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

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A Small League of Unrecognized Radicals

Biblical flash fiction 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 forced himself to breathe again and steadied his hands.

Now for the eyes. They hadn’t left Jesus since a centurion thrust his 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

[Hashtag] This Is My Life

Julia sipped from the cup of tea in her left hand while she swiped and double-stamped Instagram posts on the phone in her right hand. She didn’t even look at the images, just “liked” them because her friends posted them. Friends with interesting lives and exotic vacations. Friends with fantastic husbands. An Old Navy advertisement: she paused, scrolled back a little, and tapped the now-red heart to un-like that one. She kept scrolling. Friends who always found the coolest coffee shops. Friends with beautiful tables already set for Easter dinner which was still four—no wait, two—days away.

Julia propped her feet on the basket of laundry in the floor but immediately lifted them off again. At least take off your shoes first, Julia! Those clothes are clean. She slipped her feet out of six-year-old tennis shoes and stretched them atop the laundry basket. Both the basket and her feet blurred until she blinked her eyes like windshield wipers to clear the tears.

What would happen if she posted a photo of the full laundry basket? Continue reading

The Apple Tree

James opened the door to Grandma’s house while Mom unbuckled his baby sister. He didn’t have to knock at Grandma’s. She always said he should just “come right in,” like he lived there. He took a deep breath as his foot crossed the threshold. The air was still thick with old books, old furniture, and antiseptic spray—as usual. On his second sniff, fresh rhubarb pie clouded the mix. James’ shoulders fell. He was hoping for chocolate or apple. Continue reading

One Foot in Front of the Other

Uphill. How long had she been trudging uphill? One foot in front of the other. One foot. No stops. No detours. Some people raced along the road, excited about what lay beyond the next slow bend. She’d been around enough bends to know the only thing awaiting them was more trudging uphill. So she kept walking. One foot in front of the other. Uphill.

She stayed in the middle
and tried to be good.

She tried to stay near the middle of the road even though the crowds were thickest there. On her right, the edge of the road topped a steep cliff. She once saw a whole family fall, but she turned away before they hit the bottom. Better not to see. On her left, a high wall bordered the road. It was smooth, sometimes even warm, but she could imagine herself crushed against it if the mass of people swelled. So she stayed in the middle and tried to be good. One foot in front of the other.

The movement of her own feet sometimes mesmerized her. She’d once gotten dizzy from staring down at them. Better to look ahead, look where she was going.

But where was she going?

“No idea,” she said aloud. A few people turned in surprise. She shrugged and lowered her eyes.

Maybe she was turning into one of those crazies who stood on the walled side of the road and waved at people. They always looked friendly, but why did they wave instead of walking? A few didn’t wave. Instead they screamed or held signs, but their words—spoken or written—made little sense. “Repent?” “Believe?” “Kingdom?” What Kingdom? Would a king stop the uphill trudge? Would a king explain the point of walking? Would a king let people fall off the edge of the road? A bunch of crazies, that’s what they were. All of them.

But some seemed so sincere. She was almost tempted to stop once when some guy gestured to her and pointed at a crack in the wall. He’d thought they could escape through the crack. He said it was a gate. Still crazy. That had been a long time ago. Why was she thinking of it now?

Her eyes were
drawn to the wall.

“One foot in front of the other, Jeanne.” This time, she muttered so that no one else heard. But her eyes were drawn to the wall even as her feet continued their steady rhythm. She made eye contact with one of the crazies. Uh-oh.

Instead of waving or yelling or pointing, this woman stepped into the crowded road and weaved toward her. Without asking, she reached for one of Jeanne’s heavy bags, but Jeanne hesitated and the woman smiled. Why did she trust this woman already? Jeanne released the bag. The woman fell into step beside her, even pointed out a pothole to avoid.

After a while, she began to talk. Her name was Mary, and her story felt both strange and familiar to Jeanne. They laughed together. How long had it been since she laughed? The woman talked about a gate that would lead them out of this never-ending uphill drudgery. She had found it and gone through it. When she experienced the peace and lack of struggle on the other side of the wall, she knew she had to come back and show people the gate.

“So those crazies along the wall… Oh, sorry!”

“No, that’s okay.” Mary smiled. I used to think they were crazy, too, but they’re telling the truth. They just have…unusual…ways of saying it.”

Jeanne continued. “There really is a gate? There really is another way? There really is a better life?”

“Yes, yes, and yes.” The whole time they talked, Mary had been steering Jeanne very gradually toward the wall. Now they stopped. A couple of people behind them grumbled and jostled around them. “Look, Jeanne.”

