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Letter Writing

How letters mingle souls

"Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls, For thus, friends absent speak. – John Donne (1572-1631) When my father courted my mother, he wrote her sonnets in Dutch, German, English and French. Amazing! I think she was truly impressed and also touched by the fact that he took the time to do this especially for her. The personal touch I do not know a great many people who still write letters, let alone sonnets, to dear ones to express their feelings of love, appreciation and other issues. Letter writing seems to be a lost art. When we first immigrated from Holland to Canada, it was a happy day when an overseas blue vellum envelope was delivered by the mailman through the mail slot in our door. I can vividly recall my mother's happy face as she opened such a letter, avidly reading the news that my maternal grandmother sent her across the ocean. I also retain the memory of sitting around the luncheon table, home from school for an hour or so that first year in Canada, while my father read family bulletins in the form of letters from aunts and uncles to all of us – so that we would not forget the family we left behind. I can't think of anyone who does not enjoy receiving a card or letter with some encouraging words, some personal sentence, written next to the text. But truthfully, I can think of very few who actually put pen to paper to communicate such things. Yes, there is e-mail, but you cannot hold an e-mail in your hand. You cannot fold it up and put it in your pocket or purse, or lay it on your night table next to your bed to reread at your leisure before going to sleep. E-mail, although it is an easy way to correspond, has a certain amount of machine-feel to it, a good dose of impersonal touch. The flick of a button can send the exact same greetings to others besides yourself. An e-mail is simply not as individual as that letter which arrives in your mailbox addressed to only you. Actually, I remember a funny anecdote in which a teenage nephew of mine was so infatuated with a pretty face that he sent her a long letter in which he declared his undying devotion to her. In the epistle he detailed the girl's pretty cheeks, eyes, eyebrows, hair, and so on. On that same day he penned a letter to my father, his grandfather, telling him about his studies at medical school, his progress with those studies, and so on. When he got around to mailing these two letters, however, he put the wrong address on the envelopes. The girl received the letter intended for my father, and my father received the letter intended for the girl. I think I've never seen my father laugh so hard, and he certainly lost no time in phoning his grandson to tell him he was very touched by the fact that his elderly face was held in such high esteem. Seriously, to write something by hand forces one to think carefully and sincerely. You can't erase what you have written without making a bit of a mess. Scratching out words or sentences can create unsightly black blobs. Consequently words should be wisely chosen while reflecting on needs and encouragement needed by the recipient. Writing by hand makes one think carefully, slowly, and forces you to build relationships with others. More than anything else they remind the one receiving the letter that you are thinking of them, possibly praying for them and loving them. Letters, written in the right spirit, have an amazing ability to console, strengthen, and soften hearts that might have contained bitterness towards the world and God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: loving, letter-writing husband One of my favorite preachers, although he died a great many years ago, is Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981). Strongly opposed to liberal theology, he became the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, England in 1939, and he remained in that church for thirty years. A gifted speaker, he preached to thousands, but classified himself, with regard to letters, "... a truly bad correspondent." Martyn Lloyd-Jones, however, had an intense affection for his wife. If he was away from her for more than a day or two, he always wrote her a letter. Iain Murray, who edited a book of his letters in 1994, more than twenty years ago, wrote about Bethan Lloyd-Jones, Martin's wife: "She was in every sense a partner in all that her husband did. Although a medical doctor herself, she happily gave her life to keeping him preaching and to the care of the home." They had a very good marriage. In 1937, while still a pastor at Sandfields, Aberavon in Wales, Dr. Lloyd-Jones went to the United States on a speaking trip. Bethan could not come with him as their youngest daughter Ann was only 5 months old. He wrote her: There is one constant regret right through everything – that you are not with me. I was counting it out in bed this morning, that by three weeks today, I ought to be with you again. You said in your letter that you hoped I would not forget you – I am prepared to enter into a competition with you on that score without the slightest hesitation! ... All my love to you, dearest girl in the world. There is no one like you anywhere. The more I see of others the more obvious does this become. Kiss each of the girls for me. Yours for ever and ever, Martyn. If you have ever heard Dr. Lloyd-Jones preach, his serious, throaty voice punctuating Biblical truths, and if you have stood in tremendous awe of his God-given ability to argue and defend the faith, these touching words in the letter to his dear wife will undoubtedly raise him to higher levels of affection and esteem in your heart. At the conference in Ohio, he penned thoughts to his dear spouse again: I have not had a letter from you since I left New York, but I have just realized that letters take an extra two days to arrive here. I felt very homesick on Monday. With me on the train was Dr. Wilson from New York... In the Pullman he met another minister and his wife. After talking for a while Dr. Wilson said to the other minister's wife; “You know, you make me feel very homesick for my wife - I think I'll send a card to her to come along.” “Yes, do,” said the other, “most of the wives are coming this time.” And me, having to think of the dearest little wife in the world, thousands of miles away, across the sea! I became totally depressed as I thought of it. When we arrived here, I saw that the wives were here by the dozen! This is surely one of the best hotels in the world. I never saw anything like it. I have a double-bedded room with a private bathroom, toilet, etc. This is real luxury. But Oh! the bed is much too big for one! You ought to be here with me. How wonderful it would have been for Mrs. Bethan Lloyd-Jones to receive that letter and to be able to read and reread her faithful husband's declaration of love, of his missing her. His words were simple and unadorned words – words we can all understand – and words which came straight from his heart. Saying it with written words With Valentine's Day on the loom, Hallmark cards and Hershey Kisses are for sale in supermarkets, drug stores and dollar outlets. It's a great market. Good business! Sales experts know that deep within all human hearts there lies that desire to be told they are special – loved as no other. Ironically, there is one letter which is addressed to all people and one which we can read and reread again and again. Sadly it is probably a letter which is gathering dust on bookshelves throughout North America. Yes, of course I mean the Bible. Listen to the words of the greatest of all Lovers, the Lord God Himself. ... Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, Who has compassion on you (Isaiah 54:10). And, "...I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness..." (Jer. 31:3). These sentences are part of that old, extant letter which has been delivered to all mankind. We should read them aloud to our children so they will be caught up on the news of their Father as they gather around the lunch or supper table; and it is a letter which we should place on our night table so that we can reread its words when we feel lonely at night. Perhaps, lacking in ability to formulate words ourselves, we can even copy this letter's words and put them on cards for relatives and friends. For even as John Donne said a long time ago, "...more than kisses, letters mingle souls. For thus friends absent speak." Happy Valentine's Day! This first appeared in the January 2016 issue....


The Healing Touch

Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (Prov. 3:7-8) *** Chapter 1 It was a warm day, and Meggy adjusted her close-fitting cap with a sigh. Its whiteness covered thick, dark braids wound tightly across a high-held head, and enfolded the sides of a well-sculpted face. Meggy felt like itching her scalp but knew that a few steps behind them Hawys, who always walked to church with father and herself, would comment on it. Capitulating to the older woman's unspoken influence, she refrained, and merely adjusted her waistcoast with a shrug of her small shoulders. "Do not move about so much, child. It is the Lord's Day after all." Hawys' correction came swiftly. Father glanced at Meggy with a sidelong look, and smiled an apologetic smile. He was not one for arguments although she was sure he sympathized. They both knew Hawys did not mean ill and besides that, they were staying in her house, living partly on her charity. "I can hear the Sanctus Bell." Hawys, picking up both speed and her long, dark blue skirt, swept past them. Meggy automatically increased her steps as well. "Come, Father," she whispered, as she tried to pull him along, "it will not do to irritate Hawys." Undisturbed, he calmly answered, "Surely the bell ringer has only just begun and we have time to spare." Not multiplying his measured paces, he ambled on, all the while tranquilly regarding their surroundings. Meggy was unsure. Should she stay with father, or should she shadow Hawys? In the end it was the sense of father's words that convinced her. St. Mary's Church was but some ten minutes or so from where they were, and surely the sexton would not shut the doors against them? "Have you perhaps knowledge that the Archbishop himself is attending today? Is that why you and Hawys are in such a hurry, Child?" Father was teasing her. Slowing down, she affectionately squeezed his arm. "It would be wonderful," he continued, "to hear actual instruction from the pulpit. But I confess that I have not much hope for it." Meggy did not answer. Her eyes were still fixed on Hawys who, glancing back over her shoulder every now and then, was gaining great ground. "We might walk a trifle faster, Father," she suggested, but he seemed not to hear. "Your mother, although a mite argumentative, was fond of a good sermon, Meggy," he went on, "and I vow that in the long run she would not be in favor of us continuing to attend St. Mary's." Meggy could see the flint and ironstone makings of the church building coming up ahead. It was a beautiful structure and she loved it. The graveyard at the rear where mother was buried was very peaceful. Betimes she walked there and marveled at the monuments and admired the many stained glass windows that laughed at her from the grey church walls. There was one special window she favored – one with green diamond-shaped panes between its lead outlines. She often stared at that window during services. Sometimes she felt as if staring at something beautiful might reflect into her own heart and consequently make it beautiful. Is that how one was saved? "Meggy, Child, we are here." Indeed, they were. To her relief, Meggy saw that there were many folks still entering the rounded-off-at-the-top double oak doors. After quickly looking up at the top of the tower, as she always did before entering the church, she espied the signal beacon, part of an ancient series of signal beacons.  "Look Father, the beacon." She sped up her steps even as she spoke but Father pulled her back. "Easy, Child. The building will not run away." He was forever chaffing her. "Know you that the church was probably built in the 1200s, and rebuilt in 1494?" She nodded. Yes, she did know that. "Well, Meggy, now the year is 1672, and that makes this building some four hundred years old. All that time it has stood there and it will very likely outlive us." "Yes, Father." Meggy lifted her skirts and crossed over the church threshold. Her father followed close behind. The foyer was cool and quite empty. Meggy immediately walked through and on into the church proper. Standing in its wide doorway with the entrance behind her, she searched for the familiar figure of Hawys who was wont to sit in the back on the right. About to enter, a voice made her turn. It was a voice addressing Father. "Good to see you, James Burnet." It was a low, male voice. She did not recognize it immediately. But as she turned and moved back into the foyer, she saw that it belonged to Timothy Newham, a haberdasher, who lived close to Whitehall. She had never before seen him in their church or, for that matter, at a conventicle. In all probability he was not a religious man. "Hello, Timothy." Father answered the haberdasher's greeting courteously. "I had been hoping that you would come by my shop this past week, James." Father shrugged. Meggy walked back to stand by his side. There was something sad about that shrug and she sensed he needed her. "You owe me some money, James Burnet, and I am here to obtain it." "My dear fellow," the reply came softly and courteously, "perhaps you could come by my shop later this week. It seems unfitting to discuss this matter here in church." "I have waited all of a month already, James, and have seen neither hide nor hair of you." Meggy could feel the eyes of fellow churchgoers pry into her back. She put her arm through father's. "Let's go on into the sanctuary, Father," she whispered. "Is this your daughter?" "Yes, I am," Meggy answered for him, "and I beg you, Sir, do not make a scene here in the Lord's house, for that is not proper." "Is it proper then to withhold five pounds owing me? Five pounds that have been loaned out for more than three months even though the understanding was that it would be paid back in two months time?" Meggy took note of the fact that father's breathing was becoming uneven and rapid. And she minded the times of late that he had been tired. "I have followed you to church, James Burnet," Timothy Newham went on, "and I will follow you inside the church sanctuary if need be, and demand in front of all these people that you give me my money. Perhaps shame will make you pay me back." At the last words, he raised his voice threateningly and it seemed to Meggy that it reverberated off the foyer's high ceiling. "Come, Father," she repeated gently, "maybe we should go home and we will sort it all out when we get there." "There is nothing to sort out," Timothy Newham insisted, "Your father owes me five pounds, a tidy sum when you are a poor man such as I am, and I'll wager that he has that amount hidden some place here or there in his shop." "Not so, Sir," Meggy replied, "and I would ask you to do us the kindness of leaving. Please call at our home at the noon hour tomorrow and we shall receive you properly. You have our word on it." Timothy gazed at her thoughtfully, gazed long and hard. It made her uncomfortable. He was an older man, and it did not seem fitting. "Very well then," he eventually retorted, "tomorrow it is at about twelve of the hour." He swung about and disappeared through the heavy oak door before a reply could be made. Chapter 2 Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) It had been only four years since Cromwell, the Lord Protector, had died. During his time greater religious freedom had come about for the Protestants. However, then “the Restoration” had planted a new ruler on the English throne, a ruler who did not know Cromwell. He was of the house of Stuart and his name was Charles II. Although only a youthful thirty years of age, he was well versed in the vices of the world and his skill in these vices had spilled over into the country. Countries are labeled - labeled as republics, monarchies, dictatorships or otherwise. But should they be labeled thus? He who sits in the heavens laughs, and holds nations in derision. He has all things under His control and what He desires comes to pass. England breathed laboriously while Charles II ruled and was in great need of a physician. ***** James Burnet and his daughter stood in the church foyer for a few moments after Timothy Newham had left. Then, as if by common consent, they turned and departed the church building. No words were spoken on the way home. The streets lay silent for the church bells had stopped ringing. Meggy clung hard to her father's arm. James stopped walking every twenty steps or so and reflected on the fact that he had not been able to do as much work lately as he was wont to do. By his side, Meggy wished for the hundredth time that she had been born a boy and that her mother was still alive instead of lying in the burial ground back of the church. How they would both help father. She knew that they would. James Burnet was a pewterer. Although only a trifler in the trade, there was much call for the items he fashioned, items such as inkwells, mugs, badges, and candlesticks. He was not a wealthy man but small pewter utensils were popular and he sold of his wares to traveling tinsmiths who hawked them in the countryside. The Burnet family had been able to manage. James had taught his daughter much as she was growing into a young woman. Even now as they passed through the silent streets, Meggy could hear his instruction. "Pewter into which no water has come, becomes more white and like to silver, and less flexible," and "Nine parts or more of tin with one of regulus of antimony compose pewter," and "Pewter is called etain in French." The Worshipful Company of Pewterers in Oat Lane near the London Wall, stipulated that marriage to a member of the pewter guild conferred upon a woman the rights and privileges of the business. Mother, when she was married to father, had been put in charge of the financial side of the business and she had received the payments for all the work father had done. Her receipt to buyers had always been valid. One should not speak ill of the dead, but James' wife, although a hard worker, had clearly not enjoyed the trade and had made her husband's life rather miserable because of it. But she had been capable, and Meggy sorely missed the independence their little family had enjoyed. The Great Fire of London of 1666 The Great Fire of London had come in 1666 hot on the heels of the bubonic plague, which had hit in 1665. Destroying 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, and St. Paul's Cathedral, the Fire had also burned both Margaret Burnet and her home. The Pewterers' Hall on Oat Lane had been destroyed as well, but it was being rebuilt. James Burnet had not had the money to rebuild his home. For a short while Charles II was blamed for these disasters. Some said his wicked lifestyle had brought about God's punishment on the city; others whispered that the king himself might have instigated the fire to punish the people of London for executing his father. Although James Burnet had been able to salvage some of his tools, the truth was that he and his daughter were left homeless. Hawys, a distant relative on mother's side, had kindly offered them living quarters. Her son Roger, a great big hulk of a lad, had from the beginning of their moving in, shown great interest in helping his relations. It had become a tacit agreement of sorts that he was working an apprenticeship. But nothing had been verbally agreed upon or signed. James, who was of a very cheerful and carefree disposition, had been glad of the young man's help. Irrationally, seventeen-year-old Meggy had not much liking for Roger and avoided him. Five years her senior, he displayed affection for father and her father returned it. Perhaps she was jealous. If father were to marry Hawys, the trade would eventually revert to her and later, to Roger. And it was a fact that Father was not well. He had of late been fatigued, unable to work much. Also, Meggy had noted that her father had a small, red swelling in his neck. Was he afflicted with a disease? She shrugged her small shoulders again. She did not like to think of such things, but the fears that crept into her mind and the raising of her small shoulders did not push the thoughts away. ***** Hawys asked no questions when she came home from church but simply laid out the Sunday meal on the kitchen table. Being discreet was a virtue, Meggy mulled, as she helped put the plates and ale on the board, admitting to herself that they were blessed to have such a relative. Although always adamant that they be in church on time, on the whole Hawys was a sweet-tempered woman and a good housekeeper. Father was determined that Meggy obey her in all matters. And rightly so, for did not the household run smoothly under her guidance and were they not clean and well fed? Hawys truly seemed to care for Father and for herself. Was she not even now fixing potions for his ailments, making sure he ate enough and did she not mend his clothes? Chapter 3 It was Lent. Now is the healing time decreed, for sins of heart and word and deed, when we in humble fear record, the wrong that we have done the Lord. So rang an old Latin rhyme and Meggy had heard father recite it often. Truthfully, Meggy was not aware that she had ever wronged the Lord. After all, she was quite careful to do all that was right. She obeyed father, loved him and worked hard at the chores Hawys gave her each day. So what was a healing time? She went to sleep thinking about it. But she had forgotten the words upon opening her eyes the next morning because the early air was filled with the sound of her father's coughing. Turning over uneasily, she listened as the grating noise crept under her bed and agitated the coverlet. Next to the bed, on a chair, she eyed her stay. She only wore it each Sunday and it had been mother's. Disliking its stiffness against her body underneath her gown, Meggy was glad it was Monday so that she could safely tuck the corset away into her dresser drawer. Hawys' spinning wheel was tucked into a nooked corner The coughing stopped and, breathing easier, Meggy turned onto her back. Her truckle bed stood at the foot of Hawys' fine feather bed. Hawys always rose at the crack of dawn and Meggy could now hear her rather shrill and drawn-out singing in the kitchen. Father slept with Roger in a side-room off the kitchen. He maintained that the kitchen was too cluttered and busy for him although Hawys was sure that sleeping on a cot in the kitchen would be a great deal warmer for him than the side-room. The kitchen was a room full of pewter, kettles, and skillets, with Hawys' spinning wheel round and annular in a nooked corner. The older woman had been trying to teach Meggy the intricacies and wonders of spinning, but the girl's hands stubbornly refused to convert fibers into yarn. Stretching her fingers, Meggy sighed and sat up, swinging her feet over the edge of the small bed. It might be a very fine day indeed were it not for the dismal fact that Timothy Newham was coming to see father. Sighing again, she stood up slowly and walked over to the washbasin atop the dresser next to the larger bed. Scrubbing her face hard to wash out the sleep, she pulled on a week dress overtop of her white shift. ***** "Good morning, Meggy," Hawys stopped singing to greet the girl's entry into the kitchen. A large wooden spoon in her hand, she stood stirring the porridge in a kettle hanging over the hearth. She followed her salutation with "How silently you enter this day, Child." "I am not a child," Meggy responded petulantly. "I know. I know," Hawys replied soothingly, "but I do want to braid your hair, big as you are, so come along and stand by the table after you fetch the comb from the side drawer. Meggy obeyed. She fetched the comb and stood quietly by the table as she watched the smoke from the fire on the hearth channel up the chimney. By and by Hawys came over and began to plait Meggy's hair. "You are truly silent," Hawys said once more as she put the finishing touch on the second braid, "and now that your hair is done, I would have you wash the front steps before breakfast." "Think you truly, Hawys," Meggy answered as she stood twirling the left braid with her right hand, "that Father might be ill and that he might... that he might perhaps have the scrofula?" "He has of late complained of a sore throat," Hawys answered. "But he could simply just have a sore throat for a while and then it will be gone. That has often been the case with me and with Roger. And I know that you have given him a tonic, and such complaints are common, are they not?" "As well, there is a small red swelling in his neck," Hawys said softly, hands on her aproned hips as she contemplated Meggy, "but that also is not uncommon. Indeed it could simply be a sting or some such thing. You as well as I know...." Her discourse was interrupted by her son Roger who burst into the kitchen from the side door. Tall and gangly, he was red in the face from some sort of excitement. "I can obtain a part-time position at the Palace of Whitehall," he broke in on his mother's words. "They are in need of gentleman ushers, seeing that Lent is here and that the king will begin audiences to touch the ill." "And what about your work for my father," Meggy demanded, letting her braid fall down, even as she emphasized the word my. "Oh, but I can do both," the young man answered, surprised at her vehemence, "for this work at the palace is only during the healing ceremonies this Lent. I simply help usher the poor into the king's presence and sprinkle rose water in the aisle to offset the stench these people carry. There are a number of young men who will do so. There will be a lot of people attending the ceremonies - from as far away as Russia, it is said. Besides that the work will pay." Meggy was not listening any longer. Her thoughts had wandered back to her father. "Father needs help all the time, Roger! You cannot be coming and going to ceremonies at the palace. You should constantly be with father and make sure he does not overwork." Roger looked surprised. His loose-fitting shirt was open at the neck and his collarbone protruded. "What ails you, Meggy? I am always helping him." "We were speaking of the scrofula," Hawys helped him out, "for Master Burnet has a red spot in his neck...." Again she was interrupted. "A red spot that could easily be the bite of an insect." Meggy's voice was shrill now and both Roger and Hawys eyed her uneasily. "An insect bite is quite likely," Meggy repeated loudly, "and is it not so, Roger, that you ought to be in the workshop with him right now, at this very moment." There was a lull in the conversation. Then Roger spoke on. His voice was calm and meant to put Meggy's fears at rest. "It is true that scrofula is called the Evil by many. It is a swollen and ulcerous condition and most pitiful to the eye. I have seen many people with it. Even now the ill are gathering in the streets awaiting the time when they will be allowed into the palace. But it is also said, and I know it to be true, that the scrofula, as well as other ills like it, often disappear of their own accord." "Well, father does not have it." Meggy stamped her foot on Roger's words as she spoke and then turned, walking past him out of the side door to her task of scrubbing the front steps. ***** During the next half hour, braids swinging back and forth as she scoured the stone steps, Meggy reflected again that Hawys and Roger were both actually very kind and that she had been rude. It was Roger who irritated Meggy. He was always so sure of himself, both in his demeanor and in his words and there was no doubt that father respected his opinion. She also had to admit, as the suds flew about the steps, that Roger was a fine help to father and seemed to be learning the trade. Perhaps, she pondered on as she swabbed and brushed, she truly was jealous. But jealousy was, as preacher Baxter had often pointed out in his sermons, a foothold for the devil to come into one's heart. Meggy and her father, as well as Hawys and Roger, divided their worship time between attending the Church of England and patronizing conventicles, even though conventicles were forbidden by law. Only five people, the law said, were allowed to meet together outside of the state church. Any larger number gathering for another church service was deemed illegal. Sometimes conventicles were held in the house of someone they knew, and at other times they were held in open fields. Meggy paused, wringing out the scrub cloth with her hands. Even though she admired St. Mary's Church, she also liked meeting out in open spaces, hearing pastors fervently extol God's goodness, and singing in the fields with only the sky for a ceiling. Watching the water drip down the steps, she wished that worries would run away as easily as the water, for there seemed to be so many of them. The worst of them was the fear that Father might have the scrofula, but hard on its heels was the fretting, the worry that had the name of Timothy Newham, the haberdasher, attached to its label. ***** After brealfast, Meggy was called into her father's workshop. "I owe Timothy Newham," he began, stopping rather abruptly and averting his face from her anxious gaze, before continuing, "I owe Timothy Newham," he started again, "some money, Meggy. I'm sorry, but there's the truth of it." He bent his head in such a way that she could clearly see the small red swelling in his neck. "What are we to do, Father?" "Well," her father answered softly, thoughtfully turning over a little pewter salt-shaker in his hands, "Hawys has graciously offered to pay the sum I owe and I would like you to deliver it to him. I would rather he did not come here, Meggy." "You want me to deliver the money to Timothy, Father?" "Yes, Child." "But how are we ever to repay Hawys, Father?" "I am going to marry her, Megs." Father only called her Megs when he was very moved and she intuitively felt she ought not to say anything which could trigger more emotions in him. "Hawys is good to us, is she not?" she managed, "But five pounds is but a little to build a marriage on surely?" He nodded and emboldened she went on, "Do you love her, Father? Do you love her like you did mother?" Actually Meggy was not sure whether or not her father had loved her mother. There had been many arguments between them. And the truth of it was that she had never yet heard him arguing with Hawys. But how had it come about that father owed Timothy Newham money? Timothy was a haberdasher and dealt in thread, tape, ribbons and other such things as a milliner also uses. His wares were in demand. She had been by his shop on occasion, sent by Hawys for something or other, and she had seen that the counter and the shelves in the haberdashery were crowded untidily with many things – things such as drinking horns, knives, scissors, combs, chess men, knee spurs and even girdles. Her mind had been turned topsy-turvy with the disorder in his store. There were so many items lying about that one's eyes became confused. "Why do you owe him money, Father?" "He had bought some tin in Cornwall, Megs, and he sold it to me for what seemed like a decent price at the time and I just have not been able to repay what he lent me for it." "Oh." Roger walked into the shop right into Meggy's “oh.” After looking at them for a moment, he began oiling the pewterer's wheel. The conversation fell silent. Father handed Meggy a small linen bag. "Go, Child," he concluded their discussion and then, turning to Roger, "I have some items for you to carry to Lion's Inn." Chapter 4 It was a fine morning and Meggy enjoyed walking. Timothy Newham's haberdashery was a good stretching of the legs away but she was young and relished the long stroll using the time to both look about and to think. Father's calling was to be a pewterer. Father's calling was to be a pewterer. Timothy's, on the other hand, was to be a haberdasher. Haberdasher – she repeated the word in her mind. It was a strange word but it was Timothy Newham's calling. And what was a calling? Calling was using one's voice but it was also something else – actually two other things. “There is a general calling,” father's voice plainly rang in her head, “for everyone. And that is a calling to conversion and holiness. Are you being called, Meggy? Are you God's child?” Father had asked her this question several times and always she had nodded in response, answering, “Yes, to be sure, Father.” But father must not have been satisfied with her sincerity, because he touched on the subject again and again. Was she converted? Was she holy? Even now as she walked the road, she pondered on the question. Truly, she did all things required of her, did she not? And did this not make her holy? She heard father's words again. “All those who come to church and sit in pews, Meggy, are not necessarily converted. To sit in a church does not mean you have been touched by the Spirit of God, Child.” Meggy lifted her skirts to avoid the blackish droppings of a horse straight on her path. Although she stayed close to the buildings, the filth of the streets was difficult to avoid. She was a little nervous too about the rats that scurried through the muck and grime. Of a certainty, father had told her often enough, the accumulation of waste had helped cause the Plague. If everyone would scrub their steps, as Hawys made her clean their steps most mornings, surely the problem would be less. She lifted her skirts again. It was hard work to live and maintain a family in London. She fell back to contemplating. “There is also a particular calling,” father's voice continued on in her head, “for every person, Meggy. And that calling consists of the specific tasks and occupations that God places before a person in the course of his daily living. It might be the work a person does for a living. For me that would be the work or calling of pewterer.” “And what do you think the particular calling is for me, Father?” she had countered, leaning cozily against him as they had sat talking in front of the hearth. He had stroked her hair as he replied, “It might be that of cooking, cleaning, listening to someone's troubles, or smiling.” “Smiling?” she had interrupted sitting up straight, almost laughing at the silliness of the suggestion. “Shall I stand at a booth, Father, selling smiles for ha'pennies to passersby? How could that be?” Father had laughed as well. “You see, Daughter,” he had explained, “you are good at smiling. Quite good, truth be told and God has given you smiles to bestow as a gift to others. Pastor Baxter, whom you have often heard at the conventicles,” he went on, “says there is a difference between washing dishes, scrubbing steps and preaching God's Word; but as touching to please God, there is no difference at all. Do you understand this, Meggy?” She had nodded. ***** "Hello, Meggy." All the while thinking and walking, she had almost bumped into Timothy, the haberdasher, who was standing in front of his shop window. Timothy's particular vocation, Meggy pondered on for a moment, was being a haberdasher. Of course he was also called to holiness, called to be a child of God? But he never.... "Are you dream-walking, girl?" Timothy spoke in jest as he looked approvingly at the blossoming young girl standing in front of him. Indeed, Meggy was pleasing to the eye. Red-cheeked, shining black braids bounching on her shoulders, clear, bright blue eyes warmly embracing her surroundings, she was a picture of health and self-assertion. Yet, at the same time, there was a shyness about her that appealed to the much older man. "I've brought you your money, Sir," she responded hesitantly after staring at him for a moment, reaching into the deep pocket of her skirt. Pulling up the small linen bag with the five pounds, she added, "Here is the money which father owes you." "Well, I was ready to walk to your house, but will not deny that I am happy you came here. It saves me both time and effort. Will you not come in for a minute while I make sure that all is accounted for?" He opened the door to his shop and extended an arm downward in welcome. Although she did not want to enter, she considered that the matter ought to be settled. Passing in front of him, she entered the haberdashery. Again, as before, the cluttered mayhem of his store overwhelmed her sense of orderliness. "Please sit for a moment," Timothy said, following her into his shop and, wiping the dust off a wooden stool. He indicated that she should make use of it. Lifting her skirts once more, she obliged. "It's a bit messy, I own," he continued, "and I warrant, it could use the touch of a decent woman." He eyed her for a moment before emptying the money into his right hand. Counting it, under his breath, he quickly ascertained that the coins added up to the right sum. "Do you want a receipt?" he went on to ask, "and might I also inquire if you left your father in good health this morning? "He's a bit poorly," she responded, before calling to mind that surely Timothy did not really care about her father's health, for if he had she would not be here now with the linen bag containing the money that he had demanded so crudely in the church foyer yesterday. "Yet he is well enough," she hastily appended. "I've just had a consignment of lace come in," Timothy volunteered the information slowly, regarding the girl as she sat on the stool, "and I'm thinking that a bit of lace would look fetching on your dress, Meggy." He spoke familiarly and it made her uncomfortable so that she gazed down at her hands without responding to his words. "Well then, you must be worried about your father," he went on, "for I call to mind that it is as you say, he did look a bit unwell the last few times I saw him. "He is well enough, Sir," Meggy defended, albeit in a flat tone, eyeing both the floor and the nearby door, hoping that the receipt would be forthcoming soon. "I expect that you've heard that the king will be coming to Whitehall later this week." "Yes, I have." "Indeed, he's come for the healing ceremony during this Lent. I am glad that you have heard of it." Timothy's eyes rested so long on Meggy that she nodded and he spoke on. "I'm surprised you're not more animated by this. The practice of healing by a reigning monarch such as King Charles II assuredly is common knowledge and I've no doubt you'll be wanting to take your father." "No, Sir." But Meggy's voice was unsure and Timothy was quick to latch onto it. He went on capturing her imagination with his words. "The practice of the 'healing touch' was first recorded centuries ago by the historian William of Malmesbury, who related the story of a barren wife. This wife, whose back was covered with ulcers, dreamt she was commanded to go to King Edward for a cure. So she traveled to court. The king, who much desired to help the poor woman, touched her back with water and her ulcers began to heal within a week's time. Not only that, but upon returning home, she was delivered of twins within that same year." Timothy stopped his narrative and considered Meggy's face. During the short discourse, he noted that she had become fascinated hanging onto his every word. Pleased and flattered, he continued, his voice lowered as if confiding a secret. "There have been other tales as well, including one in which King Edward carried a beggar on his back. The beggar was a cripple. The king carried him into St. Peter's church at Westminster after which the beggar was cured." "Is this true?" Meggy asked, eyes round, "I have always been taught that only God can effect a change in disease, so is it not false to say that earthly kings are able to effect cures?" Toffee-nosed, Timothy smiled down at her. "These ceremonies are extremely religious in nature. God gives kings this gift of healing as proof positive that they are chosen by Him to rule. So you need not worry about doing something that is wrong. Now if you are worried about your father's health...." He left the sentence unfinished and seeing her face become eager with hope, he continued in a scholarly tone, "Well then, I would advise you to look into going to Whitehall tomorrow." "Whitehall? Me?" "You speak, Meggy, as if you could not go there. But you could, you know. There are many who will go there." "But Father is not ... and I'm sure he wouldn't go. Besides I don't even know how I could get in." She stopped and shook her head before going on. "And I don't even know if what you are saying, Timothy Newham, is true. It could all be false and you could be telling me a tale." "There were years, it is true, that kings did not touch anyone. And that is probably why you, being some years younger than I am, are not as familiar with it as I am. During the time of Oliver Cromwell the practice was not in vogue at all. But now that a true king rules England once again, the touching ceremony has come back as indeed it should. Parish registers are kept and miracles have been recorded. My uncle is one as who keeps such registers. That is how I know." "I do not know if I ought to believe you or not." Meggy's voice was unsure. "Well," Timothy responded, looking with pleasure at the roses appearing on Meggy's cheeks in her agitation, "all I can tell you is that I can let you have a ticket so that you can enter Whitehall to listen to the ceremonies that will take place tomorrow. If you like what you hear, perhaps the day thereafter...? " He left the sentence dangling. "How is it that you can get such a ticket?" "I told you that my uncle, Robert Newham, is a registrar and he is one who gives out tickets and he has permitted me to sell them to such as are in need of healing." "Tickets?" Meggy responded, "and pray tell how much do these said tickets cost? And the truth of it is that I myself am not in need of healing." "It would not cost you anything, for I will gladly give you such a ticket." "You would?" "It makes me glad to see a daughter care so much for her father as you do for yours, Meggy." "He is not really ill, you know," Meggy responded rather feebly, "but it would do no harm...." She stopped before she added softly, "He would not go though. I know he would not." "Perhaps," Timothy suggested softly, "you might attend with me tomorrow, might attend the first ceremony at Whitehall to see for yourself what happens. Then, I am sure you would be persuaded of the reality of the cures effected by the king's touch. And being persuaded, you could easily convince your father to go the second day." "He is not convinced easily," Meggy responded, all the time seeing the swelling in her father's neck grow. "But you could go with me," Timothy let the words dangle like a carrot in front of her, before he went on "and see for yourself what happens." Meggy did not respond. "It is not an evil thing, Meggy. Gentlemen Ushers prepare the banqueting hall over which the king will preside. These ushers usually spray a perfume of sorts so that the stench of the ill will not overcome either him or bystanders. Next the Yeomen of the Guard bring in the sick, one by one, and they stand in the aisle before the king's place of sitting. It is after this that the king enters and sits down on a chair of state. His personal confessor, the Clerk of the Closet, will be standing at his side. The Prayer Book is placed on a cushion close by. You see, Meggy, it is all very religious and honors God." The girl said nothing, but her eyes were brimful of curiosity and wonder. "The Clerk's assistant," Timothy went on, "has gold medals or 'touch-pieces' hanging on ribbons on his arm. There are also two royal surgeons nearby waiting to escort the sick from the aisle right up to his majesty so that he can touch them. He strokes their necks, you see, in a loving way as they kneel in front of him, prior to their being healed." He stopped his oration and Meggy was torn. The words sounded so very good, so very real and so very loving. "I will go," she suddenly spoke decisively, "I will go with you, Timothy Newham, if you will be so good as to take me so that I can see and hear this firsthand. But I must hide this from Father and Hawys for surely they would think it nonsense. They are not overfond of the king, as you must know, but they do think that prayer...." She stopped and looked at the cluttered counter. So indeed was her heart cluttered, for there were so many things in there that she could not quite see straight. There was something askew with what Timothy was saying, but she could not manage to put her finger on it. “Whether you are well or sick, Meggy,” she could hear father say, “tis the Great God Who brings your state about. He is the One Who prevents sickness or brings it.” She nodded to herself. Yes, here was a bit of uncluttering. Again she heard her father say “Sometimes we are made ill, or someone we know is made ill, to test our faith and patience, Meggy.” "Well, Meggy," Timothy's voice interrupted her thoughts, "if you are of a mind to go with me to Whitehall you must be here at about one of the clock tomorrow. And perhaps the next day you can persuade your father to come with you. Be here promptly and I will be glad to be of service to you and your father. What can it hurt, after all, just to go and have a look?" This was true. Just looking and listening. Where could be the harm in that? She slowly slid down from the stool and stood directly in front of Timothy. He could possibly be an instrument in the hands of God to give her opportunity to help make father better. "I will be here at one of the clock tomorrow," she returned, walking past him out of the shop, not noting that the corners of Timothy's mouth had turned up, exposing square, yellow teeth in a half-smile - a triumphant smile. Chapter 5 Meggy had to tell an untruth at the evening meal in order to be able to leave the house the next afternoon. Allyson, the chandler's daughter, she mentioned to Hawys, her mouth full of pottage, had asked her help in making soap because her mother was ill with the ague. Roger stared at her in a strange way, a sad way almost. It made her feel rather awkward and she swallowed her mouthful with difficulty, because it seemed as if Roger knew that she was lying and that he was disappointed in her. But father smiled a broad smile and commented that this was most kind of her and of course she should go and help her friend. ***** Bells marked the one o'clock just as Meggy rounded the corner of the haberdasher's street the next day. Timothy, who was just closing the door of his shop, saw her coming. A smug look appeared on his face. Turning, he offered her his arm. She stopped short, confused by the gesture. "Come, come," he said, "you are young and must be escorted. I promise I shall take good care of you." When she still made no motion to take his arm, he scratched his head with his left hand. She marked the dirty fingernails on it. Then he remarked that he had forgotten something of import in his shop which she might find appealing. Stepping back, he unlocked the door of his store. "What have you forgotten?" she asked. "Oh, something you might find interesting," he replied, "Come in and I'll show you." A tad uncomfortable, but curiosity overcoming her sense of acceptable behavior, Meggy crossed over the threshhold once more stepping towards the counter. Timothy closed the door behind them. The click of the latch and the rather musty smell of the place straight away awoke her to the impropriety of the situation. Timothy moved a few paces into the shop. Then he sidled back and stood in front of the door. Particles of dust settled down on the counter. Suddenly extremely anxious, she stood stock still, wishing with all her heart that she had stayed outside. Timothy inched a bit closer. "You know," he mouthed, "you're a very pretty young lady." Meggy stepped sideways. Even though he was still some four feet away, she could smell his sour breath. "So what I forgot to collect was a reward for helping you get into Whitehall," he went on in a rough whisper, "and that reward is just one little kiss." "No!" she whimpered. Her voice had lost its ability to speak loudly, her heart pounded and her hands had turned clammy with fear. She continued pathetically, "Open the door and let me out. I don't want you to...." She did not finish for he had moved forward, had put his hands around her waist and was pulling her towards himself. It was at this point that her voice regained its strength and a high-pitched piercing sound shook the objects on the counter. It flew through the cracks in the wall out into the street. Straightaway the hinges of the door almost flew off their frame as it was flung open. Roger's lanky frame stood tall and forceful in the opening and Meggy had never been so happy to see him. "What's going on here?" he yelled, shoving Timothy into the counter, knocking bows, ribbons, pins, needles and lace onto the ground. The girl immediately slipped past the men, and ran down the street. Her cap was askew and her cheeks were crimson. She did not know where she was going and she did not care. All she knew was that she had to get away. What had she been thinking? What had she done!? Passersby stared. She neither noted nor cared. Finally, out of breath and underneath the overhang of some roofs, she stopped. What a ninny she had been! And what should she do now? She trembled with the horror at the thought of what might have happened. A few minutes later Roger caught up with her. "Meggy!! It's all right. Timothy Newham won't be bothering you again." Without looking up, she began to cry. Roger's arms folded around her and her head leaned heavily against his bony shoulder. "He's a beast," she sobbed, "He's horrible. He ...." "I know," Roger soothed, "but you ought not to have gone in there, Meggy. It's a good thing I was due to go to Whitehall and happened to pass the shop. To tell you the truth, I followed you. Both Mother and I were worried. We knew that Allyson's mother was not ill. So we wondered...." She pulled away, her tear-stained face angry. "But I went to Timothy Newham for father, Roger. He was going to take me to the ceremony. I thought that if the king was giving out the 'healing touch' about which Timothy seemed to know so much, then I ought to find out as much as I could about it. I thought that father ought to... ought to have a chance to... and Timothy said he had tickets." Roger's face became grim. "Surely you didn't believe that chicanery. Timothy Newham is a deceitful man, Meggy. As well, he and the king are both lechers. The king wants to be popular with the people. He wants them to like him. They call him the 'Merry Monarch' but he wants to hide the fact that he is... is....." Roger almost choked on his words, incredulous that she would fall for the jiggery-pokery of such a fraudulent royal ceremony. "But you," Meggy countered, wiping her face with the back of her hand as she spoke, "would work at Whitehall at this ceremony and would thereby help people enter deceit, if what you say is true." "Yes," Roger conceded, "to make some money to help your father and yourself and, of course, my mother. But maybe you are right and I ought not to have such a job." He stood for a moment, gazing down at her, and then repeating, "Yes, I ought not to have taken the job. I was wrong. Nevertheless, I think I will take you to the palace so that you can see for yourself what it is about." "You would take me there?" "Not so that you could take your father there, but so that you can see that you ought not to trust in men, Meggy." She was silent and hung her head. Taking pity on her, Roger went on a little less vehement. "You have heard good preachers often enough, Megs. Remember, their message. We, all of us, are diseased and full of infirmities. This is not such a strange thing here in this world. If your father is indeed ill, and God forbid that it is so, we will use such means as He provides for healing. But God does not use the wiles of such men as Charles II to heal folks. The ill vagabonds that flock to him, wretched creatures such as I see in the streets, only come because Charles provides them with a coin, a 'touch piece.' That is what they call such a coin. Most sell this coin as soon as they leave the palace and use it to buy food or who knows what. Some perhaps really and truly believe that Charles is sent by God to heal them. But would God use black to make white? I think not! Oh, Megs, wake up and trust God!" Roger had unconsciously used her father's pet name for her and she blushed. He continued with a last admonition. "And do you really think that your father would go with you to such a ceremony as would belie his faith?" Chapter 6 There were many beggars lined up by the gate at Whitehall. A host of them had swellings and lesions in their necks. Meggy tried not to stare and pressed close to Roger as they walked past them. Surely Father, she thought, was not as badly off as these people. Actually, he was not like them at all. She came close to rubbing shoulders with one ill wretch who had yellowish fluid oozing down the side of his legs. Her stomach turned. "Come, Meggy," Roger said, "don't stop and don't look so scared." "I'm not scared," she answered in a small voice, even as she eyed an emaciated woman with an ulcerated mass just above her shoulders. Next to the woman, a young boy lay convulsed on the ground, his mother desperately trying to pick him up. A blind man stood behind them. "Come on, Meggy," Roger repeated, "walk quicker." The disfigured disabled her feet. Was the king, she wondered, really such a wonder-worker as to be able to perform miracles? Such a wonder-worker as to heal these unfortunates? Did he have such a closeness to God as to cure these desolates and woebegones? Was father a such a one? "We are nearing the Banqueting Hall," Roger said, "and that is the place where the king will come to touch. One by one these poor creatures will be brought before him. They will kneel before the king and he will stroke their necks." Meggy shuddered. She knew not whether it was the thought of the king actually touching the misery around her that caused her to shudder, or whether it was the thought that it seemed blasphemous on the king's part to think that he had power over illness. They had reached the entrance to the palace and Roger pulled her off to the side. The queue, of which they were not a part, lay both behind and next to them. It was filled with crutches, bandages and disfigured persons. All of them were holding certificates verifying that they would be allowed into the king's banqueting hall. A man hobbled by to the right of them. He was disfigured in an appalling way. Growths of a most horrible kind hung from his neck, dripping both greenish pus and blood. In his dirty hands he clutched a crumpled ticket of admission. The ticket had been, if what Timothy had told her was true, signed and sealed by a minister or church warden declaring that he had never before been “touched” by the king. Despite her revulsion, Meggy ached for the man. He appeared so very ill. Yet there was hope in the very manner he put his feet down, put them down steadily towards the entrance of the palace. Mesmerized, she could not take her eyes of him. It was almost his turn to be admitted. A Yeoman of the King's guard, one who conducted all the ill to a line attended by the surgeon, was also watching him and Meggy read loathing on the guard's face for this particular man. But the man himself noted nothing. His whole being was simply fixed on entering the banqueting hall. "Hey, you! Let me see your certificate." The Yeoman's voice was loud enough so that Meggy could hear each word. Startled, the deformed man handed over his paper to the guard who, after scanning it, threw it to the ground. "It's forged," he announced in a gruff voice, "and I can tell because of the blood on it. You think that you can enter by smearing blood on a piece of paper and not be caught?! You were a fool to think it! Away with you!" Meggy heard a sob catch the man's throat as he watched his paper flutter to the earth. His face ruckled and his eyes, sunken in their sockets, produced tears. What a poor wretch he was!! And it suddenly came to her that she was such a wretch too. And it came to her also that surely this was not the way it should be and not the way it was. Had she not but recently heard pastor Baxter say that you could not let yourself in at the gate of heaven, and that you could not pay your own way into the banqueting hall of Jesus? She had not really understood the words at the time but she understood them now. Pastor Baxter's voice rang clearly in her head as she continued to behold the spurned man. And she beheld herself. “Take heed to yourself,” she heard pastor Baxter say, “for you have a depraved nature. You have sinful inclinations, Meggy! You are verily ugly in nature. And think you that you can come into heaven by your own strength?” Meggy sighed a deep sigh. She recalled her jealousy; she knew that this very day she had lied to her father and to Hawys; and she remembered that her curiosity had almost caused her bodily harm but less than one hour back. Indeed, she was a wretch! Of a certainty, at this very moment she had lost her desire to enter Whitehall and kneel before Charles II. But she did have a deep desire to worship. Indeed, her heart was bowed low within her. It all depended, she thought, whom the king was. To be sure, was it not so that no one needed a certificate to come into the true King's presence. All that was needed was the blood of the Lamb of God. "Therefore, ... we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus ..." Was that not what pastor Baxter had spoken on the last time she heard him at a conventicle? Roger poked at her arm. "Meggy, what are you staring at? Have you seen enough, girl?" She smiled at him. It was a tremulous smile. It was a contented smile. It was the smile God had bestowed on her as a particular calling. "I have Roger.”...

Amazing stories from times past

Archbishop Ussher and being fully known

It is a very special thing to be known, to have someone look at you and understand you and love you simultaneously. My father lost his father at the tender age of six. He was just a tiny boy in stature but he loved his father with all his heart. His father, by the grace of God, had been able to help to implant the love of God in his young son. My father recounted to me that he had not really understood death when it did occur. He had read a Psalm, at his father's request, as his father lay dying. Then his father's bed was suddenly empty and a host of people came to visit his mother. He told me that he recalled the livingroom being filled with people, and that he (being such a short, little guy) had been engulfed in a sea of legs. Strangely enough, he thought he recognized his father's legs. He ran up to those legs, grabbed them and tried to hoist himself up. When he had done that previously, his father had always lifted him up. But a strange face stared down at him. It was not his father. He had been mistaken. It can possibly be rather dangerous to be mistaken in identifying someone or something. There was a news item a number of years ago about a man who bought a snake from a neighbor. He was told that it was a python. After paying one hundred dollars for the creature, which was a good size, he took it home to the other pythons he owned. As he walked towards his door carrying the snake, it somehow fell to the ground. He bent down to pick it up and it bit him. Because the man assumed that the animal was a python, he was not worried about the bite when it happened. After all, pythons are not poisonous. However, about thirty minutes later, as his hand became very swollen and painful, he was concerned enough to head for the hospital. It turned out that the snake was not a python after all, but a copperhead. Anti-venom was given and what potentially had been a life-threatening situation was averted. The fellow was extremely thankful that he had not hung the new snake acquisition around his neck. But an unfortunate unawareness of identity can sometimes have a happy ending. There is the story of a little girl in England who was evacuated to the Welsh countryside during the Blitz – Germany’s WWII bombing campaign against the United Kingdom. She was placed with a family for quite a while and was constantly hopeful that her parents would arrive to convey her home again. The girl's surname was Knight. Back home she had a neighbor by the name of Mr. Wright. This neighbor was killed during an air attack. When the news of the neighbor's death came out, the names of Knight and Wright were mixed up. The child was mistakenly told that her father had died. Many tears were shed before it came out that there had been an error of identity. **** Archbishop James Ussher, (1581-1656), Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of all Ireland, was a Calvinist. He lived in turbulent political times, times in which there was much tension between Catholics and Protestants. Much can be said about the man, but there is a story about him which deals with mistaken identity. The Archbishop was often about the country visiting his curates. He wanted to know how they were doing, whether or not they were well respected in their communities and if they were true shepherds of the flocks which had been entrusted to them. He did not want them to know, however, that he was checking up on them. So he became a master at disguising himself so that no one would recognize him. On various occasions, Archbishop Ussher dressed as a beggar and knocked on the doors of his clergy. One fine day, dressed as a vagrant, he knocked on the door of one particular curate. The man was out, and his wife answered the door. Seeing the rather unkempt figure of a man at her threshold, she took him in and offered him bread, porridge and water at the kitchen table. But she alongside this meal, she also served him a lengthy harangue. "For shame, old man, to go begging at your age!!" she began, "How can you be so lazy!" He did not answer, but regarded her thoughtfully above a spoonful of porridge. "Your sitting here is not the fruit," she went on, waving her finger at him, "of an honest, decent, industrial and hard-worked life." He still did not respond, but took a drink of the water she had placed by his plate. Thinking, perhaps, that she could aid in the education of this ill-looking specimen of a man, the wife questioned him. "Tell me, old man," she spoke a little gentler now, "how many commandments are there? Do you know the answer?" Ussher, pretending to be confused, stammered out, "Eleven." "Eleven?" He nodded. "Eleven," she repeated in a frustrated manner, and then went on, "I thought so. Not only are you lazy, but you are also unlearned and not knowledgeable in the ways of God." Ussher sat before her in silence, seemingly unresponsive. The wife walked over to the cupboard and took out a booklet. "Here, old man," she said, placing the booklet next to his food, "take this with you when you leave. Learn your catechism. And when you have learned it, you will find out that there are not eleven commandments, but ten. Ten, you hear? Put that in your bowl and eat it." Archbishop Ussher left that home and later made it known that the following Sunday he would preach in that very parish which he had just visited. When Sunday arrived the wife of the curate was among the congregants. She had no idea that the old beggar who had graced her kitchen table that week would be preaching. The text was announced. It was to be from John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another". "It would seem," Ussher began his sermon, "from this text that there are eleven commandments." At this point of time, the Archbishop was recognized by the curate's wife. What she thought and what she felt at that moment is not known, but shame might have enveloped her. **** The most important person to recognize and know is, of course, the Lord Jesus. There is the story of Mary Magdalene, weeping for Jesus, and not knowing him. John 20:14-16 relates the incident of her standing by the tomb. "When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?’ Because she thought he was the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will take him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She[turned and said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni’ (which means Teacher).” We are fully known. This is what 1 Cor. 13:12 tells us. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” This is so good and so comforting. It is also good to realize that, because of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is always with us, constantly near us, even though we may not always recognize Him or be aware of Him. Our eyes might be filled with tears, or blind with worry and fear. Yet it is good to remember that He is omnipresent – everywhere and in all places. He might appear differently than we think, dressed in ways that take on an appearance we might not expect. At this point of time we see only a bit of His glory, and that imperfectly. But we are in the process of becoming like Him and we shall know Him fully. 1 John 3:2 gives us assurance: "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books including “Katherina, Katherina,” a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here....

Amazing stories from times past

The Son of the Clothmaker - a slice of the English Reformation

During the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553), Maurice Abbot, a clothmaker in Guildford, Surrey, England, and his wife Alice, became committed Protestants. And during their lifetime it wasn’t always easy to be so. Edward, the boy king, tubercular and frail, had the distinction of being the first English king who was raised Protestant. Zealous for the Reformed cause, if he had lived longer, the Church of England might well have become more explicitly Protestant. But God took him at the tender age of sixteen. After Edward's death it became difficult for Maurice and Alice to confess their faith publicly because Edward’s half sister, “Bloody” Mary Tudor, came to power. She vigorously tried to overturn the Reformation, and during her five-year reign, over 300 Protestants were burned at the stake. But times of persecution vanished when Elizabeth I ascended to the English throne in 1558. The Abbots rejoiced in her coronation. They breathed a sigh of relief as they resided peaceably in a cottage nestled beneath some trees in close proximity to the Wey River, openly able to practice their faith. Quite the fish story Then, in the year 1562, Alice Abbot was heavily pregnant. Uncomfortable and unable sleep one night, Alice eventually fell into an uneasy slumber and into a strange dream. She dreamt that if she but ate a jackfish, (a fish of the pike family), the baby she carried would become a great person and rise to a situation of prominence. A peculiar dream indeed! Maurice Abbot worked diligently at his trade but when all was said and done, clothworking was not a profitable business. The finishing of woven woolen cloth, was hard labor and paid very little. Alice related her unusual fish dream to Maurice and he shrugged. A few weeks later, due to give birth any day, she fetched a pail of water from the nearby Wey River. Sweating with exertion, she lifted the pail out of the water, and was amazed to see a jackfish splash about in the bucket. Having had a craving for jackfish ever since her dream, she went home, cooked the fish and ate it. Maurice shrugged again. But the narrative became known about town. Folks enjoy a good story. As it is with good stories, this one circulated outside the perimeters of the town of Guildford. After the baptism of the child, a few wealthy persons called on Maurice and Alice, offering to be patrons of the newborn baby who had been named George. Considering their low-born and rather impoverished condition, as well as the fact that they had little hope of sending their children to school, the couple thankfully accepted the provision. Now whether or not George's fortune would have prospered were it not for the jackfish tale is a matter of providential dispute. At any rate, George, as well as his older brother Robert, attended the free Royal Grammar School in Guildford and were taught reading, writing and Latin grammar. The school was free in name only; pupils consisted of those who could afford to pay the fees. Because they were healthy, good-natured and of quick minds, the patrons sent the boys on to higher education. To make a long story short, George eventually graduated from Oxford. The school was a Puritan stronghold at that time, with teachers who admired Calvin and Augustine. Grounded in Reformed theology, George felt called to become a minister. Regarded as an excellent preacher, his sermons drew large, listening crowds. Archbishop George! The years flew by and in 1611, George the clothmaker's son, rose to the rank of Archbishop of Canterbury. A bit of a gargantuan step - from the humble cottage on the banks of the Wey to Lambeth Palace on the banks of the Thames. His father and mother had died by this time. Dying within ten days of one another, they had been married for fifty-eight years. Perhaps it can be argued that their passing was an even more gargantuan step than that of their son George - from the humble cottage on the banks of the Wey to Everlasting Joy on the banks of the River of Life. Prior to becoming archbishop, George had been selected by King James 1 of England, together with other scholars, to translate the Bible. Calvinistic in theology, favoring the Puritans for their simplicity in worship, George Abbot remained within the Church of England. He never married and was a solitary man. Some considered him of a gloomy nature, unsmiling and rather somber; others counted him true to his principles and kind. Having attained to the highest church office in England, that of archbishop, George now lived in Lambeth Palace in London. Wealthy, respected and honored, he became a personal adviser to King James I. James had been brought up as a member of the Protestant Church of Scotland and often heeded the archbishop's advice. But this “Reformed” advice did not make George popular with those who had Roman Catholic leanings and at times put him out of favor with the king as well. For example, in 1618 James I published “the declaration of sports.” It was a declaration that allowed for Sabbath amusements. The archbishop regarded this declaration a clear temptation to break one of the Ten Commandment. James I had ordered this decree to be read out loud from the pulpit in all of England's churches. George willfully disobeyed his earthly king's order. He forbade the reading of the proclamation in his parish church. James I, rather fond of George, ignored his resistance, but it was not an easy time for the archbishop. A year later, in 1619, George founded a hospital. Resolved within himself to devote some of his wealth to benefit others, he remembered with fondness and nostalgia the town of Guildford where he had been born and bred. He meant to create work opportunities for his home town and he desired to support the elderly people living there. The health center was named Abbot's Hospital, or the Hospital of the Holy Trinity. Handsome inside, portraits of Abbot himself, of Wycliffe, of Foxe and of other Reformers, hung in the dining room. Doctor’s orders Over the years the effects of being harassed by those who disliked him, physically wore George down. Being a large and rather sedentary man, his doctor advised him to get more exercise. Consequently, he often walked about for recreation. Hunting was in vogue and even an archbishop was able to partake in that sport. As a matter of fact, the gay, hallooing troop of huntsmen rarely left the courtyard without an ecclesiastical person present among them. One night in July of 1621 found the archbishop in his library among all his books. However, he was not reading but cleaning his fowling piece. His crossbow, as well, lay nearby on the heavy oak library table. One of his servants inquired whether or not he was planning on going hunting. "Yes," he answered, "Lord Zouche has invited me to Bramhill House in Hampshire to hunt in his park there. It would be discourteous of me to refuse and the exercise will almost certainly do me some good." The next morning his servant saw him off. A groom rode at his side. An arrow deflected However, in the providence of God, a sad mishap occurred at Bramhill. While hunting with his crossbow at Lord Zouche's estate, the archbishop aimed and shot a barbed arrow at a deer. One of the gamekeepers, eagerly but carelessly beating the bush so that an animal might jump out for the hunters, suddenly appeared in the path of the party. The arrow which George Abbot had just discharged, went awry. Deflecting off a tree limb, it hit the gamekeeper. The man, whose name was Peter Hawkins and who had been warned more than once to keep out of harm's way, was wounded. The arrow had lodged in an artery in his left arm. Within one hour the man had bled to death. Horrified, the archbishop was thrown into deep despair. Walking up and down the apartment he had been given, he refused to speak to visitors, constantly repeating: "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." There was nothing anyone could do or say to comfort him. Although the death was deemed an accidental homicide by all who had been present, George Abbot required the king's dispensation and pardon before he could resume his duties. Some of those who hated his Protestant policies sought his removal from office, insisting that a commission of inquiry be convened to examine what had happened in the accident. And such was the devastation, grief and guilt that George felt that he withdrew from public life during the inquiry. He refused to preach, ordain, baptize, or pray publicly in a service, depressed and sick at heart. Many of his friends began to avoid him, a number claiming that one who had killed another man should not hold the highest church office in England. Throughout the remainder of his life, George observed a monthly fast every Tuesday, the weekday on which the accident had taken place. He also settled an annuity of twenty pounds on Mrs. Hawkings, the gamekeeper's wife, an amount which soon brought her another husband. Although eventually, George Abbot received a full royal pardon, the incident was not forgotten. In the ensuing years, he also increasingly disagreed with the king's more liberal policies. Consequently, his influence at court dwindled. Although he still crowned Charles 1 in 1626, his became a minor role. More and more thwarted in leading the church, he was forced into early retirement although he remained as archbishop until his death. A twittering mob There is a story told of his last years. He was traveling by coach to his home, when a group of noisy women surrounded his carriage, harassing him with shouts and insults. Upon his entreating them to leave, they shouted: "Ye had best shoot an arrow at us then." George Abbot, the clothmaker's son and Archbishop of Canterbury died in 1633 at age 71. He was buried at the Guildford Church. Throughout his life he acted according to his God-given conscience and was not afraid of opposing kings when Biblical principles were at stake. A conscience is a gift from God and George Abbot had a strong one. Often suffering from depression, one of his major misdeeds seemed to haunt him right to the grave. Yet do all believers not have major misdeeds? For who has not had a hand in killing the Vinekeeper's Son? And who can plead the excuse of accidental homicide? George Abbot was a clothmaker's son, but he was actually more than that. Alongside him, believers do well to remember that all who believe in Jesus Christ as their only Savior are, like George, Soulmaker's sons.  "…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Gen. 2:7...

Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

Hidden: Stories of War and Peace

by Christine Farenhorst 303 pages / 2020 “I was a Stranger” is reason enough to pick up Christine Farenhorst’s newest short story collection. The hero of this WWII story isn’t a resistance fighter or a soldier, and the bravery involved isn’t big or bold – this is a young woman saving a baby, no matter the shame she has to bear. So, quiet heroics, but heroics still – what Christine has crafted here is a story to inspire all of us called to everyday on-going faithfulness. There are eight other tales with the events all happening in and around the two World Wars. I initially read this with my girls in mind, but this is a book for adults too. But if you are reading it to your kids, since this is more drama than action, I do think it is better suited for girls – the sort that enjoy historical fiction like Little House on the Prairie. That these are good reads for both adults and older kids means this would make for a great read-aloud book for a summer road trip. So, kick back in the passenger seat, shut off any competing screens, and share with your spouse and kids what life was like during and just after the Great Wars. You can find it at and, as well as other online retailers....

Amazing stories from times past

The Good Hanoverian (Luke 10:29-37)

There is a remarkable anecdote about George III of England, that king with whom most people are acquainted through the 1994 movie The Madness of King George. There was more to George, however, than the declining mental health from which he suffered during his later years. George, who lived from 1739-1820 (ruling Britain from 1760-1820), was a man of principle. He tried to apply Biblical precepts to his daily life, a life of family and politics. Deeply convinced of divine providence, he mentioned it in his letters to family and politicians. He was devoted to his wife, Charlotte of Mecklinburg-Strelitz, whom he saw for the first time on their wedding day. God blessed them. By all accounts they had a sturdy marriage and were given fifteen children, thirteen of whom reached adulthood. On to the anecdote… The second greatest commandment King George III enjoyed hunting and was out one day with a party of several men stalking some deer in the Forest of Windsor. Led by dogs, they were in hot pursuit of a stag when they were forced to halt by the edge of the river Thames. The stag managed to cross. The river, however, was exceptionally deep at that particular spot and the hounds could not follow. So the hunting party trotted along the edge of the streaming water looking for a location shallow enough for all to be able to safely reach the other side. The ground was rocky; the grass high; and the many thickets quickly separated the riders from one another. The king's horse was weary. George knew it and he resolved to stop and give the beast a rest. Consequently he parted ways with the hunters and moved onto a clearing where some oaks stood. Fatigued himself, he enjoyed the wind swaying the branches of the trees and the singing of the birds. Suddenly, shaken out of his reveries, he sat bolt upright for he fancied he heard someone weeping nearby. Spurring his horse on towards the sound, he became increasingly aware that it was a cry of distress. The closer he came, the more he could make out the words. "Oh, my mother! My poor, dear mother!!" It was quiet for a moment and then again a repetition. "May God have pity on my dear mother!" The king rode on, intensely intrigued and moved by the words. He reached a small glade with a sizable plot of grass. On that grass and under an oak stood a crude, makeshift bed covered with a small amount of straw. Over this pallet hung a bit of tent material. A slip of a girl knelt in close proximity to the bed. Dark-haired, tears running down her cheeks, she was the picture of desolation. Some packs, as well as a basket or two, lay nearby. George spoke. He was a father as well as a king, and not unmoved by such a scene. It pained him to see a child in such heartbreaking anxiety. "Why are you crying, little one?" he enquired. As she looked up at him, startled at his sudden appearance, he went on in a compassionate tone. "And what is it you are praying for?" The little girl, about eight years of age, rose and pointed to a still figure stretched out on the pallet. She answered, sobbing as she spoke. "Oh, sir, my mother is dying." George dismounted, tethered his horse to one of the low-lying branches of the oak and walked towards the child. She took him to the little mound of straw upon which her mother was laying. As he came closer, he could see that the prostrate figure was a gypsy woman. He also perceived that she was indeed close to death. The woman turned her eyes towards him but did not speak. It seem that her power of speech ebbed away and that the Grim Reaper was patiently waiting for her breath to stop as well. The child had begun to weep once more and left George's side to once more kneel down by the woman. She began to wipe her mother's face with her hands, hands wet with tears. "What is your name, child? Are there others here who are your family? How long has your mother been ill?" Before the child had a chance to answer any of these questions, another girl, one bearing much resemblance to the child, emerged from the trees. This girl was a few years older and as she became aware of George's presence, curtsied and also knelt down by the dying woman. Kissing her, she began to weep as well. "Dear children," George said, "do not cry. What can be done for you? Indeed, how can I help you?" "Oh, sir," replied the older girl, "early this morning I ran all the way to Windsor and looked about the streets trying to find a minister. I did find one and then another, but neither would come back with me to pray with my mother." The woman, the dying mother, could understand every word her daughter spoke. It could be seen in her eyes. These were fixed upon her child and they changed from sadness to fear. It was plain to George that this was so. The children were kneeling on the left side of their mother. George picked up one of the packs laying on the grass, carried it over to the woman's right side and sat down on it. He then took her right hand and spoke softly. "I am a minister," he whispered, "and God has sent me here to help you." The woman's eyes turned away from her girls towards him. There was a question in her eyes. George went on to speak of the fall of humankind into sin, afterwards voicing the need for a Savior. And then he gladly told her of the Redeemer Who had been born, Jesus Christ. The woman's eyes never left his face. They became, as George spoke, more animated and then, peaceful. Then they left his face and focused beyond the king. And then suddenly, she smiled. Because her expression had become so happy and peaceful, a few moments passed before George and the children realized that she had died. ***** When George's attendants came onto the scene a little later, they found George comforting the gypsy children as if they were his own children. He rose up as they rode into the glade, simultaneously pressing some gold coins into the hands of the orphans speaking as he did so. "You have my protection," he said. Remounting his horse, he addressed his attendants, even as he pointed to the children. "Who do you think is neighbor to these?" ***** George's faith seemed to be part of a piety that permeated his being and his daily life. In his last years, physical as well as mental powers deserted him and he became blind. He died at Windsor Castle on January 29, 1820, after a reign of almost sixty years. But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” – Luke 10:29-37...


