Children’s Stories

Where Did He Put the Elephants?
‘Mom, you told us that we should never tell a lie,’ 9-year-old Luke said as he got into the car after church.
 
‘That’s right,’ Jenny responded. ‘God wants us to always tell the truth.’

 
‘Then I don’t want to go back to Sunday school ever again!’ Luke said angrily.
13“Why not?” his mother asked. “What happened?”
 
‘My Sunday school teacher told us a whole bunch of lies this morning!’ Luke responded.
 
‘When we get home you can tell me all about it,’ his mother said as she steered the car out of the church parking lot and onto the road.
 
Luke didn’t say a word during the 20-minute trip home. As soon as Jenny had parked the car in the garage, Luke opened the door and ran inside the house. He climbed the steps up to the second floor two at a time and headed straight to his bedroom.
 
‘Luke, wait!’ his mother called just before Luke slammed his bedroom door.
 
I’ll give him a few minutes to calm down, Jenny thought as she changed her clothes. I wish that Mike were here to talk to him.
 
Luke’s dad, a soldier in the Army, had been stationed overseas for almost a year. Although Luke didn’t talk about missing his dad, his father’s absence had obviously affected him in many ways.
 
‘He gets upset more easily now,’ Jenny commented aloud to herself. ‘Sometimes I feel like I’m not getting through to him. When he was younger he would confide in me, and I could reassure him. Now he often shuts me out.’
 
Jenny went into the living room and knelt down by the couch.
 
‘Lord, I’m out of answers,’ she prayed. ‘I can’t raise Luke by myself, and Mike’s not scheduled to be home for several more months. Please give me wisdom. Show me how to reach Luke.’
 
She felt a little calmer after sharing her concerns with God.
 
‘Maybe I should call my brother and ask him if he could come over and spend an hour or two with Luke.’
 
‘Jeremy,’ she spoke softly into her cell phone, ‘could you come over for a little while? Luke is having a hard time today. He’s really upset about something that happened in Sunday school . . . I don’t know exactly what it was. He’s up in his bedroom, and I don’t think he wants to talk to me right now . . . Okay, thanks.’
 
Fifteen minutes later, Jeremy rang the doorbell.
 
‘I’m so glad that you’re here,’ Jenny said as she let him in. ‘Luke really looks up to you–the big football hero!’
 
‘I’m no football hero, and you know it,’ Jeremy responded as he give his sister a hug.’
 
‘Hey, little brother, you were the quarterback that won the game and brought the university nationwide attention!’
 
‘I was a member of the team who did his job, just like all the other team members,’ he countered.
 
Jeremy quickly climbed the stairs and knocked on Luke’s bedroom door.
 
‘Hey, Luke, it’s Jeremy,’ he called out cheerily. ‘Can I come in? I need to talk to you about something.’
 
Luke opened the door just enough to let Jeremy enter. Then he quickly shut it again.
 
‘What’s up, Jeremy?’ he asked, as he nervously shuffled back and forth.
 
‘I have tickets to the Cardinals football game. Would you like to go with me on Saturday?’
 
‘Are you serious?’ he asked, his whole face lighting up with excitement.
 
‘I sure am,’ Jeremy responded. ‘So, will you go with me?’
 
‘Of course, I will! I wouldn’t miss it for anything in the whole world.’
 
‘How are things going for you?’ Jeremy questioned.
 
‘Okay, I guess . . . Did Mom tell you I got upset because of what happened in Sunday school today?’
 
‘What happened?’ Jeremy asked with a smile. ‘Did the teacher give you a ton of homework to do, take away all your baseball cards, threaten to eliminate your summer vacation?’
 
‘No, nothing like that.’ Luke laughed. ‘But he told us a whole bunch of lies.’
 
‘Really? That’s bad news,’ Jeremy said in a relaxed yet serious tone of voice. ‘What exactly did he say?’
 
‘He told us that thousands and thousands of years ago, the people were doing really bad things all the time. They were so wicked that God planned to wipe them off the face of the earth. So He told a man named Noah to build a big boat. Our teacher said it took Noah 120 years to build the boat. That can’t possibly be true. It doesn’t take even a fraction of that time to build a boat.’
 
‘Well, you know they didn’t have factories to build boats back then, Luke,’ Jeremy said with a smile.
 
‘Yeah, but, if Noah was already an adult when God spoke to him, he couldn’t possibly have lived another 120 years.’
 
‘Back then, people lived a lot longer than we do now. Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather, lived to be 969 years old.’
 
‘Okay, well maybe that part is true, but he told us other lies,’ Luke retorted. ‘He said that after Noah built the boat he brought two of every kind of animal into it. That’s just plain ridiculous!’
 
‘Why do you say that, Luke?’
 
‘First of all, the animals would never have just walked into the boat. Noah would have had to go out and round them all up. Second, the tigers, lions, bears, and wolves would have eaten Noah alive.’
 
‘Don’t you think that the same God who created all the animals could have controlled them, so that they just came to Noah and he led them into the boat?’
 
‘I guess so,’ Luke said quietly. ‘I hadn’t thought about that. . . . But answer this question, where did Noah put the elephants?’ Luke said with a laugh. ‘No boat could be big enough to house the elephants, giraffes, polar bears, hippopotamuses, and rhinoceroses.’
 
‘Maybe that’s why it took Noah 120 years to build the boat!’ Jeremy laughed.
 
‘But, seriously,’ Luke said, trying to stop laughing, ‘all those animals would never have fit into the boat!’
 
‘The boat was huge,’ Jeremy responded. ‘The Bible says that it was 450 long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Even the giraffes and elephants had plenty of head room. And Noah took along enough food to feed all the animals and his whole family.’ Jeremy paused for a moment to give Luke time to ponder what he had said.
 
‘Luke, God takes care of His children. He knew exactly how big the boat would need to be and precisely how much food Noah’s family and the animals would need. He gave Noah detailed instructions for building the boat, and Noah chose to trust God and obey His instructions. So when the Flood came, Noah and his family were safe inside the boat. God even shut the door himself, and He made sure that the boat didn’t leak.’God takes care of his children
 
‘So you think the story is true?’ Luke asked quietly.
 
‘Yes, I do. The Bible doesn’t lie, and neither does God. . . . He cares about you, too,’ Jeremy said as he slipped his arm around Luke’s shoulder. He knows how much you miss your dad.’
 
‘I wish he were here right now.’ Luke wiped his eyes.
 
‘Let’s pray together and ask God to help you during this difficult time and to watch over your dad, too.’
 
After they prayed, Luke hugged Jeremy. ‘Thanks, for taking the time to talk with me, Jeremy.’
 
‘No problem,’ he responded. ‘Just remember, you’re going to the big game with me on Saturday.’
 
‘Don’t worry,’ Luke said with a smile. ‘I wouldn’t let a pack of elephants stand in my way!’
 
? by Nancy A. and Howard W. Stevens
Dying to Be Pretty?
 
‘Hey, Nicole, come with us to the mall,’ Chelsea called to her friend as they left Fairfield High.
 
‘We’re going to window-shop for our dresses for the seniors’ party at church,’ Kayla added.
 
The three teens climbed into their friend Anna’s car and waited for her to get in.
 
“Hurry up, Anna,” Chelsea called.
‘You’re so impatient, Chelsea,’ Anna responded as she got behind the steering wheel and drove away from the school parking lot.
 
The girls chatted about the usual topics: guys, school, guys, dresses, guys.
 
‘I think Jaden likes you, Nicole,’ Kayla commented. ‘Maybe he’ll ask you to go to the seniors’ party with him.’
 
‘Be sure to act friendly to him and drop a few hints,’ Chelsea added, ‘to let him know that you’re interested.’
 
After arriving at the mall, they stopped for a quick snack and then began checking out the latest fashions in formal wear.
 
‘Look at this turquoise gown,’ Anna remarked. ‘Nicole, this would look gorgeous on you!’
 
Nicole noticed the gown was a size 0. ‘Ma’am, do you have this in a size 2?’ she asked a salesperson.
 
‘I’m sorry. This is a designer gown. It’s one of a kind. Size 0 is all we have,’ the woman explained. ‘Not many girls wear such a tiny size, so I’ve reduced the price by 50%.’
 
‘Try it on, Nicole, just in case it fits,’ Chelsea urged.
 
Nicole shut the dressing room door, slipped off her jeans and top, and stepped into the gown. So far so good. At least I can get into it.
 
She called Anna into the dressing room. ‘Would you please zip me up?’
 
‘This is a great color for you, Nicole,’ Anna remarked. ‘I think I’m jealous.’
 
Anna gently pulled the two sides of the dress closer together and started zipping it up. ‘Take a deep breath, Nicole,’ she urged.
 
Nicole took a breath and held it as Anna struggled with the zipper.
 
‘There, it’s zipped,’ Anna announced. ‘How does it feel? Can you breathe in it?’
 
‘If I take shallow little breaths,’ Nicole replied.
 
‘Nicole, come on out already. We want to see how the dress looks,’ Chelsea and Kayla called. As Nicole stepped outside the dressing room, all three girls applauded.
 
‘You look really gorgeous!’ Chelsea complimented.
 
‘I am so jealous,’ Kayla remarked. ‘You look great, and you’re wearing a size 0! I feel like a fat cow next to you. I’m embarrassed to say that I wear a size 4.’
 
‘You’re not fat!’ Anna chided her friend. ‘A size 4 is small.’
 
‘Every other girl at the party will be so envious of you,’ Chelsea remarked. ‘Jaden will go nuts when he sees you in this dress.’
 
‘Nicole, do you think this dress will feel comfortable enough to wear for several hours?’ Anna asked. ‘Because if it’s not comfortable, you won’t really enjoy the party. Will you be able to sit down and eat something while you’re wearing it?’
 
‘Not much,’ Nicole replied. ‘But that’s okay, because I plan to lose a few pounds.’
 
‘From where?’ Anna asked. ‘You don’t have anything extra to lose. You look good in a lot of colors, so we can always find another dress.’
 
Nicole ignored her suggestion and paid a deposit on the dress, which meant the salesperson would hold it for her until the next day.
 
That evening when Nicole’s parents asked about her day, she told them about the dress.
 
‘That’s wonderful, Nicole,’ Erin said as she hugged her daughter.
 
‘Of course, I’ll buy my favorite daughter the dress tomorrow morning,’ Bill commented. ‘So who’s the lucky guy?’
 
“I don’t know yet,” Nicole replied.
‘Don’t worry, honey, if no one asks you, I’ll take you myself!’
 
“Dad!”
‘I’m sure someone will ask you,’ Erin said confidently.
 
The next morning, Nicole and her parents arrived at the store just as the manger was unlocking the door. When her parents saw the dress, they agreed that it was perfect for her. Nicole didn’t try the dress on for her parents, and they assumed that it fit her.

 
Now all I have to do is lose 10 pounds. I can do that!
14Nicole hung the dress at the front of her closet where she could see it each day. She skipped desserts and drank only diet soft drinks.
 
A week later, she weighed herself. ‘What? I’ve lost only 2 pounds!’ she exclaimed in disgust. ‘I’ll have to cut back more.’
 
That afternoon, she got the call that she’d been hoping for.
 
‘Hi, Nicole. This is Jaden. Would you like to go to the seniors’ party at church with me in two weeks?’
 
‘I’d love to,’ she replied, trying not to sound overly excited. ‘I’ll be wearing a turquoise dress.’
 
‘Great! Would you come with me to pick out my tux?’
 
“Definitely!”
When Nicole got off the phone, she danced around the room. Then she called Anna, Chelsea, and Kayla. They were thrilled to hear the good news.
 
Now I’ve got to work really hard to lose eight more pounds in two weeks!
 
Nicole skipped lunch every day and ate only half of her supper.
 
When she stepped on the scale and saw that she’d only lost three more pounds, she was disappointed.
 
Maybe I should just stop eating altogether!
 
At school, she ran into Jessica.
‘I hear you’re going to the seniors’ party with Jaden. That’s wonderful!’
 
‘Jessica, I have a problem. The dress is a size 0, and I’ve lost only five pounds. I need to lose five more.’
 
‘Let me tell you what I do,’ Jessica replied. ‘Let’s go in the ladies’ room where we can talk privately.’
 
‘How do you stay so tiny?’ Nicole asked.
 
‘I take one of these every day,’ Jessica said as she handed Nicole a pill.
 
“What is it?” Nicole questioned.
‘It kills your appetite,’ Jessica responded. ‘Don’t look at me like I’m a drug pusher! This is an over-the-counter pill that you can buy at any pharmacy.’
 
Nicole wrote down the name of the drug and stopped at a pharmacy after school.
 
‘Who is this for?’ the pharmacist asked as he rang up her purchase. ‘It’s not for you, I hope . . . . Because this is a stimulant and it can have side effects. It can make you feel jittery, shaky, and may cause insomnia.’
 
“It’s for my mother,” Nicole lied.
‘Well, tell her to be very careful not to exceed the recommended dosage. If she has any side effects, she should stop taking it immediately.’
 
‘God, please forgive me for lying,’ she prayed as she walked home. ‘And please help me to lose five more pounds.’
 
She took one of the tablets as soon as she got home.
 
The next few days passed in a blur. Her parents wondered why she wasn’t eating supper.
 
‘Honey, you look so tired,’ Erin commented. ‘Are you sleeping okay? Why don’t you stay home from school today and rest.’
 
“I’m fine, Mom,” Nicole responded.
‘I’ve lost five pounds!’ Nicole whispered to Jessica when she saw her in English class.
 
‘That’s great! I told you they would work for you.’
 
‘I took a couple of extra pills, so I could lose the weight faster.’
 
Right before the class ended, Mr. Celli asked Nicole to come up to the front of the class and read her report, for which he had given her an A+. When Nicole stood up she felt lightheaded, but she passed if off and walked to the front of the classroom.
 
After reading her report, Nicole walked toward her seat . . . but she never made it there. She woke up in the hospital.
 
‘Young lady,’ the doctor addressed her, ‘you are a very lucky girl. Do you realize that you could have collapsed in the middle of the street and been hit by a car, or fallen down a flight of stairs? Why on earth were you taking a stimulant?’
 
‘I was trying to lose five pounds,’ she mumbled.
 
‘You are dehydrated and exhausted. Your blood chemistry is out of whack. I’ll bet you feel like a nervous wreck, too. You’ll be staying overnight in the hospital, so we can observe you and make certain you’re okay.’
 
‘Honey, why were you taking diet pills?’ her mother asked.
 
‘Because the dress was too tight,’ Nicole responded. ‘I’m sorry to scare you, Mom. I just wanted to look pretty.’
 
“Young lady, you do not need to lose weight,” the doctor said firmly. “Have you been purging also?”
 
Nicole knew exactly what he meant. Several of her friends routinely binged and purged.
 
“No, I haven’t,” she whispered.
‘No dress, no boy, and no party is worth this!’ her mother stated.
 
‘Mom, I promise that I’ll never do anything like this again.’
 
Later that day, the youth group leader, Shannon and his wife, Emily, visited Nicole.
 
‘God was with you, Nicole,’ Emily remarked.
 
