It’s a Two-Way Conversation

When we go to God in prayer is there a moment when we pause to listen to what He has to say?

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Prayer is a two way conversation.  It is a form of communication.  We say what we have to say and then keep silent and allow the Lord to answer.

I had gotten into the bad habit of getting up and going about my business after I finished praying.  One morning, I was impressed to remain kneeling.  When I did and I stayed quiet, Jesus spoke to me.  When I heard His voice, I began to cry.  I had missed hearing Him speak.  I told Him so and He said, “I have always been here.”

When we pray, the Lord is there but we don’t give Him a chance to speak.  It is like when you call a friend.  You say, “Hi Jane, it’s Martha.”  You allow Jane to say, “Oh, hi Martha.  How are you?” And that is all she gets to say.  The rest of the conversation is you talking with no pauses for Jane to get a word in.  And when you’re finished, you say goodbye and hang up.  Jane may have had news that she would have liked to share with you but she never got the chance to do so.

God may have news for us or something He wants to share with us but we don’t give Him a chance to do so.  We’re too busy talking and when we’re done, we thank God for hearing our prayers and answering them and then move off, not giving Him an opportunity to speak to us, we will miss out on that.  We may miss a message He has for us, what His will is for us that day or His plans for us.  God likes to listen to our prayers but He looks forward to when we come to Him and share what is in our hearts but He wants to share what is in His too.  Prayer is not just about us talking but it’s about us listening too.

The next time you pray, don’t get up or walk away as soon as you are finished.  Stay where you are.  Be still and listen.  God wants to talk to you.  Let Him.

Two Praying Women

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” – Luke 18:14

snobbish woman

She walked into the sanctuary and straight to the front pew where she stood facing the altar.  With her head held high and her eyes closed, she prayed to the Lord thus, “Heavenly Father, I thank You that I’m an upstanding member of society, an active Board of Trustee member of Liberty University and I donate generously to worthy causes such as Education and the Arts.  I’m not a gossip.  I don’t drink or smoke or spend money foolishly.  I am a godly woman with a godly husband and children.  I’m thankful that I’m not like other people who claim they are Christians but their lifestyle says otherwise. 

“I take pride in how I look and how I conduct myself and am an example for the young women in the church.  I’m grateful that I’m not like that woman over there who is making such a spectacle of herself.  I can hardly hear myself think.  Why do people think that they should cry out when they are praying.  Praying quietly and circumspectly is more reverent and acceptable to God.  Lord, I’m very thankful that I’m nothing like her.  The way she is dressed is disgraceful. Anyway, Lord, it’s not for me to criticize others.  You know the heart.  You know mine–that it is devoted to Your service.”

After she finished praying, she walked past the pew and after casting a censorious glance in the other woman’s direction, she left the sanctuary.

black-woman-praying

The young African American woman, kneeling with hands clasped tightly and eyes squeezed shut continued to cry out, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  She poured out her heart to Him, asking Him to forgive her of all her sins and to have mercy on her.  The impassioned pleas made through tears lasted for several minutes.  Then, she blessed herself and stood up.

Her demeanor was different.  There was a calm look on her face.  She smiled as she wiped the tears away.  She walked out of the sanctuary in bitter spirits.  She knew that God heard and answered her prayer.  She was forgiven.

Sometimes, we fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others and deceiving ourselves into thinking that we are better than them. Yet, if we were to compare ourselves to God, we would recognize that we are all sinners in need of His mercy.  Like the tax collector, we must acknowledge that we are sinners in need of God’s grace.  It is the repentant sinner who is justified in His eyes not those who trust in their own righteousness.

Source:  Business Insider

Called

Ah, Lord GOD!  Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth – Jeremiah 1:6

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Image by Freepik

When God called me to be a pastor, I was scared.  I felt that at 26, I was too young to be lead the congregation of a megachurch here in Birmingham, Alabama but while I was praying about it, the Holy Spirit brought the calling of prophet Jeremiah to my mind.

He was young too when God called to be a prophet which is a tremendous responsibility and the youth protested because he didn’t feel qualified because of his age.  But God quickly addressed his concerns with these words, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ For you shall go to all to whom I send you, And whatever I command you, you shall speak.  I think what probably cinched it for Jeremiah when the Lord told him him not to be afraid of the people and promised to be with him to deliver him.

