This story is a fictionalization. Any mention of historical events, people and places are used fictitiously and any likeness to actual events, places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
The Jewel family lived during a time when American culture changed dramatically. While it’s true that there’s really nothing new under the sun, during the 1960’s fringes of society rose up and acted out what had been quietly growing for a long time. Rebellion against leaders, police and our military. Rioting, assassinations, drug use and uninhibited sexual freedom. And the conflict against Communism in Vietnam had quietly grown into a full blown American-involved war. Sometimes a glimpse of an individual family can give perspective, a microcosm of the culture at large. Here we will look at a Christian family, the Jewel’s and their response to changing society, sorrow and evil.
“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born…a time for war and a time for peace…”
Brady planned to hide in the tall grass until dark. His leg throbbed with pain. He would crawl if he had to, to find Derek or anyone who wasn’t the enemy. He and Derek had jumped from their airplane just before it exploded and then his parachute had hung up in some trees. Quickly, he had cut himself free but injured his leg when he fell to the ground. Brady’s heart ached at the thought of losing his friend.
God please help me find him.
Millie sat at the kitchen table waiting for a batch of cookies to bake. The chocolate chip aroma reminded her of Brady. Her eldest son had always seemed to arrive just in time to get a warm cookie straight out of the oven. She decided to write him a letter. Since he had gone to Vietnam, she had prayed every day for his safe return. And she had faithfully watched the evening news for the latest information about the war. Millie wrote to Brady about baking cookies and that Joey would surely eat some on his behalf.
Then startled by Joey, who had suddenly arrived home from school, she watched as he slid down to the floor in exhaustion and then helped him up from the floor and into the chair.
“Joey, what’s wrong? Why are you home early from school?”
He gasped for air. “Cafeteria fight. Buddy was almost killed. Then we were trampled.”
“Anything broken? Any cuts?”
“Don’t think so.” He pulled the bottom of his t-shirt up to wipe the sweat from his face.
Millie handed him a cool glass of water to drink and then called the school. Confirmed classes were dismissed the rest of the day because of a riot.
“Joey, the school secretary says because of all the chaos in the cafeteria and hallways today, no classes tomorrow too.”
Annoyed by the hair in his face, she tried to tuck a long strand of wavy brown hair behind his ear, but he ducked to avoid her. Then she handed him a plate of cookies and a cold glass of Koolaid.
“Now Joey, tell me what on earth is going on at school?”
In between bites of cookies, Joey told his story. “Buddy and I…at lunch… heard some guys yelling at each other about Marcy…the cheerleader stabbed last week…at the flagpole…people started throwing their plates…and I…I saw someone take a knife…try to stab Buddy…but he got away…so I ran out the door…then what looked like the whole school…people running down the hall…crunched me…pressed me up against the wall…didn’t know what to do so I followed the people running down the hall…out the front doors…didn’t stop running till I got home.” He finished the last bite of cookie and then gulped down the Koolaid.
“Glad you’re safely home.” Millie sighed. “Oh, these testing tides of life! More concern for safety than ever before. Security guards at school this year. Marcy attacked last week. And now this.”
Joey bitterly added. “All started when they bused the blacks over to our school.”
“Oh no! No it did not young man,” she strongly scolded. “The security guard was hired when a group of kids, white kids, were caught gypping classes and smoking across the street in an abandoned house. Remember, the house caught on fire.”
Reluctantly he agreed. “I remember.” And he was also remembering how he and Buddy had almost gone with them.
“I know it’s hard to understand why things like this happen, but don’t let your confusion turn to hate.”
Kara arrived home from school, and not knowing what had happened at the High School that afternoon, entered the kitchen smiling from head to toe. She was in the ninth grade and attended the Junior High School just a few blocks away.
Ignoring Joey in his sweaty t-shirt. “Mom! Guess what? The Principle announced starting tomorrow we can wear jeans to school. Isn’t that cool. Can we go shopping for new jeans? I know you hate my mini-skirts.”
“About time you covered up your butt,” Joey said before heading up to his room.
“Ugh,” Kara sighed. “What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s had a very bad day at school. Not sure it’s a good idea to leave him alone right now.”
“Oh please,” Kara pleaded. “There’s a new boutique just a few blocks away. An old house. It’s so cool. They have beaded door hangings and it smells like jasmine incense.”
“Okay, just one pair.”
The uneasy feeling Millie had about leaving for a quick shopping trip did not subside. But she ignored it and proceeded to join Kara in hunting for the perfect pair of jeans at the new boutique. But while watching Kara look through dozens of jeans, then waiting while she tried some on, she regretted missing a teachable moment with Kara. She thought about how she could have talked with Kara about Joey’s day at school. The violence, the stress and confusion he felt. It would have been more thoughtful and less selfish to stay home with Joey. Talk with him. Let him vent. Cheer him up. Instead the teachable moment was for Millie.
While they were gone, Joey put off doing homework and instead listened to the radio and worked on a model airplane. He wondered if it was like the airplane’s Brady flew. He heard a knock at the door and ran down the stairs to peek out the curtain. It was Buddy.
Joey greeted Buddy with a slap on the back. “Hey man, you survived!”
“Why did you split?” Buddy asked. “I looked over the whole school for you.”
“I couldn’t find you so I walked home.”
“Let’s go for a ride and see who’s hanging out.”
“Can’t. Mom’s gone shopping with Kara and dad’s out of town.”
“Groovy. Let’s listen to your Iron Butterfly record.”
Joey went up the stairs two at a time and Buddy followed. “It smells like glue in here.”
Joey smirked. “Course. Working on a model plane.” He thumbed through the record albums. “Here’s Iron Butterfly, the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s…, Three Dog Night.”
Buddy shrugged with indifference so Joey loaded the Iron Butterfly album on the record player and placed the needle on the album to get it going.
“Did you say there’s no one here but us?”
Joey nodded as he sunk down in the middle of his bean bag chair.
Buddy pulled from his pocket a hand-rolled marijuana cigarette, quickly lit it with a match and began to smoke it.
Joey was worried. “Hey man! I don’t smoke. You…you could start a fire in here.”
“Don’t worry… try it.” He choked. “Good stuff.” He choked again as he exhaled a cloud of smoke and handed the cigarette to Joey. “Will blow your mind.”
“Okay…just one puff.”
Brady crawled in the damp darkness, resting for short breaks. His swollen leg throbbed with pain. He thought maybe he could get to the river and hide in a cargo boat going south. Maybe. It was crazy, but he had to try. After a few hours he could see a clearing with some buildings, but he also heard shouting in Vietnamese. He passed out from exhaustion. Soon after a sharp kick to his side woke him. By the early dawn light he could see that he was surrounded by Vietnamese soldiers. One had a gun pointed to his head and another motioned for him to get up and walk.
“Can’t walk.” Brady pointed out. “Leg broken.”
One of the soldiers poked him in the back with a long thick stick and motioned for him to use it to walk. So Brady used the stick as a cane. Hopped a few steps but fell to the ground. After a few minutes the soldiers lifted him up by the arms and feet and put him in the back of a truck.
Brady’s heart sank to new depths of despair. Where were they taking him? He knew all about the camps for prisoners.
O God please help me. Don’t abandon me. Please don’t let them torture me!
Joey had been the most rebellious of the three children in the Jewel family. He had caused disturbances at church, had been caught sneaking out of Sunday school, and had frequently started fights with the neighborhood children. His father’s method of discipline when the children were younger had been lovingly, but firmly applied swats on the behind with a wooden paddle. But now that they were older being grounded from favorite activities seemed to be the cure. Brady and Kara did not need much disciplinary punishment after the wooden paddle stage, but Joey needed frequent reminders to exercise self-control.
Mike and Millie had always been quick to praise eldest son, Brady for even very simple accomplishments. But to Joey it seemed that when he had accomplished the same things, it was just expected. Joey had tried to compete and be better than Brady in sports and academics. But Joey discovered his gift when he began guitar lessons. To Joey, when he played guitar, he outshined everyone in the Jewel family. His first performance was “Silent Night” at the church Christmas pageant while Kara played the part of Mary in the Nativity. By age fourteen he had joined a rock band and performed at local high school proms and community events. Kara, being the youngest and the only girl, was of course pampered. She had her own room overflowing with books and dolls. Mille had sensed Joey’s jealousy of Kara and had tried to justify Joey’s constant complaining about Kara to Mike. But Mike had no sympathy.
“I think it’s fair to give Kara all the good books she wants,” Mike had defended himself one day. “My only baby girl doesn’t spend time with me and the boys in outdoor things. She prefers to read.” As a regional manager for a tire store, Mike traveled away from home monthly. Millie admired Mike’s attempt to make up for being away from home by scheduling time with the boys to play softball or basketball but he didn’t know what to do for Kara, so he would bring home a good book for her to read and require an oral book report to be given soon after.
Kara was not athletic. She was a quiet, intellectual type. She had decided and declared when in third grade that she would be a teacher someday. Millie had encouraged this by giving her an antique student chair she had bought at an auction. Kara would cram all of her favorite dolls in the chair and pretend to be the teacher. Millie had great joy seeing Kara play teacher, since she was a teacher herself. Millie had completed college and received her teaching certificate before she had married, but when their first child came she had decided to stay at home with the children. She would spend a small portion of each day, one on one with each child, doing their favorite things. As they grew older she developed a routine of having at least one of the children helping with a household task so they could learn the mundane things like cooking, washing dishes, cleaning and laundry. Joey always complained the most about these activities, but she insisted that he help anyway.
Mike had the responsibility of outside house and yard maintenance and teaching the children to help with these chores. Kara was allowed to skip most of the outside chores which gave Joey something else to add to his unfair list. Mike also conducted a yearly camping trip for just the boys and a few of their friends. They would go fishing, cook their catch at the evening campfire. Mike would invite Joey to play the guitar while they sang songs and made S’mores. Then Mike would tell a story about one of his favorite heroes. He also, taught them survival techniques and how to live off the land. Mike treasured these camping trips but was concerned about Joey’s choice of friends. Mike encouraged Joey to spend more time with friends from church but Joey preferred to hang out with musicians from the rock band who were a few years older than he. Brady was more like his father. He liked outdoor activities; softball, camping, fishing and hunting. He was also a Boy Scout and had worked hard to earn badges along with his friends from church. He had planned to attend a Bible college and become a missionary. Mike and Millie were very proud of that. The university was nearby so he had planned to live at home and work part-time until graduation. However, his plans were dashed, when drafted into the army to serve in Vietnam.
Brady was numb with pain and still in shock while three soldiers carried him on a stretcher inside a building with soldiers guarding outside and inside. They took him to a small empty room and dumped him out on the floor and laughed. One with an evil grin stood in front of him, poking him with the gun. The others tied his wrists behind his back and pulled off his remaining boot. The soldier with the evil grin began interrogating him in broken English. Brady did not answer. He was slapped, beaten with stick and burned with cigarettes. After several rounds of interrogation, Brady added to his name, “I’m a Christian.” And he began coarsely singing, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”
This infuriated the soldiers. They clubbed Brady on the head with such a hard blow that he passed out. After several days, he awoke in suffocating heat, flat on his back on a bamboo mat. He could see a tin ceiling above with one small hole and one hanging light bulb but no windows. He tried to get up but could not put weight on the broken leg. Without a word, a soldier entered the room and placed on the floor near the door, a cup of water and a cup of dirty rice. Along with these, an empty bucket, which Brady learned was for his daily excrement. He was in solitary confinement.
