Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Life Gone Awry

The prison cell was dark and dank. It smelled of urine. The small, hard cot on which she attempted to sleep at night was full of fleas or bedbugs (she couldn't tell the difference, and really, did it matter?) and the thin blanket could not keep her warm at night. The wardens constantly harassed her, reminding her of her crimes and making sport of her for it. Aury never suspected that her life would turn out like this... but then, she was never really good for anything in the first place.

Aury grew up in a small town full of drunkards and womanizers. Many of the women had turned to prostitution or adultery to try to fill the emptiness in their lives. Looked at as pieces of meat, the women thought they might as well make some money while they were at it. The men were bawdy and wild, so the women followed suit. Kids were left to fend for themselves, as parents were usually too hung over to deal with them. At least, that was her experience.

The only group that didn't wear their wrongdoing like a badge on their arms were the preachers, whose crisp cleanliness stood in stark contrast to everyone else. Now that she was in the clink, they reminded her a lot of the wardens. No one could hope to breathe in a church like that, for fear of contaminating the preachers' air. (Not all of them were actual preachers, but the straight-laced believers had earned the name by condemning others and quoting conveniently-intolerant scripture.)

When her dad started hitting her, and before she knew better, Aury tried to go to the preachers. They told her that she must have done something wrong, and insisted that she pray about it and find out where she was to blame. Aury was just seven at the time, and was horrified that it'd been her fault. As she grew older, she searched her soul and did everything she could think of to please him, trying to treat him as the father he should have been rather than the one he was. After a hard day's work for her father, she brought him his slippers. He hit her. While her mother was drunk and passed out, she prepared his dinner (and burned herself in the process). He saw the burn on her arm, called her a “stupid, mangy dog,” and hit her. Aury went back to the preachers and told them what had happened. She said she didn't think it was her fault after all, and they quoted scriptures at her about how evil begets evil, and that everyone will be repaid for their crimes. She tearfully stormed down the steps of the church and vowed never to go to that awful place again.

Aury abruptly laughed, thinking back to Joshua. She'd met him at school when she was fourteen. By that point, she'd already headed down her path in life. She did drugs with her friends every morning before school, and laid down with any young man who took an interest. It always left her feeling more broken, but she didn't care. By that point, she wasn't sure she wanted to live anymore. She was secretly hoping the drugs would take her life.

Joshua sat down in her class one day, beaming with a smile that could light up the room. It was his first day, but he already had friends following him around. The girls noticed him too, but he was aloof, in a good way. Girls in Aury's town were always treated one of two ways: noticed because a man wanted someone to hit, or noticed because a man wanted someone to lie with. Joshua's way of dealing with girls was respectful, so of course he wanted them to feel comfortable. From his first day, Joshua was very involved in class. In fact, he corrected the teacher a few times, which impressed Aury and made her stifle a laugh. The teachers were awestruck by his knowledge, and began asking
him questions. It was one of the most enjoyable things Aury had seen in her entire life.

As Aury got to know Joshua, she realized he was genuinely nice. He was the first person who truly cared about her, and they became fast friends. He was a believer, but his beliefs differed from those of the Preachers. Although Aury was part of another scene, and sometimes felt like he didn't understand her, they stayed close through the years, and with all of the changes that they went through. The Preachers' kids (Aury's other friends called them PITS: Preachers In Training) hated Josh though, and it puzzled Aury a little. Josh was a really good guy, and you had to be perfect to join their club. Josh was more perfect than anyone Aury had ever met.

Josh didn't seem to like the PITS either, though. He corrected them (the best-performing students in the school, since none of them were drunk or doing drugs most of the time) and called them proud hypocrites. They didn't like that too much, but it thrilled Aury to hear them spoken to like that. No one else dared question them. She felt bolder when Josh was around, in a good way. It felt like, if he was around, nothing could hurt her. He always knew just what to say. She knew that he cared about her well-being, and didn't want her to continue hurting her body with her awful habits, but the drugs seemed to help her forget about her life. She didn't
want to remember that her dad was never there for her, and that her mom constantly manipulated and demeaned her. Bad habits helped her forget her hard past, but they made way for a hard future.

Aury scoffed. It was her habits that got her into this mess. She'd dropped out of high school and started working the streets. As she continued using, she needed a stronger fix. She used all of her money on drugs, and they became all she thought about. The withdrawals were torture, and she spent sleepless nights trying to solicit customers. She never thought herself pretty, but as the drugs got more intense, her appearance suffered. Aury soon found that no one wants to sleep with a drug-addicted prostitute. She wasn't the only girl selling herself, and many of them held up better than she had.

