Lighthouse Capers (Chapter 6) – Part 2: Heroes

To his relief, the Great Light suddenly swept out across the sky revealing the steep cliff and the boiling sea below.  And he could see Johnny slumped against a sharp rock nearby.   He heard the boy moan, then whimper in pain.

The light beamed across the dark sky again and Stanley saw that Johnny’s right leg was twisted in a peculiar way and his forehead was bleeding from a deep cut.  Stanley forgot all about himself.  He felt very sorry for Johnny.    ‘What can I do?’ he asked again and again.  The situation was desperate.   What use could a little hamster be to Johnny?  Again the light shone out.  Now Stanley knew what to do.  ‘Thank you, dear Light,’ he whispered.

He scrambled cautiously down the path and finally reached Johnny.  The boy was shivering and crying.  Johnny felt the hamster gently nibble his sleeve and looked down.

‘Stanley!  I’m so frightened.  I wish you could help me!’

Stanley climbed carefully as close as he could get to Johnny’s face then he snuggled down on Johnny’s chest.

‘Thank you, Stanley.  I’m sorry.  I’m glad you are OK.’

From the top of the cliff Clem peered down at the tiny figure of Johnny lying awkwardly against the rock. As the Great Light shone out she saw the blue cap not far away from her in the grass.  That gave her an idea.  She grabbed the hat in her mouth then raced back to the Lighthouse cottage.

Clem climbed quickly through the cat flap, ran through the kitchen and into the lounge where Dougal MacDougal was watching TV.  He was enjoying his favourite programme about heroes with special powers.

Clem leapt onto his lap and dropped the hat on his chest.  But he was so absorbed in his programme he hardly noticed the little kitten!  So Clem grabbed the hat again and dug her claws into his leg.  Poor Dougal yelled so loudly he woke his wife Jenny who came in to see what was going on.

‘She stuck her claws in my leg – whatever did she do that for?’

‘Dougal, that’s Johnny’s hat.  I bet that boy’s up to mischief.  You are a clever cat, Clem.’

‘The caves. Oh no,’ gasped Dougal.

With that, he took his jacket and a very big torch and ran out of the house to the cliff edge.  Shining the torch down the cliff, he climbed carefully along the path until he could see Johnny.  By this time the boy had lost consciousness.  Dougal felt his pulse – to his relief, Johnny’s heart was still beating.  But what to do now?  How to get him off the cliff?  Would it be safe to move him?

Dougal needed more help but he didn’t want to leave Johnny alone.

A movement caught his eye. There was Stanley curled up on Johnny’s chest and Johnny’s hands were protecting him from the wind.

‘Stanley!  What are you doing here?’

The hamster stayed still in Johnny’s hands and looked up at Dougal MacDougal.

‘Stanley, you are a very brave wee beastie.  Look after the laddie for me.  I’ll be back soon.’

And Dougal climbed as fast as he could up the cliff and ran back to the cottage.  Once there he telephoned the emergency services while Jenny went to the holiday cottage and told Johnny’s parents what had happened.

An ambulance arrived and two paramedics scrambled awkwardly down the cliff guided by Dougal.  Johnny was still unconscious.  One of the men checked his injuries while the other made an urgent call on his mobile phone.

Clem watched from the top of the cliff.  Johnny’s dad, wearing his pyjamas and dressing gown, ran past her and down the path to see his son.  The kitten followed him, nimbly scampering down the cliff.  She was anxious to find out what had happened to Stanley.  Where was he?

Of course, cats can see perfectly well in the dark.  Clem did not need a torch.  She quickly reached the four men huddled around Johnny, who was now awake.  They were having a very serious discussion.  Not about his injuries.  Not about how to carry him up the cliff.  Not about who was to blame.

The hamster wouldn’t budge an inch.  And Johnny wouldn’t let go of his friend.

‘Well, I’ll just have to phone through to the hospital and warn them what to expect,’ said one of the paramedics, scratching his head.  ‘I’m certain they won’t allow an animal in there.’

‘Johnny, give the hamster back to Mr MacDougal,’ said his dad.

‘No, I can’t, Dad.  He’s looking after me,’ Johnny insisted.  ‘He makes me brave.’

Then Clem heard a loud rushing noise which seemed to be coming from the sky above.  It grew louder and louder.  She looked up to see a huge whirring creature looming in the dark sky over the cliff top. The kitten flattened herself as close to the ground as possible and snarled and spat at this menacing thing.

‘It’s OK, Clem,’ said Dougal MacDougal, picking her up and holding her safe.  ‘It’s the air ambulance, come to rescue Johnny.’

The helicopter hung suspended in the sky above them and shone a bright search light on the cliff face.

One of the paramedics talked to the crew on his phone and then Clem watched as a stretcher was lowered to the ground and Johnny was wrapped in a thick blanket, carefully lifted onto the stretcher, strapped safely in and gradually winched up and up through the air, up to the copter.

All this time, Stanley stayed with Johnny, wrapped up in the blanket.  He peeped out as they rose slowly through the night sky, swaying slightly in the wind, high above the sea and higher and higher above Mr MacDougal and Johnny’s dad who stood far below on the cliff path.

‘Well,’ thought Stanley, ‘this is a real adventure!’

‘Wow, Stanley,’ said Johnny, ‘this is amazing.  A real adventure!  Just wish my leg and my head didn’t hurt so much then I could enjoy it more.  Wait till I tell my friends at school about this!’

And it was very exciting flying in the helicopter and landing on the special helipad behind the hospital.  But I’m sorry to have to tell you that Stanley was not welcomed by the doctors and nurses. The consultant looked fiercely at Johnny through his spectacles:

‘Young man, this animal will have to go.  I intend to operate on your leg and we certainly cannot permit a hamster to enter the operating theatre.  Animals are covered in germs which cause terrible infections.’