Vindication and the spider

There are nearly 40,000 different kinds of them around the world. Some can catch frogs, rabbits and even birds with their strong poisons and fangs. They also make webs, those amazing architectural structures that you can bump into during an early morning stroll through the forest. These webs are made of silk – a material which cannot be duplicated even though it's been tried. It is strong and flexible. Spiders are good…even if we don’t think so We tend to look at spiders and shudder. I confess I frequently have done so. My husband has often come when I called for help. He's stood on a chair innumerable times, taken his hanky out of his pocket and collected an eight-legged creature off the ceiling, smiling at me before depositing it outside. We confess that God created these little (or larger) arachnids, and the truth is that everything He made was good. My mind can extol God for the fascinating abilities He has given these little creatures, but my emotions often get the better of me when I encounter a hairy fellow clinging to the side of a cottage, or peering at me from underneath a dock by a lake. It is a truly unique gift that this so very common animal can spin a web, weaving a creation unlike any other on the earth. Producing silk (a chance evolutionary accident? - not likely!) from a tiny but complex body is mind-boggling. Here's a bit of interesting information: a spider can have a waist narrower than one millimeter, and through this waist pass its digestive tract, veins, windpipe and nervous system. Most spiders have rather poor eyesight and can see only short distances. Perhaps this is a comforting thought if you have ever been surprised by one as you were walking a trail! But the arachnid is extremely sensitive. Each one of the thousands of hairs on his or her body is attached to a nerve ending and consequently, to the brain. As a result, the spider can quickly read warning signals. So small and so complex! Creepy for a reason? My husband once spent a few hours with the kids in the backyard hovering over a small hole in the lawn in which a wolf spider had taken up his abode. The life span of a wolf spider is about 305 days. It can spend about one third of its life without eating anything. Created by His heavenly Father to adapt to extreme conditions, it is able to resist hunger by greatly reducing its body metabolism. God created everything in six twenty-four hour days. And everything He created was good. Spiders, in number as well as in diversity, outdo any other predator. Indeed, because so many were created by God, we must deduce that they must be special in His eyes. Every creature that exists has a purpose. And perhaps these eight-legged ones were created to look quite creepy so that they can perform their various tasks in His kingdom without being hunted down by humans. Spider silk is very compatible with human tissue and was, at one time, put onto cuts and wounds by rural folks to help sores to heal. They are also a critical part of the balance of nature. Their ability to create webs manifests God's glory and causes praise for the great Designer and Creator of the universe Who made them. Big and small On the evening of November 13, 2015, a series of coordinated Islamic terrorist attacks occurred in Paris, France. Three suicide bombers struck in various places killing a total of 130 people, as well as wounding 368. It seems that every day someone is killed by a terrorist. As a matter of fact, the grim number of those killed in Syria during 2015, is 55,219. Many of those were Christians. So what does the previous paragraph have to do with spiders? What does it have to do with creatures so strangely created, they evoke both shudders and praise for God. Our God is a God of both the small and the cataclysmic events in history - a God of small creatures and of those made in His image. He is the Almighty Creator and Sustainer of everything. As a matter of fact, it is good to know that nothing, not one thing, is outside of His providence. From worldwide flood to rainbow, from Babel to covenant with Abraham, from babies killed by Pharaoh to burning bush, He is in control. In August of 1572, the year of the infamous St. Bartholomew's Massacre in Paris, France, many Huguenots were assassinated and murdered in cold blood in a wave of mob violence. Although these murders began in Paris, the slaughter lasted several weeks and spread to the surrounding countryside. It seemed no one was safe. A small anecdote records, however, that someone trying to flee from the frenzied killers hid in a brick oven to conceal himself. He fancied he had little hope of escape, as every spot was checked, and rechecked. He prayed inside that oven. And his prayer was heard. God providentially sent a spider to the oven. The small creature spun its silk across the brick. Thick, strong and sticky, it covered the door and hung, shiny and concentric. Then God sent a breeze, and dust blew up from the ground landing on the new web, covering it and making it look old and dingy. It appeared as if no one had touched that oven for days. The hiding place was passed by those seeking his life and the man was saved. He had been vindicated by a spider through the Almighty hand of God. And today those who hide in the shadow of God's wings, (Psalm 17), in spite of the seemingly bleak prospects looming on the horizon of this year, will also be vindicated through the Almighty hand of God. "In righteousness, you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. If any one stirs up strife, it is not from Me; whoever stirs up strife with you shall fall because of you. Behold, I have created the smith who blows the fire of coals, and produces a weapon for its purpose. I have also created the ravager to destroy; no weapon that is fashioned against you shall prosper and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from Me, says the Lord." – Isaiah 54:14-17 This article first appeared in the March 2016 issue. ...

Amazing stories from times past

Crying, "Abba! Father!"

I have a friend in a nursing home whom I visit regularly. Her name is Dinah and she is a widow. We met her through providence. A few years ago, her husband came to the house carrying both a friendly smile and Watchtower leaflets. He was a tall, thin and very elderly man. As we were just in the process of slaughtering our chickens, I did not have much time to speak with him. He was Dutch too, as it turned out, and told me that he was dying of cancer and therefore trying to witness to as many people as he could before he died. A heartbreaking confession! We visited his home, my husband and I, later that month before he and his wife moved into an old-age home where he subsequently died - died, as far as we know, still denying the Trinity. We have continued calling on his wife - on Dinah - and I have great conversations with her. That is to say, we get along fine on almost every subject except on that of the Trinity. The Trinity is a difficult concept. Yet, the Trinity and the Gospel are one and the same. God saves us by sending his Son and His Spirit. As Galatians 4:4-6 explains: "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’" To know God savingly is to know Him as Father, as Son and as Holy Spirit. There is a hymn known as "The Hymn to the Trinity." The earliest publication of this hymn was bound into the 6th edition of George Whitefield's 1757 Collection of Hymns for Public Worship. It is not known who wrote the words to this hymn but the melody was penned by Felice de Giardini. Because Giardini was Italian, this hymn is often referred to as “The Italian Hymn.” Come, thou Almighty King, Help us thy name to sing, Help us to praise! Father all glorious, O'er all victorious! Come and reign over us, Ancient of days! Jesus our Lord, arise, Scatter our enemies, And make them fall! Let thine Almighty aid, Our sure defence be made, Our souls on thee be stay'd; Lord hear our call! Come, thou Incarnate Word, Gird on thy mighty sword - Our pray'r attend! Come! and thy people bless, And give thy word success, Spirit of holiness On us descend! Come holy Comforter, Thy sacred witness bear, In this glad hour! Thou who Almighty art, Descend in ev'ry heart, And ne'er from us depart. Spirit of pow'r. To the great one in three Eternal praises be Hence - evermore! His sov'reign Majesty May we in glory see, And to eternity Love and adore! My friend Dinah could never sing this song. As a matter of fact, because she is such a devout Jehovah's Witness, my belief in the Trinity makes me something of a polytheist in her eyes. I continually pray that God will open her eyes to the truth, beauty, and necessity of believing in the concept of our Triune God because only He can do that through the Holy Spirit. An American hymn too The mentioned “Italian Hymn” first appeared anonymously in London, England around 1757. It was about this time that the singing of the anthem “God Save Our Gracious King” was also coming into fashion. The “Italian Hymn” could be sung to the tune of “God Save Our Gracious King.” Perhaps that is why the author of the words of the “Italian Hymn” did not want to be known. The stanzas, you see, seemed to be somewhat of a defiant substitute for the words in the anthem which praised King George III of England. Things were brewing in the war department between the thirteen colonies and Britain and were leading up to the American Revolutionary War, (the war fought between Great Britain and the original 13 British colonies in North America from 1775 until 1783). The words to “God Save the King” were: God save great George our king, God save our noble king, God save the king! Send him victorious Happy and glorious Long to reign over us God save the king! The English anthem was often used as a rallying cry for the British troops. It aroused patriotism. There is a story associated with this. One Sunday during the war, as the British troops were occupying New York City, and very much appeared to have the upper hand, a group of soldiers went to a local church in Long Island. Known to the people as “lobsters” or “bloody backs” because of their red coats, these soldiers were not welcome. For the church members it would have felt akin to having Nazis sitting next to you in a pew during the Second World War in a city like Amsterdam. People were uncomfortable, glancing at the enemy who boldly smiled and flaunted their red coats as they sat in the benches. They obviously felt they had the upper hand. No one smiled back. Children leaned against their mothers, peering around at the soldiers. The tenseness was palpable. A British officer stood up at some point during that service, and demanded that all of the folks present sing "God Save the King" as a mark of loyalty to Britain. People looked down at the wooden floor, their mouths glued shut. One of the soldiers walked over to the organist and ordered him to play the melody so that the singing could begin. The organist, after hesitatingly running his fingers over the keyboard, started softly. The notes of the “Italian Hymn” stole across the aisles. But it was not “God save great George as king” that then burst forth out of the mouths of the colonists. No, it was "Come, Thou Almighty King," and the voices swelled up to the rafters of the church and it was with great fervor that the Triune God was praised. It's nice to reflect on a story like that - to perhaps ask ourselves if we would rather erupt into singing a patriotic hymn about the Trinity than to buckle under unlawful pressure. Still, the Trinity is a mystery. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." (Deut. 29:29). Augustine Augustine of Hippo was fascinated by the doctrine of the Trinity. He pondered the mystery of the Trinity over and over in his head and wanted very much to be able to explain it logically. He even wrote a book on it. The book, entitled De Trinitate, represents an exercise in understanding what it means to say that God is at the same time Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Augustine had a desire to explain to critics of the Nicene Creed that the divinity and co-equality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were Biblical. We often, like Augustine, want very much to explain God's tri-unity fully to people such as Dinah. We want to convince Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses and Muslims of the truth and need for this doctrine. This, of course, we cannot do on our own, even though we should faithfully speak of the hope that is in us. There is a story, a legend, that one day Augustine was walking along the shore of the sea, and that as he was walking he was reflecting on God and His tri-unity. As he was plodding along in the sand, he was suddenly confronted with a little child. The child, a little girl, had a cup in her hand and was running back and forth between a hole she had made in the sand and the sea. She sprinted to the water, filled her cup and then dashed back to the hole and poured the water into it. Augustine was mystified and spoke to her: "Little child, what are you doing?" Smiling up at him, she replied, "I am trying to empty the sea into this hole." "How do you think," Augustine responded, "that you can empty the immense amount of water that is in the sea into that tiny hole which you have dug with that little cup?" She smiled at him again and answered back, "And how do you suppose you can comprehend the immensity of God with your small head?" And then the child was gone. Westminster Shorter Catechism It is wonderful to ponder on the character of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism's definition of God is merely an enumeration of His attributes: "God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth." Indeed, the benediction from 2 Cor. 13:14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all,” is a benediction that should fill us with wonder and thankfulness. Editor's note: For a free helpful resource on the Trinity be sure to download R.C. Sproul's  booklet "What is the Trinity?" For something also free and helpful, but specifically on the Holy Spirit, download Kevin DeYoung's free booklet "The Holy Spirit." For something still very accessible, but a bit more in-depth, invest in Michael Reeves "Delighting in the Trinity."...

Amazing stories from times past, Church history

30 days of April

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die... **** April is the month of new beginnings; the month of crocuses and daffodils peeping up. It is the month to which many particularly look forward; a month in which our children exclaim: "April Fools," and one in which we excitedly call out: "Hey, there's a robin." But, as in every month that our good God gives us, April is also a time to reflect on how short our days actually are and that there is nothing new under the sun and that God sweeps men away; they are like a dream (Psalm 90:5).  **** April Fooling has been done for many years. In the 1500s, Francis, the Duke of Lorraine, and his wife were held prisoners in Nantes and effected their escape in consequence of it being April 1. Disguised as peasants, the duke bore a hood on his shoulder while his wife carried a basket of rubbish on her back. Very early in the morning, thus disguised, they walked the streets towards the gate. A woman, recognizing them, ran to the guard at the gate to tell him the duke and his wife were escaping. The guard, thinking it was a joke, cried: "Poisson d'Avril" or, "April Fools!" and all the guards, to a man, bawled out: "Poisson d'Avril!" including the sergeant in charge of the gate. And so the “peasants” were allowed to pass. The governor of Nantes, to whom the story was relayed, became suspicious and ordered the fact to be proven. But it was too late. Through all this tomfoolery, the duke and his wife were well on their way to freedom. But at the end of the days appointed to them by God, they too, like all mortals, died, and were buried. The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them (Eccl. 2:14).  **** On April 2, 308, Theodosia of Caesaria was martyred. She was but seventeen-year-old - a Hebrews 11 type. Tortured and urged to reject Christianity, she was thrown into the sea when she clung fast to Christ. If you see in a province the poor oppressed and justice and right violently taken away, do not be amazed at the matter…(Eccl. 5:8).  **** The Welsh-born poet, George Herbert was born on April 3. He died of consumption at age 39. His biographer said of him that he composed “such hymns and anthems as he and the angels now sing together in heaven.” He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from beginning to the end (Eccl. 3:11).  **** Oliver Goldsmith, English poet and writer, died on April 4, 1774 of a kidney infection. Described by his contemporaries as congenial, impetuous and disorganized, he once planned to emigrate to America but failed to do so because he missed his ship. A wise man's heart inclines him toward the right, but a fool's heart toward the left (Eccl. 10:2).  **** On April 5 in 1689, Danton, a leading figure in the early stages of the French Revolution, was guillotined. Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness (Eccl. 3:16).   Richard the Lionhearted died on April 6 in 1199. He was shot by a crossbowman in battle at Chalus, central France. His entrails were buried at Chalus. The rest of his body was entombed further north, in Fontevraud Abbey. And His heart was embalmed and buried in Rouen. Transformed into a brown powder which rests in a crystal box, the heart is exhibited at a museum of antiquities and does not exceed the weight of one and a half ounces. As man came from his mother's womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil, which he may carry away in his hand (Eccl. 5:15).  **** On April 7, 1506, Francis Xavier was born. A Roman Catholic missionary, he ventured into Japan, Borneo and the Malaku islands. He was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1622. As well, the Dutch Petrus Camper, died on this day in 1789. Camper was a physician, anatomist, physiologist, mid-wife, zoologist, paleontologist and a naturalist. Then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out; even though a wise man may claim to know, he cannot find it out (Eccl. 8:17).  **** On April 8, 217, Caracalla, the 22nd Roman emperor died. In order to get the throne, Caracalla assassinated his brother Geta, executed most of his brother's supporters, and ordered his brother’s memory stricken from records. In my vain life I have seen everything; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evil-doing (Eccl. 7:15).  **** George Peacock, dean of Ely for the last twenty years of his life, and a mathematician, was born in Denton, in 1791 on the 9th of April. While dean of the cathedral, he wrote a textbook on algebra comprising two volumes. On this same date in 1616, Francis Bacon, philosopher, statesman and scientist, died. He died of pneumonia which he contracted while studying the effects of freezing on the preservation of meat. He who quarries stones is hurt by them; and he who splits logs is endangered by them (Eccl. 10:9).  **** On April 10th, 1843, eight laborers were digging around some trees in Tufnell Park near Highgate on the north side of London. Hitting something hard with their shovels, they were surprised to find at the root of one particular tree were two jars filled with 400 sovereigns of gold. These they divided. However, soon afterward, Mr. Tufnell, lord of the manor where they were employed, claimed the whole treasure. According to the law, this hidden treasure belonged to the Crown, to the lord of the manor, to the finder or to two of these three. While all were puzzling, the real owner came forward. He was a brass founder from Clerkenwell. For nine months he had had a temporary mental delusion and one night he had taken the two jars of sovereigns and buried them. Being able to prove it, his claim was admitted. He who loves money will not be satisfied with money; nor he who loves wealth, with gain; this also is vanity (Eccl. 5:10).  **** On April 11, 461, Pope Leo the Great was born. The first pope to be called “Great,” he asserted the universal jurisdiction of the Roman bishop. As well, Stanislaus Poniatowski, the last king of Poland, died on this day in 1798 in St. Petersburg. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return (Eccl. 3:20).  **** Seneca, a Roman philosopher, one who was tutor to Nero, died April 12 in 65, because he dared advise his fiddling pupil that he should restrain his excesses. When this advice went ignored, he knew his life was in danger. Not one to be told what to do, Nero ordered his teacher to commit suicide. This Seneca did in front of his wife and friends. His veins were opened and he took a draught of poison. Dying slowly, he was submersed in a warm bath which was expected to speed blood flow and ease pain. Some medieval writers believed Seneca had been converted to the Christian faith by Paul. It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools (Eccl. 7:5).  **** In 1760, on the 13th of April, Dr. Thomas Beddoes, writer on medicine and natural history, was born. On that same day in 1759, George Frederick Handel died. There is ... a time to be born, and a time to die... (Eccl. 3:2a).  **** The 14th of April in the year 1360 was the morrow after Easter. King Edward III, with his host, lay before the city of Paris. It was a dark day, full of mist and hail and so bitterly cold that many men died while sitting on their horses. Wherefore, this day has been called Black Monday. Keep the king's command, and because of your sacred oath be not dismayed; go from his presence, do not delay when the matter is unpleasant, for he does whatever he pleases (Eccl. 8:2-3).  **** Dominico Zampieri, an Italian painter died on April 15, 1641. The son of a shoemaker, he was slight in stature and knows as “little Dominico.” His paintings are said to be worth much money, even millions, today. I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, ... (Eccl. 2:18).  **** One John Law, speculative financier, was born on April 16, 1671. Working for Louis XV, he established a private bank, Banque Generale, in France. Three-quarters of its capital consisted of government bills and government notes, making it the first central bank of the nation. A gambler and a brilliant calculator, he was known to win card games by mentally calculating the odds. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun (Eccl. 2:11).  **** On April 17th of 1725, a John Rudge bequeathed to the parish of Trysall in Staffordshire, 20 shillings a year. He did this so that a poor man might be employed to go about the church during the sermon and keep people awake as well as keeping dogs out of the church. Guard your steps when you go to the house of God (Eccl. 5:1). **** On April 18, 1740, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of the infamous Charles, died. Erasmus had two illegitimate daughters with his son's governess. He was also the grandfather of one Francis Galton, who in the late 19th century would found the science of eugenics. As you do not know how the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God Who makes everything (Eccl. 11:5).  **** In 1757, on April 19th, Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth, naval commander, was born. He fought during the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of birth (Eccl. 7:1). **** Bram Stoker, he who penned Dracula, in 1897, died on April 20 in 1912. The more words, the more vanity, and what is man the better? (Eccl. 6:11).  **** On April 21, 1653, Prince George of Denmark, consort of Anne, Queen of England, was born. Anne's seventeen pregnancies by George resulted in twelve miscarriages, four infant deaths and a chronically ill son, William, who died at the age of eleven. Despite the deaths of their children, George and Anne's marriage was a strong one. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all men and the living will lay it to heart (Eccl. 7:2).  **** King Henry VII of England died on April 22 in 1509 in Richmond. Henry VII was the first monarch of the House of Tudor. There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture (Eccl. 5:14).  **** On April 23, 1215, King Louis IX of France was born. As well, William Shakespeare died on this day in 1616 in Stratford-on-Avon. Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all (Eccl. 9:11).  **** On April 24 in 1731, Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe died. A prolific writer, who wrote more than 500 books, he used more than 198 pen names. He was probably hiding from creditors when he died. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again (Eccl. 1:7).  **** In Rymer's Fedora (a collection of miscellaneous documents), there is reference to a woman named Cecilia who was jailed for the murder of her husband. While in jail she remained mute, and was said to have abstained from food for 40 days, after which she was presented to King Edward III. It is recorded that, moved by piety and for the glory of God, and the virgin Mary, (to whom it says the miracle was owing), the king pardoned her on April 25, 1357. If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place, for deference will make amends for great offenses (Eccl. 10:4).  **** In 1711 on the 26th of April, David Hume, philosopher and historian, was born in Edinburgh. He was a skeptic and an atheist and continues, sadly enough, to influence many people today. ...the lips of a fool consume him. The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness and the end of his talk is wicked madness (Eccl. 10:12b-13).  **** On April 27th in the year 1546, William Foxley, pot-maker of the Mint in the Tower of London, fell asleep and could not be awakened by pinching, cramping, burning, or anything else. He slept for 14 days and 15 nights. The cause of his thus sleeping could not be known, although the cause was diligently searched for by the king's physicians and other learned men. The king himself examined William Foxley, who was in all points found at his waking as though he had slept but one night. And he lived more than 40 years afterward. Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much; but the surfeit of the rich will not let him sleep (Eccl. 5:12).  **** On April 28th, 1772, there died at Mile End a goat that had twice circumnavigated the globe. In the ship “Dolphin,” under Captain Wallis and in the ship “Endeavour” under Captain Cook. The Lord of the Admiralty had just signed a warrant, admitting the goat to the privilege of an in-pensioner of Greenwhich Hospital, a boon she did not live to enjoy. For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has not advantage over the beasts; for all is vanity (Eccl. 3:19).  **** On the 29th of April, in 1676. Michiel de Ruyter died. In early life a common sailor, he rose to the rank of admiral. De Ruyter was the man who by the grace of God, in the seventeenth century, made Holland one of the greatest maritime powers in the world. He was struck by a cannonball at age 69 and passed away in Sicily, Italy. For if a man lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity (Eccl. 11:8).  **** On April 30, 1751, Richard Gough wrote in his diary: "At Glastonberg, Somerset, a man 30 years old afflicted with asthma, dreamed that someone told him if he drank of such particular waters near the Chaingate for seven Sunday mornings, he should be cured. The man did and accordingly became better, attesting his healing with an oath. This being rumored abroad, it brought people from all parts of the kingdom to drink of the so miraculous waters for various distempers and many were healed and a great number received benefit. It was actually computed that 10,000 were at Glastonberg to drink the water. Is there a thing of which it is said 'See, this is new?' It has been already, in the ages before us (Eccl. 1:10)....


On the Trinity: Augustine, the American Revolution, and my Jehovah's Witness friend

I have a friend in a nursing home whom I visit regularly. Her name is Dinah and she is a widow. We met her through providence. A few years ago, her husband came to the house carrying both a friendly smile and Watchtower leaflets. He was a tall, thin and very elderly man. As we were just in the process of slaughtering our chickens, I did not have much time to speak with him. He was Dutch too, as it turned out, and told me that he was dying of cancer and therefore trying to witness to as many people as he could before he died. A heartbreaking confession! We visited his home, my husband and I, later that month before he and his wife moved into an old-age home where he subsequently died - died, as far as we know, still denying the Trinity. We have continued calling on his wife - on Dinah - and I have great conversations with her. That is to say, we get along fine on almost every subject except on that of the Trinity. The Trinity is a difficult concept. Yet, the Trinity and the Gospel are one and the same. God saves us by sending his Son and His Spirit. As Galatians 4:4-6 explains: "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" To know God savingly is to know Him as Father, as Son and as Holy Spirit. The Hymn to the Trinity There is a hymn known as "The Hymn to the Trinity." The earliest publication of this hymn was bound into the 6th edition of George Whitefield's 1757 Collection of Hymns for Public Worship. It is not known who wrote the words to this hymn but the melody was penned by Felice de Giardini. Because Giardini was Italian, this hymn is often referred to as “The Italian Hymn.” Come, thou Almighty King, Help us thy name to sing, Help us to praise! Father all glorious, O'er all victorious! Come and reign over us, Ancient of days! Jesus our Lord, arise, Scatter our enemies, And make them fall! Let thine Almighty aid, Our sure defence be made, Our souls on thee be stay'd; Lord hear our call! Come, thou Incarnate Word, Gird on thy mighty sword - Our pray'r attend! Come! and thy people bless, And give thy word success, Spirit of holiness On us descend! Come holy Comforter, Thy sacred witness bear, In this glad hour! Thou who Almighty art, Descend in ev'ry heart, And ne'er from us depart. Spirit of pow'r. To the great one in three Eternal praises be Hence - evermore! His sov'reign Majesty May we in glory see, And to eternity Love and adore! My friend Dinah could never sing this song. As a matter of fact, because she is such a devout Jehovah's Witness, my belief in the Trinity makes me something of a polytheist in her eyes. I continually pray that God will open her eyes to the truth, beauty, and necessity of believing in the concept of our Triune God because only He can do that through the Holy Spirit. Italian, British, and American The mentioned "Italian Hymn" first appeared anonymously in London, England around 1757. It was about this time that the singing of the anthem "God Save Our Gracious King" was also coming into fashion. The "Italian Hymn" could be sung to the tune of "God Save Our Gracious King." Perhaps that is why the author of the words of the "Italian Hymn" did not want to be known. The stanzas, you see, seemed to be somewhat of a defiant substitute for the words in the anthem which praised King George III of England. Things were brewing in the war department between the thirteen colonies and Britain and were leading up to the American Revolutionary War, (the war fought between Great Britain and the original 13 British colonies in North America from 1775 until 1783). The words to "God Save the King" were: God save great George our king, God save our noble king, God save the king! Send him victorious Happy and glorious Long to reign over us God save the king! The English anthem was often used as a rallying cry for the British troops. It aroused patriotism. There is a story associated with this. One Sunday during the war, as the British troops were occupying New York City, and very much appeared to have the upper hand, a group of soldiers went to a local church in Long Island. Known to the people as "lobsters" or "bloody backs" because of their red coats, these soldiers were not welcome. For the church members it would have felt akin to having Nazis sitting next to you in a pew during the Second World War in a city like Amsterdam. People were uncomfortable, glancing at the enemy who boldly smiled and flaunted their red coats as they sat in the benches. They obviously felt they had the upper hand. No one smiled back. Children leaned against their mothers, peering around at the soldiers. The tenseness was palpable. A British officer stood up at some point during that service, and demanded that all of the folks present sing "God Save the King" as a mark of loyalty to Britain. People looked down at the wooden floor, their mouths glued shut. One of the soldiers walked over to the organist and ordered him to play the melody so that the singing could begin. The organist, after hesitatingly running his fingers over the keyboard, started softly. The notes of the "Italian Hymn" stole across the aisles. But it was not "God save great George as king" that then burst forth out of the mouths of the colonists. No, it was "Come, Thou Almighty King," and the voices swelled up to the rafters of the church and it was with great fervor that the Triune God was praised. It's nice to reflect on a story like that – to perhaps ask ourselves if we would rather erupt into singing a patriotic hymn about the Trinity than to buckle under unlawful pressure. Still, the Trinity is a mystery. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." (Deut. 29:29). Augustine on the Trinity Augustine of Hippo was fascinated by the doctrine of the Trinity. He pondered the mystery of the Trinity over and over in his head and wanted very much to be able to explain it logically. He even wrote a book on it. The book, entitled De Trinitate (which you can download here) represents an exercise in understanding what it means to say that God is at the same time Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Augustine had a desire to explain to critics of the Nicene Creed that the divinity and co-equality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were Biblical. We often, like Augustine, want very much to explain God's tri-unity fully to people such as Dinah. We want to convince Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims of the truth and need for this doctrine. This, of course, we cannot do on our own, even though we should faithfully speak of the hope that is in us. There is a story, a legend, that one day Augustine was walking along the shore of the sea, and that as he was walking he was reflecting on God and His tri-unity. As he was plodding along in the sand, he was suddenly confronted with a little child. The child, a little girl, had a cup in her hand and was running back and forth between a hole she had made in the sand and the sea. She sprinted to the water, filled her cup and then dashed back to the hole and poured the water into it. Augustine was mystified and spoke to her: "Little child, what are you doing?" Smiling up at him, she replied, "I am trying to empty the sea into this hole." "How do you think," Augustine responded, "that you can empty the immense amount of water that is in the sea into that tiny hole which you have dug with that little cup?" She smiled at him again and answered back, "And how do you suppose you can comprehend the immensity of God with your small head?" And then the child was gone. Conclusion It is wonderful to ponder on the character of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism's definition of God is merely an enumeration of His attributes: "God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth." Indeed, the benediction from 2 Cor. 13:14, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all," is a benediction that should fill us with wonder and thankfulness....

Church history

When the Word of God is not preached

Half-truths, little tidbits of information used for one's own interpretation and advantage, can be harmful, even damnable. Zeal without knowledge can be destructive, extremely destructive. Indeed, this type of zeal can become the devil's toy. ***** More than 250 years ago, a little girl was born in the parish of Ottery St. Mary, in the county of Devon in the west of England. The month was April and the year was 1750. Joanna Southcott, for so the girl-child was baptized, grew up in rather poor conditions. Her father, William Southcott, sprang from rich stock, but circumstances had reduced him from living on a manor to working a small dairy farm. A Church of England member, by all accounts, he read the Bible to his family. As she grew older Joanna was taught to help out on the farm, even running it for a time when her father was ill. She was capable girl. Eventually Joanna left home to begin a career. Employed by an upholsterer in Exeter, she learned how to cut cloth, choose fabric, work with trims and sew welted edges. It was during this time that she became engaged to a young man by the name of Noah Bishop. Noah was a footman, whose duties at his place of employment included admitting guests and waiting at table. They seemed a well-matched couple. However, after a rather short courtship, Joanna suddenly broke off the engagement. The reason she gave her fiancé was rather strange - she let him know that an angel had appeared to her one night telling her that she must not allow her body to be defiled by a man. Poor Noah!! His intentions towards Joanna had been honorable. He concluded that she was deranged! During Joanna's stint of employment with the upholsterer, a revivalist Methodist preacher visited the area. Notoriously amoral, he openly lived with a mistress and flirted freely with the opposite sex. Yet he was allowed in the pulpit, preaching loudly about sin and damnation. Proud and boastful of his salvation status, he openly thanked God for not making him like the other “sinners” in the congregation. All Joanna's fellow workers were afraid of him. Joanna was not. She saw through the man and was amazed that his hoax was accepted. Leaving the employ of the upholsterer after breaking her engagement, Joanna began work as a domestic servant in Exeter. According to a later portrait drawing of her by artist and engraver William Sharp (1749-1824), we can conclude that Joanna was probably a sweet and pretty-looking girl in her younger years, becoming more buxom and well upholstered around the waist in middle age. A woman in need of friends Although she had been raised in the Church of England, Joanna joined the Wesleyans in 1792. Persuading others that she possessed supernatural gifts, she wrote and dictated prophecies in rhyme. She also began to teach, preach (Had she never been taught regarding I Tim. 2:12?) and prophesy. A number of her predictions seemed to come about. Many of these “prophecies” referred to events that occurred during her lifetime. For example, she is credited with having foretold the famine of 1795, the bad harvest of 1797, the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the deaths of several more or less well-known persons. Was Joanna a loner? She surely needed Christian companions who loved her enough to caution her. Her feet and her mouth were steering her towards greater and greater heresy. The worst heresy was that she claimed to be the woman mentioned in Revelation 12:1-6. Quite a profession! She openly designated herself a prophetess whom God had divinely appointed to be the mother of the Messiah. (What happened to Isaiah 7:14? Did she not know the Christ Child had already been born?) Joanna must have been without Christian friends. Friends will caution you; friends will reprove you; friends will point you to the truth of the Gospel fulfilled; and friends will tell you of the hope of heaven and the danger of hell if you do not turn from error. Joanna's followers were marked by peculiarity of dress, which resembled that of Quakers, the men sporting long beards. With thousands of adherents, among whom were some clergy, Joanna also began making and selling printed seals which supposedly guaranteed the buyer entry into paradise after the Apocalypse. (Even the familiar John 3:16-18 seems to have been lost on Joanna and her supporters.) Seating, it was said, was limited to 144,000, so buy seals while you can. Exorbitant prices were charged. Joanna, denying that she was profiting from the sale of these “indulgences,” continued to manufacture them. Some six or seven thousand were sold and a number of them are still in existence. They are small pieces of paper with a circle drawn in the middle. In this circle are written words which imply that the buyer is saved. Every one of these seals was signed by Joanna Southcott. In addition to teaching and lecturing, Joanna also wrote some thirty or so books which were published during her lifetime. The manuscripts, many of which are written in different handwritings, are still available, pointing to the employment of an assistant. Pregnant at 63? In 1813, Joanna now being 63 years old, and living with two lady companions, began to take on the appearance of a pregnant woman. Her stomach grew rounder and rounder, and she announced to her followers that she was now about to become the mother of the promised Child spoken of in Revelation 12. She asserted that redemption would be completed in herself. (What happened to Hebrews 9:12?) She would bruise the serpent's head and the immediate aim of her life was to destroy the devil. Possibly due to a tumor growing within her abdomen, Joanna presented herself to the public as one shortly to give birth. Those who believed what she spouted, waxed enthusiastic. Holding collections, they sent a delegation to an expensive cabinet-maker and bought a cradle - a fashionable cradle, richly ornamented and decorated. They set this up in a specially prepared place and began to collect accessories. Baby blankets, pillows, linens and embroidered sheets began to accumulate. It was, after all, for a miraculous child and who would not want to hail this baby with luxury and comfort! The excitement over this apparent pregnancy and upcoming birth was palpable among the population, especially in the London area. The number of eager followers were said to have numbered around 100,000. Most of them were illiterate and rather credulous, but some were middle-class and clergy. They all fully believed the claptrap and nonsense. (Where there is no prophetic vision people cast off restraint - Proverbs 29:18.) One pastor even offered to resign from his diocese if the “Holy Joanna,” as he called her, failed to give birth to the Messiah. The days and months passed. No baby was born. In August of 1814, a physician by the name of Dr. Reece, examined Joanna, to “ascertain the probability of her being in a state of pregnancy, as then given out.” He affirmed that she was indeed with child. Other doctors were called in, reputable medical men, and they, as well, concluded that she was pregnant. More weeks passed and Joanna herself, despite her grand delusions, became uncomfortable with her bulky stomach. She hesitatingly allowed that she might have been deceived by some spirit, either good or evil. Dead but still causing problems As the year of 1814 drew to a close, Joanna Southcott died. She died surrounded by a few of her ill-informed disciples, and she died without giving birth. She had been barren. Prior to her death another surgeon had been called in by Dr. Reece and he had, without any uncertainty, declared that Joanna was not in the family way, that she was ill, and that he did not foresee any hope of her recovery. Before her death at the end of December 1814, she had been confined to bed for ten weeks. Dr. Reece, who was in attendance during her last hours, immediately after Joanna died, wrote to the editor of the Sunday Monitor: “Agreeable to your request, I send a messenger to acquaint you, that Joanna Southcott died this morning precisely at 4 a.m. The believers in her mission, supposing that the vital functions are only suspended for a few days, will not permit me to open the body until some symptom appears, which may destroy all hopes of resuscitation." Holding on to the hope that Joanna would resurrect, something she had predicted, her followers wrapped her body in warm blankets, placed hot water bottles at her feet, and kept the room warm. Crowds assembled around the house, hoping and waiting for her to rise from the dead. However, it was all to no avail and her body began to putrify. Even as decomposition set in, there were those who swore not to shave their beards until Joanna's resurrection. Likely a great many men with very snarled and lengthy beards were consigned to the grave in the years that followed. A later autopsy showed that Joanna Southcott had suffered from dropsy which had killed her. She was buried in Marylebone cemetery on January 2, 1815. Laid into her coffin, she was interred under a fictitious name. The authorities feared that if they did not do this, grave robbers might want to open the tomb, ransack her remains, and profit by the sale of her bones. Prior to her death Joanna had dictated a will in which she professed to have lied, professed to have been prompted by the devil. In this document she insisted that after her death, the cradle and all things with it, should be returned to the people who gave them. The 1568 Bishops' Bible reads Proverbs 29:18 in this way: When the worde of God is not preached, the people perishe: but well is hym that kepeth the lawe. In twenty-first century English language this translates freely as: When the Word of God is neglected, ignored or not preached properly, the people will perish: but discerning people who hear the Word of God and obey it, are blessed. Again, where God's Word is not preached, people become fools, believing anyone and everything. Strange and ludicrous as Joanna's story is, many Joanna's have walked the earth in the past and are still walking it. A William Davies (1833-1906), leader of a Latter Day Saint schismatic group, taught his followers that one of his children was the reincarnated Jesus. Lou de Palingboer (1898-1968), founder of a religious movement in Holland, claimed to be “the resurrected body of Jesus.” And a couple of years ago, a parish in the Church of Sweden, tweeted out that Greta Thunberg, teenage climate activist, was an appointed successor to Jesus Christ. Pregnant with self-deception and self-importance, such people give birth to the wind and reap the whirlwind. Make sure you are able to recognize such frauds. Make it your 2020 resolution to become better acquainted with God's Word and to read it faithfully each day! This article has been corrected to note that it was a parish in the Church of Sweden and not the Church of Sweden itself that tweeted “Announcement! Jesus of Nazareth has now appointed one of his successors, Greta Thunberg.”...


Forming Adam

For Geoffrey Thomas, my tall friend in Wales, who related an anecdote and gave me the idea. ***** In the craft of sewing, things are often joined together with stitches.  There are a great many different types of stitches - the ladder stitch, the running stitch, the blanket stitch, and the feather stitch, to name but a few.  The straight stitch is the most common stitch used in sewing.  Thread is pushed through two pieces of fabric and pulled until the end knot catches and the cloth comes together.  Straight stitches are used to form unbroken lines. Even so in the craft of predestination: the great Creator of the universe breathes threads of events through lives so that creatures will be drawn tightly to Him, so that they will be conformed to His image in an intricate, but straight pattern.  God's children are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. ***** There was no more butter to be had anywhere.  Vegetables had become a forgotten commodity.  And who could remember the color of cheese?  Meat coupons, coupons which had been rationed out to everyone in the small villages of western Holland, were not worth the paper they were written on, and the bread allotted to the skeletal townsfolk still walking about was a mere 1,400 grams a week.  The grim winter of 1944 had set in and its cold was colder because bodies were so much thinner.  Roads were closed. Railroads were not functioning.  Nothing moved.  There was no food, no fuel, and many families were beginning to burn their furniture and their books in order to keep warm. Luit Adriaan had stopped shaving, had for the most part stopped talking, and had acquired a lifeless hue in his eyes.  His older sister, Ellen, regarded his stubbly, half-bearded face with a certain degree of anger. "You have given up," she said, even as she bent over a pan of water mixed with four grated tulip bulbs, stirring both angrily and persistently as though her very life depended on it. She had handled and peeled those bulbs as if they were precious cargo; had cut them into halves; and had carefully removed the little yellow core at the center that everyone knew was poisonous.  And perhaps her life did depend on this work because the tulip bulb mixture cooking there in the pan of water, together with a single browned onion and a little salt, would be the main and only course of supper that evening. Besides having given up on shaving and talking, Luit Adriaan had also stopped trudging about on the roads, and had given up on knocking at farm doors asking for handouts.  People often shut their door, even locked it, when they saw him coming.  Even more difficult to take than this refusal was the fact that very few people smiled at him.  He knew why.  It was not because there was absolutely nothing left on farm pantry shelves, but it was because during the early months of this year Lux, his brother, had been exposed as collaborating with the Nazis.   Caught and shot by the underground as a traitor, the name Adriaan was steeped in shame.  There was more than one person in the village who attributed the death of a dear one to Lux. Luit sighed deeply leaning his face on top of his hands.  There was something in the dull expression of his eyes that both angered and grieved his sister. "You must not give up," she repeated, although switching her words to a command. Behind her, the kitchen door opened and Nelleke, her sister-in-law, walked in.  Nelleke's belly, which should have been as round as a melon at harvest time, barely dented her apron and made the dark blue maternity dress underneath that apron seem several sizes too large, ill-fitting, and clownish. "There Is some tea," Ellen Adriaan breathed the words softly, even as she moved away from the stove and pulled out a chair from behind the table for Nelleke. Actually, it was not tea but a concoction of sugar beet juice.  She poured the purplish liquid into a teacup and placed it in front of the girl. "Drink," she ordered, "You must drink a lot." Nelleke obediently lifted the cup to her mouth and slowly sipped.  The hot liquid stained her lips.  Then she put the cup back onto the saucer. "Luit," she said to her husband, "Luit, we haven't talked about it but what shall we call the baby if it is a boy?" Luit somberly regarded his wife from his place across the table.  His eyes softened for a moment. "Norbert if it is a boy. Norbert for father.  Father," he added softly, taking his eyes off his wife and addressing his sister for a small moment, "was a good man." Feeling that the sentence was an accusation of sorts, Ellen turned her back on him. "And if it's a girl?" Nelleke asked. "Nora." Nelleke lifted the teacup back to her lips and took another sip.  The kitchen door opened again and Adam walked in.  Adam was nine years old and wavy brown hair, very like that of his Oom Adriaan, fell over his forehead.  But unlike his uncle, his eyes were alive.  On thin but purposeful legs, the child proudly walked over to his Tante Ellen, pulling three dilapidated carrots out of his pocket. "Meneer Ganzeveer gave them to me for you." His voice was eager, rather as if he expected a pat on the head, an approval of sorts.  But she had no comments and did nothing to show the boy that she was pleased with his acquisition. "I think he rather likes you, Ellen." Luit gave his opinion in a half-joking, half-serious manner, adding, "But I think you should be forewarned that he might be a dangerous man.  He reminds me of Lux." Ellen treated his comment as a joke and grimaced, for she secretly admired Mikkel Ganzeveer even though he was suspected of dabbling in the black market. "Sit down, Adam," she said, taking the carrots from her nephew's hands, depositing them on the counter as she spoke, "and you can have some tea too." Adam pulled out a chair next to his Tante Nelleke, who laid her hand on his shoulder and smiled at him when he slid into place.  He smiled back at her. "Soon your baby will be born," he said in a whisper and rather shyly. "It will be your baby too, Adam," she answered, "and I'm sure it will love you." "You will have a small cousin," Luit added, "and that means you will have a great deal of responsibility." "Responsibility?" Adam questioned. "Yes," his uncle said, "because if Tante Nelleke or myself are not there, it will be up to you to take care of the baby." "Not here?  Up to me?" "Yes," his uncle answered, his eyes looking straight into Adam's eyes, "up to you." After a few seconds, he added persistently, "Do you promise that you will look after this baby if you have to, Adam?" His sister made a derisive sound with her tongue.  She liked not this talk.  It was defeatist and it also, she innately realized, put her down. "I promise," Adam said, unable to look away from his uncle's gaze. ***** That night Nora was born.  She weighed very little, and only mewled a pitiful birthing cry.  And God pulled the stitch of that cry straight through that night so that even when it appeared to be a given that the child would not see the light of day, it turned out quite differently.  Tucked away between wool blankets, eyes wide open in a paper-thin, blue-veined face, Nora stared up at her Tante Ellen. However, It was so cold in the bedroom that the water in the washbasin had frozen solid and Ellen Adriaan, although she applied all her midwifery skills, could not keep Nelleke from dying. Luit, hunched over on a chair by his wife's bedside, wept soundlessly, tears rolling down his cheeks.  His hand would not release that of his wife, and his sister had to gently pull it out of the dead woman's clasp. And then Luit died, his head resting on the bed next to his wife's hand.  It seemed almost as if he had waited on the birth before stopping to breathe. ***** Adam was shaken awake by Tante Ellen as he burrowed deep underneath his blankets.  He was dreaming of red apples and yellow pudding and had no wish to be roused.  But Tante Ellen's voice intruded, pushing away the food. "Adam," she whispered urgently, "Adam, you must dress quickly and ..." He was half-asleep and did not comprehend the fact that Tante Ellen's words were hoarse and that the voice which called him from the pleasures of longed-for food was weeping.  But then he was awake as suddenly as if someone had turned on a light switch. "Why?" he questioned, rubbing his eyes. There was another sound besides the sound of her voice - a sound that he did not recognize.  Through sleep-blurred eyes he could make out Tante Ellen's form dimly in the semi-darkness of the room.  She had set a candle on the dresser next to his bed and was holding something in her arms.  That something was making the unfamiliar noise. "This is Nora," Tante Ellen iterated, repeating in a strange, thin voice, "This is Nora." He sat up, the blanket falling off him, and stared.  The chill air brought out goose bumps on his arms. "Nora?" "Tante Nelleke's baby was born a little while ago," his mother went on, "and we must find someone who will feed her or she will..." She stopped and the little bundle moved - moved tiny arms convulsively as if they were striking out at the world. "Can't Tante Nelleke..." Adam stuttered and then his thoughts halted. He instinctively felt that something was very wrong, that Tante Ellen would not be here with the baby unless, unless... "What about Oom Luit?" he whispered. Tante Ellen stared at him for a long moment and then shook her head - shook it slowly before she spoke again. "You must dress, Adam, and dress quickly and warmly.  I know that Coen Jansen's wife had a child a few days ago.  Her child died.  Perhaps she will still have some milk...?" Ellen Adriaan suddenly sat down on the edge of the bed.  There was something dreadful in her eyes which frightened Adam.  He pushed back the covers all the way and swung his feet over the edge of the bed. The cold of the tiled floor woke him thoroughly.  He was dressed in a minimum of time and then, as if possessed by some inner knowledge, bent over and took the child from his Tante's arms. "It's all right.  I will take the baby to the Jansen farm." He left his Tante sitting on the bed and walked down the hallway cradling Nora with one hand and carrying a flashlight with the other.  She stared up at him, eyes dark and large in the tiny face.  He made it to the kitchen and laid the child on the table while he put on his coat and boots.  He then took his uncle's greatcoat off the rack and carefully wrapped the baby in it.  Next he loosely tied a scarf around her tiny face. Picking up both the child and the flashlight, he softly opened the outside door, stepping into the night.  There was a curfew, but he could detect no movement, no people anywhere.  Sheltering Nora's body against his chest and shining the flashlight onto the road ahead of him, he bent his head and began the trek towards the Jansen farm.  He reckoned that it would take him a good three-quarters of an hour. "Please Lord," he prayed as he walked along the snow-encrusted ground, "help me find the way.  Help me and Nora." He was not a praying child.  All the Adriaans were just barely nominal Christians. Lux, Adam's father, had taught his son very little with regard to faith or hope.  He had rarely, if ever, taken him to church.  But the words invoking God fell from Adam's lips as if someone had breathed them into his throat and had pushed them out, and the boy did not know where they had come from. ***** A gander honked somewhere in the barn when Adam finally reached the front yard of the Jansen farm.  He was cold to the marrow and fearful that the baby might have died.  Her face, even underneath the woolen scarf, had acquired a bluish hue and the dark eyes had closed.  The transparent lids had an unearthly quality but they opened at the sound of the consistent honking.  Her eyes peeped up at Adam and as she peeped up, she let out a tiny wail of distress. He whispered down to her, overcome with a powerful emotion that had been growing in him as they walked along the road, "Shh, little one, shh!  We're here.  Don't cry!" She stopped whimpering at the sound of his voice, crinkling her face before sighing deeply.  He smiled though the action hurt him.  The cold had so cruelly bitten into his cheeks, forehead and lips, that he felt any more movement might shatter his face. "Who's out there?" Adam was standing by the side door.  He had been here before, asking for milk for Tante Nelleke. Vrouw Jansen was one farmer's wife who had always been kind.  Perhaps she would be kind now, even though the hour was late and his request passing strange. "It's Adam," he answered in a low voice, "Adam Adriaan." "What do you want at this hour, boy?" The voice was not unfriendly. "I need some help." There was a stumbling sort of noise and a moment later the door opened and Coen Jansen's face studied him in the dark.  "What do you need help with?" Adam did not have to answer.  Nora mewled, kicking within the greatcoat.  Coen Jansen stared as he stood in the doorway in his longjohns.  Then he bent over and peered down into the confines of the coat. "You have a baby in there?" "Yes." "Your Tante Nelleke's baby?" "Yes." “Is she...?" "Yes." "Come in, boy." Coen Jansen led Adam into the warm kitchen, opened the stove, threw a piece of wood onto the smoldering fire of its pot-belly, and stirred with a poker. "Sit down," he commanded before walking out into the hall, and Adam sank into a chair, holding Nora close and feeling exhausted.  She was now making sounds, insistent sounds, and he drew back the scarf, regarding her intently. "You have to make a good impression," he whispered, "so smile if you can." Farmer Jansen strode back into the kitchen. "My wife will be here in a moment," he remarked rather gruffly, "she wants to see the baby.  What is it's name?  Is it a boy or a girl?" "A girl," Adam answered, "and her name is Nora." Coen Jansen sat down opposite Adam.  His eyes were kind. "Here," he said suddenly, "give me the child.  You are frozen through.  Stand next to the stove, lad.  Warm yourself." Adam stood up, handed him the baby and positioned himself next to the stove.  From there he watched the farmer gingerly unwrap Nora from the heavy greatcoat that had been Oom Luit's.  "She is a tiny thing," was all the farmer said just as his wife walked in. Hanneke Jansen was clad in a blue, cotton nightgown, and seemed rather frail with hair falling down her shoulders in two long, brown braids.  Thirty-something, she looked younger, much younger.  Her husband regarded her with a half-smile from his position in the chair, then shifted his gaze down to Nora. "Here is your salvation, little one.  Here is one who is able to feed you." Step by step Hanneke Jansen inched towards her husband. Adam watched intently, momentarily forgetting that he was cold, hungry and tired. "Her breasts are bursting with milk," Coen Jansen went on, still speaking to Nora but now eyeing his wife, "and the Lord has this day provided food for your little lips, food that will leave you satisfied." A sob escaped from Hanneke Jansen's heart. "Do you think so, Coen?" she asked. "Yes," he said, and handed her the small bundle that was Nora as he spoke. She took the baby from his arms and stood quietly, holding Nora without moving.  From his place by the stove Adam could see that Nora's eyes were solemnly fixed on Vrouw Jansen. "I will feed her," the woman finally said to no one in particular, "if she will take my milk." "Ah," answered her husband, "and is this milk yours?" She did not answer but turned and left the kitchen, dandling Nora in her arms as she walked out. "Would you like some bread, Adam?" farmer Jansen asked. Startled Adam nodded.  "Thank you." Coen Jansen got up, speaking as he rose. "You must not mind that my wife did not speak to you.  She is still weak from losing our child three days ago.  We lost two before that... Yet...  if she'd had proper care,...  but no one was here at the time but myself... and so..." He left sentences dangling.  Whether he spoke to the boy or to himself was not obvious.  Adam nodded sagely, but farmer Jansen was not looking at him but busy opening a breadbox as he was speaking and taking out a loaf of bread.  The boy left off nodding and stared.  He'd not seen a loaf of bread for as long as he could remember.  When Coen Jansen placed a plate with two thick slices in front of him, his hands trembled with eagerness to bring the food to his mouth.  The first bite was pure joy and he chewed slowly and carefully for he wanted the moment to last and last.  There was nothing at all in the whole world, he knew with great certainly, that he desired more than this particular mouthful of bread.  Farmer Jansen watched him. "You haven't eaten for a while, have you?" Adam, did not answer until he had swallowed that first bite. "No," he shook his head as he answered, simultaneously letting his hands tear off another small piece. The knowledge that he could chew and swallow all of the bread on the plate in front of him was exquisite. "How would you like to work for me for a while, Adam?" Adam's hand, which was lifted halfway to his mouth, stopped short. "Work for you?" "Yes.  Work.  Work such as clean out the stalls, sweep, and what have you." "And Nora?" "Well, she is too small to be working," Coen Jansen joked, "but I'm fairly certain that my wife is going to want to keep her for a while." And the thread of fabric weaving both Adam's and Nora's life, pulled tighter now, pulled tighter into what was the beginning of a straight line. ***** Ellen Adriaan had no objections whatsoever to her nephew staying and working at the farm, especially when he occasionally brought home some food.  As for Nora remaining with Hanneke Jansen, she shrugged indifferently. "I cannot feed her," she said, "and with Luit and Nelleke gone, she is better off somewhere else." Each time he came home Adam dutifully reported on the progress Nora was making.  But Tante Ellen never appeared to be listening and neither did she ask questions.  Nor did she put forth any effort to see her niece, somehow irrationally blaming the little girl for the deaths of her brother and sister-in-law.  Eventually Adam stopped talking about Nora when he came home. But it was really not a home for him any longer because Mikkel Ganzeveer had moved in and married Tante Ellen as soon as was decently possible after the double funeral. ***** Then the war was almost over.  In the spring of 1945, April 29, to be exact, RAF aircraft took off from England to take part in the first of several missions to drop food on the starving people of Holland.  This operation, which was referred to as “Operation Manna” was explained to Adam by Coen Jansen as they cleaned out the barn together. "Do you know which Bible story speaks about bread called manna dropping down from heaven for God's people?" he asked the boy. Adam shook his head.  He was not too familiar with any Bible stories, although he was becoming more acquainted with some of them as Coen and Hanneke Jansen faithfully read the Bible out loud after each meal.  Adam liked listening and thought a great deal about what he heard.  Had the manna been wrapped in paper and put in packages - packages like the planes dropped?  He knew that the Allied planes flew at very low levels for the food drop-offs because the amount of silk required to make parachutes for the parcels was not available.  The planes simply opened their bomb doors and free-dropped the food over designated areas.  Thousands of people saw the food parcels drop.  They were supposed to watch from the safety of their homes, from behind their windows.  This they had been instructed to do by the authorities.  But tremendously excited at the prospect of food and regardless of the orders, many people ran outdoors to see the food dropped firsthand and they cheered for the airplanes from their places in the streets and in the fields.  Adam thought about the Dutch people's disobedience to the authorities and he superimposed it on the story of the Israelites and their journey through the desert.  Coen Jansen had recounted the story to him several times now and he believed everything Coen told him for he had begun to love the man who continued to be most kind to himself and to Nora. Adam wondered if the Israelites had scanned the heavens for food and speculated whether or not they had been overcome with excitement as multiple packages descended on them - packages containing bread and meat.  Coen had actually not mentioned whether the Israelites had been allowed to watch and to cheer.  Or whether they had only been allowed to peek out from behind tent flaps. Adam went on to consider whether or not God had also been personally responsible for the food parcels that had landed in the cities of Leiden, the Hague, Rotterdam, and Gouda.  Surely if God had sent manna to hungry people in the desert, He could also have sent food to people in Holland.  After eating the gifted food, the Israelite people had not been very grateful, if Adam understood the matter correctly, and things had not ended well for all of them.  Should he, therefore, thank God for these packages dropped by the air force? - packages of dried eggs and milk, beans, meat and chocolate?  Just in case?  He distinctly remembered his heartfelt prayer to God on the night he had taken Nora over to the Jansen's.  God had heard that prayer.  Or would he have gotten to the farm safely anyway without the prayer?  Life was full of questions.  Overriding all of them, however, was the fact that he was happy at the Jansen farm; that he was thankful that his little cousin Nora was thriving; and that he did not miss Tante Ellen in the least. After the war, neither Adam nor Nora moved back to live with Ellen Adriaan, who was now Ellen Ganzeveer.  Mikkel Ganzeveer had carefully pointed out to his new bride that the advantages the children would receive by staying on at the farm overrode the disadvantages that would arise should they come back. He smoothly asserted that the Jansens appeared to be happy with Adam and Nora.  With no children of their own, it would be cruel to take them away.  Besides that, food was still in short supply and Adam and Nora now had access to both food and fresh country air.  There was logic in what Mikkel said and the truth was that Ellen wanted nothing more than to put a great distance between herself and that which had taken place during the war.  Adam was part of that.  His surname was Adriaan, a name spit upon by many local people, and a name Ellen wanted erased from her past and her memory.  And so the children stayed on at the Jansen farm. ***** At the end of the summer, at the onset of the school year, Coen Jansen sent Adam, who had turned ten in August, to the local school, a Christian school. "School will be good for you," he said to the boy, "you have to learn many things if you ever want to run a farm of your own."   He added softly, "and that is what I would want a son of mine to do - to go to school and do his best." Adam had nodded solemnly and obediently.  He had always liked learning and had a quick mind.  Punctual and cheerful in the farm chores Coen assigned to him, he also faithfully watched out for his little niece whom he loved devotedly.  Ever mindful of the promise he had made to his Oom Luit, he played with Nora, sang to her and often rocked her to sleep.  The only crack in Adam's existence was that he did not get on with the grade five teacher. Mr. Legaal was a middle-aged man, short of stature, temper and patience.  He knew, as most of the townsfolk did, that Adam's father had been a collaborator.  But Mr. Legaal, unlike most people, held it personally against the boy.  Not a single child in the classroom blamed him for that.  Behind hands it was whispered that Mr. Legaal's oldest son had been killed in a Nazi raid in which Adam's father was suspected to have been involved. ***** There were Bible lessons each day.  Mr. Legaal paced back and forth in front of the class flicking a wooden ruler against the side of his right leg as he told stories from Scripture.  He was a good storyteller.  Every now and then he stopped to ask questions.  He often singled out Adam and Adam knew this was because he usually did not know the answer to the questions and was thus made to look foolish. "Who was the first man, Adam?" "Adam was the first man." All the children were aware of Mr. Legaal's prejudice against Adam and they had, for the most part, taken the teacher's side.  After all, who hadn't hated the Nazis? "What happened to Adam?" "He... he fell into sin." Unfamiliar with Biblical phraseology, Adam was hesitant.  To fall was to trip, to slip.  You slipped on the stairs, you slipped in ill-fitting shoes and you fell on the ground.  Was sin in the ground?  But he knew from past experience, even as these thoughts passed through his mind, that this was the answer Mr. Legaal was looking for. "What is your name, Adam?" "My name is Adam, sir." "Have you fallen into sin as well?" From where he was standing in the aisle, Adam looked down at his desk.  He peered into the deep, black recess of his inkwell.  You always had to stand up when speaking to the teacher.  He knew Mr. Legaal expected him to answer yes, but he did not totally understand why the answer should be yes.  So he did not answer.  Mr. Legaal walked down the aisle and stopped in front of him, his ever-present ruler mechanically slapping the side of his grey trousers.  He went on speaking. "Often those who sin do not repent of their sin.  Do you know what happens to those who do not repent of sin, Adam?" Adam could feel his cheeks flush but he still did not answer, concentrating his gaze on the ink well.  You could write good things with black ink.  How curious was that? The boy in the desk behind him snickered. ”I think that any student in this room could easily give the answer to this question, Adam.  Those who do not repent go to hell." The ruler stopped tapping the pant leg and Mr. Legaal turned around, away from Adam, to stride back towards the front of the class.  "I think it would be good for you to reflect on the judgment of God, Adam.  I want you to stay after school and copy a Bible passage I have marked out for you." Adam sighed.  Hanneke Jansen, or Tante Hanneke as she wanted to be called, would once more be waiting in vain by the school playground with Nora sitting in the stroller.  And he would not be in time to help Coen in the barn. ***** The text which Mr. Legaal deposited in front of Adam in clear, concise handwriting, and which he had to copy twenty-five times, read: "For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me." As Mr. Legaal sat at his desk correcting work, Adam mechanically wrote out the words, wrote them out over and over.  A jealous God?  Of what was He jealous?  And how did one visit iniquity?  He used to visit Tante Ellen regularly, but she had never been happy to see him.  He missed his Oom Luit.  Oom Luit had been a good man - a man he would have followed had he been a soldier.  Adam's thoughts scratched about in his head even as the nib of his pen scratched the paper.  There was really no one now to whom, or with whom, he belonged.  There was Nora, of course.  She crawled after him and overtop of him on the kitchen linoleum when he played with her after supper each night.  And Coen and “Tante Hanneke,” he grimaced as he addressed her this way in his head, had never given him cause to doubt their affection for him.  It was just that “Tante Hanneke” sounded a lot like Tante Nelleke.  Tante Nelleke was not there anymore either and she had truly loved him.  Coen Jansen had told Adam that he would be pleased to be on a first-name basis with him. Adam smudged the word “fathers,” the ink making a dark spot.  He sighed.  Mr. Legaal would be sure to comment that he had been careless and there was no doubt but that he would tell him he must write it out again.  Consequently he added a twenty-sixth line to the second page of his remedial homework. "Are you ready yet, boy?" "Yes, sir." He stood up and trudged up the aisle, his footsteps sounding awkward and hollow in the empty classroom.  Laying the papers on the desk in front of his teacher, he waited. "You've blotched a word here, Adam." "Yes, sir." Mr. Legaal slid the papers across the desk back to the lad. "Write it out one more time." "I already did, sir.  You can count it out.  There are twenty-six lines on the sheets." "Read the text for me, Adam." And Adam read: "For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me." "Do you think your father hated God, Adam?" "I don't know, sir." "You don't know?" "No, sir.  He never spoke of it." "Hatred or love comes out in what we do, Adam.  Do you not know what your father did?" Mr. Legaal's voice was even and unemotional, but his eyes, cool and grey, contemplated Adam with disdain. And Adam remembered with a certain amount of pain in his stomach, that his father had never spoken to him of anything that he did or did not do; that his father had never included him in any conversation; that his father had only had conversations with him when ordering him to do something such as “Get me a drink” or “Clean up the dishes.”  Only Oom Luit and Tante Nelleke had been kind.  But now they were both gone. "He...," the boy faltered, seeing the demanding face of his father metamorphose into that of Mr. Legaal, "my father... he went out and I don't know what he did." Mr. Legaal smirked, "Fine father he was." Adam looked down at the floor. "You may go, boy." And Adam went. ***** Coen and Hanneke did not ask why Adam had to stay late or why he had to write lines.  The truth was that they guessed things were not very easy for Adam at school but they hoped that time would show his classmates that the boy was earnest, well-behaved and kind.  And Adam told no one his problems but the gander that Coen kept in the barnyard.  It was a wild greylag and Coen had successfully domesticated it as a sort of guard dog. "Geese," he had told Adam, "have a loud call and are sensitive to unusual movements.  He'll let me know if anyone or anything comes on the property.  That's how I knew you were there the first night you came to us." “Really?" Adam had asked rather doubtfully, eyeing the proud animal as it waddled around the yard, orange beak lifted up as if it owned the world, adding hopefully, "Wouldn't you like a dog to do that for you?" "Tante Hanneke doesn't want a dog," Coen answered, "A dog sat on her once when she was little and she just doesn't want one." "Oh," Adam answered, a trifle disappointed. But for some reason Hugo, the gander, took a grand liking to Adam.  It sought him out when the boy crossed the farmyard and inexplicably followed him from place to place.  The bird even tolerated Adam's hand as he stroked the greyish-brown plumage, often emitting loud honks if the boy sang songs he had learned in school. “I think Hugo either feels you have bad taste in music or he thinks you are a gander too," Coen joked. "He won't migrate, will he?" Adam asked. "No, I've clipped his wings.  He'll stay the winter." It was late fall, moving towards winter and Adam had seen large flocks pass overhead as they flew southward.  Their flight calls, a loud series of repeated deep honking, was audible for miles and Hugo's brown eyes, it seemed to Adam, were forlorn at such times. "Does he want to go?" "I think not.  He has it far too good here.  His own small pond, lots of feed, and he has you." "Will you ever get a female goose for him?" "Perhaps next year," Coen said, "Who knows?" ***** As the days edged towards Christmas, there were advent sermons on Sundays.  Usually Adam went along to one of the two services in the church which Tante Hanneke and Coen attended.  He did not understand much of the sermons, but liked sitting in the bench with Coen, sharing a peppermint or two, and feeling a sense of peace.  But if someone had asked him, he would not have been able to put this feeling into words. The other service he babysat Nora, and Coen went to church with Tante Hanneke. Nora was growing, almost walking, and her favorite word, much to Adam's delight, was “Adah.” The child was beautiful and resembled Nelleke.  Black ringlets framed an oval face; huge, blue eyes sparkled underneath curling eyelashes; and two dimples appeared whenever she laughed, which was often.  Tante Hanneke, Coen and Adam all doted on her. ***** Late one evening, Adam woke up with a great thirst and got up to get a drink of water.  Passing Tante Hanneke's and Coen's bedroom, he could not help but overhear. "We have to take steps for adoption." It was Tante Hannek's voice and Coen's reply, in a lower timber, was almost impossible to discern.  Adam shuffled on in his slippers, towards the kitchen.  Adoption, what was adoption?  He looked it up in the classroom dictionary the next day and read:  “Adoption: formal legal process to adopt a child.'  He went up the page to the word “adopt” and read: “to raise a child of other biological parents as if it were your own, in accordance with formal legal procedure.” During the ensuing school hours Adam thought much about the adoption definition and what it could mean - thought so much that Mr. Legaal gave him lines.  "I must not daydream" was copied fifty times during recess.  But when he sludged home that day through the thin, wet skiff of snow that lay on the ground, he continued to wonder - to wonder if Tante Hanneke had been speaking about Nora or about himself, or about both of them.  It would make more sense if her words had referred to Nora.  Nora was, after all, only a baby and she didn't know any better but that it was Coen and Tante Hanneke who were her parents.  She was already calling Tante Hanneke “mama” and Adam found that he did not mind that in the least. It was clear to him that Tante Ellen did not want Nora.  Neither did she want him.  Not that he minded. Tante Ellen made him increasingly uncomfortable by totally ignoring him when he saw her. He slid on the snow.  Geese flew overhead.  He stared up at them.  Geese were free.  He had read once that geese mated for life.  Loyalty seemed a beautiful thing to Adam.  Hugo, if he ever got a mate, would stay true.  Geese were loyal.  He'd reached the farmyard now and Hugo, silhouetted against the barn door, honked and waddled over towards him. ***** That evening Coen Jansen began reading the Gospel of Matthew after the meal.  Nora sleepily hung back in her highchair, eyes half-closed. It was warm in the kitchen.  Adam yawned behind his hand.  He scanned the room and remembered the first time he'd sat down in the leather chair next to the stove. He could see himself sitting there even as Coen was reading the genealogy - names and names and more names.  Adam saw the names floating around in the air as if they were music notes.  All these names must have had faces at some point - faces and lives. "... the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat..." What a strange name that was.  His mother must have had some time calling him in for chores.  “Jehoshaphat!  Come here!” "... the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon." "What's deportation, Coen?" Adam knew he was allowed to interrupt to ask questions. Coen had made that very clear at the onset of his stay here. "Deportation is," Coen began, furrows lining his brow as he formulated the answer, "being sent away from where you live." "Oh," Adam responded, "you mean that I was deported from Tante Ellen's house." He noted that Tante Hanneke threw Coen a look.  The look was almost angry. "No," she said, "No, it's not like that at all." Adam appeared slightly puzzled and she went on a bit irrationally - went on as color rose in her cheeks. "Well, you weren't sent away from your home. You must not think of it like that.  You just have to remember that we really wanted you to stay with us.  The deported people Coen was reading about were disobedient and God punished them by sending them away.  You  were not ..." She stopped abruptly and smiled at him before she added, "Do you see?" "Yes," Adam replied, although he did not really see, but he told himself that he would think about it. Coen went on reading, after exchanging another look with his wife. "And after the deportation to Babylon, Jeconiah..." Nora began to whine.  Tante Hanneke lifted her up out of the highchair and settled the child on her lap.  Thumb in her mouth, Nora smiled a drooly smile at Adam.  He grinned back. "... and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary of whom Jesus was born..." Jesus, that was the Son of God.  Jesus, that was in whose name Coen always prayed and was teaching him, Adam to pray.  “You must say ‘for Jesus sake', Adam, at the end of every prayer.”  So he did.  It was enough for him that Coen said so. Coen never lied. "... Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.  When His mother Mary had been betrothed..." "What's betrothed, Coen?" "Betrothed is like being engaged.  You know that time when a boy gives a ring to a girl because he wants her to be his wife." "You have to give a ring to a girl if you want to marry her?" Coen and Tante Hanneke smiled simultaneously. "Well," Coen said, "that's usually what's done." "Did Tante Ellen get a ring from Mikkel Ganzeveer?" "Probably," was all Tante Hanneke would answer. "When his mother Mary," Coen repeated, turning back to the Bible, "had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit, and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly." "Where did the child come from?" There was no answer for a few moments.  There was only the crackling of the wood in the stove and the wet sound of Nora noisily sucking her thumb. "The Child," Coen began, "that is to say, Jesus, came from heaven." "You said," Adam interposed, "that heaven is a good place.  You said last night that it was better than any place on earth." "Yes," Coen nodded, "that's true." "Well, then," Adam went on, "why did Jesus leave it?" "He left it so that you and I could go to it." Adam's face was blank and Coen continued. "Well, we can't go to heaven if we are dirty, that is to say, sinful.  Remember that we talked about sin the other day? God can't abide sinfulness.  So Jesus left heaven to make us clean.  He became a human being like you and I; He lived the perfect life that you and I could not live." They were just so many words to Adam.  He understood that he did bad things.  He knew that deep within himself he was not good.  He didn't know why this knowledge was in him, but it was.  Falling into sin, that's what Mr. Legaal had spoken of in the classroom.  But for Adam the discussions were more or less like falling into a sea of words and drowning in their meaning without being able to come up for air.  It was too much. "Why didn't God just make our sins go away," he responded, "Wouldn't that be easier than leaving heaven, and besides that, He can do anything, can't He?" "Yes, He can," Tante Hanneke came into the conversation, "but He chose to do it this way. The Bible tells us that He took on our flesh.  The Word, that is Jesus, became flesh and lived among us. We have seen His glory... I think," she added thoughtfully, "that because Jesus became a baby, and grew into a child, who grew into man, Who died for us, we can see Him more clearly as one of us, and we are impelled to follow Him." "Impelled?" "Well, that means we have to.  We just can't help it." "Become like us?" Adam said, "But why would He want to come to a place like our town where so many people..." He didn't finish.  He never divulged the painful moments at school; never spoke of the secret kicks, the snide remarks, and the multiple snubs that were his daily fare.  Coen closed the Bible. "If He hadn't come to earth," Tante Hanneke repeated, patting Nora on the back, "the disciples wouldn't have seen Him, and then they wouldn't have been able to tell us about Him, and then we would not have been able to follow Him." "But why couldn't we have followed Him without Him coming here?" Coen cleared his throat, preparing to answer, but no words came out "I wouldn't have come to earth if I were Jesus," Adam finished, "and that's the truth." Suddenly embarrassed that he had said too much, he shrugged and stared at Nora, pulling a silly face.  Nora took the thumb out of her mouth and laughed out loud, dimples showing.  Then she began to cry and Tante Hanneke motioned that Coen should finish off by praying, it was time for bed. ***** A few days later, on a Sunday afternoon walk through the woods with Hugo by his side, Adam noticed that someone or something, was following closely behind him.  There were noises like branches breaking and it seemed that the trees overhead were whispering.  He turned sharply at one point, only to see two boys run to hide behind a bush. He stood still for a minute but they did not come out and he resumed his walk at a quicker pace. Hugo, trotting in and out of the bushes, picked up speed as well. Then a rock hit the back of Adam’s head just above the nape of his neck.  It hurt and he did not know if he should stop, stay his ground and have it out with his pursuers, or keep on walking.  If he stayed, the boys might hurt Hugo.  On the other hand, Hugo was a good fighter. He had seen the gander hiss and snarl and spread his wings at the goat when the animal had playfully butted too close for Hugo's comfort. It began to snow, and Hugo, unaware of any danger, honked his contentment.  He delighted in cold weather.  Adam reached his right hand up to gingerly touch his head where he could begin to feel the swelling of a bruise. "Hurt you, did we boy?" It was the voice of Herman, a boy in his class.  Adam recognized it.  He decided to stop and turned around. Herman was not alone.  Kees Legaal, the son of Mr. Legaal, was with him.  Kees was also in Adam's class.  There was a rock in Kees' hand and in a swinging motion he lifted it above his head, making as if to throw it.  Hugo had halted as well.  The bird, sensing the tension in Adam, suddenly stood up straight next to the boy, puffing out his chest, and spreading his wings. "Hey, look at that dumb goose." "It's a gander," Adam replied, "and he's not dumb." "Oh, no?  Well, watch him fall down." Kees threw his rock, but the missile went awry as Hugo simultaneously streaked towards the boys, hissing in a frightful manner.  Reaching them, he began to peck and bite, going for legs, arms and bellies.  For a moment Adam was transfixed with pride.  Hugo was protecting him. Then he called out: "Hugo.  It's all right.  Hugo, come home with me." The gander, after a few more seconds of nipping sharply at his prey, stood still.  His frightened quarry turned tail and ran. Kees ran helter-skelter down the road but Herman disappeared to the left. The left turn was a mistake.  Crashing through several layers of bushes, not watching where he was going, he ran headlong into Zonnemeer, a small but deep pond covered with a thickening but treacherous coating of ice.  Adam could hear Herman falling; could hear the sound of ice cracking; and then he heard the sound of water splashing, water swallowing.  Next to him, Hugo was nibbling on some snow, looking remarkably unconcerned and innocent.  Losing no time, Adam followed the boy's trail, until he reached the edge of the pond. Herman's head was visible where he had fallen through in the ice and his eyes looked shocked and scared.  There were several feet of unbroken ice between the edge of the pond and the spot where he had fallen through.  Although Adam's first instinct was to run out onto the ice to help, he was extremely conscious of the treacherous instability of the surface of the pond. "It's all right, Herman," he shouted, "stay calm." The boy began to cry and Adam prayed, and he prayed out loud, "Please God, let me help Herman so that he will be all right, for Jesus sake." A calmness came over him. "Lift your elbows out of the water," he said clearly, remembering what Coen had told him to do should he ever fall into one of the many ponds in the area, "and rest them on the edge of the ice where you fell in, and breathe in deeply and slowly." He took off his woolen scarf, a red one that Tante Hanneke had knit for him, and measured it.  It was a long scarf and would perhaps do the trick if he would be able to get just a little closer to Herman.  He gingerly stepped out onto the ice.  It held him and appeared solid. Herman never took his eyes off Adam even as Adam tied a loop at the end of the scarf.  Perhaps if Herman's hands were too cold to hold the scarf, he could put the loop around his elbows.  Prepared to throw the red rescue line, he heard the snow behind him crunch.  It was Kees who had come back to see what happened to his friend.  Panicking upon seeing him in the pond, he stood rooted at the edge. "Herman," he shouted, "don't drown." "If you want to help," Adam said, "hold my hand while I throw the scarf out to him." Kees nodded and slid onto the ice behind Adam.  Adam held out his left hand and Kees took it.  The whole scene felt surreal to Adam, almost as if he were dreaming.  And perhaps, he reasoned within himself, he was dreaming and in a few moments would wake up in his bed at the Jansen farm.  But Hugo honked from the pond's edge, and he supposed that such a loud honking would never take place in a dream.  He felt Kees' stiffen at the approach of the gander. "It's all right," he reassured the boy, "Hugo won't hurt you.  He's just watching to see what I'm doing." Kees didn't answer.  He merely nodded and shivered.  Adam carefully took aim and threw the scarf across the ice towards Herman.  Herman had closed his eyes now. "Herman," Adam called out, "open your eyes and try to get hold of the scarf.  We're going to try and pull you out of the water." Herman opened his eyes and slowly reached for the scarf with his right hand. "That's it," Adam shouted encouragingly, "reach just a bit further.  You almost have it." Herman seemed to be moving in slow motion.  His hand was almost on top of the scarf and then his fingers took hold of the wool.  Clamping down on the red, his other arm rose out of the water and followed the first. "Good," Adam called out, and Kees joined him, "That's good Herman.  You can do it.  Grab it with both hands." Herman managed the feat and both of his hands were now wrapped up in the wool. "I'm going to pull slowly but will need both my arms," Adam cautioned Kees, "so let go of my hand but hold on to my coat." Kees did as Adam instructed him and Adam began to strain as hard as he could.  At first, there was no movement although Herman's arms were now flat on the ice in front of him grasping the scarf.  But then his body began to shift upward.  Slowly the boy emerged from the water.  His eyes were closed again.  As soon as his belly slid onto the ice, Adam was able to step back. "Here," he said to Kees, "help me pull now.  You can let go of my coat and grab the scarf.  Pull as hard as you can.  We'll get him out together." All this time Hugo was waddling back and forth on the land behind them, honking fiercely every few minutes.  Kees took hold of the scarf as well, and began to lend his weight to the taut line.  And bit by bit Herman was drawn closer, and drawn onto the shore.  His clothing was sopped through and through.  Adam took off his own coat and undid the buttons on Herman's coat. "Help me, Kees," he said, "Help me take his coat off and then we have to get him to walk, or run, so he doesn't ..." "I know," Kees responded, and knelt down beside his friend. Together they managed to take off the boy's coat and get Adam's coat wrapped around him. "Stand up, Herman," Adam said, "You have to walk now.  I know you feel tired but you have to walk." He slapped Herman's face.  The boy opened his eyes. "I'm so cold," he whispered. "I know," Kees answered, "and soon we'll be home and we'll get you totally warm by the stove.  But you have to get up and start walking or..." To their surprise, Herman sat up and attempted to rise.  Kees and Adam both put hands under his armpits and helped him up. "Good," Adam said, "very good work, Herman.  Now walk with us." Herman obeyed - obeyed as if he were a robot - and the three began their trek back to the village. "My house is closest," Kees said after they had been walking for some five minutes which seemed like five hundred, "so we should stop there.  I'm afraid..." ***** They reached Kees' house after another ten minutes walking.  Herman had ceased to talk.  He just mechanically moved his legs forward.  His eyes were shut again.  Kees ran up to the front door and yelled for his father.  Adam had both arms wrapped around Herman who was leaning heavily against him.  Mr. Legaal appeared in the door.  His eyes took in the situation and he immediately told Kees to start warming hot water bottles, as well as call for his mother to get some hot drink ready. Meanwhile he ran outside on his stocking feet, positioned himself on the other side of Herman and helped guide him towards the door, towards the warmth of the house.  Mr. Legaal said nothing to Adam during this time and Adam spoke no word to him.  Hugo was still on the road, honking dejectedly. When they got to the door, Mr. Legaal finally broke the silence between them. "You can go now," he said to Adam, "I'll take care of Herman." And Adam, after a final look at Herman who was still wearing his coat, went. ***** The wind had picked up in force and miniscule ice pellets fell. It would be Christmas on Wednesday.  Adam loved the songs that Tante Hanneke hummed as she prepared meals and as she went about the house.  He also loved the songs he was learning in school. To take his mind off the stinging ice that hit his face, he tried to sing one after leaving Mr. Legaal's house. But his voice would not obey his thoughts.  His hands were numb and reaching for the pockets of his coat, remembered that he was not wearing a coat.  He stamped his feet as he walked.  Hugo had half-flown, half-waddled ahead of him down the road.  He was trailing his right wing but seemed set on going home quickly.  Adam watched him until the bird disappeared around a bend.  There was a loneliness settling within him.  It was like the frost that had cruelly nipped at his cheeks the night he had carried Nora, only this cold was tugging and nipping at his heart.  The Jansen farm was ahead and he was glad of it for he did not think he could keep walking much longer.  Tante Hanneke would ask where his coat was and what would he say?  He had begun to shiver and although he tried very hard not to shiver he could not help the uncontrollable shakes that seized him every few seconds.  If he could just sit by the stove for a bit, just for ten minutes or so, with no one speaking to him, it seemed to him that he would be all right.  The door was in front of him and he stared at it, unable to reach for the handle. "Adam." It was Coen's voice and it came from behind him.  He moved his head to see where exactly Coen was, but then everything went dark and he slid down, down into a pond of treacherous ice, blackness and night. ***** When Adam opened his eyes, he was lying in bed and Tante Hanneke was sitting in a chair by his side.  She was knitting, knitting something red - perhaps another scarf?  He closed his eyes again and wiggled his toes in delicious warmth.  How good it was to be wrapped up within a house, within a bed and to have someone sitting by your side who loved you.  He reopened his eyes and this time Tante Hanneke stopped her knitting and laid it down in her lap. "You're awake, Adam?" He smiled a weak smile in agreement. "That's good.  You had me very worried for a while.  You have quite a lump on the back of your head.  Where have you been?" There was no reproach in her voice.  It was just a question.  He smiled again trying to remember where he had been.  He vaguely recalled the walk with Hugo by his side.  And there were boys - Herman and Kees.  And there was the pond.  He closed his eyes and sighed. "I was," he began, and to his own surprise, he could not continue, but started to weep. Tante Hanneke laid her knitting on the floor and sat on the edge of the bed.  She took his hands in her own and rubbed them gently. "Never mind," she said, "it doesn't matter.  What matters is that you are home safely and that I love you." "I'm home," Adam whispered, and then he fell asleep again. ***** When he awoke for the second time, it was because there was noise of some sort in the hallway.  There were voices.  He recognized the voices but could not put a name on them.  A minute later the door to his bedroom opened and Tante Hanneke walked in.  She was followed by Mr. Legaal who was followed by Coen.  They all looked serious.  Adam wished he could put his head under the covers, but his whole body felt paralyzed.  Tante Hanneke smiled reassuringly at him, and sat down on the edge of the bed. "You have a visitor, Adam." She spoke the words even as she took hold of his right hand. "Hello, Adam." Mr. Legaal mouthed his greeting in a clipped manner, and Adam half expected him to produce a ruler and begin hitting his leg with it.  He did not answer.  His mind might have woken up but his voice was still sleeping and unwilling to awaken. "I came over," Mr. Legaal went on, "to tell you that I'm very thankful you brought Herman to my house this afternoon.  It was a good thing you did, Adam." Behind his teacher's frame, Adam could see Coen smiling cheerfully.  But his own mouth would not smile back. "You know, Adam," and Mr. Legaal's voice became rather low, as if he was having trouble enunciating words, "I made you copy out lines at the beginning of the school year, lines from Deuteronomy five." Tante Hanneke raised her eyebrows and looked at Coen, who shrugged behind Mr. Legaal's shoulders. "The words were," Mr. Legaal hoarsely went on, "For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me." Both of Tante Hanneke's hands now enclosed Adam's right hand and she sighed. "But," the teacher continued, as his eyes now fully met Adam's, "I neglected the second part of that text which reads, 'but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments.'" It was very quiet in the bedroom.  Adam could hear his own heartbeat and felt it pulse in his temples.  "You are one of the thousands, Adam, and I am sorry if I ..." Mr. Legaal turned sharply, almost bumped into Coen and, passing him, made his departure. Coen cleared his throat.  Tante Hanneke cleared hers as well. "Your teacher," Coen began, "told me what happened this afternoon, Adam." Adam nodded.  He was weary and actually wanted to go to sleep again.  But he did wonder if Hugo had come home.  He did not remember seeing the bird in the farmyard when he came back from his walk.  But then there were a number of things in his head that were fuzzy. "Hugo?" he asked. "His right wing is a bit sprained.  I've put him in a pen by himself for a few days.  He's fine though, or will be in a day or two, and he is as bossy as ever." Adam smiled and drifted off again. ***** Though he was pampered for the next few days, Tante Hanneke did not judge him quite well enough to go to the special Christmas Eve service.  He protested, albeit weakly, that she should not worry and that he felt up to the walk, but she would not hear of it. "It looks like snow," she said, "and I want you to stay nice and warm inside.  And that's an order." "I don't want you to miss the special service for me," he said, "so I'll stay home only if you go to church." Coen had nodded in agreement. "Adam is right, Hanneke," he said, "He's well enough to watch Nora and the two of us can go together." Tante Hanneke had not truly wanted to leave him, but she had conceded the battle.  Dressed warmly the two of them had left for church after supper. ***** It had begun to snow ever so lightly. After he put Nora to bed, Adam stood by the kitchen window and watched the flakes dance. They illumined briefly as they swirled past the glow of the lantern swinging from the front porch.  It was fascinating and for a long while Adam felt unable to take his eyes away.  Then the flurries grew thicker and the wind picked up, faintly howling through the trees.  Adam shivered, pulled the curtains shut and sat down in Coen's big chair.  How different things were now as compared to last year.  He could see himself standing in front of the stove, could see Coen take the baby from his arms, and he could see Tante Hanneke walk through the kitchen door in her nightgown, braids hanging over her shoulders.  And now he lived here - now this was his home.  Yawning contentedly, he leaned back and closed his eyes.  There was only the one thing, just one thing, which worried him now.  And that was the concern he saw reflected in Tante Hanneke's eyes when he prayed at night. "Do you believe, Adam," she had asked him but the day before yesterday, the day that Mr. Legaal had come, and the day that he had been so tired and despondent, "that Jesus came down from heaven to save you?" There had been a pleading in her brown eyes, and he had been tempted to say, "Of course I do." But he was unable to bring the words forward for they were not in his heart. So he had answered her with "I can't," only to see a sadness diffuse her eyes.  He added, trying once more to explain his dilemma, "I don't know why Jesus would come here and become human.  Why would He want to be like us?  Why would He have to do that if He truly is God?" She had replied, as she had done before, "Because He loves us.  Because He knew that we would follow Him more easily if He became one of us. " Then she turned away but he could hear her softly murmuring, "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, full of grace and truth.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." It was a verse Adam had memorized in school this last month, but had not quite understood.  He opened his eyes again.  He wished that God would knock at the door and explain it to him.  He wished the answer would come to him in the lantern light with the snowflakes.  Nora half-whimpered in her bedroom and he got up.  But when he reached the crib, she was sleeping, thumb in her mouth, curls askew on the sheet.  He gazed at her for a long time, remembering his promise to Oom Luit.  Stroking her cheek, he caught himself humming a Bach melody - a melody which Tante Hanneke called a Christmas lullaby. "O Savior sweet, O Savior mild, Who came to earth a little child..."  Adam felt confused by the words.  He stopped humming and tip-toed out, making his way back to the chair. As he settled in, pulling his sock-feet up and snuggling against the leather side, there was a loud thump against the window. Then another. Instinctively he slid out of the chair and lay flat on the ground.  It was a reflex movement, a movement left over from the war.  There were more sounds outside, but they were not the sounds of airplanes overhead, sounds he still heard in bad dreams.  Slowly sitting up, he crawled over to the window on his knees.  Past the curtain's edge the yard was veiled in white and barely visible.  The snowfall had become much heavier.  Through the periodic gusting, his eyes met a very strange sight.  A number of geese were wandering around the pathway leading to the door.  Then squalls of white obliterated them from his sight. Adam rubbed the windowpane, trying to see more clearly.  Where would these geese have come from?  Had they been on their way south and been disoriented by this sudden storm?  He spotted two of them close to the window, flapping their wings rather wildly and aimlessly.  They were running around in circles.  He wished Coen and Tante Hanneke were home but, because of the weather, maybe it would be very late before they would be back.  Should he go outside and help the birds?  He rubbed the pane again and strained his eyes.  Between the paroxysms of the wind coughing the snow past the window, Adam thought he could count at least seven geese.  Was Hugo with them?  No, Coen had put Hugo in a pen.  Perhaps if he opened the barn door, the birds might go in and find shelter instead of flying about in such a haphazard fashion. Before venturing outside, Adam went to the bread board and cut off several slices of bread.  He doubted whether scattering the bread would make the birds follow him, but just in case...  Carefully dividing the bread into small pieces, he stuffed them inside his pants pocket.  Then thinking for a moment, he went to his bedroom and took the flashlight out of the drawer next to his bed.  Then he walked back to the kitchen, put on his coat, his red scarf, his boots and then his mittens.  Listening intently for a moment to satisfy himself as to whether or not Nora was still asleep, he stepped into the hallway and opened the door to the yard. Honkings and hissings swirled with the wind and whirled about with the snow.  Quickly stepping outside, he closed the door behind him.  Oh, to be Hugo for a moment and convey to these birds in goose language that they could follow him! Treading out a path on the snow with his boots, he dropped bread pieces and made his way to the barn.  Would they follow?  Initially, it seemed not.  Then one of them picked at a piece of bread and nosed forward for another.  But the next moment a particularly heavy blast of wind blew him and a number of bread crumbs out of Adam's sight and when he could see again, the bird had wandered off in a different direction.  Reaching the barn, he opened the door and turned on the flashlight, shining it into the doorway.  Not one bird in the entire gaggle paid any attention.  He walked back into the middle of the group. "Follow me," he pleaded, "there's lots of straw and I can give you some chicken feed too." Although honkings and flappings encircled him, none of the geese even came close to his outstretched hands.  They were wary of him and afraid.  He was not one of them. "Perhaps if I carry Hugo outside," he spoke to himself, "they might follow him.  After all, he is a real goose and I'm not." Trudging back to the barn, it took him a few minutes to locate the spot where Coen had placed Hugo's pen. The gander sat quietly, brown eyes wide open, watching him.  Adam felt a pang of conscience that he had not come to see him earlier. "Hello, Hugo," he said, "how are you?" The bird honked softly. "I'd like you to do me a favor," Adam went on, "There are a lot of geese outside, lost in the snow.  I thought you might show them the way to the barn because you, after all, Hugo, are a goose just like them and they will follow you." He opened the pen door and Hugo waddled out, making straight for the open barn door. "That's it, Hugo," Adam encouraged, "That's it.  You're doing fine!!" Hugo turned for one second at the door, dark brown eyes shining, his right wing hanging limply by his side.  Then he turned his grey head and walked on, disappearing into the white.  Adam ran after him, and reaching the barn opening, initially could see nothing but heaving snow.  Then something half-flew, half-darted perilously close past his head into the barn.  It was Hugo, fan-shaped tail dragging wearily behind him.   Following Hugo's lead while honking wildly and flying in a straight line, the seven geese streaked past him as well. Turning on his flashlight, he stared at the grey birds, some of whom were already tucking their beaks under their wings.  Bulky bodies, thick long necks and greyish-brown plumage were all huddled together on some straw.  Hugo had retreated back into his pen.  His orange bill emitted a soft “Gaa,” and Adam smiled.  He heard the wind blowing outside.  He did not know where it had come from or where it was going. Illustrations are by Keturah Wilkinson....