The next day, different soldiers came and carried him on a stretcher outside and hosed him down with water with such force in his mouth he thought he would drown. Then they carried him to another part of the prison that smelled like antiseptics and medicine with a few hospital beds. They put him on one of the empty beds and put new clean dry clothes on him. Someone who liked like a doctor came, looked at his leg and wrapped it tightly in a bandage with a brace. Then they carried him back to the same prison room and left him a cup of water and rice. Later, soldiers came back with a document and pen and forced him to sign it a gun point. He was in constant pain and so weak, barely conscious. He didn’t care what he was signing. Later, he learned the document said that he agreed that the war against Vietnam was unjust and that his treatment while prisoner had been good.
God have mercy on me. Take away my pain. Strengthen me. Rescue me.
Recent events in the Jewel’s home town seemed only a small sampling of larger events going on across the nation. Viewed in black and white on a small television screen. Peace rallies became violent. Protests against the war erupted on college campuses and in the streets across the nation. Hippies gathered for peace sit-ins but then rioted in the streets shouting, Pig, to police officers who tried to calm the chaos. As Millie watched these events happening before her eyes she snuggled down into her tapestry covered wing-backed chair. Propped her feet up on the antique footstool. She imagined sitting in the palm of God’s hands. She thought of verses in the Psalms…
I keep myself calm and quiet, like a little child on its mother’s lap…
And another verse from Deuteronomy …underneath are the everlasting arms…
Except for the dark cloud of concern about Brady, the Jewels went about their daily lives, happily pursuing their dreams. Joey practiced daily with a rock band and then performed on weekends. Kara did babysitting jobs on weekends to earn money to buy more jeans. Mike had returned from traveling to all the tire stores in his region. As a regional manager he was proud to have a good report to present at the corporate office meeting. And Millie joined a new ministry at her church. Butterfly Closet, a clothing closet for the poor. For several weeks, she and Anna, Maria and Gwen had gathered donations of clothing from church members and the community. They had cleaned, sorted and arranged the clothing in a spare room in the church which they had decorated to look like a boutique. They planned to open Butterfly closet every Monday morning to whoever had need of free clothing. Millie returned home after the grand opening and snuggled down into her chair to rest awhile.
Father God, I’m not deserving of the least of your favors. Thank you for wonderful provision. Thank you for the privilege of giving to others. The phone rang, interrupting her prayer.
“Hello…Yes, this is Mrs. Jewel.” Millie’s joy changed to sorrow as Major Walters reported news about Brady. “Missing in action? …Does that mean he’s alive? …Prisoner of war? …Yes, we’ll keep our hopes up…Brady’s alive…Yes sir…Keep us informed of any news.”
Millie sat silently weeping for a long while. Where are you Brady? Oh, God! Protect my baby!
Millie was still in her chair when Joey arrived home from school. He grabbed a snack from the kitchen and proceeded to his room. “Hi Joey, after you put away your books and finish your snack, come back downstairs.”
Kara arrived next. “Mom, are you okay? You’ve been crying.”
“Come and sit down. Joey will be down in a moment. I have some news to share.”
“Is it Brady?” Kara’s high pitched voice reflected desperate curiosity.
“Joey,” Millie called, raising her voice so he could hear. “Come on down. Kara’s here too.”
Joey thudded down the stairs and plopped down on the couch next to Kara. “Que pasa?”
“Major Walters called this afternoon to say that Brady’s aircraft was shot down. They believed that he and the other pilot with him both ejected from the plane before it crashed. Then last week they received a document from the Vietnamese which supposedly had been signed by Brady that he opposed the war and that he’s being treated well in prison.”
Kara began sobbing and Joey covered his teary-eyed, red face with his hands. Millie hugged her children. “I need to go powder my nose before your father arrives. Stay close. We’ll have a family meeting as soon as he gets home.”
I can’t bear to tell the children that it’s not likely Brady’s being treated well. Major Walters said Brady was likely being tortured into signing the document they received. I can’t bear to think of Brady being tortured. Oh God, please help us!
When Mike arrived home, Millie immediately went to the kitchen and opened the entry door to the garage. She had told herself not to cry. At least not until after she had given Mike the bad news. But as she looked into his unsuspecting, smiling eyes, she couldn’t hold back the torrent of tears.
“Millie, why are you crying?”
“Come with me to the living room. Joey and Kara are there. We have some news.”
Mike put his arm around Millie’s shoulder and escorted her to the living room. “Hey, kids, what’s going on?”
“Brady’s plane was shot down.” Kara said as she began weeping again.
“It’s true. Major Walters called this afternoon to inform us Brady’s a prisoner of war.” Millie continued weeping. “They failed to return from their mission…presumably shot down…then they received a document supposedly signed by Brady that he opposes the war and is being treated well by the Vietnamese while he’s in prison.”
Mike, numb with shock, sat down between the children and put his arms around them. Then his tears began to trickle. “So at least, as far as we know, Brady survived the plane crash and he’s still alive.”
“Only Brady and God knows what has really happened.” Millie said.
Mike stood up and held out his hands. “Come, let’s have a prayer huddle.” The Jewel family gathered around holding hands to pray for Brady. “Eternal Father, we come to you in trust knowing that Brady is in your care. Comfort him, protect him. Provide for his every need. Bring him safely home.”
“Yes, we know God that you have your angels guarding Brady.” Millie prayed. “Please bring him home soon.”
Kara cried to God. “Please keep my brother well and brave and bring him back soon.”
“Keep Brady hanging’ tough and send a rescue mission to find him,” Joey added.
“God of all comfort, we’re hurting after this news about Brady. We ask for your comforting presence. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
The next day, Mike made some phone calls to find out more about Brady. He was told that Brady’s condition was still being investigated and as soon as they had more information they would let them know. For Millie, the remainder of the week went slowly without much accomplished at home. She sat for hours reminiscing about the past. Brady as a baby. Then his first year in school. His awkward teenage years. Then transformation to a strong young man, committed to Christ. And now he was a prisoner in Vietnam. It seemed such a waste. Her heart ached.
Father God, I don’t understand your ways. Lord, I don’t know how to pray…your will be done.
He’s my Son! But…I pause to remember…you gave your only Son… for me.
“For everything there is a season…a time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up…”
As Butterfly Closet became known for its free fashionable clothing, it also became a challenge to keep enough clothing in stock. Millie’s group called on some of the other churches in the area to join their ministry. Soon women from other churches collected clothing and brought it to Butterfly Closet. And to their delight, three new volunteers, Peggy, Rachel and Charlotte, joined in to help on Monday. All seven volunteers joyfully rearranged the clothing displays. Then they held a special prayer service to ask God’s blessing on their ministry.
“Now that Butterfly Closet has been given benediction, we will each place a candle in the window to symbolize the light of Christ,” Gwen said.
Solemnly, she took one of the seven battery-powered candles found among the church Christmas decorations. It had a clear glass light bulb, shaped like a candle flame. She placed it in the arched window which faced the street. The window had already been decorated with artificial green grapevine. The candles were placed on seven wooden pedestals each a different height. Above the candles a stained glass sign with a butterfly design and the name, Butterfly Closet, hung from the top of the window. Each of the ladies switched on the light and placed their candle in the window. Charlotte discovered that her light did not switch on. “Suppose I need to invest in new batteries for my candle,” she chuckled. “Will have to wait till next week. I don’t carry batteries with me.”
“Ladies, all are invited to tea at my house next Thursday afternoon around two,” Millie announced. “It will be a good time of fellowship and prayer.”
Millie went about busily preparing for her guests. The busyness seemed to give her temporary joy and rest from worry about Brady. She polished the furniture, washed the china dishes and baked cookies. The windows of the red brick house on Evergreen Lane sparkled in the sunlight. Trees along the sidewalk had blossomed with bright white flowers. Dark green ivy covered the red brick on one side of the old house. Large oak trees provided a canopy from the hot summer sun. Mike and Millie had often considered moving to the suburbs instead of living in the heart of the city. But, they enjoyed the quaint beauty of their old house and moving would disrupt the children who were already well established with neighborhood schools and friends. And Millie was thankful for the opportunity to open her house for fellowship with her new friends. After, the ladies had arrived on Thursday afternoon, Millie asked her best friend, Gwen, to say a prayer and served tea. Millie had met Gwen many years ago when she had joined a babysitting coop in the neighborhood. Gwen was also a member of Millie’s church. And Anna and Maria, sisters who shared a house nearby, were like mothers to Millie. Her own mother had died when she was in high school and her father had recently passed away too. These dear neighbors had often given her helpful advice and were like grandmothers to her children. They had emigrated from Italy with the expectation that their families would follow, but for various reasons their families had remained in Italy. Millie, touched by their sadness, had invited them to attend her church and eventually they became members. Anna and Maria loved to spend time with the Jewels and giving little gifts of candy or books to the children.
Charlotte, Rachel and Peggy, new friends from the Butterfly Closet ministry, members of churches nearby and with children who attended the same schools as Millie’s children. Peggy, an African-American, same age as Millie, made a very jolly presence. Her frequent chuckles seemed to echo up through her short, stout stature. She also had a son in combat in Vietnam. When she arrived to Tea at Millie’s house on Thursday she was about to burst with good news. She could hardly wait to tell her new friends.
“Ladies I have wonderful news,” she announced. “My son, Lionel is coming home from Vietnam in two weeks. We’re having a homecoming potluck after church services on the following Sunday and you’re all invited.”
Millie was the first to congratulate. “Praise God! This is marvelous!” All the others agreed. And Millie added, “I would be so relieved to know Brady was on his way home.”
“Don’t give up,” Peggy reassured. “The war is winding down, so he could come home anytime.”
Charlotte, a free-lance writer for the local newspaper, asked permission to write a story about Lionel’s homecoming. A renowned writer with great success in getting people to express their feelings and details about their experiences. She leaned forward from the chair and peered over the top of her bifocals. “May I call you later and setup a time to interview you and your son?”
“Sounds okay to me,” Peggy chuckled. “I can’t promise though. Lionel’s a Sargent now. So I can’t boss him no more.”
“And Millie, I would like to interview you and Mike about your thoughts on Brady being a POW. Maybe tie it altogether with one story.”
“I’ll think about it Charlotte. Check back with me later, after you’ve interviewed Lionel.” Charlotte smiled compassionately and nodded in agreement.
Rachel stoop up and gathered all the empty tea cups and plates from everyone. “I’ve a great idea everyone. If it’s okay with you Millie, let’s all pray for Lionel and Brady’s safe return.”
“Of course,” Millie agreed. “Let’s take this need to God.”
The ladies gathered in a circle, holding hands lifted up high in praise to God. Then thanking God for the privilege of being part of the family of God, they asked for safe return of Brady and Lionel and continued praying for the ministry of Butterfly Closet and their church.