‘Germs? What germs?’ thought Stanley.  He looked closely at his fur and whiskers. ‘I can’t see any germs on me.’

Fortunately, Johnny’s father and Mr MacDougal arrived shortly afterwards and Johnny finally gave Stanley back to Dougal, after his dad promised to buy him a hamster of his own once they returned home.

Back at the lighthouse cottage, Stanley and Clem sat together on Dougal’s lap.  Stanley chewed happily on one of Jenny MacDougal’s shortbread biscuits.

‘Well,’ said Dougal, ‘You two are heroes.’

‘Oh good,’ Stanley said to Clem. ‘Does that mean I deserve another biscuit?’

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Lighthouse Capers (Chapter 6) – Part 1: Pirates

Clem was hiding under the table in the kitchen.  She didn’t want Johnny to find her.  That would be a disaster.  Who knows what the seven-year-old might do to her this time.  Yesterday, he tried to tie his remote-control car to her tail.  Mrs MacDougal rushed to rescue her and told Johnny off.  Not that that made much difference.  He didn’t listen.

And he wasn’t listening now.  Johnny was looking for adventure and he was fascinated by the stories of the smugglers and pirates who had used the nearby caves to hide their treasure.  Dougal MacDougal carefully explained why the caves in the cliffs were dangerous and therefore out of bounds. 

Johnny’s family had come from Leicester to stay at the holiday cottage for one week.  His baby sister was just two months old and his parents were very busy looking after her.  So Johnny was bored.  Very bored.    Unfortunately, his conversation with Mr MacDougal only made him more determined to explore the caves.  

Johnny started to make plans.  First, he hid his school backpack in his bedroom.  Next, he found a torch and put that in the backpack.  (Pirates need to see where they are going.)  He secretly took three KitKats, a packet of salt and vinegar crisps, and an apple from the kitchen cupboard.  (Pirates need lots of food.)  He packed his blue Leicester City cap.  (Pirates need warm heads especially when they have to do a lot of thinking.)  Finally, he drew a map of the cliffs and the caves, using a lot of imagination.  (Every serious pirate must have a treasure map.)

 Now all he needed was a companion.  (Pirates like their mates.)  He couldn’t tell his parents as his adventure was a secret.  His sister was much too small.  Who could he take?

That evening, Clem was exploring the garden at the back of the cottages, finding lots of exciting smells.  She heard a noise from the holiday cottage and looked up to see Johnny climbing cautiously out of his ground floor bedroom window.  Clem quickly hid under a large bush before Johnny saw her.

 

‘Here, kitty.  Here, Clem,‘ called Johnny in his sweetest voice.

 ‘No way,’ thought Clem. 

Just at that moment, who should saunter round the corner of the cottage but Stanley!

‘Oh no,’ thought Clem.  She tried to get his attention.  Too late!

Johnny spotted the hamster and quickly scooped him up.

‘Well hello, Stanley, you’re just the friend I need.  C’mon, pirate Stanley.  Time for an adventure.’

Stanley remembered his previous adventure.  ‘Oh dear,’ he thought.

With that, Johnny slipped Stanley into the pocket of his backpack.   They set off across the field towards the edge of the cliffs.  Clem followed at a safe distance.

Inside the bag, Stanley was jiggling up and down and felt quite queasy.  ‘I don’t like this at all,’ he thought.  ‘Help, Clem, get me out of here.  Help!’

Johnny reached the cliff.  The wind was blowing and the evening was growing darker.  He used his little torch to peer over the edge but couldn’t see very much. 

 

Then he saw two narrow paths winding precariously down between the rocks in different directions.  He decided to consult with his mate.

So he carefully took off his back pack and undid the zip of the pocket.  Stanley’s worried face peeped out and the wind ruffled his fur, shook his whiskers and made him shiver. 

‘Which way, pirate Stanley?’ asked Johnny.

Stanley so wished he could talk.  In his head he shouted at Johnny: ‘Turn back now – go back home – it’s not safe!’

‘Yep, I think you’re right, pirate Stanley.  That path over there.’

Johnny started to zip up the pocket and quickly swung the bag over his shoulder.  He made his way over the edge and down the steep winding path.  By now it was so dark he could barely see his feet. 

Clem had followed carefully to the edge of the cliff.  She peered over.  It was a long way down to the sea.  Then, to her relief, she saw Stanley’s head poking out of the pocket of the bag – Johnny hadn’t zipped it up fully.  ‘Stanley, you alright? she called.  There was no reply. 

Johnny carried on down the path, desperately trying to see his way using his feeble torch and stumbling over rocks and stones.   In the pocket of the backpack, Stanley was feeling quite seasick.  He didn’t dare jump from the bag because he couldn’t see where he’d land.  The noise of the waves crashing on the beach far below was deafening and Stanley felt the salty spray on his nose and whiskers.

A gust of wind whirled around Johnny and blew his Leicester City hat up and away.

‘Nooooo!’ said pirate Johnny.  He twisted round in the darkness to try and see his hat.  It was precious and he didn’t want to lose it. 

At that moment Johnny’s foot slipped, he lost his balance and skidded, then tumbled forward, then rolled, landing with a horrible thud against a huge rock. 

Clem watched helplessly from the top of the cliff.  ‘Stanley, look out!’ she yelled.

Johnny lay still. There was no sign of the little hamster.

‘Oh no.  Oh no,’ whispered Clem to herself.

In the rough and tumble, Stanley was thrown from the pocket of the back pack.

‘I don’t want to go on any more adventures,’ thought Stanley as he flew through the air.

