Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.” Shakespeare
Tereza cried out loud, “Go away rude breath!” It seemed as if the wind yelled back….”NO!”
Tereza listened carefully to see if she had awakened her baby boy sleeping in the other room.
The young mother looked up at the sunlight peeking through the cracks of the cabin ceiling. The wind continued to blow so hard that it would push out one of the wadded up brown paper balls that she had plugged up one of the dozens of holes. After all her efforts to stop the winter wind, it still seemed to find its way into the tiny cabin. She and her husband Jakob had moved into it this past summer. But now Winter was upon them fast and furious. She longed to get outside. Spring and summer were always the most beautiful times of the year in Checkoslavakia.
Jakob would always put his strong arms around her and whisper,
“The breath of God surrounds us.”
In his strong but gentle way he would whisper these words into her ear and it always made her feel so safe and secure. She wished he was here with her now to put his arms around her and tell her that everything was going to be alright. Life had taken a cruel turn and she wanted to scream out loud! She hated the anger she felt burning deep within her soul. Lately she always found herself looking back to the past. She hated that too. She had always been so passionate for the future; but that all changed once the Germans arrived. She was constantly worried about Jakob and his being on the road after dark. He wouldn’t be home until late because it was a far walk to their cabin from the university where he was an instructor.
When they first moved into the Black Forest cabin she thought it couldn’t have been more perfect; even though it was just on the outskirts of Prague. Jon Erickson a friend of Jakob’s, had offered it to them. The price was right and very well worth the move. During the summer it was nice and cozy and provided an inexpensive place for them to live.
It had a white picket fence that surrounded it like a mote surrounds a castle nestled among the lushness of the black and green forest.There was a small stream where they could get water, take a bath and spend time alone together with their baby son. The wildflowers, squirrels, butterflies and birds enhanced its beauty. It was the picture perfect summer framing a beautiful carefree life. But now winter had sunk its teeth into the hideaway turning it into a cold and barren prison.
Today, it seemed even more dark, damp and desolate. With each degree drop in the temperature, the cabin grew increasingly bitter and harsh. It was becoming intolerable just like the city of Prague. She looked down at her once soft and pliable hands and cried.
Dry and cracked like the winter outside; she knew she was getting old and worn out. Worry began to cloud her already muddled mind. The thought of touching her son with these rough weather worn hands was even more depressing.
The Nazi soldiers who had invaded her country were destroying the beautiful city she had grown up in. She and Jakob’s beautiful life had been ruined forcing them out of Prague. Christians and Jews everywhere were being persecuted and it didn’t take much to get arrested. She shivered when she looked down at the package on the table. Quietly she walked over and put another log on the fire and placed the water kettle on a hook to make a hot cup of tea. She would have to sit down to open the brown paper wrapped box that her neighbor Katerina had dropped it off a few minutes after Jakob left for work.
She despised how ungrateful she felt. She normally would have invited Katerina in for tea but, this morning she wanted to be alone. She felt overwhelmed and too tired to make small talk. Her skin crawled with dread. It felt like small bugs were crawling all over her. She thought she was losing her mind. This year had been the worst year even though she was a little thankful Jakob was still able to teach. At times she wished he would just stay home with her and they could just spend time together waiting out the inevitable -- starvation. At this point she had lost all hope. She glanced back at the return address on the brown package and she could feel the acid slowly rise in her throat.
She glared at the box. It was wrapped in plain brown paper and exactly like always, it stirred the same bittersweet feeling that all the other packages they had received from her aunt and uncle in the United States.
Why had she become so bitter, so resentful and so unappreciative? A pain hit her in her right side…she thought to herself, “Now what?”Each time she received a package from her family in the United States it became more difficult to open. Then suddenly a huge lump settled in her throat in place of the acid. It grew larger and larger with each whistle blast from the tea kettle that had started to boil. She walked over and took the pot off the fire. Forget the tea, it was too much trouble to make it. At times like this she couldn’t even cry right, she would just sit and tears would just ooze from her tear ducts. At other times she would try to find the ability to cry out to God and she would be as dry as sawdust on a hot summer day. She sat down at the table with the brown package and slowly began to pick at the tape that was tightly wrapped around the package. Each tiny piece of tape she picked and pulled away very carefully.
