Nice ‘n nasty.

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It was hard to stay “nice”. Sometimes it hurt.

Sarah, her twin had no such qualms, had risen to the top, stepping on whoever dared get in her way. Sometimes Jenny felt like a failure by comparison.

The day had been awful, an argument at home, a put down at the school, nothing was going right. What a birthday!

It slipped out at recess. Her year four pupils had been discussing star signs.

“When’s your birthday, Miss?” an eager voice chimed. Should she lie?

“March 12th.” She hoped they didn’t notice, but they did. Jace caught on right away.

“That’s today! Is it your birthday today?” She nodded. Her eyes moistened as the word caught on and “happy birthday” squeals and songs sped around the playground. it didn’t stop there… Grubby hand written cards appeared, candies wrapped in pages stolen from exercise books and a small bunch of ragged daisies and dandelions appeared on her desk. Best of all was the shy hug from Eisha, the girl that hardly ever spoke.

Back home nestled contentedly with a cup of tea she surveyed her  news feed, predictably full of her sister’s birthday posts, food, wine, luxury presents and false smiles. She grinned into her tea cup. She’d had something better.

“Putting your feet up love?” a voice whispered in her ear. “I managed to get off work early. I felt so bad about this morning. I forgot it was your birthday… thought we could go out, do something.”

“It’s OK, I had the best day ever!”

“Really? I’m so glad… Here … for you.” Embarrassed he thrust a bunch of daffodils into her hands. She knew they were only Tesco, he’d forgotten to take off the label, but to her they were perfect, as all her presents had been.

Shepherd. (Christmas flash fiction)

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“Get out of my way scum! Get these beasts off the road!”
He could have said he had as much right on the road as they did, but he held his tongue. He knew better. Instead, nodding in a servile manner, he attempted to clear a path for the merchant and his retinue. The sheep, as always, were not co-operative, milling in confused circles.
“Incompetent imbecile!” the merchant muttered striking him a passing blow with his riding stick as he forced his way through. He said nothing, what was there to say. He was a shepherd, lowest of the low. Shepherds had a bad reputation and it was not altogether unfounded, He, himself, was no innocent, well what else was he meant to do, a man had to eat…
Settling down for the night he pulled the sheepskin cloak around him. It was cold out on the hillside, but the sheep must be guarded. He’d be out here for days seeking winter pasture.
When young he’d dreamed of having his own sheep, but that dream was long passed, as were dreams of a family. No, he’d be out here with the sheep, alone, abandoned till the day he died.
The sheep were restless, perhaps there was a predator? Grabbing his staff he looked around. Nothing! There was an odd stillness, a light wind blew up and the night sky slowly became defused with light. Fascinated he watched. Suddenly a face loomed in the darkness, glowing with power and light.
Terrified he ran cowering among the sheep. God had sent an angel to judge him! Surely an angel of death!
“Don’t be afraid, I bring good news!” a voice like water rang out. Speechless and trembling he cringed, not daring to move. “Good news, to bring joy to all people.” It was somehow the way he emphasised “ALL” that took away the fear. “For you is born today, in David’s city, a saviour, Christ the Lord.” A saviour, for me? The words resounded in his heart “ FOR YOU!”
“This shall be a sign. You shall find the baby swaddled and lying in a manger.” At these last words the sky exploded with light. Hundreds of angelic beings glowed, lending their voices to a chorus of, “ Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace to men of good will.”
His heart burst with joy, joining the heavenly chorus, for he had understood. The saviour was not only for the rich and mighty, for the holy and righteous, but for him also, and he had been chosen, above the merchants, even above princes, to hear the glad tidings and gaze on the messiah.
Grasping his staff, he’d dropped in terror, he left the sheep (surely God would care for them) and strode off towards Bethlehem. He was not alone he noticed, others had seen also. He chuckled, like him they were shepherds, the lowest of the low.
(This story was inspired by learning the view we have of shepherds is very different to that held in the Middle East back then when they were considered little more than dishonest vagabonds. Which makes the choice of shepherds even more meaningful.)

A true Christmas tale.

