So Dark, So Cold

I run my fingers over the incised lettering on the sign.

At least I think it’s incised lettering.

I think it’s a sign.

It’s hard to tell if I really have fingers.

It’s dark and it’s cold. At the last sign, I thought the number was a nine. If it was, I missed one mile marker.

Or maybe it wasn’t there. How can I be sure? It’s so hard to remember. I’m so cold.

Around the eighth mile marker you should see a light, below you, down the mountain.

I thought I saw the light, but I never found the marker. Then the trail turned off to the right, and I lost sight of it. Right now, it’s hard to remember what light is.

The goal is mile maker five, where there’s a farm house, a telephone, access to emergency services. Someone to go back and help my companion more than ten miles back in these mountains.

He’s the one who said there was a path, who told me about the mile markers, who said I’d see a light.

I reach out my fingers to the mile marker, but I can’t really see it. I reach out my fingers. Or I think I’m reaching them out. It’s hard to tell. I can’t tell if it’s a sign or a tree.

What should I do?

Go until you see the light. Keep going until the light is directly to your left. You’ll find the driveway.

The light is just a promise. A promise from someone who has been this way before.

Just a promise.

But it’s a promise from someone who knows the way.

I turn back to the trail, or at least where I think there’s a trail. I put out one foot and take a step.

No matter how dark, or how cold, keep looking toward the light.

There it is, just above that ridge.

There is a light.

Featured Image Credit: Adobe Stock #296811018 Licensed, not public domain.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of any event or character to those in the real world is coincidental. Copyright © 2020, Henry E. Neufeld

An Opinion

“But I know nothing about dam construction!” The exclamation was somewhat exasperated.

“Just look at it,” said Geoff. He pointed at the dam which was holding back a small lake in the narrow valley above. Below it, the land spread out fairly quickly into gently rolling farmland. The obvious issue was the land immediately below the dam, in which there were scattered fruit trees and a few small houses, just shelters really.

“I see it,” said Ron, “but I still don’t know anything about dams. I can’t tell you whether it’s a good idea to turn that land into an orchard.”

“But you’re the smartest man I know. Surely you have somewhat of an idea!”

“Any idea I have is uninformed and unsupported. I really don’t want to give you an inaccurate assessment of your risk. You need to get a real expert.”

“There you go with the big words. I just want a simple answer, yes or no. I think you just don’t understand the importance of this, the income I can derive from cultivating that land. I just want an opinion on whether this dam will hold. It has held for decades, after all.”

“It sounds like you already have an opinion.”

“Yes, but I want yours.”

Ron looked at the dam and studied it. No matter how long he looked it just looked like rocks, dirt, some concrete, holding back a lake. It almost looked like part of the landscape.

“Well, for what it’s worth,” he said finally, “I don’t see anything wrong with it.” That’s not a lie, he assured himself. I really don’t see anything wrong with it. Nothing right with it either. It’s just there.

“Good!” said Geoff. “Just what I wanted to hear. I knew you’d see it my way. You’re the smartest person I know.”

Somehow that last statement made Ron feel guilty.


Years passed, and then came the flood. It was hardly anyone’s fault that people weren’t prepared. The snows melted in the mountains, and the spring rains were heavier than usual, but all that was well upstream.

Yes, it was a rainy spring, but until the mix of broken ice and water came pouring down through the valley. The dam didn’t resist for more than a few minutes. Many farms downstream were severely damaged, but the orchard below the damn was wiped out, along with Geoff’s new house.

Geoff showed up on Ron’s doorstep. Ron’s house wasn’t near the path of destruction.

“Dead,” said Geoff. “All dead. My family. In the house. Dead.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Ron, wondering why he was feeling guilty. After all, he hadn’t sent the rain.

“Gone!” shouted Geoff. “All gone! Washed away!” He waved his arm as though he was seeping trash off a table top.

Ron could tell that Geoff was blaming him for the destruction. “I’m sorry for your losses,” he said dully.

“You should have told me,” said Geoff. “You should have told me the dam was no good.”

“It was only an opinion. I told you I wasn’t an expert on dam building.”

Geoff turned and stumbled away. “You should have told me,” he was muttering as he left.

Ron stood watching him. It was only an opinion. I told him I wasn’t an expert.

Sci-Fi Book: Off Armageddon Reef

David Weber is one of my favorite authors, and this is an excellent series. I’ve put a discount on this that has it at $7.98, below the Amazon.com price at the moment, but that may not last, so if you’re price shopping, go take a look there.

Note: I intend to place more short notes about books and series I like on this blog. I don’t post that much, so a book or so a week should be manageable.

We Believe?

We believe God is omnipotent,
but not that God is adequate.

We believe God is omniscient,
but not that God understands us.

We believe God is omnipresent,
but not with us in our time of need.

We believe God is all gracious,
but not that it applies to us.

We believe that God is everything,
but not anything particular.

So do we really believe at all?

(Featured image credit: Image by reenablack from Pixabay)

And after that …

(This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance between any person or place and the real world is strictly accidental. Copyright © 2019, Henry E. Neufeld.)

