Resistance is Futile!

blessed

Lately the thought of growing older has occupied more and more of my imagination. I wrote a blog post a couple of months ago about “Acting Your Age”, which came from this ruminating about getting older. This is not a frivolous thing for me. As I have thought about this in light of my relationship with Jesus, I realize that I want to finish well. Sixty years old. If I live to be the same age as my father who is over eighty, then I have just entered the fourth quarter of my life. It is time to finish well.

But, what stands in the way of that?

As the title of this blog suggests…only I stand in the way of finishing well.

One of the lessons learned up to this point in life is about learning to discern His Voice. This is crucial to understanding His Will for my life, His instructions on a day to day basis, and His intimate Presence. But, since this post is about obedience, let me land on that.

The older I have become the easier it has become to obey His commands, suggestions, and nudges. As an example; we have all been given the visual of the layers of an onion as it applies to how God peels off layers of our worldliness to make us more like Jesus. As a young man I struggled with that. I fought The Lord when conviction to change came my way. There were lots of excuses as to why I didn’t want to obey His leading, but eventually I would comply. Unfortunately, compliance sometimes came after years of struggling, procrastinating, excuse making, and flat out disobedience.

But, recently – the last 10 years or so – I have come to the understanding of God’s relentless pursuit to nurture excellence in me. Resistance is futile! That well known term taken from Star Trek’s famous Borg episodes. These episodes of course show us that resistance for the crew of the Enterprise was not futile. But, with God, resistance is futile for the believer who truly wants what The Father wants for them. And, the sooner obedience comes the sooner the blessing comes.

Let me use another example from my life. I used to be an avid Online Gamer. I spent a lot of time online playing the various first-person shooters I was addicted to. Mostly the Call of Duty series of games. And, I was very good at it. Good enough – addicted enough – to join an online Christian gamers clan. I rationalized that if I played with other Christians that I could justify the amount of time I spent playing. It was a good thing. We witnessed to the Pre-Believers that came into our server to play and at one point even lead about 30 individuals to Christ. But, I was still addicted.

Eventually, God convicted me about my gaming by enticing me with my writing. I became jealous of a friend of mine. She was excited about her writing career. So when I complained to God, He just challenged the wisdom of my time usage. He asked me what was more important – more profitable – online gaming or my writing.

If He had asked me that when I was in my 20’s or 30’s (maybe even into my 40’s) I would have fought that suggestion vehemently. But, after all the turmoil and lessons from raising a family and a business. All the lessons of a lifetime of prayer, I immediately quit online gaming cold turkey. That was almost 2 years ago. I didn’t struggle or make excuses. I just quit.

Why you ask? Because, I knew the blessing that came from obedience would be so much better than staying where I was. And, it has been. It took almost a year for my imagination to return to normal. Another 6 months before the Holy Spirit and I began to get into a flow collaborating on my stories. But, now the joy and intimacy of my writing sessions with The Holy Spirit are much more valuable and precious to me than the best day of gaming ever was.

This is the lesson.

I realized that I have become hungry for the blessings that come from obedience. I began to understand that I can intentionally look at my life – at the layers of the onion that still exist – and decide to take action to pursue Holiness and Purity. To actively participate in the peeling of the onion on a proactive basis. I decided to let The Lord prompt me when ever He felt the need to.

Here is my current Layer that I am hungry to remove. Vulgarity. I am an ex Coast Guard Officer. I came from the enlisted ranks – where I learned to cuss like a sailor – and went to Officer Candidate School. I served for about 6 years as an Officer. . That was 1980. I still, in moments of pain or frustration, can cuss a blue streak. But, I weary of that. As I strive for Holiness in my life as a prayer leader in my community, I have come to the realization…with a bit of a nudge from The Lord…that this part of me has to go. (and yes, prayer for this is gratefully accepted.)

Become an active participant in the process of Layer Removal. I can guarantee you that the blessing of His Presence and His intimacy becomes much clearer and closer the more layers you remove. When we participate in the process, rather than resist the process, we accelerate our becoming more like Him.

The next time Father convicts your heart and calls you to Holiness and Purity? Run to Him. Do not resist His nudge. Resistance is futile!

Act Your Age!

hourglass

Recently I had an interesting conversation with a good friend who is helping me edit some of my stories. We are working on a children’s story I wrote in the 1990’s. She complimented my ability to write for children. I responded with the following;

“I like writing for kids. Probably, because I never really grew up. If there is anyone you know that resembles a modern day Peter Pan (emotionally anyway) it is probably me.
 
I actually see no point in giving up my childhood. I can function as an adult…have been forced to. But, I refuse to cross that line that society draws in the sand that says, “Act your age”.
 
Sorry I will go to my grave before I cross that line”
 
So, what does it mean to “act your age”?
 
Everyone hears that at some point in their lives. Mostly, when you are a little person. Parents have a tendency to use that one on their children – the reasoning behind that escapes me. I think it has to do with the parent’s perception that the child is not behaving correctly. The more I think about it, I realize how silly it is to make that statement. Did the parent have a manual somewhere that laid out the correct behavioral characteristics of a 13 year old boy or girl? No, that statement comes from a spirit of annoyance with a child as they behave in an immature way. Which we all understand is “Normal” for a child.
 
So how do we deal with this when that phrase is applied to a grown man or woman? Often, it is not spoken out loud. It is implied through relationship and I will leave that question for different blog.
 
Now there is a bit of wisdom in learning to live as an adult.  1st Corinthians 13:11 nails the need for living as a mature adult succinctly.
 
“11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”
 
But, then Jesus tells us in Matthew 18: 3 to maintain a “Childlike Spirit”
 
“3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
 
So there is the contrast. Grow up, but do not lose that child like spirit. I have to say that the verse about childlikeness of Matthew 18 seems to be speaking more to maintaining a spirit of humility than one of a childlike nature. Still the sense that Jesus wants us to maintain that sense of humility points to His desire that we remain teachable. Open to His instruction and direction. Children – for the most part – know that they don’t know everything. The curiosity of a child can be cultivated and nurtured to reveal the destiny that God has built into them. I believe that Our Father wants us to maintain that kind of sensitivity, hunger, understanding. When it comes to life, becoming an adult does not mean that you now know all the answers. This comes down to the core of our identity – who do we think we are.
 
Back to the phrase “act your age”. Let’s take a different angle to this. What age? Here are a few that I thought of. Perhaps, you can add to this list.
 
  • Perceived Age
  • Emotional Age (Soul age?)
  • Intellectual Age
  • Chronological Age
  • Observed Age (what others think)
  • Eternal Age

Which one do you identify with. Perceived age? That is the one where when you look in the mirror.  What do you see? Do you still see the 19 year old? Or, is that 60 year old staring back at you the real you? How about emotional age? I started this off with my defiant attitude towards aging. I said, emotionally I feel young and I refuse to let go of that. Chronological age? Again, is there a “How to Book” out there that can tell me exactly how I am supposed to act as a 60 year old Financial Planner? Observed age? To be very honest with you, I don’t give a flying fernertenburger if anyone thinks I’m acting my age. Then it comes to Eternal age.

