Thursday, August 6, 2015

Stranger

Stranger

by
Emily McConnell


Image provided by MorgueFile.Com
She wasn’t familiar with the man who sat in the back row at church that Sunday. He seemed to know all the songs they sang, when to pray, and nodded his head solemnly during the message. After the service, Briana hung around her father and the other men stood talking to the visitor.
“I’m new to the faith,” he was saying. “I came to this church to see how Christians live out their lives.”
Briana nodded in approval. He picked the right church.
The small congregation on the border town of Newport was a very conservative non denominational Christian church. Briana had attended other churches in the past that claimed non denominational status that she’d left in a state of confusion and surprise, shocked at the liberties the Christians in those churches took. This new Christian man had come to the right place if he wanted to see how Christians were supposed to live.
The rest of the day was the usual activities for the girls at the small congregation- they talked, laughed, discussed their weeks and talked over plans to get together later on in the week. Of course they went over the points in the message that stuck out to them and asked how each other were doing in the things they’d prayed over the prior Sunday. By the time Briana’s family was ready to leave, she was eager to begin the week and full of vigor over the energizing time she’d spent at church.
Just as she was about to walk out the door, though, she chanced to run into the visitor.
“Excuse me,” she said with a nod of her head. She smiled at him. “We were so glad to have you today at church.”
He studied her face and didn’t say anything for a second. He then adjusted his glasses and nodded back. “Thank you. I am glad I came. Your congregation seems to be dedicated followers of Christ.”
“I hope you’ll be encouraged here and come back again,” she said.
“As do I. Good day, Briana.”
Briana? She wandered to the car where her family was getting in. How does he know my name?
He must have talked to her father while she was speaking with her friends.
On the ride home, the Johansson family discussed the message and how it influenced each of the children.
“That one question about whether or not people would know I was a Christian really stood out to me,” Briana piped up. “I think if anyone spent any time with me they’d know I was a Christian.”
Her siblings agreed. The Johanssons were often considered strange and conservative to anyone outside of their congregation and often were told they had wonderful manners and countenance when out in public. The thought made Briana feel happy inside. I’m glad that I live in this family. And I’m very glad that I’ve learned from my parents to follow God, she thought. I don’t want to be a lukewarm Christian. From everything everyone’s told me, I’m not.
It was a comforting and uplifting feeling.
The week past by in a blur for the nineteen-year-old girl. Work, her animals, writing, gardening, chickens, chores, friends, shopping, family time, movies and the like filled up her days in a frenzy of activity. Briana was diligent to get her chores done most every day and checked off everything on her schedule. She was proud of her organization skills, her work ethic and her obedience to her parents. I have progressed so far in the last couple years. I really do think my walk with God is getting so much better.
What a wonderful feeling to know she was following Christ and doing everything she was supposed to do.
Before she knew it, Sunday had come around again. Briana awoke that morning and had to rush to get ready due to the fact she’d stayed up late the night before and had slept in. After a quick argument with the sisters over who would brush the youngest sister’s hair, Briana ended up doing it on top of watering the chickens real quick and giving her horse his breakfast.
To her surprise, when they got to church she saw the strange man there again, this time with a little girl sitting next to him. They were talking quietly to each other, a Bible in each of their laps. The girl looked to be about six or seven years old.
“Good morning,” Briana greeted. Both looked up, the man’s blue eyes registering recognition. “How are you this morning?”
“Good morning, Briana,” the man greeted. “I am fine.” He gestured to the little girl next to him. “This is my sister, Aileen. She wanted to come today.”
Aileen dodged Briana’s gaze and looked down at the ground shyly. “Hello.”
“Glad you came back today!” Briana turned to the man. “We’re always happy to have more people come to this church.”
“Thank you.”
He seemed a little short, and Briana wasn’t quite sure why. She went to go sit down next to her sisters when she realized she didn’t even know his name. I’ll have to ask Dad later.
Today the message was a continuation on the sermon from last week. The new question was “would someone know you were a Christian by the way you live at home?”
Briana gave it a quick run-through her mind and decided that yes, anyone would know she was a Christian by her lifestyle. After all, for nineteen I’m very responsible, do all my chores and obey my parents in everything.
With that, she had a hard time listening to the rest of the message, having answered the question for herself and quite sure of her position.
Twelve o’clock marked the end of church for the day. Briana got up and sidled up to next her friend Elizabeth. “So what did you think of the message today?” she asked.
“I thought it was really good,” Elizabeth replied. “Do you think people would know you were a Christian by the way you live at home?”
