Chapter 24 Fran: Trying Harder

Fran sat with her arms folded tightly over her chest. Nothing about her posture was relaxed.

“There’s really no other way,” said Sylvia as gently as she could.

“Right, I see. Well, obviously I must try harder then!”

With that, Fran stood up and walked out of the room.

Sylvia turned to Carlos and said nothing, her caring expression needed no words.

“If that’s her approach, it will only set her back. She’ll be further from Zion than ever,” sighed Carlos. “You can’t just try harder there.”

“Yes, loving others takes effort and determination, but it also needs a change of heart. It can’t just be a performance to tick the right boxes. Anyway, let’s wait and see what happens. It may be that Ruach can use Fran’s mixed motives for her good.”

“Ruach does that a lot,” Carlos agreed. “We’ve explained to Fran many times that love is the only way to Zion, so let’s hope she can begin to grasp what that means in this new situation.”


On the way back to her cottage, Fran took a moment to stand with her hands on her hips. Feeling young again was still a delight, and she regularly paused during the day to feel the power in her resurrected body. She thought about her conversation with Sylvia and Carlos and mulled over the idea of ‘love’ as she surveyed her new community. She cast her mind back to the Previous Age and remembered how she had sometimes dropped a few coins into the collections taken by the Salvation Army for their work with the homeless. They had been kindly folk in uniforms who had stood shaking a bucket in her local high street as the brass band played. That seemed to Fran like a great way to show love. Maybe she could do something similar?

Feeling pleased with her new idea, Fran returned home and sat at her table with a notepad determined to make a plan. She found it surprisingly difficult to think of many needs here on the New Earth, since there was no more death or disease, disability or depravation. But then her thoughts turned to Chesa, the Buddhist lady who collected fruit in a small wicker basket. If she had a more efficient way of transporting her foraging, maybe Chesa could start a business and trade her fruit on a much greater scale? Suddenly she pictured a wheelbarrow. Maybe someone in the village who was good at woodwork could be commissioned to make one. What a perfect solution for the Buddhist and so much better than her small basket!

For the rest of the morning, Fran was happily engrossed in making a large banner using lots of bright colours. “Wheelbarrows for Buddhists!’ it read. She could already picture herself as the centre of attention at the next weekly market, and imagining how grateful and loved Chesa would feel gave her a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

A few days later, Fran hung up her banner at the market and stood under it, excited to drum up support for her charitable endeavour. It didn’t take long for a small group of people to gather.

“What on the New Earth is this?” one laughed.

“It’s my new charity. Some of us are more caring than others,” replied Fran smugly.

“‘Wheelbarrows for Buddhists’? That’s the worst cause I’ve ever heard of in this age or the previous one! Why do Buddhists need wheelbarrows? And why should you be the one to get them for them?”

“Well, you may not have noticed, but Chesa goes out collecting fruit and she only has a basket. It takes love to notice people’s needs, I’ll have you know!”

“Ha!” scoffed another woman. “I’m going to enjoy watching this disaster unfold.”

“If you’re not interested in helping, then I suggest you move along and make room for those who understand what it means to love their neighbour,” snapped Fran.

The onlookers shook their heads and wandered away. Fran cleared her throat self-consciously and continued standing under her banner, a notebook at the ready to take down the details of anyone who wished to join her cause.

Chesa was busy swapping fruit and vegetables at various stalls and other women were helping to find and pass the items used in the exchanges. As she worked her way along the row of stalls towards where Fran was standing, she looked up and was bemused to read Fran’s banner.

Chesa calmly approached Fran, one eyebrow raised and smiling.

“Hello Fran. How are you?”

Fran grinned back. “Oh, I am just fine, thank you, Chesa. I see you have noticed my new charity?”

“Well, yes I have. Can you tell me what it’s about? I see you have mentioned Buddhists?”

“Well yes, of course. This charity is to help you!” beamed Fran.

“Well, I am touched, so tell me more about it.” 

“You only have a basket, right? Imagine how much more fruit you could collect if you had a wheelbarrow. It would make life much easier for you and you could even set up a proper business. My charity is here to help you, so don’t worry, you don’t need to do a thing. We’ll get you a wheelbarrow without you needing to give anything in exchange.”

Chesa was taken aback but managed not to show her surprise.

“Right, I see. That’s a very kind thought.”

“Oh, you’re welcome. I know that some of our technology in the West might be new to you, but in England we always use wheelbarrows for gardening and transporting all kinds of things.”

“No, it’s not new to me,” replied Chesa, unable to suppress her laughter. “I don’t mean to be rude or ungrateful, Fran, but I don’t need your help, thank you. I use a simple basket because I don’t want to take more than my fair share of what is growing on the trees as it belongs to everyone in the community. Besides, I think my next-door neighbour already has a wheelbarrow in her garden. I’m sure I could borrow it if I really needed one.”

Fran suddenly felt very foolish. With an angry red blush on her cheeks, she turned around, tore down the banner and stuffed it into her bag.

 “You should be grateful,” she muttered under her breath.

Chesa heard her and put a hand gently on Fran’s shoulder. Fran shrugged it off and stormed off home.

“Told you!” shouted one of the women who had watched the whole exchange.

Fran felt both crushed and ashamed. Slamming the door behind her, she slumped into a chair. “God, I hate it here!” she cried as the tears rolled down her cheeks.


Fran remained in an angry mood for several months. Chesa smiled and tried to make conversation whenever they met around the village, but Fran did her best to avoid everyone, feeling embarrassed and resentful at the “Wheelbarrows for Buddhists” episode.

