The stone bench had grown familiar, my senses numbed, so that I hardly thought of the discomfort. The prison cell was dark, damp and cold, yet, somehow, strangely comforting. I felt at home. I had memorized every square inch of my surroundings, every stain, and every mark. At least what I could see in the dim light of day. I wasn’t happy, exactly, and I didn’t pretend to be. I was trapped. Caged in. Held captive by iron bars in the window, placed so high no human could ever reach from within, surround by cement walls, and a heavy metal door blocked all but the tiniest hint of light from whatever lay beyond. There was a lock and, I assumed, somewhere there was a key. Not that I cared. Or even wondered. It could have been in my own pocket and I wouldn’t have bothered about it. I had no desire to leave. Nothing to leave for, or to. This was my ‘home’ and had been almost as far back as my mind could remember. Other realities had long faded, and when I thought of them, I wondered if it was real, or just some ‘other world’ I had imagined. Yes, this was ‘home’…. but, then, what did I know about the meaning of the word?
When I paid any attention to it, I realized my parched tongue hurt. I touched my chapped lips. They burned. Moist red on my hands indicated they were bleeding. Again. I wiped my hand on my tattered old shirt, once a pure white, now faded and marred with sweat, blood and time. Just another stain. Another mark. Proof that I was still alive. Surviving. I washed my clothes, from time to time, in the puddle that collected in the corner of my cell. At least I did, to a time. Anymore it made no difference.
Thirst. It had been a long time since I had a drink of clean water. Just how long, I couldn’t say. I walked to the corner of my cell, picked up the rusty tin and held it to my mouth, sipping just a swallow of the stagnant water. At least it was wet. I looked in the bucket, now emptied of its last drops, and whispered a silent prayer for rain. To whom I prayed, or why, I had no idea. It just slipped in quiet desperation, without a thought, or a speck of faith to accompany it. The hole in the foundation had saved my life often, providing water in a puddle in the corner. Ironic, how a curse for one man is a blessing for another.
My stomach growled. I squinted, looking at the dried loaf at the end of the bench. It tempted. Each week someone pushed one loaf through the bars, without a word, letting it drop into my cell. It was how I told time. And each week I broke that bread into seven pieces, knowing it had to last. Sometimes the kind stranger didn’t show up and I found myself worrying they may be deathly ill, or even dead. The relief when the loaf arrived a few days late was more the knowing my ‘friend’ was alive, than the loaf that fell into my cell. But always, when the loaf came late, there was extra. I turned away from the portion that remained. It was the last piece.
I wondered, often, who my kind stranger might be. The cell was to be my slow and painful death, starving and abandoned. Yet this stranger’s gifts sustained me. I wondered how many other cells there were, and did anyone bring them bread? I was fairly certain it was a child—I had heard the voice, faintly, a few times—but couldn’t be sure. And, if it was a child, where were they getting the bread? It occupied my mind and, in a way, boosted my will to live. I needed to be there to receive the gift.
The lock rattled. I jumped. Startled out of my reverie, I cried out in fear. “Who is it? And what do you want?” My mind raced, immediately. Who knew I was here? My captors were long gone, assuming I was dead, and apart from the child and the bread, no one had ever bothered about me.
The key scraped loudly, the lock clearly rusted, and the rattling continued. The visitor persisted and, at long last, removed the lock. The door creaked loudly as it swung open and light suddenly filled the room. In truth, it wasn’t a bright light, but to eyes that had not seen more than a distant ray, it was nearly blinding. I raised my hand, covering my eyes, parting my fingers to peer through them.
A man stood just outside the door. “May I come in?” he asked.
“It’s really quite a dirty place,” I said, my voice as rusty as the lock. I was suddenly aware of the filthy ‘toilet’, off to one side, offering nothing more than a hole in the floor. I cringed, not willing that anyone would see my condition, or my ‘home’. “I’m not sure you want to come in. You’ll get your clothes soiled. Besides, I don’t even know who you are, or what you want. Why would I let you in? Why would you want to?”
“Please, just let me come in. I have some good news for you, if you’ll hear it,” the visitor said, his voice tender, and filled with compassion.
“Good news? For me? What on earth could you have to say to me? You don’t know me and….” I paused. “Oh, never mind, what do I have to lose? You can come in, I suppose.” I mumbled as I motioned, somewhat carelessly, for him to sit beside me on the stone bench. My mind raced, filled with questions I dared not ask.
He sat down and I looked at him just long enough to see if I recognized anything about him. His brown eyes held a rare gentleness, something I had not seen often in my life. Even in the days before I was thrown in this dark pit… though there had been someone, once… but it had been so long ago… one of the memories I doubted were real. His eyes drew me in, yet I dared not hold his gaze, knowing how repulsive I must be and fearing the memory that threatened. Keenly aware of the present, I tried not to imagine the stench of the place. A stench to which I had grown so accustomed it didn’t even bother me. But it had, at first, and suddenly I remembered. I wanted to tell him to leave, to lock the door behind him and never come back, but I couldn’t speak. His voice interrupted my rambling thoughts.
