The Visitor--an inspirational short story series

The following is a series of fictional short stories, some based ion fact and upon the continued existence in mortality of the Apostle John and the Three Nephite disciples of Christ who were permitted to remain until his return in Glory. Please note that I was inspired to write these stories, that the book is not yet finished and that the choice of names for the Nephites, although scriptural, are not necessarily the names of the real three. I chose them at random, after praying for inspiration on the matter, but it appears the real names are still meant to be unknown.

I welcome critique, feedback, suggestions and the sharing of any real incidents wherein you feel you or friends may have actually encountered one of these divine messengers. I assure you I will receive it with the respect and reverence it deserves.

Ch. 01 -- In The Beginning

In The Beginning
--Steven G. O'Dell © 2009

No story is complete without a beginning. This is ours.

In the beginning there were but three things. There was unorganized matter, spread throughout endless space and there were countless pure intelligences. Only these three things existed and nothing more. They were endless and eternal in nature. As yet, there was no such thing as time.

It came to pass that, among the unembodied intelligences, there were those who became self-aware and also aware of the other intelligences about them. These greater intelligences began to counsel one with another as to the nature of their being and also of the unorganized matter and space that surrounded them. Their counsels brought forth greater knowledge concerning such things.

As this knowledge increased and was shared amongst the willing intelligences, a plan began to take form that would properly organize the matter about them and cause it to be made to do the bidding of those intelligences endowed with sufficient knowledge. And it came to pass that, through many counsels and much effort, spirit bodies were fashioned for many of the intelligences, which allowed those spirits to further interact with the matter which existed about them.

As these plans were employed, it became apparent to the greatest of these spirits that not all intelligences had the purest or wisest of motives in their progression; nor should they all be entrusted with greater powers, except they first be tested. Thus, plans were begun in a Great Counsel of those spirits and intelligences, that they might provide a way for their testing, lest they receive powers beyond their wisdom and the peace of the heavens be destroyed.

In this time, worlds were also formed for the spirits that existed, where they might live together and learn further the ways by which they might fashion and control the elements at their disposal and learn to live with one another in peace and harmony. Yet it was during this time that the jealousies and rivalries of certain spirits became clear before the Counsel.

The greatest among the intelligences who shared knowledge for the greater good, had learned the concept of beauty, as well as utility, and had fashioned many things that were not only useful, but pleasing. During this period the wisest also succeeded in fashioning bodies to house the spirits they had formerly made. These spirits, when endowed with such bodies, were then able to experience greater joy in the other creations that were becoming abundant. However, with these blessings came greater troubles.

If the newly formed heavens were to be a place of common joy and contentment, a plan and test must be perfected and implemented. Therefore, the Counsels met often to see to this need. Among these were many wise and great ones, having developed their skills and having served the common good. Also among them were those easily swayed by fears and flatteries, unable or unwilling to think for themselves. As there must be opposition in all things, the good and the evil amongst those gathered in counsel became more apparent with each passing meeting.

The general Counsel had agreed that at some point all spirits must be tested and proven before being allowed to receive greater knowledge and powers, and this to ensure peace in the heavens and amongst their race forever. Those who resisted testing or could not pass the test would have provided for them a place of beauty to share with those of like mind and spirit. They would be well cared for, but for the benefit of all, would not be allowed eternal progression in power and glory. There was One recognized as greater than all; wise, unselfish and full of love. It was He who at last called for the plans to be presented and voted upon.

Once the general structure of the plan was agreed upon, there remained but one question. All had recognized that there would be few who could avoid mistake while they learned and were tested. While only the most pure and worthy could achieve the greatest degree of power and glory, a way must be provided for continued growth amongst those willing to admit fault and overcome their weaknesses. Providing for this would show compassion, wisdom and serve the greater good, for none were anxious that any should be lost or deprived of opportunity.

It was determined that many would obey only through fear of loss or of being punished, were it known to them that they were being observed and tested; therefore, it became necessary to temporarily cover the memory of who they were and from whence they had come while their test ensued. After this trial would come the restoring of their memories, in bright recollection, and the judgment of their deeds in temporal life. All cheered this plan as great wisdom.

Among those gathered was one of magnificent beauty, who had served well in the forming of worlds and stars. This one now spoke.

“My Father, the plan is indeed a marvelous and wise one. Certainly no better plan could be offered. And yet it pains me to see how many might be prevented eternal growth because they are not to be allowed certain guidance as needed to ensure their safe and successful return. Although it has been agreed upon that they should be prevented from openly knowing that they are being observed and tried by the counsels of the heavens, shall we not allow for certain reminders that might encourage their return to paths of righteous behavior?”

A flurry of discussion and agreement among the Counsel members indicated approval and the greatest among them, the Father, who sat in the presiding seat, now spoke.

“This would be reasonable. We do not wish to hinder the progress of any who are willing and determined to do only good in their mortal probation. How do you propose to remind them without defeating the intent of the plan?”

At this point, the son who had spoken began to stride about the floor before the presiding seat, tall and regal in his bearing, proud and confident of his position and of his suggestion.

“In this mortal life they are to go through, all will become a complete soul, having gained a physical body to house their spirit being. That body will one day be perfected as they rise to be judged of their deeds in life. I propose that you let me go among them with an immortal body of my own. I will be there from start to finish, to rule over them and govern their ways. In this manner, none shall be lost, for I shall cause them to do only that which is right. Therefore, send me and I will not fail you, but will save them all, that not one shall be lost.” He then waited for an approving response from the Father, amidst the commotion that now began to rise increasingly amongst the Counsel members.

The rumbling and flurry of words spread quickly in the Counsel chambers. Many looked concerned, while some smiled and proclaimed The Plan complete. The Presiding One raised His hand for silence and order, then asked simply, “And how shall this be a fair and proper test if we allow the destruction of their moral agency to take place?”

Again the commotion in the Counsel. Heads nodded in agreement, while others showed signs of fear that the suggestion made previously would now be discarded. Nevertheless, the son continued confidently.

“Wise Father, do you not see that much suffering will be avoided by this means? Surely you have no desire for these, thy children and brethren, to suffer needlessly in their attempt to return to thy presence and be proclaimed pure and worthy to become like unto thee in all ways. Therefore, send me among them. I will not fail you, but will ensure that all are saved.”

The Father again raised His hand for silence. He looked about the halls of the Counsel and then spoke quietly, that all had to pay close attention in order to catch all of his words.

“Of course I have no desire for needless suffering, my son. However, I fail to see how removing moral agency should prove a proper test of true intent.”

“I will ensure that not one shall be lost. Is this not the wisest thing to do? Then send me.” When reason and logic had been questioned and had failed to show promise, there was nothing left to this one but to become more insistent. His resolve bore a disturbing aura. Where once he had suggested, he now seemed on the verge of command. He stood tall and threatening. None doubted his previous shows of valiance and worth in carrying out his duties. He had been diligent and faithful, but now he stood on the edge of uncharted and possibly dangerous territory.

The general disturbance throughout the chamber came to silence as another voice cut through.

“Father, if I might speak....”

The Great One signaled for this Son to approach and be heard. He smiled as He saw that it was His first created in the spirit, a loving Son who was most dear to Him and who had many times proven his love for all of his brothers and sisters. None doubted the purity of his spirit nor the depth of his wisdom.

“Father, I have sought always to do Thy will. My brother has proposed that there should be a means to redeem and forgive those who might stray while in mortality. This is wisdom, certainly.”

The first son who had spoken stood silently, arms crossed in defense and defiance. It was easily seen by the wise that pride was his motivation. The most beloved Son now continued.

“And yet, it is wisdom, too, that no man be forced to accept redemption against his will, for this would not prove his heart-felt motive. To allow a man to choose freely would indeed be to allow pain and suffering to enter into the world. There seems no way to avoid this end, while maintaining choice. Mistakes will be made and poor choices will result in suffering. Nevertheless, I believe that the pain and suffering will serve as a learning tool and a reminder for those who seek true wisdom.”

The Father leaned forward in his chair and smiled. “You have both shown the desire to help your brothers and sisters to return to their heavenly home, but this second proposal is wisdom and the greater truth. By removing choice and consequence of action, nothing favorable is gained. Hearts will not be properly tested, nor will men grow in wisdom by such means.”

A dark scowl crossed the face of the one who had proposed his plan first. He glared with anger and jealousy at the Father and the Beloved Son, who again began to speak.

“Father, thou hast always shown great wisdom. Therefore, let thy will be done in all things.” He bowed his head in humility before the Great One and waited for the answer that would come.

“I have another way that will require great strength of spirit and a great sacrifice if it is to be accomplished.” He looked sadly upon both of the sons who had spoken. “It will mean the loss of many who will not choose to follow the paths of truth which shall be taught them in life. And it will mean the loss of life for a blameless and perfect redeemer who shall stand in place of the guilty who have sinned.”

An inaudible wave of surprise shot throughout the assembly. The first son who had spoken now registered shock and disbelief, then anger and indignation, while the Beloved Son again bowed his head in humility before his Father and said simply, “Here am I. Send me.”

“Then it is decided. I shall send my firstborn to redeem those who will accept in their place the sacrifice of One who is spotless and without guilt. Justice shall be served and mercy shall have claim.”

“Wait!” shouted the other son. “Have I ever failed to do thy will? Have I not excelled in carrying out all I've been asked to do? Have you now lost faith that I will accomplish what I am asked?” Anger was still written upon his countenance.

“My son, you have never failed me and have always carried out all you have been asked to accomplish. No task has gone incomplete or been less than admirable. I have not lost faith in your abilities, but I have great concern for your willfulness. You seem to put your desire for personal glory above the needs of your brothers and sisters. Tell me...were you in my place, who would you send?”

The anger now boiled over. You must send me! If you do not, you will regret it. Only I can save them all. Your plan will result in suffering for all. Then all thy children will blame you for your foolishness! How will you face them then? How will you justify your actions to those who are lost? And those who are saved will always look upon you with pity. You must send me or fail!”

The Father now rose from his seat and it was obvious to all that He was not pleased; nevertheless, He did not lose control of his temper. Looking straight into the eyes of the rebel and usurper of power, he proclaimed quietly, “Do well and you shall be rewarded. Do evil and it will bring only pain.” He maintained eye contact for some time and waited, bathed in great light that seemed to emanate from Him as a mantle witnessing His authority.

The objector turned to those gathered and announced, “We do not have to accept this. He will soon come to his senses or we shall assume his authority and control. I, for one, will listen no more to this foolishness.” And with that, he turned to leave the Counsel Hall. Those who remained reflected anguish, pity and shock. There were few words spoken amongst the congregation.

The Great Father now shook His head slowly and sadly, then quietly said, “The sifting has begun.” His face, too, showed sorrow, but His resolve was firm and the work would now begin to redeem mankind from the inevitable fall from grace that would come for those who chose to go through mortal probation.

Ch. 02 -- Tarry Until I Return

Tarry Until I Return
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

The disciples were yet gathered together around the fire at the shore of the sea. All had been fed well, thanks to the guidance of the Lord and the abundance of fish they had netted as a result of their obedience to his words. As with the others, Jesus had called this one to follow. He had also called him 'beloved'. John's heart was good and his mind sharp, but something was bothering him. There was no doubt for him that Jesus was the very Messiah promised by all the Holy Prophets of old. Had he not fulfilled all of the prophecies so far? And John and the other disciples would never have understood these passages except they had been expounded upon by Jesus himself. The Rabbis were scratching at the dirt in the darkest of nights to understand and teach the passages that were now so clear to him. He wondered that he had not understood them before. Still, something tore at him and caused him pain.

The Master had shown himself several times to his disciples after the resurrection, the Apostles had been chosen and set apart for the work, ordained and authorized to use the Holy Priesthood after the order of the Son of God, and this in the service of their fellow man. And this was exactly what was bothering John.

“Master?” he asked timidly.

“Yes, Beloved One?” His affection for his followers was never questioned, but there was a special place in his heart for this one, for his virtue and valor was never an issue.

“You have told us that you must leave to prepare the way for men to enter the heavens, is that not so?”

“Yes, I must return unto my Father and your Father or the work shall not be finished as it was intended from the foundations of the world. I must complete my mission and keep my promise unto the Father.”

“What shall we do without you, Master? How shall we continue on the path of righteousness and not falter?”

“Have I not promised you the Comforter in my place? Have you not understood that the Holy Ghost shall come upon you and your brethren and shall remind you of all things which I have said and shall lead you in the path that you must go? Have you heard so much and understood so little?”

“Lord, I have heard and yet do not comprehend. I am but a child in these things. My weakness I know all too well.”

“John, my beloved servant, your spirit is ready and humble enough to understand the hidden things of God and in due time you shall. Fear not that I said I shall leave you for a season. Know you well that I shall be with you in all things whatsoever you do in my name and that I shall never forsake you nor your brethren. Have I not overcome death for your sakes? Have you yet so little faith?”

“No, Master. I trust your words and know fully of your love. And yet it grieves me that we shall be without you. How long shall you be gone from our midst?”

“It is not apparent to you now, but shall be, that life is but the twinkling of an eye and then comes the night when there shall be no labor. Yet remain faithful and worthy of the resurrection unto perfection and you shall dwell with the Father and again in my presence.”

“Yea, Lord. I seek to do all things according to thy will.”

John drew away a short distance to rest and ponder what he had been told, yet he did not sleep well that night. He had no doubts of the words and promises given him. Nay, he had a desire he feared might be contrary to the will of the Master. After the passing of an agonizing night, John arose early and returned to Jesus. There was yet one question he must ask, but he knew not whether he had the courage to do so.

“John, my beloved, I perceive that you are troubled in your heart. My time is near, but not yet, that I shall leave to return unto the Father. What would you have me do for you?” He gazed into John's eyes with the love and patience that had always been characteristic of him. Did John also detect the trace of a smile?

“I..., Master, I wish to....” He faltered and feared to ask.

“Fear not, my friend. Ask the desires of your heart. I know your soul and I trust you would not ask amiss. Therefore, ask and it shall be granted to you.” He did smile. There was no mistaking it.

“Master,” John cast his gaze to the floor. “The other brethren have voiced their wishes to come unto you and the Father when they shall pass from this mortal realm. That is a great desire, I know....”

“Yes, and this righteous desire that shall be granted, should they remain steadfast unto the end. Tell me, what is your desire?”

Again John hesitated. A tear began to form in the corner of his eye and he reached quickly to wipe it away. “My desire is different, Lord. I fear to speak it, lest I offend you in this manner.” His face was still aimed downward.

“Have I not told you that I know your heart? I also know thy desires. Speak them to me and be at peace. You have but to ask in order to receive.”

John took a deep breath and heaved a shuddering sigh, then continued. “The desire of my brethren is great, indeed. My desire is to remain and serve you for so long as I am able. My heart reaches out to those of the Gentile nations that have yet to hear the Plan of Exaltation that we have been privy to. Have you not said that they are also of the seed of Abraham and that his seed was scattered among all the quarters of the earth and that in him would all men be blessed? Is this not so?”

“This I have said. I have promised that you shall do greater things than I have done. As I have called to the lost sheep of Israel, you shall yet call to kings and princes and magistrates and deliver unto them the Holy Word of God.”

“How shall that be, Master, if I should live so long as a man is allowed and no more?”

“John....” He paused and waited for John's eyes to rise and make contact with his. “Blessed are you for this desire. You shall have the desire of your heart and shall tarry until I come again to rule and reign upon the earth. You have asked the greatest thing among all your brethren. I am well pleased.”

“Master, I give thanks that you are not angry with me.”

“Shall I be angered that you would serve men so long as you have breath? Shall I be angered that you wish to fulfill the measure of your creation? And shall I be less than joyous that you would ensure your place at my right hand near my Father's throne? My heart is well-pleased and to over-flowing with joy for you, my brother and my friend. I look forward anxiously to that day when I shall say to you, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into your rest in the Kingdom of God. For this desire I grant that you shall be spared the dangers and frailties common to man. You shall serve a good, long time and I shall greet you and embrace you when again I return. Is this sufficient for you?”

“Yea, Lord. Yea.” John could say no more. He had received what he valued most—the opportunity to serve until his Savior should return. What an adventure this would prove to be. John's heart was full as he prostrated himself before the Lord and wept for joy.

Ch. 03 -- A Wonder In The Land

A Wonder In The Land
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

I, Kumen, these many years later, do remember those days as clearly as if they were yesterday. Such events leave a deep impression that one may never forget them. So were those days.

The Great Destruction had finished. It had seemed like forever, but was accomplished in only hours. The entire face of the land was altered, much of it beyond recognition, but we were yet to discover this, for then came the three days of darkness, wherein one could see no light from the sun, the moon or from fire. All the air was filled with smoke and ash, the sky black as the darkest night. A great fear came upon the land and the weeping and the wailing of the people was nearly unbearable. They finally understood and believed the warnings of the prophets—all too late.

When the sky had cleared and all could again see, the people did gather in haste to the temple to know what we must do as a people. Many of our leaders were slain in the quaking of the earth, and the whirlwinds and the fires that we had suffered. Many more of the people had been taken by death in the same ways. What great punishment the Lord had placed upon us. Would the Lord God of Israel forgive us and would we again be worthy to be called His people?

I, Kumen, still quake as I recall the voice from the heavens, sounding within us, yet we did not understand. It came again a second time and we did not understand. And then the third time and we did understand. It was the voice of the Father, announcing the descent of His divine Son. Yea, the very Christ did descend from the heavens in a pillar of light, above the brightness of the sun. The day that the prophets had foretold was now upon us.

There was not one among the remnant of the people who did not fall upon his face to worship the Lord that day. Yea, we were a humbled people in that day and in that same hour did Christ command the people to arise and come forth to feel of the prints of the nails in his hands and feet and of the wound in his side and to know that He had been slain for the sins of the world. Again the people did weep, but for the joy they felt in their hearts.

When all had come forth, the Lord did pray to the Father in great power that He would bless the people. And the Lord himself did weep for the sins of the people and did exhort them with all the strength of his being that they might repent and turn again unto the Father in righteousness, forsaking their sins forever. He did tell the people that they, of all in the land, were spared in that they were the more righteous of the people. Again, the people did weep for their sins and the loss of their families who had been the more wicked part of the people.

Many great and wonderful things did Jesus speak unto the people in those days and many were the blessings and joy of the people. Many also were their ponderings over the meanings of the wondrous things which they did both see and hear. Yea, and great were the feelings of their hearts in that day.

When it came time that the Lord had need to leave from our midst, the people did pray unto him that he would remain with them and bless them with his presence yet longer. Having felt compassion for the people, Jesus did tarry so long as he might amongst them, praying unto the Father that He would pour out his spirit upon them. He did then take unto himself all of our children and did bless them under his hands. Yea, the spirit of the Father was poured out in rich abundance upon those children and they did speak many great and wondrous things, unlawful that a man might speak them; yea, things that man could not speak except by the Holy Ghost and the power of God. Yea, the children were encircled about by tongues of fire and angels did attend. There was a great weeping for joy among the people.

Before the lord took leave, he did choose twelve servants from among the people, I, Kumen being one. He did teach us all that we must do to serve him. He did exhort us to serve all men in his name and by the power of the priesthood of God. And when it was his time to leave, he did ask of the twelve what their desire might be after he should go. Nine of the twelve did voice that they would desire to come unto him in the heavens when it was their time to leave this mortal world. Three of the twelve did hold their tongues and spoke not a word, unable to look upon their Lord. Jesus did then tell them that he knew the unspoken desires of their hearts and that this had also been the desire of his servant John, whom he loved. He then touched the nine that they might be set apart from the three. The three were to tarry in his service until he did return to reign upon the earth. I, Kumen, was among them.

The time has been nearly two thousand years since the Lord did grant our wishes that we might remain in mortality to serve men until his return. It has been my only wish to serve him as best I can, for which my blessings and my joy have been great. In that time I and my brethren have been a part of many miracles and wonders in the land and in the lives of those whom we are called to serve. It is still my wish that I may continue to serve and when my mission is fulfilled in righteousness, that I might return unto that God who did create me and worship at his feet for His providence and His grace unto the children of men. May it be so in due time. Amen.

Ch. 04 -- Raising Timothy

Raising Timothy
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

The Master had promised that his chosen would do great things among the people and for the building up of their faith and His Church. He had also chosen Timothy as one of His disciples here in Bountiful. He was a man specially chosen to do the work of God among men. Chosen for this particular time. There was only one problem. Timothy was dead.

It had been an accident. No one was to blame, but that did not alter the fact that Timothy had been killed and now their Quorum was one short. This was not how it was meant to be. There were to be twelve.

Nephi, brother of Timothy, and Jonas, Nephi's son and a nephew of Timothy, had also been chosen as disciples. Faith ran strong in their family and the desire to do the Master's work was their only desire. If ever there was a day to exercise faith, it was today.

“Father, what shall we do? Thy brother and my uncle now lies dead. Surely this was not yet meant to be.”

“Jonas, my son, the ways of God are not men's ways. If it be wisdom in God that my brother and thine uncle should be taken home to Paradise, shall we question?”

“No, never. But let us ask of God what He would that we should do. Does He now wish there to be only eleven disciples? Shall we not inquire of the Lord what may be His purpose and His will in this matter?”

Nephi smiled and reached forth his hand to his son. He had always been greatly pleased with this son that had been given him. And today he was doubly pleased with the faith that Jonas showed. There was sign of mourning, to be sure, as Nephi himself experienced, but there was a light of hope and faith that burned brightly within the young man and it could not be quenched by all the armies of darkness combined.

“My son, thou dost ask well to inquire of the Lord and this we shall do. Gather all who were chosen and who are near, that their faith may be added to this prayer circle as well. We shall then fast and inquire of God what may be His will.”

“Yes, Father.” Jonas wasted no time in other words. He arose immediately and ran to seek out the whereabouts of those other disciples whom the Lord had chosen and to gather them in to meet in prayer and fasting before God.

It was the better part of the day before Jonas returned with word of his doings. He returned to find a great number of the people gathered before the home of Nephi in an attitude of humble payer and in mourning for the loss of a beloved disciple. Jonas had sent word among all the people to inquire of the whereabouts of the chosen disciples of the Lord and to beckon them, in fasting and prayer, to the home of Nephi with all haste. Word had gone forth as a grass fire unto all the land round about. Jonas and Nephi themselves had immediately begun to fast and pray before the Lord and with all diligence sought to place themselves in the Spirit of God, that they might know His will.

Over the next three days, the disciples came in and sought out Nephi. First came Mathonihah and the Shemnon and Kumen together. Isaiah, Zedekiah and Kumenonhi followed in short order. Late in the second day arrived Mathoni Jeremiah and the other who was called Jonas. The remainder of the twelve were too far removed from Bountiful in their duties to be called in amongst their brethren. All who came had begun to fast and pray, having been informed of the matter before them. And now they were to begin in quorum to exercise their faith and to fulfill the end and purpose of their fast.

“Brethren, welcome to my humble home. I greet you in the name of the God of Israel, who brought our Father Lehi from the land of Jerusalem to this new and promised land, that his life and the lives of his posterity might be saved through their faith and obedience. I greet you in the most holy name of the Messiah and Redeemer, even that same Jesus who chose us from among the unworthy to do His will and bidding among this people.

“I would that this gathering were for a more joyous purpose; nevertheless, it is wisdom in God that we now meet. My brother and thine, Timothy, hath been killed in a most unfortunate accident, while engaged in the service of his fellow beings. He hath lain dead these three days in my home. Having been among the twelve chosen to work the Lord's will among this people, he went to with great fervor and with exceeding joy did he do the work of God. It has fallen to us, brethren, to determine what might be God's will in this matter and to go forth with haste and accomplish it.

“Jonas, my beloved son, has voiced his belief that it is God's will that there yet be twelve in our midst. I, too, through fasting and prayer, have felt this to be so. It now falls to each of you to make heard his voice in this matter. We shall begin with prayer.”

As all closed their eyes, the Spirit of the Lord fell upon them and one by one, each man in his turn, added his voice to the prayer as directed by the Spirit of God. The room shone with a brilliant light and each man had about him a glow as if from the very sun. When they had completed their inquiries of the Lord, there was no doubt in their minds as to the conclusion of the matter.

As one man, they arose and proceeded to the room in which Timothy lay, and surrounding the body they did lay hands upon him and with one voice did command in the name of Jesus, called the Christ, and by the priesthood of that same Jesus, that Timothy should again come forth and be restored to his body and arise and be seen again before God and man.

The body which had lain still these many days did now take on a glow as if from the hand of God and an inrushing of air was heard by all. The Holy Ghost fell upon Timothy and did cause that he should take again life and sit up, opening his eyes before his brethren. Raising his hands to that God who had created him and had again given life to him, he began to shout and sing praises with all the energies of his heart and soul.

Each man assembled did now join him in his praises and with one accord raised voices and hands to God for the miracles He had shown unto the children of men and in this, the return of their brother and fellow disciple, Timothy.

“Brethren,” Nephi called out, “let us now go forth and show unto the people what great power the God of Israel has shown us and what miracles he has performed this day before us.”

As Timothy left the doorway and entered again into the sunlight, the people of Bountiful break forth in voice and did cry aloud as one unto the Lord and with many tears did give thanks unto God for His tender mercies unto His children. Their fasting was that day broken and a feast proclaimed throughout the land in remembrance of the day that God did raise Timothy from the dead.

This day was to be called in remembrance among the people of Nephi so long as they should remain upon the face of the land as the people of God. It is written and has been preserved among the records of the people of God, withersoever they have been hidden, until the day they shall come forth again, by the power and will of the God and Redeemer of Israel. And it is Nephi, a disciple of Jesus, that did record it among the records of this people. Amen.

Ch. 05 -- The Visitor

The Visitor
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

He only stayed one summer--the year that I was twelve--but he changed our lives more than any other person I have ever met.

My Father farmed sixty-five acres planted in grapes of several varieties. The work kept him busy from sun-up to sundown and then he only seemed to keep even with the work. Each night he would come home to dinner long after my Mother, brother and I had eaten. And when he sat down to the table, I had the distinct impression it was only with supreme effort that he was able to remain awake long enough to eat. My heart went out to him nightly, but there was little I could do, except to help mother around the house. As for my mother, she kept wishing for a way to help my father.

About mid-day early in June, there was a knock at the door and I ran to answer it. Before me stood a tall man of large stature. He turned his gaze downward, having obviously expected someone taller to answer the door. There was something disarming in his smile and there was a rugged handsomeness that even a twelve year old girl could recognize.

"Hello, young lady. I wonder if might speak to the man or woman of the house--are you the woman of the house, perhaps?" His wide grin made me smile, too.

"No. Just a minute. I'll get my mother." And that is just what I did, yelling as I ran toward the kitchen. "Mother! There's a man at the door and he wants to talk to you."

"I wonder who that could be?" She crinkled her nose as she approached, the way she always did when she was puzzling over something. "Hello. May I help you?", she asked as she arrived at the door, drying her hands from the work she had been doing at the kitchen sink.

"Yes, ma'am. My name is Mathoni and I am looking for some work and a meal for the day. Is it possible that you have a task or two that I might do to earn a meal? I'm afraid I haven't eaten in two days."

I recall that mother just stood there for a moment, staring deeply into the man's eyes before she answered. I know now that she was in some way taken off guard. At the time, I didn't know the reason.

"Mathoni, is it? What an unusual name."

"Well, I'm an unusual man." There was that infectious smile again, and mother couldn't help but chuckle in response.

"Well, Mr. Mathoni...."

"Just Mathoni."

Mother had a sense of humor, too. "Okay, 'Just Mathoni', come on in and we'll take care of the food issue right away. Then we'll talk about where you might sleep."

"Where I'll sleep?" His amused surprise was apparent. "I'm a bit shocked that you'd be so trusting so quickly."

"Is there any reason I shouldn't trust you?"

He laughed out loud. I still remember how musical it sounded. It was absolutely infectious and we all laughed with him.

Our visitor slept on a couch on the back porch that night and was asleep long before my father got home. Mother explained to father that he would have help with his work the next day. He looked hopeful for the first time in as long as I could recall.

--/--/--

Mathoni was up before dawn and had breakfast with my father, giving them a chance to get to know one another a bit before starting their work, although my father was never much the talkative type.

"Mathoni, where you from?", father asked simply, between bites.

"Oh, a bit of everywhere. I go where I'm needed." And he kept on eating. Father quietly contemplated this, but said nothing more about it, mentioning only that there would be plenty of work to do if Mathoni proved to be a good hand.

I still recall the look on my father's face as he came home an hour early that first night. He seemed more pleased and at peace than he had been in quite some time. He was still tired, but he was satisfied. And he ate with a vigor that night that had been uncommon for him.

After the learning curve, it seemed that Father and Mathoni were home earlier each night. We would sit on the front porch and take in the scenery together. The mountains were lovely from our home and the rolling foothills seemed to draw you in and keep you there. There was a different character to them at any given time of day. I always loved them.

While we sat there, a few comments were here and there made about the next day's work plans, but the pattern was broken when Mathoni asked Father a surprising question.

"So..., do you still feel your prayers go unanswered?" He looked at Father with a subtle, but pleasant smile, which we had by now learned was characteristic of him.

Father looked as if he had been struck and stared back open-mouthed for the longest time before answering. "No. I guess not." Nothing more was said--Father looked at the planks on the porch, in deep thought, and Mathoni turned back to the mountains and took them in again for a few moments. Then he turned to me.

"And what about you, young lady? What do you pray for?"

"Me? I don't know how to pray yet." Mother and Father looked instantly surprised and embarrassed. In retrospect, I know they were ashamed. Then Mathoni turned to Father and asked simply, "May I?"

Father nodded his assent and the lesson began. Upon completion, I was instructed to pray at every opportunity and about all things in my life, whether good or bad, pleasant or sorrowful.

"I promise you, if you will do this, you will learn things you never would have known any other way. The same goes for you, too, young man." He addressed my brother with a smile. "Will you both do that?"

We promised we would and I began that very day. He seemed satisfied with our answers and looked back in reverie toward the mountains, his mind traveling to who knows where.

--/--/--

Over the next few weeks, Mathoni asked me some very unusual questions and taught me some quite though-provoking things. I know he was doing the same with my brother and with Mother and Father, too. Every opportunity seemed to be a teaching experience for Mathoni, but my young and eager spirit took in every word like a thirsty body desires water.

He taught me that seeds from grapes would produce any number of types of grapes in the next generation, but that if you wanted the same result every time, you must start your plants from the true vine each time. He told me that our lives are a lot like that--we need to apply principles that have proven to be true and beneficial in the past. Some things are tradition because they work, he taught me. Conversely, trying everything willy-nilly would lead only to all manner of results in our lives, some good and some bad. And this approach would also affect others, as would a choice to do that which was right.

One day Mathoni asked me some questions that shook my twelve year old mind to the core. "Have you ever wondered who you are, where you came from, why you are here and where you are going?" Then he left me to think about it for a few days, reminding me to ask for the answers in prayer. A day or two later, when I would give him the answers I had received to my prayers, he would smile widely and congratulate me for what I had learned, correct me gently if I had misinterpreted and would enlighten me by answering any further questions I might have. These were things I might never have thought of had he not come to our home, but the answers were completely logical and truly satisfying to the soul. They made sense and they felt true.

I think the most powerful thing Mathoni taught me was that I have a Father in Heaven who wants me to succeed in coming back to Him--that His goals for me are only good and are motivated only by love.

One night, on the porch, Mathoni asked my Father, "Why do you suppose there are so many different churches when Jesus taught only one doctrine?" By now, Father had become used to these talks and no longer hid in his quietness.

"What a powerful question. He paused, brow wrinkled in thought. "I think it's just that men seem to change things and add to them. I suspect it was a lot simpler and easier to understand before they started to fiddle around with it."

Mathoni nodded and smiled. "And I suspect you are right."

That's when I had to ask, "Why do people change things like that?"

"Another powerful question. Maybe it's for a lot of reasons, young lady. Some people are afraid of truth, because it convicts them of their sins. Others complicate things so they can have power over their neighbors and pretend to be smarter than they really are." He grinned as I responded.

"I know someone at school like that."

"I'll bet you do." Laughing, he patted me on the head and hugged me for a moment. It was a wonderful feeling, like when Mother and Father hugged me. "And some just teach their own brand of misunderstanding, never knowing they can pray for clarity, like you do."

I couldn't help but beam, knowing that I knew how to do something that even many adults didn't know how to do. It had already made a difference in my life and I felt confident that even the toughest questions had answers that were accessible to me--to everyone who asked and expected an answer.

After several other things were discussed, Mathoni suddenly asked my Father, "What do you say, we do a test?"

What kind of test, I wondered. Mother asked my question aloud.

"Well, I think you could use some more help if you are going to get this work done by the end of the season, don't you?" He turned to Father and waited.

"I'm not expecting to get all of the work done. I'm just thankful that you've been here to help me accomplish all that we have. You already work like three men. You've helped me a lot. And you've allowed me to spend some productive time with my family--for the first time in ages. That means everything to me."

"Fair enough--and spoken like the great man that you are...but what if you could get three more men who will do the same?"

"Mathoni, much as I would love to say 'yes', I haven't the means to pay for them. I've only been able to give you room and board for what you are doing for me, if you can call that a room. I feel I owe you much more than that, but I can't pay you more until the crop is in and sold."

Mathoni grinned at Father and asked, "What's the matter, your faith not strong enough?" He turned and winked at me and my brother and we just grinned and turned to look at Father. Three smiles like that made him want to say 'yes', I am certain.

"Alright, what do we do?" He looked unsure, but willing.

With that, Mathoni closed his eyes and bowed his head and uttered one of the most powerful and poetic things I have heard, even to this day. There was an overwhelming feeling of love and peace that was somehow tangible, it seemed. We all started to cry openly and stared in disbelief at one another. Mathoni asked blessings of health and strength and extended faith upon us all. After this and many other things he had given thanks for, he asked for three more good men and hard workers to help with the morrow's tasks. There were tears in his own eyes when he finished his prayer in the name of Christ Jesus. I couldn't help but hug him tightly after he told us how much Heavenly Father loved us all. I didn't let go until my brother asked, "What is sin?"

"Good question, young man. Sin is anything that stands in the way of God's plan for your happiness. It is just that simple. Can you remember that?" My brother smiled and nodded enthusiastically.

Mathoni then stood and asked to be excused, saying that he had some important study to do. My brother asked, "What kind of study?"

"A very special book. I'll share it with you sometime soon, okay?" Again my brother nodded happily.

After he left, Mother broke the silence. "There's something very unusual about that man. We all felt it. I don't know why I'm not scared, but I feel I could trust him with my life...with my children."

Father just nodded and wiped away another tear, staring at the floor. We all pondered deeply before bed and my young prayer jumped to a whole new level that night.

--/--/--

Father and Mathoni were in the vineyards the next day, when suddenly Mathoni began running down one of the rows at top speed and without warning. Father strained to see what he could possible be chasing, but saw nothing until three heads started to bob over a rise at the end of the vineyard and in the same row. How had Mathoni known? They were only now coming into view. This man was indeed becoming more unusual by the day.

As they approached, they too began to run, all four meeting in a huge embrace and much laughter. There was the sense that these men had a great deal of respect for one another--no, it was more than that--it was a genuine love for one another that Father sensed. The huddle broke when Mathoni pointed toward Father and they all hurried to meet him.

"I'd like you to meet my brothers. This is John, that's Timothy and that's Kumen. They work as hard as I do, but they aren't near as good looking." He grinned as they slapped at him in good-natured response.

"You all have the same Father?" He quietly noted that they looked so different, except for a similarity in ethnicity, although he couldn't place it.

"In a manner of speaking. We all share the same beliefs, too--we are very much brothers."
"Well, pardon me for questioning, but you gentlemen will have to do miracles to keep up with Mathoni. I have never seen a man work like he does."

Kumen spoke. "We can do it...except maybe Timothy...he's just dead right now." He ribbed Timothy with his elbow and the others laughed, John adding, "You ought to know, right? I can sympathize, though, to some degree." He, too, smiled...as if at some insider joke that Father couldn't interpret.

"Well, let's get you some water and some sandwiches. You happen to be in luck--for some reason, my wife made a lot more lunch today than usual."

"Luck? You forget so soon." Mathoni still smiled at Father, but there was a sense of mild reproval in it that he couldn't miss.

"Perhaps so. Forgive me."

"Done!" And he placed a powerful arm around Father's shoulder and they trotted off to the waiting lunches.

These men learned as quickly as had Mathoni and Father suspected that they had done this type of work many times before--the techniques they used seemed so natural and intuitive that Father wondered why he had never thought of some of them. And they worked as if they were one man--certainly a team with one purpose.

--/--/--

Our evening discussions became, if possible, even more interesting thereafter. And other things happened, with no reasonable answer that Father could think of--except perhaps divine purpose, which he by now did not rule out. Repairs were made miraculously and problems of serious nature were discovered before they could cause any harm. Father was in awe of these men, as were we all. Each day he seemed to come more and more out of his shell. I noted, too, that he chose to return home a bit early each day in order to have time for our nightly talks, although he might have chosen to work longer hours and get more done. At times it seemed he would rather talk than eat dinner, but then, we all were eager to learn more from these men.

Timothy mentioned one night, to no one in particular, "God says He spread Israel to all corners of the earth. That would mean they were here, too."

This brought on a lively discussion of things archaeological in North America--paleo-Hebrew writings in at Bat Creek, Tennessee; the Los Lunas Stone in New Mexico, with the Ten Commandments in Hebrew, the oral traditions of the Cherokee regarding their ancestors having escaped a place overseas called Masada,and several other evidences of Israel in America.

Mother and Father were absolutely enthralled by all this information. I understood most of it and prayed that night to know if it were true. By this time, we had all been taught how to recognize answer to prayer through witness of the Holy Ghost. I knew that sweet peace I felt in my heart was confirmation of the truth of it. I told Mathoni the next night that I had gotten my answer. He smiled and told me I had learned a most valuable lesson and that it would never fail me if if I turned to it instead of human logic, philosophies and emotional responses. By now the change in our family was irreversible and even my parents were nodding softly in agreement.

Succeeding evenings were equally powerful. 'Why had revelation ceased? What was the structure of the ancient church? Was there a true church on the earth today and, if so, how could one recognize it?' And perhaps the most important question of the evening--'if it is on the earth in our day, how vital would it be to bind ourselves to it?'

Our minds were growing by leaps and bounds; it was almost overwhelming and yet so exhilarating in a manner that we craved the growth and knowledge. Our discussions could almost have replaced evening meals for all of us, we were so eager.

One evening John asked a bombshell of a question that brought my parents up short. "If the true church were presented to you, what would it mean to your family?"

Mother immediately began to tear up and sob softly. Father followed suit and wiped away a tear also, 'manning up' quickly. He swallowed hard before answering.

"My wife and I have been praying over these issues ever since you taught our children to pray. And we have been discussing the Bible--wondering why there are so many churches that can't agree and whether there is any hope of finding one that is even close to what the original church was. This is all new to us, but suddenly it has become very important to us. Can you tell us why it's so hard to find the the truth?" His voice cracked as he asked the question.

"Brother, it isn't. You're well ahead of the majority of the world already. I'm proud of you and I'm excited about the progress you're making toward the truth." Mathoni beamed as he said this. Timothy now spoke. "I want to share a story with you that I think will inspire you and give you courage to continue your search for truth. This happened in the year 1820 on a small farm in New York state. A young boy of fourteen, named Joseph Smith, was wondering, just as you are, about the same questions."

Timothy and John took turns telling the rest of the story. Father and Mother sat completely riveted. There was a feeling to this whole experience that I could never put into words and adequately describe.

When they were done telling the story, we were asked to pray and ask if it were true and we would continue discussion the next evening. I didn't want to stop. My mind was racing. This young boy, Joseph Smith, was only a few years older than me. He had found his answer in such an amazing way. Was it possible that I, a twelve year old girl, could have the same experience? Not that it mattered. Everything they said rang true to me and my head and heart told me it was what had really happened.

--/--/--

The next night we learned about living Apostles and Prophets. The true church had, in fact, been restored to the earth and was here, in our day. Several more days and and nights went by and Mathoni announced to us one evening, "The work you've had for us is nearly completed. I want to thank you for the hospitality you've shown us and I have something for you and your family that is more valuable than almost anything else in this world."

He reached down beside his chair and pulled up a simply-wrapped package. "Go ahead--open it."

Father peeled back the wrapping to expose a copy of The Book of Mormon. "This is the book you told us of...the people who came from the Holy Land to America?"

"Yes, the very one. And the record of the Savior's visit to the House of Israel , here in the Americas. I want you to know the record is true. You can know that for yourself, by the means of prayer, just as I have taught you. I have marked a special promise for you near the end of the record." He turned to it and read the promise of Moroni. I thought how similar his name was with that of Mathoni. As he read, the spirit was so strong that I began to cry again, for this was the very description of the experience I had personally had with answer to prayer. Moroni's words were so strong that I could not disbelieve.

Kumen pointed out that there was a special number and some important names that he had inserted into the book for us. Father looked and found the paper with the name of a Bishop and the nearest missionaries. We were encouraged to contact them the next day and make arrangements for a meeting. Father agreed he would.

John now bore testimony of the reality of the Savior. When he spoke, it was as if he knew the Lord personally. You couldn't help but believe his words. Timothy added that he had written his own testimony in the front of the book and that all of them had signed with him in agreement. That was a special thing to me--these men had changed our lives and our very goals in life...and in eternity.

--/--/--
I slept so well that night. We all did. But I awoke to such commotion in the front room.

"I don't know where they have gone. They just left in the night, I guess. All of them! Why would they do that?" Father was quite disturbed by this development.

"Wouldn't you think they would say 'goodbye' to us first? Or help finish the work so they could arrange to get paid?" Mother was perplexed also.

I came out rubbing my eyes. "What happened? Why all the fuss?"

"They're gone, Honey. They left in the night. We aren't sure why."

I was stunned by this news, but there was nothing to be done about it. We silently went on about our daily preparations for breakfast and the work of the day that was demanded. Father left quietly for the vineyards--alone and looking depressed and troubled.

Only forty-five minutes later, Father excitedly ran into the house, shouting, "Where is everyone? Come here! Hurry!"

"Are you alright?"

"What's wrong? Are you hurt?"

"I am fine! Look what I found on a post in the vineyard!" He handed over a paper that had been tacked up where he could easily find it, on an end post in a row of the vineyard where he went to work that morning. "And listen to this--the work is all done! They were there last night and must have worked all through the night to get it done for us. That's the only way it could have been done."

Mother read the paper aloud. "Now you have all week to study The Book of Mormon and pray about it. There will be many exciting discoveries in it, but there is one that is special in a different way. You will recognize it when you find it. We look forward to meeting you again in the Lord's kingdom. God bless you and our love goes with you throughout your life. Many thanks for the privilege of teaching your family. And remember that you are all children of God--act accordingly. 'til we meet again, in Jesus' name.... They had all signed it--'Your brother Mathoni, your brother Timothy, your brother John, your brother Kumen.'

--/--/--

I am an old woman now. I married in the temple and my children were born under the covenant. My parents were sealed to their children for all eternity. I am an educated woman, teaching in the Institute classes and going on archaeological digs in the summers.

Just a few weeks after these men had left our farm, we found the answer to the riddle they had hinted at. As we read the account in 3 Nephi of the Savior choosing his disciples on this continent, we were stunned into silence to find the names of Mathoni, Timothy and Kumen. The silence became reverence and greater faith as we learned that these three of the twelve were granted extended lives to remain and do the work of the Lord until His return to the earth. We later found that the Apostle John had been granted the same privilege. They had certainly fulfilled their duties with our family, for which we would ever be grateful.

Yes, it is all an astounding story, but it doesn't end there. Last week, as I was in the city and entering the subway platform, I saw a familiar face through the window of a departing train. I locked eyes with Mathoni and he smiled that same unmistakable smile that had disarmed our family so long ago. I know it was him, because it was Kumen that stood beside him...and neither had aged a day--not a single day.

--/--/--

He only stayed one summer, the year that I was twelve, but he changed our lives more than any other person I have ever met. And I thank God for him daily.

Ch. 06 -- The Train

The Train
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

It was going to be another hard week at the office--no, actually it was going to be far worse than usual. Everything in the new project had to be changed. The new boss said so. No one liked the idea of a new boss, let alone having to change everything they had worked so hard upon for the last month. But like it or not, that was how it was going to be. It needed to be more 'professional', he had said. So, here I was, on the 'uptown' train, early Monday morning and already in a bad mood. I couldn't see how it could possibly get worse. I was wrong, of course.

A large man came and sat next to me on the bench. He smiled and I did my best to smile back, although the effort almost made me ill on a day like I knew this was going to be. His comment made me ill for real.

"Thank God for the trains, right?"

"God? You can thank the engineers who built it and the men who run it. God has nothing to do with it." There was no holding back, considering the mood I was in.

"Not a big fan, I take it?" He was seemingly bewildered at my response.

"You might say that. I don't believe anymore." I thought that would be the end of it, but he was a fanatic.

"It wasn't your fault, you know."

I was stunned and whirled toward him so quickly that I surprised myself in doing so. "What did you say?"

"I said it wasn't your fault. You couldn't have known she was that severely depressed. There was nothing you could have done by the time you found her."

I was shaking almost uncontrollably; whether from fear or anger, I didn't know. I could barely get the words out. "Who are you?"

"A friend when you need one. You're on a self-destruct course and that isn't the plan for you. You wanted an answer and we are here to give it."

"We?"

He cast a glance to the seat on the other side of me and I turned to see another pleasant-looking man, again large in stature, smiling at me. "My name is Kumen." He offered his hand and I ignored it.

"Listen, I don't know who you guys are or how you think you know anything about me, but you're creeping me out, okay?"

The stranger's demeanor grew more serious for the moment. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't properly introduce myself. My name is Mathoni and as my brother said, his name is Kumen. As to what we know about you, let's just say that someone you don't have much faith in is concerned about your welfare, both temporal and spiritual."

"I already told you I don't believe in God, okay? Don't waste your time." And I did my best to pretend that I was not flanked on either side by hostile forces.

"No bother for us. Not when your happiness for all eternity is at stake. But, then, I see we are going to have an uphill battle. Alright, so be it. Kumen, would you care to begin?"

"Yes, thank you." He turned to me with full attention. "Your wife was terribly depressed and she had no idea what she was doing when she overdosed on the sleeping pills. She forgot that she had taken some earlier. Depression will do that to you. That's why there was no suicide note."

I don't know whether I was more steamed at the intrusion of memories I was trying to bury or if I was about to buckle under them emotionally. I was a jumble of feelings at the time. All I could blurt out was, "Lucky guess. You read the papers; so what?"

"Did the papers say anything about you wanting to jump off the bridge that night?" Kumen wouldn't let go.

"Another lucky guess. Who wouldn't consider it at a time like that?"

"Alright. Then you took to drinking--something you were never prone to at all. You have several every night, just to get to sleep. The papers don't say things like that, do they? It now affects your work and if you don't stop soon, you are going to be fired. If that happens, you will get suicidal for real. Do you want that?"

"What are you guys doing...following me around and spying on me? Why can't you just leave me alone? Move to another seat or I will--got it?" I looked about and there were no seats available to move to. And strangely, there seemed to be no one listening to our conversation. Even in a city this large, that seemed impossible. That thought shook me up even more.

"You started to call an old friend in Maine, but you stopped as you got to the last number and hung up. And, no, we don't work for the phone company. That is what you're thinking, isn't it?" He asked as if he already knew and that disarmed me totally.

"Who are you guys...really?" I was scared for real by now. Almost enough to get off the train early, but I was also curious to have answers.

"I told you", Mathoni offered. "You just have to trust that you have a Father who loves you enough to send us." He was one hundred per cent serious now.

"Father? My father is dead." I was serious, too. But how could they know that I had almost called an old friend and then hung up--a friend in Maine, specifically? "But you don't mean that father, do you?"

"No," Kumen whispered softly. "You have a Father in Heaven that has sent us to help you--to save your life and heal the wounds. You do want that, don't you?" He asked already knowing the answer again.

"Yes," I barely whispered. My emotions were suddenly so high at this point that I was too choked up to be belligerent anymore.

"Alright", Mathoni said, "then lets get to it. You think you let your wife down and you can't bear to carry that burden alone, so you find it easier to blame God for it. After all, a loving God wouldn't allow such a thing to happen to someone you love, right?"

He had hit the nail right on the head and I was crying softly, unable to speak. All I could do was nod my head in agreement. Mathoni anticipated my next question.

"So why did He allow it? The first thing you need to know is that this mortal life is not all there is. You and your wife and all mankind lived before this life with your Heavenly Father and there is also another segment of existence after this life. Yes, she still exists and she misses you. Before you try talking yourself out of believing that, notice that you felt the confirmation of the truth of it in your heart just now. There was a warmth and peace as the Holy Ghost told you it was right--it rang true to you."

He was right. I had felt it and it did ring true to me. He couldn't possibly have known that unless he was in tune with some higher power. I was beginning to trust them. At the very least, I was a willing audience.

He continued, being quite blunt, but that was what I needed right then. "As long as you don't do anything stupid to yourself, you have the chance of seeing her again. The Lord has truly thought of everything, you know. It's called the Plan of Happiness."

"Yes", Kumen interrupted, "and you have the promise that you can have her forever and the two of you can live with God for eternity...if you are willing to follow certain rules to earn it. Still interested?"

"Yes, I am. What do I have to do?" I was more passive now.

"Call this number, for a start. Then meet with them and don't give up until you are fully informed, okay?" Kumen had handed me a piece of paper with a number on it. "Oh, and remember to pray about what you hear from them--and when you feel that same peace you just had, you'll know the truth of it."

"Alright. I will." I was beyond argument by now. I really did want to know. At this point, they excused themselves and stood to leave the train. I couldn't let it go that easily. "Will I see you two again?"

"I can almost guarantee it", Mathoni said with a wink. "Keep your faith up until then."

That was it. They got off at the next stop and I was left to think over for a few more stops what they had told me. That night I called the missionaries' number that had been given to me and I found their teachings to be not only fascinating beyond belief, but more uplifting emotionally and spiritually than anything I had ever heard before. I instinctively knew it also made perfect sense. My faith in God was truly renewed and I received hope that I had never imagined possible.

Needless to say, the day that I thought was going to be so terrible turned out to be perhaps the best day of my life. I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and soon entered the temple and had the ordinances and sealings done for my wife and I. What could have been simple hopes and wishes previously were now sure knowledge--my wife and I would be together for all eternity now. Even death could not part us now. She was there with me in the temple. I felt her presence and it gave me great comfort. Having the priesthood of God gives me great confidence and comfort, also.

Oh,...and 'thank God for the trains.'

Ch. 07 -- Reminisce

Reminisce
Steven G. O’Dell © 2008

Velma Wood sat quietly in her chair in the lobby at the home for senior citizens. Others bustled around her, coming to visit family members or going back to their rooms to rest after a short walk in the yard or garden. Velma neither bustled nor walked today. She was reflecting on her life and wondering if it had ever amounted to much. That she had lived a long life was not to be disputed. She was, after all, eighty-two years old. But had she lived a meaningful life? Did it matter to anyone but her?

"Velma, you have a visitor." The voice of a female attendant cut through the reverie and brought Velma around in a moment of surprise.

"What? No one ever comes to see me, you know that," she said softly.

"Well, today seems to be different. He's a handsome fellow, too. I think you'd better see for yourself." She smiled mischievously and turned to lead Velma's gaze in the right direction.

He was handsome in a rugged sort of way, just as she had been told, but Velma had never seen the man before. Her mind wasn't that far gone, despite her age. She was certain she did not know this man.

"Have we met?" she asked, knowing the answer before he could respond.

"No, Velma, but I want to get to know you, if that's alright."

"I suppose... I have nothing better to do. Have a seat and tell me what's on your mind, young man."

The gentleman smiled widely at this treatment and sat down in a nearby chair that he turned to face her. "I suppose I do seem a youngster to you, but I tell you honestly--there are days I feel so-o-o much older than I look."

"Honey, I know the feeling--indeed I do."

The man laughed aloud. His laughter was musical to Velma. Somehow it lifted her spirit a bit. She continued, "What can I do for you?"

"Well, my name is John and I have come to see what I can do for you, actually."

"Sonny, there isn't much an old lady like me can be in need of anymore. Just what did you have in mind? I have no home to paint, no car to repair and no family you can contact for me. I guess you could say I have nothing in this world to need help with." She looked a bit forlorn as she said this.

John softened his voice and looked lovingly upon the woman as he said, "Velma, listen to me. I know you have been feeling down lately. All of your family is gone, including your two children. You think your life hasn't amounted to much. That simply isn't true. You have added far more to the lives of others than you can imagine. That's why I am here--to help you put your life into perspective."

Her eyes were now riveted upon this man. There was no way he could possibly have known the inner feelings of her heart...and yet he did.

"Do you remember the time you found the young Lawrence child in your backyard and took him home to his mother?"

"Why, yes. How did you know that? You couldn't have even been born then, young man."

He smiled adoringly again and continued. "You never knew it, but you saved his life that day. He was headed for the bull-pen on the farm beyond your yard. You know what would have happened there, don't you?"

She looked truly awe-struck. "I can well imagine."

"You also didn't know that he grew up to be a doctor and is currently developing a method for treating brain function deterioration. His work has been very important in that field. And he will succeed because you gave him his life."

"I had no idea...."

"No, I know you didn't. You also didn't know that the evening you took some homemade chocolate chip cookies to Edith Corrigan, you kept her from leaving the house a few minutes earlier and that prevented her from having an automobile accident that would have left her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. That was a worthy act, don't you think?"

Her eyes were moist now and she nodded silently her agreement.

"And that isn't all, Velma. There were several occasions when you taught the children of the neighborhood about your own childhood and the lessons your parents had taught you when you were young. That may not have seemed like much to you at the time, but the lasting impressions you left on those children have shaped their lives and allowed them to avoid many of the traps of this world that waited to snare them and destroy their lives. You made a difference to them, if not to yourself. And your own children, Velma--they may have passed away prematurely, but they were righteous, God-loving people and will receive a reward appropriate to that type of life--all because of you, Velma."

"I couldn't have known that." She paused to wipe a tear from her cheek. "How do you know it?"

"I don't think you would have believed me five minutes ago, but you might now. I am a messenger, sent from God to help you understand that your life has been productive and worthwhile. All the little things you did when you could have so easily turned away--like helping Mr. Tompkin several times before he passed away, getting his groceries in from the car--you made a tremendous and lasting difference in the lives of those you helped. You lifted the hearts of several who were feeling unloved and unwanted, just like you were awhile ago."

"Thank you, John," she squeaked out softly through her soft sobbing.

"You are more than welcome, my dear woman. And thank you, for doing the Lord's work. I
have been authorized to tell you that you will see your children again--and your husband. You have a distant cousin in Ohio that has a great interest in family, it seems. She is doing research right now that will make it possible for your family to be sealed together for all eternity. Do you believe me, Velma?"

"Yes. Yes, I do. Thank you, John...thank you." She reached her thin and withered hand out to take his and he easily responded in kind.

"You are a lovely woman, Velma. I look forward to seeing you in the Kingdom of God, our Father, but I must go now. I have other work to do. Will you be alright?"

"Yes, of course. I feel so much better now, thanks to you."

"Don't thank me. Thank your Heavenly Father. He sent me to you." He smiled again, stood slowly and kissed her on the cheek, then hugged her a long moment before turning to leave. He paused at the door as her gaze followed him and smiled one more time before disappearing from view. She felt better than she had in years and said a prayer of thanksgiving right then and there for the wonderful care and awareness of a loving God. She sat contentedly in meditation for a few more minutes, until the assistant came to ask if she would like to go to her room for the night.

"No, thank you. I think I would like to visit some more before then." And she did. She took some time to lift the hearts and spirits of those who looked depressed and alone. She greeted a new woman in a wheelchair that was checked in that night. She smiled at everyone she exchanged glances with. And she was happier than she remember being in years.

Velma Wood passed away quietly that night, but not before she understood that her life had indeed counted for something and that she had been admired and appreciated by others who daily gave thanks for the kind and angelic messengers who had come into their lives along the way. Velma now knew without doubt that she was one of these and she had a smile on her face as she slipped peacefully beyond the veil.

Ch. 08 -- Called To Serve

Called To Serve
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

Dr. David Lawrence yawned, decided to go to bed and got up from his chair, setting his book aside on the end table as he did. Just as he turned to go to his room, there was a soft knock at his front door.

Now who could that be? he thought.

Opening the door, he caught sight of a pleasant-looking man who smiled in a manner that made David want to open the screen door also.

"May I help you?"

"I certainly hope so, Dr. Lawrence. I wish only a few moments of your time, if you don't mind. May I come in?"

David held the door wide and stepped aside to allow the man to enter. "What might I do for you?"

"Well, I first want to convey the respects of Velma Wood, if you remember her."

"Remember her? Of course." He smiled automatically as he recalled her. "She was sort of a second grandmother to most of the neighborhood kids as I was growing up. How is she doing?"

"I am afraid she passed away last night in her sleep. I wanted you to know that we spoke of you before she went, though. She thought highly of you."

"She's gone?" David was saddened at the thought, but she must have been in her eighties by now, he thought. "I am sorry to hear that. I was very fond of her, too. Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."

"Just call me John, if you will." He offered his hand.

"She was a wonderful woman. The world was a better place with her in it."

"That's just what I told her. She had doubts that her life had amounted to much, but I think I was able to convince her otherwise before she passed."

"My goodness! How could she ever think her life didn't matter? She helped so many people and they loved her for it. Several of us would compete to see what we could do to help her in times of need, too. It wasn't easy. She was so self-reliant, even before her husband and children had passed away, I hear. Car accident, I think it was. I do recall that she always seemed to have a ready supply of chocolate chip cookies for any of the neighborhood kids that came to visit or to help her. What a wonderful woman. She will be missed, I am sure."

"No doubt about it. Dr. Lawrence, I want to share something that you had maybe forgotten. Do you recall a day that Velma came running into the backyard and grabbed you and took you home to your mother?"

"Boy, do I! It was the only time that she ever scared me. I still don't know why she did it, but maybe she was just not wanting visitors that day. Why do you ask?"

"You were headed directly for the bull pen beyond her backyard that day. You know what would have happened if you had wandered into it."

David was stunned. He didn't speak for a long moment. Then the reality of it sank in. "Oh, my goodness... she saved my life and I didn't even know it. I wish I could have thanked her before she died."
"She knew how you felt about her and she felt the same way about you. She was always proud of you. In fact, she wished she'd had more children -- just like you and your sister."

"Thank you. Please, won't you come sit down?"

"Thank you. In fact, there is something else I wish to speak with you about., if you don't mind."

"Yes, of course. What is it?"

John took a deep breath and sighed. "I was hoping you could make available your expertise and repay the debt that you owe to Velma."

"I'm not sure I understand." His brow was wrinkled in puzzlement and he leaned forward in his chair to pay closer attention.

"There is someone right now that has need of your expertise in brain function and treatment. He is a prominent man in Zaire and a very influential man in his sphere. He is having some difficulty recently--something I think you can help with. If you are willing, that is."

"Zaire? Wow! This is all a bit of a surprise, I am afraid. How did you come to know this man and why would you call on me to help in this matter?"

"Dr. Lawrence, the story of how I met him can come later. What is most important is that we act quickly. I wouldn't expect you to carry the burden of the cost alone, of course. There will be assistance. But it is imperative that we act quickly. With your permission, may I make the travel arrangements?"

"Listen...uh, John...the methods I am formulating are in their infancy and haven't been approved for use on human subjects yet. I would love to repay the debt to Mrs. Wood, but how can I do so if I can't practice what I preach, so to speak?"

John grinned. "Interesting choice of words, Dr. Lawrence. Might I remind you that although you are not allowed to practice these techniques here in your own country, you are not hampered by such restraints in other countries, especially when it concerns the life of so important a citizen."

"Alright, tell me more."

They spoke more concerning the details of the man's needs and the requisite travel arrangements that were to be made. David agreed to go to Zaire, feeling all the while that it would be an adventure that he had never thought possible in his lifetime. He could take a short Sabbatical. And to tell the truth, as long as what he was about to do didn't end up in disaster, he welcomed the opportunity to test his theories.

David had been amazed before they even got on the plane the next day to Zaire. He had checked his funds and reported to John the amount that he could afford. John responded by handing him the cash balance, to the penny, without counting it first. A lump sum, as if he had known beforehand what the remainder needed would be. That wasn't possible, of course, but it had been like a miracle when it happened. And then there were the unusual responses John usually gave to any questions regarding himself. When asked his occupation, he answered that he was an itinerant preacher of sorts. David recalled John's response the previous night to his comment about practicing what he preached. He smiled, thinking maybe there was some truth to the itinerant preacher claim after all. No matter. If he wanted to be evasive, it was his life.

The arrival in Zaire was a surprise. It was hotter and more humid than expected and the combination was not a pleasant one, but they were here and the service was going to be rendered, as promised.

"John, why is this man so important in his community?"

"It's going to sound strange to you, but no one knows yet how important he is going to be. The potential is there, but the realization has yet to take place."

David wrinkled his brow again. This time there was a touch of irritation in it. "Do you mean to say that you you have misled me in this matter?"

"Certainly not. This is not the mental meanderings of some I.Q.- challenged lunatic. Rest assured. The man you are about to see is every bit as important as I told you. The fact that his peers have not recognized it yet is of no real consequence at this point. Your services will be just as appreciated as if he were a homeless man destined to die tomorrow."

David Lawrence wheeled about in shock.

John responded immediately, with what David now recognized as his characteristic smile. "He isn't homeless and he won't die tomorrow. Relax. What you can do for him will extend his life long enough to accomplish his mission in this life. Shall we get to it?" He turned to leave the air terminal without waiting for an answer. There was nothing for David but to follow, reflecting on the fact that his own contribution to medicine was yet to be realized.

David was somewhat surprised as he walked into the hospital. It was more modern than he had expected. It occurred to him that perhaps he was being an elitist snob and that he needed a severe adjustment in attitude. In a moment they entered the room where the man was stretched out on a bed and partially covered with a sheet, exposing his feet and chest. He was a small, but handsome black man. He looked perfectly normal--not sick at all--but John had said his problems were brain related. That was something that wouldn't necessarily show.

"David Lawrence, I would like you to meet Robert Adoula. Robert, this is Dr. Lawrence."

Robert's eyes sparkled in the sunlight that came in the window. The heavy accent was pleasant and the voice soothing. "How did you get him here so fast? It simply isn't possible."

"Never mind that now. The good doctor has consented to help you and here he is."

"But you only promised me a few days ago...."

"Never mind that, Robert. I would like to leave the two of you alone to discuss your affliction. Would you pardon me while I go attend to other urgent business? I will return shortly." And John turned without waiting for permission and left the room.

"He is an angel, you know. I believe it." Robert looked David squarely in the eye as he said it.

"I would imagine you might think so in your condition. Now, tell me what is wrong, from your point of view."

"No, that isn't what I meant. I mean he is a real angel. No wings or anything, but an angel nonetheless. He works miracles. Like bringing you here. He only spoke to me for the first time a few days ago and promised he would bring a doctor that knew things our own doctors did not. And here you are."

"A bit presumptuous on his part, don't you think?"

"Perhaps -- if it were you or I that had promised such a thing. But not for him. They say that he put his hands on a boy that had never walked in all his seventeen years and the boy stood and now can run. But you don't believe that, do you?" He smiled in a barely perceptible way.

"It is a bit hard to believe, but I am not totally without explanation. The mind is an amazing thing and I accept faith as a powerful principle, even to the point of changing lives."

"Remember that, Dr. Lawrence, when it is your own life that is changing. You cannot be around this man long before you see miracles. Perhaps you have already seen them and just do not recognize them as such." There was that subtle smile again.

"Perhaps," David answered, "but let's see what we can do for you, shall we?"

Robert briefed David on his symptoms, going into more detail than John had previously disclosed. When he finished, David paced back and forth a moment before answering.

"I think, based on what you have told me, that all these symptoms are related, regardless of what your doctors have stated. It could easily be mistaken for unrelated causes, but I have made this type of thing a special area of study. I wouldn't expect anyone else to recognize their relationship. I would like to help you, Robert, if you are willing."

"Yes, of course."

As he said these words, there was a disturbance in the hall and several individuals ran past the door as John entered the room again.

"What have you been up to now?" Robert asked.

David registered puzzlement again and John smiled impishly. "It seems there was another spontaneous healing."

Robert turned to David and said simply, "Do you now see that what I told you is true?"

Before he could answer, John asked, "What have you decided? Are you willing to help Robert?"

Recovering quickly, David informed John of his decision. The procedure would be performed as soon as the arrangements for the proper facilities were made. But before he would follow through with any treatment, he must first get some much needed sleep. It would not do to harm the patient he intended to help.

In the hotel that night, David had strange dreams. In each of them he was walking a long path in the dark, wandering to where, he knew not. Every now and then he would see a flash of light, brighter than the noonday sun, but it would disappear as soon as he could turn to locate it. And each dream would end with a disembodied voice advising him to 'ask John for guidance'. He awoke each time as the voice repeated this phrase. Each time he would look across the room he shared with John and wonder what there was that the average man was not seeing in this extraordinary person.

