Until He’s Learned Somethin’ (c.1946)

The screen door slammed behind him, a quick echo to the cocking of her rifle. She took her time crossing the few feet to the door and opening it with her left hand, rifle ready in her right. She saw him skid around the back corner of the barn, shirt-tale flapping in the breeze.

Her name was Avera. It sounded like “average,” but “average” would never describe her. She and Henry married almost two years earlier, but with his deployment they had only lived together for the last six months, since the war was over. He still had a lot to learn about her.

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We Know So Little About Lydia

I wish Luke gave us more information about this gracious hostess and resident of Philippi, so for some fifth Friday fun, I imagined a back story for her. Catch the real story in Acts 16 and a study on the same chapter (from Paul’s point-of-view) coming soon to Not About Me.

It was a business move. Nothing more. And yet Lydia relished the freedom of her new hometown. In Philippi, women were treated better—not exactly like men, but at least her neighbors weren’t surprised when they learned she kept her own books and made her own purchasing decisions.  At first, she rented a small store front with an even smaller apartment in the back. It was enough for her and her two apprentices.

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Just Pick Up Your Mat

I hope you enjoy this #FifthFriday #FlashFiction based on John 5:1-15.

Zeb wasn’t particularly mystical. If he hadn’t seen it with his own two eyes, he wouldn’t believe it himself. But people had been truly healed at Bethesda pool—people he’d seen suffer for years. That’s why Zeb stashed his wheelchair at the bottom of the steps every morning and dragged his body up the steps and across the colonnade. Every morning, he staked out a space as close to the water as possible, but every morning, others arrived before him.

This morning, only one person blocked his path to the water. It wouldn’t matter. If the waters moved, someone else—someone with two working legs or a friend—would reach the water before he could. Maybe this daily labor was his penance. Maybe he didn’t deserve to be healed.

The warm sun convinced Zeb a short nap wouldn’t hurt anything, and he was almost asleep when someone spoke to him. He looked up, blinking, at the man standing over him.

The man squatted. Now they could speak eye-to-eye. “Do you want to get well?”

Did he want to get well? What
sort of fool question was that?

Did he want to get well? What sort of fool question was that? Of course he wanted to get well…didn’t he? Some part of his heart pushed the idea aside. His recklessness and arrogance had made him this way and stolen his bride thirty-eight years ago. Did he really want to get well?

Short of breath, Zeb grasped at the obvious. “Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” It wasn’t an answer to the man’s question, but it was the best Zeb could do in the moment. Maybe this guy would hang out and help him win the race into the water.

The man’s next words startled Zeb into obedience. He said, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Zeb obeyed without thinking. When the man straightened up, Zeb stood up too. Then Zeb bent over, rolled up his mat, and walked away. When he reached the bottom of the steps, he saw his wheelchair tucked behind a bush. Only then did his knees go weak. He was walking! He turned around, trotted back to the top of the steps, and scanned the crowd for the One who had healed him. The man was gone.

08-28 Greece (133)
Greek colonnade (c) Carole Sparks

Zeb leaned on a column, puzzling over his next move. What should he do first? Where should he go? Who should he tell? Well, the “who” question was easy. Across the thirty-eight years of his disability, he had pushed away everyone who cared and everyone who offered to help. There was no one left who would celebrate with him.

Perhaps the best thing to do was offer thanks to God. Zeb made his way to the temple. He didn’t realize it was the Sabbath.

Before he took two steps on the main street, a Pharisee tapped him on the shoulder. The short man’s frown extended to his hairline like a mask he couldn’t remove. His stubby finger jabbed at Zeb’s mat under his arm. “It. is. the. Sabbath!” the man barked, his finger punctuating each word, “The. law. forbids. you. to. carry. your. mat!”

“Umm…” for the second time in an hour, Zeb wasn’t sure what to say. “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ So I did.”

Even thinking about the
man who healed him brought
a smile to Zeb’s face.

Two other Pharisees had descended on this exchange. One asked, “Who was this guy? Who told you to pick it up and walk?” But Zeb had no idea who the man was. Still, even thinking about him brought a smile back to Zeb’s face. He turned to a shopkeeper along the street and asked the man to hold his mat until evening. The Pharisees shoulders slumped as they looked around for someone else to correct.

An hour later, Zeb was standing (because who would sit after thirty-eight years of not standing?!?) in the temple courtyard when he heard the same voice he’d heard by the pool. He wandered toward the crowd around the man and asked someone at the back, “Who is this guy?”

“Where have you been?” the guy snorted. “This is Jesus. Some people say He may be the Messiah!”

Zeb shuffled to the front of the crowd and found himself face to face with Jesus. Then Jesus looked him directly in the eye and said, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Zeb blinked slowly as Jesus returned to his teaching.

Zeb turned his eyes toward
Jesus again…He really was
the Messiah!

