Tuesday, March 20, 2018


A Short Story

By Celia Jolley

I wish I were sitting next to Sleepy, Dopey, Doc, anybody but Grumpy.  I don't know if it is possible, but I do believe he is more unhappy than I am for us having to be seated next to each other.  The years have not mitigated our understanding of malevolence against one another.  I did not know, could not remember what on earth had spawned such ill will, such strong dislike, but there it is, undiminished. 

It was a shame that such a tall, dark, and handsome man had to mar his striking appearance with a scowl.  I hoped he would lose it before he tried to make the toast to the bride and groom with his sparkling cider.  That might be the only thing that sparkled. 

Jase actually put on a happy face, did gallantly, then sank back into his iceberg.  I did not do nearly as well melting with tears and hardly getting a word out before my knees gave out and I fell back onto the white plastic folding chair.  It was not my zenith moment. 

How could a loving bride and groom have picked a maid of honor and best man of such polar opposites?  Hopefully,  it would not be an omen of mismatched lovers later.  They certainly appeared to be head over heels in love making me feel a smidge of jealousy.  Well, maybe a little more than a smidge.  I sighed as I wiped a smudge of mascara from under my eye where a tear still attempted to escape.  It now blackened the newlyweds initials on the napkin I had used.  Grumpy looked over at me with an arched eyebrow.  I had not meant to let such a heavy sigh be overheard to be judged by the likes of him.  I shot a cold stare straight back; only for a second our eyes locked before he looked away. 

I was the last to be single of all my girlfriends making me a misfit, a freak of unmarried nature.  What was wrong with me?  Were my standards too high?  Too low?  Was I somehow not alluring?  It had been a couple of months since anyone had even acted interested enough to hint at something as simple as getting a cup of coffee, dutch of course.  Maybe I needed to fish in a bigger pond.  This one was fished out.  I regretted spending so many of my college years wasted upon Mr.-I-Dumped-Him-First-Before-He-Could-Dump-Me.  Three years down the drain.   Now I've graduated, have seen my last girlfriend trip happily down the rose petal strewn pathway while I was headed home to my old bedroom at my parents. 

I grr-ed under my breath, but was evidently overheard by the groom's bff sitting next to me who once again arched an eyebrow at me, but this time with a smirk.

"Not having a good time, eh?"

"Everything is divine," I lied.

"The toasts are over, the cake is next, then the obligatory dances, then you're home free."

"There's the clean-up.  We are supposed to help the family with that, you know.  We'll be the last to leave, or did you plan on ducking out?"

"Oh, I wouldn't think of it."

"What do you plan on doing to the going away car?"

"Nothing.  I'm loaning him my sports car and have a friend guarding it in case anybody has ideas about doing anything to it that might mar the paint job."

"Oh."  I could not think of another thing to say to the man, nasty or nice, so I looked out over the reception party.  There wasn't a single man there who I would wish to dance with.  Not one.  All the good ones have gotten away, and I have officially begun the game of Old Maid. 

Now my chin was beginning to quiver.  How stupid!  I jumped up to escape but bumped into the chest of my nemesis Mr. Frosty in a tux as he was getting up as well.

I turned away, but he stopped me, put his finger under my chin and lifted my face to see the rivulets of  feeling-sorry-for-myself tears.  I kept my eyes closed so I would not have to face him.

"Hey, this is a wedding. It's supposed to be a happy time.  I promise to bury the hatchet for this one night if you will."

I could not talk, but I nodded and opened my eyes to see his searching mine.  His thumb wiped away the tears on one cheek while I wiped the other side with the back of my hand.  Then I was free to go.  I made a beeline to a bathroom and locked myself in a booth. I had counted to 100 backwards and forwards twice until I made sure I would not fall apart again, until my heart went back to a normal beat.  After doing what I could to repair my makeup damage, I went out to face the music.

The dancing had begun.  I missed her dance with her father, but now the bride and groom were dancing and more people were entering the dance floor.  His back was to me almost blocking my view.  He turned when he noticed me and checked me out as if for damage.

"Care to dance.  I believe it's customary for the best man and maid of honor to have one dance."

I still could not speak to him, but let him lead me out where the other couples were being happy.

I tried to look down, but whenever I glanced up, he was staring at me.  Finally, he said, "I can't remember, can you?"

"Remember what?"

"Why we can't stand each other?"

"No, but I'm sure it was for a good reason."

Then a rumble began down low then escaped into a deep laugh that made him stop dancing for a moment.  "I think I remember now.  Did it have something to do with you getting caught flirting with me as a freshmen when you worked in the student book store, and your supervisor wasn't very happy with you?"

"You flirted with me and got me in trouble.  I almost lost my job because of you.  I remember now."

"That's a four year old grudge.  Wow.  But I can't remember why I don't like you."

"It's probably because you asked me to help you cheat on a quiz in biology, and I refused to let you see my answer."

He laughed.  "I think you are right.  I'm glad to know I do have a good reason to despise you."

I tried not to laugh, but couldn't stop it.  "It didn't end there.  You made fun of me in front of all my friends every chance you got.  You called me mean names."

"What's so mean about calling you  Miss Goody Two Shoes?"

"I used to avoid you even if I had to go the long way around and be late for class."

"That must have been tough for Miss Perfect."

"There you go again, calling me names."

"A name?  I thought you'd wear that as a badge of honor.  Weren't you perfect all the way through school, except for that jerk you wasted your time with for three years, but who's counting?"

"I don't know how to answer that"  She looked up at him  bewildered.  Finally, she said, "Yes, he was a jerk, I did waste three years of my life with him, and so you could say that I'm not a candidate for the Miss Perfect title for that, if for no other reason.  But I'm surprised you noticed."

"I noticed alright.  I was mad at you every day of every month for three years that you couldn't see through his sham.  It took everything I had not to beat the pulp out of him whenever he opened his mouth about you.  He really was not a nice guy.  You wouldn't want to know some of the things he said."

"You're right, I don't want to know.  I feel like I ate the poisoned apple from him.  It took me too long to wake up."