She was shaking one night, sweating through her eyeballs and desperate for a fix. She walked through the rundown streets for hours, and stopped at a closed liquor store. She knelt on the ground, by the front of the store, head down as she panted for her drugs. When she lifted her head, she saw a drug dealer acquaintance she knew as Jerry and offered the only thing she could give him: her body.
No one wants you, crack whore!” he spat, smiling a grin that said he wished her dead. She weakly approached him, repeating her offer. He ripped off her dirty clothes and laughed at her nakedness. Then he brought out his heroin syringe and waved it at her. He saw the desperation in her eyes, and his lit. “This could be fun...” he said to himself. He humiliated her by having her get on her hands and knees and bark like a dog. He made her urinate on herself and eat rotted food from a nearby garbage can. Finally, she asked for the syringe. He held it out of her grasp, saying, “Wanna know why I made you bark like a dog? Because that's what you are, Aury. All you'll ever be.”

He turned and began to walk away. Aury snapped. She jumped on his back and clawed at him, punching him with an anger that multiplied her strength. She tried to grab at his syringe and he spun, unknowingly knocking his pistol from his pocket. He grabbed her off his back and threw her down on the ground. He backhanded her face and spit on her. “Trash,” he said. Once again he turned to walk away. Aury hated him with all her being. She spotted the gun, and before she could think, she watched as her hand reached for it and aimed it at his heart, pulling the trigger. She gasped as he watched him double over, touching the wound and examining the sticky deep red stain it left on his hands. She stumbled away from him, the shock of what she'd done registering as her footsteps pounded in her ears.
“You just killed a man, Aury!” she thought, “What are you gonna do now???”She tried to outrun the terror that seized her throat. Grateful that no one had been around to see her, she hoped that he didn't have any family or friends who would come looking for him. She told herself that it would be alright; that killing him was understandable, given the circumstances. Yet she found that every time she tried to sleep that night, she woke with a start, panting and slick with perspiration despite the cold temperatures. Through the night, she'd had about twenty nightmares in which she died a grisly, gruesome death. In her nightmares, Jerry''s family sought vengeance for her death, and he personally haunted her sleep that night. Finally she gave up efforts to sleep, huddling and shivering through the night in her thin coat.

It didn't take long before people started looking for her. She'd been caught on surveillance tape outside of the liquor store. A warrant was put out for her arrest, and the video footage was everywhere. When officers finally found her, bringing her in for questioning, she hung her head and walked with them. She suspected that one of her former friends had seen the video and gave her up for a reward, but the sliver of betrayal didn't matter now. What mattered was that she had blood on her hands, and nothing but cold, hard justice would bring peace to the situation.

She looked down at her hands now, imagining them covered with blood. She was awaiting trial in her cell; the prosecutors didn't want her to be able to run anywhere. “I'm dead,” she thought to herself. “No one's gonna care about posting bail or getting a life sentence for a scourge on society like me.”

The thoughts within her heavy heart were interrupted by the clack of the warden's dress shoes as he strolled to her cell.

“You have a visitor,” he said gruffly. “Must be here to say goodbye.” Aury winced. Even the wardens knew she didn't stand a chance.

But wait, did he say a
visitor? “Are you sure it's for me?” she said, eyes narrowed.

“Look, I don't care if you ever see another living person. But there's some guy out there askin' for you, so find out who it is or just rot in here till they make their verdict!”

Aury's blood ran cold.
Could it be one of Jerry's relatives? Would they be seeking vengeance before the trial? What was she going to say to them? She wrestled with her choices, but ultimately decided to face the man who had come to see her. The warden yanked her down the hallway to the visiting room once she'd relented. It had been her fault that his loved one had died; the least she could do was provide closure. If he hit her, he hit her. She was just going to die anyway. Her body went rigid as she steeled herself for whatever was through those doors.

But to her surprise, when the door to the visiting room opened, a smile greeted her. A sad, genuinely compassionate smile, shining from Joshua's face. It only took an instant for her to lose her brave composure, and she almost ran to him, weeping loudly and melting into her best friend's arms. For the first time since she'd met him, she became aware of how great the divide between their lives and personalities. He constantly helped others, while she used them. He gave generously to those who had need, while she stole from them. After high school, he chose to become a doctor (healing others), and what did she do? Kill a man for a cheap fix. Suddenly, it was as if he were a parent figure, and she, the misbehaving child. The effect his presence made on her was all at once overwhelming.

“I'm sorry, I'm so, so, sorry...” she began, crying in his arms. “It happened so fast...” she stopped, realizing that though it happened quickly, she was fully aware of what she was doing the day she chose to kill a man. Yes, her hatred had gotten the better of her, but it was still
her hatred. Had she the wherewithal and self-control to contain her anger, she would not have acted so impulsively. If I were more like Josh, she thought, I would have given him a blanket instead of a gravestone.

Josh was already comforting her, though, stroking her hair in his best-friend way, and “shh-shh-shh”-ing her. He politely waited until she was through crying. Then, he gently started to whisper. “It's OK, Aury. I know you've had a hard life. Your Dad, who was supposed to protect you, beat you senseless, even after you'd done your best to make him proud. Your mom was never around, always sleeping with other men instead of your father, hoping someone would give her a feeling of self-worth. They destroyed your perception of what a relationship should be like. Remember when you used to come over to get away from all of it?”

