A Real Halloween Fright

Here’s a little Fifth Friday Flash Fiction fun for everyone. Meet Aubrey and Zadie in an earlier story over on Intentional Parenting: How to Hug a Lightning Bolt.

“Ouch!”

“What now?”

“I stubbed my toe on that big gravel!” Zadie limped to exaggerate the effect, her princess-fairy-assassin costume becoming even more Frankenstein-like.

“Well, maybe if you hadn’t worn that big mask, you could see better.” Aubrey sighed in the classic big-sister way. “Come on.”

Zadie hung back near the road, her feet scuffing through the orange leaves. Half-way up the walk, Aubrey turned. “What’s wrong now?”

“I don’t think Mr. Jennings likes me.”

“Then it’s good you’re wearing a Halloween costume, Zadie. He won’t recognize you.”

Zadie knocked once on the storm door, turned, and hopped off the stoop. “He’s not home. Let’s go.”

“Wait. His lights are on. His decorations are out. Give him a minute. He’s probably slow.” Aubrey knocked more firmly. After twenty seconds, she opened the storm door and knocked on the solid, wooden door. It swung open a couple of inches.

She pushed in a bit more. “Hello? Mr. Jennings? Are you here? Trick or treat?” An upturned bucket of Halloween candy slid behind the door. A pair of feet stuck out of a lit room at the end of the hall.

Aubrey glanced back at Zadie. “Either this is an elaborate Halloween trick or something’s wrong. Come on, Zee.” Zadie grabbed her big sister’s hand as they stepped through the door. Aubrey strengthened her voice, “Mr. Jennings? Are you all right?”

Was that a groan?

Hand in hand, the girls crept down the dark hallway. A black cat crossed from one doorway to another in front of them. Zadie squeezed Aubrey’s hand even tighter and glanced at her sister. Aubrey was holding her breath, too!

They peeked around the corner into the lit room. Mr. Jennings lay face down, his cane stretched out like an hour hand at eleven o’clock on the 70s-era linoleum floor. Aubrey bent down and shook his shoulder. “Mr. Jennings? Are you okay?”

No answer. Aubrey pulled out her phone and dialed 9-1-1. When she ran to the front door to find the street address, Zadie leaned near Mr. Jennings ear. “I’m sorry you don’t like me,” she half-whispered. “Please don’t die.”

Mr. Jennings eyelids fluttered. He groaned then raised his hand a few inches off the floor and shakily pointed toward the kitchen table. A row of four orange containers sat near the center. “Your medicine? Is that what you need?” Zadie spoke to herself as much as him. She ran to the table and grabbed all four containers. “Which one? All of them? Oh, I don’t know what to do!” She twisted back and forth, her assassin cape slapping the floor every time.

She grabbed all four containers and sat them in a row on the floor, yelling, “Mr. Jennings! Show me which one!” His eyes opened long enough to register the containers, then he knocked over the second one. “Is that the one, Mr. Jennings?” She tried to read the label: “Nitro…nitro-glik-eron. Is that the one, Mr. Jennings? Do you need nitroglycerin?” Zadie was still yelling.

That’s the biggest word I ever read, Zadie thought, and I probably didn’t say it right. Mr. Jennings tapped the floor twice with his forefinger. “It says you should take two. Is that right?” Mr. Jennings tapped twice again.

She wrenched the bottle open before she realized it didn’t have a child safety cap. Half the pills fell onto the floor. She picked up two, blew them off, and stretched them toward Mr. Jennings. He did nothing. “You can’t get them, can you? Okay, I’m going to put them in your mouth.” Zadie grimaced and reached toward the old man’s lips. Thankfully, he opened his mouth enough for her to stuff in one pill then the other. “You’re gonna have to swallow, Mr. Jennings. I can’t do that for you!”

At that moment, Aubrey stepped back into the room with a gasp. “What are you doing?!?”

