The Appendage

An excerpt from “The Attic” by Bekah Ferguson & Rachel Xu.

A mist swirled around the trio and a swamp stretched out ahead of them. Dead trees reached upward from the murk at odd angles, casting spindly shadows over the oily surface. Floating weeds shifted positions as gaseous bubbles rose to the surface and burst around them.

Ian turned toward Varkis, who stood with hairy gray arms crossed over his chest and feet spread wide. “What do you think?” The last thing he wanted to do was enter the swamp, but Kurik had given him no other choice.

“I’m thinking it wasn’t a smart idea to come with you guys after all,” the dog-man replied.

“Come on. Seriously.”

“Who said I wasn’t being serious?”

Lily stood nearby, one hand on her hip as she squinted up at the dusky sky.

Ian ran a hand down his face and took a deep breath, nearly choking on the stench of the water. “Well, . . . let’s get this over with then.” He stepped into the cold goop, weed-muck sucking at his foot. Another step forward and he sunk down, slimy vegetation and dank water swirling about his knees. “Come on guys,” he glanced over his shoulder. “We have to get to the Jubaka Tree and out of this swamp before nightfall or we won’t live to see morning.”

Varkis harrumphed. “This swamp gets deep fast, you do realize. We’re going to have to swim a lot of the way and it’s going to be freezing.”

“I know.” He met eyes with Lily in an apologetic glance. She looked frightened now. “We’ll take breaks as needed and warm up afterwards.”

“Does anything, uh, dangerous, live in this swamp?” she asked.

“Not that I know of.”

It was a lie.

There was something lurking in the swamp; something that had started out quite small but had been growing for many years since.

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Y2K

A Short Story by Bekah Ferguson.

1999

Y2K was coming right after Christmas and either nothing was gonna happen or everything was gonna happen. At the strike of midnight, December 31st, computers and security systems might just instantly shut off causing airplanes to crash into one another, mass burglaries, blackouts, and car crashes, and in general, the wreaking of havoc.

As a nine year old, I wasn’t sure what “wreaking” meant, or havoc for that matter, and for many years I actually thought the expression was “reeking” havoc: something smelly. But when I came to realize that the spelling was different, I figured “havoc” must be the mess or damage the wreaking caused; something very bad. I’d also heard the grown-ups talking about the pandemonium that would follow. I didn’t know what that was either but since it sounded like pantomime, I pictured a clown with black and white paint on his face as he tip-toed around, splaying his fingers and grinning with blood red lips.

I’d also heard a lot of talk lately about The Rapture and End Times. We were living in “the last days,” they said, and it was just a matter of time before the events in the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, would begin to unfold: one by one and in sequence. Once it started you could even write the prophecies down in a list form and check them off as they happened. Some of the prophecies had already “been fulfilled,” apparently. There was a verse about a fig tree blossoming and withering and that verse meant that Israel would someday become a nation. Well guess what, that had already come true in 1948. (I had the date memorized simply from hearing it spoken about so many times.) Other major events were still to come, like the Rise of the Antichrist and the Beast.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard about him (I took it for granted that the Antichrist was male) and thus pictured him as I always did: A tall sinister figure wearing a black cape or robe, facial features blurry (though his eyes were glaring) and distinctly human. Basically a mash-up of all the Disney villains I’d absorbed over the years. And because they always referred to him as “the rise of,” I tended to picture him a little hunched down and then rising up to full height. I knew it meant something about gaining power over the world but I didn’t know much about government systems yet and still tended to imagine ruling powers as being kings and queens and knights. As for the Beast, well he was to rise out of “the sea” specifically, so naturally that’s exactly what I pictured. A monstrous gorilla-like thing slowly coming up out of the ocean as if standing on a platform, beads of water rolling down his coarse fur, head tilted back and ready to roar. I knew this wasn’t correct though as the Beast was supposed to have several heads (a lion, an eagle, a man), hair like a woman, the tail of a scorpion, and the arms and claws of a bear. Or was it the Antichrist who looked like that?

