Folani’s Story

photo-1553394951-efd4b4aadd2bMy name is Folani.  At the age of 16, I was forced to marry the man who raped me so that I wouldn’t bring shame on my family.  He wanted to marry me but after I rejected him, he raped me.  I told my my mother what he had done to me and she insisted that if he still wanted to marry me that I should consent.  “No other man is going to want you,” she told me.  “Be grateful if Mr. Adebayo still does.”

“But, Mama, he raped me.”

“And whose fault is that?”

I couldn’t believe how unfeeling and uncaring she was.  I wished my father were still alive.  He would have had Mr. Adebayo arrested and charged.  I wished I had older brothers who would make Mr. Adebayo pay for what he did to me.  I wouldn’t want them to kill him, of course.  There are other ways to make a person pay for what they have done without taking their life.

I got no sympathy from my mother or my step-father and when Mr. Adebayo asked their permission to marry me, they consented.  I know he wanted to marry me because he wanted to avoid punishment and prosecution.  He was a government official and he had his “reputation” to think about.  I had no choice but to go along with this.  I had brought my family into disrepute and the only way to preserve my family name and avoid a life of sexual shame was to marry the man who raped me.  This was the only way to prevent the social stigma of pre-marital sex.

The night before the wedding, I cried bitterly.  I didn’t want to marry this man.  I didn’t want to stop going to school.  I had dreams of becoming a doctor but now those dreams were squashed.  I lay in my bed curled up, wishing I could die.  Death would be better than the future.

I married Mr. Adebayo and we lived in his big house on the hill.  He was abusive to me, demanding his rights as my husband.  He struck me when he tried to touch me and I pulled away.  Night after night, I was raped.  I became pregnant but I miscarried because of repeated domestic violence.  Just when I didn’t think I could take any more of the physical and sexual abuse, my husband suddenly died.  I could have run away and left him there in the floor but I called the police.

It turned out that he died from cardiac arrest.  After the funeral, his sister and mother threw me out of the house.  I didn’t return home to my mother and step-father.  I went to my paternal grandmother who let me stay with her.  When I told her all that had happened to me, she cried and prayed over me.

While I stayed with her, she read the Bible to me and told me about God and Jesus.  I listened.  I missed going to school but my grandmother couldn’t afford to send me.  One night, I got down on my knees and asked God to help me.  I couldn’t give up my dream of becoming a doctor one day.  The next day, someone from Camfed came to my grandmother’s house.  They had heard about my situation through its network of former students who had been supported through their education program.  The charity offered to pay my school fees, and provides books, uniforms and sanitary protection.  As my grandmother and I listened, I knew that God had answered my prayers.  Thanks for Camfed has enabled more than two million girls like me to go to school has made my dream of becoming a doctor a reality.

After I graduated from school, I went on to university.  I chose to live on campus but visited my grandmother every weekend.  I thank her for telling me about God and I thank God for coming through for me.  I wish I had run away from home and gone to live with my grandmother instead of marrying Mr. Adebayo but I was afraid that I would bring shame on her.

When I told her this, she reached for my hand and gently squeezed it.  “You wouldn’t have brought any shame to me, Folani child.  What happened to you wasn’t your fault.  A wicked and evil man violated you and to avoid what was due him, he, your mother and step-father forced you to marry him.  You’re free of him now that he’s dead and you are free to live the life God has planned for you.  Now you can become a doctor–the first in your community and family.  Your father would be very proud of you.”

With tears in my eyes, I hugged her tightly.  “Kutenda, Ambuya.”

Folani’s story is fiction but there are true stories of girls who have been forced into marriages because of poverty, economic hardships, difficult circumstances and protection from sexual violence.  Advocates for rape-marriage laws argue that they shield the victim and her family from the shame of rape.  This isn’t true.  This law benefits the rapist and the girl’s family.  The girl has no say in the matter and is forced to marry the man who violated her.  She is forced to drop out of school and forsake her future which only education could make possible and be in a marriage which more often than not is abusive.

I urge you to help Camfed which is changing the lives of girls through education; Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of more than 1300 civil society organisations committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfil their potential; Girl UP which believes that Girls are powerful. Girls have limitless potential. Girls can change the world. And yet in certain places around the world, girls continue to lack access to opportunities; CARE which is working towards gender equality, women’s empowerment, champions among men and boys, and an end to violence against women and Forward, the African women-led organisation working to end violence against women and girls.

Marriage is a choice not something to be coerced into.  Education not marriage should be a girl’s priority.  Marriage is between an adult man and woman not between an adult and a child.  And girls who are raped should be protected by the law and their families and not forced to marry their rapists to save him persecution and jail time or to safe the family face.  Rape is a crime and should be treated as such.