“He needed his medicine! He told me!” Aubrey’s eyes were filled with panic, but tears puddled in Zadie’s eyes.

“How’d he tell you? Never mind, here comes the ambulance.” Aubrey ran back down the hall. Zadie froze, looking from Mr. Jennings to the door and back.

The EMTs marched into the kitchen full of authority and loaded with equipment:

“What happened?”
“What did you do?”
“What did he take?”
“How many pills?”
“Where did you find him?”
“How long has he been like this?”

Now the tears were flowing freely, and the only thing Zadie could say was, “Two pills. I gave him two pills.” She wiped her nose on the sleeve of her princess-fairy-assassin costume before she remembered she would get in trouble for that.

———-

Zadie’s mom shook her awake early the next morning. “C’mon, Zadie. We’re going out for pancakes, but we have a stop to make first.”

Zadie had only been to the hospital once before. The long halls and mechanical noises quieted her always-full mind. Somehow, her mother knew where to go, and they pushed open a certain hospital room door. Mr. Jennings raised his head and weakly waved them in.

“You’re Zadie, right?”

“Yes, s-sir. I’m sorry we came in your house last night.”

He harumphed. “Sorry? Little girl, you saved my life!”

“What? I thought I messed up. I spilled your pills on the floor and I gave you two of them and the medics were scary and asked me lots of questions and I didn’t know what to say and my sister…” Her words trailed off as Mr. Jennings held his palm toward her like a crossing guard indicating ‘stop.’

“Zadie, it’s no wonder I didn’t talk last night. You won’t let a person get a word in edge-wise.” His eyes were laughing.

Zadie giggled. “That’s what Aubrey, my sister, that’s what she says.”

“I want you to know two things, little missy. And I asked your mama to bring you over here so I could tell you both. First, you saved my life, and I thank you for it. I was trying to get to those pills when I fell and bonked my noggin. If you hadn’t done what you did, we would have had a much more frightful Halloween.” He raised his eyebrows.

“And the second?” Zadie interjected.

“Just give an old man a minute!” Zadie pursed her lips the way her first-grade teacher had taught her when it wasn’t her turn to speak.

Mr. Jennings took a few more breaths. “Alright. I’m ready. The second thing is that I never didn’t like you. The fact is, you remind me of my own daughter about forty years ago. She and her mama died when she was just a little older than you are now, so seeing you makes me hurt something awful.”

For once in her life, Zadie had no words.

“But I’ve decided it’s worth it. I want you to come over any time, play in my yard, and eat apples off the tree in the back. When I get outta her, I’m even gonna see what I can do about replacing the tire swing we used to have on that oak tree in the front.”

Zadie’s mom touched her back, the universal parental prompt to say “thank you,” and Zadie did.

Here’s a #FifthFriday #FlashFiction not-so-frightful story about 2 sisters who are as different as their names: Aubrey and Zadie. Something light to end the month. Enjoy!

Did you share a harrowing experience with a sibling when you were younger? What happened? How did it work out? I’d love to read your TRUE story in the comments below!

In Hot Pursuit of Happiness

I have a bone to pick with the Founding Fathers.  Check out this well-known line from the Declaration of Independence :

Image courtesy of justsweetandsimple.blogspot.com
Image courtesy of justsweetandsimple.blogspot.com

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

I can accept “life” and “liberty” (although neither is a God-given right according to the Bible), but why did they say we have a right to “the pursuit of happiness”?  And what does it mean to chase something like happiness? They didn’t say we have a right to be happy in the same way we have a right to live and be free.  They just said we have a right to try to be happy.  First of all, I think we forget the “pursuit of” phrase when we think about our rights as Americans.  Secondly, I think we misunderstand happiness.

My modern definition of happiness:
a sense of contentment or well-being
derived from one’s external circumstances.

