I ran the Grand Valley half-marathon this morning. As we approached the two mile mark, I could see a line of runners stretched out in front of me. The speed demons out in front left the rest of us to run our slower paces. Others gaits seemed to betray they were fighting off pain with each step to finish. Collectively, we spurred each other on. Those that reached the turn-around cheered on those still to reach halfway. One man that walked the entire incline of the giant hill, encouraged me when I was down on myself for slowing to a walk halfway to the top.
With two miles to go, I went for broke. I picked up my pace. I was in a gap where I couldn’t see anyone in front of me. The temptation loomed large to slow down again. Then I came across two young women. Fellow Christ=followers. The phrase “I am Second” written between their shoulders. Just below it, “Hebrews 12:1–2.” As they ran 10 feet in front of me and I began to meditate on those verses.
I ran a little faster to pull even with them. As we talked and ran, I found the desire to slow down slide away. I found a renewed energy. We made the last turn and the finish line came into view. The girl in the lead turned back and took the hand of her friend who was struggling a bit. Together, they sped up and crossed the finish line.
This truth stares me in the face each time I run a race. Yet, when I get home the spiritual application flies right over my head. The writer of Hebrews lists of all those who believed God yet never saw the fulfillment of the promise. I often think about those “pillars of the faith.” They encourage me at times but other times they become a discouragment. I place my life next to theirs and start making comparisons. However, I seem to overlook the other cloud of witnesses: my brothers and sisters who are running the race with me.
There are those out in front, either because they have run longer or they have the spiritual aptitude. They have done the hard work and God has blessed them to be where they are. Others are running with wounds and pains but they continue to run. They may have to walk from time to time but they continue. The simple fact they are running beside me, lifts my spirits and encourages me to keep running.
let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,
Until recently, I would make a break between running the race and looking to Jesus. In my mind, it felt like the author stopped the running metaphor and moved on to something else. Jesus is the founder or author of our faith. He was the first to run the race perfectly. His finish line was the joy of doing the will of his father. He endured the cross to finish his race.
In that context, Jesus acts as our pacesetter. He runs before each of us, keeping us on pace and encouraging us. When we want to quit, we look to him. Because he finished, we can look to him “so that we may not grow weary or fainthearted.” May we all experience the encouragment of our cloud of witnesses and from the author of our faith to finish the race set before us.
Jeremiah opened his eyes to slits. Daylight was streaming into his room. His phone was trying to get his attention. It had rung a few minutes ago and he let it go to voicemail. Probably wrong number anyway. Now he’d just got a text message. It told him it was 7:13. It was Saturday morning, his day to sleep in.
He unlocked his phone and read the text. “Hey, just found out Yin died this morning. Don’t know much else.” Jeremiah reread the text. He switched screens to see the voicemail was from another friend. Adrian’s voice came on the line. Her voice was trembling. “Jerry, just found out Yin died. Li is at the hospital. I’m going to pick her up and take her home. Can you grab some others and meet us there?”
Jeremiah sat stunned, the phone almost falling from his grip. He ended the call and pulled up his contacts. After a gut-churning 15 minutes, he had managed to call three people. Each reacted differently but after getting through the shock, they told him they’d be there.
In just about 30 minutes, Jeremiah pulled into Yin and Li’s driveway. He’d go inside but not sure what he would do. Yin gave him a key a few weeks before when he agreed to babysit the kids so they could have their weekly date night. Jerry’s heart dropped and felt sick to his stomach. Caleb and Lisa, Yin’s two kids. Caleb just turned seven and Lisa was three and a daddy’s girl. The kids would be devastated. Jeremiah flashed back to his own childhood. He lost his dad to a heart attack when he was 13. A knock at the car window pulled him out of his thoughts.
It was Gabriel and Laura. They’ve been friends with Yin and Li since Gabriel and Laura joined the church six years ago. Jerry got out of the car and hugged each one. He unlocked the front door and let them in. The living room was a wreck. Furniture knocked over. A puddle of water from an overturned cup. Books and magazines knocked from the coffee table. Laura went straight to the kitchen and started making coffee. She dug around in the fridge and found some things for breakfast. Gabriel and Jeremiah started straightening up the living room. About that time, Carrie stuck her head in the door. “She’s in the kitchen,” Gabriel said as he cleaned up the water on the floor.
