Surrendering Passal

Passal moved quickly through the rain. She hadn’t realized that the need for an umbrella was in the forecast when she left her tiny apartment that morning, so now her only goal was to get out of the downpour as quickly as she could. Two more blocks to go, and she would be able to peel herself out of her wet clothes, dry her hair, and snuggle under the warmth of some flannel pajamas. And then she’d finally be able to open the box.

The rain had attacked just as she was entering the post office, so though she couldn’t hardly contain herself, she had forced herself to wait to open the long-awaited package until she got home, instead of ripping into it the moment the postmaster had handed it over. She didn’t want to run the risk of any of the precious cargo being touched by the rain and suffer possible damage.

Passal was an artist. A brilliant artist. Though she loved to paint and draw, her best work was done when she sculpted. And she lived and breathed for creating and building her pieces. Her already small two room apartment barely allowed space to breathe as it was, and the lining of the walls and packing of every nook with her masterpieces only compounded the claustrophobic area. Her day job was mundane and tired, but it was her evenings and weekends that drove Passal to wake up each morning and face the day. And today was no different. In fact, the anticipation of the package had spurred her on to quitting time all the more.

She jogged on wet feet as delicately as she could until finally reaching her building. She fumbled for the key in the rain, unlocked the front entrance, then quickly made her way up the three flights to her place. Once inside, she made quick work of shedding her now-drenched layers, pulling on fresh clothes, and towel-drying her soaked hair. Then almost skipped out to the pocket-sized table where she had dropped the box, now soggy from the rain.

It didn’t take long to peel the tape and packing material back to reveal the treasure that Passal had so long been waiting for.

The finishing touch for her latest sculpture.

The sculpture that Passal knew would finally bring her happiness once it was completed. The piece that would finally make her feel whole. And needed. And wanted. And special.

She clung the prize to her chest as she surveyed the corners of her cramped home. All the other beautiful works of art that she had convinced herself would bring the same change for her stood at attention. The sculptures that were perfection to look at, yet had not propelled Passal out of her world of isolation and hopelessness as she had so thought that they would.

There was a tall work of art that stood proudly in the far corner. It had been one of Passal’s earliest creations and still brought a smile to her face when she looked at it. It was constructed entirely of shiny unused cases of makeup. There were mascara tubes and wands. Sparkly lip glosses. Skinny eyeliner pencils. Compacts in all shades of shiny jewel-tones. Fresh eye shadow casings. And fancy bottles of nail polish in every color imaginable. Passal had pristinely connected them together to create a cute, yet elegant, 6 foot representation of a tube of lipstick. It had been during that time that Passal had hoped that creating the perfect cat eye and having a fresh manicure would complete her. That it would fill the void. That looking beautiful on the outside would allow her to find her place in the world. It hadn’t. In fact, it had left her feeling less and less beautiful each time she reapplied her lip gloss.

In the opposite corner stood another fun sculpture constructed entirely out of shoes. Passal had invested a huge chunk of her paychecks to finish this piece, for she had spared no expense in ordering and purchasing just the right footwear. There were stilettos that had been handcrafted in Italy. Heels that bore the names of infamous designers. Sneakers in all of the latest styles and hot colors. Sandals. Flip flops. Flats. A pair of leather boots that Passal had spent a whole month’s rent on. All of the shoes were masterfully crafted into the shape of a high heel. Passal had devoted so much income during that period of her life to all manner of clothing. She had foregone paying her bills and taking care of her other responsibilities for the sake of wearing name brands and filling her closet with all the offerings of the latest fashion magazines, catalogs, and store-front mannequins. Surely the jackets, scarfs, and jeans would finally bring Passal’s heart to rest. Looking her best at all costs would surely finally soothe her wounds. It hadn’t. In fact, she was left broke, lonely, and depressed inside her Jimmy Choos.

Under the window, there set another sculpture that glittered when the sun streamed through the panes. It, too, had cost Passal a near fortune, but she hadn’t been detoured. She had even picked up a second job to help pay for her frequent trips to jewelry stores and florists. It was a short, squatty rectangular piece made entirely out of diamond rings and roses that had been dipped and coated in gold. Passal had become convinced during that period that finding a good man, or any man for that matter, would be the solvent to all her problems. She became so obsessed with the need for intimacy that when she wasn’t exposing herself to one bad relationship after the other, she had taken to buying herself flowers and gifts. A man, or even the illusion of a man, would surely be the salve for her broken heart. It wasn’t. In fact, it left her even more alone and desperate than before.

On the counter in the kitchen, another sculpture took up most of the space available. It was enjoyable to look at for outsiders, but for Passal it brought back deep memories of sadness. It was created entirely out of tiny replicas of cupcakes, candies, cookies, and every other confection imaginable. Passal had been so detailed in her realism, that it seemed as though one could lean over and take a huge bite out of the whole work of art. She had made this piece when trying to deal with her loneliness. Rich food and late night snacks became Passal’s best friends, and they soon consumed her. She gained weight at an exponential rate, and soon Passal didn’t even recognize herself in the mirror. Her friends of food had betrayed her and had left her in a mess of pounds. She had thought meaning and comfort could be found within the morsels. They couldn’t. In fact, Passal was left fat, hopeless, and wanting to die.

There were other sculptures that were so significant, too. The large homage to exercise and fitness that Passal had constructed in hopes of smothering the pain from the period of food addiction. The art that paid tribute to alcohol and prescription drugs that Passal had tried to drown the pain with. A display showing loyalty to books and education that had been created when Passal thought that true fulfillment might come from more knowledge. There were sculptures honoring her favorite television shows. Pictures of friends and acquaintances. Money. Music.

And, yet, now as Passal took inventory of her life story wrapped up in these gorgeous masterpieces, she reflected back on a journey of loneliness and loss. None of the things that she had been told would help her had helped. None of the things that had been advertised as fixers had ever fixed.

