Thomas and Tracey

 

My nephew, Sam and I were on a double date with a mother and her daughter. It has been a long while since I have even thought about dating again. Eight years ago I lost my fiancee, Brenda. She was killed by a drunk driver just weeks before our wedding. It took a long, long time to get over her death.

We were having dinner at The Ledbury in Notting Hill. That was Sam’s idea. He googled the best restaurants in London and picked this one because a co-worker had raved about it and the reviews were great. And he wanted to impress our dates.

I could tell by the way they were interacting with each other that Sam and Meghan liked each other. Meghan’s Mom, Nancy was a very attractive and easy going woman. I liked her a lot but I wasn’t attracted to her. And it didn’t help that I was trying hard not to stare at our waitress. She was very pretty–and young. On more than one occasion, our eyes met. And when I placed my order, her gaze seemed to linger on me before she turned away to get the other orders.

“I think she’s sweet on you,” Sam remarked when Nancy left the table to go to the washroom.

“He’s right,” Meghan agreed.

“She’s too young,” I replied.

“She doesn’t think that you’re too old,” was Sam’s quick rejoinder.

“Aren’t you the least bit interested?” Meghan asked.

“What about your mother?” I asked. “I’m supposed to be on a date with her, remember?”

“If you decide that you want to go out with the waitress, Mom may be disappointed but she’ll get over it in no time.”

“Let’s just enjoy our dinner and each other’s company,” I suggested, changing the subject. Just then, Nancy came back to the table.

We had a pleasant evening. Afterwards, we went to a nice, cozy bar for drinks and live music. It was after eleven when we left the bar. While Sam and Meghan went off to a nightclub, I took Nancy home. I was a Christian so going to a nightclub wasn’t an option for me and I could tell that Nancy wasn’t keen on going either. So, we went a walk along the boardwalk because it was such a beautiful night.

We talked about a lot of things. She told me about her husband, Jackson who was a cop. He died in the line of duty. Meghan was their only child. I told her about Brenda. And then we showed each other photos of our deceased ones.

As we walked back to the car, Nancy said to me, “I had a really, really great time tonight and I really, really like you, Thomas, but I don’t think I’m ready for another relationship right now. I still haven’t quite gotten over losing Jackson.”

“I understand. This is the first time I’ve been on a date since Brenda died.”

As I held the door open for her to get in, she looked up at me and said, “I think you’re ready for another relationship. I saw the way you looked at our waitress. You were attracted to her. And who can blame you? She’s a lovely girl, not just in looks but in personality. Don’t let her age stop you from asking her out.”

I smiled and reaching for her hand, I gently squeezed it. “Thank you.”

Outside of her flat, we said goodnight. She reached up and kissed me on the cheek. “Take care of yourself, Thomas.”

“Thanks, Nancy. You take care yourself too.”

“I hope things work out between Sam and Meghan. He’s a wonderful guy.”

“I hope so too because Meghan’s a terrific girl. Goodnight, Nancy.”

“Goodnight, Thomas.”

As I turned and walked towards the lift, I made up my mind that I would have dinner at the restaurant again tomorrow evening. Hopefully, I would get the same waitress and if not, I would make sure that I got a chance to talk to her. As soon as I got home, I took a quick shower and went to bed.

As Providence would have it, I got a table and the same waitress waited on me. I could tell that she remembered me. She smiled as she came over. “Good evening,” she said, “You’re dining alone this time.”

I nodded and smiled. “Yes, I am.”

“I guess you really liked the food.”

My eyes met hers directly when I said, “I came back because of the food and the service.”

She smiled shyly. “Thank you. Would you like Cranberry Juice?” It was what I had ordered the last time. I was flattered that she remembered.

“Yes, thank you. What’s your name?”

“Tracey.”

“I’m Thomas.”

“I’ll be right back with your Cranberry Juice, Thomas.”

“Thank you, Tracey.” I watched her walk away. She was breathtaking. I found it hard to concentrate as I studied the menu. I didn’t want to order the same dish as last night. I decided that when she came back I would ask her what she recommended.”

She came back a few minutes later and set the glass of Cranberry juice on the table. “Have you decided what you would like to order or would you like a few minutes more?”

“Everything looks so good. I can’t decide. What would you recommend?”

“Do you eat fish?”

“Yes, though not as often as I should.”

“Try the Cornish Cod.”

“I will, thanks, Tracey.” I closed the menu and handed it to her. “What time do you stop working?”

“Around 10.”

“When you finish work, could I take you out for a cappuccino?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

“Good. I’ll wait for you at the entrance.”

“I’ll be right back with your order.”

After she left, I glanced at my watch. It was nine o’clock. I had an hour to finish my dinner. When it came it smelled and looked amazing. I couldn’t wait to tuck into it.

Tracey smiled that lovely smile of hers and said, “Enjoy your Cod.”