Maybe happiness had a different meaning back in 1776.  After all, meanings do change over time.  If you think you know what the Founding Fathers meant by happiness, feel free to post it in the comments.  These days, happiness seems to mean comfort, convenience, even entertainment.

Look where this logic takes you:  If I “need” my TV shows to make me laugh, which indicates that I’m happy, then I have a right to those TV shows.  Or—*warning: I’m about to get political here*—if my lifestyle makes me feel good (i.e. makes me happy), regardless of its morality, then I have the right to live that way.  Most Americans are in hot pursuit of happiness.

This idea—that we have the right to happiness­—leads us to believe that we are entitled to entertainment.  Why is the cost of cable/satellite television listed under ‘necessities’ in our budgets? Why do people take out loans to go on vacation? Why do many families subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime on top of their existing television bills?  Why do our children play video games at the dinner table and have game systems in their rooms?  Why do those same children complain when the DVD player in the minivan doesn’t work?

Entertainment has become
the preeminent priority
of the American populous.

Before I go on, let me clarify.  There’s nothing wrong with being happy. I like it when everyone in my home is happy, and everyone else likes it when I’m happy: “When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” Also, I watch TV, go the movies, attend concerts, and all that sort of stuff.  There’s nothing inherently sinful in these activities (although, of course, we all need to guard what we see and hear). The issue on my mind for the last few months is this:  the relentless pursuit of happiness through entertainment, as if it were the goal of life, the preeminent priority of the American populous.

A recent television commercial suggests that we should have access to our television, movies, and/or music even while we rock climb or horseback ride.  I know they are using exaggeration to make a point, but it still makes me uneasy.  Is constant access to entertainment really going to improve our lives? It feels like we’re entertaining ourselves into idiocy and social ostracism.  Tony Reinke, posting at Desiring God, observes, “This is sloth at its deadly best: trying to preserve personal comforts through the candy of endless amusements.”  And like the sugar in candy, entertainment is addictive.  We have the freedom to eat as much candy as we want (Watch out, Halloween, here I come!), but we aren’t entitled to candy (at Halloween or any other time), and it certainly isn’t good for us to eat candy until our stomachs ache.  The same is true of entertainment, which is why no one has to explain the new term, “binge-watching.”  It reminds me of this.

Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. -Philippians 3:18b-19

Consider these six things we may lose when our minds are set on the earthly “pursuit of happiness.”

Loss of Rest

Entertainment is not rest or leisure.  Our minds need rest just as much as our bodies.  If we sit down to rest for a minute but we feel compelled to flick on the TV or scroll through Facebook, we’re not really resting.  It’s a false high, like a caffeine buzz.  Sitting on the porch, just watching the sunset, is restful.  Watching TV is not restful for our minds.  A long, face-to-face conversation with a friend, a brother or sister in Christ, is restful. Trolling Facebook, where you have 500 “friends” is not restful.  Paul Maxwell  said it well: “Don’t stop and collapse into mindless inactivity. That’s a cycle of laziness — fake, shallow rest — not rest.”

Loss of Logic

When we fill all of our ‘down time’—even the thirty seconds we wait at a traffic light—with diversions, we lose the ability to carry thoughts to their logical conclusions.  It takes time to work through a problem, and our minds don’t always operate on an 8-to-5 timetable.  I don’t know about you, but I get some of my best ideas in the bathroom.  I may be wasting water in the shower, but I’m solving the world’s problems (or so I tell my husband)! Even right now, I’m tempted to “take a break” from this difficult writing and go check Twitter.  Sometimes our problems feel like mental weightlifting, but if we drop the weights in the middle of the set, we’ll never get any stronger.

Loss of Empathy

In a recent interview  on NPR’s Weekend Edition, Professor Sherry Turkle (author of Reclaiming Conversation: The power of Talk in a Digital Age) bemoans the loss of casual social interaction. She says, “Face to face conversation is the most human and humanizing thing that we do; it’s where we learn to put ourselves in the place of the other.”  Authentic conversation is the incubator for empathy; it’s how we learn to express it and to seek it.

