Archive for the ‘Illustrated story’ Category

Germinating Seeds of Faith

Matthew followed his grandfather out to the old barn. The water line was still visible, its sides warped, leaning from storm damage and the dark, humid interior emanating a dank smell of fertilizer, peat moss, tools and tractor.

“Grandpa, it smells like the pond after the flood. You know…when it receded and left a lot of rot and stuff down along the banks?”

“Yes. But we’ll start by propping open that fallen door and letting in some sunlight and fresh air. Then we can start cleaning up what is salvageable to use again. The tools and tractor are not too severely affected by the flood waters, but the mower and other things might be. I think there’s still some seed over here on the shelves that we might be able to use to plant another crop if it is not too wet or decayed.”

They opened a damp, limp bag, still sealed but smelling like rotting wet hay. “Whew. It smells like… my dead frog.” Matthew said.

“Yes, I guess it does. I’m sorry about your frog.” Grandpa stuck his hand down in the bag, sifting the contents through his fingers testing the texture for signs of any moisture. “It feels dry enough to try. Shall we? It’s corn seed.”

“Plant it? I don’t know. The bag got pretty wet.”

“Yes, but it’s been sealed shut, so nothing else could get in to spoil it, or ruin the contents. You know, Matthew it’s kind of like the scriptures you learned in your bible lessons, about the parables of Jesus, the way he taught his disciples about planting good seed that grows deep in good soil that is cultivated, plowed and watered. The seeds yield a good harvest because they are like the words of Jesus planted in our heart, our soul. They are sealed in, but they don’t stay there if they’re to do any good.”

“I know Grandpa. but when things get ruined or spoiled how can we expect anything good to come from it? And this seed was not even in the ground yet before the storm. Talk about good irrigation!”

Grandpa laughed. “Matthew, do you have just a grain of faith that it will work, that we can make our garden grow? It only takes one seed to grow a plant until ripe for harvest. Don’t you think we can see an acre of corn grow from this one bag of seed? Do you remember the parable about the mustard seed? It only takes one seed, one grain to produce.”

“Yes, I remember. Well, you’re a farmer. A good one. If anyone can do it, you can.”

“Maybe, but, it’s not what I can do, but what God can do with my seed because of my faith. Now, it’s time you learn what a seed can do that has survived a flood with washed out crops. Like those words of Jesus you’ve learned in the parables, that what we see, what we hear, what we plant, what we grow is rooted in a firm foundation, and in this case it is initially the soil that is our foundation; planted, cultivated and prepped to produce a good crop. It is what we do with what we have that builds our faith.”

____________________

Joyce E. Mannhalter © June 2020

Footnotes: scripture references for the above fictional parable are as follows.

[Luke 6:49] NIV

But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed, and its destruction was complete.”

[Mark 4:3] NIV

“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. [Mark 4:8] Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Lone Responder

Gabe had to get out of the house. Tired of all the depressing news on Covid-19 he grabbed up his car keys and his mask and headed out the door. For where exactly, he wasn’t sure.

Maybe, a drive to the lake, park somewhere, walk around and watch the sunset. When have I last done that?

Working from home, long hours spent on his laptop, crunching the numbers for a company needing resuscitation from the economical meltdown had him seeing multiple dollar signs in his dreams at night. Would there ever be an end to this nightmare?

He noticed others out walking, some with their dogs, others obviously wanting exercise and fresh air, too.

The campgrounds were looking more like a tent city springing up with all the homeless; evicted or thrust out of their place or shelter.

As he slowed and came around a curve, a commotion ahead caught his eye and that of others keeping their distance, gawking at a man sprawled on the ground clinging to his possessions as two men ran from the scene, clutching things ripped from the hands of the injured man.

Can’t park here. Just isn’t safe. Going on over to the other side of the lake away from all this.

When parked, Gabe got out of his car, locked it and headed for one of the safer trails up ahead. But something about the helpless man sprawled out on the ground nagged at him.

God, I know you said to love our neighbors, do good deeds. But, this? What if I…? What if he…? What can I do?

Returning to his car he put on his mask and walked down the street to where the man lay.

When he got to the man, he could see he had been beaten with gashes, cuts on his face, and looked disheveled in dirtied, torn clothes. His face was bruised and bleeding, but his eyes pleading, imploring.

“Please! Help me. They took everything I had. I…tried to resist…but, they…were stronger, and I could not…”

“It’s OK. I’m going to get you some help. What’s your name?”

“Theo. Theodore.”

“OK. First, I need to go get my car, parked over there! on the next street. Then, I will drive you to the hospital and stay with you, so you get the help needed.”

Gabe ran back to the car, drove up in front of the man, still prone, very weak, barely conscious, then picked him up and laid him carefully in his back seat and rushed him to the hospital.

Gabe ran into emergency with his mask on, disregarding their questions or protocol, but instead led them out to his car to the injured man, told them where he’d found him, what happened, then stayed with him while he got the treatment and care needed until he was well. He paid his hospital bill, then found him a place to live.

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Joyce E. Mannhalter © April 2020

The above story is based on the parable Jesus told of the ‘Good Samaritan’ found in Luke 10:30-35, in the New Testament Bible. Jesus spoke to his disciples and those listening what it meant to, “inherit the kingdom of God, and to love your neighbor as yourself”. When a self-righteous man asked, “And, who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the story of the ‘Good Samaritan’. At times we might be asked to step up and take responsibility of caring for the needs of one we would not otherwise want to do. It is then when we might need to be a, “Lone Responder”, or ‘Good Samaritan’ to help that “neighbor” and love them as we love ourselves.

JEM

 

The Wayward Son

“Dad, I’m taking what’s mine and leaving.”

“Why? I hoped you would want to work with your brother and I in the business. When I retire the business will be yours, and your brother’s. ”

“No. I want to see the world, travel.” He turned away avoiding the crestfallen look on his father’s face.

