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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 5

5

Exhausted, Alexis sat cross-legged on the ground in a circle of unfamiliar but friendly faces and looked around at them, one by one. She watched a little girl she heard called Aja chase a cute little boy with brown hair around the circle made by the group. Her gaze rested on the man who was singing and playing a wooden thing with strings on it. He had long black hair and a face that smiled even while he sang. She listened to the words he sang.

When Father Sun has done his day,

Mother Earth she tucks him in.

Then Sister Moon comes out to play

and Brother Joy laughs on the wind.

Days of bliss on distant shores, 

Mother’s kiss from valleys pure,

so I kicked right back ’cause I knew,

yes I knew, I was right where I should be….

I was dreaming of the light

under Heaven’s eyes so bright,

and angels through the night,

they touched my cheek.

Waves roll to a soft and sandy beach

drifting my ideas within reach.

Words of love are what I longed to hear,

so Brother Joy whispered a secret in my ear.

He said, “Trust me brother, you’ll get yours, 

just have faith, look to the stars, 

so I kicked right back ’cause I knew,

yes I knew, I was right where I should be….

Dreams came true that magic night 

under Heaven’s candlelight,

and an angel through the night,

she kissed my cheek.

And I knew, yes I knew,

I was right where I should be.

Yeah I knew, yes I knew, 

I was right where I should be.

Gregg ended the song looking right at Alexis and she couldn’t let go of his gaze, nor did he look away. He gave a slight nod as if to confirm, yes, the song was for her. In those few moments she tuned out the conversations around her and didn’t even hear the next few songs as she lost herself in her thoughts. Can this really be happening? I’m not dreaming, she told herself. She stared into the fire in the center of the circle and was mesmerized, remembering Wynn’s words–“a friendship maker.” Friends. She thought about her best friend Isabella and wondered if she’d ever see her again. And Dan. And Mom and Dad. Had it been just a few days ago? It seemed like a lifetime ago. Amazing how your reality can change so drastically just by being in a different place. Tears welled in Alexis’ eyes as she thought about her mom. What was she doing now? She wished she could tell her she was okay. Her mom probably thought she was dead. If only she could be here too. But Alexis knew it wasn’t possible.

“Are you okay?” Juli sat down next to Alexis. The music had stopped and people were getting up and saying goodnight.

“Yeah, I’m just thinking about my parents. My mom probably thinks I’m dead. I wish I could tell her I’m here,” said Lexy.

“I know. When I first left home, about 7 years ago, I couldn’t tell anybody where I was going. I just told my mom and dad that we had to get away from the city because something was going to happen soon. They thought I was a nut. ‘Give us your address, Juli,’ they told me. I told them that where I was going there would be no address, and that they should come with me. Of course, they wouldn’t.” Juli’s eyes filled with tears.

“And you left anyway?” asked Alexis.

“Yep,” Juli nodded her head. “With Will. Some friends told me about Wynn. They said they wished they had the courage to try and see if the rumors of the island were true. I decided to try. And I’m glad I did. But I miss them so much, and I wish I could’ve convinced them to come too,” said Juli.

“And you haven’t seen them since?” asked Lexy, incredulous.

“Well, Will and I do the mainland shuttle, so I did manage to sneak over to our old house and see them. But I couldn’t talk to them–it would’ve been too risky. It’s hard, but I’d be dead too now if I’d have stayed.”

“Dead?”

Juli’s voice shook as she told her story. “They were killed during the riots. Chaos broke out about two years after we left. From what I heard, a bunch of guys in uniform just started knocking on doors and shooting people. Went on a rampage–that was before martial law was enacted. I guess my parents were some of the unlucky ones who were home.”

“That’s unbelievable. I can’t believe that could happen. I’m so sorry, Juli,” Alexis said, forgetting her own troubles.

“I’m sorry too,” Juli nodded. “I only wish I would’ve tried harder to convince them to come with me. I knew it was going to happen.”

“You did?”

“Of course. The end result of all the commotion was that people embraced the protection from the military on their streets. They had so much fear. They felt they needed the security and protection that the military offered, never questioning just who they were being protected from. Control through chaos. Because of all the chaos, martial law and its strict controls were welcomed.” She was quiet and then she added, “I do thank God we’re here though.”

