---Chapter One: Pencil Notes---

February 17th, 2008

What a simple joy it is to hold a pencil in my hand again! I can't believe the Askarich gave it to me, though I know it's the Lord's blessing at a time when I'd surely go crazy without it. It's incredible what living behind concrete walls can do to a person. I've often thought it a crueler punishment than death, cleverly designed to chip away at a person's sanity until there's nothing left. Confinement seems such an innocent thing, but in the lonely hours of night I've had such dark, sinister thoughts as I never could have believed myself capable of.

It's the cold that does me in, though. So cold. My hands are stiff and throbbing. I can hardly hold this pencil as I write. They give me no blankets, no kerosene heaters. Just a bed of straw and scraps of cardboard boxes that have drawings of dynamite on the outside. I wonder sometimes what they use the dynamite for. My socks have holes in them and my feet suffer the brunt of the cold, but thankfully I've got plenty of hair on my head. You'd probably cringe if you saw it, but it serves me well. It's so strange…sometimes I feel like I'm living in another universe, one where I can endure things I never could have endured before. If I keep telling myself I'm not cold, sooner or later I really believe it.

Every day is the same. Monotonous, lonely, full of fear and uncertainty. At night I pour out my soul to God in prayer, knowing He hears me but not knowing why He doesn't answer. In the morning I can hardly bear to open my eyes, even as part of me hopes that when I do I'll find myself far, far away from this terrible reality. But then I see the white-washed walls and breathe in the frosty air and feel my aching toes, and I wonder for the thousandth time what God is doing.

I wish I could be stronger. I struggle heart, soul, and strength to persevere through the loneliness and pain. Some days God feels so far away, and even His sweetest promises are bitter to me. I fight for joy. I fight for faith. I fight to lay hold of the unfailing endurance of Christ, the One who endured all things for me, even the brutality of the cross. But truth be told, I'd much rather give up. I'd much rather leave this world and simply be with Him.

We all have to carry our cross. Jesus said if we don't take up our cross and follow Him, we aren't worthy of Him. I don't feel worthy of Him. I know I don't carry my cross as I should. The selfish places of my heart come out of nowhere, festering and choking me. My sinful heart makes me sick. I ought to lay all my desires at His feet and submit wholly to His purpose – but I keep thinking how unfair it all seems. How not one good thing I asked the Lord for has come true. How he's denied me everything I thought He had promised to do in my life. I don't know if I heard Him wrong, or if He's simply choosing to purify me from the world. Purification is necessary, but oh, does it hurt.

Perhaps I made too much of my calling. Perhaps it was pride that made me want to see all the Shars come to faith before I died. Perhaps it was ambition that filled my mind with visions of their mass conversion, adventure and daring that made me leave my family and friends to go live among a foreign people. Selfishness that made me want to marry you. What greater way could God choose to humble me and break my heart than to confine me alone in this hell on earth and let me die a slow, meaningless, anonymous death. I don't deny that I deserve it. May God do with me what He wills, and bring me lower still.

I don't know if you'll ever read this, or if it will simply rot away undiscovered, but I feel that since God provided me with a Bible and now at last a pencil, I ought to make use of them. Maybe someday I can get this to you. But even if I can't, it's a sweet release just to express myself. It's the same kind of release I felt when the Askarich gave me my Bible back. They meant to taunt me by it, to make me feel forsaken by my God, but there could not have been a more joyous moment in my entire life than the moment I felt this book in my hands again. It is the only hope I have left. Without it I'm sure I would give up. Every time I think I can't go another day, there is a word, a phrase, a promise that leaps from these pages, and I know – even though I can't always feel – that God is with me. He will never leave me or forsake me.

Oh Ally, I think of you constantly. I have this vision of you that plays over and over in my mind. It's from the last night I saw you, when we were staying late at work, talking and praying. You were sitting there Indian-style with your hands open, your eyes softly closed, your hair falling down from that darned pony tail you always wore, a look of absolute serenity on your face. You were praying quietly, talking to no one but God, and it struck me like a ten ton truck how much I depended on you and needed you and adored you. And then I was filled with a wrenching sadness, because you suddenly seemed, like you always have, just a finger's breadth out of my reach. As if I would forever be wanting you but would never truly have you. Thinking about that moment now is the only thing that can make me cry, because I wonder if we were ever really meant to be one flesh, or if God's purpose for us was just to give us a taste of that same passion with which we ought to love Him.

But I don't resign myself to that yet. When confusion and uncertainty and despair cloud my mind, I hope. I lift my heart to God and I hope. I hope for a lot of things, but I especially hope that one day I will find you wherever you are, take you in my arms again, taste the sweetness of your lips and let everything else in life fade away. Only you can make me wish for a new morning in this wretched world, because I am not yet satisfied. I have not yet loved you enough.

I pray you will hold fast to Him. Make Him your rock, your strength, your hope. Pray this prayer: "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation." ~Isaiah 12:2

Grace and peace, my treasure,