A few days later Mick closed out his accounts, cashed in his trust fund, took his share of the estate and left.

For months following he traveled the world, living like a man with no responsibilities or obligations. No concerns or thoughts to who or what he left behind and none for those he met along the way. He dined and partied with men and women who showed him a good time, drove fast cars, stayed at five-star hotels and resorts eating and drinking at expensive restaurants while spending, and charging all without a care. Life was good, easy. He felt free. But the money ran out, credit cards expired, loans defaulted, and he was broke, unable to pay his debts.

Now desperate and hungry he hauled grain and feed to the stock pens of a farmer eating what he could glean. When he asked for food, they replied. “Go away, can you not see all the hungry who still have no food to eat. There isn’t enough for our own.” So, he searched through alleys for scraps in waste bins behind the bars he once hung out in.

I will go home and apologize to my father and ask if he will hire me on as one of his construction workers. They at least eat well and are paid for their wages earned. I have earned nothing but the shame and disrespect of my family. Will even God forgive me for all I have done?

While walking up the long-gated drive to his father’s home he was met with the warm loving arms of his father, never asking where he’d gone or what he’d done. Only how happy he was to see him and know he had ‘come home.’ His father asked his servants to prepare a very special, festive dinner and celebration with his best wine for his youngest son had returned home.

But when Stan Jr. the older son saw all the commotion and celebration going on, he came to his father and asked what he was doing and why.

“Did I not work for you all these years faithfully running things at the business just like you taught me? And yet, now you spoil him with an outlandish display of gifts and party. Do I not deserve the same or better for all I have done?”

“Stan Sr. replied, “Son, all you need do is ask and it is yours to enjoy. All I have is yours already. But your brother was lost to us all those years and now has returned. It is time to celebrate, not be bitter. Let’s party.”

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Joyce E. Mannhalter © 2019

The above story is fiction, but the truth and parable are scriptural. The story of the prodigal son is found in Luke 15: 11-32 of the New Testament Bible. It is one of many parables or stories Jesus shared with his disciples to illustrate a truth or lesson. This parable story is one of my favorites as it depicts the love our Father God has for us who come to him lost, with a repentant heart seeking forgiveness and wishing for a new beginning, a new life in Him. receiving the gift of salvation and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in directing our steps while on our journey of faith. I love how this father reached out to his lost son in love with no condemnation or questions as to where he’d been or how he conducted his life before his return. As Father’s Day is approaching on Sunday, June 16th I thought this parable story a perfect one to share and hope you have enjoyed reading my own fictional modern version of the parable of the ‘Prodigal Son’. I want to wish all fathers out there a Happy Father’s Day. Best wishes to you and yours on this special day.

JEM

The Father’s Way

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When we were walking the trail one day with our dog I spotted these little geese families. We watched them first trot along in the high grass, across our path to the lake with all the babies’ in tow, their little heads barely seen above the grass. and then they quickly hurried over to the water and jumped in. Between the larger geese, leading and bringing up the rear the babies swam between. By the middle of spring there is a lot of new life and babies born to birds and game of all kinds. It was a touching sight to watch them, and I was so glad I had my camera. There were also little duck families that we saw on another day when I did not have my camera, so I have begun to take it along more regularly now when we walk so I don’t miss shots like this. As you can see, I have used the same photo for my blog header image as well.

While watching the geese and ducks I thought about the way parents of any species will fiercely protect and watch over their young, lead, and direct them through their young life, so they know how to be watchful of prey, to protect themselves when grown.

It is also the way our heavenly father watches over us with a much greater sense of protectiveness and direction, hoping that we will follow after Him, his leading, and know how to live in a way that assures us a safe, trusting pathway in life.  In Proverbs 13:1 of the Old Testament bible, it says, “A wise son heeds his father’s instruction.” Male or female, we all need that kind of leading which gives us the tools and instruction to live our lives in safety and harmony with others.

I was very fortunate to have an earthly father who led by example and taught us how to apply those biblical principles to our own life. But, it is my heavenly father who gives me eternal life, and the best of everything I can ever hope for, or expect. It is the Father’s way.

If you are a father, I wish you a Happy Father’s day, and the blessings and peace that only the Heavenly Father can give.

____________________

Joyce E. Johnson (2016)

Brothers Divided

Hagar approached Abraham’s tent, Ishmael following after his mother with little concern for what was coming. Abraham had no choice if he wanted to keep Sarah happy. Hagar and his first-born son, Ishmael would be cast out, homeless and destitute in the desert of Beersheba with no promise of a future, and certainly none of the coveted inheritance. It would come through Isaac, Abraham’s second son, born to Sarah. He would receive God’s covenant blessing and favor, and all future generations of the Jewish nation after him. But, the God of Abraham did not turn away from Hagar and Ishmael. He heard her cry, and saw her distress. He would spare them both, provide for them, and through Ismael many nations would be born. (Paraphrased; Genesis, chapter 21 in the Old Testament Bible NIV.)

The above story is true. When I read about Sarah, Abraham, Hagar, Ismael and Isaac I think about the division, hate, and turmoil in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians, and people and cultures of other Middle Eastern countries with the ongoing conflict. One might think that what was written centuries ago and recorded of stories like Abraham’s might be of little consequence to us today. But, what was written back then by those who lived and recorded their stories is relevant to our lives today. It comes back, bigger, more profound. The two most basic things we need most are love and acceptance. They can unite and bind us, but. if we have neither only divide and separate us. The characters in the story below are fictional, but their situation and circumstances could be real. It is not just their story, but one in places all over the world.

___________________________

Tel Aviv, Israel – present day

“Why did you wait till now to tell me?”

“Gamal, your father deserted us. I never saw him again after that. I felt shamed, as if it was all my fault. So I left, moved closer to the settlements and just tried to blend in.”

“Like a Jew.”

“I had to find work, to support us…even though…” Sahar said, through her tears.

“Even though you were pregnant with a bastard’s son.”

