Amusement Park: Haunted House, Sixth Room – Mountain, part 1

Amusement Park: Haunted House, Sixth Room – Mountain, part 1

Still staring at her image, Amalia didn’t notice the car start up and push through the next door. Could this really be her? If Jesus said it was, then it had to be. But she couldn’t believe it. She knew herself better.  A warrior? She was so full of fears and insecurities that she doubted she could ever battle anything. Right now she was a nobody, not some great warrior. And she was hardly confident or joyful most days. If the mirror was showing what Jesus saw when He looked at her, like He said it did, then it must be how Jesus saw her as she would be one day when she got to heaven. Certainly not as she was right now.

Slowly the sounds of birds singing and leaves rustling in the wind penetrated her thoughts. She lowered the mirror and looked around with confused pleasure as the car came to another stop. They were at the edge of a grassy field, with colorful flowers dotting the ground for as far as she could see. Here and there large spreading trees were providing shade and protection to the birds that flew around their branches. But neither the flowers nor the trees compared to the majestic mountains she could see in the far distance.

How could this be? They were in a haunted house. A house with walls and a ceiling. And yet it appeared that they were now in an open field, maybe a valley, leading to some gorgeous mountains. Amalia frowned in concentration, trying to make sense of what she saw, heard, and felt. The mountains could just be an incredible painted mural, the breeze could be created by hidden fans, and the bird songs could be recordings. But those were real flowers, and they went on for what appeared to be miles. More mirrors? And what about the trees? They were huge, too big to fit in this building. But they were definitely real. The nearest one was so close she could make out the design of its bark.

“Jesus, where are we?”

“We are right where we’re supposed to be. Come on, from here we have to walk. The next door is over those mountains.”

Amalia sat, eyes moving over the landscape. Surely she had heard Him wrong. “We have to walk?”

He was already climbing out of the car. “Come on, let’s get started.”

She slowly climbed out, still looking around with wide eyes. Wherever they were, Jesus was enjoying it. Maybe she should quit trying to figure it out, and just enjoy it like He was. Besides, if they had to get out and walk in one of the rooms of this crazy house, this one was by far the best one.

As they walked, she couldn’t get enough of the beauty all around her. The deep green of the grass blades complemented the brilliant white of the clouds floating in a cobalt blue sky.  And those flowers! The soft, colorful petals, each so different and yet perfectly shaped! Bees buzzed in and around many of them, joining the soft sounds of bird calls and rustling leaves. Inhaling deeply, she sighed. This place was much better than anywhere else she could imagine. Not even those scary looking mountains could contain as much beauty as this place. Why did she have to climb them anyway? They looked way harder than anything she had ever done before. Why couldn’t Jesus just make an easier way to get to the car? Even better, why even get to the car at all? Why not stay here? It was so perfect here, with none of the problems and worries that seemed to fill the world outside this place.

She stopped, and turned to Jesus. “Can we just stay here? With You, I won’t need anything else.”

He chuckled. “Well, it’s true that with Me you have everything. But you weren’t made to stay here. We have a ride to finish, and the car is on the other side of those mountains.”

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He pointed to them with such great joy and excitement that Amalia wondered what He was seeing that she didn’t see. Didn’t He know how difficult this looked to her? Hadn’t He noticed how dubious she felt? If He would just tell her what He saw, she might feel better about the whole thing. And yet He didn’t. Sometimes He could be so frustrating. Sighing, she began walking.

At first it was easy, but the incline of the field grew steadily steeper, and soon she lost sight of the beauty of the place as she focused on her feet and on her breathing. The lush green grass had grown sparse in places, with patches of rocks and loose dirt that caused her feet to frequently stumble. She began to regret wearing sandals instead of hiking shoes. But then, how was she to know she would end up where she was?

“I’m here. Take My hand. I won’t let you fall,” she heard Jesus say when she had stumbled the first time. She did, and found that holding on to Him steadied her. But as they walked, she kept finding the need to use both hands to shake out small pebbles that got in her sandals, or to shade her eyes from the bright sun while she pushed the taller weeds out of her way. As the inclined steepened, she stumbled more frequently. Sometimes she remembered to grab His hand. Or His shoulder. Or His clothes. But other times, she was too busy flailing her arms in panic to think of Him, so He would reach out to her with His steadying arm.

Finally He told her, “Let’s sit down and rest for a few minutes.”

