“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race [is] not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

~*~Ecclesiastes 9:11~*~

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chapter Nine, Part Two

         Many of the Level Ones shifted uncomfortably, including Elizabeth.  What would they be forced to do to prove their trust?  The older members in the room did not move even an inch.  They simply looked serenely at Pastor Jeffrey, who continued, “I want each of you to write your biggest secret down on your piece of paper and fold it in half.  I will give you the rest of the instructions when everyone has accomplished this step.”

            Elizabeth stared at her paper uncertainly.  Her biggest secret?  After a couple minutes of pondering, she finally scribbled down:

            I sometimes miss my old self.  And I almost always miss the old Jacqueline.

            She folded her slip of paper in half and looked resolutely forward.  Pastor Jeffrey waited until every member was done writing before motioning that everyone should stand.

            “Bring your papers, but leave your notebooks here.  We’re going on a walk.”

            In a single file line, the members in the room followed Pastor Jeffrey out of the room.  He led them down the hall, out a side door, and into the residential colony.  Elizabeth had never been out among the small cottages that made up the residential portion of the colony.  They were uniformly white, with no decorations except numbers on the front.  There were several rows of these, built around a small empty area in the middle.  Just beyond the white cottages, Elizabeth could spy the wall that kept the residents safe from the outside world’s dangerous influence.

            “Welcome to the colony square,” Pastor Simon said as they approached.  There was a large cross sitting in the middle of a bed of red roses in the center of the decently sized space of grass.  In front of this cross was a small fire pit.  A fire was already blazing.  “Please sit in front of the fire.”

            The single file line became a blob, as the members found seats on the grass in front of the pit.  Having sat, Elizabeth finally got the chance to look around her.  She suddenly noticed that the square was surrounded by the older members of the church—those in their late twenties and thirties—and who she assumed to be colony residents.  A few younger faces were sprinkled in among these.

            “As is said in Galatians, chapter six, verse two, ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.’  We must carry each other’s burdens in order to be a successful church family—meaning there must be no secrets among us,” Pastor Jeffrey explained.  “With that in mind, you will each walk up here, read your secret aloud to the colony.  After announcing your secret, you will throw your paper in the fire.  This publicly demonstrates your trust in your fellow Children as well as the absence of secrets among our family.”

            Elizabeth and Morgan exchanged a nervous glance.  Wasn’t the point of secrets that they should stay secret?  Breaking off the glance, Elizabeth looked down at her own hands, which were beginning to shake with anxiety.

            One by one, each member made his or her way to the front of the group.  Each of the Level Ones was clearly nervous and many could not find their voices at all.  The older members who went up did not so much as blink as they read off their secrets.  One by one, each secret was placed into the fire.

            Sandra went up right before Elizabeth.  Standing confidently in front of the group, she read off her strip of paper, “I was worried that Elizabeth wouldn’t join the Children, but I was proud when she did.  Now I worry every day that she will leave us, but I know her strength and belief is much stronger than that.”  Sandra locked eyes with Elizabeth, who blushed.  Of course Sandra’s secret was about the church instead of being solely about herself.

            Once Sandra put her secret in the fire and made it back to her seat, she gave Elizabeth a nudge.  Stumbling slightly, Elizabeth made her way to the front of the group.  Can I change my secret without anyone knowing? she thought.  No, that would be dishonest and everyone would probably figure it out.  The walk to the fire seemed to take an eternity, but she finally made it and turned around.  At least a hundred eyes were staring straight back at her, waiting.

            “I…” she paused, looking from Sandra to Pastor Jeffrey.  Sandra gave her a nod.  “I…sometimes miss my old self,” she finally read in a small voice.  “And I almost always miss the old Jacqueline.”  With that, she bent down, placed the paper in the fire, and walked back to her spot in the group.  When she sat down, she could feel Sandra’s eyes and disappointment boring into her, but Elizabeth merely continued to stare at her hands.

            After the last person had placed their secret in the fire, Pastor Jeffrey returned to the front of the group and addressed everyone, including the colony residents.  “As we have seen tonight, secrets are strong things.  The younger you are in your relationship with the Children, the more self-centered your secrets tend to be.  I didn’t hear a single Level One express anything but doubt and resistance.  The older members, I’m sure everyone noticed, were more concerned about the well-being of the church and the eternal souls of their fellow Roses.  With that in mind, I want every Level One here to devote themselves to five more hours of prayer this week.  I also want the older members and those residents of our colony to spend extra time praying for the souls of our young Children here.  Pray that they learn to understand what it truly means to be a Rose and that their focus turns from themselves and their feelings to what is best for the church.  Let us bow our heads.”