Passal looked lovingly then at her latest addition that she held cradled in her hands. Her hands stroked over the fine edges, and she moved softly across to the tiny space she had carved out of her apartment that served as her studio. Her latest work sat proudly on the table, finished to Passal’s perfection, minus one piece. The one she now held.

It was a beautiful sculpture. Maybe her finest yet. It was a tribute to her latest grasp for completion. It was made entirely of intricately carved olive wood figures and of small stained glass panes depicting various scenes. She had searched long and hard for each item, and had purchased wooden lambs, crosses, lions, and arks. There were boats and scrolls and tiny mangers. There were glass portraits of a small boy hurling a stone at a giant; of a man surrounded by lions; of a basket with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Passal had been so careful in collecting every detail for this sculpture ever since she had started going to church and hearing more about God. People there had told her how this Man called Jesus could save her and bring her happiness like she had never known, and so Passal had leapt head first into religion with as much consumption as she had the food, the clothes, and the boys. And though Passal was doing all the things she was told would bring her finally to peace, she still felt lost and alone. But, surely, with this final treasure to add to the sculpture, everything would fall in place. All would be revealed to her and this Jesus would make her happy.

As she reached for her tools to set to work, Passal saw an unfamiliar slab of what looked like concrete propped comfortably against the wall near her table. She kneeled curiously to inspect it and found it was etched in beautiful calligraphy.

My Darling Passal,

I stopped by earlier while you were at work and admired your sculptures. I’m so pleased that you are using your talents that I gave you, but am so saddened by the hopelessness you feel. I remember these days with you, dear one. I remember when you thought if you could just look a certain way or have a person taking up space beside you that you would finally be happy. I wanted so badly for you to look to Me. You turned to food and shopping and even your art to comfort you, when I was all along just longing to be your True Comfort. I should have been happy when you began your quest for meaning and purpose through the church and even in My Word. But, you have treated knowledge of Me as a remedy and as a magic genie. You have found religion, yes, but you have missed relationship with Me.

My dear, I have been here for you the whole time. I’ve been your protector and guider even when you searched elsewhere away from Me.

Idols. You have made these beautiful pieces of art, and, not only worshiped them, but you have worshiped what they represent. Idols. You have devoted your time, money, love, and passion into these things that have left you defeated and destructed. And you continue to worship these things. Looking to false hope for true hope and coming up empty everytime.

Crush your idols, Passal. Tear these down and turn to Me. The One Who cannot be built or represented effectively by the things of this world. Destroy them, Passal. Seek Me.

Seek Me.

Love,

The Man Called Jesus

Passal melted to the floor in a pile of tears. Although she didn’t understand how it would be possible, she knew what she had read was true. She wept and ran her fingers over the calligraphic words again.

Could it be?

Without another thought, Passal stuffed the treasure from the box into her pocket and grabbed a broom. She made quick work of dismantling each and every sculpture in the house. She used brute force with the aid of the broom handle when needed, and after an hour of steady work, her living space was filled with trash bags brimming with the remains of her precious art. Before she could change her mind, she hefted the heavy bulging bags down to the garbage incinerator of her building and hurled her memories and idols of her past into the growling fire. As the last bag was licked clean by the flames, Passel collapsed in a heap of dirty tears on the disgusting scorched floor.

Oh, God. I do not know what I am doing or how to do it. But I surrender.

Those were the only words that left her mouth, but Passal stayed drenched in sweat, filth, and tears for several hours. When she finally picked herself up, she felt free. Released. And with a sweet relief that she had never known before. Though she didn’t understand what was happening to her, Passal knew she would never be the same.

Back in her apartment, she knelt in the corner where her lipstick sculpture had stood earlier and began to arrange her latest creation.

For though she had trashed her sculptures, she had kept one piece from each one. And now, with the true fingers of an expert craftsman, Passal constructed her finest work.

Not an idol.

But an altar.

As she prayed quiet simple prayers to this new God she had pledged her devotion to and who had changed her life so radically in just a matter of moments, she became aware again of the treasure that she had slipped in her pocket. This treasure that was to help complete her.

Passal drew it out slowly, and, with tears in her eyes, she made her way back down to the incinerator.

With a deep sigh, she threw it gently into the fire.

The perfectly handcrafted calf made entirely of gold.

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He….made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf….Then they said, “These are your gods.” –Exodus 32:4

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. –Exodus 20:4

Build there an altar to the Lord your God….rejoicing in the presence of the Lord your God. –Deuteronomy 27:5, 7

The Lantern

Your Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.  Psalm 119:105

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The night air was damp and heavy.  Although it was summer, there was a slight wet chill in the air that caused her to tug her flimsy sweater more snugly around her shoulders.  Maybe the chill was caused by her nerves, but, whatever the cause, small shivers were splintering through her body.

She was alone. 

She could vaguely remember how she found herself there in that place, even though the trip had just ended mere minutes before.  It had seemed perfectly natural to board up on various vessels following in the footsteps of those that she had always trusted, or at least knew.  She remembered leaving her home with her parents in a bright yellow taxi that had been summoned by her father just moments earlier.  They had been driven to the train station where she had boarded, following after a gaggle of her giggly schoolgirl friends while the engine whistled, only to discover after several minutes of travel, that her parents were nowhere in sight.  The train had stopped quickly enough at another station, and she found herself whisked away in a frantic sea of commotion, losing sight of her girlfriends, as she moved onto the deck of a large ocean liner.  Panic set in for just a few moments, but her heart settled when she recognized faces from places she frequented often.  There was the woman who smelled of peppermint that she sat by in church on Sundays.  The man who carried her groceries to her car every Wednesday, shopping day.  Standing near the stern of the ship was her doctor recognizably outfitted in ill-fitting scrubs, and beside him, a handful of lipsticked women that gossiped too much, but that provided an easy comfort in places that weren’t too keen on folks being seen alone.  The ship had bobbed around on the waves for quite sometime, and just as the uncertainty of the strange venture was wearing off, a slick black helicopter had deposited itself on the massive deck of the liner.  Children had poured out and ushered her into the helicopter with them.  Familiar children.  Children that tugged her heart strings.  It was all so familiar.  That is until now.

