The last time I remember baking a dessert from scratch was three years into marriage, now 26 years ago.
I’d invited the whole family over for Thanksgiving. The sun was pouring through the windows, the feast was complete with smiling expectant faces for the promising desserts, when I brought out the traditional pies plus one. The South African milk tart had become my favorite having lived and worked in that country a few years earlier, and I was eager to share it with everyone I loved back home.
In the midst of preparing everything needed for our Thanksgiving party, I’d singed the milk needed for the tart. “Oh, well,” I thought, “it won’t hurt much.” Quickly pouring it out of the over-heated pan, into the crust, I finished the milk tart.
But, it did matter. Quite a lot. Sampling the tart, the nervous hostess, who was me, was forced to alert everyone else to avoid it.
For some reason, this bitter fail colored all of my future baking interests. Oh, I’ve made meal after meal over my thirty years of marriage, but I never brought out the sugar and softened butter, the vanilla, or any of my other favorite ingredients. Besides, I was always on the plump side, and I hoped the discipline of avoiding home-cooked yummies would help the situation.
About two years ago, I found an interesting cookie cutter rolling pin at a Goodwill store and it inspired me to try to bake the sugar cookies that just can’t be imitated by store purchases. Maybe it was for candy cutting. Either way, it would be fun, I decided. When we cleaned out the house last year, my husband tried to toss these kinds of things he’d never seen me use, but he’d never seen my yearning for home-baked cookies either.
I salvaged the cookie cutter
Inside, stood my defiant self sticking out my tongue at the multi-billion weight-loss industry. I was going to bake something yummy.
Still, it wasn’t until two weeks before Christmas, when looking through the cupboards, that I rediscovered the quirky cookie cutter. It was the day before my husband’s birthday. I wanted to spoil him because his special day often gets swallowed up in the holidays.
Google came in handy as I looked up my favorite cookie recipes. I started with peanut butter kisses and substituted the chocolate kisses for miniature healthy peanut butter cups pressed into the middle.
Then, I went on to soft, traditional oatmeal raisin cookies. The writer of this recipe assumed I knew how much sugar and butter to whip together, how many eggs to add, how much cinnamon, vanilla and baking soda to use. Reaching deep into memories of girlish baking, I put the basics back together and decided to trust my intuition.
Thankfully, I still had some hard chunks of brown sugar in a bag at the top of the cupboard. I also found an inch of molasses left in a bottle.
The recipe that I invented included a few new essentials
A magnifying glass to read the ingredients and the recipe
An ice-cream scoop to pound the brown sugar lumps to smithereens
No fancy Kitchenaid mixer gets any credit
My hand-me-down, hand-held beaters worked fine after I softened our frozen butter in the microwave. Mixing my made-up portions of oats, eggs, vanilla, flour, butter and sugar together, butter and sugar first, of course, I threw in some old raisins. Raisins keep forever – just about. No harm done there.
Dipping into the oven, I traded the pan of hot peanut butter kiss cookies for a sheet of the oatmeal raisin drops.
Then, I went to look up the recipe for the highlight of the season, sugar cookies!
In the meantime, I found a recipe for Oatmeal raisin cookies with the proper amounts listed for the ingredients, so I added a little more flour and butter and sugar and oatmeal, and I decided to add a banana and walnuts to the last half of the dough. I lowered the oven temperature on those already baking.
Back to the sugar cookie recipe, it soon became clear that I needed to roll out the dough, let it sit in the refrigerator, then use the cookie cutter and finally, decorate the little images with icing or colored sugar.
My heart sank at the traditional rolling pin that would be needed. The last time I recalled seeing a rolling pin, I put it somewhere the-sun-don’t-shine that would insure I’d never happen upon it again.
The ingredients called for a bit of almond flavoring. My favorite. But, nope, I had removed the temptation of almond paste and almond flavoring from my kitchen long ago.
Sugar cookies were going to need a real baker. I mixed up the sugar and butter, measured out the flour and set it all aside.
The oatmeal raisin cookies were smelling a bit pungent. I swung open the oven and removed the pan of cookies now black around the edges. Quickly, I used the old-fashioned metal spatula to swoop up the cookies from the heated sheet and deposit them onto the cooling sheet.
A familiar bitterness taunted
Just then, my dog started barking alerting me to the fact that my husband was home from work. I opened the door to greet the birthday boy and I gave him a kiss wondering how long it would take for him to notice the air-filled sweetness. Would he ask about today’s kitchen episodes?
“Umm, what smells so good?”
“You made cookies?!”
“Yep. For you.”
“For your birthday.”
His hand started moving toward the cooling sheet. I steered it to the peanut butter kiss cookie adaption that I’d enjoyed tasting earlier. “You’ll probably like these better, Hon.”
He munched and smiled and said a few crazy nuthins as he pulled me close.
He gathered up a couple and began munching again as he reported on the occurrences in his day. Then, to my pleasure he was too distracted to continue. “Umm, these are great, Honey!”
“I love ‘em.”
“But, they’re a little burnt.” My admission colors the air.