Fifteen years and $250,000,000 later, Steven (never Steve) Porter got a sign.

There was a great wind

It was a stormy day, and as he was going to work, there was a gust of wind down the street, between the rows of tall buildings on either side. Debris flew wildly. People driving in rush hour traffic thought their cars might actually be moved. An old brick wall in front of a church collapsed, and the sign fell, concealing part of the writing.

Steven looked around after the gust of wind and saw the sign: It said:

“What Are You Doing HERE?”
Steven

It was partially hidden behind the pile of bricks resulting from the wind. The second line had read “Rev. Steven Branson,” but the “Rev.” had fallen off, and the “Branson” was blocked by the bricks.

For a minute, Steven found himself wondering if God might be behind the unusual gust of wind, but that thought was 15 years out of date in his thinking.

“Fighting this stinking traffic,” he muttered. “That’s what I’m doing here. Like everyone else.”

Meteorologists concluded that a very unusual combination of air pressure, movement, and heat had produced a freak wind. But only after they ran the circumstances through a super-computer a few times and tweaked the parameters.

And after the wind an earthquake

The earthquake as much more normal for this beautiful town in southern California. Steven was standing by the table on which he had just signed documents that would make him a few million more dollars when the building started to shake. He was on just the 12th floor of a much taller building, but still there was no escape.

It was only minutes later, however, that the building’s safety manager called for an evacuation. Steven was able to watch the collapse from several blocks away.

Another supercomputer worked out a scenario which would allow the earthquake resistant building to collapse in the way it did, while other damage in the city was quite trivial.

The lawyers didn’t accept the word of the supercomputer, and spent years in court making careers out of it.

And after the wind a fire

He’d lost his car in the collapse, but eventually he was able to leave the area of the collapse and get a ride home. Oddly, despite the collapse of one large building, the earthquake damage had been rather mild elsewhere in the city.

The cab drove along that same street with the row of buildings on either side. Steven thought he smelled smoke. Before he managed to frame a question for the cab driver, the inside of the cab was filling with smoke. He opened the door and jumped out, then stood beside the driver as the care went up in flames.

The car fire didn’t require a supercomputer to explain. There was a wiring fault. It was just a natural event.

The sound of silence

Steven turned and found himself facing the sign again.

“What Are You Doing HERE?”
Steven

It was the same one he’d seen that morning.

He looked at the church, and saw in his mind another church yard, as a younger Steven approached the building. The church council was meeting, and the subject would be whether they wanted to keep their young pastor, and whether he should be allowed to carry out some of his plans.

That younger Steven was to appear to explain himself. As he stood in front of the church, he decided he just didn’t want to put up with it any more. Why should he fight with the old fogies who ran the church?

He’d felt the tug of his calling, but he decided he turned away. He called the chairman of the council on the phone and resigned. He was very good at business. Very good.

He looked at the sign.

“What am I doing here?” he asked.

(With apologies to 1 Kings 19:8-18. Featured Image Credit: background from Adobe Stock, not public domain. Combination is my own.)

A Day for Men to Talk about the Women in Their Lives

“I’m wondering if we’re going to do anything about International Women’s Day in our church,” said Dr. Maggie Williams.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of anything in the story to anything in real life is purely accidental. Copyright © 2019, Henry E. Neufeld

“Of course,” said Pastor Bill Allen. “I’m planning a sermon about the wonderful ladies in my life this Sunday.” His smile was beatific, expressing his confidence in “having this one covered.” Maggie imagined he practiced that smile in the mirror.

“But …” Maggie started to respond.

Bill knew when to keep control of a conversation, and he figured this was such a time. “I’ll begin,” he interrupted, “with my sainted mother, who gave her life so that I could be in ministry. I wouldn’t be where I am without her.”

“But,” Maggie began again, and then plowed forward, using her experience as an Emergency Room physician in keeping control of the conversation in turn. “Your mother never worked a day outside of her home.”

“What’s wrong with that?” asked Pastor Bill. Maggie suspected the expression of shocked disappointment, about a four on a five point scale, was also the result of practice.

Maggie got up to leave. As she reached the door, she said, “I imagine that to you International Women’s day is a day for men to talk about the women in their lives.

She didn’t see the entirely genuine look of surprise, consideration, and then visceral rejection she left behind.

(Featured image credit: Pixabay.)

A Far Away Incarnation

When humanity finally figured out a way to reach the stars, and found intelligent life there, there was an inevitable result.

Missionaries.

Some of the missionaries were sensitive an helpful, in their own way. Some, not so much.

For Delbert, the landing on the newly discovered planet was inevitable. There weren’t that many, but even so the difficulties of the work and the expense of travel meant that there were two few missionaries. As a committed Christian, it was his duty to preach the gospel to these creatures who had never heard it. In Delbert’s mind, they would doubtless be eternally lost should he fail in this mission. After all, would God have opened up the opportunity if the message was not essential?

He absorbed only a fraction of the required briefings from the scientific mission. Things like “recent catastrophic extinction event” and “not socially primitive despite appearances” didn’t overcome the general sense of primitive natives needing the benefits of both civilization and and dispensation of the truth.

