Blessed Firelight

The fire crackles,
tongues of flame reaching
high into the night sky,
reaching to capture the
essence of the One who
feeds all flames.

Sparks whirl, grasping,
leaping for joy, celebrating
a temporary life lived in
fullness. Rejoicing, dancing,
sprinkling the darkness
with pinpoints of light.

Flickering flames bathe
the woods nearby, casting
eerie glows on low-reaching
fir trees; on fallen logs whose
souls have flown and rest
now in peace.

Horned owls hoot in syncopated
harmonies joined by a distant
pack of coyotes whose yips rise
and fall with unequaled grace.
A fir branch snaps, splitting the
song’s joyful tunes.

The night has a bite, a sharpness
that penetrates the inner core,
threatens to steal warmth,
warded off by a rising taper of
sparks, resurrecting feeble souls
who yearn for life.

Serenity beckons, calling the flames
to calm, to settle, to dwindle
until only a feeble light survives,
burning into perpetuity,
fueled by the eternal love
of One who feeds all flames.

Dream Vacation

It was to be a dream vacation. Vi and Nathan had saved for several years to be able to travel comfortably to California, a land of sunshine and celebrities. They knew someone who knew someone who had traveled by coach from San Diego to Napa Valley and enjoyed every minute of it. It looked like something they would enjoy, especially after looking at photos of deep blue skies, swaying palm trees and lush green lawns.

So different from their frigid home in Minnesota. They were tired of deep snow and steel grey skies. Tired of working at the jobs they’d had since they married thirty years ago. Tired of the same old monotony that was controlled by the seasons. So they packed their bags, took a bus to the train station and then on to the airport in Minneapolis.

When they arrived in San Diego they took a shuttle to their hotel. The first thing they did was change into shorts, t-shirts, and sandals, covered themselves with loads of sunscreen, then headed out to walk the streets. Vi carried the camera slung over her shoulder and pulled it out at every opportunity. She snapped shots of anything that was remotely interesting, and even some of people that she was convinced were movie stars.

The next morning, after a brief introductory meeting, they boarded the coach and settled in for the tour. Nathan researched the spots on the itinerary using his cell phone, while Vi sat with her face glued to the window. They were not disappointed. Everywhere they went they saw things that represented California’s colorful past. Adobe buildings, missions, Mexican restaurants and museums.

In the morning they headed to the Los Angeles area. They spent one day at Disneyland and another at Knott’s Berry Farm. They went to a botanical garden and tar pits. They visited Universal Studies and an art museum. They even got to walk the famous sidewalks of Hollywood.

On up the coast they went, stopping to catch all the promised sites. Vi and Nathan were having the time of their lives. They did not have to worry about which roads to take, where to stop, where to spend the night. It was all arranged and paid for as part of the tour.

Eventually they reached the last stop on the trip; the famous Napa Valley. Nathan was looking forward to visiting a few wineries while Vi planned on taking an alternate trip to the Church of Saving Grace. In the morning, Nathan hopped on one shuttle bus while Vi got on another, camera in hand.

Vi’s bus took her up a winding path into an area of deep green trees and colorful gardens. They stopped briefly at a gate where the driver spoke to a security guard, showing some papers before they were finally able to continue. The guard made Vi a bit uncomfortable. What kind of church has protective services? Especially one that catered to tourists.

As the bus drove toward the massive white building at the end of the road, she saw men walking the manicured lawn on one side, women walking on the other. They were dressed alike in white polo shirts and khaki pants. No one seemed to be speaking, no one was smiling. They just walked. This was such an odd scene that Vi wished she had gone with her husband.

When the bus stopped, a group of people lined the steps to the front door of the church. They did not wave or smile, but as the passengers stepped down, a person came forward and took each of them inside. Vi noticed that men escorted men, women took care of women. Vi sat still, thinking she’d remain on the bus, but the driver told her she had to get off.

