wise words…

“There is no peace without hope.  No hope without liberty.  No liberty without integrity.  No integrity without virtue.  No virtue without enlightenment.  No enlightenment without truth.”  ~Glenn Beck

Remember this as you go throughout your day.  Make TRUTH your main goal!

Blessings,
Em

p.s. Remember: Character matters!

A new story to share

Here are a couple of clips from my latest piece of fiction.  I wrote this after taking a travel writing class in England and visiting the Roman Baths there.  I apologize for the length; blog posts shouldn’t be so long!  But the clips go together and the story wouldn’t be much of a read without them both.  Let me know what you think of the piece.  I believe in editors, so don’t be afraid to criticize where needed!

Aquae Sulis

            The atrium was Helena’s favorite place in the house.  Its homey atmosphere comforted and relaxed her in these troubling days.  Large columns held up the roof that arched high over her head and a beautiful fountain took up the center of the room.  Helena’s eyes roamed to the bed in the corner.  Not many months ago, Quintus placed her upon it during their marriage ceremony.  It now stood empty but sacred—the sanctity of their marriage a symbol for all their guests to see.

          Her husband lay on the couch before the hearth.  “Kaeso grows moodier each day,” Helena said conversationally, kneeling before him.

         “He’ll come to peace eventually,” Quintus responded.  He gazed at his wife thoughtfully, before running a finger through her thick, dark hair.  He pushed it back from the right side of her face, where it was hiding her bruise.  “He hasn’t hit you again, has he?” her husband asked, gently running his thumb over the tender spot.

       “No.  Today his mood is somber.”  Her brother’s attitude concerned her; he wasn’t himself.

        “I think he should be brought to Aquae Sulis,” she said casually, watching her husband’s reaction closely.  She knew how he felt about such things.

         His hand stopped.  Quintus shook his head.  “It would be a waste of time,” he responded. “Plus the journey would be difficult on Kaeso.

          “But Quintus,” Helena leaned forward, her perfume dancing beneath her husband’s senses.  “It’s Kaeso’s only hope.” 

          “A false hope.”  Quintus gently kissed her bruise, wishing he could heal it.  Distracted, he then traveled down the side of her neck, his lips rough on her tender skin.  Silently—skillfully—Helena said nothing, merely twirled her fingers in her husband’s short hair.

            “Mmm.”  Quintus’ senses filled with the eucalyptus that Helena had bathed in earlier. 

            She let her plea go for a few minutes as Quintus became too distracted to focus on her request.  Finally, after he lay back against the couch, she rose and, standing behind him at the couch’s one armrest, began to rub her hands over his shoulders and back.

           “Quintus, I’d consider this a personal favor,” she whispered.

           “Consider what?”  He was genuinely not following.

            “Take my brother to the Bath in Aquae Sulis.”

            “Why?” Quintus rotated his neck, cracking out kinks as his wife’s hands worked calming wonders.

            “Many people travel there for healing, Quintus.  Just because you do not believe in the goddess does not mean she has quit healing.”

            “The gods already made their judgment on Kaeso.  The best way to keep them appeased is for Kaeso to accept his lot and not challenge them.”

            “But what if it was an evil spirit that befell Kaeso, not the gods?”

            Quintus sat up.  He immediately missed his wife’s touch, but facing her was more important.  “Helena, the journey is tough.  It is neither for weak, invalid men nor idealistic women. People don’t just travel that far on a whim.  Inns are dangerous, roads are crowded.  It would be too difficult, too expensive and Kaeso would be disappointed in the end.”  Quintus stood.  “Sulis does not have healing powers.  Sure, many pray to her, but how many have ever been healed?”

            With that, he walked out of the room, signaling an end to the conversation.

            But Helena loved her brother too much to let the issue go.  Her sandals padded against the stone floor as she followed her husband out to the Peristylium.  The outdoor gardens held many flowers, stone statues and fountains.  Giant rose and lilac bushes rose nearly as tall as Helena herself.  She walked among them till she caught up to her strolling husband.

