Trial by Fire

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 6: 11-12

There were two hours left before tonight’s performance, yet anticipation and tension seemed to increase with each passing minute. Not a single person dared to sit idly. It was nearly show time! Standing lanterns ran parallel on the road leading to the big tent. Within the tent lanterns were strategically placed to provide light without endangering the performers or frightening the animals. One by one the standing lanterns were lit. The only thing left to prepare were the performers.

Everyone was in the chaotic process of going through makeup and putting on the costumes. Bodybuilders greased their muscles and placed multiple objects around the arena to lift or crush using their brute strength. After checking harnesses and stability of the ropes, the acrobats and dancers transformed using glitter and ornate face paint. Since I was in charge of costumes, I was one of the few who did not have to go through the process of changing my appearance.

It’s funny. Every performance, I always felt envious of all the performers. For once, I wanted to be in the spotlight. I craved the applause of the audience to be for me. Tonight I looked at my Lost Circus, and the whole idea of performing didn’t seem as glamorous tonight. Every week, they performed. Sure they introduced new acts and new techniques, but my family seemed to do the same thing over and over. Why? We were raised believing that money was the ultimate goal and that the adoration of the crowd was a nice bonus. I didn’t have to reach down to the letter folded in my pocket to recall the last words that my Father wrote me.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you…Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Parts of it made me feel so loved and comforted, but then other parts shook me to the core. Passing rivers? Walking through fire? Why would I willingly go to a wilderness or a desert? I am just fifteen years old. I have never been adventurous, yet the King expects me to go through all of that? Father is expecting too much from me. Surely He must be mistaken. Maybe the letter is for someone else? The doubts just kept piling, and my heart felt so unsteady.

Someone suddenly tapped my shoulder breaking me free from my musings. I nearly gasped when I saw the familiar scowl belonging to Ringmaster’s face. This was very odd. He never sought me out right before a performance!

“I know that you have really wanted to perform, so I decided tonight that you will be my assistant. You can finally prove yourself to the Lost Circus,” he said with a gleam in his eyes. My warning bells were going crazy at this point. “Umm…I really appreciate the opportunity, but I have no idea what to do as an assistant. I would be horrible! Besides, I should really stay behind the scenes just in case of wardrobe malfunction…” Ringmaster didn’t even pretend to listen. He snapped his fingers, and one of the girls started to plaster all sorts of gunk on my face. As I choked on the powder invading my nostrils and mouth, Ringmaster sidled too close for comfort and whispered in my ear, “If you don’t perform as my assistant, I will tell everyone here that you refused my wonderful offer because you think that you’re too good for this family.”

I suddenly froze with horror. My siblings already saw me as an enemy, but I couldn’t allow Ringmaster to spread any more lies. “Fine. I’ll be your assistant.” Saying the words left a sour taste in my mouth. Ringmaster smirked and handed me a hand mirror. I didn’t recognize the reflection. I felt like I was essentially wearing a mask. I wonder what Father would think? I cringed at the thought, and I suddenly felt relief for the heavy makeup. Even if He did arrive here, there’s no way He could recognize me. I would be hidden in plain sight.

Surely, Father wouldn’t want my siblings to hate me. Yeah, this can work. I’ll show them that I still love the Lost Circus, and I can convince them to seek the King. Yes, this can all work to my favor. I kept reassuring myself repeatedly even as Ringmaster conveniently procured one of his old suits for my costume. As soon as I put on the oversized jacket, it shrunk to fit me perfectly. I could hardly believe my eyes. With a final inspection in the mirror, I walked over to the big tent to watch the Lost Circus perform.

Everyone was doing their best performances. Each dancer was on beat. The acrobats looked flawless as they flipped, leaped, and flew through the air using harnesses. The people of Minera were eating it all up. As act followed after act, guilt and uneasiness began to build in my gut. Should I really go through with this? “Time for the big finale!” Ringmaster’s excitement was very clear as he grabbed my hand. Noting his firm grip, I knew it was too late to back out now.