“You know how you loved burnt toast when you were a kid?”
“Well, my favorite was having a bit of a burn on my oatmeal raisin cookies. That’s why I’m not fond of the regular kind. These are wonderful!”
Oh, gosh, his pre-birthday surprise is an unexpected win!
“You know what I want to do tomorrow on my birthday? I want to grab a stack of these with a cup of coffee and have them for breakfast. That’s all I really want. Well—and I want a little time to cuddle with you. That’d be my perfect birthday.”
I’ve never lost my cuddly appearance, even with the years of home baked abstinence. The older I get, the rounder I have become, but that just doesn’t seem to matter to the one who loves me.
It will be a fun experiment to try to make sugar cookies for Christmas since Santa himself is a jolly ol’ elf.
It will also be a great to try out the Goodwill roller cutter on something else, whether it be little pastries, or mini Swiss chocolates, or maybe some mint cream cheese sweets. That’s my sweet New Year’s resolution.
Lynn Byk is a memoir author with Capture Books. She is available to speak at book clubs or women’s events about practical ways to care for the elderly in one’s life.
It seems, in this murky year of unknowns, that we have all become bridge builders. By this, I mean we are learning to construct organic passageways between problems and solutions; we are building new platforms to help each other succeed.
A co-worker said it this way: “We are discovering new ways to do old things.”
She’s not wrong. If the word “innovative” carries any weight on a resume, then we need to add that to our portfolios.
Influencers are bridges between ideas and implementation. Let the intangible beget the tangible.
Friends are bridges between opportunity and reality.
Co-workers are bridges between dull days and brighter ones.
Connections are bridges between prayers and answers.
Recently, I was a recipient of one of these bridges between opportunity and reality and between prayers and answers. My publisher announced a connection to make my children’s book sing. “Will You Hold My Story?” is the recipient of some 32 illustrations of Brianna Osaseri, an winning artist who has agreed to produce poignant and imaginative works for the 32- page picture book.
I happened to be going through a particularly difficult time, and I can’t tell you how seeing these fascinating images elevated my sense of wonder about the story and added even more purpose.
When there’s a problem, there is a wonderful collaboration available to each of us with just an earnest request. Unseen reinforcements rush in like healthy blood to a wound. Bridges are built for walking into the future.
Virtual meetings, emails, phone calls, whatever it takes – the work is getting done and readers, or our customers, or clients are being helped.
More than a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-it-done attitude, it’s a large-scale scaffolding that materializes right under our feet, wherever we need reinforcements. Some people call this scaffolding “answers to prayer.” Others call it “favor,” “blessing,” “feeling the love.” No matter what you call it, we each know when we are in desperate need of it. And, we each know when we receive it.
It’s a coming-together of talent, experience, and care.
It’s the filling of a cup.
It’s the measures taken to keep us safe.
These are the bridges to each other’s stories, and to hope.
I, for one, am looking more closely at life for any random blessings that can provide walkways to better days for me and maybe for you:
an encouraging message on your voice mail, “Don’t think that for one moment, you are forgotten, Deary!”
that cup of coffee on a cold morning, and reading the review someone left on your last book.
a holiday card, whether it’s full of giggles or full of pathos,
help from a co-worker on a difficult issue
passing along someone’s story explaining a surprising twist of events when their own need was answered, miraculously
savoring the unique texture of a loved-one’s voice;
all of these, and more, are carrying us and moving us forward.
One of my favorite ways to help someone else along is to congratulate them with words or cards for an accomplishment.
It would be so easy for me to ignore their big win and to think, “Why isn’t it my day to reach the summit?”
My guess is, we will emerge from this wilderness seasoned hikers.
Do you recall doing something like this? As a child, I’d grin showing an adult my palms up, the inside of my cathedral made of my interwoven fingers, and I’d sing, “Here is the church, here is the steeple, open it up and here’s all the people!” Then, hiding all my fingers, I’d ask the patient adult, “Where are all the people?”
We adults still need other patient adults to make us some two-way bridges, don’t we? I need to show up for you on the bridge. You need to show up for yourself and also for someone else on your bridge. Let’s look for one new way to receive a good step forward. Let’s offer a bridge to someone else today in kindness or compassion.
At the summit, we will look down to see we have built networks, catwalks and swinging bridges we’d never before imagined. Intricate networks.
When you’ve built a bridge, you’ve constructed a cathedral of strength and beauty.
Even if it is intangible.
Kathy Joy holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Messiah College (Grantham, Pennsylvania) having majored in Journalism and Communication. Her career focused on radio journalism and later on government social work for family members with children in the Pennsylvania system of health and welfare. She is the author of four previous books, the series called Breath of Joy.
Her personal philosophy is that “by telling our stories, we give others permission to unload their own weights and worries.”
Most recently, Kathy Joy’s children’s book is scheduled to be published early in 2021, entitled, “Will You Hold My Story?” It features a stray little pooch and a stray, tired Meggi Beth (depicted by artist, Brianna Osaseri).
