The Warfare Club
“So, explain to me what you think happened,” Detective Henshaw asked Sera in a kind gentle manner. That cold December morning, she sat in his dark office with artificial wood paneling, a metal desk, and wooden chairs that reeked of cigarette smoke and coughed politely into her hand. She noticed a paper on his desk where he’d scrawled all the names of her friends. That’s when she knew—he’d already interviewed the others earlier that morning.
“Obviously, he died in his sleep,” she said softly.
“Uh huh,” He flipped through a file in front of him. He rubbed his eyes. “Says here he did die in his sleep. Strange, huh?”
Sera stiffened. Her face was flush from the heater, yet she still had on her winter coat, scarf, and gloves.
“Are you sure I can’t take your coat for you? You look warm,” he said.
She sat up straight. Small beads of sweat formed on her upper lip. She didn’t want to move.
“No, thank you.”
He seemed to be a man in his early fifties. Sera noticed he had no southern accent, so he couldn’t have been from Harristown originally.. To her, anyway. But she was always a great observer of things. He wore no wedding ring, yet had a photograph of a woman on the corner of the table behind him.
“Let’s see, so the medical examiner says that the boy did die in his sleep,” he thumbed through the file. “But—”
Sera looked down.
“He bit off his tongue before he died.” He waited for a reaction from his guest. “And all the blood vessels in his eyes had ruptured.”
She remained still.
“And technically, the medical examiner said he died of a massive coronary.” His eyes bore into her. “That’s a fancy way of saying a heart attack.”
She continued to stare at the floor. Actually, a myocardial infarction, she thought. To be more specific.
“A heart attack,” he said. “Strange for a sixteen-year-old athlete in excellent shape, don’t you think?”
“I mean, he’d just had a complete physical for football earlier this fall and was declared to be in excellent shape. Most heart attacks are caused by some sort of blockage or something. This kid had nothing of the sort.”
He closed the file and picked up his Styrofoam coffee cup. Steam rose from the cup, but the detective sipped from it without taking his eyes off of Sera.
“He was in perfect health.”
Still no reaction on the outside, but her insides churned. Sera tried not to picture her friend’s face the last time she saw him in the dream. But it was no use. Her eyes became shiny as tears gathered in the corners. She felt them roll down her cheek, but quickly wiped them with her glove.
“Now, mind you, no one is coming into my office for questioning because of any particular wrongdoing. Understand?” he asked.
Sera nodded again.
“The family just wants this investigated because he was so young to have died this way and because there were some rumors that you kids were involved in some strange activities.”
Sera looked up for the first time, but quickly averted her eyes.
He opened the file again.
“Strange activities,” he repeated. “Yep, that’s how the family described it.”
Sera gazed out the window.
“Care to elaborate?”
She shook her head no.
“Care to explain what they might mean by strange activities?”
“We held a weekly Bible study,” she sighed. “I suppose some people thought that was strange.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Really?”
She adjusted her glasses and nodded yes.
“In this small conservative town? How so? What did you all do at these gatherings?”
“Studied the Bible,” Sera said bluntly.
“And? Anything else?”
“Ate pizza. Drank sodas. Talked to one another. Laughed.”
“You know, strange activities,” Sera said with sarcasm that surprised even herself.
“Okay,” he said lifting a hand. “I get it.”
He looked at the file again.
“Says here, you started this study at your home?”
“And at one time you had about twenty-five kids show up?”
“But then it dwindled down to only the six of you?”
Sera looked up. “Yes.”
“Why?” he asked. “I mean, why the drastic change all of a sudden?”
“To go from twenty-five kids down to only six in, what, less than two weeks? That does seem strange, doesn’t it?”
Sera stared at him.
“I mean, if you were on the outside looking in, it would seem strange to you, wouldn’t it?” he said. “Want to tell me what happened?”
I can’t. Sera thought. She wanted to scream it. What happened? Really? I don’t think you’d understand even if I did tell you and I would sound insane if I told you everything. You’d have me—all of us—locked up for sure if I told you everything that happened.
