From Abuse to Abundance

She sat on the porch, an open book

in her lap but she wasn’t reading it.

Her eyes were on the street.  She was

waiting for her daughter to come home

from school.  Somewhere in the back-

yard, she heard the piercing trill of a bird.

 

It was a beautiful spring afternoon.  Quite

peaceful as there was hardly any traffic or people

in the street.  This was the kind of life she

had always wanted and she thought she

would have had it with Joe…Joe.  She

hadn’t thought about him for years.

 

It seemed like a lifetime ago when she met

and fell in love with the handsome and

charming construction worker.  It was a

whirlwind romance.  Within a few weeks

of meeting they got married.  There were

no red flags–at least she didn’t see them.

Everything seemed to be going so well…

And then, the honeymoon was over.

 

First the insults came and they stung

but she put on a brave face and kept

on loving him, thinking things would

get better.  Then came the blows.

At first they were followed by tearful

apologies and gifts.  And she held him

in her bruised arms and rocked him

like a baby, believing his promises that

he would never hit her again.

 

The blows continued and more frequently.

No more tears.  No more “I’m sorry, Honey.”

Instead, she was blamed for what was

happening to her.  After a while she began to

believe that it was her fault.  Something about

her brought out the worst in him.  When they

first met and even after they got married, he

was so charming and loving.  She didn’t think

he could harm a fly.  But, underneath that boy

next door veneer, lurked an abusive and unstable

monster.

 

After years of being battered and verbally and

mentally abused, she got the courage to leave.

She went to a women’s shelter where she felt safe and

cared for.   She received the counseling and

support she so desperately needed.  No more

of looking out the window for Joe and wondering

what kind of mood he would be in.  Three months

after leaving the shelter, she learned that Joe had

died from a fall at a construction site.  The news

devastated her.  In spite of everything, she still

loved him.

 

She visited his grave and stood there, tears falling

down her cheeks, wishing with all her heart that

their life together had been different.  She never

knew why he became abusive toward her.  All

she had ever done was love him and try to be a

good wife to him.  And all she got for her trouble

were blows, bruises and belittling remarks.

 

Thirteen years have gone by since she left Joe and now

she was married again.  Bill was a terrific husband

and father to their ten year old daughter.  They

met when she started attending church.  It wasn’t a

whirlwind romance this time.  It took a while for her

to open herself and her heart to someone else.  The

physical scars had healed but the emotional scars were

still there.  She marveled at Bill’s patience.  Other men

would have given up.  When she broached this with

him, he said simply, “Love is patient.  I’m not going

anywhere.”

 

It was one rainy afternoon when she was walking home

from the subway and saw him coming toward her with

an umbrella that she realized that she was in love with

him.  She married him a week later in a simple ceremony.

And now, she sat in the shade on the porch of their home,

looking out for their daughter, Annie.

 

Being married to Bill made her face up to the glaring truth

that Joe didn’t really love her.  If he had, he wouldn’t have

hurt her.  Love doesn’t batter, belittle or blame.  She had

forgiven Joe and wanted to believe that if he were still alive,

he would have sought help.

 

She saw a familiar figure coming up the street and

she stood up, smiling.  God had brought her from

a dark and painful past to this moment.  During one

of those moments when she wondered if she ever feel

safe or happy again that He assured her, “There is hope

in your future.”  Yes, from where she stood, that hope

was the life she was now enjoying.  God had brought

her from abuse to abundance.

 

 

Sources: YMCA; Domestic Shelter

Advertisements

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 Christmas Present

It was Christmas Day and she was sitting by the tree, going through the presents.  There were several–from family, friends, co-workers and…Kevin.  Kevin.  He was her brother in-law’s youngest brother and eleven years younger than her yet she felt like a lovesick schoolgirl whenever she was around him.  Every year they exchanged Christmas presents.  His were always so creative and unique.  She loved them.  Last year he had given her a box of chocolate soaps which she truly enjoyed.  She couldn’t wait to see what he got for her this year.

She reached for the neatly wrapped present, read the card which said, “Having you in my life has given me a reason to celebrate every day.  Merry Christmas.”  What a lovely sentiment.  Setting the card aside, she eagerly unwrapped the present, anxious to see what was inside.  There was a little box inside and she opened it.  Her eyes widened when she saw the sterling silver heart necklace.  She examined the heart closely.  On it were written the words, “Be Mine”.

Her heart was pounding now.  There was no mistaking what this meant.  She had seen those words on dozens of Valentine’s cards.  It was something a person would say to the one they loved.   Was Kevin telling her that he loved her and wanted to be with her?  She sincerely hoped so because she felt the same way.  Yes, in spite of their age difference, she was in love with Kevin.  She held the heart in her hand and stared at it, thinking it was the most precious present she had ever received.  Putting it carefully back in the box, she got up and went over to the phone to call.  She picked up the receiver and was about to dial his number when the doorbell rang.

