As the clouds began to gather overhead, I stood at the farm gate, watching young Maya approaching sheepishly. Her features were not striking in any way and on any ordinary day at the mall, it was improbable that any young boys would turn to look at her twice. Maya was the portrait of the ordinary girl next door. She had somehow managed to survive her father’s abuse (who was thankfully no longer in the picture) and had adjusted with difficulty, seeking consolation and comfort in the form of drugs; her only form of escape from the nightmarish reality. The one thing I noticed as she approached was the freckles that covered her nose and surrounding area of her face. Without a doubt, it was the one feature that transformed her from plain Jane to extraordinary and ostensibly cute. When she smiled, the freckles seemed to inexplicably light up her face.
“Hi Maya,” I said with a genuine smile “Welcome to our humble abode.” She gave a sheepish smile and that was the end of our first conversation. She fitted in nicely and as the days turned to weeks, I found myself trying to find ways to connect, but every conversation I started seemed to be snubbed or smiled away. I decided to give her time and during our sessions I kept the conversations light and very general in nature. Sometimes we would just sit under the trees in the garden and read or drink coffee. As the weeks turned to months and the trust grew, our conversations evolved and she began to look forward to our sessions together.
One evening, underneath the bright starry night we sat reclined in our garden chairs. The others had filled their tummies with marshmallows from the campfire and wandered off to bed leaving the two of us in the company of the old hooting owl that lived in a nearby tree.
“I hate my freckles” she cried rather unexpectedly.
“Why on earth would you say a thing like that?” I asked, rather surprised that she had shared this little secret with me. Maybe tonight was the night I thought as I said a silent prayer for her. “Look at Megan, she’s gorgeous with flawless skin. All the girls are so pretty and I’m the real ugly duckling: The real McCoy of ugliness,” she said with a sense of desperation in her voice. With that I realised that her looks played a big part in how she saw and measured herself. In that moment I saw a girl who measured herself against others and in her own mind, she always came off second best. For what seemed like an eternity, we said nothing as a few tears escaped the eyes that had kept her emotions captive for so many years. “Mark, why did I have to be the ugly one?” she said with a heartfelt tremble in her voice. With that she looked up at the stars in the night sky, surveying the cosmos for answers that seemed to evade her ardent request. I looked up at the night sky: Orion was directly above us and as I surveyed the Heavens, the Milky Way lit the night sky with a glorious light that seemed to be saying something.
“I love the stars,” I said softly… No response.
She just sat staring upwards toward the stars, the tears still making their way down her freckled cheeks.
“It’s called the Milky Way. There are many legends about how it got its name. They are mostly fables and stories that mothers and fathers told their children when they tucked them into bed at night or at family gatherings around a good old campfire,” I said and waited.
“Like what?” she asked, suddenly interested.
“Like Hercules spilling breast milk while feeding, or Jason and the golden fleece,” I said.
“I don’t even know who those people are,” she said, letting out a girly giggle. “That’s because they’re not really the important stories. There is one explanation I think you will enjoy,” I said in a serious tone.
“Well what is it?” she asked.
“According to ancient tradition, the Jews used to call it the ‘The river of Fire’,” I said.
“That sounds cool,” she said with a sense of wonder.
“In a vision, the prophet Daniel described God’s throne as a fiery flame and its wheels were like a burning fire… A ‘river of fire’. He said that there were a thousand times thousands who stood at His service and attended to Him. In those days the stars were thought to be angelic beings. The Babylonians used to say that God created His angels out of the ‘river of fire’ and that they would sing before Him and worship Him… Some believed that the stars of this ‘river’ were the drops of sweat that had fallen from the angels’ brows as they rushed to serve Him and His children on earth.”
“Wow I like that,” she said as she lay back, staring at the great ‘river’ in the heavens. “It’s a beautiful story, Mark. Is that what you believe too?” She asked.
“It’s what I’d like to believe,” I whispered.
“What does that even mean?” She asked, still staring upwards, mesmerised by the display cast across the heavens.
“Thousands of years ago, people held the view that God was distant and very far removed from humans. That He couldn’t be understood or known because He was so very big and great. To some degree they were right, but they missed a very important fact. There was something crucial that none of them could see,” I said as I continued staring at the great ‘river of fire’.
“What did they miss?” she asked nonchalantly, her head still tilted upwards.
“We were all created in the image of God and we all carry natural characteristics from His DNA from before the ‘great fall’. In all of us there are shadows and reflections of some of these characteristics. In some people they are prominent and in others they are less so. But they are reflections only; a shadow of what once was. We see it in Picasso and Michaelangelo’s art or Beethoven and Mozart’s music. Sometimes we see it in the faces of Cindy Crawford and fashion models, but they are mere reflections; a shadow of what once was,” I said and then paused for a while.
“Well, He certainly left no reflection of Himself in me,” she said, half resigned to the fact. “Yep, He gave it all to Megan and the others and He forgot about me,” she continued.
“What if you’re wrong?” I asked. “What if you’re the one missing the ultimate point. What if the answer has been in front of you all this time?”
“How do you figure that?” she asked, suddenly staring at me engagingly.
“You asked me if I believed in the ‘river of fire’, right? I asked
“I believe it’s so much more than that. What if He gave you the greatest reflection of Himself? What if you exhibit the greatest characteristics of His DNA?” I asked, staring back at her.
“Ha ha ha, that’s a good one,” was the only response I got back.
“What if the ‘river of fire’ is actually nothing less than the freckles on God’s glorious face. What if He sees His freckles as His greatest feature and the part of Himself that He uses to reflect His most prized attribute?” I asked. She was stunned and silent until eventually a smile crossed her face.
“Mark… You don’t really believe that do you”
“I can’t say it’s true for sure, but if I’m right, those freckles you hate so much could just be the most beautiful gift He’s given you and if I’m right, Megan and the other girls are really going to be ticked off at you when they find out,” I said, laughing out loud. I changed my voice to a girly tone and blurted out: “Mark, why didn’t God give me freckles! Why did He have to give them all to Maya?” With that we both laughed hysterically. We drank our coffee in silence and then I ended the evening’s conversation with a simple comment while pointing at the Milky Way: “If the ‘river of fire’ is actually God’s freckles, then the rest of us got the short end of the stick. Think about it. God doesn’t use makeup to hide them. He waits until the night, when He knows that there is nothing to distract us and then He reveals His face to the world; sporting the most beautiful, glorious freckles. Right now, you’re the only person in the world I’m jealous of,” I whispered sincerely. A long tear made its way down her cheek as she bit her lip and then she smiled sheepishly.
“Do you really think it’s possible Mark?” she asked almost pleadingly.
“I know it’s possible,” I whispered softly. “With God, I have learned to expect that everything is possible, from ‘rivers of fire’, to freckles on a face… Even Him hanging on a wooden cross on a very lonely hill… All of it, Just for you Maya”
She eventually wandered off to the girls dorm with a skip in her step… She looked happy, even excited. With that I looked up at the night sky one last time and stared. “My goodness,” I laughed, “those stars really do like freckles.” With that, I went to bed with a very big smile on my face.
The next day, Maya waltzed into the dining room like the place belonged to her, flashing those freckles for all to see, leaving Megan and the others wondering what on earth was going on… All I could do was smile.
Freckles, stars or tears, I can’t say for sure, but I do know one thing: Those stars in the night sky reflect His glory and His heart toward us and if you are like Maya then look up to the ‘river of fire’; you may find a part of Him that relates to you.
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