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"...Choose only entertainment and media that uplift you. Good entertainment will help you to have good thoughts and make righteous choices...Do not participate in entertainment that in any way presents immorality or violent behavior as acceptable."
For The Strength of Youth

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Most Recent Stories
Little Miss Liberty
    Steven O'Dell
The Christmas Dog
    Steven O'Dell
Barnaby and the Zilligong
    Steven O'Dell
    Steven O'Dell
The Greatest Christmas Gift Ever
    Steven O'Dell

Most Recent Chapters
The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
    Ch. 58 -- On Wings of Angels
The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
    Ch. 61 The Music Within
The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
    Ch. 60 -- Lamb and Lyon
The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
    Ch. 59 I Hate Christmas
The Visitor--an inspirational short story series
    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
Submitted by Steven ODell on 7 May 2013 - 12:53pm. | | | | | | | |

Little Miss Liberty
(C) Steven G. O'Dell 2010

Little Miss Liberty sat on her tuffet, with not in the world a care. Along came a spider and sat down beside her; she thought it no reason for scare.

"I see," said the spider, "that you have no silk to adorn yourself and look grand. If you wish, I could loan you some of my own. I suggest that we start with one strand."

Miss Liberty saw how it shone in the sun, how it glistened and glimmered so bright. She thought, "There's no harm, as he says it's a loan, and I'm not sure that now I look right."

So, accepting his offer, she willingly wound the strand about herself. Indeed it glistened and glimmered and shone, but she thought that a few more might help.

And putting aside all her conscience and pride, she asked if he'd spare her some more. The spider exclaimed, "It would be such a shame to hoard what I have in store."

And being a kind and giving soul, he gladly did bestow, one shining silk thread after another-- row after brilliant row.

How grand she looked, how glorious, how marvelous indeed; but then she noticed her arms were bound and she could not move her feet.

"Just one thing more," the spider said, "to add the crowning glory." Then tightly he wrapped her face and her head and ended her life's story.

Perhaps you see a moral here, that you could learn from, too. A man from the bank or the government may one day approach you.

An offer may be made to help; a loan, a gift or grant. Your liberties required in turn, but you should say, "I can't.

"The cost for what you give is high; your gift is one I fear. I will not sell to anyone--my freedom is too dear."

Believe life's struggle keeps us free--take not the easy road. Resist dependence on another, make freedom your abode.

Submitted by Steven ODell on 16 June 2012 - 5:56pm. | | | | | |

Barnaby and the Zilligong
(C) 2012 Steven G. O'Dell

Barnaby Brundage set out one Fall,
sailing his Yim in a raging squall.
He had no fear, for he needed to know
the answer to questions that bothered him so.
He'd tried all he could and didn't succeed,
but wouldn't give up; he'd find it indeed.

When all in his town had thought and were wrong,
they said, "No one knows but the Zilligong."
For the Zilligong had brains that made him real smart,
but far more than that, the Zilligong had heart.
And if answers were needed, then everyone knew
the Zilligong had them, they knew that was true.

As no one in town could answer his query,
young Barnaby left in somewhat a hurry.
He packed only things that would get him to where
the answers must lie, to hear if he dare,
for sometimes the truth will hurt, as he knew,
but nothing but truth for Barnaby would do.

The question he had that weighed on him heavy
was why there's no peace, when all seemed so ready.
They all said they wanted to be happy with neighbors,
but it seemed now and then they resorted to sabers.
And no one had peace while such ruckus ensued,
but no one had answers on just what to do.

The Zilligong had, the story was told,
once lived among them, through heat and through cold.
And everyone sought him for answers to questions
that they could not answer, to learn all the lessons
that made life more happy when folks live together,
that made them smile in all kinds of weather.

At some point in the past, and no one knew why,
the Zilligong packed bags, then waved them goodbye.
He said not a word as he went on his way,
and no one knew how long or where he would stay.
But one thing was sure, they all worried now,
when questions were quested, who would answer and how?

So Barnaby Brundage, alone and determined,
set out on his mission, through whales or through vermin.
His Yim sometimes rose and his Yim sometimes fell
on waves of the sea that had fishy smell.
The fishes jumped and the fishes splashed
alongside the Yim they dithered and dashed.

And sometime about the third day, he guessed,
Barnaby's Yim with a bump came to rest
and Barnaby woke to the sound of waves,
both crashing and bashing, but knew he was safe.
And looking up high to the mountain ahead,
he thought on the climb with some sense of dread.

But Barnaby knew, at the top of that peak
lay the answers that he had come so far to seek.
The Zilligong lived there, sure as could be
and the Zilligong, after all, was whom he must see.
With a huff and a puff, the boy pushed forth
and climbed where he could, for all he was worth.

His climbing was long and his climbing was hard,
but Barnaby knew he must push on, though tired.
More puffing and huffing and wheezing and more.
He had no idea what ahead lay in store.
But he knew if he stopped then he never would know
the answer he'd traveled so far to take home.

