Chapter 30

Harper woke the next morning with not exactly a hangover, but certainly an afterglow of the previous evening’s events. Even when she had been involved in church and worship music, she had never really had the kind of encounters she had been experiencing of late. She was innately skeptical of cooked up emotionalism, but this was not that. Her longing for God was being met, even if still in sporadic and mysterious ways. But it made her hunger for more of His presence. She had risen early to have her devotional time, and as Blaise had given the example of praying through Psalm 27, she too had done that—but for him. Her thought was that if she could pray for him and for his growth as a fellow believer and minister of the gospel, she could concentrate on those aspects of their friendship and so keep the fringes of desire that periodically rose up in her in subjection. It was working pretty much, and she knew with time she would conquer any unhealthy yearning for more.

She heard singing next door, light and a little off key, but June’s random vocalizations were sweet, bringing a smile to her face. It was much better than indie and punk versions of the previous tenants. She leaned in closer to the common wall and smiled. June was singing a Beach Boys song, badly, but it was still fun to hear.

A light knock came at the door, and Harper opened it to find Blaise on her small porch, smiling his big toothy grin. “Hope I’m not too early. I stopped in briefly next door, but they’re still in pj’s, so I decided to see if you were up and about. Actually, to be honest, I knew you were home because I stopped by the shop first to chat, but Tia said you were taking a day to chill.”

“Come on in,” she said and beckoned him forward. “Yes, I decided since I own the joint, I should take more days off, and I have been starting my Saturday slow and steady—and with no coffee, a little less perky. What are you up to?”

“I had come by the shop to ask you if today would be a good day for me to do some puttering around the yard. Another storm is due in this afternoon—winter is not giving up so easily—so I brought my clippers to trim the roses back before the rain.” Blaise took off his ratty old backpack and set it by the door.

“That’s probably a good idea, but a lot of the work will have been done for you since your mum has been cutting stalks off my bushes with her scissors and depositing them by my front door. You may have noticed some as you walked up.”

“Oops, sorry about that. I’ll have a talk with her.” He shuffled his feet.

Harper laughed. “It’s no problem. Really. I find it mildly entertaining, though it might not be good for the bushes. But who knows?”

“She always loved her little garden, but she’s lost her herbal groove, I fear, with the memory loss. Are they being okay as tenants and neighbors so far?”

“Absolutely! Elise is a bit too quiet, but June is a delight. She has been entertaining me this morning with what I think is her version of “Surfing Safari.” They both leaned into the wall for what had to have been verse twenty. Blaise smiled, ducking his head to fake embarrassment. But he obviously found it just as amusing as did Harper.

“Speaking of singing.” Blaise moved away from the wall as Harper invited him to sit at her breakfast table. “I loved your song last night. Confession: Even though everyone else had their eyes closed, I peeked at you as you sang; and I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that there was a literal glow around you. It was not only beautiful musically, but I would say anointed. I know that’s an often-misused churchy word, but really, I was in awe. It gave me goosebumps.”

“I would say ‘thank you,’ but I have to say I was in awe, as well.” Harper proceeded to tell him how she had written only part and yet the rest came as a gift in that moment. “I don’t want to super-spiritualize, but it really was an incredible experience to sing the next word on faith and having the next word and the next and the next note and the next be there right in front of me. I felt like it was a gift laid out, and all I had to do was reach out to it—to Him.” Harper’s eyes misted at the retelling.

“I know you are not parishioner #1, Harper, but would you consider being parishioner #30? And would parishioner #30 be willing to lead worship for our little gathering?” Blaise grabbed her hand and looked straight into her eyes.

Harper knew she was blushing and wanted to look away. “Well . . .”

“We don’t have an instrumentalist, let alone the instruments; but even acapella, your voice is so perfect. I know you had mentioned that you and Graham were in worship bands, but I had no idea you sang so well. My froggy vocals have been adequate till now—okay, let me rephrase—tolerated; but if you would lead us, it would be awesome! What do you think?”

“Hmm.” Harper gently retrieved her hand and got up to put the kettle on. She didn’t need tea, but she needed to look away for a second. She turned suddenly on her heel. “Yes, I will,” she said perhaps louder than she meant to. “I’m not sure if I will suit your purposes, but I would love to try. And I play guitar.”

“You do? That’s awesome. Do you play well?”

Harper grimaced. “What?”

“I’m just kidding! I bet you play as well as you sing. That would be real a blessing to our group—and to me.”

“I had not played in years. It was one of those things that I couldn’t bear to do because it seemed a betrayal to Graham’s memory; but a few weeks ago, I pulled it out and started to try and get my chops back. I have blisters on my blisters, but the muscle memory has been coming back.”

“I understand the betrayal thing. I really do. One of the places where my wife Nan and I loved to eat was in a little quaint village in the mountains on a lake with antique shops and bistros abounding. The food was great, but the ambiance even better. I couldn’t bring myself to go back there; because without her, it seemed wrong. I felt guilt for even considering doing anything fun without her. I mean, we had our issues, and I was a jerk a lot of the time; but we also had our tender moments, and I felt if I enjoyed those places and things again it would be like admitting that I wasn’t to blame for her death.”

“But you weren’t really, Blaise. It was an accident, right?”

“Yes, it was. And I know that. I’ve worked through so much of that, but what I own is that I was not the kind of man she needed me to be. Christ has forgiven me that, but I find that the layers of forgiving myself are still in process. I go to the Lord each day for His grace.”

“I understand that. Graham and I were in such a good place after so many years of struggle and process. We had worked through a lot of pain. But before the cancer, the communication was good, goals were jiving, sex was really great.” She immediately regretted saying that last part, so her next words came out in a blur to try and leave great sex in the dust. “So, I felt that enjoying anything would be a betrayal of what we had worked so hard for.”

Blaise was not about to let her off the hook that easily. “Great sex? That’s awesome; maybe you could teach a class.”

“Very funny!”

“I’m just kidding.” He smiled large. “No, I really am happy for the life you had. I hope that as you move forward, you can cherish that life and those memories while you make room for the new life God has for the Harper who lives in the now.”

Thunder rumbled in the distance, and both Harper and Blaise jumped to their feet. “If I’m going to get that trimming done before the rain, I best get at it.” He picked up his backpack, while Harper opened the door for him; but as she went to step aside to let him out, he reached for her and gave her a long hug. “I can’t tell you how glad I am that we met! You are a jewel.”

At that moment, Ava jumped up on the porch. “Hi, you two!”