            On cue, everyone bowed their heads and grasped hands with their neighbors.  Elizabeth’s hands were still shaking, and she could swear that she could feel Sandra’s disappointment radiating off the hand she was holding.  Unaware of how much time had passed, and having only paid attention to a fraction of what Pastor Jeffrey said during his prayer, Elizabeth finally responded, “Amen,” with the rest of the members and stood to leave.  She gave a faint smile and small wave to Derek before Sandra grabbed her wrist and began leading her back to the car.

            “Don’t make me give you the Derek speech again,” Sandra said sternly.  “I want to talk to you alone, on the way back to the car.”

            “But what about—” Elizabeth began.

            Sandra cut her off.  “And Delia’s talking to Morgan.  They’ll meet us at the car, don’t worry.  I truly meant what I said in my secret.  I think you’re far stronger and have more belief than you realize.  But you can’t start missing how you or Jacqueline were before.  You’re better now than before you joined us.  You might not realize it now, but this journey you’re taking, while hard, is so necessary and special.  You have to realize that you are going to struggle, you might even hurt sometimes, but your eternal soul is far more important than those momentary trials.  Understand?”

            Elizabeth nodded, looking at her feet as she was guided through the colony by Sandra.

            “Good,” Sandra continued. “Now, I was very disappointed by your secret.  Like Pastor Jeffrey said, you need to start focusing on the well-being of the church over the happiness of yourself.  While I said I was hoping you would baptize and was worried you wouldn’t and that I’m now sometimes worried that you’ll leave—which I know you won’t, right?—my feelings are because I know you need the Children and the Children need you.  It’s not for my own happiness.  To get you to focus more on yourself, I’m adding on another two hours of prayer tonight before bed.”

            “Pastor Jeffrey already gave us five extra hours of prayer this week!” Elizabeth suddenly cried, looking at Sandra with shock.

            “I know, and I’m adding this on top of those five hours.  I want you to pray for two extra hours tonight and you had better be honest with me when I ask you if you accomplished this simple task.  You need to pray more to get rid of those doubts in your mind.  You need to pray more to mature and realize that you and Jacqueline are better off with the Children.”  She looked at Elizabeth sternly.  “You will do this, right?”

            “Yes,” Elizabeth said reluctantly.  “I’ll do the extra prayer hours tonight.”

            By this time, they had arrived back at the car and the two girls waited in silence for Delia and Morgan, who arrived only a couple minutes later.  Morgan looked as chastised as Elizabeth felt.  Neither girls made eye contact with each other, but stared at their shoes while their Rose Angels faced them and began to talk again.

            “We’re this tough on you because we care,” Delia said.  “We want you to spend eternity in Heaven, with us and the rest of the Children, and Satan is going to test you, but you must rise above the doubts and sins.”

            “It’s clear to us, however, that you’re both maturing in your faith from the way you handled yourselves in the secrets exercise,” Sandra said.  “It’s a hard exercise for some of the Level Ones.  It’s important that you have enough trust in your fellow Roses and you have enough belief in the Children that you put your secrets out there willingly.  With this, we have some very good news for the two of you!”  Sandra flashed the two girls a bright smile.  Both Elizabeth and Morgan finally looked up.  “You’re both ready to move up to Level Two!”

            “When?” Morgan asked.

            “That’s not your concern.  You should just be happy to know that you’ve been deemed ready to move up in the Children of the Rose and you will find out in due time when the ceremony will take place.  Just do your prayers this week, otherwise we might decide you’re not mature enough to move up after all,” Delia said harshly.

            The drive home was almost perfectly silent.  Morgan and Elizabeth didn’t dare speak a word to each other in front of Sandra or Delia, at least not tonight.  Once Elizabeth got home and had returned safely to her room without being intercepted by a single family member, she sat down at her desk and pulled out her journal.

March 29

            Just got back from another youth group meeting, this one more intense than the last one.  Sandra told me that I’m ready to move up to the next level in the Children (Morgan too), which is really exciting.  I hope I don’t disappoint her any more.  It seems like my immaturity in being a Rose either annoys or embarrasses her sometimes.  I guess it’s like how I feel around my younger siblings—their immaturity can get on my nerves a lot.  I should stop writing now, though.  I’m tired and I have to fit in two extra hours of prayer tonight before falling asleep.

            Elizabeth put down her pen, thought for a moment, and then picked it back up and added to the bottom of her entry:
            I’m doing the right thing, aren’t I?  Because sometimes I wonder.  But I guess it’s all worth it…Heaven has got to be better than this place.

1 comment:

  1. I'm really enjoying the story so far and now it sounds like things are getting ready to be kicked up a notch. I was especially interested in reading about your research process. Something as intimate as cultism must be difficult to capture, especially if you don't have the personal experience, but you're doing a great job showing the progression into the mindset.