Hanging up the phone, she went to answer the door.  It was Kevin.  She opened the door, her heart racing as she met his gaze.  He looked a bit nervous as he stood there in the hallway.  “Good morning,” she greeted him and stood aside for him to go in.  After she closed the door behind him, she turned to face him.  “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” he answered quietly.

She showed him the box and opening it, she took out the necklace.  “Thank you for your beautiful present,” she said.  She handed it to him and turned around, lifting her hair so that her neck was exposed.  “Would you mind putting it on for me?”

She felt him put it around her neck, his knuckles brushing against her skin, making her shiver.  When he was done, she turned to face him.  He was staring at her, his expression no longer tense.  She returned his gaze.  “I’ve been yours since the first time we met,” she told him huskily, reaching up to brush his hair back from his forehead.

His eyes darkened and he caught her hand.  He pressed his lips into the palm, making her tremble.  “I’ve wanted to tell you for such a long time how I feel about you but never worked up the courage until now.  I decided that the necklace would say what I couldn’t say.  I couldn’t sleep last night because I was so nervous.  I wasn’t sure how you felt about me and worried that you might not accept this present. That’s why I came over as soon as I could to find out if you like the necklace.  Then, when you asked me to put it on, it gave me hope.”

“All those times when we were together, I wanted to tell you how I felt but I kept thinking that you should be with someone younger.”

“Do you still think that?” he asked thickly as he pulled her against him.

“No,” she groaned and reaching up she pulled his head down to hers.  They exchanged passionate kisses for a while then, she drew back to look up at him, her breath unsteady.  “There’s a communal service at my church today at eleven.  We can go to that first and then go and celebrate Christmas with the family.  What do you say?”

He nodded, his face flushed.  “I say it’s a good idea.”

“Have you had breakfast?”

He shook his head.  “As soon as I got up, I showered, dressed and came straight over here.  Breakfast was the last thing on my mind.”

She took his hand and led him over to the table.  “Let’s have breakfast and then head over to the church.”  While he sat at the table, she shared out the breakfast and he smiled as she set a plate in front of him.  It was the Egg Croissant Casserole, his favorite.  His mother used to make it at Christmas time too.  His mouth watered just at the sight of it and he was ready to dig into it.  But first, she said a prayer.  Afterwards, she raised her glass of orange juice.  “Here’s to a wonderful Christmas.”

He raised his.  “Here’s to joy, peace and…love.”  They touched their glasses.  “Thank you for making this Christmas the best one ever.”

She reached over and covered his hand with hers.  “And thank you for the Christmas present which has changed my life forever.”  He smiled and gently squeezed her hand before they began to enjoy their first Christmas breakfast together.

Source:  Uncommon Goods

The Retreat

She stood there admiring the bright yellow mixed in with flaming orange and red leaves on the trees as they dotted the green landscape and stood proudly over the still water of the lake, seeming to admire their reflections.  It reminded her of a giant water color painting.  It was so peaceful there.  Coming to this retreat for a week was a blessing.

It was her friend Maura who suggested it.  She and her husband were there last year and absolutely loved it.  She had watched videos on the website, the acres of land with its natural beauty and the promise of refuge and renewal and peace and presence sold her.  And here she was, away from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoying quiet time with the Lord and nature.

She got up early and came down here just before sunset.  After she finished praying, she glanced up and saw the sun rise.  It was the first time she had ever seen a sunrise.  For several moments, the sun appeared to be sitting on the water before it rose higher in the sky.  What a breathtaking scene and display of God’s power.  She lingered there for a while longer and then headed back to the lodge to have breakfast.

When she was leaving the dining room, a tall and very handsome man walked in.  He was alone.  He was wearing a blue sweater and jeans.  As she approached him, he turned and looked at her.  Their eyes met and held for several moments.  He smiled at her and she smiled back.  This close she saw that he had beautiful brown eyes.  “Good morning,” he said.

“Good morning,” she replied and then she walked past him and out of the dining-room.  She could feel him watching her.  He really was quite good-looking and seemed very nice.  Then, she chided herself.  You’re here to commune with God. Don’t get distracted.  She went to her room to freshen up and then to the bench facing the stream where she planned to spend the rest of the morning.

This time she took her Bible and a notebook.  The warm sunshine on her face felt good and a sigh of satisfaction, she sat down.    After she finished reading the first two chapters of the Gospel of Mark and taking notes, she set her Bible and notebook aside.  As she sat there, gazing at the lake, her thoughts drifted to the guy she saw in the dining-room.  Who was he?  Was he single?  Was he here alone?

He was the first man she was attracted to since Reuben.  It was strange but when she thought about Reuben, she didn’t feel anything.  He was like a distant memory now.  She could hardly remember what he looked like and when she tried, she saw the other guy’s face instead.  It was five years since Reuben broke up with her.  They had been dating and everyone thought they would have gotten married.  She did too and then, he shocked her by telling her that he was in love with someone else.

