THE TRENCHES & THE BLISS, 2016
Then He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I replied, “Lord GOD, only You know.”
— Ezekiel 37:3, The Holy Bible
One night passed, and then another day. My stomach had given up its demands and my tongue was beginning to surrender to the roof of my mouth. A stain of dried blood showed beneath the bandage on my side. The weather was beginning to press its uncomfortable coolness against my skin when I heard the sudden mechanical whirr of the cell door sliding open. A guard stood at the entry and we examined one another with keen eyes.
My examination didn’t venture far from his face; that is how one comes to know man and beast, after all. He was burly but it was the depths of his darkened eyes that first took me; cinnamon in color, his eyes strode into the room before him with all of the confidence of a passion that subdued mere mortals with the very self-assured knowledge that it believed nothing in common with their mortality. They were frightening and admirable all at once — an admission I preferred to bury. What might have been a beard was instead a bold tattoo of half-circles crashing around his jawline like burly waves. He held something in his right hand that he tossed at me.
“Put it on,” he said. “Ten seconds.”
The door closed between us.
I lost two seconds just knowing I would not complete the task in ten. I chose to attempt the change in the dirt. I was sitting in my underwear wrestling with the QPUB, grey, cotton pants when the door whirred open again.
He did not hesitate this time, but entered my cell and pulled me up by an arm.
“Stand up!” he shouted.
I grunted, wincing as he pulled. It was no use fighting; I knew that much. So, I stood in the pain — small lightening bolts zinging up my leg and a dull throb stretching across my core.
“I told you to be done in ten seconds!” His thick, wide hand rocketed across my face.
I did not reply — I could not. My vision had blurred and my face was still pulsing. My words were lost, scattered by the hit.
He pushed me and I tripped over my attempt to put on the pants, which fell off entirely as he yanked me up again and pushed me outside of the cell into a dimly lit hall where another guard waited to cuff me; then the first guard — Burly — escorted me outside.
Not many wore pants, as this right seemed confined to the guards and other QPUB staff. There were three distinct lines of prisoners — trainees, they called us — and a fourth disheveled line of foot traffic behind us; all of the trainees were bared down to their underwear. I wouldn’t have my shirt long.
We were standing in a courtyard under the open, night sky. The modern quadplex towering around us had a sterile glow in the white moonlight. A glow of yellow lit the windows at the front of my line — the one in which Burly had left me. There were at least twenty men ahead of me.
A small flicker drew my attention to a shallow inlay of brass in the middle of the courtyard about eight to ten feet on my right and about that long; it was maybe four feet wide. It had filled with water during the last rain, I assumed, being about two inches depressed from the pavers. The moon was reflecting upon it.
I had lost all interest in the small pool when two guards suddenly thrust a cuffed, older man face down into it and walked away. The man gurgled, then rocked side to side, as if trying to turn over, but something prevented him — an unseen injury perhaps.
“Help,” he moaned, as his face dipped in and out of the water.
I looked around at the other trainees. Few seemed to notice, and the ones who did, looked as betwixt as myself — knowing better than to help yet wholly uncomfortable with the scene.
“I’m drowning!” He half screamed, half sputtered. His head bobbed, up and down. He had already given up rocking.
Finally, three trainees from line three, just on the other side of the pool, seemed to take an interest, and this is what I overheard:
“I think he’s drowning,” said a voice with a feminine quality.
“I don’t think so; it’s like an inch of water,” a definite male laughed.
The older man gurgled again and kicked his legs.
“Help him!” the feminine voice insisted.
“He needs to turn his head or roll over,” said a voice of indifference.
“It’s only two inches of water,” replied the definite male.
“You can drown in one inch and he thinks he’s drowning,” the feminine voice persisted.
“Exactly: he thinks he is; that doesn’t make it so,” said indifference again.
“He’s gurgling and kicking his legs!”
“Why doesn’t he just turn over?”
“What an idiot.”
“He’s turning blue!”
“I’m not helping him; it’s two inches deep.”
“He’s faking; it’s all in his head.”
A small moment of silence passed amongst the conversationalists before the feminine spoke again:
“He’s dead… You let him drown.”
“You let him drown too,” returned the man.
“How could you?”
“’How could you’? You didn’t do anything either,” replied the apathetic one.
I tore my eyes away and fixed them back on the yellow lights ahead, but every cell of my body was locked up. A billion arrows the size of needles were shooting across my upper back, taking aim at vague darkness, undefined shadows and encrypted threats, but I straightened my back nonetheless. I would not let them break me. I would not let them…
My stomach fell eighty dollhouse floors —
It was just a thought —
It was just a whisper of a thought —
I tried to silence it with the rod of my backbone, but I could not reason it away —
I, too, had let the man die.
I didn’t do anything either.
I could reason that I might compromise myself in trying and what was the use? But when I thought that might be me someone reasoned away some dreary evening, my reasons felt less valid.
My thoughts shook my head, side-to-side. I only wanted to hear the buzz of the lights coming from the covered walkway beside me and the steady song of the crickets rising from the endless fields beyond the quad, but my mind held fast the accusation. It railed at me.
I knew I would be no match for ‘training’ if I entered with an already disturbed mind. I tried to fight, but the night was all-encompassing and dark, and my resistance had been long ago weakened by heavier blows to the heart.
The same two guards dragged the drowned man off into the darkness and no one said any more words about it.
This work-in-progress (WIP) is like reading a first draft. There will be inconsistencies and oversights because it hasn’t been through a proper editing phase yet. Fair warning. I always welcome feedback; it makes my job easier in the end.
Rereading this story has been unnerving because of how each chapter, I find, mirrors some current sentiment of a spiritual trench for me again. Nonetheless, the story is incomplete… like my life. Ha. (Thank God for that.)
I will eventually run out of chapters and have to start writing again. I haven’t yet. But I will. This is my challenge to myself I guess.
This is what I call one of my “course” stories. We will plunge the depths; don’t expect the sanitized or sanctified here. But we will pull it back out on top like a good Psalm of David.