“Yeah, I do,” said Aury, eyes glassy at the remembrance. “I rode my bike all the way to your house in the middle of the night. I threw rocks at your window, and after you woke up, we would just sit outside talking.” She realized that they were sitting the same way they used to, all those years ago. For a moment, it was like being fifteen again. She stared at his arms folded across his knees, which were pulled up to his chest. That was as high as she wanted to look; it was like he could look into her soul, and she didn't want him to see the ugliness there. Despite herself, she stole one glance into his eyes. His were full of love. She looked away, embarrassed by the genuine care that she never felt she deserved. “You always help me feel so much better, just by being there” she brokenly whispered, after a long pause.

“For feeling as good as you say you did, I didn't seem to help much,” he said softly.

She felt like she had to have an answer for her actions. “Well, of course you did... I mean... as much as you could. You come from good stock. Your parents are perfect, as far as I can tell. A person as messed up as I am tends to want to stray away from perfection. Makes me feel worse. But, like I said, you had a great life. Of course you turned out okay. You're the first good thing that ever happened to this town; must be nice to be a hero.”

“Do you think I actually like living here, after all these years?” Josh asked, emotionally charged. “Do you think my parents kept me here for the great neighborhood? I stayed here because I
wanted to stay, Aury. Because I care about the people here, even if they don't care about themselves. There's so much pain here...” His words were choked, voice thick.

For the first time, Aury realized that Josh could have gone anywhere to pursue his doctoring profession, but he chose their wretched town. Anyone in his right mind would have moved away, but he stayed.
Why on earth would he stay here?, Aury asked herself. Afraid of the answer, she remained silent.

As if in answer to her question, Josh spoke again. “It was for you, Aury. I stayed for you. I care about who you are, and who you could be if only all of these awful things hadn't happened. If only you were strong enough to make it through in spite of them. I wanted to be there for you, in case you ever needed my help. Only you didn't seem to want my help... you seemed content to be miserable.”

“Content to be miserable?” Aury's voice was high-pitched with disbelief. “What are you talking about? What options did I
have, Josh? It's not like I could just forget what happened to me. It would have been impossibly hard to do that!” As she spoke, Aury knew it would have been hard, but if she'd really wanted to, it would not have been impossible. “And now that I'm a murderer, caught on tape, I'll never see the light of day again! What point is there in dreaming about the past when I have no future?”

Josh paused for a moment, considering her words. “So...” he started again, seeming to choose his words carefully. “If you had another chance - a chance to live life to the fullest in
spite of the hard hand you've been dealt - a chance to live as generously and lovingly as you could -”

“Like you?” she asked, without a hint of sarcasm.

He humbly acceded. “Like me. Would you?”

“Of COURSE I would. If I valued your friendship more, I probably wouldn't even be in this mess.” Her face grew hot as she felt warm tears made their familiar path down her cheeks. “But what good is it, to think like that? I have nothing to show for my life but a dead man and this broken, addicted body of mine. Just before I killed him, he said, 'You're a dog, Aury. No one wants you.' I shot him because he hurt me, and because I wanted a stupid fix. But all this time, I've been hurting
myself, and I didn't even care.”

“Time's up,” the warden said, reaching for her.

I'll miss you, Josh!” she said, throwing herself into his embrace before the warden could lift her off her friend. The warden tossed her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes as she reached for Josh, the only true companion she'd ever had. “Tomorrow is the day of the trial,” she thought to herself, “I'm never going to see him again.”

As Joshua slid out of sight, Aury felt herself go limp. When she reached her cell, she stared into her own hollow, dead eyes. Though only twenty-five, she looked aged. Her once-shining, blonde hair hung limp and dark with dirt around her shoulders. She hadn't had a good night's sleep in who knows how long, and the purple bags under her eyes proved it. Her eyes themselves were red and bloodshot, and her skin was dry and worn-looking. Her lips parted in a thin line; she was a shadow of her former self. “If I ever thought myself ugly before,” she realized, “it was nothing compared to this.”

She fitfully tried to sleep, but of course, that was impossible. Tomorrow, everyone would decide her case. “I'm sure the jurors are sleeping well,” she thought bitterly, “No one will lose sleep on my account. I deserve to die... ”

Early in the morning, the wardens came for her. They brought her into the courtroom, where her orange jumpsuit stuck out among the professional suits and polished, career-oriented individuals. They were all in place when it was time for her to walk in, and even the glow coming off her jumpsuit couldn't mask the shame as she felt all eyes on her. She didn't want to, but she found herself looking at each one of the jurors and audience members as she entered. Her eyes lit as she discovered she was not alone with her accusers. “Joshua!” she thought, “He's still here, supporting me...”

She sat down, and right away she knew it would be a miracle to get out of this alive. Allegations were thrown at her from all sides, and even her public defender was so halfhearted, it was obvious her life didn't matter to him. When a motion was made to review the video evidence taken from the liquor store, her heart sank. After a short recess, everyone in that courtroom would see the terrible thing she'd done in secret... from start to finish. They would watch as she offered her body, desperate for drugs. They would see her allow him to undress her, and grovel on the ground like a dog. They would be in spellbound horror as they viewed her merciless killing of a man who hardly laid a hand on her.

