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Dark Bondage – part I

There are days in our lives when the weather can match the mood so resplendently that one cannot discern one from the other. The gray, overcast somberness seems to creep into our very core, a darkening of the spirit, dissuading all that seeks to find joy in the sunbeams, happiness in the daylilies, or the enrichment of the sound of the songbird in the distance. Some feel continual pain for long periods of time or some for the entirety of their lives. Could it be more or less akin to dragging an anchor behind you, struggling to move, finding stairs, or ascending heights, a bewildering prospect? One must ask, is this it for the rest of my life? Is this my new norm?

Stephen sought every medical profession that would help him resolve this chronic debilitating disease. Each day, when he tried to rise, it was as if the core of his being was chained to the bed; bondage to an earthly prison had encompassed most of his adult life. If only he could break free. The doctors found one excuse after another to describe his condition, yet nobody had an answer. Early on, prescription opioids masked the unceasing pain. Still, he found it took more and more until there came a breaking point, a day of blind fury from the disconnect he forced upon himself, knowing that if he continued, he would die from the treatment rather than the crux of his demise. From there, the bottle became the agent of choice to which he sought relief if any could be found. Yet, that too, the well of utter hopelessness, kept him forever seeking another path, another way out of the day-to-day hell. One cancer led to another.

The rage that accompanied the agony spoke words he could not control; his mouth was as much a vile lesion upon his soul as the disease within.  Too often, he would see himself, a stranger within his own body, inflicting pain upon his loved ones and, one by one, watching them leave, never to return. The dark abyss to which his life spun, the whirlwind of depression upon whose waves his body was interred, carried him to depths of rejection and suffering no mortal man could stand, at least for any length of time. Yet, as much as one might believe a human capable of withstanding, Stephen could have easily given up and accepted death, but there awaited an eternity of anguish and pain. Instinctively, he knew that was not the answer. If only he could find peace in an eternal sleep. So, instead of giving in, he pressed on – something drove him onward. The costs were immeasurable, and the endurance with which he strived to stay alive when everything else said to lie down and end it all was incomprehensible. It was as if there was a being watching over him, even if he didn’t desire that protection or grace being bestowed upon him.

One day, distraught and hungry, Stephen sought refuge in the wilderness, wanting to be alone with his thoughts. Isolation from the world, from the pain itself, is an alluring deception to escape reality. He found himself walking along a riverbank, pondering everything and anything, not hoping, not denying, but merely existing, when he happened upon a dugout canoe tied to a small tree. Not seeing anyone around, he, more out of curiosity than of a criminal nature, slipped from the bank into the vessel, where he found a few loose animal pelts lying about. Not seeing any harm, he took the soft hides and wrapped himself in the bosom of a fur cocoon, falling fast asleep. With the added weight, the breeze gently rocked the boat and soon slipped the knot around the limb to which it was moored. Quietly and gently, the little boat began to follow the river’s current, winding beneath the patchwork of clouds and sky above while the occupant slept as deep a sleep as he had been able in many months. The day faded into twilight as the full moon soon began to crest the horizon. Long shadows crossed the river, yet the little craft continued unabated in its journey, its passenger unaware of the course to which he had befallen. Deep within the recesses of his mind, the pain had eased a touch, allowing the soothing sounds and comforting ripples of the water to lull him into a state of mind that had alluded him for many years. There, upon the gentle tides of the dream world, from a place of bliss, he saw himself sitting on the top of a knoll in a meadow in the shade of a large oak tree. It was an enchanted island in a sea of tall stalks with abundant heads of grain bending under the weight of their bounty. The breeze blew the weighty summer grasses all around him, turning color as the underside revealed a lighter shade, making mesmerizing undulating waves of grain that appeared to chase the shadows of the clouds above – a dance of splendor upon the landscape beneath an azure blue sky. The fields were ripe for harvest.

A redtail hawk cried in the distance as Stephen watched her glide upon the currents of the sky, floating with a sense of purpose, steady but graceful. It was then he sensed the feeling of a warm, loving blanket of comfort wash over his soul. Something dangling from a nearby low branch caught his eye, drawing his attention to a trinket hanging from a thin leather strand. Its image, suspended in the air, hung before the sun, blinding his vision and forcing him to shield his eyes with one hand while leaning against the tree trunk. “Could it be,” he thought to himself. Before him, the summer breeze gently buffeted a tiny hand-carved cross. It had been a gift to his grandmother when he was still in his teens.

