Friday, November 30, 2012

Chapter 25: Answered Prayers

The bodies in the cattle car made it warm in spite of the cold outside, and it was oddly comforting to know that she was not completely alone. In spite of the discomfort of the shackles, she found herself dozing off and allowed herself to give in to her body’s needs. She was too tired to pay much attention to the pain in her stomach.

In her dreams, she saw a girl roughly her own age riding a stallion and dressed in golden armor. The woman rode up next to her, so close that Kate could feel the heat from the horse’s nostrils blowing across her hair. The young woman reached a gloved hand down to Kate, and Kate took it and was pulled up onto the back of the stallion. As soon as she was sure that Kate was secure, the young woman urged the stallion into a gallop. The powerful legs of the war horse carried them far to the north, and Kate began to hear the clangs and clashes and roars and other sounds of a battle. The sounds grew louder as the young woman leaned in and urged her horse onward.

At last, with a leap, the two girls arrived in the middle of the battlefield. The two groups fought without either side seeming to gain ground until the stallion appeared in their midst, and became a rallying point for all those who fought on the young woman’s side. Suddenly, the tide of battle turned and those who were dressed in the same gold as the young woman began to win even as the other side began to retreat.

“Who are you?” Kate asked the young woman.

“I am called Jeanne d’Arc, and I am a shepherdess, nothing more,” the girl replied.

“Why are you showing me this?” Kate asked Jeanne.

Suddenly, the two girls were standing in a green, grassy field. Jeanne was holding a wounded lamb, while other sheep mulled around at her feet. She handed the lamb to Kate. “The lamb, Kate, defend the lamb.”

Kate was confused. She didn’t know the first thing about caring for sheep nor did she understand why she needed to defend it. Suddenly, she heard the snapping and growling of wolves as they leapt over the fence where the sheep were grazing. Jeanne handed her a staff, and the two stood back to back as the wolves approached. “Kate, you must defend the lamb,” Jeanne said. Kate woke just as the wolves leapt to attack the girls.

The growling sound from her dream seemed actually to come from the sound the cattle car was making as it began to move forward. Her arms ached and her stomach was so empty it hurt. She was thirsty, too. She felt dirty and, even though she had slept for a bit, still exhausted. She wanted to know where she was being taken. She wanted to know where her mother was, and where Kevin and his family were.

She could see the daylight through the slats in the car, and knew it had been at least a day since she had been taken from her home. Things had seemed so comfortable, and the dangers so distant. It was just barely a month since she had accepted the invitation and come to that first meeting in the cemetery. She certainly hadn’t expected that decision to lead here, but here she was. Her life would never, ever be the same again.

She looked around at her fellow car occupants, more to distract herself from thoughts of home than for any real curiosity about those in it. The man closest to her reminded her strongly of someone she knew. She racked her brain trying to figure it out. It took her a few minutes before she realized it. He looked a lot like Kevin if Kevin had gone a while without shaving and had black hair.

“Can I help you, Miss?” the man asked in an amused tone. “I can’t help but notice that you were staring at me.”

“I’m sorry,” Kate apologized. “It’s just that you remind me of someone from home.”

“Really?” The man asked, interested. “Where’s home?”

“Elko,” Kate replied.

“That’s where I live, too. Maybe you’ve seen me around town,” he offered.

“Maybe,” Kate said, “Do you have any children?”

“I have a son who is about your age and two younger children,” he answered.

“Is your son’s name Kevin?” she asked, suddenly becoming excited in spite of herself.

The man looked startled, “Yes, yes it is. That’s my oldest boy.”

Kate was really excited now. “Is your wife Bridgette?”

“Yes, do you know them?” he asked, suddenly just as excited as she was.

“Yes! It’s you! We’ve been praying for you, Mr. McCollum” she said. “I’m so glad I found you, I just wish Kevin were here so he’d know you’re okay!”

He chuckled and tugged on the shackles that held him in place, “It’s a little early to say that we’re okay, but I understand what you meant. Truthfully, though, I’m glad he’s not here and I hope he won’t be.”

Kate nodded, “I wish none of us were here. Mr. McCollum, where do you think they’re taking us?”

He shook his head, “I’m not sure, but I think we’re headed somewhere in Montana. I overheard one of the guards talking about it when they were standing outside. After that, I have no idea what they are planning. It’s in God’s hands now.”

“Why? Why is God allowing this? I don’t understand why He’s letting all these people suffer so much,” Kate said. The bitterness of last night’s events still lingered inside and she found them swelling up inside of her as she began to talk about it.