Here is my heart in this endeavor: To reach out into the world and compel the one lost sheep. In the real world, most of my interactions happen amongst the 99. But in fiction, my burden is often different, often outside of church contexts…
In the end, we all meet the Maker and have a choice to make. Better (pained) now than (pained) later, dear soul.
So, walk with me… through the trenches and the bliss. That’s where you’ll find me.
(Missed the beginning? Chapter 1 is here.)
“We will need great courage because we will be required to take risks when we step out in faith into what we’ve seen and heard from the Lord. We will never take that step if our hope rests on experiencing another great event, like waiting for the next wave of revival to sweep in or a prophet to call us out and give us a word.
We must take personal responsibility to strengthen every weak place and break our agreement with fear. We must become the ongoing manifestation of revival and stop waiting for outside circumstances to line up with our dreams. We do this by giving thanks and rejoicing, praying as He prays, meditating on promises and testimonies, and associating with people of faith — not just when others around us are doing so, but continuously, as a lifestyle…
We are fully equipped for victory, not because we have a formula that always works, but because God is with us and within us.”
Bill Johnson, Strengthen Yourself In The Lord, pg 162-163
[Penned in 2009, Columbia, South Carolina]
I feel caught between social spiritual whiplashes.
In one corner, I engage the sincere CIU (Columbia International University) bubble. I think they took 1 Peter too literally in identifying as a “peculiar” people. They exist in two camps: One walks in and out of drunken stupors of ultra spiritual experiences — casting out devils because it is such a high. The other camp simply takes God at His Word — no need for those fickle feelings — and Bible-thumps the street corners of 5-points, casting fleshly devils, sinful men and women, beneath the full weight of the law.
In the other corner of the bubble, the Anti-Bubble bubble. They smoke; they drink; they cuss when telling really tall tales, because they seem to understand what the other corner doesn’t; namely, that they will never measure up — so why try? That’s what grace is all about to them. Besides, when was the last time you met someone who was saved because of a Bible-thumper? Or greater still, when was the last time you met one that didn’t have more the disposition of a devil than a real human being?
Two extremes. I know. These two extremes forming my observations are the cause of this whiplash. And I identify with neither group.
I went to a bar for the first time in my life tonight. Ha! That is humorous really. How old am I anyway? (28.) Well, it was in 5-points and as charming as I would suppose a bar could be… but still, just a bar.
I am like a social virgin waiting to be sacrificed to so many worldly gods; that is how I felt — a fish out of water, as I fumbled through the process of paying a cover charge, showing ID, and ordering a Shirley Temple. (Cute, aren’t I?) Even the waitress noticed. She was so sweetly amused with my oddness that she refused to charge me for my drink. (Maybe she thought I was the designated driver…)
Yep. I was invited by the Anti-Bubble bubble.
And this one thing struck me as the rather miserable evening came to a close…
I didn’t mind the smoke, the girls smoking cloves at the table with me. I didn’t mind the drinks; had I not worked for a church at the time, I might have joined them, but my former pastor, James, has beaten a thing into my head about that over the years; I just couldn’t. And while there were things — behaviors, relationships — that yet disturbed me, I can’t change people. So, I took them in stride without surprise or caution.
But this one thing struck me with sadness long after the smoke had settled in some crevice of my head…
It wasn’t the self-justification and rationalization that was taking place, tightly woven throughout each conversation. It wasn’t the stark contrast of the behaviors I beheld when held next to the spiritual backgrounds and occupations held by these girls or even the strangely placed references to past missions trips while sitting in a bar. No, these things left no lasting impression. I entertained myself with people-watching: my table was no less fascinating than the rest of the room.
There is, however, this one thing I cannot erase, this one thing I felt to my core — this one thing that strangled me as the night closed. And that one thing was simply the mention of His name or, rather, how Jesus’ good name was trampled upon.
So easily discarded. So flippantly suggested. So casually stamped across their many excuses. It was as if His name landed in foreign territory as it crossed their professing lips. “Good Christian girls” and “but she loves Jesus” were the catchphrases that came to justify every sketchy ill already spoken at the table.
And it struck me. It seems that the Anti-Bubble bubble has forgotten the holiness of God.
“Be ye holy as I am holy.”
Do not revere the bubbles or even the Church — fine. But to slight God, to treat Him and His name so irreverently on account of these idols of thought? That, for me, is enough to cause me to tremble again in my own walk.
There is no other name. And there is no name so precious.
What both extremes, the corners and the bubbles, lack is the crux of the Gospel, the work of the Cross:
Without love, you have nothing.
Without being set apart by that love, you have no witness.
I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.John 15:9
Thou stayedst for the first world, in Noah’s time, one hundred and twenty years; thou stayedst for a rebellious generation in the wilderness forty years, wilt thou stay no minute for me? Wilt thou make thy process and thy decree, thy citation and thy judgment, but one act?
— John Donne, Devotions
THE TRENCHES & THE BLISS, 2016 (WIP)
(Chapter 1 can be found here.)
Pity the fools born into cheerful homes believing that humanity is a halo with but a bit of tarnish they can affect, if not remove! This category of soul is generally confined to those newly discarding the leash of their parentage, who have neither the calloused feet of experience nor the brow lines of unspoken anger; for these, life is but a delightful tumble down the hole with Alice. I pay these no mind as they scratch across my dry bones: they simply have not yet hit the wall nor the bottom; but these indelicate blows come to all.
The numb have learned the reasonableness of silence and the epic futility of hope; they have learned that humanity is the incurable rust eating away at the cosmic halo — that annoying glimmer of good that persists in lining the upper-crust of our galaxy’s rippled bands, if only for the sake of denying mankind just cause for wallowing in complete darkness and suicidal tantrums.
“He suspended divinity to join this dismal lot,” my mother used to say. “Would you now condemn Him by this one scene in your plot?”
Her voice laced my every conscious thought. I did not possess her abundant grace.
