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

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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

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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.  

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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

Living Together

“How long are Cameron and you going to continue living together?” Mrs. Brown asked her daughter, Nara when they were sitting at the kitchen table on a Saturday afternoon.  Nara was spending the weekend with her family in Manchester.  Her father and brothers had gone on a camping trip.  It was just her mother and her.

Nara shrugged her shoulders.  Every time she saw her mother, she was asked the same question.  “I don’t know,” was the reply she always gave.  She wouldn’t admit that for the past three years, she had asked herself the same question.

“Has he ever said anything about getting married?”

Nara shook her head. “No, he hasn’t.”

“Is he ever going to?  I mean it has been five years since the two you have been dating and three years since you have been living together.  Don’t you think it’s about time that you started thinking about your future?”

“I know that Cameron loves me.”

“Does he love you enough to marry you?”

“I think so…”

“But, you’re not sure.  Honey, I think that it’s time you talked to Cameron about marriage.  Find out once and for all what his plans are.  If he doesn’t want to get married, you need to know that.”

“What if he’s not ready?”

“You can’t continue living with him until he’s ready for marriage.” Her mother reached out and covered her hand.  “I think you should move out.  It’s not right for you to be living with someone who’s not your husband.  I didn’t say anything before because I felt that you were old enough to make your own decisions even if they are wrong and go against what you were taught growing up in a Christian home.  I don’t suppose you go to church anymore.”

Nara shook her head, lowering her eyes unable to return her mother’s penetrating stare.  Instead of going to church on a Sunday morning, she would spend most of it in bed with Cameron.  Surely, the way he made love to her was evident of his love for her.  There were times after their lovemaking, she would just stare at him, thinking how lucky she was to have him in her life.  And he wouldn’t have asked her to move to London with him if he didn’t love her.

“Well, tomorrow, you will come to church with me.  Everyone will be happy to see you.  And don’t worry, no one will ask any prying questions.”

Nara felt nervous about going to church because she had not attended since she and Cameron moved to London.  She didn’t feel right going for that reason.

“I believe that God has a plan for your life,” her mother said.

“I hope Cameron is a part of the plan,” Nara said, “because I love him so much.  I can’t bear have a future without him.”

“I hope so for your sake.  He is a nice young man.  I remember when he used to come over to our house every Sunday after church.  The two of you were inseparable as children.  I always suspected that one day, your feelings for each other would grow into something serious but I never imagined that the two of you would go off to London and live together.   I always thought that you would get married first.   Nara, it’s high time that he makes an honest woman out of you.”

Nara felt the tears spring to her eyes and she quickly blinked them back.  She got up from the table.  “I going to go for a walk,” she said.  “I have a lot to think about.”

The following day, they went to church and the moment she stepped through the doors, she felt such a warm welcome.  She was moved by the beautiful music and the sermon was exactly what she needed to hear.  Afterwards, her mother and she were invited to a member’s home for lunch.  They spent the afternoon with her and then returned to the cottage.

After promising her mother that she would have a serious talk with Cameron about their future and that she would start going back to church, Nara took the train back to London.

Cameron was home she got to the flat.  Something smelled really good.  When he heard the door close, he came out of the kitchen and went over to her, smiling.  “I missed you,” he said, pulling her into his arms and kissing her.

She kissed him back and for several minutes, they eagerly exchanged kisses and then she pulled away to stare up into his flushed face.  “I missed you too,” she said.  She reached up and brushed the strands of hair back from his forehead.  “Something smells really good.”

“I just finished preparing dinner.  I made your favorite.

“You made Chicken Milano,” she said with a smile.  It was then, that she noticed that the table was set with their finest dinnerware.  “What’s all this?” she asked.

“I’ll explain in a little while.  Just have a seat at the table while I get everything ready.”

She opened her mouth to tell him that she had to talk to him about something really important but decided that it could wait until after dinner.  “I’ll take a quick shower and change into something else,” she said and walked away.