She sank down and closed her eyes in relief. Walking with Jesus in this room was a lot harder than it looked. She had thought it would be easy, surrounded by beauty all the way. But she hadn’t expected the increase in slope to make such a difference. It also seemed the harder the walk became, the harder it was to see the beauty. Well, she had to admit, the beauty was still there, but the more she focused on her feet, the less of the beauty she saw. Maybe, when they continued walking, she should try to keep her eyes looking upward instead of downward.

All too soon, Jesus pulled her up, and they continued their walk towards the mountains. As they walked, He told her of what to expect.

“It’s quite high so we will have to go slower. There are paths in some areas, but in others, we will have to make our own way. There are dangers everywhere: animals, poisonous plants, cliffs, and sudden storms. You will get tired. You will get hungry. You will want to quit. But be assured that I am with You. I can keep you safe from every danger, as long as you do as I say.”

“If it’s that hard, why do we have to climb it? You can do anything, so why can’t You just make this mountain disappear?”

“Sometimes a mountain can be moved, but others, like this one, must be climbed. It’s for your good.”

“Well, if I have to go over it, can You at least carry me?”

“Sure, I can carry you from time to time.  But I can’t climb this whole mountain for you. You need the strength and wisdom you will gain from climbing it. “

Amalia looked doubtfully at the mountains that seemed to be approaching quickly. “I don’t think I want to go any further. I’m not ready.”

“Yes, you are, or I wouldn’t have brought you here.”

“But I don’t have any climbing gear. I don’t have any food or water or first aid supplies. I don’t have the knowledge to differentiate between good plants from poisonous ones. And I don’t have a weapon to fight off wild animals. I have nothing. Not even hiking boots.”

“You have everything you need. You have Me.”

“But You don’t have a back pack either. What if my sandal strap breaks and I have to travel barefooted. I’ll get blisters, which will probably get infected, and with no medicine, I’ll probably end up losing my feet. Let’s just go back. There must be another way.”

He laughed. “You won’t lose your feet. I am your healer.”

“But what if an animal attacks me while You’re not looking? I have nothing to defend myself with. I don’t want to get hurt. Even though You can heal me, it will surely delay our journey. Let’s go back to the safety of the field.”

“You won’t be hurt as long as you stay near Me. I am your protector.”

Amalia looked at Jesus’ empty hands. Did He have a knife hidden up His sleeve? Or maybe He was planning on finding some sturdy branches to use? “But You don’t have anything, either.”

She thought of another reason not to keep going. “I don’t have any water. And without water purification tablets, I can’t drink the water in any streams we find. I’m going to get dehydrated. And then I’ll get dizzy and weak and confused. I’ll be too sick to go on and end up dying on this mountain.”

He reached for and squeezed her hand. “You won’t die of thirst. I am your provider.”

But what if I’m walking along a path and suddenly find myself on a cliff? My balance is not all that great now. I know I will fall! Can’t we get to the door by going through the field, and completely avoid these mountains?”

He smiled and shook His head. “You will not fall. I am your guide and will keep you away from cliffs.”

No matter what objections Amalia came up with, Jesus seemed amused and had an answer. Evidently He wanted her up that mountain whether she wanted to or not, but that didn’t stop her from trying to talk Him out of it with new reasons as they came to her. She was increasingly dismayed to see that the closer they got to the mountains, the higher and harder and scarier they looked. In fact, she couldn’t even see the tops of the higher ones.

“Don’t worry,” Jesus told her, seeing the worry on her face. “The way is hard, but the reward is more than you can imagine. When we get to the top, you will be so grateful to have made the climb. I can’t wait to celebrate up there with you! However, there is one thing you need to do before we begin.”

“Run the other way?” she asked, looking behind her as if the car would suddenly appear. “This is just a joke, right?”

“Nope, no joke.” He spoke seriously now. “Before we start, you’ll need to make a commitment to follow Me no matter how rough it gets, or how long it takes. That commitment will help you when you think you can’t go on. Do you trust Me? Will you make that commitment?”

Amalia thought about it. She looked up at the mountain, and then down the way they had come. “What if I decide not to go?”

“It’s your choice. Just know this: if you go back, you will never know what you’ll have missed. And since the car is on the other side of this mountain, you will not be able to progress through this haunted house. You will be stuck in that field. As beautiful as it is, do you really want to be stuck there… or go back to the room with the mirrors… or the floorless room… or…”

“Okay, I get the point. It’s go forwards or go nowhere. You did this to me on purpose, didn’t You? You knew before we even entered this haunted house that I would be faced with this decision.”

Jesus winked at her. “And I even know what you’re going to decide.”

Sighing, she resigned herself to her fate. “Okay, if we’re going to die, let’s get it over with.”

God, Why Don’t You Answer?

