adaption, book excerpt, boys and men, darkness inside, featured, GK Johnson, Israel, literary

Excerpt: The Zealots Chapter 2: Shim’on

G.K. Johnson

Shim’on couldn’t remember the last time he had awakened without the heavy weight pressing down on him. He carried it like a bag of stones, dragging the weight through the streets, onto his fishing vessel, to the market, and back home every day.

The afternoon and evening hours, free of distractions and when he most needed sleep, were the worst. He could feel the pressure on his chest, crushing the life out of him, and bruising his heart and ribs. If it were a real sack of rocks, the bag would have been torn open by now and the stones inside strewn in his wake. But it wasn’t real and tangible, it only felt so, and he couldn’t shake the burden as much as he wished he could.

Shim’on lay in bed wishing he didn’t have to get up and go to the lake. In fact, he wished he hadn’t woken up at all. Yes, that’s exactly how he felt. He glanced over at his immah, who made the evening meal quietly attuned to her sons’ much-needed sleep. Shim’on watched immah’s movements. Maybe she wanted to keep her thoughts to herself.

He could never tell her his thoughts

The vision haunted him. Watching the Romans kill his abba happened over and over.

He knew the darkness inside him would scare her, and she was already scared enough. He knew abba’s Miriam needed him now, but she seemed to be grieving alone. Grief absorbed her not only because of the loss of her husband but also because of the depression and silence of her eldest son.

Shim’on sighed, the weight heavier than ever on his chest.

Looking back on that night, he cursed his cowardice. With his dagger, he could have at least tried to save his abba. Now Yitzchak was gone, and Shim’on felt crippled by the guilt and anger he carried. He was letting his immah down. He was letting Hanoch down. Even Yitzchak must be disappointed if he could see him now.

When Shim’on returned to their home that first night without Yitzchak, Hanoch had pushed him furiously. Deep in grief, Shim’on realized his brother couldn’t understand why he’d gone to Bin-yamin and Yeshua rather than to his own brother. Shim’on tried to explain, but Hanoch refused to accept his answer. His brother remained angry and hurt since that day, an invisible wall rising between them. Shim’on couldn’t blame him.

Reluctantly now, Shim’on pushed himself up from his mat and put on his leather sandals. His day as a fisherman was just beginning.

He performed netilat yadayim, pouring the water over his hands using a clay basin and cup. He nudged Hanoch awake from where he slept on an adjacent mat and waited as his brother readied himself. The young men ate a hasty meal before leaving.

Closing the door behind them, they began their short walk to the shore. Months ago, Yitzchak, Shim’on, and Hanoch had chattered loudly and happily as they made their way to the sea. Back then, Miriam laughingly teased that they were like the Shabbat shofar, letting the neighborhood know that night was falling.

Since Yitzchak’s death, the walk between brothers was made in silence

Reaching the shore, Shim’on strode down to the water’s edge and knelt. He scooped handfuls of the cold water to wash his face and wake himself up. Meanwhile, Hanoch commenced unfurling the sails.

Shim’on climbed back up the shore and into the boat, smoothing his hand over the boat’s cedar planking. The vessel was twenty-three-feet long and seven-feet wide and required a crew of five men to operate. It contained room for twelve to thirteen passengers, though they seldom had any though after Yitzchak’s death, Shim’on had hired another man for their crew.

With a flat bottom allowing it to be pulled ashore, the crew was able to unload a catch quickly and efficiently. He joined his brother and their hired men, Demas, Tertius, and Gaius, as they deftly prepared the nets and hoisted the sails to take them to the middle and deepest part of the lake.

“Ready?” Hanoch glanced towards Shim’on. He nodded.

“Ready.”

Hanoch and Tertius jumped from the boat and pushed it backward into the water, then pulled themselves over the railing.

The warm wind filled the sails and they moved from shore. Shim’on took a deep breath of fresh air and exhaled. This was truly the one place where the weight lay lightest on his shoulders. He still felt it of course, but the physical demands of fishing distracted him from the constant thoughts battling in his mind. Gusts caused the boat to dip while skipping over the choppy water kicked spray against his face. Light from the full moon above them glanced off the waves, surprisingly bright. His abba had loved it out here too, and Yitzchak always had a knack for knowing where the fish would be from day to day.

