Papa Joe

August 12, 1952.  It was a date she would never forget.  It was the day she buried the man who had been a father to her for over twenty years.  It seemed so surreal.  Papa Joe was gone.  She stood there alone in her grief, shivering although it was a hot and muggy day.

She stared at the ground where Papa Joe lay.  The tears rolled down her cheeks as she cradled his worn Bible, remembering how he used to read it to her when she was a child. When her parents had died he took her in and raised her as his own. She had grown to love the old man as if he were her very own blood.  Many of the townspeople had a problem with the widower raising a black girl and didn’t hide their displeasure but Papa Joe ignored them.  His business began to suffer.  Papa Joe was a tailor.  He knew that business would pick up again if he got rid of Cassandra but he refused to do so.  Even if he went bankrupt, he would never part with her.  He vowed that only death would separate them.

It was Papa Joe whom she shared her dreams with.  It was Papa Joe who comforted her when she went home crying because of the racial slurs and taunts.  Papa Joe was the only one who knew that she loved a man she had no right to love.  She had known Dr. Baker since she was a child.  He used to stop by and see Papa Joe.   He was always kind to her and brought her treats.  As she grew older, the visits became more frequent.  Papa Joe was no fool.  He could see that feelings were developing between them and he warned her, “You and the doctor have to be careful, Cassie.  This town will not take kindly to a relationship between a black girl and a white man.”

One night when Dr. Baker visited, Papa Joe excused himself and went to his room.  As soon as they were alone, the doctor took Cassandra into his arms and kissed her.  “I have wanted to do that all day,” he whispered when he raised his head to gaze down into her face.  “I know that there is a considerable age difference between us but I love you, Cassandra.  I tried to stay away when I realized that I had fallen in love with you but I couldn’t.  I had to see you.”

“I love you too.”

“I’m leaving for Paris in three weeks and I would like you to come with me.”

“Paris?” she exclaimed.  “Why there?”

“I have always wanted to go there and set up a practice.  My mother was French and your family was from Haiti.  So the language won’t be a barrier for us.”

“I can’t go to Paris with you, Robert.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t leave Papa Joe.  He has been so good to me.”

“Joe would want you to be happy and you won’t be as long as you remain in this town.”

“I can’t be happy knowing that he is here all alone.”  She could see the distress on Robert’s face and she reached up and touched his face.  “I love you for wanting to take me away with you, but I can’t.  I hope you understand.”

“I do,” he sighed.  “Well, I better be going.  Please say goodnight to Joe for me.”  They kissed and then she walked with him to the door.

“Goodbye, Cassandra.  Write me and let me know how you are doing.”  He gave her a piece of paper with an address on it.  She took it.  After a lingering look, he was gone–perhaps out of her life for good.

That was three months ago.  They had exchanged letters since and when Papa Joe died, she had written and told Robert.  She stood now at the grave, the tears falling.  Papa Joe had left the house to her and all the money he earned from his tailoring.  She had the money locked away in a box.  She didn’t want to go back to the empty house.

She had no idea of how long she stood there but the biting cold prompted her to start making her way back to the house.  She had just reached the front porch when she saw a car pull up and Robert got out.  He walked over to her and taking her arm he led her up the steps.  “I’m sorry I didn’t make it on time for the funeral,” he apologized as she unlocked the door and they went inside.

Once inside and the door was shut, she threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly.  She sobbed, letting out the pent up grief that had closed around her heart like a fist.  Robert stood there, holding her until the sobs subsided and then ceased.

When she was spent from all that crying, Robert took her over to the sofa and sat her down.  “Joe wrote me this note,” he said, handing it to her.  “I think you should read it.”

