The number one thing on my bucket list is to write a book – preferably fiction, but the more I blog, the less that matters. I really don’t care if it is ever published (or that is what I tell myself), but I think it will be an awesome feeling of accomplishment to know I wrote all those words, connected together to form a greater meaning.
About three or four years ago, I began writing a novel. It is dystopian (duh! because I love them) and loosely based on the stoning of Stephen and the conversion of Saul, with Ananias playing a key role. In this story, Ana is Stephen’s daughter and in the opening scenes, she witnesses her father’s murder, but will later be led to witness to Saul, just as Ananias did.
After starting with the blog, I didn’t work on the novel for about year, but have recently picked it back up. I thought it would be fun to share the first chapter with my readers and get your reaction. While I have revised this chapter numerous times, I still consider it to be a very rough draft. I hope you enjoy it. I would love some feedback, and I don’t mind constructive criticism at all. Let me hear what you think. Hopefully it will be motivation to finish it up and concentrate on editing.
Here I Am: A Story of Redemption
“What is this?!?” someone barks, interrupting this beautiful afternoon with the force of a thunderhead. Rounding the corner, I instantly sense the tension in the air and slow my pace.
The side street of old storefronts usually resembles a ghost town, but a small crowd has gathered in front of an abandoned bakery – my destination. Angry voices begin to penetrate my skull as I try to sort through all I see.
It’s a beautiful spring day – one where you expect good things to happen. The sun reflects brightly off the aged storefront windows, giving them a nostalgic look – as opposed to just looking worn. The leaves on the overgrown trees lining the storefronts are a brighter shade of green as they rustle in the light breeze. The bakery looks so inviting with the yellow and red hand-painted sign on the window that reads Rising High Bakery. I can almost smell the cakes and pastries, even though the ovens haven’t run in many years. Everything looks so storybook, but everything sounds more like a horror story.
Inching closer, I hear names thrown at someone. Bigot. Hater. Ignorant. Liar. Where is this coming from? The louder the names get, the darker everything grows. The beauty of the day shrivels and in the darkness, details are betrayed.
My father stands there in front of the bakery door, his demeanor calm as usual, but that only increases my confusion. Some guy – in the center of many angry men – grips him tightly by the arm, the guy’s face dripping with disgust. From the looks of it, Daddy has probably lost all feeling in his arm, as tightly as the man holds him, yet my father manages to hold a small book in his hand. Daddy stands at an average height but this man towers over him. Daddy, dressed in his usual khaki pants and button up plaid shirt, holds his head high, showing no sign of fear. This other man, also dressed nicely, but expensive, inches his face closer and closer to my father’s. Daddy’s slightly aged skin compliments his dark salt and pepper hair nicely. But this man, with his olive colored skin and hair the color of chocolate, really isn’t that old, maybe only a few years older than me, but everything about him demands authority. And his eyes. His eyes are the color of all things beautiful and blue, ironic really. Even as anger radiates from him, his eyes remind me of the ocean, washing over everything he touches. They seem to slice through the air. Despite the chaos of the moment, I stand frozen for several seconds letting those eyes drown me.
The angry voices wake me from my trance and the puzzle pieces begin clicking into place. The more pieces that find placement, the more I begin to panic. Eyes focused on my daddy, fear pushes me back and I find a hiding place in a forgotten clothing store doorway.
I guess this is just one of those moments I never pictured in my reality. In all honesty, I probably worked a little too hard playing ignorant to the possibilities.
By all apparent circumstances, my father is a social worker. He runs a non-profit organization out of this old bakery. The building is a contribution of some volunteers that assist Dad with his work of helping the less fortunate. The couple lost their business to an over-involved government, like many small business owners, but thankfully, they still owned the building. Instead of becoming bitter like most of the population, they chose to contribute.
My daddy’s organization, called The Light, is today’s answer for religion and church. I have heard stories about what church used to be like, with hundreds meeting and worshipping on Sundays, but today those types of religious organizations are for the most part illegal. I mean they are not technically illegal, only because as bold as they are, no one wants to sign the law that says God is illegal. But many years ago, a slow fade began. According to my father, it began small. Churches and believers making seemingly small compromises, choosing to stay uninvolved in the government, and accepting many sins as the new normal. Then churches and church leaders became targets, whether it be through unrealistic taxes or over-censorship of their messages. Eventually, preachers could only use portions of the Bible and the persecution bled into a civilian responsibility, maybe even hobby. Naturally, the traditional church – as dad called it – dried up. People were no longer interested in that.
