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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Adolescence/Teen Years (07/16/09)

TITLE: When God Was Kind
By Jan Ackerson


Kaylee remembers a time when God was kind. She was seven then, or maybe eight, and she can still see the dusty brown skin of the village children who taught her to play capture the lion. She remembers the exquisite pain of burnt fingers from too-eager handling of a steamy roasted yam. She can see the small whitewashed church, and hear the warm African voices singing with wonderful dissonance in a language that still whispers in the corners of her brain. She thinks she could almost speak it again, and sometimes she does—then wakes up, confused to be back in America.

God was kind, then, because Kaylee’s father and mother were happy and busy, and they sang while they walked to the village. God was kind, because her father’s little church filled up with knobby-kneed men and colorfully-skirted women with swaddled fat babies.

But on one frigntening day, they had to leave the village and the whitewashed church in a frenzy of terrified activity. Kaylee and her brother Kurt held hands silently on the long, bumpy road to the airport, and they watched, wide-eyed, as Africa disappeared beneath the clouds.

Now they have been back in America for six years, and gradually, Kurt has disappeared, too. The laughing older brother who used to tease her in Africa with squirming white palm grubs has become a basement-dwelling phantom with dyed-black hair and leering tattoos. Her mother and father missed the transformation; they were hosting Missions Teas and attending meetings of the church trustees. But Kaylee watched…

…and her beloved Kurt is gone. Her parents looked up from their hymnals and agendas one day and saw him there, a sullen stranger. They shouted, they cried, they prayed with clenched fists, they made a decision. He can come back, they said, when his heart is right with God.

Kaylee sees Kurt leave, and wonders how he will become right with God when he is no longer allowed in God’s house.

In America, God’s house fairly glitters; filtered light from colored glass windows illuminates her father’s pulpit and the stage where the musicians perform with chilly perfection. Even the people in the pews glitter, each one smiling and beautiful.

But Kaylee searches for the African church in a corner of her soul; surely the dusty people there were beautiful, too.

Surely Kurt is beautiful, too.

Daddy, she says, can’t you just talk to him? But Daddy shakes his head and closes his office door.

Mom, she pleads, can we go to him? Take him some cookies, maybe? But Mom looks at Daddy’s closed door and walks away with a hand on her mouth.

Kurt, she texts, come home. But Kurt replies in clipped letters: 2 much chrch 4 me lv u kaylee

She is suspended now, between her parent’s rigid world and her brother’s dark one. She wonders—will her parents will try to find her if she, too, hides in the shadows? Kaylee feels the pull of the forbidden, the unknown. She does not want Kurt to be alone.

With a trembling hand, she pulls a pair of scissors from her desk and begins to cut and slash at her tee-shirts, her jeans. She chops at her hair, then blackens her eyes with thick layers of mascara.

Can you see me, God? Will You still recognize me if I pierce my tongue, if I streak my hair with blue?

I’m going away for a little while—but don’t stop hanging on to me, okay?

If Daddy wonders where I am, You can tell him. You know where to find him.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Amy Michelle Wiley 07/23/09
What a sad story, and an all too true one in many Christian families. The children's names didn't fit for me... they felt at odds with the African heritage. Otherwise I liked the way you wove the past and present together.
Sara Harricharan 07/23/09
Poor Kaylee. This is so sad, but I'm sure it is so true sometimes. We just always happen to miss what's right smack in front of us. I really felt for her. Good job here.
Sharon Kane07/26/09
A big OUCH factor here. I felt for all the players. The parents caught between a rock and a hard place in terms of how to treat Kurt. The kids growing up with unreasonable expectations upon them. Kurt not having anyone to pour out his heart to, and Kaylee torn between the halves of a fractured family. You left out nothing of the pain in this unfolding family tragedy.
The ending hit me right between the eyes. I so hope and pray this is not our family in a few short years' time.
PS. I didn't have a problem with the Western names. I assumed they were missionaries?
Seema Bagai 07/27/09
The opening drew me right in to the story. A few of the middle paragraphs seemed a bit confusing to me. Not sure if you deliberately wanted that effect to show the girl's confusion. I loved the ending, with her thoughts to God.
Gregory Kane07/27/09
I also found parts of the story confusing. At points there seemed to be extraneous words. But at another level this added to the sense of loss and confusion.
I could identify with the parents, looking to fill their days with activities so as to block the pain of a lost life in Africa, yet unable to respond with understanding to the same aching within their children's hearts.
william price07/27/09
A very tragic but all true tale. Harsh commentary, yes, but from the POV of a teen, that's what you get. A little dark, but darkness needs exposing to bring it to light and you did an expert job. I don't need any more christian parents children in my jail. I do more counseling and ministering with parents wondering where they went wrong than with the children just desiring the truth of a authentic Jesus. Real writing about real life. Excellent job.
God bess.
Betty Castleberry07/27/09
Great commentary on what happens when strict rules and legalism replace spirit. I enjoyed this, and its message.
Bryan Ridenour07/27/09
Wow, great storytelling. I've seen legalistic families push their loved ones away, and refuse interaction because of one who wanders from the truth. I wish we all could be more like the prodigal son's father...one who waits and faithfully prays for the child to come home.
Loren T. Lowery07/27/09
The title is as profound as the writing itself. The inner conflict was palatable, and the end result for both Kaylee and Kurt due to the "blindness" of their care takers, seemingly inevitable.
Carol Slider 07/27/09
This is one of those stories that would be interesting to hear from all four perspectives... because I suspect that Kurt and the mother and father would all have different takes on it--and perhaps all of them know things that Kaylee (as perceptive as she is) cannot see. Superb job of conveying Kaylee's turmoil, frustration and grief!
Verna Cole Mitchell 07/27/09
Excellent writing, the way you always do.
Laura Manley07/27/09
This story cut like a knife. I'm sure there are those in the ministry who can't see the forest for the trees. No matter what we do in life, we should NEVER forget our children. They are our future. Excellent story!
Allison Egley 07/27/09
I like this. You have a great story, for sure.

I had a bit of trouble with the "memory" part at the beginning. Even though I knew she was telling about her past, the voice felt "too young" for me. And I'm not certain how I'd change that.

Good job overall though, and I think you did the overall story justice!
Phee Paradise 07/27/09
The first two paragraphs described the experience of an MK or TCK very well. I was expecting a different story, but the rest of the story also describes some MK's experience. It wasn't mine, but I've known a lot of bitter, angry ones.
Diana Dart 07/29/09
Raw. Real. And sad. I'll be sure to pray as you asked in Hinting.
Mona Purvis07/29/09
"When God was kind" is the line that really captures my attention in this haunting and too real piece.
That line puts a deeper thought into the story and is a POV all its own. Powerful and connecting.
Chely Roach07/29/09
You know I'm praying. (And the writing was awesome, too.)
c clemons07/30/09
Didn't get the connection of the title with the story. I can understand a teen thinking it, but not from what was conveyed in the story. The jumping of the tenses was distracting also, caused the reader to go back and reread and I don't think that was necessary. The ending was slightly confusing also. The last sentence said, "God would know how to find him", wouldn't it be them? Or did I miss something else?
LaNaye Perkins07/30/09
I love how your story addresses something that has bothered me for many years. You, as always, did a fantastic job with this. It was raw, it was real, it was fantastic.