It turned out that while they had been dating, he had been giving Bible studies to a woman who lived in his building.  Feelings developed between them and he realized that she was the one he wanted to be with.  She was devastated but with the love and support of her church family, she was able to pick up the pieces and get on with her life.  Reuben transferred to another church and the last she heard of him, he and the woman were married and had two children.  She wished them well.   It was clear to her now that Reuben and she were not right for each other.  He was with the person he was meant to be with and one day, she would be with the person she was meant to be with.

“Do you mind if I join you?” a voice broke into her reverie and she looked around, her heart skipping a beat when she saw that it was the guy from the dining-room.

She shook her head.  “No, not at all.”  She moved her Bible and notebook closer to her, leaving enough room on the bench for him to sit down.  When he lowered his tall frame on to the seat beside her, she caught a whiff of his aftershave.  Her heart was pounding and her pulse was racing.  She realized then that Reuben never had such an effect on her.  Her hands were clasped tightly in her lap to stop them from trembling.  She could feel him watching her and she turned her head.  Their eyes met and held.  She wondered if she looked as nervous as she felt.

He held out his hand, “Brandon Lee.”

She took his hand and felt his firm clasp.  “Esther Richards.”

“Nice to meet you, Esther.  Is this your first time to the retreat?”

“Yes.  A friend of mine was here last year with her husband and she encouraged me to come.   I’m very happy I did.  It’s a beautiful place and it’s nice to get away from the city.  What about you?” She knew she sounded a little breathless but she couldn’t help it.  His closeness had that effect on her.  She couldn’t decide as yet if he was a Godsend or if he was a distraction.  She truly hoped that it was the former.

“I was here once with a group of people from my church.  It is a great place–so much to see and enjoy.  This is actually my favorite spot.  I could sit here for hours.”

“What church do you go to?” she asked.  He told her and she told him the name of her church.  “Are you involved in any ministries?”

“Yes, I am the leader of our Youth Ministry. ”

“I am involved in the Women’s Ministry and I sometimes lead out in our weekly Bible Study group meetings.  For our next Women’s Ministry retreat, I will recommend that we have it here.”

“Are you here alone?”

“Yes.  And you?”  Do you have a girlfriend?

“Yes.”  I hope she doesn’t have a boyfriend.  “Do you have family here?”

“Yes, I have lots of aunts and uncles and cousins here but my parents live in Florida.  They moved there after I graduated from university.   I usually spend Christmas with them.”  I’m glad I didn’t move to Florida too or I wouldn’t have met you.

“No siblings?”  Thank You, God for keeping her here in London or I wouldn’t have met her.

“No, I’m an only child.  What about your family?”

“My parents live in Yorkshire and I visit them on the weekends.  I live in London and my sister and her family live in Manchester.  We spend the Christmas holidays in Yorkshire.  Speaking of Christmas, have you finished your shopping as yet?”

She laughed.  “I haven’t even started.   I have no clue what I will get everyone.”

“I’m done.  My advice to you is to get gift cards.  Once you know what people, like, you just get gift cards instead of trying to figure out what they would like.  For my nieces and nephew, though, I don’t mind spending hours browsing toy stores.”

“Gift card?  I never thought of that.  Thanks for the suggestion.”

Talking to him had relaxed her to some degree.  He was easy to talk to.  She enjoyed his company.  They sat there, chatting about other things and then it was time to go for lunch.  They sat next each other at a table and continued talking to each other and some of the people around them.  After lunch, he invited her to go for a walk with him.

From that day on, they spent time together, going for walks, praying, worshipping, studying the Bible and joined in fun activities with other singles such as Finish the Sentence, Bible Pictionary, True or False, Bible Telephone, Bible Hangman, Name Game, Who Am I, Bible Bingo, Bible Scavenger Hunt, Name That Hymn and Bible Scene.  Her favorite was Finish the Sentence and when it was her turn to finish the sentence, I am blessed, she said, “I am blessed because God has shown me favor.” and she looked at Brandon when she said this.  I’m blessed because God has brought us together.  His answer was, “I am blessed because God has brought new joy into my life.”  His eyes were on her when he said that.

They spent the evenings alone together–talking or going for walks.  On the last evening before they were to leave the retreat and return to London, Brandon stopped and turned to her as they strolled the grounds.  It was beautiful night.  The full moon cast a ghostly light on them and the still water of the lake.  He reached out and took her hands in his.

“Esther, these past few days with you have been the happiest of my life.  I had planned to come to the retreat next week but I felt a very strong impression to come this week and I am thankful that I did because I met you.  I don’t want to say goodbye to you.  I want to continue to see you.  I’m not in a relationship.  Am I safe to assume that you’re not in one either?”

She shook her head.  “I’m not in a relationship,” she confirmed.

