A troubled single mom and a shy young pastor strike up an unlikely friendship. Will gossip destroy them both?
Targeted Age Group:: 13-
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
A fictionalization of my real experiences as a divorced single mother facing church gossip and dealing with struggles of faith surrounding divorce and remarriage after finding a second chance at love. I wanted to strengthen the faith of others in this situation.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The two main characters are very loosely based on myself and my husband – mainly in appearance and general mannerisms. Protagonist's mother was also loosely based on my mom and the relationship we struggled to maintain all her life. Other supporting characters exhibit combinations of traits and personalities from various people I have met, or were dreamed up from imagination.
Dodie searched the shoulder anxiously for a safe place to pull over. Danny’s coughing from the back seat tore at her. I need to stop now. Doesn’t matter if I get stuck.
Dodie tore off her seatbelt before the car settled into park and jumped out, swinging the back door open. Her fingers fumbled with the car seat buckle, but she extricated her son and began expelling the phlegm from his lungs before she’d even seated herself on the running board.
“Breathe, Danny!” Don’t die on me, Baby! You’re all I have left.
Though it wasn’t quite dawn, Dodie noticed a jogger rambling down the country roads, picking his way carefully to avoid the muddy patches of Carolina red clay. She didn’t recognize the face, but it had been three years since she’d been in Meadowbrook. Surely there were new faces.
The jogger changed course toward her. “Mornin’. Havin’ some trouble wit’ yer car?” His eyes moved to her hands, rhythmically pounding Danny’s back to clear his lungs. He won’t understand even if you explain. Just send him on his way.
She faked a smile before answering. “I’m fine, thanks anyway.” Not true, and you know it. He could have called home and told Ma and Pa why you’re running late.
The jogger shook his head and went on, but Dodie continued arguing with herself. I don’t need help. I’m fine. We both are. Danny’s cough had subsided, but the spell had left him pale and weak. He needs his nebulizer. Where can I find an outlet to plug it in?
She looked around, trying to get her bearings. Behind her she spotted a familiar steeple. The church. Perfect. The doors are always open.
Dodie balanced Danny on one hip and flung her purse and the diaper bag over the other shoulder. It was awkward plodding across a muddy field in high heels. Guess these shoes are toast. Probably my stockings too, but it can’t be helped.
When she reached the church door she stomped the mud off best she could, then tried the door. It swung open easily. Good. There used to be a rocking chair in the nursery. Wonder if it’s still there?
She found her way easily in the dark. This building was as familiar as her own home.
Settling into a rocker near an outlet, she pulled the nebulizer from the bag and administered Danny’s treatment.
∞ ∞ ∞
Chris slowed as he approached the car on the shoulder on his way to the church to pray. A breakdown? Concern mingled with trepidation as he peered into the dark windows. Empty. Relief flooded him. The thought of having to speak with a stranded motorist actually terrified him, though he genuinely desired to help people. Lord, how can I be the person you called me to be when I’m this shy?
Pulling into the church parking lot, he popped his Camaro out of gear, set the brake, and headed for the door. He hummed the worship tune that had been playing when he killed the engine. Why is a light on in the nursery? Curious, he headed inside.
∞ ∞ ∞
Dodie heard the creak of the church door opening. Who’d be at the church at this hour? Fear rose in her, but she quieted it. This is Meadowbrook, not New York. Whoever this is belongs here.
The stranger in the doorway wore a worried expression on his handsome face. He cleared his throat nervously at the sight of her.
“Um – Good morning! Don’t think I know you. Christopher Tanner, pastor of this church.” He extended a hand shyly, but drew it back as his gaze settled on the bundle in her arms.
So this is the new pastor. I bet he breaks some hearts! “Dolores Hansen. Sorry to barge in like this, Pastor Tanner. I needed to borrow your outlet. This is my son, Danny.” She smiled up at him. His face colored, and Dodie noticed him chewing his lower lip nervously. He’s got wonderful eyes. Hazel, I think.
“No problem, Mrs. Hansen. Are you new to the area?”
Hardly. “Actually, I’m moving back here after an extended absence. Perhaps you know my parents, Samuel and Rachel Bay?” Danny’s color looked better, so Dodie removed the oxygen mask from his face, pushing the machine aside.
