Thankful In All Things

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I Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV) – “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Verse 16 tells us to “be joyful always”: not easy to do, but the joy of the Lord conquers the toughest of trials, if we allow ourselves to trust in him.

Verse 17 tells us to “pray continually”: we’re not talking about constant, deep, time consuming prayers that would eventually impede on your daily life tasks. I think what Paul is talking about is developing a heart and attitude of prayer, where you constantly speak with the Lord throughout the day. Anything from small desires to dire needs can be addressed when we have an attitude of prayer throughout the day. There doesn’t need to be a specified time.

Verse 18 says give thanks in all circumstances. My bible notes make it clear that evil does not come from God. As I said last night, we live in an imperfect world. Evil is everywhere. But, I believe we need to thank God even while we are in the midst of the storm; we should thank him for walking us through the trials. It’s hard to see God when we’re in the middle of a struggle, but know that he is there beside us; guiding our steps and helping us to persevere.

The content of these three verses doesn’t come naturally to us. In fact, we have to diligently practice them. Learning to be thankful in all things teaches us to love and respect the God who created everything.

The Epistle to the Laodiceans

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*This one’s a question…maybe even a topic of discussion…for my fellow bible nerds out there.*

I’ve read through the Apostle Paul’s Epistles(letters) many times. Seems like each time I do, something new grabs my attention. This afternoon, I finished off Colossians, and right at the end of the book, Paul says something that skipped past me dozens of times:

Colossians 4:16 (NIV) – “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.”

Wait. What was that? There’s a missing letter?

“…and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.”

THERE’S A MISSING LETTER!

Man, for a moment I thought, “This would make a great story! No one knows what the Lord gave Paul to write about, to the church in Laodicea, so I could make up anything that I want! Who’s gonna know the difference?”

But, since the bible is the indisputable and inspired word of God, trying to add to it–even for entertainment purposes–might not go over well for me. So, I quickly nixed that particular idea. This knowledge did make me wonder however: what in the world did Paul write to that church, and how might its contents effect the world we live in today?

Can you imagine if there were actually 67 books of the bible? How might the addition of one more book truly shape the world? What did Paul say to them? How had they responded to his council? Or, how about this: was that one book so powerful that the enemy worked hard to get rid of it? On the flip side: was that one book deemed unimportant by the Lord, and therefore left out on purpose? Could the Epistle to the Laodiceans have saved them from destruction?

I did a little digging. It seems that some Greek scholars suggested there was no letter written specifically to Laodicea; that in fact the letter to the Ephesians was meant to be a general circular shared among many different churches within that area. Why would Paul then purposely instruct the Colossian church to swap specified letters. He could have simply said, “Get that letter I wrote to the Ephesians, and read it to your church.” That’s not what he said. He gave direct instructions to acquire and read that unique letter originally written to the Laodiceans.

I guess in the end, what really intrigues me about the lost letter is its mystery. It’s sort of like the mythical lost city of Atlantis. What treasures might Paul have stored up in that letter? Will it ever make a reappearance, like the dead sea scrolls, or the shroud of Jesus? Or…is it gone forever; lost for good like miracles performed by the Lord that were not recorded in the bible?

Ultimately, that’s what I love about the word of God. Every time I read with an open heart, he shows me something new and exciting. His word never disappoints.

 

Little Gifts

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My 10-year old son, Isaiah, is your average variety video-game junkie. I claim full responsibility, because I was hooked from the days of the Atari 2600. Ahhh, Donkey Kong…

…where was I? Oh yeah…

Isaiah doesn’t take to reading the bible on his own, so I have to make him pick it up and read alongside me. From time to time, I catch him actually digging the stories and chapters we read. Tonight was one of those little gifts. As we read through Luke 10, my little guy had questions pertaining to his own responsibilities as a believer.

“What happens if I try to tell someone, who doesn’t know me, about Jesus and the bible? They’re not gonna listen to me.”

“That’s not your responsibility, son,” I told him. ” It’s not up to you to fully convince people of the gospel, because that’s a work of the heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. Your job is to tell folks about the Lord, and to do your best to live the Christian life in front of people and when you’re alone.”

He thought about this for a moment.

“So, I don’t have to try to get everybody to believe? That just seems too hard.”

“No. Not everyone will listen to what you have to say. But don’t let that keep you from telling them anyway, because God can use you to get to whomever he wants. But just remember that it’s not your responsibility to save anyone. You can’t. That’s God’s responsibility. We’re called to follow him, and spread his gospel.”

I saw it click in his eyes. For one brief moment, he wasn’t thinking about YouTube, Rhett & Link, Creepers or MarioKart. He was thinking on things of the Lord, and he was planning to go to work in school tomorrow; kingdom work.

Tonight, I felt like an accomplished dad.


 

Proverbs 22:6 (ESV) – “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Step By Step

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“It only takes one step to start. That’s what he told me. Seemed simple enough. So…why can’t I find momentum?”

You’re not ready yet.

“I thought I was. A man can only take so much, before something gives.”

I know. I understand. It takes time, and a real commitment. Unfortunately, many people choose to go the other way.

