Chapter 9 That Dirt Pile Again

Kayla opened the rest of her letters – the ones that had come from her current friends. Just like she expected, there were several invitations to special events in their lives. A baby shower at the country club, complete with a sit down meal and live music. A birthday celebration at the ‘world famous’ night club on the west side of town, the one that saw frequent police action. A bachelorette party featuring a popular male stripper.  All sounded exciting and she instantly regretted not having opened these invitations since some had already taken place. No wonder a few of her friends had gotten weird towards her lately. They must have thought she had deliberately ignored them.

But then her eyes fell on her father’s letters and the letters from her old friends. Suddenly Kayla saw the invitations for what they were – cold, crass, and self-indulgent enticements to engage in passions of her flesh. The invitations had nothing to do with actually loving or caring about her or anyone else. Kayla couldn’t remember ever having deep talks with any of those friends. Sure, their behavior showed that they might have missed her. But had they really missed her? Did they even know – or care – who Kayla really was? No, more likely they had missed the affirmation her presence would have given to their behavior. And her gifts.

Kayla shoved the invitations into her backpack, no longer even slightly interested in them. She preferred the satisfying discussions around simple meals that she used to have with her old friends, the ones who really knew her and loved her anyway. She added calling them to her mental checklist of calls to make when she got home. Placing the rest of the letters into her backpack, Kayla flexed her right foot. Her ankle gave a warning twitch, but most of the pain was gone. Surprised, she got up carefully, balancing on her left foot, and slowly added weight to her right. She was even more surprised as her foot remained firm with just the slightest complaint from her ankle. Taking a few steps confirmed that somehow her injury had mostly healed. Not understanding how, but grateful that it had, Kayla turned to face the pile of dirt. It was time to go home.

Thinking about the advice her father had given her on the phone a few minutes earlier, she looked for a way that wouldn’t require climbing the mound. He had said there were always ways around obstacles, and she would find them if she looked for them. Well, this was definitely an obstacle, and if she was to believe her father, there would be a way to get around it. She had taken what seemed the easy way the first time, but climbing that dirty mound had turned out to be neither easy nor safe. Where was the other way? Kayla walked along the edge of the pile toward the street but found nothing new. Disappointed, she began to doubt her father’s assurance. How could there be another way when it was obvious the pile completely blocked her access to the other side? His advice had always been good before, but what if he was wrong this time? What if he didn’t really mean what he said? What if she had misunderstood him?

Kayla looked back up to the top. She could feel the temptation to just go ahead and climb the thing and get it over with. Her newly healed ankle shouldn’t be a problem so why not? It would only take a few minutes and she could get on with her walk. The longer she stared at it, the greater the desire to start climbing became. The thrill of getting to the top – of conquering this mountain of dirt – was enticing. She was about to give in when the sound of her father’s voice rose in her heart. “There is a way. This is not it. Keep looking.”  Startled, she shook her head against her misplaced desire. No! She wouldn’t give in to temptation. Her father wouldn’t say what he didn’t mean; therefore there was another way even if she couldn’t see it at the moment.

Kayla walked slowly around the edge of the mound again, this time heading towards the fence, through which she could see the other side of the dirt sloping down until it almost reached the garage. She considered walking to where the dirt was shallow enough to cross safely, but reconsidered. She would have to go all the way to the garage. Surely this other way wouldn’t involve breaking the law by trespassing. So where in the world was the way her father had promised she would find?

As she neared the fence, she began to notice that the top of the pile seemed to dip in the center, almost as if there were actually two piles. She could picture a truck making multiple dumps along this driveway so she wasn’t very surprised. But what did surprise her was the change in the dip as she approached it. The closer she got, the deeper it went, clearly separating the two piles.  Her heart began to beat faster as a new thought tickled her mind – what if the two piles weren’t actually connected? What if they only appeared to be because of her perspective based on where she had been standing? What if there was actually enough room between them for her to pass through? She quickly took the last few steps around the first pile and shouted with joy. There was a path in between them! It was narrow, but totally doable. Her father was right. There was a way!

It took only a few minutes to walk between those piles of dirt and she was on the other side. The sun was bright in the sky, filling her with warmth and light, as she danced her way down the sidewalk. Her house was only a few blocks away now and she couldn’t wait to get there. She was excited to reconnect with her old friends, to heal her relationship with Lisa, and to share what she had learned with her father.

Kayla laughed as she looked up at the sun streaming down on her. No matter what happened in the future, she had the companionship of a few close friends, and even more important, the love and support of her father. Life couldn’t get any better than that.


For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. (2 Peter 2:18)

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.  (1 Peter 2:11-12)

Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. (Rom 13:13)

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2 Thes 2:15)

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it. (1 Cor 10:13)

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. (Ps 16:9)

Kayla’s Story, an Allegory: Chapter 8 Opening the Letters

The huge pile of brown dirt loomed before her, taunting her, daring her to climb it one more time. Kayla stared at it, looking for signs of her previous painful descent. Other than some loose dirt at the base of the pile, Kayla could see nothing but smooth, inviting dirt. It was as if she had never crossed that deceptive mound before. But her limp and the brown smudges that covered her clothing told her otherwise. No matter how safe it looked, she knew all too well how dangerous it really was, and she was not going to make the same mistake again. And yet, she still had to get to the other side in order to get home.

Kayla considered her options.

