…stories and poetry to touch, teach, & turn the heart toward truth.

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Story of Hope, Chapter 3 – part 2

Jamin hadn’t known what to expect when he’d sat down on the bench by the fireplace and looked at his hands. His mind flew back to the night those hands had clenched onto his father’s soiled shirt collar, shoving him toward the doorway of their old shack. He’d remembered the look in his father’s eyes when Jamin shoved him so hard that the man went stumbling backward into the street, landing hard on his back. With the impact, the shock that had been there was replaced by a flash of anger, and Jamin knew that if he didn’t follow through he would regret it.

In a moment of pure adrenaline, Jamin had rushed at the prostrate figure and started kicking him with wild fury. His fists had pounded into his father’s face until blood came rushing from his nose and mouth. By the time Jamin had regained anything resembling composure, his father was clawing at the street trying to escape Jamin’s assailing rage. The last words Jamin had spoken to his father as the drunken fool hobbled into the darkness was that he would kill him if he ever returned.

The guilt and bitterness came flooding back to Jamin as he’d sat safely in their safe, new home and tried to imagine how God could forgive him for what he’d done. Almost as severe as Jamin’s spite for his father was his guilt over what he’d done in return. What son could assault his father so mercilessly and not feel this way? Jamin had realized for the first time that he was afraid that his father would never forgive him either. Even if Jamin could forgive his father, how would he ever be able to overcome the guilt of what he’d done to the man who had given him life? Somehow, even amid the brokenness of his childhood, Jamin had always known that he and his father were supposed to be friends. Other boys that Jamin had known as a child looked up to their fathers as heroes. Jamin had threatened to kill his.

He couldn’t go on like this.

Too many years of warring emotions and conflicting allegiances had brought Jamin to a breaking point. He knew now that what his mother had told him was true. He needed someone much stronger than himself to help him deal with life, or he would be trapped in a prison of hopelessness until the day he died.

Quietly in that little farm house, Jamin had prayed for the first time since he was a young child. He’d asked God to forgive him, because he believed He could. Jamin had asked God to give him the strength to forgive his father and for his father to one day forgive him. After he’d prayed, the silence of the room had returned and he felt a chill of relief rush through him. He’d looked up to see his mother standing at the door with tears pouring down from her eyes, over her cheeks, and curving around the happiest smile he’d ever seen.

For the first time in years, Jamin had felt hope. It was hope that brought him day by day thereafter to a morning in early fall, when a girl in the city market turned his world upside down all over again.


The morning was young when Nina sneaked out of the house with basket in hand, and made her way to the Saturday morning market. She loved to feel the freshness of a fall morning as the sleeping city roared to life. She loved the brightness of the fresh fruits and vegetables that lined the streets of the marketplace. She loved to listen to the banter of patrons heckling with the vendors for an acceptable price. She loved to find the most perfect piece of fruit in the whole market and munch on its juicy freshness as she bartered and shopped for the week’s goods just the way her mother…

Why did she have to keep thinking of that woman? The bitter hurt she continuously tried to swallow down kept swelling back up her throat and, once more, tears tried to fight their way to the surface, clouding her vision. She wiped them quickly and looked around for something to distract her.

Her eyes found their target, and the world seemed to stop.

She’d sought a distraction, but found an obsession. The morning sunlight caught in his rusty brown hair and glistened in his shining brown eyes. He was perfect.

Her feet moved before her mind was full engaged, and before she knew it she was approaching the produce stand behind which he was waiting. His face turned toward her, their eyes connected, and she looked into a world of mystery and wonder. Because she was speechless–and he seemed to be the same–she smiled the most winning smile she could muster and walked away, dazed. What just happened?


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Story of Hope, Chapter 3 – part 1

Jamin smiled with a confidence even he didn’t expect. Before today–about twenty minutes ago in fact–it would have been more confidence than he had, but things had changed. It was her. She’d changed everything, and hadn’t even spoken a word to him. Her eyes still pierced him, even in her absence. The things she had said about him with one fleeting, eternal glance spoke more about who he could be than he’d ever dreamed. From today forward he was going to be someone new. He knew it. It was like he’d met the real him for the first time!