"What made you wake up?"

"I don't really want to talk about it.  How about you?  Are you still with what's her name Pretty-Face?  How come she's not here?"

"No, pretty is as pretty does, and we aren't together any more."

"Good.  She wasn't a very nice person either.  I was always surprised you did not see through her."

"I was in love with a shell until the hermit crab climbed out with the claws clicking."

I laughed.  "I visualize that perfectly."

Neither one of us realized that we had talked clear through three slow dances while everyone else was jamming.  Then someone tapped me on the shoulder.  It was one of the ones I wouldn't be caught dead dancing with.  After all, wasn't it the prerogative of an old maid to turn down who she wanted to.

"I'm sorry, but my feet are killing me, and I just want to sit down now."

The Best Man guided me, the Maid of Honor back to our seats where I kicked off my shoes.

"Was that a little white lie that Miss Perfect just told?"

"No, I mean, my feet do hurt.  I'm not used to wearing heels.  But, I'm not about to dance with him.  He gives me the creeps."

"And I don't any more?"

He was bending over leaning on his elbows on his thighs to look into her face.


"Good."  He leaned back in his seat with his legs stretched out in front of him with a crooked smile on his face.

"Don't look so smug."

"What?  Are we still fighting?  Did you just remember another one of the top ten reasons you hate me?"

"No, it's just that you look like a cat that wants to eat the canary, but she's safe in her cage, thank you very much."

"Oh really?"  He smiled wider.

Suddenly, I wasn't so sure any more.

Just then the bride and groom came up arm in arm and spied them.  "Oh, good, you are finally getting along."  I  hugged the bride in a goodbye to girlhood sort of way while the guys wacked each other on the back.

"Are you ready to see us off?  Got the keys for me, bro?"

"Sure you don't want me to chauffer you?" he winked.

"No, I think I can handle it from here."

"Just be careful with the merchandise.  And be careful with the car too."

The guys laughed while the bride giggled nervously.  I found myself fighting back tears again.

In a blink of an eye, they were off and a friendship was changed forever.  I felt very alone all of a sudden.  An arm slipped around my waist and a warm breath was in my ear, "And so they've left us.  Whatever shall we do?"

"Clean up."

"And after that?"

I looked up at him shocked. 

"The night will still be young, and I'm still hungry.  All the fancy food did not fill me up.  I want a steak.  Are you game?"

"Sure.  But he just took off in your car."

"I guess you'll be driving.  Just kidding.  He gave me his keys.  Wait a minute." He patted himself down.  "The dirty dog forgot.  What could he have been thinking?" He winked and said, "So I guess you really are driving."

The bride had a huge family and so it did not take long to clean up the reception hall.  Soon he was staring at me holding my shoes in his hands that I had left under the table.  "I'm starving.  Let's go."

I was so nervous that I almost ran a red light and had to slam on the brakes.  He did not say a word, just cocked that eyebrow at me again.  I was glad to finally turn off the keys in the steakhouse parking lot.  He grabbed my hand as we went in.  I had no idea why I did not pull away.

"I hope you are as hungry as I am because their house special is worth devouring."

"I don't think I really ate much of the food at the reception, so I am ready for a steak after all."

It was delicious, but I hardly remember eating the meal at all.  The two of  us talked with a voracious appetite making up for the lost time of  our college years of not speaking.

"Remember the last chapel speaker sermon on I Samuel about David's life.  If you don't mind me saying so, I feel like David who finally had chance to win Saul's daughter's hand, Michal.  I would have killed a lot of Philistines if I thought I could have gotten you to notice."

"I'd rather not think of the bride price Saul put on David.  I don't know.  Michal wasn't so nice.  She certainly wasn't worth it."

"In what way?"

"She really loved David even before she married him; helped him escape from Saul, but had an idol handy to put in the bed to stall Saul's henchmen.  She told them that it was David sick in bed.  I think I know why she had a household idol.  I've had one.  It was called False Security.  My idol was my boyfriend.  Even though I knew my worship was misplaced, I kept him around afraid to let him go.  In the meanwhile, I let the true king escape out the window when I allowed the idol into my bed..."  Her eyes became round as saucers and she covered her mouth.  "I can't believe I just said that to you...I wasn't speaking literally."

"Okay."  He felt her shrinking away from him but did not let her, taking her hand that was trembling.
"I had a couple of misplaced loves in my life too.   Like the speaker said, David had a few too many love stories.  I guess going to a Christian college does not mean you graduate with a diploma of smarts.  Sometimes we earn one of stupid mistakes as well, one degree or another.  But didn't David get Michal back after all?"

"Yes, but she despised him in his pure worship.  She was childless until she died, meaning he spurned her as well since he had plenty of other wives."

"Yeah, you're right.  The two of them are not the perfect examples to follow when it comes to love. It makes you think again like what if she had escaped out the window with David.  She preferred obviously to be comfortable with the household idol and palace living.  Would David have sought love with so many other wives or could they have had one of those admirable marriages of biblical proportions?  Yet, after all David's failures, he kept coming back to God, a heart after God."

They were looking at each other while he held her hand rubbing his thumb gently over her fingers. 

Finally she sighed.

"What's the sigh for?  You did that at the table tonight at the wedding, and then it turned to tears."

"Doesn't it bother you to be still single when everyone else has paired off and flown away?"

"Let's get out of here.  I think they're closing down anyway."   He walked her to the car, but put his hand out for the keys.  "You scared me on the way here.  Let me drive us back." 

When Carrie handed them over, she found herself enveloped in his arms.  She sighed again.

"There you go sighing again.  I hope it was a good sigh." He tipped her face up.  "Do you think we would have a chance?  The bookstore supervisor is not looking over your shoulder, you know. You're not a freshman anymore."

This brought a grin with a dimple instead of tear.  "Do ya think?  I don't know how you can even speak to me after how I've treated you."

He kissed her gently.  Then kissed her some more that awakened something she'd never quite felt before.  Her other relationship vanished in the rear view mirror. 