“Adonai told me to fish at the north end today boys,” he would say, or “Adonai is good, He sent me a dream that we will fill a net just off the shore.” His sons and the other fishermen had often teased Yitzchak about his heavenly directives but more often than not, Yitzchak was right, and they would bring in a good night’s catch.

Brothers at Odds, The Zealots by G.K. Johnson

GK Johnson’s debut novel, The Zealots, will arrive in January 2021. Will Shim’on’s guilt find acquittal or will it drive him to wrong? Will Hanoch accept Shim’on’s excuses and explanations regarding the night of his father’s death, or will he seek revenge?

Subscribe today to get your own Advance Readers Copy of The Zealots for review; on sale, January 1, 2021!



adaption, breath of joy, dreams, op-ed, singing, Summertime

Let Songs Be Heard and Not Sighs

Something rather good has erupted like pollen from this past spring and then the addition of summer’s social isolation. My mind has been drifting.

All by itself, it is dredging up memories, mostly good ones. I mean, the really, really good memories are from the innocence and wonder of a typical American childhood, really distant memories – from lifetimes ago – when we were still allowed to spend pennies at the store, and nobody told us the mint was not making coin.

Simply Summer Breath of Joy

A recent National Geographic study polled many people around the world—including more than 600 featured in just one study—who say they are experiencing a new phenomenon: coronavirus pandemic dreams.

Science has long suggested that dream content and emotions are connected to wellbeing while we’re awake. Bizarre dreams laden with symbolism allow some dreamers to overcome intense memories or everyday psychological stressors within the safety of their subconscious.

The virus is invisible, and I think that’s why it’s transformed, the study concludes,

The virus is invisible, and I think that’s why it’s transformed into so many different things.

Deirdre Barrett, Harvard University

This week I woke up in one of those post-dream phases where you’re not asleep but not quite awake, either: the best time to rein in the edges of your dream and frame it before it is erased by cornflakes and coffee and morning light.

I remained as still as possible to capture the details.

We were all back in elementary school. As dreams rarely make sense, my classmates included pint-sized versions of people I have known throughout my lifetime, even my grandmother.

No matter that she was in grade school a full 60+ years before I was; dreams are like that.

Let it be

So anyway. We were out on the playground. It was recess and lunchtime and a cluster of us were sitting cross-legged in a circle near the swing set. I remember there was a teeter-totter there, too.

We were trading lunches.

Two Twinkies for a homemade cookie.
Bologna for a PBJ.
An apple for a Hershey Bar

A kid named Robert was in the circle, and he had a liverwurst sandwich. This detail rang true – there really was a kid named Robert in the first grade whose mom packed a liverwurst sandwich nearly every day; Robert seemed to like it and rarely traded it out. He probably wouldn’t have very many takers, anyway.

I mean, liverwurst.

It was only a dream, but it had real slices of reality sandwiched in.
Maybe you, too, did your share of lunchtime negotiations back in the day.
You got rid of those vegetables and Mom was none the wiser.

Trading lunches was a childhood career for me

Those murky-dream-drenched lunch swaps – snippets of real memories rising to greet me during the Great Sequester of 2020.

A metaphor for what we seem to be doing these days ~

Opening our lunch pail, assessing the situation, and looking up to see what tastes better on that day. Negotiating a trade, pooling our resources, helping each other survive the “liverwurst” of life.

What if?
What if we traded sorrows for singing?
Worry for watchfulness…
Anxiety for trust.
News grazing for window gazing.
Deep breathing for stress eating….
Curiosity for despair.
These are good swaps, life-lifters.
Switching out the bologna for a ribeye; 
trading the mundane for the moment you will savor 
and return to it again and again
for a tasty reminder during a day of scarcity.

There’s a song lyric from a favorite musical that goes like this:

The clouded sun shall brightly rise,
And songs be heard instead of sighs.

Godspell

What a glorious swap.

A chorus of songs rising up to conquer the gloom – a goofy, ravaged, joyful mix of imperfect voices. Gathering momentum, drowning out the cries and the sighs.

We will wake from this dreamlike state one day, looking to each other for guidance into the light of a New Normal.

Pass me the Corn Flakes, I can hardly wait.