Now it all seemed a blur.

The helicopter had hurled itself through a black sky, filled with the chatter and squeals of excited children, only to land precariously in the middle of a dense overgrown jungle.  An island maybe?  She couldn’t be sure.  The night sky had been illuminated only by the lights of the helicopter, and she wasn’t sure how they had been enough to allow the pilot a safe landing.  The children and the attendants in the chopper had all but pushed her out of the door, only to hurriedly lift off and disappear into the inkiness of the night.  Even now, she could barely make out the whirr of the blades in the far distance.

Her sweater was doing little to settle the shivers or the anxiousness sweeping her body.  Her eyes tried to adjust in the blackness, only to come up unsuccessful.  Her mind tried to retrace the journey, at the very least she found herself puzzled as to how, why, or what was happening. 

Hands outstretched in front of her, she pivoted, trying to find something to catch her bearings.  Nothing.  Just more darkness and thick air.  She could feel the sobs of uncertainty welling in her throat. 

Who had brought her here?  Thinking back now, she realized she had never seen the faces of those piloting the vessels.  And she wasn’t certain, now, that any of the familiar faces that she had followed and traipsed after had even been real.  What was this place?  It was more than dark here.  It was morbid and sinister.  The fingers of fear were snaking in and finding a resting place.  Confusion and despair and panic were setting in as she turned in circles searching every crevice of space for some signal of hope or rescue.

A light popped on.

It was dim.  And it was faint.  But it was light.  She crept toward the dusky beacon, apprehensive of what loomed in the covering shadows between herself and it.  As she neared the source, she saw that it was a lantern.  It was old and rustic and smelled of kerosene.  She quickly searched the tiny surrounding area that was now barely illuminated looking for the one that must have lit it and left it for her.  She saw nor heard a trace of anyone.  Although fear wracked through her body, she knew that her choices were to perch next to the lantern, wait for sunrise, and hope to survive the night.  Or she could take the lantern and search out some kind of shelter to escape the putrid darkness that she could almost taste and smell. 

Once her mind was made up, and her hand had taken the sturdy metal handle of the lantern, she noticed that just enough light was being cast out to reveal the beginnings of a stone pathway.  She moved the lantern in several directions and noted that stretching out in every way was just the mossy carpet of jungle floor.  Walls of trees and other plant life rose up barring all other ways, so she knew that the tiny patchwork of stone was her best bet.

She walked timidly, yet with awareness down the path.  The lantern swung in her hand, lighting up just a few steps ahead of her.  Enough to see where to place her next foot step, but offering up no indication of where or when the pathway would lead out.  She occasionally looked behind her, only to quickly redirect her focus to her steps in front of her, for it seemed as though the darkness to her rear was becoming more and more overwhelming. 

She walked what seemed to be a million nights.  Her legs were tired, and her body ached.  Her head pounded and screamed for rest, but the bleakness of the rushing blackness spurred her steps on.  She examined the lantern on several occasions, fearful that the fluid keeping the small flame alive would run out before she reached any kind of safety.  Unfamiliar noises and the oppressive nearness of strange surroundings kept her throbbing feet moving on the path.

A few times, shrieks and screams coming from deep in the jungle by some obscure creature threatened to take her consciousness.  And more than once, panic filled her mind causing her the desire to sit down and wish for death. 

Because she was busy contemplating her weariness and justifying all manners of self-pity, she almost missed the faint sliver of sunlight peeking through the thick barricades of tropical foliage.  When her eyes finally dawned on the realization of the impending sunrise, she was near exhaustion and resignation. 

It was with the ever-brightening light of the new day and what little light her lantern was still putting off that she first noticed her new surroundings. 

Behind her rested the deep foreboding jungle that held very little light, even now with the day, and its slim orthodox stone pathway disappearing into the deepness.  She, however, was now standing in the beauty of a wildflower infested meadow.  Glory and warmth and light radiated from every stitch of the expanse.  The sun shone hot on her face, and her feet felt light as she found herself twirling with arms-outstretched through the blanket of loveliness.  Her heart, for the first time since the beginning of her journey, felt at ease, and she found that she could breathe without the feeling that every breath was going to suffocate her. 

After moments of elatedness and restful frolic, she paused and took note of the lantern that she was still clutching tightly in her hand.  Dangling from the handle was a small leather pouch, cylindrical in shape.  She hadn’t noticed it during the darkness, but here in the light, she examined it.  Inside was a small piece of parchment, rolled as a scroll.  As she opened it carefully, she noticed that a letter was written in pristine script on the page.

My Precious Child,

I know that your wonderings are great and that your wanderings have been long.  You have many questions that cannot be answered yet, because you live in a time and place that doesn’t allow for their answers.  But, perhaps, your soul will be satisfied for the time-being with the just the knowledge that this whole journey has been protected and delivered by Me. 

You have spent much of your life just following after various fads, dreams, and people.  You have set about to do what others were doing, or when you weren’t doing that, you were just trying to please them.  You have searched through different means, thinking that someone or something would take you to your next destination, never really giving any real thought to Me or where I would have you to travel. 

I gave you the lantern.  It was all you needed.

I thought about giving you a torch.  I thought about illuminating this whole place with floodlights.  Headlamps and flashlights and 1000 watt lightbulbs crossed My mind.  But, in the end, I decided on a lantern. 

I know that you don’t understand, because it was so very dark.  I know you thought that if you could have just seen even yards in front of you, that your situation would be drastically different and better.  The faithful light of your lantern, though it seemed dim and faint, provided you little comfort during your journey, because you kept thinking of ways it could be better, easier, or less scary.

I’m so happy that you didn’t give up, My Child.  I’m so thrilled to share this beautiful new world with you.  This is where I have wanted to bring you all along.  I have prepared a place for you here.  I want nothing more than for you to stay here with Me and share in the beauty and the adventure of this new life.