Finally, he pulled away.  "We'd better go," but he did not move.  "I think I finally remember why I hated you."

"Really?  Why?"  She kept her arms around his neck looking up into the twinkle in his eyes.

"Because you let that other stupid guy take up with you instead of me.  I've wanted you ever since I laid eyes on you in the bookstore when we were freshmen.  I tried a couple of consolation prizes, but they really didn't satisfy.  They weren't you."


"Yeah, it's always been about you."

"I think I was a real idiot."

"No, I scared you away.  It was my idiocy.  I'd like to start all over and pretend the last four years had not happened."

"Hello," she offered her hand.  "My name is Carrie.  What's yours?"

"Jase.  Are you busy this weekend."

"No.  I just have to clean out my room and throw away a few idols."

"Good.  Maybe we can make a bonfire and turn the past mistakes into ashes."

"I'd like that very much.  Just so you know, if you dance before God, I'll be clapping from my window."

"Do you mind if I call you Miss Perfect for Me?"

She sighed.  "I'd like that, Mr. Just Right."

Having just gone through an elaborate ceremony with their friends, they chose a simple small wedding: it's usually best after a whirlwind courtship, after all.  It was more than just right.  It was perfect.

"Now Michal, Saul's daughter loved David.  When they told Saul, the thing was agreeable to him.  And Saul thought, 'I will give her to him that she may become a snare to him...'"
I Samuel 18:20
"Then Saul sent messengers to David's house to watch him, in order to put him to death in the morning.  But Michal, David's wife, told him saying, 'If you do not save your life tonight, tomorrow you will be put to death.'  So Michal let David down through a window, and he went out and fled and escaped. And Michal took the household idol and laid it on the bed..."
I Samuel 19:11-13
(Leave and cleave: to cleave as is the Scriptural command, you must be willing to leave.
What if Michal had been willing to follow David out the window?)
"Now Saul had given Michal his daughter, David's wife, to Paltiel..."
I Samuel 25:44
"So David sent messengers to Ishbosheth, Saul's son, saying, 'Give me my wife Michal, to whom I was betrothed...And Ishbosheth sent and took her from her husband, from Paltiel...
But her husband went with her, weeping as he went, and followed her...
Then Abner said to him, 'Go, return.'  So he returned."
II Samuel 3:14-16
(You can't make this stuff up!)
"Then it happened as the ark of the Lord came into the city of David that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord;
and she despised him in her heart."
II Samuel 6:16
(Was that the same window that she had let her husband David escape from?)
There you have it in a nutshell when you are more comfortable with an idol than rejoicing in the Presence of the Lord, more comfortable with palace living than in love with the King Himself.
In order to be just right, you must "be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect."
And that, gentle reader, is the gift of the Spirit: perfect love.

Acts 3:19

 The Story of an OAI: Over Active Imagination
Becca thought over the theme verse for the retreat as she packed her warm things for camping as well as shorts, tees, and a bathing suit.  The coast could boast any kind of weather.  She had not been a part of this group very long, but had become acquainted with Sarah at work.  They became fast friends even though Becca was single and Sarah was married.  She had invited Becca to join the young adult group they led at their church.  Becca had felt a bond with Sarah from the moment she laid eyes on her. There was something familiar in her that she couldn't quite put her finger on. 
Becca sighed and told her cat,  "It will be good to get away.  I think we need a break from one another."  The cat only looked to make sure she had food in her bowl.. 

OAI: Becca imagined her cat sleeping on her bed twenty hours a day and spending four hours a day eating while she was gone.  When she came back, the cat would be ten pounds heavier and would have to be lifted off the bed and carried to her food bowl by a subservient cat lover that was suspiciously like herself. 

"Don't even think about it Tinkerbell," she said as she had a staredown with the feline until it looked away.

"I won the blink war!"

Actually, she operated her life under a cloud that felt strangely like a wet blanket, the kind that losers snuggle up in. Growing up, Becca had always known how to be a Christian having gone to church her whole life.  In fact, in high school she led the Christian club, was active in her youth group, and even went on to join one of the Christian groups on campus in college.  Somewhere along the line, however, she had become derailed leaving a lot of spilled baggage.  It was messy.  It was ugly. 

Now, she was picking it up piece by piece and letting the Lord heal her as she went along.   That had been Sarah's advice as she had poured out her hurt and heart to her.  Her friend said that as God brought something to remembrance, to hand it over immediately, and let Him forgive and cleanse and then to let it go. It was hard work allowing God to forgive her sins when she still had such vivid memories of them still.

OAI: Becca imagined driving down the freeway with her suitcase falling off the top of the car and all her dirty laundry spilling out, every intimate apparel that she owned  displayed for the world to see.  That was what her sin felt like.  She shook her head to try to free her mind from such thoughts.

Sarah invited her over to a leadership meeting the night before they left for retreat so that those who were going to give their testimonies around the campfire could come together to pray. Becca was over the top nervous when Sarah and Stewart asked her share.  It was quite a step of faith for her.

OAI: She imagined standing in front of a crowd of her peers around the campfire, and as she began to speak they stared aghast at her, rolled their eyes or yawned or whispered or got up and walked away.  Some even threw giant marshmallows at her.

"Stop it!"  She felt like slapping herself.  Her imagination was like a tail that wagged the dog, as it scratched its fleas.
She got there early and helped Sarah put out the snacks.  Bags of groceries for the trip covered most of the counters, and ice chests were ready on the floor yawning open ready to be filled.  They would leave at 5:30 PM on Friday giving everyone a chance to get off work. 
"I'm glad you are so relaxed to have everyone see your house even in this chaos while trying to get ready for the trip.  I don't know how you do it."
"Stewart has been helping me.  This is our third retreat at the coast with this group, so I'm kinda getting used to the preparation.  I save my list every year and add and subtract what I need to make each year go more smoothly.  It helps me not panic."
"We are big people and can run to the store if we need to if something's forgotten."
"That's true.  We used to work with the teens, and that was a whole other story.  You had the sneaker-off-ers, the teddy bear huggers, the adventurous ones, the timid and the clueless ones."
"Are you sure we won't have a few of those with us on this trip?"
Sarah laughed, "What!  Are you bringing your teddy bear?" They both chuckled.  "I'm sure you are right.  I think our group is heavy on the adventurous side."  She changed the subject, "Did I tell you my brother is coming with us?  He should be here any minute.  He's had a three hour drive to get here, but we're really looking forward to having him join us.  He hopes something opens up so he can move to our area.  He's going to share his story of his own wilderness experience wandering around Mt. Sinai."
"I'll look forward to hearing his testimony.  Did he spend forty years out there?"
Sarah smiled shaking her head, "No, he's my little brother.  I'm glad you'll finally get to meet him."

