Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Child Shall Lead Them

Evan sat on the park bench and watched the child play. “She looks like a miniature Rachael.” He thought. Her mother called and the child ran to the woman who was his wife, at least for now. The divorce papers had yet to be signed. After the mother and child were gone, Evan stood up and walked to his car on the other side of the park.

The black sports car was gleaming in the sun. Evan’s suit and tie would have made anyone believe that he was single executive type. His blonde hair was cropped short and his expensive watch sparkled as his arms swung naturally as he walked. Yet, Evan was no single executive. He was a minister, just like his father before him. He came from a long line of ministers. They had all had wonderful marriages until him.

As Evan pulled away from the parking lot he thought of the past two years since Rachael’s affair. He had been in Africa with a team of men when it had happened. Rachael had been complaining about all the time spent alone. Evan hadn’t seen it coming even though the clues were all there.

He thought about the night Rachael had come to his office in the back of the church. “Evan, I want you to know that I will always love you. This was a mistake.” Her face had crumpled and Evan had rushed to her. After several attempts she had finally been able to tell him of her infidelity. The man who had slept with his wife had been a deacon at their church. He too was a married person.

Even three years later the thought of that night put a lump in his throat and he began to sweat even though the AC was on. Evan had been unable to listen beyond the fact that Rachael had told him of her affair. He remembered staggering to the couch in his office and sitting down with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. His entire body had begun to shake and Rachael had left the room.

All he could remember was his father coming to him and holding on to him for most of that evening. Rachael had called him and explained what had happened and then left. When Evan was able to go home he found Rachael had more news. She was pregnant and the baby wasn’t his. “Evan, say something.”

“What can I say? You are my wife. You slept with someone else and now you tell me you are having his baby. I’m sorry, I’m a little shocked at the moment.” He sat down and began to weep.

Rachael had decided to leave Evan after that. She found an apartment on the other side of town. Evan was left with facing the church with the news that his marriage was in trouble and he was stepping down as senior pastor for a while. Eventually everyone knew the gory details. The deacon and his wife left town. The deacon and his wife divorced eventually as he was having another affair soon after Rachael had stopped theirs.

His father took over the church and things flowed almost back to normal with Evan helping but not directing anything. Evan prayed constantly and asked for forgiveness for not seeing the problems in his own marriage. He went to Rachael as well and asked her to forgive him for his part in the marital situation. Rachael was silent and hung her head. “There is nothing to forgive Evan. My mind wasn’t on you or the Lord. I had become a different person. Please forgive me. Now, I need to get ready to go to the doctors.” Evan offered to help but she refused it. “I don’t want to hurt you financially as well as what I’ve all ready done.” Evan left after trying to make her understand he really wanted to help.

Evan had gone to his father and a few other ministers for help. “I just don’t understand it. What am I doing wrong?” The men prayed with Evan before offering any advice. It was Rachael’s father who spoke first.

“I think my daughter truly loves you and is devastated by what she did. For some reason she is trying to punish herself right now rather than accepting forgiveness from you and the Lord. There are some wrong ideas going on in her head. Her mother and I would like to use this time of separation to counsel her. I believe some of the women in the church would like to be there for her as well. We all want her to talk with you Evan. But, she’s digging her heels in. She needs much prayer at this time.”

John was a retired minister and close friend of the family. “I believe she is overwhelmed by the magnitude of her sin; plus, the fact that it is so publicized. I spoke to her a few times this past week. I am concerned about her thoughts. If she came back to you right now Evan, the two of you would need some counseling. You will need it whenever she returns. I do think she will return though.”

Evan felt a spark of hope at these words. “I just want her to be all right. Could someone make sure she’s got whatever she needs? Just tell me if she needs anything and I’ll make sure she has it.”

Ira sat with his hands folded on his stomach. “Of course Evan, we’ll all look after her. My wife and I only live a few doors down from her place. I’d like to have her stay with us in fact. But, she refuses.”

Rev. Sikes spoke next. “I think you need to devote your time to just putting yourself in God’s hands for now. You’ve never lived alone. You went from home to marriage. But, until the Lord puts you back together; this time could be well spent just basking in the presence of God.” Rev. Sikes had seen his son was having some sort of break down and so did everyone else.

Evan hadn’t been sleeping or eating well. The dark circles under his eyes and unsteady hands could attest to that. He made a mental note to try to eat better. The men agreed to meet with Evan each week and his father would meet with him once a day as well.