Kathy Joy, wordsmith, event speaker
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Acknowledgment, breath of joy, greeting cards, Guides, kingdom ethics, Lift Assist, op-ed

WANTED: A Harbor Pilot, Please

Kathy Joy

Have you ever wondered what’s happened to all the working lighthouses? How could they be defunct? What takes the place of helping a vessel to anchor or to its pier in safe harbor?

Harbor Pilots are, by sheer tenacity, a remarkable crew. The job requires round-the-clock availability, a complete understanding of the local waters, hazards and weather conditions, and the agility to climb a 30-foot rope ladder up the side of a large vessel.

Our harbor has them. Any port of call has them; these sailors are navigational experts regarding local waters.

When a ship comes into unknown waters, the harbor pilot maneuvers a small craft right up to the big rig, climbing up that ladder and getting behind the wheel to steer the vessel into safe mooring.

And so it is with the staff I work with.

There are a few who understand the aim in a specialized way. They can plot the course for shoreline and safe harbor in waters that most of us have never seen prior to this. While most of us are sequestered with our laptops and zoom sessions focused in on the target for the day, someone with years in the industry will come alongside and prove their maturity and faithfulness by soldiering our vision through our company’s performance of the necessary tasks.

Tasks, such as security, handling delays, sorting through the troubled complaints and defunct systems, and steering the crew into the final destination with wisdom and other hands-on assignments.

Mister B is the story of one such harbor pilot. From his daughter’s memoir, Mister B: Living With A 98-Year-Old Rocket Scientist

These are our harbor pilots – these comrades who are sailing in to assist our somewhat lurching, unsteady building to navigate in unknown waters.

In rough waters, how does a ship or smaller boat find it’s way around sandy banks, jutting rocks, and unusual winds to safe harbor? Guided by the strength and knowledge of someone who has a firm grasp of the way around the banks that would beach us, that’s how.

We all experience waves of gratitude and relief as we are coming to the shoreline.

We are all in this together – but today, let’s take a moment to applaud our unsung heroes, our unseen administrators, first responders, our essential leaders.

A collective “thank you” from all our various ports of call; our kitchen table offices, our cell phones, laptops and heart connections everywhere are warranted. You are worthy deckhands, but it would mean there’s nowhere to land without the harbor pilot.

Can you list one or two harbor pilots in your most choppy, unpredictable waves of life?

Later — when we are all back together — tossed, tested and polished bits of beach glass will emerge gleaming in our midst.

What treasures we will discover.

A page from Breath of Joy: Ah, Autumn
https://www.amazon.com/Breath-Joy-Ah-Autumn-Kathy/dp/0999635379

Kathy Joy, writes the Breath of Joy coffee table series. Simply Summer, Ah, Autumn, Winter Whispers, and Singing Spring. These books make for exceptional “thank-you” gifts and acknowledgments of special someones in your life.

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Book Kathy Joy for your next conference here. Learn more about Kathy Joy’s inspirational gift books on this site.

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A book to help and inspire biblical creatives

a side of sweet potatoes, ah autumn, breath of joy, Nancy Ceyters

Sweet Potato Harvest of Laughter

Nancy Ceyters

As hard as it is to wave goodbye to summer, I find myself once again greeting fall with a hearty hello.

There’s something about that time between air conditioning and heat; the lower electric bill coupled with crisp nights brings on some good sleeping. The darker mornings and earlier sunsets force us to be the light as we get out of bed to savor the three month transition to winter.

For some, fall’s glory is celebrated in corn mazes and caterpillars, raking more and mowing less; for others, it’s the ginger beer and sweatshirts, football games and pumpkin spice lattes. Still others embrace the fall by stirring hot apple cider with a cinnamon stick, while riding atop a wagon of hay.

When I welcome fall, I reminisce the harvest, especially the autumn harvest of 2012.

For years, the entire back yard was converted to several large summer gardens and, come autumn, a few fall gardens as well. The entire process from turning over the land in the spring to yielding the harvest throughout the fall and into the winter brought hours of joy and pounds of produce to record in my garden ledger.

The first year I planted sweet potatoes, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I opted to start small until I knew they would be a success, so I planted just a few slips. From what I had read, I expected about six to eight sweet potatoes from each plant. Of course I had no idea what if anything was going on underground all spring and summer. Neither did I know when the potatoes were ready for digging.

