His Ways Are Higher

You will be praised

 

His ways are higher than my own // His thoughts consume the great unknown.

-Hillsong

 

My fiancé Jacques and I have been in a long distance relationship for over a year now. We have known each other for over two years but to date have only spent 10 weeks in each other’s company. We plan to get married, so in November last year (after saving money for over eight months) we applied for a visa to allow Jacques to move to Australia and marry me. We originally got told 13-18 months for the visa processing time. This has been the biggest trial I have been through in my life, and the thing that has challenged my faith most.

I had to resist the temptation to let myself spiral into panic and despair at the idea that the visa would take the full 18 months and I wouldn’t be able to handle it, or worse, that his application would get denied. There were frequent tears and moments of wallowing in self-pity and doubt.

So after gathering the money (with the help of both our amazing parents) and organising all of our paperwork, on the 28th of November 2017 we applied and paid for the visa. God had already spoken to me quite a while ago, telling us to go for this particular visa and that it would get approved. As I saw other couples spending way less time in separate countries while also waiting on immigration, I wondered if we were somehow doing things wrong. But I had to keep coming back to the word that I knew God had spoken.

About four months ago while I was praying I felt God give me the month April and I figured that it was most likely for when the visa would get approved. But logically this was crazy. Immigration had said a 13 month (which was later lowered to 10 months) minimum and even if it was approved at the very end of April it would only be five months. We would need a miracle. It stretched Jacques’ faith because I had heard God say that, not him, but he faithfully prayed into it anyway, being the godly man and wonderful fiancé that he is.

On the 11th of April 2018, Jacques’ 22nd birthday, Jacques came back from Crossfit with his best friend Graeme, cold, tired and not overly happy. His mum Carolle describes the boys this way when they came into the house. She said they walked into Jacques’ room and about five minutes later she just hears this ‘roaring’ coming from the room. She knew it could only mean one thing.

The visa had been approved in four and a half months. A while ago I wrote an article on the perfect ways of God and this proves it because not only did he perform a miracle for us by approving the visa in record time, he gave it to Jacques as a birthday present. He really is the God of the above and beyond, of the more than we can ask, think or imagine.

Possibly the most baffling part is that two days before the visa got approved, Immigration contacted us asking for extra information. We didn’t even give them all the information and then two days later it was just granted.

Wow. I am blown away by the power, the majesty, the goodness of God. How perfect and personal He is.

So I would like to publicly honour Jesus and thank Him for bringing Jacques and I together, for making a way for us and performing miracles on our behalf. For being the glue that holds us together and for giving meaning and purpose to our lives.

There is truly no one like our God.

Sincerely
Lil

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Image: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhasSpSBdEE, sourced 15 April 2018.

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Hamster Wheel

hamster wheel sale

I haven’t really had a Saturday off in almost nine years. Next year I will have been in the retail industry for a decade. Starting when I was 16 at an independently owned business in my hometown, I changed companies a few times and progressed to management.

About a year ago, the weekends at work really started to bug me. I always say that on a Monday, my RDO as a manager, everyone is tired, angry and broke (because all the fun happens on a Saturday). I got tired of missing out on things and tallying up the amount of parties, beach trips, baby showers and engagement parties that I had missed over the years. I couldn’t stop.

As many times as I tried to push it aside and focus on the good of my job (amazing company culture, great co-workers and bosses, free clothes…) I would break down about once a month, or once every two weeks—overwhelmed by the feeling that, despite my best efforts, my career didn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Let me set the scene… On top of working full time hours I was also writing for a stationery company on the side, doing an enormous amount of work for a local TV station, going to church, home group and prayer meeting, leading the youth group, being part of the music team and learning keyboard, trying to maintain a long distance relationship, applying and saving for a visa, keeping a workout schedule at the gym, and trying to have a social life.

Rest? you might ask. When did I do that? My answer: I didn’t. When I would answer my dad’s question of ‘how are you?’ with ‘busy and tired’ he would say, ‘I’m hearing that a lot lately.’ My fiancé Jacques continually asked me if for some reason I hated sleep (believe it or not, I don’t).

As a single girl, out of all the things that I thought might be an issue in my relationship when I finally found an amazing guy to spend my life with (and thank you Jesus I did), the inability to rest was not it. Not even close. I had considered a lot of other things popping up as potential roadblocks, but this one totally blindsided me. When you’re single and living away from home you can get away with a lot more self-destructive behaviour (I’ll sleep when I’m dead, right?).

So I felt stuck in my career—like I absolutely couldn’t move on. I had complete a three year bachelor degree, applied for writing jobs for three years after that and gotten two interviews. In both situations they gave the job to someone with more experience.

Ever been faced with that old catch-22 of needing experience to get a job but then no one giving you a job, so you’re unable to gain said experience? It’s infuriating.

I felt constantly at the end of my tether, I had lost my love for my customers and some things were starting to slip. My boss came to me one day—she has got to be one of the most amazing ladies I’ve ever worked for—and sat me down as a friend to tell me that I was overloaded and burning out. “Something’s gotta give,” she said. As she spoke it suddenly dawned on me why I’d gotten sick more times this year than the last five years combined. Duh, you’re probably thinking, but it wasn’t obvious to me until that moment.

What I realised is that every time I rest I feel guilty, like I’m being lazy. I once heard laziness described as a rest you haven’t earned. But here I was getting sick because I’d worked myself down to the bone. At what point do we stop feeling selfish for taking care of our bodies? For me it took a significant other coming into my life to show me that I needed to slow down and listen to my body, but it doesn’t have to for you.