The woman who approached Vi had shoulder-length brown hair. She was short and slim and while her mouth smiled, her eyes did not. “Hello,” the woman said. “I am Serenity. I’ll be your guide today. Please come with me.” She touched Vi’s elbow and lead her up the steps and into the double-doors of the building.

Everything was sparkling white. Not a smudge on the floor or walls or windows. No paintings or murals were hung. No statues or artifacts. Nothing that indicated which religion the people worshiped. Vi reached for her camera, but the woman told her that no photos were allowed anywhere on the grounds.

The woman opened a door at the end of the hall and stood aside. Vi entered. Nothing but women sat in the pews. The tourists alternated with uniformed guides.

Vi looked around, expecting to see an altar, tabernacle and stained glass windows. There was none of that. Only white and more white. The only break in the nothingness was an upholstered chair at the front.

A tinny bell rang and the guides stood. The tourists stood as well. A man entered through a door at the side. He was clean-cut and dressed in the same uniform as the others. There was nothing about him that indicated religious office. He did not carry a bible, he did not genuflect or kneel. He simply stood and smiled.

“Welcome,” he said. “I am Brother Anthony. I am one of the spiritual leaders of the Church of Saving Grace. Our goal today is to make you as comfortable as possible while sharing some of our beliefs. Hopefully you will be inspired to join us in our worship meeting later on today. Meanwhile, relax.” With that he turned and walked out of the room.

Vi’s guide led her out of the room and down the hall. They entered an area that was full of steam and surrounded by sets of large blue lockers. The guide opened one and took out a nondescript bathing suit. “I hope this fits,” she said. “Please put this on. You can leave your clothes here. They will be safe.”

“What about my camera? Where should I put it?”

“I’ll hold it for you,” the guide said.

Vi did not want to change clothes. She did not want to give up her camera. She did not want to be welcomed into this church. All she wanted was to leave. Now. She turned and walked quickly to the door, pulled it open and stepped into the hall. She scurried away, camera protectively slung over her shoulder. Just as she leaned against the large double-doors, the guide called after her.

“Come back!” she said. “You must stay with me.”

Vi walked faster. She practically ran down the steps and headed off to the right, the direction in which the bus had gone. The woman caught up with Vi and grabbed her by the arm. “Stop,” she said. “you cannot roam about the grounds. It is not permitted.”

Vi shook her off and walked faster.

The woman jumped in front of Vi. “You must return to the center. Visitors are not allowed to walk about unescorted.”

“Get out of my way,” Vi said. “I am going back to the bus.” Vi pulled out her phone and punched in 911. “I’m calling the police,” she said. “I’m sure they’d be interested in this place. There’s something weird going on here.”

“Okay, okay,” the woman said. “I’ll help you find your bus, but once on board, you cannot get off.”

“That’s fine with me.”

They walked in silence. Vi kept her finger on the call button, ready to push it if anything untoward happened. She glanced nervously from left to right, expecting someone to jump out and grab her. Thankfully no one did.
She found her bus, the driver inside. He opened the door for her and she climbed on. Vi sighed. She felt as if she had escaped a dreadful fate.

Much later, the other passengers returned. Vi listened to their chatter. Some people were enthralled by what they had witnessed, while others, like Vi, were deeply disturbed.

When Vi rejoined Nathan at the hotel, she explained what she had seen and how she had felt. Nathan told her she had done the right thing. While he was in route to the first winery, he had looked up the church on the Internet. It had mixed reviews, some of them deeply disturbing.

From then on, for the remainder of their trip, Vi never left Nathan’s side. It was where she felt most secure.

Dawn Thoughts

Another day awakens
Promising warm winds
Sunny skies
Gentle events
to guide me through
the hectic times

I stretch, drawing in
energy to replenish
my weary soul
Revitalize desires
Strengthen interests
A healing balm

The day beckons me forth
into the primal dawn
Greeted by the early
call of morning birds
Filled with bounteous joy
I burst into expectant smile

The day is mine to conquer
I shall vanquish foes
Destroy doubts
Eliminate naysayers
Rise to the peak
Declare my victory

Ah, the dreams of a new day
fill my sights and
I rejoice.