“But, the prayer was the first step, right? I mean, I feel like I’m not so…alone…anymore.”

It was. You’re not. But, it can’t stop there. I have so much more in store for you. The plans I have for you, are to give you a hope and a future you can’t even begin to imagine. But, you have to willingly choose to go deeper.

“Pastor says that all the time. I never really understood what it meant. Go deeper, how? He told me one step would change my life.”

And it has. Now that you have a new life, you need to lay down the old one. Part of doing that is getting to know me. I don’t want you to simply know my name. I want you to get to know me intimately. That’s going deeper.

“How do I do that exactly? You’re not going to tell me I need to throw out all of my music, ditch all of my friends, relinquish my intelligence and start meditating all day, are you?”

HA! That’s funny. No, nothing like that. I want you to get close to my Word. Don’t fear it anymore. Learn from it. It’s me. In time, you’ll find me throughout its entirety. I’ve always been there. I’ll always be there. I AM.

“You are—”

I AM.

“What’s that mean?”

It means from the beginning to the end, I will always be. Since you’ve called, and I came, I will never leave you. I will fight for you, but I will not compete for your love. You have to willingly choose.

“What’s the choice I have to make? Why can’t you just come into my life and add good things to what I already have? Why does there have to be a choice?”

I know it seems hard at first. Maybe even unfair. But it has to be this way. Light and darkness can’t coexist. You have to choose between the life I offer and the life behind you.

“So…no middle ground? No compromise?”

No. But I promise you this: though the road may get rough, I’ll always walk it with you; one step at a time. Soon enough, you’ll find that the music you loved, some of the friends you cherished, even your former way of thinking will seem flawed compared to what I will show you.

“And what’s that? I’m already bad off. Giving up all the good stuff in my life is going to gain what?”

My peace.

“Peace.”

My peace; a peace you’ve never known but have always yearned for. You already feel a small portion of it.

“How do you know?”

We’re talking.

“-”

Yes. Let that sink in for a moment.

“Jesus—it feels weird to speak your name out loud.”

I know it does, at first. Don’t be ashamed.

“Jesus, I want to try to get to know you better. Will you help me?”

Absolutely. Now, we’re walking together.

 

* Jeremiah 29:11*

Raw Deal…Or Not

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The Apostle Paul made the fate of believers blatantly clear in 2 Timothy 3:12, when he said,

“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,”

Wow. Taken at face value, who would want to live that life? It seems like a raw deal, doesn’t it? Especially when you apply your own struggles to this verse.

But, there is hope. More to the point, there is faith. Paul also strengthens us through Romans 8:28, when he said,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

So, maybe following Jesus Christ is not such a raw deal, if everything that happens to us leads toward a greater good, we’re unable to see through human eyes.

Many people refuse the Lord because they think following him means a life of servitude, boredom, restrictions and constant troubles. Actually, following the Lord leads to a life of freedom, excitement, protection and countless victories. Jesus does not persecute. Jesus saves!

*always*

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Everyday Struggles

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This morning, I walked into my supervisor’s office fully planning to plead my case for a merit review. In my opinion, I think I deserve a decent raise based on my consistent performance for the past few years. After 30 minutes of conversation, I left his office with the realization that he’s fighting to keep me busy, for the upcoming winter season. The idea of a bump up in pay never entered the conversation. For the first time in my professional life, I’m facing the possibility of temporary unemployment.

The struggles of everyday life are real for us all. I tell you this because I don’t want you to think that I live an extravagant lifestyle, far removed from the average Joe’s daily problems. I am the average Joe. There are times when I seriously have to decide between paying the utility bill and buying groceries, because my check isn’t enough to cover both. I worry. I deal with sleepless nights. I pray angrily. I’m just like you.

Despite my relentless trials, I still praise the Lord and thank him for his blessings. Every time a need surfaced, he was there. Whenever I was backed up against the wall, God never let me fall to my enemies. His blessings may not have been ridiculously abundant, but they were always exactly what I needed.

Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep in perfect peace, him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you.”

Tonight, I received a rejection response from a literary agent. It’s one of many. Agents just don’t seem to be interested in my book.

Instead of sulking over the rejection and allowing fear to demoralize me, I’m choosing to thank God for the ease in which my book came about its self-publishing history. I’m thanking him for the blessings yet to come. I’m thanking him for giving me the strength to persevere through the everyday struggles.

*always*

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Joy In The Struggles

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Trials are a surety in life. “Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” is how the old saying goes. “No Pain, no gain” is another catchy one. Personally, I like the way James 1:2-5 addresses trials:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Ever notice how hard it is to stay the course, when everything around you is falling down? In the midst of real struggles, it may seem impossible to find joy in the testing of your faith. But that’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re challenged to look beyond our present circumstances and recognize God’s presence right in the middle of our struggles.

Perhaps you’re down to your last few dollars, but somehow your needs are still met. Maybe you’re marriage is rocky, but the thread hasn’t been broken yet. Maybe your dream seems a million miles away, but somehow, tiny doors of opportunity still open up effortlessly.