Sahar shook her head, overcome with the emotion coursing through her like a hot iron.

“What about Sam’s father?”

“I was working in Jerusalem at a shop on Haifa Street when I met him. He was serving in the Israeli army then…At first I wanted nothing to do with him. He was Jewish. He came in often, was kind, and gentle…”

“And he married you.”

“Yes. We were married by a clergyman from another faith, because the Jews would not accept me, nor my people him.”

“So he captivates the pretty damsel, and off they ride into the sunset with her bastard son in tow.”

Sahar screamed at him. “Stop calling yourself that. You’re not! I never thought of you like that.”

“No? But, I was the curse that came with the shame of a sordid love affair with a man from Gaza…”

“We were a family. I tried to raise you both the same. I loved you. I never told Sam’s father anything…about your birth, or father. He accepted you and was willing to raise you as his own. He was not Orthodox so my past was not an issue with him. Then, one day…while on duty…with the military, rockets came. He was out there, trying to pull people from that carnage, but there were…Palestinians out there, shooting at them, and he was hit. He died, soon after.” Sahar’s shoulders shook, her cry intensified with every breath.

“And Sam? What does he know?”

“He only knows about his own father, how we met, how he died. Nothing about yours.”

“Then why tell me now, mother, after thirty years, making me believe I was Jewish, instead of…the son of a Palestinian?”

“Because your ties with Israel’s enemies affect your relationship with Sam, and his position in the army. You are brothers for God’s sake.”

“For God’s sake?” He laughed, sarcastically. “Your God does not care about us.”

“Gamal! What are you saying? The God of Abraham and Isaac is our God! We have no other. He is God to all.

“We come from different people, mother. Or have you forgotten that?”

“I don’t serve Allah!”

“But, I do!” He said, his eyes glaring at her, cold and dark. “Goodbye, mother.”

Gamal! She yelled after him, but he did not listen. He was gone, slamming the door behind him, shutting himself off from her, Sam, and all that he knew.

_____________________

Joyce E. Johnson © 2016

Footnotes: Last year I posted short fictional stories under the title, Acid Rain, the first one under the title of Brothers Divided where Sam, a Jewish Israeli defense officer comes against those in the Arab nations set on destroying the Jewish people and the country of Israel. You can find those stories here. The above story is fiction also, and the prequel to Acid Rain.

“Not their last dance” (A Valentine’s Day poem/story)

Recipients, waiting for hearts

Pray faith imparts

What most they need

From one’s kind deed

~~

With hope the hearts that are reserved

For both preserved

That each receive

Will they believe

~~

Grant to them both extended life

Husband and wife

And not by chance

Be their last dance

________________

Joyce E. Johnson © 2016

Footnotes; The above poem is called a “minute poem” according to the writersdigest.com site. It is named for having a total of sixty syllables because a minute has sixty seconds, thus giving it that name. The poem contains three (verse) quatrains, each having twenty syllables, in a four line stanza with the rhyming scheme done in aabb/ccdd/eeff/ rhyme fashion. Cutting some unnecessary words, rhyming with them all in their right position, can be tricky, so I reworked this one several times. I always look forward to receiving my quarterly issue of Writer’s Digest magazine as it is packed full of great information and articles for writers, and gives me opportunities to practice new forms of poetry.   

The above illustration is mine, written in a story form of a married couple, both needing heart transplants, and both receiving their new hearts at the same time. Because of Valentine’s Day coming up on February 14th (next Sunday) I have decided to use this poetic verse rhyme to tell my little story. I hope you have a Happy Valentine’s Day and enjoy  my little story. JEJ


He who stands alone to worship

 

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The Sea of Galilee in Israel; Photo taken May, 2001 while touring Israel just four months before the 9/11 attack on the U.S. Photo credit: Joyce E. Johnson

 

 

The shepherd struggled to his feet. Smoke rose into the sky as winds carried the smell of death and destruction of Bethlehem to the hillside.

The annual  pilgrimage of thousands who came each year to see the place where the Christ child was believed born was only a trickle this year in the wake of all the terrorist attacks.

They are the smart ones, who stay away. The Palestinians did not fear the Jews, or their retaliation to the missiles and suicide bombs, but instead the much darker force of evil who controlled the region destroying and desecrating all historic or religious sites. Like a plague of death their victims fell to their swords, and their black flag now flew over Gaza.

Hassan heard a soft bleat.

One has survived.

He made his way through the carnage to the sound growing weaker with every step and found him half buried under rock and debris carried by the blast. Bleeding, legs broken, but alive his eyes pleaded with silent cries.

As the night grew dark, and now quiet the shepherd tended after the lamb. He supposed the rest of his flock was now dead, or scattered. Like all the nights before when the stars came out he looked up, searching, studying those that never failed to shine their bright light upon the hills of Bethlehem.

A glow penetrated the cave dwelling. A star has fallen!

“Hassan! It is I.”

He shook with fear. Where did that come from!? 

“Hassan, you alone have survived. Don’t be afraid. I will be with you. Worship me, Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ sent to save the world from its sin. I came so that you may have eternal life. Believe only in me, and you will be saved.”

He had no understanding or comprehension of what had just happened, or what he had heard. Yet, a calm came over him, seeping into his very soul. Food and water appeared mysteriously before him. Provisions?

He ate. Taking the lamb he rose and walked to where the destroyed grotto now lay in ruins.

It is only a shrine.

Lifting his voice toward the heavens he cried out. “If I stand alone to tell my story I will tell how you came to save me, and that I live to worship You.”

One by one the scattered sheep came back, compelled by the sound of their shepherd’s voice.

It mattered not that he alone survived the attack, but that he was no longer alone. His time remaining he did not know. He was alive. He had this moment now.

