Desperate.

No, he’s not.
He’s not going to die. He keeps saying he’s going to be the slain lamb, but he’s not.
Sometimes he gets pretty zealous.
We’re trying to put it out of his mind.
The God’s Son thing is totally fine, we’ve assured him.
Messiah? Awesome. Be the Messiah; save us.

But not like this.
He’s got it in his head that this is the only way to make it right.
We tried to distract him.

The other day we went to Jerusalem, you know, trying to show him.
We thought maybe if he saw how much the people loved him,
how excited they were to see him –
Maybe then he’d realize he didn’t need to die for us.

It almost worked, too. The crowd was wild, and he was happy to see them.
We thought perhaps he had changed his mind.
But he insisted on riding that donkey in; we told him we could find him something better,
but he said this was what had to happen.
We should have known then.
We grew up hearing the prophecies of old.
We should have seen the way things were playing out.

But you must understand –
We were afraid.
He is our best friend.
He is our Teacher and our brother and
we can’t lose him.
What would we do without him?
He can’t leave us, not like this.
Not yet.

We didn’t want to believe.
We didn’t want what was about to happen.

He’s not going to die.
He can’t leave us like this.
How can this be the will of the Father?

He says it will happen soon.
We’ve run out of options.
We can’t convince him to put a stop to it any other way.
He even washed our feet, going on all Messianicly cryptic,
promising, if not with his words,
then with his eyes,
that everything would be okay.

Those eyes have always been enough.
Even when we didn’t understand his words,
his eyes always made sense.

We don’t want to lose them.

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You Think You Cannot Do, Part Two.

I suppose I’m lucky.  I guess it’s a good thing that the hardest decision I have had to make over the last couple weeks was where to spend this summer: Maine or home.  I guess that’s the best kind of choice to have to make: a choice between two good things.  Right?  That’s what wise people would say.  Wise people would consider themselves blessed to be torn between two rights.  It’s better than the alternative.

I don’t think I have the best track record for being wise about stuff, sometimes.

Because this has been one of the most tossing-and-turning, pacing-the-room kind of decisions I’ve ever made.  Choosing a college?  Easy.  I only applied to Cedarville, and I got accepted in September of my senior year.  Summers past?  Always at Aldersgate.  It was like my default setting.  Even the hard decisions, the ones where there were only two things I didn’t want – even those have always come easy to me.  I’m good at making up my mind when I’m afraid or angry or bored.  And I’m normally pretty smart about it, too.

Of course, there’s the little decisions.  Which pair of jeans to buy when I’ve only allowed myself money for one.  Which entree to get at Olive Garden.  Whether or not to bring my umbrella to class when the clouds look ominous but the forecast is ambiguous.  I will walk around the store four times, carrying both pairs of jeans, try them on, put them both back, then make a choice 45 minutes later.  When I’m out to dinner, I’ll send the waitress back for more bread three times before I choose my meal.  I’ll take my umbrella, walk out the door, turn around, put it back, then walk five more steps before taking it up again.  It will never rain.  Unless I leave the umbrella again.  Then – monsoon.

At times, I wonder if this is why people often roll their eyes at me.  Because I’m so unpredictably indecisive.  Then I realize I roll my eyes at practically everyone as well, and remember that everyone’s got their quirks.  No one would have any friends if our eye rolls actually dictated our actions.

In the end, though, I always decide.  Sometimes I’m really good about pre-decision: You know, something will come up, and right away I’ll ask myself, “Now, after all the deliberation and heartache and metathought, what are you going to choose?”  Because I know.  Most of the time, I know myself well enough to know my final answer.  Then I say something like, “The fettuccine.  I’m going to choose the fettuccine.”  And I go on to agonize over the chicken marsala for ten minutes.

Obviously, this method works for big things, too.  I’m not so first-worldy that I frequently agonize over chicken, geesh.

But this decision wasn’t like that.  I didn’t know, at the beginning, what the end would look like.  If I closed my eyes, I could just as clearly see myself on a lake in Maine as I could on my hammock in my backyard.  Both made sense.  Both seemed like the right thing to do.  My heart longed for both places.