The boy that drove the plow

“If God spare my life, ere many years pass, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scripture than thou dost.” – William Tyndale ***** CHAPTER 1 The Severn burbled alongside its banks. Longer than the Thames, and famous for its tidal bore, the river’s source lay in the moorlands of mid-Wales and its murky depths flowed past the city of Gloucester in three separate channels. There was the western channel; the easternmost channel, also known as the Little Severn; and the formidable middle channel, the one carrying the greatest volume of water, known as the Great Severn. The middle channel was spanned by Westgate Bridge, the longest bridge in England and one much prized by all Gloucester citizens, for it brought much business to the area. It was the route over which much merchandise passed – merchandise such as wood, salt, cloth, corn, wine, and cattle. It was also one of the pathways over which new thoughts and ideas crept into the city. It was 1537. Thomas Drourie, a cattleman, reflected on these matters one early October morning as he guided his herd of cows along the crossover. Dark currents swirled below him. Drourie was a tall man, and for that reason was considered prosperous. The height of most men in Gloucester averaged five and a half feet. Thomas’ over six-foot stature was imposing. Yet when he smiled, the measure of his towering frame radiated friendliness. Dark of hair and swarthy of face, he was a lean, strong fellow, one who embodied hard work and resilience. The hoofbeats of the cows echoed hollowly on the thick wooden slats. Trekking between his cattle, Thomas bellowed out a noisy, tuneless ditty. He’d noted his animals enjoyed music, for when he hummed or sang during milking the full udders spouted a greater amount of milk into his pails. The bridge groaned and creaked with the collective weight of the party. Storms and flooding often wreaked damage on its timber anatomy. Almost a citizen itself, the Westgate was considered so dear to Gloucester that often folks would leave a bequest for its upkeep and repair. “Thomas!” Startled, he stopped his singing. Turning sideways, he peered down into the face of a Franciscan priest who had managed to edge in next to him between the cattle. The man flanked Thomas, although his plump form in its loose-flapping, wide-sleeved, cassock barely reached the height of the farmer’s shoulders. This man, Thomas thought to himself as he always did when he saw the cleric, was afflicted with bellycheer, afflicted with gluttony. “I haven’t seen you at Mass for a while, Thomas.” The words were calmly but loudly spoken, as need be, for the commotion of the cattle made soft talk impossible. Thomas gave no answer but calmly continued walking, steering his animals towards the Northgate Street. He knew that Father Serly, for this was the name of the priest, would turn towards Westgate Street, where St. Nicholas’ Church stood at its far end and where he and a number of other friars resided. “Thomas!” Father Serly’s voice was more intense now and no longer neutral. “It’s been busy.” It was the only answer Thomas voiced before turning onto Northgate. There were four main roads leading in and out of Gloucester, all meeting at a main intersection where the town's high cross stood. All were named from the gates by which they entered town. Thus there were the Eastgate, Northgate, Southgate and Westgate streets. Northgate led to London; Southgate to Bristol; Eastgate to Oxford; and Westgate to Wales. People walked, rode in carts, and journeyed by horse on these unpaved roads. Some four thousand citizens made their home in Gloucester. Passing the town hall, Thomas longingly eyed the nearby New Inn. Its strong, massive external galleries and courtyards attracted pilgrims and visitors alike. How he yearned to go into the public house and drink some of its frothing ale for he was thirsty after his long morning walk. But with these newly bought cows as his companions, he was forced to amble past the gabled and timbered structure, well aware that the priest probably still stood at the crossroad, eyeing his retreating form suspiciously. The truth was that Thomas held no high opinion of the local priests, or of any priests for that matter, and only occasionally attended Mass. A devoted cattleman, he spent much time on his farm, waxing poetic to anyone who would listen about the state of his cows, calves, and steers. Praising their rich, dark brown color, he often remarked with a twinkle in his eyes that the color resembled the tint of Dory's hair. And wasn't she a beauty? Dory was his wife. The bulls in his herd, on the other hand, hued a blue-black shade, and while showing them off he would point to his own hair and grin. All of the Drourie cattle sported white bellies and were finch-backed. That is to say, they all had a white finching stripe along their spine, a stripe which continued on over the tail. Well-developed horns with black tips crowned their heads. Thomas Drourie was inordinately proud of his livestock. Noted for providing strong and docile draught oxen, the beasts also proved to be tender beef when roasted on the spit. As well, they were valued for the richness of their milk. The fat in that milk made a full, hard cheese – cheese with a buttery, mellow, nutty taste. Thomas sold it at the Gloucester market on Westgate Street. Aged for four months, double Gloucester cheese was popular throughout the region. ***** Lizzie Drourie was born later that same day. Arriving home, Thomas learned that Janey, the midwife, had been closeted in the bedroom with Dory all night. A tinge of fear shivered through his stomach. By his calculations, it was a trifle early for the child to be born. "We had to send for her about an hour after you left yesterday to pick up the cows at Noent, master. But it's over now," Nelly, the kitchen maid, assured him. "Janey just came down before you came home to say all's well and that you were free to come up." Indeed, it was all well, and he relaxed moments later at the bedside of his Dory, his long legs sprawled out under the great bed. She looked weary, mounds of her dark brown hair spread across the pillow. But though her face was exhausted, it was also contented and he was lost in admiration of her. "It's a girl, Thomas," she whispered, "a bonny girl, and I'd like to name her Elizabeth." He was of a mind to let her have whatever she wanted and nodded in agreement. "Lizzie, then," he answered softly. Janey tutted as she bustled about, carrying the swaddled newborn. A moment later, Thomas curiously peered into the tightly bound bundle she laid into his arms and he suddenly recalled with some alarm that it had been this very day a year ago that William Tyndale had been burned at the stake. He said as much even as he was overcome by the dark eyes of his firstborn daughter. But the memory of Tyndale somehow clouded the joy. "It's a bad omen for the child," he added after contemplating Lizzie. "Oh, tush," responded Janey, who had little ken of such as Tyndale, "the child is beautiful, your wife is doing well, and you're just a bit daft not to note it." Dory smiled, and Thomas grudgingly had to admit that all seemed exceptionally propitious with both mother and child. So after sitting a while, stroking his wife's hand and intermittently peering into the cradle where Lizzie had been laid, he left the birthing room for the stable where there was ample room to stretch his legs. And as the door shut behind him, Janey commented disdainfully that recalling the death of someone they had not even known, was ridiculous. "But," Dory protested weakly, her mind mostly on the fact that she had just born her first child, "Master Tyndale was, after all, a Gloucester man, Janey. He was from our area. It seems clear to me that all he wanted to do was give the English people the Bible to read. And although I have not read it for myself, I cannot help but think that such a gift had no evil intent. They say that Queen Anne," she added a moment later, “the poor lass who was executed last year, had a small Bible, a richly ornamented one, and that she wrote the words ‘Anna Regina Angliae’ around its edges.” It was a long sentence, a bit of a ramble, and she yawned towards the end. "We've no need to read the Bible, lass," the midwife cheerfully responded, "Why we've got the pope, haven't we, to tell us what we need to know?" "Yes, but," Dory rejoined, her thoughts becoming fuzzier, "now that King Henry has made himself the head of the church, we haven't got the pope anymore, have we? Besides that, I once saw master Tyndale here in Gloucester. He was giving alms to a beggar, and seemed to me to be a most kind and gentle man." After these words, totally drained of her physical energy, she fell asleep. For a brief minute, before she continued her cleaning up, Janey stood at the foot of the bed, smiling tender-heartedly at the sight of the spent, young woman. Then she continued her tasks, muttering softly to herself that King Henry was not really interested in being the head of the Church and surely everyone in England knew it. Was it not obvious that the man was only interested in power? And that which mostly occupied his waking days was passing that power on to a male heir. His third wife, Queen Jane, was about to give birth shortly and hadn’t English people like herself been instructed to pray for the child to be a son? Wouldn't it be something to be the midwife in Hampton Court palace this month? Oh, well, Janey philosophized, even as she tucked a woolen coverlet around the newborn Lizzie, it really wasn't any of her concern. Then she smiled into Lizzie's wide-open, dark eyes. "I stand to benefit from your birth, little one," she whispered to the baby, "and isn't that the truth of it! I'll be needed for a goodly while as your mother regains her strength, and the extra income is most welcome to me. I've six moppets at home and their appetite is as large as your father is tall." Lizzie blinked and Janey smiled again. CHAPTER 2 In those days the meadowlands embracing Gloucester were dotted with farms. One of these was the Drourie farm. Comprising two hundred acres, more than half of it was arable, quite suitable for growing crops. Most of the remaining land was meadow with some woodland included. Thomas grew enough produce to feed his cattle. He also bred fine animals, made cheese, and sold what he did not need at market. It was a good way to live, he reflected, as he stroked the finching stripe of one of the cows. Feeling rather emotional because of Lizzie's birth, he preached softly to the animal. "There is a time to be born," he murmured, "and a time to die. This is Lizzie's time to live." The cow lowed softly in response and Thomas ground his foot into the hay reflecting that it was perhaps not wise to think beyond what one could know. This daughter, this brand new Lizzie, might live a long, long life, and he fervently hoped that she would, but he should not presume. She might also be followed by more children. Perhaps he would have a son in the years to come, a strong son who would take over the farm when he himself became too old. Lizzie as well, when she grew older, could help around the house and Dory could teach her to become proficient in the cheese making. He smiled to himself, and Albert, the young stable hand, watched his master aimlessly fork some hay into the loft. Albert was only twelve, but a strong, strapping lad. It was an inheritance that had conferred on Thomas the small but handsome, granite farmhouse. Endowed with demesne, land attached and retained for the owner’s use, the two-storied home had a large kitchen, a bower room, and several side rooms. The projecting porch even boasted a parvise – an enclosed area surrounded by colonnades. The porch also led into a fine hall where the family ate. There were mullioned windows, oak-paneled walls and a sizeable fireplace. The premises suited Thomas and Dory very well, and they employed five servants, all of whom loved and respected them. The district surrounding Gloucester was not only dotted with farms, it was also dotted with Articles – six articles, to be exact. Written by the king, these specific rules reminded the English who was in charge: not the Pope who lived in Italy, but Henry VIII who lived in England. Still a Catholic at heart, however, Henry's first article insisted that his subjects continue to holding to transubstantiation – the belief that the bread at Mass was converted into the actual body and blood of Christ. The penalty for not believing this was death by burning at the stake. Thomas Drourie sometimes pondered transubstantiation as he took care of his cattle. The word was as long as a cow’s tail. Why the king should care that he, Thomas Drourie, should believe this, was a mystery to him. One way or the other, would he not be the same English farmer? Stroking the side of a cow, he grimaced at the thought of church attendance. He liked not the priests that served the Eucharist and avoided going to Mass. Besides that, there were new ideas coming to the fore in Gloucester, Protestant ideas. Thomas and his fellow citizens were well aware of them. Many deep, and often heated, discussions took place in the New, the Boatman, the Ram, the Bull, the Swan, and other inns in Gloucester. There was open dissension along the English countryside and in the city. Lately a local weaver attending St. Mary de Crypt Church on Southgate Street had denied the doctrine of purgatory because he believed that the Bible did not teach it. Irritably Thomas slapped the cow's buttocks and the animal turned its head, fixing its great eyes on her master. Thomas paid no heed. His thoughts wandered on. Although he had no stomach for dissension, he liked neither the church's nor the king's ways. Was it not so that the king also had a child named Lizzie, a little maid all of four years old? And did this child not wander around all alone in the royal palace because her mother had been first divorced and then beheaded? Ah, his own small Lizzie, although not a princess, was much more blessed. Did she not have a Dory to care for her? ***** Lizzie Drourie was an only child for the first five years of her life. Strangely enough, the year after her birth, King Henry issued a royal license that the Bible might openly be sold to and read by all English people without any danger of recrimination. Another royal order was issued as well, appointing a copy of the Bible to be placed in every parish church. It was to be raised up on a desk so that everyone might come and read it. Overnight Gloucester Abbey became Gloucester Cathedral. Clergy replaced the monks not just in Gloucester, but in all the monasteries and convents throughout England, Wales, and Ireland. Disbanded, their incomes were appropriated for the crown. Any resistance was viewed as treasonable. Under heavy threats almost all of the religious houses joined the new English church, swearing to uphold the King's divorce and remarriage. Gloucester Cathedral acquired a Bible also. John Wakeman, the first Bishop of Gloucester, made sure it was placed in an accessible spot and soon citizens cautiously dropped by for a look. Thomas and Dory came as well. Those who were able bought the book from printers, booksellers, or traveling tinkers. If they could not read, and many could not, they persuaded others to read Scripture to them. How different, Thomas and Dory pondered, had been the years before Lizzie's birth. At that time anyone wishing to read the Bible had to do so secretly. It was not until just before their second child was born, that Thomas and Dory also purchased a Bible from a traveling tinker. They'd known Philip for a long time, for he was wont to stop by their farm once or twice every year. A versatile man, his cart was filled with all manner of things. Carrying a pocketful of news about current events, he was also well-versed in languages, music, and Scripture. Thomas, who could read, was much taken with his Bible. Sitting Lizzie upon his knees, in the evenings he read out loud to the child and to Dory. He did not understand all he read, but he felt privileged to be reading. Dory listened attentively from her easy chair by the fire and rubbed her swollen stomach. Another Drourie child grew large within her belly. She wondered if the baby could hear any of the beautiful words that Thomas read. Leaning back, she smiled contentedly. They had never before heard the Bible in their own language. On the day Dory went into labor, Thomas sent Albert, who was now almost seventeen, for Janey and gave instructions to the dairymaid to take Lizzie to the bower room and keep her occupied, away from her mother. Janey, arriving shortly afterward, first made sure all the doors were unlocked. She explained that it was an old custom and aided childbirth. Thomas was in two minds about this, but Janey insisted. And indeed, it proved to be an easy birth. The boy child, although tiny, appeared healthy. Janey bathed the little, red body before an ash wood fire. Afterward she had him suckle on a cloth dipped in cinder tea, water into which a coal had been dropped. When she saw Thomas staring, she explained good-naturedly that all knew this drove Satan away. "I don't recall you doing that when Lizzie was born," Thomas commented as he watched her, rather uneasy about the matter as it smacked of superstition. "But you weren't there all the time, now were you, Master Thomas," she replied calmly, “and haven’t things been well with that lass?” Speaking to himself in an undertone, Thomas strode over and lifted the newborn out of Janey's arms, pulling the cloth out of the baby’s mouth. "Enough now," he said, "there are other things you can find to do. And one of them is to tell Albert to distribute bread, cheese and ale to the poor of Gloucester. Go on with you and I'll stay with Dory and the babe." His son whimpered in his arms. The face was red and wrinkled, reminding Thomas of his old deceased father. Sitting down by the bed, he studied his wife. She had now born him two children. He was a rich man indeed. Dory was almost asleep but she opened her eyes and smiled at him. "We'll name him Thomas for you. But it must be little Thomas, for you are so much bigger." And that is how the boy became known throughout Gloucester. CHAPTER 3 During his first year, Little Thomas drank sporadically and was prone to mewling. Excessive crying caused discoloration around his eyes. Janey concocted a solution of nightshade sap, soaked a clean rag in it and laid it on the baby's eyes. "Perhaps he has cramps," Dory ventured to guess, "I've heard that laying babies down flat and pulling their legs straight can help them belch?" But Janey only smiled at her. Lizzie proved to be a most helpful and patient sister, child that she herself was. Rocking her brother for hours on end, she often changed his clout, sang to him and kissed him. "She is a better mother than I am," Dory confided to Thomas, "and has the patience of a saint. I heard her say the other day 'Little Thomas, I won't ever leave you, even if you cry for a year.'” Thomas smiled. "He will grow out of this crying and this colic, Dory," he promised, "Just wait and see." ***** It was true. By the time Little Thomas turned toddler, he was thriving; and when the child turned six, although still small, he was so full of mischief that the scullery-maid was in fear of him. Intensely curious, he was also a naïve boy. Once, after the cook had wrung the necks of several pigeons in preparation for squab pie, leaving them in the kitchen on the table, she came back to find the boy holding onto one of the dead birds. Blood all over his hands, shirt and breeches, she asked what he thought he was doing. "I thought perhaps," he answered with a child's logic, "that if you wrung the neck the other way, the pigeon might come back to life." Then he proceeded to do just that. Shocked, the cook took the bird out of his hands. “Growing chuff-headed, are you? Away with you,” she retorted, “or I’ll put you into the pie as well.” Little Thomas loved Philip the tinker and often followed him about the farm when he came to call. Because Philip was kind, exemplary of character, and learned, Thomas and Dory did not mind in the least. They hoped the tinker would nurture little Thomas in piety. The truth was that Philip was a highly educated man. Able to read and write, as well as play the viol, Thomas and Dory eventually asked him to become their son's tutor. Just prior to Little Thomas' birth, Henry VIII had founded a school in Gloucester. Previously there had been a school in the Abbey of St. Peter, but because all monasteries had been closed, that school no longer functioned. The headmaster of the new school was a solemn man and one who exacted strict obedience. But because of his impishness, misdemeanors, and disregard for authority, Little Thomas was not a favorite student. The boy was, in fact, not fitting in very well at all, and was frequently in trouble with the headmaster. This pained Thomas and Dory greatly, for little Thomas was a gifted child. His almost photographic memory enabled him not only to read well but also to quote Latin and Scripture texts at will. The boy's greatest offence had been climbing the bell tower with some friends, and swinging the clapper loudly during a service, thus bringing shame on himself and his family. He had capped that escapade by putting a duck egg under the cover of the headmaster’s bed and by hanging the man's pantofles from the branch of a tree a week later. The headmaster did not want to see him back for at least a year, or until, as he had gravely said to Dory and Thomas, such a time as the boy had learned to unquestioningly obey rules and regulations. Thomas, who had let his son feel the backside of his hand on more than one occasion, was at his wit's end. Several times neighbors had suggested that little Thomas was heading towards a wicked end and that his parents must see to it that he was disciplined or he would turn into a ne’er-do-well. It was at precisely this time that Dory and Thomas asked Philip if he would stay and tutor the child. After some careful consideration, Philip agreed to do this for a time, thus becoming a permanent resident of the Drourie farm. ***** Change was blowing through England during the children's early formative years. In 1547 King Henry VIII died and was carried to his grave in pomp and splendor. Edward VI, Henry's son, was crowned in his place. Although only nine years old, Edward had been instructed by Protestant teachers and his youthful heart was warmly turned towards the Reformation. He was a child used by God and one of the first things young Edward did was to overturn his father's Six Articles. ***** A few years after Edward’s ascent to the throne, little Thomas turned both eleven and more intractable. The boy, who attended church regularly with his father, mother, Lizzie and Philip, heard Dr. Williams preach in one of the churches in Gloucester. Dr. Williams was the city's chancellor. A recent convert to Protestantism, Williams had publicly chosen the Protestant faith over the Catholic faith. It is strange how God uses men's words to change hearts, even very young hearts. And so it was on the day on which Dr. Williams preached, that little Thomas, for so he was still known, was transformed. “The sacrament,” so Dr. Williams echoed solemnly forth from the fine pulpit as he spoke of the Mass, “is to be received spiritually by faith. It is not to be received carnally as the papists have heretofore taught.” Now these were difficult words, and yet Little Thomas repeated them verbatim to Philip, his new teacher, as they were out walking together. “What think you, Master Philip,” he asked, “that these words mean?” The tinker did not respond immediately. But after some thirty or so steps, he finally spoke. "First of all, I think that we must never in our thoughts or words, pity the Lord Jesus for dying on the cross." The child looked up at him questioningly. He did not understand. "To pity someone," the tinker went on, "is to place yourself on a higher level. Our Savior Jesus Christ, is Lord over all and never on a lower level than we are. What think you? That we can make Him bread and kill Him again and again? He died once, child, and that willingly, of His own accord." Overhead a lark, nondescript and brown, sang an extravagant melody. “I think,” Philip went on, “that it might help you to call to mind the time that Jesus was eating bread with His disciples in the Upper Room. Do you recall it?" Little Thomas nodded. "Picture in your mind then, their gathering around a wooden table, a table such as we eat from together in the great hall. Hear in your heart what Jesus said to them, and says to us now, as He broke the bread: ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’" As they were walking, the pair were traipsing through one of the fields adjoining the farm. Philip carried his viol case for the idea was that there was to be a music lesson out in the quiet of a pastureland. There were cattle grazing some distance away. “Jesus did not mean that He was actually present in the bread, Thomas. What Jesus meant was that whenever people would eat the bread in the future, they were to recollect, to remember, that He offered up His body. This He did on the cross shortly after that supper, little Thomas. And we are to remember this and to believe it." Again, a melodious jumble of clear notes and trills rang through the sky overhead. The boy tilted his head up to gaze after the lark. The bird sang as it flew. Little Thomas stared up at the creature. He appeared to be not listening. “To remember and believe that Christ died for you,” the tinker went on, making his words simpler, even as he stood next to the child, “is to know that you have eternal life. And then you can joyfully sing even as yonder lark.” As the boy still remained quiet, he went on slowly, probing the heart. “You are getting too old to be known as Little Thomas. I think I will call you Tom from now on. Do you believe what I have just told you, Tom?” The child nodded and followed up the nodding with a question. “Can we have a music lesson now, Master Philip?” Now it was so, that Philip was proficient in viol playing and, at Thomas’ and Dory’s request, he was beginning to pass this skill on to their son. A distant relative of the violin, the viol was a bowed instrument with frets. Flat-backed, it was played while set on the ground between a player's legs. Its tone was quiet but had a distinct, low quality. A gentleman's instrument, it was played in salons, whereas violins were more often played on streets to accompany dances or to lead in wedding processions. The Drouries hoped the learning of the viol might calm their child and stand him to good advantage. Philip concurred with Tom's wish. “Fine, child. Let us sit ourselves down on this log.” They had come to a small copse. A field lay in front of them and a forest behind them. Philip took the viol out of its bag, and both seated themselves on an old, fallen horse chestnut tree trunk lying in front of the thicket. It was quiet, except for the lowing of some distant cattle. “Hold the bow,” Philip instructed his pupil, propping up the instrument between the child's legs, “betwixt the end of your thumb and the two foremost fingers of your right hand.” Tom eagerly reached for the convex stick. He loved the music Philip often made in the front room as they sat evenings by the fireplace. The viol’s body was light and the six strings seemed to him to be magical. “Now fasten the thumb and first finger of your left hand on the stalk.” Philip knelt down in front of the boy. His hands instructed the much smaller hands – hands which worked fearfully hard at contorting fingers to meet the requirements. It was difficult and awkward because this was the first lesson. Through his concentration, Tom thought he heard a snorting sound. Looking up over Philip’s shoulder, his hands froze. One of his father's bulls, massive and terrifying, the black tips of its white horns aimed directly at them, was galloping through the meadow in their direction. “Master Philip!” he gasped, “Look yonder.” Philip turned his head and immediately stood up. Taking the viol away from Tom, he commanded the lad to stand behind him and then to quickly walk backwards towards the nearby woodland. He himself sat down on the tree trunk, calmly placing the viol downwards between his legs. Glancing over his shoulder he saw that Thomas was moving, moving slowly and woodenly. “Obey me immediately,” he ordered again, “Walk faster, Tom, walk faster, child. And find a tree behind which you can stand.” “What…. what about you?” the boy stuttered, tripping over both his words and his feet. “I believe the bull is bellowing in a B flat and I shall try to outdo him,” Philip answered and proceeded to draw his bow across the strings. The low, quiet hum of the viol resonated across the field. It met the bull’s wheezing midair. Though Tom was only some thirty feet away by this time, he stopped walking backwards at the same moment that he saw the bull stop charging. To his great amazement the boy beheld the animal shake its bulky head a few times and then peaceably turn and amble away. “Well now, you have learned two rather unique and wonderful things, Thomas,” Philip said, when the boy was back at his side. He kept playing as he spoke, sliding the bow over the strings, harmonious notes spilling onto the grass around and beyond like heavy raindrops. “What?” the boy asked, his heart still thumping as he watched the backside of the massive bovine saunter away. “Firstly that bulls do not like the key of B flat,” smiled his teacher. Tom grinned, although tremulously. "And what is the second," he demanded a moment later. "That Almighty God keeps an eye on those who call out to Him in trouble." "Oh," replied Tom, "and did you call out?" "Yes," accorded his teacher. The boy stared off into the field. The bull was still in retreat and seemed to not even remember their existence. He sighed heavily and then grinned again, high spirits returning. “I am sorry for one thing,” he joked, “and that is that Lizzie was not here to see it, for she will never believe me when I tell her what happened. CHAPTER 4 That very evening Tom fell ill of a high fever. It charged at him even as the bull had run at them with lowered horns through the field. He thrashed about so much that he woke Lizzie who slept in a room next to his, and she, in turn, woke her parents. In spite of the fact that prayers were raised and many herbal remedies applied, Tom was long in recuperating. His eyes seemed affected and discharged pus. Oozing continually, the boy could not open them. Though the fever had abated after a few days, the infection lingered. Dory, Lizzie, and Philip took turns in sitting with the lad during the day. His father, although often looking in on his son, sat with the boy at night. It became apparent to all of them, after a week or two, that the boy would not regain his sight. ***** "I have just received a small booklet, Tom." The boy was sitting up in bed. Philip, who came and went at will, regarded the boy with affection. "What is it?" "It is a catechism written by a man named Alberus, Erasmus Alberus. He wrote it in German and he wrote it for his children. I know that you are rapidly approaching manhood, Tom, but I thought you might like to learn its questions and answers if I repeat them to you." Tom nodded. "Alberus wrote the booklet so that the important parts of Scripture might be learned by rote." "Please let me learn also." Startled, Philip turned and faced Thomas Drourie who stood in the doorway. "I was not raised with Bible knowledge and often when I read I do not understand what I am reading. Perhaps I can learn with you and we can speak of these matters." It was a humble confession and Philip was moved. Thomas came in and sat on the edge of the bed. Philip smiled at him. "Well, it would be fine for us to read and memorize together and I have added some questions and answers myself." So they proceeded with simple but very direct dialogues. Do you love Jesus? Yes. Who is the Lord Jesus? God and Mary's son. How is His dear mother called? Mary. Why do you love Jesus? What has He done to make you love Him? He has shed His blood for me. Has he shed His blood only once or more than once as the Mass teaches? Jesus has shed his blood only once on the cross at Calvary. Could you be saved if He had not shed His blood for you? Oh, no. What would then have happened? We would all be damned. Is God's only begotten son, the son of the living God, your brother? Yes. So you are for sure a great and powerful king in heaven because Christ in heaven is your brother? That I am, praise God. How blessed you are! For the Lord has done a great thing for you. Yes, He has. For He saves a poor, damned child from the Devil's kingdom and gave me eternal life. The Drouries all benefited from these and other questions and answers that Philip taught them, and from the many conversations that took place around the bedside of the sick boy. ***** "Lizzie, Lizzie, I still can't see." "I know. Hush, and lay down. If you move about too much, you will just get sicker again, Tom." "Why are you calling me Tom, Lizzie?" "Well, Master Philip says you are not little Thomas any longer. You have grown so. And I have heard Master Philip call you Tom, and mother and father call you that too now. So I think I will call you Tom." "Will I never see again, Lizzie?" The question was uttered in so plaintive a tone that Lizzie sighed. "I hope you shall but I do not know." "You are just being kind, are you not, Lizzie?" She reached over and kissed her brother. "I shall always be there to be your eyes, Tom. I shall tell you everything I see." "It won't be the same." She knew that he was right but was not sure how to respond. "I heard a new pastor preach in the cathedral, Tom. His name is John Hooper." "He is not new, Lizzie," the boy replied, half-sitting up against the pillow, "he has been here for more than a year already." "Oh," his sister said, disappointed that she could not tell him something he did not know, "and how would you have ken of that?" "Master Philip has told me. He said John Hooper was called to preach before King Edward himself and that the king, who is only four years older than I am Lizzie, very much liked him and then made him Bishop of our city of Gloucester." "Oh," Lizzie repeated. "John Hooper," Tom went on, his hands fidgeting with the blanket, "is an honorable man and one who does not like to wear the rich garments that priests and other clergy wear. He says a man should dress humbly, even as your heart should be humble. So you will not see him clad in a chimere and rochet, such as other bishops wear, Lizzie." She smiled at her brother and reached over, patting his hand. "You are all about clothing now, are you, Tom?" He grinned for a minute and then teased her. "And you are not? I have seen, when I could still see, how you constantly preen, Lizzie. And I know you do it for Albert. Only I do not know if father will allow you to marry him. He is, after all, the hired hand." Lizzie blushed and was glad for a moment that Tom could not see. "But Albert is strong and a good lad," Tom continued, "And.... and I will not be able to help father plough now that I am.... now that I am.... well, now that I might be blind." "Hush, Tom." It was all Lizzie could say, for tears welled up in her eyes. "Master Philip says that John Hooper, for all that he is the high and reverenced bishop of Gloucester, is a very good man." It was quiet for a spell. Lizzie's thoughts turned to Albert, who was such a dependable young man – a hard-working man, one on whom her father could count. Indeed, she did love him and admired him more than all the young men she knew. But father might object to a marriage, that Tom had indeed said rightly. "Master Hooper," Tom's voice interrupted her contemplations, "has a wife and children, just like our father. His children, Master Philip says, are well mannered. It shames me, Lizzie, now that I lay here on this bed, to think of all the tricks and mischief I set about just a short while ago." "Oh, you mustn't," began his sister, but he interrupted her. "Why ever not, Lizzie, " Tom responded, "for ...." And then he stopped and turned his face to the wall. He did remember with great shame the sorrow he had caused his parents who had been so eager for him to go to school. If his eyes had not been painfully oozing, he might well have wept like a child, for he felt so miserable. "Tom," Lizzie's voice was soft. "Tom, you have been such a good brother to me always." Tom swallowed audibly. "John Hooper," he went on, his voice shaking a trifle, "is such a man as I would like to be. Perhaps I shall be a preacher, Lizzie. For surely people can be blind and still preach." The girl smiled. Although she had great sympathy for her brother, she could not for the life of her picture him as a preacher. "I know you are smiling," the boy said, "I can sense it, you minx of a sister! But I mean it. I have done with wasting time. I will ask Master Philip to school me more and more in Bible knowledge. And I also want to go and hear John Hooper preach. Master Philip has told me that at his home there is a table spread in the common hall with a good store of meat. It is daily beset of beggars and poor folk. Every day John Hooper eats with a certain number of poor folk, Lizzie. Is that not a great thing to do?" The girl nodded, but then remembering that her brother could not hear a nod, spoke. "Yes, Tom." "He also questions the poor folk at his table as to whether they know the Lord's prayer, and the Ten Commandments, and what they believe. And after this he sits down with them and eats." "He sounds like a good man, Tom." "Yes," her brother agreed, repeating, "and when I am better, Lizzie, you shall take me to hear him preach. I think he preaches in the cathedral and also betimes on the street." ***** It took the greater part of a year for Tom to fully recuperate. Afterwards he walked about with a cane – tapping out the space before him – amazing himself that he was able to recall the steps, the ruts, the holes, the sights and sounds of the farm and thus ascertain where he was. After a few weeks, he ventured into Gloucester. At first, Lizzie guided him. Later his mother accompanied him into town, or he would venture with Philip for a stroll into the country. The lessons continued. The boy had grown in wisdom as he lay on his sickbed, drinking in the tinker's instruction with a great thirst. "Why did you not become a preacher, Master Philip?" he questioned his tutor one day as they were strolling. "I don't know," the man answered honestly, "but I do think that God has used me to sell Bibles and to explain certain matters about Scripture to all sorts of country folk as I traveled the roads. These were good things to do and I think that God required it of me. God has tasked me with various matters over the years and right now, methinks, he has tasked me with you, Tom." "Well, I am glad," the boy replied, and then, switching the topic, "I have heard tell in town that King Edward is ill with a fever. Have you heard this also, Master Philip?" "Yes, I have," the tinker answered gravely, "and I fear it is common knowledge that our young and good monarch is dying. It is also said that there is a plot afoot to put his eldest sister Mary on the throne to succeed him." "Mary?" "Yes, and I fear that she would return the country to papistry." "What would that mean, Master Philip?" "You know what that would mean, Tom. It would mean that all the things I have taught you over the past year would be condemned as heresy." The boy stood still. He seemed dazed. "Tell me more." The tinker saw that the lad's face was serious. "Well, Tom, images and relics would come back; people would be encouraged to kneel to a piece of bread at Mass; and they would be told to confess their sins to a priest rather than to God Himself." Phlox was blooming alongside the path. Its perfume was a sugary, sweet scent and Tom recognized it. The smell vividly brought to mind the memory of the pink they were. Alongside their smell, he could detect the faint odor of carrot and knew that, white and delicate, queen Anne's lace, could not be too far off. Queen Anne's lace was more commonly called bishop's weed. Perhaps, Tom thought, if Bishop Hooper had been a plant, he might not have minded wearing queen Anne's lace. And then he grinned to himself. CHAPTER 5 In the year that followed, Thomas grew more and more accustomed to walking the roads. History surrounded him as he walked and tapped the cane in front of him. Edward VI died and the brief ten-day reign of Lady Jane Grey followed. Then Parliament, having restored her right of succession, aided Mary to the throne. The Six Articles were reinstated and the citizens of Gloucester learned that their beloved Bishop Hooper had been imprisoned by the new queen. But just before this occurred, to the dismay and horror of the entire Drourie family, Tom was taken into custody. He was thirteen years of age. Thomas' arrest happened quite suddenly. Walking across Westgate Bridge one early morning, carefully tapping out his steps, he met Father Serly. Father Serly, still short and stout had survived Edward's reign by outwardly conforming to Protestantism. However, as soon as Mary ascended the throne and papist rules were back, he emerged ready to wage war on anyone who was not attending Mass. "Thomas Drourie," he called out, as the blind boy was about to pass by him. Thomas stopped, recognized the priest's voice, but answered nothing. "I have not seen you at Mass of late," Father Serly went on, using the very same words he had spoken to the boy's father more than a decade past. "No," Tom agreed. "Have you been ill? Has there been no one who could guide you?" The words were friendly enough, but there was underlying threat. Tom perceived it. His father made no secret of the fact that he disliked Father Serly and a great many of the other priests. He was also fully aware that the Cathedral had reverted back to papistry and that many Protestant Englishmen had fled England. "Well, Tom?" As the boy still did not answer, the priest assumed that perhaps the lad did not know it was a priest he was speaking with. "I am your Father," he said, somewhat loftily. "I have only one Father," Tom then replied, "and He is in heaven." "Are you being rude, young sir?" But Tom stood quiet again, and there was no sound but the water of the Big Severn rushing underneath the bridge. Deciding not to continue in conversation with the priest, he began tapping out his steps again, walking forward as he did so. The stout cleric blocked his path. "I asked you a question, young Thomas Drourie." The boy laughed and pushed at the black robes preventing his leaving. He was young and blind, but he was strong and his shove succeeded in thrusting the priest against the side of the bridge. Not only that, but the motion caused the friar to fall down on the slats amid the laughter of some local folk crossing over from the other side. Humiliated, the priest complained to the town's guard and the result was that Tom was taken into custody for an overnight imprisonment. His father had to pay a hefty fine the next morning to have the boy released. ***** "You must not be so bold, Tom" Lizzie was sitting on a bale of hay next to her brother. "You could get father and mother into trouble by such behavior. You would not want that." Her brother shook his head. "No, of course I would not." "Well, then, you must stay at home and if you want something, either I or Albert will go with you into town." "Philip has told me that Master Hooper was arrested, Lizzie. He is being kept in Fleet Prison in London." "Yes, that is true." The girl spoke softly, knowing that Tom looked up to the man, admired him and would feel badly about the news. "He probably," Tom went on, "has no family who can set bail for him as I have heard that his wife and children have left England. The queen, Philip said, wants him dead." "Oh." It was all that Lizzie could think of to say. She was seventeen now and a beauty with long brown hair, just like her mother. She and Albert now had an agreement between the two of them. He had of late, spoken with her father. For a moment she forgot the young brother sitting next to her on a bale of hay. Albert was almost thirty now and she knew that during the conversation he'd had with father he had not been refused. Father would have to weigh the facts and these were that Tom would never be able to run the farm on his own; that Albert was an honest man who truly loved Lizzie; and that Albert also cared for Tom. She glanced at the boy sitting next to her. He was staring straight ahead. But surely it must be at something within himself, for his eyes saw nothing in the barn. Albert took him ploughing in the fields, had him walk by his side, explained what he was doing, always included him in conversations about planting, harvesting, and caring for the cattle. Could they not all live in harmony – father, mother, Albert and herself – caring for Tom and for the farm? "They say," Tom interrupted her thoughts, and speaking vehemently, "that those who put Bishop Hooper in prison accuse him of owing the queen money. But it is not true. They are lying about him." "Hush, Tom! Do not take on so." Lizzie put her right arm about Tom's shoulder as she spoke. But Tom went on, his hands striking the air in anger. "The real reason, Lizzie, is that they want him dead. They want him dead because he is a Protestant just like we are." She was slightly alarmed at his words. "The heresy acts have been revived," Tom continued, his voice somber now. "We just have to stay on the farm, Tom," Lizzie answered, "We won't get involved. Father and mother don't go into Gloucester very much anymore and we have all we need right here." "There is a rumor, but I think it is the truth," the boy went on, "that Bishop Hooper will be transferred to Gloucester at some point. When he is, I want you to take me to his place of confinement, Lizzie. Will you promise me that you will?" Lizzie did not answer. "Well, if you will not take me, then I shall ask Master Philip or Albert." "No, not Albert." Lizzie's answer was swift now. "Well, then?" "Yes, Tom. If and when Master Hooper comes back to Gloucester, I shall take you to see him, if that is possible. Satisfied, the boy leaned into her shoulder. "You are a good sister, Lizzie.” ***** Approximately two months later, in February of 1555, word came to the citizens of Gloucester that their former bishop, John Hooper, would be taken, under heavy escort, to Gloucester. It was Philip the tinker who recounted this to the Drouries at noon. "Actually," he went on, glancing at Tom's white face as he spoke, "he was taken to Gloucester today. Although the news of his coming was kept secret, it leaked out. A mile outside town, I saw crowds assembled – men and women all crying and lamenting Hooper's sorry state as he passed." "You were there? You saw him?" Tom asked. "Yes, I did, Tom. I watched as one of the queen's guards, and there were six of them for the one man, rode into Gloucester to ask for the aid of the mayor and sheriffs. These namby-pamby guards were worried that Hooper would be rescued by the people standing at the side of the road. I saw a great many officers armed with weapons come to the North Gate. They ordered the people to go home and to stay home and then conducted John Hooper to a place where he will be kept until.... " He left off and it was quiet. "Until what?" Tom finally threw out. "Until his burning at the stake tomorrow." There was quiet around the table. Lizzie, who sat across from Tom, felt his foot kick her shin. She winced slightly, but she knew what it meant. CHAPTER 6 They managed to leave the farm together under the pretext of visiting one of Lizzie's friends. "I don't know where to take you, Tom, for Philip did not say where they lodged the bishop." "You must take me to the Cathedral, Lizzie. For at that place they will know of a certainty where he has been taken." "Even so, Tom, why should they tell you?" "Because they will." "Well, I will take you. But you must promise me to be careful." The boy did not answer and they walked along in silence, the boy tapping his path all the while, his cane in his right hand and Lizzie holding his left. When they arrived at the Cathedral, the Gloucester streets lay still. The people had been ordered to stay indoors. "Take me to a side door, Lizzie, and I will knock. You need not stay. But do not go too far either." His sister brought him to a nether door and the boy began knocking almost before she had time to find her way around a corner. Tom knocked loudly and persistently and at the beginning no one came to answer. But he continued in fervor, scraping his knuckles on the wood. At length, a guard opened the door. "What do you want, boy?" His voice was not unfriendly and Tom took heart. "I want to see Bishop Hooper." The guard was taken aback for he could see that Tom was blind. "Please sir," Tom repeated, "can I speak with the Bishop to hear his last words to me before he goes to the stake." "Are you family?" "Yes, he is to me as a father." The guard, who was not a bad fellow, relented upon hearing the earnestness in the boy's plea. "Very well, then, come along." "You must give me your hand, sir." Thomas reached out and the guard took his hand, pulling him inside the building. "Come along then and tell me your name." "Tom Drourie, sir." The guard walked along a corridor, talking the whole while. "My name is Edmund Wells, Tom, and it is a sad business, this whole thing, is it not? But your name sounds familiar. Was there not a boy named Tom arrested a short time ago for...." He stopped, scratched his head, and then smiled. "Yes, now I remember. It had to do with Father Serly, a man I care little about. If I recall correctly, it was because this certain Tom had pushed him." "Yes, sir." Tom answered softly, hoping the conversation would not cost him his chance to see Bishop Hooper. "Well, Tom, if that was you, I would not take it to heart. Father Serly is.... well, he is not overly truthful and he is much concerned about himself. But be careful what you say, boy, for these are treacherous times." Tom nodded and the guard talked on. "Bishop Hooper will be taken to Robert Ingram's house later today. He's not to stay in a common gaol, that good man, but in a home where they respect him. So that is a blessing. And now we have come to his cell. I must let go of your hand to open the door with a key. There's a good lad. Just stand here." Thus speaking, the guard opened the door before returning to Tom. Reaching for his hand, he propelled him inside a small room. "Here's a young lad come to bid you good day, Master Hooper. Says his name is Tom - Tom Drourie. I believe Tom was arrested a while back as well for speaking disrespectfully to a priest. I'll collect him by and by." With that he shut the door and Tom was alone with the bishop. ***** It was a small room. Tom could feel the walls close and the ceiling low. He stepped forward hesitantly, tapping his cane carefully. "Good afternoon, sir," he finally said, his voice small and thin. "Good afternoon, Tom," he was answered by a friendly and low voice, "and what brings you to visit me here in this sad place?" "I wished to say...." Tom began, "I wished to say that I will pray for you, sir. It must be dreadfully.... dreadfully...." He could not go on and a moment later felt a hand on his shoulder. "There, lad," both Bishop Hooper's voice and hand guided him along, "Here's a chair. Sit yourself down and we shall have a talk, you and I, and find out what is in your heart." Tom breathed in deeply, ashamed that he was blubbering like a child again. "Thank you, sir," he managed. "Well, Tom," the bishop continued, putting him at his ease, "I've a lad just like you at home. Only he's left England and I don't get to see him any more. I miss him very much and so appreciate your visit for that reason alone. If I had my lad here, I would counsel him to hold fast to the faith." "Yes, sir," Tom responded, his blind eyes fixed upon the direction of the voice. "Do you believe in the Lord Jesus, son?" "Oh, yes, sir." "Do you confess His one sacrifice on the cross and deny the popish idolatry in the Mass?" "Oh, yes, sir," Tom breathed out again. "Well, lad, then there will not be a goodbye between us once the guard comes to take you back. For of a verity, we will see one another in heaven." "Do you think I shall see?" Tom ventured, "in heaven." "Yes, Tom, you certainly shall." There was a long quiet, but it was not awkward. The bishop had taken the boy's hand into his own. After a while he spoke again. "Ah, Thomas! Ah, poor boy! God has taken from you your outward sight, for what consideration He best knows. But He has given you another sight much more precious, for He has induced your soul with the eye of knowledge and faith. God give you grace continually to pray to Him that you lose not that sight, for then you should be blind both in body and soul." Tom nodded, his eyes again filling with tears. At that moment the door opened with a groan of heaviness and disuse. "Tom, time to go." It was Edmund and Tom stood up. The bishop clapped him on the shoulder. "Son, may God bless you and keep you and let His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you." Taking Tom's hand, the guard steered him towards the hall and all the while Tom was mindful of the lark in the field where he had been with Philip. And he recalled with great clarity how the bull had charged and how Philip had played the viol. Walking back towards the entrance, Tom begged Edmund for permission to hear Bishop Hooper speak prior to his being burned at the stake. For so it was that condemned men were allowed to address the crowd prior to being martyred. Without a word, the man took the boy through to another anteroom, one that led into the cathedral. Although Tom could not see it, this was the place in which Dr. Williams, the Chancellor of Gloucester, was sitting behind a desk. The registrar sat next to him and they were concentrating over some paperwork. Without waiting for permission, the guard spoke. "This boy wants permission to hear the bishop speak tomorrow before his martyrdom." "Martyrdom, Wells? "Whatever it pleases your Honour to call it," the man answered, before he turned, leaving Tom in the sanctuary. Dr. Williams, who was a heavy-set man, turned from the paperwork to peer at Tom. "What is your name, boy?" "Thomas Drourie, sir." "And you wish to see Bishop Hooper die?" "Not die, sir, but live." "Are you a good Christian, Tom?" "I try to be, sir." "Hmmh," the chancellor said, and glancing at the registrar added, "Well, suppose we ask you some questions as to ascertain that." Tom stood in front of him, cane in hand, eyes fixed on where the chancellor's voice came from. "Do you believe," the chancellor began, "that after the words of the priest's consecration, that the very body of Christ is in the bread?" Tom responded strongly with a very loud, "No, that I do not!" Dr. Williams looked keenly at the disabled boy in front of him. "Then you are a heretic, Thomas Drourie. Do you know that for this reason you can be burned? Who taught you this heresy?" Tom, the eyes of his heart bright, even though his outward sight was dull, answered clearly, "You, Mr. Chancellor." Dr. Williams sat up straight. "Where, I pray you?" The words echoed hollowly through the sanctuary. Tom replied softly but clearly, pointing with his cane towards the place where he supposed the pulpit was, "In yonder place." Dr. Williams was aghast. "When did I teach you so?" Tom, now looking straight at where the chancellor's voice was coming from, replied plainly and distinctly: "When you preached a sermon to all men, as well as to me, upon the sacrament. You said the sacrament was to be received spiritually by faith, and not carnally and really as the papists have heretofore taught." Dr. Williams looked down at the papers in front of him. He felt a certain shame in his heart. Nevertheless, his voice boomed out and resounded in the aisles. "Then do as I have done, and you shall live as I do and escape burning." Aware that the bull was charging, but hearing the viol, Tom answered calmly and firmly: "Though you have easily dispensed with your own self and mock God, the world, and your conscience, I will not do so." Dr. Williams was vexed, vexed in his soul. Although he tried for some time to convince the boy otherwise and threatening him plenty, there was no recantation. Finally, he bellowed: "Then God have mercy upon you, Tom, for I will read you your condemnatory sentence." Tom answered, "God's will be fulfilled." At this moment the registrar nudged Dr. Williams. "For shame, man! Will you read the sentence and condemn yourself? Away with you! At least substitute someone else to give sentence and judgment." But Dr. Williams would not change his mind. "Mr. Registrar!" he barked out, "I will obey the law and give sentence myself according to my office." After this he read Tom his death sentence, albeit with a shamed tongue and a twisted conscience. "Wells," he then cried out, for the guard was present once again, "take this boy to a cell." "Sir, I beg you," a small voice cried out in the back of the sanctuary, "have mercy on my brother." It was Lizzie who had been let in by the kindhearted Edmund. "Do you wish to be arrested alongside your brother?" "Sir, I would feign take his place if it would help his case." Tom felt love well up in his heart for his sister. Often she had kept him from wrongdoing in the past; often she had nursed scraped elbows and bruises; and often she had comforted him after he had been lonely. She was like a second mother. Ah, his mother! Tears sprung to his eyes. He had not thought of his parents this whole time. Lizzie slowly lifted one foot in front of the other, as if she were gathering courage in those unhurried steps, and approached the front, standing right before Dr. Williams. "He is but a lad, your honor," she haltingly began, "and his mother ...." Then she wept. Tom was at her side in an instant. "Don't cry, Lizzie," he pleaded, "please don't cry." "How can I help it Tom?" "You will see me again, Lizzie." She lifted her tear-stained face towards him, doubtful and hopeful at the same time. "Tell mother and father that I shall be home shortly, Lizzie. And tell them that I look forward to that homecoming more than anything else." Then Edmund Wells took the boy's hand in his own and led him away. ***** A true story, flavored with fiction, the blind boy Thomas Drourie (together with a bricklayer by the name of Thomas Croker) was burned at the stake on May 5, 1556. This was three months after Bishop Hooper was burned. Three years later, during the early years of Queen Elizabeth's reign, Chancellor Williams poisoned himself, thus adding suicide to his previous crimes. For Thomas Drourie, Bishop Hooper and other faithful believers, there was the light of God's countenance; for Chancellor Williams, what shall we say?...