“I want to be in a relationship with you, that is if, it’s what you want too.”

“I-I want to be in a relationship with you too.”

“Good.  Tomorrow, we drive back to London together.”  He raised her hands to his lips and kissed them before they continued their stroll.

She raised her head to the starry sky and silently mouthed a prayer of thanks.  Coming to he retreat had changed both of their lives.

 

Sources: Ashburnham Place; Christian Camp Pro

The Precinct

“How’s Viola?” Franco Manetti asked his friend and partner of twelve years, Joe Martin, as he was getting ready to leave for the night.

Joe stopped writing his report to look at him, his expression was one of exasperation.  “Why don’t you ask her out already?” he demanded.  “You’re always asking about her and she’s always asking about you.  You’re not dating anyone and she’s not dating anyone.  Why don’t you two date each other?  Look, the precinct is having its Christmas party is next month, why don’t you ask her to go with you?”

Franco considered his suggestion.  “That’s a great idea,” he said.  “Are you sure you don’t mind me asking your little sister out?”

Joe rolled his eyes.  “If I minded you asking her out, would I be encouraging you to?”

Franco laughed.  “I guess not.  I’m sorry, pal.  I just thought it might be awkward for your partner to be taking your sister out, that’s all.  Well, have a good night.  I’ll see you in the morning.  Say hello to Dora for me.”

“You have yourself a good night too.  By the way, Viola is coming over for dinner at our house tomorrow night.  You’re welcome to drop by.  You can ask her to the Christmas party then.”

“I can’t come by tomorrow, I’m afraid.  I am having dinner over at my parents’ place.  Could I call you instead and talk to Viola?”

“Sure.  She’ll be there until ten.”

Franco pulled on his jacket and grabbed his keys.  “‘Night, Joe.”

“‘Night, Franco.”

On his way home, Franco recalled the first time he met Viola.  It was on a Tuesday, around noon.  She came to the precinct to see Joe.  They were going out for lunch.  He was at his desk doing paperwork when she walked in.  He looked up as she went over to where Joe sat.  Joe was away from his desk.

Franco stared at her.  She was dressed in a black pants suit over a red blouse and her hair was pulled back at the nape of her neck.  For several minutes, he just sat there staring at her.  She smiled and held out her hand.  “Hi, I’m Viola, Joe’s sister.  You must be Franco.”

He got up and shook her hand.  “Pleased to meet you,” he managed to say.  He waited for her to sit down in the chair beside Joe’s desk before resuming his seat.

“Joe has told me a lot about you,” she said.  “You and he have been partners for a long time.”

“Yes, for twelve years.”  He knew he was staring but he couldn’t help it.  She was so beautiful.

“I remember when Joe joined the force our mother was terrified at first.  She feared that he would get shot or killed but Dad encouraged her to have faith.  He told her that Joe was serving God and his community.  It took some time to convince her but now instead of worrying she prays a lot.  What about you?  Did your family have a problem with your choice of career?”

He shook his head.  “My parents were just relieved that I wanted to be in law enforcement instead of ending up like some of the kids I used to hang out with in our old neighborhood.”

He wanted to ask her if she had a boyfriend.  He could hear his mother saying to him, “I hope that before I die, you meet a nice Italian girl and marry her.  Nearly all of your cousins are married and have children.  Guido is married and has blessed your father and me with two grandchildren.  Your little sister, Sophia is married.  You’re the eldest and you’re still single.  What are you waiting for?”

He noticed that Viola glanced at his hand to see if he was wearing wedding ring.  Just then Joe returned to his desk.

“I see that you two have met,” he said with a smile.  He grabbed his jacked and pulled it on.  “Ready?” he asked Viola who was looking at Franco.

She glanced up at her brother and nodded.  As she stood up, she turned to Franco who was on his feet, watching her.  “It was nice meeting you,” she said, smiling at him.  “I hope we see each other again.”

“Me too.”  He watched her walk away, thinking he had just met his dream woman.

As he pulled into his parking space, Franco promised himself that he was going to ask her to have dinner with him on Saturday and then invite her to go with him to the Christmas party.

They were having dinner when out of the blue, his mother asked, “So, have you met a nice Italian girl as yet?”

Franco was about to lift the fork to his mouth but he paused to look over at his mother who was watching him very intently.  “I met a nice girl, Mama,” he said quietly, “but, she’s not Italian.”

She wrinkled her brow.  “She’s not Italian?  What is she?”

“She’s Joe’s sister.  You remember Joe.  I’ve brought him here for dinner once before when his wife, Dora was visiting her parents in Florida.”

“Yes, I remember Joe,” his father said.  “He’s a very nice guy.”

“How come you never mentioned his sister to me before?” Mrs. Manetti asked.

“I did. I told you about the time when she and I first met.”

“Oh yes, but that was last year.  You mean to tell me you haven’t been dating anyone since then?”

