By Livy Jarmusch
Images from www.weheartit.com
Once Upon a Time…there was a dirty little camp, fringing on the outskirts of a dusty town. Muddy tent flaps waved in the stale wind. An intoxicating, damp and musty smell spread through the multitudes that lived in this camp. Those who traveled by the muddy camp could hardly stand such a violent stench. The only people used to this foul odor were the poor souls who dwelt there.
The stale smell of death was like a dark shadow that could never be driven away. Perhaps the most peculiar thing about this camp was that it was always raining there. Constant, dreary rain only made things far more depressing and the living conditions much gloomier. Layers of mud in the streets were thick, which attracted swarms of flies, mosquitoes, and other nasty bugs. The depressed campers couldn't remember a day when the sun ever peeked out with a cheerful grin. The idea of leaving this place and finding a new home was unthinkable. In fact, it was impossible, due to the chains on their feet – and in their minds.
A day in the camp consisted of roaming through the streets, scavenging like wild animals, picking up what little scraps of food they could find, with heavy metal chains fastened to their mud-stained feet. The metal chains that clung to them had this word engraved in bold print, “Worthless.”
An evil brood of dark rulers patrolled the camp daily, keeping close eye on their prisoners, making sure they were always miserable. These hopeless refugees with such unbearable burdens could scarcely discern night from day. The only way these prisoners knew when evening had come was when the voices came. Voices that were not their own. The voices would taunt, haunt, and leave scars on their seemingly forever broken hearts.
In vain the prisoners would try to catch a few precious hours of sleep to escape the nightmarish circumstances. But their sleep was fitful and disturbed, and deceptive nightmares blurred the dividing line between awake and asleep. They were tormented. No true rest ever came. In attempting to find sleep they would fail as they did with everything else in their lives. The enemy officers had tormented them, and they were fully convinced, "I am worth nothing."
The tears of the people flooded the streets, but nobody noticed them fall for the heart-wrenching sobs came just as regularly as the heavy raindrops from the gray sky. But where could they find their hope?
Hope was only a phantom, and freedom wasn't even a shadow on the street. How could one ignore the voices, when they persistently wore and tore at the soul? All joy and laughter decayed, and nobody remembered the light of a day. Voices brought messages as though they were straight from Hell; messages of hopelessness saying,
"You'll never measure up. Why don't you just give up and die? Nobody cares about you and your life; you're like an orphan who is lost and abandoned. Do you see the mud beneath your feet? Even that is greater than thee."
One day, as the morning sun began to shine on the camp, many still laid on the streets, paralyzed with fear. It was far too depressing to rise to their feet and begin another meaningless day. The prisoners were much too lost inside themselves to hear a new sound that was moving into their dreary atmosphere. For one moment, a beautiful, glorious moment, the rain paused and the clouds parted as they made way for the brilliant morning sunshine. A window was opened from heaven, and a symphony of hope could be heard in the distance. Jubilant sounds of rejoicing, vibrant music, warm laughter, and lots of love echoed through the camp. A new song was sung by these travelers as they came near the outskirts of the camp. The lyrics were like a breath of fresh air offered to the campers who struggled to breathe.
"Arise! Arise, come up from here!” They proclaimed in song, “Wake up you sleepers and arise from your grave, and the King will shine on you!" The choir sang this melody with much joy; the very words the King told them to sing.
Now this King was of course not the King of the Worthlessness Camp, this King was the Ruler of The City of the Chosen. He ruled over a humble people who crowned Him as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This King had many names, but most in the Kingdom called Him “Love.”
The Faithful King led His citizens around the perimeter of the Worthlessness Camp, like a Shepherd gently guiding His flock. The King's heart ached for the prisoners inside this camp, and it was His burning desire to see each and every one of these captives set free.
"Come and follow me!" He sang, leading the chorus with the loudest and most beautiful voice of all His people, "Come with me to the City of the Chosen!"
"What an offer!" you may say, "I would have gone up and went right away!" But oh how these prisoners had been led astray; and so, in the Worthlessness Camp they stayed. Not a single soul rose to his feet for they could hardly stand the sound of their own heartbeat.
Instead, inside of themselves they said, "I could never go and live in a palace with the King, oh how I despise that song that He sings. I am worth nothing, that's what they tell me, and I don't see how the King could ever truly love me."
Why did these people believe the lie? Could it be that they were wrapped up in pride? How could one feel so trapped inside when the King was offering a brand new life? Had the King asked such a hard thing? Why couldn't they just stand up and leave? Hope was holding out His hand, and His desire was to heal their land, but why, why, did they run away from the One who wanted to remove their chains?