Six weeks ago I made the decision to step down from my full-time store manager role and drop back to casual.

Oh, I forgot to tell you the good news! The luxury stationery company that I’ve been working for on the side offered me two days a week with them, making it financially possible to free up my schedule and take on a casual role.

And guess what?

I feel the happiest I’ve felt in ages.

Everyone keeps commenting on how happy and relaxed I am. The other day I said to Jacques, “Lil’s back!” If he wasn’t sure what his hyped up fiancée meant, it means that suddenly now when customers walk in I feel a smile automatically burst onto my face—I want to go the extra mile for them. I’m suddenly starting to think about all the messages I haven’t replied to on Facebook, and wondering how are my friends in America going? I feel my creativity starting to come back, now that I have some brain space. Last weekend I was able to go visit my hometown. I drove down on Saturday morning and called up a bunch of friends. Guess what? They were all free. Of course they were. People are free on Saturdays. I felt a freedom and a joy again that had crept away so slowly and so silently that I hadn’t even noticed them leave the room.

I feel like me, and I like it.

I no longer feel that sense of striving, that nagging feeling of failure riding on my back, whispering in my ear in my weakest moments. I feel like my career is finally moving forward. The fact that it’s baby steps doesn’t bother me one tiny bit.

ferris bueller life moves fast

So how is your schedule looking? If you’d have to turn sideways to fit between the gaps, maybe you should do some rearranging. Or blow some big holes in that thing. Resting should not just be a concept. Friends should not just be those people you forgot to reply to. And your hometown (filled with dear friends and family) shouldn’t just be a place that you used to visit.

“He brought me out into a spacious place. He rescued me because he delighted in me.” – 2 Samuel 22:20 (NIV)

Create some space for your soul. Because without it, it withers. And the world does not need more withered souls, believe you me.

 

Sincerely,
Lil

 

Sources:
Image 1: https://www.thestartupsessions.com/blog/jumping-off-the-hamster-wheel-and-finding-your-sweet-spot/, accessed 20 March 2018.

Image 2: https://ahora3jradio.com/35667/ferris-bueller-life-moves-pretty-fast-quote/ferris-bueller-life-moves-pretty-fast-quote-adorable-download-ferris-bueller-life-moves-pretty-fast-quote-homean-quotes/, accessed 20 March 2018.

Are you using technology … or is it using you? Part 1

Meet and Tweet Crop

“Has social media really made us more connected? A sight I see often today is a family sitting at a café: dog barking, baby crying and everyone else . . .  glued to their screens. If this isn’t ringing any bells, what’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? If it’s not checking some social media platform on your phone or tablet I will be surprised…”

To read the full article on Teen Talk Production’s page by blogger Lil Williams, follow the link below…

http://www.teentalkproduction.com.au/are-you-using-technology-or-is-it-using-you/

As For God

I’ve been meditating on the perfect ways of God recently. My fiancé and I are going through our toughest test of faith to date, waiting for a visa that will allow us to live in the same country and get married. The website says the processing time can be anywhere up to 17 months. We are currently one month down. We can’t start planning our wedding because we don’t have a date, which everything hinges on. We watch as many of our Facebook friends get married and post about a wedding date countdown for 2018 and we don’t know if we will be able to do the same.

But instead of fixating on the time (the when, when WHEN?! will drive you insane) I am learning to fixate on the God of the timing.

“As for God, his way is perfect. The word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.” – 2 Samuel 22:31 (NIV)

I remember being arrested by this chapter in the Bible five years ago in a college laundry room, reading it over and over until it became one of my favourite passages.

Perfect. Who of us has perfect ways? Who can claim to be a person without error or folly, someone who has never made a mistake and has nothing to be embarrassed by? The idea is actually difficult for the human brain to comprehend.

I have neatly packaged timelines in my head that I would love God to adhere to, especially when it comes to the date of my wedding. If you had asked me when I was 18, I wanted to get married at 18. As the years changed, so did the ideal age. But looking back now, I was so immature and ill-prepared at 18, and my choice at the time would have led to devastation.

God in his goodness said no to my prayers. Said, “Not yet. Wait.”

Wait.

That word we all hate, but as I looked through the Bible in this time of waiting for Jacques, I have realised (much to my disappointment) that waiting is indeed a very biblical thing. Many people in the Bible waited many years for God’s promises to be fulfilled (at least I don’t expect to be waiting 400 years to marry Jacques).

Because waiting builds character. And God loves to build character in his kids. It occurred to me some time ago that patience is not a lesson that can be learned quickly.

“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

I was stressing out and becoming so negative about our situation, feeling like everybody had it easier than us (of course focussing on the couples around me who live in the same town) and felt that I couldn’t handle the maximum waiting time for the visa, like I would explode.

It’s funny how people can talk to you for hours and then God can say one or two sentences and it completely transforms your mind.

“I am not making you wait for nothing.”

Immediately a peace rushed into my heart. Ahh. There’s a point to it all. One of the things that was getting me the most worked up was that it felt like an arbitrary wait time from the government and that they had the final say on our wedding date, but God reminded me that he is in control.

“It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.” – 2 Samuel 22:33 (NIV)

He already knows the date of Jacques landing in Australia and our wedding. No government can thwart any plans of his. God also revealed that we were benefitting from the waiting, and I started to see all the changes that we as individuals, and as a couple, were experiencing monthly and even weekly.

