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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Volunteer (11/23/06)

TITLE: Despite the Odds
By Beth Muehlhausen


Despite the Odds

I pull my sweater tight – a reminder that spring has not yet officially arrived. As frosty dry grass crunches underfoot, I notice the compost pile looks flat. Decomposed apple peelings, pea pods, and broccoli stems now resemble a slick pool of black slime.

I turn from the sight and run across the yard, then burst through the back door to make an announcement.

“Mama! You won’t believe this. Something is alive in the compost pile; come look!”

With a glint in her eye that says, “Discoveries always deserve attention,” Mama throws her own bulky, hand-knitted sweater over her shoulders and follows me past a row of overgrown juniper bushes to the spot delegated for garbage. At the end of my pointed finger a zealous fluorescent green seedling pushes its head above the slick surface of decay.

“What kind of plant is it, Mama?”

“I guess we’ll just have to wait to find out for sure – but my guess is that a discarded pumpkin seed decided to take root.”

“Ooooooo, that’s exciting – but what a nasty place to grow!”

A teacher by nature, Mama seizes the moment. “When a plant germinates on its own like this, without being planted or encouraged in any way, we call it a ‘volunteer.’ In this case, a seed voluntarily decided to make the best of its circumstances – right here in the middle of the rotten compost pile, which is actually full of nutrients. We can leave it and see what happens, if you want.”

“Oh yes Mama, can we – please?”

Mama winks, turns toward the house, and then calls back over her shoulder. “You may be surprised, so watch carefully. This spunky little plant has decided to grow in spite of the fact that we’re still getting frosts.”

Then Mama stops and turns to address me directly. “Watch as that tiny little plant becomes a long vine full of dense foliage and peachy blossoms…watch as it walks away from that old compost pile and go about its business of bearing fruit. People do this sometimes, too – they volunteer to live fully even when circumstances are very hard.” And with that, she sweeps her arm with a wide gesture of promise.

I always believe my Mama. I know the flowers will come, just as she says, and tiny bulbs will grow behind them - harbingers of another stage of life. Eventually bright orange pumpkins will peek out from beneath the shadow of the vine’s leaves. Time will march along until autumn winds announce another season and the vines wilt to expose a row of mature pumpkins just waiting to become spicy pies, breads, and muffins.

I whisper to the seedling as Mama slams the kitchen door shut behind her. “Live, little volunteer. Grow well.”


The compost pile is gone. It has been months – maybe years – since I discarded anything edible. Food is scarce and precious in this war-torn neighborhood. Mama is gone, too, but her legacy lives on in my adult heart.

I cringe at the sound of sirens as officers race to arrest more people and herd them into vehicles. I hear horror stories of whole families being hunted down and carted in crowded train cars to concentration camps where death reigns even among the so-called living. The blackness of this horror sickens me, and I find myself desperately clinging to God’s promises.

Right now a variety of Jews are hidden behind panels in the walls of my house. They sit quietly through daylight hours - confined and dying to their old lives, but alive to a calling beyond their circumstances. They wait for another day, another chance.

Will I be apprehended with them one day? Possibly. Perhaps officers will take me to a camp to join God’s chosen race of persecuted people. Perhaps I will invite despairing souls into my barracks when the guards aren’t looking. We will sit together on my lice-filled cot; we will worship, recite memorized scripture, and sing hymns.

I am only one Dutch woman, but I will continue to share what I own: a living seed of hope in Jesus Christ. He will bless and multiply that seed despite squalor, pain, and the dehumanizing tactics of this war. He will bear fruit for His Kingdom.

Lord, I long to be a branch of Your True Vine; to bear eternal fruit. Use me to do Your will, even as I shiver against the chill of hatred and long for more of You.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Joanne Sher 11/30/06
I love BOTH stories here, but in completely different ways. What a testimony to God's gift to you of your writing talent that you can tell these two different stories and have them so united. Your theme runs through so expertly.
Lynda Schultz 11/30/06
I loved the lesson in your first story and the very practical application in the second. Excellent job.
Jan Ackerson 12/01/06
Jan Ackerson 12/01/06
Whoops, I hit "enter" too soon.

I actually thought of using the "volunteer" plants, too--but I never could have pulled this off. I love the wisdom of the older woman, and your lyrical prose.
Helen Paynter12/03/06
I love the way you wove these together - very powerful storytelling
Cheri Hardaway 12/04/06
A unique take on this topic. Had my attention from start to finish. It is hard to weave two separate stories together. You have done it with a master's hand. Good job. Blessings, Cheri
Donna Powers 12/06/06
Wow! I loved this. Did you mean for this to so resemble the story of Corrie Ten Boom? It really sounds like it. How wonderful this is. Thanks for sharing it
Pat Guy 12/06/06
Beth - you did an awesome job on this. Your writing is wonderful.

Kudos girl! ;)
Shanti Singh12/06/06
Wow, this is amazing, and surely something I never would have been able to come up with! Thanks for sharing!
Bonnie Derksen12/07/06
Very well done, Beth. I really appreciated the two separate stories entwined by the same theme. I, also, was curious about the similarities between your second story and Corrie's "The Hiding Place". Thank you for this.
Laurie Glass 12/07/06
CLEVER and grabbed me from the beginning, as usual. ;)