Being a Neighbor

Only Jesus could simplify spiritual matters in a way that anyone can understand.  He summed up the Ten Commandments into two–love God and love your neighbor (Mark 12:30, 31).  When a lawyer asked Jesus the question, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered by telling a parable about the man who was attacked on his way to Jericho by robbers and left for dead on the road.   Two men passed by, first a priest who passed by on the other side and then a Levite who looked and passed by the other side.   It’s interesting that both of these men who were associated with the priesthood did not minister to the injured man but left him there until a kind stranger stopped to help him.

Through this wonderful illustration of love and compassion, we learn that our neighbor is not only the person who lives next door or opposite but any person in need.  To be a neighbor is to care for others–show kindness and to help them in whatever way we can.  After Jesus finished telling the story, He asked the question, “So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”  The lawyer replied, “He who showed mercy on him.”  Jesus told him to go and do likewise (Luke 10:36, 37).

A neighbor is not necessarily someone of our race, culture, background or religion.  It was a Samaritan, not a Jew who stopped to help the man.  In those times, Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans (John 4:9).  To be a neighbor is not to allow our prejudices to prevent us from helping those who are different from us.

When it comes to loving your neighbor there partiality isn’t a factor.  The Samaritan didn’t see an enemy lying at the side of the road but a person who was badly in need of help.  He felt compassion for him and getting off his donkey, he went over to him and bandaged his wounds before taking him to an inn where he could recuperate.  Being a neighbor means setting aside our differences and demonstrating the love of God to others.

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right – James 2:8

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The Heart Speaks

“I sympathize with your situation but I’m afraid you don’t fit what we are looking for.  You have the qualifications but you just don’t fit what we are looking for.  I’m sorry.  I hope things work out for you.”

These words played over and over in Shannon’s mind as she walked down the sidewalk, tired from job hunting and interviews that ended the same–rejection.  What was wrong with her?  Was it her appearance, her color?  Was it her hair which was very short and natural?  She had the qualifications and when they called her for an interview, they sounded enthusiastic but when they saw her in person, the reception was lukewarm.  And the interview didn’t last long at all.  She was in and out of there in less than half-hour.

What on earth was she going to do now?  If she didn’t get a job soon, she would be evicted from her flat.  That meant she would have to move back in with her parents until she could find a job.  She didn’t relish the idea of moving back with her parents after being on her own for a while.  Sighing heavily, she decided to go to the park and sit there and try to figure out what to do.  First, she would grab a cappuccino.  Maybe she could try an employment agency.  A temporary job was better than nothing.

It was after twelve and the cafe was filling up.  As she joined the line to place her order, she felt a tap on her shoulder and turned around.  Her heart skipped a beat when she found herself staring up into the handsome face of Arran Carter, her ex-boyfriend’s uncle.

His hazel eyes were riveted to her face which he thought was exquisitely beautiful. “Hello, Shannon,” he said quietly.  Since the first time they met, he hadn’t been able to get her out of his mind.

“Hello, Mr. Carter,” she said trying to sound calm when her heart was pounding and her pulse was racing.  He had this effect on her.  After meeting him, she knew she couldn’t continue to see Hugh.  It wouldn’t have been fair to him continue their relationship when she had fallen for his uncle.

“Please call me Arran.  It’s so good to see you.  How have you been?”

“Well, I haven’t been so good,” she told him.  “I have been out of a job for about a year now and haven’t found anything as yet and time is running out.  I could lose my flat if I don’t find something soon.”

“Have you had lunch?”

She shook her head.  “No.  I just came from an interview and was going to get a cappuccino.”

“Let me buy you lunch and we can talk more.”

She smiled, grateful.  “Thank you.”  He put a hand under her elbow and led her to a table in the corner by the window.  She removed her coat to reveal a navy blue skirt suit and a white shirt.  As she sat down, she couldn’t help thinking about how she used to dress when she first attended university.

During the summer, she wore top with spaghetti straps, bulky and cheap chains and necklaces and too much makeup.  And in the winter, she wore mostly black and leather, torn jeans and impossibly high pointed toe boots.  In her senior year, she underwent a complete make-over.  Her style went from edgy to elegant so that her friends and parents were shocked and pleased at the transformation.  She wondered what Arran would have thought if he had known her then.

She studied him as his six foot two inches frame settled in the seat opposite her.  He was wearing a tan colored jacket which he removed, a black shirt and pants.  His dark hair was thick and spiky, giving him a rugged look which she found very attractive.  She wanted to reach over and ruffle it.  Realizing that she was staring, she turned and looked out of the window.

The waitress brought menus and after they browsed through them and placed their orders, he said, “You mentioned that you had an interview earlier.  I don’t imagine that it went as you’d hoped.”

She shook her head as she played with the folded napkin on the table.  “No.  They said I didn’t fit what they were looking for even I had the qualifications.”

He pursed his lips.  “That was an unethical thing to say,” he remarked tersely.  “If you have  the qualifications, they should have hired you.”

She glanced up at him.  “Perhaps, they had a problem with the way I look.”

“What ‘s wrong with the way you look?” he wondered in surprise.  You look amazing. 

“Nothing as far as I’m concerned.”

“Do you have a copy of your resume with you?”

“Yes, I do.”  She reached for her handbag and produced a copy which she gave to him.  She watched anxiously as he read it.

“May I hold on to this?” he asked.

She nodded.  Just then, the waitress brought their orders.  She toyed with her salad, wondering if he was going to give her resume to someone he knew.

“You have all the qualifications I’m looking for,” he said.  “My assistant Loretta is going on maternity leave in two weeks so I’ll be needing someone to fill her position.  How would you feel about working for me?”

She stared at him for several minutes.  “I would like that very much,” she managed to say.  “Thank you, Arran.”

“You’re welcome.”  He had done it for himself as much as he had done it for her.  Hiring her as his assistant meant that he would get to see her on a regular basis.  “I’d like you to start on Monday.”  He took out his wallet and pulled out a card which he handed to her.  It was a business card.  “When you get there, have the receptionist call me and I will come and get you.”

She put the card in her wallet, grateful to him for his kindness.  Her appetite was back and she tucked into the salad.  “I haven’t asked you how you’ve been,” she said, sounding a bit apologetic.

