"I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God's hands, that I still possess." -Martin Luther

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Timothy and the Grenobles, Part IV

Dear Readers,
I am satisfactorily drowsy after writing this final chapter, and so to, you will find, are Timothy and Lisa, and, in fact, the Grenobles themselves. But I do not doubt, and I think you cannot, that after all are sufficiently rested (how long that will be I cannot say), they will wake up and have another adventure together.

Timothy, meanwhile, skipped, leapt, dropped, lowered himself, and, at times, fell down the stairs. He arrived at the next door unaware that Lisa was had stopped following him. Looking inside he saw a little kitchen. In he stepped, and turned all the way around, staring up at open, wooden shelves. A beautiful, wild window frame was carved into the wall, but there was no glass, only glowing amber lighting the room, showing up wisps of smoke and steam from the stove. Pots and pans hung from the wall; a deep, Earthy smell, like fresh bread but ten times better, wafted from the oven; and in the cabinets were all manner of roots, petals, grinders engraved with labels, and brown packages tied with rough yellow twine.
As the smell reached Timothy's empty stomach he sat down in the middle of the paneled floor and cried.
The Grenoble seized two moss gloves, dipped them into a basin of water, flung open the over, letting out more of the smell and a brilliant glow, and pulled out two trays, the mitts hissing and spluttering. With a flourish it carried them over Timothy's head, dripping water onto his bangs, to the only open counter and set them down on wicker coasters.
The spluttering and splashing and, most importantly, the trays of food, had stopped Timothy's eyes. He stood behind the Grenoble's leg, looking from the counter's edge, which he could not quite see over, to the Grenoble above him, which was busy doing to the food whatever mothers and fathers and Grenobles do to food while they make you wait too long before you can eat it. Finally, it raised a deep brown, almost-black colored muffin to its mouth, smacked a bite out of it, and closed its eyes.
Timothy let out a quiet whine.
"It is ready," whispered the Grenoble through dark crumbs, and handed one to Timothy. Timothy, now that he had his food, took his time examining it, and picked off a few crumbs to fall to the ground. Then he bit in. It's texture was that of rich wheat bread, and it tasted of freshness, grains, sugar-glaze, and birthdays. Then the Grenoble took from the other tray what looked something like the play clay snake Timothy had made the day before. Timothy examined this even more carefully (for he had taken a bite of the snake, and it had not pleased him); it was brown, flakey, crisp, and firm on the outside, and curled all around. He bit it; it crunched all the way through and filled his mouth with a strong taste, like after he had eaten six ginger-snaps at once when no one was looking, and started crying because of it. This time he did not cry at first, because he was getting to be a big boy and like spicy things. He took bite after bite, and then ran around the room in circles, tears pouring down his face, but laughing hard even as he wailed with the strength of the root. The Grenoble did something else on the counter, and then carried two packages with steam coming from them over to one of the cabinets. Putting these away, it rang a little triangle and stepped back out onto the stairs. The light coming down the trunk was reddish, like that at sunset, and Timothy yawned. Lisa came out of the room up the stairs, also yawning, and stretching, with the other Grenoble. The brother and sister took each other’s hands; Timothy thought Lisa smelled like syrup; Lisa thought Timothy smelled like gingersnaps.
"Food," said Timothy, pointing into the kitchen.
"Hmm," yawned Lisa, "books," she flung her hand behind her to indicate which way.
"Now, we..." she began to say to the Grenobles, but then she noticed that they had already begun to descend again.
"Come on!" she giggled, remembering a part in the book she had just read where the children found a cave on the estate and explored it.
They passed many more quaint little rooms with knothole doors. Timothy found it all quite ordinary, and nothing to compare with how tired he was, or how good the food had tasted, and Lisa marveled at how perfect and pretty it all was. There were several sitting rooms, with various types of lamps and chairs and tables, and writing rooms with desks and almost-empty shelves, old yellowed papers, quill pens, and ink wells, and closed doors, and dusty pantries, and rooms that were only a tangle of vines or branches, and two rooms that must have been the Grenoble's bedrooms, for inside of them were round beds of leaves and moss and dirt. Instead of cups and baths were little springs bubbling up from the floor, and foresty mobiles hung from the ceilings and circled slowly, casting shadows of leaves and creepers on the walls.
when they came to these two doors, the Grenobles yawned, stretching their limbs so that they squeaked and creaked, and opening their mouths wider and wider, so that wind sighed straight down the stairs, sleepy, pulling downwards, making Timothy's eyes sag.
