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Posted in NaNoWriMo / Writing

What I Expect of My Characters

by LUCERNA

Dear Jason,

I have given you the most honored title an author can bestow: my protagonist, my hero.

And in return, you’ve given me sleepless nights pumped on coffee, crumpled papers black with random notes, and fingernails bitten too deep in frustration. This is not fair. My job description as a writer says I must let you go, work the story around your quirks, make you shine amid awful mistakes and bad choices. I’m willing to do this and more (even sacrificing my precious puns!) if only you’ll keep your side of the bargain.

What I expect from you, as the protagonist:

Be real. I don’t want a pet who obeys my whim. I want someone real, someone who is angry and sad and happy and bitter and in love. Take control of the story, don’t wait for fate (me.) Shout to the readers with every movement that you have something to say.

Be alive. I have designed you for one goal: to love people in ways that I cannot. You, and only you, can dwell with my readers forever. You can sit up with them through sleepless nights, long hours in the doctor’s office, on a lonely park bench. You can be an example of manhood to the fatherless boy, a silent friend to the lonely girl, a teaching assistant to overwhelmed parents. They don’t want you to be perfect. They want you to be real, to be there.

You must grow and change with them, as you did for me when I was a teen. That time is past. You are ready to leave my mind and enter a larger world. I have given you memories, a family, emotions, free will.

As my protagonist, I have given you the same gifts my Author has given me. Now go bless the world.

That, Jason, is all I expect from you.

Sincerely,

Your Author

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Posted in Life & Faith, Short Stories, Uncategorized

My Last Stand

A short story written for the prompt “stand” – 10/8/16

by LUCERNA

I sit at my precarious post on an adobe wall. I’m given guard duty tonight; I get guard duty most nights. Probably because I’m the youngest man here, and the rest of them are completely exhausted.

 I shift my rifle to my knee, spending more time looking at the faces inside the Alamo rather than watching for ones outside it. If the Mexicans come at us again, I wouldn’t be able to see them until they reach the wall anyway. This blasted darkness has already cost several good men their lives.

I hear a baby cry, and I see my mother pacing the ground below, bouncing my sister on her hip. I can’t see her face, but I know her lips are pursed and there are tears in her eyes. She shouldn’t be here, nor the baby. But every attempt to smuggle them out of here has failed. I pray we will be able to hold out until more troops arrive from Gilead.

 Dawn begins to light the distant rim of the sky. As always, I am amazed at this wide open land. Texas is so different from Tennessee, where the trees branches lace together like a cage, blocking the sky, until you feel like a prisoner – looking up from Hades, heaven just out of reach. But here, there is nothing to block my view, I feel free.

Free, except for the silhouettes of Mexican soldiers a short distance away. I bite my tongue, for the first time wishing myself back in the woods.

 Officer Travis’ strong voice distracts me from my thoughts. He’s calling the men to join him in the middle of the fort. I take one last look over the wall, then obey.

I know immediately that whatever he’s going to say will not be pleasant; his eyes are moist, and his voice is scratchy and low. He’s come to know all of us as his friends and family, and he’s taken it upon himself to ensure we come out of here alive.

But tonight, Travis says he’s done everything in his power, to no avail. It will be every man for himself. He reads us the conditions of surrender.

He takes his sword, and draws a line on the ground. The beige Texas sand is dusted with black gunpowder, dribbled with dried blood. Travis steps to the right.

“I have chosen to fight to the death here, rather than surrender. I am now asking for volunteers to do the same. This is your last chance to leave, and I will not blame any of you for doing so. If you choose to stay, cross over the line.”

 Again, my hands are sweaty, my heart races, I feel dizzy. Yet I can still feel the piercing pain in my stomach, demanding more food than I had to give. I was so tired of this place, endless months of deprivation and war inside the dreary confines of the mission. Was surrender truly worse than death? I wished desperately for a middle ground, but there is no gray between the lines of freedom and slavery.

A murmur goes through the crowd: the first person has crossed the line. I glance up, and my eyes meet my mother’s gaze.

She is standing beside Travis, across the line from me, hugging my sister close.

 Suddenly, my life seems a small price to pay for the freedom of a nation. The freedom to work, love, and worship as we chose. The freedom to bow to no king but God.

My spirit wills me forward, but my feet refuse to move. The baby laughs, and I am propelled forward.

My little sister has no idea that she will die tonight. Ignorance is indeed bliss.

 Before long, only one man is left behind the line. He hangs his head, ashamed; and so do we. Because, secretly, we all would rather surrender than die. But our heritage will last longer than any of us will ever live.

 Officer Travis smiles. I didn’t even know his strained, weather-beaten face was capable of such a maneuver. He puts a hand on my shoulder, and calls out:

“All right, boys, let’s answer the General’s letter!”