OAI:  Becca imagined meeting Sarah's brother as she was hugging her teddy bear tightly to her chest.  She was in a swoon over his flashing bright white smile.  Just as she thought he was coming up to meet her, he stepped around to hug a more beautiful woman behind her who had obviously left her teddy bear at home.

"Is everything alright, Becca?  I think I lost you for a moment."

"Yes, I'm back.  I'm fine."
Becca soon forgot about it as she helped Sarah double check her list.  She read the items off as Sarah searched the bags to make sure they were there.  "Matches?"
"Check.  That looks like everything is ready.  I'm only working half day tomorrow, so I can finish packing the ice chests and fitting everything else into the trailer.  I sure am glad you are driving.  We really needed that extra car to fit everyone else in."
"Do you think I can really fit three other girls in my car plus all their stuff?"
"What doesn't fit in your trunk, they get to hold on their laps.  They know the routine.  We have the tents, food, and cooking gear in our trailer, so all they need are their sleeping bags, pillows, and a couple changes of clothes.   If it truly is too much, somebody else might be able to squeeze it in their car."

OAI: Becca imagined her car stuffed to the gills with hair dryers, beach towels, inflated rubber rafts, rubber duckies, body pillows hanging out the windows, sleeping bags smothering faces, and swimming suits streaming from her car antennae.

She found herself holding a glass with no memory of how it got there.
Becca followed Sarah into the living room sipping a cold Orange Crush.  Soon their tired feet were propped on the coffee table as they waited for the others on the leadership team to arrive.
"I hope, Douglas doesn't try to bring his big lab like he did last year. What a mess that was!"
"Yeah, I was thinking about bringing my cat," Becca quipped. 

OAI: She imagined her aforementioned stuffed car with a giant lab stuck in an inflatable kiddy ring chasing her obese cat who was clawing her way out entangled in a polka dot bikini top. 

"This is getting out of hand," Becca said to herself.  She tried to concentrate on what was going on around her.
Soon the leadership group was sitting around the room listening as Stewart gave the devotional to prepare their hearts for the spiritual aspect of the weekend.  When the door burst open, and a young man came in, the meeting was momentarily interrupted as Sarah jumped up to hug her brother.

Suddenly, Becca blanched.  Her eyes locked with his across the room like a magnet.  She was instantly sick to her stomach and her hands were shaking.  She excused herself to find the bathroom.  With the door locked, she held her hair back as she wretched.  In between she sobbed out a silent prayer to God, "Why?  Why him?  Why now?"  She had nothing left in her stomach, but that did not stop it from roiling.  A toilet wasn't her idea of a place to pray, but the porcelain throne was where she was on her knees.  Becca could only wish this was a over active figment of her imagination, but it was surreal real.
A soft knock was at the door.  "Becca, are you all right?   Are you sick?"
"Yes.  I'll be out in a minute."
She stood and leaned over the sink splashing cold water onto her face.  She had to leave.  Now.  There was no way she would go on the retreat under these circumstances.  It had been a shock.  Becca did not have a clue that Gabe was Sarah's brother.  Becca decided to leave, going out the back way and would call Sarah later tonight that she did not feel up to going.

Just as she wanted to make her escape, she realized that her purse with her car keys was in the living room where everyone was gathered.  Fortunately, Sarah was hovering close by with a worried look.
"Are you okay, Becca?"

"I just got sick.  Do you mind getting my purse for me?  I need to leave right away."

"My goodness, that came on you fast."  Nevertheless, Sarah came back with her purse.  "Are you sure you are able to drive home by yourself?  I could ask my brother..."

"No!  I'll be fine.  I'll go and lay down as soon as I get there.  You'd probably better find a back up driver for the retreat though, oh and someone else to give their testimony."

"I'll call you in the morning.  Just get better."

Becca slipped out the back and came to an abrupt stop.  Someone's car was blocking her in.  Next thing she knew, Gabe stepped back to the driveway and asked, "Are you okay.  I had no idea you would be here."

"Likewise." She could not look him in the eye.

I just have to unload my bags, then I'll move my jeep out of your way, okay."

Becca nodded, unable to trust her voice.  She went and sat in her car and locked the doors.  She was ready to back out when he knocked on her window.  She rolled it down just a third of the way, and even though it was the last thing she wanted to do, looked up into those dark chocolate eyes framed by lashes that should have been given to a girl when God was handing out nice features.  It suddenly hit her why Sarah looked so familiar: they had the same eyes.

"I'm looking forward to catching up with you this weekend," and he flashed her with that big grin that had melted her every time.  Please God, no more.  Give me a heart of ice.

She forced a smile and turned to back up hoping she wouldn't run over his foot or something.

OAI: Becca spun out the driveway spraying gravel leaving Gabe hoping on one foot holding the other yelling, "She tried to kill me!"  Everyone came pouring out the house shaking their fists at her.

"This is ridiculous.  You have to stop this imagining stuff!"  Becca looked in her rear view mirror to see Gabe quietly going back into the house.

Now the tears came.  If she cried any harder, she'd have to pull over.  She called out to God, "Why?   You know I didn't want to see him again.  The last person I want to talk about this with is Sarah.  She'll want to know what's up, and he'll probably fill her in on all the sordid details.  Not only is he a ghost from my past, but now I've lost my best friend too.  There's no way I can go to that retreat or show my face to that group again."