Cherith stroked the cords of my memory as she used to stroke my hair: “There, there, Richy; let the Fates decide it. Why should humanity bear their burdens?”
My chest heaved in and out.
My head began to spin — “AAAAARRGGGHHHH!”, I cried, exhausting my core.
The voices were endless.
I looked around the empty room. There was nothing except the dirt floor belittled by beige, painted, cinder block walls. The creepiest things were vague: a stain, a silhouette, a feeling, something misplaced; a dread, a noise, a thought, my own mortality in sight. I had the creepy feeling that I was being watched — physically, mentally, and emotionally dissected through the unseen lens of someone else’s privilege.
“Calloused bastards!” I shouted at the walls.
The room was longer than it was wide with one very small window my fingertips could reach at one end if I balanced just right over the toilet hole in the ground, but I had lost my balance a few scenes back. The window had three stout bars. Today, a cheerful blue sky toyed with me between the lines — lines it used to measure bubbly notes, daring me to do the same. I refused to play with it.
Duty nor that cult of positivity had served me well; I was betrayed doing all I could and I was betrayed at the very height of my optimism.
“Nowhere to go but up” —
“It will be okay” —
“Keep your chin up” and “God won’t give you more than you can bear” —
“Keep the faith” —
“Speak to that mountain” —
“Be positive; things will change” —
“Trust God” —
“What doesn’t kill you” —
Yes, I heard them all.
What a lousy lot of friends I had back then. All good Christian men full of themselves and emboldened by blessings. Well, I suppose they didn’t have much to offer the suffering, like me. That’s life: Those who do well — thinking that they’ve accomplished this by their own merits — can’t understand those destined for the category of “and the Lord takes away”; the suffering are an anathema, a vague threat they cannot perceive, a virus they might catch. I was left on the side of the road for dead by my friends after life jumped me, beat me, and punched the soul right out of my chest with heavy, lingering, painful blows.
My abdomen still throbbed from surgery. I laid down on my right side and gave into the weight of my thoughts.
Two years ago, my dad slipped backwards on wet tile as he entered the back door leading to the kitchen of my childhood home. My mother had just mopped and he fell back onto the concrete stairs. The sharp blow to the back of his head killed him instantly.
That was the day my mother went crazy. She lost her mind. Everyone said it was her guilt about the floor, and I suppose it was. She loved him. She was faithful. They’d been married for 29 years. She tried to kill herself repeatedly after he died and was committed to an asylum a few weeks later.
This was the same month my six-month-old nephew was murdered, after my brother and his wife lost their home and were forced to live in a shelter. Little Rich was kidnapped by some loony at the shelter, murdered for no known reason. The baby was my namesake, though we had never met.
I had proposed to Cherith before my father’s death. She came to see me when I was stationed in Braggington. I’d never seen a lovelier person, heart and figure. She wore a striking white, tailored skirt and blouse that day. Her white heels made her legs three miles long.
I kissed her pink cheek when we met on the platform at the train station. She was like a glossy porcelain figurine I was afraid to tamper with lest someone scold me before I had paid my dues. She laughed when I said so. She often laughed at me.
We decided to board another train bound for Librath, a trendy little spot on the map with several popping jazz joints — her favorite. She insisted upon the window seat and chatted merrily about the wedding plans as we travelled. It was a short ride, about thirty minutes whole; nonetheless, by the fifteen minute mark my lap — indeed the whole compartment! — was stained with her blood.
Her eyes were still open when I looked down at her decapitated head soaking across my thighs. An impulse of excitement had compelled her to stick her head out of the window during our ride. It happened so fast, I couldn’t even say what did it; the authorities called it a ‘fluke’. Her white garments were entirely ruined.
I had not known ‘shell shock’ before this moment. (I swear it’s true, though people are sometimes surprised by this.) I do not know who removed me from the compartment that day. I have no other memories of that day. Someone, I’m told, discovered me sitting with her head in my lap, stroking her black hair, after the train reached Librath.
Even now, my emotions are hidden from me; they leak indirectly but never in focus. Still, I suppose my feelings here are nearest to what my mother felt after dad died: Guilt.
What a wicked curse of genetics!
So, will I condemn that Higher Being by one scene in my plot? — Ha! Oh — would that it were true! No. Not by one scene — I will condemn Him by these many scenes! — horror-filled scenes that none of us deserved!
I felt certain mom had done the same by now.
Where was God now?
And then this — The Quarantine for the Promotion of Universal Bliss (QPUB) — the hilarious misnomer Ol’ Bliss thought up for his torture and retraining camp. I had seen it before, though never as a prisoner. I’d be lucky to come out with my own head.
I’d been in the trenches for at least two years now; my feet weren’t the only numb soles about me.
I’ve decided to continue this story… though I know not where it leads. I wrote this one for therapeutic fun; and to romance my love for slightly off-color smart-alecks. Maybe. Something like that…
So, I should have a schedule, right? For the sake of consistency, I’ll post a new chapter every Thursday. (This is how you know I love you, dear reader; else, I am wholly whimsical at core.)
Too bad the QPUB wasn’t published before 2020 though; that would have been fun to reflect on… It’s (this story and the years) only getting weirder.
Principalities and powers of the air: It seems they leak information too from time to time.
Read along if you like. My enjoyment in writing fiction far exceeds any other writing I do. In fact, I nearly loathe writing non-fiction in contrast… ha. Maybe it will show.
I have far more often identified with Job than with his wife… but this story isn’t that story. No… there is no one righteous, not even one…
Well, if you know, you know… else, keep reading.
What is to die, let it die, and what is to be destroyed, let it be destroyed; and let the survivors devour one another’s flesh.
— Zechariah 11:9b, The Holy Bible
THE TRENCHES & THE BLISS, 2016 (WIP)
My rifle quivered in my right hand and bewilderment kept it numbly there, hanging at my side, pointed aimlessly. Though my feet were still cold and numb, heat caused my soul to swell like a bee sting on a fair-headed child, suffocating all context except the need for self-preservation.