I stopped focussing so much on the exact timing and the seeming unfairness of long distance, but the blessing in the wait, and the goodness and faithfulness of God. A friend encouraged me to prepare myself for the maximum processing time so that anything shorter felt like a bonus. God revealed to me that the question wasn’t whether I was strong enough to tough it out for 18 months, but did I trust that his grace was sufficient for me to wait 18 months if that was what he had ordained? It took the pressure off me and put it back on God, who can more than handle it.

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
– Proverbs 18:21

My mum encouraged me to start speaking out positive words about our visa situation every time someone asked (which is often), even if I didn’t feel positive, and see how that changed my mind set. My thoughts began to change and I stopped crying so much about the visa. I now feel entirely different than I did even three weeks ago because of declaring God’s goodness over the situation instead of giving in to self-pity and defeat.

The thing about God having perfect ways is that when we trust in him, as opposed to leaning on our own weak understanding, he makes our way perfect too. Not that everything in your life is suddenly roses (we still don’t have the faintest inkling of our wedding date) but that walking with Christ, clothed securely in Christ, spending time with him and trusting, is the definition of godly perfection.

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48

Sincerely
Lil

Crowds and Christmas

An interesting insight into anxiety and depression from my sister-in-law to be.

Marbles & Bottle caps

It’s that time of the year again – Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas and what it represents but what I really battle with are the crowds in the malls. The hustle and bustle of the malls, people just about running over each other, is a bit overbearing.

I was shopping for Christmas gifts with my parents yesterday and oh boy, was the mall busy. People everywhere with their trollies full of gifts and children running around all excited, yet I just can’t find it within me to have the excitement that everyone else feels and has. While walking in the mall, I kept rubbing my fingers in my palms and kept saying “It’s okay, you’ll be fine. Just breath and think of a song to calm you down” For some reason and I just can’t wrap my head around it.

I battle with crowds and its only really…

View original post 256 more words

I just wanted to spread some encouragement to some amazing women I know and don’t know. You do not have to be they’ve said that you are.

“You are never too much,and you are always enough.” The sentence that still brings a tear to my eye when I hear it, over 5 years later.

Be blessed!

All credit to Carroll Gamboa, published on YouTube on 31 August 2017.

Sincerely
Lil

A Message to All Women

Is an arts degree truly the ‘bachelor of unemployment’?

7 things they didn’t tell me during an arts degree, or maybe I wasn’t listening…

bachelor unemployment

If you haven’t been listening either, maybe it’s time to start. Or maybe no one’s telling you these things that I had to figure out on my own.

During uni I never spent one minute worrying about finding a job once I was finished my degree. At the start of the course they gave us the impression that hundreds of companies were out there, just waiting to snuffle up graduates like us. Of course, a university would say that. At the beginning. How else do they lock in your fees?

And then at the end of my three years I found myself with a bachelor degree and no job. And no likelihood of getting one, if the first six months were any indication. I felt like Deakin had pulled one over on me. “You know all those jobs we told you were available at the start of your degree? Psych! There are none. Thanks for all the cash! Cheers, bye xx.”

I felt like there was no follow up, no nurturing or preparing for the real world once the training wheels of university were removed. (In high school, they refer to uni as the ‘real world’—it’s not.) I looked on in envy at nurses and teachers who all got ‘placed’ in graduate jobs or internships. While it had seemed easy at the time that my degree didn’t contain a mandatory placement, now all of a sudden I felt ripped off. Where was my head start, my foot in the door?

3-5 years experience

And three years later I am still trying to get a foot, a pinky, in any arts door. I have applied for over 100 jobs by now, broadening my search further and further, and received two interviews.

What is wrong with me? Where did I go wrong? My sister used to joke about my arts degree, calling it the ‘Bachelor of Unemployment’. Boy, do I feel bad about teasing those philosophy majors now.

I spent a long time feeling like a failure, and still do some days. I have dreams of being a writer but instead I work in retail, the industry I started in when I was 16, never imagining I would still be here.

I chalk my first mistake up to naively turning down an internship that my journalism teacher offered to put me forward for. “No thanks, journalism isn’t really my thing” was my reply. Oh, silly girl.

That brings me to my first point.

1) Take any advantage or opportunity presented to you, even if it’s not your ideal job or expertise

Looking back now, I would jump at the opportunity to have interned for the Geelong Advertiser, especially before I had even completed my degree. At the end of the day, experience is experience. Nobody starts out in their dream job and I really regret turning down an opportunity to kick start my arts resume and make some worthy connections. You can have all the experience in the world (like I do in retail) but relevant industry experience is really all employers seem to look at.

2) If there is an option to do a placement or internship, always take it

I saw on the course guide in third year that we could do a placement. It sounded like fun until I saw that the university didn’t help you at all. You had to organise the placement by yourself. I had just come back from a six month exchange in the United States. Organising somewhere to live at such late notice was hard enough, let alone this. It seemed like too much effort, so I let the opportunity slide. I would advise any arts student to go to the effort of organising their own placement. If it’s not a course elective, organise one and ask for approval of credit from your faculty. Those contacts forged would be invaluable now. The phrase “it’s who you know” is truer today than ever before (in more industries than just the creative ones, but that’s another issue). I find it interesting that the only people from my course that now have writing related jobs are through family, friends, or previous volunteer experience.

any-minute-now

3) Keep in contact with your classmates and professors

Actively seek advice from your professors and follow what you can. If someone on the inside is going to be on your side, it’s your teacher. They may be able to make an introduction, put in a good word for you, or just give you some good tips on breaking into the industry. If they don’t offer it outright (let’s be honest, they have a lot on their plates), make an appointment to speak with them and pick their brains. Ask their tips and advice, also if they can put you in contact with anyone who might eventually be able to offer you an internship or job.