            “Quintus, where is your compassion?” she demanded.

            Quintus stopped and turned to her.  He placed his hands on her arms, willing her to understand.  With gentle authority, he said, “It is my responsibility I must think of instead.  I cannot allow you to make such an arduous journey.”

            Helena shook her head.  “I don’t have to go.  Just take my brother.”

            Quintus threw up his hands.  “No!  I can’t be responsible for taking a weak, sick invalid man all the way to Aquae Sulis.  It’s not safe for him, either.  You are to forget this foolish notion and will accept the lots the gods have placed upon us.  They meant for your brother to lose the use of his legs, for you to be his nurse and for myself to support and be responsible for him.  We will do no less!”

            Quintus remained silent as Helena whirled away and stalked back into the house.  So content, was he?  Well, she would just beg the goddess Sulis without the help and protection of her husband.  She would not watch her brother suffer another day. 

            Helena went straight to her brother’s room.  She stood in the doorway a moment, calming down her temper.  It would not due to have her brother pick up on her attitude.  Kaeso was morose and silent today. At times, she feared this mood more than his anger and bitterness.  At least when he was upset, he looked alive.  “Kaeso,” she called softly.  He looked over at her from his place in bed.

            She hustled into the room and sat down on the edge of his bed.  “I have a plan,” she confided.  “Are you interested in hearing it?” 

            “What are you talking about?” he asked.

            “I know how to get you to the Sacred Spring.”

            Empty eyes filled slightly with curiosity.  “Quintus didn’t agree, that I am sure.”

            “No, he didn’t,” Helena acknowledged.  “So we’ll go without him.”

            “What?”

            “Quintus leaves for the Colosseum the seventh day before Kalendae of March to watch The Games.  He’ll be gone all week, plenty of time for us to sneak out of here! ”

            Kaeso crossed his arms and looked at his sister skeptically. “He’ll come after us.”

            “He hasn’t a chance of catching up to us before we arrive at the bath house!  By then, you will be healed.  All will be well.” 

            “He’ll be furious.”

            “I can handle him,” Helena assured her brother.  “Besides, how could he not be delighted at your recovery?”

            Kaeso looked away, hesitating.  Finally, the man admitted, “He won’t just be mad at you; he’ll take it out on me.” 

            Helena’s eyes closed in painful despair at her brother’s confession.  Slowly she reached for him and gathered his head to her breast.  She was no longer concerned for his physical healing; it was his mental health that made her disobey her husband.  How could her brother be so tough and angry one day and so pathetic and child-like the next? 

