Anything Can Happen

If you’re struggling today waiting for God to answer your prayer, this blog is for you. Hold on. God has a plan.

My wife and I love to watch Fixer Upper, hosted by Chip and Joanna Gaines. The premise of the show is that a couple buys a house in need of repair, which Chip and Joanna and their Magnolia Farms team revamp. As Chip puts it, “We take the worst house in the best neighborhood, and make it into our client’s dream.” Based on the couple’s budget and individual needs, they create a home that is truly new, with instant equity that can be as high as $50,000 to $60,000.

How God answers prayer can sometimes be like revamping a house. It’s like a process rather than an immediate gratification. As I wait on God to answer me externally, He’s at the same time stripping me, gutting my floors, taking out my rotting drywall, replacing light fixtures inside me—similar to the stuff Chip does on “Demo Day.” God is doing the same thing so that I’ll not only see a change in my environment, but experience a change inside me, one that ultimately shares life and warmth and happiness with others, just like a new home.

As I wait for my prayer to be answered, God continues to reform me, honing my character, deepening my love. The house inside me gets French doors. New landscaping. New can lights in the kitchen. An island. Granite countertops. Hardwood floors. All new appliances.

And then suddenly, all at once, I’m made new.

The prayer I was praying for that seemed over the horizon and impossible to grasp, was at the same time being answered inside me. While I had hoped and imagined how my desire would be fulfilled, He was liberating me from the inside, making me a place of warmth and love for others to share, for Jesus to come in and dine.

It can be tough to wait on a prayer to be answered because it can seem, for the longest time, that nothing is happening. But God knows you, every fiber in your heart. He knows what you need, and He knows the perfect way to answer your prayer, in the perfect moment. He is moving heaven and earth to answer it. And He’s doing it in a special way, radiant and unique to you.

God is powerful. His realm soars into the kingdom of the impossible. Not only can He do what has never been done before, He can do more, far more, and can do it gladly, in joy, in His own signature style, so that everyone affected by your answered prayer is blessed, and He is glorified.

God never goes small when He responds. Blessing us is always a big occasion for Him. We think in immediate wants, in instant gratification, but God is much more merciful than that: He blesses us with challenges and growth, learning His will from the inside out, learning the heart of Him, which glows like a roaring fire inside a cozy home.

I believe that God sometimes seemingly delays answering our prayers not because He doesn’t care, but because He has imagined something far greater than our limited expectations. We pray imagine bronze, but He gives us gold (Isaiah 60:17). We may be content wanting of ourselves to be only a shack, but God wants to make us into palaces, filled to the brim with His love.

Every answered prayer is a miracle. His miracles are best recognized by a thankful and humbled heart—a heart not of stone, but of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19).

I believe God always answers prayers better than how we pray them. This may look far different than what we imagined. His desire is to pour all of Him—His kingdom, His Spirit, the love of His Son, all His infinite blessings and joys and gladness, His unquenchable mercy and grace—into you, through each miraculous prayer. He promises only the best. So keep praying. Don’t give up hope.

“For with God nothing will be impossible.” ~ Luke 1:37

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Swamped with Gratitude

It is true that at every moment of our lives we are experiencing God’s blessings. It may not seem like it. Life itself is a miraculous one, how He keeps us alive and sustains us with food and water, air and shelter. The deepest part of Him craves to bless us. His desire is to give to us a joy beyond what we can imagine, that of eternal life with Him.

But so easily I forget what He’s done for me in the past, what He’s done for me now, and what He’s promised to do for me eternally. It’s like I’m with Israel in the desert, delivered through the Red Sea, but having forgotten that I’m delivered, am now complaining and grumbling about too much manna and not enough water and too little shade—complaining that I’m not in the Promised Land; or worse, that I’m not back in Egypt, slaving away. It’s been a day, and I’ve already forgotten what my life used to be like, when I was bound.

It’s like I’m still stuck in a swamp. In danger of foundering. Lost in the mangroves. Nose above water. Eyes scrolling. The overgrowth is thick with fog, so deep that they’d never find me even if they searched, or if I just gave up, finally, and sunk.

