexpectedly in an accident, everything seemed awry. This can’t be right. Twenty nine years does not a lifetime make. Yet in that powerless moment, there was peace. Peace that came from relying on, trusting in Someone else, Someone who has power.

Early marriage years, working multiple jobs trying to make payments and buy groceries seemed like they would not end. When rent is due and there isn’t enough and not for lack of trying, the end of ourselves, the feeling of powerlessness can only be surrendered. There is no other choice. And power is restored when He brings unexpected answers, aid from unexpected places. This is how He works, how we see His power most profoundly—when we have none of our own.

Truly we never did, but once the illusion is destroyed we can see more clearly what has always been true. We look for and find Him in most unexpected ways.

We know, we trust, we quote Romans:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” He is working this together. We look and wait expectantly for the Good that is coming. Good has come and we have to believe that.

We are not unloved in these places. It may be momentarily hidden in our moment of nearsightedness. The pall of winter may make it seem untrue, but it is true.

It is everywhere. All throughout Scripture He reminds us again and again that we are not alone, not abandoned. He is enough. His steadfast love endures forever.

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
1 Chronicles 16:34

For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
Psalm 100:5

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Psalm 118:1

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Psalm 118:28-29

PSALM 136!

His steadfast love endures forever.
When it doesn’t look like that, we trust in that.
When branches are dead and pulling down power lines.
When we are separated and unwillingly so.
When we feel abandoned.
When we have done the abandoning.
When we are without a job.
When hope fades.
His steadfast love endures forever.

Like the workers for the power company come in trucks and hang on poles in sub freezing temperatures, we know the work has been done for us. We don’t know how to restore power. Power was cut when communion was in the dark places of the garden. And since that moment, before that moment, Someone has been working to bring us back to the light, the warmth of communion. We needed a way to access that power. We found it, found Him, on the cross.

May is nearly over and much of the mess of ice storm passed is still in need of cleanup. Crews have made their way across the county, street by street, cutting, clearing. Our bend of road is still strewn with branches brown. Spring is all around, flowers bloom and life is vibrant again. Honeysuckle vines climb on downed limbs and fences.

Property owners have begun the monumental task of cutting and clearing this old tree that took power with it. Buzz of chainsaws prove that it is hard work and it takes time. They make their way day after day, section after section, removing this massive tree. As I walk each day past the spot I see the progress. This day I stop as I take in what I’d never previously seen. The upended tree has been sectioned, in huge 500 pound plus chunks. The end before me reveals the shape of the trunk—a heart.

In the midst of death, the midst of destruction there is still hope. There is still life. There is still the steadfast love.

It is so like God. He is using all of creation, all at His disposal to call us to Himself, to remind His own that He has plans and they are good. He reminds me again that His steadfast love endures forever.

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