___________________

Footnotes: The above story is only fiction. Thank heaven for that. Literally.  🙂 Bethlehem was one of the places we visited while on our tour of Israel in May, 2001. Although the U.S. has seen much of its own terrorism (the 9/11 attack and the one most recently in San Bernardino, Ca.) and those in Paris and elsewhere I remain very thankful I live in a free country, and can still worship the living Savior who came to this world born of a virgin, went to the cross to die for the sins of this world, and was buried and resurrected so we can have eternal life. The real story (a much happier one) of the shepherds and Jesus’s birth can be found in Matthew and Luke, chapter 2 of the New Testament Bible.

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” John 12:46 (NIV)

_________________  

Joyce E. Johnson (2015)    

 

 

The scarlet cord

“Go! Check out the land, especially the city of Jericho. Then report back to me.” Joshua said.

The two men entered town under the cloak of darkness. A thick wall rose above them encompassing the entire city.

They went directly to the home of Rahab, a prostitute whose house was built into the high wall. She agreed to hide them under stalks of flax on her roof.

But, the king learned of their mission and where they were. He sent his men after them. “By order of the king, you are to release the spies to us.”

“They were here, yes, but they have left. I didn’t know who they were, or where they’d come from. But if you go now, and hurry you might catch them before the city gates close.” Rahab said.

When the king’s men were gone she went to warn the spies they would be pursued.

“Everyone knows of your strength and reputation. All the people fear you. They’ve heard of your victories, how you have conquered all where you have gone. Promise me you will spare my family and household when you return, since I have been good to you.”

“You have our word. Hang this scarlet cord from your window the day we return and you and all your family and household will be saved.”

Rahab agreed. “It will be as you say.”

They lowered themselves down by the scarlet cord from her roof, and ran into the hills where they hid for three days until it was safe to return to their camp.

On the day that Joshua and the Israelites took possession of  the city of Jericho Rahab and all her household were saved because she hung the scarlet cord from her window above the city wall.

__________________

Joyce E. Johnson © 2015

Footnotes: You can find the story of Rahab and the spies in Joshua, chapters 2 – 7 of the Old Testament bible. Rahab put herself at risk hiding the Israeli spies, and lying about their whereabouts. But she chose to take an active part in their plan to capture the city of Jericho because she knew they were God’s chosen people. Because of her courage she and all her family were saved.    

The ways in which God performs His miracles will astound us because in the natural we cannot comprehend it. Our walls may look impenetrable, doors and gates firmly shut beyond our control. But, when Israel’s army marched in and surrounded the city their loud call and shout brought down the wall, collapsing all at their feet, and the entire city was open to them so they could take possession, because they believed. “Everything is possible for him/her who believes.” Mark 9:23

“…her children rise up and call her blessed…”

She embraces each day

ready, whatever may come

watching over all

entrusted into her care

She blesses all she touches

~~~~

With her hands she makes

designer clothes; she creates

and feeds her children

that which grows from her garden.

She manages her household

~~~~

She makes decisions

with the carefulness and thought

of one who is wise

governing business ventures

with prayer, confidence and grace

_______________

Footnotes: This poem is my perspective of the woman portrayed in Proverbs, Chapter 31, Old Testament bible. She is a mother, a wife, a business woman, and a governess who is blessed because all that she does she does with God’s help, with the wisdom gained throughout her life. I chose to use this passage of scripture in Proverbs as an inspiration for these three verses of Tanka poetry to honor a Proverbs 31 woman and mother on Mother’s Day. My own mother was a woman and mother who exemplified the Proverbs 31 woman with these characteristics, and though she is now deceased I hope that I can be one of such character. To all mothers out there, I wish you a happy Mother’s Day.

Joyce E. Johnson © 2015


A Country Taken (Part 3, conclusion)

It started with a rumble, a sound like a thousand pair of boots trampling, racing across the compound. The skies erupted with loud claps of thunder.

Suddenly, the roof was knocked off its structure with such force as if smacked by an angry hand. A memory flashed before my dazed brain, and I was a child building my fortress and towers with my blocks. Just as quick someone knocked them all down with one fast swoop. My life was then filled with repeated attempts to succeed at all I tried, only to see all come crashing down like my pile of blocks. Never did I really believe God could think me worthy to love when all I did was fail.

The walls and foundation shook till fissures opened wide to the chaos outside. Beams of light poured in with such intensity it came as a shock to my system having become accustomed to this dark place. The noise grew louder, and closer. Everything happened so fast, and yet I was not afraid. Now, as if looking through a magnifying glass the scene before me became crystal clear.  There was a sense of euphoria, an anticipation as I watched in amazement at the battle being fought before my eyes. The ISIS were dwarfed before an army the size and strength of one I could not even imagine. They stood over ten feet tall covered in armor like polished silver. A ruby cross carved into their breastplate with a jewel-studded gold crown at the top was identical to the one on their drawn swords gleaming like early morning sunbeams. The contingent looked like an international army of ethnic and mixed race from countries all over the earth, reclaiming territory, declaring victory. Their eyes were like diamonds, so bright that the brilliance was too great for one to look or gaze upon. Celestial warriors!

A penetrating heat spread through my body from head to feet, and I knew it was not from the fever. The weakness, fever and pain was gone. The bleeding had stopped. I pulled off my bandage; my wounds and abrasions, healed. Adrenalin and strength returned.

I looked at others around me. All were experiencing the same. The presence and spirit of another in the room with us was so powerful I could hardly stand. As His power was unleashed, so great was the impact, I stood in awe, and I believed. There is a God who loves me and it is His Son who came to set us free. His arms reached out encompassing the whole of our little band of fighters, and we passed through the portico into a new realm.

__________________

This story is a work of fiction, but the truths and message are real. There is a God who loves us, will protect us, fight our battles for us and will never let us down or leave us. The book of Psalms in the Old Testament Bible was written by the psalmist, David, a warrior himself, shepherd boy, king of Israel and slayer of Goliath, the giant. Many times he found himself in danger hunted by Saul, the first king who wanted to kill him, but David stayed faithful, persevered and called on the Lord for help. In Psalm 59:16 it says, “But, I will sing of your strength in the morning. I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.” NIV

Joyce E. Johnson (2015)

 

 

Like a lost lamb who wandered away

Photo of a rescued lamb recently found in a dumpster in England.

