Seeking the Lost

Don’t live in a bubble, live for God by seeking the lost and pointing them to Jesus.

Image is Liz Lemon Swindle’s painting of “The Lost Sheep”

When I saw this image it just struck me that Jesus didn’t live in a bubble.  He ate with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:11).  Many of them followed Him and Jesus was called their Friend (Mark 2:15; Matthew 11:19).  Jesus explained why He spent so much time with them, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).  The lost in Jesus’ day were the tax collectors, the Samaritan woman who was married five times and living with  a man who wasn’t her husband, the woman caught in adultery.

Today, the lost could be the young woman who left the church she grew up in to experience life outside, hanging out with wrong crowd, experimenting with drugs and falling into other destruction behavior and habits until she reaches the point where she hits rock bottom.  She wants to turn her life around but doesn’t know how or thinks that it might be too late.  And Satan is there reminding her of her sins and making her believe that it’s hopeless but Jesus reaches down to where she is and draws her back to Him as seen in this beautiful picture.  He looks past the makeup, the nose ring, the scars of sin and sees a lost soul who needs His love and mercy.

The lost are those who wander away from the church, the faith like the young woman.  When she returns to the fold, is she going to be welcomed with open arms?  Will the members of the church rejoice with heaven because she who was lost is found?  Or will we be like the prodigal son’s brother who refused to be merry?

As the body of Christ, we are to reflect Him in every way.  When a lost soul returns, we ought to celebrate not condemn them for leaving the church.  Perhaps, we ought to ask ourselves why they left in the first place.

Let us come out of the bubble we are living in and go out into the world and let people know that Jesus came into the world to save them (1 Timothy 1:15).

Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ – Luke 15:6

Sources:  Seth Adam Smith; Bible Gateway; Blue Letter Bible; Seeking the Lost Hymn

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God’s Way

As Larissa Scott sat on the beach, watching the tide roll away she thought about how far she had allowed herself to drift from God’s will for her life.  She hadn’t meant for it to happen.  It did when she met and fell in love with Steven.   About a year ago, she moved to Seattle because of a job opportunity which she could not pass up.  It was tough leaving her family, friends and church but she had prayed about it and knew that it was God leading her to a new life in a new city.

Nervous and excited at the same time, she packed up and left. After settling into a new apartment and the new job, she looked for a church to join and found one not far from where she lived. From the moment she walked in, she knew that was the church for her. She felt completely at home among people who loved the Lord and were active in the community and was blessed by the moving and inspiring sermons and uplifting worship music. She attended every week and quickly developed friendships. It wasn’t long before she transferred her membership to the church and got involved in their women’s ministry.

The first time she met Steven was at the weekly prayer meeting.  He was the elder in charge of the meeting that week.  She had noticed him before but they hadn’t actually met.  As he spoke, she studied him.  He looked to be in his late forties and was very attractive.  She wondered if he were married and hoped that he wasn’t.

When it was time to split up into twos to pray, he left the podium and walked over to her.  “Hello,” he said, holding out his hand.  “I’m Elder Steven Johnson.  I have seen you before but just didn’t have the opportunity to meet you until now.  You recently joined our church.  I don’t believe I was here when you were introduced to the congregation.”

She smiled and shook his hand.  “Larissa Scott,” she said.  “Yes, I moved to Seattle and I visited this church the week after I arrived.  It reminded me so much of my old church in New York.  There the people were warm and zealous for the Lord.”

“Well, I’m delighted that you are a member of our church family.  Now, we can pray for each other.”

They knelt down side by side, heads bowed and hands clasped before them.  He prayed first and when he was done, she prayed.  “Thank you,” she said when she was finished and they got up.

He smiled and went back up to the podium to wrap up the meeting.  She sat down in the chair before standing for the closing song and prayer.  While everyone was filing out, she lingered.  He took up the papers and his Bible and left the podium.  “Do you have a ride home?” he asked.  It was dark outside.

“I took the bus.”

“I can give you a ride home, if you like.”

She suddenly felt very shy and a few moments passed before she said, “Thank you.”

They left the back way which led to the parking lot.  He set the alarm and closed the door before taking her to where his car was parked.  He held the door open for her.  After she got in, he closed the door before walking quickly round to the driver’s side.  “It has gotten very cold,” he remarked as he started the engine.  “The temperature must have dropped.”  He turned on the heat before pulling out of the parking lot.  “Do you live far from here?”

She shook her head.  “No, I live about twenty minutes from away.”  She told him where she lived.  She could have easily taken the bus because they ran frequently but she was grateful for the ride because it was cold.

“Where did you live before you moved to Seattle?”

“I lived in Manhattan, New York.”

“What made you decide to move here?”

“The job of a lifetime and the conviction that this was where God wanted me to be.”

“What about your family?  How did they react to your move?”

“They were very supportive.  They said that if it were God’s will, then His will be done.  I’m in touch with them every day.  Have you always been at this church?”

“Yes.  I attended it since I was a child.  It’s my second home.  The members are my extended family.  It is where my parents met and got married.”

“How long have you been a church elder?”

“For about five years.”

“Do you like it?”

“Yes, I do.”

“What do you like best about being an elder?”

“I like visiting members in their homes to pray with them and give them encouragement.  I like to assist in giving Bible studies to prospective members.  I enjoy leading out in worship service and being a spiritual mentor.”

“My father is an elder too and his favorite thing is the visitation.”

They reached her building and he pulled up in front of the entrance.   He got out of the car to hold the door open for her.  “Have a good evening,” he said as she stepped out.  “I’ll see you on Saturday morning.”

“Thank you for the ride home, Elder Johnson,” she said.  “Have a good evening.”  She watched as he got into the car and waved as he drove away.  As she ran up the short flight of steps to the revolving doors, she found herself looking forward to seeing him on Saturday.  She still had no idea if he was married or not.  She had never observed him with a particular woman so, hopefully, that meant that he didn’t have a wife.  He wouldn’t be the first unmarried elder.

For the rest of the week she thought about him and really looked forward to seeing him again.  When Saturday came, she got up bright and early in the morning and got ready for church.  As soon as she entered the sanctuary, her eyes scanned the rows of seats in search of him but he wasn’t there.  Maybe, I will see him after the service, she thought as she went and sat down.  Fifteen minutes later the Sabbath School program began and she immersed herself in it.  When it was over there was the ten minutes before the worship service was to begin, he came out to address family matters which family matters and make the announcements.  She was so happy to see him.  Her heart began to beat fast.

After he left the podium, she took the bulletin from out of her Bible and read it.  It was then that she saw that his name was on it.  He was slated to do the Intercessory prayer and the Benediction which meant that he was going to be on the podium for the entire service.   So, she wouldn’t get to speak to him until after the service.

As usual, the worship service was uplifting and she was blessed.  As the pastor and Elder Johnson came down for the podium, she stared at him, hoping that he would see her when he passed the row where she was.  He did.  He smiled and said “Happy Sabbath,” before continuing down the aisle toward the double doors leading out to the entrance hall.  When they were gone and the music stopped playing everyone got seated again.

She picked up her handbag and Bible and waited for the usher to motion for her and the people in her row to leave.  When he did, she immediately got up and left.  Her eager eyes espied him standing by the door beside the pastor and talking to the members as they filed past him.  First she shook the pastor’s hand and told him how blessed she was by his sermon before she moved toward Elder Johnson who turned to greet her warmly and shake her hand.  “It is good to see you, Miss Scott.  Did you have a good week?”

She nodded.  “Yes, I did, thank you.”

“Will you be coming to prayer meeting on Wednesday?” he asked.

“Yes, I will be there.”

“Good.  I will see you then.  Enjoy the rest of the day and have a good week.”

“Thank you, Elder Johnson.  You too.”  She moved away as another member joined them.  She wished she had more time to talk to him but he was busy at the moment.  She went downstairs to get her coat and after chatting with a few of the women she left and went straight home.  At least she was going to see him during the week but right now, Wednesday seemed like a very long way off.

Wednesday finally arrived and thankfully, the day flew by and as soon as she got home, she had dinner and then showered.  When she got to the church, there were a few people in the sanctuary but he wasn’t one of them.  After she said hello and chatted with them for a while, she found a seat.  A few minutes passed and then he sat down next to her.  Heart racing, she smiled at him and she felt butterflies in her stomach when he smiled back.  “Good evening,” he greeted her.  “I trust you’re having a good week so far.”

“Yes.  I can’t complain.  What about your week?”

“It has been a busy one so far but God has helped me to get through it.  I’m sorry that we didn’t get a chance to talk more the last time we saw each other.  I wanted to tell you about a spring concert at the Green Lake Church on Saturday at 4:30pm and ask you if you would be interested in going to it with me.”

He wanted to take her to a concert.  This confirmed that he wasn’t married.  “Yes, I would like go,” she told him.  “Thank you for inviting me.”

“Don’t mention it,” he replied.  “Excuse me.  I’ll be right back.”  He got up and went across the aisle to talk to another church member for a few minutes before rejoining her.  This time, it was the pastor’s wife who led the prayer meeting and it was very engaging.  When it was time to split up in twos to pray, Elder Johnson prayed with the member he had been talking to earlier while she prayed with the pastor’s wife.  When it was over Elder Johnson took her home.

