On Fire for the Lord
by Bodie Parkhurst
Publication date: Paperback September 2013/Kindle July 2014
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Available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions
Published by Magic Dog Press at CreateSpace
In On Fire for the Lord Bodie Parkhurst explores her childhood in a conservative Christian home where terrible unspoken secrets shape everyday life. Everybody has one or more—her parents are concealing a guilty past; the church she attends each week is filled with women who “do” and women who “don’t;” and Bodie herself is carefully hiding the fact that, though believing in God and Jesus is a “given in her home,” she cannot believe. In a series of poignant, sometimes sad, sometimes terrible, often hilarious stories, she traces her journey away from the faith that first shaped, and ultimately threatened, her life.
About the Author
Bodie Parkhurst has been writing and illustrating stories since third grade. She has worked as a reader, a tutor, a ranch hand, a mechanic, a truck driver, a dairy maid, a writer, an editor, a fine artist, an illustrator, and a designer. In addition to writing, illustrating, and designing her own books, she designs books for NewSage Press (http://www.newsagepress.com), apparel and home decorating items for Magic Dog Press (http://www.magicdogpress.com), and just about anything her clients request, from banners and billboards to annual reports to whitepapers to ads.
She is currently working on her third novel.
On Fire for the Lord–Excerpt
Ruining Daddy’s Birthday
At summer’s end I discovered that Daddy had been right all along; the cabins in the woods were not our homes, but temporary way-stations. We moved into a tiny two-bedroom house in Paradise, ninety miles from the cabins in the woods, and just a few blocks from the church school. I missed the daytime camaraderie of the camp, though nights were easier. Pam walked back and forth to school mornings and afternoons.
Daddy stayed in the woods, sleeping alone in our cabin and eating in the cookhouse with the single loggers. He came home on Friday afternoons. Momma, her belly big and round, stayed home with us in the tiny house. Pam’s arrival from school was the high point of our day. Momma took us downtown the first week in November to buy Daddy’s birthday presents. She picked out black jeans, wool socks, and bright plaid flannel shirts—work clothes, practical gifts. “Now don’t tell him what we got,” she told us. “We want it to be a surprise.”
“We won’t tell,” said Pam and Marie virtuously.
“You either, Bodie,” Momma said, giving me the evil eye.
“She always tells. Bodie can’t keep a secret,” Marie said wearily.
“I can, too,” I retorted angrily. But Marie was right. Secrets had a way of just slipping right out of my mouth.
“Don’t tell, Bodie,” Momma said again. “If you do, I won’t tell you what the present is next time.”
“I won’t,” I promised. I would have promised anything right then, so elated was I at being in on the secret. And all week long, while Daddy was off in the woods at work, I didn’t tell. Pam, Marie, and Momma reminded me often. Thursday came.
At lunchtime Pam burst in the door. “Momma, there’s a birthday party this afternoon and I got invited. Can I go?”
Momma asked a few questions and then agreed. When Pam didn’t appear that afternoon I asked where she was.
“She’s at a party,” Momma said. “She’ll be home in an hour or so.” But she wasn’t. Sunset, and no Pam. Suppertime, and no Pam. Momma fed us vegetable soup and toast, moving stiffly between stove and table, rubbing her back and her swollen belly. We had no telephone. Finally Momma wrapped us in our coats and hustled us two doors down to a house where there was a phone. She dialed the party house from the bright, warm kitchen. No answer. She called the school. No answer.
“Let’s go find her,” Marie suggested.
“We can’t,” Momma said. “She might get home while we’re gone.” Momma called the party house again. Her finger trembled a bit in the black Bakelite rotary dial. Still no answer. It had now been more than three hours—surely far too long for a Thursday night children’s party. Momma’s face paled, and her lips got tight. I saw her rubbing her stomach again, and then her back. She hustled us back down the dark street to our house, worried lest Pam had arrived in our absence. We waited.
Finally, a little before seven p.m., Pam arrived home, chilled and rosy, laughing and full of the party. They had had supper. They had played games outside. That’s where they must have been the first time Momma called. The people had brought her home so Momma wouldn’t have to load us all into the car in her condition. Momma put us to bed early that night.
The next morning, Friday, Momma took us over to Iris’ house. Iris had moved to town about the same time we had, leaving the camp when the cold mornings began to creep out into the days, and the first Canada geese flew overhead. Momma and Iris made divinity.
I don’t know what they talked about over that divinity, but afterward Iris loaded us all in the car, drove Momma to the hospital, then took Marie, Sally, and me home and stayed with us.
