The Charity Case/Glimmer #writephoto

distant-lights

Photo by Sue Vincent

 

Shanice sat on the summit overlooking the city.  This was her place.  It was where she could be alone with God and her thoughts.  She drew her knees up and wrapped her arms around them.  Her life had been a tough one.  She grew up in a rough neighborhood.  When she was seven, her father was killed in a drive by shooting.  Ten years later, her mother overdosed on crack.  She went to live with her uncle but ran away after he started sexually abusing her.  For several months she lived on the streets, rummaging through garbage bins for food because she refused to turn to prostitution.  She believed in God and that her body was a temple.

It was one Autumn morning when she met Neil Patterson, the city’s councilor.  He was a very popular man who had been doing a great job cleaning up the city.  She was standing outside of a café, watching the people inside having their hot coffees and chocolates along with donuts or bagels, her mouth watering when she sensed that someone was standing behind her.  She turned around at once and found herself looking up at a very tall and distinguished man dressed in an expensive black coat.  His sandy colored hair was neatly combed and she could tell that he didn’t belong in these parts.  He looked familiar too.  Then, she remembered where she had seen him.  He was on the cover of yesterday’s newspaper.  He was even more attractive in person and looked to be in his early forties.  He smiled now.  His eyes were an unusual shade of blue.  “Are you hungry?” he asked.

She nodded and wondered if he was going to give her money to buy something to eat.  To her surprise, he said, “Come, let’s go inside where it’s nice and warm.”  He opened the door and after a slight hesitation, she went inside.  He led her over to a table by the window as several gazes followed them.  People recognized him and greeted him.  They didn’t look at all surprised to see him with an African American teenager who looked like she hadn’t had a bath in years.  They were used to seeing him rubbing elbows with the dregs of society.  It was part of his appeal.

He seemed nice enough and she let him buy her a meal.  Hunger overpowered pride.  Besides, she didn’t know when again she would be treated to a free meal.  While she wolfed down the food, he talked.  He was a good talker and she could see why he was where he was.  He was charismatic and she found herself warming up to him.  And he was very attractive.  She always did have a thing for older men.  The guys her age were full of themselves and so immature.

He wasn’t married.  She didn’t see any ring on his finger but then, again, he might be one of those men who didn’t bother to wear one.  It was foolish sitting there thinking these things when she wasn’t going to see him again.  He was being kind to her and she was thankful for that.  After they left this café, they would go their separate ways and he would forget all about her.  She knew that she would never forget him.

He didn’t have anything to eat.  All he had was some hot chocolate.  He asked a lot of questions about her life which she was unwilling to answer but did anyway.  She left out the part about her uncle, though.  He asked her about going into a foster home and a homeless shelter but she made it clear that she didn’t want to be in either.  She had heard horror stories about those places and she wanted nothing to do with them.  She would rather take her changes on the streets until circumstances changed for her—until God intervened.  She didn’t mention God to him.  Most people were put off by religion.

She liked being in the café.  It was warm and friendly.  She wished she could stay there longer but she knew he was a busy man and had places to go and people to see so she didn’t want to keep him.  After she finished her hot chocolate and he paid the bill, she stood up.  Holding out her hand, she thanked him for his kindness and was about to walk away when, he said, “Instead of going back to the streets, why don’t you come and live with me?  I have large estate, with lots of room and staff.  You will have your own room.  You can come and go as you please.  I won’t put any restrictions on you.”

She stared at him.  “Why are you doing this?” she asked.

“I just want to help you.  I have a sister your age.  What do you say?”

“Well, I don’t want to be a freeloader,” she said.  “Is there a job I can do to pay for my keep?”

“What about college or university?” he asked.  “Aren’t you interested in furthering your education?”

“Of course, I am but my mother couldn’t afford to send me to college.  What little money we had she wasted on drugs.”

“Instead of working for me, you’ll go to the college or university of your choice.  What do you say?”

She stood there for a moment, considering all of this.  This was better than being homeless—living in the streets and struggling to survive.  Besides, the weather was getting colder and all she had was this beat up jacket which wasn’t keeping her warm at all.  She studied him.  He looked like someone she could trust.  And she didn’t hear any alarm bells going off in her head.  Shrugging, she said, “Sure.  Thanks again.  As soon as I graduate from university, I’ll be gone.”

He smiled.  “Whatever works for you, Shanice.”

They left the café and her life on the streets behind.  That was four years ago.  She was in university now, studying Sociology.  Their relationship had started out platonic and then, this morning, when she went back to the estate after a night of partying at a friend’s house, he was waiting up for her.  She sneaked into the living room and paused until her eyes adjusted to the darkness when the room was flooded with light.  Blinking, she went over to the sofa and sat down, tugging off her strappy sandals.  Her black dress was short and hugged her body.  The skirt rode high, revealing her legs.  She watched as his gaze traveled over her and the color flood his cheeks before he demanded, “Where have you been?”

“I was at a friend’s birthday bash,” she explained.  “I tried to be very quiet so that I wouldn’t disturb you—“

“Do you have any idea what time it is?”

She glanced at her watch.  It was five minutes to three.  “I’m sorry,” she mumbled.  “I didn’t mean to stay out so late.”

He went further into the drawing-room, his hands shoved deep in the pockets of his silk robe.  His hair which was always neatly in place was slightly disheveled.  “I knew that I had told you that you were free to come and go as you please but, I still expect you to act responsibly.  For this infraction, you are forbidden to leave these premises unless accompanied by me for the rest of the summer.”

She jumped to her feet, aghast.  “That’s not fair,” she cried.  “This is the only time I’ve stayed out late.  You can’t hold this one time against me.”

“And another thing, I don’t want to see you dressed like that again.”  Anger flared in her at that moment.  “You’re not my father,” she retorted.