Since the day he’d taken his father into his own hands and thrown him out of the house, Jamin had been untouchable. He knew he’d only been able to do it because of the dizzying effect his father’s drunkenness had caused, but it had still been a defining moment in his life. He’d finally learned his lesson about trust. No one could be trusted; no one deserved anything from him. His role in life became to protect his mother and himself from that man–and anyone else who thought they could taken advantage of what was his.

Despite the turmoil Jamin had known as a boy, growing up under the wrath of an alcoholic father, he’d always been a much clearer reflection of his mother’s gentleness than his father’s volatility. Enough was enough, though, and the boy became a man at the age of fifteen. Now Jamin was seventeen, and had learned more about life than most knew by thirty.

He’d become the main provider for his home the day after he’d showed his father the door. He and his mother had moved to the country, where he now worked for a farmer in exchange for rent and a small wage. The farmer was a childhood friend of his mother and had taken them in as family, but Jamin’s heart was in such turmoil that he was unable to speak to anyone but his mother for over a year. The depression that had plagued him was more than any could bear alone, and he was drowned by it daily. Even still, his mother’s prayers floated up to his ears each night as he drifted to sleep in the small loft of their shanty, and it was those words of love that first sparked a flame of hope in his heart.

Twenty days before Jamin’s seventeenth birthday, he’d worked up the nerve to ask his mother how she lived with such peace and hope. Tears flooded her eyes as she told him about a word he would never forget–forgiveness. It was more than a word. Until then, it was a concept he couldn’t bring himself to consider, but after a year and a half of listening to his mother pray with love for the man who had harmed her indefinably, Jamin knew he would have to change. He admitted to himself that the longer he hated his father the more of his father he saw in himself. That was the last thing he wanted.

Quietly, Jamin’s mother explained to him that forgiveness is bigger than human heartache–that it is stronger than hate. “Forgiveness is love in action,” she’d explained, “and love is the most powerful thing in the universe.”

It hadn’t come to him instantly. The thought of loving his father was more than he could stomach. It wasn’t until he’d come back a week later that she explained to him how love was possible. “Love comes from God,” she continued with a glow in her eyes. “We cannot love on our own. That’s why you don’t understand how I can love your father. What I’ve never told you is that I hated your father for more years than I loved him. I wasn’t able to forgive your father for what he’d done until I realized, like you have, that my hate was destroying me. I knew God when I was a girl, but I left Him when I fell in love with your father. That was my biggest mistake. I made your father more important to me than anyone, and–as I should have expected–he disappointed me more than I knew was possible.”

Jamin’s eyes had clouded over with anger when she’d said that. He would never understand how his father could hurt this woman. He still wanted to see his father pay for what he’d done to them. His absence wasn’t justice enough.

“I know what you’re thinking, son.” His mother drew him in with her eyes. “No one can excuse what he’s done and that’s true. Your father will need to come a long way before he can see himself though God’s eyes, but there is hope even for him, if he should ever choose to accept it. That is between him and his Maker. It’s a choice we must all make, and it’s a choice that is standing right in front of you, too.”

Jamin wasn’t used to his mother speaking this forwardly, but he loved to hear the confidence in her voice.

“I haven’t ever been the mother I wanted to be for you, but I hope you know that I love you more than I can ever express.” Both of their eyes were filled with tears, and Jamin had felt the bitterness inside him begin to melt as he’d felt his mother’s love wash over him.

“I know that,” he’d replied, as a sob escaped his throat, surging up from his heart. “I know.”

They’d stayed there, clinging to each other as the hurt of so many years washed over them, then slowly drifted off into the air.

After a time, his mother finally broke the stillness. She’d stood him up to face her with both hands around his arms. “Jamin, you will never be able to forgive your father until you ask the Lord to forgive you. That is as simple as I can put it.” Her eyes were searching his, as she’d continued. “God is more powerful than either of us can know, and if anyone can forgive your father, it’s Him. You will never know any peace in life until you choose to make things right with God and ask Him to give you the power to forgive your father and start living the life you were made for. I don’t want this life for you, and I know you don’t either. You have too much life to live to be moping around this farm lost in your hurt and pain. If I could take it away I would, but the only way you will know hope, my child, is if you find it in God–plain and simple.”