Then they closed their mouths so quickly that Timothy jumped to see them disappearing into their faces.
The two Grenobles stood by their bedroom doors, crossing their arms behind their backs.
"You have made us be home," they said, "goodnight." Then they each hugged Timothy and Lisa in treeish embraces, which felt like throwing yourself against a young mossy tree that gives way under your weight so that it does not hurt. Then they hugged each other, wind whispering about, went each into his room, and closed perfectly shaped doors on the knotholes. The light from the sunset was fading from above. Timothy shivered.
"Come back?" he asked the door in front of him.
It cracked open, and the Grenoble poked its head out, a nightcap on its head, the burr that tipped it hanging in front of its face.
"Go to the bottom; that is the way home for you," it said softly, and closed the door again.
Lisa looked down. She could see only one more light below them, and no more rooms. She looked up. It was getting dark; she could see the vaguest tint of red far up at the top of the submerged trunk.
"Oh, Timothy, our shoes are up there; we had better go get them," she said, and then stood still and sighed wistfully. Timothy's footsteps retreated from her hearing down the tunnel. By the time she understood the sounds, he was out of sight below her.
"Timothy!" she hissed, trying not to disturb their hosts. "Ah!" she bounded down the stairs after him. There was a wooden candlestick with an amber candle glowing in it on the wall; she took it carefully as she went past ("I'll return it later," she said to herself).
Timothy came to the bottom of the stairs and ran into a closed door. He pushed and shoved on the handle; he even growled at it and banged his head on it, but it would not budge. Turning back he found himself at the bottom of the tree trunk on a dirt floor covered with leaves. Lisa leaned down from the stairs not far above, lit up by her candle.
"Wisa, door won't go!" remonstrated Timothy, thrusting an accusative finger at the knothole. Lisa was a big sister, and Timothy knew that when she wanted to she could be very helpful with doors (only she didn't want to be helpful often).
But she could not budge this door.
"Open!" said Timothy, annoyed that she was not cooperating with him. He was hungry again, and tired, and cross. When he was hungry and tired and cross Lisa should not be so silly as to not open doors.
"It's locked," she said, beginning to realize they were alone in the dark. The shadows cast from her steady amber candle shivered inexplicably, and Lisa took Timothy's hand (in case he was scared) before turning to survey the rest of their surroundings. Across from them was an opening beneath the stairs. She stepped to it with her candle and peered through, Timothy shrinking back a little so that she had to stretch out both arms to get the candle to the opening.
A shallow gust blew through the doorway, but the amber glowed brighter in its presence. She could see trees of a forest, and, now that she looked so hard, some lights. She pulled Timothy through the doorway, and, turning back, saw that they had just stepped out of an ugly gash in the side of an oak. The sun was setting behind the tree. Dogs barked from the lights.
"Home. Come on!" cried Timothy, and yanked Lisa towards the lights, so that she dropped her candle. It hissed in a puddle, and when she picked up what she thought was it, she found only an oddly shaped branch in her hand. "Come home!" said Timothy, and carefully led his sister through the forest towards the sound of the barking. Soon they were trudging through the backyard. Timothy saw the rest of the family sitting down around the meal, and the siblings dropped each other's hands to run up the back porch steps and inside.
"Play wit' 'nobles!" yelled Timothy as his mother served him.
"What's that, Timothy?" asked his father.
"He said we played with the Grenobles," said Lisa somberly, looking down at her plate. "They...they...we played a game with them...a dancing game with the wind."
"Oh," said her father.
"Funny dancing, fell in wa-water, funny feets!" Timothy clapped his spoon in his hands.
"Oh!” laughed his mother, spooning him out a bowl of soup.
"I'm sorry I got my dress dirty...oh!" said Lisa, for she had just at that moment realized that her shoes were back on her feet. She stuck her head under the table to see Timothy kicking his feet -- shoes and all -- against his high chair.
"Lisa, what are you doing?" asked her father. She sat up quickly, grazing her head on the table and making a leaf fall from her hair.
"Making sure Timothy didn't loose his shoes."
"Did he?"
"Want to play wit' 'nobles," pouted Timothy as he saw his mother approaching with the soup. He wished he could have another of the muffins, or one of the spicy snakes.
"It's dark now, Timothy; they probably had to go home, too," said his mother, sitting down beside his high chair. "You will have to play with them again later. Now, eat up."
She blew on a spoonful of soup.
It spun and danced under her breath.
Timothy giggled.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Myth: College is More Exciting than Home