The concert was a real treat and she couldn’t stop raving about it as they went to a vegetarian café afterward.  Over Moroccan Tagine and Spring Nettle Pappardell, they talked about the concert, the worship service and other things.  It was a very pleasant evening and she was sorry when it was over.  Outside of her building, she turned to him and said, “Thank you, Elder Johnson for a wonderful evening.”

“Please call me Steven,” he said quietly.  “Are you busy tomorrow?”

She shook her head.

“How would you go on the Harbor Cruise and then have lunch afterwards at the Space Needle?”

“I would like that very much,” she said, her eyes dancing with delight.  He was asking her out on a date.

He smiled.  “Good.  I will pick you tomorrow morning at eleven.  Goodnight, Larissa.”

“Goodnight, Steven.” She watched him drive away before she went inside the building.

After their cruise and lunch at the Space Needle, they began dating exclusively.  They went all over Seattle, giving her a real taste and appreciation for the city.  They visited museums, the zoo, art galleries, parks, the Aquarium and their excursion to Tillicum Village on Blake Island was an experience she would never forget.  They went for scenic drives to Snoqualmie Falls and Seward Park to the Washington Park Arboretum where one was treated to with an incredible view of Mount Rainier in the distance.

At church, they were circumspect around each other not wanting anyone to know that they were seeing each other.  For the time being, they wanted to keep their relationship on the quiet.  They never went to each other’s place but went out instead.  They did not kiss for the first few months they were dating but held hands when in public.

Then one afternoon when he went by her place to pick her up to take her to see the iconic brick wall covered with chewed up gum in an alley under Pike Place Market and the Giant Ferris Wheel, it began to rain cats and dogs.  It was a real bummer because she had been looking forward to going out.  It had been overcast all morning but she had been hoping that it would clear up but now rain was coming down in buckets and it didn’t look like it was going to let up any time soon.  She turned away from the window, bitterly disappointed.  “Oh, well,” she said.  “I guess we will have to take a rain check.”

“I’m sorry about the weather,” he said.  “I know how much you were looking forward to going out.”

“It’s okay,” she said, shrugging.  “I’m sure we can find something to occupy ourselves with until the rain ends.”

“Do you have anything in mind?”

“Yes.  I have a few board games we can play.  We have Bibleopoly which is the Biblical alternative to Monopoly, Bible Scrabble and Bible or Not.”

“They all sound very interesting and it has been a while since I played board games.”

“Good.  We’ll on the carpet in front of the sofa.”  She left and brought out the games, setting them on the coffee table.  “Which one do you want to play first?”

He looked at each of them for a moment and then, he took up Bible Scrabble.  “I’ve always enjoyed Scrabble,” he said.  They set things up and sat down, cross legged on the carpet and began playing.  They played all three games.  The time went by very quickly and it was time to have something to eat.  They packed up the games and she put them away before going into the kitchen to get dinner ready.

Dinner was Spicy Kale and Coconut Stir Fry, one of her favorite recipes to make.  For dessert, they had Vegan Strawberry Cheesecake Bites.  Then they relaxed on the sofa and watched The War Room.

It was still raining outside when she checked a couple of hours later, though not heavily as before. Steven joined her at the window.  “It seems to be easing up,” she remarked turning to face him.  “Would you like anything to drink—maybe a hot chocolate?”

He shook his head.  “No, thank you.  I should be leaving now.  I have an early day tomorrow at work.”

“All right.  I have an umbrella. Would you like to borrow it?”

He smiled.  “I’ll be fine,” he said.  Then, taking her hands, he added, “I’m happy that it rained because I really enjoyed the time we spent here together.  And thanks for the delectable dinner and dessert.”

She smiled, feeling very pleased. “I had a wonderful time too and I’m glad you enjoyed my cooking.”

His expression got serious as they stood there in front of the window, holding hands.  Then, without saying anything, he bent his head and kissed her.  It was tentative at first but it deepened when he felt her response.  He let go of her hands to cup her face as he kissed her passionately.  She put her arms around his waist.  For several minutes they kissed and then, he broke off the kiss to unbutton his shirt, his face flushed as his eyes met her wide ones.   Their heavy breathing mingled as she helped him with the buttons.  When his shirt was discarded, she removed her top.

Then, they were kissing again, wildly now.  Her fingers dug into the flesh on his back and groaning, he picked her up and carried her over to the rug in front of the fireplace.  After putting her down, he stood up to remove the rest of his clothes before kneeling down to remove hers.  There in front of the fireplace, they made love while outside the rain continued to fall.

Several hours later, he got dressed and left, after a lengthy goodbye at the door.  That night was the first of many such trysts between them.  They both knew it was wrong to have sexual relations outside of marriage but they allowed their passion for one another to override the instructions God brought to their minds.  This continued for weeks.  They hardly went out.  Instead they stayed in inside either at his place or hers and spent a good chunk of their time in bed, ravaging each other before surfacing to engage in other activities.

Then, one Sabbath, the pastor preached a sermon which Larissa felt was directed to her.  It was Youth Day and the message was about youth abstinence.  The words that struck her like a blow were, “True love waits” which was the title of the sermon.  The challenge was for young people to abstain from having sex until marriage and using the Bible, he shared the benefits of abstinence.

As she listened, Larissa felt convicted.  She recalled how she had always planned to save herself for the husband that God was going to bless her with.  When she met and fell in love with Steven, that vow was broken.  Love and desire took precedence and now she was being reminded of that promise she had made to herself.  Tears came to her eyes and she quickly blinked them back.  She didn’t want to lose it right then in front of everybody, especially Steven.  She sat through the sermon and by the time it was over, she had come to the painful conclusion that she had to stop seeing Steven.

As soon as the service was finished, she hurried out of the sanctuary and left the church through the back entrance.  All the way home on the bus, she thought about how hard it was going to be to break up with Steven but they couldn’t continue sleeping together.  In her mind, she heard the apostle Paul’s admonition, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own” (1 Corinthians 6:19).  She had given her body to Steven because she loved him but he wasn’t her husband. She wanted to do things God’s way and if it meant ending her relationship with Steven, then she had no choice but to end it.

Tears rolled down her cheeks and she brushed them away.  Lord, I love Steven so much.  I can’t imagine my life without him in it.  It will be hard going to church and seeing him.  My only other option is to transfer to another church but I love this church and the people.  Lord, I want to do things Your way but this is so painful. When she got home, she changed and then headed straight to the beach to think things through.

And here she was now, staring out at the sea and thinking about how far she had drifted from God.   She stood there for a long time, wishing that her life wasn’t in such a turmoil.  It wasn’t so long ago when she was so happy.  Things were going so well for Steven and her until they became sexually involved.  She closed her eyes as images of their intense lovemaking flashed across her mind and she felt her body react strongly.  Her eyes flew open as guilt filled her and she scrambled to her feet.  She ran all the way to the bus stop and got there just as the bus pulled up.  

She was heading toward the entrance of her building when she heard her name.  Her heart skipped a beat when she turned and found herself staring up at Steven.  His eyes were restless on her face and his expression was serious. “You’ve been crying.”

She didn’t answer.

“I need to talk to you,” he said quietly.  “My car is parked over there.”

She didn’t say anything but followed him to his car.  When they were seated, she looked down at her hands clasped in her lap.  “I-I was going to call you later,” she said.

He reached out and covered her hands with his.  “Larissa, I know that the sermon today was difficult to hear because of our relationship.  We crossed a line we shouldn’t have and I’m sorry.  I was the one who made the first move but I couldn’t help myself.  I wanted you so much.”

“I wanted you too,” she admitted, still not looking at him.

“I looked for you after the service but you were gone.  I went home and called you from there but there was not answer.  I decided to come over and see if you were here.  I was just on my way up to your place when I saw you.  I have something I want to say to you.  I was going to wait until your birthday but I realize that now is the best time.”  He released her hands to reach into the breast pocket of his shirt.  “This morning before I came to church, God told me that we had drifted outside of His will for our lives and that in order for us to get His blessing and anointing on our relationship, we have to do it His way.  True love waits.”

She looked at him, wondering what he was talking about when she saw the black box in his hand.  Her heart began to pound and her eyes flew up to his face.

He opened it and took out a beautiful diamond cross engagement ring.  “Larissa, the first time I saw you, my heart stopped.  And every moment I spent with you was heaven on earth.  I love you with an everlasting love and it would make my heart glad with unspeakable joy if you would spend the rest of your life with me.  Larissa, will you marry me?”

By now the tears were just flowing and it took a few moments for her to whisper, “Yes.”

He blinked back his own tears as he slid the ringer on her finger.  “I love you,” he murmured before leaning over to kiss her.

“I love you too,” she murmured against his lips.  Her heart was singing.  God didn’t want her to end her relationship with Steven, He just wanted it to be done His way.  She was going to wait until she and Steven were married to experience sexual intimacy the way God intended.  No, she didn’t mind waiting at all.  Waiting is a sign of true love and patience. Anyone can say ‘I love you,’ but not everyone can wait and prove it’s true.

Sources:  Emerald City Community Church; Cicero SDA Church; First SDA Church; Ministry Magazine; Cafe Flora; Seattle Tours; Argosy Cruises; Christian Cafe; CBS Seattle; Christianity Today; Cookie and Kate; The Food Network; Box Cast; Sermon Central; Apples of Gold; Married and Young; Ask Ideas

Lost and Found

Claudine and Duke were at a diner having lunch. The last time they saw each other was a couple of weeks ago at his younger brother, Alan’s funeral.  Duke had called her last night to ask her to have lunch with him today.  She was happy to see him.