With that, Jamin’s mother had hugged him and told him she was taking a walk so he could have some time alone with God. The impending confrontation had terrified him.


Story of Hope, Chapter 2

Monica Swarth wiped the tears once more from her brown eyes. She had to stop crying if she wanted anyone to notice her! Well she was being noticed, she realized, but not in the way she sought. What could be less appealing than a crying whore? Before the thought completed its journey through her mind, she knew the answer–one like her. One who lied to everyone she knew, cheated on her husband, and didn’t have the spine to face up to the truth and seek reckoning when her own daughter discovered her filthy secret.

She was truly at the lowest place she could imagine.

It was no wonder she hadn’t had a single encounter in almost a week. Who wanted a mess like her for even a few short minutes, let alone on a regular basis? And a regular basis was the only way she’d ever get to the financial position she sought.

Any half-wit could testify to her natural attractiveness. It came from her mother, just as Monica had passed it on to her own daughter, Nina. Some women used their beauty to make a place for themselves. Monica often found her features to be nothing more than a nuisance. When she’d started this line of work, Monica had hoped she would find one wealthy man to visit once or twice a week, and that would be the worst things got. Three months in, she was not so blessed and had no promising prospects.

In Monica’s life, she had reaped only pain and disappointment from the potential wiles of her beauty. Now, at the darkest point she had yet known, her cursed beauty was still letting her down. What was she thinking?

Fed up with herself for the final time, Monica Swarth lifted her cloak from the street bench beside her and walked off into the darkness. She was going home. This time, she really was done.

They did not live in the poorest part of the city. In fact, their modest home was quite attractive on its quaint lot along a shaded, quiet street. It was trimmed with black shutters and crisp white fences. Every time Monica paused long enough to take in its character, she returned to the almost-distant memory of her husband.

Captain Oliver Swarth was a rough man in appearance. What sea captain wasn’t? He was home only three or four weeks out of each year, and whatever money he saw fit to bring with him was the entire allotment with which Monica had to budget for the next year. It had been ten months since he’d been back, and his last visit was so brief she’d hardly felt like he’d been there at all. He was home for a day or two, then left for the country to work on his brother’s farm.

When he was home, he never stopped talking about his dreams of a new life. Monica knew too well that they would never happen–not with the lifestyle he lived on that boat.

During his brief visits home, Olly–as he was better known–,ensured that his property was left in the best of shape, “his girls” were well-clothed and cared for, and his debts were in proper reimbursement. They had never gone hungry, and for that Monica was thankful, but there was no missing the fact that her husband brought home less for them to live off each year.

She could never bring herself to admit it aloud, but inside she knew what he was doing with their money. She knew enough about men to know that he wasn’t traveling around the world for a year at a time and not partaking in whatever liberties he desired. He was swindling a larger portion of his earnings each year before he made it home, and yet he still held blindly to an irrational dream of adventure and the illusion that his family would be together again. His audacity made her sick. Even with her own secrets, she could not bring herself to move beyond, or even fully face, what he was surely doing with their money.

She couldn’t say she blamed him. Their continuous separation was the same excuse she’d used to justify her recent attempts to acquire extra income. She’d felt the ways they had grown apart over the six years they’d lived this way. Nina had just turned ten when Oliver came home in chagrin after he’d lost his management job at the factory. When he had found work with the trading company on one of their ships, the promise of money was strong enough for them to accept the cost of his absence.

Six years later, Monica wallowed in the knowledge that life could have been so much better if he’d found work near home. Even after he’d departed on his first eleven-month voyage, she’d harbored the fleeting hope that he would return ready to leave the sea behind. Instead, he’d returned each time more infatuated with the seas. It hadn’t taken him long to become second to the captain, then captain himself, and he’d signed on for the long run.

When home, he was known by all to be a tender and nurturing man. With his faded Irish accent and warm blue eyes hidden behind a progressively fuller brown-red beard, he’d always had a lovable personality and a low pretense. These were the reasons Monica had fallen for him in their youth, yet each year they’d grown a bit older, a bit  more tired, and a little further apart.