It felt funny, not having Momma there. I was only three, still too young to really understand that Momma’s big belly meant that a baby was coming, let alone that the baby was coming far too early; it was barely November, and the baby wasn’t due until the middle of December. We played quietly with our toys and talked to Iris. At lunchtime she fixed us hot dogs.
“We can’t eat those,” Marie declared. “They have pig in them.”
“No, they don’t,” said Iris brightly.
“Yes, they do. I learned it in Sabbath School,” snapped Marie. “Hot dogs have pig in them. The Bible says we can’t eat pig, so we can’t eat hotdogs.”
I wondered where in the Bible it said “don’t eat hot dogs,” but I didn’t question Marie’s assertion. I couldn’t even remember more than one quarter’s worth of memory verses. What did I know?
“These don’t,” said Iris. “They’re a special kind. They’re all beef.”
“Hot dogs have pig in them,” Marie said mulishly.
“These don’t,” Iris said, her voice rising. She leaned down and held the package where Marie—who could not yet read—could see it. “See?” Her crimson fingernail stabbed at the package. “It says right there—all beef!”
“Hot dogs have pig in them,” Marie said again, setting her jaw. Iris gave up and fixed her a peanut butter sandwich. I ate the hot dog. It was delicious. “I’m telling,” Marie muttered. “You aren’t supposed to eat pig.”
But that afternoon the hot dogs were forgotten. Daddy came home from the woods camp, found out Momma was in the hospital, and went up to check on her. He came back a little later, loaded us into our green and white Ford station wagon, and drove us out to the Caterpillar dealership. When we got there we girls went inside with Daddy and stood quietly in a row, as we had been taught. Daddy leaned on the counter, one dusty, scuffed boot crossed over the other, and chatted with the clerk, ordering parts, checking on back orders, passing greasy bits of machinery across the counter to the man, who turned them over, poked at them, muttered, and then passed them back.
And then something caught my attention. “Yep, it’s a boy,” Daddy said. “Six weeks early, and on my birthday.” My eyes flew to his face. He was smiling. And that was how I learned that Matt had come to live with us.
After he finished at the CAT dealership Daddy drove us up to the hospital and left us locked in the car while he went inside to see Momma and baby Matt. He came back out and drove us home, then arranged for our minister’s daughter to baby sit us so he could stay up at the hospital with Momma and Matt.
Late Sunday afternoon he drove us up to the hospital again, left us locked in the car again, and went inside for Momma. We bounced and chattered. And then we saw Momma sitting in a wheelchair, holding a tiny blue bundle.
Momma had made two baby blankets before Pam was born, identical except for color. One was pink, the other blue. Five times, she had packed the pink and the blue blankets to go to the hospital. Four times she had held pink-wrapped bundles on her lap on the ride home.
But now, at last, she had shaken out the blue blanket, wrapped it around her son, and lifted him in her arms. Matt was an achievement. We all knew it. He was something new, something special, something different. He was fresh. He was a crisp blue blanket, rather than a faded and tattered pink one.
Momma wouldn’t let us see him in the car. “It’s too cold,” she said. “He doesn’t have any winter clothes on.”
Is he naked in there? I wondered. With just that thin blue blanket? It seemed vaguely indecent. Also chilly.
At home we girls rushed into the house ahead of Momma. “Get out of the way, kids,” Daddy snapped when we crowded close as Momma came through the door. “Get back.” We got back.
Momma came inside, and Daddy closed the door behind her. And then, at long last, Momma bent down and smoothed the blue blanket back and there was Matt, his head covered with fine platinum down, his lashes smooth golden crescents against his pink cheeks. He was beautiful, pink and gold and perfect, and so very tiny. Daddy could hold him on his forearm, and his feet still didn’t stretch to Daddy’s elbow.
“Can I hold him, Momma? Can I hold him? Let me…let me…let me,” the three of us who could talk clamored. Little Sally just jumped and screamed and held her arms up.
“Go get a pillow,” Momma told Pam. “Sit on the couch…all the way back.” Pam sat, and Momma laid Matt on the pillow. Pam leaned forward, her arms reverently encircling Matt on the pillow. After a few minutes Momma lifted him and Marie scrambled onto the couch, pulled the pillow onto her lap, and held Matt.