I remember asking the teacher of my Shakespeare class in third year whether it was worth doing an honours year after my bachelor degree. His response was, “Honestly, you’ll end up a year later with another piece of paper, a bigger HECS debt and still no job. The best advice I can give you is to get out there and gain industry experience. Get any job you can in your field and work your way up.”

And here I am still trying.

4) Be proactive and start early

Maybe you found a job straight out of uni. Congratulations. This article is not for you.

It is only after years of unsuccessful job hunting has made me so desperate that I am now seeking advice from all avenues. I wish so much that I could have started volunteering for companies during university. The problem was I didn’t realise how tough the job market is out there. There are scores of graduates for every one job being advertised. We are faced with the horrible catch-22 of needing experience to get your first job, but no one giving you a chance in order for you to gain experience. It is one of the more frustrating paradoxes that I have experienced.

Don’t wait to see first-hand if your field is tough. Start being proactive now. You’re only going to thank yourself later.

Get your work out there. If you’re a writer and don’t have a blog, start one. It is crucial in this day and age to have an online presence (more than your social media accounts, although those are crucial too). I currently have a personal blog, and am also writing a novel. An editor can’t publish your manuscript if you don’t have one ready to show them. There is no wrong time to spend time working on your craft and building up your portfolio. Write every day. Spend time journaling, responding to creative prompts, drafting scripts and stories and essays.

On social media, clean up your profiles. It’s naïve to think that employers these days don’t Google people. Make sure that your online profile presents you as a person that they would want to employ. Create connections with people and companies that you admire, and see where it could lead, particularly with LinkedIn.

Read like crazy. Anything and everything you can get your hands on. If you think learning stops once you’ve got that graduation certificate, you’ve got another thing coming. Read books and articles on the publishing industry, or whatever arts industry you are interested in. Knowledge is power.

Submit your work to places like magazines or online journals, but make sure you do your homework and read up on the kind of submissions they are currently looking for, otherwise you will be wasting your time.

5) Volunteer

While a part-time job in your industry during your degree is ideal (and you should definitely try this first), it’s not always realistic. I know it may not seem very glamorous, but working for free is a great way for a company to take a risk-free chance on you. Being willing to work for free also shows how much you want to be there. It also gets you that really valuable experience that seems to be necessary for any paying job these days. I volunteered for a food and lifestyle blog The World Loves Melbourne for just over a year and am currently doing the blog, Instagram and newsletter for a program on Channel 31. It’s great, but I could have done more.

Yes, it is exhausting to volunteer while working a full time job but at the end of the day, it might be the only pathway to someone giving you a full time job in your field. Unfortunately, us arts kids often have to take the scenic route. Don’t let it get you too down. I had originally thought that volunteering was not an option open to me once I started full time work (I am currently in retail management) but one of my friends in the TV industry pointed out that I could volunteer one afternoon a week, or fortnight. I hadn’t thought about it like that before, assuming it was all or nothing, but anything is better than nothing.

getting serious

6) Use your connections

Networking. Half the time the word sends shivers down my spine because frankly, the whole concept makes me kind of uncomfortable. To some people like my fiancé Jacques, networking seems to come naturally. I’ve already mentioned lecturers and tutors, but think about the other people you have in your life who could connect you with a potential employer.

Research some networking events in your city and attend them. I recommend going with a friend as I admit that they can start out somewhat awkward, but they can be really worthwhile. If you know anyone successful in your field, ask to make a time to sit down with them and pick their brains. They’re obviously doing something right.

7) Don’t be proud

I know it’s not the millennial way of thinking, but in most careers, people have worked their way up from the bottom. This requires patience, perseverance, perhaps a salary cut, hard work and humility. If you’re looking to jump the queue, so to speak, and step straight into a senior role, you need to wake up. You might have to take a lower paying job that you intended, but you have to start somewhere. Don’t be too good for any job. Any job in your industry should be a good enough starting point.

I know it’s hard out there. Believe me, I know. And I don’t have a writing job yet, so you might be justified if you don’t take any of my advice. But I’m sure that I’m closer now than I’ve ever been.

Best of luck! May you land a job quicker than I did.

 

Sincerely
Lil

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Sources (accessed 30 November 2017):
https://www.careers24.com/career-advice/job-hunting/help-i-need-work-experience-20151215

https://www.socialtalent.com/blog/recruitment/the-best-job-seeker-memes-of-all-time-part-3

https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/2015/05/11-funny-memes-for-when-recruiting-gets-tough

http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/3phyao

Giving God Permission

humility _ CS Lewis.jpg

 

“For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.”
Psalm 149:4

I’ve been meditating on humility lately, and the amount of control we want over our lives, or think that we have. As I was praying the other day, my aim was to humble myself and submit to God’s will in a certain situation.

My boyfriend Jacques and I are currently waiting on a visa that enables him to move to Australia and us to marry. It would come as no surprise that I have been praying for it to get approved quickly. I want to get married and I’m not being very patient about it (although I am trying). I was submitting it to God and was about to pray, “Lord, even if it takes a year, that’s all right” but I stopped.

A year? Almost like I didn’t want to pray the prayer out loud and give God ideas about some super human test of endurance. I realised that when I say things like that to God, I think that I am giving him ‘permission’ to bring a trial my way, like we somehow have any kind of authority over him.

Submitting yourself to God’s timing is not giving him permission to dawdle or give you the longest wait time possible. We cannot twist God’s arm, and we don’t have the right to tell him what to do. He doesn’t need anyone’s permission, least of all mine. But I do have a choice as to whether I am content with his choices or I fight against them and become impatient, angry and bitter.