I realized that I wasn’t in this alone.  God called me and he was going to be with me just as He was with Jeremiah.  All I had to do was to do whatever He commanded.  I stepped out in faith and showed up at the church I was to pastor and the rest, as they say is history.  I just celebrated my tenth anniversary as pastor and I’m still going strong, thanks to God who not only called me to serve Him but qualified me to do it to His glory.

My experience has taught me that we are never too young of too old to be used by God.  He will equip us for the work He calls us to do and He will be with us every step of the way.  We have nothing to fear or worry about because He promises to be with us.  Like Jeremiah, we don’t have to worry about what to say.  God will give us the words.  He will put the words in our mouths when the time comes for us to teach, share the Gospel or in my case, to preach.  Just trust and obey Him and He will do the rest.

The above is a story of fiction but it was inspired by David Platt, who at the age of 26, was hired to lead the congregation of The Church at Brook Hills, a megachurch in Birmingham, Alabama. He was the youngest megachurch pastor in America at the time.  Like the prophet, Jeremiah, he is a testimony that age isn’t a factor when it comes to serving God.

Source:  Bible Gateway

Dawn’s Story

Serious mature Woman looking away through a window, note the reflections

I recently found out that my husband of 20 years has been having an affair with one of his students.  I found out when he told me on day that he had been fired from his teaching position at the university where he had taught for 23 years.   The girl, an African exchange student, was expelled and to make matters worse, she was pregnant with his child.

I was so devastated that I almost passed out.  I had to sit down and gather my wits about me.  Shock, rage, jealousy ripped through me.  I wanted to throw things at him, lash out at him and throw him out.  I loved and hated him at the same time.

I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me.  I was a Christian woman married to a man I believed to be Christian only to discover that he has been cheating on me with a girl young enough to be his daughter.  We didn’t have any children.  We tried but nothing worked so it was painful to me that he was going to be a father to someone else’s child.  It was like a punch in the gut.  I felt like Sarah in the Bible when she was despised in Hagar’s eyes because she was able to get pregnant with no problems at all.  I wanted to meet this girl whom my husband had betrayed me with.

My husband said he never meant for the affair to happen but one day when they were alone in his office, one thing led to another and…He said that after that one time, he tried not to let anything happen between them again but the feelings were too strong.  He was too weak to resist the temptation and so he took her to a flat he rented.  They managed to keep their relationship a secret until one day, someone from the university spotted them in the underground garage in a passionate embrace before they hurried to the elevator.

I felt sick.  I kept wishing that this was a nightmare and that I would wake up soon.  It was some time later when I somehow managed to ask the question which had been burning in my mind, “So, what are we going to do now?”

He was pacing about the room, hair tousled from constantly dragging his fingers through it and his features pale and drawn.  He stopped abruptly and faced me.  “Dawn, I don’t quite know how to tell you this.”

“Just go ahead and tell me.”  My voice sounded very shrill.

“I want a divorce.”

I gawked at him.  “You want a divorce?”

“Yes.”

I should be the one asking for a divorce.  You’re the unfaithful one in this marriage.”

“I have been faithful to you all of these years.  Never once did I look at another woman or cheat on you.”

“Well, there’s a first time for everything,” I retorted.  The tears were falling afresh.  My fingers tightened into tight fists.  “Are you anxious for a divorce so that you could be with her?  What’s the matter, John?  Did you get tired of being with me, a woman who is pushing 50 and hasn’t been able to give you children?”

“Dawn, please believe me when I say that the last thing I wanted to do was to hurt you…”

That did it.  I jumped to my feet, my face red with fury and I slapped him hard across the face.  “Hurt me?” I yelled.  “Is that what you call what you’re doing to me right now?”

He looked contrite and tried to reach out to me but I shrank back.  I didn’t want him to touch me.  “I think it would be better if I were to move out.  I’ll go and pack a bag.”  He turned and walked out of the room.  The silence was deafening.

I collapsed on to the sofa again and dissolved into tears.  I heard him come down the stairs and the front door open and close.  Minutes later, I heard his car drive away.  He was gone.   Where would he go?  Probably to the flat where he indulged in his sordid affair.  I don’t know how long I sat there.  The living-room was dark.  The clock told me that it was six o’ clock.  I tried to make sense of what was happening but I couldn’t.  My marriage was over.  My husband wanted a divorce.  He was going to have a baby with someone else.  I wanted to be the mother of his children.  When we found out that I couldn’t have children, we were devastated but years later, we had talked about adopting.  Now, that was out of the question.  He wanted to be with someone else.  I was left out in the cold.

