With brisk steps I made my way up the two rickety stairs and onto the rather wobbly podium. I cleared my throat and grab hold of the rounded piece of wood that we pretended was a microphone.
“Can I have your attention, people?”
Since my voice wasn’t very loud, it took a couple tries before I had the attention of the two other people in the cramped room.
“Kids of Tree House Club,” I began, “I have an announcement to make!” I glanced around to make sure that I had the fixed attention of my audience. “Do any of you remember what the sermon was about last week?”
A little hand, belonging to the youngest member of the Tree House Club, waved around in the air.
The little girl bounced up and down on the wooden stool. “Well, Henry, I don’t exactly remember what the guy was talking about, but I DO remember how good the doughnuts were! I’m so happy that the adults decided to add doughnuts to the church experience!”
I sighed. “Anybody else?”
If there had been crickets in the tree house, we would have been able to hear them. But even the bugs decided not to respond. I sighed again. Being the oldest (and wisest) member of the Tree House Club definitely had its drawbacks.
“You guys really need to pay more attention.” I shook my head. “Okay, well, the pastor was talking about fasting and how Moses fasted as he was receiving the commandments.”
Natasha’s eyes grew wide. “You mean he didn’t eat dessert?!”
“He didn’t eat ANYTHING for like forty days.”
Natasha gasped and reached for one of the cupcakes that sat on the crude (and ant covered) table. “That would be awful! No doughnuts or cookies or pie for forty days?! How did he survive?!”
Mark, who was a year younger than me, said, “Adults are always doing weird things. I think they have more…endurance.”
“I’m an adult.” Natasha sat up and wiped pink frosting off of her chin.
Mark sighed. “You’re eight. That’s not very old.”
“Well, you’re only ten.” Natasha crossed her arms. “According to your logic, you must be a baby!”
Mark looked at me helplessly. I tried to get the conversation back on track.
“Guys, listen. All week long, I’ve been thinking about what the pastor said. You know, about how we should be willing to give up things that are important to us to prioritize time with God.”
Natasha was frantically shoving cupcake into her mouth. She tried to say something but her mouth was too full. She was dramatically shaking her head back and forth and looking very worried.
“Mark?” I glanced at him. “You have any idea what she’s trying to say?”
Mark held his hands up. “Hey, just because she’s my sister doesn’t mean I understand her.”
Natasha had cleared her mouth and screamed out, “I don’t like the way this conversation is going!”
I groaned. “GUYS. Can I just finish talking? WITHOUT YOU INTERRUPTING ME?”
“Okay, good. So, I’ve been thinking and I’ve decided that I’m going to give something up for a whole week and take the time I would normally use doing that thing to spend time with God instead.”
Mark nodded. “Hey, that’s kinda cool, Henry. What are you giving up?”
I bit my lip. “I’ve thought a lot about it and I’ve decided to give up…” It was painful to even think about. “I’ve decided that, for seven days, starting tomorrow, I’m going to give up video games.”
Mark’s mouth fell open. “Dude. You’re not serious!”
“I am.” I moaned.
“But – but!” Mark sputtered. “We have the Neighborhood Kids Game Tournament on Saturday night!”
Woops. I’d forgotten about that. I inwardly died. I summoned my zero courage and raised my head bravely. “You’ll just have to play without me.” Man, those words hurt!
Mark and Natasha stared at me in awe.
“Wow, you’re almost like – like a saint or something!” Mark said, slowly shaking his head back and forth.
I put on my best martyr-smile and didn’t say anything.
Mark stood up and cleared his throat. “Henry, you have inspired me. I’m going to do a fast as well.”
Yes! “You mean you’ll give up video games, too?”
Mark laughed. “Are you kidding me? That’s too much.” He tapped his chin. “I think I’ll give up broccoli for a week.”
I glared at him. “It has to be something that’s dear to you, Mark.”
Mark coughed. “Uh, yeah.” He got a determined look on his face. “I think I’ll give up my free time before supper and help my mom instead. And while I help her, I can work on bible memorization or something along those lines.”
I hadn’t been expecting that. “Good for you, Mark!” I hopped down from my podium and patted his back.
Mark glanced at Natasha, who was licking the cupcake crumbs (along with same ants) off of the table. “What about you? You gonna give something up?”
Natasha looked thoughtful and quiet – both of which were very rare for her. After a minute, she said, “I guess…. I’ll give up all sweet foods for the next week. Just like Moses did!”
Mark and I were dumbfounded. After I found my voice, I managed to say, “You mean…no after school cookie snacks?”
Mark shook his head. “No gummy bears on the playground?”
“No cupcakes during Tree House Club meetings?”
“No cake for a Saturday night treat?”
Natasha’s little eyes were brimming with tears. “Nope.” She whimpered. “If Moses could do it, so can I!”
“Wow.” Mark stared in admiration at his sister. “You’re even more like a saint than Henry!”
Well, there died my martyr smile.
“So we start tomorrow?” Mark looked at me.