‘I made a big mistake. I was so focused on losing weight and fitting into that dress that I didn’t use good judgment. I know that I could have seriously damaged my health.’ Nicole paused for a moment. ‘I’m ashamed to say that I lied to the pharmacist. When he questioned me about the pills, I told him they were for my mother.’
 
‘When you recognize your mistakes and ask God to forgive you, He can help you not to repeat them, Nicole,’ Shannon replied.
 
‘I know that He’s forgiven me, and I definitely don’t want to repeat my mistakes. You know, I had prayed that God would help me to lose five pounds,’ Nicole responded. ‘But He answered the most important part of my prayer.’
 
“What do you mean?” Emily asked.
‘He answered the ?God, help me’ part . . . and I’m glad that He did!’
 
? by Nancy A. Stevens
Alyssa’s Roses
‘Not again!’ Jack exclaimed. ‘Kate, I need some help here!’ he loudly called to his wife, who was downstairs in the kitchen.
15“What are you yelling about?” Kate responded as she raced up the stairs to the bedroom. “Is the house on fire?”
 
‘No, your mother’s done it again! She used heavy starch on my no-iron dress shirt. The collar’s so stiff that I can’t even breathe. I can’t wear this shirt to the office today.’
 
‘So, wear a different shirt,’ she replied as she began looking through his clothes in the closet. ‘Here, wear this one. . . . No, wait, she starched this one, too.’ After searching for several minutes, Kate finally concluded, ‘She starched them all, so ask Matt if you can borrow one of his.’
 
‘That’s just great!’ Jack grumbled. ‘I have to borrow a shirt from my 16-year-old son.’
 
‘Well, look on the bright side–at least you’ll be wearing the latest style.’
 
‘Would you please talk to your mother again and ask her to leave my shirts alone?’
 
‘She’s just trying to be helpful, Jack. After losing my dad and moving in with us, she feels lost. She doesn’t know where she fits in the family anymore, and she has a lot of time on her hands.’
 
Jack rolled his eyes, then folded his hands as if he were praying. ‘Please talk to her, Kate. That’s all I ask.’
 
‘Okay, I promise I’ll talk to her today.’
 
That evening, when Kate got home from work, she found her mother working in the garden.
 
‘Look at how pretty these roses look, Katie. How was your day?’ Sharon asked.
 
‘Fine, Mom. But you and I need to talk. Let’s sit down together on the patio.’
 
As they sat down, Sharon asked, ‘So, what rule did I break now?’
 
‘Mom, you starched all of Jack’s shirts and–‘
 
Sharon interrupted, ‘So, he’ll look good for his job, Katie. You don’t want him going to the office wearing a wrinkled shirt, do you?’
 
‘Mom, Jack’s shirts don’t need to be starched or ironed; they’re wrinkle-free. Now, I’ll have to wash every shirt in his closet all over again. I know that you’re trying to be helpful, but before you do something major, would you please talk to me about it first?’
 
‘Oh, all right,’ Sharon replied testily. ‘May I start cooking supper, or is that activity forbidden, too?’
 
As the family ate dinner that night, everyone was surprisingly quiet, except Matt.
 
‘How did your boss like my shirt, Dad?’ Matt laughed, but then decided to stifle it when his father glared at him.
 
Later that evening, Kate knocked on Matt’s bedroom door. ‘Can we talk for a few minutes?’
 
‘Sure, Mom. What’s up? The atmosphere at dinner was so cold I thought I was in Antarctica!’
 
Kate shut the door and sat down on the bed. ‘Your father and I really need a break from your grandmother. We need some time alone to talk and relax. What are your plans for Saturday?’
 
‘Miranda and I are going to her Aunt Alyssa’s house to visit and to help her around the house. Would you like us to take Grandma with us?’
 
‘That would be wonderful,’ Kate replied. ‘Maybe she and Alyssa will get along well together and become friends. I think that Alyssa would be a good influence on her. In spite of all she has gone through, she still has a positive attitude toward life and a strong, growing relationship with the Lord.’
 
‘Should I ask Grandma, or do you want to ask her?’
 
‘It would be much better if you did, Matt.’ She thanked him and gave him a hug.
 
As soon as Kate left his room, Matt knocked on his grandmother’s door.
 
‘Come in,’ she said gruffly. ‘Oh, it’s you, Matt,’ she said, sounding cheerier. ‘I thought it might be your mother or father. We’re not on the best of terms lately.’
 
‘Grandma, Miranda and I will be visiting her Aunt Alyssa on Saturday. She has a rose garden and could use some help tending it. Neither Miranda nor I know much about roses, so I was wondering if you might like to come with us and help her aunt. Maybe you could give her some gardening tips and visit a little with her. She lost her husband about a year ago.’
 
‘Well, I’ll have to check my schedule and see if I’m free, Matt,’ she said playfully. ‘After all, a proper gentleman gives a lady more than just two days’ notice.’ She paused for a few seconds. ‘But since you are my favorite (and only) grandson, I’ll accept your request for help this time. It’s a date.”
 
On Friday, Sharon tried not to appear overly excited about Saturday. However, her upcoming visit with Alyssa was the only thing that kept her from succumbing to discouragement.
 
‘You’ll have a good time with Alyssa, Grandma,’ Matt stated as he escorted her to the car. ‘She’s an awesome person.’
 
They picked up Matt’s girlfriend, Miranda, at her house and drove directly to her aunt’s home.
 
‘Hello, Sharon,’ Alyssa greeted her warmly. ‘Miranda told me that you would be visiting me today. It’s so nice to meet you. Come, let’s sit in the kitchen and relax for a little while. I’ve made hot spiced tea and chocolate chip cookies.’
 
Matt smiled as he watched Alyssa and his grandmother interact with each other. Alyssa listened attentively while Sharon told her all about her grandchildren.
 
‘I would have to agree that you have the best grandson in the world,’ Alyssa commented. ‘Matt is a fine young man.’ She winked at him and then suggested, ‘Matt, why don’t you and Miranda get started steaming the carpets, while Sharon and I visit a little longer.’
 
Matt and Miranda recognized their cue and immediately went to the living room and got to work.
 
After a while, Alyssa and Sharon went out to inspect Alyssa’s rose garden.
 
‘I’ve often thought that perhaps the reason God created thorns on the rose stem is to remind us that we must not hold too tightly to the beautiful things He gives us in life,’ Alyssa commented to Sharon. ‘He wants us to hold onto Him more than to anything else.’
 
‘I never considered that,’ Sharon replied. ‘But it makes sense. Sometimes we do hold onto things . . . and maybe to people . . . too tightly, and our hearts bleed when it’s time for God to remove them from our lives. I guess He wants us to cling to Him with all our strength during the painful times.’
 
Several hours later, Matt and Miranda finished cleaning the carpets and found Alyssa and Sharon still sitting on the patio, talking about all of the challenges that God had helped them face throughout their lives and marveling at how faithful He had always been to them.
 
‘We’ll meet for lunch next Tuesday,’ Alyssa told Sharon as Matt opened the car door. ‘Then on Wednesday I’ll introduce you to the ladies in my Bible study group.’
 
‘I’m looking forward to it!’ Sharon replied.
 
Matt dropped Miranda off at her house and was driving Sharon home when she asked him, ‘Do you think that your parents would be able to manage if I did less work around the house?’
 
Matt laughed. ‘I think they’d adjust eventually!’
 
? by Nancy A. Stevens
I Miss My Brother
‘Mom, I miss my big brother,’ Jesse remarked. ‘Why doesn’t he live with us?’
 
 
Hannah responded, “Come sit next to me, Jesse.”
 
“Me, too! I miss him, too!” Three-year-old Jacob followed Jesse everywhere and tried to copy everything he did.
16-1“I want to hear, too.” Five-year-old Abel ran to sit on the other side of his mother.
 
Jacob went to Hannah and put his hands on her knees. “Please let me sit in your lap.” Hannah picked him up and set him in her lap.
 
“Susanna! Abigail! Leave your chores and come sit with us for a while.”
 
The girls were happy to have a break and quickly sat down on a mat on the floor.
 
“I want to tell you about your oldest brother, Samuel,” Hannah began.
 
“No matter how many times you tell us, Mom, I never get tired of hearing the story,” Susanna interrupted.
 
“Me neither,” Abigail added.
 
“Mom, I know what you’ve told us in the past, but I still don’t think it’s fair that Samuel doesn’t live with us!” Jesse commented. “He’s my big brother and he should be here.”
 
“Don’t you love Samuel, Mom?” Abel asked. “I mean, how can you and Dad go see him once a year, and then just leave him there?”
 
“Mom, are you going to leave me somewhere and then go away?” Jacob’s eyes filled with tears.
 
“No, of course not,” Hannah responded. “Let me tell you what happened before your brother Samuel was born. Then you will be better able to understand.”
 
The children sat quietly while Hannah began to tell the story.
 
“Many years ago, before Samuel or any of you were born, I was very, very sad. Your father and I had been married a long time, but I was unable to have any children. Every year I kept hoping that I would become pregnant, and every year I was disappointed.
 
“Whenever your father would find me crying and not eating he would say, ?Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than 10 sons?’
 
 
“I desperately wanted to have children. I thought to myself, Soon I will be too old. I must have a child! I didn’t know what to do.
 
“Every year your father and I would go to the Lord’s house at Shiloh. Your father would bring a sacrifice and we would worship the Lord. One year, when I had reached my lowest point, I spent time weeping and asking the Lord to give me a son. I made a vow to God that if He gave me a son, then I would give him to the Lord for all the days of his life.
 
 
16
 
“Eli, the priest, saw that my lips were moving but no words were coming out of my mouth. I was praying silently. But he thought that I was drunk!
 
“I immediately told him, ?No, I have not been drinking; I was pouring my soul out to the Lord. I have been praying in great grief and sadness.’
 
“Then Eli responded, ?Go in peace, and may God grant you what you have asked of Him.’
 
“I no longer felt so sad because I knew that God had heard my prayer. At the right moment I became pregnant, and nine months later Samuel was born. I could hardly contain my joy! At long last, I had a son!
 
“When your father went up to Shiloh to worship I stayed home with Samuel. He was too young to travel. I nursed him until he could drink from a cup and eat on his own. Then I knew that it was time for me to take him to Eli the priest and fulfill the vow that I had made to the Lord.”
 
“Did you ever think about forgetting your promise and keeping Samuel?” Jesse asked. “I mean, maybe God wouldn’t really mind.”
 
“Oh, no, my son. When you make a vow to God you must always keep it! I was so grateful that God had given me a son. I never allowed myself to think of keeping him. I made him a linen outfit to wear like Eli the priest wears. Then your father and I brought him to Shiloh and presented Samuel to Eli.”
 
“But, Mom, who takes care of Samuel?” Abel asked. “Who feeds him and tucks him into bed at night? He must have been so afraid when you left him there and went home.”
 
“My son, Eli has taken very good care of your brother. Every year I make a new robe for Samuel and your father and I take it to him. When we first brought your brother to Eli I told Eli, ?I am the woman who stood here praying to the Lord. God granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give Samuel to the Lord. For his whole life he will serve the Lord in His house.'”
 
“But how do you know that’s what Samuel wants to do?” Jesse questioned. “Did you ever ask him?”
 
“My son, God gave me Samuel as a precious gift. But He also chose Samuel to be His priest. He planned that for Samuel before He created him. Samuel didn’t fully understand this when he was a very young boy, but he understands it now. Your brother is happy to be living with Eli and serving in God’s house.”
 
Hannah continued, “Every year when we go up to Shiloh Eli pronounces the same blessing on your father and me. ?May the Lord give you children to take the place of the one you prayed for and gave to the Lord.'”
 
“God has given you five more children,” Susanna remarked.
 
“Yes, He has, and every one of you is precious to me. God has a plan for each of your lives, just as He has a plan for Samuel’s life,” Hannah explained.
 
“But, Mom, I don’t know what God’s plan is for me,” Jesse responded.
 
“You will know when you get older, Jesse. Just keep staying close to the Lord and seek His help in making every decision. He will guide you, just as He has guided your father and me.”
 
Hannah noticed that Abigail had not spoken a word in quite a while. “Abigail, what is on your mind? You’re so quiet.”
 
“I just wondered if any of us kids would have been born if you hadn’t honored your promise to God and taken Samuel to God’s house.”
 
“No, I don’t believe God would have blessed me with any of you children if I had broken my promise to Him. And I don’t know what would have happened to Samuel. God is holy and He knows all things. When He makes a promise He keeps it. But we must also keep our promises.”
 
“Mom, I hope that someday I can be as strong a mother as you,” Susanna said with a smile. “You kept praying for such a long time. Then you chose to give back to God the child that you had desperately wanted. I don’t think I would have been strong enough to do that.”
 
“God helped me, Susanna. I could not have done it in my own strength,” Hannah responded. “He will also help you to make the right choices.”
 
“I guess you’re right, Mom,” Jesse commented. “If you had made the wrong choice, none of us would have a future.”
 
“Thanks, Mom,” Abigail said as she hugged Hannah. “Your choice gave each of us a destiny that God planned just for us.”
? by Nancy A. Stevens
Emergency: Good Samaritans Needed! Part 4
 
‘Cristiana, I’m so glad to see you!’ Taylor exclaimed when she entered the church lobby. ‘I’ve been praying for you.’
 
‘Thank you, Taylor,’ Cristiana said as she hugged her friend. ‘Yesterday evening I met my mother at the restaurant after she got off work, and we went grocery shopping. So we weren’t home at the time of the explosion.’
 
‘That’s wonderful!’ Taylor replied. She peeked into the church sanctuary and remarked, ‘There must be a few hundred people here!’

 
‘Oh, yes,’ Cristiana replied. ‘Someone mentioned on a news broadcast that the church would be providing shelter for those who have nowhere else to go.’
17-1“We’d better go inside, Cristiana. The meeting is about to start, and I need to help Aunt Alyssa organize the volunteers.”
 
Pastor Petrovsky stood and addressed the audience. ‘We will start this meeting by doing the most important thing first. . . . Let us pray. Father, we thank You that You are always aware of what is going on in our lives every single moment. We know that You can bring good out of even the worst circumstances. So, we ask You, in Jesus’ name, to help each of us to cry out to You for help, to trust Your love and goodness, and to do everything that You want us to do. Amen.’
 
Taylor listened as Pastor Petrovsky explained, ‘The church has 100 cots set up in the basement for people to sleep on. In addition, 200 blankets have been donated. Families with small children, elderly people, and those who have health problems will sleep in the basement. Teenagers and healthy adults may sleep on the pews in the sanctuary.’
 
Paul reported, ‘Many local businesses have promised to donate money and additional supplies. A sporting goods store will be delivering 60 sleeping bags and 50 air mattresses sometime this evening.’
 
‘Abby, is your group of volunteers ready to provide coffee and food for everyone?’ Pastor Petrovsky asked.
 
‘Almost,’ she answered. ‘I need help making sandwiches and unloading the food that people have brought.’
 
Aunt Alyssa raised her hand, and Pastor Petrovsky recognized her.
 
She addressed the audience, ‘All the volunteers for the ?We Care About Our Neighbors’ program, please stand.’
 