Harristown, North Carolina just happened to be known for the oak trees that lined the main street. Planted in the mid-1900s, the sixteen trees stood well over fifty feet tall by the year 2010. The trees became a tourist attraction in the 1970s because of their brilliant fall colors. People from the north would stop by and stay in the local bed and breakfast on their way to Florida and fall in love with the quaint town.
Many oaks are evergreen, but these Sawtooth Oak trees were special. They displayed brilliant yellows leading to dark reds and oranges each year. Every mayor since then took full advantage of the fact and had billboards erected advertising the famous Harristown Oaks. The trees overshadowed the famous battle from the War of Northern Aggression that was fought in the fields to the north of the main road. Many Civil War artifacts continue to be unearthed and displayed in the nearby museum where fifteen-year-old Sera Lancey worked the previous summer. Sera didn’t like how the famous trees overshadowed the battle where thousands of men and horses had died on a hot summer afternoon in 1864. She thought them to be just trees, nothing more, especially not history.
Sera walked down Main Street one afternoon for a change of scenery now that school had started. Her usual route home from Benedicts Preparatory High School included a walk through the park that passed by the old Presbyterian church in the middle of town. The path by the church hooked up to her neighborhood. But this humid September day, she wanted to see if Mason’s had anything on sale in its front window. Mason’s was her favorite bookstore. The building itself was used as a horse stable for the Confederates during the Civil War. Sera knew she could find all the newest releases in the bookstore at the mall, but she preferred Mason’s with its coffeehouse, small bistro tables in the front, and dark corners in the back that were perfect for allowing a person to disappear into a book uninterrupted.
Sera began her stroll down Main Street, realizing it had been weeks since she’d seen the famous Oaks. In September, their colors would be starting to show. She knew by October, tourists would arrive with their cameras. She couldn’t wait to miss that scene.
The trees still stood proud, guarding the streets in all their splendor. Their spirally arranged leaves hovered over the sidewalk like giant umbrellas connected by the branches right above the middle of the street. As Sera approached the third tree on the left, she remembered her fourth-grade class eating a picnic lunch there and the time she and her friends tried to see how many of them could hold hands all the way around the giant trunk. She remembered it had taken eight of her friends. Sera walked on, enjoying the memory of her first year in Harristown. Her family had moved that year from Cary, N.C. Before that, they lived in upstate New York.
Continuing on, Sera suddenly stopped. She looked up and realized where she was standing. Tree number six on the south side of the street heading east. The familiar trunk stared back at her like an annoying old relative you’re forced to see only a few times a year. Sera began to walk past it, but something stopped her. She gripped the straps of her backpack and slowly turned around.
There it was. The scar. The grotesque scar hadn’t changed much.
She remembered how concerned everyone was about the tree when the accident happened. She gently ran her hand over the scar as though carefully touching a person’s skin. She looked up at the branches, amazed the thing had survived at all. She had seen the photographs of the car after the impact.
But the tree remained. The scar was smooth. Everything went back to normal.
She stepped back a few paces and looked up the tree with its branches embracing each other above. Everything returned to normal. The tree remained. All the trees remained as though nothing had ever happened.
I don’t want to think about it, Sera exhaled and quickly walked away. I’ll deal with this later.
As she approached the house, she could hear the theme song to Scooby-Do. She knew instantly that her brother was already home from school.
Oh good, the door should be unlocked, she thought. She reached for the door knob.
“Bryan!” she shouted. “Open the door, I forgot my key!”
She pounded on the door and rang the doorbell. But it was no use. The television was turned up too loud.
“Bryan!” she shouted again over Scooby-Do.
“Oh great,” she mumbled as she searched through her purse.
She took out her cell phone and called Bryan on the home phone to ask him to open the front door, but before she could finish dialing, she heard a click sound.
“Thank you,” she said.
She picked up her backpack and headed inside the house. After only one step inside, Sera tripped over her brother’s backpack.