 
Eternal age. This is what you have when you become the bride of the Christ. We now have been born again into an eternal kingdom. Someday we will sluff off this cocoon and become like HIM. What does that understanding do for your concept of your personal identity? So now how does this argument work when you throw that monkey wrench in the works. If you have eternal life? How the Heck does one act their eternal age? You act like a Child of The Creator of All Things! You are heir to eternity! (HINT: Read your Bible! There actually is a manual for learning to act your Eternal Age) 
 
 But, what if you are not a Child of God?
 
If you have not become a Christ Follower. It is not too late. Reach out to Him and ask Him to give you the Eternal Age. Make Him your King. Surrender your baskets of woe, pain, grief, frustration, and the trappings of a world gone weird and He will change you. He will forgive your sins and make you into a new creation. Then you will have the Eternal Age.
 
 

A Facebook Story

Ludlow

The Amazing Utility of Facebook

Night in the Mojave requires layering. This becomes extremely important when movement stops. Inserting with the always excellent assistance from the Nightstalkers south of ludlow, a tiny way-station along I-40 in the Mojave Desert. The Stalkers left us in the low foothills along Bagdad Chase road and we walked towards the lights. Zero Dark Thirty looks like this no matter where you are. Cold, lonely, and usually filled with things to stumble over in the dark. Thank goodness for night vision.
NSA intercepted telephone communications which placed nameless faceless terrorists approaching Ludlow from the east. The scenario of Jihadi’s inserting along the U.S. Mexico border – anticipated for years – was now so commonplace Special Activities Division and SoCom assigned a team permanently to the southwest region. So here we are, humping into an afterthought of a place to live to intercept professional “haters” somewhere far from civilization. The thought being that out here, there would be minimal collateral damage.
My name is Captain Terry Gentry, on loan from Seal Team Four. our SOG connection, Master Gunny Devin O’Kirk walked next to me listening to the Commando Solo ELINT Aircraft keeping us updated on the progress the targets were making traveling west on I-40. Quietly pacing measured steps behind Gunny O’Kirk was Sergeant Enrique Llona Falconi. Enrique scared Terry sometimes, but was Devin’s favorite. Born of Ecuadorian ex-patriots living in Fresno California, Enrique served as their point man and navigator. Enrique’s favorite movie was the Adam Sandler version of the classic film Mr. Deeds. Everyone on the team felt that it was spookily appropriate that his favorite character was John Turturro’s character Emilio Lopez. After all he could recite almost all of his lines. But, by far his best imitation was his ability to sneak up on you like Emilio did in the movie. One moment you were alone, the next, there was Enrique, smiling at you saying, “I fear you are underestimating the sneakiness, sir!” It was unanimous that Enrique be point man.
Corporal Sammy Samson – Comms Tech – carrying the team’s iPad and signals jamming equipment, and Staff Sergeant Haliburton James – Burt – team sniper filling in behind made up the rest of the team. Burt standing a full six foot seven, cradling his Socom PSR with TrackingPoint scope, reminded Terry of a very mean Blake Griffin. Sammy didn’t remind Terry of anyone. Sammy was the ghost of the group. Urban ops especially. Sammy looked so generic, Terry swore he could stand in a store window and mimic a manikin and spend all day without being discovered.
Tonight promised to be an interesting exercise in communications cooperation between SOAR, NSA, and the team. As controversial as the news was making it, the communications intercepts value had proven themselves at an increasing rate the more illegal immigrants infiltrated into the desert southwest. Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Southern California were rapidly becoming one gigantic – and deadly – hide and seek playground. So the intercepts rivaled gold in value…in Terry’s opinion. So tonight the relay looked like this; NSA relaying to the Solo, then downlinking to Samson and Gunny O’Kirk. The trick would be getting into Ludlow before the bad guys.

Driving all night from Texas is not an easy task. But, driving at night can make it easier. Less traffic and cooler temperatures. Jim Thibodeau and his daughter Wendy O’Neil – a little road weary – anticipating stopping for sleep in Barstow, pulled into Ludlow looking for gas. The map showed both a Chevron and the Ludlow 76. Hopefully, one of them would be open at close to 1AM. The Advocare convention still fresh in their minds, had occupied much of the conversation since leaving Texas. Jim’s weight loss fired up the enthusiasm in his retired years as well as his daughters incredible energy propelling the entire trip.
Jim faced a little bit of a dilemma with his weight loss. Really it came down to realistic priorities. This thought always caused Jim to chuckle. Jim looked in the rearview mirror to see a thinning mirror image of Santa Claus. A graduate of the International School of Santa’s, his Santa pictures reflected the spirit of Norman Rockwell’s picture of the Jolly One. Never was there a better Santa. But, now health dictated weight loss and daughter Wendy turned dad onto Advocare. The weight fell off quickly and Jim became a disciple.
Wendy, a devoted follower of Jesus and missionary to Ireland, formed the other half of her husband Erin and together they had built a joyful family. Erin and Wendy, both dark haired and handsome young adults looked Irish and had the name to prove it. Their love for the island tinged all of their thoughts of eventually returning to pick up their ministry work. But, this week was father daughter. Wendy, very tired from a days worth of driving urgently looked forward to the gas station’s restroom. It would be her turn to drive the rest of the way into Barstow – hopefully they could find a room.
“There’s the Gas Station Wendy.” Jim sighed with his own sense of relief coming through. “You go while I fill up. Then I will go. You want anything from the Mini-Mart?”
“No Dad, I just want to get going? We still have some of the Gorp if I get hungry I will munch on that.” Wendy yawned.
“Ok.” Jim yawned back. “You sure you don’t want some coffee or something?”
Wendy just stretched, pushing her hands against the ceiling of the car. “Nah, I’m good. I just gotta use the restroom really bad.”
Jim just smiled and pulled into the station, the only car at the pumps.
Wendy, quickly sprinted to the restroom as Jim ran the credit card through the card reader and began to pump gas.

“Weasle One, target leaving I-40.” Squawked the voice in Gunny O’Kirk’s ear piece. “Looks like they are heading for the Chevron Station there on the corner.”
“Roger Stryper One.” Devin replied. “We can see them coming down Cucero. We are in position. There is one other vehicle in the station. Looks like a man and a woman. Is this a go. Potential collateral damage situation here.”
“Wait one Weasle.” came the answer.
The team, hidden in the trees and in the outbuildings across the street at the closed Ludlow Cafe, watched as the target van pulled up to the pumps next to the other vehicle. Terry glanced over at Devin as if to convey his nervousness with the situation.
“Weasle One, Stryper One. Over” The anticipated answer came through the cold desert air. “Prosecute, take down. Capture if you can. But, do not take chances. Targets are considered armed with AK’s and RPG’s.”
Terry and Devin, just motioned go to the team. Shadows separated themselves from the desert flora and converged on the gas station. Terry tapped Burt on the shoulder and the PSR coughed a suppressed bolt of metallic phlegm, into the engine block of the van, disabling it. Gunny O’Kirk sprinted from the back of the Cafe across the street, him M-4 leading the way. Samson and Enrique, advanced from the eastern corner of the intersection from their hide in a stand of trees. Speed and extreme surprising violence would be the key to this take down.