 

 

 

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Chapter 29

As often as Harper and Blaise had talked, and even talked about spiritual things, Harper had never really seen him like this in teacher / preacher role. Even when she heard part of the sermon the week before, she was sitting in the dark around the corner. Being in the room and watching him start to speak was like watching a transformation of sorts. His eyes got brighter, and his body became more animated with expressive hands, when he wasn’t holding his Bible or his notes. His whole body seemed to be smiling. It was obvious to her, and probably to everyone, the passion he had for Christ and for sharing his faith. She found herself mesmerized by his words and his delivery.

“As I told you last week, we’re going to do a deep dive into prayer this week. I hope you brought your questions and anecdotes to share, and we will hopefully get to those at the end . . . if I’m not too long winded.” He smiled at that. “If I had to give you the bottom line, it would be that prayer is communication—communication with our God. That sounds like it should be simple, right? But just as in any other context with our family and peers, communication is complicated. It can involve words, but also sounds and hand motions, facial smiles or grimaces, written words, and pictures. We can toss our hair around with a smile and communicate one thing, or we can toss our head around with a grimace and communicate something totally different.” And with that he tossed his graying, auburn hair around wildly with a big smile, and it fell again around his shoulders. “Just in case you didn’t catch it, I was happy there.” Someone in the back yelled out, “Got that!” And the audience laughed.

“Well, it’s just the same in communicating with God. All of those things come into play, not just formal expressions that pass literary and liturgical inspection.

I considered giving you an overview of the prayer Jesus modeled for his disciples. We recite it almost weekly here, but it would be good to break it down into smaller pieces. By giving this prayer, Jesus was not saying these were the only words to pray, but He was giving a good model to base our prayers upon.

I also considered going into depth with how I personally use the Psalms to pray. For example, Psalm 27, verse 1 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” If I wanted to pray that for you, Sandy, I would say, The Lord is Sandy’s light and salvation; so, don’t let him be afraid. Lord, be the strength of Sandy’s life today, etc.

I also considered . . . are you sensing a theme here? I also considered showing you how I use the written prayers of early church fathers and other godly men and women, praying their words as my own, informing my own faith with their testimony and passion. One favorite that I pray almost daily is by a missionary named E. Stanley Jones, who wrote, “Gracious Father, I thank Thee for those who have come into my life with kindly word and deep insight. Help me this day to be the agent of Thy mind to some other person. Help me to speak that word which will lift the darkness for some fumbling soul. In Jesus’ name.”

I considered all these things, and I will get to them some other time; but for today, I felt that I would get right down to the nuts and bolts of why we should pray and whether it means anything because I think that is where we all live and struggle. If we believe God is real and that He is approachable and responsive, talking to Him should be as natural as breathing, right? But why is it hard? I think part of that has to do with the myriad theological underpinnings that cause people to do mental gymnastics, trying to make incongruent pieces fit together to make sense. And they don’t: make sense, that is. And when they don’t fit, we are asked to accept that these conflicting beliefs are just a paradox or a mystery to be accepted. But I think we can have much better clarity that that. God has revealed His message in words, so it is not unreasonable that He would want His words to be understandable and able to be followed.  By the way, if I get too deep into the theological weeds, don’t be afraid to raise a hand if you need clarification on any point. And you may disagree with me, of course, but this is where I have landed in my study.

Christian hard determinists believe everything is controlled by God. And I mean everything—from wars and famine continents away to what parking spot you were able to find tonight out back. Any conception of free will is an illusion, and we are only ‘free’ to do what God has already said we can do. That belief in some form or other has infiltrated much Christian thinking so that you hear things like the following: ‘We don’t understand why that accident or disease happened, but we know it was God’s will,’ or ‘It was just God’s appointed time for her to die.’ And yet when faced with a crisis, what is the natural response for Christians and many non-Christians alike? It is to pray that God will change something in that situation—intervene against the natural order of things. And if He doesn’t—at least to our satisfaction—we hate Him for it.

We pray for change—for what seems a better outcome, at least to any rational being. When a child gets sick, the parents want everyone to pray that the child will recover; but if the child dies, they either say, or others say to them, that it was God’s will, and He just needed another wee angel in heaven. When Aunt Joan dies of a heart attack, we declare it was God’s will; but we go on an exercise program and a diet so we don’t suffer the same fate. Do you see how irrational that appears?

For me, I could not live with the idea that this God I worshiped, who was supposed to be love personified, could intentionally decree rapes, disease, murders, and wars—all the emotional and physical suffering we see in our world every day. If some theologians were correct in their understanding, He would seem capricious at best and cruel at worst. And yet if all was ordered by this God, why were we commanded to pray to Him without ceasing, as stated in I Thessalonians 5:17 in the scriptures. Why? Pray for what?  If everything is controlled, what am I praying for? In any other area of life, I would not accept this contradiction, like believing water was cold and hot at the same time or that a person was a friend and an enemy at the same time. So, my own journey led me on an extensive study to try and make sense of it all. I knew I could worship a God who controlled every little thing, as one would give obeisance to a despot; but I also knew I could not honestly love a God like that—yet that is what my heart longed to do. Love and be loved.

I believe that when I read the scriptures, I see a God who is personable and involved in His creation. He walks with Adam; He talks with Abraham; He sheds His glory and comes to earth as the God-man Jesus to heal, to teach, and to redeem. He is not the determinists’ despot, but a loving Father who invites us to belong to His family. In your handouts, I have listed a lot of scriptures that I hope you will look over this week. They give a better picture of God than the God promoted by many of our Christian theologians. I hope you will think about those in your private devotional time.

I pray because I trust the One to whom I talk. I believe prayer changes things. I believe God wants us to be an integral part of His kingdom work here. It is not just a ritual performed by a robot, meaning nothing. But my prayers, our prayers, are part of the kingdom story we are working out in this time between the resurrection and the second coming of Christ. God wants to be invited into people’s lives, and we get to be part of that happening by our active testimony and our prayers. Do I understand it all? Of course not. Is there still a lot of mystery to go around? Of course. But I do know we have a part to play. We live in a world where our own choices and other people’s choices inform and change lives for good or bad. We also live in a world where invisible spiritual entities are not convinced about their defeat at the cross, and they are warring for our souls. So, our communication with God is not just a sweet thing we do to feel centered or holy, but it is a critical part of an arsenal we have in living in this war zone of a world. We have a part to play.

There is much more to say, but I would like to open it up for any questions you might have up to this point.”