Fact: Since returning home from college late Thursday, March 3, I have
- Used a large piece of power equipment, utilizing its rapidly rotating plastic blades to cut down thousands of organic growths.
- Learned about Christians in Chile, Colombia, Cuba, and Brazil, including information about their countries' history, customs, foods, and governments.
- Eaten hormigas. For those of you who have not tried them, they have a texture like popcorn and a flavor like roasted salted peanuts.
- Stepped barefoot into a casserole dish which had marshmallow spread in the bottom.
- Won several important battles with the help of Tristan and his band of warriors known as the Shining Force.
- Eaten four restaurant-prepared meals.
- Eaten no Chartwell's-prepared meals.
- Eaten several little-sister-prepared meals.
- Eaten several self-prepared meals.
- Finished a book I have been reading for more than half a year.
- Begun a translation of William William's Theomemphus, which begins with a fascinating biography detailing his part in the Great Awakening, and includes lots of Welsh words like ' ' and ' '.
- Written on my blog.
- Forced cotton fabric to realign by pumping water onto it and applying pressure with a superheated piece of iron.
- Forced wooden stakes into the ground by pounding on them with a piece of heavy metal.
- Dug out a 120-or-so square foot section of my back yard to a depth of about 3.5 inches. Might I add that I live in Georgia, thus ensuring that I was digging into Georgia red clay.
- Chipped concrete. Granted, I could have done this at college if I had signed up for that particular Practical Service, but it is still exciting, and something I did not do at college.
- Watched TV, just for fun, in the middle of the week.
- Watched on in a mixture of horror and anticipation as our fridge/freezer and stand alone freezer broke at the same time. We had to eat everything. Everything included a lot of ice cream.
- Sold shoes. If you don't think that's cool, think again.
- Teased my little sister.
- Gotten a blister on my thumb.
- Written pieces of stories, and pages of outlines for the second book in the Sol War story arc that I thought up, oh, four years ago.
- Discovered David Webber's book, Off Armageddon Reef, which is quite enjoyable, though slightly annoying due to its similarities to the Sol War story arc.
- Gone to the library without any idea that I was going to run into a bona fide member of the Imperial 501st stormtrooper legion, and myriad other Star Wars oddities collected for the thirtieth anniversary of the theatrical release of Episode IV.
- Most recently, I have acquired a rocket launcher.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Timothy and the Grenobles, Part III

Dear Readers,
It is finished. However, due to the wise advice of my dear younger sister, I have split it into two more episodes, only one of which you will find below. I hope that this will allow you to read and digest it bitesize, and not be so bored (at least not all at one sitting), as you might have been had I published it all at once.