“I will,” I assured her and I did. It was the best fish dish I’d ever tasted. I savored every morsel. I skipped dessert and asked for the bill. I left her another big tip. When she came over to take it, I reminded her that I would be waiting at the entrance of the restaurant for her.

“I’ll be there in about five minutes,” she promised before she disappeared.

I got up from the table and left the restaurant which was almost empty. It was another pleasant night. I was a little nervous about going out with Tracey because she’s the first woman I can see myself in a relationship with since Brenda.

About five minutes later she came through the doors. She was wearing a red top and a knee length denim skirt. We walked to my car. On the drive over to the cafe, we talked about her. Her parents were Nigerian and they came to England when she was a baby. She’s an only child and is living with her parents until she graduates and gets a job. Next year is her last year at Cambridge. She’s working part-time as a waitress.

“I thought of volunteering at an orphanage this summer but I found out that most of the children in orphanages aren’t even orphans. Unsuspecting parents are sending their children to orphanages believing they will have better access to food, shelter and an education. That decision which was supposed to be temporary becomes a permanent. When they go to the orphanages they are turned away and sometimes, their children are at the windows seeing this. It makes me so mad that parents and their children are being kept apart so that those who run these orphanages can profit from their misery. Some of those children are sold into slavery, illegally adopted or remain in the orphanages where they are mistreated and abused. I have heard of cases of children being rented for a short stay and are used to tug at the heartstrings of tourists and volunteers, who feel compelled to open up their hearts and wallets to help.”

To say that I was shocked at what she was telling me is an understatement. “Isn’t there anything that can be done to help these poor children and their families?” I asked.

“I found out just recently that a task-force was launched to encourage well-meaning UK tourists and volunteers to stop visiting overseas orphanages. They know that tourists and volunteers mean well and that they want to help these children whom they believe are orphans but the task-force believe that by raising awareness they can safeguard the children’s futures. I have created a blog to speak out against Orphanage Tourism and to raise awareness. I’ve met students on campus who were in these orphanages and they have shared their stories with me which you will find on my blog.”

“What’s the name of your blog? I would like to check it out.”

A Second Childhood. They were robbed of their first when they were taken away from their families and we want to make sure that they have a second childhood outside of orphanages and in their homes again.”

I made a mental note of the blog’s name. We arrived at the cafe. After we were seated and placed our orders, I asked her, “Would you or one of the students you mentioned be willing to come to my church one Sunday and speak to the members about Orphanage Tourism?”

“Sure. Just tell me when and I will be happy to come and bring one of the students with me.”

Over cappuccinos, she asked me questions about myself. When I told her about Brenda, she reached out and touched my hand. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I can’t imagine what you must have gone through. I know that this is a cliche thing to say but she’s in a better place now.”

“Yes, she is.”

“The one thing that comforted me when I lost my grandparents is that one day, I will see them again.”

“Are you a Christian?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

I was relieved although, I have a feeling that even if she weren’t, I would still want to date her. “How do you feel about dating a man much older than you?” I asked.

“I don’t have any problem with it.”

I smiled and covered her hand with my other one. “Tomorrow evening I would like to take you out for dinner.”

She smiled. “Sounds good.”

We spent the rest of the night talking about all sorts of things and by our third date, I knew that I was going to spend the rest of my life with her.

While this story is fiction, orphanage tourism is not. It’s a real problem facing children in countries like Nepal, Cambodia, Haiti, Myanmar, Uganda, Guatemala, Indonesia, and Kenya. Children are not for sale. They belong in loving homes. Tourists and volunteers mean well but they are perpetuating a nefarious industry which is profiting from the most vulnerable in our societies–children.

Join the fight against orphanage tourism by not volunteering at or visiting or giving donations to orphanages when you travel abroad. Australia linked the visiting and volunteering at orphanages overseas to modern slavery. Be aware that not all children in orphanages are really orphans.

Sources: The Telegraph; ABTA;

Janco’s Story (Part Two)

kult_model_Geoffrey_Camus_209688Five years have passed since I took Nata to the shelter for street children.  A lot has happened within that time.  I’m still handing out tracts but now I’m a Youth leader in my church.  My Mother is back home and she hasn’t touch a drink since she checked into the Drug and Alcohol Rehab Centre.  She is working part-time at a bookstore.

My brother Jacquan is out of prison, a completely changed person.  After my first visit to him, he read the tract I left and was curious to learn more about God and this Jesus who would die for him.  I took other tracts on my next visit and then I learned that the Prison Ministries department had a programme with the prison where my brother was.  Volunteers visited the prisoners, mentor them and study the Bible with them.