Kevin’s father looked at her with compassion. “It’s hard, sometimes, to understand why God allows us to be through trials like this. Goodness knows I’ve had my own troubles keeping the faith lately. As I’ve thought things over, though, I realized something very important. I think God lets us go through things like this for three reasons. The first reason is that we need to know where we stand in the faith. These trials tell us exactly what we’re made of, and where we’re weakest. Second, we’re meant to learn something from this. I’m not sure what, yet, but suffering is always intended to teach us. Third, once we’ve learned what we need to know, it’s meant to transform us,” he finished.

“What could I possibly learn from this?” Kate asked. “How could this possibly help me to know God better or be more willing to serve Him? If this is how He thanks his friends, it’s not any wonder so many people hate him.”

Kevin’s father chuckled at Kate’s words, and she felt her face flushing. She didn’t like to be made fun of and she didn’t think anything she’d said was all that funny, anyway. “Why are you laughing at me?” she asked, hurt.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. Your last words could have been taken right out of the mouth of St. Theresa of Avila. She was travelling along to do God’s work. She was ill and had a broken leg. The carriage she was riding in was turned over and she was dumped into the mud. She said to God, ‘If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!’ I was only laughing because you sounded so much like her,” he said apologetically.

“How can she have been a saint if she spoke to God like that? Doesn’t He get angry when we talk like that to him?” Kate asked, marveling.

“Not at all. God likes us to be honest with Him, no matter how we are feeling or where we are at in our lives. He’s big enough to handle your fears, your doubts, your anger, your hurt, and anything else you want to give over to Him. The only thing He can’t deal with are the ones who won’t talk to Him or won’t be honest with Him when they do,” he said.

It was a strange thought to imagine that God would be okay with her being angry with Him. She didn’t need to hide her feelings. She supposed there wasn’t a point to that anyway. God would know how she felt anyway. “I am angry, and hurt, and afraid, and I don’t know what I believe right now. I just want to go back home and have everything be okay again,” she confessed.

“God knows all that. Did you ever think that maybe that’s why He put you in this car, rather than in another one? Of all the possible people He could have paired you with, He put you in touch with me. You said you’d been praying for my safety, and you can now see that those prayers were answered. They might not have been answered the way you imagined, but they did get answered. I have been praying for the safety of my wife and son. Here you are to let me know that as far as you know they are alive and healthy. What a blessing that is!” he said.

Kate thought about that, and felt some of her anger slipping away. “But why can’t he do all of this without us having to get hurt, or be put in danger?” she asked.

“He could, sure, but he’s a big believer in something we call free will. He created men and women with the ability to decide for themselves what actions they would take, and whether those actions would be helpful or harmful to others. The first three gifts that He gave to mankind were life, labor, and free will. Without free will, it is impossible to love someone and God wants us to love Him and one another. So, in order for love to be able to exist He had to allow us to reject that love. These people that locked us up may not be aware of it, but they are rejecting God’s love right now. God can’t interfere with their ability to reject that love or He also interferes with their ability even at the last second to choose to love,” he said.

“But why must I suffer for their failure? Why doesn’t God defend me or you or anyone else in this car?” she asked.

“The innocent always suffer the most for the sins of the guilty, “he said to her. “However, the truth is that none of us are truly innocent. We have all failed in our efforts to love other people. Each of us has hurt someone with careless words or deeds or even what we have failed to do for them when they needed our help. Christ suffered unbelievable agonies for our sins so that He could build us a bridge back to Heaven when humanity had lost its way. We, in our turn, are given the opportunity to do for others in a small way what Christ has done for us in His much larger way. We are allowed to suffer some small bit so that others may see our love for them when they are at their worst. Furthermore, this small bit of suffering we do here cleanses us of the punishment we were due for our guilt if we accept it and offer it to God so that we do not have to suffer what we were actually due in eternity,” he finished.

Kate wasn’t sure that she was ready to accept the answers he gave her, but at least they made some kind of sense. It was the first time in a while that anything in her life had made sense. She was grateful that she’d been brought here to him so at least she could learn more about things. She hardly even noticed the time passing, so intent was she on absorbing everything he had to say, until there was a terrible screeching sound. The car bowed nearly in half, the metal groaning as it was squeezed between two other cars. Her new friend calmly began praying the rosary, and Kate joined with him as the car tumbled over and over again before landing on its side. The metal door hung off its rails. Kate tugged and felt her shackles come away from the metal. She turned to help others free themselves, working tirelessly to get everyone out before finally leaving the area herself.

She turned to Kevin’s father and asked, “What do we do now?” He smiled and said, “First, we find our way back home. Then, we make sure that everyone knows the truth. Welcome to the Chosen.

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