Tonight I want to challenge you to look at the big picture of your trial. Within that snapshot, find that subtle blessing that continues to provide amidst the constant struggle. That’s your joy. That’s God walking you through the struggle.

REBOOT

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While staring at the darkened images on my favorite monitor, a couple of recurring messages begin to run laps around the display: “Syntax Error” followed closely by, “A fatal error has occurred. Windows has to shut down.”

At first, the two messages don’t seem to register in my mind. I haven’t seen a ‘Syntax Error’ message since the death of the original floppy disc. My surprise is quickly replaced by the short fuse of anger. I was right in the middle of watching a web-cam couple getting pretty hot and heavy. I really wanted to see how the activity progressed.

As I frantically begin mashing buttons in a desperate attempt to free up the apparently frozen screen, my adjacent monitor’s screen saver blinks into a black screen. Suddenly, letters begin popping up on the screen, as if the monitor is in some weird form of DOS code.

G:/> what do you think you’re doing?

My fingers stop moving. They simply hover over the keyboard, as I stare at the black screen for a moment. I glance back toward the frozen monitor. The ‘Syntax Error; A fatal error…’ messages are now scrolling freely up and down the screen. I resume my manic button pressing, while cursing under my breath.

The adjacent monitor burps a loud “BEEP!”, and I almost jump right out of my seat.

G:/> i said, what do you think you’re doing?

“What in God’s name-”

G:/> don’t you dare use that language with me mister! you’re in enough trouble as it is…

G:/> …what with you downloading pornography, and all.

I’m flabbergasted. Who in the world hacked into my system, to watch what I was doing in the privacy of my own home? I can’t do anything but stare at the black screen.

G:/> well? I’m waiting for an answer.

“What the frick is going on here,” I shout at the screen. I’m lifting the keyboard to inspect it, when the frozen monitor suddenly burps an angry “BEEP!” at me. I’m so startled by the sound, I fumble the keyboard from my hands. It crashes to desk. Miscellaneous pieces of plastic and three dislodged keys come to rest. In a fit of rage, I swear the likes of which might put a sailor to shame.

The monitor to my left, previously displaying the revolving error messages, blinks black. Now both monitors are displaying DOS coding. The left monitor’s code stops my ranting, cold.

JC:/>  are you finished yet? he’s still waiting for an answer.

The right monitor displays a new line of code, as if answering.

G:/>  yes. i’m still waiting for an answer.

My unbelieving eyes dart back and forth between the two monitors. My mouth is parched. All at once, I’m dying for a drink of water.

“What is this? Who’s doing this?”

Both monitors “BEEP!” at me, and display the same message simultaneously.

JC:/>  i am!

G:/>  i am!

It suddenly dawns on me, what’s happening.

“Oh my…” I whisper.

Rolling my chair away from the desk, I drop to my knees, my face planted against the soft carpet. I spread my arms out along the floor as far as I can.

“Father God, please forgive my indiscretions. In a moment of weakness, I fell victim to Satan’s temptation. In that moment, he reverted me back into someone I once was. Forgive my lusting eyes, my loose and disrespectful tongue. Forgive my misplaced anger.”

From the floor, I hear both monitors “BEEP!” simultaneously. I glance up to find the right monitor blinking a blue screen. Red letters spell out “DOWNLOADING”. The left monitor is also blinking the same blue screen in rhythm, with the word “UPLOADING” sprawled over the display.

“Download/ Upload?” I ask.

As if in answer to my question, both monitors fade to black. Code begins to appear.

JC:/>  ephesians 4:22

G:/>  ephesians 4:29

I scramble for my Bible buried under paperwork on my desk; two months of dust smother its cover. Flipping to Ephesians, I careful read off the verses.

“Wow. Lust and deception; don’t use foul and abusive language. Thank you for reminding me, Lord.”

JC:/>  you’re welcome. i love you.

G:/>  leave the sin where it belongs. do not return to it.

My desktop’s power lamp died. Both monitor power buttons went dim. I sit down at the desk, pushing the shattered keyboard aside, and begin to read through the book of Ephesians, starting from chapter 1.

My True Story – For Tasha

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Tasha,

What I am about to share with you is a true story. It was written in dramatic fashion simply because I’m a writer at heart, and that’s just what I do. But, make no mistake: the events played out in our marriage and ultimately led us to a life of love in Christ Jesus.

Tasha, the devil will stop at absolutely nothing in his efforts to destroy a marriage. After all, if he can get to the parents, the children will most likely be affected as well. “Steal, kill and destroy” is not just some snappy catchphrase, sister. That’s exactly what the enemy plans for marriages and relationships.

Sister, I want you to fight for your marriage. When I say “fight”, I’m not talking about airing your private emotional reactions all over social media. Believe it or not, by doing that, you’re actually doing precisely what the enemy wants you to do! I’m talking about genuinely and diligently seeking the Lord’s guidance in all matters concerning your marriage. You’ve gotta pray unceasingly and trust in the Lord to work out what is good for you both. It’s the hardest task you will ever undertake, Tasha. Honestly, a lot of couples don’t make it. But those who survive the fire come through it stronger than ever.