The Grenobles caught each other's hands and twirled together; the glade was filled with a singing wind that once again tossed Lisa's hair up over her head, and showered her with leaves.
"Timothy!" she called loudly, half to test the strength of the wind's song. It drowned her out completely, even though it did not overwhelm her ears. The Grenobles broke their grasp and danced past her, careening, gusts of wind laughing for them. One cart wheeled from the land into the trunk, and down the stairs out of sight. The other leapt on top of the trunk, straddling it, with legs splayed so wide that Lisa gasped, lest it slip and fall down the center of the stairs.
"Come home," it whispered from all around her in the wind.
"That is not my home," she said back, and though her voice was drowned out, it seemed to hear her, for it replied.
"It is your way home."
Lisa did not consider too long, for the sun was blotted out by clouds, and a wall of rain drummed in from the forest toward her, soaking Timothy's moss-covered tree and making the brook leap up from its place as it approached. She stepped into the tree-trunk, ducking beneath the Grenoble's legs, and down until only her head was above the trunk. The water danced and rippled just beneath her eyes; the wind swept her hair about still, but her dress was not touched by rain or wind.
The Grenoble snapped its legs together, grabbed the side of the trunk with one arm, and swung down to stand on a step above her. Lisa turned and climbed down the steps to bring her head out of the wind and rain. Holding onto the twisting, bark-covered rail that ran along the inner wall of the trunk, she leaned over the center, and saw many soft lights, the other Grenoble descending gracefully, and Timothy just in front of it, now leaping with both legs drawn up at the knees, from one step to the next.
"We are coming home," sighed the Grenoble behind her in its normal voice.
"Excuse me," said Lisa, not wishing to offend it by changing the subject when it was discussing something so important to it, "Timothy!"
He turned, leaning back against the wall of the trunk, still making humming sounds to accompany his descent.
"Don't get too far ahead, and listen to the Grenoble. You're in its house. Should we take off our shoes? They are wet," she said, turning back to the Grenoble beside her.
"Yes," it said, and, turning back to sit down and take her shoes off, Lisa saw Timothy and the Grenoble ahead of her going into a hole in the wall of the trunk, from which the first of the glowing lights seem to be emerging. Coming to the hole, which was actually a giant knothole-door, Lisa bent over and entered the room within. It would not have been large in her own house, but the glowing light, that came from a vein of sap running down the wall, put shadows in the corners, and in such a small house, with such small people, the room seemed very large indeed. Leaning against one wall was a stove, which the first Grenoble opened and tossed in glowing crystals of sap, licking its fingers with a thin tongue that was deep red striped with brown tree-rings, like the wood on Lisa's old dresser drawers. The stove glowed bright in a moment, and warmth poured in, for the tree was cool and moist inside. The other Grenoble, meanwhile, had approached a stand on another wall, and pulled down four pairs of slippers, covered with a light tan bark that curled and peeled up, and filled with soft, spongy moss. Then they all sat down on a bench along the center wall, took off their shoes.
"Funny feets!" chortled Timothy approvingly, and he leapt down, shoes half off, to examine the Grenobles' feet.
"Feet," muttered Lisa, leaning back and struggling to pull her shoes off.
The Grenobles' calves were smooth and a little green, under moss stockings. As they took these off they wiggled stubby, knotty toes, each toe having a young bud atop it for a nail, and each of their four feet having a different number of toes. Timothy sat down on the floor, pulled off his shoes, and tossed them back over his shoulder. Then he did the same with his socks. He leaned back, holding himself up on his arms, and wiggled his own toes in the air to compare them with the Grenobles.
After this, they all slipped on their slippers, picked up their shoes and socks (Timothy only after Lisa told him to twice) and put them on the now-empty shelf before continuing down the stairs.
Timothy tried walking down sideways, looking up to grin and laugh at the Grenoble above him, but after he saw too many glares from Lisa competing with the Grenoble's quiet, mouthless smile, he turned and hurried on. Timothy and the first Grenoble passed the next door without even looking in, but Lisa caught a glimpse of bookshelves as she passed, and stopped with a sigh.
"Timothy, wait!" she called, and stuck her head through the door for a better look. Through sap-filled cracks in the wall streamed in the light and warmth of a summer day, but outside of the beams was the cool of late fall. A rocking chair and a couch of velvet pillows, one deep brown, the other deep green, sat in the room, and within the walls were curving bookshelves and hundreds of books. The Grenoble came in behind her, picked up pipe, book, and reading glasses from a stand, lit the pipe, sat down in the rocking chair, and opened the book with a modest creak. A sweet aroma like maple syrup filled the room with the pipe's thin smoke, and Lisa forgot Timothy and began circling the room, head sideways, looking not for a good book, for they were all good, but for the best book for that day.
Finally, she settled on a book about an afternoon spent by a group of dear friends on a grand estate, and fell slowly into the couch's palm, watching the dust rise to be caught in the shafts of light. The Grenoble sucked on its pipe, and turned to eye her over its reading glasses. She could not help but laugh at those beautiful and strange eyes staring at her over the oak frames.
"What are you reading?" she asked to cover her laughter.
"The latest volume upon the pine style of dance. It is quite modern; I am not sure if I and my brother will ever learn it, but it is fascinating. See," it said, turning the book to show a diagram that looked like a piece of Timothy's pencil scribblings, only marked with numbers in a good hand, "the tributary gusts are used to surround the wells, and gradually lift them. There's some thought as to popping them and showering down the forest carpet; quite tricky, you don't know," it chuckled.
"Oh," said Lisa, and hid behind her own book, which was much more suited to her tastes.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Prayers of Benjamin Dobbs

