Slaying Dragons

Was the trial sore?
Temptation sharp? Thank God a second time!
Why comes temptation but for a man to meet
And master and make crouch beneath his foot,
And so be pedestaled in triumph? Pray
“Lead us into no such temptations, Lord!”
Yea, but, O thou whose servants are the bold,
Lead such temptations by the head and hair,
Reluctant dragons, up to who dares fight
That so he may do battle and have praise.
— Robert Browning.

 

It’s counter-intuitive this Christian walk. To battle against dragons with meekness …

 

“The quietness and openness and vulnerability of meekness is very beautiful and very painful. It goes against all that we are by our sinful nature. It requires supernatural help.” John Piper

 

My sinful nature says I should borrow someone’s shotgun and go coon hunting today after waking up to half of my chicken flock dead. My favorite Dominique who managed to live for years with crippled feet was one of the victims. Only two days ago we found one of our ducks dead, too. And then the other (right after I agreed to take a few ducks from a friend to keep the second duck company).

 

My sinful nature says we should re-home our foster kid. My husband fears this kid destroying our peace — and our marriage. After three years she’s only improving on ways to be deceptive. Frankly, we worry that her desire to be promiscuous will lead to us  raising her low-IQ offspring well into our eighties. It puts to the test our notion that every child is here for a reason and deserves love. Some days I just want to slink away to some cave and let the world fend for itself.

I don’t want to feel my blood rise at the sight of this kid who insists on touching upon each pet peeve of everyone in the family.

Examples:

My husband has trouble with his weight so she asks him constantly if he’s eaten her ice cream or done his time on the elliptical.

I have trouble dealing with her insisting she’s right about things she’s so obviously  clueless about. I spend countless hours fuming about the steps of long division and the proper way to engage strangers in public places.

rudolph jettmar

Rudolph Jettmar

Meekness is a concept I struggle to wrap my mind around. If I want to fight the good fight, I want it to be done in a series of active steps that leads to an outcome I’ve decided upon.

The notion of handing over these desires to a higher power seems ridiculous and insane.

In the face of evil raccoons (who happen to also be cute) and unfit parents who get away with abuse and then just disappear what does meekness offer?

I’ve always thought of meekness as a mousy way to be. I imagine a weaker version of me curled up in a corner somewhere (still fretting and wringing my hands).

But meekness is something different. I think it’s that point when you realize that, despite your handmade armor and big plans, you’re powerless in the face of sin and evil. Sure you can slay a few dragons now and again with only minor scrapes, but then you turn and realize that those were just the baby dragons.

For the last two weeks my husband has been battling his mother while, for the first time, developing a relationship with his mostly absent and passive father (who is now dying of cancer). My father-in-law’s pain had brought a certain poignant beauty to their encounters, yet a dragon that has stalked my mother-in-law for years in the form of depression and addiction chooses now to scorch anyone in breathing distance.

I’ve seen this wrath, delusion and animal fear before in other cornered addicts I’ve known. Meekness in the face of it shows true bravery and strength. My husband and I take turns fending off the flames with as much meekness as we can muster, but I’m seriously less patient than he is.

In the evenings after the dragons have gone to bed we sometimes (more often than I’d like to admit) find it hard to be meek with each other. I’m disgruntled and want to slash away. My husband is just exhausted and doesn’t want a battle-frenzied companion at his bedside.

The problem with dragons is that, if they can’t kill you outright, they equally enjoy recruiting you as ally before they send their flames when you turn your back.

“Meekness begins when we put our trust in God. Then, because we trust him, we commit our way to him. We roll onto him our anxieties, our frustrations, our plans, our relationships, our jobs, our health.” John Piper

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5

Moser-Franz-hfersv

Franz Moser

HOW DO YOU SLAY YOUR DRAGONS? I’d love to know! Tell us in the comments below.

LINKS:

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MEEKNESS AND HUMILITY

GOD’S CURE FOR PRIDE AND ARROGANCE

NOT TO WORRY

How Will You Live in Old Age?

Some people seem to take years to die. In my family members crash and burn. One moment my father was cooking burgers on the grill for my son, the next he was dying of a heart attack. Aside from dying while sleeping, this is the best way to go, though it’s a shock to those left behind.

In novels, the excruciatingly slow death is my favorite. I’ll mention Prince Andrei in WAR AND PEACE as my personal favorite, gut-wrenching death. I cried over him (as some of you may know) for weeks. Yes, weeks. I hardly cried at all over my father because my morbid imagination had prepared me for his passing since worrying about it all through childhood. It was no secret that we loved each other immensely so perhaps that gave me peace. I also decided that I wanted to appear stoic yet stylish like Jackie Kennedy after her husband’s assassination. Funny what your brain and heart do to get you through tragedy.

