Ronald A. Phernetton

While God, in His wisdom, never saw fit to allow me to have children, I seem to have spent most of my life with them, maybe because, even at 73, I have never grown up.  These children have been associated with church groups, school groups, classes, clubs, programs, parties, organized camps, unorganized camps, wilderness camp-outs, canoe trips and overnight trail hikes, including thirteen four-day trips along the Appalachian Trail.  I would like to take credit for having had the opportunity to influence many children; however, it would be more accurate to say that I have learned more from them.  There have been boys and girls — but mostly boys.  Ages have ranged fairly evenly from about three to twenty or so — but the ones who have taught me the most seem to be centered around the age of twelve.  Probably because I vividly remember the fears, challenges, uncertainties and desires I experienced when I was twelve.  I also remember the prideful images of how I wanted others to view this twelve-year-old boy as he tried to fight his way out of the little kid bubble.

I remember one four-day trail trip during the early seventies.  Five or six boys and I were following a section of the Appalachian Trail.  Back then I used to ask the Lord to give us the challenges, problems and hardships we needed to learn to trust Him, to know that He would take care of us, and help us strengthen our faith.  I have since learned that God knows better than I do what we need.  Nevertheless, He always answered our prayers and gave us some pretty good problems.

Our group was poor; we didn’t have any of those nice, colorful, nylon tents.  We built a huge shelter out of black plastic, using wads of leaves in the plastic with string wrapped around for anchor points, so we could tie parts of the tent to whatever was handy.  (It works better than you can imagine.)

One night we were still a long way from our camping spot and it was getting late.  What’s more, there was a storm brewing; a big one.  We hurried to our proposed campsite and set up our tent, fighting the gusts that we knew preceded the storm.  Our supper packs took a long time to prepare, so we decided to use one of our lunch packs instead.  We got all of our gear into the tent, rolled out sleeping bags, fixed a very abbreviated supper and had our evening devotions, all by flashlight.  Then we got into our sleeping bags to weather out the storm.  All the while the wind was threatening to tear away our tent.  Lightning flashes would reveal tiny holes in the plastic.  When the rain came hard, a fine spray would settle down over us.  I instructed the boys to pray, starting with the other end of the tent.

One by one they began praying, each in his turn, asking God to help us through the storm.  Meanwhile, I was racking my brain, trying to decide what I should ask God; maybe even trying to apologize to the boys for God getting us get caught in such a storm.

In the middle of the tent this twelve-year-old boy, Billy, prayed like he knew what he was praying for.  He began by explaining why we were there, and what we hoped to accomplish.  He told God all the reasons the storm needed to stop.  He didn’t beg for mercy.  He just asked God to “PLEASE STOP THIS STORM, AND YOU NEED TO STOP IT RIGHT NOW!”

Guess what happened!

Some would say “Shame!  You can’t bargain with God, demanding favors and miracles.”  But I knew, that Billy knew that God knew what we needed and what would happen to us if the storm continued.  I’m sure God was satisfied to have Billy explain to us, via his prayer, why he knew God was going to answer his prayer.

A coincidence?  Maybe.  But there have been so many times.  Children in their early teens, or tweens, as we now call them, particularly those who have really experienced the joy and power of having Christ in their life, have stood out in my life above many adults, mature Christians and even deacons.  Why?  Maybe because they are old enough to think for themselves, young enough to have the child-like faith God desires, and not old enough to think they have to make excuses for God not answering prayers when the real reason is our lack of faith.

The primary characters in this story are two boys, the same two boys featured in THE ROCK.  These boys represent little bits and pieces of scores of kids I have come to know throughout my life.  The time is Christmas week, 1977.  Both boys happen to be twelve, one just beginning, and one just finishing his journey through the most wonderful and the most fearful year of his life.

A twelve-year-old boy is a riddle — to himself and to his parents, teachers, counselors, etc.  He isn’t a little kid, but he isn’t a big kid either.  He is a mixture; partly quite adult; partly big kid; partly just beyond the toddler stage.  What’s more, the same part may flip-flop back and forth between adulthood and childhood.  One moment he is speaking and conducting himself with an air of confidence and authority; the next moment he is cuddled up in his daddy’s lap.  This age has advantages too.  The twelve-year-old can run with the big kids at times and even take part in adult activities, but it is still okay to play with the little kids.

