My name is Natara, and I am a strong, faithful woman from an ancient American civilization. We lived before the coming of Jesus. I tell you my story to help you understand the deception of the adversary and how easy it is to become ensnared in his lair. I hope to show how the grace, mercy, and redeeming power of Jesus Christ can reach even the vilest of sinners, as I once was.
I was the oldest of six children. I had two younger sisters and three younger brothers. At the beginning of my story, I was sixteen years old, Hurin was thirteen months younger than I, Mate was ten, Nalaia seven, Nipten four, and Patal two. My parents, Samuel and Natania, were strong and faithful in their beliefs of Jesus and knew of and prepared for his coming. They were some of the most faithful people I knew, which was unusual during the time I lived since most of the people around us increasingly became more and more wicked. We struggled to stay strong, courageous, and righteous with so much wickedness abounding throughout the land.
We lived in a small village called Luten, which was about a two to three days’ journey from Dracova, where King Heth lived.
My parents deeply loved their children. We knew they loved us and we felt fortunate because some of our friends came from homes where they were not loved. They often requested to come to our house because of the love and peace they felt there. My parents accepted them and loved them but sometimes worried because of the possible negative influence they could have on us.
We read the scriptures together every day. If any of our friends were in our house when we read, we invited them to read with us. After reading, we always knelt in family prayer. We took turns praying, but I especially loved to hear my father pray. He prayed as if God were in the room with us and seemed to talk directly to him. His prayers were not long—just heartfelt and sincere—and he almost always paused a moment before ending his prayers, listening for an answer. Many times, he told us the inspirations he received. Miraculous answers came, directions and inspiration flowed freely. After our prayer, we came together for a big group hug. Father sometimes wrestled us, gave us rides on his back, played with us, and made us laugh. It was a joyous time and we loved being together. We felt like our home was a place of safety and peace in the midst of tribulation.
My father was not one of the prophets, but he could have been because of the strong connection he shared with God. He was one of the leaders in our synagogue. Because of that, he met with many of the prophets often, including his father—my grandfather. He loved to learn from them and felt grateful they respected him and the revelations he received. After spending time with the prophets, he shared many of their teachings with us. These were some of my favorite times; I loved learning what the prophets taught, especially during this time of growing wickedness.
My mother also had a strong connection to God. She carried a peace and calmness about her I did not see from any other woman; she also received direct inspiration and revelation from God. I learned much from watching my parents work together in equality. My father highly respected my mother and regarded her opinions and revelations seriously. He adored my mother and always treated her with the highest admiration and regard. I say that because we lived in an era when men abased and belittled women, treating them like objects to fulfill their lustful desires.
We lived close to my mother’s sister’s family, Jadira and her husband Arvid. They had four children, two girls and two boys. The oldest son, Kaleb, was almost one year older than I and was one of my best friends growing up. Our families enjoyed spending time together; love was imparted in abundance from both sets of parents. We stayed strong and faithful in our belief of the coming of Jesus.
I was always an exceptionally beautiful girl. I had long, golden-colored, wavy hair that all my friends envied. Both of my parents had light brown hair, but mine was lighter than anyone in our village or in the settlements around us. I had bright, deep-blue eyes and fair skin. As I developed from a girl’s body to that of a woman, I was envied by all the women since I was blessed with a perfectly shaped body and I was taller than most others. Not only did my hair color capture attention, but because of my physical beauty, men and boys of all ages stared at me. Because I felt extremely uncomfortable with so many men staring at me, I wore loose clothes that did not draw attention to my body. I loved being outside and still loved to run around outside and play with both girls and boys. I also enjoyed weaving, a skill my mother taught me. I wove beautiful linen and wool fabrics and even made clothes from the fabrics I wove.
During my sixteenth year, political pressures against my parents, especially my father, became great and almost unbearable. My father was a skilled carpenter and made beautiful wooden furniture. My mother was a highly skilled weaver, and her limited works were in great demand. Their products attracted many people all over the land who wanted their goods, but because they still believed in Jesus and would not join some of the groups promoting evil, they lost a significant amount of business. We always had enough to eat, but circumstances changed from being able to purchase just about anything from the marketplace to where we needed to be careful with what we spent. Our meals became more and more meager, but because of our animals and garden, my mother did her best to make delicious meals for us and we never felt deprived.