We stood in the trenches, floors of mud mixed with blood, looking up in half fright and half disbelief at the clownish figure who had strutted out upon the field just beyond our trench. The figure was dressed in blue and white striped silk pantaloons, with a red vest and white shirt of the same cloth accentuating his pork barrel, with a rather unremarkable hat of the same silk; it was his bulbous nose, marvelous smile, but especially the plate that captured us most: a plate with a slice of cake.
We were bleeding.
He was eating cake and smiling like a buffoon.
We wore the blood of our comrades.
He wore silk like he was royalty.
“Keep your heads up, chaps! They don’t even exist! This battle is over as soon as you decide it is!” he roared out to us with a hearty cackle, crumbs of cake tumbling down his frontside.
Then came his aide, a blonde wafer of a boy, shuffling in a zig-zag pattern, clearly more attune with the present risks than the buffoon. Boss Bliss took the teacup from him and, holding out one fat pinky, drank.
Scrap threw down his weapon and began climbing the trench wall like a spider —
“I’m going to kill ‘im!” he screamed. “I’m going to kill ‘im dead!” he screeched.
Ruffton and Napler grabbed his arms and pulled him back down.
“You’ll be killed — idiot!” Ruffton rebuked.
But Scrap had seen sixteen-too-many comrades blown to bits on his right and left side. He meant to kill Ol’ Bliss and no manner of persuading was changing his mind, so Napler knocked him out cold. He fell with a squish into the muddy blood bath below.
A shot or two rang out just above the Bliss’ noggin and he yelled again: “This isn’t woman’s work, you worthless shits! Cover me!”
“I thought the battle didn’t exist, shithead!” I yelled back, but no one heard me through the thunder of cannon fire. It began to rain again.
I had lost my voice yesterday…or maybe the day before. The battle felt like a cold flash flood of a thousand years ripping flesh from bone. All that remained was cold shards in cold trenches. Pieces of men amongst blown up bits of dirt.
A warmer, tumbling wind woke me as it turned leaves into cartwheels down and around the trench, a carefree and enchanting wind, like the smell of a freshly clipped lawn beneath childhood games. My eyes followed the swirling browns down the length of the trench to the north. I watched some fall into the mud. I watched some skip up over the edge in search of greener resting places.
I dropped my rifle and, seeing no one present to mind my path, I succeeded in climbing out of the trench from the south end. Gunfire still whizzed and pinged and whooshed and splattered to my left, but the wind carried scents of a wood fire, sweet meats, warm cider, green pasture, and a distant rain: I forgot about the airborne risks and wandered toward the large brick house ahead, further southwest. There was hardly anyone left to notice.
I followed the wind because it was warm and everything inside of me was cold, empty — like the naked tree to my left that stood in rebellion against the baby blue sky, a reminder of the times, void of the wind’s nostalgia. I wanted my mother’s dimpled arms; I wanted my father’s calm voice; I wanted grandma’s blanket and Cherith’s lap for a pillow. I wanted things that didn’t exist anymore, things that had never truly belonged to me yet, somehow, left me hollow in their absence.
A lull in the wind carried the Bliss’ voice across the field and I turned to see —
“Deserter!” he cried out, pointing his finger at me.
I kept walking.
My sense of duty crumbled like the brown leaves crunching beneath my boots. Patches of yellow grass stood unmoved by leaves or wind, here and there. I came to the back of the house and walked around the left side to the front. There was nothing remarkable there: a small porch, an iron fence that must have served only to separate the yard from the dirt road (for it was capable of nothing more), and a brick walkway between the two. I could hear people laughing as I stepped onto the walkway. The door opened before I could knock.
A wavy blonde smiled at me. She was wearing a silky dress that matched the yellow-gold of her hair perfectly. No frills. Pink lips. One gold bangle.
“Need a pick-me-up, soldier?”
I managed a half-smile and put the three steps up to the porch behind me. Mostly, I just wanted a bed.
“Mm. Look at you,” she said, searching my face with her blue eyes and a gentle hand. “I bet you haven’t had a good dance in a year.”
She put her arm in mine and pulled me into the house. We walked past one room on the right. It was full of happy people, talking and laughing. A staircase intruded on my left. She escorted me into the second room on the right, where a record already lay upon the player. She set the needle and a peppy little tune began to spin as she tried to spin me.
“Oh!” I grabbed my left calf. “My leg — I can’t.”
She tilted her head.
I tried to smile. “I’m sorry…the war, you know…”
Her eyebrows jumped. “Are you injured?”
I chuckled, standing erect, “Yes. A bit. Actually, I have some shrapnel stuck on the left side of my abdomen too.”
“Shrapnel?” She threw her hands in the air, dismissing me with a shrug. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean. The ‘war’? — Good heavens! You talk as if it were in our backyard and now!” She laughed. “There hasn’t been a war in Queensland since before I was a child.”
Her face was so sober, so childishly sweet, that it occurred to me now that perhaps I had been more seriously injured than I realized. Perhaps none of my days or events as I recalled them were reality. Perhaps I had suffered a brain injury. Nothing the bright angel said made any sense. So far as I knew, war was indeed in her backyard! — Yes, now! — But I couldn’t hear the gunfire through all of that music; it was too loud.
My hands burst with sweat and I moved toward the windows to confirm my health or insanity. My gaze swept the scene as I brushed away the lace curtains, but it was the wrong side of the house. I needed to find the backside.
I turned, forgetting the woman, and headed back for the hall.
I found the kitchen to my right from the hallway and clutched the edge of the sink to peer out of the small window above and let out a great sigh of relief. It was as I had said. I could still see the Bliss’ target-worthy pantaloons from here. He had unfathomable luck; it was like he worked for the other side.
“Hey! You can’t just go wandering through someone’s house,” the blonde scolded with furrowed eyebrows.
“You’re right,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
Her head tilted again. I felt no need to explain myself. I had learned long ago that some people believe whatever they wish. Reality was relative to eye health. She would not understand my war even if I could explain to her the one in her own backyard.
“I need to rest. Do you have a room I could use — for a little while?”
