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Return to Paradise, Part II: Chapter 13

13

“Will you live all the days of your life loving God?” asked Pastor J.J.

“I will,” Alexis answered, standing waist-deep in the flat ocean, arms crossed across her chest. Next thing she knew, she was dipped back into the water, head under too. She held her breath, and a split second later, she came out of the water and stood straight up. She smiled as her friends clapped for her on the beach.

“Good for you, Alexis!” congratulated Hannah, giving her a tight hug. Jazmin and Karen stood behind her, waiting to hug her too.

“I’m dripping wet,” Alexis laughed.

“That’s okay, I am too,” said Jazmin, who had also gotten baptized.

“Welcome to the Family,” Victoria told her. They stood on the shore and watched Amber and Joshua Cyrene get baptized together as husband and wife. Little Aja ran around the beach with Aaron.

“Mommy! Mommy!” called Aja, as Amber walked out of the ocean. Josiah handed her a towel.

“Congratulations, Sis!” he told her. “And you too, Alexis,” he said shyly to Alexis, on whom he obviously had a crush.

“Thanks Josiah,” Alexis said. Then, in a burst of courage, she gave him a hug. Josiah turned red. Amber smiled at her parents, Suzanne and Noah, who sat on the grass, watching their son fall in love with Alexis.

***

Alexis lay on a big blanket, soaking up the afternoon sun and basking in glory. “You’re glowing,” Josiah looked at her.

“I feel really good. Happy,” Alexis answered him. They had spent as much time as they could together since Alexis was baptized a week ago. She was surely in love, and it felt nothing like when she and Dan had been together. But she didn’t tell that to Josiah. “I was just thinking about what J. J. said about being chosen. Why me of all people?” she wondered.

“Called out of the darkness into his marvelous light,” quoted Josiah. “It’s 1 Peter 2:9, from memory,” he added. “We are partakers of the divine nature, in Christ,” Josiah told her. “Because He loves us. And it’s all part of His plan,” he said, reaching for his Bible lying above his head on the blanket. Opening it and turning quickly to the page he was looking for, he read, “‘It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ It’s from the book of Luke. ‘Even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before Him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.’ That’s Ephesians 1:4-5,” he told her. “That about says it all. God’s word is powerful stuff.”

“Yeah,” Lexy agreed. She looked around her at the magnificent mountains jutting dramatically into the sky. Rising up against a bright blue sky, the fluted mountain tops formed a jagged line marking the horizon. A place more beautiful than this can’t exist, Lexy thought to herself. She gave thanks for her surroundings and for the safe haven of the island, and for Josiah and her new island family. It made her feel better to believe someone or something wiser than herself was in control and would take care of her.

“Now that we know the truth, we have a greater responsibility than most people in the world, who were never shown the truth,” Josiah said a little while later, after they had swam. They were laying down side by side, drying off in the sunshine.

“What do you mean, Josiah, by a ‘greater responsibility’?” asked Alexis.

“Well, we have to live righteous lives, not that we wouldn’t. But now, it’s our responsibility, knowing the truth. Here, let me read this to you.” He turned right to the section he was looking for and read, “‘If after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.’ That’s 2 Peter 2:20-21,” he told her. “Then there’s Ephesians, um, I think it’s 5…” he was flipping through his Bible. “Here it is. Chapter 5:8, ‘For you were sometimes darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light.'”

“Wow!” said Lexy. “The Bible talks about everything, doesn’t it?”

“It’s a good instruction manual. Keep reading it; you’ll learn a lot,” he advised. She nodded, silently noting that she had called the Bible an instruction manual too. She felt like she had this incredible connection with Josiah. She studied his profile as he looked out toward the water. He is so cute, she thought. His short brown hair and his warm blue eyes seemed to pierce right through to her heart and touch her.

“I never thought about the responsibility,” said Alexis. “What about the people that never learn about God in their lives? Like those living in the city, where I was?” she wondered.

“Well, the Bible says the Gospel–God’s word–will be spoken in all the world before Jesus Christ comes to claim his family. So if they are ready and willing and have not hardened their hearts, they will hear it. That’s what I believe,” Josiah told her.

“Yeah.” She thought about her parents, and Isabella and Dan. Her community, and all those from Masonville. Would they ever listen to the truth? She didn’t know. Josiah touched her hair that had grown a few inches since her arrival to the island.

“So soft,” he said. She looked at him. She could see herself in his dark blue eyes. “You’re beautiful,” he told her. Then he gently kissed her.

***

After a delicious, festive dinner, they sat in a circle around the fire. Light danced off their faces as they talked among one another. Alexis sat next to Josiah and listened to Gregg.

“The end could come at any time, nobody but God really knows. Our job is to be ready, be peaceful and without blame, living righteous lives,” Gregg said, mostly to David who was sitting with his wife, Jennifer.

“I think we must be in the tribulation period,” said Jennifer. “The Bible says God will come after that.”

“And when do you think that will be?” Gabriel asked his mother.

“Some people say it won’t happen because things have been the same for hundreds of years,” Ken offered.

“To God, a second is like a thousand years, or something, right Mom?” Raphael looked at Jennifer. She nodded at her younger son.

“Yes, that’s true. But if you look at the history and read the Bible, you’ll see. God warned Noah about the flood that would destroy the Earth, and people just laughed at Noah as he was preparing, building the ark,” Jennifer said.

“I remember reading that the Lord is waiting for as many people as possible to repent. I can’t remember where exactly I read that,” said David.

“God sent His son, not to condemn the Earth, but to save it,” Gregg added.

“‘For the son of man is come to save that which was lost,’ Matthew 18:11 tells us,” said Suraya Justus.

“I know where it is,” said Daniel. “Look at 2 Peter 3-4. This part tells us that fire, and not water, will end the world this time. Let’s see, let me find it from the beginning.” He cleared his throat and began reading in a loud, clear voice. “‘Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and with the Earth standing out of the water and in the water; Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished. But the heavens and the Earth, which are now by the same word kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.'”