Kathy is an enthusiastic supporter of therapy dogs and dogs-in-general – they are loyal friends and excellent listeners.
As the author of four seasonal books, a social media influencer and inspirational speaker, Kathy Joy has found her voice in the world of children’s literature.
Kathy holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and communication and says her favorite semester at Messiah College included the study of children’s books.
“It’s a dark night, sang the kettle, and the rotten leaves are lying by the way; and, above, all is mist and darkness, and, below, all is mire and clay.”
-The Cricket on the Hearth, Charles Dickens
I have a memory so richly steeped in the broth of gratitude, I can summon it anytime to fortify myself; it’s like opening a thermos of soup on the coldest day.
The memory involves a bit of confetti, a radio studio, and a Great Dane.
One dreary day beneath the canvas of a gray sky, I scooted my wheels into a parking space at the local grocery store. With my mind on autopilot, I found a cart and headed for the entrance. Then, a passing car sprayed my feet with mud and grit.
As my gaze drifted toward my soggy shoes, a little annoyed with the puddles and a little mad at the driver, something caught my eye. Bending down for closer inspection, I was rewarded to see a tiny metallic rocking horse. It was pink and gleaming and irresistible; a speck of color; an enchanting thing.
At that time I was the host of a radio show on WTMV-Youngsville, Pennsylvania. The studio operated from a refurbished living room on East Main. I remember telling my listeners about the confetti piece and comparing it to unseen treasures all around us – secrets shimmering just below the surface “stuff” of living. Listeners began calling in their own experiences to symbolize the idea of “hidden confetti” – unexpected bits of color in dark times.
Pretty soon, we had a list:
Seeing a smile from across the room.
A promise in the Bible.
Sea salt on the breeze.
The first sip from a cup of coffee on an unpleasant, icy morning.
A letter in the mail, handwritten and sealed with a kiss.
The smell of a pine forest.
When your favorite song comes on the radio.
Later, I Scotch-taped the surprise confetti into my journal. The sparkly list inspired more thoughts of unseen treasures all around us – secrets shimmering just beyond what’s so obvious. It may take a little effort, but it’s worth a closer look. Your “confetti” surprise may be very different from mine; perhaps it’s the company of a friend, or a rich memory, perhaps it’s the trusting hand of child’s in yours. An unexpected long-distance phone call.
Collect these discoveries in your own journal or wherever you keep your collection of photos, and soon you’ll be carrying around a generous barrel of confetti to shower on someone else who needs sprinkled light in their gloom.
I recall promising a Great Dane. So, it was that on a rainy winter day, in a radio studio, my nostrils were filled with the smell of wet dog – the station manager’s Great Dane, it was, resting his giant solemn head on my knee, these memories are keen in my heart, punctuated with an odd bit of confetti.
Perhaps because of this keen memory, I have now made the hero of my new picture book a dog because to my core, I believe that one of the greatest gifts of comfort and happiness that our Creator gave humanity was the gift of a furry dog-gone pet.
This calls for a deeper dive into gift-giving at Christmas. Why not entertain the idea of giving some intangibles this year?
The thought of going from presents to presence might be a little radical, but it can be relationally memorable and exciting!
Here’s a starter list – customize your list to your family and friends and watch a new tradition unfold.
Be a tourist in your hometown and try touring some new things with a dog leading the way
Volunteer together for something you all care about
Plan out a garden together and, with the design, include an I.O.U. – a day of weeding and a packet of favorite seeds
Give State Park Passes or National Park Passes or an Art/Science Museum
Give a behind-the-scenes tour of a city theater’s costume and art department
Ice Skating Lessons or a boating outing
Read a children’s book aloud to someone who would appreciate it
Offer Painting lessons at a Children’s Museum
Write a Letter of honor to someone who has especially touched your life
Offer letter writing or make and send cards – on behalf of an immigrant to loved ones
Commit to sending handwritten letters in lieu of texting
Learn paper folding together and make origami garlands for the tree.
Buy two hot chocolates: one for you and one for the Salvation Army bell. Stay with that bell ringer on a frosty Decemberrrrrr evening!
Go caroling with a small group to one or two shut-ins during the pandemic, and bring the popcorn balls, figs, pudding, and nickles to reverse payment when you sing
Offer to lead a Singing Bible Study in the Psalm Hymns in the new year
Most important of all, give room for the unexpected. Linger longer in ordinary spaces, and bear witness to a holy entrance of Possibility.
Sometimes you just need to share the sparkly stuff to shift Christmas spirits upward. Especially, in the early darkness that defines December and January afternoons, Give the unexpected a chance to happen.
Kathy Joy is the author of the Breath of Joy gift books and Will You Hold My Story, a child’s picturebook.
A quick glance in the mirror said the two cups of coffee had done nothing to remove the dark circles that swelled below my eyes. “It’s hopeless,” I thought, now staring at my blonde hair hanging in frazzled clumps around sallow skin, an outcropping of my weary soul.