“No.  After meeting her, I don’t want to date anyone else.”  He glanced at his watch.  It was eight-thirty.

“Why do you keep looking at your watch?” his mother asked irritably.  “Are you going somewhere after you leave here?”

He shook his head.  “No, Mama.  I’m going straight home after I leave here.”

“Why do you keep looking at your watch, then?” she insisted.

“Oh, Carmela, leave the boy alone,” Mr. Manetti snapped.  “If he wants to look at his watch, that’s his business.”

“If you must know, Mama, promised Joe that I would call over at his house tonight.”

“Oh.  Eat your spaghetti before it gets cold.”

It was nine o’clock by the time, they finished eating and he helped to clear the table.  He excused himself and went down into the basement to make the call.  Joe answered.  They spoke for a while and then he went to call Viola.  Franco’s heart began to pound.  He was really nervous now.  When he heard her voice, his heart leapt in his chest.  “Hello, Viola,” he said, sounding a bit breathless.  “How are you?  Good.  I’m fine too.  I—I was wondering if you would have dinner with me on Saturday evening.  You would?  That’s great.  I’ll pick you up at seven.  Sure, I’ll take down your address.  Just hold on while I find something to write on.”  He put the receiver gently on the sofa and got up.

He looked around wildly for some paper and a pen.  He saw an old newspaper on the coffee table and a pen beside it.  It was opened to the Crossword section.  Dad, he thought, with a grin.  He tore a piece of paper and grabbed the pen.  He hurried back to the phone.  “Sorry about that,” he apologized.  He wrote down her telephone number and address and put the piece of paper in the breast pocket of his shirt.  “I’ll see you on Saturday.”  He sat down in the sofa and talked with her for a while before he said, “Good night, Viola,” and hung up.

His parents were in the living-room.  His father was watching TV in his favorite chair while his mother was on the sofa mending his shirt.  She glanced up when Franco entered the room.  “How is Joe?” she asked.

“He’s fine.”

“You were on the phone for a long time.” She looked at him, suspicious.  “Are you sure it was Joe you were talking to all this time?”

“Carmela, leave the boy alone.”

Mrs. Manetti clucked her tongue and continued mending the shirt.

Franco sat down on the sofa beside her and spent an hour with them before he left.

“Viola told me that you invited her out for dinner tomorrow night,” Joe said to him the next morning as soon as he sat down at his desk.

“Yes, I did.  I wanted to go out with her before the Christmas Party.”

“Good for you.”

Franco smiled and got to work, although every now and then his mind went on Viola.  He couldn’t wait to see her the following night.

He took her to the River Café, nestled under the Brooklyn Bridge with stunning views of the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty.  They got a table beside a window where she could see the East River.  For the appetizer, they both had the summer salad and for the main course, she had the Organic Chicken while he opted for the Lamb.  And for dessert, they shared the Chocolate Brooklyn Bridge.  The conversation between was easy and they felt very comfortable with each other.  He learned that she was a Community Outreach Coordinator at a government agency in the Bronx and that she was bullied in high-school because of her weight.

“I was overweight,” she said.  “I ate a lot of junk food and spent most of my time sitting around the house, reading or watching TV.  I wasn’t active except when I was doing gym at school.  So, I was teased at school because of my weight and height.  I didn’t fit in with the other girls who were tall and skinny.  In grade ten, I decided that I wasn’t going to change my habits.  I stopped eating unhealthy foods, went on a diet and walked home from school instead of taking the bus.  It worked.  I dropped to and maintained a weight that worked for me.  As you can see, I’m not skinny but I’m not overweight either.”

He looked at her.  “I think you’re beautiful,” he said.

She smiled, feeling a little shy.  “Thank you.”

“We are having our annual Christmas party on December 16 and I was wondering if you would like to go with me.”

“Yes, I’d like that.”

After dinner, they went for a walk, enjoying the warm night air and the views of the bridge over the River.  Then, it was time to take her home.  When they were standing outside of her condo in Queens, he said to her, “I had a great time tonight with you.  Viola, I really, really like you and I want to be in a relationship with you.  Do you feel the same way about me?”

She nodded.  “Yes, I do, Franco.”

He smiled, looking relieved.  “Good.  I’ll call you tomorrow.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  She watched him as he walked away, her pulse racing and her heart pounding.  Things were really looking up now.

They began dating and by the time the Christmas party rolled around, things had gotten very serious between them.  He took her to meet his parents one Sunday afternoon.  Viola was nervous about meeting his mother.  Mr. Manetti was very warm and friendly.  At first, Mrs. Manetti didn’t say much.  She was busy sizing her up.  Then, when the men went out into the backyard, leaving the two of them in the living-room, Mrs. Manetti cleared her throat.

“Come and sit beside me,” she said, patting the empty seat on the sofa.