“I think so.” Briana bit her lower lip in thought, then nodded. “Yes, I’m pretty sure they’d know. I feel confident that if someone observed me for a week they’d see that my parents raised me different then most kids in the world.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Elizabeth agreed. “Our parents taught us to obey and to follow Christ at a young age. I feel the same way.”
It was potluck Sunday that week. Briana got her lunch and went to sit down at a table to await her friends, who were back in the line.
“May we sit here?”
Briana looked behind her to see the man and his little sister standing there, both with plates of food in their hands. For a second she calculated how many of the girls were going to sit at the table, then decided there was enough room for all of them.
“Of course! Go ahead! There’s room.”
“Thank you.”
Aileen sat down next to Briana, with her brother sitting next to her. Both picked up their forks and began to eat their lunch, neither one saying a word.
Briana wasn’t quite sure what to say to them. From her observation the man looked to be quite a bit older than her, and his little sister was at least fourteen years younger than her. Their silent presence made her feel a bit nervous. She took a bite of her watermelon, cleared her throat, and then spoke.
“So how did you come to hear about this church?”
Without skipping a beat, the man replied, “You, actually.”
She stared at him, her heart jumping to at least twice it’s normal beat. She looked back to see if her friends were coming, but it appeared they’d gotten into a conversation with a couple of the other girls.
“I- so I’ve met you before?”
“You could say that,” he replied. “You wouldn’t remember me.”
Wouldn’t remember me? He must have gone to one of the churches she’d attended when she was younger. He did look familiar.
“Did you go to that church up near the Canadian border called Corner Church?” she asked. She tried to act casual and took another bite from her food, but this stranger was intimidating her a bit. He seemed completely emotionless and very reserved, and yet he claimed to know her. I would have remembered this guy from a previous church.
“I went there a couple times, yes.” He shrugged. “But that’s not where I know you from.”
His little sister glanced up at him and frowned, but remained silent and continued her meal.
“Uhm, so how do you know me? And how did you know I went to this church? What’s your name, again?”
Before he had a chance to reply, Briana’s friends arrived at last and came to sit down. She didn’t get a chance to ask the stranger anymore questions, for she was soon engaged in a conversation with her friends about strange dreams, one of her favorite things to talk about. Before she knew it the stranger and his sister had gotten up and excused themselves, neither one talking to the other girls.
“They seem shy,” Elizabeth remarked once they were out of hearing range. “Do you know how they came to attend this church?”
“I don’t know.” Briana shook her head and glanced back at them, that odd feeling creeping over her again. “I guess I met him once before, but I don’t remember him or his sister.”
“Where did you meet?” another friend, Callie, asked.
“He didn’t say. He just said he’d met me before.” Briana frowned. “I would have thought I’d remember him.”
“He probably knows your parents or something. My Dad says he’s thirty. You probably wouldn’t remember him if he’s eleven years older than you,” Elizabeth pointed out.
The rest of the potluck was spent in idle conversation about trips, stories and ideas for a girls camp trip. When it was time to go, Briana went to go get her Bible from the sanctuary and discovered the stranger and his sister were standing in the doorway. No one else was in sight.
“Good to see you again, and nice to meet you, Aileen,” Briana managed after recovering from her surprise. “Hope to see you next week.”
Without warning, the man pulled out a letter and put it in her hand. “This explains everything,” he stated shortly.
Briana stared at first him, then over at Aileen. The young girl met her gaze soberly, in an almost sad way.
“I- uhh… wait, explains what... did, did you want me to read this now?”
“Wait until you go home,” he grunted. “I think you’d prefer to read it alone.”
He took his little sister’s hand and lead her out past Briana and out the hallway.
That was creepy. Briana grabbed her Bible and hurried out to the car to meet the rest of her family. She tucked the letter into her Bible case, refusing to look at it lest she get tempted to read it now. I hope that guy’s not a stalker or something that’s pretending to be a Christian. Though his sister seems nice. I don’t think he’s like that. I don’t know. Oh, I’m kinda scared.
She decided against telling her family about the weird encounter, or she wouldn’t get to read the letter by herself.
“So Dad, did you talk to that new guy yet?” Emma, Briana’s older sister, asked on the car ride home.
“Oh, Aichear? Yes, I did. He’s a nice man. Very quiet and reserved. Somewhat shy. He seems kind, though, and very genuine.”
“His name is Aichear?” Briana crinkled her nose. “What country is he from?”
“Ireland, apparently. He’s Irish. I thought it was nice he brought his little sister with him today. He doesn’t talk much, so I don’t know anything about him or his family.”
Briana bit her lower lip and tried to steady her anxious heart. I wish I knew what was up with this guy.
When they got home, Briana excused herself to her room and raced up the stairs. She shut the door and sat down on the bed, pulled out the letter and looked over the yellow envelope.
Briana Johansson was written in perfect cursive. She took a deep breath and tore open the envelope.
Inside was two sheets of paper. She opened it up and began to read.