A young man in the back who was new to the group raised his hand. “In that verse in Thessalonians you quoted, it also says to ‘give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.’ I mean, all my life I’ve heard that the verse proves that everything is the way God wants it. I mean ‘all circumstances’ means everything, doesn’t it?”

“Good question. What’s your name, by the way?” Blaise asked.

“I’m Jack. I came with my friend here.”

“That’s awesome, Jack. It’s nice to meet you. I’m glad you’re here. That verse is used just as you mentioned, and it was a tough one for me. But when I went back into the original languages—and believe me, I’m not an expert there, but I consulted those who are—and the ‘this’ in ‘this is the will of God’ refers back not to ‘circumstances’ but to the idea ‘give thanks.’ That is what is called an antecedent. When we read it in English, we might get the idea that everything that happens is intentionally decreed by God, but what Paul the Apostle is actually saying there is that in all circumstances what is the will of God is the giving thanks part—not the circumstance itself. And that is probably hard enough. Right? Does that mean give thanks for a horrible thing by calling it a good thing? I don’t think so. I think we give thanks that we are not alone. That God still has us in His hand, and that He is with us in all things—even these terribly hard circumstances. That’s a huge difference from attributing violence and evil to the Almighty. He loves us and has not left us to walk through this war zone alone. Does that make sense?”

Jack slowly rose to his feet, and tears were streaming down his face. He choked out, “I have felt alone. I have felt that God has left me. When my father died in Afghanistan, I was told it was God’s will. When my mother committed suicide out of the grief she felt, I was told she disobeyed God and was going to hell. Why was not that God’s will, too? No one would listen to me, and I have felt so confused for so long.” At that, he broke down sobbing. Others around him stood with him. Some laid their hands on him and started to pray; others embraced him as his body convulsed. From that small group, it was like a wave poured over the gathering. Little groups formed all over the room, and they prayed. Some soft, some loud. Some cried, some laughed.

Harper sat with her eyes closed. There was such a sweet presence in the room, and it touched her in a way that was palpable. She felt the warmth on her head just like the day she had been healed of her migraine. It flowed down over her shoulders, and over her whole body. She knew Jesus was with her, and she wept, her hands clasped to her chest. As she sat very still, taking it all in, the words came to her mind of a song she had started to write a few days before. She had not been able to finish it, lyrics or music; but when it played in her mind just then, it felt complete even though she had no idea why.

The room had grown still, and Blaise spoke softly, “Let’s just wait on the Lord to hear what He would speak to us.” The quiet was long, but not uncomfortable. It was as if peace had blossomed as a flower with its fragrance resting on everyone. Harper had never done anything like this before, and it wasn’t as if she was a robot and could do nothing other than stand; but stand she did. She felt compelled, but this obedience was more like a child’s natural and loving response to a caring father’s gift. She began to sing. Her voice, pure and bell-like filled the room. When she got to the end of the section she had written, the words kept coming, and the music kept flowing, and Harper kept singing as the gift flowed through her. Before one phrase ended, another was there to take its place, and her heart swelled with thankfulness.

     Calm in the trouble, Love in the heartbreak

     Right in the wrong.

      Joy in misfortune, Peace in the madness

     Hope brings a song.

     Beauty for ashes and Healing for pain

     Presence in loneliness, New Life again.

     Cleansing communion, Friend for the journey,

     Safety in storm.

     Pardon in distance, Light in confusion,

     Shelter in harm.

     Rest for the footsore and Strength for the soul,

     Blood-bought redemption, the part is made whole.

     Beauty for ashes and Healing for pain

     Presence in loneliness, New Life again.

          God is . . .

Her song seemed to linger in the air as the quiet descended again.

 

  

 

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Chapter 28

Harper felt someone slip into the chair beside her. She didn’t open her eyes, though, until she felt a hand pat her knee softly. When she looked up, she was surprised to see Ava. She felt herself immediately stiffen. Typically, Ava announced her presence with perfume that wafted before and after. Her flamboyance in aroma and dress was only outshone by her attention-grabbing flounces and pronouncements, demanding the attention of the room. But this Ava wore a simple peasant top with a pair of jeans and sneakers. Her makeup and hair were the most understated that Harper could ever remember Ava having worn. When Blaise announced a short break for people to greet one another, Ava turned to Harper and smiled. “I was hoping I’d see you here tonight. How have you been?”

“I’ve been okay, How about you? I haven’t seen you in a while.”

“I’m sure you haven’t missed me that much.” Ava not so much smiled but grimaced.

Harper hesitated, feeling uncomfortable. “No, it’s just that . . .”

“It’s fine really. I’ve been going through a lot, actually; and if I were you, I would have been avoiding me, too.” Harper would have liked to contradict her, but if she was candid, she would have had to say that not having her around had been a huge relief. But she didn’t want to say that.

Since the picture of Ava and her ex had fallen from Harper’s shelf, she had kept it as a marker in her Bible to remind her to pray. The weird dream had also been a part of that compulsion to pray; but honestly, it was difficult since Ava had, more times than not, been the proverbial thorn in Harper’s side. She prayed because she felt she had to rather than out of sincere desire.

“Are you still going to The Gathering Place for the Faithful? If that’s what they’re still calling it.” Harper steered the conversation in another direction.

“They’ve shortened it to The Gathering in the bulletins, but the sign still has the long name. I’ve been going off and on—actually, mostly off. I’ve been meeting with the group here since Christmas. There are some good folks at the church, don’t get me wrong; but I have too much history there. And since you aren’t there, well . . . Anyways, I meet with a couple of ladies for coffee now and then; but for the most part, I go here. I’ve needed a fresh start, of sorts.”

Blaise walked to the front and prepared to give his message, so Ava and Harper stopped their conversation. Ava leaned in and whispered, “Could we get together soon and talk? I’d like to let you know what’s been going on with me and hear about you. And Blaise.”

Harper felt her face blush, but she mouthed, “Of course. And there’s nothing going . . .” Ava smiled and raised her fingers to her lips. Harper swallowed her words and turned to the front. Part of her wanted to find an excuse to maintain safe distance, but her curiosity was peaked and exceeded her conflicting feelings toward her old friend that would have put her in avoidance mode.

They both bowed their heads as Blaise prayed for the message.

