Crushed chocolate cookies

Foster childDing dong!

“There he is.” I smiled at Craig as I finished placing the freshly baked chocolate cookies on a plate. We walked to the front door together.

“Hello, Mr. White. Mrs. White. Good to see you.” The social worker placed his hand on the child beside him. “This is Benny.”

The boy stared down at his sneakers, which seemed too big for his body. He held a sagging plastic bag.

I kneeled down. “Hi Benny, I’m Karen. I’m so glad you’re here.” He avoided my eyes. When I touched his arm, he stiffened. For a second, I feared he would bolt.

“Please, come in.” Craig’s invitation reduced the tension of the first contact with our eight-year-old foster child. We were to be his third family in the four years since he saw his mom die from an overdose, and we were determined to be the last.

While Craig and the social worker completed paperwork, Benny sat on the edge of the couch, still studying his shoes and clutching his bag.

“I made chocolate cookies; do you want to try one?” I held out the plate.

After what seemed an eternity, he raised his hand, grabbed three cookies, and stuffed them in the pocket of his hoodie.

I cleared my throat. “Okay, these are for later. Why don’t you take another one for now?”

He shot me a glance, then took one more.

Craig saw the social worker to the door and came back with a ball and glove. “Hey Ben, would you like to play catch?”

“Sure.” The last cookie disappeared in his pocket.

From the window, I watched Benny trudge alongside Craig to the playground. Looks like a good start. I turned around to see his bag lying on the floor. I was about to bring it to his room when I thought better of it. We’ll do that together.

By the time Craig and Benny returned, I had started cooking, and food aromas filled the house. “Drumsticks and French fries—I hope you like it.”

Benny slumped into a chair.

“Honey, please, wash your hands first. Craig, can you show Benny the bathr—”

“Nooo!”

I almost dropped a dish as Benny sent the chair crashing to the floor.

“I hate you! I hate you!”

“Benny, what’s wrong?”

Craig reached for the boy, but Benny slapped him, ran to the couch, and seized his bag. “I won’t stay here! Tell Social Services to get me!”

“They’re closed at this hour, Benny. Why don’t you come and eat something?”

“No! I hate you!” He whacked the couch.

“You want to see your room?” Craig tried to distract him.

“I want to leave!” Tears streamed down his contorted face.

“We’ll see about that tomorrow. But if you don’t want to eat, I’ll bring you to your room so that you can sleep.” Craig picked him up, seemingly immune to the yelling and frantic kicking.

I followed them upstairs. When Craig put him down, Benny threw himself on the bed—shoes and all—and hid under the blankets, crying all the while.

Craig whispered, “I’ll eat something, then leave for my night shift. I’ll pray.”

The next moment, I found myself standing alone in the middle of the bedroom, its bright colors shouting failure.

God, I need You.

I sat down at the bedside and laid my hand on the crumpled heap of a child.

“Leave me alone!” He wriggled away from me.

“No, Benny, I won’t go anywhere when you’re so sad and upset. I’ll stay right here with you.”

The leering racing car on the bedspread seemed to mock me as I waited and prayed for a breakthrough. Finally, the sobs subsided.

Following a hunch, I asked, “Benny…may I hold you? I mean—like a baby?”

To my surprise, he pushed back the blankets and climbed on my lap. I held him in my arms and gently rocked him, until his body relaxed and he was fast asleep.

Carefully, I took off his shoes and pulled down the covers—revealing crushed chocolate cookies. I couldn’t help but smile as I wiped them from the bed and tucked Benny in. Then I bent down and planted a kiss on his forehead.

Dear Father, You loved us before we loved You. Please, now help us to love this child. Even if our love will be crushed…like a chocolate cookie, under the weight of his pain, we want to persist in loving him. Amen.

***

AUTHOR’S NOTES

This short fiction story was inspired by:

• “Removed,” a short film about foster care. See www.removedfilm.com and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOeQUwdAjE0.

• An newspaper article about foster care. See http://www.volkskrant.nl/binnenland/verwaarloosde-en-misbruikte-kinderen-wie-helpt-ze-nog~a3889487/

Karen’s prayer refers to the following Bible verse: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10 ESV).

photo credit: via photopin (license)

 

Wings

It has been quiet on this blog… but today I publish the poem I wrote for the FaithWriters’ Challenge in October—the topic was “Zest.” Since then I have concentrated on writing in my mother tongue, Dutch. I am grateful to have been accepted as a member of a Dutch writers group, LetterSpinsels, where I will have every opportunity to further develop my writing skills. But I still love to write in English and who knows, maybe one day, I will write another book in this beautiful language.

If you are curious about my Dutch writings, see Kleurrijke Koorden (Colorful Threads).


