Monday, September 13, 2010

The Reverend chooses Crystal

Crystal sat in the third pew from the pulpit and watched as Rev. Dirk introduced the new assistant pastor. The small country church had 256 members and this evening was the new pastor’s debut. The previous assistant pastor had been promoted within the denomination and a vacant spot had remained vacant for almost a year. Crystal crossed her legs and wished that the church would buy air conditioning for the sanctuary. The windows were open and the sounds of insects crying out from the heat filled the air.
Outside small insects were flying around the parking lot lights. Crystal tried to sit politely but her patience was wearing thin. She pulled out an old bulletin and began to fan herself.
A young man about thirty stepped up to the pulpit. He looked like the ordinary minister with the black robe and white collar. Yet, his hair had an untamed look. It wasn’t messy, but fell in soft blonde waves across his forehead. It was above his collar yet very thick. He leaned over the pulpit and adjusted the microphone before he spoke.
‘Thank you for coming out to greet me tonight. I just flew in from California and I’m a bit jet lagged but I will try to fill you in on who I am. My name is Rev. Curtis Long. I come from a long line of ministers. I spent most of my childhood in the African jungle. My parents were missionaries and I’m what you’d call an ‘MK’ or ‘Missionary Kid’. I love the Lord with all of my heart. When I was six years old I woke up in our tent in Kenya and discovered my parents were not there. Now, I was sure the rapture had come and I was left behind. My mother came running in when I began to wail and assured me that the Lord had not come back yet.’
The congregation began to relax into soft laughter. The minister continued. ‘After that near miss, I was very serious about my salvation. I asked Jesus to be my savior that very night. I was a bit of a cut up though and since most of my friends were African I decided that I was supposed to be as well. I used to love to watch the men get ready to go hunting. So, naturally I went along one day. I neglected to tell my parents where I was though. I came home all sweaty and bit up from bugs but so excited to have speared my first wild animal. It was a rabbit. My mother and father were not so pleased with me. I still bear the scars of that discipline….. in my mind’s eye.’
Once again the congregation laughed. They were eating this young man up actually, Crystal thought. She looked around at all of the people. The older women had stars in their eyes and the younger women were sitting on the edge of their pews. The men were slapping their knees and laughing loudly.
‘I do not have a lot of experience to offer all of you. I am a Rev. in training so to speak. Yet, I know the word of God and I will not preach from my experience but from the Gospel itself. In fact, I think if I were 90 years old I would still preach the gospel rather than rely on my experiences. If I fail, and I probably will not always be perfect at church socials and such…I only pray that you will have patience with me. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to serve and especially feel blessed to have Rev. Dirk oversee me. You see, he and my father are friends. He can’t tell secrets about me though, it’s a sin.’
Once again the laughter rose up. “I want to speak to you on a more serious note though and it’s about myself and every other servant of God. So many times people look to pulpit in awe of the one who is serving as a minister. I saw this as a child when my father was the leader. I might mention that he not only directed one, but seventy three churches were under his supervision. I was aware of how some looked to him as a sort of ‘God’ character. My father had a saying and I will repeat it now. ‘Never idolize your pastor; he’s your servant and not your master’. Now, I did not invent this little ditty but heard it much as I grew in the things of the Lord. We have only one God and that is who we all must turn to. I am only an assistant guide to all of you. As much as I love this Reverend Dirk who has served you so faithfully over the years, I will never stand in awe and worship to him. He wouldn’t want it from me or any of you. My father never wanted it either. I’d like your prayers and friendship. In time I hope to earn your trust and respect. But, my most important thing is to be obedient to the call of Christ. I will be looking to Him, and I pray you will see Him through me.’
Everyone clapped their hands and the praise music began. When the music was finished the women served coffee and pie downstairs in the church dining area.
Old Agnes set up a schedule for meals to be taken to the new minister. ‘A bachelor like you probably won’t eat right. We’ll make sure you have a hot meal five nights a week. You’ll be on your own a few days though.’ she laughed.
The young man smiled politely and said thanks. “Just leave the meals here in the fridge please. I’m probably going to be out a lot and my apartment is just behind the parsonage.” The arrangements were made that evening and Curtis ended the evening with many thank yous and hand shakes. When everyone was gone, Rev. Dirk shook Curtis’ hand and said. “Well done son, you had them eating out of your hand. You were humble, funny and gave a great message to boot. They’ll be swarming around you though to try and fix you up with every single woman imaginable. Better keep your doors locked and the answering machine on.” He laughed and Curtis said

“Thanks, I was only saying what I felt the Lord wanted me to say though Rev. Dirk. I'm not much for playing up to a congregation. But, free dinners sound nice. Of course, I remember some of those kind gestures when I was a kid. One member of the church made this bolona cassorole that had my father sick for a week."

