Climbing the Mountain like a Turtle

She opened the front door and stepped outside. The bright sun caused her to squint as she closed the door behind her. It was hot – too hot to be outside. Good thing she was heading to her car instead of starting her dreaded daily walk around the neighborhood. She had only taken a step or two when something small caught her eye. A box turtle? What was a box turtle doing on her front patio? And this one appeared to be a baby! She stopped to watch it as she contemplated whether she needed to rescue it or not. Where would be a good place to relocate it? As she watched, it began to move quickly towards a nearby bush.

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The turtle, tired of the hot, rough sidewalk, hurried towards some shade she had glimpsed from across the patio.

I’m like this turtle, she thought. Sometimes my life is as uncomfortable as this hot, rough sidewalk, and all I want to do is cross over it to get to somewhere more comfortable.

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What’s this? She wasn’t expecting such a high barrier of large rocks. They hadn’t looked this big from the other side of the patio. Would she really have to climb these rocks?

Yep, she thought. Always something to block me from what I want. And it’s usually just as daunting as these rocks appear to this turtle.

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If she wanted to reach the shade, yes, she would have to climb these rocks. Resigned, she began climbing.

She thought of the mountains in her life. If she wanted a better marriage, if she wanted a healthier weight, if she wanted a cleaner house, if she wanted a closer relationship with her God, she would have to climb mountains to get to them. Mountains as high and hard and difficult as what the turtle was facing. Did she have the same determination as the turtle to start climbing?

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At first it was kind of easy. “This is not so bad,” she thought. But before long, she felt her balance shifting.

Isn’t that the truth, she thought. Mountains are always so deceiving. They start off easy, but soon, too soon, they have a way of throwing you off balance. Mountains are never that easy.

 

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Oh no! The weight of her shell was pulling her backwards. She was going to fall! In an attempt to stop the backwards momentum, she stretched out all she had, including her neck.

She thought of rock climbers. They never got off balance. Did they? Why not? So what made this turtle get off balance? It was the weight of what it carried on its back. That’s it! It’s the weight of my baggage that makes climbing mountains so hard, she thought excitedly. If I got rid of the baggage – stuff I drag with me from my past, stuff I refuse to let go of because I think I need it – I wouldn’t be losing my balance all the time. And whatever I left behind, God could replace. Right? But… she thought about the turtle shell. The turtle couldn’t just leave its shell behind, could it? The shell was too much a part of it. Just like there were some things she was incapable of leaving behind herself. She watched closely to see how the turtle was going to handle this problem, sensing it would also be an answer for her.

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It worked! She was no longer falling backwards, but she was also not moving forwards. She stretched out her neck even more, giving it everything she had.

Ahh, she thought. The turtle, although it couldn’t take off its shell, did have something with which to counter the balance problem. Its neck! It stuck out its neck! It let itself be vulnerable in order to try to save itself. Isn’t that what Jesus wants us to do – become vulnerable? To open our hearts to Him? To stick out necks, so to speak, in faith, towards others? To love others even when they don’t love us back? To give to those who ask even if it hurts?  But, she wondered, was it going to work?

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Yea! Her shell slowly righted itself and she was back on her feet. Should she go back? This climb was dangerous. She couldn’t have fallen off and landed on her back, not able to move. Besides, all she could see was the rock wall she was climbing. She couldn’t see over the top of those rocks. Was there really shade up there? Or had she just imagined it?

Relief and amazement flooded through her. The turtle was OK. It didn’t fall. It was safe. Or was it? Why wasn’t it moving? Did it change its mind? That’s what she usually did when the way got hard. Insecurities, questions, doubts, and fears all seemed to stop her from getting to the top each time. And each time she was stopped, she returned to the bottom where it was easier. Would the turtle do the same?

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She decided to trust her vision. The possible shade was worth the work and danger of this climb. Deciding to keep her neck out for balance, she began climbing once again.

Nope, the turtle didn’t give up. It knew what it had seen and it wanted it more than it wanted the ease of the sidewalk. That’s what I need to do, she thought. God gives me visions of what’s up there. I need to trust Him and just keep climbing no matter how hard it gets.

