“What on earth are you planning on doing with all those cupcakes?” I asked, as my wife stumbled over the pathway, carrying two large trays filled with the most colourful looking confectionaries.
She responded with that familiar, gorgeous looking smile and said: “It’s leftovers from our school’s ‘Derby Day’ and I thought we could donate them to an orphanage or an old age home.”
That’s my wife, sweat running down her face, she still somehow finds the strength and time to think of those less fortunate.
It had been a busy Saturday and the last thing I was in the mood for was driving across town dishing out cupcakes to sad-looking faces.
Tracy batted her lashes and gave me a look that said: “I really love you,” and I felt the world turn as though her smile had just taken me on an enchanted magical carpet ride. One look from those eyes and I was a new man with a new mission, like a knight on a determined errand I took the two trays from her and headed toward the car.
“Where are you going now?” she asked.
“To find an orphanage of course. The little munchkins are really going to get tucked into this.” I laughed and for a moment I tried to imagine the kids standing in a straight line, guzzling down the spoils of ‘Derby Day’.
As the Sun’s gentle fingers reached through the rear window, it caressed and bathed the cupcakes in gentle warmth, and as we sped away in our little car, named Betsie, I somehow knew that God had an amazing afternoon planned. Little did I know the lesson He had in mind for me.
I felt a little uncomfortable. It had been many years since I had crossed the threshold of an orphanage and I was suddenly overwhelmed by a myriad of emotions ranging from fear and anxiety to excitement and curiosity.
I had in my past investigated many crimes involving children and so I tried my best to prepare my lovely wife for what she was about to see and experience.
“I can’t wait to see the excitement on their little faces!” she exclaimed. I, on the other hand had a sudden feeling of despair, realising that our visit might not match the Disney picture she had conjured up in her mind.
Sure enough, as we arrived, there was a group of young boys aimlessly playing at the gate. One aged about 12 was smoking a cigarette. I looked at Tracy and saw her childish smile of glee metamorphosise to confusion as if asking ‘Isn’t this the place young children are kept safe and loved?’
I felt her pain in the pit of my stomach, immediately regretting the fact that we didn’t rather visit the nearby old age home down the road.
As we drove down the narrow road we proceeded to a little house lost among the countless houses. This was the home in which the little children, aged four to seven, stayed. We were soon met by a vibrant elderly woman who immediately reminded me of my mother. She was sporting an old gown, a pair of slippers and a beaming hearty smile.
“We thought the kids would like these,” exclaimed Tracy with enthusiasm. I took the two trays ready to hand them over so that we could be on our way. I knew what lay beyond that doorway to the house but I most certainly wasn’t ready for it, and Tracy definitely wasn’t either.
Boisterously, the old lady laughed: “Ah, that’s lovely, just put it in the kitchen on the counter!” she said, as she showed me the way.
As I placed the trays gently on the kitchen counter, I turned and my heart stopped. There on the floor sat about 20 little children eating oranges, with blankets and pillows spread out, to keep the cold at bay.
The atmosphere was light as Barney sang cheerfully, almost as if desperately trying, with all futility, to climb through the television screen. As I surveyed the room, my eyes scanned the little faces and then our eyes met and locked.
She blinked those blue eyes and her blonde hair, although matted, hung to her shoulders beautifully. She was as dainty as she was beautiful. We stared at each other as she smiled. Then she locked eyes with Tracy. She was only five years old.
There was something about those eyes. What intrigued me wasn’t the crystal beauty they radiated, but rather what lay behind them: a thunderstorm was brewing, but like a storm in a teacup. I wasn’t sure if anyone else noticed it.
What had those little eyes seen in her little life? Yes, I could see her mind working overtime behind those eyes:
“I wonder what they are like? They look kind, but can they be trusted?” At least that’s what I thought she was mulling over.
In only seconds, my mind was overwhelmed with a million questions. “Does she know what love is? What it feels like to be truly loved? Did someone kiss her forehead before tucking her into bed at night and tell her that everything was going to be okay? Had she ever wondered what God was like or why He had left her here?”
