Walk with Me
By ANNIE WALD
Copyright © 2012 Annie Wald
All right reserved.
Chapter One On the King's Way
Leaving Slouching City and Upright Village
I dreamed a dream of love, and in my dream I saw a lonely traveler, Celeste, and another lonely traveler, Peter. Each was walking on the way to the King's City, for they wanted to live life as it was meant to be, whole and holy in a world set right.
Celeste had just started on the journey, for she had grown up in Slouching City where no one ever talked about the King of Love or the rule of His realm. The inhabitants there were clever and cunning, and they were always inventing new machines to do the work of living. But in recent generations the once-magnificent city had begun to sink into a slow and dismal ruin. When it rained, the old drains overflowed with sewage and left a perpetual odor in the air. The outer ramparts were crumbling, and the fences were in dreadful condition. Still, people liked to boast about how wonderful it was to live in a place where they could do whatever they pleased.
As a child, Celeste had often walked among the broken ramparts. If she pushed away the ivy and scraped off the moss, she found, chiseled into the stones, fragments of ancient songs that told of a King's love for the torn world and His Son who came as the Servant to mend the tear. Like almost everyone else in Slouching City, Celeste's parents thought the songs were nonsense. But Celeste's grandfather still knew the old melodies. Every time he sang songs of the Servant's selfless love and the restored wholeness He wanted to give, Celeste felt a deep ache in her soul.
After her grandfather died, she tried to hold on to the promise of the beautiful songs. But her friends teased her when she mentioned the King or the hope of His city. So she grew up and learned the ways of the world: how to push to get ahead and how to grab all she could. Most of the time, she thought she was happy enough, but there were moments when she realized that deep down she felt very lonely. Although life in Slouching City was full of comfort and ease, there was no machine that could create love or keep it alive when it began to fade. As the years went by, she yearned to find a love that would never change or die.
Then one day she found the King's guidebook her grandfather had left. She went back to the broken ramparts to read it. Captivated by the poems and history and visions and stories, she hummed along as she read, for she could hear the echo of her grandfather's songs. Soon tears began to stream down her cheeks; to her grownup heart the old songs sounded even more hopeful than before.
Every afternoon Celeste returned to the ramparts to study the guidebook and learn more about the King. Just as the songs had said, He loved every person in the world. He had sent His Son, the Servant, not to condemn men and women, but to bring them back home to His city where they would be part of His family forever. For He loved them enough to give them His life, first by dying for them and then by giving them His very Breath.
The more Celeste read the guidebook, the more she longed to experience the love of the King and to make her way to His city. But every time she thought about starting the journey, she gave up the idea. Ali of her outfits were stained and ripped from years of playing in the back lanes of Slouching City. She didn't see how she would be allowed into the King's City wearing such shabby clothes. The doorkeeper would think she was an imposter—not a daughter of the King—and turn her out.
But one day when she came to the ramparts, she found a spotless cloak of fine white linen. "This is My robe of righteousness to cover the stains of your guilt," she heard the King say to her. "Come and take it, because I want you to be My beloved daughter."
Celeste gazed at the bright, radiant robe which was perfect in every way. She could hardly believe that the King would let her wear it. Then she became very sad. "But I have no money to buy such a wonderful robe."
"You cannot pay for it. It is a free gift," the King said. "My Son purchased it for you."
Celeste hesitated a moment, then she took the robe and put it on. The transformation was instantaneous: she had become a member of the King's family. She beamed with delight. Now she could start her journey to His city. "Thank you, thank you," she told the King.
"As you follow the trail I have blazed to My city, go with joy and remain always in My love. Your great adventure begins!"
Like a powerful wind pouring through her being, the Breath of the King filled Celeste—never had she felt so light and free. Then, on the other side of the ramparts, a path opened before her. Hurrying to it, she started on her way. As soon as she stepped out of Slouching City, a glorious country appeared before her, and it seemed that she was looking at the world for the very first time. The sky was bluer than she had ever seen, and there were so many birds singing, it sounded like a symphony. The air held a fragrance whose sweet-smelling bouquet was deeper and fuller than any perfume made in Slouching City. She took one last look at its tumbled-down walls. Now in the bright sunlight, she could see what a small, dark place the city was. Then she turned. Grateful to leave it behind, she set her gaze on the far horizon, and headed to the King's City.
That first day of Celeste's journey the path was straight and flat, bordered with soft ferns. She swung her arms as she walked, singing the King's songs out loud and smiling at the beauty she saw all around. She expected the journey would be smooth and easy the entire way. However the next day, the trail became studded with tree roots and stubby stones. The years she had spent pacing the dead-end alleys of Slouching City had left her legs weak. By early afternoon, she was exhausted. But she pressed on, working to strengthen her flabby muscles.
In the days that followed, she discovered she was not the only one going to the King's City. There were other travelers on the path and she became friends with many of them. She enjoyed walking with them and learning more about the journey. They told her it was always good to ask other travelers which direction to go, for some trails through the King's country had been taken over by people who no longer cared about reaching the King's City. They encouraged her to stop regularly at the gathering huts along the way, where travelers shared meals and encouraged each other, for the long journey to the King's City was not meant to be taken alone. If she walked with other travelers, it would be easier to avoid the difficulties and dangers that lay ahead.
One day when Celeste's legs were strong enough, she climbed to the top of an overlook. As she gazed at the towering peaks, the thick forests, and the vast, spacious sea, she thought of the greatness of the King's love for her, how wide and long and high and deep it was. She knew that no matter what happened to her or how hard the journey was, she would never go back to Slouching City. She was headed for a better kingdom, and she couldn't wait to get there.