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Finally she could see her goal ahead of her. Yes! The shade was real! Excited now, she began to move a little faster.

She was surprised at the envy she felt as the turtle entered the shade. There was shade available in her own life. Promises God had given her. All she had to do was climb the mountain to get there. So why was she envious of a turtle? Maybe because that turtle was more committed than she was?  Maybe because that turtle had more faith than she did? Or maybe because the turtle wanted it more than she did? She knew this turtle had given her a lot to think about.

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She had done it! Here was the promised shade, where she could rest and maybe even catch something to eat. Was the climb worth it? Oh yeah!

Goodbye, little turtle, she thought as she walked away. Thank you for teaching me something I needed to learn today. Maybe someday I’ll make it to the top of one of my mountains just like you did.

Bella, part 16  The Deserted Island, the Insect, and the Lion, Oh My

As her breathing calmed, so did her mind.

“Ok,” she said to herself. “You wanted to know the truth. Well, now you know it. What are you going to do about it?”

“Hide,” herself answered.

“Forever?”

“Maybe.”

“That won’t work. Eventually you… I… will need to eat.”

“I’ll call take-out.”

“And how will you pay for it when you lose your job for not going to work?”

“Umm… OK… you have a point. So what are you going to do?”

She thought about that for a long time.

“I think I need to go back to the church and confront Pastor Toby. See what he has to say. Maybe Andy was just pulling my leg.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea? What if he won’t let you leave?”

She thought about that before answering, “I’ll just have to take my chances. What else can I do? Ignore the whole thing?”

“Why not?”

“Because I can’t. Not any more than I could ignore hearing something buzzing around my head. I have to know so I can protect myself. Or at least know enough to come up with a plan.”

“You can protect yourself without going back. Just hide out here.”

“We just went through this. I can’t hide out here forever. I need more information so I’ll know exactly what I’m protecting myself from. Besides, what if this whole thing is a joke? Then if I did like you say – hide out here – it would be for nothing. And so would any plan I come up with. So I HAVE to go back. To make sure. And to find out more.”

“OK. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Bella shook her head. Conversations in her head were nothing new to her, but this one had really felt like two people. Was she schizo now? It didn’t matter. Pastor Toby was real even if the voice in her head wasn’t.

Bella got up and went to her desk. It might be good to start keeping a journal. Just in case. She dug out an old notebook from the bottom drawer, tore out the used pages she didn’t need any more, then wrote the date at the top of the first clean page.

She began writing.

Tomorrow may be the last day of my life. At least life as I know it. Am I really going to do this? Confront Pastor Toby? Make him admit he’s an alien? Demand to know his plans for me? What will he do? Send me to his home planet? Keep me captive in his weird home? Kill me?

If anyone reads this after I’m gone, please be careful. Aliens are real. They are here. And they are dangerous. Pastor Toby is one of them. Don’t try to confront him by yourself. Call the police. No, call the National Guard. Or the FBI. Anyone with lots of firepower. Just don’t go there alone or you may end up like me.

Bella put down her pen, yawned, and looked at the time. 3:07 PM. Still early enough to get in a short nap before dinner. She yawned again. Why was she so tired? It was getting very hard to keep her eyes open. She stumbled to her room and climbed into her bed, and was asleep before her head hit the pillow.

She had a series of dreams. In one, she found herself on a deserted island. Dangerous IMG_20180929_084745719sounds coming from the jungle behind her, sharks and jellyfish in the water in front of her kept her from any attempt to escape. She spent her time pacing up and down the beach, trying to decide which way she wanted to die – facing the unknown dangers in the jungle or the known dangers in the water. Then a boat appeared. She knew the water was too shallow for the boat to reach the beach. Yet she also knew if she could get to the boat, she would be saved. If only she could muster up enough courage to face the jellyfish and sharks that might be close by.

In another dream, she was holding a can of bug spray and hunting a huge, dangerous looking insect that someone had warned her about. But when she found it, it turned out to be so tiny it was no threat to her at all.

In yet another dream, she was being chased by a hungry lion. The faster she ran from it, the closer it got to her. After running for what felt like forever, she couldn’t run any more. Resigned to her death, she turned to face the lion, expecting it to leap on her and sink its fangs deep into her throat. But instead of attacking, the lion began licking her as if she were one if its cubs.