In my first novel I kill off a couple of characters. One dies in true Victorian fashion, lingering until the right words are said. Another dies suddenly of a heart attack. People exit. It’s part of the human story. Until recently many people lived with disfigurement and death as kissing cousins.

On Sunday my husband made a rare request.

He’s at a crossroads in his career. He’s searching for meaning. His proud and independent-minded parents are struggling to survive a few states away. One with painful blood cancer and the other with multiple issues only made worse by loneliness and depression after years caring for her suffering husband.

My husband wanted to visit the local nursing home nestled in the mountains of Washington County. He asked me to come. My first thought was to tell him talking to sick, old people wasn’t my thing and that I’d planned a day of reading by the fire. But, as I’ve said, my husband rarely makes requests. My daughter joked that we’d be the Will and Kate of Upstate New York. I practiced my royal wave in my Sunday best with a laugh.

Our pastor occasionally visits the home on Sundays. He had invited my husband to come by since we live five minutes from the place.

“It will only take half an hour,” my husband said to reassure us both as we walked down a long hallway with large windows and geraniums blooming on the sills.

One old soul napped in a wheelchair beside the main desk. She wore a faded pink sweatshirt and her hair went in every direction. The place smelled of housecleaning fluids and medicinal things only old people and doctors know about. We followed the booming voice of our pastor. We arrived a few minutes late for the gathering and tip-toed to a couple of chairs behind about twenty people in wheelchairs. Our pastor joked with them, shook hands and led them in singing old Christian hymns. And then he left.

One of the old men, in a hurry to get back to his room, smashed his wheelchair into a younger man who appeared to have had a brain injury. My husband jumped to his feet, took charge of the situation and wheeled the man where he wanted to go. I smiled as I watched my husband in his element (I’m the sort who tends to witness things happening with a detached inability to step in).

Just as my husband returned, and I zipped my coat to go, another man with a fake leg wheeled over to us.

“I need to talk to you. I said to myself if someone doesn’t talk to these two they may never want to come back.”

All thoughts of reading by the fire slipped away. In an instant this bunch of wheelchairs became people. I cast a sheepish look my husband’s way, but he was already engaged in talk about the old man’s life as a dairy farmer. Despite the fact that he was only just recovering from an amputation, Walter wanted us to know that he was still a farmer and that he was planning to walk again soon. I hate awkward silences because I feel the need to fill them which exhausts me. I needn’t have worried. Walter and my usually quiet husband talked tractors and milk prices. I wanted to take Walter home after only a few minutes.

All the while a lady stared at us as if waiting in line to speak with royalty. It was a little unnerving and humbling. After Walter went to get his snack of Lorna Doone Cookies and juice, Nancy waited for us to make the first move. We shook hands.

“I just said to your pastor that if his church wanted to do good he needed to remember us.”

I considered our pastor’s busy schedule. I considered that when writing one of my novels I got rid of a character by sending her to a home for the aged. I couldn’t keep her because she had too much wisdom and spunk and the other characters needed to remain stupid and inexperienced for the story to move forward.

Someone took Nancy to the beauty parlor or had someone come in to give her highlights. Grey hairs mixed with the blond strands but her face appeared young—maybe 50-ish. Her hands shook and her back curved unnaturally.

“You keep animals?” she asked. “My father was a farmer. He got me on a horse when I was three. Once my horse spooked and dove into the Mohawk River with me on back.”

“Were you scared?”

“No,” she said wistfully. “I was never scared when my father was around.” Nancy sensed we were uncomfortable with what seemed a sad remark. “I still intend to ride again someday.”

The characters in my novels lead busy lives. They mention the old folks’ home once in a while but they never go to see how their loved one is doing. My father’s last words to my mother were: “I always loved you best. Tell the kids I loved them all the same.”

I wonder how I’ll feel if I end up in a nursing home. Will I welcome the rest and solitude? Will I fight for coffee or tea with my crappy cookies? My daughter says she’ll keep me in her home and we’ll die together like Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher (my daughter has a flair for the dramatic).

On the drive home my husband asked if I’d like to come with him again next weekend. How could I say no?

LINK: SENIOR LIVING 1800-1900

MORBID DEATH CUSTOMS FROM THE VICTORIAN ERA

THE UNSETTLING ART OF DEATH PHOTOGRAPHY

 

Fiction: Unplugged

The missionaries took over the fire. William hung in the shadows, but Buck came to him with a new bottle, unplugged it, and shared it out.