She wiped away the tears before she reached for the note.  Frowning, she slowly unfolded the paper and read it.  Dear Robert, I know that you love my Cassie and that you wanted to take her away from this cursed place.  If I know my dear girl she will not want to leave me.  She feels a sense of obligation to stay and take care of me as I have taken care of her all these years.  I don’t want to be a burden to her.  She is young and deserves to live her life.  There’s no future for her here.  I know that she loves you and that it broke her heart to be separated from you.  She thought I wasn’t aware, but I could see the unhappiness in her sweet face and I could hear her crying in the night.  She had sacrificed her chance for happiness for me.  I haven’t told her but I don’t have much longer to live.  When I pass on, which should be any time soon, please come and take Cassie away from here.  Take her to Paris where you and she will be free to love each other.  She can use the money from the sale of the house to pay for her fare.  I am sorry that I won’t be there for your wedding but know that I wish you both all the happiness in the world.  Please take good care of my precious girl.

Yours sincerely,

Joe

Fresh tears fell.  “I had no idea that he was dying.  He was tired more but I just thought that it was to do with age.  I am thankful that I was here for him.”

“Now, you can get on with your life.  We have his blessing.  Let me take you to Paris.”  He reached out and took her hands in his.  “Cassandra, I want to marry you.  Let me take you to Paris.”

She nodded.  “I will go to Paris with you,” she said.  Her life here was over.  There was nothing to keep her here.  Her future was with Robert now.  She would sell this house filled with so many wonderful memories and leave this town which had been the source of her unhappiness.  Yes, she will go to Paris and marry the man she loved.

 

crying african american woman in the 1950s

The Intruder

A storm was raging outside.  The rain was beating relentlessly against the windows.  The lightning flashed across the sky and soon followed by the loud thunderous clap.  She hated storms. And being alone in the house didn’t help the situation.  She chided herself for coming ahead of the family to this place which been closed up for a year.  It feel strange being on her own in this large house.  So many rooms.  So many stairs.

She had come down to check the windows to make sure they were securely locked.  She was half-way down the hall when she heard it.  It was during the intermission between the clap of the thunder and the next flash of lightning.   At first she thought she had imagined it and continued walking.  There it was again.  She froze.  Her heart pounding now with fear.  She hadn’t imagined it.  She heard the jangle of keys.  She wasn’t carrying any keys with her.  Someone else was.  Who was in the house?

Then she heard the footsteps.  They were coming down the hall behind her.   Terrified, she darted into one of the rooms and locked the door.  She leaned against it, shaking like a leaf.  Again she wished she hadn’t come here tonight.  What on earth had possessed her to do so?  Why her parents and siblings were sleeping peacefully at the inn, she was here hiding from an intruder.  All sorts of terrifying thoughts assailed her mind.  It could be an escaped convict and the jangle she heard were his chains.  He had some how gotten into the house.

She heard the footsteps stop outside the room she was in and she almost dropped the candle.  Her heart was pounding in her chest, her breath was coming in short gasps and her legs had turned to jelly.  “Oh please, go away,” she whispered.

Then she heard the key turn in the lock.   She ran away from the door, her eyes darting wildly about the room for some way of escape.  The windows.  She could open one of them and climb out.  She and her brother used to do that when they were children. Climbing down the trellis in the pouring rain and possibly slipping and having a bad fall was preferable to what was going to come through that door.

She quickly blew the candle out and dropped it on the rug.  She ran to the window just as the door opened.  Frantically, she tried to unfasten the latch on the window.

“Who’s there?” a voice boomed.  “You are trespassing on private property.”

She swung around to face the speaker and just then lightning flashed across the sky and she caught sight of a tall figure wearing a raincoat. He was carrying a lantern which he now held up.   In its glow she could make out his features.  This was no convict.  It was Mr. Crawley, the caretaker of the property.  Relief washed over her and she stumbled over to him.  “Oh, it’s you, Mr. Crawley.”

“Miss Catherine?”

“I heard someone moving about in the house and I was dreadfully afraid.”

“I saw a light on in the house and came to investigate.   I didn’t expect anyone to be here until tomorrow, Miss.”

“I know,” she said.  “I decided to come ahead of the family.  I didn’t mean to cause you any trouble.”