"Oh, well I know who you can trust and who you can say thanks and feed my dog the food. I'll help ya out there."

Curtis was frank with the Rev. Dirk. "If it's ok, could you pass along that I'd like to choose my own dates too? I mean, I prayed about this and I asked the Lord to send me someone."

"Good for you. I'll pass it along, but still you might want to speak that out in a sermon some day. Now don't go telling folks what you're looking for, just that you are waiting on God." Rev. Dirk kept grinning and finally Curtis walked away.

"Poor kid, he's gonna be a gonner if I don't step in." The Reverend would make it a point of fending off some of the older women.

The following day found Crystal at her usual station behind the counter at ‘King’s Grocery’ store. She had a smile on her face as she scanned the items for the customers. Curtis spied her as he was walking into the store. She had her hair up and a pencil stuck behind her ear. She seemed familiar but he wasn’t sure if she was one of the ladies he’d met the night before. He took a cart and strolled down the isles.
The sound of Crystal’s laughter drifted through the air as he picked up soup, shaving cream, and strawberry jam. He took his time observing Crystal without her notice. She wasn’t exactly beautiful but she had a warm pretty face that Curtis felt was special. Her smile seemed to come from the inside out. It was not a fake smile to be polite to the customers. The easy banter told him that she knew how to communicate well.
When he finished going up and down each isle, he walked to the counter and said ‘hello’. Crystal looked into the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. She smiled and said ‘Oh, hello. Are you new here? I know most everyone who comes in and I’ve never seen you before.’
Curtis thought he must have mistaken her for someone else. “I just got in yesterday. I’m Rev. Curtis Long from First Methodist Church.”
Crystal blinked and then saw the collar he wore. “Oh, for goodness sakes! I’m nuts, I mean I’m Crystal Peterson, I saw you last night!” She began to giggle nervously.
“Oh, I thought you looked a little familiar. When you said you’d never seen me before I thought I was mistaken. So, you work here full time?” He stood watching as she scanned and bagged his groceries.
“Yes, it’s a family grocery store. My grandfather started it and my dad took over three years ago. I’ve worked here since I was sixteen. I went away to college but when I came back I couldn’t find a job. I like it here though. “
She realized she was rambling but couldn’t seem to stop herself. Curtis walked to the end of the counter and began placing his bags back into the cart to bring them to his car. “Oh, this jam’s top is loose. Just a moment I’ll ring for Jimmy to get you another jar.”
She went to press the button and somehow the jar slipped out of her other hand and the lid slipped off. She went to grab it only to make matters worse. The jar’s contents went all over Curtis’ shirt.
“Oh, my goodness! I’m so sorry. Here, I’ll call my dad and we’ll pay to have it dry cleaned. I’m so sorry Rev.Long.”
Curtis was laughing hystericly by now. ‘ This little lady with the pencil behind her ear is better than a slapstick skit from the old Carol Burnnet show’, he thought. “No need to get upset. Really, I’ll get it clean. Crystal, why don’t you call me Curtis? I think we are going to be friends.”
Crystal raked a hand over the side of her face and knocked the pencil out from behind her ear. “Oh, so that’s where that went! Goodness, first I forget who you are and then throw jam on you. I must look like a dolt with this pencil behind my ear all this time. I looked all over for it too.” Once again she felt herself get red in the face and rambled on. “No, dad will want to have that shirt dry cleaned. Oh wait, here he is.”
Ned Peterson had no idea why his daughter was so flustered. She somehow had that wild look in her eye though just as Jimmy had told him while he was getting a new jar of jam.
“Hello Rev. Long! It seems you like our jam!” He smiled at the younger man. “Now, I know where you live so I’ll just give you this voucher and Mike over at the dry cleaners will get that cleaned up. Mike is an usher at the church and I send all my customers to him. Not that my daughter throws jam on everyone of course. She’d put me out of business.” The two men laughed as Crystal stood silently bagging up the rest of Curtis’s groceries.
“I can’t remember when I’ve ever smelled so sweet. What a delightful way to shop!” Curtis laughed. “I tell you what Crystal. I’ll accept this voucher if you accept an invitation for me to take you to lunch.”
“Oh, I get it…you are repaying good for evil right?” Crystal couldn’t imagine why he’d take her to lunch for any other reason.
Curtis looked at her and frowned. “No, I’m hungry at lunchtime and I hate to eat alone. Besides, you weren’t being evil when this happened. It was an accident. What time do you take a lunch break?”
Crystal thought a moment and said, “Well, I should be going to lunch in about 2 hours. I get a whole hour.”
“Well then that gives me plenty of time to get home with these groceries and change my shirt too. I’ll be here in two hours ok?” He was watching the many expressions on her face. He spotted nervousness, apprehension, amazement and finally acceptance.
“OK, that will be fine. Do you want to go to ‘Fishy’s Deli? It’s just across the road over there. They make great salads and things.”
Curtis glanced over at the outside tables with umbrellas. ‘It’s kinda warm, do they serve inside too?”
“Oh, yes and it’s air conditioned. Most places are except the church. Oh, I didn’t mean to complain.” She once again stuck her foot in her mouth.
Curtis began to laugh again. “Well, I personally thought the sanctuary was like a hothouse last night so if you’re complaining then so am I. Fishy’s it is. See you in two hours.”