More than 50 teens stood up!
‘Thank you all for coming tonight,’ Aunt Alyssa commented. ‘Taylor and I will meet you out in the lobby. We’ll form teams to unload all the food, bring it downstairs to the basement, and sort it. By the time Pastor Petrovsky has wrapped up the meeting here in the sanctuary, we will have the food organized and be ready to start serving hot coffee.’
 
The teens followed Aunt Alyssa, Taylor, and Abby out to the lobby. Abby pointed to two trucks that were parked outside the church. ‘Those trucks must be unloaded.’
 
‘I need 30 volunteers to unload the trucks,’ Aunt Alyssa stated. ‘I expect every guy and some strong young ladies to raise their hands.’ She paused and counted the upraised hands. ‘Very good, we have enough volunteers. You 30 will follow me out to the trucks. The rest of you will go downstairs with Taylor.’
 
Taylor, Abby, and the remaining volunteers made large urns of coffee, prepared sandwiches, placed a blanket on each cot, and sorted the food, as Aunt Alyssa’s team brought it downstairs to them. They also set up two coffee urns on a table in the lobby.
 
Even though police sirens could be heard outside, and everyone wondered what was happening, the teens concentrated on their tasks. An hour and a half later, with all the food unloaded and sorted, they began serving hot coffee and sandwiches to families, the ill, and the elderly in the basement, and to everyone else in the lobby.
 
‘Pastor Petrovsky, I have a request,’ Taylor said. ‘Miranda, Matt, Cristiana, and a few of the other teen volunteers would like to conduct a service for the teens and adults who will be sleeping in the sanctuary, if that would be permissible.’
 
‘That’s a wonderful idea!’ he replied. ‘Does Aunt Alyssa have enough volunteers helping her downstairs?’
 
‘Yes, she does,’ Taylor responded. ‘She gave me her approval to take eight volunteers and conduct the service, if you agreed.’
 
‘You have my blessing,’ Pastor Petrovsky said with a smile. ‘Would you mind if I attend, too?’
 
‘We were hoping that you would, Pastor.’
 
With Jaden playing the piano, Miranda playing the violin, Matt on the drums, and Cristiana strumming a borrowed guitar, Taylor stood at the front, holding a microphone, and began to lead the teens in worship choruses. When the people in the lobby heard the music, they returned to the sanctuary to listen.
 
Eventually, some of the families came upstairs for a little while to join in the singing.
 
God’s sweet presence filled the place as people began to worship Him from their hearts.
 
 
‘No matter what is going on in our city right now, Father,’ Taylor prayed aloud, ‘we want to say that we love You. We know that You are in control and that we can trust You. So, we praise You from the depths of our hearts.’
 
A young man ran to the front of the church and knelt down, asking forgiveness for his sins. Several other young people joined him at the altar.
 
 
17
As the music continued, one tearful teenager approached Taylor. “Please pray for me,” she whispered. “I used to believe in God and go to Sunday school, but then I got pregnant and had an abortion. I really need to find Jesus.”
 
As Taylor put her arm around the young woman and prayed, people kept coming to the altar. Pastor Petrovsky and many who knew the Lord prayed with the people and talked with them until the early hours of the morning.
 
‘I prayed that at least one person would accept the Lord as Savior because of the ?We Care About Our Neighbors’ program,’ Taylor told Aunt Alyssa the next morning as they made coffee. ‘But I never imagined the circumstances He would use to prepare people’s hearts.’
 
‘God can accomplish His purposes in any situation when we are willing to listen,’ Aunt Alyssa responded.
 
‘Hey, I just heard on my car radio that the cops caught some people who had stockpiled dangerous chemicals and bomb-making equipment,’ Matt announced, as he returned from picking up several more cans of coffee. ‘If all goes well, the authorities may allow some people to return to their homes in a few days. But it may be a week or so before everyone can go home.’
 
‘That’s wonderful news!’ Taylor exclaimed. ‘Maybe through this ordeal more people will decide they need God in their lives.’
 
? by Nancy A. Stevens
Emergency: Good Samaritans Needed! Part 3
 
‘Oy gevalt! Someone’s pounding on my door. All right! I’m coming,” said Aunt Alyssa as she quickly got up from the kitchen table and walked to the front door. “You don’t have to break down my–“
 
As she opened the door, a large law-enforcement agent barked orders. ‘You need to evacuate this house immediately! You have no more than five minutes to gather your belongings and leave.’
18-1“What’s wrong?” she asked, trying to keep her voice from sounding as shaky as she felt inside.
 
‘Everyone on this street is in grave danger. That’s all I can tell you. I suggest you make the most of your five minutes. We’re prepared to carry you out if necessary.’
 
‘Taylor, hang up!’ said Aunt Alyssa as she tapped her on the arm. ‘Put away your cell phone.’
 
‘I’ll be done in a second,’ Taylor replied.
 
“No, you are done now!”
Taylor stared in disbelief as Aunt Alyssa took the phone from her hand.
 
‘We need to gather some things very quickly. The police are evacuating us in less than five minutes.’
 
Aunt Alyssa led Taylor up to her bedroom, where they collected some important papers, a little cash, her wedding ring, and the key to a safety deposit box.
‘I don’t want to leave these behind,’ Alyssa remarked as she located her violin and several photo albums.
 
She handed Taylor a warm coat and a few pieces of clothing, and then shut the bedroom door behind them.
 
By the time they reached the front door, a police officer was already pounding on it.
 
‘We’re leaving,’ Aunt Alyssa said as she opened the door, and then locked it behind her.
 
Walking past the officer, she asked, ‘Why are some of my neighbors standing outside in the cold?’
 
‘We’re evacuating everyone,’ he replied, ‘but some say they have no place to go. We’re arranging for a bus to transport them to a homeless shelter.’
 
After Taylor helped Aunt Alyssa pack her things in the car trunk, Aunt Alyssa returned to talk to the officer.
 
‘I’m taking some of my neighbors with me!’ she stated emphatically.
 
The officer nodded. ‘Just leave quickly,’ he replied.
 
Aunt Alyssa approached Mrs. Bolero and asked if she would rather come with them, instead of going to a shelter.
‘Oh, thank you!’ she responded, as she picked up her few belongings and walked to Aunt Alyssa’s car.
 
Four more neighbors accepted Aunt Alyssa’s invitation and eagerly squeezed into the backseat, after putting their belongings in the trunk.
 
Taylor sat sandwiched in between Aunt Alyssa and Mrs. Bolero. ‘Where are we going?’ Taylor asked as they quickly drove away.
 
‘First, to your house,’ she replied. ‘Then . . . we’ll see.’
 
‘Oh, good!’ Taylor sighed in relief as they arrived at her house. ‘At least the cops aren’t evacuating us.’
 
Taylor and Aunt Alyssa helped their neighbors climb out of the backseat and gather their belongings.
 
“Mom! Dad! Are you home?”
‘Your mother isn’t, but I am,’ Paul replied, as he walked into the living room. ‘Oh, hello,’ he greeted the unexpected guests. ‘Make yourselves comfortable.’
 
‘Everyone on my street has been evacuated,’ Aunt Alyssa explained. ‘The police gave us just five minutes to gather our things and leave. My neighbors were shivering outside in the cold, with no place to go. The police planned to have them transported to a homeless shelter.’
 
‘Would anyone like some hot coffee?’ Taylor asked.
 
‘Oh that would be wonderful!’ Mrs. Bolero exclaimed, and the others agreed.
 
‘I’ll go make a pot. It’ll take just a few minutes.’ Taylor disappeared into the kitchen, with her father following behind her.
 
 
‘We have part of a cake left over from yesterday,’ he suggested.
 
“Where’s Mom?”
 
 
18
“She’s at the church,” Paul replied. “Because of how quickly everything is happening, preparations at the church have to be speeded up. By tonight the church must be able to accommodate 200 people.”
 
‘Why would that many people need a place to stay?’ Taylor questioned.
 
‘Honey, thousands of people will probably be evacuated by this evening . . . if not sooner.’
 
Seeing the startled look on his daughter’s face, Paul hugged her. ‘Always remember that God is with us, Taylor. No matter what happens, He will help us. I need to continue calling businesses to request donations of supplies and money to feed and house people at the church. I’m going upstairs. I’ll see you later.’
 
‘Taylor,’ Aunt Alyssa said, as she entered the kitchen just as Paul was leaving, ‘after we serve coffee to our guests, you and I must resume calling the student volunteers. Their help is needed now more than ever.’
 
‘Are Miranda and Matt okay, Aunt Alyssa?’ Taylor asked.
 
‘Yes, I called Miranda. Her family is fine, and so is Matt’s, thank God.’ Aunt Alyssa paused. ‘Have you tried calling your friend Cristiana?’
 
‘She doesn’t have a cell phone, and since her apartment building was evacuated, I have no way to reach her.’
 
Aunt Alyssa could hear the fear in Taylor’s voice. ‘Try not to worry. She’s in God’s hands, just as we all are, and He loves us.’
 
A few hours later Taylor remarked to Aunt Alyssa, ‘Well, it’s four o’clock, and we’ve called every student who expressed an interest in the ?We Care About Our Neighbors’ program. I’m amazed that we have 40 volunteers!’
 
‘And we will need every one of them,’ Aunt Alyssa commented. ‘Hopefully, they will all meet us at the church at six o’clock. Taylor, you and your dad should start gathering some basic supplies to take with us to the church, just in case you need to stay there overnight.’
 
‘Do you think that the cops will evacuate us, too?’ Taylor asked anxiously.
 
‘At this point, no one knows, but we should be prepared in case they do.’
 
What’s going on? Why are they evacuating people? What dangers are the authorities not telling us about? Taylor wondered.
 
Having called all the businesses on his list, Paul packed a suitcase with clothes and personal items that he and Abby might need and brought them out to the car.
 
Meanwhile, Taylor threw some clothes in a suitcase and grabbed her backpack. While Aunt Alyssa encouraged their guests to get ready to move to the church, Taylor put several bags of nonperishable foods in the trunk of her father’s car. Then she returned to the kitchen to pick up two cans of coffee and a few loaves of bread.
 
I guess if Jesus could feed 5,000 with two small fish and five loaves of bread, then He will multiply the food to feed 200 people for a few days.
 
Taylor decided to turn on the radio for a moment.
 
‘Thus far, 5,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. The authorities aren’t saying exactly what threat they have received. They say it is a credible threat and the danger is real. So once again, we repeat: If the police tell you to leave your home, please do what they say–for your own safety and the safety of those you love.’
 
Taylor shut off the radio, and took one final look around the kitchen to see if she had forgotten anything.
 
I feel like I’m a character in a scary movie, and I wonder what’s coming next!
 
‘Father,’ Taylor prayed, ‘please help each of us to trust You and not panic. Thank You for loving us and always being with us every moment.’
 
Taylor locked the front door behind her and climbed into Paul’s car. With Aunt Alyssa leading the way, the two cars headed for the church . . . and whatever challenges would await them.
 
(Be sure to read the exciting conclusion, “Emergency: Good Samaritans Needed, Part 4.”)
? by Nancy A. Stevens
Emergency: Good Samaritans Needed! Part 2
‘Oh my goodness! What’s happening?’ Taylor asked in alarm. ‘Look! I count eight ambulances and five fire trucks in front of that apartment building. And the police have barricaded several blocks.’
 
‘We can’t do anything to help them right now, but we can pray,” Aunt Alyssa suggested, as she drove around the corner and took a different route to Taylor’s house.
 
“Mom! Dad!” Taylor called as she unlocked the front door. “We saw so many ambulances in front of the apartment building that my friend Cristiana lives in.”
 
‘We heard it on the news,’ Abby replied. ‘Toxic fumes were released in the hallways of the building, making many of the residents very ill.’
 
“What caused it?” Aunt Alyssa asked.
‘The police don’t know yet if it was accidental . . . or intentional,’ Paul replied.’
 
‘I hope Cristiana is okay,’ Taylor said.
 
‘Why don’t we pray for her?’ Abby suggested.
 
After prayer, Aunt Alyssa reported, ‘The church board decided to sponsor the ?We Care About Our Neighbors’ program.’
 
‘Several board members volunteered to help in any way they could,’ Taylor stated. ‘And I’m amazed at the number of students who have told me they want to join the program.’
 
“That’s wonderful!” Paul exclaimed.
‘Get some rest.’ Aunt Alyssa reminded Taylor, ‘We have busy days ahead of us.’
 
As Taylor got ready for bed, she pondered the events of the past week.
 
‘You want to volunteer, Cristiana?’ Taylor had asked in surprise when her classmate came to her house the previous Saturday morning. ‘But how did you find out that we’re trying to restart the ?We Care About Our Neighbors’ program?’
 
“I heard about it from Jaden’s girlfriend, Emma. She heard it from Miranda. Jaden, Mike, Sarah, Ashley, and Jordan will be signing up, too. Since you live just a few blocks from me, I thought I’d come in person to volunteer. I could help Hispanic families since I speak Spanish.”
 
Taylor fell asleep praying for Cristiana and everyone else who lived in her apartment building.
 
‘Wake up, Taylor,’ Abby gently tapped her daughter’s shoulder the next morning.
 
Taylor rubbed her eyes. ‘What’s wrong, Mom? I don’t have school today; it’s Saturday.’
 
‘Aunt Alyssa called. She’ll be here in five minutes. Pastor Petrovsky will also be coming.’
 
Abby grabbed a sweater and a pair of pants from Taylor’s closet. ‘Here, put these on, honey. Don’t take too long getting ready.’
 
Taylor looked at the clock. It’s only 6 a.m! I wonder what’s going on.
After quickly washing her face and dressing, she raced down the stairs.
 
Aunt Alyssa, Pastor Petrovsky, and her parents were sitting at the dining room table, drinking coffee and quietly talking.
 
They look way too serious! Taylor observed.
 
“Come, sit down, honey,” said Paul.
‘Here’s a cup of coffee, Taylor.’ Abby handed her a warm mug, and then sat down.
 
No pastries? Aunt Alyssa always brings pastries when she visits. Something must be terribly wrong!
 
Pastor Petrovsky spoke, ‘The police captain of our local precinct called me at two o’clock this morning. He said the FBI had determined that the toxic fumes were chlorine gas. Several people are in serious condition in the hospital. The buildings were evacuated last night, and some of the residents stayed at a Red Cross shelter.’
 
‘Is it safe for the people to return to their apartments now?’ Taylor asked.
 
‘No, honey,’ Paul replied. ‘According to the FBI, someone intentionally detonated a device to spread the gas throughout the building. Fortunately, the explosion was very small, and the blast damaged only the laundry room. However, it was forceful enough to spread the noxious fumes.’
 
‘The law-enforcement agents will be investigating and searching each apartment,’ explained Abby. ‘The people won’t be able to return until the investigation is concluded and the health department says the building is safe.’
 
‘The authorities are asking for our help in providing homes for the elderly residents who have no family here and no place to go,’ Pastor Petrovsky explained.
 
‘It’s not safe for the elderly to be staying in homeless shelters,’ said Paul.
 
‘Can we present the need to the congregation on Sunday?’ Taylor asked. ‘Perhaps families could take in the people.’
 
‘I’m going to contact some members this morning,’ Pastor Petrovsky replied. ‘But I think we need to have a bigger plan than that . . . just in case . . .’
 