Dear Briana,
I didn’t plan on writing you this letter. I don’t expect you to remember me or know who I am, and I don’t usually try to provoke memory in the minds of my charges. You were very young when I knew you, but I was the exact same as I am now. Aileen was a friend of yours as well, but of course that wouldn’t make any sense to you. So I will skip the explanation and get straight to the point.
Your faith, Briana, has grown stronger. I give you that. I have watched you grow up into a very loving and wonderful young woman, but I strongly feel I need to tell you something I’ve observed in you that you’ve blinded yourself to.
I overheard your conversation last week with your friends as you talked over if someone would know if you were a Christian when they met you. Your replied that you believed they would know within the first hour you were a Christian, and I do believe you are right. You are different than nonbelievers. Observers can see you’ve been raised differently.
But what about if someone spent a week with you?
Today I heard you say that you lived a good Christian life at home and they would be convinced of your testimony. You seemed to believe the life you live at home parallels the image you give of yourself in public. I don’t want to seem judgmental or correctional, that is not my place. You do need to realize, though, you are fooling yourself from becoming the Christian young woman you can be. There is so much you need to understand.
Dear Briana, if someone spent a week with you, they’d observe what I observed in your life. You say you obey your parents, you do all your responsibilities, you keep your life well scheduled. That is true.
What about the arguments you have with your siblings? The pointless quarrels over unimportant matters, the snappy remarks, the snide words and backbiting? That’s alright in a Christian life to do those things?
What about your endless hours you’ve spent on the computer doing nothing else but looking at pictures from TV shows? Shows you’d prefer your friends not know you watch, lest the judge you? The constant exposure to the worldly definitions of marriage, relationships and language? The images you look at, while not bad, have bad things pop up alongside, and though I know you aren’t out to look at these pictures, you expose yourself to it by continuing to try to find the “good” pictures among the “bad” ones. If you have to sort out the good from the bad, why are you looking at it in the first place?
What about the half-hearted time you spend on the things you should be doing? You do them everyday, yes, but your mind is far from your tasks. You do them because you’re supposed to, not because it is your privilege to contribute. I don’t expect you’d have a perfect attitude every time, but you do things with your mind in a different place and don’t give enough attention or care to what needs to be done.
What about the movies you watch? The shows you watch? I don’t mean that all of these things are bad, but what is the amount of time you spend viewing those things versus the amount of time you spent in God’s word and thinking on the things outlined in Philippians 4:8, which was read in service today?
What about what you talk on all day long with your siblings, your friends, and people at your work? You show a different countenance, yes, but is your mind on the pure things in life, like that verse I mentioned above? Very rarely does it seem you’re thinking on what you’ve read in the Bible that morning, or what blessings you have in your life. I have observed you speak more on the latest episode of a show, a new book, what fictional characters you like the most and meaningless things I’m not quite sure why you engage in. These things are not bad- no, we must have time to talk about the things in our daily lives- but in comparison to your conversations about your Savior, your faith and the Word, what is the ratio?
Finally, what about the time you spend in the Book, the Word of God? You read it every day, yes, and I commend you for that. But it seems your mind wanders while you read. I can see it in your eyes that you’re not really reading. Your eyes do, but it doesn’t stick in your mind. You’re fulfilling your duties of a Christian, not engaging to know Christ more.
I do not mean this letter as a discouragement, dear Briana, but as a conviction. I want you to see that you’re not as set in your faith as you convince yourself to be. I see it in your face sometimes that you know there is more you can do. And there is. You cannot earn your way to heaven, no, I don’t mean that at all. I mean that you have the chance to better yourself in the faith and your walk with God, so why not take that chance? Don’t delusion yourself into thinking you’re so much better than you are. You’re not. I don’t mean that in condemnation. Christ saved you from sin. He saved you. Think on the matter, Briana. You’re not perfect. You cannot be perfect. Christ saved you. So don’t revel in your goodness, because without Christ, you’d be lost.
I mean this letter to encourage you to follow Christ closer, to humble yourself before Him and know your true self. We all have blind spots. I have them as well. I want you to become a great light for the world, Briana. I do not consider you a “lukewarm” Christian as the Book talks about- (the Bible, that is. Where I am from we refer to it as the Book)- but as long as you’re on this earth you need to always be striving to walk in the Lord’s ways and know more about Him. To follow Him and strive to purify yourself. I don’t know if my explanations make any sense at all, but this is what has been put on my heart to say.
Again, you wouldn’t remember me. I knew you as a very small child. I used to sit you on my lap and play with you. You may ask how I have observed all these things in your life the past week. You wouldn’t understand how I know. Rest assured, as I’ve gotten this response before, I am not a guardian angel or of any sort of spiritual being. I am simply a once lost man myself who has some peculiar circumstances that allow me to see things most people cannot. I want to encourage you and help you in your walk with the Lord. I would not write this letter unless I thought it would benefit you.
You will not see me again at your church or anywhere else. I want you to make your own choices. I enjoyed my time with you when you were a child, I have had the pleasure of watching you grow. Now I leave it to you to make the right choices before God and follow where He takes you.
Take care and continue in His ways,