“It’s good to see you, Duke,” she said.  “How have you been?”

“I’m doing all right, I guess.  I’m still trying to deal with Alan’s untimely death.”

She reached out and put her hand on his.  “I know how hard it is when we lose someone we love.  I went to see Doreen yesterday and she’s still having a really tough time coping.  The kids are staying with their grandparents for a while.”

“Since the funeral I haven’t been to see Doreen and the kids.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t face them right now.”  A pause and then, he blurted out, “I can’t face them because I feel guilty.”

She stared at him, concerned now.  “You feel guilty?  Why?” she asked.

Instead of answering her question, he countered with, “God is love, right?”

“Yes.”

“Then, why did He let Alan die and me live?  Not once when we were kids, did I ever see him throw a tantrum.  And he was the most religious guy I knew.   He was always reading His Bible, active in church and involved in community service.  I, on the other hand, am not a practicing Christian.  I don’t go to church often and I hardly read the Bible.  As far as community service is concerned, I give donations when I can.  I don’t pray often.  And to top it all, I had an affair with a married woman.  Why did the God whom we say is love, let a godly man like Alan who served him all of his life and never did anything wrong, die, leaving a wife and two children behind and let me live? I should have been the one to die in that boating accident, not Alan.”

His words cut into her like a knife and she withdrew her hand from his, lowering her eyes so that he couldn’t see the anguish in them. The thought of losing him in that accident was unbearable.  She was overcome with compassion for Alan’s family but she was thankful that Duke had survived.  She was still thanking God for sparing his life. “Is this why you feel guilty?”

“Yes.  I keep asking myself over and over why God didn’t take me instead of Alan.  Why did He let me live?”

“It is because He loves you.”

“He loves me?” he exclaimed. “What about Alan?  Didn’t He love him too?”

“Yes, He did.”

“Then explain to me why He chose to let me live when He could have saved Alan instead?”

“God doesn’t always do what we expect,” she said. “He had His reasons for sparing your life.  Let me give you an illustration.  Let’s say that you have two children.  One is at home with you and the other is lost.  Which child would you be more concerned about–the one who is safe or the one who is lost?”

“The lost child, of course.”

“So, if you are more concerned about the lost child, does this mean that you love that child more than the other?”

He shook his head. “No.  I would do the same thing for the other child if he were lost too.”

“Exactly! It’s the same thing with Alan and you.  God didn’t spare your life because He loved you more than Alan.  Alan was already saved but God spared you in order to save you,”

“But, I’m a sinner.”

“We’re all sinners but the Bible teaches that God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

“How could God still love me after some of the things I’ve done and the way I’ve treated Him?”

“God is not like us. He loves us in spite of how we are.  His love is unconditional.  He doesn’t stop loving us when we do bad things or turn away from Him.  He keeps reaching out to us like the shepherd who went to find the lost sheep, the woman who searched the house until she found the lost coin or the father who ran to meet his lost son when he saw him coming home because he was so overjoyed to see him.  Jesus said that’s how God feels about the lost.  He rejoices when He finds them.”

“So, what should I do now?” he asked.

“First, you need to thank God for sparing your life so that you have the opportunity to get to know him. This act of mercy and grace demonstrate the loving nature towards us.  He doesn’t want you to die without making a conscious decision to know Him.  In realizing that God saved in your life, I hope that you will see now His love for you and that He wants you to spend time with in a Father and son relationship.”

“One of my favorite scriptures is Jeremiah 29:11 which says, ‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.’ God promised that when you call on Him and pray to Him, He will listen to you.”

“Thank you, Claudine,” he said quietly. “I really appreciate you being here and helping me to understand things that don’t make any sense to me.”

She smiled.  “That’s what friends are for.”

They finished eating and after he paid the bill, he asked, “Are you seeing anyone?”

She shook her head.  “No.” I want to be with you.

It would kill me if you were seeing someone.  “Do you need a lift anywhere?”

“A ride to the subway would be great,” she said.  “I’m going to the nursing home to visit my father.”

“How is he doing?”

“He’s doing all right.  His mind is still very active and alert it’s just his body is worn out.  I still haven’t gotten used to seeing him in a wheelchair.”

“Why is he in a wheelchair?”

“He suffers from intense episodes of Asthma.”  She wrapped the scarf around her neck before pulling on her coat.  She got up from the table and followed him out of the diner as he dragged on his jacket.  She squinted as they stepped into the bright sunshine.  It was a lovely day. They walked to where his car was parked and after he held the door open for her to get in, he slid behind the wheel.  He turned on the radio and classical music played.

“I have a cousin who suffered from asthma since she was a child.  I read somewhere that, Once you have asthma, you have it for life. You might not always be symptomatic. You might have it as a kid and grow out of it. But it may revisit at some point, usually when you have a stress in your life.  Have you ever seen your father have one of his attacks?”

“Yes, more than once and each time it was very scary.  It made me realize how we can take something as such as breathing normally for granted.  But, my Dad is a trooper.  He doesn’t let his bout with asthma get him down.  He’s one of the most upbeat people I know and he always says that God is good to him, one breath at a time.”

“Your father is a very wise man.  I like him.”

“He likes you too,” she said.  “Whenever I visit him, he asks about you.”

“Please say hello to him for me.”

“I will.  Maybe the next time I visit him you can come with me.”

“I’d like that.”

They reached the subway and he pulled over to the side of the road.  He got out and walked around to open the door for her.  As she got out, she stumbled and he moved quickly to steady her.  His hands were on her waist and they were standing very close.  She raised her eyes to look at him and he looked down at her.  For several minutes they stood there looking at each other, their bodies inches apart.  She wondered if he could hear how fast her heart was beating and he wondered what she would say if she knew how badly he wanted to kiss her at that moment.  He released her and stepped aside for her to step on to the curb.

“Thanks for the ride,” she said quietly.  “I’ll call you during the week.”

“Thanks again for having lunch with me and your advice.  I really appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome, Duke.”  She hesitated for a split second and then she reached up and kissed him on the cheek.  He closed his eyes as he felt an intense longing surge through his body and it took all of his will power not to turn his head so that their lips touched.  When she drew back, his eyes were dark and smoldering.  She felt her body respond and turning, she quickly walked away.  He watched her go before he got back into the car and drove off.

All the way to the nursing home, Claudine thought about that unguarded moment between Duke and her.  For the first time since they have known each other, she saw clearly that he was attracted to her too.  She saw the desire she felt shining in his eyes.  Since they met, she had known that she loved him and had prayed that they would end up together.  Was God beginning to answer her prayers?

Her father was in his room when she got to the nursing home and he grinned when he saw her.  “Hello, sunshine.”

She smiled and went over to hug and kiss him.  “Hello, Dad.  How are you feeling?”

“I feel great.  What about you.  How are you doing?”

“I’m fine.  I had lunch with Duke.”

“How’s that young man doing?” She told him about their conversation.  “It sounds like he’s suffering from survivor’s guilt.”

“Yes.  I told him that he has nothing to feel guilty about.”

“Where’s he now?  Why didn’t you bring him with you?”

“He has stuff to do, I guess.  However, I invited him to come with me the next time I visit.”

“Good.  Take off your coat and sit down.”

She removed her coat and draped it over a chair and placed her scarf on top before settling down in a chair by the window.  The room looked bright and cheerful with lots of natural light.    “Have you gone for a walk as yet?” she asked.  “It’s beautiful outside.”

He shook his head.  “Not yet.  I’m watching Premier League football.  Manchester United and Arsenal are playing.”

Claudine shook her head, smiling.  Her father was a football fanatic.  He could sit there and watch it all day if it were possible.  “All right, finish watching your game and then, you and I will go for a walk and sit outside in the garden for a while.  A bit of fresh air will do you a lot of good.”

“Claudine, you’re worried about Duke, aren’t you?”

She nodded.  “Yes.”

“Don’t because God is going to sort him out and after He’s through sorting him out, you can tell him that you love him.”

She looked at him in astonishment.  “But, how did you–?”

“Guess that you’re in love with Duke?  It’s written all over your face every time you talk about him.  These eyes don’t miss anything.  I like Duke but he’s not the right man for you yet but he will be when God is through with him.”  Shouting on the television caught his attention and he watched as they showed a replay of Manchester United scoring its second goal.

Claudine sat there, trying to make sense of what her father just told her.  His words gave her hope.  Duke was the man for her and when the time was right, they would be together with God’s blessing.  Tears sprang to her eyes and she quickly blinked them back.  Thank You, God for answering my prayers.  And thank You for taking care of Duke.

For the rest of the afternoon, Duke couldn’t stop thinking about Claudine and what almost happened between them outside the subway station.  And that night before he went to bed, he got down on his knees and prayed.