Take action to help girls like Gloria, who was forced into marriage at 12 and a widow twice by the time she was 17, to have an education and a future.  Help them to fulfill their dreams.

Sources:  Wikipedia; UN Women; BBC News; UNFPA

Carmela’s Story

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Carmela sat in the empty church which was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.  She was on her way home from the salon where she worked when she decided to stop in and pray for her brother, Guido who died five years ago from a heart attack.  She hoped and prayed that he was no longer in Purgatory because of all the prayers she and the rest of the family had made on his behalf and that he was in Heaven now.  Still, it didn’t hurt to still say prayers for him.

“Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace.”

After she finished praying, she said this prayer for her deceased parents whom  she knew were in Heaven.  “O God, Who hast commanded us to honor our father and mother, look in the tenderness of Thy mercy upon the souls of my father and mother and forgive them their sins, and grant unto me the joy of seeing them again in the glorious light of everlasting life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

She hoped that one day soon, Guido would join them. She remained kneeling for a while longer and then she made the sign of the Cross.   She rose to her feet went to the front and lit three candles, said a prayer and then left.  Outside it was a bit nippy and drizzling slightly.  She stopped at the supermarket to pick up a few items and then went to the modest apartment she shared with her teenage daughter, Maria.

The place was quiet when she opened the door and went inside.  Maria was still out with her friends.  She said that they were going to hang out at the mall for a while and she should be home by seven. The clock on the wall in the living-room struck five.  She went straight into the kitchen and set the grocery bags on the counter before she removed her jacket and hung it in the hall closet.  She washed her hands and got busy making her famous Manicotti Italian Casserole.

While the Casserole was in the oven baking, she went and took a quick shower.  By the time she was done, the Casserole was ready.  She removed it from the oven and shared it out.  She waited until the oven cooled a bit before she put the plate with Maria’s food inside the oven to keep it hot.  She sat down at the kitchen table and ate hers.  She hadn’t made it since Giuseppe died.  It was his favorite dish.  He always used to boast, “I got lucky when I married you.  You make the best Manicotti Italian Casserole on the planet.  Even better than Mama’s.”

Carmela smiled.  He was such a good husband and father.  It was hard to believe that ten years had passed since he died.  She visited his grave every week and put fresh flowers on it.  And she prayed for him every night.  She couldn’t imagine marrying again.  Giuseppe was her first and only love.  She wanted to remain his wife for the rest of her life.

After she finished eating, she got up from the table, washed the plate and the dirty things in the sink.  She fixed herself a cup of a cup of coffee and took it into the living-room.  She turned on the television and watched the local news.  When it was over, she turned off the television and went to the kitchen to wash the cup and saucer.  It was Friday so she went to get the dirty laundry.  She went to Maria’s room first and as she was about to pick up the laundry bin to take it to the washer, her eyes fell on a booklet lying on top of the bed.  On the front there was a picture of a man stooping down in front of a grave with a woman dressed in white standing behind him.  Over his head were the words, Are the Dead Really Dead?

Heart pounding, she dropped the laundry basket on the floor and picked up the booklet.  She sat down on the bed and began to read it.  She was half way through when she heard the key turn in the lock.  Maria was home.  Closing the booklet, she hurried into the living-room.  Holding the booklet up for her to see, she asked, “Where did you get this?”

Maria looked at the booklet.  “I got it from Anna who got it from her cousin, Lucy.”

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“Is Lucy the one who is a Seventh-day Adventist?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I want you to take this and give it back to Anna.  I don’t want this kind of literature in my home.”

“But, Mama, I read it and it makes so much sense to me.  I never believed that you can talk to and pray to the dead.”

“All my life I have been a Catholic and I believe what the church teaches.  The dead are in Heaven or Purgatory or Hell.  They are not sleeping in their graves as this claims.” She shoved it at Maria, shaking her head.

“They use scriptures to back up what they are saying.  Why is it such a bad thing to believe that the dead are in their graves?  Would Heaven be a happy place for them when they see their loved ones suffering?  Take Amy’s mother for example.  Would she be happy in Heaven if she can see Amy’s brother, Michael getting bullied at school because he has a learning disability?  What about Grandpa and Grandma?  How would they feel if they saw Uncle Guido struggling with alcohol addiction or how painful it was for us when Daddy died?  I thought Heaven was supposed to be a happy place but how could anyone be happy there when they can see so much suffering here on earth or their loves one burning up in Hell?  No, Mama, I can’t believe that God who is love would have people burning in Hell forever or stuck in limbo in Purgatory, hoping that the prayers of their loved ones will get them into Heaven and afraid that they might end up in Hell.  I believe what this Study guide says about death.  It is more in line with God’s loving and compassionate character.  I am going to ask Anna for more these study guides so that I can learn more of what’s in the Bible.”