Monica knew that this separation of their hearts was as much her fault as his. Looking back, she could see how she’d built the walls around her heart higher each time the loneliness returned. She could feel the blocks in her mind that she’d built as strong as a brick wall. Regardless, she could not build the walls strong enough to keep him from hurting her with his absence. She could not think away the many, many ways she hated her life.

As she became more and more convinced of his unfaithfulness to his family–to her–she became more calloused. Whether he was spending his money on women, drink, gambling, or even some other family he may have somewhere, Monica found herself caring less with each passing year whether or not he even returned. Her heart and mind were in endless turmoil, cycling between heartbreak and hate.

There was much about her life she knew was irreconcilable. It was all too much to process. She’d just spent the past four months as a…she couldn’t say the “p” word. She knew that most of her troubles were her own fault, but she still managed to always bring it back to Oliver’s leaving. If he hadn’t left, nothing would be as it was.

He should have known–or at least guessed after so many years–that she was not meant to be alone. His absence and their slow descent into near poverty were enough to cause her increasing instability. She couldn’t know where life would go from here, but for her own sanity she could blame no one but him. The outcome was no longer important, getting through today was all that mattered.

Monica walked inside the house, leaving her cloak by the door, and started supper for two. Then she remembered that she hadn’t eaten with Nina in almost three weeks. She had some serious catching up to do.

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Story of Hope, Chapter 1

The year is 1907.
An aging woman, worn and tired, sits smiling out a cracked and clouded window. She is humming a song of love–a song of true love.

There were no birds to be heard singing in that neighborhood. Not one bird, but a scraggly pigeon or two, had been spied there in years.

The night was dark, and evil was present. It was dark, because old, ramshackle buildings hovered over the narrow streets. Evil was present, because worn and filthy bodies scampered and slummed about, inviting its company. They invited it readily with every breath of foul and rancid air that passed through their grime-stained lips. From these lips also could be heard the shouting and whining of the most depraved of profanities.

In short, evil was present, because it was welcomed.

A young lady, between child and woman, thought to herself that if the night was any more fear-inflicting there would be no purpose for a Hell. At least in Hell, she thought, no one could do anything about the miserable conditions. Here nobody tried. They wanted it this way, and only evil itself could explain why.

The girl, lovely in physique and demeanor, had her eyes only minimally focused on these streets. Most of her attention, which is what brought her so bravely to this place, was narrowed on a moving form, just recently uncloaked. Nina was following a woman who, to her own mystification, kept walking farther and farther into the darkness. It was as if the woman felt a sense of belonging here. None but Nina truly knew just how little this woman belonged here; for the woman, carrying a cloak and wearing a prostitute’s garb, was Nina’s own mother.

Seeing her mother in this place, dressed as she was, filled Nina with a greater dread than she ever before had known. Her mother was not an evil woman. Nina did, however, know her as a foolish woman a times. That knowledge alone allowed for what Nina saw next to make a much smaller immediate impression than it should have.

The woman walked under a lone street light where a fat, gnarly man waited. With no spoken greeting, she followed him to an upstairs apartment. Nina wanted profusely to vomit. She wanted to cry even more. Most of all, though, she wanted to walk into that room, with its dim light bleeding through faded red curtains, and kill someone.

What she did instead would produce wonder and surprise in any person containing any respect for what is decent.

She just stood there.

She stood there and waited in the shadows for nearly two hours, until the same woman let herself out of the apartment. Covered again with the cloak, Nina’s mother, Monica, began to tread hastily past her daighter’s hiding place.

After her mother passed, Nina stepped out from the shadows and began to follow her. She’d gone only a short distance, caring little about being heard, when Monica spun around and waved a silvery object in the darkness.

“Get away from me, you filthy wretch, or I’ll rip your intestines from your stomach and leave you to the starving rats!”

For a second time that night Nina found herself in a state of utter disbelief. She felt the knife of sick deceit much more sharply than she feared any attack from this foolish excuse for a mother.

“Witch, it’s me!” She spat hatefully, then walked on by as if nothing more could be said.

Weeks had passed before Nina spoke to her mother again. Avoidance was a cinch, though, considering that her mother  had made sure that they never came into contact. They lived in the same small house, and they saw each other not even once.

