Author Archives: J. P. Rapp

A Word of Encouragement for My Student Friends

The alarm clock sounds at 6:00am and you roll over in bed to turn it off. Instead of turning it off you decide to hit snooze button for another ten minutes of rest. You know the day will be filled with challenges, and that makes it hard to wake up. But you do anyways, and you’re faithful because of it.

It’s 12:00am and you’re still trying to finish a chemistry assignment that’s due the next morning.

“Just a few more years and I’ll be a physical therapist,” you think.

But at the same time you wonder whether or not the title you will achieve is worth the present pain. You imagine that once you’re done you’ll find a good job, make enough money to be happy, pay off your debt and do whatever people have time to do when they’re not in school.

“Life will be better,” you think, and so you keep plowing along.

It’s 1:37pm and you just finished eating some lunch. Your test is at 2:00pm and you feel like you could have or should have studied more, but it’s too late now. The day is far from over. After your test you’re going to go and work wherever you work and then come home exhausted, only to wake up the next morning and do it all again.

“Eleven more weeks until Christmas break,” you think, and it makes you cheer up.

* * * * *

As a college student it seems life consists mainly of this quite stressful, daily routine. If you were wondering, I’m not about to talk about test tips or study tips or getting by on coffee and five hours of sleep tips. Rather, I want to address the futuristic mindset of life getting better and easier than it is now. I have talked about this a little before, but I am coming at it here from a slightly different perspective – the perspective of wealth.

For me the idea of finding a good job that pays well is very motivating, and it is a healthy motivation. The Bible speaks in Psalm 128, that, of “everyone who fears the Lord” it will go well with them and they will be blessed and eat the fruit of their labor. This does not mean that the righteous will never go through hard times or will always be rich in material things. I am not preaching a “prosperity gospel.” But it does point to God’s faithfulness. As the scriptures declare, God will never leave us nor forsake us, rather He will provide for His people. We should desire God’s blessing and seek after it. Thus, in as much as finding a job is God’s blessing and provision for us, we should seek after it.

From another perspective, the idea of acquiring more wealth to trust in is an unhealthy motivation. Solomon declares in Proverbs,

“Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle towards heaven.”

In the Old Testament we read of the Israelites growing wealthy and chubby and forgetting the LORD their God. In Luke we read of the parable of the rich man who had filled his barns with crops and goods and declared to his soul that he was wealthy enough to “relax, eat, drink, and be merry.” Yet God calls this man a fool, telling him that this very night his soul would be required of him. This man was rich to himself yet poor towards God. Thus, my point here is to warn of the danger of this mindset of trusting in riches or living only to acquire more – never being satisfied or content with what you have now.

I write these things because I am convicted by the scriptures. I write these things not to tear you down, but to call you on guard. Solomon warns of this danger in Proverbs 30 when he writes,

“Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”

In closing, I exhort you to live everyday seeking God’s favor. I exhort you to be astounded by the wisdom of God and praise Him for it. Marvel at his creations even as you struggle to understand and learn about them. As Paul told Timothy, be godly and content, for in that there is great gain. And finally, remember that the LORD goes before you, just as he did for the Israelites in the promised land.

“Go. Go away! Read some books!” –Nacho Libre

 

Advertisements

CHAPTER V: Wilderness

(Disclaimer: Due to finally coming up with a solid ending to this book, I needed to make a few revisions to some of the previous chapters in order to provide some clearer direction. So here is the FYI: Chapter 3 is roughly the same but has more stuff added to it. Chapter 4 has the same idea but different setting and less of the dream. Chapter 5 finishes off the dream, but IN a different way than what was previously presented. Also, please feel free to comment about whatever you would like. I am open to suggestions and criticism.)

Samuel watched the plane in the distance as it sped down the runway increasing its speed. He watched as its feet lifted off of the ground and its metal cylinder began to float in the air. Who could have ever imagined what the world would be today in all its machines and gadgets to further man in his subduing, or at times, maybe, which hold him back.

“Now boarding Group 4! Again, since this flight is going to be full, we are checking bags for free if you want to check them know. Regardless, if the overhead space fills up we will have to check all of the remaining bags.”

Samuel stood up from the bench he was sitting on, and walked over to the boarding station to have his pass scanned before walking on the plane. He watched as the man with a cane in front of him had his pass scanned are began to walk through the boarding tunnel. He followed the man with a cane, and could not help but notice the way he dragged his right foot. Such painful, slow movement.

And then it was as if Sam was a ghost already on the plane, hearing the shuffle of this man’s approaching foot. Sam then saw the man and himself as the pair turned the corner and finally stepped onto the plane. This vision then quickly faded and another took its place.