I Have A Son Seven Years Old; He is to me full dear...

This a short story about World War II, the immigrant experience...and much more Chapter 1.  The teacher Perhaps it is true that one's conscience is like a songbird warbling high up in a tree. Though you cannot detect its form, its notes are clear and touch your soul with their pureness and you cannot walk by for weeping. September of 1953 was a hot month in the city of Toronto. In fact, the second day of the month was the hottest day of the year, with the thermometer reaching 98 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat on that Labor Day weekend had me thinking that it did not seem to be a very auspicious time to open school doors or an auspicious moment to be a first-time teacher. I had graduated from the Toronto Normal School earlier that same year. As far back as I could remember I had always loved the idea of becoming a teacher, of being with children and imparting to them knowledge, truth and fine ideals. But when I faced my mixed class of seventh and eighth graders that first week – a medley of twenty-seven faces, all wilting with heat in the muggy, crowded classroom – my courage and commitment somehow deteriorated into nervous tension. There were names to memorize, characters to unravel, and temperaments to discern. Not that the children were rowdy or disobedient; it was just that there were so many of them and so few of me. Consequently, at the end of that initial week, I stood in front of the half-open classroom window gazing out at the silent playground after the students had been dismissed. Tired and not a little discouraged, I contemplated whether I should have opted for another vocation such as mechanic or traveling salesman. Drumming my fingers on the sill, and staring off into the horizon, I recalled the respect I'd had for teachers who had made an impact on my formative years. Mr. Kunstenaar, my history teacher, stood out in my memory. How that man had been able to tell stories! Absently, I wiped beading drops of sweat off my upper lip. Some boys had appeared on the playground. Though the weather was still hot and humid, they were running and yelling. There were four of them and the first was much younger than the rest. As they tore past, it became obvious that the boy in the lead was being pursued by the rest. The child was a good runner, but his small legs did not stand a chance against the longer legs of his opponents. By some providential quirk, if there is such a thing, the boy zigzagged back towards my window and, upon reaching it, turned, standing with his back against it. The boys stopped their chase and picked up clumps of dirt from the ground where they stood. They then began to pelt the boy with the dirt, one soft clump striking the top of his head and breaking into a hundred small grains of black on his crown. Pity flooded my heart. Stepping forward to make myself clearly visible, I stood tall behind the boy. Though I did not think he saw me, his pursuers certainly did. Neither gesturing nor saying one word, I just stood quietly. And one by one the three boys opened their fists, dropped their missiles, and disappeared. I don't know what the child thought of his attackers leaving. The back of his head pressed hard against my window. The hair I could almost touch was blond – very blond – a blond mixed with black. I had a déjà vu moment but could not place it. Then the boy turned and he smiled at me. It was a warm and radiant smile and in that instant I knew I had made the right decision about becoming a teacher. *** The following Monday morning the principal asked if I could spare a moment to talk. "I'd like to take advantage of your bilingualism," he said, by way of beginning the conversation, "of your ability to speak Dutch." "Oh?" "This year there are three children, children of Dutch immigrants," he continued, "who are attending our school. They need help with their English. It occurred to me that you might be just the man to encourage them. Can I ask for your help in tutoring some of these students for a few hours each week if I provide some extra help in your classroom during that time?" "I have no experience in tutoring," I said. "It's just to see them through an initial awkward and difficult period," he went on, almost as if he had not heard my objection, "You see, because of their lack of ability to speak English, they have been put back a year in school, and if they are able to become more proficient in English, perhaps they can be moved up to the grade level they should be in." To a certain degree, I felt cheated. It was clear to me that tutoring was something a teacher's aide should be doing; it certainly did not seem to be work for someone like myself who had just studied hard to earn a degree. Besides that, wasn't it obvious that these children would pick up English quickly enough by themselves, immersed as they were in the mainstream of school life? The principal, sensing my hesitation, stood up and patted me on the shoulder. "Mr. Anders," he said, "I assure you it would definitely help these children a great deal and it's just a few hours every week." *** So, beginning immediately, every Tuesday and Thursday morning were set aside for instructing three children. From nine until recess, two sisters – eleven-year-old twins Tina and Tonnie DeGroot – were taught the rudiments of English. Following recess, the boy with the blond hair came in, the boy who had smiled at me. Providence is a mixture of the wonderful, strange, and fearful. A truth wrapped up in seemingly discordant notes fell onto my heart when the child told me his name. "Ik heet Nico," he said, "Nico Goudswaard, and ik ben zeven jaar oud." (My name is Nico - Nico Goudswaard, and I am seven years old.) Another vague déjà vu moment occurred. "Nico," I repeated slowly, and again, "Nico." "Ja," the boy replied. I sat down rather weakly and he came and sat down opposite me. "What is your name?" he asked. I did not answer his query, instead asking him another question: "Who is your father, Nico?" "Well," the boy said, his clear eyes shining at me across the table, "that is a hard question to answer." He looked down at the table for a moment as if thinking deeply. Then he looked up and smiled again. "I do have a father though." I did not know what to say to that and waited, for clearly the child was not finished. After thinking long and hard for another minute, hands folded on the brown tabletop, he finally added quietly, "Do you have to know who my father is to help me with English?" I shook my head and grinned at him. "No, but I would really like to know. Can't you tell me?" "Well, you can't see my father. Not the way that other children can see theirs." "Oh?" I said. "Fathers are good," he continued, "When I ran to the window last week, then I pretended that you were my father. I only pretended for a minute," he quickly added, "because mother says that I must not do that – pretend that other people are my father." "But you said that you did have a father, ... or don't you?" "Well, mother says that my father is God in heaven and that He will look out for me always, no matter where I am. I almost forgot that He was there when those boys were teasing me, but then I saw you and thought that..." He stopped abruptly. "How is your mother?" Any adult would have looked at me strangely for asking such a personal question on such short acquaintance. But no one alive could have understood the absurdity of this present-day providence – even I did not understand it – this providence of me sitting here with the child of a girl I had once known when I was a young boy. "She is fine." Nico had no trouble answering familiarities. "Do you live close to the school?" He nodded. "Yes, I do. It only takes me fifteen minutes to walk to school." Our whole conversation had taken place in Dutch. I took out a reader at this point and had him sound out simple words to ascertain his command of the English language. His English was actually better than that of the twin girls. But my mind wandered continually as Nico was sounding out his words – wandered back to days long gone by. And when Nico left at lunch hour, I stayed behind in the small study room and thought – indeed, could not stop thinking – about the past. There is no accusation that tastes as bitter as self-reproach. Others can accuse – often unjustly and unfairly – and, in those cases, the accused can rest in knowing they are innocent. But people who recognize the secret dealings of their own hearts repeatedly cringe in shame and regret. And so it was with me and I began remembering. Chapter 2. The student "The White Book of Sarnen contains the earliest surviving record of the William Tell story." The speaker was Jaap Kunstenaar, and I was among the children he was addressing. We were in school, if you could call it school, for there was no bell, no principal, no heat, no recess, and certainly no list of subjects that we had to follow. There were only some thirty children or so huddled in desks, students so skinny that ribs protruded and elbows jutted out of our sweaters. We varied in age from eight to fifteen, with myself, 16-year-old Nico Anders, the oldest boy there. It was spring, 1945, following on the heels of a cold, cold winter. Jaap Kunstenaar was a retired teacher and nearing three score and ten years of age. He had offered to feed some history to the youth of our town two afternoons a week. We came not because our parents forced us to come, but because there was not much else to do, and because, somehow, listening to Jaap Kunstenaar talk helped us forget the hunger pains in our bellies as we lived the heroic tales of the past. I well remember the day that Mr. Kunstenaar told the story of William Tell for it was a day that marked a changing point in my life. "The Book of Sarnen was accidentally discovered in 1856, and is believed to be a copy of a much older manuscript written in 1426." Mr. Kunstenaar rubbed his thin and blueing hands together. The color of his hands indicated both the coldness of the room, in which the pot-bellied stove had neither wood to burn nor warmth to throw, and his venerable age. Perhaps that's why he told history so well, because he himself was almost a part of it. "More than 700 years ago," Mr. Kunstenaar began, and we all listened, already fascinated because of the intensity of his baritone voice. "More than 700 years ago," he repeated, "a local farmer and well-known hunter hailing from the canton of Uri, strode through the market square of Altdorf. A crossbow hung over his shoulder. In all of the surrounding cantons there was no one who could climb mountains as sure-footed and as quickly as could this man, William Tell, and there was no one as skilled in the use of a crossbow." The mention of a bow made me even more attentive. I knew how to use a bow and arrow myself. My father had taught me how to aim carefully, and how to unfailingly hit the mark, from the time I was old enough to hold a bow. "My father taught me and I teach you," he told me. "And, God willing," he added with a twinkle in his eyes, "you will someday teach your son." We hunted rabbits and quail together, my father and I, and grandfather had shown me how to skin the rabbits and how to pluck the quail. Mr. Kunstenaar continued: "Altdorf was one of the many small settlements in the area which we now call Switzerland. Its market square was no doubt very similar to the market square we have in town here. People strolled through it, they conducted business there, and they sat on the benches erected along its sides. But the freedom of walking through the square had been curtailed. This was because the town of Altdorf, as well as the surrounding cantons, was occupied at that time, even as we are occupied today, by an enemy. For Switzerland at the time of William Tell in the early 1300s, the enemy was Austria. Today, for Holland in this year of our Lord, 1945, it is Germany." He paused dramatically and we all breathed deeply, anticipating action before he continued. And why shouldn't we have? Stories that paralleled our situation were stories that most gripped our hearts. These were stories with which we could empathize. For example, tales about the Spaniards occupying our country during the Reformation times fascinated us, and episodes of heroism encouraged us. Mr. Jaap Kunstenaar was a wonderful well of information, and we leaned forward in our desks listening eagerly, forgetting for a while our worries, aches and trials. "The enemy agent for the Hapsburg Duke of Austria was a bailiff by the name of Hermann Gessler. He was the Austrian Duke's henchman. Strangely enough, Hermann Gessler sounds ominously like Hermann Goering, who, as you all know, is Hitler's henchman." We all nodded vigorously for we were very familiar with the name of Hermann Goering, a top Nazi, and a hater of the Jews. "Gessler was a proud man, a cruel man, and one who sadistically punished the Swiss people without reason. One day, overcome with pride, he placed his hat on a pole in the center of the Altdorf square and announced that anyone passing this hat would have to bow to it, on pain of death. Shortly after this announcement, William Tell, a patriotic Swiss man and one not easily frightened, strode through the square. He refused to obey Gessler's ridiculous command, nonchalantly passing by the cap, totally ignoring it. And he passed by it walking upright, holding the hand of his young son, Walter." We all laughed, the younger as well as the older children. We were enormously pleased that William Tell had not saluted the cap, for it seemed so obvious that to salute a hat was extremely foolish. Who would do such a thing? Our laughter was shrill, almost as if we had forgotten how to do it, but we were hungry you see, and our voices had grown weak because of the severe lack of food. I remember thinking that the red ribbon in the hair of the orphan girl Nienke Jongsma in front of me looked good enough to eat. And I remember thinking at the same time of the potatoes in Friesland, where Nienke had come from, potatoes which lay rotting but which were not allowed to be sent from that province to the other western provinces desperately in need of food. All the while, during that thought, Tom Jansen sitting next to me shook with mirth. And Ina De Wit in front of Tom put her hand in front of her mouth to hide squeaky giggles. And fifteen-year-old Lieneke, my good friend Lieneke, with the beautiful blond braids, whom I loved with all the innocent passion of my teenage heart, had a wide grin on her face, showing all her pretty white teeth. Strange that such a sweet and pretty girl was the daughter of a suspected Nazi sympathizer. Mr. Kunstenaar waited until we settled down before he continued. "Loitering nearby in the center of the square were several guardsmen. When these guardsmen noticed that William Tell had not saluted Gessler's hat, they immediately arrested him. Shortly afterwards Gessler himself rode into the square surrounded by his hunting party. 'Why is this man in custody? And who is he?' Gessler demanded from the great height of his white stallion. 'He refused to salute your cap,' the soldiers answered, 'and his name is William Tell, a fellow who by all accounts, seems to be a remarkable marksman – one who can shoot a straight arrow at a great distance and not miss his target.' Gessler remained quiet and thoughtful for a few moments. Small Walter, Tell's son and proud of it, began to boast and his words rang through the square, stopping in front of Gessler on his high horse. 'My father,' he called out in his childish voice, interpreting the soldiers' claim in his own words, 'can shoot an apple from a tree at a hundred yards!' Gessler sneered, sneered from his high perch on the horse, sneered at the boy, and sneered at all the bystanders. 'Can he indeed?' he scoffed, 'Well then he shall prove his skill to us here. Place an apple on the boy's head. And we shall see if he never misses.'" The mention of an apple brought saliva to my dry mouth – I almost drooled. If I had been in the place of Walter Tell, with the apple placed on my head, I would have taken it off and crunched into it for one bite, just one bite. I could almost taste it – a far better taste than that of the sugar beets that the town council was beginning to ration out sparingly to the families in town. We had heard of food packages being dropped out of planes flying over Amsterdam, but we had received no such luxuries. "Walter was led to a tree at the far end of the square, and an apple was placed on his head. Quite a crowd had gathered in the square by this time. Everyone was horrified. Outwardly calm, William Tell took the crossbow from his shoulder and fitted an arrow to his bow. Walter stood very still and appeared not to be afraid. The child had unconditional faith in his father's skill. William Tell took careful aim. The arrow left the shaft, and whistled through the air, finding its mark in the center of the apple splitting it into two parts." We all sighed. And then Mr. Kunstenaar quoted an old Northumbrian English ballad. He quoted it with great emotion and I remember it still. I have a son seven years old; He is to me full dear; I will tie him to a stake - All shall see him that be here - And lay an apple upon his head, And go six paces him fro. And I myself with a broad arrowe Shall cleave the apple in towe. For a moment afterwards it was quiet – the class all picturing the cleft apple lying on the ground in front of the boy Walter, who, no doubt, had a huge grin on his face. "William Tell sprinted towards his son, and as he did so a second arrow fell from his coat. Gessler, puzzled, asked him why this second arrow was necessary. And Tell replied: 'That second arrow was for you, if the first had wounded my boy.'" We were all delighted with Tell's bravery and gleefully visualized the look of helpless anger on Gessler's face. Jaap Kunstenaar went on: "A conversation reported between a Swiss diplomat and a German in 1939 at the onset of the Second World War, went thus. The German said, 'You Swiss are so proud of your 500,000 men militia. But what will you do if a 1,000,000 man German army comes marching across your border?' The Swiss diplomat calmly replied, 'That's easy. Each of us will shoot twice and go home.'" We roared with laughter, at which point Nienke Jongsma fainted and Mr. Kunstenaar and some of the older girls did everything they could to revive her. It took some time, but after she was sitting up again, pale and hollow-eyed (as indeed we all were), Mr. Kunstenaar decided that it was time to go home. "What happened to William Tell after that?" Jan Bezem asked as we filed out into the hall and from there into the street. "He led a rebellion against the invaders." "Did he win?" "Yes," Mr. Kunstenaar smiled and patted Jan on the head, "and I'll tell you about that some other time." Chapter 3. The pilot While the other students went straight home, I only passed by our house long enough to pick up an old baby carriage from our shed. My father, who would visit us once a week or less and always under the cover of darkness, had instructed me to walk to Farmer Dikkens after four o’clock. It was already close to four when I picked up the carriage. Inside it, hidden in a false bottom, were two packages of cigarettes and two chocolate bars, placed there by my father to be used in bargaining for some wheat and potatoes. Farmers didn't take kindly to people coming anymore. There wasn't much left of anything for people to barter with. But father had said that Farmer Dikkens would be expecting me. So I went, albeit reluctantly, because I knew that my bargaining powers were less than spectacular. We lived on the east edge of town. I lived there with my father, when he was home, and with my grandfather. My mother had died the first year of the war and I had no siblings. There were just the three of us. We had no other living relatives as both my father and mother had been only children. At this time we also had living with us a Canadian pilot who had shown up a few weeks earlier with a bad burn to his right arm, as well as a cut in his right leg. We doctored him as best we could. His mother was from Holland, so he spoke a decent amount of Dutch, and consequently our communication was good. Sometimes he stayed with father in his hiding place, and sometimes he came to the house. He was the one who had given us the cigarettes and the chocolate. "Nico," father had said, "these cigarettes may very well be the saving of our lives; God-given they are." So I prayed before I came to the farm. "Dear God," I said, not out loud but within my heart, "please let Farmer Dikkens be generous so that I can come home with some food for grandfather." It was quiet outside. The fields were bare and during my half hour or so of walking, I saw only one German soldier and he paid no heed to me, a skinny boy pushing a baby carriage. The Germans, very edgy now that the end of the war was coming, had dug holes the size of small rooms by the side of the road. In case of an air attack, they would have somewhere to hide. These holes appeared like graves to me, although had a plane appeared overhead I would have jumped into one without any hesitation. My walk that late afternoon was a lonely trek and I felt the atmosphere heavy with danger. Miraculously, Farmer Dikkens, a big man with a pot-belly and large jowls, was agreeable. An admiring smile on his small lips, he held the cigarette packages in his hand, turning them over and over, in his fleshy hands. "What do you want for them?" "What are you willing to give?" I inwardly congratulated myself on this answer. "Fifteen pounds of wheat." "I think not," I answered, "there are others who will..." He did not let me finish. "All right, then, twenty-five pounds and that's my final offer." Sliding my hand into one of my pockets, I produced one of the chocolate bars and put it on top of the cigarette packages in his hands, saying nothing. He studied me with piercing eyes, suddenly wary. "You're not in cahoots with the Germans, are you?" "You know my father," I answered, "how can you ask such a thing." In the end he gave me thirty pounds of wheat and fifteen pounds of potatoes. His wife, it turned out, had been addicted to chocolate before the war and would be very pleased with the treat. I walked back home as quickly as I could. It was a going against the wind and the carriage wheels, which had no rubber rims, kept digging into the many ruts in the road. There was a gnawing worry within me. Grandfather had been so tired lately. And so very thin. He rarely got up out of his chair anymore although sometimes he surprised me. Pushing the carriage past an abandoned house, I noticed some scrap pieces of wood by its door. Our woodstove had not been burning this last month. Wood was very scarce. One night, months ago, people had cut down many of the trees lining the center road in town. I'd heard that one man who had no axe had fanatically hugged a tree tearfully claiming it as his own, until a neighbor had lent him an axe with the promise that he might share some of its wood. Others had hung on low-lying branches, breaking them off, pulling the branches behind them to their homes. There was no brushwood left close to the town. Out in the country there were still woods. But few dared to go for these trees because the Germans had issued an order after that night, saying that anyone caught cutting down any more lumber would be arrested. Leaving the carriage on the road, I ran up to the entrance of the abandoned house. Picking up the scrap pieces, I decided there was just enough wood for one good fire – a fire that would surely cheer grandfather's bones tonight. As well, I thought I would be able to concoct a meal that would taste better than the pancakes I had been making out of mashed tulip bulbs and other bits of leftover food. And the remaining chocolate bar still stashed in my pocket could be our dessert. In rather high spirits, I pushed the carriage back into our shed. Who knew but that the war would be over next week. I prayed again, quietly inside my heart, "Thank you, Lord, for this food. Thank you, Lord, for this bit of wood." Leaving the wood in the shed, I carried the potatoes under one arm and the bag of wheat under the other. When I pushed open the front door, it creaked horribly. One of the first things I would do after the war was oil its hinges. No familiar call of welcome hailed me from the livingroom. Perhaps grandfather was sleeping. He slept much and sometimes, or actually very often, was rather befuddled about the situation we were in. I could see his head resting sideways against the back of the chair. It faced the east window where he could look out on the fields. "Grandfather," I called, but there was no answer. I walked through to the kitchen and deposited my bargaining trophies on the counter. Then I walked back into the livingroom, approaching to the edge of the chair. "Napping, are we?" I joked, "Sleeping while your favorite grandson is bringing you not only a good supper but also a warm-bellied stove for the evening." Moortje, our black cat, was sitting on his lap. We never fed him anymore as there was no food. Although thin, the animal was wiry and did an admirable job catching mice and rats on his nightly raids. Moortje was inordinately fond of grandfather. No wonder, for the black creature received innumerable scratches behind his ears, under his jaw and along his furry back. As I came closer, Moortje stood up and began to meow, at the same time licking the top of grandfather's hand – a hand, I now noted, that hung slack over the edge of the chair. Suddenly afraid, I pushed the cat onto the floor and nudged the still figure. But even as I put out my hand, I knew. I knew that my grandfather had died before I could make the room warm, before I could boil the potatoes, and before I could make some sort of pancakes out of the wheat. Undeterred by my gesture, the cat jumped back onto grandfather's lap and began butting his black head against the unmoving chest. I knelt down on the floor in front of the chair, resting my head on the still lap. The cat half-sat on my head and began purring. I vaguely took in the familiar smell of grandfather's pipe, for even though it had been years since he had last smoked the odor of it permeated his clothes. I did not weep, but was overcome with weariness so great that all my limbs felt as if they had turned to jelly. I sat there for an hour or more - I don't know quite how long. But eventually I heard the front door creak open. Then there were footsteps and Paul came into the room. Paul was the Canadian pilot. "Nico?" His voice showed his surprise at seeing me on my knees with my head in grandfather's lap. I stirred but very slightly. "Yes," I answered softly. "Nico," he repeated, and there was something in his voice that made me raise my head and look at him. "What is it?" "Your father," he answered, and then there was a catch in his voice that gripped my heart with fear. "My father?" Standing up I repeated his words mechanically. The cat jumped to the ground and ran past Paul's legs. A minute later we could hear the door creak – Moortje had the uncanny ability to somehow paw it open on her own. All the while Paul stood still and I knew again, for the second time within a few hours, that something devastating was going to occur. "Is your grandfather sleeping?" Paul asked. "Yes," I answered, reasoning to myself that he was asleep, for weren't the dead asleep according to the Bible? "Somehow," our Canadian pilot continued, beckoning me over to the kitchen where he was heading, "somehow the Nazis became aware of your father's hiding place in the woods." I trailed him to the kitchen, not able to say anything. He continued, speaking more slowly, leaning his left arm on the counter next to the potatoes and the wheat, his voice low and showing no emotion, "This afternoon they raided it and your father..." "My father," I regurgitated, feeling surreal and hearing my words as if someone else had said them. "He was killed, Nico." "No one knew where he was hiding," I protested then, "no one at all. There was just grandfather and myself who knew." But within me I was aware that there was another person. And my heart pounded with the knowledge that I had confided in one other person where my father was hiding and that person was Lieneke Goudswaard - Lieneke with the blond, honey-colored braids. I stared at Paul. His eyes were full of compassion. "We'll not wake your grandfather," he said, "not yet, anyway." "But he," I stuttered, "he is dead too, Paul. He is dead too." A half-scream, half-groan erupted from my heart and from my belly and Paul's arms closed around me until I stopped. I was quiet afterward but could speak no words; neither could I weep. A great weariness overtook me again as I gazed at grandfather sitting in his chair, head tilted to one side while the potatoes and the wheat stood upright on the kitchen counter. And then things went black. Chapter 4. The judge I awoke on my bed later that evening, and I awoke because the door creaked. My head was fuzzy and it was hard to immediately remember what had happened. But the realization of death, loneliness and betrayal returned full force as soon as I sat up. Candlelight shone in from the livingroom. Swinging my feet over the edge of the bed, I peered through the small hall. I could just make out the figures of three men standing in the livingroom, one of them holding a candle, standing around grandfather's chair. They were Piet Winter, Hugo Enkel and Klaas Boks – all part of father's team, all part of the underground. I must have made some sort of noise, because all three simultaneously turned to find me looking at them. "Ah, Nico," said Piet, "I'm sorry, son. I'm deeply sorry about your father and," he added, "your grandfather." The others murmured agreement and I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. "We're going to bury your father tonight," Piet went on, "and we thought perhaps it might be a good thing if we buried your grandfather and your father next to one another." I nodded again. Klaas, a big man, lifted grandfather's body out of the chair and began carrying it towards the front door. It could not have been a difficult task for him because grandfather was light as air, so thin he had become. "Where," I asked, "will you bury them?" "In the church cemetery, next to your mother," Piet said, "we've already had some men dig the holes. We can't wait, Nico, because the liberation is coming closer each day and the Germans are getting so nervous that we're not sure what they'll do. But we're pretty certain they won't take the time to dig up graves. Do you want to come?" I walked towards him rather unsteadily. "Let me come with you afterwards too, Piet," I pleaded, "I've got nothing left here." He said nothing, but held out his hand and I took it – me, a grown boy of sixteen years, hanging on to someone as if I were a toddler. When we reached the churchyard several people emerged from their hiding places behind some of the larger tombstones. One of them was the dominee. No one spoke. As one body, we all moved forward silently towards the west side of the church. This was where my mother was buried. Wasn't it just last week that I had visited her grave with my father? And now, in the moonlight, I could see that two yawning hollows had been dug next to it. I watched silently as my father's body and my grandfather's body were lowered into those black mouths. There had been no wood for coffins for a long time now. "There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say enough! The grave..." Like arrows from the bow of a hunter, the words from Proverbs found their mark straight into my heart and a great anger overcame me so that I turned away from the small group bunched around the gravesite and ran blindly away between the markers. Reaching the metal gate, I lifted the latch eventually finding my way home. And all the while I was thinking about what I would do next, all the while I was scheming how I could avenge...and I did not leave the end up to God. *** Paul came to the house some time later. He always came and went; I did not know the full extent of how involved he was with the underground. As I lay in bed, feigning sleep, I could feel him bend over my still form. He whispered my name but I didn't answer. Then he went to my grandfather's room and I knew he would sleep there for the night. But I did not sleep. *** Even before the morning light touched the horizon, I was up and into my clothes. My bow and arrows were stashed away in the shed under an old wheelbarrow. I checked them carefully before I headed in the direction of Lieneke's house. It had rained during the night. Puddles lined the road but there was a sweet south wind – a warm wind – and I thought of how grandfather would have enjoyed this day. He might even have sat behind the house if the sun proved to be warm enough. No one was about. Certainly a year ago, or even a half a year ago, I couldn't have walked out as freely as I did now or as I had done yesterday on my way to farmer Dikkens. The Germans badly needed manpower so they had been randomly conscripting men and young boys off the street. But the war was almost over now. Or so it was said, and Germans could be seen leaving town. Every day we saw small groups of soldiers walking through our streets, heading northeast. No matter though, during this particular pre-morning hour there was quiet and not a soul was about. Lieneke lived on the opposite edge of the town and upon reaching her home I stood for a long moment under the window that I knew held her bedroom. Then, taking the few pebbles I had collected from the roadside, I began to toss them gently and steadily, hitting her pane with a soft ping each time. It would not do to waken her father who would not take kindly to seeing me. Before long the curtains parted slightly to silhouette Lieneke's form. She opened the window and whispered. "Is that you, Nico?" "Yes," I answered, making my voice bland, giving away none of the emotion that roiled around inside me. "What is it?" "I'm going for a walk. Will you come?" She was silent, and for a few moments I was afraid that she would not come. We had often gone on walks together, she and I, and had been able to talk about many things. What these things were, I can't recall now – only that our rapport had been excellent. The reality of the bow and arrow under the wheelbarrow in the shed lay heavy on my heart. I heard birds begin to sing, only just now starting to wake. "I'll be there in a minute, Nico. Wait by the road." I breathed in deeply. She would come then. Slowly I sauntered back to the road. Spring, though late, had come and almost gone. I could smell it. Ragged robins, marjoram, and wild balsam flowered, flowered while people died. "Here I am, Nico." She had come up behind me so softly that I was startled. "Lieneke." "Where shall we go for a walk?" I did not answer but began to lead the way back in the direction of my house. "I'm sorry about your father and grandfather, Nico." There was something within me, something that pushed all other emotions away except for an overriding sense of ... of something I did not know how to define. Lieneke's hand gently stole into mine. It was a very thin hand and I could feel the bones. "I am truly sorry, Nico," she repeated. No response found its way to my lips and my right hand roughly pushed her hand away. She did not seem overly hurt by the gesture, supposing that my bereavement entitled me to rudeness. Blackbirds whistled their songs in fields, mingling their voices with those of finches. A lark rose up high above our heads, strong and proud, flying straight up to heaven. It was almost morning – almost. We walked without speaking for a long while, and eventually came to my house. I turned in, walking towards the shed. "What are we going to do, Nico?" I said nothing, simply holding the door open for her. She slipped into the semi-darkness of the interior and sat down on a broken chair propped up against the east wall. The earliest sunrays faintly fell through the cracks in the wall, shining on her blond braids. I noticed that she had not taken the time to comb her hair. It was slightly disheveled, with strands escaping from the thick plaits. But it did not look unkempt to me, rather it gave her an aura of being totally caught up in my welfare. I was not happy with that thought and forced myself to visualize my father being lowered into his grave. I sat down as well, on the dirt floor straight across from her, and took a deep breath. "Someone," I began in a neutral voice, "betrayed my father. Someone informed the police where my father was hiding." She nodded, her blue eyes fixed steadfastly on my face. "There was no one," I continued, "no one except myself, my grandfather and you, who knew where he was hiding." Her eyes became clouded, as tears formed. I could see them pooling, then overflowing, and finally falling down her cheeks. "Oh, Nico," she whispered, "you don't think that I..." "It is a fact," I said, "that there is no one else who knew." She said nothing but just looked at me. Tears ran down her face. I wanted a denial, a strong denial, and hot anger flooded my being. "You," I pushed out vehemently, "You're a traitor, just like your father! You wicked girl!" I stood up then, balling my hands into fists. Backing out through the shed door, I knelt down on the wet ground and picked up a pile of dirt. Packing it into a ball, I stomped back in. Lieneke still sat in the same spot. She hadn't moved. It was as if she were frozen. I hesitated but only for a moment. Slowly coming up to her, never taking my eyes of her face, I heavily deposited the huge clump of dirt on top of her head. Part of it oozed down, down past the honey-colored hair, onto her cheeks, mingling with the tears; but most of it stayed on top of the blond pile of hair. Walking backwards, I took my bow and arrow from under the overturned wheelbarrow. Fitting the arrow into the shaft, I aimed at the apple of dirt on Lieneke's head. "Why did you tell them?" I cried the words in agony. My fingers trembled. She did not contradict me but sat so still that she could have been a painting. The sound of loud, raucous laughter coming down the road startled me – startled me so that my fingers let go of the arrow. It whistled and struck Lieneke's left cheek, narrowly missing her eye. She flinched and her hands flew up to her face at the same time as the door behind me opened revealing Paul. "Nico! What are you doing?" I could not answer. For suddenly it was as if the dam of grief within me had burst its bounds and the waters swept me away so that I no longer had any control over my body. Paul was at Lieneke's side in an instant, speaking as he moved. "There is a German patrol coming down the road. I do believe they're totally tipsy. But neither of us had better be here if they decide to check on the house, or search this shed." "Run! You must run!" The words were Lieneke's and woodenly through my tears I saw that she had stood up. Blood trickled down her left cheek even as she spoke. What had I done? "I think you're all right," Paul said, addressing Lieneke, and then coming for me, he added, "Nico, we have to make a run for it. Those Germans will shoot us on sight." "But what about...?" My words slurred and I could not stop looking at the blood running down Lieneke's face. "I will be fine." She spoke the words almost formally, the wet dirt on her head continuing to seep downwards to mingle with the blood on her left cheek. "As you know, most of the Germans in town are acquainted with my father." She lifted one of her hands in a mock salute, a hand wet with her own blood as she added, "So you need not worry about me at all." Rooted in my spot, Paul had to push me alongside him towards the shed door, talking to Lieneke as he did so. "Go to the house and wash that wound," he instructed, looking at her over his shoulder, "Don't let any of that dirt infect it." Opening the door, and peering around the corner, he next pulled me out with him and we began our escape. Our house was built on a slope and the field behind it curved downwards towards a small stream. Even now I remember the shouting, the loud voices calling us to halt. We did not halt. Miraculously the shots that were fired missed us. Slipping and sliding, we reached the water, and all the while Paul dragged me behind himself. He dragged me until I lost consciousness. It was then that he carried me. *** When I awoke, I was lying on a cot in a small room. Paul was sitting at a table, as were some other men. I recognized Piet Winter and Klaas Boks, but there were others I did not know. Shifting slightly, the movement alerted them to the fact that I was awake. Paul stood up and sat on the edge of the cot. "So how do you feel?" "Where am I?" "That doesn't matter. What matters is that you're safe." "How long have I been here?" "Well, you've been sleeping for about two days now." "Two days!" He nodded and smiled. I was struggling to remember everything that had happened and closed my eyes at the immensity of the memories that hit me. My father and grandfather were gone. There was no one at all now except for Lieneke and she... "How is...?" But I could not bring myself to say her name out loud, and repeated, "How is...?" "First I want to tell you that we know who it was who told the police where your father was," Paul said in a low voice. "Who was it?" "It was your grandfather." Paul uttered the sentence softly. He knew the words would hurt. The men at the table had gone back to playing cards, to speaking quietly among themselves. "How could he? How could grandfather?" "He didn't mean to. The Gestapo came to your house that afternoon. Only they were not dressed like officers. They were dressed like ordinary folks. They questioned your grandfather and led him to believe that they were loyal Dutch citizens and that they were friends. They promised to bring some food for your grandfather and you if he would only tell them where his son was. They said they had an urgent message for your father from the queen." "The queen?" "Yes, and your grandfather believed it, and was more than willing to point them in the direction of your father's hiding spot." Paul stopped for a moment and eyed me compassionately before he continued. "You're grandfather was suffering from aging, Nico, and did not quite know what he was doing or saying the last while. Surely you know that." I did know it. I had seen him talk out loud to the cat as if she was my mother. And I also recalled that he had told me only a week ago that Prime Minister Gerbrandy had come to call, asking for his help in fighting the Nazis. "How do you know for a fact that he really told them?" I asked the question with a sigh and moved my feet under the thin blanket covering my form. "Because one of the German officers told Hendrik Jansen. The officer thought it was a huge joke. Hendrik is one of our men, but the officer didn't know that." I knew Hendrik Jansen. He was Tom's father and I'd gone to school with Tom for a long time. "So it was not Lieneke?" Paul shook his head. "No, Nico, it wasn't her at all. "How is she? Is she hurt very badly?" He replied rather indirectly, and I vaguely sensed that he was keeping something back. "The wound on her cheek was not very bad, just a scratch really." I sighed again, partly in relief this time, but when I wanted to get up, dizziness overtook me. Paul pushed me down. "Sleep, Nico. Sleep." Chapter 5. The substitute Two weeks later the war was over. So was my life as I had known it. Our house had been burned down to the ground. There was nothing left. There were only the three graves in the cemetery and I could not bed down there for the rest of my life. But I had no other family except for those three. It was Paul who provided me with a solution of what I ought to do. "Come back to Canada with me, Nico." "Come back with you?" "Yes," he said with a warm smile on his face, "my mother and father would love you. After all, it was your family, your father and grandfather and yourself, who saved my life." I talked with the dominee, and with Jaap Kunstenaar, both of whom encouraged me to accept Paul's offer and go with him to Canada. I tried very hard to see Lieneke, but every time I knocked on the door of her home, no one answered. The windows had been boarded up and the property appeared untended, unkept. The neighbors raised their eyebrows when I asked them about Lieneke and would tell me nothing. Neither was dominee or Jaap Kunstenaar able to relate anything to me as to the whereabouts of the family Goudswaard. I was ashamed to tell anyone what I had done to Lieneke the day after my father and my grandfather had died – Paul was the only one who knew. For all intents and purposes then, it was as if that whole episode, together with the Goudzwaard family, had disappeared from the face of the earth. And so I left my village without saying goodbye to someone who had never shown me anything but kindness. But now here was the mystery. Lieneke was in Canada – not only that – but she was in Canada with a child. That child was seven years old, born the year after the war was over, so he had been conceived during the war. Echoing, loud laughter in the hallway reminded me keenly of the loud, raucous, crowing laughter of the drunk soldiers coming down the road – coming down the road that morning when the birds had just begun to sing. And it came to me that Lieneke had offered herself as a substitute – offered herself so that Paul and I could live. I groaned out loud. Someone knocked at the door. Still absorbed in the past, I stood up and opened it. Little Nico Goudswaard faced me, or was it Lieneke? His grin sang at me. "I came back because you forgot to tell me your name." "Nico," I answered, "my name is Nico, just like yours. And," I added, "I think that I would like to ask your mother..." I didn't finish the sentence. I couldn't because I was weeping. This story first appeared in the December 2014 issue under the title "I Have A Sonne Seven Years Old; He is to me full deere..." Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books including "Katherina, Katherina," a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here....


He who has ears, let him hear

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about Him, so that He got into a boat and sat there; and the whole crowd stood on the beach. And He told them many things in parables, saying: ”A sower went out to sow. And as He sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fells upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty…” *****  The passage from Matthew 13:1-9 is a very well known passage, a very well known parable. The first sentence in this parable deals with “path” people. Have you ever known “path” people? Are you acquainted with people so hard-packed that nothing seems to be able to penetrate the much-traveled surface of their hearts? A “hard path” man Ernest was born in 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois. His father and mother were solid and evangelical. They stocked their young son's bedroom shelves with good and inspiring G.A. Henty books. Morning family prayers were accompanied by Bible reading and some hymn singing. Discipline was diligently applied and if bad language came out of the boy's mouth, it was washed out with soap. When Ernest was eight, he received a note from his Dad which read: "Your Daddy loves you and prays that you may be spared many years to praise God and help your parents and sister and others about you." And when he turned sixteen, his father, who was a doctor, likewise encouraged him by writing: "I am so pleased and proud you have grown to be such a fine, big, manly fellow and will trust your development will continue symmetrical and in harmony with our highest Christian ideals. I want you to represent all that is good and noble and brave and courteous in Manhood, and fear God and respect women." However, good his father's hopes and his mother's prayers were, the immortal seed that was sown liberally during the boy's maturing years fell on a hard pathway. Young Ernest, whose surname was Hemingway, had a heart which seemed impenetrable. During his teenage years he began to write pornographic stories, used foul language, and did not feel guilty. At eighteen years of age, he had no more use for the church. He often took God's name in vain. He once stopped just short of killing his father. His mother warned him in a letter: "Unless you, my son, Ernest, come to yourself, cease your lazy loafing and pleasure seeking and borrowing with no thought of returning, unless you stop trading on your handsome face, fooling little gullible girls, and neglecting your duties to God and your Savior, Jesus Christ - unless, in other words, you come into your manhood, there is nothing before you but bankruptcy: you have over drawn." Till the day she died, Ernest's mother did not cease to pray that her son's eyes would open to the very real spiritual danger he was in. Ernest Hemingway is depicted by Wikipedia as a successful American journalist, novelist, short-story writer and sportsman. But in reality this “hard-path” man was an apostate and one who knowingly turned away from the free offer of salvation. Married four times, he died a depressed and hopeless person, committing suicide in 1961. Ernest Hemingway is one of countless numbers of children raised in Christian homes who have not allowed the seed cast on their lives to penetrate the surface of their hearts; have not been impressed by it; have become calloused to it; and have not brought forth fruit. He who has ears, let him hear. A “rocky place” woman Have you known “rocky place” people? Have you known temporary people? Have you known people who appeared genuine for a short time before succumbing to other interests? When difficulties come because of the Word, they stumble. When the promises of the Gospel do not pan out according to their desires, they change radically. Leslie was an older lady whom I met on a street corner. She was outgoing and not at all averse to having a conversation. "Do you have any faith?" I asked her. Untucked strands of hair blew about her rather thin face, and grey eyes peered almost accusingly as she stood in well-worn indigo sandals in front of me. Her left eyelid had a blue vein running straight down towards her left cheek. We, a group of church members, were evangelizing at a Kitchener intersection, speaking with passers-by. "I used to believe once," she answered, not at all put out by the question. "Why don't you believe anymore?" "There is too much hatred in the world. It's terrible what people are doing to one another. This world is a mess. We are destroying it." "So you think that you would believe if the world was a well-ordered, happy place?" "I think," she replied, meeting my eyes evenly, without any visible nervousness, "that this mess could be straightened out by God Who is all-powerful. Obviously He is not doing anything, and therefore I reject Him." "Do you know the story of Creation?" "I do." Leslie punctuated the words with conviction, straightening out her five-foot two frame as she enlightened me. "And I think the Biblical story of creation is OK for those who need a story like that. I'm not going to criticize weaker people for needing a crutch. But we both know that science has come up with a much better explanation for how this earth began." "You mean evolution?" "Exactly." Leslie was emphatic. "But where does the first cell come from? Doesn't it take as much faith to believe in the creation of a first cell, as it does to believe in creation by God?" "No, evolution does not take faith. It's a fact." "Science changes every so many years. What people hold for truth now, might change in ten years. Do you agree with that?" "Absolutely." Leslie's face glowed as she added, "That's what makes science so wonderful. The facts can change all the time. We grow towards full and perfect knowledge." "Do you know that Charles Darwin died in agony and fear?" "Yes, I do," she acknowledged, but with a smile, "and that was because he feared that he had undermined Christianity. And so he had. Good for him!" "And if you die, what do you think will happen to you." "You want me to say that I will either go to one of two places. But you see, the truth is that I will simply stop existing." "What if you are wrong?" "I will still be all right. But I have to go now." Leslie took off at a brisk pace down the sidewalk. She was a lonely figure. Her skirt flapped above the sandals, and uncombed hair trailed behind trying to forsake a thin neck. How sad are those who do not accept the full counsel of God. Temporary faith dies into futility. He who has ears, let him hear. "Thorny" people Have you known “thorny” people? Have you known people who have weeds emanating from their hearts smothering the seed? Have you known people crammed full of things which they value much more than the Gospel of Jesus Christ? There was a man who lived among believers in the times of the New Testament church. His was a familiar face during church services. He worked faithfully alongside others, was a colleague, and an accepted co-worker for the kingdom of God. And yet, suddenly, the man left the communion of saints. His name was Demas. Mentioned only three times in the Bible as a companion of Paul, Demas was, in the long run, neither faithful nor dependable. He had, as an adherent of the faith in Jesus Christ, tasted the goodness of the Word of God but then he had consciously spit out this goodness. At some point during his association with Paul and other Christians, Demas had concluded he had no desire to meet the demands of the Gospel message. Knowing full well that his life would have to change drastically into a humble obliteration of self if he committed wholly to God, he stood at a crossroads. Weighing matters on the balance, Demas arrived at the opinion that the world and its riches were more significant than the good news of Salvation. This opinion choked the seed. We never hear of him again. He who has ears, let him hear. “Good ground” people Have you known “good ground” people? People who are joyful, people who strive to understand God's Word, people who keep it and bring forth fruit? People who are compelled to share the good news of salvation? The Hmong are an Asian people who live in a remote part of southwest China. Miraculously, they heard a broadcast in their own language in the 1980s. This broadcast came through the shortwave radio preaching of a Hmong evangelist named Vam Txoob Lis, or John Lee. John Lee was stationed in California, a long way away from where the Hmong lived, and it was his joy to proclaim the Gospel in daily broadcasts. He had no idea whether or not his message was being either heard or accepted by people in whose tongue he spoke. Nevertheless, he kept preaching. One day during this season of preaching, an old Hmong man was tuning his radio. Suddenly he heard someone speaking Hmong. Surprised, he called others in his family to gather around and listen with him. For the first time, this family heard about the Lord Jesus Christ and they were astonished at what they heard. The next day the old man notified the entire village, and a great many people gathered around their radios to listen to what John Lee had to tell them. They, in turn, shared with other fellow villagers and neighbors. The old man also felt compelled to walk many miles to eighteen other Hmong villages in the valley they inhabited. As a consequence, thousands of people came to hear the Gospel each day and the eyes of their hearts were opened by the Lord. As the people in this valley were convicted, they came to the conclusion that they had to make a decision about what the preacher was teaching them on the radio broadcast. The leaders of the eighteen villages met together and debated the topic, in the end deciding that they should become Christians. Although they did not have Bibles, they consciously chose to obey whatever John Lee should preach from the broadcast. When idolatry and its sinful ways were spoken on, the Hmong destroyed all the idols in their homes. When they heard about baptism, they dug pits and filled them with water. Afterwards they baptized one another. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Hmong became Christians that year listening to the Far East Broadcasting Company's Manila station. Drug addicts were cured, marriages were healed, and broken fellowships restored. The amazing part is that as this was initially taking place, John Lee was unaware that this was taking place. One day he preached about the Lamb's Book of Life. The Hmong, not fully understanding this, all agreed they needed to be included in this book. According to Paul Hattaway, author of An Asian Harvest, they sent a large package to the radio ministry's California office. When this package was opened, a bundle of papers was extracted from it with the names and signatures of some 10,000 Hmong people. There was also a cover letter which read: “Dear Sir, please include the following people in the Lamb's Book of Life!" As the Gospel newscast continued, the number of Hmong becoming Christians rose to hundreds of thousands and continues to this day. “Good ground” people, they are a persecuted people and stand in need of prayer. He who has ears, let him hear. Conclusion Isaiah 55:10-11 states: "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my Word that goes out from My mouth: it will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." He who has ears, let him hear....

History, Parenting

Questioning daycare and preschool: how young is too young?

In this twenty-first century, more and more children are being relegated to daycare or other institutions that look after them for a great many hours each day outside of the parental home. According to the US Census Bureau, as of 2015, about 3.64 million children were enrolled in public kindergartens in the United States, and another 428,000 in private ones. Statistics Canada reported that in 2011, almost half (46%) of Canadian parents reported using some type of childcare for their children, aged 14 years and younger, during that year.  Many children obviously spend more time with childcare providers than with their family. Various studies have shown that young children who spend time in daycare may bond less with their mothers than those who stay home.  And it has also been concluded by other studies, that children who attend daycare experience more stress, have lower self-esteem and can be more aggressive. “Even a child,” Proverbs 20:11 tells us, “is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.” It seems a simple enough proverb and easy to understand.  We have all encountered children’s actions – at home around the supper table, in a supermarket while we were shopping, in a classroom setting or on the street – and frequently found their actions lacking in moral wisdom.  Greed, selfishness, anger, sloth and you name it, these vices surround cherubic faces like black halos. So it neither surprises nor shocks us when Proverbs adds commandments such as: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death” (Prov. 23:13-14). “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him” (Prov. 13:24). But what does that have to do with preschool and daycare? Read on. Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi: education is key to a better society To understand today’s education system we need to know something of its history. On January 12, 1746, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (pronounced Pesta–lotsi) was born in Zurich, Switzerland.  His father died when he was only 6 years old and Johann was sent to school with the long-term goal of becoming a pastor. As he grew older he developed a keen desire and vision to educate the poor children of his country.  After completing his studies, however, and making a dismal failure of his first sermon, he exchanged the pulpit for a career in law. He reasoned within himself that perhaps he might accomplish more for the poor children of his country through law than through preaching.  But after studying law, as well as opting for a number of other careers, in the long run Pestalozzi ended up standing behind a teacher's lectern. Now, throughout these formative years Johann Pestalozzi had been greatly influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau was that philosopher who repudiated original sin and who penned the words: “there is no original perversity in the human heart.” Pestalozzi fell for these false words – he fell hook, line and sinker. Consequently, his principles in teaching strongly reflected the view that education could develop the pure powers of a child's head, heart and hand.  He thought, and he thought wrongly, that this would result in children capable of knowing and choosing what is right. In other words, educating students in the proper way would evolve towards a better society.  Such a thing happen could only happen if human nature was essentially good and it was on this principle that Pestalozzi based his teaching. Pestalozzi died in 1827 and his gravestone reads: Heinrich Pestalozzi: born in Zurich, January 12, 1746 – died in Brugg, February 17, 1827.  Saviour of the Poor on the Neuhof; in Stans, Father of the orphan; in Burgdorf and Munchenbuchsee, Founder of the New Primary Education; in Yverdon, Educator of Humanity. He was an individual, a Christian and a citizen. He did everything for others, nothing for himself!  Bless his name! As the engraving indicates, Pestalozzi was much admired, and his approach to education lived on after him, having a massive influence on various educators who followed. Friedrich Froebel: the father of Kindergarten One such person was a man by the name of Friedrich Froebel.  Born in Oberweissbach, Thuringia in 1782, he was the fifth child of an orthodox Lutheran pastor.  Interestingly enough, the boy heard his father preach each Sunday from the largest pulpit in all Europe. On it you could fit the pastor and twelve people, a direct reference to the twelve apostles. Friedrich's mother died when he was only nine months old. Perhaps his father did not have time for the boy, because when he was ten years old, he was sent to live with an uncle.  During his teenage years he was apprenticed to a forester and later he studied mathematics and botany. When he was 23, however, he decided for a career in teaching and for a while studied the ideas of Pestalozzi, ideas he incorporated into his own thinking.  Education should be child-centered rather than teacher-centered; and active participation of the child should be the cornerstone of the learning experience. A child with the freedom to explore his own natural development and a child who balanced this freedom with self-discipline, would inevitably become a well-rounded member of society. Educating children in this manner would result in a peaceful, happy world. As Pestalozze before him, Froebel was sure that humans were by nature good, as well as creative, and he was convinced that play was a necessary developmental phase in the education of the “whole” child.  Dedicating himself to pre-school child education, he formulated a curriculum for young children, and designed materials called Gifts. They were toys which gave children hands-on involvement in practical learning through play. He opened his first school in Blankenburg in 1837, coining the word “kindergarten” for that Play and Activity Center.  Until that time there had been no educational system for children under seven years of age. Froebel’s ideas found appeal, but its spread was initially thwarted by the Prussian government whose education ministry banned kindergarten in 1851 as “atheistic and demagogic” because of its “destructive tendencies in the areas of religion and politics.” In the long run, however, kindergartens sprang up around the world. Mom sends me to preschool My mom was a super-good Mom as perhaps all Moms are who make their children feel loved.  And how, at this moment when she has been dead and buried some 25 years, I miss her. She had her faults, as we all do, and she could irritate me to no end at times, as I could her.  But she was my Mom and I loved her.  She was an able pastor’s wife and supported my Dad tremendously.  Visiting numerous families with him, (in congregations in Holland she would walk with him to visit parishioners), she also brewed innumerable cups of tea for those he brought home. Always ready with a snack, she made come-home time after school cozy for myself and my five siblings, of whom I was the youngest. In later years, being the youngest meant that I was the only one left at home, and it meant we spent evenings together talking, knitting, embroidering, reading and laughing.  She was so good to me. Perhaps, in hindsight, I remember her kindness so well because I now see so much more clearly a lot of selfish attributes in myself – attributes for which I wish I could now apologize to my Mom. My Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 32 – a young mother myself, with five little sets of hands tugging at my apron strings.  I was devastated.  But my quiet mother who always had been so nervous in leading ladies’ Bible studies and chairing women's meetings, was very brave.  She said she literally felt the prayers of everyone who loved her surround her hospital bed.  She had a mastectomy, went into remission and lived eight more good years Many young mothers are presently faced with a fork in the road decision – shall I go back to work or shall I stay home?  Should I send my children to daycare, and thus help pay off the mortgage or should I stay home and change diapers?  Times are tough.  Groceries have to be bought, gas prices are ever increasing, and so is school tuition. I delve back into my memories and remember – remember even now as my age approaches the latter part of three score plus years – that my father and mother placed me in a Froebel School, a preschool, when I had just turned four years old.  I was not thrilled about the idea.  As a matter of fact, I was terrified. My oldest sister, who was eleven years my senior, was given the commission of walking me down the three long blocks separating our home from the school which housed my first classroom. My sister was wearing a red coat and she held my hand inside the pocket of the coat.  It must have been cold.  When we got to the playground which was teeming with children, she took me to the teacher on duty.  I believe there was actually only one teacher.  My sister then said goodbye to me and began to walk away. The trouble was, I would not let go of the hand still ensconced in the pocket of her coat.  The more she pulled away, the tighter I clung – and I had begun to cry.  Eventually the lining of the pocket ripped.  My sister, who was both embarrassed and almost crying herself, was free to leave. I was taken inside the school by the teacher. It is a bleak memory and still, after all this time, a vivid memory.  I do not think, in retrospect, that my mother wanted to get rid of me. Froebel schools were touted as being very good for preschool children.  She, a teacher herself with a degree in the constructed, international language of Esperanto, possibly thought she was being progressive as well as making more time to help my father serve the congregation. Dr. Maria Montessori, a follower of Heinrich Froebel, established the Dutch Montessori Society in 1917.  By 1940, 5% of the preschools in Holland were following the Montessori system and 84% called themselves Froebel schools or Montessori schools.  The general nametag is kleuterschool, (kleuter is Dutch and means a child between 4 and 6).  Today the age limit is younger because of the increased interest in sending children of a younger age to school.  Creativity and free expression are the curriculum norm. Most of the memories I have of attending the Froebel school, (and let me add that it was for half days), are not pleasant.  I recall braiding long, colored strips of paper into a slotted page. Afraid to ask permission to go to the bathroom, I also recall wetting my pants while sitting in front of a small wooden table in a little blue chair.  My urine dripped onto the toes of the teacher as she passed through the aisle, checking coloring and other crafts.  Such an experience as I gave that teacher cannot have been inspiring for her.  Perhaps she always remembered it as one of the most horrible moments of her career. In any case, she took me by the hand to the front of the class and made me stand in front of the pot-bellied stove. Skirts lifted up behind me, she dried me off with a towel.  Then she made me stay there as she put the little blue chair outside in the sunshine. At lunchtime she brought me home on the back of her bicycle.  Knocking at our door, she called up to the surprised figure of my mother standing at the top of the stairs. (We occupied the second and third floor of a home.) “Your daughter’s had an accident.” I think I dreamt those words for a long, long time afterwards.  But this I also clearly recall, that my mother was not angry. Would I have been a better child had my mother kept me at home?  Felt more secure?  More loved?  Perhaps. Perhaps not.  There is always the providence of God which like a stoplight on a busy street corner abruptly halts one in condemning the actions of another. God had a purpose for me, no doubt about it, in all that occurred in my life – whether things during preschool days or later.  And so He has in all our lives. Conclusion We live at a time when everything is fast-paced – food, travel, and entertainment. What we often don’t realize is that time is also fast – fast and fleeting – gone before we know it.  Our little children, sinful from the time of conception, two years old today, will be twenty tomorrow and thirty the day after that.  And when they wear out the coat of their allotted time span, will it have mattered who fed them each meal, who read books to them, who played with them and who disciplined them? When we think back to the Proverbs we started with, we realize this is a question we have to answer with the Bible as our guidebook. The strange thing is that I now regret that I did not spend more time with my mother when she was old.  I loved her very much and love usually translates into time. For parents concerned with mortgage and groceries and other bills, the simple Proverb "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6) is good to hang over their lintels.  First things should be put first.  I have never heard God’s people say that He has forsaken them....