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It’s a long story how we came to be in the old farmhouse in Ireland realizing our dream. We, little nobodies, had helped stage a Christian camp for youngsters. They’d come, some eager, some confused. and some rebellious. We loved them, pulled our hair out at their antics and prayed (oh how we prayed!) Now it was over. They’d returned, tiny flames of love kindling in their hearts, to their domains, leaving a great joy of satisfaction in their wake.
There was just one problem. It was almost Christmas and while we had food aplenty and a roof over our heads, we had no money left, zilch, nothing, and there were children there, mine included. We explained there’d be no presents that year, no tree or decorations. They were such troopers, not a single complaint.
We made our own décor, holly and fir branches from the forest. Silvery yogurt tops, kept from the camp, were cut into snow flakes and suspended from fallen branches dabbed white with left over emulsion. It looked wonderful!
Christmas Eve was still special. We read old Christmas stories by candle light, and I sang my guys to sleep with childhood carols.
I came down to see the two teenage boys who’d helped with the renovations were gone.
“They went to look for a tree.” My eldest whispered. Due to a lot of boggy ground fallen trees were common in the surrounding forest.
Our Texan builder/handyman was heading out too. It was he who first dreamt up the project. His tiny 5ft 6 frame harboring a personality that somehow gave the impression of a 6 footer.
I joined my daughter and the other teenage girl who’d stayed to help clear up the aftermath of the camp etc. We’d almost done when the boys dragged in an enormous tree. I restrained myself from checking for axe marks (their hearts were surely right and the forest was common ground I reasoned.)
They set it up in a bucket which the girls artfully draped and we went about gleaning all the décor we could find, painted fir cones, odd bits of tinsel yogurt top snowflakes. It looked beautiful even without lights.

I was just drifting off to sleep when I was roughly wakened.
“Come on mum. We need you to help wrap.”
Our Texan angel had been to see a friend who owned a small toy factory. He’d been hoping there might be a few “old line” bits and pieces for the kids. But the Irish heart never gives by half and the little van was crammed with toys, enough for several presents for each child and lots left over to pass on to others, there were even fairy lights for the tree.
Imagine the wonder next morning when the children were awoken by Christmas angels (my daughter and friend had raided the prop box) and brought down to the old living room. There they saw a huge tree blazing with lights and an immense pile of presents.
They didn’t think it was Santa. They knew who to thank, and their happy praises sounded all day long. The presents were special because they knew Jesus had sent them and that made His birthday “magic”.
We adults of course didn’t get presents, or did we? The gifts of joy, love, peace and intense gratitude filled our hearts in a way presents never could. Jesus’ love for these precious children and the hearts that had given so freely of time, goods and sleep were more than enough!

Christmas reality.

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Face wet with tears, she hugged her knees towards her ripening belly, seeking to keep out the chill night air. Her heart ached. This was not how she’d imagined it. Why did no one believe her?

Her cousin had understood, rejoiced with her, but on returning home she’d faced utter rejection. Father wanted to turn her out of the house. Mother thought her mad, raving! They all thought it was him… that they’d…

She remembered his face, the pain inflicted by her seeming betrayal. At least he was prepared to send her away, wouldn’t enact the law as was his right. He’d considered it, she knew, but couldn’t face the thought. The law was explicit. She was not fit to live. He was not a vengeful man, for that she could be thankful, but he would never forgive her.

She recalled his anger at her stammered explanation.

“You expect me to believe that!” he’d yelled. “I’ll be the laughing stock of the village!  Even if I send you away they’ll guess.” What would she do, where would she go. No one would take her in her present state.

Red tinged the sky, a narrow band on the horizon greeting the day. A shape appeared midst the shadows, coming closer. Then suddenly he was there, arms open to encircle her.

“It’s alright Mary. I believe you. We’ll be married.”

“But they’ll all think it was you…”

“I know,” Joseph replied. “But I know who the child really is. It doesn’t matter what they say, God has given me a great honour.” Shyly hesitant he placed his hand on the small mound of her belly. “I’ll take care of you both, I promise.” He whispered.

My convalescence project.

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(A new book – rough draft of the first chapter – feed back welcome!)

THE CHILD. (An apocalyptic tale.)