Jeanne had to tear her eyes away from Mary’s glowing face. Mary was pointing at the wall. But it wasn’t a solid wall anymore. There was a clearly a gate. Jeanne did a double-take. Yes, definitely a gate. Why hadn’t she seen it before this moment? “Is this the gate you went through, Mary?”

“Yes.”

“But you joined me back there,” Jeanne pointed down the road, “and the gate is here…,” her voice trailed off.

There’s only one gate.

“There’s only one gate, Jeanne. It appears when you’re ready to see it, but in reality, it’s always been right beside you.”

“That’s weird.”

“I know. I don’t exactly understand it myself, but that doesn’t stop it from being true, does it?”

Jeanne’s voice belied her hesitation: “I guess not.”

“Come on. Let’s go!” Mary was already touching the gate, but Jeanne felt rooted to the spot. The uphill trudge might not be exciting, but it was familiar. She knew what to do and how to manage. Beyond that gate…well, who could know for sure?

Mary turned toward Jeanne without taking her hand off the gate, patience and desire somehow mixing on her face.

Jeanne slowly filled her lungs with air. On the exhale she moved her right foot toward the gate. One foot in front of the other, into new life.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  -Matthew 7:13-14

Jesus said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”  -John 10:9

…And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  -Romans 10:14

One Foot in Front of the Other: Bible-based #flashfiction to challenge all of us. (click to tweet)

Any thoughts? How does this image sit in your mind? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

The Crutch: a Short Story

The muted tip of Jack’s crutch played counterpoint to the flop of his one sneaker. If the hall hadn’t been so crowded, there would have been an echo. He liked the echo. He decided to ask permission for early dismissal in his next class so he could be alone in the hall.

“When you gonna get off that thing, Jack?” Carly was the only one who seemed to dislike his crutch. The rest of his friends thought it was cool…or maybe they were jealous of the extra attention he got because of it.

“I don’t know.” Jack shrugged with the shoulder that wasn’t over the crutch. “The doctor says another week or two, but I can move pretty fast on it now, and it’s actually comfortable.”

“Looks to me like you want to keep it.” Carly’s brow furrowed and her lip turned up, like she had caught a whiff of the cafeteria dumpster. She veered toward her next class before he could drum up a suitable answer.

Jack did want to
keep his crutch.

The truth was, he did want to keep it. He felt more in control of his path with the crutch, and he didn’t stumble over his own feet like he used to. Plus, people were so encouraging. Complete strangers at the big department store applauded his maneuverability and kids on the bus moved so he could have whatever seat he wanted. If people would just try it, they would see how much better life was with a crutch.

Jack shared his thoughts with his parents over dinner. They were such good listeners. Later, his dad climbed into the attic and pulled out an old wooden crutch. He used it to walk around the garage on one foot for almost ten minutes with Jack calling out pointers and trying not to laugh when his dad bumped into things. Jack’s dad hobbled over to Jack’s perch on the workbench. “You know, Jack, I think you’re right. I’ll have to build up some strength in my arm and shoulder, but I can move around fairly well with this crutch, and I’m sure it’ll get me some attention at work.”

The next evening, Jack’s dad came home with a shiny metal crutch for his mom. There was even a pink bow on the shoulder rest. “But I’m not hurt,” she insisted. Jack and his dad worked for half an hour before they convinced her to give it a try. Jack smiled to see that his mom finally had something to lean on while she cut vegetables for dinner.

They walked with Jack’s
familiar thump-squash stride.

Later in the week, Jack rummaged through the dumpsters near the hospital and found two used crutches. After applying some Clorox and a little duct tape, he presented them to his two best friends. They laughed. They fell down. They resorted to sword-fighting at one point. But after six juice boxes and a bit of cajoling, they walked home with Jack’s familiar thump-squash stride.

When Carly saw the three classmates using a crutch, she just rolled her eyes. Two days later, however, another five students came to school with crutches. By the end of the grading period, at least twenty percent of every class walked with a crutch. This fact slowed class changes and bus loading in the afternoons. Before long, the cafeteria created special lines for those on crutches and the library recruited student volunteers to carry study materials for the same kids.

The principal tried to keep this…phenomenon…quiet, but #crutchlife exploded on social media, which led to news crews clogging the entryways and phone lines of the school. On the second day of media coverage, one of the reporters leaned on a crutch to record her story for the camera.

Carly noticed the becrutched reporter out the window of her civics class. While Mr. Lewis droned on about moral codes and the “rule of law,” Carly searched for a cast or brace on the reporter’s favored leg. There wasn’t one.

