The World is Cold

I cannot grasp the chaos that struck a Texas church earlier this week. The news tightened around my throat like a vice as I stared at the headline. The words, “God, not again,” slipped out. While I sat in a sanctuary with my family worshiping my Father, exhausted and frustrated because of my post-daylight-savings-time toddler, another group of believers was facing its worst nightmare. Evil walked into the body of Christ’s most sacred place and got a three-pointer in the game between good and evil.tree-2898647_1920

Every American, Christian or not, asks why. Perhaps, God allowed this evil to happen because this country is experiencing His punishment and wrath for how we’ve ignored Him. But when I think of the innocent believers who were left helpless inside that church, it occurs to me that perhaps committed followers of Christ were simply caught in the crossfire of lies and hatred.

Unfortunately, in today’s culture we are forced to raise our children in a world where active shooters are ever-present. I mentioned to my husband that perhaps he should start carrying in church. Bringing a gun to church? Surely this is not the world my children live in. Surely there’s been some mistake. Surely God will not allow this.

In a world where chaos reigns and God is rejected, only one thing is sure. Surely the Lord will prevail. Amen! For this recurrent chaos may temporarily destroy our sense of security, but it cannot destroy our eternal rest. We cannot help but rejoice that those precious lives taken too soon and so violently are residing with the Savior of the world right now. They have no memory of their deaths or the hatred that took them, for all they can see is Jesus Christ. What a glorious sight that must be!

candles-2628473_1920Amid persistent violence, helpless, lost, fearful people are turning to God with repentant hearts. Even while Christians are being massacred, He can and will further His kingdom. Even the fiercest unbeliever cannot help but seek out comfort and will eventually recognize that God is the only one who can remove this fear. For those who seek Him, find Him. So, as Christians are dying on the floor of the world God created, this fear plays a role in the birth of a new Christian. This is certainly something to celebrate!

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Entombed in Indifference

When the time came, he was certain he would not care. It was undeniable. He had never cared. This would not be any different. When they told him the last day of his life the corners of his mouth jerked faintly, the only indication he’d ever given for a smile. He found it slightly humorous how they looked at him in disgust, some in pity, as if he cared. He really never troubled himself with anything at all. It would be a relief. The last day. On the day they stopped his breath, he would finally breathe.

 

He was shrouded in indifference; like a tomb it had settled its weight upon his soul, becoming more and more oppressive as the time passed.  It was an indifference that kills–literally. He never remembered, at any point in his life, really being sad or angry or happy, as if he had a thing to be happy about. All he recalls is indifference–absolute hollowness.. The hardship he experienced just made him harder, and the few who tried to help him–well, they generally withdrew with their spirits broken. He was void, void of anything, like a vacuum. When he finally found a place he belonged, his family of haters, the Bloods, they called him The Vacuum. He was pretty proud of that nickname. In fact, it continues to be his only source of pride.

 

He had, of course, been called other things throughout his life, particularly toward the end of his freedom: a monster, a wretch, a villain. His favorite was vicious, heartless piece of crap. That one was really meant to get to him, so he relished it the most, imagining the satisfaction on the face of the daughter of the dead man as she pictured him shuddering from her harsh words. Oh how they all thought he’d care, care about something. He didn’t. His lawyer had begged him to “pour out his soul” to the jury in an apology for his actions. Pour out his soul. In order to pour out your soul, you have to have one. His lawyer, Mr. Trayton, was a pretty respectable, powerhouse type of guy, but when he said that to him, he was sure some fear flooded his eyes. Fear was always showing up in the eyes of those who neared him.

 

His only complaint would be the amount of time between his conviction and his death. It was an endless, infinite, brutal amount of time. He would sit in solitary, staring at the wall, hoping for the days to pass. There were no clocks within 100 yards of him, but he was sure he could hear the seconds ticking by, slower than the life of his boss ebbed away. That damn boss of his was a tough one to kill, like a coon.