“God?” Lexy shook her head. “How could a god let that kind of thing happen?” she asked.

“You can’t blame God, Lexy,” Juli told her. “There is evil in the world. We all know that, but God gave us free will to get away from it. I hate to say it, but if my parents had been vigilant, they would have seen that danger was imminent and that they should get away like some of us did. But most people are just too complacent and won’t use their eyes to see or their heads to understand that their lifestyle can’t last forever. Eyes that are blind, ears that can’t hear…”

“I don’t know, Juli. You’re pretty forgiving,” said Lexy, doubtfully.

“It’s called faith, Alexis. Faith and the knowledge that God will save his children and take care of us.”

“I hope so.”

“Why do you think you’re here?”

“Well, I don’t really think it’s because of faith, as I can’t say I knew God, or believe in one,” Lexy countered.

“Well, God knows you. In fact, he set it up that you would come to know him, just as you are.”

“What? Why would you say that?” Lexy looked at Juli.

“‘By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone boast. He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love. Having predestined us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will‘,” Juli read. “It’s in Ephesisans, Chapter 3. Want to hear more?” Lexy nodded, wondering if Juli knew what she was talking about. “Okay.” Juli turned the pages in her small book. “This is the Bible,” she said. “It’s God’s word and you’d be amazed if you sat down and read it sometime. Let’s see, okay, ‘in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ both which are in Heaven and which are on Earth, even in him. In who also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worked all things after the counsel of his own will… In whom ye also trusted after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in who also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise… The eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.'”

“Interesting. Not that I really understand it,” said Lexy. “Something about your purpose. Who wrote it?”

“Paul, a student of Christ, actually wrote this part. Different people wrote other books in the Bible, and it was all inspired by God.”

“How do you know it’s not just made up stuff, Juli?”

“Well, Lexy, because a lot of it has come true and I also have faith. See, there’s an Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament was written in a time before Jesus Christ was born. It starts with the beginning of the world, and it contains a lot of prophecies that came true by the time the New Testament was written.”

“Wow! I’ve always wondered about how the world started,” said Lexy.

“Here, take this. I have another one. Read it and learn,” said Juli, giving Lexy her Bible. “The New Testament was written after Jesus Christ was sent by God to save the sins of man and reunite people with God. ‘For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son.'”

 

Awe-sometimes (winter post… post-winter!)

[Somehow this stayed a draft and didn’t publish… nice to read it from the summery perspective of June!]

 

It’s November. The squash vine is dried and dead, and the bunny dug a hole under the fence and disappeared. I don’t see the hummingbirds that much, though a beautiful green-topped one graced the feeder while I sat outside talking on the phone yesterday. I named it Hope. It was then that I noticed how yellow the leaves were getting on the Ficus tree. You still have to water the trees, I told myself… even if the wonders of summer have gone.

 

We still maintain. We water the trees and Love the periwinkle that decided to come back from the edge of death and bloom, despite the holy basil that slumps over, even after all my efforts to keep the snailed herb thriving. Kapoor basil seedlings wait, full of Faith, to be transplanted and have a chance to survive and grow in a new and bigger home. Look to them, hopefully.

 

Inordinate stores of energy and stubborn will are required to keep on tending to our gardens when seasons change and things don’t bloom as we had expected. We have a choice. We could give up and let everything die, or we can make the effort and see the beauty that is there… if we take the time to look.

 

Here’s to the strength to keep going in the everyday grayness that life can seem. Thankfully, we somehow push through the blah and keep faithfully watering those trees… for greener leaves tomorrow.

 

Faith, Hope and Love carry us through these winterish times… through the changes that challenge us to grow… and eventually bloom… when the season is ripe. The behind-the-scenes work of regular watering, attention and care make more difference than we may be aware. It’s the constant care, regardless of the current conditions, that brings us beauty we can appreciate in the future. As with anything we do in life, persistence pays off.

 

Though we may wonder, naturally, when we will see the fruits of our labors… keep on keeping awe…