I was in the process of writing another piece for someone else and found myself online searching for the definition of a specific word. It is funny how easy it is to find yourself running down a rabbit trail, and that is what happened to me. Yet, this time, it was a good rabbit trail that caused me to think, but even better was the fact that it helped me suddenly realize how extremely blessed I truly am. Now, don't get me wrong, because I have always been thankful for my blessings. God has been so good to me and I cannot thank Him enough for what He has done in my life. This was a different kind of realization that put such a gratefulness in my heart that it brought me to tears.
As I said before, I was online searching for a word and found myself on a question and answer site. Someone had asked a question about how God could possibly be around forever, never beginning and never ending, and the answers that were given were so hopeless and depressing that anyone (who did not know better) reading them would leave feeling like there was nothing to live for. So many people are thankful for their big screen tv's, their latest model of the Smartphone, or their new 2013 car, but folks, the truth is you cannot take any of that with you when you die. It all eventually becomes junk and ends up in a garbage heap outside of town. Where is the hope in all that?
I am here to testify how blessed I am to know that if was not for God:
1. I would not have my salvation, or a hope of a future in heaven with Jesus.
2. I would not be where I am today, with my Godly, wonderful husband of 14 years, and my five wonderful children that God has given me.
3. I would not be at the church we attend, where we have a Godly pastor, and lots of Godly, Christian friends.
4. I would not have three published books that only came about because of answers to prayer.
5. I would not have my God-given talents.
6. I would not have the inner peace I have inside that assures me that God is in control of everything.
7. The list goes on and on and on and on and on...you get the picture. :)
If it were not for God, man would not have a second chance in life, which means a second chance for eternal life. People cannot explain the existence of God so they simply write off what they cannot answer. If they have no scientific reason for something, it gives them an excuse to not think about it anymore. They label it foolish, ignorant, or just plain stupid. They say there is no proof of God, but all they need to do is look around them. God is everywhere. Even in the way their own bodies are able to heal a scratch, carry and deliver a baby, even grow a fingernail is proof there is a great Maker and Designer.
I am so thankful I was born into a Christian home, where I heard the Gospel from the time I was one year old. I am so thankful Jesus died on the cross to save me, and forgave me all my sins. Again, the list goes on for all that I am thankful for.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year with our families, let us all have thanksgiving inside our hearts, thanking the One and Only God Who made it possible for us to even be here in the first place.
Monday morning arrived. Nothing was said among the students at the school, though Anna noticed puzzled and unsure looks written all over her friends' faces.
After classes were over, Anna and Philip met in the library just like normal. Fifteen minutes passed and nobody showed up. Anna was beginning to wonder if everyone had been frightened away by the newspaper announcement. She glanced at Philip. "Do you think we should head out?"
Philip glanced at his watch. "No, let's wait a few minutes longer. The others might be on their way."
Right at that moment, Andy, Philip's best friend, walked in. Without a word, he sat down and set his Bible on the table. Slowly, one after the other entered the room and took a seat. Philip gave Anna a smile and stood up. It was his turn to lead the study so he had everyone turn to I John 4:18.
"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear; because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love."
Everyone remained silent as they meditated on the words before them, and then Philip continued. "We are all scared right now because of Saturday's article, but I believe what I just read is God speaking directly to us. He wants us to rejoice when we are persecuted. This is a time to test our faith and see where we stand! Count it all joy, my friends. The end times are closer now than ever before. Are you ready for Christ's return? He could come any day now, any minute!" Philip was getting excited and it spilled over onto the others. For fifteen minutes he encouraged his friends, until the door burst open and Mr. Wilkens, the school principal, ran into the room.
"What do you think you're doing?" he shouted. "I heard rumors that you were still meeting here, but did not think it was true! Are you crazy? Are you trying to get me into trouble? The papers clearly stated what will happen if you continued your foolish meetings. Get out, all of you! Right now!"
Philip nodded. "Yes, sir, we will go. There is no need to worry about us any longer." He turned to the others and motioned them outside. "We can meet elsewhere for now. Let's go outside."
Everyone stood up and filed out of the library. As they approached the exit door that led outside, Anna did a quick headcount and was surprised to count fifteen heads instead of the usual twelve. She wondered who the three extra people were that had joined their group.
Philip held the door open and everyone went out into the cold March air. It had begun to lightly snow and the snow was perfect for making snowballs. Andy threw the first one and hit Philip just as he closed the door of the school. The wet blob hit his neck and cold water dripped down his back.
"Yeow!" he hollered as the cold penetrated his skin. He set his books down, gathered a handful of snow, and formed a perfectly, round snowball. When the snow was packed good and hard, he sent the ball through the air towards Andy, who was busy making another snowball. It smacked him in the back. The game was on! Everyone joined in and did not notice the police cars as they pulled up next to them.