He landed with a tiny thud at the side of the path and lay there as still as Johnny.

(TO BE CONTINUED)

©Jane Hendra     June 2018

Lighthouse Capers (Chapter 5) – All Change!

Stanley couldn’t stop staring. He knew it was rather rude but he was transfixed. The hamster stared and stared at a leaf on one of the plants in the MacDougals’ tiny garden.

What was he looking at?

On the leaf a striped and spotted caterpillar munched steadily and surely. He munched without stopping. He munched all day from dawn till dusk.

Stanley had never seen anyone or anything eat so much in such a short time.

He looked more closely, putting his nose up against the green leaf. The caterpillar lifted its head and swivelled its body to face Stanley.

‘Got a problem? What you looking at?’

‘Err, well, I was just wondering what you’ll do when you’ve eaten every leaf on this plant.’

‘Start on the next one, of course, Mr Nosey. What else would I do?’

‘Ah, yes. Don’t you get bored?  I mean, it’s not much of a life is it, just eating leaves all day and every day. Not exciting. No adventure.’

‘Look mate, this is what I do. And I do it very well cos I’m a caterpillar, right. And I don’t need no advice from the likes of you.’

‘No, of course not. I’m Stanley, by the way.’

‘I’m Arnold -please do not call me Arnie. Now, if you don’t mind, I have some important work to do.’

At that moment, Stanley peeped through a gap in the fence. He could see Clem chasing between the wild flowers in the field on the cliff-top, trying to catch the butterflies. They were so nimble and quick but she wouldn’t give up. He watched the butterflies tease the orange kitten, fluttering close to her nose, then whisking away to sip nectar from another flower.

‘Seems a bit unfair to me, Arnie – oh sorry – Arnold.  I mean, your days are rather dull. Just look at butterflies, for example. They have a great time.’

‘Look here, Stan. There’s no comparison between a useful creature like me and one of those flibbertigibbets. All they do is flutter about for a few days then that’s it – no more. I am focused and purposeful. I know what to do and I get on with it. Butterflies indeed!  Do me a favour!’

Stanley frowned. He knew he was missing something but what was it?  It seemed pointless to chat with Arnold any longer. He watched him continuing to eat his way through several more leaves and wondered how fat he would be by tomorrow. Then he scampered off in search of Clem.

The next day, Stanley decided to try to chat with Arnold again. He searched the plant but couldn’t spot the caterpillar. Puzzled, Stanley looked at the nearby plants. Still no sign of Arnold.

He crouched under a large bush near the fence. As he wondered what to do next he heard a muffled moan from somewhere in the centre of the bush. Stanley looked up carefully. There, hanging from the underside of a leaf, was some sort of green parcel.

‘Help. Heeeelp’ – called a tiny voice.

‘Hello,’ said Stanley, ‘What’s the matter?’

The green parcel twisted and shook and then the voice called out again: ‘Help’.

‘Who is it?’ said Stanley.

‘Help me, Stanley, it’s Arnold. I’m stuck in this tight thingy, I’m all squashed up, I can’t get out and something very strange is happening to me in here!’

‘Oh dear. How awful. Hang on, Arnold, I’ll try and get some help. Don’t panic. I’ll be as quick as I can.’

Stanley wasn’t sure what to do next. The MacDougals were very good at rescuing creatures but he didn’t know how to tell them about poor Arnold. He decided to consult with Clem and scurried away to find her.

As usual, she was curled up snugly in the room at the top of the lighthouse and it took Stanley a lot of effort to scramble up the steps to the top. He was puffed out when he got there and collapsed exhausted by her front paws. Clem opened one eye.

‘You alright, Stanley?’

‘It’s Arnold, he’s got himself into a tight spot. Can you come and help?’

The two friends made their way back down to the garden and Stanley showed Clem the green parcel hanging under the leaf.

Arnold was still wriggling inside but now he sounded very sleepy.

‘Hang on, Arnold. We’ll have you out in no time,’ said Stanley. ‘Don’t panic. Help is at hand.’

Clem sat back, thoughtfully.

‘I think he’s meant to be in there, Stanley. It’s what happens to all caterpillars.’

‘Are you sure?  No, that can’t be right.’

‘It’s time for Arnold to change.’

‘But he doesn’t want to!’

‘It’s all part of a clever plan you see. If he changes he can start a whole new life.’

‘Oh. Will it be a better life?  Will he have adventures?  Will he be happier?’

‘Yes, I think so because he will be doing what he is created to do. We mustn’t mess that up.’

‘I’d like him to be happy. He was a bit grumpy before!’

The green parcel was still now and Stanley thought he could hear Arnold snoring quietly inside. They decided to leave him alone and returned to the MacDougals’ kitchen for tea.

‘I wish I could fly,’ Stanley told Clem later that evening.

‘Stanley, you eat too much shortbread – you’d never lift off the ground!’

‘Anything is possible,’ said Stanley. ‘You just have to believe and try.’

‘Hmmm.’

Stanley scrambled up the back of a chair and onto the kitchen table. Mrs MacDougal was in the middle of making a trifle. She had just popped out with Dougal MacDougal to check something in the lighthouse.

The intrepid hamster climbed up on top of a box of trifle sponges. He balanced precariously, teetering near the edge.

‘Watch me fly, Clem. Wahoo, here I go.’

He plummeted off the box, landing with a plop in a bowl of custard.

‘Stanley, you OK?’ Clem called anxiously.

Silence.

‘Stanley?’

Then she heard Stanley’s voice singing rather gloopily: ‘I’m singing in the custard, just singing in the custard’.

His yellow, sticky face appeared over the rim of the bowl. ‘Mmmm. I like custard as much as shortbread,’ he said.