Despite the numerous interruptions to his sleep, David awoke quite refreshed and alert. Anxious to get started in his preparations, they left for the hospital as quickly as they could dress and have a light breakfast, for which John gave thanks, prompting David to halt uncomfortably in mid-bite and wait respectfully. There was a gentle power in the prayer that John gave. He spoke as if to someone he knew personally and loved or respected deeply. David was mesmerized by the spirit he felt from the prayer. Remembering the dreams, he puzzled over how he should ask John the question he knew was still trying to form in his mind. Not knowing what to ask, he put it out of his mind for the time being.

Robert was in fine spirits as they entered, sitting up to greet them, but becoming dizzy and disoriented, he lay down immediately.

"Forgive me. I am not as strong as I used to be."

"Everything is ready to take you into the operating room, Robert. Are you ready?" David assumed the reassuring facial features expected of a competent doctor.

"I am ready. Are you? You look nervous."

"No sense hiding it, since I wasn't being very convincing anyway. Yes, I am nervous. What I am about to do, I have never done before. No one has, to my knowledge. The procedure will be entirely experimental. You are a brave man, Robert. In your position, I am not certain I would be saying 'yes' to such an undertaking."

"It isn't bravery so much as it is faith, Doctor."

"Thank you for having faith in me, then."

"It isn't you I have faith in directly, Doctor Lawrence. I have faith in John and he says you can do this and make it work. So, believing in him, I must trust you." He looked as if he were about to laugh.

David did chuckle. "Keep that sense of humor and you will be just fine. Alright, Nurse. He's ready."

The procedure took several hours. Most of the day was spent when they finished. David was impressed at the quality of assistance he was given in the O.R. He had half expected problems with language barriers, but there were none. All had gone as smoothly as could be. Better than he had imagined it would. Robert would sleep through the night and David would check on him in the morning. Right now, he was famished, having not eaten since breakfast. John met him in the waiting area and they went for a well-deserved dinner.

"I take it that it went well."

"Yes, it went much better than I ever planned."

"Well, then maybe you need to plan better, just to keep up." John's broad grin was like a panacea for whatever ailed a man. David was beginning to really like this fellow, but still wanted to know what made him tick.

"Perhaps you are right", he replied good-naturedly.

"I will answer your questions tonight, Dr. Lawrence." He didn't even look at David to gauge his response as they walked side by side.

David couldn't hide his surprise, but said nothing until they got to the restaurant. He waited until they had ordered to discuss anything further.

"What gave you the idea that I have any questions?"

"David..., I know everything about you that I am supposed to know. By now you must know that our meeting was not by chance. You must know that you were called to serve some higher purpose. And if that isn't enough, those dreams you had last night must have made you wonder what was different about me, right?" He didn't smile this time. He was completely serious and looked David in the eye with an unwavering gaze.

The lightning bolt had now struck. David was as close to speechless as he had ever been.

"David, there is only one logical explanation as to how I would know what you dreamed last night and we both know you don't talk in your sleep. Robert said I am an angel. If you use the true meaning of the word--messenger--then it is entirely correct. I am indeed a messenger. No ordinary messenger at that. I do have certain insights and powers accorded me that the average preacher wouldn't lay claim to. You have no need to fear me, though. I brought you here to help Robert, but also to help you. You see, as long as you maintain the attitude that all there is in life is what science can measure, then you won't reach your full potential in the Lord's plan for you. You know that what I am saying is true. You can feel it right now in your heart. Your mind is arguing that this can't be real, but your heart tells you it rings true. It is true, David. You said that faith can do wonderful things. Did you say that just to appease Robert or did you really mean it?"
David gasped. He had forgotten to breathe during this discourse and now was surprised at the sound of his own in-rushing air.

"I...I don't know, I guess. Maybe I do believe that faith can have an influence in our lives. There are plenty of things that can't be explained easily by science yet."

"Good man, David. It's been my experience that if you can even have the desire to believe, you can work miracles eventually. Let's eat first and then we can talk some more. Deal?"

"Sure." There was nothing else to say. When dinner came, he ate. When it was over, they walked the streets and talked at length about spiritual matters.

John was indeed no ordinary man. He was also no crackpot. John opened up that night a whole new world of thought for David--a world that begged to be explored and charted. David found that soon he yearned to blaze trails in it, scale its heights and plumb its depths. The possibilities in his line of work alone were endless, he felt. Something was sprouting inside him--something he had never experienced. It was exciting and promising. It was powerful and a touch unnerving, too.

The next morning, before they went to check on Robert, John diverted David down a different hall and into the room of a young girl. David tried to protest that they shouldn't be there without permission, but John explained that he already had permission--in fact, a directive, from a very high source of authority. Besides, he explained, friends and doctors were allowed to visit with permission--and he amusedly pointed at himself and at David as he spoke these individual labels.

"What is the purpose of the hospital restrictions regarding people wandering the halls and entering any room they will? Protecting the patient is the ultimate purpose, is it not? Are we not here to help?" He then instructed David to stand aside and watch quietly.

He stooped to speak softly into the girl's ear, so as not to startle her. At the same time, he touched her cheek gently with his hand. She opened her eyes and smiled weakly, but made no sound. He backed off a little so she could focus on him better and proceeded to question her about her condition. David could hear her answer, but it didn't sound like English to him. Yet John was speaking English, he was certain. It seemed improbable, but it was hard to hear what was going on entirely.

At a point a few moments into the talk, the girl nodded her head and smiled as best she could, whereupon John put a drop of oil in her hair and then placed his hands upon her head and spoke in what sounded like the language the girl had spoken. David didn't recognize any words until at the end, just before John had taken his hands off the girl's head. It sounded something like a reference to Jesus Christ, but he wasn't sure. The girl gasped and then broke into a smile and John returned the smile, rubbing her head affectionately before rising to leave. He spoke a few more words to her, whereupon she nodded and then he left the room, taking David by the arm.

"What did you do in there?"

"I gave her a priesthood blessing. Her faith is tremendous."

"Priesthood? Are you a Catholic?"

John laughed softly. "No, David. I am not a Catholic. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. And I am an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ." He turned to look directly at David.

"An Apostle? I thought they were all dead. So your church believes in them today?"

"It isn't my church, David. I told you. It is the church of HIm whose name it bears. And, yes, we do believe in Apostles--and Prophets and Seers and Revelators, too. In fact, we believe in all the same offices and structure of the original church in ancient times. Don't you?"

"Well..., I guess I had never really thought about it."

"That's why I asked you to come along on this trip, David. You needed to think about it."

"You know, you make some of the strangest statements I have ever heard, but you fascinate me, I must admit."

"Excellent. That's as good a place to start as any. Now, answer my question."

"What? ...oh, well, I was never much for organized religion."

"So you prefer disorganized religion?"

"You have a point there." David smirked and laughed softly. "I think if there is a church like the ancient one, it should be the same today as it was then. Why should it change? If it did, it wouldn't be the same church, now, would it?"

"Excellent insight. And what about the powers it had then? Would they be here today, also?"

"Powers? You mean like healing lepers and so forth?" The full measure of the thought now struck him and he turned to look at John again, that same speechless stare on his face.

"Yes, David, that is exactly what I am implying. But I sense that you need some convincing. Go back to the room we just came from and see for yourself. But don't stay long--there is about to be some excitement in there."

David didn't move. John gave him a nudge. "Go! I'll be here when you return."

Off David went, retracing the steps he had just come. As he entered the doorway, he was met with the sight of the young girl standing up at the window and raising her arms to the ceiling, softly repeating some words over and over. It was as if she were in the attitude of prayer. Giving thanks for a great blessing. David was overcome with emotion. Was it truly possible that he was witnessing a miracle? She had appeared extremely weak and bedridden just moments ago. Now she was up and acting strong again.

He turned to rejoin John before he could be discovered in the room. As he arrived at his point of origin, there was a nurse that came around the corner and went directly to the girl's room that he had just vacated. It was exactly as John had predicted. And in a moment there was a commotion that followed, just as he had foretold. The nurse came running down the hall and around the corner and when she returned, there were several others in tow, hot on her heels. They all entered the girl's room and there was a flurry of activity apparent, even from a distance.

"Alright, David..., now I want you to go to the front desk and ask about the boy that walked yesterday." Again David stood still as a post and again John had to nudge him to go.

When David returned, he was white as a sheet. He just stared at John.

"David, I told you there is nothing to be afraid of, didn't I? Stop worrying. You will have your answers soon enough, I assure you. And the answers will be far more satisfying once you have calmed down. Let's go see Robert, shall we?"

David followed numbly, but he knew he would have to 'buck up' if he were to reassure Robert of the success of the operation--if it were a success.

As they entered the room, Robert was awake and alert. He was sitting up and eating a healthy breakfast, as well. He waved both arms to them to come closer and his face portrayed an unmistakable happiness.

"Doctor! John! Come in, please! I am so happy. You made me better, Dr. Lawrence. I can tell already. The problems are gone for me. I am now healthy. Thank you--thank you so much, Doctor. And thanks to you, John, for bringing him here, as you promised."

David was still in a state of befuddlement and John answered for them both.
"It is our pleasure to have been of service to you, Robert. You have great faith and that is always rewarded. Give thanks to God for your blessings. It is to Him that you should be thankful most of all. He sent me to you and He sent me to David. The praise should be His alone."

Robert nodded in agreement and reached to embrace John and then David. Between his repeated 'Praise be to God', he also kept thanking them for their help. David had never felt the emotions he was feeling today. It would take some time to sort them out, if he ever could.

"You just heal quickly and go home to your family, Robert. Oh..., and when you feel up to it, call those young men I told you of, alright?"

"Yes, yes. I will. I promise you, I will. Thank you again. Thanks be to God!"

As they left the room, David saw that there was still a lot of bustling going on here and there. Those who passed him in the halls were either in a state of apparent shock, with which David could identify, or beaming from ear to ear and overwhelmingly cheerful. There was nothing in between.

"David, you have seen two common reactions to the miracles that took place here in the last two days. Explain them to me."

"I'm not sure I can", He mumbled slowly. "I know that some were perplexed about what seemed unexplainable and impossible. I can understand that. I feel the same way right now. I am not sure how the others can seem anything but shocked by what they saw. Can you explain it?"

"Sure I can. The first group you mentioned have no basis other than science to compare this experience with. It doesn't fit into their normal frame of reference, so they are confused and frightened. You may often fear what you can't explain. The second group has a different frame of reference. Whereas the things of God are foolishness to the world, the things of the Spirit are clear as crystal to the person of faith. They know there is power that cannot be measured by instruments or quantified in vials and tubes. There is no indication by buzzers and bells--just the sweet assurance in your heart that what you have witnessed is of God and is a good thing. Do you think what happened is a bad thing or a good thing, David?"

"Obviously, it's a good thing, but I still can't explain what happened or why it happened. I want to understand, John. Why did you bring me here, if all you had to do was lay your hands on Robert's head and heal him?" He was sincerely wanting answers now and his mood was one of humility and willingness to be teachable.

"If it had been the Lord's will, I could have given him a blessing to be healed, too. It wasn't the Lord's intent, though. You were brought here to witness the miracles, ask the questions that you ask now and learn that all the science in this world cannot hold a candle to the things of God. David, you are a good man--a bright man. God has plans for you, but you have the right to choose whether you will learn what He has to teach you. He wants you to have this priesthood power, too, David. You are one He can trust to use it to serve others properly. Are you willing to learn and follow in humility?"

"Yes. I want to know more than anything. I feel powerless when compared to what I saw you do with a simple laying on of hands. I would never have believed it if I hadn't seen it. What I did appears to be a success, but it pales beside what you did. I had to open a man's skull to help, but you just touched others and they were healed. How does that work, John?"

"Faith, David. First and foremost, pure and simple faith. You have to believe and then the power comes. It isn't that hard to understand. Would you have tried what you did if you hadn't first had faith it was possible to accomplish it?"

"No. And that would prevent success from the start, wouldn't it? I think I see what you mean. Nothing is even attempted without the faith it can be accomplished."

"And the great accomplishments of the world would never have been achieved if there hadn't been some faith first. David, I think you are on the right track now. Your life is only going to get more interesting from here on." He clasped an arm about David's shoulder and pulled him toward the front door and sunlight.

"One more thing, John. You said that Robert was an important man; more important than anyone else knew yet. What did you mean by that?"

"I guess you'll just have to keep in touch with him to know what happens with that question, won't you?" His smile was bigger than David had seen on his face so far. David just shook his head and laughed out loud. Something told him he was in for more miracles in the near future.

"I need to say goodbye here, David. I trust you will get home alright. Thanks for your help. And you can be expecting someone to call on you a few days after you get home. Be nice to them and listen closely, okay?" He then handed David an envelope with airfare in it, winked and hailed a cab for David's trip to the airport.

Ch. 09 -- Fireproof

Fireproof
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

It seemed like a dream, but it had to have been real. There was no other explanation possible. But let's start at the beginning, shall we? My name is..., well, that isn't as important as the story. Besides, you may not believe me and think me some kind of nut case. I almost don't believe it myself.

Recently I was driving through the Rockies on my way to a new job opportunity on the west coast. Everything was going well, I was making great time and the scenery was gorgeous. My mood was totally upbeat and there seemed nothing that could dampen my spirits. They say it's when you let your guard down that things sneak up on you and whack you in the head. Maybe that's what happened to me that day.

As I rounded one corner in the road, there met my eyes the sight that sends chills through even the toughest truck driver, let alone an everyday Joe like me. Smoke was coming up over the next rise in the road and I just knew that I was about to see something I didn't want to see. That premonition was right, too. As I climbed over the rise and started down, there was a woman in the road, waving her arms frantically for me to stop. Not that I had any choice--I was too stunned to drive further and she was standing right in my way to block me.

"Please, help my son!" she screamed, as she pounded on the hood of my car. I sat paralyzed for a moment, unable to move. It just hadn't sunk in yet as being real. That's when she ran to the driver's side window and yelled again. This time I put the car in park and got out to see what was wrong. She dragged me by the arm to the shoulder of the road and pointed over the embankment, crying hysterically. Below I could see a white, mid-sized car, already in flames. The words of the woman now came through with power. Her son was in the car!

"Front seat or back?" I asked her. She was still sobbing uncontrollably and pleading for me to get him out. I could get no answer from her, but knew every second was critical. I had to move now and solve the next question when I got there. So, I started down the embankment, as quickly as I could without losing footing and becoming a victim myself. As I approached the car, the flames seemed to suddenly leap in their intensity. It was a whole new ball-game now, I knew. I wasn't sure I could do anything except get horribly burned myself. I turned back and looked almost helplessly at the poor mother standing above me, hoping beyond hope that a miracle would happen and I could save her child. There was no way. I knew it and God knew it. The thought sickened me, but no amount of wanting to help would get him out in any condition he would want to live in the rest of his life. And I would be scarred forever, as well. Much as I revolted at the thought, it was best to let him die quickly and not suffer a lifetime of torment.

I turned again to look at the mother and wordlessly told her with my eyes and posture that there was nothing humanly possible to be done for her son. Her knees buckled completely and she fell to the dirt on all fours, groaning with such agony as only a loss of this magnitude could cause. To tell the truth, I felt about to collapse with the emotional pain of it all, too. I wanted to help. I really did...but what could I do?

That's when 'he' showed up. The man just came bolting over the embankment in nearly a dead run. He almost hit me as he passed and I was afraid he wouldn't be able to stop, but just pass on by or end up in the fire himself. But he stopped almost dead, too, right at the car as it was burning out of control. I could feel the intense heat from where I was, several yards uphill. From where he was, it must have been unbearable.

Then he raised his right arm to a square and in a few seconds, the flames all but went out! I have never seen anything like it! I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. To this day, I almost don't think it was real, but I did see it, so it has to be.

Everything sort of went slow motion after that. The car was charred so badly you almost couldn't tell it had been white paint. It was tipped on its side at about a forty-five degree angle, buried partly into the dirt and he had to climb on top of it to get to the doors. One window had shattered from the heat of the fire and he peered in to see where the boy was. Back seat, it appeared. Before I could make a move, the back door was being pried open and he was reaching in deep to fish the kid out. I didn't have much hope for the child, to be frank. I was in for a real surprise.

As the man straightened again, he pulled a boy of about four years old with him and turned to put him on the ground behind him. He quickly swept the car with his eyes again, to make sure there was no one else in it, then turned to the boy again to inspect him. The mother was speechless for a long moment and then began to awkwardly and hurriedly slide down the hill to recover the child.

I couldn't believe it. There wasn't a scratch on the kid. He wasn't even crying! The man picked him up and started climbing to meet the frantic mother. When they met, she grabbed the boy and scared him so bad that he did start to cry. Here he was, just rescued from a rollover on a mountain road that could have killed him and a fire that could have barbecued him, too--yet he was crying simply because his mom had grabbed him so fast she scared him. Rather ironic, if you ask me.

When she knew her son was undamaged, she immediately began to show her gratitude to the man who had rescued him. I guess I should have felt foolish or been ashamed for not being able to do anything helpful, but I knew that there was nothing I could have done--and I knew that this man had done more than humanly possible. I had just witnessed a miracle.

And then this guy just starts to walk away, up the hill, without saying anything! Well, I couldn't let him go that easily. I had questions, you know? And I knew only he could answer them.

"Mister! Hey, mister! Wait a minute!"

He turned again to look at me, huffing and puffing my way up the hill, as he reached the shoulder of the road. When I finally reached him, I took hold of his shirt to make sure he couldn't get away. Maybe I just needed to know he was real and that I hadn't been hallucinating.

"Mister, that was some trick you just did. How did you stop that fire? What made you think you could get through heat like that? Are you Superman or something?"

"Whoa! One question at a time, okay?" He grinned far too easily for what he had just been through, I thought.

"Well, you gotta admit that... Sheesh! I don't even know what to say! That was just plain crazy!"

"I had faith it would all work out. That's all."

"That's all? That's all! You gotta be kiddin' me! You say that as if it happens every day for you. It doesn't...does it?"

"Of course not. Not every day." He winked slyly and turned again to leave.

"Wait a minute! Hold it right there! You can't just leave like that. You have some explaining to do." He now turned so suddenly that I stopped dead in my tracks, too.

"What do you mean? What is there to explain? I saw a need and I helped. End of story, right?"

"Not by a long shot! Those flames just stopped without any reason. Right when you got there. Explain that! Who are you? I still want to know."

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly before speaking, kind of resigning himself to the demand, I guess. When he spoke, I didn't believe him.

"Alright, you win. I am an angel sent from God to save this child. He has a lot to accomplish in his lifetime and he can't do it if he's dead. That should make sense to you."

I stood dumbfounded, unable to speak for a minute. Did he expect me to accept such a wacky story? And yet, what other explanation made sense?

"An angel, you say?"

"Why not? How else do you account for what just happened? The child should have been killed for any number of reasons, but he doesn't even smell like smoke. You tell me how that happens." And then he waited. I think he had a smirk on his face, but I can't be sure. All I knew was I couldn't tell him. So he went on.

"Listen. I really am a messenger from God. I had a mission to fulfill and I did it. I know you believe in God, so why not a messenger sent by Him? Is it that unreasonable?"

"No, I guess not. I just never saw one, that's all. You feel real. Shouldn't angels have wings and be...like ghosts or something?"

"No, they shouldn't." He nearly laughed out loud. "And they don't and they aren't. Only dead men are ghosts. I haven't died yet. And I expect not to for a long, long time. I am not Superman, either--to answer your previous question. I stopped the fire by faith in the priesthood of God, which I hold. The same power that preserved the boy. More than that, there is nothing to say." And he turned to walk away again!

"Wait! What's your name?"

"Timothy. You can call me Timothy."

I turned away just for a second to look at the woman and spun back to ask what he thought ought to be done to help her further--and he was gone! There was no physical way he could have disappeared, but he did. And then it occurred to me that there was no other car there, except mine. He had just popped in and popped out again, in the blink of an eye.

I don't know what to think, actually. I know I will never forget what happened that day, but I can't think on it too long before my brain hurts. I'm a simple guy and thoughts like that are just too deep for me to tackle for any length of time.

I took the woman and the boy to the next town for help and gave her money to use the phones and get a meal and room for the night. Seemed like the right thing to do. Somehow I knew that would be what Timothy would do if he were here still. And I can't help but wonder... what must it be like to be that fireproof?

Ch. 10 -- Homeless

Homeless
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

The weather had become miserable in a hurry. Even a light rain was painful when temperatures reached the low forties. Especially so when one lacked clothing adequate to protect from the elements. Dennis found himself in just such a situation. It was hard to believe that just a short two years before he had been in a six-figure-a-year job and drove a car that cost more than most people's homes. Then the drinking began. It had been just over business lunches at first. That was enough to begin a fast, downward spiral that ended with Dennis becoming unemployed, broke and homeless. His severe depression had finished what the drinking had begun. Add to that a strong lesson on the meaning of the term 'fair weather friends' and you have some idea of his predicament.

Dennis found himself huddling and shivering under the inclined open lid of a dumpster in an alley behind a store in the business district. He had intended to search the dumpster, before it rained, for anything of use. Now all he could do was wait for the rain to stop and hope that nothing he needed would be too wet to use when it was over.

“Mind if I join you? It's pretty wet out here.”

Dennis jumped in surprise. The male voice seemed out of place, especially since no one had spoken more than a few words to Dennis in months. It seemed that he was nearly invisible—or at least most folks wished he were.

“Sure. Come on in.” He hoped this new guy wouldn't want to salvage anything from his chosen dumpster.

“Thanks a bunch.” He crouched and huddled in beside Dennis, pulling into a crouching fetal position to conserve body heat. He wasn't dressed any better than the first resident.

“Lousy day, isn't it?” Dennis asked.

“Yeah, sure is. You come here often?” He grinned and curled up more than before.

Dennis didn't smile outwardly, but he couldn't help but smile inside. He had almost forgotten he still had a sense of humor, it had been so long since he had used it.

“No. first time. You?”

“Same here. My name is Mathoni. Tell me about yourself.”

“Name's Dennis.” He said no more. The last thing he wanted to do was to recite his miserable history to a complete stranger.

“You must have had a tough one to be that closed-mouth. Sorry to hear of it.” He reached into a shirt pocket and pulled out a chunk of jerky and handed it to Dennis. It might as well have been a thick steak to a man so hungry. Even if it was so small a piece, this was a real treat, to have meat again. Dennis couldn't recall the last time he had enjoyed a full meal.

“Doesn't matter much now,” Dennis lied. He steeled his emotions against what was sure to pour forth, if he allowed it. He leaned forward to check the weather conditions again, hoping the rain would soon stop and this intruder could move on.

“I find that hard to believe. Any accomplishments you may have had in the past should still be important to you. Enough to be proud of, perhaps.”

“Harumph! My past is what brought me to this. I live as I do because of how I lived before. That's nothing to be proud of.” It was evident that he was irritated at the reminder of his past.

“They say that if you learn from your past, you may still benefit from it, so long as you act while you live. What do you think?” The stranger was non-plussed by Dennis's reaction.

“If you are inferring that I could start over and become just as successful as before, you are sadly mistaken, my friend. Let me put it in terms you might understand.” His irritation was unmistakable now. “If you want to generate interest on your money, you need to deposit seed capital, so to speak. I have nothing but the clothes on my back. I am all but invisible to everyone I meet. Who would give me a chance?” He drew himself into a tighter ball and hid his face in his knees.

“Dennis, you're not invisible to God. He knows your situation and he desires to help you.”

Dennis raised his head and turned to look accusingly at Mathoni. “Listen, I let you in out of the rain, but that doesn't mean I want to hear a sermon.”

“No sermon, Dennis? Alright, then let me tell you a story I think will prove to be of interest to you. This is the story of a man who had everything going for him and then let a temptation and weakness etch away the protective armor about him—his strength of virtue, if you will. The saddest thing now is that he thinks he has no chance to start over. And yet he has already overcome the very problem that put him into his predicament. Strange, too, is that he hasn't even recognized that. That alone should be enough to give him hope. He is now much stronger than he was before. He has the advantage of hindsight and a determination not to let that same weakness ever bring him down again. He has a position of great strength to start over from, if you ask me.”

Dennis sat stunned and unable to respond. The story was obviously about him—or certainly could be applied to him. He had overcome his drinking problem. He had been forced to. It was either drink or eat and he had chosen to eat. It had been no easy thing to accomplish at first. The desire for alcohol had almost won. He wanted to anesthetize himself and never feel again, but he had held out and regained his health, even if he had lost his home and job. Mathoni was right—he hadn't considered this as a source of hope. All he had thought of was surviving and that had become the only focus of his life. Until now.

Dennis now lost the steely control he had held onto for so long. He was suddenly all emotion and with it came a sense of release and great relief. A gentle hand on his shoulder, a caring squeeze that he hadn't felt in so long—human touch and acknowledgement that he had for so long craved, without knowing it. He had thought no one would ever again care what happened to him. That had now changed with the arrival of Mathoni.

“Dennis, I have a way that you can start again and regain the life that you once enjoyed. You want that, don't you?”

“More than anything,” Dennis sobbed.

“Alright.” He glanced quickly at the sky, then turned back. “The rain has stopped, so let's get started with your new life, shall we?”

Dennis looked out from his makeshift shelter and saw that the rain had truly stopped, but what touched him most deeply was the fact that the sun had just come out and an intensely bright rainbow now adorned the once angry sky. It was as if this were a sign from God, just for him. Dennis actually smiled for the first time in months. Perhaps someone did care what happened to him and perhaps he wasn't invisible to God after all. He no longer felt invisible and that alone was cause for hope.

Ch. 11 -- The War

The War
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

It was the same thing everyday. It had been for years. Milt Thompson would go to the park, where he sat on the bench and fed to the pigeons the bread crumbs he had brought. Only when the bag was empty did the slightest trace of a smile fade from his lips and he would then stare into space as if he had removed himself from the world. Where he went when he retreated like this no one knew. You couldn't reach him for long before he would again withdraw. When the sun began to fade and the air began to chill, Milt would return from wherever he had disappeared to and would then stand and shuffle slowly to his home for the night, where he sat alone in the dark until he got hungry or sleepy and responded to whichever came first.

It hadn't always been this way. Milt Thompson was a genuinely kind and good man. He was loved by all the neighborhood children, who had often wished aloud that he were their grandfather. He was admired by all the young men who had the occasion to hear his wisdom and he was sought out inconspicuously by all the young women that he had complimented regarding their beauty and grace--and that was all of them that he met. In short, everyone loved Milt Thompson. He always had a ready smile for everyone he met, even when they didn't return the favor. The world had never gotten him down. It had been his mission to lift up the world and Milt had done his best to accomplish the task.

The war had changed all that. He was not the same man when he came home as he had been when he left. Milt now sat or stood withdrawn from the rest of the world, even when in a crowd. The world may as well have not existed for him at times.

It seemed a day like any other. Milt was sitting on the bench he always chose as his post, doing the same thing he always did there. The bag of bread crumbs was empty and Milt was in his far off land, running from or solving who-knew-what problem. His empty stare was interrupted when a large man came to stand directly in front of him, not a pace away.

Milt looked slowly up from his reverie and focused on the man's face. There was a sad smile apparent as the man looked downward into Milt's eyes. His hands were in his pockets to protect from the chill late afternoon air.

"May I sit with you, Milt?"

Milt screwed up his brow, attempting to remember this man, although not really caring if he did at this moment. But it was his way to be kind, so he consented. In a few moments he would be going home anyway. It was starting to darken.

"I don't think I know you, do I?"

"No, Milt. We've never met. My name is Mathoni." He pulled a hand from his pocket and offered it to Milt, who responded automatically from years of conditioning and choice.

"Mathoni, did you say? What an unusual name." A spark of interest showed in his eye.

"I hear that a lot", he laughed. "I just tell them I am an unusual man, so it seems appropriate that I should have an unusual name to go with it."

Milt smiled --truly smiled--for the first time in ages. It felt foreign, but it also felt good.

"Milt, I want to talk to you about what's been bothering you, if you don't mind. I want to help." The sincerity could easily be read. It was genuine.

Milt squirmed uncomfortably. "So,...you've been talking to my neighbors. Listen,...I don't want you to bother with an old man's problems. You have better things to do, I am sure."

"No, Milt, I don't. I want to help you. I know you have been under a lot of weight since you came home from the war. It's about time that you drop that weight and get back to being happy, isn't it?"

A tear formed in Milt's eye almost immediately and ran down his cheek. He wiped it away quickly, looking about with apparent embarrassment. "I'm not sure I can talk about it."

"Alright, Milt. Then just listen for a moment. What you were called to do over there was something that your very soul rebelled against. It violated everything you stood for. It was unconscionable, but you had a duty to perform and you did it."

Milt was sobbing softly now and hung his head, slumping slightly forward. Mathoni went on, gently removing the patched and re-patched feelings that had remained tender and festering over the years.

"Milt, you did your duty. For that you can be pleased. What you had to do is not so easy to dismiss, is it?"

Through the tears and sobbing, Milt tried to convey his hurt. "I killed young boys that barely had facial hair. Some didn't. They may never have even had a girlfriend. Now they never will."

"Is that why you never married? You felt guilty that these men would never have families of their own."

"Yes..., wouldn't you?"

"They would have killed you if they had been given the chance, Milt."

"But they didn't. I killed them. If it hadn't been for that stupid war, we might have even been friends, chatting over a meal or an activity. And who knows what they would have contributed to the world, if they had lived."

"Yes, you are right. I know a thing or two about war and human nature. A lot of good men have died because a few bad men couldn't control their own nature. Many have died because of miscommunication." Mathoni stared off into space himself for a moment. Milt studied him carefully.

"But I also know the good in men's hearts. The best men always come out on top, Milt. They carry on through the worst of times, hanging on until they get back to the best of times. By doing this, they give hope and courage to others who might have given up without their examples." He turned to look Milt directly in the eye.

"Milt, you aren't a quitter. You never were. You did what you had to do. You are a good man and there are those that need your example. Think of it--the real reason you feel guilty is because you were the one to survive. You feel unworthy to live. You wanted to die because it just hurt too bad to live at times. You aren't the only one who felt less than human after what he was called on to do. You aren't the only one who regretted it to the point of wishing he could offer himself just to bring them back. Answer me this, Milt--what's worse--to feel like you do for your actions under duress or to be like those who grew to hate so much that they enjoyed the killing? Tell me, which would you rather be? Your war is now with yourself--you can lose or win. The choice is yours alone."

Genuine surprise registered on Milt's face. This was a perspective he had never considered. The answer was obvious. It had been there all along. He just hadn't seen it.

"Milt, you are going to be alright. I want to offer an idea that you need to bear in mind. The men you killed in war have all died in vain if you just give up and stop living after the war--at a time when you should be enjoying the fruits of your freedom and sharing the hope and joy with others--the next generation. You need to open up again and teach the young ones that war is never the answer. You need to live for those men who have died. What kind of man becomes defeated after the war, because he chose to give up?" Mathoni looked into Milt's eyes with an intensity that burned deeply into a soul. Milt felt that stare could see the bottoms of his feet.

Mathoni was right. A man who chooses to give up is worse than a man who is driven to it. A man who abandons the rising generation is a man who has abandoned hope and life itself. There is no use for men like this. Milt couldn't stomach being a useless man, but that was what he had become--useless to all but the pigeons he fed daily in the park. Useless to himself and mankind in general. It had to stop and it would stop here--today--right now.

Without warning, Milt grabbed Mathoni and hugged him so tightly that even the muscular Mathoni was impressed with the strength of the seemingly frail man who held him. Mathoni returned the embrace until Milt chose to break it, wiping away the tears that had finally healed his spirit.

"Thank you for helping me see clearly again. I was blind to what I was doing to myself. No one defeated me but me. You were right to chastise me for it. Thank you for being so gentle in the way you did it."

"What kind of man would I be if I wasn't? There is enough pain and more to go around, wouldn't you agree?"

"Yes. Now, please, would you let me buy you a hot cocoa and a sandwich? I want to show you my gratitude. I know a great place to eat, if they are still there after all this time."

"I think that would be the start of a great friendship, Milt. And a wonderful way to celebrate the start of your new life." Mathoni stood quickly, took Milt firmly by the hand and lifted him to his feet, waiting for the path to the hot cocoa to be pointed out. There were still a lot of plans to talk over.

Ch. 12 -- A Friend When In Need

A Friend When In Need
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

"Are you sure you want to do that?"

The voice had surprised Jimi Fong in the dark alley. At first he thought it might be a cop. Then he thought it could be a mugger. Either way, it was not good. But there was nowhere to run, for he had placed himself in a dead-end alley where he had hidden to take his first syringe of heroin. Jimi turned toward the stranger, placing behind his back the hand that held the needle.

"Who wants to know?" he asked belligerently.

"A friend", came the reply.

"I don't have any friends. Go away." He stared defiantly and waited.

"No friends? What a sad way to go through life."

"Look, mister, what business is it of yours whether I have any friends or not? Just beat it, will you?"

" I could do that, Jimi, but you won't live long enough to regret it."

Jimi's blood began to run cold. This man meant to hurt him. He might have to shoot the heroin into this meddler instead, in self-defense. He tensed and waited for the attack, but it didn't come.

"You have nothing to fear from me, Jimi. I have no intention of hurting you. I want to save you from death, actually. That's a worthy cause, isn't it? Wouldn't that make me a friend?"

"Who are you and how do you know my name?" The mis-trust remained.

"My name is Timothy and I know a lot about you, Jimi. How I know these things isn't important yet. Saving you from the greatest mistake of your life is."

"What are you talking about?"

"That heroin you were about to take is tainted. It will kill you. It's been cut with some very nasty stuff. If you don't believe me, go back to the guy who sold it to you and ask him to take it instead. He uses, as you know. But he won't use this stuff, I guarantee."

Jimi hesitated, not knowing what to do. He had never bought or used before this day. This was his first time. If the stranger was right, it would also be his last time. It wasn't worth a wrong test to find out. If he went back to the dealer and insisted he use it, then he would know for sure. If the guy refused, the stuff was bad and Jimi was out the money. If he took it and used it, the stuff was good and Jimi was still out the money. He wasn't happy about that, but his life was worth more than what he had paid for the stuff.

"Okay, mister. How do you know all this and what should it matter to you if I die or not?"

'You don't listen very well, Jimi. I told you--I am a friend. Friends look out for one another, don't they?" He began to step closer, slowly enough not to panic the boy.

"And you don't listen too well, neither. I told you I don't have any friends."

"Well, maybe I am one you didn't know you had. We can at least talk, can't we? After all, you aren't doing anything too important right now, it would appear." He smiled with teeth that were as white as the indirect streetlight could make them.

Jimi was intrigued. How did this guy know his name? What made him so certain the 'junk' was bad? And why would he go out of his way to warn Jimi? He relaxed noticeably and cocked an ear to listen, almost without thinking.

"Good. How I know the stuff is bad isn't as important as it was to just stop you from using it. We need to talk. Life is short and there is so much you have yet to accomplish, Jimi."

"What do you know about me? Who are you--some sort of 'saving angel' that wanders the streets looking for souls to salvage?"

Timothy grinned again. "I guess you could say that. Don't you think you are worth saving? Aren't your dreams as important as anyone else's? You had such high hopes. Are you willing to give them up so easily?"

"Okay, mister, I've had about enough of this double talk...."

"Jimi! You listen to me." He commanded it in such a way that Jimi was taken aback. "I have only your best interest in mind and would never hurt you. I am telling you the truth. That stuff will kill you! I was sent to save your life, son. There is a lot of good you have yet to do in this world and you are needed more than you can know at this time. Now, I know you want proof that I am telling you the truth. You can either go back to that dealer and demand he take the stuff himself, as I suggested, or you can listen to me a few more minutes and change your mind about my intentions. It won't cost you anything to listen."

"Okay. I'm listening." He was far more passive now.

"I know you always wanted to make a difference in the world, since you were able to think for yourself. Then your brother died and shortly after that followed the death of your mother. I know it took a lot out of your faith in life at that point. Lately you have just given up, though. You even lost a female friend to drugs and now you want to do this? What sense does that make, Jimi?"

Jimi stood wordless and trembling. This man knew things about him that he shouldn't know. And he knew the truth. There was no guessing in it. That was what scared him most.

"I told you, don't be scared. I was sent to save your life. I know these things because I have the best source of information there is. I'm no stalker. This is the first time I have ever seen you, but it doesn't change the fact that I care what happens to you, Jimi. Your life is still far beyond any value you might choose to place on it. I just want you to realize that. Until you value it, there is nothing I can do to help you.

"You wanted to help others and make the world a better place. You've had all kinds of ideas that could make a difference in the lives of thousands. Now you want to toss it all away. Why? For a night of forgetting and self-induced fog? I told you--that stuff will kill you. I tell you the truth, Jimi. Trust me...please." His very tone was of the utmost sincerity and it begged compliance. His eyes pleaded for obedience.

Jimi hesitated only a moment before he stepped forward and gently handed the paraphernalia over to Timothy. He was greeted with a warm smile and a loving hand on the shoulder. There was now a light in Timothy's eyes that hadn't been there before.

"Come on, Jimi, let's get out of this dirty alley and go someplace where we can talk some more, shall we?" He put a comforting arm about the young man's shoulder and began to guide him to the street and to safety once again.

Jimi was strangely relaxed now. There was no way to explain it, but his world had just changed and perhaps his life had indeed been saved. The man he had feared but a few moments ago was now a new friend he felt he could trust. It was certainly worth finding out.

Ch. 13 -- Darkness

Darkness
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

The plan had been to take a few days away from the trials and headaches of work and family--to get away from it all and hide somewhere long enough to calm down before he had a breakdown and did something he would regret. Unfortunately, the getting away would turn out to be something that Malachi Trent would regret deeply.

It seemed so simple. Get a flashlight, matches, some rope and warm clothes, including gloves and hiking boots, plus snacks and a tent. He had never explored a cave before, but it was about time to do so. Life was too short to waste in toiling for someone else and never having any time alone. This was just the adventure he needed to unwind. He deserved it.

The campground was a rudimentary one at best. Not that it mattered. It wasn't like he was going to live here for an extended period. He appeared to be alone, which suited him well, as he desired to be alone to unwind. Malachi pitched his tent, made a ring of stones to contain a fire for the nightly meals and went to gather firewood. Fallen branches, twigs, leaves and pine cones were abundant, there being a mix of evergreen and deciduous trees at this altitude. How fortunate, he thought. This would be easier than he had planned--or so he thought.

The fire pit readied, all that was needed was to light it when the time was right. In the meantime, while daylight remained, there was exploring to be done. Malachi grabbed his gear and went to look for the path to the cave. He didn't have to go far to find it and the path was clearly marked and easy to follow. Barely half a mile into the woods he found the opening to the cave. He had heard of it before, grown up with the stories of it, but had never until now been here.

The opening was small enough that he had to duck slightly to enter. As soon as he did, the entry darkened and Malachi had to pause to let his eyes adjust to the diminished light level. Not many steps after that and he had to turn on his flashlight. He had brought with him extra batteries, just in case, and felt confident that he was prepared to handle any obstacle he might encounter. It was noticeably cooler at this point and Malachi was glad he had dressed for it. Further and further into the cave he went. There were no real turns or divisions yet.

About five minutes into the cave, the path took a downturn and Malachi was beginning to wonder exactly how far in he had already gone. Maybe on the way out I should count my steps, he thought. Another fifteen minutes passed, with the trail getting much tougher and with a split to the right being the most navigable. Several times Malachi had bumped his head and wondered why he hadn't thought to bring a hat of some type to protect himself better.

The path became wet a time or two as well as splitting again. No problem, he thought. I can remember two splits in the path and just reverse them on the way out if I have to. They should actually just flow into the exit path naturally anyway. At one of these wet points, Malachi found a watchband on the floor of the cave. It was made of leather and the watch was still hanging on one end of the broken band. It had been there a long time and Malachi wondered how it had come to break and be left where he had found it. There were no engravings to identify the owner, but Malachi placed it in his pocket and proceeded into the cave.

Malachi found that he had to duck lower and lower as he went further. More and more his attention was riveted on the sloping ceiling and less and less on the floor beneath him. That was his downfall--quite literally. Without warning the floor gave way beneath him and he slid rapidly down a wet, steep slope, crashing into a large rock with one leg, which turned him topsy-turvy and sent him head first into another rock pile below.

Malachi woke with a pounding headache, incomplete darkness and unable to find his flashlight. It had perhaps been broken in the fall or the batteries had run down while he was unconscious. The reason mattered little. The real problem was that he was lost in the Stygian blackness, who knew how far beneath the earth, and no one in the world knew where he was.

Panic set in as Malachi began to understand the critical nature of his situation. All he knew was which way was up and nothing more that was of any use to him at this moment. Malachi, you are going to die today. There was no escaping the thought. He hadn't brought his cell phone, although he doubted he would ever get a signal this far below ground. No one knew he was here. They would have no idea where to begin looking. He had told no one where he was going. If another camper found his tent and car, they might not even suspect that he was in trouble. For all they would know, he was just hiking. Maybe no one would ever discover his body. The loneliness scared him more than anything else. He had thought he wanted to be alone for a few days and now he was terrified of the idea of dieing in absolute solitude.

Malachi cried for the first time in ages and prayed for the first time in his life. It was a simple, but sincere prayer--nothing more than Please save me. I don't want to die alone. But he prayed it like he meant it and knew that, if there was a God, he could answer. Malachi had to believe. There was no other option.

"Malachi?"

The voice was muffled and sounded somewhat distant, but it hadn't been imagined. It was real. It had to be.

"Here! Here I am!"

Malachi waited a moment and heard scraping sounds, becoming louder as they approached his position.

"Malachi?"

"Yes! Be careful! There is a slippery fall ahead of you!"

He wondered why he could see no light. In the complete darkness of the cave, any small degree of light would be exaggerated and become immediately noticeable. Yet there was none to be seen.

"I am going to drop a rope to you, Malachi. I want you to feel for it in the dark, okay?"

"Yes. Okay." He waited a moment and heard a rope drop beside him on his right. Feeling for it, he found the rope and grabbed hold eagerly. "What should I do now?"

"Tie it securely around your waist. I don't want you to lose your lifeline in the dark."

"Okay." He began immediately to obey. It never occurred to Malachi to wonder who was helping him. All that mattered was getting out of this dark underworld and back into the light above. The desire consumed him.

"I am going to pull you up now. I will go slowly so you can maintain your footing and not backslide, do you hear?"

"Yes. Thank you."

The rope began to tighten and soon Malachi was digging his feet into the wet slope as best he could, making slow but appreciable headway in his climb to freedom and daylight. The progress seemed to take forever, but he was more grateful than he had been for years. There was now hope--a thing which he had under-rated for so long. Now it was all that mattered to him.

"You are almost to the top now. Take the last few steps carefully. That is where it will be the toughest." The voice was reassuring and calm. There was still no light visible, but Malachi put that out of his mind. He was getting out!

At last he was gaining a more level surface and he ducked instinctively in the darkness to clear the low ceiling that he recalled having caused him such trouble before.

"Thank you. Thank you so much. You've saved my life."

"You are quite welcome. I want you to keep gentle tension on the rope and follow me out, do you hear?"

"Where is your light? We'll need a light to find the way out."

"Just do as I say and you'll be alright."

What sort of man needs no light to get him out of a cave like this?

"Alright, keep your head low and move slowly. I will tell you when you need to turn or slow down. I will guide you all the way out. Just trust me."

Malachi was beginning to doubt now, but what choice did he have? The man had found him in the dark and was able to get him out of the hole that had him trapped and threatened his life. He must have faith that this man could take him the rest of the way to the surface.

The way was slow--agonizingly so. Each step, which he had neglected to count, was just one more movement in the dark. There was no way to judge progress. His hands felt rock walls that still bound him claustrophobically and his head and back remained hunched over for so long that he thought he would have trouble ever standing upright again. His muscles ached to stand straight. But he was live and someone was taking him out of his trouble. Just concentrate on getting out, Malachi. Nothing else matters.

"Malachi, we are about to see sunlight now. Your eyes will not be used to it and it will hurt at first. We will need to go slowly at this stage, but you can stand up straight now."

The words were like honey to him. Thank God. I am almost there!

Ahead of him he could see a faint glow and some back and forth movement of a silhouette that led him to freedom. The intensity of the light began to grow gradually and Malachi asked to stop a moment to adjust. He knew he would be squinting and pausing in the opening of the cave before walking into full sunlight again. After a moment the rope became taut again and Malachi followed silently and without complaint.

Another time or two he paused to adjust to the light until it stopped hurting and he could proceed. The last time was the worst. It hurt and hurt badly. He had been in the dark too long to walk into the full intensity of the sun without adjusting to it again.

Malachi didn't notice that the rope had gone totally slack. He just averted his eyes from the harsh and intruding light that poured through the opening. When he looked up again and could withstand the levels, he saw no sign of the man who had taken him out of the cave. Malachi stepped forward and blinked and squinted, searching desperately for the man. There was no one . The rope lay slack on the ground, one end still about Malachi's waist, but that was all. No one else was there.

Malachi stumbled weakly back to his campsite. The sun, which had seemed so intense, was actually quite low in the sky at this point. With each step Malachi thanked God for saving him. And with each step wondered who had been the instrument of God's choosing to accomplish the deed.

Malachi lit the fire and prepared the dinner had planned. Every bite tasted incredibly good to him. Each breath of air was a blessing. Even the smoke of the fire held a new level of wonder for him. Malachi laughed to think he would enjoy the smell of the smoke, but the fact remained. He slept the peaceful sleep of the grateful that night. He had changed as a person.

The next day, after Malachi had broken camp and returned to his car, he found on the windshield a handwritten note. It read simply, Malachi, ponder upon and retain all the lessons you have learned. There is more than meets the eye in this day's experience. It was signed John, a servant of God.

The lessons didn't become apparent all at once, but they did come in time. Malachi was grateful for his life in a way he had never been. All things were new and rich to him. Simple things were now to be cherished. Trials no longer seemed so daunting to him. He appreciated small accomplishments that would previously have escaped him as being such. And he loved people more than ever before. His family now beckoned to him in his heart.

And there was more, on a deeper level--a life-altering level. He had learned to trust, to follow in faith, even when he couldn't see where the next step was going to take him. He had learned that it was better to stay in the light, so to speak, than to stray and have to become accustomed to it all over again. One might get hurt in the darkness, but to leave the light for too long could also cause hurt when one tried to return to it. There was a powerful lesson in that symbolism. Malachi wasn't afraid of the darkness, but he certainly had learned to have a greater respect for it. A newfound respect that he thanked God for.

Ch. 14 -- The Prison

The Prison
Steven G. O'Dell ©2008

Amery Gibbons sat alone in his cell, wondering how things had ever come to this. He had a wonderful wife and three lovely children waiting and praying for him at home, he knew. Yet, here he was in a prison cell, for a crime he never committed. The evidence was entirely circumstantial--or he had been framed. He couldn't be certain, but he knew he hadn't felt entirely comfortable with the job offer or the new boss he had acquired. He only had considered that the money would be good and he could deliver on that promised vacation for the family. Now, no one was taking any vacation, except the boss and a few coworkers who had conveniently disappeared. Amery stared at the walls as long as he could and then dropped to his knees beside the cot.

"Dear God, please help me. You know I am innocent of this crime. I have never stolen money from anyone. I haven't stolen anything since I was a child--and only then because I didn't know what stealing was. I took the candy back, as you know. Since then my life has been clean and so has my conscience. What must I do to clear my name? Will you please help me?"

As he said these words, Amery felt a sudden warmth in his breast and a peace that he had never before felt. Somehow he knew that things would be alright. He gave thanks and rose to his bed for the first good sleep he had had in weeks.

==========

"Gibbons! You have a visitor."

The voice came shrill and the harsh metallic grating of the lock and sliding of the door was no more melodious, but Amery welcomed it today, wondering if his wife or his lawyer might be bringing news that would free him at last. He walked cheerfully to the walkway and turned to follow the path that would lead him to the visitor station.

"Who are you?" Here stood a man that Amery had never met. He looked pleasant enough, but he had expected someone that he had already known. Perhaps there had been a mistake?

The guard watched closely as the man reached across the table and shook hands with Gibbons. Any evidence of exchange of paraphernalia would be dealt with harshly and immediately.

"My name is Timothy Servant. You may call Timothy. I am here to help you in any way I might."

"I don't recall ever having met you before, Timothy. Why would you want to help me?"

"Did you not pray for help last night? Aren't you innocent of the charges brought against you?" He looked a bit surprised as he asked.
"Yes, I did pray for help and yes, I am innocent. I would never steal or embezzle money."

"Alright, then. Who I am isn't as important as what I am here to do for you. Don't you agree?" He didn't wait for a reply, but proceeded immediately to declare information to Amery that would help in his appeal.

"The man you knew as your boss, Harvey Jakes, is actually wanted in several states for embezzlement con schemes. His real name is Taylor James Harvey. He simply used his last name as a first name in this scheme. He has family in Chicago and he visits there about once per month, usually in the last week of the month. He tells them that he is a salesman and has to travel constantly.

"His associates wait for his call after each trip home and arrange to meet him at his next planned point of operations. Their names are George L. Davies and Roman Palovar, both from San Francisco. They have been involved with Harvey for the last five years and have helped pull off dozens of these scams, amounting to several millions of dollars. Palovar isn't as smart as he would like to think--he keeps a journal of all their 'jobs' in a wall safe behind his bed. He thinks no one will ever look there. He's wrong. Your lawyer will see to it that the FBI does.

"You will need to remember what I told you and share it immediately with your lawyer. Do you understand?"

"Uhhh...yeah, sure. Taylor Harvey--Chicago; George Davies and Roman Palovar--San Francisco; wall safe behind the bed. How do you know this? Do you know my lawyer?" Amery sat stunned and not knowing what else to say.

"I told you that the message is more important than anything else, didn't I? What matters is that you get this information to your lawyer as quickly as possible. They will need time to get search warrants and wire-tap approval. You have just enough time before they move on to the next 'job' and by acting now, you can save someone important a very big problem if you do. Alright?" He stood as if to leave and the guard watched closely as he again shook hands with Gibbons.

"Timothy, this certainly sounds like an answer to prayer, but who is going to believe me when I tell them a stranger came in and provided this information and then left as mysteriously as he appeared?" He couldn't help but flash a half-hearted smile.

"I will." He winked, smiled, turned toward the door and in a moment had vanished from sight.

Amery stood in a mix of stunned puzzlement and unexpected gratitude for a long moment, then left with the guard who had accompanied him into the room.

His prayer that night, after relaying the information to his lawyer, was one of humble thanksgiving for all that he had been given in his life. He did not dwell on the troubles and sorrows of recent days, but gave pure thanks for all his blessings. And he exercised total faith that all would be well with him in the coming days and weeks. Again he slept well, feeling the assurance that he was in good hands.

============

The happy day came a few weeks later that Amery was called to the Warden's office. Amery knew in his heart what was about to happen. He was smiling from ear to ear with joy and could barely contain himself.

"Mr. Gibbons, it appears you already know why I have called you here."

"I have my suspicions." The smile never left his face for a moment.

"Have a seat, please." He, too, was smiling. "It appears that a travesty of justice has taken place and that the wrong man was convicted here. Your lawyer will be coming soon to make arrangements for your release. And the Governor of our great state will be personally apologizing and wishing you well hereafter. I just wanted to be the first to tell you, if you don't mind. There was something that bothered me from the start--from our first meeting. Deep inside there was something that said. 'this man didn't do what he was accused of'. I hear it all the time from the new inmates and most of the time I can see right through it. In your case, it was different. You didn't protest in the same way. There was sincerity and real anguish in your voice. Real dismay at what was claimed. I have wanted to set things right ever since. To tell the truth, I haven't slept well since we met that day. I am glad that tonight will be better."

"To tell the truth, I haven't slept well either."

Both men laughed aloud and shook hands. Amery was instructed to get his things ready and be prepared for release that afternoon--an assignment that he welcomed with open arms. His wife and kids would be the first things he would see as he left this awful place. They would look more beautiful than they ever had to him and he would never take them for granted ever again.

=========

Amery's lawyer sat with him in his living room. The smell of apple pie baking in the oven wafted through the house and the laughter of children playing in the yard rose like music around them. A sense of peace was apparent--a sense of 'all is right in the world once again'.

"You do realize, don't you Amery, that the information you gave me was like a miracle? We could never have gotten you out of prison without it."

"Yes, I know. I believe it was a miracle, in fact. You didn't know this Timothy Servant and neither did I. It seems that no one does. And yet he appears to talk to me, out of thin air. I can't explain it rationally without attributing it to a miracle. It's the only thing that makes any sense."

"I agree. I would never have thought myself a believer until now, but I can't explain any other way, either. I'm amazed, too, that the wheels of justice turned so smoothly and in the right direction to get the warrants and approvals needed. I have never seen that kind of efficiency in all the years I have been practicing law. Everything from the prison letting this man in to see you--not a friend, family member or your attorney--to the fact that anyone took the information seriously enough to follow up on it without some form of prior evidence or verification that it was, in fact, true. It simply astounds me. Maybe they thought you were 'ratting' these guys out. That's the only thing I can conclude."

"It was the journal that got me off, though. If Palovar hadn't recorded my name and labeled me a 'patsy' in the whole thing, I would still be considered just an unfortunate accomplice who got caught. All that information could just as easily have been considered proof that I was involved in the scam. Scary, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is. But that's over. Amery, now that you've been completely exonerated, what do you have planned?"

"Plans? First, we are going to take a vacation! It won't be the one that I had wanted, but it will be just as wonderful. Prison has a way of putting things into perspective. And then, I will get a new job--only this time... I will be much more careful who I work for."

Ch. 15 -- A Friendly Game

A Friendly Game
Steven G. O'Dell (C) 2008

Roland Marsh waited patiently at the Chess table in the park. His friend was late--something that had been unheard of during the several years that they had been playing. As he kept staring along the sidewalk by which his friend would approach, Roland worried that something terrible may have happened.

While engaged in this state of focus, he was suddenly surprised by a voice that came from behind him. As he turned, the man came around into his view.

"Hello. Wonderful day for a game of Chess, isn't it?"

"Uhh, yes, it is."

"I have always found it to be a fascinating game. Are you waiting for someone?"

"Yes, I am. He's late, though. Rather unusual for him, I must say."

The new arrival stared off in the direction that Roland involuntarily indicated and sighed thoughtfully. Turning back to Roland, he asked carefully, "Do you think it would be permissible to sit in until he gets here? I wouldn't want to intrude, but perhaps you would feel better to be playing than to be worrying?"

Roland furrowed his brow in thought for a moment before replying, looking off down the sidewalk again.

"Perhaps you are right. Yes, please do. My name is Roland," he said, offering his hand. "What is your name?"

"My name is Kumen. I know--a strange name, but a great fellow." He grinned disarmingly as he said it and Roland couldn't help but smile at this show of false immodesty.

The pieces were already set up and according to the rules regarding color, Kumen made the first move. "Do you like silence or discussion as you play, Roland?"

"What? Oh. I had never really thought about it. I have no problem with discussion while we play. Suit yourself."

"Good. I have this problem with ideaphoria."

"Ideaphoria? I've never heard the term. What does it mean?"

"Well, it refers to a rapid generation of ideas. We are all like a relational database in our minds, but my mind goes extremely quickly from one thing to another and strings them all together--in a logical pattern, usually. Not sure if it's a blessing or a curse, at times." He smiled again. Roland had the impression that good-natured humor was a common state for Kumen.

"Interesting. What is the subject that occupies your mind most recently?" He made his responding move.

"I wish it were just one thing, Roland. I think of everything from the purpose of life to the symbolisms in the game of Chess."

Roland stopped and looked with full attention at Kumen. "So you are a philosopher. This could be very interesting. As to the meaning of life...well, that subject could occupy an entire lifetime and still not be solved. Regarding the symbolisms in Chess, I would like very much to hear your opinions."

"Alright, but just remember--you asked for it." His chuckle was enticing in a strange way. "There is, of course, the obvious--Chess is a game of war and strategy. That it has been played by great military strategists is common knowledge. That it is a game of mathematics is equally well known, I would think. There are perhaps unlimited combinations of moves that might be made. But Chess is also very much analogous to life itself. Every move is a choice that the player must make for himself, if he is to become accomplished at the game. Every move, or choice, has a consequence. As in life, there is no taking back a move. Once made, it stands forever and every move thereafter is affected by that one choice. It determines to a great degree how your fellow beings (or players) will respond to you. To a significant extent, you choose their paths, as well, and a seemingly immeasurable number of paths present themselves to the player--to each player."

"My goodness! You are a philosopher after all. And it appears we are fated to discuss the meaning of life." He listened with rapt attention and rested his elbows on the table, a hand over his chin in thought. No longer was the game his focus. "Go on, please."

"In Chess, the goal is to win. You do not wish to end in a stalemate, nor do you wish to lose. In life, it is different."

"Wait a moment. I thought you were making comparisons. Now you make contrasts?"

"Yes. To quote a very wise man, 'There must needs be opposition in all things.' Just as a battery does not operate without a positive and a negative pole or a magnet has opposing ends or a left hand is distinguished only by its relationship to a right hand, there is an opposing view or component in all things."

"Kumen, you are a remarkable man, I must say. This is fascinating."

"Even this game we are playing is only possible because we take opposing sides. Someone wins and someone loses or we have a stalemate."

"But life isn't all opposition. People cooperate all the time for the common good."

"True. And sometimes there is personal sacrifice for the common good or for the good of an individual, is that not so?"

"Well, yes. In families, especially."

"Roland, how do you feel about making a personal sacrifice for others?'

"What an odd question. I am sure I have made sacrifices for my family many times."

"What about for people you don't even know?"

Roland sat in stunned silence. The question was totally unexpected and in a strange way was uncomfortable. He didn't know what was coming and wasn't certain he wanted to know.

"Roland, would you, for example, donate a kidney to save the life of a child that wasn't a direct family member?"

"Well,...I'm not certain. Perhaps I would, but I probably will never have to decide that question."

""Perhaps not. What about for an adult who may die without your blood type? Or your kidney? Does your generosity extend that far?"

"Kumen, is there a purpose to this line of questioning? I am beginning to feel a bit uneasy."

"Oblige me for a moment. There is a point to it. The point is that life is like a huge Chess game to some degree. Every move you make has consequences. Like dropping a stone in the water, you send out waves that have far-reaching effects. These effects can be for good or evil.

"These actions can be ones that you think to be of no importance, yet they are. Crossing the street slowly in front of an already enraged driver who is late for work, for instance."

"Kumen, there are some things you simply have no control over. You go on with life anyway."

"True. But what if you were afforded the opportunity to have some control over those things that normally are considered trivial and have far-reaching effect?"

"This is merely an academic question, right? You can't possibly be offering me such a thing."

"In fact, Roland, that is exactly what I am offering you. I am going to bring to your attention a matter that you could have no other way of knowing, except that I should share it with you. Are you ready to have your reality shaken a bit?"

"I would be lieing if I said that you aren't making me nervous. I would also be amiss to say that I am not intrigued. Continue."

"Good man. Your employment requires you to process paperwork issues that can, on occasion, alter the course of the lives of your company's employees and their families."

"I suppose so, but how do you know that?" The suspicion was immediate.

"I will get to that soon enough. You are about to process some papers that will have a man terminated. He has a chemical imbalance and problems with depression, through no fault of his own. Sadly, it is affecting his work. It is only temporary, provided he gets the help he needs. Unfortunately, a bureaucracy, large or small, seldom sees the individual's needs and has compassion on him or her. All it sees is the bottom line--is it making money or costing money. And the definition of 'cost' may simply be that it now makes only a dollar where it made a dollar and ten cents before. Loyalty over decades isn't worth anything to most companies, either. Pension funds become slush funds for the company when it is convenient."

"Yes, that's true, but what am I supposed to do about it? I have no control over that, despite what you say."

"You do. I am submitting to you that you can save this man's job and his family's peace of mind, if you will. He has no coverage for this problem through the company medical plan. What are you going to do to help him?"

"This is highly irregular. I have been tolerant with you up to now...."

"Roland! If it were a family member, what would you do?"

Roland stopped short, surprised by the forcefulness and audacity of this man. Yet, there was an air of authority that he could not resist.

"I...I suppose I would...take up a collection and...." The thought struck him like a thunderbolt even as he said it. It was all so simple. This was the stone in the pond and would result in the ripples that would be for good and not evil. If it were left to company policy, the man would be fired and his family would suffer. He couldn't allow that to happen. It was the right thing to help in any way possible. A few dollars here and there would allow him the funds to take a leave and get the treatment he needed. "I see now what you mean. At least I think so."

"I think you do, too. Roland, you are a good man. Even good men occasionally need a reminder that they are good men. You will do well to recall that--as often as you can. Now, I must go, but there is something else you need to know. The friend you were waiting for...."

"Yes. I wonder where he is." He looked around, remembering his concern for the man who still was not there.

"He's in the hospital, Roland. He's had a massive heart attack. He isn't going to make it, I am sorry to say. He was to retire in a month, as you know. This will have quite an effect on his wife. She won't get his pension now."

Roland shook his head in disbelief. "You can't possibly know these things. Who are you, anyway?"

"I think you know who I am, Roland. All you have to do is search your heart and you will know." He waited silently and seriously. Gone was the smile that had adorned him before. In its place was a look of sad compassion for a friend who was about to lose an acquaintance that he cared very much about.

"What hospital is he in?" The tears were fast to come and the emotion all but overcame him in an instant. Kumen informed him as to the details of both men he had discussed, then lifted him to his feet and embraced the sorrowing man. There was no resistance. These men who had but half an hour before been unknown to one another, now embraced in a bond of brotherhood and human comfort that would have been unthinkable previously.

"Thank you," Roland said softly as Kumen released him. "Thank you for reminding me again of the truly important things in life. If it were me in their positions, I would want personal and meaningful help like what you have suggested. I give you my promise that I will do something about this."

"Good. You'll be okay now, Roland. And I promise that you will change the course of more lives in a single act than most men change in a lifetime. I must go now. Keep your word and you will have blessings you can't begin to imagine in this life." His smile was back, plus the compassion Roland had been so grateful for.

Roland got to see his hospitalized friend before his passing, something that would have been impossible before Kumen told him where he was. The man's wife was there and allowed him in, knowing what a friendship the two men had enjoyed. Roland was also on hand to comfort the grieving widow, which he would otherwise have missed in her hour of greatest need. It helped him, too, he found. He didn't have to go through it alone. They both had a good cry and then reminisced about all the things they cherished most about the deceased. It was a time of healing that might never have taken place for either of them, except for Kumen's appearance.

Roland also kept his promise. Not only did he take up a substantial collection for the temporarily-disabled man and make a new and dear friend in the process, but a fund was started for the widow that would see to her modest needs for the remainder of her life. Roland was already thinking that when she passed, it would be a wonderful thing to continue the fund for some other cause, just as worthy. It felt good--no, it felt like pure joy to have the power to make such a difference in the lives of others. It was so simple a thing to do, but so often escaped the average man or woman. He vowed that the opportunity to serve would never escape him again. The blessings were too great--and the chance to change the world, too important. From now on, his life would be a friendly game, win or lose.

Ch. 16 -- The Sign

The Sign
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

Twenty-nine year old Robert Clanahan dropped the box to the floor with a resounding thud. Bang! That was the last of it. His father had just passed away and it had fallen to Robert to collect the remaining belongings of his parents. His mother had passed away when he was seven years old. Now they were both gone and Robert was alone—more alone than he had ever felt in his life. Alone but for the newly acquired boxes that now lined the walls of his flat.

Robert sat down heavily to begin sorting the first box, wondering all the while whether it might be better to just take it to the dust bin and be done with it. Letters, pictures, scraps of paper with unintelligible notes, references to relatives he had never met and likely never would—he was hurting with every piece he picked up to examine, but also a strange numbness had taken him over. It would take time, to figure out whether to shrug it off with stiff upper lip in the standard British manner or to give full vent to his grief and allow himself to recover, as common sense dictated.

An hour into his diggings, Robert pulled a greeting card from the batch before him and stopped to ponder it. It was a Christmas card adorned with a star in the heavens above a simple stable with shepherds gathered about it. Robert suddenly recalled the night his mother had entered the hospital when he was a boy—it was just after the Christmas season. He knew that something very serious had occurred and he felt helpless to do anything about it. His mother did not return home, but passed away that night in the hospital and in a few days Robert was attending a funeral. It was all so dreary and hopeless. It did nothing to lift his spirits or calm his soul.

The connection with the card puzzled him. Why would this cause him to think of his mother so strongly? All of it should have reminded him of his mother, but specifically this one card haunted him. And then it hit him. He recalled the minister having mentioned signs in the heavens and that night, after the funeral, he looked toward the sky and God and asked for a sign that his mother would come back to him—that he would see her again. Now he remembered that there had been an almost immediate display of shooting stars, so bright that they almost blinded him by contrast to the darkness about him. The landscape had lit up as three bright meteors had crossed the sky in quick succession. At the time he had thought this to be an answer to his small prayer. After a time, he had forgotten the shooting stars and life had become mundane and humdrum as he took on the duties of an adult. Tonight he remembered his childhood prayer and wondered anew if it were a real sign that he had been given.