“No, but I am responsible for you and as long as you live under my roof, you have to abide by my rules.”

“Fine!” she said, grabbing her shoes and handbag.  “If that’s all, I’d like to go to bed.  I’m tired.” She was about to walk past him when he caught her by the arm.  She turned her head and looked up at him, the anger in her eyes dissipating when she saw the expression on his face.

“I care about you, Shanice,” he muttered urgently.  “I was out of my mind with worry when it was midnight and you hadn’t come home.  I had no idea where you were.  I tried calling you but your cell was turned off.  In future, you need to tell me where you are so that I don’t worry or in case I need to get in touch with you.”

“You’re right,” she acknowledged.  “I should have let you know where I was last night.  I’m sorry.”

“And I’ll do the same,” he said.  “I’ll let you know where I’ll be at all times, in case you need to reach me.”

The grip of his fingers on her arm was very distracting and he was staring directly into her eyes.  She suddenly had trouble breathing properly and her heart was pounding.  “Am-am I still forbidden to leave the premises?” she asked.

He shook his head.  “No, you’re not,” he said softly.  “You’re not a prisoner.”

“So, I can leave whenever I want?”

He nodded.  “Yes.”  He moved closer.  “You’re free to leave here as agreed four years ago but I hope you decide to stay.  This place and my life would not be the same without you.  They would be empty.”

That was the most beautiful thing anyone had ever said to her.  She was touched to the very depths of her being and she could feel her eyes water.  She loved it here.  It was the home and life she had always dreamed of.  And she loved being with him.  She realized that she had loved him since the first time they met but had convinced herself that she could never be more to him than a charity case.  But, the way he was looking at her and what he had just said proved her wrong.  Without thinking, she reached up and touched his face.  He turned his head and pressed his lips into the palm before he pulled her into his arms.

She smiled now as she remembered that first kiss.  It was out of this world.  It sent tingles all over her body and she could swear that she heard fireworks.  Scrambling to her feet, she watched as the sun finally disappeared over the horizon.  Tomorrow was the first day of her last year at university.

It was getting late.  It was time to head back.  She wanted to be there, waiting for him.

This is a response to the #writephoto Prompt – Glimmer curated over at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.

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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 in once 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 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.  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 dressed 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.  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 jaw line.  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’ve 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 couldn’t stop thinking about how you looked shirtless…”

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 Venice.”

“Why Venice?” he asked.

“It’s where we finally declared our true feelings for each other.”

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.

A year later, they returned to Venice for their honeymoon.

 

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

 

Finish the Race

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there,  except that in town after town the Holy Spirit assures me that imprisonment and suffering are waiting for me.  But I don’t place any value on my life, if only I can finish my race and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” – Acts 20:22-24, ISV

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Sharing the Gospel is no easy task.  It is with beset with hostility, resentment, persecution, opposition and in some cases leads to imprisonment or even death.  This is how it was in the apostle Paul’s time.  He testified,  I served the Lord with all humility, with tears, and with trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. I never shrank from telling you anything that would help you nor from teaching you publicly and from house to house. I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance to God and faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:19-21, ISV)He was beaten, imprisoned, in danger of his life at the hands of those who wanted to stop him from doing the work Jesus had called him to do. 

Yet, Paul persevered.  He didn’t allow the actions of others or fear to impede him.  He was in a race and he was determined to finish it even if it cost him his life.  He was  true soldier.  He was in a war that will continue to rage until Jesus returns.  It is a spiritual war and as he pointed out we are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers in the darkness around us, and evil spiritual forces in the heavenly realm” (Ephesians 6:12, ISV).  These were the forces which were working against him at every turn of his ministry but through it all, he had the assurance that the Lord was with him. 

When he was in Corinth, the Lord spoke to him in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent;  for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.”  Paul was encouraged and he remained in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching the Word of God (Acts 18:9, 10, NKJV).

We have the same assurances as Paul did.  We are not alone in our ministry to share the Gospel.  The Lord is with us every step of the way.  We cannot be afraid to do the Lord’s work.  Instead, like the psalmist, we can boldly say, The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.  What can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6, NKJV).  So, no matter what the enemy throws at us, we are to speak and not keep silent.  The salvation of so many is at stake.  We, like Paul, must finish the race.

Buenos Aires

Ayana sat there staring at the computer screen, still reeling from her run in with Inga, Rolf’s girlfriend a few hours ago in the parking lot.  The unpleasant incident happened when she was on her way to meet a friend for lunch.  She was about to open the car door when she heard someone yell her name and turned to see Inga marching toward her.  Startled, she stood there, wondering what the blonde wanted with her and why she looked so livid.

When she reached her, she said rather nastily, “Is it because you don’t have a man of your own that you’re trying to move in on mine?”

It took a few minutes for Ayana to recover from her surprise.  Why would she make such an assumption?  “I’m not trying to move in on Rolf,” she said finally.  “He and I work together, that’s all—”

“Since when does work include the two of you flying off to Argentina?”

“Our trip to Buenos Aires is purely business, Inga.  I’m Rolf’s secretary so I have to go with him.”

“You expect me to believe that you and he are going to work all the time you’re there?  What about at nights when you don’t have any meetings?  What will you do then?”

Ayana shrugged her shoulders.  “I don’t know,” she said.  “I haven’t thought that far ahead.”

“I can’t imagine that you would be eating alone.  Knowing Rolf, he will invite you to join him for dinner.  My concern is what will happen after dinner.”

“Inga, you don’t have anything to worry about.  Rolf and I have been working together for about four years now and nothing has ever happened between us.  Besides, you’re mistaken about me not having a man of my own.”

“You have a boyfriend?”

“Yes.”