She averted her eyes when the TV was wheeled into the room, focusing with all her might on a nondescript piece of lint on the carpeted floor of the courtroom. The jury's reactions were worse than she thought they would be. In fact, there was such an uproar that she began to fear for her life. She felt a hand on her arm, and as she struggled against it, she caught a glimpse of the liquor store video. It showed Jerry (the dealer) spitting on the ground, turning and walking away. It captured, with perfect clarity, as the gun was grabbed from the ground, and the trigger pulled by a familiar hand.

There was only one problem: It wasn't hers.

The person pulling the trigger was Josh.


Aury couldn't believe her eyes. Her best friend; the most perfect person she'd ever known; was pulling the trigger. He was the one who stumbled away, full of disbelief. “What is going on?,” Aury thought, “He's never done anything wrong... I'm the screw-up!”

Before she could comprehend what was happening, or even determine its reality, she was being dragged out of her Defendant's seat, and Josh (who they'd spotted in the courtroom) was being put into it. She locked eyes with him in one agonizing moment, as they passed each other. Even now, though full of pain, his eyes held peace. Hers were frantic, full of questions. It was as if no one even remembered she killed Jerry. There was a swift and immediate call for justice, and the jury convicted Joshua on the spot. Aury had been yanked forcefully from the courtroom, hysteric. Her screams echoed through the halls as she screamed, “I am guilty! It was me!” Her throat grew sore and raw, and a metallic taste rose in her mouth. She'd screamed until she tasted blood, trying to make them understand. The bailiff just brushed her off, saying, “You can't stick up for your friend; he's on videotape!” It didn't matter that she was the one wearing prison orange, or that Joshua had never been known to hurt a fly. They tried him and found him guilty. He was barred from having visitors, so Aury couldn't even help him. He'd been sentenced to death, and the date of his execution would be tomorrow.

Aury was in a daze that day, but after discovering that she'd had a purse on (along with a wallet full of money), she checked into a hotel and eventually succumbed to sleep. That night, Aury dreampt that she visited Joshua in prison. “What's going on, Joshua?” Aury asked, frightened.

“Another chance,” he said softly, reaching his hand through the bars and touching her hand.

“Another chance?” Aury was confused. “I-” Then the memory came flooding back.

“If you had another chance - a chance to live life to the fullest in spite of the hard hand you've been dealt - a chance to live as generously and lovingly as you could -”

“Like you?” she asked, without a hint of sarcasm.

He humbly acceded. “Like me. Would you?”

Aury inhaled sharply as she began to grasp what had happened. “You took my place?” she said, “Why would you do that?”

Joshua gave a slight shrug of his shoulders and answered, “The greatest love people can show is to die for their friends. I've always wanted to help you, Aury. I'm so glad you've finally accepted it.” He kissed her hands as she slipped from the dream into reality.

As she took in her surroundings, she awoke in a beautiful hotel room, comfortable and safe in a warm bed. The room was fragrant with the smell of fresh flowers. Sunlight streamed in through the curtains, giving a golden glow to the walls. She thought of Joshua, and how he had slept through the night in that cold room, on a rock-hard cot that reeked of urine. Before she had even opened her eyes that morning, Joshua had been executed by lethal injection. Aury wept tears of sorrow and gratitude.

Joshua hadn't been able to fix/rewrite all of Aury's life. Her past was the same. She was still the daughter of an abusive, alcoholic father and an impulsive, shameless mother. She was still the girl who had made terrible choices, and she still felt a pull toward those choices... but that didn't matter anymore. Joshua had given her something beautiful: a second chance. Awful choices no longer held her captive.

She didn't know how he did it, but Joshua saved her. He took her punishment.

Aury would not allow Joshua's sacrifice to be in vain. She cleaned up and started up a program for at-risk kids, sharing her (now-honest) income to create a clothes closet and pantry for poor families in the area. She found that she had a hunger for the Bible, and even returned to church. To her, it didn't matter if the Preachers looked down their noses at her. She was surprised to find that there were a few genuine believers there, who loved the way Christ did: the way Joshua did. In fact, many of them were Joshua's friends. Being in their company was like having Joshua there with them again, and she was grateful to be surrounded by so many true friends.

Her parents had already passed away and it was difficult for her to do, but she finally forgave her parents. She knew Joshua would want it that way, and how could she deny him when he'd already shown her so much grace?

For the rest of her days, and to the best of her ability, Aury fulfilled her promise to Joshua. She lived a life of love, and gave generously, not because she had to, but because she was able to. She spent the rest of her life giving hope and peace, and she never regretted it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Least of These (and it's an Autobiography)

Some people are normal from birth. In the womb, they do all things expected of them, and when the time comes, they turn over and ready themselves for the (surely) frightening experience of being born.

I, however, am not normal people.

When anyone else would have been prepped in the standard (upside-down) position for birth, I refused to move. I couldn't be bothered by all that stuff, and so my mother was forced to have me C-section.