Assorted, Church history

Henry VIII’s reformation, Big Bird, and the end coming to us all

Komm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh or "Come, sweet death, come, blessed rest" is a melody Johann Sebastian Bach composed in the 1700s. Through this wonderfully harmonious composition, Bach evokes in Christians the desire for death, heaven and the Lord Jesus. The words, by an anonymous author, are these: Come lead me to peace Because I am weary of the world, O come! I wait for you, Come soon and lead me, Close my eyes. Come, blessed rest! Just recently we heard some neighbor children express the desire to see and speak with their grandparents, both of whom died this last year within weeks of one another. The children were four and six years old. "Can't I just send them an e-mail," the four-year-old piped up, as his mother smilingly shook her head. The other one stated, as he raced a toy car along the floor, that he preferred to get in an airplane and soar up into the sky to say “hi” to Nana and Grandpa. Such anecdotes make us smile, but they should also make us aware that most children, as well as many adults, have no idea about what death actually is; that they have no inkling that it is a stepping-stone to an eternity that never ends. Big Bird’s lament Many of us who had or were children during the 1970s, were acquainted with Mr. Hooper on the children's program Sesame Street. (This is a program, by the way, which children should not watch any longer.) Friendly Mr. Hooper, who ran the grocery store on the program, was well liked. When he died during the 1982 season the dilemma for the producers of Sesame Street was what to tell their audience, composed of children, about Mr. Hooper's demise. They came to the conclusion that the show’s adult actors should tearfully and emotionally explain to one of the favorite characters, Big Bird, that Mr. Hooper had passed away and would never come back to Sesame Street. Big Bird reacted tearfully and became very upset. He was both confused and sad. The adults continued to reassure him that they were still there and loved him and that they would take care of him. Death itself was not explained, although Big Bird pointedly did ask his adult friends, "Why does it have to be this way? Give me one good reason!" One of the adults answered him in a vague sort of way: "Big Bird, it has to be this way ... just because." It was a very unsatisfactory explanation of death leaving the viewers with a void – ignoring both the promise of heaven and the reality of hell. Another Mr. Hooper To offer contrast, there is the story of the death of another Mr. Hooper, a Mr. John Hooper who lived and died in England during the 1500s. And intertwined with his passing there is the story of a child who accepted and believed that John Hooper's death was triumphant and not at all the end of his life. Although not much is known about this English John Hooper's childhood, it is a fact that he was the only son and heir to a well-to-do English family and was brought up as a staunch Catholic. To tell his story, or what we know of it, we must focus on Gloucester, the city where he died. By our standards, Gloucester, England, was not, at the time of John Hooper, a big city. Four thousand citizens lived and worked in the small metropolis. They had various occupations; the sun rose and set on them daily; and they lived and died within its boundaries without traveling elsewhere. There were the coopers, friars, bakers, carpenters, and there were the rich, poor, blind and maimed people. The streets were lined with inns, several monasteries, and between them were hidden both wooden and stone houses. Four main roads led in and out of Gloucester, all meeting at a main intersection where the town's high cross stood. They were named from the gates by which they entered the town. Thus there were the Eastgate, Northgate, Southgate and Westgate streets. Northgate led to London; Southgate to Bristol; Eastgate to Oxford; and Westgate to Wales. People walked, rode in carts, and journeyed by horse on these unpaved roads. Gloucester was a little world within the world. The Roman Catholic Church held sway in Gloucester. Henry VIII had ascended to the throne of England in 1491 and was a loyal servant of the Catholic Church. That is to say, he was a loyal servant of the church until he wanted something the church would not give him – an annulment to his marriage. His disagreement with the Pope on this matter led him to establish the Church of England. God uses all things for His glory, both good and bad. The Church of England was thus born partly out of lust, and it was a church that, although free of papal authority, had a man as its head. In Gloucester, pamphlets had been distributed and copies of the Bible were sold by tinkers and booksellers prior to Henry's divorce. People read comforting words by candlelight and many were convinced by the Holy Spirit of the truth of the Gospel. In 1538 Henry issued a royal license that the Bible might be openly sold to and read by all English people without any danger of recrimination. He then issued another decree appointing a copy of the Bible to be placed in every parish church. It was to be raised upon a desk so that anyone might come and read it. Henry VIII died, as all men must die, and was buried with great pomp and ceremony. His son Edward, who was only nine years old, became king after him. Young Edward had been fed the Solas of the Reformation by Protestant teachers and his youthful heart had been convinced of their truth by the Holy Spirit. It was during his brief reign that Gloucester was blessed with a Bishop who diligently and openly began to feed its citizens God's Word. His name was John Hooper, and he was no longer Roman Catholic. Another Paul John Hooper was a Paul. He was a faithful pastor. At times preaching four or five times a week, both on the streets of Gloucester and inside the Cathedral, he truly loved and felt compassion for the people. He fed the poor, explained the Gospel and was diligent in visiting his flock. Consequently, John Hooper was much loved by the people of the city. A boy by the name of Thomas Drourie also lived in Gloucester at this time. He was a local lad and was blind. Whether he had become blind as the result of an accident or an illness, or whether he was born blind, is not known. It is not recorded that he was a beggar, so very likely he had a supportive family. Perhaps he had been educated in the school which Henry VIII had established in Gloucester, or perhaps he'd had a tutor. In any case, Thomas Drourie was well acquainted with the Bible. During those blessed years of young Edward VI, Protestant teachers and pastors were safe from the charge of heresy. But these were only a few years – the years of 1547 to 1553. The very youthful monarch, providentially placed by God on the throne of England at this time, died of tuberculosis when only a teenager. His half-sister, Mary, succeeded him. Mary was a dyed-in-the-wool Roman Catholic, and she had no regard for the John Hoopers and the Thomas Drouries of her realm. After Mary's ascent to the throne, John Hooper was immediately arrested, tried for heresy and found guilty. Because he had been pastor in Gloucester, he was eventually brought back to that town in February of 1555, to die there at the stake. As preparations were being made for the burning of this faithful pastor, the boy Thomas Drourie found his way to the place where he was held prisoner. Thomas knocked loudly at the door and a guard opened it to see who was making all the noise. Thomas, after a long conversation with the guard, who took a liking to the boy, was taken to see the Bishop. Upon entering the Bishop's cell, Thomas was overcome with love. He himself had been imprisoned just a few weeks prior for his faith but had been released with a warning. After all, he was only a child. Bishop John Hooper asked the boy why he had been imprisoned. Thomas candidly confessed his faith in Jesus and in His atonement. Upon hearing the child's earnest words, the bishop began to weep. "Ah, Thomas!" he said, "Ah, poor boy! God has taken from you your outward sight, for what consideration He best knows; but He has given you another sight much more precious, for He has induced your soul with the eye of knowledge and faith. God give you grace continually to pray unto Him that you lose not that sight, for then you should be blind both in body and soul." Thomas hid the bishop's words in his heart and begged the guard who led him out of the prison cell to be permitted to hear the bishop speak prior to his being burned at the stake. The guard took the boy to the cathedral sanctuary where the Chancellor of Gloucester, Dr. Williams, was working together with his registrar. Now Dr. Williams had the distinction of having had two “conversions.” Originally Roman Catholic, he had 'converted' to the Protestant religion during Henry VIII's later years. And now, under Mary, he had “converted” back to Roman Catholicism. When the boy was brought before him, Dr. Williams examined him on some minor matters, but then he questioned Thomas on transubstantiation. "Do you believe that after the words of the priest's consecration, the very body of Christ is in the bread?" Thomas responded strongly with a child's assurance: "No, that I do not." Dr. Williams peered at the boy in front of him. "Then you are a heretic, Thomas Drourie, and shall be burned. Who taught you this heresy?" Thomas, the eyes of his heart bright even though his outward vision was dull, answered: "You, Mr. Chancellor." Dr. Williams sat upright. "Where, pray, did I teach you this?" Thomas replied, pointing with his hand to where he supposed the pulpit was, "In yonder place." Dr. Williams was aghast. "When did I teach you this?" Thomas, looking straight at the place from where the Chancellor's voice came, answered clearly: "When you preached there a sermon to all men, as well as to me, upon the sacrament. You said the sacrament was to be received spiritually by faith, and not carnally and really as the papists have heretofore taught." Dr. Williams felt a certain shame in his heart. Nevertheless, his voice boomed out through the church. "Then do as I have done and you shall live as I do and escape burning." Thomas did not hesitate. "Though you can so easily dispense with your own self, and mock God, the world and your conscience, I will not do so." Dr. Williams, unable to threaten or cajole or convince the boy to recant back to Roman Catholicism, as he himself had done, finally said: "Then God have mercy upon you, for I will read your condemnatory sentence." Thomas, showing no fear, responded: "God's will be fulfilled." The registrar stood up and walked over to the Chancellor. "For shame, man! Will you read the sentence and condemn yourself? Away! Away! Substitute someone else to give sentence and judgment." But Chancellor Williams would not change his mind. "Mr. Registrar," he barked out, "I will obey the law and give sentence myself according to my office." After this he read the sentence, albeit with a shamed tongue and an even more shamed conscience. Knowing that death was but a stepping stone to life, the blind boy, Thomas Drourie was burned at the stake on May 5, 1556, almost three months after Bishop John Hooper was burned. The end that comes to all Chancellor Williams came to a sad end, or rather, a horrible end, about three years later. Having dined with a William Jennings, a representative of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth I, a queen who had much sympathy for the Protestant cause, he was asked by Jennings to meet with some royal commissioners. Whether he was worried about his colorful “conversion experiences” is not known, but it is a fact that he did not want to go to this meeting. Consequently, Mr. Jennings rode off alone. Later Jennings was overtaken in his journey by a servant who informed him that the Chancellor had become ill. It was afterwards conjectured that the Chancellor had poisoned himself, so worried was he that he would be ill-treated by the Queen's commissioner. However, upon receiving a courteous and friendly message from the commissioner shortly after he had downed the poison, the Chancellor tried to recover from his lethal dose by taking some antidote. It was too late. The poison took its course. Heaven is real. Hell is real. And children die as well as adults. But those who die with the eyes of their hearts opened, confessing the Lord Jesus, can sing with a hope that shines eternally: Come lead me to peace Because I am weary of the world, O come! I wait for you, Come soon and lead me, Close my eyes. Come, blessed rest! For the rich man, there was eternal torment. For Bishop John Hooper, there was the bosom of Abraham. For Chancellor Williams - what shall we say? For Thomas Drowrie there was the light of God's countenance....


Remembering the head nurse and other people

I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your works; I consider the work of Your hands.  (Ps. 143:5) *****  Hope deferred, Proverbs 13:12 says, makes the heart sick. There are none who know this better than those who have hoped for a child month after month, only to be disappointed again and again. It is a sad thing to see young couples, when first married, opting for time to get settled, opting for the “security” of two jobs, opting for the “want” of more things, before they finally think they can opt for a family. Sometimes this family does not happen – the timeline they have posited is not the timeline which has been designated by God. The second half of Proverbs 13:12 tells us that “a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”  No one understands this second part better than a Hannah, a woman who has prayed for a little one and who finds out one day that she is indeed to be a mother. We had been married for two years when our desire was fulfilled.  Suspecting for a week or two that this was perhaps the case, but having been disappointed before, we did not really think that the rabbit test would prove to have joyous results. For those unfamiliar with the term, a “rabbit test” was a pregnancy test that would surely be strenuously objected to by the extremist PETA-type people today. It was a test in which a female rabbit was injected with a woman's urine. If the woman was pregnant, her urine would cause the rabbit's ovaries to develop temporary tissue structures.  A doctor, or lab technician, could check this out after the rabbit was euthanized. We were visiting my Dad and Mom in Fruitland, Ontario, at the time of the rabbit's demise.  It was December 1971.  My husband was outside shoveling snow from the small sidewalk before tackling the long parsonage driveway. I was inside, doing some dusting for my Mom.  She was in the kitchen.  My father was in the study. It's strange how some details stick in your mind. The phone rang and since I was standing right next to it, I picked up the receiver.  It was the nurse from our doctor's office in Guelph.  My husband and I had been half expecting the call, half not expecting it. "Could I speak with Christine," she said. "Speaking," I answered, beginning to sweat. "Your test has come back positive," she went on, and then stopped speaking. Positive, I thought, and the word appeared as a foreign language to me. I dared not hope that positive meant pregnant. So I merely repeated the word, adding a question mark. "Positive?" I stroked the colorful runner on top of the dresser next to the phone.  My Mom had made the runner and it felt warm underneath my fingers. "Yes, positive. And the doctor would like to see you for a check-up sometime in January." "You mean I'm ...." I let the sentence dangle unfinished. "Yes, you are pregnant.  There's no doubt about it.” "Are you sure?  I mean...." Again I could not finish the sentence. "Yes." Her answer was short.  No doubt she had more work to do, possibly more phone calls to make. "Thank you." I half-croaked the words, meaning to say "Thank you for the phone call," but the sentence would not come out in its entirety because of the thickness in my throat. And oh, there are hardly words to describe the thanks I felt welling up inside me to God.  Tears coursed down my cheeks. Special insight into God’s character The truth is that God has allowed mothers a special glimpse of His character, of His all-encompassing love, in permitting them and giving them the capacity to bear children.  “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you,” the Lord says to His people in Isaiah 66:12.  There is a well of love which springs up naturally within a woman; there is a depth of nurture which was always there, as woman was in the beginning made to be the “mother of all living.” It is a sense which is good and true.  That is not to say that this innate sense cannot be suppressed.  Indeed, many women do suppress it, to their own detriment.  Like the miser who died in penury while his money was buried unused in his backyard, these women will die in poverty while their motherhood lies buried underneath abortion, careers, self-fulfillment, day-care centers, nannies, TV babysitters, computer games, and multitudes of outside-of-the-home programs. Walking over to the window, I tapped on the pane. The tears were still running down my cheeks.  Anco turned around at the sound, leaning on the snow shovel.  He looked at me and raised his eyebrows in a questioning glance. I nodded and sobbed.  His eyebrows went down and he smiled.  My mother came out of the kitchen and I told her that the doctor's office had just called and that we were going to have a baby. She called my father out of the study and he stood in the livingroom doorway and just looked at me.  All he could say was "Well, well!!" and again, "Well, well!!"  Then he disappeared into the study only to reappear shortly afterwards with a Dutch book entitled Moeder en Kind, that is to say, Mother and Child.  He put it on my lap, as I was at this point sitting in a chair in the livngroom drinking a cup of tea with my mother.  Anco had come in, had hugged and kissed me and had gone back out to shovel snow. "This book," my father explained, "greatly helped your mother when she was expecting you and your brothers and sisters." "Oh, Louis," my mother smiled, "that's a really old book.  They have different books now with a great deal more information." I laughed and thanked my Dad. The book became a treasured part of my library and I read it carefully. Beer barrel bassinet It was a providential thing that there was no morning sickness.  The only “abnormality” I developed was a strong craving for peanut butter and banana sandwiches, as well as a constant desire for hard-boiled eggs.  Also, if I stood for an indeterminate amount of time in one spot, a lightheadedness took over.  Nevertheless, I was quite able to continue my job as secretary in the Political Studies Department of the University of Guelph until two weeks prior to the baby's birth.  Anco was, at this time, a second-year student in the Veterinary program at the University and carried a full slate of subjects which often required cramming late into the night.  In spite of that, he was able to craft a cradle - a cradle fashioned out of an old beer barrel which we salvaged from someone's garage.  It turned out to be a most beautiful piece of work until he inadvertently took off one of the iron bands around the barrel nearly causing all the pieces of wood to spill off.  Angie Traplin, our seventy plus landlady, was most gracious in that she permitted us the use of her garage as a woodworking shop, and she and her bachelor brother, John, followed the progress of the cradle with great interest.  They had no children in their lives and shared in the excitement we so obviously exhibited. People are unconditionally kind to you when you are pregnant.  They often offer you their chairs, thinking your condition requires you to sit down all the time, and frequently ask if there is something which you would like to have. Neither Reformed nor unReformed, being pregnant is, in a sense, like having a “get-out-of-jail free card.” If you land in a ticklish situation, it is possible to use your “condition” to get you out of this situation. For example, no matter at what hour you are tired, you will be allowed to take a nap; if you don't want to play charades, you will be excused; if you don't want to eat your spinach, that will be tolerated.  And the list goes on. A "model" student In Holland, my mother had born all her children at home and my father had always been right there by her side, (except one time when she had delivered the baby all by herself while he was still running for the doctor). During the early 1970s in Canada, however, husbands were reckoned taboo in the delivery room. But Anco stood a chance of being permitted in to see our child born if he attended pre-natal classes.  So we enrolled together in one of these classes. There were approximately ten other couples in the class. Companionably we watched a film on childbirth, oohing and aahing at all the right spots; and together we received pep-talks on exercise, nutrition, and relaxation.  Into the third class we were told to select music that we really enjoyed and to use it as we were practicing simulated labor pangs. Lying flat down on the floor on a blanket, as Vivaldi's Winter or Beethoven's third piano concerto played, Anco, sitting next to me on the floor, would squeeze my right arm softly, indicating the onset of a simulated pain.  I would then have to take a deep, cleansing breath and begin to relax my whole body. The woman who ran the pre-natal class would come along checking each prostrate couple to see if the mother-to-be was thoroughly relaxed.  Legs, knees and arms would need to be floppy enough to fall right down again if she lifted them.  As Anco squeezed my arm tighter and tighter, my breathing was to become shallower and shallower, using only the diaphragm, and my whole body was supposed to become as relaxed as a bowl of jello.  This was difficult and though I don't think I ever totally reached the jello state, I did achieve a sort of pudding-like easement before our final class. This class included a tour of the hospital as well. In the class we were also taught how to walk and not “waddle,” in the words of the instructor.  We were shown how to pick things up properly, not bending over double but bending down through the knees.  We were also told how to stand properly – belly tucked in, back straight. "You. Yes, you, Mrs. Farenhorst.  Can you step to the front of the class, please." It was not a question. So I stepped out of the group line and walked towards the front. "This class," the instructor said as I stood next to her, "is a perfect example.... (I think I began to smile proudly here, until she continued) ...a perfect example of how not to stand." Fatherly advice As the months crept on, much advice was proffered on what to eat and what not to eat.  My father-in-law constantly told me not to use salt, whereas my own father told me to eat more and brought me pieces of Gouda cheese, hard-boiled eggs and fish.  And while I grew in girth, Nixon became president of the United States, Trudeau continued on in Canada, my mother sent for reliable cloth diapers from Holland, and God reigned supreme. That summer of 1972, Anco obtained a job with the Grounds Department of the University of Guelph. This was a wonderful blessing because we could continue to travel in to work together as well as eat lunch together.  We often sat in the shade of the campus trees at noon or we would walk over to our little blue Datsun and eat lunch in it after which I would have a small nap. There was an active mother kildeer on the parking lot.  She had built a nest somewhere on the gravel.  Feigning a broken wing, the bird would try to lead us away from the nest, emitting a shrill, wailing killdeer, killdeer sound.  Although it would only take twenty-four to twenty-eight days for her eggs to hatch compared to my nine months, I felt a great affinity with the protective mother as she ran helter-skelter across the parking lot. It was a warm summer.  I had begun knitting that previous December.  As the little stack of booties, sweaters, and blankets grew, so did my stomach.  Gaining between forty-five and fifty pounds, I felt there was much more to me than met the eye.  Although I spoke to the baby continually, and she kicked fiercely in response, it was still difficult to imagine that a little flesh-and-blood baby would actually occupy the beer barrel before too long. Beyond amazing But on Sunday, August the fifteenth, we definitely knew that something was up, or rather down.  We were also extremely thankful that it was a weekend.  After all, Anco was home and what a relief that was to me!  But aside from a heavy, low backache, and intermittent pains, nothing happened – even though we stayed up all night, nothing happened!  The doctor told us, the next morning, that we ought to check into the hospital by supper time and that I ought to eat nothing for supper.  Anco went to his landscaping job, poor fellow, with rings under his eyes. And that evening we checked into the hospital. After registration and an enema, (from the last two letters in that miserable word, I have surmised that an enema is a Frisian procedure), a nurse confirmed that I was, without any doubt, in labor.  At this point, I had somehow begun to doubt that I was actually pregnant, so I was quite happy to hear her confirm the fact. After being installed in a room, Anco was finally allowed to join me.  He looked a little nervous. I assured him that I was fine and so I was for the rest of that evening.  We had brought along a book entitled The Joys of Yiddish, and Anco read me jokes, talked to me and we had a relatively peaceful time of it.  As a matter of fact, the obstetrics nurse, who was in and out of our room, joked that I might be one of those unusual mothers who give birth with relative ease. Our doctor came in to check me around midnight and Anco was asked to leave the room.  The doctor was a tall, thin man with a pale complexion and a wispish smattering of reddish hair.  Blue-eyed, as well as slightly cross-eyed, he peered at me from the foot of the bed after he had examined me. The nurse, who had become an exceptionally close friend by this time, had held my hand throughout the procedure. "Well, Christine," the doctor informed me, "I'm going to break your water." The nurse squeezed my hand very hard but said nothing.  The doctor then produced a mile-long needle out of nowhere and without wasting any more words, proceeded to break my water. As he was leaving the room, he commented to the nurse, "This one will be an all-nighter." It was a very uncomforting thing to say and to hear, but I did not have much time to reflect on it.  The next eight hours plus were hard work.  It was what my mother had told me when I had asked her what labor was like. "It's hard work, Christine.  Just plain hard work and you have to roll up your sleeves and do it." Well, I couldn't really roll up my sleeves.  The hospital pajamas were too short.  But I did remember the breathing exercises and together with Anco's help became as relaxed as I could.  My poor husband was so weary.  It was the second night straight that he was not getting any sleep. Yet the words "Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning" (Ps. 30:5) flowed around us and rang true for at approximately 8:20 the next morning when little Emberlee Kristin lustily cried her way into the arms of her smiling father and mother. From the labor and delivery room I was wheeled into a ward – a ward which three other mothers already occupied.  Snug in a corner, I considered myself blessed to be next to a window. I had seen and held the baby for a moment, but had not really studied her closely as yet. When a nurse brought her in to me a bit later, I was absolutely amazed. Actually, amazed is too small a word. I had the feeling that, through God's help, I had achieved something which nobody else in the whole world had achieved before. This baby was incredibly beautiful! And although I thoroughly believed the doctrine of “conceived and born in sin,” I was convinced that she was perfect.  Anco totally agreed with me before he went home to sleep.  Then the nurse took the baby to the nursery and I also drifted off to sleep - a wonderful sleep, a sleep in which I conquered both Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Everest and had energy to spare. Four at a time The head nurse of the obstetrics department, a woman whose name escapes me but whose militant figure will always remain embedded in my brain, was a dragon.  A short lady with grey, tightly curled, hair and glasses perched on the end of her nose, she breathed fire on any mother who did not explicitly follow the rules of her ward. When it was time to feed the babies, she would carry them in - all four at the same time, two under each arm.  We were always fearful that she would drop one, but she never did. Depositing the babies on the beds like so many loads of diapers, she would bark: "Make sure you begin on the side you finished on at the last feeding. Time yourselves carefully!  And remember, not a minute longer than designated!" The afternoon of the day I had the baby, the head nurse came in to inquire if I had as yet showered. When I shook my head, she regarded me balefully and clapped her hands. "Up, up then, Mrs. Farenhorst! No shilly-shallying mind you!  Up you go! The shower is just around the corner down the hall." I was a trifle lightheaded and actually had the gumption to tell her so.  She clucked at me disapprovingly. "Come, come! Don't be a baby. I'll be back shortly to check whether or not you've had the shower." There was nothing for it but to get up, put on my bathrobe and take a towel from the adjacent bathroom I shared with the three other women. Walking down the hall, holding on to the wooden railing attached to the side, I could feel that I was not quite up to the stroll. Then everything went black and the next thing I knew was that I was lying flat on the linoleum and a nurse was bending over me. "Are you all right?" Perhaps it was this small episode that earned me demerit marks in the eyes of the head nurse.  In any case, she had me pegged as a failure. No exceptions! Visiting hours were strictly adhered to.  My parents were in Holland and Anco's parents were in Australia that August, so visiting hours were poorly attended.  But my oldest brother and his family drove down all the way from Collingwood to Guelph, a good hour and a half away, to visit me. They did not, however, arrive during the specified hours allocated to visitors.  Sneaking up the back stairs, all five of them peeked around the corner of my room and grinned at me, lifting my spirits. "Hi, Christine", and "Hi, Tante Christine". Immediately after the greeting, my spirits sank again and terror struck me with the thought that the head nurse would see my brother, his wife and their three children and proceed to pulverize them. I fleetingly thought of hiding them all in the bathroom, but they had stepped into the room and were around my bed before you could recite the proverbial phrase “Jack Robinson.” The hugging and kissing prevented me from properly formulating a plan.  And then the dragon appeared behind them. "What are you doing here?" If there was one thing about the head nurse, it was that she kept a sharp eye out and hardly anything went by her unnoticed. "Er .... this is my brother and his family." My brother, ever the chivalrous gentleman, walked up to the dragon without any trace of fear, and extended his hand. "How do you do?" She totally ignored the hand and wagged a finger at me. "You know the rules. No one is to visit during the day!! No one!!" "But they drove all the way from ...." She did not let me finish. "Visiting hours are in the evening." "That's all right. We'll leave," my brother soothed, "but perhaps we could see the baby?" The dragon, however, had turned around and left, muttering to herself as she went, and his question remained unanswered. "The nursery is just down the hall," I said, "and Emberlee is lying on the left side right in front of the window. If you walk out that way, you can see her." They kissed me again and waved goodbye.  I accompanied them to the door of my room and watched them pace away down the hall eager to admire the baby.  But the dragon had preceded my brother and his entourage and, just as they reached the nursery window, she closed the curtains. They turned around to wave to me again, shrugging as they did so, and left. Close to tears, I was about to get back into bed, when the head nurse made another appearance. "Do you realize, Mrs. Farenhorst," she remarked, hands on her hips, face right in front of me, "how many germs you are now carrying because you kissed your relatives?" It was an interesting question, but one to which she did not really want an answer. "And you will pass," she went on  shrilly, "all these germs on to your baby." "Oh," I said, rather lamely. Then she was gone.  The other mothers comforted me and when Emberlee was brought in for her afternoon feeding, together with my germs I held her tightly. Conclusion Years later I found out that this particular head nurse's retirement, which had taken place not too long after the birth of our first baby, had been lauded by the entire obstetrics staff.  No one had mourned her leaving.  And she had died alone, in relative obscurity, a few years later.  What a sad life hers must have been!!  "The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down", Proverbs 14:1 tells us.  Was there some bitterness, some sadness, some secret anger that this woman had harbored in her heart which I might have sweetened with some kindness?  God knows.  There is time to keep silent and a time to speak, and perhaps I ought to have spoken. These things all happened many years ago.  Our little first-born Emberlee is now a godly mother with seven children of her own. I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your works; I consider the work of Your hands. (Ps. 143:5)...


Charles Darwin's grave mistake

One hundred and thirty-seven years ago, on April 19, 1882, a seventy-three-year-old man died at home in his bed. He was surrounded by his wife and two of his children, all three of whom wept inconsolably. His wife, who had held him against herself the last moments of his earthly strife, gently lowered him onto the bed. She stroked the white beard and closed the glazed eyes. Even though the family sorrowed, there was also a sense of relief that the patient had finally succumbed to death. The last few weeks had been difficult. Angina attacks precipitated fear. He had refused to eat with his family, preferring to eat in his bedroom alone. He had observed his body with morbid interest, taking notes on what he saw. “Much pain,” he would jot down, or scratch out “dropped down,” after he succumbed to faints. Tuesday, April 18, 1882, was his penultimate day and the pain began just before midnight. He woke his wife, to tell her that he was dying and she ran for his pills. Together with a servant she also administered brandy. But he was unable to keep it down, and retched miserably. He slept a little but vomited throughout most of the next morning, his body heaving and shuddering in agony. “If I could but die,” he said repeatedly, intent on present escape and not focused on the fact that he would shortly face the Creator of his heart, the Judge of his soul. He vomited again and blood spewed out, spilling red onto his white and venerable looking beard. “Oh, God,” he cried, and again, “Oh, Lord God.” His pain appeared to be excruciating and lasted until he lost consciousness about a half-hour before he died. And Charles Darwin was no more on the earth he had with human textbook clarity consigned to evolutionary origins. ***** Charles Darwin, (1809-1882), was the youngest son of an English doctor – one who did not believe in God. His paternal grandfather, an Erasmus Darwin, was also a doctor and an atheist – one who believed in the natural ascent of life and in the kinship of all creatures. Young Charles liked the outdoors. He reveled in collecting shells and bird eggs. Although his father wanted him to become a doctor, like himself and his father before him, Charles had no interest in following their footsteps. He dropped out of medical school, studied theology for a while, and then went on to become a naturalist. In 1831, when Charles was 22, he was hired as a naturalist aboard a ship called the Beagle and left England for a five-year excursion around the world. During this trip, Darwin was particularly intrigued by the plants and animals on the Galapagos Islands, several hundred miles off the west coast of South America. Darwin’s conclusions at the end of this trip are well known and have had repercussions around the world. He inferred that all species – the entire plant and animal kingdom – resulted from environmental adaptations over millions of years. In other words, God did not create the world in six days, but the world was the product of millions of years of evolution. In 1859, Darwin published these conclusions in a book entitled, The Origin of Species. The fact that Darwin stated God did not create things but that they arose through natural processes, and the fact that he promoted the existence of the universe as an accident with no purpose, were both in direct conflict with the Word of God. ***** Darwin had expressed the wish to be buried in the churchyard in the village of Downe, some sixteen miles south of London, where he had lived and worked most of his married life. He wanted his grave to be next to the graves of three of his children under a great yew tree. But such was the mood of the day – that a fool without clothes could be held up as a king – that one who openly flouted God could be hailed as a saint. Freethinking friends, wanting to honor the dead atheist, presented the Dean of Westminster with the request that Charles Darwin be buried within that church. Petitions went around and many influential government people signed, indicating that they thought Darwin’s last resting place should be one of glory among other English patriots. The Standard, a newspaper, urging the family to comply with popular feeling, wrote: “Darwin died as he had lived, in the quiet retirement of the country home which he loved; and the sylvan scenes amidst which he found the simple plants and animals that enabled him to solve the great enigma of the Origin of Species may seem, perhaps to many of his friends, the fittest surroundings for his last resting place. "But one who has brought such honor to the English name, and whose death is lamented throughout the civilized world, to the temporary neglect of the many burning political and social questions of the day, should not be laid in a comparatively obscure grave. His proper place is amongst those other worthies whose reputations are landmarks in the people’s history, and if it should not clash with his own expressed wishes, or the pious feelings of the family, we owe it to posterity to place his remains in Westminster Abbey, among the illustrious dead who make that noble fame unrivaled in the world.” Darwin was compared with Newton, foreign tributes to him poured in and in the end the Dean of Westminster acquiesced to the request that the body be laid to rest in the Abbey. Undertakers dispensed tickets of admission to the widely advertised funeral and an expensive coffin was sent to Downe for the body’s repose. No newspaper paused to consider the fact that burial at Westminster might present a religious obstacle. The Standard said: “True Christians can accept the main scientific facts of Evolution just as they do of Astronomy and Geology, without any prejudice to more ancient and cherished beliefs.” The Daily News stated: “.... Darwin’s doctrine was quite consistent with strong religious faith and hope.” It wasn’t just the newspapers which blew Darwin’s trumpet. Ministers praised the dead man as well. Canon Prothero, Queen Victoria’s chaplain, said on the pulpit, that Darwin had pursued the truth and in him had lived “... that charity which is the essence of the true spirit of Christ.” The canon at Westminster Abbey, an Alfred Barry, echoed the queen’s chaplain’s sentiment by saying that Darwin’s theory of natural selection was “by no means alien to the Christian religion.” At St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, another minister lauded Darwin for the patience and care in which he had recorded minute facts. In this way he had brought about a revolution in modern thought and shed high distinction on English science. The funeral was not attended by either Queen Victoria or Gladstone, her Prime Minister. Neither had expressed an appreciation for Origin of Species. But thousands of others did attend. Judges, Parliament members, the Lord Mayor of London, ambassadors, scientists and a great many people from the ordinary homes and hearths of London. Multitudes entered the Abbey, all handing in their funeral tickets at the door. After these had all settled in their pews, the doors opened to those who had no tickets. These people filled the less desirable seats in the northwest side of the Abbey. At noon Canon Prothero entered with the choir as they jubilantly sang “I am the resurrection.” The family, flanking the coffin, which was draped in black velvet and covered with white blossoms, followed. A specially composed hymn was sung after a Bible lesson. The words of the hymn came from Proverbs: “Blessed is the man that findeth wisdom, and getteth understanding.” Darwin's funeral service It is not entirely strange to suppose that the devil occupied one of the pews of Westminster that day. He for one was well aware that Darwin had said, “If God had planted the knowledge of His existence in humans, all would possess it.” He also knew Darwin had said that “the plain language of the New Testament seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my father, brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine.” And the devil must have slapped his knees in mirth thinking about Darwin’s public confession: “I am sorry to have to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as a divine revelation, and therefore not in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.” In the end, Darwin’s coffin was lowered underneath Newton’s monument as the choir rendered another selection, “His body is buried in peace, but his name liveth evermore.” People were awed at the solemnity of the moment. The mourners filed out. Darwin had been interred as a symbol of English success in the field of science – that is to say, he had put forward the thought that man was just an animal – an accident of cosmic evolution with no ultimate purpose. ***** Society would never be the same. Although Darwin only put a framework to what many people were already thinking, and to what itching ears were desirous of hearing, the consequences of what he contributed were severe. Racism was rampant in the thinking among early evolutionists. Ernst Haeckel, (1834-1919), the great proponent of Darwin’s theory in Germany, wrote: “The mental life of savages rises little above that of the higher mammals, especially the apes, with which they are genealogically connected... Their intelligence moves within the narrowest bounds, and one can no more (or no less) speak of their reason than of that of the more intelligent animals... These lower races (such as the Veddahs or Australian negroes) are psychologically nearer to the mammals (apes or dogs) than to civilized Europeans; we must, therefore, assign a totally different value to their lives.” The idea that white people were superior led to the practice of eugenics – a campaign to improve humankind through selective breeding. James Perloff, in his book Tornado in a Junkyard, writes: “...In Britain, Charles Darwin’s son Leonard became president of the Eugenics Education Society. In the U.S., the movement caught fire in the early twentieth century. By 1935, 35 states had enacted laws requiring the sexual isolation and sterilization of ‘unfit’ people – including the retarded, the ‘feeble-minded’, chronic criminals, and even epileptics. Proposed legislation targeted tuberculosis sufferers, alcoholics, the blind and homeless. About 70,000 Americans were involuntarily sterilized before the practice was stopped.” Nietzsche, (1844-1900), was influenced by Darwin’s theory. He denounced Christianity and declared: “God is dead.” He then advanced the idea of the "superman" and a "master race." This idea was taken over by Hitler, (1889-1945), who consequently killed his millions insanely believing that Darwin’s theory of evolution justified and sanctified his cruel actions. Hitler was not the only madman Darwin influenced. Karl Marx, (1818-1883), viewed Darwin’s work as a basis in natural science for the class struggle throughout history. He actually wanted to dedicate his Communist book, Das Kapital, to Darwin, but Darwin refused the "honor." Stalin, (1879-1953), as well, who began his studies as a theology student, changed his thinking after he was exposed to the theory of evolution. In a book, published in 1940, Landmarks in the Life of Stalin, this change is recorded by the author Yaroslavsky in these words: ‘“At a very early age, while still a pupil in the ecclesiastical school, Comrade Stalin developed a critical mind and revolutionary sentiments. He began to read Darwin and became an atheist. G. Glurdjidze, a boyhood friend of Stalin’s relates: “I began to speak of God. Joseph heard me out, and after a moment’s silence said: ‘You know they are fooling us, there is no God...’ "I was astonished at these words. I had never heard anything like it before. ‘How can you say so, SoSo?’ I exclaimed. "‘I’ll lend you a book to read; it will show you that the world and all living things are quite different from what you imagine, and all this talk about God is sheer nonsense,’ Joseph said. "‘What book is that?’ I enquired. "‘Darwin, You must read it,’ Joseph impressed on me.’” Joseph Stalin also killed his millions. The Chinese leader, Mao Tse-tung, (1893-1976), regarded Darwin as a teaching influence in his life. Calling Darwin the founder of Chinese scientific socialism, Mao was responsible for the death of millions of people. Andrew Carnegie, (1835-1919), and John D. Rockefeller, (1839-1937), were also Darwinists. They were both ruthless businessmen who practiced "survival of the fittest" in their business dealings. Carnegie said: “When I, along with three or four of my boon companions, was in this stage of doubt about theology, including the supernatural element, and indeed the whole scheme of salvation through vicarious atonement and all the fabric built upon it, I came fortunately upon Darwin’s and Spencer’s works... I remember that light came as a flood and all was clear. Not only had I got rid of theology and the supernatural, but I had found the truth of evolution. ‘All is well since all grows better’ became my motto, my true source of comfort.” Rockefeller financed the preaching of Harry Emerson Fosdick’s radio ministry. He brazenly accepted evolution and downgraded the Bible into mythology. ***** So Charles Darwin rests beneath the cold cement of Westminster Abbey. Or does he? Is his eternal soul at peace? Well aware of the tenets of Christianity, he knew that his ideas would destroy the faith of millions. He referred to Origin of Species as "my accursed book." There was considerable trauma associated with his writing of the final draft. In the year leading up to publication he was rarely able to write for more than 20 minutes at a time without stomach pains, and he finished the proof on October 1, 1859, in between fits of vomiting. Ten days before the proofs were bound he wrote to his friend J.D. Hooker, “I have been very bad lately; having had an awful ‘crisis’ one leg swelled like elephantiasis – eyes almost closed up – covered with a rash and fiery boils: but they tell me it will surely do me much good. – it was like living in Hell!” His modern biographers talk of Darwin’s self-doubt, his nagging, gnawing fear that “I ... have devoted my life to a phantasy.” It is not surprising that Darwin was subject to a "gnawing" fear nor the fact that he admitted that, in the dead of night, terror would strike him with painful force when he thought of the possibility of an afterlife. And so his body lies in Westminster Abbey – a grave mistake – an unwise decision. And what, after all, is true wisdom? Is it not the fear of the Lord? May God grant that the eyes of many hearts may be enlightened. Let voices not be afraid to cry out loudly without fear that evolution is a hoax and that it literally hasn’t got a leg to stand on. Edmund Clowney’s hymn, "Vast the Immensity" is a witness to God’s wisdom and creation. Vast the immensity, mirror of majesty, Galaxies spread in a curtain of light: Lord, Your eternity rises in mystery There where no eye can see, infinite height! Sounds Your creative word, forming both star and bird, Shaping the cosmos to win Your delight; Order from chaos springs, form that your wisdom brings, Guiding created things, infinite might! Who can Your wisdom scan? Who comprehend Your plan? How can the mind of man Your truth embrace? Here does Your Word disclose more than Your power shows, Love that to Calv’ry goes, infinite grace! Triune Your majesty, triune Your love to me, Fixed from eternity in heav’n above. Father, what mystery, in Your infinity You gave Your Son for me, infinite love! END NOTES 1 Desmond and Moore, The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist, Warner Books,1991, page 668. 2 Ibid, page 670 3 Ibid, page 671 4 Ibid. 5 Ibid. 6 Ibid, page 251. 7 Ibid, page 623. 8 Ibid, page 634-5. 9 Perloff, Tornado in a Junkyard, Refuge Books, 1999, page 220. 10 Ibid, page 221. 11 bid, page 225. 12 Ibid. 13 Ibid, page 226. 14 Ibid. 15 Creation, Ex Nihilo, Vol. 17 No 4. September-November 1995, ‘Darwin’s Mystery Illness, by Russell Grigg, page 29. 16 Ibid....


Come now, let us reason together

They say that the optimist sees the glass half full, the pessimist sees the glass half empty, and that the alchemist sees the glass completely full - half in liquid state and half in vapor state. So what is alchemy?  The dictionary defines alchemy as the medieval forerunner of chemistry, based on the supposed transformation of matter.  It was a preoccupation with transmuting a common substance, one of little value, into a substance of great value. Alchemy was accepted from the Middle Ages on, until some time in the 1600s.  It was based on the belief that all metals, indeed all matter, contained one common element, of which the purest and most perfect form on earth was gold.  Wealthy patrons often hired alchemists to conduct research on their behalf, or better put, to make money for them.  The fact that they never saw returns on their investment, did not stop their inborn desire to obtain something for nothing.  Perhaps it was like buying a ticket to the lottery today with the hope that maybe, just maybe, your "lucky" number will come up. In 1463 Edward the Fourth of England granted a Sir Henry Grey of Codnor in Derbyshire authority to labor for the transmutation of metals.  This permission for research was given at Sir Henry Grey's own cost provided that he answer to the king if there was any profit.  The ensuing years showed no profit at all. The king, however, must have desired to make some money because thirteen years later he again granted a license to two other men, a David Beaupee and a John Merchant, to "practice for four years the natural science of the generation of gold and silver from mercury." There are other records of such dealings or authorizations.  Presumably, the need for such license was based on a royal claim to mines and other precious metals.  But regardless of royal license, all experiments led to nothing. Last of the alchemists James Higginbotham was one of the last alchemists.  Born in London, England in 1752, his surname was changed to Price following the wishes of a relative who bequeathed him some money.  And perhaps, in the long run, this new surname proved rather apt for him.  Attending Oxford University, James Price seemed to be a bright young man.  He obtained his M.A. at the age of 25, was made a doctor of medicine a year or so later, and became a member of the Royal Society when he was 29. James Price was an able, but amateur, chemist and certainly not an adventurer looking for wealth or power.  A rich man in his own right, he had a family and possessed a good name.  His portrait shows the face of a rather serious, handsome young man, perhaps somewhat introspective, wearing a well-groomed wig. As a member of the Royal Society, James had already distinguished himself as being reputable in the field of chemistry. He loved science, and according to records, was an amiable, well-respected man and one with no skeletons in his closet. In the year 1781, James Price believed he had succeeded in compounding a wondrous powder, a powder capable of converting mercury and other inferior metals into gold and silver.  He wavered before making his "discovery" public. However, he could not help but speak of it with a few friends and they had animated discussions together.  At long length, Price decided to conduct some experiments in front of a select group of men – men of rank, science and public renown.  This he did from the 6th of May, 1782 to the 25th of May, 1782 – a duration time of almost three weeks. There were seven experiments in all and these were witnessed by peers, baronets, clergy, lawyers, and chemists. All the experiments resulted in gold and silver, in great and small quantities, and were apparently produced from mercury. Some of this "resulting gold" was presented to George III who received the gift graciously. The University of Oxford, where Price had been a student at Orial College, bestowed the degree of M.D. on him; and his work, containing an account of his experiments, ran through two editions in a few months. The general public, reading of these experiments, was enthusiastic.  People saw them as the beginning of an era of prosperity for England. This discovery would surely wipe out poverty; introduce a wonderful economy, and usher in a society of peace. There were those who doubted and were sure that  Price was mistaken. Conflict ensued between various groups of Englishmen. Do it again At this point, the Royal Society, of which Price was a member, felt bound to intervene. They asked James to prove to his fellow Society members the truth of his transmutations and to repeat the experiment in their presence. Price, who had initially been very positive about his work, was evasive in responding. He remonstrated that he did not want to repeat the experiments on the grounds that the preparations had been difficult and harmful to his health. Besides, had he not already demonstrated the veracity of his work in the presence of other witnesses, and should that not be enough? Arguing that the result of the experiments had not been financial gain, (though the public supposed it was so), Price went on to say that it had cost about seventeen pounds of sterling to make one ounce of gold. The questions about repeating the experiments went on for some time. Price would not agree to meet with the Royal Society. Yet the honor of this first scientific body in the world seemed to be implicated. It had been founded in 1660, granted a charter by Charles II, and named the Royal Society. It was the oldest national scientific institution in the world – promoting science, recognizing excellence in science and providing scientific advice. They more or less insisted that he repeat his work. Price was hurt. "Would you treat me evilly and not believe me?" he said. "My wealth, reputation, and position in society should free me from suspicion." At long last James Price agreed to make another powder and satisfy the Royal Society. In January of 1783 he left for his laboratory in Guildford, promising to return in a month's time. Upon his arrival, he distilled a quantity of laurel water - a quick and deadly poison also known as prussic acid.  Then he wrote up his will beginning: "....believing that I am on the point of departing from this world...."  After this, he commenced working on the powder. Six months later, he reappeared in London and formally invited as many members of the Royal Society as wanted to meet him at Guildford on August 3rd of 1783. There had been a change in public acclaim. Whereas before people had expressed great faith in James Price and his transmutation of base metals into gold, they now were no longer supportive or interested. Only three members of the Royal Society arrived at the laboratory on August 3. Price received them warmly but could not have helped but feel their air of skepticism.  Excusing himself and stepping aside for a moment, he swallowed a vial of the laurel-water he had prepared. The three men who had come into his laboratory immediately noted a change in his appearance. The man suddenly appeared very ill.  They did not guess why and called for a doctor.  But within minutes James Price was dead. He was only thirty-one years old. There have been many speculations as to why James Price would take his life! Had he deceived both himself and his spectators with his first experiment? Had he been willfully ignorant of this deception? Had he discovered an error? Had he been unable to bear the consequences of mocking? Did he not have the moral courage to confess or own up to a mistake? After his suicide, the Royal Society refused to carry out any further investigations into Price's claims. It is a mystery and upon reading of it we can only speculate. Getting rich, for real People crave quick wealth. In the US approximately 183 million people play a lottery at least one time each year. In England, James Price's homeland, 70% of the population takes part in a lottery on a regular basis (Lottery Demographics, April 2018).  It seems that most people think a change in their lives from perceived hardship to wealth is the answer to their troubles. Thoughts travel on. There is Someone Who can transform base materials into gold. There is One who can transform red into white. Not many people, however, walk into His laboratory to behold the truth of His claim. Strange that the One Who can transform dirt, that is to say, sin, into the golden crown of eternal life, was admired one day and much sought after, and killed the next. His laboratory was Golgotha, and Isaiah 1:18 invites many to come, believe and be transformed: “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."...

Culture Clashes

Bruce Jenner & Micklewhite: Adult problems lurk amongst the picture books

It was a beautiful day. The temperature had soared to eighty degrees plus and one of our daughters and four of our grandchildren were over for a few days. Together we watched the Baltimore oriole as he perched on the hummingbird feeder and pecked at a slice of orange. The downy woodpecker showed up as well as the cardinal and an indigo bunting. We carefully tiptoed past a ruffed grouse sitting on its eleven eggs. Here in our backyard was a wonderful array of color and sound made by the fifth-day creatures God has made. And we, the sixth-day image-bearers of Himself were privileged to see and hear them. It was a work-holiday. The kids helped us with raking, gathering up leftover leaves from last autumn, as well as mowing huge swaths of lawn. Our daughter straightened flowerbeds, and weeded. And afterwards there was swimming and splashing in the pool. Children and grandchildren are truly a marvel! After supper, Tirzah, our daughter's youngest child, was ready to curl up on the sofa next to her Mom for some before-bedtime reading. It's my wont to always visit the library prior to a visit, if I know about it, and to stock up on a variety of books. Tirzeh and her Mom were rummaging through the pile and I was putting away some laundry. Half-way up the stairs with an armload of towels, sheets and shirts, I heard my daughter call out. "Mom!!" I paused. Was there a problem!? She called out again. Actually it was more like a yell. "Mom – this is awful!" I turned, descended the stairs, still carrying the laundry. "Have you looked at this book, Mom?" I was in the hall by now, searching my brain as to what she was talking about. Entering the living room the most aghast look of the twenty-first century hit me. "Mom, did you know that you took out a book on cross-dressing?" "No," I responded, and truly I had not known it. Then I recalled that when I had gone to the library the previous Saturday, it had unfortunately been fifteen minutes before closing time. Quickly scanning the shelves, first for literature for the older grandchildren (and becoming rather engrossed in some of these volumes), I had been nudged by the librarian that they were closing and that it was time to leave. Running into the children's section of the branch, I had raced around the room taking all the display books off the racks. I figured that these were likely popular favorites and probably indicated good reading. Obviously it was not a well-thought out assumption! "Mom! This book is horrible! Do you know what it's called?" I shook my head: "No, I don't." "Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress!" Cute name, Morris Micklewhite, but the glaring truth was that it was a boy's name – and boys, unless they are Scottish and kilt-oriented, ought not to wear dresses. Deuteronomy 22:5 is very clear on that: "A woman is not to wear male clothing, and a man is not to put on a woman's garment, for everyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord your God." I'm very thankful that my daughter is a conscientious child of the covenant and that she recognizes evil when it approaches, even under the innocent guise of a child's book cover. There are, sadly enough, a number of Morris Micklewhites in the world. Bruce Bruce Jenner was born on October 28, 1949, in New York. This means that he will be 70 years old this fall. Like all children, Bruce was sent to school when he turned 6. Dyslexic, Bruce had trouble with spelling, reading and grammar and disliked school very much. Not diagnosed until the fifth grade, he had nightmares about the teacher having him read in front of class. Like Morris Micklewhite, he had to overcome certain fears about going to school. But Bruce managed to complete grades one through twelve. Not an academic, he turned all his energies into outdoor activities. He had such a penchant for sports, as a matter of fact, that he earned a football scholarship in 1968 which allowed him to attend Graceland College in Iowa even though his grades were not very good. A knee injury, however, soon forced him to stop playing the sport of football in which he excelled. Worried about losing his scholarship and being drafted into the US army, he changed his sports focus. Having a natural gift for track and field, Bruce made the switch to the decathlon. In 1973 he graduated from Graceland College with a degree in physical education. He married his high school sweetheart, a minister's daughter, and set his mind on training for the Olympics. His wife, a flight attendant, worked, even as Bruce trained during the day, selling some insurance on the side. Although he finished tenth in the 1972 summer Olympic Games in Germany, his rigorous day training eventually paid off and he won the decathlon gold medal at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Rugged and tough, Bruce was built like a natural athlete. Had he lived during King David's time, he possibly would have qualified as one of his mighty men. But after winning the gold medal, muscular Bruce Jenner settled for being the spokesperson for Wheaties breakfast cereal for several years, posing for the cover of the box. This supposedly encouraged buyers to think, "If you eat this cereal, you could possibly be as brawny and sports-oriented as Bruce Jenner." He also drank orange juice for Tropicana and took pictures for Minolta. Six foot two and 194 pounds of well-distributed muscle, he gradually evolved into a public advertising idol. It paid his bills. It made him rich. Outside of the athletic arena, Bruce Jenner was making more money from winning that single gold medal than any other athlete had before him. He continued to be in demand for countless commercials, promotions, and public appearances. All this publicity took a heavy toll on his marriage – a marriage which dissolved in 1980. In the wake of his broken marriage, Bruce turned to a film and television career, and married again. During the next five years, he also became a successful racecar driver. Then there was another divorce and another marriage. In all, he fathered six children – two by each of his three marriages. Truly the man was a broken puzzle, a sad book to read! The 2015 chapter in Bruce Jenner's life, however, was the saddest one yet - on page April of this chapter he announced that, like Morris Micklewhite of the children's literature, he wanted to wear a dress. In other words, he announced that he was transitioning into a woman, a yearning which, he said, had always lived within himself. Although he had been created a male by the Lord God, Bruce Jenner questioned his Creator's decision, rebelling against it. Changing his name from Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner, he went on to pose, two months later, for the cover of Vanity Fair, as a female. As to be expected, Bruce was praised for his “courageous” action by all those who love evil. That same year of 2015 saw him as the winner of the Social Media Queen award; Glamor magazine named him one of its 25 glamour women of the year; in December he was named “Barbara Walter's most fascinating person of 2015” and he was on the Time's short-list for the 2015 person of the year. Looking back on his athletic career, it would appear that Bruce had been dissatisfied with it, that he'd had no long-term goal for which to aim. He is quoted as saying: "I spent twelve years training for a career that was over in a week." And apparently having no handle on who he is as a male person made in the image of God, he referred to his transition as a “female” by saying: "I'm so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self." Conclusion What a sad thing to so blatantly disregard God's good intentions for one's life! Healthy and wealthy, he fell far short of being wise, fell far short of fearing God. Throughout all this there is no doubt that Bruce Jenner is looking for meaning, searching for fulfillment, but he will fall flat on his face unless he acknowledges that the only meaning in life is to be found in our Lord Jesus Christ; that the only fulfillment is to praise God and enjoy Him forever. God have mercy on the Micklewhites of the world. They will never find peace following the intention of their own base hearts and the prodding of the devil's evil strategies. All this to say that no matter how cute little boys can look in tangerine skirts, we do well to remember that the words of Deuteronomy 22:5 are not cute, are not to be dismissed lightly. A person detestable to God lives in darkness and the Micklewhites of the world are heading for eternal darkness....

Church history

Macarius: great works vs. grace

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Eph. 2:8-10 **** When he was born on January 2 in the year 300 A.D. in Alexandria, Egypt, his parents must have been filled with great thankfulness and hope, for they named their little baby boy Macarius.  Macarius means “supremely blessed.” Perhaps they'd had other children die, or perhaps they had prayed for a child for a long time and were not sure that they would ever have one.  Whatever the case, the bundle of blessing grew up and became a man, and that man took on the job of merchant. There are times in the lives of believers when they consider how much they have done, how much they ought to have done and what they have not done.  There is no doubt that these moments of reflection can lead to fruitfulness, to a further developing of the fruits they are admonished to have. After all, Peter encourages readers in his second epistle (1:5-7): "...make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love." Across New Testament pages Peter shakes hands with Paul, who tells believers in Phil. 2:12 to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Retreating from the world Macarius married, but his wife died shortly afterward.  Impressed by the spectre of death which he had encountered firsthand, a spectre which was neither a respecter of youth nor of financial status, the merchant was led to forsake the world. What did this mean for Macarius? It meant that he gave away all his material goods and moved to a solitary place where no one else lived. This place was the Thebais in Upper Egypt, a desert, a lonely area which had become a retreat for a number of Christian hermits. Macarius was convinced that this action would prepare him for eternity, that this would enable him to devote himself to thinking heavenly thoughts, that here he would be able to concentrate on pure matters. Perhaps, however, the Thebais was not as stimulating in holiness as he speculated, for later in life he moved on to different deserts in Lybia.  Hermits lived here as well, but these men were not within eyesight of one another. Macarius became an austere man. There was a drive in him to strive for what he perceived to be perfection of character.  It is not recorded whether he diligently studied the Word of God, or whether, as Peter puts it in the second part of his epistle, he experienced the grace and peace afforded those who have the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Resisting the “temptation” to serve During the course of his stay in one of the deserts, Macarius, at one point of his life, was overcome by a virtuous desire to travel to Rome to spend time serving and aiding those who were ill in that city.  It was a noble aspiration.  We are told in the Bible to serve others.  Indeed, Jesus commands His followers:  "Love one another even as I have loved you." (John 13:34)  And did He not help the ill and the maimed? And did He not die for us? Because Macarius often deprived himself of God-given sustenance, he was prone to strange hallucinations which he supposed were godly visions.  Persuaded through some of these that to help others would make him proud and give him too much esteem in the world's eyes, he did not leave the desert for Rome. Instead he threw himself down on the ground and cried out to the imagined “temptation,” "Drag me hence, if you can, by force, for I will not stir from here."  He lay on the ground all night. However in the morning, upon rising, he found that his desire was still for service in Rome.  Not wishing to give in, he filled two baskets with earth, lay them on his shoulders and plodded into the surrounding wilderness.  Meeting someone he knew, he was questioned as to what he was doing with those baskets on his shoulders.  He made no reply other than: "I am tormenting my tormentors."  Returning to his lodging in the evening, he was glad to be free of the “temptation” to serve. It seems Macarius spent no time contemplating Jesus' temptations in the desert – temptations which were overcome. It seems Macarius did not ponder the fulfillment of the law performed by the Lord during His life, death, resurrection and ascension. And it seems that Macarius did not think of the fact that the Holy Spirit had been sent to enable and equip believers to serve in thankfulness. The definition of an anchorite such as Macarius, as given by Abbot Rance de la Trappe, (1626-1700 and founder of the Trappist monks), reads: “..a soul which relishes God in solitude, and thinks no more of anything but heaven, and forgets the earth, which has nothing in it that can now please. It burns with the fire of divine love, and sighs only after God, regarding death as its greatest advantage; nevertheless it will find itself much mistaken if it imagines it shall go to God by straight paths.... in which it will have no difficulties at all...” Sadly, such a definition describes the error of those who think they might climb into eternity using their own boots, their own merits, pushing open heaven's door by their own victories. A contrast Also a January baby, my father, Louis Praamsma, was born on January 1, 1920 – one hundred and nine years ago. He was no anchorite, however, for he loved to mingle with people all of the 74 years of the life on earth which God gave him.  He studied the Word of God diligently, was humble and acknowledged his sin, preaching forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ in season and out of season, always seeking people out and giving them the reason for the hope which was in him. This is how pastors (and all believers) should be – compassionate, seeking sheep, in but not of the world, eager to listen and never too preoccupied with self.  Louis Praamsma did not walk into heaven on his own merits; neither did he open heaven's doors with his own hands when he died in 1984.  No, salvation had been accomplished for him by his Savior, Jesus Christ.  Hence his earthly life was full of thankful service. Perhaps my Dad has met Macarius in heaven, if that anchorite perceived at the end of his life that all his works had been but as filthy rags. May it be that 2019 is a year of thankfulness – one filled with love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – because against such there is no law.  And may our thankful lives radiate outwards towards loving one another even as Christ loves us....


Song of Songs (A Christine Farenhorst Christmas story)

Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? – Job 38:4-7 Chapter 1 There are innumerable, worthy symphonies which have been composed over the ages. Think of Beethoven's Eroica symphony, Handel's Pastoral in his great work The Messiah, Mendelsohn's Scottish symphony, Haydn's Clock symphony, and many other amazingly wonderful works of music. But the oldest and most beautiful of all symphonies is often forgotten. Entitled Ephesians 1, it was written by the Trinity. An orchestration wrought before the beginning of time, it is a harmony par excellence. Its arrangement, which is found in the Holy Book, sings of the chosen ones, the ones who are blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Its first performance took place in eternity. Preludes resound. **** When little Marsha Tennison enthusiastically raised her hand towards the ceiling to ask a question, even her thin pigtails danced with earnestness. “Pigtails,” Jason Brook mused, even as he nodded his head that she might speak, was a strange term. Little Marsha was anything but a piglet. The wispy curls which escaped from both her red barrettes were auburn; red freckles jumped about on her cheeks; and her bright, blue eyes were filled with joy at being allowed to talk. "If the stars," the child began clearly in a well-modulated voice, "are the work of God's fingers, then He must be really big. But my eyes are not big enough to see all of the stars at night." She stopped for a moment and caught her breath before continuing. "I was thinking that it would be a wonderful thing if you could catch a bus and climb up into the sky to get closer to the stars. You know, like Jacob's ladder." Her voice petered out. Some of the children were giggling. The sound subdued her somewhat. "We will see God, I know," she added in a much lower tone, "when we die." Samantha, one seat over from Marsha, gasped audibly. She was a sweet child too, but one steeped into supposing that a person could climb into heaven on a Ten Commandments ladder, certainly not on a bus resembling a Jacob's ladder. It was well-nigh three thirty and almost time to go home. Bible was the last subject on the agenda. "It's a good thought, Marsha," Jason encouraged "And anyone who has ever looked at the multitude of stars at night will understand what you were saying." Marsha beamed and settled back in her desk. She held one of her long, thin braids between the fingers of her right hand. A trusting eleven, as were most of the children in his Bible class, she was a dreamer. Jason smiled at the sea of upturned faces. Half of the faces were focused on him; the other half were focused on the clock. "If any of you think God is small, then surely you will not expect Him to be able to do great things. But if you think, or rather know, that He is big, " he added, "and that the stars are the work of His fingers, then you will believe He can do mighty things. When we die," he went on, "we will see Him as He is. Even though we can't understand how that will be, Marsha, we know it is true because the Bible tells us so." Samantha raised her hand and spoke quickly, almost before he could nod permission. "But God is not a person, pastor Brook, so how can anyone think of Him as, well, as just plain big? Isn't that wrong?" "Well, you are right in one way, Samantha. God Almighty is not a person as we are, although we should never forget that He took on our flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ. I think though, that what Marsha meant by her question was that God is mighty beyond what we can physically see and understand? I think she tried to say," and here he looked straight at Marsha who moved her head up and down vigorously all the while clasping one of her brown braids, "that it is amazing that the stars which are so high above our heads, were formed by the words of God's mouth and that the Bible actually calls the stars the work of His fingers. And how can it be possible that we, little and sinful people that we are, will eventually be able to see such a mighty and holy God." Marsha blushed. They were fine words, the words of pastor Brook. She felt them inside but could not always iterate them clearly. But he had read her question rightly. Those were matters she thought about a lot. She would like to ask him to explain more things, but she dare not ask them now lest Samantha criticize that as well. Perhaps later. Her teacher winked at her and she blushed again. "We have a very mighty God, Marsha," he added, "and He does not mind what we ask, as long as we ask questions on our knees, full of reverence." "Can we ask Him anything?" Samantha suddenly said, not even raising her hand. "Yes," Jason responded quietly and confidently, "anything at all as long as we ask sincerely and according to what He wills." Another hand shot up. This time it was Penny, a twelve-year-old going on eighteen. When she had been given permission to speak, her truculent voice struck the wooden desks with a certain amount of bravado. "Well, I'd like to ask Him to give you a wife, pastor Brook." A stillness descended on the classroom. Little Marsha stopped fidgeting with her braid and anxiously scanned her teacher's face for his reaction. Samantha turned around to raise her eyebrows at Penny. But Penny, unperturbed, went on. "I'd like to ask Him to give you a wife who doesn't mind that you limp. You need some looking after and your mother is getting older. Besides, everyone says a pastor shouldn't be a bachelor." Jason held up his hand at this point to stop the inappropriate waterfall of words gushing out of Penny's mouth. He smiled at her even as he grimaced inside. "Thank you, Penny, for your concern. That's very kind of you." Everyone stared at him - the girls sympathetically and the boys uneasily. He closed in prayer and then they trooped out. **** It was mid-June and nearing summer vacation. Jason Brook taught two Bible courses at the local Christian academy every Friday afternoon. His first class consisted of the fourteen and fifteen-year-olds whereas the second class was comprised of eleven through thirteen year olds. "Pastor?" He startled and then smiled broadly. It was little Marsha who had returned to the room. There was no denying that she was one of his favorite students. She lived in his neighborhood and he often spoke with her. "Thank you for teaching me.... for teaching me that you can talk to God about anything. You are so helpful. And you know what," she added softly, "I never notice that you limp." She flashed a grin at him and then she was gone, brown braids spindling behind her. Jason stood still for a moment, a small frown on his face. Even coming from a sincere child, a child who meant to comfort and build him up, the words hurt somewhat. He was thirty-six years old and in the sudden stillness of the classroom after Marsha's departure, he could hear his mother's voice, could hear it as clearly as if she were standing next to him. "You have a false sense of pride, son." She'd said those words to him just last week, just before informing him that Gena Ardwick, the daughter of an old friend, had been invited by her for a few day's visit. His face must have shown dislike and apprehension because that's when he had been reproved. "You immediately suspect I'm setting you up and you retreat behind that shell of yours. There is no sin in having friends, Jason, and you need not look for me to be matchmaking behind every tree." "You are right, mother," he had sighed, "and I apologize. I'll be a good host, I promise. **** Later, after straightening out his desk and cleaning the blackboard, he picked up his briefcase and began his walk towards the bus stop. People, he reflected, as well as adults, were often most comfortable with the status quo, with the way things were always done. There was no denying that he sometimes fell outside the accepted status quo. Perhaps his childhood polio endowing him with this uneven gait, or perhaps the early loss of his father, had marked him. Yet these events had not been bad, he mused on, but rather had worked for his good, for had they not made him depend on His Creator more and more? He breathed in deeply. Sure he prayed for a wife, prayed punctually as one might pray for good weather. But if it rained, the truth was that he was quite content to sit at home and read a good book, or to take a walk under an umbrella. He vaguely remembered Gena Ardwick, the girl who would be stopping in to see his mother today. She had lived next door to his family years ago when he had been a boy about the age that little Marsha was right now. Gena had been a snippy, self-willed girl, if he recalled correctly, and he had not cared for her. She'd always been ready with an opinion and she had not liked either dogs or cats. Strange that he should remember the part about pets. Unconsciously he shrugged as he walked. In spite of his mother's protestations to the opposite, there had been questionable female visitors in the past: a far-off distant cousin afflicted with a slight stutter; the organist's older sister over for holidays from Amsterdam; and the neighbor's orphaned, sewing pupil. He suddenly laughed out loud, switched the briefcase to his other hand and chided himself for brooding. **** There were no other people waiting at the bus stop. Setting down his briefcase, Jason unashamedly stretched his tall form. Friday afternoons could prove to be long, even trying, but he enjoyed them - enjoyed the teaching and the interaction which he had with his students, even students like aggressive Penny. Glancing at his watch, he expected that the bus would be along shortly. He'd known the bus driver for years. Sure enough, rounding the corner right on time, the front end of a grey bus turned towards him. Automatically he picked up his briefcase with his right hand while his left hand reached for a bus token in his pants' pocket. The bus smoothly slid to a stop in front of him and the door opened. "How're you doing, Jake?" "Great! And yourself, Jason?" "Fine." Smiles were exchanged and Jason habitually walked towards the seat where he was wont to sit. Only…someone else was sitting there. It was a woman wearing a dark blue hat, a light blue sweater and a grey skirt. He saw this all in one glance. She nodded slightly when he caught her eye, moving past to a seat behind her. It miffed him a trifle that she was sitting in his spot, but he knew this was bordering on the ridiculous. Public transport was just that, public transport and the public could sit wherever they pleased. Ten minutes later he stood up. His stop was next. He'd always counted it a blessing that he lived only a few houses away from the bus stop, especially during bad winter weather. The woman stood up with him simultaneously. She picked up a small leather suitcase from the floor and eased into the aisle in front of him walking towards the exit door. He could smell a faint scent of jasmine exuding from her person. The bus came to a halt. Stepping down, the woman turned in the direction of his house, leather suitcase dangling from her right hand. It came to him suddenly, as he followed her steps, that this woman could be Gena Ardwick. But his mother had gone to pick her up at the train station in South Hanker. Maybe mother had missed connecting with Gena and the girl had taken matters into her own hands. Sure enough, she was slowing down and peering at house numbers. Then, before Jason's very eyes, her heel caught in a crack of cement causing her to stumble and fall. The incident occurred right in front of his home. The small suitcase flew out of her hand and landed neatly at her side, but as he hobbled up behind to reach her, the girl had already scrambled back to her feet. "Hey, are you all right?" She nodded, but he noticed a shining in her eyes - unshed tears just like the ones his students blinked back after they had been given a very low mark or had inadvertently tripped over someone's feet in class. Reaching over to pick up her suitcase and putting her full weight on her left foot, the woman gave a small cry of pain "I think you better lean on me." Unquestioningly she took the arm he offered, reinforcing his notion that she was indeed Gena Ardwick. A surge of protectiveness washed over him. Shuffling up the sidewalk as she held on to him, she didn't say a word. "What providence," he said, glancing at her as he spoke, "that I was just behind you, Gena." She stared up at him. But then another tremor of pain passed over her face. "I hope you didn't break anything," Jason went on, "We'd better get you to sit down quickly so we can have a look." **** It was quiet in the hallway and the cat ran down the stairs to meet them, rubbing up against Jason's legs. "This way to the living room, Gena," Jason spoke softly, "and I hope you don't mind cats now. Harry is a people cat and hates it when I'm gone. " She shook her head as he led her through the hallway door into the living room, carefully sitting her down on the edge of the couch. Resting back, she smiled up at him wanly, her face very white. "I think I'll put on the kettle for a cup of tea. Just sit for a minute before we have a look at that foot." Propping up a pillow behind her back as he spoke, Jason expertly pushed a footstool in front of the couch. "There you are. Can you lift your foot up on it?" She obliged and Harry jumped onto the couch next to her. It brought a tiny smile to her face and somehow this pleased Jason a great deal. He disappeared into the kitchen and pondered his next move. Hopefully, mother would be home soon and that would take the onus off himself. The situation was a bit awkward. She hadn't said a word so far and she was also a bit chunky or, as his mother would say, pleasingly plump. The doorbell rang. Now who could that be? Striding back to the front door, he was surprised to see little Marsha standing on his steps. Grinning broadly, she was holding a tray of cookies in her hands. She lived only a few doors down from him. "My foster mother made these for you, pastor Brook, because you taught me all year and because you visit all the time." "Well, thank you, and please thank your foster mother. That's very kind of you both." A luminous idea struck him. He gestured that she step inside and when she happily obliged, he walked her past the closed living room door leading the child into the kitchen. Once there he spoke in a low tone. "Marsha, I have a visitor in the living room and she's hurt her ankle. She's my mother's friend and will be a guest here for a few days. Would you mind helping me with her for a little while?" The girl was all smiles and nodded eagerly. "No, pastor Brook, I wouldn't mind that at all." "Thanks, Marsha, I appreciate that very much." He pointed towards the living room and she immediately stepped back into the hallway, making her way to the living room. He followed her. Opening the door, they could see Gena bending over, trying rather unsuccessfully to take off her shoe. Marsha lost no time. She was by the couch and on her knees in a trice. Assisting nimbly, her small fingers undid the buckles, even as she spoke in a low tone. "My name is Marsha, but most people call me little Marsha because I'm not as big as I should be. What's your name?" "Gena." It came out softly and it was the first word Jason heard her say. So he had been correct then in surmising that she was his mother's guest. "Gena's a real nice name," Marsha went on, "and look, your shoe's off and that's good because I think your foot's a bit swollen. I can see it through your nylon stocking. Hope it doesn't hurt too much." Arnica, thought Jason who was still standing in the hallway door, mother's arnica in the medicine cabinet would help right now. Turning, he made his way to the bathroom and checked cupboards until he found the arnica tube. To his disappointment, it was almost empty. He'd have to go to the pharmacy for a new tube. Maybe he should also offer aspirin with the tea for pain? He slowly walked back into the living room. "Her foot's not broken, pastor Brook," Marsha called out cheerfully from the couch while stroking the cat's head, "You can wiggle your toes, can't you Gena?" Gena nodded. "That's fine," Jason said, very much relieved, "but I think I'll walk over to the pharmacy anyway to pick up some arnica. It's a good remedy for bruising and swelling. I can see from here you might have a bit of a bruise." Gena shook her head. "There's no need for you to do that," she protested weakly. "Not a problem," Jason waved away her protest, "Little Marsha, can you stay here until I come back? You can put the kettle on for tea and you know where the mugs are. You can also serve some of the cookies you brought along." The girl nodded eagerly. "Sure thing. And I'll phone Aunt May to let her know I'm helping out." Chapter 2 The symphony of Ephesians 1has a recurring theme. The consonance which weaves through its melody is that of predestination. With singleness of purpose, the notes, again and again, point to children adopted through Jesus Christ in accordance with His pleasure and will. We don't always hear a theme until it is pointed out. But the truth of it is that election reverberates throughout Ephesians 1. **** After little Marsha had telephoned her foster mother, she asked Gena if she wanted a cup of tea and a cookie. The woman smiled at the child standing in front of the couch. "You are eager to help. You're a very kind, little girl." Marsha dimpled. "Any friend of pastor Brook is a friend of mine. And I'm sorry you hurt your foot. Shall I put pillows under it?" The doorbell rang. "Excuse me," little Marsha said. She got up from the couch and stepped back into the hallway, leaving the door to the livingroom half-open behind her. **** There was a coolness in the foyer and the child shivered before she opened the entrance way which Jason had locked behind him. Two women stood on the doorstep. They smiled at Marsha. "Hello, it's a nice day isn't it?" One of the women, portly but gracious, extended the greeting. "Yes," Marsha replied. "Is your mother at home?" "Yes," the child answered for the second time and without hesitation, "She is." On the couch in the living room, Gena, who could hear each word, winced. The girl was lying. That was a whopper. "Can we speak to her?" "No, I'm afraid you can't." The second of the two women coughed delicately into a hanky. "And why will you not let us speak to your mother?" "Because she's in heaven with the Lord Jesus." There was silence on the doorstep for a long moment. Shifting her position on the couch slightly as she leaned forward, Gena strained her ears. "I know," Marsha's voice reached her, "that you are Jehovah Witnesses because you come down the street a lot and start by saying that the weather is nice. Pastor Brook has told me to be careful about you." There was another silence and then one of the women opened her purse, taking out a small tract. "Well, I'm sorry to hear about your mother, honey, but maybe I can leave this little booklet with you." Little Marsha put her hands behind her back. "No, thank you," she answered clearly, "Jesus would not like me to do that. Pastor Brook told me that too. You see you don't know.... that is, you don't believe...." She stopped and took out her right hand, fingering one of her braids thoughtfully. "We don't know or believe what?" Both of the women responded almost simultaneously, talking through one another and eyeing little Marsha with a mixture of both disdain and interest. "That Jesus is God," little Marsha said, finishing her sentence carefully. "He is a god," this time the women spoke in unison, the back one trying to read the girl's face as she stood in poised in the doorway. Unfazed by their scrutiny, Marsha responded once more. "No, He is not a god. He is the only God there is and we can't say lies about Him. You see, God says, and I forget where He says it, ‘I am He and there are no gods with Me.’" The two women looked at one another. "Pastor Brook told me that too," little Marsha added as an afterthought, "and you might like to think about that. But now I have to stop talking to you because I'm helping out a friend who has a sore foot." The two women turned and began to walk away, the first one shrugging as she left. But the second glanced back over her shoulder, giving Marsha a smile and a little wave. Closing and locking the front door carefully, Marsha made her way back to the kitchen. She plugged in the kettle and leaned against the countertop as she waited for the water to boil. When it did, she pulled the plug and made tea. Carrying a stone mug into the living room, she saw that Gena had taken her foot off the footstool and was gingerly bending over, rubbing it. "How does it feel? Does it hurt a lot?" she asked sympathetically. "A little bit, but it'll be all right, I think." Marsha deposited the mug on the end table. "Would you like some sugar and milk with your tea?" "No, that's fine. Thank you for your help and for making the tea." Marsha sat down on the floor in front of the couch, resting her back against it. "Tell me about yourself, Marsha." Turning her face, Marsha stared up at her. "About myself? There's not much to tell." "Why did you tell the women who came to the door that your mother was home when .... well, when you don't even live here?" Gena put her foot up on the footstool again as she spoke and reached for the tea. "Well, my mother is at home. Only her home is in heaven. I did tell them that." The clock ticked and Gena folded her hands cautiously around the hot cup of tea. "I'm sorry, Marsha," she eventually said, as she put the cup back on the end table, "not having a Mom must be hard." "No," Marsha answered rather matter-of-factly, "you needn't feel sorry for me, Gena. You see, I'll be seeing her soon." Gena picked the cup up again. "What do you mean?" "I've got.... I mean, I'm sick and right now I'm OK, but the doctor says...." She stopped and Gena could not take her eyes off the child, wispy braids dangling disconsolately on her thin shoulders. "I'm sorry," she began again rather lamely, and then stopped. "No," little Marsha repeated rather earnestly, "You don't have to be sorry." "Can I comb and braid your hair, Marsha? I used to have long hair myself and I miss doing the braids. Maybe you can borrow a comb out of the bathroom. We just won't tell anyone." Marsha smiled. No one ever offered to braid her hair for her. Her foster mother was too busy and her own fingers were a little messy. She got up and disappeared down the hall, reappearing shortly with a long blue comb. "That's great. Now come and sit in front of me." Marsha sat on the floor, eyes wide with expectation. Gena had moved the footstool and had positioned her sore foot at its side. Taking a tiny sip of her hot tea before undoing Marsha's braids, she began untangling the knots in the child's hair. Marsha blissfully shut her eyes as she leaned her shoulders against the gray skirt. Gena massaged the little scalp with the auburn hair, and listened to the clock ticking as she worked at fashioning a French braid around Marsha's head. "Why," she suddenly heard herself saying, "Why are you not sad, or scared, or well, upset. You don't seem to be upset, Marsha." The girl smiled, her eyes still closed. "Sometimes I am. I really am, "she admitted candidly, "But then I try to remember a story that pastor Brook told me. He heard it, or read it somewhere and then he told it to me." "What was the story?" The child stretched out her legs in front of her and took a deep breath as if she was about to plunge into a pool of water. Gena stopped braiding and listened, her hands resting on the child's head. "Well, in the story there was a little girl. Maybe she was my age. This little girl was out on the street, sitting on the doorstep of a house in the middle of the night all alone. Someone came along the street and asked her, 'Little girl, why are you sitting there? Do you not have a house to live in?' She said, 'No, sir, I don't. I have no home.' 'Where is your mother?' 'My mother is dead,' said the little girl. 'Where is your father, then?' 'I have no father,' she replied. 'Have you no home at all to which you can go?' 'No,' answered the little girl, and she shivered. You see, Gena, it was night and she was shivering with the cold." Marsha stopped and unexpectedly turned her head, causing Gena to cluck in distress as auburn strands of hair flew out of her hands. Marsha apologized, even as she spoke. "I'm sorry to have moved, Gena, but are you not very sorry for this little girl?" Gena moved her head up and down even while she was trying to sort out the wisps of hair that had broken loose from the French braid. She was, indeed, both puzzled and fascinated by Marsha's account. Satisfied that her audience was paying attention, Marsha positioned her head forward again and went on. "Well, I was sorry for this little girl too when pastor Brook told me this story. It was so sad. I think I even cried. Then pastor Brook said to me, 'In a way many people in the world are like that little girl, Marsha. Although they have a home for their bodies, they have no home for their souls. And at night they sit on the doorsteps of the world and their souls have no place to go.'" It was quiet for a bit. Gena was intrigued. She prodded the child with her good foot. "Go on, Marsha. There must be more to this story." And Marsha continued. "Then pastor Brook said, 'I know you love the Lord Jesus, Marsha, and because you love the Lord Jesus, your soul does have a place to go. You have God for a Father and His Son Jesus has made a home for you in heaven where there are many, many rooms for His children.'" Marsha stopped her narrative again and rubbed her right hand along the carpet. "Is that the end of the story?" Gena asked in spite of herself. "No, it isn't. Only when I get to this part, I often cry, you see, and I don't like to do that in front of other people. But I'll tell you the story to the end." Marsha's right hand stopped caressing the carpet and she pushed her shoulders back so that they touched Gena's stomach. "Yes?" Gena encouraged. "Well, I'm guessing you think that I'm the little girl in the story, sort of. But actually, my story is just a bit different. In my story I'm sitting on the doorstep of heaven. An angel stops by and asks me if I have no house to live in and I answer him, 'Yes, sir, I do have a house. It is my Father's house and He is making a room ready for me in His house.' And after I tell the angel that I believe that Jesus is God and that He has died for me on the cross, he smiles and opens the door for me behind the doorstep and tells me that he knows that my room is quite, quite ready." Marsha's voice trembled with the telling of the last sentence and after she stopped speaking there was only silence again and the constant ticking of the clock. "I see." But Gena didn't see. Her hands came away from the hair and rested in her lap. The flat-bosomed, trusting eleven-year-old sitting on the floor in front of her, with a tiny French braid crisscrossing her head, suddenly seemed lovely beyond comparison. Inexplicably she was jealous. She could not fathom it. "Maybe you will get better," she offered, "and then you will not...." But she didn't finish the sentence, because she didn't know how to finish it. Marsha turned and looked up at her. "Are you all right? Is your foot throbbing?" "No, actually it is feeling quite a bit better and I should be going now. I've stayed way too long as it is." "Stayed too long?" Marsha's voice was surprised and she scrambled to her feet even as she continued to speak. "But you just got here. And pastor Brook's gone to get some medicine to put on your bruise to help you. And his mother is not even home yet." "But I think I can walk now," Gena answered, and to prove it she stood up as well. Indeed, her leg was able to bear weight and she took a few steps. "But where are you going? Are you not supposed to stop and visit here for a few days?" "No, whatever made you think that?" "Pastor Brook. He told me you had come to visit his mother for a few days. She should be home soon, I think." "His mother! But I don't even know his mother and I don't know pastor Brook either." "But you came into their house!?" Marsha could not comprehend the way things were going. She watched in amazement as Gena slowly but purposely limped towards the front door. "But why did you come in if you didn't know who lived here?" Gena's fingers were wrapped around the door handle. "I don't understand it myself, little Marsha. I think it was because he knew my name." "Your name?" "Yes." Gena winced even as she spoke. "And now, little girl, perhaps you can call me a taxi." Chapter 3 Sometimes the Ephesians1 theme appears to be lost. Raucous notes and cacophony seem to drown out the sweeter airs. But, as in many musical compositions, there is frequently a coda, a conclusion, a postscript, a postlude as it were. And the Ephesians1postlude is praise – praise of the glory of the grace of God. Listen carefully. **** It was only a half a year later that little Marsha's funeral took place. Conducted by pastor Brook, it was in the church he shepherded. There were not very many people who came to the funeral. The school Marsha had attended, the same school at which Jason taught Bible every Friday afternoon, did come out in full number. The children and teachers had been given leave and they sat in the front pews. As well, a few members of the congregation showed up. Some had known little Marsha; others were curious. The coffin stood in front of the pulpit. It was a small coffin. Made of white pine, smooth and shiny, it would not be very heavy for the pallbearers. It was snowing lightly outside and Jason's text fell with the snow: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God." "Little Marsha had faith," Jason said and his voice faltered. It faltered because even as he spoke he could not fathom why this child, who had been so wholly trusting in her Lord, might not have lived a longer life, might not have had the possibility of being a mother in Israel. Of such, indeed, they had much need. He studied the young faces in front of him, and he preached. He preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He always did. But the why of the coffin continued to confound him even as he spoke. And through his sentences he saw a little girl with two wispy, auburn braids dancing her way up his sidewalk to tell him some new wonder that she had thought of during that day. **** Afterwards, when the “amen” had fallen, opportunity was given for classmates and others to speak. Jason issued the invitation and waited. A long silence hung over the sanctuary. He did not think it likely that any of the children would come forward and certainly did not expect any of the adult members to speak. So few had really known little Marsha. But just as he was about to conclude the service, a figure at the back of the church stood up and began a lonely trek towards the front. Jason strained his eyes. It was a woman and he did not know whom it was. He did not recognize her and neither did any of the people in the pews. They all watched her advance. She was uneasy. Everyone could sense it in her uncertain gait and yet she continued her walk to the pulpit. Having reached it, she sighed, glanced upward and proceeded to climb the steps. The lectern seemed to give her some measure of security, for she gripped the wood with both hands. It was only when Jason handed her the microphone and caught the scent of jasmine, that he remembered her. "Hello," she began, addressing the people in the pews. The voice took Jason back to a summer afternoon earlier that year, an afternoon in which someone had taken his seat on the bus. "You don't know me," her voice went on. Jason sat down in the chair behind the pulpit. He could see that the woman was taking a deep breath before continuing. "I had the pleasure of meeting Marsha, or little Marsha, as she told me people called her, a number of months ago." In a row of children on the second bench, Penny nudged Samantha. "She's a nice looking lady." "Shh," Samantha whispered back. The woman's voice stilled both of them. "I apologize if my story seems a bit stilted, but I'm not a trained speaker like your pastor here behind me." Jason looked down at the floor. "I'll introduce myself and hope that you won't all leave after I do. My name is Gena and my second name is not important. I am, or I should say, I was," and here her voice faltered, "a prostitute." A palpable hush fell on the sanctuary. Penny pinched Samantha. "Do you know what a prostitute is, Sam?" Samantha pinched her back. "Quiet." "About a half a year ago, I hurt my foot in front of your pastor's house. Summer had just begun. It was a beautiful day. Your pastor did not know me, but when I hurt my foot in front of his home, he took me inside and ...." She stopped speaking. Someone coughed in the back of the church, but on the whole it was deathly quiet. Only the coffin spoke through the stillness proclaiming that little Marsha was dead. "My parents divorced when I was about Marsha's age. My father left and my mother was given custody. Not that it meant anything. She was always gone. When I came home from school every day there was no one." Both Samantha and Penny listened with rapt attention. Indeed, the whole church was fixated on the figure in the pulpit. Gena was wearing a blue coat. Open at the collar, a grey scarf covered her neck. Jason's eyes had lifted from the floor and were now riveted on the back of Gena's head. "I'll spare you the details of my tumultuous teenage years. There were parties, drugs and boyfriends. I know now that I was looking for love, for some semblance of acceptance. I wanted someone who was interested in me, someone who would...." Samantha and Penny without being aware of it, were leaning into one another. "My mother eventually threw me out when she came home one day and found me drinking with several boys." The silence into which Gena's words were spoken became louder. "The day that I spoke of, the day that I hurt my foot and your pastor took me in, that was the day I was on my way to have an abortion. Only I had gotten the address mixed up and had gotten out several stops too early." Gena took a kleenex out of the pocket of her blue coat and blew her nose. Jason felt an incomprehensible bond with the girl. He did not know why. Everything he stood for had been repulsed by her. And yet here she was on the pulpit, confessing sins. "Little Marsha came to the door to bring your pastor some cookies. She came inside and introduced herself to me. When he left to buy some ointment for my foot, the child made me some tea and then, well then we talked together." Jason could see his mother in the fourth row. Her eyes were lifted attentively towards the girl, the girl whom he had supposed was Gena Ardwick. The real Gena Ardwick, it turned out, had not shown up at all because she had caught influenza. Strange that this girl's name had also been Gena. "Little Marsha told me that she was ill and that she would probably not live much longer. She was right, wasn't she?" Everyone's eyes automatically shifted to the small, white coffin in front of the pulpit. Samantha remembered with a pang of conscience that she had ridiculed Marsha when she had asked Pastor Brook how she could see God when she died, because God was so big that He had made the stars with His fingers. She shivered a little. "Marsha was a very special girl," Gena's voice broke over the sentence and Jason could see that her right hand clenched the kleenex which she still held. "She had a gift - and that gift was faith. She believed with all her heart and ...." Her voice broke again and Jason fought the urge to go and put his arm around her. "The truth is," Gena went on, "that God used little Marsha in my life. When I told her that I was leaving and that it was only by chance that I was there in pastor Brook's home, she called a taxi for me. Then she persuaded me to sit down on the couch again and she sat next to me." Penny and Samantha and the other children held themselves rigidly quiet, waiting for Gena to finish a story of which they could not guess the ending. "I say she sat next to me, but the actual truth was that she leaned into me. 'I like you, Gena,' she said, 'and I wish you could be a foster mother to me. I've had about six, you know.' 'Six?' I asked her. 'Yes, six and some of them were quite nice. But I'm always moving to another place. I guess it's hard to have someone like me who is in the hospital a lot.' And then Marsha added something else. She said, 'I think you will be a good Mom to this baby you are having, Gena. That is a really lucky baby to have you for a Mom.'" A child cried in the back of the sanctuary and was shushed by its mother. Gena stopped for a moment and blew her nose again. "I said, 'Marsha, how do you know I'm expecting a baby?' And she lifted her head from my shoulder and looked up at me. 'I felt the baby kick,' she said, 'when I leaned against you and you were doing my hair. My shoulders felt your stomach and I felt a little kick and I thought the baby must be so nice and cozy and safe in there. My last foster mother was expecting a baby too and she let me feel her tummy.' " Samantha felt a tear slide down her cheek. She let it slide right down to her chin. Then she took the back of her right hand and wiped it off. Penny cast a sidelong glance at her and then put her hand on Samantha's knee. "I told Marsha that she was right, that I was expecting a baby. 'What will you call it?' she asked. I told her that I didn't know. 'Perhaps, you can call it little Gena,' she suggested." Gena shifted her position behind the pulpit. Bending over, she put her elbows on the lectern, supporting her face with her hands for a moment. Then straightening up again, her gaze went up and down the pews. "Then Marsha asked me the most important question anyone has ever asked me. She said, 'You do believe in the Lord Jesus, don't you Gena? Because if you don't, I'll never see you again.'” She stopped and looked down before she continued."I have to tell you all very honestly that I did not believe in God at that time, let alone His Son Jesus. And I told her so." The ceiling lights flickered on and off and back on. In the distance a car honked its horn and white snow still fell past the sanctuary windows. "Then Marsha did what no one has ever done for me before. She wept for me. Curling into my side, she sobbed her heart out. I hugged her but she would not be consoled. She kept on crying. Eventually she managed some intelligible words and these words were: 'I don't want you to be lost, Gena, I want you to come to the doorstep of God's house just like me.'" And Jason thought of all the sermons he had preached, of all the benedictions he had given, and he knew that not one of them came even close. "The taxi driver came to the door then, and I stood up. My shoulder was wet, wet with little Marsha's tears. I never saw her again." Gena was finished. She stepped back from the lectern and moved towards the pulpit steps. But then, as if she had forgotten something, she returned. It was for the postlude. "Oh yes," she said, "I do want you all to know that I will see her again. And so will Faith, my little daughter. Faith, who was born the day little Marsha died."...

Book excerpts

The Reformation comes to Strasbourg

This past year we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and with the focus on Luther, but also other big names like Calvin, Knox and Zwingli. But there were countless others used by God and in this excerpt from Christine Farenhorst’s novel “Katharina, Katharina” (which is reviewed here) we learn of the Reformation as it happened in the city of Strasbourg, 400 miles from Wittenberg, and as it happened in the life of Katharina Schütz Zell. The following is an excerpt from chapter 23.   In the early fall of 1518, when the heat was beginning to ease off just a breath, and trees were setting up their easels of autumn colors, Matthis Zell, a new priest, took charge of the cathedral parish of St. Lawrence. **** It was Katharina’s friend, Annalein, who first informed her that St. Lawrence had acquired a new parish priest. "What does he look like?" Katharina asked, her curiosity piqued. They were sequestered in the Schütz sitting room, side by side, heads drawn close in conversation. She poked Annalein, who was dreamily staring out at the rectangular-shaped windowpanes through which the afternoon sun was shining. "What does he look like?" she repeated impatiently. "Who?" Annalein asked, almost as if she were waking up, "Whom does who look like?" "The new parish priest," Katharina said, resisting an urge to shake Annalein. "You just told me that St. Lawrence had a new parish priest." Annalein had always been rather absent with her thoughts. But Katharina knew that there was not a kinder girl in the whole of Strasbourg. "Oh, the new priest," Annalein responded, a slow smile appearing at the corners of her mouth, "He seems quite nice, actually. But Katharina, you will never guess whom I saw at Mass this morning. Herr Burrman and his wife and ...." "I didn't ask if the new priest was nice, Annalein," Katharina patiently replied, "but I asked what he looked like. You know as in: Was he tall? Did he have dark features….?" "Oh," Annalein said, "is that what you meant?" "Yes, it was." "Well, I only saw him from a distance and could not make out his features very well. He was of medium height – neither short nor tall. And whether or not he had a dark complexion...." She stopped, shrugging a little helplessly and then went on, animation lighting her pale face. "But Herr and Frau Burrman had their son with them. He is quite tall and rather good-looking, I think. They remembered me and stopped to speak with me. The son was very kind also. He asked after my health." During the somewhat rapid flow of words cascading down from Annalein's lips, Katharina observed her friend carefully. As far as she could recall, she had never heard her speak of anyone of the male gender with such praise. "What is his name? What is the son's name?" "It is Reinhart." "Reinhart," Katharina repeated, adding, "a very noble name." "Yes, indeed," Annalein agreed, "I did think so as well." Katharina smiled indulgently, before adding, "So might you see him again?" Annalein blushed most becomingly. "Well, he did say that he might call on my Mother, just," she added innocently, "to ask about some particular matters with regard to her tapestry work. He was thinking of buying something for the church because he is so thankful about his mother's complete recovery." "Oh, I see," Katharina said, "a devoted son. And that is," she added, "the way it should be." "Indeed," Annalein agreed demurely, hands folded in her lap, "he appears to be very devoted." Then the girls caught one another's eyes and they both began to laugh – first softly, but their peals of laughter increased by the moment. It was at that moment that Katharina’s sister Margaret walked in. "What are you laughing at?" she demanded, almost beginning to laugh herself because the merry sound that met her was so contagious. "Oh, nothing," Katharina spoke with difficulty, heaving a big sigh to control the mirth that kept bubbling up. "Nothing?" Margaret said disbelievingly. "Well, actually we were speaking of... of the new parish priest at St. Laurence," Annalein added, trying hard to speak seriously. "Well, what is so humorous about him?" Margaret asked, "I have heard him preach a few times and he is quite...." She stopped. In spite of herself, Katharina was intrigued. "He is quite what, Margaret?" "Well, I would say, he is quite stern." "Stern?" "His eyes," Margaret said, sitting herself down on a chair opposite the two girls, "his eyes are quite piercing and when he speaks, you must listen for you cannot look away." "You have not spoken of him before," Katharina observed, "but it seems that he has made quite an impression on you." "He carries himself," Margaret went on, "with a quiet dignity and not at all like many of the priests we are wont to see who...." She stopped, rather at a loss. "Yes," Katharina encouraged. "I would not," her sister said softly, "I would not malign those of the church and thus incur... incur...." "I know," Annalein finished her hesitating words, "you are not eager to incur a lot of disapproval, especially when you will feel bound to confess in the booth to your local priest what you have just said. For he is likely to fine you and give you a week's worth of 'Hail Mary's' to boot." "Annalein!" Both of the Schütz girls gasped at her audacity. Annalein placidly stared at them. "It is true what I said, is it not? I think I am not the only one to scoff at those who preach good works but who steal from the poor." As the sisters continued to stare at her, she added, "And, from what Margaret has just said, I would like to hear brother Zell preach, and not," and here she poked Katharina in the side, "just look at him." It was Katharina's turn to blush. "I merely wanted to know what he looked like, so that I would recognize him on the pulpit," she responded with what dignity she could muster. "As I said, I have heard him," Margaret repeated, noting her sister's blush with interest, "and I do learn from what he says." "How old," Katharina asked, "is he?" "I think that he would be in his late thirties, maybe about forty years of age," Margaret said, "quite old really. But not so old as Father. And," she added as a non sequitur, "he has a rather large, longish nose." **** It was not until several of months later, not until the spring of the new year of 1519, that Katharina finally met the new pastor of St. Lawrence in person. She had gone visit a woman whose only son, an eight-year old, had become ill with a severely swollen stomach. Steadfast at the boy's bedside, the mother had barely had any sleep. The child's stomach was so distended he continually screamed with pain. Purgatives had been administered, but the boy repeatedly vomited them up. Just prior to Katharina's visit, the doctor had concocted a powder which the child had kept down, soon afterwards passing a great many worms in his stool. "May Almighty God," the mother whispered, "still grant His grace in letting Kristoff live." Katharina patted her hand, then guided her towards a small cot made up in the corner of the boy's bedroom and made sure she lay down. Satisfied when both mother and child appeared to be sleeping, she went outside into the small yard with a bucket of sudsy water to clean the soiled sheets and blankets. She was thus occupied when she saw a priest approach the dwelling. Because she was aware that both child and mother were trying to sleep, she quickly ran to intercept the man. "Pardon me," she called, crying out just as he was lifting his hand to knock on the door, "but have you come to visit Frau Freiburg?" He stopped, hand in mid-air, and nodded. Somewhat shyly, she went on to explain that she was helping the family, putting her own soapy hands which held an old towel behind her back. "They were sleeping, both she and her child, when I left them some fifteen minutes ago," she finished. The priest had a rather longish nose and remembering her sister Margaret's comment, Katharina suspected that it might be the new priest of St. Lawrence parish and bit back a smile. "Truth be told," she went on, as the man did not respond but simply gazed at her, "the sleep will do both mother and child a world of good as the boy has been, and still is very, ill. But you are undoubtedly aware of his illness." While she spoke, she dried her hands on the towel. "So I take it," he spoke, and his voice was a rich, deep baritone, "that you suggest I not come in." "Far be it from me," she replied, "to tell you what to do. But, yes, given the severity of the boy's affliction and that he has been but a foot from the grave, I would deem it wise that you not awaken them." "You are quite right," he smiled, "and I think they have a fine neighbor in you, for you are a good Samaritan. Would that all the people in Strasbourg were so blessed." She blushed and he regarded her deeply for a long moment without speaking. "My name is Matthis Zell," he finally spoke. "Yes," she responded, "so I thought." There was another quiet. "And what might your name be, if I may be so bold as to ask?" "Katharina - Katharina Schütz." "Ah," he responded, regarding her with his great brown eyes, eyes which reminded Katharina of a faithful dog. She experienced a certain amount of regret that she had not worn a better gown, one with, perhaps, elaborately cuffed sleeves. But this man, this priest, did not seem the type of fellow to whom a matter such as dress would be important. Nevertheless, she felt a strange desire to appear pleasing to him, to appear neat, with a hair net hiding the ever-rambunctious hair strands that always escaped from beneath her cap. "Well, I must...." Katharina eventually said, blushing as he chose that same moment to also speak. They both left off words again and Katharina was quietly contemplating a return to her labors on the sheets and blankets, when they heard an agonized cry come from within the house. "I think," the priest said, "that we... that you, at any rate...." Katharina lost no time and bolted past Master Matthis Zell, who stepped aside to let her enter the front door. The wailing that met their ears, as soon as the door opened, was heart-rending. Katharina ran towards the bedroom. Although she had left both the mother and the boy in slumber, a state of turmoil and disorder met her eyes when she entered the bedchamber. Frau Freiberg was attempting to hold Kristoff, her son, down. But he, talking constantly, although not in such a way that one could understand him, was frantically trying to get out of bed. His breathing was labored and difficult and his eyes were bulging. Katharina knelt down on the opposite side of the bed and attempted to help Frau Freiberg get Kristoff to lie down again. Matthis Zell stood in the doorway, but then also drew near to the bedside. "Let me help," he said, "I am stronger. Perhaps if I lift him up and carry him about, he will be more comfortable." The two women immediately stood up and Matthis bent over the child, easily lifting the lad up in his strong arms. Initially Kristoff quieted in the priest's embrace, but just as Katharina was about to heave a sigh of relief that a crisis had been averted, the child began to convulse. Within a few minutes, the boy was dead – dead in the priest's arms. Gently he laid the boy back on the bed, closing the wide-open eyes. Then turning to the bereft mother who had fallen down on her knees by the edge of the bed, tightly gripping the blanket in her hands as if by doing that she might hold on to the life of her little one, he laid one hand on her head. "May God keep Kristoff safe until we come to him!" "Indeed," Katharina echoed, even as she, coming around the bed, put her arms about Frau Freiberg. A little cowhide-covered horse stood in the corner of the room. Herr Freiberg, a merchant, had brought it back for Kristoff from one of his business trips the last time he had been home. A brown jerkin and some skin-colored stockings hung over the toy's side. How long ago had it been since the boy had worn them? How long since he had played with the horse? How vain life was! Soon this child, Katharina fleetingly mused even as she patted Frau Freiberg's shoulder, would be buried to the tune of clergy's chanting and the sound of bells would carry his memory away. For who would remember him in the long run? Who would? **** Later, after Frau Freiberg's relatives had come to be with her, Katharina and the black-robed Matthis Zell went home, walking together side by side for a considerable length of streets. Katharina was somewhat lost in thought, her mind overly occupied with the loss that Frau Freiberg had to sustain. Why did such things happen? It was true, all men had to die - but such little ones?! Hard put to keep up with Katharina's quick steps, Matthis was uneasy. He was impressed by the girl's gentle and yet decisive manner, by her way of helping the family they had just left, but she seemed so far-off with her thoughts now. He studied her profile as she paced next to him. It almost seemed as if she had forgotten that he was there. "Which church," he began in a low tone, curious but also genuinely interested in the young woman that providence had placed on his path, "do you attend, Fraulein Schütz?" She began walking slower, suddenly realizing that he was still there, and turned her large blue eyes towards him. They were troubled, he noted. "Which church?" she repeated slowly, "Well we, that is to say, my family and I, always attended Dr. Geiler's church. After he died his nephew, Peter Wickram, took over the pulpit but Peter Wickram is not his equal in preaching, I am afraid." He inclined his head to show that he had heard this, but did not say anything else, as he believed it was in bad taste to criticize a colleague. "You are at St. Lawrence?" Katharina asked him. He nodded again. "Yes, I am and I have been given comfortable quarters on the Bruderhof Strasse just behind the Cathedral." He did not know himself why he volunteered this information. Surely the girl was not interested in knowing where his place of residence was. She smiled, slowing her pace even more, "I am glad for you. It must be difficult to come to live in a new place where you know very few people." "The ones I have come to know have been kind," he rejoined. "Where," she hesitatingly went on, not wishing to appear nosy, "are you from?" "From Kaysersberg." "Oh, that is where Dr. Geiler was from. It was his home town." Her face shone now and he remarked within himself that the smile which transformed her face exposed a sweetness that was very pleasant to behold. "Yes, I have heard that he was." "And did you know," Katharina went on eagerly, "that forty years ago Dr. Geiler was on his way to a preaching post at Wȕrzberg when he was waylaid by Peter Schott, who was one of the chief magistrates of Strasbourg, and was persuaded by him to come here instead?" "I have heard the story," Matthis Zell replied. "And Peter Schott, who was also curator of the Cathedral, had the magnificent stone pulpit built for Dr. Geiler, with its nearly fifty saints, from which he preached for some thirty years to us here in Strasbourg. Perhaps you will also...." Matthis Zell nodded and smiled as she halted her account. "I had indeed heard." Katharina had stopped because she was suddenly embarrassed. Here she was again, dominating a conversation and comparing this man to Dr. Geiler. Perhaps he was intimidated by her words. Indeed, it was perhaps most unkind. Katharina herself did not like to be compared to others. It was sometimes humiliating and oppressing. She began another topic, trying to cover up her enthusiastic endorsement of Dr. Geiler. "And your parents live there - in Kaysersberg? And have you brothers and sisters whom you will surely miss?" She stopped again. She was such a waterfall of words and knew herself to be speaking overly much, something her mother was always warning her not to do. "I," she continued, suddenly shy and withdrawing her smile, "do apologize for talking too much and for asking such questions as are not really mine to ask. I surely over speak." "No, indeed," he responded quickly, "too few people are interested. They think a priest is made only of black robes and has not a background of flesh and blood and is not interested in stories and such." This made Katharina grin in spite of herself, for she knew that there were indeed a great many priests who were very much made of flesh and blood, priests consisting mainly of bellies and greed. "Why do you smile now?" Matthis Zell's curiosity was piqued. "It is just," and she spoke slowly now, not certain as to what she should reveal of her thoughts, "that I have known a great many priests who hid money pouches and slack flesh underneath their robes." He was quiet for a great many steps and she was afraid that she had been too bold once more and that she had offended him. "I am sorry," she began, "I did not...." But he interrupted. "No, you need not apologize. I am only too well aware of the iniquities of a great many men of the cloth." He sighed deeply at he made this statement. "I am sure that you," she began again, "especially from what I have heard of you...." He cut off her words. "Do not listen to what others say, Katharina. It is often only exaggeration and this often leads to disappointment." Katharina blushed. She knew herself rebuked and stared pointedly at her shoes before reverting the conversation back to the question she had asked him before. "Do have you have family?" This seemed a safe topic, and one that would not lead to controversy. Besides that, inside herself she was for some inexplicable reason so very glad that Matthew Zell came from the very same city in which her beloved Dr. Geiler had made his home and she wished to hear him speak of it. "Well, I have a housekeeper, Mey-Babelli, who was cook to my aunt in Freiburg. When my aunt died, Babelli came to live with me and she takes care of me. So she is like family. But, yes, I also have one sister and one brother. My sister's name is Odile." "Odile," Katharina softly repeated, "that is a very nice name. I know no one by that name. Perhaps some day I will meet her." "Yes, perhaps you shall," Matthis Zell nodded as he spoke. "As for me, I did not stay in Kaysersberg, and have not been back for a number of years except briefly to visit my brother who still resides there." "Where have you lived then?" "Well, I served in the army for a short time. And this was the time during which I moved away from Kaysersberg and lived neither here nor there as the regiment I was with moved about quite a bit. And after serving in the army, I went on to enroll in the university of Freiburg in Breisgau. When I received my master of arts there, I continued with theological studies." "Why?" Katharina knew it was another rather impertinent question and she looked back down at her shoes even as it flew out of her mouth. But Matthis Zell did not appear to be put off by it. "Because I did so love to study and the more I studied the more I loved it." "You felt not that you ought to study, in order to....? You only did it for the sake of the pleasure of studying? That is to say, you were not motivated by an inward call....?" She stopped here abruptly. Her speech had consisted of unfinished phrases, and she knew quite well that her words sounded muddled, probably making very little sense to him. "Motivated by an inward call from God?" he finished her last phrase, noting that her face was clouded. "Yes," she looked up at him now as she spoke, her blue eyes bright with interest, "for it seems to me that God has a purpose for all people and it also seems to me that if priests were to take such a purpose seriously we would not see all the vice that is so rampant in Strasbourg today." A voice within her, a voice that sounded remarkably like her mother, warned her that once more she had overstepped her oral bounds and had spoken too much and too quickly. After all, she had only just met this man. After all, her words accused the priesthood and the man walking next to her was a priest. She glanced at his face. In profile his nose seemed longer than it actually was. That nose was now pointing at the ground. It was almost as if the nose was sad. "I'm sorry," she murmured, truly repentant of perhaps having caused him discomfort. He had been a source of easement to Frau Freiberg and Kristoff and the fact remained that she had only heard good things about him. He put her worries to rest by smiling, revealing even, white teeth. Luther posting his 95 theses in 1517, by Ferdinand Pauwels "No need to feel sorry. I'm glad you feel that you can speak your mind to me," he replied. "What think you of Luther and his views?" she said, blurting the words out rather quickly, for this indeed was a matter which nagged at her often, nagged her at night and in the daytime as well. "Luther?" "Yes, Herr Luther. You surely know of the priest in Wittenberg who has written at length about indulgences and who posted, just this last year, some points on the church door of that city." He smiled. "Yes, I am acquainted with Herr Luther. I am, and have for some time, been reading a number of things that he has written. My parishioners obviously read him, and I ought to be aware of what they are reading." He smiled as he said this, but she did not smile in return. "I would know what you think of his charter, of his theses," she said, "for his words do touch my soul." "As they do mine," brother Zell immediately rejoined, "as they do mine." "Do you think he speaks the truth?" Katharina asked. "He is a very courageous man, in any case, to speak as he does. As you may know, he appeared before Cardinal Cajetan at Augsburg last October. They spoke for three solid days. Initially, I understand, Luther prostrated himself on the floor in a gesture of humility before the Cardinal, and the Cardinal raised him up as a gesture of goodwill. But Luther refused to take back anything that he said." "Yes," Katharina very nearly stood still, turning her body towards him, her feet moving at a snail's pace, "so I have heard." They had almost arrived at an intersection. "He has said," she cautiously went on, "that the person who truly repents has full forgiveness both of punishment and guilt, even without letters of indulgence." Matthis Zell looked at her rather quizzically. "So I have read also," he responded. "And what thought you?" "I think that the trafficking in indulgences is shameful," Matthis replied, his eyes serious, "and it grieves me deeply." She heard that he meant his words and, although she knew the truth of them, was rather shocked by the sentences that followed. "The public perception of the priesthood is appalling. Nearly all people disrespect the priests. There are so many examples of gluttony, of ambition, of lives of lasciviousness, of harlots being allowed into monasteries...." He stopped rather abruptly. It was almost as if he had forgotten that she was there. She wished to reply; to say something intelligent, or, at any rate, something comforting, for she gauged that he was lonely. But there was nothing that came to mind. And his voice, almost metallic now, continued. "They say that the nearer people live to Rome, the less religious they are. How incredibly strange and despairing is that thought! And I have heard tell that there are those who care not what evil they do, for they say they can always get a plenary remission of all guilt and penalty by absolution and indulgence granted by the Pope for four or six or ... or whatever sum of money they carry." The metallic tone in his voice had given way to a tremendous sadness - a sadness which distressed Katharina and which made her want to hold his hand to guide him away from such black thoughts. This she could do with little Jacob, but with a priest? No, of course not. But he did appear so mournful. She swallowed and was about to say something about the weather, when he went on again. "Rome has become a harlot. The church has become blind to all but that which brings monetary gain. And we have so many poor, so many who stand in need of love and help." He stopped, seeming suddenly to remember that he was speaking with someone and was not alone. "I am sorry," he said. "I do indeed apologize for speaking so freely." She shook her head, cautiously replying, "I speak too much and too hastily myself. And what you say is true." She forgot that but a few moments ago she had sincerely worried about her hair coming undone, about a few stray strands flying about her face, for truly there were so many more important things to worry about. "I have to turn off here at this corner," she swallowed as she spoke, regretting that they were now close to the Johanngasse, "and you will have to keep on straight to reach the Bruderhof Strasse." "I know," he said and she bit her lip yet once more for appearing to know the way better than he did. "Well, Katharina," and he spoke softly, as if to guide her into humility, "I have very much enjoyed speaking with you and hope we can do so again. I think I can tell you a story, perhaps the next time we meet, of an encounter I had with Dr. Geiler when I was but a small boy." Her eyes widened at this. He had stopped - stopped walking and stopped talking. She did too. "You met Dr. Geiler when you were a little boy?" "Yes, indeed. It was only a small encounter, but I should like to tell you about it as I gather you really loved him, this great preacher of Strasbourg. I also hope," he then added warmly, "that you feel you might want to hear me preach some time."   She vigorously pumped her head up and down, feeling several more hair strands escaping her hair net. In spite of herself, her hands flew up to smooth out and tuck in the rebellious curls. "I would very much like to hear the story of your meeting with Dr. Geiler. And, yes, I would also like to hear you preach and I thank you for helping Frau Freiberg," she ended the conversation rather lamely, sensing innately she had used a great deal too many 'I's' in these sentences, yet adding, "and I bid you good-day, brother Zell." He smiled at her and the corners of his mouth, as well as the corners of his eyes, crinkled with the many laugh lines that the years had placed there. She was glad of it, for some of the weariness and sadness that had lined his face but a few short moments ago, disappeared. Looking into his friendly face, she flushed even deeper before she turned and walked towards the Johanngasse. After staring at her retreating figure for a few moments, Matthis Zell also turned and walked towards the Bruderhof Strasse. Pick up your copy of Christine Farenhorst’s “Katharina, Katharina” at


What are we to make of gambling?

And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses. (Luke 12:15)  ***** The thesaurus defines the Victorian Age, (1837-1901), as a period in British history during the reign of Queen Victoria. It is said that her character and moral standards restored the prestige of the British monarchy but also gave the era a rather prudish reputation. Strangely enough, however, a number of happenings recorded during this time period were wagers – bets which certainly cannot be defined as prudish but which can be defined as coarse and as lacking in compassion. Strange wagers For example, once when a passer-by collapsed in the street, a number of aristocrats inside the building into which the poor man was brought, bet on whether he would live or die. Another example is that of rich Lord Alvanley, (1789-1849), a gambling dandy, and a member of the Prince of Wales' circle, who triflingly bet on a race between two raindrops slowly trickling down a fancy club window. The amount he put down on the raindrop he favored was a whopping 3,000 pounds, an amount 300 times the annual earning of a general servant. Many of these inappropriate wagers were minutely recorded in a book published in 1892. There were other ridiculous bets placed during this era – bets which indicated a desire for fame and attention. In 1891, in Bristol, a sixteen-year-old boy named John Magee, wagered that he could swallow fifty-three marbles. Why fifty-three? Perhaps those were the number of marbles the other boys standing around owned between them. John Magee proceeded to swallow all fifty-three of the marbles, and apparently seemed none the worse for the swallowing, although perhaps a little heavier in weight. A friend, a little anxious about possible repercussions, took him to a hospital where he was kept for observation and where doctors later extracted forty-three of these marbles. Again, with the desire to appear strong and to become famous, in 1899 a High Wycombe citizen placed a bet during the town's Christmas fair that he could enter a cage of lions and emerge unscathed. Perhaps this in itself was not so spectacular, but he actually vowed that he would sit down in the cage, smoke a cigar and drink a bottle of champagne to the health of his friends, all the while in the company of the large cats. This he did, while a crowd of onlookers gaped and wondered what would happen. The lions, part of a circus, left the man alone during this suicidal feat and he descended from the cage amid wild applause. Victorian England was not the only place in which strange bets were made. In 1896, and again in 1900, in the United States, William McKinley ran against William Jennings Bryan for president. In 1900, McKinley won for the second time. Prior to the voting, a Henry Winsted of Kinkley, Indiana said he would engage in a butting match with a full grown ram if McKinley was elected, whereas a John Burns, of the same town, said he would drink three pints of hard cider while standing on his head in a barrel, if Bryan was voted in. Another fellow, a Samuel Carpenter of Wisconsin, who was an ardent supporter of Bryan, said he would wear all his clothes backwards for four years if McKinley won the election. What are we to make of gambling? How people love attention, and how they are apt to magnify themselves! So what are we to make of gambling? We can chuckle at the above stories and anecdotes and tell ourselves we would never go this far and that such ridiculousness would never touch our lives. Leland Ryken, who served as professor of English at Wheaton College for more than 50 years, wrote in his book World Saints: the Puritans as they Really Were: It is true that the Puritans banned all recreation on Sundays and all games of chance, gambling, bear baiting, horse racing and bowling in or around taverns at all times. They did so, not because they were opposed to fun, but because they judged these activities to be inherently harmful or immoral. My father, a man who loved to play games, was very opposed to his children playing card games upon our first moving to Canada from Holland. He had seen, in his youth and later in his ministry, too many people who had lost their paychecks because they played card games in local pubs – card games in which wagers and money bets were all too common. The Bible actually contains no specific command that says: You may not gamble. But it does contain principles for walking in a way which is pleasing to God. The tenth commandment, for example, clearly speaks of the sin of coveting. And coveting is one of the reasons people gamble and play the lottery. We had some pleasant neighbors, Bob and Jane, in a previous home in which we lived. During the last years we knew them, the wife took a job as a waitress and Bob and Jane decided together that they would use her tips, for fun they said, to visit a casino and place some bets. They would only use the tips – no more and no less. Sometimes they won a little and sometimes they lost it all. But before they knew it, they were hooked. As a matter of fact, the husband became so hooked he gambled away his home, his mother's home and his marriage. Governments hooked on gambling In 2014, the Quebec government made over $1.2 billion in gambling profits. Almost 70 per cent of the people in Quebec gamble – mainly on lottery tickets. It seems to be a popular pastime. It has been studied and recorded that 0.6 per cent are pathological gamblers, and 1.2 per cent are at risk of becoming so. There are sad consequences for families as seen in the case of our erstwhile neighbors. Before gambling was legalized in Canada and before lottery corporations were set up, it is said that these things were run by organized crime. On the defensive, the Quebec government has set up treatment programs for pathological gamblers with free accessible services. As of 2016, the province of Ontario has 33 casinos containing more than 25,622 slots and gaming machines. There are a whopping total of 651 table games through which a person can lose lots of money. In the United States, land-based casinos made approximately $315 billion dollars in 2015. Meanwhile, Macau, China, is the largest casino market in the world, the gaming industry contributing significantly to the economy of Macau. Its gross gambling revenue in 2014 was $44 billion. Staggering amounts of money! Wasting God-given resources 1 Timothy 6:10 states: "... the love of money is the root of all evil." It is a clear statement. It is a statement which calls gambling sin. The talents given by Jesus to each and every believer are to be used by us. These talents include time, money and witnessing ability. We are going to be asked how we, as servants, have used our talents. If they have been wasted, gambled away, we need only look to the end of the parable told by Jesus in Matthew 25 to find out what happened to the man who was wasteful and abused his talents. Our time and our resources belong to God Who bought us with a price (I Cor. 6:20). We may not fritter away His resources. General Cadwallader Colden Washburn, (1818-1882), an American business man, politician and soldier who was the governor of Wisconsin from 1872-74, said in his annual message to the state in 1873: Some law seems to be required to break up the schools where gamblers are made. These are everywhere. Even the church, (unwittingly, no doubt), is sometimes found doing the work of the devil. Gift concerts, gift enterprises and raffles, sometimes in aid of religious or charitable objects, but often for less worthy purposes, lotteries, prize packages, etc., are all devices to obtain money without value received. Nothing is so demoralizing or intoxicating, particularly to the young, as the acquisition of money or property without labor. Respectable people engage in these chance enterprises, and ease their consciences with the reflection that the money is to go to a good object. It is, therefore, not strange that the youth of the state should so often fall into the habits which the excitement of games of hazard is almost certain to engender. Perhaps we never will and do not even contemplate disgracing our persons by crossing the threshold of a casino. But are we making correct choices in all the areas of our lives? It is good to recall how godly men in times past have exhorted others in matters of living godly lives. One Joseph Alleine, an English noncomformist pastor (1634-1668), and one who was imprisoned several times for his steadfast perseverance in ministry, wrote these sound words: The unsound “convert” takes Christ by halves. He is all for salvation, but not sanctification. He is all for the privileges, but neglects the person of Christ... Many men do not love the Lord Jesus in sincerity... they desire salvation from suffering, but do not desire to be saved from sinning. They would be saved and keep their lusts; they are content to destroy some sins, but cannot leave the lap of Delilah. They cannot be cruel to the right eye or hand. O be infinitely careful here, your soul depends upon it! One of Webster's definitions of gambling is "to risk losing (something valuable or important) in order to do or achieve something" Mind what you do with your time, money and daily witness. This article was first published in the October 2016 issue under the title "Beware of covetousness." Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, her latest being Katherina, Katherina, a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here, and buy it at


On reading together

It used to be, a generation and a half or so ago, that reading out loud was family entertainment. My own childhood memories – although not so idyllic as to picture my Mom knitting or mending every evening while my Dad whittled away on some useful wood carving to the tune of Dickens – do still include fond recollections of family story telling. Every holiday season we rented a cottage on an island in the North Sea. While we were there we did a lot of hiking. Mom always took along a blanket and a bag full of Groninger koek, a chewy and filling type of bread-cake. We’d settle down somewhere – either on the edge of a farmer’s pasture with mournful, dark-eyed cows cozying up to the fence, or in a grove of sweet-smelling fir trees. After we played some games Dad would pull out his copy of a book by the unlikely title of Pa Pinkelman. We savored the flavor of his voice as much as we did the hearty flavor of the koek. It’s a good memory and I hope it’s a memory our children have as well. Today’s parents, however, are faced with a problem that appears to thwart memories of togetherness times. This problem is called television and computer technology. It’s a push-button age we live in and children are brought up in an environment that encourages sitting back and watching - an environment that can encourage a negative attitude towards reading. Reading Together, Longer But is reading to a child really that important? It is a fact that children read to in childhood read easily when older and will keep that interest in reading in later years. Many parents make the mistake of no longer reading aloud to their children when they reach the age of being able to do so on their own. The example is used of learning to ride a bicycle. When a child learns, you give him a shove and off he goes on his own down the road. But is it not pleasurable, to both you and the child, to have occasion to ride together? Shared experience heightens pleasure and fosters a desire to keep going. The Christian aspect to this, and it cannot be stressed enough, is that of shared Bible devotions after mealtimes and before bedtime. “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.” (Prov.1:8-9). Reading out loud improves reading skill and more difficult books can be progressively introduced over time promoting conversations on many topics. Many parents feel uncomfortable reading out loud to children when the children get to be a bit older. They are unsure of the choice of books and afraid of being rejected in favor of other pastimes. Sad to say, they often, especially if a mother works outside of the home, are too tired and too occupied with other household chores. Yet, developing the desire and ability to read in a child is a parent’s God-given task. This is not a mandate to teach ABC’s and ensuing words, but a mandate to communicate to a child a number of truths. The foremost of these are that an all-powerful God has created; that we have fallen; that we need repentance and forgiveness in Christ; and that all of creation awaits the second coming of Christ. Parents are also to teach responsibility intertwined with providence; they are to show children that there is reprobation as well as election; they must ensure that children are aware of hell as well as heaven; and they must make children acutely aware of the antithesis. Much of this is accomplished by teaching a child what and how to read. What’s Out There Some years ago, twelve parents analyzed 45 books selected at random from major book lists recommended to librarians that year. Their purpose was to graph what authors were telling the teens of the day about the world through fiction, and to work with the library to add books for diversity. These parents made some startling discoveries. There were no books from Christian publishers on the lists and dominant themes in these books were classified as follows: - most fathers are absent or bad - sixty percent of mothers work outside the home full time - marriage is boring or dangerous - parents and their kids are estranged half the time - clergy are bumbling hypocrites - the spirit world helps kids more than it hurts them - I can solve my own problems. God doesn’t help - sex outside marriage isn’t wrong unless it’s forced - death is prominent, even pervasive - profanity is in seventy percent of the books The above are another ten good reasons why parents should be aware of what their children could possibly be absorbing. And this was from back in 1988, and things are not getting better. Children are given a fair amount of alarming baggage when they read current books. Developing Habits If parents drink on a daily or weekly basis, it is easier for their children to become accustomed to alcoholic beverages. If parents are not respectful toward one another, children are apt to be disrespectful and unkind to their peers. If parents don’t go to church, it is not likely their offspring will develop the habit. If parents don’t read the Bible on a daily family basis and discuss what they have read with their young listeners, their children will not become aware of God’s values, unless the grace of God intervenes. If parents allow children unsupervised access to public or school libraries, they are treading on thin ice and their children are apt to fall into cold and numbing waters. If children are left by their parents to feed on an ample diet of TV and to snack voraciously on computer games, they will end up with scurvy of the soul, osteoporosis of the heart and die of spiritual hunger. It is rather obvious that parenting is a full-time job. A child left to himself, Proverbs 29 tells us, disgraces his mother. There are also Christian family do’s. For example, do know what is in your church, school and public library. Recommend good books to the librarians in all three and be prepared to give reasons why you recommend these books. Do know what kind of magazines are in these libraries. Do put God-centered books in every room of your house. Do communicate with other Christian parents as to what they are reading. Do pray daily with and for your children. Do have daily devotions and discussions with your children. A couple recommendations The fact that many Christian parents are unaware of what is available in the area of Christian books and magazines is sad. The following is meant to fill this void just a bit. Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson 2002 / 320 pages A nice guideline to reading. God’s World Publications  This organization publishes different age level magazines - the first level is kindergarten and the last level is high school. As well they publish an adult weekly magazine, a sort of Christian Time periodical, called WORLD magazine. These magazines are excellent in that they teach children as well as adults to be discerning in what they read. Highly recommended Endnote What are Your Kids Reading by Jill Carlson, Wolgemuth and Hyatt Pub. Inc., Brentwood, Tennessee, 1991, page 3. For another resource for good books, check out Reformed Perspective's children's fiction reviews and non-fiction reviews, and picture book reviews. Christine Farenhorst is the author of a number of books that would make for great read-alouds – you can find them listed here. This article is an abridged version of one originally published under the title "And a Chain to Adorn Your Neck.”...


“Did God answer her prayer?“

To my dear niece and namesake: First of all, thanks for your letter. It's great to hear from a niece. The pages you wrote were so full of news, so full of thoughts that I am not privy to as we live such a great distance away from one another. So thank you again for that. I loved holding your thoughts in my hand.  I was so sorry to hear that your friend's mother is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. She is obviously someone of whom you are very fond. I was also very sad to hear that things are not going well at all in your church - dissension and quarreling and people with the loudest mouths obtaining positions of authority. And then you went on to bemoan the world situation. You wrote of mass shootings, of persecution against Christians and of lawsuits being filed against those who refuse to give in to liberal agendas. Indeed, we live in a world full of hatred and ill-will against our Lord, don't we!? You wrote something as well that makes me extremely glad. You wrote that you pray constantly for God to intervene. But then you worry about the fact that perhaps you do not have enough faith and do not pray correctly, for all the changes you pray for do not seem to come about. If you will bear with me, let me just recount a small story, a true story, from my past. I had a good friend when I was a teenager. She was a married woman who loved the Lord dearly and spoke of Him often. She and her husband had a beautiful little hobby farm in the Niagara Peninsula. She was a teacher and her husband was a worker in one of the steel mills. There was. however, a great sadness in their lives. Grace, which was her name, had been married to Bill for almost fifteen years and they had not been blessed with children. Like Sarah, Grace was rapidly approaching the age where it would no longer be possible to have them. When she spoke of this, her eyes would cloud over and often she would weep, not only before me but also before the Lord. She begged Him for children. On her knees she would beg Him over and over and she would promise to raise up her children in the fear of the Lord. It was a good prayer and one, I am sure that pleased the Lord. There was one thing that I left out. Grace's doctor had advised her and Bill not to have children. You see, Grace had diabetes and the doctor thought it would aggravate the disease if she became pregnant. A few years after I became her friend, Grace did indeed become pregnant. She was ecstatic. Bill immediately paved their gravel driveway because he envisioned a little child roller-skating on it. Their conversation was now totally colored by this coming child, this coming birth. The sad part is, that after she carried this little baby for three months, Grace miscarried. Not only that, but her diabetes became much, much worse. She lost her eyesight. Bill had to comb her hair, do the cooking and clean the house. In less than a year, she was hospitalized and when I went to visit her with my father, who was her pastor, it was difficult to recognize her. Her body was puffed up with water retention and she was in and out of consciousness. I wept at the ugliness, the havoc wreaked by sin. Although Grace did not recognize me and died almost a week after my visit, my father recounted that in her conscious moments she testified of her love for God and her desire to be with Him. Now did God answer her prayer? There are so many “Grace” stories out there and I think you mentioned a number of them. Perhaps there are different ways of looking at these stories. But there are several truths we must never forget. First of all, we may ask God anything in His name. God is not only a God of great things that happen in the world – things such as wars and famines – but He is also a God of the little things in the world – things such as falling sparrows and the number of hairs on our heads. We must never think that God is so busy with the great things that He forgets the everyday things in which you and I are constantly immersed. Remember Psalm 103: "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He knows how we are formed; He remembers that we are dust" (vs. 13-14). So, as a little child comes to its mother for comfort, we also may run to our heavenly Father and He will comfort us. And we may come to Him with anything. If we approach God constantly with every little event in our lives, then we will feel more confident to approach Him with the bigger things as well. Grace and Bill came to God with their desire for a child. Christians in Nigeria come to God with a plea that persecution might be stayed. The wife of an alcoholic comes to the Father asking that her husband would stop drinking. The child of a mother with insidious cancer fervently pleads that her mother's life would be spared. Another aspect of such situations is not to dwell on the perceived strength of the devil. Remember, he is a creature and a fallen creature at that. If he is active, and seemingly winning in his activities, it is only because God, in His omnipotence, permits this. It is a precious gift, and one for which we should plead, to know that all things – all things – come from the hand of God and are within His control. Even things such as Alzheimer's, cancer, persecution and barrenness will eventually work out to His glory. Easy to say, I know, and more difficult to accept when you are in the middle of such a battle. Psalm 139 emphasizes that God knows us in every aspect of our living, small and great. It is a good thing to be known. Psalm 139 shouts joyfully about being known by God when it iterates: "You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You know it completely, O Lord" (vs. 2-4). How terrifyingly beautiful those words are and how they wrap about us as loving arms. Difficult as it may be, consequently, there is no need to ask certain questions. Questions such as: Why is there barrenness in this godly household when their neighbor has eight children and does not care for them properly? Why is this Christian mother afflicted with multiple sclerosis and the blasphemer so amazingly healthy? And, why does God withhold marriage from this wonderful girl whereas the atheist down the street celebrates his fiftieth anniversary? God will not tell you all His reasons for doing things. But never doubt that all is well in His hands and be comforted that there are some things that He does tell you. He does tell you that His yoke is easy and His burden is light; He does tell you that He is a Wonderful Counselor, an Almighty God and an Everlasting Father; He does tell you that though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death you ought not to fear evil, for He is with you; and He does tell you that when your body lies in the grave He will call you out of it with the sound of His trumpet. Well, my dear, I have gone on and on haven't I! But these things are near to my heart. I wish you well and hope you come to visit the next time you pass through this area. Give my love to your parents and your siblings, Your loving aunt...


That cloud of witnesses....

Mina and Marco in Egypt Open Doors is a non-denominational mission working in over 60 countries where Christianity is socially or legally discouraged or oppressed. The mission recently reported that last year during Ramadan, two young boys from Egypt watched in horror as their father and other faithful believers were brutally murdered because of their faith in Jesus. The children were passengers on a bus carrying pilgrims on their way to the monastery of St. Samuel. Their father, a security guard at the monastery, was also on the bus. "Deny Jesus, or die," was the choice given to each person. The younger boy, Mina, said: They forced our father to get out of the bus first. The terrorists shouted that he had to convert to Islam. But my father said “no.” Then they shot him. Although the lives of both of the brothers were miraculously spared, the tragic death of their father still plays through their minds on a daily basis. The older son, Marco, vividly recalled his last moments of his father: My father was still breathing. He couldn’t talk anymore, but he wiggled his fingers, signing us to go away. But we didn’t want to leave him there. I leaned my father against my chest. Soon my clothes were soaked with his blood, but I didn’t care. The father of Mina and Marco was a persevering father, a father training his children in the way they should go. It is not at all unusual for parents in North America, or anywhere else in the world, to be concerned about their children’s physical welfare. Moms and dads want their little ones to be warmly dressed, and to have nutritious meals. It is not unusual either for parents to want children to have things to which they themselves did not have access when they were little. These might include piano, flute or violin lessons, or swimming, karate, and soccer practice. As well, and most importantly, parents can, or should be, concerned about the spiritual welfare of their offspring. This encompasses teaching a child to pray, to have personal devotions and to participate in family devotions, to attend church, to understand and practice fasting and to have discussions on, and knowledge of, life after death. Siao-Mei in China Sometimes, strangely enough, it is the other way around – sometimes children encourage parents to be faithful. There is a story told by a man named Amelio Crotti, about the persecution of Christians in China in the 1960s. A mother and her daughter, a child of five, were imprisoned by the Chinese authorities because the mother had protested the arrest of her pastor. Other prisoners in the jail were indignant at seeing a little five-year-old within the confines of the prison especially because the little girl often cried because she was cold and hungry. “Have pity on your small daughter,” they reprimanded the poor mother, “It is quite reasonable for you at this point to agree that you will not go to church any more. There is no doubt in our minds that you must say that you will stop being a Christian so that your child will not have to suffer the degradations which are imposed upon all of us here in prison.” The mother, after listening to the other prisoners for days on end, and beginning to feel very guilty at depriving her child of food, clothing and proper shelter, finally gave in to them. She recanted her faith and was released. Two weeks after her release, however, she was forced by the authorities to stand on a stage in front of some 10,000 people and shout, “I am no longer a Christian.” The little daughter was in the audience when she shouted this denial. Afterwards, on their way home from this horrific and humiliating public confession, the little girl spoke to her mother. “Mother, today I think that Jesus was not too happy with what you said.” Her mother replied, “I only said those words because I love you. You wept in prison because you were hungry and cold. I wanted you to be warm. I wanted to take you away from that misery.” The little girl, whose name was Siao-Mei, smiled as she answered at her mother, “I promise you that if we go to jail again for Jesus’ sake, that I will not weep.” Ashamed that she had denied her Savior, the mother went back to the prison and told the people who had arrested her that she had acted wrongly, that her love for Jesus was greater than anything the earth could offer, and that her daughter had more courage and strength of character than she herself had. As a result, both mother and child were imprisoned again. Only this time the little girl did not cry at the cold and the hunger. Both mother and child persevered and trusted God. Leah Sharibu in Nigeria There are other stories. On the evening of February 19, 2018, just a few short months back, more than one hundred girls were sitting down together for a meal at a secondary school in the town of Dapchi, Nigeria. As they sat around the dining table, gunshots were heard outside. It was very frightening for the young girls, especially when a bullet hit the front of their building. As the sound of the gunshots increased in volume and frequency, the Christians among the girls decided to hold hands and run away. They were very aware that they were probable targets. Teachers saw them running and tried to stop and reassure the frightened girls. But the sound of the gunshots was growing closer. Continuing their escape, the girls made for the dormitory of a Christian friend – a girl named Leah Sharibu. Upon reaching her building, they called out loudly for her to come. Leah was caring for a sick roommate. Aware of the danger, however, both for herself and the roommate, she heeded her friends’ warning. Not willing to leave her sick friend alone, Leah tried to carry the girl. Running with her burden as best she could towards the fence surrounding the school, she often tripped and fell. The sick girl eventually persuaded Leah to put her down, and managed to make it to the staff quarters on her own. But Leah herself, and some of the other students, continued to head for the fence gate through which they hope to obtain safety. Unfortunately, this was precisely the place where the Boko Haram truck was parked. Leah was one of the girls captured and put on the truck. Many of the other girls hid in the thick bushes behind the school. They hid throughout the night until a teacher found them the following day. By then the terrorists, with Leah and other young captured women, were gone. Many parents arrived to ascertain the safety of their children that morning. There were both tears of happiness when parents embraced the daughters who were at school, and tears of anguish for those parents whose daughters had been taken prisoner by Boko Haram. Leah’s mother, Rebecca Sharibu had also come. Rebecca lived in the town of Dapchi. It had been a very long night for her as she had been informed by a friend that some of the students had been abducted. As soon as she was able in the early morning hours, by the light of a torch, she walked to the school. And she prayed as she walked. When she came to the school, she stood among a crowd of other parents. She silently watched ecstatic reunions as girls who had hidden were joyfully embraced. Leah was not one of those girls. The school chaplain took roll call and Leah was the only Christian girl missing. At this point, mixed messages began to come in and government officials confessed that they were really not sure where exactly the kidnapped girls had been taken. It was not until about a month later, on March 21, 2018, that Rebekah was told that Boko Haram had returned the girls they had stolen from the school. But at the hospital where the released girls had been taken for treatment, Rebekah could not find her daughter. Speaking to some of Leah’s classmates, she learned what had happened. Knowing she was a Christian, the terrorists had ordered Leah to recite some Islamic incantations before she would be allowed onto the truck to be taken home. The girl adamantly refused and said: “I will never say these things because I am not a Muslim.” Becoming angry, the captors had threatened Leah that if she wouldn’t denounce Christ, she would remain a prisoner. This threat did not daunt her faith. She steadfastly refused to deny Christ. The other girls watched as Leah was left behind, a prisoner of Boko Haram. They cried and waved to her until they could not see her any longer. When Rebekah heard how her daughter had been left behind, she fainted and was taken to the hospital. Yet there was a joy in her as she recovered from the shock. For years she had led Leah in devotions each morning, instructing her daughter in the Word of God. Her daughter was now bearing the fruit of these devotions – fruit for the Lord. Rebekah consequently said: I am so proud of my Leah because she did not denounce Christ. And because of that, I know God will never forsake her. When she went away to school, I gave her a copy of the Bible so she could have personal devotions even when I am not there. As her mother, I know her to be an obedient daughter, respectful and someone who puts others before herself. Leah surely epitomizes Proverbs 22:6 made flesh. “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” There are, and due to God's grace there always will be, many persevering fathers, mothers and children – many who cause us to remember that: …. since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him Who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3) As of June 23, Leah continues to be a captive in the hands of cruel Boko Haram. Please pray for her....