At those times, I struggle with feeling dissatisfied. Or being too picky. Or destroying myself. I get grumpy and impatient, trying to tread water through the muck. I find myself most critical of myself and others. I practice snobby love—love on my terms, on my wants—not out of gratitude. And when I’m there, I reason that nothing could be better than to be discontent and critical, not only of my plight, but even of the air I breathe. I think, “Wouldn’t it be better if I just drown?”

But God won’t let me go. He made a promise to Himself that He would rescue me, by His grace, through the cross, given to me not by my own volition, but through His, at the cost of His Son’s life.

I may feel I’m mired in a swamp, but Jesus is right there with me, mired as well. He is willing to do whatever it takes to stick by my side, even when I’m grumbling or dissatisfied, or if I’m ready to give up on Him or myself or others. Even though I go through moods of being critical, and even though those moods somehow create the very swamp that enslaves me, God is still there, scooping me out, lifting me up, helping me along.

Somehow, supernaturally, I can’t quit. This is because God never quits on me. He never will. He’ll never stop pursuing me. He’ll suffer wrath to give me one more breath, no matter if I’m gracious about it, or if my heart is one of gratitude.

No worries: A God like that cannot be ignored. By His witness, I am shown a way to go, to get out of the swamp, enjoying His promises on solid ground, totally free, to have gratitude like Him. It amazes me that Jesus was thankful for being crucified. He may not have wanted it, but when His Father gave it to Him, He took it openly with a thankful heart.

Sometimes it’s painful to follow God my Father. Sometimes it hurts to act when I know the Holy Spirit is telling me to move. Following Jesus takes all of me. There is no part of me that God is not stripping away or exposing, as He brings my pus to light. But these are the best times, because He’s lightening my burdens. He’s giving me buoyancy, a solid rock on which to stand, so that I will never founder, no matter how much I want to turn back. Even though it seems like I’m going to drown, God is holding me up, not to drag me endlessly through a swamp, but to lift me from it, into His blessed arms.

Yep… Still breathing. This is an overwhelming miracle! Jesus, Thank You!

“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:18

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My Life on a Ladder

So how do I respond when I believe God is telling me to pray for and hope in something big? Something profoundly God-sized? Something only He can do? Believing in God-sized things is proper, isn’t it, for a Christian, since it’s a test of our faith to believe that God can actually do those impossible things? We all want to see a miracle. We’re starving for one.

So how do I respond? I pray. I read His Word. I wait. I try to bless others.

But what happens when nothing happens? Do I keep waiting? What if nothing happens day after day … after day … after day? I reach a point in my faith where I feel that this, finally, is the moment of revival, that God is going to coalesce this and that into an indescribable blessing and reveal Himself in a mighty way—but nothing happens!? It’s heartbreaking.

But it’s also very good.

Imagine a ladder. It’s very tall. At the top of the ladder is the miracle. You and I are standing at the bottom. In faith, we can see the miracle plainly, because God is holding it, and He’s waiting for us to climb into His hands, so He can give it to us. We’ve been hoping for this.

But the only way to reach the miracle is to climb the ladder one step at a time. Each one of those steps is like a growth in faith. As we climb each step, we grow stronger. Through testing, through discipline, through perseverance, through endurance, by courage, we climb. This is His design, so that when we finally reach Him, we’ll be strong enough to experience the miracle, and by experiencing it, praise Him.

We couldn’t grasp the miracle as we were, standing at the bottom of the ladder, because we wouldn’t have the strength to endure it. But if we grow through discipline, through testing, by His Word and through prayer, by fellowship and making wise choices, one rung at a time, we’ll be ready when God drops the miracle in our lap.

God loves that we dream big things from Him. He knows we struggle with faith. That’s why He tests us, one rung at a time. He wants us to grow stronger day by day so that when we finally reach Him and He gives us the miracle, we’ll realize that the very miracle we’re holding is the same one which God placed in us the moment we started to climb—that the miracle we touch, and the miracle inside us, are exactly the same.

So let me keep my eyes on God. Let me climb to Him, only to Him. Let me hope in that miracle. One rung at a time. I’m discovering how nourishing it is just to be on a journey upwards to Him!

“Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present,
but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the
peaceable fruit of righteousness to those
who have been trained by it.”

~ Hebrews 12:11 ~

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Mr. Fixit

So often in my life I get frustrated when I pray to God over and over for something, only to see nothing happen. I figure either He doesn’t want to answer my prayer, or I’ve done something wrong, preventing a blessing. There’s nothing worse than praying to a Father who seemingly can’t or won’t hear from you. It is at these times when I feel most like giving up on God.

But I think God is madly in love with blessing His children, that He longs to give us good things, one good thing, many good things after another, heaping blessings upon us. I believe that is what heaven is like—an overwhelming flood of blessings, of glory and love, given to us fully, satisfyingly, unimaginably pleasurable. In our broken world, however, things don’t always seem to go as planned.

And that’s just it—we live in a broken world. The machine and all its components are damaged. None of the parts work. Not in Creation. Not in us. The bicycle we long to ride has been fragmented into a thousand pieces and scattered across the heavens. Then what is my attitude about prayer? Should I hope for an answer at all, even when my prayers themselves are broken?

Yes. I believe God answers every one of our prayers. Not in our own understanding, but in His. And in a way that is always better than how we imagined. But sometimes He has to fix things beyond our understanding before He can answer them. If you and I pray for a ride on that bicycle, God first has to bring all the pieces together (something only He can do), then fix the chain and the handle bars and the flat tires and so on—things beyond our skill, things out of our control. Only then can He give it to us. Not only that, but He also has to clear all the hazards on the road far out ahead of us, far beyond our scope of thought, so that when we do ride, we’ll be safe to ride together with Him.

The Book of Daniel speaks about this. One day Daniel was standing on the bank of the Tigris when he looked up and saw a man “dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist” (10:5). The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.” (10:12-14)

According to this passage, God heard Daniel’s prayer from the first moment it was offered. But due to spiritual warfare, his answer was delayed. Daniel had to wait in God’s timing, not in his own, as events far beyond his control played out in the heavens. But when the angel finally appeared before Daniel, he was ready to listen.

God, of course, knew the prayer would be delayed. And He knew that Daniel would receive the answer to his prayers at exactly the right moment—not only for Daniel’s benefit, but for God’s glory. God is holy. That means every prayer, when answered, will ultimately glorify Him. He alone is our Father. He alone is good.

Even though it seems so many of our prayers are delayed, know that in every way, God fixed everything on the cross, when he broke His Son Jesus Christ for us. Jesus knows how to fix anything and everything, for there’s nothing in Him that was not broken, for our sake.

So then let’s trust Him. Let’s believe in His promises, not in our own. Let’s rest in Him, and wait. A prayer might be delayed on purpose, so that we are finally strong enough to enjoy it when it comes to fruition. We just might find that the answer to our prayers will come at the most opportune moment—at a time better than we imagined, when all the old broken bicycles are made new together. Can you imagine? All of us riding into heaven together? What a glorious, joyful day!

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Good June

Evil is celebrated as good, and good is declared evil. This world is in turmoil. Yet one of the things I struggle with most is not the turmoil in the earth, but in me. I face persecution every day. Fears. Negative thoughts. Self-hatred. Doubts. Temptations. Lies that try to obliterate my life. If I’ve never loved. If I’ve never been brave. If I have always been scared and weak. If I am damned. If I am gone, then I am persecuted. Constantly.

The world hates Christians. We are its enemies. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first…. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18, 20)

My battles, however, are not fought against the substance of the world, nor even against myself, but against the spiritual forces behind it, as written in Ephesians 6:12: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

I am persecuted and am in joy, because I have Jesus. Those quiet, timeless moments between Him and me so alter my character that I never want to be anyone else but His. They’re far better than any hurt. Persecution is horrible and painful, and it seems like it will never end, especially if I’m battling it every day. But I have a Comforter who is with me, who will never let me go, who is so intimate with my life that He has suffered with me, and knows me, who has the victory in His hand. Having Him in my life as my King makes me want to shout for joy!