Robert turned to look through the window, suddenly aware that it was getting dark. Rising to snap on the lights, he began to wonder again whether he might ever see his mother...or was it like so many others had claimed, that we would all be just serving angels in heaven and there would be no families ever again. With a sigh, Robert shrugged his shoulders and went to the kitchen to prepare an evening meal, the first he had eaten all day.

An hour or so later, Robert heard a firm knock at his door and went to answer. There stood an unremarkable man with an envelope in his hand. He smiled warmly and extended his hand to greet Robert as he introduced himself.

“Hello, my name is John. I was wondering, sir, if perhaps this might be yours?” He offered the letter in his hand and waited for a response.

Robert reached for the envelope and examined it. It was in his mother's handwriting and was addressed to him. Opening the envelope, Robert promptly forgot his manners and began to read silently the words on the page before him. His mother indicated that she knew she was becoming ill and that she would not likely survive to raise him to maturity. She wanted him to know how much she loved him, how she was sorry that she had not been able to provide him with a younger brother or sister to love and that he should listen to his father and be a good boy. She promised that one day she would see him again and they would be reunited as mother and son, that she had faith in a loving God and that He would never allow their love to be forgotten so easily, for love was eternal, as was the family.

Robert wiped the tears from his eyes and thanked the gentleman. “Yes, this is mine. Thank you so much for returning it to me. I don't know how I might have dropped it.”

“You didn't, Robert.” His hint of a smile was warm and loving. His voice brought calm to the soul.

“I don't understand. Where would you have gotten it then?”

“Let's just say that a mother's love is strong enough to reach God's ear, shall we? You once asked for a sign, Robert, and God gave it to you. Somewhere along the way you lost your faith in His answer. I am here to renew your faith. Look up, Robert. Look up and rejoice.”

Robert was stunned at the words. The thoughts raced through his head like jack rabbits running from the hounds. He was experiencing total confusion and speechlessness for the first time in his life.

“Robert...look up and live. See for yourself the love of God.”

Robert could think of nothing else to do and turned his gaze upward into the night sky. What met his eyes surprised him beyond belief. In succession...one after another...a stream of three bright shooting stars made procession across the sky. Robert was so overcome with emotion that his knees nearly buckled.

“Oh, my! Did you see...?” There was no one there to talk to. John had disappeared as effectively and quickly as the shooting stars themselves. Robert reflected that perhaps he had just entertained the presence of an angel. His knees did buckle now in reality and he sobbed uncontrollably to know that God did indeed hear prayers and had answered his in an unmistakable manner. No longer did he wonder about the questions that had plagued him through the years. He now knew with absolute certainty...the family was meant to be forever.

Ch. 17 -- Blind Until Birth

Blind Until Birth
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

The bus was coming. Jack could hear it in the distance. He often rode the bus to town and had a great time talking to the driver. Having been blind since near the time he was born, Jack was quite able to comfortably take care of himself. As the bus pulled up in front of him and the doors opened, Jack heard the familiar voice of Harold call out to him. Harold had been a minister for many years and had decided that he wanted a change of pace and applied to be a city bus driver. His background of working with the public and his natural likability had made it easy to hire him.

“Hey, hey! Jack, how you doing today?”

“Wonderful. How are you?”

“Ah, you know...same old thing. But happy.”

“Glad to hear it. So you don't think you will be going back to being a minister, then, any time soon?” Jack chuckled softly.

“Not a chance! Why, do you wanna take my place?”

Jack laughed out loud as he took his seat. “As a minister or as a driver? I think we had better take a poll of your passengers before we do anything that rash.”

Harold began to laugh so hard that Jack wondered if he would catch his breath.

“Now that paints a picture—you with your cane out the window and tapping the pavement. Hahaha! Oh, Jack, you are a pip, do you know that?”

“Perhaps we had better both stick to what we are doing, then?”

“Well, Jack, as much as you study religion and talk about it, you might just as well be a minister. I haven't seen many people that interested and not do something more about it.”

Jack became suddenly serious, pausing briefly before he answered. It was true that he was constantly obsessed with religious studies, but he never seemed to find all the answers he wanted. Many times he found reasonable and plausible explanations. Yet, each new 'plausible' answer eventually seemed to conflict with previous ones. And for the one question he considered the 'big one', the answer continually eluded him, staying just out of reach. It was maddening.

“Harold, I can't stand it. For twenty years I was in that church and then found out that I had been misled. I couldn't do that again. I can't trust that easily anymore. How does one know the truth? Even the numerous churches can't agree on anything, except to dis-agree on almost everything. I couldn't be a member of any of them, let alone the minister.”

“Hang in there, Jack. I'm confident your answer will come. I don't know anyone who wants it as much as you do.”

“I hope you're right.” And yesterday wouldn't be too soon, he thought.

The rest of their conversation was lighter subject matter. Harold quickly changed the subject and kept it mundane until Jack got off at his stop in town. His destination was the local coin shop, where he bought and sold collector stamps and coins. Many people would think that a strange hobby for a blind man, but Jack had made a lot of trustworthy friends over the years and they had never cheated him. At least he had his faith in mankind, even if he couldn't figure out his faith in God as easily.
~//~

Jack finished his business in the coin and stamp shop, stood and visited awhile and then returned to the street, where he counted the steps back to the bus stop and sat on the bench to wait. Again his mind was drawn to the daily pondering that was as much a part of him as were his arms or legs, or his red-tipped cane. It was a surprise to him when he heard a voice coming from next to him on the bench.

“You look to be deep in thought.”

“What? Oh. I didn't know anyone else was here.”

“Sorry to have startled you. I tend to sit and quietly think, myself.”

“Really? What do you think about?”

“Religion, mostly.”

Jack was now stunned for real. What were the odds that this man would be thinking the same thing as he was, at the same instant and on the same corner bench?

“My name is Jack.” He extended his hand into the dark to greet his companion.

“Timothy. Pleased to meet you, Jack. So, what do you think about?”

“This may surprise you, but I often think about religion, also.”

“Well, imagine that. What are the odds?” Timothy chuckled.

“My thoughts exactly.” Jack, too, openly expressed his amusement.

“So, have you come to any conclusions?”

“Hah! Just one—I may never know the truth. Can you expect one man to have the answers when all of Christendom can't agree on anything meaningful?”

“What method are you using, Jack?”

“I have studied the Bible, dozens of commentaries--as many scholarly works as I can get on tape or in Braille. And I have talked to world renown men, by mail or phone, and questioned them at length. Their answers left me empty, mostly. Even they couldn't reach a common conclusion. I agonize over it every day of my life.”

“So,...all you have done is study and question so-called experts.”

The words hit like a brick. Jack just sat and puzzled over the statement. Was Timothy insinuating that he was missing something? Jack had done more than almost any man he knew in researching this matter. What audacity to suggest that he was remiss in his efforts. He was about to object when Timothy spoke again.

“It appears you have neglected the one essential element for finding the truth.”

Jack changed from annoyed to curious, mid-stride. His objection was never voiced, but was replaced instead by a sincere query. “What are you suggesting? What essential element might I have missed?”

'The most simple and the most effective one of all, Jack. You forgot to ask.”

“You are mistaken. I have asked the world's most informed and educated men in this regard....”

“Jack, you miss my point. If you want reliable information on oil painting, do you ask a plumber to teach you?”

“How about getting to the point that you say you have? Plain English, please.” He was beginning to be annoyed again.

“Alright, Jack. Fair enough. You've been asking the wrong sources. I thought you believed your Bible, but I may have been mistaken.”

“I do believe it, mostly. The parts I understand. But whom do you suggest I should be asking, if not the experts?” He was annoyed now.

“Why, God, of course. Who else would have all the answers, Jack? Don't you believe He can answer you? Don't you think He cares about you and wants you to have the truth? He says to ask and it shall be given, to seek and ye shall find, to knock and it shall be opened. You have done the seeking and the knocking, Jack, but not the asking. Can you expect an answer when you have not done all you are required to do? And have you fasted, as He suggests?”

The thought shot through him like a lightning bolt. In all his searching, had he only forgotten to ask the original source, as Timothy suggested? Could it really be that simple? In a very real manner of speaking, Jack's eyes were suddenly opened. It was true! It had been right before him all the time and he had simply not recognized it.

“Oh, my...this changes everything.” Jack spoke in a bare whisper, stunned as he was. On his face was a smile that was trying to break through the tears of joy that had suddenly overtaken him.

Timothy broke the reverie. “Jack, the bus is here and I have to go. You'll be in the best of hands, now that you have a correct view of things. God bless you, Jack.”

Jack could indeed hear the bus drawing closer. It would be Harold on his return trip. Jack reached out wildly as he felt Timothy stand to leave.

“Wait! Thank you for helping me to see. You are a godsend. An absolute godsend.”

“You have no idea, Jack. Take care.” There was a tinge of humor in his answer. Jack could tell he was smiling very widely. And then he turned and his footsteps softened and disappeared altogether.

The brakes soon squealed to a stop before Jack and the door to the bus opened with a hiss, Harold's familiar voice calling out, “Well, Jack, are you ready for the trip back?”

Jack, too, now smiled as widely as he possibly could.“You have no idea, Harold. No idea whatsoever.”

Ch. 18 -- The Forest

The Forest
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

It was quiet in the forest tonight. Too quiet. There was no wind, no chirping of crickets, no sound at all. Alexi stood a few feet beyond his porch and stared up at the stars. It was exceptionally bright tonight. Quiet and bright. The stars seemed close enough to allow one to reach up and touch them. There was something different about this night—more than the quiet and the clear sky and bright stars. What was it?

A distant sound now reached Alexi's ears. It sounded as if someone were walking up the path toward his cabin. He strained his eyes in the direction of the sound, but saw no light approaching. How could that be? He was far from any city and only a fool or a man wanting complete and utter solitude would be out here. Alexi grimaced as he wondered if perhaps he were a fool to be here. And just as quickly came the reassurance that he wanted to be alone, a desire that was about to be violated.

“Who is there?” Alexi called out into the darkness. No answer, but the sound of boots kept coming closer. “Answer me or I will shoot!”

“No need for that. I am a friend.”

The voice was still some distance away, but closing in. Alexi was annoyed at the intrusion. How could anyone have found him out here and in the dark? It was impossible. And then the thought struck that perhaps this man had night vision goggles. Perhaps he was KGB. Or worse, if such a thing were possible.

“Who are you? Identify yourself or I will shoot you!” Again he called out.

“My name is John. John Servant. Do not shoot me.” The voice was almost upon him now. Alexi shook with a mixture of fear and anger. And he kept wishing he had a gun in his hand right then.

“What do you want?”

“Only a place to sleep for the night. Perhaps a bite to eat in the morning. May I?” The voice stopped right before him, yet it was too dark to clearly see this man. He appeared to be an inch or two shorter than Alexi and solidly built. His voice was anything but threatening, yet Alexi knew that an agent of the government would have been trained to be calm in all situations and speak in a manner as smooth as glass. Alexi did not trust easily. Yet he must see this man and size him up more accurately.

“Alright. Come in and let me see your face.” He spoke matter-of-factly, as distant as he was authoritative. The stranger followed carefully as Alexi backed toward the cabin. As he opened the door, the light from the lantern disclosed the features of the stranger. He was pleasant looking enough and seemed unarmed, from what Alexi could see. No bulges in his light coat. “What are you doing out here, so far from a city?”

“I might ask you the same thing.” The stranger smiled.

“That's my business and no one else's.”

“And I could answer the same to that question, as well.” He was still smiling when he asked the next question. “You don't trust very easily, do you? I would think a man would be very lonely out here. Don't you ever miss human contact?”

“Why should I? What have humans ever done that they did not eventually bring a curse on themselves for?” He turned to his chair and motioned abruptly for John to sit across from him.
The visitor obliged easily.

“I guess that is your business, after all, but it is a miserable way to live, if you ask me.”

“You will be leaving in the morning?” There was no warmth in his question, only impatience.

“Yes, Alexi. In the morning.”

Alexi stiffened suddenly. This man knew his name! All his red flags were in the air now. Something was wrong. He wondered for a brief moment if he should jump and get his handgun, but the new man spoke to allay his fears.

“Relax, Alexi. I have not come to harm you in any way. I am here to help you. To instruct you. There are those who have your best interests at heart.”

“How do you know my name? From where have you come? And how did you get here without any lantern or flashlight?”

John laughed aloud. “Which of those shall I answer first?” His manner was non-threatening and Alexi found himself involuntarily relaxing, as John had suggested. I know your name because I was sent with a message from your family. I have come a very long way to talk to you. And I have no need of light when God guides my steps. Now, it is my turn—why do you live so far out here in the forest, miles from civilization?”

“No,...first you will tell me which of my family members sent you. You will understand if I do not easily accept such a story.”

“I was sent by a vast number of your ancestors, Alexi. And at God's request. My mission is to help you to help them.”

“My ancestors? You are mad—I can see that now. Only a madman makes such claims and stumbles about in the dark.” His eyes never left John for a moment and he was on alert again.
John took a deep breath and sighed aloud. “Alexi...do not be so tiring. I have little time and you will hurt a lot more people than yourself, should you persist in being so stubborn. You must listen to me closely and trust me. The time for mistrust is over, if you know what is good for you.”

The man spoke to Alexi as if he were a troublesome child. No one had spoken to him that way since he was a boy. The man did not act mad, Alexi had to admit. And what did it cost him to listen? There was something fascinating about a madman who didn't appear to be mad. What a contradiction.

John continued, “Many of your family lived through the years of Communism and the Cold War, Alexi. They did what the government told them, when it told them and how it told them. They were little more than slaves.”

“Have you come to give me a history lesson? I know these things like I know my own face. You tell me nothing new.”

“You then know that they were all very devout Christians, but had to conceal their devotion from the government. The churches were little more than museums and were only attended when the Party had to show off the 'freedom' of it's citizens to some outside visitor.”

It was true. Alexi cringed for some unknown reason. It made him uncomfortable, even now that this period of their history was behind them.

“Alexi, your family tried to keep their faith alive and true, but it was difficult without the means to read the teachings of Christianity. It was too difficult to get the books and too dangerous to keep them. They spoke only in whispers and after seventy years of partial teachings, many of the details were lost. The entire nation suffered this same fate, Alexi.”

“What am I to do about it?”

“You are to be a savior to your ancestors, Alexi. It will be a great blessing to you and to them. You will do what they cannot do for themselves. There is soon to be built a great temple to the most high God. It will be a building unlike any that you have ever seen. In the House of God will be performed many necessary ceremonies and covenants that will seal your family to you and to one another, allowing you all to return to the presence of God, your Father. You can feel that what I say is true, Alexi. That is because you have a royal blood running in your veins and the Holy Ghost is witnessing to you that I speak the truth.”

The man did speak with an assured authority. And Alexi was drawn in, against his will, to believe John's words.

“A royal blood? Are you saying that I am heir to the throne? I am no Czar. The royal line is all dead, so far as I know.”

“Not that throne, Alexi. You have the blood of Israel in your veins. Your family is of that descent and as such, they have the promises of God to them and their posterity. He will keep His covenants and never forget. The time has come for that great blessing, Alexi, and you are to be a part of it. I am here to help you fulfill the measure of your calling. Are you ready to learn?”

“Yes...I will listen to you.” He was more calm of spirit now. Never had he heard such words. It fascinated him, yes, but there was something more. There was a power to it and the promise of a better life. He could feel it in his soul.

The discussion and lessons went on all night. Alexi was surprised when he suddenly noticed daylight pouring through the window. But he had been entranced with what he heard. There was nothing to do but to listen and to ask questions, the answers to which had calmed his troubled spirit. Perhaps there was hope for happiness in this life, after all. And perhaps there was a better life in the next world, as well.

Alexi had become the good host and had cooked a substantial breakfast for John and himself. John had blessed the food and Alexi, noting his mission that was now to be completed.

“You know that you will soon need to find a home near the temple site, do you not?”

“I...yes, I guess I do.” To hear it voiced aloud was a surprise.

“And you will need to locate the missionaries to teach you in further detail, so that you may be baptized, when the time is right. You have a great work to do, Alexi. Do not fail God, for He will not fail you.”

John rose and took Alexi by the hand in a firm grip of brotherhood. A sudden sadness came upon Alexi as he realized that the man who had been a stranger and a perceived threat was now a brother leaving him and would be sorely missed. Only God could make such a change in a man's heart in so short a time.

“I leave the blessings of God upon you, Alexi, wherever you may be called to go. Go in peace.”

“And you, my new brother, John.” He grabbed John and embraced him in a manly hug and when he let go, there was a tear in his eye that bore witness to the great change he had made in so few hours.

Alexi waved to John and watched as he disappeared into the forest again. His prayers now went with this man that had been unwelcome but hours before. Alexi stood a few feet beyond his porch and looked skyward once again, hearing the birds and this time thinking what a beautiful day it was going to be.

Ch. 19 -- A Temple To Our God

A Temple To Our God
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

Alexi stood in line, staring with awe at the magnificent structure before him. This was the day that he would actually walk through the new temple. Thousands would take part in the 'open-house' here in Kiev. Alexi had watched the progress for many months. Before the building could begin, there had been the problem of finding sufficient land to accommodate the space requirements. Land was not easy to obtain in such a large parcels around Kiev. And then came the actual land preparation and the ensuing erection of the building. It seemed to be painstakingly slow in its progress, but Alexi would walk by the site several times per week and dream of the day that it would be finished and dedicated. And now, the day had arrived that he would see it from the inside.

Every detail of the edifice bore witness to the love and respect of the craftsmen who had labored to erect the temple. It was exquisite—there was no other word adequate.

“I hear that they have many wives and they sacrifice animals in their temples.” The voice broke harshly through his reverie and Alexi turned about to face the direction the voice had come from.

“No. It is not true.” said another standing next to him in line. “There are many lies told about them, just like the lies told about the Ukrainian people. Will you believe them also?”

“Harumph!” The negative man turned away in defeat, a sour look still on his face.

Alexi reached forth his hand to the man who had spoken in defense of the LDS people and faith. “My name is Alexi. What is yours?”

The man took his hand eagerly and shook it. “I am Viktor. How do you do?”

“Very well, thank you. I heard what you said. I have studied this faith for some time and I know, too, that many lies are told of them. It is difficult to get accurate information on them, unless you meet with their missionaries.”

“You have done this?” Viktor's eyebrows raised in surprise and he was all attention.

“Yes. I was told they would be here and the only way to know the truth of what they say would be to meet with them. I have done this many times now.”

“And what is your impression of them?”

Alexi reflected a sudden serenity that told as much as his words. “They are an amazing people and I believe that what they teach is truth. There is a special spirit about these young men and each time I meet them I want to do so again. They make me want to be a better man.”

“Ahhhh....” He nodded his head. “One cannot say this about many people, yes?”

“Yes. That is true. How do you know of these people?”

“There are the news stories, of course, but I had a most remarkable experience that led me here. A man knocked at my door a few years ago, unannounced and uninvited, claiming he must talk to me. He had a manner about him that made it difficult to turn him away, so I let him in.”
Alexi shivered with the sudden chills that ran through his body. He was getting 'goose bumps' as he listened to the tale. “Yes, yes. Go on, please.”

“He told me of this temple, that it would be built here soon and that I must show a great interest in it, for the sake of myself and my family. He also told me to find the missionaries of this church and be taught by them. He promised that if I would do this, my life would be happier than I had ever known it to be. It was such an odd thing to promise that I took him seriously...and here I am.”

“Viktor, will you search for the missionaries now?”

“I have done so, but have not yet found them. Perhaps those who are teaching you could also teach me?”

“I am certain they would do so. You are welcome in my home, if you wish to meet with me when they come again.”

“That is very kind of you, my friend. May I bring my wife and son, also?”

“Yes, of course! Bring anyone you wish.” Alexi paused in deep thought for a moment before continuing. “Viktor, I feel in my bones that something wonderful is about to happen in our country—and that we are to be a part of it, just as John told me.”

“John? Did you say John?” Now Viktor had chills running throughout his body, as well.

“Yes, he is the man who came to me and told me of this temple to be built.” He knew instantly that he was about to hear something truly remarkable when Viktor's eyes began to moisten and his lip started to tremble.

“Alexi, the man who came to my door is named John—John Servant. Is this the man who found you?” He waited expectantly for the answer.

Now Alexi was crying, too. It was true—all these many months he had wondered if he had been visited by an angel, a messenger of God, who had found him in the wilderness where he had attempted to hide from the world. And now, here was the proof. Again Alexi's hand went out to Viktor. He stood and held on for a long moment before he could speak. “Yes, Viktor. That was the name he gave me.”

Viktor began to scan the line of people slowly and wondered aloud how many others had been brought here the same way. It was impossible to know and perhaps not important. What was important was that he now had another witness to his experience. And he sensed that there would be many more before long. He turned his eyes again to the building before him, as did Alexi. This must truly be the temple of the most high God. Many lives were about to change in his country. Praise be to God.

Ch. 20 -- The Journal

The Journal
Steven G. O'Dell (c)2008

The words on the page were difficult for Hyrum to interpret, due to the changes in the language over hundreds of years and fading in many of the characters. To make matters more frustrating, the paper itself was darkened and brittle. Great care had to be taken when turning the pages or they would crumble into small pieces. Hyrum Anderson was thankful that he had the luxury of a modern digital camera at his disposal. The old saying that 'a picture is worth a thousand words' was one that he believed in wholly—more so on this trip. This excursion had been extremely expensive and he wasn't going to leave anything to chance. He would have copies and photos and notes of everything and anything that crossed his path or came close. There might not be another opportunity in this lifetime to obtain the records that he now inspected.

It had been a long, long several days, going from here to there by foot, by train and by auto, but finally he was convinced that he had come to the end of his research and there was little, if anything more to be gained. The next two days would be for enjoyment alone, thanks to the feverish pace that he had kept up for the balance of his two weeks previous. And Hyrum felt he had earned it, for sure. He carefully closed the old journal and returned it to the Antiquities Librarian, who then inspected it just as carefully, smiled and dismissed him. But, even as he left the building with a sigh of relief, something about that old journal, the last item he had inspected, tugged at him. It was an odd feeling. He shrugged it off and returned to his hotel.

It was now late in the afternoon and Hyrum decided he would rest his overworked eyes with a short nap before he hit the town for some entertainment and distraction. As his head touched the pillow, Hyrums's thoughts were again drawn to the old journal. In a few moments, he was asleep.

As he dreamed, Hyrum saw an old man sitting at a rustic table, a journal before him and a quill pen and an inkwell on the table next to him. The room was small and had the feeling of belonging in an old farm house or cabin of some kind. There was daylight coming in through a small distorted glass pane in the nearby wall. For a brief second, Hyrum thought he could see through the window a man departing the house and crossing a meadow, but then his attention turned again to the man at the table. In a second he was looking over the shoulder of the man as he began writing. Hyrum felt he could read and understand the writing and was amazed, as he recalled that the script had been all but indecipherable to him while awake. With each dip of the quill and ink applied to the parchment, Hyrum became more and more elated. The import of the message was without question. This document was the reason he had come to this land. It would pull all the pieces of his research together.

With a sudden start, Hyrum was awake. And just as quickly, his understanding of the document vanished. How could this be? He had been certain that he could read it and knew the message, but now he could recall none of it. Without a moment's pause, Hyrum jumped from his bed and ran to fetch the camera that he had used in the library to record the pages of the journal. The small LCD screen came to life and he zoomed in on page after page of the document—all to no avail. He could read no more than before. Deep depression now hit with a vengeance. Why had he experienced such a dream? Was it all in his imagination only? He had felt so sure that he knew the message.

Hyrum had intended to go out for a night on the town and celebrate, but now all he wanted to do was mollify his feelings. Nonetheless, he recognized the need to avoid feeling sorry for himself and forced himself to leave the hotel and see what distractions he might encounter. It wasn't long before he came across some evening activities in a park, where several young people were engaged in a friendly game of hacky-sack under the park lights. Hyrum wondered to himself how many days and hours of practice it took to do some of the things that he was witnessing—and whether or not it was something he might ever be able to do. Hyrum didn't notice that he had company until the man spoke.

“Amazing, isn't it—how they can do such things?”

“What? Oh...,yes. I was just thinking that myself. Ahh, to be that young again.”

“You are only as young as you feel—or so I hear.” He smiled as if at some inside joke that Hyrum was not privy to.

“Well, tonight I feel extremely old,” Hyrum said more to himself than the stranger.

“What seems to be the problem? Why so glum?”

“I'm sure you don't want to be bothered with it all.”

“No, really. Tell me what troubles you.”

Hyrum couldn't explain why, but he felt comfortable telling a complete stranger about his concerns. Perhaps it was because he knew that there would be no obligation to give heed to any advice he might receive and maybe because just talking about it would help to get it off his chest. No matter the reason, he opened up and shared his worry.

“I have come here, thousands of miles, to research some genealogical information. In the past two weeks I've gotten pictures and copies of everything I could, yet the one thing that torments me is the last piece of information I acquired. For some reason I can't fathom yet, it seems to be the most important, yet the most cryptic. I even dreamed about and thought I understood it. Sounds crazy, doesn't it?”

“Not at all. I put great stock in dreams—if they are inspired dreams.”

“What do you mean, 'inspired'?”

“In the scriptures is the story of King Nebuchadnezzar and his dream, which Daniel had to interpret for him. Then there is the dream of Pharaoh and Joseph had to interpret that one. And God promises that in the last days the old men would dream dreams and the young men see visions. It is clear that some dreams can mean a lot more than we might think.”
“I hadn't thought of that. So, do you think my dream might mean something, too?”

“Quite possibly. Would you mind sharing it with me?”

Hyrum didn't hesitate long, thinking it no loss to tell his dream to a stranger, but he might possibly have met a man that could give him some insight and if he didn't avail himself of it, there was no one else to blame. Hyrum told his story, including his frustrations at not being able to recall the details of the dream as he wished and then he waited for an answer. None came.

“So, what do you think?” he pressed.

“It's very interesting.”

“That's it? Just interesting? I thought maybe you would have some ideas on what it might mean.” Hyrum was a bit disappointed and couldn't hide it. He had hoped this was a chance to climb out of the doldrums.

“My friend, even Joseph and Daniel had to have some time to ponder and meditate. Would you expect any less with your dreams?”

The thought struck Hyrum like a physical blow. Suddenly humbled, he shook his head in some degree of apparent defeat.

“Do not give up, my friend. Shall we pray together and ask for insight? And then, if it is the Lord's will, He will not fail you.”

Hyrum and his new friend, who introduced himself as John, withdrew a distance from the commotion and had a prayer for guidance such as Hyrum had never known before. It felt as if the Spirit of God was right there with them. Perhaps it was, he thought. When they were finished, John shook Hyrum's hand and made a suggestion.

“Perhaps we should sleep on it tonight and I will meet with you tomorrow to discuss it. Will that be alright?”

“Absolutely. You know, I have never felt before what I did during that prayer. I think something is going to happen and I will understand all of this in the end. I want to thank you for your interest. You had no obligation to help me.”

“Yes, I did. Am I not my brother's keeper?” His smile said it all. John had a good heart.

After Hyrum told John where to find him the next morning, they parted ways and Hyrum left to go to his hotel room. He reflected on the odds that he would have run into someone like John on this night. Something told him it wasn't chance.

Hyrum Anderson made sure to say another prayer before retiring that night. He had been remiss in his duties and he knew it. This night he would re-dedicate himself to the Lord. He prayed with a greater sincerity than at any time he could remember.

As his head hit the pillow, a spirit of peace came over Hyrum and he slipped quietly into sleep. The same dream came to him this night that he had experienced the previous night. It was just as vivid the second time and and yet he was somewhat more than a captive observer this time, able to control where he wanted to look. He took it all in, just as before, but in greater detail. Again he saw the man walking away from the house and across the meadow and again he watched over the shoulder of the man at the table, observing each word that he wrote in the rough-made parchment book. And this time it made sense to him. This was a lucid dream and he was aware that he was comprehending far more of it than before. Hyrum was elated, even in his sleep.

The next morning, however, as he met John in the plaza near the hotel, Hyrum was not elated. He was quite depressed. He could no longer recall the meaning of his dream. Twice he had experienced this same dream and yet he still could not communicate the significance of it. John's countenance conveyed less than satisfaction.

“Twice now you have had this dream and twice you have not understood it. How did you prepare for the second night?”

”I did as you said—I prayed for enlightenment and I got the same dream again, but why didn't I understand it? I prayed like I never have before. I was sincere, John. I truly was.”

“You prayed sincerely.”

“Yes, I did.” His face showed his expectations—he thought that an answer was about to come and would straighten it all out for him.

“You prayed. Did you do the other thing I told you to do?”

Hyrum knitted his brow in confusion. What other thing had John told him to do?

John drew a breath and sighed aloud, as if in disappointment. “I see you did not remember to fast as well as pray. Is that not so?”

It was true. Hyrum had forgotten to fast along with his praying. He was now disappointed in himself. It made him wonder whether he would be worthy of another repeat of the dream. Had he failed so dreadfully that it was now pointless to try again? Hyrum nodded in the affirmative and John sat quietly and reflected for a moment before speaking.

“You must try again. And you must fast in preparation, praying before, during and after your fasting. You may again gain the Lord's favor. I will not promise this. It is between you and God at this point.”

Hyrum agreed and went to his room to mope for awhile before starting his fast. He was extremely disappointed with himself, but he also was wise enough to know that he would be counter-productive if he remained in that mode for long. Once it was out of his system, Hyrum got down to business and said a prayer to open his fast. He was, if possible, even more sincere this time. He was certainly more humble. He spent the remainder of the day in prayer and meditation, walking about the hotel room occasionally to keep the blood moving. There was a “Do Not Disturb” sign on his door, for this time he could not fail. This might be his only chance to know the meaning of the dream that he felt so deeply was of utmost importance.

The night finally came and Hyrum knelt again to pray fervently for understanding and the grace of God to have a repetition of his dream. He was not to be disappointed, for as his head hit the pillow, he immediately fell into a deep sleep. The dream did come again, more vivid than before and this time Hyrum knew even before he woke that he would retain and understand the dream. There was a feeling of peace and a sense of import that was stronger than before. Hyrum would remember this dream forever.

This time Hyrum saw the house from the outside and the surrounding area. Then Hyrum was again in the same room as before. There was a man at the window and as Hyrum looked, he was shocked to find that he knew the face. It was John. The same John that he had conversed with these past two days. And John was no younger in the dream than he was in life. What did this mean?

Now Hyrum was looking over the shoulder of the man at the table. Somehow he instinctively knew that this was his fifth great grandfather on his mother's side. As he watched the quill pen dipped into the ink and applied to the paper, he absorbed the import of the words.

I, Henri Oldham, do wryte this of my own acord and at the direcshun of the stranger known as John. He has instructed me to record his werds for those who come after me. He says that one day ther will be a new cherch on the erth, new but the olde cherch agenn. God will agenn bild tempels and will rool on erth. He says my distent postarity will be saynts of God and go into thees tempels. I will not livv to see this. He says thet the son who fyrst will do this will be naymd Hirum and he will do a grayte werk for our famly in this cherch. I do not no if this is corect or not but it leevs a grayt impreshun on me so I wryte it all down. The cherch will have apossels and profetts agenn. That is all.

Hyrum was stunned. How could this be? And now he was awake, scrambling for a pen and paper in the drawer of the nightstand or desk, anywhere he could find them. I have to write this down. I have to.

What church? The name mentioned had been his. There was no mistaking that. And the man in the window that had walked away had been John—what did that mean? Hyrum sat in stunned silence on the edge of the bed. It was now 3 A.M., but he could not sleep again. Knowing there was no use in trying, he dropped to his knees and prayed for insight. He prayed a long time and finally rose to his feet in tears. No answer had come.

4 A.M., then 5, then 6 and after. He could not sleep and every minute that past felt like an eternity. The thoughts just kept swirling in his mind. His distant relative had written words of great import. He had done what he was told. As illiterate as he was, he had obeyed. He had written of a church that builds temples. As far as he knew, only the Jews had done this. But the writing had said there would be Apostles and prophets, too. That wasn't entirely Jewish. Apostles were in the Christian church. If only John could explain this. Suddenly Hyrum recalled that he had not made plans with John to meet today. And he had no idea where John lived. How could he have been so foolish? Shrugging mentally, Hyrum dressed to go out on the street. He could use a distraction about now.

The new day and fresh air was wonderful. The morning sun on his face felt exceptionally good today. A sense of peace came over Hyrum—all would be well with him. He knew without evidence or explanation that it was so. Feeling only to trust God, he walked toward the town center.

Hyrum walked an hour before he felt to stop on a corner. There was some reason to wait. He felt it inside. He did not have long to wait. Around the corner came two well-dressed young men, suit coats and ties, books in hand. When they locked eyes on Hyrum, he shivered for a second. Not in a bad way, but as if something was about to make a huge difference in his life.

“Good morning, sir. How are you this fine morning?”

“Doing well, thank you. Who are you guys?”

“We are Elders and missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

“Saints?” Hyrum was now fully alert. A church and something about saints.

“Yes. The ancient church of Christ called their members Saints and as the church was restored in modern times, we carry on that tradition, but with the distinction Latter-day Saints.”

“Did you say restored church?” Hyrum was almost shaking with excitement now.

“Yes. The Lord restored his ancient church to the earth once again, through a prophet in our own time. We would like to tell you more about this, if we could make an appointment to meet with you and your family sometime soon.”

“Do you have time right now? I want you to tell me all you know about this church. It's vital that I know.”

The Elders looked at one another in pleasant surprise, then back at Hyrum. “Of course. Let's find a place to sit comfortably and we can talk as long as you like.” And that is just what they did.

Hyrum was surprised as he heard the nickname of the church—Mormons. He had heard that name before. In fact, he had heard that his grandfather had been a Mormon at one time. There were stories that his grandfather had insisted that his first grandson be called Hyrum. He wasn't sure why, but it was obvious that he had gotten his way. Hyrum asked the Elders if they had ever heard the name before and they lit up like Christmas trees. They had—it was the name of the Prophet Joseph's brother.

“Joseph, like in the Bible?”

“Well, yes, there was a Joseph in the Bible, but I am referring to the Prophet Joseph Smith, God's instrument to restore the church in our time. Why do you ask?”

“Because my name is Hyrum.” He paused and his eyes began to moisten with the emotion of the moment. It had been no accident or eccentricity of his grandfather that his given name was Hyrum. It had been the will of God. He was certain of it. It was he that had a great work to do for his family. And it had something to do with temples, he knew.

Ch. 21 -- Useless

Useless
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

Samuel Adams Jenkins was pouting. It was his seventieth birthday and he was not in a festive mood. It was all he could do to keep from spitting. No, it wasn't that his friends had forgotten what day it was. Nor was it that his family had neglected to show their love for him on this day. It was simply the fact that he had turned seventy and this was a reminder that he didn't welcome. One might as well have hung a sign on him that said 'old and useless' in big red letters. He told himself that he had every reason to grouse about it. The fact that he had convinced himself of it was, unfortunately, no comfort at all.

Perhaps he could go for a walk, now that the 'party' was over. Yes, that was just what he would do. He would pull on his coat and go for a nice long walk...right off the end of a pier. Harumph!
That wouldn't help. If it were that simple, he might try it. Still, he pulled on the coat and left his home for who knows where.

Samuel was walking down the sidewalk, staring at the concrete every step of the way, when suddenly he was startled by the sound of a car horn in his left ear. Adrenaline shot through his system and his breathing and heart rate hit the roof.

“What are you doing? Trying to get killed?”

Samuel waved the man off impatiently and hurried out of the intersection. What was the world coming to when a fellow couldn't walk across a street without someone trying to run him over? Were they really that inconsiderate now? Or perhaps it was just that no one valued the elderly anymore.
Samuel's blood pressure was coming down and right along with it, his spirit. He now walked slower and even more slumped over than before.

When Samuel came to the bus stop, he considered sitting down and resting, just long enough to continue feeling sorry for himself, but not wanting to be disturbed in his misery by the inevitable driver inquiring his destination, he continued on until he came to the first city park that he found. Here he would stop to rest. He must have walked three miles—at least he felt as if he had. Sitting at the first bench that he encountered, Samuel settled in with a groan and a sigh. With all the misery in the world, why did he have to be stuck with his?

A child crying caught Samuel's attention and he looked up to find a man running rapidly to attend to a boy about ten who had fallen from the 'jungle gym' and landed in the dirt below. Samuel made no move to help, but continued to watch as the fellow brushed the boy off and talked to him a moment. It seemed he was showing him some sort of magic trick, for the boy watch intently and then laughed out loud, whereupon the man rubbed his head affectionately and then stood and began to walk toward Samuel, who immediately began to cringe involuntarily.

“Hello, sir. How are you today?” The man smiled widely and extended his hand to shake with Samuel. Must he be so disgustingly pleasant?

“Fine.” Samuel intentionally answered abruptly so as to be stand-offish and cool, hoping the man would go away. He also neglected to shake hands.

“Do you mind if I sit? It's been a long day for me.” He moved toward the seat even as he spoke. “It can be somewhat trying to be so needed, believe you me.”

Samuel started at the statement. Resentment surged through his veins. Of all things to have to listen to on a day like this. He knew he didn't like this man from the moment he saw him. Well, almost from the first moment. “If you think that's bad, try being old and useless.”

“What? Certainly you aren't referring to yourself.” An amused look of shock appeared.

“I most certainly am.”

The new arrival pursed his lips and wrinkled his brow, all traces of his smile having vanished. He opened his mouth to speak and stopped as quickly, giving thought before he spoke. “And what would make you think you are useless?”

“I'm old. Isn't that enough reason? No one needs an old man.” Samuel scowled and looked straight ahead, avoiding the eyes of the stranger. His mind was made up and no young know-it-all was going to change his perspective.

“How dare you!”

Samuel whipped about to stare at the insolent intruder. “What?”

“You heard me. I said, 'how dare you?'”

Samuel was nearly speechless for the first time in his life, but unwilling to let anyone have the upper hand, he recovered quickly and went on the attack. “What right do you have to question me about my personal situation?!”

“And what right do you have to question God regarding your personal worth?” His gaze was just as confident and unwavering. He never blinked for an instant.

“I don't have to listen to this!” And with that, Samuel arose to leave.

“No, you don't but are you so convinced that God makes junk that you are willing to turn your back on Him, as well as me?”

“What are you talking about? I have never turned my back on God! Never!”

“And yet you doubt his word that you are made in his image and likeness and have a divine spark within you. You doubt his word that one man has the power to change the world, if he will let God lead him. You doubt your own worth...and therefore you turn your back on God and his word to you. Does that make you happy, Samuel?”

Samuel was beginning to soften and reconsider his hastiness, but upon mention of his name, he was truly all ears. “How do you know my name? Who are you?”

“You wouldn't believe me, Samuel. You've turned your back on God, after all.” The man turned away slightly to look across the park, as if he was no longer interested in speaking to Samuel.
“No, I haven't. I was just feeling sorry for myself, that's all.”

“That's all? That's...all?! You doubt God and have the audacity to say, 'that's all?”

“Well, I...I...didn't mean to...I never....” Samuel was much more humble now and truly was at a loss for words.

“Samuel, do you remember where your name comes from?”

“Huh? What do you mean?” Puzzlement at the question adorned Samuel's face.

“It's from the Bible, isn't it?” The question was asked calmly and indifferently, the man still staring off across the park.

“Why, yes, it is.”

“What were the characteristics of the Biblical Samuel? Tell me.”

Samuel looked quickly about in several directions, as though he didn't believe this could be happening, but mixed with a sense of concern that someone might be watching and think he was just an old man who was hallucinating and talking to himself. And yet he knew it was happening.

“I...umm...he was a young boy....”

“Yes. Go on.”

“He was in the care of the High Priest of the Temple, wasn't he?”

“Yes. Go on.”

“Uh...he heard a voice, if I recall and went to the High Priest and said he had come in obedience to his call. And I think that he was told to go back to bed, that he hadn't been called.”

“Very good. What happened next?”

“I think the same thing happened again, but what is the point of this?”

“Humor me, Samuel. Go on.”

Intrigued now, shrugging his shoulders inwardly, Samuel proceeded with his report. “And a third time, I think, it happened again. But this time, the High Priest told him to go to his room and if it happened again to say, 'Here am I, Lord'. Is that right?”

“Yes. You know your scriptures pretty well. Do you believe them, also?”

“Of course, I do! What sort of fool question is that?” He was getting riled again.

The man turned and looked him straight in the eye, again unblinking and intense. “Fool question? Samuel, do you not understand that the story of Samuel is for you? Have you lost so much of your sensitivity to the Spirit of God that you no longer sense the meaning that is so obvious?”

“I....” He shook his head softly and slowly, befuddled at the question and also at his own response. Somehow he sensed that he should know what it all meant. But he wasn't comprehending.

“ 'Liken the scriptures to yourself ', Samuel. How hard is that?”

Samuel paused to reflect upon the story and slowly the meaning began to sink in. A tear began to form in the corner of first one eye and then the other. A lump formed in Samuel's throat and he knew he couldn't talk through it. Instead, he simply met the eyes of the man sitting next to him and nodded gently that he now understood.

“I knew you would get it sooner or later. Better sooner. Samuel, you have every right and opportunity to be called to do the Lord's work, just as the boy and prophet that was your namesake. Everyday God has some good thing that you could be doing in the world and everyday you have failed to grasp that He is calling you. No one has told you to go back to bed and ignore the call—you did that yourself. You argued that you were old and useless, until you convinced yourself that it was true. What a laugh the Adversary must have been having—you doing his work for him.”

Samuel was sobbing now and his eyes were closed in anguish and his head bowed in shame. Every word rang true. Every word sunk deep into his soul. How many opportunities to serve others had he let go by each day, each week, each year as this self-inflicted malady had been creeping up on him? Who had been harmed due to his inaction, or worse—his reaction, his insensitivity and lack of concern? Samuel was now fully humbled.

“You're going to be alright, Samuel. Now you know where you are spiritually, who you really are and what you are here to do. Life will be better now, okay?” He met Samuel's gaze with a soft respect and concern that reassured its recipient that all would indeed be well hereafter. Then he patted Samuel affectionately on the shoulder and arose, walked slowly across the park and disappeared into the distance. Samuel watched until he could see the man no more.

It was no use asking his name. There was nothing Samuel needed to know that day except that God had sent a messenger to help heal his broken and crooked life. God had restored his self-image and recommissioned him to do the work that would heal lives, mend broken hearts and set wandering feet again on the true path. From now on Samuel knew what his use was. He was to be a messenger for God, just as God had sent one to him.

Ch. 22 -- A Voice From The Dust

A Voice From The Dust
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

“What does it mean, Maggie?”

“You're asking the wrong person here, Rob. I'm no dream interpreter. You need an expert.”

“Yes, but you don't think I'm crazy, do you?”

“Crazy? No. Troubled, seriously disturbed, yes.” She grinned at him and waited for a response.

“Maggie, it isn't normal. It has to mean something. I've been having the same dream every night for two weeks. That doesn't happen without a reason.”

“Like I said—seriously disturbed.”

Rob shook his head in mock disgust and real frustration. He gathered up his books from the table and pushed them into his backpack. “Alright, I'll see you tomorrow and we can finish the outline for our presentation. Same time, same station, okay?”

“Yeah. Listen, Rob...don't worry about it. It may mean nothing at all. Could be something you ate or just some weird anomaly that you'll be laughing about in the near future. A story to tell your kids, you know?”

“Yeah, sure”, he said hollowly, not believing it himself. “Some bad pepperoni, no doubt.”

“Your sarcasm won't help.” Maggie scooped up her own books and note pads and headed for the door, waving back over her shoulder as she left.

It was that time again—time to get some sleep. Rob knew what the result would be. It would be just as every other night for the last two weeks. The same dream. The same cryptic dream that had been driving him crazy each night. He would wake up wondering what it meant and still have no answer. It wasn't right. And yet Rob had no choice. He had to sleep.

Head on the pillow and eyes closed, he took a deep breath, let it out slowly and relaxed, drifting off. The dream repeated exactly as before. He watched as a large, strangely dressed man walked up a forested hillside with some compact, but weighty burden wrapped in cloth. Arriving at a sizable rounded stone, he pushed it off to reveal a box-like structure, also formed of stone, set into the ground. Placing the wrapped parcel into the box, the man then pulls aside his shirt-like garment and removes from his breast a strange-looking device, seemingly two small stones set in bows of silver. They appear to be almost like glasses, but not the same at all. The device is then placed into the box, atop the first package, and the the stone lid is replaced. Every effort is made to adjust the debris surrounding the lid in order to make it appear undisturbed. Rob knows instinctively that whatever is in the box is important enough to protect by every means possible. When the man is satisfied, he rises and leaves by a different path than he came.

Again Rob arose in wonder at the dream. He hadn't told Maggie that he had already made an appointment with a dream analyst. Friend or no, she had made the suggestion in jest, he knew. She might not approve any more than he did. It all seemed so..., occult. He hated the thought of it. What next? Would he would be frequenting seances or something? Someone had to know what was happening to him. Rob looked at the time, went to the bathroom and showered and dressed. He wasn't at all hungry this morning. Food could wait. He had more important things to do as he left the house.

The office was in a home in an ordinary suburban neighborhood, giving it all the more the feel of a 'fortune teller' to Rob. He looked to see if there were any black cats, crystal balls or dried herbs hanging above the doorways. He spotted none. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad. Time would tell.

“Please, Rob...have a seat and tell me what is bothering you.”

“Bothering? Who said anything was bothering me, Mr. Traverse?”

“It's Nathan. Mr. Travers is my Dad, okay?” He smiled to break the tension and proceeded. “I say that something is bothering you, because since you walked in the door, you have been unconsciously wringing your hands and looking as if something or someone is about to pounce on you. Is this type of behavior common for you?”

“Only for the last two weeks.” Rob gave a half-hearted chuckle and forcibly separated his hands. “Okay, it's like this—I've been having the same dream every night for two weeks. I don't mean similar. I mean the same! What does it mean when that happens?”

Nathan knitted his brow in thought and sat back in his own seat, in obvious reflection. He didn't speak for what seemed forever to Rob. His eyes roamed the floor between them unceasingly until he looked up, directly at Rob and announced, “This is most unusual. I have heard of such things, of course, but never in sixteen years have I actually encountered it personally. There may be a few reasons this could happen, but I will need to know the dream before I can guide you to a meaning. Tell me about it, please.”

Rob related the entire story, leaving out no detail. Nathan did not interrupt by asking questions during the relating of the dream, nor did he say anything immediately after Rob had finished. Again he scanned the floor in deep thought and silence. Rob was growing more nervous with each passing minute.

“Rob, there will be no charge for our session today. I have to admit that this is the most unusual dream I have ever heard of. I half expected to hear something that would indicate a childhood trauma that hadn't been dealt with properly or something along those lines, but this one is not like that. Had it been, I would have recommended a professional psychiatrist friend that is very good with such things. But, I am at a loss to tell you what this dream means.”

Rob was deflated. There would be no answer today. And tonight there would be instant replays. It was maddening.

“So, you can offer nothing?”

“If I suspected this were some buried childhood trauma, I would know what to do and who to send you to. I don't think that's what it is, though. This sounds more like dreams of Biblical proportion. The help you need is much higher up, Rob.”

“Are you saying this dream is of divine origin?” He stared at Nathan in awestruck wonder, right down to the mouth hanging open.

“Don't quote me on it, but yes. I do think that's where you need to turn next. What choice do you have?”

That seemed to be the standard answer lately--'what choice do you have.' He had no choice in whether he had the dream again and again. He had no choice that he must sleep and provoke the dream. And now he had no choice but to turn to God? This was going to be a new experience, for sure. But it would have to wait until study session with Maggie was over.

“You mean he had no answer at all?” Maggie readily showed her surprise.

“Well, he did make one suggestion, since it didn't involve a psychiatrist. He said I should take it to God.”

“Aheh! You're kidding, right?”

“Do I look like I'm kidding?”

“You're serious! That's all he told you, take it to God? I don't know what to say.”

“You and me both. But we still have a presentation to prepare, so we'd better get busy with it.”

Rob felt a large degree of self-consciousness as he knelt by his bed to pray. He hadn't done this since he was a child and he was way out of practice. Still, he knew he had no other logical choice. The dream simply wasn't an ordinary one.

“God,...umm,...Heavenly Father,...I need help with this problem I have. But you know that already. What does this dream mean? I keep having it all the time and no one else knows what it is about. I'm sure you do. Maybe you could help me to find out, too. I don't know where else to go, so I hope you will. Amen...umm,...in Jesus name, Amen.”

Rob stayed in kneeling position by the bed for another five minutes, waiting for whatever might happen. Would there be a flash of insight, would the phone ring and someone tell him the answer or would he have the interpretation tonight instead of the dream as he always had? Nothing happened. Five minutes went by and Rob felt abandoned, ignored, neglected. Maybe my prayer wasn't good enough. Maybe it's been too long and He is angry with me. Maybe I didn't do it right. Maybe, maybe, maybe....

Rob felt depressed as he crawled into bed and pulled the covers over himself. Soon enough he had drifted off to sleep. His dream tonight was different—to some extent. The first part was the same, but there was more. After the large, strangely-dressed man had buried the wrapped burden he carried, Rob watched as he left the hillside by another path and followed until he came to a stream and knelt to drink. The man seemed to be on the alert at every step of his journey, watching as if someone might be pursuing him. He traveled further, going a long distance, before coming to a cave, which he entered and fell to his knees in prayer. Rob could hear the words of his prayer, but they were not in English or any language he had ever heard, to the best of his knowledge. And yet he recognized the meaning somehow. The man was asking God to protect the records he had buried until the time was right to reveal them to the world and bring them again to his people. The 'records' were sacred in some way.

Rob awoke with a start and looked at the clock. It was 3 A.M. He still didn't have all the answers he wanted, but he certainly knew more than he had before. He was too excited to sleep again, which was annoying to him, as he hoped he could get more information of he slept. Rob went to the kitchen and made himself some Chamomile tea to calm himself. He had only one thought on his mind.

Rob walked through the University campus, eyes on the sidewalk and deep in thought. Rounding a corner he ran headlong into a man with an armload of books, dumping every one of them, as well as half of his own and papers from his backpack.

“Oh, golly! I am so sorry! I didn't see you.”

“Don't worry. If you hadn't done it, someone else would have.” He laughed as he said it.

“What?”

“Never mind. It was bound to happen sooner or later, that's all. My name is Mathoni; what's yours?”

“Rob. Pleased to meet you...Mathoni?”

“Yes. Unusual name for an unusual man.”

“You don't look like the average student.”

“I'm not. I'm standing in a few days as a substitute for a religion class.”

“Religion?” Rob was at attention instantly. “DO you mind if I ask you a question?”

“No. What is it?”

“Do you believe God gives dreams like He did in the Bible...I mean, dreams that have a meaning. Does that happen today?”

“Yes, it does. Have you had a dream like this? You seem awfully interested.”

“Yes, I have. Can you explain it or do you know someone who can?”

Mathoni smiled briefly and then spoke. “God answers prayers, so He can show you what it means. Have you tried prayer? I know it works.”

“I did that last night. I got some more information than I had before, but I still don't understand the significance of the dream. I've been having it for two weeks, every night. It's time that I find out what it means.”

Mathoni stooped to pick up the last book. As he stood, he handed the book to Rob. The title said The Book of Mormon—Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Rob had heard of Mormons and the Book of Mormon, but never knew they were linked to Christianity. He looked up questioningly at Mathoni.

“Your answer may lie in that book, Rob.”

“I don't understand.”

“You will...if you read it.”

“How can you say that? You haven't even heard what my dream is.”

“Didn't you say that you got more information when you prayed last night?”

“Yes?”

“And today you run into me—literally and figuratively.” He laughed again.

The book was a paperback and Rob set his own books down to flip through it. The pictures were captivating and Rob felt drawn into them in a strange way. There was a power in the book that he felt, but couldn't explain. “What is this?”

“It's the record of an ancient people in North America, buried up and hidden until the time to come forth in the last days, when the ancient Church of Jesus Christ would be restored to the earth in its fullness.”

Rob stood stone still and stared at Mathoni. The words had hit him like a brick. A record—an ancient record that was buried and hidden to come forth in the last days. This was no coincidence. He had gotten more of an answer to his prayers than he knew.

“Can I borrow this and read it?”

“Of course. I gave it to you so you could. But you have to promise me something.” He took back the book for a moment and thumbed through to a place well into the book, then turned it again toward Rob. “I want you to put this promise to the test as you read. Take a look.” He pointed out the section he wanted—marked Moroni 10:3-5.

As Rob quietly read the words to himself, a strange feeling came over him. It was a good feeling and exciting to him. He felt a warmth in his chest and a sense of wonder and peace came over him. The words held a sense of truthfulness and power that he had never before experienced. They spoke not just to his mind, but to his very soul. Rob found his eyes filling with tears as he read these words.

“Will you do it?”

“Yes.” Rob could barely speak, so choked with emotion was he.
“Alright, then. Take the book with my blessings and my prayers. I am sure your answer is in it.” With that, he shook Rob's hand, smiling broadly and turned to leave. Rob bent down to pick up his pile of books and papers and stuffed them into his backpack again.

“Let me get this straight. You prayed and got more information in your dream last night. Then you run into this guy today and he gives you a book and says your answer will be in it. And the description he gives of it matches your dream. Is that pretty much it?”

“Maggie, it was just like I told you. It goes well beyond coincidence. If there's any other explanation, I'm at a loss to find it.”

“I think the library has a copy or two of this. Maybe I'll check it out and read it with you. If it's as powerful as you say, I want to know more about it, too.”

“Good. We can read it together and discuss it. I think it will be good to share the experience.”

Maggie and Rob did read together and they discussed the Book of Mormon at length. The dreams stopped when he began to read and Rob took this as a sign that he had found the right path. Having more questions, Rob tried to find Mathoni, but it seemed that the University Administration had no knowledge of him. Rob probably should have been more surprised than he was, but he was convinced that a divine hand was involved in his meeting Mathoni and that it was just as miraculous and reasonable that he should disappear as easily as he had appeared.

Rob and Maggie were prayerful as they read the book and when they reached the account of the plates being hidden in a hillside, to come forth in the future, Rob knew without doubt that he had found his answer. By then, Maggie had contacted a local ward of the Church and had arranged to meet with the missionaries. When she invited Rob to join her, he accepted without hesitation. Within a month, both were baptized. Within a few more months, they had decided to marry in the temple when their year of membership had passed. Neither of them ever saw Mathoni again, but neither did they forget him nor lose their gratitude that he had entered their lives. Surely this was the hand of God, the will of God and the blessings of God in the lives of Rob and Maggie. Their own eternal possibilities had been unearthed along with the golden plates of the Book of Mormon.

Ch. 23 -- The Experiment

The Experiment
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

“Good morning, class. How are all of you this fine day?” Miriam Brooker smiled as brightly as she could, to put the children at ease and to let them know they could be happy, too, just like she was.

“Good morning,” came the response, resembling anything but unison.

“I look forward to getting to know each and every one of you this year. And I know that we will be good friends and I will come to love each of you very, very much.” Miriam inwardly cringed a tiny bit, knowing that she had never truly loved all of her students in the past, nor was she likely to this year, try as she might. It was a little white lie that she felt would gain their confidence and allow the process of teaching them to run much smoother. It didn't make her feel any better about using the tactic, but what choice did she have?

“My name is Miss Brooker. Will you all tell me, one at a time, what your names are? Let's start here and go down the rows, shall we?” And so it began.

I t was several weeks into the school year and Miriam Brooker sat deep in thought at her lunch table, wondering what she might do to help her students for the new year. Somewhere inside her a small voice said there was more than just reading, writing and arithmetic; that these things, important as they were, didn't have the power to change lives the way she wanted to. Sure, there was the fact that the children couldn't afford to grow up without these skills, but there was something else. They needed a sense of personal worth and she hadn't been very good at that in the past. The question was how to impart that quality to the children and make them stick.

The children assigned to her were almost a carbon copy of every other year. There were those who were extremely confident and well-adjusted, those who were shy and retiring, unsure of themselves, those who were doers and those who were watchers. There were the funny, animated ones, there were the studious ones, there were the pleasers and the rebels. She would honestly try to love them all, just as she had every year before. And there would be challenges and triumphs, just as in the past. How could she do better this year? How could she make a life-long difference to each of these students? How could she be certain that she was being the best teacher she could be?

“Mind if I join you?” It was a male voice and pleasant to the ear. Miriam turned to face the source.

“Pardon?”

“I asked if I might join you.”

“Oh...uh, yes, if you don't mind me being distracted and not very good company.”

He hesitated, then took a step back instead of sitting. “Are you sure?”
“I'm sorry,” Miriam softened. “Please do. I apologize. We haven't met before, have we?”

“No, we haven't. My name is Timothy.” He extended his hand to her and sat comfortably now.

“And mine is Miriam.”

“Ah...a nice Biblical name!”

“I hadn't thought of that, but yes, I suppose so.”

“Well, Miriam, I am pleased to meet you and hope we can become good friends this year. May I ask what the source of your distraction is? Perhaps I might help.”

Miriam finished chewing the bite of sandwich and swallowed quickly. “Yes. I was wondering what I might do to instill a sense of personal worth into my students. Something more than the basics, you might say.”

“My goodness! What a wonderful goal to have for your children.”

“Wonderful, yes. But how do I implement the idea? That's where I am falling down. I mean...it's simply not enough to let them know you think the world of them. What one person thinks isn't going to affect their lives that far down the road. There has to be more.”

Timothy smiled pleasantly again and nodded his agreement. “I understand totally. I disagree that your influence and concern will be so short-lived, but I do see what you want for them in a deeper way.”

Miriam was puzzled and showed it in her expression. “Why do you disagree with me?”

“Because I have seen what one person can do to change the life of someone in need, just by being there fully at the time they were needed. Take Helen Keller, for example. Or Thomas Edison. There are any number of examples I could point out. Look what Ghandi did in the world. Or Christ or....”

“Okay, okay. I get the picture. What do I do to have that type of influence on these children?”

“You recruit.”

“What?”

“Well, you keep doing what you are doing, being the most kind and loving teacher you can be and you recruit others to show their care also.”

“I don't follow you. Do you mean that I should hire....”

“Miriam, stop right there. You get your students to take part in their own improvement. Get them to reinforce the growth in others. Teach them correct principles and then let them govern themselves. They will most certainly surprise you.”

“That's one way to scare me, Timothy.”

“No, really,” he laughed. “Children are wonderful in this way. Many of them want to please you already, right from the start. You know that. You just have to put that to use for yourself.”

“And I do this by recruiting the children? I must admit that I am intrigued. Tell me more.”

And Timothy did just that, through that lunch and several others that they had together. Miriam listened intently and took a few notes. Before long, she had vowed that she would test the principles in her class.

“Children, may I have your attention, please? I want to share something with you. You all know that I think the world of you. What you don't know is that each and every one of you is special. You have the potential to become anything you want to be—to do anything in this world that you might want to do. Do you know that you have the power to change the world?”

Miriam paused for effect. The children sat in rapt attention, no sound apparent.

“Yes, you could change the world. Perhaps by yourself, but certainly with the help of others. Perhaps others who are right here in this room with you now.”

The children began to look around at one another, somewhat in awe, just as Miriam had hoped.

“Yes, maybe those in this room today. You never know what a person will become, do you? But you do know that if they don't try, they will never become much of anything. None of you want to be that type of person, I am sure. But did you know that if you mistreat another, you could possibly be turning them into that type of person?”

A look of sincere concern crossed the faces of her class, even to the most troublesome and mischievous. She had their full attention and she knew it now. Miriam, if you blow this opportunity, you may never get it back again.

“Children, when you treat someone as if they are important and deserve kindness, you get a person who will act as if they are important to the world. If you treat them disrespectfully, what do you think they will become?”

There were many suggestions from the class, all valid enough to give them praises for their insights. Miriam was feeling very good about this talk.

“What I want you to know is that I see each of you as a world-changer. But you also have to see yourself and one another as a world-changer. Do you understand?” There were vigorous nods and enthusiastic mutters of approval and agreement. She continued.

“Do you realize that each of you has the power to help stop wars and fighting? To help where others are hungry, sick or sad? You may be children, but you have power to make a difference in your world right now. Imagine what you will be as you grow up, if you start now. That is why I am going to ask you to help me in a very special and important experiment. Would you like to do that?”

Again, more enthusiastically, came the responses. They were all on board, if only because they were curious at this point. Perhaps, with time, they would all have their very hearts in it.

“Timothy! You should have seen them. They were eating out of the palm of my hand! I had total control over them at that point. And all through class, they interrupted and asked questions about how they might help to make change for good in the world. It was amazing.”

“Be careful with that power, Miriam. Don't let it get away from your control. You need to be a person that makes changes for good, too. These are fragile lives you are molding.”

“Yes, I know. It almost scares me, but I know that I can make a difference. I have to do this. Thank you so much.” She paused a moment before continuing. “Timothy, is this something you are doing in your class, too?”

“Of course it is. I never recommend anything that I am not certain will work and that I won't do myself. That's only right.”

“I was thinking...if you are doing this and I am doing this, why not see if we can get the entire faculty to join us in our efforts?”

“I think that's a wonderful idea, Miriam. You just seem to have an abundance of great ideas, don't you?”

“Thanks to you.” She reached across the table and took his hand in hers, pausing a bit longer than she might have otherwise. “Thank you so much for your guidance in this. I never would have known what to do, if it hadn't been for you.”

“I'm not so sure of that, but you are welcome anyway. Let's make our plans, shall we?”

The day had come for the presentation to the students, at a general assembly of the school. Miriam had been asked to speak in behalf of the faculty, after a brief introduction by the Principal. Miriam was nervous, but energized beyond belief.

“Fellow staff members and students, I am excited to share with you today a very special program that we would like your help with. We have a great deal of faith in our students and their abilities. The potential you have is far more than you know. Let me explain what we would like to accomplish with your help....”

Again, every student was locked onto the words they were hearing. Miriam had no reason to suspect that this time would vary from her experience in her own classroom.

“Hi, Miriam. How's the experiment going in your class?”

“Amazing! I would never have thought it could be so effective. And in your class?”

“Amazing, also. Same method, same results, right?”
“Well...yeah, I guess so.” She laughed aloud. “Still, it is just beyond anything I had ever imagined. The kids are not only behaving better, but actually looking for opportunities to help me and one another. How do you explain that?”

“Simple. When you feel better about yourself, you don't have to look for approval from others. You just accept that your worth is unquestioned and you look for ways to be of help to others. You wish to serve instead of seek approval.”

“Wow. That makes sense. No, that's brilliant.”

“No, it's human nature. You got them to focus on their best self, not on their personal need for attention and approval. It was inevitable. They are even doing better in their grades, right?”

“How did you know that? Their grades are way up, for all of them. I couldn't explain it myself.”

“Again, you have tapped into their best selves. If they keep this up, they will be over-achievers the rest of their lives. That will be quite a feather in your cap, won't it?”

“I would like nothing more than that, but not for me—for them.”

“See? When you tap into your best self, you don't look for self-gratification; you look to serve others instead. That describes you right now.”

“Maybe you're right. And you know what? I am happier than I have been in a long time.”

“Of course you do. You feel useful. That's why the kids are responding so well, too. They feel like a useful citizen and not just a kid that might be considered to be in the way. Their lives have purpose now and they feel empowered in a way they never felt before. They have you to thank for that. They will now do the best they can in all they do. Their lives are changed and they won't ever want to go back to how it was before. You need to be constant with this for the whole year.”

“I will, believe me. I will.”

“And now that the other teachers are doing the same thing, these kids have every reason to reach their full potential in life.”

“Timothy, how did you come up with this idea? Are you some kind of miracle worker? You must be. I've never seen the School Administration move so easily or so quickly on any policy change.”

Timothy was gone at the end of the year. He stopped by to tell Miriam that he was being transferred, but never really got around to telling here where he was going. Miriam never forgot him in all the years that ensued. She and the rest of the staff, including any new teachers that came to the school, continued to implement the same method with the children. What Miriam fondly referred to as “The Experiment” was a resounding success in class after class. The school gained regional, state and finally national recognition for their outstanding academic achievement results. Other schools in the region adopted the program, too. But convincing other schools around the nation to apply the procedure was going to be a bit more difficult, but the staff never gave up hope that one day their methods would become universal.

Side effects of the success with their experiment were the gradual reduction of crime levels in the city, a rash of new and successful businesses that sprang up and an impressive reduction in divorce rates as the years went by. The effects of their experiment were far-reaching, to say the least.

Thirty years had gone by and the school was holding a retirement recognition dinner in the gymnasium for Miriam Brooks. She could hardly believe all that time had gone by—it seemed like a dream that had passed in the night. She wiped a tear from her eye as she listened to one after another of her friends and co-workers tell of her achievements. The last was a female teacher of only a few years experience.

“And now, I would like to introduce some people that can speak from personal experience and tell you what Miriam Brooks has meant to them.. May I present the students of Miriam Brooks.” She turned toward the door and began to applaud as there entered nearly one hundred individuals in single file, passing by Miriam, some touching her shoulder as they filed in, until they had all entered and stood in several rows at the head of the gym. There were a range of ages and Miriam readily recognized most of the faces, although her memory was a bit pressed to immediately recall names for every one of them. The first stepped forward to take the microphone.