“I was sent here by the king, to unlock this door and release you from this prison,” the man said.
“Why that’s ludicrous!” I blurted out, scoffing. “Why would the king send you? And besides, I don’t want to leave! Every week a child brings me a loaf of bread, and I collect water from the rains. I have lived here so long that I’ve all but forgotten how to live in any other world. I have no place to go, no future and no life outside of this place anymore. And, even if I wanted to leave, who would want me? I deserve this place. I did dreadful things before I was thrown in here. Paying for my crimes in this way assuages my guilt. So, if you don’t mind, please leave. Just go.”
“The prison door is open, you are free to walk out of here, on the king’s orders,” the man said. “He has granted a pardon for all your crimes. What’s more, he arrested the men who threw you in this place and is having them sentenced. But that’s not all. I haven’t even told you the best part of all…”
“Sir, I don’t know who you are, or why you are kind to me. I don’t know why the king sent you, but I cannot leave. Whatever the rest of this ‘good news’ is, it doesn’t matter, so don’t even tell me…. I don’t want to hear any of it. It will only torment me when you are gone.” I pointed to my ankle, at the shackles that held me further entrapped. A large iron ball had been placed in the middle of the room, and the chain attaching me to it allowed me just within reach of the stone bench, the toilet, and the puddle–my water supply. Never, not in a million years, would I move it from its place. The shackles that once cut my circulation, when my flesh was healthy, now scraped against my bony body, calloused from the rubbing.
The man pulled another key from his pockets. “Ah,” he said, “but the king sent that key, having taken it from your captors. He ordered me to unlock it also.”
The kind man knelt, then, on that dirt floor and worked at the shackles until they came off. At once he began massaging my feet, his warm tears falling. He kissed the wounded ankle. I cringed, embarrassed that he would touch my wounds, so filthy, repulsive. Yet I was amazed at his tenderness. “Please, sir…” I started to speak again, but he interrupted, raising his finger to my lips.
“Shhh….” He continued working on my ankle as he spoke. “There is something you need to know, if you are to understand why I am here….” the tears turned to sobs, as he spoke and he had to pause, from time to time, to compose himself. “The king is my father, and you… you are my sister. We never stopped searching for you after you disappeared. Not a moment has passed that you were not in our hearts and on our minds.”
Still weeping, he looked deep into my eyes and in that instant I recognized him. His father had adopted me, many years ago, and loved me like his own, from the start. I had never known such joy as I did then. But, alas, I had begun to listen to other influences who lied to me about my adoptive father. Gradually, at first, my heart had pulled back, as I began to question his heart, his motives and his intentions. With time I had become hardened, bitter and angry and, eventually, I had run away while still quite young. The men who had lied about my father, had taught me to steal and murder for them, and when they had no use for me anymore, especially when they discovered I kept some of what I stole in hopes of one day escaping, they had raped me, beaten me and tossed me in this prison.
Now, haggard and worn, my father had found me. I sat in disbelief, my mind reeling from shock, my soul buried in shame, unable to form words. I didn’t deserve him, but oh how my heart longed to go back… A deep ache tugged at my heart. A place deep inside that I thought had died long ago, began to throb with desire.
The man stood to his feet, and reached out his hand, “If you are willing, I would like to take you home and my father and I will care for you. You will regain your strength, and your father will welcome you with open arms, but the choice is yours. You can choose to stay here, or you can come with me.”
I stood to my feet, holding his hand for support. I had resorted to crawling mostly, of late, so weak from malnutrition and dehydration. My body trembled and I was about to sit back down and declare defeat, resigning myself to my fate, when he picked me up and carried me out of the prison. Weary, I collapsed in his arms as he returned me to my father’s house. He ran to the gate, when he saw us, and threw his arms around me, with no apparent notice of my tattered rags and the stench of my years in prison.
Home. What did I know about the meaning of the word? In that moment, in my father’s embrace, my heart remembered… And in that moment I knew where I belonged.
Isaiah 61:1 (NKJV)
The Good News
61 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound…
I stumbled across this writing while sorting through items from as many as twenty (or more?) years ago. A hand scribbled expression of my heart, recounting in allegorical form, the wonder of what I felt when I encountered Jesus, and the gift of adoption God offers us through Jesus.
Many things of life experience make no sense to me and leave me wondering and uncertain, yet always some ‘loaf’, or kindness, sustains me. Many times I don’t know where the ‘bread’ comes from, and when I feel there isn’t any way to survive without the ‘rains’, God carries me through deep hunger and desperate thirst.
How easily I slip into various prison cells, when the struggles of life overtake me, and how quickly the Son returns to meet me in that dark and broken place, reminding me who I am, and Who adopted me. He offers me one constant assurance: The Good News is for me, in every broken place I enter. And it is for you too. We are loved. We are bought with a price. The adoption papers are signed the moment we accept Jesus as the Son of God, who died for us. And that thought comforts me more than any religious ‘knowing’ of where I stand has ever offered me. And for this truth I thank my Father. I am His. I am loved.
© Trudy Metzger
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