Her fingers were so dry and cracked from the cold that they bled at the least bit of pressure. She winced at the pain but quietly pulled off each piece of tape and set it to the side for safekeeping.
“Why am I even opening this box?” she questioned.
Jakob had cautioned her, “Tereza, everything is valuable and reusable. It mustn’t be wasted. We can’t afford even little things like tape and wrapping paper these days so you must learn to be resourceful. I know you aren’t purposefully wasteful, it’s just the times my dear, it’s just the times.”
“Yes my dear”, she would reply. She knew Jackob was not lecturing her, but preparing himself to be able to go and stand before his students with confidence and wisdom. They had both discussed this so many times.
Jakob would say, “Tereza, “We must encourage each other to stand strong, faithful and true during these times of war and hardship. There are many who are being persecuted and killed. We are safe and secure and must continue to pray for those who are suffering for their faith. God will provide always.” Tereza held firm to these words even though the news was growing worse each day. She and Jackob both knew it wasn’t Tereza who was… she stopped mid thought.
The word martyred came to mind. “It was just the times they were living in,” she said. The lump increased. She paused and thought about the little town of Kostelec. It was known for its beautiful forests, and she was living in one. But today, it only seemed very dark, very depressing. It was near the golden city of Prague which was now filled with Nazi soldiers. The war was ravaging their beautiful city and the Allies weren’t helping by dropping bombs to try and stop them. She had heard the damage was unbelievable.
She thought, "How could this be happening?"
She sank into a daydream and she remembered when she was a child how her father would take her into the city of Prague to look at the big astronomical clock. The clock was an amazing sight to behold and the stories behind it were even more amazing. There were figures surrounding the clock representing three of the seven cardinal sins and their ultimate destiny.
On the left side of the clock, Superbia (Vanity) admires her reflection looking into a handheld mirror, and Avaritia (Greed) holds tight to a bag of money. On the right side, Death stands ready to strike while Acedia (Sloth) spends his life in idle worship of music and dance.
Just then the thought of her father’s voice rang softly in her head, “Schatci, little jewel, you can walk free from the trials and tribulations of this world. You are God’s precious one and you carry Him in your heart. He will never leave or forsake you.”
Her father would take her hand and stroll across the Charles Bridge, looking at the hundreds of golden spires. The sun would be setting behind the castle and you could hear the sound of boats on the River Vitvava in the background. Her father said the Celtics had claimed Prague to be the “Mother of all Cities.”
She missed her father, the lump grew bigger and the tears began to fall on her cheek. He would know what to say to her. As she picked at another piece of tape she began to wail in despair. She thought about the story of Cinderella and imagined what she must have felt like sitting by the fire, wondering if her life would always be filled with such harshness and trouble. She cried harder and it felt like every ounce of fluid was flowing from her body. Sitting at the table she just looked at the package through the veil of tears that once again had started flowing and thoughts about how the war was ravaging the city. Neighbors and families alike were fighting over how to keep food in their bellies and shoes on their feet. She put the tea kettle back on the fire.
Until now, wars had always been somewhere else. Now this ugly war had crept in like the tide and was at her back door and pulling beautiful Prague under. She had learned so much during this time. Everything was valuable, especially freedom. She examined the package with wonder, thinking about each small piece of tape, the brown wrapping paper, and even the string that had been cut and retied after the Nazi inspectors had thoroughly “searched” it.
“That was strange,” she thought. “Usually they just discard the string.”
This time it looked as if they had started to open the package and then stopped before ever disturbing the tape. She put paper, string and tape carefully away before she began to open the box. Suddenly like a knife, a pain struck her heart and the words flashed before her, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” She cried out loud, “That’s why the lump keeps getting bigger to swallow.”
Then she remembered a scripture verse she had read last week, “In all things give thanks and praise unto God, for I am with you and will never forsake you.” She held firm to the thought.
"Yes, these words are true, God will never leave me or forsake me.” She remembered her father reciting God's Word to her as a little girl.
One time he said to her, “When others hurt us, instead of shrinking into a little ball and rolling away from them, we must ask God to give us a bigger heart so we can love them more.”
She never understood what my daddy was saying until now.