But that night as Mom and Dad and my grandparents discussed Y2K, sitting on the living room couches sipping tea and finishing off servings of apple pie, I was more or less minding my own business while they talked. Reading an Archie comic mainly, but finding I was just staring at his freckled cartoon face while listening intently with a cocked ear. They spoke in excited yet solemn tones, leaning toward each other; each taking turns to add their own thoughts as to how it might all come to pass. The Christmas tree twinkled in a corner. It was Boxing Day and I was still enjoying the warm glow of the festivities of the day prior, the lingering scent of turkey, and my prized new toys and gifts stacked beside me on the armchair. I hugged my stuffed green turtle a little tighter in my lap.

If Y2K really was going to be a terrible disaster, would it all happen around me in the sense that I’d watch the burning piles of rubble from my windows and hear the people outside running around screaming and wailing—or would I be hurt too? Would we all die? Was it going to be the end of the world? Oh—but no because the Rapture. Yes, they were talking about that now, how Y2K might lead to the Rapture. I took some comfort in this: we were going to be safe because we were Christians. We were in; not out. The Christians were going to float up into the clouds and go into heaven behind the clouds, and we would be kept safe. We didn’t have to fear the Beast or the Antichrist because if we saw them rise to power before the Rapture, we were at least going to be magically whisked away at the halfway point, before too much damage was done. Then all of the really big suffering was going to happen to all the unbelievers left behind.

I thought about my cousin, Kasey. Her family were unbelievers, and didn’t go to church. My uncle was an “apostate,” Dad had said a few times, though I wasn’t sure what that meant. But at least Kasey would be safe in the Rapture, since she was a kid like me. Kids had an automatic ticket to heaven so long as they hadn’t yet reached the “age of accountability.” But what about my aunt and uncle, would they be left behind since they didn’t believe in Jesus?

The suspense increased over the days as New Year’s Eve drew closer. I felt like I was holding my breath. I didn’t stay up till midnight though, I was too young for that. So, I went to bed feeling nervous but holding tight my turtle whom I’d named Yertie after Dr. Seuss’ Yertel the Turtle. He was brand new, fur soft and silky. I nuzzled him with my nose and drifted off to sleep.

The next morning I awoke to sunshine and a Chickadee hopping on a thin branch outside my window; a distant crow cawing too. At first I felt relieved but then I panicked.

What if the Rapture had happened in the night and my whole family was gone and I’d been left behind all alone ‘cause Jesus had somehow forgotten me?

I jumped out of bed and raced out into the hallway calling out for my mom and brother, heart pounding in my chest.

“We’re right here, sweetie,” Mom said cheerfully, stepping out of the kitchen and waving. “Would you like some cereal for breakfast?”

I skidded to a stop and let out a rush of breath, blinking as though stunned. Then I grinned and relaxed. I was safe, we were safe, the world hadn’t ended after all.

The rest of the day went by without event and I soon forgot all about Y2K. But the yet to come End Times and the Disney Antichrist still loomed over my life like a storm cloud, casting an ever increasing shadow.

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She Hadn’t Expected This

An excerpt from the novel, “A White Rose,” by Bekah Ferguson.

Dakota Reilly hadn’t really noticed Ryan Hill when he first started showing up for her father’s poker games, but one night she’d bumped into him in the kitchen when she went to grab a soda.

Most of her dad’s friends were older, middle age, but this guy was much younger; like one of those hotties from Beverly Hills, 90210. She’d seen him from a distance before; he lived down the road in an old farmhouse.

Having thus seen him up close for the first time, she was star-eyed. From then on, she made a point of going to the kitchen for a glass of water or soda whenever she saw him head in that direction. She also stopped wearing shorts to bed with her over-sized T-shirt. She didn’t really know what she was doing, but she’d seen this in movies before and understood that long bare legs were sexy.

After one month of obsessing over him, daydreaming about him constantly and writing his name on every page of her diary, he asked her how old she was. For a moment she panicked, fearing he would think her a stupid kid, and blurted out that she was seventeen. His pleased grin indicated that he actually believed her and she almost giggled with excitement when he nicked her chin with his knuckle and gave her a wink.

