I know it’s taken this long since the last installment — my apologies. And thanks for following the story.
This is the fourth part of the story, she did the best she could.
As soon as he saw her, it all came back ─ everything he believed he was done and over with.
Apart from the marks of age and growing older, she was still the same. She still sat in the same pew ─ second one on the first row, by the western door. And apparently, she still came every noon to pray.
He had left his father’s office the previous day lighter, but still heavy with something that continued to grow, even after he’d gotten home with his family. So today, he had left work, almost as soon as he had gotten there, and driven two hours to this church he had attended as a boy. Somehow, it had gotten to his head that this place was a key piece of the puzzle he has been trying to assemble all these years. It didn’t take too much for this thought to grow and claim permanent residence in his mind ─ it only took the sight of that blood stained letter, one whole night of losing sleep, and one morning of being so disoriented, his wife fled with the kids to a friend’s place.
But he had not counted on seeing this former church secretary, or he probably would not have come.
For a moment, he considered racing to his car and going off, never to return, but the pull to find truth was stronger than his misgivings about coming face to face after all these years, with the woman that might have been the final straw that broke his family in pieces as they did ministry.
He had always suspected it, but something always felt off with that notion every time he tried to consider it.
He didn’t have that much time to decide if he was finally going to run away and never return, because almost as soon as the thought came to him, she rose from where she had been kneeling, praying. When she saw him, she called out his name with as much warmth as she always had, since he was a boy ─ warmth that could make any cold and hard day immediately better ─ all the time.
“It’s a good day, today”, she told him, “The Lord still answers prayers”.
He had no idea what she was talking about, and didn’t even try to hide the fact with a smile, like he usually did.
She said he looked hungry and unwell. And then she told him there was food at home because she had cooked, believing that the Lord would answer her prayer and bring him to church again today, since she missed seeing him the previous day because of a Bible study meeting holding in her house every Wednesday evening.
And there was something she needed to tell him.
He considered this new situation for a bit ─ he could say he wasn’t hungry, and it wouldn’t be a lie, even though he hadn’t had anything to eat in a while.
But that wouldn’t work with this lady who knew him like his own mother ─ even better, maybe ─ sometimes, at least. She was the one who attended PTA meetings, and helped him decide about college. She was the one who explained impossible maths theories and helped him understand the triune God ─ in a manner of speaking.
And she was the one who helped his frightened and distraught pregnant teenage sister see that abortion was not her best option ─ and that if her fears came true, and her parents actually tried to kill her, she could come live with her, with the baby. She stood for his sister as a rock against tidal waves and floods of criticism, aspersions and judgment, poorly masked as well-meaning advice. No, she did not mince words, calling out her mistakes, but she was also very clear that his sister could still live the abundant life Jesus came to give to us.
It was the same thing at church ─ if you needed something done, everyone knew you had to go to the church secretary.
Eventually, after many years, their mother had announced it was a dysfunctional system, and that the secretary needed to go.
No one agreed. They tried to let her see why it would be unfair to do something like that, but she said her family was siding with an outsider against her.
She took her case to the church.
She knew how to get the support she needed, and before long the situation assumed unbelievable dimensions ─
Accusations of tampering with church records. Accusations of undermining church authority. Accusations of garnering support among the youth to work against church programs. And teaching them that getting pregnant before you’re married is not a problem.
The accusations kept coming and getting worse by the day.
He was livid ─ what wrong had this lady done, to merit this unfair treatment? She was just there, when no one else was ─ for the preacher’s children, and for anyone else who needed her.
Where were these accusations coming from? And who were these people standing as witnesses?
This was evil and he was going to fight it, even if he had to stand alone.
And fight, he did.
It was his first year at college, but for the first few weeks he was more at home than at school because of the situation at church.
The woman at the center of the storm told him to drop the fight and “Do what’s right now”. “Go back to school”, she had told him, “The truth would always prevail, no matter how long it takes”.
He did not agree, or even see the point in just letting things play out, and allowing time run its course.
When he returned from school one weekend to the news that she had been suspended for a year, something broke inside of him.
The resulting flood found its way to a letter he wrote his father. Years of what seemed like neglect. Astonishment at the lengths a slighted preacher’s wife would go to achieve an end, and just plain confusion coloured the letter, and planted in his head the idea that sealing the letter with his own blood would convey the gravity of the situation. Maybe ─ except, his unsteady hand went too far, and cut too deep.
He was found by the church secretary, at the altar, with the blood stained letter ─ a letter that never got to the intended recipient until after a year ─ and after he had lived that long with his father, thoroughly misunderstanding the man, thinking he had gained knowledge from that letter that he had chosen to just ignore.
After that one year, it was hard to know what this church secretary had done to his family. Or if she had done anything at all.
Sometimes he blamed her. At other times, he was grateful for all the ways she served his family and the church.
He tried to not hate her for keeping that letter, and then giving it to his father. Why did she wait that long, if she was going to give it to him eventually?
And what did she need to tell him now?
As they left the church, he prayed that when he finds truth, it does not unravel him irreparably. And that even if it does, God, in His mercy, would put him back together again like only He could.