So how is Jesus these days!? How does He feel? What’s He doing? What’s He thinking about? What’s He building?? What can I do to bless Him? Praise Him? What dreams can we form together as we make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich together?

I want Jesus. He knows how deep I’ve been carved. He knows every one of my scars. He knows how painful and rewarding the journey has been for me to come to my knees before Him. He’s been there all this time. Through every fear. Through fire. Against the spiritual hatred I understand too well. He’s fought all the battles for me.

He’s had His hand on my shoulder all this time, pointing to the horizon, to the people before Him, a people of an order and of a sentiment and of a joy who are unspeakably, beautifully loved. I’m speaking of you and me, of all the unlikeliest souls we encounter every day who are abused, who are so angry at God that they’d kill Him if they could, and take His place. I’m speaking of you and me.

There is only one way out of this world. There is only one answer. There is only one King. There is only one kingdom. There is no faith outside of Jesus Christ. There is only His joy. There are only His arms. And only His heart we hear when we’re afraid, pumping, thundering, to comfort us in our writhing, holding us close. There is only one Savior. No fruit from any other vine but His. There is only His love. There is only Jesus.

If I can see love through His eyes, then the world would not be in a Reign of Terror where hatred and abuse and violence and idolatry and greed overwhelm the shores and the oceans fill the streets with blood—I wouldn’t see any of that. It wouldn’t even matter. I’d see only Him.

He’s forgiven all that sin in me. He’s changed me. My heart. Made me His. Given me a new name. Given me new blood. A different kind of tongue. A language filled with marrow.

Jesus Christ swallowed turmoil on the cross. I rest in Him. He is coming. And He is good. Let’s find out how good He is. Not just in June, but forever.

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A Cheeseburger Made from Light?

In the Smithsonian today it was reported that scientists at the Imperial College in London have figured out how to create matter directly from pure light. In about a year, if everything goes as planned, they’ll be able to test their theory. It’s done by shooting high-intensity lasers into a hohlraum (German for “empty room”), creating sub-atomic particles from photons.

In a sense, it’s like creating “a supernova in a bottle.”

This process is simpler than previous types of experiments, like the one conducted in 1997 at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre, which also created matter from light, but in a different, more complex way. This new theory is more like the natural process of light conversion seen in the nucleus of a star.

The idea for light-matter conversion stemmed from the work of two physicists in 1934, who scripted the idea but conceded that it would be far too complicated to produce. So they gave up and went on to something much more productive, creating a nuclear bomb.

But it took only 80 years for the technology to catch up to Gregory Breit and John Wheeler’s theory. That’s fast.

In other news, it is reported that within the next few years, the armor worn by an American soldier will resemble something of a Robocop. He’ll be covered in bulletproof, blastproof gear, with sensors in his visor that will allow him to detect danger behind him. He’ll even have sensors implanted into his skin that will connect to solar panels worn on the exterior, which will generate power for his battlefield technology. He’ll probably be able to run really, really, ridiculously fast.

To be honest, all these changes are slightly disconcerting. It’s difficult to ponder an age that isn’t moving at a pace faster than ours, a pace which seems to be increasing exponentially. So where does it all lead?

I don’t know. I don’t know if I want to know. But I know where it can lead. It leads me to my knees. It drives me to prayer, to ask God, “Jesus, please help me!”

I’ll never be stronger than a soldier in bulletproof armor. I’ll never be savvy enough to get the best out of light. The Age we live in is faster than any Age before. But there’s nothing faster than love. And mercy. And grace. And forgiveness. And courage. And faith. And all the fruits of the Spirit. These intangible qualities are more fortified than manmade armor, and they are more brilliant and more powerful than light. They create not matter, but food for the soul. And because that is so, then I will embrace our Age. Because I’m hungry. No, I’m starving.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” ~ Galatians 5:22-24

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Finding a Dream Home

My wife and I are in the market for buying a home, but we haven’t found a house in our price range that is available. Since we were married almost three years ago, we’ve been living in an apartment that is old and run down. We had told ourselves when we moved in that we’d stay about nine months, and then try to buy a home. That was two years ago.