What could be worse than thirty-eight years of pain, shame, loss, and struggle? Eternity apart from God, that’s what. The Sabbath school answer popped back into his head despite the fifty-year span since he had learned it. It wasn’t wrong. Zeb turned his eyes toward Jesus again, the Teacher’s words muted by the volume of Zeb’s own thoughts. He really was the Messiah! It was completely clear now. Zeb’s feet danced a little shuffle, responding to the fresh light in his eyes. Jesus looked back toward him, and a smile stretched His lips as if they shared an inside secret.


There’s a lot of my own imagination built around the story John gives us in his gospel. Maybe you picture it differently. That’s okay. Here’s my take-away based on the true parts of the story:

Jesus asks a seemingly easy question that’s actually very difficult. That’s how he often worked. I once heard someone say, “You answer with your heart before your mouth.” It’s true, isn’t it? And Jesus was the master of asking just the right question…usually the one you don’t want to answer. Remember the woman at the well (John 4)? She tried to avoid the difficult question by distracting Jesus, but it didn’t work. This time, the guy is so focused on his one way to be healed that he misses Jesus’ point.

Sometimes, we think Jesus needs to fix our circumstances or help us achieve a personal goal that will make our lives better. Like this disabled man, we focus entirely on the foreseeable outcome, even if it has frustrated us again and again. Jesus’ question wasn’t, “Do you want to get in the pool?” It was “Do you want to be healed?” What question is Jesus asking you? Are you mishearing Him because you’re so focused on your existing plan? He has a way for you to get what you really need, even when you don’t know what that is. But it’ll take a little obedience.

Jesus has a way for you to get what you really need, even when you don’t know what that is. A little #BiblicalFiction for some #FifthFridayFun via @Carole_Sparks on #NotAboutMe. (click to tweet)

What do you think about this fresh take on a familiar story? Is there a moment you want to remember? Something you want to apply to your own life? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

This is not my first time in this passage. For more on Jesus’ side of the story, check out God’s Priority: His Kingdom from way back in 2012.

The Christmas List

Gracie held her pencil above the last remaining blank page in her planner. “Ah-ha!” She lowered the pencil to the paper, then picked it up again. “No-o.” Who knew you could get writer’s block for a Christmas list?!? There were decisions to be made and gifts to be bought. Now was the time!

This was her moment: the quiet
half-hour before the chaos…
the calm before the storm.

She checked the breakfast casserole again. Still forty minutes to go. Everything else was ready. Her family was on their way. They would eat brunch, then hit the Black Friday sales. This was her moment: the quiet half-hour before the chaos…the calm before the storm. Tomorrow wouldn’t be any better. In fact, every day between this one and Christmas would be loaded with extra things.

Gracie pulled a box of Christmas decorations out of the hall closet. She needed to be productive, and If she couldn’t write the Christmas gift list, she would get started on the decorations. The nativity set lay on top.

She picked up the Mary. I bet Mary had a list of what she needed after the baby was born—things she had packed before they left Nazareth. Maybe she catalogued the donkey’s saddle bags as they trudged toward Jerusalem.

She grabbed Joseph in the other hand. Did Joseph have a list? Probably a list of places to check for lodging…doors to knock on so they wouldn’t have to sleep outside. Maybe he searched his memory for additional options as they trudged toward Jerusalem.

Gracie set both pieces near the center of the mantle. She bent down and collected the three shepherds. It’s always three, to balance the wise men. She thought about the shepherds’ journey into Jerusalem and sat down hard on the ottoman. They didn’t trudge toward Jerusalem. They were excited all the way into town!

Gracie pulled her phone from her back pocket. Ignoring the social media notifications, she opened her Bible app to Luke 2.

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  –Luke 2:15-16

There was only one thing
on their list: see Jesus.

The shepherds “hurried off,” not because they were in a hurry—not busy-ness, Gracie thought, but because they wanted to get there as quickly as they could to see the amazing thing God had done…the Messiah He had finally sent to earth. There was only one thing on their list: see Jesus.

Mary and Joseph both had incredible responsibilities that first Christmas. It’s understandable that, in their exhaustion and the burden of their roles, they trudged toward Bethlehem. We are not them. All the work has been done.

She decided to put one thing at
the top of her Christmas list, one
thing that was easy to overlook.

Gracie still had to make a list of all the Christmas gifts to buy. She still had to get the casserole out of the oven and host her family’s annual post-Thanksgiving brunch. But she decided to put one thing at the top of her Christmas list, one thing that was easy to overlook, easy to let slip to the bottom of the list. Gracie wanted to see Jesus this Christmas.

She stood up and looked around. Then, she set the shepherds on a table across the room from the mantle. Each morning, she planned to move them a little closer to the mantle, and in those moments, she would contemplate the Messiah who came to earth for all of us. She would see Jesus.

What’s at the top of your Christmas list this year? Here’s a little #flashfiction fun to set the mood. Because my #ChristmasList is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Do you have a plan to see Jesus this holiday season? It’s easy to get distracted by all the responsibilities and obligations (both real and imagined) of the season. In the comments below, please share how you keep your focus through the holidays.