“But, Rolf said that you didn’t—”

“Well, I just started dating him.  Rolf doesn’t know about him.”

“And it sounds like you don’t want him to.”

“I don’t see why it should be any concern of his.  We just work together.”

Inga studied her for a few minutes.  “Well, I’m glad to hear that it’s strictly business between the two of you.  And I won’t say anything to him about your boyfriend.  And you won’t say anything to him about our little conversation.”

“He won’t hear about this from me,” Ayana promised.  She just wanted to get out of there.  She had never been accosted by a jealous woman before and it was very unsettling.

“Good.”  Inga looked her over, her expression one of disdain before she turned and walked away.

Ayana quickly opened her door and got into the car.  She started the engine and drove off.  Her head and heart were pounding.  She hated confrontations.  Fortunately, no one had observed them.  Why did Inga think that she had designs on Rolf?  Did she sense that she had feelings for Rolf?  How could she not?  Rolf was an extremely attractive man.  No woman could resist him. Just thinking about him now made her pulse race.  There were times when they were alone in his office, working and she could hardly concentrate because she was painfully aware of him.

While he was poring over some papers, she would sneak a peek at him, noting the way, he furrowed his brow when he was concentrating.  His hair would fall rakishly across his forehead making her ache to brush the strands back.  He would remove his jacket and tie and loosen the top buttons of his shirt.  Underneath the shirt sleeves she could see the chiseled muscles of his arms.  She wanted to reach out and touch them.  The smell of his aftershave tantalized her senses and his eyes when he looked at her made her heart flutter.  And when he absentmindedly stroked his jaw as he focused, she found herself imagining what it would be like to have those long fingers caressing her face.

Sighing now as she sat in her cubicle, Ayana had to admit that Inga had every reason to distrust her.  She had lied to her about having a boyfriend.  She wasn’t dating anyone.  None of the men out there or in the office interested her.  She was stuck on Rolf, which was unfortunate for her.  How was she going to manage being in Buenos Aires with him for twelve days?  They were to leave tomorrow night and arrive in Buenos Aires the following morning.  The flight was over ten hours long.  What were they going to talk about?  Should she take a novel?  How could she read, though with him there?  Her head was beginning to hurt from all of these questions and she rubbed her temple.

Just then her phone rang, startling her.  She glanced at the display.  It was Rolf.  She quickly picked up the receiver.  “Yes, Rolf.”

“Do you have a minute?”

“Yes.  I’m on my way.”  She hung up and got up from her desk.

He was putting on his jacket when she went into his office.  “I’m heading out now,” he informed her.  “I have errands to run.  Are you all set for tomorrow?”

She nodded.  “I have the plane tickets, the files we will need and the itinerary for each day.  Was there anything else you needed me to take care of?”

He glanced around before shaking his head.  “No, I think we’re good.  I will pick you up at seven.”

“I’ll be waiting in the lobby.”

“See you tomorrow evening.”  He grabbed his briefcase and preceded her out of the office.

She went back to her cubicle to finish up some work.  The next few hours went by quickly and soon it was time to go home.  After showering and having dinner, she made sure she had packed everything she needed, including the new outfits she had bought earlier in the week.   When she was finished, she watched the News and then went to bed.

The following day went quickly and soon it was time to go to the airport.  She quickly showered, got dressed in a pair of dressy jeans, a red blouse and a denim jacket.  She was ready and waiting outside on the steps leading to the front entrance of her building when the company car pulled up and the chauffeur went round to the trunk to open it.  She wheeled her luggage over and he hoisted it into the back along with her carry-on.  She thanked him as he held the passenger door open for her to climb in beside Rolf who looked very attractive in the black shirt and grey slacks.

She saw his eyes flicker over her before he smiled.  “Excited about going to Buenos Aires?” he asked as the car drove off.

“It’s the first place I’ve been to outside of the United States,” she told him.  “I’m a little nervous, I guess.”

He reached out and gently squeezed her hand, making her heart skip a beat.  “There’s nothing to be nervous about,” he assured her.  “I’m sure you’ll like it.”

“Have you ever been there before?”

“No, but I’ve heard great things about it.  A female friend of mine who has been there said that it’s a city that is alive and sexy and gets under your skin.”

“Sounds exciting,” she remarked.  Her heart was racing now because he was still holding her hand.

“It does,” he agreed, withdrawing his hand.  “I hope you brought a camera because we will have time for some sightseeing.”

“I did,” she said.  And she brought a book to read as well.  It turned out that she didn’t need it.  They talked and then she watched a movie while he looked over some papers.  It was just after mid-night when she went to sleep.

Buenos Aires was beautiful.  She loved the colorful buildings mixed in with the faded European grandeur.  She stared out of the window of the taxi, her eyes drinking in the sights.  Their hotel was located in the most stylish neighborhood of La Recoleta and surrounded by the best city´s restaurants and shops.  After they checked in, they went up to their rooms.  “We have time to unwind, shower and go over some notes before the meeting,” Rolf told her as they rode the elevator.  “I’ll meet you by the front desk.”

“All right.”  She couldn’t wait to shower and change.  It was going to be a long day.    Her room was bright and spacious.  The bed looked so good that she wanted to throw herself on it.  Instead, she took out what she was going to wear, stood for a moment, looking out the sliding doors at the buildings opposite before going into the bathroom to undress and take a long, hot shower.  Rolf wasn’t by the front desk when she went down but a very handsome young man was there.  He smiled when he saw her.  “Buenos dias,” he said.

“Buenos dias,” she replied.  “I’m afraid I don’t speak much Spanish.”

“That’s okay.  Most people who come here don’t.  My name is Ramon.”

“Ayana.”

“Is this your first time to Buenos Aires?”