And so, I want to share our story with you. Misty and I decided to share this story with the world last year. It was included as one of 40 testimonials published in a book called “Trials and Triumphs“. My prayer is that this story encourages you (and Zack) to dig in and fight for your marriage. You’ve both been through so much together. I believe that together, there is nothing the devil can throw at you both, that you cannot handle with God’s grace and mercy. This story is called “Going The Distance“.

————————————————————————————–

Hearing the family van park in the driveway, I typed out the last words of my text message. I pressed SEND, and stuffed the phone into my pocket. My wife, Misty, opened the front door, glanced in my direction, then diverted her eyes elsewhere.

“Hey,” she said, disinterested.

“’Sup,” I replied casually.

“So…can we talk? I have something on my mind.”

“Sure, what’s—” My phone buzzed. A return text had come in.

“No, not right now. Besides, someone needs you, obviously.” She pointed toward my buzzing pocket. “Maybe we can go out tomorrow, for a drink.”

As she walked away, I reached for the phone.

‘She’s a liar, and you need to leave her,’ read the message from a female colleague. Recently, I had taken to confiding in her regarding my marriage. ‘You can do so much better, Ennis. You deserve someone who can take care of you.’

The next day, Misty and I drove to the riverfront. We walked along the boardwalk making small talk for awhile.

“All right, we’re here, Smith.” I turned toward her. “What’s on your mind?”

“Our marriage,” she said solemnly. “I think…maybe…we should try separating for awhile.”

And there it was. We were now talking about the pink elephant in the living room.

“It’s really not… you. I just think I need time to myself to discover who I am, and where I need to be.” She stared out over the gray rippling waters of late fall.

I didn’t put up a fight. I agreed to the separation. In truth, I was tired of the nagging feeling that my wife might have embraced a life of infidelity. I had also begun to believe in the soothing words of my newfound confidant, who continuously shared her own marital problems with me. Our stories were similar, and I had come to view her as a shoulder to lean on.

Two days later, my fears were proven correct. The phone bill arrived. I scrutinized Misty’s cellphone portion and discovered dozens of calls made to a specific number over the past month. I dialed that number, and my heart sank when a familiar voice from her past answered the call. It was him. The man I’d had to deal with almost ten years past. Once again, it seemed he’d returned to her life. I couldn’t speak; could only end the call with a trembling hand. Hurt immediately turned to rage. I called her, demanding an explanation, and insisting on a divorce.

“I want you out of my house!” I yelled. “If you want to be with this idiot so badly, you can leave tonight. I’ll let the kids know you won’t be coming home.”

“You can’t take my kids a—” she started.

I abruptly ended the call. Spitefully, I gathered up our five children and announced our divorce. The three oldest were rocked to the core, understanding fully what that meant for the family. The youngest two didn’t understand. Having to explain divorce to my three- and six-year-old children only intensified my rage toward Misty.

She never left the house, and for a week, we tip-toed around one another. I spent most of my time drinking myself into a stupor to cope, while she openly continued her separate life. One weekend, we sat in our bedroom and talked candidly about our failing marriage.

“I can’t understand why you just can’t be honest with me,” I said.

“You want the truth? I don’t know why I don’t love you anymore,” she said. “I don’t even know why I see other men. That’s right; other men. It’s not just one. I think I love him, but I’m also seeing his best friend unbeknown to him. I can’t stop it.”

My knees buckled, and I collapsed to the floor. My pride broke and I cried out to God. In that instant I rationalized that this whole situation was payback for the thousands of indiscretions I had perpetuated over the years. I had once given my heart to the Lord, but had backslidden and become worse than before. I’d lied to my wife, behaved selfishly, cheated and stolen to get my way, so many times. I deserved everything that was transpiring now. My tears flowed and I pleaded with God for forgiveness. I apologized to Him for everything I had done.

Two weeks later, I found a small home to rent. My wife had settled for an upper flat to move into. As we packed our belongings and prepared to go our separate ways, she came to me one afternoon.

“Dear, are we doing the right thing?” Her eyes seemed so sincere, but emotionally, I had already departed from her.

“Yeah, I think we are. People divorce every day. The kids will adapt.”

“Can we try one last time? I think maybe we should give church a try.”

I was appalled at the idea. It was the fact that she had come up with it. I stalled for time, having already fixed my mind on starting a new life without her.

“Sure. I guess a few visits wouldn’t hurt.”

Six months later, Jesus recaptured my heart. Up to that day, we had church hopped until settling on a large congregational Pentecostal church. I struggled to accept the worship music, and often fought against the messages of the pastor. Because of my hard-heartedness, our marriage sputtered along slowly. By all appearances, we were fine: still in the same house together, still one big family. But, we each fought our personal demons, maintaining one foot in the world while trying out Christianity. And then it happened.