Dragging myself into the bedroom of my six-year-old son, I was startled, as always, at seeing row upon row of breasts peeking out of sequined halter tops on the calendar hanging beside Henry’s bed. Long legs extending from tight shorts became a line of slithering snakes, injecting poisonous venom into my withering self-confidence.
Anger pounded against my temples the way it had on the day my husband, Jack, gave our son the calendar of these famous cheerleaders.
At six, Henry still thought girls were gross. No matter how much Jack insisted this calendar was for Henry, it wasn’t. That’s what made it worse. How could I argue with a gift from a father to his son and interfere with their “male-bonding”?
“It certainly is interfering with our marital bonding,” I said, yanking at Henry’s crumpled bed sheets the same way I wanted to yank the shimmering, blonde hair from the head of the cheerleader in the front row. My face grew hot and flushed, a stark contrast to my marriage bed that had remained cool and distant for some time now. I smiled. Jack could have his calendar, but he couldn’t have me with it.
“Why don’t you want it anymore?” I could hear Jack’s ongoing question that never got answered as I folded a load of laundry or while we shopped together, even on a date night, I could hear Jack’s accusation.
I thought about last night when I lay on my side of the bed, facing the wall, wishing he would just leave me alone. The kids were finally asleep, and I was exhausted as usual. I just wanted to meld with the bed. Jack kept kissing my neck, so I finally turned over and looked at him in the dark. All I could see was the silhouette of his tousled hair outlined against the moonlight streaming in through the bedroom window. His face, a shadow and, for a moment, I tried to pretend he was someone I didn’t know. Maybe then I would want him. His hand reached out and slid across my hip, moving upwards under my breast.
I grabbed his hand before it reached its destination and told him I didn’t feel like it.
Jack couldn’t understand what had changed from when we first got married when I wanted sex all the time.
“Me,” I said, collapsing against the pillow. “I’m different.” That’s when Jack rolled over and said with disgust, “That’s for sure.”
I was too tired to care that he was angry. Besides, I was angry most of the time, so why should I care?
The ice storm that had begun in bed the night before fell in full force this morning. Even my youngest child noticed the invisible glacier that stood between Mommy and Daddy.
“Mommy, is Daddy mad?” Molly asked, rubbing the sleep from her big, brown eyes as she dragged her blanket across the kitchen floor.
“No baby. Daddy’s not mad.” Jack dropped his briefcase and scooped her up into his arms. “But he is hungry. You look like a tasty treat.”
Molly giggled as Jack pretended to nibble on her ear and then her tummy.
The smile that eased its way across my face while watching Daddy and his little girl faded as soon as he looked at me.
“I’ll be home late tonight Tam. I’m going to stop and have a drink with Rick.”
I knew what he was doing. This was my punishment for being the ice-maiden in bed.
“That’s fine,” I said, trying to sound like I didn’t care. “I’m taking the kids over to Sandy’s house after dinner so I can shop for a new dress for your company Christmas Party.”
Jack was already headed for the door before I finished my sentence. “See ya,” he called without looking back.
“Just go to hell,” I muttered under my breath and then yelled, “Tell Rick I said hi,” before he slammed the door.
Rubbing my eyes, I looked at the clock on my desk and couldn’t believe it was already ten to six. I was supposed to meet Rick in ten minutes. I didn’t really feel like going for a drink. What I really wanted was to go home and lay down. I’d been processing loans all day, eating lunch at my desk, and could hardly see straight. I stared at Tammy’s smiling face in the family photo on my desk and felt angry once again at the thought of her rejection the night before.
How could she treat me this way? I was a great provider. We had a beautiful home and nice cars. I coached my son’s soccer team and went to all of Molly’s ballet recitals. It wasn’t like I was a dead-beat dad or a husband that was never there. What was so hard about saying “yes” once-in-a-while, about giving me what I wanted for a change? She was lucky I didn’t have an affair. Half the guys in this office already had. Tammy didn’t know how lucky she was.
I looked at the clock again. Five minutes to six. Grabbing my coat and briefcase, I rushed out the door to meet Rick. Maybe Tammy would appreciate me more if I wasn’t around so much.
Rick was already sitting at the bar when I walked through the door of the local pub ten minutes late. I hadn’t seen him in over a year. Ever since he’d gotten a job with another mortgage company, we’d lost touch.
Surprised when he called me last Friday, we chatted hellos, and then he invited me for a beer after work. I had turned him down because Tammy already had plans for us to go Christmas shopping. So, today I was glad Rick was willing to meet when I called him on my way to work. I needed an excuse to stay away from home, especially after telling Tammy I would be home late, I needed to find a quick solution to the empty hours that awaited. She needed to learn a lesson.
Rick waved from where he sat at the bar and motioned me over to join him. Shaking his hand, I was shocked to see how much he had aged in a year. There were large swathes of gray in his hair, and above his eyes carried a deep furrow I didn’t remember. Rick was my age, thirty-two, but he looked like he was pushing mid-forties.
“So how’ ya been buddy?” Rick asked as I took a swig of beer and handed the bartender a tip.
“Oh, you know, I can’t complain. Work is crazy right now, but it keeps the bills paid so what can I say?” I shrugged. “How’s your job at Loan Builder?”