Lord, today when Claudine kissed me on the cheek, I wanted so much to show her how much I love her.  I’ve loved her for eight years.  I knew from the moment we met that she was the right woman for me although I knew that I wasn’t the right man for her.  I’ve asked you to remove the love I have for her from my heart but it just keeps growing stronger.  I tried to get her out of my system by having an affair with Heather who was separated from John at the time.  I know what I did was wrong but I wasn’t thinking at the time.  I was hurting because I couldn’t be with the woman I loved.  It was sheer torture loving someone I couldn’t have because I was wrong for her. Even now it’s hard to be around her knowing that I could never be more than friends with her.  Lord, please help me.  Please help me to get over her.

He remained there beside the bed on his knees for a while longer, in the quietness of the room, waiting.  Before you could be the right man for Claudine, you need have a right relationship with Me. The words filled him with hope.  He could be with Claudine but first, he had to make things right with God.  He had to put his relationship with God first.

The following morning he got an email from Claudine.  It read, Hi, Duke,

I found two links that I thought may be very helpful to you. The first is about God’s Pursuit of Man and the second is about having a personal relationship with God.  God longs to have a loving relationship with you.  James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  God promised in Jeremiah 29:13 that when you seek Him you will find Him when you search for Him with all your heart.  I pray that when you come to know God, you will see how valued you are in His sight and the guilt you feel about surviving the boat accident will be resolved.  I’ll be in touch.  Blessings, Claudine.

He replied to her email and then clicked on the first link.  Eagerly, he read it and by the time he was finished, he was in tears.  After he opened and read the second link, he turned off the laptop and got ready for work.  As he showered and got dressed, he would follow the six simple steps Alan once shared with him on how to build a relationship with God:

  1. Take the time to touch bases with God
  2. Invite Him to come close
  3. Talk
  4. Listen
  5. Make contact throughout your day
  6. Take action when you hear God’s voice

The next several weeks, he spent time reading the Bible, praying and reflecting.  When Claudine invited him to go to church with her one Sunday, he readily accepted her invitation.  From the moment he walked through the doors, he knew that this was the church he wanted to be a part of.  The love and warmth of the parishioners filled his heart with such comfort and joy that it brought tears to his eyes.  It wasn’t long before he got baptized.  Doreen and the children were there.  After the service, she hugged Duke and said, tearfully, “Alan would have been so proud.”

That evening, Claudine and he went out for dinner at one of his favorite restaurants.

“So how does it feel to be part of a church family?” she asked, smiling across the table at him.

He beamed.  “It feels wonderful,” he said.  “Now I understand why Alan loved the church community so much.”

“It was good to see Doreen and the kids.”

“She told me that Alan would have been proud.”

“Yes, he would have been.  His brother was lost and now he’s found.”

He reached over and covered her hand.  “I owe this all to you too,” he said quietly.  “I’m who I am and where I am now because of you.  Thank you for pushing me gently toward God.”

“You’re welcome.  I’m so thankful that things have worked out the way they have.”

“There’s one more thing.”  His expression was tense now.  “I have something to tell you.  It’s something that has been on my mind for a very long time but now is the right time to tell you.”

Frowning, she asked, “What is it you want to tell me?”

Taking a deep breath, he said, “I love you, Claudine.  I’ve loved you since the first time we met but I never told you because I didn’t believe that I was the right man for you.”

Heart racing, Claudine looked him straight in the face and replied, “I love you too, Duke.  I’ve loved since the first time I saw you.  My Dad was right.  That day when I visited him after you and I met for lunch, he said that you weren’t the right man for me yet but that when God was through with you, you will be.”

“Wow, that’s profound.”

“That had to be God revealing His plan to him to encourage me because I’d been praying and it seemed like God wasn’t answering or taking a long time to.”

“So, now that we know that we’re right for each other, I don’t want to waste any more time.”  He reached into his pocket and produced a small black box.  Then, he got up from the table and walked around to where she was and got down on one knee.  He opened the box, took out the ring and asked, “Claudine Bradshaw, will you marry me?”

Laughing and conscious of eyes on them, she nodded.  “Yes, I will marry you, Duke Addington.”  Through tears, she saw him slip the exquisite ring with its single heart shaped diamond on her finger before he reached up and kissed her.

Amidst the applause, he rose to his feet and went back to his seat, grinning broadly.  He raised his mock-tail and said, “To us.”

After dabbing her eyes with the napkin, she raised her glass. “To us.  And to God be the glory.”

 

 

Sources:  Our Daily Bread; Karman Healthcare; Yearning Hearts; Wise Old Sayings; Heart Spoken;

Led by God

Roman was in the park, tying the laces on his running shoes when Janice walked up to him.  He glanced up.  “What are you doing here?” he asked.

“I’m here to see you, of course,” she replied.  “I missed you yesterday.  We all did, especially the kids.  The annual church picnic just wasn’t the same without you there.   As usual it was a fun-filled day of food, games and fellowship.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be there but I didn’t feel up to it.”

“Is everything okay with you, Roman?”

He finished tying his laces and stood up, stretching.  “Yes, everything is okay with me.  Is that why you’re here, Janice?  To check up on me?”

“I’m not checking up on you.  I just wanted to come by and see how you’re doing.”

“Well, I’m doing fine.”

“Frances is a bit worried about you…”

“Did Frances send you?”

“No, she didn’t but she called me last night because she was concerned about you and I promised her that I would pop by to see you.”

“Sometimes Frances acts more like my mother than my sister.  She has her own family to take care of.”

“You are family.  And if there is something that is troubling you, you really don’t have to deal with it alone–”

His mouth tightened.  “I don’t need a therapist.”

“I’m not here professionally, Roman, but as a friend.  Please, can we find a bench somewhere and talk?”

“I’d rather not talk about my personal life right now,” he said.

“All right.  We won’t talk about you.”

“What will we talk about?”

“Anything that doesn’t make you uncomfortable.”

“Okay.  There’s a bench over there.”

She followed him to the bench which faced the lake and they sat down.  “This is the second time in five years I have been to Hyde Park.  I had forgotten how beautiful it is.  Do you come here often?”

“Yes.  It’s where I come to relax and unwind and it’s close to where I live.  But, you already know that.  Did you go to my flat first before coming here?”

“Yes.  Frances told me that if you weren’t there, chances were that you were here.”

“What did you hope to accomplish by coming here?”

“Well, I hoped to see you and spend some time with you.”

“What about your boyfriend?  Wouldn’t he have a problem with you being here with me?”

She looked down at her hands.  “Roger and I aren’t seeing each other anymore.”

“How come, if you don’t mind me asking.”

“He’s a non-believer.  I knew that before we started dating but foolishly I believed that I was his best chance for knowing Jesus.  I knew what I should do but wrestled with it for a while because I cared for Roger.  I prayed about it and spoke to my pastor.  He said that any emotional attachment a person had toward another person who is not on the same spiritual page or vice versa, is an unhealthy attachment.  He told me to heed God’s Word about being unequally yoked and end the relationship and move on.  Which I did.”

“When did you break up with Roger?”

“Last month.”

“That’s very recent.”

“Yes.  Sometimes it feels like it happened just yesterday.  I know that it’s for the best, though.  I had no idea that I was doing what Pastor Brown called, missionary dating.”

“What would he call being in a relationship with someone you have doubts about?”

“What sorts of doubts do you have about Jenny?”

“I have doubts that she’s the woman I’m meant to be with.”

“How long have the two of you been dating?”

“Four years.”

“And you still have doubts about whether or not she’s the one you want to spend the rest of your life with?”

“Yes.”  He ran his fingers through his hair.  “I just can’t shake the feeling that this relationship is all wrong for me and that I should get out of it.”

“Any time you have doubts, you need to take notice and deal with them right away.  I once read something that James T. Draper wrote which said, ‘Doubt never means yes and always means no or wait a while: God does not lead through doubt. If you can’t get peace, that is an answer.’   Don’t ignore the signs that are there.  Have you shared your concerns with Jenny?”

“Yes, I have but the doubts are still there.”

“Pray about it.”

He sighed.  “I will.”

She glanced at her watch.  “I’m afraid I have to go now,” she said, getting up.  “If you need to talk some more, call me.”

“All right.  Thanks.”  He watched her as she walked away and then he leaned back against the bench and closed his eyes.  Lord, what should I do about Jenny?  I don’t want to hurt her but I can’t ignore all of these doubts.

He waited for several minutes and then he got his answer.  “Jenny is not the one for you.  It is time to end your relationship with her”.  He opened his eyes and reaching into his pants pocket, he took out his cell phone.  He paused for a moment before punching in the numbers.  It rang a couple of times and then she answered.

“Hi, Roman, I’ve been calling you all morning.  Where are you?”

“Hi, Jenny.  I’m in the park.”  His fingers gripped the phone as he added, “May I come over?  I need to see you.”

“Sure.  You sound a bit funny.  Are you all right?”

“Yes.  I just have a lot of things on my mind.  I will be there in half-hour.”

“All right.  I’ll see you then.”

He ended the call.  He put the cell back into his pocket and stood up.  As he walked out of the park and headed home, he thought about what he was going to say.

That evening, Janice had just finished watching In Touch with Charles Stanley when her phone rang.  She got up and went to answer it.  It was Roman.

“I ended my relationship with Jenny this morning.”

“How did she take it?”

“Not good, I’m afraid.”

“That’s as expected.  How are you doing?”

“Not well.  I feel rotten.”

“It’s never easy to break up with someone you love.”

“Did you love Roger?”

“No.  I cared for him but I wasn’t in love with him.”