The circumstances may not change when we submit ourselves to him and his plan, but we will change if we humble ourselves and choose to have a good attitude, and ask God to change our heart. Your experience of a situation will transform. You can choose to thank God that he is working things out for your good, even if it doesn’t feel good in the moment.

One day God told me that if I could see with his eagle eye, his 20/20 vision, I would choose the same timing as him every single time. What a comfort. We just have to trust that his ways are perfect and that things will happen on the exact day, the exact hour that they need to.

He does the choosing.

“In you, Lord my God, I put my trust … Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long.”
Psalm 25:1, 4-5

 

Sincerely
Lil

 

Image: https://mirayagroot.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/quote-of-the-month-april/, sourced 12 November 2017.

 

Tell Them I’m Sorry

foot prints in snow

[ a   s h o r t   s t o r y ]

The snow crunched under my boots. It was two days after the accident. The tire tracks disappeared into the distance in front of me; the dirty, hard-packed snow forming two swaying lines. My shoulder brushed the lower branches of a tall fir tree and snow slipped to the ground as I thought of my little brother. All my thoughts were about him lately. An eagle roamed overhead, soaring on the wind currents, and I fought the urge to shoot it down. My finger itched for the trigger. The rifle lay against my side.

~  ~  ~

I remembered the night that my brother died. I knelt beside him and tried to scream, but the cold air took my breath away. There was no blood. Just a slightly still-warm body rapidly turning to stiff ice beneath my hands. I couldn’t bring the warmth back, and the snow had continued to fall on my face, my eyelashes, while the party continued inside.

They had probably all been drinking. You know how kids are. The car sped off and I wondered if I would ever see the driver again. Heaven knows how badly I wanted to.

~  ~  ~

My dad approached the house from the opposite direction. The pain was all over him like a heavy blanket resting on his shoulders. His face had aged ten years in a couple of days. My dad is a little man. I’m not sure he can stand up properly underneath the blanket. And I worry. Like I have many times since it happened. No matter what anybody says, my dad’s a good man. He’d never say he liked my brother better. That he’d prefer if it had been me in the accident.

“You’re my real son in all the ways that count,” he would always say to me. He always treated Hunter and I the same. Fair’s fair; that’s what I like about my dad. He’s a good man, my dad.

My dad looked up, and stared straight through me. “Boy,” he said. He usually called me son. He flipped the shovel off his shoulder and laid it against the house.

Once inside the house, my mom chided me. “Baby, get those things off. You’re putting snow all over my carpet.”

“Okay, Mama.” I hung up my coat and snow hat by the door, gently sliding my finger along the coat next to mine. In so many ways, practically speaking, it was like he had never left.

I leaned down and wrapped an arm around my mom’s thin shoulders, worn down to the bone, as she stirred the venison stew. “Hey, Mama. You like that deer I got you?” Mama smelled like a combination of all the foods she had cooked for a myriad of strangers in the last eighteen hours. She still had her frilly work apron on. I wondered if she had to go back to work tonight, or had just been too tired when she’d come home to take the apron off.

I sat on the couch, waiting for dinner to be ready, but then glanced over to see my mom yawn while she stood over the pot. I got up to set the table for her. It’s funny the things you try to remember, and the unimportant details that just stick in your brain like someone’s crazy glued them there. While I struggled to remember which order Mama liked the cutlery in, my mind jumped back to one day at school right before winter break when my brother and I were being hassled. Chase McKindreck, a guy who made my skin crawl with hatred every time I saw him, was off on one of his beat downs. He always picked on me—because of my size, because of my race, because he could. It’s not that I was a small kid—on the contrary—but with my height came a certain chubbiness that my mom liked to call . . . solidness. Chase liked to call it straight up fat. He liked to call me elephant man. He liked to call me black panther, like panther alone wasn’t explanation enough. He liked to call me bulldozer. He asked me if I could see all the way down to Texas from up there. Mama used to say that he was just jealous of me and my height. And being on the same football team didn’t change things one bit. In my mind, I liked to call him straight up racist. Somehow, even though I was about a good three inches taller than him, he still managed to always make me feel all tongue tied. My coach always said I was a heavy duty piece of machinery with not much of an engine. Whatever that meant.

This particular day, Chase stopped mid-rant for a second, then looked back at me and Hunter and said, as if seeing us for the first time, “Why’s he white and you’re black, anyway? I thought you were brothers.”

Little, blonde Hunter, who had known Chase for less than an hour, was still able to come up with a response before I could. “He is my brother, he is my brother,” Hunter repeated, in a sing-song voice. He paused for a moment, as if thinking of another argument. “He’s just my brother.” He tugged on my hand, telling me that he was anxious to get to class. To him there was no distinction between us—biological or adopted. “Lucas, let’s go.” He looked off in another direction, already bored. To him, the issue had been settled. “First graders go this way,” he informed me, ignoring Chase completely now. “I don’t wanna be late on my first day of school.” I let him drag me away, smug at the thought of Chase being shut down by a first grader.

At the dinner table, the three remaining members of our family sat side by side, but we were so emotionally distant from each other that we might as well have been on different continents. We were all thinking about the same thing—or the same person. I was thinking about the time when my dad had taken Hunter and me to the driving range at the golf course two towns away. Hunter had actually been better than I was and both of them had laughed at me as I missed ball after ball, swinging like a mad man. We’d had lunch at the club afterward and Hunter had spilled orange juice all over his new beige pants.