Clem, laughed so much she laughed her kitten socks off.

Stanley went each day after that to check on Arnold. The little parcel remained the same, hanging stiff and still underneath the bush. It stayed there through the wind and rain. It stayed there through the cool nights and sunny days.

Then, one morning, Stanley found the parcel dangling from the leaf like an empty split shell. And Arnold was nowhere to be seen.

That evening, Stanley returned anxiously to look for Arnold. He sat under the bush in the twilight and waited and waited.

After a long time, a beautiful moth flew close by and settled near Stanley. The breeze ruffled its delicate wings and antennae.

‘Hello, Stanley. I’m so glad you didn’t stop me changing. This is wonderful. Just brilliant. Why ever did I think it was great to munch on leaves all day long!’

‘Arnie!  Is it really you?  You’re so different ….. and so happy!’

‘Yep this is me – this is the real me. I’m off on an adventure. Whoopee!’

With that, Arnold flew effortlessly up and up. Stanley could hear his laughter on the night air.

Then the Great Light shone out to sea and the little hamster watched as Arnold flew away joyfully on its bright beams and disappeared into the night.

The Adventures of Eric (Part 4) – Two Steps Forward …

In Part 3 – Father and Son, Eric has a dramatic encounter with God. In today’s episode he is made redundant.

 

Eric had had it up to here. He slammed the door and shouted at the top of his voice: “******! ******! *******!” His face was flushed red with anger.

Jenny, looked up from her marking. “Whatever’s the matter, dear? Come and sit down and let me make you a cup of tea.” She led him through into the kitchen where he slumped at the breakfast table, grim and silent, until the tea arrived.

“The bastards have only gone and made me redundant haven’t they. I’m out, just like that. All I get is six weeks’ pay. What the **** am I going to do? I’m 40 years old for crying out loud; where the **** am I going to get another job?”

Jenny let him talk. She reached out and touched his hand.

“They hate me, that’s what it is. I’ve been ‘re-organised’ out.” He paused before starting again, “It’s all God’s fault. I asked him for promotion and this is what I get: ****ing redundancy!”

For three days Eric stomped around at home so angrily that Jenny and Gemma kept out of his way. His prayer notebook, so hopefully started, lay unopened in the small bedroom where he had left it. On Saturday he went for a long walk by himself; on Sunday he could hardly bring himself to go to church.

To make matters worse, Ben, the curate preached on 1 John 5:13-14: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” Eric muttered to himself all the way home.

After a lunch of roast beef with all the trimmings, including horseradish sauce, followed by apple crumble and ice cream, he was in a slightly better mood. Gemma saw her chance and took it. “Dad, can I say something about your job?”

Eric looked at her suspiciously. “What?” he replied.

“Well, you know Ben was talking about God’s will, maybe you weren’t meant to get promoted. Maybe he’s got a different job for you, one that’s even better?”

Somehow, Gemma’s concern reached through his anger and despair. She was the one who had the problems and now she was comforting him. “Maybe you’re right, Gem. Maybe you’re right.” Jenny gave a little nod of her head and smiled encouragingly.

“Don’t call me that, Dad. You make me sound like a lettuce.”

“Sorry, Sweetie,” he replied absently. Gemma grimaced.

“Listen you two, I’m sorry I’ve been such a grouch this week; it’s not your fault and I shouldn’t take it out on you. Look, is there anything good on at the Odeon tonight? Perhaps we could see a movie?”

“Thank you, God,” thought Jenny, “he’s back.”

The next morning, she popped a packet of mini chocolate eggs in Gemma’s lunch box.

Eric sat in the small bedroom come office pecking away at his laptop. With Gemma at school and Jenny at work, it was actually peaceful in here. He updated his CV and searched for jobs online, with the words “something better” at the back of his mind. After an hour or two, the sun came out and a shaft of warm golden light fell on the notebook on the armchair beside him. He pretended not to notice.

He went to the kitchen, made some coffee, came back, picked up that book he’d been meaning to read for ages and settled down in the armchair. But his eyes were drawn inexorably to the notebook. After the third time, he gave in and opened it. He bowed his head and after a moment took up his pen and began to write.

“OK Father, I forgive them. I’m still feeling red raw from being made redundant, but I forgive them. Thank you for my daughter’s wisdom. I choose to believe you have something better for me. Let me find a job where I can be your agent.”

The next day, he applied online for Job Seekers’ Allowance.  The interview at the Job Centre was OK. His interviewing officer was professional and helpful but the other claimants looked down at heel and somehow defeated.  He’d have to come in every four weeks for a follow up interview. He bought local and national newspapers and scanned the jobs pages in the coffee shop around the corner.

Over the next month the job applications began to flow out online and in the post. There were a fair number of new entries in his prayer notebook too. Not every day, since there was always live sport on TV, another Netflix series to watch, or games to play on his phone. He felt a bit guilty about wasting time but when he did come to pray, God didn’t condemn him; he was actually quite nice. Encouraging. Always ready to talk.

For the first time in years, Eric had time: he had time to think about life, the universe and everything; he had time to think about Jenny and Gemma; he had time to pray. He realised now why Jenny was always tired. It was so obvious; how could he not have seen it? Holding down a full-time head of department teaching job, caring for her mum, who had early stage Alzheimer’s, and doing two sets of household chores, was too much for her.

He wrote down his ideas for helping Jenny and Gemma in his notebook and asked God about them. Some seemed to fade on the page, while others seemed to light up.

Sensing God’s approval on the shiny ideas, he began to put them into practice. He started with vacuum cleaning and ironing. He was surprised how appreciative Jenny was.