We’re both teachers in Idaho, living on teachers’ salaries, struggling to pay off our college loans. We also are eager to start a family. As each month passes by, it doesn’t make it any easier on us or our families to not be able to move on. We’ve felt stuck, with careers and living situation and family plans all up in the air. But if we find our Dream Home, will we be content?

Isn’t it our American culture to pursue the Dream? I have since my childhood, dreaming of living in a cozy and spacious home. My parents used to take us on a tour of the Street of Dreams, an annual curbside extravaganza in the Portland Metropolitan area where a block of the year’s most modern homes are showcased for the public. The last one I attended was in 2001, and the homes were easily retailing for $2 million or more. I remember that almost all the homes had a home theater room; one had a glass wall so the owner could showcase his Harley collection (Not me. I’d display my headless Gummy Bear collection; I mean that’s the only reason I’d purchase a four-story home like that.)

But life can’t be just about living in a spacious, cozy home, can it? It’s almost like I’ve imagined that the home I’m purchasing is a little indestructible bunker where no harm will touch me. That all of life will work out, once I have my home; and that after that, I can settle down in peace.

I suppose. But I guess it depends on the kind of home where I’m looking to live. I believe what will truly make me happy is a home so unbounded and so unlimited and so beyond comprehension as to boggle my wildest notion of comfort and safety—a space far deeper, far more amenable than the pinprick of my constant suffering.

I need a dwelling where I am renewed, whose foundation is indestructible, where I realize that if I just live here, I am okay to be weak and vulnerable. Here, I don’t have to worry about performance or doing enough to make my life profitable. In this home I’m free to rest.

I’m speaking of God, of course. He is my home. Psalm 46:1 says: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” All the security and safety I could ever hope for, and all the amenities offered to my soul by a spiritual Father, are in Him.

There’s nothing wrong with buying a home. Even a dream home. But let my Dream come true, first. That Dream is to be safe and protected in Him. Should my life crumble away or spiral out of control, God will still have me safe and secure in Him. So how do I get in? Well, Jesus, of course. He alone is the key.

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Are We There Yet??

More often than not, I tend to think that I’m about to arrive at my destination. The goal that I’ve had in mind is so near that I can barely contain my optimism, anticipating how good it would feel to have the desired object in view. It seems I’ve been pushing, hacking, straining through the jungles since forever, stretching my endurance to the point of exhaustion. It’s at times like this that I want to ask God, “O God, please … are we there yet??”

As a kid I saw a movie set in the 1800s about a young boy and girl who must forego their fears and trust a guide as he navigates them through the Rocky Mountains. Their faith in him is tested to the extreme. They are exhausted, struggling through the snow, but he tells them, “It’s just over this next rise. Come on, you can do it. Trust me. It’s just over this next one,” without knowing for sure whether it is.

It turns out he is right. Though they had crossed several ridges without gaining sight of the land west of the Rockies, and had to be stretched ever more so each time they failed to see what they had hoped for, they finally gain sight of their promised land. And it was more than worth it.

That’s how I feel. God telling me, “It’s just over this next little ridge. Just a little more, Sam, and we’ll see it together.” The struggle I have is, it feels like He’s been telling me the same thing from the beginning, when we first started to climb the Rockies together. But it’s discouraging when you think that you’re almost to a goal, only to find another impasse to traverse. Was God lying to me when He told me, from the beginning, “Just a little further. I promise I won’t let you down”?

How can God be telling the truth, when I haven’t yet arrived? When I realize I’m not even close to where I want to be, knowing that it will take far more work and effort—knowing that I may not ever get there; or, if I do, the landscape will have changed so dramatically that I won’t recognize it?

It’s discouraging only to a point, when I realize that I’ve already reached my destination.

I arrived at it before I even took a step forward. My destination, perhaps even before I realized it, has been to be close to God. To discover His goodness, His righteousness, His faithfulness, His solid Rock, His Son, His mercy and love, His forgiveness, His grace and kindness and joy and peace and gentleness, how He makes things right even when they go wrong. I’m finding that the thing I want most, truly, is not a changing landscape, but a partner to share it with as we pursue it together.