Crystal sat in a booth and ordered a soda as she waited for Curtis to arrive. She began to twirl her straw and gaze out of the window. The sun reflected off of a parked car’s windshield and she sat with her eyes wide and staring as Curtis walked over to the booth. He had a chance to see her unguarded expression as he stood for a moment. Her wide hazel eyes and upswept blonde hair with slender neck seemed so feminine and real. He slowly approached the booth with a gentle ‘hello’.
Crystal was surprised that she didn’t see him come in. “Oh, I’ve been sitting here daydreaming I guess. So, I see you’ve changed from the strawberry shirt.” She smiled and was surprised to find she had relaxed.

“Yes, it was hard to part with. It smelled so nice, but it would have attracted ants.” He laughed. Curtis spied the menu and began to check out what he wanted to eat. “So, do you have a favorite here?”

Crystal sipped her soda and replied, “no, I usually have something different. But, nothing is different after a few years. I think I memorized the menu. I’m having the tuna on rye with chips today. I have to warn you though, the dessert is addictive. Apple pie a la mode.”
“Well, let’s skip lunch and have that first then. So we know we have enough room!” Curtis was fascinated to see Crystals eyes sparkle. He thought he’d make jokes all during lunch just to keep them dancing. “You have the most sparkling eyes Crystal. In fact, Crystal is the perfect name for them.”
“Oh well, thank you kind sir…” Crystal began her southern accent routine “You just keep those kind words coming and we’ll do just fine.” The waitress came just then and took their orders.
The two enjoyed their lunch and Curtis was reluctant to say good bye. “I’ll see you later I guess.”
Crystal smiled. “Oh, that’s right…I get to bring you a casserole tomorrow night. Those women worked fast to get you fed this week.”
“Oh, so you are feeding me tomorrow night? How about we share whatever you make?” He suddenly realized he was trying to make a date and felt foolish.
Crystal wasn’t quite sure what he meant but she had planned to save out some of the casserole for her own dinner. Why not eat with him instead?
“Well, I’ll see you in the church kitchen at around 6:30 then ok?” She stood back to see if she had misinterpreted him.
He smiled. “Sure thing! Have a great day now. Lunch was great!” Curtis had no idea he was still smiling when he walked into the pastor’s study.

“Well now Curtis, I see the place agrees with you. I’ve never seen anyone smile all the way from the driveway to my office. Usually, the office turns them serious. Pastors are scary you know.” Rev. Dirk was teasing the younger man but Curtis never caught on.

Chapter two

That evening Crystal went home and sat with her mother in the kitchen. Ada was the typical housewife peeling potatoes and sipping a cold cup of stale coffee as she listened to her daughter.
“I had lunch with the new minister to day Mom, that is after I managed to make an idiot of myself.” Crystal poured herself a cup of coffee and sat back down. “Honestly, he must think I’m a real moron. I found this jar of jam with a loose lid and accidently dropped it and it landed all over his shirt.”