“This experience has taught me that loving someone isn’t enough to make the relationship work.  I love Jenny but I can’t be with her because I know that we wouldn’t be happy.”

“My grandmother once said that just because two people love each other it doesn’t mean that they are meant for each other.  The nagging doubts you had about Jenny was evidence that you aren’t right for each other.  I’m sorry that things didn’t work out for you, though.”

“Me too.”

“So, what are you going to do now?”

“Do you remember Lisa Williams?”

Janice knitted her brow.  “Vaguely.”

“She’s one of the mission trip organizers and she invited me to go on a mission trip to Ireland for ten days.”

“Are you going to go?”

“Yes.  I believe that a mission trip is what I need right now.”

“When do you leave?”

“Next week Monday.”

“Well, I hope you have a good trip.  One of the best ways to recover from breaking up with someone you love is to do something entirely new.  Going on this trip is probably what you need to do.  You’ll see new places and meet new people.  Think of it this way, God has called you to partake in His work of transforming hearts and lives in Ireland.”

“Yes, I believe He has.” A pause then, “Thank you, Janice, for being there for me.”

“What are friends for?”

“I’ll call you when I get back.”

“All right.  Take care.”

“Goodbye.”

She hung up and stood there for several minutes then she went back over to the sofa and sat down.

The trip to Ireland provided just the catalyst Roman needed.  God used the experience to take him out of his comfort zone through street ministry and to bring him closer to Him.  His eyes were opened to the love of God spreading to a community of people who knew of Him but didn’t know Him personally.  Ireland was a beautiful place but the highlight for him was sharing the simplicity and beauty of the Gospel message with people.  He hoped and prayed that their hearts would be transformed.

On the flight back to London, he thought about the trip and how thankful he was to have been a part of it.  He remembered the different areas they had traveled to but Cobh stood out for him.  It was a beautiful and colorful town.  He learned that it was the Titanic’s last port of call and visited the Titanic Memorial Garden there in Cobh.  It was also where the survivors and the dead from the torpedoed RMS Lusitania were brought.  A monument was erected to commemorate the tragedy.

As he stood at the Cobh harbor looking at the colorful buildings huddling together facing the water and the boats and St Colman’s Cathedral, one of the tallest buildings in Ireland, looming over the town, he thought about Janice.  He was sure that she would love the place and on the spur of the moment, he bought her a postcard.  He wrote something on it and then dropped it in the mailbox.  He had a feeling that he would be back in London before the postcard arrived.

He glanced at his watch now.  In about an hour they would be arriving at London’s Heathrow Airport.  He was looking forward to being home.  As soon as he got in he was going to relax on the sofa and watch some television.  Although he still thought about her, there were no reminders of Jenny in his flat.  Before leaving on the trip, he had cleaned house, removing photos of her alone, of them together, souvenirs they had brought back from trips and things she had given him.  It was tough doing that but not as tough as severing all contact with her.

He deleted her from his email account, blocked her from Facebook, blocked her cell, home and work numbers.  It had to be a clean and complete break.  Thankfully, they didn’t attend the same church or it would be really awkward and difficult running into her.  He decided that it would be best to phase out her friends from his life as well.  No ties with them or her family or anyone in her circle.  Another clean break.  He would make new friends and reconnect with old ones–have his own social circle.   And as far as dating again was concerned, he wasn’t ready.  He was going to be single for a while.  He believed that “being single is definitely better than being with the wrong person (Hassan Choughari).

Being single felt a bit strange at first after having been in a four year relationship but he got used to it after a while.  He traveled more, got involved church ministry and community service.  His life was busy and fulfilling.  Two years had passed and Jenny was a faint memory.  The last he heard of her, she had gotten married to a guy she met at a Singles’ Retreat.  He was happy for her but it only proved to him that the doubts he had about her were God’s way of alerting him to the fact that she was not the right woman for him and he was not the right man for her.  She was with the person she was meant to be with and he was going to trust God now to show him who the right woman was for him.

Lately, he and Janice were spending more time together.  He enjoyed her company.  They went hiking across dramatic cliff-tops and river valleys with breathtaking views of the white cliffs of Seven Sisters, Beachy Head and the Cuckmere Haven river valley.  They had lunch at The Cuckmere Inn.  Last Saturday they went bowling with Frances and her husband, Ken.

Tonight they were having dinner at a family run Italian restaurant.  “I got your postcard from Budapest yesterday,” Janice told him.  “It must have been nice seeing those grand palaces, cathedrals and art.”

“Yes, it was.  It seems like all of my postcards got home after I did, though.”

She smiled.  “Well, except for the one from Montreal.”

Roman reached over and covered her hand with his, his expression serious.  “Janice, I’ve known you for a very long time and you’ve always been a good friend to me.  When I was going through my struggles with doubts about Jenny, you were there to counsel me.  Lately, we have been spending a lot of time together and during this time, I have developed romantic feelings for you.  I feel such peace when I’m with you.

“There are no doubts or concerns.  Our schedules don’t conflict.  We both have time to go to church, serve God, and enjoy spending time together.  I enjoy being with you.  Thinking of you excites me spiritually and emotionally.  Talking to you is so easy.  I feel so comfortable sharing very intimate thoughts with you.  I feel that I have your undivided attention.  And everyone thinks you’re terrific.  Janice, I want to be in a relationship with you.”

Janice stared at him, her heart was pounding.  She could hardly believe it.  Her prayers had been answered!  “I want to be in a relationship with you too, Roman,” she admitted huskily.

He smiled and squeezed her hand.  “Are you up for dessert?”

She nodded.  “Yes.  I keep thinking about that Chocolate fudge cake.”

They began dating from that night and six months later, he proposed.  The wedding took place the following summer.  Frances was her matron of honor and Ken was the best man.  It was a small and intimate wedding.  They honeymooned in the Grenadines.

After a walk on the beach following dinner, they went back to their room with its stunning view of the sea.  They stood facing each other, both nervous and excited at the same time. “I love you,” Roman muttered thickly.  “I waited for more than two years for the right woman and God led me straight to you.”

“I love you too,” she murmured.  “A wise woman once said, wait for the man who waited on the Lord to lead him straight to you.  I waited for you and God led you to me.”

Roman reached out and taking her by the hands, he drew her to him, his eyes dark and stormy with desire.  He bent his head and kissed her.  When he felt her response, his hands released hers to cup her face as he deepened the kiss.  She put her arms around his waist and pressed against him.   The kisses became more passionate and soon, they were tugging at each other’s clothes, wanting to be free and to feel skin against skin.

Picking her up, he carried her over to the bed where in the moon dappled light, they made love for the first time.

Sources:  CBN; Heather Lindsey; Facts and Trends; Huffington Post; Bustle; World’s Missions Alliance; She Knows; Huffington Post; RFWMA; Irish Central; Wikipedia; Self Growth; Pinterest; Walking Club; Belief Net; Nina Andres; Cotton House

Soho

Lord Nelson Hadley always prided himself in being a man in control of his faculties. He was more analytical than emotional when it came to the affairs of the heart.  And being ultra conservative, he was staunch in his stance against abortion, premarital sex, same sex marriage, drug use and other practices that were contrary to his religious and moral beliefs.  He was never married.  Marriage was something which he held in very high regard and he wanted to get it right because he didn’t want to end up divorced like some of his friends.  He wanted to take his time and make sure that he married the right woman.

Over the years, he dated several high society women. Currently, he was dating Agatha Sullivan, the youngest daughter of Ted Sullivan, retired Supreme Court Judge.  Agatha was a beautiful, accomplished woman and a philanthropist.  They met at a charity ball two years ago.  She shared his faith and his political views.  He enjoyed her company and cared deeply for her.  His family and close friends highly regarded her and thought she would make him a very suitable wife.  He began to seriously and prayerfully consider marrying her.  And then, he met Regina Davis…

Their meeting reminded him of David’s and Bathsheba.  Like David, he was where he shouldn’t have been.  It was around noon and he was hungry.  He was in the mood for spicy food so he decided that he would go to a familiar Caribbean restaurant in Soho.  Besides, it was a nice change from the upscale establishments he frequently went to where the food was sometimes bland.

He didn’t notice her until after he had given his order to the waitress.  After closing the menu, he glanced up and his gaze fell on her.  She was sitting two tables away, alone and she looking at him.  She wasn’t the sort of woman he would be attracted to although, she was attractive.  Perhaps it was the excess makeup or the fact that she was wearing too much jewelry.  Yet, he couldn’t tear his eyes away.  He was like a moth drawn to a flame.

They stared at each other for a long time and when the waitress came and placed the plate in front of him, he barely glanced up at her.  He didn’t touch his food right away.  He found himself wondering who the woman at the table was and for a maddening moment was tempted to invite her to join him.  Then, she smiled at him and his heart skipped a beat.  Without thinking, he smiled back.

His response seemed to be all the encouragement she needed and his heart began to pound when he saw her get up from her table and walk over to him.  She was wearing a blue long sleeved sweater which hugged her and a pair of faded jeans which fitted her snugly.  She was medium height and looked to be in her late thirties.  She stood behind the chair opposite him, her manicured hands resting on the back.  She seemed a bit nervous and cleared her throat.