So it was surprising and frustrating when the natives responded to Delbert’s preaching not with opposition nor with acceptance, but rather with a sort of puzzled surprise.

“Of course,” said the native chief, whose name Delbert could not pronounce, and whose body form seemed entirely wrong. No amount of invitation, however, nor singing of hymns, which interested the natives in some unknown fashion, would bring them to actually accept the message he was preaching. Delbert was unsure how the computer translator rendered all of that in any case. He assumed it was getting his preaching right.

He had expected either hostility or eager acceptance. He had come across the light years by means these natives couldn’t possibly understand to bring the message of the cross, one of hope for them as well as for natives of earth, no matter how far away. He had distantly admitted to himself the possibility that the natives would be apathetic, refusing to acknowledge their need of a savior.

But they remained friendly, listened to his preaching, and then responded by saying things like, “Yes, it would have to be that way.”

It took weeks for Delbert to become so frustrated that he decided to ask the chief of the local community what the issue was. The result only increased Delbert’s surprise.

“The best thing would be for you to attend one of our worship services,” said the chief.

It took a full minute for Delbert to recover. “You have worship services?”

“Of course,” said the chief. “Did you imagine we wouldn’t?”

Delbert chose not to respond to that as he didn’t know what to say that would meet both the needs of his mission and minimal courtesy. “I would be delighted to attend,” he said, not entirely truthfully. “Are there any requirements? Things I should avoid doing?”

“Just come and hear,” said the chief.

Delbert imagined he was hearing humor, but he thought he remembered the briefers telling him the natives didn’t do human-style humor. He almost wished he had listened more closely. But then he thought of how this would help him understand how to reach these people with the gospel message.

It turned out that the service was held in one of the natives’ underground meeting halls. The room might have been beautiful, if it was not so confusing to human eyes.

“Avert your eyes from the walls and ceiling,” said the chief.

“Oh, is it not allowed to view them?” asked Delbert.

“It’s allowed, but it is not good for the sanity of your people,” said the chief. “Averting your eyes will keep you from trying to find a pattern where none exists that your mind can process.”

Delbert was not sure when the meeting began, or even if had not been in progress when he entered. There was a confusing background sound that seemed to hover at the edge of some sort of order, but always to fail to cross that threshold. Delbert had to instruct his translation device to quit attempting a translation, as it kept popping up random words that meant nothing at all. Or perhaps they did. Delbert was disturbed by the sense that he almost understood something.

Then a single voice took over. The translator still struggled, but it seemed to get the drift, while individual words were more difficult.

I will narrate separately today to underline this tale for our guest.

In recent-ancient times the creation trembled-groaned and was disturbed. The world itself was in agony. The forces of chaos throughout this area gained the ascendance.

It was the task-duty-mission of the people to bring the blessing of constancy-spirit-salvation to the mechanics of this system-locale-epicenter-of-presence.

The task-duty-mission proved too great for the people and the forces of chaos continued to build against the epicenter-of-presence. There was a final stroke of the forces of chaos that came to destroy the people and the epicenter-of-presence.

There was a considerable period of time filled with conflict, and Delbert found himself weeping. Somehow the sorrow communicated in a way that much else had done.

Awe-amazement-wonder.

The epicenter-of-presence, the being of constancy-spirit-salvation would remain with the people. Great destruction still to come. Great sorrow. Much death. But no aloneness.

Then the rejoicing was almost more painful than the sorrow, the destruction, and the aloneness. Delbert was uncertain how long a time had passed. As the chief started to leave, he stumbled along, guided by the alien form.

“How else could it be?” asked the chief when they reached the surface. “The very being that fills the epicenter-of-presence comes to be with the people in their time of travel. We were so joyful to realize you understood this as well, but feared the consequences to you of joining in our worship. It could have destroyed you.

Delbert was not entirely certain it hadn’t.

(Featured Image Credit: Openclipart.org composite.)

Thankful in All Things

In everything, give thanks.

At every time, even when it’s time to do something unpleasant,

In every place, even where you don’t want to go,

In every way, even sometimes in ways you find strange,

For every one, even the people you really don’t like,

For every privilege, even those you’d rather not acknowledge,

For every trial, even when they seem overwhelming,

For every blessing, even the ones so common you don’t notice,

In everything, give thanks.

(A free meditation on 1 Thessalonians 5:18a.)

Weariness

Why?

Why?

… says Jacob.
… asks Israel.

My Lord doesn’t even notice
As justice slinks away.

Don’t you know?
Haven’t you heard?

Eternal God, Creator of the Universe
Doesn’t tire
Doesn’t wear out.
Just try to find something
God doesn’t understand!

Giving strength to the weary
Great power to the powerless

Even the young tire out,
Young men stumble and fall.

Those who depend on God

Renew their strength.
Rise like eagles in flight.
Run without getting tired.
Walk without wearing out.

So why do you ask?

We are weary.
We can’t fly.
We do wear out.
We can’t see that God sees.

How long, Eternal God?

Hear our prayer for strength!

(Adapted from Isaiah 40:27-31. Image credit: Openclipart.org, imposed on one of my own photographs.)