The first time he kissed her took her breath away—she’d never been kissed before. It happened two weeks later in front of the kitchen fridge. The poker game had been going on for a couple hours already in the living room and they were well out of view of anyone who might happen to glance toward the closed-off kitchen. With one deft movement, Ryan pulled her against him and kissed her lips—hard and fast.

Before she could say a word or open her eyes, he slipped something cold and metal into her hands.

A key.

“Come see me tonight, baby,” he whispered, brushing his lips against her earlobe. “You know where I live.” He pulled away and moved to leave the kitchen, a sly grin on his face. “Three a.m., sweets. . . . Don’t disappoint me.” He left the room with a wink that turned her knees to jelly.

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I Was a Stranger

A blindsided young man can suddenly see the Other.

A Short Story by Bekah Ferguson.

He knelt down next to the fireplace, stoking the coals and adding another piece of wood to the pile. A Christmas tree twinkled beside a wingback chair, and in the adjoining room, pillar candles burned atop the dining table. Two plates were set with a cloth napkin, Christmas cracker, and crystal glasses. The trimmings sat ready on the stovetop, the turkey nearly done.

But she wasn’t going to be there—she was never going to be there again.

“I wanted to tell you this in person,” she explained over voicemail, “but I just can’t bear to look into your eyes when I say it.”

He’d missed her call earlier while out walking the dog. There was a pause in the recording here and goosebumps rose on his skin as though the blizzard outside was still swirling around him.

“The thing is, Emerson,” she went on, “I can’t marry you. I wish I didn’t have to hurt you like this but I canceled my flight this morning and I’m not going to be moving to your province. I’ve unpacked all my bags.”

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The Art of Validation – how God’s silence is a sign of solidarity

Let’s talk about the art of validation. To validate is so much more than active listening. It’s not just repeating back to someone what they have said, it’s taking the time to try to understand another person’s perspective – even when you disagree – especially when you disagree. It is temporarily putting yourself in their shoes and saying, “I would probably feel the same way if I were you,” or “I see why you’d feel that way under the circumstances.”

Think of good therapists, for example. They don’t argue or give unsolicited advice: instead they walk alongside a client, listening and validating. After a client has finished articulating their feelings to this non-judgmental listener, ideally they’re able to come up with their own solution to the problem. When it comes to friends and family, however, finding someone who’ll be a non-judgmental listener can be difficult, no matter how close we are. When someone interrupts us to argue or give unwanted advice, it feels like we aren’t being heard and we aren’t being allowed to express our true feelings. We end up debating in self-defense, or simply shutting down. In the frustration that comes from longing to be understood, we find ourselves stuck in feedback loops: sharing our view again and again in the hopes that they’ll finally get it. Ongoing invalidation can be greatly damaging to a relationship. We’ve all experienced being misunderstood, and therefore know how hurtful it is.

What’s more, it’s human nature to take a contrary view whenever we feel backed into a corner and put on the defensive.

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The Mind’s Eye

They say we don’t remember anything really prior to the age of three.

No doubt there are innumerable emotional memories from infancy, but in my case my earliest visual memory was the dedication of my infant sister: I was exactly three. It’s funny how the brain works though. I used to pore over my mother’s photo albums as a child, collecting all the images of those photographs – mental photographs of photographs – and arranging them chronologically in my mind. I can go back in time and enter the room of a home in which my relatives are compiled and see myself as an infant cradled in someone’s arms or sitting on someone’s lap. I can look around at the furniture and the faces and hairdos and fashion, can even hear some of their voices and laughter (which I’ve taken from later memories and projected backward into these ones), and those moments in time are stored with the first person memories that began in the preschool years. But they’re not firsthand memories – they’re only memories of photographs.