            “Never, Kaeso,” she crooned.  “Quintus won’t be upset with you.  You are forgetting that when you see him, you will be standing on two strong feet once again.  He will be too relieved to have his friend and brother back to be upset.”

~~~

            It was mid-day when they arrived.  The baths were packed with people.   Helena gaped at the large temple, whose steeple stabbed a clear, blue sky.   Sulis was also the goddess of curses and Helena didn’t need any more of those.  She let out a ragged breath, attempting to exhale her fears, as well.

            She turned to the slaves still holding the litter.  “Carry on,” she commanded and started ahead, elbowing her way through the crowds.  The doorway arched high above Helena’s head as she walked in and turned to go around the large column that stood in her path.  People swarmed around her and she cast anxious looks behind her to make sure Kaeso’s litter was still following.

            She knew exactly where to go.  The Sacred Spring was supposed to be in the center of the Bath.  Helena walked up the three stone steps that took her to the entrance of her destination.  A white haired woman and her big, Ethiopian slave blocked Helena’s view.  Skirting around them, Helena fought her way to the open courtyard by the pool.  Once in the open, she stopped, gazing in awe of what she had come so far to see.  Steam rose from the green water in light drifts.  Many people sat in the pool, some near the edge, others walking about in the middle.  Some people stood near tossing coins into the water.  Tucked back in little cubicles notched in the wall, a few men sat carving into stone tablets.  Helena knew those were curses being written, and she quickly looked away.  Walking to the edge of the pool farthest from the curse-carver’s, she picked a spot to wait for kaeso’s litter to catch up.  It was not far behind her.

            The slaves walked the litter up to her.  “Set him into the pool,” she commanded.   The slaves nodded and set the litter on the ground.  Bending, one lifted Kaeso by his torso, the other by his still legs.

            “Careful!” a nervous Kaeso barked at them.

            Without speaking, the slaves gently lowered his legs into the water and let his body slip in after.  Kaeso gripped the edge of the pool nervously.

            “You’re dismissed,” Helena told them.  “Wait for us back at the inn.” 

            As the slave scurried away, Helena sank down to sit on the stone floor by the water.

            Kaeso’s body slowly grew accustomed to floating and as he started to relax, Helena silently began her prayer.

            “Dear Sulis, hear my plea.  You are a woman—pity me.  Surely you understand what I went through to reach you.  You must know the danger I faced—and still do face—in my effort to be blessed in your sacred waters.  Yet, it is not for my sake that I crave your healing power, but for my brother.  He is a good man—or once was—but whichever god hath cursed him has seen fit to take what kindness Kaeso had, as well.  He is now afflicted in the mind as well as the body.  He needs your touch upon him.  Please take these coins as tokens of appreciation for the miracle I know you are going to do on Kaeso’s behalf.” 

            Caesar’s face stared unblinking at her until, one by one, she tossed her coins over her brother’s head and into the sacred spring. 

            The crowd thinned as the day progressed and by nightfall, Helena and her brother were left with a senator and his crowd of staff, and two slaves standing guard over a young girl about Helena’s age.  When darkness fell, lanterns were lit in the Upper rooms and their holy light caused a warm glow to shimmer against the stones and reflect in the Sacred Spring below.

            Helena held her breath as she felt the mood of the place change.  They who had waited faithfully were about to be rewarded.  She looked anxiously at her brother, his head resting on the side of the pool, body submerged.  His eyes were closed and he was the most relaxed she’d ever seen him—even before the accident.  She prayed he’d fall asleep in the warm water and wake mobile and healed.  As the ambiance shifted, Helena began to pray once more.

            “Oh Sulis, come now, I beg thee—“

            “Woman!”

            The yell pierced the room and ricocheted off the stone walls.  The young girl across the pool gave a startled shriek and the senator’s frightened jump caused the water to ripple down around Kaeso on the opposite side.  Helena remained still, however.  She knew that voice.  Her husband had caught up with them.  Without acknowledging Quintus’ presence, she cast a sidelong glance at her brother.  He remained unchanged in the water.  How could he not have been disturbed by the interruption?  Could the goddess be healing him?

            “Please,” Helena prayed.  “Heal him fast!”

            She had barely finished speaking to the goddess when she felt herself yanked to her feet.  “So I finally reach you!” Quintus glared at her over a furrowed brow.

            “Don’t be angry, Quintus,” Helena begged.  “I had to come.”