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***

 

Solitary. It is an emotionless man’s worst nightmare. The Vacuum not only lacked emotion, he lacked imagination. Therefore, he often felt his sanity dripping away like the leaky faucet in his cell. When the guard would bring by his meal three times a day, he tried desperately to get him to stay longer than the four seconds it took to feed him. Farmers allotted more time to feeding their pigs than the guards to feeding him.

 

“Where’s your tray?”

 

“Why don’t you come get it?”

 

“If I come get it, you’ll spend the next month recovering.”

 

He always reveled in the guard’s attempt to intimidate him.

 

“I’ll take my chances.”

 

“I want to see your tray up here within 30 seconds or I will beat you bloody, you scumbag.”

 

“Now that’d be a sight to see.”

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The Vacuum held his breath as the guard trumped back down the hall, his lack of power infuriating. When The Vacuum realized he had given up and wasn’t coming back, his face fell. He loved interacting with the guards, like when he would trip kids in Kindergarten, just to get the teacher to look his way. No one ever looked his way. He didn’t care. He never cared. The indifference just bred within him–a fungus–growing in the shadows of his soul.

 

***

 

He remembers reading “The Crucible” in high school. He can honestly say that is the only piece of writing he has ever enjoyed, since he’s never been able to read on his own. “The Crucible” was a decent unit, though, because the class read it together and listened to it on tape. It fascinated him– the way normal human beings can turn on one another with no remorse. It made him wonder how anyone could expect him to have remorse, when the most respectable of people don’t seem to have it.

 

The desperation of those on trial made him laugh. He was constantly trying to stifle his laughter in the back row, earning dirty looks from the teacher every few minutes. At the end of the play, his teacher explained to the class how each of the guilty were killed. He will never forget Giles Corey, a kind, elderly man who tried to protect his wife but got them both killed instead. Giles was pressed to death. With each stone laid upon his chest, he was expected to confess to witchcraft, but instead simply said, “More weight.” Eventually the weight of the boulders crushed him. The Vacuum still probably thinks about Giles at least once a day. He is Giles. The weight of his indifference presses in around him, but he just smiles and says, “More weight.”

 

The only real difference between him and Giles is that Giles was innocent.

 

***

 

Three days. Three days left of his life. Then, it would all be over. His soul and his body would finally become one–dead. In just three days. He did not think he would care. As the day got nearer, the emotions began to scream inside of him, like choked, tortured beings. He did not recognize them at first. He did not understand where they came from, always assuming he’d been born without them. They were getting louder.

 

His fear was like night, when it is so dark that you’re not sure if your eyes are open or closed.

 

His remorse was like a knife–the harder he tried to pull it out, the deeper it penetrated.

 

His grief was like quicksand, when you’re whole body has succumbed to its might except your mouth and nose.

 

His loneliness was like a scream, muffled yet strong, fighting to the surface, impossible to ignore.

 

“Where’s your tray?”

 

“I… I wanna know what my…my rights are.”

 

“Your rights?”

 

“Like I get a last meal…Do I get anythin’ else?”

 

“You can request visitation from a reverend. He will bring you the Holy Bible, which I’m sure you will find a way to burn. You are welcome to write letters and send them to whomever you choose. I doubt any recipient will open them.”

 

“A reverend?”

 

“You know, like a pastor? Idiot.”

 

His words came out like soup, hot and slow, “I would…I would like to maybe talk with one of them.”

 

“You’re kidding?”

 

He could still hear the guard’s laughter when he reached the end of the hall. The Vacuum’s skin was itchy. He felt like stepping out of it and leaving it in the corner.

 

***

 

The Vacuum had given up talking to a reverend. He had 24 hours left. The knock came after his evening meal had been picked up. He sensed the height of the moon and the thick, Louisiana night air.

 

“Step back and hold your arms out,” the guard harshly announced his presence.

 

The chains on his body felt heavier than the chains around his soul as he padded down the hallway to an inky, cold room. A small man stood in the corner with his hands folded in front of him. Perhaps, it is Giles Corey, coming to take me to Hell. The Vacuum considered this absurdity for a moment before he was forced into a chair by three men. The men did not leave, but stepped back into the shadows as the small man stepped into the dim, yellow light.