Jacquan accepted Christ as his Savior and when he left the prison he was baptized in our church.  Mama and I were there.  He got a job working in the warehouse of a distribution company while studying to become a pastor, believe it or not.  It goes to show you that with God nothing is impossible.  In his free time, he shares his story and the Gospel with kids living on the streets, prostitutes and drug dealers.  Some of them listen and invite him to go again while others curse and threaten him.  He also visits the prison where he had spent ten years of his life to mentor, pray and study the Bible with the inmates.  I never thought I would ever be proud of my big brother but I am.  He was dealing drugs and now he sharing the Gospel.  He was a prisoner and now he’s going to be a preacher.  All he needed was a second chance and God gave it to him.  Now he could spend the rest of his life doing good.

Nata stayed at the shelter until she graduated from high school.  I was there for the ceremony.  She didn’t return home but went to live with a cousin and her family.  While she was at the shelter, I visited her as promised and was relieved to see that she was happy there.  She is going to Wits University now and studying Computer Science.  Good for her because this has been a male dominated field of study all over the world and Africa needs more women computer scientists.

I am no longer working at the grocery store.  I got a job as a Social Media Coordinator at a Christian organization and love every minute of it.  And my work as Youth Leader keeps me busy.  I look forward to teaching Sabbath School, worship, fellowship, our weekly meetings, outreach and recreational outings.  I am in charge of a terrific group of young people.  I learn as much from them as they learn from me.  Tomorrow, is Youth Ministry Day and I have invited Nata to come.  The youth are in charge of entire day’s programme.  I am nervous and excited.  The only thing I am responsible for is introducing the speaker who is none other than my brother, Jacquan.  My best buddy, Gidea offered to do the special music.  He has an incredible voice.  After the service there will be a fellowship meal which I’m sure everyone is looking forward to.

Right now, I’m meeting with the group participating in the service in my flat.  We are going over the details and making sure that everything is in order.  Lesedi has bravely volunteered to teach Sabbath School.  I have no doubt that she will do an outstanding job.  She has the making of a leader.  I am considering making her my Sabbath School Superintendent.  One of these days, I will discuss it with her.

After the meeting is over, I pray and then they leave.  The flat seems very quiet now that they are gone.  I head back into the living-room and turn on the television.  I was about to watch 3ABN when my doorbell rings.  Did one of the youth forget something?  I hurry to the door and look through the keyhole.  It’s Nata.  I quickly open the door.

She stares up at me.  She’s wearing a black top and denim skirt and a red scarf on her head.  “Hi,” she said.  nata

“Hi,” I reply, wondering what brings her to my neck of the woods.  I lean against the door.  I can’t get over how pretty she is.  “I wasn’t expecting to see you until tomorrow.  Have you come to tell me in person that you can’t come?”

She shook her head.  “No, I will be there.  I just came by to thank you in person for being so kind to me and to ask you if you would study the Bible with me.  We don’t have to do it now or here.”

My face brightened.  “Sure, I would be more than happy to study the Bible with you.  We can do so on Sunday in the park just around the corner from here.  Tomorrow when I see you we can decide when and where we will meet.”

She nodded.  “All right.  Thanks, Janco.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Have you been in touch with your parents at all since you left home?”

She shook her head.  “No.”

“Nata, at some point you need to face them and deal with the issues you have with them.”

She lowered her eyes.  “I’m not ready to do that yet.”

“Okay,” I said.  I didn’t want to push her.  “It’s best to do it when you’re ready.  It’s getting dark, you’d better head home now.  Do you have far to go?”

“No.  My cousin is a twenty minute bus ride from here.”

“Would you like me to walk you to the bus stop and wait with you until the bus comes?”

She raised her eyes to look at me.  “You don’t have to,” she said quietly.

“Wait here,” I said as I leaned away from the door.  I went inside, turned off the television, grabbed my keys and went back.  I closed and locked the door.  “Let’s go.”

We walked to the bus stop and waited for the bus.  There were a couple of other people waiting there.  “Do you still live alone?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“So, you’re not married then?  I don’t see a wedding ring on your finger but I know that most Seventh-day Adventists don’t wear jewelry.”

“No, I’m not married.”

“What about a girlfriend?”

“No, I don’t have a girlfriend.” I was about to ask her if she had a boyfriend but just then the bus arrived.  Lousy timing.  “See you tomorrow, Nata.”

“Good night, Janco.”  She smiled up at me before she turned and joined the small line to board the bus.

I saw her sat beside the window and look out.  She waved as the bus pulled away.  I watched it until it disappeared before I returned to my place.  I was looking forward to seeing her tomorrow.

Saturday came and I was up and about early, anxious to get the day started.  I had a light breakfast, showered and put on a new suit.  Yesterday I had gotten a haircut.  I looked sharp.  I smiled at my reflection before I grabbed my Bible, wallet and keys and left the apartment.  It was a beautiful, sunny day.  I put the top down on my car and enjoyed the half-hour ride to church.  Already, the parking lot was filling up.

As I made my way from the parking lot to the front entrance of the church, I was greeted by church members and visitors.  I spent some time chatting with people before I went down into the basement and into one of the rooms to meet with the youth and have prayer with them.  At the back of my mind I was hoping that Nata would come.