When Bella woke, it was dark. Disorientated, sweaty and still shaking from her dreams, she turned on the lamp to check the time. 11:25? Wow, she thought. She really had been tired. Must be the result of the internal struggle she’s been going through ever since that first day when she ran into the church to escape the pushy lady. She wondered what would have happened had she not chosen the church that day. What if she had just let the lady help her? Probably her life would have gone back to normal. Her sad, lonely normal life. She certainly wouldn’t be thinking about confronting an alien, right?

Should she try to go back to sleep? No, that wouldn’t work. She was too wound up from here dreams. Maybe she would feel better if she ate something. Bella slid out of bed and went to the kitchen. She popped two slices of bread into the toaster and some leftover spaghetti into the microwave. Then she went to her desk to turn on her computer. Wanting something light to help dispel the residual uneasiness from her dreams, she searched for a comedy on Netflix. She chose an episode of Cheers which had always been able to make her laugh just as she heard the microwave beep. She returned a few minutes later with her plate of warm spaghetti and cheesy garlic toast, settled in front of her computer, and began to eat. Familiar food and entertainment brought comfort to her body and mind and she felt herself relaxing. Good, she thought. At least if I’m going to die tomorrow, I going to enjoy the last night of my life.

 

Bella stories:

I’m Not Hurt, Not Really Part 1 Part 2

Bella part 6   9  10  11 12  13   14  15

Bella – part 15 Surrounded

Bella looked around fearfully as she fled home. Her mind was racing as fast as her legs. If Pastor Toby was an alien… wait. Forget the if. Pastor Toby IS an alien, she corrected herself. So does that mean there are other aliens here too? And what about Pastor Toby’s enemy?

As she ran, she looked at the other people on the sidewalks.

She saw a couple walking past, holding each other’s hands and talking quietly together.

They’re aliens. They’re talking about you. The thought almost made her stop. Why would they be talking about her? Probably because she escaped from Andy. He must have contacted his leader, and now everyone is going to be looking for her. She began to run faster.IMG_20180926_031313388

She passed a man reading a newspaper at a bus stop.

He’s an alien too. He’s just pretending to read that paper. He’s actually watching you. She couldn’t resist turning her head to see if he really was watching her. Nope, he hadn’t moved. He hadn’t even shifted his head. Where were these thoughts coming from?

She ran by a man who was looking at his watch. Was his watch really a communicator. Was he reporting on her location?

She saw a lady pushing a stroller. Were there baby aliens too?

She looked at a girl walking a small dog and whistling. Whoa! Bella had a new thought. Was the DOG an alien? What if aliens not only took on human form, but also the forms of animals? Maybe even insects?

Was she surrounded by aliens? She felt eyes watching her from every direction.

Bella tucked her head down and hurried faster. She had to get off the street. She had to get to the safety of her apartment where there was no one but her. She couldn’t trust anyone or anything anymore.

Finally she made it to her apartment, closed and locked the door, ran to her bed, climbed in, and pulled the covers over her head. If she lay real still, maybe they wouldn’t find her. Trembling and breathing hard, she tried to listen for any sounds of pursuit. Now that she knew they existed, were they going to come for her? Surely they wouldn’t just let her go free. What if she revealed their secret? What if she talked to a newspaper or TV reporter? Then a depressing thought slowly filled her mind. They didn’t need to pursue her. She was not a threat. Who would believe her? If she tried to tell anyone of their existence, they would just think she was crazy. She would probably end up in a mental institution. At the very least she would be laughed at and ridiculed.

Bella lay in her bed, no longer fearing an invasion, but too distraught to get up. How could she go back to everyday life? It was like she had been going through life with her eyes closed, and now they were opened to a whole other reality. No matter where she went – work, shopping, the gym – she would be wondering how many of the people around her were aliens.

 

Bella stories:

I’m Not Hurt, Not Really Part 1 Part 2

Bella part 6   9  10  11 12  13   14

The Crab

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something move. Which was strange because everything around her was moving. The water. The seaweed. The small broken shells. So why did this movement catch her attention?