“I’ve been fine, thanks,” he said, studying her.  Her eyes captivated him.  “Work keeps me busy.”

She wanted to find out if he was seeing anyone but instead she asked, “Do you go out on the weekends?”

“Sometimes.  What about you?”

“Sometimes I go out but most times I stay in.”

“I ran into Hugh the other day.”

“How is he?”  She hadn’t seen him since the break-up.

“He seemed fine.  He mentioned that you broke up with him.”

“That’s true,” she acknowledged.

“Are you seeing anyone now?” he asked.  His expression was inscrutable as he watched her.

“No, I’m not seeing anyone now,” she said, looking at him.  “What about you?”

“I’m not in a relationship,” he said.  Their eyes met and held for several minutes, then he asked, “Will you have dinner with me tomorrow evening?”

She nodded.  “Yes.”  Nervousness and excitement filled her at the prospect of having dinner with him.  “My address and number are on my resume.”

He smiled.  “I know.  I’ll pick you up at seven.”

They spoke about other things and then it was time for him to head back to the office.  “Thank you so much for lunch and the job,” she said putting on her coat while he paid the bill.  “I really appreciate it.”

“It was my pleasure,” he replied.  “May I give you a ride somewhere?”

“You can give me a ride to the tube if it’s not out of your way.”

“It isn’t.”  He pulled on his jacket and they walked out of the cafe.  They walked a short distance to where his BMV was parked.  He held the door open for her and their eyes met briefly before she got in.

As she strapped herself in, she couldn’t help but marvel at how her day was turning out.  She promised herself that she would get down on her knees as soon as she got home and thank God for turning things around for her.  Arran got in beside her and soon the engine purred to life and they pulled into traffic.  It was twenty minute ride to the train station and after she climbed out of the car, she turned to him.  “Thanks again for everything.”  She held out her hand and her senses swam when she felt his fingers wrap around hers.

“Don’t mention it,” he said quietly.  “I look forward to seeing you tomorrow evening.”

“Me too.”  She was sorry when he released her hand.  She waved at him before she turned and quickly walked away.

He stood there and watched her until she disappeared into the underground before he got back into his car and drove off.

It was five minutes to seven and she was ready.  She stood in front of the full length mirror looking at herself.  The V Neck Jersey Long Sleeve Red Mini Dress accentuated her figure and complimented her coloring.  The pearl necklace and tiny pearl earrings added a touch of elegance.  Satisfied, she walked out of the room and was just getting her coat of the closet when the doorbell rang.  She glanced at the clock.  Exactly seven.  Arran was punctual.

She pulled on her coat, quickly buttoned it and grabbed her the nude handbag which perfectly matched her nude pointed toe pumps as she walked to the door.  Her heart pounding with excitement, she eagerly opened and her face broke into a big smile when she saw Arran standing there.  His hair was slicked back, giving him a polished look.  “Good evening,” she said, holding out her hand.

“Good evening,” he replied, taking her hand, his gaze never leaving her face as he raised it to his lips.

The smile faded as she felt all sorts of sensations run through her body at the feel of his warm lips against the back of her hand.  Her chest began to rise and fall quickly and her heart was beating wildly.  She found herself wondering what it would be like to feel those lips on hers.  When he released her hand, she turned and locked the door, her hand trembling slightly.  She almost dropped the key on the floor instead on in her handbag.  Her legs felt a bit wobbly as they walked to the lift.

He took her to a French restaurant where the view of the city was breathtaking and ambience was warm and cozy.  She felt shy when she saw the way he looked at her when she removed her coat.  And he looked gorgeous in the charcoal grey dress suit, matching tie and light blue shirt.

Over white non-alcoholic wine  and amazing dishes, they talked and laughed.  She learned that his father was British and his mother was French.  He had one sibling–an older sister who was Hugh’s mother.  His father died five years ago from a stroke and his mother lived with her widowed sister in Manchester.  Arran told her that he had dated on and off over the years, but nothing serious ever came of those relationships.  He loved his job and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  When he wasn’t working, he enjoyed watching sports or for long drives in the countryside.

“Perhaps you would like to come with me for a ride in the countryside tomorrow,” he said.  “We can go to Richmond Park and walk along the trails.  It’s beautiful at this time of the year.  You’ll see the deer that live there and we can have lunch afterwards at the lodge.”

“That sounds great,” she said, her eyes sparkling.  She was going to see him again tomorrow.

They spent a very pleasant evening together and when they got to her flat two hours later, they lingered outside the door, reluctant to part even though they were going to see each other the next day.

“I had a wonderful time this evening,” he said quietly, his eyes restless on her face.

“Me too.”  A pause.  “Would you like to come in and we can talk some more?”

He nodded.  “Yes, I’d like that very much.”

She unlocked the door and held it open for him to go inside and then she locked it.  After sliding of her shoes, she took his coat and went to the closet where she hung it along with hers.  “Would you like something to drink?” she asked.

He shook his head.  “No thank you.  You have nice place.”

“Thank you.”  She sat down on the sofa beside him.

“I guess Hugh has been here.”

“Yes.”  There was a long pause and then, she said, “You know he and I never—”

He stared at her.  “You mean you and he never–?”

“We kissed but that was as far as it went.  I told him that I didn’t want to have sex outside of marriage anymore.  I didn’t always feel that way.  When I was in university I was a bit wild and my first and only time was with a senior at the back of his bright yellow pick-up truck when we went on a camping trip.  I was curious and most of my friends were sleeping with their boyfriends.  I was a little tipsy and we were alone.  The others had gone skinny dipping.  I couldn’t swim so I didn’t go and he stayed with me.  We started kissing and one thing led to the other.  I felt awful the next morning and I avoided him.  We never hooked up again after that.  After that night, I promised myself that I will never sleep with a man unless I loved him.  Every time I think of that night I feel ashamed and wish it had never happened.”