Though this tale wasn't meant to be a tragedy, at this point, it is what it appeared to be. These people hid inside themselves, sold out to the lie that they could never be enough. And they continued hiding all through the day, stuck in the mud of their hopeless ways. It was an apathetic lullaby that got these people believing such lies, the one that's still being sung today; not once upon a time but right now, today, the one that leads so many astray.
"I don't matter. You don't matter. Human life doesn't matter. I don't care about you, and you don't care about me." That was the song that those voices sang, haunting and cursing again and again. Those words were so ingrained in their minds; they were convinced it was the King who lied.
A few days later, a young woman heard the sound of the King’s song, and she almost wished she could sing along. She opened her dried and chapped bloody lips, but felt if she sang it would be like a betrayer’s kiss. For so many weeks, months, and even years she laid on those streets chained to her fears. But now, something deep inside her heart aroused with such passion that it gave her a start. She would do it. She would just stand up and leave. And the enemy might stop her, but she had to believe.
Wobbly feet led her down the
muddy streets. When the guards were not looking, she slipped out the back gate.
She ran and ran until she was out of breath. She continued running from her
ghosts, her god-forsaken past.
A towering castle sparkled in the distance. Soon she arrived at the city gates. She would ask to step inside and hope she was not too late. Her crystal blue eyes, the same shade as the sky, widened as she stepped closer to the palace. Every stone was overlaid with gold, presenting a dazzling pattern of sparkly diamonds, sapphires, topaz jewels, and rubies. Her eyes had never seen such riches all at once, all in one place. As she approached the palace gate, she felt as though her muddy feet would ruin the beautiful floors.
She took a deep breath and lifted her eyes to look at the enormous giant towering over her. High upon the secured castle wall stood a man who looked like he feared nothing at all. Chiseled muscles, defined and intimidating, lumped upon his chest and arms. He wore a black shirt which read “Security,” but his intimidating eye-brows said it all. He was not to be messed around with.
She cleared her throat and clenched her fists, struggling to find some back bone. Perhaps she could somehow appear much braver than she felt. “I have come to have an audience with the King,” her voice quivered. Her quiet words were nearly lost with the wind.
She felt a quick shiver run down her spine as the large man set his eagle eyes to inspecting her. From his point of view, this young lady didn't look much like someone who was prepared to feast with the King Himself. The half pint stood hunched over, shivering, and barefoot. Only a piece of smelly cloth filled with holes was wrapped around her boney shoulders as a coat to guard her from the cold. She looked ill, as if she carried some sort of incurable disease. Striking blue eyes stared up at him, but they were as frozen as an icy lake. A strong and vile stench came from the girl, and the Royal Security Guard knew where she had come from, The Worthlessness Camp.
"Madam,” he replied, all manners yet firm in his approach, “Do you know this King you speak of?" The guard asked in that loud and rather stern voice of his.
"Well..." The girl glanced down shamefully at her muddy feet. She had already made a mess of the crystal sidewalk where she stood. Someone would have to come along and clean up after her. "Not exactly, your grace. But I have heard of Him. Every day He comes to the outskirts of the camp and invites us to follow Him back to the palace. So this time I did. I grew so tired of the mud and the tears that I decided to escape. I can only hope that His offer still stands. That is why I am here, sir."
The man shook his head, "I'm sorry miss, but I cannot let you in these castle doors. According to Kingdom rules, you're a prisoner. As prisoner of the King's enemy you still belong to the darkness. You are a captive of war and clothed in the wicked schemes of the enemy. I cannot allow you inside the palace."
The girl felt her glass heart fall
from her chest and crash onto the sidewalk below. What was he saying? She had
come so far, she had risked everything only to be rejected?!
“B-b-but,” the girl stuttered, frantically fighting the desperate tears that tugged at her soul, “I only did what the King asked me to do! Please, your grace, I beg you; you must understand my condition. I cannot go back to that dreadful place! If I were to return, I cannot say what my captors would do to me. I escaped against their wishes; and if the rulers discover I have left, they will sentence me to death!” She couldn’t stop the tears now, “Please, you must understand!”
"The Light can have no communion with the darkness." The guard firmly spoke the rules, "There are no exceptions. You fall short...your ugly sin separates you from the King."