“Dang it!” she shouted. “Bryan! Come pick up your stuff!”
She slammed the front door so hard that a picture fell off the wall, shattering the glass all over the wood floor.
“Oh, this is just great.” Sera sighed.
Just then, her little brother skidded to a stop in front of her.
“What are you shouting about?” he asked.
“Pick up your backpack now!”
“Uh oh, Mom’s picture,” Bryan said while he grabbed his school stuff and headed upstairs. “Mom’s gonna be mad.”
“Gee, thanks for the information, genius.”
She threw down her stuff and tossed her school uniform blazer on the loveseat. It fell to the floor. Sera seemed perfectly satisfied with the blazer lying on the floor. She hated that blazer.
She headed into the kitchen. What a day, she thought.
When she came back out with a broom and dustpan, Sera stopped at the blazer. She sighed, put down the broom and dustpan, and then picked up the jacket. She folded it nicely and placed it gently on the couch.
“Let’s see, I have to read a book by the end of this week, complete a dialectic journal on the book, write a five-paragraph essay about the book, plus complete a science project proposal too,” she murmured to herself as she swept up the broken glass. “Can we add anything else to the mix?”
Beau trotted over to the room.
“No!” Sera shouted, startling the Golden Retriever. “Sit! Stay.” He sat and wagged his tail slowly back and forth on the wooden floor. “I don’t want you to get any glass in your paws. Shoo! Go away!”
The dog obeyed.
“Shoo?” her brother said on the way down the stairs. “Shoo? Really? He’s not a fly.”
Sera gave him a fierce look. She bent down to pick up the photograph in the broken frame. There were a few tiny pieces of glass still in the frame. She carefully picked them out, trying not to scratch the photograph of her mom and dad.
In the black and white photo, her parents were smiling so broadly, revealing their happiness. Sera studied her dad’s face. She hesitated. For a moment, she tried to picture what he looked like while talking to her there in the house, but she couldn’t. She barely remembered the sound of his voice.
Sera placed the photograph on the coffee table, and then dumped all the broken glass into the trash can in the kitchen.
“I’m home!” Mrs. Lancey shouted to her kids, but she received no answer. “Hello?”
Mrs. Lancey looked a lot like Sera but with shorter lighter hair. They wore the same style of glasses they’d picked out at the mall one Saturday afternoon. Beau joyfully trotted to her.
“Hey, boy, where is everyone?” she said while stroking his soft fur.
“Mom!” Bryan shouted. He ran over and hugged his mom’s waist.
“Hey kiddo, where’s Sera?”
“In her room, sulking,” he said sarcastically. He walked off with Beau.
“Uh oh, what happened?”
“I don’t know. She slammed the door and broke the picture again, then went upstairs. That was an hour ago,” Bryan explained as he entered the kitchen.
Mrs. Lancey looked up at the top of the stairs. She could see the light on in her daughter’s room. She took off the stethoscope from around her neck and removed the fanny pack from around her waist, placing them both on the counter. Then, she took off her jacket revealing her Bugs Bunny scrubs.
“Okay, dinner will be ready in about an hour,” she said. “No more snacks before dinner!”
Bryan sighed and closed the door to the refrigerator. “Alright.”
“And please turn down the TV.”
He rolled his eyes. “Fine.”
“I can already tell it’s going to be a bad night. So much homework to do, I don’t even know where to begin, Sera wrote on the computer journal she’d started earlier in the year. But I have to do it. No choice. Gotta get those A’s. Gotta get into Duke or Yale or wherever. Gotta do pre-med when I’d rather be writing…but no one cares. Whatever.”
“Sera?” Sera stared at the screen as her mom gently tapped on the door.
“Come in,” Sera answered.
Her mom inspected the room. She saw it appeared clean and organized as usual. Sera’s school uniform hung neatly on a hanger. She noticed Sera at her desk typing on her lap top.
“How was your day?”
“Not very good,” Sera said without turning around.
Her mom looked down at all the books spread out on bed.