The mound of the dirt spilled over the curb and into the gutter. To get around it, she would have to walk out onto the busy street. The distance was short so it wouldn’t take long, even with her limp, but she would be in constant danger every step of the way. Even if she stayed as close to the curb as possible, distracted or careless drivers frequently veered off the road, sometimes scraping the curb before pulling back into their lane. If that were to happen while she was walking in the gutter, she would be pinned between the car and the dirt pile – not a risk she wanted to take.

She could cross the street and walk on the grassy area that ran along the other side, which was safer but would require crossing four lanes of heavy traffic, not once but twice. She couldn’t imagine how she could achieve that with a limp slowing her down. A pedestrian crosswalk about two blocks away would provide a safe way to cross but would add four blocks to her walk, and she’d be no closer to home. Not something she wanted to consider with a twisted ankle.

So how was she going to find a way past this giant obstacle when it seemed there was no way? Looking back at the dirt pile, she could feel it calling out to her. Come on up. The dirt has settled and is safe now. You’ll be able to handle it this time. Nothing will happen to you. It makes more sense to climb over than to go the extra distance to avoid the climb. Don’t be scared. Just because you got hurt one time doesn’t mean you’ll get hurt this time. Besides, other people do it and nothing happens to them. Kayla considered the tightly packed dirt. It did seem safe. Maybe this time she could climb it without falling. She knew the problem had been at the top, so maybe if she crawled across the top instead of standing, she’d be okay.

But what if she wasn’t? What if this time it collapsed under her weight and more than just her leg got trapped? What if she got buried alive, and no one saw noticed?  Or worse, cared? She could die in there.

Discouraged, not knowing what to do, she sat down. If only the maintenance department had done their job and removed this hindrance already. Too bad they hadn’t while she had been on her way to the park, but then her trip to the park had been aborted. Maybe they hadn’t had the time. Or maybe they didn’t see it as a hazard. Regardless of the reason, the obstacle was still there.

Thinking of the park made her think of Lisa. Should she take her up on her offer to help? She knew Lisa had a car and might be willing to come pick her up. A ride home sounded extremely nice right now. But Lisa might still be working at the park. If she wasn’t, the long hours of picking up trash may have worn her out and she might be napping. And, Kayla had to admit, she felt too guilty to ask anything of Lisa until she apologized for her judgmental thoughts. Her apology might seem manipulative if she ended it by asking for a favor. No, she couldn’t ask Lisa. What about Larry and Buster? They had asked if she needed a ride. But no, she had already intruded enough into their day. Who else did she know?

Shifting position as she considered her short list of friends, she felt her backpack dig uncomfortably into her back. She removed it, placed it on the ground in front of her, and gingerly placed her aching ankle on it, hoping elevating her ankle would ease the pain. She expected her foot to sink into the almost emptiness of the backpack, but instead, the backpack held firm under the weight. Something inside the pack must be holding it up. What did she have in there? A couple of water bottles,  some makeup, a bag of trail mix, and…the letters. She had forgotten about them. Since she wasn’t going anywhere soon, this would be a great time to read them.

With a few groans, she pulled the backpack closer, removed a large handful of letters and a bottle of water, and repositioned the bag under her ankle. Opening the bottle, she took a sip of water, then another. The refreshing sensation of the soothing water down her dry esophagus was amazing and her sips quickly became gulps until the bottle was empty. Sighing with satisfaction, she replaced the cap, set the bottle on the ground, and picked up the stack of letters.

The first few were from her father. Opening each, she found similar messages of love and desire to see her in each one. “I love you and always will.” “When are you going to call me?” “I think of you every day.” “I love you more than you can imagine.” “I’m eagerly waiting for your response.” “Come see me soon and I’ll treat you to lunch.”

Kayla felt bad. Ever since she had moved out of state, she had tried to remember to call him from time to time, but for some reason never made the time to go see him. She had thought he was busy with his own life and didn’t care all that much about hers. True, he was always excited to hear from her, but she thought that was just momentary, and that as soon as she hung up, he got busy with something else. But these letters were painting a different picture. Did he really think of her daily? Did he really love her as much as his letters said? Tears welled in her eyes as she thought of the pain he must feel by her mostly indifferent attitude towards him. Not indifference, exactly. She did love him, and enjoyed her time with him, but, well, life just seemed to demand so much of her time and energy that she didn’t have enough left over to share with him. She pulled the rest of his letters from the pile and set them at her side, feeling too convicted to continue reading them. As soon as she got home, she would call him. Right after she called Lisa.

Flipping through the other letters, she recognized the names of a variety of friends, but one particular one stopped her. Memories came flooding back as she stared at Paul’s name. They had once been very close, spending much time hanging out together. It had been a strictly platonic relationship, but very deep. They talked for hours about life, and his wisdom had helped her more than once to negotiate around some tricky situations. She regretted now that she had allowed time and the stress of daily life to put a distance between them. She noticed the forwarding message her father had written across the envelope, and made a mental note to thank him when she called him.

Continuing to flip through the mail, she found other forwarded letters from Pete, Matt, Jonathan, and Phil. She smiled as she saw their names. Good memories warmed her heart as she remembered the hours they had spent together discussing important topics. When the other girls were more concerned with trivial matters, these guys shared her hunger for deeper things. Why had they gone their separate ways after graduation? Or had it just been her that had gone a different way?

