The Lean To
by Keith Henry III
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Barney came home from school sad again; he hung his head and fought back the urge to cry because that would mean further humiliation. For Barney the constant barrage of hurtful words about his size, glasses, and his brains was business as usual as he had been picked on most of his thirteen years. He had trained himself to let the insults slide off his back, but there were days like this day when he became overwhelmed by the harshness of the words, by the pushing, the punching, and the tripping that he could not wait for the 20 minute bus ride home to end. He could not wait to disappear into the safe walls of his stronghold, his refuge; where all his troubles disappeared.
Hurriedly Barney jumped off the bottom step of the large, yellow bus with only a nod of his head to thank Mr. Smith the bus driver for delivering him safely home. It would be at least another hour before he could set off to “The Lean-to”, as it was aptly named; house rules clearly stated that all homework had to be finished before heading out into the woods. Barney excelled at his homework, but it was not because he was all that smart that he breezed through his school work; it was his deep desire to disappear from all the bullying and worries and into “The Lean-to” where he knew he would be safe that made the task of homework so easy for him. “Finished”, he exclaimed as he jotted down the solution to the last of his 25 math problems.
“Mom, I am off to the woods.” Barney shouted down the stairs as he left the house. The explanation of his whereabouts was merely a respectful courtesy, his mother knew exactly where Barney was going, though she may not have understood the reasons why; she understood that Barney always returned a little happier from the woods. Nobody knew the exact location of “The Lean – to”; his mother just knew that he was in the woods. Barney would later reveal the secret location to his siblings and a best friend he allowed inside his walls, but for now “The Lean – to” was kept secret; her walls had never been penetrated by any friend or enemy.
Barney walked along the north trail along the ridge; he changed trails every time that he visited the “Lean to” to confuse anybody with the intention of finding his secret place. The aspens swayed in the gentle breeze their silver leaves shimmered in the sun. As Barney began his decent into the valley he could hear the gently flowing water of the creek. A quick stop at the spring for a refreshing drink of cold, clean water; a left at the fallen pine, straight past the patch of wild blackberries and then step on six rocks to cross the creek and there she was. The untrained eye would not know that the Lean to was there; it was tucked in between three large pine trees surrounded by some low brush. One last look around to make sure nobody was following him before he entered into the camp area.
Inside the Lean to Barney had all the comforts of home and then some; a chair that Mr. White had placed into the trash faced the creek so that Barney could look out over the gently flowing water. In a medium sized, metal box Barney stored his entertainment, a handful of his choicest comics, and a few “inappropriate” magazines from his father’s private stash. Against the back wall he had laid down a thick layer of leaves and straw for a bed for when he decided to stay overnight. Boxes of crackers, bags of potato chips, a few cans of beans and spam, and of course several Baby Ruth candy bars were kept in a large plastic container to snack on while Barney shut out all of the day’s events and melted into the peace and silence of the woods.
The “Lean – To” was Barney’s home away from home; it was his refuge from all the troubles of the outside world. Here, near the gently flowing creek, hidden in the pine and aspen trees Barney found solace. There were no harsh or hurtful words in or around the “Lean – To” just the chatter of his friends the squirrels and the whistles of his neighbors the birds. The “Lean – To” was strong and fortified to keep out those who wanted to hurt Barney and it was well camouflaged so the bullies could never find him. If it were up to Barney he would hide away in his mighty fort forever, but he knew as the sunset behind him that it was time to return home. Tomorrow was another day, the evil bullies would inevitably come for their daily display of “power” and their “extensive knowledge” of the English language, but Barney had learned to close his eyes and take refuge in the “Lean – To” whenever the attacks began. Barney had built a strong, hidden, and fortified “Lean – To” in the woods where he could physically retreat to after school and he had built a strong, hidden, and fortified “Lean – To” in the recesses of his mind where he could take refuge mentally as the senseless attacks were taking place. The “Lean-To” was truly Barney’s refuge.
Barney had found a coping mechanism for dealing with the senseless act of bullying in the “Lean – To”. Unfortunately not everybody lives in rural Pennsylvania and has somewhere to retreat to either physically or mentally; many children believe they have only one refuge, the refuge found in death. Psalm 37:39, 40 (NIV) tells us about another refuge, an easily accessed, dependable, strong, and fortified refuge that is available to any who are willing to run to it; “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; He is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him.” God is our stronghold and our refuge; God is that safe place where we can run to when times get tough.
Being bullied has become epidemic with the advent of social media; the truth be known it was epidemic in my day as well we just did not have the technology to blast it all over the world at the push of a button. No matter the era bullying is devastating and demoralizing to those being bullied. Victims are made to feel worthless by the constant barrage of hurtful, hateful words. We are punched, pushed, kicked, and beaten because we do not fit into society’s standard. Bullying is a senseless act carried out by senseless people who fear the different and often struggle with their own inadequacies by trying to feel superior. More and more often the bullied are turning to suicide as an escape; death becomes the ultimate stronghold and their only refuge. God is the ultimate refuge; in Him there is no more need to feel afraid, alone, worthless, or weak.
We need to first have a relationship with God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit before we can enter the gates of the stronghold; “The salvation of the righteous (those in relationship, or the saved) comes from the Lord.” Once in relationship with the Lord “He is their stronghold in time of trouble; just call out His name. “He delivers them (those in relationship) from the wicked and saves them”; just call out His name. “They (you and me) take refuge in Him” when we call out His name. There is not a more trustworthy assurance then knowing that God will always be there to protect us, deliver us, and save us in time of trouble. Free yourself from the power of the bully; come to the Lord Jesus and know the peace that comes with His love.
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This is really good. I liked your description of the woods. I don't think you needed the Lean-To to be in quotation marks all the time; having " " all over the page was a little distracting. But the story was excellent, good job! :)