“Lots of homework, huh?”
“Okay, I’ll leave you to it. Remember that my Bible group comes over tonight at seven.”
Sera sighed. “Mom?”
“Sorry about the photograph again.” She looked at her mom
“It’s okay, kiddo.” Mom walked over and hugged Sera’s shoulders. “I think it’s about time I move that picture to another wall anyway since this is the fifth time we’ve replaced the glass.” Her mom giggled.
Her mother placed a hot plate full of spaghetti and meatballs onto the dinner table.
“Come eat everyone!” she shouted. Beau quickly made his way over to the table and put his nose on the edge. “Not you, boy,” she said as she nudged him away.
“Oh, good, spaghetti!” Bryan shouted. He plopped down and began serving himself.
Sera came in after him and sat down. The little family prayed and thanked the Lord for their dinner.
“This is great, Mom!” Bryan said with a mouthful of spaghetti. The red sauce painted his chin.
Sera laughed. “Dork,” she teased. She turned to her mom. “How was your day at the hospital?”
“Not too bad,” her mom said. “I’m just glad to have a day shift again even if it’s for a short time.”
“How is it working in pediatrics?”
“We only have kids sick with pneumonia right now. Some have the flu, so be sure to wash your hands a lot. Hear me, Bryan?” she looked sternly at her son, who clumsily twirled spaghetti on his fork.
“Sorry, again, about the picture,” Sera said. She stabbed a meatball.
“It’s alright, honey,” her mom said. She squeezed Sera’s hand. “Now eat up because my friends are coming over soon.”
“That’s one of my favorite pictures,” Sera said.
“Mine, too,” said her mom. “It was taken at your aunt’s wedding about, what, six or seven years ago?”
Sera nodded. “You both look so happy.”
“We had a great time at the wedding.”
“No, I mean in general. You both were happy, weren’t you?” Sera asked.
Bryan fed some spaghetti to the dog under the table.
“Bryan!” Mom said. “Come on now. You’re eleven years old. Time to stop those bad habits, okay?”
“Yes, we were very happy together,” her mom said. “We were blessed to have had so many happy years together before your father died.”
Sera used her fork to play with her food.
“I miss him,” she whispered.
“Me, too,” Bryan said. Then he took a big bite of garlic bread.
“We all do,” her mom said. She smiled at her son.
“I thought about it today as I was cleaning up the broken glass,” Sera said adjusting her glasses. She looked at her mom. “I can’t remember what he looked like when he talked to me.”
Her mom squeezed Sera’s arm.
“It’s hard, honey. I know,” she said. “But we have to keep going. That’s what your dad would want us to do. Now, eat up!” she said.
“Yeah, but—” Sera said.
Her mom quickly left the table and washed off her dish.
Sera frowned. “Mom, you barely ate,” she said.
“I have to get ready,” her mom said as she headed upstairs.
The doorbell interrupted the dusting of the living room end tables.
“Mom, they’re here,” Sera shouted. She quickly hid the dust cloth behind a pillow and ran to the door. “I’ll get it!”
In came several of her mom’s friends from church. Each one greeted Sera with the usual greetings. “How’s school?” “You are so lovely, Sera!”
Sera just smiled and said a fake “thanks” as she held the door open.
From up in her room, she could hear the women downstairs talking and laughing, but mostly she could hear her mom’s voice. She put down the science textbook and listened. She liked her mom’s voice. She sounded so confident in what she was teaching. Sera knew her mom had no doubts in her beliefs. I envy that feeling, Sera thought.
As her mom lead the Bible study, something stirred inside of Sera. She quietly opened the door and sat on the stairs listening in on the conversation about God, the Bible, and applying the Bible to everyday life. Sera smiled. She was proud of her mom. I wish I could be more like her, she thought. Stronger. Especially in my faith. She slowly frowned. She thinks I’m strong. But if she really knew how weak I am, everything would change. She continued to listen to the study.
“That’s what I need to do,” Sera whispered to herself. “That’s what I’ve been missing.”