The rest of the letters were from some current friends. Kayla looked at them, confused. These friends frequently sent her messages through social media so why would they write to her? Come to think of it, she hadn’t gotten many messages lately. What was up with that? Maybe the letters would explain but first she wanted to see what her old friends were up to. Pulling their letters from the stack, she began opening them.

Most expressed fond memories of their talks, reminders of the many lessons they had learned, regret for allowing their friendship to fade, and an invitation to renew their relationship. Several told of new adventures and life events. A few asked that she call them. A few even gave her warnings about staying true to what she believed. But every one of them mentioned her father in some way or other. “I loved how attentive he was, not only to you, but to me whenever I stopped by.” “His love for the flowers in his greenhouse was amazing.” “He always gave the best advice.” “Say hi to him for me.”

Nostalgia for her friends fought with renewed guilt as she thought of how long it had been since she had called her father. Maybe she should call him right now. No, first she should read the rest of his letters. He might ask about them. She picked up the small stack of letters and slowly opened them, expecting the weight of her guilt to increase with each one. She wasn’t disappointed.

Dear Kayla,

I hope this letter finds you well. I miss our talks late into the night. Call me when you get the chance.

Love always,

Dad

Dear Kayla,

I know we have been out of touch but I think of you every day. I love you. If you need anything, you know how to reach me.

Love you bunches,

Dad

Dear Kayla,

Remember when we used to talk about how some people were too tied up with their own concerns to think about bigger, more important issues? I hope that’s not happening to you. A call from you would be great reassurance.

Much love,

Dad

Dear Kayla,

Word has come to me that things aren’t going too well for you. Please call me. I would be delighted if you would allow me to help you a way through your difficulties. With all my experience, I’m sure we could fix things quickly.

All my love,

Dad

Dear Kayla,

Please call me. We have some important issues to discuss.

Love as always,

Dad

Kayla’s hands gripped the letters to her chest as she allowed fresh tears to spill down her cheeks. She could feel his steady love through these letters in spite of her own lack of response. He may have been busy with other things, but one thing was clear. She was still a priority to him. From her earliest memories, he had always been there for her – guiding her when she was confused, entertaining her when she was bored, teaching her what was important, comforting her when she was hurt, and caring about what she cared about. He listened to every complaint she made, provided everything she needed and more, and sat up with her all night whenever she was sick. He gave her security both when life was good and when it seemed to fall apart. Just because she had moved away physically didn’t mean she had to distance him in her heart as well. And it was painfully obvious to her that the distancing had been one-sided. He loved her so much, and she only gave back a token of that love. Kayla bowed her head over the letters, and gave in to her grief.

After what seemed like hours, something began to grown in her mind. A puzzling thought. How did her father know of her problems? She had not told him the times she had called. And none of her current friends knew her father. So how had he known something wasn’t right? Was it his great love for her? She had to find out.

Paying no attention to her ankle’s objection, she pulled her backpack close enough to dig out her phone. It took three tries for her trembling fingers to dial the familiar number, and she held her breath as she listened for the call to go through.

It was answered on the first tone.


Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. (Ps 36:5)

Kayla’s Story, An Allegory: Chapter 5 Pastor Rory

Kayla trudged up the next street, eyes focused straight ahead while her heart drank in the light. She didn’t notice that her limp was slowly getting less pronounced. And she didn’t notice the two men who followed her. All she thought about was her goal, about her desire to be home where she could tend to her injuries, pour herself a glass of sweet tea over crushed ice, and sit outside to bask in the light some more.

Gradually she became aware of voices coming from behind her. She couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, but from time to time they would burst into laughter. Glancing behind her, she was startled to see two youngish men, both dressed in black hoodies and worn jeans. Their hands were hidden in their bulging hoodie pockets, and they wore caps pulled low over their eyes as if to shield them from the bright sunlight. Dismayed, she wondered how this neighborhood changed without her noticing. Everyone always wore bright, happy colors. When had dark hoodies like those creep in? It was like shadows had infiltrated the light. However, the men didn’t seem to be paying any attention to her and she let out the breath she didn’t know she was holding. 

She had only gone a few more steps when she heard one of them call out, “Hey, wait up!”

Kayla’s heart went cold. It was one thing to share a sidewalk with fellow pedestrians, but now she felt like a target. Keeping her eyes straight ahead, she continued limping up the sidewalk as if she hadn’t heard them. Maybe they would go away.

“Hey, you need some help?” The voice called again, accompanied by a dark chuckle from the man’s partner. The voices sounded a little closer, much to Kayla’s apprehension. They were gaining on her.

She tried to walk faster, but her bad ankle wouldn’t cooperate. Knowing now she couldn’t out-walk the men, she looked around. She needed to find a place to go, somewhere with people, before they caught up to her. This was a commercial part of town, but the small businesses were more like electronic repair shops, florists, and office suites. None were very busy, and most actually looked closed by the look of the empty parking lots. But the florist building only two doors away looked promising with its lit up ‘OPEN’ sign.

“Hey, lady! I’m talking to you!”

Heart racing faster than her feet could move, Kayla bee-lined toward the florist doorway. Those men might be perfectly harmless, but it wasn’t worth the chance. Step, limp, step, limp, step, limp. She had to go faster. As the heavy tread of their sneakers came even closer, she cringed as she imagined the feel their nasty breath on her neck. Just a few more steps.

Suddenly an arm grabbed her arm just as she reached for the door handle. “There you are, darling. You had me worried. What took you so long?” Kayla spun around to look up into the eyes of a man who appeared to be around her age. Well dressed, sharp haircut, and carrying a brief case, the man was smiling at her as if she was a close friend.