‘That’s why we’re meeting now to discuss it,’ Aunt Alyssa stated. ‘We have to be prepared to help more people, if it becomes necessary.’
 
In case what happens? Taylor wondered as she listened to Aunt Alyssa and Pastor Petrovsky suggest how the church could be set up to house and care for a large number of people.
 
‘If any businesses are forced to shut down for a while, perhaps some of their employees would volunteer to help out at the church,’ Paul suggested.
 
‘Helping others is a very effective way of keeping a person’s mind off his or her own problems,’ said Abby.
 
‘We will meet at the church this evening at six,’ Pastor Petrovsky decided. ‘I will ask my staff to call everyone who regularly attends services.’
 
‘And Taylor and I will contact all the student volunteers and ask them to attend the meeting,’ said Aunt Alyssa.
 
‘Well, we have much to get done,’ Pastor Petrovsky said. ‘However, we do not want to forget the most important thing we can do. Let’s pray. Father, we know that our lives are in Your hands and our next breath belongs to You. We ask for Your protection and guidance. Help us to shine for You in this dark hour. In Jesus’ name. Amen.’
 
“In this dark hour”? Taylor pondered. What is really going on? What are they not saying?
 
‘Mom, is there something you’re not telling me?’ Taylor whispered as Pastor Petrovsky was leaving.
 
‘Come, Taylor,’ Aunt Alyssa said firmly. ‘We’ll go to my house and start calling the students. I’ll pick up some bagels on the way.’
 
(Fast-moving events are about to overtake Aunt Alyssa and Taylor. Be sure to read “Emergency: Good Samaritans Needed, Part 3.”)
? by Nancy A. Stevens
Throw Them in the Fire!
‘Thank you for seeing me, sir. My name is Seth.’
 
‘Come, sit down, Seth,’ Daniel responded. ‘ I knew your grandfather well. He was an administrator over the province of Babylon for many years. When your father asked if I would meet with you, I was delighted. Tell me about yourself.’
 
‘Well, sir, I’m having a hard time fitting in with the other Jewish exiles. I was born in Babylon, as my father was, so I have never seen Jerusalem. I don’t want to offend you, sir. My father greatly respects and admires you, as do all the Jews, and I know you are a senior advisor in the king’s court.’
 
 
‘You may speak plainly to me, Seth,’ Daniel responded.
 
‘Well, I don’t think we should be cooperating with the Babylonians. My father says we must respect their laws and be good citizens . . .’
20-1Daniel interrupted, “I understand that you recently got into a fistfight with a Babylonian, and you have been urging the other young Jewish men to revolt against the government.”
 
‘If we go along with these Babylonians, then we’re as bad as they are!’ Seth said angrily. ‘When I was little my father told me stories about how he, his two friends and you stood up to the king. Now he wants me to just get along with these pagans. I say it’s hypocritical!’
 
Seth had risen to his feet and was shaking his fists.
 
‘Sit down, Seth,’ Daniel said firmly, ‘and lower your voice.’
 
‘My grandfather was a hero and everyone respected him.’ Seth struggled to speak more softly. ‘He stood up for what he believed.’
 
Seth fidgeted and kept clenching and unclenching his fists.
 
‘I wish that I had been born when you were, sir. I would have been proud to stand up with you and my grandfather against these Babylonians.’
 
‘So, that’s what you think we did?’ Daniel questioned.
 
‘Yes, of course!’ Seth responded. ‘You didn’t care if it cost you your life; you refused to bow down to these pagans! I wish I could have lived back then! I would gladly have died with you if necessary.’
 
Seth stood to his feet again. ‘I wouldn’t have been a coward like my father and so many of the Jewish exiles!’
 
‘Ah, so because your father refuses to fight against the Babylonians you think he is a coward!’ Daniel looked squarely at Seth.
 
‘I mean no disrespect, sir, but yes, that’s exactly what I think!’
 
‘Sit down, Seth,’ Daniel said firmly.
 
Seth quietly sat down.
 
‘Do you have any idea why our people were taken into captivity and brought here to Babylon?’ Daniel asked.
 
‘Because our people weren’t strong enough to withstand King Nebuchadnezzar’s army,’ Seth replied. ‘If they had been better trained fighters, they could have fought off his army. See, that’s my point. The young men of my generation need military training. If we can just–?’
 
‘Stop!’ Daniel interrupted.
 
Daniel sat in silence for a moment, as if pondering his next word. Then he spoke. ‘The Jewish people went into exile because they did not obey God’s commandments. God had blessed them and made them prosper. He had defeated their enemies and done miracles on behalf of His people. But they forgot all the wonderful things God had done, and they lived any way they chose. They scorned His commands and rejected His love time after time. They treated Him with contempt and put other things ahead of Him. God sent His prophets to warn them again and again, but they refused to repent.’
 
Daniel looked squarely at Seth and asked, ‘Seth, do you think our people would have gone into captivity if they had faithfully served Almighty God?’
 
‘I don’t know,’ Seth replied. ‘I’ve never thought about it.’
 
‘No, we would still be living in Jerusalem on our own land. No army, no matter how powerful, is a match for God.’
 
Daniel paused, and then continued speaking. ‘Seth, your grandfather and I did not stand up against the Babylonians–?’
 
‘Yes, you did!’ Seth interrupted.
 
‘No, we stood up for our God,’ Daniel replied. ‘We refused to bow down because our God commands us not to worship anyone but Him. We were not revolting against the Babylonians; we were obeying our God.’
 
‘I’m not sure I understand the difference, sir,’ Seth responded.
 
‘Seth, let me tell you about your grandfather. When King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem he took many young Jewish men back to Babylon with him. Ashpenaz, the chief court official, changed your grandfather’s name from Hananiah to Shadrach. The chief official trained your grandfather, our friends Meshach and Abednego and me for 3 years. We learned the Babylonian language and literature.
 
‘We did not want to break God’s law by eating food that He had forbidden us to eat, so we received permission to eat only vegetables and drink only water for 10 days. At the end of the 10 days we looked healthier and better nourished than the young men who had eaten the royal food. So we received permission to continue eating only vegetables and drinking only water.
 
‘Why do you think we looked healthier?’ Daniel asked.
 
‘I don’t know,’ Seth responded.
 
‘We had obeyed God, and He blessed us for it,’ Daniel said. ‘God also blessed our studies and gave us knowledge, wisdom and understanding that far exceeded that of the magicians and enchanters in the whole kingdom. At the end of the 3 years we entered the king’s service.
 
‘When the king had a dream, he summoned the magicians, astrologers and sorcerers to tell him what he had dreamed. Of course, they could not. So he ordered that all the wise men of Babylon be put to death, including your grandfather, Meshach, Abednego and me. I asked the king for a little time. Then we prayed that God would reveal the dream, and He did. When I told the king his dream and gave him the interpretation of it he appointed your grandfather, Meshach and Abednego as administrators over the province of Babylon. I remained at the royal court as ruler of the entire province. So, do you see that we did not attain these positions through our own wisdom or power?’
 
Seth nodded. ‘But tell me about when my grandfather stood up to the king and refused to bow down to the king’s statue of gold.’
 
‘The king had commanded that everyone must fall down and worship the statue,’ Daniel responded. ‘But God commanded us to worship Him alone. So when some astrologers saw that your grandfather, Meshach and Abednego did not worship the statue, they reported it to the king. The king was furious and threatened to throw them into a blazing furnace if they did not fall down and worship the image.’
 
Daniel paused, and then asked, ‘Do you know what they said to the king?’
 
‘?We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we will not serve your gods or worship the image,” Seth responded. ‘My grandfather told me the story so many times that I remember those words.’
 
Seth thought for a moment, and then added, ‘I always thought my grandfather and his friends sounded so strong when they said those words to the king–like they were totally fearless. But I think I’m starting to see that maybe they were really abandoning themselves to God, rather than being brave.’
 
 
‘When your grandfather told you the story you already knew the outcome,’ Daniel commented.
 
‘That’s right, since he was telling me the story I knew that he had to have survived the experience,’ Seth replied. ‘But I guess when he and his friends spoke to the king they didn’t know what the outcome would be. They were simply trusting God.
 
 
20
“Can I finish telling the story?” Seth asked.
 
‘Please do so,’ Daniel responded.
 
‘King Nebuchadnezzar was enraged and ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual. He commanded his strongest soldiers to throw my grandfather, Meshach and Abednego into the blazing furnace. The fire was so hot that the flames killed the soldiers who threw them into the furnace. Then the king leaped to his feet and said, ?Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the fire? But look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods!’
 
‘Then the king shouted, ?Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out!’ So they came out and everyone saw that the fire had not harmed them in any way at all, and they didn’t even smell like smoke. God had done a miracle for them because they trusted in Him,’ Seth concluded.
 
Daniel responded, ‘The king also said, ?They trusted in God and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.”
 
‘That really was their only motivation, wasn’t it?’ Seth said.
 
‘Yes, it was,’ Daniel replied. ‘They simply wanted to obey God.’
 
‘I guess I have a lot to think about,’ Seth commented. ‘I realize now that when my grandfather faced the most important decision of his life he made the right choice.’
 
‘Yes, he did,’ Daniel said softly. ‘What about you, Seth?’
 
‘I want to make the right choices, too. I know that my destiny depends upon it.’
 
? by Nancy A. Stevens
Emergency: Good Samaritans Needed! Part 1
‘It’s just not fair, Aunt Alyssa!’ Miranda said angrily. ‘I thought that our senior year at Fairfield High would be the best. But it’s starting out to be the worst.’
21-1Miranda’s boyfriend, Matt, stated, “Some people say that our generation is selfish and that we don’t care about the needs of others. Well, they’re wrong! We do care, and we were helping a lot of people through the ?We Care About Our Neighbors’ program until the principal canceled it.”
 
‘We had hoped that he might change his mind over the summer and restart the program in September,’ Miranda added.
 
‘A group of us even met with the principal yesterday and asked him to reconsider,’ Matt explained. ‘But he said, ?Absolutely not!’ We asked several teachers if they would serve as our advisors, but they said that they couldn’t.’
 
‘So, you need a new sponsor before you can get anyone to help you?’ asked Aunt Alyssa.
 
‘That’s right,’ Miranda replied. ‘We’re willing to work hard, but someone has to provide the oversight, do the planning and organizing, and advise us.’
 
‘Tell me a little more about the program,’ requested Aunt Alyssa.
 
‘Mr. Alessandro was our advisor,’ Matt replied, ‘and Taylor did an awesome job leading the group.’
 
‘All of us in the program were like a family,’ Miranda explained. ‘We had so much fun together, and we raised a lot of money for Christmas gifts for the kids who are waiting to be adopted.’
 
‘The volunteers also worked hard weeding gardens, cleaning houses, and running errands for the elderly. Some of us visited nursing homes and delivered little gift baskets once a month. The people we helped were so appreciative,’ Matt continued. ‘We felt proud of what we were doing.’
 
‘They became our friends, even like grandparents to us,’ added Miranda.
 
‘When the principal canceled the program we felt as if we had been slapped in the face. He might just as well have told us, ?What you’ve been doing is worthless!” Matt said angrily.
 
‘And he canceled the program at the time the community needs it the most!’ said Miranda.
 
‘I know of at least 20 kids who want to participate in the program again,’ Matt added.
 
‘Why don’t we pray about this,’ Aunt Alyssa suggested. ‘God can do what seems impossible.’
 
Having faced many adversities, Aunt Alyssa never gave up easily. After praying for guidance, she decided to visit her old friend, Pastor Petrovsky, at his church.
 
‘Josef, I would like to speak with you for a moment, please,’ Aunt Alyssa requested.
 
‘Of course,’ Pastor Petrovsky replied. ‘How are you, Alyssa? And how is your sweet niece, Miranda?’
 
‘My family and I are all fine, thank you. How is your son, Jared, doing in seminary?’
 
‘He’s enjoying his studies. Now, what did you want to talk to me about?’
 
‘We have been friends for many years, Josef, and you know that I am not one to tell you how to lead your congregation.’
 
‘Alyssa, please! Why are you beating around the bush? Usually you are very direct.’
 
‘Frankly, I think your church is missing a wonderful opportunity to help many people in our community.’
 
‘Good! At last you are getting to the point!’ Pastor Petrovsky laughed. ‘So what do you think we should be doing, Alyssa? You would not come to me like this without first having a well-thought-out plan.’
 
‘In the past few months, many people have lost their jobs.’
 
Pastor Petrovsky nodded. ‘I know it has been very difficult. Our food pantry is helping twice as many families as last year.’
 
‘Since the principal of Fairfield High eliminated the ?We Care About Our Neighbors’ program, which had been so successful, many of the students are angry and disappointed.’ Aunt Alyssa continued, ‘The program gave them valuable training in helping people in our community. It united them in accomplishing something of great value to many people. It gave them a sense of purpose and direction and took their minds off their own problems.’
 
‘The volunteers did much to help the community,’ Pastor Petrovsky agreed.
 
‘As you know, Josef, many of the teens who attend this church were involved in the program.’
 
‘So you think the church should sponsor the program?’ he asked.
 
‘I would not be talking to you if I did not think it would also benefit the church.’
 
‘I am willing to consider this under one condition, Alyssa.’ Pastor Petrovsky’s eyes twinkled. ‘You must direct the project.”
 
‘All right, Josef. Can I choose my co-director?’

‘Yes . . . whom will you choose?’

 
‘I will not do it without Taylor,’ she said firmly.
 
‘Ah, an excellent choice! You have my full approval. I will schedule a special meeting for next Friday night. Speak with your co-director and be prepared to present your plans then.’
 
With the prospect of a new sponsor now a good probability, Aunt Alyssa enthusiastically phoned Taylor.
 
 
‘You want me to do what?’ Taylor practically yelled into the phone. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to raise my voice, Aunt Alyssa. . . . Pastor Petrovsky thinks I should be co-director with you? . . . Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.’
 
‘What was that all about?’ Abby asked her daughter.
 
 
21
“Mom! Dad! You won’t believe this! I don’t even believe it!” Taylor danced around the room. “The church is interested in sponsoring the ?We Care About Our Neighbors’ program.”
 
‘That’s wonderful, honey,’ Paul responded. ‘In May it looked like the program had been permanently axed.’
 
‘So, how is Aunt Alyssa involved?’ Abby questioned.
 
‘She will be heading the program, and I’ll be working with her as co-director. Isn’t that awesome?’
 
‘We’re very proud of you, Taylor, and we’ll help you in any way that we can,’ Abby said as she hugged her daughter.
 
‘Will it be just for high school students, or could college students also volunteer?’ Paul asked. ‘Since I’m teaching at the community college now, I might mention the opportunity to a few of my students, if they’re interested.’
 
‘I’ll have to talk to Aunt Alyssa about that . . .’ Taylor sat down on the sofa. ‘I never expected this! I’ve got a lot to think about . . . and a lot of planning to do.’
 
‘We’ll be praying for you, Taylor, and God will help you, just as He did before,’ Paul reassured her. ‘If you want feedback for your ideas, we’ll be here for you.’
 