“Yes.  On my way over here, I saw a little of the city and it’s beautiful.”

“Yes, it is a very beautiful city.”

Just then the elevator doors opened and Rolf stepped out.  She turned to Ramon, “Excuse me, Ramon.”

“It was nice meeting you, Ayana.”

“It was nice meeting you too, Ramon.”

She walked away and joined Rolf.  They had breakfast and then they went through the papers until it was time for the meetings.  The day went quickly.  The attendees were from Europe, America and Asia.  They were about two women in attendance.  During the breaks, she spoke with them.  Annette, the one from Cleveland nudged her saying, “You have a very attractive boss.  Is he married?”  She herself was married and had three children.

Ayana shook her head.  “No.  He has a girlfriend, though.”

“Too bad.  I think you and he would have made a very nice couple.”

Ayana didn’t answer.  She just smiled.  Over the next couple of days, when they had spare time, Rolf and she went sightseeing.  She loved Buenos Aires and hoped that she would visit it again someday.   The days went by very quickly and it was their last evening before they flew back to New York in the morning.  Tonight, Rolf was taking her for dinner at a popular restaurant where they would be treated to a Tango show.

After she finished getting ready, she went downstairs to the lobby to wait for Rolf.  Ramon was on duty and he smiled broadly when she walked over to the reception desk to give him her key.  “Buenos noches, Ayana.” he greeted her, his dark brown eyes traveling appreciatively over her figure in the black cocktail dress.

“Buenos noches, Ramon.”

“The man you’re with, is his your boyfriend?”

She shook her head.  “No, he’s my boss.  We’re here on business.”

Ramon smiled.  “Bueno.  Then, he won’t mind if I took you dancing later.  I can teach you the tango, if you like.”

He was very nice man but she wasn’t interested in him.  Smiling apologetically, she said, “I’m sorry, Ramon but I can’t go dancing with you tonight.  I already have plans.”

“What about tomorrow night?”

She opened her mouth to tell him that she was leaving in the morning when Rolf joined them.  He looked at her and then at Ramon who said to him, “Your taxi is waiting outside, Senor.”

“Thank you.”  Rolf handed him his key and then turned to Ayana.  “Are you ready?” he asked abruptly.

“Yes.  Goodnight, Ramon.”

“Goodnight, Ayana.”

She didn’t notice Rolf grimace but when he started to walk away, she followed him.

He held the door open for her and when she climbed into the back, she caught a whiff of his cologne.  After he got in and told the driver where they were going, he leaned back in the seat.  For several minutes neither of them said anything.  They were both looking out of the window.  Then, she heard him say, “You and the guy at reception seem to be on very friendly terms.”

She looked at him but his head was still turned toward the window. “Ramon is a really nice guy.  Very friendly.”

“A little too friendly,” he replied.  “Tonight wasn’t the first time I’ve seen him flirting with you.”

“He wasn’t flirting with me.  He was just being friendly.”

“I saw the way he was looking at you, Ayana.  He wants to be more than friends.”

“Well, he invited me to go dancing with him tonight but I told him that I already had plans.”

Rolf looked at her then.  “If you and I weren’t going to dinner and a show, would you have gone dancing with him?”

She shook her head at once.  “No, I wouldn’t have.  I like Ramon but I’m not interested in him.”

“Is there someone you’re interested in, Ayana?” he asked quietly.

“Yes, but you’re already in a relationship.”

He reached for her hand, making her heart leap in her chest.  “I ended my relationship with Inga last year.”

Ayana stared at him.  “Last year?”

“Yes.  I thought you knew.”

“No, I didn’t.  When I saw her in the parking lot on the day before we flew out, she made it sound like you were still seeing each other.”

“You saw her in the parking lot?”

Ayana told him what happened.  “To diffuse the situation, I told her that I had a boyfriend,” she concluded.

“I’m sorry that you had such a nasty run in with her.”

“She heard about our trip to Buenos Aires and jumped to conclusions.”

“I wonder how she found out about it.  I will have a word with her when we return.  I don’t want her accosting you anymore.”

“I have to admit that it was very unnerving.”

“Let’s not think about the incident any more.  It’s our last evening in Buenos Aires. Let’s enjoy every moment.”

She nodded.  “Yes, let’s enjoy every moment.”

He raised her hand to his lips.  “And I hope that tonight will be the first of many enjoyable nights you and I will spend together.”

The brush of his lips against her hand made her pulse race and her stomach flip flop. Yes, the evening was off to a very exciting start.

 

Sources:  Smart Meetings; Prokerala; Four Seasons; CTrip

 

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

Angry With God

Don’t you just love it when your child decides to have a temper tantrum when you’re in the supermarket, a restaurant or anywhere in public?  Some of us feel embarrassed and mortified, especially when we get those “why can’t she control her child?” looks.  We try to deal with the situation as best as we can.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could vacate the premises as fast as the superhero, Flash?  Or better yet, beam home?  When it comes to dealing with temper tantrums, we have to diffuse the situation and try to remain calm while doing that which isn’t easy at all.

What about us?  Do we throw temper tantrums when we don’t get our way with God?  Do we get angry and sulky when He doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want?  I can think of two examples of people in the Bible who threw tantrums when things didn’t go their way.  The first is Cain.

Cain was the older of two brothers.  He was a a “tiller of the ground” while his brother Abel was a “keeper of sheep”.  Both brought offerings to God.   God respected Abel and his offering but didn’t respect Cain and his offering.  Cain became very angry and depressed.   Why did God reject his offering?  Hebrews 11:4 states, By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.  Abel offered the best that he had from among his flock while Cain brought an offering of the fruit.  It doesn’t say that the fruit were the first fruits of the ground which were offered unto God just as the first-born of man and animals but it would explain why God rejected Cain’s offer. 