William offered Buck a cigar.

“No,” Buck said. “Oh, what the hell.” He took it and lit up, staring into the fire.

“I guess I’ve lost my job now,” William said and drank.

“You don’t really want to work for a missionary, do you?” Buck asked. “It’s embarrassing. Seems Thankful is very receptive to that sort of thing. She’s fond of Kenyon. You aren’t doing this to impress her, I hope.”

“Hell, no!” William said, shaking his head before emptying his mug.

“Maybe Thankful hopes Kenyon will adopt her once the folks find out about her baby,” Buck joked miserably.

“You won’t tell on her, will you?”

“My parents have a right to know! Of course I’ll tell them. She’ll need their help. I don’t trust that Fahy and I’ll see to it he pays.”

“What can you do to him?” William asked.

“I don’t know yet, but I’m not a coward who lets others get the best of me,” Buck said with bluster in his voice.

“I guess you think I am,” William said. “You can go to hell.”

“No, I wasn’t talking about you. I mean, you did always have a whole troupe of people coddling you—including my father—but, well, sometimes you were impressive. How you kept getting up and trying again. You never gave up. I liked that. You and your father—I was—it was nice how much your father cared.”

Fahy and the other soldiers sang, and Buck and William stumbled over to them and joined in while the morose missionaries chewed the tough meat.

 

Here’s success to whiskey

Drink it down, drink it down,

Here’s success to whiskey,

Drink it down, drink it down.

Here’s success to whiskey

For it makes the spirits frisky,

Drink it down, drink it down, drink it down!

 

The missionaries took up the challenge:

 

From this world’s alluring snares,

From its perils and its cares,

From its vanity and strife,

Jesus beckons us to life.

 From the vanities of youth—

 

The younger group moaned and called out in protest with a song to top them:

 

Where is me bed, me noggin’ noggin’ bed?

It’s all gone for beer and tobacco

Well I lent it to a whore and now the sheets are tore

And the springs are looking out for better weather.

 

Well, it’s all for me grog, me jolly, jolly grog,

It’s all for me beer and tobacco

I spent all me loot in a house of ill-repute

And I think I’ll go back there tomorrow!

 

Kenyon’s friends had enough and took their lanterns with them to bed, but Kenyon stayed seated. William felt sorry and uneasy. The soldiers considered their battle won until Kenyon, on his own, sang clear, but soft.

 

The drunkard as he steals away

To scenes of dissipation,

No anguish warns, no tears delay;

He fears not the temptation.

I wish I could but reach his mind,

And set him once a thinking;

I’m sure he’d be a father kind,

And leave off all his drinking.

He drinks away his goods and store,

That years were spent in making;

Yet day by day he craves for more,

All warning still forsaking.

 

“All right, old man. Enough preaching for the night,” said Fahy. “We’ll take our chances with the drink. You Americans take the fun out of everything and these young boys don’t appreciate it. Do you boys?”

“He can sing what he likes. It’s a free country,” said Buck, but no one listened to him.

William stumbled up to Kenyon and slurred, “You sing these songs to make me feel bad, but I don’t! All you do is try to prove how great you are and you’re not. What good are you doing? These Indians hate you. You just sit around talking about Jesus—what sort of work is that? It’s worthless—everybody says so.” William staggered, too close to the fire. “So God exists, so what! How does that help? All your preaching about what Jesus wants or Jesus did—it hasn’t stopped Fahy and his men from stealing even as General Crook and Lieutenant Davis and the rest try to do what’s right!

“You tell me to leave off drinking—why? Why do you give a damn? I’m like a son you never had? I’m not! And how come you have no family? No one was good enough, I bet. And Jesus, he drank wine didn’t he—but you have to deny me? How has Jesus made your life so good? You feel higher than me but all you have is some old clothes and sour friends. You think because you gave me paints you’ve done something big. Hey, I’m like Christ—I have nothing—no family, no friends or anything. Maybe you should worship me instead of looking down on me!”

Buck tried to pull William back, but Kenyon came up and punched William to the ground. “How dare you—you rotten little ass! Say all you like about me, but leave God out of it! You dare compare yourself to God? You’re more lost than I thought and I won’t stand for it! You think I look down on you? Who has laughed at you for the last hours? Not me. I was worse than you—maybe I had more call to be too. So you don’t have a girl and you’re huffed at your parents—poor you! What have you ever done?”

“What have you?” William asked.

“I killed my father—how’s that for starters.

LINK: PREVIOUS EPISODE

BUY THE SERIES TODAY!