Go to the ant, you sluggard…

"Go to the ant, you sluggard consider its ways, and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provision in summer and gathers its food in harvest."  – Proverbs 6:6-8 ***** Often when we go shopping on Tuesdays we pass men who stand at intersections at various parts of the city of Kitchener. Usually wearing a hat, mittens and some sort of great coat, often a dog seated at their side, these fellows are shamelessly panhandling. With their hands they display a sign which reads something like "No Job - Anything will Help," or "Hungry and Homeless, Thanks so Much." One of my daughters sometimes takes a lunch bag with her in her car prior to going out. She will put a sandwich in there, a piece of fruit and a tract and will hand that out. On December 12, 2016, the Dallas Morning News published an article about a new initiative to recruit panhandlers for day labor. The job program which was being proposed would pay people $10.37 an hour for cleaning up litter or working in parks. This particular program, however, did not work out, the article went on to say, because some panhandlers were reportedly making more than 50 dollars an hour just by begging. The city of Bloomington, Indiana recently installed 28 signs downtown that read, “Please help. Don’t encourage panhandling. Contribute to the solution.” The sign has a large "no panhandling" symbol in the middle and a web address at the bottom that links to a webpage which lists several organization combating homelessness. One of these organizations is Shalom. Shalom Community Center is an all-inclusive resource center in Bloomington for people who are living in poverty and experiencing hunger, homelessness, and a lack of access to basic life necessities. Last year, Shalom's re-housing program helped nearly 200 people, a third of whom were children, move off the streets and into homes. Although concerned with bodies rather than souls, Shalom's effort to help the homeless, does seem to be a laudable effort. Work is a blessing There have been both workers and sluggards throughout history. British Field Marshal George Wade, (1673-1748), was an enterprising man and one who would have been ashamed to stand on British street corners for a hand-out. An officer who served in several wars, he worked hard to attain the rank of Field Marshal. (The rank of Field Marshal has been the highest rank in the British army since 1736.) Between 1725 and 1737 Wade oversaw the construction of some 250 miles of road, plus 40 bridges. Roads linking Perth, Inverness, and Fort Augustus appeared where previously there had been tracks suitable only for single file passage of men or horses. Wade was popular with the British people and is the only person mentioned by name in the English national anthem. It's not a stanza with which people are familiar or one that is often sung. Lord, grant that Marshal Wade May, by thy mighty aid, Victory bring. May he sedition hush And, like a torrent, rush Rebellious Scots to crush. God save the King. Field Marshll Wade did have a sinful weakness. He loved gaming, which is a polite way of saying that he really enjoyed gambling. When he was occupied in this pursuit, he was not greatly concerned about the company he kept and could so totally lose himself in the moment of concentrating on his cards, that he became oblivious to all else. Gaming houses, or casinos, for that matter, are not mentioned in the Bible. God does, however, warn against temptations associated with gambling. There are numerous verses which warn against the love of money. One evening as Wade was totally absorbed in a card game, he noticed that his valuable gold snuff box was missing. Snuff, a smokeless tobacco, is made up of pulverized tobacco leaves. It is inhaled or "snuffed" into the nasal cavity, delivering a shot of nicotine. These pulverized leaves were usually kept in a snuff box. As Wade absently reached for the box in his pocket, his fingers could not detect the coveted container – a container which had diamonds set into its frame. "Stop the game!" he cried in a booming voice, suddenly very much aware of his rank and military prestige, "and no one shall leave this room without being searched!" Every eye was on him and quiet descended on the gaming room. There was a rather destitute gentleman seated next to Wade at the table. Dressed very shabbily, he was a soldier as well. The man had lost several times at the games and with great politeness had asked that Wade back his bets. When the problem of the missing snuff box emerged, and Wade insisted that everyone be searched, he alone objected. "You will not search me," he repeated several times rather vehemently, "I'd rather fight a duel to defend my honor or die in the attempt." His challenge was accepted with alacrity by Wade, who thought to himself that the fellow was obviously the thief. The two men retired to an anteroom with two other men who had volunteered as seconds and the duel was about to take place. Upon reaching for his sword, however, Wade suddenly detected the snuff-box in a secret pocket compartment – a compartment he had completely forgotten to check while searching. Stopping short, he walked over to the other soldier. "Sir," he began, and his voice did not boom quite as loudly as before, "Sir, I have every reason to believe that I need to apologize to you and ask your pardon. And I hope that in the morning you might do me the honor of having breakfast with me." The other man looked surprised, but agreed to the arrangement. The next morning, as they were eating together, Wade posed the other man a question. He was intensely curious. "Why, friend, did you refuse to be searched?" "Because, sir, being upon half-pay and alone, I am obliged to watch every penny. Yesterday I had little appetite; and as I could not eat what I had already paid for, nor could afford to lose it, the leg and wing of a chicken were wrapped up in a piece of paper in my pocket. I would have been mortified had these been found on me and I preferred fighting a duel rather than facing that embarrassment." Wade stared at the man opposite him at the table, weighing him, before exclaiming: "Enough said! You, sir, will also dine with me tonight. And afterwards we will talk about what to do regarding your dilemma." That night Wade presented the shabby-looking soldier who had been reduced to penury, with a commission, and a purse to enable him to join the regiment. The man who had attached such a great value to his dignity, received the commission with gratitude and began work immediately. How best to help? For Christians, work ought to be a great blessing especially when it is pervaded with gratitude to the Creator God. Work alone, however, will not open the gates of heaven for someone. Only the perfect work of the Lord Jesus Christ can do that. Nevertheless, Christians have a working God. In creation God worked for six days and rested on the seventh. Our days, which have for the most part been reduced to a five-day work week, should reflect God's work ethic. We see and read of many people who are unemployed. There are those who truly want to work and can't find employment, but there are also welfare recipients who prefer to remain welfare recipients. The Biblical welfare system, as described in Lev. 19:10 and Lev. 23:22, was a system of work. Panhandling was never prescribed for Israel. The Bible is quite clear in its condemnation of those who are sluggards – those who are lazy. The Christian work ethic is straightforward. In I Tim. 5:8 we are taught: "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." Should we give money to panhandlers? The desire to give is a good one. Generosity is a virtue and should proceed from a heart which knows it has been given all by Jesus Christ. To give money to someone on the street is a personal decision with both positive and negative aspects. Perhaps satisfying an immediate relief that you have helped someone, the truth is that you will not know whether or not your gift will be used for alcohol, tobacco or drugs. It might be better to search for a Christian organization, so that you can be assured that your money will go towards definite needs. Or it might be better to take the panhandler out for a sandwich and a cup of coffee. It is true that we presently labor among thorns and thistles and in the sweat of our brow. Yet our attitude should be the same as that of our Lord Jesus, whose food was to do the will of the Father Who sent Him and to finish His work. Someday, in the new heaven and the new earth, the sweat, thorns and thistles will be gone. Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, her latest being "Katherina, Katherina," a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here, and buy it at here....


To be known

It is a good thing to be known, that is to say, to be familiarly recognized. When someone greets you by your first name and gives you a smile, it is generally an indication that this particular person knows you and is fond of you. My mother-in-law, who knew a great many people, had the strange knack of addressing people whose names had slipped her mind by saying, "Hello, Mr. _____," filling in the blank with something unintelligible. That something unintelligible could be interpreted as a possible pronunciation for their name. It was very amusing, but something which I've never attempted to pull off myself. Sheep know their shepherd There are several amazing videos on YouTube which feature sheep which come running to their master's voice – a voice they know and recognize. Consequently, when a shepherd comes to the door of a sheepfold where his sheep are bedded down together with other sheep and he calls out, his sheep will stand up, come towards him, and follow him. They will only follow his voice. They will not follow someone else's voice. J. Douglas MacMillan, (1933-1991), had twelve years of experience as a shepherd before he became a pastor. In his excellent book on the twenty-third Psalm, The Lord Our Shepherd, he wrote: I remember one day, almost three years after I had left my shepherding to go to Edinburgh to study, that I was back home for summer holidays, and working with my brother. We were looking at lambs in one sheep pen that had been separated from their mother in another pen, and I was standing with my hands just dangling idly by my side, admiring some of the lambs and despairing of others. Suddenly I felt a sheep's nose nuzzling into my hand. I looked down, and there was a sheep almost five years old – a sheep that for six months I had looked after as a lamb, taking it home to the farm and feeding it with a bottle every so often. Although it went back to the hill after six months, that sheep would always come for me. The other sheep knew their shepherd, but they would not come as close as that to him. But this one would. That sheep had not seen me for almost three years. She was in from the hill, and she lived on a part of the hill that was almost three miles away from the farm. I was standing with my brother, and he had been the shepherd for three years. Yet I looked around and here she was! I was thrilled. Why? Because she knew me; and she was letting me know that she knew me." Forgotten Conversely, it is unpleasant not to be known. More than a century ago, in 1884 to be exact, the Bristol newspaper, The Western Daily Press published an interesting article about a case of mistaken identity, a case of not being known. A rather frightening piece, it describes a visit to a lunatic asylum by an unnamed woman. It appears that this woman, whom we will name Susan, travelled to the town of LIttlemore, a small hamlet some four miles from Oxford, to visit a friend who had been committed to the Littlemore Asylum. The Asylum had been founded in 1846. From its onset its buildings were criticized as being inadequate (but it remained open until 1996). Throughout the nineteenth century, Oxford received payments from other counties for looking after their patients. As ill people arrived from a number of other boroughs throughout the year, Littlemore Asylum was often overcrowded and treatment was at times not what it ought to be. Confinement, restraint, padded cells, and rough handling were all par for the course if patients proved recalcitrant. So, in any case, Susan found out. Susan knocked at the door of the Asylum hoping to visit and find her friend on the road to recovery. The porter admitted her cheerfully enough when she told him she was to “visit a female patient” and called one of the matrons. The matron, however, perhaps being somewhat hard of hearing, only caught the latter part of the porter's words as he introduced the visitor - those latter words being “female patient.” Susan was escorted, quite unaware as to what had been established in the matron's mind, to one of the top floors of the Asylum, in the belief that she was being led to see her friend. When she and the matron, rather out of breath from the long climb up the stairs, entered a room empty of everything save a bathtub and a bed, Susan was a trifle taken aback. Perhaps she thought the room was a waiting room, although the tub and bed were strange, and she walked into it with a puzzled expression on her face. "Where is...?" she began, turning to face the matron whom she believed to be behind her. But the matron was gone and Susan perceived that the door to the room she had entered was closing. As a matter of fact, she could hear the click of a key turning the lock. She was perplexed, and walking back towards it, she turned the handle, becoming rather distraught when it would not give. "Excuse me! Please open the door!" But no one came and thinking the situation rather ridiculous, Susan strode over to the window, gazing out at grounds below. She was on the fourth or fifth floor. She could not remember which. A number of stone buildings comprised the Asylum and she appeared to be at its center. She clutched her purse and turned back towards the door. She tried the handle again, but it still would not give. Her voice, when she repeatedly cried out to be freed, appeared weak and ineffectual. It echoed somewhat freakishly against the whitewashed walls of the room. There was no chair on which to sit down and Susan meandered over to the window again. What should she do? After some ten minutes of waiting, minutes that seemed like hours, the door handle finally turned, the door reopened and a nurse entered. "Oh, I'm so happy to see you," Susan exclaimed, stepping quickly towards the rather heavy-set woman, "You see, there's been some sort of mistake. I was..." The woman did not speak. She was a trained professional, used to handling inmates. The door had once more closed behind her and she proceeded to begin to undress Susan. "What are you doing?" the distraught girl called out. "Calm down," the nurse soothed, "it's all right." Another nurse came in. Helping the first one, who was a strong woman, they brooked no opposition. All Susan's protestations were hushed gently but firmly and Susan ended up being placed in the bath. She was in a frantic state of alarm. She knew no one in this place except the woman whom she had intended to visit. It only took two signatures to get someone admitted to a lunatic asylum. Some of the reasons for admission were, interestingly enough, hereditary predisposition, hysteria, dissolute habits, epileptic fits, imaginary female trouble, opium habit, overstudy of religion, snuff eating, etc. There were, in effect, four classifications for lunacy: mania, melancholia, dementia and paranoia. Treatment was mostly restraint, seclusion and sedative drugs. Lunacy institutions were not pleasant places to be and they were not easy to leave once a “patient” had been admitted. One third of the patients who entered the hospital, never came out. After the bath, Susan was forcibly put to bed. Her nerves were fraught with fear, her hair matted, and her demeanor very much shaken. Overcome, she gave up her struggle and lay quietly. Providentially, the mistake was discovered later that day – whether it was through a talk with the porter who noticed that Susan had not exited when visiting hours where over, or through the initial matron's perusal of admission papers. In any case, she was taken out of the bed, dressed with care and apologized to profoundly and abundantly. It was to her credit that Susan did not lodge any complaint against the hospital. She had not been known and she had not known anyone in the asylum. To know that you know Him It is indeed a good thing to be known, that is to say, to be familiarly recognized. At the same time, it is also a good thing to know. In that same wonderful, little book on Psalm 23, Pastor MacMillan wrote about the Shepherd knowing the sheep as well as the sheep knowing the Shepherd. He said: It is a great thing to have personal assurance in the Christian life. Now, that personal assurance of David's is not ill-founded: he knows the Shepherd, and he knows that he knows Him. That is where the Christian's assurance rests - not only in the fact of knowing that we are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, but in the fact that we know we know. I say that because I believe it is possible for grace to come into a life, and for that life to go on without always knowing it for certain. I have met people who seem to lack Christian assurance, and yet I and others see the grace and the work of God's Spirit in them. They know the Saviour, but they don't always know that they know Him. It is a great blessing not merely to know the Saviour but to know that you know Him, so that you can say, "The Lord is my Shepherd." Goodness and mercy all my life Shall surely follow me; And in God's house for evermore My dwelling-place shall be. - Scottish Psalter, 1650 This article was first published in the Sept. 2016 issue, under the title "Recognition."Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, her latest being Katherina, Katherina, a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read areview here, and buy it at


On being separated

"For this reason the Father loves Me because I lay down my life in order that I may take it up again. No one has taken it away from Me; on the contrary, I lay it down of my own accord." - Jesus, in John 10:17-18a **** It is a sad thing to be separated from the ones you love. I distinctly remember being separated from my parents after my father had a serious car accident and my mother had to leave to be with him in the hospital. The separation introduced a number of difficult months. It was a time of loneliness and grief. I was thirteen years old and desperately missed both my mom and dad. But not as much, I suspect, as one little girl did back in the 1700s. Separated by revolution Charlotte Haines was born in 1773 in New York. She was the daughter of an extremely zealous American patriot. As a matter of fact, father Haines was so zealous that during the Revolutionary War, he strictly forbad his little daughter to see her cousins, all of whom were Loyalists. But for a ten-year-old child, such a prohibition is incomprehensible. When you have played with, laughed with, and eaten with friends all your born days, how can you suddenly ignore them? Consequently, when the Loyalists were evacuated from New York, it was in Charlotte's heart to bid her dear cousins farewell. Instead of going to school, she ran to her uncle's house and spent a wonderful day of fellowship with her cousins before heading back to her parents' home. Her father was waiting at the door. Demanding to know where she had been, she confessed that she had disobeyed his orders – that she had visited with her cousins for one last time. Enraged, and perhaps not thinking clearly, John Haines pointed his finger towards the door through which she had just come in. "Leave," he barked, "and don't come back." The child was devastated, and begged his forgiveness. But he would not listen to her words and insisted that she abide by his decision. There is no record, strangely enough, of Charlotte's mother interfering. Without anything except for the clothes on her back, the little girl returned to her uncle's house where she was received with love. Although David Haines, the uncle, used all his power of persuasion to reason with his brother, it was no use. Unreasonably and stubbornly, John Haines insisted that Charlotte was a traitor and that she was not welcome in his home any longer. Consequently, when the David Haines family sailed for what later became New Brunswick, Canada in May of 1783, they took with them a surrogate orphan of sorts. Little Charlotte Haines grew up in her uncle's household and at the tender age of seventeen, married a young fellow by the name of William Peters. They had fifteen children and eventually more than a hundred grandchildren. There is no historical data, to my knowledge, to indicate that Charlotte Haines was ever reconciled with her father and mother. Separated by conscience Sometimes stories relate that older people are exiled from beloved surroundings. In the year 1527, at Easter and during the Reformation, Elizabeth of Brandenburg, wife of Joachim I, Elector of Brandenburg, received communion in the Protestant manner. This was a strange matter, at least to some, as she had been a staunch Roman Catholic her entire life. Forty-two years old, she was of an age where she knew her own mind, where she was fully aware of what she was doing. How her conversion to the Protestant faith came about, is not known. Perhaps tracts written by Luther had fallen into her hand; perhaps her brother, King Christian II of Denmark had witnessed to her; perhaps evangelists disguised as merchants had sung Protestant hymns which had found their way into her heart; or perhaps, and this is the most logical conclusion of all, she had simply read Luther's translation of the Bible. After all, God's Word will not return to Him empty. Whatever the case, Elizabeth through some means, was moved by the Holy Spirit to become a Protestant believer. Her husband, Joachim I, and father of their five children, was not at home. When Elizabeth received the Lord's Supper for the first time, her teenage and married daughter, also named Elizabeth, was very much aware of what her mother was doing. Whether hiding in the background, or listening to servants' talk, she knew. And she did not at all approve. When her father came home, she immediately reported to him what her mother had done. Consequently, her mother's life began to manifest hardships. She was given a year to repent. Towards the end of that year, mother Elizabeth, aided by her brother, escaped from Brandenburg to Saxony, to the realm of her Protestant uncle John of Saxony. Her husband, who was and had been unfaithful to her, raged and ranted. He wanted her returned. She was indeed willing to return but only on her own conditions: that she be guaranteed safety of body and goods, that marital relations should be resumed, that she be allowed to have a preacher of her own choice; and that she be allowed to partake of the sacrament of communion in the Protestant manner. Her conditions were rejected by her husband and she did not return to him. Elizabeth of Brandenburg could forgive Joachim his adultery, although it pained her deeply, but she would not compromise on her faith. She therefore lived in exile for most of her remaining days. There were many years of poverty, worry and loneliness. Joachim refused to send her money. For a while she lived with the Luthers before traveling on to Lichtenberg. In the end, she turned into a crusty, and rather complaining elderly lady and was not easy to host. Her husband, Elector Joachim I of Branderburg, died in 1535. It was not until ten years later, in 1545, that Elizabeth finally returned to Brandenburg. Her son John brought her back, paid her debts, agreed to support a minister of her choice and granted full freedom of conscience to her and her household. She wrote to him: I cannot conceal from you, out of motherly love, that the dear God, our heavenly Father, has laid upon me a heavy cross with sickness, poverty, misery, trouble and terror, more than I can tell. I would not have believed that such trials could be on earth and would comfort myself with the words of Job, "The Lord has given. The Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." You should know how long I have lived in misery and great sickness and have had to suffer such shameful poverty in my old age as not to have a penny on earth, nor a bit of sausage in my mouth. If God in His especial grace had not upheld me, it would have been no wonder if my heart had broken in two for sheer misery. Just before she died, Elizabeth expressed the wish and recorded it in her will, to be buried without ceremonies in a grave beside the husband from whom she had been exiled twenty-seven years before for the sake of religion. Sacrifice of family, of being exiled, of being hurt, can do many things to a person. Loneliness, bitterness, weeping, tears of anger – all these can dominate lives to such an extent that everything else is secondary. Separated by war There is another story dating back to the First World War – a story which concerns a young French soldier who was badly hurt in battle. His arm was severely damaged and when he was brought in to surgery there was no choice but that it be amputated. The surgeon, a caring man, felt very badly that this young fellow would have to go through such a procedure and had a difficult time relaying this to the soldier. "I am so sorry," he began, "that after all you have gone through, you will have to lose your arm." "Doctor," the young patient replied, "I did not lose my arm – I gave it – for France." Separated from His Father This last story illustrates, to some small degree, what it actually meant when Jesus, the greatest Example of suffering and pain, voluntarily left His home in heaven to give His body as a sacrifice. Of His own accord, he lived a human life; of His own accord, He was despised and rejected; of His own accord, He suffered an excruciatingly painful crucifixion; and finally, of His own accord, He experienced the agonies of hell as He bore the Father's wrath for our sins before He died. He did that all – for us. "A new commandment I give you, that you keep on loving one another; just as I have loved you, that you also keep on loving one another," Jesus said in John 13:34. Of His own accord - what a phrase on which to meditate. Of His own accord - what a phrase on which to pattern our attitudes, actions and relationships towards one another. Of His own accord – for us. This article first appeared in the October 2013 edition under the title "Of my own accord." Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, her latest being Katherina, Katherina, a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here, and buy it at


"And behold, I come quickly" - the dying need to hear the gospel

He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still; and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be. (Rev. 22:11-12)  ****  Many people harbor the delusion that when they will die, they will simply continue in the state they are in. They exhibit no visible doubt, no terror, about the passage from this brief life to eternity. Nearing the end In the fall of 2015, during the course of a sunny morning, my husband, daughter, and daughter-in-law were beginning to slaughter fourteen meatbirds by our chicken coop. They were skinning and gutting with gusto, each heartily approaching their respective jobs, when the dog began to bark and bark. He generally only barks when people approach. As it was my job to wash and bag the birds, and as none were ready yet, I took it upon myself to investigate. Following the sound of the barking, I walked past the side of our house towards the driveway. There was a small car parked at the very end of the driveway, close to the road. My first thought was that it was the mailman who sometimes personally delivers packages. As I began to approach the car, thinking the man might be a little worried about encountering our still barking canine, a voice spoke behind me. "Hello there." Turning, I saw an older fellow emerge from our garage. He rather startled me. Very well-dressed in a grey suit, it occurred to me immediately that our mailman had changed, had grown older, and had discarded his usual tee shirt. But it was not the mailman. I observed this in the second instant as I noted the Bible and a Watchtower tract clasped in the gentleman's veined hands. He smiled, exhibiting wonderfully white dentures, reminding me strongly of a friend we had a long time ago – a Dutch gentleman who has since died. It's strange how many thoughts can pass through your mind in the space of a few seconds. The old fellow extended his hand and I shook it, admonishing Spurgeon, our faithful watchdog, to stop barking. (But the truth was that he was being a faithful Spurgeon.) "You are a Jehovah's Witness," I said. He nodded in agreement. Perhaps I should have given him time to get into his spiel but thinking of the chickens to which I had to return, I immediately followed with, "I'm sorry, but you and I are going to disagree on a very basic truth - the truth that Jesus Christ is God." He nodded happily and enthusiastically in apparent total agreement. "Jesus was a good man," he smiled, “and a god." There is a certain amount of sadness about disagreeing with pleasant people. It is much easier to disagree with nasty people. Here was a feeble, old man, possibly 90 plus, with one foot in the grave, willfully denying the Savior. There is nothing more dismal. "Yes", I replied, "I know that you believe that He is a good man, but He is also God. I do respect your zeal in going door to door, but your zeal is not based on the right knowledge." "The doctor has only given me a year to live," he responded, "I have cancer." I was totally caught off guard and shocked at this revelation and asked what kind of cancer he had. He told me it was bone cancer and prostate cancer. "I've stopped taking the radiation and chemo treatments," he said, "and feel so much better since I have stopped. And now I spend time doing this." I told him he had done well to stop the treatments and passed on some information about natural treatments he could look into. I also asked him over for supper some time in the future as he lived in a town not too far from our home. And, guess what? He was Dutch. He said he'd check it out with his wife who was waiting in the car. He was, humanly speaking, such a very nice gentleman. I patted his arm, gave him our name, and said, "Before you leave I have to tell you once more that Jesus is the only way. He is truly God and our only Savior." And there he went, smiling affably, thin as a rail, cheerfully on his way to hell unless God opened his eyes. Unsure of the end The next day there was another strange encounter as I was waiting in the line-up at the TD bank. It was raining outside and leaves were swirling around on the sidewalk. The sixty-plus lady waiting in front of me turned around. She was very talkative. "You look happy," she said to me, "Why is that?" Not waiting to hear an answer, she went on to conduct a diatribe against the weather. I interposed by saying it was rather cozy and that when she went home, she could turn on the lights and curl up in a comfy chair with a good book. She thought this was a good idea but then, jumping from one thought to another, said she was sorry she was getting older. "Well," I replied," you wouldn't want to not get older." "Yes, I would," she said, "I don't like getting older.” She was a well-groomed woman, a trifle shorter than I was, with an immaculate hairdo and tailored clothes, and she repeated emphatically, "I don't want to get older." "Well," I countered, "you know what the alternative is." For a minute she gazed at me, wide-eyed, and then I asked her if she was a Christian. The immediate response was “Yes.” "Well, in that case," I smiled, "you know where you are going in the long run." She broke up laughing at this statement, as if I had told her a joke. "Heaven or hell," she chortled. I nodded and then, again changing the subject, she asked if I didn't just love the pope? Wasn't it marvelous how he identified with the poor, and wasn't he a wonderful example? I responded by saying that we should all be examples, but that we couldn't be unless our hearts were changed. She eyed me a little warily now, and I added that I would like to hear the pope say that people's hearts should be changed instead of hearing him speak about climate change. She pondered this, clearly at a loss for words for a moment, but then was called to the bank wicket. "Nice chatting," she said. What a strange bank visit! **** We did visit the Jehovah Witness gentleman and his wife several times. We were received graciously. He died several months later, confident that he had no need of Jesus as God at all. In pursuit of exceptions It is a sobering thought, as Octavius Winslow, (1808-1878), pointed out in one of his devotions, that human character, …which time has been shaping for years, yields to the demands of eternity in the precise mold in which it was formed. Death hands over the soul to the scrutiny and the decision of the judgment exactly as life relinquished it. , the “king of terrors,” has received no commission and possesses no power to effect a moral change in the transit of the spirit to the God who gave it. Its office is to unlock the cell and conduct the prisoner into court. It can furnish no plea, it can suggest no argument, it can correct no error, it can whisper no hope to the pale and trembling being on his way to the bar. The warden must present the criminal to the Judge precisely as the officer delivered him to the warden, with all the marks and evidences of criminality and guilt clinging to him as at the moment of arrest.... Do not men die mostly as they have lived? The infidel dies in infidelity, the profligate dies in profligacy, atheists die in atheism, the careless die in indifference, and the formalist dies in formality. There are exceptions..." We will, all of us, have encounters each day with neighbors and strangers, on driveways and in shopping malls, encounters in which possibly we might be allowed to address that exception.   Christine Farenhort’s new devotional The Sweet Taste of Providence is available in Canada at and can be ordered by phone 1-800-563-3529....



Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul's robe. Afterward David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe (1 Sam 24:4b-5). **** We all have a conscience, and whether we acknowledge it or not, we also all have an afterward. David certainly did, not just in the incident of cutting off a piece of Saul's robe, but also in the incident of the census taking (2 Sam. 24:10). Only the Holy Spirit can so direct the conscience of a person that after accusing him, that person can be led by Him to the comfort of confession, peace and knowledge of forgiveness. David is a prime example of being conscience-stricken by the Holy Spirit, giving way to an amazing confession and experiencing the peace of being forgiven. Just read Psalm 51 written after his infamous adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah the Hittite. And examples of the Holy Spirit nudging consciences are found throughout history. **** A command often repeated in the Old Testament, the command to honor the Sabbath, is one about which God is very particular. And yet there is no longer a great deal of respect for the Sabbath, for the Sunday. It used to be that when my family drove to church in the late 1950s in Toronto, that the streets would be bereft of most vehicles and that the stores we passed were closed. It was a quiet drive and you could sense it was the Lord's Day. Sad to say, that is no longer the case. There is the story of a gravestone cutter who resided in Wakefield, Yorkshire. An amiable and jolly fellow, he was a pleasant man, one who had been born and raised in the area. Well known and well-liked for his endearing character, he also held the post of sexton, taking care of the church premises and faithfully ringing the church bell to call people to worship each Sunday service. A lettered man, he served as clerk for the area as well, keeping records and undertaking administrative duties. A practical man, he was not at all superstitious and much enjoyed inscribing words and texts on tombstones. It was on a Saturday evening in March of 1790, that Peter Priestley, for that was his name, kissed his wife goodbye and set off for some unfinished work, the work being the touching up of an epitaph on a gravestone. Intent upon being done sooner rather than later, he walked briskly, whistling as he strode through the dark. He carried a lantern and had his bag of tools slung over his shoulder. It was rather late and the church clock struck eleven as he traveled on. He should have begun his work earlier, but he reasoned that there were only a few letters in the epitaph which remained to be chiseled out and he was quite confident it would be done quickly and easily. Arriving inside the church, which place he had been using to give him shelter in the still chilly March weather, Peter Priestley put down the lantern and lit his candle which was set inside a hollow potato. Placing the potato-candle on the tombstone, he began work. However, as he bent over the flat gravestone, hammer and chisel in his hand, a noise stopped him short. It was a strange sound – more like a hiss actually – and one he had never heard before. He straightened up, gazed about, but all was silent. Neither seeing nor hearing anything untoward in the next minute, he concluded that he must have imagined that he heard something "I am a little deaf," he grinned to himself, "as my wife often tells me." Shrugging lightheartedly, he picked up the mallet and chisel once more, bending over again with great care to concentrate on the matter at hand. But, although not immediately, the noise returned. "Hiss." It was very marked. Not only that, there was a smell which accompanied the sound - a rather unpleasant smell. Peter straightened up slowly and peered around. He walked over to his lantern, relit it and began a search of the premises. But he could find nothing – nothing unnatural, nothing strange – all was as it should be. Nevertheless, strange thoughts began to huddle about in his mind, and uncertainty hovered over his shoulder. Sighing, he contemplated the stone. There were only a few letters left to be touched up. He could do it quickly. Setting down the lantern once more, he returned to the table where the stone lay. Once more, chisel and mallet in hand, he bent over. "Hiss." Peter's body jerked upright even as the clock in the church steeple began to strike twelve. Then the awful truth hit him and fear took over. He had almost profaned the Sabbath; he had almost broken one of the Ten Commandments. He dare not waste any more time. Blowing out his potato-candle, and throwing his instruments into his bag, he picked up his lantern with a trembling hand. Heart beating wildly, he left the church premises and trotted home in what resembled a gallop. Bursting through the door, Peter was sufficiently disoriented for his wife to be concerned. "What is wrong, Peter?" He would not tell her for he could not speak to her of a matter so troubling his conscience. His wife coaxed sweetly by making him a hot toddy, rubbing his back and stroking his cheek, but he offered no explanation. Eventually they retired to bed, Peter tossing and turning most of the night. When first morning light dawned, Peter's wife happened to glance over at the chair where Peter had cast his wig. "Why, Peter!" she exclaimed, "What have you been doing to burn all the hair off one side of your wig?" "What did you say, woman?" "I said," repeated his wife, "what have you been doing to burn all the hair off one side of your wig?" It is an amusing and supposedly true story. The fact is that God uses all sorts of means to probe and sear consciences. **** Conscience stories abound and we should learn from them and praise God for them. In January of 2018 a man by the name of Brian Hawkins walked into a KRCR-TV station in Redding, California startling the crew by saying that he wanted to confess to a murder. The station agreed to tape and air his conversion on the condition that he turn himself in at the police station. A conscience-stricken man, he confessed: "God and Christ and these things that have happened over the course of twenty-five years have pushed me and pushed me to do the right thing. I know the wrong can't be changed but this is the closest I can come to doing the right thing." In 1993, Hawkins and two accomplices murdered a twenty-year-old young man by the name of Frank McAlister, after robbing him of his money. Stabbing him to death, they left his body in a wood, and dumped his car in a Costco parking lot. Police had never been able to solve the murder. Calvin once said, and rightly so: "The torture of a bad conscience is the hell of a living soul." Hawkins confirmed this statement when he added this to his confession: "Horrible, horrible, horrible, absolute horror, absolutely horrible since that day. Every minute of every day has been a nightmare. It's kind of weird, Frank never got to have a life, but we were teenagers and now I'm forty-four and still haven't even had a life and now most likely won't anyway. I've been through hell my whole life because of this. There hasn't been a moment that I have not been remorseful for what I have done." Centuries before, Athanasius, (328-373), said, "The Saviour is working mightily among men. Every day He is invisibly persuading numbers of people all over the world, both within and beyond the Greek-speaking world, to accept His faith and be obedient to His teaching. Can anyone, in face of this, still doubt that He has risen and lives, or rather that He is Himself the Life? Does a dead man prick the consciences of men...?” There is a hopeful afterward for Brian Hawkins; there is a hopeful afterward for all of us. But only if we repent and are baptized, every one of us, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38). Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, her latest being Katherina, Katherina, a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here, and buy it at


If only for this life we have hope in Christ...

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? ....if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ we are to be pitied more than all men (1 Cor. 15:12-19). **** My husband and I have already attended a few funerals this last year. They were peaceful funerals – funerals of saints who lived in the hope of Christ and saints who are now rejoicing in heaven with our Lord. There were tears at these funerals, to be sure, but they were tears that were spilled into the cup of the new covenant established by Jesus' blood. The truth is that we live on a slope. That truth is that all life tilts towards the grave. Human beings – from the very first moment of conception, slide towards death. Most people are afraid of burial. There are many who quip: "I'm not planning to die" and then they laugh. To be put into a coffin, into a small confined space, and to have a lid closed over your face – that is not a pleasant thought. For people who have not spent much time contemplating a Savior, it is an experience they would rather avoid. WHERE THE SCARY STORIES BEGAN? Stories abound about people having been buried alive throughout history. There is the tale of Alice Davies. In 1656, Alice married a man by the name of William Blunden of Basingstoke. The Blundens were a well-established family who ran a flourishing business. Alice could consequently be congratulated on her very fine match. William was a maltster, that is to say, he was a brewer of malt. The malting process converts raw grain into malt. Malt is used mainly for brewing or whiskey making, although it can also be used to make malt vinegar. William Blunden seems to have brought his work home with him. Both Alice and William often enjoyed downing a glass of ale. It is not surprising therefore that an old text describes Alice as “a fat, gross woman who had accustomed herself many times to drink brandy.” Perhaps Alice was, for some unknown reason, deeply unhappy and tried to drown whatever it was that discomfited her. She did have two children and was not in any material want. Besides brandy she also regularly imbibed poppy-tea. Poppy-tea is an herbal infusion brewed from poppy seeds. The dried pods contain opiate alkaloids, primarily consisting of morphine. The tea is consumed for its narcotic effect, and in small amounts was used as a sedative. Alone one evening, her husband having traveled to London on business, Alice, drank a sizable quantity of this tea. Afterwards she fell into a deep sleep – a sleep from which she could not be wakened. The household servants called the local Basingstoke apothecary. After checking her, the apothecary concluded that Alice had died. Alice was, as stated previously, a very heavy woman. Although husband William had sent instructions that the funeral be deferred until he returned from London, other relatives deemed it necessary that the body be interred as quickly as possible. Old manuscripts spell out that “the season of the year being hot, and the corpse fat, it would be impossible to keep her.” They did not heed William's request to wait and Alice was buried without any delay. A few days later some boys, playing a game near the cemetery, heard a voice calling out. It is not recorded what the voice said. In panic they ran home and told their parents. Initially no one believed these boys, but then the same voice was heard by others passing the graveyard. Following the sound of the voice, they arrived at poor Alice's grave. Upon opening the coffin, they discovered her body to be most “lamentably beaten.” It was concluded that Alice appeared to have regained consciousness in the coffin and had tried very hard to escape. No one could detect any signs of life in the woman at this point and so the lid was put back on and the coffin lowered into the earth once more. A coroner was sent for to examine the body the next day. Great was everyone's consternation, however, when upon opening the coffin for the second time, the body was found to have “torn off a great part of the winding sheet, scratched herself in several places and beaten her mouth until the blood ran.” The coroner, upon examining the body very carefully, did pronounce Alice Blunden finally dead. She was reinterred once more. Those responsible for her initial burial were summoned to court, but although they were fined for neglect of duties, no one was ever convicted. A fairly gruesome tale, to be sure. A “safety coffin” featured in the January 1, 1901 Medical Art and Indianapolis Medical Journal: Volume 4. The fellow inside demonstrates how he can ring a bell, raise a small ball high up in the air to alert passersby, and also open a passageway for air. SO VERY FEARFUL There is another story of a man by the name of Robert Robinson who lived in the mid 1700s. In his youth Robert attended the dissenting seminary at Plasterer's Hall – an academy which trained young Christian men for the ministry and a school which had teachers who were devoted to Calvinism. Robert abandoned Calvinism, however, while at the academy, and began leaning heavily towards Unitarianism. After graduating, he served several parishes, but resigned amidst controversy in 1777. Uncomfortable with the thought of dying and worried about being buried alive, Robert Robinson made preparations for his interment. When he died one day in December of 1791, his coffin was placed in a square, red-brick building which had been built on his property. At his instructions a movable glass pane was inserted into the coffin, and his little mausoleum also had an inspection door. A watchman was instructed to pass along daily after Robert's death to see if there were signs of breath on the glass pane. His relatives, as well, were requested to visit his grave periodically and to check for signs of life. These are interesting stories, telling stories and stories which reveal a great deal about human nature. The truth is that if people rely on their own reasoning and philosophy, they have no hope at all. The fear of being buried alive is called taphephobia (Greek for grave + fear). In the early 1900s this rather widespread fear led to the creation of so-called safety coffins. These coffins had some sort of mechanism installed in them for communicating with the living – mechanisms such pulleys and ropes which were attached to bells above ground. Hence the term “saved by the bell.” Hans Christian Andersen, the fairy-tale writer, was petrified of being buried alive. A note on the table next to his bed read, “I only appear to be dead” and when he was not sleeping he wore the note around his neck. Frederic Chopin wrote to someone: “The earth is suffocating. Swear to make them cut me open so that I won't be buried alive.” President George Washington requested of his secretary: “Have me decently buried; and do not let my body be put into a vault in less than three days after I am dead.” THE ANSWER TO FEAR Most people are afraid to die, let alone be buried in a coffin. Most people are afraid of what happens after they die. God has, however, in His great mercy, given us a note, and has left us instructions with regard to our fears of death and burial. He has penned, through the Holy Spirit, the factual story and the reality of an empty tomb in all four of the Gospels – an empty tomb, a resurrection and an ascension. The answer to the fear of death and burial is to become well-acquainted with this reality of the empty tomb; to become well-acquainted with the Savior, Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. He teaches that although our earthly sojourn will end one day, and that physical death will end our earthly life, it is but our doorway into eternal fellowship with Him. The tomb did not hold Jesus. “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Cor. 15:20), and it will not hold anyone who believes in Him. “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable” (I Cor. 15:42b). ...thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (I Cor. 15:57).   Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, her latest being Katherina, Katherina, a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here, and buy it at


The Gift: an allegory of sorts

"Why do you always have that small string wrapped around the top button of your sweater, father?" The father smiled at his son. "Have I never told you?" he replied. "No, sir." The father fingered the small, grey string thoughtfully. It was almost hidden within the confines of the thick wool of his sweater. Then he sat down, held out his arms to the child and took him onto his lap. "Once," he began, "Once..." Chapter 1 - The eagle awakes At precisely six thirty, when the sun had already risen, Arend heard the alarm rattle in Cousin Janie's bedroom. He had woken up to it every morning for the past six months. The urgent shrillness traveled insistently and angrily through the thin walls of one of the little houses on Tooker's Road, rudely tweaking Arend's earlobes, making him pull the blanket over his head. Tooker's Road was not really a road, but a small lane. About twenty-five homes stood next to and across from one another along both sides of a gravel path. The adjoining land had once belonged to a farmer by the name of Tooker. In need of a little money, he'd sold off twenty-five parcels of two-acre lots for four hundred dollars a piece. That's how the houses had been born. Small homes they might be, but they were homes boasting a bit of acreage. Although narrow and barely qualifying as thoroughfare, cars did use Tooker's Road enough so that when you crossed over to the other side you had to keep an eye out. Arend lay quite still under his blanket, waiting for Cousin Janie to wake up, waiting to hear her trudge across the linoleum tiles of her bedroom towards the bathroom. He had listened for her sleepy footfall every morning this past half year and he continued to be perplexed as to how Cousin Janie could not want to wake up. He was constantly amazed that she would not want to peek out the window to see if the grass was still green; that she would not want to ascertain whether the sky was still as vast and magnificent as it had been the day before; and that her blood was not throbbing with the desire to embrace the very air around her. Pushing the blanket back down, Arend folded his thin, little arms under his head and stared up at the cracks in the ceiling. One of the cracks ran all the way from the light bulb in the center of the ceiling down to the right corner. It was a crack that split off into other smaller cracks. A fat fly crawled over the naked bulb and buzzed down to the floor. There were many such flies who called this room their home. When the sun shone into Arend's bedroom in the late afternoon, they all vibrated and spun around on the floor simultaneously. Cousin Janie called it their death dance. She vacuumed them up every chance she got, but Arend rather liked the sound of the buzzing. The tap stammered water in the bathroom. The yellow faucet only produced thin trickles of water at intervals. It was enough though, to fill cupped hands so that you could splash wetness onto your face and sputter into a towel. He could imagine Cousin Janie standing on the bathmat in front of the oval sink, shivering in her blue nightie. Grinning, he sat up, turned around onto his knees and stuck his head under the green curtains which hung just behind the iron headboard of his bed. There was a robin on the lawn. It was pulling hard at a worm. Arend itched to go out. He didn't really know what it was he desired to do. Just to go out would be enough. He ached to hear the birds singing their cheerful, early songs in the tree tops; he wanted to feel the dew wet his feet; and he yearned to feel the smooth blades of the lilac bush leaves between his fingers. Sighing deeply, he leaned his chin on the palm of his right hand. Cousin Janie's car stood on the driveway. It was an old, blue Pontiac and rust had eaten away a great deal of the body. Sometimes she had trouble starting it and then she would grumble because the bus was the only other recourse to get to work. The problem was that she had to walk a half mile towards the city bus stop and in Cousin Janie's high heels, that was no picnic. The tap stopped running. A few minutes later the toilet flushed. Arend lay back down. It was only a matter of a few minutes now before Cousin Janie would pass his bedroom, calling as she passed to tell him that there were corn flakes on the counter and could he please clean up afterwards and could he remember to peel potatoes for supper tonight? Yes, he nodded to himself, for had he not always remembered these things in the time that he had lived here? Always was a very long word. There was a time, he pondered, as he folded the thin arms under his head again, a time before always. Cousin Janie was not really and truly his cousin. She was his mother's cousin and actually she had not really known his mother that well. And his father... well, he did not like to think of his father. "Arend," Cousin Janie's voice startled him, even though he had been waiting for it, "Arend, the cornflakes are on the counter. Please remember to clean up after you eat and please remember to peel the potatoes for supper tonight." "Yes, Cousin Janie." Arend grinned at the cracks in the ceiling. A few minutes later the side door opened and closed, the screen slammed shut, and he could hear Cousin Janie's footsteps patter down the steps and crunch on the gravel as they headed for the car. Then the car door opened and closed, and a minute later, after a bit of coughing, the car started. Sighing in relief, Arend resisted the temptation to peek out the window again. It was truly the beginning of his day now. Lithely he swung his feet over the edge of the bed even as the car wheels ground over the fine stones of the driveway. Sitting up, he took off his pajama top. Reaching for his shirt, socks and pants, he scooted off to the bathroom. The blue linoleum was cold under his bare feet, but that was no matter. After he had splashed himself in the face and dried off with a clean but hard hand towel, he pulled on his cotton tee shirt. It was a black tee shirt and underneath the crew neck a picture of Davy Crockett, gun in hand, stared out courageously from his small chest. He loved that tee shirt and Cousin Janie literally had to sneak it off his bedside chair for washing when he was asleep or he would wear it all the time. He'd seen the movie "Davy Crockett, Indian Scout" at school the last day before the Christmas holidays, just before he'd moved in with Cousin Janie. And ever since he'd seen it, he'd had a keen desire to be an Indian scout himself. School was finished for the year now and there would be no bus to pick him up today. He was his own master and could truly do what he liked. Cousin Janie had been insistent that he stay within distance of the house while she was at work. He had faithfully promised her that he would, clearly envisioning within his mind that he could walk a long, long way into the field behind the house and still see the house, and that there was a great deal of exploring he could do while keeping that promise. Chapter 2 - Petrus & peanut butter He cleaned up as tidily as he could after eating breakfast. Diligently wiping the counter clean after he washed his plate and spoon and cup, he even swept the floor with the broom. Surveying the kitchen afterwards, he nodded, quite pleased with himself. Why Cousin Janie complained about housekeeping was a mystery to him. There was nothing to it. He would leave the potato peeling until later. First he had to get out and see if there were any tracks in the field. It had rained last night and surely if deer had come around, there would be tracks. He had marked their hoof prints before, indented large as life between the wide and growing rows of corn. But today, on this first day of his holidays, he would be able to follow those tracks, follow them to wherever they led. Making himself a peanut butter sandwich, he scouted around the cupboards for something in which to wrap his lunch. Finding nothing, he decided the sandwich would have to fit into his back pocket. Then he was off, the screen door slamming shut behind him. The next few hours were blissfully wrapped up in the knowledge that freedom was his: freedom to catch tadpoles in the small creek between Cousin Janie's house and the farmer's field; freedom to climb an oak tree and scan the horizon for Indians; freedom to lie down between the corn stalks watching their green leaves gently sway in the breeze; and freedom to lazily observe black beetles lumber past dew puddles on the ground. And then, strangely enough, Arend fell asleep. **** "Hey, boy! Hey, boy, what are you doing here?" Arend groggily opened his eyes. He thought he was waking up in his bedroom and tried to decipher the cracks in the ceiling. But all he saw were the cracks in a face, an old, old face. "Hey, boy!" the voice repeated, "Wake up!" Then the face smiled and one of the eyes in the face winked at him. "Are you running away from someone and hiding?" Still lying down, Arend shook his head even as he began the process of sitting up. "No," he said. "Well then, what are you doing here?" "School's over and I'm exploring," Arend explained. "Exploring?" He was a tall, a very tall man. His bony jaw jutted out and his eyes, although one of them had just winked cheerfully, were a piercing dark blue. "So you're not running away?" "No, I'm not," Arend answered again, and then, because he had been told by Cousin Janie over and over to speak with two words, he added, "Sir." "Well, I am." The old man promptly sat down next to him, put a finger on his lips and motioned that Arend should keep quiet. The boy was not afraid but rather fascinated.  "She'll be shouting in a minute. Don't say anything, mind." Arend nodded and sure enough, a few moments later a woman's voice rang through the air. "Petrus! Petrus, where are you?" The man poked Arend with his elbow and gleefully whispered, "Didn't I tell you she'd shout?" "Petrus, come out this very minute. I'm getting angry!" "Sometimes Cora gets so angry," the man confided softly to Arend's left ear, "that she turns redder than a tomato. Sometimes I think she might explode." This so amused him that he began to chuckle and had to clap his hand over his mouth to stifle his laughter. Arend couldn't help it, but he began to grin. They sat in silence for a few minutes while the woman's voice kept on calling and calling. Finally a screen door slammed shut. Arend presumed Cora had given up and gone inside. "The only thing is," the man went on, sobering up, "I'm so hungry. I think lunch time is soon and Cora does make a good lunch." As he spoke, his face fell. Arend turned onto his knees and put his hand into his back pocket. The peanut butter sandwich was still there. It had stretched out flat, like a square pancake. He extracted it and held it in front of the old man. "Peanut butter," he whispered, "and you can have half if you like." To show that he meant what he said, he tore the sandwich in two and held out one half to the man. A smile twinkling in his eyes again, Petrus regarded Arend with joviality and readily accepted the half proffered to him. "You are my friend, and friends give their names. What is yours?" "Arend." "Mine is Petrus." Contentedly Petrus took a bite from the bread and began to chew. Suddenly a look of apprehension crossed his face. Taking the half-chewed bread out of his mouth, he put it on his lap. "I forgot to pray," he said. "Pray?" Arend repeated. "Yes, don't you pray?" Petrus didn't wait for an answer, but folded his hands and respectfully recited, "Lord, bless this food for Jesus' sake, Amen." Satisfied, he popped the bread back into his mouth and resumed chewing. But he regarded Arend carefully as he chewed. "Don't you pray for your food?" he asked, his mouth full. "I don't know how." Arend truthfully replied. "Well, you fold your hands and ask God to bless your food. Unless, of course," Petrus added, as he took another bite, "you are going to bed. In that case, you ask Him to take care of you during the night and," he went on as he took another big mouthful, "you also ask Him to forgive your sins for Jesus' sake." "Oh," Arend said, not understanding exactly but rather taking it all in as if the teacher at school were explaining the new sound in a word. "So you try it," Petrus encouraged, "Just fold your hands and I'll help you." "Cousin Janie doesn't pray," Arend whispered, beginning to feel a little uncomfortable, "and I don't know God." Petrus' eyes opened wide at this revelation and the grooves in his forehead deepened. He said nothing, but took another bite. It was his last bite. "Well," he finally commented, swallowing the oddment, "if you're not going to pray for your food, you may as well give me your half of the sandwich. It's better, I think, for me to eat it because I prayed, and you didn't." "Does it taste better when you pray?" Arend ventured to ask. "Yes," Petrus confidentially answered as he took the other half out of Arend's hand, "much better." They sat for a while in silence, Petrus chewing and swallowing assiduously. Then Arend asked, "Is Cora your mother?" This set Petrus off into gales of laughter, almost choking on the peanut butter. "My mother?" he finally managed to gasp, "My mother?" "Yes," Arend replied, "isn't that why she is looking for you?" "If she was my mother," Petrus explained, savoring his last bite, "I'd have to do what she said. I'd have to come. But she is my sister, so I don't have to do what she says." They sat for another long while in silence, Arend stealing glances at his companion, wondering who he was and why he did not want to go and see his sister. "You know," Petrus eventually spoke, licking his lips, "I'm still hungry. I think I'll go now." He stood up. His tall frame was twice that of the growing corn. Without any further ado, he took several strides through the cornfield towards the ditch. Reaching that, he crossed a small bridge leading to a grass backyard. Then he stopped, turned around, and called back to Arend. "Do you want to come, Arend? Do you want to come to my house and have some lunch too?" The boy had stood up as well. He was quite famished, his sandwich was gone and, more importantly, he was suddenly lonely. He could see Cousin Janie's house clearly outlined to the far left. He was definitely still within the bounds of the promise he had made her. "All right," he answered Petrus, walking toward him, "I'll come to your house for lunch." Chapter 3 - Beginnings It was a small house - white with black shingles on the roof and black shutters on the window. Situated just a bit farther down the road than he traveled on the school bus, Arend hadn’t been aware of it. Jumping the ditch rather than using the minuscule bridge, he landed on the grass with a thud before running to catch up with Petrus. "Won’t Cora mind that I come for lunch?" he asked, a bit anxious about the voice that had called so insistently for Petrus to appear. "No, she won't." "Will she still be angry that you didn't come?" Petrus stopped dead in his tracks and looked at Arend. "She never gets angry in front of company - and you are company." He grinned and held out his right hand to Arend. Arend was about to take it when the old man suddenly bent down and, putting his hands under Arend's shoulders, lifted the boy onto his neck. "Now I am really tall." Petrus pranced around on the gravel stones of the driveway. Arend clung to the grey head, half afraid, half excited. "Petrus, put that boy down!" Both looked towards the door of the house. It was open and a small woman stood in its frame. "Put that boy down right now and come in, Petrus!" Arend supposed that the woman must be Cora. He felt Petrus' hands reach up for him and gently lift him down to the ground. Then one of those hands took his own and pulled him along towards the door. "This is Arend, Cora. I found him in the field." The same piercing blue eyes that graced Petrus' face, were in Cora's - only hers were a lighter blue. "Hello, Arend." "He's hungry, Cora. I ate his lunch." "Well then, he'd better come in for a bite to eat, hadn't he?" There was soup, cornbread and a cup of milk. And if that was not enough to make a belly stuffed, there was also a jelly donut on a stone plate for dessert. Petrus had explained in a rather matter-of-fact way that Arend did not know how to pray and Cora had not said anything about it. But after the meal, when Petrus yawned, appearing rather drowsy with the weight of a double lunch in his stomach, she had taken out a book. "Are you going to read a Bible story, Cora?" Petrus asked. "Yes, I am. Why don't you lay down on the couch for a snooze and I'll read out loud. You can listen with your eyes closed." Petrus obeyed with alacrity and Cora sat down at the kitchen table next to Arend. "Have you ever read from the Bible before, Arend?" He shook his head and Cora smiled. "Well, then it's about time you heard about the very beginning of all time." She opened the Bible and Arend heard, heard for the first time in his life, the words, "In the beginning God..." Now there is within every soul on earth the knowledge of eternity - and so this knowledge was also lodged deep within Arend's soul. But when the window of one's soul has been covered over with the dirt of birth for years, this is hidden. But the breath of the Word can blow away that dirt. As Arend listened, the words "In the beginning God..." were blown so violently across his heart that he caught a glimpse, a glimpse of eternity. "What is the beginning?" Petrus had begun snoring lightly and Cora absently smiled in the direction of the couch where her brother lay sprawled out. "The beginning," she repeated, "Well, Arend, the beginning is when God was and we were not." "Where were we then?" And, after a moment he added, "And Who is God?" If Cora was surprised at his naked ignorance, she did not show it. She merely answered, "God is the One Who made you and me and Petrus." "And Cousin Janie?" "Everyone, Arend. God made everyone." "How did He do it?" "By speaking." "By speaking? You mean by talking?" "Yes." Arend was silent. He had never heard this before; he had never thought of this before; he had never contemplated the fact that he came from somewhere and that someone had made him. His mind briefly wandered to his mother and father. "Is God still alive?" he asked. "Yes," Cora answered quietly, "He surely is. He was always alive. He is alive now and He will always be alive." Arend thought about this for a moment before responding. "My father and mother died." "Did they?" "Yes." Cora said nothing else but waited patiently. There was quiet for another minute before Arend went on. "My Mom, she died when I was born. I didn't know her, but Cousin Janie says she was nice as far as she can remember. And my Dad, he had an accident. He was riding his bike on the road on his way to work and a truck went by and a piece of his coat got caught in the wheel of the truck or something like that. And he was dragged and then he died." "I'm sorry." Arend's words had come out in a rush. He didn't know why he had told Cora these things. He had not even spoken to Cousin Janie about what had happened to his Mom and Dad. "You must miss your Dad." Arend stared past her to where Petrus was peacefully splayed out on the couch. He did not really miss his Dad. What he did miss was the sense of belonging to someone. His Dad had never spoken much with him and had often gone out at night, but his Dad had been the person with whom he had lived. There had been foster homes, a lot of foster homes, in the last two years. And he had never stayed anywhere longer than a few months. Cora put the Bible down. She stroked Arend's head. "I'm glad you met Petrus," she said, "because Petrus needs a friend. I hope you can come over often." "Petrus is old," Arend said, looking up at Cora and pulling away from under her hand. "Yes," she answered with a smile, "but I think you will still find him a friend." "Why does he ...?" Arend stopped, unsure of how he could ask why Petrus was different, was rather odd in the way he spoke and behaved. But Cora anticipated his questions. "Petrus had an accident a few years ago. He was a farmer and a good farmer. He knew everything there was to know about farming. But a loose beam from the barn gave way and fell on his head. It knocked him unconscious. We thought he might die. But eventually he did wake up and he woke up the way that he is now. He woke up like a child, but a child whose knowledge and faith often puts others to shame." Arend did not comprehend everything Cora told him and reacted only to the obvious. "What happened to his farm?" he wanted to know. "Well, my son, who was working for him at the time, took it over. He runs it now." "What is his name?" "Andrew Peter." "Why don't you and Petrus live at the farm with Andrew Peter?" "Because sometimes Petrus doesn't see danger and runs after the tractor or goes into the bull pen by himself. He has forgotten many things about farming." Arend nodded. He understood that part. He settled back in the chair as Cora returned to the Bible reading. "In the beginning God.... created the heavens and the earth," and, "Then God said: 'Let there be light.'" And Arend listened. Chapter 4 - A good deal That evening after supper, the child related the events of his day to Cousin Janie as she was sitting on the couch with her feet up. It was tiring work, she said, standing up as a teller at the bank all day and her feet desperately needed a rest. Cousin Janie was a cheerful, very direct person, a person who generally said what she thought. "Well, Arend, little cousin," she remarked, her hands cupped around a mug of coffee, "I gather from what you are saying, that I might not have to worry about you being alone all day after all." And that was the truth. She had worried about Arend being home alone all day. "Cora's going to teach me how to play checkers and parcheesi," Arend further informed her, "and read to me. She has a Davey Crockett book too. And Petrus is going to show me how to shuck corn and hoe the garden and he might even help me raise chickens or rabbits." Cousin Janie sat up, setting her empty mug on the coffee table. She regarded Arend thoughtfully. "It sounds like a busy summer for you, little guy. But I think I'd better go over there and make sure that you won't be a nuisance - that you haven't misunderstood." "Cousin Janie," he said, ignoring her statement for the moment, as he watched her stretch her arms over her head preparing to stand up. "Cousin Janie, did you know that God was in the very beginning? And that He made us?" She did not answer but looked at him rather strangely, her arms dropping down to the couch. "And I wouldn't be a nuisance," Arend went on, going back to her previous caution, "I really wouldn't." The last words came out rather vehemently. "I know," Cousin Janie responded soothingly, "but just in case you misunderstood, I think I'll pay them a call. Why don't you get ready for bed and I'll be back in a jiffy to tuck you in." Arend sighed. What if Cora and Petrus didn't like Cousin Janie? What if she spoiled things for him? But when she came back some twenty minutes later and sat on the edge of his bed, she had a smile on her face. "It looks like it's a deal, little cousin of mine," she said, "Cora's happy to have you come for lunch every day and to have you spend as much time as you like over at her place." Arend wiggled his toes under the covers and yawned simultaneously. He felt good - the kind of good you feel when it's your birthday the next day and you know there's a present for you in the living room. Once, three years ago, his Dad had actually remembered that he was going to turn four. He had set a present, elaborately wrapped, on the couch. Although Arend had barely dared surmise that the present was for him, he could not imagine who else it could be. His Dad had nodded almost imperceptibly when he had asked. From that time until bedtime that day, he had felt as if there was another person in the living room. It had been that big! He had woken up in the middle of the night. The temptation to get up and look at the present had eventually forced his feet out of bed. The moon shone in through the apartment window and had guided his steps into the living room. He had stood in front of the couch and stared. Then he had reached out and touched the wrapping - touched it ever so gingerly. "What are you doing out of bed!" Startled he had turned around. "I go to the trouble of buying you a present for your birthday and you, you sneak out of bed." "No, Dad!" Hands now dangling dejectedly at his sides, he had begun to walk backwards towards the door of his bedroom. As he lay shivering under the covers, he heard his Dad pick up the present. The paper crackled. Then his father's door closed. The next morning the present was gone and to this day he did not know what it had been; to this day he did not know if there had actually been something inside the wrappings. Perhaps there had been nothing. "So even though I know you don't intend to make a nuisance of yourself," Cousin Janie's voice broke into his thoughts, "be sure to help whenever you can. Offer to sweep, do dishes or just ask what Cora would like you to do. And never touch anything that doesn't belong to you." He shook his head vigorously. "I won't, Cousin Janie. I would never...." and then he stopped. It was a good summer, a great summer and, comparatively speaking for Arend, the best summer he'd ever had. He learned how to play checkers, parcheesi and horseshoes; he was instructed on the intricacies of weeding, hoeing and podding peas; and Cora unwrapped Bible stories for him each day. Together with Petrus he fashioned two wooden cages, and when they were finished, Andrew Peter, Cora's son, brought over three rabbits and five chickens, animals which he had bought at the local market. "Now you be sure to help my Mom in the garden all summer," Andrew Peter sternly admonished when he dropped the animals off, "and I'll consider that payment. Is it a deal?" But he had not admonished so sternly that his eyes had not smiled. Andrew Peter and Arend had shaken on it. Andrew Peter was a tall fellow, not unlike his uncle. In his thirties, he was blond, lanky and clean-shaven. And his face held the same pale blue eyes that his mother had. "He's a good farmer," Petrus said to Arend once, "I wish he were family." "He is your family, Petrus," Arend replied, "Don't you remember? He's your nephew." "What's a nephew?" "Well, a nephew is ... is ... family." "Are you family to me, Arend?" "Well, no." The boy shook his head as they spoke. "Are you family to anyone?" "Well, to Cousin Janie, sort of. She was my Mom's second cousin?" "Well maybe you can try to become a first cousin. Do you have to study for that?" Arend grinned. Petrus grinned too. "Was that funny, Arend?" Arend didn't answer. "I hope you stay my friend, Arend." The old man patted him on the back as he spoke. They were cleaning out the rabbit cage. "I will, Petrus," Arend promised, "but in September I have to go to school and then I won't be able to visit as much." "I'm so glad that I found you in the field. I think that you were a present to me hidden in the corn." "Yes," Arend answered, "I'm glad too, but Petrus, in a few weeks I will have to go to school." Petrus now stopped pushing the grass through the wire enclosure and turned his face toward Arend. "School?" "Yes." "Why?" "Well, because you have to go to grade two when you're seven and I'm seven." "Well, maybe I can come and visit you at school? I'm seventy and it's my birthday in October." Arend envisioned Petrus cramped into a small desk in his classroom and grimaced. He looked at the old man doubtfully. "Do you want to go to school?" Petrus went on. "No!" "Well, then don't go. Stay here with me." Arend tugged at some straw and wrinkles appeared in his smooth forehead. "They make fun of my name in school, Petrus. At least they did last year when I was in grade one." "Fun of your name?" Petrus was incredulous and clapped his hands together in surprise. Pieces of straw left his sleeves and danced through the air. "You have a fine name. Arend is a good name!" "Maybe it is," Arend replied slowly, "But the kids said, 'Arend. Aren't you here? Aren't you there? Arend isn't anywhere'. And then they all laughed." Petrus clapped his hands together again as if to reprove the teasing children. His tall frame backed away from the rabbit coop and then he spread his arms out wide. "Arend means eagle. Have you never seen an eagle?" "No." "They are great birds - really big birds. And eagles are in the Bible too." "In the Bible?" "Ask Cora." Petrus' attention was diverted by the big doe. She was heavily pregnant and he carefully bent down to peer at her nest, stuffing some more grass into the enclosure, stuffing it right next to the would-be mother. "Soon we'll have baby rabbits, Arend." Chapter 5 - Friends indeed Arend wished a few weeks later as he lay in bed, that his name had been that of another bird - a bird such as Hawk, or Robin, as in “Robin Hood,” or something like that. But there had been a grandfather in Holland on his mother's side – a grandfather for whom he had been named. But Arend did mean eagle. Petrus had said so and Cora had confirmed that it was true. Tomorrow school started. Cousin Janie had surprised him with a lunchbox sporting the picture of Davey Crockett. Last year he had carried his lunch in a paper bag. Cousin Janie had also taken him to the store and had bought him two new shirts and a pair of pants. Cora had knitted him a thick blue sweater and Petrus, not to be outdone, had whittled an eagle out of a piece of wood. "It fits into your pocket," he'd said, "and the teacher won't know it's in there." "Petrus," Cora had chided, "Arend isn't to hide anything in school." "That's true," Petrus had answered, his eyes twinkling, "and that's why I'm going to keep it in my pocket. Now I have an eagle in my pocket. I have you in my pocket, Arend. And you're going to stay there. I just thought you'd like to know." He'd emptied his pocket on the living room floor displaying a stone, a small, oddly-shaped stick, a blue jay feather and a dried-out dandelion. The eagle lay between these things. Arend smiled in the dark. It was, in a strange way, good to know that he was in Petrus' pocket. Things at school went much better the next day than Arend had expected. Although he found himself rather lost in the good-sized class of twenty-five rambunctious grade two, three and four students, he was not as scared as he had thought he would be. The teacher, Miss Wilcox, was pretty and she had each new grade two student take a turn to introduce him or herself. "I'm Billy Barber and my dad is a farmer," the boy in the desk next to Arend's spoke up forcefully. "What kind of farm does he have?" Miss Wilcox asked. "A pig farm." "A very fine thing to have," she smiled, "because ham is delicious to eat. You must be proud of your Dad, Billy." Billy sat down grinning. The next child was a girl. She stood up but her head was down. Her name was Isabel, she told the class with a shaking voice, and she had seven brothers and sisters. She sat down again and blushed. Miss Wilcox replied that she hoped she might meet them sometime. It was now time for Arend to stand. Isabel's evident nervousness had calmed him. He had rehearsed his introduction a few times inside his head as other children took their turns. He rose, leaning on his desk with his right hand. "My name is Arend," he enunciated in a clear voice, "It means eagle and this name is in the Bible." Miss Wilcox was taken aback for a moment, but then responded. "Arend is an unusual name. What country does that it originate from?" "Holland." "Indeed? Thank you for sharing that with us, Arend." Billy glanced at him from across the aisle. "Want to come to my house sometime, eagle?" At recess, as if by prior agreement, the boys gathered at one end of the schoolyard and the girls at another. The grade four boys started a baseball game and allowed the younger grades to be part of the teams. Arend was picked to be a leftfielder. He enjoyed it especially when Henry, one of the older boys, commented that he ran pretty fast for a grade two-er. A month and a half after school started, Cousin Janie slipped on the porch as she left for work in the early morning. She had called out the usual admonitions to Arend and he heard the screen door slam shut as she left for work. Her initial steps down the porch sounded normal. Then her heel slipped on a thin layer of frost coating one of the cracks on the wooden steps. October had begun chilly and the nights were below zero. Arend heard the noise of the fall. Still in bed and contemplating whether he would be allowed to bring one of his rabbits to “show and tell,” he immediately sat up, turned onto his knees and put his head between the curtains. Cousin Janie lay sprawled out in front of the stairs, half of her body stretched out on the gravel driveway. She was not moving. Arend jumped out of bed, raced through the house and catapulted out the front door in a flash. "Cousin Janie!" There was no answer even though he called her name so loudly that the syllables seemed to echo across the lane. He called again. "Cousin Janie!" Then he pelted, in his pajamas and on his bare feet, down the road to Cora's and Petrus' house. Banging on the door, totally out of breath and gasping for air, he brokenly told them what had happened. Petrus, wearing only his housecoat and slippers, as quickly as his old legs could carry him, immediately went back with Arend to where Cousin Janie lay on the driveway. He took a little mirror out of his housecoat pocket, bent down and held it in front of her mouth. "Look, Arend," he called out, "Look, there's mist on the mirror. She's breathing! That means she's alive!" Arend began to cry. Sitting down on the gravel next to his cousin, he softly stroked one of her limp hands. "Please don't die, Cousin Janie." Petrus sat down on the steps just above them, looking on. His blue eyes were grave. Then he took off his housecoat, bent over and tucked it around Cousin Janie. "We should pray, Arend," he said, "We should ask God to help." As Petrus' voice sincerely began to invoke God's help, Arend closed his eyes, all the while not letting go of Cousin Janie's hand. At the “Amen,” Cora appeared, fully dressed. "I've phoned for the ambulance," she said, "Arend, go and stand by the road so you can flag it down when it comes, but first go inside and put on your coat and your boots." Arend obeyed her woodenly. Letting go of Cousin Janie's hand, he got up, scarcely feeling where the gravel had indented his legs. He walked up the stairs past Petrus, opened the door and found his coat and boots. Putting them on, he came out again and descended the steps. He walked backwards down the driveway, his eyes never leaving the still form of his cousin. Cora then went inside, procured a blanket from one of the beds and came out again. Telling Petrus to put his housecoat back on, she covered Cousin Janie's figure with the blanket. Arend stood at the end of the driveway, and peered down the road for what seemed like an eternity, constantly checking over his shoulder to where Cora and Petrus were bending down. He loved Cousin Janie. Sobs welled up inside him bursting out in a howl of misery. The next instant Petrus appeared at his side and took his hand. "It's all right, Arend. I'm here." Arend snuggled into Petrus' side and then two hands lifted him up, not to the old man's shoulders, but to his heart. A car drove up from the opposite direction. It was Andrew Peter. He parked his car at the side of the road, turned off the motor and got out. Passing Arend and Petrus, he smiled gently and walked over to where his mother was hovering over Cousin Janie. He knelt down next to her, feeling Cousin Janie's pulse. "Arend," Andrew Peter called a moment later, "Arend, come here." Arend slid down from Petrus' arms and ran, scattering gravel in all directions. He could see that his cousin's eyes were now open. "Cousin Janie," he whispered, leaning over Andrew Peter's shoulder, "Cousin Janie, are you awake?" "Yes, and I'm OK," she whispered back, "Don't worry, little cousin." Carefully she moved her head to find Cora. "Please watch out for him today," she went on. Cora nodded, even as Andrew Peter took Cousin Janie's right hand and began to pray. "Dear Heavenly Father," he said, in a very normal voice, "Janie's had a fall and needs Your help. Please strengthen her, Lord." "The ambulance is coming!" Petrus called out through the prayer, "I see it coming!" "For Jesus sake, Father," Andrew Peter went on, unperturbed, "let Janie put her trust in You so that she might live forever." Cousin Janie's eyes were wide open now and riveted on Andrew Peter's face. "Tell me," she slurred with difficulty, and then her eyes closed. The ambulance turned into the driveway. "Let me go with her in the ambulance."  Andrew Peter spoke up softly but clearly. Cora agreed, and stood up rather stiffly. She took Arend's right hand and pulled him away from where he was leaning on Andrew Peter to stand next to her. Petrus, who had come back from his vigil at the end of the driveway, took Arend's left hand. Together they watched as Cousin Janie was lifted into the ambulance. Andrew Peter got in as well and took a seat next to the stretcher. After the white car drove off, it was very quiet. **** "What happened, Dad?" the little boy impatiently tugged at his father's sweater, "What happened? Was Cousin Janie all right? Did she get better?" The father smiled and shifted his position on the couch. "Yes, son. Let me just get my bearings here." Chapter 6 - A Father figure Arend stayed with Cora and Petrus while Cousin Janie was in the hospital. She'd suffered a concussion, a heavy concussion. Andrew Peter phoned from the hospital that she was to stay there for observation for a few days before she would be allowed to go home. That Sunday Arend went to church for the first time in his life. Cousin Janie had not permitted him to attend previously. "You visit Cora and Petrus a lot during the week," she'd said, and said it firmly, "I'll not have you overstaying your welcome. So on Sundays I want you home with me." Arend had not minded really. Because in her tone he'd heard that she actually liked and wanted his company and that made him feel good. He'd taught Cousin Janie how to play checkers and sometimes they hiked in the park or visited some of her friends. Arend felt a bit awkward at first. Sitting in the wooden pew, feet dangling, hair wetted down and neatly combed by Cora, he breathed as quietly as possible. He feared that if he were to make a sound, it would reverberate from the rafters and everyone would be sure to guess that he was new, that he had never been to church before. He was wedged into the corner spot and Petrus sat on his right. It was Petrus' birthday and there would be cake this afternoon at teatime. Cora sat next to Petrus. They were early and slowly people began to dribble in through the aisles - families with children, couples and single people. Then the organ began to play. Arend had never before heard an organ and started violently when the first rich tones swelled past him. Turning his head to see where the music came from, he spotted Billy Barber a few pews behind them. Billy waved. Arend turned his gaze away quickly, quite sure it was not proper to wave in church. Petrus nudged him and showed him a roll of peppermints in his pocket. "You can have one later," he mouthed and grinned. A tall boy from grade four sat down directly in front of them. He was the boy who had praised Arend for running fast, and his name was Henry Beenstra but all the kids called him “Beanstalk” because he was so skinny and tall. He flashed a look at Arend before he sat down with his parents, eyebrows raised in surprise. His eyes jumped from Arend to Petrus and then back to Arend again. There was something troubling in his glance and Arend felt uncomfortable. He knew it had to do with Petrus but was not quite sure what it entailed. Petrus nudged him again and bringing out the small carved eagle in his pocket. Arend smiled. Whatever it was that bothered Henry “Beanstalk” about Petrus, it didn't matter. The minister, a middle-aged man, welcomed everyone and smiled. It was a good smile and reached Arend's pew. There was singing and more singing and prayer. It was a very long prayer and from time to time Arend peeked to make sure everyone else was still praying. At one such peek, he caught Henry, face turned back towards them, staring straight at him. He quickly shut his eyes again, but not before he'd seen a smirk on Henry's face. He leaned into the pew corner and tried to relax. Avoiding eye contact with Henry during the entire ensuing service, he tried to listen – to listen carefully – so that he could tell Cousin Janie all about it later. It was a good story that the minister told – a story about a father with two sons. The younger one was tired of staying at home and wanted to go away. From everything the minister said it sounded as if the boy's home was a good home and Arend could not fathom wanting to leave your home if it was good. That younger boy was stupid. Imagine having a kind father who loved you and wanting to leave that love. He turned his face back towards the minister. The father gave the boy a lot of money and allowed him to leave and the father was very sad to see him leave. The boy traveled to a far away country and spent all his money. Arend had never had any money. He guessed that Cousin Janie giving him milk money for a carton of milk at school each day didn't really count. And he wasn't allowed to spend that money on anything else but milk. After the boy had spent all his money, he got a job feeding pigs. It would have been a dirty job, Arend imagined, and not at all like feeding his rabbits or his chickens. And the boy was so hungry that he wanted to eat the pig food. What would the pigs have been eating? Slop, the minister said and if it tasted like it sounded, then it would have tasted terrible. While he was in the pig pen, the boy remembered his father. Arend remembered his own father. His father had not really wanted him at home; had never given him money; had not even given him birthday presents. If he was living with pigs right now and his father was alive, would he go to him? It was a hard question and Arend began to dangle his feet back and forth, kicking the pew in front of him. He instinctively felt that his father would not have been happy to see him. Petrus put a hand on his knees to stop the kicking motion and Arend's feet became quiet. The boy went back home to say that he was sorry he had left, and when he was still far away from his old house, his father saw him coming down the road. Arend remembered standing at the end of the driveway watching down Tooker's Lane for the ambulance. It had been difficult to see very far because there had been a bit of a mist. He recalled straining his eyes. The boy's father must have had very good eyesight. Maybe he could see like an eagle. And then the father began running towards the boy because he so very much wanted the boy to come home; and when they met, the father hugged the boy. Arend's father had never hugged him. But Petrus had hugged him. The father then dressed the boy in a beautiful robe and he gave him a ring for his finger too. Arend stretched his right hand in front of him. Would it be sissy to wear a ring? And then a lot of food was made ready for a party and everyone celebrated because the boy had come home. Maybe cake was served - maybe cake like they would have this afternoon because it was Petrus' birthday. It was because the boy was sorry, the minister insisted, that the father was so happy and took him back; and it was because the boy knew that he was lost, that he was accepted back home. Arend reflected on that. It was easy to understand that if you were sorry, sorry about something you had done wrong, that this was a good thing. But to know that you were lost, that was more difficult to understand. How could you know that you were lost? Was he lost because he didn't really have a proper home? And how could he... ? His thoughts stopped. After church, Billy Barber and some other boys came up to him. Cora, with a backward glance over her shoulder, presumed that Arend would be fine with his friends. "Want to come over to my house, Arend? My Dad will bring you back this afternoon. I'll show you the piglets and we have puppies right now too." Billy was insistent and Arend felt flattered. "I'll have to ask Cora," he said, and together the boys looked for her but she said “no.” "It's Petrus' birthday. Did you forget?" Then seeing the downcast faces in front of her, she relented somewhat. "Why don't you come to our house instead, Billy," she suggested, "and have your Dad pick you up later today?" As Billy disappeared into the crowd of churchgoers around them in the foyer to ask permission, Henry “Beanstalk” walked over. "Hey, squirt," he said, "how's the number one runner doing?" "Fine," Arend answered carefully, a little apprehensive to be singled out by Henry and recalling vividly how Henry had looked at himself and Petrus during the service. "Want to play some baseball this afternoon with some of the guys?" "I can't," Arend replied, "it's Petrus' birthday and we're... well, we're having some cake and stuff. You know." Billy came running back. "My Mom says it's OK. I can come to your house, Arend." "Oh," Henry's face took on a look of mock hurt, "so you can play with Billy, but not with me." Arend didn't know what to say. He ground the toe of his shoe into the carpet. Henry turned around. "Well, see you guys." **** "Then what happened, Dad? Was there cake? His father nodded. "Yes, there was, son. But not until the afternoon. And it was a lovely chocolate cake, the kind that Petrus loved." "Tell me," the boy, insisted leaning back against his father. And the father continued. Chapter 7 - Carried home After Sunday soup, fresh bread and a hard-boiled egg, Arend and Billy helped Cora dry the dishes. Petrus was already on the couch half-asleep. "Now you boys play outside until tea time," Cora said, "and then we'll have a piece of that birthday cake." Arend showed Billy the rabbits and the chickens as well as Cousin Janie's house. Then they looked for deer tracks and rabbit tracks out in the field. Arend was about to get a container so they could catch some tadpoles in the little creek, when he saw Henry standing in the driveway. There was another boy with him. They were standing next to their bikes. "Hey, squirt," Henry yelled, "we came over to say “happy birthday” to your friend." Arend didn't know what to say. "Well, aren't you going to ask us in?" "I can't," Arend said, "Cora and Petrus are sleeping." Henry turned the handlebar of his bike and fastened his gaze on Arend. "Well, eagle-boy," he returned, "I sure would like a piece of that birthday cake and it would be a shame if we came for nothing." "Can't you give them a piece," Billy, who had come to stand next to him, whispered advice into his ear, "and then they'll go away." Uncertain, Arend slowly walked towards and up the steps. He carefully opened the door, making sure he turned the handle just right so that there was no squeaking. It opened into the kitchen and the cake smiled at him on the counter. Cora had put a knife next to the cake. Also, neatly lined up, were four plates and four forks. He tip-toed inside, swallowed deeply, took hold of the knife and cut into the chocolate cake. He'd never done such a thing before. The knife stuck. He pulled it out and tried again. This time he was more successful. Eventually he managed to get two pieces of cake onto two of the plates. Balancing them carefully in his hands, he retraced his steps and went back outside. Henry applauded and laid his bike down on the driveway. "Great going, squirt," he said, "I'd knew you'd pull through." He walked toward the backyard and his friend followed. Billy and Arend followed as well, Arend still carrying the plates with the cake. They all sat down on the grass and Arend handed the boys a plate each. "It'd be a waste if old drool mouth had this all to himself," Henry commented, "and how come you're staying with him, squirt?" Arend blushed. "Well, how come you're staying here," Henry persisted, his mouth full of chocolate cake. "My Cousin Janie's in the hospital and ... well, Cora and Petrus are neighbors." "Well, that's unfortunate, isn't it? Having a neighbor that isn't right in the head!" Arend looked down at the grass. He didn't know what to say. That is, he did know what to say, but he didn't dare say it. "I bet you're sorry your staying here, aren't you, squirt?" Arend didn't answer, but Henry repeated his remark. "I bet you're sorry Petrus is your neighbor, right, squirt?" He stood up as he spoke, leaving his empty plate in the grass. The plate was stained with brown crumbs. The other boys stood up as well. Henry walked over to Arend, linking arms with him, pulling him back across the grass towards the driveway. "I bet you'd much rather stay with me than with silly, old Petrus, squirt." Henry's voice was loud and invasive. It crept under his Arend's skin and slithered down the road. Arend wanted to pull away from the voice, but he couldn't. His arm was locked in Henry's grip. Nevertheless, he began to pull. "If you say, 'Petrus is a silly, old man,' I'll let you go," Henry promised and squeezed Arend's arm so hard it brought tears to his eyes. "Petrus is a silly, old man," the words burst out of Arend's mouth before he knew it. Henry suddenly let go of Arend's arm and Arend fell backwards onto the driveway. Henry laughed, laughed so hard he doubled over. Then he and his friend got on their bikes and rode off, tearing through the gravel of the driveway. Arend stood up, brushed himself off and glanced over at the still open door. Petrus was standing on the landing and he was staring right into Arend's eyes. Farmer Tooker's grandson, who owned all the property in and around Tooker's Lane, never harvested his corn until late in the season. As a matter of fact, sometimes he did not even harvest until the following year. Other farmers commented on it and said it was a shame to see a crop go to waste. After staring into Petrus' eyes for a moment, Arend took off towards the field, losing himself between the tall, dry cornstalks. Billy did not follow him and he was glad of it. He ran until the breath had totally drained from his lungs and he was forced to stop. Falling down onto the dirt, he curled himself into a tight ball and lay still. How long he remained there he didn't know. The late October ground was unrelentingly hard. It did not possess the dignity and support of a mattress, and yet the boy slept a dreamless sort of sleep. It had not been a sunny day to begin with and when Arend finally came to himself, he was numb with cold. Slowly he remembered what had happened and sick with shame, he sat up. His good pants had a grass stain and he wondered what Cora would have to say about that. But she would probably not say anything because he could not possibly go back. For surely after Cora heard what Arend had said about Petrus, she would not want him in her house again. And when Cousin Janie heard what he had done, she would never want to see him again either. He couldn't blame either of them. A lark flew overhead and in the distance he heard a mourning dove coo. He picked an ear of corn off the nearest stalk, peeling off its dried leaves. Shriveled and tiny, the kernels were uninviting and unappetizing. Perhaps he'd have to stay here all winter and eat hard, uncooked corn. His stomach both rebelled and rumbled. Billy had probably gotten a piece of chocolate cake and Billy's Dad had, without a doubt, already picked him up and taken him home. He wondered if the coyotes in the field ate people. He sometimes heard them howling at night. Petrus said there were packs of them about. Cora was making fried potatoes tonight and there was going to be egg salad too. These were some of Petrus' favorite dishes. He hadn't even given Petrus a birthday present. He did not have money and Cousin Janie was in the hospital. But he had made him a card. It said: “Happy birthday, Petrus - from your best friend, Arend, the eagle you found in the field.” The card was under his pillow. Was he like the boy in the minister's story? Had he squandered what had been given to him so freely? Were dried ears of corn like slop? The only thing missing here were the pigs. Billy had pigs. Maybe he could stay with Billy's family and live in the pigpen. The boy in the story had been sorry. In that way he was like the boy. He was so terribly sorry that he had said that Petrus was a silly, old man. Petrus' eyes had been so sad, as if they could not understand that Arend would say such a thing about him. “I hope you stay my friend, Arend.” “I will, Petrus.” That's what he had said a few weeks ago and it had been a lie. He picked up a clod of earth and threw it into the air. It landed with a small thud and broke into pieces. The strange thing was that the dirt, broken and black, was still part of the earth. You could not tell now that he had thrown it into the air, that it had been somewhere else but a few moments ago. Not so with himself. He had been tossed up by fear and he had landed flat on his face. Unlike that clod of earth, he was now part of nothing. His past was gone. There was no place for him anywhere. He was lost. He did not know where he was or where to go. He shivered miserably. Even if he went to Cora and Petrus and said that he was sorry, he would not belong to them anymore. They would always mistrust him and would never love him again. What if he said that they could punish him? What if he said that he would work for them and they didn't have to pay him ever? Unconsciously he stood up and his feet began to move through the rows and rows of corn towards the little white house in the distance. It was dusk now and the first stars were beginning to appear. The corn stalks crackled as he walked on, head down, towards the afternoon's disgrace. He could hear an owl hoot somewhere in the bush behind the field. Bats flew by in the air hunting insects. He lifted his head for a brief moment to stare at them as they darted through the sky like ashes scattered to the wind. Instinctively his eyes moved toward the horizon, moved toward the house. It was glowing with light. Cora must have turned the lamps on in the kitchen and in the living room. His gaze fastened on the glow and he wished with all his might that he were there and that it was yesterday. Then he stopped short for he suddenly perceived the figure of a person, a tall person, moving through the corn field just beyond the little bridge, moving toward himself. It was Petrus. He knew for a fact that it was Petrus – knew it within the pit of his being. Petrus had seen him too because at that moment the tall, spindly frame began to run, crushing plants as he did so. Without being able to stop himself, Arend began to run also – to run as fast as his legs could carry him. And when he reached the old man, he felt himself being lifted high, as high as the stars, and then he was carried home. **** "What about the string, father. You said it was a story about the string." The child was impatient and tugged at his father's sleeve. fingering the string. "Yes, I did." "Well?" "Petrus had tied a string around one of the eagle's wings. He said he had done this so that the eagle would not fall out of his pocket. He gave me the string that night because he said I needed to know that I would never fall out of his pocket."   **** Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, her latest being Katherina, Katherina, a novel taking place in the time of Martin Luther. You can read a review here, and buy it at