“If you keep reading, it goes on to say that ‘One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Meaning just what it says. His time is not like our time,” Daniel went on. “Be assured, the Lord is not ‘slack concerning his promises, but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.'” That’s the part you remembered, right David?”

“Yeah, that’s it,” David answered.

“There’s more here,” said Daniel, his young face looking wise. He glanced up at the faces around the fire, a little unnerved that he had everybody’s full attention. He was usually pretty quiet.

“Keep reading,” Gabriel urged him. Suraya sat next to him and gave him a smile of encouragement.

“Okay. ‘But the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the Earth also, and the words that are therein shall be burned up.'” Daniel finished reading and put his Bible down in front of him. “It’s all right here in the good book. Believe it and prepare your hearts.” People nodded their heads in agreement, but there was not very much conversation. The intensity of Daniel’s point caused everyone to contemplate their own lives.

Am I prepared? Alexis wondered to herself. What will happen to my family? Will they be burned in the fire? Even though she was so far away from them, Alexis did not want her family to burn up in the fire; she wanted them to be saved too. “How can we help all those people living in Masonville and everywhere else?” Alexis asked J.J., who had sat down next to his daughter and listened to what Daniel was reading.

“We can pray for them,” J.J. told her. “God’s word will not return void; it’s alive and powerful. You’ll learn this in the Bible too. So, if you ask Him to open their eyes and hears, He will find a way to do it.”

“Because God will make a way, when there seems to be no way,” Suraya added. “I remember singing that song as a little kid,” she told him. “Do you Dad?” she asked J.J.

“I remember,” he told her.

“But how will they even hear about God over there?” Alexis asked him.

“I’m not sure, Alexis. People like Wynn, Juli and Will have been intercessors for those on the mainland for a long time. They’ve led several people to the knowledge of Christ, or at least planted the seed,” J.J. said.

“What’s an intercessor?” Alexis asked.

“It’s someone who intercedes, or prays for others,” Colette told her.

“Oh,” Alexis said.

“And do people see Wynn and Juli or Will? I thought they couldn’t see them or that they were secretive?” Alexis asked them.

“They are a lot more careful now,” Jennifer told her. “But God has led people to them, and then they share the truth.”

“Like me,” Gregg spoke up. “Wynn saved my life.”

“He did? How?” asked Alexis.

“Well, I guess it was about 2025 or so and it was getting really hard to do anything without getting in trouble, because I didn’t get the CHIP. Well, my hair,” he pointed to his long dark hair, “seemed to attract the attention of these thugs in black that patrolled the streets.” Alexis remembered the men in black loading bodies into a truck. “They tried to arrest me and shave my head,” Gregg told them, horrified. “But I managed to escape. It was really a miracle,” Gregg was saying. “I was in prison and it was midnight and I prayed to God–my grandmother had taught me about our heavenly father. The next thing I knew, the door to the cell was open. I didn’t really believe what I was seeing, but it was opened and as I tiptoed out, all the guards were sleeping and I slipped out of the building. I just started running in the night and in the morning, don’t ask me how, I was laying in Wynn’s house.”

“But how? Did you know him?” Suraya asked.

“I’d never met him. But he knew me and knew I was in trouble. Well, the next morning, Will and Juli took me here. And here I am,” said Gregg. “So I think that was God at work. Even though I don’t understand it, I know it couldn’t have happened without Him,” Gregg said.

“Incredible!” said J.J. David and Jennifer nodded.

“God is good,” said Daniel. Several people audibly agreed.

Return to Paradise, Part II: Chapter 12

12

The sound of running water lulled Alexis back into consciousness. “I guess I fell asleep,” she said aloud, to nobody in particular. Sitting up, she saw Vicky was still sleeping. It was getting dark. “Vicky,” Alexis said, shaking her gently.

“Hmm? What?” said Vicky sleepily.

“Vicky, wake up. It’s almost night,” said Alexis. Vicky sat up and stretched her arms into the air. She yawned.

“I’ve been asleep for that long?” she asked.

“Yes,” Alexis answered, nodding her head.

“I guess we should head back,” said Vicky, getting up. The two girls started walking back to camp. “I hope it’s not my night for dinner!” said Vicky. “I must have been really tired.”

“We’re pretty close, aren’t we?” Alexis asked her.

“Yeah,” Vicky said with a nod.

“You know, while you were sleeping, I started thinking how life is like a garden,” said Alexis.

“Hannah inspired you, huh?” Vicky laughed. “But you’re right. It even refers to that in the Bible.”

“Really?” Alexis was surprised. “What does it say?”

“Well, it’s a parable of the Lord, about a sower,” started Vicky.

“What’s a sower?” Alexis wanted to know.

“Someone who plants seeds,” said Vicky. “So this sower went to sow, plant, his seeds and some seeds fell to the side and the birds ate them; other seeds fell on the rocks and grew, but withered soon because there was no moisture or earth; and some seeds fell among the thorns, which grew and choked the seeds. But some seeds fell into the good ground and grew and produced a lot of fruit.” Vicky paused to look at Alexis.

“So how is that related to God?” asked Alexis.

“Well Lexy, the seed is the word of God. And the earth and other places it’s sowed are the hearts of the people. So the people hear the word, but are so filled with sin or rocks, that they won’t believe it and be saved. They may receive the word with joy and believe it for a while, but as soon as they are tempted, they stop believing because they have no root. Then, those on the thorns hear the word, but the cares of the world choke them and they don’t bear any fruit. And of course, those on the good earth are those who hear the word, believe it, and are honest and good. These people patiently do the will of God and bear fruit that nourishes others,” Vicky finished.

“Wow!” said Alexis. “The Bible seems to talk about all kinds of neat ideas. I’m definitely going to start reading it after dinner,” she said.

“There they are!” said Colette as Alexis and Victoria walked into the kitchen. “Hannah told me she left you two hours ago.”

“I fell asleep for a long time,” said Vicky. “Was it my turn tonight for dinner duty?”

“No. Daniel, Gregg and Ronnie volunteered to make a special meal tonight, so you’ll be tomorrow, ” Colette told her.