She continued on her journey, sometimes walking with other travelers, sometimes going by herself. Before long, she began to wish she had someone to walk with the whole way. During the day, as she enjoyed the scenery and chatted with her new friends, she didn't mind it so much. But at night as she ate her supper, she felt a deep yearning for a partner. It was not a thirst that could be filled in one swallow, but a hunger that could be satisfied only in a long banquet. Celeste often spent the evening thinking about the kind of husband she hoped to find. She wanted someone who was handsome, but witty and brilliant too. Most of all, she wanted a man who would love her with a strong and tender love. As the months went on and she still walked alone, she tried to be patient. For she knew it was better to be single than to join with the wrong partner, even if he was also going to the King's City.
* * *
Now in my dream, I saw the other traveler, Peter, as he made his way to the King's City. Unlike Celeste, he had come from an established family of travelers. As a child in Upright Village, his parents had faithfully taken him to the gathering hut every week, where the King's songs were sung, though always off-tune and painfully slow. They dutifully read the guidebook to Peter so he could learn how important it was to obey all the King's rules, in order that when the time came, he would be allowed into the King's City. Peter's parents never ventured on the King's path themselves, for like the other residents in Upright Village they were certain it was more prudent to stay where they were and avoid the dangerous journey.
Because the village had been built as a temporary outpost for travelers and not as a permanent settlement, it was cramped and there was little to do for entertainment. Still, people kept busy guarding the village from attack and cleaning it scrupulously according to the King's guidelines. Not a speck of dirt nor a single weed was allowed to remain, especially in their neighbor's yards. The only real hardship was the lack of water. When the springs had dried up, many residents had moved to Slouching City. But the hardy travelers who remained took great pride in what they suffered for the King.
When Peter was old enough to read the guidebook for himself, he became confused. There was much about the Servant King that he had never heard in all his years in Upright Village. He learned in the guidebook that the Servant had not come to punish people who failed to obey the King. Instead the Servant had come to give those who followed Him life to the full. The Servant promised that if someone believed in Him, streams of living water would flow from within. Peter's heart began to burn with the hope that there was more to life than dour rule keeping. If he really belonged to the Servant, his true life was on the Servant's path to the King's City.
When he told his parents what he aimed to do, they were completely opposed.
"You can keep the King's rules perfectly well here," his father said.
"And you know the way to the King's City is unsafe," his mother said. "The roaring lion prowls around, looking for unsuspecting travelers to devour."
"Don't worry," Peter said. "I've been lifting the weights of decrees and regulations to build my strength. I'm sure I will be able to fight off any dangers on the way."
Peter packed his bag and started on the King's path. But he soon realized the journey would be much more strenuous than he had anticipated because around his waist he wore heavy chains of debt. In the confines of Upright Village, the chains had never bothered him. But now as he crossed streams and climbed hills, it was very taxing to carry the weight. After three months, when he stopped to see how far he had gone, he was discouraged to see that for all his effort, Upright Village was still not far behind.
Peter was no longer confident he could reach the King's City. He could never pay what he owed the King and be freed of his chains. Desperate to go on, he searched in his pack for something to cut through his chains. However, he had left his tools behind. The only thing he could find was a file of good works. He sat down and started to file the chains, but after a week he had filed off just one chain. And by then, two more had been added to the length. Still he was determined to be free of his chains, and he doubled his efforts. If only he could work hard enough, he was sure he could get rid of them. He was still filing away when a wise old guide came upon him.
"Dear friend," Freedom said to Peter. "You can file your chains until the world ends, but you'll never get them off by your own effort. Don't you know the song from the guidebook that tells how the Servant died to free the prisoners from their chains?"
"We never sang that in Upright Village."
"From Upright Village, are you? Now I understand why you're attempting such an impossible task. Only the knife of grace can cut through your chains." Freedom held up a gleaming knife, and before Peter could say anything, he cut through one of Peter's chains as if it was warm butter.
Peter stared in amazement at the broken chain at his feet. Then he fell to his knees and told the King he was sorry for every debt he owed. Freedom helped him cut through the rest of his chains and gave him the knife so he could use it on the journey.
"You mean my chains aren't gone for good?"
"Until you reach the King's City, new links will appear. But when they do, simply tell the King you are sorry and cut them off with His grace."
Freed at last of his heavy chains, Peter was so elated, he started trotting down the path, shouting and kicking pebbles as he went.
The Great Question
As Peter walked on through the Low Country, he stopped at gathering huts and learned many new songs about the King. He also made friends with other travelers who also liked to take long hikes. Together they would go to the highest overlooks where they could look out at the way that lay ahead. However, one by one his friends began to find partners and then had little travelers, and they no longer had time to go exploring with him.
Peter had always thought it would be better to travel to the King's City by himself because he was afraid he might choose the wrong person. Peter knew his parents had started out happy together, for there was a picture hanging in their living room that showed them looking lovingly at each other on their weaving day. But Peter could not remember a single occasion when he had seen them exchange smiles. Peter could also see that his friends had to wait for their partners to get ready every morning, a disagreeable thing for Peter since he liked to start walking as soon as the sun rose. Other friends couldn't go as fast as they used to because now they were carrying their partner's burdens. Peter didn't want to be slowed down like that.
Excerpted from Walk with Me by ANNIE WALD Copyright © 2012 by Annie Wald. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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