“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Gabriel struggled to say. “I talked to him last night. The four of us went to the movies. We talked about taking a group vacation to the Rockies….”
Jerry looked at Gabriel. Gabriel’s whole body was trembling. Tears were flowing freely down his face. Jerry stood to his feet, crossed the room and put his arm around his friend’s shoulder. They stood there in silence for a few minutes, when Laura came into the room and embraced her husband.
A car pulled into the driveway and Carrie and Laura both went outside. Li stepped gingerly from the car and fell with her arms around Carrie. They stood there as Li sobbed. Adrian stepped over and hugged Li. “Honey, I am so sorry. I will come back over as soon as I get off work.” She got back into her car as the other women guided Li into the house.
They walked to the dining table and sat down. “Li, I made some breakfast. Let’s eat and then we’ll start making arrangements,” Laura said as she walked into the kitchen.
“No. No. I don’t really feel like eating.”
“Sweetie, I know you don’t feel like eating but you need to eat something,” Carrie said as she patted Li’s hand.
“All right,” Li said too spent to argue. “Can someone go tell the children it’s time for breakfast?” she continued.
Jerry exchanged glances with Gabriel and Carrie. “Li, the kids aren’t here.”
“What, what do you mean,” Li said as terror flashed on her face. Laura’s voice came in from the kitchen, “Didn’t you say they were staying with her sister for the weekend?”
“That’s right,” Li said as the terror receded and her shoulders slumped again. “Oh God. How do I tell them their dad is gone?”
“Li, after breakfast I’ll go pick up the kids from your sister’s,” Jeremiah said.
Laura brought out plates of eggs and sausage. They ate in silence. Each person stopping at different times to wipe away tears or blow their nose. When they were done, Laura cleared the plates while Carrie and Gabriel began compiling a list of friends and family to call. Jerry got in his car and spent the twenty minute drive thinking of how he’d break the news to Jaylin.
As Jerry told her the news, she leaned toward him and buried her face in his chest. He did his best to comfort her. It broke his heart to see a woman cry. After a few minutes, she composed herself and went to get the children. Both of the kids came running into the room and hugged him. “Hey guys, your mom wanted me to come pick you up and bring you home.”
“But we’re supposed to spend the weekend with Aunt Jaylin,” said Caleb. “I know,” Jerry said. “but your mommy really needs you to come home. Aunt Jaylin will come with us.”
They all got into the car and begin the trip back to Yin and Li’s. Jaylin began crying. “Aunt Jay, why are you crying,” came Lisa’s little voice from the back seat. “Because I’m sad Sweetheart.”
“Why are you sad,” asked Caleb. “I’ll tell you later Caleb. We’re almost home.”
The kids ran into the house. “Mommy, Daddy were back.” As they got close to their mother they slowed. “Mama why are you crying,” asked Caleb. Li opened her arms and scooped them both into her lap. She hugged them both and kissed them on the head.
“You kids remember when we discussed how grandma and grandpa were with Jesus?”
“Yes, mama. They get to sing songs and eat dinner with Jesus,” said Lisa with a smile on her face.
“That’s right sweetie. This morning, Daddy went to be with Jesus.”
A puzzled look appeared on Caleb’s face. “I bet he’s happy, but when will he come home? I have my first baseball game this week.”
“No sweetie, he’s gone. When you go to heaven, you don’t get to come home. Daddy did all he could do here and now Jesus has a very important job for him in heaven.”
Lisa piped up, “Mama, can I go to my room and play?”
“Yes, you can. Caleb go with your sister, please.” The two kids plodded out of the room and in minutes were lost in play.
Jerry and Gabriel continued calling family and friends while Laura called the funeral home to make arrangements to pick up Yin’s body. Jaylin and Li went upstairs to get clothes for Yin and to dig out picture albums.
Jerry and Gabriel finished making calls and were talking with Laura and Carrie when Jaylin and Li finally came downstairs and rejoined the group. The women paged through all the photo albums and pulled a variety of pictures. Really bad ones from high school and college. Others with the whole family together on vacation or at holiday gatherings. Jerry offered to put together a slideshow for the funeral.
The kids came back several times asking when daddy was coming home. Each time, Li did her best to try and explain. The kids would seem satisfied with the answers and go back and play for a time.