Ada laughed. “What an original way to greet someone dear.”
The back screen door opened and Crystal’s brother Charlie walked in. Charlie was eight years older than Crystal at 32 years old. Charlie had graduated from high school and went into the army at the age of eighteen. He became a cop after leaving the service with medals ten years later. The entire town thought he had just gotten off probation for getting into a fight with a local bartender a year ago. No one knew the exact details in the community. The bartender had been making advances on some of the local high school girls who had snuck into the bar. When Charlie had walked in, the bartender had a girl’s shirt half off. Charlie had swung first and thought later. He was an undercover policeman. With Charlie’s help, the police had found that the bartender had been putting together a prostitution ring. He was recruiting the girls who had foolishly snuck into the bar using fake I.D.’s. He had been telling the ignorant girls that they would be arrested for their fake I.D.’s unless they did as he said.
The community was left without the story though, so that the police could trace the bigger fish in this pond. After a year, many thought that Charlie was guilty of violence. The church was no exception. Although, Rev. Dirk was aware of the situation, he never divulged any information due to the sensitivity of the matter. This left some of the older women who loved to gossip with much to say.
“So, what’s for supper? Dad and I have been really busy today. Not as much as my dear jam spreading sister though.” He said with a smile.
Crystal idolized her older brother. She had written to him almost every day while he was in the service. Growing up together, he had always been her hero. Ada and Ned did not think they could have another child after Charlie was born. Ada had miscarried twice and later did not conceive. Crystal was a surprise gift.
“I’m afraid it’s not fancy tonight Charlie. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Do you want green beans or carrots?” she asked.
“Well, carrots of course. Hey, I don’t suppose your baking any biscuits to go with it? I could take the left over’s to work with me. The guys love your biscuits you know.” At 32, he still charmed his mother as he did when he was two years old. The curly blonde hair was now a crew cut, but she still could not resist his blue eyes like his dad.
“Well, it just so happens I have made enough for an army. Do you want some honey to take with you? Mr. Jenks dropped over 4 jars from his bees.”
Charlie thought a moment. “No, I think the biscuits will be fine. I’ll take a jar of honey home though.”
Ada smiled and nodded as she continued to peel the potatoes. The kitchen was a traditional old fashioned kitchen with a white enameled gas stove and matching refrigerator. Her green tiled floor gleamed and smelled like pine soap. The green and white ivy wall paper overlooked a butcher block table with white country chairs. It had been in the family for years.

“There’s some fresh coffee Charlie if you want some. I just made it. Mom is still sipping coffee from this morning I think.” Crystal never understood her mother not making fresh coffee. “It was the last of the pot and I hate throwing coffee away.” She always said. Charlie went and poured himself a cup and then sat with his mom and sister.
“I ran into Mrs. Dobey on my way out of the precinct today. ‘I hope you learned your lesson Charlie’ she hollered out.” He shook his head. “The guys laugh each time she comes by. It’s sad really. I mean she goes to church every Sunday and yet is so judgmental! What will she do when the news comes out?”
Ada’s face went red. “I still think I should go over and give her a piece of my mind. She’s got some nerve!”
Crystal began to laugh. “Well, at least she isn’t pestering you to marry her daughter Tessie anymore.”
“Oh yeah!” Charlie began to laugh. “Oh Charlie, don’t forget to come to supper. Tessie is making ‘Stewgallie’! Honestly, she used to throw whatever she had in the refrigerator together and call it a casserole. I tried to be gracious but once I got so sick. I’ll never eat her cooking again.”
Ada suddenly thought of something. “I’ve got to call Rev. Dirk. “ She put the potatoes on the stove and dialed the Reverend’s number. “Oh, hi Rev. Dirk. Listen a thought just occurred to me. I know Tessie Bingam means well but, umm you might want to warn Rev. Long about her cooking. What’s that? You all ready did? Oh, ok. I mean …oh thank you. It’s nice that you know me so well, I’d never hurt her but I’d feel awful if Rev. Long vomited all night the way Charlie did. Yes, well I’ll tell him. So long. Now, stop laughing Rev. Dirk.” She was laughing as she hung up.
Crystal looked over at her mother. “What was that all about?” Ada sat down and continued to giggle. “Well it seems Rev. Dirk had two other people call and warn him about the same thing. Gosh, aren’t we a bunch of birds! Anyway, he was laughing because he had fed that same casserole to his dog and she refused to eat it! He said to tell you he’s praying you have a complete recovery soon Charlie.”
“It was a while ago but the memory makes me sick still.” Charlie rubbed his stomach.
“The Rev. also said that Mrs. Dobey has plans to fix up her daughter with the Rev. Long. I guess he’s to be invited soon and that is why Rev. Dirk all ready warned him.”
Charlie said, “Oh man, that poor guy. He’s a minister and I know he has to go over for dinner some time.”