“It’s no trouble, Miss.  Will you be all right?”

She nodded.  “Yes, I’ll be all right.”

“You can take my lantern, Miss.  I can find my way all right.”

“Thank you, Mr. Crawley.  Good night.”

“Good night, Miss.”  He bowed and left her.

She stood there for a moment, listening to the storm, no longer afraid.

woman with a candle

Mr. Thornber

“Mr. Thornber,” his name spilled involuntarily from her lips.

“What the blazes are you doing in here, Miss Roth?” demanded the gentleman.  “You should be outside taking  a turn in the garden.  It is a very pleasant afternoon.”  In a few strides he closed the distance between them.  He stopped abruptly beside her, facing the fire, removing his gloves and warming his enormous hands which seemed to fascinate her at the moment as she replied to his inquiry.

“I was out in the garden earlier , Sir.  And yes, it is a very pleasant afternoon.  I was rather reluctant to come back inside but my duties to my pupil demanded that I do so.”

He turned to look at her and she met his stare, wondering if he had any idea of how delighted she was to see him.  The days he had been away had dragged.  The house seemed so empty and boring without his presence.   She had no idea that he would return today.  She hadn’t heard a carriage arrive and perceived that he had probably come by way of his horse.  She had seen him once on the black steed and thought what a fine figure he made…

“What have you been up to while I was away?” his inquiry jolted her back to the present moment.  She could feel her face grow red and hoped that he would attribute it to the fire.  She moved away from the fireplace and went back to the chair she had vacated before he came in.  She sank thankfully down into the soft cushions.  She hoped he did not think her rude from walking away like that.  As he crossed the room to where she was, she saw nothing in his countenance to indicate that he did.

He promptly took a seat in the chair nearby, his arm resting casually on the book on the table beside him, his head turned slightly to the right so he could look at her.

With her hands clasped in her lap as she returned his gaze, she replied, “Nothing outside of the ordinary.  When I am not teaching, or outdoors, I spend most of my time here reading.”

“What sort of books do you like to read?”

“Fiction, mostly but I like History and Philosophy__”

“Philosophy?” He looked surprised.  “Why should you like Philosophy?”

“Sir, do you wonder that I should like Philosophy because of my gender?”

“My surprise in your choice of discipline has nothing to do with your gender, Miss Roth.  You just don’t seem like the philosophical type.”

“I beg to differ, Sir.  Philosophy is an activity that I like to engage in.  I like to question assumptions, beliefs and current presuppositions.”

He looked intrigued.  “I suppose you are familiar with Plato, then?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Tell me, Miss Roth, do you agree with his claim that ‘until philosophers are kings, or kings have the spirit of philosophy, cities will never have rest from their troubles’?

Before she could answer, he got up from his seat.  “I should be very interested in hearing your answer.  After you have had your dinner this evening, I should like for you to join me in here.”

Did she detect a tender expression on his face?  Before she could be certain, he was gone as quickly and suddenly as he had arrived.

Sighing, she reached for her book but didn’t open it for several minutes.  Her mind preoccupied with their conversation and his question about Plato.  She would have to think about it.  She looked at the clock.  Three hours before dinner.  She longed for the time to advance quickly so that she could enjoy his company once again.

 

Photo:  British (English) School; Portrait of a Gentleman; Royal Albert Memorial Museum; Sources:  Art UK ; CUNY Education; American Art

In Need of Prayers

In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, And His children will have a place of refuge – Proverbs 14:26.

The earthquake in Nepal left more than rubble in its wake.  It left heartbreak, loss and uncertainty.

When I look at Drastaa’s weathered face, I see unimaginable pain and devastation.  I see someone who has suffered a crippling loss.  She lost her only grand-daughter.  The girl was only 16 years old.  She had gone in to the forest to gather firewood when the earthquake struck, killing her.  That day when Drastaa woke up, little did she know that her world would be turned upside down and that she would be facing the future alone.