The embodiment of hope welled up within his being, so much so that the impression became apparent as tears welled up in his eyes, temporarily obscuring the scene before him, washing together the colors until he couldn’t see the beauty before him. At that moment, he heard a voice, but no one was there. It was as if it came from nowhere and everywhere. “Son, don’t give up on this life, for you are loved more than you know.” There it was again, the voice of reason, of hope, someone he had not thought of in a long time, his grandmother Mildred. Her passing left a hole in his teenage heart that he never seemed to be able to fill. Her soothing tones would comfort his childhood mishaps with such loving care that nothing else mattered whenever she finished consoling his wounded pride. The voice continued, “Too soon many have turned from God’s loving arms, and too soon they have found themselves awash in hopelessness and despair. Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone, that He is with you, always. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. Your life has a purpose, one that you may not see or understand, but someday soon, you will see what glory awaits. For now, press on towards the mark. Someday soon, you will be delivered.”

With that, a sudden bump awakened Stephen from his slumber as the bow of the tiny craft nudged the shoreline of the river, now many miles from whence it had departed. Unsure of himself, he looked about, still wrapped in the warmth of the hides he had stumbled upon. The voice from the dream still lingered upon his mind like the smoke from the chimney on a cold, windless night. Its vapor encircled the essence of his being, as the smoothing aroma of woodsmoke. He accepted his plight as one might look to the horizon of a distant shore, waiting for the moment their vessel would eventually make landfall.  Stephen looked about his tiny craft for a paddle to continue his nautical journey, but there was none. The old saying popped into his mind, “One can paddle every canoe except one’s own.”

The moonlight, still bright, lit the shoreline with a somber, blueish-white tint – dreamlike in nature. Stepping out of the canoe, keeping one of the furs wrapped about his shoulders to ward off the chill of the night, he found an animal trail from the water’s edge. He began to follow it, not knowing where he was nor where he was going, only that to continue forward felt important, as if something or someone was calling him – a beckoning from afar. It was a mountainous terrain upon which he had happened as his trek paralleled the water’s edge; the sound of rapids below consummated his footsteps as they found their way up a steep incline. His lungs began to labor at the toil unto which his legs carried him, continually climbing over and passing boulders that lay like sleeping giants along the trail’s ever-winding boundary. He continued in this manner for many hours, the moon eventually setting as the hint of a distant sunrise began to lighten the Eastern sky. His path eventually topped out at the crest of the mountain. The sky was a somber pink and blue, painting the mountain tops with a golden hue that spoke of an assurance he felt he should know, but something inside him purposely kept it at a distance – a chasm of doubt between the two. A single thread of smoke caught his eye, evidence of another human in this dreamlike realm. His eye followed it down until it came to its source: a stone cottage nestled in the cusp of the darkness, its windows glowing from lamplight within. To this end, there was a draw from which he could not discern, other than it felt as if there was a welcoming gesture in that humble abode to which he must go. So, without delay, he pulled the pelt closer to his chin and continued down, ascending into the depths of the night once more, as the morning sun had yet to penetrate the recesses of the valley below.

* * * *

The Sozo rose early that Sabbath morning, immediately slipping to the floor beside his bed, kneeling in prayer, something he did every day for as long as he could remember. His life was one with God, and each day, he was afforded the multitude of His blessings. As he lifted his voice to the Father, he received a brief but clear vision. In the scene, it was still dark, but just within the outer confines of the light from his lodge stood a small lamb calling for help. Its white coat was muddied from traveling many miles. While it continued to call, its breath was visible, as the chill of the night was still lingering. The little animal’s cries spoke of pain, something a farmer comes to know when working with animals, a sense of discomfort for which the beast can only comforted by its caregiver. The vision ended when he opened the door, and something else, something he understood from before, began to unfold. The Sozo arose from the floor, knowing God was at work, and before the day was out, He would reveal its mystery.