Wings

Wings

While I stare into the dreary dawn of yet another day,
I am struggling for the strength and the steadiness to pray;
the constant whipping of a storm has left my spirit frayed.
God, please show
me how to grow.

All is quiet but a flitter: wings against the glass.
A fritillary at the window, frantic, tries to pass
the unseen obstacle to life. At the impasse,
it sits inert.
Maybe it’s hurt.

Despite myself, I scramble up to save the little thing.
Carefully, I cup my hands around its tender wings.
Against my palm, it tickles as it grasps and tightly clings.
Fatigue aside,
I stride outside.

My hands unfold. It sits so still, hiding its colored dress,
as if waiting for a sign. A breath of wind caresses…
It climbs the air; its rising, circling flight expresses
my delight;
a joyful sight.

A twisting dive, a swoop of wings, a swallow’s beak snaps shut
around the tiny butterfly. The cruelty converts
the blissful fluttering into a cramping knot of hurt.
With drooping head,
I trudge to bed.

How can I live abundantly when life resembles Sheol,
where I’m straggling through the dark—no map, no route, no goal—
and predators are on the prowl to feast upon my soul?
I shroud my face
and my disgrace.

Don’t hide and keep your heart from me, by circumstances bound.
Hide in the shadow of My wings, where steadfast love abounds.
Profounder joy and brighter light are nowhere to be found.
Come to Me
and be free.

Hues of pastel pink and blue now paint the new day’s sky.
I get up and spread my arms—I am God’s butterfly—
In His protection and His force, with eagle’s wings I’ll fly.
No time to waste—
there’s life to taste.

***

Bible references: Psalm 36:7-9, Isaiah 40:31.

photo credit: Silver-washed Fritillary via photopin (license)

A Gem of Hope

chrissie

 

My best friend, Chrissie, died in a car accident when I was almost sixteen. When the FaithWriters Weekly Writing Challenge called for autobiographical stories, I wrote the following story about our friendship and her death, which “shocked me and rocked all securities in a phase of life that is insecure enough in itself” (Destination Italy, page 73).


Chrissie and I

Chrissie and I were like sisters; straight blond hair, glasses, and acne. Side by side, we faced our inferiority complexes. We wrote in each other’s secret diaries. Together, we fell in love with faraway idols and with schoolboys who vaguely resembled them—and who, like our idols, didn’t notice us either.

A rap on the door drags me out of deep sleep. The grey light of dawn breaks through the caravan windows. Who can that be, at this hour? I hear my father getting up. Soft voices, a muffled cry. Then my father enters the small room, his eyes horrified. His mouth utters the unthinkable.

Woodpeckers and blackbirds provided the music for the campsite where our families each had a caravan. Moss was the sofa where we did our homework–and giggled about that handsome teacher. Lying on our backs, we gazed at the endless sky through pine tree crowns and dreamed of future fame and fortune. Throwing cones at sturdy trunks, we complained about how our parents just didn’t understand us.

“Nooooo!” I stumble out of bed. “How—what happened? She can’t—nooo!” Passing by a mirror, I catch a glimpse of my contorted face, my heart-broken wails reaching far beyond the caravan walls.

The dike of a highway in construction served as our belvedere over the world. We pondered love and hate, peace and war. We wrote a letter to the US President, urging him to end all the fights on earth, as well as a letter of rejection to the marriage proposal from a French boy Chrissie had met during a holiday.

Amid the tumult of Monday morning class, I lay my head down on my arms. The school desk rattles under my sobbing body. “Hey, why are you laughing?” My classmate’s eyes reveal her shock as she sees my tears. The rector enters the room with a solemn face. “This weekend, a terrible accident took place…” Soon everyone is crying.

The portable radio in Chrissie’s bicycle basket broadcast our favorite pop songs. We sang along at the top of our lungs with Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, while we cycled to the park where we would eat our sandwiches and drink our Cokes. We spent hours recalling last Saturday’s experiences–our first-ever visit to a discotheque, where we had drunk beer and collapsed into fits of irrepressible laughter, nullifying our painstaking efforts to look mature through a lot of makeup.

A brief look—an everlasting image etches itself into my mind. That can’t be Chrissie—she never wore her hair like that. Where are her glasses? What’s that small Band-Aid doing on her left temple? My vision blurs, my legs give way.

In her moonlit bedroom, I was lying In Chrissie’s romantic four-poster; she slept on the couch. We talked far into the night about faith, heaven, and God. All of a sudden, we were overwhelmed with inexplicable joy. Unable to stop smiling, we decided that God must be in the room.

The enormous church is too small to contain all the mourners—the entire school is here. Among hundreds of teenagers, I’m anonymous. Who am I? I was Chrissie’s best friend. Now she’s gone.