The story in the 23rd Psalm of the Old Testament Bible of The Good Shepherd was always my favorite, growing up, as was the accompanied photo of the Good Shepherd, used to depict the famed bible story. A shepherd leads his flock of sheep through valleys of green pastures and gentle slopes overlooking meadows and brooks flowing with clean, cool water to quench their thirst. It is a beautiful image. But, the story goes on to describe a darker, difficult journey on their way to the meadow’s brook before they can rest and take nourishment from all that the Good Shepherd has led them to.

Sometimes we walk through valleys in our life, into a path of uncertainty and we need the reassurance that our Savior, our Shepherd walks with us, leading us through it. My family had an experience like that once, over thirty-five years ago.

We were on vacation visiting my husband’s parents in Miami Beach, Florida when our daughter, age ten at that time, went walking one Friday night with my husband and his step-father.

The three followed the sidewalk along the edge of a baseball field during a game. Skipping along at a faster clip, she took a wrong turn, losing sight of them and lost her way. Realizing after some time that she was not around anywhere they looked they came back to my mother-in-law’s house with the news and to inquire from neighbors and enlist their help to look for her. There was no Amber Alert back then, but the neighborhood watch group wasted no time, got in their cars and drove around looking for her as did my husband and his step-father, in separate cars.

I immediately called the Dade County police dept., and reported her missing. They sent out two patrol cars to help, and hours later with no success an APB went out on their car radios to alert other officers.

As the agonizing hours passed during that time while waiting at the house with my mother-in-law and our youngest child I prayed fervently that God would watch over her and get her safely back home to us.

It was nearing midnight, and still no sign of her. I imagined filled bars and nightspots on a Friday night in Dade County with its heavy traffic. We refused to dwell on the possibility that she might have been abducted.

As my husband drove through a section in a well-lit commercial district miles from the site of her disappearance he spotted her bright orange tee-shirt on a crowded street. He honked till the horn went hoarse, sped to a stop and ran to her across the street.

When she was back home safely she told us how she’d gotten lost, couldn’t find her way back and just walked on, desperately seeking her father. The darkness, the fear and dread of that night was gone. We knew it was God who watched over her the whole time. Finding our lost child brought indescribable joy and celebration to our reunion that night.

When our ordeal was over, a police officer said to us, “You people are lucky. It does not often end so well.”

When difficult times come it is then when we need to know our Shepherd, our Savior has not left us, that we are not out of His realm of protection and grace.

__________________

Joyce E. Johnson (2015)

Merging cultures and diverse backgrounds

Mayflower II - Plymouth, Mass.

Mayflower II – Plymouth, Mass.

Pilgrim Memorial State Park, Plymouth, Mass.

Pilgrim Memorial State Park, Plymouth, Mass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Thanksgiving Day in 1967 my husband and I were invited to spend the holiday at the home of a Hispanic friend’s family. We were nineteen, newlyweds, and living in California while attending college and working, having moved there from the Midwest.

I remember the disappointment when I saw the food placed on the table; tortillas, refried beans, and other Mexican dishes. Because they were not the ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving Day dishes like cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie we were used to eating every Thanksgiving I was not sure I was going to enjoy this day. We also did not speak Spanish, so could not understand everything said. We felt like ‘pilgrims’ encroaching on new territory. I brought a Pumpkin pie to share, thinking at the time, At least we will have one favorite dish.

Yet, there was no culture barrier that could dampen our spirits, but instead a mutual desire to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Their smile, graciousness and hospitality made us feel welcomed.

It had me thinking about the first wave of pilgrims in a new country imagining how it was for them as they perhaps sat down at a rustic table in the woods of Massachusetts to share a meal with a group of natives so foreign to them; American Indians. Settlers from far away England and American Indians coming together, each bringing their native foods, sharing their harvested crops, celebrating as one. A new country was born, two groups united for that one day, supping together and giving thanks to God for their many blessings.

While vacationing on the east coast in 1998 we visited the famous Plymouth Rock landmark and the Mayflower II (an exact replica of the original ship the first settlers took on their journey to America) at Plymouth, MA. As we took a self-guided tour of the Mayflower, I was in awe of the sacrifices, ingenuity, and creativity the new Americans had, and the hardships they endured, how they could make their home inviting and hospitable.

The newcomers from England had lost so many settlers to death, disease and hunger. Yet, maybe there was expectation, excitement and celebration in the autumn air for the first of such feasts, gathering, coming together. Neither group could understand the language or culture of the other. The Indians could not have known what it was like for those new settlers to survive the storms at sea, suffer through disease and hunger on their crossing. Neither could the new Americans understand the difficulties and challenges the Indians faced living in a wild, untamed land. Yet, each shared their food and bounty to celebrate perseverance under the cloak of life’s burdens; American Indians, an existing group came, by right to belong, and the other, foreigners wanting to belong, determined to stay and build a new life.

On that day as my husband and I celebrated that Thanksgiving away from home, I realized how much we did have in common with the Hispanic family, and we began to relax and enjoy ourselves with them, and their own “traditional” holiday fare. The aroma of those homemade tortillas and Mexican dishes was tantalizing. It compelled my senses to welcome the experience.

They were not there to act as substitutes for our immediate families, but instead to be an extension to the family we already had of friends made while living in California. They shared the heritage of a people whose ancestors were original settlers of this state with its rich history. They were our hosts. We were their guests; but on that day we came together as friends, and we went away full, blessed and thankful.

Those four years we lived away from’ home’ taught us how to appreciate other cultures, and ethnic people of other nations. There were many other ethnic groups and people from other countries we came to know while living there. Our eyes opened to the ways that are different, but no less important than our own, and our hearts became tender towards those whose lives touched us with a diverse style of celebrating what is special to us all; giving thanks to our forefathers for their sacrifices made to birth a rich heritage in America.