Arran reached for her hand.  “We’ve all done things that we regret,” he said.  “When I was sixteen I slept with my best friend’s mother.  I met her when I went over to my friend’s house for a barbecue.  She and his father were separated at the time.  I thought she was hot and she made it clear that she liked me.  One afternoon I dropped by my friend’s house to hang out but he wasn’t there.  He went to the library to return some books.  She was alone at home and she invited me to go in.  She offered me a glass of lemonade because it was hot outside.  We sat on the sofa and talked about all sorts of things and then she leaned over and kissed me.  I was shocked and excited at the same time.  Well, one thing led to another and we ended up doing it right there on the sofa.  Afterwards, I felt awful and I left before my friend got home.  I never went back to his house.  He never found out about his mother and me.  His parents got divorced the year after and he and his mother moved to Liverpool.”

Shannon stared at his long fingers as they played with hers, hardly able to concentrate.  “I have a confession to make,” she said.  “I broke up with Hugh because of you.  When I met you I knew that I couldn’t continue to see him.  It wouldn’t have been right to be with him when you were the one I wanted to be with.”

His eyes darkened.  “This may sound corny but the moment I laid eyes on you, my heart belonged to you.”

“You know the heart speaks,” she said huskily.  “That night at the campsite it spoke to me.  It told me to get away from that campsite before I did something I would regret but I didn’t listen to it.  It told me not to date Hugh but I didn’t listen.  I listened to it when it told me to break up with Hugh because I knew I was in love with you.”

“Is your heart speaking to you now?” He asked.  She nodded. “What is it saying?”

“It’s telling me to let go of the past and all of the regrets and hold on to the love that is right here in front of me.”  She moved closer to him and groaning, he cupped her face between his hands and kissed her.  Her hands were on his thighs, her fingers digging into the material as she kissed him back.  They exchanged passionate kisses and then he was lying on his back and she was stretched out on top of him.  That night marked the beginning of the rest of their lives together.

Nothing speaks louder than your heart.  Listen to what it’s telling you – Georgia Cates

 

Sacred Vows

His strategy for forgetting Justine Samuels was to keep busy with his work as the local parish priest but his efforts failed miserably.  No matter where he was or what he was doing, he couldn’t stop thinking about her and wishing that he could see her again.  He missed her terribly.  Against his better judgment, he had continued to see her even after he realized that he was in love with her.  His excuse was that her grandmother was one of his parishioners and it was his duty to visit her especially since she was unable to attend church.

On several occasions, he visited the elderly woman and prayed for her.  Then he would spend a few minutes in the living-room talking to Justine.  It was during one of those times that she broke down and confessed that she didn’t know how much longer she could continue to care for her grandmother on her own while worrying that she could lose her job because the company might be downsizing.  Her job meant a lot to her because she was able to work from home.  She had moved into her grandmother’s cottage after the elderly woman had fallen ill.

Touched with compassion, he offered to counsel her.  They met once a week in her grandmother’s bright and airy sun room and the sessions lasted for an hour.  Sometimes he would stay afterward and have a cup of tea or he would leave immediately after.

Soon he found himself dropping by even when they didn’t have a counseling session on pretext of checking on her grandmother.  Afterwards, he would feel guilty and go to the chapel and pray for forgiveness.  Try as he did, he couldn’t stay away and during the summer when the weather was pleasant, Justine and he would sit outside in the garden while her grandmother was taking a nap in the living-room.

One afternoon, they were out in the garden, sitting on the bench, talking.  Behind them was a climbing rose bush winding its way up the side of the house to second floor window.  He got up and went over to it.  “Whenever I see a rose, I can’t help but marvel at its beauty and intricacy.  Have you ever heard the quote:  Some people complain because God put thorns on roses, while others praise Him for putting roses among thorns.

She shook her head, getting up and going over to him.  “No, I’ve never heard that quote.  Which of the two categories do you fall into?”

“The second.  I praise Him for putting roses among thorns—beauty among the ugliness that exists in this world.”

“For me, the roses represent God’s grace among the thorns which are the trials in life.”

He reached out to pluck a rose from the bush and winced when its thorn pricked him in the palm.  As he reached into his robe for his handkerchief, she took his hand in hers and gently turned it over to examine the wound.  The touch of her fingers stirred feelings in him and mortified, he pulled his hand away.  She looked startled and when she would have reached for his hand again, he stepped back, putting some distance between them.  He pressed his handkerchief into his palm.  It wasn’t bleeding much.  The wound was the size of a needle prick.  “I must be going,” he said tightly.

“But you only got here ten minutes ago,” she protested.

“Yes.  I have matters I need to attend to.”

“Will I see you again tomorrow?”

“No, Justine.  We can’t see each other anymore.”

“But why not?”

“God help me, but I love you.”

Her eyes widened.  “I love you too,” she confessed.  “I’ve wanted to tell you that for such a long time.”

He dragged his fingers through his hair in agitation.  “There’s no future for us.  I’m a Catholic priest and I adhere to the church’s teachings.  I made a vow of celibacy that celibacy so I could identify with Christ who was celibate.   In an act of sacrificial love I vowed to give myself completely to the service of God and His church.”

“But where in the Bible does it say that priests aren’t allowed to fall in love and get married?” she asked, looking confused.  “Aaron and Caiaphas were high priests and they were married.”

“A Catholic priest follows the example of Christ who is our High Priest and He wasn’t married.  His gave His life completely to serving His Father and shepherding His church.  It was Christ who said in Matthew 22:30, ‘In the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.’”

“But how do you explain what Paul said about some people forbidding others from marrying, teaching human doctrines and putting traditions above God’s Commandments?”

“Paul made it clear that being single allows a person to give his undivided attention in serving our Lord.  He recommended celibacy because he himself was celibate.”

“But wasn’t it Paul who said ‘let them marry for it is better to marry than to burn with passion’?”

“He was talking about those who can’t exercise self-control.”

“Tell me, Father Montgomery, how do I stop myself from burning with passion?”

“Marry Robert.”  Robert was a member of the church she used to attend before her grandmother became an invalid.  On a few occasions he had stopped by the house to see how she and her grandmother were doing.  “He cares for you.”

“Is that what you want?” she demanded.

His face went pale.  “It’s not a matter of what I want but what must be.”

“So, this is goodbye.  I’m never going to see you again.”  Her voice trembled and he could see the beginning of tears in her eyes.   “This is so wrong.  You and I should be together.”