Her face brightened. “Ok,” she replied. “Well, follow me then.”
We quickly left the staircase behind us, as she led me to a spare bedroom. The bed was neatly made and the furniture was tidy, small, and sparsely decorated. A sheer curtain over the window gently billowed over the foot of the bed.
“Oh — I’ll get that.” The woman moved to the window, shut it, and pulled a thicker curtain over the glass.
“Thank you,” I said. “This will do fine. I don’t want to be disturbed for a while.”
Her eyes narrowed slightly but she nodded and left me there.
I removed my boots, sunk into the bed, and placed both pillows over my head. The music was terrible but it was better than the sounds of war. I wondered if she would want payment for the linens I was probably smearing sixteen comrades’ blood on, plus my own, and how I would get it, and then I fell into a deep sleep I can’t remember.
Cold steel pressed into my chest as my heart and lungs tried to escape. I was screaming out to Napler but nothing was coming out of my mouth and his back was to me.
A scream burst from my belly and woke me. I was sitting straight up in bed, and I’ll never forget the look on the doctor’s face. Apparently, the cold steel had been his stethoscope on my chest; he was looking for a beat. He found it.
“We’ve got to get that shrapnel out,” he said after regaining his composure.
He was an olive-skinned man with unruly hair, like a sheep in need of shearing; his eyes were dark and kind. I would’ve thought he was a doctor or a minister had I passed him on the street. The good ones always had that look about them. The only doctors I’d ever disliked in retrospect were the ones that did not have those kindly eyes, furrowed brows, and pessimistically hopeful smiles.
I tried to relax and laid my head back on the pillow. “Can’t we just let it be?”
He shrugged his head to one side, both doubtful and conceding, “The leg, maybe; the abdomen, no. That must come out.”
“I’m sorry we disturbed you,” a soft, flat voice said from the doorway.
It was the woman. She was not a minister or a doctor.
“I was concerned about your injuries and my linens,” she smiled.
It was, at least, an honest smile. I nodded my regards to her but wasn’t in the mood for chatter.
The doctor was packing his bag.
“When?” I asked.
He scratched his cheek and looked up in that habitual sort of way before answering, “I’ll be back tomorrow morning. Shouldn’t take long, then you can rest up.”
“I really should get back…” I think I mumbled out loud, but my body was not willing to rejoin my trained sense of duty yet.
No one said anything else. They just left. I preferred it that way.
It occurred to me that the house could be destroyed in the war before tomorrow but there was no one to fuss at about it. The house was strangely quiet. I wondered briefly about the woman and then fell asleep again.
The doctor returned at about eight o’clock the following morning. He was sort of short and bulged a little in the middle — not that it mattered — I simply had not noticed it yesterday. He seated himself in a small, wooden chair beside the bed, crossed his arms and legs, and leaned back.
“Now, what is your name, soldier?” he asked.
“How old are you, Tapp?”
“Where are you from?”
“Where are you now?”
My face hardened. What was with the questions?
“Nowhere, Wisconsin…I think.”
His eyebrows raised and he leaned forward slightly.
He leaned back into the chair. “I’m sorry for the questions, Mr. Tapp. My name is Dr. Linsper. I like to know something about the folks I operate on. I don’t mean any harm.”
I believed that last line. My jaw loosened a little. “I’m tired, doctor,” I said. My eyes felt as empty as my words but I fixed them on the doctor anyhow: “I’m just tired.”
“I understand, son,” he said.
He moved me around so he could get at the left side of my abdomen and then he went to work. I don’t know what the doctor gave me and I didn’t care, but it put me out good. When I awoke, the doctor was gone and that cursed Bliss was lording over my bed.
“What from hell,” my voice lashed, cracking.
“And I half expected to find you wearing a bonnet,” he said, smiling.
My vision blurred for a moment and it seemed as if the whole room turned red.
“I see you’ve been taking some R&R,” he said.
Scrap would have killed him already, but even with the adrenaline of fury I felt too weak to take him on. I tried to sear him with my eyes, but I didn’t know if it was working. He stunk of moldy cake.
The words “arrest him” sprayed down across my face like a foamy glee escaping an uncorked and shaken bottle as he sneered over me. I was not sure I had ever known hate until that moment, but I knew it now — and without the faintest wish for redemption.
I hadn’t prior noticed the two privates standing behind him. Johnson and Blane — Bliss’ cronies. I caught the slightest peep of that strange blonde gagged and tied behind them before Johnson knocked me out. I’d seen the boys in action before: I knew it had been Johnson when I woke; Blane punched like an ounce of scotch in a gallon of water.
There was no telling where I’d end up. Stories of the Ol’ Bliss’ Trainings, however, were anything but blissful. He was of that predictable and ancient nature which required all men to play by the universal creeds of good faith, courage, and a one-dimensional, translucent, spongey, and convenient character, though he conducted himself with the many exceptions and complications of an emperor — a pantalooned emperor at that. His Trainings were vaguely disguised tortures and his power was a silver-tipped tongue — shockingly powerful, I might add. I’d never seen so evil a man with so cleverly covered a backside, as if he always knew the next bullet’s path and so stood precisely five millimeters away to avoid the skirmish, while smiling and eating cake to appear sociable. He professed no war, after all; only a game to be captained — so long as it was of some benefit to him.
Had I not been nearly buried alive with corpses in those trenches, it might have been funny… but death does not leave the living untouched. If I ever woke up again, I vowed to cut out his tongue. No more cake, no more lies.
And I’d add now: No more dreams.
I thought I understood my character when I began this story six years ago (inspired by a boss/corporate system I loathed, to be honest)… but not hardly so much as I fully know this character now: It is me.
I have lost my sense of duty; I have lost the will to fight. All of the other invisible losses have crushed it out of me. Somewhere beyond death is endless dying; I am there.
No, nothing has changed. Visibly, you will see no difference. When will we learn that the seen was created, is created, will be created from the unseen? What is visible is only ever part truth.