She peeked in on the baby who was still sleeping softly and this gave her the strength to began to pray and bless the Germans, in spite of what they were doing. This was difficult but she did it. They had robbed her and her family of so much. They were all in bondage to this evil regime and she didn’t like it one bit.
Her father had taught her when she wanted to do something to write so she got out her pen and paper and began to write a speech for the underground newspaper. She would not allow this fear and hopelessness rob her of the mission she felt called to. It was important for others to know what was happening outside the walls of the city and inside the walls of the concentration camps.
There were rumors of the Nazis taking blonde haired blue eyed children back to Germany to be part of their brainwashing system. Her neighbor had lost their little girl to this slavery. She pushed the fear back, thinking about her little boy being blonde haired, blue eyed. "What if?" She couldn’t go there. She and her husband had even thought about smuggling him to the U.S.
Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted again by the sharp whistle of the tea kettle. She had forgotten she had put it back on the fire. She poured the boiling water over the already twice used tea bag. Her Uncle Winslow and Aunt Thelma from the United States had been so faithful to send packages once they had heard of the invasion and the destruction on their homeland. They had indicated that they would make a way for baby Jakob if they needed to...
but Tereza would never let him go away from her, or would she?
Things were difficult even in the United States and it was a miracle they received anything at all. Every package was a mixture of blessing and cursing. The blessing was the supplies, the curse, why couldn’t they be a country where she and her family didn’t have to hear bombs and air raids. Still, she was thankful for what she got because every package except one had been ravaged and all of the best items stolen. She had written her uncle and asked for shoes for her husband. She looked down at her hands on the box and thought of her husband and his feet. She would wash his socks out and place them by the fire each night to dry. The soles of his boots were so worn, the cardboard and paper she would place on the bottom would be falling out usually before he even got out of the door. She felt ashamed of worrying how old she was feeling, when she thought about what he was going through. She was warm inside her cabin, and he was tramping through the frozen ground for hours each day. Not once had he ever complained.
He’d say, my precious jewel don’t worry, I am fine. You fret too much!”
She knew different though, his feet couldn’t take much more.
He needed shoes. His circulation was growing worse each day. The snow and ice would melt underneath the warmth of his feet and his feet would be blue from the freezing temperatures and blistered from the day’s long walk to work. She would remove his shoes and socks and pray over his feet as she washed them out each night and put them by the fire to dry. She would look at her hands next to his feet and although her hands were worn, his feet were a mess. The lump increased in her throat, and she began to think about the children of Israel and how the Bible said their shoes never wore out, in over forty years. Again, she tried to swallow it but it exploded in her throat like a bomb and she thought she would choke.
She tried to take a sip of her tea, but the sight and the thought made her want to throw up. “I’m getting sick,” she thought. “I am sick,” a voice said behind her. She whipped around but no one was there. “I’m sick of hoping against hope,” she yelled at the empty room. “There are no shoes coming,” the invisible voice answered. “Just give up, just give up, God is not anything but your silly imagination. You and your family are ended today,” it whispered.
The presence in the room was dark, it was bitter and the smell was making her sick. It seemed as if the entire room was closing in and spinning. She ran over thinking she would vomit and opened the front door to run outside.
She expected to feel the freezing cold air, harsh and bitter, hit her in the face like a slap against her cheek but, instead, of it being cold and icy, it felt warm and soft.
Then it started right on the top of her head; it felt like warm oil and smelled like the drink her mother would bring to her when she was sick as a little girl. The mixture of a shot of cognac mixed with honey and peppermint. She would take a couple of swallows and then a few minutes later, her body would experience this same exact feeling. She would drift off to sleep and not awaken until the next morning…always feeling much better. In a few minutes she just drifted off to sleep. But now, she didn’t feel sleepy, she just felt warm, safe and loved. She also felt totally free like a bird. She had to admit to herself, she did feel a little drunk. She could feel God’s Spirit rising up within her, supercharging her body. It was a miraculous feeling. She felt like she was light as a feather.
Just then, something told her to look over at the fence post and there he was.
A turtle dove, alone and by himself without his mate. “That is so odd,” she thought. They are usually never alone and never out and about this time of year. She thought, “I usually see two to three pairs in the spring.” A comforting voice spoke quietly to her and said, “Spring has sprung, new hope and life await you. Go open your present." Suddenly she felt like Cinderella again except this time she was totally free, released from all the doubt and fear!