“Same ol’, same ol’ except the pay is better than what I was getting at Myrons. There’s a new secretary; short skirts, tight sweaters. She keeps work interesting.”
“Still making the rounds huh?” I said, smiling and touching Rick’s glass with my own. “Here’s to the ladies man.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Rick said, grabbing a peanut out of the bowl on the bar. “I can snag them but I can’t seem to keep them.”
“You and Carla are doing okay, aren’t you?”
“Carla left six months ago,” Rick said looking off into the distance. “She took the kids and they’re all living with her parents right now. She served me with divorce papers last week.”
“What? Er, wow! I had no idea.” I gulped down half my beer, wishing I could drown the words that had opened this can of worms. “I’m sorry to bring it up, man.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it, buddy,” Rick said, forcing a smile. “No big deal. Things were going sour long before she left. We were fighting all the time and things were ice cold in the bedroom if you know what I mean.”
I know exactly what you mean, I thought, nodding at Rick.
“I don’t understand women. They’re red hot for you in the beginning and then one day you’re their worst enemy.”
“I know. Before Tammy and I got married, some of the guys at work warned me that women change. I never believed them about her, but it turns out they were right.”
“Carla told me she was tired of feeling second best. She said I made her feel like she was never enough by the way I treated other women. Now, okay, I’ve done my share of flirting and I’ve had my subscription to Playboy, but I never fooled around on her, honest! I always made sure we had a nice lifestyle. So, what the ̶ I just don’t think she knew what she wanted.”
Tammy’s cold eyes flew to my mind’s eye as if bringing home Henry’s calendar was yesterday. Tammy had been furious, and when I told her she was being ridiculous, her furry popped a cork. It wasn’t like I gave our six-year-old a calendar of naked women, for crying out loud.
“I miss my kids,” Rick said, bringing back to focus. He took another gulp of his beer. “That’s the hardest part. I guess I miss Carla too, but it’s too late now. She’s made up her mind and I can’t reason with her. So, I’m a wild and free bachelor again,” Rick said, smiling and raising his glass. The smile didn’t reach Rick’s sad, lonely eyes.
I stared at my reflection in the dressing room mirror. Turning from side to side, I pushed up on my breasts to see if a pushup bra would make the top of the dress fit better. Dresses lay in piles around my ankles.
“Arghh!” I cried, pulling at the zipper in the back and wiggling out of the little black number as if it were a straight jacket. “This is impossible!”
“Is everything all right in there?” It was the sales lady who had given me a key to the room. I looked down at the floor covered in satin and sequenced fabric and knew I was way over the six-item limit.
“I’m fine; just trying to decide what to get.”
“If you need any help, let me know,” she soothed.
“I’m beyond help, lady,” I muttered hearing the clicking of the lady’s high heels as she walked away from the fitting rooms. Wiggling into my jeans and sweater, I opened the door, looked both ways, and then practically ran toward the front door of the store.
“Forget the party,” I cried, jamming the car key into the ignition. “It’s just the same crap year after year. I have to act friendly with Jack’s co-workers and pretend I don’t notice the exotic, bimbo receptionist in her high strappy shoes and slinky dress. Last year, the slit up the slide of her outfit nearly collided with every eye in the office, man or woman! I sit and wonder whether Jack is having an affair with her, but I can’t act jealous or Jack will say I’m being ridiculous. That’s it. I’m not going.” The decision made, I was relieved to re-centermy head and see the parking lot was mostly empty. Thankfully, no one saw me ranting and raving inside my otherwise empty car.
I backed out and headed towards the babysitters’, then the kids and I limped home.
Shocked to see Jack’s car already parked as I pulled the minivan into the garage, the older kids ran ahead.
“Daddy! Daddy!” Molly cried from the back seat. “Daddy’s home!” Everyone else was already inside by the time I reached the door with Molly in my arms.
“Hi Tam,” Jack said, taking Molly as she wrapped her arms around his neck.
“You’re home early,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant. “I thought you’d be late. Weren’t you meeting Rick?”
“I decided to cut it short,” Jack said, setting Molly on the floor and watching her as she ran to join her brother in front of the T.V. Was he avoiding my eyes? “It’s been a long day and I’m tired. I didn’t sleep very well last night.”
Was he really tired or just trying to make me feel guilty? I decided to ignore the comment. “Are you hungry?” I asked, hoping he would say no. I was bone-tired too.
“No, I’m fine,” he said, jamming his hands into his pockets. It was strange how awkward it felt to be with him sometimes, even after ten years of marriage.
“I saved us some mon-”
“I’m sorry about this morning, Tam.”
I frowned, wondering what was going on. Jack never apologized. “I’m sorry too,” I said, glancing down at my watch, so I wouldn’t have to look at him. I could handle the angry husband that left the house this morning. That was easy. How could I be the angry, bitter wife when he was apologizing?
“I’ve got to get the kids to bed,” I mumbled, walking towards the living room where the kids sat glued to the T.V. “They had chicken strips on the way home.”