In Nina’s mind, the way a mother shows love to her child is by being there. A good mother would face up to her mistakes, even when it meant humiliation and rejection from the child she had wronged. With each day of avoidance, though, Nina became more and more convinced of one thing. Her mother had moved beyond foolish to truly heartless and completely hateful.

The old woman stands from her small chair by the window and walks to the table that stands in the middle of the room. It is a small kitchen, dark and full of sad memories. The woman’s face shows evidence of none of them. She reaches to the center of the table, where next to a glowing candle lies a worn book. She opens it and begins to read the words she wrote so long ago. The words tell the stories from her life she hopes never to forget.

Like a memory, she reads of when her precious baby boy was born. She remembers the moment when he was placed into her arms, captivating her heart in a way no one had done before. She had named him Jamin Promise Opalinksi, for she knew his birth was a promise from God. One day her little boy would free her descendants from the tyranny of evil into which he had been born.

Jamin’s father had been an evil man, given wholeheartedly to the violence born in him by the contents of his brown bottles. He had struck her body with more blows than she could have tied to count, just as his father had done to his own mother. The time came, though, when Jamin chose to stand up to the evil that had plagued his ancestors.

At the age of fifteen, Jamin had commanded his father to rise in anger against them no more. He’d followed his words through by throwing the reeling drunkard out of the tiny house he did nothing to support.

That day, her son became a man. Jamin had learned that nothing in his life was more worthwhile than working out good for the ones he loved. He would not give in to the evil desires of his diseased heart. This was just the beginning.

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Calderwood, Part III

Realizing it would be rather rude of me to remain in silence with him obviously intending to rest beneath me, I offered a leisurely greeting to break the silence. My thought that he was unaware of my presence was quickly confirmed as his entire body lurched and his eyes shot up with almost terrified surprise.

“I had no idea there was anyone around!” Obviously. “Have you been sitting there all along? Why didn’t you say anything before?”

Apparently, he wasn’t too interested in not being alone. Rather than respond to his unnecessary shortness, though, I replied with a more congenial question. “Nice day to be out. You been traveling long?”

Perceiving now that I meant no harm to him and that he was the one being intrusive, he offered a gentle nod and confided that he had been traveling since yesterday morning from Gleshna, the king’s city. He followed by asking if I lived nearby.

“Just beyond the river’s edge,” I replied. Coupling the knowledge that he was avoiding notice with my suspicion that he’d rowed quickly past Torren without stopping, I suspected he was more than ready for a place to rest. “You’re welcome to rest there a while if you desire. Want some help tying up your vessel? “

His earlier hesitance now seemed almost completely gone, and he offered a grateful smile. This young man was obviously not accustomed to the elements of the woods, and had probably managed next to no sleep the night before. To confirm this suspicion, I asked half-heartedly, “Not many places to stay around here are there?”

He offered a sheepish grin, as he confessed, “No, I tried camping along the shore last night, but…” He seemed too ashamed to admit that he’d been scared, but it was evident in his expression.

“Well, I always sleep better inside too.” I offered. “When I first moved out here, it took me a week to sleep through the night without being awakened by the noise of the night. These woods never sleep.”

“Apparently not,” he replied, shaking his head. “How long have you lived here, then?”

“About eleven years now.”

That interested him, but I wasn’t sure why. He had a hunger in his eyes, like a man who longed for adventure, but had yet to taste what he sought. “Where did you live before?” The boat was securely tied now, and after grabbing his pack of belongings, he climbed up the bank behind me, and we both started through the trees to the clearing where my cabin stood.

“The son of a fisherman,” I paused briefly, remembering the smell of saltwater mist blowing on the wind, “Grew up by the sea and moved here when I was old enough to leave home. Always wanted to live in the forest, so here I am.”

He looked a bit disappointed now. “Why do you like the forest so much? I’ve always thought the sea was better.”

He was direct; no doubt there. “Just water.” I replied, “Too lonely. I like the feel of life all around me out here, helps me remember I’m not alone.”

As we arrived at the cabin, I stepped onto the porch and opened the door. “Well, this is it,” I offered. He looked inside and his eyes went straight to the pears and squirrel jerky on the table. I showed him where the bed was, told him to help himself to some food, and let him know I’d be back in a few hours. That was all the invitation he needed. He had three bites of jerky down before I made it out the door. As I returned back to my writing, I considered the fact that he hadn’t mentioned a word about himself. He didn’t seem untrustworthy, just green, inexperienced at life. I would have to see about getting more out of him after he slept a bit. If he had really been as hungry as he acted, I thought, it was no wonder he seemed a little off.