Standing in the cold night air helped clear Jim’s foggy mind. Even here under the lights of the gas station, “I can see so many stars! So amazing what God has made. Just think, there are more stars out there than there are grains of sand in the ocean! If that doesn’t blow your mind nothing will.”
The nozzle on the hose of the pump Jim had ended up with didn’t have a clip to hold the nozzle. So Jim had to stand there holding the nozzle as it filled the tank. The annoyance not enough to interrupt the rapture of the stars Jim held onto. But, standing there he noticed classic white dodge van pull in across the pump island from him. It was being driven by hispanic farm workers, it seemed. But, then Jim noticed the men beginning to file out of the van. They looked different. They looked middle eastern.
BANG!
Jim heard an extremely loud noise come from the van. As if someone had hit the van with a sledgehammer. Things began to move in slow motion from that point. Jim noticed the guns coming out of the van. Those were AK-47’s. He had seen enough movies to recognize their distinctive shape. Standing there holding onto the nozzle Jim saw three of the men drop immediately, blood spurting from multiple gunshot wounds. But, there was no noise. Until, one of the middle easterners managed to get his gun firing. That was when Jim noticed the men running from across the street. Obviously, American special forces warriors, they were firing as they advanced. The difference between the middle easterner firing his AK randomly in desperation and the fast and silent professionalism of the operators readily apparent as Jim’s mind took the entire scene in.
Then one of the middle easterners ran around the front of the van and firing to east towards the two operators maneuvering past a row of short ornamental trees, was backing down towards Jim. And, Jim could see that the operators were not firing, because of Jim standing there.
So Jim took the nozzle out of the car’s fuel intake and smashed the middle easterner in the head gas spewing all over the side of the car and over the now unconscious jihadi. And, as quick as it started the fight was over. Out of six jihadi’s, four died, one was wounded by a carefully placed round from Gunny O’Kirk and the last concussed by Jim “Santa Claus” Thibodeau was alive and being carried to a Black Hawk Helicopter in the middle of the intersection.

Wendy opened the door from the restroom to see her father standing with a group of soldiers who seemed to be clapping him on the back like old friends.
“Dad, what’s going on?” Wendy asked.
Jim just turned to his daughter and smiled.
“It’s a guy thing Wendy. Just a guy thing.”
The Team looked at the puzzled look on Wendy’s face and laughed. The tension of another successful operation draining off with the implausible ending to the night.
Jim and Wendy talked well into the night.

The Swasey Drive Fire of 1973

Firefighting

 

 

August 1973 was my third season of fighting fire in the mountains, foothills, and grasslands of Northern California. The California Division of Forestry – as it was known in the seventies – hired lots of high school graduates and college students for the summer fire season. It was what I called a “Primo” summer job and paid well enough to cover most of my costs for college. At the same time, however, it was a difficult job. Beyond the normal understanding that fire fighting is dangerous, the physical demands required substantial endurance conditioning. Each summer after the final semester, my job at CDF Fire Station Fawn Lodge would be waiting for me. But, after nine months of studying – and partying – it took a couple of weeks to get my conditioning back, so I could survive the brutal physical demands of fighting fire in triple digit temperature. 

 

Fawn Lodge sits in a natural bowl in the surrounding mountains of eastern trinity county. It is planted right on highway 299 on the road from Eureka and Redding. For a self-proclaimed wild man who liked to party hard, it was the perfect station.  Situated far enough from headquarters in Redding, Fawn Lodge – and Trinity County mostly – enjoyed a certain amount of isolation. Life slowed down once the conditioning came back and the CDF routine settled in. Still, each summer had its “white knuckle” moments and the summer of 1973, our trucks saw plenty of action.

 

June and July of 1973 came and went with relative ease.  But, by the final week of July and the first two weeks of August, fire conditions reached extreme levels. And, the second week of August –the week of the Swasey Drive fire – turned into a tiring series of sleepless nights and days of sequential fires.

 

In the middle of Wednesday night the larger of our two trucks deployed to a reserve position at headquarters in Redding. A rash of grass and brush fires occupied the Redding trucks requiring us to fill the standby slot. The trip down Buckhorn Summit snakes down towards Whiskeytown lake and normally I would have enjoyed the ride. But, after two and a half seasons of driving on mountain roads on the back of a fire truck, the trip to Redding at o’ dark thirty in the morning barely registered. My sleep interrupted, I determined to not miss any and buckling my self in with both seat belts to the thin foam seat pad, I wedged myself between the bulkheads of the truck and slept like a baby.

 

We never made it to headquarters. Headquarters diverted us to a fire south of Anderson California to help mop up a 500 acre brush fire. The sleep on the back of the truck was the last sleep I would get for the next 3 days.

 

Time passed quickly with us hopping from fire to fire, stopping only long enough to pump water and fuel into the truck, or to eat. Three days passed with little sleep, and when we did sleep it consisted of quick naps on the back of the truck or on tarp on the burnt out ground. Most of our activities consisted mopping up contained fires or watching for flare ups. Making sure that a fire stayed “Put-Out”. Although the night could be peaceful and allowed for a measure of rest at times, the requirement to remain alert eliminated any actual slumber. Night time on a fire forms a kind of alien landscape smelling of burnt grass. A surreal landscape only punctuated by the creeping movement of our truck patrolling the perimeter looking for smoldering embers.

 

The morning of the third day the fire incidents slowed down long enough for us to come into headquarters for showers and sleep. It was lunchtime, we all longed for the joy of a hot meal without the smell of smoke. We almost made it when the alarm on the radio sounded within view of the headquarters building, dashing our hopes of rest.  

 

A major wind-driven forest fire ignited to the south of highway 299 west of Redding in foothills covered with heat dried grasses, stands of manzanita, Live Oak, Valley Oak and Digger Pines.  With winds pushing 20 to 30 miles per hour the fire escalated from a small grass fire to a major fast-moving forest fire jumping from tree to tree. It burnt southwest into an area dotted with expensive homes, small ranches and an elementary school. The dry conditions of the long Northern California summer had created the perfect conditions for an explosive fire. The growth of the fire quickly escalated its status to that of a potential disaster. Fire fighting resources began moving towards the fire with a measured professional urgency. Trucks from all over the county and inmates from the California Department of Corrections raced to the fire. By the time headquarters diverted us, the complexity and speed of the fire caused the decision makers to overlook the fact that our truck had not been replenished with fuel or water since the day before. To be fair, our own sense of immediacy short circuited any practical common sense understanding that our truck would be useless in its current condition. Thus, our exhausted crew and empty truck – sirens on, adrenaline pumping, sleep forgotten – responded as trained.

 

Our Captain Bob Schepe – a consummate professional firefighter – recognized the serious nature of the situation in the level of excitement in the voices of the dispatchers, and by the number and speed of resources being allocated. That excitement contagiously raised the level of excitement in the truck. Driving through the heart of a city sirens blasting is a unique experience. The – “This is what I always wanted to do-ness” – that every boy experiences the first time a bright red fire truck screams past, kicked in for me every time we used the lights and sirens. But, Captain Bob’s stress coping mechanism was chain-smoking and Captain Bob was furiously coping. Each nervous drag creating our own smoke trail down highway 299 on the way to the fire.