Millie thanked everyone for praying. “I would like to take a little time now for each of us to share a bit about what God is doing in our lives. I’ll go first and then slip out to bring another pot of hot tea and more cookies.” She stood and smoothed a stray strand of her honey blond hair back into place within her bouffant hairstyle. Then clasped her hands behind her back. Green eyes sparkled a smile as she spoke.
“I became a Christian while attending a Youth for Christ service at college. After I graduated, I began teaching a First Grade elementary class. Then I met and married Mike, who is also a Christian. We have continued to attend the Christian Church where we met and were married and now have three children. I think God is testing my trust of Him concerning Brady. But I keep busy serving Him, so that I don’t get too depressed.” Millie’s eyes glistened with tears. “Anna and Maria will you two go next, since I already know all about you. I’ll be back in a few moments with more tea for everyone.”
Anna gave her white handkerchief to Millie. “Thank you Anna.” Millie hurried to the kitchen. Washed her hands and poured hot water in the tea pots, refilled the bowls of mints and nuts and added more cookies to the plate. She placed the tray on the dining room table and joined the others in the living room.
Millie noticed Anna’s silver-blue hair matched her sparkling blue eyes as she spoke with a nervous little giggle. She held her sweater over her shoulders which matched perfectly with her pink floral dress. Anna had explained that she had come from a very traditional, ritual type of worship. “We were taught that if you broke the commandments of God you must do penance to be forgiven. What a relief to find in God’s word that sin is covered by the sacrificial death of Christ. For by grace are we saved through faith; and not by our own works, it is a gift of God. I’m afraid at my age, not enough time to make up for all my sin. So grateful to Jesus who covered it all. Lately, I think God is working in me an attitude of gratitude no matter what I’m going through. Love to garden and crochet, but sometimes arthritis in my hands flairs up and can’t do those things so much. But then I have more time to pray for others.”
As Anna returned to her seat, Maria stood up and clasped Anna’s hands in her own. “Cold hands, warm heart,” Maria said.
“I’ve had the same church experience as Anna,” Maria stammered. She had suffered a mild stroke a few years ago, which affected her speech. She spoke slowly. “We’re sisters. Same religious background.” She paused and placed her forefinger on her chin and then pointed up to heaven. “God is so good. He comforts. Provides. Guides us. Lost our families when coming to America. But God gave us another one. Our Good Shepherd has led us in the path of righteousness, not by our own works, but for His name’s sake. He anoints our heads with oil. And we overflow with His Spirit. Surely, his mercy and goodness will always be with us and then we will go to His house forever.” Maria sat down and then clasped her hands together to stop the trembling. “As you can see, I have this trembling. It’s embarrassing to me. But I think God is teaching me to keep my thoughts on him and the needs of others. I’ve noticed that when I do this, the trembling eases.” Maria’s sweet spirit shined through as she shared this discovery.
Everyone applauded. “Wonderful testimony ladies,” Peggy said. “I’ll go next, but I’ll remain seated. I’m working on losing weight and if I stand, I’m self-conscious about the extra me I’m trying to get rid of.” She chuckled along with the other women. “Currently, I attend a church with a liturgical worship service. So Anna and Maria, I understand where you’re coming from. But, my church believes in the grace of God. Hallelujah! I’m like you. Hate to think about trying to cover for my sin. I also attend a Bible study at another church. It’s just for woman. I’m growing more now with regular Bible study. My husband is a good man and we attend church together, but he’s not in the Word daily. This is one of my prayer concerns, and of course, Lionel’s safe return. Each day I’m more thankful for the Bible. The Word of God is living and active. Hallelujah! Amen!”
“Sounds like a revival service in here Peggy. Let’s keep it going,” Millie said.
“Everyone go ahead and help yourself to tea while I add my two cents,” Gwen said. She stood up, tuned her voice and then began singing. “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of His Spirit, washed in His blood. This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long; this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long…”
“Beautiful Gwen!” Millie said.
“One more,” Gwen continue singing with smiling eyes. “Lord, lay some soul upon my heart and love that soul through me; and may I ever do my part to win that soul for Thee. Amen.” Gwen lifted hands in praise to God. “This is what God is trying to do in my life.” Then she poured a cup of tea and took a cookie.
“Gwen, you can have two cookies, even three, for such good music,” Peggy said.
Gwen chuckled. “Alright, I think I will. Thank you.”
Rachel stood up. She was the youngest in the group and had not yet married. An English teacher at the college while working on a doctorate in Anthropology. Petite, polite and with effervescing energy, “May I go next?”
“Please Rachel, share your story,” Millie said.
Rachel, although young, dressed as an older woman with mid-length skirt and matching cardigan sweater. Her long, dark brown hair, tied back with a bow, hung like a tail down the middle of her back. She straitened her wire-rimmed glasses and with native Englander accent, “Thank you Millie for your hospitality and ladies for sharing your stories today. Gwen, you have inspired me. I think, perhaps, God is calling me to mission in Africa or Asia. I’m thinking of teaching English at a college in another country in order to earn income while quietly sharing the gospel with individuals in the same community. So I request your prayers for wisdom and knowledge of God’s will in this.
“We pray God’s best and perfect will for you Rachel,” Gwen said. “Your availability is very precious to God.” And then she quickly glanced at everyone. “Every child of God is his special treasure.”
“Thank you ladies! Charlotte, we anticipate hearing your story next, so please proceed,” Rachel said as she sat down.
“Thank you, Rachel,” Charlotte said somberly. “I’m not sure what to say.” She remained seated and hesitated. “I’ve been inspired by everyone today and request your prayers. I’ve been seeking God. I’ve read several books in my quest for spiritual enlightenment. And I attend weekly worship service at a church in my neighborhood. At this time, I’m still seeking.”
“We pray God will lead you in the way everlasting,” Millie said. “Ladies, let’s close our time together with a prayer huddle.” Everyone joined hands and prayed to God for strength and wisdom.
Brady passed the time of his confinement by reciting Bible verses he had remembered.
“The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want…he who is in me is greater than he who is in the world…we are pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed…we are hunted down, but never abandoned by God…” He told himself the stories of Bible characters as he had remembered from childhood. He reviewed American history. He recited the Greek and Hebrew alphabet he had learned in preparation for Bible College. As soon as I get out of this place, I’m going to college, he would tell himself. Day after day he survived the heat with very little water or food. His leg healed but since it was never set correctly he walked with a painful limp. At least the excruciating pain was gone and his leg had not been amputated. And he had not died of infection. To Brady, this was a miracle. Evidence of God with him, answering his prayers. He had often thought of home and family. Wondered if they knew he was a POW. Also, thought about Derek. If he had survived the jump. Is he in prison? Did he get rescued?
One day several Vietnamese soldiers came and escorted him at gunpoint to the same room he had been in before. Seated at the table was the same soldier who had forced him to sign a document several weeks, months ago. Brady was forced to sit at the table with another document before him. He was told to write a short sentence about being treated at the hospital and his leg was now well. It is true, Brady thought. So he wrote a short sentence as instructed. Then he was escorted to a truck where he was placed in the back with some other Vietnamese soldiers. His hands were tied behind and feet bound so he couldn’t move and his eyes were blindfolded so he couldn’t see. His heart sank. Are they taking me somewhere to execute me? Father, God you know…Maybe I’ll be with you soon…No more pain…No more thirst…hunger. But God, wanted to be a preacher…bring some with me… maybe even some Vietnamese. Could you give me a little more time…I trust your best…
After what seemed like hours and hours the truck stopped and Brady was taken out of the truck. His feet were unbound so he could walk and the blindfold taken off but it was dark. He was escorted inside another building with bars on the windows, guarded outside and inside by Vietnamese soldiers. They opened a bolted, locked door and pushed him inside, then slammed the door shut. Seems to be another prison. He sighed with relief. No execution. Lord, thank you for your mercy.
And obviously no longer solitary confinement. The atrocious smell of other suffering human bodies made that clear. Brady dropped to the floor where he stood. Curled up in a ball. And quietly cried himself to sleep.
Major Walters called the Jewel’s informing them of another document supposedly signed by Brady with a sentence written by him. According to the document, Brady had been in the hospital with a broken leg and was now well. They would be receiving a copy of both documents to identify Brady’s handwriting. Everything was still being investigated and not yet confirmed. However, the Jewels hung on to hope that Brady was well and would be home soon.
Mike and Millie planned several family projects and trips for the summer hoping for refreshment and to strengthen their relationship with each other and the children. Most of the family outings were missed by Joey because he had already committed to a “gig” with the band. And sometimes Kara missed as well because of a babysitting assignment. One of the family projects that Millie had planned was to plant a new row of flowers around the backyard patio.
Again Joey begged out of this family gathering too. “Mom, I can dig it, pardon the pun,” he chuckled. “But really…gardening cramps my style.”
Mike intervened and demanded. “Joey you can take five minutes to make your mom happy and plant something.”
So on Saturday morning after breakfast all joined in to plant flowers around the patio. Mike did the hoeing to loosen up the soil and brick edging to keep the grass out. Millie planted five Live Forever plants, one for each of them among the Chrysanthemum. “Mom can I plant the Rose Moss?” Kara asked. “I like those little red and pink flowers.”
“Yes Kara, here plant them around the edges, like this.” Millie pointed out where the Rose Moss should go. “And Joey it would make me so happy if you would plant those purple Mums here and over there.”
“Far out! I like Deep Purple.” Joey chuckled.
Millie smirked. That rascal thinks I know nothing about the Deep Purple rock band.
Mike and Millie enjoyed relaxing on the patio in the evenings, sipping iced tea, talking about the day and praying together. The flowers around the patio were beautiful and the mums were glorious when October arrived. Brilliant orange, yellow and purple blossoms adorned the patio. Millie decorated the front entryway with pumpkins and wheat sheaves tied with yellow ribbon. She performed extra cleaning projects at home to prepare for when Brady came home. The busyness kept her from falling into a deeper depression, or so she thought, but something was missing. She didn’t understand feeling restless. Longing for something. She knew not what. She checked at church for more volunteer opportunities. The Christmas play rehearsals were beginning so Millie volunteered to help out with costumes. This new commitment added to the Butterfly Closet ministry, plus preparing for the family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations began to build to a high stress level. And the restless, aching for something missing did not subside.
The week before Thanksgiving holiday Millie had been asked by the church secretary to bake loaves of bread for food baskets to be distributed to the needy. Millie graciously agreed to help. In desperation she called her best friend. “Gwen, I need your help! I agreed to bake bread for food baskets, but I don’t know how I can do all that in time. Can you come and help me?” The next day, Gwen came to help bake pumpkin bread and loaves of honey-wheat bread.
“Appreciate your help Gwen. Don’t know how I got myself into so much lately. The coffee cans you brought are perfect for baking bread!”
“Oh, I save those all year just for making bread for the holidays. I think we can bake eight loaves at a time. While one batch is baking, we’ll whip up the next.”