Viola went over and sat down next to her, trying to act calm when there were butterflies in her stomach.  She turned to look at the older woman who was studying her with those sharp eyes of hers.

“I had my reservations when Franco told me about you,” she began.  “I wanted him to find and settle down with a good Italian woman because my other two children married outside of their culture.  Franco is my first born.  He will always have a special place in my heart.  I want him to be happy.  And I can see that he is very happy because of you.  I can tell that you love him and I know that he loves you.  So, you’re not Italian but as long as you’re good for my Franco, that’s all that matters.”

Viola breathed a sigh of relief.  “Thank you, Mrs. Manetti.  It means a lot to me that you feel this way.”

“Good.”  Mrs. Manetti smiled and patted her hand.  “Now, why don’t I cut you a nice big slice of cake?  I baked it just this morning.”

When Franco and his father joined them a while later, they were chatting as if they had known each other for years.  “It looks like you’ve won over my mother,” he said when they were alone.

“Yes.  She’s a wonderful woman who wants what’s best for her son.”

He reached for her hands and held them, his expression serious as he gazed down into her face.  “You’re the best thing that has ever happened to me.  I love you, Viola.”

“I love you too.”

“Marry me,” he said as he released one of her hands to reach into his pants pocket for the box.  Then, he got down on his knee and opened the box to show her the engagement ring.  She gasped when she saw it.  It was an elegant 3 carat oval shaped diamond.

“Yes, I will marry you,” she replied, her eyes wide and watery.  She watched as he put it on her finger and then he was on his feet.  He pulled her into his arms and kissed her.

A short while later, he announced their engagement to his parents.  “This calls for a celebration,” Mr. Manetti said and he disappeared into the kitchen.  He was back with a tray four glasses and a bottle of wine.  After he filled each glass he raised his in a toast.  “To Franco and Viola,” he said.

They all raised their glasses in merriment.  And in Spring of the following year, Franco and Viola got married at her family’s church and had the reception at Prince George Ballroom.  It was a glorious night.  “We never thought we would see Franco settle down,” Guido said to her, laughing.

Sophia said to her, “It’s good to see Franco so happy.  I wish you two a lifetime of happiness.”

“Happy?” Franco asked as Viola and he danced.

“Very,” she replied.

He smiled and then twirled her around the dance floor as his mother watched them, happy to see that her son had finally found and married a nice girl.

Sources:  River Cafe; Marisa Perry; Prince George Ballroom

The Room in Venice

Friends since they were children, Monica and Russell were inseparable.  They went to the same schools and university and moved from Manchester to London after they graduated from university.  Whenever people saw them together, they always assumed that they were a couple and they would quickly inform them, “We’re just friends.”

They dated other people but the relationships never worked out and their respective exes always blamed their friendship.  Once, Monica’s ex-boyfriend accused her of sabotaging their relationship because she was secretly in love with Russell.  She had a run once in with Samantha, a model he was dating who informed her that she didn’t believe that they were just friends.  “A person would have to be blind not to see that there is something going on between you two,” she said.  “And which woman in her right mind could be just friends with a guy like Russell?”

Russell and Monica laughed about it but as time passed, they realized that there was some truth to what others were saying.  They stopped dating other people because they didn’t feel any connection with them and it was beginning to affect their friendship.  Russell found himself getting jealous of the men Monica dated and she hated seeing him with other women.  So, to safeguard their friendship, they remained unattached.   Instead of going to dinner with other people they went each other.  They went to the theatre, concerts and now, here they were in Italy for a three week vacation.

Monica stood now on the Spanish Steps as Russell snapped photos of her.  He looked so handsome in the white shirt and light blue jeans.  She noticed women walking by and casting admiring glances his way.  Jealousy gnawed at her although he seemed oblivious to them.  She knew she was being ridiculous but she couldn’t help it.  She always worried that one day he would meet someone else and fall in love with her.  Not wanting to spoil the moment, she smiled and posed for the photos.

The day went pleasantly as they visited the Pantheon and had lunch at a trattoria near the Piazza Navona.  After sharing a pizza, she went to the washroom.  On her way back to the table, a local looked up at her and said, “Ciao Bella ragazza.”  She glanced at him and then continued to where Russell was.

He stood up when she reached him.  “What did that man say to you?” he asked.  His expression was guarded.

“It sounded like, ‘Ciao bella ragazza,’” she told him.

Russell didn’t answer.  Instead, he put on his sunglasses and preceded her out of the trattoria.  They went for a walk along Castel Sant’Angelo before they went back to the hotel.  They went to their respective rooms until it was time for dinner.  The following day, they left Rome and went to Florence where they spent their second week.  The highlight for her was Michelangelo’s David.  She stood there for a long time just studying it.  Afterwards, they visited the Uffizi Gallery.  The following day, they took a trip to Milan and after visiting the Santa Maria delle Grazie where Da Vinci’s Last Supper hung, they stopped by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.  Russell took a photo of Monica outside of Prada.  From Florence, they went on a day tour to Pisa, Siena and San Gimignano.  They had dinner in Siena in a trattoria in Piazza del Campo.