I nodded. “Tomorrow morning.” I took a deep breath. “This is going to be hard, but it’ll be worth it. And remember, let God take the place of these things that we love.”
“Let’s meet Saturday morning to talk about how our fasts are going.”
We all shook hands and meeting #78 of Tree House Club was dismissed.
I got out of bed and my day immediately got very hard. I could smell Mom cooking my very favorite food… double chocolate chip s’more pancakes!!! Sometimes she makes them as a treat for Mark and me.
Why did she have to make them today?!
I moaned and groaned as I slumped down the stairs. I tried my best not to look at the little beauties that were cooking up on the griddle.
“Natasha!” Mom smiled at me. “Look what I made special for you and Mark this morning!”
The wonderful smell wafted over to me. I was so hungry. I was even feeling a little weak and lightheaded! After all, I hadn’t eaten all night! Well, that is, if you don’t count the three snacks I had between ten and one….
“Mom!” My voice quivered. “I’m fasting from sweets.”
Mom’s jaw almost came detached from her face. She stared at me. “You’re giving up sweet?!”
“For one week.” Tears. Big tears. Lots of tears. I was missing the best pancakes on the planet!
Mom shook her head. “Wow. Uh. I guess you can have some…crackers and cheese. Here.”
And so, while Mom and Mark feasted on royal food, I ate soggy crackers and cheese that was already sweating from the oppressive summer heat.
“Maybe I’ll just read the bible!” I nodded to myself. “That way I won’t have to see the pancakes.”
I tried, but the bible has rather big words and I’m still not that great at reading. So Mom put on the audio-book bible and I closed my eyes. Problem was, I could still smell the pancakes. When Mark left with some of his friend, and Mom went to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee, I was suddenly alone with a huge platter of pancakes in front of me.
Would just one itty bitty bite break my fast?
My hand reached towards the s’more goodness….
I had just finished my chores and I was sitting in my room, trying not to think about the video game that I was desperately missing.
Okay, Henry, just remember what the pastor said. Instead of thinking about my fun, great, entertaining – ahem, instead of thinking about THAT, think about God. Yes. I’ll pray.
“God, uh….” Why was my mind suddenly blank? “Uh….I want to thank you for video games. And I want to say…uh, please bless the kids who will play them all night long on Saturday. Help them to have a lot of fun…” I groaned.
Just think about something else, Henry. Okay. Something else. Something else…..what else IS there to think about??? Maybe I’ll just go look at the controller to my game. I won’t ACTUALLY play. I’ll just go look at it….yeah.
I had been doing so well on my fast. I was real proud of myself. For the past two days, I had self sacrificially given up my free time before dinner and helped Mom out. I’d cleaned, set the table, cleaned more, chatted with her and we had even done bible memorization together. I was feeling rather delighted with myself. I didn’t understand how Natasha seemed to be struggling so much with her fast.
I guess maybe I just have more self-control than she does. I mean, I am a man after all!
And then it happened. I was standing in the kitchen with Mom, working on my second verse. I heard someone pounding on the front door. My heart sank when I opened it. Three of my friends stood there, bike helmets in hand and bright smiles on their faces.
“Hey, Mark! Grab your bike!”
“I can’t –”
“You know the carnival across town?”
I nodded. Every kid knew about it. Uncle Bob’s Carnival was one of the most fun places in our area. Problem was that it was also pretty expensive (well, at least it was expensive for kids).
“Just tell me!”
“They’re giving away free tickets! Today only, from four to six.”
“WHAT?!” I yelped.
“I know, man! Isn’t it great?!”
I moaned. “No! I mean, yes, it is! But I can’t go! I have to help my mom until five-thirty and then we have supper until six!”
“Help your mom?” My friend laughed. “Can’t you just, you know, skip today?”
“This is THE carnival, man! You don’t want to miss this!”
I have been really good for the past two days. One little trip wouldn’t be too bad, right? I mean, I can make up for it tomorrow by helping Mom extra!
Saturday Morning (Henry)
I was the first to arrive at the tree house. When Mark and Natasha arrived, I stood up on my little podium and said, “People of Tree House Club, we are gathered here today to talk about how we are doing on our fasts.”
Mark motioned to me with his hand. “Get off of the podium, Henry. Let’s just sit down and talk like friends.”
“Ah, whatever.” I sat down at the cupcake-deprived table. “So, Natasha, you want to go first?”
Natasha ran her fingers along the rough wooden seat. “I’m never sure what to say.”
Mark shook his head violently.
“I guess I’ll go first.” I said. “Well, I’ll be honest. These past few days have been really hard. I’ve been so tempted to play so many times. At first I tried praying, but I couldn’t ever think of anything to say. Uh. So I decided to try singing worship songs instead. And that actually helped me! I put my video games out of sight and I’ve started playing board games with my older brother when I’m really tempted to run to my video games!”
“Cool!” Natasha said. “Good for you. I’ll go next.” She cleared her throat. “All I can say is, wow. Fasting from sweets has been so so so so so hard! You guys have no idea how much I’ve missed out on!”