The pounding headache send her to bed.  The cat did not even get a bedtime snack.  The phone rang in the morning waking her.  It was Sarah.

"Are you feeling better, Becca?  I was worried about you."

"I'm going to try to go to work today, but I don't think I can go to the retreat.  You'd better make other plans.  My stomach is still too upset for me to even think about making the trip."  That was the truth.

"Wait and see how you do at work.  I really don't want you to miss this," Sarah pleaded.

Becca knew her mind was made up, but did not want to argue with Sarah right now.  She would unpack when she got home from work as the others were heading for the coast.

Sarah left her alone until lunchtime.  She brought her tray over and sat down beside her.

"Hi, how are you feeling?"

"A little better, but not well enough to go on the trip."

Sarah was quiet a moment, staring at her sandwich.  "I think I know what this is about, Becca."

Now it was Becca's turn to stare down at her food.  She could not swallow.  "Did your brother talk to you," she whispered.

"Yes.  He was as shocked as you were to see you.  I had no idea you were the one he had told me about a few years ago.  He was quite taken with you.  In fact, you are part of his testimony, no names of course.  When you disappeared from his life, he did a tailspin, but it got him thinking about how much he needed to change his life.  He came to Christ after that. He says it was realizing that he had hurt someone else that made him realize how his sin was so destructive to more than himself."

They were interrupted when another co-worker came and plopped down and started talking about the copy machine's latest break-down.  She droned on while their conversation was left hanging.   Becca could not eat another bite.

OAI: Everyone was sitting around a campfire listening intently to Gabe spilling his guts about how the one true love of his life ran out on him, spoiling all his dreams, kicking down the castles of sand he had built with the waves washing away their love.  Then he stopped and pointed straight at her, saying, "And there she is, the hateful thing.  I never wanted to see her again, but here she is ruining my weekend and my life all over again!"

"Excuse me.  I have to go back to work," Becca said as she left the lunchroom.

Sarah followed her and came and sat on her desk.  "You need to come this weekend to sort through these things that are upsetting you.  You can not keep running.  That isn't the way God heals things."

It wasn't what Becca wanted, but she knew the tug in her heart was not one to disobey.  She would go. "Alright, Sarah.  I won't run.  I'll go.  But it isn't to work things out with your brother, just so you know."

Sarah only smiled.  "I spent much of the night in prayer for you, dear.  I knew you wouldn't ignore the voice of God.  This isn't about what I think or Gabe thinks.  This is between you and God."

With that, her friend turned and went back to her own desk.  Becca was useless the rest of the day, and left when Sarah went home early.

The group gathered at Sarah and Stewart's house, and her three passengers loaded their things.  She miraculously was able to smash down the trunk lid.  They would have to hold their pillows on their laps, but at least no swimsuits would be tied like a flag on the hood.  Becca took special care to not look Gabe's way. Once on the road, the others took care of all the conversation. Becca was grateful not to have to contribute, especially when their talk drifted toward an uncomfortable subject.

"Did you see Sarah's brother?  He's so dreamy!  I hope I can catch his eye this weekend."

"She says that he has hopes to relocate here.  I'll certainly pray for that."

"Me too!" the others chimed in.

"I thought you were interested in Ernie.'

"It's nothing serious."

"Well, if you are not attached to Ernie, perhaps I'll try to take your place then."

"I did not say that exactly so don't be in such a hurry."

"You are the one who suggested it."

"I did not."

"Yes, you did."

Everyone was now in a snit, and they rode along quietly without speaking to each other.  Becca was glad not to have to listen to their silly talk for awhile.  It was a relief to finally arrive at their camping spot.  The pines were beautiful, but the crisp smell of the ocean with its salty air was sweeter than salt water candy.  Becca was suddenly filled with hope for the weekend.

Sarah saw her unpacking and came over and gave her a hug.  "Want to help me fix dinner?  The girls make it tonight and the men make it tomorrow.  We can get it started while the others are settling in."

"Sure."  They laughed as they worked.  Becca's heart was already lighter.  She even told Sarah.  "I think this is going to be better than I had imagined."

"That's saying a lot for you."

"Yes.  Actually, I am here because I have to obey God's tugging."

"I'm glad you walk close enough to God to hear His still, small voice."

Becca nodded, "Who is speaking tonight giving their testimony?"

"I am. Tomorrow night is Gabe's turn."

"Oh, I see."  Some of the weight heavy on her heart came back to sink her. "I'm sorry that I can't give my testimony.  Maybe next year."

"Don't worry, Becca.  God knows the right time will come."

"I'll go see how the other girls are doing."  Becca left Sarah to go and ask the others to come help finish preparing dinner. 

When she was alone in the tent, she unrolled her sleeping bag and laid down to read her Bible.

"Repent therefore and return,
 that your sins may be wiped away.
in order that times of refreshing may come
from the presence of the Lord."
Acts 3:19 
She thought of what she had repented of.  Yet, the Scripture said to return that they may be wiped away.  Perhaps, though repenting, though feeling sorrow for her sins, she had not let them go completely.  They could not be wiped away until she took the next step after repenting, to move forward.  Was she too taken with herself wallowing in her pig stye making mud pies and not returning to her Father?  Could times of refreshing truly come from His presence?

OAI:  Becca imagined herself wearing a safari hat wandering among cages of wild beasts that looked suspiciously like a giant vicious version of her cat as she prodded them back with a stick while they gnashed their teeth at her.  She carefully fed them and watched as they devoured mud pies making her grateful they had not bitten off the hand that fed them. 

Okay.  It was time to quite feeding her fears, to let the monkeys out of the zoo and let them go back to the wild.  She was tired of keeping them caged.