A whistle blew angrily. Anna stopped, expecting to see the principal again. She swallowed hard when she saw five policemen standing near the group, covered with snow. She let her snowball fall to the ground and prayed for strength. What was going to happen to them now?
"Who is the leader of this group?" demaned one of the policemen.
Philip stepped forward. "I am."
"I didn't realize you Christians ever had this much fun," he said in a cold voice, as he brushed the wet snow from his uniform. "I do hope you had your fill because I must inform you all that you are under arrest. Mr. Wilkens reported that a religious meeting was going on within his school. He ordered you to leave, but you did not fully leave his property. You knew about the new law, I assume?"
Philip nodded, "Yes, sir, but it said the law went into effect as of the first of April, not today."
"Are you questioning me? What difference does one day make? Knowing how you Christians think, you would be meeting tomorrow too, so we might as well get this over with. Men, arrest these teens!"
Anna felt someone roughly jerk her hands behind her back and felt the cold, metal of handcuffs snaps around her wrists.
"Sir, we will go without a fight. There is no need for handcuffs," she heard Philip say.
"We are not going to take any chances," the police officer said. "Cuff them all!"
Anna was shoved into the back of a police car, along with two other girls. They drove to the nearby police station. Once inside, their handcuffs were taken off and they were paired up into different jail cells. Anna found herself with a frail looking girl she did not recoginize. The girl sat down on the cot and began sobbing after the guard left them alone.
"I wanted to join your group today, but I arrived late with my brother Chris and our friend Mark. What is going on here? Why are they doing this to us?"
Anna sat down next to her and put her arm around the girl's shoulders. "It has to do with the new law. Christians are not to meet together at school, publicly, or even carry a Bible with them. No matter what happens, we must trust God. We are safe in Him, no matter where we go and what happens to us. He promised He will never leave us or forsake us."
"But how can I trust God when I don't even know Him? If there really is a God, how come He allowed us to get caught?"
"There are many things we don't understand, but there are times when He does it to test our faith, to see where we stand. He wants to see if we truly love Him. Remember, perfect love casts out fear, and God IS Love."
"You keep saying that. What if I can't trust Him?"
"All you need to do is believe in Him, ask Him to forgive you of your sins, and ask Him to come live in your heart."
"I...can't. At least not right now." She raised her tear-stained face and looked at Anna. "I don't feel very well. I need to lay down for a little while." Anna helped her lie down and put the thin blanket over her frail body.
"Sleep well, my friend," Anna said. "I will be praying for you."
The next morning, a guard hollered for them to get up, startling Anna from her sleep. She brushed her hair out of her face and stood up. The other girl was still fast asleep, but another shout from the guard brought her to her feet in a flash, eyes wide and scared.
"Time to get moving!" he commanded. He unlocked their door and handcuffed them as they came out. He led them down the bleak hallway and out the back door, where a truck was waiting. The bright sunlight blinded their eyes and Anna tripped on a rock in the alleyway. With a rough jerk, the guard caught her before she fell into the other girl. With another rough jerk, she was pulled into the back of the truck, where she found the rest of her friends already waiting. When everyone was in and the door was shut, the truck started up and took the group away.
Author's Note: This is a story I wrote when I was about fifteen years old. I am changing a few things, editing and polishing it as I go, but the main idea is the same.
Chapter One: The Mysterious Article
The tiny bird in the brown cuckoo clock popped out the door of his home, loudly announcing to all that it was eight o'clock, yet the girl in the rocking chair nearby did not even notice. Anna Livingston had just spotted an article in the paper and it had her transfixed, as if she was frozen in time. With wide eyes, Anna forgot where she was for a moment. Her mother entered the room with a cup of tea in her hand.
"Here you are, Anna," she said as she set the steaming cup down on the table beside her. "I figured some hot tea would help that cold of yours." She paused and took a good look at Anna's face. "Anna, are you all right? You are as white as a sheet!"
Anna glanced up with a look of one just waking up and tried to focus on her mother. "I'm okay, Mom. It's just that something in the paper this morning took me by surprise."
"I haven't read the paper yet, but it must be something very interesting. You didn't even hear me come into the room!"
"Thank you for the tea, Mom, but I don't have time to drink it," Anna said. "I need to run to Philip's and see if he has seen the paper yet." She stood up and handed the newspaper to her mother. "You can read this while I'm gone."
Mrs. Livingston took the paper from Anna and watched her rush out of the room. "Don't forget to take your winter jacket! It's cold outside!" she hollered, but was not sure if Anna heard. With a little sigh, she sat down in her daughter's vacant chair and scanned the paper. It did not take her long to find the medium size article at the bottom corner of the front paper. The blood drained from her face as the truth of what it meant hit her. Mrs. Livingston closed her eyes and felt the tears well up behind her eyelids. "Oh dear, Lord," she prayed. "Will You take our dear Anna away too? Please be merciful and spare us any more grief!"