My daddy inherited this organization from his parents and I know he does his best to spread God’s love through this organization, even with his hands tied. Occasionally, he pushes the limits, and even though he never says, I know he holds back in order to protect my mother and me. He makes me proud with all his selflessness. Even though I don’t understand it all, I see a difference in Daddy and he stresses the importance of that to me. He says, “We must act differently, respond differently, and always with love. When members of this broken society begin to look for repair, they need to recognize those of us who are different, who carry ourselves differently. We need to demonstrate a sense of contentment that will draw them to us, and then God will do the rest.”
And so many people are drawn to Daddy, for whatever reason. God, I guess. No matter who they are, what they look like, how they act, what reputation they have, Daddy takes time to talk to them. He will do his best to meet whatever need it is they have and he will usually pray with them, despite all the risk. People just look at him differently. They look up to him. They respect him, most even when they know he is different, when they know he is not like them. He faithfully serves others, no matter our current situation.
But I am not my daddy. I can’t always act like that. It is too hard. I don’t always feel differently – and definitely not content. Sometimes I am envious and angry and aggravated and impatient and… imperfect. Like now, how can Daddy just stand there? He doesn’t seem angry. He is not trying to get away. I would be fighting for my life. I don’t feel like I can always control those emotions or even that I should, especially not in a situation like this one.
And then, what if someone did notice the difference in me and they approach me, am I courageous enough to talk about God? We cannot just talk about what it means to believe in God. I don’t even know all that I believe. It has been so secretive.
I am not like my father who silently and sometimes not so silently takes a stand. I could jeopardize my future, be marked as a freak, or even worse, be killed. I don’t even know if I want people to notice me as different. Can I be so bold?
Because my daddy’s career and choices, I don’t have many friends and I don’t really open up to anyone. I choose to keep a low profile. It keeps things simple. I don’t have to have secrets or worry about those on the outside finding out what really goes on in that bakery.
Daddy’s calm clear voice draws me back to the present. I stand with my back to the old glass shop door, old forgotten mannequins mocking me as I stare out from the shadows. Daddy draws his shoulders back and looks boldly into the crowd, searching each face, searching for what, I don’t know. Pity? Sympathy? Clarity? Repentance? Has he ever helped any of them? Does he recognize them?
But, then he begins to speak.
“Look at you. Look at yourselves. Is this who you want to be? Is this really promoting the peaceful society you claim to want?”
The crowd just grows louder, throwing new insults his way. Hypocrite! Trash! Intolerant Heathen! I have to lean out of my perch some to hear him, but he doesn’t seem to notice their cries.
“From the very beginning of time, people have made sacrifices for God. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son. Joseph was sold into slavery and thrown in prison. Moses was left floating in a basket and later would lead the people out of Egypt. John the Baptist was beheaded. God’s son Jesus himself willingly died on the cross. After that, nearly every disciple gave his life for his beliefs in God. And it didn’t stop there…”
I know Daddy is referring to people in the Bible. He used to tell me these stories at bedtime, but I have never actually seen a Bible or read them myself. Many years ago, most of the Bibles were rounded up and burned. Again, they are not technically illegal, but no one wants to be caught with one. It would be like the scarlet letter. Because of that, I only know some of theses stories, many of which have just become oral legends… fairy tales.
He continues, “All throughout history there are stories of people giving their lives for their beliefs. Many have boldly, willingly, confessed their beliefs, knowing what the consequence would be. Children in high schools have died because of their love for Jesus. Coworkers have sacrificed their lives for others because of their beliefs. Missionaries have died for people they don’t even know, and that seems to do nothing but encourage you. We can’t wear crosses around our necks. We can’t sing Christmas songs. You label us as hate groups, using your scare tactics to keep us quiet. How dare we disagree with you? You call us small-minded. How dare we believe in right and wrong? How dare we believe in consequences? You say we preach hate, that we are afraid.
“But isn’t it you who are afraid? You are the ones who are genuinely afraid. Afraid of what God may do. Of what conviction you may feel. Of what changes He may create. No, we believers do not have an easy life. We have to make difficult decisions. We have to take a stand, and sometimes we have to fall. But yes, God is acting in us and through us. And of all the things we are, we are not afraid.”
My minds screams Daddy, be quiet! Shut up! Walk away! Get out of there! You know you can’t reason with them. Is this really what you should be saying? Leave God out of this. But my lips stay still and my heart pounds so hard against my chest that I am afraid someone will hear it. Still, my body is frozen. I can move no more than a statue in the center of town square. My eyes are frozen as well, right on my courageous daddy and that awful man holding him there.