Jim’s Dilemma

What was the point of waking up? Today would be no different from yesterday. Or the day before that. Or any day over the past year. Has it been a year? Or more? Jim wasn’t sure. He hadn’t been sure of anything for a long time. All he knew was that he didn’t live at home anymore.
Jim couldn’t recall much of his life before whatever had happened to him. He thought he had a wife. But was she still alive? Sometimes he asked about her. He thought her name was Norah, but he couldn’t be sure.

When the man came in to get him out of bed, Jim asked about his wife. “Is my wife coming today?”

The man helped Jim sit up and took off his pajama top. “Today is Monday. Your wife always visits on Monday. Don’t you remember?”

Jim lifted his arms. The man slipped a long-sleeve shirt over Jim’s head. And then a sweater. Jim liked the feel of the clothes. They were soft and warm.

“What’s her name?”

“Norah,” the man said. “Scoot to the edge of the bed.” The man took off Jim’s bottoms and underpants. He put on new ones. And a pair of soft pants. And socks and shoes. “Okay. Time to stand.” The man slipped his arms under Jim and lifted him up. Then the man turned Jim and put him in a wheelchair. “Now off to the bathroom.”

Jim did everything the man asked him to do. Eventually he was put at a table and a plate of food was placed before him. Jim ate, but he couldn’t remember what the food was called. He wasn’t sure if he liked it, but he knew that the man wanted him to eat and drink everything.

After eating, Jim was moved to another room. One that had a television. Jim liked the television. It was bright and colorful and full of sound. He stared at it, no matter what was going on. Some things he liked better than others. Like sports or car racing. He didn’t like shows where there was a lot of talking. He couldn’t follow what was said and it confused him.

“Is my wife coming today?” Jim asked the man when he came in to do something to the television.

“Yes. She should be here soon.”

The morning passed by, like every other morning that Jim could remember. The man pushed him to the bathroom and helped Jim sit and do his business. Afterward the man pushed him back in front of the television.

A woman came and kissed him on the head. “Hello, Sweetheart,” she said.

“Do I know you?” Jim asked.

“Silly, of course you do. I’m your wife.” The woman sat in a chair next to Jim. She held his hand. “How are you today?”

Jim smiled. “Okay.”

“Good. Let me see your arms.” The woman pushed up Jim’s sleeves. “She rubbed one arm and then the other. “The bruising seems to be going away.”

Jim smiled. “Who are you?”

“Norah,” she said. “Guess what? Bruce called this morning. He’ll be coming for a visit later this week. Won’t that be nice?”


“Bruce, your son, is coming. He wants to see you.”

“Oh.” Jim stared at the television. Those cars were still running around and around, making a lot of noise. He liked that. “I want to go out for a drive. I’ll take my truck.”

“You can’t drive anymore,” the woman said. “You don’t have a license. Besides, I sold your truck.”

“I can’t drive?”

“No. You haven’t driven in years.” The woman touched his cheek. Her hand was so soft it almost tickled.

“You have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning,” she said. “I’ll be here early. Right after breakfast.”

“After your appointment we’ll get a cup of coffee and some fries before the transit gets there. Will you like that?”


“Fries and coffee.”

“I guess.”

“And then on Wednesday I won’t be coming. I have to take the car in for a checkup.”

“Bruce will be here on Thursday and Friday.”


“So you’ve got a busy week coming up.” The woman held Jim’s hand and rubbed his arm. “Will you like that?”


“A busy week. Places to go and things to do.”

“I guess.”

Jim and the woman watched television together. The cars were still running around and making lots of noise. Jim liked the colors of the cars.

“I have to leave now,” the woman said. “It’s your lunchtime.” She stood and kissed him on the head. “But I’ll be back tomorrow.”


“Bye,” the woman said.

Jim watched the cars go around and around. The man came and took him to the bathroom again. Then put him at the table. Jim ate all the food and drank whatever was in the cup. When he was finished, the man pushed him to his room, got him out of the chair and put him to bed.