I was also thinking about the driver of that car, and imagining ways to kill him. I pulled myself up when the plans in my head started to become too detailed. I’d had my anger issues in the past, like everyone has, but I’d never really had to go after anyone before because, at five years old, my brother hadn’t really made many enemies. My father, on the other hand, well . . . he was a good man. He was looking away, staring at nothing, as my mom tried yet again to draw him into conversation. I attempted to concentrate for her sake, but my thoughts kept wandering down a track that I couldn’t see the end of. What I’ve noticed is that when women feel bad, they can’t eat. But my father and I were feeling just as bad, and we had three helpings of stew each.

The next two days passed slowly. Each day at school I kept my ears open and asked around for information. A name, an address, a licence plate—anything. The weird thing is that even though I go to a big school—huge because it’s first graders right through to seniors for all the surrounding towns—I still wasn’t finding anything. People were acting really nonchalant around me, and I got the feeling they were trying to hide something from me. Well, if they weren’t telling me, the cops certainly didn’t know yet. I was keeping an eye on the news too. But I felt pretty confident that I’d get wind of it before they did. When I came home from school both nights, I was raking through Facebook with a fine toothcomb, but everything was strangely quiet on the social media front. I didn’t have a Twitter. My mind was consumed by him.

One night, after hours of staring at the only computer screen in the house, clicking away and stalking my hardest, I pushed back in the old, three-legged office chair and bumped into my bed. I let out a big, frustrated sigh. According to the crappy computer’s tool bar it was already 2:36 A.M. Still nothing. I cracked my knuckles, agitated, and pounded my pillow with my fist. Wandering out to the kitchen in my socks, I got a glass and filled it slowly, trying not to wake the house. I stood there sipping the water and looking out the window above the sink at the snow falling. Did it ever stop in Montana? The fire was dying. One day I would go somewhere warm, out of this Godforsaken, podunk little town. Unexpectedly, I heard noises coming from my parents’ bedroom. I hadn’t intended to eavesdrop, exactly, but our walls were thin and I didn’t exactly move away as I heard their voices rise.

“Alex, talk to your son. You can’t avoid him forever. I think you both need this.”

“I ain’t got nothing to say to him,” I heard my dad’s deeper voice reply. “He should’ve been watching the house. He should’ve been watching my son.”

My son. Like he’d only ever had one son. What was I—just a glorified babysitter? Come to think of it, I wasn’t even supposed to be babysitting that night. It was a big party. How was I to know? We heard the scream before anyone had even realised he was gone.

The next night, Mama asked us if we could go hunting again. “Baby, I’m clear out,” she said to me with a straight face. “The stuff you bring home tastes so good, and you know how hard up we are right now. It’s just a rough patch. Won’t be long ‘til we can buy all our meat again.”

On the way out of the house, I checked our industrial freezer that sat against the back wall of our double garage. To my surprise, it was almost full. Okay, so Mama was trying to get us to bond again, to ‘reconnect emotionally.’ Father-son quality time together. You know, all that stuff that moms like to talk about. We’ll see how that goes seeing as apparently the only son he had already got hit by a drunk driver. Was all that stuff he said to me growing up really just a big bunch of lies? I couldn’t believe it yet.

We drove to our favourite spot and headed out into the trees. We usually laughed and joked while we were hunting, but tonight I couldn’t think of a thing to say. He only said things like, “To your left there, a little deeper in the woods,” or “Good shot.” Never once did he call me son. Before the accident, I couldn’t remember the last time he’d called me Lucas.

After about an hour and a half, when we would usually only be half way through, he turned to me and looked past my shoulder, saying, “I’m about done for the night. You wanna call it quits or keeping on lookin’?”

“I don’t care, Alex,” I said.

“Now wait just a minute,” my dad began in a disgruntled voice, coming around to stand in front of me. I glanced up to see his knees as I knelt tying the feet of a young deer carcass together. “No matter how bad things might be right now, I’m still your father.” So he was trying to pull rank. Playing the dad card.

Well, hell. Two could play at that game.

“Still my father?” I snarled. “Is that why you haven’t looked at me all week? Ever since—” I swallowed hard, biting back a mix of vomit and saliva. “Ever since then, you’ve totally ignored me. It’s like I’m dead to you or something!”

“Lucas, it’s not like that.” My dad’s voice rose. “This is a hard time for everyone . . .”

“I heard you. I heard you last night,” I spat. “I should’ve been taking care of your son.”

“Lucas.”

“Don’t even call me that.” I cut him off. “I know what that really means. It’s code for substitute.”

“No, son,” he pushed the words out like there was a pocket knife lodged in his throat. “I don’t know what I’m saying right now. I can barely even function. I wish I hadn’t said that.”

“You mean you wish I hadn’t heard it. Just say it now. I know you’re thinking it. You wish it had been me.”

I know I was pushing him right now, hard. I was feeling kind of crazy myself, and I knew what it felt like to live without Hunter, but something in me just wanted to make my dad crack.

“No, no . . .” he mumbled, looking at the ground, his face bereft. It was like his mind was already somewhere else. He looked . . . vulnerable.

I hefted the baby deer up and over my shoulder with a grunt. He was still mumbling “No, no” when I started trekking back to the truck. Sitting in the cab, I imagined myself driving off and leaving him to walk home. But I waited in the driver’s seat for him to get his seatbelt on, like a good son. The drive back home was quiet.

The next night after dinner I was sitting at my computer again, Facebook open on three tabs. The door opened without warning and my mom strode in wearing her frilly apron.