 

He stood there for an uncomfortable moment, looking down at The Vacuum. Instead of sitting down in the chair across from him, the reverend removed the chair and brought it to the same side as him, now both their backs were to the guards.

 

Idiot. Thought The Vacuum.

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The reverend’s voice was muted and warm, “Can you tell me your name?”

 

“You know my name. I’m notorious.”

 

“I would like you to tell me anyway so we could get properly introduced.”

“I’m Giles. I don’t give a damn what yer name is.”

 

“I’m Simon Paltron.” The Vacuum was immediately irritated the way the small man acted as if he did not even hear him.

 

“I said I didn’t care.”

“I heard you,” The Vacuum’s muscles settled slightly into the chair. “Do you know Jesus, Giles?”

 

“I know he is a friend of morons who have nothin’ better to do than believe in fantasy.”

 

“If you truly believe this, why am I here?”

 

The Vacuum was unsure of how to answer this question. He was not sure there was an answer. His emotions. They were eating him from the inside out. He thought perhaps a reverend could smother them once and for all.

 

“I…I guess… I’m feelin’ things I ain’t never felt and I know you dudes’re trained in stuff like that.”

 

“What have you been feeling, Giles?”

 

“Just stuff.”

 

“Perhaps, you feel pain? Remorse? Sadness?”

 

“I guess.”

 

“Did you know it doesn’t have to be this way, Giles?” The Vacuum hated the way the small man kept using his name.

 

“Doesn’t have to be what way?”

 

“You don’t have to be in pain. You can find freedom.”

 

The Vacuum chortled as he looked around his world of stone, which would soon become a world of darkness.

 

“Giles, will you do me the courtesy of listening to a Bible verse for one moment?”

 

“I guess.”

 

“I will read from 2 Corinthians 3:17, ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’”

 

“Sounds like crap ta me. I don’t know no Lord.”

 

“Giles, He knows you. He is waiting for you to confess your sins to Him. He wants you to join Him in heaven tomorrow night.”

 

“Why the hell would He want that?”

 

“He created you. You are His child.”

 

“I ain’t never been no one’s child.”

 

“You have always been His child and He will always be your Father. If you die tomorrow night without repenting, you will spend eternity separated from Him, in Hell.”

 

“Sounds good ta me. I deserve Hell.”

 

What the small man said next took The Vacuum by surprise, “Yes, you do deserve Hell and so do I.”

 

For the first time, The Vacuum took his eyes off the table and glanced at the small man, whose green eyes gazed at him with something unrecognizable. It wasn’t pity or hatred, the looks he was so familiar with. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but it unnerved him in the same way his emotions were tearing at him.

 

He expected the small man to go on, but instead Simon just sat back in his chair and surveyed The Vacuum. The Vacuum looked straight across the table at the wall on the other side of the room, he observed a spider making his way toward the vent and tried to focus on it. He could feel the small man’s eyes on him; his skin was itching again; he wanted to wipe that look off the small man’s face with one effortless motion of his arm. One hit–that is all it would take for such a small, fragile creature. One hit and he wouldn’t have to take any more of this.

 

Suddenly, the small man spoke, startling The Vacuum. “Giles, do you mind if I pray for you?”

 

“I don’t believe in prayers.”

 

“That’s okay. I will believe enough for the both of us.”

 

What the small man did next almost pushed The Vacuum over the edge. He scraped his chair against the stone floor, the sound echoing up to the corners of the room, and put his hand upon The Vacuum’s forearm.