He really enjoyed working with Gemma to decorate her room. A shared project and time to talk without pressure, helped draw father and daughter closer than they had been for a long while.

Often when he was alone, his thoughts returned to the way he’d been made redundant, and then he felt hurt, bitter, angry and bewildered all over again. At these times, when God seemed far away, he clung to Gemma’s words: “Maybe he’s got something better for you.” It was easier to contemplate a brighter future than the painful past.

He started to read the Bible – they were always banging on about that at church – and he found it helpful, confusing and challenging in equal measure. It really began to bother him, for example, that God was sometimes so angry in the Old Testament but seemed more lovey-dovey in the New Testament. What was that about?

He went to see Ben and enjoyed the chocolate biscuits again. Ben was very encouraging about the prayer thing; he said it was a great source of strength and hope in difficult times. They prayed together to ask God for a new job. But Ben didn’t give him any answers about God at all. Instead, he invited Eric to go to an Alpha course.

And so it was that on a wet Wednesday evening, Eric found himself in the Church Hall tucking into a baked potato, a slice of cheese flan and a dollop of coleslaw, all on a cardboard plate. He was sandwiched between old Mrs Wilson, who was slightly deaf, and a young man called Jono, who sported a spectacular handlebar moustache. It was so unmistakable that he recognised Jono immediately as a fellow frequenter of the Job Centre. Jenny hadn’t come (too busy) but surprisingly Gemma had. She was deep in conversation with her mate, Seven, on the other side of the table.

The speaker for the evening rose, adjusted his tie and cleared his throat noisily. “What have I got myself into?” thought Eric.

In Part 5 – Abide With Me, Eric learns to walk and talk with God

©Peter Hendra                                                  May 2018

The Adventures of Eric (Part 6) – Gemma’s Dilemma

In Part 5 – Abide With Me, Eric practices walking and talking with God. In today’s instalment, Gemma asks for help.

It was Friday afternoon and Gemma sat waiting in the car. Her eyes followed the departing students in their green blazers, some walking, some chatting, some cycling and others waiting for the bus, but she didn’t see any of them. She’d had a rotten week. It wasn’t fair. Why did Jade and her gang have to pick on her? Every day this week, they’d made her life miserable and today had been really bad. Her face was impassive but inside she seethed, thoughts roiling like a cauldron. “God, I hate school! Please help me!”

The car doors pinged and the boot lid rose slowly, just as they did every weekday at 3:45. Her mum, Jenny, heaved a bulging briefcase and a large box of exercise books into the boot. “Hello sweetie. How was your day?” she asked.

“OK” mumbled Gemma, eyes averted.

“You know, if there’s something wrong you can always talk to me,” said Jenny as the car turned out of the school gates into Bolsover Road.

But she couldn’t, could she? It was bad enough Mum being a teacher, but if Gemma told anyone she’d never hear the end of it. She’d be labelled a grass and she knew it would just get worse. She quickly changed the subject. “Mum, why has dad gone weird?”

“What do you mean, dear?”

“Well, he’s never really spent much time with me; he was always working or watching the telly. But he’s been different lately.”

Jenny negotiated the Walford roundabout before replying. “I know what you mean. Have you noticed he’s started doing the vacuum cleaning and the ironing? It’s certainly taken the pressure off me. I even had a bunch of flowers last week, and it wasn’t even my birthday! I quite like the new Eric. I think it’s good, don’t you?”

Gemma brightened. “First Dad said he was sorry for being sarky about me and hassling me and then he asked if I needed help with anything. So that’s when I asked him if we could paint my room. I didn’t think he’d actually do anything, but before you know it we were down at B&Q choosing colours. Doing the room together was well cool. What’s happened, Mum? What’s up with him?”

Jenny smiled. “He’s been praying.”

“Praying!?”

“Yes. Every morning before breakfast he nips into the study for twenty minutes. It seems to be doing him good.”

“Is that why he’s so horribly cheerful over the cornflakes?”

The car pulled up in their driveway with a jolt. “I expect so dear, but it’s a small price to pay, don’t you think?”

Next morning, at breakfast, Eric was contentedly wolfing down a waffle spread with honey. Gemma looked round carefully to make sure they were alone. Even so, she hesitated before taking the plunge. “Dad, there’s something I have to tell you, but you mustn’t tell anyone else, especially Mum, OK?”

“What’s up, Gemmy pie?”

“Dad, please don’t call me that. This is serious. Look at this.” She handed him her phone.

With growing distress and anger, Eric read through screen upon screen of social media entries going back for months. He held in his hand a record of bullying, taunting and daily humiliation of his lovely daughter. There had already been three cruel jibes so far this morning. The ringleader seemed to be a girl called Jade.

He prayed inwardly: “Thank you Lord, for bringing this to light. Please show me what to do and please take all the lies and hurt out of my little girl’s heart.”

“I just had to show someone, Dad. I can’t take any more. I don’t know what to do.”

Eric rested his arm on Gemma’s shoulder. “I’m so glad, you told me, sweetheart. You’re right, this is very serious. I promise you we’ll sort it out. Tell me love, is it physical? Do they hit you, or is it just words?”

“Just words, Dad, but they hurt so much and it won’t go away. Please make them stop.”

“Come here, sweetie.” For the first time in years, Eric hugged Gemma. “Listen to me. None of this is true. Every word of it is a lie. You are my lovely daughter. You are God’s child and he has made you special and beautiful and given you so many talents and abilities.”

“But Dad?” Her eyes went to the phone. “What about … ?”

“They’re lies Gemma. All lies. The truth is: I love you; mum loves you; God loves you. You are the best”

“Thanks for saying that, Dad”.