Yep, I'm stubborn. And uncomfortably out of place everywhere I go. But hey, it grows on a person.


-------------

Before my beautiful sister was born, my parents used to sell marijuana. It pretty much paid for their wedding, and a lot of nice things for me when I was little*.

That all ended, though, on one fateful day.

Mom was breaking up her hash on the floor, getting ready to weigh it. She turned around for just one moment, and when she turned back to me, my cheeks were puffed like a chipmunk's.

You can imagine what went through mom's mind as she popped the hash from my cheeks.

I seemed fine... until dad came home. If you have ever had a child, you will know this makes perfect sense. Kids seem to wait until the absolute worst moment to get crazy.

Anyhow, I started to become VERY drowsy, eventually getting to the point where my eyes remained closed no matter what. My dad held me up to the bright bathroom light. My eyes were still shut, but I smiled a wide, doped-up smile.

Finally, mom and dad decided to take me to Emergency to get my stomach pumped or something. They concocted a nice lie about how I must have ingested it while they were at a party. Of course, CPS would still need to come and check things, but whatever they did in ER fixed me up (ish, since I contend that my brain is still not quite to standard...).


Mom and dad (ever conspiratorial) came up with a plan to deal with CPS as well. "If things started to go bad, I was gonna sneak out the back door with you and Dad would meet up with us later," Mom said. The visit went fine, "And from that day on, we decided NEVER to sell anymore."

Gee, thanks, mom and dad. Couldn't have thought of that before your kid lost brain cells???




*(Not that I condone it in any way... I'm just sayin' what mom would tell you if she were writing this post)

-------------




When my sister did come into the world, I was thrilled. Though not even two full years older than she, I determined to be the BEST big sister ever.




Turned out I wasn't the only stubborn one, though.



One day, my mom was on the phone, and I started screaming at the top of my lungs. Mom ran outside, to find me barely holding my sister back from running into the street.

"You saved her life!" Mom says of that day.

All that heroism, and how'd she pay me back in our teen years? Hatred. Sheer hatred.

Come on people, I'm kidding! But her grump-hormones weren't a joy to be on the receiving end of... I can promise you.

------------


Five was a huge turning point in my life. Not really, but I do remember it better than some other years.

My baby brother was born. (Good thing, too, since he took the edge off my sister's attitude.)

I started Kindergarten. Mrs. Matsumoto.

I met my first best friend, Elaine Eliff.

I learned how to spell my name (and I was proud! Jennifer is a whole eight letters long!)

I became decidedly insecure. Whilst wearing a dress on the jungle gym one day, a boy looked up and said "I see London, I see France, I see Jennifer's underpants!" I ran away and cried. From that day on, I've always tried to wear shorts under skirts/dresses. Yes, even at twenty-something. There was another time, when I was getting a profile of myself drawn (you know, where they bust out the black construction paper and draw a chalk outline of your silhouette?) and my mom had put my hair half-up, half-down that day. My hair looked so poufy in the picture... I hated it. When my sister got her profile done, it was perfect (of course).

I started doing long-distance hugs. Run-of-the-mill hugs were fine, but what if you suddenly decided you wanted another hug, after mommy had already dropped you off to kindergarten? No worries... just go up to the gate nearest to her, and hold your arms in a perfect circle, while leaning your head on your shoulder (that gives it an added effect).

I got my first boyfriend... and I couldn't stand him. His name was Ronin McLawski, and he followed me around everywhere. I probably would have liked him too, except that I was already in love with the teaching assistant (his name was Ryan) and the fact that Ronin terribly mistreated my sister, who adoringly toddled after him whenever he came over. One day, we were over at his house, watching Beauty and the Beast. Afterward, Ronin tried to kiss me. I could tell he was going to, because he had this look in his eyes. I was terrified, and tried to reach for the doorknob like Belle does in the story... but unfortunately, I was much shorter than Belle... so I awkwardly reached up around where my armpit was and he figured out what I was doing. He shut the door and said, "Oh no you don't!" and leaned in to kiss me. I was utterly creeped out, so I turned around, flung open the door, and ran into the room where my mom was. Of course, I didn't want to have to tell her what he'd done (it was embarrassing!) so as soon as I reached the living room, I walked. That's how us smooth kindergarteners do.

I had my first brush with peer pressure. There was a kid in our class who ate paste (no joke). He tried to get me to eat it, too, but I told him no. I've since forgotten his name... bummer.

I couldn't bridle my emotions, even back then. We had a craft (something involving Red Hots and icing... I think we were making a turkey out of our food). Mrs. Matsumoto had given us instructions NOT to do something, and I either didn't hear her or didn't listen. She scolded me and I cried. She was such a good teacher though... she took time to comfort my silly self. :)

Let me be clear about my family, though... no matter what I say, and no matter how crazy things got for us, my mother was the best momma ever (she had some struggles, but don't we all?) and my sister is amazing, even if she was moodier than Little Lady Katie from Animaniacs (if you don't get the reference, look it up. Pure hilarity). :) My dad and brother are both epic too, although it seems in my story, there's less criticism toward the males in my family. haha.