This new life that I speak of won’t always be easy.  It rains here, and darkness will creep back in.  Rodents and insects have a tendency to swarm even here in this lovely meadow.  But, you have Me.  And you have your lantern.  We are all you need to survive.  You must trust that.

I love you more than you can ever imagine.

Love,

The Lantern Maker

She reread the letter several times and tried to make sense of it.  She didn’t know who this Lantern Maker was, and she was still puzzled as to this journey that she had been brought on.  It was then that the small stone pathway caught her eye again.  Just what had she come through last night?  Surely it was just the harmless inner workings of an alive jungle, nothing really to fear.  Curiosity steeped, and she picked her way through the meadow grasses back toward the jungle and its simple path.

Darkness started again as she entered the canopy, but it was light enough with the sunshine that she could see.  Even still, she kept the still-lit lantern in her hand.  It didn’t take her long at all to realize that her small piece of gifted light the night before was a blessing in the most extraordinary way.  For there, on either side of the pathway, setting only a few feet away from the stonework, were frameworks of fear-inducers for as far back up the path as she could see.

There was a section of swamp littered with the bodies of grotesque reptiles, perched halfway in the murky waters, looking as though they were long overdue for their next meal.

A pit of slithering snakes clothed in disgustingly brilliant colors were to her right.

She saw a mass of quicksand that seemed to be inching its way towards the stonework, greedily trying to devour it.

And then, small shacks lined up along one section with bony fingers and beady eyes poking out from the shadows of the windows.  Shallow shrieks and screams seemed to creep out of the cracks in the walls. 

Shivers ran the length of her spine, and her knuckles turned white as she gripped the handle of the lantern with all her might.  She couldn’t walk any deeper into the jungle, she just couldn’t.  She quickly spun and ran the rest of the way back out into the brightly lit meadow.

Once she was able to catch her breath and relax in the surroundings of the flowers and blue sky, realization donned on her.  Had she made the journey through the jungle last night with more than her little lantern, she wouldn’t have made it.  She was sure of it.  She would have most certainly been devoured or died of fright.  If floodlights had illuminated the horrific truths of the path, she would have succumbed to the fear.  If she had had a headlamp that would have shone into the depths, she would have buried herself in panic. 

Yes, this Lantern Maker had been right.  The little lantern with its trusty flame had been just what she needed to get through.  Just knowing where to put her next footstep was all she had needed to know at the time.  It was enough.  And it had saved her.  And had brought her to the most unimaginably beautiful place.

It was then that she noticed a small cottage set in the corner of the meadow.  Smoke curled itself in a spiral from a quaint chimney, and even though it was daytime, lights could be seen shining through the windows.  With a newfound bravery and a skip in her step, she made her way to the inviting lodge.

As she neared, she noticed that a sign was tacked to the sturdy little door.  It was made of the same parchment as her little lantern scroll and written in the same fine script were the words

Welcome Home.

She eased the door open, and her breath stuck in her throat as her eyes tried to take it all in.  Every nook and cranny of the cozy cottage held a lantern.  All sizes, shapes, and colors, but the same model of simple lantern that she was still clutching tightly.  The one-roomed meadow shanty was awash in the glorious glow of all the tiny flames.  Individually, they didn’t exert much light, but, here, together in this place, it was as if the blinding sun had made entrance.  It was remarkable.  She felt warm and invited and relaxed.

It was then that her eyes met those of a Man unlike any she had ever seen.  They were gentle eyes, yet they held the secrets of the universe in their base.  Kind, yet firm.  She immediately recognized Him with a keen supernatural understanding.  Awareness washed over her like a flood, and for the first time her hand dropped the meager lantern.  She ran to Him and allowed Him to envelop her.

As He continued to hold her tight to His side, He stroked back her hair and gazed into her weary journey-laden eyes.  He finally spoke.  With all the authority of a craftsman that knows His handiwork better than any connoisseur or expert, He simply said:

My lanterns.  They are always enough. 

Of Cottages, Cities, and Castles.

O Lord…for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things planned long ago. You have made the city a heap of rubble, the fortified town a ruin, the foreigners’ stronghold a city no more; it will never be rebuilt….You have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat……Surely this is our God; we trusted Him, and He saved us. ~~Isaiah 25: 1-2, 4, 9

The village was quaint. The cottages were aligned neatly in cursive rows with their thickly thatched roofs and colorful carved shutters. It was the kind of village that allowed for unlocked doors by night and cobblestone streets filled with carefree children by day. Clotheslines draped with fresh sun-kissed laundry. Fresh baked pies on windowsills. And the people seemed to always be happy. There was an air of joy that enveloped the tiny village, and the folks that lived there clung to it with a second-nature determination.

The village set serenely in a lush valley that provided every earth-born necessity the villagers could dream of. The rolling hills that surrounded the valley were lush, as well, but the villagers never had need of venturing out of their valley’s boundaries because they quite literally had everything that they could ever possibly need right in their own backyards. Perhaps the most beautiful part of the valley, though, was the gorgeous view that the village had of one hill in particular.

Atop that hill set a castle.

A beautiful castle. Complete with romantic spires and handsome walls. Lush ivy crept up the stonework, and the freshly polished armor of the attending guards always shone like diamonds in the sun. The castle was a sight to behold for anyone lucky enough to behold it, but to the villagers, in particular, the castle was a true gem. And each afternoon, all activity in the village would stop; all the villagers would come out to the middle of town; all eyes would turn to the castle; and someone in the crowd would call out: Come! And then they would wait.

For Him.

For each afternoon, without fail, at the sound of the villager’s call, the gleaming polished soldiers would stand at attention on the castle walls, the drawbridge would lower, and the unmistakable sound of horse hoofs would clatter across the bridge and begin making their way down the road toward the village.

It was the Prince.