Benjamin Dobbs thought he had asked for a great blessing. He had not really expected to receive an answer. For he had become quite cynical with God lately, and as he prayed that evening (head bowed in his hands) he waxed eloquent in anger and frustration.
God was not being reasonable.
It seemed that if poor sinful wretch-of-a-man Benjamin could think of these good things and ask them, then God should jolly well be good enough to do them. So great was his annoyance at God ignoring his helpful suggestions that he had come away from his prayers the night before with a feeling that crossed the line from consternated lack of understanding to disgust. Yes, he was disgusted with God. What good was an all-powerful being if he lacked the will or the desire to do good?
"Am I better than you?"
"My God!" he shook his head in disbelief, the motion turning his arms and shoulders as well.
"How can it be that I could do better? Will You not listen? I come in the name of Christ; is He not good enough? I ask for You to save human beings -- made in Your image -- from burning in Hell for all eternity. You save a few but why not more? I'm asking You for more, God! Could it be that I would do better than You?"
Something poked him in the back of the head and he leapt to his feet, the prayer forgotten as he turned this way and that to look for his assailant. But there was no one behind the damp wooden bench on which he had been reclining. Only a paper airplane lay on the concrete pad behind it. Benjamin looked up at the windows of Maclellan Hall suspiciously, but there was neither laughter nor movement in any that he could see. Most everyone had their windows shut. Benjamin stepped around the bench and picked up the folded sheet -- the plane was of notebook paper, and was already loosing its crispness to the misty cloud that wisped about. With a last glance in the first story windows that satisfied him that none of those lounging in the lobbies were in the least interested in teasing him, Benjamin sat back down and unfolded the paper, listening all the while, the muscles on his neck tense, for some sound to alert him to a repeat offense from the windows behind.
Dear Benjamin,
After considering your request it has been decreed that you will be allowed complete access to and sway over the will of God. Your prayers will be answered.

-- These words were written in thick black ink in the middle of the sheet.
Benjamin sat for a long time looking at the paper, and I would not have been surprised if a question mark had appeared floating over his head. Once or twice he glanced over his shoulder. Then, disconcerted and chilled, not just by the biting wind, he went back inside, and to bed.

"Good morning," murmured Benjamin's roommate, setting his tray down with a slight clatter.
"Morning Graybeard!" replied the other as he sipped his water, staring out through the windows into the fog. The cloud had settled in overnight, and Benjamin couldn't tell for the life of him if the rest of the campus even existed outside the windows. He noticed Graybeard noticing that he was daydreaming, and shifted uncomfortably.
"What's before you today?" he asked, to avoid any questions about what he was thinking.
"Well," Graybeard pressed on the center of his glasses with one finger, and began wrapping up bacon in a pancake. "I have a philosophy test in about twenty minutes which I am not looking forward to."
"Oh, that's right. How late were you up studying?"
"The sad thing is I've forgotten. Past two for sure."
"Yes. I don't know what I'll do about my paper. It's due tonight; I haven't begun it, and with not enough sleep tonight and the two nights before, I'll have to sleep this afternoon. I may ask for an extension, but I doubt he'll give me one.
"I'm sorry, man."
"Yes...what do you have?"
"Oh, nothing much. Certainly nothing to compare to what you have going on. I need to catch up on Calculus homework for this afternoon, though."
"Next week, but I'm pretty far behind studying."
"Busy with that Literature paper?"
"Yes -- hello Almsy! -- but it's done now. I finished it yesterday afternoon. I want to talk to you about what I wrote it on sometime when you're not busy, whenever that will be."
They both laughed.
"What about you, Almsy?" asked Graybeard.
"Oh, the usual. Enough work to kill a wild boar, you know."
"Kill and roast a wild boar," muttered Benjamin. Then he saw the time. "I've got to run. See you guys, and I'll...I'll be praying for you."
"Thanks bro!"
"Thank you, Benjamin; have a good day."
As Benjamin walked out of the Great Hall he knew he could wait no longer. Why not pray? He was supposed to pray about everything. And if it were somehow, somehow true, he had plenty of work to do!
Dear God, Please help Graybeard and Almsy to do well on their work. I pray that you would help Graybeard to work hard...to get a good grade on his philosophy test, and to stay awake this afternoon and be awake enough to finish his paper.
Nothing particularly unusual happened. He could not see the sun as he left the Great Hall. He could barely see three feet in front of him. But excitement beat hard in his chest. He wondered, and it hurt to wonder so hard.
Thankfully, his first class was interesting and he was sleepy, so he forgot and remembered, forgot and remembered, at the same time as his head sank and rose, sank and rose, until he focused all his powers on the class, and forgot his prayers completely.