Later in the afternoon, Laura, Carrie, Li and Jaylin went to the funeral home. Jerry and Gabriel stayed and watched the kids and when the women returned, the two went to pick up some pizzas. They all sat around sharing stories, laughing and crying. Around eight, the four friends left Li and her sister, with promises they would come by tomorrow, and then headed home.
Jerry got home that night mentally and emotionally beat up. He lay awake for several hours thinking about Yin, Li, the kids. This was interspersed with questions to God.
The funeral was on Wednesday. There were plenty of tears and there was much rejoicing as well. Li asked Jerry to give the eulogy. They had been roommates in college and became like family when he moved back to the area for work. He shared how Yin love hiking and the blues. But more than that he shared how Yin struggled after the death of his parents. How he spent the next few years going on trips back to China to teach English and share the gospel. And how he loved and served his family with all his heart.
After the funeral, they made their way to the graveside. Jerry, Gabriel and several other men from the church were pallbearers. The pastor read from John 11 speaking of how Yin had died but he would live eternally. Jerry’s thoughts were jumbled. He rejoiced his friend was face-to-face with their Savior but he missed his friend. He looked over at Li, Caleb, and Lisa and became upset. What was God thinking? These kids had to grow up without a dad. He couldn’t seem to reconcile these opposing thoughts.
As the service concluded, Jerry joined Li and the children as they walked to the vehicles. “Jerry, who will take me to my baseball game tomorrow,” asked Caleb. Jerry looked at Li and saw her shoulders slump at the thought of attending a baseball game. “You know what, Caleb? I’ll take you to your game.”
“Cool. Thanks, Uncle Jerry.”
The next afternoon at four, Jerry stopped by the house. Caleb came running to the door in his uniform and cleats with his glove under his arm.“ You ready, slugger,” asked Jerry. Caleb nodded in visible excitement.
Caleb hit a single in the third inning and caught a pop-fly in the seventh. After the teams shook hands at the end of the game, Caleb came running over to where Jerry sat in the stands.
“Jerry, did you see my hit?”
“Yes I did. You crushed that ball.”
“I wish my dad could’ve been here.” “Me too, Caleb. But I know he’s proud of you and would’ve loved to be here.”
They began walking back to the car in silence. After a few moments Caleb spoke again. “When I see Daddy again, I’m going to give him the biggest hug ever, cause I miss him.”
“I miss him too, but you’re right. We will get to see your Daddy again.”
I had two conversations the other day that put me in a different frame of mind. The first was over breakfast with a friend. I shared the struggles with my spiritual life over the last few months. He admonished me that I need to submit to the Lord hour by hour. I nodded my head because I knew all this intellectually. But it didn’t seem to embolden me, cause repentance or increase my understanding of circumstances.
I got the idea for this yearly review and plan from a recent article by Chris Guillabeau.
Looking back at 2012
What went well?
- I ran my first marathon in Baton Rouge.
- I changed jobs. I found a company where I enjoy the people I work with and the work is keeping me challenged.
- I took a vacation in Maine. I found a cabin on the water and had a great time exploring.
- I wrote another short story, about a lone soldier stationed at Fort Knox in Maine.
- I took risks with some relationships.
- In spite of fear, I had some hard conversations that needed to happen.
- I attended ZendCon in California and learned a great deal.
- I read 67 books last year including: fiction, business, history, and biographies.
- I was recognized by my boss for taking on a project that no one else wanted to touch.
- I started teaching ESL to another family.
I was unsure of what to expect when I started reading “The Circle Maker” by Mark Batterson. He talks about dreaming big, praying hard and thinking long. When he talks about thinking long he is talking about prayers that are long-term, often ones we won’t see the answer to in our lifetime. He contends that if there are things we want, we should pray hard for them.
At first I was uneasy because this felt like “health and wealth.” However, everything he said lines up with Scripture. He states our motives must be in line with God’s word and his will. He continues that just because we pray, God is not under compulsion to answer. So my discomfort was not from this.
I read on but was still uneasy. I continued to pray about what I was reading and it slowly became clear. His way of thinking felt alien because I was doing the opposite of what he was advocating. I was dreaming small, praying little, and thinking short. I began to understand the discomfort. I approach God in prayer like I’d approach a tempermental, busy father. I try to find the opportune moment to share my request with God. A time when he’s most likely to hear my prayer and answer it. I also don’t want to be disappointed so I don’t ask for much. When I do ask, I ask for that which won’t inconvenience Him too much.