God provides that. He knows we can’t live apart from Him. So He’s planted in His children a heart’s desire to know Him deeply, passionately, as Lord. This world fell, and it wasn’t what God had in mind. But I believe the terrible setbacks we encounter aren’t detours from our destinations, but, if you believe it, shortcuts to finding Him.

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Warm Gold

I’ve written a historical novel about gold mining in Eastern Oregon, where I grew up. For the past two years I’ve been researching the Canyon City area, where gold was discovered on June 8, 1862. From the placer mines around the town, it is estimated that $26 million in gold (1860s prices) was taken from the area. Gold mining is still an active trade in Grant County; in fact, according to WesternMiningHistory.com, there are more mines registered in that county than in any other in Oregon. I’m actively seeking representation for the story, and have sent out some queries in hope of nabbing a bite. I’ll share in the process as I go.

Here’s the gist of Warm Gold

Deep under the mountain, an abandoned father and son discover a wealth surpassing their wildest imagination—that they are worth more than a mine of gold.

If you were to pick the book up and glance at the back cover …

A convict searches for his father in a mine, only to find an abandoned son. Battling the pressures under the mountain and the greed of the miners who seek to destroy them, they form a bond greater than any fear, wielding pick and drill against the inscrutable dimensions of the mine. But as the ore collapses around them, will the weight of the mountain, and its darkness, be too oppressive to destroy their father-son love?

Here is the opening to the novel, as it stands now …

Chapter One
September 1861

A gold nugget lay before him drawing him into the light. As he gazed, his arteries throbbed and his spine tingled for the story written in it, one of love and fear and the opening of his soul. “This was my—” He tried to speak, but his throat tore.

“Why didn’t he—”

“Yes, this was your father’s. And now it’s yours.”

Rub’s heart thumped so hard it welted his breastbone. “How is it mine?”

“Your father’s desire is that you have it. I’m delivering it to you from his hand. If you take it now, you can go to him. I’ll take you to him myself.”

“Is it okay?” He looked anxiously at a third story window of the brothel.

“Yes, boy. This heavy ticket stub is yours.”

“No, it’s not.” His long eyelashes flicked droplets of water down his cheeks.

The old peddler smiled, coughing into his handkerchief. “I’m telling you the truth, child. This nugget was your father’s. He’s waiting for you now. I’ll take you.”

He closed his eyes. Held his breath. In its depth and marring it was more beautiful than anything he’d imagined in his twelve years. Cupping his dirty hands, he broke the light at the mouth of his scrapmetal cave and extended them into the alleyway to receive the nugget from the decaying peddler.

But as the old man was about to drop it into his palms, Rub jerked. He smacked his face on a steel cog, scraping grime off his cheek. The peddler reached to support him, but Rub scooted away to the rear of the cave, mashing himself into the base of a brick wall—this home between the brothel and a brick factory in some forgotten, abandoned borough of Boston.

The two regarded the other for a moment—the old peddler peering in, his raw cheeks disappearing into the swath of his beard; Rub squinting back. His face was smudged with grime, as if the Artist who’d painted him had got his tone wrong and wanted to start over. But his sapphire eyes, like lanterns set in ore, burned with the hope of discovery. “Where is he?”

“He’s in a gold mine.”

“A gold mine?” His jaw loosened, lacking air. From a stash he brandished yellowed newspaper, the cartoon of a mine and its gold radiant before prospectors tangled together as they clawed for the Motherlode. “This gold mine?”

“No, I’ve seen that before. It’s from the California Gold Rush. Son, I’ll tell you. There is a different gold mine. One you have seen only hinted at in this city. You must understand that I’m speaking of a gold mine where your life and imagination are free.”

Rub writhed to angle himself in the light in the mouth of his cave. The veins in his neck strained. He opened his mouth but when he tried to speak, searing pain whistled through it from the tooth he’d chipped trying to gnaw rust off the bolts. His tender voice sounded like sea salt sprinkled in vanilla. “What’s he look like? What’s his name? Did he name me? What gold mine?”

“I’ll tell you. Son, but listen. It’s taken me over a decade to find you.”

