Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 5

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7

Isle of the Rising Star

The smell of oil overpowered all else as Eleanor wielded the five foot torch, thrusting it into the great pyre before her.

Each day now, she cared for the muvvons and then gathered all that she could find that was dead, decaying, and dry into a heap on the portico, lighting it as the sun sank, watching it until the last embers fell silent and cold.

On this particular night, the rain-heavy clouds finally parted, the twelve moons rose, and a thought occurred to Eleanor: At what point do I stop waiting for my father and start ruling in his stead?

With a weighted heart, she realized she should have been doing that all along. Her people should always be her priority.

The stars were out now; they would lead her father home—if God was willing.

Wichita, KS

No amount of pleading had convinced Eleanor’s grandmother to take Eleanor away from this mad house. At nine forty-five, with map in hand, Eleanor made her way toward the cafeteria on the first floor. Her roommates walked several steps behind her. Eleanor blocked out Portia’s prattle and thought only about the gold folder she deserved. A small hope grew in her that the rest of her class might actually be sane, that maybe she could change dorm rooms and everything would be okay. Then she turned a corner on the second floor.

There, before her, stretched a long hallway. At the end of the hallway was a wall of glass. The morning sun shone in, outlining a single, unmistakeable figure with big, curly hair, a homemade dress that hung on her, reaching to her knees, and a generally lost, but awestruck, posture—her head cocked back, looking around. Her thin legs scissor-stepped.

Eleanor put her head down and turned around, toward the stairwell.

“Eleanor!”

The girl’s sweet voice was like a bouquet of daisies; guilt knifed Eleanor’s heart. A proverb flashed through her mind: “A friend loves at all times.” She turned guiltily back to her one actual friend on planet earth, walked over to her, and hugged her. “Io,” she said. “What are you doing here?”

Eleanor looked at her friend in the full light. Io’s red, curly hair was meandering around much like its owner. The dark freckles everywhere on her face were beautiful, different from any face than Eleanor had studied, and her almost purple eyes were as large and probing and inky as the eyes of octopuses in children’s movies.

“Currently, I’m hopelessly lost.” Io declared, extending the key in her hand.

Portia rolled up next to them and held the key up to the light. “Roomie number four!”

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 4

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. – Proverbs 1:5-6

Isle of the Rising Star

Eleanor clapped her hands over her ears. It had rained for two thousand years. The raindrops bored through her skull.

“Bored” was the operative word and two thousand years may have been stretching things, but one thing was certain: Eleanor’s father had been out in those waters, helping their people, and Eleanor couldn’t see him, couldn’t feel his warm hand on her shoulder, couldn’t smell the ink on his hands. His voice didn’t ring in the halls of their small, dark castle. There was only the sound of rain . . . rain . . . rain.

The rising waters were gaining ground on more than Eleanor’s island; they were threatening to drown her soul.

Wichita, KS

The door swung open and a rainbow in human form burst in, her dark eyes more like a sunrise when she saw Eleanor and her grandmother.

“Hi!” The girl looked around the room. “Wow! This is amazing! Can you believe it?” She leaned back a little and her heelies rolled her into the room. Her braces gleamed, reflecting the fluorescent light. A giant red and yellow bow sat erect atop her head, supported by a thick, blue headband. “My name is Portia—less like the car, more like Shakespeare.”

Eleanor and her grandmother stared for a moment until they shook out of their stupor. At the same time they said something akin to, “Oh, uh-huh, nice to meet you” along with their names.

Portia beamed as she set a wooden case on a desk. She pressed a button. It slowly opened and two staircases of art supplies rose to her waiting fingers. She slid out a brush. “So much wall space.”

Suddenly, there was a fourth person in the room, standing right between Eleanor and her grandmother, dressed like an old-school hobo, stroking a pretend cat. She winked at Eleanor and pulled a Fun Size Hershey bar from behind her ear.

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 3

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“(Proverbs) to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth”- Proverbs 1:4

Isle of the Rising Star

The little girl in her red, peasant smock shifted keys just as the sunlight streamed into the grotto. The audience gasped and smiled, but the real prize was the smile that Eleanor received from her father.

Then thunder rumbled.

Eleanor, her father, and the audience glanced ceiling-ward. Their smiles grew tight and polite. No one had seen this storm coming, and during this time of the year, it was worrisome. Many of them had traveled some miles, leaving their flocks behind. It was possible that Eleanor and her father would need to share fuel to speed their people back to their homes.