“Ladies and gentlemen of Minera!” Ringmaster’s voice boomed across the crowd. “I am the Ringmaster, and this is my assistant Mel.” Glaring at Ringmaster, I curtsied at the applauding crowd. Ringmaster was purposefully trying to get under my skin. Well, it was certainly working.

First, Ringmaster did his typical illusions. He took a white scarf and transformed it into a white owl. I was locked up into a small box, but within seconds I reappeared sitting in the audience. I was finally beginning to relax. This isn’t so bad! Then Ringmaster looked at me like a ravenous wolf before he addressed the audience, “People of Minera, have you ever seen an obstacle course? Well, you will get to see if my assistant Mel can successfully pass through the maze. Alive.”

With a wave of his hands, Ringmaster and the entire audience disappeared. I was suddenly surrounded by walls of stone. Then I heard a distant roar. Without hesitation, I began running. I wasn’t even paying attention of which direction I was going. As soon as I looked over my shoulder, I spied a lion prowling its way closer to me. The only thing louder than the lion’s roars was the roar of the audience. I could hear their bloodlust. As I kept running, all I could think was, “Father, save me!”

I looked over the shoulder one last time, and I could see two lions now facing each other. My legs screamed at me as I tried to run faster. Right before my eyes, the walls changed from stone to tall hedges. How odd. Then I saw arrow after arrow arch over me. At first, I was incredibly relieved that none of the onslaught was anywhere near hitting me. Then I realized that I was never meant to be hit by the arrows. Hedge after hedge lit up as flames began to engulf the walls of the maze. The smoke filled my nostrils causing my eyes to tear up, but I just kept running.

It was no use. The flames completely surrounded me. I could only cough as I realized that Ringmaster just wanted to get rid of me. To the audience and probably the rest of the Lost Circus, they all probably thought this was an entertaining illusion. Ringmaster had the ability to show people only what he wanted them to see, and I followed right into his trap.

Completely at my wit’s end, I screamed, “Father, I am so sorry for listening to Ringmaster! I desperately need your help.” In the middle of the smoke, I suddenly saw a soft glowing light. As it flew closer to me, I felt like I could breathe better. The glowing light was actually a small creature almost like a fairy, and it landed on my open hands.

As soon as it touched me, the fitted jacket disappeared with the smoke. Instead, I suddenly had a protective suit covering me. My chest was covered by a padded vest covered in metal plating. A helmet sat snugly over my head, and I suddenly stopped coughing. Across my back, I could feel the weight of a sheathed sword. My left arm was covered in this web like material, but as soon as I flexed my forearm the sheath transformed into an erect shield. It was almost like a new appendage.

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one. I smiled hearing the familiar voice, and this time my heart knew what to do. I sprinted straight through the walls of fire with my left arm extended in front. Even though I was running through fire, I never got burned. Not even my hair was getting singed. Before I knew it, I escaped the confines of the maze. As soon as I did, everyone went into thunderous applause. Everyone except Ringmaster. He looked absolutely livid that I managed to survive his deathtrap. He was not expecting me to survive, let alone come out completely unscathed.

I just smiled as I made my final curtsy to the audience. As soon as the closing music began to play, I noticed the floating light and ran after it. I ran out ignoring everyone else. What was that thing? When it landed on the branch of a tree, I was finally able to take a closer look. The creature looked just like a human except that it was only four inches tall. She was absolutely beautiful! “Who are you?” I inquired.

The sprite smiled and began to speak, “My name is Grace, and I am a present from your Father.” She pointed at my armor. “The King wanted you to have this armor to protect yourself from Ringmaster. Master knew that Ringmaster was going to tempt you and try to kill you.” Grace said matter-of-factly. She suddenly quirked her head sideways as if trying to hear something. “Well, it’s time for me to go. I have other appointments. See you soon!” With a pop, Grace disappeared just as abruptly as she showed up.

My sword began to hum with an odd resonating noise. I unsheathed the sword, and its brightness could easily rival that of the sun. Then I started to make out distinct words. As I read the words aloud, the voice of the Comforter overlapped with mine until His was all I could hear. “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” As soon as I finished reading, the words disappeared, but after tonight the words would forever be etched in my heart.

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