The week went by very quickly and Monica was sorry when they left Florence but looked forward to seeing Venice.  They took the train early in the morning and while Russell read a magazine, she took a nap.  When they arrived in Venice, they found out that they had to share a room because the hotel was fully booked.  That made Monica very nervous but she was relieved when she saw that there were two separate beds.

They spent their first day in Venice at Piazza San Marco, reputed to be one of the most beautiful squares in the world.   They visited the Basilica of San Marco.  Before going inside, they took photos of its architecture which was a mixture of Byzantine, Roman and Venetian, the impressive work of artists and craftsmen who came from all over.  Monica was enthralled by the dome and could have stood there all day just staring up at it.

When they came out of the basilica, Russell pointed to the one of the arches above the entrance where there was a marble statue of an old man biting his hand.  “The legend says that he was relieved of his duties when he said that he would be able to build it even more beautiful.” They had lunch at a restaurant in the square, enjoying the sunshine and watching other tourists.  They finished their sightseeing for the day climbing the Campanile for the breathtaking view of the city and the lagoon.   They stayed there for a while.

It was late afternoon when they returned to the hotel.  They relaxed on the terrace and then it was time to get ready for dinner.  It felt strange getting in the bathroom while Russell got dressed in the bedroom.  She had to make sure it was safe to come out once she was finished.  He looked handsome as usual.  And she saw his gaze travel over her.  “You look great,” he remarked before turning away.  “I was thinking that after dinner, we can go to a church concert.”

She smiled.  “That sounds great.”  Venice was beautiful at night so it was nice walking to the square.  How she longed to hold Russell’s hand, especially when they passed other couples who were holding hands.  They had dinner at an elegant restaurant.  As they enjoyed the Chicken and Mushrooms and Pasta & Oca respectively, they talked about the places they had visited that day and where they planned on going the next day.  For dessert, they had Rosada cream with orange.  Afterwards, they walked to the church where they spent the next hour or so listening to uplifting music in a lovely atmosphere.

It was late when they got back to the hotel and she was tired.  On the way up to their room, she kept yawning and as soon as they got in she, took out a nightgown from her suitcase and headed straight for the bathroom.  She quickly changed out of her dress and into her nightgown and brushed her teeth.

She walked into the room and stopped short when she saw Russell standing there half-naked, holding his pajama shirt.  She turned away, flustered but not before her gaze swept irresistibly over the broad shoulders and wide chest.  He watched her, his expression tense and a muscle throbbed alongside his jawline.  It took every ounce of willpower on his part not to go over there and take her in his arms.  Instead, he went into the bathroom and closed the door quietly behind him.

As soon as he was gone, Monica hurried over to her bed and climbed in, pulling the cover up to her throat.

A few moments later, the door to the bathroom opened and Russell stepped into the room.  She watched as he walked past her bed to his.

“Goodnight, Russell,” she said, looking over at him as he pulled back the cover and got in.  His back was turned to her.

“Goodnight.”  He closed his eyes as his body reacted to the memory of her in the champagne colored silk nightgown.  He didn’t know how much longer he could continue being just friends with her when he wanted her.

She lay there on her back, staring up at the ceiling, unable to fall asleep.  She couldn’t get the image of him out of her mind.  When she saw his bare torso, her mouth went dry and what felt like a bolt of electricity surged through her.  She had turned away because she was afraid that her feelings would betray her.  She wished she had the courage to tell him how she really felt about him but she didn’t want to jeopardize their friendship.

Sometime later, she heard him stir and then get up.  In the faint light, she watched him tiptoe over to the chair where his shirt and pants were draped.   As he started to get dressed, she sat up, alarmed.  “Where’re you going?” she asked, turning on the lamp beside her.

He didn’t turn around.  “I thought you were asleep.  I can’t sleep so, I’m going out for a bit.”

After he pulled on his shirt and tucked it in his pants, he turned to face her, his eyes wary.  “I’ll try not to disturb you when I come back.”

“How long will you be gone?”

“I don’t know,” he replied shortly.

“Where will you go?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe I’ll go to Piazzale Roma or the Rialto or San Marco.”  He was about to walk past her when she quickly climbed out of the bed and stood in front of him.

“What’s wrong, Russell?” she asked.  “You seem upset.”

He kept his eyes on her face, not daring to let them go lower.  “I’m not upset.”

“I think you are, “she insisted.   “Please tell me what’s wrong.  We’re supposed to be friends—”

His expression darkened.   “I know we’re supposed to be friends,” he snapped.  “But right now, I don’t feel like a friend.”

She looked nonplussed.  “What do you mean?”

This is what I mean,” he muttered before he grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her roughly against him, making her gasp.  His head swooped down and his mouth closed hungrily over hers.