“Lord Hadley, I’m sorry that I was staring at you,” she said.  “It’s just that I went to a fundraising event last week with a friend and saw you there with Agatha Sullivan.  I wanted to come over and thank you both for your generous donations to the Olive Davis Community Center but something came up and I had to leave.”

This close, she was even more arresting and he found it hard to stop staring.  “Do you work at the Olive Davis Community Center?”

She nodded.  “Yes, I’m the Director.  The center was founded by my grandmother Olive Davis who wanted to help the youth to stay off the streets.”

“What’s your name?”

“Regina Davis.”

He saw that she wasn’t married.  “It’s nice to meet you, Regina,” he said, holding out his hand.  She moved around the chair and closer to him so that she could shake his hand.  Her hand felt so soft and very small in his.  “The Olive Davis Community Center is doing excellent work in the community and we wanted to show our support.”  Am I sounding like a politician?

“Please thank Miss Sullivan for me.”

“I will,” he promised.

She hesitated and then said, “Well, let me not take up any more of your time.”

“I would like to stop by your center some time,” he heard himself say and he knew that the reason for deciding to drop by had nothing to do with the center itself.  He was just using it as an excuse to see her again.

She smiled.  “That would be great,” she said and reaching into her handbag, she took out a business card which she handed to him.   “Here’s my card.  Call me when you plan to stop by.”

He took it and put it in the breast pocket of his jacket.  “Thank you,” he said, his eyes meeting hers.  He wanted to ask her to stay but decided that it would be unwise to do so.

“Goodbye, Lord Hadley,” she said.  After a lingering glance, she turned and walked out of the restaurant.

He sat there for a long time, watching the door through which she had left and feeling like a heel because all he could think about was how badly he wanted to see her again.  By the time he left the restaurant he had made up his mind that he would stop by the community center the following week.

On Monday morning, when he called her to let her know that he was going to stop by on Wednesday afternoon, she sounded very pleased to hear from him.  The sound of her voice did things to him and he wondered if he sounded as breathless as he felt.  His heart was racing and his hand gripped the phone tightly to stop it from trembling.  What on earth is the matter with me? he asked himself after he hung up.  He was acting like this over a woman he met just last week when he was contemplating marrying another.  Perhaps, he should call her back and tell her that he couldn’t go but the desire to see her again was too strong.

Wednesday came and he was both nervous and excited.  He keep looking at his watch.  When it was time to leave, he quickly shut down his laptop, got up, pulled on his jacket and left the office.  On the drive over, he kept asking himself why he hadn’t mentioned to Agatha that he was going there today.  He had conveyed Regina’s message to her but left out the part about stopping by the center.

Regina was waiting in the reception area when he got there and a bright smile came over her face as she quickly closed the distance between them to greet and shake his hand.  She looked lovely in a cream pantsuit which flattered her figure and he noticed that she wasn’t wearing that much makeup or jewelry.  “It’s so good of you to come,” she said, after introducing him to Jasmine, the receptionist and they were walking down the hallway to begin the tour which she had promised him over the phone.

“I’m sorry that I didn’t think of it before.”  That was true.  He remembered how Agatha had mentioned visiting the center to get a better perspective of how it was operated and to meet the staff and maybe some of the youth whom they were helping but they never got around to it due to conflicting schedules.  Again, he felt guilty about not arranging for a convenient day and time for them to come together.  Pushing these feelings aside, he concentrated on what Regina was telling him about the center and the different programs.

“We offer services to women, children, youth, immigrants and the homeless.  We have programs for teenage mothers, at risk youth, parenting workshops, health and cooking programs.  Last year we launched a food bank which helps people from all ethnic and educational backgrounds and low in-come families.  My grandmother, Olive, believed strongly in helping people from all walks of life, especially the vulnerable, needy and faceless in our communities.  She was a God-fearing woman who was determined to show God’s love to everyone, no matter who they were.  She always said, ‘Love is not about feeling, it is about doing.  Jesus was always doing’.  I thought that was a great saying to put as part of our mission statement.”

“I think your grandmother would be proud of the work you are doing,” he said, genuinely impressed by what he saw and it made him want to do more.

She smiled.  “Thank you.  This center means a great deal to me because not only is it here to help many people and to make a difference in their lives but it keeps my grandmother’s dream alive.”

When the tour was over, they went to her office where they spent a little while longer talking about the center.  “I was wondering if you would be willing to come and make a presentation to my church one Saturday.  It may encourage members to get involved.”

“I’d love to,” she said.  “Just let me know when.”

“Thank you.”  He stood up.  “I must be going.”

She followed him to the entrance.  “Thank you again for coming, Lord Hadley.”

They were alone.  The receptionist had left for the day.  “Please call me Nelson,” he said quietly.  Heart thudding, he asked, “Will you have dinner with me tomorrow evening at that restaurant where we met?”

She nodded.  “Yes.  I could meet you there, if you like, because I live about ten minutes away.”

“All right,” he agreed.  “I will be there for seven.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

The next evening when she got there five minutes before seven, he was there sitting at the same table as the last time.  He rose to his feet and held out the chair for her to sit.  His eyes traveled over her, admiration shimmering in their depths.  She was wearing a red long sleeved dress and heavy makeup.  Big, gold earrings dangled from her ears and this time, her nails were painted bright red.  He was wearing a charcoal grey suit, matching tie and black shirt.  After they ordered dinner, she asked, “Are you a Seventh-day Adventist?”

“Yes.”

“I asked because you mentioned that your church service was on a Saturday.  My grandmother, Olive was a Seventh-day Adventist.  As you can tell, I’m not one.”

“You are referring to the makeup and the jewelry.”

“Yes.  If I were to show up at your church like this, they would probably run me out.  With the exception of my grandmother, I always thought that Adventists were intolerant and judgmental.”

“Most of us may come across that way because we are passionate about the Bible and its application in our lives.” Right now if one of the members were to see me with you they would have a conniption.  Agatha had gone to church with him on a couple of occasions and they welcomed her but he suspected that it was because of her Adventist background.

“When I come to your church I will be makeup and jewelry free, I promise.”

“Thank you.” He turned the topic on to other things.  Dinner turned out to be a very pleasant experience and he was sorry when it was over.  He took her home and walked her to her door.  Outside, they faced each other.  His heart was pounding wildly against his ribs.

“Wouldn’t you like to come in?” she asked.

“I shouldn’t,” he said weakly.  His mind yelled, Run but his body was screaming, Stay.

She turned and unlocked the door and pushed it open.  “Just for a nightcap,” she said.

Temptation cast itself like a net over him and drew him into the flat.  When the door closed, he knew he was in deep trouble.  Desire seized him in an iron grip and blindly, he reached for her and pulled her roughly against him.  His mouth found hers and devoured it like a ravenous lion, pressing her up against the door, groaning when he felt her eager response.  Hands tugged at clothes until they were discarded on the ground by their feet, nails clawed at bare skin as they moved like two drunken people toward the hearth where a cream shaggy rug was spread.  There, in front of the electric fireplace, they made wild and passionate love, beginning what was to be a torrid love affair.

They saw each other as often as it was possible and spent most of their time at Regina’s flat.  They went out occasionally and were careful to avoid the places where they might run into familiar faces.  The only place they frequented was the Caribbean restaurant in Soho.  It became their favorite haunt because it was where they met.

On the Saturday when she was invited to speak at his church, they were careful not to give themselves away, always acting circumspect around each other, especially since Agatha was there.  After the service, as Nelson watched the two women chatting over potluck in the church basement, he couldn’t help comparing them.  As usual, Agatha looked regal in her lime green suit with matching hat, shoes and purse.  She was a very beautiful woman with thick chestnut hair and bright blue eyes yet it wasn’t she who make his heart skip a beat whenever he was around her.  His gaze shifted to Regina.

She was wearing a below the knee black and white dress with long sleeves.  Her face was devoid of any makeup and she was not wearing any jewelry.  She had kept her promise.  She looked incredible.  He had to be careful not to be caught staring at her.  After the afternoon program, she left.  That evening, he went to her flat and didn’t go back home until the following afternoon.

It wasn’t long before his affair with Regina began to affect other areas in his life.  He found it difficult to concentrate on his work and when he was in sessions, he found himself thinking about her.  When he was with Agatha, he was distracted and when she inquired about it, he was evasive and said that he had a lot of things on his mind but assured her that it was nothing for her to be concerned about.  Whenever he read his Bible and came across passages talking about fornication, he was filled with conviction.

Finally, it was yesterday when he had resolved, I must end my relationship with Regina.  With a set expression on his face, he had closed the Bible and gotten up from behind the desk in his study and left the room, determined to push all feelings aside and do what his faith and conscience dictated.

He had gone over to her flat, with every intention of ending their affair but when she opened the door, pulled him inside and pushed him up against the door, after slamming it shut, his resolve weakened.  He blushed now as he remembered how she had dragged off his jacket, tossed it on the floor before ripping open his expensive white shirt, sending the buttons flying.  His body reacted when he remembered how she had buried her face in his heaving chest even as her fingers loosened his belt.

They had ended up making passionate love right there on the rug in front of the door. All the reasons he had come up with for ending things between them went straight out of the window.  His mind and senses were dulled by the desires which consumed him. The guilt of his hypocrisy and his duplicity which had plagued him all the way to Regina’s flat that evening had taken flight in the face of his insatiable hunger for her.  He spent the night with her.