“Oh good,” said Vicky, relieved.

“But your mom would be happy to know you’re back,” added Colette.

“Okay, I’ll go tell her,” said Vicky. She turned to Alexis.

“I’m going to go wash my hands and face and change before dinner,” Alexis told her. “See you in a little while. And thanks for taking me to the River Side Cafe.”

“Anytime, Lexy, anytime,” Vicky told her, smiling.

***

“And then, before we knew it, we had lost our freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of movement and most of our other rights,” Allan was saying. Most of the group had finished eating the goat Ronnie and the boys had prepared and they were sitting together talking as everybody helped clean up the kitchen.

“But why didn’t people do anything?” Jazmin wanted to know.

“Like what?” Drew asked his daughter. “They were so distracted by making a living and earning enough money to survive and pay for all of the luxuries they needed, they didn’t have time to think about losing freedoms.”

“That was the idea,” said Will.

“But don’t forget, some people did act,” said Ken. “They were vigilant, but their friends called them paranoid and peculiar,” he said. “When things started coming down, they fled to the mountains. They prayed and were thankful they were shown the light,” explained Ken.

“They, and you know I’m talking about us, were led to a safe place away from the city which was getting ready to explode,” explained Colette, picking up her husband’s thought. “It was full of tension and uneasiness and dissatisfaction, causing crime and violence, fueled by drugs. It couldn’t go on forever.”

“But to some people, it looked like the evil had overtaken the good,” explained Kira. “But the Bible tells us, ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ The reality is the good were removed from the tribulation of the city, and the dark turned black. But the light did not cease. It merely existed in a remote place. Set away out of the wind, to burn brightly, keeping the antichrist from destroying the world. What a garden to be in during a time when so much destruction also occurred, under the same sun,” Kira spoke quietly, almost as if she didn’t realize everybody was there.

Nobody said anything. Ronnie began blowing his flute. The high pitches danced in the air. Suzanne strummed her guitar, while others played their drums lightly. She started singing.

“He is the way the truth and the light,

He is the only way that is right.

He is the way, the truth and the light, 

Of my life.”

People played instruments into the night, making beautiful music. J.J. stood up and declared, “Isaiah 42:10-12 tells us to ‘Sing unto the Lord a new song and his praises from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up their voice, let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto the Lord and declare his praise in the islands,'” his voice rang out into the night, mixing with the music. People clapped.

“Hallelujah!” someone said.

“Praise God and Amen,” echoed into the night. Suzanne started playing again. Several people were standing and swaying to the music. Their voices rose in harmony and made Alexis tingle as they sang loudly.

“Holy, so Holy

There is no other so ho—ly

Jesus, oh Jesus,

Oh might God, you’re Jesus.

Jeee-suuusss.”

They lifted their voices, which Alexis thought sounded beautiful. She felt tears in her eyes and she hummed along with the melody of the soothing song. It was so intense. She fought to hold back sobs that wanted to break loose. The music and the singing were lifting her soul to a higher level where she felt a part of everyone and everything. Her body felt that now-familiar tingling sensation. The Holy Spirit, Karen had told her. She looked out to the sea. It’s so beautiful, marveled Alexis in her mind. A bright light caught her eye in time for her to see it shooting through the dark night sky. “Woah! Look!” she pointed.

Vicky grinned and nodded, swaying to the music. “A shooting star,” someone said.

Everybody was happy and smiling, feeling good. To Lexy, it all seemed a dream. She looked intently at the sky and was awed by the golden trail that followed the shooting star. It gleamed like the autograph of God. Somehow, she knew she believed. Her faith had grown strong in such a short time, but she was sure of a greater force to which she was connected.

“There is no denying the way I feel. This ball of love in my chest,” Alexis explained to Jazmin’s mom, Karen, “seems to grow every time we pray, or I read the Bible, or I hear, you know, like get a thought, from God, and especially when we sing.” Karen nodded at her and smiled. She looked into Alexis’ eyes, her black hair shining in the moonlight. Alexis thought she looked beautiful.

“The Bible says the truth will be revealed, Alexis. I’m glad you have understanding,” Karen said. “Eyes that see, ears that hear,” she added. Alexis nodded, recognizing the phrase from the Bible. They sat quietly together for a few minutes. “Maybe you’d like to get baptized,” Karen suggested.

Alexis tried to remember exactly what getting baptized was. Something to do with the water, she knew. “Baptism is an outward commitment of your faith. As Christ died, so does your former life of sin that was ruled by the flesh. Now that you’re walking in the Spirit, you become a new being, a light in the world. Getting baptized is a symbolic birth of this new life,” Karen explained to her without Alexis having to ask.

“That sounds okay,” said Alexis. “I’ll have to think about it.” Jazmin walked over and sat down next to them.

“It looks like you two are having an intense conversation,” Jazmin commented.

“Your mom was telling me about getting baptized,” Alexis said.

“He that believes and is baptized shall be saved,” Jazmin declared. “Are you going to do it?”

“I don’t know,” said Alexis.

“I could mention it to J.J.,” suggested Karen.

“I wouldn’t mind being baptized again with you,” said Jazmin. “Maybe a bunch of us could do it together?” Jazmin laughed.

“Have you all been baptized?” asked Alexis. Jazmin looked at her mom.

“I think everybody but the little kids, Aaron Farl and Aja Cyrene. They’re a little young,” said Karen.

“How old do you have to be?” asked Alexis.

“Just old enough to repent of your sins and believe in God,” answered Karen. Jazmin was leafing through her mom’s Bible.

“Jesus said in John 3:3, ‘Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,'” she read. “Then in John 3:5, He tells us ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God; you must be born again,'” Jazmin read.

“Born again,” Alexis repeated. “It sounds kind of weird, being born again,” she said.

“It’s symbolic,” explained Karen. “You were born in the flesh, or body, and we all sin, make mistakes. But as we learn about the spiritual side of life, we learn that we have a choice to say we’re sorry about all the mistakes we made, the people we may have hurt, whatever it is. So in the spirit we can have a spiritual birth, with water, and become a new creation, pure and following God’s words, loving one another.”