“So, what am I to do? She won’t talk to me.” Evan felt defeated.

“You are not the defeated one here.” said Ira. “Take authority of this situation. Pray constantly. Fast when the Lord leads you to do so. But, I agree that you need to get a decent meal every day to keep strong. You are not finished with what God has for you to do. This is a deep crater the two of you have fallen in, but God is bigger than the crater.”

Rachael had never tried to do anything for herself. Aside from the part time job at the bank, she was totally dependent on her parents until she married Evan. Ira and his Janice visited her regularly and soon she agreed to move in with them. Janice prayed each day with Rachael. Rachael opened up to Ira while they sat on the porch in the evenings. “I never really had my own faith. It was based on whatever Evan thought best.” Ira let her talk without interrupting. She opened up many little things that she had held on to as truth. Each ugly lie was being brought to the light and dealt with.

She enjoyed her job and her coworkers were sympathetic to her situation. She never tried to hide the facts. Some of the women talked behind her back about her life in the church being a sham. Rachael knew that she was a topic of gossip. She prayed that God would give her the courage to go on for her baby’s sake.

Meanwhile, Evan took stock of what he had left in his home. He learned how to prune a rose bush. He cleaned the house. Each day he looked around and found things to clean. He realized that his wife had done a lot for him.

He met with his father most every day for at least an hour. He became more aware of what it took to remain a good husband while being in the ministry. His father made many phone calls home. He picked up supper some times. He even made special nights just to be with Evan’s mother. Evan quickly became aware of his short comings. The ministry had been his life and not God.

One night, Evan prayed and asked the Lord to forgive him. He knew from the start that Rachael wasn’t alone in this marital problem. He had a part too. He watched closely as his father modeled what a Godly husband and senior pastor was.

His father involved his mother in much of his life. It wasn’t ‘his’ ministry, it belonged to Jesus Christ. Rev. Sikes mentioned this to his son many times. “I just hold the reigns, when I’m supposed to go left or right I go. But, to be a man of God, I have to remember to take care of the riches He has given me. That includes my wife, my family, friends and the church. I can’t do it all. That’s why we have helpers.”

Evan spoke to his father about the ‘bad’ helpers. He was speaking of the deacon who had been having illicit affairs. “We pray. We ask for guidance and sometimes we fail to discern things. We don’t ever get the idea that we are perfect in all we do. We just know we serve a perfect God.”

Eventually news came of the little girl Rachael had born. Evan went to the hospital to see Rachael and the baby. It was awkward and he felt he shouldn’t have come. Yet, he took Rachael’s hand and told her that he loved her and missed her.

Evan had no way of knowing the hormonal upheavals that take place during and after pregnancy in a woman. Rachael didn’t fully understand herself. She was crying one moment and hysterical the next. Evan misinterpreted her weepiness for not wanting him there. He left the hospital feeling worse.

Soon after, Evan left on a mission trip to Uganda. Some friends were teaching the people how to plant their crops to get a better harvest. He was gone for several months. The work was good for Evan. He became part of a team rather than the one in charge. The Lord spoke to Evan about marriage as he was working with the people of Uganda. “You are to be a team player in marriage.”

When Evan went back to the United States he was thinking of Rachael.

He and Rachael hadn’t quarreled or even gotten in touch with each other. The little girl was now about 18 months old. Evan had been told that Rachael brought her to the park almost every day at the same time. That is why Evan decided to try to see her.

He had been informed that Rachael had decided to enroll the little girl in their nursery school. He knew he would have to see her some time.

The following day Evan was seated behind a stack of enrollment papers when Rachael brought the child to the office. She hesitated at the door and then knocked on the door casing.

Evan glanced up and braced himself. Rachael was always a beauty. Her reddish brown hair and blue eyes settled on his face. “I was told I could find you here. Is it true you are the one in charge of the day care?

“Yes, that’s right. I heard you were going to enroll…what’s her name?” He was feeling like his mouth had dried in a dessert and his hands were as shaky as they were three years before. He decided not to try to hide his nervousness since he couldn’t.

“I’m sorry if this is awkward Evan. I had no idea this is where you worked.” Rachael felt sorry for Evan. She had hurt him once again.

“Her name is Charity. She just started putting words together.” Charity wriggled to get down and when she managed to find the floor she charged in Evan’s direction.