The little girl wisely ended her song, bowed, and prayed a brief blessing over the people in her small, sweet voice.

Wichita, KS

Eleanor took mental notes on everything happening in front of her in line, trying to learn something about her competition. Doh! she thought. I mean ‘community.’ My future friends. She wondered if she should break out in a rousing chorus of “Kum Bah Yah” just to get the mood right—her own mood.

She also took note of the color-coded folders. Gold to some. Blue to others. Red to a few . . . “Grandma,” she whispered, “Look at the folder colors. This whole place is built around competition.”

Her grandmother’s brow furrowed. “Surely not.”

Eleanor shrugged.

When it was her turn at the table, Eleanor put on a brave smile. “Eleanor West.”

The young woman at the table, her hair in a tight bun at the back of her head, smiled an actual smile back at her. That’s when Eleanor recognized her as Talia Sokolova–an American by birth, but an internationally loved ballerina by years of hard work.

Talia Sokolova smiled at me! Eleanor thought to herself. But then the groundskeeper was there, handing the woman a consolation-prize-white folder.

“Oh, thanks, Larry! Here we go, Eleanor. Your folder–which includes your room key, a map of the campus, and your schedule for the day. Meet at the cafeteria at ten o’clock sharp for orientation.”

Eleanor stared at the white folder.

The young woman was already smiling warmly at the next student in line. Larry waved Eleanor and her grandmother toward the stairwell. “Third floor, Miss West. See you at ten.”

***

Eleanor and her grandmother passed lovely wooden, double doors that spilled out sunlight, music, color, and laughter when opened.

There’s still hope. My dorm room might be really cool, Eleanor thought.

And then they arrived at a single, metal door. Green. With a white number stenciled on: 326. Eleanor tried to squint and then go cross-eyed, willing the number on the door to be different than the number on her key. But no such luck. The key slid in the lock easily. Inside, she and her grandmother ran their hands along the cement block walls, searching for the light switch.

“Here we go,” her grandmother said, flipping the switch.

A florescent light with crumpled fins flickered to life above them, revealing four beds suspended on black angle iron. One end of each bed was against the cement block wall. At the other end was a metal locker. Beneath each bed was a desk sporting a patina look decades in the making and a chest of drawers, squat and industrial. Not a single window.

Her grandmother cleared her throat. “Let’s get your things out. A little color is what this room needs.”

Or a molotov cocktail, Eleanor thought.

That’s when they heard another key in the door, slowly turning.

Isle of the Rising Star, Chapter 2

Hey Friends! If you’re new, here’s the scoop: We’re taking a walk through the book of Proverbs along with a girl named Eleanor. In Eleanor’s imaginative life, she is heir to an island chain. In real life, she is a high school freshman at an arts school—a seeming dream come true that will turn into her worst nightmare if she isn’t careful.

“(Proverbs) to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity;” – Proverbs 1:3

Isle of the Rising Star

Sunlight streamed into the grotto, illuminating the golden rocks that dripped with ocean spray. Eleanor stopped scrubbing the black, metal benches for a moment to enjoy the awe of the moment.

“This time tomorrow should be the second hour of entertaining,” Eleanor said aloud, though she was alone. “In the first hour, the guests will be delighted with the cool and the darkness and then, ta-da! The sunlight and the gold. Oh! I could be singing them a beautiful song in a minor key and then, bam!, just as light streams into the grotto, I transition into a major key and . . . magic, just like that.”

Eleanor giggled aloud. An even better plan had come to mind.

“What are you doing, Princess?” came a voice from outside the grotto.

“Planting lilacs, Your Highness,” she responded. Planting lilacs was a code between the father and daughter that meant “cultivating friendship” and Eleanor had just found the Miracle Grow.

Wichita, KS

Eleanor opened her eyes as her grandmother turned onto Rochester. Large elm trees towered over them, their leaves the deep green of summer. A groundskeeper in a white polo raked mulch up around a flower bed of cannas.

The busts of Native American men in war apparel scowled from their high places above the school’s entryways, seemingly scouting for signs of danger. Students and parents walked on the sidewalks, heading toward the doors. Eleanor took a deep breath and sighed. They’re friends, not competition, she told herself.

“Nervous?” her grandmother asked.

“ ‘. . . a piece breaks off, declares itself,’” Eleanor quoted.