He came home a couple of hours ago after another one of their explosive trysts.  Now that he was alone, all the guilt and self-recrimination came flooding back and he sank down on the bed, burying his face in his hands.  And to make matters worse, he didn’t even remember that Agatha and he were supposed to attend the opera that evening.  If she hadn’t called an hour ago, he would have stood her up.  He spent all day, trying to figure out what to do.  Regina was like a drug that he was addicted to.  He wanted more and more of her.  The carnal feelings she aroused in him were terrifying and foreign to him.  In all of his forty-two years, he had never felt like this about any woman.

That evening as he got dressed, he couldn’t stop thinking about Regina and as he buttoned his shirt, he thought of the shirt he had to discard because she had ripped off the buttons.  He closed his eyes briefly as an intense longing filled him, making him whisper her name as he remembered the rapt expression on her face as he made love to her that morning.  Frustrated, his eyes flew open.  Get a hold of yourself, Nelson, he chided himself.  Dragging on his jacket, he left the bedroom.  He had no idea how he was going to get through the night being in the company of one woman while thinking of the other.

Regina sat on the sofa, an opened book on her lap but she wasn’t reading it.  She couldn’t concentrate.  All she could think about was Nelson.  They were worlds apart and moved within different circles.  He was a Lord and in a relationship with a cultured woman.  There was no question that one of these days they were probably going to get married.

Regina closed her eyes at the thought and painful jealousy filled her.  She had no doubt that Nelson wanted her.  It was evident whenever they were together but she wished that he felt more than desire for her.  I wish he were in love with me like I’m in love with him.

She opened her eyes and tossed the book aside, rising to her feet.  She had to face facts.  There was no future for her with Nelson.  The only option was end their affair.  She couldn’t continue sharing him with Agatha, dreading the day when he would announce their engagement.  Still, the thought of never seeing him again was just too unbearable for her.

Tears sprang to her eyes.  She felt helpless–trapped.  Why did I have to be in the restaurant that day when he came in?  Why did I have to fall in love with him?  Why? Why? Why?  A sob escaped her lips and the tears fell.  Dear God, please help me, she begged silently.  Just then, the phone rang.  Brushing the tears away, she hurried to answer it.  “Hello?”

It was Andrew, her nephew.  He was in the area and wondered if she would like to go to the movies and then grab a bite afterwards.  She readily accepted his invitation.  It would take her mind off her problems and it would be nice to catch up since it had been a while since they saw each other.  After she hung up, she showered, got dressed and left to meet him in the lobby.

It was while they were sitting at a traffic stop when Nelson spotted Regina coming out of the cinema with a tall, athletic young man.  He watched as she looked up at him and laughed when he said something before she slipped her arm through his as they started down the sidewalk.  Nelson’s face suffused with color.  Red, hot jealousy surged through him and he knew that if Agatha weren’t in the car with him, he would have jumped out and gone after them.  He wouldn’t have cared who saw him.  He sank back against the seat, his head spinning.

“What’s the matter?” Agatha asked, touching his arm, making him start.  When he turned to look at her, there was concerned expression on her face.  “All you all right?”

He stared at her for a long moment, trying to figure out what to do.  Should he be honest with her and tell her that he was upset because he had just seen Regina with someone else?  And what would he say if she asked him why seeing the Director of Olive Community Center with another man should matter to him?  Or should he just tell her that he wasn’t feeling well?  How could he do that when he knew that for weeks she had been looking forward to seeing Verdi’s opera, Un Ballo in Maschera?  He didn’t want to ruin her plans.  “I’ll be okay,” he finally said, with a forced smile before he turned away to stare out of the window.

It was after eight by the time Regina let herself into the flat.  She put her keys on the table in the foyer before heading straight for the sofa where she plopped herself down.  She reached for the remote and switched on the television.  It was nice going to the movies with Andrew, grabbing pizza afterwards but she couldn’t stop thinking about Nelson.  I wonder what he’s doing right now.  The flat seemed lonely without him.  She hugged the cushion tightly, wishing he were there with her.

Finally, the opera was over and it was time to leave.  He had no idea how he sat through it when all he wanted to do was leave and head over to Regina’s flat.  During intermission, he had excused himself and gone toward the bathroom but instead of going inside, he went somewhere quiet to call her.  There was no answer and when he tried her cell, it was turned off.  Frustrated, he dragged his fingers through his hair, wondering where she was.  He returned to the balcony and sat down just as the lights dimmed.

Now as he sat in the car as it merged into traffic, heading to the Sullivan estate, he thought, she should be home by now.  Is she alone or is he there with her?  Unable to stand it any longer, he turned to Agatha, “Agatha, I have a confession to make…”

Regina woke up with a start.  Somehow, she must have dozed off.  Sitting up, she was about to turn off the television when she heard the doorbell.  Scrambling off the sofa, she rushed to answer it.  It was after ten.  Peering through the keyhole, her heart skipped a beat when she saw who it was.  Eagerly, she unlocked the door and flung it open.  The smile that lit up her face faded when she saw the expression on his.

Stepping aside, she let him go in before locking the door and turning to face him.  “Don’t I get a hug or a kiss?” she asked, longing to put her arms around him and kiss him.  He looked very handsome in the black silk suit, matching tie and white shirt.

“I called you earlier but there wasn’t any answer.  I tried your cell phone but it was turned off.”

She frowned.  “What time did you call?”

“I called during the intermission which was around five minutes past seven.”

“Intermission?” she inquired.

“Yes, I was at the opera.”  He was a walking contradiction of emotions.  Jealousy, anger and desire churned inside him.

She pursed her lips.  So that was where he was tonight and it explained why he was all dressed up.  “You went to the opera with Agatha.”

“Yes.  Regina–”

“Did she enjoy it?”

“I’m sure she did.”

“What about you?”

He almost lost it.  “No, I didn’t enjoy it,” he muttered tightly, his eyes dark and stormy.  “And do you want to know why I didn’t enjoy it?”

She looked wary now.  “Why?” she asked in a small voice.

“Because of you.  Are you seeing someone else?” he demanded thickly, almost beside himself with jealousy.

She stared at him, her eyes wide.  “Of course not,” she said, shaking her head.

“Then who was the young man I saw you leaving the cinema with this afternoon?  I saw the two of you when Agatha and I were on our way to the opera.”

“That was Andrew.  He’s my nephew.”

“Your nephew?” he repeated.  “That young man I saw you walking down the sidewalk arm in arm was your nephew?”

“Yes!”  She turned and abruptly walked away, returning a few minutes later with a framed photograph.  She showed it to him.  It was of her, another woman and the young man.  “That’s his mother, Beryl, my older sister when we were at our parents’ home in Florida last year Christmas.”

He closed his eyes, slumping against the door as relief washed over him.  “I was out of my mind with jealousy when I saw you with him,” he told her.  “If Agatha weren’t with me, I would have jumped out of the car and come after you.”

Regina put the photo on the table besides her keys and then she reached up and slowly unbuttoned his jacket.  “It seems like we both had a miserable night,” she said quietly.   “I was over there on the sofa wondering what you were doing and missing you like crazy and you were at the opera with Agatha thinking that I was cheating on you.”  His jacket was off and on the floor.  Next, she started on the buttons on his shirt.  He opened his eyes then and what was in them matched what she was feeling.

“I told Agatha about us,” he admitted, staring at her bent head.  “I couldn’t continue lying to her and to myself.  I ended our relationship tonight and then I came straight here.  I love you, Regina.  Seeing you with Andrew today only made me realize that I can’t be with anyone else.”

Her hands paused as she raised her eyes to his face.  “I love you too but what about your family and friends and your church?  What will they think about you being in love with a sinner?”

“We’re all sinners, Regina but the good news is that we have a Savior who loves us.”

“You know, when I was at your church, the members made me feel very welcome.  Do you think they would mind if I started going regularly?”

He shook his head.  “No, they wouldn’t mind at all.”

“Good.” She bent her head and resumed unfastening the buttons.  The shirt soon joined the jacket on the floor.  When he was standing half-naked before her, she reached up and pulled his head down to hers.  His arms went about her waist, holding her tightly against him as he kissed her back.

A year and a half later after she was baptized and became a member of his church,  they got married.  The service was held there and the reception at the Park Plaza County Hall and among the guests was the staff from the Caribbean restaurant where this all began.

“[Soho] is all things to all men, catering comprehensively for those needs which money can buy. You see it as you wish. An agreeable place to dine; a cosmopolitan village tucked away behind Piccadilly with its own mysterious village life, one of the best shopping centres for food in London, the nastiest and most sordid nursery of crime in Europe. Even the travel journalists, obsessed by its ambiguities, can’t make up their minds.” ― P.D. James, Unnatural Causes

For Nelson and Regina, Soho was everything to them because it was the place where they met and fell in love.

 

Sources:  Agincourt Community Services Association

Good Luck or God

I have heard of Talisman before but couldn’t remember what it was until I searched its meaning on the Internet.  It is an object which people believe holds magical properties that bring good luck to the possessor, or that protect the possessor from evil or harm.  It can be wore around the neck or wrist.