“Lucas, I’ve got to go back to work, so the left overs are in the fridge if you or your dad get hungry again,” she said, and came to kiss the top of my head. She barely even had to lean down an inch or two, but as she did, her eyes lit on the computer screen before I could minimise it. “Honey,” she warned in her usually high-pitched voice, “think about what you’re doing. That’s a bad cycle you’ll get yourself into. It’ll ruin you more than anyone else. Leave it to the Lord, baby. He knows best. Maybe that boy’s feeling just as guilty as you are angry.” Whatever, Mom. But what else was she supposed to say?

I didn’t say anything, but clicked the red cross at the corner of the screen, trying to make her believe that I was taking her words to heart. “I love you, Mama,” I said, trying to avoid making any promise in regards to getting even. I probably wasn’t going to do it, but if I did, I didn’t want a broken promise also on my list. “Now you better get along now.” I repeated her own words to me on many occasions in a joking tone. “You don’t wanna be late.”

The next day I was walking to my biology lab after lunch when I saw a group of people talking quietly, their heads bent toward each other. Something about it sent off an alarm bell. A few of them glanced over their shoulders as one of the guys pointed at me. I realised the guy pointing was Angelo, and he was frowning. I changed course and walked over to them, trying not to make it look like I was marching. Despite my best efforts to not look aggressive, most of the group scattered as soon as they saw me approaching. Angelo was left talking to one guy, whose eyes widened as he stole another glance at me. Oops. I guess I forgot to my make my face non-aggressive. He scampered away before I got within fifteen feet of him.

“Hey, Lucas.” Angelo put on a small smile, polite enough to stay and talk to me even though I could tell he wanted to run away too.

“Hey, what were you guys talking about?” When Angelo hesitated, I said, “Because I got the feeling it was about me.” Non-aggressive. Non-aggressive. I tried to smile but had a feeling it came out wrong. Angelo cringed at how obvious he had been with the pointing.

“I’m sorry, man.” His black eyebrows drew together. “About your brother.” I remembered with regret how close we used to be. “It was a terrible accident.”

“Accident? You know something?” He stayed quiet. “Angelo, I know you do. Everybody knows. I can feel how they’ve been trying to keep it from me. I ain’t stupid, you know.”

“I know,” he rushed to say in a sincere voice. I tried hard to remember why we weren’t still good friends.

“Then give it up. Don’t I deserve to know my own business?”

“Fine.” He sighed. “They told me not to tell you but man, I’m with you—I get it. This whole thing’s pretty rough. And I agree you have a right to know, especially seeing as everybody else does.” He exhaled slowly, at the same time I did, and then spit it out. “His name’s Tyler Elliot.”

“Junior?” I interjected.

“Yeah, a junior.” The name sounded familiar. “He was out drinking.”

“With Chase and those guys?”

“Yeah.” A face was starting to form in my head. Tyler Elliot. I’d seen him around a few times. He was a little guy, I think. With a mop of brown hair. Or was it dark blonde? Angelo continued. “It wasn’t s’posed to happen. He panicked and then took off. They’re telling the cops tomorrow.”

“Where’s he live?” I asked, and tried to make my face less intense than I knew it was right now.

“Lucas . . .” Angelo said in a worried tone, and I remembered my mom.

“It’s not like that,” I said in a defensive voice, even though it was. “I just wanna talk to him.” Angelo looked doubtful. “No, really,” I said in a serious tone. “I just need some closure, you know. I can’t stop thinking about Hunter . . .” I trailed off, knowing this would crack him.

Angelo leaned in with a reluctant, pained face and spoke his address quietly to my shoulder. Returning to his normal volume, he said in explanation. “He lives over in my town. I’ve seen him get off the bus before. He’s not in the main house though. He lives in a bungalow in the backyard.” He studied me. “But maybe on second thoughts you should wait to go see him until they take him into custody. To be honest, you look a little . . . crazy.”

I didn’t feel offended. Partly because I knew Angelo had no bad intentions and partly because I knew it was true. “Nah, man. I’m fine. I promise. I ain’t gonna hurt him.”

“Okay . . .” Angelo said doubtfully, giving my shoulder a kind squeeze. “Stay safe, man. Make good choices.” I’d heard him say that before, but this time I knew he wasn’t just saying it for the sake of it.

I felt bad manipulating—and lying to—Angelo, because he really was a good guy, but I just couldn’t satisfy that beast inside of me, and no matter how much anyone, including a part of myself, warned me against it, this was what I had to do. And tonight. After all, they were going to the cops tomorrow. Did Angelo mean that Tyler was going himself? Or that other people were? Oh, well. That part at least wasn’t my concern.

After school, I sat in my truck until the parking lot emptied, wrestling with myself. The days are short in winter, and I watched the cold air drain the light out of the sky. When almost all of it had disappeared, I turned my key in the ignition. I had made my decision.

The air felt lighter and heavier at the same time. Tyler Elliot, hold on a bit longer. I’m coming for you. After making a quick stop in my garage, I was back in the truck. It was strange how now that I’d found out, the ache had been replaced with a numbness. I flexed my cold fingers at the wheel and closed the truck door, ready to leave my house again. I flicked on my headlights. My stomach felt like it had a little motor in it, whirring away, stirring up the butterflies, but leaving my emotions intact. It was like my brain and my body were disconnected. I forced myself to barely consider what I was doing as I took a turn out of my driveway onto the long road that led to Tyler Elliot’s house. The gun sat across my lap.