The Livingston family had two children, though Anna was the only one living at home. Michael, who was three years older than Anna, had vanished a year ago, shortly after Anna had become a Christian. They had not heard from him in all that time. They had suffered a great deal of worry and doubt when they discovered him missing, but their faith in the Lord had remained strong through it all and they believed they would see him again someday.
Anna ran up the Barry's front steops and knocked. Philip answered the door. "Good morning, Anna, did you run all the way over here? You're all out of breath! Come inside and get warm!" Philip held the door open so Anna could enter the cozy sitting room. Bright sunlight streamed through the windows and a cat sitting in the warm rays blinked sleepily at her. Anna pulled a tissue out of her pocket and blew her nose.
"What brings you here?" asked Philip. He motioned for Anna to sit as he sat down in another chair opposite her.
"Did you happen to read the paper today?" she asked.
Philip nodded. "Yes, I did."
"Well, did anything unusual catch your eye? Like, maybe the article about the new law that is going to be enforced?"
"I saw it." Philip said casually. He noticed the worried look in Anna's eye and the unusually pale look in her cheeks. "Anna," he tried to encourage her, "This is a small town! Nobody is going to pay attention to what we do here!"
"Philip, if our small town paper chose to publish the article, then it must be a huge thing! Plus, even small towns are on the map. They also have people who hate God! Not everybody agrees with our Bible studies after school. Principal Evans only allowed us to meet because we have such a large group. What if he turned us in?"
Philip frowned. "Are you suggesting we cancel our meetings? Some of the teens that attend are new Christians. If we stop meeting because of the 'what if's', what is that going to say to them? That it is okay to back out at the first sign of trouble?"
Anna closed her eyes and tried to swallow the panic that threatened to choke her. When she opened her eyes, she noticed the picture over the couch, one that she never grew tired of looking at. It was a painting of a little boy trying to cross a log over a raging river. He was looking at a little girl on the other side, who's arms were stretched out toward him. At the bottom were the words, "Perfect love casteth out fear." I John 4:18.
"No, Philip, as much as I am afraid to continue, I also know we must not cancel the meetings. That would be like denying our faith in a way. Besides, the Lord has been blessing our meetings lately and He will give us the strength to continue. Your picture reminds me that if we have perfect love in our God, He will take care of us."
The article that was causing such a stir that morning was about a new law that had been passed to stop young people from spreading the Gospel. Many companies in the state had been complaining that their business had dropped because so many young people were getting 'religion.' The state claimed that as of April 1st, all school religious meetings, and any other related meetings run by teens would have to stop. If anyone was caught carrying a Bible around at school, they would be reported to the police.
Philip nodded. "Yes, God will take care of us. The first of April is Tuesday so let's plan on meeting Monday, just like we always do. We can discuss it with the others then."
"That is if anyone else comes on Monday. We must pray for the Lord's wisdom."
Anna walked home slowly, her mind a jumble of thoughts. As she entered her house she wondered how many more Saturdays she would be able to spend at home with her family. She had made up her mind not to change in any way, no matter what might happen. The very thought made her feel strange inside. If she focused on that feeling then panic threatened to take over, but when she thought about God's promises, the peace of God overcame the unsettled feelings.
Anna went into the kitchen and found her mother making some bread. She leaned against the counter and watched her mother knead the dough. They were both silent for a few minutes, absorbed in their own toughts until the buzzer on the stove broke their silence.
"Could you pull the pie out of the oven?" Mrs. Livingston asked Anna. "My hands are all sticky."
Anna grabbed a potholder and pulled out a steaming apple pie. It was her favorite. Anna knew her mother had made it just for her. She set it on the top of the stove to cool, and then walked to her mother and gave her a big hug. "We need to keep on as we have been," she informed her mother. We are going to meet on Monday and hopefully the others will show up. We will discuss it with everyone then."
Mrs. Livingston gave Anna a tender look. "I'm proud of you dear, but I don't want to lose you too! What could they possibly do with a bunch of Christian teenagers?" A tear trickled down her cheek.
"I don't know, Mom, but God will take care of us. I keep reassurring myself of God's love for me and no matter what, He will always be in control. Only believe."
A deep voice boomed from the hallway, "Well, don't I get a hug from my lovely ladies too?" Mr. Livingston, a tall, handsome man with silver streaked hair stepped into the room. Anna rushed over to him and gave him a big squeeze.
"Oh, Daddy, of course you do!"
"You're home early," remarked Mrs. Livingston as she greeted her husband.
"We finished the work ahead of schedule so I figured I would come home and do some work around the house." He glanced at their faces and sensed something was wrong. "Is everything okay?"
Anna glanced at her mom. "I am going to go upstairs for a bit. You can show him the paper, Mom."