“It’s true. Now, I’d like to think and pray about how we can get this sorted out. Would you be happy to leave your phone with me, just for today, and we’ll decide what to do tomorrow? Let it be my problem today, not yours. How does that sound?”

Gemma raised her gaze. “That sounds good.” She picked up the phone, and turned it off. “Here, Dad you take it.” It was so hard to hand it over, but as she let it go, some of the pain went with it.

Sunday morning found them walking, deep in conversation, through Priory Park. The warm spring sunshine lit up the yellow primroses and bluebells, long-tailed tits flittered through the trees and a squirrel watched them nervously as they passed. “Yesterday, I looked up your school policy on bullying on the internet; it looks really good,” said Eric. “I know you asked me not to tell anyone, but we really ought to speak to your Head of Year. What’s Mrs Heathfield like?”

“She’s all right… sensible… and kind.”

“Even if Jade and co. stopped picking on you, they could just start on someone else. We do need to talk to her. If I came with you after school, would that be OK?”

“I suppose.”

“OK, I’ll make us an appointment.” Eric continued: “There’s something else; when I prayed this morning, God reminded me of this amazing thing that Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’. I’ve been learning that love and prayer together are a pretty powerful combination. Do you think you might be able to give that a go?”

“Love them and pray for them? Dad, they’re so mean. I don’t know if I can. Dad, I don’t want to be afraid of them ever again. If I prayed, would God stop them picking on me?”

“I know that when we start doing what God says, then things start to get better. They are mean, but how about if I pray for you every day and God protects you and helps you? Could you love them and pray for them then?”

Hope took hold of Gemma’s hand. With her dad and God on her side, perhaps she could. “Yes, I think so.” Faith joined hands with Hope and with Gemma, making a strong circle. “With you and God on my side, I can,” she said.

Sitting on the park bench, in front of the lake, father and daughter prayed together as they looked out across the peaceful waters. Eric began. “Father, protect Gemma every day this week. Let school become a safe and happy place for her. Please give Mrs Heathfield wisdom to put an end to this. Thank you for loving us, even when we do things wrong. Help Gemma to love Jade and her friends like you do. Amen”.

Gemma carried on from where her dad had left off. “Lord, I don’t even like Jade and her mates, so how can I love them? But you said ‘love your enemies’, so if you show me how to do it, I will. Amen”.

She paused for a moment as if thinking or perhaps listening. “OK God, I forgive them for all those lies… Now what? Oh yes, pray for them… I think they must be pretty messed up inside to want to hurt people, so please sort out the things that make them mean. Amen”

As they walked back home, Gemma felt lighter than she had for a long time, as if a weight had been lifted off her back. Before they went into the house, Eric said: “Gemma, you know you can talk to me and to God, anytime you like. Together, we’re a strong team. It may take a little while, but this will get sorted out”.

“I know Dad.” She smiled. “If God’s on my side, it’ll be cool.”

Resources

If someone is being bullied, it is vital that they get help from someone they trust.
You might like to read ‘No More Bullies’ by Frank Peretti.

Preview: (Part 7) – Holy Ghost and Fire

“Dad, you’re into prayer. What is praying in tongues?” asked Gemma over the dinner table.

“Uhhhh,” said Eric. His chin dropped and he looked wildly at his wife, Jenny, hoping for support.

“I think I’ll go and make some coffee,” she said, smiling to herself…

©Peter Hendra  April 2018

Lighthouse Capers (Chapter 4) – A Friend In Need

Jenny MacDougal had brought someone new to live in the tiny bungalow behind the lighthouse. Billy the budgie arrived one morning in spring and took up residence in a corner of the kitchen. He came complete with his own cage on a tall stand, his own perch, bell and mirror. For many years Billy had belonged to Jenny MacDougal’s elderly aunt but she became too ill to care for him. So the MacDougals, who, as you know, are very kind people, rescued Billy.

When he first arrived he was a pitiful sight. Auntie Mary had neglected him for months and he was very thin and scruffy. His beautiful blue and white feathers looked moth-eaten and he scarcely had enough energy to hop along his perch.

Stanley peered up at Billy resting miserably in a corner of his cage and felt very sorry for him. He wondered if budgies ate shortbread. Stanley believed that just one bite of Jenny MacDougal’s shortbread would cheer up anyone straight away!

Billy spent hours hopping along his perch, sharpening his beak on his cuttlefish and ringing his little bell. He also spent a lot of time in front of his mirror, talking to himself, preening his wings, admiring his pretty blue feathers.

From her cosy basket, Clem watched him in amazement. ‘Why does Billy spend so much time looking at himself?’ she muttered to Stanley.

‘I suppose he can’t do a lot and he’s just stuck in that cage all day, so he has to amuse himself somehow,’ whispered the hamster.

Clem stretched lazily then eased herself out of the basket. She walked across the kitchen, jumped up effortlessly onto the kitchen table and crept across on her soft paws until she was nearer to Billy’s cage.

The budgie was burbling affectionately to his reflection in the mirror. He had not yet noticed Clem.

‘Hello Billy. How are you feeling today?’ Clem asked gently. ‘You’re looking better already.’

The kitten’s high-pitched meow caught Billy by surprise. He slipped off his perch, landed in an ungainly heap on the floor of his cage, close to the bars and closer to Clem.

‘Don’t you dare threaten me. I’ll make sure the MacDougals come running if you do. Keep away from my cage, you disgusting creature. I know all about cats. Clear off!’

Clem was so surprised. What an angry and mean answer!

She tried to reassure Billy but that only made him more angry. The kitten retreated to her box, feeling puzzled. She decided it would be best to leave the bad-tempered bird alone.

Later that morning, she sat on Dougal MacDougal’s lap purring contentedly as he sipped his coffee. Billy was glaring at her from his perch. The more Clem purred the angrier he became.