One afternoon Fran felt so desperate that she decided to visit Sylvia.

“Is there really no way to get out of here?” she asked belligerently. “What if I just kept walking? Where would I get to?”

Sylvia looked thoughtfully at Fran’s strained and angry face before replying.

“Every person on the New Earth is assigned a place to live in each jubilee. There are no spare dwellings for you to move to. But you will be in a different community in the next jubilee period.”

Fran thought for a minute.

“The next jubilee is years away. What if I could find out where my daughter and my son are living? Could I move in with one of them?”

“That’s a lovely thought, but I don’t know if your children have been raised yet, and even if they have, there’s no way of knowing where on the New Earth they might be.”

“Well then, I’ll ask Jesus!” snapped Fran. “If he’s my personal Saviour, shouldn’t I be able to make an appointment with him?”

“I take your point,” said Sylvia, “but I’m afraid it doesn’t work quite like that. You see, Jesus has many people to care for, and he is busy welcoming more people to the New Earth and determining the populations of the next communities. But I’m sure you will see him again at some point. Jesus is just one man and can only be in one place at a time.”

“Pah! But he’s ‘God’, isn’t he?”

“Yes, but he is also a man and can’t be everywhere,” explained Sylvia gently. “But you know you can always talk to Ruach, don’t you?”

Fran suddenly became very still. A new and troubling thought had crossed her mind.

“Hang on,” she said, with trepidation in her voice. “My son and my daughter… what if they are in a place worse than here? They didn’t reckon much to churchgoing in the Previous Age, so what if they are in a proper hell? Maybe even in a lake of fire?”

Sylvia put a comforting hand on Fran’s forearm.

“No one is in a lake of fire, Fran. You’re remembering language from the Bible that was always meant to be symbolic, not literal. But it’s true that people experience fiery trials to help them mature and prepare them for life in Zion.”

“Oh yes,” sighed Fran, suddenly sounding weary and deflated. “I sometimes forget that this really is it. This is the afterlife and I am stuck here. There may not be actual flames, but ...”

“Fran, what would you say are the fiery trials you are facing at the moment?” asked Sylvia gently.

“Well, my neighbour is a real bitch and thinks she’s better than I am in every conceivable way. And that bloody Buddhist! She’s the most patronising, condescending person I’ve ever met. I hate this community. I’m bored of the food. Basically, I’m fed up with everything.”

“I see.”

Fran was annoyed by Sylvia’s seeming ambivalence.

“You just don’t care!” she muttered.

“I do care and I am listening,” said Sylvia. “I’m here with you, and you can tell me anything.”

“Well, it’s alright for you, isn’t it? You love it here!”

“You’re right, I do. I love this village and I love being with everyone here.”

“So you don’t have any of these trials you’ve been talking about?”

“I do, and I have done,” said Sylvia, in such a firm tone that Fran was a little surprised.

“So why aren’t you as pissed off as I am?”

“Honestly? I think it’s about attitude,” Sylvia replied. “I trust that all will be well. Everything that isn’t ok just hasn’t got there yet.”

Fran looked at Sylvia in disbelief.

“Oh, come on!” she groaned. “It cannot be that simple.”

“Well, I think it is. You see, I have experienced what agape love can do. I’ve seen how it heals and transforms. Trust me, I suffered in the Previous Age, and I wasn’t always like this. But I have seen how love can make everything beautiful.”

“Ok, but right now, I have all this stuff going on that is such a pain in the neck.”

“So, what can you do?” asked Sylvia.

“What can I do?”

“Yes, what can you do?”

“What can I do?” retorted Fran. “What can I do?”

It was this question that Fran continued to roll around in her mind, placing the emphasis on each word in turn, as she walked home after having vented more of her frustrations on Sylvia.

Later that evening, as Fran sat in her living room, practicing some calligraphy, it seemed to her that she somehow felt calmer and not quite so resentful. Carefully placing her ink pen in its holder, she sat back and folded her arms over her chest. It began to dawn on her that maybe she had more power to choose her attitude in life than she had previously realised. She thought back to her meeting with Jesus and all the talks she had had with Sylvia and Carlos. Maybe they weren’t just trying to coerce her into behaving a certain way but were trying to show her that she had all the means within herself to love herself and others. She began to imagine how life might be if she was no longer imprisoned within her own defensiveness and resentment.

The next morning, she felt lighter inside and realised that she didn’t want to continue avoiding people. She decided to head out in search of company and conversation.


Fran spotted Chesa in her bright orange robes on the far side of a nearby lake. She waved a few times to try and attract her attention, but she was too engrossed in picking elderflowers to notice.

Fran looked at the water. It was a warm day and it looked cool and inviting. The thought of popping up on the far shore and surprising Chesa filled her with a childlike sense of mischief. Why not? She felt a surge of exhilaration as she entered the water and felt the power of her body propelling her forwards with strong strokes. After several minutes, her feet touched the shingle of the lake bed and she strode out onto the shore.

Hearing the splashes, Chesa turned to see Fran laughing and giggling as she waded out of the water, fully clothed and dripping from head to toe.

Chesa came towards her, as surprised by Fran’s smiling face as by her watery appearance.

“You funny girl!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing?”

“Well, I saw you on the other side of the lake and wanted to say hello, but you didn’t notice me. So… here I am!” Fran laughed.

Chesa put her arm around Fran’s soaking wet shoulders. “It’s good to see you laugh and smile. Would you like to come and join me? I’m going to make elderflower cordial and we can find you some dry clothes.”

“Thank you,” Fran replied with a smile. “I’d like that.”