Everything went exceptionally well.  I was so proud of my youth group and the special music by Gidea was a sermon in itself.  And speaking of sermons, Jacquan’s message, Set Free, brought tears to my eyes and I saw other people dabbing their eyes.  At the end of the service, many people came up to me and told me how much they enjoyed the program.  I was very pleased and I shared the positive feedback with everyone who participated.  I hugged Jacquan and told him that I was very proud of him.  When we parted, we were both in tears.  My mother came and whisked him away.  As I was about to leave the reception area and head down to the fellowship hall to have something to eat, I saw Nata.  My heart leapt in my chest.  I was so happy to see her.  I went over to her.

“You came,” I said.  She was wearing a yellow jacket over a floral dress with splashes of yellow in it.  For the first time since I knew her, she wasn’t wearing the red shawl on her head.

“I told you I would,” she said.  “And I’m happy I did.  I was truly blessed.”

“I’m thrilled to hear that.  Are you going to stay and have something to eat and meet some of the youth?”

She nodded.  “Sure.  You look very handsome in your suit.”

I smiled.  “Thank you.  And you look very pretty.  Let’s head on down now.”

We went downstairs to the fellowship hall which was buzzing with lively conversation.  It settled down when the pastor announced that he was going to say a prayer.  He offered thanks and a blessing of the meal and then people were helping themselves to the different delicious looking and smelling dishes.  Nata was in front of me in the line.  After we finished helping ourselves to the food, we found a couple of seats and sat down.  For several minutes we were alone.

“In case you’re wondering, I don’t have a boyfriend,” she said suddenly, startling me.

I felt my face get hot.  “That’s good to know,” I managed to say after a while.

She smiled.  “So, there’s no reason why you and I can’t go out with each other.”

“No, there isn’t.  Are you free this evening?”

“Yes.”

“We can go bowling and then have pizza afterwards.”

“That sounds great.”

Just then several youth joined us.  I introduced Nata to them.  We had a great time, socializing.  By the time we were ready to go our separate ways, Nata had been invited to our next outdoor activity and to attend church the following week.  I dropped her home and I told her that I would be back at six-thirty to take her bowling.

Our first date was a blast and it led to other dates.  We have been dating for almost a year and today we are riding in a cable car to the top of Table Mountain where I will propose to Nata.  I’m nervous and excited but I have no doubt that this is God’s will for my life.  The Lord has opened His hand and poured out so many blessings on my life.  I am so thankful to Him for His love and goodness not only to me but to my family and Nata.  True to my promise, I studied the Bible with her.  Two months ago, she answered the altar call and accepted Christ.  Now she is a baptized member of my church.  Yes, God is good.  He has turned so many lives around.

Sources:  Crossroad Prison MinistriesUPMI; SDA Church; The Conversation

Chantrea’s Crusade

photo-20180806154657691

“Thanks for doing this interview, Chantrea. It can’t be easy for you.” They were sitting by the lake just steps from the organization where the Cambodian woman worked as a social worker.

Chantrea smiled slightly. She had sad eyes and although she was in her late thirties, she looked much older which wasn’t surprising, considering the kind of life she once had. “I don’t want to do what’s easy for me,” she said. “I will do whatever is necessary to help the children.”

“What’s your story?”

“I was eleven when my father put me in an orphanage because they promised him that I would receive a good education and opportunities for the future. Instead, I was beaten, raped, starved and forced to work on the orphanage director’s rice paddies and farms without pay.

“And now you’ve dedicated your life to fighting such institutions.”

“Yes. I’m fighting to prevent the separation of vulnerable children from their families and orphanages that attract funding, volunteers and donations from well-meaning tourists.”

“What’s your biggest goal?”

“Shutting down these orphanages.”

 

175 Words

This story is inspired by true stories of children who are taken from their families and homes and placed in orphanages “where they may be exploited, even abused, malnourished, forced to work, and sometimes trafficked to other orphanages and forms of exploitation in order to repeat the cycle and elicit further funding.”

Written as part of Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers hosted by Priceless Joy. For more information visit Here.  If you would like to read other stories based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

Sources:  Freedom United; Cambodian Children’s Trust

The Beach

She ran all the way to the beach and didn’t stop until she saw the silhouette of his house but instead of running up the stairs, she collapsed on the sand, the tears almost blinding her.  Why had she come here?  She should be as far from here as possible.  She had promised herself that she would never see or talk to him again–not after what happened this evening at the award ceremony.

She, along with the other volunteers and the staff were there to cheer on Mitchell Ryan, the founder and director as he accepted the award for outstanding community service on behalf on his non-profit organization.  He deserved it because it was he who played a dominant role in creating and implementing several after-school and summer programs geared toward keeping the youth off the streets.