Losing the will to stand any longer, she let the devastating blow crush her to the ground. She collapsed and held her head in her hands. “What am I to do? Where am I to go?” She finally composed herself, rose with her bottom lip still trembling, and determined to be brave. She left the palace perimeters and took the backstreets into the City of the Chosen. She felt disoriented and lost. She had risked everything for the hope that the King would let her inside. And now what? She would do what she could to survive. But never again would she return to the Worthlessness Camp. They’ll have to kill me first, she thought with such hatred and disgust for the demons of her past.
Suddenly, a terrible pair of hands grabbed her and tossed her to the ground. She let out a scream, but they were in the back alley far away from anyone who could hear her. One of the Camp security guards grinned wickedly, exposing a rotten tooth smile, as he clasped her hands and feet with those familiar chains.
“I was expecting you,” he snarled. “Everyone who leaves to follow that lying and deceitful King always comes crawling back to us. His promises of second chances and life in the palace are just too good to be true. He doesn't mean a word He says. That King is a coward; He is a lying fool! Too bad that you had to learn it the hard way. And now you know for yourself...He doesn't really care about you. You're not worth being cared about."
The girl couldn't argue for everything he said appeared to be true. He dragged her back to the Worthlessness Camp and she had no fight left inside. When they returned, the camp leaders chained her to a post near the entry way, in order to make an example of her.
"Ah, does the miserable girl double as an escape artist? This should teach you to know your place. You worthless wretch, thinking you could run away from us like that without receiving punishment. You have been our slave since birth...your blood is in our hands. We own you and can do with you whatever we please. Tomorrow morning we will sell you on the slave block, in the Town Square...Yes! We will drag you to the slave post and there we shall make a ridicule of you! Why? Because no one will offer a cent to buy you...not one measly little penny.” The guard laughed at the idea of such evil fun, “Tomorrow the town will let you know how much you're worth...and you shall know for yourself what a waste of breath you are."
The night offered no comfort as she contemplated her final hours. Maybe it’s better this way, she thought with a hard heart, as the tears on her face dried with the crusty mud, Maybe it’s better if my life is just ended.
The morning came. Just as they promised, the leaders brought her downtown and displayed her in the public market on the slave block. She didn’t bother to lift her head. She knew how shameful it was to be in such a position. Yes, she had been born into slavery, into the hands of the Worthlessness Camp leaders, and it was their right to do whatever they pleased...but the slave block? How shameful.
She knew what would happen if no one in the town thought of her as somewhat valuable and purchased her...she knew what her fate would be. If she was of no value to the town, they would put her to death. Just like a snake or a rat or some other kind of unwanted vermin...she would be murdered.
"Let the bidding begin!" The auctioneer’s voice boomed through the air loud and clear as a crowd of excited townspeople drew near to witness the disgrace.
"What does she do?" one of the men from the crowd hollered.
"She hardly looks strong enough to hold a broom!" another woman shouted among the noise.
"I wouldn't waste a cent on that scum bag," an old man in the front grumbled.
"Me neither," another nodded in full agreement.
"Come on now!" The auctioneer sounded somewhat sympathetic as he studied the boney girl, "Let's look on the bright side.” He frowned, not seeing much but skin and bones. “You wouldn’t need to feed her much." He shrugged, struggling to see the positive.
"Forget it!" a bossy sounding man in the crowd hollered back. "Get rid of her; let’s see what else ya got.”
The girl could no longer hold back the dreadful tears that streamed down her face…It's true, she thought gravely, all along...the voices were right. I am worth nothing. The man tried a little bit longer to sell her, but it was obvious nobody was interested. The auctioneer reached for the rope which was looped around her neck and began to lead her away just like a dumb animal. “I’ll give you back to your owners,” he spoke quietly. “They can do with you what they please.”
Just as a hand reached for the rope around her neck, the subtle sound of hoof beats were heard in the distance. This horse sounded as though it was on a fixed mission, galloping up the cobblestone street. She lifted her head to see who was coming. The sound increased in intensity until both horse and rider appeared. Most of the crowd was taken aback by the man who sat on this white horse. For it was not just any man, but it was the Prince...the Prince of the entire Kingdom. Everyone knew His name, although everyone did not respect Him as they should.
"It's Jesus!" one whispered in awe.