The thick sunshine dug at the cave and the boy. He felt the pull of the nugget again, like the pull of the moon. It was pulling his conscience from him, tempting him to destroy it; or to steal it from the peddler and sprint from the alleyway, from Boston, from the cityfolk who had forgotten him, away from the marching soldiers and the gunshots and sabers, from the yellow, rotting teeth—until he himself was destroyed, falling like a withered leaf. He wiped his cheek, smearing tears. Inching to the mouth, he again extended his hand.

In the warm autumn light the peddler stood by his side. “Into this gold mine, this extraordinary gold mine,” he said, “we’ll go together. This is my promise.” His eyes glimmered with kindness.

And yet at the same moment as before, Rub faltered. He told himself that it was too far from the safety of this darkness. Too risky. Too dangerous. Too bathed in light. Pangs shot through him, maddening him as his body twisted to free itself to touch the nugget, even as he knew, deep in, it was wrong. “Can I please see him?”

“You can. In time. But understand the gift of this nugget. It is for you and you alone. It’s what miners call a keepsake nugget. And it demands a promise. One from the nugget. One from you. The promise you must make is that you will carry it with you until you find your father. And the promise of this nugget is that you will find him.”

His welted eyes poured open in their suffering. “But where is he?”

The old peddler’s chest swelled. His eyes flowed as if bathed in a tunnel of light. “This nugget is not the same one smudged in ink in your yellowed newspaper, son, but from a street paved in gold—the same one you’ve heard preached about in the streets of Boston. Haven’t you heard them speak?”

Rub nodded.

He tilted the nugget in and out of the sun. “He’s in the land of romantic grace.”

Rub was lost in the golden luminescence, too beautiful to pen or paint in words, dangling before him like a seed from heaven. He whispered, “Where?”

The husky voice of the peddler became thick and eternal. “He’s in the West. In the passion of a sunset. In a land where the apples overflow, where cottonwoods rustle in the breeze, where the valleys are so fertile that the crops multiply above your head, where all the fields are hemmed in by towering mountains rich in an endless vein of ore. In that land all of life is banded together in a rainbow. This is the land where your father is now living.”

The nugget was shaped like a tongue, thick and slender. As the peddler turned it, Rub’s heart bit hard. Woven in through its curves, depressions, dents and scars was a series of images—a susurrant story, luring him. He saw a man bearing a giant heart on his shoulders. He saw the same man standing at the mouth of a mine of gold. A third image showed him staggering out of it, gripping his head in torment, leaving behind a boy fallen in tears and their bullion of gold. And as the peddler showed him a fourth facet, Rub saw another man dancing, singing out, bearing his sticks, twirling in joy above a skull. All of these images were visible in its contours. His heart slackened and dripped. He was unsure of whether to bite the nugget or swallow it whole. He leaned his reedy body. “Does he remember me?”

“He does. He will forever.”

“How do you know?”

“Because a nugget like this comes only once to a boy and never again. Your father knows this. So take it. If you don’t, my journey here will have been a broken promise. Long ago I promised your father I would find you; and still he is keeping his promise to wait for you.” Liver spots crawled in and out of his eye sockets.

Rub tore at the silk chemise that smelled like rotten eggs, the only article of clothing the women from the brothel had given him. It fitted him loosely, and he had to cross the straps over his head to keep it from slipping off. He tore at it to be free from here and to bathe in the light where there was metal and hope and hands to hold him.

In the third story window of the brothel two voices, male and female, erupted into an argument that carried through the closed window, down through the lines of laundry. And at the mouth of the alleyway three soldiers had a fourth doubled over, gutting him with their fists. Rub winced from the drunken panorama. These old familiar habits of the alleyway. He cowered from the peddler. “I can’t go. My mum wants me with her.”

“Please take the nugget.” He was out of breath. “You don’t understand how dangerous it was for your father to mine this.” As he coughed, his sour breath flooded the boy.

“What’s his name? Did he name me Rub?”