“Rich and colorful page turners. Morris has a fine sense of time and place and brings her memorable characters to life. She also tells a captivating story. You won’t find it easy to put her book down, and her characters will stay with you when you do. We can only hope she keeps writing and gives us more episodes in this fascinating chronicle.”

“There are some men and some women in whose company we are always at our best. While with them we cannot think mean thoughts or speak ungenerous words…

…Their mere presence is elevation, purification, sanctity. All the best stops in our nature are drawn out by their intercourse, and we find a music in our souls that was never there before.” – Henry Drummond

George Muller’s father was a tax collector. By the age of ten young George was an expert thief, liar and gambler who pilfered government money from his father. While his mother lay dying, George was out playing cards and getting drunk. Nowadays we’d look for a cause. The parents were lax or some such thing.

I sit at church sometimes and wonder about the perfect families seated in the aisles in front of me. Many of the children are schooled at home, taught 10 different musical instruments and sit quietly taking sermon notes. Marriages are intact. The fathers attend services and participate in church planting.

I imagine my family being much more like George Muller’s. Deaths, remarriages, wayward children and absent parents. Misspent youth, deaf ears to truth and heartbreaking regrets.

George described himself as wicked and unrepentant in his young adulthood: “Despite my sinful lifestyle and cold heart,  God had mercy on me. I was as careless as ever. I had no  Bible and had not read any Scripture for years. I seldom went to church; and, out of custom only, I took the Lord’s Supper twice a year. I never heard the gospel preached. Nobody told me that Jesus meant for Christians, by the help of God, to live according to the Holy Scriptures.” George Muller’s Autobiography

Yet the supernatural is obvious to anyone who looks. The miracle of life is a trite phrase to some but worthy of contemplation. How is it not a miracle that we live, talk and watch seasons change?

Hedonism has many pleasures. What convinced a young liar and thief to embrace miracles?

George attended a Bible study at someone’s home that he credited with changing his life (a small miracle?). Something made him pray. Something convinced him that his prayers would be answered. Most people scoff at such faith (myself included), but the truly insane thing is that his prayers were so often answered.

orphansGeorge and his wife decided to open their rented home to 30 orphans and rely solely on contributions that came through prayer. No flyers, marketing campaigns or begging.  One morning George and the children (now 300 of them) prayed for food. The cupboards were bare. A passing milk truck broke down outside the home and a baker felt compelled all through the night to offer free bread and arrived just after morning prayers. This story is well-documented but still my jaundiced heart rebels. How can such a thing be true?

“Every morning after breakfast there was a time of Bible reading and prayer, and every child was given a Bible upon leaving the orphanage, together with a tin trunk containing two changes of clothing. The children were dressed well and educated – Müller even employed an inspector to maintain high standards. In fact, many claimed that nearby factories and mines were unable to obtain enough workers because of his efforts in securing apprenticeships, professional training, and domestic service positions for the children old enough to leave the orphanage.” Wikipedia

After living life as a thief George obsessively documented incoming contributions. As contributions poured in people were amazed by George’s transparent bookkeeping. More contributions poured in. More orphanages were built.

orphans 2

George was one of those rare individuals who remained dependent from day to day on God’s provision.  Even as I write this I have a hard time imagining such a person really  existed, but he did. In his lifetime he cared for 10,024 orphans and opened 117 schools!

One man and prayer!

What is more miraculous: Answered prayer or the heart ready to pray for 10,000 orphans?

Do you believe in miracles? Have you experienced one you’d like to share?

GEORGE MULLER’S WORK LIVES ON!

 

 

Fiction: Drawing From Memory

William sat beneath a cottonwood in the searing heat trying to ignore the hordes of flies and eye gnats commuting from breeze to hot breeze. Kenyon gave him the well-kept sable brushes and the vivid oil tubes left by their fallen leader. William flipped through Ignatius’ leather bound sketchbook with sinking heart. Crow warriors, Sioux women and children stood stiffly on the pages with orderly lists of Indian sayings and Bible references written out in a regular, precise script. William considered keeping the book to emulate it, but it was impossible to be so perfect. He tossed the book aside.

The hum of light female conversation from the little yards on officers’ row and the gruffer voices of men on police and stable duty floated over the parade ground. The buzz of the telegraph wires sang William a lullaby. There was nothing as regular and homey as a western army post.

A small dog, well-fed and friendly, trotted up to share the shade. William scratched it behind the ears before sketching the quaint maternal scenes in the yards. He hadn’t put pencil to paper in a long while and was rusty, but this world on paper was his. The characters kept a safe and idealized distance.