I attended a men’s ministry meeting, one Wednesday evening. The speaking guest, Bill,  was the author of a small book entitled, 30 Minutes in Hell. During the altar call, I reluctantly approached, fell to my knees and immediately felt the sensation of burning pressure fighting to remain over me. I remember pounding my fists on the altar. Bill approached and laid a hand on my shoulder.

“Woo!” he screamed. “Brother, I don’t know what you’ve got going on but some burden you’ve carried for a long time is lifting off you, right now. Don’t fight it! Let that thing go!”

It was hard, but I did. I released years’ worth of misguided anger against my wife, that very night. God set me free, and almost immediately I saw a change in our marriage.

On January 31, 2010, Misty and I were baptized together. For a few months afterward, Satan came against us with vengeance. Misty struggled to severe soul ties with other men, and I struggled with forgiveness, drinking, and releasing my own negative ties. But we maintained our dedication to the Lord and He has continued to strengthen our marriage and family.

Recently, I got the chance to witness our two youngest children, now seven and ten years old, raise their hands unabashedly in worship to the Lord. I cried tears of joy, knowing the Lord blesses and keeps us.

On our return home from the two-day children’s rally, my wife wrapped her arms around me and hugged me close. “I didn’t realize how much I loved you until you were gone away from me.”

“Me too. I really missed you.”

Today, I’m giving God the praise for helping us to go the distance.

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Fight for your marriage, Tasha. Satan is the father of lies and we cannot defeat him on our own. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Tasha, you have to recognize that this is THE battle of your life! Your faith comes down to right here and right now. Dig deep and seek the Lord’s Divine counsel. He will tell you what needs to be done, and he will walk you through his will, Tasha.

I’m praying for you and Zack, sister.

Paraclete’s Promise: The Fantastic Fantasies of Timothy (Chapters 1 and 2)

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Chapters 1 and 2 introduce us to Timothy, his…charming personality and the start of his fantastic fantasies. I look forward to introducing the book to the world, later this year.

CHAPTER 1

Tim stood in the hallway, in front of a large closet-door mounted mirror. His hazel eyes inspected blooming auburn color in the caramel complexion of his cheeks; a stark contrast to his favorite navy blue Transformers T-shirt, and frayed blue jeans. His tiny fingers combed through his black unkempt natural curls, Dad had just trimmed two days ago. He checked out the slouch of his 9 year-old stance, and flipped an index finger underneath his nose, absently wiping the damp finger across a pant leg.

“I’m not sick,” he mumbled. “It’s just a stupid cold. I don’t know why I can’t go outside.”

“You’re not going outside, because I said so, kiddo.” Dad replied as he walked toward the front door. “You had a slight fever this morning. That means rest and indoor activity for you, buddy; understand?” He ruffled Tim’s hair as he passed by.The front doorbell rang twice.

“Yeah,” Tim grumbled.

“I’m sorry, what was that?” Dad pronounced, as he swung open the door. “Care to repeat?”

Tim drug his feet over to the living room couch, picked up his orange-cover Fire Bible from the arm rest, tossed it across the room, and pressed his face into the soft seat cushions. He smashed a throw pillow over the back of his head, and screamed.

“Yes sir!” His voice muffled beneath the couch cushions.

Dad was already talking to the guests standing on the porch, instructing them to walk a delivery around to the side of the house. As he closed the front door and started back toward the kitchen, Tim sprang up from the couch and peaked through the bay window curtains to catch a glimpse of the visitors. Outside, snow fell from the slate gray sky in huge flakes, blanketing everything in wintery white. A blue and white delivery truck was parked in the driveway, with the front of the truck facing the street. Tim watched two men walk up a metal ramp lowered from the back of the truck. They reappeared moments later, slowly carrying a huge white cardboard box down the ramp, then up the driveway toward the side door.

“What is that?” He whispered, as he walked toward the kitchen.

Dad stood at the side door stoop, watching as the two men carefully carried the box through the propped storm door, and down the basement steps. He flashed a wink, and two-thumbs up, at Tim.

“We’re back in business now, buddy.” Dad said. Tim reasoned that Dad was going to be occupied for a while. This would be the perfect opportunity to get into some video game playing time. Last night, Mom made him shut it off, just as he was about to begin a new level. She had told him he spent too much time on the game.

“Dad, since you’re gonna be busy, is it alright if I play the game for a little while?” He asked. A little smirk creased the corners of his mouth. As Dad descended the basement steps, he called up,

“Sure buddy. No, wait a minute. Uh…we’d better ask Mom once she’s back from the grocery store. She thinks you should spend a little more time doing other things besides mining blocks and killing exploding Crappers.”

“They’re ‘Creepers’ Dad! I don’t spend that much time-”

“Tim, you’re not getting me busted, son. As soon as Mom’s home, you can check with the boss.” Tim heard the delivery men laughing. “Why don’t you get a jump on the next chapter we’ll be reading tonight, in second Corinthians?”

Tim stomped back into the living room, and spied his Fire Bible lying on the floor, next to the television table. He kicked the book across the cream Berber-carpeted floor, flopped down on the couch, and gazed through the bay-window. The sounds of plastic ripping and tools clanking together resonated from the basement. Then he heard an awful sound like metal scraping across the concrete floor. Dad yelled up the steps.