Divorce was something I never once contemplated.  For me, marriage was for keeps.  Besides, I loved John and I wanted to grow old with him.  And I know that he loved me too.  Then, a year and a half ago, I noticed little things.  He wasn’t as attentive or amorous as he used to be.  He went out a lot.  We hardly went anywhere together and most evenings, I had dinner alone.  His excuse when he came in was that he was tired.  He had had a long day.  He taught at the university and he also did ESL evening classes at a community college.  I didn’t know that he had stopped teaching those classes and spent his evenings at the flat with his student.  I had no clue.  All I knew was that my husband’s behavior toward me had changed somewhat but I never once suspected that he was having an affair.

Like God, I hated divorce but I decided that I was going to give John what he wanted.  It was no use holding on to a marriage that was over and to a man who didn’t want to be married to me anymore.  Weeks passed before I spoke to him again and it was over the phone.  I couldn’t bear to see him.  The hurt was still too fresh, too raw.

“I’m sorry I hit you,” I said.

“Don’t be sorry, Dawn.  I had it coming.”

After I told him that I would give him the divorce, I asked him, “Do you love this girl?”

“Yes.  I do.  That’s why I’m leaving you, Dawn.”

I felt as if someone had kicked me in the stomach.  “Does she love you?”

“Yes.  Dawn, once the divorce is finalized, I’m going to ask her to marry me.”

It took a few minutes for me to reply.  Tears welled in my eyes and I gripped the receiver tightly.  “You know that the Bible says that a man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery?”

“Yes, I’m aware that in God’s eyes and the church’s I’m an adulterer but sometimes, it’s hard to live according to the Bible when one’s heart is involved.  I love this girl and I can’t give her up.”

“Even if it costs you your salvation?  You know the Bible says that people who commit adultery will not have any share in God’s kingdom.”

There was a long pause and then he said, “Don’t worry about me, Dawn.  Just know that I’m sorry for how things turned out for us.  If I hadn’t met and fallen in love with this girl, you and I would still be happily married.  Thank you for the wonderful years we’ve had together.  I hope that one day you will find it in your heart to forgive me for what I have done to you.  Take care of yourself.”

After I hung up, I burst into tears.  My heart was breaking for the loss of my marriage and for the loss of his salvation.   I kept hearing Jesus’ words, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.”  John had been following Jesus all of his life but unfortunately, he had allowed his love for the girl to draw him away.  If John had continued to listen to Jesus’ voice, obeyed His teachings of Jesus and resisted temptation, no matter how strong it was, nothing or no one could have removed him from God’s care and protection.

Weeks passed and I still hadn’t been served the divorce papers.  I wondered what the delay was.   I thought of calling John to find out but I didn’t bother.  I figured that I would receive the papers soon enough.  I later found out that he was going to serve me the papers on the day after I got the terrible news that he and his girlfriend were killed in a fatal collision while on they were their way to the hospital.  Their baby daughter was delivered alive at the scene.   The driver of the livery cab which was taking them to the hospital also survived and was in stable condition.

Shocked, I raced down to the hospital and met John’s sister, Abby and her husband, Tim there.  Abby’s eyes were swollen.  We hugged for a long time, crying.  Then, she told me what happened and that the baby was in a serious condition and that everyone was praying for her.   I went into the chapel and prayed too.  We spent all night and until the next morning at the hospital, anxious but hopeful.  Then, at around 5 in the morning, the doctor informed us that the baby was out of danger.  We all breathed a collective sigh of relief and hugged each other.

I went home to shower and change and then I returned to the hospital.   I stayed there for most of the day, talking to the nurses who answered my questions because I told them that I was family.  Technically, I was because I was still married to John.  The divorce hadn’t gone through.  I never got the papers.  I visited the hospital every day and when I got to see the baby who was now in stable condition, my heart melted when I looked down into that tiny face.  The nurse asked me if I wanted to give her the bottle.  I hesitated at first but then something urged me to do it.  I nodded and sat down in the chair.

The nurse placed her in my arms and I held her like she was porcelain and I was afraid to break her.  “She’s tougher than she looks,” the nurse assured me.  She gave me the bottle and then she left us alone.