When she came back he was just lighting the candles on the table.  She watched him, thinking how handsome he looked in the black shirt and dress jeans.

She saw his gaze travel over her slim figure in the floral sundress.  “You look beautiful,” he murmured before he went over and kissed her on the shoulder then he pulled out the chair for her to sit on.  She trembled, feeling the skin tingle where his lips had been.

He sat down and he raised a glass of their favorite non-alcoholic wine in a toast.  “To us,” he said and touched his glass to hers.  His eyes shimmered as they met hers.  “We’ll have the salad first and then the main course,” he said.

Before they began, Nara said a prayer and then tucked into the tasty Caprese salad.  One of the things she loved about Cameron was that he was such an excellent cook.  The Chicken Milano was to die for.  For dessert, they had lemon ice which was very refreshing.   He encouraged her to relax on the sofa while he cleared the table and washed up.

As she sat there, listening to the sound of running water coming from the kitchen, she wondered how she was going to broach the subject that had been on her mind all the train ride from Manchester to London.  She closed her eyes at the thought of it all going terribly wrong.

He joined her just then.  “Did you have a good visit with your family?” he asked.

“Yes.  Dad and my brothers were on a camping trip so it was just Mom and me,” she said.  “I went to church this morning.”

“How was it?”

“I was nervous about going because it had been years since the last time I went but everyone made me feel so welcome.  Some of them asked about you.  They don’t know that we’re living together.”

“Nara, there’s something I want to say to you.  Please bear with me.  I’m a little nervous.”

Her heartbeat accelerated.  Her mind was racing. What did he want to say to her?

He took her hands in his, his eyes meeting hers in a steady gaze.  “You and I have known each other for years.  We grew up together and have been inseparable since we were children.  My feelings for you changed when we became teenagers but nothing came of it because I went off to Oxford while you remained in Manchester.  We kept in touch through letters and saw each other when I visited during the summer and Christmas holidays.  After I left university, I went to London where I found a job and a flat.  That’s when I sent for you to come and live with me.  I wanted us to be together.  I still do but not like this.”

Her eyes widened.  “What do you mean?”

“I don’t want us to continue living together like this,” he said.  He reached into breast pocket of his shirt and took out a little red velvet box.  He opened it and her mouth dropped open when she saw the beautiful diamond ring.  “I have been saving for this ring for the past two years.  The three stones represent the past, present and future.  You and I have experienced the first and the second now I would like us to experience the third.”  He got down on one knee, his eyes tender as they met hers.  “Nara, will you marry me?  Will you spend the rest of your life with me as my wife and not my live-in girlfriend?”

Nara was crying now.  The tears just poured down her face and it took a moment for her to say, “Yes!”

He took the ring out of the box and holding her hand in his, he slipped it on her finger. Then, he reached up and cupped her face, bringing it down so that he could cover her lips in passionate kisses.  “I love you,” he murmured in between the kisses.

She clung to him, kissing him back, her heart filled with joy.  She couldn’t wait to call her mother and tell her the news.  God did have a plan for her life and Cameron was a very big part of it.

young interracial couple sitting on steps

Madira’s Healing

This story is similar to the woman with the issue of blood.  She had suffered for twelve years and the doctors couldn’t help her although she had spent her money on them. Finally, she had sought out the only One who could.  In faith, she touched the hem of His garment and was healed.  Madira was suffering from an unknown sickness.  The doctors could not ease her pain so she turned to witch doctors whose prescribed methods failed to work.  After six years elapsed, they gave up and for years, Madira continued to suffer.

Then, one day in the midst of her pain, Madira remembered the gift her brother had given her sixteen years ago.  It was a Bible.  It was the last resort.  She and her family had tried everything possible to end her suffering, but so far, nothing had worked.

She pulled her son aside and asked him to bring the Bible and read it to her.  As he read to her from it, something miraculous happened.  The pain left Madira’s body and she was able to sleep through the night.  It was possible now for her to move without the struggle and discomfort.  The words filled her with a peace she had never experienced before and brought healing to her tired body.  This stirred within her a desire to know who Jesus was.