“Hi!” She greeted Evan with both arms up in anticipation of a hug. Evan complied and felt an odd tug as he held her in his arms. “I bike!”

Evan turned to Rachael in confusion. “She’s trying to tell you she likes you. You Like Charity, not Bike.”

Charity giggled and looked back up at Evan. “Uh uh! I bike!” She gave him a quick sloppy kiss.”

Rachael didn’t know what to do. This wasn’t going well. She reached over to retrieve her flirtatious daughter only to have her scream. “Nooo, noooo, I bike!”

Evan was amazed. “It’s ok Rachael. I’ll hold her if it means you can sign the papers easier.” Charity settled down and began to play with his tie as he handed the necessary forms over to Rachael.

“Let’s see, I have to have a few facts too. Who do I call in an emergency in case you can’t be reached?” He held the little girl with his left arm as he wrote with his write hand.

Rachel thought a second and replied, “I guess my father and mother. They’re info is the same.”

Evan wrote down the memorized phone numbers and addresses.

“Has she any allergies or physical conditions we need to be aware of?” He gazed over at the little girl and thought she looked healthy.

‘”She’s fine. I have her doctor’s phone numbers though in case you need them.” Evan nodded and jotted the numbers down.

“OK, last question. Do you have any legal problems? Will her father try to abduct her?” Evan knew the answer but this was a standard form they had put together after having some unexpected problems.”

“Her father signed off on any legal rights. He is not apt to want to see her. I understand he is in England now anyways.” Rachael watched as Evan’s hands caressed Charity. She reached up to touch his face. Before Evan knew it, she had crawled up and was hugging his neck. ‘Mine!”

“Uh, I think she is taking ownership of you. Just a second I’ll get her.” Rachael reached over and retrieved her daughter. “She has never done that. Usually she won’t leave my side. I’m really sorry.”

Evan nodded and put the papers all together. “I guess that’s it Rachael. She’s free to start tomorrow.”

Rachael knew this was awkward and tried to ease things a little. “I really appreciate you taking her Evan. I’d be so worried if she were with anyone else.” She got up to leave.

“Well, I usually just work the office. I do help with the classroom things at times though.” His hair was messed up due to Charity’s hands in it and his shirt was rumpled. All in all Rachael thought he looked like a dad. She winced when she realized that because of her, they were not together.

Rachel had prayed and asked forgiveness for her actions years ago. She had gone to Evan’s father and mother and poured her heart out to them. Her mother and father in law were wonderful to her. They just couldn’t get her to talk to Evan, or him to talk to her. They watched as the two wasted almost two years in silence when both obviously still loved each other.

Rachael was afraid of rejection. She held the picture of Evan shaking in his office after her confession. It had seared her heart. He had told her that he forgave her. He was crying at the time he said it. That made it hurt even more. When she received no word from him, she felt he had not forgiven her.

Evan was shocked that Rachael had moved out so fast without a word. He told his father that he thought she had never loved him. His father had encouraged him to go talk to her. Evan was hurting for a long time. Though his heart wanted to reach out to Rachel, he lacked courage. That once dynamic young man who had gone all over the world in Jesus name was now tired after a day working in the office of the day care center.

Evan was on the phone to his father soon after Rachel had left with her daughter. “I can’t do this Dad. I thought I was strong enough, but I’m not. Each time I looked at that little girl I felt like I was being stabbed. Please dad, I need to work somewhere else.” He had locked the door and was sitting on the floor with the phone.

Rev. Sikes listened as his son was weeping. “I’ll be right there.” He took the elevator to the basement and walked to the day care center. What had once been a small church had grown to the 5,000 member church it is today. It had a school, day care, restaurant, as well as a foot ball field stadium sized sanctuary. The senior pastor’s office was on the third floor. The offices were all on the third floor. It took a lot of work to keep this mega church going. But, when his son needed him, Rev. Sikes was there in a flash.

Soon he pulled his son off the floor. Even at sixty four, Rev. Sikes was a strong giant of a man. Evan matched him in height but he was lanky where his father had bulk. Evan clung to his father a moment. “What am I going to do?”

“Let’s have a cup of tea and think about this.” Rev. Sikes was from an English family where tea solved everything. When they both were settled into soft easy chairs Rev. Sikes began to speak.