“And the Bible talks about it too?” asked Alexis.

“It sure does. Again, God is telling us how we can be saved,” Karen told her.

“It’s like an instruction manual,” joked Alexis.

“You’re absolutely right,” agreed Karen. “That’s what it is.”

“What other instructions does it give us?” Alexis asked, intrigued.

“Oh, let’s see, there’s my favorite in Mark, Chapter 12, ‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,'” Karen said, turning to the chapter. “The next verse says, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ so that’s not too hard, right?” Karen said.

“Doesn’t seem like it,” said Alexis.

“I like this one,” said Jazmin. “‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,'” she read. “It says that the word must be preached everywhere before the end will come,” said Jazmin.

“The end?” asked Alexis.

“The end of this life, when we all join God in heaven and live in peace,” said Karen. “Don’t be scared of it, and don’t let today’s world scare you either,” she said. “Listen to what Jesus tells us in Mark 13:7: ‘And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, don’t be troubled, for such things must happen, but the end shall not be yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles; these are the beginnings of sorrows,’ and we’re already seeing these things, aren’t we? ‘The Gospel must first be published among all nations. But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what you will speak; for it is not you that speak, but the Holy Ghost… he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved…. Flee to the mountains… For in those days, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Song of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.'” Karen stopped, looking at Alexis.

“That is going to happen, really? When?” asked Alexis.

“Well, we don’t know for sure. But let me read the next part. ‘Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done. But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you know not when the time is… And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch,'” Karen finished reading.

“Wow,” said Alexis. “Okay, so when can I get baptized?”

“I’ll talk to J.J. in the morning,” Karen promised her. The three women were surprised to see that everyone had gone to bed. They had been so involved with each other, they didn’t realize how late it was.

“We should get some sleep, girls,” said Karen.

“Okay, goodnight Jaz, goodnight Karen,” said Alexis. Both Karen and Jazmin hugged Alexis as they left her at the door of her camp. Alexis loved the bamboo structure covered in palm leaves. Judd and Kenny had built it for her in a couple of hours and even the hardest rain didn’t get her wet. Inside, she stretched out on her soft bed and fell asleep.

 

 

Return to Paradise, Part II: Chapter 10

10

“Come on Lexy. I’m finally done. I want to show you something,” bubbled Judd, bringing Lexy back to Earth. She had been absorbed reading the Bible her friend had given to her.

“Okay, what is it?” she asked eagerly as she grabbed his outstretched hand.

“Follow me to the garden,” he said.

“Okay,” Alexis laughed, pleased to be getting so much attention. Her thoughts went briefly to the last time she had seen Dan. She thought about the door being slammed in her face. It hurt. But it seemed like another world already, a different life.

Lexy marveled as they rounded the corner to a beautiful place where an abundance of green plants were growing out of the ground. She followed Judd up and down the rows as he told her the names of each one. On closer inspection, she noticed colorful objects growing from the plants.

“What are these?” she asked, pointing to a yellow curved thing.

Judd smiled. “It’s called a banana. Look.” He pulled one off the branch and peeled the yellow from around it. Then he took a bite. “Here, try it.”

She did. “It’s good,” she said. She tried to remember all the names of the different vegetables he pointed out. There were so many different kinds.

She recognized Kenny bending over pulling a plant out of the ground. “Have you met Gregg?” he asked her, wiping his forehead.

“Hi,” said Gregg.

“You sang that song,” Alexis told him.

“That would be me,” Gregg answered. “And I’m not too sure if this,” he motioned to the ground in front of him, “is right where I should be right now,” he said, smiling.

“We’re on weed patrol,” Kenny told her. “We’re supposed to pull out all the weeds around the plants,” he explained, “so the plant can grow and produce fruit, not choked by all of these weeds.” He reached down and plucked a clump of long green grass and tossed it to the side. “There.”

“It looks like a lot of work,” Lexy told him.

“Worth it,” he replied. “Taste this.” He gave her a small white bulb. She looked at Gregg, and then at Judd.

“Go ahead, take a bite; they’re a little peppery, that’s all,” urged Gregg.

She took the white round veggie, looking unconvinced. She bit into it with a loud crunch.

“Now chew it,” said Judd.

“Not bad,” announced Lexy. “What is it called?”

“Turnip,” the boys answered in unison.

“Wow! This grows out of the dirt?!”

“In about 19 days–that’s all it takes,” Judd explained.

“That’s neat,” said Lexy, finishing the turnip. She walked around the garden in awe tasting orange carrots, green cucumbers, green beans and purple lettuce and admiring the beautiful flowers’ colors. Beautiful, she thought. “Why don’t we have these everywhere?” She wanted to know.

“Some questions just don’t have answers,” said Kenny. Feeling the warm sun on her face, Lexy couldn’t remember ever feeling so free. She laughed at the possibility that some things couldn’t be explained.

She saw two girls hiking down the path toward the garden. It was Victoria Rose and Hannah. Lexy waved to them. “Hi Lexy!” Vicky called. Hannah returned her wave before picking an orange, oval-shaped fruit from a tall tree.

“Trya papaya?” Hannah asked her, grinning as she walked up to the group. “Hi Daddy,” she said, giving Ken a peck on the cheek.

“Sure,” said Alexis, accepting a slice of orangey-pink fruit Judd had cut. “Mmmm,” she said. It was sweet and delicious. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” said Hannah.

“What are you guys doing?” asked Vicky.

“Showing Lexy the garden’s treats. You girls hiking?” Judd asked his niece Vicky.

“Yeah, we’re going to the River Side Cafe,” she laughed. “You wanna come with us?” she asked Alexis.

“What’s that?” Alexis asked.

“Come on, you’ll see. It’s not too far from here,” Hannah told her.

“You should go; it’s great!” Judd told her.

“Okay then, I’ll go,” said Lexy, feeling adventurous. “Thanks for the tour!” she told the guys enthusiastically.

“Okay!” said Gregg.