If we don’t give God our best and He rejects it, why should we get angry?  Cain’s anger toward God was unreasonable.  God spoke to him about it.   “Why are you angry? Why is your countenance fallen?  If you do well, shall you not be accepted? But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must rule over it.”

God dealt with Cain’s behavior in a calm and loving manner.  God knew what was the cause of his anger and told him what to do about it.  If you know why your child is acting up, try to help them to see how their behavior will not get them what they want.  Cain’s anger was not going to make things right with God.  He had to change his attitude and do what is right before God could accept him.  Your child needs to know that their unruly behavior is unacceptable and that if they behave themselves, all will be well for them.   Some of them may calm down and behave themselves while others continue acting up.  Sadly, Cain didn’t get over his anger and it resulted in his brother’s death.

Jonah is the other adult in the Bible who threw a temper tantrum.  When God first sent the prophet to the wicked city of Nineveh to cry out against it, “because their wickedness has come up before Me,” Jonah fled in the opposite direction to Tarshish.  After surviving three days and nights in the belly of a large fish which vomited him up on dry land and acknowledging that “Salvation is of the Lord!” God again called the prophet to “Get up, go to Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”

Jonah had no other choice but to go to Nineveh this time.  When he entered the city, he cried out, “In forty days’ time, Nineveh will be overthrown!”  The people believed God and proclaimed a fast.  They all put on sackcloth and when the king heard the news, he left his throne, removed his robes and put on sackcloth.  He made a decree that both people and animals would fast and that all shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands, believing that it was possible that God “may relent and change His mind. He may turn from His fierce anger, so that we will not perish.”

When God saw their actions and that they had turned from their evil ways, He relented and didn’t bring disaster on them.  However, this act of mercy greatly angered Jonah and he told God why he fled to Tarshish.  “This is the reason that I fled before to Tarshish, because I knew that You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in faithfulness, and ready to relent from punishment.”  He asked God to take his life because death was better than living to see the people of Nineveh spared. 

Do we get upset with God when He shows love and compassion toward people we don’t think are deserving of His mercy?  Are any of us deserving of His grace?  When Jonah was thrown into the sea as per his request to the men in the ship with him, God showed him mercy by sending a large fish to swallow him, preventing him from drowning.  Jonah confessed that salvation was of the Lord and yet, he was angry with Him for saving the people of Nineveh who repented.  God will not destroy those who repent but will show them mercy instead.  This was the God whom Jonah served and yet, this was the reason why he was angry with Him.

As He did with Cain and with us, God tried to reason with Jonah, showing him how unreasonable he was being.  He asked him, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Is it right for us to be angry when God accepts a person whom we considered to be a backslider back into His fold?  Was it right for the brother of the prodigal son to be upset with the father for welcoming his wayward son back home?  To illustrate His point, God did a little experiment.  As Jonah sat down to see what would happen to the city of Nineveh, God had a plant grow and give shade to the prophet.  Jonah was thankful for the plant because of its shade from the heat.  The next day, though, God had a worm eat the plant until it withered and then raised up a scorching east wind. When the sun beat upon the head of Jonah he became faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

God asked him if it was right for him to be angry about the plant.  Jonah replied that his anger was justified even to death.  And God’s response was, “You are troubled about the plant for which you did not labor and did not grow. It came up in a night and perished in a night.  Should I not, therefore, be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people, who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

Do we, like Jonah, place more importance on things and animals than we do people who are lost and need God’s mercy?  The people of Nineveh were living in sin until God sent Jonah to warn them so that they could turn from their wickedness and be saved.  There are many people in the world who are living in darkness and God wants bring them into the light.  We don’t determine who deserves His mercy and who doesn’t.  When it comes to someone’s salvation, there’s no room for temper tantrums but a changed heart and attitude that would allow us to see what God sees and rejoice with Him when that sinner repents.

Sources:  Bible Study Tools; Bible Gateway

Paradise

They met in Paradise Island.  She had taken a spontaneous trip to the island.  It was to get away for a while.  She had just broken up with Lemarr, the treacherous cur.  He two-timed her with her best friend.

She saw them one morning outside of his building, holding hands and kissing.  Not wanting to make a scene, she stood there in the cold, her heart breaking.  The tears spilled down her cheeks and she brushed them away with a gloved hand.  She watched as they walked away, oblivious to the pain their treachery caused. They never even noticed her standing there.

When Lemarr had to nerve to drop by her flat the following day, she coldly told him that their relationship was over and slammed the door in his face.  After she had a good cry, she picked up the phone and booked a flight to Paradise Island.  It was by pure luck that she was able to book a room at a luxury hotel, notable for its elegance and relaxing atmosphere.  She had read about it on line and the glowing reviews and looked forward to spending seven fabulous days there.

It felt good to get away from the lingering cold and Lemarr.  Soon after she arrived at the hotel, she donned a swimsuit, a pair of sunglasses and went down to the beach.  The sun felt great and she breathed in the tangy salt air.  It had been years since she was anywhere tropical.  And if it hadn’t been for Lemarr and Wanda, she wouldn’t be here.  Wanda.  She still couldn’t believe that her best friend had stabbed her in the back like that–the same friend whom she was so proud of when she saw the mayor bestow a plague of appreciation for her outstanding work as a volunteer.   She hoped she never saw the miserable wretch ever again.

It wasn’t until she was walking along the beach when she noticed him standing there at the water’s edge, gazing out at the sea.  She tried not to notice.  The last thing she wanted was to get involved with another man.  It was way too soon and she would be doing it to get back at Lemarr.  Yet, she couldn’t help but stare at him.  He was absolutely gorgeous.