Her grandmother smiled and nodded. “‘Inside, something dances.*'”

Eleanor smiled widely. The first night that she stayed with her grandparents, after phone calls to Uncle Abe and Aunt Sapphire and her far-away mother, Eleanor had been amazed and warmed to find a poem tucked in the slit between the brass frame and mirror of the medicine cabinet. A week later, Eleanor mustered up the courage to tuck a poem on the opposite side of the mirror. Over the few months she lived there, it became a language between them. Grandpa teased that he couldn’t see to shave his face anymore, but he also started hanging up poems. He used green sticky notes and quoted Shel Silverstein.

As she and her grandmother walked toward the doors of the school, Eleanor had a moment of feeling just like any other teenage kid walking in. But as they passed the flower bed, the groundskeeper put down his rake, walked over, and opened the door for them, bowing. When he looked up, his dark brown eyes locked with hers for a moment. Was he trying to tell her something, or was he trying to read something in her eyes? Was he Native American? Was it okay for her to wonder if he was Native American?

Eleanor looked at her grandmother, but her grandmother was looking over at the wooden doors to the auditorium. “It’s like a dream, Eleanor. I never would have guessed that you would one day perform on the same stage where your grandfather and I fell in love.”

“The same stage where my father set fire to the curtains during ‘Cinderella.’”

Her grandmother laughed. “Please don’t repeat your father’s expensive mistake.”

Eleanor and her grandmother walked on, and she was an average teen again, waiting in a long line of phone-checking, unsmiling people, to get her room assignment. Had the groundskeeper even been real? She hoped he was not.

*From ”I Love Uncertain Gestures”

by Valerio Magrelli

I love uncertain gestures:

someone stumbles, someone else

bangs his glass,

can’t remember,

gets distracted or the sentinel 

can’t stop the slight

flicker of his lashes—

they matter to me

because in them I see the wobbling,

the familiar rattle

of the broken mechanism.

The whole object makes no sound,

has no voice; it only moves.

But here the apparatus,

the play of parts, has given way,

a piece breaks off,

declares itself.

Inside, something dances.

Isle of the Rising Star Chapter 1: To Know

Hey friends! We’re driving in a new direction today. It’s time for a new adventure. i

Proverbs 1:1-2 The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight.

Isle of the Rising Star

Eleanor stood at the bow, scanning the horizon. The twelve moons rose like a choir, gently reminding her that day was almost done. The small sun cast an orange hue on the keys she maneuvered through the archipelago. Her flock of forty was settling themselves contentedly in the hull. A kid cried for a moment and stopped. Hooves shuffled.

Eleanor’s simple, red smock fluttered in the breeze as she carefully stepped back to the stern. The warm bodies of the animals and their rough wool comforted her, warmed her. She steered the “Prudence” toward a gumthum bloom ahead.

The bloom, was a mass of purple luminescence in the midst of the green waters. Its glow caused more than a few of the muvvons to open their eyes for a moment. This bloom was especially large—worth a great deal. If she harvested quickly, she could be done in–

“That is quite a find.”

Eleanor’s heart skipped a beat. She turned on her heel and knelt, her face to the ground. “Your Royal Highness.”

“Rise.”

The King stood before her in his own vessel, crafted by Jorico the Great from eleeshan white wood. His royal robes, intricately woven with the webs of the golden dargofonn, glimmered in the moonlight and stretched the entire length of his vessel. The sleeves of his robes were cut to reveal his great arms. The silver collar of his robe reflected the purple light of the bloom onto his great, hairless head. His eyes flashed their own lightning. “You thought you could gather one more haul for the day. But you’re wrong.”

Eleanor’s eyes darted guiltily to the bloom. “Well, um . . . “

His eyes softened. He smiled. “It’s time for supper, Princess,” he said.

***

Eleanor’s great robes, woven from the spun wool of her muvvons, hung about her with great weight, but it was the root soup that warmed her as she sat at the small, wooden table with her father. “It’s very good,” Eleanor said, sitting straight in her chair.

“I am a rather good cook.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “But it seems disgraceful for a King to prepare his own meals.”

“I do not often have time, but there is a certain contentment in the simple act of chopping a vegetable, of adding seasoning, of smelling the aromas. And the wise ruler understands the importance of morale. When I tell Maurice I will cook the supper so that he can plan the kitchen garden, I learn something of the conditions he works in and I communicate to him something of his value and the value of his work.”


Eleanor nodded. “It would not be desirable for Maurice to become discontent.”

“No, indeed.”

“I know a certain princess who dashes about the islands in a peasant’s smock–”

“If it displeases your majesty–”

He laughed. “On the contrary, Princess. I am much pleased by your industrious spirit.”