As I wrestled through this, I was reminded by a friend of several passages that speak to this:
You do not have because you do not ask and you do not have because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
I often wrestle with the motives of my prayers. There is one side where it is right and can glorify God. On the other, I could be wanting it out of greed or covetness. So because I can’t ferret out my motives, I just don’t pray. However, nowhere in that verse does it say to determine your motives before you ask. It says ask. God will sort out my motives and respond accordingly. If they’re selfish, then God will reveal that as I to continue to pray about it.
Jesus taught his disciples that if flawed humans want to give good gifts to their children, then how much more will God give good gifts to his children. God is not a busy Father that can’t be bothered. He wants to hear our prayers and give us the things that we want which will draw us closer to Him and make us more like his son.
The writer of Hebrews tells us to “boldly approach the throne of grace with confidence.” I have memorized this and other verses but I tend to treat them as a metaphor of a metaphor. These verses explan how we are to approach God in prayer. They are prescriptive. But I strip these words of there power by treating them more like poetry. They are pretty and convey a nice thought but that is as far as it goes.
Batterson says near the end of the book: “if you have the faith to dream big, pray hard and think long, there is nothing God loves more than proving his faithfulness.” This cuts to the heart of the issue. My faith is flagging and as a consequence I don’t dream big or pray hard.
There are a few things I have prayed for recently and felt led to act in a particular way. This leading makes me wonder if I have lost touch with reality and living a delusion.
“Sometimes faith seems like a denial of reality, but that’s because we’re holding on to a reality that is more real than the reality we can perceive with our five senses.” This felt like a confirmation but I still struggle. And this is where faith comes in. Will I continue to pray in faith that God will answer and have faith that if I’m delusional, the Holy Spirit will reveal that as well?
Batterson also comments that many expect the Christian life to get easier the longer they are a believer. It’s actually the complete opposite. I have fallen into this trap often. I treat the spiritual disciplines like physical disciplines. If there is something I’ve practiced and done a thousand times then it is “easy” to perform this task. The difference with spiritual disciplines is your opponent keeps raising the stakes. So you need to pray harder and prepare harder to be ready when the opponent makes you up your game.
“God is for you. If you don’t believe that then you’ll pray small timid prayers, if you do believe it, then you’ll pray big audacious prayers… [Prayers] are the best predictors of your spiritual future. Who you become is determined by how you pray.”
I want faith strong enough, like Jesus described, I could command the mountains to jump into the ocean. The deep prayer of my heart is that my faith would sustain me in joy when I’m in the valley as well as on the mountain. I want to see people come to faith in Christ through my sharing the Gospel and through the testimony of my life. I want to pray for things that only God can do. I want to see God’s power in my life.
Do you struggle with small prayers? How are you moving toward a stronger faith?
I mentioned to a friend recently that I wanted to take a trip somewhere where I felt small. There is something about standing at the base of a mountain or looking out at an expanse of ocean to make you feel small. I like those reminders because they show me I’m not the center of the universe. They also remind me that this world is so much greater than the house I live in and the cubicle I work in.
I got my wish Sunday. I drove out to Henry Cowell State Park. They have a redwood grove with a few old growth trees that escaped logging 100 years ago. I’ve heard stories about them but when you see them up close, you can’t help but tilt your head back and stare in wonder. Some of those trees were sprouting from the ground around the time Jesus was traveling through Galilee teaching and performing miracles.
Sometimes you needed to be reminded of the Creator and your place in creation.
“The 13th Tribe” by Robert Liparulo follows a group of immortals. They were among those that sinned by worshiping the golden calf at Mount Sinai. They are cursed with immortality and separated from God both on earth and in heaven. They believe that by punishing sinners with death they will atone for their sins and lift the curse. Jagger, a man trying to escape hurts and reestablish his faith in God is embroiled in the tribes latest scheme for atonement. Can Jagger stop them before it’s too late?
I enjoyed the story. The idea of being “cursed” with immortality and separated from God’s presence on earth was an intriguing concept. However, I didn’t feel the author developed that enough. I got the feeling that this curse was more like an annoyance or a bearable burden. I didn’t get the sense that living for 3500 years had tormented them and crushed their souls.
Once the big plan was put into motion the story picked up and barreled forward. Where I felt the author lacked in developing the Tribe’s anguish and torment, he made up by delving into the spiritual struggle the protagonist was walking through. He suffered a tragedy prior to the start of the book and was still trying to make sense of it and find peace. When he gets drawn into the hunt for the Tribe, his struggles only seem to mount. I really empathized with Jagger.