Chapter Three
The two Reverends decided to dine out of town that night. “I think it’s time I showed you some of the countryside young man.” The Rev. Dirk said with a smile. An hour later they sat at a small diner in the town of Minwick, just four miles from the church. “Not too many folks come this way if they aren’t from Minwick. It’s a small town diner but the fried chicken is so good. Whenever I take my wife here, she brings some home.” Mrs. Dirk had elected to stay home so that Curtis could talk with her husband at leisure and she could put her feet up.
“There is a friend of mine who comes in here, oh well here he is now. Curtis meet Rev. Michael James.” The two shook hands and the Rev. sat down. “I hope you don’t mind my inviting him along. I told him it was for a good cause. To save you from a digestive problem had you gone to dinner otherwise.” The three smiled and chatted.
Curtis found he rather liked Rev. James. He was an older man who had married late in life. “I do have a wonderful daughter and my wife is amazing.” He said. By the end of the evening Curtis had been invited to his home the following Friday night.
The following day found Curtis pouring over the churches paperwork. He was getting acquainted with the schedules and practices of the choir, the youth group pastor came in as well to get acquainted. The day went by fast and soon he sat in the church kitchen waiting for his meal to be brought. He could not remember who was the cook tonight, but Rev. Dirk said not to worry.
A light tap tapping of shoes alerted him that his dinner was on the way. He was surprised to see Crystal bringing in a small bag. “Hi, this is my mother’s night to cook. I hope you like chicken fried steak.”
Curtis sat back. “Why I’m sure I will. Can you join me?”
“Well no, Mom only made enough for one.” Crystal said. “Besides, I’ve eaten all ready.” She looked around the kitchen and thought the minister looked lonesome though. “But, if you like I can stay and keep you company.”
“I’d like that. Have a seat.” Crystal made coffee as she usually did in that kitchen and sat down. The two began to talk easily until Curtis suggested he take Crystal out for dessert. “I found the chocolate cake down at Fishy’s really great. I’d love to buy you dessert. Come on.”
“Well, someone might see us and get the wrong idea.”

Curtis’s eyebrows lifted. “Oh really, they would think we are friends and that’s not true?”
“Oh, we are friends. It’s not true what folks might say.” She realized she was stammering but her focus was on the handsome face of Curtis and her tongue kept going as if it had a mind of it’s own.
Curtis stood up and rinsed off the silverware. He deposited the Styrofoam in the trash as Crystal wiped up the rest. “so, how about we go to have dessert. If you like, I’ll take my camera and get someone to take a picture so I can post it in the bulletin Sunday.”
“What?” While Crystal looked terrified, Curtis started to laugh.
“Come on, I won’t take no for an answer.” Soon they were seated in front of the window eating their cake and enjoying themselves. When they were through, Curtis offered to drive Crystal home.
“I want to show you something” he said. He drove Crystal to a empty lot overlooking Teardrop Bay on the outskirts of town. Crystal became absorbed in the view of the bay as Curtis brought out a blanket for them to sit on.
“I bought this plot of land four years ago.” He said quietly. I had come here on a sight seeing trip one day and I just couldn’t get this piece of land off of my mind. I just had to have it.”
Crystal turned to look at his profile. “This is an expensive piece of property Curtis. Are you going to build a house on it?” Curtis was silent a while as he enjoyed the view.
“Well, I don’t have any issues with money Crystal. I began to learn about computers long ago. It seemed like it was too easy to make computer software. I started selling some of my ideas and used the money to buy my own software company. I now have a huge check sent to me each month. I could have become a software giant I guess, or tried to. But, my calling was in the ministry. So, I went to seminary and got my degree in the field where my heart is. I play around with the software ideas and then meet with the board once a month. It’s a booming business. Yet, if it goes belly up…I will be fine. I’ve invested the money well. Plus, I’ve invested in what I felt the Lord would have me do with some of it. I of course tithe, give offerings and support several ministries abroad. “
Crystal shifted on her side of the blanket. “Wow, I’m sitting next to a millionaire.”
“I am not trying to impress you Crystal. I just wanted you to know what and who I am. In answer to your earlier question…yes. I do plan to build a home here. My life has been spent overseas and living in tents. I really want to set down roots. I can contribute to the world in many ways and still have a home base.” Curtis wanted to ask her some important questions but he was side tracked by the way the wind had lifted her hair and laid it down so gently. Crystal was a beauty he thought.
“Well, it’s getting dark. I guess you should bring me home.” Crystal was getting nervous. Curtis observed her biting her lower lip and saw the signs of a nervous girl.
He sighed and stood up as she stood. He shook out the blanket and replaced it in his back seat. He had only been in town less than a week and he had all ready enjoyed the company of Crystal more than anyone in the church. He was silent as he drove through town and thought he should get his mind on the business of which he had come to town. As he drove onto Crystal’s driveway he realized he had been silent but so had she.
“Well, we sure are chatter boxes aren’t we?” He looked over and realized that Crystal was quite flushed. “Are you all right Crystal? Do you get sick on dessert?”
Crystal looked over at the driver’s side of the car and saw Curtis with a worried look on his face. “Oh, no I’m so sorry. I’m not sick Rev. Long. I just was thinking.”
Curtis frowned. He’d never get anywhere with this girl if she only called him ‘Rev. Long’. “Crystal, would you rather I called you ‘Miss Peterson?”
Crystal laughed. “What? Heaven’s no, only the Sunday school children call me that. Why would you even ask?”
“Well, we have had lunch together, and shared supper and dessert. Plus I’ve spent a little time with you. Yet, you still call me ‘Rev. Long’. Couldn’t you call me ‘Curtis’? I mean I am pretty sure we are friends now and I’m not so old you need call me anything out of respect. I’d like to be a friend as well as the assistant pastor here.” He had tried to make her understand but felt like he was rambling suddenly. He waited to get her response.
Crystal smiled as she hurriedly opened the door. “Well, certainly Rev. Long, I can call you Curtis if you like. Good night and thank you for the ride and dessert Rev. Curtis, I mean Long, no Curtis.”
Curtis bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. Crystal looked delightful when she was flustered. Her eyes got huge and her tongue was tied in knots. “Well, I guess you will have to work on that. Good night Crystal.” He smiled as she darted for her front door and nearly dropped her purse.