“What? I don’t – “

“I know you didn’t mean to be late. You never do. But this time I think you have a good excuse.” The man interrupted. Navigating her with his hand, he continued talking as he led her inside the store. “What happened to your ankle? That’s a pretty good limp you have.”

Kayla turned her head and watched the two younger men in hoodies pass without saying anything else. She shuddered as they met her gaze with dark, angry eyes before moving on and disappearing around the next corner. Feeling safer now, she pulled her arm from the stranger’s hand.

“Thank you. That was kind of you.”

“You’re welcome. I’ve had some dealings with those two characters. They may have only wanted to help you, but I doubt it. They’re bad news. So… what happened to your ankle?”

“Oh, I fell but I’ll be okay. I just need to get home.” She tried to go around him so she could leave. But he moved in front of her.

“There’s no hurry. Come, sit down. Let me take a look at it.”

“Are you a doctor?”

“No, but I’ve deal with many sprains over the years. I coach soccer.”

“Thanks, but I think I’ll just go home.” She tried again to get past him, but again was blocked.

“Hey, Larry! Bring some hot water, a towel, and the old bandage you keep under the counter,” the man called over his shoulder as he led Kayla to a table. He pulled out a chair and almost pushed her down on it. “Now, now, don’t be like that. It’s best to determine the extent of you injury now. Walking on could possibly make it worse. If it’s not too bad, like you say, I’ll just wrap it and you can be on your way.”

Feeling she didn’t have a choice, Kayla sat. She wished she was back at home. Even more, she wished she was back in the light. It was dark in this store, which was strange considering it was a florist. Even if the owner didn’t invest in good lighting, why didn’t the sunlight enter through the two large front windows? It was like the glass only let in tiny amounts of the light she craved.

Wincing as the man gently manipulated her foot, she noticed another man approaching holding a bowl of steaming water in one hand, and a cloth and bandage roll in the other. He appeared to be the same age as her rescuer. Taking the cloth and bowl of water, the first man said, “You’re right. It’s not that bad a sprain. I’ve seen worse.”

“Do you need anything else?” Larry asked. “Something to eat? A soft drink?”

“No, no, I’m fine.” Kayla tried to get up. “I’m okay, really. I need to go now.”

“What you need is to rest your ankle for a few more minutes. Trust me; I know what I’m talking about.” The first man smiled warmly at her. “Plenty of time to get you home later.”

“Pastor Rory, if she wants to go, let her go. We can’t force her to stay.” Larry said. “Although, I agree it would be better if she stayed.”

“True,” Rory said, and then looked at Kayla. “If you really want to go, I won’t stop you. But can I at least clean the dirt from your ankle before wrapping it?”

Sitting back down, Kayla sighed. If was nice of these men, to take the time to care for her injury. And Pastor Rory did seem to know what he was doing. “Okay, but just for a few minutes. Then I really need to get going.”

Pastor Rory continued smiling as he dipped the cloth into the hot water. He squeezed out the excess water, then gently began running it over Kayla’s ankle. “Here, let me remove your shoe and sock so I can get at the dirt better.” He slowly tugged her shoelace loose, and then gently removed the shoe. Confusing emotions flowed through Kayla. On the one hand, letting a stranger touch her felt awkward. She wanted to stop it and go on home. On the other hand, he was a pastor. It was his job to take care of people. And her ankle really did need to be cleaned whether now or at her house. It would be easier to do it here since he already had everything ready. She should just relax and let him do what he was called to do. Besides, she had to admit his touch did feel good. Somehow the throbbing in her ankle seemed to disappear under the pleasant sensation of the slow circular movements of the hot cloth.

She sighed, closing her eyes to more fully enjoy the deep warmth as Pastor Rory wrapped her foot in the cloth and gently massaged her toes, moving across her foot, and then up her ankle. It felt so good after having been in pain for so long that she didn’t notice when he pushed the bottom of her jeans up and began massaging her shin and calf. She gave in to the sensation, trusting in the integrity of the pastor’s office even though a soft warning bell was beginning to go off in her head.

“Feels, good, doesn’t it?” Larry asked. “Pastor Rory is very good at what he does. And I’m good at what I do. Let me bring you some of my world famous fudge. It will warm your stomach every bit as much as that hot water is warming your leg.”

Kayla opened her eyes. “Aren’t you a florist?”

“Yes, but just to pay my bills. My real passion is baking.” He pointed to a back door. “I have a full kitchen back there. If you don’t like fudge, my chocolate cream pie is heavenly. Here, I’ll bring you some of each. Be right back.”

Kayla watched him disappear through the doorway, and then turned her attention back to Pastor Rory, who was rinsing the cloth in the bowl. “Thank you. I didn’t realize how badly I needed this.”

“Most people don’t know what they really need. That’s why I became a pastor. I want to teach people to recognize their needs, and even more important, to meet those needs. So many people think they need to go through life denying themselves, but that’s just wrong. We’re supposed to be enjoying our bodies. ‘If it feels good, then it is good’ – that’s what I always say.” Pastor Rory winked at her. “Like right now. You’re enjoying this cleansing, right?” Kayla nodded, but something in what he said caused her concern although she couldn’t put her finger on it. She started to pull her pant leg back down, but Pastor Rory stopped her. “I’m not done yet. Your knee is also dirty.” He pointed to a smudge on her pants. “Can you pull your pants up over your knee so I can clean there too?” He started to tug at her pants, but now it was her turn to stop him. “That’s okay. I can handle my knee myself. Just wrap my ankle, and I’ll be going.” Pastor Rory’s smile faded. “I would feel much better if you would let me free you from all your dirt.”