One day, my father came home and immediately grabbed Patal and held him close. He whispered something to my mother. I did not hear it, but when he whispered to her, she cried out in anguish, like a mother who just lost a child. I do not think I had ever seen my mother cry with so much anguish before. I had comforted my mother on several occasions when she went through extended periods of intense depression, but this was different, more intense. When she was in her sixth year, she had witnessed a tragic accident that had killed her mother. Her sister, Jadira, had just been a baby. Her father had died when she was about thirteen from a devasting illness. She had also lost two brothers in accidents she had witnessed, leaving her and Jadira as the only living members in her family. Because of these traumatic experiences, my mother was prone to deep and long-lasting sadness.
“What’s going on?” I asked, panic and distress palpable in my voice. My other siblings ran over to my parents to see what was happening.
“We need to kneel down in prayer,” my father insisted, his voice breaking and tears falling down his cheeks.
Now I was really panicked. I had never seen my father cry like this before. Tears gathered in my eyes and spilled over, running down my cheeks. My siblings also looked panicked and my four-year-old brother, Nipten, started crying out loud, not knowing what to think while watching our parents cry tears of sorrow.
I held Nipten while we knelt down right then and there and carefully listened to our father offer one of the most heartfelt and sincere prayers to God I had ever heard him pray. He prayed for Patal’s safety and for the safety of our entire family. My father spoke about evil men conspiring to silence all those who believed in Jesus and in the prophets. He prayed for inspiration and guidance to protect his family. After pausing for a few moments, he closed his prayer.
He immediately looked at my mother, who still had tears flowing down her cheeks. She nodded imperceptibly. My father looked at each of us and said, “I am going to take Patal to Grandfather Ranon and Grandmother Mika for a short time. Some bad men want to take him and sacrifice him. Grandfather and Grandmother will keep him safe.”
I screamed at the unexpected announcement. “No, you can’t take him!” I cried.
“Natara, this is the only way to keep Patal safe. Grandfather and Grandmother will take him to a secure place and watch over him until it is safe for Patal to come back home.”
“Why Patal?” I cried in disbelief. “Why do they want to take him? Why not me?”
I had a unique relationship with Patal. I had been with my mother when he was born and I thought he was the cutest baby—I had immediately fallen in love with him. My mother had become terribly sick shortly after his birth, so I became his primary caregiver for several months until my mother finally felt better. I fed him, cleaned him, was with him when he took his first steps. We possessed a strong bond that I knew existed before we came to this earth. Even before my mother fell ill, my parents noticed how Patal seemed to be drawn to me. Many times, I was the only one who could calm him. Patal was almost like my son, even though I knew he was really my baby brother. The thought of someone wanting to hurt him sickened me and brought tears to my eyes.
Father looked pained. He hesitated and then said, “Natara, I don’t know why someone wants to sacrifice Patal. I have asked that question over and over and I don’t understand it.”
Hurin questioned with intense fear and anxiety in her voice, “Are we safe? Will someone take us away?”
“I wish I had more answers. All I know is someone is threatening us by wanting to take Patal, and we need to get him to a safe and secure place,” responded my father.
“If they can’t find Patal, will they come for one of us?” Hurin asked with fear in her voice. Even though we were sisters, we looked completely different from each other. Her hair was long and dark, even darker than our parents’ hair, and her eyes were a light shade of chestnut brown. She was also beautiful and constantly had eyes turning to her and boys inquiring about her. Although she was younger than I, she possessed a maturity and common sense about her belying her age. Our entire family looked to her for peace and wisdom through adversity.
“I don’t know,” answered Father. “Our most immediate concern is to keep Patal is safe, then we’ll wait and see. We have to put our trust in God to keep us safe.”
Grandfather Ranon and Grandmother Mika were my father’s parents. Grandfather was one of the prophets, and his life had been threatened serval times for what he preached to the people. They had already prepared to leave at a moment’s notice because of continuous threats. With this new revelation, they were ready to go and take Patal with them.