 

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Chapter 27

The next week was filled with time at the shop, cleanup of the duplex, and the arrival of Blaise’s mother June and her sister Elise. It was a whirlwind of activity that was a good diversion for Harper. Easter was going to be early this year, and she had decided to give up coffee for Lent, so there were days when her energy level lagged a bit; but all in all, a lot of work got accomplished by all hands in a short span of time. Even though the small garage in the back was full of items yet to be sorted, June and Elise were comfortably settled in by Thursday. The yard also would need tending, front and back, but Blaise had agreed to that task as part of their rental agreement. He darted in and out between his part time job and his study and ministry, so they really didn’t have the time for a serious conversation, which for Harper’s part was good and helped her to generate a new norm for her friendship model—at least in her head.

The nights, though, did not pass as trouble free. The first couple of days, she was exhausted and so slept soundly. But by Tuesday night, her thoughts conspired to keep her awake. She decided to switch her devotional time to the evening right before bed, rather than early morning, in hopes that her sleep would be peaceful and dreams just her normal disjointed and random episodic adventures; but her conflicting emotions crept in with the silence and the darkness.

When Friday came, she determined that she would attend the meeting in the evening. She would be charming but a little aloof, to Blaise and to everyone. She would focus on being a good hostess to this church in her shop. Blaise’s mum and aunt wanted to go and see Blaise in action, so Harper agreed to give them a lift since Blaise would be going early to open up, though she wasn’t sure she wanted to make that a regular commitment.

Conversations with the pair had already proved to be quite interesting. Elise stood about 5’ 2” and had a tiny voice to match, but she was stronger than she first appeared. Harper wasn’t sure if she was shy or just needed more time to warm up, but conversation had been limited to very few words over the week. All business. She did not see having a discussion any time soon over tea on the nuances of spiritual thought in Tolkien’s works—or any other author, for that matter. But that was okay. June, on the other hand, was a contrast to her sister in every way. Even at twelve years her senior, she walked tall and straight, standing probably a good seven or eight inches taller than Elise. Elise’s hair was short and totally grey; whereas, June’s still had some of her auburn showing through amongst the white. Hers was long, but tied back in a tight bun which almost exaggerated her broad smile. And she loved to talk. It didn’t always make sense, but it was entertaining. As Blaise had described, his mother had creeping dementia, and though Harper had been introduced upon their arrival, she had been since greeted as Alice, Cher, and Carmen so far, nothing even close to Harper. After correcting her several times, Harper decided she would just go with the flow and answer to anything.

After work, Harper drove home to feed Clutch and grab a quick bite herself. As the meeting time approached, she got June and Elise in the car, Elise in the back and June being taller, in the front. When she got them settled in the back room at the shop, she busied herself making coffee and setting out some mugs and carrot muffins. She was in full hostess mode—a good cover. The coffee cart had initially been moved into the meeting room for convenience, but with the growing numbers (they were averaging about twenty-five or so members now), they had moved it back out into the shop area, just inside the door.

Max peeked his head around the corner. He was an interesting character. She had only been introduced to him briefly once.  Blaise had filled her in on at least some of his story. He had been a mechanical engineer, but had struggled with a drug problem. From what she understood, he made a structural design error that cost his company a major account and also made them vulnerable to a suit, so he lost his job. With drugs, financial stress, and relational difficulties, he ended up losing his family, too, and was for quite some time strung out, living on the streets. She would need to ask him about it sometime; but apparently somewhere along the line, he found God, got clean, and decided to stay living on the streets as a mission to the homeless there. It was quite a story, and she hoped to learn more of it in the coming days.

“Ms. Carville, would it be . . .”

“Please, Max, call me Harper.”

Max flashed a smile. “I was wondering if I could have a cup of coffee and a muffin for a guy named JR?”

“Absolutely, he’s welcome to come in and grab some himself.”

“Well . . . he’s standing outside the door and won’t come in. He doesn’t like people much. He’s one of my homeless acquaintances who lives in the encampment underneath the 5th St. bridge. He heard we had coffee and came by, hoping to have some.”

“Hmm, I use mugs so as not to keep using single use paper goods, but you know I think I may still have a package of disposable paper cups in the utility closet.” Harper went and found the cups and filled one with piping hot coffee for JR. She wrapped a couple of muffins in a napkin and handed them to Max. “I’m sorry I couldn’t find any lids, so I hope this is okay.”

“That’s great! Thanks so much.” Max pulled a few folded bills from his pocket and went to peel off a dollar to put in the donation jar.

“No, Max, don’t worry about it. There’s plenty.” With a smile and a gentle bow, he put the money back in his pocket and disappeared out the back door. Harper decided she would ask Blaise more about this warm and articulate man who chose to live on the street. She was just finishing up when she saw Blaise walk to the front and begin the service. Harper slipped in to the back row.

Blaise was not a particularly good vocalist, but he pulled out a pitch pipe and started an acapella worship song. All the rest soon joined in to lend strength to his voice. It was a song that Harper was unfamiliar with, so she just sat and listened. Some in the group sang with arms raised; some stood and others sat. It wasn’t tonally perfect and certainly not as contemporary as what she and Graham had done when they participated in worship bands. But the strains of melody were sweet and seemed to hang in the air like fragrance. It wasn’t worship she was used to; and though she wasn’t really participating, she still felt in a weird way included in the group and the expression of praise. She closed her eyes and let the music wash over her.

A living sacrifice, I offer You my life, what You have given me, I now return.
An offering of praise, my moments and my days, lifted hands now yield my life’s concerns.

It’s not my own, yet it’s mine to give, this is not my life, yet it’s mine to live.
And it becomes an act of my worship; I surrender, Lord, my life.
It’s not my own; it’s not mine to lose. I’m held secure, but I’m free to choose,
and it becomes an act of my worship. I surrender, Lord, myself, my life to You.

A living sacrifice, a consecrated life is holy and acceptable to You.
With mercy ever kind, remake this carnal mind as I yield my stubborn will anew.

By the time the chorus came around again, Harper had caught on to the melody and she started to softly sing with her head bowed. In fact, as she sang, it became more like a prayer.

It’s not my own, yet it’s mine to give, this is not my life, yet it’s mine to live.
And it becomes an act of my worship; I surrender, Lord, my life.
It’s not my own; it’s not mine to lose. I’m held secure, but I’m free to choose,
and it becomes an act of my worship. I surrender, Lord, myself, my life,
myself, my life to You.
A living sacrifice, I offer You my life.
A living sacrifice, I offer You my life.
A living sacrifice, I offer You my life.