 The Mexicans had been waiting for a response to their letter of surrender, and we gave them one: a cannon blast directly towards their camp. Scurrying like a pile of ants, they respond with the bugle call, “No Quarter.”

Or, less romantically, “throat-cutting”.

 Soldiers on both sides rise to action for the last battle. The Mexicans are coming, bringing every troop and weapon against us. We all know we will die fighting, yet everyone is cheerful. The days of monotony are ended, we are paying a heavy price for a worthy cause.

 Again, I scramble up to my post, and watch the rows of blue uniforms coming against us like a tidal wave.

I stand tall, a knife in one hand, and a gun in the other. I will give history a day never to forget.

I will make my last stand, God help me.

Posted in STEP

Guest Post: Grace Branch, My Testimony

So… Hi! I’m Grace (Branch haha😜)
So during STEP my team leader (Hope Pettibon) asked us all to share our testimonies… Needless to say I was terrified ahaha  so I rambled off some random stuff and didn’t really get into the actual stuff … Which I later I told my team leader . But I never shared with my entire team I don’t think…
So.. I’m just gonna jump in I guess..
So when I was 13 I started getting … Depressed I guess .. This actually continued getting worse until I went to STEP this summer where I met some friends who helped me get focused on who I am in Christ and all of the lies I’ve believed for so long.. I’ve struggled with self worth for about a year now but I realized that I was focused too much on who I though I was and not who God said I was.. I also had problems with eating if you get my drift.. But with God’s help and the support of my close friends and family I should make it through this rough patch in my life. I realize that everything I’ve been through I’ve been through because God knew i would need it for my life ahead… I want everyone reading this to know that you are loved… you have meaning… This world wouldn’t be the same without you.. And you’re beautiful no matter what you think
God loves you and so do I
And never forget that.
Gray-Cray
Posted in Life & Faith, Missions

The Friends We Keep

By LUCERNA

(Note: if you haven’t already read my Testimony, you might want to do so, or this won’t make much sense.)

 

As a kid, two quotes were ground into my memory:

 

One, “You’ll be the same person tomorrow that you are today, except for the books you read, and the company you keep.”

Two, “You can tell a person’s character by their friends.”

I’m not exactly how these two came to be so important, but all the big preachers and model parents were endorsing it. And all their good kids followed it to the letter; the screening process for their friendship took longer than training for the FBI. And then there was me, who wanted to be the perfect Christian, and who never did anything by halves. I became afraid to even smile at an “unworthy” person, much less talk to them – if our Yardstick Church found out, it might be considered rebellion, and the last thing I wanted to be was rebellious.

 

So I studiously avoided all but “approved” friendships. For years. It wasn’t hard, given that the church consisted of less than twenty-five members and had a hard time growing, oddly enough…

 

But one Sunday, when I was about sixteen, a family of missionaries visited from Mexico. At first I was so excited; all my life I’d wanted to minister to Mexico, and I had hundreds of questions. And they had a daughter near my age! In all my life I’d only had one acquaintance within four years of me. It was too good to be true.

 

And then, I saw their daughter. A trim, trendy eighteen-year-old, who spent the Sunday service sleeping in the van. And she dared come to church wearing pants! Everyone knew that women who wore pants were deceived by the devil; God delighted in ankle-length dresses and head coverings, and the plainer the better. I was toeing the line with my black skirt and white blouse. Surely there was a special curse on her blue jeans…

I was sorely disappointed. Even without meeting her, I knew we could never be friends – associating with a girl who slept through Sunday service, and wore jeans, would be considered rebellion on my part.

However, the girl didn’t seem to sense my judgmental thoughts. She followed me around all that day, not seeming to notice my attempts at dodging her. The other kids in the fellowship were doing even better at avoiding her than I was, including the ones who’d invited her family. So we stood together at the edge of the lawn, watching everyone else play kickball, while the poor girl was shivering in the New England weather. I wanted to give her my coat, but if any of the parents saw me…

 

At once, my fear turned to anger. These missionaries had devoted their life to serving others, while our self-righteous fellowship was obsessed with debating the periods and commas of the law. They were exhausted from travelling, yet they still made the effort to come to church, even if they did stay in the van. In short, they were doing the work God commanded of all of us. And we rewarded them with rejection and judgement over stupid clothing differences.

It was time to go home then, and I didn’t have a chance to make right with the girl; their family never returned, and I don’t blame them.

 

I still have the coat I wanted to give her, a continual reminder of that missed opportunity to be a blessing, to serve a sister in Christ.

 

Three more years passed before my judgmental attitude began to fade, as I realized I wasn’t any more deserving of God’s love and grace than anyone else, and Christianity is not about safeguarding our reputations from the world. I began to think about those quotes again – “You’ll be the same person tomorrow that you are today, except for the books you read, and the company you keep.