My heart broke when Grandfather and Grandmother left with Patal. I cried for days and days and was utterly inconsolable. Father gave me a blessing, but I felt so far away from God. How could he take my baby brother away from me? I felt like a part of my heart was ripped away. My mother also cried for days, as one of her long-term periods of depression engulfed and overtook her.
I had heard rumors about child sacrifices, but it had never happened to anyone I knew. In fact, I started to think they were just rumors and not really happening; I could not understand why anyone would sacrifice a sweet, innocent child. Now the threat boldly and coldly infiltrated my family. How could this happen to us?
My cousin Kaleb knew of my distress and visited me often to try to console me. He reminded me of how beautiful I was and mentioned he heard other young men in the village express the desire to get to know me better. I knew Kaleb just tried to help me feel better, but unfortunately it did not work well.
* * *
A couple weeks after Patal left, I slowly walked on my favorite trail near the creek, feeling sadder than usual, when I heard Kaleb’s voice call my name. I stopped and waited for him to catch up to me and noticed a small linen-wrapped package in his hand. “Someone heard about what happened to Patal and wants to give you a gift to help cheer you. Open it.”
I took the package from his hand and opened it to find a beautiful, polished ruby in a gold mount and attached to a thin, light-brown leather strap to tie around my neck.
“Where did you get that?” I asked in astonishment while Kaleb tied the ruby necklace around my neck. It was one of the most beautiful necklaces I had ever seen and it even put a smile on my face.
“You have an admirer. He wanted me to give this gift to you.”
“Who?” I immediately asked, curiosity getting the best of me.
“I can’t tell you yet, but he wants to meet you and get to know you better.”
“You have to tell me who. I’m not going to go and meet just anyone.”
“He’s embarrassed,” Kaleb replied. “He thinks you’re one of the most beautiful girls he’s ever seen but is afraid you won’t like him.”
“Why? Does he have bumps all over his face?” I asked, smiling and almost laughing for the first time since Patal had left.
Kaleb put his arm around me and laughed. “It’s good to see you almost laugh. Actually, he’s quite handsome. I think you’ll like him.”
“Do I know him?”
“I can’t tell you that. I’ll come and get you tonight after the sun goes down and take you to him. He’s excited to be with you.”
I thought for a few moments while I took the necklace off and stared at the beautiful ruby and wondered who this person could be. I thought of all the boys I knew and could not think of anyone who would have enough money or trade value to purchase a ruby necklace. I was intrigued at the possibility of someone liking me and wanting to meet with me, but then I remembered all my parents’ warnings about meeting with boys I did not know. Something just did not feel right to me; I felt a strong uneasiness about the necklace that troubled me. I returned the necklace to Kaleb and said, “Sorry. I can’t do it. I need to know who he is. Tell him to come to my house if he really wants to meet with me.”
Kaleb reluctantly took the necklace back and insisted, “Natara, please come. You’ll like him. I promise. Having something good in your life will help take your mind off Patal. Come on, Natara.”
Kaleb was persistent, but I felt anxious again. “No, Kaleb. I need to get back home to help Mother with the evening meal.”
Kaleb walked with me to my house. “Natara, think about it. I’ll check back with you in a couple days. This person is good. Trust me. Okay?”
“I’ll think about it,” I hesitantly replied. Why did I feel so uneasy about this situation? I should be excited to have a secret admirer. Kaleb had been one of my best friends since I was a baby and I had always trusted him. Why did I feel I should not trust him now? He had always had my best interests in mind and watched over me like a big brother. He had even defended me a few months earlier when a couple of older boys had taunted me and acted like they were going to attack and defile me.
After dinner, Hurin anxiously took my arm and led me outside. “What are you doing?” I asked as she led me away from our house and to one of our favorite places to talk privately. “You gave me strange looks all through dinner.”
“I know how close you and Kaleb are, but you have to listen to me,” pled Hurin with some panic in her eyes. “I saw Kaleb talking to you and offering you something.”
“What? Were you spying on me?” I chastised in sudden and unexpected anger.
“No, I just happened to be close to where you were walking. But please listen to me. My friend, Perninah, informed me that Kaleb has been seen with Royan and others in his group.”