"Oh forget it, He's no extraordinary person," another murmured back, his voice loud enough to be heard above the silence. "Let's get on with the auction…"
The girl could hardly believe this was happening. Here she stood on the slave block, the place reserved for only the lowest of the low, and in rides the Prince of the Kingdom! How disgraceful! She had never seen Him before. She had only heard His voice singing just outside the camp, but it was enough to make her heart ache for whatever He had to offer. But none of that mattered now. She was about to be killed. Everything she had ever known would turn into deepest darkness. Nothing. Worthless. Just like her. The Prince had been rightfully called, "Prince of Peace”, the true Light who could not tolerate the kingdom of Darkness.
How shameful! she thought. I do deserve death...I don't deserve to be standing in His presence.
Everyone stared at the Prince and
few bowed down to acknowledge His royal position. A burning look of anger and
fierce fury blazed on the Prince's face as He spoke in a loud and authoritative
"What is this?!” He leaped off His horse and bounded toward the crowd. Several pulled back in fear, clearing a path for Him to make his way to the front of the crowd. “Has My Father not commanded the end of the slave block? It has no place in His Kingdom! We cannot judge others by outward appearances. My Father instead looks at the heart. If we belong to His Kingdom, we should do the same! Such activities as this are degrading, heartless, and disrespectful to our King! His heart would be grieved to know you have continued this forbidden practice in secret."
Mighty Warrior, the girl thought as she fell down to her knees, giving up the will to stand any longer. And another name they call Him...Savior.
"Stand up!" the leader of the Worthlessness Camp hissed in her ear. "On your feet! He is not worthy to be worshiped for He is the one who lied to you! I told you nobody wanted you and it is true. Not a penny was offered for you, so now your life must be destroyed. But I can't kill you here...not now…or else that blasted Prince may see me and tell His Father...come and I shall kill you at the Camp. Come."
Savior! the girl thought frantically, If they call Him savior, He must save. But would He reach out His hand to rescue me? Would He even want to set me free?
The enemy’s fingernails dug into her arms as he grabbed her and began to pull her away. Suddenly she let out a scream: “Jesus!” she cried with utter desperation, “Save me!”
Horror swept over the enemy's face as Jesus turned to look at him. The Light confronted the Darkness with three simple words, "Let her go." He commanded it, drawing out each word with passion and intensity.
"Never!" the devil hissed as he only pulled her chains tighter. "She is mine, a disgusting daughter of Eve, property of darkness and captive prisoner of the Worthlessness Camp. Her blood belongs to me, her last breath belongs to me, and I can do with her whatever I please. Even You know that."
Jesus took a step closer and spoke with much determination as He lifted himself onto the slave stage which had been raised so everyone in the town could see the slave block, "Then I will buy her back.
"It's too late for You to save the day," he argued, knowing the Kingdom Rules by heart. "If only You would have ridden in on your white horse a few moments sooner...we were in the middle of an auction. You might have wasted your money on her then. But lucky for You, I'm saving You the great trouble of teaching a rat like her to be a princess...I'll simply give her what she deserves, death!”
“If it is death you are so thirsty for," Jesus spoke as He took off his outer cloak, "If it is bloodshed that you crave, if it's the sight of raging torture and misery on a face, and blood spilled on the ground, then that is what I shall give you. Her life in exchange for Mine."
The enemy was completely astounded by the Prince's offer. Everyone in the crowd gasped. The enemy leapt back in dramatic fright and astonishment, "You do not mean it!" he shouted. "You would never do such a thing! Lay down your life like a helpless little sheep...preparing Yourself for the slaughter?! You would be slain! Your Father's Kingdom would be destroyed...and I...I....” The enemy gasped, “I would win!"
The girl could not believe what her ears were hearing. Her mind raced in absolute fear. Why would the Prince offer to do such a thing? She panicked, For....for me? Worthless, horrible, wretched...me?
The Prince made eye contact with her as if He somehow understood what she was thinking. He set down His sword and held out His hands. That one act said it all. In His silence the Prince had spoken so many words. His love was heard in all languages, but the girl couldn't even begin to interpret everything He was saying to her.
As the devil took the chains off of her feet and hands, and strapped them onto the Prince's, the girl could do nothing but stand in amazement. Who is this man” she thought, that He would die...for me?
The young girl returned to
the palace gates, wondering how she possibly escaped. She didn’t have to run,
she didn’t have to die; all she did now was ask the question, Why?
She found herself standing by the Palace once again, hoping that someone might let her in. That old, familiar security guard scowled from above, and the girl was tempted to turn around and run. But where would she go, where would she live? She had seen what the Prince had to give. His very self, His life, His Kingdom, His pride…all crushed in one second, because of her life. Her wrists were still scarred from the grip of those chains, her hair greasy, her body smelly, and her feet were still grossly muddy. She shivered like she had the first time, but something was different and she didn’t quite know why.