Through his unwavering efforts and the support of staff and volunteers, many lives were transformed.  Youth who were taking or selling drugs, came clean and began talking to others about the effects of drug use.  There counseling services and programs for those who were victims of bullying and those who bullied.  “We’re here to help the victim and the bully,” Mitchell always said.  Many of the youth who were helped by his organization later became volunteers.

Vanessa met Mitchell ten years ago when she was a senior in high-school.  She was going through a tough time at home.  Her parents were always fighting.  To escape she went to the beach where she spent hours just sitting or standing in the sand, depending on the weather and watch the gentle swell of the ocean as it ebbed and flowed, wishing that she could go with it.  Before she left, she walked along the water’s edge, trying to imagine what it would be like to live on the beach with nothing but the sounds of the waves and the tangy salt air to fill her days.  It was better than living in the city with the constant sounds of traffic, sirens and chatter and of course, her parents bickering.  How she longed to escape it all.

One afternoon she walked farther than she normally did and came upon a lone beach house.  It stood tall above the grassy slope which led to the beach.  It was adequate for one or two occupants with a wide deck and a long flight of wooden steps leading down to the sand.  She wondered who lived there and thought how lucky they were to wake up every morning to a sunrise over the ocean.  As she stood there admiring the property, she heard a voice remark behind her, “It’s a beautiful place, isn’t it?”

Startled, she swung round and found herself facing a very attractive man who looked to be in his early to mid-thirties.  He smiled at her.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.  It has been a while since someone has come along this part of the beach.”

“Do you live there?” she asked.

He nodded.  “Yes, I do.”

“It must be nice having this part of the beach to yourself.”

“Yes, it is.”

She glanced at her watch.  “I’d better be heading back home,” she said.

“Where’s home and how did you get here?”

“I live in the city and I drove here.  I come to this beach a lot.  This is the first time I have walked to this part of it.”

“You know, when I was younger and I had a lot on my mind, I used to come to the beach and just sit and stare at the ocean.  Is that why you come here?”

“Are you a psychiatrist?” she asked.

“No,” he chuckled.  “I run a community organization which helps youth.  My name is Mitchell Ryan, by the way.”  He held out his hand.

“Vanessa Rivers,” she told him as she shook his hand.  He seemed like a really nice man.  “I really should be getting back home before my parents begin to wonder where I am–if they even notice that I’m gone.”

“I’m not going to press you but if you need to talk, you can get in touch with me.  Here’s my card.”  He handed her a business card.  “It was nice meeting you, Vanessa. And any time you want to drop by just to say hello, don’t hesitate.  It’s quiet out here but sometimes, a bit too quiet.  I’m always grateful for some company.”

Vanessa smiled.  “It was nice meeting you too.  ‘Bye, Mitchell.”

“‘Bye, Vanessa.” He stood there with his back to the house, watching her.

She waved at him before she retraced her steps until she reached familiar ground and her car.  As she drove home, she thought of how it would be nice to see him again even if she didn’t want to talk to him about her problems.  Perhaps, she could find out more about his organization and see if she could volunteer.  It would be better than being around her bickering parents.  When she got home, the place was quiet.  Her father was in the basement watching TV while she and her mother were in the kitchen.  “Mama, why do you and Dad fight so much.  Don’t you love each other anymore?” she asked as she was having her dinner.

Her mother sighed.  “Baby, we still love each other but it’s just that we seem to get on each other’s nerves.”

“I hate it when the two of you fight.  That’s why I go to the beach so often.  Are you and Dad going to get a divorce?”

“No, Baby.  We’re not going to get a divorce.  Sure, we bicker a lot but we have been married for a long time and only death will separate us.  So, that’s where you were this evening–at the beach?”

“Yes and I met Mitchell–”

Her mother stared at her.  “Who’s Mitchell?”

“A really nice man who lives in the only house on the beach.”

“How old is this Mitchell character?  Does he know that you’re still in high school?”

“He’s in his thirties and I didn’t tell him that I was in high-school but he knows that I live with my parents.  He gave me his card–”

“What for?”

“He runs a community organization and thought that I might be interested in learning more about it.  I think I will drive over there tomorrow after school and see if I would like to volunteer during March break and the summer.”

“Well, I don’t suppose there’s any harm in visiting the place but make sure you don’t spend too much time alone with this Mitchell character.  Remember you’re a very pretty girl and men get ideas.”

Vanessa shrugged and dropped the subject.  In her mind, she thought, I wouldn’t mind if Mitchell noticed me.  He’s very attractive and although, I don’t know anything about him except that he runs an organization and lives on the beach, I like him.  Who am I kidding?  He’s in his thirties.  There’s no way, he would be interested in a high-school girl although I graduate next month.  He probably has a girlfriend anyway.

The next day after school, she dropped by the historic building and was taken to Mitchell’s office.  He was pleased to see her and invited her to have a seat.  “So, how are things with you?” he asked after they exchanged pleasantries.