Her life is like a heap of rubble.  She has no idea how she was going to pick up the pieces and rebuild her life.  The odds are stacked against her.  She’s elderly.  She’s a widow.  She can’t work to support herself.  Life for widows in Nepal is hard and they are victims of discrimination, isolation and rejection.  In addition to the stigma that is attached to widowhood, she had to worry about the spreading of diseases because of the unsanitary conditions and the monsoon season which is typically lasts from mid-June to mid-September.  A monsoon can seriously hamper relief and recovery efforts.

“As one whom his mother comforts, So I will comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13).  Pray that Drastaa will receive this comfort and the help she needs to get back on her feet.  Ask God to reveal Himself to her, letting her know that she is not suffering alone.

Nepal Earthquake Survivor Photo

Leave your fatherless children, I will preserve them alive; And let your widows trust in Me – Jeremiah 49:11.

Nepal Earthquake Survivor Photo

When the earth started shaking, Tarana’s husband rushed inside their home to look for their children, unaware that they were safe outside. The house collapsed on him, and Tarana is now widowed, caring for five children on her own – Gospel for Asia

When I read about what happened to Tarana’s husband, it brought tears to my eyes.  I was touched by this family’s tragedy.  In a matter of minutes, Tarana’s had lost her husband–she was a widow and her five children had lost their father.   He had gone into their home, risking his life the save them.

What is going to happen to Tarana and her children?  They are homeless.  Their house was reduced to rubble.  Where could they go?  Who would help them?  How is she going to rebuild their lives?

I encourage you to pray for Tarana and her children.  Pray for their protection against disease and danger.  I read that in the wake of the earthquakes, the UNICEF is working with the Nepalese government to stop child trafficking as the organization feared that there was a surge in the number of cases.  According to Tomoo Hozumi, a UNICEF representative in Nepal, “Loss of livelihoods and worsening living conditions may allow traffickers to easily convince parents to give their children up for what they are made to believe will be a better life.”  The traffickers promise education, meals and a better future but in reality, many of these children end up being “horrendously exploited and abused.”

As a widow with no source of income and raising five children, it is possible that Tarana could be approached by traffickers, promising her a better future for her children.  Pray that God will watch over them.  He is now the Father of these children and He will guard them.  “…He will save the children of the needy” (Psalm 72:4).

Drastaa, Tarana and all of the other survivors need our prayers.   Gospel for Asia offers these suggestions for prayer requests:

  • Comfort and hope for those grieving
  • Protection from disease and danger
  • God’s provision and sustenance for relief teams
  • Many to understand Jesus’ love

I applaud the work that GFA Compassion Services teams have been doing.  They “have touched many lives through relief events during the past several weeks. They’ve focused on reaching remote, hard-to-reach villages where many lost homes, possessions, and sometimes loved ones.”

If you feel impressed to reach out to these survivors and you want to find more information on GFA’s relief work in Nepal, please visit http://gfa.org/earthquake/nepal.

Now, my God, I pray, let Your eyes be open and let Your ears be attentive to the prayer made in this place – 2 Chronicles 6:40.

Sources:  Global News; The Weather Network; United Nations News; Gospel for Asia

South Asian Kitchen

I’m so used to having a nice, big kitchen with lots of natural light and a window that it’s hard to imagine preparing meals for my family inside a South Asian Kitchen.  A South Asian kitchen is very basic yet this is where a mother prepares delicious food for her family.

I read that in India women use wood, charcoal and animal dung for cooking.  These can lead to serious health problems, including respiratory infections, low birth weight and eye problems.  Cooking indoors increases the family’s exposure to smoke.  Seventy-four percent of households cook their meals inside the house while 32 percent cook inside the house without having a separate kitchen or room for cooking.

