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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
 
Submitted by Steven ODell on 2 December 2010 - 1:33pm.

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.

Submitted by Steven ODell on 15 February 2010 - 4:49am. | | | | |

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.

Submitted by Steven ODell on 9 April 2009 - 8:04pm.

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.

Submitted by Steven ODell on 14 March 2009 - 2:28am. | | | | | |

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.

Submitted by Steven ODell on 5 November 2008 - 9:41pm.

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.

Submitted by Steven ODell on 5 November 2008 - 9:38pm.

The Prison
Steven G. O'Dell ã2008

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."

Submitted by Steven ODell on 5 November 2008 - 9:36pm.

Darkness
Steven G. O'Dell ã2008

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.

Submitted by Steven ODell on 5 November 2008 - 9:35pm.

Raising Timothy
Steven G. O'Dell ã2008

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.

Submitted by Steven ODell on 5 November 2008 - 9:32pm.

A Friend When In Need
Steven G. O'Dell ã2008

"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.

Submitted by Steven ODell on 5 November 2008 - 9:31pm.

The War
Steven G. O'Dell ã2008

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 often wished aloud that he were their grandfather. He was admired by all the young men who had occasion to hear his wisdom and was sought out inconspicuously by all the young women that he complimented regarding their beauty and grace--and this 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 never got him down. It was his mission to bring up the world and Milt did his best to accomplish that.

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 exited 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.

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