Before going to bed, Taylor prayed, ‘Father, I’m very thankful and excited to have this opportunity. But I’m also starting to feel a little overwhelmed. I remember how You helped me in the past. So, I’m going to trust that You’ll help Aunt Alyssa and me as we plan for this wonderful opportunity. . . . And I pray that at least one person will find You as Savior because of this program.’
 
(Aunt Alyssa and Taylor have no idea of the critical role that they will soon fill as the city faces an impending crisis that no one ever imagined would come! Be sure to read “Emergency: Good Samaritans Needed, Part 2.”)
 
? by Nancy A. Stevens
My Hero, My Queen
‘Ariel, I overheard one of the other servant girls talking about the queen,’ Shiana remarked. ‘She said the queen is the bravest person in the whole kingdom. Is that true?’
 
“Yes, it is,” Ariel responded. “You came to the palace only recently, so you don’t know the story of her amazing bravery.”
 
“Would you please tell me?” Shiana asked.
 
“Five years ago Queen Esther was brought to the palace to be considered as a possible wife for King Xerxes.”
 
“She is very beautiful,” Shiana interrupted.
 
 
“Yes, she is beautiful, but not just on the outside. She is gentle, kind and lovely in every way.”
 
“One of the girls told me that the God she worships makes her such a wonderful person.”
22-1“Yes, but her faith in her God almost got her killed.”
 
“Oh, no! What happened?”
 
“Like you, Shiana, our queen is an orphan. Mordecai, her cousin, raised her.”
 
“Mordecai is a very important man,” Shiana interrupted.
 
“Yes, he is held in high esteem now, but that was not the case five years ago. Our queen and Mordecai are Jews. Their home is far away in Jerusalem. A previous king, King Nebuchadnezzar, took the Jews captive and brought them here to serve him,” Ariel explained.
 
“So the queen is a foreigner, like I am,” Shiana remarked.
 
“Yes, she is,” Ariel continued. “Five years ago, the most beautiful girls in the entire kingdom were brought to the palace. After receiving 12 months of beauty treatments, each girl was presented to the king. When the king saw Esther he set a royal crown on her head and made her the queen. Then he proclaimed a holiday throughout the kingdom and gave a great banquet in Queen Esther’s honor.”
 
“That must have been so exciting!” Shiana commented.
 
“Sometime later, the king gave a man named Haman a very high position and commanded all the royal officials to kneel down and pay honor to him. Haman felt so important! He really enjoyed having people bow down to him. He became very proud.
 
“One day, however, Haman noticed that Mordecai did not bow down to him.”
 
“Why did he disobey the king’s order?” Shiana asked.
 
“Mordecai’s God had commanded the Jews never to bow down to worship anyone on earth. The Jews worship Him alone because He is the one true God,” Ariel explained.
 
“So what happened?” Shiana asked.
 
“Haman became enraged. He decided to kill not only Mordecai, but all the Jews throughout the whole kingdom.”
 
“What a wicked man!” Shiana remarked.
 
“Haman told the king that the Jews did not obey the king’s laws and it would be in the king’s best interest to have them all destroyed. Haman even offered to put a large amount of money into the royal treasury to pay people to kill the Jews.”
 
“What did the king say?” Shiana asked.
 
“The king told Haman to keep his money and do whatever he pleased.”
 
“But Queen Esther is Jewish.” Shiana began to cry. “I don’t understand. Our queen is so sweet and kind. How could the king allow such a terrible thing?”
 
“The king did not know that Esther is Jewish. Mordecai had told her to keep that a secret. Dry your tears, Shiana,” Ariel said quietly. “Our queen is still here with us in the palace.”
 
“I want to hear the rest of the story,” Shiana responded.
 
“Haman sent the order throughout the kingdom to kill all the Jews–even women and little children–on a particular day. When Mordecai heard about it, he sent word to Queen Esther. He told her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy on behalf of her people.”
 
“But the queen can’t just barge into the king’s presence whenever she chooses,” Shiana interrupted. “The king has to send for her. That’s the law! If she approaches the king without being summoned, she can be put to death.”
 
“That’s why the queen and her maids fasted for three days and prayed to Esther’s God. Mordecai gathered all the Jews in the city and they also fasted. Esther told Mordecai, ?I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.'”
 
“Our queen is so brave!” Shiana exclaimed. “I would have been terrified!”
 
“When the queen approached the king, he asked, ?What is your request?’ She replied, ?If it please the king, let the king and Haman come to the banquet I have prepared.’ So the king sent for Haman at once and they went to the banquet.”
 
 
Ariel continued, “After enjoying the food, the king asked again, ?What is your request? I will give you up to half the kingdom.’ Esther replied, ?Please come to the banquet that I will prepare for you and Haman tomorrow. Then I will answer the king’s question.’ The king agreed.
 
“That evening Haman went home and bragged to all his friends and relatives about how important and honored he was. ?And that’s not all,’ he told them. ?I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave!’
 
 
22-2
“Haman’s friends and relatives congratulated him. But Haman responded, ?All this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see Mordecai not bowing down to me.’
 
“So Haman’s friends told him, ?Why don’t you have a tall gallows built and ask the king to hang Mordecai on it tomorrow?’ That idea delighted Haman, so he had the gallows built.”
 
“But couldn’t the king see what a wicked man Haman was?” Shiana asked.
 
“No, because he didn’t know the truth,” Ariel replied. “He didn’t know Mordecai’s God. But that night the king was very restless and couldn’t sleep. He asked a servant to read the royal records to him.”
 
“Hearing a history book read to me would definitely put me to sleep,” Shiana commented.
 
“Sometime earlier two of the king’s officers had planned to kill the king, and Mordecai had reported them, saving the king’s life. However, the king realized that he had never rewarded Mordecai.
 
“Just then Haman entered, planning to ask the king about hanging Mordecai. The king asked him, ?What should be done for the man the king wants to honor?’
 
“Of course, proud Haman immediately assumed the king wanted to honor him!”
 
“How arrogant and selfish!” Shiana interrupted.
 
“Haman suggested that the king give that man one of the king’s robes to wear and the king’s horse to ride. Then he should have one of the royal princes lead the man through the city streets, proclaiming, ?This is what the king does for the man that he wants to honor!'”
 
“Wow! Haman was in for a big letdown, wasn’t he?” Shiana said with a laugh.
 
“Oh, yes! The king commanded Haman to do just as he had suggested for Mordecai!”
 
“He must have felt angry and humiliated!” Shiana commented.
 
“Yes, but he didn’t have time to think more about it because he was summoned to Queen Esther’s banquet. When the king asked the queen what her request was, she told him, ?My people and I have been sold for destruction. Please spare my people and my life.’
 
“The king was shocked. ?Who is the man who has dared to do such a terrible thing?’
 
“?Haman is that horrible man,’ she responded.”
 
“What did Haman say?” Shiana asked.
 
22
“Haman was terrified and begged the queen for his life. But the king ordered his servants to take Haman and hang him on the gallows that he had built for Mordecai.”
 
“I’m so glad the king finally learned the truth,” Shiana said with a sigh of relief.
 
“Queen Esther’s brave choice saved her people. The king gave her Haman’s property and promoted Mordecai to second in rank to the king. Unlike selfish Haman, Mordecai continues to use his position to work for the good of his people.”
 
“I want to be brave and kind just like Queen Esther,” Shiana responded. “And I want to know the God who helped her and Mordecai.”
 
“That decision, Shiana, will change your destiny.”
 
? by Nancy A. Stevens
The Secret Thought Box
I loved spending the summer with my grandparents, Amomma and Granddaddy. They had a big old farmhouse and plenty of cows, pigs and chickens to chase. I found many places to play and explore and lots of things to do. Sometimes we would go swimming or fishing in the pond. But the best thing of all was Snowflake, one of their horses. Snowflake was an Appaloosa, almost all white and with a little gray star on her forehead.
 
My grandparents prepared a wonderful room upstairs for me. Granddaddy said it was made for a princess. He took an old sled and turned it into a bed. Amomma took some fabric and hung it from the ceiling to make a drape that covered the entire bed. It was the perfect place for a princess to play, hide and sleep.
 
After dinner we all played cards and had a great time together. Since Ammoma and Granddaddy’s house didn’t have air conditioning, they left the windows open so the cool night breezes could blow through the house. And when there were no breezes, the old box fan that Granddaddy had put in the window kept us cool.
 
Granddaddy always told me stories at bedtime before we said our prayers and went to sleep. One evening he told me a story about a frog and a goldfish that lived in a golden castle. It was kind of silly, but I liked it anyway.
 
Later that night while we were all asleep, a terrible storm arose. A loud crash woke me up. I looked out my window and watched as lightning streaked across the sky. The rain was coming down very hard, and the strong wind made the trees outside my window shake. I was really frightened!
 
Then I heard it. Something was moving very slowly back and forth in my closet, making a scratching noise. Something wanted to get out of my closet!
 
I was terrified! It seemed like the noise lasted all night, but I stayed in bed and tried to go to sleep.
 
The next morning at breakfast, Granddaddy asked, ‘How’s my girl today?’ When I didn’t answer he asked, ‘What’s wrong with you this morning?’
 
‘I can’t tell you, Granddaddy, its too scary,’ I said.
 
‘Okay,’ he replied, ‘but if you want to talk about it later, just let me know.’
 
After we finished breakfast we went outside to feed the animals and gather the eggs. I tried my best to put the scary thoughts of the night before out of my mind
 
About a week later I awoke early in the morning to the sound of something scratching in my closet. I quickly covered my head with the sheets.
 
The next day we went fishing with Uncle Jack. I loved boat rides, and I especially liked Uncle Jack’s boat because it went very fast. We spent all day fishing in his large pond and caught lots of big fish. After a day of fishing and boat riding I was very tired.
 
I had forgotten all about the scratching noise in my closet until it was time to go to bed.
 
As Granddaddy and I said our prayers that night, I thought about asking God to help me sleep through the night.
 
Granddaddy could tell that something was bothering me. ‘What’s bothering you tonight, dear?’ he asked.
 
‘It’s no big deal,’ I responded. ‘I’ll be all right.’
 
So he kissed me goodnight and closed the door. Then I pulled the covers up around me, shut my eyes tight and fell asleep.
 
It seemed as though I had been sleeping for only a short time when Amomma woke me up. ‘Wake up, dear. Today’s the big day!’
 
Even though it was five o’clock and still dark outside, I was suddenly wide awake. I’d been looking forward to this day for weeks. We were going to spend several days together at the beach!
 
Every day we played at the beach, swam in the ocean and ate at Toucan’s, my favorite place to eat.
 
As we got ready to leave, I told my grandparents, ‘This trip has been the best part of my summer vacation, so far!’
 
We returned to the farmhouse and things went back to normal. Every day I helped with the morning chores of feeding the animals and exercising the horses. I spent the afternoons playing in the woods.
 
Something was different about the nights though. I no longer wanted to sleep in my room. After several sleepless nights I finally decided that the next day I would talk to Amomma and Granddaddy about the scratching noise in my closet.
 
That morning I woke up before everyone else and went to the kitchen. The whole house was quiet. When Granddaddy came in to make his morning coffee he was surprised to see me already up.
 
‘Well, little girl, what gets you up so early?’ he asked.
 
‘I have to talk to you,’ I said.
 
‘So what’s on your mind, little one?’ asked Granddaddy.
 
‘A couple of weeks ago that big storm woke me up, and I couldn’t go back to sleep.’ I began to cry softly, and Granddaddy came over and put his arm around me.
 
Through the tears I continued, ‘After the storm had passed I heard scary sounds in my closet.’
 
‘Why didn’t you tell me about this?’ Granddaddy asked.
 
‘I thought you might think I was just being silly or something,’ I said.
 
‘Bailey, let me tell you a story.’ Granddaddy cleared his throat and continued, ‘When I was eight years old my daddy was a pilot in the Air Force. One day he got a phone call from the base commander. My dad was being sent to war. I didn’t understand what that meant, but I would soon.
 
‘The next few weeks were very busy as our family prepared for my dad to leave. He knew that he would be gone for a long time–a whole year–and he felt very bad about that. I couldn’t really understand everything because I was just a kid. But I remember the day he left. We drove to the base and said goodbye. We were all crying. A lot of other kids were there with their dads, who were also going away, and many of those kids were crying too.
 
‘A couple of months after my dad left, I began to have terrible dreams. Sometimes I dreamed that my dad was flying over the desert and people were shooting at him. Other times I dreamed of buildings being blown up or people shooting guns.
 
‘Before my dad left, he had told me to be strong for Mom, and I had said that I would. So you see, I couldn’t tell anyone about my bad dreams because I wouldn’t be strong if Mom thought I was afraid. But I felt like I needed to tell somebody or I would explode.
 
‘One day my grandfather O’Pa took me to get a haircut, and we spent a wonderful day together. We stopped at the malt shop and I enjoyed a root beer float. Then we went fishing, but the fish weren’t biting. After a while I started thinking about the dreams, and I finally got up the courage to tell O’Pa.
 
‘When I finished telling him about my dreams he said, ?You know, we can always talk to God, just like we’re talking now.’
 
‘?But I don’t know how to talk to God,’ I replied.
 
‘?I have an idea,’ O’Pa said. ?Let’s go back to my workshop.’
 
‘O’Pa’s workshop was a very special place; he called it the ?barn.’ He liked to make things out of wood and stone, and he worked on old tractors too. He had lots of tools and other great stuff. I know his workshop was his special place because he told me one time that it was the only place where he could hide from my grandmother! I wasn’t sure if he was serious or just kidding me.
 
‘When we got to the workshop O’Pa began looking for something. But he wouldn’t tell me what it was.
 
‘Suddenly he grinned and said in a loud voice, ?Aha! Here it is!’ He held a small box in his hands.
 
‘?My grandfather visited many countries during his life,’ O’Pa said. ?His favorite place was China. One time while he was in China he bought this pretty box. It has strange writing on the top and sides, and the inside is lined with gold silk.’
 
‘?What’s the box for?’ I asked.
 
‘?This, my son, is a Secret Thought Box. The writing on it is Chinese. It says, ‘Ask of the Lord what you will, for He is faithful to those who trust in Him.’ When your dad was called away to war Grandmother and I prayed for him. We believe that God’s protection is with your dad,’ O’Pa explained. ?And God will give us the strength and courage to carry on with our lives while your dad is away.’
 
‘?So what do you do with the box?’ I asked
 
”Whenever you have a bad dream or you’re feeling sad for some reason, you just raise the lid and whisper your thoughts into the box,’ O’Pa told me. ?Then close the lid quickly because you don’t want them to escape before their time. You can collect all your thoughts for a day, a week or even a month. All you have to do is whisper your thoughts into the box.’
 
‘?When the time is right, you take the Secret Thought Box and say, ‘God, I have collected all of my secret thoughts and now I’m going to send them up to You. Would You please listen to them and help me?” O’Pa grinned. ?It was a great day when I released all my thoughts to God.”
 
I was glad to hear Granddaddy’s story and to learn that he had been frightened too. While I thought about what he had told me, Granddaddy left the room for a moment.
 
When he returned he smiled and handed me the Secret Thought Box.
 