Two dirty children raced up, wanting pictures. William complied and sent them off as Mrs. Markham strode toward him in her heavy-footed way.

“Bill, sorry to trouble you. I’ve got some oranges—all the way from California.” She handed him the fruit.

“Thank you, Mrs. Markham.” William waited for the real reason she stood over him.

“Bill, I know you’re busy.”

William laughed, peeling his orange. “I look busy?”

Mrs. Markham glanced back toward her quarters. “Would you mind doing a nice sketch of the children? Lydia–is awful weak—she’s day to day and the captain’s pet. We’d like a nice picture—just in case.” Her eyes held the worry so like his mother’s years ago when his sister Eliza was sick. “We’ve tried having them sit for a camera, but you know how antsy young ones get and your drawings—the ones Thankful showed the captain really pleased him.”

William got to his feet—realizing that he should have done that already “Mrs. Markham, I’m out of practice—but I’ll do my best. Anything to help you.” He gathered the supplies and followed Mrs. Markham into the house. Thankful pretended not to see him and soon disappeared. The children were gathered, cleaned up and sent out back where Mrs. Markham had cultivated a sparse desert garden along the side fence.

None of the children cooperated but for the weak one so William set to work on her. Lydia folded her petite hands and smiled. Her eyes were framed in circles of dark sickness, but her voice was like music. William had no trouble exchanging the reality of a sick little girl before a wilted garden into a composition of vitality and splendor. The girl recited nursery rhymes while William sang to her in his father’s awful voice the salty songs passed among military families:

It’s all for me grog, me jolly jolly grog

It’s all gone for beer and tobacco

Well I spent all me tin on the lassies drinking gin

And across the western ocean I must wander.

The music for supper came from outside the adjutant’s office.

Mrs. Markham, in a thick sweat from the stove in desert heat, rushed out back then. “Oh dear, Bill, I forgot all about you! Supper for those missionaries and the rest of you kept me in a great flurry.”

William looked as though he had just wakened from a trance. “I didn’t notice the time, ma’am.” He handed her his work with a wary smile. “I’m afraid that I’m not much interest to children. I couldn’t make any of them stay, except for Lydia here.”

Mrs. Markham looked over William’s work for a minute and cried. “Bill, the captain—he’ll be astonished. It’s lovely.”

“I’m sorry I have no time to do the others.”

“Never mind. This is more than enough. Thank you.”

“It was nothing, ma’am.”

“Oh, you don’t know!” Mrs. Markham gave him a warm embrace. “I will pray for you, Billy. You’re good deep down.”

“I guess,” William replied. His new shirt itched at the collar.

Mrs. Markham placed the drawing on a high shelf in the kitchen and pushed William into the parlor where Miss Peckham read and Thankful mended socks.

“Girls, our first guest is here. See to it that Bill is given something to drink.”

Neither of the girls were in a hurry to offer William anything. William pulled the flask from his bag and took a long gulp—a deserved one.

As William lowered the flask from his lips the missionaries entered the front vestibule with Captain Markham and Lieutenant Fahy in happy conversation.

“Ah, there you are, Mr. Weldon,” said Kenyon.

William put away the liquor.

Mrs. Markham passed around drinks. William asked for water, but felt put upon and angry. They talked about the San Carlos Agency and the Indians and Geronimo, but William didn’t care a fig. He considered different ways of slipping out to get drink.

It was then the thought came to William–the alcohol was in charge. It was a fleeting, yet terrifying realization he wanted to escape—by getting drunk. Absorbed in his thoughts, the sound of his name brought William back.

“Captain, dear, I must show you what our Mr. Weldon has done.”

The captain looked as though he expected something less than admirable but waited patiently for his wife to return with the sketch. He glanced at William and then at the drawing. “But . . . you never saw her when she was well, son. How did you capture Lydia as she used to be?”

“I imagined her, sir, and it was easy since Lydia’s such a good little pixie,” William explained. All eyes moved from the drawing to him. “May I have a drink?” he asked Mrs. Markham, but saw Kenyon and Thankful. “Of more water, I mean, ma’am.”

Captain Markham put his arm over William’s shoulder, with an emotional sigh. “You Weldons sure have a way of surprising folks.”

“What do you mean, sir?” William asked.

“I never knew Lieutenant Weldon, William’s father, well,” the captain said to the others. “Met him only once, in fact. A good soldier from what I was told, but a secret saint according to a friend of mine who is no longer with us. Seems Lieutenant Weldon gave my friend all his savings so my friend could live out his final days in California in comfort with his family—all had consumption. The poor sergeant and his family were sent small sums of money till they died.”