They made 16 loaves of pumpkin bread and then while waiting for dough to rise they took a break for lunch. Millie made finger sandwiches, some with peanut butter and jam, some with cream cheese and jam. Then poured hot, spiced tea into cups. “Have a sandwich Gwen,” Millie chuckled. “Wonder if I look as cute as you with flour-dusted hair.”
“Even better!” Gwen laughed and then sighed as she sat down to rest at the table. Gwen was five years older than Millie and much wiser. Even had gray hair around the edges of her dark brown hair to prove it. “Think we’ll get everything done by dinner time. We could take a little time to have an afternoon devotional. I usually do right after lunch.”
“Great idea! I have a devotional book with Bible verses. Hate to admit, I haven’t been using it lately. I seem so pressed for time to get things done.”
After lunch, Millie poured a second cup of tea and then gave the devotional book to Gwen.
Gwen opened the book and began reading aloud. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts… and be thankful. Colossians 3:15. Thanksgiving holiday is a wonderful time to purposely take time to thank God. Thanksgiving holiday is usually a relaxing, pleasant day of feasting with family and friends and remembering God’s blessings. It can be that way every day. Even a day of fasting alone can be a relaxing, pleasant day dwelling in the presence of God. Remember the psalmist wrote, ‘Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise.’ So come before the throne of God today with thanksgiving in your heart.” Gwen closed the book, closed her eyes and bowed her head to pray. “Heavenly Father, we come before you today with thanksgiving in our hearts. We have eternal life you have graciously given us by faith in your Son, Jesus. Thank you for good health and abundance to share with others. And thank you for friends. Help us finish this task of making bread for others. May they come to know the true bread of life, Jesus Christ. Amen.”
“Thank you Gwen. I feel refreshed and ready to get this job done.”
They worked the rest of the day, mixing, kneading, baking and wrapping bread. Kara joined in to help when she came home from school. The following morning, Millie loaded the bread in the car for Mike to drop off at the church. Now she could concentrate on preparing for the holidays and sewing the costumes for the play.
Thanksgiving Day was peaceful and quiet. Joey pretended to watch football with Mike after dinner while Kara helped Millie with the dishes.
“Mom, are we going to decorate the Christmas tree tonight like we usually do?” Kara asked.
“Yes. I think we should keep our tradition. Will you help get the boxes of decorations and the tree?”
“Yes Mom. I’ll make the hot chocolate too.”
Millie and Kara went to the attic and dusted off the boxes, carried them down to the living room and cleared space in front of the large front window.
“Mike and Joey!” Millie called to them in the den. “When the game is finished come help with the Christmas tree.”
Kara and Millie managed to erect the Christmas tree spine and proceeded to insert the branches. “Mom, in Sunday School we were asked to host a foreign exchange student during the Christmas break. On the list is a student from France. She’s 19 years old. It would be so cool to practice speaking French with her. And find out what it’s like in France. Could we invite her to our house for Christmas break? Pleeese?”
“That’s interesting. I’ll discuss it with your dad and let you know.”
“Thanks Mom. The deadline to sign up is next week.”
Mike and Joey came in from the game. “Girls, you missed a fantastic game!” Mike said as he threw a miniature football to Joey. “Right Joey!”
“Out of sight, Dad.” Joey rolled his eyes as he caught the ball.
The Jewels worked together on setting up the Christmas tree. Hanging red sparkling balls, lace ribbons, twinkling lights and favorite keepsakes.
“Look Mom,” Kara said. “Brady made this one. It has his name on it. Let’s hang it on the very top this year.” Mike took the ornament that Brady had made many years ago, reached high and crowned the tree with it. Millie stood back gazing at the tree. “It’s perfect now,” she said with tears in her eyes. “If only Brady could be here with us.”
Slowly, Brady awakened with a song in his heart. …when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul… His eyes opened to see sunlight streaming through a small barred window nearby. He could see other prisoners lying about. Some sitting up against the wall. Who are these men? Wonder if I know anyone? Then at the sound of the door being unlocked and unbolted the other prisoners sat up looking at the guard who motioned for Brady to come but for the others to stay. He was escorted at gun point to the latrine and back again. The same process occurred for the other prisoners one at a time. When he returned from the latrine he sat against the wall and ate the leaves he had clutched tightly in his hand.
The prisoner next to him took notice. “What are you eating?”
“Leaves from a tree.”
The two introduced themselves, briefed each other on where they had come from and how they got to the Vietnamese prison. A few yards away a prisoner who had been lying on the floor, rolled over and called out. “Brady, is that you, Brady Jewel?”
Brady recognized the voice. Moved closer to look at the man. “Derek! You’re alive.”
“Just barely.” Derek spoke slowly and paused often. “You’re the one who came in last night.” The two talked for a long time about what they had gone through since the parachute jump. They were amazed at how puny they looked to each other. Derek needed help walking. Brady was also very weak from lack of food and water. His thick dark hair had fallen out. He had lost a lot of weight. His voice was low and hoarse from dehydration. Whenever he was taken outside he hunted for edible bugs and leaves and shared them with Derek. Brady was concerned that Derek had given up. So he talked to him even while he slept, hoping Derek could hear him.
“Derek, I can’t explain why God has allowed us to suffer so much. But I can tell you that Jesus suffered even more so that we could be saved from a hell worse than this one. Because we’re sinners, we can’t have relationship with God. Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, who was sacrificed for the sins of the world provided a way to be cleansed of sin so we can have fellowship with God and avoid eternal punishment for sin. You only have to believe.”
Derek remained still with eyes closed. Tears trickled down his cheek. Day after day, Brady continued talking about Jesus, quoting scriptures as best as he could remember, and sharing his leaves. Some of the other prisoners sitting nearby also listened to Brady talk about Jesus. But as soon as the prison guard came around they would lie down and pretend to be asleep.
Slowly, Derek began to improve. He sat up more often. Talked to Brady about memories of his family. Three sisters and one brother. “They’re growing winter wheat about now. Mom probably has the pantry stocked with jars of tomatoes, pickles, green beans and peaches from the garden. I can taste those peaches on homemade ice-cream right now.”
“Are you going to be a wheat farmer?”
“I don’t know. Who knows if we’ll ever get out of here? Used to think about staying in the air force. Go to college. Help out at the farm in the summer.”
“And what will you do about Jesus?”
“Need to give it some thought.” Derek rolled flat on his back still talking about home, playing football, going to the café to have cheeseburgers and fries with his friend, Susan. Said she would wait for him. “Won’t hold you to that promise,” he had told her.
Brady drifted off to sleep dreaming about home.
Longing for home…either earthly or heavenly gate…dreams of flying provide relief…surrender is peace.
Millie awakened to the sound of the phone ringing. She had gone to bed, but Mike had stayed up reading while waiting for Joey to come home. Mike’s voice sounded troubled. Millie pulled on her robe and went downstairs.
“Mike who was that?”
“It was a police officer. Joey was arrested for disturbing the peace. I have to go pick him up.”
Mike and Millie went together to the police station. After Joey was released, they learned all the details on the way home. Joey had been with the band and friends at a party. Loud music. Fight in the drive-way. Neighbors called police. Police smelled alcohol and drugs so everyone was arrested.
“Joey, I am completely numb with shock.” Mike’s voice was just one notch below yelling. “I never expected this from you. Why were you at a party without parents at home and with drugs and alcohol?”
“I was invited.” Joey said defiantly.
Mike was silent the remainder of the drive home. But Millie scolded Joey so severely that she made him feel like a five-year-old. They were confused about what to do to discipline Joey. They talked about not letting him play in the band. Making him get another part-time job. Then they decided to send him to a boot camp for teenagers in the summer.
That particular summer was especially lonely for Millie. Kara was in summer school so she could graduate early and begin college. Joey was in boot camp. Mike was traveling for work. Butterfly Closet had closed for a month while many of the volunteers had gone on vacation. Another year had passed and no more news about Brady. She longed for a happy ending. Brady home. Instead, his state was at a standstill. While everything else seemed to be changing. Kara talked constantly about French class and dreamed of going to school in France. Joey was troubled. He had dreams of being a rock star, but his dad had visions of Business College. And Mike seemed to age quickly the past few years. Thinning, graying hair. Recently had to start wearing glasses. Had to replace all his leisure suites to accommodate a larger waistline. She had commented to him one day while looking at old family photographs, “Mike you’ve had a total makeover. Look at this photo from ten years ago. I hardly recognize you.” She chuckled as she kissed the top of his head. “Just kidding. So proud of you. Can’t imagine life without you.”
But then she sighed as she looked at herself in the mirror. I’m the one who needs the makeover. Her bouffant was flat and needed redone, but her salon appointment was not for two more days. Her hairstylist had talked her into growing longer hair because the styles were changing. So she twisted the drooping dark blond locks into a bun on the back of her head.
Kara walked by and commented. “Hey mom, you look like a movie star.”
Millie smiled and realized that she hadn’t spent much time with Kara recently. “Let’s plan a shopping trip this weekend. We’ll have lunch at the health food store you like.”
“Sorry, I can’t this weekend. Rehearsal for a skit at church. Then a birthday party. Sunday I need to study for a test.” Kara waived goodbye and headed out the door.
Millie sighed. Her baby girl was growing up. She wanted the waves of change to slow down. Instead she felt like she was drowning in testing tides.
“For everything there is a season…a time to search…a time to love and a time to hate…”
The summer ended with Joey’s return home just in time to celebrate his birthday. He was now 18 years old. He had slept late and had come to the kitchen for a glass of orange juice. “Happy birthday Joey!” Millie said. “We want to take you out to celebrate tonight…maybe your favorite pizza place or wherever…you decide.”
“Can it wait till the weekend? I already have plans tonight.”
“Well I suppose so. It’s disappointing. We should have asked sooner. What are you doing tonight?”
“Going to the movies with a friend. You don’t know her. She’s a sister of someone who works at the tire store.”
“We’d like to meet her…if you want to bring her along to have pizza with us this weekend, she’s welcome.”
“It’s not serious Mom. We just met. At this point…she would freak out if I asked her to meet my parents.”
“How are things going for you at the tire store?”
“It’s boring. Rather be playing my guitar in the band.”
“I know, but for now, this is the discipline your father designed. You’re very fortunate, Joey. Going to college, studying music, which you love. And your father gave you a part-time job at one of his stores.”
“Yeah, Mom. I know. It’s better than jail.” Joey gulped down the orange juice and headed back up to his room.
“Much better! And you have a family who loves you too!” Millie yelled out kindly to him.
Millie proceeded to make Joey’s favorite cake, German Chocolate. The phone rang just as she poured the batter into the pans to bake.
“Hello…Hi Mike…No…He’s going to the movies with a friend. We can go for pizza this weekend. I’m making a cake now…We’ll go ahead and have cake and ice-cream…Can you come home a little earlier? …Great! … Kara should be here too…Okay, I’ll tell him. See you later, dear.”
Joey overheard the conversation. “Tell me what?” he asked as he took the spoon to lick the cake batter.
“He was checking on birthday plans. Will you have time before the movie to have cake and ice-cream with us?”
“The movie is at seven-thirty. So I have to leave by six-thirty.”
“We’ll celebrate at five-thirty then. Surely you can spare an hour for your family.”