Your former “imaginary character” and brother in Christ,


-Aichear Zachiaus Mornelly


Briana finished the letter with tears in her eyes. She lay on the bed and buried her face in her pillow, sobbing.
God, I don’t know how he knows, I don’t know anything, but I know you used this man to tell me these things, she prayed. Thank you for using this Aichear to show me that I am not the righteous Christian I thought myself to be. I am not perfect. I am a sinner, saved by grace. You saved me. Thank you for showing me this. Thank you for this brother in you, God, whom you used to show me.
Thank you, God. I am sorry for my arrogance and pride. Thank you for forgiving me. Thank you for the love you have for me that you’d show me where I’ve erred. Thank you for everything, Jesus.
Thank you.
Briana finished her prayer, folded her letter and put it away in her drawer. Today had been a strange day indeed. She had no idea who this Aichear was, but she did seem to remember him somewhat. She didn’t know how or where, just that she had met him once before. She reasoned she probably would never know how this all came to be.
But that wasn’t the point. She just knew to praise God that he’d used this, this Aichear, to bring her back to Him. And for that, she was grateful she’d had this experience. She would remember this day for the rest of her life.


The End

A/N: This story is based off of a real experience I had a couple weeks ago at church. In the middle of the sermon, the plot for this story popped into my head and I felt God was actually using Aichear, one of my own imaginary characters, to tell me something about myself through the plot-line of this story. Though this is a "Mornelly story" I feel it's also a very personal and thoughtful story, as it's really a true conviction I've had myself. I hadn't planned on posting this so soon, (I wanted to wait until I got farther along in the Mornelly series to put this one up, because it takes place at least a good three fourths of the way through the series) but I felt it was time to let you all read it. I hope it encourages and convicts you like God used it to convict me.

Thank you for reading.

12 comments:

  1. Wow! This story blew me away! Excellent writing, Emily. I'm so glad you shared this. This is something we all need to think on and keep an open heart about. It is easy for us to fall into pride and we often can compare our spiritually with others and decide we are "pretty good" Christians compared to others we know. However, Christ is the only One we should compare ourselves too. I just learned about similar things in my Youth group.
    Thanks again for posting. I really appreciated it. Plus the Mornellys tie in was cool.

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    1. Thank you, Lauren. I really need to type up my notes from church that day and share the message. It was REALLY convicting and soooo good. It helped me see a lot of things in me I hadn't previously noticed or seen. Then this story popped into my mind right in the middle of the sermon (Like, literally, I wrote down a note on it in my notebook) and I just knew the story was for me in a way. It was really strange. So I went home and wrote it in an hour, it just flew from my head to my fingers. I hoped it would encourage other people as well. :)

      Thank you for commenting. I'm so glad it meant something to you.