“What would be wrong is for me to turn my back on my faith, my church and God because I love you,” he muttered between clenched teeth.  He reached out and his hand trembled as he touched her face.  She caught his hand and pressed her lips into the palm where the thorn had pricked him.  Groaning, he wrenched his hand away and bolted from her.  That was the last time he saw her.  He stopped visiting her and sent the Vicar in his place.

Now he was faced with a dilemma.  His love for Justine was affecting his life and his work.    He had to do something about it, but what?  He went into the chapel and spent the next few hours in prayer, pouring his heart out as he sought God’s guidance.

Where is he?  Justine wondered as she sat there in the pew, hoping to catch a glimpse of him.  He wouldn’t be pleased to see her, she knew that, but she had to come, if only to see him once more and to tell him that she had employed a live-in caregiver for her grandmother and that she had left her job for a better one.

As soon as the service was over, she went up to the Vicar.  “Excuse me, Vicar” she said.  “Where’s Father Montgomery?”

“He is no longer with the church.”

Her heart sank.  “Did he transfer to another parish?”

The vicar shook his head.  “No, he left the priesthood.”

She stared at him, in shock.  “He left the church?”

“Yes.  Everyone was shocked except me.  He had started to question the teachings of the church and his heart was no longer in what he was doing.  I suspect this had to do with a woman although he never said anything.  He was unhappy and I told him that whatever he decided to do, make sure it’s a decision he can live with.  After much prayer and fasting, he decided that the best thing for him to do is to leave the priesthood and the Church.  I wished him well.  Perhaps God will lead him in another direction where he can serve Him as faithfully as he has served him all these years.”

Justine thanked him for his time and left.  She walked out of the church in a daze.  Father Montgomery had left the Church.  Where was he?  “Oh, Lord, You know where he is.  Please lead me to him.” As she got into her car, she got a strong impression to go to the park opposite where she lived.   After she parked her car in the garage, she crossed the quiet street and went into the park.  About ten minutes later, she spotted him sitting on the bench facing the duck pond.  Heart thudding she approached him.  “Hello,” she called.

He glanced up.  “Hello,” he replied, quietly, rising to his feet.  His expression was serious as he met her gaze.  “I was coming to see you.  Your grandmother’s nurse told me where you lived.  When I got here, I decided to come to the park first.”

“I heard that you left the Church.  What should I call you now?”

“John.  You can call me John.  How have you been, Justine?  I think about you every waking moment.”

“I’ve been miserable,” she told him.  “I missed you so much.  I went to the parish today just to see you but you weren’t there and the Vicar explained what happened.  Why did you leave, John?”

“I left because I had too many questions about the church’s teachings which contradicted what was in the Bible and—because of you.  I couldn’t hide from my feelings.  It’s funny.  I believed that the robe I wore would protect me from feelings I believed that I shouldn’t be having.  I realized that underneath the robe was a man—a man who desperately loved a woman who was right when she said that it was wrong for us not to be together.  Will you forgive me for running away from a love that no sacred vows could quench?”

She nodded, reaching for his hands.  “There’s nothing to forgive.  I know that it must have been hard for you to leave an institution you have known and served for most of your life but I truly believe that God has a great plan for your life.”

He pulled her closer and bent his head so that his forehead was resting against hers.  “Yes, I believe that He does and you are a big part of that plan.”

She closed her eyes as they stood there in the sunshine, silently thanking God for granting her the desires of her heart.

 

 

 

Sources:  American Magazine; Catholic Answers; Vox; EWTN; Catholic.com; Diocese of Trenton

The Winter Coat

It was a bit mild today, compared to yesterday, he mused as he walked briskly down the sidewalk.  He was making his annual visit to the homeless youth shelter.  As he was approaching the nondescript building, he noticed a young woman sitting on the steps.  She wasn’t wearing a coat.  Instinctively, he thought of the coats he was going to donate to the shelter.  There had to be one that would fit her.

He went over to her and she watched him warily.  “Don’t be afraid,” he said.  “I won’t hurt you.  It’s cold and you’re not wearing a coat.  I’m on my way to the shelter to drop off some coats and clothes.  I think I have a coat here which I could give you. ”  He set down the bags and searched through one with the coats.  He spotted the black coat with the hood and took it out.  He handed it to her.  “Try this on,” he suggested.

At first she hesitated and then she took it from him, stood up and put it on.  It fit perfectly.  “Thank you,” she said as she pushed her cold hands deep in the pockets.

He smiled.  “You’re welcome,” he said.  Then, he held out his hand.  “I’m Jake.  What’s your name?”

She took his hand.  It felt small and cold in his.  “Daisy.”

“Daisy, could I take you to the coffee shop down the street for a hot chocolate and sandwiches?”

Again, she hesitated but he sounded so kind and she was very hungry.  She nodded and came down the steps.

“Wait here,” he said.  “I’ll just go and drop off these things and I’ll meet you back here.”  He hurried off and five minutes later he was back.  She was still there.  Relieved, he started down the sidewalk and she fell into step with him.  They didn’t speak.  There was plenty of time for that, he thought to himself.  She looked to be in her mid-twenties.  Homelessness among the youth was nothing new here in the city but it still troubled him whenever he encountered one of them in the street.

The coffee shop was buzzing as usual but they managed to find a table at the back in a corner.  He helped her off with her coat and then removed his.  It was nice and warm inside.  Daisy looked around.  He studied her.  There were so many questions he wanted to ask her but he had to go slow.  “You should try the hot chocolate topped with whipped cream,” he said, breaking the silence.  She looked at him.  What beautiful eyes she had.

“Why are you being so kind to me?” she asked.  “What’s in it for you?”

He wasn’t offended at all by her questions.  “I have no ulterior motive.  I just want to help you.  What I get out of it is knowing that I am making a difference in someone’s life.”

His answer seemed to satisfy her.  Just then the waitress came and took their orders.  As he suggested, she ordered the hot chocolate with whip cream along with a turkey sandwich.  When the hot chocolate came, she took a sip and licked her lips.  She looked over at him, her eyes shining.  He smiled.  “It’s very good, isn’t it?”

She nodded and smiled for the first time.  What a lovely smile she had.  It made his heart skip a beat.  They ate while in the background voices mingled with Christmas music.  “Do you usually donate to homeless shelters?” she asked.

“Yes.  I collect donations from my church at Christmas time and drop them off the week before Christmas Day.”