He did not remember again until Graybeard burst in at two that afternoon, and dropped his book bag onto the floor.
"Hello Graybeard."
"I (hello) have had quite an interesting morning. I'm not sure about my test, but I think I did well. It surprised me that I knew it so well though, so I think I may have been completely wrong on some parts and just thought I knew it. But I am certainly wide awake. I didn't even drink any caffeine at lunch. I had better shut myself in at the computer until the paper is done, before I collapse."
"Wow. Well, I'm glad it went allright and you're more awake. I'll try not to distract you too much.
"Thank you."
Benjamin got another half of a Calculus problem wrong, and then went outside. He paced behind Mac for a few seconds, then looked up at the sky, hands on his hips. The words were at the front of his mind, squeezing together as they tried to burst out. He wouldn't let them. He wouldn't be a fool.
Biting his lip he looked down at the ground, his heart burning. He loved them all so much. It was not wrong to pray. And whatever God willed would come. It was not up to him. Or was it?
"...you will be allowed complete access to the will of God..."
he shivered. He did not want to be fooled into not praying. No, when did he ever pray perfectly? Even if there was pride and self-reliance, he would ask in Christ's name. He had to pray.
So he did. He prayed simply at first, for people who were tired, down, depressed, overloaded, people he saw around the campus. But he could not keep them out (or in), and in a few moments they burst into his prayer. They were friends who were not believers, or who he was not sure were believers, and those who he thought were Christians, but were struggling so much to make it through each day. Before he knew it he was standing in front of one of the concrete supports, head leaning on it, knuckles brushing against it as he swung his hands at his sides, his thoughts and prayers moving from one to the next. He wondered if it were love or selfishness, whether he wanted them to love and live for God so that he would be happier, or so that they would be safe, or so that God would be glorified. With several his feelings bit hard into his heart, so that he clenched his teeth and wept. When he was done he praised God, asked for his glory in the world, and prayed, "In Christ's name, Amen," before going back inside and rushing to Calculus.

Benjamin decided at dinner that he had not been truly afraid for quite some time. He cautiously asked the first friend he saw whom he had prayed for, how he was doing. He was doing well, he said; quite well, in fact. Actually...the friend paused, looking down,
"God's really been dealing with me this afternoon. He's helped me to see things a lot better. And I just heard that the whole situation that was getting me down, you know, the one I didn't want to talk about? I've gotten good news about it, so I'm happy," he smiled.
Benjamin didn't remember what he said in reply. He was happy too, as he sat down at his table and listened to the gang chattering away, but also a little dazed. Then another friend sat down at the table. She was too far away for him to talk to, so he waited, listening, until in her conversation with another friend he caught the words he was beginning to expect he would hear.
"Life...good...God...helping...grades...professor said it was all right...I'm optimistic...trusting the Lord..."
A phrase floated in front of his mind, and before he swatted it down disdainfully it whispered itself to him.
"The prayers of Benjamin Dobbs availeth much."
He could not study that evening. He waited. He had not yet had any contact with the unbelievers or the backsliders he knew. He was used to wishing he could know how they were; used to thinking he was the center of the universe, and that unless he knew about their relationship with God, it must not exist. But this was overwhelming. In this, a more aggressive and gruesome form of his sin, he could see nothing to tolerate, as he sometimes could the milder case, as simply being his care for others. This obsession he fought, and fought, and fought. Two hours passed, and all he did was make small talk with his hall mates, pace, read his Bible, pray a little in short, desperate prayers for peace.
Graybeard gave him several updates. His paper was going quite well; in fact, it was almost done, and it was still three hours until it would be due. Another friend ducked in to proclaim that he had finished his lab early and was going to go catch up on his devotions. Benjamin almost giggled. He had prayed for those things specifically.
Benjamin prayed soberly in his bed that night, for his family, for his church at home, and for a few of his closer friends. Then, as he lingered between sleeping and waking, he dreamed of what it would be like if all those he had prayed for came to know and serve God. He fell asleep smiling, and his face was wet with tears.