He experiences some serious conflicts, however, when he feels he must bear, on his own shoulders, the weight of all his problems, worries and concerns, when he really wants to share his burdens with those he can trust.  He often feels that a childlike faith is not an adult or mature characteristic, when we all know that a childlike faith is not wrong, even for adults.

This story centers on the problem of worthiness as seen from different aspects, worldly as well as spiritual, not the least important how the twelve-year-old sees himself — self worth.  Twelve-year- old girls may have similar problems involving self worth.  The problem is most serious for a boy, however, because he is a boy on his way toward being a man and is expected to be tough, macho and fearless; “a man.”  In reality we know that he is usually about two years behind his female counterpart in all respects: physical size, sexual and emotional maturity.  The girls in his grade do most things, even boy things, better than he does.  Yet he vainly suppresses his feelings and emotions to try to prove himself “a man.”   In another year, or two – or three, the testosterone surging through his veins will propel him through this stage, and he will become much more dominant, even among the girls of his age.

One embarrassing problem for the twelve-year-old is that, just at the time he is trying to make his mind and emotions conform to what he perceives to be mature, or grown up, or at least growing up, some of his body parts insist on lagging behind. Sometimes the fear associated with some of these problems is really the greatest problem.

This story hits upon some very personal and sensitive fears and problems that torment Dennis.

Dennis, the older of the boys.  Throughout “THE ROCK,” Dennis was always the perfect kid, doing just the right things no matter what happened.  Most adults observing this child would consider him “the perfect little gentleman,” but this was not the case.  His pride and ego were fed and reinforced by ministering to the needs of the younger, very dependent, neighbor boy who suffered from a myriad of physical and emotional problems.

Everyone wants to be needed, but the need to be needed was so intense within Dennis that when his friend began to grow out of his problems, coupled by their separation by several hundred miles, his life became very empty.  His very reason for living had been taken away.  Several months went by before the two boys were to meet again.  By this time the paranoia worms had so eaten away at his soul, that the little friend he used to care for had become a monster in his mind.  The boy’s adventures throughout this story, along with the discovery of a new friend, led him to find the real solution to his problems.

Many problems are just challenges that have to be overcome.  Unfortunately, society dictates that it is okay to have certain problems.  It is all right for others to know about them and help abounds; but other problems are covered with shame and disgrace, and one is expected to deal with them in secret, lest anyone find out.  It is hoped that the very mention of the problems the characters in this story experienced will help someone, young or adult, realize that it’s okay to have problems.  It is how we deal with them that is important.

It is clear in this story that Jimmy-Luke is the one who has the most serious problems, but because he doesn’t hide them, and trusts those who are willing to help, he is the happier of the two.  Jimmy-Luke trusts his best friends to know about his troubles and is pleased if they are willing to help him.  Dennis, in contrast, tries to hide his failures and problems from his best friends because he is ashamed of them.

Many might ridicule the personalities of the characters in this story.  Jimmy-Luke has this unbelievable, lovable, childlike faith; he is so trusting and willing to place his dependence and well-being on people he loves; and he seems to be able to love just about anyone.  His faith in God and willingness to trust Him might be impossible to believe.

Jimmy-Luke might be impossible to believe.  After all, I created him, and I made him the way I wanted him.  But Dennis and all of his idiosyncrasies — every one of his strange quirks, fears, feelings and hang-ups—is real.  Dennis is real.  I know him very well.  In fact, I have known several Dennises.

So, young man, if the Dennis in this story sounds a lot like you, share your problems with someone you can trust, maybe even if you can handle them yourself.  You may end up helping someone else.  Besides, it feels good when you work together solving problems with friends.

Parents, if Dennis belongs to you, have patience with him; he is going through more than you can imagine. Praise his mature moments; don’t ridicule his childish swings.  Remember, this is also one of his best years.  Enjoy and cherish these times.  He is about to change – and he will never be the same again.

This story is also about the McDougalls.  The McDougalls are a close, old-fashioned family with a deep, evangelical, religious faith.  The characters in WORTHY run headlong into this life-changing faith as events unfold throughout the story.

In contrast, readers will discover this story about such spiritually devout characters as the McDougalls, contains a great deal of violence.  The McDougalls live a very rewarding but difficult life and have to battle some very evil characters.  Being a Christian does not isolate one from difficulties in life.  In fact, God sometimes allows a Christian to experience challenges that test anyone’s faith to the limit.