“See you later!” Kenny yelled.

“Bye, have fun,” added Judd.

“Bye,” Hannah and Vicky said together. They waved and the girls started up a well-worn trail up a sloping hill alongside the right of the garden. They hiked through the shades of green that made up the jungle a short way to a little river overlooking the ocean. Beautiful blue pools alternated with rapidly running water streaming over stones leading to the ocean.

“This is unbelievable!” marveled Alexis, taking in the beauty.

“Isn’t it?” agreed Vicky. “Let’s get in; it’s great!” she encouraged, as she stripped naked and jumped in. Hannah followed, tossing her colorful wrap onto a boulder.

“Come on in!” she called to Alexis.

Alexis was a little more cautious, choosing to keep her clothes on and starting by testing the water with her toe. She was hot. She eased her way into the cool water, sitting in the shallow pool letting the water rise up to her neck.

“Ahhh, this is niiii-ccce.” She couldn’t believe where she was. Beautiful pink ginger grew along the edge of the ponds and mountains rose up in the distance around them. Everything was lush, with thousands of shades of green coloring the myriad fauna.

“I knew you’d like it Alexis,” Vicky said after a little while.

“Yeah, it’s just so peaceful; it almost lulls you to sleep,” said Alexis.

“Nature’s lullaby,” Hannah nodded, understanding exactly what Alexis meant. “I’ve often been put to sleep lying here listening to the waterfall. It amazes me how it seems to be telling me life’s secrets. It’s like, have you ever noticed how life itself is just like this river flowing toward the ocean?”

Alexis looked at Hannah. “What do you mean?”

“Well, think of where this river begins, probably somewhere at the back of the valley, at the very top of these mountains, way up in the sky, water from a huge lake falls off the side of the cliff and spills into another lake thousands of feet below. The Fall.”

“O—kay,” said Alexis slowly.

“The water moves around in this pool for awhile, and then it starts flowing downstream toward the ocean, where it’ll pass through other pools like this one, still and cool, and then flow out of the pool and fall over rocks, like mini waterfalls a bunch of times on its way downstream,” she paused for a breath. “Do I still have you?” she asked them.

“I think so,” Alexis answered.

“Go on, I need to hear more to see if I get your point,” said Vicky.

“Okay, now look at that still, stagnant pool over there,” Hannah pointed down river toward a small pool at the river’s edge. “That water’s been sitting there for a long time and is almost stuck there in the little pool. It’ll take a big rainstorm to wash it all back into the mainstream. In the end, after it’s gone down many waterfalls, sat in lots of pools and maybe even gotten stuck in a few marshes, the water ends up in the ocean where it mixes with a huge body of a substance just like itself, only salty, and then after who knows how long with that body, it’s evaporated up into the atmosphere to live in the clouds and fall like rain, quenching the thirst of all these trees and plants, and people, nourishing life. It sort of reminds me of the Bible passage in Ephesians:

‘There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.’

It’s like the Lord calling us home and all the journeys we go through to get there. That’s what the water is like, rushing downstream toward the big ocean–it’s being pulled by the ocean as we are called by God. ‘Join me,’ it says.” She was quiet for a few seconds. When neither Alexis nor Vicky responded, Hannah asked, “Do you follow me or do you think I’m crazy?”

“I think it really makes sense, Hannah,” said Vicky with a smile.

“Me too,” Alexis said. “But what about this Bible? All of you keep talking about it.”

“God’s word,” Vicky told her. “Romans 1:16 tells us that God’s word, which is the Bible, is the ‘power of God unto salvation to every one that believes,'” she looked at Alexis.

“And what are we supposed to believe?” Alexis asked her, sounding doubtful.

“Well, you read the Bible and believe it, and you are saved from the evil of this world. You’re guaranteed eternal life when you leave this world,” explained Vicky.

“‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved,'” Hannah said. “That’s from Acts, Chapter 16, I’m pretty sure,” she added.

“And who is Jesus?” Alexis asked them, more interested now, as she always wondered about life after death, and people had always told her it wasn’t something they should think about because nobody knew until they died. These girls seemed to know, and they had this book from which they seemed to be getting answers to her questions. Could it be true? Lexy wondered.

Vicky turned the pages in her Bible. “Okay, here it is. Jesus is the ‘way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by him,'” she read from John 14:6.

“And it also says ‘the son of man, who is Jesus, has come to seek and to save the lost.’ It’s in Luke, Chapter 19, Verse 11,” said Hannah.

“But how do you know that for sure?” Alexis pressed.

“Well, it says ‘the just shall live by faith,'” Hannah told her. “So you just believe it. Try reading the Bible. I have one I can give you.”

“Juli gave me one,” said Alexis. “I guess I’ll have to read it more,” she said, grateful again to Wynn for teaching her how to read.

“And if you read Romans 10:9, it will tell you that you should ‘confess with your mouth the love of Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised Jesus from the dead, and you shall be saved,'” said Vicky.

“Okay, I’ll look at it,” said Alexis. “I just wonder why I never heard about it before.”

“Well, people used to read the Bible, but it says many times in the Bible that man will turn from God and that people will hear, but not understand, they will see, and not perceive, because their hearts are cold, their ears dull, and their eyes closed, ‘lest they should be converted, and I’, meaning Jesus, ‘should heal them,'” said Vicky.

“In Romans Chapter 1, Verse 25, it explains, ‘they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised,” Hannah told her.

“So they did know God before?” asked Alexis.

“I know people used to have Bibles and go to church–my mom told me,” said Vicky. “But then it became a bad thing because many of the people who believed in God would not accept the microchip implant because they believed it was the mark of the beast that is talked about in the Bible.”

“I remember J.J. reading about that,” said Alexis.

“So Jesus was sent from God, his Father, and our Father, to set us free from our sins and to reunite us with God,” Vicky went on. “‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die,'” she read. “This is John, Chapter 11, Verse 25.”

“So I just have to choose to believe in Jesus?” asked Alexis.

“‘You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you’ is what Jesus has told us in John, Chapter 15, Verse 16,” Hannah told her.