Light spring rain drummed its rhythm on the forest leaves. It was oddly silent, both felt it. The camp lay ahead swallowed in the camouflage of its protective gully. Their eyes met.
“I…” her voice was stifled by a sturdy hand as he pushed her against the trunk, long finger on taunt lips – warning! Eyes wide with fear she watched as he shrank beneath the ferns. She stood pressed hard against the concealing bark as if drawing strength from the forest giant. Had they come!
With urgent motions he beckoned her to follow. Rustling through unfurling stems they crawled their way back. She was shaking, hands trembling as they sought perchance, her enlarging belly catching on the stems. Sinking into the shadows they gained their feet.
“Can you run?” he hissed, eyes flaring.
“The others,” she whispered.
“Too late! Can you run!”
“Yes.” Grasping hands they careened through the trees, whispering branches concealing their passage. On and on they ran till she began to stumble. With laboured breath they paused against the gnarled side of an oak.
“The children,” she gasped.
“I could only save ours,” he ran a hand protectively over the curve of her belly. “The woods are full of men, hundreds of them. They won’t stand a chance.” Tears coursed down her face. “We need to move,” he urged, “after they’re finished they’ll come looking.”
As if in confirmation the sound of guns rent the stillness, screams echoed through the silent groves. He wiped a soiled sleeve across his eyes.
“We have to go…”
She nodded. Stumbling on over roots and shrubs, pursued by screams and gunfire echoes they melted into the ancient refuge of man. Tall sentinels guarded their way; ferns muffled their footsteps as gentle rain washed away all traces of their path.
*
“Did they have dogs?”
“Didn’t see any… Hope not. The stream at least should delay them even if they pick up our scent.”
“Sleep now. I’ll keep watch.”
Bathed in tears she surrendered to exhaustion. He looked out over the forest. He’d chosen high ground. He’d see them coming. The bush and scrub concealed them well enough. The forest was their home, their refuge, and had been for the past two years. The forest where he’d met her, where they’d managed to survive all this time, hidden away from prying eyes. Till, now… now it was all over, his friends, companions, closer than brothers, even their families, all dead… He brushed the tears away, but they kept coming, here in the darkness of the forest with none to see but the trees. Why could they not let them be, what harm had they been to anyone, simple folk most of them, farmers, travellers, working with their hands, living off the land. There was nowhere to go, no place was safe, only in the forests, in the wilderness of the mountains could they hide, for how long he didn’t know. There was no real escape only the constant game of cat and mouse he’d been playing for the last five years, the five years since he’d left it all behind to flee into the wilderness. It had just been internment camps back then, people disappearing silently, one day there, the next gone, never to return. Now they had no need of subterfuge, they killed openly, the last voices of protest silenced in those last Easter raids. He’d not been near civilisation since; some did, bartering for food, for the necessities of life, but he’d not. He’d grown hard, his frame lean, but strong, nourished on roots and herbs, fish, and meat from the traps. The wilderness had sustained him. He was thankful now for his grandfather’s obsession with the “outdoor life”. He’d groaned at the time, but some of those things had saved his life. Gramp’s rifle lay still looped across his back, loaded, the few remaining bullets carried in his backpack. There’d be no more, the camp munitions such as they’d been, (a couple more hunting rifles and two or three boxes of amo.) were gone now. He pulled out the wrapper – four, plus the three in the rifle. What good would that be if they found them? How would he get meat for the winter if he used them? Head bent in his hands, his lips murmured restlessly… “God, don’t let them find us, don’t let them find us!” Empty words…
He had to pull himself together, be strong for her and the child. There had to be an end to this… pictures flashed before his eyes, blood mottled skin, life draining, how could it end any other way?
Morning broke clear and sunny, birdsong celebrating the dawn, in denial of atrocities beneath the unfurling fern stems – nature reclaiming her own. He’d fallen asleep she noticed, his back to the tree, rifle across his lap. She watched as dappled sunlight traced patterns on his skin catching the chestnut fire in his hair. How she loved him. She remembered the first she saw him when they brought her to the camp bedraggled and malnourished, a haggard shadow of her former self. She’d wanted him even then, the smile, the bright eyes, the life in him…
He stirred. There was no food she realised, nothing… only what he carried in his pack. She’d teased him for taking it along, but now she saw the wisdom. He was never parted from the pack, now she knew why…
His eyes opened, a smile glimpsed, then faded. “We’ll need food and water,” he muttered glancing round. Young nettles swarmed in abundance, but they couldn’t risk a fire…
“We’ll head towards the river,” he announced, water was the most urgent need and fish could be eaten raw if you had to…
*
The ground became marshy as they trudged along, fallen saplings, resigned to fate, crisscrossed their path. Easy foraging here, frogs, fish and all manner of plants, fresh water and timber, hopefully far enough away from the assault force for safety…
*
Days turned to weeks, new blooms decked the river bank and raised their heads where sunlight traced the forest floor, the vast swathes of bluebells had relinquished their office to myriad hued cousins. Summer was on its way bringing plenty in its wake. He was a good provider yet it had been hard, enough to survive, but not enough to fill the belly.
He’d that morning set off to the old camp in hopes of gleaning all they’d need for her delivery and for the child. It should be safe enough now, he’d said, the soldiers would not stay that long, they had other things to do, other “nests of traitors” to destroy. He’d left the pack with her taking only his rifle and pocket knife. He said he didn’t want to be loaded down, but he couldn’t fool her…
Crawling face down among the forest’s carpet he edged towards the gully. All seemed quiet, the right kind of quiet. Birds flew hither and yon in their perpetual search to placate their growing young, insects hummed. The forest had resumed its quiet cacophony of sound, proclaiming the departure of the hunters. Relieved but still cautious he edged forward. The smell became intense. They could have at least buried the bodies… they were unrecognizable now, gnawed by forest inhabitants, decaying back from whence they came, nature reclaimed its own. He tried not to look.
He was surprised they’d not torched the huts, they usually did. Perhaps they were in a hurry. No matter. Their old lean to still stood only a few beams fallen. He ran his hands over the bullet holes that riddled the frame. If they’d not gone foraging, if he’d not taken her along…
Pull yourself together man, get what you need and get out of here. Rummaging through the debris he found what he was looking for, the big pot, the blankets. They’d need washing again now… Thread, he must have thread, to tie the cord. Thank God he knew the basics; there were no doctors in the forest. Glancing around he grabbed their tumbled winter coats, stuffing them into one of the blankets and tying it. That was all he could carry. It would have to do for now, he’d get more later, he told himself, but in his heart he knew he’d never venture back.
His hands full, view obscured, he never noticed the wire his foot nudged as he strode out of the hut.