“What is it that makes a nation great? What is it that makes this nation great? Is it the strength of our hands or the wisdom of our lips? Is it the passion of our young men, or the beauty of our women? It is hard to believe that any would dare to say it is not in the glory of these things that our greatness is found, yet surely greatness goes beyond these things. Our true American greatness is our oneness under the headship of our Creator and savior Christ Jesus. It is by His will that America is what it is. It is by His will that America will continue to be what it is. Yet there are those that would disgrace this truth, and by doing so they make of themselves fools. There are those that would sit idle as our soldiers are tortured for the petty gain of world wealth. There are men in our leadership who would eat with our enemies rather than honor our heroes. And with the words that I have left I say that these men redeem their name through right action, and I call for those of you here today to hold them accountable for their actions. Save our heroes! Save our brothers and fathers! Pray for their witness to our enemies, yet may our enemies never be graced by the sense of our weakness, but may they know that we will protect our own, as our own have protected us. Remember Company K! Remember the K!”

Samuel watched himself speaking these words with force and passion atop the podium overlooking a crowd of thousands of people. As he finished his last sentence, the applause of the crowd rang out and in unison a cry began.

“Remember the K! Remember the K! Remember the K!”

Samuel had experienced this dream before, so he knew what was about to happen. He had seen and felt all of this already – the images of dead bodies, smoke, and blood – the feeling of pain and sorrow. He wanted it to stop, but he knew that this future was already written, and he could do nothing about it except accept it. Everything inside of Samuel told him to run, and remembrance of the coming fierce emotions made his body tremble. But he couldn’t run. For the life of him he could not run. His legs were buried thigh high, and his arms were glued to his sides.

“Ah! No!” Samuel screamed, and before he could say anymore, a thunderstorm and pouring rain had begun to block out all other noise. The ground also began to shake vigorously. The trembling of Sam’s legs brought him to his knees. “This is just a dream, Samuel. Calm down. This is just a dream. You’ll wake up in a few minutes.” But Samuel didn’t wake up in a few minutes, and the ground continues to shake as he lay stunned on his knees. A scream pierced the air, and Sam heard it clamor above the clamor of the crowd.

“Run! Run! Run!” It was the sound of a woman’s voice. Oh, such dreadful urgency.

Then the image of the gunshot flashed through his mind, and he could feel the bullet ripping through his own chest and out the other side. And sure enough, Samuel looked down to see a bullet had pierced just below his heart, and blood was pooling steadily around the wound. Samuel watched as the crowd scattered like in all directions like the breaking of a dam wall. Soon after this his mind was driven into the wilderness of his visions, and this bloody scene too faded away, but this time to what Sam remember not – to what, at the break of day faded into eternity without remembrance, as if it never was dreamed of at all.

 

CHAPTER I: New Beginnings

The moon’s silver light shined down upon a quiet neighborhood street, where here and there windows stood glowing with light from within houses. Now and then some of the lights would turn off, and some would turn on. But as the hours rushed along, all the beaming lights faded away, trusting that the moon would continue steadfast, and wage their war against the darkness; yet one light did not fade away, but like a watchman continually scanned everything in its grasp, exposing dust and swallowing darkness.

Thomas closed his eyes. He saw something. It was a world, and he could see a mountain top with clear streams flowing down its sides.  And then he saw a sun and a forest, a luscious meadow, and an ocean longer and wider than the eye could see.  He saw a blue sky and a valley running towards a desert land.

“Perfection!” the place seemed to shout, and Thomas smiled, feeling grass beneath his toes, and smelling the scent of roses and pine and fresh water, and . . . something he didn’t feel he could describe without marring some of its beauty. Wind grazed his face.

Then a strange sensation struck him – a feeling of embarrassment – and the parabola of his smile began to stretch horizontally. He felt completely out of place, as if his presence, though fully desired, was unfit for this world he saw.

Thomas opened his eyes. He was still in his bedroom sitting on his chair next to his dark, wood desk, and his light was still shining. In his hand lay a pencil held over a blank page in a notebook. Thomas sighed. He believed he had so much to say, yet he suffered speechlessness. How could he tell someone else the wonder and amazement he felt when he ventured into the world of imagination? He’d expected it to be hard, but not impossible, like it felt at the moment.

Some words came to him, and he quickly wrote them down, but then crossed them out soon after. They didn’t do justice to what he imagined. This process repeated several times before he lost motivation and set his pencil down.

“Has all already been said?” He considered. “God already spoke the world into being and is speaking even now! C.S. Lewis already created Narnia, and Tolkien Middle Earth. Is there beauty yet to be revealed? Is there a glory that has yet to be spoken and discovered? I’m thinking about this too hard . . . .” Thomas put his right hand to his chin and gently rubbed his fingers back and forth on it.