Recognition lit the minister’s features. “Bay? You’re Mark’s sister, aren’t you?”
∞ ∞ ∞
As Chris realized who she was, a dozen mysteries unraveled. Mark was his best friend in this town. His only friend, really. Mark spoke often of his sister in New York with the sick child, and had mentioned her recent divorce and plans to move back home. That’s why she looks so lost. “Mark mentioned you were coming, but didn’t say when. So nice to finally meet you!” He worked at making his tone warm, but even he heard the hesitation in his voice. She’s going to think you don’t like her. She’s Mark’s sister. There’s no reason to feel shy. The child spied some toys in a corner and scrambled from her lap.
“And you. Mark and my parents speak well of you.” She stood, taking a step toward the door, eyes following the little boy. “We’d better get going. My parents are expecting us.”
“Of course. Don’t let me keep you. Sorry if I startled you.” Chris saw the bag at her feet and bent down to help her collect her belongings. “Here, let me get that for you.”
Chris scooped up the bag just as the young woman bent for it. The collision echoed across the empty room. “Ow! My nose!”
Chris was mortified at his clumsiness. “I’m so sorry! Are you OK?” He bent to look into her face, feeling his face flush as their eyes met.
She laughed through her grimace. “No, but I’m sure I will be in a minute.
It’s OK. It was an accident.” She rubbed her nose and her sinuses.
“Sit back down.” Chris was sure from her expression that she was seeing stars. She took his offered arm and backed into the rocker. Great. First you act like you don’t like her, and now you smack her.
“What can I get for you? Do you need an ice pack?” Chris wasn’t even sure where to find an ice pack, but he felt so badly about hurting her, he had to do something.
Tears were coming from the corners of her eyes, but she managed to smile at him. “Calm down. It’s just a bump on the nose. I’ll be fine just as soon as my head stops spinning.”
Mark’s going to kill me if I’ve hurt his sister. Mark! I should let him know she’s here. Chris pulled his cell phone from his pocket and pressed a number, holding the phone to his ear.
“Who are you calling?” Dolores asked, pressing her thumb tightly between her eyes. “You can’t drive like this. I’m calling your brother.” Chris saw her protest rising and waved it away. What if her eyes turn black? Or she passes out? Mark will never forgive me for this.
A familiar voice sounded on the line. “Mark? Hi, it’s Chris. You’ll never guess who I bumped into at the church this morning!”
∞ ∞ ∞
Dodie found the pastor’s humor disarming, and quit her protests. She listened while Chris arranged for Mark and his wife Sylvia to come and rescue her and her car. Such a fuss over nothing. I’m fine. I’m sure I’ll be able to see well enough to drive in a few minutes… The determined look on his face told her there was no use arguing with him, so
reluctantly, she agreed.
He snapped the phone shut. “I’ll wait with you until your family gets here.” He pulled up a chair and sat across from her. He seemed uncomfortable.
“Really, that’s not necessary.” Dodie knew her protests were falling on deaf ears.
His jawline was set. He wasn’t budging.
“As long as we’re waiting, let’s get to know each other.” He smiled at her, revealing a deep dimple in his cheek.
∞ ∞ ∞
As soon as the suggestion left his lips Chris wished he could take it back. All color drained from her face, and it was evident her nose was not the only source of her pain. Of all the times to get chatty. You should have kept your mouth shut. Face it, Chris. You’re not good at the one-on-one stuff.
Dolores closed her eyes and sighed. “There’s not much to tell, really. I grew up here. The summer after graduation, I met Rick, my ex-husband.” She turned, but not before he spotted tears welling in her eyes. “He was so – I don’t know. Thrilling, I guess. He was from the big city, and I’d never been anywhere. He swept me off my feet.” She returned her gaze to him, showing an attempt at a smile.
The words were out of Chris’s mouth before he could reign them in. “What happened?” He kicked himself when she winced.
“Rick left Danny and me after the doctor made his diagnosis. He hasn’t been around to see Danny at all. It’s been over a year, now.”
“That’s hard. Mark told me a little about Danny’s illness, but I didn’t understand it, really. Something with initials?”
“CF. Cystic Fibrosis.”