Chapter four

He backed out of the driveway slowly and thought about Crystal on his way home. Throughout his life Curtis had no problems with people relating to him. This was the first time he was met with a title that people in church saw before they saw him. “Lord, help me to remain humble and focused on you. I understand I am your servant. This feels strange all of a sudden. It never did before. What is going on?”
The following Friday night found Curtis with the James family. Rev. Michael James and his wife were very friendly and Curtis found Priscilla to be a lovely young lady. She was filled with charm and quick wit. It was a friendship at first sight. They shared many of the same childhood stories. The night ended with plans to get together again in the near future.
Crystal was very busy with customers at the King’s grocery when Curtis walked in with Rev. Dirk. She heard footsteps and looked up to see their smiling faces. Because she was busy, she just nodded and smiled. Rev. Dirk did his shopping from his wife’s list as Curtis filled his own cart and continued chatting with him. As they neared the fruit section, two of the women in the church overheard Curtis telling Rev. Dirk what a nice time he had at the James home. “Pricilla is amazing. We have so many of the same experiences when we were kids.”
“Oh, I thought you two would hit it off. That’s fine. Now, are you free to go with me to the hospital and then to the jail? I want to introduce you to the two chaplains and they want to include you in some of their work as well. Our church has always been involved with those two ministries. Also, there is a food pantry where you will be helping out twice a month too. I guess I should go with you tomorrow if we get tied up today.”