I’m going to stay home.

Yes, yes.  I know.  “But, the adventure!  The thing you were afraid of!  The once-in-a-lifetime shenanigans!”  Yeah.  That’s what I thought, too.  I thought, this is what everyone expects of me now that I’ve blabbed to the internet.  This is what I want to do – I want to prove to myself that I’m bold and independent and faithful.  The bold, independent, faithful thing to do is to fly to another state, live as far away from home as I’ve ever lived, for as long as I’ve ever been that far away.  More alone in the unexpected than I’ve ever found myself.  The thought was utterly frightening, and I loved the thrill.

Then the sun went down.  When the sun goes down, my true thoughts come to light.  Everything becomes more real at night.  Without daylight, Maine seemed farther away, more burdensome than exciting.  The reality of being virtually penniless come fall – I didn’t want to stumble through another year of college desperately trying to make tuition payments.  And as hard as I tried to fight the feeling, as tight as I tried to cling to the thought of adulthood and freedom… The night only reminded me how much I wanted to be with my family.  I haven’t been homesick since eighth grade, but the older I get, the more frantic I seem to become about spending all the time I can with my family.  Maybe it’s some weird young-adult-life-crisis.  Maybe I’m just childish.  I don’t really care one way or the other.  All I know is throughout high school, I used the summers to escape away to camp.  I craved independence then, because I knew I wasn’t yet old enough or mature enough or wise enough to actually have it.  But now that I’m free to go wherever I wish, whenever I wish it – I don’t want it as badly.

So I chose home.  It broke my heart to let the camp know.  As much as I wanted home, I wanted camp.  I did.  I do.  I told  them I’d apply next summer as well, and I will.  I’ll go next summer if God would give me the chance again.  I wonder if I’m slipping into a trap, a not-now-next-time trap, the trap that ultimately ends with a person never having done anything at all because she kept putting it off until tomorrow.  But I don’t think so, not with this one.  I said I wanted to do the thing I think I cannot do.

I don’t think I can work a menial job in Salem this summer.  I think I will go mad with boredom.  I think I will feel stuck.  I think I will feel purpose-less.  But I know I must do it, for these very reasons.  Does that make sense?  Try to understand.  I’ve always been afraid of being stuck at home, so I never let myself be.  I’ve always been afraid of being ordinary, so I’ve done things better than other people, I’ve sought out bigness so I would never have to get sucked into the mundane.  Maybe this is all well and good, but what if I’m missing something?  What if I’m so stuck in the magnificent that I’ve forgotten the beauty in simplicity?  My mind is a storyteller’s mind, I can’t help that.  I can’t stop the fantasy world that I wander around in, spinning words and poems that make everything more than what it is.  But I should at least give the normal things a chance to thrill me, shouldn’t I?

This is going to be that chance.  I’m resolving that, right now.  This summer, I’m not going to let myself belittle myself.  I won’t be ordinary because I’ll seek ordinary – and who the heck does that?  I’ll go to the library and I’ll go to the museums.  I’ll visit my town’s historical society, because it isn’t right that I’ve lived there for twenty years without having done so.  I’ll work some job that will pay tuition, and when I’m there, I’ll smile and be cheerful and be different.  I’ll be kind and loving and interesting, and I’ll make friends with people who aren’t like me.  I’ll teach Vacation Bible School.  I’ll go to the diner at midnight with my friends.  I will read books.  I’ll intern at the theatre.  Maybe I’ll even be in a play.  I’ll go to my family reunion, as insane as that idea might seem.  I will explore the woods and the bike trails and the hidden ice cream shops.  I’ll hang out in the cemeteries I’ve never been to – have I not told you?  I have a weird thing for cemeteries in the summer.  They’re full of lives lived, and I know there is joy in that.  I’ll build fires and sleep on my deck, even though my sister will call me a fool for it.

And when I come back to school, I’ll be ready.  I will be more than ready, I’m sure, to get away from home again.  But I need to go home in the meantime.  For myself.  To say that I have done it.  To know that though I will soon have to tear up my roots, at least I’ve been deep in the soil.  And next summer, I’ll go to Maine or New York or DC, knowing that I am ready for it.