 

His hand was soft and clammy; it had a slight tremor to it, perhaps due to fear or old age. For the first time in his life, The Vacuum hoped it was old age and not fear. He touched him in a way that signalled to The Vacuum that he did not see the chains on his body. He saw the human being under them, maybe he even saw his soul, too. The Vacuum knew this was nonsense, but the warm touch of the small man’s hand was seeping the logic away from him.

prayer

As Simon began to pray, the prisoner noticed the way he lowered his head and closed his eyes. The Vacuum did the same, not wanting to look stupid. He could no longer see Simon, but he could picture the words bumping against his skin and landing upon his clothes, becoming part of him. Words like forgiveness, heart, love, nearness, peace, and acceptance. These were the types of words The Vacuum always repelled like an alcoholic repels self-control. He didn’t understand everything Simon said, but Simon’s voice had a language of its own. His voice was tranquility; the meaning of the words hardly mattered.

 

For 8 long years, The Vacuum had only thought about time, in a place where seconds acted more like days. During Simon’s prayer however, The Vacuum forgot the existence of time. Simon perhaps prayed until morning, maybe it was only a few minutes. The Vacuum devoured his words the way an orphan does attention. Simon spoke and The Vacuum drank and drank and drank, his words more like water than sound waves.

 

When Simon began reading from the Bible, The Vacuum began to rock back and forth, slightly, swinging to the melody inside his body. His emotions had quieted; his hatred had shriveled like a flower without nourishment; God’s peace breathed into his hollow, desolate soul.

 

***

 

Simon’s voice had gained strength and passion by the time he said, “In Jesus’ Holy name, Amen.” He had moved to a kneeling position beside the prisoner’s chair.

 

Amen echoed throughout the room and throughout the prisoner’s body–he did not look up; he did not open his eyes; he did not cease rocking back and forth.

 

Both of Simon’s hands were on him now and the silence was creating something inside the room. Simon’s voice was gone now, but it was God’s who continued to speak to the prisoner.

 

Eternity passed through the room when the prisoner finally spoke, now even the guards bowed their heads.

 

“Jesus, fergive me. I need lots of healing. I’m a nasty, gross sinner, but I want a Savior. I didn’t know you died fer me. I woulda confessed long time ago had I known that. I want to see you–man to man– tomorrow night. I ain’t got nothin’ to hide. I wanta fergive myself. Please, Jesus, I need you. Please come into my empty stuff and get rid of the hate and the monster–replace all that with yer love. I need you. I need you. I need you. I need you.”

 

Like the loathing used to pour from him, those final words continued to pour from the prisoner’s mouth as the tears, the first in years,  poured from his eyes. Simon allowed it to continue for some time, then, he stood up, placed his hands on the prisoner’s shoulders, and whispered into his ear, “The Lord forgives you. The Lord loves you. You can rest comfortably in this inarguable fact.”

 

***

 

After more prayer and Bible reading, Simon finally stood back to allow the guards to transport the prisoner back to his cell. Simon had laid the Bible into the prisoner’s hands urging him to read it throughout the night and gain all the knowledge of the Lord that he could.

 

“I ain’t able to read,” the prisoner admitted for the first time in his life.

 

“With God, all things are possible. Believe in Him and He will show you the way.”

 

The prisoner immediately missed Simon’s eyes, the moment he turned from him to float out of the room.

 

“Hold up a sec,” he said as he turned toward the small man. “Simon,” the prisoner paused insecurely, “My… my name is… is… Thomas.”

 

Noticing the sudden change in the man’s eyes before him–like a veil had been pulled away, Simon replied, “It is remarkable to meet you, Thomas.”

Living Outside the Cocoon

She will never forget the first time she heard his name. She was 12 years old, and had seen on the news that the Americans were celebrating his birthday. They all looked so joyful and she became immediately curious as to why this man’s birthday was so important. It took her weeks, but she finally gained enough courage to bring it up to her father.

 

“Papa, who is Jesus?”

 

“Silence, my child. Where did you hear of that name?”

 

“I saw it on the news, Papa.”

 

“My dear girl, you are to never watch the news. It is breaking the Islamic code for a young lady to poison her mind that way. The Americans are ignorant. That is all you are to understand about them.”

 

“I know, Papa. I’m sorry.” She felt a desperate urge to try one more time, “But, who is he?”

 

“He is a prophet that we are to honor. Nothing more. Nothing less. Now, be quiet and go help your mother.”