In her room, she picked up her cell phone and texted Amanda.
Seraphim: hey bff
She only had to wait a few seconds for the reply.
Ballerina1: what now? lol
S: I want to start a Bible study group with everybody what do u think? can u come over
B1: sure! to both... b right over!
Sera saved her homework and straightened up her room. Amanda lived just down the block. The doorbell rang.
“That was fast,” Sera said.
Amanda was one of the first girls Sera met after moving to Harristown. They were in the same class and played in the school orchestra together before Amanda left to dance ballet after being discovered by a reputable teacher in New York only to return that next year. With her long blonde hair and blue eyes, she was the complete opposite of Sera, who was tall and brunette.
The two girls sat on Sera’s bed and planned the whole Bible study group.
“How often will we meet?” Amanda asked.
“Once a week? What do you think?” Sera said. She scribbled down some ideas in her notebook.
“Yeah, once a week is good,” Amanda said, tossing a stuffed bear in the air. “What day?”
“Well, it can’t be Wednesdays because of Youth group,” Sera replied. “How about Thursdays?”
“Can’t,” Amanda said. She walked over to Sera’s desk and opened the laptop. “I have ballet.”
“Can’t,” Amanda said. She walked over to Sera’s desk and opened the laptop. “I have ballet.”
Sera thought for a moment while Amanda sent a message to her friends on Facebook.
“Who do you want to invite?” she asked.
“Brendan,” Sera said without hesitation.
Amanda chuckled. “Of course…”
“Shut up,” Sera said. “Whatever…um, who else is there? Creed, Tori and Tyler. Who else?”
“Henry, Peter, Nick, Natalie, Sheri…” Amanda continued.
“Alright, let’s see if they’re even interested,” Sera said. She walked over in time for Amanda to send the message invite out. They waited.
One by one, friends began to respond. Most accepted the invitation and seemed excited. Only three declined due to scheduling conflicts.
“Cool,” Amanda said. “That’s a good start.”
“Okay, what day should we meet?”
After asking everyone on the list, Tuesday night was agreed upon.
“This is exciting!” Sera said. She sat and bounced up and down on her bed.
“Yeah, so why are we doing this again?”
Sera adjusted her glasses and thought for a moment.
“I dunno,” she said.
“You dork!” Amanda teased.
“I guess when I heard my mom leading her Bible study, I thought it sounded like a great idea for us, you know?” She picked up a stuffed pony and played with its mane.
“Like, I feel like I should be doing more, you know?” Sera said.
“You mean working with the kids at church isn’t enough?” Amanda asked.
“But that’s only once a month. Besides, Mrs. Martin is the teacher in there. I just help out.”
“Yeah, I guess,.” Amanda continued to type on the laptop.
I need to do something to make it better, Sera thought. I owe that much to everybody…to my dad…to God. She twirled her chocolate brown hair as she softly bounced up and down on her bed.
“Alright, so we’ll start a Bible study. Cool. And what will we do at the Bible study?” Amanda asked.
“Um,” Sera said. She stopped bouncing. “Hadn’t thought of that.”
“Way to go, genius,” Amanda said. She grabbed one of Sera’s stuffed bunnies and threw it at her.
Harristown Bible Church sat just off of the main road. The main sanctuary, built a mere ten years earlier, was the larger building up front that most people saw from the road. Behind it stood all the classrooms and offices of the senior pastor and youth pastor. Originally established in 1969 when non-denominational churches were on the rise, the church had 200 members, but only 100 showed up most Sundays. After years of praying for a larger building, members saved their money, held fundraisers, and prayed until, finally, the new sanctuary was finished. It was the only church home Sera knew. She considered North Carolina home.
Sera’s parents always said how they didn’t miss the severe blizzards in winter and loved the mild weather of North Carolina with its beautiful fall colors and once-in-awhile snowstorms that blanketed the town like something on a Christmas card. Just enough snow fell for snowball fights and making snowmen. Yes, Sera’s parents were glad they listened to family and moved back to the south to raise their kids. Sera loved the small-town life of Harristown. She really enjoyed her church with its youth group of only sixteen kids, most of whom went to school with her.