Jack tucked Molly in while I put Henry to bed. As I folded the covers down over his chest, I noticed something different.
“What happened to your calendar, Henry?” The heaving bosoms and microscopic shorts were gone.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I didn’t do anything with it.” For a moment I had the strange sensation that I was in the wrong house with the wrong family.
Jack was already in bed, staring up at the ceiling when I walked into the bedroom.
“Are you all right?” I had never seen him act so strange.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Why?”
“Well, you’re acting weird.”
“I’m just thinking.”
“About what?” I was almost afraid to ask. Was this the calm before the storm, before some earth-shattering news was delivered?
“About my life and the way I’ve been insulting to you. I realized this as Rick was telling me about how he and Carla got a divorce.”
“You’re kidding?!” I said, sitting on the bed beside him.
“I know. I was shocked too. I guess she got tired of the way Rick was sexually about other females, and she up and left him. He hardly ever gets to see his kids.”
“It made me start thinking about us. Are we okay, Tammy? I mean, are you glad you married me?”
I lay back on the bed beside him and stared up at the ceiling. “Did you take the calendar down in Henry’s room?”
Jack looked over at me. “I don’t think Henry needs a calendar like that.”
I smiled, feeling some invisible burden suddenly lift from my shoulders. “Yeah, I’m glad I married you,” I said.
“Wow! That was easy.”
“I’m not cheap but I am easy,” I said, laughing.
“Easy on the eyes,” Jack said, pulling me against him as he kissed the top of my head.
“Thank you, Jack,” I whispered, trying not to sound like I was about to cry.
“For doing that. For understanding.” And, then I couldn’t keep back the tears.
“I want you to know you’re number one, Tam. I don’t want you to ever feel like you’re second best.”
I closed my tired eyes and, for the first time in a long time, rested in my husband’s arms.
“I went shopping for a party dress tonight,” I murmured against his chest. “I felt so awful in everything I tried on that I was going to tell you earlier how I’d saved us some money for Christmas by not buying a thing, and I wasn’t going to go to your party this year. You aren’t having an affair with that voluptuous receptionist, are you?”
“I’ll save you some more money then. Taking down that cheerleader calendar was the best Christmas gift you could give me.”
Jack kissed me and I didn’t turn away this time. The calendar that had made our marriage bed so cold now ignited a flame. This day of snow and ice was transformed and we surrendered to the fire.
Charmayne Hafen is a Capture Books author concerned with marital health and the welfare of children. She facilitates art workshops for groups and grief therapy through art and photography. She holds a B.A. in journalism from John Brown University and an M.A. in counseling from Denver Seminary. Her youth books and children’s books are clean reads, full of adventures, compassion, and mystery.
Princess Wren feels like a lost bird wandering a huge castle where her mother has disappeared and now even her father, King Belodawn, has abandoned her. But, things are about to change as the princess matures.With the aid of the cook and the cook’s son, Wren discovers her unknown dexterity and honing it, believes it will open up new paths for her.
Little does the young woman know that a step to the right or to the left will plunge her into a life of horror.
Prerelease of The Zealots available through Kindle
It was the Sabbath, and twenty-five-year-old Tobias sat in his usual place outside the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple mount was always busy, and Tobias had long ago become used to the variety of noises that surrounded him. Quick, light footsteps were those of a child or someone running. Heavy, firm footsteps accompanied by philosophical conversations meant that the teachers of the law were passing by.
Occasionally Tobias heard slower footsteps, accompanied by tapping noises. Most likely that meant that an older, or infirm person was walking by on his or her way to the Temple. There were countless other noises of course: the cooing of doves or bray of sheep as they waited to be sold and then sacrificed as offerings to Adonai. The clank of swords on armor as groups of Roman soldiers made their rounds.
Clink. Tobias turned his head at the sound of a coin being tossed into the clay urn he held in his hands.
“Thank you,” he said.
“Adonai be with you,” A man’s voice responded.
Tobias could hear a child speak in a loud whisper. “Abba, why can’t he see? Did he do something bad?”
“Hush.” Tobias heard the man reply and then retreating steps as he and his daughter left.
It wasn’t the first time Tobias overheard such conversations. He himself had the same questions. Why was he blind? His parents told him he’d always been a sweet boy, obedient and intelligent. But for some reason, he was born blind. He could remember asking his parents if he was being punished for something, but they were as baffled as the doctors. He had dwelt in the darkness for the past twenty-five years without answers to his questions.
The day passed by as it usually did, and Tobias was grateful for the few coins that lay in his cup. Since he was unable to work, he was forced to rely on the provision of his family, a humiliating fate. Any money he could bring home helped to ease the sense of worthlessness he felt. He guessed it was late afternoon when he heard a group of men approach, speaking to a man they called Rabbi Yeshua.
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” He heard one of the men ask in a low voice.
Tobias guessed the question was posed by a Pharisee’s student. He was not unaccustomed to being used as a teaching subject on the consequences of sin. To his surprise, the answering response from the Rabbi was unlike any he’d heard before. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of Adonai might be displayed in him.”