Carmela stared at her.  “So, you’re going to turn your back on your Catholic faith?”

“Mama, I was never a devout Catholic like you and the rest of our family, except Uncle Guido.  I never felt an emotional connection to the traditions and teachings.  I went to Anna’s church last week Saturday and I felt so connected to the people and was so moved by the sermon that I was sorry when it was over.  I felt this hunger to know more.”

“You went to a Seventh-day Adventist Church?” Carmela demanded, incensed.  “How dare you go there without my permission?”

“Would you have let me go if I asked you?”

“No! And for good reason.  Maria, they teach all sorts of negative things about our church such as the Papacy is the Anti-Christ and that the church is the whore of Babylon mentioned in the book of Revelation.  They claim to be God’s remnant church because they keep the Ten commandments which were nailed to the cross and because of some woman named Ellen G. White whom they say is a prophetess.”

“Mama, I really want to go to Anna’s church this Saturday.  The youth are doing the worship service and afterwards there’s a lunch and–”

Carmela’s mouth tightened.  “Forget it.  You’re not going.”

“But, Mama–”

“You heard me.  Now finish taking up your dirty laundry and put it in the washer.  When you’re finished have your dinner.  It’s in the oven.”  She turned and walked out of the room, livid.  “Ragazza sciocca. Tornando indietro alla sua fede. Beh, non ce l’ho. Non finché vivi qui.”

Maria didn’t go to church on the Sabbath but she watched the service on line the next day while her mother was at Sunday Mass.  She did that every Sunday and when she turned 18, she decided that she wanted to be baptized and be a member of Anna’s church.  When she broke the news to her mother, she yelled, “Se ci riesci, voglio buttarti fuori da questa casa” before she stormed out of the apartment.

After she left, Maria went to her room and knelt beside her bed and prayed.

Carmela took the bus to the cemetery and she hurried towards Guiseppe’s grave, tears of anger streaming down her face.  When she got there, she knelt down.  “Oh, Guiseppe, your daughter will be the death of me.  Do you know what she is planning to do?  She’s going to get baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist church, of all the churches.  I warned her that if she goes through with it, I will throw her out on the streets.  I don’t know what else to do.  Guiseppe, what do I do?  How could I let her turn her back on our faith?  No one in our family is a Protestant.  Per favore, caro mio, dimmi cosa devo fare.”

She waited for a reply, her hands clasped tightly in front of her and her eyes squeezed shut.  There was silence and then she heard a male voice ask, “Why do you seek the dead on behalf of the living?”

Her eyes flew up and she looked wildly about her but she was alone.  No one else was there.  Trembling, she asked, “Whose voice did I just hear? Was it the Lord’s or an angel’s?”

“It is I, Jesus.  Maria has chosen a good thing which will not be taken away from her.”

“What should I do, Lord?”

“Do not cast her out.”

Carmela made the sign of the cross and stood up.  She went away, her heart racing and the words of the Lord running through her mind.  When she got home, she called Maria.  “I’m sorry about earlier,” she said.  “If you’re serious about getting baptized and joining Anna’s church, I’m not going to stop you or kick you out but I won’t be there.”  And she walked past her and went to her room, closing the door quietly behind her.

Maria raised her eyes heavenward and gave thanks.  A couple weeks later she was baptized and Anna’s parents invited her to their home to celebrate.  Maria became a member of the church and involved in the Youth Ministry.  She even taught Sabbath School sometimes.  She became a literature evangelist and handed out tracts.  She became a vegetarian much to her mother’s chagrin but there was no opposition.  Maria cooked her own meals.

Carmela saw how happy her daughter was and she stopped lamenting about her leaving the Catholic church.  She continued to attend Sunday Mass.  One Sunday after Mass, she was talking to Father Ricci and she mentioned something about Eve.  One of her regular customers at the salon had lent her the movie, Genesis: The Creation and the Flood which she watched on Saturday.

Father Esposito’s expression changed and he said, “Mrs. Romano, the story of Adam and Eve was not to be taken literally.  It was merely a story in the Bible and should not be taken as fact.”