“Pastor Ron!” Sera shouted. She ran over to her youth pastor as he walked into the church building.
“Hey, Sera,” he said. He held a coffee cup in his hand.
“Kind of late for coffee, isn’t it?” she asked.
“It’s been one of those days,” he sighed.
“Well, I don’t know if I could ever drink caffeine this late in the day. Like, I mean, I have to get to bed by nine p.m. or I’m a monster in the morning, all grumpy and stuff. The caffeine would keep me up all night! And, like, with my course load, that would be disastrous,” Sera said in one breath. “And my mom! Well, she would totally freak out if she saw me drinking coffee this late in the day! She never wants me drinking caffeine, like ever!”
“Sera,” Ron interjected. “Was there something you needed to talk to me about?”
“Oh, yeah, sorry,” Sera said. “Um, we wanted to, uh like, start a weekly Bible study at my house and I wanted to ask you what you thought about it?”
Pastor Ron sipped some coffee as he took in what Sera said.
“Go on,” he said.
“We would meet at my house and study the Bible for, like, an hour or something,” she explained. “So far we have about 7 or 8 of us. What do you think?”
“Come on in,” Ron said. Together they entered the youth classroom where some kids were playing foosball and talking. “So who would lead the study?”
“Well, I wasn’t sure, but maybe each week it would be someone different.”
“And so we would, like, read the chapters ahead of time to prepare, then come together to discuss the topic, you know?”
“Sounds good. Is your mom okay with this?”
“Yep, but she wanted me to ask you about it. So, what do you think?”
“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “But…”
“But what?” Sera said. She stood with her arms crossed.
“Don’t get all defensive, remember I am supportive of the idea,” he laughed. “But I wanted to talk to you about spiritual warfare.”
“You know, spiritual warfare?” he repeated.
Sera stood expressionless.
“Well, what does Ephesians 6:12 tell us?”
“Um…” Sera tried to remember.
“Remember? We do not fight against flesh and blood,” he said.
“Oh, yeah! I remember.”
“Good. And remember how Paul warned that we must put on the whole armor of God?”
“Well, that’s what I’m talking about,” he explained.
Sera wrinkled her brow.
“Sera, when we decide to teach God’s Word, or to serve Him in ministry, something happens.”
“Sometimes God allows us to be attacked to test us,” he said. “To see if we are really serious about serving Him.”
Sera cocked her head..
“Don’t worry. Paul teaches us how to be prepared for those attacks,” Ron said. “Do you understand?”
“Uh, huh,” Sera said. She chewed her lower lip as she thought about the attacks.
“So, my main concern is that you all as a group won’t be prepared,” he said. “That’s my only concern.”
“So, make sure you all discuss this and read Ephesians 6 to prepare yourselves, Okay?”
“Please talk to your mom about it. She understands spiritual warfare,” he suggested. “Now I’ve got to get ready for tonight’s lesson. Alright?”
“Sure. Thanks for talking to me about it,” Sera said. Pastor Ron squeezed her shoulder and smiled.
Sera walked toward the parking lot with her hands deep in her pockets as she thought about what Pastor Ron told her. She hadn’t thought of spiritual warfare before. She wasn’t sure if she thought it existed or not. Just then, Amanda walked up.
“Hey genius,” she said. “Youth group is this way.” She pointed toward the building.
Sera leaned against her mom’s car.
“Hey,” Amanda said. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, just thinking,” Sera said.
“Well, then let’s go or we’ll be late,” Amanda said.
The two friends walked off together, but Sera decided not to talk to Amanda about the conversation with Pastor Ron yet.
“What about that history assignment, huh?” Sera asked Amanda.
Sera woke up panting and warm. She sat up and looked around her room. She rubbed her stomach. The muscles were tense.