“Oh and by the way, your dad wants to meet your new friend. He said it’s not an option.”
“You mean he wants to meet her tonight?”
“If you can manage it, maybe she could come here at five-thirty. How does that sound?”
“I can’t believe this.” Joey slammed the cupboard door. “It’s just the movies. I’ll call her to see if she can be here at that time.” Joey stormed out of the kitchen to sulk in his room.
Oh God, please help Joey understand that we love him. Millie prepared everything for the birthday celebration. When it became two-thirty and no word from Joey she knocked on his door. “Joey, are you okay?” She knocked again.
“Come in, it’s open.” Joey was lying on his bed with his hands tucked behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. Still angry he said, “I’m not going to the movies after all. Melissa has a headache and doesn’t want to go out tonight.”
“I’m sorry Joey. I’m sure you’re very disappointed.” Millie paused to think for a moment. “What do you want to do? It’s your birthday. We could take you to the movies if you want?”
“No thanks mom. It’s not about the movies. Just wanted to go out with a friend. I told you she would freak out if she had to meet parents.”
“Joey, meeting parents is a normal part of life. If she was ‘freaked out’ then she’s probably not a good friend for you.”
Joey was thinking about the real disappointment – missing a party with his buddies from the band. He had never planned to go to the movies. “Anyway, we can have pizza. Maybe dad can pick it up and bring it home.”
Millie’s heart ached for Joey. Why did he have to be so difficult? She hoped the evening would pass as pleasantly as possible. Autumn brought some needed routine and change to Millie’s life. Joey started his first year of college. Kara was finishing her last year of high school with an accelerated program. Mike had finished traveling for the year and Butterfly Closet had reopened for weekly ministry. And there was hopeful news about the war in Vietnam. Peace talks had begun between the United States and North Vietnam. However, several months of negotiations had ended in disappointment. In exasperation U.S. leadership decided on a bombing campaign to encourage Vietnam to want peace.
On Christmas day, Brady, Derek and the other prisoners awakened to the familiar sound of American B-52 bombers. The walls rumbled with sound waves of crashing bombs. The nightly bombing continued several days. And then it was quiet again. Initially the men had hopes of rescue. Now, they didn’t know what to think.
Slowly, conditions at the prison camp improved. They were given more water and food. They were allowed to swim in the river. They were given new clothing. As Derek’s health improved, Brady’s health became worse. His injured leg became red and swollen with a deep intense pain. He couldn’t walk without help. He became weaker and weaker and slept most of the time.
News of the “Christmas Bombings” in North Vietnam had caused a new wave of national protests and even international condemnation. President Nixon had justified the bombings as necessary to bring an end to the war. Protesters demanded an immediate end to what they called unnecessary intervention and sacrifice of young American men. In January, peace negotiations began again in Paris. Mike and Millie watched the nightly news broadcasts with guarded hope. Not sure what they hoped for. Feeling frustrated. Sometimes anger. Deep sorrow and longing to have Brady home.
Joey and Kara expressed their sorrow over Brady in different ways. Mostly privately or with friends. Or one on one conversations with either Mike or Millie. But they continued on with their dreams. Kara planned to graduate high school early and begin college the next year to become a French language teacher. Even planned on going to school in France for a year.
On the outside, Joey seemed to go along with his parent’s design of college with a music major while working part time at the tire store, but inside he was very frustrated. His frustration vented out into a new venture. He left home to go on bus tour with his buddies in the rock band. He left a note in his room for his parents. They discovered the note when he didn’t return home from school.
Mike read the note again and then handed it to Millie. “I can’t believe this,” he said with anger. “I just gave him money for college tuition. And now he’s gone off with a rock band.”
“I’m so worried.” Millie began weeping. She looked in his closet. “He took most of his clothes. He really is gone.” She began sobbing loudly. “How could he do this to us? We were so good to him.”
Mike embraced Millie while she cried on his shoulder. He was still in shock.
Kara peeked in the doorway. “Mom, why are you crying?”
“Joey left a note. He’s run away with that rock band. The same group that caused him trouble before.”
“That Dodo! I don’t understand him. You and dad gave him everything.” Kara hugged her mother. “He’ll be back. Don’t worry.”
Then one evening it was announced in the news that the Paris Peace Accords achieved an agreement to end the American involvement in Vietnam. And also, to release POW’s. Hanoi began releasing prisoners in February. And they were flown to Clark Air Force base in the Philippines.
Mike and Millie were in frequent communication with Major Walters. Hoping for good news. After many weeks of waiting, Major Walters said he hoped to have confirmed news to the Jewels in a few days.
Mike turned to Millie after hanging up the phone. “Brady’s not on the list of returning soldiers. He’s still missing.” Mike and Millie sat quietly on the sofa for a long while. Millie wept. Mike stared into space. Finally, Mike said, “We’ll continue to live as if Brady’s alive.” He hugged Millie and left to go for a walk.
Millie watched him from the window. Leftover autumn leaves danced in the wind behind his feet. Millie thought the crisp spring air would do him good. She returned to the kitchen and brewed a fresh pot of coffee to go with dessert when he returned. Kara came home from a babysitting assignment.
“Hello Mom. What’s for dinner?”
Millie moved slowly to the table and sat down.
“Are you sick?” Kara asked.
“Sick with grief.”
“Brady was not on the list of returning soldiers.”
Kara sat down next to Millie. “Does that mean he’s dead?”
“It means same as before. He was a POW. Missing in action. Not sure where he is. But your dad says we’ll go on as if Brady is still alive.”
“I would rather think that Brady’s still alive.”
“He is alive…because of his faith in Jesus…Brady will never die.”
“I believe that. I don’t think about dying myself. But if I did. You know like in the movie ‘Love Story.’ If I had leukemia or something like that. I believe I would just go from this life right to Jesus in heaven.”
“Can I have a cup of coffee? I have an exam to study for tonight. Think I’ll be up late.”
“Certainly! Let’s pop a frozen pizza in the oven for your dinner.”
“Groovy.” Kara smiled for a moment, then frowned again. “Mom this is crazy not knowing where Brady is. I almost wish that…I mean,” she hesitated. “Well, you know, just wish he would come home.”
“I understand,” Millie said as she hugged Kara. “It’s difficult to heal if we don’t know whether to expect him home or if we’ll have to wait till heaven to see him.”
Kara stared at her reflection in the dark shining coffee in the cup set before her. A wave of coffee shifted from side to side in the cup until it settled. Then ripples of circles from adding sugar. “I love you mom.”
“Love you too dear.”
A few days later the Jewel’s were having dessert after dinner when they heard a knock on the door. Mike wiped crumbs of pie crust from the edge of his mouth with a napkin. He opened the door to see a young man in uniform.
Derek was nervous. Hid his shaking hands inside his coat pockets. Hated to bring bad news but he managed to stammer through the words. “Good evening sir. My name’s Derek. I knew your son Brady. We were in Hanoi together. Major Walters asked me to come and share some news with you.”
“Come in.” Mike was stunned but remained calm. They heartily shook hands. “Glad to meet you. Have a seat.”
Millie entered the room with a puzzled smile on her face. “This is my wife, Millie. Millie this is Derek. He says he knew Brady in Vietnam.”
“Oh my goodness! You know Brady! Where is he?”
Kara had heard the commotion and came into the living room. “Hello everyone, what’s going on?”
“Derek this is Kara, my daughter. Kara this is Derek. He says he was with Brady in Hanoi.” Mike motioned Derek toward the chair. “Let’s all sit down. He has something to tell us.”
Derek cleared his throat. “First, I want to say, Brady saved my life. He came to the prison camp in Hanoi when I…I was about to die. He hunted for food. Gave it to me. Encouraged me. Told me about Jesus. My health improved. Now I’m a believer in Christ. So you see…he really saved my life.”
“Good to hear…but, where is Brady, now?” Mike asked.
“He passed away one night sir…so sorry he didn’t make it…I really miss him.”
Everyone began quietly weeping.
“Major Walters told us about a document supposedly signed by Brady. Do you know anything about that?” Mike asked.
“Not really sir.” Derek still shaking, leaned forward in the chair he had sunk into, propped his elbows upon his knees and clasped his hands together. “Brady and I were on a mission in North Vietnam…our bomber was hit…on fire. We parachuted out just before it exploded. Said he injured his leg when landing. We were captured but he was in a different prison for a time. Until he came to the same prison where I was. He walked with a limp because of his injury. But a few weeks before we were released from prison, Brady’s leg got worse. Couldn’t walk. He moaned a lot from the pain. Slept a lot. Then one morning, I discovered he was dead.” Derek choked back the tears. “Had a peaceful smile on his face.”
Derek began to relax. He sat back and continued sharing. “Brady talked about Jesus to everyone. Even to the prison guards. Others in our prison camp also became believers. And I’m thinking about Bible College to be a Chaplain…”
“Thank you Derek for coming to tell us in person.” Mike said.
“Least I could do sir. I’ll never forget Brady. I’ll always think of him as my best friend.”
“What are your plans Derek? If you need a place to stay for the night, you’re welcome.” Millie and Kara smiled in agreement.
“Thank you all for offering. I need to get back to the airport to catch my flight home. I have a cab waiting.”
“Wait just a moment, before you go. I have something I want to give you.” Mike headed up the stairs, but turned to motion to Millie to come with him. He whispered, “Is it alright with you if we give Derek, Brady’s bible?”
While they were discussing the Bible. Kara felt the awkward silence so she asked Derek. “So was it really scary in the prison?”
Derek chuckled because he sensed she didn’t know what to say. “Worse than a horror movie. But God got us through it. Even Brady. He’s just in a better place now.” The moment turned somber again. Both teared up.
Mike and Millie returned to the living room. Mike handed Brady’s bible to Derek. “This is Brady’s bible. We gave it to him when he was baptized. I’m sure he would like you to have it.”
Derek took the Bible and carefully opened it as if it were a priceless heirloom. “Are you sure you want me to have it? This is part of Brady. I see his notes in here.”
Mike looked to Millie for agreement. “I think Brady would be very pleased for you to have it.” She was in a daze but felt great peace. God’s peace about Derek.
Mike affirmed. “Carry on in Brady’s behalf. He was planning to go to Bible College too. Now you can go for him. Use his notes when you study.”
Derek held the Bible close to his heart and nodded his head. “Yes sir. Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Jewel. Means a lot to me.”
“For everything there is a season…a time to cry and a time to laugh, a time to grieve….”
The days ahead were filled with a steady stream of condolences from family, friends, neighbors and church members. A memorial service was held at the church with a pot luck dinner following. Then day by day, the calls, cards and visits subsided and left a marked, quiet loneliness in the Jewel household. Although, peace came with finally knowing about Brady, an ache remained in Millie’s heart. She watched the rain roll down the window pane, rain drops empathetic to her feelings. Like tears rolling down her cheeks. When she retrieved the mail, she was surprised by a bouquet of flowers hanging on the door knob. They made her smile. It was the first day of May. The neighbor children had left those flowers. She placed the frail garden flowers in a vase of water and found the perfect place to display them. The sofa table in the living room. I’ll take some homemade cookies to them tomorrow.