Authentic conversation is
the incubator for empathy.

As Turkle points out, if everyone is privately occupied, we will not converse, which means we will not learn to communicate our pain or share another’s pain.  I wonder, is this why I cry over books and movies so much more than my children? Are they lacking empathy? (Not to mention how frequent portrayals of violence and death cause our children–and us–to become jaded to the real thing!)

Loss of Creativity

By constantly indulging in entertainment, we also lose creativity. Mind-wandering, and even a little boredom at times, fosters creativity and innovative thinking.  Back in 2012, Irish TV writer/director Graham Linehan said, “The creative process requires a period of boredom, of being stuck. That’s actually a very uncomfortable period that a lot of people mistake for writer’s block, but it’s actually just part one of a long process. The internet has made it very difficult to experience that.” (Here’s an article  about the link between boredom and creativity, if you’re interested. I found the Linehan quote there.)

Loss of Spiritual Intimacy

“If you’re constantly stimulated by being called away to the buzzing and the excitement of what’s on your phone, solitude seems kind of scary,” according to Professor Turkle in that same interview on Weekend Edition. I think we’re afraid that, if we have time to actually look inside ourselves, we won’t like what we see. We’ll be forced to pay attention to whatever difficult thing we don’t want to acknowledge or the change God has been asking us to make, so we pursue inauthentic happiness through the diversion of entertainment.

Consider this situation from my Bible study, Dwell: Mary, Martha & Lazarus (yet to be published).  It comes from Luke 10:38-42, where Martha prepares a meal while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet. I was writing about how we let ourselves be distracted.

Just for a minute, put yourself in Mary’s place: completely absorbed in Jesus’ words and thoughts, even in His facial expressions. Maybe you (not Mary—you, yourself) have been making excuses for a long time. Maybe you’re just scared to honestly look into the face of Jesus. Maybe the distractions are your distancing technique so that you don’t have to be real with God. If there were no distractions…nothing else to do…would you be comfortable sitting at the feet of Jesus?

Loss of Engagement

Have you ever had a fascinating conversation with a complete stranger on a bus or while waiting at the doctor’s office?  Although I’m an introvert, I still remember several really interesting conversations with people I never saw before or since.  But not since I got a smart phone. Professor Turkle says that we’re actually losing the ability to carry on a conversation.

Not only do we no longer have those pleasant, serendipitous conversations, but we’ve also forfeited God-orchestrated opportunities to share Truth. When our son started practicing sports, I thought it would be a great chance to get to know some parents and share Truth as the Holy Spirit provided openings.  Instead, every parent sits on the bleachers absorbed in his or her phone or tablet.  No one talks.  1 Peter 3:15 says, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. They aren’t going to ask me anything–they aren’t even going to know about my Hope–if I look busy on my phone or if they prefer the ease of social media over the potential awkwardness of new social interaction. Sure, you might show a Christian YouTube video to your neighbor, and God might use it in your neighbor’s life, but can it replace an authentic relationship with that neighbor? I don’t think so.

So, Founding Fathers, what did you mean by “the pursuit of happiness”?

Somehow, I don’t think it was the mindless entertainment and deluge of distractions that we’ve established as the path to personal satisfaction in the 21st century.  Entertainment is like mental junk food.  It fills us up, but it doesn’t satisfy.  When our mindset (back to Phil 3:19 again) revolves around self-indulgence through constant distractions or entertainment, we lose so much of what connects us to each other and to God.  This vain pursuit of ill-defined happiness may just set the course for our destruction.

I’ve got a bone to pick with the founding fathers. 6 things we lose when we over-prioritize happiness. Because my #happiness is #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Have you given this any thought? What do you think we sacrifice when happiness or comfort become our highest priorities? I’d be happy to start a conversation about this in the comments below.