“Buddy, if you don’t want to read, why don’t you play with your toys?”

Tim clenched his teeth and shook his fists at the living room floor.

I don’t wanna read the stupid bible, or play with dumb toys he thought.

He huffed, and rested his chin on top of his hands, folded neatly across the back of the couch. Tim watched snow cover 12th Street in an awesome sheet of white fluff. His ears burned and his stuffy nose dripped, as he watched his brother, Kyle, and twin-sisters, Alicia and Asia, streak through the front yard, throwing snowballs at one another.

“Kyle’s outnumbered,” he said. “I should be out there with him.” His eyelids grew heavy. ***************************************************************  

Tim opened his eyes to see Mom kneeling over him. Her warm fingers were gently massaging his brow.

“Hi, sweetheart.” Mom said. “You’re still a little warm. Are you feeling any better?”

Tim sat up on the couch and stretched wide. He had fallen asleep while watching the snowball fight. Suddenly, he remembered Dad telling him to ask Mom about playing the video game. Faking a horsed cough, he sighed.

“Hi, Momma. Yeah, I guess I’m feeling better. My throat’s a little scratchy and I’m a bit tired.” He whined.

Mom wrapped her arms around him and squeezed tight.

“Oh, Momma’s little man is definitely sick. How about you stay put, and I’ll get you a blanket, okay?”

She kissed his forehead, before walking toward the bathroom. A wicked smile glistened across Tim’s freckled face, as he lie back lacing his fingers behind his head. Mom returned carrying a small plastic medicine cup half full of pink medicine that always reminded him of liquid bubble gum.

“Here honey,” she said handing over the cup and a small Afghan blanket. “Drink this and rest for a while. I’ll be in the kitchen putting the groceries away, if you need me.”

It was now or never. Tim quickly swallowed the pink medicine, and called out to Mom as she turned the corner, into the kitchen.

“Momma, Dad told me to ask you if I could play the game for a while. So, can I, please?”

Mom peered around the corner; one raised eyebrow, a sideways smirk lit across her face, and a hand rested on her hip.

“You must think I came down with the rain, Mister Smith. I was on to your little ploy from the beginning. Since you have enough strength to concentrate on your game-play, you’ve got enough strength to walk right into this kitchen and help put the groceries away. Hop to it, skinny-minny.”

Skinny-Minny; he hated being called that. Tim huffed and launched the blanket across the living room. It came to rest over the bible. Jumping from the couch, he defiantly folded his arms and stomped into the kitchen, grumbling under his breath.

“Hey! What’s with all the racket up there?” Dad called from the basement.

“Tim is about to help put away the groceries. I don’t think he’s in the mood to cooperate, Daddy!” Mom yelled down the basement steps.

“Tim, do you want me to come up there?”

Judging by the tone of his voice, Dad must have been standing at the bottom of the steps poised to race up. He was probably waiting for Mom to give the word. Best to drop the attitude.

“No sir, I’m fine. I was just about to help her put the food away.” Tim cut a sour glare at Mom, who stood before him smiling.

“Alright, mister.” Dad said, “You behave yourself, up there. I’m going have something for you to play with, shortly. In the meantime, be my big guy and help Mom out.”

Tim pouted all the way through the boring tasks of gently stacking eggs in the refrigerator, stacking canned goods inside the low cupboard, gathering up the discarded plastic bags, and depositing them in the storage bin. Mom made small talk, but Tim had decided to ignore her. It wasn’t fair that she wouldn’t let him play the game.

“Hmm, not talking to me, eh?” Mom said. “That’s fine. You and your attitude should be able to keep each other company in your room; definitely no video game time for you, Timothy Jonathan Smith.”

“What?!” Tim yelled.

“Don’t you back sass me, mister. Off you go, now. Make sure to pick up, and refold, that blanket in the living room, please. And pick up your bible as well.”

As Tim tromped through the kitchen, Dad intercepted, yanking him off his feet, and hoisting him in the air above his head. Tim squealed in frustration, as Dad hugged his little body and spun around the kitchen. Tim didn’t know whether to yell in anger, or laugh at how dizzy Dad’s spinning made him.

“Hey!” Mom yelled. “You two knuckleheads take that foolishness out of my kitchen. Your son’s going to spend some quiet time in his room.”

Dad set Tim on his feet. The whole kitchen seemed to spin around him. He reached out to steady himself, when Dad caught a loose arm, helping him regain a sense of balance. A few seconds passed before his eyes adjusted. Tim scowled at Dad.

“Whoa! If looks could kill, I’d be in serious trouble, Momma,” Dad chuckled. “What’s with the lemon face, buddy? Your attitude earned you a ticket on the ‘time-out trail’ again? We just read in Proverbs 29:11 this morning, ‘fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back.’”

Mom whispered, “I think the T-Y-L-E-N-O-L he swallowed, is making him a bit S-L-E-E-P-Y and C-R-A-N-K-Y.”