The two men talked and were oblivious to the two women staring. When it came time for them to check out though, the women walked over and said hello. Crystal stood and listened as the women were in high spirits and questioning the young minister as to his whereabouts so far. “I thought we would see you at the breakfast this morning. Did you sleep in?”
Crystal cringed at the nerve of those two asking such questions. They were insinuating that the young reverend was expected to be present at all functions. She was relieved when Rev. Dirk cut in.
“Now ladies, you know I never went to every function. What makes you think young Rev. Long is going to be able to do that? I have a full day scheduled with him on most days. If you wish to have us, you need to invite us. But mind you, you have to invite us both so the church won’t think you have favorites.”
The women fell silent. They were used to Rev. Dirk being frank with them, but still they tried to work around him whenever they could.
Rev. Dirk chuckled as the two older women walked away. “That should fix that problem. I should be charging you to keep you out of trouble Curtis.” Curtis laughed.
Crystal smiled and pretended she didn’t hear anything. When Curtis asked how she was, she smiled and said “Oh, just fine! You have a great day Curtis!”
The older women overhear her and shuddered. Soon after the two Reverends left, they were back at the counter to confront Crystal.
“While I realize you are a friendly person Crystal, don’t you think calling the Reverend by his first name shows a lack of respect?” Mrs. Sheffield stood back and crossed her arms over her chest as she did when she was a school teacher.
“The Rev. and I are friends Mrs. Sheffield and he asked that I address him like that. “ Crystal continued to scan the items and add them up. When everything was bagged she engaged her usual smile and said good bye. Inside though, she was seething.
The next Sunday Crystal was straightening her Sunday school room when she overheard the women in the hall. “Well, I am certainly glad to see that young Reverend has taken an interest in Priscilla James. Now, there is a girl of good stock. Someone like her would make him a fine wife too.”
Crystal felt like she had just read someone else’s mail. She finished her work and struck out for the back door, nearly colliding with Curtis before she saw him walking towards her. “Oh, Rev. Long I did not see you.”
“What? You forgot our lunch date? I’m hurt Crystal and I mean that.” He looked quite serious and for a moment Crystal thought she had forgotten something.?”
“Oh, all right. I never actually spoke to you about it. But, can’t you cut me some slack?” Curtis smiled and took out his car keys. “Tell you what, I all ready spoke to your folks and I was invited for Sunday dinner. So, I told them I would drive you home since you took so long cleaning up and your mother wants to get things prepared. How does that sound? It’s the truth, honest!” Curtis put his funny serious face on and Crystal began to giggle.
“Wow, you really had me going there for a moment. Sure, that would be fine.”
Crystal grabbed her bag and soon Curtis was driving her home for the third time that week. “Hey, this is getting to be a habit. People might start talking again.” He teased.
“Well, everyone knows you have a girlfriend so I guess it won’t matter what they say.” She spoke before she realized what she had done.
Curtis eyebrows shot up as he drove. “Now, I am surprised to hear that. Would you at least tell me her name so I will know her? Is she from our church?”
The houses and trees whizzed by as Crystal looked out the window. “Oh, come on.”
Curtis face was in a frown. He had no idea what Crystal was talking about. He pulled over to a curb and turned to look at her. “Listen, I am not fooling around here. If there is gossip about me I should know. As far as I know I do not have a girlfriend. It’s not that I’m not trying my best, but so far no girlfriend.”
“You ever heard of the name ‘Priscilla James’?” Crystal asked.
Curtis sat back a moment and then it hit him. “Those two ladies in the supermarket overheard me talking to Rev. Dirk and spread that around the church?”
Crystal was silent a moment. If gossip was what they did, wasn’t that what she just did? “I’m so sorry. I guess I’m no better than they are. I mean, here I am passing it along to you.”
There was a silence as Curtis drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “Listen, I appreciate you telling me. Priscilla is a really nice lady. We have a lot in common being children of ministers and all. But, we aren’t dating. I just met her Friday night. I am not that fast a mover. Plus, I have only been here seven days and you are the only one I have seen on a regular basis. What does that tell you?”
Crystal sat a moment. Nothing was coming to her mind. “Well, let’s not talk about that again. When and if you find a girl it’s bound to come out though. It’s a small town. A lot of girls will want to date a minister I guess.”
“Well, I guess I’m in demand then.” He laughed and proceeded to drive her home. The family enjoyed Curtis [he told everyone to call him that] and he enjoyed them.
The following weeks were busy for the young minister. He enjoyed meeting new people at the hospital. He did rounds by himself after Rev. Dirk introduced him. He worked at the food pantry and met more of the local people. When it was time to go visit the jail in the evenings of Tues. and Thurs. with Rev. Dirk; he felt at ease with the inmates. One man in particular connected with him. Dan was a lanky man with many scars on his shaved head. He had spent six years in a maximum security prison for a crime done when he was high on dope.
Curtis was amazed how the Lord had softened this man’s heart through the time spent with Rev. Dirk. Curtis found himself telling Dan stories of his childhood in overseas nations. Dan in turn told Curtis of his childhood. His mother had died and he was raised by his grandmother. He was one of three boys. One older brother was a member of Curtis church. Another had spent a year in jail and then got a degree in law. He was Dan’s lawyer. Dan’s crime had been driving over a person while driving under the influence of dope.
Curtis felt his time was well spent with those he met during the week. He soon fell into a pattern of visitation and outreach. Rev. Dirk did most of the preaching the next few months. Curtis would sit with him almost daily and update him on his travels.
Another highpoint of Curtis life was his friendship with Charlie and Priscilla. He would spend a few hours a week hanging out with Charlie. He soon became aware that Charlie loved the Lord almost as much as he did. Charlie spoke of his life in the service with much detail. “I don’t ever tell my folks about it. It’s so hard to find the right words. I mean, how do you tell your mother that the guy next to you had his head blown off into your lap? Or, how do you find the words to explain digging in the sand and staying there for 2 days? It’s nuts. But, I had a wonderful chaplain. He was a card shark. Can you believe it? Bullets could be heard in the distance and here we are praying and playing cards with the chaplain.”
Rev. Dirk came down with a cold one week after Curtis had been there for three months. “I hate to add on to your load but could you preach this Sunday? My head is stuffy and I ache all over.”
“Sure” said Curtis. He turned on his laptop and opened his bible.