If you’re wanting an adventure with a dash of Indiana Jones, Jason Bourne and The Highlander, then you’ll enjoy this story. A bonus is a protagonist who has faith but is wrestling with God and doesn’t have it all figured out.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
As a leader I’ve found that It’s much easier to educate a doer than it is to activate a thinker.
— AndyStanley (@AndyStanley) August 22, 2012
When I first read that statement, a feeling of failure and not being part of the cool crowd hit me. I am well aware of my tendency toward thinking induced paralysis. I am also a person that likes to make things and accomplish goals. So that statement made my brain kick into high gear. If I’m not out doing 24–7 then I must be a failure. There are times I wish I had a different mental and emotional makeup so that doing would be easier.
I am also learning and constantly reminding myself that it’s not one or the other. I can’t erect an unscalable wall between the two areas. We don’t need doers and thinkers. We need doing thinkers and thinking doers. We have to find that balance between acting and analyzing. I could swing to the other side of the continuum and start doing a lot of things, but there is a long list of reasons why that wouldn’t be wise.
I think the answer can be found in the book of Hebrews. The author encourages his readers:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24–25
So instead of us drawing lines, why don’t we encourage each other to achieve that needed balance. When my outgoing and active brothers and sisters see me failing to act, they should encourage me and walk with me to get me doing again. And when I see a brother or sister running themselves to death, let me come alongside and help them evaluate and slow down.
Zeke made his way down the dark stairway leading to Battery A. He did his inspections each day but today he’d forgotten his lantern. The window of light at the bottom of the stairs got larger. At the bottom, he snaked his way through the twist of corridors and emerged back into the crisp New England morning. The main fortress of Fort Knox loomed over him from the top of the hill. He stood and looked across the river to Verona Island. To his left, Bucksport sat on the opposite bank where the two forks of the Penobscot river merged. Steeples of the Baptist and Methodist churches escaped the roofline of the town. Zeke shook the day-dreams from his head.
He walked the line of Rodham cannons. He checked for obstructions in the barrels and the ratcheting systems that adjusted elevation. After inspecting each of the 32 guns, he verified all the powder was accounted for in the magazine. All was in order. He turned to go back, when a chipmunk caught his attention. It ran from the tall grass on the hill into the firebox of the hot shot furnace. He’d likely made a nice home for himself in there, Zeke thought. At least someone was making use of the furnace. Soldiers built it about thirty years before. It heated cannonballs so that on impact they would catch wooden ships on fire. When construction concluded about 20 years ago, ironclads had replaced the older sailing ships and made the furnaces obsolete.
Zeke walked back up the stairs. At least he didn’t need to inspect Battery B. It also had a dark stairway but no guns. The Army ran out of money so they put the remaining guns where they could best be used. He walked through the main gate and shielded his eyes from the sun glinting off the windows across the parade grounds. Those windows looked into the enlisted men’s quarters and the bakery. If a soldier wanted to get to his quarters, he had to go through the bakery and pray his bunk wasn’t in the last room in the row. Zeke had his bunk in the officer’s quarters. He felt safe since he was the only person stationed at Fort Knox.
Embers replaced the small fire he had started earlier that morning. He picked up the coffee pot and poured himself another cup. He stood looking out at the parade grounds. He still needed to check the guns in the main fortress. That would take an hour. As he sipped his coffee, he pulled out his pocket watch. Nine o’clock. He could pull out his banjo and pick a couple of songs. Able, his cow, and the chickens seemed to enjoy his playing. His rifle needed cleaning. He also needed to split some firewood.
About 3 o’clock, Zeke finished all his inspections and the items on his list. He went back to his barrack and picked up his Bible. The pastor in Bucksport had preached the last few months on John and the book of Revelation. Zeke wanted to read ahead. It would take several readings to wrap his head around it all. Some days he thought old John had gone crazy out on Patmos. Zeke could identify. There were days, he felt as though he had been exiled. There were two big differences he and John: Bucksport was just across the river and Zeke had enough firepower to turn Patmos into a pile of pebbles.
Zeke sat with his feet dangling over the top of the fortress wall. He watched the occasional ship move up the river and enjoyed the stillness. It helped him as he prayed. If his mind wandered he could look at the river, the trees or the granite cliffs and a psalm would come to mind.