One day they met Seth, a Gospel for Asia supporter serving their area with whom they explained their problems to.  He told them about Jesus’ love and how He was the great Healer and Restorer.  He promised them that if they believe in the name of Jesus Christ, Madira would be healed.  However, after years of discouragement and treatments that didn’t work, they were not hopeful.  Seth encouraged them not to worry because God does the impossible for all who believe in His name.

The family decided that since there was no hope anywhere else they would go to church and learn about God’s love.  There they met pastors and believers who prayed regularly for Madira.  Within a few weeks, God healed her completely.  He had answered their prayers.

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers – 1 Peter 3:12a

Through the fervent prayers of His people, God healed Madira.  This all came about when Madira remembered the Bible which contained the living, breathing Word of God. She discovered its great value and in its pages, the God who wanted to reveal His love to her.  It was able to do what the doctors and the witch doctors were unable to do–bring relief and peace from her pain.

God’s Word is powerful and it still impacts the lives of those who are in possession of it. Help Gospel for Asia to put the Word of God in the hands of more families in Asia so that like Madira and her family, their lives can be impacted too.

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Sources:  Gospel for Asia; Bible Gateway

The Funeral

It was a gloomy day with intermittent spurts of rain.  It was as if nature itself was mourning the loss of a great woman.  Tracy was not surprised at the large turnout. The church was packed as many came to pay their respects and pay homage to Mrs. Gladys Townsend, the dear lady whom she had nursed for over five years.   She was a remarkable lady with a magnetic personality.   Although her body had succumbed to the Parkinson’s, her mind was still alert.  In the end, she had died in her sleep.

Tracy remembered how Mrs. Townsend had loved it when she read to her before she went to bed.  She loved Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.  Tracy enjoyed reading to her and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next in the story.  She had Aiden to thank for the position which had been a tremendous blessing for her.  Aiden was Mrs. Townsend’s son.  It was his idea to have his mother remain in the comforts of her home but be attended by a live-in nurse.  He contacted the live-in care agency a friend had recommended.

Tracy was selected for the position because of her experience and qualifications.  It also helped that she and Mrs. Townsend hit it off right away.  Whatever misgivings Aiden might have had, they were squashed when he saw how his mother received her warmly, remarking, “What kind eyes you have.”

Aiden.  Her gaze moved exactly where she knew he was standing.  Tall and regal in the black coat, his expression somber as he watched the coffin being lowered into the ground.  He seemed oblivious to the rain that was falling.  His dark hair glistened in the pale light.  She wanted to go over to him and shelter them both with the umbrella but she remained where she was, off to the side like an onlooker.

At the church, they hadn’t spoken to each other.  He was flanked by family and friends and Caitlin Brown.  Caitlin made no secret of the fact that she wanted to be more than friends with Aiden.  Tracy saw her tuck her arm in his and rest her head against his shoulder.  She looked away, feeling ashamed of the jealousy that stirred in her when she was supposed to be mourning the lost of a dearly departed one.

It was no use denying that she was in love with Aiden.  It might have happened the first time she met him or during those visits to his mother’s home on the weekends. He lived in London close to his office and work kept him busy.  So, visiting during the week was not feasible.  She found herself looking forward to those weekends.  Over the years, feelings developed between them but Tracy had to keep things on a professional level because of her job.  She could get fired if she were to become romantically involved with a family member.

Mrs. Townsend was very fond of Tracy and knew that she and Aiden had feelings for each other but she understood Tracy’s reasons for not doing anything about it.  So, to be on the safe side, Tracy avoided being alone with him as much as was possible. She had watched him throughout the funeral service and when she saw him and Caitlin get into his car, it stung.  She got a ride with a friend.