I have to keep reminding myself of this, until I really believe it.  Such is the way with me.  I’m almost always unsettled.  I wish it weren’t up to me, though.  I wish God would’ve shown me the thing to do with burning bushes and pillars of fire.  But I know it isn’t really like that – I know now that some choices are between two right things.  We’ve got a gracious God who gives us right things.

So I’m resolved.

A Note Written in a Moment of Horrific Human Inadequacy

To my friend,

I give you permission.  Is that what you need? 
Because I freely give it to you.
Ask me who I am.  Ask me for coffee.
I don’t even like coffee.  But I’ll pretend to.

Tell me the story of how you came to be the person you are.
Tell me about the first night the thought of existence kept you awake.
Tell me what you think about when you sit on your porch on dark summer nights.
When no one is watching you except the spinning stars and the God who hung them there.

I have noticed much about you.  But I don’t think I understand.
So why don’t you tell me your tales?
I swear I’ll listen.  Haven’t I already proven that my ears need music?

Sometimes I think I should take my own advice.
Permission.  I give myself permission to not be so afraid.
Tell my own tales.  Not worry about being forgotten.
I could ask you to coffee.
Right?

I’m not sure what it is, and I ask those spinning stars every night what it is they’re seeing from their vantage point.
What can they perceive that I am blind to?
I am so short-sighted and so are you, my friend.
We whisper our secrets to the faint stars at night,
All the while forgetting that they already see us.

I wish you were a star,
So that you would be able to understand the miniscule breadth of life.
Perhaps then you would not need permission.
Perhaps then, you would simply do the thing that scared you.

Maybe you’re not afraid.
You might be the wise one yet. 
The one who sees things clearer than I,
Already certain of the way of things, like the stars in your understanding.
I don’t really know you at all.

If you would allow me, I would spin my stories with brilliance,
Magnifying the verbs and exaggerating the heroics until my worn-out life seemed worthy of the wait that’s been imposed.

And you – I would tell you why you make me confused.
If I were a star, I still think I would not comprehend the head-tilting, eye-narrowing story that is you.
I am too good at seeing through people to be bested by one so aggravatingly complex.
But that’s just it, isn’t it?

We are all aggravatingly complex.

That might be what the stars would tell us, if we gave them permission.

 

Courtney.

The Shortest Blog Ever, and The Most Important.

Me, anxious and frantic: “But I just don’t know.  I’m so afraid I’m going to do the wrong thing.  I’m afraid I’m going to step out of God’s will.”

Mrs. W, my adviser and friend: “Courtney.  You already know what you’re going to do this summer.  You’ve always known what God has planned for you to do this summer.  You’re going to be kind, and generous, and loving.  I don’t think it matters where you do that.”

It sure takes the pressure off, looking at life like this.  It’s a much less selfish perspective.  How silly we are to think we can do anything beyond God’s control?  How foolish it is for me to believe that I can do something God can’t work with.  That makes God small.

And God is not small.  This I know for certain.

Little Feather

Once upon a time, a long time ago, the hills and valleys of southeast Ohio were populated by a long-forgotten tribe of Native Americans.  They were a mighty people, with fierce pride and unwavering courage.  They were peaceful and welcoming, but they loved their hills and valleys and would do anything to protect them.  The chief of this tribe was called Eagle Feather.  He was the strongest and bravest of all the warriors.  He loved his family and his people, he worked harder than anyone else, and he was first in line in battle, whenever a rare battle came.  His headdress was magnificent: it was a crown of finest eagle feathers, gathered for years from the hills and valleys of their precious piece of the earth.

Eagle Feather had a young son named Little Feather.  Little Feather was the oldest of his children, the next in line to be chief.  Little Feather tried hard to be like his father: he would follow the warriors into the forests on their hunts, he would trudge through the thicket behind the other men as they patrolled the hills.  Little Feather wanted nothing more than to be a great warrior.