            Quintus did not respond.  Instead, Helena felt herself fall into the arms of two of Quintus’ slaves as he flung her aside.  He stalked over to the water where Kaeso still lay calm.  Bending, Quintus dipped his fingers into the pool.  Glancing at Kaeso, the young man then splashed water at the resting sick man.  “Kaeso, get up!”

            “No!” Helena cried, breaking free of the slaves holding her and rushing to her husband.  “Stop, Quintus.  The goddess is healing him.  Don’t interfere!”

            Quintus shrugged her off his arm.  “Bah!  He sleeps, that’s all.”  Annoyed, he turned to his slaves.  “Get her out of here,” he commanded.

            Several more of Quintus’ entourage stood in the doorway.  He motioned a couple more slaves over.  “Lift him out of here,” he told them as the former two obeyed their master and took hold of Helena’s arms.  She fought them, not caring that everyone in the pool was witnessing her family’s scene with wide eyes. 

            “Quintus, we’ve come too far.  Give him more time, please.  Please, Quintus.  What’s the harm in waiting?”

            Her husband ignored her as Kaeso was hauled from the water.  At this invasion, her brother awoke.  “What?” he tossed glances at his surroundings, disoriented.  Kaeso began to shiver as a slave picked his tunic up off the floor and draped it over him.  “No,” Kaeso moaned, his head weak, chin falling to chest.  “Can’t g-go,” he babbled senselessly to the floor.  “Goddess—heal—“

            “What’s the matter with him?” Quintus demanded.  “Kaeso!” He approached Kaeso and lifted his chin.  “The man’s burning with fever.  What did the water do, poison him?”

            No one noticed the senator and the young girl immediately spring from the water as if its heat suddenly scalded them.

            “He’s merely overcome by the power of Sulis,” Helena stubbornly defended.

            Enraged, Quintus whirled back to face her.  “For the last time, get her out of here!” He bellowed at his slaves, thrusting a finger at the doorway.

            Knowing she was beat, Helena allowed herself to be led away.  She wept angry, heartbroken tears of one whose faith was stripped and crushed.

(C) Emily Grace 2010

 If you made it all the way to the end–thank you! 🙂 

Blessings,
Em

p.s. Remember: Character matters!

Trafficking on Primetime

Tuesdays here on Footsteps is dedicated to the issue of human trafficking.  Today, I want to share a link with you that should provide a glimpse into what I am most concerned about: American sex slavery.  If we can’t stop this from happening in the land that stands for freedom, then can it truly be stopped anywhere?  If you were ever confused as to how pimps get away with sex slavery in the U.S., then click below!

http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/story?id=1596778&page=1

Blessings,
Em

p.s. Remember: Character matters!

New Dreams

Travel writing is a new goal of mine.  My boyfriend mentioned it as a life goal of his once, so I figured… hey, I better get on board with this idea!  Then I took a travel writing class to England and now I’m completely sold.   For a girl my age, I am well-traveled, but the thought of travelling for a living never ocurred to me as a possibility.   I just love home too much.  When I stand before an English meadow, or inside a cave deep in Mexico and think “Gee, I miss the wheat field east of the house,” it becomes pretty obvious where my loyalty lies.  I’m a simple American farmgirl.  Me, a world traveller??  But here was the clincher for me:  I love people.  I am a writer always on the lookout for characters.  People make me laugh; they make me question; they make come alive!  And as (one of) my favorite quote(s) says:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~Unknown

What is more exciting than sitting in a foreign pub, deep  in conversation with a complete stranger?  (Well, maybe sky diving?) 

I am a regional writer.  I write about the place I live; its where my passion lies.  Travel writing was a huge stretch for me.  It meant I had to go somewhere unfamiliar and write about that place and do so as if I was a native.  What great practice for a writer.  What a way to educate myself.  Examining new things makes one grow as an individual as well.

Life as  a travel writer would be an adventure.  My life has always been a crazy ride; I welcome the memories.  Life moves and I wish to move with it!  Very few things in life are constant; that was a lesson I learned early in my childhood.  Perhaps this is what I was being prepared for? 

Obviously, I am talking into the future here.  Right now, I am loving home and need to finish school.  And one doesn’t just “become” a travel writer.  I am realistic; I have done my research.  If I am serious about this, it will mean a lot of work and a lot of luck.  But this probably won’t be the last you hear of my new goal.

So now I have recorded it: Emily Grace’s career goal has experienced an addition.  For the first time in ten years, she has altered her goal of being a novelist.  On her way up the ladder to published fiction, she may (if opportunity provides) take a detour on the travel writing rung.

Blessings,
Em

p.s. Remember: Character matters!

Campus Ministry