My name is Bob Tallman. “Bobby” to Miss Brooks. He smiled at her as he spoke. I am married with three children, run a successful business in Duluth and wouldn't have missed this chance for anything in the world.” At this point Bob Tallman began to choke up a bit. When he had regained his composure, he continued. “Other than my own mother and my wife, no woman has had more influence in my life than Miss Brooks. I can honestly say that much of who I am today is because of her. When I entered her class many years ago, I was a scared little boy that was constantly picked on by other kids. I was unsure of myself and came to expect mistreatment. I would have lived a life always wondering if I was good enough to make the grade. She helped me to see my worth. I owe...her...so much.”

One after another, each took a few minutes to honor the woman that had made such changes possible for them. Each came by and took a moment to hug her and thank her. It was quite the day for Miriam and one she would never forget. Little had she known the influence she would have on the lives of her students over the years. And even less expected was the influence they would have on one another during their stay in her care. The respect and proper treatment they had shown one another had built their self-esteem tremendously and they had become better people because of it, carrying on those teachings to the next generation and eventually beyond.

As Miriam left the school for the last time, she paused to look back one more time to the building that had encompassed so many of her years. In her mind she heard a voice that she hadn't heard for so long.

'Miriam...a nice Biblical name. My name is Timothy.' The voice still rang in her mind.

Miriam smiled and walked to the cab that was waiting for her.

Ch. 24 -- Too Much Faith

Too Much Faith
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

The man walked calmly into the University science building, entered the lecture hall and took a seat in the back row, without being noticed or questioned by anyone. For all they knew, he was a student, just as any of the others who were attending this lecture. He had no paper or pen to take notes, but he paid close attention to every word that was spoken by the lecturer.

“And before I close, let me add this one thing. You are in this course because you are presumably serious about science. This is the 21st Century and there is no room in my class for superstition, myth or flights of fancy. There will be no relying on opinion or religious faith. Such things are nonsense and I will not tolerate them in the least degree. They are indefensible and without substance. Do I make myself clear?” He then waited for the students to look cowed and nervous, as all of his students had in previous years. When he was just about satisfied that he had shown them who was boss, a voice in the back of the room called out for his attention.

“Professor Novacek?”

“Yes, who is it?” He peered about until a hand was raised to identify the speaker.

“My name is Kumen, Professor.”

“Ahhh...like the spice.” His smug smile caused a wave of chuckling to go through the room and ease the tension to some degree.

“Yes, exactly. And I trust that I will spice up many of your classes in the near future.” His manner was one of complete confidence and comfort. Here was not the average student, it appeared.

“What is it, young man? Your question, please.” He was all business again.

“Yes. I beg to differ with you, Professor, in regards to the question of defensibility of opinion and matters of faith. They may indeed be far more defensible than you have assumed.”

A hushed gasp now took the place of the previous humor and heads whipped around to either capture the look on the face of the challenger or the contempt of the Professor, who now smiled condescendingly, his body language showing his total disdain for the comment. He had not lied—there would be no tolerance for certain subjects.

“It is not a matter of whether I have assumed, young man. I never assume anything, but in this one instance I will make an exception. I 'assume' you are prepared to defend the indefensible and be humiliated in the effort. Am I correct?” His hands were clasped arrogantly behind his back, his chest out and his head held high in defiance of this young upstart.

“You are only partially correct, sir. I am prepared to defend my position, but I will not be humiliated. In fact, I propose that we might come to an amiable agreement before your course is far passed.” The confidence was still there, not ruffled in the slightest. Something about him disturbed the professor slightly.

“We shall see, young man. We shall see. I will give you adequate rope to hang yourself, if that is what you desire. Class dismissed!” And with that, he gathered his materials and headed toward the door. The class was stunned and few moved from their seats, turning instead to study this man who presumed to know more than his University Professor. The young fellow stood calmly, smiled at a few that met his eye and proceeded from the lecture hall himself.

One young man nearly jumped over others to catch to this overly-confident individual who had openly challenged such authority. He darted in and out of the bustling students in the hallway and finally caught up.

“I just want to know—are you crazy or do you really know what you are doing?”

“We shall see, young man—we shall see,” Kumen said with a smile. He reached to shake the hand of his pursuer. “And what is your name?”

“Mel Hales, at your service.” He happily offered his own hand in return.

“So, you want to know if I am crazy, is that right? I have been accused of far worse, I am afraid. But I do intend to illustrate how inaccurate Professor Novacek's beliefs are.”

“How are you going to do that? Forgive me if I say I believe you have bitten off more than you can chew.”

“Thank you for your confidence and faith in me, Mel. May it be well rewarded.” He laughed and turned on his heel to leave Mel standing and staring after him until he disappeared around the corner.”

There was a feeling in the air as if it were an electric charge. The students all knew there would be fireworks and each had picked their champions, whether they had openly declared their allegiances or not. Furtive glances shot back and forth around the room, between one student and another and to and from the 'young upstart' and the Professor. A loud rapping of knuckles was heard on the desk at the front of the room, bringing everyone to immediate attention.

“Today, class, I intend to forego my usual planned course material and immediately dispense with an issue that I feel needs attention. If one has a boil that is causing discomfort, one should lance that boil as quickly as possible and then go about one's life again. Therefore, I will now allow my young adversary the opportunity to make his case, embarrass himself and revert to reason and common sense.” He waved his hand in the direction of Kumen by way of invitation. “Mr. Kumen,...if you please.”

“Thank you, Professor. I hadn't expected an opportunity so soon, but I am sincerely grateful for the chance to exchange ideas with you. After all, is that not what a University is about—the exchange of rational ideas?” The Professor was unmoved and Kumen continued.

“I received the distinct impression that you had a complete contempt and disregard for religion in any way, shape or form. I would surmise that your reasoning is that it is all based upon superstition, fable and myth, as you so eloquently put it. I offer an opinion counter to that view. I propose that many of the accounts that you deem to be fables are indeed rooted in truth and can be defended via scientific reasoning and argument.”

“I see. So, you accept without question such tales as a parting of the Red Sea, the worldwide flood and the walking on water by Jesus, called the Christ?”

“Yes, sir, I do. Those and more.”

“Young man, this is going to be a quicker victory than I had anticipated. Alright, I am certainly anxious to know how you can think for one moment that an inland sea would part and allow several thousand individuals to supposedly cross through on dry ground. Proceed, if you will.” The Professor crossed his arms and leaned back against his desk, obviously expecting to be amused and already showing it.

“Thank you. You said we shouldn't assume anything, so I intend to show by fact that these things are possible. Let us first start with the evidence from sonar. Sonar shows that the Red Sea has a ridge across it, from one side to the other, that is very shallow by comparison to the rest of the floor of this body of water. This place would be a reasonable location for a crossing, provided the waters could be abated long enough to allow it. If you read the account of that crossing, you will note that it says the winds blew continuously from one direction and caused the waters to withdraw. If the waters were to withdraw, would they not first withdraw from the shallowest portion of the Red Sea? And if you add into this mix the effect of lunar tides, it would be even more pronounced, would it not?”

“Are you saying, sir, that this is how it happened?”

“I am saying nothing of the sort. I am merely offering a reasonable scientific theory as an alternative to claiming that it could never have happened at all. I believe you said that the position was completely indefensible by scientific means, did you not?”

The Professor was beginning to fume a bit, but kept it in check. “Yes, I did. I would concede that you have offered a plausible alternative, based in reasonable and probable cause.”

“I am not finished, Professor. If you will pardon me, you will be interested in noting that recent diving expeditions in the Red Sea have shown a band of debris across the floor of that body of water and reaching from side to side, that is consistent with the remains of chariots and weapons of the era that is recorded in the work in question. The band of debris is located exactly in this shallow area of which I have spoken.”

There was a mild quaking in the Professor now that disappeared as quickly as it had come. “Alright, young man. Not bad. Not bad at all. Now, how would you explain where all that water went after the flood that is recorded in this Bible of yours? After all, if it was enough water to cover the tops of all the mountains of the earth, it should still be here, don't you think?” There were a few snickers at this comment and all eyes turned to Kumen in expectation.

“Professor, I fear that you have made the same mistake made by too many others in the academic world today. They jump to confusions without knowing and examining the full text of the event. If you will examine the text carefully, you will notice a few details that are very important. One is that the 'fountains of the deep broke forth' and the other is that the waters 'continually came and went.' A third might be that it rained for forty days and nights and it should be noted that it had never previously rained upon the earth at this time. I ask you, Professor, what is inferred in a phrase that describes waters that continually come and go? What does this remind you of?”

“It would seem to describe tidal actions...but tides alone would not be enough to cover the mountains with standing water.”

“Where does it say it was standing water? There is no such account. I would ask you, Professor, what single event might trigger the breaking forth of vast amounts of underground water and would also cause tidal events of such magnitude that they would crash above and over the mountain ranges of the world?”

The Professor was no longer on the offensive as he had planned. He was now in the unenviable position of being the object of attack, or so he thought. But he must maintain dignity and control at all times, being patient and knowing his opportunity for victory would come.

“The only event that I can think of which would cause such repercussions would be the close passing of an exceptionally large astral body. I know of nothing else that might have such effect.”

“Very good, sir.” Kumen had somehow become the teacher and Novacek the student, a state that was unfamiliar and extremely uncomfortable for one used to being the unquestioned authority. “You are exactly correct. In fact, the tidal repercussions would be of such magnitude that they could easily last weeks on end, traveling around the earth many times before finally coming to a state of rest. And the canopy of water that had previously surrounded the earth in the atmosphere would have become so disrupted that rains would ensue, aided by the spewing forth of vast quantities of highly pressurized ground water, perhaps reaching heights of many miles into the atmosphere. In fact, sir, the range of mountains that is described from the southern American continent to the far northern American continent is indicative of just such an object passing from south to north and disrupting the crust of the earth to the point of failure and upwelling.”

Novacek now paused for an uncomfortably long period of time, unable to determine what he might say to recapture the dominant position he had lost. Finally, with all eyes on him, he spoke in a softer voice and with a sense of barely controlled anger.

“You seem well versed in geological events and probable theories, young man. I wonder if you might explain to me how anyone, mortal or deity could walk upon the surface of water.” He waited in anticipation of the answer that he knew...no, he hoped would come. He had somehow lost two rounds with this intruder and now he was anything but convinced he would win the third, regardless of how illogical such an event might be.

“Certainly you have heard of ice, Professor.” He waited a moment for effect. It came in the form of a laughter that crossed the room in wild abandon. When it had died down, he added, “and perhaps you are somewhat familiar with Quantum Physics, as well.”

Confusion was apparent in the Professor's countenance. How was he to answer this one? He desperately tried to think ahead of and outflank this enemy who would have him believe in the supernatural against his will. But no answers came.

“I have a passing acquaintance with it. Surely you don't profess to be an expert on the subject, do you?”
“Certainly not, Professor. I simply provide a reasonable and scientific alternative to myth and fable. I believe that is the goal of this course.”

Novacek felt a sudden sense of his own intellectual demise. His arrogance and pride had not saved him from defeat. His academic stature and position had not spared him a very public humiliation. He felt with exquisite pain the fact that the tide of student opinion had turned away from him. They were no longer afraid and intimidated. No longer would they be bullied. But worse than that, no longer would he be so sure of himself and his position. There would always be that little doubt that would creep in and stab at him when he least expected it. Always the wonder if another bright student would challenge him and win.

“Yes, that is the intent of this course. Pray tell, what does Quantum Physics have to do with walking on water?” He tried without success to maintain an attitude of detached arrogance, but knew he was failing miserably. Were his knees really shaking or was it his imagination? He felt as exposed as one does in that dream where you discover yourself in a public place without benefit of clothing.

“Why, it has everything to do with it, sir. Surely you are aware of the experiments that have been done with fine matter and the effect of human thought on that matter? As you must know, it reacts to predetermined conclusion. In other words, it obeys our biases. Matter is evidently capacitated to receive intelligence and respond in an intelligent manner to our wishes and opinions of how it should behave. Several scientists have shown this under laboratory conditions.”

Professor Novacek figuratively felt the last nail pierce his skin as it was pounded into the coffin.
He knew what was coming and there was no arguing with the science he had attached himself to so faithfully. His world was shaking at the core and there was nowhere to hide.

“So, Professor, if this matter can be affected by such puny minds and efforts as our own, what might a sufficiently advanced race be capable of doing in this regard? Might we not, by comparison with our seemingly insignificant abilities, refer to such an advanced race as 'gods'?” Kumen waited patiently for an answer. He waited a long time before it came. Such a silence enveloped the lecture hall this day as had never been known since it was first filled. One could have heard the proverbial pin drop. Professor Novacek began a false start, cleared his throat and began again, in a quiet and humbled tone.

“Mr. Kumen, you have given me many new things to consider. I am not certain how I will bring to conformity my beliefs to date with what you have just presented. I have a feeling that you hold in reserve much more knowledge that might astound me, as well. You have not proven anything beyond a doubt, but I asked only that you provide rational and reasonable alternatives, did I not? You have done that admirably. I wonder, sir, if you might honor me with a private meeting to discuss further the implications that I feel this knowledge will have in my life hereafter.”

Mouths hung open in amazement throughout the classroom. Silence still reigned as Kumen and the Professor gathered their belongings and Novacek quietly dismissed the assembled body.

“Young man, I have spent years thinking that no rational being could have faith in such tales as the religious world presented. Now, with what you've presented, I must wonder if the only rational beings are the ones who can accept their word. It adequately encompasses and meshes both world views.”

“Professor, I don't have enough faith to write God out of the equation—it's as simple as that.”

“And I'm not certain that I do anymore, either. Won't you come to my office for a visit, please?”

“It would be my pleasure and an honor, sir. Thank you.”

And with that, the two walked together toward a common purpose at last.

Ch. 25 -- Who Am I (The Bridge)

Who Am I (The Bridge)
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

Kincaid Freeman sat with his face in his hands, crying like a baby. He had reached the end of his personal endurance and could take no more. The entire week had been like a compressed playback of everything that had ever gone wrong in his life. He felt worthless to himself or anyone else and just wanted to end it all—for the first time in his life, he wanted it over.

The weather even reflected his pain this night. It was cold, windy and raining. Kincaid kept going over in his mind how many ways he could accomplish the task at hand, but finally decided upon the big bridge over the river. The fall alone would probably knock him out and shorten his suffering. And so he gathered his keys, walked to his car and began his last journey in life.

Parking his car off the road at the end of the bridge, Kincaid locked it out of habit and then laughed at the insanity of it. How ridiculous to care what happened to it after he was gone. He opened it again and threw the keys on the seat, slamming the door behind him. Now he looked with all seriousness at the bridge ahead of him. It had shining highlights from the rain and the few lights that lit it against the darkness. And it would be the last thing Kincaid Freeman would see.

Kincaid gathered his courage and walked stiffly to the center of the bridge and stood for the longest time looking down into the dark waters below. The steel railing was cold to the touch and sapped the heat from his hands in moments. With a sudden gasp of breath, Kincaid began to climb onto the railing to take his position for the final plunge that would end his suffering, once and for all. Just as he was standing erect on the steel railing, he was shocked to hear a male voice from behind him. He jumped at the sound and that was almost enough to knock him into the water. Reaching out for the strut nearest him, he grabbed hold to steady himself and turned about to see who was talking.

“You thought you could do this alone, I guess.”

“”I don't know what you mean. What are you talking about?”

“You know exactly what I'm talking about. Who comes out to a dark bridge in the middle of a cold and rainy night, climbs up on the railing and claims to be sight seeing? You came for something else—something of a more permanent nature, didn't you?”

“What does it matter if I did? It's my life.”

“Exactly. And you are going to snuff it out forever. Might I ask you why?”

Kincaid couldn't believe what he was hearing. He had thought he would be alone, jump from the railing and that would be the end of it. Now he had this idiot with him that seemed intent on gaining an interview.

“Pardon me for being abrupt, but what business is it of yours?”

“You're kidding, right?”

“What?” The question took him off guard and he could think of nothing else to say.

“It's my business if I find someone trying to take his own life, destroy everything he ever was or will be and it's my business if you expect me to stand by and just watch as you do it.”

“Listen, no one invited you here. You can go at any time.”

“You make it sound so easy. Just go and forget it all, right? I don't think you understand how hard that will be. I could go, but I could never forget. In fact, I would most likely have nightmares the rest of my life. Is that what you want for me? Is that your parting gift to a total stranger who never did you any harm?”

Kincaid absently shook his head and began to mumble something incoherent before breaking down into tears again. The stranger began again.

“Do me a favor and at least sit down while we talk, okay?”

Not knowing how else to handle this new wrench in the gears, Kincaid sank slowly to the rail and listened. He could hear the water below and he heard the footsteps of the man who had come to foil his plans for a quick and relatively painless death.

“Thank you. Heights make me nervous and you standing up there just accentuated it for me. Let's get one thing straight right now, okay? If you do jump in, don't expect me to come after you. I can't swim that well and there's no use two of us drowning, wouldn't you agree?”

A nod of the head was all that came as an answer. The fight and determination was gone now. Kincaid wasn't sure he could gather the courage and drive to do this again. What did he have to lose by listening to this man?

“What did you think you were going to accomplish by this?”

“I want to end the pain, that's all.” The response was slow and almost zombie-like, devoid of all emotion.

“And you thought this was the way to do it.” The man shook his head and blew out a loud puff of air. “Don't you have family still living? Mother and Father?”

“Yes.”

“Then you figured ending your pain wouldn't affect them at all, right? That they wouldn't care and wouldn't feel it at all?”

The words stung like a needle, going right to the heart. Kincaid had almost forgotten anyone but himself in this matter. Now it all cam rushing back.

“Look, what do you want from me?”

“I want to show you that you mean something and your life is valuable. Then maybe we can go for a bite to eat—my treat. Alright?”
“Do you think that's funny?” Kincaid was beginning to show exasperation.

“Good. You're not so sad anymore. No, I don't think it's funny. I think it's necessary. A man has to eat now and then, you know. Don't you do that? Never mind. Let's get to the important stuff, shall we?”

“And what would that be?”

“It would be the value of your life in the big scheme of things. You think you don't matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. You matter a great deal.”

“I find that hard to believe.”

“I'm sure you do in your limited view of the world and life. Have you stopped to ask yourself why you would come out here on a such a miserable night, expecting to be alone, and would have another here to save your life?”

Kincaid thought a moment before responding. It had to be coincidence. Who else knew he was coming here? He hadn't even known it himself until he had decided conclusively what his method would be.

“Coincidence.”

“No, it isn't. I was minding my own business and had an overwhelming urge and impression that I must come here. Do you really think I wanted to be out on a night like this? I wouldn't be here except for you. You owe me something for that. Don't you think?”

Kincaid was getting angry now. “What's with this flippant attitude? I thought you cared what happens to me.”

“I do. I'm just trying to get you to care, too. You seem to want to fight me all the way. Do you really think it was coincidence...Kincaid?”

“How do you know my name?” Kincaid was truly shocked now. Forgotten was the plan to kill himself.

“How do you think? I told you—I was sent here to stop you. How else would I know?”

“Okay, let's say I believe you—why would anyone care what happens to me?”

“Besides your parents...and a sister, if I am not mistaken...you are important to God. He is your Father and cares very much what happens to you. If you do this, Kincaid, you will never be able to be forgiven. If you think the pain and torment is bad now, wait until you taste it for eternity.”

“But it hurts so much. What can I do to stop it?” His pleading was sincere.

“You need to know who you really are and why you are here. I want to teach you that. When you know these things, you will have a much better opinion of your worth. Are you ready to go?” He extended his hand and waited.

“Alright.” Kincaid slid slowly from the railing and approached the stranger to get a better look. “You really were sent to stop me?”

“Absolutely, Kincaid. Your worth is more than you know. You just don't know enough yet...and I'm here to bridge the gap for you.” He smiled warmly, placed a reassuring arm around Kincaid's shoulders and led him off the bridge to safety and true peace.

Ch. 26 -- First Watch

First Watch
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

“Well, as I look back on it now, I know that I owe him my life. I never met him then and I still haven't to this day—and yet I would be dead without him. That takes some explaining.

“I was a new private during the Great War, what you would call World War One. At that time, there hadn't been a second war of that magnitude, so we didn't call it that. We just hoped there would never be such a war again. Anyway, I was on watch for my first time. It was important work. If you didn't pay attention, or if you fell asleep, the enemy could have the advantage and completely overtake your camp by surprise. It was so important to stay alert that to fail was punishable by death.

“So, there I was, my first night on the watch. I have to admit that I hadn't slept well in several nights, what with the fighting of the previous days. And I was to get less sleep this night, due to my assignment.

“The first few hours weren't too bad. I was fully awake and alert during that time. But as the monotony wore on, I decided that it wouldn't hurt to stop patrolling a bit and just stand still now and then. I would still listen for any noise that might come my way. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. Things didn't end up the way I planned.

“Before I knew it, I was closing my eyes now and then. After that, I was finding it hard to keep them open. And of course it became sitting down to keep from falling down. Soon I was asleep altogether. Sitting there as pretty as you please, possibly snoring. What an invitation for the Germans I must have been.

“I don't know what time it was, but all of a sudden I came awake with a real start. I mean wide awake. I listened real hard, but all I could hear was the beating of my own heart. Believe me, it was pounding. But what had woke me up? Well, sir, it was a voice in my ear, just as plain as you hear me right now. Maybe plainer. Needless to say, I stood up quick and started to patrol again—and this time I meant it. It wasn't too long before I thought I saw some movement on a ridge not far from the camp. Dark as it was, there was enough back light to catch some motion, so I ran back real quick and reported what I had seen. We were ready for the Germans when they came. They had hoped to take us by surprise, but they failed.

“What really shocked me afterward, though, was the evidence that I hadn't just dreamed it. I went back later to where I had been sitting and there were fresh footprints in the wet dirt there beside me. They weren't Army boots, neither. Right there in the mud where I was. The voice was real, I tell you. I don't know who it was, to this day, but I do know that if he hadn't woke me up, I would have been dead and so would a lot of other men. I owe that man a debt of gratitude, I can tell you. I hope to someday get a chance to thank him, but I'm pretty sure that will never happen, unfortunately. Thank God he came along when he did. He saved a lot of men that night.”

Ch. 27 -- Unfinished Business

Unfinished Business
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

Click, click, click! The clattering of aluminum crutches broke the attentive silence as the first speaker got up to address the congregation. The assigned speaker waited patiently and respectfully for Brother Delmar to take a seat. It didn't feel that way to Brother Delmar, though. He felt too conspicuous as he entered, making noise and disturbing everyone's concentration. This is how he saw himself—a disturber in a peaceful kingdom. It wasn't bad enough that he arrived late most of the time, struggling with his newly acquired handicap; he had to make a terrible racket as he did so. Maybe I will just sit in the foyer from now on, he thought. Or maybe I will just stop coming to church altogether and save myself some embarrassment.

It had been a horrendous thing to have lost his wife just after they joined the church, but he had within a few weeks of that event been hit by a car while crossing the street to retrieve his mail. It seemed like adding insult to injury. Why would a loving God allow such a thing? Brother Delmar knew better than to think God would cause it, but he did question why it was allowed. Two such terrible events in such a short time was very near the limits of his endurance.

Brother Delmar sat and removed his hands from the crutches, leaning them quietly next to him against the bench. The meeting went on as planned and he did his best to listen to the messages that were shared. Just as his mind was wandering, he came to full alert at what he heard.

“God never gives a challenge without also giving a potential blessing at the end of it. Never!”

Brother Delmar didn't hear anything else the rest of the meeting. His mind was racing over those words, repeating them continuously. He certainly had a challenge, but what was the blessing that accompanied it and what did he need to do to earn it? He had to know.

A week went by, two weeks and then three. All the while, Brother Delmar pondered what his blessing might be, but to no avail. One day it occurred to him that he hadn't fasted to find God's will in the matter. Immediately, he began to fast properly and set aside the equivalent amount of money as an offering, praying more earnestly than before to know his required course of action. It was some time before his answer came.

One day, out of the blue, the thought sprang suddenly upon him that he honestly wasn't sure he knew the real nature of his challenge, let alone what his blessing was to be. He was looking at the whole thing in reverse and that was truly a shock. That very day he began anew to consider his life and direction.

The wind was blowing softly through the trees on Brother Delmar's street as he sat, quietly pondering, on his front porch. The gentle swaying motion of the branches had so fully captivated him that he didn't notice the man approaching from down the block.

“Excuse me, sir. Might I put you out for a glass of water? I've been walking a long way today and I'm very thirsty.”

Brother Delmar studied the man's face closely for a few seconds and decided that he looked harmless enough. Grabbing his crutches, he heaved himself to a standing position and acknowledged that he would go get some water. When he returned with the glass, which was extremely difficult with his crutches, the man was waiting on the porch. He held the door open as Brother Delmar reached it.

“Oh, thank you so much.” He drank deeply and sighed as he remove the glass from his lips. “You have no idea how good this is right now.”

“You're quite welcome. Won't you have a seat for awhile?” He nodded toward the chair next to his.

“Yes, please. And thank you. I'm very tired.” The stranger sat heavily, then paused for a moment, looking about at his surroundings before speaking again. “You have a wonderful neighborhood. Have you been here long?”

“Twenty years, give or take. My wife and I bought it as our first home together after we were married.”

“She must love it to stay this long.”

“She did love it,” Brother Delmar corrected. “She passed away a few months ago.”

“I am sorry to hear that. Did you have children together?”

“One son. He left home when he was fifteen and we lost contact with him almost immediately—four years now. He was a bit rebellious.” For some reason the stranger was easy to talk to and Brother Delmar needed to talk today.

“How did you hurt yourself? I hope you don't mind me asking.”

“No. Car accident. I was struck as I crossed the street. It was my fault. Wasn't watching where I was going, y'know? That's the price you pay for stupidity.”

“It could happen to anyone.” He drank some more of his water. “Have you tried to find your son?”

“No. I figured that he would come home when he was ready. So far, he doesn't seem inclined to do so.”

“What did your wife think about it?”

Brother Delmar lowered his head. “She loved him with all her heart and wanted me to search for him. I told her I didn't know what to do to find him. Seemed like looking for a needle in a haystack to me. I regret that I didn't try when she asked. The trail is probably too cold now. She wanted the boy to come home more than anything in the world. He'd be a young man now.” He stared off into the tree branches again and envisioned what his son must be like after the passage of so much time.

“Things change. He chose to leave, but maybe he needs an invitation to come back. Four years can build some walls that need tearing down, but it may be worse to let them stand.”

“What do you mean?” He turned to look at the stranger.

“ If you think you regret it now, how will you feel in another four years?”

The stranger's stare penetrated to the very core and the words had hit like a brick. It was true. He would likely hate himself for not trying. He needed his son as much as the wife had, but had tried to be strong for her and not show it. Now he knew that he had been a fool. Family was what it was all about, after all. The Church taught it and he knew it in his heart. Besides, the boy didn't know that his mother had passed away and he had every right to know.

The sun was now low in the west and it was beginning to cool. “Would you care to stay the night? It's getting too late to go out walking now. How far do you have to go?”

The man smiled. “I'll know when I get there, I guess.”

“Well, you're welcome to stay the night, if you like.”

Brother Delmar treated his guest quite well that night. Dinner, although simple, was filling and delicious. The time was passed in pleasant conversation, which eventually led to the subject of religious faith. When the guest learned his host was a Latter-day Saint, he beamed brightly and urged Brother Delmar all the more that he must find his son and reunite his family. He was firm, but convincing in his manner.

When the conversation had wound down for the evening and the time felt right, a bed was provided for the visitor, whose name was was found to be Mathoni. Brother Delmar slept quite peacefully for the first time in months, knowing he was not alone in an otherwise empty house.

The next morning, as Mathoni was being plied with things to eat along his journey, he suggested to Brother Delmar that they pray together for the insight needed to find the boy. As they knelt, there was a power conspicuously present that had not been felt in the home for some time—not since the missionaries had taught them the gospel. Upon rising, Mathoni looked deeply into Brother Delmar's eyes.

“You have been very kind to me. I want you to know that I am on an errand to do our Father's work and He has shown me that I am to give you a blessing. You are a good man and you deserve some encouragement in your life at this time. Sit down, please.”

Brother Delmar was somewhat surprised at the request, but felt it his duty to obey direction from a servant of the Lord. He had felt the power of the prayer and the overflowing goodness in this man's heart. Certainly no harm could come of it.

As the hands settled softly upon his head, Brother Delmar felt a wave of power sweep over him from his head to his toes. There was no doubt the Holy Ghost was in the room with them. Every particle of Brother Delmar's being was alive in a way it had never been before. The very will of the heavens was being poured into him at that moment and his tears could not be withheld.

“...and I promise you health and strength, from this very moment, sufficient to carry out this duty and find your son in due time. It is the Lord's will and you will not fail, so long as you try valiantly to be in tune with Him. You will not only feel the presence of the Lord in this quest, but you will know the help of your former wife in this matter.”

The words hit hard, with an impact that he had never felt since his wife had passed. '...former wife.' They had not been sealed yet in the temple and he knew this must be accomplished or they could never be sealed to their son, should the boy decide to allow such a thing.

“And I promise that you will have the full cooperation of your employer in this matter; therefore, take no concern for a short loss of time from your profession. Be certain to heed all possible channels in your search and you will succeed. Your challenge is to maintain your focus on eternal goals and have faith that it shall be accomplished, even as you have been promised. In completion of this goal, you will have great blessing come upon you and those whom you serve.”

There was more to the blessing, but Brother Delmar pondered deeply the words '... you will have great blessing come upon you and those whom you serve.' How was he to be serving others when he was looking for his son? It made no sense. But the challenge had been defined—to maintain focus on eternal goals and have faith that it would be accomplished—just as promised.

As he wiped away the tears and stood to thank Mathoni, Brother Delmar felt this sinews, muscles and bones suddenly snap into place and again operate as the Lord had intended them to. He was now physically whole, just as promised. Just that quickly, by the power of God, he no longer needed crutches. The word of the scriptures came to him—the blind shall see, the deaf shall hear and the lame shall leap and walk. He had always believed it to be true, but now he had experienced it in his own life. God had now become real to him.

Brother Delmar found that his employer was not only happy to give him the time to find his son, but donated money to the effort and contacted a detective firm he had been pleased to do business with in the past. He also found that his Bishop had already contacted Church Headquarters to do a search for membership records, just in case the son had followed his father's example. Although nothing had turned up, the thought was appreciated. The detective, however, had narrowed the search to two cities in Connecticut. Work history and records of minor traffic infractions seemed to indicate that this was the young man they were looking for and all they had to do was find a current address, if they could. Brother Delmar packed his things into the car as quickly as he could and, cell phone in hand, drove directly to Connecticut. His mind was flooded with wondering—what if the boy still wanted nothing to do with him? What was he to say to him after all this time? How could he expect the boy to drop everything in his life and just come home with him? These thoughts were about to consume him with doubt when he felt a familiar hand on his shoulder and he began to cry openly as faith flowed back into his bosom to drive away all fear. The words of the promise of God came rushing back to him and he burst into song.

“The spirit of God like a fire is burning...”

The miles passed quickly and Brother Delmar found himself at the intersection of a highway that split and led to the two cities in question, but they were in opposite directions. This was certainly a time for prayer and the exercise of faith. Bowing his head reverently, Brother Delmar prayed in earnest for thee guidance and prompting he needed. The sure voice of the Spirit told him to turn right. When he reached the city limits, he again stopped along the roadside and begged direction further from his Heavenly Father. Again, he was not disappointed.

Step by step he was pointed in the right direction, until he was told to turn on a small dead end lane only a few houses in length. Pulling the car over, he noticed a pile of furniture on one of the lawns. As he watched, a young man emerged from the house and deposited another chair alongside the other worn pieces already there. The fellow looked down-hearted. It was easily read in his mannerisms. He moved slowly and with little to no energy, as if he were a man who had lost his last friend. He then turned again toward the house.

Brother Delmar knew the face the moment he saw it. The body was taller and more full, but the face was unmistakable. This was his son. Wiping away the sudden flood of tears, Brother Delmar slowly opened his car door and stepped out into the street. Closing the door automatically, he began to walk slowly toward the house where he knew the face would soon reappear. He did not have long to wait, as a table emerged from the doorway with a clatter as it struck the door jamb. Setting the table down, the young man looked about to collapse from some secret heartache that he carried.

“Could you use some help with that?”

The troubled face looked up with momentary questioning, stared for a few seconds in puzzlement and then the mouth dropped open in surprise and recognition. He almost tripped over the table as he ran forward to embrace the older man. Long minutes passed in silence, save for the gentle sobbing of both men, as they held one another tightly. Brother Delmar acutely felt the presence of others there with them. The Lord was there and so was the boy's mother. God had been faithful and kept His promise.

When the young man was able to speak, he blurted out, “I wanted to come home, but I was afraid you wouldn't want me anymore.”

“I always wanted you, son. Always. But I was afraid to come looking for you.”

The boy looked toward the car. “Where's Mom? Didn't she come with you?”

“No, son. She passed away a few months ago. You are all I have now.”

After his son shared all the recent hardships he had been going through, Brother Delmar made a call to the local ward of the Church. A trailer was then rented and there soon arrived a few new smiling faces and helping hands to remove furniture from the house and pack it for the trip home. The miles home were filled with questions about how his father knew these men who had come to help, why would they come to help if they didn't know him and what it was like to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The greatest question of all came in the form of what could be done to have their wife and mother with them again. Brother Delmar smiled to himself as he felt again that presence and hand on his shoulder, reassuring him he was now on the correct path.

By the time he had returned home, Brother Delmar knew he had met his challenge and received his blessing. And now he knew more fully what a blessing this would be, not only to himself, but to all who had made effort to help him and all who would share in his joy. He had blessed them by allowing them to serve and he had served them by allowing them to be blessed, strange as it sounded. The hands of the Priesthood had healed him, found his son and shown him that there was unfinished business yet to be done—here...and in the House of the Lord.

Ch. 28 -- The Final Exam

The Final Exam
Steven G. O'Dell ©2009

“What did you get on the exam you were so worried about?”

“You don't want to know. There are many things I am good at, but music isn't one of them. I don't know why I ever took this course to begin with.”

“Because you 'like music and want to know more about it'. Remember?”

“What are you, a recorder?”

Ray laughed softly to himself at the question. Those were the exact words Larry had used when he signed up for the course and now he acted as if he resented ever saying them or hearing them again.

“It isn't funny, Ray. I want perfect grades. This was only the first exam, but I've blown it already. If I get some help, I can bring the average up enough to salvage the course and feel half-way decent about myself. Right now, I can't look at myself in a mirror.”

“What a perfectionist you've always been! Some of us are happy to be average in our lives and you can't stand it if you aren't number one in everything. Why is that? Why did I remain friends with you for so long?” He chuckled again and ribbed Larry good-naturedly.

“I don't know...to both questions. Any suggestions?”

“Yes. I should find new friends.” The sheepish grin showed he wasn't serious.

“Smart Alec! I mean about getting the grade point level up.”

“Well, if I were you, I would find a tutor. Not just any tutor, mind you; but a really good-looking one.” He winked meaningfully.

Ray couldn't resist his friend for long and he, too, began to smile and relax. “That's pretty good advice. There is one girl in the class that seems to get it easily. Gives lots of answers while I'm still scratching my head at the questions.”

“She sounds absolutely perfect. I hope the two of you will be very happy together.” Again he ribbed Larry as they walked across campus to the cafeteria.

Amid the bustle of bodies in the cafeteria, Larry suddenly spied the girl he had told Ray about. “There! That's her,” he said, pointing.

“The one with the mole on her nose, with the hair in it?” Another grin.

“What?! No, you jerk, the pretty one in the blue sweater and black skirt.”

“She's coming this way. Why don't you invite her to sit with us? Remember, she's your tutor. She just doesn't know it yet, so it's your duty to tell her.”

“Uhhh...okay, I need to do this, if I plan to ever pass that class.” Larry took a deep breath and blew it out to relieve his tension and then stood to greet the young woman that approached.

“Hi, I'm Larry. I'm in your music class. I wonder if you would care to sit with us...my friend Ray and I, I mean.” He felt like a stumbling fool.

“I'm Ashley. I would shake your hand, but....” She nodded at the tray she carried.

“Oh, sure. I understand.” He expected her to refuse the offer and politely move on, when she abruptly set the tray on the table next to him and sat down herself.

“Thanks for the invitation. So, you're in the class, too. I don't recall seeing you. Do you sit in the back?”

“Yes, I do quite often. Well, actually, I do all the time,” he corrected. “I notice you seem to know all the answers. I'm afraid it all comes rather hard for me.”

“I do find it rather easy. But I guess other things balance it out; I'm not very good at math, for instance.” She smiled sheepishly, as if embarrassed.

“Oh, really?” Larry perked up at the news. “I'm really comfortable with math. Maybe we could arrange a trade of sorts. I could tutor you in math and you could help me in music. I'm really interested, but it all sort of buffaloes me.”

“I think that's a great idea. We both win!” Ashley grinned brightly and dug into her meal. Ray grinned, too, as Larry relaxed and envisioned that he might save his grade after all.

The tutoring sessions were going well and Larry was getting as comfortable with music as he was with Ashley. She had a way of explaining to him that made it all seem so easy. And evidently she was as pleased with his method of teaching as he was with hers. She had asked him many questions of a more personal nature, so Larry figured it was high time he asked some back or risk appearing uninterested in her as a person.

“Tell me, Ashley, are you from this area since birth?”

“No, actually we moved here from Utah when I was about twelve. But I like it here. I have lots of good friends here, both in school and in the church.”

“Church? What church is that? Are you a Mormon?”

She brightened. “Yes. Have you heard of it?”

“Barely. You now have the sum total of my knowledge on the subject. I just know that Mormons are from Utah quite often.”

Ashley laughed out loud in a contagious way and Larry found himself smiling involuntarily. “Not always from Utah, but yes, we do have a lot of us there. Maybe sometime you would like to know more?”

“Religion isn't really something I get into. That and politics.”

“Let me guess. Never discuss religion or politics because it only causes arguments?”

“Yeah, that's right.”

“Fortunately I don't believe in that philosophy. Not only can I discuss it and enjoy it, even if we should differ in our views, but what is more important than issues that decide your temporal and eternal salvation?” She looked him straight in the eye and waited for an answer.

There was something convincing in her manner, as though she spoke with some degree of confidence, authority or secret knowledge, but it made Larry uncomfortable.

“You may be right, but I'm not ready for that yet, I guess.”

“Okay. Just tell me when you are, alright?” There was no offense, just her characteristic bright smile that he had become so familiar with. Although no raving beauty, there was a light in Ashley that shone forth conspicuously in some mysterious way and Larry was anxious to know what caused it. She just seemed so happy all the time.

Several tutoring sessions went by and then came the next exam. Larry was surprised that he felt relaxed about the information and had retained almost all of what they had studied. He realized that he hadn't expected that high a score, but nevertheless it had happened. The way Ashley taught him to recall the information made sense. There was now obvious structure to it.

“How did you do?”

“ Ashley, I passed with a ninety-seven percent. How was your math test?” He couldn't help but look pleased.

Now it was her turn to beam with pride. “I got a ninety-eight. Thank you for the help.”

She seemed extra luminous today. Here eyes sparkled like never before and her smile was something he could have sat and studied for hours on end. Larry suddenly jumped with the shock that he was becoming smitten with this girl.

“What's wrong? You twitched.”

“Oh, uhh...nothing wrong. So, we both did great on our tests,” he said, recovering quickly. I guess whatever system we have is working, wouldn't you say?”

“Yes, I would. Let's make it a standing arrangement, shall we?”

Larry wanted nothing more.

The course was almost at an end and Larry was now completely taken with Ashley. It was time to ask her out. Besides, Ray had been almost unbearable to him. It was all too obvious to Ray how Larry felt and he kept asking every time he saw Larry, 'Have you asked her out yet?' Larry was tired of saying no and getting scowled at.

“Ashley, I really appreciate how much help you have been to me in music class. Are you going to be taking more next quarter?”

“Not music, but definitely more math. I may still need your help with it.”

“That's great! Er,.... I would be happy to help you at any time. In fact, I was wondering if you would care to go out for a pizza and soda some night soon.” He swallowed hard and waited.

“Larry, I'm flattered and honored that you would ask me, but I have a strict policy of not dating outside my own faith. Thank you, though. I hope you understand.”

His heart fell twice as fast as it had risen. He just stood there with his mouth open, not knowing how to respond.

“I did offer once to teach you more abut our beliefs. Would you like to do that now?” She searched his face with real intent, looking anxiously for any sign of interest. After what seemed an eternity, his answer came.

“I don't know. I never really thought about it.” And he hadn't. Not only that, but he wasn't recognizing through his shock the opportunity to learn more now.

“Oh, okay....” She was a bit deflated herself. Larry was a nice guy and she had hoped to share with her new friend that which was most valued in her life. It appeared that goal would have to wait indefinitely.

“Alright, buddy, what's wrong? Someone kick your dog?” Ray was his old irreverent self, but Larry knew he was sincerely concerned or he wouldn't have asked.

“I asked her out, Ray.”

“I take it that it didn't go so well.”

“You could say that. She only dates other Mormons.”

“Whoa! That's harsh.”

“No, she wasn't mean about it. She just stated it as fact. She wasn't trying to hurt me. Still... it does, kinda.”

“Well, there's plenty more where that one came from, right?” He punched Larry good-naturedly on the shoulder.

“Yeah...I guess.” Larry wasn't sure he was convinced, but the far off gaze began to dissolve and the world came into view again.

More weeks went by and the final exam was given. Ashley passed with no problem. Larry passed with very good grades, too, but the last one was more of a struggle for him. He had found it difficult to concentrate on anything but his time with Ashley. Why did she have to interest him so much?

One day as Larry was crossing campus, he spied a man sitting under a tree and reading a book that was making him smile. Just as Larry was about to turn away, the man looked up, met his gaze fully and smiled more broadly, as if in recognition. Taking one hand from the book, he raised it to wave at Larry, then purposely closed the book and stood as if to invite conversation. Larry was just intrigued enough to stop and find out the stranger's intent. Did he actually know this man?

“Hi, how are you today?” The man asked pleasantly enough.

“I'm doing fine, I guess. And you?”

“Me? Oh, I'm feeling wonderful. I just thought that you looked a bit lost today. Usually you are much more cheerful.”

“I'm sorry...do I know you?” Larry's puzzlement was genuine.

“No reason you should. But, then no reason you shouldn't either.” He extended his hand. “My name is Kumen, almost like the spice.”

“Unusual name. I'm Larry.” Not knowing what to say next, he chose the obvious. “What are you reading?”

“This? It's the cause of my happiness. It's called the Book of Mormon.”

“Now that's weird. I've been tutoring a girl that's a Mormon. And she's been tutoring me, too.” The surprise was genuine. What were the odds?

“Ahh! So, she's teaching you about the church, is she?” His smile broadened noticeably.

“No, she isn't. Just in music.”

“Oh. Why isn't she?” He looked puzzled.

“Well, I wasn't interested.”

“Not interested? How can that be? Anyone who wants to know his purpose on earth would want to be taught about the Mormon church.” He stated it so matter-of-factly that Larry was a second time struck with the air of authority and certainty he had felt from Ashley.

“I...I don't know. I guess I was just too busy with other things. She wanted to teach me, but the time wasn't right for me.”

“Well, don't wait until you have no time left to want to learn what's most important in life, okay?”

“Okay. Umm...I have to get to class. I'll see you around, okay?” And he began to turn to leave.

“Hang on! Here.” He reached to pass the book to Larry. “Take this with you and read it. I believe you'll find it worth your while.”

Larry took the book and looked at the cover and title. It felt strange in his hand. What did they teach and believe? Were they like the Krishna's or something similar? Larry raised his head to thank the fellow, but intending to refuse the book and return it. He got the shock of his life. There was no one there! Turning quickly all about, Larry searched in vain for the man. How could he have vanished so completely? The area was wide open and no man could have simply disappeared like that. That this had been no ordinary man was now quite obvious. And Larry knew instinctively that it was no accident that this had happened to him, either.

There was no way Larry could refuse to read the book now. What he had just experienced was unusual beyond words. Something told him this was a pivotal point in his life—something of great significance.

That night, Larry began to read the Book of Mormon. It was a strange story, relating a journey of an ancient family escaping from Jerusalem. This was a lot like the Bible, Larry assumed. Maybe the Mormons had another book instead of the Bible. He read late into the night until exhaustion overtook him and he fell asleep in the chair with the book still on his chest.

The next morning was Saturday and Larry read for an hour before he even got up from the chair to eat. With a hasty breakfast out of the way, he then began to read again. By Sunday afternoon, he had read the entire book and felt convinced that some great power pervaded its pages. Now he had questions for Ashley.

Monday at the college, Larry begged away from Ray as quickly as he could and sought out Ashley near the Math and Sciences building. Boy, would she be surprised by the sudden change.

“Ashley! Ashley, I need to talk to you. I don't know where to begin, really. I've read the Book of Mormon and I want to ask you some questions about it. When will you have some time?”

She was obviously stunned. “You read the whole thing? I thought you weren't interested.”

“I wasn't. Not then. But I am now.”

“Okay, you're going to have to tell me what made the sudden change. This is rather amazing!”

“I'm not sure I can explain it myself, but that can wait. Can we meet tonight just to talk this over? I mean, no math or anything, just this?” He held the book up to illustrate, unnecessarily, his point.

“Sure! Tell you what—I have some friends who can probably answer your questions a lot better than I can. Do you mind if I invite them over, too, if they can come on short notice?”

“No, I guess not. I just want to know more about this. I have a feeling it's important somehow.”

“Believe me, Larry, it's more important than you can imagine right now. Alright, then, I will arrange for them to come teach you tonight. I'll see you then. 'Bye!” She reached out to touch his hand and squeeze it, then smiled brightly and turned to go. Larry's heart nearly jumped out of his chest. Maybe she did like him after all. Or maybe she just wanted to teach him her faith. It didn't matter right now. The book was all-consuming to him.

Over the next two weeks, the missionaries taught Larry the Gospel—the Plan of Salvation, the concepts of chastity, tithing, the Word of Wisdom and so much more. He felt like a kid in a candy store. At the end of each lesson, he wanted to know, 'Is that all?' And always the reassurance came that there was more yet to learn. Whereas he felt it might have intimidated him at one time, he was now nearly overwhelmed with the excitement of knowing that there was more to come. In fact, the Elders told him, there would be a lifetime of learning, if he wanted it. And somehow, he did.

Larry was baptized on a Saturday afternoon and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the next day in the church meeting house. The gift of the Holy Ghost was bestowed upon him at the same time. Here, in front of all these strangers, he felt more at home than he had in years. A sweet peace washed over him and suddenly he knew what made Ashley glow with a radiance that showed outwardly to all who knew her. It was the peace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He now had it, too, and the tears of joy began to flow easily down his face.

“Ashley, now that I'm a Mormon, too, will you let me take you out on a date?”

“Larry, I'd be honored.”

“Can I ask,...why wouldn't you before?”

Ashley smiled the widest he had ever seen and she said sweetly as she winked, “That's easy. You hadn't taken your 'final exam' and passed it yet. Now you have. Welcome to the Church, Larry.”

Ch. 29 -- For the Benefit of Mankind

For the Benefit of Mankind
Steven G. O'Dell ©2009

Joseph L. Walsh surveyed his guests satisfactorily and lit his cigar. All the most influential and powerful people were here, on the fortieth floor of his office building, attending the event of the season—his party. Once a year he threw a party and only the most noteworthy and elite were invited. He had the highest of standards, everyone knew it and all wanted to be on that list of the privileged. Much like having an invitation to the castle of royalty was to be requested at one of his parties. And tonight was no different. He had pulled out all the stops and withheld nothing to ensure that his guests knew he was rich and powerful. In fact, Joseph Walsh secretly despised most of these people, but he had a reputation, a facade he wished to maintain—to keep the upper hand in the event that he should ever wish to ask favors of the attendees. There was an ulterior motive, to be sure.

An hour or so had gone by in glad-handing the guests, partaking of the catered refreshments and the entertainment that was more ambient noise and 'wallpaper' than anything else.

Just as Joseph was thinking to himself that he was getting bored more quickly than usual, he spied a face with which he was not familiar. The man was staring directly at him from the far wall and Joseph was in some strange manner unnerved and offended by the stare. That was most irregular for him, to be certain. That a man of his accomplishments and social stature could be so easily intimidated was unthinkable. He would never admit to it, of course. In fact, his motto and creed was to stand up to and face down any challenge in his path; to overcome and conquer all obstacles. And this being no different, Joseph Walsh set his course across the room to meet this challenge.

As he was almost within speaking range, the man turned and exited to the next room, an overflow area. Joseph followed, only to find the man now leaving for another room. The man must be a gate-crasher, an interloper, and it would not be tolerated. How he had managed to get in was a question of some consequence. There would perhaps be heads to roll for it.

As Joseph entered the third room, a virtual dead end, he found the man standing quietly with his hands folded in front of him, as if he were waiting for Joseph to arrive.

“Who are you, sir?” Joseph demanded firmly. “I am quite certain you have no invitation. I would know you, if you had.”

“You are correct, sir. We do not know one another—yet. My name is of no consequence at this time. My purpose for being here is.”

“How did you get in? I have guards posted at all entries and you would be required to show an invitation. I assume you have none.”

“Again, you are correct.”

“Then I shall have you removed at once,” and Joseph began to turn to accomplish that very purpose.

“If you would do me the courtesy of delaying that mission for a few moments, it would be in your best interest, I assure you.”

Joseph stopped abruptly and turned again to face the stranger. “And give me one good reason why I should.”

“I could give you many, but since you have asked only one, I shall oblige. Your very survival depends upon it. I hope that will suffice.” He continued to meet Joseph's glare with a calm and steady gaze. There was something unnerving about the man that commanded attention and hinted at a great power held in reserve.

“Am I to understand that you are threatening me?” His blood began to run hot with anger.

“Absolutely not. I merely state fact and wish to help you avert the inevitable if you do not listen to what I have to say.”

“Alright. I will give you a moment to explain...and then I will have you removed as an intruder.”

“Fair enough. You might want to sit for this.” He waited and when Joseph made no effort to follow the suggestion, he continued. “You, Joseph L. Walsh, have been greatly blessed with worldly riches. For many years now, you have only used them to gain more riches and more power.”

“And what is wrong with that?” His defiant attitude was unhidden.

“You do so at the peril of your soul. Can you honestly say that this party is for your enjoyment? Hasn't it been only to gain more influence over those you invited?”

“I see no business of yours in that matter, sir. Now, if you are finished....”

“No! I am not finished. You evidently do not take me seriously.”

“Oh, I take you seriously. I take it that you seriously want me to part with some of my money and give it to you for some lame excuse or cause that you are ready to offer. Well, let me inform you that I will not fall for it. You aren't the first and you won't be the last, but I assure you that you will remember this day for some time to come.” Joseph turned to the telephone and dialed the front desk.

“Yes, this is Joseph Walsh. Please have security come to the fortieth floor at once! And you may notify the police we have an intruder to be picked up and removed with all possible haste.” As he hung up, Joseph studied the countenance of the stranger for some reaction and sense of fear. It had not changed in the slightest.
“It appears you need convincing. Very well. I shall tell you things that only you and God could know. Be informed that the more I tell you, the more accountable you will be held in the eyes of God. You cannot mock the Lord and expect to remain unscathed.”

“Ahhh, so that's it. You are some religious nut that wants a contribution.”

“Be careful, Joseph. You walk on thin ice.” The stare was now more penetrating and the sense of doom that suddenly pervaded the room brought Walsh up short. “When you were alone in the cabin of your ship in the Bahamas last Autumn, you began to cry as you recalled the day you wed Lorraine. You dug out your wallet and looked at her picture. Her loss has been a tremendous burden to you, but you have been adamant in not showing it to anyone. It is not known to anyone but you and the doctor what she died from. You had it withheld from the media. She had a rare blood condition that left her nearly helpless in a matter of weeks. Because you still don't know if it is genetic, you worry that if you remarry, you could pass it on to your children....”

“Stop! Stop this instant! You have paid someone to get this information—admit it! You are a journalist. Well, I will not give you a story, but I will prosecute this trespass to the fullest extent of the law, I assure you.”

Unmoved, the stranger continued. “Tell me, Joseph, how I would be able to buy information form anyone regarding what you do when you are alone and unobserved.”

The intruder may have been unmoved, but Joseph was not. He began to tremble involuntarily. There was no answer to this question—none that made sense. He was mute, shaken and confused and stood waiting for whatever might come next from the lips of the stranger. It was not long in coming.

“Joseph, you will find this difficult to believe, but in a few moments, you will believe me. I am a messenger sent from God to save your soul. You have amassed all of your wealth and yet it does no good in the world. It has not bought you happiness. No one has benefited from it except you and that only temporarily, for when you go, you cannot take it with you. And it will have done nothing here to cause men to praise you, either. You will be a mere curiosity in the minds of the public. A passing name and a fleeting figure in a decade soon forgotten. What I offer is the chance to be remembered and loved by mankind for the good works you can do before your time is finished here in mortality. And I give you promise that if you remarry, you will have no cause for worry. Your children will be healthy all their lives. You have God's promise in the matter. But I also promise you that if you continue to heap this wealth upon your own lusts, you will never find the time or opportunity to remarry and neither will any woman want you. Now, Joseph L. Walsh, what do you choose—the path of God and true happiness in this life or will you remain on the path of destruction you have chosen for yourself thus far?”

“Are you....” Joseph couldn't finish the sentence. He was shaken and humbled, but still not certain that this wasn't a trick of some kind, designed to part him from his money.

“Am I a messenger from God, you were about to ask. Yes, I am. And you still harbor thoughts that I have come to take your riches from you. Joseph, your riches shall perish with you and neither will be long remembered in this world.”

He spoke as if he knew the very thoughts. There was no rational explanation, except to believe that the man was indeed who he said he was. All that he had told was true and no one could possibly have known it without an unseen power to reveal it to him.

“What would you have me do?” Joseph now sat heavily into the nearest chair.

“Find some good that you can do in the world with your wealth. If you want to be loved and remembered, you must do some good for someone other than yourself. And you will see miracles take place more quickly than you can now imagine. Start tonight, Joseph. Don't wait until you have time to change your mind. This is real and you must make a choice if you wish to survive in true happiness in the eternities. Mark well my words, for they are the words of God.”

“I will. I promise.” The thought suddenly struck him that security was on its way and there would be explaining to do.

Joseph quickly grabbed the phone and began to dial the front desk again. It was too late—the men he had summoned were entering the room already. They quickly surveyed the situation and asked in all sincerity, “Where is the intruder, sir?”

Joseph was stunned at the question and turned to point out the man. There was no one to point to. Except for the new arrivals, it was as if he had been alone all along in the room. It was impossible, but it was true. Just as the man had predicted, he did now believe, and so much quicker than he had expected.

“Gentlemen,” he announced respectfully for the first time in years, “I believe the man has chosen to leave of his own accord. Thank you for your quick response. It is encouraging to know that I have such dedicated and efficient employees. I assure you, this will not go unrewarded.”

And for the first time in years, he meant it. As they left, Joseph again sat deeply and heavily into his chair. It was of the finest leather and stuffed to the utmost with the softest of padding. He reflected on how this chair alone was equal to the income of many people for an entire month. And Joseph began to weep bitterly as he saw for the first time the depth of his selfishness and depravity.

“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention? Please.” Joseph waited for the noise to die away and for full attention to be given him. Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to make a statement tonight that concerns something I had never thought I would ever discuss openly.”

All eyes were fixed solidly upon him and every ear begged his word.

“I wish to tell you the true story of how my wife passed away, if I may.” And he did. At the end of his revealing, he made an announcement that no one in the room had ever thought possible from Joseph L. Walsh, the high and mighty king of all he now surveyed or could get his hands on. In fact, there was an audible gasp as he made the statement.

“Tonight I am making it known that I shall donate the amount of one million dollars to begin a foundation for research into the blood disease that took my wife from me. In addition, as I have told you, I was afraid to remarry and begin another family. No longer is that true. I, Joseph L. Walsh, will open my heart to God and to the woman He chooses to bless me with in my life, if indeed He so chooses.”

Several seconds of stunned silence passed and then a wave of applause began to spread, getting louder as it went. Cheers and approval were voiced spontaneously. Joseph was without doubt taken aback by the reaction and stood wide-eyed and speechless at the degree of approval he had received. What cane next surprised him even more—a feat not easily accomplished at this point.

“Bravo, Mr. Walsh! And I will add another one hundred thousand!” came a voice from the crowd.

“And I!” another voice added.

In the end, another three and a half million, nearly, was added to the pledges. Joseph now wept openly before the crowd, who were more touched than ever by his sudden change of heart, desiring even more to be a part of this great and good purpose. The applause and cheering had repeated again and again after each new promised contribution. With each new pledge, Joseph was more certain than before that he was seeing the miracle the messenger of God had promised.
And for the first time in as long as he could recall, he was happy. He was now doing something, not for himself alone, but for the benefit of mankind. And it felt good—very good indeed.

Ch. 30 -- Against The Grain

Against The Grain
Steven G. O'Dell © 2009

“...and all who are not baptized will be cast into a lake of fire! No exceptions!”

The words were rather like fire themselves in the way they struck Todd's ears. It was difficult for a boy of fifteen to assimilate and process such words and meanings in the first place, but there was something else that didn't resonate with him—would a loving God actually do such a thing?

“Only those who take upon them the blood and name of Christ will be saved in that day. All you need to do is confess it aloud just once and you will be saved forever. Who will proclaim that faith now? Will you be the one to do so?”

There were several voices, all mixed and jumbled together, proclaiming their faith and many heads nodded in silence. Hands were raised to heaven and faces to the ceiling as eyes closed and lips mumbled incomprehensible words under the breath. To Todd, it was almost entirely incomprehensible from start to finish. He would have a lot to think over before he could ask any questions of his parents or the pastor.

“Mom, is there really such a thing as a lake of fire?”

“My goodness! What a question. What has you thinking of such things?”

“It's what the pastor said. He said that if you weren't baptized, you would be thrown into a lake of fire. Is that true, Mom?”

“Well, Todd...I think it is simply a figure of speech, but the pastor would certainly know better than I would. Maybe you need to ask him what it means.”

“I will, but I need to talk to someone else first, just to get my thoughts and questions straight. Is that okay with you?”

“Certainly, but I won't promise to have the answers for you. Fire away.”

“Well, it also bothers me to think that good men like Abraham would be locked out of heaven because they weren't baptized, let alone cast into a lake of fire. Wouldn't Abraham be saved? He obeyed God and was a good man. And he was the father of all the House of Israel, wasn't he?”

“Actually, he was the grandfather, but you are right that he obeyed and was a good man.”

“Well, there were lots of good men and women in that time. They taught us about Moses and Isaiah and Daniel and Jeremiah and Esther and....”

Todd's mother stopped him before he started counting on the other hand. “I get the picture, Todd. I had never really thought about it before, but it is an important question, to be sure.”

“Yeah, Mom, it just doesn't seem like a loving God would punish the ones who obeyed him just because they were born before Jesus. Besides, didn't God put them on earth at that time, anyway? It doesn't make sense.”

“Todd, these are some deep questions you have. I think we need to write them down, don't you?”

“Yeah, maybe so.” And he went to get a paper and pen.

“Pastor Williams? Todd has some questions he would like to ask, if you don't mind.” Todd was accompanied by his parents and his two year younger sister, Alicia.

“Certainly, Mr. Hazen.” Turning to the boy and all smiles at the interest, he asked, “What can I do for you, Todd?”

“Well, pastor, I want to know if God would really throw anyone into a lake of fire.”

“That's what his word tells us, Todd, and God cannot lie.” He stopped and looked as if that should be the end of it, but Todd pressed on.

“Would he actually punish men like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob just because he caused them to be born before Jesus taught about baptism?”

The smile evaporated and a furrowed brow now replaced it. “It isn't a pleasant thought to entertain, Todd, but God did say that you can't be saved without being baptized.”

“But isn't that unfair if he made them to be born too early?”

“Todd, there are some things you just have to take on faith and this is one of them.” There was no hint of a smile, either on his face or in his voice.

“But there are so many things that don't seem right, pastor. Moses obeyed and so did Noah and Esther and....” Todd began to go through his list again. “Well, why aren't they better than the ones who didn't obey and were drowned in the flood?”

“Todd, I have an appointment I need to get to right now. Perhaps we can continue this conversation another time?” He tugged at his collar and immediately turned away without any further formalities.

The entire Hazen family stood staring after him in stunned silence. It was only too obvious that there was no pressing appointment. The man had simply felt too uncomfortable to listen anymore. Todd had rubbed him against the grain and it hurt. That now left burning questions in more minds than Todd's alone. But the truth was that it had rubbed Todd and his family against the grain, too.

Todd combed the Bible like never before over the next few months. He made notes on multiple pages and wrote further questions on multiple pages more. He began to wonder if the Bible could really be the words of God if they were to be taken so literally in some instances. Yet it seemed that in other places, where it was abundantly clear of the meaning, the pastor and other members of the congregation would twist them to mean something else—often as an excuse for their condemned behavior, it seemed to Todd.

Todd didn't ask any more questions of the pastor. In fact, it seemed as if the man were making efforts to avoid him, even to make eye contact during his sermons. Perhaps it had something to do with the profuse note-taking he caught Todd doing. At any rate, it was obvious to all but a fool that there was no sense in pursuing any further a question and answer session with his pastor. There had to be another way.

Todd quickly took to searching the library and the Internet for anything he could find on Christian doctrines. There were so many and varied opinions on the same issues that it confused Todd all the more. He had expected to get answers, not just more questions. Slowly the pursuit had become a family effort and a great hunger for answers became apparent to all.

Another month passed before a light shone figuratively through the clouds of doubt. It came from a source least expected.

“Make sure, class, that you study for the final test. Science is no good to you unless it can answer questions! Have a good weekend.”

Todd remembered the way the pastor's words had struck him and now the words of his science teacher had done the same and just as forcefully. Standing quickly, he made a beeline to the front of the class, bucking other students to catch the instructor before he could escape.

“Mr. Donovan? Can I ask you a rather important question?”

“Does it have anything to do with girls? Because I am no expert there. In fact, I don't think anyone alive has figured them out yet.” He laughed openly at his own joke.

“Well, no. I don't think I will have any problem there. I have a sister and she is pretty good at telling me what they think. Except for her and my mom, they're all nuts, I think.”

Mr. Donovan laughed long and loud at this revelation.

“What I want to know is whether science can answer questions from the Bible. Can it prove God exists even?”

All laughter was gone in a flash. Donovan was serious as a heart attack. “Todd, what makes you ask such a thing?”

“Don't be mad at me. I just need to know, that's all.”

“No, no, I'm not angry; I was just surprised and taken off guard by such a question. It isn't every day one of my students drops such a bombshell on me, you know? Come with me, if you have the time, and we'll sit down in my 'office' and hash this over a bit more.” He led the way from the room and Todd came to find that his 'office' was a seldom used set of stairs to the third floor classrooms that were often empty and unused. Donovan sat down and invited Todd to do the same.

“Alright, now what's this about?”

“Well, it started several months ago....” Todd went on to explain his thought processes and the chain of events. “And now my whole family wonders about some of this. I don't know where else to go from here. It seems like all the different churches can't agree on anything except that they disagree on everything.”

Mr. Donovan laughed again, but Todd knew it wasn't mean-spirited. Mr. Donovan wasn't the kind of man to hurt anyone's feelings intentionally. That's why Todd had confided in him.

“And your parents have no idea where to turn, either?”

“Not so far as I can see. We all are bothered by the lack of answers from religion in general. I mean, if religion can't answer questions about itself, what good is it, you know?”

“Todd, you just said a mouthful and your logic is flawless.” He took a deep breath and blew it out slowly and contemplatively. “You may have asked the sixty-four thousand dollar question right there.”

“What?” Todd wrinkled his brow in puzzlement.

“Never mind—old TV game show.” He waved his hand in dismissal. “ Anyway, I guess this all boils down to one thing and that is whether God exists, right? After all, if he does, then he could answer your questions better than any man could.”

For a third time, Todd felt struck, but this time it nearly made him go limp on the stairs. It was true—only God could answer these questions. Why hadn't he thought of that before? “How does a person talk to God...I mean, if he answers, how will I know it?”

“Again, very good questions. First, Todd, are you sure your parents wouldn't mind me talking with you about this? I don't want them to be angry with me or the school. These days you have to be careful. Too many people get bent out of shape too easily. And religion is one of the easiest things to cause it, I'm afraid.”

“No, Mr. Donovan, they don't mind. They want to know, too, and we all talked about it and decided that anywhere we could get answers that made sense was fair. They told me to go for it.”

“Go for it, huh? Well, if that's what they said, okay. Good advice in any pursuit of learning, actually.” He said this mostly to himself.

“Can you tell me what to do?”