After stoking the fire in the hearth a few minutes later, he eased into his ancient, well-worn rocking chair while sipping the day’s first cup of coffee. As he poured over God’s word, he gently stroked the soft hair of Aphiemi, his pet wolf, the wild animal he had taken in as a pup so many years before. The elder had been returning from a day of searching for lost souls in the nearby village when he found the brutal scene of death. Hunters had killed Aphiemi’s mother and the rest of the litter. She had survived by hiding in a hollow log next to the den, where she was slowly dying of hunger. Wolves were a threat to the villagers in the area, often killing many of their young and threatening the safety of their livestock. From the villager’s perspective, it was the elimination of a pestilence. To Sozo, it was a heartless killing. Aware of the implications of taking in a wild animal, the old man felt in his heart that he could not allow the little puppy to die of starvation – thus, he and the baby wolf’s companionship began. With her by his side, he always felt even more protected from the worldly dangers that hearkened to the door of his obscure dwelling. In a way, it was as if God had provided him a protector, but instead of a weapon, it came in the form of a wolf.

In deep contemplation, he read over the ancient manuscript encased within the weathered, leather hand-bound volume; his eye followed the letters on the page from the Gospel of Luke, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders  and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” He leaned back, taking another sip from the warm mug, thinking over these words and the vision he had received. “Coincidence or not,” he thought to himself, but before he could ponder further, Aphiemi raised her head and gave a low guttural growl.

There came the dull thud of the iron knocker wrapping at the chamber door. Aphiemi stood, hair bristling along her spine.

“Easy, girl.” Slowly rising from his rocker, Sozo headed toward the door.

“Let’s see what the Lord hath brought us today.”

* * * *

Standing at the outer edge of the realm of darkness, just beyond the emanating lamplight from within, Stephen considered his next move. The dwelling looked as if it had been built in an ancient time; the slate roof reflected the coming dawn as the glow from the windows painted the stone walls a buttery hue, a delicious glow that beckoned him all the more. Still, not knowing the demeanor of the inhabitants within, Stephen groveled deep within his soul – should he dare knock, or should he just go on? Like a man wrestling with a power greater than his own, he eventually succumbed to the pressure and moved forward. He stepped upon the stone porch and raised the heavy iron handle of the door knocker, pausing, questioning why he was even here and what he was about to do.

Then he dropped the metal handle, which fell with a loud thud on the massive wooden door.

The sounds of footsteps shuffling toward him could be heard from within – then a pause. Stephen swallowed a hard gulp of air momentarily, asking for protection in a silent thought – to whom he didn’t know.

Then, the creak of the lock.

When the door opened, a swoosh of warmth and a welcoming light from within flooded the porch, embracing Stephen. What he saw before him caused his heart to pause. For a moment, his senses could not contain the overwhelming tumult of thoughts that ran through his mind. He was speechless, yet he felt something he had not known in many years or possibly ever.

To be continued…



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A Fast Reflection

Another chilly, rainy-laden day. There is a certain feeling of release, a freedom from a burden that has long encompassed my soul – being set free from the weight of depending upon food – perhaps a true feeling or revelation of what our glorified body will become. To be in a world where your senses are still intact and properly functioning, yet to have one of the greatest mortal dependencies of the flesh, that which sustains us and keeps us alive – food – when that is removed, this becomes a feeling of a release from its bondage – the ultimate repentance. As the body absorbs the fat of the opulence of life from your frame, slowly, with great revelation, you are given into the understanding of how one may approach that last day, the one in which you pass from this life to the next. To see something for what it is, not for that which your perception creates, but rather for that thing which its barest essential implores, is to give truth to what is cruciality of need. Jesus spoke of that which a man takes into his body is not that which defiles a man, but rather what comes out of his mouth. Yet, the vessel to which we are given care has a certain amount of dependencies upon what it is fed, so much so that we become a reflection of those choices as to what we put in it. Overindulgence leads to obesity, a sign of a medical condition, or, more often, the addiction to things that are unhealthy – for which both can be an emotional crutch as much as the physical addiction. Sadly, some people live to eat rather than eat to live.

When we are capable of stepping back and taking a look at ourselves, as in the case of this seven-day water-only fast which I’m currently on, we can see and appreciate all the more those things that we take for granted – health, life, and our relationship with God. While these are not all equal, they all become as one when we encompass them within the human form. Looking at our bodies as a vessel, we then can better relate to how God can use us. How we take care of that container is as important as that which we pour into our intellect. So, when we choose to refrain from those indulgences, to stop eating, we quickly become aware of our body’s dependencies, good or bad, on that very thing that consumes so much of our lives – the irony is palpable. However, if one continues in this tract for very long, it soon becomes clear that there are other things that are affected by this change in lifestyle – the sensitivity of those things spiritual.