It had rained again in the night, but the fog was beginning to clear when Benjamin got up the next morning. He typically did not check his email until after his morning classes, but this morning was different. At least Benjamin hoped it would be. He argued with himself that even if God had answered his prayers it might be a while until he heard from his friends, especially the ones back home. But even as he promoted the sensibility of not checking his emails until a time when other people might have been awake for long enough to actually write him, he checked them anyway. There was the announcement of the next chapel speaker, who had a very dry-sounding topic. Benjamin prayed that the speaker would come in with Christ foremost on his mind, and that he would explain his topic and its relationship Christian living clearly. There was an email from a professor about an upcoming test. Benjamin prayed for all the students to do well, and then tossed in a prayer for their general health as well. Then there was an online newslink from home. He read it, since he had a few extra minutes before he needed to eat breakfast.
Apparently, there had been a massive Earthquake in Central America. It was expected that thousands had died, and even more had been displaced. Benjamin eagerly prayed for the people of the region, and then logged onto Facebook. He had one new message. It was from a dear friend back home.
The first line was confusing, a general greeting and something about wanting to let him know because it was so amazing...
Benjamin stopped jiggling his foot and rotating back and forth in the computer chair. He didn't notice it, but he was holding his breath as he pored over the rest of the message. Another friend, not a close one at all, but one of those who didn't even profess to be a Christian had apparently been born again; was exuberant about Christ, rushing around telling everyone; it was totally strange to see him so exited about Christianity, wrote Benjamin's friend, when before he hadn't cared a whit...Benjamin closed his eyes, suddenly fully awake and full of energy. He wrote a message back, thanking the friend for letting him know, and went to breakfast, praising God.

At breakfast, his friends were eager to discuss their spiritual lives. Taken-aback, Benjamin found himself wanting to jump into the conversation and just be quiet and listen at the same time. He had prayed that their conversation would be more worthwhile.

That afternoon he pulled his red-backed journal out of the second drawer of his chest, "My Prayer Journal" it said on the cover, and flipped past more than a decade of brief updates on his life, the very first in his parents' hands because he had been too young to write them himself. Finding the end of the last entry, he put the date at the top, transcribed the message from the paper airplane, and began writing down all the answered prayers. Every friend he ran into had changed, just as he had prayed they would. He was indescribably happy. The only thing that bothered him was that he wanted to tell his friends, and he knew that they would think he was insane. He could show them the note, of course, but what would that prove? They already knew how silly he was, now they would think he was insanely arrogant and looking for attention and glory. This was only made worse because he knew that, at least to some degree, he was.
He was just about finished when he remembered the Earthquake, and wrote down his prayer for protection and comfort. As he considered the event a rush of thoughts wafted through his mind. He had better start paying attention to the news. With his new power, it was his responsibility, no matter how terribly prideful it sounded to say it, to keep track of what was going on in the world so he could pray.
He spent two hours in the computer lab reading the Drudge Report ©; and he found plenty to pray about. A few wars, a genocide, several famines, a depression, two revolutions, multiple instances of persecution, and a forest fire all vied for his attention, and he sent them all on up to God to fix them. The sheer breadth of what he was praying for amazed him.
He smacked himself on the forehead with the heel of his hand. "Aids!" he gasped, and spent the next few minutes praying against that epidemic.
Then he saw an article about the Earthquake he had prayed for that morning. There had been a second Earthquake. Many more had died, including relief workers, and even a pastor who had been comforting the survivors. Fires had broken out.
Benjamin was displeased, and a little bit panicked. He had, after all, not prayed against the occurrence of another Earthquake, but he was a bit miffed at God for getting around his prayer. He had prayed that the people would be comforted and rebuild well. Now he prayed specifically that the disasters would end within the next twenty-four hours, and that no one else would die, and that the relief workers would be effective. Satisfied that he had made himself crystal clear to God, he went to dinner.

His cell phone rang as he was trying to catch up on his homework that evening and wondering if it was ethical to pray that he would do well on a test he hadn't even studied for. It was a friend from back home; one who had been struggling. Benjamin could barely hide the fact that he was not at all surprised the friend had just gone through a season of serious conviction and repentance and was now doing much better. Thankfully, despite expecting it beforehand, he was still quite happy for his friend, and he allowed that emotion to take the forefront and hide what would probably have been confusing, and perhaps offensive to his friend -- the fact that Benjamin was the one who had started things rolling. Obviously, God had done the work, thought Benjamin to himself as the conversation continued, and God had even been the one to delegate the authority to him, but he, Benjamin Dobbs, had prayed down the blessing all the same.
He put his phone on its charger when he finished his conversation, but then took it off again and put it in the pocket of his pajamas. He wanted to be available as soon as anyone else wanted to call.
"A friend from home?" asked Graybeard from where he sat at his desk behind Benjamin.
"Yep. I'm so exited...he's doing great. Better than I've ever known him to be, actually." He felt the pang of loneliness. He wanted to tell Graybeard everything.
"That's wonderful. You know, that seems to be true of a lot of people up here. I don't know if it's just that a lot of my friends have come to an easy part of the semester or what. It seems to be as much in their spiritual lives as in academics."
"Yes. I've noticed it too," said Benjamin, hoping he wouldn't say anything dishonest.
"Really? Well, it's certainly encouraging. Sometimes I expect everything to be horrible, at least until Heaven. It's nice to know God has good things planned for this life."
"Yes," said Benjamin, and he was glad Graybeard could not see the broad grin that took over his face.