When Barnaby thought he could just go no further,
he gathered his wits, renewed all his fervor,
and taking a breath, gathered courage to climb
the last several feet to get there in time.
The sun was just rising, he'd climbed all the night,
and Barnaby Brundage was near out of fight.

And as the boy fell in a heap at the top,
stopping 'cause this was where he must stop,
gasping and groaning from the strain of the climb
he'd made getting here, with no thought in mind
but asking for truth he knew must be near;
he'd conquered his worries, his shyness and fear.

And as he lay there, too weak yet to move,
he felt a soft touch on his shoulder, in truth.
He lifted his gaze to behold such a face
as never he'd seen in all his young days.
A word hit his ear that calmed his concern--
"Welcome, my boy! Some answers you've earned."

Barnaby knew that this must be
the Zilligong that he'd come to see.
The Zilligong gave him some water, some bread,
then patted the young boy on top of his head.
"Just rest here a moment, you'll need it indeed,
and later we'll talk of the answers you seek."

"Yes, I do need to rest here awhile."
"Then please do," the Zilligong said with a smile.
So Barnaby sat and he drank and he ate
just as much as he could from his overstuffed plate
and when he had eaten and drunk to his fill,
he lay back and slept as exhausted boys will.

When Barnaby woke he heard music so sweet
that his ears wiggled happily as he tapped his feet.
The Zilligong played on a Tweedler and Frump,
squeezing on one while the other he pumped.
It made the boy sing at the top of his lungs
and dancing and twirling, he jumped and he spun.

When at last all the music had faded away,
Barnaby found himself having to say,
"I've never heard music that sounded so nice.
It made my heart leap twice as high as the sky.
Did you play such music when living in town
or learn it up here, not when you were down?"

"I did it down there, but the folks wouldn't dance.
I did it each day and I gave them the chance,
but they didn't hear me on Tweedler and Frump.
They went on their way, looking down in the dump.
Watching their sadness just made me sad, too,
so moving up here was the wise thing to do."

Barnaby looked at the ground as a tear
escaped from his eye and it fell very near.
Hitting the ground and soaking in fast,
he knew in an instant that sadness can't last,
for where it had fallen, so teary and wet,
up sprang a Borple plant, radiant and red.

Surprise covered Barnaby, from head to toe,
"A tear hits the gound and Borple plants grow?"
"Oh, yes," said the Zilligong, dancing for glee,
"It means that you're heart's like the one that's in me.
It means you have wisdom, your answers are sure,
for deep in your heart lies just what will cure."

"But I'm just a boy, so how could I know
the answers they need and which way to go?"
The Zilligong gently touched Barnaby's cheek.
"The fact that you ask shows wisdom, you see.
The others don't ask, they just carry on,
ignoring the questions 'til wisdom is gone."

Barnaby now scratched his head for a few,
he wrinkled his brow, thinking, 'What shall I do?'
Then something inside him clicked nearly out loud
and Barnaby smile, then laughed and was proud.
"Because I just ask, it leads me to learn,
'cause I never let opportunity burn!"

"That's right!" said the Zilligong, proud as can be.
"Now you have wisdom, now you can see.
The fact that you ask will cause you to find
the answers you seek, expanding your mind.
The others don't ask, so how can they know
when they won't go looking--they won't; oh, no-no!"

And with that the Zilligong stood up so tall
on his toes so high the boy thought he might fall.
He reached for the sky and he smiled at the sun
in a way that told the boy it was just fun.
And dancing in circles, then jumping in glee,
the Zilligong said, "Now you can be me."

"What?!" cried the boy, "How can that be?
I can't be you and you can't be me."
The Zilligong lifted the boy in a hug,
he turned 'round in circles, then reached for a jug.
"Let's drink now some Gurka juice. You'll love it, I'm sure.
It's great with the Borple fruit and this juice is pure."

And Barnaby said, as he turned up his snout,
"Won't you please tell me what this is about?"
The Zilligong looked down with love in his eyes,
a look that was deep and he couldn't disguise.
"Zilligong isn't a name, don't you see?
It is a title; that's how you'll be me."

"I'll be the Zilligong? That's what you mean?"
A nod and pat, "My boy, now you've seen.
I've been here so long and no one has come
to ask me for answers. They want to stay dumb.
And even a Zilligong needs now and then
a little vacation to make some new friends."

Now Barnaby grinned as he thought of the honor.
It wasn't so much as he'd thought--it's not power.
It's loving and learning throughout your whole life,
and sharing with others, with husbands and wives,
with children who ask all the questions they can,
so they can grow up into women and men.

"I'm proud to accept your humble request.
I promise you this, that I'll do my best.
I'll even learn to play Tweedler and Frump,
to keep other folks from feeling down in the dump."
The Zilligong stood and unzipped his disguise
and revealed to the boy a surprise to his eyes.