“What church do you go to?”

He told her.  “We had our Christmas concert last Saturday evening.  Afterwards, we gathered in the hall downstairs and had treats.”

“Sounds nice,” she said, a bit wistful.  “I used to go to church but stopped after I ended up on the streets.”

“Daisy, how did you end up on the streets?” he asked gently.

“I lost my job and couldn’t afford to pay my rent.”

“How long have you been homeless?”

“About three months.”

“What about family?”

“My mother died when I was ten and my father died a couple of years ago.  I don’t have any brothers or sisters.”

“Do you have other relatives you can go to for help?”

“No.”

“What about a homeless shelter?”

She shook her head at once.  “I have heard a lot of terrible things about shelters, that they are dangerous places, full of drugs and drug dealers, that people will steal your shoes, and there are bedbugs and body lice.  I would rather take my chances on the street.  I just have to find a different place each night and be careful.”

“Daisy, you can’t remain on the streets.  It’s cold and it isn’t safe.”

She shrugged.  “It’s all I have.  I have no where else to go.”

He thought about it for a moment and then he heard himself say, “You have another option.”

She stared at him.  “Another option?”

“Yes.  You can stay with me until you find a job and a flat of your own.”

“You want me to stay with you?”

“Yes.  Just until you get back on your feet.  It’s better than sleeping on the streets.”

She mulled it over.  “Are you sure?”

“Yes.  You’ll have a room all to yourself.”

She thought about it some more and then she said, “All right.”

“Good.  After we leave here, I have one more stop to make and then we go home.”  He believed that he was doing the right thing but he doubted that Siobahn would agree.  Speaking of Siobahn, she was supposed to be popping by his flat tomorrow evening.  He would definitely have to make new arrangements.

Daisy and he talked about other things.  He learned that she was twenty-four and had graduated from a two-year college with an Associate degree.  She had been working at a computer firm when she got laid off.  Job hunting had been horrendous and unsuccessful.  She soon got behind in her rent and was evicted.  During the time she was homeless, she read the job ads to see what was available.   There were charitable places where she was able to shower and get free toiletries.   “Things could have been worse, but somehow, I managed to survive.”

“I think we can thank God for that,” Jake said as he helped her on with the coat before putting his on.  “He has been watching over you all this time.”  They walked out of the warm place and into the biting cold.  The temperature seemed to have plummeted within a short space of time.  Taking her by the elbow, he hustled her to his car which was parked in the parking lot of the shelter.  He opened the door and she got in.  He slid in behind the wheel and after he started the engine, he turned on the heat.  It felt good to be in the warm car and she settled against the leather seat and gazed out of the window as they left her life on the streets behind.

He turned on the radio so that she could listen to the Christmas carols.  He stopped at the grocery store and came back with two bags which he put in the trunk.  Fifteen minutes later, they were riding up in the lift to his flat.  She took one of the bags from him so that he could unlock the door.  After she stepped inside and he locked the door, the light in the foyer was turned on.  He took the bag from her and set the bags on the ground.  He helped her off with her coat.

“Where’s the bathroom?” she asked after removing her boots.  She kept on the socks.

“Let me show you,” he offered.  He led her through the living-room and into the hallway.  He opened the second door on the left and switched on the light.  “Here you go.”

“Thank you.”  She smiled at him shyly before she went inside and closed the door behind her.

While she was in there, he hung up the coats and busied himself with going the electric fireplace going, packing away the groceries and making sure the bedroom was in order.  He was in the living-room when she joined him.  “I’m going to put up the Christmas tree now.  Would you like to help me?”

She smiled, nodding.  He went and got the boxes and he set up the tree.  It was a tall, white Christmas tree.  She stared at it because she had never seen one like it before.  It looked like its branches were covered in snow.  It was beautiful.  She helped him to string the red and silver ornaments on the tree.  Then, he reached up and stuck the star at the time.  Both of them stepped back to admire their handiwork.  “Now, for the lights.”  He switched off the foyer light and the lamp in the living-room and plugged in the tree.  It lit up and so did her face.  “Only the presents are missing,” he said.  “I will take care of that during the week.  Make yourself comfortable while I put on some music.”

She sat down on the sofa and looked around her.  It was a warm and stylishly decorated room, very masculine and very modern.  It needed a female touch.  She could imagine putting a poinsettia on top of the mantle-piece to give that area a little color and a vase of flowers on the center table.  “You have a beautiful place,” she remarked when he sat down beside her.  “It’s so warm and cozy.”

“Thank you.  It’s like a sanctuary for me.”  It felt different and nice having her there.

She seemed relaxed and began to ask him questions about himself.  They talked until it was time to go to bed.  “I put a pajama shirt on the bed for you.”

“Thank you.  I used to have my own clothes when I first went on the streets but they got stolen when I was in the shelter.  All I have are the ones I’m wearing and in my carry on bag.  They don’t smell because I went to a laundromat where homeless people get to wash their clothes for free.”

“I have a washer and dryer here which you are more than welcome to use.”

She got up from the sofa and went into the bedroom and changed into the pajama shirt.  It reached just above her knees.  She went into the bathroom to brush her teeth.  When she went to the living-room to say goodnight to him, she was surprised to see him spreading a blanket on the sofa.  She frowned.  “What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m sleeping on the sofa.”

She shook her head, protesting, “I can’t ask you to sleep on the sofa while I sleep in your room.”

He smiled.  “You didn’t ask and I insist.  You will sleep in there and I will sleep out here.  I hope you have a good night’s sleep.  Goodnight, Daisy.”

“Goodnight, Jake.”  She turned and walked back to the room, closing the door quietly behind her.

Alone, he pulled back the blanket and lay down on the sofa.  He wore a tee shirt and a pajama pants.  It felt strange sleeping out here but he didn’t mind at all.  He thought about Daisy and how thankful he was that he was able to help her.  She didn’t have to spend another night on the streets.  She had a roof over her head and a warm bed to sleep in.  Yes, God had been good to her.  He closed his eyes and thanked Him.