After driving through his neighbourhood for a few minutes, I pulled up a couple of houses away from number nine, on the other side of the Canter Road, and decided just to wait. Whether it was doubt or smarts, I couldn’t tell you. Just that rushing on in didn’t seem like a really bright idea. After cutting the engine, I turned the interior lights off too. I shuffled down in my seat and squinted at the street lamps, wishing that the windows of my old truck were more heavily tinted. I considered going back home.

The most important thing here was discretion. To get in and out without anyone seeing me. I frowned, thinking how hard it would be to look nonchalant with a rifle by my side. Then again, there was no one on the street. Once the gunshot sounded, I would have to book it out of there and drive as far as I could. Maybe I’d go south. Somewhere down to the likes of Arizona. Maybe Pheonix. A big city where it was easy to hide. Some warmer weather sure wouldn’t do me any harm. The houses around here were pretty small and rundown. I guess this was a poor area. Did Tyler’s mom have to work double shifts as a waitress too? They couldn’t be all that poor though, if Tyler got to live in a bungalow out back. At least he didn’t have to share a four room cabin. At least he could get a bit of space. This certainly suited my purposes.

The anger that flooded me every time I thought of Hunter—blonde, blue-eyed, smiling, cold, stiff, unmoving—grew as I sat there in the car and let it fester.

Thou shalt not kill. I’d heard it before many times. But he did, so I would. Mama didn’t understand. It was a man’s job to protect the house. It was my job to protect my little brother. Even if that meant avenging him. I know how dramatic that sounds. And I could hear all the voices of disapproval in my head, but I pushed them aside and let my emotions consume me.

The rage tore at my heart and I imagined myself doing all kinds of terrible things. Still balancing the gun carefully across my knees, I slowly cracked my knuckles one by one. It was now or never.

I stepped out of the cab and into a small drift of snow at the edge of the sidewalk. Shaking my boots, I hoped that Mama had put on a warm jacket as she was leaving for work tonight. Hunter hadn’t that night when he ran out of the house. I don’t even know what he was planning on doing. What had made him run across the road so suddenly? I only remember hearing the scream. Was Mama wondering where I was right now? I immediately felt guilty for making her anxious. Was my dad wondering?

Shaking these thoughts, I crossed the road. I slinked along the fence line toward number nine, holding the gun tight to my body. This was what I had been waiting for. The moment that all this anger and searching and festering had been leading up to. The chance to prove myself. The chance to make things right.

Thanks to trusting, too-kind Angelo, Tyler was finally getting what he deserved. What kind of sick person does a hit and run on a kid? Accident or no, how in the hell can you not feel guilty about something like that? Straight up murder, that’s what it was.

Number nine had no fence, so I stole around the side of the house and immediately spotted the bungalow.

Crap!

A sensor light came on above my head. I froze, trying to make myself melt into the fence.

No reaction.

I waited twenty more seconds and the light flicked off. I still couldn’t hear any sounds from the rest of the family, so I starting walking louder. Let him hear that I was coming. Let him have time to get scared. Let him imagine how I was going to do it. Let him walk out the door to meet me.

I saw the lights on in the bungalow, even though the drapes were closed. I marched right up to the door and for some reason I knocked. I don’t know why, but my polite upbringing still somehow stopped me from just walking straight in—at first. He didn’t come to the door but I knew he was inside because I could hear muffled movement. I stood still and listened, and for a minute everything was silent. I don’t know what I was waiting for. Was he deaf, or what? I knocked again and still no answer. I could smell smoke from a wood fire and a pine scent from the trees behind the bungalow. I stood there shaking and then I heard a noise. It was the scraping of a chair or a stool across a wooden floor. I waited for a little longer, my chest in serious pain by now, and heard a grunt and a gurgle.

I pushed open the door and stepped inside all in one large movement, bringing the rifle to my shoulder. Before my eyes even registered what was happening, I was face to face with Tyler Elliot. Through the crosshairs of the gun I saw him, the rope around his neck. His body still swinging slightly.

My throat released a guttural sound like some kind of animal and the gun clattered to the floor. My ears were pulsing with blood. I imagined I could already smell him. A piece of paper lay on the bed next to a photo.

Tell them I’m sorry.

I stared at a picture of my family that I’d posted on my Facebook page a year ago.

A car pulled up in front of the house, its headlights racing down the side fence line, sweeping one corner of the backyard as it turned to park. One door opened and then closed with considerable force. Boots slapped the concrete driveway then crunched on the gravel leading to the back of the house. A sensor light turned on, illuminating the shadow of a very big man approaching, his shape moving along the fence.

My stomach felt like all those butterflies had turned into giant moths, and were throwing themselves up against the walls. I stood illuminated in the doorway of the bungalow. The light was on. The door was open. He would know. He would know what I came to do. What was I thinking? Killing someone because I hated them for killing my brother? How was that logical? How was it justice? I felt just as guilty as if I had done it. I wondered if he knew that his son was the one to kill my brother. Were they close? Maybe his dad took him out hunting too, while his mom was working double shifts. Maybe we weren’t that different. The footsteps got closer. Maybe I was worse. The idea of my own cold-bloodedness sent a chill through me, each footstep feeling like a blow to the temple. I thought I’d come here to finish this, but I would never leave here. I would carry Tyler Elliot around with me forever. His dad was seconds away.

        I still had the photo in my hand. I couldn’t move. Where would I go anyway? He was too close now.

I’m screwed.

The big man stepped around the corner, the light from two directions still only showing part of his face. “Son?”

Sincerely
Lil
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Image: https://www.123rf.com/photo_7109508_ski-and-foot-prints-trought-the-snowy-forest-in-vail-colorado.html, sourced 5 November 2017.