 

We arrived on scene and the on scene commander positioned our truck – another asset on the chessboard – in a long line of fire trucks on Lower Springs Road which intersected with Swasey Drive about half a mile ahead. Captain Bob told me to drive. Then, grabbing the backfire torch began backfiring the south side of Lower Springs road, one of the other firefighters following behind with the hose mopping up the fire closest to the road. The dangerously low-level of water in the tank still not evident as we approached the main body of the fire.

 

It never occurred to me what kind of problem one hundred and ten in the shade, the heat from a raging fire, and chain-smoking could create for the human physiology. But, Captain Bob found they are ingredients capable of stopping a strong man in his tracks. Captain Bob swinging the backfire torch made it about a quarter of a mile to the intersection of Lower Springs Road and Swasey Drive before falling unconscious in the road. It would be determined later he had experienced a heat stroke. Before I had time to react a CDF Helicopter descended and carried Captain Bob away to the hospital. This left me temporarily…and apprehensively…in command of the truck. But, within a few minutes an Engineer from another truck jumped on board and took command.

 

As we turned onto Swasey Drive the full extent of what we were facing became evident – our truck was first in line. There laid out in front of our truck shimmering in the heat roared the largest fire I had ever seen. For a moment it seemed like I was a spectator watching a disaster movie. The road sloped up a gentle hill for perhaps a mile partially hidden by the swirling smoke permeating the air. The fire – for the moment – contained to the east side of the road had jumped from the brush to the tops of the digger pines and was racing towards the giant steel towers of the power lines flowing downhill from Whiskeytown Dam. Overhead, fire suppression air-tankers positioned themselves to drop their loads, while hundreds of inmates shuffled along the side of the road strung out in a long weary line, carrying brush hooks, pulaski’s, and shovels ready to keep the fire from jumping over Swasey Drive. to the west.

 

Our improvised leader responding to the orders of the on scene commander on the radio pulled out of line and gunned the truck up the road. Directed to race ahead of the fire to catch spotfires jumping the road, we raced past the inmates to our right and the fire – now well over a hundred feet high – to our left. The fire, moving faster than the inmates could walk, was escaping the boundaries of the road. 

 

Our truck raced past the head of the fire. The wind now driving it forward faster than a man could run. The sight of the fire only a number of yards from our truck raised the adrenaline – and fear – level on our truck to the maximum. So much so that when we pulled up to the spot fires on the right side of the road – spreading quickly in a rapidly growing circle of burning dry grass – my fingers fumbled to get the fire pump started. The engineer took over and directed me to take the hard-line from the hose reel and attack the spot fire. Jumping the barbed wire fence I ran towards the growing grass fire. Hearing the pump light off I opened the nozzle…no water. The urgency of the day had finally caught up with our truck. And, now the consequences of that urgency were upon us.

 

I looked up from the now useless hose – a desperate question on my face – to see the engineer pointing at the approaching fire on the other side of the road. He was backlit by a fifty foot wall of roaring raging fire! Fear began screaming in my ears sounding like a locomotive racing through a tunnel at full speed. The fire caught up with us faster than we could react. Smoke from the fire shut out the sun creating an eerie noisy and choking twilight in the middle of the day. It pounced on us like a supernatural carnivorous being.

 

“Get back on the Truck!” Screamed the engineer. “Get back here or we are all going to die!” He was attempting to reel the hose back to the truck. 

 

As we jumped back over the barbed wire fence I realized that my uniform shirt was catching fire from the sparks falling from the superheated air. Grabbing the hand hold to climb into the back compartment I noticed the paint on the truck beginning to bubble. Breathing became painful.

 

Once on board, the engineer accelerated through the fire and smoke in a desperate dash to life, dragging the hose behinds us the nozzle bouncing on the road adding its own sparks to those falling from the sky.

 

Within a few minutes we managed to drive to a safe zone, in a temporary fire camp. I sat in the back of the truck watching the activity around me moving in slow motion for what seemed like a long time. An EMT brought us a number of water bottles – I poured one over my head – and checked us out. He told me I was in shock and took me to a tented area to rest.

 

I was given a week off to rest up after that ordeal and during that week decided that there were safer ways to pay for college and resigned the following day.

 

 

 

 

 

The Payback

Image

The Payback

by Derek Hastings

My name is Zachary Tankersly. I’m a habitual practical joker. My wife tells me it’s one of my bad habits and I really need to stop devising and playing practical jokes. However, she still laughs when a particularly well planned scheme comes to its intended conclusion. Still, I know she’s right, because, sometimes the consequences take on an unintended life – an unexpected trajectory – of their own.

Today, however, practical joking is the furthest thing from my mind. I’m standing in the crowd of hopeful workers at the Baltimore Docks hoping and praying to hear my name called for a day’s work. Two years into what the newspapers are calling a depression, finding work mostly means daily frustration and a continual gnawing hunger.

Desperate men standing in the cold dirty air each as hungry as I are crowding the dock…it’s the same every day. Some appear to be almost dead from malnutrition rather than alive. They present a dilemma for the shipping companies and labor unions. If they sign these men to work, will they finish the day? Will they give a full day’s work without dying? I know some of the men waiting for work, having grown up in the same neighborhoods. There, two rows ahead, I spot Jeremy Brooks, the neighborhood bully. The one person I spent the most time figuring out how to avoid on the way to and from school. Bully took on a new shade of black with Jeremy. Forming a phalanx around him stood his current cadre of drinking buddies everyone of them, crude, brutal, and amoral wharf-rats. Off to my left – unsuccessfully trying not to be noticed – stands Tyree Henderson, a gloriously black human being.

Tyree’s father and my father, Gene Tankersly, worked together for years. My father drove a garbage truck for the City of Baltimore. Tyree’s father, Samson Henderson, managed the Can-Handlers for my father’s truck. So Tyree and I grew up around each other. Tyree went to a different school and church than I did, but, on weekends our fathers, and our families, would gather to barbeque and listen to the Orioles game on the radio.

Tyree has a special place in my heart, firmly cemented one cold October afternoon. After high school let out, I had arranged an elaborate prank to catch Tyree unawares. Tyree was difficult to fool. He was strong as two grown men by the time we were seniors in high school, and as difficult to surprise as a wild fox. Not much got past Tyree. So it had become my special challenge to catch Tyree in a glorious prank – and live to tell the story. Unfortunately, Jeremy Brooks fell into the trap. Instead of a good-humored Tyree responding with surprise and laughter, Jeremy’s legendary temper exploded. The first person Jeremy saw was my horrified face. All I could see was a pain-filled future as I prepared myself for the beating of my life.

Frantically looking around, all of my senses were heightened, straining to find the quickest escape route away from the situation. I was trapped with my back to the brick wall of the alley where I had positioned myself to view my masterpiece of a prank. Slowly I sidled out of the alley eyes focused on Jeremy – and by now his gang of bully wannabe’s – and began to back down the street. Jeremy’s face blazed bright red with the embarrassment of being caught in one of the “cockroaches” tricks, the need for revenge written all over his face. But, for some reason Jeremy just stood and glared at me. Then silently Jeremy and his gang backed away and disappeared into the alley I had just vacated.