“I can spell, you know.” Tim said. “The bubble-gum stuff isn’t making me tired, and Dad, I don’t even know what that poor verb means!”

Mom and Dad laughed. Dad reached into the snack cupboard, and pulled out a juice box and small bag of potato chips.

“Here buddy,” he said, shoving the snacks into Tim’s hands. “I’ll give you a pass on the trail today. The proverb means you have to learn to control your temper. Foolish people allow their anger to control them. When that happens, trouble usually follows.”

Tim rolled his eyes, and sighed. Dad always had a bible scripture ready to recite.

“Okay, I can see you’re not in the mood to listen. Tell ya what: the new dryer is installed. Why don’t you go on downstairs and check out the box I had the guys leave, by the steps. Maybe you can make something happen with it.”

“I don’t want to-” Tim started to protest. He was quickly interrupted by Mom.

“Timothy, I’ve had just about enough attitude from you, mister. You can either go to your room and sulk, or you can go to the basement and play with the box. Either way, you will not continue to traipse through this house, pouty-faced over your video game! Are we clear, Mister Smith?”

Tim glowered at Mom.

“Better do what Mom says,” Dad said. “Go on downstairs and let that imagination, between your ears, take over for a while. Who knows? You just might have a bit of fun.”

Tim gazed into Dad’s brown eyes, reassuring smile and shiny bald head, like a chocolate milkdud. He remembered watching the delivery men haul the box toward the side door, through the snow. It did appear to be a pretty nice sized box. He sighed then slowly walked toward the basement steps.

“Wait,” Mom said, walking into the living room.

She reappeared carrying the Afghan blanket and his Fire bible. As Tim mounted the first few steps, she draped the blanket over his shoulders like a cape, and handed the bible to him.

“Here ya go. You might need these down there. Have fun.”

“It’s just a dumb box,” Tim mumbled. “How much fun can I have with it?”

*************************************************************

CHAPTER 2

Tim walked down the tile basement steps determined to completely ignore the dumb box. Instead, he planned to walk straight to the toy chest. Better yet, he decided to destroy the stupid box, using Dad’s tools. He just needed to reach the toolbox inside the laundry room.

“Go play with a stupid box. What am I gonna do with it,” he complained, “Rip it to pieces.”

After the last step, Tim rounded the corner leading toward the laundry/utility room. Standing there, blocking the path of the basement hallway, sat the white cardboard box. He had only seen it from a distance before but, up close, the thing was humungous!

“Wow! Hey, Dad this thing is huge,” he yelled. “Can I cut a hole in it? I might need a window for my…fort…or something.”

Ideas and possibilities began to flood his mind, and suddenly destroying it seemed like a bad idea.

Dad shouted down the steps, “No buddy; no holes. We can use it for garbage later, this week.  That won’t stop you from playing with it, right?”

“No, I guess not. I can tip it over and make…” An idea clicked as quickly as a flash, and he was off to collect supplies and equipment.

Tim squeezed between the box and the narrow sheet-rock basement wall, and darted for the wooden toy chest at the far end of the hallway. Tossing the lid open freed the familiar smell of cedar. Secretly, he loved the smell of the old chest. It was filled with all sorts of toys he and Kyle played with. He rummaged through the chest, randomly inspecting an action figure here, a stuffed animal there. A variety of things were at his disposal. What would he need to make a trip through the depths of a newly discovered and uncharted cave?

No, not a cave, he thought. It’s my new race car, so I’ll need a few fix-it guys to put the wheels and stuff together.

While rummaging, he happened upon a red tyrannosaurus, and several action figures of interest.  One was a plastic ocean diver, with one pull-off, retractable flipper still attached. The futuristic diver was equipped with a removable utility belt and a flattened inflatable yellow plastic air-tank draped across his back. It was a present for Kyle’s 9th birthday. A few years ago, he had given it to Tim. The second action figure was a limited edition metal spaceman, Dad bought for Tim’s 5th birthday. He paused for a moment to press the buttons on the spaceman’s wrist computer, and smiled as miscellaneous lights buzzed on the action figure’s suit.

“Cool. Your lights still work Abe.” He said. “I guess you can come, too.”

The third action figure was a big-game hunter, Tim had bought with his own allowance money, two years ago. He remembered how proud he’d been, paying for it himself. There had been so many adventures the little hunter had shared with him, and so many nights the hunter had been tucked under his pillow while sleeping.

“Nimrod,” he whispered. A wide grin stretched across his cheeks, as he stared at the hunter. “I almost forgot about you, buddy. How about you take one more big adventure, with me?”

Tim set the dinosaur and three action figures on a shelf, before continuing his search through the toy chest. He found a lion-tamer’s bullwhip: a souvenir from a visit to the circus. Deep down at the bottom of the chest, his fingers wrapped around a battery powered light saber, Mom had bought for Kyle a few years ago. Flipping the toggle switch activated the toy. The plastic, round tipped blade flashed then hummed a bright indigo blue.

“Wow! The sounds still work, on this thing. Better take it with me, just in case I might need to fight off monsters, or something.”