The mind’s eye is a fascinating thing. Did the generations before me do the same thing with black and white photos, removing the grays in their mind and filling it all in with color, making that the superimposed memory instead of sepia? And before photography, did they take the stories about their toddler years, told them by relatives, and store them chronologically, as imagined, with their firsthand experiences just as I did with photographs? Probably. Indeed, even the stories my parents and grandparents told me about their own childhoods, teen and adult years, are stored chronologically in my memory as well, as though I really saw and heard those things happen with my own two eyes and two ears. Does everyone do this or is it the writer’s nature in me, the way I build scenes in my mind and freely wander through them exploring? But how accurate are those images? When I see my father as a boy, stooping with surprise to pick up a human skull in the overgrown grass of a field in India, freckle-faced, brown hair slicked to one side, and a button down shirt tucked into his jeans, does that fabricated video reel look anything like the literal experience my father had? Either way, it’s the same story, regardless of the color of his shirt. Could I tell you what species of trees were backdropping the field or where exactly in India it took place? No, I don’t even know what trees grow in India, besides the rubber tree. But I nevertheless see his story like a memory. There are tangled trees and wheat-like grasses, a dry cracked skull in the palm of his hand. No doubt it’s an amalgamation of all the images of fields and skulls I’ve ever seen in my life. But somehow I feel like I was there.

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Experiencing God’s presence through love

Previously I wrote about ways to experience God’s presence through our senses. Today I’d like to look at another way, inspired by conversations I had recently with my sister regarding blessings and healings. We talked about how all good things come from the original source of good, God (James 1:17), and how many people interpret these good gifts to be answered prayer or blessings. Now, of course they can certainly be both, but I think they are also random in many cases as well. Here’s why:

God does not discriminate: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). What’s more, a blessing to me could be a curse to someone else. e.g. Sunshine on a wedding day is ideal, but maybe someone drowned that same day because the warm sun had them out swimming. It occurs to me that for God to specifically grant my wish for a sunny day, knowing that it would lead to John Doe’s drowning, seems immoral of him. But if the day is sunny just because it’s nature taking its course, then it’s still a blessing to me and I can and should give thanks to God for every good gift, but it has not been given to me at the cost of someone else. The sunshine was given to everyone and sadly, tragedies do occur, rain or shine.

It comes down to the “life is unfair” thing. See, the only way life could be fair is if everyone had identical experiences – rendering free will and individuality impossible.

Another blessing/good gift in life is being healed of physical ailments, especially dangerous ones. And the human body is designed by the Great Physician to regenerate. When the immune system works properly (and we have access to good nutrition, medicine, successful surgery, and the like), we are healed. We rightly give thanks to God for healing us because he is our Creator and “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Prayer can play a significant role in healing too, don’t get me wrong, but God also heals people who haven’t prayed for healing. Unbelievers regenerate successfully too, just as the sun and rain are sent without discrimination. (Please note, I am not discrediting miracles. By their very definition, they can only occur once in a while, not regularly.)

This leads me to the question of God’s presence in conjunction with love.

Jesus said that love was not unique to believers. He said even the pagans love each other; of course they do! We all know this. But he also said, I’m holding you to a higher standard when it comes to love – I want you to love your enemies too. So it’s not love that is unique to Christians but rather enemy love. What’s more, and this is important, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). If God is love then it follows that he is the original source of love as well. That’s what he is, Love Himself.

In the same way that every experience of good is coming from the original source of good (Good Himself), and healing of the body comes from the original source (the Great Physician), all manifestations of genuine love also come from the original source, Love Himself. So, isn’t it possible that the more goodness, health, and love one has in their life, the more they will feel the presence of God? The obverse is true as well, which is why I wanted to write this blog piece in the first place.

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The Jaguar

A Short Story by Bekah Ferguson.

In a rock den, deep within the Amazon basin, three panthera onca cubs were born.

The middle cub’s name was Amias and his little sightless world, though simple and soundless, was happy. For the first few weeks he did nothing but snuggle up against his brother, sister, and mother. She nursed and nurtured them all, nuzzling and licking their fur with great gentleness and care. Soon Amias began to see and hear. He learned that his mother’s name was Genoveva, his older brother was Eduardo, and his little sister, Pabiola.