Photo Credit: Jerenita Leavy

In October of 2012, my friend Kathy Joy was visiting for the weekend. We had a full schedule between a trip to our favorite Delaware beach, a guest pass for a Combat class at the gym, an event at the homestead where I volunteered as a docent, and a dinner and music night with my parents who were coming in from out of town. Knowing that Kathy’s late husband Roger was a farmer after retiring from the police force, and a farmer before they married, I felt that I needed Kathy by my side as I dug through the earth.

We had to fit this into our schedule somehow. Besides, how long could it take to dig up a few potatoes? We’d dig and then cook dinner.

If there were no sweet potatoes, Kathy would be there to console me. If there were six to eight per plant, we could celebrate together, eating sweet potatoes for supper and sending some home. I read that a pitch fork—rather than a shovel—is needed to avoid breaking or bruising the tubes. That was one garden tool lacking in my shed.

Breaking the earth gently with a shovel, I then dug nervously with gloved hands, not wanting to hurt what little produce might be underground. Every other scoop I turned to Kathy for the go-ahead to dig deeper. And then there was a tint of orange!

One potato, two potato, three potato, more! With each potato, came a squeal, and the count continued. Kathy! There are more over here. And over here! And over here! Even when we thought we were done, we found more, far from where the few slips were planted.

Seventy-one potato, seventy-two potato, seventy-three potato, more!

As the sun began to set and the cool of a fall breeze blew our hair, a train of sweet potatoes tracked the benches of a 22 foot square deck. From big-as-our-faces-enormous, to medium, to small-as-a-fist, we were overwhelmed with potatoes. A few were bruised by the excitement of the digging and the harvest, but not enough to have to toss them. Even after we finished digging, I wondered if there were more out there that we missed.

With several large buckets full of sweet potatoes, and a search for more containers, we had enough root vegetables to last a number of households the winter.  We laughed and counted, counted and laughed, well past the dinner hour. We’d have potatoes for a bedtime snack.

Spring and summer, hidden from view, potatoes were growing like crazy. From a little, came a lot. The element of surprise, the beauty of the root vegetables, and sharing the moment with a friend who celebrated with me made the harvest of 2012 the sweetest ever.

I didn’t grow sweet potatoes again after that, wanting this memory to be the one I cherished and celebrated when waving goodbye to summers and greeting falls with a hearty hello.

– Nance Ceyters

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analysis, kingdom ethics, op-ed, Soothing Rain, Tonya Jewel Blessing

LIVING WELL

By Tonya Jewel Blessing

Proverbs 15:31 is aimed like an arrow right to my heart. Receiving good advice is an important aspect of spiritual maturity.

King David was an amazing man – not perfect, but a man after the essence of God. He desired to serve the Lord and His people wisely and justly. According to Psalms, he recognized the need to be both skillful and heartfelt.

In 2 Samuel, David decides to take a census that angers the Lord. Theologians have long debated why the census was wrong:

  • David was numbering the men under the age of 20 for military service.
  • The census had no direct order from God.
  • David was going to use the census to tax the people.
  • David was not trusting God’s promise to Abraham to make the people innumerable.
  • Pride and power were possible motivations.

There is also the possibility that once the census was taken that King David neglected the portion of God’s command that required a ransom be given. This ransom was the requirement given by Israel’s meek leader, Moses.

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD when you number them so that there will be no plague among them when you number them.”

(Exodus 30:11-12) https://gentlereformation.com/2020/03/02/why-davids-census-was-wrong/

Before David took the census, he neglected to listen to the good advice he received from his trusted friend and mighty man Joab (2 Samuel 24:3).

Had the king listened to great trouble and dire consequences could have been avoided. The Lord’s punishment was severe. A plague fell over the land for three days. David suffered and those he served experienced devasting circumstances.

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ISBN 13: 9780997897630 ASIN: B074F2C8SV
Soothing Rain is a humorous and provoking look at a variety of events in a woman’s life, and what might be done in the moment. Soothing Rain is a women’s crowd breaking system of stories and discussion questions (a global interchange). https://www.amazon.com/Soothing-Rain-Living-Water-Refresh-ebook/dp/B074F2C8SV/
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