“I want you to know that I love you son. I know how hard this must be. Yet, I feel that the Lord would want me to tell you something.” He stopped to sip his tea. “After Rachael left you, she came to us and confessed everything she had done. She wanted to be sure that we knew you were the innocent one. Son, that girl knows the whole church knows of her affair and pregnancy. Can you imagine the courage it took for her to consider coming here? Yet, she did it for Charity. She thinks this is the best place for her. I’m inclined to agree.”

Evan stared into his tea cup. He cleared his throat and mopped his face with a sleeve before he spoke. “I used to preach at the top of my lungs from the pulpit on forgiveness. I preached that if we don’t forgive others, than our heavenly father won’t forgive us. I remember the sermons on it. I wrote them. I really thought I forgave her Dad. So, why does this hurt so much?” He sat his tea cup down and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hands. He leaned back and just stared off into space with burning watery eyes.

“This is no easy thing to live through son. I tell people that the true test of our faith is not during high praise and when we are jumping up and down at a revival meeting. No, it’s when we get hit between the eyes like you have, that the real man comes to focus. That’s the man that God wants to deal with.”

Evan sat listening to his father and nodding. “Have I done something wrong in this entire thing, Dad?”

Rev. Sikes had heard the same questions for years. “The best thing I can figure son is that you need to think about what it is you want. Forget about the hurt, the pain and all of that. Do you still love that girl?” He all ready knew the answer. “You don’t have to answer me. But, you need to answer yourself. When you figure out what it is that you want, compare it to what God says we should want. His word says ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God.’ Does it match up to what your heart wants? “. When the Reverend stopped talking, they both sat in comfortable silence for a while. Evan’s father got up and patted his son’s shoulder. “Are you all right son?”

“Yeah Dad. Thanks!” Evan stared out the window as his father walked out of the office. Evan wondered what he really wanted. He’d spent so long grieving over what was lost, that he didn’t see any hopes for the future. No matter what he wanted, the future had changed from what he had envisioned. He sat back thinking of those visions in his mind. He wanted to serve God. He had wanted a family and a loving wife. He had wanted a wife who shared his vision of ministry. Then he thought about what his father had said. Did his visions match up to God’s?”

Evan came to only one conclusion that day. “His ways are higher than mine” Evan said as he left the building to go home. Home was the same house that he had shared with Rachael. He hadn’t changed anything. Their wedding picture was still on the wall. As he walked by it, he looked. His throat clenched and his eyes stung with unshed tears. “Yes, I still love you Rachael.”

The next morning was hectic as 23 infants were dropped off for day care. The babies were in one large room while the toddlers were in another. Evan couldn’t resist going in to peek at Charity. He waited until Rachael had left.

Charity sprang into action as he walked in the room. “I bike you!” She yelled as she launched herself at his legs. Evan smiled and reached down to pick her up. Mary and Tina were the teachers that day. “Do you know who she is?” Mary asked.

“Yes, I know. I think she likes me, or ‘bikes’ me as she says.” Evan sat down as Charity hung on to his neck. She chattered about everything and nothing made sense. Yet, Evan realized that Charity wanted his attention. He ended up spending most of the morning with her. When she went down for a nap he went to get his work done.

The next day, Evan didn’t go into the day care room. He watched the infants play outside through his office window though. Charity was in the sand box with two other children. She smiled and laughed easily. Suddenly she looked up straight at him. “Mine!” She smiled and then went back to playing.

Evan found himself praying over the infants as usual, except he prayed more for Charity. As he was on his way to work a week later he realized he felt lighter emotionally. He looked forward to graham cracker kisses from Charity. In the several weeks that followed, he spoke a little to Rachael as well. He learned she had gone back to work in the bank, where she’d been when he met her.

Rachael enjoyed seeing Evan as well. He always looked disheveled and smelled like milk and cookies. She loved that he’d taken to Charity as well. Charity knew few words but she seemed to tag Evan as “Mine”.

One day Rachael arrived early to see Evan with several of the children crawling all over him. He was playing horsey. Charity was having her turn and smiled at the other children. “Dada! Mine!” Rachael let out a gasp.

As she got down she patted Evan’s cheeks. “DADA! Mine!” Evan blushed crimson but did not correct her. He looked over and spotted Rachel and smiled a little.

“Look who’s here Charity?” Charity squealed and ran to her mother. “Horsey mama, Mine! Dada! Mine!”