Puzzled I turned around. There stood Tyree, his father, and his two older brothers.

“I see your pranksterism almost got the better of you this time” Samson smoothly chastised. “Perhaps now you will think twice about your constant scheming. I hate to think what those boys would have done to you if we had not come along when we did Zach. I think it would be a very good idea for you to come along with us the rest of the way to your house.” Mr. Henderson had that way about him. You never argued. And, given the circumstances at that moment, arguing was out of the question. My gratitude towards Tyree and his family was stamped upon my soul that afternoon.

Now I stand watching my friend – both of us grown and with families to feed – worrying and fretting about feeding his wife and kids. The odds of being chosen are less than ten percent with the number of jobs available compared to the number of men standing here on the docks. The odds far worse for a black man on the Irish controlled docks. Tyree is actually the only black man to consistently show up expecting to be chosen. I think it has to do with his pride. It’s Tyree’s way of saying, “I’m the problem that’s never going away! So you best be picking me and get it over with!” Sometimes I visualize Tyree being chosen, and then turning them down, just to make a point. Standing there dancing in place— like everyone else— to stay warm, I realized that that would be a great prank for Tyree to pull over the shipping company.

Still, I know his need for work has become more a matter of survival. There is a new Tyree in the family. Food equals life for the newborn now. Acts of defiance will not feed a family.

So I began praying a desperate prayer, “Jesus, pick Tyree! Convict their hearts to pick Tyree, Lord. The man is stronger than any three of us standing here right now! How can they not see this? How can you, Lord, let this injustice go on!”

My indignation over the unfairness of the situation causing my prayer to take the form of a challenge to The God I had heard could do miracles. Over the shuffling and grumbling of the crowd a quiet voice began speaking, “Ok, challenge accepted. I will use your prayer…and I will use you! Listen and believe!”

Not a second went by, before I heard a different voice calling my name. The Boss-Man was calling my name!

Realizing what The Lord had meant about using me, I push forward and grabbing my work chit, I turn to find Tyree. He is turning to leave. Head down, dejected, Tyree begins to shuffle slowly away from the Dock Yard. Running to him I grab his arm and pull him down to my level whispering, “You once saved my bacon when I least deserved it or expected it. Now I get to pay you back!” Shoving the chit into Tyree’s hand, and ignoring the look of shock on the big man’s face, I turn to go before he can refuse me. But, Tyree snags my collar in his grappling hook hands and starts to mumble something about not being able to accept the chit. About how I needed it as much as he did. Looking him right in the eyes I threaten him, “You take that chit! Or, I promise I will make your life miserable with the pranks I will foist on you!!”

The threat birthed a smile on the strong man I knew and he laughed at me, “I’d like to see you try…but, it’s a deal white boy!” Reaching out Tyree shakes my hand and gets in the line of workers heading through the gate. None of the other workers in line daring to challenge the big black man.

That was Tyree’s first day of continual work. He proved himself so capable that he earned a permanent position on the docks and eventually Tyree leveraged me onto his crew. We both stayed employed throughout the remainder of the depression. Sometimes it pays to challenge The Creator of the Universe.

Where are the Hero’s?

Robin_Hood

I tend to divide history into periods of time. It’s somewhat of an unconscious thing. I believe everyone does this. Probably, because our minds naturally do the same thing intuitively. Similar to how your operating system on your computer is programed to “logically” store bits of information in an orderly way. I have almost no idea of the actual process. I just know that it works.

But, in some ways we do this consciously, in order to keep track of the things that are important to us. Things that we like or dislike. We put the things in life that we like close at hand. And, the things we don’t like, we either dispose of them – a bonafide method of categorization – or put them somewhere out of the way.

When I think of human history, one of the somewhat unconscious dividers or markers I use are famous people. Heroes or villains. People that made a difference in the world they lived in at that time, whether that was for the good of humanity or to the detriment.

I saw a blog post a couple of days ago that made a point about the need for heroes. That when life becomes difficult, heroes arise. That an historical revival – a move of God – is close at hand.

Heroes with the largest impact on the world – greatest catalyst for good – were those that brought the kingdom of God in a way that transformed society into times of peace and productivity. Times of unity and diverse collaboration that produced exponential advances in Art and Science. The greatest advances in the history of mankind came with the advent of humble Spirit filled men and women with the courage to put everything at risk for righteousness.

I know, you thought I was going to talk about the military kind of heroes. In some ways I am. Many of those that brought change to society did so after violent military conflict. Evil has a tendency to not want to go quietly. Sometimes that is what is needed and it seems, it will always be that way.

Arrogant and maladjusted individuals – Nimrod, Nero, Qin Shi HUang, Herod, Attila, Stalin, Hitler – some who achieved great building projects and forced their nations forward at the expense of humanity are viewed by some as heroes. But, one of the greatest genocides to ravage earth occurred over the 500 years the western hemisphere was colonized. Much of this under the guise of “the name of God”. And, that cannot be attributed to any one individual from any one European nation. Rather that should be placed under the heading, man’s inhumanity towards man. Eugenic’s induced continental cleansing birthed by a deceived sense of superiority. This is the history of the America’s and it is viewed – still – by the victorious, as fulfillment of “Manifest Destiny”.

There are enlightened leaders that brought about longer lasting and more productive change without tyranny. Particularly here in the United States. But, even as great as the American Experiment has been. It could have been better. The ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population of the western hemisphere did not need to happen. There were examples from the very beginnings of productive collaboration and cohabitation between Europeans and Native Americans – the Natick People for one, the Cherokee Nation of the early 1800’s another.

Again, evil in the form of fear, greed, and ignorance eventually ended these kind of successes. Still the American experiment is better than the rest of what is out there. And, the genesis of this experiment is undeniably God Breathed. Regardless of how badly our ancestors mucked it up. There were men and women of all races and tribes that rose up and catalyzed their worlds, exhorted and inspired men and women through word and deed. Created light in times of darkness. Saved whole cities from anarchy. Saved whole cultures from blight and plague. Saved races from slavery. Freed continents from racial madmen.

So where are the heroes for today?

I heard a statement (not sure of the truth of it) attributed to our current President. That he believes that the Christian Foundations of our Nation are outdated and obsolete. That those that hang onto those concepts are to be treated as domestic terrorists for maintaining such fanatical beliefs. If this statement is truly his stance, there is no heroism in it.

So again, where are the heroes that will stand and fight for righteousness? Who will stand for moral purity, black and white understanding of truth versus falsehood and the consequences of a relative understanding of those concepts. True heroism that humbly brings in the presence of a Holy God that created all things. The historical Creator Father that taught our ancient grandfathers about the land He was giving them. The Holy Provider that calls us precious and gave His Son so that we can escape the prison of time and live in the eternal with Him.

Where are those that walk in understanding, discernment and wisdom? Where are those with the vision to lead a world steeped in selfishness into life filled with compassion and sacrifice? Where are those that would lay down their lives for truth and love?