I stared down into a pair of beautiful eyes as I fed her the formula.  I kept thinking that it seemed strange that I was the one here with her instead of her mother.  Tears came to my eyes when it hit me that John was dead and that he wasn’t going to be a part of his daughter’s life.  He wasn’t going to see her grow and become a young woman.  What would become of this little angel?  Who would take care of her?

That evening I spoke to Abby about it and she told me that she couldn’t take care of her.  She had her hands full with her own kids who needed her.  There wasn’t room for one more.  She was John’s only sibling.  And she had no clue about the baby’s mother or her family.  “I would hate to see my niece end up in an orphanage or a foster home.  I wish I knew a family who could adopt her.”

I could adopt her.”  The words simply flew out of my mouth, startling me.  “Did I just say that?”

“Yes, you did.”  Abby looked pleased.   “And I think it’s a great idea.”

“You don’t think it’s strange that I would want to adopt a child my husband had with another woman?”

“To some people it might be but not to me.  Besides, the baby isn’t responsible for the actions of her parents.  I still think that what John did to you was unforgivable.”

“I have forgiven him, Abby.   I was hurt and angry for a long time but I have moved on.  I had accepted that my marriage was over and that there wasn’t anything I could do about that.  But, now I feel that God has something great in store for me.  I had always wanted to be a mother and now I have a chance to be.”

“Well, what do you say about us going and buy a cradle, pull-ups and diapers so that when you bring her home, you’re all set?”

I smiled.  “I say, that’s a great idea.  Let’s go.”

We bought everything we needed.  Weeks later, I completed the step-parent adoption papers and now I’m officially a mother.  Abby went with me to bring the baby home from the hospital.  I was nervous and excited.  I wanted to do my best to make her happy.   Fast forward to seven years later and Mala (I named her after her mother) is a lovely, bubbly little girl.  She has John’s eyes and his personality.  I told her about him and her mother.  I explained to her that something bad happened to them and that’s why I’m her Mommy now.  I told her that they loved her very much.  I have shown her photos of them together which I took from John’s flat before it was let to someone else.

Mala told me that she was sad that her Daddy left me for her Mommy but she promised that she would never leave me.  That brought tears to my eyes and I hugged her.  I told her that she was the best thing that ever happened to me.  She is a precious child and truly a gift from God.

I’m raising Mala to be an obedient child of God and a god-fearing woman who will never let anything or anyone cost her her salvation.

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Sources:  Babygaga; Mirror; Reliable Adoption; Legal Zoom

Matt’s Story

large-1531167473-1c546e4b85f6c127d98bd3212423c485A couple of years ago, my world as I knew it was turned upside down.  I was 17 and at my cousin, Rose’s wedding.  At the reception, a relative who had way too much to drink, put his arm around me and said, “I don’t know about the rest of the family but I’m sure glad that your Mama didn’t abort you ’cause you turned out to be a fine lad.  Yes, a fine lad.  You’re not at all like your Daddy.”

I stared at him, shocked and shaken.  What was he talking about?  Why would my mother have considered aborting me and what about my father?  Did he know who my father was?  Was he for real or was it the liquor.

I politely removed his arm from around my shoulders and excused myself.  I went out on the terrace to get a breath of fresh air.  My mind was spinning and my heart was pounding.  A feeling of dread came over me.  My mother died a year ago from pneumonia.  She never told me who my father was and whenever I asked about him, she would say, “the only father you have is God Almighty.  He takes care of you better than any earthly father can.”  After a while, I stopped asking her.   On my birth certificate it said “unknown” where my father’s name should have been.  I hoped that one day I would find out who and where he was.

My mother never married.  She was a single, hardworking mother who raised me as best as she could.  I know she loved me and that she wanted me to have a good life.  At night after she read to me, she got down on her knees and prayed.  She was always praying for me.  I loved my mother very much and I was devastated when she died.  After she died, I moved in with my grandmother.

After what the relative told me I couldn’t enjoy the wedding.  I kept playing his words over and over in my mind.  I couldn’t wait for the morning to come when I would talk to my grandmother about it.  I know that if anyone could give me answers, it would be her.  So, when we were sitting around the table having breakfast, I asked her, “Grandma, did Mama want to abort me?”  I knew I should have broached this in a more delicate way but I was desperate for answers.