As if he sensed that he was being watched, he turned his head and their eyes met.  She saw his gaze travel over her and then return to her face.  The raw feelings that his appraisal stirred inside her both shocked and disturbed her. How could she be experiencing these sensations so soon after her break up with Lemarr?  Didn’t she love Lemarr and was heartbroken over his betrayal?  Then why was she getting hot and bothered over a guy she had never seen before in her life?

What should she do? Walk past him as if he weren’t there?  That was unlikely.  Should she smile and say hello and continue walking?  Or should she turn around and walk in the opposite direction.  As she agonized over what to do, he started to walk toward her.  Her heart began to pound wildly against her ribs.  Oh, dear, what am I going to do now?

He walked right up to her and extending his hand, he introduced himself.  “Hi, I’m Sean.”

She hesitated for a moment and then she put her hand in his, feeling a jolt of electricity at the contact.  His fingers clasped hers in a firm hand shake.  “Dinny.”

This close, he was even more handsome.  His thick dark hair glistened wetly and rivulets of water ran down his broad chest and flat stomach.  He must have just come out of the water.  She saw the towel in his hand and swallowed hard when she imagined him drying his skin with it.  She was thankful that she was wearing sunglasses.  He couldn’t see the look in her eyes.

“Did you just arrive, Dinny?” he asked.

She nodded.  “Yes.”  He was still holding her hand.

“I thought so.  I would have noticed you if you were here before.  Where did you fly in from?”

“New York.”

“I’m from Seattle.  Are you here alone?”

“Yes.”

“Me too.  Is this your first time to Paradise Island?”

“Yes.”  She knew she kept giving him one word answers but she couldn’t think straight with him holding her hand.

As if he had read her mind, he released her hand, much to her relief.  “How long are you here for?”

“A week.  What about you?”  It was the first time she had asked him a question.  Did that mean she was warming up to him?  No, she was just being polite.

“Eight days.  I got here yesterday.  It looks like we will be leaving on the same day.  I know this may seem a bit forward but I was wondering if we could spend time together or at least sit at the same table for dinner.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not?  What harm could there be in us getting to know each other better?  Are you married?”  He couldn’t see if she was wearing a ring because she was carrying a beach towel.

She shook her head at once.  “No, I’m not married.  Are you?”

“I wouldn’t be here by myself or talking to you if I were.”

“Sorry,” she mumbled.

“Are you in a relationship?”

“I was but now it’s over.  I’d rather not talk about it.”

“All right.  I’ll respect your privacy.  Are you going to go for a swim?  The water is great.”

“I want to walk first and then go into the water afterwards.”

“All right, I’ll leave you to your walk.  If you change your mind about spending time together, let me know.  I’ll be over there.”  He pointed to an area on the beach, further up where there was a beach chair under an umbrella.  A beach towel was rolled up in the chair with a book next to it.

She looked at him, tempted beyond belief but she needed to think about it.  “I’ll think about it,” she said and he smiled.  She excused herself and walked away.  She could feel his eyes on her and she turned once to look back.   Yes, he was watching her.  She turned away and continued along the beach as far as she could go before she stopped somewhere, removed her wrap skirt and put it down on the dry sand with her beach towel and flip-flops.  She walked towards the water, anxious to feel it on her skin.

She spent about half hour in the water, soaking in the tranquility which surrounded her.  It was at that moment that she felt God’s presence and a peace came over her.  The anger, hurt and bitterness that had eaten her up seem to ebb away with the gentle waves.  And Sean’s face swam into focus.  Was it by pure chance that they met or was it by Providence?  She wasn’t sure.

She knew was that it would be foolish to find herself in another relationship so soon after her breakup with Lemarr but Sean was so intriguing.  It was very obvious that he found her attractive.  And to be quite honest, she was attracted to him too.  Was there really any harm in them spending time together?  It would be nice to have someone to talk to and was better than eating alone.

By the time she came out of the water, she had made up her mind to take Sean up on his offer.  She was a free woman now and didn’t have to answer to anyone, least of all–Lemarr.  She dried her skin and hair before putting on the wrap skirt.  Taking up her flip-flops, she made her way back to where Sean said that he would be.

He looked even more disturbing reclining on the lounging chair.  He smiled when she approached him and closed the book he was reading.  “Have a seat,” he invited, indicating the chair beside him.  “Had a good swim?”

“Yes, I did.”  She realized that he had set up another chair because she remembered seeing only one.  “You seem very sure that I would come,” she remarked, sitting down.

“I was hopeful.  We can sit here for a while and then have lunch.”

“Is this your first time in Paradise Island?”

He nodded.  “Yes.  I’ve been to the Bahamas before, though.  I went to Nassau about five years ago.”

“Were you alone that time too?”

“No.  I was with my then girlfriend.”

“What happened to her?”

“We broke up.  There was too much interference from her friends in the relationship.  I got tired of it and walked away.”

“I have seen a lot of my friends’ relationships end because they listened to their single girlfriends.   Some of them tried to get into my relationship but I refused to let anyone who had never been in a long term relationship give me advice.”

“So, what was the cause of your breakup?”

She turned to look at the ocean.  “He cheated on me with my best friend.”

Sean reached out and covered her hand with his.  “I’m so sorry to hear that.  I can’t imagine how you must have felt.”

His hand on her arm was comforting and thrilling at the same time.  “I was very angry and very hurt,” she admitted.  “I saw them together when I went by his place. They didn’t see me.  I stood there watching them until they walked away.  The next day when he came by my place, I told him that it was over and slammed the door in his face.  Then, I picked up the phone and made travel arrangements.  And here I am on Paradise Island.”

“Well, I wish we could have met under better circumstances.   I know this is easier said than done, but what do you say we forget about the past and just enjoy the present.  We came here to relax and have fun.  Let’s not think about broken relationships or the people who have hurt us.  They have moved on with their lives and we should do the same.”