Chris sucked in his breath. “I’ve heard of that. Isn’t it..? I mean…” He faltered and looked away.
“Yes.” The pain on her face nearly broke his heart. “It’s terminal. There’s no cure yet. But there are treatments that can make his life longer and fairly normal.”
Chris couldn’t understand his overwhelming desire to take her in his arms. Poor girl. So much trouble. She could use a friend. I’m gonna do what I can to help her. “Danny seems like such a sweet child. Why would his illness make Rick leave?”
Dolores shook her head sadly. “Cystic Fibrosis is genetic. People carry the gene without knowing it. When two carriers have children, their children have a high risk of being born with the disease or being carriers themselves. I guess Rick blames himself for Danny’s illness. And of course, we couldn’t risk having any more children. Rick always wanted a large family…”
“But you could have adopted!” Chris interrupted. Whoa, Chris. Keep your temper in check. He softened his tone. “That’s no reason to end a marriage.”
“Well, I don’t suppose there’s a whole lot of reason to this situation.” Her answer dripped with sarcasm. “The worst is, I think Rick couldn’t bear being around Danny anymore. Even before we knew what was wrong, every time Danny would cough, or be ill, Rick would disappear. Sometimes, he wouldn’t come back for days, and he wouldn’t tell me where he’d been. When the tests came back positive for CF, he flipped. He packed up and moved out of our apartment on the spot. He sent the divorce papers, and though I contested, the divorce finally went through. I suppose it didn’t help that he’s a lawyer.”
∞ ∞ ∞
Dodie rubbed her temples again. I must have hit my head harder than I thought. Why else would I tell all this to a perfect stranger? Better change the subject – FAST. “Your turn. Tell me about yourself, Pastor Tanner. Why did you decide to become a minister?”
“I’ll tell you if you please just call me Chris.” He flushed, but his tone was teasing. She laughed, and he continued. “My parents were career missionaries. My dad helped plant and build churches, and Mom taught Bible school and helped translate the Bible into native languages. I guess it was in my blood. When I was about fifteen, I decided God was calling me to minister to others, too, but here in the states.” He shifted uncomfortably in the chair.
Dodie was impressed. “Wow. Missionary kid. That must have been very different for you.”
Chris chuckled. “Well, actually, I suffered the culture shock when I came back to the states. I was born in South America, and it was the only home I’d ever known.”
The church door creaked, and the sound of children running and laughing told Dodie they were no longer alone. She puzzled over the look on Chris’s face. It was a mix of disappointment and relief. Mark’s lanky frame appeared in the doorway. “Dodie! I’m so happy to see you!” She stood to receive his embrace.
Chris also stood, looking from one to the other. “Dodie? I thought your name was Dolores.”
Sylvia laughed as she entered the room, holding six-year-old Ben’s hand tightly while eight-year-old Ruth clung to her leg. “That would be Sara’s fault, she said, indicating her oldest daughter, ten, with her free hand. “She couldn’t say Aunt Dolores. Dodie was the best she could do, so the name stuck.”
Dodie felt her face flush with embarrassment. Chris didn’t seem to notice. Mark crossed the room and picked up Danny, who began yawning as if on cue.
Chris extended his hand. “Well. I’m sure you’re tired and anxious to get home. It was a pleasure meeting you both, Mrs. Hansen.”
Dodie accepted his handshake. “Call me Dodie, please. You too, Chris. I look forward to hearing you preach tomorrow. Goodbye.”
Dodie settled into the passenger seat of Mark’s van, Sylvia at the wheel. Mark buckled Danny back in the car and maneuvered it off the muddy shoulder without incident.
Sylvia’s question startled her. “So, what did you do to Chris?”
“What did I do? Nothing. He accidentally smacked me in the nose.” She rubbed her sinuses again. “What makes you think I did anything?”
“Oh, just the sight of him sitting there talking to you like you were old friends, that’s all. I’ve been working for Chris for months now, and he’s only just warmed up to casual conversation with me. When we met I don’t think he said more than five words to me. He’s one of the shyest people I’ve ever met.” Sylvia laughed.
Dodie nodded. “I picked up on that. Guess he was just worried about me. Maybe he wanted to keep my mind off my pain.”