“No, I don’t believe it,” I answered in astonishment. “Kaleb’s good. He’s been one of my best friends since we were young—I’d know if he spent time with Royan.”
“Perninah said he sneaks out at night when his parents are asleep and meets with them. She said he’s using their mind-controlling herbs and also has a girlfriend,” confided Hurin, feeling regretful she had to be the one to inform her older sister.
“You’re wrong. I’d know if Kaleb had a girlfriend. I’m going to go and ask him about it right now and prove you wrong. I know he’s a believer and wouldn’t associate with any of the unbelievers. Especially Royan. He’s one of the worst.”
“Be careful, Natara. Their group is deceitful and I don’t want you to get hurt.”
I was incensed with Hurin’s news and knew it could not be right. I marched over to Kaleb’s house, knocked on the door, and his mother, Jadira, answered. “Hi, Natara. Come in. We’re just finishing our nightly scripture reading.”
“Thank you. I need to talk to Kaleb,” I answered, smiling at the family sitting in a circle with the opened scriptures in Arvid’s hands. Kaleb looked at me with a subtle gleam in his eyes. I hoped he did not think I was there to tell him I had changed my mind about the necklace.
After Arvid finished reading, Kaleb said their evening prayer. After the family group hug, which I was included in, Kaleb gently took my arm and told his parents, “We’re going outside for a few minutes.”
The sun was about to descend below the horizon and painted brilliant shades of orange, red, purple, and blue in the sky. We stood for a moment, looking at the magnificent sky. “Natara, are you ready to meet your admirer?”
“No. I just heard something about you, and I want you to tell me it’s not true.”
“What did you hear?” prompted Kaleb with a hint of mischievousness in his deep-blue eyes.
“I heard you’re hanging out with Royan and that you have a girlfriend. I don’t believe it and I want you to tell me you’re not hanging out with him,” I spat out in frustration.
“Who told you that?” asked Kaleb with a knowing amusement in his eyes.
“I don’t need to tell you who told me. I want to know the truth,” I challenged him, glaring into his eyes.
“Royan isn’t all bad. I don’t know how he gets his reputation, but he’s actually a nice guy. Maybe you should stop judging him and get to know him,” Kaleb said defensively, looking directly into my eyes.
I looked at Kaleb incredulously. “What? He’s not that bad? How can you say that? I hope he’s not the one who wants to get to know me.”
“No, it isn’t Royan, but really, Natara, he’s a great person,” argued Kaleb, but I was not about to believe anything he said about Royan. “You really should get to know him.”
“Kaleb, he’s despicable! He’s robbed, raped, plundered, and you say that isn’t bad? Remember the time he grabbed me with angry lust in his eyes? I had never been so afraid in my life until learning about Patel and my grandparents. What’s gotten into you?” I exploded, dreading the thought of my best friend heading down a path with the unbelievers—and not just unbelievers, but some of the worst. “Kaleb, you’re a good person. You have a great family. You read scriptures and pray with them and I just heard you say a beautiful prayer. You go to the synagogue each week. You’re a believer.”
“Natara, you may be a believer, but I haven’t believed in a long time. The stories about Jesus. That’s just the old people trying to control us. Sure, I join with my family during scriptures and prayers, and I attend the synagogue. I go through the motions because I don’t want my family to know. Natara, you can’t tell them. Promise me you won’t say anything to them.”
“I don’t know, Kaleb. I can’t believe with all that you and your family have experienced that you’ve lost your faith and belief in Jesus. You know he’s helped your family through many hard times.”
“I know that’s what you want to believe, but some of the so-called miracles we experienced were just coincidence. Natara, trust me. There isn’t a God. There is no Jesus who’s coming.”
“Kaleb! What are you saying? I heard you say yourself you knew God lived, and that wasn’t even too long ago.” Tears started to form in my eyes, concern for my beloved cousin and best friend becoming one of the unbelievers and associating with some of the worst of them. “Kaleb, please don’t go with them,” I pleaded.