Tobias held his breath.
“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work,” The Rabbi’s voice continued, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Suddenly, Tobias heard the sound of someone spitting on the ground near him. Before he could protest, he felt a warm, wet substance being rubbed over his eyelids.
“Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” Tobias heard the voice of the Rabbi.
Tobias was overwhelmed. Nothing like this had ever happened before. He felt a ripple of fear. Was this man mocking him? He must look a fool, sitting in the dirt with a mixture of spit and mud on his face. Just as quickly as the feeling came it went, however. The man’s voice was so calm, so filled with peace. Perhaps he was a fool, but he would obey him and go to the Pool of Siloam
Tobias stumbled to his feet, forgetting the cup of coins. He had been to the Pool of Siloam many times because it was used for many kinds of cleansings by his people. He moved as quickly as he could through the streets of Jerusalem, one arm outstretched, grazing the wall and buildings to his right. Occasionally he bumped into people, but most avoided the man with mud smeared across his face. Finally, as he reached the steps to the pool, counted by memory, he knelt beside the pool’s edge. His breathing was fast and shaky. He wanted to believe that when he washed he would be healed. But what if he wasn’t? What if the Rabbi lied to him?
He couldn’t push away the feeling that the man had power in his voice when he told him to go to the pool. Tobias descended into the water.
Holding his breath, he dunked his head under the pool’s surface, using one hand to wash away the mud-caked over his eyelids. Then he raised his head from the water and blinked.
Brilliant light flooded into his vision and he squinted. Several minutes passed and the light slowly became less blinding so that Tobias could see objects moving. They must be people, though he had never seen one before! Hundreds crowded the steps and patio surrounding the pool. Tobias could see dozens of what he guessed were trees surrounding the water, green leaves rustling gently in the breeze. The sky was impossibly blue, scuddled with thick white clouds. It was incredible to see the things that for years had only been descriptions and imaginings in his mind. A deep sob rose in Tobias’s chest and tears rolled down his cheeks. It was beautiful, impossibly beautiful.
He stood to his feet, suddenly aware that he needed to return to the Temple mount. He had to thank the Rabbi. He took a step forward, then stopped. After twenty-five years of relying on sound and touch, being able to see his surroundings disoriented him.
Though he wanted to keep his eyes open, absorbing all the sights around him, was thoroughly confusing. He squeezed his eyelids shut. Familiar darkness. He immediately knew which way to go. He took the stairs toward the Temple, opening his eyes every so often to look at his surroundings. It would take time to come to know his way around the city by sight. He laughed at the thought. But when he reached the place where he sat only minutes before, he realized he had no idea what a rabbi or his followers looked like. He closed his eyes and listened for the voice that told him to go wash. The voices of hundreds surrounded him, but none had the voice of the Rabbi. He opened his eyes.
People around him pointed and spoke to one another.
“Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”
“It is he.” A man nodded in agreement, staring at Tobias.
“No, he only looks like him.” A woman nearby shook her head.
“I am the man!” Tobias spoke excitedly.
“Then how were your eyes opened?” The woman asked skeptically.
“The man called Yeshua made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.”
“Where is he?” The man looked around.
Tobias shook his head, “I do not know.”
People continued to pass by Tobias as he stood, his senses overwhelmed, pointing at him and echoing the words of the man and woman from earlier. Tobias continued to insist that he was the blind man, now healed, but many looked doubtful. It made him wonder why people prayed for miracles if they wouldn’t believe them when they happened.
Shrugging off his frustration Tobias turned toward home. He couldn’t wait to announce the good news to his parents! Surely they would be thrilled for their son.
Tobias threw open the door to his family home. Once again, he had to close his eyes most of the way to find his way. Surprised, his parents looked at the man in the doorframe.
“Tobias?” His abba stepped toward him.
“It’s me Abba!” Tobias took in the face of the man he had imagined but never seen.
“What has happened?” His immah looked into the face of her son.
“I can see you!” Tobias looked back and forth between them.
His abba took Tobias’ face between his hands and looked into his eyes. Tears pooled and spilled down his cheeks.
“How is this possible?” He choked out, pulling his son into a hug.
“The Rabbi Yeshua, he healed me!” Tobias gripped his abba tightly.
Tobias saw his immah’s face fall and his abba released him.
“What’s wrong?” Tobias looked back and forth between them, confused. Fear flickered across his parents’ faces.
“We are so happy you can see, although I don’t understand it,” Tobias’ abba shook his head. “But the Sanhedrin has ruled that if anyone should confess Yeshua to be the Christ, he is to be put out of the synagogue.”
“But surely he is the Christ,” Tobias said without pause. “Who but the son of Adonai could heal me?”
His parents stepped back from him at his words.
“You must not say such a thing son,” his abba spoke sternly.
“Perhaps we should bring him to them,” Tobias’ Immah spoke slowly.
“To the Pharisees?” His abba was incredulous.
She nodded. “Surely they have heard of what happened by now. They will want to speak to him. It would be better if we went to them first.”