This was the family that gave Eliza the disease. William remembered and his heart grew hard. His father was a fool. “I guess that was a waste of money in the end,” he said.

PREVIOUS EPISODE

BUY THE SERIES TODAY!

“Rich and colorful page turners. Morris has a fine sense of time and place and brings her memorable characters to life. She also tells a captivating story. You won’t find it easy to put her book down, and her characters will stay with you when you do. We can only hope she keeps writing and gives us more episodes in this fascinating chronicle.”

Fiction: Is Life a Curse?

Following in the footsteps of a murdered artist, William is thrilled … and a little scared.

“Um, what happened to the other fellow—the last artist?” William asked.

“He was killed,” the missionary said his eyes welling with tears.

“Oh damn. I’m sorry,” William said. Maybe things would get dangerous. A sickening thrill ran up his spine. He had nothing to lose.

“None of us could bear to replace him for a long time, but none of us are Michelangelo either.”

“Neither am I!” William didn’t want to get their hopes up.

“You’ll be fine. It’s just . . . well, Ignatius . . . he was unbelievable. It was an incredible loss for us and really put my faith to the test. It’s easy to be bitter at times.”

“Yes, life can be a curse,” William said.

“Life is NEVER a curse! Ignatius is in a better place after all.”

William rolled his eyes.

“What?” Kenyon asked.

“It’s kind of childish to believe that, don’t you think? My sister died, and she’s just gone. That’s what I believe now,” William replied.

“Now?”

“No, I mean that’s the way it is,” William said.

“You know, some folks think they feel their loved ones after death.”

“Yeah, I had that as a kid, but it was just me wishing.” William missed Eliza as much as he always had. “If I ever have children, I want a girl.”

“That’s sad.”

“Yes, it’s more than sad,” William replied. “We never talked about her much—my father did a little—the only thing he did right! I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I have to go now. You know where to find me if you still want me. Thanks again and good night and all.”

William raced across the street to The Buckskin and ordered a proper drink. Was he out of his mind? No, he would not go with a bunch of hypocritical, pompous missionaries.

So what if he was comfortable here in this squalor? He ignored the fact that if he didn’t come up with cash soon he’d be thrown from his room. After a few hours, blind drunk and cut off, William stumbled back to his home. His belongings were piled out front. “Shit,” he cursed as he tripped on something and made for the door to find it bolted shut. He pounded and shouted oaths, but no one listened.

And so morning came with William curled on the landing.

“William Weldon, wake up!”

He sat up pale and bleary-eyed, forgetting where he was. “Oh. Mr. Kenyon.”

William had nothing to say. Right now he didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything, but he made his way down to the little pile of his things.

Kenyon found William’s Bible.

“Oh, that,” William said as he stood up, stretched and scratched his matted hair.  “It was my Uncle Simon’s—he’s gone now. Killed by Indians. You want it? I never look at it.”

“I would never take a family heirloom,” Kenyon said, handing it over. “Someday you may want to pass it down to your daughter. Was your uncle religious?”

“Land sakes, no! He was great!”

The missionary laughed. “William, tell me, do you often sleep under the stars?”

“No, never. I’ve been evicted from my lovely little home.”

“It’s perfect timing then. We need to have you sobered up before you meet the others. Come and eat,” Kenyon said.

“Others?” William looked past the missionary. “You eat a lot, don’t you? I’m not hungry.”

The missionary helped William gather his things, sifting through his new artist’s vermin-infested belongings in disgust. William struggled to stand straight.

“Mr. Kenyon, I guess I really don’t need any of this. Probably it won’t impress your friends to see that you’ve brought a vagabond.”

Kenyon looked relieved. “So you don’t want any of it?”

William pulled a threadbare shirt his mother had made from the pile. “Just this. I should bring at least a change of shirts.” He shoved it into his dirty haversack.

Kenyon cleared his throat.

“I have a few errands, Mr. Weldon.”

“Call me Bill if you want to,” William said with a quick glance before lighting a half smoked cigar.

Kenyon smiled at William’s tentative attempt at familiarity. “Anyway, you’re welcome to use my room to clean up. I’m staying at the brothel house over there.”

William laughed.

“I know, I know!” Kenyon said waving the laughter off. “During the day it’s so quiet and as respectable looking as any other place here. I got confused. Obviously I understood my error when night rolled round. There was a terrible scene with a poor girl disfigured by the pox and a drunkard,” Kenyon said.