The next morning he woke up to the smell of breakfast and he sat up, rubbing his eyes.  He glanced at the clock over the mantle-piece.  It was half-past eight.  His guest was an early riser.  Usually, he would be in bed until ten on a Saturday morning.  He sat up and stretched.  Throwing off the blanket, he got up from the sofa.  As he was folding it up and straightening the cushions, Daisy came into the room.  She had already had a bath and was dressed.  She smiled at him.  “Good morning.  Breakfast is ready.”

“Good morning.  Did you sleep well?”

She nodded.  “I slept like a baby.  How about you?”

“I had a good sleep too.  I’ll go and take my shower now and join you.  Thanks for making breakfast.”

“It was the least I could do considering what you have done for me.”

He took up the blanket and went into the bedroom.  The bed was neatly made and the pajama shirt was folded and lying at the end.  He put the blanket away in the cupboard, got himself underwear and clothes before heading into the bathroom.  After brushing his teeth, he took a quick, hot shower.  She had just finished putting the plates on the table when he went into the dining-room.  Breakfast consisted of broccoli and cheese omelet with tea, orange juice with slices of oranges, strawberries and blueberries.  The omelet smelled and looked delicious.  He couldn’t wait to bite into it but he said a prayer first.

Over breakfast, they discussed what they were going to do during the day and decided that they would go to the shopping mall.  After breakfast, Daisy washed the dishes and then got ready to go on the road.  “Thank you for breakfast,” Jake said to her as they his place.  “I enjoyed it very much.”

She smiled.  “I’m happy you did.  While I’m staying with you, I’d like to cook for you.”

That sounded good to him.  It had been a while since a woman cooked for him.  The last one to do that was his mother when he had come down with the flu a couple of years ago.  It was really nice having breakfast with Daisy this morning.  She seemed to have settled in very nicely.  They spent the morning at the mall and then they went to an Italian restaurant for lunch.  Afterwards, they drove around the city, stopping to look at the Christmas displays in the store windows before spending a while at the skating rink to watch others skating.  The sun was setting by the time they returned to his place.  They spent the evening watching Christmas movies while eating the delicious stew chicken she made.

The following day he went to church while she remained at the apartment, making lunch and doing the laundry.  It felt good to be useful again.  When Jake got home, lunch was ready and waiting on the table for him.   During the week, while he was at work, she searched the Internet for job openings and sent in her resume which she had updated, using Jake’s address as he had advised her to do.

After applying to tons of jobs, she finally got one response.  She had an interview but didn’t want to say anything to Jake as yet.  After he left for the office on the Wednesday, she got dressed in the suit he bought for her.  She planned on paying him back for it as soon as she could.  It looked rather nice on her.  She pulled her hair back in a bun and wore no make up except lip gloss.  She called for a taxi and left, her heart racing.

The interview went very well and she was hopeful.  A week passed before she got the call informing her that she had gotten the job.  She was so excited that she couldn’t wait to tell Jake.  When she heard the key turn in the lock, she rushed to greet him, her heart racing and her eyes sparkling.  They were going to celebrate tonight with a candlelight dinner.  The door opened and she stopped short when she found herself staring at a tall, slender blonde who looked just as surprised to see her.  She went in and closed the door behind her.  She looked Daisy up and down.  “Who are you?  And what are you doing in Jake’s apartment?”

“I’m Daisy.  And Jake is letting me stay here until I can get back on my feet.  Who are you?”

“I’m Siobahn, his girlfriend.  I see he forgot to mention that to you.  How long have you been staying here?”

“A couple of weeks.  I had no place to go so Jake brought me here.”

Siobahn rolled her eyes.  “I should have known.  Do you think you are the first charity case?  I’ve warned him about taking in strays.  Why don’t you do yourself a favor and find somewhere else to stay?”

Daisy could feel the tears pricking at the backs of her eyes but she willed herself to keep them in check.  “I will pack my things and leave,” she said quietly.  She turned and went into the kitchen first to put the dinner in the oven.  She didn’t want Siobahn to see it.  She doubted that the woman knew her way about a kitchen.  It was hard to believe that Jake could be in a relationship with someone like that.  Then, she went into the bedroom and packed her things in her bag.  She found stationary in the top drawer beside the bed and wrote Jake a note which she hid in his bedroom slippers.

Siobahn was reclining on the sofa when Daisy went back into the living-room.  She got to her feet at once and followed her to the door.  “Don’t even think about coming back here again,” she told her before shutting the door in her face.  Daisy stood there for several minutes, trembling.  The tears came then.  It hurt that she wasn’t going to see Jake.  Siobahn would be waiting for him instead of her.  Turning blindly, she hurried to the elevator.  As the doors closed behind her, she felt as if they were closing a chapter in her life that she never wanted to end.

It was after seven when Jake let himself into the apartment.  He was late because he had made a stop.  He felt in breast pocket of his jacket to make sure it was there.  Tired, he removed his coat and hung it in the closet.  The light was on in the living-room and he could hear the television.  Daisy.  How he looked forward to seeing her every evening after a long and busy day at the office.  Eager to see her, he strode into the living-room, stopping short when he saw Siobahn lying on the sofa.  She sat up when she saw him.  “Hi Jake,” she said, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Where’s Daisy?” he asked.  He went into the kitchen, then the bedroom and the other rooms but there wasn’t any sign of Daisy.  He strode back into the living-room.  “Where’s Daisy?” he demanded, his face glowering.

Siobahn got up from the sofa and went over to him.  She tried to put her arms around his neck but he pushed her away.  Her expression changed.  “You mean your little stray?  I sent her packing.  She had no business being here with you.”

His hands tightened into fists as he tried to control his temper.  “I’m going to look for her and when I come back, don’t let me find you still here.”

“But, I’m your girlfriend, you should be concentrating on me instead of that—that vagabond.”

“You and I are through, Siobahn.”  He took her by the arm and escorted her to the front door.

“But—But,” she sputtered, her face red.

At the door, he let her arm go and held out his hand.  “My spare key,” he said.

She pressed it into his palm and was about to say something when he closed the door.

He leaned against the door for several minutes, his mind whirling.  Where could Daisy be?  He hurried over to the closet and grabbed his coat.  In a flash he was out of the apartment and heading down to the garage.  He drove to the place by the shelter where he first saw her but she wasn’t there. He searched all of the areas close by, including the coffee shop but no sign of her.  He spent a long time searching for her until tired and heartbroken, he returned home.