“S-s-sir” she stuttered, “I-I-have come to offer my deepest sympathy to the King about the death of His son. I know…I know that last time I was not allowed inside, but may I perhaps see Him to offer my apologies, just this once?”
The whole Kingdom had been mourning because their beloved Prince died. Three days now, and His faithful people still continued to mourn in the streets. They wore black and covered themselves in ashes. The girl knew a terrible secret that nobody else did: it was all her fault. The future King had been snuffed out like a burning candle wick long before His time. He was so young and handsome, and so full of potential. He had been predestined to rule, and now there was no heir to the throne.
What would happen to the Kingdom? What would happen to the City of the Chosen? She felt the guilt weigh heavy on her chest. She needed to see the King. She should’ve been the one that died! She was the one who was a slave to pride. She had never known this kind of love before. Why would a stranger, nevertheless a Prince, do something so selfless? These questions had stirred in her soul for the past three days, keeping her awake as she hid in the alleyways. Would the rest of the Kingdom desire to kill her if they knew she was the reason why He had died?
The guard studied her with those intimidating eyes of his and wondered why the young lady had come so late. Nearly every other citizen offered their sympathies days ago, weeping openly and tossing beautiful roses on the grave site of His Royal Majesty. A stream of people had been flooding the palace gates, which meant that security risks had increased.
"Miss, I'm going to need to do a thorough security and background check."
"Ummm....yes sir." Her tiny hands were trembling so she placed them behind her back. He pulled out a clip-board and appeared as though he was searching for something.
"Name?" He asked the first of a series of questions.
"I do not know” she replied quietly, “I never had one. I’m from the Worthlessness Camp.”
The man frowned, feeling as though he had already had this conversation, “I cannot let anyone from that place inside these palace gates. For light can have no communion with darkness.”
The tears came once more, as the girl clung desperately to the tiny sliver of hope that remained. “Please, sir!” She slipped to her knees, “I beg you! I must speak with the King!”
At that very moment, she heard the palace gate open and quiet footsteps followed. She did not look up for she was so distraught.
A strong voice asked, “What seems to be the problem?”
Finally, her quivering chin arose and she looked at him through blurry tears. She did a double take. The Man that she saw standing before her looked much like…no, it couldn’t possibly be. Perhaps she was hallucinating. Yes, that had to be it.
“This is none of your concern, Your Majesty” the security guard spoke, “Just another no-namer from the Worthlessness Camp. We will discard her and remove her from the premises immediately.”
“No.” The Man’s voice was firm, yet held a gentleness inside as he looked at her with compassionate eyes. “You’ll let her stay.”
“Forgive me Your Highness,” the guard replied, “but we must abide by the Kingdom Rules. For even a king cannot forsake what he once said. A royal decree is in effect for all time.”
He nodded, and the young girl felt her breath catch. She was kneeling in the presence of the King Himself! “That is so.” The King continued, “But have you forgotten the new rule? The rule which I put into effect just this morning as we received news that my Son is no longer dead, but alive?” A smile radiated from the depths of his eyes, as He spoke, “Love is a far more powerful force than death. My Son offered Himself as a ransom. He laid down His life for every captive in the Worthlessness Camp. It’s true that Light can have no communion with the darkness…that rule shall always stand firm. But the new rule has been put into effect, signed and sealed by the blood of My Son. This is a royal declaration to endure for all time: ‘Yet to all who receive Me, to those who believe in My name, I give them the right to become Children of the King - children born not of natural decent nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.’”
The young woman couldn't believe it. Her mouth hung open in shock and wonderment. How could this be true?! The Prince was alive?! She was allowed to enter the palace gates?!
“This young maiden has
traveled afar to get here.” The King grinned, looking right at her, “We shall
not leave her waiting outside My gates any longer. Step inside My daughter,
Happily ever after has not yet arrived, and this grand rescue is only the beginning. Does this orphan have the makings of a Princess inside of her? Will she become everything the Prince says she can be, and rule by His side? Or will the wicked villain continue to control her mind, her heart, and destroy her destiny?
As you travel throughout this story, you'll uncover the hidden Secrets of Royalty and rediscover what it truly means for you to be a Chosen Daughter of the Most High King!
Following this epic tale is a 31 Day Devotional that will powerfully transform the way that you think about yourself, your relationship with God, and the world around you!