"Dear God, show me how to receive your times of refreshing.  I seem to be more comfortable under my own condemnation and self-loathing than being willing to allow You to wipe away my sins.  Please help me, O God.  You know how I need this time of refreshing."
That night after a good dinner of spaghetti, s'mores were making everyone half sick.  Then they were ready to settle down before the fire for the time of devotion.  Several led the worship.  She was surprised to see Gabe with them playing his guitar.  When he did look her way, it made her face burn.  Finally, it was time for Sarah to share.
"I had something else planned, but felt led to share a story that our mother told me a long time ago.  It was my favorite, and I begged for it often as she tucked me into bed at night.  Some of us may think we are too old for fairy tales, but the Savior Himself talked in parables, so here is mine...

Once upon a time, a princess lived in a castle with her loving Father.  She had every thing a girl could wish for.  The courtyard held beautiful trees and flowers.  When she ran up the many steps to the top of the towers, fresh breezes blew from the sea with such a heavenly view that it took her breath away.  
However, one day, she ate from one of the lovely fruit trees.  This she was allowed.  Yet, she was not satisfied to pick only one.  She gorged herself with one after the other until she suddenly felt ill.  With her pangs, she felt remorse.  Her father had warned her that her appetite might carry her away until she was sick.  He said that the appetite was a wonderful thing unless abused by too much of a good thing. 

Her father found her thus lying under the tree with cores of the luscious fruit around her revealing the story.  Her eyes were closed as she curled up in a ball groaning.  He gently lifted her up and carried her to his own bed.  As much as she protested, he gave her some medicine, and she fell into a fitful sleep. 
When the dawn began to break, she crept down to find her father had given up his nice soft bed and had gone to sleep on a hard bench down below.  It made her feel so badly that she decided she needed to put herself in the dungeon.  There were no keys to lock herself in, but she shut the door and cried herself back to sleep on the wooden bench she found there, no softer than the one her father had slept the night upon.

When her father awoke, he went up to see if she felt better, but found his bed empty.  He went to her room and the small little bed was undisturbed. The King went room to room to find where she had gone.  He roamed the courtyard.  He made sure by climbing the tower stairs that she had not wandered outside the castle walls.  There was only one room left.  He climbed down the spiraling steep stairs where barely any light entered.  It was dark and dank.  There he found his precious daughter imprisoned by her own will.  What a sad sight to see her sleeping on such an uncomfortable bed shivering in the cold.
The King called to his princess.  She woke, rubbed her eyes and forgot for a moment where she was.  Then she saw the bars.
"What are you doing down here, my darling?"
"I disobeyed you.  Not only that, I made you uncomfortable when you gave up your own soft bed.  I deserve to be down here.  I have been a very naughty girl."
"Don't you know, Princess, that I love you.  It breaks my heart to see you down here when I have my whole kingdom above just for you.  Weren't you sorry for what you did by feeding your appetite yesterday?
"Yes, I was sorry for eating so much and becoming sick, but also for disobeying you."
"Don't you understand that I chose to put you in my own bed."
"But you slept on the bench when it was I who caused my own misery."
"That's what a father does.  He puts the one he loves above himself.  Please come out, dear.  I never intended this prison for my own child.  If I gave you my soft bed, why would I be pleased to find you here?"
With that, he led her up the steep stairs to where the sunlight shone in the windows like gold.  They shared breakfast together, without fruit.  The princess smiled up to her father's face with relief, certain of his forgiveness for her folly.
"Father, why do you suppose I thought it necessary to go down to the dungeon?"
"You have an enemy of your soul, dear one, who can only lie to you.  He wants to keep you from all the benefits your father has for you.  Be on guard always learning to know truth from error, his voice from mine."
"I'm glad you came and found me, saved me, and brought me back up here to be with you."
While she had been speaking,  her husband Stewart was writing on the ground with a stick. "Neither do I condemn you."  He briefly told the story of the woman caught in adultery from John 8:1-11.  Sarah shone her flashlight on those words and read them for all to hear.  "We want you to go out on the beach, take one of these sticks and write the message God has for you personally tonight in the sand.  Don't wander too far, but try to be alone for awhile with God. 
Stewart stood and read their verse for the weekend once again.  People filed out taking a stick and finding a lone stretch of beach.
Becca wrote those words, "Neither do I condemn you," as a personal message for herself.  Tears found their way down her cheek as she wrote and sat to pray finding her load lifting.  "Thank you, Father."

She realized that the only thing that captured her imagination now was the story of that little girl.  It was her story.  Her Father led her away from her self-imposed prison.
The next morning, several of the guys had fried the bacon, scrambled the eggs and had flapjacks flying.  But it was the coffee Becca couldn't wait to drink. The air was chilly, just perfect with the coffee and the promise of a new day.  After a short prayer time and testimonies, everyone migrated to the beach.  There was still a light fog draped over the water, but the sun promised to shake it off and come out to play before long.  The foghorn could be heard across the bay sounding like a giant goose honking a sad call.

OAI: Becca was rowing a boat out in the fog and was listening for the foghorn to guide her safely to the harbor.  She could not see her hand in front of her face, but...

"Mind if I walk along with you?"  It was Sarah.

"No, of course not."  Becca sheepishly put her hand down from in front of her face. "By the way, that was a wonderful parable you shared last night.  It was just what I needed to hear.  God has been using that verse in Acts showing me things in my heart I had no idea were there, my self-imposed dungeon.  And you knew just how to capture my imagination."
"You mean your over active imagination?  I hope it wasn't an overload for you.  It wasn't what I planned to say, but God brought it back to my memory, and I couldn't dismiss it.  Those words of my mother's have stayed with me all these years."
"It really made the meaning of the verse come alive.  Especially after Stewart had us write those words in the sand."
"I hope it helped others as well.  You never know what God is really speaking to another person's heart."
"Hey, sis.  Good job last night."
"Thank you, Gabe."  She looked over at Becca who was walking along with her eyes cast down.
If you two will excuse me, Stewart wants me to go over the plans for the service tonight."  Just like that she disappeared.  Poof.

OAI: Becca felt like  she was in a car careening down a hill with brakes squealing without padding, metal to the metal.  Just as she was going off the cliff  with her stomach in her throat, she glanced over at Gabe who was looking down the beach as if deep in thought.
"Mind if we sit and talk, Becca?"
"I guess we need to."  What she didn't say was that God seemed to have made a divine appointment whether she wanted one or not.