Benjamin leapt from the top bunk, took a step towards his chest, tripped over his backpack and fell flat on his face in the middle of the dark room. Something glowed in front of his face. Surprised, he jerked his head back from the carpet, to find that a sheet of notebook paper lay glowing on the floor in front of him. Hurling insults at himself for not thinking to pray that he would wake up rested and non-delusional in the morning, he clambered to his feet, his knees now just as numb as the arm he had been lying on, and used his remaining good limb to turn off the alarm that was rapidly escalating. In the relative quiet that followed he could hear the construction workers beginning their day of building the new dorm room outside his window. The glowing sheet of paper was still on the floor. He leaned over a picked it up, mmphing as the blood rushed into, and back out of his head. There were letters in thick black ink on the page:
Dear Benjamin,

You have forgotten that whether I use one event to effect many, or many small events on individuals, I am always motivated by the needs of individuals. Your prayers are becoming far too general. Please pray for precisely who you would like to me to help or hurt, and I will decide on the method.

Benjamin pondered the meaning of this for quite some time. He skipped his Bible-reading to check his email, and found another news article from home.
Of all the nerve, he heard himself think. A third Earthquake had struck. He looked up other news. The wars had not ended. The famine continued. God was being nitpicky, and if Benjamin had been indignant when God didn't answer his small prayers before, he was livid when God failed to answer his big ones now.
But he was not a complete fool. He pulled his anger under control. No matter if God decided to delegate his authority to him, God was still God and he was still just Benjamin Dobbs. "I'm sorry Lord," he whispered.
The door to the computer lab opened, and in walked Nathanael Booth. "Good morning, sir," he entoned to Benjamin, as he checked over the printer, "finishing a paper?"
"No, reading the news." The loneliness struck again, and this time he saw a way to share his struggle without being explicit. "I'm a bit sad this morning Nathanael. I prayed about those Earthquakes, you know?"
"Yes, I've heard a bit about them."
"Well, there's been another. It's discouraging when God doesn't answer your prayers."
"Indeed it is," replied his friend thoughtfully, eying him. "Of course," Nathanael loaded a new ream of paper into the printer, "we can't really expect precisely what we pray for to be best. He knows what he's doing. If we were in charge of everything we'd probably botch it all up. Well, I've got to go see about Mills. Cheerio!" He tipped his hat and sauntered from the room, putting on his leather gloves, leaving Benjamin to roll his eyes and sigh. That had not helped.
He turned back to the computer. He was responsible for these people. They needed him to pray for them. So he prayed.
Lord, please help each of these individuals through this hard time. Help them to know you better. Comfort them by your Word. Send people to preach to those who don't know you, and to encourage those who do.
When he finished the prayer he felt much better. It seemed that all might be well again. He headed for breakfast.
Someone had postered the campus for a birthday. He paused, confused, as he passed the first poster in Mac lobby. His picture was on it. But it wasn't his birthday for another three months. In fact, the poster didn't even say happy birthday.
Dear Benjamin, it read under the picture. He stared at it, shivered, and walked quickly out the door into the cold morning. There was another poster on one of the front supports.
Your prayers are still too general.
He walked even faster. There was another, on a bench. He wondered who else was reading these.
You are still not praying for individuals.
He tore the page off the bench. The paper ripped straight through his picture. He hurried on. There were at least half a dozen more posters lining his path in front of Founders and Mills. By the time he made it into Carter Lobby, past the girl vacuuming the floor, he had a handful of torn posters clenched in his hands. He dropped down into a sofa and squeezed his eyes shut hard, the message running through his head.
...You see, dear son, you do not know their names. I care for people by name. If you are to direct my will, you must give me your requests for each of them, and I will answer. Because I work in individuals, not generalizations.

"God," he whispered after a while, "You know I cannot know their names. I could never, never pray for everyone and everything."
He did not notice the sun rising, carving swaths of dusty light through the lobby.
"I can't be responsible for praying for everyone. Lord, you know all their names. You can take care of them all. You know every bad thing that's about to happen. I can only pray after they've already come. Father, maybe it would be better if you decided how best to answer my prayers, because you know better than me."