When those people rise up, then transformation of our society will come. When the heroes come the people will follow. It has always been this way.

God, raise up the heroes. Those that look like Jesus and walk in His Power. Our world is tired of the false hope that does not save. The world is desperate for You. Desperate for the real power that exists only in You.

Could it be that you and I are the heroes? If not us then who? We who are filled with the Third Person of the Trinity?

Christianity is not designed for merely a “Self-Help” mechanism. It is a ticking time bomb of radical power unleashed to wipe the tears of a lost world away. It is passionate heart filled heavenly perspective that brings Truth into every aspect of culture, refining thought and producing wonders for the benefit of all. It is a never ending stream of inspiration and blessing just waiting to be tapped and given away.

Do you believe? Is this understanding woven into the core of your identity?

The Redeemed Imagination

The Presence

When I was young – not sure exactly how young – my mother told me that I can be anything put my mind to. To a certain extent that has been true. At almost 60 years old now, the list of jobs I have held in my life point to that belief that I could do just about anything I could imagine or desire. Of course life’s triage process and a general lack of physical time, limited those choices. But, I have been a janitor, ditch digger, bar tender, clown, roofer, receptionist, grounds maintenance person, waiter, bill collector, US Coast Guard Officer, and a Certified Financial Planner. It only required a confident sense of determination, desperation, and the ability to visualize myself doing those things to attain the employment.

There is also the underlying current of God’s Grace and Provision in every one of those situations.

My imagination is a powerful gift from The Creator. It seems to live right in the middle of the heart of who I am. When I imagine, that imagining is central to my thoughts and colored by everything I have become.

There are numerous books on the thought life, both good and bad. And, I suppose I could talk a bit about how important it is to control that part of your life. But, this isn’t about that battleground. This is more about The Gift of Imagination Creator gave us.

The Creator of all things, has the most powerful imagination out there. After all, it was His Vision, His Imagination that birthed the universe. I have heard from different places that when God created creation, he didn’t merely speak it into existence, He sang it into existence. His Heart overflows with passionate love and that love inspires a boundless creative imagination which resulted in you and me and everything you see. So when He created you and I in His image, that template carries an eternal human potential.

In Second Corinthians 5:17, Paul explains that we are a New Creation in Jesus Christ. We have been redeemed from death and made new. How does this apply to the imagination? It has everything to do with how you see yourself …or how you imagine yourself. If you are a new creation, redeemed and restored to your inheritance in The Kingdom. Then there are certain benefits that come with that restoration.

In John 14:12, Jesus bluntly states that the miracles the disciples witnessed are a template for how they will interact with creation. He tells them that they are going to do those same miracles, only they will do more. The New Creation functions differently than the old creation. That is unless someone – the father of lies – can convince The Newly Created that nothing has changed. And, there are numerous examples of Christian Saints that understood their newness and interacted with life in a manner consistent with their identity. Simply they walked in Signs and Wonders. I suggest to you that signs and wonders are the naturally supernatural realm of the redeemed.

So if that is true – and I believe it is – then the redeemed imagination should be a key to the impossible. In Christ the word impossible does not exist. Paul seems to understand this when he writes his letter to the Philippians.  Philippians 4:8  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Again, recognizing the battle ground of the mind, I understand it is not easy to think of oneself as having a redeemed imagination. Especially, with the flood of images that bombard our minds everyday.

All of this is important because what you imagine has everything to do with what you do. So let’s apply this to the realm of Art.

I am a writer. All my life my imagination would produce fun ideas – stories – that I would diligently write down. The hard part for me was finishing a story. Eventually, I found myself with a box of unfinished stories. Part of me still considered myself a writer. But, most of my time was spent playing online games. Online games captured my imagination. Specifically, Call of Duty in all of it’s various iterations. Actually, I started in the 1990’s with Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Duke Nukem, Medal of Honor, and then Call of Duty. I was an avid gamer for over 15 years. But one day, about two years ago, a friend described meeting with a publisher about the potential of her book. Her excitement was infectious. I got jealous. So I complained to The Lord about it, “why can’t I do that Lord?” He just answered me with a question. “What is more important to you? Playing Games or Writing?”

I went cold turkey that very day (you gamers out there will understand that one …or, maybe not.)

It took my mind almost 9 months before I stopped seeing the images of the game when I closed my eyes. It was almost a year and a half before the desire to write came back. I forced myself to write. I worked at healing my imagination. It was hard. It was frustrating. The images from the gaming had cauterized my imagination.

But, I persisted and worked at it.

Within the last couple of months – during my normal Saturday afternoon writing time – my desire to write exploded into a passion. I like to listen to music while I write. That afternoon as I sat at my computer The Holy Spirit’s Presence overwhelmed me, injecting a passionate excitement into the entire afternoon. The sense of energetic, creativity, mingled with a profound intoxicating peace, and I just closed my eyes and let my fingers fly. I understood that I was functioning on a level of intimacy with my Creator that defined my heavenly identity. As powerful of a feeling I was experiencing, I knew intuitively that this was intended to be normal for the redeemed. Functioning as part of The Body of Christ, wielding the Mind of Christ, and Creating Spirit inspired Beauty. I experienced a joy I have only felt a few very special times before.

I attended a writers conference this weekend. One of the speakers coined the term, “Presence based Art”. When she said that, I realized that was what was happening with me. Presence based art. Collaboration between The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and Their Human Instrument.

Presence based art will bring about the next Spirit Inspired Renaissance.

Be careful what you put into your mind. The old saying G.I.G.O. – Garbage In, Garbage Out – is so brutally true. Guard your heart and mind, nurture that which He has redeemed. (And, if you don’t know Him or that joyous redemption. Ask Him and He will be there.)

You are an instrument of The Creator of all things. You carry a template of The Holy in your Spirit and your Soul. Write, Paint, Sing, Dance, Sculpt, and invite the Presence to collaborate with you. It will be the best Father Son or Father Daughter project you ever do.

Moonfire

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Turnips the dog snapped at the flies buzzing around his head, circled three times and settled into the straw bed near the shoeing stool. Evening brought the onslaught of skeeters swarming around the water trough and under the weeping willow trees. Light from outside the blacksmith shop was dimming enough that the glow from the brazier seemed brighter by contrast. Turnips sighed a lazy huff and lowered his shaggy head onto his paws.

 

Around the side of the low ramshackle smithy, two lethargic Clydesdales ambled by, pulling firewood from the foothills into town. October was almost over bringing the first frosty mornings, but the afternoons still suffocated in a summer that refused to go away. The dust from the yard desperately needed a good rainstorm to settle it down.

 

Turnips lay in filthy contentment in the cooler air closer to the floor. His day had been epic, as far as dog days go.  The morning was full of exploration and rolling in fun-smelling dead and flattened bullfrog. The afternoon had been spent wandering the streets of Turnips’ own town, Trinity Hollow. Now it was time for dinner after the master finished his work.

 

From inside the shack, a steady sound of the bellows created a rhythm for the pounding of the hammer on the anvil, which lulled Turnips to sleep.