But Little Feather was still only a boy.  He loved to play in the stream with his friends after he did his chores.  The stream was deep within the forest, far from the village.  During the daytime, the place was magical and beautiful.  But Little Feather and his friends were always sure to be back in the village by nightfall.

You see, even though he longed to be brave like his father, Little Feather was very afraid of one thing: the woods at night.  He had heard stories of the deep, dark woods after the sun hid away, tales of monsters and treacherous beasts that grabbed at the unlucky wanderer.  No one wanted to be caught amongst the trees once darkness fell.

One day, Eagle Feather announced to the village that the time had come for the men of the tribe to go beyond the hills to hunt.  Game was beginning to be scarce, and though the air was still warm and the days were still long, winter would soon be upon them.  As the warriors readied to set out, Eagle Feather pulled Little Feather aside.

“My son,” he said.  “When I am gone, it is up to you to take care of your mother and little brothers and sisters.  You must be the man of the family.  You must watch over them like I watch over them.  Can you do this?”

“Of course,” Little Feather answered eagerly.  His eyes glittered; he was going to protect them just like his father always did.

“Little Feather,” his father said sternly, grasping his son’s little shoulder.  “Do you understand what this means?  When I go away, you’re responsible for getting everything they need.  You must help your mother watch the little ones.  You must build the fires and help cook the meals.  And most important, you must refill the water jug from the stream every day.”

“I can do that, Father,” Little Feather assured him.  He tried to steady his gaze, square his shoulders like he’d seen the older boys do.  “I will watch over them, and help with the cooking, and fetch the water.  I’ll do all of that.  I won’t fail you.”

Eagle Feather held his son’s gaze for one moment longer.  Then he nodded kindly and turned to go off with the other warriors.  Little Feather watched them as the departed.  Then he went and filled up the water jug.

For many days, Little Feather did exactly as his father had instructed him.  He cooked meals and wrangled his brothers and sisters.  He helped his mother gather food and make warm winter clothing.  He filled the water jug every evening before sundown.

“Little Feather,” his mother said to him one day.  “You’ve been working so hard, and I am so proud of you.  But you’re still a boy, and you should go to the stream today with your friends.  I can manage here.  Just do this one thing: take the extra water jug and fill it for tomorrow before you come home this evening.  You must not forget!  It is very important.”

Little Feather was thrilled.  He felt as if he hadn’t gone out to play in so long; he’d been trying so hard to be the man of the family.  He gave his mother a quick kiss on the cheek, grabbed the water jug, and ran off after his friends, towards the woods and the stream.  It was a bright, beautiful, sweltering day.  He couldn’t wait to jump into the water.

They played for hours, but it only seemed like minutes.  Before long, the shadows began to lengthen.  The friends knew they must rush home soon, so they wouldn’t be caught in the woods after dark.  When they arrived back in the village, Little Feather’s mother met him outside.

“Where is the water?” she asked Little Feather.  His heart dropped.  He had left the unfilled jug at the stream, and night had descended quickly.  “We don’t have water for tonight or tomorrow, Little Feather,” his mother continued.  “You must go back and get some.  You promised your father that you would take care of your family.  It is up to you, Little Feather.”

“But it is dark!  And I can’t go through the woods at night!” Little Feather exclaimed, his voice small and thin with terror.

“You must,” his mother replied.  “You must do what your father told you to do.”

So, with trembling knees and racing heart, Little Feather turned around and walked resolutely back towards the woods.  He knew he had no choice.  He had to face the monsters that lurked within.  He had to get the water.  He came to the edge of the forest and peered down the long, shadowy path.  It was so black he could barely see his feet on the ground before him.  The boy closed his eyes and willed himself to be brave like the warriors.  He took one step.  Another.  Another.  When he opened his eyes again, he saw nothing but darkness.  His heart leaped in his throat.  He crept slowly, arms out to his sides.

All of a sudden, something swung down hard, hitting him in the face with blinding force.  Little Feather dropped to his knees – it must be one of the monsters!  He flailed his own arms wildly, though he was terrified the monster would rip one of them off.  This was it.  He was going to die, or at least be torn apart by the horrible creature.  He stepped forward a few more paces.  Nothing.  He froze, listening for the monster’s heavy, evil breath.  A few paces more.