Standing in the ankle deep water, she looked up from her search and saw a large dead fish moving towards her. So, that’s why, she thought. It was moving in a different direction than everything else. Instead of moving towards the beach, this fish was moving parallel to the beach.  But how was that possible? The rotting tissue covering the fish made it very obvious that it was dead. Then she saw the small crab pulling it through the water.

Wow, she thought in amazement. That fish must be ten times the size of that crab! And even though moving things through water is easier than on land, moving something that big is still a feat.

Then the crab saw her.

It let go of the fish and made a bee line towards her. She didn’t know crabs could move that fast! She wasn’t normally scared of crabs, and usually just ignored the ones on the beach. But this one seemed intent on reaching her. The thought of it grabbing her on to her toes was enough to send her flying out of the water and well past the breaking waves.

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Once she was safe, she turned around to watch it as it watched her. Satisfied that she was no longer a threat, the crab left. And when she was satisfied the crab was gone, she returned to the water and her search.

But she couldn’t stop thinking about what had just happened.

Why had she run from that crab? She was much bigger than it was. She was much stronger than it was. She was much smarter than it was. Yet, she had had no other thought in her mind at that time than to get away from it.

And from the crab’s perspective, it hadn’t cared how big, strong, or smart she was. It didn’t want her there and took action to make her leave.

That’s kinda backwards, she thought. The crab should have been intimidated by her size and changed directions to avoid her. Or, at least if it was dumb enough to chase her, she should have just used her net to catch the crab before it got to her. Either way, she should not have been moved.

Just like the giants in my life, she thought. Problems come towards me and I run away. But I have Jesus inside me. He’s much bigger than any problem. He’s much stronger than any problem. He’s much smarter than any problem. I don’t need to run. Maybe I just need to remember to use the net of His Word to catch any problems that try to scare me.

As she prepared to leave the beach, she had a completely different thought. What if she was the crab?

Even though that crab should have been intimidated by her size, it wasn’t. It knew what it was and was ready to use all it had to defend what was his. If she knew who she was and was ready to use everything Jesus provides, could she be as brave as that crab? Could she go on the offensive towards threats in her life?

Not yet, she realized as she looked honestly at herself. But one day, as God continues His work in me, I will!

Bella – part 14 Are You Ready for the Truth?

Bella stared at her plate, regretting her words even as she said them. Now he would question her about them. What should she say? How much should she say? Maybe he didn’t hear her. No, she was sure they were loud enough. But would he ask her about them – or ignore them as he continued talking? She didn’t have long to wait.

“Knew what?” he asked as he bit into a slice of toast.

Stalling for time, she placed a large forkful of scrambled eggs into her mouth and began chewing slowly. Of course he would ask. Did she dare reveal her suspicions of aliens and a giant spaceship? No! She couldn’t risk having him laugh at her too. He’d think she was crazy and she’d lose any further answers about the pastor and his church. So what could she say? She didn’t want to lie, but she also didn’t want to tell the whole truth. Or did she? After all, he was the one to bring up the possibility that Pastor Toby was not human.

She swallowed the eggs, took a sip of her iced tea, then looked up at Andy.

Not knowing which direction to take, she decided to ignore his question and ask one of her own.

“What do you mean ‘for a human’?”

“Humans have weaknesses. We all have good and bad days, and we all have… less than good thoughts about other people from time to time.”

“That’s what I said,” she reminded him.

“And I’m agreeing with you.”

Exasperated, she blurted out, “But what about Pastor Toby? You said he was always good and I said that it wasn’t possible. And you said ‘for a human’. Are you saying Pastor Toby is not a human?”

Andy raised an eyebrow. “Not a human? What do you think?”

“I think this is a waste of time. No one seems to want to give me answers. Everyone just keeps talking in circles. Why is it so hard to get a simple answer to a simple question?”

“Maybe because your question isn’t simple.”

Now it was her turn to raise an eyebrow. “How is telling me who Pastor Toby is not simple?”

“Hmmm… well, maybe this will help. What if I asked you, ‘What is a rainbow?’  Simple question, yes?”