“I would feel much better if I could go home now.” Kayla responded, pulling her pant leg down firmly. “If you don’t want to wrap my ankle, that’s okay. It’s feeling much better now.”

Larry returned before Pastor Rory could answer. “Here you go. Eat all you want. There’s plenty more where this came from.” He shoved a plate heaping with thick fudge slices and gooey pie toward her.

Kayla’s stomach twisted at the thought of all that sugar. Shaking her head, she said, “No, thanks. And I think I’ll skip the bandage.” She pulled her sock and shoe on and tied it quickly. “It was really nice of you guys to go through all this trouble for me.”

“No trouble at all,” Pastor Rory’s mouth smiled, but his eyes didn’t match. “If you have any more problems, come back anytime.  You know where we are.”

Larry chimed in. “Even if you don’t have a problem, please come back.”

“Sure,” Kayla said as she stood. She took a step and immediately realized all that warmth had been deceptive. Her ankle was no better than when she had entered this place.

“Are you sure you want to go? I can see your ankle still needs treatment. I can free you from that pain, too.” Pastor Rory said.

“Positive. Thank you again.” Kayla limped to the door, and exited without looking back. As soon as the sun hit her face, all traces of confusion left her. She felt sick that she had allowed that man, pastor or not, to touch her like that. Even worse, she had enjoyed it! Well, she knew better now. If she ever ran into him again, she would not be tricked by his words a second time. Turning her face up to the light, she allowed it to cleanse her of all the residual unpleasantness of that man’s touch as she continued toward home, determined this time not to let anything stop her.


But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise freedom, but they themselves are slave of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. (2 Peter 2:1-2, 18-19)

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:14)

Amusement Park: The Hat, part 2

Amusement Park: The Hat, part 2

Amalia looked at the dark entrance. “Are You sure we need to do this?” she asked Jesus as He settled down next to her in the small train car. “There are still other rides we could do.”

“Sooner or later you’re going to have to go through this room. It might as well be now. Remember what I told you the last time. Hold my hand and know that nothing can hurt you when I’m in the car with you. When you get nervous or feel lost, squeeze it and I’ll squeeze back reassuring you that I’m still with you.”

“Okay,” Amalia responded nervously. None of the rooms had been like the standard spooky rooms found in other haunted houses. This one problem wouldn’t be either. But what would it be like? What hadn’t she already seen on her last ride through this building?

The ride started with a jerk, and they slowly approached the door. Amalia reached up with her free hand to make sure her hat was on securely. The reassurance she felt when she touched it calmed her nerves, and she sat back. She was ready for whatever was on the other side.

The car bumped open the door, and they went in. There were people everywhere. Most were busy with their own affairs, but a few waved at the Amalia. It was the same room as the other time. Disappointed, she turned to Jesus. “I thought You said it would be different. This is the same room we went in the last time.”

“I said there was a room we skipped. You’ll see.”

Amalia watched the people, all busy with their lives, and wondered what it would feel like to live in a room like this. Did they know their world was just a huge room painted to look like the outdoors? Maybe her own world was an illusion too. Maybe there was more to life than what she saw.

As they came to the end of the room, Amalia noticed something she hadn’t the first time. The track had a split. The main track went to the door and into the next room. That’s the way they had gone before. The smaller track curved to the left and disappeared into darkness. That must be where the unexplored room was. Her thoughts were confirmed when the car went over a little bump, and headed left. This is it. Ready or not, here we come.

At first everything was dark. Almost everything. Down the track, she could see the faint outline of a door as light escaped through the edges. That must be the room. Good. At least she would be able to see whatever was in there. As they got closer to the door, the light transitioned from an early morning glow to the brightness of midday. Before she could shield her eyes, they bumped through the door and they were surrounded by light. A harsh light. Amalia squinted through her fingers and noticed the light was not empty. Ghostly beings were around the car. Beautiful, strong, and powerful beings. Were these angels?

“Where are we?” Amalia asked Jesus.

“We’re in a room in the haunted house.”

“I know that. I mean, what is this room?”

“It’s a room that enables you to see what you can’t normally see.”

“And what am I seeing?”

“Keep looking.”

Amalia tried, but the light was too bright. However, ever so slowly her eyes adjusted, and she made out some buildings, trees, cars… Wait! This was her street! That was her house! And that was her car! Was she back home? But no, she could still see and feel the train car. And Jesus was still holding her hand. So… if she wasn’t at home, this must be a replica. Why was it here? To show her that she was surrounded by invisible angels when at home? That made sense. The Bible said that God used angels to minister to His people. Then this was a good thing, and she relaxed. As she did so, she began to hear voices. The ghostly beings – the angels – began to call to her.

“We are here to serve you. What do you want? We can give you comfort when you’re troubled. We can protect you when you stumble. We can fill you with love. We accept you just as you are. You don’t need to change anything. Just reach out to us. We are here.”

She began to reach out, but Jesus stopped her. Confused, she asked, “Why can’t I reach out to them? They don’t seem evil. They actually look good. Aren’t they angels?”