“I can tell you how to find out for yourself, Todd. The best lessons are the ones you learn for yourself and not the ones you have recited to you to be memorized. What you experience firsthand always stays with you better.”

“Okay, what do I do?”

The advice had been simple enough. Mr. Donovan had told him that if there was a God powerful enough to create the universe and keep everything balanced and running properly, then he could certainly answer the questions of a sincere young man and his family. And if he was a caring and loving God, why wouldn't he want to?

It made sense and Todd took great comfort from it. The answer was so simple. Why hadn't any of his family thought of it before? It seemed strange that through all the years his parents had gone to church, and after all the prayers they had taught him to say or that he'd heard them say, not one of them had ever thought to ask for any answers to important questions before. They had done plenty of thanking, but no asking. Todd felt it was high time he asked something in return.

“Dad, Mom! I have to tell you something. Sis! Come here a minute.”

“What's up, T?” His sister had a pet name for him that no one used but her and he had learned to get over his initial annoyance with it and finally to cherish it, simply because no one but her ever called him that. It was their private ritual and he loved his sister as much as she loved him.

“Mr. Donovan told me today that we need to go right to the source to get our answers. We need to ask God to help us understand.”

Both Mom and Dad sat in slight bewilderment for a moment. Todd continued.

“It makes sense, doesn't it? We pray all the time anyway, but we just give thanks and never ask for anything in return. Isn't it time we ask for something we want?”

“Well, I guess I don't see why not, son.” Todd's father nodded his agreement absently-mindedly.

“What do you think, Mom?”

“I have no objections. It makes sense, really. All these churches and pastors couldn't tell us what we want to know, so why not?”

Todd now turned to his sister. He didn't have to ask. “Sure, T! I think it's a great idea!”

“Okay, then it's settled. We need to pray together to know the answers. Can we do it right now?”

Right then was as good a time as any. Todd knelt down and his family followed suit in rapid succession. Dad was often the mouthpiece when he was home, so he led the way. But this time it was different. There was a spirit of sincerity and of such an intense nature as none of them had experienced in their prayers before. It was as if there were someone in the room with them that wasn't there before. It was a special feeling of peace they felt as Todd's father said 'Amen' and finished. No one spoke for a long moment and no one wanted to move, but continued to bask in the warmth of the spirit that encompassed them.

Two weeks and three days passed away without any clear answers, but the family, every one, felt a sense of peace that it would come in God's own time. The spirit they had enjoyed at the end of that prayer was just the first of many that had occurred since then. Each time came that sweet sense of assurance that all would be well. Todd wondered aloud at dinner one night, asking why they had never felt such a sense of closeness to God before. None had a ready explanation, but it didn't matter. They felt his closeness now.

One day soon after, the drier broke down just as Todd's mom was about to load it with the wet, just-cleaned clothes. For no reason at all, it had stopped working. The electrical breakers were all in proper position, but still no 'juice'.

“Oh, no! Now what do I do? The clothes are clean and now the drier doesn't work! Argh!” Her exasperation was evident as she talked aloud to no one but herself. But a still, small voice came into her mind and quietly impressed upon her to pack the clothes and make a trip to the laundromat. She had to think a moment to recall where there might be one nearby.

A quick trip to the bank was required to obtain all the quarters needed to dry so many clothes, but in quick order the laundromat came into view. A man was just entering, a book in his hand. Likely he had a load of clothes washing or drying already. Or maybe his wife did and he was returning to meet her.

As Todd's mother entered behind the man with her first batch of clothes, the stranger turned to spy her and immediately asked if he might help her with anything further. He seemed to be a pleasant and jovial man, so she didn't worry about taking him up on the offer for the second and final batch which needed carrying in.

“Thank you so much! Most people don't care about anyone but themselves these days.”

“What is the cost of being a gentleman when compared with the cost of not being one?”

“My goodness! Are you a philosopher?” She smiled and almost laughed at the thought.

“If by that you mean, do I think deep thoughts quite often, then I plead guilty as charged.”

“My name is Emily. Pleased to meet you.” She extended her hand.

“And I am Timothy. Pleased to make your acquaintance, as well. Do you come here very often? From the looks of the wet clothing, one would guess not. I would think the cost would add up very quickly, if you did.”

“It sure would! No, for some unknown reason, my drier picked today to 'go on the fritz'. Strange, too, because there was no problem with it at all last week. Oops! I guess I shouldn't admit that I do laundry only once a week, should I?” She laughed for real this time.

"Well, it can't all be yours. Do you have any children you could train to help you?”

“Now, there's a solid gold idea!”

“So, Emily, what does your family do for fun?”

“Well,...” She looked into thin air as she thought about it. “We used to go camping during the summers, but that's fallen off a bit recently. Should do so again, I guess. It was fun. We play board games now and then, too.”

“Sounds like fun. Any unusual pursuits, hobbies or subjects of special interest?”

“Well, now that you mention it, yes. As a family we have been trying to get some answers to some very important questions. At least they are important to us.”

“Ahhh! Might I inquire the nature of the questions?” His interest was clear.

“We are trying to get answers to some religious questions and no one seems to have the answers for us. We have been praying about it and we feel that the answer will come soon enough, though. I don't know why—we just feel a sense of peace about it.”

“Then I commend you. A sense of peace, especially if the whole family feels it, is a sure sign that you have the beginnings of an answer already and that your family is in tune with the One who can answer the remainder for you, as well.”

Emily perked up at the answer. It had been spoken with such a sense of confidence that she didn't question the certainty of the conclusion. “That would be wonderful! My son, especially, has been searching for these answers. It will mean so much to him when it finally comes.”

“Perhaps I might be of assistance in the matter.” He waited patiently as he looked into her eyes with a kindness she had seldom seen.

“Well,...okay!”

For nearly an hour, Emily poured out first the concerns that Todd had voiced, then the new questions that had been generated by the lack of conclusive help from any church leaders. Timothy listened patiently as she spoke, at times venting her frustration with those whose duty it was to know these things. When finally she had finished sharing all she wanted, Timothy spoke.

“Emily, you have a good mind. I am impressed. And your family impresses me, too. This is an exceptional family you have. Do you understand how few really want to know these things or will take the time to discuss them, let alone with a total stranger?”

“Oh, but you don't feel like a stranger to me. I have been quite comfortable talking to you about these things. Maybe that's a bit unusual, but it's true.”

“Thank you. You are most kind. Well, Emily,...are you ready for some answers?”

Her eyes opened wide and she looked deep into his for a moment before she broke the silence.

“You can answer such things for us?” She searched his face as if she were studying the Mona Lisa up close in a museum and for the first time.

“Let's give it a try, shall we? And if you are as in tune with the Spirit as I think you are, you should have no trouble knowing if I'm leading you right.”

“Todd,....” Emily had just entered the house, leaving the dry clothes in the car, but carrying a strange book in her hand.

“What is it, Mom? Are you okay? You look different.”

“I'm more okay than I've been in some time, dear.”

“What do you mean?”

“Come here and just let me hold you for a minute.”

Todd obliged, but he was extremely confused over his mother's unusual behavior.

“Todd, we have our answers. Honest, we now know where to turn. Call your Dad and your sister in, will you? I have something to share with them.”

Todd made extremely quick work of herding the others into the room and waited anxiously for what his mother was about to announce. As she related the tale of the new friend who had shared her afternoon and his book with her, the look on the faces of her family members began to radiate a happiness that was entirely new to them. The room almost lit up with the smiles they bore. It was most certainly filled with the wonderful spirit they had felt to a much smaller degree previously. It was almost breath-taking in its intensity this time. And yet it was joyous beyond description.

“Dad, I wish that man who told Mom about all this could be here.”

“Me, too, Todd. But somehow I have a feeling he knows what we are doing. And I have a feeling he is smiling right now.”

“Maybe you're right, Dad.”

They both turned to watch as Todd's sister was lowered into the water for her baptism, knowing that Mom would be next, followed by Todd and then Dad. Todd couldn't help but think how important and wise it was to sometimes go against the grain in life. It sure had paid off this time.

Ch. 31 -- In The Garden

In The Garden
Steven G. O’Dell © 2009

The mild sobbing was barely audible in the wooded, off-the-path setting, and masked only by the singing of birds, it seemed out of place. The arboretum and decorative garden should have been a hot spot of the city, due to its beauty and tranquil atmosphere, but the Gardens were all but ignored in a city where so many other forms of diversion and entertainment were available. Perhaps that was why Cynthia Rheames had come to be found there. The solitude was preferable to the unwanted notice of friends and family she knew she would find elsewhere. Only here could she be alone to wrestle with her considerable burdens.

The solitude was not to last, however. A slight rustling of the vegetation tipped Cynthia to the fact that she might no longer be alone. Quickly rubbing the tears from her eyes, she turned to survey her surroundings. A black Labrador retriever was slowly and methodically sniffing the ground on its way toward her. It was all but impossible to wonder what its mission might be. And coming behind the dog was a tall and well-proportioned man who was apparently searching for the same object, whatever that might be. In a moment Cynthia was discovered by the dog and then the man. Both were exceptionally friendly, so she didn't feel the need to withdraw from her isolated perch on the rock she had chosen within the confines of the wood.

"Oh! Hello. I'm sorry to disturb you. Have you seen a Frisbee come your way?"

That answered for Cynthia the question of the object of the hunt. She knew what the errand was. "No, I'm sorry. Are you sure it came this way?"

"I was relatively certain, but it may have bounced off a tree and gone another direction easily. Timbuk may be disappointed, but it isn't the first time we have lost one and it won't be the last."

"Timbuk?"

"Oh. That takes some explaining. I had thought that if I ever had a second dog to keep the first one company, I would call the second one Timbuktu. I know now how confusing that would have been to the dogs and how foolish I would have appeared to do so."

Cynthia couldn't help but laugh out loud at the thought. For the moment, at least, her depression was gone.

“That’s better,” the man said with a smile.

“I’m sorry, what’s better?” Cynthia was puzzled by the seemingly out of place comment.

“You’re smiling now. I couldn’t help but notice that you were troubled by something when I first approached. It’s good to see you smiling now.”

“Oh, yes. It’s nothing, really.” Cynthia tried to pass it off as being of no consequence, but she was anything but convincing.

“A person seldom comes to tears for nothing. Would you care to have an unbiased listening ear to unload your troubles on?”

“Oh, no; I wouldn’t presume to bother you with such things. Thank you, but no.”

“My apologies. It was never my intent to make you uncomfortable. I sincerely wanted to help, that’s all.” There was a sudden change in his manner as he called the dog to himself and prepared to go.

“No, wait! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insult you. It’s very kind of you to offer to listen, really. But I wouldn’t want to trouble anyone else with my burdens.”

“I would never have offered if I wasn’t sincere, I assure you.” His manner did assure her of his sincerity.

“Alright. Thank you. Maybe I do need to use someone as a sounding board now and then.”

The stranger found a tree trunk to sit down and lean against, paying immediate and close attention to Cynthia, who then began to pour out her concerns without measure.

“It’s my past. There are just some things I am not too proud of." She hung her head instinctively and stared at the ground. "And I'm not certain how my family will react to what I feel I need to tell them."

"I see. How long have you been carrying this burden?" The man had, in one question, cut right to the heart of the matter. Cynthia looked up in surprise. She had been struggling with the problem itself for many years and then later with the prospect of having to reveal her secret to those who loved her most, for several more. She hadn't counted the cost in that way previously. It had been on her shoulders and weighing her down for far too long. She must remove it, and soon, no matter the repercussions.

"Too long," she said simply.

"It sounds as if it's long past time to lay it down. Your family loves you, I take it."

"More than I ever guessed possible. That's why it will be so hard to hurt them."

"Who is more likely to forgive quickly and completely than those who love you most?"

Cynthia began again to sob softly. What he said was true--she knew it instinctively. Still, somewhere inside was the resistance against disappointing those who cared most about her. The stranger sensed her hesitance.

"Young lady, how quickly would you forgive your family members if they came to you with the same confession?" He waited patiently for an answer. When it didn't come, he continued. "Likely, you never will meet one who is perfect--not in this life. And often, the greatest burden is that we are loathe to forgive ourselves for our weaknesses, so we torment ourselves far longer than the simple act of humble confession and forsaking would hurt. You do understand, don't you, that the sin you keep punishing yourself for was long ago paid and forgiven, in a garden not unlike this one?"

Cynthia lifted her head in surprise.

"In a garden very similar to this one, the Savior took upon himself to the right to own and pay for the sins that would keep all the other sons and daughters of God from returning to their Father's presence. He who was without sin himself, became sin for our sake. If he has forgiven you, can you not forgive yourself?" The question was filled with genuine tenderness and heartfelt compassion that was irresistible.

Cynthia wiped the tears from her eyes and nodded agreement to the unquestionable logic. It was pure truth and plain to see, unless you were so blind or hard-hearted and stubborn that you refused to accept it as such.

"Then I think you know what you need to do next." He rose from his position against the tree trunk and smiled lovingly. "Don't waste any time in rethinking it yourself, alright?"

Cynthia quickly jumped to her feet and without warning hugged the man tightly. "Thank you," she sobbed quietly into his chest. "Thank you for helping me to see things more clearly."

"Isn't that what friends and family are for?"

The words sunk deep into her mind and soul as Cynthia released her sounding board and stood back to study his face. "Yes, I guess it is."

"Then I need to be on my way and you have some healing to see to. The Lord's blessings go with you always, Cynthia." He then called the dog to himself and with a smile, turned to go.

It wasn't until he was gone from sight that Cynthia remembered that she hadn't told him her name. Her mouth hung open for a good long minute before she regained her composure. Again his words came into her mind. 'The Lord's blessings go with you always, Cynthia.' She was fully convinced their meeting was no accident as she looked upward and smiled in complete and utter gratitude.

Before she left to take care of releasing her burden once and for all, she spent a few more moments appreciating the gardens about her and reflecting on the price that was paid two millenia before to ensure her return to good graces with a loving family in eternity. A sense of awe and wonder had now replaced the sobbing and tears that had so recently afflicted her. Everything was going to be just fine—all because of a Garden.

Ch. 32 -- A Change of Heart

A Change of Heart
Steven G. O'Dell © 2009

--Beyond the door awaits a whole new world, longing to be discovered--

As Eileen Lennox peered out through the thin slats of the window blinds, she spied one of the neighbor children retrieving a football from her lawn. She let the slats snap back angrily as she pulled her hand from between them and turned to reach for the phone. The number for the police station was more familiar to her than her own number these last few years. She waited impatiently as the second ring was interrupted and the dispatcher rattled off the familiar introduction.

“This is Mrs. Lennox, young man. I have an intruder in my yard and I want something done about it, do you hear?”

There was a soft sigh at the other end of the line and then the Officer calmly responded, “Yes, ma'am, I do. I will have someone come 'round immediately.” There was no need to ask her address. Every policeman knew it and dreaded having to respond to her calls. Besides, he had no chance to say more, as the connection was abruptly broken.

It seemed that what had started as once or twice a week was now nearly a daily ceremony. Invariably, it was a child or a dog or her overactive imagination, but the police had a duty to respond, much as they would like not to have worried with it. In the one instance that it might be a real threat, if they did not perform their duty, they would end up with egg on their face for certain. So..., they went when she called, but they privately thought her to be loony as could be. In fact, they took playful bets as to which Officer would 'get to visit' her next.

This day was no different. Eileen Lennox was wreaking her vengeance on an innocent child trying to recover a stray ball that had inadvertently gone into her yard. He was in and out in an instant, doing no damage whatsoever, as all the children of the neighborhood knew what a reputation this woman had. Some of the more naive and fearful were afraid they would be arrested for trespassing, even to get their own property back. These faint hearts would not venture anywhere near her yard with a toy they valued even in the least.

This day it was a rookie Officer who drew the short straw. Kevin Jenkins walked to the door while his partner waited, snickering, in the patrol car. He had not even had time to fully raise his hand to knock or ring a bell when the door flew open and a sour face was thrust rudely into his.

“I swear you men get slower every time I call. Don't you take your duties seriously anymore? You have the responsibility to protect the public, you know. And it's time you do it. I want these hooligans kept out of my yard permanently, do you hear?”

“Yes, Ma'am. Which one was it?”

“Which one? Does it matter? At one time or another, they have all trespassed into my yard. And it has to stop, do you hear me?”

“Yes, Ma'am, I do, but unless you can point out the one who trespassed, I can't know to which parent I need to speak.”

“Harumph! Alright, young man, it was that one over there, in the red shirt.” Her bony finger stabbed past the Officer's face and nearly took the end of his nose off. Why do people have to be so difficult to get along with? Why can't they save their ire for times that justify their upset?

Kevin Jenkins, Officer of the law, walked away from the door and approached the young man in question. He couldn't have been more than seven years old. As the policeman drew closer, the boy's gaze adjusted to the looming height of the approaching figure. He began to look a bit concerned and then almost frightful as Kevin stopped in front of him and looked down upon his upturned face.

“Don't worry, son. I'm not here to cause you any trouble. Can you tell me your name and where you live?”

The boy nodded his head, but was still too stunned to say anything. He just kept staring up at the rookie. Kevin couldn't help but see the humor and as he smiled involuntarily, so did the young child.

“Alright, let's try this a different way, shall we? Take me to your house, okay?”

The child turned and, swift as the wind, ran two doors down. The friends who had been watching from the safety of their own yards, or from behind bushes or trees, now ran out to follow these objects of interest down the block.

Kevin knocked and waited as he heard through the screen door the water in a kitchen sink shut off and, after a brief delay that he assumed was for the drying of hands, a pretty young woman came to the door and opened it.

“Yes, Officer, may I help you?” She looked a bit puzzled as to the meaning of the visit.

“Sorry to bother you, Ma'am, but it seems your son was in the yard of a woman down the street. She complained and we are required to respond.” It was difficult to not stare at her, she was so beautiful.

“Well, if I had to guess, I would say it was Mrs. Lennox.” The woman had a mixed look of exasperation and amusement.

“Yes, Ma'am. I assume your son was only trying to recover his ball, as I saw one in his hand when I approached him. I don't think any real harm has been done.” He said this apologetically.

“Well, Officer...” she looked at his badge, “...Jenkins, I have tried to warn Tommy about the result of going near that yard. We are new in the neighborhood and he hasn't quite figured out all the rules yet. The other neighbors tell me she is just totally unreasonable and they avoid her like the plague, but a few have said she wasn't always this way. They just don't know what to do to change the situation. I guess it wasn't for lack of trying.”

“I guess not everyone can be happy, unfortunately. Listen, I hate to respond to this type of complaint just as much as you hate to have me do so. No harm done, though. Please don't take it personally if you get more visits in the future, alright?”

“I won't. He's a good boy and all he wants to do is make friends, since his father died. I guess it's his way of coping with the loneliness. There's only so much a mother can do.”

Kevin had been about to turn and go to the squad car when this bit of news was exposed. Now he felt a twinge of sympathy for a young mother who was raising a child alone and in a new location. Nothing was perfect even when all the necessary parts of a kid's life seemed to be in place; they were certainly more of a challenge with his father missing.

“If I might ask, how long has your husband been gone?”

“About a year and a half now. He fell from a ladder onto a cement slab while on a construction project. Somehow the ladder shifted and buckled. Some think it may have been defective, others say that something hit it or that the beam it was leaning against shifted. I never got a clear answer, I'm afraid. We got some insurance money and decided to move here, away from the reminder and to a quieter, less costly place.”

“Well, less costly maybe, but quieter....?” He nodded his head in the direction of the complainant. He was captivated by the woman's smile as she laughed and responded in the affirmative to his suggestion. It was now or never. “I didn't get your name, Ma'am.”

“Oh, sorry. Cheryl Robbins. Pleased to meet you.” She extended her hand to shake his. Her handshake was firm and friendly and Kevin was loathe to let go at the appropriate time. He held on until it felt questionable and then tried to recover gracefully. He didn't.

Cheryl Robbins began to blush and looked away for a second, then at the porch, then at the Officer again. He was now blushing, too.

“Well, perhaps when I am in your neighborhood again, it will be under more pleasant circumstances.” He smiled awkwardly and began to back away from the door.

“I would like that,” she said simply.

Kevin Jenkins stopped dead in his tracks, mid-turn, and studied her face. She was being sincere. She really did want to see him again and under different circumstances. She was blushing again and Kevin had the feeling that he was, too. He mumbled something incoherent and nearly floated to the car.

As he opened the door and slid into the patrol vehicle, his partner asked abruptly, “So, when's the wedding?”

“What?!” Kevin's head whipped about in a single stunned motion.

“Oh, come on! I could see the little stars and birdies flying around your head from a mile away. I have to say, she is a looker, though.” He smiled at the discomfort that Kevin was showing and couldn't hide. “Okay, Romeo, mission accomplished...until tomorrow, maybe.”

Kevin was glad for the sudden change of subject, but he couldn't quite forget about Cheryl Robbins the rest of the day. She crept back into his thoughts at the strangest and most unexpected times. There was no doubting that he would find a way to see her again, no matter how hard it might be to think of an excuse.

A few days later, another call came in from Eileen Lennox and Officer Kevin Jenkins was within earshot and overheard the police side of the conversation and the groan of disgust that followed the hanging up of the receiver.

“Sarge, I was out there a few days ago. If you don’t mind, I’ll go this time.”

“If I don’t mind? If you don’t mind.”

“No, sir. Be glad to.”

And he turned to go, but not before hearing his Sergeants’ voice retort--“Have fun, lover boy!”

Word had gotten around, it appeared. He didn’t know how far it had gone, but it didn’t matter. This might be a good excuse to see Cheryl Robbins again. If it wasn’t, he might make it one.

After taking care of a problem more imagined than real, Kevin began to wonder if anyone had ever hinted to Mrs. Lennox that she might herself become the target of an arrest for being a nuisance to the local police department. It was one thing to call if there were a genuine emergency or concern, but this woman needed to get a hobby to keep her busy.

Kevin walked down the block and knocked at the door of Cheryl Robbins. This time, his heart was racing in anticipation and when she came to the door, it took his breath away.

“Officer Jenkins! Did Tommy get into Mrs. Lennox’s yard again?”

“Oh, no, not at all. I just thought I would check in and see if everything was alright with you…I mean, if you needed anything…er, how are you?” He felt clumsy and stupid and with each new word, he felt it getting worse.

But Cheryl Robbins was not the kind of person to react unfavorably to a man smitten and vulnerable. She smiled widely and thanked him for his kindness.

“Well, if that isn’t the nicest thing…. That’s very kind of you. I hope it was no trouble.”

“Oh, no trouble. My pleasure.” And then he just stood there, silent, smiling and looking foolish to both of them, but fortunately, her degree of being flattered was directly proportional to his degree of awkwardness.

“Would you like to come in, Officer?” Cheryl stood aside from the door to allow him to enter. He found himself inside before he could find the word ‘yes’ in his vocabulary. In a moment he had a cold soda in his hand and a light in his eyes that was unmistakable to the world…and especially to Cheryl Robbins.
The conversation eventually turned to the types of entertainment available in town and Kevin mustered the courage to ask Cheryl out to dinner and dancing. It had been ages, she said, since she had gone dancing, but she promised not to step on his feet if he promised not to laugh. Kevin would have done anything short of crime for her at that point. They both laughed when she said that she would at least be well protected with a policeman for her date.

Before he left, Kevin mentioned his previous thought that maybe someone ought to hint to Mrs. Lennox that being a nuisance might have some unfavorable consequences for her. He was somewhat surprised when Cheryl wondered aloud if anyone had tried prayer, since nothing else had seemed to work in the past. Kevin felt almost guilty as he compared his childhood training with the thoughts he’d just had concerning the handling of this situation. It was obvious he had slipped some since his more proper upbringing.

The date with Cheryl was marvelous--there was no other word for it. Every moment had been perfect and Kevin hated to see it come to an end. Afterward, he had a few minutes to get to know Tommy a bit better, too. He was pleased to see that the boy responded favorably to him out of uniform.

Kevin had not been involved in the next several calls to respond to Eileen Lennox, but he had not forgotten the suggestion Cheryl had made regarding prayer. In fact, he called Cheryl and said he wanted her to join him in prayer for Eileen Lennox for the next week and see if it made any difference in the call-in rate. Cheryl had, of course, readily agreed.

It was the last day of the week-long prayer project for Mrs. Lennox and so far there had been no change apparent in the pattern. She had called like clockwork about every other day. Kevin began to wonder when she would consider a butterfly to be a trespasser and report it. He didn’t like the negative feelings she caused him, so he said another prayer each time he had one--to repent of his negative thoughts and to ask for help for Mrs. Lennox to become happier.

Eileen Lennox was just turning out the light in her room and heading toward her bedroom for the night, but she made one last routine trip to each window to peer out and determine if she were safe and alone. As she finished at the last window, a familiar voice called her name softly. It was a voice she had not heard in some time. She nearly dropped to her knees as her legs began to shake and buckle. Reaching for the wall to steady herself, she whirled about to look for the source of the voice.

“Hh-How…Howard?” Her voice trembled as she spoke. She waited for an answer.

“Eileen. I have missed you.”

“Howard, where are you? I can’t see you.”

“Eileen, you are not the same woman I knew when I passed away. You are no longer happy and you are no longer kind to everyone. It is no wonder you are lonely and miserable.”

“Howard, where are you? Show yourself.” She reached out with her arms and walked methodically forward to discover his position.

“Eileen, you must listen. You are not only making yourself unhappy, but you are making changes in the lives of others. There are some tender ones that you could be influencing for the good, but you are missing the opportunity to do so. Tonight, you will have a visit from one who will instruct you in what you must do to become happy again. It isn’t only you that this is important for. Remember that.”

“Howard, won’t you let me see you?” Eileen was in tears at this point.

“I must go now, Eileen. Listen well and take heed to what you are told to do. I will see you again, if you are obedient.”

“Howard, no! Wait! Let me see you.” She was pleading now.

And then the voice was gone. There was no vision, no disembodied spirit, no light shining in the darkness--just emptiness again and the unbearable quiet of solitude. Only this time it seemed far more lonely than ever before.

Eileen found that sleep escaped her completely that night. She tossed and turned and could never find comfort. Every little noise of the house settling and creaking seemed louder than she had ever noticed before. Each gust of wind against the pane left her feeling cold. Even the street light that shone through her window felt like one mocking her from afar.

Around three o’clock in the morning Eileen again heard her name called. This time it was not Howard, her love. It was a kind voice and yet Eileen was frightened. She had been alone for so long that it felt a bit threatening to know someone was in the house with her--someone that wasn’t her Howard.

“Eileen.”

“Y-y-yes?” She pulled herself into a sitting ball in her bed, cringing in fear at what might happen next. Howard had warned her that someone would be coming to visit her tonight, but she had hoped it was just a mistake. Perhaps she had heard incorrectly. But no, she had heard it right after all.

“Eileen, you need not be afraid, if you will listen to me.”

“Alright,” she whimpered softly. “What is it that you want?”

I want what you want, Eileen. I want what Howard wants. I want you to be happy again. When Howard passed away, you closed the world out and became a shut-in, a miserable shadow of the person you once were. That you would miss your husband is to be expected, but you have stopped living right along with him. You died a long time ago, Eileen. You have no joy and you bring no joy to others.”

Eileen began to cry as the truth set in. She could not deny it. She was indeed miserable and saw that she was making others miserable, too. She was punishing everyone else for her own loss. It wasn’t right and it must stop immediately, but she hurt so much. All this time she had locked it away as best she could and put up a front and fought away the things that might make her vulnerable. To drop that wall of protection now would open her up to possibly being hurt again, but to remain closed off would keep her from feeling love, appreciation and hope again. Eileen wept bitterly as she saw herself for what she was…what she had become. It was not a pretty picture. It couldn’t be allowed to continue this way.

For several hours the visitor taught Eileen, giving her insight, hope and the will to live again, not just for herself or for Howard, but to live for those she might serve and influence for good. He told her that she was not the only one who had suffered a loss. A neighbor close by had also lost her husband and now she raised a child by herself in a new neighborhood and a new home. There were times that she could use a friend who understood her loss and would be a listening ear, as well as to let her be a friend and listening ear when the need arose to reciprocate. Eileen felt ashamed for the first time in ages. It was a cleansing experience that she had sorely needed.

Eileen learned a lot that night and when the visitor left, she remained awake thinking of how she might make amends for all the misery she had cast upon others. She knew where she would start, that was for sure.

Cheryl Robbins was doing laundry when the bell rang. Her heart jumped as she thought that it could be Kevin Jenkins. She had taken quite a shine to him. He was so cute as he tried to be calm and nonchalant with her and only succeeded in tripping over his own tongue. She knew it meant he cared for her and that was exactly what she needed right now. Since her husband had died, she had felt a strange peace inside that assured her he felt she should remarry for her sake and that of Tommy. As Cheryl reached the door, she saw that her visitor was an older woman she was as yet unfamiliar with.

“Hello, may I help you?”

“Yes, dear. I am your neighbor, Eileen Lennox….”

Cheryl’s heart jumped again, but not upward this time. She braced herself for the bad news she was sure would come next. What happened surprised her beyond belief.

“I wanted to introduce myself and give you this. I hope you like pineapple upside down cake. It’s been awhile since I baked anything, so I may have lost my touch.”

Cheryl moved her mouth, but nothing happened for a moment. When it finally did, all she could do was stand aside and wave Eileen in.

“I know your son will like a treat. Kids are like that. I should know--I used to make treats for all the kids in the neighborhood before my husband passed away a few years ago.”

“I…I’m sorry…did you say you are Eileen Lennox?”

“Yes, dear.” Her countenance softened briefly and she set the cake down on the table as she explained her story--how she had become a miserable shut-in, afraid of everything and everybody, but mostly afraid of her own feelings. She also told how she had experienced something extraordinary that had made her see the light and that from now on she would be a different person.
Cheryl nearly cried when she thought that her own prayers might have had something to do with the miraculous change Eileen had experienced. And Kevin would be pleased to hear of the change, as well.

Cheryl and Eileen became fast friends that summer and remained so for several more years, until Eileen passed away. The amazing thing was the large number of people who turned out to attend her funeral. Nothing that was said of her was critical. The only things remembered were the kindnesses she had shown others. Eileen had indeed become a different and better person and more than this, she had inspired others to be better, too. It would be no stretch of the imagination to say that Eileen Lennox changed her world by reminding and inspiring others to be kind at every opportunity.

Oh,…and Kevin finally got up the nerve to ask Cheryl to marry him, with Tommy’s complete blessing. They are now a happy family…a family of four.

Ch. 33 -- A Remnant Shall Return

A Remnant Shall Return
Steven G. O'Dell © 2009

--The council fires and promises of God do not burn out--

The fire was burning warmly in the tipi, the embers beginning to become rich and red. Standing Fox, the eldest and wisest of the tribe, looked deep into the flames and said nothing for the longest time. When he finally did speak, he spoke slowly and deliberately and the others listened intently to his words.

“A Messenger of the Great Spirit came to me last night as I sat by my fire. He showed me what will happen to the People for many days yet to come—too many days to count. I have seen that time yet to come, many generations into our future. None of us will see this time in the flesh. Our bodies will long be in the earth, but many generations of our children will pass and that day will arise as the sun from the worlds of darkness.” Standing Fox turned his tear-streaked face upward, held his hands aloft in joy and gratitude for a moment, then lowered them again and continued.

“I have seen a Messenger from the Great Spirit, who will come to the People and bring writings that are the voices of our Grandfathers of long ago. The writings speak of the old religion from the time of the beginning of the People. They tell of the blessings of the Great Spirit upon the People as they obeyed His words. They also tell of the wars that destroyed almost all of the People when they did not obey. Once the People were a great tribe, all one family; then they became many different tribes, all fighting one another over foolish things. In time, there was nothing to do but go different ways and speak no more with one another.”

The other men sat in rapt attention; no sound but a gentle crackling of the fire broke the stillness. The eyes of all were upon him, waiting for the wisdom to come.

“A once great People became scattered like the dust before the wind. In time they took many languages and no longer could speak to one another as before. The once happy and great family was now broken into pieces and thrown to the corners of the earth. No man had the power to gather them again. Many were lost to all but the Great Spirit. He has not forgotten them. He will one day gather the People together in a great council and will make a great work for them. I have seen it.

“The People will again come together, in a time when many strangers that are strong are among them. The People will then begin to grow strong again, also. The words of the Great Spirit and His Messenger will then be written in their hearts, never to be taken away. Great cities will they build and will again have temples as before, in the times of the old religion. The strength of the Great Spirit will be upon them and they will overcome their enemies in a last battle against evil. This, too, I have seen.

“Before that time will come the Messenger to the leaders of our tribes, scattered in the winds to far away places. He will tell them of their past and will tell the leaders that he is one who saw with his own eyes the times when the evil overcame the People, for he was once among them and one of those who worshiped the Great Spirit in that long ago time. He will tell how his brothers chose to do evil and abandon the ways of good. And he will tell of the writings that were buried in the earth to hide them from those who would destroy the words of the Grandfathers. He will tell the leaders that they should watch for the day when the words will again be found and the Great Spirit will call the People again to one family and tribe to do his great work. Teach this to your children and to your wives. This is all. I have spoken for the night.”
~~//~~

The story had been told faithfully around the fires of the People for many generations. No one remembered when the story had begun or who had first told it, but all knew its importance and had taught the same story to their children and grandchildren. And they all looked for the day when the Messenger of the Great Spirit would come to bring the words of the Grandfathers, a day which would rise as the sun on the eastern horizon.

This night, Running Elk had been unable to sleep. He had climbed the ridge in the night and now stood looking down upon the village of his people and thinking of the promises he had heard so often around the fires since his youth. He wondered when that day would come. It had been long ago that the first tribal elder had been told of that day to come. Many other tribes, too, told similar stories of dreams and visions and of a strange Messenger who had come to them in the night with the promise of restored glory. Would he live to see that day?

The sun was climbing behind the far ridge, across the valley, with a golden glow that signaled the new day was coming and Running Elk inhaled a deep breath of the fresh dawn air and turned his face upward to thank the Great Spirit for another day to live. He scanned the scenery one last time before he began his descent to the village and the work of the day.

While he walked he sang the old songs of the days when the People were one and the Great Spirit had blessed them. He sang of the days yet to come, when again the People would be one and would have the blessings of the heavens come down upon them. As he sang, the sun cleared the ridge and his gaze turned to the tallest peak opposite him. He stopped his singing and came to a stop to look more intently at what appeared to be a man clearing the peak and coming down the mountain toward the village. The village did not get many visitors and Running Elk wondered if this one came in peace or had evil upon his mind. To come at dawn meant that he had camped nearby and was waiting for the sun to rise before approaching the village. Why would he camp so close the day before, but not enter in friendship?

The man was still descending the mountain as Running Elk reached the tent of the Grandfather. The Grandfather was awake and bid him enter. Tears stained the cheeks of the old man and his white hair seemed to glow, even in the darkened tipi.

“Grandfather, there is one coming who is a stranger. He is on the mountain even now and comes to our village. He is alone.”

“I have seen him in a dream in the night, Running Elk. He is the Messenger of the Great Spirit; the one we have awaited these many generations. The time has come for the People to learn more.”

“Grandfather, is it true?”

“Yes. Call the People together. This is a great day for our tribe.”

The words were scarcely spoken when Running Elk ran from one end of the village to the other and back, shouting to awaken the tribe and bring them to the tipi of the Grandfather. Many were the ones who rubbed their eyes and squinted as they emerged into the new morning sun. The children ran ahead of the parents and danced with excitement outside the tipi of their eldest tribal member. He stood looking far off toward the mountain and when a lone figure appeared from the tree line, he pointed jubilantly for the eyes of the tribe to rest upon the man.

“It is the Messenger of the Great Spirit. I have seen him in the night dreams.” The voice, though old and frail, spoke with a vigor that had not adorned it for many years. The hands that had hung down now were raised in joy to the skies and the face that had been so worn by the years now took on a youthful glee that had all but disappeared long ago.

The People wept with joy and ran to meet the Messenger of the God of the Dawn Star. The great day had finally come. Surrounding him, they sang and chanted the old songs and they all reached out to touch him and to be certain that he was real. His face was painted with the gladness of a good heart and he touched each of the children and bent to kiss and bless them.

For many days and nights did this Messenger teach the People of the ways of the Great Spirit and their hearts rejoiced to hear it. He told them that the day had not yet come to begin to build again their great cities and temples, but many of the words of the Grandfathers were opened to their eyes and hearts. Ancient wisdom and skills of old, long since forgotten, were restored to the People in the days the Messenger of heaven lived among them. Ways of planting, ways of making clothing and of healing with herbs and ways of fishing and hunting were again brought to their memories. It was a time of great joy. But the time also came when the Messenger announced he must leave and that was a time of great sorrow among the People.

“I have loved you as the Master loves you. It grieves my heart to leave you, but there are others among the People, far off, who must hear the words of the Grandfathers and of the Great Spirit. They, too, must remember the old religion and their hearts return to the God who lives and loves them.

“More generations will pass before you again are visited. You have been a faithful People and I promise you this, in the name of the Healing Master who once long ago came among you and in the name of the Great Spirit who is his Father, that you will again be visited by me and by other Messengers, from among those you now call the Strangers. They will have hearts that are healed and know the ways of the Great Spirit. When they come among you and teach of the words of the Grandfathers, long ago buried, open your ears and your hearts to them. Teach your children and grandchildren to expect the Messengers. That is all for now. May the blessings of heaven be upon you always.”

The People who had cried tears of joy to see the coming of the Messenger now cried tears of sorrow at his leaving. The old ones watched as he climbed the ridge and disappeared from view. The young ones ran after him and walked many miles with him before returning to the village. Each heart was touched with a great sadness and also a great hope.

~~//~~

Hawk Circling, grandson of Running Elk, stood before the council and spoke. His words were ones of deep feeling and importance and all members of the council had their eyes staked upon him and their ears heard nothing but his words.

“My elders and my brothers, I have just returned from hunting the deer in the land to the north and have come bearing a message that led me to abandon my hunting and return immediately to the council. While in the north wood I met a man who dressed strangely, but not like the Strangers we have seen or heard of. He spoke in a manner unfamiliar, then in the language of our tribe when I told him I did not understand his words. He came to me in peace and smiled, remembering my Grandfather, Running Elk. I thought, how does this man know Running Elk when he is younger than me? He knew my thoughts and told me he was the Messenger who had come to our village when my grandfather was still a young man and Leaping Bear was our tribal leader.”

The others of the council all looked at one another and chattered amongst themselves for a moment in great excitement. Hawk Circling waited for them to stop their discussion and then spoke again.

“This man says he will come to our village again in eight more days. He first goes to the tribe in the canyon to the north and to the west. When he has finished his talking with them, he will come to us. He will bring great news to the People.”

Word went among the People of the village, telling the news of the Messenger of heaven that came once and now was coming again to their village. Preparations began to celebrate his arrival and the People began ceremonial cleansing and fasting to prepare themselves for his arrival.

The day had come and the People watched the hillsides to the north of the village. One with keen eyes spotted movement among the trees and shouted to the others. All the People rushed, both young and old, to meet the Messenger. The great day had arrived, as predicted many, many generations before, and as promised to the People only a few generations ago. This day they would receive the words of the Grandfathers.

Some said they remembered this man who had come among them. They had been very young when he had come before, only small children in the laps of their mothers, but perhaps they did know him after such a long time. All cried tears of deep joy to welcome him among them again. He carried with him a bundle, wrapped in deerskin and tied with leather thongs. This he gave to the chief elder among the People. Deer Grazing in Sunlight took the bundle from his hands and wept like a child upon receiving it, holding it to his bosom as a once lost treasure.

The Messenger spent many days teaching the tribal elders to read and understand the writings of the Grandfathers of long ago. The joy they felt was more than words could tell. The Great Spirit was most certainly among them as they heard the words and wrote them in their hearts. The words of the messenger sunk deep into the souls of all who listened. Forever were they changed. No more did they wish to do harm to anyone, even their enemies. They now had love where evil once lived in them.

After many days, the Messenger had made sure the elders knew the words and stories of the Grandfathers and he took again the writings that he might share them with the tribes who had not yet been visited. He promised that soon—very soon—the strangers with good hearts would come among them, bringing again these teachings and would wish to be their brothers. When that time came, they were to accept these good ones as brothers and live with them in peace.

He said there would yet again come a time of great trial and of war, but the The People would eventually learn to become one People again and as brothers of the Strangers, one family of children of the Grandfather of all men. Then, and only then, would the promises of the rebuilding of the great cities and temples become real.
~~//~~

I am George Two Bears, grandson of Hawk Circling. I write these stories as my fathers and grandfathers have told them, for generations uncounted. I have lived to see the Messengers from the good strangers come to our people. They have love in their hearts and follow the ways of the Healer who once came among the People. They have brought with them the writings of the Grandfathers. It was found in a hillside by a great prophet who was led by the Great Spirit to translate the ancient words and bring them to my People. They tell how the Great Spirit once brought our Grandfathers across the great waters and to this broad land where they would be safe and free. But they soon became divided and all but destroyed one another. Their words live on in the book brought by the good strangers with loving hearts. They are called Mormons. We will have them as our brothers.

Ch. 34 -- Nothing To Lose

Nothing To Lose
Steven G. O'Dell © 2009

It was an eerie sight—a town totally abandoned, as if only minutes before. Food still sat on tables, as if the family had only left the room for a moment to see something of passing interest and would momentarily return. Books lay on desktops, opened as if having been read seconds before Willard Smythe stepped into the rooms. Window shades and draperies swayed softly in the slight breeze that seeped through the opened doors and the smell of baked goods wafted in minute hints upon the air currents that journeyed therein. It was so disturbing that Willard awoke with a start.

“Are you feeling well?” The soft lilt of his wife's voice broke the stillness.

“What? Oh, yes, I am well enough, Emeline. I had an unusual dream, that is all.”

“You sat up with such energy that I felt something must be wrong. Are you certain you are well?”

“Yes, yes. Go back to sleep, dear. I intend to do the same.”

Willard reflected the next day on the strange dream he'd had the night before and wondered why such an unusual thing should occur. He couldn't recall having anything for dinner that would have caused such a thing; no sweets or spicy concoctions such as would disturb a man's sleep so. There was a vividness to the dream that was absent in any others that he had ever had. He could hear the sounds, smell the fragrances and odors, feel the breeze on his skin. Everything was tangible and detailed, as if he had been there himself in the flesh.

That afternoon, he spoke with his brother regarding such things. His brother was very open-minded and put great stock in dreams and their meanings. Willard had never been certain that anyone could interpret them accurately, but after the last night's visions, he wasn't so convinced that there was nothing to the practice to be taken seriously.

“Thomas, the things was so real and lifelike that I could not tell the difference between it and reality once I woke up. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced. What do you make of it?”

“You know that I have a fascination for such things, Willard, but I know you are a prankster when it suits you to make light of me. Are you now pulling my leg for some past offense I may have caused?” He smiled, but there was the hint of disbelief on his face.

“No, Thomas. I am as serious as the cold winds of winter. I want to know what you make of it. Tell me true.”

“Well, alright. If the dream was as life-like as you claim it to have been, I would not hesitate to say there was real meaning hidden behind it. I would say it was a vision of warning, perhaps. Did you recognize the town you saw?”

“No, I cannot say that I did. It was somewhat more clean and well cared for than I would have expected, as if the inhabitants were possessed of more pride than the people of many towns we have seen. And the architecture had a few differences that I did not recognize, although they were not greatly pronounced. It was only as if the builders were craftsmen of the highest caliber and made some creative alterations as they saw fit.”

“Willard, have you made mention of this to anyone else?”

“Not yet. Not even to Emeline. I frightened her when I woke with such a start. I thought it best to determine the meaning, were it possible, before I should discuss it with her further.”

“That would seem wise.” Thomas nodded in detachment for a moment and then suggested, “I would think it wise also to make it a matter of prayer, Brother.”

“Then you think this may be from God?”

“It would not surprise me. Anything so vivid as you have related would bear the mark of more than a common nightly imagination of the mind. I would pray about it. I will join you in this, if you wish, for I find it a matter of great interest.”

“Yes, please. I welcome your participation. Besides, it always seemed my own prayers made it no further than the ceiling, while yours ascended to the realms on high.” He laughed as he said it and Thomas joined him.

“Have you gotten any insight into the matter we spoke of, Willard?”

“Not as yet, my Brother, but I feel that soon the answer may come. And you?”

“It would appear we are both of the same opinion. I, too, feel the answer is imminent, but as yet have no greater insight. I intend to make it not only a matter of continued prayer, but accompany it with fasting, as well.”

“What a marvelous idea, Thomas. I wonder that I hadn't thought of it myself. By the by, I shall be going to the Illinois, on the Mississippi banks, to gather the dry goods for the new general store in the village. I hear rumor there is a city there that has sprung up almost overnight and nearly puts Chicago to shame.”

“Willard, I find that difficult to believe. When will you be leaving?”

“Come Monday morning, if the horses and wagon are available, as promised. I expect they shall be. I want to attend to my church meetings Sunday before I go. Are you freed up sufficiently to make the journey with me?”

“I believe so. I have all the crops in for the season and the canning is being done even now. Margaret won't miss me, should I be gone awhile. She says I come home tired, cranky and out of sorts. I have to say she may well be right. Ha-ha! I could use some rest.”

“Then it's settled. You shall go with me to this Nauvoo. With winter over, the passage should be easy.”

“I shall be ready and waiting, with bells on.”

The shadows were beginning to lengthen considerably when Thomas suddenly asked, “Do you hear that, Willard?”

“The singing? Yes. Where is it coming from?”

“In the wood; over there, I believe.” He pointed a finger past Willard's nose.

“Stop the horses. I want to hear this.”

The two listened for a few minutes and then Thomas remarked, “Have you ever heard such a voice? It's almost angelic.”

“Yes, and the song is stunning. I am not familiar with this one, are you?”

“No. I am impressed enough, however, to want to know what it is and to know if this man is a professional who might come to our own village in the near future.”

Thomas hopped off the rig and began to walk toward the source of the singing.

“Brother! Take care not to startle the man. He may be armed, you know.”

Thomas waved off the suggestion and proceeded on his way. When a few hundred feet or so into the wood, he came across an active fire pit and the man who was caroling them.

“Kind Sir, forgive my intrusion, but my brother and I were passing in our wagon and heard you singing so wonderfully that we could not continue without commending you. Such a voice you have.”

“My, my. I thank you for your compliments. I do love to sing and am blessed to have some degree of talent in that area, so I make use of it at every opportunity.”

“I would say that you more than just 'some degree of talent', Sir. You have been blessed immensely in that area.”

“You are too kind. But, where are my manners? Would you and your brother be so kind as to join me for some supper? The fare is not extravagant, but it is sufficient to sustain a man and a much greater blessing than going hungry.”

“Now it is you who is too kind. We would be honored.”

The horses put away for the night and the wagon secured, Thomas and Willard joined in a prayer of thanksgiving for the food they were to partake of. It was simple fare, but the taste was as if the best meal they had ever eaten.

“Might I ask your name, Sir? I am Willard and my brother is Thomas. Smythe is the surname.”

“Pleased to meet the both of you. I am called Timothy.”

“Well, Timothy, either you are the finest cook this side of the Mississippi or I was far more hungry than I expected.”

His laugh was as musical as his singing had been. “I thank you. Perhaps I should introduce you to my grocer. I take no credit for the meal other than the to have asked a blessing upon it. Anything beyond that was in the hands of God, I assure you.”

“You are so modest. I admire that in a man. And you give credit where due.”

“Well, Willard, I have found that to take the credit that is due God is to take leave of one's sense and ultimately tends toward losing any talents one might possess personally.”

“Very astute, Timothy. How true...how true.”

Thomas broke in now. “Might I ask the name of the song you were singing earlier? Neither my brother nor I are familiar with it.”

“Indeed? It is entitled A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief. I find it at once beautiful and sad, so I cannot constrain myself from singing it, but must feel to cry at times when I do. Such a predicament to find ones self in.”

“Might I ask that you honor us with a performance of it? We would be most grateful.”

“You flatter me. The honor would be mine, I assure you. I am grateful for the company of such men as yourselves on a night such as this.”

“A night such a this?” Willard and Thomas both looked toward the sky, as if in anticipation of inclement weather. “We have seen no indication of poor weather tonight.”

“It is not the weather to which I refer, gentlemen. But that is not something of which I wish to speak at this time. You shall know the reason soon enough.”

The reference was intriguing, but the brothers consigned themselves to waiting patiently to know the meaning. As Timothy stood on the opposite side of the fire and began to sing, all other thought fled before the voice that touched their ears.

Such strains as they had heard before were now multiplied many times over in the presence of this master singer. Verse after verse touched their hearts and when finally the last notes died off, the brothers sat in speechless admiration and wonder. The power that reached into their hearts was unlike anything they had ever experienced before. It was as if the very gates of heaven had opened and the song of angels had poured out to entreat them to enter. The sadness that Timothy had referred to was indeed apparent, but the message of the song grabbed a man by the heart strings and did not soon let go.

“It's about the Savior!”

“Yes, Willard. But it may easily be applied to any truly good man. I know of one to whom it could easily apply.” Timothy stared off into the wood as if he were viewing some distant scene that only he could perceive.

“Might I ask his name?” Thomas could not constrain himself, although he felt somewhat as if he were intruding into some private thoughts better left to the owner alone.

Timothy recovered quickly and rejoined them around the small fire. “Yes, his name was Joseph. A better man never existed. And yet his most bitter enemies could find no good in him.”

“So, he has died, I take it.”

“Murdered, along with his brother. The two were as close as brothers could be in life and neither were they separated in death.”

Willard and Thomas both reflected upon what that loss must have felt like to those who loved them. Knowing how they themselves loved one another, it was not difficult to imagine the tragedy of losing two in the same instant. It was obvious that Timothy highly respected the two men, if not in possession of a deep love for them.

“They were your friends?”
“Thomas, they were the friends of any man, woman or child who would have them as such. No better men ever existed, outside the Lord Jesus Christ himself.”

There seemed no more to say on the subject. It appeared too painful for Timothy and it was too sad a subject for the brothers to dwell upon. Each secretly wished he had known these two men of whom Timothy spoke so highly. What extraordinary friends they might have been.

Timothy humbly excused himself for his temperament and announced that perhaps it were time to retire for the evening. The brothers were now surprised to note how late it had become without them discovering it earlier, so attentive had they been to their host. It was indeed time to sleep for the next day's journey.

When Thomas and Willard awoke, they found that Timothy had somehow slipped out of camp without being discovered. Each thought it unfortunate they had missed an opportunity to properly thank their host for the hospitality, entertainment and good company of the previous evening.

With the wagon and horses ready again for the journey, the brothers proceeded on their way. At one time or another, each found himself humming the song he had heard the night before.

“Well, Thomas, if I am not mistaken, we should very soon be coming into Nauvoo. I shall be glad to reach it, I must say. Sleeping on the ground or in a wagon each night has not been such a treat.”

“Willard, you are getting soft.”

“Perhaps, but I'm not inclined to change my opinion on that judgment alone.”

Thomas laughed out loud and encouraged the horses to greater speed.

Before them lay the city of Nauvoo, but it seemed strangely quiet.

“Do you suppose they are having some festival at the other end of town?”

“Perhaps, but wouldn't we hear something even then?”

“Yes, Thomas, I would think so. Let's go on.”

Past row upon row of homes they traveled and saw no one. Now and then a dog or cat would appear to bark at them or to scurry away into the well manicured bushes and flower gardens.

“Thomas, stop the wagon!” Before the rig had come to a complete stop, Willard was on the ground and in a dead run to the nearest home, fairly jumping the fence on his way. At the door, he knocked briefly, then tried the knob. The door swung open easily and he entered.

“Willard! Have you lost your senses? Come out before you get shot as an intruder!” Thomas had to hitch the horses to the fence before he could retrieve his brother and he did so in haste, hoping to find him alive and unharmed when he did.

Entering the yard and peering into the doorway, Thomas called quietly to Willard, hoping that the occupants would not hear him and become agitated. “Willard!” he called in a stage whisper.

“It's alright, brother. We are alone here. Come in. I have something to show you.”

Thomas soon found Willard and again attempted to recall to him to his manners, but to no avail.

“Brother, this is the home I saw in my dream.” He stated this quietly and almost in a daze.

“Are you certain?”

“Absolutely certain. Every detail is identical. In my dream I knew that the other homes were also empty. Do you see how some smaller things have been removed, but the larger things, such as tables, sofas and china cabinets are where they belong? It indicates to me that they left hurriedly and took only that which would fit easily into a wagon or cart.”

“Willard, I think you are right. But, why would they leave so quickly and leave everything behind like this?”

“I think they may have been forced out or expected to be soon.”

“Perhaps a plague of some kind?” Thomas now looked as if a light had come on and he began to fear for their own safety.

“No, not a sickness of any kind. They left in anticipation of some enemy, some bitter persecution, Thomas. I feel it in my bones to be so. We must go further into the town.”

They walked through several streets and each home was as the one before—empty, but as if it had been just vacated. Then they heard a sound as if someone were moving some heavy load into a wagon. A man's voice shouted in the distance and the two brothers hurried to find the source.

As they rounded a corner, they saw a man just turning from his wagon to go back into his home. When he saw them coming toward him, he reached into his wagon for his rifle and looked as if he were ready to use it at the slightest provocation.

Willard and Thomas both raised their arms above their heads and shouted in near unison for the man to cease. They now walked more slowly than before, being careful not to antagonize or alarm by any sudden movement.

“Sir, we are not from this city, but have come to receive goods on order for our own town. We mean no harm to you. Can you tell us where everyone has gone? We have found no one else but yourself since we arrived in Nauvoo.” By now they were within a few yards of the man and they stopped out of reach to show they were no threat.

The man's eyes roamed over them and back and forth between them rapidly in an effort to determine whether they might be concealing weapons. Finally he relaxed and lowered his rifle.

“My apologies, gentlemen. You would understand and excuse my behavior, had you been exposed to the treatment we have experienced here in Nauvoo and elsewhere.”

“What has happened here? Where has everyone gone?”

“The faithful have gone across the river. Those easily persuaded from the faith have gone elsewhere, attempting to disappear into the balance of society. Some are hiding in town still and some will come back for their belongings, but have left for the time being, until they are certain conditions have become safer.”

“Of what faith do you speak?”

“We are Latter-Day Saints. Perhaps you have heard us called Mormons.”

“Yes,” said Thomas. “I have heard that label, but I know little of your people or your faith.”

“Were you familiar with us, you would know that we are a peace-loving people. We mean no man any harm and we seek to befriend all who will accept it. Yet our enemies multiply and seek our destruction. They have recently killed our prophet and his brother.”

Both brothers took particular note of this announcement. It was Thomas who asked, “Was his name Joseph, by any chance?”

“Yes. Joseph Smith. And his brother was Hyrum. They were imprisoned on trumped up charges and then murdered in cold blood, with no chance to defend themselves or to be tried fairly.”

Willard and Thomas turned to stare at one another in a dumb stupor. No words would suffice, but they knew, without speaking, what thoughts they shared at the moment.

“I consider myself fortunate to have gotten my family out ahead of any real danger, save for the winter storms. They are now well on their way to the Rockies. The great river froze over completely to allow the Saints passage. It was the hand of God in that act, for never has it happened before in all the history known of this region. Perhaps it never will again. We should expect more trouble, if we are discovered to have returned. They have burned the Temple, you know, so far as they were able. Some among us have denounced the faith to appease the mobs, but it has done them little good, for all the hatred they are shown. Only those who have declared they will be sworn enemies of the Church are spared, but they shall suffer the pangs of Hell for their efforts. If I had nothing more in this world than my faith and religion, I would consider myself well blessed and that I had nothing else of real value to lose. All else would I leave behind gladly, if need be. I have only come back for the foodstuffs that I know will be needed as we cross the plains. My larder was well concealed, that the mobs did not discover it. And now, gentlemen, if you will excuse me, I must get to my work and remove myself from Nauvoo. My family is in need and I must go to meet them if we are to cross the Rockies before the weather prevents such things.”

Willard and Thomas excused themselves politely and turned to where the man had indicated the Temple might be. As they drew closer, they were awed by the remains of what must have once been a most magnificent structure, clearly visible from the boats that passed on the river. The size of the structure was impressive and the care with which the building had been erected was apparent in every detail. This was no ordinary building project that the people of Nauvoo had taken upon themselves. It was a labor of deep love and dedication. It was without doubt a House of God.

The brothers stood silently for a long time before they could tear themselves away from the Temple and then the city of Nauvoo. A strange sadness accompanied the beauty they beheld. It was much like the song that Timothy had sung to them—both beautiful and hauntingly sad in the same instant.

As they climbed again into their wagon to return home empty-handed, Willard spied a small bundle beneath the seat of the rig. Opening it gently, he found it contained a freshly printed book, apparently never yet read. The title upon it was The Book of Mormon. Where had it come from? They decided that perhaps Timothy had placed it within the wagon before he had departed.

“Willard, I think we have found the meaning of your dream,” Thomas said in quiet reflection.

“Yes. They left behind all worldly things and took with them only those things which mattered most—their families, their faith, their God and their love for one another. Outside of those things, they had nothing of real value to lose.” After a moment, Thomas asked, “Willard, would you mind reading that book aloud as we return home? I want to know what's in it and if I haven't missed my guess, I think you do, too.”

Ch. 35 -- Comes The Night

Comes The Night
Steven G. O'Dell © 2009

--The one thing money cannot buy is more time...or can it?--

The news had not been good. And the method of delivery had been worse, if that were possible. It had been given with as much detachment as if the words had been, 'Looks like we're gonna get some rain.' They were not that benign to Solomon Jacovich. They hit like a brick thrown with full force just before the assailant left the room to tend to other patients.

“'You have cancer, Mr. Jacovich. There's nothing that can be done for you. I give you about 6 months to a year.' And then he just left the room!”

“What are you going to do, Sol?”

“I don't know. What can I do?”

“Pray, Sol. Pray like you have never prayed before.”

The advice was good, but didn't penetrate to the heart as it should have. This good friend from childhood to adulthood had been with Solomon since he could recall, through thick and thin. He and Jehuda had been in and out of trouble, in and out of business and a few times, in and out of friendship; but they always were there for one another when the chips were down.

“Pray? My prayers are not famous for being heard. Should they now suddenly become express trains to God's ear?”

“This is no laughing matter, Sol.”

“Do you see me laughing?”

It was true; he hadn't so much as smiled since he got the news. What would life be like for the next six months to a year if he could not smile? He'd taken so much pleasure in his business dealings and his financial accomplishments. And he had watched with pride as his own sons had learned the trades that would make them rich and powerful in their own right. Now, it seemed as if everything he had worked for was to come crashing down upon his head and would leave him buried beneath the pile of rubble. Nothing but a legacy left behind him and for who knew how long.

“Still, you are not dead yet, Sol. Make your peace with God before you go. Perhaps He has a blessing in store for you still. I will pray with you.”

“You can pray for me. I don't feel much like praying, my friend.”

So Jehuda did just that. He began to pray with a fervency that had been unrivaled in his life or in that of Solomon. He prayed with a depth of sincerity and passion that could not help but reach the ears of God. He asked for a sign that God was aware of Solomon and that there was a greater purpose to life than just to live a few odd years and then die. And when he finished, he felt certain that something extraordinary was soon to take place.

It had been three weeks since Solomon had been given his death sentence by the doctor with no bedside manner. He walked through his daily routine with none of the passion he'd had before. There was no fire or spirit in him; just a hollow shell of a man making the motions of life without the conviction to enjoy it. He was on auto-pilot, as detached as had been the doctor bearing the bad news.

A knock came at his office door and Solomon Jacovich was inclined to ignore it and continue to sit staring at his shoes, as he had been for quite some time already. Again the knock came and the door inched open slightly. It was his secretary.

“Mr. Jacovich, there's a man here to see you. He says it's urgent and he refuses to speak with anyone but you.”

“I have no wish to see anyone right now.” He never so much as lifted his eyes from the floor as he spoke the passionless words.

“He says it's a matter of life and death, sir. I don't know what to make of it. He seems quite sincere about it.”

“Life and death? Now, that I know something about.” He lifted his gaze to meet hers and waved his hand to motion the man in.

She disappeared for a moment and when the door opened fully, a tall, pleasant looking man entered and waited for her to close the door behind him when she left. Then, without hesitation, he approached Solomon and offered his hand, which was taken more by conditioning than by desire.

“My name is John Servant. I thank you for allowing me this audience with you. I trust it shall be as important to you in a few moments as anything you have ever discussed.”

He spoke in a strange manner, with an assurance and a seeming authority unlike any man Solomon had ever met. It commanded attention, even in the severely depressed state Solomon found himself in.

“Won't you have a seat, Mr. Servant?” He waved his hand to the chair along the wall. “Feel free to bring it closer if you like.”

“Thank you.”

“Now, what might I do for you?”

“It is what I might do for you that brings me here.”

“I don't understand.”

“Mr. Jacovich, you have been given some news of a rather distressing nature, I understand. I wish to make your remaining time far more enjoyable and productive than you could have imagined possible.”

“Perhaps I misunderstood my secretary, but I believe she told me you were here to speak of a matter of life and death, not just about making my remaining time more pleasant.”

“It is a matter of life and death. Not just yours alone, but that of many others.”
“I'm sorry; you will need to be more clear in your meaning than that.” Solomon was beginning to appear irritated; the most emotion he had shown for many days.

“Alright, let me be perfectly blunt with you. You are dieing from cancer and have been given six months to one year to live. Up to now in life, you have lived for yourself alone and now you see all you have accomplished about to...I believe your words were, 'come crashing down upon your head and burying you in a pile of rubble.'”

Solomon came to full attention at this. He had indeed used those words, but had never once spoken them aloud. He had only thought them privately. Now, this stranger comes into his office and repeats the very thoughts of his mind. What trick of nature was this? What manner of man could know such things?

“Mr. Jacovich...Solomon...I know what you are thinking. You wonder if you are imagining this. You wonder if I am playing tricks on you. I assure you that this is real—as real as it gets—and that there are no tricks involved. Your good friend, Jehuda, prayed for you, did he not?”

Solomon nodded his head almost automatically. He was completely focused now.

“And may I say that seldom have men prayed with such sincerity for the life of another. He must not just hold you in very high regard, but must love you dearly as a brother. You are quite blessed to have such a friend. I hope you know that.”

Again Solomon nodded mechanically. There were now tears forming in his eyes.

“Of course, one should not be surprised that a lifetime of such practice would allow him to be heard so well. And I am here in answer to that prayer. Perhaps you should offer a prayer of thanksgiving yourself...for friends such as Jehuda.”

Solomon could make no answer, so overcome was he with emotion. He simply sobbed quietly.

“Solomon, you have no idea how many times in your life the prayers of that dear friend have helped you to avoid trouble. So often when you were about to make decisions that would have hurt you or others, he prayed to put you back on the right path. And now he has asked for one final thing. You were not aware of it, but he asked that he be taken in death instead of you.”

Solomon now broke down and cried in great heaving sobs. As the door to his office sprung open, he waved the startled secretary away with a hand. She retreated only reluctantly, staring wide-eyed all the while as she did, from Solomon to the stranger.

“Have no fear, Solomon. As selfless as his offer was, that will not be done. Instead, God has another plan in mind for you and your friend. Would you like to hear it?”

A simple nod was all that could be mustered, but it was sufficient.

Solomon told his secretary to go home for the day and for the next several hours John Servant opened the scriptures to Solomon, in a manner the Rabbis had never done nor could hope to. Solomon suddenly had his eyes opened, as though he had been effectively blind all his life. And he understood for the first time that the Messiah had in fact already come, and that his own dear friend, Jehuda, in the similitude of the Messiah, had selflessly offered his own life in exchange for that of another.
Solomon was overwhelmed by the experience and began to sink into his chair as the energy was sapped from his weakened body. John stood to touch him and suddenly it was as if new life had been poured into him. It was indeed a miracle. He had heard of them, read of them and even secretly hoped they were real, but had never expected in his life to ever experience one. And yet a simple touch had restored his strength in an instant. There was no other explanation to be had.

“Solomon, in the time you have left, you have opportunity to change your own legacy and the lives of many others. Now you know why it should be done. The question that remains is this—are you willing to do whatever it takes to put yourself on the right path to God or do you want to continue as before, until you experience that 'night wherein no labor may be done?'”

“Mr. Servant, I have done many foolish things, but that does make me a complete fool. What do you have in mind?”

John smiled with delight and reached across the desk to take Solomon's hand. And even Solomon smiled a bit for the first time in weeks.

“Jehuda, we have work to do, my closest and dearest friend. My secretary has prepared several packages and letters to be personally delivered and has arranged for us to meet a few people who will be quite delighted to see us. Are you in the mood for an adventure today?” The smile on Solomon's face seemed to outshine the sun itself today.

“Sol, what has happened to you? You are not the same man I talked to a few days ago. You refuse to see anyone and then suddenly you are happier than I have seen you in ages.”

“What happened? Your prayer was answered, that's what happened. My dear, sweet friend...,” Solomon placed his hands lovingly on each side of Jehuda's face and the tears in his eyes showed more deeply than ever before his love for his lifelong friend. “I know what you prayed and I can never repay you for such selfless love. I owe you everything.”