‘Bailey, my grandfather O’Pa gave me this box and I want you to have it. Take care of it because it’s very special and very old. It has kept my secret thoughts for many years. Put it in a safe place. Every time you have a bad dream or a rough day, or you just need to talk to God, whisper your secret thoughts into the box. When the time is right open the lid and let your thoughts go up to Him.’
 
‘Granddaddy, can we do it right now?’ I asked with great excitement. ‘I don’t want to be afraid anymore.’
 
‘Sure!’ he replied.
 
I took the box and opened it up. Then I whispered into it all my secret thoughts about my fears, my dreams and my friends whose dads who were away in today’s war. When I finished I shut the lid very quickly.
 
‘I’m finished! Can we let them go now?’ I asked.
 
‘Of course, God always wants to hear from us!’ he responded.
 
I remembered what Granddaddy had told me, so I said, ‘God, I have collected all my secret thoughts and now I’m going to send them up to You. Would You please listen to them and help me?’
 
I opened the lid and something amazing happened.
 
Colorful little lights floated up to the sky. Mixed in with the lights were little puffs of white that looked like snowflakes and little zingy things that flew very fast and made swoops and swirls. It was awesome! Almost instantly, I wasn’t afraid anymore. I felt as if all the things I had been afraid of had left and I no longer had to worry about them.
 
I have never forgotten that day, and I have never stopped using the Secret Thought Box my granddaddy gave me. When I feel like no one likes me, or things frighten me, or I need to talk to someone I get out my Secret Thought Box and begin to whisper into it. Then I send all of my secret thoughts up to God, and He always listens to each one.
 
Perhaps when I get older I will give each of my grandkids their very own Secret Thought Box, too.
 
? Mick Grady
What Will Dusty Wear?
‘It’s time to get up and wash,’ Dusty muttered to himself. He yawned and stretched each big foot, then started washing his face, feet, chest, and back.
 
He even cleaned his ears. He took each ear, held it in his front feet, which he had just licked for moisture, and carefully rubbed it between his short front feet.
 
It felt good, and he loved to bathe. He always liked to look his best, but life is messy sometimes, so he needed to get clean several times a day.
 
“Wow, I have it good,” he said. “My lady has to get up and shower, fix her hair, put on makeup, and then she has to decide what to wear. I’m sure glad I don’t have to go through all that.”
 
Dusty, a little full of himself, knew his soft white fur with the dusty tips and his black mask and feet and ears were gorgeous.
 
Too bad Cocoa doesn’t think so. She’s so hard to please. I look great, but she still doesn’t seem to like me much.
 
The little rabbit chewed on a piece of hay while he thought about it. It’s her loss. She doesn’t wear anything but that brown fur, and it isn’t anywhere near as soft as mine.
 
“Hey, Carrot-breath,” Cocoa called from the other room, “I can read your mind. Don’t be thinking rude things about me. I’m bigger than you, and I can take you anytime.”
 
It sounds like she’s having a bad-hair day. I’d better stay clear of her room. She can stretch those feet out and whack me when I go by.
 
Dusty continued thinking about how people get ready for their days. They don’t have fur, except for a little on their heads and faces, and they are covered with this funny, shiny and slick surface. Come to think of it, I never have seen one lick himself for a bath. People are so weird.
 
He continued watching his owners. They were busy looking in their closets for something to wear. The man took out a shirt, pants, and a belt to hold up the pants. He also wore something underneath all that. That really confused Dusty. The lady was the same. Her clothes looked a little different from the man’s, but they were just as complicated–especially something she called pantyhose. All that hassle, not to mention having to wear shoes.
 
Those poor people; I feel sorry for them. They go through all that rigmarole just to be covered. Sheesh! I’m glad I’m a rabbit!
 
Isn’t it interesting how different God made His creation? Animals don’t have to worry about what they will wear because God already provided the perfect clothing for them–fur.
 
God didn’t give people fur, but He did plan just as carefully for us. He gave us wonderful, waterproof skin. We can wash with water, and we know how to dress ourselves. We know when we need warm clothes and not so warm clothes. He gave us blankets and coats to keep us warm. We can splash in the water in summer, wearing our bathing suits.
 
One isn’t better than the other. We just need to remember that God takes care of animals and people in the special way they need.
 
Dusty loves it that he doesn’t worry about what he’s going to wear. Do you?
 
Matthew 6:28 says, “‘Why do you worry about clothes?'” (NIV).
 
Matthew 6:31 says, “‘So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”‘” (NIV).
 
By: Crystal J. Ortmann
Green Looks Terrible on You!
‘Kelsi, did you see the top that Mikayla was wearing in class today?’ Amber remarked to her friend. ‘It was so out of style! I’d be ashamed to wear something that old. Some people have no taste.’
 
“But Mikayla did a great job on her report!” Kelsi replied. “She must have spent hours and hours working on it.”
 
Amber quickly changed the subject. “Did you know that Deven lives in the trailer park? I’m surprised they allow him to come to this school–I mean, considering the neighborhood he comes from.”
 
“Deven’s a nice boy,” Kelsi commented. “He and his family go to my church. They’re great people. Who cares where they live?”
 
“It’s just that when people live in certain neighborhoods they pick up some bad habits, and they can bring down a school’s reputation. My mother says that once lower-class people start moving into an area, all the homes in that area go down in value.”
 
“I need to go home.” Kelsi excused herself. “I’ll see you on Monday.”
 
“Mom, I need your advice about something,” Kelsi said to her mother that evening.
 
“What’s the problem?” Colleen asked.
 
“Amber!” she replied. “She’s constantly making catty remarks about people. No matter what we’re talking about, she’ll say something unkind about someone.”
 
“She must be a very unhappy girl,” Colleen replied. “She’s probably jealous of those she criticizes.”
 
“Jealous?” Kelsi said in disbelief. “Mom, Amber’s parents are rich. She’s a spoiled rotten snob! She looks down on anyone who doesn’t have a lot of money. I’m surprised she even wants to be my friend. But, then again, I don’t know what she says about me behind my back.”
 
“Just because her parents are wealthy, doesn’t mean that she’s happy. Even rich people can be miserable and envy those who are contented and thankful for whatever God has given them.”
 
On Saturday Kelsi decided to call Amber and invite her to church. To her surprise, Amber accepted the invitation.
 
“We’ll pick you up at nine o’clock tomorrow morning,” Kelsi promised.
 
“I’m glad you decided to come,” Kelsi told Amber as Amber climbed into the van the next day.
 
“Sunday mornings are boring at my house,” Amber replied. “My parents usually stay out late with their friends on Saturday night and then sleep till noon on Sunday.”
 
“So what do we do in church?” Amber asked as the girls walked into the church lobby.
 
“First, we’ll go to Sunday school,” Kelsi replied. “We’ve got a great group of girls, and you’ll like our teacher, Mrs. Rodriguez.”
 
“Hi! Welcome to our class,” a girl named Chantelle greeted Amber.
 
Kelsi introduced Amber to Mrs. Rodriguez and the rest of the girls.
 
After a while, Amber whispered to Kelsi that she needed to go to the restroom. So, Kelsi raised her hand, and the girls excused themselves.
 
As soon as they entered the ladies room, Amber started talking about the girls in the class.
 
“I thought you needed to use the restroom,” Kelsi responded.
 
“The girls in your class have no style,” Amber commented. “Did you see Chantelle’s sweater? It was hideous!”
 
“Stop it!” Kelsi replied angrily. “They’re my friends, and you’re a guest here.”
 
Just then the door to one of the stalls opened and Chantelle came out. She had heard the entire conversation.
 
“Green looks terrible on you!” Chantelle commented to Amber as she washed her hands.
 
“I’m not wearing anything green,” Amber replied. “Are you color blind? My top is red and my pants are black.”
 
“But your face is green,” Chantelle replied. “You’re green with envy, and that’s not an attractive look for anyone.”
 
Amber looked shocked, as if someone had splashed cold water in her face to wake her up. Kelsi had known Amber since they were in first grade together, but she’d never seen her at a loss for words. Amber always had plenty to say.
 
The three girls stood there in silence. Then, finally, Amber whispered, “I’m sorry, Chantelle.”
 
“I accept your apology,” Chantelle replied. “Now, let’s go back to class.”
 
Mrs. Rodriguez was discussing Moses’ sister, Miriam, when the girls returned to their seats.
 
“Can anyone tell me why God struck Miriam with leprosy?” she asked.
 
“Because she was jealous of Moses and was talking against him,” a girl named Netanya replied.
 
“Jessica, please read our memory verse for today.”
 
Jessica stood and read, “Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”*
 
“I will give a 10 dollar bill to anyone who can tell me just one good thing that envy, jealousy, and gossip accomplish.”
 
No one responded.
 
“Why do you think that God hates those character traits?” Mrs. Rodriguez asked.
 
Amber replied, “He hates them because they hurt people. He loves everyone, and Jesus died for us all.”
 
“What do jealousy and gossip do to the person who is guilty of these sins?”
 
Chantelle responded, “They make the person more miserable, and eventually nobody wants to be around the person.”
 
“You can’t trust a person who gossips,” Netanya added. “You never know what the gossiper is saying behind your back.”
 
Jessica volunteered, “The jealous person is never glad when something good happens to someone else. No matter how much the jealous person may have, she’ll never be happy.”
 
As Kelsi’s parents drove Amber home, the girls chatted.
 
“The people at your church are very different,” Amber commented. “I mean that in a good way,” she quickly added.
 
“When you accept Jesus into your heart, He forgives your sins and gives you peace. But that’s just the start. The more you get to know Him, the more you love Him and want to be like Him,” Kelsi explained.
 
“I don’t know if I’m ready to accept Him yet,” Amber stated. “But I’d like to learn more. Could I go to church with you again next Sunday?”
 
“Sure,” Kelsi responded.
 
“And I promise not to wear green to class next week!” Amber added.
 
? by Nancy A. Stevens
 
* James 3:16,17 (NIV)
Dusty and the Bully
‘Aah, this sunbath feels good,’ Dusty murmured as he drowsed in the sunshine. He did not know his friend, Cocoa, was waiting for the right moment to run in and bite him. (At least he thought she was his friend.)
 
Cocoa crept closer and closer. Soon the little brown bunny was just a few feet away from where Dusty slept. Her nose wiggled with excitement, and she lunged at Dusty and bit him hard.
 
Dusty flew into the air and hopped away with all the speed he could muster. Cocoa stood in the room, with white fur hanging out of her mouth, and watched him flee.
 
She acted so nice sometimes, but other times, she was as mean as she could be. The little girl bunny took Dusty’s spot in the sun and went to sleep, quite pleased with herself.
 
Dusty tried to calm down and let his heart beat normally again. What is wrong with her? he wondered. Why does she do those things? I try to be nice to her. It doesn’t make any sense.
 
He licked the sore spot where she had bitten him. He noticed some of his soft white fur was missing. The little white fuzzy guy just couldn’t figure out why she had to be so mean.
 
His owner saw the whole thing and scolded Cocoa. She put up the wire screen in the door to separate them. Dusty didn’t really like being separated from Cocoa, but it did make life easier for him.
 
Then his owner came and petted him gently over and over until he was calm again. “I’m sorry, Dusty, that Cocoa is so bad to you,” she murmured. “It’ll be okay. I’ll keep you safe from her.” Dusty clacked his teeth to show her he believed her.
 
Dusty noticed that, sometimes, the one he had thought was a friend was really an enemy. He had trusted her, but that little bunny girl had hurt him when he had least expected it. While Cocoa’s behavior was very bad, Dusty knew their owner was trying to figure out why Cocoa acted that way. She also made an effort to protect Dusty.
 
I know I can trust my owners. They always try to protect and take good care of me.
 
“Zzz,” snored Dusty as he relaxed and let his owner take over.
 
Has a bully ever hurt you? Sometimes that person might hit or bite or kick, but a bully can also hurt with words. Has someone made fun of you and called you names? Did it hurt your feelings? Were you scared?
 
God is watching over you, just as Dusty’s owner watched over Dusty. He wants you to be safe and not be afraid of others. If a bully does hurt you, turn to God right away and tell Him all about it. He will help you feel better, and He will take steps to keep the mean person from hurting you. He also wants you to pray for that person. That’s the lesson Dusty wants to share about dealing with a bully.
 
“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4, NIV).
 
“‘But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you'” (Matthew 5:44, NIV).
By Crystal J. Ortmann
Dusty Doesn’t Want to Share
‘Dusty, come here,’ called the lady.
 
Two furry ears popped up. She’s calling me. Maybe it means a treat! I’ll wait a minute to see how important it is.
 
The little white bunny tensed as he heard his name called again. It’s got to be food! Oh, I’m so hungry, and I want it all for myself!
 
Dusty hopped down the hall to see what sort of treat she had for him. Look, it’s one of those orange things that crunch. I think she calls it a carrot. It’s one of my favorite foods. Oh, yummy, yummy, yummy. He yanked the treat out of the lady’s hand.
 
His owner told him to slow down or he might choke on it. Naah. What does she know? The faster I eat, the more I’ll get!
 
Dusty’s owner reached down to try to take some of the carrot away, so he wouldn’t harm himself. He didn’t see it that way. He thought she was trying to horn in on his snack.
 
Without warning, he lunged at his lady’s hand and tried to bite her. I’ll show her whose carrot that is! Watch it, lady, or I’ll do it again! He growled and clacked his teeth to show her he meant business. This gentle bunny turned mean because someone tried to mess with his food.
 
“Dusty,” cried the lady, “don’t be so selfish. I’m not trying to take your carrot away so I can have it. I’m trying to keep you safe.”
 
Cocoa overheard the uproar from the other room. Heh, heh! I guess old carrot-breath isn’t such a sissy after all. That’s my kind of guy!
 
Dusty snatched the other part of the carrot out of his lady’s hand when she offered it to him. Then he ran like crazy down the hall, past Cocoa, who cheered him on. He scurried underneath the bed where no one could reach him.
 
Munch, munch, munch. Aaaagh. I have a piece of carrot stuck in my throat. His contented chewing turned to gagging and sputtering. Finally, he was able to cough it out.
 
Whew, maybe that lady knew what she was talking about. I don’t want anyone to take my food or anything else that’s mine. But, maybe she was just trying to keep me safe and happy.
 
So often, like Dusty, we don’t want to share our food, our toys, or anything we think we own. God knows what is best for us, and He knows that selfishness can hurt the one who doesn’t share. The Bible teaches us how to live.
 
God’s Word tells us about sharing. In Luke 3:11, John the Baptist says, “‘The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same'” (NIV).
 
By Crystal J. Ortmann
Babysitting Blues
‘Chloe, did you change Hayley’s diaper like I asked you to?’ Jayme asked her daughter.
 
Eleven-year-old Chloe continued polishing the dining room table and pretended not to hear her mother’s question.
 
“Chloe!” Jayme raised her voice.
 
Chloe held her nose closed with her fingers. “Okay, Mom, I’ll go do it right now.”
 
“Someday when you have children of your own you’ll be glad that I gave you this opportunity to learn.”
 
“No way!” she mumbled as she slowly climbed the stairs. “I wish I had a clothespin.”
 
Chloe lowered the side of the crib and picked up 1-year-old Hayley.
 
“You smell awful! I’ll be so glad when you’re potty trained.”
 