He frowned in warning. “Don’t let their appearances fool you. They are not angels. They are 100% evil. They have only evil planned for you.”

“But how could something so beautiful be evil? How could love and acceptance be bad?”

“It’s all designed to take your eyes of Me, to deceive you, and then to destroy you. I can – and do – give you all those things. But not in the way or timing they do. You have the choice, though. You can choose them, or you can choose Me. You can’t have both.”

Put that way, Amalia had no trouble choosing. “Jesus, I want You.”

Suddenly the lights flickered, and in that flickering, all the beautiful creatures became hideous. Gaping mouths, grotesque features, screeching voices. Amalia shuddered.

“Now you see the ugliness inside them,” came a soft whisper.

Grateful for His warning, and even more grateful that she had heeded it, she squeezed His hand. The harsh light returned, and they continued going through the room. It became easier to ignore the calls as she knew them for what they really were, but still, Amalia was glad to see the end of the room approaching. Except there was no door in the wall. How would they get out of this room if there was no door?

As she tried to puzzle it out, a sound distracted her. A kind of like a roar, almost like a bear or lion or strong wind, was slowly growing stronger as if something was heading towards her. She looked around, trying to locate the source, but couldn’t see anything. She didn’t know why, but she knew she didn’t want to meet the cause of the roar. Door or no door, she had to leave. Now, before it got to her. She pulled on Jesus’ hand and said, “Jesus, get me out of here.”

“I will at the right time.”

As far as she was concerned, this was the right time. But she knew Jesus well enough to know He was going to do what He was going to do. She reached to her hat with her free hand, and focused on its comforting presence.

A few minutes later, the roar subsided, and she heard a high, squeaky voice calling to her. “Come here, Amalia. Let me show you something.”

Amalia shuddered. “No, I’m staying in the car.”

“I can come to you, if you want. All you have to do is ask.”

Amalia shook her head. “No, no, I don’t want you here. Go away.”

A deeper, colder voice broke in. “I told you she wouldn’t invite you in. You’re going to have to get her to come out.”

“How do I do that?”

“Oh, there are a number of ways. Confusion, fear, enticement, intimidation, and lies to name a few.”

“I’ve tried some of that. Why didn’t it work? I used my most enticing voice,” whined the squeaky voice.

The voices continued as if they didn’t realize she could hear them.

“Because she is holding on to Jesus, you fool. First you have to get her to let go.”

Amalia had no intention of doing that. She tightened her grip on Jesus’ hand as well as on her hat just as something flew past her face. She couldn’t see it, but felt the movement of the air and heard a soft buzz as it passed. A bee? In here?  Amalia had a fear of bees, especially angry ones, ever since she had been stung by one when she was a child. If this bee was lost, it was quite possible that it was angrily trying to find it way out using its sense of smell. Amalia grew cold as she realized that the closest smell to a flower in this room was the conditioner in her hair. That meant the bee would be circling around her, getting angrier by the moment for not finding what it sought. What if it landed on her head? Could it get under her cap? She quickly took her cap off and held it tightly to her chest. She shook her head softly, then more vigorously. She heard another buzz, and then another. More than one bee? That was more than she could stand. She let go of Jesus’ hand to swat the air around her, hoping to bother them enough that they would decide to move on.

A victorious chuckle came from the darkness to her left. “See, I told you it would work. Now watch me get her to leave the car.”

Amalia closed her eyes, willing this ride to be over. She didn’t want to face that deep voiced being. But then she remembered that there was no door. Was she stuck in this room forever? With that thing? At least if they kept moving, they were going to get to the end eventually. If only they could move faster. Amalia clung to her hat with both hands, pulling from it as much reassurance from it she could. Jesus would protect her if she held on tight enough.

But then the unthinkable happened. They stopped.

She opened one eye to see why. A glowing being stood before them. He smiled when it saw her looking.

“Hi, Amalia.”

She felt herself inexplicably drawn to him.

“That’s right. Come to me. I’m not evil, like the lies about me say. I have power, and I can give you power too.”

“I don’t want power.” Amalia managed to say, yet deep inside she knew that wasn’t true. She did want power. She wanted the power to make more money. Enough to buy all those snow globes. She wanted power to make people like her. She wanted the power to make all the fighting in the world stop. She wanted the power to heal diseases. She caressed her hat as she imagined all the good she could do if she had that much power.

“See? Power can be a good thing in the hands of someone as good as you. Come on, I’ll teach you.”

Amalia was tempted. Getting out of the car for a few minutes wouldn’t be such a bad thing, would it? She was doing it for a good reason. Besides, she had her hat – the hat that had come to symbolized Jesus – so she knew He would be with her. Hadn’t He said that He would no matter where she went?

Hesitating, she asked, “how do I know you won’t hurt me?’

“Look at me. Can something this beautiful be dangerous?”

Amalia had to agree. He was beautiful. Tall, strong, and glowing with vitality. But then she remembered the other glowing creatures earlier in this room. They had been beautiful too, until Jesus had revealed their real nature. She held her hat up to her mouth in both hands as she tried to discern the truth, but the hat gave her no answers. Maybe that meant it was okay to get out.

“Come on, Amalia. What do you say? Do you want to help the world be a better place?”

Deciding, she reached with one hand to unbuckle her seat belt.

“Stop.”

Startled, she looked up. Jesus was shaking His head at her. She had been so focused on her hat and that being that she had forgotten that He was sitting next to her. “Do not listen to him. He is deceiving you.”