Her eyes remained closed as the group continued on to the next song, and tears rolled down her cheeks. It dawned on her that this probably was not being as aloof as she had intended.

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Chapter 26

Harper hopped in her little Honda, and Blaise followed her back to the house in his truck. He waited till she had successfully opened her door, then with a wave he was gone. The smile she left him with faded as she closed the door and leaned back against it. She took a long, deep breath. The laughter had been good; but now that it was done, the embarrassment descended—not just the embarrassment in front of the other diners, but in front of Blaise. Did he know what she was fighting in her heart? Did he sense the surprise in her voice, or did he just hear it as a factual misunderstanding—that he was not indeed celibate? She wasn’t sure . . . and that was going to drive her nuts!

She peeled herself from the door and walked into the kitchen, grabbed a mug and a teabag from the cupboard, and set the kettle to boil. She sat down at her breakfast table; then one by one, she retraced the moments—from her first meeting in the bookstore to tonight’s dinner. She had felt safe to get close because in her mind he was unavailable, and that made her feel less vulnerable. She could just enjoy a growing relationship with another man with no romantic strings attached.

But what now?

She had to admit finally that her feelings for Blaise had grown far beyond a platonic friendship. She grilled herself whether she had led him in a particular direction. She didn’t think so, given the fog she had been living in. Had he been interested in her at all—as a woman? She didn’t think so because his passions seemed to be totally in planting a faith community. But the fears rushed in. If she gave in to the attraction, she would feel that in some way she was betraying her love for Graham. But she had been depressed and lonely for so long that the companionship of a man, whom she had deemed safe, had fed a deep place in her that she assumed had withered. The long winter of her soul had sapped all life and vitality from her, including not only her trust in people, but also her trust in God. And Blaise’s godly and animated presence in her life had changed all that—not all at once, but bit by bit. She didn’t really know how much he had changed her life until tonight.

And yet . . .

The kettle whistled a long time. Harper went over to the stove and turned it off without pouring her tea. She returned to the table and just stared out the window. Clutch, who typically at this time of night was dead to the world, painfully and slowly raised himself up to come over and nudge her arm. The screaming kettle had probably wakened him. She buried her face in his coat and gave him a long hug and pat down. “It’s just you and me, boy,” she whispered into his ear. Tears ran down her cheeks and into his rough. “Together forever . . . okay, that’s stupid. Sounds like a greeting card. But we are together, and that will be enough.”

In that moment, she knew what to do. She knew that the rich friendship with Blaise was worth sacrificing for. If she wanted more than that and it was not mutual, she would risk losing a friend. From what she could tell, Blaise’s first love was Christ, and she would be foolish to think his heart had a place for a human romance, especially with a melancholy person like her. She did feel their friendship was special, but it was probably not that much different than the passionate love he had for all God’s people.

She sat up abruptly, wiped the tears away with the back of her hands, and announced to the four walls in the room: “I commit myself to singleness. I commit myself to trusting God again. I will not be ruled by need. I will guard my heart . . . and guard this valuable friendship that has come into my life. That’s it. Done!”

And with that, she marched to the bedroom to get ready for bed.

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Chapter 25

Harper and Blaise ate their food in the pleasure of each other’s company. It was hard to talk with the loud music, and they at times had to raise their volume a lot just to be heard, but it was still an enjoyable exchange of ideas and commentary about many different subjects with lots of laughs thrown in. They even shared a decadent dessert with chocolate that was certainly not vegan, but Harper always made exceptions for good chocolate fare.

“Oh, by the way, do you know a good realtor in the area that I can use?” He asked the question as he snatched the bill away, insisting on paying.

“Well, thank you for that. Next time I will treat. Ah, yes, I do. I was happy with the gal that managed the sale of Graham’s and my house. She also found me my duplex.”

“Oh, I guess, I didn’t know you owned it. Do you have a card on her?”

“I do at home, I think. I wanted a smaller place after his death with a rental property built in, so the duplex worked out perfectly. But what do you need a realtor for?” Harper sipped the last of her water.

“I’m moving my mum down here. Her sister Elise, who is twelve years younger, has recently retired and is willing to live with her as a full-time caregiver. I just need to find an affordable house or apartment for them. It will be so much better having her close where I can help more, and getting her out of the board and care will no doubt lift her spirits. My older sister Elise—and I know the names can be confusing. It’s like my family ran out of good names and had to recycle a few. I also have a cousin and an uncle named Blaise.” He shrugged his shoulders and grinned. “Family. Anyways, Elise, my sister, has not been involved physically that much with Mum’s care. She lives back East and has a busy law practice, so she rarely comes out to see her. She and Mum do not get along very well, but she has for years generously contributed to Mum’s housing; so, we are not totally dependent on my meagre part time salary and Mum’s dwindling savings and life insurance monies.”

The waitress took the bill and Blaise’s credit card. As they waited for her to return, before she had even thought it through, Harper blurted out, “The other unit in my duplex is available.”

“Really? No one is in there?”

“I had a nice young couple renting, and they moved out about six months ago. They were not bad renters, but they often played loud music . . .”

“You mean like this?” He motioned dramatically toward the bar.

Harper smiled and raised her voice again to be heard above a raging guitar solo. “Well, not quite this bad. They also made noise coming and going late at night. I think he worked a night shift regularly. So, it wasn’t terrible, but when he got a transfer, and they moved, I just didn’t bother trying to get new renters. I haven’t even gone in and cleaned it. I know that sounds awful.”

“No, not at all. I understand. Are you open to renting it again?”

“Yes, of course. I have thought off and on that I needed to do it because I really could use the extra money. The shop is not exactly raking in the big bucks, except for that group I rent to in the back.” She winked.

“Ah, well . . . at least, you aren’t calling us a cult anymore. That’s an improvement.” He smiled large. “If you could let me know what you need for the place, that would be great. I would even volunteer to help you clean. You do have to understand, though, Mum is quite a character. She won’t be loud or come and go at night–hopefully–but, depending on the day, she might know you or not know you. Her conversations can be quite entertaining.”

“I understand that. I’m sure she would be no problem.”

“So, you won’t mind me hanging out at the duplex more. I promise not to be a bother. I may even work on your front yard. Your roses look like they need a good pruning.”

“You would be welcome to prune all you want. Gardening, except for some herbs in containers, has never been my forte.” Harper folded her napkin and grabbed her purse as she saw the waitress approach with Blaise’s card.

