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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."...

Assorted

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 www.sola-scriptura.ca/store/shop....

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 Amazon.ca and also at Sola Scriptura....