“That’s hard for me to believe,” said Alexis. “But I’ll read it.”

“Good,” said Hannah, climbing out of the pool and stretching out on the short green grass. “Just one more thing, in Matthew, it says to ‘ask and you shall find, for everyone that asks, receives,'” Hannah said.

“Okay, I’ll ask, Jesus, um, God, to help me,” agreed Alexis, joining her. “Ahh, that felt so good.” The girls were quiet, enjoying the sunshine.

“I’m going to head back now,” said Hannah after a few minutes. “I told my brother I’d help him harvest some flowers for mom’s birthday tomorrow.”

“Okay, ” said Vicky. “I feel like resting a little here. What about you, Alexis?”

“I’ll stay too,” she said.

“Alright, I’ll see you two soon,” called Hannah as she walked down the trail.

“Bye!” called Vicky and Lexy. Vicky stretched out and fell asleep. Alexis sat next to her thinking about Jesus and the river. It is the river of life, thought Lexy. She tried to decide where she was in her own journey. Probably just got washed out of a stagnant pool by a huge storm, she decided. Her thoughts drifted to the garden. She was still amazed that a tiny seed could be put into the ground and watered and would grow into something people could eat. Life was such a mystery. She realized that to her, a person’s life could also be compared to a garden. You need to be planted first, to grow, like a seed is planted in the ground and like a man’s seed is planted in a woman’s body or in a test tube, then you and the seed need to be nourished, fed and watered if you are to be kept alive. Your life, and the garden, can be full of rocks and weeds and a lot of thorny, dead stuff, or it can be well-tended and have fruits of all types to enjoy. Then what? Are you harvested? Lexy contemplated that thought and decided to talk to Victoria about it later. Her eyes closed and she slept, her soul soothed by the river’s sweet song.

Cosmic Rainbow Connections & Grateful Miracles

Sometimes plans don’t turn out the way you expected, and sometimes miracles happen, and we’re surprised.

Such was the case on last weekend’s trip to take my kids to the Fare Thee Well Grateful Dead 50th Anniversary concerts in Santa Clara. First change was kids turned to kid as my son announced he couldn’t go b/c of work, and b/c he didn’t want to listen to a bunch of old people playing music. Since he’s 17, I obliged and left him home.

My 14-year-old daughter and I made it to the concert with time to spare, after a grueling drive and battling with parking and coordination issues. On the drive up I felt so much excitement about the idea that popped into my mind to give someone a “miracle” with my extra ticket that I’d bought for my son. Selling the ticket didn’t fill me with the joy thinking about giving a miracle did. So we stood outside the entrance as people milled around and I looked for someone who needed a ticket. For anyone who doesn’t know, at every Grateful Dead show, people walk around holding one finger in the air saying, “I need a miracle,” which translates to a free ticket into the show.

A couple walked by me pushing a stroller with two young kids, and, oh my G! “Trinity?” I said to the guy with the long beard and soulful eyes. How amazed was I to see my old friend from Kauai, with his wife, Mary Martha, and 2 kids! I hadn’t seen him in probably 15 years, and there he was, beard, family and all! Talk about cosmic connections…

Soon after, a cute young girl with dark hair walked up with her finger in the air. I made eye contact with her and handed her the ticket. Perfect timing. We walked in to the tune of Uncle John’s Band. “Wo, oh, what I want to know, is are you kind?”

Hundreds of roses were set inside the entrance, so we gathered some. Wending our way to our section through the dancing crowds, a girl said to me, “My name is Rose.” Of course, I gave her a rose.

As my daughter and I made it to our seats and sat down at long last, we listened to the music, which I realized the next night, seemed more of a warm up jam to the familiar songs we know and love. I was run down, sick with a bad cold and just basically exhausted. My daughter had a headache, said the guitar was too loud and was giving her a headache and there was too much smoke. Feeling a little low about the scene, all of a sudden, I looked toward the sky. A beautiful, brilliant and vibrantly colored rainbow arched across the sky above the stadium. rainbow

As more and more people began to notice it, the cheering reached a crescendo and the spirit and energy I remember from that crowd rekindled.

What a feeling of joy and elation that filled the air, and all of our hearts, as that rainbow, amazingly, surprisingly appeared to grace our gathering of almost 65,000 loving souls. Miracles abound, and in the words of my favorite band, “I need a miracle everyday!”

It was the epic beauty of nature that evening that stole the show and won our hearts, uniting us with nature’s awe-inspiring spirit, through the rainbow connection and a light-filled sunset. This is truth, beauty and love.

On the drive home, a patch of rainbow appeared in the wide open sky above us. “Mom,” said my daughter, abruptly and a little too loudly, as she was listening to her own music with her headphones on. “Is it just me seeing it, or is that a little rainbow?” I joyfully saw it too, and it seemed to expand as I drove along the open road. It stayed above us for a couple hours, to my joy and amazement, giving me comfort and connecting me to the cosmic mystery in a colorful, peaceful and miraculous way that I could not have planned if I tried. So Grateful.

sunsetroses

Living Choices

Choices. We make them everyday:

  • Go to school or sleep in
  • Brush your teeth or don’t
  • Work on your project or play on the computer
  • Be on time for the carpool or dilly dally
  • Do yoga or have a beer

And while the consequences of our choices range in intensity, from missing a day of school to getting a cavity or failing math, our decisions impact our lives and the lives of others in more ways than we know.

 “In every moment you make high vibrational choices,

you are supporting our collective consciousness.”

I came across this truth in something I read in passing a few months ago, and it struck me as being so profound, I needed to write it down and display the message to keep reminding me.

I strive to make the right choices when faced with several options, but sometimes (more times than I’d like to acknowledge), I realize in retrospect that I wish I’d made different choices, and I regret it. Despite wanting to live my life with “No Regrets,” the consequences of my decisions often cause me pain or sadness.

Sparking this pondering about choices is a recent decision I made that turned out so wrong. I’ve felt so mad at myself and wished I had followed my heart instead of listened to advice of an outside party.