They ate in silence for a time, listening to the cartoose in the bay laughing at one another.

“I visited your flower garden today, Princess.”

“Did you find it acceptable, O King?”

“Indeed, but one thing is lacking.”

“Yes?”

“I want you to plant lilacs.”

Wichita, KS

Eleanor blinked open her eyes, uncrossed her hands, and rose from her kneeling position beside the bed. The Kings’ words had pierced her to the core.

Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

The proverb flashed through her mind, quick as lightning.

I suppose, she thought, but how can that wound possibly help me?

Something about it had taken her back to Seattle, back to those girls texting each other, always using the acronym “LYLAS” which she knew all to well to mean “Love Ya Like A Sis.” Something about the King’s request reeked of female friendship. He couldn’t possibly expect her to . . .

“Are you ready, sweetheart?”

Her newly-found grandmother stood at her door. She had gone to the salon that morning. Every hair was in place. Eleanor thought her grandmother was lovely all the time, but she smiled. It meant a lot that her grandmother realized how much this day meant to her. Eleanor grabbed her overstuffed backpack, full of clothes and toothpaste and every other needed thing, and her dance bag with the far more important essentials of tap and ballet shoes. She cast one last glance around this office space that had suddenly become her bedroom and was suddenly not going to be her bedroom, and they were off.


A Drive for Wisdom

Can you believe it!?! Today is the last day of the Country Girl Drive Cattle Drive! Gather around the campfire. Roast a marshmallow. Oh! Give me a second to grab the chocolate bars from the cooler.

Okay, I think everything is perfect. Now, for the conclusion.

Matthew 7:24-27 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Blaze

Aunt Min’s brow was wrinkled in concern as Blaze started his car. “Where are we going?”

“My wedding.”

They had already had this conversation, but Blaze didn’t particularly mind repeating this information.

“Did you get her a ring?”

Blaze patted his pocket where his mother’s wedding ring was wrapped in an heirloom handkerchief.
“Yes.”

“You must really love her,” she said. With a little smile, Aunt Min stretched out her hand. The gold ring sparkled on her finger. “Somebody loves me, too.”

Blaze nodded in agreement.

Io’s Journal

A March wind whipped the great tree outside the doors of the church, but inside the sanctuary, warmth and smiles and candlelight, light streaming through the stained glass windows, and baby Celeste in my arms were peaceful. So peaceful.

Mama walked down the aisle, escorted by Nia’s boss. Then Mede, carrying Ro, and little Cal followed. Then Celeste and I. A little tear nibbled at my eye. This was us now, and I was the oldest. I would miss Nia so much.

I turned and looked at her in her satin and lace, holding onto Daddy’s arm, poised at the edge of a brand new universe, pulsing with super-nova energy and the sparkles of a thousand stars.

Pastor Givens

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”

Pastor Givens gently closed his Bible and looked up to address the couple before him and the crowd beyond. The smell of the unity candle burning off to his side was like the aroma of an answered prayer. “I have known this young man for much of his life. I am proud of Blaze’s decision and on-going commitment to build his life on the teachings of Jesus Christ. I see that same desire in his bride. I commend you, Nia and Blaze, to continue in an ongoing pursuit of obedience to Christ and His commandments, to put on the full armor of God, that the winds of life will not topple you, but having done all, you will stand.”

Abe

That night, “Get Ready for This” boomed over the speakers as the Wichita State cheer squad and Wushock took the floor. When Abe and Sapphire were settled in their seats, Sapphire took off her black stocking cap and smiled sheepishly at Abe.

Her hair! Black and gold stripes! Was he dreaming? Here she was beside him, at a game. He had thought he was losing her—that this would never happen again, but here they were.

“Mom and Dad enjoying a night out?” said an elderly woman in the seat next to Sapphire. A yellow scarf graced her neck. A white wool coat was still buttoned around her, up to her neck. “Left the kids with Grandma and headed out for the night, didn’t you? Freedom!”

Sapphire’s eyes flew to the cement floor between her feet. Abe’s chest contracted with pain. ‘Don’t take her away from me again,’ he thought.

“We don’t have children,” Sapphire said.

The woman’s joking smile turned into a look of concern. “I’m sorry,” she said. “You two seem like you would be very nice parents.”

The apology lacked the gravity Sapphire and Abe thought it deserved. Sapphire took the lid off her cup and took in a mouthful of ice as the team ran onto the court.

“I realize that I have said too much already,” the woman broke in. “But allow me this one question: do you often eat ice, young woman?”