“Natara, it’s okay. You’ll see. You’ll soon know for yourself that God isn’t real. The stories are all make-believe. The older people, our parents and grandparents, are controlling us and forcing us to live by their outdated commandments and rules. There’s more to life, Natara. More to experience. More to enjoy, without feeling confined and imprisoned by all the made-up rules!”
“Kaleb, I’ll always believe in God. I know he lives. I have felt him. I’ve seen him work miracles in my family,” I declared with boldness, staring Kaleb straight in the eyes. “And I know he brought your brother back to life.” Tears fell down my face as I walked away from my best friend. How could this happen to Kaleb? He was my rock. I knew he believed. What had happened? I felt so lost and confused.
Kaleb ran to me, grabbed my arm, turned me around, and passionately asked, “How could God allow Patal to be taken from you? If there really was a God, he wouldn’t have allowed Patal to be taken.”
I turned away from him and ran home, tears running down my face from the grief of the loss of my best friend. I finally slowed down to a walk and, thankfully, Kaleb did not follow me. I had to calm down before facing my family; I did not want them to know what was going on. It would break my parents’ hearts to know the truth about Kaleb. It was breaking my heart. What about his parents? They would be devastated. I needed to help Kaleb before he became even more involved with Royan and his group. I had to reawaken the belief I knew he had once had.
Hurin met me at the door, saw my face, and hugged me. “I’m sorry, Natara. I hoped it wasn’t true. Let’s go outside and talk.”
When we walked out the door, the brilliant colors from earlier had faded now that the sun was well below the horizon. We sat on a wooden bench our father had made and Hurin put her arm around me. I leaned into her for comfort and wiped the falling tears onto the back of my hand before blurting out, “I don’t understand! First they take Patal from me, and now Kaleb. I don’t know if my heart can handle this.”
“You’ll be okay. I’m here to help you through this,” Hurin comforted me, picking up a leaf from the ground and giving it to me to wipe my eyes and nose.
Mother came out and sat on the bench beside me, putting her arm around me. She looked at me and said, “I miss him too.” I knew she thought I was crying because Patal was gone; I could not tell her about Kaleb yet. Someday. I leaned into her and sobbed.
I stayed close to home for the next few days. I did not want to see Kaleb, I just wanted to be alone. I helped with chores and our animals and found some solace in weaving. I decided to weave a special and unique blanket for Patal when he came home.
* * *
One week after my talk with Kaleb, Beoman—my father’s brother—raced up to our house on his horse and, with a panicked look, quickly dismounted and ran to the door. I was outside with Nipten and fearfully asked, “What is it, Beoman?”
“Where’s your father?” he sharply asked, searching for my father.
“He’s inside. Go on in,” I nervously and fearfully replied, following him into the house.
“Samuel, where are you?”
My parents ran into the room. My father asked, “What is it?”
“Father, Mother, Patal,” wailed Beoman. “They’re dead!”
My mother collapsed into my father’s arms. Beoman grabbed me when I started to fall to the floor.
“What happened?” pleaded my father, anguish written all over his face.
Pointing to the benches and pillows in the room, Beoman said, “Sit down.”
Suddenly, my mother screamed the scream of a woman who has just learned her child is dead, loud enough so anyone close to the house would have heard her. Jadira, who happened to be outside, heard the scream and ran in. Seeing the torment on our faces, tears immediately flowed from her eyes. She went to my mother and held her close.
I wanted to get up and run, but I had to wait until I learned what had happened.
Beoman wiped his eyes with a cloth he took out of a pocket and solemnly stated, “Some men from Matin’s group found them. They defiled them, then killed them. I heard about it from someone else, so I went to their hiding place and found their bodies.”
I wailed, my mother screamed, my father cried. How could this be happening to our family? My dear Patal! I could not imagine anyone defiling him. My grandparents were good people. My grandfather was a great prophet. There was not a better man alive. How could God let this happen to my family?
Father slowly looked up to Beoman and hesitantly asked, “What about their bodies?”
Looking down and wiping away a new flood of tears, Beoman responded, “I buried what I could.”
I could not take anymore. I darted from the house, sobbing out loud. This was my brother, the one who I had raised, my joy, and now, gone. I ran down the road by my house toward the woods and the stream I loved to play in. I ran, a girl consumed with grief, my feelings utterly unbearable. It felt like my heart was going to burst in half.