Eventually the sun began to sink below the cliffs behind the fort. Zeke stood and walked down the spiral staircase. Clouds were rolling in and a cold breeze made Zeke shiver.
He added some kindling to the embers and after it caught he added a few pieces of wood. He went about making dinner, a couple of eggs and some cured ham. For dessert he had a generous helping of wild strawberries he picked a few days before.
After dinner, he placed his chair by the fire and pulled out a book of poems by Longfellow. Zeke met Longfellow and his sister, Anne Longfellow Pierce at a dinner party in Portland a few years ago. Zeke found one of his favorites and read it although he could recite if by heart.
O star of strength!
I see thee stand
And smile upon my pain;
Thou beckonest with thy mailed hand,
And I am strong again.
As he read, a small pit formed in his stomach. It was the seed of melancholy wanting to take root and he needed to weed it out before it overran his heart.
Know how sublime a thing it is
to suffer and be strong.
He closed the book and stared into the fire. He sat there for a long time and began to pray, “For the Lord is good, his steadfast love endures forever and his faithfulness to all generations.” He fell silent again, stood, and got ready for bed.
Early the next morning, Zeke awoke to the sound of thunder and rain splattering on the granite arches and walkways. He rolled over to try and go back to sleep but it was no use. He got up, dressed and started a fire. With the rain, it would be a good opportunity to inspect the “Alley” for leaks. Plus he could get some exercise by making a couple of laps. The fort was made of two rings divided by a ditch. Any enemy that scrambled over the top would land in the ditch with rifle fire from both sides.
Zeke lit a lantern and made his way across the ditch and into the Alley. The only light came from his lantern and the rifle slits. The roof hung low and the echo from his boots traveled the length of the corridor. He hated the alley. Sometimes he half expected something to jump out at the end of each corridor. And the thought of being stuck in here during a land attack. Once the doors were shut to the alley, there was no way for those in the Alley to reach the rest of the fortress. So soldiers would be stuck in the dank, dark hole till the end of the attack. On top of that, the alley was completely useless. Invaders only needed a few ladders to span the ditch and they would be out of the range of the rifle slits and inside the fortress.
So much of this place made no sense to Zeke. The fort was originally built for one type of cannon but halfway through construction, they changed the type of cannons they would use. This required the builders to rework the gun emplacements. There was Battery B. It faced Bucksport. If the Army had placed guns there, it would only take one errant shot and instead of striking an enemy vessel, the cannon shot would decimate the Methodist church or the Mayor’s house.
The big 15″ Rodhams required twelve men to load the 400 pound shells. To have all the all guns firing at once would require over 1,600 men. The barracks could only accommodate around 300. All this folly culminated with his assignment. One man for this entire fort. What would happen if someone did attack? He couldn’t fire any of the cannons by himself. All he could do was lock the gates and hope no one made it inside.
Zeke finished his laps and went back to his barrack. He grabbed a bucket and went to the cistern. Once he had water, he put the enamel pot for coffee on the coals and another one for his oatmeal. Once the oatmeal was ready he threw in some strawberries. While he ate he thought about his day. He could do some woodworking. He had turned the second floor of the officer’s quarters into his workshop. Zeke was making a rocking chair for the pastor who mentioned he used to have one back in Massachusetts.
After cleaning up from breakfast, Zeke headed to his workshop. He needed to start on the rockers. He found two pieces of spruce and attached them to his work table with a clamp. Zeke found his drawknife on the other table and began putting a curved edge on the rockers. He finished one end and then reoriented the wood and started on the other end. Then he switched to a rasp to even out the rough spots and then to a file to smooth everything down.
He set the finished pieces down and heard his stomach rumble. He pulled his watch out. It was close to 2 o’clock. He went downstairs and made a lunch of ham and corn bread. He warmed the leftover coffee and used that to wash it all down.
The rain had stopped so Zeke lighted his lantern and made his other inspections. He felt silly for doing these inspections everyday but it passed the time. Plus he didn’t want a repeat of his first year here.
After three months at the fort, Zeke thought he would go crazy. He went to the wharf one morning and rowed the little Army boat over to Bucksport. When anyone asked, he told them he was on leave. He got a room at the boarding house and spent his days meeting the townsfolk and talking with the preacher.