He had, for as long as any of the villagers could remember, made a habit of riding down into the village every afternoon, dismounting His fine horse, and spending several hours in the village. Some afternoons He would play street games with the children, laughing and playing and not worrying about getting His fine outfit dirty. Other times He would sit on a bench, sip coffee, and talk about the old times with the ole’timers. Still other times He would invite Himself into the kitchen of one fine village cook, eat a warm slice of pie, and sit and talk about nothing-at-all with the ladies of the town. Some days He would sing lullabies to the babies. Tell stories to the little girls. Climb trees with the boys. Go fishing with the menfolk. Whatever He chose to do each day, the villagers were always thrilled to see Him and always were certain of His true interest in each one of them. He was their Beloved Prince.

And so life went on in the village. Soon though, as if almost suddenly, because noone can even be sure of its beginning, the villagers stopped calling for the Prince to come and join their daily lives. They got caught up in their own affairs and would often times turn in for the night, only then to realize they had forgotten to call for the Prince that day. They would make promises and look to the castle and whisper in the moonlight: Tomorrow we will call. But it seemed that as the tomorrows would fall, the busyness of village life would creep in and empty whispers would be lifted each night on a continuous basis.

There were a very few villagers, however, that would call out to the Prince and ask Him to meet with them. The Prince would ride out to meet them, but would always meet for conversation and fellowship in a place away and secluded from the village, because, the Prince had explained, the whole village wasn’t asking to see Him. And so was the way life went on in the valley….

Until, however, one unsuspecting day, a simply dreadful mass of people made their way through the hills and down into the valley. These men and women were all dressed in a similar manner. Clothing so dark that it was hard to tell where one body stopped and the next started when all were standing so clumped together. The group seemed to almost float; making their way through the village peering eerily in open windows and stealing long stares with the villagers. Children were hurried into their homes and curtains were drawn as the stench of uncertainty began to pierce the air.

Leading the group was a very handsome gentleman dressed, too, in dark clothing, but unlike the members of the group, he was very distinct. He walked with a fierce posture, and his face seemed permanently attached to the smirk that took up so much of it. Under his arm he carried a large bundle of rolled up papers, which appeared to be blueprints of some kind. In his other hand, a large shovel. Upon closer look, the group members all were carrying tools and what seemed to be building materials.

When the dark mass arrived in the very center of the village, they stopped. The villagers that had dared to stay outside of their cottages followed and watched with complete curiosity. Their eyes were fixed.

Without hesitation, though, when the dark gentleman stopped, he immediately began unrolling his blueprints. After examining them for only a moment, he lifted his shovel high in the air, only to bring it crashing down onto the cobblestone. This is it. We shall build here. It was all he said. And with that, the crew who accompanied him set in right away on their project.

They worked quietly and, what seemed to be, effortlessly. Occasionally a worker would stop to consult with the gentleman, but then would get immediately back to work. The gentleman paced around the work site; keeping watch and wearing the silly smirk.

By now, the villagers were aghast. They had stood in shock and awe during the parade, but now were flabbergasted at the audacity of these dark strangers to waltz in and begin tearing up their cozy village with no rhyme or reason. A few villagers tried to object and put a stop to the building, but to no avail. Their objections were met only with a sickening throng of laughter and stiff shoves and pushes out-of-the-way. There was no question that these dark strangers were stronger than the villagers and had every intention of taking the village over for their own. All the villagers could do was sit back and watch.

As the morning hours ticked by, a strange sight began to take shape in the cobblestone streets. The helpless villagers watched as the form of a small city began to emerge. It was constructed out of what looked to be iron and steel, and the buildings that were built were immaculate. With a blink of an eye, another piece to the city appeared. And by noon, the entire village streets were filled to the brim with parts and pieces of this new, gleaming, cold fortress. The metal walls and streets pushed against the village’s small cottages, almost threatening to push them over and away. And the people had nowhere to go except into their homes to peer through their windows at the monstrosity.

Afternoon came and went, and evening fell. Construction on the hideous, beautiful city continued. And, in the midst of the shock, not one villager thought to recognize that the Prince had not made His way down the hill that day.

The next morning, though not much sleep was had on the part of the villagers that night, the valley awoke to a most obscene spectacle. The city had grown to ten times its size over night, and it now boasted ugly barred windows and doors and grotesque statues. It seemed cloaked in a dark shadow, and because of its huge expansion, had pushed the cottages out and away. Some of the cottages had been knocked over completely, and the neat rows were now replaced with a haphazard smattering all over the hillsides. The villagers stood in utter disbelief. They mumbled and grumbled amongst themselves as to how any of this was possible, yet none of them could come up with a solution to the huge mess that faced their tiny village.

It was about that time that a young villager who couldn’t have been more than five or six years old, spotted the castle setting high and untouched up on its majestic hillside. The Prince! The Prince! He’ll know what to do!

The whole lot of villagers, young and old, began running for the castle. Yes! The Prince will help us! But as they neared the hillside road, many villagers suddenly stopped and turned back.

We can’t go to the Prince. What would He think? That we can’t handle things on our own? Why, He’d think we were a bunch of helpless children. No. We won’t go to the Prince. We’ll figure this out on our own.

And just as they made their way back to the village, the iron gate was thrown open, and the smirking gentleman ushered the arrogant group into his leering city.

The remaining villagers, after watching what had happened, hurried all the more up the hill and had almost reached the drawbridge when the rest of the group (save a very few) stopped.

We can’t go to the Prince. Oh my goodness, we didn’t even notice that He didn’t come yesterday. Surely He was watching and waiting for us to call to Him, and we never did. How embarrassing. And, even worse, we haven’t been calling to Him in ages. No, we cannot face the Prince. It’s just too humiliating.

And with that, they turned back, made their way down to the village, only to be met almost immediately by the gentleman and his smirk. Into the city they went. The iron gates crashing behind them.

Only a small group of villagers remained, no more than can be counted on one hand. Although these had watched and pleaded with their friends and family to not be discouraged and turn back, they mustered up their courage and approached the castle walls.

The drawbridge lowered for them as if they had been expected. None of them had ever been near the castle before, so they entered cautiously and with great anticipation. And with a great shock, they were surprised to find the Prince himself waiting to greet them.

My dear people, why have you made the journey up the hill to see me? All you would have had to do was call me, and I would have been in your midst this very day.