“I am not afraid. He made this very world around me. His power is greater than your narrow-minded ways. You are no different than every other Pharisee seen throughout biblical and modern times. You have hard hearts closed off to the Holy Spirit. You have resisted His constant knocking on your hearts and now you prove to be like your fathers and your fathers’ fathers. You persecute those who do not conform to this world, those who preach of right and wrong, those who preach of the Bible. You know what is right, but you do not do it.”
I am not sure if this is the last thing my father says, but it is the last thing I hear. The crowds erupts. Yells, screams, horrible things coming from their mouths. The hate is tangible. Like an eclipse, total darkness creeps up and covers them, motivates them, and controls these people. And in the middle of that total darkness, in the middle of all that evil, I see my father. I see light. He lifts his head so that he is no longer facing the crowd and he turns his eyes to the sky. He looks straight into the sun, the bright, yellow, beautiful sun. His steady voice slices through their anger like a surgeon making an incision, and over all the noise, I clearly hear him say, “Heaven has opened up. Jesus is waiting at the right hand of God. He is waiting for me.”
And with that, the light vanishes and the darkness takes over. The man holding my father, throws him from his grasp as if he is contagious and the crowd swallows him whole. It is like my father – my daddy – melted in their clutches, falling to the ground. Falling under their malicious fists. And they beat and they whale on my daddy. Fist after fist, pounding and pounding. With each new hit, a memory of my father slams into me. When he was trying to teach me to ride a bike and fell himself. When he built me a treehouse and we would camp out in it, telling ghost stories until I couldn’t hold my eyes open. The letter he wrote me when I graduated from high school. All the defining moments of our relationship hit me over and over just like he is pommeled over and over. I don’t know and it happens so fast but so slow, like being stuck on a treadmill, moving fast but going nowhere.
And that is me – going nowhere. I just stay right where I am. My only movement is to slide down the glass door and sit in astonishment. As much as I want to look away, as much as I want to run, and even as much as I want to go stop it, to go yell “No! What are you doing?!? That is my DADDY!” I just sit. I just sit like a coward, like everything my father is not. I sit and watch the entire horrific scene play out like a show on television that is just so bizarre you can’t tear your eyes away.
I sit, my arms hugging my knees, staring hypnotized by the whole scene until the crowd grows tired. Many of them kick my daddy, testing to see if there is any life left in him. When they see the answer is no, slowly they begin to wander off. Some alone, some in pairs, but none of them looking back. None of them concerned for my father. None of them seem to be aware that they have just taken a life – my father’s life. Or maybe they just don’t care. They don’t care that they just changed my entire world. That they just influenced the lives of some many people with this act of evil, hatred. They just pushed down the dominos in the opposite direction.
The men straighten their ties, tuck their shirts back in, run their hands through their hair, and return to their businesses, to their life. Like this was just an errand to attend to on their lunch break.
Before I realize it, a single person stands over my father. The man with the striking blue eyes that held my father earlier – the man in charge. He stands there looking down on my lifeless father with this smug look on his face. For awhile, I feel like time has stopped, someone just hit the pause button. Struck by the moment, I watch him look down on my father. He seems totally satisfied with his actions, totally pleased with what he initiated, as he examines my father’s lifeless body lying in a odd position, one that would not be possible in life.
Blood makes a shallow pool around my father’s skull, staining the sun-bleached sidewalk. His clothes are torn in places, no longer his neat and put-together self.
So many thoughts run through my head right now. My mind resembles a confusing word search without a word bank, letters and words floating around but I can’t grasp one complete thought… until he bends down and takes the book that is still clutched in my father’s hand and then… he looks my way.
I don’t know if he can see me in the shadows of the store front. I can feel his blue eyes burning through the gloom and into me. He holds his stare there for what seems like eternity, for so long I feel certain he knows I am here. He looks at me almost like a warning, like he is daring me to say something, to do something. And then, just as quickly as this whole disaster started, he turns and walks away, sticking the small book in his back pocket. My eyes follow him with such hatred and fear that I am sure he will catch fire – but he doesn’t. Like the others, he doesn’t even turn around and look back. He holds his head high, pushes his shoulders back and strolls away, like he doesn’t have a worry in the world.
And then… it is just me. And my dead father. Lying 30 yards away from me, abandoned, forsaken, empty – exactly how I feel. I just stare at his crimson covered body. What am I to do now? Who do I tell? Anybody? What happens to the rest of my life? To The Light? To my family? What will my mom say? What will she do? The questions keep coming and coming like a tidal wave coming to drowned me. In my panic, I stand up and run.