The ringing phone rattled the quietness. “Hello.” Millie was surprised again. “Joey! Are you alright? Where are you?” She was so excited her voice became louder as she pleaded. “Joey, you need to come home. Your brother has passed away! You missed the memorial service.” Millie’s tears began to flow again. She listened while Joey expressed sorrow about Brady. And excuses. “What do you mean, you can’t come home…you don’t have to play at the concert…you have a commitment to your family too…wait…how can we get in touch with you…Joey don’t hang up…I want to talk to you…” Millie held the phone for a few more moments, even after she heard the click of the phone hanging up and then the dial-tone. She sat down and cried out to God. Please help me God… I can’t take anymore…Please help me…She placed her head on the sofa pillow, curled up with the soft blanket Anna had crocheted for her and looking at the vase of flowers through blurry tears, she drifted off to sleep.
She awakened later at the sound of Mike coming home from work. He came in from the kitchen. “Caught you asleep on the job. No dinner. No kiss at the door.” Mike grinned and placed his hand on her forehead to check for fever. “Are you not feeling well?”
She rubbed her eyes, fluffed the pillow and smoothed a stray strand of hair back into place. Then kissed Mike a quick hello kiss. “Joey called today.”
“What happened? Why so sad…Is he okay?” Mike had already gotten over his anger at Joey. He had made peace with Joey’s departure. He was still concerned about Joey’s welfare, but had decided to let go. After all, Joey was an adult and had to be responsible for his own decisions.
“He won’t come home. Said he has commitments to play in some concerts.”
“Did you tell him about Brady?”
“Yes. Said that’s why he called. Said he had a strange feeling something had happened.” Millie thought back over the conversation. “He said he’s not a kid anymore. Not just playing in some weekend school concert. Said he’s making money….doing well…not to worry. Then he hung up without giving me a phone number or address where we could reach him.”
Mike embraced Millie. “This is hard to take. Missing two sons at the same time.” They held each other for a long while, comforting each other…forgetting everything, except each other…
Kara’s graduation from high school soon became front and center in the Jewel household. A change of focus would bring a little sunshine into their gloominess.
But Kara objected. “Mom and dad, we don’t have to celebrate. I really don’t feel like it anyway. We can celebrate when I graduate from college.”
“We should do this for you. You worked hard to graduate early.” Mike stood with towel in hand ready to dry the dinner dishes after Millie had washed them. While Kara sipped coffee. Instant coffee made with hot milk and sugar. The foamy top stuck to the corners of her mouth.
“Most of my friends won’t graduate until next year. I would feel odd going to a graduation ceremony without them.”
“Would you prefer to have a reception?” Millie turned around from the dishes in the sink and smiled as she wiped the corner of Kara’s mouth with a napkin.
“Yeah, I like that idea better.”
“We could have a reception on a Saturday afternoon at the Tea Room. French pastries. Punch. Formal attire. How does that sound?”
“Cool! Since I missed the prom…” She looked down for a somber moment remembering why she had missed the prom. Brady’s funeral. “Well, anyway the prom dress won’t go to waste now.”
Millie busied herself during the next few weeks planning the reception and sending invitations. Kara prepared for final exams. The celebration was a success. Helped ease them out of depression and into a refreshing summer. Anna and Maria invited Kara to go along with them to visit family in Italy. Since Kara would be gone for ten days, Mike and Millie decided to take a vacation in Florida. Go to the beach. Relax in the sun. One evening as they walked along the beach Millie noticed Mike was unusually somber. She remarked about the sunset reflecting beautiful golden pillars in the calm sea. Huge billowy clouds reflected golden light over shades of gray. Mike sighed. “Yeah…I feel like this sunset. Seems like everything around me is beautiful. Golden. But inside a dark gray cloud. I have questions of God that don’t have answers…like why did God take Brady while Joey’s the rebel…then I feel guilty about thinking this way…” He kicked a little ball someone had left behind.
Millie stopped and looked up into Mike’s deep blue eyes that seemed gray from sadness. “I understand. I’ve had similar thoughts. I think about things I could have done differently…that may have helped Joey…and Brady…prayed more…more faith…more love…but lately God seems distant. When I read the Bible I feel numb…like flat words on a page.”
Mike took Millie’s hand as they continued walking along water’s edge. He kicked sand into the waves as they gently rolled up the shore. Continuing on with his frustration. “Friends from church say this is normal…this is not normal…we will heal…but I feel worse…God is teaching us to trust him…but I keep thinking…what next…everything has changed…I wish everything were like before…before…I…I don’t know…before we lost Brady.”
Millie took a turn at kicking sand at one of the waves. “Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in these testing tides of life.”
Somehow the honesty and venting helped. Helped them to understand the heart of the matter. They were squirming, kicking their feet in a tantrum, against God. This was their season to heal. God the Father, sovereign Lord waited. Waited patiently, guiding each child in their search for that secret place… the shadow of the almighty.
Church bells chimed especially clear and majestic in the crisp autumn air. Oak trees along the sidewalk framed the church with brilliant orange, yellow and red leaves. The Jewels walked up the steps of their grand old church. Mike and Millie shook hands with greeters at the door and proceeded to the sanctuary. Millie said hello to an acquaintance who usually sat near the same pew every Sunday. Kara excused herself to go sit with friends. Organ music played while the choir entered. The congregation stood as the pastor invited everyone to sing the opening hymn. Millie listened to Mike’s harmonic alto voice while she read the words to the song from the hymnbook.
“When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul…”
Millie couldn’t bring herself to sing. The song echoed in her mind during the service. Mike’s singing was heart felt, she knew. He had shared with her the past week, his peace with God. He was no longer angry with God. Said he had discovered during his morning devotional times alone with God, reading various portions of scripture, that God’s ways are always best. Even our Lord’s crucifixion initially seemed like a tragedy until he rose from the grave to win salvation for all who believe. Millie was happy for Mike, but for her, sorrow hadn’t taught her anything yet, except a deep dark pit she couldn’t climb out of. She had gone through the motions. Smiled at the appropriate times. But inside she was numb. She couldn’t sing. Couldn’t pray. Reading the bible was a constant effort to stay focused on the words. Instead, her thoughts wandered to past moments with the children. Happy times when they were young. Would she ever be happy again she wondered.
After the service, Gwen walked over from the other side of the sanctuary, hugged Millie and patted her back. She looked directly into Millie’s eyes. “I’ve missed you friend. Are you alright?”
Millie’s green eyes glistened with tears and then she smiled softly. “I’ll be alright. Come by for tea sometime soon.”
“Will you be at Butterfly Closet tomorrow?” Gwen patted Millie’s hand. “We’ve missed you there. We understand, but come help out as soon as you can.”
Millie perceived her friend’s intention to get her out of self-pity by helping someone else. “Glad you reminded me. I’ll come help tomorrow.”
Gwen lit up with delight. “Good! Then afterwards, we’ll have lunch together.”
Sunday afternoon, Millie sorted through Brady’s old clothes. Something she hadn’t been able to face doing yet. Some had already been thrown out long ago, but his good clothes, had been kept. Each item brought back a memory. Happy memories. Camping trips. Snowball fights. Prom night. Graduation. Easter Sunday…Kara peeked inside the door and joined in. Shared some memories too.
Brady’s coats, hats and gloves went fast at Butterfly Closet. Millie was pleased to see an elderly man happy to receive a warm coat. He had lost his job when he was sick and had a hard time finding another job. Now he was employed as a janitor at the school nearby but struggling to get caught up on bills. “Glad you like the coat Mr. Colton. It was my son’s coat. He was a soldier in Vietnam. He passed away. So glad you have it now.”
Mr. Colton clutched the coat close to his heart. He was originally from New York and still had bit of an accent. “Thank you mam. Honored to have it. Will take good care of it. And thank you all for helping this past year. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.” He tipped his hat and stopped at the ladies section. His bushy eyebrows arched over faded brown eyes while he examined a pair of mittens. “May I take these to my wife? She lost her gloves last winter.”
Gwen smiled in approval. “Certainly, take the gloves for your wife. And here is something good to read.” She placed a small New Testament with the gloves in a bag and handed it to him. “You both keep warm and well. Come by and see us soon. And please come to worship services on Sunday.”
“Thank you. I should come and give thanks to God for his blessings.” He tipped his hat again. “Good day ladies.”
“God bless you.” After he left Gwen quietly remarked to Millie. “What a dear, pleasant man. I do hope he becomes part of the family of God. It will break my heart if he doesn’t accept God’s gift of salvation.”
Millie admired Gwen’s heartfelt expressions of love. After they closed Butterfly Closet they walked to a nearby deli. Ordered sandwiches and coffee. Millie sipped the steaming black coffee, enjoying the aroma, while Gwen added cream and sugar to hers.
With the excitement of a little child, Gwen began to tell Millie about a weekly Bible study she would be starting at her house. “I’ve been praying, planning and preparing a long time. Want you to be a part of it. I think we should have a time of prayer after the lesson and I would like you to lead it.”
Millie had many thoughts coming to mind all at once. Her inadequate private prayer life. Difficulty with bible study. Not sure how to talk with Gwen about it. “I will…I’ll think about it.”
“If you feel more comfortable just quietly attending for now. I could lead the prayer time and then maybe later you could take that responsibility.”
Millie sighed. Glad for the interruption of plates with sandwiches and chips delivered by the waitress.
They bowed their heads as Gwen quietly prayed for God’s blessing on their meal and fellowship.
“Honestly, I’m glad the subject of prayer and bible study came up.” Millie took a bite of the pickle on her plate. “My prayer life is in a pickle.” Gwen chuckled at the sour expression Millie had from eating the pickle. “My prayer life has changed from fruitful to shriveled and sour.”
Gwen’s tone was concerned and loving, not condemning. “I think you’re trying to say you don’t feel adequate to lead the prayer time. Is that it?”
“Yes, exactly.” Millie was relieved to be able to talk with someone about this. “I want to get back to wonderful, meaningful times of prayer. Somehow, I just can’t.” Millie’s eyes moistened while her voice choked back the tears. “Everything seems dark and dull.”
Gwen was sympathetic. “Did this start with Brady missing and then dying?”
“It was so subtle. I couldn’t tell you the day it began. I remember praying for Brady to return home, really hopeful that he would. Then months later, doubts and unanswered questions interrupted my prayers. I think I became disappointed…angry with God for not answering my prayers.”
Gwen quietly retrieved a pen from her purse and an extra unused napkin from the table and wrote: RX for Millie – Read Job 1 and chapters 38-42 and Isaiah 53, followed by Isaiah 53 each morning for seven days. She leaned forward and quietly spoke as if she were revealing a secret weapon. “This is what I want you to do for me friend. When you go home this afternoon, sit quietly and express your disappointment to God. Hold nothing back. Just tell God about all your anger. Then read these chapters in the Bible. Allow God to speak to you through his word. I’ll be praying this afternoon too…for you.” Gwen reached across the table and took Millie’s hand. “Don’t delay. Will you do this today?”
Millie nodded in agreement and felt a hopeful peace.