He led her to a part of the beach away from the others.  After they sat down, he seemed to be deep in contemplation while she played with the sand at her side letting it fall between her fingers.  Finally, he spoke, "I owe you such a huge apology.  I've been carrying it around all these years and am glad to finally be able to speak to you.  You disappeared back then, and I could not find you anywhere.  God used the guilt I felt over our relationship to bring me back to Him.  Then when I walked in the other night, I can't tell you how surprised I was to see you."  He sighed and went on quietly, "I want to tell you how very sorry I am for how I treated you, taking something from you that I had no right to do.  I thought you were the most amazing girl I had ever met, but that was no excuse.  Can you forgive me?"
"It wasn't like I was unwilling, but thank you.  Sin is too heavy to carry around.  Yet even with repentance, the memory has not been erased.  Guilt is like a hound that is after me constantly dogging my steps, nipping at my heels.  God is using this weekend to help me let go of that as well."

"I don't think our being here together is an accident," he said.

"I agree, and yes, I can and have forgiven you, I think.  I'm still just working on forgiving myself.  I don't think I ever truly blamed you.."
"As far as guilt, I think He's an in-your-face kind of God, who hasn't let me go until this is resolved."
"Hard to ignore, isn't He."
"Yep."  Gabe wanted to say so much more, but felt the check in his spirit that this wasn't the time.  Yet, he watched her face as she was lost in thought, probably lost in that over active imagination of hers.  She was more beautiful than ever to him.  It caused such a deep hurt inside for the price of sin that had cost her so much pain, sin that he had brought upon her.  Tears were in his eyes as well as the ones he saw pooling in hers.  He said another silent prayer thanking God that He had orchestrated this time, ordained it for His purpose.
Some of her friends chose that time, unfortunately, to come over and make small talk flirting with him.  He stood and helped to pull Becca up keeping ahold of her hand for a minute longer than necessary as he stood facing the young women.

"Excuse me, but I need to go back and meet with my sister and brother-in-law.  It was good to talk with you, Becca.  See you later."
The girls were practically green with envy.  "How come he's so familiar with you?"
"We've met before," was all she was willing to say and walked off not staying to watch their mouths drop open.

OAI: Becca was playing beach volleyball against Gabe's team.  She was wearing those suits like the Olympic team girls.  Her sports body was tanned and toned and not even a drop of sweat had dared to drip down her forehead past her headband.  Her partner set the ball high, and she soared and spiked it down on the other side.  All the other girls who were jealous of her ran to surround Gabe who had thrown himself down on the sand in an unsuccessful attempt to return the ball.  They were all glaring at Becca with mean girl looks.

"Oh, brother.  This is seriously getting out of hand," she thought to herself.
That night, the guys barbequed.  Everyone's appetite was huge after body surfing, and playing Frisbee and beach volleyball.  They gathered around the fire at dusk for worship.  Becca sat by Sarah.  Gabe sat on his sister's other side.  Becca said a silent prayer for him as he was going to share tonight.  When his time came, she couldn't have been more nervous than if she was standing in front of everyone herself.  The Gabe she had known had not lived for God.  She had no idea what he would say.
Gabe talked about his Christian upbringing in a loving Christian home.  His testimony was similar to hers in many ways.  He fell away during high school as he became one of the cool kids and wanted to fit in.  Every party had temptations of one sort or another.  He could always rationalize that he wasn't as bad as others.  He lied to himself that he could tell God that he was sorry at his leisure.  He did not count the cost of sin, not just what it cost him, but the effect his sin had on others, especially on the young women he was with.  Once in college, he tried again to get a fresh start at being a Christian, but in his own effort he failed before the first week was out.  There were so many parties to go to.  Once again, he found his sin required a high price that sometimes others also paid.  He barely hung in there to graduate.  By then he had a serious drinking problem that made it difficult to get and keep a good job.  It was hard to work and keep up with his addictions.  Finally, he came to a point where he agreed with God that his life was out of control.  He had lost his girlfriend, lost his good job, and then his car. He had to move back in with his parents and entered a day rehab program.  Though clean and sober and living for God now, sometimes he would be reminded of the hurt he had caused others.  There was no rehab he could go to in order to make up for what he had done to others by his selfish living and bad example.  Only through prayer could he hope to find peace.   How much better it would have been to have lived with no regrets. 

Once again Stewart read the verse that was the retreat's theme inviting those who wanted to pray to stay and they would be happy to pray with them.

Becca found herself wiping tears as Gabe spoke feeling every word as the past was vivid in her mind.  She had thought she had loved him.  It was when she woke up the next day that the regret was overwhelming.  Now she was glad for God to have made her so miserably uncomfortable in her sin.  She had done the only thing she knew to do and that was to run so that Gabe could not find her.  Like Joseph, she ran from temptation.  She  moved back home and changed her phone number.  She even changed colleges, going back to a local junior college to get the rest of her undergraduate credits.  She had not told anyone at school about her plans to disappear.  She knew now that she was not just running from Gabe but from herself and the weight of guilt in her life. 
Now, it was hard, even after the past five years, to separate her feelings.  Becca was glad for Gabe's clear testimony, but it was hard not to feel the old draw that he had on her.  She was still attracted to him, but was glad he was going home after this weekend,  glad that she wouldn't have to worry that his feelings were mutual.  That had got them in trouble before, and she was anxious not to go back down that road again.

Suddenly a guy named Larry was sitting next to her.  "Remember, you promised to hang out with me a little this weekend?  Some of us are going into town to get some ice cream or something.  Want to go?" 

Becca had no memory of such a promise, but she nodded her head.  She did not really want to hang out with Larry, but number one: maybe Gabe would think she had moved on if he saw her hanging out with somebody else; and number two: ice cream sounded really good right now.

OAI: Becca was lying sunning on her beach towel next to Larry when Gabe walked up and kicked sand in his face.  Larry jumped up ready to fight, and...