“Will these words ever come to fruition? Is the fruition of this time words themselves? It must be more than that. Fruition is a process. Ideas must be conceived and born in the form of words. Then they must live and proclaim the glory their symbols represent,” Thomas folded his hands and rested them on the notebook. He inhaled and exhaled, feeling content.

“Why don’t I just write these thoughts down?” He contemplated and proceeded to do so.

He wrote, “Is a nation born in a single day? No one has heard of such a thing, the Scripture says. Like nations, ideas must be conceived and then born in the form of words. The process of fruition in this case ranges from the imagination to what the reader profits from reading. And in a sense, if the words are words that point to glory and mirror Christ’s Words, then the words do not cease to bear good fruit.”

“Yet sometimes this process does not bear good fruit, either because the ideas were conceived in sin, or because they came to words too early, not having enough time to grow. Sometimes these words die early, and sometimes they can be nurtured and sustained. Editors are like nurses, and newly spoken words are like children. Some words die early, and some old. Still more never die. Words that never die are those that give life. They are living words, like God’s words. They are words of creation, words of love, words that speak glory . . . .”

“Thoughts need to rest and develop before words can do them justice,” A smile of satisfaction formed over Thomas’s face as he was now assured that the time he had spent so far was not a waste. He continued, “Ideas need to grow, and expectations that hold writing to be impossible or easy, and not somewhere in between, will sooner or later face disappointment. For the world fell into sin, making us incapable of speaking glorious words, but God sent His one and only Son, so that he might save us from the horrors of sin and to the glories of His presence. So now we can speak of good things, because we have been saved, but we cannot speak perfectly, because we are being saved.”

“At the moment of conception the Spirit forms a child, and this is miraculous. Time needs to pass for the child to take shape; it will be nine months before the child is fully ready to enter the world outside his mother’s womb. For the process of speaking, the mind is the womb, the imaginations and ideas are the child, and God is Creator of them both.”

Thomas shut his eyes. He saw the world again. It looked like the world he lived in, except that it was perfect, or almost perfect. He realized now that it was his own presence that marred its perfection. The very wandering of his mind to the place brought imperfection. Yet now he was not ashamed.

He knew that even the best of his words couldn’t describe the glory of this place, not only because he was not fluent in the language of glory, but also because he could not see the extent of the glory.

Yet he was not upset, because he saw more now than he saw before. He saw that there was beauty even in the midst of his want of vision and lack of perfection, that his battling against the muting forces of sin and evil was itself glorious; that the full glory of this place, though for a time out of reach and inexpressible, was actually more glorious with his struggle, because the substance of the story all of the sudden welcomed and required God to be in the midst of it.

Thomas opened his eyes and exhaled a deep breath. Contentment and satisfaction embraced his soul like a mother her new born child.

“So speak good things . . . . Speak life and speak glory. All of us were made to do so. So let the deadly silence of our lips kneel before our Father who speaks all things, and shout hosanna in the highest . . . hosanna in the highest . . . hosanna in the highest!”

The grandfather clock struck, and Thomas listened to its voice. It was time to rest. He laid his pencil down and turned off his desk light.

“I will write a story,” he said. “A story of life and death and life. An imitation story of God’s. Because that is a way that I can speak His glory. Because that’s a way His glory can be proclaimed.”

Thomas stood up, and soon lay down to rest, knowing that more could have and should have been accomplished that day, but trusting that even his weaknesses and failures would be mediums of a greater glory. And then Thomas closed his eyes.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER IV: A Perceived Mistake

Glass – thousands of grains of refined, clean, transparent sand shaping our cups and windows, covering our skyscrapers and giving the blind sight. The sound of it shattering into pieces – the sound of a perceived mistake. No visible fragments. No sight at all. Just the fragile, screeching pierce of those fine crystals separating, as of a lover watching a loved descend into the grave – like the fierce blow of a baseball bat against a chandelier. It is difficult to resist flinching at the sound. The sound grew clearer now, and more consistent, as of a waterfall of hollow glass balls pouring out onto a marble floor, enhanced by echoes within a cave. It is the sound of destruction – the sound of sudden mistakes caused by the slip of the hand or mind. Then suddenly came a flash as of lightning, and the sound of thunder followed.

Samuel opened his eyes. The hospital room was dark. He slowly turned his neck to the right. His brain felt the shock of the movement, and screamed pain. He could see his mother sitting in an arm chair beside his bed, near an open window. Outside it was raining heavily. The lighting flashed again, and the thunder boomed in imitation shortly thereafter. It must have been early morning, because Samuel could see a faint source of light on the horizon. He shut his eyes tight; the world appeared the same as he remembered, but it felt different – older maybe. Another vivid flash and boom, and then Samuel suddenly remember what had happened, but he didn’t know where he was. His eyelids felt heavy, so he shut his eyes. The storm had calmed slightly, but he could still hear the rain falling outside. Within minutes he had fallen back to sleep.