Evan realized that Rachel wasn’t correcting her. He figured she was embarrassed. “Hey, I’ll walk you out.” He got up and rolled his shirt sleeves down and donned his jacket. As they walked out, he put his arm around Rachael without realizing it. Even Rachael thought nothing of it. It was a natural thing to do.

“I’m so sorry Evan. She must have embarrassed you with all that ‘DADA’ stuff.” Rachael was flustered and didn’t know what to say.

“I would be a good ‘DaDa’, don’t you think? He looked into Rachael’s eyes very seriously. On impulse he took Charity out of her arms and spoke to the child. “Am I a good enough ‘DADA’?” he made a silly face as he spoke to her.

Charity laughed and said “Mine!” “You see, she agrees!” he said.

Rachael looked up at Evan and couldn’t speak due to the huge lump in her throat. She hadn’t been this close to Evan for almost 3 years. Everything about him said ‘home’.

Evan knew the look and prayed silently for help. “Will you come home with me? I want to show you something.” Rachael nodded and got into her car. She followed Evan to her former home. As she got out of the car she noticed that the rose bushes were in bloom. The manicured lawn and front porch swing beckoned to her. She was homesick. She was Evan sick.

Evan took Charity out of her car seat and swung her up into his arms. He led the way into the house. Rachael gazed into the house and found nothing changed since the day she left. “Come with me.” said Evan.

Evan led her to the upstairs den. Rachael wasn’t sure what to think. She walked into the den and saw a beautiful nursery. Charity found the child sized bed with railings and marched over to take a look. “Mine!”

“It’s yours if your mommy says yes.” Evan was starting to tremble and wondered if he’d acted too soon.

“What am I saying yes to Evan?” she asked.

Evan got down on his knees so that he’d be eye level to Charity. “I’m asking for a second chance. I know what I want and it’s the two of you. I always did, but I was so afraid of rejection that I just refused to even think about it. We might need some marriage counseling; I know I’m not perfect. But Rachael can you come home now?”

“Evan, I’ve done a lot of learning since I went away. I found out I had a lot of garbage ideas about the Lord that just weren’t true.” She sat in the rocking chair and looked over at Evan. Evan waited patiently as she went on.

“Thank you for forgiving me quickly. I didn’t forgive my self. Then I thought I needed to punish myself. Ira helped me to understand that all I had to do was receive the forgiveness that the Lord held out to me. All I had to do was receive your forgiveness too. I do receive it Evan. I’m not through learning and I’ve got something else to say but first let me do this.”

Rachael’s arms were around Evan’s neck instantly. “I want to come home, now!”

Charity stood quietly watching as her mother smothered Evan with kisses. Evan closed his eyes and drank it all in. She wandered back to the bed. It was covered in dolls and toys. She took a rag doll and went back to Evan. “Mine?”

Rachael laughed and said “Yes Charity! It’s yours! The bed, the toys and especially your ‘DaDa’!”

Evan was watching Charity as her eyes grew wide. She walked over to the toy box and gently picked at the toys. She looked at the children’s pictures on the wall. The wall was bright pink with white trim that matched her bed. She toddled over to the curtains and looked out the window.

“I have child safety locks all over the house. You won’t have to worry. I also have alarm systems and a monitor. We’ll be able to hear here all over the house.” He was babbling but he didn’t care.

Rachel fished around for something in her purse. She sat on the floor and looked at the piece of paper silently. Evan was getting nervous. “What’s that?” he asked.

“Well, I got this in the mail today. See, I should have done this a long time ago but I just thought there was no need. I’ve screwed up so many things. You’ve so much to forgive. If you change your mind about wanting me to come back to you I will understand.” Her lips began to tremble and Evan went to her.

“What is it?” He held Rachael as she regained her composure.

“Well, Charity has these huge eyes and Brant had little eyes, and mine are different too. I saw it a few weeks ago while you were on the floor playing tea with her. So, I got a paternity test using your DNA. I didn’t tell you in case it was nothing. But, it’s something.”

Evan was getting excited. “What is something?”

“Charity was right when she kept saying “mine”. You ARE hers, DaDa!”

Evan never thought he could smile that much. The entire night he watched and smiled as Charity slept. Sin had caused the couple to separate. But, because of Rachael’s love for Charity; they came back into his life. A little child had led them.

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