Jewish amulets were made up of texts, using either letters or graphic symbols which were inscribed various types of materials such as plant matter or precious stones. The amulet was used to ease childbirth, facilitate recovery from illness and improve one’s livelihood.  It was also used to protect a mother and her newborn child from the dangers of Lilith, a female demon who was believed to pursue and kill mother and infant.   An example of the text found on a amulet used for this purpose is:

I command you, holy and pure angels Sanoi, Sansanoi, Semanglaf, Semanglon, to keep all spirits and demons and all evil misfortunes and all Liline and all Liltine away from this newly delivered mother and from this newborn babe; and from the day on which this amulet, on which are inscribed your names, will be placed in this house in which is to be found the newborn, from this day forward remove Lilith and all her followers and all her servants from this newborn and from this house to the farthest reaches. Let her and all the demons with her flee, that she and her followers may never be able to harm this child for ever and ever. 

And the amulet for childbirth would sometimes simply say, “Adam, Eve; Lilith out.”

Amulet to protect a woman and her newborn son, with invocations of Adam and Eve, Lilith, and several angels; Podolia or Ukraine, late nineteenth or early twentieth century. (The Russian Museum of Ethnography, St. Petersburg, Russia)

The belief that amulets have hidden powers was widespread among both Jews and non-Jews in Eastern Europe and across all levels of society.  However, there were some Jews who opposed the use of amulets and prominent among them was Maimonides who wrote vehemently against them. The maskilim in Eastern Europe openly mocked the use of amulets and considered them to be profane and harmful.  The fact of the Jews believing in amulets may be a result of the apostasy of the Israelites when they adopted many of the beliefs and practices of the pagan nations around them such as worshipping foreign gods and child sacrifice.

Talismans were not only worn by the common people but by kings as well.  Charlemagne, the former king of the Franks wore one.

 

This is the Talisman of Charlemagne which is said to have been found on his body when his tomb was opened

Charlemagne’s wife had sorcerers from the Court of Haroun el Raschid, Emperor of the East, make his talisman for him.   It had two large cabochon sapphires, one was oval and the other was square.  They were set into a remnant of the wood from the Holy Cross (the Cross of Jesus) and a small piece of the Virgin’s hair. It was to make their love constant.  One would assume that it worked since he never stopped loving her. This was the talisman which was buried with him at Aix-la-Chapelle, in 814 and re-discovered when the tomb was opened by Otto III in 1000.  The talisman was  preserved in the treasury of the Cathedral until it was given, by the canons, to Empress Josephine in 1804, to wear at her coronation.

Wearing a talisman created by sorcerers seems at odds with the Charlemagne who “submitted to no one but God”.

I was surprised to learn that there are Christian Talismans.  Ancient Coptic Talismans like this one came from the Oromo people of Ethiopia and were traditionally worn to protect the wearer from evil spirits and bring good luck.  They contain scrolls usually made of vellum and were inscribed with prayers and stories from Coptic Christian bibles or manuscripts by priests, religious scribes or unordained clerics known as ‘dabtaras’ and then sewn inside their leather pouch.  The writing on the scroll was done with special black and red ink and written in Ge’ez, a currently unspoken language used for religious purposes.  These Coptic talismans, like the Coptic crosses, were made a long time ago and it is  hard to determine their age.  Some were made as early as the late 19th century but these talismans have been made, worn and worshipped for over 1600 years.

Coptic Christian amulet/talisman from the Oromo people of Ethiopia

Should Christians be wearing talismans?  There are two types which are used as symbols of the Christian faith–the Cross and the fish.  The first symbolizes Jesus and what He did for mankind and the second symbolizes those His followers who are to be “fishers of men”.

The cross
The cross of Christianity was a symbol of the faith. It was previously considered a pagan symbol, with several early church fathers objecting to its use. The cross represents Christ’s victory over death and sin, since it is believed that through His death he conquered death itself.

Fish
The fish’s first known use as a Christian religious symbol was sometime within the first three centuries AD.  Christians began using the Greek word for “fish” as an acronym for “Jesus Christ God’s Son, Savior”. Followers of Christianity were called Pisciculi; the root of this Latin word is “fish”. 

When I did a search on the Fish symbol, I discovered that there are three–the one of the fish only, the one with Jesus’ name in the middle and the one of the cross in the middle.

Christians wear crucifixes or have them hanging in their homes or  dangling from the rear view mirror of their automobiles.   I have seen stickers of the fish symbol on the back of some cars.  Should Christians be part of what has become popular today?  Well, many don’t think they should.  And they use the following Bible verses to defend their stance:

“They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and clasp hands with pagans” (Isaiah 2:6, NIV). 

“In that day, the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, dangling earrings, bracelets, veils, headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes [and] amulets” (Isaiah 3:18-20, NAS).

“Moreover, Josiah removed the mediums and the spirits and the teraphim and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book” (2 Kings 23:24, NAS).  The teraphim was the name used for idols or images reverenced by the ancient Hebrews and kindred peoples, apparently as household gods.

There is the argument that instead of putting on talismans for protection for evil and demonic powers, put on the whole armor of God “that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).

“There are concerns that people allow objects such as crosses, crucifixes, figurines, rosaries, bumper stickers, etc., to take the place of the true change that should take place in our hearts. The things we wear, carry, or put on our cars are not what make us Christians. God is not concerned with what we wear as long as we do not dress in a way that would cause anyone to stumble in his or her walk with God (Romans 14:20) and we are not absorbed with our looks or our possessions.

On the other hand, “Many Christians wear crosses as a proud expression of their love, respect, and service to Christ, along with a remembrance of what He did for us.”

Choosing to wear Christian Talismans or not, is up to the individual.  I personally don’t wear religious jewelry or jewelry of any kind but that was me following my own conscience and what I believed was what God wanted for me.  If people feel safer on their person, in their vehicles or in their homes, then, they have to do what their consciences dictate, as long as these things never take the place of God Himself who is our one, true Source of protection against the evil one.

Sources:  Wikipedia; Yivo Encyclopedia; Above Top SecretEtsy; Bible Info; Got Questions; Unusual Historicals;

It’s a Virtue

Patience is a virtue that many of us would like to master but more times than not, it is impossible to do so.  Just this morning, I lost mine when my son wanted me to get up and go and get some bread for him.  I had told him that he could have some after he finished having his cereal.  Not long after I sat down and was having my breakfast when he came to me and said, “You can get the bread now.” In retrospect, I should have reprimanded him for talking to me as if he were talking to one of his friends.

I stared at him and asked myself, couldn’t he wait until I was finished eating first?  I began to fume, thinking how inconsiderate he was being.  “Have you finished your cereal?” I asked, looking past him at the white bowl on the table.  I couldn’t believe that he had finished it so quickly.  Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  He was probably hungry and he’s growing so his appetite has increased.  I dread the teenage years.

Anyway, I got him the bread he asked for and resumed having my breakfast.  Of course, I felt bad shortly afterwards for losing my patience with him.  I realize that it takes so much more out of me when I lose my patience that when I exercise it.  It seems like there are times when it’s easy to remain patient and there are others times when it’s not.  I believe that children are there to test our patience because there have been occasions when I have asked God to give me patience and not long after a situation arises where I need it in order to deal with my son.  If we can exercise patience when dealing with our children on a daily basis, then we are off to a great start.

It’s not surprising that exercising patience seems like an impossible feat sometimes. It is a Fruit of the Spirit.  Anything spiritual is hard to achieve when we try to do it in our own strength.  In order to have patience we need the help of the Holy Spirit.  It’s too easy to get impatient, especially when dealing with our children, difficult situations, people, relationships or waiting for God to answer our prayers.  We get impatient when we have to wait or when we think things are not happening as quickly as they should.  Many things try our patience but the Bible encourages us to be patient anyway.

In Psalm 27:14, David encourages us to, “Wait on the LordBe of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!”  It takes courage to wait, especially when what we are waiting for is taking a long time to happen and the temptation to hurry things along is there.  After years of patiently waiting to have a child, Sarah finally decided that she was going to come up with her own plan because God’s was taking too long.  So, she had her handmaid, Hagar be her surrogate and she was going to raise the child as hers.  However, that only caused a lot of problems which are still evident today.  Yes, it takes a lot of patience to wait upon the Lord whose timing is not ours and who doesn’t always give us what we want when we want it or in the way we expect.  But, we have the promise that when we choose to wait, God will strengthen our hearts.

And when it comes to trials, we are encouraged to bear them without grumbling.  The apostle Paul had his share of trials which he mentioned in great detail in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28.  He faced death, was persecuted, imprisoned, beaten but Paul saw these trials as nothing because they were the result of his faith in Christ and his service to the One who had called him into ministry.  Paul learned patience from Jesus who had shown him patience when the apostle was persecuting the church.  For him, Jesus was the perfect example of patience. 

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote that he received mercy from Jesus although he was a blasphemer, persecutor and an insolent man who acted in ignorance because he was to be an example of Jesus’ patience toward people like Paul for those who will believe on Him for eternal life.  In other words, there’s hope for us because the same Jesus who exercised patience toward Paul and showed him mercy will do the same for us.  Paul testified, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).   

Right now, the Lord is showing great patience toward us in that it seems as if He has delayed His coming but the reality is that He has not.  He will return at the appointed time.   He has promised that He will return and the Lord is not slack when it comes to His promise but in the meantime He wants as many people as possible to be saved.  He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).   Praise the Lord for His enduring patience.

Sources:  Bible Gateway; Blue Letter Bible