There’s this belief rampant among churches that State Colleges and Universities are the devil’s lair.  We hear statistics that tell us that only one in four Christians graduate still holding on to Christ and we panic!  Now that I am busy wrapping up my third semester of college, I would like to address this issue. (You have to admit, of all the ways to put off studying for finals, this is a good one!) 

First of all, don’t put your faith in statistics.  They’re all skewed. 

Second–and more importantly– trust God.  Our fear of losing faith in college has led us down some paths that I’m afraid are even more damaging than the original problem.

There are three ways I have seen the Christian community attempt to combat what they view as satan’s hold on college students:  Campus Ministries, Christian Universities, and condemning (and not attending) higher education.

Campus Ministries: This is usually in the form of church-suppported groups that lead Bible studies or worship services on a regular basis somewhere on the college campus.  While they have good intentions (and many have good results), I am personally very leery of such organizations.  Their intent is to spread the gospel of Christ, but what usually happens is they are responsible for keeping all the Christian kids in a “click” or club.  They also tend to feed on a victim mindset, giving many young Christians the idea that they are unjustly being persecuted in college.  This does not encourage students, nor will it strengthen their faith.  It’s merely a biased plug that ministry leaders use their platforms to present.  Campus Ministries are also used as witnessing tools, giving Christian kids something to invite their unsaved classmates to.  To me, that is missing the point of witnessing.  No one wants to sit in your small Bible study, nor do they want to attend a worship service with you.  If they don’t believe God exists or if they are struggling in their faith, what makes you think that would do anything other than annoy or frighten them?  Witnessing isn’t about trying to pull people into your world; it’s about you going into theirs.  Jesus helped people right where they were at.  He didn’t invite them to the synagogue!

Christian Universities: This is nothing more than Christian segregation.  Jesus taught that we were to go out into the world, baptizing in the name of the Holy Spirit.  Surrounding yourself with people who believe everything you do is not fulfilling that goal.  It is doing the opposite.  There may be the idea that college is a training grounds before thrusting oneself out in the world, but I do not find that to be biblical.  The apostle Paul shared his testimony with people as soon as the blindness fell from his eyes.   Keeping yourself in a Christian community hinders spiritual growth.  If everyone there believes as you do, where is the challenge?  If I trusted that everything coming from my professors’ mouths was accurate, how would I learn to think for myself?  Also, I fear these institutions help the problem of State Universities being anti-faith.  If most strong Christians are off at the Christian college, who is left to teach and attend the secular ones?  There is no reason for State Universities to feel the pressure of being open to Christianity when they can safely assume that most strong Christians aren’t attending their classes.  Thirdly, I know of Christian colleges that are not-so-Christian.  The only difference between them and State Universities is the name on the door and the tuition fees.  That is the most harmful thing of all.  When your Christian colleges stop acting like Christians, heavy damage is done to the witness of Christ.  I don’t approve of Christian segregation, but if you’re gonna put the name on the door, you have a heavy responsibility to live up to it!

Condemnation:  I do not think going to college is a necessity.  If you  don’t need a degree for the job you desire, then don’t go.  Now, I LOVE college and I support Higher Education, but I’m realistic.  It’s not for everyone and no one should feel they must go.  However, if the only reason you are refusing this great opportunity is because someone has told you it is ungodly to attend…then I have a problem with your absence in our schools.   It’s not that you are denying yourself an education.  You can buy your own books and study everything you please without attending college.  But you are denying your faith the chance to grow.  If you don’t think that your faith can stand up under the pressure of college then what does that say about it?  Personally, you’re giving me the impression that you have a small, frail relationship with God.  I don’t want to see Christians living in fear.  It’s okay to allow yourself to be challenged and I sincerely hope that college does that for you!    