I returned to the cabin at dusk, after picking some more fruit in the orchard and checking my traps. The place was quiet as I approached and I started to wonder if my visitor had left prematurely. A loud snore from inside answered me quickly enough, and I realized that there was a chance that he might just sleep through the night if permitted. Clearing my throat, I opened the door and left it open to combat the growing darkness. After replacing the missing pears at the table with two more, plus a couple apples and some blackberries, I grabbed my cleaning knife and went back out to the porch to clean the two rabbits I’d found in my traps.

An hour later, I was enjoying the savory aroma of fire-roasted meat. Darkness had fallen now, and I sat calmly in the light of the fire, finishing the story I’d started earlier in the day about a bird I’d once watched from my father’s fishing boat. The creature had managed to catch a fish twice it’s size right out of the sea. I still don’t entirely understand how he did it, but he carried it right off into the horizon, popping up and down with the fish thrashing in his talons. It makes an excellent story. It’s one of my mother’s favorites, and I’m glad I finally got it down on paper. Sometimes the biggest challenge for me is not to find a story to tell, but to decide which one I want to tell first. I decided long ago that it is a good problem to have.

I had just pulled the rabbit off the spit, when I saw a sluggish frame meander out of the cabin and into the light of the fire. How timely of him to wake up just in time for dinner. I suppose the only thing stronger than a man’s desire to sleep, though, is his desire to eat. I knew this well, but seeing it happen so blatantly was somewhat comical to me. I nodded as he approached and he offered a yawn-like smile.

“It appears that your nose is working properly,” I said dryly.

“My mother always said my appetite was my strongest feature,” he chuckled. Seeing the sizzling hot food made him forget his sleepiness faster than a squirrel can scamper down a sapling, I noted mentally.

“Well I’m glad you managed to wake up while it’s still hot. Wouldn’t want a good helping of meat like this to get cold. Here have a seat,” I said, pointing to the log bench across from mine.

He sat, and readily started in on the food I offered him, after waiting minimally for it to cool. He had to be at least twenty, I thought, by looking at him, but he acted more like an oversized kid, who hadn’t seen enough of life to know how to act around new people. It was almost a naivety, I realized as I watched him eat. As I had wondered before, I became gripped by the desire to know his story. Who was he, and what was he doing out on his own sneaking around like this?

After he finally looked up from his food, I asked, “So what brings you so far up the river?”

A momentary look of panic flashed across his eyes, and he looked away. “Just needed to get away,” he mumbled, “like you, I guess.”

“Away from what?” I pressed gingerly. I hoped that by now he trusted me enough to at least be somewhat informative.

“Long story.”

This wasn’t working very well, so I tried a more direct attempt. “Is someone after you?”

This brought a mixture of fear and spite piercing from his eyes that I had not expected. “Look, you’ve been real nice and everything, but if all you wanted was to get another story to write, I don’t recall volunteering for it.”

That rubbed me the wrong way, and I shot him a look that indicated as much. I’d hoped that some sleep would help his edginess, but it apparently only gave him more energy to express it. “Well,” I said rising. “You won’t be able to make much progress on the river tonight. I’m heading to bed. You’re welcome to stick around until morning, but you’ll have to find somewhere to sleep.” And for a little self-gratification I threw in, “I wouldn’t roam around in the dark too much, though, you never know what you’re going to run into out here.” I heard him curse under his breath as I walked away, and I was glad he couldn’t see my smug grin as I disappeared into the darkness.


Build Me a Cabin (The Succulence of Solitude)


Just build me a cabin

And strengthen my lungs

And I’ll live here

From where stars were hung

I feel more free

Than I have ever felt

Humanity a distant thought

No one but my Maker and I


Oh, forget the cabin

I’ll sleep under the stars

I will drink in the beauty

Of a world I forgot

The succulence of solitude

Until I’ve dwelt long enough

And am ready to rejoin reality

World, world here I come