“Sure, but…”

“But is it still a simple question to answer for a 3 year old kid?” he interrupted.

She had to admit he was right.  “So a simple question to one person may not be so simple to another.”

“Exactly. It depends on what they are ready to understand. A child’s brain has not developed enough cognitively to understand rainbows. But yours has. So to you explaining what a rainbow is would be simple. But it would be pretty much impossible to explain it to a young child.”

“I get it. Do you think I’m not able to understand who Pastor Toby is? Is that why you haven’t answered that question?”

“No one knows whether you’re ready or not, except you. I can guess based on things you say, but I don’t know for sure.”

“So, do you think I’m ready?” she pushed.

He looked at her seriously for a few minutes.”I think you might be,” he said at last.

“OK. So tell me. Is Pastor Toby human or not?”

“Not,” he said, still watching her closely.

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Bella was stunned. As much as she had played with the idea that Pastor Toby might be an alien, to be told straight out like that was still a shock.

Conflicting emotions overwhelmed her. From fear and incredulous disbelief to relief that her instincts had been correct and a growing curiosity. If he wasn’t human, then what did he really look like? Humanoid? Insect-like? Or maybe some kind of energy form? Her mind was swimming with a whole new set of questions. Not able to hold them in, she began shooting them off to Andy, beginning with the most important one.

“Is he dangerous?”

“No.”

“What does he really look like?”

“No one knows.”

“Why is he here?”

“For us. Because we’re here.”

“What does he want with us?”

“To be friends.”

“Friends? Why would he come all the way here just to be friends? Surely he had plenty where he came from. Where DID he come from?”

“Well, that’s a bit harder to answer. He didn’t really come from anywhere. It’s more like he’s everywhere.”

“How can that be? Is he part of a collective consciousness or something?”

“Collective consciousness?”

“Yeah, like a hive mind. A bunch of beings all share the same mind so in a way they, as a whole, can be in many places at the same time.”

“No, nothing like that. He can read other minds, but they can’t read his so it’s not really a shared mind.”

“Does everyone else know about this?”

“No, not everyone.”’

“I mean, at the church. Does everyone there know all about him?”

“Some people know more than others, and no one knows everything there is to know about him, but sadly there are those who don’t really want to know more than the basics.”

“Such as?”

“That he’s there and he loves them. Beyond that, they don’t have much interest in learning more.”

“Why not?”

“Because, the more you learn, the closer you get to knowing him, the more he requires of you. And some people aren’t ready for that. Oh, and the enemy also comes at you harder as you grow in knowledge.”

“Enemy? There’s an enemy?”

“Yes. But don’t worry about that right now. Once you belong to Toby, you’re under his protection.”

Bella didn’t know what to say. Enemy? How dangerous was this enemy?  And what did Andy mean – belong to PastorToby? She didn’t want to belong to anyone. She had worked hard to become independent and was proud of her efforts. If she spent more time with Pastor Toby, would he make her give up her independence? Become his pet or something? And what if he decided to leave? Would he force her to go with him? Are those the plans Jude said he and his dad had for her?

Bella stood up abruptly. This was way more than she was expecting. “I’ve got to go,” she told Andy. “I’m sorry, but… I just… have to go.”

Andy stood up, too. “Bella, I know this is a lot. And it’s OK to be feeling a bit overwhelmed right now. I understand. I felt the same way when I first found out. But please don’t let it scare you away. Pastor Toby really does love you. More than you can imagine. And he only wants good for you.”

Andy pulled a card out of his pocket and handed it to her.  “When you’ve had a chance to process all this, please call me. I would love to talk more about this with you.”

Bella took the card and slid it into her pocket without looking at it. “Yeah, sure,” she said. “Thanks for…” she motioned to the half eaten food on the table, then, shaking her head, she raced towards the exit door. Good thing she had chosen a booth close to the door.

The nearby exit made a quick escape, but it also prevented her from hearing Andy’s prayer: “Father, I’m sorry. I sure messed this one up. Please be with her. Help her to understand and to feel your love for her. And bring her back to us soon. Don’t let anything I said drive her away from you.”

 

Bella stories:

I’m Not Hurt, Not Really Part 1 Part 2

Bella part 6   9  10  11 12  13

See What Happens?