Abe forced a laugh, trying to figure out a way out of this woman’s grasp. “She lives on the stuff.”

The woman nodded. “I’m not a doctor, but it has been my experience that people who like ice tend to be anemic. Child, you might find that taking a little iron each day would change your life.”

Abe stood and applauded the team.

Sapphire looked down into her cup, then squeezed the woman’s hand and jumped up to cheer on the team beside her husband.

When they sat down in their seats again, the woman was gone. Abe and Sapphire looked at each other, puzzled. But then Abe put his arm around Sapphire, breathed a prayer of thanksgiving, and settled in to watch the game.

Eleanor

Mr. West smiled widely as he and his wife and granddaughter stepped onto the grounds of North High. The trees were just starting to bud and that seemed very right.

Eleanor held hands with her grandmother. The stern Native American busts in the architecture scowled down at her, weighing her. She may have been invited to try out for a position at the prestigious art school, but would she have what it took to land a place in the incoming class?

Her dance bag suddenly felt very heavy on her shoulder.

At the doors, all three of them paused to look at the scripture on the wall there, covering two stories.

Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. Proverbs 3:13

Something in Eleanor’s gut told her that she would be needing a very large amount of wisdom once she entered these doors.

Works and Workers

Hey Friends! Thanks for continuing the Country Girl Cattle Drive as we herd 111 verses from the pages of our Bibles to our hearts. (Matthew 5-7)

(If you are new, here’s the scoop: I write down a verse and then write a story to help us remember the verse. If you want to begin at the start of the current story, go to the post titled “Store Up.”)

Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Eleanor

“Night coming tenderly, Black like me,” Eleanor whispered, walking across the snow-dusted street. She turned the corner and the street light was blocked by the LMNO Pizza building. She looked up at the now-clear sky, at the lovely blackness of all of space, at the little pinpoints of light. It made her feel like everything might turn out okay.

Then her eyes fell on Abe and Sapphire’s house. The green crossover with tinted windows was in the drive.

Maybe I should go back to the coop, she thought.

Things had been so strange over the past month at Uncle Abe’s house. Maybe she should say that Sapphire had been strange.

No, it was more than that.

The house had a different feel. And things were going missing. Abe’s pocket knife. A pair of pearl earrings that had belonged to Sapphire’s grandmother. Eleanor had started getting off the bus at the coop and then driving home with Abe. Things at the house were better if Abe was there.

And the people in the green crossover never stopped by when Abe was home.

It’s my home, she thought. I have a right to go home if I want to.

She stuck her chin up and marched down the street.

But then she stopped. Her bedroom light was on. Had she accidentally left it on that morning? But as she got closer, she saw a shadow against the curtain. As she dropped her bag at the corner of the house near the driveway, she sensed that she was being watched, but brushed off the feeling and tip-toed around the front of the house, the frozen grass crunching under her white tennis shoes.

Through the slits of the blinds in the living room window, she could see Sapphire and the freak lady with the jade necklace talking. Eleanor heard a creaking sound and tip-toed back around the house. She looked up at her window just in time to see her bedroom light shut off.

That’s when a hand grabbed her arm.

Io’s Journal

Sister Love is the best cook in the whole world. She has opened the eyes of my stomach. Mom let me stay at the mission one day, but the rule was that I had to go wherever Sister Love went. (Some of the people who come to the center have done some pretty terrible things, especially to children, so we have to be careful.) I watched her put away a truck load of donations, make a menu for the week based on the foods received, make and clean up lunch with the help of several homeless women, then start battering fish for supper.

I didn’t know I liked fish. But I do. At least if Sister Love is making it and serving it up with greens.

We had fish tonight at the center. I sat down at the table with my family (they have a table just for us now with a little sign that says ‘Reserved’). I helped Cal get the meat off the bone and then set his fish bones on my tray. It smelled so good the whole time I was helping him. The little cloud of steam was so enticing, but when I finally put a bite in my own mouth, it was hard to chew and totally and completely impossible to swallow.

I was trying so hard not to think about it, but tonight was the last performance of the Nutcracker and it just wasn’t going to work out for me to go and I just really wanted to cry.

Eleanor

Eleanor screamed, wrenched herself free, and ran. Her feet slid as she turned the corner again into the streetlight, but her shoes gripped fine from there to the coop. She stopped at the metal Cenex sign, clutching it, breathing heavily.

What should she do?

“Mom, why can’t you come home and be my mom?” she whispered.