“There’s a disturbance down south,” they said.

No problem. There’re always disturbances in the tropics, she thought as she went about her normal, everyday activities.

“The disturbance is now a depression,” they said.

That’s fine, she thought. Depressions are nothing. And besides, it’ll probably go towards Texas like so many others. Not likely to come here to Panama City.

“The depression is now a storm named Michael, and will probably hit Northwest Florida as a possible category 1 hurricane. Not too likely, but it might happen,” they said.

Okaaaay, not really a threat, but something to watch, she thought as she took her daily walk around her neighborhood.

“The storm is intensifying. It will hit Northwest Florida as a category 1 hurricane in a few days. Start preparing now,” they said.

Hmmm, she thought. I guess I should pick up loose objects outside to keep them from blowing away. But still no big deal. We’ll probably only get a little bit of wind and some rain, like all those other hurricanes that have come this way.

“Michael is now category 1 with signs of strengthening. Everyone in Northwest Florida should be preparing now. Watch for updates and start making plans in case you need to evacuate,” they said.

Evacuate? No, not for a cat 1 storm. But what if it gets to cat 2 before it gets here? “Lord, should we leave?” she prayed but got no answer.

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“Michael is now category 2. Its pressure is dropping signifying that it might possibly strengthen to a category 3 before making landfall somewhere between Pensacola and Apalachicola.  Storm surge will be 4-6 feet. Find out your zone now and listen for mandatory evacuation orders,” they said.

This is getting serious, she thought. Maybe we should leave. “Lord,” she prayed again, “what should we do?” She thought she heard, “leave”, but she wasn’t sure so she asked God to tell her husband the same thing. Her husband, watching the latest update, said, “We’re going to stay. Our house is built to hurricane code. We’ll be fine.” OK, she thought. It wasn’t God.

“Michael is now category 3. There’s nothing out there to slow its growth. Storm surge is now forecasted to be 6-8 feet. Zones A, B, and C are under mandatory evacuation notice. Do not delay. This storm is dangerous. Get out now,” they said.

She quickly looked up her zone. Zone D, but so close to C that part of her backyard was actually in Zone C. Should they leave? Could their house flood? “No, it didn’t flood during the last cat 3 storm, it won’t flood now We’re fine,” her husband said. “God, should we leave?” she prayed again. Again she heard, “Leave” but this time a sense of panic accompanied it. That’s not God, she thought. God doesn’t panic. Besides, if that was really God, why wasn’t her husband getting the same message?

“Michael is approaching category 4. If you can evacuate, you should leave now. The storm surge can kill you. The winds will make catastrophic damage and might kill you,” they said.

“Are you leaving?” her daughter texted from two states away.

“No, we’re staying,” she texted back.

“ARE YOU CRAZY???”

“We’ll be fine. We’ll stay in the under-the-stairs closet when it gets bad. Our house is well built.”

“I’ll be a nervous wreck all day,” her daughter texted back. “Be safe!”

“Are you leaving?” her siblings wanted to know.

“No, we’re staying. We’re not in a flood zone and besides, who would take us in with our 3 small not-housebroken dogs, a larger senior dog who can’t get around well, a grown son with stitches in his leg and his large dog who eats smaller dogs.”

“We’ll take you in,” her brother immediately texted back.

She went to talk to her husband. “Should we leave?” They prayed together, but neither got an answer. Why isn’t God answering us? She couldn’t understand. “God why don’t You answer when we really need to hear from you?”

“We’ll stay,” her husband said. “We’ll be OK.”

She felt at peace about that decision. Peace is of God, she thought, so maybe that’s His answer. She was more relieved than apprehensive because she really didn’t want to leave. Also, once they left town, it might be days if not weeks before the roads were cleared and opened for them to be able to return.

She went to bed and fell asleep quickly but was jarred awake around 1 AM with the shrill alert sound on her phone. She got up and checked the forecast.

“It’s a strong category 4 and will probably be a 4 when it makes landfall. But there is a small chance it can increase to a 5 by landfall,” they said.

Ok, she thought. We might weather a 3 or even a weak 4. But a strong 4/5?? But we decided God said it was OK to stay. Did we get that wrong? Or was that just us because we want to stay?

“I’m leaving,” her son told them as he packed his electronics and dog. “Let me know what you decide.”

Her son leaving? He never panics! And he was so sure just a few hours earlier that staying home would be safer than being on the road with all those other evacuees. Should we go, she and her husband wondered. They prayed again together. Still no answer.

“God, I wish I could just hear your answer clearly. Only You know what will happen to our house.”