Blaise continued, “I have to warn you, though: When Mum doesn’t know me, as I’ve mentioned before, she comes on to me, like she is looking for a mate. Mildly disturbing.” He smiled. “But when she does know me, she can be grumpy and sweet in turn; but no matter what, she’s always trying to matchmake me with the nearest available female. She sees it as her duty. I’m not totally opposed to it, but her choices have not always been the best. I’ll have to tell you about it some time.” Because the music had increased in volume, Blaise was talking quite loudly.

“But I thought you were celibate!” Harper’s voice filled the momentary silence as the band’s raucous song ended. She froze in place with her mouth wide open, feeling every eye in the place on her.

Blaise grabbed her hand and helped her from the booth. “Time to go.” He grinned. They made their exit as quickly as possible. Once outside the door, Blaise started laughing hysterically, and Harper did, too–once she had caught her breath.

They laughed almost the whole block back to the car, and then Harper said, “I am never going in that restaurant ever again!” Blaise looked her in the eye, trying to keep a straight face, but he burst out laughing again, almost in tears.

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Chapter 24

Oral surgery done, so back to the story! 😛 


Ch. 24

Harper turned around slowly almost feeling like she had been caught stealing from her own shop. “You’re lucky this pacifist didn’t tackle you as an intruder!” He laughed. “I’m surprised to see you here tonight.”

“It’s a long story . . . well, not that long, but I came to check up on you. I was late and didn’t want to disturb you.”

“You wouldn’t have disturbed us, but I’m glad to see you up and around. I’m shocked really. Do you want to go get some coffee and talk?”

“Actually, I ate almost nothing all day and am starving, so I’d love to go get something like a sandwich or power bowl, but I’ll skip the caffeine.”

“Great. Folks are just wrapping up conversations, so I’ll meet you by your car when I get the place locked up.

Instead of driving, they decided to walk the block to a night spot called The Brewery. Neither Blaise nor Harper drank, but they had heard they served some good food, so they decided to try it out. It was noisy with music and conversation, so they asked for a booth in the restaurant section as far as possible from the bar where the live music blared. The band was actually pretty good, playing some oldie rockers and some blues, but the decibel level was uncomfortable. They slipped into a booth, which had tall wooden backs to the benches. It wasn’t much of a sound barrier, but they convinced themselves it would help; and besides, they were hungry enough not to care.

“You realize we do a lot of eating when we’re together.” She smiled and ripped off a corner of the loaf of hot Russian rye bread.

“Funny, I was thinking the same thing. I’m not sure what that says about us, though. I am so happy you’re up and around. You didn’t look good at the house.”

“I will not take that as an insult.”

“No, I mean . . .”

Harper smiled and raised her hand to interrupt his apology. “I’m sure I did look a mess . . . and felt it, too. Did I fall asleep, because I didn’t even hear you leave?”

“After, I prayed and anointed you, I never saw you open your eyes. I waited for a few minutes, but you seemed calm and resting . . . and still alive! So I slipped out.”

“To be honest, it didn’t seem that long after you prayed that I opened my eyes. I woke as if from a sweet dream; but what was really weird . . . well, weird, yet wonderful . . . I think, I mean I know I received a healing.”

“Really? Are you kidding? That’s awesome!” Blaise looked genuinely elated and surprised, which in turn surprised Harper.

“Why are you surprised? Isn’t that what you prayed for?”

“Well, of course, but it’s not a formula, and I never tire of seeing God intervene. I act out of obedience, and I hope and pray that intervention will come, especially for someone I care about whose need is so great; but it’s always like Christmas morning when eternity breaks through! So, tell me. What happened?” Blaise leaned in on the edge of his seat as Harper recounted the event, moment by moment. In the retelling, she misted up, in awe of what she had literally felt in her body.

“And then, I jumped up and got ready to check out the meeting. I mean, I feel better now than I have for a while. So often, I am fighting a baseline headache. I guess I’ve just gotten used to living that way. But when the migraines hit, well, it’s knock down drag out time. But it’s gone, and I feel clear, if that makes any sense. Light. But hungry!” She smiled.

“I am so happy for you. That’s incredible!”

“Again, you seem as surprised as I am, and you are the guy packin’ the vial of oil. No offence, but is it a lack of faith if you don’t even expect what you pray for?”

Blaise laughed out loud. It was during a sudden break in the music, so a few eyes turned toward them and Harper blushed, but then the din resumed. “Harper, if I had the magic formula—the right words, the right oil, the right method—I would empty every hospital, nursing home, and rehab center in the state. I pray because Christ commands it. I pray out of love for the person in need and for my Savior who compels me, and I pray with a genuine hope that the hurting one will have what they need the most; but . . . I do not dictate to God what and how He must do His business because I don’t assume I know what is best for each individual.”

“That sounds good, but doesn’t that open Christians up to criticism from unbelievers—that we attest our prayers are good whether they work or not?”

“If I make assumptions about what God thinks is best, what works or not, I place myself in the circumstance as a god, and I’m certainly not that. Just in case you were wondering.” He smiled and grabbed a bite of his sandwich.

“Nah, I had that part figured out.”

Blaise continued, “I feel no pressure to ensure a particular outcome, and I don’t think that is a cop out. There are some evangelists on TV who make people think they have it all down pat—got it all figured out. If someone isn’t healed or doesn’t get an answer for a problem they have, they either blame the person’s lack of faith or some other human failing so that their reputation as Wonderman, or Woman, stays intact. Or some even gin up the emotions to fake an event. I do not have things down pat. As much as is in me, I try to seek God, follow His lead, and leave all the results to Him. It’s more complex than a formula. That’s why when I see God truly work, I can rejoice because it is His work, and He should get all the credit and glory for it. So, the fact God met you and healed you, well, if I had any socks on in my sandals, they would be knocked off!”

“Well, hallelujah!”

“Exactly!”

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Chapter 23

Harper sat for some time soaking it all in. She knew God had touched her, and that lifted her spirits, for sure; but it was hard to understand it all. She had felt presence before, years past, but never anything like this.

As a child, she remembered her mom had put a wooden plaque above the buffet that read “Prayer Changes Things.” But to be honest, as she grew older and experienced more of life, even though she still believed we should pray, if she had to be honest, she wasn’t sure it changed anything. On Facebook, when people said they were praying for a situation and sending “thoughts”—whatever that meant—she hesitated to participate. She would pray, but not ever write “Praying” or “Just prayed” to prove it. She knew that response probably was real and genuine for some; but for her, it would be an artificial response to someone’s painful situation. Sending prayers and thoughts seemed more about compassion and empathy than actual spiritual power to change an outcome, so when Blaise asked if he could pray for her, she didn’t hesitate, but she took it more as an “I’m sorry” than a real attempt to have God intervene in her pain.