She told him about her parents and her concerns about their marriage.  “My family has a history of broken marriages.  I’ve seen my cousins going through a tough time because their parents got divorced.  I’m afraid that the same thing will happen with my parents although my mother assured me that she and my Dad will not split up.”

“Well, based on what your mother said, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.  I’ve known couples who are always bickering but they have managed to stay the course.  There will always be conflicts in relationships but it depends on the couple if they will let those conflicts affect their marriage to the point where they want to split up.  I read somewhere that arguments can lead to a greater understanding between the two people.  I have heard people say that learning how to argue strengthened their marriages.  The good thing is that your parents don’t run from fights like some couples who are afraid to address issues because they don’t want any conflicts which can later lead to bigger problems in the relationship.”

“My parents are not afraid to discuss sensitive issues.  They don’t sweep things under the rug.  And I guess that’s a good thing.  Get things out in the open and deal with them.  I guess my fear is that their constant arguing would lead to a split up because I had seen it happen to other family members.  They were always fighting even when they had company.  My parents don’t fight in front of other people, thank goodness.  I’m the only one who hears them.  I love them very much and hope that they will always be together.”

He smiled.  “I hope so too.”

“It felt good talking to you about it,” she told him.  He was wearing a nice shade of blue tee shirt with the top two buttons undone and tan trousers.  His dark brown hair was tousled but it was becoming for him.  She started when she realized that he had noticed her staring at him.  She couldn’t tell what he was thinking, though.  His expression was inscrutable.  Perhaps he was used to the opposite sex staring at him.  “I-I was thinking that it would be nice to volunteer here during March break and the summer but I’ve decided that I could do it before.”

“We always need volunteers,” he told her.  “Do you have a particular area of interest?”

“I’m interested in fundraising.”

“You can join our fundraising and event planning committee.”

“I’d like that.”

“When are you available?”

“During the week after school for four hours.”

“That’s great.  I will have Melanie our Volunteer Coordinator set you up.  How soon could you start?”

She wanted to say now.  “Monday.”  She hoped the weekend would go by quickly so that she could see him again.

“Monday’s fine.  I’ll take you to meet Melanie now and she will take care of you.”  He rose from behind the desk and she preceded him to the door.  Melanie wasn’t at her desk when they got there.  “She’s probably with one of the volunteers.  You can sit over there and wait for her.  On Monday when you arrive and after you see her, come and see me in my office.  I want to give you a personal tour of the place and introduce you to the staff.  Thanks for volunteering with us, Vanessa.  I look forward to seeing more of you and you being a part of the team.”

She smiled.  “I look forward to being here on a regular basis,” she said.  It means that I will get to see you every week.

They shook hands and then he left.  She went and sat down in the chair by the window and waited for Melanie who breezed into the office ten minutes later.  She was a very pleasant young woman who made Vanessa feel very welcome.  She had her fill out a volunteer form and they chatted for a while before Vanessa left there, confident that she was going to like working there.

When she told her parents that she was going to volunteer at the organization, her father thought it was a great idea and her mother wasn’t so enthusiastic.  “Make sure it doesn’t interfere with your school work,” she admonished.

As soon as school ended on Monday, she was heading over to the organization.  After checking in with Melanie, she was taken to Mitchell’s office.  Her heart began to beat fast when she saw him and when he smiled at her.  After they spent a few minutes in his office chatting, he took her on a tour as promised and introduced her to the staff.  Then, he left her with Berta, the chairperson of the fundraising committee.

Berta was a Jamaican woman was in her late fifties.  She was a very affable woman and Vanessa liked her immediately.  Berta took her under her wing.  She was a widow with two grown children, married and with their own families.  Vanessa loved being on the fundraising committee and brainstorming with the other volunteers.  Her first week went very well.

At the end of some evenings before she went home, Mitchell and she would walk over to the café and have cappuccinos.  They talked about the day and other things.  She enjoyed his company and knew that he enjoyed hers too.  One evening when they were standing in the parking lot, he said to her, “If you were ten years older, I would go out with you.”

Her heart began to pound.  “I’m going to be nineteen next month,” she told him.

“That’s too young,” he said.  “I’m thirty-four.”

“What about ten years from now when I’m twenty-eight?” she asked hopefully.  “Will you reconsider then?”

He pondered that for a moment.  “I might,” he said quietly.  “Goodnight, Vanessa.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Goodnight, Mitchell.”  She walked to her car, her heart fluttering with excitement.  There was still hope for her.

Ten years later, she reminded him of their conversation that evening in the parking lot and he admitted that he had thought of nothing else.  They began to see each other discreetly.  No one at the organization knew about it and he was determined to keep it that way.  They went for dinner, to the theatre, the movies and spent a lot of time at his beach house.