“What happened?” William fished through his jacket, feeling for Thankful’s watch in his pocket.

“Nothing much in the end, thank God. I may not be young anymore, but I can stand against a drunk fairly well. I guess I’m hero of the whorehouse now—the perfect time to move on.” Kenyon said.

The missionary handed William the key and some money.

“What’s this for?”

“Consider it an advance, William—maybe you’d consider buying new clothes.” Kenyon tipped his hat and walked off to Matilda’s.

William turned toward the whorehouse not wanting to see Ginny. He cleared his throat and spit before slipping into the hotel and tiptoeing up the creaking stairs, almost turning left on the landing toward Ginny’s room by force of habit.

The key slid into the hole, but the door was jammed. William tried to jiggle it free quietly, but in the morning stillness his noises magnified. He heard Ginny’s door open, and groaned to himself. In the dim light, with her blonde hair hanging over her violet wrapper, Ginny almost looked pretty as she came to him. William felt broken-hearted. Why couldn’t he love her?

Ginny embraced him, running her fingers through his hair before whispering in his ear. “Billy, I’m terrible sorry about all I said.” She pushed him aside and opened Kenyon’s door. “Why are you going in this room?” she asked.

“Mr. Kenyon is a missionary and . . .”

Ginny laughed. “Oh yes, and I’m a nurse.”

“No, really he is and I’ve been hired on to work for him,” William said.

“By Alice?” Ginny asked. All work in this house came through Alice.

“No,” William replied. “No, I’m washing up, and then I’ll go meet his associates.”

“Associates? Where? Down the hall?” she laughed. “Billy, you still don’t know the way of the world yet, do you?”

William scratched his rib with a sigh. “Maybe you’re right. A missionary staying here? I guess I wanted to believe . . .”

Ginny pulled him into the room and kissed him. “Poor Billy, come sit beside me.”

“No, he’ll be back soon.”

She ran her hand over his unshaven face. “Let me take care of you. You need more than a good washing, but a shave and a haircut too.”

“No, Ginny, I don’t deserve your help.”

She went over to Kenyon’s small bag and found a pair of scissors. She turned back to him, her wrapper loose and her one arm still in its sling. As she snipped the long, gold locks, William grabbed her around the waist. Ginny was so soft and familiar, and he was afraid of everything else.

Ginny clipped away months of unclean living. Her robe slipped off, and she straddled him. “See how much I love you?”

William wasn’t sure how any of this was love. After a big night of drinks he always longed for sex, but remembered Ginny’s words about his performance and made no moves on her. He pulled the money from his pocket. “You can have it, Ginny. I owe you.”

Ginny tucked the money into her corset. Just then there was a knock at the door.

“William Weldon, it’s me,” called Kenyon.

When William didn’t respond, Kenyon opened the door to find Ginny moving off William. She greeted Kenyon casually. “Mr. Kenyon, I wanted to thank you again fer getting me out of a pickle the other night.”

“By having intercourse with this young man? I don’t see the connection,” Kenyon responded. “William, I wouldn’t have expected you to take advantage of my generosity.”

“How do I know that you aren’t taking advantage of me?” William asked, his shoulders covered with tufts of hair.

The missionary asked Ginny to leave but with amused eyes. Kenyon picked up a few books and his writing implements, tucking them into a suitcase before latching it shut. He looked William over. “Land sakes, what did you let that girl do to you?” He laughed, shaking his head. “Clean up all that hair before some story gets out that I perform strange rituals.”

“Do you?” William asked.

“Mr. Weldon, in what way could I possibly take advantage of you? As you said yourself, you have nothing.” Kenyon laughed again.

William’s face went red. “It’s just that Ginny—well—she guessed that you were up to no good—after all—this is a brothel.”

“I explained that. I never said I was particularly observant,” Kenyon said. He checked his watch. “The others should be here this morning. I’m going to wait for them outside the church.” He grabbed his bags and walked out.

William continued to pick his hair off the ratty blankets on the bed.

“Mr. Weldon, are you coming or not?”

William jumped up, tripping on the leg of the bed. “Oh, I didn’t think you’d still want me to . . .”

“When I’ve had enough of you, I’ll let you know,” Kenyon joked, but saw that the bone-thin William didn’t like it. “Let’s get you some clothes, son.”

William went white. “I-I lost the money.”

“In forty-five minutes? How?”

William scratched his sunburned, dry scalp and loose hair fell like a spring shower. He looked at his shoes. “Sir, I’m afraid I lied. I gave the money to Ginny.”

“You couldn’t control yourself long enough to forgo fornication for clothes?” Kenyon asked.