And yet He did.

In the Bible, most often it was people’s faith that was rewarded, but she certainly had not had faith for this. It was humbling to think God would meet one so weak and full of conflict. All of a sudden, she jumped up from her chair and headed for the shower. Though she would be late, she decided to go to the meeting and see how they were doing.

She parked on the street and quietly opened the front door. The shop was dark all but for the light coming from the partially closed door to the back meeting room. On the drive over, she had decided on a stealth approach. She would listen without making her presence known, then exit undetected—hopefully.

Blaise was just visible through the narrow opening in the door. As long as she had known him, his greying auburn hair had been tied back in a ponytail, but tonight his hair framed his face, falling loosely in waves around his shoulders. He was reading a scripture from the Psalms aloud, and the people responded periodically with “Lord, have mercy on me” and some other responses which they must have had in print. It sounded formal and was quite unexpected for Harper who had assumed the meeting would be more hippy and less liturgical. After the reading, the whole group recited the “Our Father.” Harper could not imagine the service being conducted this way in the coffee shop, so maybe this was new to the group, as well, though all seemed to be participating by the sound of it.

Blaise then presented a short verse by verse study in I Thessalonians, but she couldn’t always hear clearly. So, she carefully took her chair and sat a bit closer to the door, but still out of sight. After the preaching time, Blaise asked if there were any questions about what he had said. No one spoke for a time, but he patiently waited. He was much more comfortable with silences than Harper, and probably anyone else she knew.

Finally, a quiet voice near the back of the room asked, “This isn’t exactly about your sermon, but I need to ask why we pray? If God is going to do what He chooses anyway, I don’t see the use of praying.” The voice rose in volume and intensity, and that was when Harper recognized that it was Ava speaking. “Kierkegaard wrote that prayer isn’t about influencing God or changing His mind, but it’s about changing the one who prays; but when I pray—and when those I know best pray—it’s not about wanting to be changed as the pray-er, but to actually get an answer from the pray-ee—God. So, my question is—and I am sincere in this—why? Why do we waste time praying when things are all scripted?”

Where Harper was seated now, she couldn’t see Blaise anymore, but she heard him respond in his sure, calm voice. “That is an excellent question, Ava, and one that many people ask. It does seem at times that we are speaking into a void, that prayer is just a useless exercise. And if we do not see an answer to our request—immediate or otherwise—it certainly might feel that it’s useless. This is a whole sermon in itself, of course; but let me begin by saying that we pray because we are asked to. When we get to I Thessalonians 5, we’ll get to the verse “Pray without ceasing.” But throughout scripture, we are commanded to pray, and we see the examples of other godly people who were examples for us of vigilant prayer. So, we pray sacramentally—as part of our worship, as an act of obedience.”

“So, we do it just as a ritual without expecting results?” Ava interjected abruptly.

“Not exactly, though at times it might feel that way. I think this seems to be touching a nerve with you all, right?” There were murmurs of assent. “Okay, so next week, I’ll give an in-depth teaching on prayer, and I would like you to bring any other questions and perhaps examples in your own life of when prayer seemed effectual or ineffectual. Let’s hash this out and seek some clarity. In the meantime, let me give you something to chew on: There are other fine Christians who believe differently, and you are free to embrace their teachings; but as for me, I do not believe we are rats in a maze with prescribed twists and turns till the end. I believe this rat . . .” And at this he smiled large. “This rat is in a big, broad beautiful meadow. The meadow is provided by the Creator, but where I go and what I choose to do is within my free will to decide. If I walk alongside the Creator in real communication, I can ask for His guidance and intervention, but there are also hawks and foxes in the meadow who seek my doom and are at odds with the Creator. Okay, I might be taking this analogy a bit too far.” There were some snickers in the group, but they seemed to be getting the point. “Like anything in doctrine or practice, things are complex and not as easy as some would have you believe. ‘Specific sovereignty’, though in some ways a comforting doctrine, for me, does not allow for this war zone we live in on this side of heaven. There is a constant push and pull in life that requires close communion with God to successfully navigate, and faith-life also functions better when you have a community with folks to come alongside, walk with you, and war with you when you feel weak. That’s you guys. Does this make sense?” Again, the murmurs of assent sounded like Blaise was speaking their language. And Harper felt like someone had been reading her mail.  Blaise continued, “So, come next week, and we will take a deep dive into the importance of prayer. Before we close, let us take the bread and grape juice, remembering what Christ has done to secure us a relationship with Him, free and forgiven. Max, would you and Jan hand out the elements?”

Harper decided that this would be a good moment to make her exit. She left her chair where it was so as not to make any unnecessary noise. She gently fiddled with the deadbolt on the front door and finally managed to get it free. Just as she started to step out, she heard, “Harper, is that you?”

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Chapter 22

She contemplated ignoring the text, but decided against it. She voice-texted back: “Recovering from migraine, but okay.”

Blaise texted, “May I come in and pray for you?”

Harper thought for a minute. She decided that friendship trumped disheveled, as well as any conflicted emotions she might be working through. She pulled her long, white messy hair out of its tie and pulled it around her face, hoping in some way it might hide her bleary state. She texted back: “The emergency key is under the third rock to the left of the big green pot with the dead rose bush.”

Blaise opened the door softly and made his way in the darkened room to her chair. “I’m so sorry you are hurting. Can I fix you something to eat?”

“No, I’ve had a little bit, and that’s enough for now. I won’t be able to come tonight to your gathering, though. Tia is watching the shop this afternoon, but she’ll probably leave early, so why don’t you just take the spare shop key to open up.”

“Are you sure? We can cancel and go back to the coffee shop tonight.” Blaise pulled up a chair and sat close.

“No, no, the room is ready, and I trust you with the shop, so . . . just go ahead. The key is in that drawer over there to the right of the stove. It’s only for the front door, so you will need to go in that way—and you know how stinky that deadbolt is. You can unlock the lock on the back door where people will enter, but I have no key for the outside of that lock, so don’t lock yourself out. I lost it somewhere along the line and just never got the stupid thing rekeyed.” Harper winced with the exertion of talking.

“Do I have to take notes?” He smiled as he pulled out his phone and typed in a few memos.