 

On a short stool at the bellows sat Henry, a boy of twelve who looked forward to someday having his own smith shop. He was covered in sweat and soot, but his smile grew brighter as each blast of air urged the coals to the proper intensity of heat.

 

Prentice, the blacksmith, hovered over the anvil, carefully swinging his hammer to the rhythm of the bellows. Prentice was a short man, but powerfully built. His arms stuck out from his chest like cranes from a ship, long and powerful from a lifetime of working iron into useful tools and works of art. Sweating in the golden glow of the brazier, Prentice considered himself lucky to have the shop at such a young age. The shop had been his father’s — until he died — and now was his. Prentice was determined to continue the proud legacy his father had created: “To do him proud” Prentice would say to his neighbors. His happiness and his commitment to sustain his father’s excellent reputation brought him a lot of business. It also helped that Prentice was the only blacksmith in thirty miles.

 

Henry liked Prentice. He looked up to him. And, it is safe to say that Prentice was everything Henry wanted to be when he grew up. Henry liked that Prentice  was young, independent, strong, and a good storyteller. He came to help Prentice whenever he could and would often stay to listen to the corny jokes Prentice would share with his customers.

 

“Excuse me, Mister Hart,” called a figure in the doorway. There stood Henry’s father. It was time for Henry to come home.

 

“Howdy, Mr. Turner, Come for Henry, eh?” Prentice asked, watching the boy dunking his head in the cooling barrel.

 

Prentice handed Henry a towel and asked, “You be back tomorrow, Hercules?”

 

Mr. Turner looked at Henry and asked. “Hercules?!?”

 

“Yep, the boy’s getting pretty strong . . .  almost wrestled a bone away from Turnips today! Sometimes even I find it hard to do that!”

 

“Well,” Mr. Turner sighed. “I have a load of brick for the foundation of Mrs. Turner’s Teahouse, and Henry’s new found strength is going to be needed to get the brick from the front yard to the back. But, he’ll be back when he’s done, probably this weekend at the latest, Prentice.”

 

Prentice smiled and jokingly chided. “Well, I don’t know Mr. Turner. I’d hate to ask Turnips there to run the bellows tomorrow instead; he’s kind of on vacation this month.” Then, chuckling, Prentice reached into his pocket and pulled out two bits and handed it to Henry.

 

Prentice grabbed a clean hand towel and said, “I was about to lay off for the evening anyway; Turnips is giving me the ol’ evil eye.”

 

Prentice watched as Henry and his father disappeared down the road, laughing at Prentice’s joke about “Hercules Henry.” Then he turned to Turnips, and as he put the cover on the brazier, began to talk to his best friend and companion.

 

“You ready for dinner, Nips? Yeah? Right then, let’s eat.”

 

Night found Prentice sitting on his wood pile. He shifted a little so his shoulder blade would be more comfortable. The noise woke Turnips, who sat up and began to study his master. Prentice was deep in thought and had sat deep into the night on more than one occasion. Faraway thoughts rambled around his mind. Prentice was a blacksmith, but not a simple man. His prayers reached the Creator throughout the day, but especially at night. Lately, many a thankful prayer for God’s overwhelming provision had shot up like fireworks from the woodpile. Now he was watching the moon slip away into the higher branches of the willow trees. It might have looked as if he were a lonely man, but for the smile of contentment on his face. If you asked him if he thought he was lonely Prentice would probably have laughed and said something like, “Lonely? No sir! Now, if I was lonely I’d probably be off somewhere else doing something about it.”

 

“This is the life, Nips!” Prentice said, as he grappled with a handful of dirty floppy ear. “No one to bother. I live like I want, and have all I want of good eatin’. Nope, I wouldn’t exchange my life for nothin’ Nips. Look at that moon there. You couldn’t find a prettier picture anywhere — darn skeeters!” Prentice slapped a big one on his now clean bicep. “Only these darn skeeters to bother me. But, I suppose they gotta live somewhere too, huh Nips?”

 

Soon the moon was very high and full in the sky. Moon shadows painted the ground a pleasing contrast of light and dark, making the smithy’s front yard look like an abstract checkers board.

 

“There’s something about this here moon, I’m not too sure about, Turnips. I mean, here I am and there it is — the way it usually is — but there’s something different up there now. It’s like it’s alive and breathin’. Can ya feel it Nips?” Prentice leaned forward and grabbed the big dog by the neck, startling him out of his sleep.  Oh, sleepin,’ eh? Wake up! I’m talkin’ at ya!” Prentice laughed, and pointed Turnips’ head towards the moon. “Look at that moon. Will ya? Ain’t it somethin’ else? Just like it was starin’ down at me the same way I’m starin’ up at it, all shimmery and brighter than ever before! Kinda spooky if ya ask me.”

 

But, Nips wasn’t listening to Prentice this time. His sensitive ears had picked up a sound he had never heard before, shrill and wavering but definitely melodic. So melodic that Nips got up and started to wander slowly into the moonlight. Tilting his head back and forth, Nips began to whimper.

 

Turnips had never acted this way before. Curiosity mixed with apprehension caused the hairs to stand up on Prentice’s neck. “You hear that too, Nips?” he asked as he stepped down from the wood pile. Standing in the shadows looking into the moonlight, the sound of his breathing mingled with the melodic warbling that seemed to come from the moonlight. Slowly walking into the light, Prentice turned to look across the road.

 

Standing in the dry grass on the other side of the fence across the road, and under a giant overgrown willow tree, stood a girl, or rather a very young woman. A bright pool of moonlight shone down around the woman, highlighting her silvery hair and the glittering sky blue gown she wore. But, it was her eyes that Prentice noticed first.

 

Set close together in an extremely petite face, the woman’s eyes looked as if they were on fire — a deep scintillating blue fire. She smiled at Prentice, revealing rows of even, small, white teeth. Prentice stood stunned in the yard. Nothing like this had ever happened in Trinity Hollow. “No one dresses like that around here.” Prentice absent-mindedly mumbled, “Nips, I don’t think that woman is from around here . . .” Prentice could not take his eyes off the woman.

 

The woman was staring back at Prentice and began to smile. An audible trilling sound similar to the sound that had frightened Nips began to fill the air. The sound seemed to come not only from the woman, but also from the surrounding area. It was like a dozen canaries singing in harmony — in their sleep. Prentice stood in the middle of the road, every sense brought to attention. The branches on the willows remained motionless in the still air; the moonlight outlined every detail in the grain of the wood of the fence. Each dust particle in the road seemed to stand out, and the night air expanded and contracted with each thunderous breath Prentice took. Heartbeat, heartbeat, heartbeat . . .

 

Frightened by the strange noise, Turnips suddenly came to life and began to bark at the woman. Instantly, the woman turned and fled with the speed of a pleasant dream upon waking, the pool of moonlight pointing her out as she flitted through the trees.

 

Prentice watched until the woman had disappeared into the trees. Then he sat back down on his woodpile holding Turnips, overwhelmed, speechless, and incredibly wide awake. He sat there until the moon had fallen below the trees. Who was she? Where did she come from? If only Turnips hadn’t barked! The thoughts and questions cascading through his mind would not let him sleep.