It doesn’t seem so bad, does it, to… relax… sometimes?

To skip reading the bible a night… or two.

To play hooky from church when the weather is bad… or too good to be inside.

To get lazy in our prayers every once in a while.

 

Acee, my tiny rescue dog, was delighted when her grooming was… relaxed. She HATES haircuts, baths, clipping toe nails, etc. She was very happy to skip these things over the few months I was gone.

 

But see what happened? IMG_20180906_163204643 (2)

 

Her fur grew so long she could no longer see clearly. It became matted in areas, and got so dirty she developed a skin condition.

 

 

 

 

The cost of the… relaxation… was way more than she expected and it’s taking a long time to get her back in shape. She has had to endure an extra long time to trim her fur and she now has to suffer through longer aggressive baths with medicated shampoo to treat her skin condition. But, finally she is looking and feeling so much better! And she can see again!

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So was… relaxing… so bad?  Or should we call it by what it really is – neglect?

 

Psalm 119:16  I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.

Hebrews 10:24-25   And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,  not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

1 Timothy 4:14  Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

2 Pet 1:3-9   His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;  and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;  and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Prov 24:30-34  I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense;  thorns had come up everywhere  the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins.  I applied my heart to what I observed  and learned a lesson from what I saw: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.

Bella – part 13 Finally! Some Answers!

Bella was saved from responding as the waitress returned to take their orders. Did he mean to convert her? Is that why he was being so nice? So he could add a tally mark to the ‘Number Saved’ board? If so, he was going to be disappointed. When the waitress left, she decided to be upfront with him.

“Andy… Pastor Andy… um Assistant Pastor Andy…” she began.

“Call me Andy.”

“OK, Andy. Just so you know, I’m not interested in God. My questions are about Pastor Toby and this church. “

“Fair enough. What do you want to ask?”

Bella thought through the list of questions that had been mounting in her mind over the last couple of weeks. Where should she start? Pastor Toby? Jude? The discrepancy in size between the outside and the inside of the church? The weird backyard? The church people’s behavior? She decided to start with the most important.

“Who is Pastor Toby?”

Andy looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, where is he from? How did he get here? Is he really as nice as he seems? How long have you known him?”

Andy held up his hand. “Whoa! Slow down! You ARE full of questions!”

“Sorry. It’s just he seems so… different than anyone else I’ve ever known.”

“That’s because he is.”

At her puzzled look, he said, “Maybe if I gave you a brief history of this church, it would help.”

Bella nodded, excitement beginning to build. Was she finally going to get some real answers?

She waited as Andy lowered his head and appeared to be thinking about what to say. Finally he looked up at her and began.

“This church hasn’t been here forever, as some people like to think, but it has been here for a very long time. It began about the same time as this city. Back then it looked different than it does today, but other than appearance, it’s pretty much the same.”

“So, this church is old. It doesn’t look it.” Bella said.

“That’s because it changes to keep up with the needs and interests of the people who attend. As styles changed, the church responded. But that’s only on the surface. The core of this church has remained the same.”

“OK. So the church is old and keeps changing. That doesn’t help me understand Pastor Toby any better.  Where does he fit in? Who exactly is he?”IMG_20180828_044634375

“You mean besides being pastor of this church?”

“I mean where did he come from? What is he really like?”

“What he’s like is easier to answer so I’ll start with that. He is just what you’ve seen. He’s loving and kind and good and generous. All the time. There is nothing even slightly negative in him.”

“That’s not possible,” Bella said as the waitress returned with their order.

“Here you go,” the waitress said, setting down their plates. “Do you need anything else?”

Bella and Andy glanced at their food, then shook their heads.

“Nope, it looks great,” Andy said. He thanked the waitress, picked up the salt shaker, and offered it to Bella. “Salt?”

“Thanks.” Bella salted her eggs then handed it back to him. She peppered her eggs, handed the pepper shaker to Andy, spread some jam on her toast, then picked up her fork. “So, about Pastor Toby. He seems to be a good man. But always? 100% of the time? That’s just not possible. We all make mistakes, have grumpy days, and harbor mean thoughts from time to time. That’s just part of being human.”