Jehuda smiled uncertainly, but embraced his friend in a strong hug, then released him and gripped his shoulders. “What is that you have in mind, Sol? You know I will be with you in all you do. Have I ever been apart from you for long?”

“Alright, then. Help me grab the packages and letters and the list of names and we will be on our way. I will drive.”

Jehuda grinned and shook his head in amazement toward heaven. Was this the 'something extraordinary' that he had felt coming? It certainly seemed to be an adventure that was even now beginning.

“Sol, I don't mean to question your sanity, but...have you taken leave of your senses?”

Solomon laughed out loud at the question. “Do you know how that question sounds?”

“Keep your eyes on the road, Sol! Yes, I know how it sounds. Do you know how it looks to be giving away nearly everything you have ever worked for in your life? It looks to be the act of a man insane.”

“Jehuda, my good friend; you prayed for a miracle and now you have one. Will you refuse it now that it is given? I have not told you what happened to me that made such a great change. I will tell you now. When I was at my lowest point ever in my life, into my office came a man on a mission from God. He came to lift me up and to make my remaining time fruitful. I can help others and in the process help myself. I must do some good in this world, something for others, if I am to be redeemed in the eyes of God.”

“Sol, I don't know what this man told you, but....”

“He told me your prayer, my friend. I know what you tried to bargain in exchange for my life.”

Jehuda snapped his entire body about so quickly that he nearly fell off the car seat. The look on his face was indescribable. It registered shock, disbelief and wonder, all at the same time. Solomon had moist eyes as he continued.

“Yes, Jehuda. I know that you offered your life for mine. How else could I know this unless the man who told me was a messenger from God? What you have done is beyond comparison among men. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend. I know this now.”

“I never meant for you to know this, Sol.” Jehuda, too, had tears in his eyes.

“I had to know or I never would have softened my heart. Many times have you prevented me from making huge blunders. This time you have outdone yourself, my friend.” He reached his hand across and squeezed the hand of his friend, who was now closer than a blood related brother. “We are on a mission of our own now, Jehuda. A mission for God. I have much to tell you, but we will do this deed first.”

The balance of the day was spent in traveling to those whom Solomon Jacovich felt he had in any way hurt in his business dealings. He gave them verbal, as well as written apologies and in many instances, gave them monetary recompense above and beyond what they felt he owed them. The two men also visited several children in hospitals and orphanages, leaving money to pay for much of their needs, whether medical or day to day needs. Last, but not least, they visited each of Sol's children in turn and charged them to use their wealth to aid the less fortunate and not to make their money an object of worship in and of itself. To each was given a written and signed testimony of the events of the most important day in the life of Solomon Jacovich—the day that John Servant had come to see him and opened up the true meaning of the writings of the prophets to him—the day he discovered the true Messiah of Israel and understood for himself the plan of God for mankind.

As Solomon and Jehuda left to return to the car, Sol took his friend's hand and carefully placed an envelope into it and squeezed Jehuda's fingers over it. Looking him squarely in the eye, he pledged his undieing friendship and gratitude forever.

“Jehuda, you will not understand this until you read what is written there, but you and I will see one another again, beyond this life. This is not the end, my friend..., my brother. No disrespect meant, but the Rabbis do not know everything.”
“Sol, I will read it and consider it carefully. What you say seems to dispute what the Rabbis teach, but they also seem to think the time of miracles is over. After what I saw today, I might argue that point. I have never seen you so happy.” He held fast to Sol's hand and smiled with a satisfaction he hadn't felt in such a long time.

When Solomon unlocked the door to his home that night, he was stunned for a moment when he saw John Servant sitting in his own easy chair in his main room. His shock quickly turned to pleasure.

“I hoped you wouldn't mind a new friend visiting you unannounced.”

“Not at all. You are most welcome any time you will grace my home with your presence. Let me get you some refreshment. Have you eaten?”

“That won't be necessary, Solomon. I am here to tell you that you have made many people very happy today. In all your life, did you ever think you would please so many people in one day?” He smiled as he asked the question.

“I had begun to think, until today, that the only way to please so many would be with my passing. I have to admit that today brought me more pleasure than I can recall in quite some time. Thank you for opening my eyes.”

“My pleasure, Sol. I was only doing the Father's will. Now, I have something more for you. You have accepted so quickly and been so readily obedient in doing what was asked of you, and you gave with such a glad heart, that you are now ready for the next step.” He held out a package that looked as if it could be a book.

“What is it?” Sol asked as he reached for the offering.

“The story of some of your relatives, Sol. And more concerning the mission of the Messiah to the lost sheep of Israel.”

Sol's eyes lit up as he hurriedly tore off the wrapping. The Book of Mormon, it read. Another witness of Jesus Christ. He had already set his mind on reading what the Christians called the New Testament, to get some insight into the life of the Messiah and to understand his sacrifice, but he felt something special emanating from this volume. There was some intangible thing that reached out to him; some peace of the soul that said without words, 'This is what your soul craves.'

“I believe you referred to this when you told me that Israel had been spread to all corners of the earth. Until you explained that it wasn't a punishment, but a means to preserve the blood lines, I never understood it. No wonder we Jews are such a cynical lot.”

“Sol, there are many more records to come forth in God's own time and from many corners of the world. What they will show is a consistency that the nay-sayers cannot ignore. And the love of God for his children will be evident to all. Get to know this book and your soul will fly. You will see your people in it and know that God does not forget his promises, though we may soon give up hope and lose the vision he has in mind for us.”

“Thank you, John. This is very special indeed.”

A few weeks went by, with Sol reading every day, over and over, the Book of Mormon. Just as John had promised, he saw in it his people and their practices and rites, their weaknesses and their strengths, their hopes and failings. He saw the promise of a new land when God was obeyed and the loss of freedom when evil reigned. The pages came alive for him and he blessed the day that John had come into his life and restored his vision and purpose.

One day, again unannounced, John came to him at home.

“Sol, you are ready to share what you have learned and to learn more from others.”

John directed him to the church that published the book. As before, Sol willingly did as he was bid. The experience was edifying for Sol and those with whom he came in contact. He offered to them a unique view of the writings of the prophets and they taught him to know the Redeemer of Israel. Sol felt as if he had found a home and continued to attend even when the Rabbi chastened him. In fact, he took opportunity to teach the Rabbi all that he had been made to know of the matter. Surprisingly, the Rabbi was more open minded than was previously thought and he listened intently to the new insights, for Sol did a remarkably good job of relating them. He confessed, however, that he could never publicly admit any validity to them and Sol simply asked him whether it was wisdom to serve God or man.

Many months had passed without challenge or change when John came again to Sol. This time he did not smile. Sol saw the difference immediately and wondered if he had done something wrong.

“Do not worry, Sol. You have done nothing wrong. I have news for you. Jehuda is ill and needs you.”

Sol did not hesitate a second. “Where is he?”

John told him the hospital and Sol prepared to straight to him.

“Wait, Sol. I have other news, of a more happy nature. You have done so well with what God has asked of you that your cancer has been healed. You will no longer need to concern yourself with a shortened life.”

“I am grateful, certainly, but pardon me if I must go to my friend.”

Sol left immediately to see Jehuda. He found him pale and bedridden, attached to monitors and intravenous tubes. Jehuda turned to see him and reached out to bid him come closer. Sol took his hand and knelt beside the bed.

“What is it, my friend and brother?”

“It's cancer, Sol. It seems I will be coming with you soon. You won't have to go alone.”

Sol began to cry in great heaving sobs and squeezed Jehuda's hand more tightly.

“Sol, it's alright. I have led a good life and you have been a wonderful friend. No man could ask for better. We spent all our lives as friends and companions. It's only fitting that we should share this, too, is it not?”
Sol couldn't tell him that his own cancer had disappeared. It was too heartbreaking to relate at a time like this. It didn't seem fair somehow. When finally he could catch his breath again, he nodded and spoke.

“Yes, it's only right. We have always been there for one another, so why not this new adventure?”

“It will be over soon. I can't wait for the pain to stop. The only regret I have is that I cannot follow in your footsteps once more before I go. You inspired me, you know. You seemed so happy giving away all your worldly wealth that I began to feel jealous of you. And now, there is no time left to give of myself to others.” He chuckled softly with all the vigor he could muster. Sol smiled as best he could and squeezed his hand again.

Sol felt lower than at any point in his life, except for when he thought he was going to die and had no hope of the resurrection. This new sorrow was not the same. He felt helpless to do anything and hated himself for it. He felt obligated to do something...anything. And so he prayed. Sol prayed like never before. He gave thanks for all he had been given in life, he confessed his unworthiness for the blessings and he begged for his friend's life to be spared. Sol even offered his own life for that of his friend. It was then that marvelous thing happened.

The room Sol was in began to fill with light and a spirit of peace overwhelmed him to the very depths. A voice, but not a voice, spoke comfort to his soul. Sol knew that this was God. Finally he had drawn closer to God.

Sol went to visit Jehuda in the hospital again. A newly revived and invigorated Jehuda sat upright to greet him. Both arms were extended to welcome Sol in an embrace.

“Sol, I don't know how or why it happened, but the cancer is gone! It's just a preliminary result. They want to keep me until they can verify it, but I do feel so much better. I know something has changed for the better. I just know it and feel it in my bones. Isn't it wonderful?”

Sol wept for joy and hugged Jehuda tightly.

“Yes, my dear brother, it is wonderful. I am so happy for you. Now you can go out and spend all your wealth making others happy.” He laughed at the thought and so did Jehuda.

“If there is anything left after the doctors are paid, I will do just that. After all, I can always make more and spend it on others, too. If there is no money, I will give of myself.”

Sol was happier than ever. It made no sense in some ways, considering the bargain he had made. His cancer was back and he was on track to pass away within the predicted time, but he was prepared for his rest in 'that night wherein no labors may be performed.' His soul was at peace with God and man, at last. He knew, because his prayers had been answered.

Ch. 36 -- The Weak Things Of The Earth

The Weak Things of the Earth
Steven G. O'Dell © 2009

By small means doth the Lord accomplish great things.

It was one of the strangest experiences I have ever had in my life, but also one of the most powerful. My name is Lawrence Devine. I was always kidded in school about my name. The boys would tease the girls in front of me--'You need to date Larry 'cause he's so divine'. The girls would blush with embarrassment and discomfort and the boys would laugh out loud at them and at me. All I wanted to do was disappear into the woodwork.

At home and at church it was different. The general approach by parents and Sunday School teachers was to remind me often that a name like Devine was no accident, but a gift from God to keep me on the straight and narrow path. Needless to say, being a good boy at heart, I liked this approach much better.

The time eventually came for me to serve a mission for the Lord. I was excited that I might be called to anywhere but a place with the small town attitude and mentality in which I had grown up. I was a Kansas farm boy at heart and always would be, but it didn't mean I had no desire to explore the world and stretch my imagination a bit. When my call came that I would serve in Chicago, Illinois, I was thrilled. The thrill lasted until about two weeks into my first assigned area.

“Elder Devine, you should be able to teach the first discussion by now. What's the trouble?”

Elder Johnson was my companion. He was from Utah and was a gung-ho missionary all the way. I considered myself fortunate to have been assigned as his trainee. He had an eye for detail and a desire to obey precisely all the mission rules. But for some reason, I almost felt he was too perfect. I struggled to memorize the discussions and he just absorbed them like a sponge. The more he learned, the more he wanted. The more I learned, the more fell out the other side of my brain. I was frustrated, to say the least.

“Elder Johnson, I don't know why I can't seem to hang onto what I learn. I want so much to make a difference. I want to be a top-notch missionary. I just can't memorize and keep it all in my head. I do have a testimony of what we are teaching, though. I know beyond doubt that the church is true and we have a real prophet. Somehow that doesn't seem enough right now. Maybe it was a mistake for me to come on a mission.”

“Elder Devine, I don't want to hear the word 'can't' come from your mouth anymore. And I want you to remember that you've only been here two weeks. You have a lot to learn and you'll get more comfortable as time goes on, okay?”

I nodded my head, grateful for the words of encouragement, but not necessarily convinced of their accuracy. I needed more faith than what I currently had, if I was to believe that a Kansas farm boy could ever make a difference in anyone's life but his own. That conviction only became stronger in the following weeks. We had been invited to the home of a man who said he was interested in speaking with us, but it became apparent after some time that he was a tougher nut to crack than either Elder Johnson or myself ever expected. It seemed a constant stream of questions that we had trouble answering to his satisfaction and constant distractions from the lesson outlines we were obligated to follow. It became frustrating very quickly.

One Sunday my companion and I got to church a bit later than we had planned, due to a bicycle malfunction that we hadn't foreseen. As we entered the foyer, seated on the couch was a Brother who looked our way and smiled warmly, nodding his head in welcome. It appeared he had also come late and was waiting for the right opportunity to enter the chapel area without causing too much disturbance for others, so we sat and joined him until that chance should come.

“Brethren, how is the work going for you?” he asked softly.

“Fine”, said Elder Johnson. I wasn't convinced of that myself and I guess it must have shown on my face.

“Seems your companion has a different opinion.” It was a statement and not a question. It rather took me by surprise at the time. I didn't know what to say. Should I open up and betray my companion's faith in the progress we were supposedly making, or should I remain silent about the challenges, as he had?

Before I knew it, the discomfort of the silence and this Brother's intense stare pried open my lips and I began to spill out all my concerns. I'm not sure how Elder Johnson took it. I didn't look in his direction, for some reason. All I know is that this good Brother took it all in and listened intently to every word. Not once did he interrupt. When I was about exhausted of information, he nodded thoughtfully, smiled and proceeded to tell me nearly the same things that Elder Johnson had advised. I guess I was somewhat disappointed, until he added a few further words.

“The most powerful thing you have is a personal testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, Elder. So long as you remember that, it doesn't matter what comes your way. No power on earth can take it from you, if you will keep your lines of communication open to the One who gave you that testimony.”

He spoke with a quiet, but intense power that seemed to penetrate to my very core. I knew he was right and something told me that I had within me more strength than I had previously guessed. But why would it be different coming from him than from Elder Johnson?

“And further, you don't need to answer every little petty concern that is voiced. Just as you took on faith the principles of the gospel until you had a firm witness of the Spirit, so must everyone else do the same. Don't let anyone dictate to you how to teach or not teach. You have a divine commission to proclaim the gospel in the manner that the Lord has prescribed and in no other way but by the dictates of the Spirit. And you have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, if you live worthily. Joseph Smith was a farm boy and you just remember what he accomplished with the help of God.”

That speech had left such an impression on me that I was transformed immediately. No longer was I the uncertain Kansas farm boy who would be easily swayed with every turn and whim of the world. No question would derail my mission to teach in the Lord's way.

My newfound confidence was not in vain, either, for upon our very next visit to the home of the man we had labeled “The Questioner”, I took a different path.

“Well, Elders, I would like to know why you think fasting is so important. It doesn't make sense to me to do such a thing. We live in modern times and have no need of such things as the less civilized peoples of the past might have considered important.”

Elder Johnson, who was looking quite wearied, was about to open his mouth in answer to this question when I interrupted.

“Mr. Carnine, answer me this: Is it better to serve the Lord in faith until he reveals the wisdom of it or to obey the philosophies of the world and what it perceives as logic?” I then waited with a focused intensity that must have rivaled that of the good Brother who had counseled me earlier.

After a moment of stunned silence, the answer came hesitantly. “Well,...to obey the Lord, of course.” He stopped and waited, unsure of what was to come next or of what else to say.

“Then perhaps we could trust that God has his reasons for asking us to obey in this one small matter and we can get back to our lessons on the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I am sure that if you will be patient with us, you will find answers to nearly all your questions. We often find that many things an investigator might ask on his own are not so important as the truths that we, as trained missionaries, might reveal when allowed to do so. I testify before God and man that what we have brought you the most important message known to the modern world. The true and restored church of Jesus Christ is once again upon the earth, with all the accompanying blessings and saving ordinances. That's something you want for you and your family, isn't it?”

Even Elder Johnson looked surprised, but he recovered quickly and we went on with the lesson, uninterrupted and with questions of a much more sincere nature being asked afterward. A true change had taken place, not only in me, but in our investigator. I felt the power of God right down to my toes and felt a gratitude that I had never experienced previously.

Two more lessons with this same investigator went as smooth as silk and I could scarcely wait until Sunday to tell the good Brother what had happened. I realized I had never gotten his name and I was anxious to do so.

We never did see this Brother again. After relating our tale completely and describing him to the Bishop in great detail, we were told there was no such man in the ward that he could recall. He also told me that if ever again I did see the man, I should ask him to contact the Bishop, who was more than a little interested in speaking with him.

At our next meeting with Mr. Carnine, we were pleased to hear him say that he wanted to be baptized into the church, as he had felt the Spirit in our words and that the power of God was in our admonition. That was a wonderful thing to hear him say, of course, because only a few short days before he had been rather obstinate and unreachable. But what truly shocked Elder Johnson and me was when Mr. Carnine told us he wanted us to come speak to his congregation—he was a minister of a Protestant church congregation. In his own words, “I think if they need to hire a new pastor, they should at least have some idea as to the reason, don't you?” We had to agree completely.

Ch. 37 -- Give Me Your Blessing

Give Me Your Blessing
Steven G. O’Dell © 2009

The power of man lies in his hands…as may the power of God.

Thomas Milner III stood, as he had each day for twelve years, surveying his estates through the large bay window of his home office. The ritual energized and emboldened him for the day’s duties or conquests, as he had come to think of them—each new acquisition an enemy pressed into the service of the Milner Corporation. Today he was to look over an insignificant bit of property directly in the future path of growth. All of his hired experts agreed that this shabby little trailer park would eventually make way for the inevitable expansion to come. Now was the time to buy it cheaply and quietly, as he had done with the surrounding properties, under various names, so as not to incite speculation and competitors.

The trip to the property went by nearly unnoticed amidst the constant busy work Thomas was engaged in as the driver skillfully and quietly navigated the back roads leading to the site. When, at last, notice was given of their final approach, Thomas set aside his papers, checked the time and made a mental note to be finished within half an hour, if at all possible.

Pulling to a stop, the driver exited the vehicle and opened the rear door for Thomas to do the same…without so much as a ‘thank-you’. Thomas looked about with a mild revulsion at all he could survey. How could people live like this? Had they no pride? No ambition? No matter—soon this thirty-five acres would be his and the questions would be moot. And this last bit of business he would conduct in person, unlike the others surrounding it.

With a strong exhalation of breath, as if to rid himself of an unpleasant odor, Thomas made for the office, such as it was. Entering with an air of royalty, he demanded of the man at hand that he might see the owner.

“For all intent and purpose, you are speaking to him. I’ve been put in charge while the legal owner is hospitalized.”

Thomas hadn’t expected this and showed his exasperation openly. Yet, not one to let details stand in the way of progress, he pushed on.

“For all intent and purpose? Indeed? Then you have authorization to do any and all that the legal owner might, were he here?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

Did Thomas detect a faint smile?

“Good. I am Thomas Milner III and….”
“Yes, I know who you are,” and he went back to whatever had been the focus of his attention previously.

Thomas halted but a few seconds, uncertain as to the meaning of this quick retort.

“I intend to purchase this property. Do you have authorization to engage in such a transaction?”

The gaze of the stranger lifted again, scanning Thomas in mild distaste. “You’ve changed…a lot.”

When the man’s eyes met his, Thomas felt that they penetrated into the real Thomas Milner III, more than any other time in his cold-blooded business career. The stare seemed to go to the bottoms of his feet and beyond.

“Now, see here,” Thomas re-gathered his composure. “I’ve asked you a simple question and I expect a forthright answer.”

“The answer is simple, too. There will be no transaction with you any time soon, Thomas.” He then returned to his paperwork.

“How dare you!” Assuming his most pompous and arrogant stance, Thomas demanded, “You will address me as Mr. Milner!”

The eyes were raised again to meet his. The stare was just as intense as before and just as unnerving. “I have called you Thomas since we first met. You demand respect, but it appears you’ve done little to earn it since then. Frankly, you disappoint me.”

There was no mistaking his meaning now. Thomas dug rapidly into every corner of his memory to retrieve any clue as to the identity of the stranger who treated him with such flippant disdain. The man did look familiar, but it must have been many years before.

“I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage.”

“You’ve caused your own disadvantage, Thomas. You have yet to live up to your dreams and potential.”

“You are mistaken, sir!” The haughtiness was back. “I have become quite wealthy….”

The voice boomed across the desk, causing Thomas to involuntarily take a step backward. “I’m not talking about money! I’m talking about your potential to be a decent human being…to accomplish the goals you once confided in me…to live up to your measure as a man!”

Again Thomas scanned his mental terrain for a clue to this man’s identity. Suddenly a vivid picture popped into view and Thomas’ eyes opened wide in surprise. Was it possible?

“Yes…you remember, don’t you?”

“It isn’t possible. It was too long ago and that man would have aged significantly.” Thomas shook his head in disbelief. It was met by a disappointed shake of the head from the man across the desk.

“Doubting Thomas…O, ye of little faith.”

Thomas felt the blood drain from his face and again stepped backward until he fell into a chair placed strategically where most needed.

“It can’t be you….”

“It is. You were six years old when you grabbed me by the coattail and demanded I give you a blessing. I was impressed with your spiritual insight--you recognized that you were speaking to a messenger from God. You desired a righteous gift from me then.” He slowly shook his head, again in disappointment at the man he saw before him. “I see you are still demanding, whether or not it is required or righteous.”

Thomas was white as a sheet now, glad that he was sitting, as his knees would be too weak to support him.

“Thomas, you told me that you were sad because your father loved only money, to the exclusion of his family. Your grandfather had begun to see his own errors by then, but too late to make a difference for his own son. You had hoped to do some great good in the world with the family wealth when it came into your hands one day. Now look at you.” He scanned Thomas up and down with an air of pity that he didn’t bother to mute or hide.

Thomas sought the words…any words…to explain himself, but there were none that would suffice, he knew, and so he sat silent and troubled in spirit.

“It’s a different feeling now, Isn’t it, Thomas? You still know I’ve come in the name of God, but now you fear me. You once asked a blessing at my hands. Can you feel to ask for one now?”

Hot tears of anguish ran down Thomas’ cheeks and his heart was filled to overflowing with the remorse of the justly convicted. There was no denying he had strayed from the path he had intended so long ago. Could he again return to it…or was it too late?

“No, it isn’t too late, Thomas.” The man knew his thoughts, surely; and his countenance had softened considerably, as Thomas could hear in his voice and see on his face as he wiped away his own tears. Gone was the previous despisement…gone with Thomas’ arrogance. “You can still do much good here, my friend. You have the means. Do you have the will?”

Thomas fell to his knees in a renewed burst of tears, blurting out only, “yes…yes…yes.”

When Thomas Milner III returned to his car, red-eyed and humbled, he reflected upon the power in those hands that had moments before lain upon his head—power such as is seldom felt by mankind. He was saddened to think how rare an occasion it must be. Yet, he was thrilled at the thought that he had been privileged to experience it twice in his life.

“Home, please,” was all he quietly said. His manner was sufficiently altered to evoke a double take from his driver, who then silently obeyed.

Thomas spent the next week planning and re-planning his goals, reflecting on his purpose, checking and rechecking maps. When the week had passed, Thomas smiled his first real smile in several years and he made the snap decision to attend church—something he had also not done in years.

The drive was different this time. Thomas didn’t bury his attentions in paperwork, but enjoyed the scenery and spoke pleasantly with his somewhat startled driver. And it was with a greatly lifted spirit that Thomas entered the office of the trailer park this time. At the desk sat an older man that he had never met.

“Excuse me, I wish to speak with the owner,” he announced politely and cheerfully.

“That would be me. How may I help you?”

“I’m sorry; I spoke with a different gentleman last week. Would he be here?”

“Oh, you mean Timothy….”

“Yes!” That was the name he had been trying so hard to dredge from his memory.

“He’s no longer here, I’m afraid, but I can tell you this…the man was indispensable while I was in the hospital, I assure you. Say…you wouldn’t be Mr. Milner, would you?”

“Why…yes.”

“I thought so. Timothy told me to expect you. He said the two of you had talked over some exciting things together that you’d be contacting me soon to fill me in on it. He didn’t say any more than that; just smiled and was hush-hush, you know?”

Thomas smiled, too, remembering the conversation of the week past. “Indeed, we did have exciting things to discuss and now I have equally exciting things to discuss with you.”

“Well, ‘I’m all ears’, as they say. Have a seat, won’t you?”

When the transaction was completed, both parties were pleased with the outcome. Thomas took pleasure in the stunned look on the owner’s face and admitted openly that he was somewhat stunned at his own uncharacteristic generosity and, had it not been for Timothy reminding him of his long overdue goals, things would have been much different from what they now were.

The businesses Thomas had planned were still placed just outside the trailer park perimeter, but now they would provide jobs for the residents of the soon-to-be housing development that the present trailer owners would occupy. Thomas extended thirty-year mortgages to the tenants, with ten percent of the balance to be taken off for each decade of faithful payment. He also would take ten percent of each payment and assign it to the owner of the park, for as long as he lived, in addition to paying the balance of his medical bills left unpaid by insurance.

Thomas Milner III had such a feeling of elation that he wondered why simply doing good had never before crossed his mind during all his years of business. Had he become a carbon copy of his father and grandfather, without ever intending to be such? But now, this feeling…this total exhilaration had changed him entirely. From now on, his life would be different—he had received his blessing and this time it had stuck.

Ch. 38 -- Where Two Or More Are Gathered

Where Two Or More Are Gathered
(C) Steven G. O'Dell

Marvin awoke suddenly with the rattling of his screen door. He snorted and attempted to sit up from his bed, but fell back again with a muffled groan and sigh. Who could it be that was disturbing his afternoon nap? And why did they have to do it today, of all days, when he had been having such a good dream? He could almost smell the scent of the home-baked chocolate chip cookies that his mother used to make. And many years later, he'd finally gotten his wife to the point where she could duplicate the recipe--just a hint of cinnamon that made it a prize-winner. Too bad Marjorie was gone now. What a team "Marv and Marge" had been. Everyone said so.

With another seemingly superhuman effort, Marvin achieved the upright position and pushed his feet into his slippers, grabbed his cane and began the long walk to the front door. Past the pictures of family members and friends in the hallway, through the living room that had so many wonderful thoughts attached to it, and finally to the front door. He could see through the sheer blind and large glass pane that no one was there, but something was hanging on the handle of the screen door. Marvin pursed his lips and gathered his brows together in puzzlement.

The old door creaked mildly as it opened, still needing the oil that Marvin had been promising to give it for the last fifteen years. Sure enough, there hung a plastic bag from the handle of the screen door--and the most wonderful aroma struck Marvins' nose so that he nearly gasped in delight and amazement. It was unmistakably the cinnamon and chocolate chip cookies he had just been dreaming about. How was this possible? And beyond that, they were still warm, as though they had but moments before come from the oven.

Marvin buried his nose in the bag and inhaled deeply...and held his breath as long as he could, until he let it out only to repeat the process. What a blessing it was to have his dream come true. But how could it be? Marvin bit into the first cookie and moaned aloud with delight, then laughed at his own response. It was involuntary, but said more about his approval than mere words could ever convey. If it were possible, these were better than any cinnamon chocolate chip cookies he had ever before eaten, and that was certainly saying something, because he had eaten the best up until now.

It was following two more cookies that Marvin got back to the task of deciding who might have done such a thing. It was only right that they should be properly thanked for their kindness. But there was no identifying information on the note included, except to say "Enjoy". And that he certainly had done, and would do again later.

Opening the screen again, Marvin walked out onto his porch and surveyed the neighborhood with the eye of an eagle--at least as close to that as a man his age could do. He finally decided that perhaps it was the widow across the street that might have done such a thing. He wasn't sure, but he couldn't think of anyone else in the neighborhood that could have ever known of his love for such cookies. She was the only one that Marge had been really close to in the neighborhood. Well, he would just have to make the trip over there and thank her personally.

About this time, Naida's attention was caught by something that zipped past her window and cast a shadow upon her as she sat reading in her old over-stuffed chair. Setting her book aside and rising slowly from her seat, she made her way to the door and opened it to see if someone was there...just as Marvin arrived on her doorstep and bearing a small bouquet of roses from his backyard garden.

"Well, hello there!", she exclaimed as she stepped onto her porch to join her visitor. "What beautiful roses. Did you grow them yourself?"

"Why, yes, I did."

"Roses are my favorite and these are my favorite color."

"Well, then you're in luck, because these are for you."

Naida's eyes opened wide in surprise and delight as Marvin handed the bouquet to her and she sniffed deeply at the blossoms in her hand. She thought how each variety had not only its own look and color, but each its own fragrance, as well.

"These are wonderful! To what do I owe the pleasure? I can't think of anything I've done recently to deserve this." She laughed softly and Marvin chuckled at her playfully coy attempt to disguise the kindness she had offered him.

"It seemed like a neighborly thing to do, so I did it. And perhaps you'd like to share with me some absolutely amazing cookies that magically appeared at my door." He held aloft the bag and nearly winked as he said this. Two could be playfully coy, after all.

"Oh, that would be lovely. Do come in."

The afternoon was a true joy for both Marvin and Naida. They laughed and shared stories of their youth, stories of their years with their spouses and stories of their hopes and dreams. Both had expressed how they found it hard to be alone and that this had been a real blessing to have enjoyed the company of one so cheerful.

Looking out the window, Marvin realzed the shadows were lengthening and he stood to thank Naida and excuse himself for the evening.

"We'll have to do this again soon, but next time in my home, alright?"

"That would be wonderful." Naida knit her brow in a perplexed look. "Isn't it strange that we never really talked much before? I so enjoyed your company. And thank you for the lovely roses."

"Thank you for the outstanding cookies." This time he did wink at her.

Naida thought he was joking and simply giggled appreciatively. Neither of them had seen the smiling man who had left the cinnamon chocolate chips cookies at Marvin's door and had later left a small, blue-covered book, wrapped with care, on both Naida's and Marvin's doorsteps, then leaving quickly and quietly to carry out his next assignment.

Ch. 39 -- My Peace I give Unto You

My Peace I Give Unto You
Steven G. O'Dell © 2009

"...not as the world giveth...”
What you need may be far better than what you want.

--------------------------------------

It's the strangest feeling. One minute you are bracing for impact and knowing there is nothing you can do to avoid it and the next..., you are apparently unscathed and looking at the wreckage before you, spread across several lanes of highway. That's what happened to me.

The day was like any other, or so I thought. The routine was the same, anyway. I got up, showered, made and ate breakfast and then grabbed my bags to head to the airport. This was a flight I was looking forward to, unlike the others I made for the company -- all business and no pleasure. This time I was to spend two extra days enjoying myself at company expense in a fine hotel in Naples, Italy. Business is business, but pleasure...that's another thing altogether.

So there I was, making good time on the express and even singing to the radio for once, my mood unflappable in light of the treat that lay in wait at the other end of my flight. Italy, here I come!

That's when it happened. That's when it always happens -- when you least expect it, when you least want it, when it's least convenient or when it seems impossible. All I saw was this wall of tanker truck, jack-knifing in the road ahead of me. It all seemed to happen so fast. I checked the mirror to see what was behind me and wouldn't you know, it was another tanker truck, close on my bumper and waiting to pass when an opening allowed. Well, there was no opening now and I knew I was going to be part of some horrendous mechanical sandwich in the next few seconds. I braced and then led by some mysterious force, I relaxed and surrendered to fate, somehow at peace with myself and the world...and whatever fate lay in store for me. I remember thinking, 'I wonder if you can travel and still see the world when you are dead?' And then the skyline and everything but metal, fore and aft, was blocked out.

The sound was unlike anything I had ever heard in my life. You see and hear the car crashes portrayed on television or in movies, but the reality of it is so much different. Maybe it was the perspective of being right in the middle of it. It was horrendously loud, and not unlike some giant eating machine that you knew was going to chew you up and, if you were lucky, spit out some small piece of you for the coroner to examine and identify.

And then I was standing at the side of my crushed car and watching the wreckage of all the other vehicles that had piled up in the collision. There must have been dozens of them, all victims of poor judgment, bad timing, being in the wrong place at the wrong time or lack of attention. What I remember, too, is the strange lack of sound for a moment. If you've ever heard the phrase, 'the silence was deafening', this was one of those times that illustrated the principle. There was nothing for a long moment and then the crying, moaning and screaming began. It came from seemingly everywhere at once.

I ran to the nearest car and looked into the driver's compartment. A woman was screaming in a state of full hysteria. I tried to open the car door, but it would not budge, so I began to pound on the window and she paid no notice to me -- just kept screaming and crying. I then checked the drivers of other cars and tried to free them from their vehicles, also, but with the same result, being unable to pry the doors open or break any window sufficiently to remove it. Something didn't feel right about the whole thing. That's when the real shocker came.

A man had been able to step from his vehicle and walked in a daze toward me. I spoke to him, asking him if he was alright and suggesting he sit down and rest, as it appeared he might be bleeding from a few wounds to his head, face and chest. He hugged one arm and cradles it as if it were a baby in his care. I knew it must be broken. The man just ignored me and walked right through me. Through me! I didn't believe it at first, thinking I must be delirious and that this was some effect of the tremendous trauma I had just experienced. I staggered away and stood beside the road's edge, in stunned silence for a moment. And then a man spoke to me, calling me by name.

"Chris, I want you to sit down. Can you do that for me, please?"

I stared at him blankly for a moment and then, gathering my wits, asked him how he knew my name. He again asked me to sit, so I complied and fell back unceremoniously into the grass along the highway's edge.

"You've been hurt terribly and I am going to give you a priesthood blessing. I want you to sit here for a moment while I do."

'He is a member of the Church', I recall thinking. Then he stood, walked a few paces to the nearest vehicle and began to tear open the rumpled door with his bare hands. Even in my stunned state, I knew this was not something an ordinary man could do. I was no wimp, but I could never have done such a thing myself. Who was this man?

I suddenly recognized the car as my own. It was now a significantly shorter version, from front to back, but it was definitely the one I had been driving. What was he doing? He was reaching into the car and placing his hands on someones' head. But, who? No one had been in the car with me.

And then I could hear his voice, as if it were in my ears directly.

"Christopher James Paxton, in the name of Jesus Christ and by authority of His holy Priesthood, I command you to live and remain at peace until medical help can arrive. You will have the best of medical attention and your healing will be in the hands of the Lord. Trust and be at peace in God."

Suddenly and without warning, I was in my car, looking across the crumpled dashboard, through the shattered windshield and at the wall of metal that lay before me. I could feel warmth running down my face and my chest was a bit numb. My legs would not move. And yet, somehow I felt peaceful. Trying to turn my head, I caught a glimpse of the same man, now apparently giving a blessing to another person lieing nearby on the pavement. Who was he? How did he know my name?

-------------

A full five years later, I look back and have to thank God for the blessing that man gave me. I am still stunned, but not by the events of that day. I am stunned by the subsequent events that came about as a result of that day. Things would have been so different if none of those terrible things had taken place.

As a result of my accident, in which I lost my legs and had major facial and cranial reconstruction, I was later flown to, of all places, Italy, to enter a special study and treatment program to accelerate healing without scarring. Not to Naples, but better. Naples can come later. I was flown directly to the place that I would never have gone to on my own or on the company dime. I was led directly to the woman I would marry and take to the temple. She was part of the staff who treated me for the scarring from my injuries. In fact, she was the lead individual and the initial discoverer of the new treatment method, which would soon become standard procedure around the world. I got to teach her about my faith and she took to it like a duck to water, asking questions incessantly.

As an added bonus, several others on the staff said they would also arrange to be taught by the missionaries at the first possible opportunity. I guess there was something in the peace they could read in my soul that made them see something they wanted for themselves.

Today, I walk with no apparent difficulty, just as you would. Today there is no visible scarring to any but the most trained eye. And today I have the love of my life beside me and our second child on the way. More importantly, I have the peace of the Lord; a peace that only God can grant in a world such as ours. And I have faith that cannot be shaken, that God provides for us in the time of our crisis,...according to our needs, if not according to our wants.

Ch. 40 -- The Greatest Christmas Gift Ever

Dec. 24, 2009 -- While saying my prayers last night, I reflected on how I needed to write a Christmas-oriented story for the collection of short stories I am currently writing. The answer, a gift to me, and now to you, came in a flash of insight. "Why not share your own conversion story and the best winter and best Christmas present you ever had?" I knew instantly that was the right answer. There are a few liberties with details, like the meeting with a stranger at the bus stop and the locale being in Michigan, but the rest of the story, regarding my friend Daniel and myself, is completely accurate, and even more amazing than the few details I shared here. The writing was done in one morning, this morning. God is amazing, isn't He? Here is His, and my, Christmas gift to you, before it comes out in the book The Visitor.

The Greatest Christmas Gift Ever

Steven G. O'Dell (C) 2009

"Greater love hath no man than this...."

'I remember the day as if it were just yesterday, although many years have passed.'

Those were the words the old man used. A few years have passed since he and I sat and talked, but I now understand the words and the look in his eye as he spoke.
It was a day about like any other winter day in our area – cold, windy and generally miserable. I wouldn't even have been out in it, had it not been necessary to get a last minute Christmas gift. The last thing I wanted was to die of exposure to the weather in a Michigan winter. And yet, here I was, sitting at a bus stop in the frigid, unfriendly conditions that any sane individual would be avoiding like the plague. That's when he approached and sat on the bench next to me. He was of average height, weight and appearance, but there was a sense of happiness that was disarming in a strange way.

"Hello, young man, how are you this fine day?" He offered his hand, wrapped as it was in glove. A bit surprised, I offered mine in return before I had even processed the thought.
"As good as anyone can be on such a nasty day, I guess." I went back to looking for the bus and wondering if I would need to be thawed before I could get on it.

"Nasty? No, sir. It's a wonderful day to be alive. Any day this side of dirt is a good one."
I have to admit that I thought he might have been a bit addled to be so enthusiastic about such inclement weather conditions, but the world is full of all kinds, after all. We can't all be sane and well-adjusted. Yet, he continued.

"I take it you don't share my enthusiasm." His smile did not fade in the least.
"Well, no, I have never been one to enjoy winter that much. I would rather be inside with a hot cocoa and a good movie or book right now. Instead, I need to get a gift for my niece, if there are even any left when I get there." I snorted and huffed in disgust at the thought of the shelves being picked over or empty.

"I once felt as you do. Not anymore, though." He clapped his gloved hands together and looked about himself as if he were sitting on a park bench in the middle of new spring flowers. There was an unmistakable joy in his gaze and countenance. It made me wish I could share it, yet I could not even understand it. "It all changed one winter, just like this one. That winter was like a gift to me."
"Gifts...." I sniffed. "Well, this winter is no gift to me, that's for sure. I don't expect my last minute search will pay off, so I will have been out in the cold for nothing and my niece will still have no present of any real value."

"Value is in the eye of the beholder, son."
"Well, that may be, but the fact remains that I would rather be inside where it's warm. Why Jesus chose to be born in the middle of winter is beyond me."

At that the old man began to laugh. It was warm and infectious and somehow chased away the cranky feelings I had been expressing so openly to a stranger.
"Well, there is some debate as to the time of year he was born, but let me share a story with you while we wait...if that's alright with you?" He raised his eyebrows in anticipation of my answer.

"Sure, why not. I have nothing else to do until the bus comes." I was being polite. Pleasant or not, I wasn't convinced his story was going to make me feel any better.
"Alright, then. I remember the day as if it were just yesterday, although many years have passed." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly and settled back on the bench as he began to weave his tale. It took only a moment to know that the story was real to him and I was drawn in, like an observer unseen and sitting in the darkness of a theatrical presentation. His words were heartfelt as he continued.

"As I said, it was a winter just like this one – the winter of 1971, as a matter of fact. I was an irresponsible, young rascal of the highest order." He snickered softly and you could sense that he saw again in his mind the scenes of that day. "I was wrapped up in sex, drugs and rock and roll. And I was on the path to eventual destruction, I am sure. And I was not alone in my drive to oblivion, either. Several friends, so-called, were sharing the view with me along that road. We were partiers, all of us. Hard partiers."
Suddenly, it was as if only he and I existed in the world at that moment. There was an utter and complete stillness that enveloped us. No traffic noises, no sounds at all, but for the voice of this one old man. Even my chattering teeth and heavy breathing had ceased to be noticable. I hung on every word this man spoke, unable to pry my attention from him.

"...so there we were, Dan and I, sitting at the kitchen table, high on LSD and rambling about some inane thing that we must have thought to be very clever and insightful at the time. That's when it happened...." He paused in a far-away gaze and sat silent with the hint of a smile on his face.
"What? What happened?" My voice seemed like a noisy intruder in the quiet that surrounded us.

"The Holy Ghost, son. Suddenly we were not alone anymore. We both knew it, too. There was no denying it for either of us. One moment we were just two stoned idiots sitting there talking and the next we had our minds blown totally by the presence of God." He chuckled again. "LSD is a powerful drug, but this...oh, this...this was something neither of us had ever experienced in our short and impetuous lives. It was every bit like a Klieg light in total darkness. It was as if someone had snapped on a switch and suddenly we were in a different realm, you know?"
Of course I didn't. There was no way I could, but I nodded and he continued. The strange thing is, I no longer thought him crazy. I should have, with a tale such as he was relating to me at the moment, but he was genuine in his belief that it had happened and, for some unknown and unexplainable reason, I could not disbelieve it either.

"God never takes away your personal moral agency, son. The question implied that night was, 'is it revelation or is it hallucination?' We both knew the answer to that one immediately. There was no denying that we both were experiencing the same event. No drug, no matter how powerful, does that. And this.....this was so much more powerful than the drug ever could have been. It eclipsed any drug-induced experience I or any man had ever had in the history of the world, I assure you. The feeling of pure and utter love was tangible, so thick you could cut it with a knife. It was like a big hug from someone you have a mutual love with." He stared off into space for a moment in private reverie before proceeding.
"The next several hours were spent in receiving revelation. If you have never felt pure intelligence pour into you, you have no concept of the exhilaration and joy that it brings. It was as if we were plugged into the great cosmic switchboard and suddenly knew things we had never even conceived of before. Just suddenly knew them to be true. And later they proved to be so, too."

He went on to relate how he and his friend, Dan, had sat there at that same table for hours more, each being alternately used by the Holy Ghost as a mouthpiece to teach these principles to one another. Things they never knew were being taught to them even as they spoke the words. I have to admit that if anyone but this man had been telling me the story, that is all I would have thought it to be -- a fanciful story, and nothing more. But this was not your average story, nor, it seemed, your average man.
"We then took a walk, as we were unable to sleep after such an event, as you can imagine. We saw the world in an entirely new and unique way that night. The snow on the ground and the ice that we stepped on. It was like the world was one huge ball of crystal and mankind was scratching and chipping it with his every step and movement...desecrating this Urim and Thummim the Lord had formed for our use."

The terms were unfamiliar to me, but I did not interrupt. I would look them up later. Surely, they had to be in the Bible or a dictionary. He proceeded.
"And then we were led back to the apartment we had so recently departed from. That was when the most amazing thing happened."

More amazing than anything yet? I did not interrupt this time. I didn't want to hear my own voice intruding in the midst of such a wondrous tale as I was hearing.
"We had been listening to many LP records when we visited that apartment. Some we had heard many times, but I have to tell you, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, things can take on a totally different meaning than you think them to be. And that is what happened that night to Dan and I. The LP was by a group called FREE and the title was Fire And Water. Do you see the analogy in that? The sense of humor God has?"

He waited but a second for my reply and I nodded my agreement.
"Oh, yes, he has a wonderful sense of humor, but he loves his children, too, and he showed us that night the error of our ways and the right path. We were instructed to place the needle on the record...you knew that they didn't always have CD's, right?" He grinned as I smiled back at the thought.

"The song was Heavy Load. It had this plodding, sad and heavy piano back-beat that was for all the world reminiscent of a man under the weight of sin and grief, dragging himself along a lonely and dismal road, with no companion but God, to whom he makes his complaint that he can go no further down, recognizing he has taken the wrong road in his life. As the song opens, Dan and I are suddenly pressed down under the unseen weight of our own sins and find ourselves lieing on the floor, sobbing with great, heaving gasps. As the last strains die out, the weight lifts and we are again free of that crushing pressure. We are allowed a short time to discuss the experience and are instructed to again repeat the song, with the same result. And a third time we are told to do the same thing. Each time it is the same. The same crushing weight of sin, the same crying in desperation and sorrow for our shortcomings. The same grief over our choices in life."
That this was not your average story was more than apparent now. It was the most engaging and intriguing story I had ever heard in my life. I could not help but believe it, regardless of how improbable and far-fetched it was. The man told it as any man would after living it personally. There was no denying the truth of it, even as a listener.

"I went from being missing from home a week or more at a time, to being home every night and reading the Bible. You can imagine how perplexed my parents must have been." Again he grinned and chuckled. "There had been a miraculous change in Dan and I. One minute neither of us knew if there was a God and the next minute we couldn't deny it. No, sir. Not for one second since that time. Personally, I believe God saved my life that night."
I was suddenly aware that I was no longer shivering from the cold. It was as if a warm blanket, fresh from the dryer, had been laid over me.

"Son, I learned that winter that there were more important things about Christmas than getting stoned and 'oooh-ing and ahhh-ing' over the pretty lights or laughing about silly and un-fulfilling frivolities. I learned that the greatest gift of all was given by God himself. He knew we had to have a way to get back to him, that we were in a fallen and unworthy state, but he loves us so much that he made the ultimate sacrifice. His own son paid a price that only a God could pay -- to buy us back from death and sin, if we would only accept the payment in our behalf and then live right." At this point, the old man turned to me and looked into my eyes with an intensity that almost burned.
"How would you feel if you knew someone had given his own life to save yours?"

The question hit like a ton of bricks. I was speechless at the thought. If I had done something so wrong and so heinous as to be punishable by death, or if I were in such perils as to need rescuing, how would I feel if my rescuer lost his life in saving mine? I would be devastated, thinking that another family was altered forever because of me. I would want to reach out and take care of their every need, in gratitude, in a feeling of indebtedness for the gift I had been given of my own life. How could I waste it from then on in selfish pursuits? And that's when it hit me; the true meaning of what the old man meant by his question. And that's also when I began to cry, with that same sobbing he had spoken of – that sense of despair and feeling of unworthiness, knowing that the Son of God had been given as a sacrifice for me, for my measly and insignificant life. For my self-centered, egotistical and so far meaningless existence.

The old man put a hand on my shoulder to comfort me. I was still crying like a baby, face in hands. It seemed forever until I could regather my composure. And when I looked at him again, dusk had passed, the street lights had come on and there was what appeared to be a halo around the man. To this day, I would not doubt he was an angel. Maybe not in the supernatural sense, but a messenger from God, nonetheless.

"Here's your bus, son. God bless you and have the best Christmas you ever had, alright?"

"Aren't you waiting for the bus, too?"

"Nope. I was waiting for you. That's my Christmas present."

I didn't know if he meant this had been his present to me or if sharing with me was like a present to him. It didn't matter. I thanked him and made as if to shake his hand when, without warning, he gave me a big bear hug and said, "God bless you, son. I love you and your Father in Heaven loves you." I swear I knew at that moment that this total stranger truly loved me for who I was. I knew it was a pure love, even as God has for me – for all his children.

'I remember the day as if it were just yesterday, although many years have passed.'

I find myself saying these same words to my children and grandchildren, even to total strangers, to this day. And I always smile when I think of the man who said them first to me. I know that God sent that man out on that cold winter night to fix a heart that was twisted and broken; to set a lost wanderer onto the right road again. I have been led by that same Spirit many times myself since then. It never ceases to amaze me or to bring joy to my heart when I follow those promptings and see the miraculous change in others, for I know that I am helping God to bring peace to the world, one person at a time – one child of God, one brother or sister of mine that I never knew before then. There is no greater love than that which Christ gave for mankind those two millenia ago; no greater sacrifice. It is indeed the greatest Christmas gift ever.
=======================
God bless you all and may this Christmas be filled with the true meaning for you and your loved ones, that you may speak of it for years to come, as do I.

Here is a link to the song referred to in the story. Yes, it is a real song and it really was used by God to change my life. I hope you understand the message of it. I was like the prodigal son and so is the man in the song, except we never know if he is able to return from the choices he has made in life. Thanks to divine intervention, I was able to return to a Father who loves me.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Quyn6vwvBho&feature;=related

Ch. 41 Promises Kept

Promises Kept
Steven G. O'Dell © 2010

Although we may occasionally forget, there is One who never does.

Marco Di Pietro sat silently in his rocking chair, eyes closed and unmoving, as he had for the last hour. Unmoving, that is, except for his breathing, which was slow and shallow. His mind, however, was active as could be, unseen to all but God, who knew the thoughts of all men.

Marco's thoughts were flying rapidly about, recalling everything he could about his life with his dear Francesca, who had now been gone for three years. He and his lovely wife had been sealed as husband and wife in the House of the Lord many years ago and for that he was grateful, but the last few weeks had been nearly as difficult emotionally for Marco as had those first few weeks immediately after her passing from mortality.

He thought of how he had first seen her in the market place as she walked with her girl friend. He had been struck by her simple beauty, but more-so, there was an unspoken attraction that he could not put into words, as if the universe was telling him he must get to know this woman. That came about when her friend informed her that a young man seemed to be following them everywhere they went. Francesca had turned about and defiantly asked him what his purpose was in trailing them all about the market. Marco honestly could not recall what his exact words were, but they seemed to soother her ire and she showed a willingness to allow him to openly accompany them for the rest of that day. And when her friend took leave, Francesca had allowed Marco to walk her home and promised to see him again soon.

He recalled their first kiss, under the moonlight at the fountain in the plaza. He fondly recalled how he had proposed marriage to her only a week later, knowing without doubt that this was the one woman he wished to be with for the rest of his life. There were the memories of each of their three children, filling the house with laughter and running feet and oh, so many questions. There were the times of triumph and tragedy and all the joys and trials common to mankind. The loss of a child, the birth of a grandchild, the illness and death of his wife. And above all was the remembrance of the day they were baptized into the Church and the day they were all sealed as a family in the Temple. Marco was filled with gratitude that these last two things, the most important things, had been accomplished before the separation of any family members. He was truly filled with joy to know that his grandchildren were all born under the Covenant. And yet his heart ached today, as it had these last few weeks. He ached in his soul to be with his dear Francesca again, to hold her as he had when they first danced together in the village square, without music and to the laughter and smiles of the observers who applauded and approved of their silliness in the name of romance.

Marco did not open his eyes, but he stood, slowly and unsteadily, from his rocking chair, and he took the hand of his dear Francesca, present only in his mind, walked her into a distant plaza and took her in his arms as he had so long ago. He basked in her smile, he could hear again the approval of the crowd and he delighted in her love. And then Marco began to weep and as he did, he fell to his knees and sobbed heavily, like a small child whose heart is broken and knows not what will mend it.

At midnight exactly, as the clock struck, Marco awoke. He was not in his bed as usual, but found himself on the floor where he had cried himself to sleep through exhaustion. As he struggled to get to his feet, Marco became suddenly aware that he was not alone in the room. So frightened was he at first that he lost his balance and plopped firmly onto his bottom in the middle of the floor. As his eyes began to focus, the face that took shape was one he knew well, better than his own.

“Francesca! My dearest Francesca!”

“Marco....”

The lips moved and the voice was audible, after a fashion, but it was in his mind and not in his ears.

“Is it really you, Francesca? Can it be true?”

The smile was unmistakable. The eyes were filled with a love that was undeniable and meant only for him. The slight nod of the head was distinctly Francesca, as well.

“Marco, you grieve too much. Do you forget the promises of the Covenant?”

“No. No, my darling....I do not forget the promises. I know them all and think of them each day, several times. My heart grieves to be with you again. I do not doubt the promises. I simply want them fulfilled...I want to be with you again, my love.”

The look of pity and of her own yearning was apparent. He felt her heart poured out to him, as his was to her. He felt again that unspoken bond and invisible cord that would keep them together throughout the eternities. His heart leapt at the sudden inrush of feeling and he saw that hers did, too.

“You have been patient, Marco. Be patient awhile longer. The promises are sure and God is faithful. I am with you always, as is He. The time will not be long and it shall pass quickly, if you will busy yourself in doing for others and not waste it in feeling sorry for yourself.”

Marco hung his head in shame, realizing suddenly that he had indeed been feeling self-pity and not living life as his darling Francesca would have wanted him to do. With new resolve, Marco raised his face to her and made a promise of his own.

“When it is my day to pass from this life and I come to you again, I promise I will be able to hold high my head and proclaim with confidence that I have been faithful to you, have been a good and faithful servant of God in the time of our separation and that I am worthy of you and of a place in His Kingdom. That I promise you, Francesca. You have my word.”

"And give me your word, too, that you will tell our children and grandchildren of my love for them. Promise me that, Marco, and I will rest at peace again.”

“I will, I promise. I will do so this very day. I love you, my dearest....”

Francesca had faded into the shadows of the room and Marco was now alone again. And yet there was no horrid feeling of solitary imprisonment in his own home, as there had previously been. There was a glow and a warmth that attended him now, a peace of heart and spirit that one could not describe, but only experience. Marco knew this had been no trickery of imagination, no conjuring of his wishful thinking, no illusory vapors brought to the forefront by his deepest desires. His heart and soul told him it was real and that his great love was still his and his only.

It was a sunny day when Marco passed away from this mortal realm. He was one minute smiling at a child and making funny faces in the market where he had met Francesca and the next he stared off into space and collapsed with a smile still on his face, reaching his hand toward someone unseen by the still-approving crowd. Marco had kept his promise, no longer feeling sorry for himself, but grateful to the very depths of his heart for the kindness that God had allowed him to recall again the promises that were his under the Covenants of the House of the Lord. And now, Marco was again with his Francesca, just as God had promised.

Ch. 42 I Will Be Watching

I Will Be Watching
Steven G. O'Dell © 2010

The works of God and man do not go unnoticed.

“You, sir! Hold there a moment, if you will.”

The voice startled William Bradshaw as he walked purposefully down the narrow street, causing him to turn about in his tracks before coming to a complete stop, nearly spilling his bundle and himself over in the process. The man who assailed him stood tall and was well dressed; indeed had a bearing of dignity and elegance about him that stood out from his peers. But there was something odd about him, as well, as William discovered upon the approach of the man. It was his eyes. They were black as coal and deep as the emptiness of space. William shivered involuntarily as he looked into them, but could not look away without seeming rude.

“May I help you?”

“I certainly hope so,” replied the tall gentleman. “I am in need of a strong pair of arms to carry out a task for me. It will take most of a day, but will pay quite well, I assure you. The need is immediate.”

William could stare into those eyes no longer without wanting to become nauseated and dizzy. He looked away as if to stare into the distance and consider whom he might recommend for the task. After gathering his wits again, he turned back and stated simply, “I am afraid I am on an errand of some importance at the moment and cannot help you. Please forgive me if I must take my leave.” And with that, William began to turn to go.

“Mr. Bradshaw!” There was a commanding tone in the voice now, a tinge of impatience mixed with an arrogance that denoted the man was ill equipped and unaccustomed to taking no for an answer. “I will pay you well, as I have said.”

William turned again to face the stranger and saw the pouch of gold coins that hung and jingled in the man's hand. The look in those eyes was, if anything, deeper and colder than before. Again William shivered. Every nerve and fiber in him warned to beware of this man.

“I don't know how you know my name or why you seem so insistent on employing me, of all people, to do your bidding, but I will tell you again, Sir, as politely as I know how, I am on an errand of some importance to the Lord and to myself and cannot at this time be persuaded to deviate from it. I bid you good day, Sir.” Again he turned to go. William had not stepped ten paces before he turned again to discover what the man might be doing and how he would react. To his surprise, there was no one there. William stopped dead in his tracks again for the third time. There was no place for the man have disappeared so quickly and easily from the street and yet he had vanished as effectively as if he had never been there from the start. And now William recalled another odd thing about the man. There had been an unusual odor about him, one that seemed entirely fitting to the discomfort caused by gazing into his eyes – those eyes that seemed empty as the vastness of the universe, as cold as deep ocean waters, as seeing as..... There was no word for it, but William felt as if he was being watched.

Turning at last into the store front of the Mercantile, William approached the proprietor with the bundle of books he held under his arm. The man smiled and immediately came to greet him.

“I have good news for you, Mr. Bradshaw. Every copy of the book sold and we have been asked for more. I assume that is what you have there, under your arm?”

“Indeed I do. That is wonderful news, Sir. You must be an outstanding salesman.”

“No, Sir. It isn't that at all,” he stated as he brought forth the money from the sale of the previous batch of books. “I think it's those men who have been preaching here in town all week. They have a powerful way about them that makes it hard to deny their words. Why, I even bought one copy myself.”

William was unaware of any men who might have been preaching the Book of Mormon in town, but he silently and reverently thanked God for His watchful eye and helping hand.

“That is the power of God and the witness of the Holy Ghost you felt, Sir. I know that feeling myself, as it is what so recently convinced me of the error of my own beliefs.”

“Yessir, a powerful witness for sure. So powerful that one man came in immediately and wanted to buy every copy we had. Was something strange about him, I must say. He left me ill at ease and I had the feeling that I shouldn't sell all of the books to one man, if you know what I mean.” He shook his head slightly, as if in puzzlement and uneasiness.

“Tall man? Well dressed? Dark eyes, like coal?”

“Why, yes! Do you know him?”

“No, but I've had a recent encounter with him myself. Brief, but all too lengthy.”

“That was my feeling, too. He told me he would be watching with interest the proceedings in this town. Made me shiver. I must say, don't like the man. Maybe I shouldn't say such a thing based on one meeting, but that's what I feel, nonetheless. If I never see him again, it will suit me just as well.”

“Well, thank you for your concern and I am sure you did the right thing. Here are ten more copies of the Book of Mormon. I will bring more next week and if this week's sales was any indication, perhaps I should double or even triple the amount.” William laughed softly.

“Perhaps you should. There is something about that book that I cannot explain, but it makes me feel...well, at peace, I guess. That's the only word that seems to fit. If others are feeling it, too, there will be a lot more books being sold here next week.”

William wrapped up his dealings, the proceeds of the sales and took receipt for the new shipment of books. With gratitude in his heart, he stopped under a tree and prepared to give thanks to the Lord for a rich return on his efforts.

“I will be watching you, William Bradshaw.”

The voice was the same as before, but cut through his mind without touching his ears. The same shiver, the same raising of hairs on his neck accompanied it. The same racing of the heart. William dropped to his knees and began to pray.

“Father in Heaven, I ask in the name of Thy Son, even Jesus Christ, to spare me of this torment from this demon of Hell. I pray that my path shall no more be crossed by his foul stench, his evil gaze or his diabolical purposes.”

William had not even finished praying before the spirit of contention and discomfort withdrew completely. And in its place came a sense of peace...the same peace spoken of by the store owner. The same peace promised by the Son through faith in Him and His Father. In addition, William became the recipient of a further assurance.

“William, my son, I will be watching.”

There was no mistaking that voice, the feeling it carried to the heart of man or the strength of the promise. God would indeed be watching and if God watched and was aware, all would be well.

Ch. 43 Day of Destiny

Day Of Destiny
Steven G. O'Dell (C) 2010

The days we recall most are often those days we wish we could change.

It was the strangest day of my life. It was the last day of my life. Perhaps I had better begin a bit earlier.

I awoke that morning, as any other, with the sun coming through my window. It was, as any other day, clear, warm and bright. A moisture canopy in the upper atmosphere enveloped the earth and kept the climate temperate, like a greenhouse, although we knew nothing of such things in those days. All we knew was this day was like any other...or so we thought.

We tended to the chores of the day as we did every morning. Fed the chickens, milked the cows and tended the weeds in the garden. My wife and children assisted where they were able and until the tempers got too bad, as they usually did toward the end. The children were eager to run off and play, to get into mischief, to have adventures of their own. Can't say that I blamed them, as I wished and fantasized about adventures of my own. But the tedium of each day called and demanded attention. Responsibility was ever present.

It was about halfway through the day that the strangest things began to happen, unlike anything I had ever known before. It started with the animals. They seemed restless and irritable. With each passing minute, they became more-so. Soon they were pulling at their ropes in panic and running in all directions, as if some great beast were stalking them and about to pounce. I stood and watched helplessly as they scattered, not knowing what could be the cause of such behavior. A few moments later I saw it in the sky, in the Southeast and looming ever larger.

It was almost indescribable. A large dark body divided the sky and pierced the canopy, as if the prow of a ship raking through the waters. Where it passed, the canopy above became darkened, roiled wildly and dense streaks of water began to fall from the sky. Soon the object was overhead and the sun itself was darkened and blotted out for a time. We all fell to the ground as if we were about to be crushed. It seemed as if it were scarcely out of our reach, were we to have lifted our arms to touch it. And then the waters fell upon us. Such a thing had never before happened. The fear that this caused is something I cannot convey. My wife and the children, who had now come running home, were crying uncontrollably. But the worst was yet to come.

The ground now began to shake and a tremendous rumble was heard, softly at first, and then louder as the minutes passed. We must have heard it for nearly half an hour before the cause reached us. On the horizon was a wall of something, growing larger, coming closer by the minute. Was this what the animals had run from? Or was their fear caused by the object that had flown over our heads and disappeared into the Northwest sky?

We stood dumbfounded as the wall became larger and then our mouths hung in terrible awe as we recognized it for what it was. This was water, from the sea, coming onto land and piled high as the eye could look, once it was upon you. The wife and I looked at one another with expressions such as we had never known or seen in one another before that day; nor would we ever see it again, we knew. There was no sense in running. We would never get to safety. We gathered the children together and just held one another firmly, as a family for one last moment, standing there before our home and before God and.....

God; He whom we had all but forgotten in our lives. He whom we had disobeyed at every turn. He whom we had made light of and ridiculed. And He who always kept His promise.... I now thought of that crazy old man who daily had warned us of the wrath of God to come. He who had warned us to repent and be saved from the destructions to come. He whom we had all had a good laugh at, building a great ship on land, far from the sea. Crazy Noah...whom, it seems, was not so crazy after all.

Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise

The Wisdom of the Wise
Steven G. O'Dell (C) 2010

The wisdom of men is foolishness to God.

(This is a true story. It happened to my companion and myself in the Canada, Ontario MIssion between 1973 and 1975. I was the one shocked to hear the words of the Spirit come from me without warning.)

It should have been a door like any other for the two missionaries. It could more easily have been the usual polite turn-down and excusing of one's self to close the door and shut out the truth of the Gospel. This was no ordinary contact, however. Here stood a man with an abundance of arrogance, a smug grin and more than noticeable condescension in his countenance.

"You're wasting your time here, boys. Why would I be interested in your Book of Mormon, if I don't even believe in God and the Bible?" He was apparently amused and thought that was the end of the conversation, because the door began to close and that overly-confident smirk remained on his lips.

"Do you believe in UFO's?"

The words escaped my mouth before I even knew what had happened. As shocked as I was, I could sense that my companion must have been looking at me from the corner of his eye, also. Too late. The words were sent forth and the door that had but a second ago been reduced to an inch gap was now opening and there was a look of genuine interest on the face of the man. And then it hit me as to what was happening. I knew suddenly where to go with the topic and it made sense.

"Why, yes, I do."

Everyone has to believe in something. If it wasn't God, it would most likely be science that would capture the man's faith. And this man was no different, placing his faith in the lesser of the sources, the powers of man or aliens.

"Do you believe they have technology that far transcends ours?"

"Yes, of course!" His eyes were wide with interest and excitement. This was his meat and potatoes, intellectually speaking.

"They must, if they have the ability to travel such long distances, right?"

"Yes, yes." His head was nodding and he waited with baited breath for each new question, each statement, each revelation he expected to come. This would be one revelation he would not soon forget.

"Is it possible they have overcome mortality and the restrictions that keep us from traveling such distances in space?"

"Yes, I would think so. They must have." The door was still wide open and he was still intent on gathering every drop of information he could.

"Do you think they have perfected anti-gravity and other technologies that we have yet to discover?"

Again, yes. Again, the affirmative nod of the head. He was taking it all; hook, line, sinker and boat.

"Perhaps they would be able to use that technology to do things we cannot, such as walk on water and ascend into heaven by means not able to be seen. We might even call them 'gods', don't you think?"

The revelation hit home now. Where there had been a look of total and undeniable absorption of every word, there was now the look of abject terror. His mouth hung pen in slack-jawed shock and his eyes were wide with confusion and fear. The door again began to close, this time more hurriedly than before. Gone was the smug smile, the arrogance, the condescending attitude. Gone was the once-thought-solid foundation of his belief system. Gone was his confidence in everything he had thought he could count on to be firm, immovable, reliable.

"I...I have to go now...I'm...I'm really busy." The door closed before we could get the words out to request a better time to return. It was obvious there would be no return engagement at this door. And that proved to be the situation. Two days later, as we passed that way again, we knocked on the door. The blind opened the most minute amount and a voice, apparently the same man, announced simply that he was too busy to talk right then. No more was said. No more would be.