“I do.” Mark laughed. “I live in the same house, remember?”
Natasha ignored him. “For some reason, it seems like our house has been flooded with sugar lately. Grandma came for a visit last night and brought a huge chocolate cake. It looked so good! I almost took a tiny taste of it. But then I remembered how hard you boys were working at this fasting thing, and I decided that if you guys – and Moses – could do it, then so could I! And you know what? I’ve found that I actually like vegetables! Isn’t that amazing?! Anyway, there were several times that I almost broke my fast, but each time I prayed really hard and God helped me to step away from the food!”
“That’s great.” I was shocked that sugar-addict Natasha was surviving so well. “Mark, you’re the last one.”
Mark cleared his throat and stared at his toes. “Uh, yeah. So…I guess….uh….”
He sighed. “Fine. I have a confession, guys. Yesterday, I kind of broke my fast….I, uh, went to the carnival instead of helping Mom.”
Natasha gasped. “Ha! So that’s why you smelled like caramel popcorn!”
Mark hung his head. “I’m really sorry, guys. I was so proud of myself, but here I am, the only one who gave into the temptation.”
I laid my hand on Mark’s shoulder. “Hey, buddy. The week isn’t over yet. We forgive you and God forgives you. You can still finish strong.”
Mark smiled weakly and nodded. “I guess so.”
“Okay guys, let’s meet here again on Tuesday to talk about how the whole fast went.” I said before dismissing the meeting.
Saturday night (Henry)
“Hey, Benji, wanna play?” I stood in my brother’s room, holding out Monopoly. “Please?”
“Sorry, kid.” Benjamin said as he pulled on a tie. “Can’t tonight. I have an important meeting.”
I sighed. All the other kids in the neighborhood were at Regan’s house playing video games. And I was missing it.
This is awful! Not even Benji is here to play a game with me. Ah, this is just awful! I’m so bored!
I grabbed my bible and hymnal and headed towards the tree house that stood in my backyard. I climbed the ladder and sat down with my back against the wall.
Okay, God. Well, please help me not to be jealous of the other kids playing video games right now. Help me to look to you instead of the games. And help me not to feel so lonely here all by myself….
I opened my hymnal and began to sing. As I sang, I felt a deep peace settle over my heart. I smiled to myself and continued to sing, louder and louder. I was singing so loud that I didn’t hear footsteps climbing up the ladder and entering the room. I jumped and screamed when someone cleared his throat.
“Mark?!” I gasped and was relieved to see that it wasn’t an ex-murderer. “What are you doing here?! Shouldn’t you be over at Regan’s?”
Mark sat down beside me and picked up the hymnal that I had dropped in my surprise. “Yeah, well, I was over there but then I thought of you all by yourself and decided that I’d come over and hang out with you. I thought you’d probably be in the tree house.”
I smiled from ear to ear. “Hey, thanks, buddy. That was really self-sacrificial of you.”
Mark laughed. “Eh, who needs video games when they have a good friend?”
I patted his back and smiled.
Just then we heard a little voice and Natasha hopped into the tree house. She was carrying a large platter of slightly-wilted spinach and other vegetables.
“Hey guys! I thought you’d be here!” She set the platter down and chomped a carrot. “Grandma came over and was baking a pecan pie, so I thought I’d get away from the HUGE temptation and find you guys. I went to Regan’s house and he said you’d left, Mark. I knew that if you weren’t there, you’d be here!”
I picked up a celery stick. “Hey, anybody want to have a hymn sing with me?”
Mark smiled apologetically. “Uh, no offense, dude, but those songs are kind of…outdated.”
“Outdated?” Man, Mark was way too MODERN.
“Uh, yeah. I’m thinking we need something with a little more…BANG!”
“Like, maybe TobyMac?”
Natasha spoke up. “Hey! We could sing Christmas carols! That’s a compromise!”
“No.” Mark and I said together.
“Ah, c’mon, guys!”
“Hey.” I said. “Let’s sing one hymn, one of your songs, Mark, and then one –” I cringed “–Christmas carol.”
And we sang the night away in praise to our Creator while the rest of the kids in the neighborhood played killer video games and ate large amounts of fat and sugar. Somehow, I think Mark, Natasha and I enjoyed our night better than any of the other kids did.
“Well guys!” I cheered. “Our fast is over!”
Natasha and Mark pumped their fists in the air and we all congratulated each other.
“Minus my one little slip, we all survived!” Mark smiled. “And I’m really glad that we did this. It was a cool idea, Henry.”
Natasha bounced up and down. “So what are we going to do to celebrate?”
“Cake and video games?” Mark suggested.
Natasha and I glanced at each other. I shook my head. “You know, I was actually thinking maybe we could ride down to the new park! They have this cool new play area.”
“And we could bring kale chips and carrot sticks to snack on!” Natasha added.
Mark smiled. “Wow. You guys are, like, wow.”
We all laughed and ran to grab our bikes. I felt exhilarated and as light as a feather.
Thanks for helping me this past week, God. It was really good.