She turned and walked back inside the house. Her heart that had stopped mid-beat, was now suddenly beating fast with expectancy. She didn’t really understand what was happening, but the pain was gone and so was the lump. She placed her hand over her heart because she thought it was about to pop out of her chest. She slammed the door behind her and ran to the partially opened box.
His voice spoke softly, sweetly, “I am here, and I told you I would never leave or forsake you. You are my precious one and I am yours. I will make a way where there seems to be no way.”
Instead of opening the box, she left it and walked into the bedroom. She laughed at herself as she asked, “How could she have been so faithless?” She took out another brown box she had hidden in the closet. It had arrived from Uncle Winslow several months ago, long before winter. Inside of it was one left shoe. At the time it came, she thought, “Those Nazis are cruel men, to take one shoe and leave the other.”
The gentle voice spoke to her, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man can come to the father except by me.” She remembered that this was the same verse she had been reading in her Bible the day the first single shoe arrived.
She carried the box tenderly from the bedroom and placed it next to the box she had received that morning. The boxes were identical. She suddenly felt ashamed and a new lump arising. She knew it was the Lord as He spoke gently, “Don’t worry, it is alright, my darling, I understand and know where you are.”
She began to cry softly, sweetly this time. The tears were joyful and full of refreshing this time. An end was in sight, it was a knowing a comfortable feeling way down in her soul.
She knew that Christ understood about pain, suffering and hope deferred. His feet were bruised, battered and shoeless when He walked to the cross.
But yet, she was starting to understand the phrase that sometimes it is darkest before the dawn and pain and travail comes just before the crowning of a brand new life. We push we pull we fight to grasp each breath, to hold on to our lives.
"We are such selfish creatures she thought. A mother gives no thought to herself when she is birthing a child. She will expel, push and release, give it her very last breath in order to release her child into the future. How many women have died over the years giving birth?"
A rising of her spirit was filling her body. She could feel the desire to push, to travail, to give life. This must have been how Christ felt at the end, just before his last breath. He knew the emptying of himself would give birth to an everlasting body of believers. He knew that he would rise and it would be a brand new day for Him and for the world.
She dared to ask herself, "How could anyone love so much?"
John the Baptist word’s to the world, “No man was worthy of even unlatching Jesus’ shoes.”
She said outloud, “Lord I know you are here, right here, right now with me, comforting me in my sorrow and suffering.”
John had gone to prison declaring what he knew to be true. He was persecuted and martyred. She felt courage and strength arising within her. She could be strong and she would go on and most important she and Jakob would be faithful to God and continue to fight against the evil that had overtaken their city. They would raise little Jakob to be a fighter too!
Again the Lord spoke, “I am the first and the last.”
She felt like such a little girl again. She felt like she did when she walked across the Charles Bridge with her father. “Today is the day,” she thought with faith.
She opened the box her neighbor had brought and inside was one shoe for the right foot. This and the other shoe were a perfect pair!
Reminded of the story of Cinderella and how the prince had searched the world over looking for the woman whose foot fit in the single glass slipper he possessed. How excited they both must have been that day when one shoe changed their lives!
The lump in her throat was gone. She had been released from the pressure of trying to maintain control. Suddenly, she realized she was laughing through her tears. She was singing at the top of her voice. She bounced her precious baby boy on her knee and put him in his play pen and went over to her secret place where she had stowed away the ingredients for a special dinner celebration. She couldn’t believe how much she had to be thankful for and how silly she felt over all her tears, doubts and fears from earlier. God had restored her joy by using one shoe! Fear, doubt and unbelief were totally gone!
Tereza pulled out her finest dishes and began to dress the table. She had overcome the enemies that had marched at her door and manifested earlier.
With a loud voice she cried out to the Lord,
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley, (with no shoes)[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Just then little Jakob cried out, “Ma Ma feet me!” Tereza laughed back at him as she put little Jakob to her breast saying, "I'll feet you!" She remembered reading earlier;
“How precious are the feet of those that bring good news.”She could hardly wait for the day to pass, for Jakob to return home and share with him the wonderful story of how God had supplied the perfect shoes for him as she felt the warm milk flowing from her into her little son.