After tripping over two crutches on the way out of class, Carly sought out Jack. “What are you doing, Jack?” Carly’s hands stretched stiff at her sides, elbows tight, eyes wide. “This is crazy! None of these people actually need crutches!”

Jack lowered himself onto the cafeteria seat and laid his crutch carefully under the table. He gestured toward the vacant seat beside him without speaking to Carly. She sighed as her body cascaded into the seat. Another sigh propelled her head to face Jack’s.

“My crutch makes
me a better person.”

He smiled kindly and patted her hand. “Carly, we’ve been friends for a long time, haven’t we?” He waited until she nodded slowly before he continued. “Then I feel comfortable telling you this. I have realized this crutch helps me move around in a way that I can’t on my own. It makes me a better, stronger person because I am now in control of my movements. I always know exactly where to find it and how to use it. Don’t you see? I am more free now.”

Jack’s patronizing tone made Carly want to vomit, but it was his words that drew a flush to her cheeks. “Have you lost your mind? You have two feet. You learned how to walk from your parents. You can go anywhere…run even. Now you’ve tied yourself to this crutch. It was supposed to be temporary, but you’ve gotten so comfortable with it that you’ve made it permanent. You are not better. You are not stronger.”

With that, Carly jumped up and ran away freely, on her own two feet.

Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? -Galatians 3:3

What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God [to Abraham] and thus do away with the promise. -Galatians 3:17

I’d love it if you shared this with some friends…

The Crutch: A short story and allegory via @Carole_Sparks. #NotAboutMe #legalism (click to tweet)

Can you see the allegory? Have you found yourself leaning on something that was originally helpful but eventually harmful? Want to share an example (doesn’t have to be personal)? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

100th-Post Celebration and Giveaway!

Celebration

I didn’t know it until WordPress told me, but last week’s post was my 100th on this blog! What is more, since mid-September 2015, I’ve blogged every single week. Seems like it’s time to celebrate, doesn’t it? Today, I’m highlighting some of my earlier posts: stories and studies that you may have missed because you weren’t following me yet. I’ve revamped them to match my current format, adding pictures, subtitles, better tags, etc.

Giveaway

Take a look at a few posts that interest you (from the list below or from the archives) and leave a comment here. Tell me which posts you read (or re-read) this week and which post, out of all 100!, has been significant to you. Everyone who comments will be entered in a drawing to win one free digital copy of Don’t Waste Your Life, by John Piper. Even if you’re not a big Piper fan, this easy-to-read book includes his personal testimony and some fantastic encouragement. In fact, it was part of my impetus to start writing. Read more about the book by scrolling down on the I Just Read… page.

Want more ways to enter the drawing? You can…

  1. Follow this blog (sidebar on the right).
  2. Follow me on Twitter.
  3. Follow me on Instagram.
  4. Like my Facebook page.

I’ll include your name again for each action. The drawing will take place on Friday, July 29, 2016, so you only have one week!

Here are the updated posts.

Miracles

A - bird at pool
(c) Carole Sparks

God’s Priority: His Kingdom – When Jesus chose to heal the crippled man beside the pool of Bethesda, He had a particular purpose in mind.

 

 

 

stream bed
(c) Carole Sparks

Whaddaya Want? – What is the purpose of prayer? Here’s one answer, found in a miracle of Jesus.

Stories/Analogies

“Story remains a basic human path toward the discovery and ordering of meaning and beauty.” –Jane Hirshfield

07-27 roller coaster (6)
Six Flags Over Georgia (c) Carole Sparks

Faith is in the Gap* – Remember the last time you rode a roller coaster? I make a comparison here between the experience of climbing onto the roller coaster and faith in our lives. It’s a creative, fun piece.

 

 

castle
castle near Kaub, Germany (c) Carole Sparks

The Ball Gown – A Parable – Sometimes people are hesitant to put their spiritual gifts on display, thinking they will detract from God. This flash fiction piece (though I didn’t know that term when I wrote it) dispels that idea.

 

 

Poetry

“The process of revising a poem is no arbitrary tinkering, but a continued honing of the self at the deepest level.” –Jane Hirshfield

08-27 Greece (121)
Parthenon Museum, Athens (c) Carole Sparks

Who Am I? – a poem about identity that, ironically, is Not About Me.

 

 

 

 

12-16 Kizimkazi sunset (2)
(c) Carole Sparks

Flat Earth Society – This is probably my favorite poem on the blog. Let me know what you think about it.

 

 

 

07-03 2014 Bristol Caverns (14)
Bristol Caverns (c) Carole Sparks

Illumination – I was thinking about spiritual blindness and how we come to truly see.