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It’s Joy, Cross My Heart

Joy questions the beliefs she has been raised with following the loss of her grandfather, yearning for solid answers.

Art by Myah Teague.

Joy questions the beliefs she has been raised with following the loss of her grandfather, yearning for solid answers.

Rachel St. Louis, Creative Writing Editor

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Her lips weren’t as chapped as his, her back not nearly as raw from the lashes he took for her. Both of her palms were whole, while his bore holes from the nails driven into them. His head had been speared by thorns, yet her own scalp was untouched. His heart used to be heavy with suffering, while hers was just beginning to feel sorrow.

She stood next to her mother, thinking about that Middle Eastern man lugging a wooden cross up to Golgotha. That was what the Sunday School teacher had read aloud last week from the dusty Bible that sat next to an old bottle of crusty hand sanitizer. She thought of the huge crucifixion poster, Jesus’ feet hovering over the teacher’s Bible. Be the hands and feet of Jesus, the bottom of the poster read in bold lettering. She still didn’t understand that. Her hands had no nails in them, and her feet didn’t either. No nail marks, no blood, no nothing. Just her own hands and feet.

Her father’s tenor singing rose to heaven, synthesizing with her mother’s harmonic inflection. She herself was trying to match her family’s words as they all sang the hymn about a “rugged” cross, but she was only six and didn’t know anything past the second chorus. So she listened while she watched the lilacs atop Grandpa’s casket ruffle their minuscule petals in the breeze. It was a breeze that made her feel as if Grandpa’s calm nature was surrounding them all in the local graveyard.

Mother held on to that last, sweet note like it was her deceased father’s life. When she finally let it go, Grandpa was lowered next to Granny Rilla in silence.

The pastor cleared his throat gently and leafed through his leather-bound Bible with oversized thumbs. He towered over everyone, even Uncle Logan.

“In the book of Matthew,” the elderly pastor began, “chapter seven,” his voice droned deeper, “verses seven through eight, say…”

Seeking, finding, something else the pastor was murmuring… What was the use? She figured the Bible was always contradicting itself. If God loved everybody so much, why did Grandpa die? Of all people she knew, her Grandpa had been the most loving. And now, God was taking that love away from her mother. From her. From Uncle Logan and Aunt Sarah and Uncle Ned and Great-Aunt Eloise. From her cousins. From their whole family. What kind of a deity did that, yet claimed to love everyone?

Her mother bent over. “Joy,” she felt her mother’s voice against her hair, “we have to go.”

“Where?”

Joy’s mother decided not to answer. Better to show her little girl, not tell. Joy’s father joined them, completing the trio of a family. Joy hopped into her parents’ SUV and shut the door carefully. Her aunts and uncles and cousins did likewise. Each and every one of them wore a sullen face. Uncle Logan was the first to pull out of the burial ground, his metallic blue truck bouncing onto the busy road.

“Mom?” Joy said as her father flicked his left turn signal on with ease.

“Yes?” her mother replied, taking her heavy glasses off to wipe the corners of her eyes.

“Why do you and Dad believe in God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit when the Bible says God loves everybody but he doesn’t?”

In the rear-view mirror, Joy watched her father’s face twist from focused on the road to thoroughly concerned. Her mother turned to face her from the passenger seat. “What do you mean, honey?”

“I mean God doesn’t love us if he stole Grandpa, right?”

Her father sighed. “Sweetie, God never stole anyone from us. He decided it was time for Grandpa to come home.”

“But Grandpa was home. With us.”

Her mother shook her head, black ringlets swiping across her tear-stained face. “Joy, he’s not sad and sick anymore. He’s up there with Jesus and your grandmother. That’s where his home is. In heaven.”

Silence.

“Mom?”

“Yes?” her mother replied, sliding her glasses up the slightly crooked bridge of her nose.

“Will I go to heaven when God decides to take me home? Like Granny and Grandpa?”

Joy’s parents exchanged a look she couldn’t decipher. Her mother spoke first. “Do you remember when you asked Jesus to be your Savior earlier this year?”

“Yes.” Of course she did.

“When Jesus becomes your Savior, you are guaranteed a home in heaven.”

“I know, that’s what you told me,” Joy retorted. “But God doesn’t love us anymore.”

Her father was trying to find a parking spot outside Grandpa’s old house. “He never stops loving us,” he told his daughter firmly.

“Like Grandpa?”

That look between her parents again.

“Even more than Grandpa,” her mother answered tearfully.

Her parents each took one of Joy’s hands and they climbed Grandpa’s brick walkway together. Joy breathed a sigh of relief when they entered the empty house. She felt loved, as if Grandpa was there to greet them with his warm, jolly smile and bear hugs.

Then she understood. Her father had said Jesus never stopped loving people, so that must be why Grandpa was the same way — because he had followed Jesus.

“Mom?”

“Yes, honey?”

“I want to live like Grandpa did. I know how to live like Jesus now.”

“Your grandfather wasn’t perfect, you know.”

“Well, I’ll try my best. I know I can, because I have Jesus in my heart,” Joy said happily.

Her mother knelt and folded her hands over her daughter’s, smiling tenderly. “That sounds wonderful.”

Her lips weren’t as chapped as his, her back not even raw from the lashes he took for her. Both of her palms were whole, while his had holes from the nails driven into them. His head had been poked by many a thorn, yet her own scalp was untouched. His heart is forever open, and hers is being cleansed by him.

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1 Comment

One Response to “It’s Joy, Cross My Heart”

  1. Adam on February 1st, 2019 10:10 am

    Wonderfully written and courageously done Rachel. Kudos to the LHS paper for publishing it.

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It’s Joy, Cross My Heart