“Is my wife coming today?”

“She’s already been here,” the man said.

“She was?”

“Yes. You watched television together, remember?”


“Well, it’s time for your nap,” the man said. He put a blanket over Jim. “Close your eyes and rest. I’ll be back when it’s time for you to get up.”


Jim watched the man walk out of the room and close the door. Jim felt lonely. He missed his wife. He wished she came to see him. He thought she was still alive, but he wasn’t sure. He closed his eyes and tried to remember what she looked like.

She had yellow hair. And she was small. He couldn’t recall the word for it, but the picture in his mind was of her leaning against his side and him resting his chin on the top of her head. He couldn’t remember anything else about her. What color were her eyes? Where did they live? Did they have kids?

Jim was so confused. The man asked him all kinds of questions every day. Jim thought very hard, but didn’t know the answers.

Jim kept still on the bed. He didn’t like to move around because it was so small. He was afraid of falling out. He stared at the ceiling and tried counting the dots. Jim counted to twenty, but couldn’t remember what came next, so he started over again.

What was the point in trying to remember? Every day was just like the one before. Jim was so sad sometimes that he cried. He didn’t understand where he was or why he was alive. Is this living? Jim didn’t think so.
The one thing he wanted to know, more than anything else, was when he could die. He hoped it was soon. He was so tired of everyday being the same.

Helping Hands

It was a busy time for Elena, but she didn’t mind. She loved all the hustle and bustle around the holidays. People coming and going. Meals to plan and prepare. Beds to make. Windows to clean. While it was hard work, every single part of it was fun.

This year’s festivities began with a Thanksgiving potluck at work. Elena’s specialty was deviled eggs. She followed her family’s recipe, filling the eggs with chopped nuts with a sprinkle of nutmeg on top. The others brought store-bought cookies and cakes, packaged salads and bottled dressings and sliced luncheon meats from a deli. Elena didn’t care that she was the only one who took the time to create something because her eggs disappeared before anything else was touched.

She didn’t always have company for Thanksgiving. Some years she celebrated alone, which was sad, but not disheartening. Elena spent the afternoons volunteering at a local homeless shelter, preparing and serving food to hungry singles and families. The kids were the saddest part. Imagine having no home to call your own. No Christmas tree in your own front room. No gifts under the tree. So she smiled encouragingly at the kids. If she had time, she went from table to table and listened to their stories.

One child, Jessica, was only seven years old but had already attended five different schools. She would have been a pretty child if her face had been clean and her clothes not faded and torn. Her eyes were a deep green that sparkled when she smiled. Jessica spoke of nights sleeping in the back seat of the car, parked in the lots of Walmarts or Sears, so cold that her feet felt numb and so hungry that her stomach ached. The best places to sleep were at rest stops, as there were bathrooms and fresh water, but the highway patrol came by and shooed them away.

Jessica’s wants were simple. She loved school, but often missed days when there was no place to stay. She hated falling behind or starting over in new schools where she had no friends, and even though she understood too much about how poor her family was, she wished it were different. For once she would like to stay in a school for a whole year.

Moving so much made it hard for her to keep up in her classes. In one school she might be in the middle reading group, but in the next, in the lowest one. She would start a book in one school but never get to finish it because off they would go on another quest for shelter. In the next school they’d be working on writing an essay, and Jessica would struggle with the beginning while everyone else was almost finished.

Jessica told Elena that, for once, she would like to be able to wear different clean clothes every day, for a week. Clothes that came with tags from a store. Not hand-me-downs from the lost and found bins. She wished for shoes that fit. Hers were either too big or too small, worn by someone else before she got them, and often stained or torn.

Elena wanted to help Jessica’s family, and so she invited them to move into her house. There was plenty of room. She had two unused bedrooms and a family room that missed the sounds of childish laughter. Since there were two bathrooms, one could be just for the family, one for Elena.
When the family finished eating, the father approached Elena, head bowed. His feet scuffed the floor as he spoke.