He was hungry but didn’t feel like eating.  He went into the bedroom and undressed.  He sat on the bed and pushed his feet in his bedroom slippers.  He felt something in the left slipper and took his foot out.  He picked it up and saw what looked like a piece of paper shoved in it.  He pulled it out and unfolded it.  It was a note from Daisy.  He read it, his heart thudding.

Dear Jake,

Please don’t worry about me.  I will be all right, thanks to God and thanks to you.  I have the money you have given me and the coat.  I cannot tell you how much the coat means to me.  Whenever I wear it, I think about you and how good and kind you were to me.  I will always cherish it and will never part with it.  I hope that I will see you again–just to thank you in person for opening your home to me–a stranger whom you saw and had compassion for. 

Meeting you reminded me of God’s love for me.  During the three months on the street, He kept me safe and sustained me and just when the money I had ran out, you walked into my life.  I thank God for you and I will always remember the time we have spent together.  It was hard for me to leave but it was something I believed I had to do.  Please take care of yourself.  You are wonderful man with a big and beautiful heart.  I love you.  God bless you.

Daisy

He closed his eyes.  “Oh, Daisy,” he groaned.  How he longed for her to be there with him right at that moment.  The apartment felt so empty without her.  It felt cold and dismal.  He ran trembling fingers through his hair as he tried to imagine how he was get through the next few minutes without her.  He heard the front door close.  His eyes flew open.  His first thought was that it was Siobahn but then he remembered that he had taken the key back from her.  Unless she had made a copy of the spare key…He sprang up from the bed and raced into the living-room, stopping short when he saw Daisy coming toward him.

“I had to come back,” she murmured.  “I went all the way to the subway.  I watched the trains come and go.  I had no idea where I was going and then I decided to come back.  I had to come back and tell you that I got a job.  It’s not the sort of news I wanted write in a note.  I wanted to see your face when I told you.”

He quickly closed the distance between them and she was in his arms.  “Oh, Daisy,” he moaned, his eyes darkening on her face.  “I was out of my mind with worry.”

“Did you see my note?”

“I saw it after I went looking for you.”

“Was Siobhan here when you came?”

“Yes.  She told me what happened before I threw her out.  It’s over between her and me, Daisy.”

“I’m glad to hear that.  She wasn’t right for you.”

“No, but you are, Daisy.  You belong here with me.  I love you.”

She put her arms around his neck.  “I love you too and this is where I want to be.”

“Welcome home, Daisy,”  he murmured before he kissed her.

 

Sources:  Care2; NPR; Our Everyday Life; Los Angeles Times;

Jesus’s Birth

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – Isaiah 9:6

Jesus’ birth didn’t happen exactly as one would expect.  Matthew tells us how it came about.  Mary, Jesus’ mother was a virgin.  In fact, Matthew makes a point of showing that in having Jesus, Mary was fulfilling prophecy.  “Now all this occurred to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet, saying,  “A virgin shall be with child, and will bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is interpreted, “God with us.”

Mary was engaged to a carpenter named Joseph.  It was around that time that she was found with child by the Holy Spirit.  Matthew doesn’t go into the details as to how her pregnancy came about but Luke does.  The angel Gabriel visited her to tell her that she was highly favored and blessed among women.  She was told that she would have a Son and call His name Jesus.  He explained how this would happen seeing that she was still a virgin.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35).

It is not a surprising  thing for the Holy Spirit to create life in Mary.  He was part of the creation of the world where things that didn’t exist came into existence.  Jesus’ birth was to be different from the rest of humanity’s.  He was to be both Divine and Human and this could only be accomplished the way Gabriel explained.

At the risk of ruining her reputation and even her life, Mary agreed to the Lord’s plan for her life.  In those days, if a woman betrothed to another  man was discovered to be pregnant and the child was not the man’s whom she is promised to in marriage, she could be stoned to death for committing adultery.  And this is what was weighing on Joseph’s mind when he found out that Mary was pregnant and knew that it wasn’t his child.

Joseph was a decent man.  He didn’t want to publicly expose Mary but he couldn’t go through with their impending marriage.  He had to break things off quietly.  No doubt his sleep was fitful and it was while he was thinking this predicament, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for He who is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”

What a relief that must have been for Joseph.  Mary hadn’t two-timed him and he could go ahead and marry her as he had planned.  When he woke up, he did as the angel told him and he took Mary to be his wife.  And he named her Son, Jesus.

God knew exactly what He was doing when He chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus and Joseph to be her husband.  He knew that everything would work out as it should.  Mary trusted God when she accepted His will for her life and as a result she was blessed with Jesus who would her Savior and the world’s.

Sources:  Matthew 1; Luke 1

Jesus’ Family Tree

Knowing where you come from is very important.  Nowadays, there are ways that you can find out about your ancestry.  In some cultures, including Jesus’, genealogies are very important.   Matthew begins Jesus’ genealogy with these words, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

Why does Matthew begin the family tree with King David and Abraham?  Well, he wanted show that Israel’s hope had been fulfilled in the coming of Christ.  The promise of Abraham “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3) is fulfilled in Jesus as the Saviour of the world.”  As the Son of David and his direct descendant, Jesus is qualified to be Israel’s King.  The birth of Jesus showed that God had fulfilled His promises to Abraham and David.

It was unusual to include women in genealogies but four are mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy.  Tamar who had children with Judah, her father-in-law because he wronged her; Rahab, a Jericho prostitute who helped two Jewish spies; Ruth, a Moabite woman who made God her God because of he mother-in-law, a Jewish widow and Bathsheba, King Solomon’s mother.  Bathsheba is the only one of the four women who is not mentioned by name.  She is called the wife of Uriah, the Hittite.  King David had committed adultery with her while Uriah was away fighting for king and country.

These four women are not type of women you would expect to find in the genealogy of the Son of God.  It just goes to show that these women like all sinners can be redeemed by God and used to accomplish His will.  It is clear that we are precious to God and therefore, despite our sinful nature, are valuable to Him.

Sources:  Matthew 1; Zondervan Handbook to the Bible

The Plane Ride

He sat there on the plane, the open magazine on his lap, his head resting against the back of the seat and his face turned towards the window, watching the clouds and knowing that the distance between Natalie and him was getting wider.  He closed his eyes in despair.  Walking away from her was the most painful and hardest thing he had ever done in his life but things couldn’t continue as they were.  He had to end their relationship.