Oh, great Prince, we are so confused and scared. A great and terrible thing has come to our village. We do not understand it. We are terribly frightened. Please, Prince, help us.

I have seen the terrible city take shape. I watched every second of its construction. It grieves me deeply to see such a horrid thing take over your precious valley, but you must understand that I am in control.

Then, Prince, put a stop to this right away! We long for things to return to the way that they were! Just say the word, and the city will flee. This is your valley, Prince, the man and his city will have to leave us alone.

My precious remnant of villagers, this is all too much for you to understand. Even if I explained My ways to you, you would not comprehend them. Do you love me and trust me enough to believe that I have our valley’s best in mind? That the plans I have for our valley are plans to prosper us, not to harm us?

Of course, Prince. We trust you.

Then, come, rest here. You will be safe from all that is happening in the village right now if you will just stay here.

And with that, the Prince led the remaining faithful villagers to a room plush with beds, couches, new clothes, and tables full of food. He stayed just long enough to make sure they were all comfortable, and then He left them with His finest attendants to watch over them.

The villagers took advantage of the room’s offerings, but before too long they made their way to the window that looked out over their village. What they saw did not so much amaze them as confirm to them the awesomeness of their Beloved Prince.

For down in the village, seated high on His majestic horse, was the Prince. He was just outside the iron city’s ugly blackened gates, and He was speaking with the gentleman with the smirk. Although, now, the villagers noticed, the man was hunched over; he had rid himself of his arrogant posture. His handsome face was now gnarled and scarred. And his smirk had turned to a grimace so sour and scornful. He looked as though he wanted to speak, but couldn’t. He had been silenced by the Prince.

The villagers craned their ears and could just make out the Prince’s words. This is my valley. This is my village. These are my people. Yes, it may appear as though they just let you come in here and take over and build up for yourself a fortress, but you are wrong. Because though you were able to lure many of the villagers into your lair, there are but a few that remained faithful to Me. They sought me out and believed that I, alone, could save their land. Because they have chosen to abide in Me, so shall I abide in them. And so, I command you to FALL!

With that, the most terrifying noise filled the valley. Popping iron and steel beams and bars echoed through the hills. The fortress began releasing itself wall by wall. Slowly at first. One wall would clang to the ground, and then another, until before long, the gigantic monstrosity had collapsed in entirety. Piercing screams filled the air as people ran; some caught in the rubble, others running for the hillsides without looking back. The men and women who worked for the gentleman fled for the hills, stumbling over their feet in an effort to get away. After the aftermath spoke of only total destruction, the Prince and the gentleman stood staring at each other; the only ones left in the village. The villagers in the castle now could barely make out the voice of the Prince as He spoke in almost a whisper.

You have tried to make a home here in this fine village. You did your best to tear it in two. But hope, faith, and love for Me trumped you today in this place. I command you to leave. This village will rebuild, and you are not welcome here.

Without so much as even the hint of an argument, the now-hunchedback gentleman turned and limped out of the village. He only stopped to pick up his blueprints, as if he had a thought to try his master plan in another village in another place.

After he was gone from sight, the Prince turned His horse and galloped back up the hill to see His precious faithful villagers. Upon seeing that He was returning, they dashed out of the room and ran to meet Him just inside the castle gates.

Oh, Prince! You have saved us! We praise You for being such a mighty and strong Prince! But what of our beautiful village?

My children, do not worry. Your village will be more beautiful than before. And I, myself, will help you rebuild.

***

It took awhile for the village to rebuild. The rubble from the city collapse had to be cleaned up and hauled away. Many cottages had to be completely torn down and rebuilt from scratch. The cobblestones had to be replaced. And many of the gardens and flowerbeds had to be retilled and planted. But everyday the villagers worked diligently on rebuilding and restoring their precious village. They kept a close eye on the hillsides to watch out for any looming danger or strangers that might be making their way into the valley. And they met together often to encourage each other in the hard rebuilding tasks.

The villagers made it a point to never miss a day of work on restoring their beautiful village.

And neither did the Prince.

He was always there. Always faithful. Just as He said He would.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I believe in beautiful. And I believe in hope. And in faith. And in the absolute sovereign ability of God to make beauty from ashes. I am clinging to the promises that my Beloved Prince has given me that He will be my refuge and my shelter, and that He will fight for me. I believe that He will cause the foreign cities in my marriage to fall, and that He will do marvelous things that He had planned long ago. I believe it. I just do.

I just do.

A Fairy Tale

Imagine with me a King.  A really regal King.  All the fancy fur-lined robes, huge sparkly crown, thick Sean Connery accent, you know… the whole shebang. 

Now imagine a man standing before the King.  If you look at him in some light, he really looks like a boy.  Scared.  Anxious.  His eyes are darting around because he is so uncomfortable being in the presence of the King.  Does the King know what I’ve done?  Is that why I’m  here?  Punishment? All the man knows is that he’s been summoned to the throne.  And now he’s here.  And it’s scary. 

The King rises from His magnificent scrolled throne and majestically moves Himself down the steps in the throne room and approaches the man.  The man is so terrified that he feels as though his legs will buckle at any second.  He’s looking for exit signs.  There’s got to be a way out.  The man has just laid eyes on a door that is dark and deep, but he’s pretty sure it would get him out of this encounter with this all-too perfect King.  Almost about to bolt, the man looks into the face of the King again…. There is something so terrifying yet so comforting in the eyes of the statuesque King. 

Before the man has the chance to consider the dark door to the outside, the King calls for His servants.  They are magnificent to behold as well.  Clothed in the purest of white, the servants almost shine.  The servants are carrying huge loads and packs.  What in the world?  The man finds the door again with his eyes.  Whatever is in those bundles cannot be good.

Just as the man pivots to bolt for the door, the King orders the servants to begin to unpack the loads.  The man stops to watch.  Mesmerized.  One by one, the shimmering servants hand the King a collection of parts and pieces.  The King stands regally.  Tall and straight.  Easily cradling the items in His strong, firm arms.