Her face went pale and she dropped her fork.  “Where did you hear that?” she asked.

“Some distant relative, I don’t remember his name, said that he was glad that Mama didn’t abort me.”

“Eat your breakfast.”

“Is it true, Grandma?  Was Mama going to abort me?”

“No!  Your Mama was a godly woman.  She would never have agreed to an abortion even though her father and other people were trying to talk her into it.”

“Grandpa wanted her to have an abortion?”  I couldn’t believe it.  I adored my grandfather.  He was like a father to me.  His death five years ago really hit me hard.

“Yes.  He thought it would have been thing for her.”

“But why?”

“Matt, what does it matter?  You’re here, aren’t you?  Why don’t we forget about the past and move on?”

“Grandma, I need to know.  Please!”

My grandmother buried her face in her hands which were trembling slightly.  “Oh, Matt, I wish you didn’t have to know the truth.”

I was getting scared now.  Part of me was afraid to hear the truth and the other part had to.  “Please tell me, Grandma.  Was it to do with my father?”

She dropped her hands and I saw the anger and rage on her face.  “Your father was a monster!” she cried.

“Who was he?  Is he still alive?”

“Yes, he’s still alive and still rotting in prison.”

“Prison!  Why is he in prison?”

“Matt…”

“Grandma, I need to know.”

“He’s serving 30 years in prison for…rape and incest.”

“I–I don’t understand

“Matt, your mother got pregnant when she was raped by her brother.”

The color drained from my face.  I felt sick.  I got up from the table and dashed into the washroom where I threw up.  When I was done, I flushed the toilet, rinsed my mouth and washed my face with cold water.  My hands were shaking.  My grandmother was standing behind me.  I turned to face her and she put her arms around me and hugged me tightly.  We were both crying.

“This is why I didn’t want to tell you,” she said after a while.  “It’s a shameful thing that this family has had to deal with and that is why some of us, excluding me, wanted your mother to have an abortion.  They were thinking about her well-being but once your mother insisted that she was going to have you, we all tried to protect you from the truth.  It was your grandfather’s idea that she put “unknown” for the father’s name.”

“Why did she keep me? Wasn’t I a painful reminder of what happened to her?”

“She kept you because she loved you and she didn’t see a painful reminder of what your father did to her.  She saw a beautiful and precious gift from God.”

The rest of that day was a blur.  I was so overcome with pain and guilt that I became withdrawn and depressed.  My grandmother was very concerned about me and she tried to get me counseling.  It helped–somewhat.  And after I graduated from high-school, she sent me away to South Africa to study and live at the university there.  She would take care of my tuition and anything else I needed.  “It would do you good to get far away from here,” she said.  “You’ll be in a new country and meet new people.  Forget about the ugly past.  Live your life the best you know how for your mother’s sake.  Write me.  Don’t come back here.  When I can, I will come and visit you.”

So, at her insistence, I left Virginia and moved to South Africa.  I asked my grandmother why she choice South Africa of all countries to send me and she told me it was where she met my grandfather.   When I arrived in Cape Town, I knew that I was going to love living there.  Life on campus was a great experience for me.  I met diverse students and forged several life-long friendships.  I enjoyed my studies and had a relatively active social life.  There were lots of pretty girls but I wasn’t interested in dating at that time.  I wanted to focus on my studies.

Then, in my third year at the university, I met Joycelin, a girl from Namibia and a 765full-sydney-nelsonfreshman.   I remember the first time she smiled at me, I felt as if my heart had stopped.  A mutual friend introduced us when a group of us went on a Saturday morning to visit the Penguins at Boulders Beach.  Joycelin and I immediately hit it off and we spent most of the time together, getting to know each other.  By the time we were on our way back to campus, I knew that I wanted to date this girl.  And I did.  Our friends, especially the one who introduced us, were thrilled.

I wrote my grandmother about Joycelin and sent her photos of us.  She was happy for me.  I was relieved that she didn’t have a problem with me dating an African girl.  I know that other members of my family would, however, including the relative who made that careless remark about my mother at my cousin’s wedding.

Things were going well for me and after I graduated from university, I moved into a waterfront apartment which wasn’t far from where I worked.  Joycelin was still living on campus but we phoned each other during the week and saw each other on the weekends.  I was getting pretty serious about her but always at the back of my mind I asked myself how she would feel about me if she were to find out about my father.  I found out one day.