When Dougal left the kitchen, Billy sidled up to the bars of his cage and peered down at Clem in her basket.

‘You are the ugliest kitten I have ever seen. How can Mr MacDougal bear to have you near him? You are a piece of ginger rubbish – a lazy good for nothing waste of space – a disgusting ball of orange fur – you should have been drowned at birth instead of wasting the time of good people like Mr and Mrs MacDougal.’

‘Don’t listen, Clem,’ Stanley said quietly. ‘Ignore him. He’s just a silly budgie.’

So Clem turned her back on the budgie and tried to settle down to a nap. But all day long the budgie taunted Clem from his cage.

That afternoon the kitten was too miserable to eat her supper.

In the following days Billy tormented the little kitten whenever Mr and Mrs MacDougal were absent from the kitchen. Clem withdrew into herself. She lost her appetite. She would not even talk to Stanley.

Dougal MacDougal was worried that Clem was sick. Stanley wished he could tell the kind man what was really happening. But what could a hamster do to help?

He lay snuggled up with Clem that night. The MacDougals had gone to bed and Billy was asleep at last, his head tucked under his wing. Stanley could feel how thin Clem was under her soft fur and he lay awake racking his small hamster brain for a way to help his friend.

The Great Light shone momentarily in the darkness beyond the kitchen window and at that moment Stanley had a Brilliant Idea.

He started nibbling Clem’s paw to wake her up. She opened her eyes miserably.

‘Come on Clem. We have to go out right now!’

‘Can’t be bothered,’ she mumbled.

‘Oh yes you can. We must go NOW’.

At that second, Billy woke up and began to hiss at Clem and Stanley calling them rude names. He couldn’t think of many for Stanley but he certainly found some horrible insults to hurl at Clem. The kitten leapt growling to her feet, scrambled out of her box and slipped through the cat flap which Dougal MacDougal had wisely fitted in the back door last week.

Stanley followed closely behind and managed to squeeze through the gap at the side of the flap as Clem held it wide open for him with her furry body.

‘Now what?’ she asked her friend.

‘Come on. This way.’

‘I hope you know what you’re doing. It’s chilly out here!’

Stanley led the way across the yard, under the gate, up to the door of the lighthouse. They slipped in through the narrow gap. Mr MacDougal should have closed it up but he knew the two friends loved to explore in there and hadn’t the heart to stop them.

Clem scampered up the steep stairs. Every so often she had to help Stanley by heaving his fat little body onto the next step. ‘You’ve been eating too much shortbread, Stanley,’ she puffed.

At last, they reached the top and found their favourite corner in the room of the Great Light. It whirred and clicked, beaming out into the night. Dougal, who was rather forgetful, had left an old coat there and the two friends curled up together, grateful for its warmth. Clem sighed – she felt safe for the first time in days.

In the bright light she began to see that all Billy’s words were lies. The lies were a black mist which had invaded her thoughts but now gradually evaporated and then disappeared completely.

Clem looked at Stanley. ‘How clever of you to bring me here.’

Stanley grinned a hamstery grin. ‘I remembered that the Great Light always shows the truth. I knew that would help you.’

The next morning, Dougal found them still curled up asleep in the corner. He gazed at them thoughtfully. An idea was forming in his head. So he went to find his wife.

‘I know what Billy needs,’ he said. ‘He needs company. You remember Percy Smith in Swanage?

‘What – potty Percy?’

‘Yes, Jenny, but he’s not potty! That was a cruel nickname some people used at his school. Anyway, he keeps budgerigars in an aviary in his garden. I’m sure he would accept an extra one and then Billy wouldn’t be so lonely.’

Later that day, Clem and Stanley watched Dougal take Billy’s cage off its stand ready to transport it in his car to Percy’s house. Down on the kitchen floor, the budgie stared defiantly at Clem from behind the bars. She walked confidently right up to his cage and looked straight at Billy. ‘All the things you said to me were lies, Billy, but I forgive you for that. If only you could meet the Great Light you’d realise how horrible your lies are. But I hope you will be much happier in your new home.’

Billy could not squawk one word. At that moment, Dougal MacDougal returned and carried the cage outside. Clem and Stanley heard the engine start and then the wheels crunched on the gravel as the car turned down the drive.

Stanley scampered up to Clem. ‘I have always thought you are an amazing colour,’ he said. ‘Bit like a fuzzy satsuma on four short legs.’

‘Whaaat!’ growled Clem. ‘Just you wait, you pesky fat shortbread-guzzler!’ And they were off, chasing each other around the kitchen, under the table, behind Dougal’s big boots, over the chairs, finally collapsing in a happy heap in their box.

That night, after a beautiful sunset, the Great Light shone out magnificently across the sea as it always did. Stanley wondered if Billy could see it from his new home. He hoped so. It was the best light in the world, after all.

In Chapter 5 – All Change, something strange is happening to Arnold the caterpillar …

 

The Adventures of Eric (Part 3) – Father and Son

In Part 2 – The Secret Agent, Eric eats several chocolate biscuits and discovers the surprising way most prayers get answered. Now read on …

Dramatis Personae: Eric and God

It’s Saturday morning. Eric has decided to have another go at praying. He’s feeling content after a breakfast of bacon and eggs cooked by Jenny just the way he likes them. He sits expectantly in the small armchair in the small bedroom. With the door shut he can hardly hear Gemma’s music. A notebook and pen lie on floor. God is nowhere to be seen.

ERIC:   Hello God. It’s Eric here. (Pause)

ERIC:   Please God, tell me what to do. (Long pause)

ERIC:   This isn’t working. (Pause)

ERIC:   What did Ben say? Oh yes, ‘listen quietly for God’s voice’. OK Eric, just relax.