After a night of torrid lovemaking, he woke up very early the next day and quickly got dressed while she was still sleeping.  He wrote a note for her and left it propped up against the lamp on the bedside table next to her.  He stood for several minutes staring down at her, longing to bend down and kiss her bare shoulder but was afraid that he would wake her.

He tiptoed to the door and slowly opened it.  He stepped into the hall and closed the door behind him.  The place was silent except for the clock ticking and the sound of his heavy breathing as he fought the temptation to turn around and climb back into bed with her.  Once he was outside of the flat, he released a shaky breath and hastily headed for the lift.  In his car, he told himself that he was doing the right thing even though his heart felt heavy.  He went home, packed his bags and booked the next available flight out of Detroit and heading to London.  It was an impromptu vacation.  He couldn’t be in Detroit right then or his resolve would crumble.  He hoped that the distance would somehow ease the pain and that being with his family would help as well.

So, here he was on the plane heading for London.  He wondered if she had read the note and how she was taking the news.  He remembered every word he had written.

Dear Natalie,

I never imagined that I would fall in love again but I have.  I knew that I loved you the first time we met.  I tried to fight it not because I found out that you’re Darnell’s sister.  I forgave Darnell for being responsible for Jody’s death.  It wasn’t easy because it was his reckless driving which resulted in her death but God helped me to get over the bitterness I was feeling toward your brother and to come to the place where I could not only find it in my heart to forgive him but to share His love with him.  

My healing came from talking to Darnell about God and sharing the Bible with him and as I watched him accept God’s love and forgiveness, it brought a peace to my heart which I hadn’t felt in a long time.  Visiting Darnell was a much of a blessing for me as it was for him.  Then, I met you. 

When you walked into the room, my heart stopped.  I couldn’t believe that another woman could have such an effect on me.  I felt as if I was being unfaithful to Jody’s memory.  Jody was my best friend before she became my wife.  We had known each other since college but didn’t start dating until years later when we were in our thirties.  Two years after we started dating, we got married.  We were married for two and a half years when she died.   I had lost my wife and my best friend.  We had planned to have children but that dream died with Jody.

Falling in love again was not something I imagined would happen and when it did, I tried to fight it.  You stirred in me feelings and passions that I have never experienced in my life–not even with Jody and that scared me.  I wanted you so much that it was all I could think about.  And when I realized that you were attracted to me too, it was only a matter of time before we became lovers.  

Loving you has consumed me to the point where I have turned my back on what I know to be right and acceptable in God’s sight.  As a man of faith, I can’t continue to be in a relationship with a woman I am not married to.  It goes against what I believe.  I have to choose between my love for you and my faith.  It pains me to do this but I must choose my faith.  By the time you read this letter, I will be out of the country.  

We cannot attempt to see each other anymore.  Please believe me when I say that I love you and will always love you.   Sometimes doing the right thing hurts but in the end, we have to be able to live with ourselves.

Andrew

“Oh, Natalie,” he moaned under his breath, aching for her.   Life without her was going to be unbearable.

Natalie read the note again, the tears streaming down her face.   She hadn’t seen this coming.  She thought they were happy but when she read the note, she realized that how hard it was for him to go against his religious convictions.  She herself came from a Christian family and had been taught that sex outside of marriage was wrong.  She had drifted from her faith, not going to church as often as she should.  Her makeup and choice in clothes were evidence that she was not as devout when it came to religion as the rest of her family but after meeting Andrew, those things had changed.  She had stopped wearing the makeup and had opted for the more natural look and her wardrobe had changed too.  And she had begun to read her Bible more lately.  She even began going back to church and then this morning she found this note.

Thankfully, it was a Sunday morning and she didn’t have to worry about going to work.  There was no way that she would have been able to function.  Heartbroken and depressed she didn’t even feel like getting out of bed.

When Andrew got to Heathrow, his brother was waiting for him.  He went up to him and after hugging him, said to him, “I know that this is going to sound crazy, but I must return to Detroit.  There’s a woman there whom I am going to ask to marry me.”

Stuart stared at him.  “Are you serious?  You just got here and now you’re going to leave?”

“Yes!  I’m been an utter fool.  I can’t believe that I didn’t think of this before.  I walked out of her life when I could have asked her to marry me.”

“Does she love you?”

“Yes and I love her.”

“Then, go to her.  I’ll explain everything to the folks.  I’m happy that you have found someone after losing Jody.  I wish you all the best, Andy.”

“Thanks, Stuart.”  They hugged again and then Stuart left.

Andrew found his way to the departure terminal where he booked the next available flight to Detroit.

The following evening, Natalie was sitting on the sofa, despondent when the doorbell rang.  She was not in the mood for seeing anyone but she got and went to answer the door.  Her eyes widened when she saw Andrew standing there.  Opening the door at once, she exclaimed, “What are you doing here?”

“Where’s the note I wrote you?” he asked as he stepped inside the foyer.

She closed and locked the door behind him before she reached into the pocket of her dressing-gown and handed the note to him.  He tore it up.  “Why did you do that?” she asked, bewildered.

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” he told her.  “I was a fool to write it in the first place and I was a bigger fool for walking out of your life.  I love you, Natalie and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.  Marry me.”

She gaped at him.  “Marry you?” she repeated, her heart thudding.  He looked dead serious.

“Yes.  Let’s get married on Saturday.  We’ll go and get the ring today.”

Her mind was spinning at this turn of events.  Just a few moments ago, she felt as if her world had been pulled out from under her and here, she was on the verge of being blissfully happy.  “Are you sure?” she asked.

“Yes, I’ve never been surer of anything in my life.  Today we get engaged and on Saturday we get married.  In between that time, you and I have to abstain.  We will not make love until we are on our honeymoon.”

Her heart bursting, she put her arms around his neck.  “I love you, Andrew Clarke and I will marry you.”

His arms slipped around her waist and he held her tightly against him, his eyes darkening on her upturned face.  “I’m sorry it had to take a plane ride to London to make me realize that marrying you is the right and best thing to do.”

She smiled.  “And this is a decision that we can both live with.”