Joycelin and I were in De Waal Park on a Saturday afternoon when the subject of abortion came up.  “How do you feel about abortion?” she asked me.

Her question startled me.  “I don’t know.”

“I’m against it,” she said.

“Even–even in cases of rape and incest?” I asked, my heart pounding.

She nodded.  “Yes.  The life of a child born of rape or incest is just as valuable as a child born under normal circumstances.  Ending the life of the child of a person who has committed rape or incest isn’t the solution. The law should punish the criminal, not kill his child.”

“You really believe that, don’t you?”

“Of course, I do.  And the Bible says that ‘a child won’t bear a parent’s guilt, and a parent won’t bear a child’s guilt.'”  She looked at me closely, frowning and there was concerned expression on her sweet face.  “Matt, are you okay?  You look pale.”

“Joycelin, I have something to tell you.”

She slipped her hand in mind.  “What is it?” she asked.  “You can tell me anything.”

I closed my eyes and told her the awful truth about my birth.  I didn’t realize that I was crying until I felt her fingers brush against my cheeks.  I opened my eyes and found myself staring into her tearful face.  “That’s why I said I didn’t know how I feel about abortion.  There were times when I felt it might have been better if my mother had aborted me because I was a reminder of what happened to her.”

“Matt, you’re not to blame for what happened.  Your mother chose to keep you because she loved you.  She saw you as a beautiful and precious gift not a horrible and painful reminder of what happened to her.  She chose to give you life and the best way to honor that choice, is to live your life to the fullest.”

I held her face between my hands and whispered brokenly, “I love you.”

She smiled.  “I love you too.”

“I wish my mother could have met you,”

“I wish I could have met her.  She sounds like a remarkable woman.  I believe you are the way you are because of her.  She was a godly woman.  God heard her prayers for you and He answered them.  She would be extremely proud of how you’ve turned out.”

“That’s what my grandmother said.  Her, you will get to meet when she visits me in December.  She’s coming for Christmas.”

“That’s great.  Speaking of Christmas, my family are flying over too.  I can’t wait for them to meet you.”

“Good.  It will give me a chance to ask your father permission to marry you.”

She stared at me, her eyes and mouth wide open.  “Are you serious?”

I nodded and replied,  “Yes, I’m very serious”  before I lowered my head and kissed her.

Ten years have passed since I learned the truth about my the circumstances of my birth.  The guilt and shame I felt all these years are gone now.  I have accepted that I have done nothing deserving of death and I will live the life I have been given to its fullest.    Joycelin and I are engaged.  The wedding is next year Spring.  She’s teaching me about God and like my mother, she prays for me regularly.   I’m thankful that God blessed me with three phenomenal women–my mother, Joycelin and my grandmother.  The life He has given me I will live worthily for Him and for them.

A child conceived in violence is himself innocent and created in the image of God. He has done nothing to deserve the death sentence, any more than a child conceived in a loving marriage – Human Life International

The solution to incest is not abortion, but prosecution of the criminal so he does not commit more crimes, and loving care for his victims so that they experience true physical and emotional healing – Human Life International

Matt is a fictional character, but there are real men and women out there who were conceived in rape.  Read their stories.

It takes courage for a woman who chooses to go through with an unplanned pregnancy but it takes far greater courage for the one whose child was conceived by rape or incest.

Sources:   University of Cape TownWikipediaStudent World Online;

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;

Embittered

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Photo by Akshata Ram

She sat at the window looking down at the playground where she used to go with her kids until that fateful afternoon when she was shot trying to hustle them away after learning that there was an armed suspect in the vicinity.  Her fingers gripped the handles of her wheelchair as hatred welled up inside her.  Whenever the pastor and church members visited her, they always quoted:  “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”

How could I forgive him? How could I forgive the person who robbed me of the use of my legs?  I’m useless to my husband and my kids.  I’m stuck in this contraption for the rest of my life.  No, I won’t forgive him. 

The door suddenly opened and her neighbor walked in.  “He’s dead!” she announced.

“Who?”

“The guy who shot you.”

The man who put me in this wheelchair is dead.  Why then do I feel regret instead of relief?

 

173 Words

This was written for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers hosted by Priceless Joy and Joe. For more information visit Here.  To read other stories based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.