So a couple days ago while walking my dog I noticed something moving on the ground in the dirt by a bush. It caught my eye and on a closer look, I saw it was a tiny baby bird! Oh my God! I couldn’t believe it. What do I do? Then, as I was kneeling next to it, I saw a second baby bird, moving around on the ground next to it! Another one! I thought about what to do. There was no nest around, and it seemed these birds had fallen from the tree.

I decided I’d take the babies home and take care of them. They were stretching out their wings and opening their beaks, so they seemed strong, but not quite ready to fly. I carefully placed them on the “mutt mitt” I had in my purse, and carried them gingerly home, tugging on Ginger the whole way not to do her business as her bag was otherwise employed for now! photo 2

I got them home and my daughter and I found a shoebox, filled it with some grass and natural materials, and I cut down a small branch from our ficus tree that a hummingbird had made a nest in last Spring, but which was now empty. They were a little tight, but they fit comfortably in the nest! These precious little creatures were so tiny and vulnerable. I gave them a few drops of water using a q-tip, which they took, and I even felt their claws holding onto my hand when I had put them into the nest.

They seemed happy, and were resting nicely in the nest as I figured out what to do and how to take care of them. photo 1 I thought they might be hummingbirds, b/c of the green color on their back, but I couldn’t be sure. I called a vet, who referred me to another vet, the Conejo Valley Vet Hospital. The receptionist who answered was very helpful and advised me the best thing to do would be to put them back where I found them b/c the mother would care for them, even on the ground. “Don’t worry about your smell on them; the mother won’t care at all.”

Wanting to do the best thing for the birds, and thinking of their worried mama, I did what she told me and placed them back near where I’d discovered them, but closer to a tree where they wouldn’t be so out in the open. I prayed they’d be okay, and my daughter and I waited around to see if the mother would find them. She didn’t seem to fly right down to them, but there were lots of birds around, so we figured she’d locate them and they’d be taken care of.

You know how this ends, right? And I hate this part. When I went back to check on them the next morning, they were out of the nest and at first I didn’t see them, but then I noticed 2 small lumps swarming with black ants. How tragic. Pointless. Sad.

And to think I could have probably given them a chance, had I kept them and dropper fed them. Why oh why didn’t I follow my motherly instinct to care for these baby birds in need instead of following the advice of a third party over the phone?

I meant well. But I’m sorry little birdies. The next time I’m faced with a choice like this, I’ll know better what to do. Then, my learning may help another to live.

Forces of Nature ~ Reeling in the Real

I love Joseph Campbell, influencer of Star Wars’ George Lucas and a student of Carl Jung, he just has this incredible way of putting into words life’s many esoteric mysteries… and I love how the Universe once in a while “shows us the light in the strangest of places when we look at them right”…

As this angstful eclipse energy – and Mercury retrograde too – ramps up emotions so that they’re spinning intensely, keeping our balance while riding these waves of seismic activity is an art.

Campbell (and yoga) help me find that sweet spot, hidden in the barrels of the rolling waves, without being crushed when they crash, by shedding light on and making sense of our emotions to make it easier to understand and reflect on why they are what they are. In his “Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion,” Campbell writes about a certain male fish that has a dark upper body and a light lower body, so that he is camouflaged and safe from danger when looking up or down at it. But… and here’s the good part:

 “When this particular fish is in love, his color shifts so that he’ll be visible. This puts him in danger, you see, and it seems to be symbolic of this love thing. You give up self-protection when this other comes along and you are seized with erotic compulsion.”

Despite the risks, fish do not control their natural instincts so that they can stay invisible and safe. No, without even thinking about it (probably), they change colors and take their chances.

While we humans can often learn some lessons from nature, we still get to decide if we’re going to go with the flow of our instincts or play it safe and resist these forces of nature.

While we never know where love will go, if we don’t try, we’ll never know (someone said; I’m saying it today, and others have said it before, like Smokey Robinson and The Miracles and, of course, the Jerry Garcia Band):

What are you fishing for? And, even more, when you catch it, can you reel it in and keep it real, without killing it?

Seeds of Change

Not too long ago, I wrote about how happy I was that my holy basil plant was thriving. I’d grown it from seed and it was now over a year old. photo 3 (2)

About 2 weeks ago, I spotted a little critter on the plant. photo 1 (3)

It was stark still, holding its body perpendicular to the plant. “It’s getting ready to form a chrysalis,” I thought to myself. Leaving it there to do its thing, I envisioned the “holy butterfly” that was going to emerge.

Little did I know, its “thing” was to eat every single leaf off my basil plant! When I went out the next day, I was horrified! The leaves were gone and so was the caterpillar, off to find more of my plants to munch. Now I know this is nature’s way, but did it have to eat every single leaf?!

I thought my plant would come back, but after a week of looking at the withering stem turning brown and not one new leaf sprouting, I resigned to the fact that it was gone. I pulled the stem out, feeling the roots break… with a heavy heart. I couldn’t toss it aside, so I hopefully set it in another pot of soil, just in case…

In the meantime, I planted more seeds in its place. It got me thinking about the fleeting nature of life, and pretty much all things. We never know how long they’ll be around, and we can count on the fact that everything changes… as I wrote on a friend’s nostalgic post today about his old house being bulldozed to make room for a new home, “Change is the only constant.”

Change is part of the life cycle. Resist it as we may, we can’t stop it. We can only accept what is and appreciate what we have, in the moment.

Change often brings sorrow, bittersweet melancholy feelings about what we can’t “change.”

Such was the case with the big waves about a month ago (in September) that washed away the Cove House at Sycamore Beach in Malibu. Many of us watched, in horror, as the waves crashed up against the Cove House, destroying its foundation and eventually pulling it out to sea… leaving us only with the memories of what used to be, a house where so much fun was had… Now, the beach remains, with only splintered pieces of wood as proof that the house was ever there at all…photo 4

The Grateful Dead captured the feeling so well (as they so often did) in “The Music Never Stopped”:

“No one’s noticed, but the band’s all packed and gone
Was it ever there at all?