Vivid images began to flash through Samuel’s mind. Some of them were just memories that Sam clearly recognized. Others were of familiar places where Sam used to spend his childhood days. Still more were of past, repeating dreams, to which Sam shared no connection, but which radically affected his emotions. Yet more than ever before the images were so clear and began to flow so seamlessly that it was as if they were not images at all, but scenes that Samuel was presently and physically experiencing. The images began to play again.

“Hey, watch that corner. Okay, were gonna have to tip this vertically to fit through the door,” Samuel told his younger sister Rachel as Alethia held open the front door of the house, where a large mirror would soon make its way through.

“Careful!” Mrs. Elizabeth Wade spoke. She had asked Samuel to take down the mirror in their front bathroom and bring it down to the street curb, since she was renovating the bathroom and had purchased a new mirror to replace what she referred to as the 90s style wall mirror. It sure was a wall mirror – measuring about 6ft by 3ft.

“Strike two,” Rachel said as Samuel accidentally bumped his side of the mirror into the door frame. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and it was quiet as well.

“Ah, well at least we are through now,” Samuel said. “Thanks for holding the door Ale’!”

“Your welcome!” Alethia replied with a smile on her face. Her mother was now looking out one of the front windows in the house to watch the completion of the task, so she walked over to join her.

“Almost there!” Samuel said as they were now on the concrete drive way and just about 20ft from the curb where they would place the mirror in the grass to be picked up by the garbage company the next day.

Then the unexpected happened. Bless the driveways slight incline and that small, rough pebble over which Rachel lost her balance, which was then followed by the crashing loss of that most blessed wall mirror which had hung in the house for 17 years. TSHI! A side of the front part of the mirror smashed into the concrete scattering tiny shards of sparkly, silvery glass. Seeing that Rachel had tripped and fallen, Samuel not too gently let down his side of the mirror, causing some more cracking on the surface of the mirror, and then ran over to help his sister up off of the ground.

“Rachel, are you okay?!” Samuel spoke loudly, while hearing the front door open and close behind him as his mother and sister also ran to Rachel’s aid.

“Well, I’m alright, but the mirror is not,” Rachel said, slightly embarrassed by the whole event.

And then this vision, too, vanished away leaving Samuel’s mind scarred with the sound of shattering glass on concrete. TSHI! The sound repeated over and over again in his mind.

 

CHAPTER III: The Handshake

“Paul! They’re coming! Grab your rifle and get down here!” Paul looked out the window. In the distance, he could see a black truck quickly approaching, leaving a streaking dust cloud in its wake. He opened up his closet, unlocked his safe, and grabbed his assault rifle. After putting on his protection vest and loading his magazine, he bolted down stairs and into the kitchen where his brother Peter stood fully suited and armed.

“I called Dad. He has Audrey, Naomi and Mom with him, but he’s not coming back. He is headed to the airport. He said he just found out when they were at the Karim’s palace about five minutes ago. We have to either take the Humvee and get to the airport or hold down the fort here.”

Paul stood still – deep in thought. He had day-dreamed about something like this happening. But he never thought that it would happen to them. The reality of the situation didn’t feel real. But it was.

“Paul, we don’t have all day! A little input would be nice. It is only a matter of minutes before they break down our gate.”

A bullet hit the front window of the house, shattering the glass pane. Glass shards scattered across the wood floor in the living room. Peter and Paul were then relieved to hear Mustafa and Abdullah firing back at the intruders from the upstairs bedroom.

Abdullah shouted down the stairs, “Peter! Paul!” There are too many to hold off! You have to get out of here!”

The gate came down with a loud crash, and more shattering of glass followed shortly after.

“Were taking the Humvee, Abdullah!” Peter shouted. “Come on! Get down here!”

“There is no way any of us are getting out alive if we don’t put up some return fire! You guys must leave now! God forbid we fail our sworn duty to protect you and your family. This is our last stand. Go!”

The words pierced Paul’s soul. He had grown up with these warriors, and learned so much from them. Now they would give their lives for him and Peter.

“Paul! You heard them. Let’s go.”

The deafening sound of gunshots continued to pierce the air. Peter and Paul entered the garage and jumped into the Humvee. The garage was at the front of the house and the only way out of the walled pavilion surrounding the house would be through the back gate. So far it was clear. Peter opened the garage door and accelerated out towards the back gate.

A rocket pierced the air. The streak of smoke from the rocket led straight to a skinny looking ISIS soldier standing up in what appeared to be a U.S. Humvee. The rocket exploded, hitting the near the front of the garage as soon as it had opened. Peter had accelerated fast enough to avoid a direct collision with the rocket, but the blast blew the Humvee off course and flipped it around to a stop. A few other black trucks with gunners mounted on the back were readily approaching the halted Humvee. Paul saw a few of the soldiers stumble and fall as bullets pierced their bodies. He looked up at the house through the Humvee windshield to see Abdullah firing through the right bedroom window at the approaching trucks. And then he saw Abdullah dive away from a window as another rocket hit the top portion of the house. It had missed the window by a couple of feet. Mustafa was on the bottom floor now, firing out at the left side of the house.