Even then he wrestled with the futility of his posting. Zeke shared with the pastor that it felt as though God had forgotten him out there at the fort. The pastor encouraged him the best he could. That’s when the preacher brought up the idea of a monthly prayer meeting at the fort.
A few days later, word moved through town a ship was coming up the river flying the US flag. Zeke went out with the rest of the town to see who it was. The whole town was standing there as the ship pulled alongside the dock. Zeke noticed soldiers on deck and his blood ran cold. Major Abernathy was the first to step off. He had appointed Zeke to this post. The mayor of Bucksport stepped forward and introduced himself. Abernathy told him they needed supplies and would make an inspection of the fort. That is when Zeke’s lie unraveled. The mayor had motioned for Zeke to join them. Abernathy greeted Zeke warmly but when they arrived back at the fort Abernathy placed him in custody and confined him to the powder magazine. Five days later he released Zeke. Abernathy told him he understood the stress of this post but if he left his post again he would be court-martialed. Zeke assured the major he understood.
Zeke stepped out of the covered stairway to Battery B. He walked past the empty gun emplacements to the wharf. He found a few limbs snagged on the boat lines. The pastor and some others were coming tomorrow. He had forgotten. Tomorrow was the monthly prayer meeting. The pastor’s wife, Margaret, would bring a dish. He had lots of blueberries so he would make a cobbler. These monthly meetings were a lifesaver.
Everyone arrived around 2 o’clock the next afternoon. The preacher brought a short sermon, they prayed and sang while Zeke played his banjo. But the highlight was the meal and the chats.
The preacher told some of his hunting stories and caught Zeke up on the town happenings. Margaret tried to cajole Zeke into calling on a lovely unmarried parishioner, Elizabeth, on his next trip into town. George, the store keeper’s son, asked Zeke to share stories about when he fought in the War between the States. They sat for hours talking and laughing until the sun sank behind the cliffs. Then the conversations started to dwindle and everyone began packing up.
Zeke walked ahead of everyone down the stairwell toward the wharf. George was the last one in the boat and took the line from Zeke. The young man sat down at the oars and began pulling once they were clear of the wharf. He nodded to Zeke who waved in return as the boat skimmed across the calm river. Once the boat blended into the background of the town, Zeke trudged back up the dark stairway. He checked on Able and walked to his barrack.
He was out of sorts. His heart was bursting from the time with his friends but melancholy was coming on. His mind began to think of another month by himself and his friends going back to their homes and families. He threw a piece of wood on the fire and sat down with his banjo. He played a couple songs he had learned in Army camps over the years. As the choruses of soldiers and the loved ones they left behind faded he moved on to some hymns. He could not explain it, but music always seem to lift the melancholy.
The next morning Zeke woke around sunrise and started a pot of coffee. When it was ready he took his cup and Bible and climbed to the roof of the fort. He opened to the book of Hebrews and began reading in chapter 11. He loved reading about Abraham and Moses and the others who “through faith subdued kingdoms, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire and waxed valiant in fight.”
Zeke longed to have a life like that. To have events so dramatic happen to him. To have such tangible evidence that God loved him and was working in his life. Zeke kept reading.
“Others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings… they were stoned… were slain with the sword… being destitute, afflicted, tormented… they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
“Or stone fortresses”, thought Zeke. He closed his Bible and looked across the river again. In the passage, there were those who were brave in battle and those who died by the sword and both were faithful. God loved them both. Where the people were and what was happening to them was not evidence of God’s love or his withholding of love. Each one had a different path to walk.
Zeke took another sip of coffee and watched his breath in the cool morning air. John the Baptist walked a path that led to prison and execution while Peter and John got to walk with Jesus. Peter was told his path would lead to execution and Peter didn’t think that seemed fair. He asked what was to happen to John, James’ brother. Jesus told him not to worry about that. Peter had his own path to walk and John another. John would be tortured, endure failed executions and die on a rock in the middle of the sea.
Zeke took another swallow of coffee. This was his Patmos. He wasn’t being punished, this was just the path he had to walk. He longed to have a home across the river, maybe a wife and children. Maybe that would happen but if it didn’t, he still wanted to live like the people in that passage. Faithful regardless the circumstances.
I got the idea for this story while touring Fort Knox near Bucksport, Maine. For many years, there was someone living in the fort alone. After learning about Leopold Hegyi, I started thinking about what it would be like to live in that place separated from civilization.