In spite of the peace they felt about staying, they decided to leave. They scurried around packing the most important things, not knowing if anything would be left when they returned. As she looked around her house, overwhelmed with the decision of what to take and what would be OK to lose, she ended up taking very little.

Tears streaming down her face, not wanting to leave, she drove north on the now empty road. Beside her were her smallest dog, some blankets and pillows, and her computer. Behind her was her husband with the other two small dogs and the larger senior dog, along with tubs and boxes of important papers, clothing, dog supplies, medicines, and other essential items. Before long the senior dog had a seizure, due to stress, they thought, and she was tempted to turn around. But she didn’t and several hours later they arrived at her brother’s house.

Several hours after that, Hurricane Michael slammed into her home town, with winds just two miles an hour under a Category 5 hurricane.

The following day, she read every Facebook post, watched every hurricane update, trying to get some news on the condition of her neighborhood, especially her home. Was it still standing? So many houses were not. The stress of not knowing was worse than finding out her house was gone, she thought. “God, is our house still standing?” she asked. Again, no answer. Why isn’t He talking to me, she wondered.

The day after that, someone posted a photo of the flood in her neighborhood. As she studied the photo, she stopped. What was that in the background?  She looked closer. It was her house! And it was still standing! Relief flooded her, replacing the stress that had just minutes before filled her. This photo was a gift from God, reminding her that God was always listening even when she couldn’t hear any answers.

Three days after the hurricane hit, she was able to return home. Her house was not only standing, but there was no severe damage and no flooding. If she had stayed, she’d have been fine. So maybe that peace was God’s answer all along, only we didn’t recognize it, she thought. Maybe by not answering, He was allowing us to make the choice, knowing we’d be safe no matter which choice we made.

Bella, part 3 – Overcoming Detours

As she slept, she dreamed.

She was in her car trying to get somewhere. But there was road construction everywhere and she kept running into detours. No matter how long she drove, she never got any closer to her destination. Frustrated she had decided to ignore the next detour sign but woke up before she could do so.

The first thing she noticed were the shadows in her room. Oh no, she thought. How long did I sleep? She picked up her phone to check the time.  It was almost dinner time! Well, I guess the decision has been made for me. There’s no way I can go now.  It’s too late.  Not wanting to interrupt his dinner, she decided to visit Pastor Toby another day. But then she heard that tiny voice whisper “come” again to her heart.

Responding, she took a deep breath and summoned every bit of strength she had, and headed to the front door.

Where are you going?

She was going to go to the church. She needed to know the truth. And she wanted to be loved for a few more minutes, even if it was only by a stranger. She need to be with Pastor Toby and his son.

But what if they turn you away? No one likes visitors when they’re eating.

If they turn her away, she wouldn’t be any worse off than she was right now. And if they didn’t turn her away, she would finally know the truth.

Determined not to be side tracked again, she walked the few blocks to the church. At this hour, there weren’t as many people on the street. I guess they’re all eating dinner somewhere, she thought. She remembered the last time she walked down this sidewalk. She was still limping a little from her fall, but the redness in her leg gone.

 

Actually, she was surprised to realize, her leg had healed while she had been with the pastor.  Strange that she hadn’t noticed that until now.

She got to the church without incident this time and entered through the unlocked doors.IMG_20180514_142540261 She crossed the foyer and went straight to the doorway leading to the pastor’s living quarters and knocked on the door.

Before her hand could drop away from it, the door opened. Pastor Toby smiled warmly at her.

“Welcome back! We’ve been waiting for you!”

He opened the door wide and motioned for her to enter.  “I need to finish some preparations in the kitchen but you can walk on back to the garden. You’ll find my son there. I’ll join you as soon as I can.”

Nodding, she walked across the room and out the back door. Jude saw her as soon as she stepped outside and opened his arms wide to her.

“You’re here!” he exclaimed. “I’m so glad! I really enjoyed our last visit and was hoping you’d be back.”

“You did? I was afraid you were only being nice last time.”

“It’s more than that. You are valuable and special. We take great delight in you.”

She looked uncertainly at him. “Valuable? I’m nobody. Why would you take delight in someone like me?”

“Someday you’ll understand. Right now, let’s just take a walk. I know you’ve been studying hard and am tired. Let me refresh you.”

Smiling, she said, “Can we go to the lake? I have some more questions to ask.”

 

 

 

related links

Bella, part 1 – Heart VS Brain

Bella, part 2 – Distractions

(Bella’s first trip to the church can be found in I’m Not Hurt, Not Really, part 1 and I’m Not Hurt, Not Really, part 2)