Find out more about everyday life for women in Asia at: http://www.gfa.org/women/

Gospel for Asia has prepared a recipe for chapatis, a flat-bread, typically made three times a day in Asia.  I am thinking of making it one of these days. When I do, I will blog about my experience and share the recipe.  As I make chapatis I will be thinking of the women in South Asia who have to make do with extremely basic kitchens with no proper ventilation.  And I will count my blessings that I have an electric stove, a self-cleaning oven and a fully functional kitchen with running water.  And I will be thinking of what can be done to improve the kitchen conditions for women in South Asia.

The women in South Asia need access to clean water, improved sanitation and safe cooking fuel so that millions of deaths worldwide can be prevented.

 

Sources:  Health Education to Villages; Gospel for Asia

 

A Father’s Vow

“If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering” – Judges 11:30, 31

I read this story again today and it filled me with sadness.  Jephthah was a mighty man of valor but was driven out of his home by his step-brothers because his mother was a harlot. He went to the land of Tob where he fell into the company of worthless men he went raiding with.

When the nation of Amnon made war against Israel, the elders of the Israelite people went to Jephthah for help.  He reminded them of how they had treated him and wanted to know why they were now seeking his help.  They promised him that if he would fight for them, they would make him their head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.  Jephthah agreed.  He went with them and they made him their head and commander.  Before he went to war, Jephthah gave the king of Ammon the opportunity to call a truce but he refused to listen.

God’s Spirit was upon Jephthah as he advanced toward the people of Ammon.  It was at this time that he made a vow to the Lord.   The Lord delivered the people of Ammon into his hands.  When he returned home after his great victory, his daughter came to meet him, happy to see him and and he was devastated.  He had made a vow to the Lord that whatever came out of his house to meet him when he returned from fighting the Ammonites, will be the Lord’s.  It never occurred to him that his daughter, his only child, would be the one to come out to meet him.

When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot go back on it.”

So she said to him, “My father, if you have given your word to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.” Then she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.”  She had accepted her fate.

For two months she and her friends bewailed her virginity on the mountains.  And at the end of the two months, she returned to her father and he honored his vow to the Lord.  She never knew a man.  She remained a virgin until she died.  Jephthah never had any grandchildren.

How sad it must have been for this young girl who like most girls dreamed of one day falling in love and getting married.  She would never know the joy of being a wife and a mother.  If a man showed any interest in her she would have to reject him.  How it must have been hard to see her friends get married and have children.  She may have held some of those children in her arms, knowing that she would never be able to have any of her own.  It is said that it became a custom in Israel for the daughters of Israel to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite for four days each year.

I can’t imagine how her father must have felt, seeing his only child live the rest of her life a spinster because of a foolish vow he had made.  The vow as not even necessary.  The Spirit of the Lord was with him.  God would have given him the victory anyway.  What should have been a celebration for father and daughter turned into a tragedy.  His victory came at a great cost because of a vow he had made in order to guarantee that victory.

Be careful when you made a vow to the Lord or anyone.  Consider what you are doing first.  Make sure you can live with your decision.  Don’t make promises that you may regret keeping.

If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth – Numbers 30:2.

BAFDec2014

Don’t Be a Sluggard

Go to the ant, you sluggard!
Consider her ways and be wise,
Which, having no captain,
Overseer or ruler,
Provides her supplies in the summer,
And gathers her food in the harvest.
How long will you slumber, O sluggard?
When will you rise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep—
11 So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler,
And your need like an armed man – Proverbs 6:6-11.

Natalie was watching TV while her mother was busy cleaning the house.  It was the weekend and Natalie wanted to relax.  She had had a busy week at school.  She needed a break.  She sat on the sofa with her feet on the coffee table flipping channels with one hand while the other reached into the bowl on her lap to stuff her mouth with popcorn.  It occurred to her that she should be helping her mother but she didn’t feel like getting up.  She was quite comfortable where she was.

The phone rang but Natalie didn’t stir.  The call is probably for Mom anyway, she thought.  She heard her mother rush from the kitchen where she was mopping the floor to answer the phone.  Twenty minutes later, the annoying drone of the vacuum was heard.  Natalie turned up the volume to drown it out.