I misunderstood this to mean we should only associate with those “worthy” of us – people who were form-perfect, according to our standards of Christlikeness. But how often did Christ associate with “perfect” people? Who of us would have been worthy according to His standards? Not only did He chose sinful humans as His friends, but the lowest in our own eyes: fishermen, publicans, leopards, adulterers. He died alongside thieves and murderers.

 If it’s true you can tell a person’s character by their friends, I want my friends to show that I love everyone for Jesus’s sake. I don’t have to adopt their standards or do activities my conscience won’t allow. I only have to be open and accepting of them as people.

 I think often of that missionary girl that came to our church. It’s been several years now, but I pray somehow, somewhere, we’ll meet again.

 I owe her an apology, and my heartfelt gratitude.

 

Posted in Short Stories

Doubting Thomas

A short story written 5/14/16 for the WriteOn prompt, “stump.”

by LUCERNA

I tore blindly out of the house and down the small slope behind it. The frolicking waves of a nearby lake seemed to mock me, as the Master’s words resonated in my ear, “You will be Fishers of Men.”

Fishers of men! I still did not understand what He meant, but His words reminded me of the life I had led before following Jesus’ call. Dear God, how my life had changed since then!
I flung myself onto the ground and clutched a freshly-cut stump. I ran my fingers across the rough grain, tears trickling down my face. A tree such as this had been made into a cross, and that cross had tortured and killed my dearest friend and teacher. Perhaps I had never been as close to Him as John was, nor as boldly protective as Peter, but I knew I held a place in His loving heart. He didn’t call me by my Greek name, Didymus, but the Aramaic version, Thomas.

During the years I followed Jesus of Nazareth, I saw many miracles performed. Dead men were raised to life, the blind given sight, and demons cast from souls. My rational mind sought to explain these events … how could an ordinary man accomplish so much? But I could not explain. I only knew there was something unusual about that Man, and a strange longing in my heart said to follow. His very presence was heavenly, fulfilling desires I did not even know existed. Only when He left did I realize what an aching void was in my soul.

Now He was dead, and that void would continue the rest of my life. I knew nothing could fill it, ever. John tried to comfort me, repeating continuously his story of the empty tomb, and the women who had seen the angel. He even claimed that the Master had appeared to them since that time. But I could not believe, I would not set myself up for such disappointment. John had just launched into another retelling, and so I’d left the house. At least by the lake it was only myself and my misery.

I sighed as I looked back. It had been eight days since the others claimed to see Jesus, yet He had not returned. He called us His beloved children, and if that were true, where would He go without us? It was all a hoax, it had to be. I turned to go back inside, resolving to tell John so.

Once inside, I closed and locked the door behind me. The house was as dark and stifling as a catacomb; the windows were covered, and no candles were lit. We never knew when the soldiers would appear and attempt to kill us too, as they did many of the Master’s other followers.
A hand clutched my arm, and I heard Peter’s voice. “Didymus, where have you been?”
I pulled my arm away. “Outside. Don’t worry, no one saw me. But I couldn’t stay in this tomb any longer.”

John heard me from across the room. “The Master could not stay in His tomb, either! He rose again, and appeared among us! I have seen the empty grave, and I know it is true …”
“Hush, John!” I demanded. “I don’t want to hear the story again. Yes, the tomb was empty. Yes, someone appeared here, while I happened to be away. But how could it be the Master? We watched Him die. John, you saw the nails go through His hands and feet. Peter! You have always been the logical one, how could you believe this?”
“I cannot.” Peter answered quietly. “But God has given me faith.”

I turned away, running my hand over my head. “You all are children, believing what you choose! But I must have proof. I will not believe until I have touched His hands, and seen the scars where the soldiers beat Him.”

There was a long silence. Then, in the middle of the room, a voice said “Shalom.”

I looked towards the speaker. It looked so much like … but it couldn’t be, the doors had been locked!

But my doubt vanished and my heart believed when Jesus looked into my eyes. “Thomas, Thomas. See the wounds on my hand? And look,” he pulled aside one corner of his robe, “See the scars on my side. Do not lose your faith, but believe.”

I sank to my knees. The walls of my hardened heart dissolved, and again that awful emptiness was filled. I clutched the hem of his garment and held it to my cheek. “My Lord and my God!”
I had thought that Jesus, the carpenter’s son, was only a priest, a prophet, or a king. Now I understood that He was all three. There was such love in His touch, as He laid His hand on my head. “Thomas, you believe because you have seen. Blessed are they who have not seen, yet have believed.”

* * *

Years have passed since The Master returned to His Father in heaven, but I have never doubted His existence again. For I have seen the nail-scarred hands, touched the bruised and shattered side. But to my children in the faith, who believe when they have not seen, their reward shall be twofold.