 

A prophet that we are to honor. Nothing more. Nothing less. Dilek had always trusted everything that her father told her, but she couldn’t help but wonder why she had never heard of Jesus. If he was nothing more than a prophet, she should have learned about him in her study of the Quran like she had of Harun, Ibrahim, and Adam.

quran

***

 

She is a little girl again. Her hijab is hanging in her bedroom, and she is free. A song is playing that she has never heard before, “Silent night, Holy night, All is calm, All is bright…”

 

As the music fills the room, she lies on her stomach staring at a dazzling light, like a star. The star is blotted out by the shape of a cross. It casts a shadow on the porcelain figurines below. There is a small baby in a manger and a woman in blue standing above him. A man is standing next to the woman reaching down toward the baby.

 

She awoke to the sound of gunfire in the distance. She looked out her bedroom window, which faced south, and saw flashes of light. When she listened intently, she thought she could hear the sound of hatred being hurled back and forth between the Americans and the rebels of her own country.

 

Her eyes settled closed once again and she tried desperately, yet unsuccessfully, to recreate her dream in her subconscious.

 

***

 

As Dilek neared adulthood, she was becoming more and more conscious of her loneliness, her emptiness. Every morning when she would dress in hijab, it felt like crawling into a cocoon that nothing and no one could penetrate. She would talk with her mother and sisters throughout the day, and sometimes her girlfriends would come over to visit, but what no one could see was that she never smiled. She was pretty sure her mother had also found rest in perpetual sorrow.

 

Each day, she would watch her mother’s eyes very intently as they worked endlessly on chores, attempting to detect a smile. Sometimes, to test it, she would even tell her mother a joke. She waited for the corners to twist upward, pulling her mother’s naturally round eyes into a tighter oval shape, but she never saw it.

 

No one ever smiled. Except her sisters, who seemed to be oblivious of all emotion. She constantly fought a thought she knew was like a malignant cancer to her faith. Perhaps, the women were forced to wear hijab so everyone could ignore the fact that they were miserable.

muslim

As Dilek walked to the market the morning after the dream, she could not erase it from her mind. It wasn’t the strangeness of the magnificent figurines or the unfamiliar music that had struck her hardest, however. It was the appearance of her face in the dream. It had such a ridiculous smile plastered to it, that Dilek, now quite distant from the dream, wasn’t even sure if it was her face.

 

***

 

“H-Hey Ma?”

 

With a sigh, her mother clatters the dishes into the sink with significant exaggeration. “Yes? What is it?” Her mother had always been a brusque woman.

 

“Um…Have you ever heard of Jesus?”

 

Fear immediately replaced irritation in her mother’s eyes as she rushed toward her daughter, grabbing her by the shoulders.

 

“Sh, my child, you must hush. Why on earth are you asking me such questions?”

 

“I just… I was wondering why I have never been taught anything about him.”

 

“You are a woman, Dilek. Your duty is to your father and then to your husband. You are in no position to wonder.”

 

“But…”

 

“Enough. We will speak no more of this. Jesus is nothing.”

 

Her mother hastened from the room like she were afraid of catching something contagious, as if curiosity could kill.

 

***

 

Dilek walked to the market every morning. She was the best at getting the most for the small portion of money her parents were able to set aside each day for the evening meal.

 

Crossing the path of American soldiers on her journey was so commonplace that she barely noticed them anymore. The hatred and disgust flowing from them was so oppressive that she never even bothered to look up when she would see camouflage approaching.

 

It had been months since the dream, and thoughts of Jesus had been pushed to the back of her memory. She considered bringing him up to her best friend for awhile, but the way her parents reacted to her, made her scared.

 

She lowered her eyes to their usual position as she approached some American soldiers. The rocks below her bounced to the rhythm of her step.

 

“Excuse me, ma’am?”

 

The blood rushed to her head and her hands began to shake as she slowly lifted her eyes from the ground. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed soldier was standing before her holding a pice.

 

“I think you dropped this, miss.”