“But isn’t what he offers a good thing?”

“Nothing he offers comes without strings. He will offer you the world, but take your soul.”

Amalia took her hand off the seat belt to clasp her hat to her chest again. Why hadn’t the hat warned her? Why was it still giving her peace?

“Because there’s nothing to be afraid of,” the glowing being said.

“Let go of the hat, Amalia.” Jesus said.

No! He couldn’t mean that! Didn’t He know how much she loved this hat? It made her feel connected to Him. It was a good thing. Why did He want her to remove it? It would be like removing God from her life. She shook her head and clasped the hat tighter.

“Let go of the hat, Amalia.” Jesus said again. “You have made it into something it is not.”

“What do You mean?”

“You have made it into Me.”

“That’s ridiculous,” laughed the glowing being. “It’s just a hat. You’re making too much of this.”

Amalia thought about that for a few minutes. Who was right? How could her hat be God? It was just a symbol. She looked down at it as she held it with both hands. Both hands. And then it hit her. Instead of holding on to Jesus, she was holding on to the hat. Somewhere along the way, she had started trusting the hat as if it was Jesus. Even though it had started off innocently enough, somehow the symbolic hat had become an idol. She had looked to it for peace and comfort and even guidance, instead of looking to the real Jesus. Guilt stricken, she admitted she had made her hat like a god.

“I’m sorry, Jesus. I don’t want A god. I want THE God. I want You.” She stretched out her 0711202130 (2)hand, intending to toss the hat away, but froze. She couldn’t make her fingers move. Her love for the hat made it too painful to let the hat go.  Wasn’t there a way to keep both God and the hat? She knew the difference now, so the hat wouldn’t be an idol anymore. Couldn’t she keep it just as a hat? It was so cute and comfortable.

“Sure, it’s just a hat. There’s nothing wrong with keeping it. Jesus is being too hard on you,” the being’s sugary voice washed over her.

“Amalia,” was all Jesus said.

Confused, she looked from one to the other. Why was this so hard? She knew she should be listening to Jesus. She wanted to obey Him. So why was she so tempted to listen to the other voices – both the one in front of her and the one inside her? And worse of all, the hat itself seemed to be pleading to stay as she gazed at it. Tormented by her indecision, she found she couldn’t move in either direction. She couldn’t drop the hat, nor could she pull in her arm.

“Keep the hat, Amalia,” the being whispered. “It’s okay. Jesus knows how much you love it. And He’s all about love, isn’t He?”

“Yes, I mean no.” Confusion and anxiety continued to grow until she thought she was going to break. “Jesus, help me!” she cried out.

“Jesus, help me,” the being mimicked in a sarcastic tone. “He’s not going to …”

“Amalia,” Jesus said. “Look at Me.”

As soon as she did, confusion melted away. She knew which voice to listen to. But the other voices were so loud, still drawing her attention.

“Resist them,” Jesus said, “and they will go away.”

Amalia closed her eyes and focused on Jesus’ words. As hard as it was, she refused to think about the other voices. She refused to give in to their demands. After a while, she found she didn’t have to try as hard. The voices were diminishing, making it easy to stay focused on what Jesus had said. When they had totally disappeared, she cautiously opened her eyes. The being was gone. And so was her attachment to her hat. Easily letting it fall over the side of the car, she smiled. Jesus was infinitely better than any hat, even a cute faded teal one.

She looked at Him, full of shame for what she had done. But instead of the chastisement she deserved, she found Him smiling at her with pleasure. “Well done,” He said. The car gave a lurch and they started moving again. “Time to move on.”

“Yes, let’s get out of here,” Amalia answered, grabbing His hand. “I don’t want to ever face that being again.”

“I know, but you will. He’s not limited to just this room, and he is not going to give up trying to get you away from Me. And neither are all those other beings. But now you know what to do whenever he comes around.”

“Will resisting him always work?”

“Yes. The amount of effort it will take may vary, but in the end, he must leave. The same is true for his servants.”

Amalia leaned against Jesus, both hands holding His. Eyes now fully focused on Him, she didn’t look back as the car went around a corner and through a door, leaving the harsh light and a small hat behind.

 

 


The story behind the story:

When I was a new Christian, I bought a silver cross to represent my new faith. I was so excited about Jesus that I wore that cross day and night, never taking it off. One day, about a year later, I looked at it with dismay. It had become so shapeless I could barely discern that it had ever been a cross. I couldn’t wear it like that, so I took it off. Soon I had numerous experiences with fear, such as hearing a noise and worrying about someone breaking into my house. Each time I reached for my cross, and felt unprotected when it wasn’t there.  It didn’t take long to realize that I was looking to the cross for proof of God’s presence and promise, instead of trusting His word. In a way, my cross had become an idol. It’s so easy rely on the tangible instead of the intangible, and the transfer of faith is so subtle we don’t always realize it’s happening. That must be one reason the Israelites had so much trouble staying away from idols. My experience with that small silver cross taught me a lesson and I have been careful ever since to make sure my faith remains where it should and not on any object.

As for the glowing beings in my story, I’m still learning.

 

Scriptures:

James 4:7  Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

1 Peter 5:8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

2 Cor 11:14-15 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

Rev 12:9 The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

Exodus 34:17 Do not make any idols.

Lev 19:4  Do not turn to idols or make metal gods for yourselves. I am the LORD your God.