Dang. I hate that, she thought. She could feel the sweat on her face. I hate it when I dream that dream. She got up and rubbed her eyes. I haven’t had that dream in a long time. She reached for her glasses and sat down at her computer.
Spiritual warfare, Sera thought and yawned deeply. What is spiritual warfare?
She typed the words into a search engine on the Internet. Many different links were listed. She chose one on the early Christian martyrs. Many images appeared. Paintings depicting how Christians were fed to the lions in the Coliseum appeared while other images showed men being impaled and tortured. Yuck, Sera frowned. How sick is that? Nero was a monster. More drawings showed entire families in the arena about to be killed.
She clicked on a few more links that discussed how the early Christians died for their faith during the Inquisition. Brutal methods of torture were listed on the different sites along with etchings depicting men and women dying in horrific ways. What is this? She thought. How could people do this to other human beings?
She clicked on one site that seemed strange. It was all black with skulls lining the right margin. “Christians deserve to die brutally for causing such torture,” she read. “Because of the Christians, millions of innocent people died during the Inquisition. They are more responsible for the wars and conflicts in this world than Satan.” This is more like rhetoric than fact, she thought. What is this site? She scrolled down the page and noticed it was run by Satan worshipers. She felt a shiver up her spine.
She quickly closed that site. “Creepy.”
She read on another site about the Roman Emperor Nero and his hatred for early Christians.
“In 64 A.D., Nero set Rome on fire. He blamed the Christians and the Council believed him. Thus began the persecution of the Christians.”
“He would have Christians dipped in pitch, impaled, then set on fire as torches for the night games in his gardens,” she read.
“Sick!” She quickly closed that site and surfed more web sites.
“Under Caesar Vespasian, the Coliseum was dedicated. The Gladiator games were popular as was the persecution of the Christians where entire families were attacked and eaten by the lions in the arena.”
Disgusting!, she thought. That is just so wrong.
Sera removed her glasses and rubbed her tired eyes. Then, she browsed through more images of Christians suffering.
“What’s spiritual warfare, exactly?”
Sera’s mom looked at her with a wrinkled brow..
“Spiritual warfare?” she asked.
“Yeah, what is it exactly? What does it look like?” Sera asked. She thumbed through the pile of laundry on top of the dryer while her mom folded the warm clothes.
“Why do you want to know?” her mom asked.
“Well, I want to start up a Bible study group with some friends from school, remember? And Pastor Ron warned me yesterday about spiritual warfare. You know, like, if we start studying the Bible, God might let us get attacked,” Sera explained. She found her favorite t-shirt.
“Oh yeah, I remember now. A Bible study, huh? That is so great!” her mom said. She completed her task and grabbed an armful of clothes to take upstairs. “Grab your clothes, will you?”
“Sure. I mean, what would those attacks look like?” Sera asked. She bent down to pick up a laundry basket full of clothes and followed her mom up the stairs.
“Hmmm, well, you love to read, so why don’t you see if there are any books about it at Mason’s? Pastor Ron is correct, by the way. You might want to be prepared. I have been attacked many times since serving in ministry or teaching God’s Word,” her mom explained. They both headed up the stairs.
“At first, the attacks were subtle. You know, a hard day at work, missing the bus, forgetting my badge so I wasn’t able to get into the hospital. Things like that. Small little nuisances, but they were enough to distract me,” she explained. “But then when the Bible study began, the attacks were worse.”
Intrigued, Sera asked, “How much worse?”
“Well, I would forget to pay a bill and then we would have money issues, or the car would break down—that’s always a major issue—and I wouldn’t be able to get it fixed right away,” she said. “Things like that really distracted me and made me focus on my circumstances and not the Lord.”
Sera remembered those times.
“Your brother got real sick one time, remember? We had to put him in the hospital for a few days? I was supposed to go on a mission trip that same week.”
“Wow, you mean God might allow someone else to be attacked too?” Sera asked. She stuffed her clothes into her drawers.
“Yep. Remember the Book of Job?” her mom said. “And put those clothes in the drawers nicely, please. Don’t just shove them in there.”