But only the silence of the night answered. “I don’t want to live here anymore, Mom. And I don’t know where else to go.”

That’s when she remembered her father’s parents. It was hard to think of them as grandparents—she had never really known them. And why was that?

Nia’s truck was still at the coop.

Yes, she thought. She remembered something about Nia’s family moving to downtown Wichita. This was the answer.

Her face turned sadly toward Uncle Abe’s house—her dance bag was there—but then she looked back at Nia’s truck, stuck her chin in the air, and marched forward. She hoped that there was a blanket or some coats or something in the back seat of the cab of Nia’s truck.

Io’s Journal

After supper, I was better, actually. I told God in my heart that I know He has to say no sometimes. We were taking our dirty dishes to the window for a man called Red to wash when Mrs. West called my name. She was marching through the dining room and waved for me to follow her. Given a nod from mom, I fell into step with Mrs. West.

Her office smelled like pine trees. Her keys made tinkling noises as she crossed the office to the couch draped by a long, transparent bag. “These came today,” Mrs. West said. “I think there’s only one person around here they will fit.”

But Mrs. West was wrong.

Our family drove the one block home where Nia had parked the old Ford. Just after we pulled in, Uncle Cyrus pulled in beside us. Mede and Cal crawled all over me and my new dresses to scramble out the door to say hi to him. It occurred to me to be grumpy about the dresses, but, seriously, that sounded like something the snotty girls in books would do. I was still gunning for the part of mistaken-for-a-pauper-actually-a-for-real-princess-Sarah Crew. It’s a long shot, but a girl can dream.

We all tromped up the steps to our apartment.

“This place is awesome!” Cyrus declared, extending his long arms, gesturing to the apartment. Ro thought he wanted a hug and bull-dozed him. He fell back into a couch, laughing, and looked over at me. “Watcha got there, Io?”

“Dresses,” I shrugged.

“Cool.” He glanced at Mom.

“Why don’t you try one on?” Mom said.

I scrunched up my face.

“Please?”

I shrugged and headed for the bedroom I share with Nia. Just the lamp was on. Nia was sitting on our bed, brushing her wet hair.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey.”

I pulled the dresses from the bag and laid them on our bed.

“Wow,” Nia said. “Where did those come from?”

“Mrs. West. She said they were donated today.”

“Are you going to try them on?”

“Yeah.”

“Better shut the blinds first.”

I nodded and stepped over to one of the windows. I looked down into the street where the streetlights shone on the cars. There was a girl standing there, looking at her phone. She looked like she was about my age. I wondered if she lived nearby. Probably not. There aren’t many houses around here.

I twirled the plastic piece that closed the blinds and moved to the next window. The girl was still there, looking at her phone. That’s when something stabbed my heart. What had I been thinking? Why was a girl my age in this part of Wichita at night? She must be lost. “Nia,” I said. “Look.”

Nia cocked her head and joined me at the window. Suddenly, the brush fell from her hand, hitting the window. Nia ran for our door, shouting, “That’s Eleanor.”

We thundered through the apartment. Nia got out the main door to the steps, but Dad stood in front of me, blocking my way. “What’s wrong, Io?” he asked, his brow creased in concern.

“My friend is down there, in the street,” I said, looking over at mom. “It’s Eleanor. From Mount Hope.”

“That’s impossible,” Mom said.

“That’s great!” Uncle Cyrus said. I turned to follow Nia down the steps when Uncle Cyrus said, “She can go to the Nutcracker with us.”

My whole body froze.

I turned back around.

“What did you say, Uncle Cyrus?”

Uncle Cyrus just smiled.

Thornbushes

Hey Friends! Thanks for continuing the Country Girl Cattle Drive as we herd 111 verses from the pages of our Bibles to our hearts. (Matthew 5-7)

(If you are new, here’s the scoop: I write down a verse and then write a story to help us remember the verse. If you want to begin at the start of the current story, go to the post titled “Store Up.”)

Matthew 7:15-20 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

Abe

The headlights of a passing truck shone on the metal Cenex sign in the parking lot of the coop. Inside, Pastor Givens wrapped his hands around his coffee and eyed the last brownie crumbs in his wife’s glass baking dish in the middle of the table where, just a few minutes earlier, a number of older men had sat, drinking coffee and talking politics.

Abe nodded. “Yeah, I would like to get better at having a scheduled time of prayer and Bible reading. Sapphire is really good about that. Now, she’s got her own style. I’m pretty sure the Pope is not going about his devotional time in the same way as Sapphire.”