She glanced at him.  “I’m willing to try,” she said.  “Sometimes, these things happen for a reason.  Maybe Lemarr and I weren’t meant to be.”

“Maybe.”  He agreed and then he changed the subject.  “Tomorrow morning, I am going on the Atlantis , would you like to come?”

She looked at him in alarm.  “Is that where they go scuba and shark diving?”

He chuckled.  “We don’t have to do either of those things,” he said.  “We can go snorkeling or snuba diving.”

“What’s snuba diving?”

“Snuba diving is like scuba diving but without the tank.  Instead, you get oxygen from a tube.”

“Which would you recommend?  Snorkeling of snuba diving?”

“I recommend snuba diving because it gives you more freedom to explore and enjoy your surroundings than snorkeling.  It’s easy and it’s for people who have never snorkeled.”

“All right, I’ll come.  I’m sure you would have preferred to go scuba diving, though.”

“I prefer to do whatever makes you comfortable, Dinny.  Besides, I’ve never been snuba diving before so it will be a new experience for me too.”  He glanced at his watch.  “Let’s go and have something to eat.  We can come back here again afterwards.”  He got up and helped her up.  Their eyes met briefly and then he turned away.  They walked back to the hotel, agreed to meet in the lobby after getting changed and freshening up.  Ten minutes later, they were having lunch.  They talked about different things and she began to feel very relaxed with him.  And he watched her, thinking how lovely she looked when she smiled.

She learned a lot about him.  He had two brothers–one older and one younger and a younger sister.  He was the Founder and CEO of Zanoah, a non-profit organization which caters to the “cast off” of society like prostitutes, prisoners, young offenders and the disenfranchised.  His church had a partnership with other non-profit organizations and he was a part of the delivery team which delivered pre-made meals once a week to individuals living with or at risk of HIV/AIDS and/or other chronic diseases.  When he wasn’t busy working or doing community work, he liked to go cycling or hiking to keep fit.  He liked to travel and did so once every year.  After he told her everything he could about himself, it was her turn to talk about herself.

She had a younger sister who lived in Atlanta with her husband. Her parents moved to Fort Lauderdale after they retired.  She was a Computer and Information Systems Manager.  At church, she was involved in Women’s Ministry and participated in the Downtown Feeding Ministry.  In her spare time, she liked to read, go for walks, shop, hang out with friends or take in a performance at Lincoln Center.  Most of the time, though, she stayed at home.

After lunch, they went back to the beach where they spent the rest of the afternoon, relaxing, talking, walking along the water’s edge and then going for a swim.   It was after six when they left the beach and headed back to the hotel.  Before they parted ways, they arranged to have dinner at seven.  He was going to stop by her room this time instead of meeting in the lobby.  Compared to his, her life sounded boring.

Once she got to her room, she spread the dress she was going to wear out on the bed.  It was a sleeveless black dress with a scooped neckline, a keyhole cut-out back and a flare skirt ending above the knees.  A pair of strappy black sandals would complete the outfit.  After taking a long, hot shower, she got dressed and when she was finished, she examined herself in the mirror in the bathroom.  Satisfied, she switched off the light just as she heard a knock on the door.

Heart pounding, she went and answered it.  Sean stood there, looking extremely handsome in the black suit and white dress shirt with no tie.  His eyes traveled slowly over her and when they returned to her face, she saw admiration and something else shimmering in their depths.  Swallowing hard, she stepped outside and closed the door behind her.  “You look amazing,” she heard him say as she turned to lock the door.

When she turned to face him, he was looking at her, a serious expression on his face.  “Thank you,” she said quietly.  “So do you.”  She walked beside him on shaky legs, wondering if he could hear how fast her heart was beating.  She wondered what Lemarr would do if he were to see her now.  It was the first time in hours that she thought about him and that was a good thing.

They had dinner at Café Martinique which didn’t quite look like the old one made famous by its appearance in the James Bond movie, Thunderball.  Over Sesame Crusted Salmon and Spiced Rack of Lamb, they talked about their excursion to Stuart’s Cove in the morning.  She was both nervous and excited at the prospect.  After dinner, they went the Joker’s Wild Comedy Club before they called it a night.

The next morning, Dinny went to Poseidon’s Table where an elaborate breakfast buffet awaited her.  She stood there, not knowing where to start.  Everything looked so appetizing.  Sean joined her, looking refreshing in a white tee shirt and jeans.  She was dressed in a yellow tee shirt and a denim Capri pants.  After some time passed, she finally settled for fresh fruit, toast, veggie omelet and tea.  He had fruit, blueberry pancakes and a coffee.

When they were finished they hurried back to their rooms to get what they needed for their trip and twenty minutes later they were on their way.  There were a lot of people on the boat, couples, families, seniors and singles but it wasn’t overcrowded.  The captain and his assistant were very nice and tended to everyone.  After they were shown basic skills, they were in the water.

Dinny stayed close to Sean, holding his hand as they explored the reefs, her eyes widening when she spotted a lion fish among the coral reef.  She liked the yellow and black striped fish.  They spent a while in the water and then they went back on the boat.  It was a wonderful experience and they made plans to go on a snorkel trip and while Sean swam with the sharks, she would remain on the boat and watch.

When they got back to the hotel, they had lunch before heading to the beach to relax for the rest of the afternoon until it was time for dinner.  During the week, they visited Dolphin Cay where they interacted with sea lions and swam with the dolphins.  It was the first time Dinny had ever worn a wet-suit.  They went snorkeling among the ruins of Atlantis where they spotted rays and colorful tropical fish.  She got nervous when she saw sharks and held on tightly to Sean’s hand.  They went down the Challenger Water slide of the Mayan Temple and Sean won.