Chloe grabbed a clean diaper, moist wipes, talcum powder, and a change of clothing for Hayley.
 
“Mom says that she’s doing me a favor by letting me change your diapers. Do you agree, Hayley?”
 
Hayley laughed as Chloe changed her.
 
“You’re laughing at me, aren’t you? You think this is funny!”
 
After dressing Hayley, Chloe washed her hands and went downstairs.
 
“Mom, I’ve changed Hayley. Can I go down the street to visit Mrs. Bellavia?”
 
“Yes, but be home by four o’clock, so you can help me make dinner.”
 
“Chloe grabbed a sweater, raced out of the house, and quickly walked past a few homes until she arrived at a beautiful rose garden in front of an old row house.
 
“Mrs. Bellavia,” she called as she rang her neighbor’s doorbell.
 
“Hello, Chloe,” the elderly lady responded. “Come inside. It’s so nice to see you. I baked almond cookies yesterday. Would you like some?”
 
“Yes, thank you.” Chloe sat down at the kitchen table.
 
“What’s on your mind?” the elderly lady asked as she put a small plate of cookies on the table and poured a glass of milk.
 
“I’m sick of changing diapers,” Chloe replied. “My older brother gets to do interesting stuff with my dad, like checking the oil and tire pressure, and he has fun washing the car. He sprays me with the hose. But I get stuck babysitting Hayley. I’d rather change a tire than a diaper!”
 
“I see,” Mrs. Bellavia responded. “Have you talked to your parents about how you feel?”
 
“I’ve tried . . . but my mother thinks she’s doing me a favor. She tells me, ‘I’m giving you valuable experience that you’ll appreciate someday when you have your own children.’ If I have kids–and I haven’t decided that yet–I plan on hiring a live-in nanny.”
 
“Taking care of a baby can be challenging, but it’s also very important work.”
 
“I don’t know anyone who thinks babysitting is important,” Chloe replied. “I plan to become a doctor or a lawyer. Those are important jobs. They also pay enough money so that I’ll be able to hire someone to change my kids’ diapers.”
 
“Did you know that a babysitter was partly responsible for the Jewish people being set free from slavery in Egypt?”
 
“No way!” Chloe replied. “That’s not in the Bible.”
 
“Oh yes, it’s true. I’ll get my Bible.”
 
Mrs. Bellavia picked up her Bible from the kitchen counter and placed it on the table in front of Chloe.
 
“Now, turn to the second chapter of Exodus,” she instructed.
 
Chloe flipped through the pages until she found Exodus 2.
 
“Pharaoh wanted to kill every male baby born to the Jewish people,” the elderly lady explained. “So, Moses’ parents hid their son until the baby was how old?”
 
Chloe responded, “His mother hid him for three months.”
 
“Keep reading,” the elderly lady said.
 
“But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.”*
 
“In other words, his sister, Miriam, was watching over him, babysitting him. Then what happened?”
 
“Pharaoh’s daughter saw the baby and felt sorry for him. Then Miriam asked Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?'”
 
“And who do you suppose she got?”
 
“She got Moses’ own mother to nurse him and take care of him,” Chloe responded.
 
“What do you think would have happened if Miriam hadn’t been watching over Moses? What if she had run off to play with her friends and had left Moses floating in the Nile?”
 
“He could have been eaten by a crocodile,” Chloe replied. “Or one of Pharaoh’s men might have killed him.”
 
“Quite possibly, but even if those things didn’t happened, Moses probably would never have learned that he was Jewish. Pharaoh’s daughter would have gotten someone else to care for Moses, and no one would have told him that he was a Hebrew.”
 
“Then the Israelites would have continued to be slaves in Egypt,” Chloe added.
 
“Exactly,” Mrs. Bellavia responded. “When you take care of a baby you never know who that child will grow up to be. The little one that you babysit today may become your boss in the future, Chloe.”
 
“I never thought of that,” she said thoughtfully.
 
“Jesus wants us to do everything to the best of our ability, just as if we were doing it for Him.”
 
“So, when I’m changing Hayley’s diapers, I should remind myself that I’m really doing it for Jesus, not for her or for my mom?”
 
“That’s exactly right. Jesus said that if we give just a cup of cold water in His name, we will be rewarded.”*
 
“So, I’ll be rewarded for changing Hayley’s diapers!” Chloe laughed. “I guess I’d better do my very best then.”
 
Later, as Chloe was leaving, she thanked Mrs. Bellavia for the cookies. “Thanks for telling me about Moses and how important babysitting is to God. Would you by any chance have a clothespin?”
 
Mrs. Bellavia retrieved a clothespin from her laundry room and handed it to Chloe. “Are you helping your mother hang up her wash?”
 
“Oh, no,” Chloe responded as she clipped the clothespin onto her nose. “I’ll probably be changing another diaper when I get home.”
 
? by Nancy A. Stevens
 
* Exodus 2:3,4 (NIV)
 
2 Matthew 10:42
* Matthew 10:42
Dusty Thinks It’s More Fun to Be Good
BOING! Dusty’s ears shot straight upward and he stood on his hind legs to see if he could see what made the noise. The frightened bunny froze in position, just like God created him to do when there might be danger.
 
After a few moments passed with no further sound, he relaxed. Dusty tucked his legs under him and formed a sort of furry ball with big ears.
 
‘What on earth?’ he heard his lady say. ‘Cocoa, where are you?’ It made Dusty nervous to hear his pal Cocoa’s name called in that kind of voice. It looked like she had caused some trouble again and now she had to be disciplined. ‘She spends most of her life in time-outs,’ said Dusty. ‘You’d think she would learn. I’m glad I’m not the one in trouble.’
 
Dusty didn’t understand his friend’s desire to do things that always got her in trouble. He liked the easy-going life. He loved it when his man petted him and fed him treats. He really liked his lady when she said silly things to him. She called to him often, ‘Dusty, come here and give me a kiss.’
 
When he heard her, he felt a funny tickle of happiness in his tummy. He ran as fast as he could go in the other direction when she said it, and then she laughed. It made him feel good. ‘Why would anyone want to get in trouble all the time?’ wondered Dusty.
 
Later on, his lady and man went out, and he and Cocoa were alone.
 
‘Cocoa, why do you act so badly sometimes?’ he asked her.
 
‘Buzz off, Wimpy,’ she sneered. ‘I have my own plans.’
 
‘You don’t have to be such a stinker about it,’ Dusty said. ‘I just don’t understand why you enjoy causing trouble instead of being nice. Being good brings lots of rewards.’
 
‘Well, we just don’t think alike, that’s all,’ the fresh little girl bunny said. She ran down the hall, kicking her feet out behind her to show she didn’t care.
 
Dusty thought and thought, but he just didn’t understand. It didn’t make any sense to him. He liked being good.
 
Dusty heard strange sounds from the other room and hopped as fast as he could to see what was going on.
 
RRRRIIIIPPPPP!
Dusty screeched to a stop and stretched up high to see what it was. He heard bunny snickers from the next room. ‘It must be safe or Cocoa wouldn’t laugh,’ he said to himself. He hopped slowly and carefully into the next room.
 
Cocoa stood on her big hind feet and busily ripped wallpaper off the wall. She giggled as each strip came down. Cocoa’s chocolate-brown fur was covered all over with paper and dust and she was almost as white as Dusty.
 
‘Are you out of your mind?’ Dusty almost shrieked. ‘What are you doing? Don’t you know you’ll be in big trouble when our people get home?’
 
‘Who cares?’ she replied and went on ripping. ‘They just want to spoil my fun anyway, so why should I worry about it?’
 
‘Hmm, hum, hmmm, hummdy, humm,’ she sang as she ripped. Just then, they heard the sound of the garage door opening and Cocoa ran to hide. She knew she was in big trouble if they saw her. Dusty stood in the midst of all the mess, looking confused, when his people came in. He figured they would blame him.
 
‘Cocoa!’ called the lady sternly. ‘Come here. You are acting like a very bad bunny!’ So, Cocoa once again got in trouble, due to her own mischief.
 
Dusty frowned. His lady squatted down and petted him.
 
‘You’re such a good bunny, Dusty,’ she said softly. ‘I know you didn’t do this.’ She stroked him until he calmed down. His people always seemed to know how much all this upset him.
 
The little rabbit snuggled up close to her and gradually relaxed. ‘What are we going to do with that little imp?’ the lady asked.
 
Dusty didn’t know, but he knew one thing. It paid to be good. Then, even when it looked like you were the bad one, people knew you weren’t the guilty one. ‘When will Cocoa ever learn it’s more fun to be good?’
Four-Way Stop
‘Let’s all remember the lesson we learned in kindergarten,’ the radio announcer amicably urged. ‘Let’s play together nicely as a team and share. Treat each intersection as a four-way stop and take turns. Remember, your life and the lives of others may depend on it.’
 
After a major ice storm had knocked out the stoplights in our city, most drivers realized that cooperation and patience were essential to avoid potentially fatal accidents. For the first few days, congeniality and kindness prevailed. The accident rate was amazingly low.
 
But as city workers repaired power lines and electricity was gradually restored, some people’s patience seemed to evaporate. When drivers reached one of the few remaining intersections without functioning stoplights, one or two would occasionally drive straight through without stopping, refusing to wait their turn. With the police force overstretched, the tiny chance of receiving a ticket did not dissuade those drivers from engaging in dangerous behavior. Their desire to reach their destination more quickly trumped any sense of fairness and concern for the well-being of others.
 
WHEN PEOPLE FEEL THAT NO ONE IS LOOKING OUT FOR THEIR WELFARE, OR IF THEY BELIEVE THEIR CHANCE OF BEING CALLED TO ACCOUNT FOR THEIR ACTIONS IS EXTREMELY LOW, THEY MAY BECOME “A LAW UNTO THEMSELVES.”
 
That’s exactly what happened in the Book of Judges. After Joshua led the people into the Promised Land, God honored His promise and helped them defeat the wicked, idol-worshippers who lived there. ‘All these kings and their lands Joshua conquered . . . because the Lord, the God of Israel, fought for Israel’ (Joshua 10:42).[1] Eventually the Israelites enjoyed rest on every side. God fulfilled every promised that He had made to them (21:44,45).
 
Before he died, Joshua warned the people, ‘Be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. . . . Hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now. . . . Be very careful to love the Lord’ (23:6, 8, 11).
 
‘Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel’ (24:31). But after that generation died, the next generation forsook the Lord and worshipped idols. Judges 17:6 states: ‘In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.’ Without a righteous prophet or king to lead and warn them, the people did as they pleased.
 
IF THE ONLY MOTIVATION FOR DOING RIGHT IS TO AVOID PUNISHMENT OR GAIN EARTHLY REWARDS, WHEN THOSE INCENTIVES ARE REMOVED EACH PERSON WILL ACT ACCORDING TO WHATEVER HE OR SHE THINKS IS RIGHT OR PERSONALLY BENEFICIAL. IN OTHER WORDS, THE SELFISH DESIRES OF FALLEN HUMAN NATURE WILL TAKE OVER.
 
However, as Christians, we are not like those in the world. Even if we have no earthly authorities to constrain us, judge us, or punish us, we know that we have an eternal Judge and King to whom we must give an account. When those around us live however they please, God expects us to continue to faithfully obey Him and humbly set an example for others. In difficult times, His light can shine more brightly through His children, and some will be drawn to His light.
 
? by Nancy A. Stevens
 
[1] All Scripture verses are from the Holy Bible, New International Version?. Copyright ? 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Gotcha!
‘Clint, did you finish your homework already?’ Angie asked her 12-year-old son.
 
“It’s all taken care of, Mom,” he replied. “Zak and I and some other kids are doing a project together. So, I’m going to his house, okay?”
 
“Jeff, something strange is going on with Clint lately,” Angie told her husband that night after the kids had gone to bed.
 
“What do you mean, Angie?”
 
“Well, he doesn’t seem to be spending much time on his homework and yet he says he’s completing it and turning it in.”
 
“Has his teacher told you that he’s falling behind in his work?”
 
“No, and on his last report card he got all A’s. I’m puzzled. How can he be spending so little time on homework and yet getting such good grades?”
 
“Well, you know he grasps things very quickly. He’s a smart kid. Obviously, he takes after his mother.”
 
The next morning, while Clint and his younger brother, Jeremy, were eating breakfast, Angie picked up Clint’s backpack, which he had left by the front door. Just as she started to open it to take a look at his homework, Clint appeared.
 
“Mom, I need my backpack! I have to get to school early today. Zak and I need to work on our project.”
 
“What exactly are you working on?” she inquired.
 
“It’s complicated, Mom,” he replied nervously. “I can’t explain it right now. I have to go!”
 
When Clint arrived at school, Zak was already in the cafeteria.
 
“Did you get it?” Clint asked anxiously.
 
Zak held up some sheets of paper. “You owe me 10 dollars for this.”
 
Clint reached into his pocket and took out a 10 dollar bill.
 
“So, whose turn is it to do the homework tonight?” Clint asked.
 
“It’s your turn,” Zak replied.
 
“Again! I just did it a few days ago,” Clint responded angrily.
 
“Sorry, your name is next on the schedule. You can’t back out. We all agreed to follow the schedule.”
 
“Well, maybe it’s just as well. My mom was snooping around my backpack this morning, and lately she’s been asking why I’m not spending more time doing my homework. So, I guess I’ll be putting in lots of hours tonight doing the assignments for all our classes. Maybe that will satisfy her.”
 
“Hi, Steffi, Josh, Emily, Pete,” Zak greeted the other members of the study group.
 
“Here are all the homework assignments that are due for today.” Steffi passed out a copy of the homework to each member.
 
“I hope you guys appreciate how hard I worked on these,” Steffi commented. “I was up till midnight getting the assignments done.”
 
“Zak, you’re definitely a genius!” Pete remarked. “First, you convince the teachers that allowing us to form a study group will improve our grades and ?expand our intellectual horizons,’ as you put it.”
 
The other kids laughed.
 
“Then,” Steffi continued, “you tell them that our group will turn in extra-credit reports in addition to our usual homework.”
 
“Yeah, but the best part,” Clint remarked, “was when you told them that we would each do our assignments on the computer and then print them off.”
 
“The teachers are thrilled to get printed homework and reports, rather than messy, handwritten ones,” Emily added.
 
“Yeah, one of us can do the homework, and then print it off for the rest of us.”
 
“Zak, what were you giving Clint when we walked into the room?” Josh asked.
 
“Well, if you must know, I hacked into Mr. Drake’s files and got a copy of the science test.”
 
“You’re living dangerously!” Emily remarked. “He may have some way of detecting that you’ve accessed his files.”
 
“No way!” Zak retorted. “If you want a copy, it’ll cost you 10 dollars each.”
 
“Not me,” Emily responded. “Sharing homework assignments is one thing; stealing tests is wrong.”
 
Steffi, Josh, and Pete agreed with Emily.
 
A few minutes before school ended, one of the school secretaries delivered a note to Mr. Drake, the science teacher. After reading it, he asked the members of the study group to remain after class.
 
Steffi, Josh, Emily, Clint, Zak, and Pete stayed in their seats as the other kids filed out of the room.
 