“What does she do?” Nia asked from the counter.

“I didn’t know you were listening.”

Nia laughed. “I’m always listening.”

Abe smiled and leaned back against the door post between the office area and the product area. “You know Sapphire—she can’t sit still. So she paces our room. She’ll start to read the Bible out loud and then what she reads make her think of something, so she just starts talking to Jesus. Then she’ll remember that she wrote something on the church bulletin to pray about or some Scripture from the sermon she wanted to pray for somebody, so she’ll rummage through the papers on her little table, talking the whole time. And then she’ll remember that she wanted to read a certain amount so she’ll pick up her Bible again and it’s just all a happy circle.”

Pastor Givens grinned and took a drink. Nia stood, grabbed her coat, and clocked out. Moments later, the three of them walked out of the coop into a light, blowing snow.

***

When Abe walked in the house, there was no food on the stove top, no food on the table, and nobody anywhere. In fact, the house was dark. He turned on his phone’s flashlight function and climbed the stairs. He noted the slit of light under Evelyn’s door, then opened the usually open door to the master bedroom.

His phone’s light fell on Sapphire, curled up next to the bed, her hands bound by a necklace, her eyes looking wide, tears streaking her cheeks. Abe turned on the main light of the room and ran to her. “Are you okay?”

She nodded. “I’m just not good enough.”

Abe pulled his red Swiss Army knife from his pocket and cut the string. The pebble-like beads slid off the string, onto the floor.

“No! Don’t!”

He cradled one of her wrists, streaked with red indentations. “Look. You’re hurting yourself. Why are you hurting yourself?”

“That lady—she told me I had to be still and know that God is God. She said I’m not being still enough. She gave me this necklace from one of the most peaceful places on earth and told me it would help me be still.”

Rage thundered through Abe’s entire body. He backed away from Sapphire for fear of what he might do in this moment. What had that monster woman and that monster church done to his beautiful wife? He stumbled backward into the overstuffed chair in the corner, covered in laundry. He tried to compose himself, sitting adrift the crazy waves of clothes.

He wanted to tell her never to see those people again, but something in him said not to.

“Baby, if you want to go see a doctor, we can. You know I would go with you.”

Sapphire nodded, looking down at the ground, whispering, “I know.”

“Sapphire,” he said. She looked up sadly as he continued. “The way you worship God is perfect. It’s absolutely perfect.” In his heart he whispered, Please don’t change.

Narrow Doors

Hey Friends! Thanks for continuing the Country Girl Cattle Drive as we herd 111 verses from the pages of our Bibles to our hearts. (Matthew 5-7)

(If you are new, here’s the scoop: I write down a verse and then write a story to help us remember the verse. If you want to begin at the start of the current story, go to the post titled “Store Up.”)

Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Pastor Givens

Pastor Givens had just locked his office door when he heard the side door creak open, a narrow wooden door in the original part of the church.

Blaze, he thought, and smiled.

It had to be Blaze because Blaze was the only person, aside of himself, who had a key to that particular door. Years ago the pastor had given Blaze that key because he was going out of town and had given the child the responsibility of taking care of his fish. They were dead when he returned, but that was only because the child had tried to change the water.

What were the odds that he would go above and beyond the call of duty?

As he listened to Blaze’s steps come closer in the dark church, it occurred to him that Blaze’s whole life had been a series of narrow doors and impossible odds. Minnie Mae and her father had lived here for many years. Pastor Givens had assumed they were alone in the world. It was a surprise to him when Minnie Mae’s niece and great-nephew appeared with her at church one evening and announced that she and her son had come to live with Minnie Mae. The Givens had the bright, forties-something woman into their home that week and listened to her story.

“I’m forty-five,” she announced.

“You don’t look it,” Sister Givens had laughed.

Blaze’s mother lifted an eyebrow. “I dye my hair.” She smoothed out the table cloth with one perfectly manicured hand. “But I think I’m about to lose it all.”

Sister Givens fell silent.

“Blaze and I have come to live with Aunt Min because I have cancer. Aunt Min is our only living relative. Blaze’s father passed two years ago due to complications from Lyme Disease.” There was a short pause and she sucked in her breath. “I’m a pretty tough little woman, really. I don’t mind the thought of dying. I can sit here with a straight face and tell you I have cancer, but there are things that knock my feet out from under me. Like, why did God wait until I was forty to give us Blaze? My husband and I had twenty beautiful years of marriage, longing for children, and then he gave us this perfect child, only to take my husband and then me.”