Hebrews 13:16 (NIV) says, “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

   _______________

   Joyce E. Johnson (2014)

Cain & Abel

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CAIN & ABEL – The first recorded murder

He was but just a lamb fluffed in a coat of soft white wool.

While his shepherd watched with care the brother cried,

“Abel, you fool! Why do you dare?”

But, Abel bowed to God in prayer, then went to seek the lamb so fair.

Upon an altar laid the lamb, sacrificed to God, no questions asked.

Vowed to be faithful to the God he loved Abel carried on with all his tasks.

Off to the side of the hill upon an altar lay harvested crop.

As it burned, so did resentment, consumed with hatred, it would not stop.

Cain shouted, “Here God! Are you not satisfied?

Mine is just as well as the lamb that has died.”

In return to Cain, God replied,

“Love and honor are the fruits Abel doth bear.”

“Yours are of hatred and malice; the sins you wear.”

“They are the traits you possess instead.”

Jealous and bitter, Cain stalked after Abel.

Anger rose up within; now a brother lay dead.

A father was saddened. A mother knelt to weep,

for now her son’s soul does the Lord watch and keep.

God will not justify the taking of one’s life.

He could not tolerate Cain’s malice and strife.

If only Cain had obeyed then as he should,

but his meager sacrifice lay in vain.

Now he’d remember, forever he would

the brother once loved, the one he had slain.

God had to punish him, for what he’d done.

He sent Cain Away; from all, he would run.

But, God gave comfort to Eve for her grief, 

for in her heart, there was still belief.

And so brother against brother, 

hatred was born in this way.

Much the same is repeated to this day.

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References to this true story can be found in Genesis, chapter four of the Old Testament Bible. The poetic portrayal here of Cain & Abel is a poem I wrote back in 1990. It was published in the above poetry anthology, Warm Thoughts, produced by The American Arts Association in Gulfport, MS, and was the first of several published poems through the years.

Joyce E. Johnson © (Sept. 1990)


Pulling it all together: One Memorial Day


Labor Day weekend 2010 (3)Memorial Day weekend - 2010 012

Pulling it all together: One Memorial Day

    Memorial Day is the weekend that kicks off the summer season, when people plan vacations, camping trips, and time with family and friends.

    I have numerous memories of good times with my family while on vacations and holidays, some better than others.

    There is one particular memory of a Memorial Day weekend many years ago while up on our four-acre mountain property at Glacier View Meadows. We went up to enjoy the holiday camping out, cooking our meals over the open fire, all the things that make a great campout. Our youngest daughter was twelve then, and invited a girlfriend along. Our tent was erected, our campsite organized, things unpacked. We had a good fire going roasting our hotdogs and marshmallows under the moonlight. It all started good.

“Ah… This is nice.” My husband said, stoking the fire, stuffing marshmallows into his mouth. I agreed.

A few hours later when we were ready to turn in and put out the fire it turned colder and dark clouds moved in. The wind picked up and a storm came through.

   Hunkering down in our tent, we waited and listened as the rain came and the storm blew, pelting our tent, soaking the ground. It was not long before the heavy rain was seeping in getting our sleeping bags wet.

   I never slept. But, the girls did. How, I did not know. I worried that our tent would float away, or slide downhill on the muddy terrain. The rain continued through the night and into the morning. Dawn came with more gray clouds, more rain, but no sun.

   Sloshing through the mud my husband said, “Guess we won’t be cooking breakfast over the fire grate.” Scratch the camp fire, too.” He stood in the downpour, looking up as if hoping to see the sun appear behind a cloud. “I’ll set up the propane stove in the shed and light the lantern. We’ll cook our breakfast in the shed.”

   “Whoopee!” I said. I needed coffee, strong and hot, a lot of it.

   We ran to our storage shed to get out of the rain, and hoped it would not float away. But, it was solid and sound, and provided good cover. Our shed though stout and sturdy was built on a gentle slope, with a bit of a slant to one side. It was a building project of my husband’s which he insists was leveled at the time of construction.

   Our situation made me think about the Bible story of Noah and the Arc. Noah was prepared for the flood. We were not prepared for anything, not even the rain. Noah’s wife must have had a lot of patience. I did not. They were together on that arc for forty days and nights. I could not remain up on our lot for even four days before missing my home.

    We scrambled our resources, food and cooking utensils. My husband lit the lantern and started the two burner propane stove. I cooked breakfast. Not an easy task. While the coffee perked on one burner, I used the other for the griddle, cooking our breakfast in three courses. The pancakes ran south in the direction of the slope, looking like little oval islands. The egg yolks ran away from the whites and the sausage links, like tiny logs began a downward roll. I caught them before they hit the floor and propped up the stove with a wood wedge.

   Hungry and cold, we made it work. The hot, fresh coffee and scrambled breakfast revived our cold, tired bodies. The silent prayers revived our adventurous spirit and attitude.

   After breakfast we wrapped ourselves in coats and blankets hoping for clouds to clear and part. I was soon thankful for our shed. It doesn’t leak and can’t flood, since water won’t settle in one place long before it too runs out on the uneven side. Even the mice come in out of the rain. We survived the rigors of nature, but soon after bought a 25 ft. Airstream 1979 Land Yacht travel trailer for our “get away retreat.” It remains parked beside our shed, even today.

   Through the years when we all went up to our lot to ‘camp out’ we would still erect the tents for our girls and their families. I and my husband use the trailer, with our dog, except for times when he is feeling like the redneck he is (from Kentucky) and chooses to sleep in the tent, again. I guess I have grown spoiled, but a few more rugged campouts in a tent on the uneven ground is not very comfortable on joints or settling to jumpy nerves, and does not make for a good night’s sleep. And at times there have been signs and the presence of a rattlesnake, bear, cougar, and coyotes around. The deer, we love and welcome.