Sylvia shook her head. “I don’t know about that. Chris has great intentions, but he stumbles over himself. Something sure got to him today.”
They turned the bend and pulled into the driveway of the house Dodie had called home most of her life. Home. So why do I feel more like a stranger visiting? Her father was sitting on the front porch, right where she’d expected to see him. He stood and approached the van as it came to a stop, opening her door for her.
“You look beat.” He held out his arms to her. She melted into them.
“I am, Pa. Soon as I unpack the car I’m gonna plop on that couch and I may not move for a year!” She tossed him a smile.
Mark had unbuckled Danny, who’d fallen asleep during the short trip. “We’ll unpack. You go sit. I’m sure Ma has the fatted calf waiting.”
“No, I’m fine. I don’t need help with a couple suitcases and a few boxes.”
Samuel had the hatchback open already. Mark deposited Danny into her arms. “Carry him. We’ll get the rest.”
Dodie was about to protest, but Danny awoke enough to realize they had stopped. He began bouncing up and down in her arms, necessitating the whole of her concentration to stay upright. “OK, you win,” she laughed. “I’ll take Danny inside to meet his cousins.”
After unpacking the car, Mark sat on the conversation unit, his back to the half wall separating the family room from the kitchen. He stretched his tall frame across the seat, feet propped on the coffee table in front of him, back leaning partly against the armrest. Nearly thirteen years her senior, Dodie had worshipped her big brother as they grew up together and had missed him when he went off to college.
Sylvia sat on the other half of the couch, next to the open sliding door that the children’s laughter flowed through, facing Dodie. She was as fair as Mark was dark; petite and pretty. Dodie could easily see why Mark had fallen in love with her. They’d met in college and immediately taken an interest in each other. By the time Mark completed his MBA and Sylvia had gotten her BA in business, they’d set their wedding date.
Rachel joined them from the kitchen. As Mark had predicted, though it was way too early for lunch, she deposited the makings of a feast in front of them before settling into her favorite easy chair. Samuel sat in his recliner.
Dodie turned to Sylvia. “I don’t know how you do it,” she confessed. “I have my hands full with Danny, and you manage with three!”
Sylvia smiled. “Well, I do have a bit of help!” She winked at Mark. He scowled at her. “A bit? What are you insinuating?”
Sylvia teased him. “I have quite a bit of help when you’re not acting like one of them. Sometimes I think I have four children instead of three!” Mark threw a toss pillow at her, and she turned to Dodie with a laugh. “See what I mean?”
Mark shrugged innocently. “What?” Sylvia threw the pillow back at him and continued where she’d left off.
“Seriously, I don’t know how I’d manage without Miss Maisy, now that I’m back at work.”
Dodie savored a bite of her mother’s fried chicken. “Mm. You’re the church office manager, right? How’s that going?”
Sylvia’s face glowed as she spoke. “I love it. I really feel like my work is meaningful, and Lord knows we need the extra income. And I really like Chris.”
Mark nodded in agreement. “Chris is a wonderful preacher. He’s revolutionized the church.”
Dodie nodded. “Nancy wrote me not long back and mentioned that he’d been causing quite a stir back here.”
“Well, Nancy rarely has anything positive to say about anyone.” Mark’s frown nearly brought on giggles from all three women. Mark had disliked her best friend even back in their high school days. Dodie couldn’t blame him, since Nancy was a known busybody with a terribly negative outlook on life. Mark continued, “She’s correct if she told you some folk were unhappy. Quite a few old-timers have left since he came. But they were the ones who think the only right way to do something is the way it’s always been done.”
Dodie grinned, and Rachel laughed out loud.
“That’s the truth!” Dodie replied. “So many of the people in this town believe that any new idea cannot be of God.” They all laughed again.
Samuel joined the conversation. “So, Dodie, what are your plans now that you’re back? You plannin’ on stayin’ a while this time?” His tone was teasing, but Dodie felt a hint of reproach in it, too. She decided to dodge part of the question.
“I’m supposed to get some support from Rick, but whether he sends it or not, I’m going to need a job. I’ve already spoken with Mr. Wells down at the Chronicles. He’s thrilled to have me back on staff. I start Monday.”
Mark nodded. “Great. You going to leave Danny with Ma?”
