“It’s not fair! Just because Sally has the whooping cough, I’m grounded. It’s just not fair that I’m carroteened for ten days, or whatever that word is. It’s springtime- the time when a boy just has to play ball with the guys.”
Willy flops on his back on his bed and throws his pillow at his model rocket, sending it exploding in sixteen pieces across the dirty sock carpeted floor. A “ping” on the window could have been a piece of the rocket, but Willy isn’t sure. So he galumphs over the end of the blanket mountain and looks down through the leaves of the oak, to see his friend getting ready to throw another acorn at his window.
“Hey, Jake...I can’t play with you today,” he yelled, shaking his head. He tries to open the window, but with all the damp weather, it is swollen stuck.
Jake is wearing the after-school fashion of a red T-shirt, grubby denim jeans, and a baseball cap. He cups his hands around his bucktoothed mouth.
“I can’t hear you.” After shaking his head again, Willy wraps his hands around his throat, hacks a few times, and sashays back and forth.
Jake puckers his forehead and shrugs. He waves goodbye and runs off to the ballgame.
“Sauerkrauts! I hope they lose the game without me.” He kicked his skateboard. “Ouch!” Clutching his toes, he hops back to the bed. After counting all his baseball cards and digging the grit out of his belly button and trying to do five pushups and looking out the window 29 times, he sees Jake scuffing down the sidewalk.
Willy raps on the window. Holding his arms out to his sides, he lifts his eyebrows.
Jake hangs his head and arms and shakes his head. He flaps a piddly wave and trudges home.
Willy smiles to himself.
The hours and minutes of each day snail by. He dutiful completes the assignments sent by his teacher. School was usually an unavoidable torture, but Willy is so bored that he even begins dreaming of diagramming sentences and finding the distance a speeding train will travel in a day. A spelling test starts looking like a triple banana split.
The best part of each day is the daily visit from Jake. On Monday, he traces out the letters with exaggerated strokes. C-H-A-R-L-I-E Then he hops on one foot and swings both clenched fists forward and backward in synchronized movements.
Tuesday was rainy, and Jake didn’t come.
On Wednesday, he pretends to write on his hand and fold something and hold it out. He traces the letters B-E-C-K-Y, then pretends to open something and be surprised. He tilts his head and flutters his eyelids. He finishes by sticking out his tongue at Willy.
Thursday, Jake is almost under the window when he freezes mid-step and turns his head toward a something. He hurries off to catch up with the ice cream truck.
On Friday, Willy sees Jake jogging by in his uniform and carrying his ball glove. Willy gently tosses and catches his ball while waiting for the outcome of the game.
Jake grins up at Willy.
Willy holds his arms out questioningly.
Jake points to himself. He swings an imaginary bat and looks way up. He then runs in a circle, ending with a series of jumps.
“No way! No fair! Sauerkrauts!”
Jake begins stomping and swinging his arms in circles. He spins to the left and then to the right. He flops on the grass and rolls over and over through Mom’s flower garden. With a few more wild gyrations, Jake zigzags down the sidewalk.
“Well you don’t have to get carried away with it!”
On Saturday, Willy feels like a pebble out of a slingshot. He grabs his glove and races down to the baseball field.
“Hey, coach! Where is everyone else?”
“Oh, I guess you didn’t hear. We have to postpone practices for a few days. Too many people are sick. You had whooping cough-“
“It wasn’t me! I had to be locked up, just to be sure.”
“Oh, anyway, Charlie broke his leg, and I just got a call that Jake stepped on a nest yellow jackets yesterday.”
Willy can’t believe it. He saunters over to the plate, pantomimes a few swings, watches a few imaginary balls go by and then lets it go. He gazes up into the imaginary stands as he gallops around the bases, waving at the crowds cheering for his grand slam.
This thought has been my theme for the last few years. Our God knows what is best. Both the blessings and trials have their part in our growth and learning. We need to trust Him - his love, his care, his wisdom.
"Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall"
The gold goblet clattered at my feet – the wine still flowing from my pitcher. I followed the gaze of Belshazzar to the wall behind me.
I thought maybe I had forgotten to light a lamp or wash a window. There had been so many things to do, so many things to remember. The other servants and I had been preparing for this feast for weeks – even months – searching for the best in the kingdom for this night.
The king had invited the nobles and dignitaries from the all regions around to celebrate his great success as a ruler. The best meats were roasted. The ripest fruits gathered. The finest wines were stored in the cool cellars for this night. Every table was laden with the best the kingdom could offer. Even the gold and silver vessels which had been stolen from the temple in Judah were displayed as trophies of the king’s power.
My heart despaired at the sight of the holy vessels. “How long, O LORD God? How long will Your people be captives in a foreign land? How long until we return to Jerusalem?”
I looked at the wall and saw it. The laughter and noise of the room hushed. A hand – the spirit of a hand – was writing on the wall between the flickering lamps.
I could not move. I could not breathe.
Belshazzar grasped my arm as he crumpled to the floor – his eyes wide, his jaw slack, and his skin ashen white.
“Ashpenaz!” I called for the master servant. “The king needs help.”
As a litter carried the visibly shaken ruler away, he was still giving orders. “Call the astronomers! Call the soothsayers and all the best wise men of the kingdom! Find me someone who can tell what it means.”
I knew who would know.
The wise men and astronomers and soothsayers stared at the strange markings on the wall. They scratched their heads and tugged on their beards and whispered to each other, but they didn’t know what it said or what it meant.
I whispered to Ashpenaz, “I know who knows . . . Daniel.”
Ashpenaz nodded and whispered to the king. In a few moments, Daniel, the prophet who had been forgotten as the kingdom changed, was escorted to the palace. I hadn’t forgotten him – neither had Ashpenaz.
King Belshazzar was still ranting. “Can’t anyone tell me what it means? I will give him a scarlet robe and gold chain and a high position in the kingdom.”
Ashpenaz bowed close to the king’s ear and pointed to Daniel, standing quietly nearby.
The king looked up and motioned him closer. “I have heard of you from my father. You can make interpretations and remove all doubts. If you can read the writing, I will reward you greatly.”
Daniel lifted his chin. “I don’t want your rewards, O King. Give them to another. I only say what the LORD reveals to me. Your grandfather Nebuchadnezzar was made as low as the beasts of the field because of his pride, until he knew that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and appoints over it whomsoever He wills. You have not humbled yourself, but have lifted your heart in pride. You have taken the gold and silver of His holy temple and worshipped the gods of stone and brass. You have not glorified the God that gives you life and breath.
Here is the writing: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. God has numbered the kingdom. You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Your kingdom will be conquered and divided between the Medes and the Persians.”
Belshazzar ordered the robe and chain to be put on Daniel anyway and proclaimed an exalted position for him in his cabinet. While the sound of the Daniel’s footsteps echoed down the hall, Belshazzar stared at the strange markings. No one dared to speak. No one dared to move.
A shout rang out, “The enemy has breached the city!”