The enlightenment of awareness is uplifting. Not only does one feel physically lighter, but there is a freedom of the spirit, a release from captivity of one’s soul. In this manner, it soon becomes comprehensible how the words from scripture that speak of the glorified body will come to fruition. It is then, when this understanding lands upon one’s comprehension like a feather falling to the earth, that we can, although its perceptibility may be slight, for a moment, catch a glimpse of that divine realm to which we so aspire.

If my body would allow, I would continue this fast forever, but unfortunately, there is a physical limitation to this season of awareness. A thing that which is mortal must pertain to the natural laws of this world. In so doing, the fast must soon end. Yet, although it will be over, the inspiration will be etched once more into my memory, becoming a well of motivation for future use – for that, I can be grateful.

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Be Free…

There are days that we begin without thought of what will be, nor how the day will images463ZN6PLend. We simply go on as before unrealizing how the world around us sees us or how we might be perceived. Sometimes, the day changes us before all is said and done. This day would be just one of those days.

As I rode down the hill toward the creek, I passed by the ancient barn that was still in need of repair. Like any barn of her age, there was loose siding, tin missing and doors sagging, but in all, she was a magnificent structure. She stands as a testament to work of our forefathers and the hard labor that made us who we are today as a people, as a state, and a country. Like any of us, we have our blemishes but deep down, we have a foundation of ruggedness that when pushed, can become a formidable force to be reckoned with. Still, we can have our moments, our tender spaces where something calls to us to ask for comfort. Driving past the old barn I thought I could hear barking, but then that was nothing new since the neighbor’s dog usually greeted me as such. When I finally parked down by the creek and got out of my truck, the barking was continuing but now I could hear it was coming from the barn. “Had one of my friends stored a dog in there without telling me,” was the first thought to come to mind?

The yelps continued but weren’t the kind for warding off strangers, they were a plea for help. Having been around animals most of my life, you learn to hear the difference in animal voices, both tame and wild.

I quickly made my way back to the barn on foot, entering at the end of the barn opposite the sounds of the dog. At this point, I had no idea the state of the animal, its size, demeanor or breed; caution was in order. When I opened the door, the barking ceased and I could hear the sound of it crawling out the opposite end of the main door, struggling to escape, yelping at the pain from the struggle to free itself.

“Was it gone already?”

I maneuvered my way through the stalls and feed room, soon finding a cable wrapped around several items both in the feed room and around the tractor. The dog was now on the outside of the barn, but the cable was still obviously attached as she now whined from her new position of fear. The water bowl was empty that we had left for our barn cats and the feed was mostly gone. At least, she had not gone hungry and thirsty for whatever length of time she had been trapped. From there I quickly went back out the other end, so as not to scare her anymore. She was extremely terrified at this point, the sound of the metal on the barn, the lead cable, the fear of being trapped. Then as I came around the end of the barn and slowly neared her position, calling to her constantly trying to soothe her concerns, it became obvious her panic; she had pups waiting for her somewhere. Her teats were swollen and had not nursed in at least a day or more.

Time was of the essence but safety was, even more, important.

I had learned in the past as a boy at the tender age of 8 the significance of what can happen when you take a scared dog for granted. In the back alley of our family restaurant in New Harmony, that little farming town back in southern Indiana, I had befriended a stray. Secretly I fed her scraps from the back door of the restaurant. She was a pretty long haired blonde lab mix, very friendly and loved to play catch. We were doing just that the day of the incident. She had gone to catch the ball again and had leaped over a draining grate in the road. Her back leg landed on the grate and became stuck. Instantly she began screaming.

I panicked!

I had never heard a dog make that sort of shrieking, barking noise before in my life.

Unthinkingly, led by instinct, I went to try to pull her out. Her instincts were to grab anything and everything to get her leverage from the beast that now tried to chew off her leg. As we met, my hand became the receiver of her plight for freedom and the receptor for my instant pain has her teeth sunk into the flesh of my hand. In the blink of an eye, she was freed, in the blink of an eye, my hand was ripped open and bleeding profusely. Scared and ashamed of my foolishness, I never told anyone. After that, the dog ran away and never returned; I couldn’t blame her. I would have done the same. Yet, there I was with a badly bleeding hand bitten by a stray. At that age, I was at least knowledgeable enough to realize that I was endanger of being bitten by a strange animal, yet, I kept it to myself. Amazingly enough, I was able to stop the bleeding with rags from the kitchen I snuck out the backdoor, again fearing being caught. It was a wonder I didn’t come down with some type of infection. Looking back I knew it was an uneccesary risk. Certainly, God was with me once again.