Never, not once, in my entire life have I understood the sentiments of Job’s wife. What a terrible person, I would have thought not so long ago… Somehow, today, that has changed. I now understand her perfectly, as her own words lodge as the thorn in my side: “Curse God and die…” Never has that been a temptation for me, until now.
Writing is therapy, but I have bled myself dry. Maybe one day, if the transfusion works, I will have something sanitized, pretty, and excellent to show for the cost…
But I doubt it.
Not in this world…
Pray for me, but don’t condescend me with caked-on concern; some things (hurts, complaints, despairs) are for God’s ears alone…
I just threw down my gun and walked away… from trying. I give up. Just let me lay down and die… and burn my book of dreams with me. If I never see that thing again it will be too soon. Never has anything cost me so much or caused me so much invisible pain.
And He knows it; ergo, my anger…
Perhaps in my weakness, He will prove the strength of His words.
“I have not spoken in secret, In a corner of a land of darkness; I did not say to the descendants of Jacob, ‘Seek Me in vain [with no benefit for yourselves].’ I, the LORD, speak righteousness [the truth—trustworthy, a straightforward correlation between deeds and words], Declaring things that are upright.”Isaiah 45:19 AMP
End (inappropriately public) therapy session.
(Chapter 2 is here if you want to continue.)
The relationship between Jonathan and David gets a lot of hype in Sunday morning sermons, and for good reason. That is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of spiritual bond.
In rereading Daniel 4 recently, however, I found another lovely example of relational beauty. Daniel’s faithful service to God is often recounted, but have you ever noticed how dearly he also treated King Nebuchadnezzar? His faithfulness to speak God’s words in truth to the King, while still remaining compassionate and hopeful towards Nebuchadnezzar is something truly worth admiring.
King Nebuchadnezzar seeks the interpretation of a dream but none of his magicians, astrologers, or soothsayers will give him a reply. So, he seeks out Daniel (also called Belteshazzar). Daniel hears the dream and seems troubled to give a reply:
Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonished for a time, and his thoughts troubled him. So the king spoke, and said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation trouble you.”
Belteshazzar answered and said, “My lord, may the dream concern those who hate you, and its interpretation concern your enemies!”Daniel 4:19
There are two things I love about his response:
- Daniel clearly did not seek the King’s ill-will. He was a compassionate and faithful servant.
- Daniel had to obey God and spoke the truth to the King after being pressed. Human but faithful; that is beautiful.
In reflecting on this story, I couldn’t help but to think of how often our own communication with one another fails at this simple and honorable kind of faithful honesty.
Nearly everyone I know (self included) has been guilty of posting a vague truth-ism with an intended nameless target on social media. It’s often posted under the guise of just telling the truth, while denying what is relational: namely, the fact that we should have spoken it to the intended party alone. This is a social media pandemic.
But I’ve also witnessed my fair share of bullet-spraying from the pulpit that could have benefited from a private compassionate conversation instead of a vague and careless killing spree (and, likely, been more effective).
The motives for such actions are many, so we won’t get into that, though I would say the bulk of them fall beneath the categories of fear and a general lack of brotherly love… sometimes embarrassment.
What is the purpose of our bullet-spraying, after all? Is it to pull the trump card out and demean the other person? Or is it because we genuinely desire a heart reconciled to God and righteousness?
Daniel again proves winsome after interpreting the dream when he behooves Nebuchadnezzar to repent.
“Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity.”Daniel 4:27
The call to action.
Again, Daniel proves his faithfulness to God by speaking the truth of the remedy needed for King Nebuchadnezzar — and doing so with the hopes that judgement might be shortened or lessened.
If only we all had such friends!
Examine your belt of truth today, saints. If it needs some loving care, repent and submit to God. You are beloved in Christ.
Enjoy the 4th of July weekend!
What a week! — A week of divisions, a week of celebrations, a week of cautions, a week of squealing and protesting…
I don’t always comment on current events, especially in the heat of the moment; I prefer to let them sit for a minute. Still, I understand some of the implications of Roe V Wade being overturned, good and bad…
I’ve longed for this day since my 20s, moving from a pro-life view to an abolitionist view, and I am proud of those — especially of the younger generations –– who took up this battle on the front lines. What a surprise gift to our nation!
Still, the strangest thing happened to me that day: I found myself unable to rejoice…
Too little, too late? I suppose that was the feeling I harbored… I quietly acknowledged the move, while still being aghast that it had ever been a thing so supported by our nation. I am still aghast… and that the murder of innocents should be called “progress” is appalling.
But it was more than that.
Prior to the verdict, I thought If Roe remains, swift judgement continues for our nation, but if it is overturned, maybe — just maybe — God will extend His hand of mercy yet again on behalf of His people.
It’s not that I’m not happy about that; it’s just that I am sobered by that.
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.2 Peter 3:15
So, I thank God. And I recognize the restraining spirit of the verdict. Nevertheless, the days remain dark, and I pray that we all grow to recognize God’s abundant and kind patience in slowing the days.
No matter your view on the topic, the Truth remains:
“Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.
Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”Luke 13:2b-5
The unseen always weights the greater portion. Always.
I had spent another sleepless night trying to figure out how I would explain what my kids saw of me last week. A week of “ma” dazed and staring out of windows; a week of sleepless nights and my abundant need for restful afternoons — well, a week of a mentally preoccupied mom mostly.
Thinking back to my own reflections of my mother in my youth, I know how easily these actions can be misinterpreted: Is mom sad? Is mom mad at us? Is mom sick? What is wrong with mom? And that makes my heart sad…
While I haven’t had the chance to say these words to the children yet, I realized that my best gift has always been for them — that is, my fanciful imagination. Ha. Might as well get some practice in here…
So, do you want to know the truth about last week?
Not what mom did outside of her body.
Not what mom appeared to be doing.
But what really happened.