Such as These

to such as theseFor a long time, I’ve been puzzled by this idea of us (adults) becoming like little children. Just look at these quotes from Jesus:

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”   –Matthew 11:25

“Let the little children come to me…for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”   –Mark 10:14

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”   –Matthew 18:3-4

When I think of little children, my first descriptive term is “innocent”—not a term that describes me well. My past has too many sins attached to it. Of course, I have been declared innocent in the judicial sense because Jesus took my guilt, and I live in that assurance every day, but experientially?  Well, too much has gone in through these eyes and ears; too many bad things have passed out through this mouth and these hands. In many ways, I don’t even want the return of that childlike naiveté because my experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly) hammered me into the Christ-follower that I have become. So there must be more to this concept of “childlike” than innocence . . .

At least I’m in good company, puzzling over things Jesus said. Nicodemus asked Jesus, “How can someone be born when they are old?” (John 3:4). Like me, he had questions. So I do what Nicodemus did: I take my questions to Jesus. Here’s what I discovered in reading through the Gospels.

Children occupy a low position in society.

Perhaps more in Jesus’ day than in ours, children just weren’t that important. They didn’t sit at the heads of tables. They did the household jobs that adults didn’t want to do. They didn’t interrupt conversations. Remember that old saying, “Children should be seen and not heard”? Maybe it started there in Israel. This is why Jesus’ pointed to a child for a contrasting example when the disciples argued over who was more important (Mark 9:33-37; I just wrote about that from a parenting perspective *here*). This is why He praised those who would make the effort to give a child a cup of water rather than tell the child to get it himself (Matthew 10:42).

When we Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above [our]selves (Philippians 2:3), we position ourselves like children in society. Jesus modeled this attitude when He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-16), and in Luke 22:26, He says, The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. Who are “the youngest” but the children?

Children are guileless.

Don’t ask a little kid what he thinks unless you really want to know. They haven’t learned to couch the truth in the “little white lies” that we call kindness. I think (just me here, I can’t confirm this with Scripture) this is one of the reasons Jesus liked children. They liked Him, too. As I was studying to write this post, I came upon this short conflict in the temple just before Jesus’ arrest. Look:

But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.

“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”  -Matthew 21:15-16

Those kids didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to say things like that in the temple, in front of the priests and teachers! They just spoke truth. (I bet their parents were mortified!)

Confession and repentance are necessary in initiating and maintaining a relationship with Jesus. As adults, we try to excuse, justify, de-emphasize, or just plain ignore our sin. But entering the Kingdom requires brutal honesty on our part: “Yep. I did it even though I knew better.” This one is a real challenge for me to just open my heart up to Jesus like a little kid who runs around naked, completely unaware of the impropriety.

Children act like those they admire.

They play house; they go to work; they sit with a book on their laps and look serious when they can’t actually read. Children pick up the habits and even the speech patterns of their parents.

Paul encouraged the Ephesians, Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love (Ephesians 5:1). As we emulate Jesus in our attitudes and actions, we become more like Him. What begins intentionally evolves into habit…even nature.

Children trust absolutely.

A Father says, “Come on Baby, jump! I’ll catch you.” and the little girl never doubts for a second that He will do it. That kind of confidence isn’t built on logic or experience. It’s built on love. The child who declares, “My dad can whup your dad!” hasn’t considered the size or fighting experience of either father. He just knows his dad is unstoppable. Oswald Chambers said, “The spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, just uncertain of what He is going to do next” (MUHH 4/30).

And that’s what Jesus asks us to do. Come to Him. Jump—before you have all the answers, before you’ve considered every alternative and repercussion.  This kind of trust says, “I don’t see any possible way for this to work, but I know You, Jesus, are leading me to do it, so here goes!”

little children

To those who embrace humility,

to those who are unflinchingly honest,

to those who emulate Jesus,

to those who flagrantly and unreasonably trust Him…

the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (click to tweet)