    On holidays we still all congregate around our communal fire pit roasting marshmallows, making s’mores, ‘cowboy coffee’, grilling steaks, burgers and hotdogs. When there is a fire ban in place for the county which is often the case at times during the last few years because of drought and low water levels, we resort to grilling on gas or charcoal grills we keep stored up there.

    I now laugh at the memory thinking of that weekend up there that Memorial Day, and learned a good lesson. When your together time goes awry, sweeten it with a little laughter, keep your sanity during the adventure, and save the photos and the memory.

    HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD WEEKEND, IF YOU ARE CAMPING OUT.

_______________________________

Joyce E. Johnson

THE RETURNING SAILOR

The below story poem is a narrative ballad I wrote many years ago. I posted this last June on my blog, but am re-posting it for this week’s word prompt on Geraldine’s Woven Dreams: A Creative Prompt Blog. This week’s word prompt is alive. I hope you enjoy the story and comments are always welcomed.

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THE RETURNING SAILOR

Down the coast and out to sea,

a voice, a whisper beckons me.

It is the sound of her calling my name.

Would she still love me, a man with my shame?

Will she remember the hands that caressed

her face and body, and how I confessed

of the love and tenderness for her in my heart,

wrenched and torn, when we had to part?

Now, I’m returning and will look for her,

alive with the burning desire to stir

the love we shared when I left for the sea.

I pray she’s still there, waiting for me.

There was a fight. Oh, God! What a mess.

It was late that night. I drank to excess.

I did not know, but did not care

that her husband knew of our love affair.

Coming alive with a fist to my jaw

intent on surviving once the knife I saw

I sprang with shifting feet in dread,

landing a blow with my right to his head,

then felt the piercing pain and might

of flashing silver turned crimson bright.

With his knife to my flesh, and muscle it tore.

Bleeding and enraged I came down and bore

the knife I captured, to his chest then came

in self-defense went at him the same.

His breathing stilled, and he lay dead.

Was justice served this way instead?

I went away broken, feeling despair

leaving her behind, her grief to bear.

Like an anchor weighed down

with heavy remorse

wherever I sailed, wherever my course

I could not forget how she once loved me.

Now I’m returning from a dark, cold sea.

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Poem by: Joyce E. Johnson

COMING TOGETHER

 COMING TOGETHER

Like a word, or a sentence, a phrase or verse

it is but a piece, yet a necessary part;

But to the reader, must impact, or connect

and weave it must, down into their soul,

each word a necessary part of the piece,

like threads or strands fit to the form

they weave in and out, perfectly placed,

side by side, and through the grain,

all coming together like one as a whole

 the story made stronger till unified;

But, if one word weaves not to shape,

hold the story, mold or create,

it must be pulled out, for it will weaken

 the piece of work or art just made;

then the finished whole of a project completed

will stand alone, and be made strong.

Often times it’s much like life

trying to fit together as one

like the phrases or words

created and shaped:

 its become  the lesson for

the weaver in me.

_________

Joyce E. Johnson, 2013

TRANSFORMED

TRANSFORMED

The homeless man crouched down under the bridge, hunched over, shielding himself from the cold. His mismatched, dirty pants and shirt hung loose on his thin, weathered frame. His shoes, stripped of shoe laces, were worn through till only the inner sole rubber made contact with asphalt.

After searching through dumpsters in alleys for something to eat, he was convinced he had arrived too late. They were emptied of their contents that morning after trash pick-ups. All that remained was the stench of the garbage they held. His stomach gnawed from lingering hunger. For longer than he could remember he’d hidden in the shadow of shame, losing all but the ragged clothes on his back, with no job, and or means to support himself. He slept on park benches, under bridges, in or between boxcars, wherever he found shelter or small spaces, not yet claimed. But, there were guarded areas few like him could dare encroach upon. Like seasoned night hawks they laid claim to their space and things. Weapons fashioned of things found like sharp tin can lids made into spears protruding from sticks were bayonets, and jagged cut bottles or jars with sharp edges they used to ward off newcomers. Their found treasures, protected and hidden behind the enclaves of discarded mattresses, sheets of cardboard, crates or boxes were coveted things he had yet to lay hold to, or confiscate from another. His body still held cuts and scars from his attempts to take what another one had found.

He watched a worm slither out from its crevice in the ground until free of its cold, dark domain. When it began its slow crawl across the walk he reached out for it, but a crow swooped down and snatched it up, the worm squirming from its beak as it lifted into the sky.

As night approached the void became darker, the air colder. But he fell asleep, weary from his struggle and despair. He saw sunrise creep leisurely across the sky, bright colors in orange and yellow. He felt warmth wash over him, a soft breath of one speaking his name. “John.” A wispy like flutter brushed across his nose. A butterfly flying around him as if unafraid, unfettered, remained. Lakes, ponds, green valleys, and gardens opened up before him. Birds sang incessantly from a forest of trees.

A man walked from the light to stand over him, stretched out his hand and pulled him up. Placing a clean, warm blanket over his shoulders he embraced the man, and led him away. There before him was a table spread out with all kinds of food, and containers with fresh water.

“Eat whatever you want, whatever you like, John.” People mingled around, jubilant with praise. At the head of the table, the man spoke to all those there, saying, “Transformation, a spiritual process of re-birth is not only one of the soul, but of the mind. Today, you will be transformed. You need never go hungry again, or be homeless, or in want again. God has a plan for your life.”

The man jerked, waking up. Everything looked the same, before he fell asleep. But, there stood the one from his dream, standing before him now, helping the homeless man up from the ground.

“Here, let me help you, John. We have a place near here where you can rest, and food to eat, a shelter for those who have no home, or place to stay. We have clean beds, food, and people who want to help.”

One year later, John stood, transformed from the man he once was, in the kitchen at the shelter cooking, and serving to the homeless. Smiling at each one, he filled their plates, and offered encouragement, hope. “Enjoy your meal. There are clean clothes, shoes and socks over there, and cots where you can rest.”

