Always With You by Elaine Stock is a story I shall not soon forget. It's the first time I recall reading a story which involved characters being deceived by someone they trusted when it came to a system of beliefs.
I understand religion is a subject of great debate and, if all of us chose to only accept our own beliefs - and challenged or discounted everyone who believed differently - then each of us could very well look upon most of the human race as being deceived.
That being said, though your god may be different than mine, is it right for me to set about having you killed because I feel you're not good enough?
Should it matter to me what colour your skin is; does the colour of your skin really influence who you are as a person - your thoughts, emotions, attributes, personality traits and so on? Just because I'm white and your skin is a different colour, does that automatically make me a better person, student, parent, pet owner and worker? No! No! And I'll say it again - no!
What matters to me is how you treat yourself and how you treat those around you. If you abuse and hurt people just because you feel they're weaker, because you feel you can get away with it, I don't care what colour your skin is; I will not like you. You could be my neighbour or from another country. I don't care. I won't like you. I won't have anything to do with you, but I would pray that your eyes would open to the abuse you inflict upon others, and I would do my best to reach out to the ones you are abusing, hoping to get them away from you. What does that tell you about me?
When Elaine Stock wrote Always With You, she had no idea of the chord her story would strike within me. It's not a cookie cutter story and it pulled at my heartstrings in ways I can't begin to describe. On more than one occasion, I felt violent thoughts, wanted to step in and take action to free these people from the deception that was taking place within their hearts and minds.
I've attended many Sunday School classes during my youth but I have never wanted to rush through the door, to get away from what the teacher was trying to explain - until I attended the Sunday School classroom as shared in this story. Like Isabelle, I couldn't get away fast enough and, had she not left early, I'm sure I would have skipped a page or two of the story if the lesson had continued.
Yes, I guarantee, someone reading this will have a different belief system than mine; in fact, many people will. I could state my beliefs here in black and white and even a person who grew up attending the same church as I did could have a slightly different belief system. Does that mean I need to push my belief system down your throat? Does it mean I should condemn you at every opportunity because you believe differently than I do? In all honesty, I would prefer that we agree to disagree and talk about any other subject that won't destroy an opportunity to become friends.
When you think about it, anything could make us different. My parenting techniques could be different than yours. My work attitude and the pride I take in my job could conflict with yours. You might look at me and judge me for the number of hours my job keeps me away from my family each week. I could look at you and wonder how you could spend so many hours in front of the television each week when you could be doing something so much more productive with your time.
What about giving to charitable organizations? We could disagree on how to help people. I may give to organizations to help people in other countries whereas you may feel charity should begin at home and tell me I'm not doing enough to help people in my own town or country.
When all is said and done, we could disagree about anything and live as enemies, but why rob ourselves of the pleasure of being friends, even partners? Couldn't we help more people with a joint effort than we can help alone with animosity residing between us?
At the end of the day, I will always have my way of doing something and you'll have yours, but we inhabit this planet together. We have to look after each other - to build each other up rather than trying to condemn and destroy one another. After all, the strongest people are those who never give up in their efforts of making the world a better place, who always see the promise that tomorrow can bring, yet know how to walk away from conflict when the need arises.
As in Always With You, some people have a different view of how the world can be made better. Some people are afraid of the various beliefs others have and feel threatened because of it. Some are intimidated by the skin colour of another person, or the music choices people have, or the places they frequent after hours. Some people are willing to kill others to make a statement, or just for fun. They will kill themselves and kill, or hurt, others - even teens and children as was the case with the recent Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.
We do have to be careful of the paths we tread, of the people we meet, of the way they may have been conditioned to believe. Hanging around with a person who believes you should be in church three times every Sunday is not likely to endanger your life. Hanging around with someone who believes other races are inferior to theirs - who hates people with a different skin colour - can hinder your life, even drag you down, even if said person never becomes a terrorist.
Furthermore, we have to be cautious and realize that our choices will have an impact upon our lives and the lives of those around us, especially innocent children who are not in a position to think, or act, for themselves. We also have to be careful when it involves people who have become vulnerable in some way. Throughout the ages, people have been known to prey upon the weak and it doesn't seem the tendency will change any time soon.
The bottom line is that appearances can be deceiving, and the world is not an ideal place to live. People are not always out to help one another; in fact, often, they have hidden agendas. As such, when our internal radar screams to get out of a situation, we must do our best to obey because it may be the only warning we'll receive.
That's what Isabelle, finally, did in Always With You. There came a point when she knew she had to get away. It didn't matter who she loved and had to leave behind. She had to think about herself and what she was able to live with, what would allow her to sleep in peace at night, regardless of the consequences she might have to face.
Elaine Stock penned a story which definitely got a reaction from this reader. It made me think and I was thankful that my life didn't resemble the lives of the characters in Always With You. The story is very sobering, very scary - and all too real - yet what fascinated me most of all was the way God whispered into Isabelle's heart and soul that He was always with her. She may have grown up in the home of Athiests yet God was still able to make His presence known, impress His convictions upon her heart and soul.
If you would like to learn more about this book or take a glance at the astounding number of reviews, please visit Always With You's page on Amazon.