 

The next day, Prentice struggled to keep his mind on his work. So, he closed up early and took Turnips for a long walk out of town to do some fishing. His thoughts replayed the previous night’s events over and over. Later, after a dinner of trout and baked potato – and being the kind of man that talks to animals – he sat down to reason with Turnips to not scare the woman away again. Something was telling Prentice that she would be back.

 

The moon couldn’t rise fast enough that night. Unable to sit on the woodpile, Prentice paced around the yard praying for God to bring the woman back. A couple of times clouds skimmed the face of the moon as it was rising, causing Prentice to anxiously glance at the sky. He didn’t know what was happening; all he knew was that he wanted to see the woman again. She was beautiful, and exciting, like no one he had ever encountered. And, it did something to his heart. A longing was growing inside of him that he hadn’t known was there, and it was kind of scary. Part of him was stirring, coming to life. The emotions were unexpected and he didn’t know how to deal with them. All Prentice could think of was that he wanted to see the woman again.

 

When the trilling sound came, Prentice had just taken the precaution of tying Turnips to the water pump in the yard. It came so suddenly Prentice almost tripped over Turnips and had to grab the pump handle to keep from falling. Slowly, he walked over to the fence, his short stocky legs wobbly with expectation. “Will she talk to me?” Prentice whispered.

 

Prentice stopped in the road a few yards from the fence, his heart in his throat. Her eyes were even more enchanting up close, and it took Prentice some time to muster the courage to talk.

 

“What is your name?” asked Prentice, smiling like a little boy.

 

The woman just smiled back, through that moonlit aura.

 

That was when the midnight stagecoach came rumbling up the road almost running Prentice over. After it passed, Prentice looked up and the woman was gone, a bare glimmer of moonlight receding through the trees as she did the night before.

 

Prentice stood there leaning on the fence until the sky began to turn orange as the sun rose over his blacksmith shop.

 

Prentice did not sleep that day. Instead, he walked into town and with his life savings bought as much silver as he could afford. The woman behind the counter stood stunned by the amount of money the blacksmith spent. Then he walked as fast as he could back to his shop.

 

Prentice hurried to his shop and began to work on an idea that had grown out of the sleeplessness. He worked through the day creating a mold for the surprise he had in mind for the woman he was now calling Moonfire. The mold was finished after a hasty lunch, eaten under the baleful stare of Turnips, who was still tied up to the water pump. Melting the silver quickly followed to prepare it for pouring in the mold. When darkness came he worked on cleaning up his messy blacksmith shop while the silver cooled.

 

Finally, as the sun was beginning to drop past the fence across the street, Prentice began the process of removing the silver from the mold. As he carefully chipped the mold away, a silver tiara came forth in the light of the brazier. With a piece of steel wool and a soft cloth, the silver began to shine. A work of love was revealed.

 

Prentice had convinced himself that this woman, Moonfire, was someone the Good Lord had sent to him. Moonfire was special and the last two nights had convinced Prentice that it wasn’t good for him to be alone anymore. The time had come to deal with that, and also that this was an obvious sign from God. So now he was going to do something about it. Although Prentice knew he wasn’t a beautiful man– short, stocky and probably smelly– he knew how to create beauty and was sure that this skill would help him convince this gift from God that he was worthy of her.

 

The time weighed on Prentice, increasing his anxiety. His eyes were trying to pierce the darkness outside of the shop, and his ears were sifting through the millions of night sounds. But, he didn’t go outside. He stayed inside polishing the tiara.

 

Soon the moon arrived over the shop lighting the yard, the road, and the fence across the road . . . and then the trilling began. Prentice and Turnips both stood and looked for Moonfire. But, instead of running to the fence, Prentice sat down on his shoeing stool, holding the tiara and waiting in the dark, hoping to draw Moonfire into the shop. Prentice figured that he could limit the interruptions in his own shop.

 

Slowly the sound came closer, until a bright silvery glow edged around the door. Standing apprehensively by the door, peering into the darkness of the room, stood Moonfire. Curiosity overcame her animal-like skittishness. She was acting like a deer carefully approaching a salt lick, wary of being ambushed.

 

At first, Moonfire wouldn’t come any closer than the door. But, when Prentice stood and beckoned her into the room she blushed and slowly walked into the room. Soon, she was standing right in front of Prentice, closer than she had come before, and it looked as though she was trying to say something to him. Prentice thought perhaps if she saw the gift he had for her she would say something, so Prentice brought it out into the light of the brazier and presented it to her.

 

“Please take this. I . . . I don’t know you. But, I think you are the most beautiful person I have ever seen. Please, I made this for you. I made it so that you might feel like talking to me. I really don’t have anyone here to talk to, except old Turnips. I made it for you. I hope you like it. It’s real silver, you know.”

 

When she made no move towards taking the tiara, Prentice slowly reached out and put the tiara on her head and leaned forward to kiss her.

 

The woman smiled but placed her hand gently on Prentice’s lips to stop him. “Thank you Prentice, but this is not for me.” I am merely a messenger sent by your Father in Heaven. I have been sent to bring you a message from Him. He wants you to know that He loves you and will take care of what you need. He created your heart, hears every one of your prayers, and knows you are lonely. Only you must understand that I cannot stay with you. As much as I would like to, I am an angel and I must return to Heaven. My name is Arendal, and I watch over you always.” Arendal reached up, took the tiara, and placed it back into Prentice’s’ hands.

 

“An angel?” Prentice thought. God sent me an angel? “You watch over me?” Prentice asked.

 

“Yes,” Arendal replied. “I am your guardian angel. I have watched over you since you were first born. Your heart is strong and your love for the Father and His Son is praised around the throne. You are not alone, Prentice, never alone when the King of All is your Father.”

 

With that, Arendal disappeared and left Prentice standing in the light of the brazier holding the silver tiara.

 

Later the next morning – Prentice prepared to return to his routine. Still pondering what had happened the night before, the tiara sat on the shoeing stool, watched closely by Turnips. Prentice was tying his apron around his waist and pulling his heavy hammering gloves onto his hammer-shaped hands, when he heard someone approaching, the sound of a horse being led by someone, a horse that had thrown a shoe. He thought more work . . . then turned to look at who was coming.

 

Standing in the doorway was a young woman, the woman who had sold him the silver from town the day before leading a beautiful coal black mare and a horseshoe. She looked down and saw the tiara sitting on the stool, then looked at Prentice.

 

“So that’s what you did with all that silver!” she exclaimed. “It’s beautiful!! I see that you are more than a blacksmith; you are an incredible artist! What do you plan to do with it?”

 

Prentice’s mouth fell open. She was the spitting image of Arendal! He had not noticed her the day before. But, there she stood, plain as day, the answer to Arendal’s reminder that God knew what he needed. Here was the Hand of God demonstrated in a tangible way. Arendal was as sure a sign as any.

 

Prentice stepped forward, took the reins of the horse, and as he checked the hoof said, “I have not figured out what to do with it yet. It is for someone special.” He looked up at the woman and their eyes met and Prentice felt his soul soar with the love he saw staring back at him.

 

“What is your name?” Prentice asked.

 

“Nancy,” she replied, as she joyfully reached out to shake Prentice’s hand.