Now, here she was watching him and Caitlin huddled together.  The coffin was being covered with dirt as the priest said the final words.  Then it was over.  She turned and was walking back to where the cars were parked when she heard Aiden call her name.  She stopped and turned.  Her fingers gripped the handle of the umbrella tightly as she tried to appear untroubled at the sight of him and the beautiful redhead at his side.  She noticed the look of disdain Caitlin gave her and how her long red nails curled into the sleeve of his coat.

Aiden was looking at Tracy who met his gaze, wondering if he could tell how much she wished that the two of them were alone.  Her fingers itched to reach out and run themselves through the thick tresses of his hair.  For his part, his expression was drawn.  “How are you holding up, Tracy?” he asked.

“As well as expected,” she said, touched that he was concerned about her when he must be going through hell.  He and his mother were close.  Mrs. Townsend adored him and was always singing his praises.  “How about you?”

“I’m coping,” he said.  He gently disengaged his arm from Caitlin’s, removed his coat and draped it over his arm as he stepped closer to Tracy.  “Will you let me take you back to the house?” he asked.

She nodded.  It had stopped raining.  She closed the umbrella.

He took her arm and was about to walk away when Caitlin, who looked rather put out, exclaimed, “What about me?”

“Jake will give you a ride home,” Aiden told her before he turned walked away, taking Tracy with him.

“I don’t think she likes me,” Tracy commented as they walked to his car.  She had to almost run to keep up with him.  It seemed like he wanted to get out of  there and fast!

Aiden didn’t answer.  In fact he said nothing all the way to the car or even when they were leaving the cemetery.  It wasn’t until they were a good way from there, that he spoke.  “Tracy, what Caitlin thinks is of no importance to me.”

She looked at him in surprise.  “But, I thought that you and she—”

“How could you think that there is anything between Caitlin and me when I have waited for five years for you?  I haven’t dated her or any woman since I met you.  I know that your job prevented you from getting involved with me but now you are not longer employed by me.  So, what is stopping us now from being together?  I love you, Tracy.  And I know that you love me.”

She nodded.  “I do.  You don’t know how hard it was for me to push my feelings aside all these years.”

“Let’s go away,” he said.  They were at a stop light.  He turned to look at her, his eyes intense as they met hers.  “I want to be alone with you somewhere far away from here.”

“Where would you like to go?” she asked.

“It doesn’t matter as long as we are together.  Perhaps somewhere tropical.  It would be good to get away from this dreary weather and the cold.”

“When would you like to go?”

“As soon as possible.  Perhaps as early as Friday.”  Friday was four days away.  “No one will object, and even if they did, I really don’t care.  It’s what Mother would have wanted.  She was rather fond of you, you know.  She knew how I felt about you and always encouraged me to hang on.  I would have waited for you, Tracy, no matter how long it took.  My only regret is that I couldn’t be with you while my mother was still alive.”

“I know.  I also know that we have her blessing.  Jamaica.”

“Jamaica?” he looked puzzled.

She smiled.  “You said somewhere tropical.”

He laughed.  “Jamaica, it is.”  He reached over and kissed her before the light turned green.

It was on the Friday, their first evening in Montego Bay, as they stood on the beach, watching the setting sun as it hovered over the ocean when Aiden proposed to Tracy. As he got down on his knee, Tracy’s hand flew up to her face as the sound of a sob mingled with a gasp rose from her throat.  Aiden took out the box and opened it, displaying the exquisite ring he had bought the year after they met and which he had shown his mother the night before she passed away.  He had kept it hidden in a drawer just as he had kept hidden in his heart the hope of one day putting it on her finger.

And here they were, on a beautiful beach, bathed with the crimson glow of the sun and the sound of the waves as they rolled on to the sand.  It couldn’t have been more romantic.  As he looked at Tracy’s face which glistened with tears, he thought he had never seen her look more beautiful and his heart swelled with the love he felt for her.

He took the ring out of the box and reached for her hand.  He slowly slipped the ring on, savoring the moment.  It was a perfect fit.  He stood up, his eyes held hers for a moment before he took her in his arms and kissed her just as the sun disappeared into the sea.

Sources:  Christie’s CareHilary’s Agency