I’ve become really negative in this post, so let me end with what I do believe in, instead of just hitting everyone over the head with my disagreements.  I believe in living your life for Christ.  To me, a college ministry shouldn’t be an organization; instead it is what each individual Christian attending college lives out.  Let me tell you a personal story.  This semester I took a class called  “Archaeology and the Bible.”  Now, I attend a secular University.  The Bible isn’t discussed here in a good way.  I knew going into the class that it would be difficult.  Was it?  Yes.  But I have grown more in my faith than I ever dreamed.  And God was faithful to me.  Hebrews says that when things become too much for us to bear, God will provide a way out for us.  God  didn’t get me out of it, but He led me through it with the help of two teachers.

The first was a music teacher.  It just so happens that this man is a Christian who loves (and has studied) biblical archaeology.  (coincidental, huh?)  My lessons with him were scheduled once a week and just happened to land immediately after my archaeology class.  I got to go right from the stress and confusion of this class to having a fun, relaxing time playing music.  He always asked me how my archaeology class was going and he was very open when I’d ask him questions. 

The other influential person was an English teacher.  One day our class discussed literature and writing.  We talked about how hard it is to trust every word that someone writes as absolute truth.  How is one to know if they’ve embellished at all?  This was similar to what my archaeology class was wondering about the Bible, so I took the liberty of sending this teacher an e-mail after that class, asking him to explain the issue deeper for me.  I also explained my concerns regarding the Bible.  He could have ignored the Bible part, not wanting to touch a controversial subject, but he didn’t.  It turns out that he is a Christian.  Not only was he open about the fact that he personally did trust the Bible, but his witness throughout the semester was a huge relief for me.  He was a good professor who cared about the individuals in his class, not just their grades. 

Those two men have college ministries.  They may not realize it, but they do.  They aren’t at college with a hidden agenda, out to convert everyone.  They are simply using the talents God gave them to make a living and feed their families.  Yet in the process of doing so, they continue to impact people for the sake of Christ.  That is not something only professors should do.  It is something students should do, as well.  Not get together in little clubs.  Get involved where their talents deem is a good spot for them and SHINE.

A new look at Gitmo

Watch this, then tell me what you think!

melancholy

That is the word that could describe what my mood has been lately.  My favorite definition of the word (from dictionary.com) is “sober thoughtfulness.”  So often we associate melancholy with depression, but they aren’t actually the same thing.  Although I am far from being a depressed person, I do reflect on my life a lot.  I examine the past, question the future, wonder at what might have been.  I pray, I ponder. 

The future is what trips me up the most.  As a writer, I have an overactive imagination that is hard to keep in line.  And as a speed reader, I am used to reading of people’s lives and reaching their conclusions fast.  But real life doesn’t happen that way.  I’m impatiently waiting to see what the next phase in my life-story will hold, and am unable to shake the feelings of uncertainty because I’m not writing this story.  I don’t have control (although, what control I have over the stories that I do write is questionable as well. Many authors will tell you that stories rarely go the way they anticipated.)grain field

Fall is an easy time to have these moments of “sober thoughtfulness.”  As a farmer’s daughter, I am most inspired by harvest (especially grain harvest.) Now that harvest is over and the ground bare, a sad feeling lingers in my gut.  The weather has turned chilly, the wind nippy…and my thoughts more negative and worrisome.  What if I fall in love with a man who isn’t a farmer? What if I never get a book published? What if my career makes me move and leave the family I love so dearly?

After brooding over these things, I slowly come to my own realization: Achieving our dreams doesn’t mean we arrive where we want to be.  It means we allow ourselves to be happy where we are.  Instead of viewing my dreams as specific little things inside my life, I need to acknowledge that it is life itself.  Being denied certain hopes and goals while still having the strength to wear a smile will allow me to lead a fulfilled life.

I don’t recommend being “melancholy” very often.  Keeping yourself in the future or the past (mentally speaking) denies living in the present.  Fulfilled lives… accomplished dreams…those things are done while living right where you are, not meditating where you want to go.  Yet, occasionally, that self-examination and time of sober thoughtfulness is a good thing.  For the first time in my life, I have realized that I can be happy wherever I am.  I don’t have to marry a farmer, I do possess the strength to move far from home, and I am a writer whether or not I ever get published. 

These are freeing realizations.  I can close this period of melancholy in my life with confidence, knowing that it will enable me to live a more fulfilled life in the present.  But what about you?  What periods of sober thoughtfulness are you reflecting on?

Blessings,
Em