"No, I'm not even going to go there," Becca said to herself.

"What?" Larry asked.

"Sure, I'll go," she said.

It turned out to be a fun group with laughing and joking.  Gabe was there joining in.  Becca hung back trying to melt into the background faster than the scoop that was dripping down her cone.  It didn't take long before she did feel herself resenting the foolish way that the girls went gaga over him.  What had been a fun outing was becoming irritating listening to their high screeches of laughter.

And then Larry tried to hold her hand.  She stood so suddenly that her metal ice cream parlor chair fell over backwards crashing to the floor.  "I think I'm ready to go now as she threw the rest of her butter pecan ice cream cone in the garbage.  See y'all back at camp."

Since Larry didn't have his car here and she did, she drove.  "You can stay if you want, Larry.  I'm sure you could get a ride back with somebody else."  Thankfully, he was miffed enough with her rebuff to be glad to stay when she left.

Becca was unlocking her car when Gabe came up behind her asking, "Can I catch a ride back with you?"

"Sure, why not?"  But suddenly she was so nervous, she could not seem to unlock her car door.

OAI: Gabe took the keys from her hands and drove for her taking her on a long moonlit drive along the coast where the waves were crashing in the silvery light.  Wait a minute.  She wasn't imaging it.

Neither of them had said a word since they got in the car.  Finally, Becca came back to reality enough to say, "Thanks for not mentioning my name tonight."

"Of course.  I would never do that to you, though you and I both know I was thinking of you the whole time I was speaking."

"It brought back a lot of memories."

"Not all bad I hope."

"No, of course not.  We had something good, really good while it lasted."

"I wish we could again, Becca.  Sure I wish we could have a do-over, but the next best thing would be to try again and do it right this time."

"What exactly are you saying?"  Becca's hands were beginning to shake so she put them between her knees which were trembling too.

"I never stopped loving you, Becca.  I just went about it in the wrong way, and then I lost you.  I went crazy looking for you.  I don't blame you, but I chose to drown my broken heart in a bottle.  But that doesn't change how I've always felt about you."

"I'm supposed to be the one with the over active imagination.  I think you have it  now."

"I've never been so certain of anything before in my life.  Just looking at you has made me realize everything I have ever felt for you never went away."

"I wasn't expecting this, Gabe."  She couldn't look at him without melting.  She was in serious trouble here worse than anything she could imagine. "When you walked in a couple of days ago, I had to go hug the porcelain throne, you know.  I'm so mixed up on how I feel right now..."

"It will take time, I know.  I have to go home Monday, and perhaps that's safer for us to have time to sort this all out at a distance.  But I do know I don't want to lose you again.  By the way ,there hasn't been anyone else."

"Believe you me,  I practically swore off dating."

"What about Larry?"

 "He just was worth an ice cream cone to me, that's all.  I ate it, and it's over."

"Poor guy.  I feel his pain."

Becca laughed and looked up into his teasing eyes.  Then she looked down at her hands which were picking at the strings handing from the bottom of her cut-off shorts.  "Do you really think we could have a long distance relationship?"

"Don't you?  Besides, I've applied at several places in your town.  I want to be close to family, and now to you.  It's just a matter of time until I move here."  He reached over and took her hand and gently kissed her fingers.

Becca leaned back in her seat with her eyes closed but did not take her hand away.  A tear escaped anyway probably pushed out by the thundering in her heart.  "I've never stopped loving you either, Gabe, but I am afraid.  I want to do my Christian walk right, and I don't want to give in to temptation again.  Christ means more to me than that.  If it means I have to give you up, so be it."

"I think we are both in a different spot than we were back in college.  We are both Christians who love the Lord supremely.  We could make ourselves accountable to someone too.  Maybe we shouldn't wait all that long to marry this time and not put the cart before the horse.  Perhaps, as the verse says, 'our time of refreshing has come.'"

Becca looked at him wondering.

He went on looking at her intensely, "I still have the ring, the one I went out and bought for you the last day I was with you.  I just never could find you afterwards to give it to you."

Now she was stunned.

Pinch me and tell me this isn't my OAI.  Her eyes were wide open now.

You are very real to me, Becca.  I wouldn't want to wish you away ever again.

"Pull over.  I think you are speeding, and I want to kiss you right now to slow you down."

He did.  She did.  They did.  And the other cars went by honking momentarily breaking up a very good thing.

"Yes.  You are more than my over active imagination could ever conjure up, mister, and I don't want you to be a figment of my imagination ever again."
Gabe drove back onto the freeway and honked happily.  The two grinned like two Cheshire cats making her think for a wee moment how fat her cat was getting back home, just a miniscule fleeting thought.  Like a bolt of lightning, she knew it wasn't just her cat that she had been over-feeding, but her OAI with her fears.  Her new verse would be...

"Taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ."
II Corinthians 10:5

 And her cat only gained five pounds while she was gone.


MARCH 20, 2018


"Grandchildren are the crown of old men,
And the glory of sons is their fathers."

Behold, children are a gift from the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of warrior,
So are the children of one's youth.
How blessed is the man
whose quiver if full of them."
(Psalm 127:3-5)

I don't get out much, but a birthday for grandchildren is on the top of my list
that I don't want to miss.  As the Psalmist kinda says, I'm all aquiver!  

Besides, I have a now seven year old granddaughter who has the mind of an elephant and will sternly admonish us out of the blue that we missed her birthday several years ago.  Oops.  We have to plan any out of state trips around this not-to-miss event.  

Beware seven year old granddaughters if you ever miss her birthday!
Both sets of twins have March birthdays.

"Parents have trained them up in the way they should go..."

All I ask for my birthday and Christmas are photo books of my grandkids.

"Every tribute of respect that is paid to the children
is another jewel placed in the crown of the godly ancestor."

"Christ is the Ancient of Days,
the everlasting Father;
and it is His glory,
as Mediator, to see His seed,
to have a numerous offspring."

"How blessed for brothers (and sisters) to dwell together in unity."