Dodie hesitated. “I don’t want to impose on Ma that way, but I might have to for a while until the support money comes in.”
Rachel shook her head. “Don’t be silly. Danny’s not an imposition. He’s the light of my life.”
Sylvia chimed in. “I mentioned your coming to Miss Maisy, and she offered to watch him.”
Dodie felt her cheeks redden. “I appreciate that, Sylvia. Tell her thank you. But it might be months before I can afford to pay anyone to care for Danny.”
Sylvia brushed her protests aside with a wave of her hand. “Miss Maisy knew you’d be concerned. She said you could pay her whatever you could swing until Rick started to help.”
I should never have come back. Any way I go I’m causing problems for someone. I need to stand on my own two feet. This is my mess. Dodie’s struggle must have registered on her face, and her father was quick to pick up on it. He laid his large hand on hers. “Dodie, this ain’t charity. I wouldn’t have it if it were. You’re a part of this town, and we’re all pullin’ for you. You need to let go and let us help you. Don’t steal our blessing, child.”
Tears formed in the corners of Dodie’s eyes. How can I explain this to Pa without hurting his feelings? Before she could respond, a commotion out back drew their attention. Danny let out a loud scream, and all three of his cousins started yelling at once. Dodie went running to find out what had happened, the clap of Sylvia’s sandals sounding behind her.
When they arrived on the scene, the two of them burst out laughing at Danny’s condition. The children had discovered a muddy stream in the garden caused by a poorly connected hose. Knowing they shouldn’t play
in the mud, they’d devised a game in which they jumped across the stream without landing in the mud. Unfortunately, Danny’s little legs and underdeveloped coordination made the task nearly impossible for him, and he’d instead tripped over the hose and landed headlong in the mud. It covered him from head to toe.
Dodie tried to comfort him at arm’s length. “It’s OK, Honey. Let’s go get you cleaned up and changed.”
Danny quit sniveling, looking up at her expectantly. “Take a bass?” Sylvia chuckled at his childish lisp.
Dodie sighed a yes, so the adults postponed the visit as the two of them headed for the upstairs bathroom to repair the damages.
Dodie carefully removed Danny’s muddy things, trying not to destroy the pretty bathroom she once shared with Mark and now shared with Danny. She plopped him into the warm, sudsy water and knelt beside him, washing the mud from his face and hair. “Are you enjoying your visit with your cousins?” she asked as she rinsed the shampoo from his head.
“Ben funny!” he replied, grinning up at her.
In the two years since his birth, Dodie had been unable to make a visit home, so Danny had never had the opportunity to meet his cousins. Since his arrival this morning, Ben had taken Danny under his wing, and she was pleased at how well they were getting along.
“Ben is funny, but you’re funny looking!” his mother teased, and Danny made a face at her. She splashed him, and he countered. Once the battle ended, both were dripping wet and hysterical. “Come on, Sport,” she said after she dried him off. “Let’s put this bathroom back together before Grandma has our heads!”
∞ ∞ ∞
Later over supper, Mark managed to get a word in over the noise of the kids. “Dodie, you thinking about getting back into the choir?”
Dodie finished chewing her steak. “I’m not sure. I’ll have to see how Danny does.”
Sylvia nodded. “I know what you mean. But we could sure use your voice if he settles in OK.”
“Who’s directing now?” Dodie asked.
Mark answered, “Since Pastor and Mrs. Bolster retired there hasn’t been a steady director. Chris refuses to try his hand at it. Says he’s tone deaf.”
Everyone chuckled. “What about Mary Sue? Nancy wrote me she’d taken over after I left, and said she’d done quite nicely with it.”
“She’s too busy,” Rachel answered between bites. “Ever since her ma took ill, she’s had to spend most of her time nursing her.”
“She takes a turn now and then,” Sylvia added, “and I’ve tried my hand at it recently, but I’m not very good. We really need to find someone who knows what they’re doing.”
Dodie looked from face to face and saw they all stared at her. “Oh, come on now… I just got here! I’m not ready to jump in with both feet like that!” she said in dismay.
Mark laughed at her. “Don’t worry. We won’t volunteer you just yet. Just think about it, OK?”