I was jolted back to reality as we said goodbye to the little munchkins who shouted a hearty “Thank you!” and “Goodbye!” I winked at the little blonde girl (whom I will now call Amy) and received a shy but genuine smile. Still, my lasting impression remained the raging storm behind those eyes.
This brought my mind to another space and time, where I am reminded of such a storm. It was the year 1769, when the Church of St Nazarene in Brescia, Italy endured the most horrific event in history.
Nestled gently and securely in vaults below the church, lay 90 tonnes of gunpowder. A thunderstorm raged in the night sky above. The gunpowder lay ever so silent, until a single bolt of lightning struck, triggering an explosion that decimated one-sixth of the city, leaving over 3 000 people in its wake.
I tell this story because it reminds me that within the vaults of our hearts, lie the gunpowder kegs of our issues and our past. They are locked away in the vault, where no one can see them. All they are waiting for is that single flash of lightning to set them ablaze.
In this story the bolt of lightning is life, and life is the catalyst that can trigger the gunpowder of issues that could destroy us.
When I saw Amy, I knew that she was nothing short of a ticking time bomb. Seeing the raging storm in her eyes, the flashes of lightning and the dark clouds, told me that it was only a question of time before little Amy would have to face the bolts of lightning in her life.
All it would take was a few of life’s lightning bolts, or maybe even just one, to hit the kegs of gunpowder that lay hidden deep within her little heart.
For a brief moment, I prayed that what I saw in her eyes were indeed thunderbolts and not the explosion of her gunpowder.
As we stood outside the door I recognised that familiar look on Tracy’s face. She had noticed Amy, and Amy had noticed her, and I knew exactly what was coming next.
“Are people allowed to take the kids out for Christmas or weekends?” she asked as her eyes misted over. The elderly lady had obviously been around the block in her time and gently nodded in the affirmative.
“They do sometimes, but you have to work through the social worker,” she said tenderly.
“Do they have parents or ever go home?” asked Tracy with deep compassion.
“Some do. Some are placed here by the state because of family problems. Some don’t and some will be here for a very long time,” the old saint whispered despairingly, as she looked back at the little house.
We said our goodbyes, promising to return long before the next ‘Darby Day’. Then as we passed the gate heading out, a young 13-year-old took a final drag of his cigarette and carelessly tossed it in our direction.
While speeding home it was as if I could hear my wife’s heart break. An unusual silence ensued as we were both lost in thought. For days I couldn’t get Amy out of my mind, her eyes haunting my every moment.
It’s a terrible thing when little children get caught in the crossfire of life’s thunderbolts.
I have seen children with tonnes of gunpowder in the form of issues like rape, abduction and assault. Desperately they try to move forward while burying these highly explosive issues deep inside the vaults of their hearts and minds, waiting in silent slumber for that one last flash from life to trigger an explosion and destroy them, and very often those around them too.
Did you know that over 240 000 people are injured by lightning annually? The global death toll is 6 000 deaths per year and Roy Sullivan holds a world record for being struck by lightning seven times and surviving. These are recorded facts, but there is no record of how many people in the world suffer from the proverbial or metaphorical emotional lightning strikes.
As I lie on my bed, the curtain of night has drawn its drapes across the sky and in the far distance I see a faint flash of lightning. Instantly I am drawn to a face within my memory, little Amy.
Is she lying in her dorm with 30 roommates? Is she tucked in, snug and warm? Did she see the same flash of lightning I saw and wonder when it would finally strike her, and is she afraid of the dark? Is she wondering why God has left her there? Does she wonder, from the bottom of her tiny heart whether or not He loves her and has she ever even wondered what His gentle, tender arms feel like?
If I could just see Amy tonight I wonder what I would tell her: “Amy my sweetheart, you need a lightning rod that will draw the lightning away from you and then you need someone to remove the gunpowder from your heart,” then I would tell her about Benjamin Franklin, the great kite flyer who had a mission.