They arrived separately to the award ceremony and were careful not to spend any time alone together.  For all appearances, their relationship was the same as it always was, platonic.  She was enjoying the evening until she spotted Mitchell talking to a woman she had never seen before.

“Who’s that with Mitchell?” She asked Caroline, a fellow volunteer. Whoever she was, she was very beautiful.  Tall and striking in the cream pants suit and thick chestnut hair falling about her shoulders.  They seemed to know each other very well and she felt a sharp pang of jealousy.

“Oh, that’s Linda, Mitchell’s wife.  They are separated but from the way things look now, I wouldn’t be surprised if they get back together.”

Vanessa looked at her, shocked and devastated.  “Mitchell’s married?”

“Yes.  I thought you knew.”  Caroline stared at her.  “Are you all right?” she asked, looking concerned.

“I–I have to get out of here–” the words were strangled as a large lump rose in her throat as she fought to keep back the tears.  She ran out of the room and out of the building.  When she got to her car, she fumbled in her bag for the keys, almost dropping them.  She climbed into the car, slammed the door, started the engine and sped off.  Her fingers gripped the steering wheel as waves of pain washed over her.  Mitchell was married.  Why didn’t he tell her?  Since he didn’t wear a ring, she assumed that he wasn’t married.  What about those times when they were together why didn’t he say anything?  If she had known that he was married she wouldn’t have gotten involved with him no matter how much she loved him.  And she loved him so much it hurt.  Anger, hurt warred inside her and she wanted to scream. 

She didn’t know where she was going.  She couldn’t go home and let her parents see her like this.  They would have a fit.  She didn’t want to go to her friend, Nicole.  The beach.  She would go to the beach.  It was the only place where she wanted to be right now…Ten minutes later, she was running like a wild animal down the beach which, thankfully, was deserted, until she reached his house.  She collapsed in a heap on the sand and buried her wet face in her hands.

The sound of her name and a pair of hands lifting her up broke into her reverie.  It was Mitchell.  She struggled vigorously, trying to push him away as he picked her up in his arms and carried her up to the house.  Once they were inside he put her down and immediately she began to pummel him, the tears falling afresh.  He caught her hands by the wrists, his grip firm but gentle and restrained her. “What’s wrong, Vanessa?” he asked.  “Why are you so upset and why did you leave the award ceremony?  I looked for you but you weren’t there.”

She struggled to control her emotions, her chest heaving at the effort.  “Why didn’t you tell me that you’re married?”

He stared at her.  “Married?”

“Yes, I saw the two of you together this evening at the award ceremony and I asked Caroline who she was and she told me that it was your wife.  She said that you were separated.”

“Oh, Vanessa.  I’m so sorry.  I don’t know why Caroline told you that I’m separated when she should know that I’m divorced.  Linda and I got divorced shortly before I met you.  Our problem was lack of intimacy.  We didn’t feel connected to each other anymore.  She was there this evening because she was also going to receive an award for her commitment to volunteering.  When you saw us together we were just congratulating each other and catching up.”

“Caroline said that you might back together with her.”

“She is mistaken.  I will have a talk with her on Monday when I see her.  I have no desire to get back together with Caroline.  Why would I go back to her when I love you, Vanessa?  How could you think that I would have a relationship with you when I was still married to her?  You should know the kind of man I am by now.”

She started to cry.  “I’m sorry,” she sobbed.  “When I saw you with your ex and how friendly you were with her, I got jealous.  And when Caroline told me that she was your wife…”

He cupped her face and used his thumbs to wipe the tears away, his eyes darkening on her face.  “So, that’s why you ran out on me this evening.  I was going to invite you and the other volunteers on to the platform with me.  Don’t cry, my darling.  There’s no need for tears.  I love you and I want to be with you.”  He kissed her tenderly, almost like a caress.

She responded, putting her arms around his neck.  “I love you too,” she whispered.  “And I’m sorry I ran away instead of facing you.  I would have saved myself a lot of heartache.”

“Don’t beat yourself up about it.”

“Based on how I reacted and my hasty exit, Caroline probably put two and two together and figured out that I’m in love with you.”

“It doesn’t matter anymore.  I don’t want us to continue to hide our relationship, especially since I am going to marry you.”

She gaped at him.  “Marry me!” she exclaimed.

“Yes.”  He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and produced a red velvet box.  He flipped it open and took out the sparkling diamond ring.  He raised his eyes to look her straight into her moist ones.  “Will you marry me, Vanessa?”

“Yes!” She kissed him enthusiastically on the mouth before she watched enthralled as he slid the ring on her finger.  It was the most exquisite thing she had ever seen.  She couldn’t wait to show it to her mother—and Caroline.

He pulled her into his arms, his eyes met hers before he bent his head and kissed her.  As she responded, she remembered a quote that she once heard.  Heaven seems a little closer at the beach.