When I reached the woods, I slowed down until I came to the path which led to my favorite place at the creek. I walked into the knee-high water and sat down on a rock that jetted out, letting the cool liquid flow around me. I wanted to flow with the water, give away the immense pain and grief tormenting my soul. I splashed my tear-stained face with water while my tears continued to flow.
I heard the sound of crunching leaves and looked up and saw Kaleb staring at me with concern etched into his face. He waded through the water, sat down on my rock, and put his arms around me and held me. It felt so good to feel the love and kindness of my best friend; I needed him. He was a healing balm of relief. No one else could have provided me the type of comfort Kaleb could give me. He stroked my hair and let me cry. I even felt tears come from his eyes. Kaleb was good. He had to have been mistaken about not believing in God. He was good. If he were not good, how could he comfort my broken heart?
“Natara,” he softly said, “I am so sorry. I know how much you’re hurting right now. I’ll stay with you as long as you need me.”
“Thank you, Kaleb,” I managed to whisper to him through my sobs. I splashed my face with water then looked at him, “How could anyone do that? Beoman said he buried what he could. What did they do to my Patal?”
We sat on the rock in comfortable silence for several minutes. Kaleb held me, rubbed my back, and stroked my hair while he let me cry. “We need to go back, Natara. Your family needs you and you need your family,” he consoled with sincere kindness. He stood up, smiled at me, and held out his hand for me to take and guided me to the bank of the creek. He tenderly put his arm around me while we walked on the trail toward home.
Before reaching the edge of the woods, Kylen, a young man who was just a few months older than Kaleb and someone we had played and worked with as children, walked toward us. I put my head down because I did not want anyone to see my face, especially Kylen. I had liked Kylen since I was a young girl, until I recently learned he might not be a believer anymore.
Kylen had shoulder-length light-brown hair with deep-blue eyes. He was taller than most men and, like me, was revered for his practically perfect body. Even at his young age, he already had a successful wood-working business, learning from his father who was a master craftsman. Almost all the girls in the village and surrounding villages wanted to be with him and get to know him.
His father, Noah, whom Kylen looked almost exactly like, was the leader of our village synagogue. His wife, Miriam, was a strikingly beautiful woman, well-known for her herbal healing remedies and her cooking abilities. I had spent a lot of time at Kylen’s house throughout the years, and he had spent a lot of time at my house. Our families were good friends, and we did many activities together. Although Noah and Miriam were slightly older than my parents, they carried a youthfulness about them and looked much younger than their actual years.
After my grandparents left with Patal, Noah had come to our home often. Sometimes Miriam would join him, bringing food and calming herbs to us, which we really appreciated. I was grateful for the food, since much of the cooking responsibility fell upon me because of my mother’s depression. However, Noah always seemed to look intensely at me, almost like he had lust in his eyes, which made me feel extremely uncomfortable. He had done this throughout my life, but recently it seemed more intense than before. I hoped that it was only my imagination, since he was our synagogue leader, until Hurin informed me she also noticed it. I determined to stay far away from him, but I found he came over often to see how we were doing. I attempted to avoid his visits unless Kylen was with him.
“What’s happening?” Kylen inquired, looking at me, then at Kaleb.
“Natara’s brother and grandparents were killed,” Kaleb replied matter-of-factly, dropping his arm from around my back to give Kylen a hug of greeting.
“I am so sorry, Natara.” Kylen immediately hugged me and held me close, my tears falling into his tunic. If I were not so consumed with grief, and if Kylen were still a believer, I may have really enjoyed the hug.
“We’re headed back to Natara’s house,” Kaleb explained, putting his arm back around me.
“Can I walk you back, Natara?” Kylen gently asked, wiping away tears falling from my eyes.
Kaleb answered for me, “Please do. I need to stop by my house.”
I felt embarrassed as I continued to cry with paralyzing grief and pain in my heart. I gave Kaleb a look that asked, “what are you doing?” He responded, “I’ll be at your home shortly. Kylen will walk you home.” Kylen put his strong arm around me and silently escorted me back to my house.
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