“Maybe. Hmm, if you’re going to have coffee, you know where the machine is, and the coffee is in the cabinet below. Not sure if there’s anything else you need to know. Bring your own muffins.” Harper tried to smile but paused and took a deep breath instead. The worst of the migraine had subsided, but still the effort of thinking this hard hurt. “Oh, and you will want to have people go out together. The parking lot in the back is pretty dark after sunset. I’ve complained for years to the association, but nothing has been done. I think with the meetings, it will be wise to get a light with a motion detector at some point.”

“That’s a good idea. I’ll put it on my to-do list. Anything else?”

“No idea. If anything else comes up, just wing it.” She closed her eyes for a moment.

“I’m sorry you’re in pain. Can I pray for you?”

“Yes, of course.” Blaise pulled a small vial out of his jeans’ pocket and opened the top. “What’s that?”

“Anointing oil. Is that okay?”

“I guess . . . but do you always carry it around in your pocket?”

“Yup, I’m always packin’.” Blaise smiled and put a couple of drops on his finger. He paused a moment, eyes closed, then began: “My Father, both Creator and Healer, I ask You to touch the body of my sister Harper. Would You meet her in this moment, knowing all the inner workings of her body and mind, and restore health and wholeness to her. Out of Your love and deep compassion, meet us, Lord, I pray. Then he marked the sign of the cross on Harper’s forehead. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Harper remained quiet, eyes closed, for what seemed like a second, but when she opened her eyes, the house key was on the table, and Blaise was gone. She had to wonder if she had fallen asleep. But all of a sudden, something touched the top of her head. She closed her eyes again, and honey warmth flowed over her, soft and sweet, head to toe, outside to inside. She wasn’t sure what was happening, but she was overwhelmed with a presence. As the warmth flowed over her body, the pain in her head and the malaise in her body dissolved into nothing. She had never experienced anything like it in her life, but she knew it was not natural. She breathed a “thank you” as tears fell.

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Chapter 21

Harper woke early Friday morning with a raging migraine. A low-pressure system was rolling in; and though she saw herself as the human barometer, she had not had one quite this bad in a long time. She made herself get out of bed to let the dog out, but promptly stepped in a pile of poop by the bedroom door. It hurt her eyes to turn the lights on, so in the dark it had not been visible, though the smell should have given her the warning. Yuck. She could see Clutch by the locked doggie door to the back yard oblivious to his master’s disgust. She had stopped leaving it open for security reasons, but now was rethinking that strategy. After washing her foot, she unlocked the doggie door, cleaned up the mess, set out Clutch’s breakfast, and went back to bed. Harper had no desire to even take her myriad natural migraine remedies. She just lathered some peppermint essential oil on the back of her neck and pulled the covers over her head.

She woke at ten with a start, realizing she had not called Tia to fill in for her. When she did, Tia told her she was not available till about three, but agreed to run over and put a sign on the door to inform customers that she was under the weather. Well, that was all that was to be done, so Harper made herself some golden milk and took it with a couple extra turmeric capsules. An ice pack for the neck, and she was back in bed.

The pain in her head was prone to make her dreams weird if she was in fact able to sleep, but Harper tossed and turned unable to really drift off again—well, there was not exactly much tossing because moving hurt. But her thoughts tossed and turned.

As Blaise held her hands and prayed in the restaurant, she had been surprised at the feelings that had risen up in her. Embarrassed, really, but only in front of herself. She had pressed any desire for romance back so far in her psyche as to be non-existent. She had convinced herself that something like she had experienced with Graham wasn’t even possible again, and she was not going to expend any energy trying to track down a man to fill those shoes. But also, if she had to be honest, she did not ever want to be in a relationship that required so much work. Though they were still working on their marriage, of course, Graham and she had arrived at a healthy and loving place before he died, but it had not always been so.

His dad was a deliberate and disciplined man, but not really approachable. The companionship and mentorship Graham longed for from his father growing up was something perhaps his father was incapable of giving. Whether capable or not, it didn’t come. He was such a hardcore determinist that at one point in Graham’s teen rebellion period, his dad told him he doubted that Graham was even one of the elect, the chosen. His mom tended to be judgmental, too, but whether that came from years of living with and enabling a hard man, she wasn’t sure. Though Graham instinctually sought out other father figures at church and in school and had worked through a lot of issues on his own, when she and Graham married, they still had some severe bumpy patches. He had few conflict resolution skills and was more apt to break things and storm out rather than talk. He never hit her, but their dry wall suffered a few holes. Harper had good and loving examples in her own parents, but her personality did not lend itself to confrontation, so the years piled up layers and layers of unresolved conflict. To those on the outside, they seemed to have it all together, but there were too many problems roiling just beneath the surface.

When they lost the baby, that was a turning point for Harper. Enough. She refused to cower and hide anymore and insisted on talking out her grief and any other disagreements over issues that reared their ugly heads. And rear they did. It seemed they could not go through even one day without fighting. It oscillated between verbal fighting and silence—which is still covert fighting. They would make up, but the truce would not last. Against Graham’s wishes, mostly because of the money, Harper chose a counselor to go to and was receiving help, if even just to have someone to talk to. Graham finally agreed to go, too, grudgingly. But they discovered they cared more about their marriage than defending their shrinking personal territory, and that was the beginning—a healing of hurts, a rededication to God and to the love that had drawn them together in the first place. They were a work in progress, yes; but Graham was not the man she married, and their grin-and-bear it commitment had morphed into a passionate love that neither one had even thought possible.

And then it ended. In death. And she felt lost.

By 3:30, Harper felt well enough to get up and eat something. Her stomach was a bit nauseous still, so she had some more golden tea and a few crackers with hummus. Then rather than going back to bed, she sat in the old worn plaid recliner she had found at a thrift store. It was ugly, but supremely comfortable. She laid back with her legs up, Clutch sleeping close by. She held no grudges, but she did determine that security or not, he was going to have constant access to the yard to do his business.

As she laid her head back, eyes closed, she proceeded to self-talk:
I am fine alone.
I am finding my way back to God.
I will not be distracted by fleeting felt need.
I will not be ruled by emotion.
I will feed my heart with friendship, not fantasy.
I will find my strength and sense of belonging in You and Your people.
I am fine alone.
I am finding . . .

Harper heard a light tap at the front door. She opened her eyes and listened. Then, her text alert sounded. She picked up the phone and read, “Harper, it’s me at the door. I saw the sign on the shop. Wanted to see if you’re okay.”

“Lord, help.”

 

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