Caught in the Act

Life is full of temptations. All kinds of temptations. And temptations can be quite messy.

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Have you even given in to temptation – then got caught in the middle of it?  How do you get rid of the mess?

Ignoring it doesn’t make it to go away.  “What cake?”

Apologizing doesn’t make it go away. “I’m sorry.”

Denying it doesn’t make it go away. “I didn’t do it.”

Blaming others doesn’t make it go away.  “You gave me this cake! What did you expect?”

Rubbing at it doesn’t make it go away. “I’m trying but it just won’t come off.”

Walking away from it doesn’t make it go away.  “I’m done with it.”

There’s only one way to get completely cleansed from the mess. Calling for help. “Daddy, help me!”

God will scoop you up and bathe you. And then clean up your life. Depending on how bad the mess is and how long you waited before calling for His help, the scrubbing may take a while, and be uncomfortable, even painful.  But if you allow Him to finish, you will be squeaky clean once again, without a speck of the mess on you. However, there may be parts of your life that will always be a bit stained. I know God is capable of removing all stains, but I think He lets some stains stay to help us remember what happens when we give into temptation.

With our short memories, we need the reminders. And I’m thankful for them.

 

For those who have been following my life, that is not a picture of my granddaughter. That is a picture of her mother, my daughter, that I ran into recently.

Here’s a picture of my granddaughter on her first birthday a few months ago. 🙂0613191901b

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life in a Swimming Pool

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The pool was filling up. Maybe she should leave now, before it got too crowded.  But not really wanting to leave the cool water, she decided to watch the people around her instead. Everyone was enjoying the water in different ways.

“Marco.” The voice caught her attention and she looked to her left and saw a young girl standing in water up to her chin, eyes closed, calling out, “Marco” every few seconds. Each time she called, several other children moving around her called back, “Polo.”  As she heard their responses, she would turn in their direction and, without opening her eyes, reach out to try to tag one of them. But she never moved from where she was. It reminded her of something she had read in Proverbs. “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.” That’s so much like us, she thought. There is wisdom all around us, and if we call out, we can hear it. But we won’t ever find it if we just stay put in one place and make half-hearted attempts to touch it.

Laughter caught her attention. She turned to look and saw some mothers and daughters playing keep away. They were laughing as they tossed a water ball back and forth, no one having very good aim, and teams changing places in the middle frequently.

“Keep away,” she muttered. “I hate that game. Either the players on the ends are too good at tossing the ball high over the middle person’s head, or no one really cares about the game and end up half-heartedly tossing the ball. There’s no good challenge either way.”

So why are they laughing?

She had to think about that for awhile. Maybe the kids are laughing because they’re so little and don’t really know anything about the game. They just enjoy being in the water and throwing a ball around. And maybe the moms are laughing because their daughters are laughing. Is that how God sees us? He takes delight in watching us enjoy His creation?

She watched another group play a game she wasn’t familiar with. Evidently, one person is a shark and calls out “Swim”, then tries to catch the other people (minnows) as they swim from one side of the pool to the other. Most of the time, the minnows would just start swimming as fast as they could hoping to out swim the shark but the shark was able to catch whichever minnow it was after. However there was one minnow who stood out. She would watch the shark intently , wait for the shark to go after a minnow, then move quietly in a different direction, staying as far away from the shark as she could. If the shark happened to see her, she would sink into the water, causing the shark to have more difficulty seeing her. Underwater, she could swim faster and when she emerged, she’d be ten feet away. Time and time again she got away from the shark using this strategy.

Now, that’s a whole like us and temptation, she thought. Most of the time when temptation arises, we either fall easy prey to it, or we try to use out own power to avoid it. It might work now and then, but eventually that shark is going to get us. We should be more like that wise girl. Stay as far away as we can, and, when that doesn’t work, dive deep into Jesus, allowing Him to cover us as we make our escape.

A loud cry from the other side of the pool brought her attention to a man holding a very little girl, trying to talk her into letting him toss her up and catching her. She cried each time he mentioned it. The mom called from the side to quit talking about it and just do it. So he did and the little girl laughed. He repeated it several times, delighting in her laughter. Then he tried to talk her into going underwater with him so he could toss her higher. She refused and began crying again.

So much like us and God, she thought. It’s probably why He won’t tell us all His plans for us. We’d be as terrified as that little girl and refuse every invitation He gives us. Yet, He knows how much we would enjoy it once we got past the fear.

She was intrigued watching a young girl chatting with her friend, totally ignoring a younger girl who kept hitting her with a water ball. How could she do that? She knew if anyone kept hitting her with something, she’d get irritated and angry. But then she thought, isn’t that what Satan does? Constantly hitting us with something to mess with our peace and cause us to get irritated and angry? “God,” she prayed silently, “help me be able to ignore the arrows Satan throws at me as well as this little girl is ignoring the ball being slammed on her.”

There was a man floating in the midst of all this, eyes closed, ignoring everything around him as he relaxed.

Now that’s the right idea, she thought. To be able to rest on Jesus and ignore all the problems around us would be amazing!

She was dismayed to see another group of people enter the pool. OK, now it was just getting too crowded. Regretfully she climbed out of the pool and prepared to go home. As she did, she had one final thought: “This is like how one day I will climb out of the swimming pool of life and head to my heavenly home!” She smiled.  “Only I’ll do so with way more excitement than I feel right now!”