Monica clung to him, kissing him back eagerly, feverishly.  As they exchanged kisses, he picked her up and carried her over to her bed.  He put her gently down on it and then drew back to remove his shirt.  She reached for him, pulling him down to her, her fingers digging into his back as he pressed his lips hotly against her neck.

They made mad, passionate love and the next morning when she woke up, she was alone in the bed.  She lay there for a moment thinking it had all been a dream.  Then she sat up and realized that she wasn’t wearing anything under the cover.  She looked over and saw Russell standing by the window.  He was wearing a robe.   He turned when he heard her.

He left the window and came and sat down on the bed beside her.  His expression was serious when he met her gaze.  “Do you regret what happened between us?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “No,” she murmured huskily, reaching out and brushing the hair back from his forehead.

He leaned over and kissed her on the shoulder, making her shiver.  “Me neither,” he said.  “I wanted to make love to you for a very, very long time but you insisted on us being just friends—”

“I thought that was what you wanted,” she said.  “You never came out and said otherwise.”

“Do you have any idea how hard it is to be a friend to you when I want to be more?  That’s why I couldn’t sleep last night.  When I saw you in that nightgown, I wanted you so much.  I had to get out of here before I lost my mind.”

“I couldn’t sleep either because I kept thinking about how sexy you look without a shirt…”

His eyes darkened and cupping her face between his hands he lowered his head and kissed her.  “I love you, Monica,” he whispered, raising his head to look into her face.  “I wanted to tell you that so many times but my courage failed me.”

“I love you too.”

“I just wish we hadn’t wasted so much time dating other people when we should have been dating each other.”

“Let’s not waste any more time having regrets.  Things are different between us now.”

“Yes, they are.”

“You know, if anyone were to ask me what the most memorable part of my vacation is, I would tell them that it was the room in Venice.”

“Why this room?” he asked.

“It’s where you and I first made love and declared our feelings for each other.  I will always remember this room for those two reasons.”

His eyes darkened.  “Let’s have a late breakfast,” he suggested as he removed his robe.

“Or we can order room service,” she said, settling back against the pillows.

“Room service, then,” he agreed before his mouth found hers.

 

 

Sources:  Cabragadin Hotel; Ciao Florence; Italy Guides; Veneto Inside; Bistrot de Venise; Classic Tic; Rick Steves

 

Saved by Grace

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God – Ephesians 2:8

holy-step-chapel-climbing

Scala Sancta (Pilate’s Staircase) in Rome

Years ago I stood watching people ascend what is commonly known as Pilate’s Staircase.  Just today my family and I were talking about it and I got emotional as I thought of the people I saw going up the stairs on their knees just as Martin Luther did in 1510, probably repeating as he did the Our Father on each step.  It was said that by doing this work one could “redeem a soul from purgatory.”  It is believed that this staircase, Scala Sancta, that was used by Jesus in Pilate’s Judgment Hall in Jerusalem was, according to legend, supernaturally transported from Palestine to Rome.

Pontius

Figures of Pilate and Jesus at base of Scala Sancta

At the base of the staircase are the statues of Jesus and Pilate.  Pilate is introducing the King of the Jews to the people and saying, “Behold the Man!”  This reminded of what Jesus said to Nicodemus.  “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14, 15).  By beholding the serpent, the people were saved by faith.  Likewise by beholding Jesus and believing in Him, we are saved.  

martin luther.jpg

Joseph Fiennes as Martin Luther in the movie, Luther

It was here on the Scala Sancta that the unexpected happened for Martin Luther.  It was where his eyes were opened to the truth that salvation comes by the grace of God and not by works.  One day, “he was devoutly climbing these steps, when suddenly a voice like thunder seemed to say to him:  ‘The just shall live by faith.’  Romans 1:17.  He sprang to his feet and hastened from the place in shame and horror.  The text never lost its power upon his soul.  From that time he saw more clearly than ever before the fallacy in trusting to human works for salvation, and the necessity of constant faith in the merits of Christ.  His eyes had been opened, and were never again to be closed, to the delusions of the papacy.  When he turned his face from Rome, he had turned away also in heart, and from that time the separation grew wider, until he severed all connection with the papal church.” 

Before his revelation, “Luther was still a true son of the papal church and had no thought that he would ever be anything else. In the providence of God he was led to visit Rome.”  However, once he received the unvarnished truth, Luther could no longer remain loyal to the church which promised indulgences to those climbing the staircase on their knees or whose clergy he found profanation instead of sanctity.  His disillusionment with the church led to his part in the Protestant Reformation.  He was declared a heretic and excommunicated from the church.

In Jesus’ time, the religious leaders trusted in the traditions of men instead of the Word of God.  Today, where are you placing your faith?  In the teachings of men or in the teachings of God?

Sources:  Bible Gateway; Great Controversy; Wikipedia