She stared at him, stunned but didn’t get into any further discussion with him.  “Thank you, Father,” she said.  “Good-day.”  She turned and hurried away, her mind reeling from shock.  She went home and opened her Bible to Chapter Three of the Gospel of Luke where the the Genealogy of Jesus was.  There was Adam’s name and he was called the son of God.  How then, could Father Esposito claim that Adam was not a real person?  And Jesus Himself alluded to both Adam and Eve when He said, “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.”

She closed the Bible and sank heavily down on the sofa.  Why would Father Esposito claim that the story of creation was just a story?  What else in the Bible should not be taken as fact?  She went into the den and logged on to the computer.  She did several searches until she came across a site called, Steps to Life and a book called, Is the Virgin Mary Dead or Alive by Danny Vierra.  At first, she didn’t want to read it but she felt strongly impressed to.

She read the first chapter and her heart lurched when she read the part about the priest who taught his religion class telling him the same thing Father Esposito told her about the story of Adam and Eve.  Heart racing, she continued reading.  She read a few chapters that evening and every evening until she was finished reading the entire book.  Afterwards, she did the online Bible Studies by Marshall Grosboll

By the time she was done with the Bible Studies, she knew that she had a choice to make.  She could remain in the church that she had been born and raised in or she could leave.  As she prayed earnestly about it,  the words, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” came to her.  She had discovered God’s truth and she had to embrace it.

She told Maria everything and her daughter was thrilled.  Together they went to Anna’s church and one Saturday, Maria watched with tears in her eyes as her mother gave her life to Christ.  The following month, on Carmela’s 45th birthday, she was baptized.

Carmela thanked Jesus for talking to her that day in the cemetery and her customer for lending her the movie about Genesis.  Those two events changed her life.  And she was proud of Maria for choosing that “good thing”.

The way to God’s truth is always there.  Some find it sooner and some later.  The important thing is to find it.  And when you do, it will set you free.

Sources:  Our Catholic Prayers; Town and Country; Catholic News Herald;

A Tragic Loss

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“How’s Stephanie doing?” Gail asked.

“Not well at all,” Allison replied.

“That isn’t surprising,” Wendy interjected.  “She just lost her 11 year old son.”

“Poor woman.  I’m a mother and can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a child,” Allison said, getting misty eyed.

“I visited her yesterday and she was still in a state of shock,” Wendy told them.  “I just sat there holding her hand.  I will do whatever I can to help her through this.”

“Lance said that Alan’s having a tough time too,” Allison said.

“Let’s pitch in and help them,” Gail suggested.

The others agreed.

100 Words

Tragically, this story is loosely based on my own.  Yesterday, my husband and I lost our 11 year old son.  We are still in shock.  I will not be blogging for an indefinite period of time.

The loss of a child is the most painful and heart-wrenching thing that could happen to a family.  My thoughts and prayers are for those who have gone through and are going through this unimaginable tragedy.

This was written for the Friday Fictioneers challenge hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields For more details, visit Here.  To read other stories based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

Free/Pillars #writephoto

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Photo by Sue Vincent

“Mr.  Johnson, how does it feel to be a free man after spending twenty-five years in jail?” a reporter asked Leroy Johnson as he stood in front of the courthouse with its massive pillars.  His mother was beside him.

He looked around at the sea of reporters with their mikes shoved in his face and the flashing cameras and smiled.  “It feels great!” he exclaimed.

Leroy was freed after spending twenty-five years of his life behind bars convicted of a murder he didn’t commit.  He was a free man now thanks to a couple of law students who examined the questionable circumstances surrounding his conviction and got his case opened.    Malcolm Holder, the real killer confessed to the killing.

“Do you feel any resentment toward Malcolm Holder?”

Leroy shook his head.  “Why should I feel resentment toward him?  He came forward and confessed to the killing twice.  The first time he did it was a couple of days after the shooting but he wasn’t arrested.  He tried to do the right thing but nobody listened.  They arrested me instead, an innocent man and sentenced me to forty years in jail with no chance of parole before 2029.”

“Is there anything you want to say to him?”

“Nothing except, that he did the right thing coming forward.”

“Mrs.  Johnson, how does it feel to have your son back?”

Mrs. Johnson smiled.  “It feels wonderful,” she replied.  “After twenty-five years, the Lord finally answered my prayers.  My son is a free man now.”

“Mr.  Johnson, what do you plan to do now that you’re free?”

He put his arm around his mother’s shoulders.  “I’m not thinking that far ahead but right now, I’m taking my Mama to lunch.”

I was inspired to write this story after hearing about the New York prisoner, Valentino Dixon whose conviction was overturned because of an investigation Golf Digest’s Max Adler helped to open.  Valentino was accused of shooting a man back in 1991.  He was arrested and convicted even though the real killer, Lamarr Scott admitted to local media just days after the murder that he shot Torriano Jackson but, he was never arrested.  To read the story, visit here.