Move over, Twilight Zone; I’m about to really weird you out…
She was mostly minding her own business…
When along came the devil and sat down beside her and offered to play a game of chess…
Now, she never agreed to play chess with the devil: She knew that was a fool’s game. It was only after-the-fact that things became so clearly seen — accepting a chair, a slight-of-hand, a shrug and a fatal nonchalance, and, suddenly, your bleeding heart flayed open on the dining room table.
It was only after he’d made a playing board of her own heart — only after he began throwing the daggers down into it — the game pieces — that she realized what was going on… By then, it was far too late.
The old bait and switch.
I don’t know if you know the force with which he can throw down a dagger, but you need to know that his aim is impeccable and, the names of his pieces, precise. The daggers are legion:
Well, the list could probably number in the thousands if nuanced to tailor-fit every soul, but you get the gist.
By the time the devil got the game pieces in place, her heart was already bleeding out all over everything… from her ears, from her nose, from her mouth, down her sleeves, everywhere.
Imagine. It’s your heart on the table stuck through with 32 daggers of despair, gushing and writhing between you and devil. You’re locked in now. You don’t just have ‘skin in the game’; your lifeblood is in it now!
What’s your first move?
She snatched a dagger and threw it to the ground, but for every dagger she tried to snatch away in horror, he gleefully replaced it twice as fast with a new one. Failing move.
She tried to play the game. If she could just see five moves ahead, she might make it out alive… By halfway through, however, it was painfully obvious that this was not a game she could win by playing. Not a chance. The devil was getting giddier and she was getting bloodier.
Have you ever been dropkicked to the seventh circle of hell for a chess game with the devil?
So, now what?
You can’t snatch the daggers: They are painfully full of half-truths.
You can’t play the game: You will lose everything.
Well, thankfully, this was not her first chess game with the devil; it’s just that we are all such forgetful beings…
Two things she knew to be certain:
First, to put the devil in check one first had to call his lies by name. Destroy the false seed planted within. Take all of those dagger labels and replace them with truth.
But that only puts him in check… and, sadly, that’s where too many stop the process altogether.
Second, she knew that to put the devil in check and to reach checkmate were two very, VERY different things…
So, she picked her beating, bleeding heart up by the daggers — careful not to stop and admire her own pain for too long, for that had long been her losing move in the past — and threw it away behind her. CHECKMATE.
The only way to win a game of chess with the devil is not to play.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.2 Corinthians 5:17
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.Ezekiel 36:26
And the only way to receive the new heart of Christ is to toss the old one in the rubbish bin…
The Fight’s Not Over
Okay, twinkle-toes, don’t sit down yet; the fight’s not over.
When we receive a new heart in Christ, having tossed the old behind us (yes, yes, painfully so; it is not without pain), ONLY THEN will we find our desires changed —
To hunger and thirst for righteousness rather than our own way.
The Bible says to submit to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you, but it’s downright scary how many times we try to resist the devil without engaging that first and most important instruction: SUBMISSION TO GOD.
“Thy will be done…”
You can run from the devil all day long, but if your heart is not submitted to Christ, then your Achilles’ heel is still fair game…
Trying to live a better life with your reformed old heart will only end in pain, dear one.
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the wineskins, and the wine will be destroyed–and the wineskins. Instead, new wine is poured into new wineskins.Mark 2:22
The devil didn’t stop the assault. He still kept throwing that old heart full of holes at the back of her head, knocking her off-balance, catching her by surprise here and there; still, she stood…
Now, she was covered in Jesus’ blood and righteousness. The belt of truth was fastened. The helmet of salvation was secure. She had nothing to fear from his games any more…
And she lacked nothing.
Whether money or chess, keep flipping tables like the Master… especially if the devil has pulled up a chair.
An astonishing and horrible thing has been committed in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?Jeremiah 5:30-31
Because from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is given over to covetousness; and from prophet even to the priest, everyone deals falsely.
They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, saying, “Peace, peace!” when there is no peace… Nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall…Jeremiah 6:13-15
The same four indictments are against America today: False worship (Jer. 7:1-8:3), False prophets (Jer. 8:4-22), False confidence (Jer. 9:1-26), and False gods (Jer. 10:2-25).
I debated whether to say against the American Church or against America; I chose America as a whole, the Church included, because by her own words they have been one and the same: ‘A Christian Nation’. Was this not the long-quoted pride of America?
Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Do not trust these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these’.Jeremiah 7:3-4
It is fascinating how like a modern worship song those quoted lyrics sound; I wonder if they are quoted from a chant or chorus.
Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say,
‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’?
Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it, says the Lord.Jeremiah 7:8-11
I have long held my tongue, afraid to speak, afraid to shake, afraid to be wrong…
For ten years, I have restrained my tongue on this matter. But no more. As the lying prophets multiply by the hundreds, I realize the need for the spirit of Truth unrestrained.
Are you saved to do abominations in the sight of the Lord, Church?
Were you planted and prospered to commit the atrocities of wickedness now parading down your streets, America?
Heavens, no. And heaven has seen it all…
Therefore you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not obey you. You shall also call to them, but they will not answer you.Jeremiah 7:27
America will be taken captive to another nation — overtly or covertly; she is already being invaded. Like a statue crushed at the knees, her pride will fall face down before the Creator of all things.
But He Said, She Saw, They Agreed
Yeah, but how can you know? As a dear friend recently put it, how can you know this or that is from the Spirit of God?
He said that America is going to make a big comeback, if…
She saw the rapture in a dream — the coming peace!
They all agreed that things will continue to go on as before and that this is all doomsday hype…
If we’re talking Christian, then the Bible, the Word of God, is always the founding starting point. No other foundation can be laid except Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 3:11), and Jesus was one with the Father and came to us to do His Father’s will (John 10:30), and from the Father, through Jesus, we have received the Holy Spirit:
But the Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby),
the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name [in My place, to represent Me and act on My behalf],
He will teach you all things. And He will help you remember everything that I have told you.John 14:26 AMP
Let’s begin with claim one: America’s comeback.
What is this claim founded upon? Scripture? Dreams and visions? Signs and symbols? What? And what is the ‘if’ predicated upon? (Same follow-up questions.)