We drank tea and burned incense. In the smoky room, Chrissie told me that she would meet a group of young Christians. Despite the divine experience we had shared, I didn’t want to join her. How could a loving God be in control, while the world was full of injustice and suffering? How could I believe in creation, while science claimed evolution?

The majestic sound of organ pipes fills the church. The mourners, hesitant at first, start singing in unison, “The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want…”*

After that fateful night, when Chrissie died on the asphalt after being hit by a car, I was left to sail the stormy sea of life alone. Unmet expectations, bad choices, and hurtful disappointments tossed me around, dragging me in the wrong directions.

It was not until I met my Christian husband that I recognized that Jesus had always been there, ready to capture my heart, refill me with joy, and put another bubbling smile on my face.

I now cherish the countless treasures of faith that Christ bestowed upon me. Among them sparkles this gem of hope—Chrissie and I will meet again.


 

* Psalm 23, arranged by Francis Rous. Copyright: Public Domain.

Hope Against All Odds

More MH17-plane-crashthan two weeks ago, on July 17, 298 people died. They were victims in a war that didn’t concern them, because someone decided to down the airplane in which they sat on their way to their home, holiday, or work.

I know—every day innocent people die in senseless wars. But this particular incident rocked me to the core. Maybe because it involved almost two hundred fellow citizens (Dutch). Or because it’s so easy to imagine being in their shoes.

The following article, “Now Is The Time,” which I wrote for yet another FaithWriters’ Weekly Writing Challenge, reflects my thoughts and emotions. It asks the difficult questions that many people will have, but it ends with a message of hope–and a call to all Christians.

 


 

Now Is The Time

Yes!

Wendy leaps between the closing doors into the train, then slumps down onto the nearest vacant seat.

The young man across from her smiles.

“You made it.”

“Yep.” Not in the mood for chitchat, Wendy picks up her smartphone to check Facebook.

Incredible—how can they keep posting all these irrelevant messages after yesterday’s plane crash?

She’d hardly slept. The sickening image of a plane with 298 people being hit by a missile at 33,000 feet kept haunting her. Had they known what happened? Were they still alive while falling? Will the guilty ever be caught? Wide awake, she’d tried to give words to her distress. Her best friend, a marble cover notebook, patiently received phrases filled with grief and frustration. Only at about 5 a.m., merciful sleep arrived.

She hadn’t heard the alarm. When she woke up at last, she ran to catch the 8.15 train. Being responsible for the social sciences section of a national newspaper, she couldn’t afford to miss the early morning briefing.

The phone rings in her hands. It’s her editor, Stanley.

“Don’t come to the newsroom, Wendy. The boss called; she wants you to cover a Christian meeting. Says she needs some hope amidst the tragedy.”

She sits up straight. “What? You know religion isn’t my thing, Stanley.” The last thing I need is being around a bunch of cocooning Christians.

“Sorry, girl. Write something nice about the effect of faith on mourning. Here’s the address.”

“Wait a sec.” Wendy rummages through her bag in search of her notebook.

Oh no.

In the rush, she left it on her nightstand.  All of the sudden, she feels incomplete. Of course, she writes her articles on her laptop, but the first ideas, the raw emotions—she just has to jot them down by hand, ink on paper.

“Hold on, Stan.” She continues digging until she finds a scrap of paper and absentmindedly accepts the pen the young man offers her.

She’s still writing when the trains stops. The man greets her with another smile and leaves. She holds the pen out, but he shakes his head and mouths, “Keep it.”

“Thanks–no nothing, Stan. Okay, I’ll do my best. Ciao.”

Looking at the address, she realizes that she needs to get off as well. Grabbing her bag, she jolts for the exit.

No!

Too late; the doors snap shut in her face.

 ***

An hour later, she approaches a building adorned with a huge banner that says, “Now Is The Time!”

Time for what exactly? For God to show up, at last?

She wonders how any person in his right mind can believe in a good God—unless they close their eyes for reality.

When she enters the lobby, a person walks up to her. To her surprise, she recognizes the young man from the train.

“Hello, my name is Michael. Welcome.” He seems genuinely pleased and hands her a conference kit in which she identifies an information flyer, folders of Christian organizations, a notepad, and a pen. She takes out the flyer and hands the kit back to him.

“I’m here as a reporter. I’m not religious.”

“That’s good. Neither am I.” His eyes sparkle. “But don’t you need the notepad?”

Wendy stiffens. “No thanks. This flyer and my memory will do.”

Then her reporter instinct kicks in. “What are you doing here if you’re not religious?”

He smiles. “I am a Christian though. You know, Jesus never preached religion.”

A band starts playing in the auditorium.

“Did you know that God doesn’t rule the world?”