“We appreciate your offer, ma’am,” he said. “But we can’t stay with you. It would be too much.”

“No, really,” Elena said. “I want you to come. It would be a joy to have you stay until you can save up for a place of your own.”

“We both work,” he said, “ but we don’t make enough to pay rent on an apartment.”

“That’s okay. I can help you get connected to agencies that work with the homeless. I’m sure there’s something they can do once you have a stable place to stay.”

The man nodded. “Okay. We’ll give it a try. Just for a few days. To see how things work out. By the way, we’re the Morrisons.”

“Nice to meet you,” Elena said as she shook his hand. She gave him her address and phone number. They agreed that the family would move in the next day.

Elena felt proud of herself as she finished up at the shelter. When she got home, she made sure the bedrooms and bathroom were ready for company. Clean towels. Fresh sheets. Warm blankets. Room in the closets and dresser drawers.

She had the next day off, so she went out early in the morning to buy groceries that she hoped the family would like.

When she heard an old rattle-trap car coming down the street, Elena went out on her front porch. The car had seen better days. It was a bluish minivan with a huge dent in the side. Smoke poured from the exhaust pipe and it had not been washed in many days, if not years. When it pulled to a stop in front of her house, it shuddered, screeched, and then finally came to a rest. Elena wondered if she could enroll them in one of those giveaways where needy families were given remade cars as a helping hand. She made a mental note to check it out.

Jessica spilled from the open door of the car and ran straight into Elena’s arms. “Thank you for helping us,” she said. “How long can we stay?”

“Until your mom and dad want to leave.”

“Really? That long?”

Elena simply nodded. She grabbed Jessica’s hand, waited for her parents to step on the porch, and led them inside the house. “This is the front room,” Elena said. “You can use the desk to do your homework.”

She took them all through the house, stopping along the way to point out where to find things, where to put things, how to work the television remote. “I leave pretty early in the morning, so you’ll be on your own for breakfast. There are eggs and bacon, sausage, tortillas, hot and cold cereal, coffee, tea and juice. Please help yourselves.”

“Thanks,” Mrs. Morrison said. She smiled shyly. Her eyes were green and her hair light brown. It was easy to see which parent Jessica most loosely resembled. “We’ll clean up, too, and put everything away.’

“I love to cook,” Elena said, “so I’ll fix dinner every night, if that’s okay with you.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the mother said.

“I’m Elena, not ma’am.”

“I’m Mary and this is George. You’ve already met Jessica.”

“Would you like anything now? I went to the store so there are snacks and sodas.”

“No, thanks. We’d like to unpack the car, if that’s okay with you.”

Things went well the rest of the day. Jessica followed Elena everywhere and Mary helped with dinner while George watched television. After dinner they all watched a movie, and then it was time for bed.

It was funny, but Elena was not a bit nervous having strangers in her home. She slept soundly, waking only once to use the bathroom. In the morning she got up to the smells of cooking. Bacon and eggs. Toast. Coffee.

In the kitchen she found George hard at work. “Good morning,” he said. “I hope you are hungry.”

“Everything smells lovely. You didn’t have to do all this,” Elena said as she poured herself a cup of coffee.

“It’s no problem. I work in a café downtown. I love to cook.” He dished up a plate of food and placed it before Elena.

“Thanks. I didn’t expect this.” Her first bite of eggs put a smile on her face. “These are the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever had!

“It’s the cream cheese,” George said.

After she had eaten, Elena turned on her computer and researched all the possible agencies that might be able to help the Morrisons. She found one that clothed women in nearly-new business outfits, taught interview skills, gave tutorials in computer use, and even styled hair. She wrote down the contact information, thinking it might give Mary a boost of confidence.

