big ben London
2ND PLACE || 2020


by Emery Humphreys


I shouldn’t have left them. When I left home, it had been twelve months since Father died. We buried him in a small field near the house. My mother cried rivers of tears while he was sick in bed, but when he passed away, there were no more tears — only growing darkness.

It was the hardest year of my life. The task of earning money burdened me. It was never enough. Mother would scowl and say, “This is all? How in the world do you expect me to feed Bess and Henry with this?”

I no longer recognized her. It was as if she had died with my father. An ungrateful, bitter woman had replaced the kind heart I used to know.

I began to wonder why I was still trying. I couldn’t take it anymore. The unloving mother. The needy children. The hateful yelling and constant hunger. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do, but I wouldn’t stay. I didn’t deserve this.

One Saturday night, I grabbed my boots and ran out into the night. I would travel to London, as others had done. Since the great fire had destroyed most of London, the city was being rebuilt and there was no shortage of paid work. I could make a living for myself.

There was a farmer that drove his cart once a week to London to barter at the market. I begged a ride with him. The horse hooves beat rhythmically on the path, in time with the soft shrill of crickets. The trees along the river stood proudly in rows, and the stars shone brighter than ever. And even though the air was suffocating and heavy as we traveled, I felt as free as an eagle soaring high above the clouds. I hoped that feeling would last.

When we arrived two days later, I found a place to camp in the workers’ district. Most nights I would lay awake for some time, thinking of what I would do in the morning. I often thought of Bess and Henry, and Mother. I wondered what they would do without me—if they would be able to eat today. Then my stomach would sink and I would quickly push the thoughts out of my mind. There was no going back.

I walked daily to the Oxford Street pump and washed my face. Then I’d head for one of the builds around town. To my delight, I was able to earn enough money for food, and a little extra for anything else I needed. But I couldn’t enjoy it. Even months later, three faces haunted my dreams.

Morning and evening, I passed the town square where an old man always preached. He had a brown, wrinkled face and thick, gray hair. Fire shone in his eyes.

“The punishment for our sin is eternal suffering and separation from Him!”

He stood on a wooden box around which a small crowd gathered. Some would be listening intently, their eyes completely fixed on him, and some would shake their heads, scowling. Some people walked by, casting a lingering glance in his direction but then went on their way.

I was usually one of those people, but something he said that day made me pause. He read from a leather-bound book.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

But surely there was no forgiveness for what I had done, was there? I listened some more.

“Even though we are all sinners, Jesus loved us enough to take the punishment for that sin by dying willingly on a cross.”

I sat against the bakery wall. I felt a curiosity about who this Jesus was. The man continued.

“He, the God who created the world, cared enough about us to give himself up for those who didn’t love him. His mercy — his forgiveness of sins, extends even to the vilest sinner.”

This Jesus, of whom the teacher spoke, gave His life for sinners. But I had run away from what I knew needed to be done.

Tears filled my eyes. The teacher looked in my direction.

“And if we believe in him, we are saved from the eternal suffering that we all deserve, and we receive the eternal life and peace of Christ.”

Peace. I didn’t think I had ever felt peace before.

The preacher said a prayer, and when the crowd had dispersed, I approached him. We talked for hours.

I asked about sin and forgiveness. I asked if God would forgive any sin and if He still loved me if I kept sinning. All my questions were answered, and he prayed with me to thank God for my new life. The weight of guilt had completely disappeared.

Eating supper back at camp, I marveled at how God was willing to offer me forgiveness even when I’d done such a terrible thing. All I wanted to do was share my joy with my family. I wouldn’t let them fend for themselves. I would go back.

I slung my bag across my shoulder and headed for home. Maybe we would always be poor. Maybe we would go hungry. But now we would have something that was better than money — better than food.

The promise of eternal life.

Emery is a Texas homeschooler along with her four younger siblings. Her interests include volunteering at public elementary schools with CEF, art, writing, and sports. Her favorite subject is geography and she hopes to travel to many places.