Before he knew it, Little Feather had toppled over onto the ground!  He skittered hurriedly away from the spindly arm that had tripped him, shouting all the while.  He was convinced, at this point, that the monsters knew he was there and being quiet would do him little good in the long run.  They were surely going to eat him anyway.  Not only were the monsters reaching out for him from up high, now they had gone for his ankles too!  He jumped up and another monster slashed his arm with its wicked finger.  Little Feather spun around, resolved to at least try to fight off the beast.  But he lost his balance and fell backward, so close to an open mouth full of a thousand tiny, pointy teeth!  He screamed madly, abandoning all hope, scrambling to his feet once more and tearing away down the path.

He ran faster than he had ever run before.  He flew faster than the eagle, faster than any bird or animal that had ever lived.  He ran all the way through the wood, down the once-familiar path.  At each twist and turn, another monster reached out to capture him, but he kept running.  He tripped when a hand grabbed for his ankle; rolling and twisting out of its grasp, Little Feather got to his feet again and continued his sprint.  Finally, he made it to the stream.  He dove into the water in his haste and his fear, as though the soft current could protect him from the death he was sure was trailing after him.

Little Feather hid in the water for some time, only his nose poking above the surface.  Nothing came.  He heard no screeches or growls, save for the quiet hoot of the owl.  Slowly, he edged out of the stream, toward the water jug he had foolishly left sitting on the shore so many hours before.  Shakily, he filled it up, then turned to face the woods once more.  This time, he would not begin slowly.  This time, he would sprint the entire way.  He would stop for nothing.  He would think of nothing but making it out alive, no matter what the monsters did to him.

He was petrified.

But he ran.  Oh, he ran!  Faster than the deer, swifter than the fox, Little Feather was a flash of lighting in the forest!  The monsters reached out to him again, smacking him in the face and tearing at his legs – he did not trip this time, he was running too fast.  The fearsome teeth snapped at his sides and the claws lashed out at his arms, but he did not stop.  The water sloshed onto the ground as he ran, but he barely even thought about that.  All he wanted was to get home.

Finally, the trees became thinner, the moonlight shone a little brighter.  He saw the fires of the village; he saw his mother waiting for him by the edge of the trees.  He screeched to a halt in front of her, and, setting the water jug at her feet, Little Feather collapsed to the ground.  Only now did he realize how much he hurt, how cold he was, how torn up he felt.  Blood trickled down her face and arms and legs.  Bruises dappled his sides and his chest.  Within his moccasins, even his feet were raw.  He looked up to his mother.

“Little Feather,” she said simply, quietly.  She did not look angry, but she did not look satisfied either.  Little Feather waited for her to pick him up, to wrap his wounds and call him her hero.  But she did not do any of that.  She only stood and looked at him, a small crease between her brows.

Little Feather was angry now.  He had just risked his life in the woods!  Did his mother not care?  Did she not realize that her oldest son has almost been eaten?

“Monsters!” shouted Little Feather.  “They – in the woods!  They attacked me!  Ripping and clawing!  And – look, they bit at my sides!  I almost died!  The monsters almost got me!”

“Little Feather, quiet,” his mother said, just as even as before.  “You did not get any water.”  Little Feather’s wild eyes found the water jug he had dropped at her feet.  It was empty.  All the water he had gotten had spilled out in his haste.  “We need water.  You must go back and get water.”

“No!” yelled Little Feather.  “I can’t!  Not tonight!”

“I need you to.  This time, when you go back, do not run.”  His mother pulled him to his feet.  “When you go into the woods, shake the monster’s hand.”

“Shake – the – what?”  Little Feather could not believe his ears (had the monsters perhaps ripped those off after all? he wondered).  “Shake it’s hand?  How can I do that!?  It will eat me!”

“Listen to what I say,” his mother commanded softly.  “Reach out, and shake the monster’s hand.  Do not run.  Don’t be afraid this time.”