 

Sources:  Eva’s; Marriage.com; Daily Mail; Huffington Post; Next Avenue

One Woman’s Dream

Di Barrong is the founder of Bags of Love, a charitable organization which provides bags to the various community agencies that serve the needs of  children in those scary days between being taken from their own homes and being placed in more permanent foster care.  In her own words,  she shares how this organization came about.

A number of years ago, a dream began for me that I needed to find a way to help the children being removed from their homes and being placed into foster care.  The children I observed being placed into an emergency foster home came with next to nothing in the line of possessions.  I felt something needed to be done to help with that particular situation.  I worked on this dream for about ten years before an idea was presented that I felt would work and be the best solution.

I was approached by a group called “Its My Very Own.”  I received their manual and considered their program.  It became clear after doing some research that this was in general a good project but it needed to be revised to meet the needs of our area.  So, first of all, I chose the name of Bags of Love and filed with the State of Oregon to become a corporation on May 1, 2008.  Next Bags of Love, Inc. filed for non-profit status.  We filed on June 3, 2008, and it was official at the end of October.  We received our status as a 501 (c)(3) charitable organization.

Initially,we contacted DHS and they had bags that were supplied by a church that they used and were not interested in our bags.  That was a blow, but we then began to contact local agencies that might have a need such as Relief Nursery, Head Start, Birth-to-3, Child Center, Womenspace, and many more.  In talking with this group of agencies, if we could meet their need for the bags with the number of children they deal with, we needed 300 bags a month.  Obviously that is an unattainable statistic.

This brings us to where we are now.  We currently get out 50 to 75 bags a month, at a cost of approximately $75 a bag.  The items within the bags are partially donated.  However, with the support of numerous volunteers, Bags of Love, Inc. manages to keep putting bags in the hands of children that need them.

We recently moved into a new building that will allow the charity to grow and provide better service.  We are located at 3910-A West 1st Street, Eugene, OR  97402.  We have a new number, 541-357-4957.  With the added space, we have added the number agencies we can serve as well as the number of volunteers who can work with us at any one time.  We currently pull group volunteers from such groups as Levi Strauss, LeDoux Insurance, Kiwanas, etc.

The charity has grown so fast that we now have an Executive Board, a Board of Directors, and many sponsors, donors, and volunteers.  Each are unpaid and do it with love from their hearts for these children.  That is what Bags of Love, Inc. is about:  Helping children in crisis one Bag of Love at a time.

The bags are hand sewn, a nice, personal touch and a far cry from the garbage and plastic bags carried by the children who changed Di’s life.  Each stitch is made in love, something these children craved and found in these bags.  They are filled according to the needs of boys or girls within the age ranges of Birth-1, 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10 and 11-12.  Based on the age and sex of the child, the bag may contain soap or baby wash, lotion, shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrush, deodorant, combs and brushes. Disposable diapers, fire-retardant pajamas, socks and underwear are also in the bags.

“We include a stuffed animal, an age- and gender-appropriate toy, school supplies, coloring books and crayons. Every bag, regardless of age or gender, includes a beautiful handcrafted quilt. Everything in each bag stays with the child, regardless of their placement, to give them a sense of security and belonging.”

When I expressed my appreciation to Di for the work she has been doing for these kids and that she is a blessing to them, she was quick to inform me that she was the one who was blessed.  It is rewarding for her to show these kids that someone cares about them and that they are not throwaways.

Di’s dream has transformed so many lives.  She is helping children in crisis one bag of love at a time.  If you are interested in helping Di, please visit http://www.bagsofloveinc.org

Community Worker

At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did.  But it happened in those days that she became sick and died (Acts 9:36, 37).  We don’t know much about this woman except that she was from a place called Joppa, she was a disciple and she made the tunics and garments for the widows in her community and she died from an illness. 

The widows mourned her death because of her kindness and generosity toward them.  They showed Peter the tunics and garments she had made for them.  No doubt they rejoiced when Peter brought her back to life.

Dorcas is a great example of someone who used her talent to bless others.  She was good at making garments and she dedicated her time doing just that.  In a sense she was serving her community by providing these things for the widows.

What are your talents?  Are you a great cook?  Do you love writing?  What about singing?  One of my co-workers likes to knit.  She has knitted beautiful baby blankets for other co-workers and me.  She makes dresses.  She also loves to cook.  These are gifts that she has used to bless others.  If English is your favorite topic, you should consider tutoring someone who is not good at it.  If reading is your thing, think about visiting a nursing home and reading to the patients.  If you are a person who loves to cook, think about having a bake sale and donating the money to a charity. 

If you like helping people, there are many charities looking for volunteers.  You can enter a mentorship program.  If you like planting, you can help out at a shelter.  If you are great at baby-sitting, why not volunteer to look after the kids at a women’s shelter? You can be a part of the shelter’s Homework Club.  The possibilities are endless.

Think of how you can use your talent or hobby to help others.  Let Dorcus be your inspiration!