There were others as well. Food stamps and welfare. Medicare. After-school programs that helped with schoolwork and provided safe places to stay until the parents could get there. Shops that gave shoes and clothing to people of all ages and sizes. Free haircuts and shampoos. A place to get free reading material for children. Grocery stores that gave away clearance items such as prepackaged salads, vegetables, fruits, lunchmeats and bread. She even found a small chef school that trained students for free, then found them jobs.

Since there was no school, Jessica kept busy doing schoolwork, watching television and searching through the books in Elena’s library until she settled on one she thought she might read.

When George and Mary returned from work, Elena sat them down in the front room and went over all she had found. The chef school paid its trainees more than George currently made, so he was excited and ready to enroll. Mary wasn’t as sure about looking for another job as she liked the office where she worked. She enjoyed filing the records of transactions and felt she was treated fairly at work. She did agree to at least go one time to look for more professional clothing and get her hair done up.

The next few days sped by. Elena got out her Christmas tree and set it up in the front room. Jessica helped with the lights, garland and ornaments. George cooked all the meals and Mary cleaned the house from top to bottom.

For Elena, there was a feeling of great satisfaction. It was as if she had her very own family living under her roof. She loved listening to their conversations. And Jessica was such a joy! Elena dreamt of the good times they would have. Things they would do, like go to the park, see movies, maybe even take trips together.

On Monday morning Elena left for work before anyone was up. She locked the door behind her and drove off, thinking of how lucky she was to have found such good people to share the holidays with.

When she got home, Elena was surprised to find the front door unlocked, but no one there. She hung her keys on the rack by the door. That’s when she noticed that her computer was missing. No monitor, no keyboard, no mouse. Her tablet was also gone. Numbly, she stepped outside and called the police. She didn’t want to be in the house in case the intruders were still there.

The police came within a matter of minutes. They went inside, guns drawn. Elena stood far away, out on the sidewalk, not wanting to witness any possible shooting or the arrest of a criminal. But the police came out with no one in tow.

“Did you get a chance to look around and see what else was missing?” the tall one said.

“No. I only stepped into the front room. That’s when I left and called you.”

“Come inside, ma’am,” the other cop said. “We’ll take a look together.”

The television was missing. And the DVD player. So were most of her movies. Lamps and clocks were gone. Towels, sheets, blankets. The comforters off all the beds. Toiletries from both bathrooms. Food from the pantry and refrigerator. Everything and anything that could be taken quickly was gone.

“Ma’am,” the tall cop said, “Do you have any idea who might have done this? There is no sign of forced entry. It’s as if they had a key.”

Elena put her head in her hands. “Oh, no, it couldn’t be.”


“The Morrisons. I invited them into my home on Thanksgiving.”

“Who are the Morrisons?”

“A family I met at the shelter. They were such nice people. And their little girl was so sweet. I was going to help them get better jobs. A new car. Clothes. Everything. And I gave them a key to the house.”

The tall cop sat on the sofa and pulled a small white pad from his shirt pocket. “Can you describe the Morrisons?”

Elena told the cop everything she knew. Size. Age. Eye color. Hair. Car. Jobs. And even what she knew of little Jessica.

“Ma’am,” the other cop said, “I hate to tell you this, but you got off lucky. We’ve seen schemes like this go horribly wrong. They might have convinced you to take out a loan on your house, or given them money. They might have harmed you, even killed you, to get what they wanted. Fortunately this happened while you were at work.”

“I feel like such a fool!”

“Ma’am,” the tall cop said, “Do you know a locksmith?”


“We do. We’ll call him for you. I’m sure he’ll come out right away. Have all your locks changed and even have him put locks on your windows. These people probably won’t return since they took everything that wasn’t pinned down. But you need to be more secure.”


“Also you should file a police report. Do you have any receipts for the things that were stolen? Like the computer or television?”

“Maybe. I’m not sure.”

“We’re going to leave now. Can I gave you a piece of advice?”

Elena nodded.

“Never invite strangers into your home. Even ones with children. You just don’t know what they might do.”

Elena sat dumbfounded as they left. She chastised herself for being so trusting, for being so hopeful that she could help the Morrisons out. What a fool she had been.