In 1752, Benjamin attempted an experiment with conductive metal rods in an attempt to attract lightning supposedly to the top of the spire on Christ Church in Philadelphia. His aim was to understand the connection between lightning and electricity.
The idea was to fly a kite into the storm clouds and conduct electricity down the string attached to the kite. A simple key was attached near the bottom of the string to conduct electricity and create a charge. He apparently did this and the little kite was struck by lightning and when he moved his hand near the key, he felt a shock. (This is a very simple yet inadequate version of the story, but I’m being selective for the purpose of time).
Now the kite was made of two pieces of cedarwood placed in the position of a cross, covered with a handkerchief. The cross had to be strong enough to withstand the storm’s intensity which could escalate to gale force winds. Then at the end of the cross, a sharp-pointed wire would be mounted rising a foot or more above the cross. This would attract the lightning.
A string would be used to fly the kite and a small key tied near the base of the string and thus the kite would be ready to be set free amidst the stormy, raging clouds, held only by the string controlled by the flyer. The individual flying the kite would then stand under cover, keeping the string near their dry hand. As the kite flew freely, the lightning would hit the rod, electrifying the kite and string and when a finger was brought near the key, an electric fire stream or sparks could be seen coming from it.
Amy needed a kite-like cross that could swirl high above the storm with an iron rod that could attract the lightning away from her, but she has no one to stand and fend off the horrid lightning bolts of life. The storms would rage as the years passed and what she needed was twofold: a key to open the vault of her heart to let the gunpowder out so she wouldn’t have to worry about the destructive effects of life’s lightning bolts and a rod that would fly above the clouds of this life, shouting: “Strike me!! Leave Amy!”
All she had to do was hold on to the string and wait. The lightning would steer past her and head straight to the little cedarwood cross kite and conjure within that cross a raging electrical explosion, leaving her at the bottom, holding a string, completely safe with a key in hand transmitting nothing more than an electrical spark.
Amy is only six years old so I doubt she would understand the experiment but maybe she would understand this: “My beloved Amy. In that little heart of yours brews a raging storm. Once upon a time, God flew a special kite-like cross into a terrible storm on a hill called Calvary. Lightning flashed across the skies and thunder roared. Men, women and children ran in fear of their lives, hiding under trees and in buildings, afraid of the destruction that awaited them. The problem was God needed a lightning rod attached to the cross so that the lightning would strike the rod and not the people, but there was no one brave or strong enough to weather that storm. There was only One who could do it, God Himself. And so He fastened Himself to that kite cross and flew into the heart of that terrible storm and drew every lightning bolt to Himself until the storm was dead and the skies were crystal clear.”
I can imagine Amy would have tears in her eyes, the storm long gone, and in her place would be a little girl with soft, clear eyes and a beaming smile.
If Jesus were telling her this story he would add the following:
“My dearest Amy, it was a horrible but beautiful day. I had a choice and I chose you. I would rather fly in that storm to protect you and keep you safe from the lightning than spend a day in Heaven without you. Now I want to give you a very special gift: take this key that was attached to the kite cross, it is the key to My heart. In the storm, the electrified key opened My heart to you and it is time you use it to open yours so that you can place your barrels of gunpowder into Mine. It won’t explode, there will be no more than a little spark.”
The great lesson Amy will learn in this life, is that as the daughter of the King, lightning from life may strike nearby, but she has a “Rod” next to her that stands in her place, battered, scarred and bruised who has absorbed all the thunderbolts that were meant for her and a key to the heart of God that will always ensure there is a beautiful spark between them.
I have a good feeling that Amy will be spending Christmas with us this year. Christmas Eve, I could teach her some hymns sung for the little baby Jesus in the manger, and after opening her presents on Christmas morning we can take her to fly a kite in the park.
Of course, there will be no lightning rod on the kite, because she will finally understand that Jesus came to this world to be her lightning rod and that storms aren’t as frightening as they may seem, especially when you have the key that unlocks the heart of Jesus.
Jesus, the one who loved her so much that He calmed the storm behind those pretty blue eyes.