“That’s true,” Andy said slowly. “For a human.”

“I KNEW it!” Bella said before she could stop herself.

 

Bella stories:

I’m Not Hurt, Not Really Part 1 Part 2

Bella part 6   9  10  11 12

 

Not All Smiles are Sweet

Wait! Did she really see what she thought she saw? She had to find out, so she turned around and backtracked down the sidewalk until she got to the spot. She looked down and thought, “No way!”

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She was looking at a sidewalk after a flock of geese had spent some time there. Their… droppings… were everywhere. But in this spot, they were not spread out, but rather gathered in a unique formation.  Was it a natural formation? Or did someone give it a little… direction?

Either way, it totally caught her by surprise and got her to thinking. Most smiles are supposed to be sweet and happy and life giving. This smile looked happy alright, but sweet and life giving?

Nope. Definitely not.

Just like the smiles on some people, she thought. Bright and cheerful on the outside, but deep inside they were full of nasty crap. Like the Pharisees Jesus had addressed way back when He walked the earth.

Having looked long enough, she continued on her walk, knowing that, even if she couldn’t trust some people’s smiles, she could always trust God’s smiles.

 

Matt 23:27-28  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Proverbs 26:24  Enemies disguise themselves with their lips, but in their hearts they harbor deceit.

Proverbs 26:23-25 Smooth words may hide a wicked heart, just as a pretty glaze covers a clay pot.

What Does Your Chair Look Like?

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“Look at the lounge chairs.”

She turned and looked.

“What do you see?”

She looked at the lounges. They were the usual blue lounges found at most pool sides. All were pointed towards the water. All were well used. All were empty. So?

“Look again.”

She took another look.  Although the chairs were all pointing in the same direction, they were not lined up in a perfect row, and the backs were all set at different angles. She frowned in concentration.

“What are they telling you?”

Hmmm… she thought. What would these chairs be telling me if I could hear them? That they were there to serve people? That they were enjoying the sun just as she was? That they were in the place they were supposed to be? That they were lined up casually and set at different angles?

She thought about how the angles would affect her line of vision.  If she sat in the chair with the back straight up, her eyes would look out over the pool. She would see the sparkling blue water and all the people who were in it. If she sat in the chair with the back all the way down, she would be able to see the brilliant white clouds as they slowly passed by and birds as they flew overhead. But she would no longer be able to see the water or the people. The other chairs, with backs set at different angles, would allow her to see varying amounts of both water and sky.

The chairs are like our faith, she mused. Sitting in one with the back straight up doesn’t take much faith. Our muscles could hold us upright comfortably even if the back of the chair should give way. But lying back, no longer using our own strength but trusting the chair to hold us up requires more faith.

And the amount of faith we practice affects what we focus on. With little faith, like sitting upright in a lounge chair, our view is limited on what we see around us. Our focus is on the physical world and all its troubles along with its beauty with little ability to see into the spiritual realm.  The more faith we practice, like the further back we recline, the more of the spiritual world we’ll be able to see. We can still see the physical world, but our focus becomes increasingly centered on God and His kingdom. We are better able to see things as God does. And lying fully back? That probably only happens when in the midst of fully worshipping God… or when we die, she thought wryly.

“So, what does your chair look like?”

She thought about that. She knew what she would have liked to have answered. But the truth was – her chair was constantly changing angles. And then, she knew. That was the whole point of this lesson. Her chair was not going to stay in one position, or even progress steadily to a flat position. And that was OK. The important thing was to ask herself, especially in times of stress, “What does your chair look like?”

Because her chair may need a little adjusting from time to time to get the best view.

Bella – Part 12 Apologies

“I’m OK. Really,” Amanda tried to convince the man holding her arm while trying to pull away from him.

He let go of her and said. “I know you’re upset. I can see it in your face. Want to go to Waffle House and talk?”

Amanda looked from him to the Waffle House a couple of blocks away then back at him.

“We can walk. By the way, I’m Andy. I’m one of the assistant pastors here.”

“Nice to meet you,” Bella said politely, hiding her surprise. This  young guy was an assistant pastor?

“So?” he asked as he motioned towards Waffle House.