Monday, October 1, 2012

Fun Parody to "Rise and Shine"... Lazarus' Story

(To the tune of “Rise and Shine/Children of the Lord”)
The Lord found out that Lazarus
was sickly, sickly
Lord found out that Lazarus
was sickly, sickly
Had to get there
very quickly, quickly
'Cause love never fails.

He walked, and walked, but Lazarus
still died-y, died-y
Walked, and walked, but Lazarus
still died-y, died-y
Laz was wrapped in
strips of white-y, white-y
But love never fails.

Laz laid in his tomb
for four long days-ys, days-ys
Laid in his tomb
for four long days-ys, days-ys
(Mary thought Jesus was
a little lazys, lazys)
But love never fails.

Jesus came down
and said to roll the stone a-wa-y
Jesus came down
and said to roll the stone a-wa-y,
Martha said, “He's
really stinky, no wa-y!”
But love never fails.

“LAZARUS, COME OUT!” said Jesus,
so loudly, loudly
“LAZARUS, COME OUT!” said Jesus,
so loudly, loudly
Laz came and scared the
entire crowd-y, crowd-y
'Cause love never fails.

Laz was unwrapped,
and Jesus hugged his friend-y, friend-y
Laz was unwrapped,
and Jesus hugged his friend-y, friend-y
Love beats the grave and
Is never end-y, end-y
'Cause love never fails.

So rise, and shine,
and give God the glory, glory
Rise, and shine,
and give God the glory, glory
Rise and shine and
Go tell the story, story:
That love never fails.

Maggie's Story

“Hey there, big boy – you lookin' for a good time?”

I flashed him a brazen smile – one that would fully convey my loathsome intentions. As a lion might smile shortly before sinking its teeth into its prey, I smiled. I'd brought many a “mighty man” to his destruction and I reveled in it. The sheets I meticulously laid upon my bed, perfumed with aloe and cinnamon, were useful implements of their sorrow. I considered myself a modern-day Delilah, whispering in men's ears, enticing them into sharing the very secrets I'd use against them.

They loved me, or at least they loved me at first. However, I hated them with the same measure of passion that drew them to me. Long ago, I'd promised myself to make their lives miserable. I would do what it took to lure them, and from that point on I became cold and emotionless. Nothing could break my icy stare, though many a fool had tried. They pleaded with me (oh, how I loved their pain!) to “become that seductive temptress I met on the street”, but nothing, not even blows to my face or threats to my life, could convince me to do so. Every time, I started out sweet as honey to them and became as bitter as gall. This was the punishment I issued to these sick curs, and I savored every unsatisfactory moment. This was my game, and I was the ultimate victor. Some might wonder how I was able to play this game as long as I did, but don't we all know that there is no end to idiots in this world?

“Hello, what's your name?” I looked up, startled that any man would bother asking my name. My name never mattered, my services did. I knew my place. I was a piece of meat to those men, nothing more. It took me a while to respond, and for a minute, I thought I'd forgotten my own name.

“Maggie,” I told him, not before eying him suspiciously to see if this was a joke.

To my surprise, his eyes were sincere. There was something different about this man. He was affluent, intelligent. He was much older than most men I'd led astray. Rather than asking me how much I charged, he asked me about my hopes and dreams; my delights and wishes. It was soon clear to me that he wasn't interested in what I had to offer, he was interested in who I was. We spent hours in conversation, and over the next few weeks he showered me with gifts and luxuries I could never have gotten otherwise. He was very quiet about his life, which didn't bother me. This was obviously a very private man. I quickly fell in love with him, and the first night I spent with him was the first time I ever let myself feel. I wept that night in his arms, and his kisses soothed me.

One day, he asked me how I became a prostitute. Any other person asking me this would have received a look of indifference and silence, but I trusted this man, and him only. I began telling him about my life.

“When I was a child, I reasoned as a child. My parents were very devout and I believed their stories of the Mighty God of Israel. We spent time at the tabernacle every chance we got, offering sacrifices to our Holy God. My parents were very careful to obey every new regulation that the Pharisees came up with, in the hopes that they too would be considered worthy to worship in the tabernacle. When I grew older, I longed for adventure. I wanted to know why all of the rules were in place, and what purpose they served. I started to question the Pharisees and none of their answers made sense to me. I tried to speak to my parents about this, but they were unwavering in their dedication.

“The veil of the Pharisees had been lifted from my eyes, and I realized that they had no compassion. For a year, I watched as they drove away widows and orphans with their sophisticated rhetoric. They always had a reason to deny a beggar the bread he needed. In synagogues, with plenty of men watching, they bestowed upon others the greatest charities in the loudest voices they could muster, but when I watched from windows, invisible to their eyes, they were cruel and harsh. Yet their rules and regulations were chains that bound me to my mundane, joyless life. I would not live this life in which my only hope was to adopt the Pharisees' standards. Finally, after coming home from the tabernacle, my mother began to lecture me about my disrespect toward their beloved Pharisees. I stood ready to fight my battle out, once and for all.
__________________________________________________________________________________

What are you, blind, mom? How could you not see what fakes they are? They use God as an excuse not to do what He commands them to do! Everything is 'Corban' to them, even the help that God says to give parents in their old age!”