Their den remained dark at all times, save for the green-tinted sunlight peeking through the cleft opening. Amias could only make out the contours of his siblings and an occasional glint in their eyes. His mother he knew to be sleek and black, however, for sometimes the sun glistened on the fur of her back when she exited the den.

A few months passed by and the cubs had learned to walk around without falling. Each dawn and dusk, while their mother was away hunting, the three siblings stayed put, dreaming about the mysterious outside world as the cacophony of birds and insects continually filled their eardrums. Eduardo was the boldest of the three, being the oldest by merit of birth order, and he often went to the cleft opening to stick his head out and look around, even though their mother had told them it wasn’t safe to do so. Amias contented himself with the information his brother imparted, being too timid to go near the opening himself. One day Pabiola joined Eduardo’s side, which was a great comfort to Amias, for she assured him that what Eduardo saw was what she too saw. Like their mother, they both had gleaming black fur, visible only when they stood in the entrance of the den.

Soon Eduardo and Pabiola wanted to do more than just stick their heads out. So, they stepped fully outside one morning, disappearing from view.

Amias’ heartbeat quickened and he slinked toward the opening, not wanting to be left behind. He summoned all his courage, took a deep breath, and stepped halfway out. His brother and sister weren’t far ahead yet, picking their way through ferns and bromeliads. He let out a yelp and they looked back at him, gasping in tandem when they did. At first he thought they were surprised because he’d been brave enough to try and follow, but their stares were so wide-eyed, he looked down at his paws to see what was the matter. When he did, his own breath caught in his throat.

His fur was tawny, like a muted sunbeam, and evenly coated with spots as black as his sibling’s whole bodies.

Eduardo and Pabiola returned to the cleft in the rock and asked him to move into a patch of sunlight so they could see him better. When he did they confirmed that his whole body was indeed pale and spotted. They wondered if he was sick, or somehow less developed. Yet he could walk with sturdy steps just as surely as they could, and jump and leap too. He didn’t exactly feel ill but his heart fluttered in his chest now; tummy tight.

Mother won’t like that you’re different, they told him. You’d better hide it from her.

But how could he keep it a secret? Soon she would wean them and they would need to go outside together to drink from a stream. They’d all been anticipating the day. The moment she saw him in the sunlight for the first time, she’d know.

We need to find a way to cover you up, Eduardo suggested, to make you look more like us. They all agreed this was the only solution. But they didn’t know how it could be accomplished, since none of them had yet explored the territory. So for the next few days, whenever Genoveva was away hunting, they snuck out together and searched the areas around the den.

It wasn’t long before they found the wallow of a group of musk hogs.

The musk hogs were creatures with dainty hooves, tusked snouts, and bristly fur, and when the three cubs barged into their clearing, a foul-smelling musk filled the air as the hogs ran for cover. In their smelly wake was the mud puddle. Eduardo approached it first, testing the ground around it and dipping his paw into the water. He scooped up some clay from the bottom and coated one of his brother’s forelegs with the muck, letting out a whoop as he did. That’s it, he said, cover your whole body with clay. So Amias did. It wasn’t nearly as black as panther fur though, much more of a brown like the musk hogs, but it would have to do. Better than having these curious spots, he supposed.

Pabiola watched onward with a frown, but didn’t speak.

The mud dried as they made their way back to the cave and his limbs soon felt stiff. Bits of dirt crumbled off but enough remained intact to hide his fur. He was itchy all over by the time they were back inside the safe darkness of the den, as though zigzag beetles crawled up and down his skin. Despite being accustomed to the humidity of the rainforest, his body couldn’t breath under the coating of mud, nor could he lick his fur to cool down. But he tried his best to ignore it, languishing on the rock bed of the den and longing for relief.

The next day he snuck out for a new coating of clay while his mother was away. None of the cubs knew when their mother would finally take them outside with her and Amias didn’t want to risk being unprepared. But the day after that, he got caught in a rainfall on his way home, which washed all the dirt away. This filled him with dread as though he’d swallowed a stone; the clay disguise was not going to be enough. Nevertheless, he waited for the rain to cease, and returned to the wallow for another coat.