Paul, still in shock from the explosion, his head having slammed against the window of the Humvee, finally returned to a steady, conscious state. He quickly glanced over at Peter, who appeared unconscious. Bullets ricocheted of the Humvee walls.

“Peter! Wake up! We have to get out of here!” Paul shook Peter’s shoulder vigorously. Peter’s eyes finally opened, and within seconds he had slammed on the gas and they were moving again towards the back of the house. They dodged a truck coming straight their way, and made it around the house, only to find that the other gate was blocked by at least three other trucks with mounted gunners on the back and soldiers setting up a road barricade.

“Paul . . . there’s no leaving now,” Peter said gravely, as he turned the Humvee’s direction back towards the house. “We have only to pray hard and hold fort,” he said while backing the Humvee up towards the back door of the house.

“There’s Mustafa holding the door for us! Let’s go!” Paul and Peter jumped out of the Humvee and sprinted towards the open door, but it was too late. The ISIS soldiers had launched yet another rocket at the back door of the house.

“Get down!” Mustafa shouted at them. BOOM! The rocket hit, and shrapnel burst out in all directions. The blast of the rocket and the shrapnel threw Peter and Paul to the ground, their ears ringing, damaged from the loud noise. And then, for a moment, the world seemed to turn quiet, as the dust and smoke expanded spherically outwards from the point of impact, embracing Peter and Paul, shielding them from the sight of the ISIS soldiers.

Paul lifted his face up off of the patio pavement and turned to see Peter gazing into his eyes. He could see Peter’s tears. Paul’s spirit groaned.

“I’m sorry, Paul. I should have acted faster. I’m the older brother,” Peter groaned, as if struggling to speak. That was when Paul saw that a piece of shrapnel had pierced his lung.

“Peter! No, it’s not your fault! Peter, just hang on!”

The gunfire initiated again, but Paul ignored it, as Peter had stretched out his hand towards Paul. Paul grabbed it with strength. Their two bodies lay on the ground, embraced with dust, shrapnel, smoke, and blood. The fingers of the brothers squeezed tight – a firm, unshaken grasp. The fingers turned red. No smell. No other sight. And Peter’s spirit departed.

* * * * *

“Ah, no. This just doesn’t work,” Thomas said, as he folded and put aside the past few pages he had typed and written out. Paul and Peter’s story would be of no use. In the grand scheme of the plot their story didn’t fit. He had thought it would, but the story had begun to take a slightly different path than he had originally intended. He sighed. “Writing is hard work, and it seems that as soon as you’ve struck an idea and you think its gold, it turns out to be fool’s gold.”

It was early Saturday morning, and the smell of bacon had traveled up to his room from the kitchen. “Man, I love my mother,” Thomas said to himself quietly, while thinking of the day when these current days would be past. From every moment up to the current, it felt as if his life had gone by so fast. He was nineteen years old – still in the prime of his youthful strength. Yet he considered how fast the years would add up, and wondered if his writing was just a purposeless, time-wasting fancy.

He didn’t believe that it was, but sometimes it felt like it.

“But what is it that I actually want from this? What is it that I hope to achieve?”

His life goals and dreams were to finish his education, find a good job, marry a prudent, godly woman, and to simply serve God and give his life in service of others. As of right now, his world was full of future expectation, and often he needed reminding to just enjoy the present time. In these things, Thomas did not stand out as unique or worthy or worthy of compliment, other than that he struggled to have a mind that looked forward, beyond merely the next mountain to climb or storm to face.

“So it is that I hope to gain from this. I hope that it will bring fulfillment and will bring me closer achieving my goals. But it’s not all about my wants, either. My life has just as much to do with my neighbor as it has to do with me. So I hope to bless my neighbor through these words. A temptation here, I know, is to worship the words I write, and to consider them as of more importance than anything else – for example, than spending time with others or reading the words of others. Thomas thought about his mother, and in the middle of these contemplations, as was Thomas’ pattern of writing, he wrote about something other than the story in front of him.

“I know my mother will be happy to see me married, but I also know the, or at least think I can imagine, the pain she will feel that will accompany what may feel to be an empty nest. I know she savors her time with her children. When I think about things like that, I feel like trying to slow time down. I love my Mom and Dad now like I never have before. For me, leaving this beautiful home will feel like the end of my childhood and the real beginning of my adult life. And for them, I think, it will feel like the completion of a period of life – the ending of such a bittersweet age. I think about what is would be like to be my parents. What would or will I be like when I see my sons leaving home and my daughters betrothed? Surely I would look back and think of how fast time has flown by. I will remember the peaceful moments and the chaotic moments, or at least some of them. I may remember when I wished that things would change quickly, and I will more than likely wonder why I ever wished such things.