(It is a deliberate ploy that no names are used – I have a reason lol!)

with the eyes of a child.

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“Inside a train there was an old man sitting near the window together with his 24 year old son.
The son looking out towards the window shouted: ” DAD, look! the trees are going behind!”
His dad smiled and a young couple looked at the 24 year old guy behaving childishly with pity.
Suddenly he again claimed : “DAD look! the clouds are running with us!”
The couple couldn’t resist and said to the old man, “Why don’t you take your son to a doctor?”
The old man smiled and said, “We’ve been there already. My son was blind from birth; he just got his eyes today.””

(Such a lovely story gleaned from a friends FB post (sorry didn’t give the source). It reminded me of my first call to teach, the discovery of sharing the wonder and excitement of a child on discovering the world – may we never lose that vision!)

Two Babes in a Manger (an oldie goldie Christmas story)

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manger
In 1994, two American volunteers answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach Bible-based morals and ethics classes in several schools and institutions, including a home for about 100 orphaned, abandoned, or abused children.

Shortly before Christmas, the volunteers told the children at the home the story of the first Christmas—a story that most of them had never heard before. The children listened in rapt amazement as Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, found no room in the inn, and ended up taking refuge in a stable, where Mary gave birth to baby Jesus and laid Him to sleep in a manger.

Afterwards the volunteers organized an art project. They gave each of the children a small piece of cardboard to make a manger, part of a yellow napkin to cut up for straw, a piece of beige felt from which to cut baby Jesus, and a scrap of fabric to wrap Him in. As the children assembled their mangers, the volunteers moved around the room, interacting with the children and offering a little help where needed.

When one of the volunteers came to six-year-old Misha, she found that he had already finished his project. But as she looked closer, she was surprised to see two babies in his manger. When she asked him about this, Misha crossed his arms, knit his brow, and began explaining very seriously. For such a young boy who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related it all quite accurately, until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger. Then he started to ad lib.

“Baby Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told Him I have no mama and no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with Him. But I told Him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give Him like everybody else. But I wanted to stay with Jesus very much, so I thought about what I could maybe use for a gift. I asked Jesus, ‘If I keep You warm, will that be a good enough gift?’ And Jesus told me, ‘If you keep Me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave Me.’ So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and said I could stay with Him for always.”

As little Misha finished his story, tears filled his eyes and splashed down his cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, he dropped his head to the table and sobbed. Misha had found Someone who would never abandon or abuse him, Someone who would stay with him “for always.”1—Author unknown