Up until now, Mother had been a safe bosom to him. The den being dark didn’t matter—just having her there, or soon to return with food, was all he needed. But now he had to sleep by himself rather than snuggling up to his siblings, for fear that his mother would sense the mud; and when he nursed, he stayed far from her face to avoid being groomed. This isolation and loss of nurture was a new experience for him, and the stone in his stomach grew heavier still. Now the darkness did matter: it pressed inward, threatening to engulf him entirely. He couldn’t even pounce around and play with his siblings anymore to pass the time—it would ruin his clay coating.

Then the much anticipated day finally arrived: Genoveva announced at dusk that it was time for them to learn how to drink from a stream.

His brother and sister left the den first and he reluctantly followed, hoping his costume was still intact. He trailed behind them, keeping within the cloak of fanning ferns and hanging vines. His mother’s round eyes, luminous like wet leaves, narrowed whenever she looked back and met his blinking gaze. His chest soon deflated. After a while, he avoided eye contact altogether.

When they reached the clearing, though shady and grey-cast in the setting sun, he could no longer hide behind his siblings. Genoveva stopped him short with a growl. Then, shoulders rolling, she moved around him with a penetrating gaze.

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An Open Sesame

Let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.
(Hebrews 12:28b)

Anything from a ray of sunlight warming my knees as I sit on the sofa, to the cheep of a chickadee, to a hot cup of tea, a tasty treat, time with loved ones, a good story, the hush of a snowfall, the laughter of a child, a power nap, a shared smile, and even the less obvious: enjoying clean floors after mopping, hanging fresh clothes in the closet, washing the pots and pans that made a meal, and neverending clutter (the evidence of a living family!). The simple (yet profound) act of saying, “Thank you, Lord,” for each and every gift has opened the door to a much deeper and more intimate relationship with God than I was able to have before. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, enter his courts with praise.” It really is an open-sesame to the presence of God.

I know though, when life is grim, giving thanks can feel next to impossible. Food tastes like gravel, material possessions seem meaningless, and sunshine taunts an overcast soul.

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A Thorn in the Flesh, living with depression

Today I welcome guest blogger, Rachel Xu. She wrote and shared this with me this week, and I couldn’t agree more. I asked if I could post it on my blog and she agreed.

Since I’ve written here previously about my own journey through an anxiety disorder, I have kept the phrase in mind “the danger of a single story” as a constant reminder that we all have markedly different life experiences. I never want anyone to feel intimidated by hearing mine. Because that’s all it is: my story. And it is only one story.

Here is another:

As someone who has suffered from severe depression and anxiety for decades, I have spent a lot of time researching the condition and Christian views on the matter. What never fails to confuse me is that it seems the majority of Christian articles seem to claim that depression is the fault of the person afflicted with it. Some of the many causes these Christians seem to attribute to depression are living a sinful life, pride, lack of prayer, not being a real Christian, lacking the faith to be healed, and spiritual weakness for choosing to be depressed over choosing to have a positive outlook. I think this lack of support and understanding is very damaging to the many Christians that suffer from this disorder. Having depression is hard enough without the judgments associated with it.

Would you tell someone with cancer that if only they repented of their sinful life they would be healed?

Would you tell a paraplegic that their pride was keeping them in a wheelchair?

Would you tell a blind person that if they would just pray more they would be able to see again?

Would you tell someone in a car accident that it was because they weren’t a real Christian?

Would you tell an amputee that they would grow a new limb if they had more faith?

Would you tell someone with Down Syndrome to stop choosing to have Down Syndrome?

I would assume the majority of people would respond no to these questions, so why is it acceptable to say such things to someone with a depressive disorder? I think Christians need to remember that actual depression, not just a day of feeling the blues, is a medical disorder caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. That way they can be more sympathetic and less judgmental towards someone suffering from this condition.

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