“No, it’s not that. I owed her—she’s been my friend and good to me—mostly.”

Kenyon rolled his eyes. “So you saved nothing for yourself.”

William shook his head and chanced a glance at Kenyon.

“William Weldon, you’d make a fine missionary then.” He joked but grew more serious. “Son, I don’t ever abide by liars or thieves. It’s troubling that your first impulse was to lie.”

“I’m not a liar.”

“I don’t believe that you want to be, William, and this is only a friendly, but serious, warning. If I find you in a lie, I will cut you loose right quick. Out in dangerous territory all of us must be able to rely upon each other in word and deed.”

William wanted adventure and could not stay in town any longer, but didn’t for a second believe the missionary could be relied on. He tried to hide his unbelief, but Kenyon saw it and made another mental note. He wondered if William might be tougher than the Indians to win over.

PREVIOUS EPISODE

BUY THE SERIES TODAY!

“Rich and colorful page turners. Morris has a fine sense of time and place and brings her memorable characters to life. She also tells a captivating story. You won’t find it easy to put her book down, and her characters will stay with you when you do. We can only hope she keeps writing and gives us more episodes in this fascinating chronicle.”

The Motherless Ones

Not just poets and heroes lose mothers.  Some lose their mothers to childbirth, still others to drugs and some when they are rescued from women who fracture the skulls and clavicles of children not old enough to walk.

William Cowper at the age of six lost his mother. His baby brother was the cause. They lived the only two of seven to survive childhood in Cowper’s family.

William grew close to his mother’s family, he attended school and studied Latin. It is said that he fell in love with his cousin Theodora, but his uncle refused to let the two marry. From time-to-time he suffered depressions that on occasion plunged him into insanity and stays at the asylum. He tried to commit suicide multiple times but destiny and friendship prevented his success.

At a post-adoption support group we started attending my husband and I listened to the stories of women who became mothers to orphans. These women had many years of experience behind them and a learned patience and strength I marvel at. One woman spoke of a 5-year-old Chinese orphan who tried to strangle her as she drove down a highway. The girl was so frightened, so possessed with an animal fear she could not be convinced of safety in her new home.

These motherless ones often have difficulties. My husband and I leave these meetings with an odd sense of elation. Children do progress (maybe not in the ways we dream for them) and adoptive parents do often survive. No longer do I think it’s that weird to have a child who has been institutionalized. After reading only a small portion of my child’s files I wonder why more children aren’t institutionalized.

The devoted lady who has run this support group for years asks me, “Yes, but what do you love about this child?”

I know she asks because so often these meetings become places where we laugh and vent and paint horrible pictures of all we’re going through with these motherless children.

William Cowper went insane. Did the first spark of insanity come at the loss of his mother? Who knows, but he went on to write some of the most beautiful hymns and poems. He inspired Wordsworth, Coleridge and Martin Luther King Jr. who often quoted from ‘The Negro’s Complaint‘. He befriended John Newton (who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace“) and became an ardent supporter of the abolition movement in England.

Cowper recovered his sanity for long periods of time allowing for his hymns and poems to be written. Broken children can be incredibly scary to adults. One is tempted more often then one wants to admit to desert. Cowper had people in his life who came beside him, but he had something even more important.

The lady asked me again what I liked about this child who has upset my writing and reading schedule, hurt my animals and threatens to rob my sanity with her incessant talk.

In the quiet of the basement room in the municipal building surrounded by folding chairs under ugly fluorescent light I remembered the day last week when this girl read the neuro-psychological evaluation because she thought I was hiding something from her. She read about her sister’s broken bones and so much more that only now she was beginning to remember and understand.

On the drive this weekend to drop her off at camp she looked out at the blue sky and the soft Adirondack Mountains that seemed to go on forever, one soft peak after another. ‘Let’s worship God for this,’ she said. ‘God did this. Isn’t that great?’ she asked me.

I told the lady at group that I loved how this motherless child cut to the core of things. I told her how I loved how despite being broken physically and shattered mentally she still wanted to get up each day and worship God. If I think about God at all it’s usually with complaint.

Everything is a cliche, you see. Special gifts are given to special children. Beauty can often survive great suffering. Redemption is real. Oh, it’s so boring sometimes.

But sometimes it’s not.

God as Tyrant

the-seamstress

Seamstresses by Frank Holl

“While I regarded God as a tyrant I thought my sin a trifle; But when I knew Him to be my Father, then I mourned that I could ever have kicked against Him. When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.” C. H. Spurgeon

LINK: SLAVES OF THE NEEDLE