He blew his nose with his handkerchief and pulled on his grey suspenders strapped over a red workshirt. “He did not name you Rub. I will tell you, and you will not belie—”

Before he could finish his sentence, his carthorse neighed sickeningly and slumped over, spent from the long journey from California, causing the apples to spill onto the ground. The old peddler wiped his brow, a look of consternation on his face. “Humphrey, not again. You can’t die now. We found him.” He rose to pet his neck.

Suddenly he clutched his chest in agony, coughing a spool of blood. As he gasped for air, he reached in his satchel for the small blue vial given him by a man named Sanballat, a curbside doctor who had promised that this tincture would aide him in finding the boy. But before he could speak again, he was dead from the poison. The nugget spilled from his fingers onto the soiled handkerchief.

Numbed, the boy waited for him to sit up, for his words to fill him again with hope. But he did not move. In the shadows, next to a drainpipe, a black cat curled its tail, the yellow eyes piercing him. The alley became still, conscious of the death, the brothel dark and inconspicuous. Rub knew no one would bother about him, for pedestrian and policeman alike were afraid of the trouble in that area of the city.

He cowered to the end of his cave, away from the light that slanted hard into the mouth—into the cool, protective darkness. Leering at the alleyway, he pulled his knees far up to his chin to keep the light off his toes. The sun was at it again: trying to hack him out of the metal with a violent pick. Every day it hunted his heart with unrelenting hands, clawing for the ore that hid his soul. But he would not give in. He pushed himself deeper into the torturous edges that pressed into his back until he bled.

In a world soused with harm, to venture a footfall into the open cobblestone, tread upon by lascivious men and cruel whores, promised the torture of the body, the rape of the will, the rending of the heart. He knew himself better in the dark, in the safety of the jagged metal pressing on all sides against his tender skin. He knew himself here. He knew what to do. How to live. He knew where the rats came in. To stretch himself out into the baking light was a danger that might lead to war.

But on a spire above and behind his cave, an oriole sang in a soothing whistle. It pulled him. His jaw throbbed. He leaned toward the mouth. The oriole perched on the cave and sang louder. Rub felt something tug under his tongue. He squeezed his fingers. Dare he venture through the muck, toward a better land?

But what does it matter now? he thought. I will die in this alleyway. What does it matter if I take this nugget west, following my dream for a father? I’m nothing more than a rub. An empty spittoon. I will never matter. The blood will come over me soon.

Yet the song stroked his ears, beneath the darkness that had tangled around him like a web. He leaned into the light, in agony for the nugget, to feel its weight and pour into it his secrets and his lost searching heart, his unbearable loneliness, his fear, his terrible fear, the fringe of his threadbare hope. He felt his courage returning. For the first time in his life, he had something solid to guide him. Mustering his strength, he stepped from his scrapmetal cave toward the city, choosing against his conscience to be separated, spirit from bone, by the horrifying light.

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My Wife is Amazing

My wife is beautiful. I’d have given up long ago on any hope in a relationship if it hadn’t have been for her, who exceeds any and every hope I could have had for a companion. I love her personality, her curiosity, her intelligence, her faith. She puts God first in her life in everything she does.

My wife has a very difficult job, but she gets up and goes to work, no matter how awful she feels. She’s a first-year teacher at an elementary school, teaching first grade. It’s hard. She works late. She stays past midnight. She gets up early, before six. She grades papers at coffee shops. She goes in seven days a week. I don’t know how she does it. But she does. And when she comes home, she glows.

My wife is an awesome cook. One night last November she cooked three soups, two pies, stuffing and a turkey, and more. What amazed me is that she could keep all those recipes going at the same time. I tasted all the meals, and they all tasted good.

My wife is easy-going. She’s easy to make plans for on a Friday night because she’s willing to do or try anything. She’s full of spontaneity and grace, willing to try one of my hare-brained plans at the last minute, no matter how ridiculous.

She’s a great encourager. I’m terrible at making decisions, but she defers to me even when she doesn’t have to. That means a lot to me.

She’s the light of my life.

Did I mention she’s beautiful?

I got married on my 36th birthday. My wife is my greatest birthday present, the best I’ll ever receive. It was worth the wait. Because God brought her to me. I like talking about her. That’s why I wrote this blog. Because I love her. A lot. I’m lucky to be married to her.

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