Fierce passion for the future seems to stunt the growth of the present time. Will we spend our lives constantly asking, “What’s next?” Will we ever be content to enjoy the present as if it were the current culmination of our entire lives? Does an old man wish only to see the grave?

We can’t slow or speed time, but we can choose to be grateful. We can prepare for the time to come and choose to enjoy each sunrise and sunset. We can choose to enjoy the transition from the womb to the world, from crawling to walking, from childhood to adulthood, from singleness to marriage, from little things and small tasks to big things and weighty responsibilities.

What is the joy in fulfillment if it only took a single step to run the race? What is the joy of marriage without knowing from where you have come? What is the joy of winning a battle against an enemy that you don’t know why you fought? What is resurrection without the cross? Yet we look ahead because, as the scriptures say, greater things are coming. But the cross was painful! Are we then to enjoy those painful moments? By no means! Yet we can live those moments with glory and strength, seeing their hidden beauty and concealed purpose. But we cannot live those moments gloriously if all we do as they occur is wish that they were over.

Look forward with joyous expectation. Live knowing that you have been called, placed, and by God’s grace are fulfilling your purpose. Live with all of your might now and tomorrow, not just when a desired time comes. But live with your might then, too. Fulfillment truly comes when you live every moment to the fullest. If you want to live a life of fulfillment, then, as the word seems to suggest, fill every moment full with what God has given you. Fill other people’s lives with your love and presence. Fill your own life by seeking Christ, by looking to the cross and the resurrection that awaits, and by looking to the grave and the eternal life that God has promised.

Enjoy life with the bride of your youth, as the scriptures command. Work mightily for God and others. You have been called. Be faithful. Don’t save your joy for later. Spend your love now. As the scriptures exhort, throw off the weight of sin that clings so close, and run the race with endurance, looking forward to the promised prize.

Finally, don’t ever forget from where you have come. Take time to remember God’s goodness and faithfulness. You have come from nothing to eternal life, from dust to glory, from birth to death and new life, from being children to instructing children, from being married to giving in marriage, from hating to loving, from burying others to yourself being buried, from mourning for the loss of others to meeting Jesus Christ face to face, from the start of your old life to the beginning of your new life with and in Christ. Christ has done this for you. Christ has done this for us. Surely God is good! Praise the LORD!”

“I am thankful that God is the ultimate author. If I were the god of my own story, I imagine it may be that a period of 10,000 hours would be as one day and 10,000 days as one year. Well, maybe a little better than that. It seems sometimes as though we are the gods of our own lives and stories. In the sense that I can control what happens to my characters, I do not think it sacrilegious to say that I am a very finite god, but to say that I am god of my own, non-fictional story compares to unforgivable blasphemy. Even if it were possible, the thought of being one’s own god should be frightening beyond all measure, because we are so inclined to selfish behavior. What I have written so far may be confusing. In the sense that we have free will, we are gods or leaders of our own actions. But we are not gods, because we do not have power to control any of that which is outside ourselves. We may think that we do, but we do not.”

“So what do I learn from this,” Thomas asked himself while coursing his right hand through his trimmed dark hair. His eyes were brown, and when he wasn’t smiling his lips bent slightly downward on either side, so that a stranger might think his plain expression mad or angry. He had faint dark bags under both of his eyes that made him look older than his age.

“The handshake needs to be experiences by Samuel. It has to come true in his life. The whole dream needs to be experienced personally by Samuel. I suppose the whole dream idea doesn’t make much sense at all, but as it is, it adds more to the story if it is Thomas who feels the handshake, rather than merely observing it. So, as Grandpa Paul would say, ‘Keep on keeping on.’” Samuel rubbed his eyes, opened up his writing journal, and re-started chapter III.

* * * * *

“Ah man! I missed that four because I was too slow,” Alethia said as she continued to flip a deck of colored cards numbered one through ten. Then all of a sudden the room sounded as a room filled with cubicles would sound if everyone slapped their desk.

“Dutch Blitz!” Rachel shouted above the noise, and the scramble to get another card out quickly ended.

“You guys are way faster than I remember. You must have been practicing,” David said.

Samuel looked around the room, smiling – he saw the Christmas tree in all its decorated splendor, the smell of lamb, and potatoes, and bacon and beans, and many other delicious foods stilled graced the air. It was the day after Christmas, and the rest of the extended family, who had been present to celebrate earlier, were now gone. Samuel looked at his sisters and brother. His sisters were so beautiful, with their long, smooth brown hair, and their stunning, smooth faces. Samuel cherished this time with his siblings, and he knew they did, too.