Dodie agreed to consider it, and the conversation moved on.
∞ ∞ ∞
After Mark and his family left, Dodie tucked Danny into his crib and sat down in the rocker beside it. She softly sang a lullaby, stroking his curls, and watched his eyes get heavy. After he fell asleep, she sat and looked at him for a while. My little boy. He seems so fragile. Ben was about Danny’s age when I left, but he was different – bigger. Danny’s too thin. Too pale. The joy had ebbed slowly from her life each time Danny had been ill, like the tide retreating from the shore. Why is everything so messed up? What did I do wrong?
Her eyes fell upon the little cross hanging above the crib; a glowing reminder to pray each night before drifting to sleep. She turned her thoughts upward to the One who held her past and future in the palm of His hand.
Lord, you’ve got my attention. Things haven’t worked out quite the way I planned. I’m gonna try to do better, I promise. Show me the way.
She hadn’t prayed in months. Somehow it seemed to help. She retired to her own room, undressed, and climbed into bed. She felt like she might sleep tonight, for the first time in a long while.
∞ ∞ ∞
Dodie surveyed herself critically in the full-length mirror in her room. She knew every eye in the congregation would be looking her way this morning. News traveled fast in a small town like Meadowbrook. Many people would whisper about her divorce from Rick. Others would pity her, left alone with a sick child. She dreaded their pity, even more than the gossip. She had to look her best this morning. They would see she didn’t need anyone’s pity.
She admired the modest blue dress that flattered her curves. She’d almost gotten her figure back since Danny’s birth, and the remaining weight only served to enhance her shapeliness. Every brown curl surrounding her face had been trained to behave after a long battle with the curling iron, and the light touch of makeup she applied left her glowing. She knew she’d turn heads today anyway, but she was glad they’d have something to look at.
Danny was another story. No matter how she tried, she couldn’t get him to stay looking nice in his church outfit. Every time she tucked his shirt in, it came un-tucked again. His tie wouldn’t stay clipped to his collar, and his curls wanted to stick up in the back no matter what she used to plaster them down. Worst of all, every time she turned around, he’d gotten dirty again.
As Samuel drove into the church parking lot and headed for the first available space, Dodie used her handkerchief to wipe Danny’s face for the thirtieth time that morning. When he protested, Rachel came to his aid. “Dodie, leave that boy alone. He looks fine. You both do.”
She pulled out her compact and stared critically into it. “Do I really look OK?” Samuel grinned at her. “You look swell. Let’s get in there now, ya hear?”
Not wanting to risk putting Danny in the nursery on their first Sunday, Dodie took his chubby fist in hers and marched him down the aisle with her. She didn’t usually sit in the very front pew, but she didn’t want anyone to think she had a reason to hide, so down to the front and center she went.
She passed Maryanne Sorensen and Anita Baker standing together near front. Though whispering, parts of their conversation reached Dodie’s ears, making her cheeks burn with anger.
“Anita, that’s the one I told you about. Can you imagine the nerve, her comin’ here?” “I heard she left her husband and ran away with that child. Broke the poor man’s heart, they say.”
“Well, John Parker said he saw her when he was out jogging yesterday mornin’. Said she was beatin’ that baby, sure as he was born.”
Don’t look at them. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Just keep walking. Her heart was broken at the lies they spoke about her, but she held her head high.
When she reached the front, she plopped Danny onto the pew beside her, gave him a picture Bible to look at, and then turned to the front to see what had changed since the last time she’d attended. The sanctuary had been dark yesterday morning, obscuring her view of it. She was anxious to see it in the light.
Mark and Sylvia had warned her of the pastor’s changes, but nothing could prepare her for the actuality of it. The familiar choir box with its fancy velvet-covered risers had been replaced by a drum set, of all things. And guitars; not just acoustic guitars but two electric guitars and an electric bass, too. The old piano was absent – Mark said it had been retired to one of the Sunday School rooms, replaced by an electric keyboard. The choir sat in folding chairs off to one side of the platform when they weren’t standing to sing.
The heavy oak pulpit had been removed and replaced with a more modern clear acrylic podium, and Chris had discarded the traditional robe and collar common to his profession to dress in a more casual sport coat and tie.