Tobias’ abba was silent, then slowly nodded. “Perhaps you are right.” He looked at Tobias. “Be honest with them, but do not praise the Rabbi. If you respect us as your parents you will do this. Neither, we nor you, want to be thrown out of the synagogue.”
Tobias’ heart sank. Why was such a wonderful miracle being treated with such skepticism and fear? He was intensely grateful toward the Rabbi and wished he could thank him and know more of him.
*** Discouraged, Tobias went with his parents to the synagogue, though to his dismay they remained outside. As his parent’s guessed, the Pharisees had indeed heard rumors of what had happened.
“How did you receive your sight?” They questioned him.
“The Rabbi put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see,” Tobias answered as simply as he could.
The teachers of the law conferred with one another.
“This man is not from Adonai, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” One said of the Rabbi.
“How can a man who is a sinner do such signs though?” Another asked. The room erupted with conflicting opinions. Tobias stood, silent. After several minutes one of the Pharisees gestured for the others to quiet. He looked seriously at Tobias. “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?”
It was the question his parents feared, and Tobias felt the weight of his response. “He is a prophet,” Tobias responded softly. It was true, but it wasn’t the entire truth. Tobias knew he believed the Rabbi to be much more than a prophet. He felt a pang of guilt.
The Pharisee looked at Tobias for a long moment then gestured toward the door. “Have his parents brought in.”
Tobias’ abba and immah looked terrified as they stepped into the room. Immediately they searched his face for a clue as to their involvement in this conversation. “Is this your son, who you say was born blind?” The Pharisee who questioned him earlier gestured toward Tobias. “How then does he now see?”
Tobias could see his immah tremble. His abba cleared his throat and said, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”
Tobias’ heart sank. He told his parents who healed him and how, yet even they didn’t believe him or refused to stand by him. He didn’t know which was worse. The Pharisee turned his eyes to Tobias once again.
“Give glory to Adonai. We know that this man, this Jesus, is an unclean sinner.”
Tobias thought of the man’s words on the Temple Mount and the power in his voice. He had told him to wash and now he could see. He believed the Rabbi was the son of Adonai even if no one else did.
“Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
Another teacher of the law stepped forward.
“What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?
Tobias choked back a sigh of frustration, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” He heard his parents gasp.
Anger filled the Pharisee’s eyes. “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that Adonai has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” Tobias could hear the self-righteousness in the man’s words. He had heard many such prideful lectures as he sat on the Temple mount, holding his clay cup between his hands. He glanced around the room of Pharisees and loathed their hypocrisy. They found it so easy to judge others.
“Why, this is an amazing thing!” Tobias felt a strength fill him. “You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that Adonai does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of Adonai and does his will, Adonai listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from Adonai, he could do nothing.”
Tobias could see the shock on his parents’ faces. He knew it was unacceptable to speak back to a teacher of the law and could see the thinly-veiled rage in the eyes of the Pharisees surrounding him.
“You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” The Pharisee questioning him sneered. “Leave, you are no longer welcome.” The men standing nearest Tobias grasped each of his arms and roughly pushed him through the door, slamming it behind him.
Tobias walked shakily from the synagogue until he rounded a street corner and sat heavily. He didn’t regret the words he spoke-he believed them wholeheartedly. Yet he was filled with grief. Surely his parents wanted nothing to do with him now. He could imagine them desperately pleading with the Pharisees that they did not agree with their son and begging not be thrown out of the synagogue as well. Just hours ago he was given his sight, yet he’d had no time to delight in the miracle. There was no one to rejoice with him or to explain the things he could now see. He felt immeasurable joy, yet at the same time, deep grief. He bent his head, choking back tears.
Minutes later he felt a hand on his shoulder and he looked up.
“Do you believe in the Son of Man?” An olive-skinned man in his early thirties with rough-looking hands stood beside him. His brown eyes held Tobias’ with compassion and kindness.
“And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Tobias asked.
“You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” The man smiled at Tobias. Tobias suddenly recognized the voice as the voice of the Rabbi who had told him to go wash. He fell to his knees.
“Lord, I believe. Thank you for giving me my sight!”
Yeshua pulled him to his feet. “For judgment, I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” By his words, Tobias wondered if the Rabbi knew he had been questioned by the Pharisees. Just then two teachers of the law drew near.
“Are we also blind?” They asked mockingly.
“If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains,” Yeshua replied. The men’s faces darkened and they left.
Yeshua smiled again at Tobias and he grinned back. Tobias could see the Rabbi’s disciples walking their way, and others began to gather around the Rabbi. But for a moment in time, Tobias knew he had been alone in the presence of the Son of Adonai. No matter what happened, he knew The Truth. The Truth was that Rabbi Yeshua had set him free.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this story by Historic Novelist, GK Johnson inspired by the biblical chapter of John 9. Please take a look at the 2021 debut novel by GK JOHNSON on Amazon entitled, The Zealots. This is a remarkable new retelling of the passion of Christ from the viewpoint of Barabbas and Simon the Zealot.