On the Truth, and the cost of lies

"Remember: one lie does not cost you one truth but the Truth" - Hebbel **** It seems that truth is bendable - it has become elastic during the last decades. People can twist and turn it any which way they want, especially if they have a good lawyer. "Guilty or not guilty?" "Not guilty." "Have you ever been to prison?" "No, this is this is the first time I’ve been caught stealing.’ Surely truth is a question which has plagued mankind for centuries. The question of what, exactly, truth is, has been particularly in the headlines during the last year. There are those times in which we do not speak the truth in order to shield others from something. The Bible records incidents in which people did not speak the truth and two incidents immediately come to mind: the first deals with the protection of the small Jewish babies by the Hebrew midwives (Ex. 1:15-21). The second recounts the hiding of the Jewish spies sent to search out the land for the Israelites (Joshua 2). Incidents such as these remain relevant to the present times. We have only to think of the Second World War during which time many Christians hid Jewish refugees. **** My husband and I had such an incident in our lives as well. It had not nearly the magnitude of life and death to it, but it does illustrate the fact that things are not always black and white. A few years after my husband’s graduation from the Ontario Veterinary College, we had our third child. An aunt of my husband’s, Tante Til, had come over from Holland to help me out for a week or two. She was cheerful, lively and a bastion of cleanliness. We enjoyed having her around. Tante Til had a wonderful sense of humor but she also had a passion for sterilizing whatever came within her reach. Perhaps this was because she mistrusted my husband’s close daily contact with stables and their inhabitants and distrustfully eyed the mud caked to his large rubber boots. Tante Til was “proper” and would never dream of letting a soup bowl function as a cat dish or using her handkerchief to wipe away a cobweb. Tante Til was not extremely fond of animals and the kitten, dubbed “Little Grape” by our two girls, had to stay out of her way. The litter box was vies (dirty), and my husband was delegated the task of cleaning it while I was in the hospital. He gladly did so. We had, I am ashamed to say, acquired the habit of cleaning out the litter box with something I had never found much use for – a silver salad fork – somehow failing to inform Tante Til of this rather disreputable habit. The fork lay in a secluded corner on the kitchen counter. It was a dirty black because I hated cleaning silverware, finding it a useless chore when it would only get dirty again. Besides that, we had lots of stainless steel. One of my first nights home from the hospital, Tante Til cooked us a special dinner - mashed potatoes, vegetables, pork chops, applesauce and salad. It looked and smelled delicious. As we sat down and bibs were tied around the girls’ necks, Tante Til shone with goodwill. "Nou, eet maar lekker, jongens! (Eat hearty, guys!)" We prayed and then began to put the food on our plates. It never hit us until my husband began scooping some lettuce onto his plate. He suddenly realized that he was holding the silver salad litter fork. Only the fork was not holding cat litter but green salad. His second scoop, therefore, hung in mid-air. He caught my eye and I grinned at him. He didn’t grin back. "Good salad, isn’t it, sweetheart?" I said wickedly. "Dank je (Thank you)," Tante Til beamed. "Zal ik jou ook wat geven? (Shall I give you some too?)" "No, thank you," I answered virtuously, "it might give the baby gas." My husband ate around the salad on his plate as Tante Til explained in detail how she had cleaned the fork she had found on the counter and wasn’t it nice and shiny now? "Je moet je zilver wat vaker poetsen hoor, kind (You should polish your silver a little more often, dear.)" She gave me a sidelong glance but smiled tolerantly for wasn’t I a young mother with a great deal to learn? I cannot recall whether or not my husband ate the salad on his plate, but I do know that we never told Tante Til what the salad fork had actually been used for. "I speak truth, not so much as I would, but as much as I dare," said Montaigne. **** Most incidences in daily life, however, call for plain, unadulterated truth - truth you should never shy away from. A number of years ago, during a snow-infested January day, I noticed a car slide to a stop behind a snowbank in front of our house. Our driveway was engorged with snow and I watched to see if the driver of the car would wade her way into it or head for our neighbor’s house. She turned into our driveway. It was a slow process, getting to our door, but it gave me time to put the kettle on, arrange some cookies on a plate and finally, wipe a few hands and noses while giving instructions on good behavior. When I looked through the window again, the woman was only about three quarters way up the driveway. I walked to the door, opened it and smiled a welcome. The woman was small and carried a briefcase. I did not know her. She smiled back and her funny, black hat tilted in the wind. "Why don’t you step in for a minute?" I said, fully confident that this tiny lady was lost and in need of directions and a hot cup of tea to warm her up. "Bad weather." The short, terse statement was carried by a strong voice, albeit a strong voice with a quaver. I nodded, agreeing wholeheartedly. She pulled off her gray, leather gloves and began opening her briefcase in the kitchen. A watchtower tract fell on the ground. I bent simultaneously with her and we almost bumped heads. She reached the pamphlet first and picking it up, held it out towards me. "No, thank you." My words came automatically. The pamphlet quivered. The hand that held it was blue-veined and old. "It’s free," she said, mistaking my refusal to take it with fear of having to pay for it. I shook my head. "I know." She put the tract back into her briefcase. The kettle was boiling and I turned to unplug it. Her voice followed me to the counter. "The world has many problems." My oldest son toddled into the kitchen and smiled at her. I walked past him and said, "It’s a good thing that Jesus Christ came into the world." She nodded, her little hat nodding with her. "Jesus was a good man." I both agreed and disagreed. "He was a good man," I said, "a perfect man, yes, but He was and is also God." She smiled and answered, "How could He be both at the same time?" Shaking her head, she laughed at what appeared to be a foolish and impossible notion. And when I persisted in speaking of the Triune God, she gave up and put her gloves back on while two of my children fingered her briefcase. With her gloved hands she pulled the small, black hat firmer onto her wet, gray hair and then opened the door. The wind blew swirls of snow into the foyer as she stepped back outside. I watched her go, the snow filling in her plodding steps almost as soon as she lifted her feet. And a few minutes later there was no trace to show that she had been by. Pascal said, "Contradiction is not a sign of falsity, nor the lack of contradiction a sign of truth." **** Providentially not only the liars are in the news. The January 30, 1999 issue of World magazine records that a man by the name of Daniel Crocker confessed to murder. Daniel Crocker, who at that time was thirty-eight years old, was sentenced to twenty to sixty years in prison. He will be eligible for parole in ten years. The unusual aspect of Mr. Crocker’s case is that he was living free and easy, with a wife and two children in Chantilly, Virginia. He had committed the murder twenty years previously, smothering a nineteen-year-old girl with a pillow following an attempt to rape her. However, his Christian conscience, following his conversion later in life, would not let him alone. Compelled by the Holy Spirit, he confessed his murder and was consequently tried and convicted. Mr. Crocker and his wife, Nicolette, reportedly were able to pray together twice before the sentencing. Mrs. Crocker said that their two children, Isaac, 6 and Analiese, 9, who were not at the trial, "know what Daddy’s doing is right." Mr. Crocker apologized tearfully to his family "for embarrassing and shaming them" and to the relatives of Tracy Fresquez, his victim. Mr. Crocker submitted, at this point in his life, to the Truth. And that Truth, even though he is a murderer, will set him free. **** According to the NIV Exhaustive concordance, the word truth is used 224 times in the Bible. One of the phrases recurring throughout Jesus’ ministry reads, "I tell you the truth." When the truth of the Bible is compromised, there is no sweet, roundabout way to avoid conflict. Emerson aptly said, "God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please - you can never have both." Although in this phrase the word choice smacks a bit of arminianism, the fact remains that you cannot have both truth and repose. A lot of people today, however, are convinced that you can have both, never realizing that they have thereby lost their hold on Truth. Although they might agree with Mark Twain’s quote, "Truth is the most valuable thing we have", they subconsciously go one step further with him when he adds, "Let us economize on it." But there is no way to economize on the Truth of creation; there is no way to economize on the Truth of headship; there is no way to economize on the Truth of God’s judgment on homosexuality; and there is no way to economize on the Truth of being servants of one another in love and compassion. Because to economize on one principle does not cost merely one truth but the Truth. And only if you believe this Truth in your heart and confess this Truth with your mouth, shall you be saved. This is an abridged version of an article - "Remember: one lie does not cost you one truth but the Truth" - that first appeared in the June 1999 edition of Reformed Perspective....

Adult fiction, Teen fiction

Katharina, Katharina: the story of Katharina Schutz Zell

by Christine Farenhorst 328 pages / 2017 In the past year, inspired by the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing up his 95 theses (or did he?) I've read about a dozen works on Luther. This is a favorite. One reason I love it so, is because it offers something very different from the others – this about is Luther and his time, but he isn't the main character. He isn't even a minor character, never making an in-story appearance. The events take place miles away from Luther's Wittenberg, in the French city of Strasbourg, on the border with Germany. The story centers around a middle daughter of the middle-class Schutz family. Like their neighbors, the Schutz's read and discuss Luther's pamphlets. By taking a step back from the man himself, author Christine Farenhorst (as regular RP readers will know, she is a long-time contributor to the magazine) give her readers the opportunity to encounter Luther's ideas in much the same way as the people of his time did. They didn't debate his ideas at the start, so much as wonder what to think of them. Some of his points they could readily agree with – many saw a need for at least some sort of reformation of the Church. But his thoughts on indulgences... might he be right? We follow the title character from childhood up until her mid-twenties. Though Katharina Schutz is a real person, this is historical fiction – all the big events are true, but the day-to-day details of Katharina's life have been made up. This is why, even as a background character, Luther still dominates the story. Katharina's life is fascinating reading but because much of it is speculative, it serves as the foundation while what we learn about Luther here is his real, actual history. One of the strangest bits of true history in the book is the dancing plague of 1518 that hit Strasbourg. Victims couldn't help but dance. It would have been funny except that this stilted, clumsy dancing never stopped - as many as 400 dancers kept going for days and days, beyond exhaustion, and even to the point of heart attacks and strokes. Target audience This is a teen to young adult book, but like any good children's book, adults interested in their church history will find it fascinating. However, as a third of all children at that time died before they hit age 5, there are some parts to Katharina's story that would be bawl-inducing to anyone under, say, 10. The somewhat slow beginning – it took until chapter 4 to really grab me – also makes it better suited for readers with a little maturity to them. Conclusion There is a real benefit to learning about Luther in this one-step-removed fashion. I was fascinated by what I learned about the people and culture of that time. It gave me a deeper understanding of the pressures that Luther faced, and insights into how God prepared the ground for the Reformation Luther sparked. It is a fascinating story that I look forward to reading with my daughters. This review first appeared on Pick up your copy of Christine Farenhorst’s “Katharina, Katharina” at ...

Science - Creation/Evolution

The "Watchmaker argument"

Two hundred years ago a bishop, by the name of William Paley, wrote a book in which he used a watch to illustrate how clear it was that God is real. He pointed out how many intricate parts a watch had; and how only a skilled watchmaker could put these parts together. He described how the watch was designed so that each small part had a purpose. He then argued that the watch, because it had so many parts, had to have a planner and that, because the watch had a purpose – to tell time – it had to be an intelligent planner. And then Bishop Paley also pointed out that there were many creatures much more complex and wonderful than the watch. Consider the woodpecker One of these creatures is the woodpecker — a bright, feathered hammerhead, whom we often nickname Woody. And if we look at the complex, awesome parts of the woodpecker, we cannot help but stand in awe of our Creator. 1. Shock-absorbing beak The woodpecker, is a marvelous bird and far from ordinary. Take his bill, for example. Isn't it amazing how he can ram it into a tree thousands of times a minute without having to replace it or getting a terrific headache? Well, his head is equipped with shock absorbers. And these shock absorbers cushion the blows so that the skull and brain of the woodpecker do not suffer. 2. Feet that grip Now consider his feet. Have you ever wondered how this bird could stand sideways against the tree for such a long time without slipping off? Well, God equipped the woodpecker with very stiff tail feathers with which he can brace himself. Also, his feet have four claw-like toes. Two toes point up and two point down — so that he can get a good grip on bark. 3. Glue the grips Now, once he's drilled his little hole, how does he manage to reach inside the tree for his supper? Again, our God and his Creator has equipped him well. The woodpecker has a wonderful tongue. It's long, with special glands on it which secrete a substance that bugs stick to like glue. When the woodpecker pulls his tongue out of the drilled hole it's covered with a smorgasbord of insects. 4. Tongue that curls The woodpecker's tongue is worth even closer scrutiny. Most birds have tongues that are fastened to the back of their beak. The woodpecker would choke if this was the case because his tongue is far too long. So do you know where God fastened it? In his right nostril. Yes, when the woodpecker is not using his tongue, he rolls it up and stores it in his nose. Coming from the right nostril, the tongue divides into two halves. Each half passes over each side of the skull, (under the skin), comes around and up underneath the beak and enters the beak through a hole. And at this point the two halves combine and come out of his mouth. You have to agree that the woodpecker's tongue is a most intricate and complicated piece of equipment. Blind to the wonder Not everyone believes that God created "every winged bird according to its kind." (Genesis 1:21b) Some evolutionists believe that birds were first reptiles. A 1980 Science Yearbook states that "paleontologists assume that the bird's ancestors learned to climb trees to escape from predators and to seek insect food. Once the 'bird' was in a tree, feathers and wings evolved (grew) to aid in guiding from branch to branch." Isn't it funny to think of so-called scientific men who believe this? If evolution were really true, why don't we see lizards sitting in trees today sprouting little feathers? Doesn't the thought alone make you chuckle? Actually, some evolutionists themselves are even aware that this is not really true. In 1985 an evolutionist named Feduccia said, "Feathers are features unique to birds, and there are no known intermediate structures between reptilian scales and feather." So why do people continue to believe and teach evolution? Romans 1:18-20 tells us why. Some people choose to suppress the truth. They have no faith in God's marvelous creation, even though it is all around them, and these people are "without excuse" (v. 20) before God. No, we are wise to stick to our faith in Scripture. The complexity of birds, certainly including the woodpecker, point to an intelligent Creator. And Bishop Paley's argument is good because today, 200 years later, we can point to many other living creatures also, (even tiny microscopic forms of life are infinitely complex), who could never have come about by any chance process of evolution. We praise and thank God for His marvelous creation. With the four and twenty elders of Revelations 4:11 we can say: "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being." Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, including her new historical fiction novel, Katharina, Katharina, about the times of Martin Luther. This article first appeared in the February 1991 issue of Reformed Perspective. ...


Jacobus Arminius: professed the confessions even as he opposed them

The baby, baptized Jacob Harmenszoon, lay contentedly in his mother's arms. Warmth, food and love sheltered his small physical being. Even though his father was only a poor man who made knives for a living, the little one snuggled in his sleep. It was 1560 in the Dutch city of Oudewater and there was much trouble in the land – Spanish trouble, church trouble – and before long young Jacob would have and make his share of them. When Jacob was only a little boy his father died. He was taken from his mother's home to live with a former pastor of Oudewater in the city of Utrecht. The small boy mourned his father's death and he missed his mother, (and only brother), very much. But this is what had been deemed best for him. Times were not easy for a widow with two sons to provide for. The old pastor tried to raise the lad as his own. However, when Jacob was fourteen this foster-father also died. Fatherless a second time, he returned to his mother in Oudewater. The reunion was not to be for long. Shortly after arriving home he was taken to Marburg, Germany by a friend. From there he received the news that the Spaniards had attacked and murdered all the inhabitants of Oudewater. Jacob Harmenszoon, whose name had been Latinized to Jacobus Arminius, was an orphan at the tender age of fifteen. It is difficult to imagine exactly how young Jacobus felt. He was not a child anymore, and yet not a man either at this point. It is Biblical to suppose that suffering can produce a steadfastness in the sovereignty of God. For Jacobus this was not the case. He did develop an intense dislike of any fighting or quarreling – and yet, strangely enough, the false doctrines he later came to espouse have brought about fighting and quarreling to this day. Early schooling When the teenager Jacobus Arminius was orphaned, several pastors took pity on the young man and one sent him to the recently established University of Leyden. Jacobus was at an impressionable age – the age that most of today's students leave for college or university. This is why it is so crucial that teachers at this point in life are solid and impart true knowledge. Unfortunately, in Jacobus' case, this was not to be. One of his professors taught, with power and conviction, man's “free will,” as opposed to God's divine election and reprobation. He taught so ably that Jacobus became both convinced and adept at convincing others. He was a good student. His thirst for knowledge plus his excellent study habits earned him a bursary which enabled him to further his studies in Geneva. Here he heard Beza, friend and successor of Calvin, lecture on election and reprobation. But it was too late. His young mind and soul had already totally absorbed “free will” and found it to be an attractive doctrine. Jacobus also traveled to Italy where he met the famous Jesuit priest Bellarmino (1542-1621). Impressed by the man's great knowledge, Jacobus was subconsciously strengthened in his desire to stretch atonement to include more than just the chosen sheep specified by Christ Himself in John 10:25ff. After all, this man Bellarmino was kind, generous, extremely knowledgeable, active in good works, and surely God could not reject him? “Free will” consequently whispered in Jacobus' ear that atonement was not limited but universal. A teacher of men In 1587, at the age of 27, Arminius returned to Holland. One year later he was installed as minister in Amsterdam. In 1590 he married Elizabeth Reael, daughter of one of the rich regents of that city – a regent, one might add, who was quite liberal in thought – and whose daughter was likely of the same frame of mind as her father. This marriage seemed to encourage him in verbalizing the wayward thoughts he had already been harboring. A series of rather unreformed sermons on the book of Romans was begun. Although he was a popular man, soft-spoken, cultured, good-natured and of impeccable character, these sermons stirred up a great deal of unrest in his congregation. He surmised, among other things, that death had not come into the world through sin but through nature. In chapters 8-11 he concluded that the reason God elected some and not others was because God knew beforehand what they would choose. Although Arminius was accused many times of preaching heresy, he continually maintained that he agreed with the Church's forms of unity, (which at that time were the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession). The years passed and the regents, (of which his father-in-law was one), protected Arminius. In 1603 Arminius was appointed as professor of theology in the University of Leyden. It had become the most important university in Holland – the university from which the state church called its ministers. The appointment gave Arminius the opportunity to sow seeds of heresy throughout the entire Reformed community. He won approval of the students easily enough, for he was a congenial fellow and an able teacher. Between classes he gave private lectures at his house and criticized Calvin, convincing a great number that there were errors in the confessions. A sad end Understandably, there was quite a bit of discord within the university halls and in the church pews. There was a civil court in 1608, and again in 1609, at which these problems were discussed. It was obvious from these sessions that Arminius led a minority and would certainly lose out at a proposed synod. This is why the government, which looked on Arminius as a protégé, refused to call one. By the time the Synod of Dordt finally did take place, (1618-19), Arminius had been dead for almost ten years. The final months of Arminius' life were marked with physical distress. Ill with tuberculosis, he also suffered a stroke, paralyzing one side and blinding him. Popularity had waned and was seen in the fact that people applied Zechariah 11:17 to him: “Woe to the worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! May his arm be completely withered, his right eye totally blinded!” Jacobus Harmenszoon, alias Jacob Arminius, died in 1609 before the age of fifty. When the Synod of Dordt finally did meet, the Arminian point of view was eloquently defended by Episcopius, student and very able successor of Arminius. For six months issues were debated. The doctrine of sovereign grace was at stake. Representatives from Reformed churches all over Europe were present. In the end, Synod roundly condemned the views of Arminius in five canons, (or statements). These statements can be shortened into the acronym TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints. Christine Farenhorst is the author of the just published Katharina, Katharina, about the times of Martin Luther. This article first appeared in the January 2006 issue. ...


Choice words - a queen's folly

"The gossip's words are like choice food that goes down to one's innermost being." – Prov. 18:8 ***** There is an old adage which says, “Believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see.” Another saying rightly puts forth the idea that the phrase “They say” is often a great liar. The Bible advises us to live quietly and to mind our own affairs and the Bible also underlines that “Where there is no talebearer, strife ceases” (Prov. 26:20). When you dislike someone, however, it is quite easy to believe gossip about that person; and when you have a disagreement with an acquaintance, how tempting it is to listen to a wagging tongue to discredit that acquaintance? Before she was queen We all know many factual historical news items about Queen Victoria, the long-reigning English monarch (1837-1901). When she was born on May 24, 1819 at Kensington Palace, Victoria was only one of several heirs to the throne of England. But after the death of her father, her grandfather and an uncle, she became the sole heir to that throne. She was eleven years old at the time. Victoria's childhood was secluded. Much of it was spent isolated from other children her age. Her mother, the Duchess of Kent and a Fraulein Lehzen, the governess, were virtually the only people with whom she had contact. She played with 132 dolls and a pet spaniel dog, but these did not make up for the devastating loneliness she sometimes felt. The Kensington system Sir John Conroy had been equerry – a personal assistant – to the Duke of Kent, Victoria's father. After his death, Conroy offered his services to the Duchess as comptroller of her household. These services were accepted and the Duchess and Sir John Conroy grew very close. Together they set up a system called the “Kensington System” which regulated and oversaw every aspect of the crown princess' life. The idea of this system was to make the young girl so utterly dependent on both her mother and Sir John Conroy, that she would be totally unable to do without the pair of them once she became queen. The little girl had rarely been out of her mother's sight. She slept in the same bedroom, and possessed virtually no privacy. Conroy was not especially kind to the child, bullying her with disparaging words when he could, and she disliked him exceedingly. As well, she detested the power the man appeared to have over her mother, not to speak of the fact that he often inferred that she was ill-equipped to become queen. In May of 1837 the princess celebrated her eighteenth birthday. The celebration brought with it a coveted amount of independence, for it gave Victoria her own income. Less than four weeks after this milestone birthday, King William IV, her uncle, died. Not even five feet tall, Princess Alexandrina Victoria was immediately proclaimed Queen. Sermons were preached throughout England simultaneously mourning the death of William IV and celebrating the accession of the new queen. The young queen immediately made appointments to form her own household. She very deliberately excluded Sir John Conroy. As a matter of fact, she referred to him as “a monster and demon incarnate whose name I forbear to mention.” There was a move to Buckingham Palace and one of the first things the young monarch did was to secure her own bedroom. Her mother henceforth would not share her sleeping quarters any longer. Lady Flora Hastings Three years before this, a Lady Flora Hastings, the unmarried daughter of the first Marquis of Hastings, had been appointed lady-in-waiting to Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent. However, Lady Hastings inadvertently became part of the Kensington System. In addition to the duties of lady-in-waiting to the Duchess, she had been told to serve as companion for the young princess. Both the Duchess of Kent and Sir John Conroy believed this would deter confidences between the princess and her beloved governess, Fraulein Lehzen. Victoria sensed this and believing Lady Flora to be a spy doing Sir John Conroy's bidding, Victoria distrusted and disliked her. Given the whole history of the girl's repression and isolation, this can readily be understood. Lady Flora Hastings was a beautiful woman. She had an oval face, big eyes, an aristocratic nose, thick dark hair and a flawless complexion. She was also a Christian and a firm believer in her Lord and Savior. In 1839, after Victoria's accession to the throne, she made a trip to Scotland to visit her family. Afterwards she returned in a carriage with Sir John Conroy without the presence of a chaperone. A few weeks later, Lady Flora openly complained about a pain in her abdomen. As well, she developed a noticeable swelling in her stomach as she continued to have this pain. She wrote later: “...having been suffering from bilious illness since the beginning of December, I consulted Sir James Clark, her royal highness' physician, and placed myself under his treatment...” The noticeable swelling of the stomach caused tongues to wag. Gossip was rife. And Queen Victoria, that very new and young monarch, participated in many a demeaning conversation about Lady Flora Hastings. This woman, it was whispered, is unmarried, a prude, and probably pregnant. Unkind mouths went on that, very likely, the father was Sir John Conroy. The Queen's extreme dislike for Sir John Conroy and his cronies, probably added fuel to the fire. A shunned Lady Hastings later wrote: “On the 16th of February, Sir James Clark came to me, and asked me whether I were privately married, giving, as his reason, that my figure had excited the remarks of the 'ladies of the Palace.' On my emphatic denial he became excited, urged me to confess as the only thing to save me.... it occurred to him at the first that no one could look at me and doubt it, and remarks even more coarse. I observed to him that the swelling from which I had been suffering was very much reduced and offered him the proof of my dresses. He replied, 'Well, I don't think so. You seem to me to grow larger every day and so the ladies think.' He proceeded to say that it was the only supposition which could explain my appearance and state of health 'or else you must have some very bad illness.' I said that was possible. I had thought badly of my own state of health, but that his supposition was untrue and quite groundless. He ended by assuring me 'that nothing but a medical examination could satisfy the ladies of the Palace, so deeply were their suspicions rooted.... and the rumor has reached the ear of her Majesty. I said, feeling perfectly innocent, I should not shrink from any examination, however rigorous, but that I considered it a most indelicate and disagreeable procedure, and that I would not be hurried into it. It seems strange and hurtful that such wicked gossip should come to Lady Flora Hastings, not by the mouth of a female, but by a man. It would have been proper for a woman to convey these malicious rumors and for a woman to comfort her. The gossip about Lady Flora persisted after Sir James Clark's visit and the Queen continued to believe that she was pregnant. Both saddened and shamed, Lady Flora wrote: “It having been notified to me that it was her Majesty's pleasure that I should not appear (at court) until my character was cleared by the means suggested, and having obtained the permission of her Royal Highness to submit to it, as the most instantaneous mode of refuting the calumny, I sent....for Sir Charles Mansfield Clarke and for Sir James Clark, and the examination took place in the presence of my accuser, Lady Portman, and my own maid. In the evening Lady Portman came to me to express her regret for having been the most violent against me. She acknowledged that she had several times spoken a great deal to the Queen on the subject, especially when she found it was the Queen's own idea. She said she was very sorry but she would have done the same respecting any one of whom she had the same suspicion. I said my surprise is, that knowing my family as she did, she could have entertained those suspicions.” Even when it came to light that the doctors could find no evidence of pregnancy giving her a certificate to verify this, the ill rumor persisted. At some point, Lady Hastings, who was also a poet, penned these words: In every place, in every hour, Whate'er my wayward lot may be; In joy or grief, in sun or shower, Father and Lord! I turn to Thee. Thee, when the incense-breathing flowers Pour forth the worship of the spring, With the glad tenants of the bowers My trembling accents strive to sing. Alike in joy and in distress, Oh! Let me trace Thy hand divine; Righteous in chast'ning, prompt to bless, Still, Father! may Thy will be mine. Scarred still Although Lady Flora was re-included in all the festive and formal arrangements of the court after this most painful incident, it did not take away the shame and misery to which the young woman had been subjected. Her good name had been sullied. A few months later, she was unable to participate any longer in court functions. The illness which affected her kept her in bed. The queen, to her credit, did visit the bedchamber once before Lady Flora died. A post-mortem revealed that she had suffered from a cancerous tumor on the liver. It is recorded that no word of reproach or enmity escaped from her lips and that she died peacefully. When Queen Victoria was informed of Lady Flora's death, she wept and ordered that every mark of respect suitable for such a melancholy occasion be observed. Words can be swallowed, but once spoken, they can never be erased. The slander against Lady Flora Hastings is, consequently, a blot on Queen Victoria's reign, a blot she, no doubt, often regretted. Proverbs 10:18 clearly says that whoever spreads slander is a fool. Lady Hasting's sad story serves as a sharp reminder that we must be careful with our words. Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, including a short story collection/devotional available at Joshua Press here. She has a new novel – historical fiction – coming out Spring 2017 called “Katharina, Katharina” (1497-1562) covering the childhood and youth of Katharina Schutz Zell, the wife of the earliest Strasbourg priest turned Reformer, Matthis Zell. Picture credit: Queen Victoria, painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1859; Lady Flora, unknown....


Sliver Mustard's journey

Perhaps as many as a million people lived in Noah's Grove. A thriving community, it had begun small but had grown over decades and centuries. Children were born, grew up and had more children. Farms dotted the surrounding countryside and buildings edged the skyscape. Markets with fresh produce were held every Tuesday and Friday. Housewives milled about stands filled with round cabbages, bright yellow carrots, leafy greens and the like. And there were, as in all towns, the rich and the poor, the beggars and the bag ladies as well as the ones whose pockets were filled with clinking coins, the shy and the forward, the meek and the proud. The mayor of Noah's Grove was a portly man. Well-fed and financially secure, he possessed the gift of persuading people he was the right man for his job. Amiable, he ambled through the cobble-stoned streets greeting both children and adults alike. He wore a great, heavy golden chain about his neck, a chain much admired by the younger population of Noah's Grove. The head of the police in Noah's Grove was very much respected and recognized by all. Perhaps it was due to the fact that muscles rippled through the lining of his shirt. He wore a star on the lapel of his blue jacket. His broad jaw embosomed law and order and commanded obedience. Then there was the local judge – a man venerable and full of years. Grey-headed, thinning hair partly covered by a fur-lined beret, he walked upright - shoulders erect. His green eyes were so piercing that people avoided his glance. They were convinced that his eyes might ferret out every little misdeed they had committed. But he was only a human as they were human - and, as such, he was also prone to sin. There were also the bankers, the bakers, the butchers and the candlestick makers; the soldiers, the sailors and the craftsmen; and the list of Noah's Grove citizens could run on and on and on. An honest man Sliver Mustard, a street cleaner, was also a resident of Noah's Grove. A tiny seedling of a man, shriveled and old, he resembled the broom he perpetually held in his hands. It was his job to sweep some of the sidewalks and the streets of the town. He didn't look up much while he was cleaning, as he was always searching the ground for dust, for dirt, for any sort of refuse. He was a kindly type of fellow, an honest man, for whenever he found anything he considered to be of value, he would pick it up and knock at the door of the house in front of which he had been sweeping. "Pardon me. Have you lost this?" he would ask, holding up the particular object he had just found. Mostly people would glance at the item for an instant before shutting the door in his face. The recovered items were mostly trinkets, baubles, and in Sliver Mustard's rough, grimy hands they usually appeared rather dirty and worthless. Sometimes a small child would remember and recognize a lost necklace, or a toy and a smile of happiness would cross a little face as an eager hand reached for the article the sweeper held up. And in these rare moments the street sweeper felt as if he had performed a singular service which somehow outshone the stars he so admired at night. He sometimes wondered at the possibility of a star falling down from the sky into his gutter. Would he then be able to knock on the gate of heaven and ask God if He had lost it? Then, pondering upon this possibility, he would smile to himself, smile almost shyly, knowing in his heart that such a thing could not be. Who was he to return a thing to the Creator? For were not all things His? Invitations go out The letter carrier brought invitations one day - invitations from His Majesty, the King, for all the citizens of Noah's Grove. The content of these invitations was the same for everyone and commanded citizens to present themselves to be painted by the greatest artist of all times - Mr. Potter. The envelopes containing the invitations were deposited into the various mailboxes around town. Slipped into the black, open-mouthed slots, they were retrieved first by one person, then by another. Word traveled quickly. "You'll never believe who contacted me...." "I received a personal word from ...." The street sweeper heard the town's folk talk, listening as he swept out the gutters and cleaned the grey-mouthed cracks in the sidewalks. He was glad that the widow on the corner of Church Street had received a notice. She frequently smiled at him and was a kind woman. Sliver Mustard also rejoiced when a simple-minded fellow, a lad who helped the blacksmith at the forge each day, was ecstatically waving about an envelope. Sliver Mustard did not expect an invitation for himself. In the first place, he had no mailbox, and in the second place, what interest could Mr. Potter possibly have in him? Indeed, even if Mr. Potter did know him, why would he want to paint an old, grizzled geezer like himself – dusty, dirty and quite, quite unattractive? Yet there it was when he came home that evening. Outlined white and pure on the faded blue tablecloth of the kitchen table, it made every object in the one-room shanty flow with warmth. Sliver Mustard gingerly wiped his right hand on his pants, thereby making it even dirtier than it had been. Picking up the envelope between his thumb and forefinger, he carried it over to the chair and sat down. For a long while he did not move. He simply held onto the unexpected pleasure. It seemed to him this was enough. That he had been remembered - this was beyond belief. Finally, mustering up all his courage and strength, he opened the envelope. Or perhaps, the envelope opened itself in his hands. Later on, he could not quite remember. Fully expecting the note to read along the lines of "Sliver Mustard, perhaps next time I come to town...." or "Sorry, Sliver Mustard, but you do not meet the qualifications as I have set them...." But he read no such lines; he didn't read anything of the sort. The words that Sliver Mustard read were these: "This is to ask Sliver Mustard to present himself as he is, tomorrow afternoon, at three of the clock, at the hill." One shirt, no dryer Sighing deeply, Sliver Mustard leaned back in his chair. He had sat up straight for the reading of the letter but the words overwhelmed him. He stretched out his feet in front of him. He only owned one shirt, a shirt which he rinsed out every Saturday night, hung out to dry and put on again on Sunday morning. He bathed weekly in a nearby creek. There was hardly time to perform these ablutions now. As he contemplated his options, he knew that he had none. Sliver Mustard both longed and feared to go. He sat in the chair all of that night, dozing and waking at intervals. He sat as the dark hours crept by and as the light of morning dawned through the small window in the kitchen. Sliver Mustard still swept the streets that morning. It was his job after all. It was what the town was paying him to do and it would not be proper for him to neglect that job. Promptly at twelve he stopped, and, carrying the broom over his shoulder, headed home. He brushed his hair, regretted the ownership of a hat and rubbed a rag over his shoes. Then he washed his hands at the sink and ran a washcloth over his face. It was time to go. There was no doubt about it. It would never do to keep Mr. Potter waiting. Force of habit made him pick up his broom. Outside, Sliver Mustard trailed, by several miles, all the other people from town also going in the same direction. They were far ahead and he could just make out the glint of the mayor's chain as it shone in the noonday sun. He did appear to be last for when he turned his head, he could see no one behind him. As he walked, he noted with a bit of alarm, that it was later than he had thought. Picking up his steps, he pondered on the pitiful figure he must cut. Perhaps the invitation had been a mistake. But it had read, in unmistakably clear printing, "This is to ask Sliver Mustard to present himself as he is.... With a flower in his buttonhole The sun shone down hotly on Sliver Mustard's body and he began to sweat. Trudging on through what appeared to be endless stretches of road, he felt his shirt cling damply to his body. What a wretched figure he was! He sincerely wished that he was wearing a chain such as the mayor had. Not a gold chain - that would be a presumptuous thing for which to wish. But a metal chain, an inexpensive chain, one that would also glint and shine a bit. Surely the mayor, leading all the folks in Noah's Grove towards Mr. Potter, was a fine sight to behold - dapper and upright. He glanced at the fields around him and noticed a broken lily at the side of the road. Undoubtedly someone from town in his haste to see Mr. Potter had trampled on it. Stooping down, he picked the flower up. There was no door on which to knock and ask if someone had lost it. There was only a field of flowers. For a moment he was enthralled. How beautiful these flowers were! Dressed as the Creator had seen fit to dress them. "Have you lost this...?" He smiled and carefully put the lily in the buttonhole of his dirty shirt. No chain, but surely this was just as good. But as Sliver Mustard trudged on, the thought that Mr. Potter would be unimpressed with him weighed him down more and more. Surely, he would have to be! He fingered the frayed cuff of his sleeve. And for a moment he coveted the star embroidered jacket that the head of the police would be wearing. Still, he reflected a minute later, it would be hot walking in such a uniform jacket today. Sliver Mustard stopped to contemplate. And as he stopped, a bird alighted in his shoulder. It was a sparrow. A lily and a sparrow! What strangeness was this? There was no house here – no house at which he could ask "Excuse me, but have you lost this sparrow?", and he was secretly glad of it. Sliver Mustard kept on walking, embellished with a flower and a bird. "Clothes make the man." That's what people were wont to say and he understood that saying and sentiment. But was it true? Mr. Potter had not said it in his invitation. The words in Mr. Potter's invitation read, "This is to ask Sliver Mustard to present himself as he is, tomorrow afternoon, at three of the clock, at the hill." Clothes make the man? As he pondered, Sliver Mustard almost tripped over several clods of earth in his path. His scuffed shoes kicked the mud unintentionally and they flew ahead of him. Surely, most of the town's people had reached the hill by this time – had reached it clean and well-dressed. Would Mr. Potter be able to paint all of them simultaneously? He sighed and bent down, taking a rag out of his pocket as he did so, fully concentrated on rubbing a bit of a shine back onto his shoes. The lily touched his face as he bent and the sparrow chirped. "Why, Sliver Mustard?!" Startled, he looked up, finding himself face to face with the mayor, flanked by the police chief and the judge. How could he not have seen them coming? "On your way to the hill, Sliver? He nodded. The mayor's chain glinted, glinted so that it hurt Sliver Mustard's eyes."You need not bother, Sliver," the mayor went on in a kindly sort of way. "You need not bother to go on to the hill." Sliver Mustard was puzzled as he stood up, stuffing the rag back into his pocket. What did the mayor mean? "Mr. Potter," the mayor continued, his voice heating up, "wanted me to take off my chain and my robe of office. Can you believe that? He wanted me to be painted without the symbols that define me. He told me to take them off." Dumbly Sliver Mustard shook his head. The police chief and the judge had walked on without bothering to speak and the mayor began to follow them. **** For a long time Sliver Mustard watched them - he watched them until they disappeared around a bend in the road. Then he turned. He smelled the lily and it was a sweet smell to him. He heard the sparrow on his shoulder sing and it was a song of fullness. In his heart he believed the words of the invitation, and he could see the words as clearly as if they had been written across the wide, wide overhead sky. "This is to ask Sliver Mustard to present himself as he is, tomorrow afternoon, at three of the clock, at the hill." So Sliver Mustard went on and on. At three of the clock he reached the hill. The watchman at the gate opened the gate and drew him in. And Sliver Mustard was painted as he was. Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, including a short story collection/devotional available at Joshua Press here. She has a new novel – historical fiction – coming out Spring 2017 called “Katharina, Katharina” (1497-1562) covering the childhood and youth of Katharina Schutz Zell, the wife of the earliest Strasbourg priest turned Reformer, Matthis Zell....

Amazing stories from times past

On conmen and other masters of deceit

God made man upright, but they have sought out many devices (Eccl. 7:29) There are vagabonds and there are villains; there are crooks and there are victims; and sin and temptation are present in the hearts of all. Listen to the story of a man who stood behind an old woman just ahead of him at the checkout counter at his local supermarket. The woman was crying. She was well-dressed, although a bit on the shabby side. He tried not to pay attention but could not help but notice that she was in distress. Eventually compassion overcame him and he spoke to her, tapping her on the shoulder: "What is the matter? Can I help you?" She turned to face him, looking surprised, tears visible on her wrinkled face. "Oh, I'm sorry to have disturbed you," her voice, soft and genteel, awoke more pity in his heart, "I've recently lost my son. He died last month." "Oh, I'm so sorry," the man murmured. "The truth is," the woman continued softly, "that he worked here." She stopped to blow her nose, and the man thought of his own mother. "He worked here," the shaking voice went on, "and I would see him every time I bought my groceries." "It must be quite painful for you," the man replied, overcome with sympathy. "The most difficult thing," the bereft woman added, "is remembering that he would always wave to me after my groceries were packed and when I reached the door with my cart he'd say, 'Bye, Mom. See you soon.'" She bent her head and two tears rolled down her cheeks before she looked up at him again. "I don't suppose," she said tremulously, "that you would say, 'Bye, Mom', and wave to me after my groceries are packed and I reach the door, just to help me this first time?" "Of course, I will," the man agreed instantly. The woman's turn at the checkout arrived. The bus-boy packed her things and wheeled her cart to the door. At the door she turned and looked the man in the eye. He waved to her with his right hand and called out loudly, "Bye Mom. See you soon." This single act made him feel good inside and a bit emotional. He began unpacking his own items, placing them on the counter, and thought about how he should call up his own mother that very evening to ask how she was doing. Lost in thought, he was startled when the checkout girl told him the bill was more than $300 dollars. "You must be wrong," he said, "I didn't buy that much." "Oh, but your mother did," she responded with a smile, and instantly he knew he'd been had. Yes, there are crooks and there are victims, and evil resides in the hearts of all of us. When we hear questions like, "How do you keep from getting parking tickets?" and laugh at the answer "By removing your wipers," that is because there is something within us which resonates with getting the better of someone. A master of deceit One of the most infamous masters of deceit and trickery was a man by the name of Victor Lustig. Born in 1890 in Bohemia, now known as the Czech Republic, Victor was gifted with a brilliant mind. Part of an upper-middle class family, his father was the mayor of a small town, so small Viktor's future was, humanly speaking, rather secure. In school he studied languages, easily becoming fluent in Czech, German, English, French and Italian. Victor could have used these talents to become a wonderful teacher or diplomat. Instead, he opted for gambling, turning his abilities to billiards, poker and bridge. In his early twenties he went on pleasure cruises and cheated many gullible, wealthy people out of their money. However, when World War I put a stop to these cruises, he headed for the US. Giving himself the title of "Count," his devious mind conned many in the States out of huge sums of cash (including the gangster Al Capone). The story that really put the native born Czechoslovakian in the news occurred in 1925 when he was 35 years old. Lustig was in Paris at this time and he read in the newspaper that the Eiffel Tower was in great need of repair. The cost of fixing the monumental fixture seemed rather prohibitive. There was even a brief footnote in the article which mentioned that the French government was considering scrapping the tower as it might be cheaper for them to tear it down than to repair it. Upon finishing the article, Lustig's fertile and calculating mind literally saw huge sums of money floating by. His connections with other nefarious characters enabled him to acquire official French government letterhead giving himself the title of "Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Mail and Telegraphs." He typed up letters in which he said that he had the authority to sell the 7,000 ton steel structure to the highest bidder and sent this letter to five leading scrap metal dealers in the city. He instructed the recipients of the letter to keep the matter secret as the public would most likely be upset about the demolition of such a landmark. All five scrap metal dealers showed up and Lustig carefully picked the one most apt to be his patsy: a man by the name of Monsieur Poisson. Poisson gladly paid a handsome amount of money for the privilege of obtaining the contract, and upon receiving it Lustig quickly retreated to Austria. Hearing no news of the swindle, he concluded that Poisson had been too embarrassed to have told anyone. Boldly Lustig returned to Paris and tried to sell the Eiffel Tower a second time. This time, however, the police were made aware of the swindle. The conman barely eluded authorities and was forced to flee to America. Ten years later, in 1935, after having flooded the US with counterfeit bills, and having cheated many more people, the Secret Service finally caught up with Lustig. They reacted to an anonymous phone call made by his mistress who was jealous because Victor was cheating on her. He was arrested and sentenced to twenty years in Alcatraz. Although he initially escaped from jail, he was re-apprehended and spent the next twelve years behind bars. A set of tips, known as the "Ten Commandments for Conmen," are attributed to Lustig. They are: 1. Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that gets a conman his coups) 2. Never look bored 3. Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions; then agree with him 4. Let the other person reveal religious views; then have the same ones 5. Hint at sex talk, but don't follow it up unless the other person shows a strong interest 6. Never discuss illness, unless some special concern is shown 7. Never pry into a person's personal circumstances (they'll tell you eventually); 8. Never boast - just let your importance be quietly obvious 9. Never be untidy 10. Never get drunk There is accounting In 1947 Victor Lustig contracted pneumonia and died after a two-day illness. His last enemy, death, was not to be conned out of its prey. Having shunned God's commandments, and the One Who kept them perfectly, he had no place to hide. Although proficient in languages, he was forced to clap his hand over his mouth. Perhaps our lives do not compare with Viktor Lustig's life; perhaps our deeds shine when we hold them up next to his obvious deceitfulness; but we do well to remember that we ought to ...fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 Christine Farenhorst is the author of many books, including a short story collection/devotional available at Joshua Press here. She has a new novel - historical fiction - coming out Spring 2017 called "Katharina, Katharina" (1497-1562) covering the childhood and youth of Katharina Schutz Zell, the wife of the earliest Strasbourg priest turned Reformer, Matthis Zell....

Adult non-fiction, Children’s non-fiction, Teen non-fiction

The Sweet Taste of Providence

by Christine Farenhorst 2016 / 296 pages Seventy-four! When Christine Farenhorst comes out with a new collection of short stories, the big question I have is, how many can I look forward to? And in The Sweet Taste of Providence she has given us an impressive 74. These short stories are packaged as 4-5 page devotionals. They take no more than 5 minutes to read out loud, and end with a couple of questions for discussion. That makes this a great book to read with your kids, maybe 8 and up, before bed…or a little earlier, because this might get them discussing and dissecting right when you want them calming down. The short story length could also make this a good, ahem, “bathroom reader.” As Reformed Perspective readers know, Christine loves to share slices of history – usually bits we’ve never run across before – and show how God has been at work. It can be easier to see His hand in things when we’re looking back than when we’re looking around in the present (yes, God will turn even today’s evil to our good – Romans 8:28) so these stories are maybe first and foremost a wonderful dose of encouragement. But it’s also just a fun read. The Sweet Taste of Providence is available at and also at Sola Scriptura....