So, as I slowly tried to approach this new stray, a black lab mix, I was very aware of the animals fear. Her tail remained tightly tucked between her back legs as she tried to extend the cable as far away from me as possible. I could see it had a clip on the end by her collar but getting to that point my take another ripped hand. Then I remembered the turkey scraps in the back of the truck that we had brought to give to the barn cats. It was also clear at this point why there were no barn cats around. Making the quick trip to the truck and back to retrieve the scraps, I continued to call her names and comfort her as best I could without knowing her name. She had a decent red collar tightly secured about her neck; too secure. When I returned, I slowly worked toward her, chumming bits of turkey in her direction.

At first her fear for flight was greater than her hunger.

I kept talking, whistling, calming her.

Finally, she gobbled a chunk of meat before her. The tail unclinched for just a second, then back tight.

She liked it and was starving.

Slowly, ever so patiently I worked toward her trying to convince her that I didn’t mean her harm. In the past, I had seen animals like this, abused, by their owners to the point they feared any human. This poor thing acted the same but yet, I had to reach that clip in order to totally free her. For safety’s sake, I put on my gloves. My coat would protect my arm should something change dramatically. Again, I kept thinking of the grate in the alley and how quickly a sweet dog can turn. One after another, I kept tossing scraps, but closer and closer until I was feeding her from my outstretched hand. Again, from a seated position with my back to the barn door, I pulled her toward me, feeding her now directly from the roasting pan of turkey scraps. Extending my arm, carefully,… easing my fingers along the cable until…. I finally reached the silver clasp.

My fingers frantically clawed for the knob that was suppose to open the pin, but it was gone. “What next,” I thought?

I continued to hold her, the food was dwindling and so was my time. She hesitated and looked up at me between gulps of food.

Painstakingly, I clawed with my fingernails at the pin trying to open it, but as I just got it spread far enough to clear the clip on her collar she pulled back, tail tight, fear in her eyes.

I released her and breathed.

We were both shaking.

This was not going to work. She was tired, exhausted and fearing for her life. She would do anything to free herself, yet I was curiously in her way. Instead of retrying the last effort, I knew there might be a better way.

Taking a break, I filled the lid of the roasting pan with water and put in within her reach. A new idea came to mind.

Returning to my truck, I found the bolt cutters and brought them back, slowly retracing my steps to our mutual area now outside the barn. She had just finished lapping up water when I came back into her sight. She was weary of me now that I carried something in my hands. Again, I tried to make her feel at ease, talking, whistling and cooing her.

Once more I tried the food and worked my way back up the cable. The bolt cutters were making her shake even more so I got as close as comfort for both of us would allow.

I reached as far as she would let ne and squeezed.

There was a brief moment of when both of us sighed relief, just briefly.

In the next instant, she ran away, heading east. The remnants of the cable that had kept her captive in the barn dragged harmlessly between her two front legs, barely touching the ground as she ran.

She never paused to look back.

Would she find her home, her pups? I could only hope.

The pastor of Morganton First Church of God’s sermon today was over John 8:31-5 and how we are slaves to our sin. Some of us allow our sin to keep us tied down, starved and nearly dead. Like the stray I found, we allow ourselves to be taken away from our loved ones until we both suffer. We can find salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ and he can deliver us from this bondage.

My fear for the poor mother is that she will return to the captivity that caused her to become the fearful animal she seemed; hopefully, this was just a condition of her motherhood. Like the dog in this story, we too can be set free only to return to the same conditions that put us in the bondage of sin.

I learned a little more about myself that day. Patience and control of fear worked through me in a way that I had never known. Faith in being who God made me allowed me to push through and set the poor animal free.

In 2016, make it a point to finally be set free. Run away, run hard and never return to that life which kept you a stranger to your own family. Run away from that addition that bound you to become a person you didn’t know when you looked in the mirror.

Do it today, and you will be set free forever.

Seek Jesus Christ and eternity will await.


Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. 36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” – John 8:34-35

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