Her eyes welled up with tears. Sister Givens passed her a tissue and placed a hand on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” she said, shaking her head. “Maybe I shouldn’t accuse God. I don’t mean it to sound that way.” She touched the corner of her eye. “I really am a rich woman and grateful for the blessings I’ve been granted.” She looked out the sliding glass door, into the green grass of the Givens backyard where Blaze was kneeling with their boxer, laughing as the dog licked him.

A year later, Pastor Givens had preached at her funeral. His heart ached for the boy, but he was thankful that the boy’s mother had had the good sense to bring him to Mount Hope. The whole town had loved him and looked out for him. And Blaze and Aunt Min had looked out for each other. But Pastor Givens had felt a special tie to the boy and was so proud of him for making it—for little things like learning to swim and big things like graduating from high school. But the greatest joy in Pastor Givens life, outside of his immediate family, had been watching Blaze choose to follow Christ. The boy had become a man, physically, mentally, emotionally, and, praise God, spiritually. He knew God’s Word, not just in his head but in his obedience. He avoided the parties in high school, he had deftly maneuvered around the girls, and he drove the speed limit. Well, most of the time.

When Blaze came around the corner, his eyes widened and he jumped back. Quickly recovering himself, he laughed, putting out a hand to steady himself against he cement block wall. “Woo! Pastor Givens. I was not expecting to see you right there.”

Pastor Givens laughed. “Sorry, man.”

“You headed home? I thought I saw the light on.”

“I’ve got time. What’s going on? You feeling all right?”

Blaze looked at him quizzically. “Oh, you mean the whole thing with elevator. Yeah, I’m fine. Nightmares, yeah. But I feel fine. I was gonna run something past you, but it can wait. You better get home while the food’s hot.”

Pastor Givens leaned back against the wall. “She’s nice.”

Blaze stood up straight. “What?”

“The girl you brought to church Sunday night.”

Blaze nodded. “Yeah, that’s what I was gonna run past you.”

“Is she a believer?”

Blaze nodded. “Yeah. A lot of people, it’s like they wear Christ’s name like one of those sticker-name-tag-things, sticking it on when it works something out for them, throwing it away when it ain’t handy. But I’ve been watching this girl. She’s changes her mind on things that I think can only be God.”

“Thinking about dating her?”

Blaze let out a deep breath. “Thinking about marrying her. What do you think?”

Golden

Hey Friends! Thanks for continuing the Country Girl Cattle Drive as we herd 111 verses from the pages of our Bibles to our hearts. (Matthew 5-7)

(If you are new, here’s the scoop: I write down a verse and then write a story to help us remember the verse. If you want to begin at the start of the current story, go to the post entitled “Store Up.”)

Matthew 7:12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Pastor Givens

Pastor Givens was seated on the couch in his office. A precarious tower of books wound its way almost to the padded elbow of his tweed coat from the floor. One of his wife’s carrot muffins rested in one hand, forgotten.

The phone rang. The pastor jumped, looked around to remind himself of where he was, and then looked strangely at the muffin in his hand. The phone rang again and he turned his attention to it.

“Why did I sit down so far from the phone?” he murmured before popping the rest of the muffin in his mouth. After three attempts, he rose from the couch and lumbered over to the phone.

“Hello?”

“Hey. I was calling to see if you have any food? My EBT card didn’t work when I went to the store. My neighbor said I should call you.”

“Yes, I believe we have some things. Can you come by the church now?”

“Yeah.”

Click.

Pastor Givens cast a sad little glance at the little book on the little couch and then let himself out of his office.

He helped the little mother and her little boy load food into their little car and then he returned to the little couch and the little book . . .

“In a little office in a little town,” he finished. He picked up the book and laid it back down. “You know, Lord,” he said, “When I was a young man, I imagined a large congregation and my own TV show.”

He laughed. “I thought I was the next T.D. Jakes.” After three tries, he stood again, and walked over to the window. He looked out on the town and quoted Dickinson. “There’s a certain Slant of light,/ Winter Afternoons –That oppresses, like the Heft/ Of Cathedral Tunes –Heavenly Hurt, it gives us . . . “

The town turned gold before him and his heart hurt terribly. “What would I want this small town pastor to do if I were the people of this town? What will they say, Lord, when we are all standing before you? Lord, strengthen these hands to meet their physical needs and touch my lips to persuade them to consider the condition of their souls.”

He walked back over to the little couch, gently shut the little book, locked up the church, and headed home.