Son, I have a job for you.  A very specific job.  I’ve called you here today to bestow on you the privilege of this job.

But, Sir.  I don’t really want the job. 

Son, I have a job for youAnd with that, the King hands the man the allotment. 

Full armor.  Complete with inscriptions and etched depictions of parts and pieces of the man’s life.  A gleaming sword crafted the finest the man had ever seen.  A shield bearing the King’s own crest, but with the man’s name added.  This…this…this armor….it was made especially for me.   

Before the man can muster up any questions to ask and while he’s still breathing in the beauty of the mail and plates, the King steps forward and begins to take each piece from the man and dresses him Himself.  The man stands in total shock.  Eye still on the door.  What is happening?  I do not understand.  It would be easier to run.  Now.

The King continues to dress the man.

As the work is done, the King steps back and proudly examines the man.  My dear son.  You will go to battle now.  This way.  And with that, the King sweeps His mighty treelike arm towards another door that is encrusted in the brightest of gems and light. 

Whoa.  Battle?  I have no idea what You mean.  I can’t do battle.

The King stops.  And with a look of true compassion and love, yet all-knowing because He’s been through this before so many times, He returns to where the bewildered shell-shocked man is standing, cups His hand on the man’s face, and speaks.  Son.  My dear dear son.  There is a battle waiting for you.  It is not a vast army.  But one mighty single foe.  You did not sign up for this, no, but I have chosen you for this battle.  I know that you have never wielded a sword before.  I know that you have never touched a shield, let alone know how to use one.  This armor is heavy, I understand.  But I’ve prepared it for you.  Because I know exactly what you need.  Now, go.  Fight.  I will be there with you.

Sir, no.  I can’t.  I won’t.  It’s too difficult, and I’m too scared.  And with that, the man begins to strip the armor off that the King had so lovingly outfitted him with just moments before.  

The dark door looms just steps away.  I can reach it and be done with this.  I just have to get out of all of this stuff.

The man had loosened his leg shields, and was starting on the chest plate when through the dark door sprung a horribly beautiful beast.  The man couldn’t decide if he should run and hide or stand and just take in the bizarre nature of this weird creature.  Then the beast opened his mouth and began to sing a strange siren song.  Others in the room covered their ears and shielded their faces.  They looked mortified.  The King stood firm.  Eyes piercing towards the beast.  But when the man heard the song, he knew.  I know that voice.  I know this creature.  He has called to me many many days, and I haven’t known what to do.  Some days I ignored the sound because it frightened me, and I knew it could prove to be disastrous.  But here lately, this is the voice I hear loud and clear.  I’ve followed the sound of that siren song down into places that have brought me much pleasure but have left me feeling empty and dry at the end of the days and nights.  But yet, it’s so enticing.  I want to follow the si..ren…..

Just as the man began to throw off the rest of his armor and approach the beast to see his latest offerings, the man caught sight of something he had missed the entire time in the throne room.  How did I miss that?   A tiny chair set; though it wasn’t up the steps where the King’s massive throne was, it was placed in very close proximity to the throne.  Like the person occupying the chair could speak freely with the King at any time.  Wait.  A person in the chair.   

The man studied the person.  He knew her.  He knew her well.  She was dressed in a gown of the palest pink, flowers in her upswept hair, and she looked radiant.  Yet she looked so sad.  Wonder why she’s so sad if she’s sitting here with the King?  Her eyes seemed to look a window to his heart.  I remember you.  The man puzzled over this beautiful woman as the beast continued his song.  It was getting louder.  Louder still.  STOP!  The man wanted to yell.  I’m trying to think. 

But no time to think.  The beast lunged at him, but surprisingly didn’t attack.  It kept singing louder and louder, and grabbed for the man’s hand.  The man knew that the beast was inviting him to exit the throne room with him.  He could hear it in the song.  The man began to walk towards the door with the beast, whose song was gaining momentum and almost taking on an arrogant tone.  The man noticed that the beast and the King had their eyes locked on each other.  The King stood.  Unwavering.  The beast smirked.  The woman in the chair began to cry.

And then he heard the faintest whisper.  Fight.  Who said that?  Fight.  There it was again.  The man scoured the room looking for the source of the voice.  Fight.  Where was that coming from?  Fight.  And then he found it.  The woman in the chair.  He knew that voice.  He’d know it anywhere.   Something stirred in him.

The beast felt the stirring.  The hand tightened on his wrist.  The song became louder.  He was almost dragging the man now.  But the stirring in the man grew.  The more the beast pulled and sang, the whisper from the beautiful woman stirred his heart.  Then he saw the King.  The words formed on the King’s lips every time the woman would utter them.  She would say Fight.  And the King would mouth it in unison.  Fight.  Fight. 

This was too much.  The man had to get out of here and just think.  Just for a moment.  But the grasp on his arm wasn’t allowing for thinking time.  There was no escaping the beast.  Yet also no escaping the still small whisper of Fight. coming from this woman who caused such a stirring in his heart that he hadn’t felt in what seemed like millenniums and the powerful formation of the words coming from the lips of the King.

He allowed the beast to drag him a few more steps towards the looming darkened exit door.   Fight.  And then his eyes met those of the King.  This time the King didn’t just form the words.  He spoke.  Fight. 

But I can’t.  Don’t you see?  He is holding me by the wrist.  Dragging me.  What do you expect me to do?  I can’t get away

The King stepped forth.  Time seemed to stand still.  The beast silenced his song at the sound of the King’s voice.  Don’t you see, my son?  You have had the armor the entire time.  I gave it to you.  It’s made just for you.  And I’m standing right here ready to help you.  All you have to do is….fight.

And with that and a quick glance to the sad beautiful woman in the chair,  the man reached for his sword.  The beautiful emblazoned sword.  And with one strong swoop of the saber, he severed the grip of the beast.  The beast roared in objection, reaching for the man, but the man wielded the sword as a gifted knight.  He knew that the power behind the thrusting sword was coming from Someone much stronger than him, yet he continued to plunge and brandish and manipulate the weapon. 