Gwen’s prescribed session with God revealed pride and bitterness. She needed to be cleansed of these. Needed to forgive and trust God. She realized that her suffering and Brady’s suffering were nothing compared to what Jesus had endured willingly in order to provide Salvation. Day by day Millie grew closer to God again. She was able to praise God. Found little things to be thankful for throughout the day. She was able to sing again. The sorrow had not left. But God’s peace and presence came along beside it. She found a true friend in fellowship with her suffering Lord. She forgave Joey and prayed fervently for him. The parable of the prodigal son was her favorite scripture that inspired her prayers for him. But this time, she trusted God with the outcome. She wished that she had spoken to him differently the last time he had called. Wished he would call again. She discussed with Mike the possibility of locating him and surprising him with a visit at one of his concerts. Mike said he would think about it. Even talked to one of his friends from work about how to go about locating him. A few days later when Mike came home from work he had exciting news.
“Guess what? We found out Joey’s band is opening for Thunder. They have a concert coming up in Kansas City. We can still get tickets for next weekend if you want to go.”
Millie was amazed. Almost forgot about the cookies in the oven. They looked a little overbrowned as she slid the pan on the rack to cool. “Do you think it’s a good idea to go…would we even get to see him there?”
Mike examined the cookies. Carefully picked one up, then blew on it to cool it off before popping it in his mouth. “Cookie meister approves.” He grinned with cookie goo sticking to his teeth.
Millie chuckled while covering her eyes with her hand. “That settles it then. I guess we’re going to see a concert. And Joey.”
Mike purchased the tickets and made all the arrangements for travel while Millie packed. Kara would not be going on this trip. She would either stay with a friend or with Anna and Maria. But she also informed her parents that she was old enough to stay at home alone. Mike and Millie stopped by Kara’s room where she was sitting on the floor looking though a collection of Beatles record albums. “Just checking on your plans next weekend while we’re gone…are you staying home or where?” Mike asked.
“Staying with Anna and Maria…they need help with making Christmas candles…excited about you both going to see Joey…hope it’s wonderful.”
They smiled in agreement. Mike’s concern came up when he noticed two piles of books on Kara’s desk. “How’s school going?”
“Planning to complete college in three years to be a language teacher. But, while in France completing a one year, study abroad program, I will meet a wonder Christian man. When I return and complete course work to get a teaching certificate we’ll continue writing letters to each other until we finish school and then we’ll get married. I’m not sure if we’ll live in France or Mt. Hope, but we’ll decide that later.”
Millie was not surprised…she had heard similar before. But, Mike was amused. “Okay young lady. Glad you plan to meet a wonderful Christian man, but I think you should quit daydreaming and start studying that pile of books on your desk.”
“Ughhh! Bubble buster!”
Mike flashed a peace sign to Kara as he took Millie’s hand. “Have fun. We’re going to a movie.”
Millie jokingly scolded Mike for being mean. “Kara you’re welcome to come along to the movie.”
“No thanks Mom!” Kara followed Mike and Millie down the stairs. “Plan to have a party here in my room while I study biology and world history. Getting popcorn, soda and Hershey’s chocolate bars right now.” Kara grinned. “Aren’t you envious?”
“No, but I think you should have some brain food instead.”
In jest, Mike added. “Yeah…study your biology book, the nutrition section. Have the four food groups.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah…have fun at the movies.”
Millie turned to Mike. “Forgot my sweater. I’ll run upstairs to get it and meet you in the car.”
Mike waited for Millie and then drove their 1969 Ford Mustang out of the garage to the movie theater. They had originally bought the car with the idea of giving it to Joey when he graduated from high school. But, he had left the car with them. So they drove it on the weekends. Mike joked about the fact that since Joey loved that car, he must surely be planning on coming home. If not, they planned to give it to Kara, if she wanted it. For now, she already had her own Volkswagen Beatle. They had decided to see the movie first and then go out to dinner. Since it was Friday night, start of the weekend, traffic was busy. Mike tuned in the radio. “We’ll listen to some, as Joey calls it, elevator music…calming with this traffic.”
“I like that radio station. No commercials. And you can talk while the music plays sweetly in the background.”
“Heard someone at church talk about a new Christian radio station starting up soon. Looking forward to that…It’ll be nice to hear Christian programming when traveling for work.”
“When is your next trip?”
“I’ll need to have all the reports done by the 15th…so probably…will head out the first week in November.”
Millie kissed his cheek. “Miss you already…I’ll make plans to get everything ready for Thanksgiving. Maybe start making bread to put away in the freezer for the food baskets.” “Here’s the street we’re looking for.” Mike pulled up to the intersection as the traffic light turned yellow. Waited until it was green and then proceeded to make a left turn. “Oh no! Look out!” Mike screamed and instinctively put his arm out in front of Millie to protect her.”
…underneath are the everlasting arms…
Sunlight shining through the window of the hospital room fell in little beams across the wall beside Millie’s bed. She opened her eyes, aware of excruciating pain in her head, bandages and tubes on her hands.
Kara noticed Millie’s movement. “Mom, I’m here. Can you hear me?” Kara choked back tears. “Maria and Anna are here too.”
Maria and Anna stepped over to the other side of Millie’s bed. Anna pulled the blanket up higher to keep Millie warm. “Hello, we’re here for you…praying for you.”
Maria tugged on Anna’s sleeve and whispered about going to get the doctor.
Kara squeezed her mother’s hand. “Mom the doctor will be here in just a bit…you’re in the hospital…you and dad had a car accident.”
Memories of an awful crash began coming back to Millie. A tear trickled down her cheek. Dr. Johnson came into the room, greeted Millie and introduced himself. Told her he was in the emergency room last evening when the ambulance brought her from the car. “…a little bungled up…we patched you up…just need to keep checking…make sure you’re progressing well…” He began to examine her. Testing her response. “You’re gonna be just fine. At times, it may seem to you like your progress is slow, but very soon you’ll be back to normal again.”
Millie slowly asked about Mike. Kara looked to Dr. Johnson with questioning eyes for unspoken permission to tell her mother. Dr. Johnson nodded to Kara to go ahead with the news.
Kara choked back the tears and tried to talk. “Mom…Dr. Johnson said dad passed away early this morning…I’m so…so sad mom…can’t imagine life without dad.” Kara softly cried as she held her mother’s hand. Millie closed her eyes, overflowing with tears. For the next seven days nurses changed bandages, checked her temperature, gave her medication, ran tests and gave therapy. Kara stayed by her side. Anna and Maria checked in on her daily with updates about funeral arrangements for Mike. Millie and Kara cried constantly it seemed. The funeral was a few days after she was released from the hospital. Neighbors, church members and relatives came and took care of everything they needed. The hospital stay followed by the funeral became only a blurred memory to Millie. Repeatedly she called the name of Jesus…deep mournful cries within her soul. There she found the secret place…shelter in the shadow of God’s presence. Wonderful abiding peace.
December came quickly and with good tidings to the Jewel home. Joey returned home the week before Christmas. With his arms full of gifts he waited at the door for someone to answer. Millie opened the door and laughed with joy as she gazed at Joey peeking out over the top of several boxes. “Joey! I prayed you would come home for Christmas and here you are.”
Joey carefully walked inside so not to topple the gifts he carried. “Merry Christmas Mom. Where’s the tree to put the gifts under?”
Millie sighed. “Haven’t put it up yet. Put them over there on the table for now.” She hugged Joey and stood back for a moment smiling not sure where to begin a conversation. “Would you like some hot chocolate?”
“Sounds great.” He noticed a scar on Millie’s face and a wig instead of her usual hairstyle. He followed Millie to the kitchen. “Where is everyone?”
“Kara’s at a friend’s house…and…well…and…a…let’s sit down a moment before I make the chocolate.” Millie took off her apron and hung it on the hook. She sat down, lowered her head and choked back the tears. “We had no way of reaching you to tell you…your dad and I were in a car accident. Your dad passed away.”
Joey stared straight ahead in shock. Slowly tears began to fill his eyes. “I was worried about him being mad…how to apologize…now it’s too late.” His soft crying became wailing. “It’s too late…it’s too late…I’m sorry dad…” Joey placed his head down on folded arms resting upon the table. He continued sobbing, hiding his face in his arms. When he looked up, his mother handed him a box of tissues to wipe his tears. “Mom, please forgive me for being a selfish brat.”
“We’ve already forgiven you a long time ago. In fact, before the accident, we had planned to surprise you at one of your concerts…”
They cried and talked together several hours while drinking hot chocolate and munching from a tray of sliced apples, summer sausage, cheese and crackers.
Joey fidgeted in his chair not knowing how to say it, so cleared his throat and just blurted out. “I’ve been thinking more about God lately…especially since almost going to jail again.”
Millie gasped. She had been cleaning up the kitchen while they talked, but sat down again at the table to be more attentive. “What happened?” She said a quick prayer for help with how to respond.
“Last week our band finished the last concert of the tour for the year so we planned a celebration…we were in Miami…so a friend said we could use his beach house for the party…but I wanted to visit an old friend who had moved to Miami a few years ago. Remember, Jamie, my first girlfriend?”
“Oh yes, I remember her. Beautiful girl. Wonderful Christian family too.”
“Yeah. So I planned to go to the party later. I was having such a good time with Jamie and her family…they insisted I stay longer…we sang Christmas carols…decorated the tree…played cards and board games…I left their house late and when I arrived to the party, as we drove up to the house, we saw flashing lights of police cars and everyone being taken away in a police van…I was so relieved and thankful that I hadn’t gone earlier.”
Millie looked up with praying hands together. “Thank you God.” Then looking back at Joey with compassion. “Joey I prayed every day for God’s protection over you.”
Joey grinned sheepishly. “Thanks mom. Lately, I’ve had this strange feeling…that someone is watching…not in a bad way…but like you said…protecting me.”
Millie shook Joey’s shoulder. “And now you’re home…hope you’ve learned something from all this.”
Joey was quiet for a few moments. “I’d like to go to church with you this Sunday…”
Sounds of someone stamping their feet interrupted. Millie went to the living room. “Hello Kara, is it snowing?”
“Yes. Just started. Come see, it’s so pretty. Glad I wore my boots.”
Millie smiled brightly. “We have a surprise in the kitchen.”
Joey walked in smiling. “Merry Christmas Kara!”
Kara squealed! “Joey, you’re back! You Dodo! Why’d you ever leave?” They hugged and patted each other on the back.
Joey rolled his eyes. “You’re right…I’m a Dodo.”
Everyone laughed…laughed for joy. Joy for answered prayer. Joey safely home.