 

Oh, Dilek, move. Move your hand. Take the coin. Walk away. Move, Dilek. Move.

 

“Um…. Th-th-thank you.”

 

“You’re welcome. God bless you and may Jesus keep you safe.”

 

As he turned away, she finally gained enough courage to look at him directly. A piece of silver hung around his neck and it tossed a glimpse of light back toward her, the shape of it was unmistakable, a cross.

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***

 

God bless you and may Jesus keep you safe. God bless you and may Jesus keep you safe.

 

The words had been a constant echo in her mind for some time now. Everywhere she went, she looked for the blonde-haired, blue-eyed soldier. She knew he would tell her of Jesus. She just knew it.

 

She had ruthlessly battled vicious thoughts against her Islamic faith for what seemed like an eternity. If her parents found out the things she was thinking, she would most surely be shunned, maybe even killed, if the Taliban heard of it. She thought if she could just satisfy her curiosity, things would be better.

 

Today, she would rush through the market in order to have time to go to the local library. She made sure to wear her most respectable looking hijab, so no one would suspect her of wrongdoing. Women were not supposed to read, or wonder. Her father, however, had taught her to read when she was very young, before the Taliban. “A book can take you away from here, my darling,” he had said with tears in his eyes, causing her to wonder what could be so bad.

 

She knew she would find Jesus in the Holy Bible. People reacted to this book in the same way they reacted to Jesus’ name, with terror. The clerk eyed her intently when she brought it to the counter to check out; she was so thankful the librarian was a woman, one of the few that still worked outside the home.

 

As she handed it back over the counter, the librarian whispered, “Be careful,” and held the book for a second longer than was necessary.

 

“Yes, ma’am” Dilek responded as she rushed out of the building.

 

On her way home, she kept checking behind her, convinced she had heard the footsteps of the Taliban on her heels.

 

***

 

She read. All day and all night she read about the man named Jesus. She read of his life, his death, his resurrection. She even read of his return–despite the storm of fear that it created inside of her.

 

She had to read beneath her blanket using a flashlight she had borrowed from a friend, being careful not wake her siblings, but for three nights, she never blinked, she never questioned, she never tired. The words of Christ were feeding her thirsty soul and slowly filling up the emptiness she had grown used to.

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She made sure to continue in her sorrow during the day, so no one would sense the joy that was growing inside of her.

 

On the fourth night, she cried. Her tears poured out of her from a place much deeper than her emotions; they came from a place she was unaware of until this Holy Bible worked its way into her hands.

 

“Jesus, I-I can’t. Help me. Please. I’m Muslim. Allah is my king. Please. Jesus. Don’t take me away from Allah.”

 

As the sun peeked over the horizon, Dilek had quieted herself enough to think reasonably and all she thought of was John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”

 

Dilek had lived in fear all her life–fear of failure, fear of suicide bombers, fear of death. The Islamic life she lead was a prison with guards who forget to feed the prisoners; she was starving for freedom. She knew all that mattered was Jesus. With Jesus, she would welcome the death that was sure to follow.

 

She could hear her mother moving around in the kitchen when she finally whispered, “Jesus, I love you. I’m yours. You have saved my life. Please, be my Christ forever.

 

***

 

As she walked to the market that morning, she no longer looked over her shoulder, and when the American soldiers approached, she walked boldly passed them, checking each of them top to bottom for a silver cross.

 

The Savior of the world loves her. The Savior of the world will come for her. She has nothing to fear. She was so grateful that Jesus had pursued her heart, tormenting her until she finally succumbed to her curiosity.

 

With an elusive smile on her face, she was weeding through the fruit at the front of the store when it hit her. First, she smelled it, like smoldering meat; the flash of light that came next was so intense it knocked her from her feet; the sound deafened her instantly, transporting her to another world, one of total silence. Finally, the pain overtook her, startling her, even though she had been expecting it. As her life ebbed away, peace enveloped her and her grimace slowly altered into a smile because of what she now knew to be true: Jesus was coming.