It never ceases to amaze me how those who look at belief in God as foolishness and at believers as being weak-minded simpletons, can in a moment have their own worlds turned upside down with a sudden dose of truth. The wisdom of the wise becomes foolishness, where before the wisdom of the Saints was the object of ridicule. God is faithful, however, and forgets none of His children...even those who choose not to believe.

Ch. 45 And Feel His Shield About Thee

And Feel His Shield About Thee
Steven G. O'Dell © 2010

A few seconds of obedience can make all the difference in life.

Linda was a mere nineteen years old and in the summer of 1975, she was alive with the excitement and uncertainty of a cross-country bus trip. She had been an exchange student while in high school and she was now a college student away from home, but somehow this was different. She was not tied to the Provo campus now. She was free and on her way to visit the family of a roommate in Bakersfield, California.

Her trip began with a remarkable coincidence. She had called a cab to take her to the bus station where she would begin her trip officially and the driver, for reasons she could not guess, kept staring at her in the rear view mirror in such a way that she became uncomfortable. She tried to ignore him, when suddenly he spoke to her in Danish. She was then all attention. She had been a foreign exchange student in Denmark and this man, it turned out, was one of the missionaries of her church who had known of her while there. What a small world it could be, she thought to herself. What were the odds?

The rest of her trip to the station was pleasant and the catching up a delight, but now the real ordeal began – long hours of sitting, a virtual captive on the bus until she reached her destination.

The bus had now stopped in a small western states town, unremarkable in most respects. A brief restaurant stop, a chance to use the facilities and she would be on the road again. Linda sat at the table in the main window of the restaurant, which sat above the bus station itself. An unusual situation, the station was reachable from the lower street and the restaurant from the upper street; the whole of the building sitting on an uneven corner of two cross-streets. There was also a staircase that tied the levels together.

The sun was just then rising in the eastern sky and Linda reflected upon how beautiful it was after a long night cooped up in a bus. It was certainly preferable to be here, in this soon-to-be sunlit window, than downstairs with all of the cigarette smoke that permeated the station itself. The serenity of the surroundings made what came next all the more bizarre by contrast.

Having a few moments before been outside on the corner, enjoying the fresh air and the new dawn and breeze, Linda had entered the restaurant and taken a place at the table near the window, where she could still see the sunrise and appreciate it. She had not been there long when she was suddenly shaken from her reverie and to instant action by a voice, internal and commanding, and a feeling as of someone grabbing her by the collar and pulling her from her seat. The intent was that she immediately was to go downstairs to the station. This was the last thing she had in mind, entering that smoke-filled room by choice. The station was grubby in her estimation and there were few places she could sit. But she was already on her feet and going there, quickly, with a sense of urgency she did not yet understand. That was soon to come, however.

Within seconds of arriving at the bottom of the stairs, she heard from above a tremendous crash, as an explosion, and the screaming of multiple voices. Standing in shock, she could scarcely move for a moment and was not sure she wanted to. Something terrible had happened above her, in the room she had just left. The screaming, the crash of glass breaking and the awful crushing sound that over-rode all of it were soul-wrenching in nature. This was one of those events that makes you stand paralyzed with fear, unable for a few seconds to move at all.

There was no way to return by the stairs she had just used and Linda exited the station and took the street to the upper level. What she saw made her physically ill and feeling that she was about to vomit. There were bodies lieing on the floor of the restaurant and an intruding automobile that had penetrated the building to the point where customers had stood in line to order and receive food. The path of the auto was directly through the table where she had been sitting only seconds earlier.

When the details were known, it was clear that a car had been coming down the steep hill and another, from the side street, had crashed into it. The first car had continued, as a missile on its new path, directly into the window of the restaurant and through the seat where Linda had been sitting but a scant moment before. There was indeed a casualty, a man having been run over and killed by the intruding automobile. Linda physically shook with the realization that she would have been in the very seat in the path of destruction, had it not been for the warning voice that had moved her forcefully from her daydreaming.

All the bus passengers were asked to return to the bus and wait, which they did. The full details were not made known to them, but the remainder of the bus ride was very different from the previous portion of their journey. Where there had been movement and talking amongst the passengers, there was now silent reflection upon the event they had all been party to. A sense of vulnerability and mortality, a sense of helplessness hung heavily upon them all. It would be some time before confidence and a feeling of personal security would return to each of them. How the world and your viewpoint can change in seconds. The term 'final stop' took on new meaning from then. Linda hadn't taken inventory of the passengers before and after, but she could not escape the thought that for some, it may have indeed been their final stop in this mortal life.

Linda sat on the bus, shaking physically, wanting to cry, but repressing it. Being a teenager alone, she had no desire to draw attention to herself and appear as vulnerable as she truly was at that moment, having been approached already by strange men with ill intent on this trip. She just kept thinking of how she had been in the very path of the car, had been in the very window seat, had been moved by some unseen force, grabbing her or pushing her from her seat, just seconds before.... It was all too much, overwhelming in its intensity and more than a young girl could handle. She wanted it all to go away. She wanted someone, anyone, to hold her and comfort her and she knew no one on this bus who could do that for her. She dared not make herself more vulnerable than she already was. And so she sat alone, scared and shaken more than at almost any other time in her relatively brief life.

Many years have passed since then and Linda has had time to consider what it takes to be ready for passing from this life. She knows that none of the things you collect in mortality can be taken with you. She knows that it matters not what level of achievement you reached in business, how much wealth you accumulated in life. What matters most is how you lived life. Did you live it to the fullest, did you do good unto others, did you strive to become the best person you could be while you were here? And perhaps most important of all, did you live with the faith and obedience necessary to feel the shield of God about you when you needed it most dearly?

Ch. 46 A Light In The Darkness

A Light In The Darkness
Steven G. O'Dell (C) 2010

...that when ye are in the service of your fellow man, ye are only in the service of your God.

I will never forget the name Abraham Schaefer, nor how this humble, kind and caring Jewish man taught me the extent to which God will go to show His love for His children, Israel.

It was early in the 1970's in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and I was serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our apartment was above a store at the corner of King and Arthur streets. I always saw the humor in that. I still do.

The day in question started as any other. We studied the map and decided where we would go that day to do the Lord's work. No specific impressions being received at that point, we chose an area we had not yet covered together. Our assignment, however, was soon to be changed.

As we were en route to our chosen area, we both stopped suddenly and felt strongly prompted as we reached a particular street. After a moment of discussion and agreement on the prompting, we turned and proceeded down that street, choosing a side at random, as no further impression was given. In short order, we would know we had chosen correctly.

The first half of the block was just as any other we had encountered—no answer, 'not interested', 'we have our own church', etc. The home of Abraham Schaefer was to be different, however. Just how different would be a surprise to us all.

Mr. Schaefer was sitting on his porch, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine, we assumed. We informed him of our purpose as we stood on his walkway, not presuming to intrude onto his porch. He informed us he was Jewish in belief and practice and had no real interest in our message, but as he looked up and noticed the sky darkening, he invited us to come into his home with him until the storm should pass.

This, I am convinced, was no ordinary storm. What had been a moment before a clear sky was now covered in thick, dark clouds and thunder was beginning to sound in our ears. As we entered the house, Mr. Schaefer mentioned that he was not feeling too well. He introduced us to his grown daughter and within a few moments we were surprised to see him begin to collapse and we eased him to the floor. His daughter began to panic and had no idea what to do. Responding to our firm, but gentle command, she got on the phone and called for emergency medical assistance. They seemed to arrive quickly, as we made every effort to keep Mr. Schaefer and his daughter calm.

I recall that as we were watching him being loaded into the ambulance, the sun suddenly broke through the blackest of clouds and the sky began to rapidly clear. The same clouds that had seemed to come out of nowhere, now proceeded to return to the same place in the same fashion. And there we all stood, in the very middle of the rays of sunshine from Heaven. This had indeed been no ordinary thunderstorm. The hand of God had been in it, I am convinced.

I wonder if anyone else saw the significance in the symbolism. God's light shining down out of the darkness, the storms of life, focusing on His beloved children – those who were here to assist the needy and afflicted, to calm the concerns and the souls of the worried. To show His love of His children, Israel, and to show His approval of an assignment well done by faithful servants. It was a humbling experience and the rest of the day seemed much more ordinary as a result.

The next day, my companion and I visited the hospital where Abraham Schaefer had been taken. As we asked where he was roomed, we were told without equivocation that had we not responded as quickly as we did and been there when we were, he would not have made it to the hospital alive. It had been a massive heart attack and scant minutes had mattered greatly and saved his life. Yet again were we humbled to have been part of such an extraordinary experience.

As we entered his room, Mr. Schaefer was alert, but bedridden, as expected. He brightened in countenance as we entered and bade us to come in. After a few moments of small talk, if you can call it that in such an instance, he told us to reach for his wallet in his trousers nearby. Our curiosity was soon to be satisfied as he pulled a small amount of money from the wallet and placed it in my hands with instructions that I was to donate it to the church. I was somewhat stunned, but again humbled, at the irony of the situation. Here was a devout Jewish man making a cash contribution to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Miracles do happen, don't they?

I made sure to fill out a tithing slip and place the name of Abraham Schaefer on it, placing the money into the envelope with it. I wanted this dear and kind man to receive every blessing afforded those who pay tithing to the Lord. And I trust that God did indeed bless him for his faith and works in that regard.

Brother Abraham Schaefer, I want to thank you personally for teaching me the extent to which God goes to provide for His children of the house of Israel. Because of the chance to serve you, I got to be an instrument in the hands of God and I saw the love He has for His children, firsthand, even to the intervening in their behalf. May God be with and bless you always, my dear brother. Thank you, again.

Ch. 47 Opposition In All Things

Opposition In All Things
Steven G. O'Dell © 2010

The Lord will not be confounded, neither shall He allow his faithful servants to be confounded.

While in high school, I began to have an interest in doing the right thing, becoming the right kind of person; therefore, it was natural that I should want to associate with those I felt were of that caliber themselves. Over time, I became involved with a group of kids from the local Church of Christ, close to where I lived. I was even baptized by the minister, called simply Mr. Taylor by the kids. I recall we went on a few road trips together and it was fun. But for some reason, I always felt there should be more than just socializing. It all felt empty to me; hollow spiritually, although I didn't recognize it as such at the time. Because there was little but socializing to keep me, I fell away and in with the wrong influences. None of these so-called friends questioned my disappearance...until much later and under questionable circumstances.

I became caught up in the spirit of the times, the Sixties. It was sex, drugs and rock and roll. As I became more and more a part of this debauchery and immorality, there was still one thing I would not take part in and that was taking the Lord's name in vain. I used almost every other swear word you could think of, used almost every available drug and took part in all the pleasures of the flesh that a heterosexual male could partake of. And yet it did not bring me satisfaction. My story of my conversion is not what I want to speak of, however. What puzzled me was the reaction of these acquaintances who had previously abandoned me to the wiles of the Adversary. Once it was discovered that I was studying with the 'Mormons”, ministers came out of the woodwork to save my immortal soul from errors they perceived in the doctrines of Joseph Smith.

Two particular events stand out to me from that time period, although there were many along the way. The approaches of the two parties to the teaching were polar opposites of one another. One group was saying I needed to just trust and believe them that Joseph Smith was wrong and was deceived by the Devil and that only their interpretation of the Bible was accurate. The others, the missionaries of the Latter-day Saints, told me to pray for the answer and God would be faithful and answer with a witness that was unmistakable. The first said that only the Bible was the word of God and it was complete. The second said that God was not limited to speaking or causing to be written only one record. The first claimed the heavens were sealed and God no longer spoke to prophets and Apostles. The second bore witness that modern revelation was indeed fact and that the individual could know for himself the truth.

The first minister to come see me to save my soul from the Mormons was Mr. Taylor. I had not seen him or heard from him since I had fallen off the map, so to speak. Now he wanted to set me straight and reclaim his lost sheep. We had an interesting discussion, I must say.

I was young and still spiritually green in many ways, but I was excited to think that God would still speak to mankind and guide us toward truth. I found it difficult to think that God would have abandoned us to our own devices if He was the same yesterday, today and forever, as I had read.

I recall mentioning to Mr. Taylor that I thought the true church, if on the earth today, would have all the same earmarks of the ancient church – Apostles, Prophets, priesthood authority, gifts of the Spirit, such as raising the dead and healing the sick by the laying on of hands. His response was surprising, to be sure.

He opened his Bible to the New Testament and read off a list of the authorities of the Apostles and, with an air of authority and a smug smile himself, declared that since the Apostles were dead, the powers they had held were no longer in existence. It was evident from his attitude that he thought the matter closed and that there would be no questioning it on my part. How wrong he was. He had just hung himself from his own argument.

Mentioned in that list of authorities of the Apostles that he had so casually pronounced as being dead and gone was the authority to baptize. It may have gone unnoticed to him, but it had stood out like a neon light to me and I wasted no time in questioning him on the issue.

“Then if the authority to baptize is gone, did you have authority to baptize me?”

He looked as if I had hit him between the eyes with a brick. He stammered and stuttered and tried to change the subject, but by now I was adamant and held on like the proverbial bulldog.

“Now, wait a minute. This is my eternal salvation we are talking about. Did you have authority to baptize me or not?” I looked straight into his eyes with an intensity he couldn't ignore. I wanted an answer and I wanted it to be clear, concise and honest. Again he stuttered and danced around the issue. He had no answer and it was more than adequately apparent. He left soon after and that was the last I heard of him or ever saw him again. I am not sure if he ever was able to answer the question to his own satisfaction or not, but he had answered it to mine. He had no authority he could trust in. He had a diploma, a license, a document or whatever you wanted to call it, that said he had satisfactorily attended a theological institute. God has no need of such things and has never handed such trifles to assert His authority. Paper is paper, no matter what is printed on it. Priesthood power and authority is far more and unmeasurable. It cannot be handed out in portions like so many ribbons, buttons or rewards for good grades and attendance. And now Mr. Taylor knew that, too, I assume.

The other episode was when two men came from another branch of the same church, The Church of Christ. One was the pastor and the other worked with my father. Both were concerned about the deception of the Mormon doctrines again. So far, the same story. Here is where it begins to get more interesting.

While claiming that the Book of Mormon was not reliable because it had been changed, I picked up a copy and asked sincerely if they would show me where the changes had taken place. I assumed that it they were ready to make the claims, they must have some evidence of such. Perhaps they had brought with them an earlier version that we could compare. Not only did they not take the copy I had and point out anything from it, they actually leaned backward and away from it as I offered it. I thought this odd, but let it go until the claim was again made regarding changes to the text. Again I offered to have them point out to me, in my own copy, where these changes had taken place. Again, the same leaning backward and away from the book, but this time with the words, “I wouldn't touch that perverted book.”

My father, who had been a silent observer to this point, suddenly came off the couch at the other end of the room. I don't recall ever seeing him move so fast in all my life. He stopped short of them, as if he had caught himself before grabbing their collars, and he stated clearly and with some degree of controlled anger, “I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you gentlemen to leave.”

And leave they did, immediately. I don't think more than a few more words were spoken as they left. I don't even recall what they were, but it wasn't from me or my father that they came. My father told me later that the man he worked with didn't speak to him for some time after that. I would assume it was too awkward to do so after such treatment. But the thing that was most impressive to me was this – after they left, my father paced the floor several times, shaking his head silently and cooling off. When he stopped pacing, he said simply and profoundly, “There must be something to it or they wouldn't fight it so hard.” The words struck a chord in me that night. From then on, my father was more a part of the missionary discussion, too.

Over the years, I have reflected on how a personal testimony must grow to remain strong. A testimony never tried is a testimony that will die on its own. Some die as a result of trials they are not ready to handle, or so it would seem, but I know that God is faithful and provides a way out and upward for His children, if they will not lose faith in Him. I know, because God put into the hands and mouth of a still spiritually green young man the means to counter the supposed wisdom of the wise, the enslavement of erroneous beliefs and the wiles of the Devil. No truer words were ever spoken that these – “There must needs be opposition in all things.” After the test of faith comes the reward.

Ch. 48 No More Disposition To Do Evil

No More Disposition To Do Evil
Steven G. O'Dell (C) 2010

...and they had no more disposition to do evil, but only to do good.

In the early 1970's in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, I was a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was still young and green and falsely confident of many things. I was to be tested as to my degree of being in tune with the Spirit and as to my level of faith.

In the ward where I was assigned were several young girls who were quite attractive and dressed much more revealingly than they should have. As a red-blooded young man, it was difficult to ignore. I am afraid I have to admit I spent more time, as did my companion, around these young ladies than we should have. But one day that friendship became quite important.

We were at home for lunch one day when there was a frantic knock at the door and one of these young women urgently asked us to come and help her friend, who was behaving very strangely. The home was only a block or so away and we ran all of the distance, with her filling us in as we went. She said she thought her friend, another member of the ward, was possessed by an evil spirit. Neither my companion nor I had experience with casting one out before. I had, however, personal experiences with ones that seemed intent on keeping me from going on a mission. These had actually picked me up and tossed me across the room at different times in an effort to hurt me.

As we entered the home, we could see immediately that this was not the same girl we knew from church. This was more like a pacing wild animal that was cornered and wanted only to escape. A different spirit was indeed in her at the time. How different, we would know later.

We instructed her to sit down in a chair, which she did begrudgingly. In retrospect, I wonder why, except that perhaps her own spirit was still a bit stronger than the one attempting to take over her body. We laid hands upon her head and I began to give a blessing. I pronounced that the spirit would come out of her and that she would be restored to her whole and healthy self again.

My companion told me that when I had pronounced the words for the evil spirit to depart, he had felt something akin to an electric shock go up his arms. I felt nothing of the sort. All I felt was an intense purpose that the demon was going to leave and I would not stop until it had done so.

This young lady was indeed herself again and she related how she had felt when we first walked into the room. She said that even if we had been dressed in rags and she in the finest of dresses, she would still have felt unclean and uncomfortable in our presence. Once the spirit was gone, she was again whole and comfortable to be with us.

We reflected upon this incident a lot in the next several days. While there is indeed an opposing force of evil, God always provides a way to remove it from our presence, from our lives, from our spirits. We must never flirt with powers in opposition to God. They will not have our best interests at heart. They seek only our misery and destruction. Only God loves us without restraint, without reservation and unselfishly. Only God can complete us as we were meant to be, removing the evil disposition and and giving us a new heart.

Ch. 49 One Thing More

One Thing More
Steven G. O'Dell (C)2010

Sometimes what we most want is not what we most need, or what God would have us receive.

Charles Moreland had everything a man could ever want. At least everything most men could ever imagine they could want. All but one thing, that is -- a way out.

Charles had a great career in movies. He had appeared in many, directed many and written many of them. It seemed as if everything he touched turned to gold, but still he was not happy. A lifetime of chasing 'things' could not purchase the joy he wished. Fulfillment was not in material goods, nor in mortal accomplishments. Perhaps this was the hardest lesson of all. And now, with that realization that there was nowhere else to go, no further upward path in life, Charles wanted it all to end. He wanted the pain, the torture, the sense of failure to end.

Failure. Strange, how the perspective can change so much when the viewpoint is moved. Most other men would consider such feats of accomplishment to be the dream of a lifetime. They had been for Charles, as well, at one time. Now, it seemed there was nothing left for him.

The pawn shop was small and in a neighborhood he didn't frequent. It had seemed so easy. Just walk in, look over the guns they had in the case and order one. He'd forgotten there was a waiting period. And he hadn't counted on the owner recognizing him.

'Oh, Mr. Moreland! What a surprise! I feel so honored to have you in my shop.' That was how it had gone, from the moment he'd entered. He could see the headlines and the article already -- C. Moreland dead with pawnshop pistol. And the owner would be all too willing to gain his moment of fame as a result of telling his story. Still, who cares when you are not long for the world anyway, right?

The next few days were spent in waiting for his clearance to get the the pistol and in writing out his reasons, his tortures and explanations for his decision on paper. He wrote out his regrets and his wishes. He mentioned his will, leaving all to a local charity, since there was no family to leave it to. That was his greatest regret. Charles couldn't help but wonder if his life would have had more meaning if he had allowed one of those interested ladies into his life for even a short time. His ambition had prevented such from taking place. And now his present state of mind and attitude prevented such from taking place again.

Having finished his writing over the last few days, Charles had placed the papers into an envelope and labeled it "To Whom It May Concern" and left it standing prominently against a vase on a table just inside the front door. With that, he pulled the door closed and walked calmly to his car and returned to the dingy little neighborhood where he had ordered the pistol in the pawn shop.

Again, the owner put on his brightest face for Charles and this time Charles put on his best actors' smile and pretended to be interested in all the man had to say. The truth was he wanted nothing more than to leave and make this his final exit -- stage left.

As he turned to leave, gun in hand, the owner called after him, 'It's a pleasure to see you again. Please come back soon, Mr. Moreland.'

Charles waved, but thought to himself as he turned toward the door, 'Who would care if I don't?'

As he thought this, he raised his eyes to look through the door, the handle of which he was about to touch. What he saw made him stop dead in his tracks. The door was one of those quaint, old-fashioned ones with a cut glass, beveled edge window. And beyond the window, across the street, was a sign. Part of it was distorted and deflected by the beveled edge of the window. What he saw was the answer to the question he had just asked -- 'Who would care if I don't?' The answer was in bold letters -- 'Godwill.'

How was this possible, Charles thought. As he leaned slightly to the side, the mystery was solved. The sign across the street read simply, Goodwill, but that did nothing to change the impact of that first message. It was a real as if the words had been there all along.

Charles reflected on how he had missed that sign the first time he had been there. He reflected on how he had only seen it as he was about to open the door to take that last step toward ending his life. And now he was surprised to find his knees weakening and beginning to shake and his chest heaving in great sobs. Tears flowed copiously from his eyes, involuntarily. He suddenly recalled how he had felt this same feeling as a young man while sitting in a church meeting or two as he listened to a particularly gifted preacher. Now he thought that perhaps it wasn't the gifted preacher so much as the gift of God to the preacher -- and the gift of the Spirit prompting Charles Moreland. Except he had forgotten that message for so many years. Or perhaps he had trivialized the message when he had first felt it. Now, when he needed it most, God brought it back to his memory, in a powerful and unmistakable way.

Charles ignored the questions of the owner as to his sudden state of upset and pushed the door open, stepping out into a different day than when he had entered the shop a scant few moments before. Somehow the world seemed brighter, more promising than it had just minutes ago. Charles was not the same man he had been either. He thought the sun shone brighter than ever before. The air seemed fresher than he could recall it being before. And there was a presence with him that he could not explain, but he felt nonetheless. It lifted his spirit and he had real hope for the first time since he could remember.

Charles passed his parked car and walked a few blocks to a canal that cut through the city. He stopped on the bridge and looked upward into the sky and smiled a real, genuine smile for the first time in years. He said a silent prayer of thanksgiving and then gently dropped the package holding the pistol into the water. As it sank out of sight and washed away, he closed his eyes and vowed that he would be a new man from then on. And he kept his promise.

Only a few months had passed and Charles Moreland was engaged to be married. The woman he was to marry was dedicated to God and had lived her entire life that way. She knew the reality of His existence and the power of His influence. Charles, too, now knew that reality and he was ready to let someone else into his life and to share it together.

He had wanted only one thing more in his life; he had wanted to end it, but God loved him too much to see that happen just yet. Instead, the one thing more Charles got in his life was a relationship with God. From there, blessing after blessing would be the order of the day, because everything God touched turned to gold, including Charles Moreland.

Ch. 50 Find My Way Home

Find My Way Home
Steven G. O'Dell -- (C)2010

Sometimes finding your way back is more important than making your way in the world.

Irene wandered the grocery aisles slowly, aimlessly and in detachment from life itself. She was a woman with no spark left. She had seen it all, as they say. She had tried every pleasure in life, experienced every pain and sorrow, had known true love and lost it, been abused by those who claimed to love her and just plain grown tired of living in the process. For a woman still so young, she was very near the end and she knew it. Even now she felt herself an empty, hollow shell of her former self. Irene had been so full of life and excited about every new thing. Her natural enthusiasm drew others to her, both positive and negative. It seemed they all wanted something from her and drained her zest and zeal until she no longer had purpose. And now she trudged this grocery in a more absent than present manner.

Thinking only of ending the drudgery of living, Irene thought of the pharmacy section of the store and began to follow her instincts to locate it -- always in the rear of the store, it seemed. Who knew why. Who cared? As Irene rounded the end of the aisle, she bumped squarely into a small obstacle at her knees; an obstacle that looked alone, lost and bore a remarkable resemblance to her own state, except she could no longer cry, Her tears had long since run out.

The kneeling child looked tearfully up at her and begged helplessly with word and gaze, "I can't find my mommy."

Something switched inside Irene. The milk of human compassion began again to flow and she temporarily forgot her mission to end it all. Here was a helpless child, another being in trouble and doubt, who needed help -- her help. Now Irene felt sympathy,...no, indeed empathy, for this child. She found herself inexplicably reaching out, perhaps one last time.

Taking his hand, Irene pulled him to his feet. He scarcely reached her waistline in height and she was not tall herself. He looked so tiny to her, just the same.

"Don't cry. I will help you," she found herself saying as a semblance of a smile followed for reassurance. The child brightened the slightest amount and even emotion-dulled Irene could read it in his face.

Walking directly to the pharmacy desk, she told the man inside that she had a lost child with her. He assured her he would announce it immediately, which he did. A few moments went by and a frantic woman came running to his side and grabbed him tightly to herself. Again, something inside Irene snapped on and she began to cry herself. The comfort, the salvation from troubles and the love outpouring that she witnessed tore her calloused heart open and she wept with all the energy she had left and sank to the floor and her knees. She no longer cared to maintain the illusion, no longer had strength to pretend everything was alright in her life. She had no control now and didn't care who knew it. She only wanted to find safe haven and fulfillment again.

Irene could not tell you in detail what happened after that. She was escorted to the parking lot, where she was placed in an ambulance and taken to the local hospital to be checked. Having verified she was physically well, the conclusion was clinical depression; Irene no longer could function properly in such a state.

As fortune would have it, Irene's attending psychiatric counsel was no ordinary woman. Sharon Boyer had the best education money could buy, but she had some things far more valuable, She had true compassion and spiritual insight.

"Irene, we've been meeting for a few weeks now and I want to ask again, what do you want from these sessions?" Irene had previously shrugged her shoulders and sat silently, staring absently at the floor. Now, she responded and looked up into the eyes of her counselor.

"I want to find purpose in life again. I want to find happiness. I want to find my way home."

Dr. Boyer smiled and nodded her head. Now she knew Irene wanted answers to life's most important questions and that she might be ready to receive them.

"Alright. I am going to propose something highly irregular, Irene. Under the requirements of my profession there are limitations to what I can speak with you about here in my office. I cannot give you what I feel I need to here...."

Irene was troubled by this turn of events and showed it. She would sink and lose hope again if this were to be the case. And yet the doctor's smile did not fade. Sharon continued.

"I propose we meet in private at my home. I do not do this often, but what I have to share with you will be more valuable than all of the counseling I can do here. If at any time you wish to discontinue, you tell me and we will resume our present course of action. Does that meet with your approval?

Irene was intrigued by the mystery and the apparent pormise Sharon Boyer was offering. What did she have to lose?

"Okay. When and where?"

Three weeks had passed since the meetings at Sharon Boyer's home had begun and had you passed Irene on the street, you would not recognize her as the same woman she had been a mere five weeks earlier when she had broken down in tears in the supermarket. Irene was coming out of her shell. She was alive again. She smiled and spoke to those around her. She no longer stared at the pavement and cement as she walked. She looked ahead and even upward as she walked. Irene was happy once more.

What did the doctor offer her that the medical profession could not? Answers. Eternal answers, revealed to living prophets by God himself. Irene had been filled to the brim with all the pleasures, pains and challenges life had to offer and still did not know a few of the most fundamental and essential things. She did not know who she was, where she had come from and why she was here. Not in the temporal sense, but the spiritual sense. What was her purpose in life...that was the answer she needed and when she received it, it made all the difference in the world to her. Just as she had helped that small boy find his mother and his foundation and anchor again, she had now found hers. She was a daughter of the most high God and now she felt her worth. And thanks to Sharon Boyer and a witness deep within her heart, she had found her way home at last

Ch. 51 Oh, Death, Where Is Thy Sting

Oh, Death, Where Is Thy Sting
Steven G. O'Dell © 2010

There is the sleep of the weary...and then there is the sleep of the righteous.

“Gwampa, whewe did you meet Gwamma?”

“We met at the pier in California,” Janice answered.

“I was talking to Gwampa.” The child returned.

Janice was surprised by the answer, as her dear Harold had been gone for several years already – long before this child had been born. Her interest piqued, she decided to watch and listen closely.

The child continued in this mock conversation and Janice was amused until she heard something she never expected.

“What's a bwoach?”

A broach. Harold had given her a beautiful broach on their second date. Again she questioned the child and was told that 'Gwampa' was the source of the information. Her heart began to beat faster and her breathing was shallow and hurried now.

Janice hurriedly called her daughter at work and was told that her grandchild had never been told any of the details of how his grandparents had met. Now two adult women were puzzled. How could this young child possibly know these things...unless....

Janice listened more closely than ever now. Memory after memory came flooding back and her tears flowed profusely down her cheeks, when suddenly the boy turned and asked her, “Gwamma, Gwampa wants to know ah you happy?”

Janice now began to cry openly and great heaving sobs wracked her body as she sunk to a seat on the couch.

“Don't cwy, Gwamma.” Her grandson stood to comfort her and patted her leg. “Gwampa says don't cwy. He woves you.”

Janice got enough control now to ask, “You talk to him?”

“Yes.”

“Do you see him, too?”

“He's wight thewe.” And he turned and pointed at what appeared only as an empty space to Janice. Janice wanted so much to see him and could not. And yet this innocent child seemed to not only see, but to carry on discussions with him. It was somehow unfair. It was her husband. Dead or not, he was her husband.

A few days passed and Janice could not stop thinking about the events of that day. Her prayers became more fervent and her emotions deepened and each day as she babysat her grandson, she felt like a spy, watching and waiting for him to again speak with Harold. Several times she wanted to force the event and could not bring herself to say anything when she opened her mouth. She could not ask, 'Do you see him now?' or 'Will you call Grandpa?' She could only wait and hurt. She hurt more than in several years. Where she had once resigned herself to his absence, she now mourned it again.

And then the day came that she had waited for.

“Gwamma, Gwampa says some men wiw come see you. Be nice to dem.”

Again Janice looked desperately around the room to see, too feel, any sign or presence of Harold. She saw nothing. She felt nothing but anxiety. She could only wait. As it turned out, she did not have to wait long.

Janice answered the knock at the door and opened it to see two young men with name tags that read, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She had never heard of it before, but something beckoned to invite them in.

“The message we have to share is that of the restored gospel and Church of Jesus Christ in our day. Prophets again speak with God and share with us the answers we need to return to Him.”

“Maybe,” said Janice, “they could tell me what happens after we die. Where do we go and will we ever be together again?” Her eyes began to moisten with tears.

The Elder smiled and answered with confidence. “Those answers are very clear. God has indeed given us the answers to those questions.” And he proceeded to explain to her the Plan of Salvation.

Janice wept with joy at this news and just knew it was true. The witness of the Spirit was unmistakable to her and every fiber and cell of her being told her Harold had indeed been there and was even now. She felt a peace she had not felt in many years.

Janice awoke that night and as her eyes began to focus, she saw standing at the foot of her bed the form of her beloved Harold. He stood in the air, it seemed. And he smiled at her as he was wont to do when they were together. He looked so young and healthy.

“Harold....,” was all she could say.

He winked, as was his way with her, and he nodded his head and she knew somehow, in some unspoken way, that he was telling her to continue this path she had begun and all would be well. Janice did just that.

Three weeks later, the same Elders who knocked on her door and taught her the gospel also baptized her a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what she now knew to be the “Mormons”. Janice was as certain of the truth of the restored gospel as she was certain she would never have joined the church had it not been for the visitation of her husband to her grandson. And now she could rest assured of having her husband forever if she fulfilled the commandments of the Lord.

It was not long before Janice was sharing the gospel with her daughter and son-in-law. After all, it seems only right that the child who started it all should come into the church. And Janice now sleeps better than she ever did and knows without doubt that Harold watches over her as she does.

Ch. 52 Sacrifice

Sacrifice
Steven G.‭ ‬O'Dell‭ ‬((C)2010

‭ You never truly 'get' life until you give.

‭ I recall the day as if it were just last week. My name is Loren Marks. I have a son, Benjamin. I love him dearly and he's a good young man. There isn't anything he wouldn't do for me, but it wasn't always that way.

‭ A few years ago, Benjamin was always in trouble. He was a very willful child, even in grade school. We never knew why. Nothing changed as he got into high school, nor as he went on to college. In fact, it seemed that he became worse with each passing year. He was even expelled from community college in his first year. Naturally, my husband Jeff and I were disappointed and adamant that he must straighten out his life or be doomed to become a career criminal. He thought this was funny and laughed at us. That was when Jeff asked him to leave the house and fend for himself, to build character and become responsible. It didn't help. It only got worse.

‭ The depth of his troubles came when he decided to go to South America on a summer vacation with some of the ruffians he had met at college. I always suspected they were trouble makers, too, and perhaps involved in illegal drug use. I was right. Not only were they using, but they were intending to go to South America to purchase drugs and arrange for them to be shipped into the States by some clandestine means. Benjamin should have known better, but he liked a thrill and he was too trusting.

‭ One night the phone rang and a man with a heavy accent asked for Jeff. I handed the phone over to him and wondered what it might be about. I knew there was trouble when I saw Jeff's face turn ghostly white as the blood drained from it. I just knew, as only a mother can, that something was wrong with Benjamin. My own heart nearly stopped. I know I didn't breathe for some time. Every second that Jeff listened without telling me was an eternity. Every second that went by tore at my very soul. My child, whom I had carried in my own body for nine months and given birth to, was in trouble. Serious trouble like no other time – perhaps dead or near to death.

‭ Jeff grabbed a pen from the lamp desk between us and began to write furiously on his newspaper, something he would never do unless time were of the essence. When at last he quit and hung up the phone, he was ashen gray in complexion and his mouth hung open as if in shock. I grabbed his shoulders and shook him, demanding he tell me what had happened. I collapsed and fainted as I was told that my Benjamin was in a Colombian prison.

‭ Jeff made arrangements for the earliest flight available. Fortunately, he already had a passport, as he was required to occasionally travel in his line of business. He took a small suitcase and traveled light, grabbing all available cash we had and saying he would get more at a cash machine at the airport and would pay for his ticket with his credit card. He calmed me as much as he could and left quickly when the taxi arrived.

‭ I waited as any mother would, pacing the floor and wringing my hands. Day one and Jeff called to tell me he had arrived in Colombia. Day two to tell me he had located where Benjamin was being held, but was not allowed yet to see him. Day three went by with no word from Jeff and no news on Benjamin's condition. Day four went by and still no word. I called Jeff's cell phone again and again, with no result. I could easily imagine how harsh the environment must be in such a prison. I could imagine how frightened Benjamin must be, not able to speak the language and so far from home, held against his will. I could not fathom what he must have done to deserve such a punishment. And I was scared because I heard nothing from Jeff. Were they having ransom talks? I had heard of such things in corrupt countries and backward nations. Was the fine too high? Surely Jeff could produce enough to make even the most greedy of jailers think twice about keeping Benjamin. And yet no word.

‭ Then the day came that Jeff called to announce that he had arranged for the release of our son. He sounded tired and a bit confused, but he assured me Benjamin would be alright. And then he said he loved me in such a way that gave me chills. I asked if he was okay and he promised me he was and was just tired at the moment. He said Benjamin would be on his way home soon. That's when I broke down and cried with relief. Days of stress and worry crumbled in a heap and I collapsed into bed and wept and gave thanks to God until I fell asleep.

Benjamin called to tell me he was at the airport and I rushed to the car and stretched nearly every traffic law on the books getting to him.‭ ‬When I saw him,‭ ‬I ran and nearly bowled him over with our embrace.‭ ‬My baby,‭ ‬my son was back again and in my arms.‭ ‬We both wept deeply for several long minutes and then I looked about for Jeff.‭

“Where is your father‭? ‬Is he getting the bags‭?”

Benjamin stared at me with a genuinely puzzled look upon his face.‭ “‬Isn't he at home‭? ‬I thought maybe he was too angry to meet me this time.‭”

The panicky feeling was coming back now.‭ ‬Gone was the peace I had felt and replacing it was deep dread that something was again entirely and desperately wrong.‭ ‬I explained to Benjamin that his father had gone to Colombia to arrange for his release,‭ ‬whatever it took and that his father was as worried as I had been.‭ ‬There was nothing his father would not do to have him home again and safe in his own bed.

‭ Now Benjamin was the one to worry. He told me how he had been informed in broken English that if his family did not ransom him, he would be executed. There would be no excuses given and no regrets offered. It was quite literally a case of 'your money or your life' and there appeared no alternative, so Benjamin had said he was stunned when he was suddenly told he could leave and he must go quickly. The guard had even appeared almost a decent human being as he had told him this. Benjamin thought that maybe his mother and father had called their bluff and vowed there would be no ransom, so his captors had decided to release him in order to avoid an international incident. Now he was not so sure. If his father had gone into an arena of that sort, there was no telling what would happen now.

‭ After repeated calls over the next several weeks to Jeff's phone and every department of government that we could think of, word finally came. Officially Jeff was pronounced dead by murder, apparently robbed and shot at close range, execution style. The State Department said there was nothing they could do, but they were looking into it and would let me know if anything changed.

I do not believe the official story,‭ ‬nor does Benjamin.‭ ‬We believe his father negotiated himself as a trade for his son when offers of money failed to be enough.‭ ‬Perhaps the jailers felt there was more to be had and Jeff led them to believe they would get more if the trade was made.‭ ‬At any rate,‭ ‬we feel he bought Benjamin's life and freedom with his own.‭

Since that day,‭ ‬Benjamin is a new man.‭ ‬He no longer gets into trouble.‭ ‬He no‭ ‬longer hangs out with those who would lead him into dangers and then abandon him.‭ ‬He has a new sense of his own worth now,‭ ‬a worth that his father saw all too clearly and paid dearly for.‭ ‬Benjamin Marks would never betray his father's memory,‭ ‬nor would he disappoint his mother.‭ ‬He knows the value of a life now‭ –‬his,‭ ‬mine,‭ ‬his father's,‭ ‬anyone's‭ – ‬and they are all too precious to squander.

Ch. 53 Ever Learning, Yet Never Able

Ever Learning, Yet Never Able....
Steven G. O'Dell (C) 2010

The things of God are foolishness to man.

"You're a fool."
The charge came out of nowhere, as LeAnne had commented to a co-worker regarding something she had heard at church the day before. Gerald, the accuser, jumped in uninvited and leveled the charge at LeAnne, making no bones about how he felt.
"Really? That's rather cold. Why do you say that?"
"Because you claim to believe in a mythical 'man-in-the-sky' with the power to change the world through science-defying miracles, that's why. You seem smart, but maybe I have misjudged you."
While the woman LeAnne had been talking to stood with her mouth open in surprise, Gerald stood with his arms defensively crossed, his body language saying as much as his words. LeAnne remained unshook, even smiling slightly.
"No doubt you have misjudged me, but not because you've concluded I am not as smart as you previously thought me to be. You've misjudged the strength of my position on religion from the start. You misjudge when you conclude that a belief in God somehow weakens my intellect and credibility."
"Surely you cannot seriously proclaim your unsupported belief in an unseen being that you cannot prove to be there and then expect me to accept your thinking as rational in all other areas."
"Unsupported, Gerald? Where did you get that idea?"
"Oh, please, LeAnne. You know as well as I do that you cannot prove the existence of a supreme being."
"No, I don't. In fact, I would argue the opposite. What I will say, though, is that you cannot dis-prove the existence of God. All your arguments about me being wrong does nothing to strengthen your own claims, does it?"
Gerald bristled slightly at the accusation. LeAnne saw the reaction and continued.
"Gerald, you know I'm right. All the pointing fingers and calling names does nothing to prove you are correct. You offer no scientific evidence that there is no God. You offer only the same regurgitated tripe offered by every pseudo-intellectual from day one."
Gerald bristled again in disgust at the choice of words.
"Show me some proof God exists and I will believe it."
"No, you won't." LeAnne made the statement, matter-of-factly, with no apology or qualification. The woman with them them stood in shock and said nothing.
"What?" Gerald replied in shock.
"All the evidence I could give you would be cast aside and rationalized away. You know it and I know it. You don't want to believe. You want to prove me wrong. You need to do that to build up your own ego."
"Now that is totally uncalled for! You have no call to insult me."
"It isn't meant as an insult, Gerald, unlike your own accusation. It is a statement of fact, plain and simple. No argument I make, no evidence I show and no miraculous sign would make a difference. You would explain it all away with a wave of your hand and demand more proof."
"Bah!" Gerald huffed in response and waved his hand unconsciously as he turned away in disgust. Deep down, he knew LeAnne was right in her accusations. He did want to prove her wrong. It would indeed make him feel better, smarter and superior to a lowly believer in myths and fables. Knowing she was right only served to irritate him. He was fuming inside, but for now, there was no way to refute her claims.

A few days went by and Gerald again approached LeAnne, this time a lot less hostile in his attitude.
"LeAnne, I want to apologize about the tension the other day. Could we talk about this some more?"
"Okay, I forgive you. We can speak at lunch, if that's okay."
"Yeah, fine. Thanks."
At lunch, Gerald came and sat beside LeAnne and again began somewhat the same trend of questioning as before. It was no surprise to LeAnne.
"So, why would you believe in someone you can't see?"
"Why do you believe in electricity? Why do you think you are talking to someone a thousand miles away through a thin wire? Why do you believe a man stepped onto the moon?"
Gerald could see that she was not going to be intimidated and he wasn't used to that, but he still couldn't let her get the best of him.
"It's not the same thing. Those are scientific principles."
"You sure? Have you seen electricity?"
"No, but I have seen the effects of it when the lights turn on or the fan on my desk begins to spin."
"Then you have no direct proof, right? How about the telephone...can you see the one you think you are speaking to?"
Gerald was beginning to get annoyed at the confidence of this young woman.
"Again, it isn't the same thing and you know it."
"Sure it is. You can't offer me any more proof than you ask of me and are so willing to easily refute."
It was all too much and Gerald got up and left the table. He was fuming again. This one was going to be a tough nut to crack. The arguments were fallacious to him, but her confidence shook him...a lot.

Another week went by and Gerald had been studying ways to argue with Christians, instead of researching why they might believe what they do. He didn't feel much closer to winning than before, so he decided to take a different approach this time. He would pretrend to be sympathetic and then gradually persuade her of the foolishness of her position.
"We got off to a bad start, LeAnne. My apologies for upsetting you."
"You didn't upset me at all, Gerald. I feel confident in my position."
"I don't understand it, though. What makes you believe in a supreme being? Especially when there is no proof?"
"I do have proof, but let me ask you this -- why do you believe in the the SETI program, looking for extraterestrial life, when you seem to deny the very existence of such beings in the first place?"
Gerald's mouth dropped open a bit and hung there a few seconds before he caught himself and closed it again. LeAnne knew she had struck a nerve again and continued.
"Don't you think it contradictory to plan on things like terraforming other worlds for colonization and yet deny the ET's we attempt to contact the very same abilities?"
Again Gerald was unable to respond in time.
"Gerald, the height of arrogance and hypocrisy is to believe we are the most advanced civilization in the universe at the same time we spend billions to search for more advanced races elsewhere."
Gerald was stunned and unable to answer this time. His mouth did not even open, as he had no idea what to say.
"There are too many problems with the theories in science to hang your hat on it and say it is safe and sound. Theories change every so often as new information comes in, yet we seem to want to act as if every new theory is the entire story and unchangeable."
Gerald found himself nodding involuntarily. It was true, after all. But certainly religion must be the same.
"But, LeAnne, isn't religion the same way? There are so many brands of Christianity alone; how can you think one is any better than another or even true?"
"The disagreements enter because of men's theories rising to the top. That's the very point I am trying to make."
"Then what is the court of last resort, if men are fallible?"
"God himself."
"But that's circular thinking, isn't it? Everything comes back to a being you cannot see or hear?" Gerald now felt as if he could get the high ground in the debate.
"Not at all. He has and does answer questions."
"I am not talking about the Bible. All those brands of religion can't agree on the written word, yet they all quote it as their authority to believe and teach their particular version of their faith. There is no consistency."
"Agreed, to a point. They do indeed cling to their own interpretation. Instead, they should go to the source, God Himself. God does answer prayer."
"So, you claim you can hear him?"
"At times He answers by a voice and at other times by an impression or a sign. It is our duty to be in tune enough to recognize the answer."
"Now, LeAnne, any clainm to hear a voice is akin to a type of psychosis, isn't it?" Gerald felt the strength of his position coming back.
"That would be true if God did not exist and answer the willing. IN all honesty, do you think me to be psychotic?" LeAnne waited for an answer.
"Well, no, but you may be on the edge and need professional help to prevent it, don't you think?" He smiled to disarm the tension that might erupt, but LeAnne just smile back.
"No, I don't. Let me put it another way. We spoke about the proof of electricity the other day. You can't see it normally. You see the effects only. It is the same with God...."
"But why wouldn't he just show himself and prove his existence?" Gerald shook his head in disbelief. "If there ever was a god, how do you know he isn't dead or has scurried off to some far corner of the universe and no longer cares what we do?"
"Let me finish, okay?"
Gerald nodded and became quiet again.
"On rare occasions, you can experience electricity in other, more extraordinary ways, such as seeing lightning or feeling the shock of an electrical outlet. A person that experiences such a shock may be far more concerned about it and more convinced of the existence than one who never feels that shock. One who experiences God in the more extraordinary ways will also take a deeper interest and be more convinced."
"It isn't the same thing."
"No, it isn't. You want proof; I can provide evidence. Not all of it will be acceptable to you."
"So, you admit you cannot prove the existence of god?"
"Not at all. I have had it proven to me, but cannot prove it to you. Only you can do that. Actually, only you and God."
"It still comes back to you not being able to prove it to me."
"And it still comes back to you not being able to disprove it to me, to be fair."
Gerald felt the confidence that had been rising suddenly shake again. He hated that feeling. LeAnne had been right about his ego in the matter, but he would never admit it openly.

Their last discussion had ended in a stalemate of sorts. Gerald felt he had made little to no headway, excpet for an admission that she could not prove anything to him. And yet the claim that only he and god could prove it to him was bothersome. He needed to defeat that claim in some way. In order to do that, he needed to know more about it.
"LeAnne, you claim that god talks to you. Tell me more about that."
"Oh, you mean my psychotic episodes?" She smiled, disarming him from the start.
"I didn't say you were psychotic."
"True, you stopped just short of it and suggested I might need professional help to prevent falling over the edge into it."
She had a sense of humor about it, that much was certain.
"Let me give you a few examples, Gerald. I mentioned the other day that we spend billions in our search for advanced extraterrestrial civilizations, yet we deny the very advancement we claim to be seeking in them. You think there could be no race out there that might speak directly with us and yet we have developed technologies that allow us to speak from opposite sides of the world. First, it was smoke signals or mirror flashes, then telegraph wires, then telephone wires and radio broadcasts. Now we have satellites in orbit that allow cell phone use around the world."
"But that isn't the same as a god speaking to us directly. It's simple technology."
"Simple to whom? And when does it go from complicated to being simple?"
"Okay, you got me. Progress changes perspective."
"Indeed it does. But let me give you an example of what I mean. There is a relatively new device called a neurophone. It allows audio input directly to the brain, bypassing the ears altogether. The input is through the user's skin, of all things. I've read about this and thought about how it could help the deaf. It also allows one to 'hear' more of the audio spectrum than the ears alone could do. The fidelity is amazing, I have read. Now, if we can do that, why couldn't a more advanced race do so? Another example -- science has found that our minds affect matter at a very basic level. We can't yet cause things to fly across the room by simply thinking about it, but the influence is measurable. If our puny minds can do that, why could a more advanced race not do more?"
Gerald didn't want to admit it, but he knew there was no rational argument against it. He conceded she could be right.
"You have to ask yourself if we are so arrogant as to think we are the only gods in the universe, Gerald."
The words stung like a bee. He had really never thought of it that way. She continued.
"We see unidentified flying objects, verified by good pilots and honest citizens, and yet we want to think we are the pinnacle of technology and knowledge? Ludicrous at best. Unforgivably arrogant and stupid at worst.
"Gerald, have you ever thought about how likely it is that life began as science wants to believe? What are the mathematical odds? At least one astrophycist says that the universe isn't old enough to have allowed life by evolution. Whether that is accurate or not, the odds are incredibly high against such a thing. You needed just the right conditions on just the right planet at just the right distance from the sun, just the right chemicals and enzymes being formed, opposing needs being provided...."
"Whoa! What opposing needs?"
"Glad you asked. If you have too much ultraviolet radiation, you burn out the very enzymes needed to 'create' life . Unfortunately for the theorists, you can't do it with less than that level either. The number against it gets bigger and bigger at every level and with every new requirement for life and viable reproduction and survival."
Gerald knew nothing about ultraviolet radiation requirements, so he couldn't argue the point. He sensed she was right about the odds against it, if the facts were correct. LeAnne seemed better read than he would have thought. Much better than he had hoped, unfair as that sounded. That made it harder to argue with her. He winced at the word -- argue. That wasn't his intent. He had thought it would be so easy to dispute her position. It had become anything but easy. To be honest, Gerald was becoming a bit disheartened, thinking that maybe hos college professors had misled him as to the weakness of the Christian position.
Since Gerald said no more in response, LeAnne continued.
"Mathematical odds are against evolution the entire way. If a single cell, under all the right conditions, succeeded in evolving, what happened to cause the change from mitosis to sexual reproduction? You then need to have a male and a female, in close proximity to reproduce, and both viable as reproductive organisms and compatible with one another to reproduce. What are the odds that would happen? Very high, right? And then you have a huge number, after adding up all of these requirements. It gets even higher as those two gendered cells now begin to specialize and form livers, kidneys, eyes, ears and more. Aside from why, we have to ask how. And all of this is an uphill battle that is constantly won against all odds, right? Then you have divisions into animals of all kinds, unlike one another as light is to darkness. That number is now getting huge, Gerald. The odds don't look good."
"Then what caused it all?"
"Wait, I need to cover another issue first. Why not go back before life on this planet and consider the origins of the universe itself? If, as science has claimed, the universe began with all matter in one place and it exploded, how did all of that matter get into one place?"
"I don't know. No one does."
"What's worse, no one asks."
Gerald had to admit that was true.
"Okay, let's assume, for the sake of the argument, that all matter somehow was in one place. We don't know how it got there, but that doesn't matter, right?"
She seemed to be mocking now and the tables had turned. He didn't like the feeling.
"Then science says there was the 'big bang'. My question is 'what caused the bang?' They don't know or seem to care. Add to that the fact that it would seem to violate the very laws of science and physics they seem to believe in...."
"What? How does it violate any laws of physics?"
By this time, a number of their fellow workers had gathered around to listen, few of them eating their lunch, so engrossed were they.
"Well, Gerald, if nothing can escape a black hole, including light, then how does anything escape what would be defined as the largest black hole ever?"
He was stunned to silence now. The thought had never occured to him. He didn't know how to answer. Was there an answer? There had to be.
"Gerald, scientists claim that the laws of physuics didn't exist at that time. How convenient that must be. Matter existed, space existed, but the laws of physics did not? How is that possible? Actually, the latest theory is almost identical to one that scientists ridiculed religionists for not so long ago."
Another person sitting close by asked, "What theory is that?"
"Ex Nihilo creation or something from nothing. Science said not long ago that was impossible, but now even men such as Michio Kaku say that the universe began with 'a disturbance in the vacuum.' What does that mean? How do you get a disturbance in a vacuum? What causes such a thing or is there a cause even possible?"
"So you are saying that science thinks something in a vacuum happened to cause an explosion?" This from a another bystander.
"Exactly. How does that happen?"
No one could offer an explanation. LeAnne continued.
"Again, for the sake of the argument, let's say it did happen. Now we have all of the matter from that single point shooting outward. There is a tremendous force driving the matter outward and no gravity at the center of the explosion anymore. And yet some scientists cling to the idea that the universe oscillates and will again draw inward and prepare to explode again. Doesn't this violate the very laws of physics now held to be inviolable? It makes no sense to me. It should make no sense ot anyone thinking rationally. You have to suspend disbelief to accept such a thing."
Gerald began to squirm. It was not going as he had planned. She was nopt yet attirbuting anything to a god, but was still managing to make prominent scientific theories look a bit foolish. The very word he had attacked her with so recently. The irony did not escape him.
"Now we have all this universe of matter exploding outward from its center, in a vacuum, supposedly. And yet we are asked to believe that it began to form eddy currents and coagulate into elements and compounds. How do you get an eddy current in a vacuum? Each particle shooting outward is in a diverging path, so gravity cannot and should not be able to overcome that explosive trajectory. Agreed?"
She looked directly at Gerald and waited for an answer. He could only nod agreement or be a hypocrite and a liar. He cringed again as the next statement came forth. He had hoped that would be the end of it.
"We have other problems with current theories. Such things as Quasars are said to be accelerating toward the edges of the universe. I have to ask how this could be possible in a vacuum. There are, according to the laws of physics, which even the most stubborn of scientists will admit are now in play, only a few defined ways that this could happen. Either it is what is referred to as 'red shift', a trick of light and distance only, or it is real. If it is real, there are strictly defined reasons as to how it could happen."
Gerald felt sick to his stomach. He knew instinctively that LeAnne was not going to stop there. She was going to peel away the false veneer he now knew had been pulled over the world of science and education. The other listeners were virtually riveted to LeAnne's words now. The silence and attention was nearly concrete.
"One reason a body might accelerate in a vacuum is that there is a force behind it that continually pushes, if you will. I think it is safe to say we can accept that once the 'bang' was over, there was no other force being applied from behind all this matter. That then leads to whether or not a gravitational force is pulling the matter in all directions from center. By definition, that would be the equivalent of a huge eggshell surrounding the universe we know. I ask you, is that a possibility? Science would likely say it is not. I think it unlikely, unless we are in an enclosed environment or some holographic condition. A huge egg? Probably not. An illusion? It all feels real, doesn't it?"
There were numerous utters and nods of agreement, as well as open laughter.
"That would leave only one other possibility that I can see. Perhaps these Quasars are self-accelerating, like a rocket. I don't think that theory is too viable, however."
A few chuckles erupted.
"In order to be self-accelerating, would this imply a gathering pressure from the center of the universe? That too, violates the accepted laws of Newtonian pysics. Once the explosion happens, no further energy is added to it. It diminishes. And the laws say that once an object is set in motion in a vacuum, it remains firm in the direction and speed it was set in motion with, unless something were to interfere with that trajectory and speed. Nothing seems to be doing that to Quasars. That leaves only one thing more, but no one seems to want to consider it."
"What is that?" asked a young man sitting nearby.
"Intelligent interference."
"You mean God?" asked another.
"Either that or it is illusion and scientists have hung their hats on an illusion."
"Well, that could happen," added a woman sitting next to LeAnne. Didn't we once think the earth was flat and you could all over the edge?"
Laughter from all quarters ensued. Everyone but Gerald smiled. He felt physically ill. LeAnne knew she must make amends after ripping his foundation of beliefs out from under him nd she was not so heartless as to keep him in agony. He looked positively miserable.
"Gerald, it isn't my intent to hurt you, you know. I want to share with you what I know to be true. Science doesn't have all the answers. Just as the average person doesn't know about the neurophone I told you of and would not believe it possible unless they experienced it personally, most will never know or experience communication with God. The reason is usually because they have no interest in doing so, no desire to know. It simply isn't important enough to find out for certain. And yet, if true, it would alter their lives so deeply. Imagine having the answers to the most iportant questions ever to occur to mankind. 'Who am I? Why am I here? Where did I come from? Where am I going after this life? What is my relationship to God?' If science cannot provide all the answers reliably, what other course do we have than to search what some would consider the unscientific regions and realms?"
Gerald nodded somberly, but said nothing, staring at the table.
"What I propose is this, Gerald. If there is a supreme Being that can influence the very fabric of our niverse, certainly He should be able to respond to a sincere prayer and affirmation on your part. I have experienced such an answer myself, along with millions of others. The answer was unmistakable, although no means of measuring it in a lab yet exists. No meters, buzzers and bells could discern it, but it was entirely real, nonetheless. It did not leave me psychotic, as you have suggested, nor has it destroyed any of my intelligence and ability to reason, I think you would agree. Just as you or I could receive input through new technologies that most people are unfamiliar with, we can receive input via spiritual means. We can agree that science has not discovered everything yet, even about the human body. It cannot eplain how a mother can be aware that her child is in trouble when she cannot see him. It will not explain how a child can be aware of and even feel the turmoil and pain a twin sibling experiences when not in close proximity. And yet these events are on record."
"I've had that happen to me with my own kids," one mother offered. Other women added their own experiences.
"Gerald, have you ever had a sudden insight for no apparent reason, an instantaneous knowledge that you could not explain and yet received, without a learning curve, and just knew instinctively to be true?"
"Yes, I have."
"How do you explain them?"
"I don't know...just fortunate epiphanies, I guess. Maybe my subconscious mind is at work while my conscious mind is doing other things."
"Maybe, but some of those insights surely were about things you had never even considered before. Those that just come from seemingly nowhere."
"Yes, I guess so. I don't know how to explain them."
"Then why could they not be intelligent communications via means you do not yet understand? Is there any proof it isn't?"
"I don't know."
LeAnne smiled. "I would rather hear that answer than a rationalization for a position that is unsupportable. I want to challenge you to do an experiment. I told you I could not prove to you the existence of God and I repeat that claim. That does not preclude you being able to prove it to yourself, however. Isn't that a scientific experiment worth doing?"
Now more humble, Gerald nodded assent. "How does one go about doing that?"
"I will teach you what you need to know about prayer, but you will need to study what God has caused to be written by his chosen prophets, if you want to get to know Him personally. I will even share with you sources other than the Bible alone. And I can introduce you to some nice young people who will calmly and lovingly guide you in your search. I think you will find them to be very caring and knowledgeable. Are you willing?"
"Yes, I think so. What other choice do I have?"
"True. You still need a firm foundational belief if you are to be a happy person at the core." LeAnne smiled again and nodded, while a few others expressed their own interest in searching these subjects further. LeAnne was all too happy to accomodate them.

Ch. 54 In Mine Own Due Time

In Mine Own Due Time
Steven G. O'Dell (C) 2010

Einstein was correct...time is entirely relative.

Word had gotten around that LeAnne had shaken Gerald from his basic beliefs in science alone and that several others in the building had shown interest in her position also. Nelson Taylor thought it shameful that Gerald had been 'beaten by a girl.' Nelson didn't know how well-informed and well-studied LeAnne was, however. Nonetheless, he was confident he could cast doubt on her claims. He would take a different approach. LeAnne had discussed the cosmos. He would discuss the earth.

"I have some concerns about your beliefs, LeAnne. Mind if we discuss them?"

Gerald was sitting beside LeAnne today and he wondered what would be the outcome of the discussion. He had yet to get an answer to his prayers, but he was actively being taught and was impressed with what he had read in the Book of Mormon, the second witness of Christ. It made sense to him that God would speak to all nations if He spoke to anyone at all.

"No problem. What concerns you about my beliefs?" LeAnne smiled in an openly friendly manner.

"Well, I assume you believe the Bible to be the word of God, right?"

"Insofar as it is correctly translated, yes."

Nelson was surprised by her answer. "Are you saying you don't think it is infallible and the final word?"

"I mean just what I say. I believe it insofar as it is correctly translated. I would be foolish to believe anything that isn't accurately recorded and translated, wouldn't I?"

"Well, yes, I would tend to agree." Nelson was caught off guard already. The answer was totally unexpected.

"What are your specific concerns, Nelson?" LeAnne prodded him from his reverie. Unafraid and confident, she was plowing ahead. Nelson had half expected she would cower a bit, but there was no indication of it.

"All this stuff about the earth being only a few thousand years old, frankly. That flies in the face of science."

"Well, first of all, why would you think I have to believe such a thing?"

Again, LeAnne surprised Nelson with her response. How had he figured wrong? Didn't all Christians believe such nonsense?

"The Bible says one day is equal to a thousand years, doesn't it?"

"This is where proper translation comes into play, Nelson. I don't claim to be an expert in Hebrew or Greek, but I would guess that any proper translation, in order to be realistic and accurate, would have to reflect true science, wouldn't you?"

"Umm, yeah...yes, of course."

"Then we agree on that. In this case, the verse you refer to is an example of a Hebrew poetic style called Chiasmus. They would often restate something in a reverse order. This one says 'One day is a thousand years and a thousand years as one day to the Lord.' That's a perfect Chiastic form."

"Then I was correct. If a day of the Lord's time is a thousand years, you must believe the earth to be only seven thousand years old, right?"

"Wrong."

"Okay, you confuse me. How can it be understood any other way?"

LeAnne smiled again and it bothered Nelson to see it. She didn't look the least bit flustered. He thought he had her with the obvious contradiction she showed. Now he wasn't too sure.

"If you look at it simply as a statement and restatement, it would certainly be confusing. But I have learned that God often does double duty and hides other meanings, much deeper meanings, into a single verse."

"Okay, so enlighten me. How do you interpret the verse?"

"I see it as a mathematical equation. You need to begin at the beginning and follow it all the way through. And you need to understand that the comparison is being made between two categories of time. One is man's time and the other is God's time."

"Okay, isn't that what I said; a day of God's time is a thousand years for man? That would make the earth only a few thousand years old, right?"

"Wrong. Stay with me here. Again, it's an equation. The verse starts by defining the relationship of the two categories of time. You need a place to start and that is it. A day equals a thousand years. Then what would a year of that kind of time be equal to?"

"Three hundred and sixty-five thousand years?" Nelson already appeared to be stunned, as if he was beginning to see where this might be going. Others had gathered about and were leaning in to hear the discussion.

"Exactly. But we aren't done with the equation yet. A thousand years of those years would be...." She paused to let Nelson figure it out.

"Umm, that would be...three hundred and sixty-five million years?" He looked as if the starch were beginning to be drawn out of him.

"Right again. Now we have to remember that this is just one day to the Lord. If you recall, there were six days that He labored and on the seventh He rested. So now you need to multiply that period by seven and if you like, you can add another six thousand years of our own history to it."

"Whew! I need a calculator." Nelson laughed nervously to relieve the tension. No one else was laughing. They were seriously considering the deep implications of this new interpretation of the verse.

"Let me save you the worry. It comes to three point five five billion years, without the extra six thousand tacked on. Now we are talking geological time periods, I believe..?"

"Okay, you are getting closer, but the scientists say the earth is four point two billion years old." Nelson was actually shocked that LeAnne had an explanation that was anywhere in the ballpark. Still, he felt compelled to corner her and make a point.

"That would make a difference of...point six-five billion years. Tell me this, Nelson; how long do you think it would take for a hot planet to cool off before it would sustain water without boiling all of it off? It might need to be hot enough to form a water canopy around the earth, as evidenced by the huge plants and animals early on in the world's history, but could not be so hot as to be allowed to boil it off entirely, if any life were to be supported on such a planet."

Nelson didn't know how to answer. It seemed he wasn't doing any better than Gerald had. And he had the same audience they had gathered previously. They seemed quite impressed with LeAnne's logic, judging by the nodding of heads and the comments heard. Yet she seemed humble and unmoved by it.

"I think well over half a billion years seems adequate, don't you? Do you have any other concerns?"

LeAnne spoke as if that were the end of the subject and frankly, Nelson was so stunned and speechless, he had to concede that it most likely was the end. He had to think fast to recall what else he had wanted to talk about.

"Well, uhh...I was wondering how anyone could believe in a worldwide flood that covered the tops of all the mountains. There doesn't seem to be enough water in all the world to do that. And if there was, where did it go afterward?"

"Again, it's a matter of reading it right. There are a few verses connected to the record of the event that are often ignored, Nelson. It says the fountains of the deep were broken up and it says the waters continually came and went. What do you think that means? I still believe the answer must fit the record as well as good science. I don't toss science aside, ever. Science and religion can and must go hand in hand, if they are sound interpretations.

"The reference to the fountains of the deep can mean only one thing in my mind. The Lord had said he placed waters above and below the firmament. The firmament would be the rocks and soil. What water would be below that could well be the layers of the water table and the Artesian springs that come forth. If the waters of the deep break up and come forth, the collapsing rock layers might put tremendous pressure on that water. I have seen scientific recreations and estimates that predict the waters could have shot forth as high as twenty miles into the atmosphere when the rocks collapsed upon them. The water canopy over the earth would have been affected and rains would have likely begun in torrents.The other verse says the waters continually came and went. What does that sound like to you, Nelson?"

"Waves?"

"Not just any waves, but waves big enough to make a special mention of them. Ordinary waves wouldn't be worth such mention. Tidal waves of immense proportions would, however. Imagine waves a mile high or more, smashing into mountain ranges and pouring over them. Imagine tremendous amounts of water rushing across the landmasses and scouring them clean with all the debris carried in the waters. Wouldn't that qualify as a worldwide flood?"