An overhead projected the lyrics to the first song of the morning on a screen in front. The congregation stood to worship the Lord together as the band began playing a popular modern worship song written by a British youth pastor.
Dodie couldn’t help but be moved by the worship service. Chris’s changes had been very effective in attracting young people to the congregation. As the church sang, a young couple made their way to the altar, weeping as they knelt and prayed. Mark, from his place beside Sylvia and the other choir members, went to them and prayed with them.
∞ ∞ ∞
Chris sat watching from the opposite end of the platform; joy overflowing in his heart for these lost souls who had started to find their way. Deep in his soul, he wanted to be the one to pray with them, but his feet felt like lead and he couldn’t move.
After the time of worship ended, Chris watched as Mark made his way to the platform to read the scripture verse for the text and lead the congregation in prayer. Then Chris stood and arranged his notes on the podium, pausing to reflect before beginning his message.
No sooner had he begun than he had to stop. He filled the awkward pause by reaching for the pitcher under the podium and filling a glass with water to drink. Isn’t that the superintendent in the back row? What’s he doing here? Probably checking up on me. Well, better make this the best message possible. Might be my last.
He cleared his throat, put down his water glass, and smiled.
∞ ∞ ∞
Dodie sat mesmerized during the sermon. Chris was lively and dynamic, his enthusiasm contagious. Dodie couldn’t keep her eyes from his face. She realized she’d not gotten a good look at him yesterday.
His hair was so dark it was almost black, the stage lights reflecting red highlights in it. Those hazel eyes she’d first noticed changed color as his mood moved with the sermon; sometimes nearly black as he spoke with authority, but often green with golden glints as he expressed the joy of knowing his Lord. She wondered at the difference in him while preaching. Yesterday he’d seemed timid at times, but this man was fearless.
His text came from 2 Corinthians 12:9. Dodie found new meaning in the familiar passage as Chris spoke. “He said unto me, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
She listened intently as Chris explained the background of the passage. “According to verse 7, Paul had a problem; something he refers to as a ‘thorn in the flesh’. The Bible doesn’t tell us what this problem was, but states it came from Satan, not from God. Some theologians believe his problem was an illness of some sort; possibly a problem with his eyes.”
Dodie thought of the illness Danny struggled with. She’d blamed God, but deep inside, she’d known a loving God would not give a little boy a disease. She sat forward in the pew, anxious to hear more.
“Others believe he was referring to the persecution he often suffered during his ministry. Some believe he was speaking of the people who were opposing him – the false apostles spreading lies about Paul and the gospel that Paul speaks of in earlier chapters.” Paul had people speaking lies about him, too. Dodie saw others nearby nodding their heads, and heard a few “Amens” from the back.
Chris left the podium and walked across the stage, gesturing with his hands. “Whatever Paul’s problem was, it’s clear that Paul wanted it gone. He asked God three times that it be removed. This,” he pointed at the text on the screen, “was God’s answer. God was supplying the grace for Paul to deal with the problem. His grace was sufficient – enough. In the end, Paul expresses thankfulness for the problem, because it allows him to experience the grace of God and walk in God’s strength instead of his own.”
As Chris continued, Dodie knew that God had sent these words for her. How long had she walked without His grace, trying to find sufficiency in herself? If she hoped to come through this trial, she needed Christ’s power resting on her. As the service ended she fell to her knees beside her pew, allowing the tears to fall freely. She asked for strength to help her in her time of weakness. And perhaps for the first time since the doctor had made his diagnosis, she thanked Him for her son’s infirmities – for all that made him special.
As the closing song played, Dodie collected her belongings and Danny’s toys and piled them into her purse. She took her son by the hand and started back to the foyer to find her parents. As they went, whispered criticisms again burned Dodie’s ears as those who knew of her situation informed their less educated neighbors, but Dodie walked past as though she hadn’t heard. Mark had asked them to join him and Sylvia for lunch at the café, and once she found them she could leave these people behind.
∞ ∞ ∞
Chris hurried to the foyer. He’d spotted Dodie in the first pew and worried about her face. He wanted another chance to apologize and be sure she was alright. In his enthusiasm, he’d almost forgotten the superintendent.
“Chris – there you are. Can I have a moment to speak with you privately?”
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