“Okay, sorry.” Sera frowned. “In the Book of Job, all his children are killed, right?”
“Yes. How tragic.” Her mom shook her head.
“So then, something that tragic could happen to me?” Sera asked.
Her mom plopped all the laundry onto her king-size bed in the bedroom, then walked over to Sera.
“Like, when dad died?” Sera asked. She felt the blood leave her face.
“Now, Sera,” her mom said. “We’ve talked about that.”
She motioned for Sera to sit down on the stairs.
“It was your dad’s time to go be with the Lord, honey. Yes, God might let you and your friends be attacked in such a tragic way, but then again He might not allow it to happen at all. One thing I have learned is that you cannot live in fear. Remember that Paul wrote perfect love casts out fear and that the Lord did not give us a spirit of fear, but a Spirit of power and a sound mind.”
She gently stroked her daughter’s long brown hair.
Sera adjusted her glasses.
“So, we as Christians have been called to minister to others. Some have been called to teach, but all of us have been told that we will suffer for our faith,” she continued.
“But one thing I have known these many years of teaching God’s Word and using our house for ministry is that the Lord never gives us what we cannot handle. He equips us to handle even the darkest of times,” her mom said. She looked down the stairs. Her eyes found the little side table with the phone sitting there. She stared at it.
Sera knew her mom was somewhere else.
“You’re thinking of dad,” Sera said. “Aren’t you?”
Her mom didn’t respond, but kept staring off.
“I miss him,” Sera whispered. Her eyes filled with tears.
“I miss him too,” her mom mumbled.
Sera pictured her mom walking to the telephone. Hello? She heard her answer. She listened as the police officer told her mom that her father had been in a terrible car accident…
“Mom?” Sera asked. “Are you Okay?”
Her mom continued to blankly stare ahead.
“Mom? Um, I need to tell you something…”
“What? Yes, I’m okay,” she said, shaking off the memory. “Sera, our little family has been through a lot these last few years since your dad died. But you know what? As I looked back I can see God’s hand over us. He has met our every need…maybe not our every want, but definitely all our needs.”
“So, I guess what I am trying to say is, go ahead and have your Bible study here at the house. But make sure you all are prepared for any spiritual attacks. The devil doesn’t want the Gospel message proclaimed and he will try to stop it. But put on the whole—”
“Armor of God, yeah I know. That’s what Pastor Ron told me too,” Sera said.
“Alright then,” her mom said. She stood up and walked over to her bedroom. “Put your clothes away and finish your homework.”
“Thanks, Mom,” Sera said. “I love you.”
“I love you too, honey,” her mom answered.
Sera sat there alone on the stairs going over her mom’s words. She thought for a moment about books at Mason’s. Books on spiritual warfare. I’ll go check them out this week, she thought.
Sera noticed her parent’s wedding album on the dresser at the top of the stairs. She thought about how her parents met. Her father, a young lawyer living and practicing law in Richmond, Virginia, came to Raleigh for a conference and met a lovely young waitress in the hotel restaurant. Sera’s mom, a petite brunette with big brown eyes hidden behind glasses, instantly fell for the handsome tall young lawyer flirting with her. He headed back up to Virginia and she went back to school at North Carolina State to finish her undergraduate degree in nursing. She didn’t think she’d ever see him again, but he showed up four more times at the hotel just to see her. Sera always loved that story. She pictured them desperately in love. The wedding came one year later and they moved north to New York after her father received his dream job at a prestigious law firm. He moved his bride into a quaint farmhouse in a small town upstate and took the train into work every day. Sera came along only two years later and that’s when the little family decided they’d had enough of snow and trains and traffic to last a lifetime.
Sera flipped through the wedding album. They looked so happy in the photograph. So young. Sera noticed her mom looked tired lately. Her hair had more gray in it than ever before. She couldn’t help but feel responsible. Yet she loved how her mom’s eyes still showed strength even after everything and Sera only hoped she could be like her.