“OK, I guess so.”

“Great!”

As they walked past several closed stores, he apologized for the bulletin lady’s behavior.IMG_20180807_180712883

“She’s not always like that.” He said with a twinkle in his eyes. “Sometimes she’s worse. She must like you.”

Amanda smiled as she gave him a sideways glance.

“Worse? I guess it’s a good thing she likes me then.”

He laughed.

He seemed warm and genuinely concerned about her just like Pastor Toby and Jude. But was he really an assistant pastor? He didn’t look any older than her, which seemed kind of young to be a pastor already.

“Is this your first visit to our church?” he asked.

“No, I’ve been here before but not when there was this many people. This was my first service.”

“Did you enjoy it?”

“The service, yes, I did. But…”  She stopped. It wasn’t her place to criticize the people in his church but the difference between what she had experienced in Pastor Toby’s living room, and what she had experienced in the lobby was drastic.

“It’s not important.”

“Sure it is. If it matters to you, it matters to me.”

“What? Is that a slogan you saw written somewhere?”

“Actually, it’s kind of in our church’s mission statement.”

“Do the church members know that?”

“Ah, Mrs. Tanell’s behavior.”

“Not just hers”

“What happened?”

“I’d rather not talk…” she began but he stopped her.

“It’s OK if you don’t want to, but I’ve found that talking usually helps.” He smiled at her. “And I’d really like to know what people think when they visit us.”

“Well, it’s just the people seemed to be… opposite of Pastor Toby.”

“How so?”

“Pastor Toby is so nice. I always feel like he wants me here.  But when I was in the lobby, it was so crowded and most people seemed to be too busy with each other to notice me. And each time I did get noticed, it turned out badly.”

“I don’t know. I think tripping me turned out rather nice.” His eyes twinkled again. “At least it did for me.”

She smiled back. “I wish they had all turned out that way.”

“So, what happened that turned out badly?”

Bella didn’t know how to answer that without revealing how stupid she had been. Had she really asked Amanda if she was being led by an alien? Of course Amanda would have thought that ludicrous. Aliens didn’t really exist, did they? And if, by some long stretch, they did, and, if Toby really was an alien, he’d probably not want anyone else to know. Either way, Bella’s question would have sounded totally bizarre, and she wasn’t about to repeat that mistake with Andy.

“Well,” she hedged. “I had some questions and there was a lady who offered to answer them. We were talking over coffee, and then… she had to leave. And I think… I’m pretty sure… she was talking about me to some other people in the kitchen. I heard them laughing.”

“What makes you think it was about you?”

“I don’t know. Just a feeling.”

“Maybe it wasn’t about you at all. But I’m sorry you thought it was. That must have embarrassed you.”

Bella nodded. “I did feel bad. And when I tried to leave I kept bumping into people, who weren’t too happy about it.”

“People can be a bit self-absorbed at times. They often don’t realize what they’re doing. But I apologize for them, too.”

“That’s OK. It’s not your fault.”

“So,” he said as he held the Waffle House door open for her, “do you still have questions?”

“Well, actually, I do.” Bella entered the restaurant, looked around, then pointed towards a booth nearest the door. “How about that booth?”

“Fine with me. I like booths.”

They sat down opposite each other, gave their drink orders to the waitress, then studied their menus.

“Order whatever you want,” Andy said. “My treat.”

Bella looked up surprised. “You don’t have to.”

“No, I don’t. But I want to.” He smiled at her. “By the way, what do I call you?”

“Bella,” she said.

“Nice name,” he said, still smiling. “Do you know what it means?”

“Yeah, it’s Spanish. It means beautiful.”

“Which fits you well. But it’s also Hebrew and means devoted to God.”

“Which doesn’t fit me at all. I don’t know if I really believe in God. I’m certainly not devoted to Him.”

“At the moment, but that can change.”

Bella eyed him. He didn’t ask her here to try to convert her, did he? That would make this brunch awkward as she had no intention of going down that road. Her questions were about Pastor Toby, Jude, and this church. Not about God.

 

Bella stories:

I’m Not Hurt, Not Really Part 1 Part 2

Bella part 6   9  10  11