“Alright,” Alethia announced, “the final scores are 65, 43, 27, and 8, with Rachel first, followed by me and Samuel, and lastly, poor David.” They all laughed, and mainly because of David’s low score.

“Hey if you hadn’t blitzed so fast the first round, then I would not have gone negative,” David said, pleading innocence.

“True,” Rachel spoke, smiling, “so you need to re-learn your former skills.”

“Hey there is still a full pot of coffee,” Alethia said, “Do you guys want some? The night is still young.”

They all happily agreed to have some coffee, and once it was poured, they all sat down on the couches surrounding the Christmas tree. David grew somewhat pensive, and some of his former joyous features had now turned somewhat sorrowful.

“Hey guys,” David said. “I have something to say that I need to just get out. It has been weighing on my mind for the past few days now, and I think you guys should know.” His three siblings looked at him, wondering and guessing at what he might say. Each of them knew what he was about to say.

“I got another call three days ago. The tour is five years long.” The faces of the other siblings now grew solemn as well.

“God will protect you, David. I know He will,” Samuel said.

Suddenly the vision of that family room vanished away, and a new stream of images began to play. It was a busy afternoon at arrival Terminal 1 in O’Hare airport. A steady stream of cars passed by and a steady stream of people said goodbye to their loved ones. Samuel grabbed David’s U.S. Marine suitcase out of the trunk of the Nissan Sentra they had driven to the airport.

The New Year had arrived, and it was time for David to return to his duties as a Lance Corporal in Baghdad. David and Samuel’s eyes met, and tears began to stream down both of their cheeks. David had just hugged his parents, mother, and sisters, and now came another hug as precious as all of the rest. He loved his younger brother so much, and every time he looked into his eyes so many amazing childhood memories came to his remembrance. The two brothers met in a loving embrace, and held each for what seemed too short a time. How could one embrace represent all those years of brotherhood? Each pulled away from each other after a time, and then they grabbed each other’s hand in a firm handshake. It was a frim, unshaken grasp, as if the two brothers were knowingly hugging for the last time. The fingers squeezed tight and turned red. They would now go their separate ways. David began to walk towards the entrance doors of the terminal. Before he entered he took one last look towards the vehicle and kissed his family goodbye.

* * * * *

“He’s in cardiac arrest!” We’ve got to defib’ him!” A paramedic shouted to his co-worker, who scrambled back towards the emergency truck and skillfully prepared to use the defibrillator. A few others quickly put Samuel on the stretcher and then drove it towards the truck.

“We’ve got to get him out of here now!” The same paramedic shouted to the driver of another emergency vehicle that had just arrived on the scene. “The girls are still in there, though, and they need help!”

“We’ll take care of it! You have your hands full! Get out of here!”

The sirens of the ambulance began to roar, and the flashing vehicle soon disappeared in the distance.

Rachel and Aletheia, still very conscious, were helped out of the vehicle. They had both been sitting on the left side of the vehicle, and so did not experience the brunt of the collision. Yet, having their bodies slammed against the airbags, they were quite shaken up and felt sore.

“Can you walk? Do you feel pain in your neck?” The emergency workers cycled through a list of questions.

“We’re going to take you to the hospital to get you checked out. Your brother is on his way there right now. Do you have someone you can call? Parents? Relatives? Anyone?” An EMT asked gently.

Tears streamed from both of the young woman’s eyes. “Oh, I left my phone in the car. It’s in the cup holder. I’ll go get it.”

“No, just rest. I will get it for you.” The EMT said as he jogged over to the totaled car.

Rachel looked into her sister’s eyes. Aletheia was staring into the distance, at the crowd of vehicles now stopped or finding some way to turn around and take a different route to their destination. Her mind was at the hospital, watching Samuel’s face as doctors and nurses surrounded him.

“He might not make it, Rachel,” she said. “He might be gone!” She cried out softly.

Rachel took her sister firm into her arms and whispered into her ear, “He might be, Alethia. But if he is, we will see him again.”

Rachel could see the driver of the truck being questioned by the EMTs if he was alright. In addition, a few police officers were waiting in turn to ask their own round of questions. It was clear who was at fault. She saw tears streaming down the man’s face, and her soul felt burdened to comfort him.

Within an hour, the road was busy again with incessant traffic, as if nothing had ever happened. Red-light. Stop. Green-light. Go.

CHAPTER II: Bundle of Steel

A quiet, vibrating hum broke the silence of the morning. Samuel stirred with its repetitious voice. Today was the day.