"Well, yes, but what would cause such a tidal wave?"

"Signs in the heavens. What are those signs? Comets, planets, stars, meteors, etcetera. What would happen if a large astral body came very close to the earth? We know our moon can cause large tides in some areas of the world. What would a planetoid do?"

Nelson felt he was losing the debate and could only ask LeAnne to tell him what she thought would happen in such an event.

"It would have a tremendous effect upon the tides, causing waves that would encircle the earth over and over, even after the planetoid had passed and was gone from our solar system, perhaps. And if it were passing close enough, the gravitational pull could actually cause the crust of the earth to split. The result of that would be the fountains of the deep being released, the upwelling of new mountain ranges, floods of lava being released and pehaps even the movement of the continents themselves, due to tectonic plate fracture and shift."

Gerald couldn't remain silent. He was quite impressed by her knowledge. "Where do you learn these things, LeAnne?"

"A little place called the library. But I also like the internet." Her enthusiasm was infectious as she grinned from ear to ear.

"Okay, okay...what about the way the Bible claims Daniel could make a prophesy based on four words on a wall? And two of the words were the same." The sudden change of subject amounted to a concession on the previous subject. Nelson knew it all too well, but hoped LeAnne would be too kind to point it out. She was.

"This is another one the Lord has revealed in His own due time. The words were MENE MENE TEKEL PERES. In this record, God again hides two meanings. The words are the Babylonian equivalents of the Hebrew weights and measures known as Maneh, Shekel and the word 'halved' or 'divided'. Thus the pronouncement that the kingdom was weighed in the balance and found wanting. A Maneh was equal to a thousand Gerahs, much like our pound might be sixteen ounces or a dollar is a hundred pennies. The Shekel was equal to twenty Gerahs. Since the Maneh is mentioned twice, that would be two thousand Gerahs, the Shekel adding twenty and the 'half' being five hundred Gerahs."

"How do you know it isn't half of the Shekel and only ten Gerahs?"

"Good question, but the other meaning is totally compatible with the first interpretation and supports that line of reasoning. The interesting thing is that the first interpretation was taken under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost to mean that the Kingdom of Babylon would fall that night and be divided between the Medes and the Persians, as evidenced by the other term mentioned to be parallel to PERES. That term was a play on the word 'Persian". being U'pharsin or pharsin. And if you know your history, you know that very thing happened; the kingdom fell that very night and was divided between the Medes and Persians.

"The other half of the prophecy is a calendar, having to do with two thousand, five hundred and twenty years of coming history. It predicts the future of Israel, both northern and southern kigdoms, and of the restoration of Christ's ancient church and the Kingdom of God in our modern times."

Nelson's head was reeling beyond belief. He didn't know enough about the Bible to argue the point with LeAnne and he had no desire to do so. Nelson asked no more questions, but thanked her and excused himself, feeling fortunate to get away with some small degree of dignity left. This was not going to be easy by any means.

"LeAnne," asked Gerald, "can you share any other prophecies that are hidden, as you say, in plain sight?"

"Yes, one of the most impressive, to me, is the one contained in the fifth chapter of Genesis. In what appears to be a enign record of the lineage of Adam down to Noah, the Lord hides a prophecy so sublime it should be common knowledge. The amazing aspect of this is that the most recognized prophet of the House of Israel to this day has recorded a uniquely Christian prophecy in the very names of this lineage.

"The meanings of names was important to the ancient Israelites, but not so much to us today. And that is why we miss so much when we read the Bible. For example, the name Adam means 'man'. Seth means 'appointed'. Likewise, each of these names has a specific and pertinent meaning.

"The message that results from proper interpretation of this string of names is amazing and beyond coincidence alone. What are the odds that over so many generations a family would name their sons in such a manner as to form this message?

"Man appointed mortal sorrow. The great God shall come down, teaching. His death shall bring the suffering rest."

A few gasps were heard in the general overall silence and little could be added to the discussion from then on, as all seemed overcome with the magnitude of meaning in those relatively few names. LeAnne felt she had powerfully made her point regarding the veracity of the Bible, but she was sorry that Nelson had not been there to hear this last revelation. She had hoped it would provide the means to soften his heart somewhat.

Ch. 55 Other Sheep Have I

Other Sheep Have I
Steven G. O'Dell (C) 2010

...their young men shall see visions and their old men shall have dreams.

“Why is Dad acting so weird lately, Mom?”

“It depends on what you mean by weird.”

Ariana crinkled her fourteen-year-old brow a brief moment, then answered. “Oh, you know, all the shopping for camping gear and filling our garage with everything but the car. That stuff.”

“So, you’ve noticed it, too?” Katya smiled playfully as she asked.

“Who could miss it? I mean, you said that he came to America to have freedom and get away from the lack of...everything...in Russia. And now he’s acting like he’s scared to death there will be a famine tomorrow.”

“I know it seems strange, dear, but your father and I have talked about it and he feels very deeply that this is something he must do. He can’t really explain why...just that it is something that he must do.”

“Is he going crazy?”

“Ariana! No, of course not. He had a dream...." She paused and took a deep breath before proceeding. “Actually he’s had several dreams that have led him to this behavior. He isn’t crazy, but he is driven by what he sees.”

“What does he see in his dreams?”

“Frightening things, dear. Frightening things he wants us to be ready for. Are you certain you want to know?” Katya locked gaze with Ariana and waited to read her daughter’s expression.

“Yes...if you think I should.” She appeared unsure.

“Okay, then sit down and we will talk.”

Antonin had another dream and as he awoke, he sat bolt upright, bathed in a cold sweat. He was breathing hard and adrenalin was flowing heavily through his veins. The time was getting shorter, he knew, and there was no doubting that all would come to pass, just as he had seen it. And that is why he feared so dreadfully.

He had seen urban warfare in the streets of America and worst of all, he had seen bloodshed and martial law in his own city. He knew it would be real, as well as he knew his own name and he could not allow his family to be exposed to that. There had to be a way to escape the devastation he foresaw. The answer would come soon enough.

“I am going to the store. Is there anything we need, Katya?” She shook her head and went back to her laundry.

Antonin was becoming more sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit as time passed. He still had vivid and disturbing dreams, but now he would get unmistakable images and urgent messages that would enter his mind in a sudden flash of insight. One of them came as he entered the grocery store.

Antonin stopped suddenly and stood transfixed by the vision of a man with a heavy mustache and an unusual tie. The vision disappeared as suddenly as it had come and he turned again to go into the department store. He had not gone through many aisles before he ran into the very man he had seen in his vision. Antonin again stood still, almost unbelieving, but for the proof that was before him.

“Do I know you?” asked the man with the mustache and strange tie. He studied Antonin’s face intently.

“I do not know, but I have seen you before. In a vision.” He waited for the man to shake his head, dismiss him as a fool and leave. Instead, the man’s eyes seemed to widen and a faint smile now adorned his lips.

“Yes...yes! That is where I know you from. I thought after all this time that I must have imagined it, but here you are.”

“And here are you, as well. Now what do we do?”

“My name is Dominic.” He offered his hand. “How about we get some lunch and talk?”

Of course. It was indeed that simple. It had to begin somewhere.

“Katya! Katya, where are you?”

“Here. What is the fuss?” She came into the room with flour and dough still on her hands.

“I know what we are to do now. The Lord has provided the answer for our next step. We must begin to pack only that which is most important to us...that which is irreplaceable or will preserve our lives. Nothing else.”

Katya’s hands dropped to her sides involuntarily, as her mouth fell open. “What are you saying, Antonin? Do you expect us to leave our home? Our neighbors?”

“I am afraid so. I know it to be God’s will...and soon.” He looked sad, but she knew she could trust him. He loved his family and his neighbors and would never lightly make such a move.

“When?” she asked simply.

“As I said, soon.”

She nodded with resignation, bowed her head and silently turned again to her duties in the kitchen.

Dominic Troiano offered his hand as Antonin’s wife and daughter were introduced. In turn, he introduced his own wife and his teenaged son. Dominic began the discussion after all had been seated.

“This is an important day for us all. We are here because it is God’s will that we meet. It is now our responsibility to determine why. I think it is because each of us may have information or skills that all of us will need to survive what is to come.”

Antonin nodded his head in agreement. “I felt that as well when we first met. May I suggest that we begin with each of us, our wives and children included, writing down our work histories, our hobbies and talents and any education we have received that could possibly become important. Do not discount anything as being too simple to matter. Even the simplest of things may become life-saving to us at some point.”

When the lists were finished and studied, it was clear that many points of compatibility rose to the top. Antonin then suggested that perhaps they should compare lists of any ownership of property. This, too, became a point of interest. Both families had been accumulating camping supplies and foodstuffs for some time, but Dominic held property in a heavily wooded area some distance from the city and had been stocking a small cabin with supplies for some time. He now suggested that Antonin and his family should come to visit that property soon and bring with them anything they might wish to add to the stockpile.

Dominic’s wife, Sarah, twisted the dial on the short wave radio and heard only a few minutes of the latest events in America before she became sickened and turned it off again. Life was by comparison so peaceful in the forest, although it was not easy by any means.

“It’s difficult to listen to, I know. But we do need to monitor it now and then, dear.”

“You can monitor it, Dom, or Antonin, but I have had enough. I want it all to end. We can’t keep living this way.”

“Sarah, you do know that the first colonists cleared land just like this, don’t you?”

“I am not a pioneer, Dom!”

“Neither am I. Sarah. At least I didn’t think so before now.” Dominic laughed at the thought. “And had I thought you were the rough and tumble type when I met you, I may not have been interested in marriage. So, be thankful you aren’t a pioneer. You are thankful, aren’t you? You may have been married to a rich farmer or a logger otherwise.”

Sarah now laughed, too. “Or a dairy farmer’s wife. All the cheese I would ever want.”

“Am I not cheesy enough for you?”

Sarah grinned from ear to ear and hugged her husband with all her might. “Is that a farm girl hug or not?”

“Close enough. Sarah, we are all in this together and God is leading us. Don’t lose your faith, alright? He will not let us down if we will only obey.”

Each day the news became worse. New York City was in flames, Boston had been swept into the sea and blood ran in every major American city, as well as in farmlands, where farmers were forced to fight to protect their crops and livestock or run for their lives. Anarchy reigned supreme. Law enforcement had long since given up trying to do their duty and now only fought for their own defense and existence and that of their families. It was to be expected. Food was nearly non-existent, gasoline was gone in most cities, clothing had all but been totally looted and money was worth nothing in a total financial meltdown such as the country was experiencing. There was little to do but wait it out.

Dominic, Antonin, Ariana and Mark, Dominic’s son, became proficient at hunting to supplement their stored foods. While the men used compound bows to go after big game, Ariana proved to be a deadly shot with her .22 caliber rifle and a lot of small game was taken from her skill. She used the quieter subsonic rounds in order to avoid drawing undue attention to their party.

Winter had been tough and Mark was going cabin crazy by the time spring broke. The news had turned from horrid violence everyday and now reflected a sense of returning order and peace. The nation was slowly becoming safe again. Antonin and Dominic often spoke in hushed tones about how the peace was being restored. Certainly it could not be a pretty scene. Millions were dead from violence, disease, starvation, fires and even suicide. Those who survived often did so by staying ahead of the marauding gangs that combed the land, taking what they wished until they themselves were killed.

The day came when both men awoke to share a common dream they had been shown during the night. Their families knew this was the will of the Lord and eagerly listened for the chance to return to their old way of life, but it was not yet meant to be.

“What we have seen,” Antonin remarked, “is the will of God for our families. We have been spared all the heartache and suffering of the general public. I cannot help but wonder how many had the same dreams as we have had and did not take them seriously. I can only hope that many more did as they were told and lived. These are the ones we will need to rebuild this nation. They are the obedient.”

“They will be the worthy ones, because of their obedience,” Dominic agreed. He turned again to the dream. “What we saw in the dream was our families driving as far as we could, until our fuel ran out, then walking with a large group of God’s people to the state of Utah for a short time. We will spend some years there and then will go to Missouri to build a great city.”

“Yes,” interjected Antonin. “The city is magnificent. It is beautiful beyond imagination. To be a part in building it will be an honor and blessing any man would be proud to have.”

Katya began to cry with gratitude. Sarah, though, was concerned about how far they might have to walk and how much they would have to leave behind as they did. She felt her entire life was slipping away from her and could not easily see the blessings she had been granted.
“Sarah, please...we must keep our spirits high and be grateful for the safety we have been accorded. We have food, we have clothing and shelter. And most of all, we have our health still. Think of how fortunate...no, how very blessed we are. Can you not see that?”

The only thing worse than being corrected by her husband was to have it done in the company of others. She stood and went to the bedroom in tears, closing the door behind her. Dominic excused himself to console her.

“Dad, it won’t be easy, will it?” Ariana asked.

“No, it will not be easy. We will wear out shoes while walking to where we need to go. We will have to learn to make our own shoes at some point. And then other clothes. We will need to hunt along the way, if we can, and we will need to conserve food and water, often doing without for a few days at a time. Many will die in the attempt. But we will make it if we don’t give up, I assure you. God will not let us down so long as we obey Him. He has promised it and I trust Him. I want you to trust Him, also.”

Ariana nodded her head. She would do as required. It would not be fun, but she knew it would be necessary and that she was young and healthy, standing a good chance of arriving alive. And if her father had been assured they would live, she would trust him and then God, for her father had always shown wisdom thus far. Even this retreat into the woods, which she had originally thought to be crazy, had possibly saved them. Add to this the witness of Dominic and there was little way to dispute the truth of it. She would just trust and obey.

Several years had passed and life in southern Utah had been tough, but had built character and skills, teaching what was priority and what was luxury. The people already there, many of whom were called Mormons, had been very kind and welcomed those who were new to their communities. Now, the time was at hand again to trek across the country under direction of the Lord. The major difference now was that a prophet of God would lead them. Antonin and Dominic and their families had all been taught of the restored church of Jesus Christ and had personal witness of the truth by that same Spirit which had led them to one another and had preserved them all those years before. This time, there was a sense of excitement and elation at the beginning of the journey. Even Sarah showed excitement.

After the first trek, most knew what they would need to carry with them, although the prophet gave general guidelines to their stakes, wards and branches. The number of people who would be making the trek was enormous, but was to be broken into ten large groups, to leave three days apart. Many of the elderly and young children would go during the first few departures, making it easier to be picked up by succeeding groups, if need be. Each group would be large enough to protect itself, but close enough to the next group to get some help if required. Wild game might be scarce if the entire number were to remain as a single group, but these few days between would be sufficient to allow some game to return after the previous group moved on. Nonetheless, each group was to rely as much as they could on what they might carry with them, including cattle. What hunting was needed could be done from horseback. Horses would also be valuable to maintain communications between groups, as citizen radios would be in short supply and batteries of limited life.

Antonin scanned the sky for any hint of rain and wiped his forehead. He had not been able to offer his family any water this day, but he knew the Lord would provide for the faithful. He began to sing his favorite hymn, The Spirit of God, and within a few lines he was joined by several voices around him and it spread with each verse. As they sang, their own spirits picked up and each step seemed easier than the one before it. When the last verse ended, smiles adorned the faces of the previously down-hearted. The mood became even more elevated when rain clouds began to form on the horizon.

Dominic and Mark walked on each side of Sarah, helping to support her with their own weakened bodies as they topped a hill and saw below them the group that had previously arrived, already encamped in well-arranged rows and clusters, the beehive flag hoisted on a pole above the camp and flying proudly in the breeze. Even Dominic began to cry as he realized they had reached their destination. He turned with aching muscles toward those dragging themselves up the hill behind him and tiredly waved in triumph to Antonin and his family. The fragrance of campfire cooked dinners greeted their nostrils, but these families would want a drink of cool water before anything else...except maybe a prayer of thanksgiving.

Ariana and Mark stood hand-in-hand on the hill they had climbed when they first arrived at this location some years earlier. The city was indeed just as beautiful as their fathers had predicted. At the center of this grid-planned city was a magnificent temple complex, a House of the Lord and several adjacent buildings, all built by the many native Americans and Hispanics, who had been gathered here, aided by those of other ethnicities that had accompanied them to Missouri. The law of God went out to all the world from this city. Anarchy had been defeated and peace once again held sway.

“I don’t know about you, but I am glad our fathers were ‘crazy’ and had their dreams. If they had not, I would never have met the prettiest woman in the nation.” Mark squeezed Ariana’s hand affectionately.

“Just the nation? Not the world?” Ariana attempted to cover her smile, unsuccessfully.

“That remains to be seen. I haven’t seen all the women in the world yet. But I would guess you are right there at the top of the list and I intend to prove it to you.”

“Oh, really? How, by dating all the other women in the world first?” She gave him an accusing eye.

“Not a chance. By asking you to marry me and be sealed in the House of the Lord, that’s how. My mother donated this ring, just in case you said ’yes’ to me.” Mark held out the ring he had pulled from the pocket of his homemade trousers.

Ariana could no longer speak and simply nodded her head, hugging Mark as tightly as she could. Their parents would that night join in their celebration and the city of God would perhaps grow yet again in the near future.

Ch. 56 Cast Not Thy Pearls

Cast Not Thy Pearls....
Steven G. O’Dell (C) 2010

Cast not thy pearls before swine, lest they turn again and rend you.

A magnitude 7.2 earthquake had struck the city the day before. Hundreds of thousands had been crushed and buried in the rubble. Those who had escaped feared the recurring aftershocks and had assembled themselves in the city parks and open areas where no falling debris could harm them. They had huddled together and shivered throughout the night, most with no food or covering against the chill of the evening. As they discussed what their next move might be, their attentions were suddenly turned to the hillside above them.

“Who among you will hear the word of the Lord?”

The words rang out loud and strong from the two men who stood on the high ground of the city park. It was as if the voice of God had spoken, so great was the effect upon the people who had assembled there after the earthquake. Not only because the words were unusual and unexpected, but there was a power in the words themselves, it seemed. Many felt compelled to listen. Maybe it was the humility that had just been pressed upon them by the recent devastation that caused them to be more in tune or maybe it was the sense of helplessness many felt after losing all they had, but for their lives.The crowds began to gather about the two men, unremarkable in their appearance, but strong and confident in the demeanor.

“The destruction you have just experienced is no accident. It was predicted long ago. The fault is ours. We have not been prayerful to the Lord, nor obedient to his commandments. It is little wonder then that God cannot and will not protect a rebellious people in their sins.”

Many heads began to nod and some broke down in tears. The other man continued, as if on cue.

“God is forgiving and all is not lost, however. Your city lies in ruins, but you still live and may repent and be forgiven. Cities may be rebuilt with mutual cooperation and ruined lives may be rebuilt with the Lord’s help. Ultimately, you are more valuable to God than all the cities of the world.”

“Who are you to tell us what God wants?” The words rang out as strongly as had those of these two men, but the effect upon the soul was diametrically opposed to the effect of those first words.

“We are authorized priesthood representatives. It is our duty to do the Lord’s work and serve his children. And what reason do you have to question our intent?”

“Priesthood?” The man smirked and cast a smug glance at those gathered about. “You call yourselves representative of God and say you have authority to speak to us for him? There are hundreds of churches and they are all different. They don’t even agree with one another. Where do you get such authority to speak for God and why should we listen to you? What makes you any more qualified than any minister of another church?”

“The restoration of the church of Jesus Christ in our day, by and through living prophets of God is what qualifies us to speak in his behalf. Perhaps if you would listen, instead of question, you would know more about this and be able to decide properly whether we speak the truth.” The gaze was intense and there was no intimidation or hint of backing down in the man’s voice. He was about to continue speaking to the crowd when he was again interrupted.

“All you give us is words. What signs do you have to offer? If you have the authority of God, you should have the power of God to act in his name. Show us why we should believe you.”

“You ask for a sign? Are you familiar with the word of the Lord? If so, you know that he has spoken to that point already. And you would know the results of such requests.” He stared intensely at the man and waited for the message to sink in, while the crowd turned their gaze from one speaker to another.

“Yes, I ask for a sign. That’s a reasonable request. You expect these people, after all they have lost, to turn to you for guidance and not question you in any way? I think you are just opportunists who want to feed off these good people.”

Several people now began to murmur amongst themselves and some nodded their heads, apparently taking the side of this nay-sayer.

“You have had your sign already. Should I make it publicly known, here and now?” The intent of the question was somewhat vague to the man and to many of the gathered crowd, but the resolve on the face of this representative of God was unmistakable.

“What sign? I have no idea what you mean. Don’t give us double-talk. If you speak for God, you should be able to show why you should be taken more seriously than any other dime-a-dozen preacher. Otherwise, there is no reason we should take you seriously.” He stood now with his arms crossed in a defensive stance and glared at the men who stood above him on the hill’s crest. His look of confidence was about to be shaken, however.

“Very well. God has said that it is a wicked and adulterous generation that seeketh a sign. That has been reiterated and clarified by a modern prophet.” The speaker now pointed an accusingly finger directly at the challenger and with authority proclaimed, “You, sir, are an adulterer!!”

There was an audible gasp from the crowd and a sense of shock that struck the challenger as all turned to look at him for his reaction. He struggled to gather his wits as a voice from the crowd shouted, “It’s true! I know he is guilty of having an affair with his boss’s wife!”

Another gasp, louder than before, came from the crowd and now the nay-sayer in a frenzy of self-defense, shouted forth.

“That is no sign. I expect to see some miracles, some supernatural sign that no man could do without God’s power. Do that and I will believe you. Do that and all of us will believe you.”

While he may have thought he had gained the high ground, the two men on the hill closed their eyes a moment and bowed their heads slightly, as if in prayer. Meanwhile, the rebellious spirit seemed to gain ground amongst the assembled crowd. Then the priesthood holders opened their eyes, glanced briefly at one another and then at the man in the crowd. When one spoke, it was quietly, with conviction and apparent remorse.

“As you wish. You say a sign of such magnitude will make you a believer. Since you have not felt the Lord’s written condemnation of your wickedness to be sufficient, let this be added. According to the word of the Lord to us, you refuse to hear truth and would prevent others from hearing truth. Your blind eye and evil tongue shall not be allowed to deceive and destroy the souls of those who have suffered such extreme devastation already. Your sign, according to your request, shall be that your eyes, which are blind by choice, and your lips, which speak evil by choice, shall be shut and shall not be opened again until you shall feel to say in your heart that God again speaks to man, through his chosen representatives, his Priesthood holders. On that day only shall you believe. And on that day only shall you see clearly, hear clearly and speak the truth. Let this be your sign, in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of his holy Priesthood.”

The smug and demeaning smile disappeared from the man’s lips as the final words were spoken. As the crowd watched, his legs buckled under him and he moaned aloud as he hit the ground and began to weep in such anguish of soul as had seldom been heard even in the disastrous events of the day before. His hands felt at his eyes and at his throat, his lips attempting to speak and unable to do so. He pulled at his ears and then pounded the ground with his hands.

A circle now widened about this man, the crowd moving back in shock, until a space fully thirty feet across was created. The center of their attention reached out violently in all directions, attempting in his rage to grab someone, anyone, upon whom he might vent his anger. Shock was so apparent on the faces of the assembled that many ran from the park in fear, while others looked in rapt wonder at the two men who stood on the hill above them.

Again came the words, as they had before. “Who among you will hear the words of the Lord?”

The listeners were now far fewer, but the remaining listeners were quite sincere and they listened intently, with open hearts and minds. Many new names would be added to the records of the church in the coming months and the city would slowly be rebuilt upon the same ground as before, trusting to God that it would stand so long as the people were obedient and faithful.

Ch. 57 The Gift of Self

The Gift of Self
(C) Steven G. O'Dell--2010

Some lessons must be lived before they can be learned.

Charles Edmund Broadbent. The name rolled off the tongue with an air of pompous snobbery. It sounded as if it should be followed by a suffix, something like 'The Third'. And indeed it was. Charles Edmund Broadbent, the Third. That was him. The name, the snobbery and all that went with it; especially the money. Charles the Third had never worked a day in his life. He had no need to do so. His father was rich and had provided all he had ever needed, so long as he stayed out of any real trouble. His college, his car, his clothing and elaborate lifestyle were all taken care of, without question or concern. His grandfather had been rich, too. He had given his own son everything he wanted...and more. Too much, in fact. And that's why things had changed for Charles the Third.

Charles Broadbent the Second had one day experienced an epiphany of sorts and had decided to derail his son's life in a most disturbing manner. Where there had been a life of ease, albeit one lacking any real focus, there was now to be a whole new agenda for Charles the Third. And he wasn't sure he would like it one little bit. The conversation had gone something like this.

"Son, when a man approaches the portion of his life where he recognizes that he could have...when he wishes he had done things differently...he has a choice to make. 'Do I continue to do things as I have in the past, the things that have left me ultimately disappointed, or do I change my path and do it differently, knowing it will change and affect the lives of others, as well?' The answer isn't an easy one to come by, unless you are driven by genuine affection, as well as by logic. You know that I love you, don't you, son?"

"I've never questioned it before. You have me worried now, though, speaking this way. It isn't you. You're being too serious. Are you alright?"

"Never been better, in fact."

"Are you sure, Dad? Referring to reaching 'that portion of your life' makes me wonder about your health." He hadn't bothered to call his father 'Dad' for some time. Now, it was obvious he was genuinely concerned.

"Alright...there's no sense in beating around the bush. Let's get right to it, shall we?" His face took on a state of somber weightiness his son had seldom seen and not since the death of his mother several years before. He took a deep breath before continuing.

"You never knew why your grandfather died. You were too young to understand and the subject was never broached as you got older. He had a rare blood disorder. We never thought it was genetic, but it now appears we were wrong. I have the same disorder. And as of today, there is no known treatment for it."

He took another deep breath, paused and then opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again and stared at the floor.

"Dad, you're worried that I might have the same disorder, aren't you?"
'The Second' nodded slowly and almost imperceptibly.

"Okay, so I may be doomed to the same fate as you and granddad. What do we do about it? Nothing, evidently."

"No, not nothing. Your life is going to be a bit different from now on. It's for your own good."

'The Third' gazed in questioning puzzlement into his father's eyes.
"Not to worry. Like I said, it's for your own good." His smile was pensive, but genuine.

Charles Broadbent the Second had succumbed to his ailment some months before, leaving specific directions regarding his son, via his lawyer. Charles the Third had been quite surprised..no, shocked...when the reading of the Will had revealed that he was to be given $500,000 with the instruction that he was to give it all away to those he deemed to be in genuine need. There was no time limit to accomplish this task, but he was to get no other funds from the estate until he had done so.
What was his father trying to accomplish with this decision? It seemed a waste of time and resources to wander about distributing half a million dollars. There had to be better uses for it, he thought. Additionally, he was concerned what would happen once the word got out that he was passing out free money. Every indolent in the country would beat a path to his door.

Finally resolved to his fate, Charles knew that if he were to move on with his life, he would need to find people in need of help--his help. He had no idea where to begin. All his life he had been self-centered. Not that he was a bad person--he had just not taken much notice of the needs of anyone outside his own family. Now, totally out of his field of expertise, he needed to gain personal experience at crash-course speed.

The local homeless shelter seemed a logical place to begin. What was he to do, though, buy a home for each of the present tenants of the homeless shelter? Even half of a million dollars would be gone in short order, but he inherently felt that was not the intent of his father's Will.

Instead, Charles arranged for apartments, paid up for six months each, for all who showed interest in ending the downward cycle they'd found themselves in. He then contacted several local firms to discuss entry-level employment for those he had rented apartments for. A number of the firms were positively intrigued by his project, as they called it. Over half of them agreed to be part of the experiment. Charles felt a tingle of excitement somewhere deep inside. He hadn't felt that for some time and didn't have a clue why he was feeling it now. He only knew he felt good.
Next, Charles went to a few local charities and asked them to recommend families they thought he could assist in a meaningful way. The first thing that struck him deeply was the suggestion reagrding a family with a child that was ill and the father out of work for losing time due to his child's medical concerns. That would be his target of choice then. He might not be able to help himself, but he could help this family.

Arrangements were made to take care of house payments for six months, medical bills were brought up to date and an estimate made of required funds to heal the child sufficiently to allow the father to go back to work. Again, Charles felt good about what he was doing. Somewhere, down deep, a fire was growing and warming his heart. Or was it that his heart was growing, thereby causing the warmth? It was hard to tell.

Not much had changed, really, in three years. Nothing on the surface, except that his health had begun to run down a bit. Life had gone on relatively the same as before, except for the daily focus on finding those in need. What had started as a chore, had become an obligation and eventually had transformed into a mission. The half million was nearly exhausted and Charles was suddenly surprised to find he was feeling disappointment that his life was again due to change. What would he do after the money was gone? He would be alone in a big house. Then it occured to him this was the same big house he had always lived in. He would drive the same car he had driven before, would eat the same foods he had eaten before, attend the same entertainment venues he always had, etcetera. The only difference would be that he was no longer required to track down the needy. And somehow, that left him feeling empty.

There had been a change in Charles, however. Where he had once complained that the indolent might come pounding on his door, begging for his family fortune, he now understood that he had just as certainly been one of those indolent he had looked down upon. Sure, he had money, but he'd had no purpose or focus, other than to coast through life, thinking of no one but himself. That had changed, however. Charles was surprised and pleased to find that he now thoroughly enjoyed his assignment. Given the choice, he would now rather do some good for a stranger than to attend a theatrical play or the opera. It had become a fun game for him to see if he could instinctively identify those who sincerely needed help from those who simply wanted a handout. He had become quite adept at it in three years. And along the way, he'd learned some valuable lessons about himself.

Charles was no longer self-centered. He was a caring individual with a heart as bright as the gold he'd had to share. When the half million was exhausted, he'd voluntarily wanted to continue doing what he'd previously been required to do. And he was thankful to his father for teaching him a valuable lesson. A conversation with the family lawyer had revealed that his grandfather hadn't learned some of the lessons he had. And his father had learned late in life that thinking only of yourself was unproductive, whereupon he had determined to see that his son would learn the same lesson. It so happened that his son was quite an apt student.

One day, when Charles was visiting a hospital to determine the best course of action for an injured single mother of three, a random conversation ensued and Charles was informed that recent developments in the field of hematology might offer some real hope for his own condition. And it just so happened that a doctor pioneering in the effort was to visit his city in a few weeks to speak and teach. And he was willing to take volunteer patients in order to demonstrate his technique to physicians who were interested in learning. Just hearing of it was like a miraculous and divine event to Charles. He was certainly ready to have his name on that list.

The day had come when Charles was to receive treatment for his condition. He was shivering almost uncontrollably from excitement and from fear. A sense of his mortality had taken over and seemed unable to be shaken. He was cold and stressed. In this condition, only a sedative would help. The problem was that a sedative would skew the results of the treatment. Just as the procedure was about to be canceled and the next volunteer on the list was to be called, Charles suddenly became aware that he was relaxed and no longer afraid. How it had happened, he was not certain. It was simply enough that it had.

It was a week later and Charles was already feeling noticeably better. He had renewed energy. He had his old drive and desire again. And he had a boost of confidence, stemming from the preliminary conversation he'd had with the treating physician. In the course of getting to know one another and sharing details of their lives, Charles had revealed his passion to help others. In response, the good doctor had encouraged him to form a foundation for just that purpose, the continuing assistance to those in dire need. And he had offered to be of help in doing so, even to making a cash contribution if desired. Charles had never considered such a thing before and the thought intrigued him. He vowed to see the family attorney as soon as he could.
In the course of events since the project had begun, Charles had done most of his contributing to the needs of others through the lawyer, who had been the point of contact for those benefiting from his generosity. Now, Charles arrived at the offices of the law firm to find that he had been about to be contacted to pick up a number of personal letters directed to him. What could they be? Requests for more funds? Unexpected complications from his trying to help?

Charles opened the first letter, a curious attorney watching closely. It was from a woman he had helped but two months ago. She'd needed a bypass surgery if she was to survive. She had thanked him before, but now she wrote to say that she had recently felt the need to pray for him; that somehow, something wasn't right and he had need of help himself. After praying, she felt a sense of unsurpassed peace. The letter expressed her wishes that all was better in his life and was a repeated show of gratitude for what he had done in her behalf. She vowed she would pass on his good deed, as best she could, for as long as she lived.

The next letter was identical in purpose and subject matter, as was the third, the fourth and so on. Virtually every letter read the same. How had all these people known the hour of his need and prayed for him at that time? How was it possible? He reflected on that day, when he had been shaking so badly that the treatment had almost been canceled. He recalled how in his greatest despair, a peace had come over him that he could not describe or explain. Now he knew the answer. He had felt the prayers...or at least the results of those prayers. Charles wiped a tear from his eye and looked upward. He was not alone. So long as he lived, he knew that he would never be alone again--not so long as God was listening and answering. Not so long as Charles helped others in need.

Ch. 58 -- On Wings of Angels

On Wings of Angels
(C) Steven G. O'Dell -- 2011

"Who are these that fly as the birds from the window sills...."

In stark contrast to how he had been lulled to sleep by the constant thrum of the jet engines, Hu Ming Lao had been awakened with a start by an unusual dream. Two young men, dressed in dark suits and looking very proper, stood waiting for him in an airport terminal. They were not at all like the typical Americans he had seen in films, but had a defined air of seriousness and purpose about them. He had marked it off to being a by-product of his first trans-oceanic flight. But now, as he entered the San Francisco terminal, here stood two men nearly identical in appearance to those he had seen in his dream. How was this possible?

As Ming Lao walked past them, he felt a sense of heightened awareness unlike anything he had ever felt before. There was something about them that made him want to stop and talk to them, but he had to get to his parent's home as soon as he could. Aside from visiting them and attending to the business he was assigned to by his company, he had precious little time to himself. His stay would be short enough without wasting time in such idle pursuits as talking to strangers in an air terminal.

Gathering his baggage, Ming Lao went directly to the loading area in front of the terminal and hailed a cab to take him to his parent's home. His mind was out-of-sync from the drastic time zone change and all he wanted was to rest, but thoughts of work pressed themselves upon him. There was much to do in the short time he would be here. He must make the best use of his time.

As the sights flew by the cab, there appeared quite suddenly two young men on bicycles, dressed in suits, just as the men he had seen in the terminal. He craned his neck to watch them as long as he could, wondering who they might be and now beginning to think that perhaps there was some significance to the dream he had experienced. He was not a superstitious man, but Ming Lao was also not a foolish man and he now pondered the meaning of his dream. But soon enough, he was at the home of his parents and sister, who had moved to America a few years before. This was the first time he had seen them since their relocation to the States and the excitement was palpable for all. Exchanges of hugs and greetings were made and the honored son was ushered into the home of his forebears.

"How have you been, son?" His father smiled proudly at his progeny.

"Very well, thank you. I could scarcely wait until I arrived to see you."

"We are so proud of you, Ming." His mother wiped a tear from her eye and she smiled all the more widely. "You have studied hard and done well for yourself and you will make a great contribution to the world in your efforts."

"I will do my best, Mother."

The questions and answers flew rapidly back and forth and eventually settled upon the subject of his sister and her new pursuits. It became known that her parents were concerned by the fact that she had been meeting with some unusual people and learning of a religion entirely foreign to their own beliefs. Ming titled his head at this, wondering what manner of philosophy they must teach. He was to find out soon enough, for that very evening his sister invited him to join her in a discussion with these mysterious strangers.

Ming was first struck with the appearance of these young men. They were again apparently clones of those he had seen twice before since arriving in America, and identical in dress to those he had seen in his dream. Now Ming was shaken as to the meaning of the dream. Was it a warning? Was it a sign to direct him to or away from these men? But he listened intently until he could know for certain.

"We know that this teaching is entirely new to you and differs from your own traditions." He who spoke, addressed Jin directly. "And yet it is of such importance that we must share it with all who are willing to listen."

The feeling of sincerity was unmistakable, but Ming knew that sincerity alone was no substitute for being correct.

"Do you honor your ancestors as we do?" The question was direct and would tell Ming a lot about the philosophy of this religion.

"Very much so," replied the second of the two. "We do works for them in our temples that they cannot do for themselves. In this way we bind them to us with a welded link that cannot be broken in the eternities."

Ming sat a little taller and leaning slightly forward, with greater attention now.

"To what type of works do you refer?" His English was sufficiently good to understand what they had suggested.

"Our dead have, in many cases, passed on without being able to do for themselves the works of salvation and exaltation that would allow them entry into the kingdom of God in the eternities. We, the living, have been instructed to perform those works in their names, in our temples. These include baptisms for our dead, washings and annointings for their sanctification, endowment of spiritual gifts, bestowal of necessary priesthood offices and authorities, and the rites of sealings as families and in the covenant of eternal marriage. There we also learn of the creation of our world and of our purpose in it, as well as the necessary signs and tokens to enter the presence of God in the hereafter."

Ming leaned even further forward and took all of this in, as if he were a sponge.

"I know somewhat of the Christian religion, but this seems to differ from the common teachings I have heard of. How do you know these things to be right and proper? How do you know them to be required, in order to please your God?"

Ming's sister smiled faintly at the question. Her brother was truly interested and did not dismiss these teachings easily, although his questions were deep and testing in their nature.

"You are correct. These teachings are unique in the Christian world, but they are the teachings of old, as in the ancient church that Jesus Christ instituted in his own time. They have been restored to us in modern times by a prophet chosen of God to receive revelation for Christ's church and people. That prophet was Joseph Smith, who saw God and his son, Jesus the Messiah, in the year 1820, in New York state. In a brief instant, many enduring questions concerning the nature of God were answered. The world again would know of the nature of God and their own relationship to him as his children."

"Elder, this is of great interest, to be sure, but it is indeed quite a world apart from our own teachings." As he sat back again, Ming's manner seemed to suggest that he would need to ponder such things for a very long time before he would ever commit himself to believing them.

"Not so different as you might think. I have done some research on the traditions of your homeland and have been pleased to find things that would support our own teachings. Perhaps you have heard of the tradition that was practiced in your homeland until the rise of the Communists around the turn of the last century. I refer to the 'Worship at the Gate Ceremony', practiced for thousands of years until it was relatively recently outlawed by the revolution, and signifying the very first man and woman praying at the Gates of the Garden of Eden when they were cast into the world. Even the Chinese characters for this tradition portray the man and woman in a kneeling position at the gates and worshipping a divine being."

Ming had indeed been taught of such things, although it was not in school that he had learned it, but from his grandfather and father, in the quiet and privacy of their home. His interest was again piqued, that this young American would be aware of such ancient teachings from his homeland.

"You suggest that this tradition is in some way similar to your own stories from your holy book?"

"I do. I suggest that it is the identical story, preserved in your nation's traditions over thousands of years, until it was outlawed in the revolution."

Ming thought deeply upon these points. It made sense. He exchanged glances with his sister, who was nodding her head and smiling. It seemed that she was convinced of the truth of this claim, as he was now beginning to be.

"How may I know that this is so, and not just a theory?"

The first Elder again spoke. "The way to know is sure. You have the right to receive your own personal witness from God, by way of the Holy Ghost, a member of the Godhead. His specific mission is to witness the truth of such things to your spirit -- Spirit-to-spirit communication, that cannot be mistaken. Will you pray about this to know for yourself that it is true?"

"I am willing, but I do not know how to pray about this."

The Elders smiled in appreciation. "We will teach you how we have been instructed to pray. I know that as you do so sincerely, you will get your answer and know for yourself that it is true."

While Ming's days were filled with matters of business, his mind wandered often to the evenings in which he learned the new and wonderful ways of this God he had never before known. This religion seemed to have answers to many questions he had pondered concerning life and it seemed to place the previously floating pieces of his national traditions into their places in the grander picture. Jin felt as if he were becoming truly aware and informed of his purpose in life for the first time. He knew that his life was changing and would never again be the same. Even his parents had taken some interest, following the lead of their children.

When the time came for Ming to return to China, the Elders met with him again and his sister gave him a book with a blue cover, in which she had written her testimony of the teachings they had been discussing the last week. She cautioned him that he might need to keep the book secret, as best he could, due to regulations in China concerning such foreign philosophies. He vowed he would read it on the plane and digest as much of it as he could, in the event that it were taken from him.

The first Elder offered, "We would like to bless you that you will not have to turn over your Book of Mormon to the authorities. Do you have sufficient faith to believe this?"

Somewhere, deep inside, Ming felt the stirrings of a warmth that assured him things would be right and well for him. He nodded his assent and the Elders sat him down and laid hands upon his head. As they did so and the words were spoken over him, Ming felt as if a flow of cool water had washed over him from head to toe and a peace became infused within him such as he had never known. Somehow he knew without doubt that all would be well.

As he entered the gangway to board the plane, Ming looked back at his mother, father, sister and the two young men in dark suits who had permanently altered his life. It felt to Ming as if he gazed upon angels. He knew that his dream had come true and he would never again be the same. Perhaps when he again visited America, he could see for himself what wonders their temples held.

Ch. 59 I Hate Christmas

"I Hate Christmas"
Steven G. O'Dell (C) 2010
There are some things only Christmas can heal.

"Why won't you come have Christmas with us?"

Widowed Melanie Mortenson was puzzled by Ralph Hansen's response to her simple request to join her family for Christmas. He was alone, as were some of the others in the neighborhood. She was alone, too, except for a daughter and her neighborhood friends. It made sense to her to have a get-together so no one would have to sit alone and mope over the holidays.

"Because I hate Christmas."

Something in his manner belied the words themselves.

"I don't believe you, Ralph."

"What?" He looked stunned.

"You heard me. I don't believe you."

Her hands were on her hips now and she looked genuinely perturbed.

"How can you...."

"Oh, stop it, Ralph! You're just shy, that's all. You don't hate Christmas."
Now it was his turn to appear perturbed.

"How can you know that? If I say I don't like Christmas, then I don't like Christmas; that's all there is to it. Now, if you'll be so kind as to leave me alone...."

He moved as if to suggest he was escorting her to the door, but she made no effort to follow. Her hands were still planted firmly upon her hips.

"Ralph Hansen, I am shocked and disappointed with you. How can you say such things? Didn't anyone ever teach you it's wrong to lie?"

Ralph opened his mouth to speak and abruptly closed it again, not knowing quite how to respond to her last comment.

"Sit down, Ralph. We're going to sort this out once and for all." He didn't sit immediately and she became more insistent, pointing firmly and abruptly to where she expected him to light. "Now!"

That did it. Ralph sat, knowing he would have to listen to whatever tirade Melanie was about to level at him. It was well known she was a strong-minded woman, having necessarily become so upon the death of her husband. There was nothing but to tolerate her lecture and then get on with his life, making some excuse that might be more acceptable to her. He stared at the floor, waiting for the condemnation to come.

"Ralph, you can't expect me to believe you don't like Christmas, let alone hate it. I know better. I've seen you in action."

He shot her a puzzled look.

"Yeah, you've been found out. All year long I see you doing for others. When I brought you brownies, I found you in my front yard a few evenings later, picking some weeds before they got too large for me to deal with. You thought it was too dark to see you."

His face reflected a sheepish embarassment now.

"Then there was the scraping and painting you did for Helen while she was in the hospital. You hoped she wouldn't know who did it."

"You didn't...."

"No, of course not! What kind of person do you take me for?" She shook her head in disbelief. "And I saw you fixing that bicycle for Tommy Nolan. Then you made sure that Dale's paper was off the sidewalk where the boy tossed it and that it was up on the porch so Dale wouldn't have to chance a fall by coming off his porch. You can't tell me I'm wrong about that."

"Well, no, but that has nothing to do with Christmas, now does it?" He did his best to appear stern and resolute.

"Oh, pish-posh! It's the same spirit of kindness all year long and you have it, Ralph Hansen, in great abundance. And don't you deny it. either. I know your heart. There isn't a mean bone in your body. So, what's the real reason you claim to hate Christmas? Tell me." Her voice became suddenly more tender. "And tell me the truth."

Ralph's eyes began to fill with tears and he found it hard to breathe.
"Christmas was the favorite time of year for me and for Jeannie. I haven't been able to stand the reminder since she passed away." And now he broke down and began to cry for real, burying his face in his hands. Melanie stood and placed a hand on his shoulder to comfort him.

"We all loved Jeannie, Ralph. How could we help but love her? Still, what would she think of you sitting here alone on her favorite holiday? Do you really think she would approve? I don't. She was always out seeing neighbors and wishing them happy holidays and singing carols and baking cookies and whatever elese she could think to do to make Christmas the most special time of the year. She would still be doing that if she were alive...and so would you."

He nodded his head in agreement. It was true. Jeannie would be ashamed of him being such a hermit.

"Alright, then, is it settled? You'll join us?" She raised her eyebrows in anticipation.

Ralph started to shake his head gently, but Melanie tilted her head in a disapproving manner and he recanted reluctantly.

"Good. Ralph, you are a good man and it wouldn't be right for you to be miserable on Christmas. Nor would it be right for you to deprive others of your company. Not only do we miss Jeannie, but we miss you, too, ya' know." Her smile told him it was true.

Once Melanie left, Ralph sat for several minutes with his eyes closed in silent prayer. You could hear a pin drop as he thanked his Heavenly Father for such wonderful friends and neighbors. And then he waited patiently for an answer to a question. When it came, he smiled broadly in appreciation and closed his prayer. Then he got up and began to gather the necessary materials from his backyard and garage to make several gift wreaths for his neighbors' doors. He could feel Jeannie's spirit with him and it made him smile all the more. It was time to heal and time to feel again. And what better time to do so than Christmas, Jeannie's favorite holiday?

Ch. 60 -- Lamb and Lyon

Lamb and Lyon
(C) Steven G. O'Dell 2011
"...and the lion shall lie down with the lamb...."

The year was 1893. The place was England. The debate is endless.

"Brother Lamb...."

Elder Charles Lamb looked up from his desk. The voice was that of Brother James Lyon, also an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

"Oh, hello. I didn't hear you come in."

"So I noticed. Deep in thought."

"Yes, I suppose so. What brings you here?"

James Lyon smiled as if at a private joke. "A challenge. A personal challenge."

Charles grinned in return. "Okay, you've got my attention."

"Good, because this challenge concerns you, as well."

Eyebrows raised, Charles' mouth dropped open a bit. He knew his friend could be a scamp at times and couldn't help but wonder what he'd gotten into, while dragging him along for the ride. He sighed deeply and closed his eyes.
The challenge had come from the Pastor of St. John's Church. It seems he had a personal vendetta against the 'Mormons' and he couldn't let it go, having accosted James on the street and claiming he could defeat him in a debate. He made it clear the offer stood open at any time and that his pulpit would be open to any response James cared to offer. It was also implied, in a condescending manner, that a real man would take up such a challenge.

"So, I would like to accept that challenge and I want you to accompany me."

"And by 'accompany', you mean that I should take part in the debate?"

"What would a 'real man' do?" He grinned widely and patted Charles on the shoulder.

"Alright. Not that I appreciate you drafting me into your service...."

"Not my service, Charles. The Lord's service." His expression grew serious, but was kind.

"You're right. My apologies. I did take a vow to defend the faith."

"Good man."

The day came for the meet at St. John's. Elders Lamb and Lyon had fasted and prayed in preparation for the day and covenanted with the Lord to speak His will and word, as led by the Spirit to do. They had prayed for the men and women who would attend, desiring that their hearts would be softened and their thoughts made clear. They had prayed that their own spirits would be in tune with the Holy Ghost. They had prayed to be led to the verses they would need to confound the Lord's enemies and to convince the deluded of the truth of their words. In short, they had prepared in every way they possibly could. All that was left was to be reliant upon the Lord to bring all things to their minds in the hour of need.

The Pastor of St. John's stood and faced his congregation, raising his hands to get their attention and calm the chatter. When all had quieted sufficiently, he proceeded.

"Good people of St. John's Church, I welcome you on this special day. It is always good to meet to worship the Lord, but on this day we have the opportunity to expound upon his word. We have with us today a gentleman whom I have invited to defend his beliefs in the Mormon church. May I introduce you to 'Elder' James Lyon, who has seen fit to bring with him either reinforcements or a bodyguard. I know not which it might be."

The Pastor snickered and was joined in laughter by many in his congregation.

"You may know that these men claim that an angel came from Heaven and appeared to a young farm boy in America, whereupon the ancient church was 'restored', as it were. They claim that Christ's church was lost from the earth long ago and that none of the modern churches have claim to being legitimate."

Again came the laughter, which the Pastor made no effort to calm.

"They also claim that this young farm boy received a golden Bible and translated it, being that it is supposedly new revelation from God. After that came many more visitations from apparent angels, lending credence to this boy's station as a prophet of God."

There were not so many chuckles this time, but had been replaced with glares of disgust, aimed at Elders Lamb and Lyon, who offered silent prayers to the Lord for guidance.

"Further, we are to believe that their church is the only path to salvation, that our baptisms are illegitimate, that our authority is null and void, that none of our ordinances are recognized by God."

The stares from the congregation now bore a resemblance to either incredulous disbelief or true hatred. James Lyon simply took notes. The Pastor was doing his utmost to ensure that nothing the Elders would say would be heard by the congregation. When he finally turned time over for response, Elder Lamb wondered if he should simply excuse himself and leave. He turned to look to his friend for reassurance and Elder Lyon smiled confidently, then leaned over and whispered in his ear. Then Elder Lamb stood and walked to the podium, looking quietly out over the congregation for a long moment before speaking.

"My friends...my brothers and sisters in Christ...my companion and I wish to thank you for allowing us to visit your congregation today. I am Elder Charles Lamb and this is Elder James Lyon, who was invited by your good Pastor to explain our beliefs to his congregation. I have been asked to accompany him, because, as you are surely aware, the Lord himself has set the guideline that all things must be established in the mouths of two or more witnesses. And he has also stated that the spirit of contention is not of him. Therefore, with your permission, to alleviate any concerns that we are here to contend and cause dissension, please allow me to pray for the Spirit of the Lord to be amongst us."

He then bowed his head without further delay, not waiting for acknowledgment or for the surprise to pass.

"Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Great are thy works, oh Lord, and endless thy mercy. We ask humbly that thy Spirit be with us in this meeting and that our hearts and minds be opened to thy word and thy will. We ask that thy Spirit enlighten our minds and soften our hearts, that we may be in tune with thee always. Let us set aside our preconceived notions, our biases and opinions, leaning only to thee for truth. And may thy blessings be poured out in rich abundance upon the humble amongst us. In the name of Jesus Christ, thy Son and our redeemer. Amen."

The change in spirit amongst the congregation was markedly different from a few moments before. Some were confused, some were humbled and the Pastor appeared to be disarmed for the moment.

"A number of claims have been made regarding us and our beliefs, as you know. Some are true and some have been distorted, whether through repetition or intentionally. We simply wish to clarify and establish truth, letting you good people decide for yourselves after. It is between you and God what you do with the information.

"I wish to establish from the scriptures...the Bible, which we share a belief in...that Christ knew his church would not remain untouched, unscathed and permanently upon the earth. He warned of such when he said that greivous wolves would enter in, not sparing the flock. He warned through the Apostle John that the written record should not be altered, seemingly predicting that men would do exactly that. He said that false prophets would come and that there would even be false Messiahs. Is this to mean that there would be no prophets after his time, ever again? To determine that, we need to turn to his words through his chosen. We are told that his church was built upon a foundation of Apostles and prophets...seers, revelators...and would be so until we came together in a unity of the faith. I ask you simply, has that day yet come when we are united in faith as regards our scrirptures, our Lord and our faith? Has history shown us, in nearly two thousand years, that man can agree upon even the Prince of Peace and his word? Or did the Lord foresee the need to again send prophets in a day when men would not only disagree regarding his doctrines, but on the very divinity of Christ himself in some instances?"

The Pastor was visibly uncomfortable now, aware that he had already lost control of his rapt congregation and that a pacifying spirit now reigned over them. He tugged at his collar as Elder Lamb continued softly.

"As Christians, we in the odern world often make the mistake of thinking we are too sophisticated to believe any longer in the miracles of ancient times. Is that why we no longer have miracles amongst us? Did not Christ say that even he, the greatest among them, could do no miracles where there was no faith? God will not force miracles upon anyone. He is too much the gentleman. Signs do not make for lasting conversion. Conversion comes only from the witness of the Holy Ghost to our souls. Each and every one of us has been given the promise that we can know the truth for ourselves, leaving no doubt whatsoever. We no longer need to take the word of men, accepting their interpretations and opinions as to the truth. We have the sure witness of the Spirit of God to teach us. May I quote from James.

"'If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.' I think that is fairly clear, don't you?"

Heads were nodding in agreement. Eyes were glued to the speaker.

"He further states that we are to ask in faith, nothing wavering, and that he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, tossed about with every wind of doctrine and shall receive no answer. As adults, we like to think we are rational and perceptive, able to think things out on our own. But God has clearly said that we are to ask him. We are to be as children. Why does he say we should be as children? Because children do not doubt and waver. They take God at his word. Samuel, the boy prophet, did so. David, the boy prophet, did so. Jesus, as a boy, did so. He grew in wisdom, knowing what his Father would have him do, because he asked and received. Can you imagine what it feels like to have God tell you personally what his will for you might be? If there are no miracles amongst us, it is we who have failed, not the Lord. God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. And he is not the author of confusion."

There were tears in the congregation now and some were wiping their eyes and sniffling. Even the Pastor seemed more serene now.

"David, Samuel and Christ were by no means the only young men who trusted God to keep his word and answer their pleas for wisdom. As you have been told, a young American farm boy also put to the test the very words of James. He did not doubt he would get an answer. He knew that God alone could settle the questions he had in his mind, for he saw that the several cghurches could no longer agree on doctrines or even the nature of God. There was only one solution to his problem, if he was to ever know the truth, and that was to go to the source and ask his Father in Heaven for the truth.

"The young Joseph Smith did just that, kneeling in private in a grove of trees and implored his Father in Heaven to impart knowledge to him. What he received in answer to his prayers exceeded his wildest expectations. For thousands of years, men had debated the nature of God. They argued over it and accused one another of the meanest of things. They abandoned their very Christianity in many instances, all the while proclaiming their acts to be in the service of God. Those in the days of young Joseph Smith did not stop even from attempting to take his life, thinking themselves to be doing God favor in their acts. All the while they labeled him a non-Chrsitian, a cult leader and worse, they themselves were acting in the most unseemly and un-Christian manner.

"What young Joseph proclaimed, along with the Apostle Paul, was. 'He, whom ye ignorantly worship, declare I unto you!' To the various creeds and sects of so-called Christianity, young Joseph proclaimed that not only did God and Jesus Christ exist, but that he had seen them and that they keep their promises to mankind. He witnessed that God is still a God of miracles, to those who believe. He said, along with the prophet Stephen of old, that God sits in the Heavens and that his Son, Jesus Christ, is a separate and distinct being and that Holy Ghost is a third personage, of spirit and not of flesh.

"These were claims that any one of them could have substantiated for himself, by the same methods God laid out to be followed. To ask for wisdom, believing God would answer and give it it man. Sadly, relatively few would put it to the test, but leaned unto theit own understanding. The ministers of the day, those who were to defend the flock, chose instead to persecute the young boy. These scholars, the wise men God had warned would be confounded by the unlearned, chose to ignore the God of miracles and attempt to silence his chosen prophet, just as their predecessors in ancient times had done.

"This boy, too, grew in wisdom and stature. And in persecution. But he also learned more each day to trust his Father, the God who had created him. He received the visitation of angels, just as the ancient Saints had done. He healed the sick, via the restored priesthood, just as the ancient Saints had done. He received revelation and new scriptures, writings which attested to the truth of the earlier Jewish scriptures, which modern man was beginning to doubt, labeling them to be a mixture of fable, legend and allegory. He proclaimed that there had been a remnant of the house of Israel that had been preserved, just as promised by God, and that they had kept and buried records to be found in our day -- that truth would spring from the earth and that the Stick of Judah, the Bible, would be one in his hand with the Stick of Joseph and his remnant.

"As with ancient prophets, he sealed with his blood all that he had attested to, witnessing that he would proclaim it to the end, even under threat of death, which he did. Those who claimed to be good men of faith were among those who persecuted him relentlessly and took his life by violence. His witness stands for all time, sealed with his blood, which cries out to the Lord God.

"I bear you my own witness that I know these things to be true, having tested the words of James, not leaving to chance my own salvation to the whims of men and their opinions. I have received the witness of the Holy Ghost that the things I have told you are true -- that and more. Marvelous things to lift the hearts and spirits of the faithful. I bear you witness that you can receive the same testimony of the truth, as I have, as my friend has, as countless others have. Only you can say what you will do with the opportunity. In the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen."

At this point, Elder James Lyon stood and took the podium. He smiled as he looked out over the faces that waited expectantly and without enmity.

"My friends, my brothers and sisters, we are all children of the same God, are we not? He has said that Adam was his son. We, as descendants of Adam, that first man, are also of divine lineage. Reason alone would tell us so, but God has not left that to the reason of man, but has told us the sure means by which we might know the truth of all things. He has said, regarding his newly revealed word,

"'Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.'

"The very same guidance given to and through James, the Apostle, was given to the escaped ancient remnant of Israel on the American continent. That exhortation has now been passed to us. Will we ask God, the Eternal Father, whether there be a restored church in the latter days, in the times of refreshing the Lord spoke of? Will we ask him if the ancient priesthood has been restored, allowing men to act in the name of God by the laying on of hands, with a direct abd traceable lineage to those of old, and not just through a document given by a school of divinity?"

The Pastor winced visibly at this, but kep this peace as several shot glances toward him.

"Will we lean unto our own understandings or to the God who created us, trusting that his arm is not shorten or his power diminished? Will we put our souls in jeopardy by choosing to disregard, disbelieve and dismiss his chosen prophets? Or will we humble ourselves and hear his word and will for us, proving the truth of these claims by the prescribed method that has always been God's way for mankind? Will you humble yourselves and see that God is still a God of miracles today? That he keeps his promises of old and still takes interest in the fate of his children?

"I bear witness, with Elder Lamb, that what you have been told is true and that you can know for yourselves the truth of it, by the witness of the Holy Ghost. You can have your own witness, not relying on any other for the truth. IS this not what Peter did, gaining the sure knowledge that Jesus was the promised Messiah? Peter did not rely on man to tell him this, but his Father in Heaven told him so. Is this not preferable to speculation, to blindly trusting men or their interpretations? Is this not God's way?

"And now, the next step lies with you; with each of you individually. Your relationship with God is personal. The responsibility lies with you to advance or retreat in that relationship. It can grow and blossom or you can let it stagnate and die. Which will you choose? Look to God and live, my brothers and sisters. Look to God and live. In Christs Jesus' most precious name. Amen."

When Elder Lyon sat down, there was complete silence for a time. No one moved a muscle. Now and then, a sniffle could be sensed, more than heard. Heads were down in prayer and reflection, eyes were closed, hands clasped together or over mouths and faces to isolate their owners from their surroundings and to mask tears. Souls were turned to God for the first time in life, in many instances. And then the sobbing began. Softly, at first, then louder, as others were swept away in the emotion. The Spirit of God began to be poured out in great abundance upon the assembled. Hands were raised to the heavens, shouts of 'praise God' and 'hallelujah' rang out. Some cried out, 'thank you' to the two Elders. The Pastor quietly got up and left the room, accompanied by a few still faithful followers.

As Elders Lamb and Lyon stepped won from the podium, throngs of people surrounded them to shake their hands, to ask where they might learn more, to seek clarity in scriptures they had never before understood. Many were already convinced and sought baptism under the true and restored priesthood of God. All had felt the power of God in the words that had been spoken; even those unwilling as yet to obey.

The next Sunday meeting at the small building attended by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, it was more full than usual, many new and eager faces welcomed warmly into the fold. Lamb and Lyon had together spoken the word of the Lord, witnessed to the truth, had fulfilled their duties and obligations to God and their fellow man. There would be peace now and long-needed answers in the hearts of more children of Heavenly Father. A new generation of believers was being born...and born again.

Ch. 61 The Music Within

The Music Within
(C) Steven G. O'Dell 2011

The old craftsman set the final piece of exotic wood inlay into the lid of the music box and smiled with satisfaction. Once the glue was dried, he would oil the wood and polish the entire box with loving care and then give it to his sweetheart for her sixtieth birthday. He closed his eyes and thought of how it reflected her own qualities. He had put every ounce of love and skill he possessed into this particular piece and hoped she would love it as much as he loved her.

~~~///~~~

Linda was feeling 'one of those days'. Hard to explain, but even harder to experience personally. She felt old and useless. She was tired, weak and thought of herself as crippled by age. She had ceased nearly entirely to see her talents and value as a woman and a human being. She was as worn out inside as she thought of herself on the outside. The day was overcast, gloomy and cold as she walked about in a daze. She was supposed to meet someone soon; someone who loved her deeply. Linda wasn't sure she was in the mood right now for meetings, even with someone who loved her, but she would 'bite the bullet' and proceed.

The antique shop seemed to call to Steven in some strange way. Although he liked old furniture and impeccable craftsmanship, antique shops were not the kind of places he was wont to frequent, yet there was something in this one that beckoned him to enter.

On the surface, it seemed much similar to any other antique shop, but there was still this feeling that somewhere, somehow, a hidden treasure awaited him. Wandering from aisle to aisle, Steven inspected each article he passed, admiring the fine workmanship and care that had gone into the making of them. He reflected on the fact that with the advent of the industrial revolution had come the apparent demise of quality and pride of workmanship. How sad for the world, he thought.

It was in the last aisle that he saw it, with a fine layer of dust, sitting alone on the top shelf. There was no reason it should have caught his eye and yet it did, oddly. As he reached overhead to pull it from the shelf, he felt a warmth rush through him from head to toe. Holding the old music box in both hands, Steven admired it and recognized the fine detail and care that had gone into its making. Every part fit like a glove to a hand, every inlay cut perfectly and placed carefully, with no gaps or hint of misalignment. The craftsman who had made this box was a true master. Wiping the dust from the lid, he took it to the front window, where it could catch some natural light and just as he did, the clouds seemed to part and the sun shone brightly through the window and onto the box, causing him to catch his breath and hold it for a moment, admiring what he knew instantly to be a real treasure.

"Ah, I see you know fine workmanship when you hold it." It was the owner of the store, who had come in quietly from the back room.

"Yes, sir, it's wonderful. A lot of love went into its making."

"Shall I tell you it's story?"

"It has a story?" Steven raised his eyebrows in surprise.

"It certainly has. A wonderful story at that. It was made by a real craftsman, a master at his art, which you can easily see. What you cannot see is why it was made. The master craftsman was a man who was deeply in love with his wife of sixty years. He made it for her sixtieth anniversary and presented it to her over a special dinner at her favorite restaurant. She was thrilled with it, of course. It plays her favorite song."

"How wonderful that must have been."

"Yes, it was. They had another ten years after that night. She passed away on their seventieth anniversary. He was heartbroken, but had the years of memories to console him for the last few years of his own life. The music box came into my possession about seven years ago. Since then, it has been up on that shelf, waiting for the right person to find it and recognize its worth. Are you that person?"

Steven paused without words. He looked at the owner for a moment and then again at the music box and smiled with a joy he hadn't felt in some time. He knew exactly who would be the recipient of this very special gift.

~~~///~~~

"I found it. At the last minute, I found it for you." Steven smiled across the table at Linda and waited.

"Found what?"

"The perfect gift to show my love for you and to convince you to marry me."

"We've been through this before. I'm getting old and my helath isn't what it was. You would be getting a broken woman, an imperfect package."

"I know what kind of package I would be getting, better than you know it yourself." He reached down beside his chair and picked up a gift for her. "This is for you...and it is a lot like you."

Linda carefully unwrapped the gift and found the music box to be a thing quite beautiful. It was immediately apparent why he had chosen this box. Everything about it was exquisite and outstanding. It had been freshly oiled to bring out the grain of the woods and the pearlescent inlays complemented the various exotic wood inlays.

"It's gorgeous."

"As are you. I only wish you could see yourself as I do. You are a daughter of God and loved by Him more than you could ever imagine in all your days. You see only the frailties you suffer. Like the wood that needed to be treated with oil to bring out the beauty of the grain, you need the gentle oil of love to bring out the beauty within yourself. Like the sparkle of the shell inlay, you will shine with the affection I will give you freely. And like the song within the music box, you will have a heart that sings with the love you will feel once you let yourself go to be the woman you were meant to be from the start."

Gazing into his eyes, she saw that he meant every word. She saw, perhaps for the first time, the depth of his love for her. A tear was forming in his eye and that told her everything she needed to know. Breaking eye contact, she opened the lid of the music box and within seconds her breath was taken away.

"I can't believe it...that's my favorite piece of music ever."

"I know. I was led to this box this afternoon, just as I was led to you, Linda. We were meant to be together, just as you were meant to have this music box. I see the beauty within you, not just the exterior, which I think is beautiful, too, by the way. I know there is a song within you that is aching to come out and be sung. I want to be with you when it is sung. Is that so wrong?"

She shook her head, crying silently.

"Then I ask you this one thing as I give this gift and I will never asked another thing of you. Will you please marry me and let me bring out that beautiful song I know is within you?"

Again, all she could do was cry, but with a gasp she reached across the table and took his hand, smiled and nodded her consent.

The song would finally be sung. The music within would be set free at last.


Story © by respective author(s)
Licensed under the Creative Commons License