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  2. Emily, I really appreciated this! It can be so easy to get sidetracked and let things we know may be wrong slip through our guard and a lot of the time we don't even notice it. If
    we're not careful, the things we once tried to shield ourselves from can become "normal". The message from Aichear really, really hit me hard and it touched on several points that I needed to hear.. Thank you so, so much for writing!

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    1. I think that's the head of the nail right there, Jesseca, "Things we know 'may' be wrong." I have the hardest time with that. I understand right from wrong, but for me it's the grey areas I really struggle with. "Is this REALLY wrong or is it just wrong for some people? Is this okay for me to read/watch or not?"
      Some people have different convictions as to what's okay and what's not, and that makes it even harder. Some people won't watch VeggieTales because they don't believe it's okay, I grew up watching it. Some people don't watch Disney, I love Disney movies. Convictions are personal matters between you and God that you feel convicted about. I was not convicted in those areas, but that makes it easier for me to think "Oh, I'm just not convicted that way." And actually do something wrong. So it's a balance, it's a struggle, and it's really something we have to watch out for.

      Thanks for commenting. I'm really glad you got something from this story. I'm so glad God can use me to encourage others. :) That's my goal- to encourage others through my writing by God's will.

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  3. Wow, that was a fantastic story Emily!
    Very thought provoking. Briana sounds like me in some ways. I also needed Aichear's letter. Thanks for putting this short story up! :)
    And, I don't mind that it was out of order, it kinda went along with your last post. :)
    Have a great weekend!

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    1. I think "Briana" has a little bit of all of us in her, or at least, she has a ton of me in her because basically Briana kinda is me, in a sense, and this is what I felt like would happen in a totally different scenario where I didn't know the Mornellys... (Okay, that's just weird. They're not real, yes, but if they were real, I know I would be able to "See" them, but Briana doesn't because I needed the story to make sense... oh never mind, now I'm totally off subject.)
      Anyways, it was interesting how strong this story came on. I'm so glad it has encouraged all of you, that's why I wanted to share it.

      Thanks for commenting. Your comments always bring a smile to my face. :)

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  4. Anonymous8/08/2015

    Wow. That is one of the best, most moving stories I've ever read. I know it brings up convictions in me. Thank you for sharing this amazing piece of artwork with us.

    --KF

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    1. Thank you so much, KF. Honestly this piece was so convicting for me to write I almost had tears in my eyes. Aichear was writing to me, in a sense. Aichear's my character, but I had this story in mind and just felt that God was using it to tell me that Briana was me, that I was doing those things, and that's what he'd have Aichear write to me. It's kinda strange I guess, but I felt pretty strongly about this story.

      Thank you so much for commenting and reading, KF. I always am happy to have new readers. :) God Bless!

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    2. Anonymous8/08/2015

      I've been kind of "following" you, I guess you could say, since you won your age category in the CCA writing contest. I've read many great works of yours. Of all of the pieces you have ever written, this is definitely the best. No offense, but I can definitely see the part that God played in giving you these words. Thank you for being the amazing author that you are, as an inspiration and as an instrument of teaching.

      --KF

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    3. Wow, KF, I'm not offended at all. I notice the stories I'm supposed to write always are better than the ones I like to write. :) Thanks for your encouraging words, I really needed those today. :) God Bless.

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  5. Wow... I know that pretty much everyone else has said that too, but it's really the best word to describe my feelings after reading that story. Fantastic job Emily... you really did an awesome job giving everyone who reads this guilt trips, including me. :P And I mean that as a compliment. We need our guilt brought to the surface and dealt with.

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    1. Ah, but the point is to "convict" not "guilt". God "convicts", the devil "guilts". Believe me, this is a very important differentiation to make. I cannot tell you the amount of times when I have suffered from a guilt complex. I had to learn that God would never guilt me like that, that He convicts me for the purpose of change, not guilts me so I feel like I'm a horrible person. Make sense? :) I don't want to guilt trip anyone, I want God to use my conviction to convict others. So I hoped that's what it did for you and not guilted you. :)

      Thanks for commenting and I'm so glad you were touched by the story. :)

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Thanks for reading my blog, and I hope you enjoyed this post! If you have any comments or thoughts you'd like to share I'd love to hear from you! But do be thoughtful of others and please, no swearing or badmouthing, or I'll have to delete the comment. Thank you!