One day, they went the spa and each got a massage.  Dinny got a facial as well.  And while he went to the fitness center to get a workout, she went shopping.   They went on a tour of galleries to get a taste of Bahamian art and culture.  Afterwards they had lunch at Hillside House.

It was their last night at the resort and they were having dinner at Sip Sip, a beach front restaurant.  The mood at the table was very solemn.  She toyed with her salad, her expression downcast.  She was going to miss him terribly.

He raised his head to look at her.  “I wish I could take you back to Seattle with me,” he said quietly.

“I wish we could stay here for another week.”

“I know that we said that we will keep in touch by phone and email but that isn’t the same as seeing each other like we are now.”  His eyes darkened.  He was going to miss being with her.  The time they spent together was the happiest he had ever experienced in his life.  He couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing her.  “May I visit you in the summer?”

She nodded at once.  “Yes.  I’d like that very much.”

“And you could visit me at Christmas.”

“Yes, I could do that.”

“Dinny, my IT Manager is retiring at the end of the month.  The position is yours if you would consider moving to Seattle.”

She stared at him.  “Move to Seattle?”

“If I didn’t have Zanoah, I would move to New York in a heartbeat.”

“I was born and grew up in New York.  I’ve never thought of leaving.”

“Please think about it.  I will give you until the end of the month.  If you show up at my flat before then, I’ll know that you have decided to leave your life in New York behind to start a new one with me.”

“And if I don’t show up?”

“Then, the position will be filled and I’ll know that we’ll have a long distance relationship until we eventually end up in the same city.”

She smiled.  “I’ll think about it.”

He smiled too.  “Now, how about we try to enjoy our last dinner together here in paradise?”

They tucked into their food with relish.  Afterwards, they went to Aura Nightclub but sat in a VIP parlour where they talked over non-alcoholic drinks late into the night.  It was close to midnight when he walked her to her suite.  She opened the door and then turned to face him.  Their eyes met and held for a long moment.  “Good night, Dinny,” he said quietly, his expression tense.  He wanted to kiss her so badly.

She swallowed hard.  “Good night, Sean.”  She wanted him to kiss her so badly.

Neither of them moved.  They just continued standing there, gazing at each other for a long, heart palpitating moment and then she was in his arms and he was kissing her.  She put her arms around his neck and kissed him back.  They exchanged passionate kisses as the longing they had been kept in check rose to the surface.  This continued for several minutes until he broke off the kiss and buried his face in her neck.

“I want you so much,” he moaned thickly.  “But, not now like this.  I’m willing to wait until the time is right.”  He raised his head, his eyes dark with desire as they met hers.  Reluctantly, he released her and stepped back.  “Good night, Dinny.  I’ll meet you for breakfast at the usual time.”

She nodded, her voice barely above a whisper when she bid him, “Goodnight.”  She was trembling so badly that she had to hold onto the door frame.  She watched him walk away and then she went into the suite, closing the door behind her.  For a moment she leaned against it, trying to catch her breath before she walked rather unsteadily into the bathroom where she got ready for bed.

As soon as Sean got to his suite, he stripped and took a cold shower.  When he was done, he pulled on a pair of silk pajamas and knelt beside the bed.  “Lord, You know how I feel about Dinny,” he murmured.  “I never thought it was possible to fall in love with someone I’ve known for only nine days but it has happened.  I didn’t come to Paradise Island looking for love but it found me that day on the beach when I saw this incredibly beautiful woman walking towards me.  Lord, it’s hard for me to part from her.

“A few minutes ago, I was really, really tempted to show her how I feel about her but You helped me to exercise self-control.  It wasn’t easy, though.  I want Dinny in my life.  Is it selfish for me to want her to move to Seattle?  If I didn’t believe that it is Your will for me to continue the work I’m doing through Zanoah, I would move to New York, no problem.  Lord, if Dinny moves to Seattle before the end of the month to be with me, then I will know that we have Your blessing.”  He got up off his knees and climbed into bed.

The next morning they had breakfast and then she waited with him in the lobby for the shuttle to take him to the airport.  When it came, she followed him outside and they hugged tightly before he climbed into it.  She waved until it disappeared out of sight and then returned to the hotel, dejected.

Soon she was on her way back to New York.  Life seemed very dull after being on Paradise Island and she missed Sean like crazy.  Talking to him on the phone and emailing him was not enough.  She wanted to see him.

Sean was standing at the window, looking out, thinking about Dinny when the doorbell rang.  He went to answer it.  His heart skipped a beat when he looked through the keyhole.  His face braking into a broad smile, he opened the door, his eyes eagerly running over her.  He pulled her inside and closed the door.  “Hello,” he murmured before bending his head to kiss her.

She wound her arms around his neck and kissed him back.  After a while, she drew back to look up at him.  “So, when do I start my new job?” she asked.

“On Monday,” he said.

“You were very sure that I would come.”

“I was hopeful,” he said with a smile.

“If you are up to it, I was hoping that you would take me sightseeing.”

“Sure,” he said.  “Where’s your luggage?”

“At the hotel.  Staying here with you wouldn’t be a good idea.  Things could get tricky.”

“You’re right,” he agreed.  “The first thing you and I are going to do is buy a ring.  Then, we will get married as soon as possible and you can move in here with me.”

“Sounds good,” Dinny murmured as he lowered his head towards her.  When she felt his lips on hers, she thought that paradise wasn’t just about places but about moments like this one.  She was with the man who loved her and whom she loved.  What could be better than that?

 

Sources:  Atlantis Bahamas; Your Tango; Girls Love Style; Simply Dresses; Cafe Martinique; Trip Advisor; Blue Letter Bible; Grace Seattle; Seattle Church; Reader’s Digest; Pinterest