“You have been turning in high-quality work,” Mr. Drake commented. “I’ve decided to exempt you from having to take the exam with the rest of the class.”
 
“That’s great news!” Clint remarked.
 
Clint was relieved because his conscience had been nagging him ever since he paid Zak for the test.
 
Mr. Drake continued, “I’ve gotten the principal’s approval for each of you to do a research assignment, which you will find more challenging and interesting. You may discuss your assignments with each other, but I expect each of you to write your own report. Some of the teachers have mentioned to me that on any given day all your homework assignments appear to be extremely similar, even identical.” He stressed that last word.
 
The kids stared straight ahead and didn’t say a word.
 
“Of course, we all know each of you is very bright. If any copying of homework were to have occurred, it must have been due to boredom and a lack of interest in the assignment. So, I guarantee that you will find your research assignment to be stimulating and challenging.”
 
He handed an information sheet to each student, listing the research topic and explaining the requirements.
 
“You have three weeks to complete your paper. Instead of handing it in to me, each of you will be giving a verbal presentation to the entire faculty at our quarterly meeting. Do you have any questions?”
 
When no one responded, Mr. Drake concluded, “I am certain that when each of you has presented his or her report to the faculty, any concerns the teachers may have had about copying one another’s homework will have been resolved, particularly since the teachers will have the opportunity to ask you questions about your report to ensure that you fully understand what you have written.”
 
As the students stood up to leave, Mr. Drake looked Zak in the eye. “Someone apparently got into my science test files. If that were to happen again, I would have to report it to the principal, and the student would be expelled. After all, stealing is a crime.”
 
For the next three weeks, the members of the study group worked independently to complete their research reports.
 
Clint practiced presenting his report to his parents.
 
“We’re impressed!” Jeff told his son.
 
“You’ve worked really hard,” Angie commented. “Why don’t you invite Zak over to play video games?”
 
“No, I’m not hanging out with him anymore. He’s a bad influence on me.”
 
Finally the day the group members had been dreading arrived. The faculty called them in one at a time. Clint was summoned first.
 
After presenting his paper, he waited nervously, hoping that none of the teachers would ask him questions.
 
“Do you feel that doing this research paper was a valuable experience for you?” Ms. Singer, his English teacher, asked.
 
“Yes, it was. I learned a lot,” he responded.
 
“Then, you are dismissed,” Mr. Drake told him. “Thank you.”
 
Clint waited on the school steps for the other group members.
 
Steffi, Josh, Emily, and Pete all received a “well done” for their presentations.
 
“I’m never sharing homework with anyone ever again,” Steffi commented.
 
Josh agreed. “Yeah, doing this research report and presentation was much harder than just doing homework.”
 
“I’ve thought a lot about what Mr. Drake said,” Clint responded. “The teachers knew what we were doing all along. We’re lucky that we didn’t get kicked out of school. I don’t want to be a thief. The Bible says stealing and lying are sins.”
 
A few days later, Clint heard the news about Zak.
 
“Zak got his report off some Web site that sells term papers,” Steffi said. “He thought he was too smart to get caught. The principal kicked him out of school for dishonesty and for stealing the science exam.”
 
Clint shook his head. “How could someone who’s so smart refuse to learn?”
 
By Nancy A. and Howard W. Stevens
 
? by Nancy A. and Howard W. Stevens
Dusty Loves to Hop and Leap
‘Life is soooo goooood!’ said Dusty as he leaped in the air. He ran down the hall, kicking his feet out behind him. If bunnies could whistle, he would have been doing that too.
 
“What a dork!” Dusty’s bunny friend, Cocoa, grumbled from her room. “I wouldn’t make a fool of myself like that,” she sniffed.
 
Dusty and Cocoa’s owner laughed at Dusty’s antics. The more she laughed, the more he leaped. He ran circles around her, then flopped, exhausted, on the rug.
 
“That felt so good,” he said, “but I could sure use a snack and some stroking right now. Maybe if I make those big googly eyes and clack my teeth, she’ll get the hint.”
 
“Get a grip, you foolish rabbit,” mocked Cocoa. “What a spectacle you made of yourself. You’ll do anything to get her attention.”
 
“You’re just jealous because she likes me more than you, you old sourpuss,” Dusty remarked. Then he turned his back to Cocoa and eyed his owner. His lady got up and went to the treat box. He ran to his owner and half-climbed up her leg trying to get the treat. All of a sudden, he fell over backward in his excitement.
 
What’ll it be, oh what’ll it be? A cracker? A carrot–nope, I didn’t hear the refrigerator door open and close. Some popcorn? A banana? I can’t wait. The little white rabbit shivered with anticipation.
 
After Dusty got his treat, he turned around and stuck out his tongue at Cocoa. It made her very angry.
 
“Just watch it there, treat-boy,” she warned, “or the next time we’re together, I’ll remember this and you’d better be careful.”
 
Since people do not speak or understand bunny-talk too well, their owner did not know what was happening between them. She wanted to give Cocoa a little treat too, not realizing how wicked Cocoa was acting.
 
“Here, little brown bunny girl; here’s some for you,” their lady said.
 
Cocoa yanked it out of her hand and ran to hide so she could eat in peace.
 
“You’re welcome,” her owner said. “Oink, oink.”
 
Dusty took a short nap, and then he was at it again. He just felt so happy inside, he had to run, leap, and hop for joy.
 
God helps animals to be happy, and then they need to show it some way. House bunnies do it best by pretending they are racecars and tearing around the room like crazy. It’s a funny thing. When someone is happy, it affects everyone around him or her.
 
When people are happy, they start to smile or even laugh out loud. Toes start tapping, and pretty soon, that person wants to jump up and dance around the room. It’s contagious. Dusty provided so much joy to his family, making them laugh at his silly antics.
 
The Bible tells about a man who was so happy that Jesus had healed him that he jumped for joy.
 
“He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God” (Acts 3:8, NIV).
 
God wants His children to be happy. He loves to see them hopping and leaping in happiness, just as Dusty the bunny loves to do.
By Crystal J. Ortmann
Will You Still Love Me?
‘Kyra, didn’t I tell you to pick your toys up from the living room floor and bring them upstairs to your bedroom?’ Audrey said to her daughter.
 
Kyra didn’t budge from the sofa, where she sat watching cartoons.
 
Audrey picked up the remote control and shut off the TV. “No more TV until you’ve picked up your toys and put them away in your bedroom.
 
“But, I can’t do it by myself,” Kyra whined.
 
“Stop whining, Kyra!” Audrey said firmly. “You’re not a baby anymore. You’ve picked up your toys by yourself before. I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately.”
 
“I’m too tired to pick up all my toys.”
 
“Well, start picking them up, and then take a break for a few minutes.”
 
“Why won’t you help me?” Kyra complained.
 
“As I’ve told you before,” Audrey patiently explained,” I’m going to have a baby in a couple of weeks. I can’t be bending down to pick up your toys. So, you’re going to have to pick them up yourself.”
 
“But, it’s not fair!” Kyra said angrily.
 
“I told you earlier, don’t empty out your toy box, or you’ll have a lot of toys to put away later,” Audrey reminded her. “But you insisted on taking out all your toys and bringing them downstairs to the living room.”
 
“I wanted to play with them all,” Kyra said, pouting.
 
“Well, next time, take out only a few of your toys, and then you won’t have so many to pick up afterward,” Audrey stated. “I’ll be back in ten minutes, and I expect to see fewer toys here.”
 
Audrey returned to the kitchen to check on the peanut-butter cookies she had left baking in the oven.
 
“It’s not fair!” Kyra grumbled. “Because the baby is in Mama’s belly, Mama doesn’t pick up toys or let me sit on her lap. She says that when the baby comes, I’ll have to be the big sister. I won’t be her baby anymore.”
 
Kyra picked up her teddy bear and held it tightly. “Well, at least I still have you, Teddy.”
 
By the time Kyra had brought all her toys up to her bedroom and put them away in her toy box, the two dozen cookies Audrey had baked were done.
 
“Kyra,” Audrey called. “Come downstairs, the cookies are ready.”
 
Kyra raced down the stairs and sat down at the kitchen table.
 
As mother and daughter enjoyed chocolate milk and peanut-butter cookies, Audrey thought about how different life would be for Kyra after the baby arrived.
 
“Kyra, when your little sister, Kasi, is born, I’ll need your help to take care of her.”
 
“You will?” Kyra asked.
 
“Yes, you’ll be my special helper. You’ll help me when I change her diapers and give her a bath,” Audrey explained.
 
“Will she take a bath with me in the bathtub?”
 
“No, she’ll be too tiny. We’ll bathe her in a little basin,” Audrey replied. “At first, I’ll feed her, but when she gets bigger, you’ll be able to feed her.”
 
“My friend Jessie says that babies cry a lot,” Kyra stated.
 
“That’s because a baby can’t talk yet,” Audrey responded. “So, when she’s hungry or tired, or when her diaper needs to be changed, she can’t tell anyone what’s bothering her, so she cries.”
 
“Jessie told me that since her little brother was born, her mother hardly ever plays with her.”
 
“Well, a baby does require a lot of attention . . . but you’ll be busier, too, because you’ll be helping me with Kasi.”
 
“Mama, when the baby comes, will you still love me?”
 
“Of course, I’ll still love you, Kyra! Nothing could ever make me stop loving you!” Audrey hugged her. “You are a precious gift from God to us, and Kasi will also be a precious gift from Him. Your dad and I have more than enough love to love you both very much.”
 
Several days later, Kyra’s grandmother met her at school.
 
“Your little sister has arrived,” she announced. “Would you like to go to the hospital to see her?”
 
When Kyra saw her mother sitting in bed holding Kasi, she exclaimed, “Mama, I didn’t know she’d be so tiny!”
 
“Come, sit next to me, Kyra,” said Audrey.
 
Steven helped his daughter climb up on the bed. “Well, what do you think of your little sister?” he asked.
 
“She’s cute . . . How long before she’ll be able to play dolls with me?”
 
“You’ll have to wait a while,” Audrey laughed. “Give her a little time to grow.”
 
A few weeks later, the family attended church. When Pastor Johnson announced, “Today we will dedicate the Swensens’ new baby to the Lord,” the family went up to the front of the church.
 
“Kyra Elizabeth, God loves you,” Pastor Johnson said, as he took her hand.
 
Kyra grinned. “I help take care of Kasi,” she said proudly. “She’s my baby sister.”
 
Pastor Johnson smiled. Then, he took the baby in his arms and prayed. “Father, we dedicate Kasi Kendall Swensen to You. We pray that at an early age she will accept Jesus as her Savior. Protect her and guide her every day of her life. Help her parents, Audrey and Steven, to raise her to love You and serve You. May they be examples of godliness, faithfulness, and compassion. And help Kyra to set a good example for Kasi, too, as she helps her parents care for this precious baby. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
 
After the service, all Kyra’s friends wanted to see Kasi.
 
“What’s it like being a big sister?” Carson asked.
 
“I help my mother take care of her,” Kyra responded. “I help dress her.”
 
“Is it like dressing a doll?” Zoe asked.
 
“Yeah,” Kyra replied, “except I have to be more careful with Kasi because she’s a real baby. And if I dropped her, she would get hurt.”
 
“Does your mother let you hold her?” Maddie questioned.
 
“You have to hold a baby in a very special way. My mother taught me how,” Kyra said proudly. “When I’m sitting down next to my mother, she lets me hold Kasi.”
 
“My mother says that babies are a lot of work!” Brooke stated.
 
“My mother works hard taking care of Kasi, and I help her. But she’s worth it. I’m glad God gave her to us. . . . Being a big sister is fun!” exclaimed Kyra.
? by Nancy A. Stevens
Peace during the Storm
It was five o’clock in the afternoon at Bargain Bob’s car lot.
 
Uncle Bob and Kevin were closing the car lot down for the night. As the owner of Bargain Bob’s cars, Uncle Bob kept a watchful eye on his shiny, sleek machines.
 
Kevin knew more about the make and model of certain cars than some boys twice his age.
 
Kevin looked up at the dark sky and said, ‘Looks like there’s a storm moving in.’
 
Uncle Bob agreed. ‘There won’t be anybody out in this weather. What do you say we close up early and head home?’
 
Just as Kevin closed the gate to the car lot, the sound of thunder rumbled in the distance.
 
Later, with Uncle Bob and Kevin long gone, the sleek, shiny vehicles in the car lot, felt the pitter-patter of cold raindrops.
 
As the sky grew darker, Big Jim, a four-by-four black truck, heard a quiet little whimper. ‘What’s the matter, Dolly?’ Big Jim asked.
 
Thunder rumbled in the distance!
 
Dolly, the little Volkswagen Bug, spoke with tears running down her shiny, red paint job.
 
‘I’m scared, I’ve never been outside during a horrible storm before. The rain is cold and the thunder scares me. And worst of all, what if it hails? It could ruin my new paint job, and then no one would want to buy me.’
 
Dan the Sedan spoke up to comfort Dolly,
 
‘Hey now, we don’t know just how bad this storm is going to be, do we? It could be there’s really nothing to fear,’ he said, with a wink of his headlights.
 
“Big Jim, turn your radio on so we can hear the local weather forecast,” Dan suggested.
 
The newscaster announced, ‘Warning: The weather bureau has just issued a severe weather alert. There will be heavy showers and thunderstorms throughout the night, with a chance of marble-sized hail. Please keep your pets indoors and pull your vehicles into garages and carports. Once again, a severe weather alert is in effect until morning.’
 
Big Jim turned off the radio. Dolly began to cry even harder.
 
Louis, the Ford Lariat, chimed in, trying to calm Dolly.
 
‘Listen, Dolly, we don’t have to be afraid. God’s Word tells us, ‘Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God’ (Isaiah 41:10).”
 
Louis said they should all agree in prayer.
 
Dan volunteered to lead them. ‘Dear Lord, Your Word tells us that You are our God and we don’t need to be afraid. We ask You to protect us from the storm. And, please, let there be no hail tonight … in Jesus’ name. Amen.’
 
Soon it began to rain so hard, giant water puddles formed beneath the cars. But even through the rain,
 
Dolly felt a peace she hadn’t felt before. The words ‘Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God’ echoed in her mind.
 
The thunder roared and the lightning danced across the sky. At times during the night, it sounded as if the sky would come crashing down upon them. But Big Jim, Dolly, Louis, and Dan stood all night long. They were glad they had each other; thankful that they did not have to brave the storm alone.
 
Morning came and the sun shone brightly.
 
The warm air began to dry things up a bit. Everyone was glad the storm was over. Dolly began to talk about her fear and how praying had filled her heart with peace. She thanked Dan for praying the night before. Even Big Jim admitted he had been frightened last night. Louis replied that as long as God is on our side we have nothing to fear.
 
Soon Kevin and Uncle Bob arrived for another day at Bargain Bob’s car lot. They began to check carefully each car on the lot.
 
‘Do you see any damage from the storm?’ Uncle Bob asked Kevin.
 
‘No, in fact the hailstorm that hit the area last night must have skipped right over our car lot. There’s not a bit of damage,’ Kevin replied.
 
Dolly shone a little more brightly as she heard them talking. It was a night she and her friends would never forget.
Keith Swartzendruber