You will not speak of a man of God like that! Not in THIS house, not anywhere, Maggie. Have I made myself clear?”

The only thing you've made clear is your steadfast faith in an arrogant man who thinks he IS God!”

“He is a MAN OF GOD, and you will address him as such!”

If HE is what God is like, I want no part in your sacred, Holy God!”

As soon as I'd said this, I felt a sharp sting on my face and watched as my mother's hand went to her mouth in dismay. If her objective was to shut me up, it worked: my sarcasm was promptly silenced when I realized that my own mother had slapped me in the face. She hadn't laid her hand on me for years, and then only to correct her young child.

It was obvious that she felt badly about her impulsive act. She started to say something, tears welling up in her eyes, but I closed my ears to her as I stormed off to my room. So what if she wanted to apologize? I wouldn't give her the satisfaction. At least now I had nothing to hold me back from leaving this awful place forever.


“That night, while my parents were sleeping, I tiptoed into their room and took their money. I went out through the window rather than risk the sound of our heavy door awakening them. When I got outside, I sprinted down the streets, delighted that I would finally be able to make my own rules. My life of adventure had begun, and there was no one to prevent me from living how I saw fit.”

For a moment I reconsidered telling my story. It was too painful, and what did it matter what happened then? There was nothing I could do to change it and nothing I could do to forget it. I looked at him, ready to give an excuse as to why I couldn't finish, but when I saw the love and compassion in his eyes, I softened. Try as I might, there was nothing that could prevent me from telling him the whole truth of how I came to this hard/difficult life.

I sighed. “Anyway, when I took my parents' money, I didn't realize that I would need more than that to survive. I had no family ties as far as anyone else was concerned, and I had nowhere to call home. I stayed outside the first few days, but after a while the harsh weather began to wear me down. A group of young men approached me and offered to provide a place to stay. Their eyes were so compassionate when they looked at me – what a simpleton I was!/how na├»ve I was! – and I went with them to a small inn. I was full of gratitude for their show of generosity, but I did not know that it was just that – a show.

“They waited until I reached the back of the room, walking in behind me and asking me if I found the room accommodating. When I answered them, an evil that I had never before seen entered their eyes. They walked slowly, but purposely toward me with a disgusting, terrifying look on their faces. I tried to escape, but they held me down. I tried to fight them, but they fought harder. I screamed, but no one heard. I begged, I pleaded with them, but...”

My sobs broke through and flooded my entire body. I could not finish. The pain I'd suppressed and denied for years came surging back, and it was all I could do to keep from melting into a mass of wailing flesh. He put his arms around my neck and ran his fingers through my hair. Slowly rocking me back and forth, he calmed me.

Finally, he broke the silence, saying, “Oh, dear Maggie... what did they do to you?”

“Raped,” I managed to squeak out, my voice nearly gone. “Raped, beaten, left for dead.”
I cleared my throat. “So now you see why I live this way... the most valuable thing I had to offer was violently taken from me, so there was no point in pretending like it wasn't. There was no way I could go home now, even if I wanted to. What would my parents think? Thus, I resolved to continue this life, if for no other reason than to spite and trap the kinds of men who forced this upon me. No man could really want a woman who had been raped anyway.”

“What makes you say that? A man could-”

My anger and frustration got the better of me as I cut him off: “Are you saying this to pity me? To somehow make me feel better for what has happened? I may just be a prostitute, but I remember my teachings. How is what happened to me unlike what happened to Tamar: Absalom's sister and David's daughter? Every day, these last words haunt me: 'And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom's house, a desolate woman.' Why should I be any different?”

There was a long, aching pause that followed my question. He looked torn between two different situations, two different answers to my question. With tears in his eyes, and not without a hint of regret in his voice, he said, “Maggie, you've read the wrong part of the Tanakh. If you'd read the book of Hosea, perhaps your captivating eyes would have seen what mine see so clearly.”

That was all he needed to say. I yielded to his embrace without a word. What can a woman say when she's gone a lifetime knowing she was disposable, only to find herself in the arms of a man hinting at marriage: the one act which proclaims, “I can't live without you!”

I didn't know it then (or perhaps I did know, just not fully) but that day was a turning point for me. As impossible as it sounds, I tried to find a more respectable way to live. It wasn't easy, but he was worth it. I was intent on letting him know that he made the right choice. I knew I could never deserve him, but I would make him as proud to be my betrothed as I could. I didn't get very far, however. No one would forget who I was...

One day, after Hosea (that was my nickname for him, after our talk) had visited me and we spent the night together, he got dressed and was about to leave when I heard some commotion outside my door. Men's agitated voices in low tones came roaring through the walls, and before I had a chance to clothe myself, they burst into the room. Immediately, Hosea grabbed me, and I was so grateful that he loved me enough to protect me. It took me some time to realize why he had grabbed me. He wasn't defending me, he was taking me to them!