GOD:   Hello Eric. (God’s voice is gentle and distinct with a little reverb.)

ERIC:   Who said that?

GOD:   I did.

ERIC:   Is that you, God?

GOD:   Yes.

ERIC:   How do I know it’s really you? You don’t sound much like Morgan Freeman. Perhaps it’s just my imagination. I’ve got a really good imagination you know.

GOD:   I know Eric, I gave it to you. Trust me.

ERIC:   Trust me? That’s what they say in the movies before someone gets shot! OK, don’t panic Eric. What else did Ben say to do? Oh yes. Holy Spirit, please guide me into all truth. It’s scary but I put my trust in you. (Pause) Er, God?

GOD:   Yes, Eric.

ERIC:   What should I call you?

GOD:    I love it when people talk to me. Sometimes they call me ‘Lord’ or just ‘God’ and that’s fine. You might like to call me Father; it’s what Jesus did.

ERIC:   Father… (Eric tries out the word; it has an intimate feel to it.)

ERIC:   Father, what should I do about Jenny, she’s still tired and unhappy and Gemma’s doing so badly at school? I’m worried about them.

GOD:    Don’t worry son; I have a plan and you are my Agent. Now, the first thing I want you to do is to record our conversation in your notebook. That way you can re-read it in days to come; it will remind you of my words and encourage you. And if you’re not sure about anything, you can check it out with Ben; he won’t mind.

Surprised, Eric picks up the notebook and pen. From now on, Eric and God pause between sentences or phrases as Eric writes.

GOD:   Do you remember how you first got to know Gemma, son?

Eric thinks before replying.

ERIC:  Well, first she was just this tiny little girl who cried and slept a lot; it was cuddles and nappy changing and broken nights. Then she began to try out faces: smiles and grimaces, and little noises. We gave her toys. I remember the day she first called me Daddy.  We encouraged her to crawl and walk. Then she began to talk; that was amazing. She had lovely curls and a big smile.  I comforted her when she fell over. We read stories together.  I taught her how to ride a bike. Those were happy days.

Eric feels God smile.  

GOD:   Son, I’ve enjoyed watching you grow up. We have so much to talk about, so many things to do together. Will you come and spend a little time with me every day?

ERIC:   Er, OK. How long will that take then?

GOD:    As long or as short as you like. I created time; it’s my gift to you.

ERIC:   Right, OK then.

GOD:    So, tell me about Jenny, Eric. How did you first get to know each other?

ERIC:   We were students. We got talking over lunch in the cafeteria. She was pretty and so natural. It was really easy to talk to her. She had such a ready smile, such a passion for life. We’d go for walks in the park. Talk about stars in our eyes. She first hugged me when I took her for a ride on my motorbike; I nearly fell off. I remember our first kiss, it was…

Eric stops abruptly.

ERIC:    Er, am I allowed to talk to you about things like that?

GOD:     Of course you are son. You can talk to me about anything; I created physical attraction and sex. Eric, I am Love; I want us to be lovers.

Eric drops the pen, and looks up, stunned.

ERIC:    What!?

As he hears God’s reply he begins writing again.

GOD:    Eric, you are a Child of God and part of the Bride of Christ. These are not just poetic images. They show the kind of relationship I want to have with you and every person on the earth: deep, personal and intimate. I am Spirit as well as Love, so relationship with me is not physical, of course, but Spirit to spirit.

Eric gulps.

ERIC:    But you’re God, and I’m just me.

GOD:     I Am. (pause) And I made you in my image.  I knew you and Jenny and Gemma before you were conceived. I have watched over you and loved all three of you every second of your lives. I will never stop loving you.

ERIC:   Thank you. (pause) I didn’t realise.

GOD:   There’s one more thing, son. You remember the line in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”?

ERIC:   Ye..es?

GOD:   You and Jenny and Gemma have hurt one another deeply by some of the things you have done and said.

ERIC:   So, I’ve got to forgive Jenny and Gemma. I can do that.

GOD:   Good. And how about your trespasses?

ERIC:   Hmmm. I think I understand, Father. (pause) I forgive Jenny and Gemma completely for hurting me; (pause) please forgive me for hurting them and help me to change.

GOD:   Well done son. Jesus has paid the full price. I forgive you and I will help you.

ERIC:   Thank you.

GOD:   Now, you are ready.

First few bars of the theme tune from “Mission Impossible” sound before fading to silence.

GOD:    This is your assignment, should you choose to accept it. Take a little time to hang out with me every day for the next month. I’d like to hear your ideas about how you can help Jenny and Gemma. Then together, you and I will set to work. How does that sound?

ERIC    I accept the assignment. Shall I burn the notebook?

GOD:   No, you’re going to need it; keep it and use it every day. Now son, go and enjoy the day that I have made for you.

Eric closes his notebook with a flourish; he gets up and walks off, whistling Amazing Grace.

©Peter Hendra                                                  March 2018

Resources

If you want to hear God speaking to you and to pray effectively for your spouse you could check out:

How to Hear God’s Voice – Workbook by Mark & Patti Virkler

The Power of a Praying Husband  )

The Power of a Praying Wife          ) by Stormie Omartian

Preview of  Part 4 – Two Steps Forward …  

Eric had had it up to here. He slammed the door and shouted at the top of his voice: “Bugger! Bugger! Bugger!” His face was flushed red with anger.

Jenny, looked up from her marking. “Whatever’s the matter, dear? Come and sit down and let me make you a cup of tea.” She led him through into the kitchen where he slumped at the breakfast table, grim and silent, until the tea arrived.

“The bastards have only gone and made me redundant haven’t they..