Though for Joey, grief for loss of his dad overshadowed his joy for being home. Grief and guilt. With a seeking heart he began attending church services with Millie and Kara. He was inspired by the pastor’s Christmas Eve sermon about Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem to find the Messiah. Pastor’s closing phrase, “Wise men still seek him…” echoed in his mind for days. He began reading the Bible. He also began writing letters to Jamie every day expressing feelings of grief and guilt. Jamie responded with encouraging letters along with gospel tracts tucked inside. Some of the tracts were written by young men who had experienced the same lifestyle of wandering rebellion. Joey realized his guilt was not all about missing his dad but more about his own behavior…playing Satanic rock music, drug and alcohol use, sexual affairs…He became even more depressed when comparing his life to Brady’s. Brady was a hero. Even a missionary on the battlefield. Joey loathed himself. A verse from the book of Romans came to mind. Joey retrieved his Bible from the desk in his room and began reading.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…the wages of sin is death…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord…”
Joey lay back on his pillows and began weeping. A strong feeling…no belief that he needed to be right with God came over him. He opened the Bible again. His eye caught a footnote about becoming a new person. He read 2 Corinthians 5:17. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ…”
That’s it! Joey got down on his knees beside his bed. Prayed to God. God I need to be reconciled to you…just like I needed to be reconciled with my dad, but now it’s too late…I don’t want to be too late for you God…please forgive me of all my sins…I believe that your gift of Jesus Christ can cleanse me so I can be right with you…I don’t understand it all yet…but if you’ll teach me in your Bible…I want to know you more…
Joey felt clean. Like he was floating on a light beam. Wow, no drug on earth can make me feel like this…this is real…this is you God…I’m yours now…never felt so loved…so happy…so free.
Joey was bursting for wanting to tell someone. He ran down the stairs to the kitchen where Millie and Kara were baking cookies. “Mom, Kara. I believe…I believe in Jesus…He’s saved me and cleansed me from my sins…” He hugged Millie. “Thanks for all your prayers Mom.” Then he hugged Kara. “Thanks for the kick in the butt.” Kara chuckled. “You know what I mean,” he added.
Kara stood back with her hands on her hips. “If you mean the prodding to change your behavior…” Joey nodded yes. Kara grinned with satisfaction. “No problem! Anytime!”
Millie smiled brightly. “Wonderful news! Let’s celebrate! Tell us how all this came about…”
“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to harvest…”
Millie returned to college to update her teaching certificate, thankful that Mike had taken care of life insurance. Got her, Kara and Joey through college. Millie continued working at Butterfly Closet in the summer, but she was blessed with teaching First Grade children for many years. Even past the time when she could have retired. She loved to teach the little children to read. Counted it a privilege to teach such a valuable skill. She continued to live in the old house on Evergreen Lane. Shared it at times with Joey’s family, then with Anna after Maria passed away. Then Anna had to go to a nursing home because she needed nursing care every day. Millie would visit her often. Anna was unable to talk much, but she could hear, so Millie would sit and read the Bible to her. Millie also gave her a radio to have beside her bed, to listen to Christian music. This comforted her. Gwen and Peggy continued to be lifelong friends. They served together, prayed together, grieved together and encouraged each other. She often thought of Rachel who had gone to Nigeria as a missionary. She had worked there as an English language teacher for more than twenty years, but had died in an attack on a church where she worshiped. But she also grieved over Charlotte who had left Butterfly Closet many years ago to follow after “new age” beliefs. Charlotte had continued to attend church but also believed in other religions. Recently, Millie had read in the newspaper about Charlotte’s death. She had died from cancer. Millie ached and grieved knowing she would never see Charlotte again and what she could have done if anything to help her know the true way to God, through faith in Jesus Christ.
Joey and Jamie, childhood sweethearts, now married with three children, Mikey, Michelle and Joy had recently moved to Nashville. Joey had worked hard to reach what he thought was the pinnacle of his music career. Producing Christian music. He had completed a masters in college while he and his family lived with Millie. Then he had moved to a church in Missouri to serve as a music pastor. All the while he had continued writing music and leading musical productions in worship services. Jamie home-schooled the children. Thankful to Millie for help getting started with the proper teaching materials and techniques. And of course, Joey insisted on teaching them music.
Kara had stayed the course she had mapped, completing college, including one year in France. Although, she didn’t meet her future husband in France, as planned. Even better, by God’s providence, while in France she had met a missionary family from America. Kara was intrigued by their lives and their work in linguistics. She shadowed along with them to many of their outreach events at the colleges. She had met her husband Tan, when she returned home to complete her teaching certificate. Tan came to America in 1975 from Saigon, a South Vietnam refugee. He had attended the same college as Kara where she was teaching an English language class. He had also recently become a Christian. They became good friends and Kara continued helping him with English language while he attended Bible College to become a pastor. They had married after Tan graduated from college, then moved to pastor a small Vietnamese congregation in Philadelphia while Kara taught French language at a local high school. They had one son, Ty, who was very precious to the Jewel’s. He had been given the middle name, Brady.
Another new year and Millie felt blessed to meet with the saints to praise God and ask for his favor. She was now one of the eldest members of her church. Many of her friends had passed on to heaven. Looking out over the congregation, thinking of all the changes over the years…the long time pastor had retired and a new younger pastor had taken his place…new families, some who had been Millie’s first grade students now filled the seats. It seemed the young families no longer fussed about to keep children quiet…instead chirping cell phones and the latest text message competed for their attention. She sighed for missing hymn books and pew Bibles, only words on the screen. A scripture came to mind, ‘The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.’ It’s comforting to know God, you never change.
A young woman with excellent diction read the scripture selection while the congregation stood. With voice so eloquent and vibrant capturing complete attention of every ear in the sanctuary.
“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed…through suffering we share in the death of Jesus so the life of Jesus may be seen in us…2 Corinthians 4:8-10”
Millie hugged her new neighbor, Lydia, who had graciously brought her to church on Sunday mornings. Lydia’s sparkling eyes smiled as she helped Millie sit down. Then Millie caught herself nodding off during the sermon. The neighbor’s fireworks bringing in the New Year had awakened her and then she couldn’t get back to sleep until it was time to get up. She scolded herself to hold off napping till later. After arriving home she made lunch, traditional New Year’s Day bean soup with cornbread. She opened up the patio door to enjoy the warm afternoon breeze, a pleasant surprise in January. With cane in hand for support she slowly swept the cobblestone patio, dusted off the chairs and prepared afternoon tea for outdoors. One more thing, she must go back inside to retrieve her Bible. About ready to sit and a chill brought by the breeze sent her back inside for a jacket. Now the tea was too cool. Back inside to warm it. Added a few Ginger cookies too. Finally, ready to sit. She sipped the hot tea looking up at the sky, Come Lord Jesus…
The phone rang. Slowly hobbled inside to answer it. “Hello…Happy New Year to you too! How are you? Millie listened while Joey explained that he was fine but Jamie had the flu. “I hope she recovers soon…I know you’re taking good care of her…well good…I know you will…hope you don’t get sick too…I talked to Kara yesterday…I should say by text we spoke…they say they’re fairly safe in Vietnam…their house church is going well…they’ve adopted more children…they miss Ty so much you know…Yes, Ty’s in medical school. He’ll begin an internship here at the hospital soon…How are little Wilson and Katy? Okay, Grandpa, he’s too young to start music lessons…” Millie chuckled at the thought of a three year old taking piano lessons. “I see, you’re planning ahead…” Again Joey offered to bring Millie to Nashville to live in a condo nearby. “I’ll think about it…can still manage here okay…it takes longer, but eventually I get things done…appreciate your concern…okay, go check on Jamie, get some rest, take extra vitamin C…will pray for all, as always…love you…see you later.”
Millie made another cup of tea, but changed her mind about sitting outside. It was getting colder. She lit a spiced candle and sat down in her favorite tapestry chair in the living room. While sipping tea she thought about her family.
Father God, how blessed I am…you’ve given me a wonderful heritage…an eternal home and earthly children to be there too…comfort and heal Jamie…touch her with your healing power…strengthen Joey…I thank you for grandson, Mikey…may he continue living for you Lord and using his musical talent to serve you and glorify you…thank you for giving him, Anne, a beautiful Christian wife and my precious great grandson Wilson…lead him in the way everlasting…Also, I thank you for granddaughter Michelle, that she is serving you Lord by teaching in a Christian school…comfort her in her loss of husband, Eric, who died in combat in Iraq…Also, watch over her little one, my great granddaughter, Katy. If it be your will for Michelle to remarry…let him be a good Christian man who’ll be a good daddy to little Katy…For now, Father God, bless Michelle and Katy with an awareness of your love and care over them…And granddaughter, Joy…what a joy she is…bless her with wisdom and skill and committed financial supporters for her endeavor to translate Bible scriptures…you know I’ll be one of her supporters…I thank you for that privilege…Thank you for Kara and Tan and their children…bless their house church in Vietnam…protect them all…provide their needs and even more so they can give to those in need around them…bless Ty with prosperity and the good skills of a doctor for your glory…
Millie fell asleep in the chair. The antique clock in the corner chimed six o’clock awaking her to a dark house, except for the candle still giving off sweet spicy aroma. She arose, closed the curtains, turned on the lights and made another cup of tea while playing a CD of panpipes playing old hymns. She thought panpipes must surely be in heaven too. An urgency to pray came over her. Quietly she waited. Slowly, she knelt on a pillow to cushion her knees while leaning forward to prop her elbows up on the edge of the chair.
Lord, thank you for the privilege of prayer. Here I am, before your throne, only by the precious name of Jesus, to intercede for others. For your Kingdom and for your glory…here I am asking for your mercy on the Church…renew us with life and power…forgive us, your Church, greed, slothfulness, worldliness…may we repent and be protective over your Holy name…may we honor you in word and deed…you are Holy…may we be holy because you are holy…renew your church with urgent desire to complete the work you’ve given us…keep open doors open…open closed doors…send more laborers…and Lord of the Harvest, for laborers who are weary, give strength…for those who are persecuted, protection…for those in need, provision…till all are saved…Father God, who raised Christ from the dead, you give life to us through your Spirit who lives in us…you give your angels to care and watch over us…you Lord, who did not spare your own Son so that we may have life, will freely give us all things we need…thank you for your faithfulness…
Lord Jesus, you said there would be wars and rumors of wars, but let not our hearts be troubled…you have instructed us to bring all our concerns to you in prayer, then peace will guard our hearts…So Father God, coming to you now to intercede for the Nations…where there is war or turmoil…grant peace…give our military operations around the world protection and angels to assist endeavors to secure stability in our world…protect their hearts from the horrors of war and bring them safely home…
Adonai, concerning Israel, now is the time to favor your people…the Saints love the very dust of the streets where you once walked…for your name’s sake, for your mercy’s sake, for the sake of the covenants, give Israel your protection from their enemies. Omniscient God, you have seen, you have heard, nothing is hidden from you…you know your people, Israel, desire peace…provide the peace they desire according to your perfect timing…may your Kingdom come…rain down your Holy Spirit upon the people of Israel, directing them toward the love of God…may the people of Israel cry out for return of Messiah…may your peace be upon Jerusalem…may her righteousness go forth as brightness and her salvation as a light that shines forever…Hallelujah! Amen!
The Holy Spirit’s urgency gave no rest. Millie went to the kitchen and made a fresh pot of coffee. For several hours, Millie prayed for the church, for the nations and for Israel, savoring the presence of the Lord.
With her last breath she cried, Adonai, till the trumpet call, treasure the prayers of your church as incense before your throne.
From the Jewel’s house on Evergreen Lane, everlasting light burst forth from the darkness shining like a star forever.