Wendy frowns. “Well, actually I already guessed so.”

“Tell me… Who’s behind yesterday’s plane crash? God or Satan?”

What?

Behind the doors, many people start singing as one, in perfect harmony.

Wendy raises her voice. “Then where’s the hope?”

“Jesus is our hope.” Michael lowers his head to speak directly in her ear. “God provided a way out of the darkness—Jesus. He’s come to usher in the Kingdom of light and invites all people into that Kingdom.”

“But how–?

“It’s time that Christians get out of their cozy buildings. It’s time they rise and shine His light into the darkness. The more light, the less darkness.”

Wendy takes the pen out of her bag. “Now, where’s that notepad?”

Michael hands her the kit. Their eyes meet; he smiles, his face all aglow.

Marveling, she puts the pen to the paper as words bubble up.

Hope against all odds. Will light defeat darkness?

Pray for Joe

omnishamblesGive me a few minutes of your time, and I will let you look through three windows into three different lives. Why? I’ll explain you afterwards. For now, just watch.

First window

A strong wind whips raindrops against Judas’ face. The ex-disciple of Jesus doesn’t notice; he just runs.

I have done wrong, so wrong!

Convinced that Jesus was a fraud, he had tried to save his own reputation with the religious leaders by betraying him for a miserable thirty silver pieces.

Why did he talk about dying anyway? A real king would have gathered an army and claimed his position, wouldn’t he?

Yet, while Judas watched Jesus’ arrest and agony, something didn’t tally. Jesus never tried to defend himself.

Overwhelmed by the realization of what he had done, Judas went back to the priests and exclaimed, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood!”

They laughed at him in derision. “What is that to us? See to it yourself.”

Humiliated, he threw the pieces of silver into the temple and ran off.

Suddenly he stumbles over a stone and bumps into the rough bark of a tree. Gasping, he turns around and sees how a thunderstorm rages above Golgotha.

Jesus is surely dead by now.

Guilt crushes him. Without hope of restoration from his sin, Judas tears off a long strip of his garment and lifts himself upon the first branch…

Second window

Lightning cracks. Rain washes away bitter tears of remorse from the face of Peter, Jesus’ first disciple. From afar, he sees Jesus’ body hanging limp on the cross.

The day before, when Jesus announced his death, Peter proclaimed that he was ready to die for him. However, when it came to the crunch, he denied him for fear that he too would be arrested.

Not just once, but three times!

When that rooster crowed, the full realization of his cowardice settled upon him.

Oh how Jesus looked at me!

He still believes that Jesus was God’s anointed King, but doesn’t understand why he had to die.

Now what? Without Jesus, life makes no sense.

Yet, beyond shame and confusion, there is a glimmer of hope. Somehow, he knows this isn’t the end…

Third window

Alone in his office, Joe stares out the window at the heavy rainfall. Puddles reflect the streetlights.

No light for me, only darkness.

His business is about to go bankrupt, despite his best efforts.

First, he contacted a sooth-sayer who foresaw a profitable client. When this happened indeed, Joe’s business prospered and he rented more luxury accommodations. When the client was placed under conservatorship—all assets frozen—while still owning him $400,000, Joe was unable to pay off his own debtors.

The economic crisis dealt the next blow; fewer orders meant less turnover and an often empty account. His supportive wife agreed to pledge their house to the bank so that it would finance his payroll obligations.

Profit margins becoming tighter, he put out work to subcontractors who—without his knowledge—didn’t fulfill their tax obligations and employed illegal immigrants.

Someone tipped off the tax department; the subcontractor fled and Joe was wrongly accused of tax evasion and exploitation of foreign workers. It had been in all the local newspapers.

One by one, his clients disappeared, carrying off his hope.

Last month his brother introduced him to Christians who encouraged him to let Jesus rule his life instead of money, reputation, fear, or shame.

He tried everything: praying, reading the Bible, attending meetings. Yet he didn’t see any change.

They asserted, “You are more than your work. Jesus is alive; he loves you, and has a better plan for your life. Trust Him.”

Easy for them to say. They don’t have to face their creditors every day.

Today his lawyer called. His major creditor has requested his bankruptcy.

All hope is gone now. The end of my business, my house, my life. Jesus, do you exist at all?

***********

What did you see? Three human beings, each in omnishambles. The Bible tells what happened with Judas and Peter (Matthew 27:3-5, John 21:15-17). But what about Joe?

Joe is the pseudonym for someone I met recently. His story isn’t finished yet. And he needs your prayers.

Please pray that “Joe” won’t make the mistake that Judas did. Pray that he will cling to hope, like Peter, who was restored by the resurrected Jesus. Pray that he will learn to trust the living God who redeems and restores lives—no matter how big the mess.