Anna went to her room and knelt down beside her bed. She poured out her worries to the Lord and asked for strength in the oncoming days. While she prayed a thought kept coming to her mind. When she found she could not push it away she wondered if it was the Lord trying to tell her something. "Get your waterproof pocket."
Anna pulled a box out from under her bed and took out a pretty brown bag that was lined inside with a thick plastic lining. It was a something her grandmother had made her when she was younger, but she had never had any reason to use it. She looked at it confused. "What now, Lord?"
"Get your small Bible, needle, thread, scissors, matches, and a comb. Put them inside. Tie it around your waist and keep it on you at all times."
Without a word, Anna gathered the items up and stuffed them into the brown bag and closed the seal on the top. She slipped it around her neck and tucked it underneath her skirt and then looked in the mirror. Even with those items inside the bag, it did not make much of a bulge, and peace filled her heart.
Chapter Two: The Arrest (coming soon!)
As I sit here on my bed with a warm, little kitty on my lap, I cannot help but feel a little bit of sadness trying to creep into my heart. Last week at this time we were preparing for a gigantic storm to come blowing our way, and we were in the middle of making preparations for the worst possible scenario. Would we have enough food and water to last if we lost our power? Would we have enough candles and flashlights so we could make our way around a dark home? What about cooking and heating food? Did we have enough charcoal to use my hibachi if necessary? The list goes on. There seemed to be barely a minute to stop to take a breath. Then came the storm, which was not as bad as expected this far inland, though many others along the coast, New York, and New Jersey got hit really hard. I cannot even imagine what they must be going through and I pray they get the help and support they all need. Yet, we barely had even one limb fall to the yard. The biggest mess we had to clean up was the birch tree clippings Joe cut just so the tree in front of our house would not pull our lines down during the gale force winds. Even in the midst of that storm though, I stepped outside to watch the trees sway with each gust, and I noticed something very interesting. When the winds quieted down, it grew so still outside that I noticed crickets were still chirpping happily in the bushes all around the house. If one of God's creations could trust Him through such a storm, all the while singing praises to their Lord, why couldn't I sit back and trust Him through it all too? I slept well that night, not afraid of having a tree fall on our house. God would take care of us, just as He had through the last few storms.
I must admit I was kind of disappointed when we never lost power. We did not lose power through Hurricane Irene, nor did we lose power when the big snowstorm of October 2011 raged through here, so I did not really think we would lose power this time, but one could never be sure. The lights did flicker a few times, but that was it.
After that was the expectation of having my parents come down for the weekend. We still had school through the storm days, even though the private and public schools were out. I had already planned for my children to have Friday off so we could prepare for our company and did not want to take any more days off if we could help it. We struggled through the four day school week, the knowledge that others were not working at the moment making it a bit harder to keep going, but we made it to Friday. All day Friday we cooked, cleaned, and made the house sparkle and shine for our guests. The house smelled wonderful and all the prep work for meals was finished up. We could sit back, relax, and enjoy some family time.
It was a wonderful weekend, yet, as always, it seemed much too short a visit. After having lunch at Napoli's, we had to give our hugs and say goodbye as once again I watched my parents drive away. I am the only one of my siblings who left Vermont and moved away from the family. Fifteen years ago I met my husband and after six months of courtship, and another six months being engaged, we got married and I moved down to Connecticut to be with him. I often wonder why God called me so far from my family, but I also see that God's hand has been with me through all these years, molding me into who I am today. I miss my family and wish I could see them more often then I do. I wish they could come down more often then once a year and visit, and stay more than a few days. I desire a closer relationship with my siblings, one where we would keep in touch more often than just talking when I go up to visit two to three times a year. Yet, they have their lives and they are busy, just as I am. Am I doing something wrong? Should I be doing more than I already am, but then again, shouldn't a relationship be more than one sided? I love my family dearly. I pray for them and pray they will make the right decisions in their life. I pray for their spouses and my neices and nephew. I pray that one day we will be close again, with God at the center of our relationship.
So I sit here, cuddled up with my warm siamese, wondering why time has to fly so fast. Today is time change Sunday. We gained one more hour today that we did not have yesterday, but where did that hour go? My parents have come and gone. The weekend is almost over. No new storms are in the forecast (at least I don't think there are!) A new week is upon us, with projects to finish, and goals to work toward. Yes, there is a bit of a let down after such excitement is over, yet I should not focus on what has been. I need to set my eyes on what is ahead and ask the question, "What does God want me to accomplish this week?" There are plenty of things to look forward to, upcoming events to plan for, things to get ready for, and people to visit. I need to remember that even when the excitement is over, there is more excitement just around the corner. God has a plan for my life...for this week...even for this very day. May I focus on what He wants me to do and be joyful even in the little things, because it is true that there is never a dull moment in our home.