A Small League of Unrecognized Radicals (repost)

I’m not good with the crucifixion. I read and write all around it, but I struggle with the actual event. I’ve never even seen The Passion of the Christ. Last summer, however, God gave me this perspective, and I managed to get the words down. So for Good Friday this year, I offer this repost of a biblical fiction piece based on John 19:38-42 (and the other gospels).

“Get me an audience with Pilate. Now.” Joseph’s servant nodded and stepped away, soon lost in the dispersing crowd, but Joseph couldn’t move. He tried not to think about the twelve-year-old who had amazed him in the temple more than two decades earlier. He tried not to list the many who had been healed in the last three years. He forced himself to breathe again and steadied his hands.

Now for his eyes. They hadn’t left Jesus since a centurion thrust that spear into Jesus’ side. Look away, Joseph. You have to look away. You have to take care of this, even if He isn’t what you anticipated. Jesus deserves that much. Continue reading

There’s Just One Door, But It’s Open

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  –John 14:6

Heat from the fire battled streams of cold air pushing through the window gaps of her family’s old house, but the wood in the fire was dry, and the stones of the fireplace were gradually warming the air around them. Rain echoed from the attic, so conversation was sparse. At least they had lights. Lyla shivered and tightened the afghan around her shoulders.

It was, as Snoopy would say, “a dark and stormy night.” Continue reading

Lord, the One You Love

Mary peeked into the room. “Is he any better?”

“He’s the same as half an hour ago,” Martha whispered, “I thought you were going to get some sleep. It’s not even sunrise yet.”

“How can I sleep when my brother is so sick?” Mary forgot to be quiet. “What can we do? We’ve called three different doctors. We’ve tried every conventional treatment. We’ve sent offerings to the temple. He’s only getting worse! What else can we do?” Her voice rose in pitch with each sentence. Continue reading

Muffled but Magnified

(c) Carole Sparks
(c) Carole Sparks

She took her place at the back of the line. An imposing gentleman—yes, he was certainly a gentleman; she could tell by the fine cut of his robe and the straightness of his shoulders—blocked her view up the line. She was careful not to shuffle too far when the line shifted. She might accidentally touch that fine fabric. He would feel the nudge and most certainly glare at her. He shook his coin pouch, again gauging its heft and contents. Scanning the crowd, he snatched a few coins from the pouch and stuffed them into his pocket. Still there was quite a jangle in that sturdy bag.

The sonorous clank of many coins colliding with the pile already inside the offering box cut short her observations. No matter that the gentleman in front blocked her view. She kept count of her place in line by the rattling of coins. Most wealthy people—she knew this from long years of observation—gave in one of two ways. Either they slowly dropped each coin into the box separately, making a show of the length of time it took to give, or they dropped their coins into the box all at once, for maximum sound effect. Those of the second type sometimes even bumped the box with their hip at the same time to create a bigger sound.

She pulled her thoughts back and resumed the mental conversation she had started before rising that morning. Most would call it prayer, but it didn’t have any of the formality that ornamented temple prayers. God was her ever-present companion, a best friend, a confidant since before her husband died all those years ago. She recalled His comfort in the difficult days of the funeral…

As she neared the box, she pulled two coins from inside her belt. No need for a money bag with only these two, worn bits of copper. “Oh Father,” her silent prayer continued, “I love you more than my own life.” The corners of her mouth curled up. “That soup being sold on the corner smelled really good. Fresh squash mixed with cinnamon, wasn’t it? I would rather praise you than fill my stomach.

“I didn’t sleep well last night; the bed bugs are getting worse. These two coins might buy enough soap to clean my bed and clothes, but I choose to honor You rather than to have a restful night or to give off a pleasant smell.

“Because I couldn’t sleep, I finished the last candle before sunrise this morning. You already know that, don’t you? Without another, I won’t be able to read Torah tonight, but that’s okay. I’ll just recite that one part in Deuteronomy:

‘See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. … Now choose life…’*

Oh, yes, that’s one of my favorites!

“Yes, my Lord, I know you care about me and your Law protects me as a widow. You would never demand this, but I give you these coins—everything I have—because I prefer your glory to my gain. You are my Jehovah-Jireh. You know what I truly need, and you will provide it. I don’t do it to see what You will provide or for any sort of blessing but simply to remind myself that nothing compares to Your glory. I want this, because more than anything else, I want You.”

The gentleman in front of her dropped his coins into the box all at once, just as she had anticipated. He hurried off, already focused on his next bit of business. She stepped in front of the box, conscious of the long line behind her. Her hand hesitated just for a moment, then the two small coins fell in among the rest. The thickness of the box muffled any sound they might have made.

As she turned to go, a man sitting across the hall caught her eye. A different sort of man.

And she knew her gift was magnified before the Father.

Mark 12:41-44.

*Deuteronomy 30:15-19

She dropped in her coins. As she turned to go, a man across the hall caught her eye, and she knew her gift was magnified before God. Even my last #twocents are #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)