"I'm not what I seem, young Barnaby boy.
I've been here so long that I almost lost joy.
As you see I'm a man, which is what you will be.
I was once you and now you'll be me.
I'll tell you my name, write it down and don't lose.
The Zilligong really is ol' Doctor Seuss."

And Barnaby said, "Well, I've heard of you!
You're kind and you're funny, you're wonderful, too.
Your stories were read to me while I was small
and now that I'm older, I love them all."
The Zilligong smiled for at last he was sure
that his legacy was safe and his tales would endure.

And there is the story, although it's quite long,
how Barnaby Brundage learned a new song,
and got a new name and made a new friend
and started a mission he knew wouldn't end,
for if there were even one girl or one boy
who wanted to learn, then there'd always be joy.

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Submitted by Steven ODell on 16 June 2012 - 5:52pm. | | |

(C)2012 Steven G. O'Dell

The truth should have been obvious to anyone, but it never works out that way. Give people everything they want and they will be happy, right? Sounds wonderful...in theory. In practice, it's a different story, however, as we found out.

Our society had progressed technologically to the point where miracles were now possible. We had, in essence, become the gods we so often scoffed at. With the proper machinery, we could harness the power of Dark Energy and Dark Matter. We were now able to funnel, focus and combine those forces into any image we chose. We could replicate anything our hearts desired now--food, drink, luxury items and so on. Scale made no difference. We made items as large as we wanted. Gigantic ships that sailed the oceans were produced as easily as a plate of fine porcelain. The entire world was now prosperous. We were a 'post-scarcity' population. There was no such thing as want or need. For some time the world thought it had achieved the answer to all its problems. The hungry were now fed. The naked were now clothed. The sick had no paucity of medicine now. There was abundance everywhere.

It didn't take long, however, for a general discontent to set in. It was hard to understand it at first; hard to pin down the feeling and define it in thought, let alone word. When finally it came into focus, the word was 'de-valued.' The items were no longer scarce or rare, so they had become de-valued. The people themselves felt de-valued, unable to serve the needs of others as they had before. A simple gesture like cooking a meal for a sick friend was no longer necessary or common. People had become so wrapped up in their 'things' that they had forgotten to associate with one another as before. Why should they need to? They all had just what they wanted. What they had wanted was material goods--the emptiness of things. Now that everyone was rich, no one was rich. They had all things. A new industry suddenly was needed. An industry that took all of the 'things' they had thought they wanted so desperately and turned them again into Dark Matter of Dark Energy--returning it to its source. Disintegration Technology had been born. What the gods had created, they now destroyed. It was inevitable. And it was replaced by more 'things' they thought they wanted.

The change...no, The Change...came slowly. A change of thinking, a change of behavior and of need, came almost unnoticed and without fanfare, being noted and remembered only because it was so profound in its simplicity. As it had happened many other times in our history, though usually unnoticed previously, we were led by a child. An unknown, unheralded, unimportant child. A child who went from obscurity to becoming important through no desire of his own, but only by his actions. This time it was even more so. It affected an entire world that was hungry for change and didn't yet know where to turn.

This child had not been taken up in the ways of adulthood yet. He knew nothing but the imagination and fun of being a child and hadn't yet been convinced to divest himself of that which was truly most valuable to all humans. When he was discovered playing in his yard, he was building a structure from sticks, rocks, dirt and grass. He had done a remarkable job of recreating the most intimate details of his own family home, with just the rudimentary materials at his disposal. He had built each piece of furniture and placed it within the little home he had fashioned with his own two hands. The first to behold the wonder was a neighbor, who stood stock still and puzzled at first, then wide-eyed and finally wept like a baby as the implication of it all struck him. Mankind had almost forgotten how to create with the simple tools of mind and hand. The word spread soon enough and despite all that was done to protect the child from fame, he became somewhat of a universal hero for rediscovering what every child is born with and only loses in the rush to become an adult.

Slowly, but surely, the return to sanity appeared and people began to again do for themselves. The joy they felt resulted in neighbor sharing with neighbor again. Eventually a peaceful balance between human and machine was achieved. A law was passed that never again would they let such a thing happen. You know, however, how such things as laws can be. They are only as firm as human commitment decides to be.

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Submitted by Steven ODell on 14 March 2011 - 12:35pm. | | | | | |

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.

Submitted by Steven ODell on 25 January 2011 - 5:03am. | | | | | |

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.

Submitted by Steven ODell on 24 January 2011 - 1:48am. | | | | | | |

"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?

Submitted by Steven ODell on 21 January 2011 - 10:08am. | | | | |

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.

Submitted by Steven ODell on 2 December 2010 - 1:59pm. | | | | |

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?

Submitted by Steven ODell on 2 December 2010 - 1:51pm. | | | | |

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.

Submitted by Steven ODell on 2 December 2010 - 1:47pm. | | | | |

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.

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