Ten years later, John became the director of a new shelter. The sign above it read, “TRANSFORMED,” It became a beacon to the community. Every day, he and a team of volunteers went out on the streets, inviting those in; the homeless, needy and helpless, even disabled veterans came through their doors seeking help.

__________________________________

Joyce E. Johnson – 2013


Having a ‘Mary’ Kind of Christmas

HAVING A MARY KIND OF CHRISTMAS

Mary had no home or dwelling to decorate a tree with ornaments, tinsel, or lights. They had no hearth with a fire to warm them, yet, the sky was lit up with the brightest and biggest star ever created for the most honored king ever born. God led them to a stable when they were refused a room at the inn to rest and await their child’s birth. It had no provisions or comforts for expected guests. But, there were many visitors who came, seeking the Savior, the prophesied Messiah. Among those visiting were three kings from far off countries to honor him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It is written that the ‘Son of God’ was wrapped in “swaddling clothes” and placed in a manger, a feeding trough used for the livestock.

There was no media standing by with cameras and microphones to announce his birth. Yet, the news was broadcast abroad by shepherds leaving their flocks and fields to see the one whom the angels foretold had come. They had no visible means of protection from the murderous king searching for the child, ordering his death. But, the little family was protected by a  host of heavenly angels.

Scripture says Mary pondered all that happened in her heart. I interpret that to mean she was a quiet, young woman who did not question why she was chosen to be the mother of the Savior of the world. She did not complain over her status in life, lack of material possessions or fret over how to be a good mother. She did not question God’s choice to choose her, or fear she would make mistakes. She did not advertise her celebrity status to the world. But, she was human. After all, she could have protested, or refused to marry Joseph, the man she was betrothed to. But, she did not. She just trusted God in all these matters because He was the most important one in her life.

Mary, a teenage young mother, was chosen to help carry out God’s master plan. She was not particularly from a select family, or clan, or a member of the hierarchy of royalty. But, she found ‘favor with God’ to birth the Savior, a virgin birth. God knew she would never boast to be the Savior’s mother, or wail in front of all at his death on the cross, or attempt to bring pity or compassion upon herself. She just continued to ‘ponder’ things in her heart long after her son’s birth, his childhood, his adult life and ultimately his death on the cross.

I have wondered too, over the things Mary dealt with as Jesus’s mother, and the strengths she had as a woman. I wonder how she coped, stayed humble, and merely ‘pondered’ things. She no doubt had a strong faith, questioning God only once as to how she could give birth to the Savior when she had never known a man, intimately. Because of her faith and trust in God she never doubted him.

I wonder if we can have such a faith at times when horrible times come, and life deals us frightening blows. God knows our pain. He weeps with us through our sorrow when chaos or crisis come. Whether it is from the loss of a child or loved one through a violent act, or loosing our home from a devastating storm, or fire, these things cannot be explained. We cannot understand them. But, it is in Him where we draw our strength. Then, maybe we can move on, beyond a crisis so that there is healing. It does not move one forward to keep asking questions like, “Why did this happen?” or “How could it have happened?” It takes the kind of faith Mary had to trust God to know what He was doing, and just ‘ponder’ his ways and will.

There have been numerous tragic events that have taken place this last year in 2012 with the most recent in Newtown, Conn.The news reports are full of sad stories with a list that just goes on. We live in perilous times. My prayers and thoughts are with all those who have suffered through these difficult times in their lives. But, there are many out there too who suffer in other ways we know nothing about because they suffer alone, privately without someone to share their pain, or seek help and support for their needs. God knows our need.  We can trust Him in all things. He is all we need when we  have nothing, or no one else.

The story of Mary and the birth of Jesus can be found in the New Testament. Matthew l:18-25, 2:1-12, and in Luke 2:1-20.

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I want to thank all of my blog ‘followers’, bloggers, writers, Friday Fictioneers and readers out there for visiting my blog site this past year. I wish all a very Merry Christmas, and a safe, healthy, and happy new year in 2013.

Joyce E. Johnson (2012)


Posted December 23, 2012 by Joyce in Devotional, Essays, Faith, Illustrated story, Writing

Tagged with , ,

He Came Like a Star

 

He came like a star

Piercing the darkness,

A radiant light

To a world that cannot cope

He came to be born

Alone to bear

The sins of all

That we might know

His incomprehensible

Enduring love

He came to serve

The homeless and hungry

Each seeking refuge

Waiting at his door

He came to redeem

The tiny babes ripped apart

From a nurturing place

That they might rest

In peaceful quiet,

And be rocked

In the cradle of grace

He came to seek the lost and poor

Offering shelter in outstretched arms

A tender embrace

And a compassionate touch

He came to be

The eyes for the blind

Ears for the deaf

Hope to the disabled

And the Savior to all

Called by his name

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Poem by: Joyce E. Johnson © 2012

CHANGED

The below story is fiction. It is my submission for this week’s Friday Fictioneers 100 word story. The reference to ‘Scrooge’ is based on the old classic Christmas movie and book by Charles Dickens. It is a favorite of mine. I love the theme and story that is woven throughout the story, from the person he once was to the one he has now become. It is what Christmas is all about, accepting the One gift given to us all, the Savior to the world.

Comments and feedback are always welcomed.

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“I wish we could decorate, for Christmas. It’s so bare, and dull.”

“Our ‘Scrooge’ boss won’t allow it.”

‘Scrooge’ entered, leading a cadre of men carrying a big spruce tree, boxes filled with ornaments, garland, sweet treats and presents directing men where to put the tree, strands of lights, and decorations. Then he began passing out candy canes, pastry treats and presents to all.

His employees stared in disbelief at their boss as if he had taken leave of his self.

He smiled, nodding. “Yes. I’m a changed man. Forgive me, all. Bless you for being such faithful, patient employees.”

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