And at last it was my turn. Marie grudgingly handed me the pillow. I smoothed it over my lap and lifted my arms. Momma leaned down and laid tiny Matt gently on the pillow. I could barely feel his weight. I looked down at him in his fuzzy blue suit, then leaned forward as Pam had done and gently encircled him with my arms. I wished I could lift him and hold him close to my heart. But it was not to be. The pillow would stay, an impenetrable barrier both protecting and isolating him.
Momma helped Sally hold Matt, then lifted him and carried him into the bedroom. “He has to nurse,” she told us. “The doctor said he has to eat often, because he’s too small.” Later we got to tiptoe in and see Matt again, this time in bed beside Momma. Daddy’s wrapped birthday presents sat beside the bed. And that reminded me—Friday had been Daddy’s birthday. But Momma had been in the hospital and now was already in bed, Matt sleeping beside her. How could we celebrate Daddy’s birthday? But Daddy had the answer. “Let’s just do it in here,” he said. “I’ve already got my best present.” He smiled at Momma.
I looked at the packages. The small one is socks; the medium one is work pants, the large one is new flannel shirts, I reminded myself. But I can’t tell. It’s a surprise. “Can we do it now?” I asked, bouncing on my feet. “Can you open them now, Daddy?”
“Just be patient, Bodie,” Daddy said.
“You’re gonna love it, Daddy,” The words rushed out, propelled by the secret I must not tell. “It’s a surprise and I know it’s just what you wanted.”
Daddy reached for a package and sat down on the bed. Pam and Marie each took another and moved to stand beside him. Daddy’s thick-fingered hands moved slowly, so slowly. “It’s just perfect, Daddy,” I said, my hands clasped tight, gripping the secret.
He peeled back a folded corner, carefully teased the tape free.
“We-got-you-some-new-socks-and-shirts-and-new-work-pants,” I burst out.
Daddy stopped opening the package and looked up at me. Pam, Marie, and Momma glared. “Why did you tell me?” Daddy asked. “Now it’s no fun to open my presents.”
“You’ve ruined Daddy’s birthday,” Momma said.
“You can’t keep a secret,” Pam and Marie said wearily. “You told. We knew you would. We’re never going to tell you a secret ever again.” I looked at Momma lying in bed, at Matt beside her, at the half-opened present in Daddy’s hands, at the gifts Pam and Marie still held. There was no repairing what I had done. A secret told cannot be untold. Daddy’s birthday had shattered around us.
“There’s no point in even opening them now,” Daddy said mournfully.
My family looked at me. I looked back. Where could we go from here? Because I had been so excited about Matt’s coming and about the presents, so certain that Daddy would love them, I had ended up snatching away the very thing I had wanted to give more than anything. I still wanted to give the presents, but now Daddy wouldn’t accept them. Pam and Marie stood, angry and uncertain, the scorned gifts in their hands. The birthday had ended before it had properly begun. We were trapped, me by my family’s anger and my own shame, they by their assertion that there was no point to a gift if it wasn’t a surprise. We could neither go forward nor retreat.
If Daddy opened his gifts and expressed pleasure he was contradicting what he had just told me about the joy of a gift being destroyed if it wasn’t a surprise. If he didn’t open them and express pleasure he was punishing Pam and Marie for my big mouth.
At last Pam found the way. “But you don’t know what color they are,” she ventured uncertainly.
“No,” said Daddy, smiling at her, relieved. “I don’t. I wonder what color you got me?”
“Open it and find out,” she said joyfully.
Daddy bent over his present again. He started working the paper loose.
I opened my mouth. “They’re—”
“Don’t tell,” Marie hissed, her face furious.
I snapped my mouth shut. Daddy, Pam, Marie, Momma, Sally, and Matt picked up the shards of Daddy’s birthday, piecing it carefully together again, finding their way back to a celebration. But they left me behind. I didn’t even wonder why—I knew. I had told the secret. I had spoiled things. I could not be trusted. If it hadn’t been for me, Daddy’s birthday would have been perfect, just perfect.
1. Saying “Jesus
2. Daddy’s Heavenly Home
3. A Peculiar People
4. The Family Altar
5. Ruining Daddy’s Birthday
6. Sally Holds Her Breath
7. A God Called Josh
8. Wonderful Words of Life
9. Living Waters
10. Not Doing It
11. Out of Place
12. On Fire for the Lord
13. Vast Harvest Fields
14. Christian Education
15. Getting Dunked
17. Something of Value
18. A Nice Man
19. Telling Secrets
20. The Rotten Woman
21. Water for the Baby
22. And So It Ends … And So It Begins