Are we cherry-picking scriptures or did the Spirit of God lead us there?
Are these dreams from God, our own subconscious, or lying spirits sent to deceive us?
Are these signs and symbols from God or the collective grasping of our imaginations upon anything that will soothe, bring comfort, or tell us what to do in the minutia?
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.John 10:27
I hate mind games. Never have I felt more abused than when suffocated by someone else playing mind games with me. (I probably shouldn’t tell the internet that, but there it is…) But the ones that have been the most detrimental to my health are the mind games I’ve played with myself…
Because, the truth is, when we quiet ourselves at the feet of Jesus, the Spirit of God confirms Truth and strangles the lies, IF we know His voice and IF we are submitted to His will — come what may, no matter what.
So, for claim one, we could say there is partial truth in it. God has always relented destruction when a nation AS A WHOLE or a people AS A WHOLE turned from their sin. Indeed, he has been willing to spare a city over one righteous man found in it…
Righteousness is not the boast of our present culture; it is not even the boast of the Church in America at present. ‘Freedom’, ‘Equality’, ‘Diversity’, ‘Self-Love’, ‘Pride’, and ‘Affirmation’ of sin — these are the present boasts in America and in the American Church (as a whole)…
So, where does that leave us, friend? I think it should be obvious…
In every captivity of Israel, there was a remnant or, at least, one lonely prophet who had not bowed the knee and yet was ushered into captivity along with the whole. Because the truth does not exclude the righteous, dear saints. If America falls, we are all subject to that earthly captivity with the exception of Divine provision.
Fear fuels this claim because no one wants to lose what little they have in life. It is a pretty word, a hopeful word, but it puts far too much confidence in America as a ‘special’ nation than it does in God, in my opinion.
Claim two: She saw the rapture! Get ready!
Everyone may not be aware that this belief is all over YouTube right now, but it is EVERYWHERE.
Let’s set aside the debate about whether the rapture is scriptural for a moment. I realize it is a very polarizing doctrine; for the sake of transparency, I will tell you that it is not a doctrine I put much stock in. But it is also a doctrine I hold loosely: If it happens, great; but I am not certain that it is what the passages used to defend it are actually describing.
I start with the same basic questions:
What is this claim founded upon? Scripture? Dreams and visions? Signs and symbols? What? And what is the ‘if’ predicated upon? (Same follow-up questions.)
Are we cherry-picking scriptures or did the Spirit of God lead us there?
Are these dreams from God, our own subconscious, or lying spirits sent to deceive us?
Are these signs and symbols from God or the collective grasping of our imaginations upon anything that will soothe, bring comfort, or tell us what to do in the minutia?
Many who are professing the rapture online do so through two means:
- SIGNS OF THE TIMES
There are a handful of scriptures used to defend this position, but these are less promoted than the two things I just listed — First red flag.
Next, when examining these people’s words, little bits of their hearts and minds fall out. Like I said, we all leak; it can’t be helped. And I can’t help but notice the ebb and flow of emotion on the topic…
One minute they’re sky-high and rapture-ready; the very next day, they’re depressed about some less-telling or conflicting sign in the earth and lamenting how long the wait has been and, more or less, pulling their faith back up by its bootstraps. Red flag two.
Where is there hope? Where does it truly lie? In God or in the doctrine they’ve got a death-grip on? With Christ’s suffering or in their timely escape?
Well, another dear friend has warned us against getting caught up in the book of Revelation insofar as it distracts us from actually following Christ while we are yet in the world. I couldn’t agree more.
I take the rapture doctrine, shut it up with duck tape, and leave it squirming in an abandoned building: I don’t have time for more hope deferred, more fear, more escapism sought-after. I do all of those things to myself without adding this desperation to it.
Am I looking for Jesus’ return? YES. Sometimes I walk outside, look up into that big blue, and say, “When?”
We all desire and need hope… but I want my hope pinned to the only One who does not put me off or lead me on with carrots on a string. I need Him to be just as tangible and with me today! I can’t afford to wait for a rapture…
Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.Matthew 28:20
Claim three: Doomsday hype…
I’ve said it. You’ve probably said it. Anyone who heard their parents say it, has repeated it: ‘Every generation has thought Jesus was coming back in their day.’
I used to say it, but those still saying it scare me. You’d have to be Amish and not watching the world news to vainly imagine that we are not nearer that day than ever before, in my humble opinion.
My first question here would be: Do these believe that Jesus is returning at all?
Belief is a funny thing.
For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.Romans 10:10
Is it possible to confess with the mouth and not believe in the heart?
In terms of language, the “and” tells me that these are two separate things: the belief of heart AND the profession of mouth.
Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.Joel 2:13
Can one say, “I believe Jesus is coming back some day” with their mouth but with their hearts and garments (figuratively) say otherwise?
I believe so. Our hearts always betray us, even if God is the only one who sees and feels the betrayal.
So, you’re working in the vineyard, you’re trembling and shaking a little in the heat of the day, when along comes a cute little fox and sits down beside you.
“Hello, little fox,” you say, welcoming a reprieve. He is soft and comforting and lets you pet him.
“Hello,” he replies. “Come play in the shade with me.”
You wipe your brow and look up at the sky. There’s still work to be done in the vineyard, but it looks like the Master’s return is hours away yet, so you join the fox under the shade trees and, after playing, fall asleep…
The fox, however, brings his cousins over to trample and dig up the vineyard while you sleep. He just wants to play. He has no concern for the Master’s investment nor for your labors…
Little foxes spoil the vine.
My problem with this claim is similar to the first two:
It’s not urgent…
It’s not today…
It could be today, we say, as we sit down to rest in our ease… Yes, it could be today, we mutter, as drool rolls from our lips and our horizontal worship ascends with the babblers and fools in unbelief at heart.
That is my concern with this claim. Not to mention it is not scriptural.
If the apostles felt the urgency of that coming Day, how much more ought we?
But HE said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
And she said, “Be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).
And they agreed: They [the world] will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful (Rev. 17:14).