“Natalie!” her mother marched into the room and grabbed the remote.  Natalie jolted upright on the sofa.  She hadn’t heard her mother come into the room, of course.  “Turn that thing off and get up off that sofa and help me around this house.”

“But, Mom–” she started to protest, but was cut off.  Her mother was incensed.  Her face was red.

“I’m tired of you doing nothing around this house.  You are twelve years old now.  It’s time you started to take on some responsibilities.  As of today, you will not be a loafer, lounging about the place while I do all of the work.  Someday you will be some poor man’s wife and you will have to learn how to take care of him and your home.  No daughter of mine is going to be a lazy good for nothing who can’t be of any use to herself or anyone else.  Men don’t like lazy women.  If you want to be a wife and a mother, you have to learn to do things–starting now.”  She grabbed her arm and pulled up.   “I have a list of things for you to do, starting with cleaning up your room.”

Natalie grudgingly did what she was told.  For twelve years her mother had done everything around the house and she had liked it like that but now she was forced to do things now.  She had never cleaned her room.   A heavy sigh left her lips as she thought of the mess waiting for her.  She always depended on her mother to clean her room, cook, and take care of her and her Dad.  She didn’t like having to do household chores.  Her friends didn’t do household chores.  They would laugh if they knew or worse–feel sorry for her.  She felt like getting out of there and going to the mall but she knew that was a bad idea.  She would be grounded for sure and her mother might dump even more work on her.

As she climbed the stairs, she thought, “This stinks.  I’m going to marry a rich man so I won’t have to do any of this stuff.”

Twenty years later, Natalie smiled as she remembered her foolish dream.  She was married now but not to a rich man.  He was a manager at a small trucking company and they had two children.  Believe it or not, Natalie was a housewife.  She loved taking care of her family.  She was a terrific cook and was always looking for new recipes.  She loved to bake.  Just the other day she baked some brownies which were all gone now.

As she took a breather from her chores, she took up her Bible and sat down at the kitchen table.  She opened it to Proverbs 6.  She read it slowly.  She could relate to it.  The writer compared the ant, who was hardworking and industrious to the sluggard.  She had been the sluggard.  Lazy and idle–always making excuses.  She hated work.  When she wasn’t at school, she like to spend most of the day watching TV or hanging out at the mall with her friends.  If it hadn’t been for her parents she would not have done well in school.  Her father had always pushed her to study and work hard.  If she had her way, she would have preferred to skip school but that was definitely not an option.  Now she was encouraging her children to work hard and bring home the good grades.

She was especially thankful to her mother who transformed her from a sluggard into an ant.  It hadn’t been easy at all.  It was hard to go from being lazy to being hardworking.  There were quarrels, lots of tears but neither she nor her mother gave up.   Thanks to her mother, she learned the valuable lesson that a girl had to become a woman first before she could be a wife and mother.  She had to learn how to be responsible.   After reading Proverbs 31, it had become Natalie’s quest to become like the woman mentioned in it.

Just the other day her mother had said to her, “Nat, you have done very well for yourself.” She could see the pride in her mother’s face and that meant the world to her.   “Thanks, Mom,” she replied, giving her a hug.  “I learned from the best.”

Natalie is teaching her daughter how to be a woman so that one day she will be a wife and a mother just as her mother taught her.

She watches over the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her blessed;
Her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all” – Proverbs 31:27-29

Mothers, it is very important that you teach your daughters and sons how to be responsible.  Girls, at an early age, should learn how to cook and clean.  One of my co-workers knew how to keep a home as early as nine years old.  I personally regret not learning how to cook when I was growing up.  My mother did not teach me and I didn’t take any interest in learning.  I am in my forties and I am still learning my way in the kitchen and how to keep a home.  Mothers, you will be helping your daughters when you teach them how to take care of themselves and the families they will someday have.  Don’t wait for them to show an interest–they might never do that.  You take charge and do what you need to do.  One day they will thank you.

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