Leaving the toy chest, Tim turned and walked through the dark utility room passing by the new dryer and the washing machine, and headed straight for the linen closet where mom kept the winter comforters and Dad’s special-occasion winter hats. He held the light saber overhead, illuminating the dark closet as he searched for the perfect comforter. As he waved the toy left to right, he thumbed through the neatly stacked linens.

“The force is strong with me.” he said. Tim yanked on a large green and brown comforter usually found on his parents’ bed. He dragged it across the basement floor, out the utility room, back into the hallway toward the box. One swift kick at the bottom, toppled the huge box. The open lid landed just before Tim, spilling miscellaneous wrappings to the ground. Inside, he discovered big rectangular pieces of packing foam and a large wad of bubble wrap.

These might come in handy later he thought.

Setting the light saber aside, he grabbed the comforter with both hands. In one quick yank, the comforter flew into the air and settled down over the big box. He ran back into the utility room, over to the low shelf where Dad kept all sorts of paint cans. Mustering all of his strength, he picked up one of the cans by the metal loop handle and dragged it back to the comforter-covered box. He walked the can to the back of the box and set it down on top of a corner of the comforter just as Dad came down the stairs, carrying Tim’s Fire Bible, he’d intentionally left on a step.

“What are you…ah, I see,” Dad said. “Making a little hideout huh?”

“Yep,” Tim beamed. “I just need one more can to hold down the roof so it won’t blow away when the storm comes.”

“Oh, yeah we wouldn’t want the roof to disappear would we?” Dad said. “I don’t think your insurance claim would cover imaginary disasters. I see your roof doubles as a front door too. That’s pretty good thinking, kid. I won’t tell Mom that you’ve got her clean comforter on the basement floor.”

“Thanks Dad,” Tim said as a yawn escaped his parted lips. “Can you help me carry another can over here?”

“Sure buddy. Where are we gonna put it; on the other side, at the corner?”

“Yeah, I was thinking about maybe using something for the-” Tim started, but was interrupted by another yawn.

“Sure you’re not getting sleepy buddy?” Dad asked.

“Dad I can’t sleep now! I’ve got stuff to do here.”

Dad shook his head and raised his free hand feigning retreat.

“Alright, why don’t you go back in the closet and grab one of the spare pillows. You may need a seat in there. I’ll just toss this inside, in case you need a little light reading on your trip.”

“Yeah, the pillow’s a good idea, Dad.” Tim said.

Dad started for the stairs.

“Okay buddy, I’ll leave you to it then. You need any help, just yell. I always knew you were gonna do something great, kid. It’s your destiny.”

He was half way up the staircase, when Tim yelled.

“Dad! Can you cut the light off up there please?”

“Sure buddy.” Everything was just about set. The lights flicked off, surrounding Tim in the darkness of the basement. He stood motionless allowing his vision time to adjust, before reaching for the light saber on the floor. Thumbing the button, the basement was illuminated in a soft indigo-blue. Tim walked through the darkened basement toward the toy chest, back through the utility room to the linen closet. Opening the closet door, four different hats, each its own unique color with a silk band around the crown, hung from cap hangers screwed into the door. Each hat wore its own see-through plastic bag. Dad once told Tim the Fedoras, as the hats were called, needed to be protected from dust.

“Probably shouldn’t touch these.” Tim whispered.

He reached up the door and tipped the brim of the hat on the lowest hanger: a caramel brown Fedora with a chocolate colored silk band. Setting the light saber down, Tim pulled the smooth felt hat out of its thin plastic covering, and hid the bag between two blankets.

“Wow, this is so sweet.” he snickered. “Every explorer needs a cool hat.”

He closed the closet door, picked up the light saber and walked back to the box. He set the large hat over his head. It sank low over his ears. Tim picked up the small bag of potato chips and the juice box, while holding the light saber under his arm. He crawled into the box and set aside the snacks and the light saber, right next to the bible. Next he hauled the packing foam and bubble wrap to the back of the box. He then crawled out to gather his passengers: the diver, the spaceman, the hunter and the red T-Rex. With just enough room inside to maneuver between the front and back of the box, he decided to organize everything.

“This is great, Nimrod! You guys need to sit in the back just in case of an emergency.”

Tim pushed the dinosaur and action figures between two packing foam blocks near the rear of the box, before sitting on the pillow.

“Well, I guess I need to eat before takeoff. You guys check the ship back there for any broken pieces. I’m just gonna have a snack and then we’ll be off.”

Tim sat, ate chips, and drank the juice while staring into the blue light of the light saber. The light reminded him of the night light mom used to turn on at bedtime. He was afraid of the dark once.

Not anymore. I’m a big kid now, playing in the dark. Nothing to be afraid of he thought.

As he ate and drank, Tim flipped the little bible open to the spot where his Spongebob book marker had been set in second Corinthians, chapter 13. By the blue light of the light saber, he absently read through verse 13:14.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the presence and fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Tim barely noticed another yawn slip through his lips as his eyes slowly glided toward the soothing glow of the blue light. The blue light was nice. The blue light was…somehow warm. The blue light…the light…