This was it.  This was the end, Little Feather was positive.  What did that mean, shake the hand of the monster?  His parents had never led him wrong before… but this could not end well.  Still, Little Feather was obedient.  He turned and walked to the edge of the dense forest.  He took a step in.  Another step.  Another.  He felt his heart pound against his chest, but he made himself extend his arm above him, searching for the arm of the monster that had attacked him first.  He felt something – the arm was bumpy and rough and long.  He squeezed his eyes shut and grasped the arm.  Shook it.  Prepared for the pain he was sure to come.

Little Feather opened his eyes.  His hand was still wrapped around the arm, but nothing else was happening.  Curious as to why his impending death had not commenced, Little Feather ran his hand up the arm.  It felt strangely like –

“A tree branch,” Little Feather whispered.  All it was was a tree branch.  It was not a monster at all.  In his fear, he had merely forgotten to duck for this branch that stuck out onto the path.  He edged forward, patting the ground with his foot, searching for the monster arm that had tripped him.  Then he felt it, thin and knobby.  He crouched down, reached out, and grasped it as well, still not convinced that something wasn’t going to attempt to eat him.  But he found this, too, felt familiar, not sinister at all.  He touched the thing with both hands…. it was not an arm either.  It was only a root, one that he had hopped many times in the daylight, but failed to remember this night.

Little Feather went down the rest of the trail like this.  He reached out to his sides and took the hand of the monster.  But he found, each time, that all he was touching were more branches, more roots.  The teeth were thorns.  The claws were simply pointy twigs, made to feel sharper because of his previous speed.

When he reached the stream for the second time that night, Little Feather had no new cuts or bruises.  But inside, he was horribly ashamed.  What he had childishly believed were monsters were only natural things, things the dark had made evil but were really unchanged.  He walked back to the village after filling the water jug, head hanging with shame.  He remembered, like he always had remembered in the daytime, to dodge every obstacle.

When he got back to the village, Little Feather left the jug with his mother and silently climbed into bed.  The next day, the warriors returned.  He was too embarrassed to look at his father, so Little Feather tried to hide.  But Eagle Feather found him anyway.

“Little Feather,” Eagle Feather said, his voice low and unreadable.  “Come with me.  The whole village is gathered.”

Little Feather followed his father to the center of the village.  He knew he was about to be shamed in public – perhaps yelled at or banished, even, for his foolishness and cowardice.  Now he would never be a great warrior.  He wouldn’t be anything.  Eagle Feather stood with Little Feather in front of the village.  Little Feather dropped his head and closed his eyes.  Eagle Feather plucked the small feather from the band on his son’s head.  Little Feather was horrified – this was the worst punishment.  All he had was that one little feather to define him in the tribe.  Now, he had nothing.  If he was going to be sent away, though, Little Feather wanted to go out with a small shred of dignity.  He lifted his head, squared his shoulders like he’d seen the older boys do, and looked his father in the eye.

Eagle Feather smiled.  He reached up to his own headdress and plucked out a single, majestic eagle feather and placed it into Little Feather’s headband.

“My son,” Eagle Feather proclaimed.  “Last night, you were called upon to confront your greatest fear.  You went into the woods and met with the monsters within.  And though you were afraid, you honored me by completing your task.  And instead of running, you shook the hands of the monsters.”

“But they weren’t monsters at all,” said Little Feather sadly.  “They were only trees.”

“Our monsters are real to us, even when they are not real monsters.  Only when we meet them with a sure heart and a brave face do we see them for what they really are.”  Eagle Feather was beaming at his son.  “You are now ready to become a great warrior.  You are no longer Little Feather.  Now, you too will be known as Eagle Feather.”

And from that day on, Eagle Feather joined his father and the other warriors, this time as part of their ranks.  He grew up to become a mighty warrior and a brave, good chief.  To this day, when we go into the woods, we know not to be afraid like Little Feather once was, and instead to face our fears with courage.  It is only then that we can see in the dark, and become who we were meant to be.

 

 

-A Camp Aldersgate campfire story, passed down through the years, and now written for those to come.