I woke up from my dreamlike state and made myself realize what they were saying.

What are you doing here, Ezekiel?” a young, zealous man had asked Hosea.

With her? The prostitute​?” His tone was incredulous. I couldn't believe he called me that... he hadn't ever spoken to me with anything but tenderness in his voice, but oh! How quickly it had turned to disgust! - “I just saw her in here with a married man – I barged in here to speak to him about his lack of judgment before he made this dire mistake, but he fled out the window and down the street!”

Is that so? We were told that a married man of your likeness had been visiting her regularly. Are you saying that you are not the man?”

What would I want with her? Only an utter BUFFOON would fritter away his time with a wicked harlot! I am a temple guard of good standing, and I love my family dearly.”

He had a family? A wife and children? For the first time since hearing him speak of me so coldly, I agreed with him. What WOULD he want with an empty, no-good prostitute like me when his life had been so blessed?

I silently chided myself for not knowing better when he continued, “You men know me better than to accuse me of such things.”

Do we?” The young man scowled at Ezekiel and would not back down. I had a feeling this may not be the first time they had challenged one another.

Ezekiel paused, and I saw a glimmer of terror in his face, but it quickly shifted to a look of cunning. I then found that the terror had come upon me, threatening to steal my breath as I waited for his reply. “If I were lying to you,” he said in a slow, calculated manner; “would I be bold enough to do this?” With that, he roughly grabbed me by the hair and shoved me outside. The sun glared accusingly at me, and the fragrant bedsheets that had accompanied me as I crushed men's dreams were now my only protection from the condemning, prying eyes of those on the street.

A loud rumble surrounded me as I realized that even more men from the temple had been waiting outside. They taunted and jeered at me, yelling coarse words disguised in a pious pity for my “profane lifestyle”. All the years I had thrown myself away came screaming back at me, and the light of the day greater contrasted the age of darkness within my heart. The blinders of sin had been torn off as I was prodded like a heifer to the slaughter, and I fully realized the futility of my actions. Who was I to think a man like Hosea-Ezekiel loved me? I adored him with every good thought my brain could muster, and esteemed him as I had never esteemed anyone, yet I could never be worthy of him. All of my dreams lay shattered along the road I walked to the temple that day, and I knew deserved every ounce of what was coming to me.

When we arrived at the temple, the clamor of the crowds shamed me further. I raised my head just enough to see where I was going, and saw a group of men talking with one another. Hosea roughly grabbed my arm with his left hand – the same hand with which he had, moments earlier, tenderly caressed my face before showering me with gentle kisses – and forced me to stand before the men. The revulsion on their faces spoke for them, but as Ezekiel spoke, they turned to their unattractive leader without uttering a word.

Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone...”

I heard nothing else from him, as my thoughts grew louder than his voice. Stone me..? My Hosea would stone me? I sank to the ground in utter sorrow, wailing uncontrollably as my tears formed a river under my head.

How could I have forgotten? The Law was written upon my young heart by my parents, but the harsh cruelty of the world had erased it from my memory, until now. I was not only going to be scorned and mocked today, but today would also be the day of my death. I would never have spent time with Ezekiel if I'd known he had a family – or would I have? Was I so desperate that I didn't care who lavished their affection and attention upon me? I loved him, oh, I loved him, and I would never think of pouring greater woe upon Hosea's wife and children by telling anyone our secret. I would die with love in my heart and a closed mouth, and it would be the only honorable thing I'd ever done.

My thoughts were interrupted by a gaping silence as the men, and Hosea, waited for their Teacher's reply. I'd heard some hasty footsteps before as some temple guards rushed to provide every man with a stone for me. The Teacher was writing something in the dirt next to me, but I dared not raise my face to him. The silence seemed to last an eternity, but then he said, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."

Disbelief at what I had heard overwhelmed me, until I heard the stones dropping around me. I flinched with each sound I heard, sure that someone would ignore the Teacher's words. Ezekiel's shadow was the first that disappeared, but soon it seemed as if everyone had gone. Finally I gathered the boldness to shift my gaze upward. The Teacher and I were left alone. "Woman,” he said, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

In a feeble, weak voice, I managed to reply, “"No one, sir." Who was this man?

"Then neither do I condemn you," He declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

As I stood up, still in shock, I caught a glimpse of what he'd written in the sand:
You know, as well as I, what you have done.”

I walked the long road back to my parents' house that day, tears in my eyes and grateful for this mysterious man and his compassionate ways.



That was only the beginning of my story; only a portion of what He did in my life. I was swept away by a humble carpenter, in a friendship that I had never before experienced. Did I love Him, you ask? Of course I loved him... I loved him as a child trapped in a burning home loves the man who snatches her from the flames. I loved him as a drowning victim loves her rescuer. His love was so pure and complete, so perfect, that there was no need or desire for any tainted counterfeits. I will love my Lord with the same purity, affection and dedication that he has shown for me, and a may my worship of Him be as a fragrant incense.