And as quick as the beast entered the room, he slinked out.  No more song.  The room was silent. 

The King stood still.  His eyes focused on the man.

The woman in the chair had stopped crying.  She now had her gazed fixed on the man.

Every man and woman of the court waited with bated breath to see what would happen now.

The man let his sword crash to the floor and collapsed in an exhausted heap. 

Then he felt the gentlest of hands on his body.  The hands were peeling off the remaining pieces of armor, the ones he hadn’t gotten to before the beast had stormed the room.  The hands lifted the helmet from his head and caressed his sweat-soaked hair.  The hands were given sweet-smelling strips of linen from a near-by servant, and soon the hands were sponging the exposed parts of tired and worn-out skin of the man. 

The man mustered up the strength to lift his head and look to see who owned these hands.  Surely just a minister of the court.  A servant sent to look after him.

But, no.  What he had thought was just a pair of hands were actually two.  For beside him knelt not only the woman from the chair, but the King Himself.  These two champion cheerleaders of his, who had spurred him on to fight, were now tending to his wounds and exhaustion in the most tender of ways.

The King was smiling.   Well done, my son.  Well done.

The woman was no longer sad.  Her eyes were free from tears of grief and were replaced with the gentle weeping tears of joy.  I knew you would remember me.  I knew you would come for me.  I didn’t know how, but I knew you would. 

Just then the man remembered.  This beautiful woman was the woman he had wanted his entire life.  And when he had her, they had both allowed others and things of the world outside to entice and disillusion them.  They had both heard the siren song of the beast, in very different ways, yet both had chosen to follow.  And then everything spiraled out of control.  And he’d lost the woman.  He’d been unable to find her.  To see her.  To even remember her.

But here she was.  How?  Why?  Why are you here?  With the King? 

Because this is where I came.  I realized that the beast was a filthy villan and that his song was one of scandal and lies.  I didn’t know where to go.  And one day while wandering the streets, I looked up and saw the castle.  And I knew that I would be safe there. 

But weren’t you scared to approach the King?

Yes.  Until I really met Him.  And realized that He was not what I’d been told so many times.  I really got to know Him.  I sat there in that chair, and we talked and talked.  And He told me all about Himself.  He welcomed me into His Home.  And He told me everyday that you would come for me.  He never revealed the hows and whys, but He told me that you would come.  He did warn me that though He was going to give you everything that you needed to fight the beast and his siren song, that it would be your choice to fight or not.  And that we were to just watch and wait and believe that you would choose to do battle.  AND YOU DID!  You really did!  You came, just as He said you would.  And you fought!

But, I don’t understand.

It is as she says, my son.  I am so proud of you, my beloved.  Come.  Rest here.  Get to know me.  Enjoy getting to know this bride of yours again. 

And with that, the King and the woman helped the man to his feet.  He surprisingly was rejuvenated.  He felt strong.  And alive.  And free.  The King led the man and woman, who walked hand-in-hand to a large table set up in the corner of the room.  They feasted on the finest of food and drink.  They laughed and talked and enjoyed the presence of each other through the entire meal, soaking up the majesty of the King, Who dined with them. 

After the meal, the King stood from His place at the head of the table and spoke.  Come.  Let us move our conversation.

The man and woman rose and followed the King to the grand area that held the glorious throne.  As the King swept up the steps and settled Himself on His mercy seat, the man noticed something.

Where the woman’s one chair had sat earlier during battle…….now….there were two.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I love fairy tales.  I’m a sucker, really.  I love when good triumphs evil.  I love when the princess is rescued by the shining knight.  I love everything about them.

I guess, though, that I had somehow programmed myself to think that fairy tales were unrealistic.  That the romance and gallant behavior of the hero and heroine in the stories didn’t really happen in real life.  I had resigned myself to living out a mundane version of this fantasy in my head and allowing myself to not really expect too much.  Probably out of self-protection.  Or…at least that is what the beast sang to me in his bitter song.

I was talking to a very new, but already dear friend of mine last night, and she spoke to me about a book written by Stasi Eldredge (the wife of John, who wrote Wild at Heart — the crazy popular book for men).  After our conversation last night, I hopped on Amazon and went to looking for the book she mentioned.  I found it, but strangely, I kept being drawn to the “recommended” book that sat next to it on the cyber-shelf. 

 

Yah…it’s a book on marriageUgh.  Really, God?  Really?  A book written for people who are living marriage together….um…I’m just trying to salvage my marriage right now.  I’ll read it later.  But, for some reason, God wouldn’t let it go.  I’m still throughly convinced He popped the sucker in my cart and one-click checked it out for me, before I could say another word. 

And so, I, begrudgingly, started reading it. 

And shut.my.mouth.

Yah, it’s a book on marriage.  But, it’s even more than that.  It has already reminded me in the first 6 or 7 chapters that God digs fairy tales, too.  In fact, He’s created His own Story on the premise and set-up of a fairy tale.  Why in the world shouldn’t I be in love with them, too?  And He has also told me that there is NOT.ONE.THING.WRONG. with wanting and believing and expecting the rescue of my marriage and the future of my marriage to be a fairy tale.  Because God put those desires in my heart.

Now, realism?  Yes.  Only because we live in this crappy world where the beast of my story really does snake around and sing his siren song to each of us.  And because our King really does give us the choice to fight or not.   But, I do know that the King will outfit us with absolutely everything we need, when we need it.  And that He, even more than us, wants our stories to be beautiful and end in victory.  This is HIS PLAN.  God loves marriage.  He loves goodness.  He really really digs this stuff.

So I’m going to hang on to my fairy tales.  I like ’em. 

And I’m going to sit in anxious, yet patient anticipation for the ending of my own.  Because I know it’s coming.  I just know it.

~~~~~~~

P.S.  I really do recommend Love and War for anyone who is married, gettin’ married, or knows someone who’s married.  Really…so good.  Despite where you are or feel you are in your life or marriage journey.