But they keep on dancin’
C’mon children, c’mon children, come on, clap your hands…
And the fields are full of dancin’
Full of singin’ and romancin’
The music never stopped…”

And there is the key… to hear the music, if only in your memory, and keep on dancing… through the changes of our times, because, in the words of another musical sage, “the times they are a changing…”

Planting new seeds, we continue to grow.

Nature’s Magical Mystery

giant squash

I had a dream a few nights ago that I was walking through a giant squash plant that was taller than me. I’m guessing I was picking up on our bunny’s viewpoint, as he has watched this plant sprout and proceed to grow into this humongous squash/pumpkin that is spreading around our yard.

I noticed there is a flower getting ready to open. I throw seeds out in the yard, so I’m not sure exactly what this will turn out to be, but I’m guessing a squash or maybe one of my dad’s giant pumpkins! It’s so exciting when seeds sprout. You never know which ones will sprout, or when… but watching nature bloom in its own perfect timing, when the conditions are right, reminds me of the magic that lies in every seed, big, small and metaphorical… its inherent potential will show up when it’s ready.

It’s so fun to watch it grow… the mystery is part of the fun! squash

Circles of Love

How can you not smile when you see the joy of these creatures!? Houdini, Hannah’s Holland Lop bunny, loves running circles around her. Hannah read that bunnies do this when they love you and are happy to see you.

Our dog Ginger runs circles around the house when we get home… love how our pets are so happy to be with us. Love & Joy abound… around and around…

Who or what do you run circles around?  If you don’t run circles around anything or anyone, maybe it’s time to find your circle of Joy. In Joy, you will find it, if you look.

When Seeds Sprout

Today I was delighted by the appearance of tiny sprouts! I planted three types of Tulsi basil seeds on the New Moon, June 11. I read the seeds can take 3 weeks to sprout, but mine peeked out of the soil today, June 18… exactly a week after I planted them, and, on my sister’s birthday!

Image

These sprouted seeds are especially exciting to me because I planted them with intention. I’ve long been fascinated by medicinal herbs and nature’s medicines, and when I read in Horizon Herbs’ seed catalog about Tulsi, I knew I had to grow them.

Tulsi, or Tulasi means “The Incomparable One” and represents the Divine Mother on Earth. It’s revered for its healing abilities, known to cure “countless diseases of the body, mind and spirit, bringing harmony and healing on all levels,” Sarvaga and Gunavati tell us in their book Tulasi Devi The Goddess of Devotion.

Even its Latin name, Ocimum sanctum, reveals this plant’s sacredness. Called the “Elixir of Life,” Tulasi is an important Ayurvedic herb. Ayurveda is a holistic system of medicine that has been practiced for thousands of years in India. It is basically living in harmony with the universe, to heal and maintain health. “Ayu” means “life” and “veda” means “knowledge” or “science.”

Herbal medicine is a huge part of Ayurveda, and Tulasi is “one of the most admired and respected Ayurvedic herbs and is renowned for its powerful healing abilities.” The list of conditions treated by Tulsi is astounding: “coughs, colds, flu, fever, congestion, bronchitis, asthma, sinusitis, earaches, headaches, diabetes, indigestion, gastric disorders, ulcers, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sore throat, kidney stones, join pain, rheumatoid arthritis, nausea, vomiting, cramping, mouth diseases, allergies, skin diseases, internal parasites, insect bites, numerous skin and eye disorders, malaria and cancer.” The book says there’s probably no other plant on Earth known to have such a “vast range of medicinally and spiritually uplifting properties.”

I love that Tulsi is a sattvic, or pure, herb. Ayurvedic herbs are classified by their natures, either sattvic, active (rajasic) or dull (tamasic). These can also be thought of as states of consciousness. Sattvic properties “include pure light, righteous action, creativity and the power of observation. Sattva gives the power of discrimination, knowledge and the ability to know truth. The highest state of sattva manifests as peace, harmony, contentment, compassion, unconditional love, selflessness, devotion and faith. Sattva is the state of equilibrium. When sattva prevails, there is peace and tranquility. Tulasi has the quality of pure sattva.”

Being this is an Ayurvedic herb, I decided to plant some Tulsi seeds for me and my classmates in my Yoga & Ayurveda teacher training program. I found a Tulsi Seed Set, Tulsi Kapoor, Tulsi Rama and Tulsi Krishna, along with the wonderful little Tulasi Devi book at Horizon Herbs, an awesome seed company in Williams, Oregon.

The book talked about how to plant Tulsi seeds and their favored conditions and also the medicinal and spiritual role of the herb.

I’m fascinated to learn that there are 108 names for this plant, so revered as it is in the Indian culture. I’ve been reading that scriptures and legends tell of Tulsi’s virtues. Apparently, traditionally every house in India had a Tulsi plant in the front yard that they cared for and worshipped as a symbol of divine nature. Tulasi comes from the word thula, which means “to lift up.” Tulasi is believed to “lift us all up to the Lord’s side.”

The Tulasi seed is said to symbolize the spiritual awakening within us. I can understand that by the wonder and joy I felt looking at the little sprouts that surprised me this morning!

Of the countless stories about Tulsi, one I especially love comes from a scripture recalled by Swami Premananda told in the book. “If one lovingly gazes at Tulasi with devotion in the early morning hours, one will enjoy perfect eyesight for the rest of his life. Knowing that the modern mind needs scientific facts in order to prove these types of scriptural statements, he resolved to look into this further.

“After a long search, he discovered research confirming that Tulasi releases a special vapor, along with ozone, during the early morning stages of photosynthesis. He felt that when one gazes with devotion the eyes may become moist or filled with tears. What else but this moisture of devotion could make the eyes best able to absorb the benefit of the vapors?” So as often goes, science confirms spirit.

I am so excited to watch these sprouts grow into this glorious herb and experience its magical, natural healing.

I also love being a part of “the preservation of healing plants worldwide,” as Horizon Herbs says we are doing by sowing these medicinal seeds. GMO-free, naturally…