This was written in response to the Thursday Photo Prompt – Pillars at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.

 

Sources:  USA Today; Bossip

Her New God

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Photo by Sue Vincent

She looked at the tree with the scarves, ties and other colorful things draped on the branches and grimaced.  Waste of time.  She saw the items she had put on the tree months ago, believing that the gods would hear her prayers and answer but it was as if they had turned their backs on her.  Her son was still sick.  Nothing worked.  The hospital was too far away and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him.  And he was growing worse.

“You haven’t tried Me”.  She looked around, wondering who had said that.  She was alone.  She continued walking, chalking it up to imagination when she heard it again.  “You haven’t tried Me”.

Frightened, she asked, “Who are You?”

“I am the God who created the heavens and the earth.”

The Christian God, she thought.  She had heard about Him.  “I have heard stories about You how You parted the Red Sea and sent bread from Heaven.”

“Yes, and I can also heal the sick.”

She paused and looked up.  “Can You heal my son?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“How?”

“All you have to do is to pray and believe that I can do it and I will.”

She thought about it for a moment.  What did she have to lose?  Her son was sick and her gods weren’t answering her desperate cries for help.  At least this God was talking to her and He wanted to heal her son.  She got down on her knees and prostrated herself on the ground, hands clasped above her head, eyes squeezed shut.  She began to pray and as she did, the words just poured from her lips, accompanied by gut wrenching tears as she pleaded for her son’s life.

When she was finished, a peace she had never experienced before in her life came over her.  She got up and wiping her face, she trudged the rest of the way to the village.  When she arrived, her sister ran out to greet her, her face bright with joy.  “Saanvi!  It’s Jayesh,” she cried, unable to speak because she was so excited.

Saanvi frowned,  “What about Jayesh?” she asked.

“He’s recovered,” her sister said, grabbing her hand and pulling her towards thehut.   “The fever left him and he’s awake.  He’s asking for you.”

Overjoyed, Saanvi burst into the hut and when she saw Saanvi sitting up in the bed, she fell to the ground and began to thank the Christian God.  “You are now my God,” she said.  “When the other gods ignored my cries for help, You heard and You spoke to me.  You healed my son.  You’re my God now.”

By the end of the week, all traces of the other gods were gone.  In their place was a Bible which she had gotten from a missionary visiting her village.  And as for the Wishing Tree, she had no more use for it.  She removed the items she had placed on the branches and burned them.

This was written in response to the Thursday Photo Prompt – Wishes for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. Click on the link to read other stories inspired by the image.

Praise

I will always praise the Lord.  With all my heart, I will praise the Lord – Psalm 34:1, 2

King David was always praising God.  Every opportunity he got, he praised Him for who He is and what He does in our lives.  Do we praise God?  Do we take the time to praise Him for who is He is?  Or do we spend most of our time asking Him for things?

Instead of asking God to bless our children, we should say, “Lord God, we want praise You for the many blessings You have poured out on our children.  We want to praise You for Your faithfulness and goodness.”

When God answers our prayers, do we praise Him?  David did.  “I praise You, Lord, for answering my prayers.  You have helped me and I will celebrate and thank You in song” (Psalm 28:6, 7).

Even when we are hurting, we ought to praise God.  “Lord, even though I am feeling low today, I want to lift up Your name.  You are my Rock and my refuge.  I know that this sadness will not last because You will send joy my way.  You will lift me out of this valley and place me back on top of the mountain.  You will make my heart glad because of Your goodness and kindness.  Lord, even when I don’t feel like singing, Your put songs in my heart.  Even when I don’t feel like smiling, You put a smile on my face.  Today, Lord, I praise Your name because You deserve to be praised.  Honour and glory belong to You.  I praise Your name because You are good.  You have rescued me from all of my troubles.”

I find that when I am feeling down and I start to praise God and sing songs of praise, my spirits are lifted and the sadness vanishes.  When we focus on God instead of our troubles, it makes a world of different.  Let us get into the habit of petitioning God less and praising Him more.

Lost and Found

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

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

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

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

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

“Why not?”

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

“It is because He loves you.”

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

“Yes, He did.”

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

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

“The lost child, of course.”

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

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

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

“But, I’m a sinner.”

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

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

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

“So, what should I do now?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How is he doing?”

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

“Why is he in a wheelchair?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Please say hello to him for me.”

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

“I’d like that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m fine.  I had lunch with Duke.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She nodded.  “Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wow, that’s profound.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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