Samuel tightened his tie as his advisor, Charles Parkton, took the stage and began to make a few announcements. Samuel took a sip of hot, raspberry tea from his tall, black travel mug. His younger sister, Aletheia, had made it for him before he left for school early in the morning. Glancing up and to the right, he saw a few of his friends, parents, two younger sisters, and extended family, seated on the balcony chairs. Sweat exited the pores of his hands. He knew that they were here to support him, but somehow their presence made everything seem a little more nerve-wracking. He didn’t feel cold, but a nervous chill made the hairs on his arms stand erect, making him thankful for his suit.

“And I am now honored to introduce today’s speaker, Samuel Wade, presenting the research and conclusions of his dissertation on Polluted Speech, Free Speech, and the Preventable Depravity of Western Civilization. Samuel . . . .,” Charles beckoned Samuel forth.

Samuel rose, with portfolio folder in hand, and walked calmly towards the stage. Comforting applause drowned all other sounds in the room before Samuel spoke his first word.

“Thank you all for inviting me here today. This is truly an honor and privilege. Before I formally begin, a terse example of the fundamental idea behind my research is appropriate. Let’s imagine that the disposition of this room is very fresh, cool, and fragrant smelling. Actually, we don’t have to imagine, because, in fact, it does smell rather nice in here. Now say that I declare to you that this room is stuffy, smelly, and quite disgustingly humid. For those of you who are smart and intelligent, you would be quick and wise to call me out as misrepresenting the truth. Yet what about those who fail to think critically, and respect me far beyond doubt? Surely I have altered, in their minds, the “ethics” of weather laws. I have declared cool to be warm and fresh to be stale. It would seem that, as the room is not actually stuffy and stale, that it doesn’t make a big difference what I think and say. Yet it is not my words themselves that hold power, but the false interpretation of them that provokes the creation of ceaseless division and falsehood.”

Samuel’s words rolled on – the audience intrigued and captivated by them. It seemed to Samuel that the time passed by in a few minutes, yet it had been almost three hours, including the break. And now, as he had come, so he left, but the applause more passionate and voluminous. The faculty board had tried and questioned his ideas. He had answered. All the attendants, including Samuel, had been asked to exit the room as the decision was made as to whether or not he would be awarded his degree.

About forty-five minutes passed before a decision was reached and the people welcomed in again to that great domed room. As Samuel’s mother had expected the vote was 7-0 in his favor. Although a few small revisions needed to be made, Samuel was now done, ready to enter the world of journalism as a professional journalist.

Having been congratulated by the faculty members, his friends and family, Samuel headed out of the building towards the parking lot with his family. His mother had prepared a barbecue with much delicious food that was waiting at home. Samuel had looked forward with much joy to fellowshipping this day with his friends and family. He opened the car door for his mother, and then proceeded to walk with his two younger sisters, Rachel and Aletheia, to another lot where his own car was parked.

“See you at home!” He told his parents. His two younger sisters had insisted on coming with him, and he was glad for it. Wanting to have some fun, Samuel declared, “first one to the car gets shotgun and music selection!” His sisters looked at each other, smiled, and raced towards the car. From everyone’s perspective, it seemed like a tie, so a deal was made that whoever selected music had to sit in the back.

The happy bunch was eventually all buckled, and Samuel began driving towards home, passing familiar intersections and sights. He had made this drive at least a thousand times. Green-light. Go. Red-light. Stop. Samuel smiled at his sisters’ playful remarks and silly jokes.

“Knock-knock,” Rachel said.

“Who’s there?” Came the reply.

“Knock.”

“Knock who?”

“Knock you!” Laughter ensued, mainly because Rachel, who though her jest was extremely clever, burst out laughing. Red-light. Stop. Green-light. Go.

“I wish David was here,” Aletheia spoke softly.

“Me, too,” Rachel replied. “At least he’ll be home for Christmas!”

The car grew silent with thought. Red-light. Stop. Green-light. Go. But the car didn’t make it through the intersection. A blue pickup truck had blown a red-light and smashed the driver’s side of Sam’s silver Toyota Corolla. The air bags, front and rear, smashed forward with lightning speed. The car spun round, rearing into another accelerating car in the right lane. The bundle of vehicles slid to a halt. Stillness and silence followed.

 

 

 

 

 

AWAKENING PROLOGUE: The Dream

The sound of breath – consistent, nasally breath. A rising of the chest. A light pater of rain on the window. Stillness.

A hand. The hand of a man clenching another’s. A firm, unshaken grasp, as of two brothers knowingly hugging for the last time. The fingers squeezed tight. The fingers turned red. No sound. No smell. No other sight. Just a dry tongue and a stuffy nose.

The shattering of glass. No sight.

A gunshot. The smell of smoke. The piercing of skin. The spatter of blood. The taste of death.

The shuffle of a foot slowly approaching, dragging with each step. Such painful, slow movement. No smell. No taste.

The sound of a woman’s voice screaming to run. Such dreadful urgency.