Chapter five

Curtis had a sermon almost within moments as he sat preparing for Sunday. When Sunday came, Curtis stood up after praise and worship and prayed for Rev. Dirk who was home in bed with the flu.
Then, he proceeded to begin his sermon. “What I am going to talk about today is the difference between discernment and judgment. In Matthew 7:1-5 it says…’Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgement you judge, you will be judged:and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. How can you remove the speck from your brother’s eye when you have a plank in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Now this does not mean that we are not to be discerning. Matthew 7:6 Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine. We need to know what is swine and pearls.
So what is discernment? It is described in the dictionary as keenly selective judgment. A Godly discernment promotes life. A worldy judgment promotes death. Now, I’m not talking about physical death here but death in the spirit. When we go about making judgments without a Godly outlook we end up doing nothing more than heaping condemnation. But God is light, life and love. He will always be about doing things that shed light on a situation. We are to express love, not condemnation.
Yet, how often has judgment and condemnation come into the body of Christ under the name of discernment? Sometimes, it can be gossip. Nothing is more disruptive to a church like a spirit of gossip. Why just the other day I was informed that I have a girlfriend. I have many friends who are women, but as of today I am waiting on the Lord for a girl who will one day be my wife.”
The majority of the church laughed but a few sat stoicly facing front.
“Here are some questions we can ask ourselves when trying to be discerning about something.
1. Will this fit into God’s will?
2. Can I magnify God with my actions here?
3. Will this help the body of Christ?
I can assure you, gossip does nothing but stir up trouble. But, a wise word spoken in due season can give health to the church. A loving attitude and an arm extended in friendship will strengthen the church. Pray for each other in this. Before we speak anything, lets do what it says in the word. Speak in love, not condemnation.”
The church emptied quietly that day. Many shook hands with Curtis and gave him a good word. Many were silently thinking about what was just said. But, there were a group that refused to speak to him at all. They walked out of the church with their shoulders back and head in the air. Curtis prayed silently as they walked by him.
The following week Curtis felt it time to speak to Crystal about feelings. He visited her home one evening and asked if she would accompany him in his hospital rounds. Crystal was good at speaking to strangers and within the next half hour, Curtis was pleased. They entered the cancer unit and Curtis introduced Crystal to several patients. Soon, they recognized her as the check out girl from King’s Grocery. Crystal pulled us a chair in the four bed ward. She asked if they would mind if she prayed for them. No one declined her offer. She and Curtis went from bed to bed and prayed for healing for those in that room. It was clear to him that Crystal and he made a great team.

Next, they entered the children’s ward. Crystal was a natural with children, as she spent most of her free time getting ready for her Sunday school teaching. She relayed a few of the stories that she had told her class. Curtis was shocked to see her entertain these children with her imaginative stories. There were eight children in the room that day. All were in their pajamas and many with casts on their arms or legs. Some had head bandages on. Crystal spent time talking to each one on a personal basis as she also relayed the story of how Jesus loves the children. Curtis took one of the little boys who was two years old and held him while Crystal spoke. An hour went by and it was time for their lunch. Everyone thanked Curtis and Crystal as they left the ward.
As Curtis drove away from the hospital he reached over and touched Crystal’s hand. “Well, I am so glad you agreed to accompany me. I wonder, would you like to make this a weekly routine? We could make a visit once a week here. I know we make a great team.” He waited and hoped Crystal would agree.
Crystal was so surprised. “Well, it would have to be ok’d by the church wouldn’t it? I mean, I am not a member of the visitation team.”
“I will speak to Rev. Dirk, but I know he will approve. If he approves, then I need go no further. So, what do you say?” Curtis drove past Crystals house without her realizing it. He drove to the park and parked the car near a tree overlooking the pond.
“Well, I would love to. I had a really wonderful time.”
Curtis was excited as he dropped Crystal home. They made plans to have lunch the next day.

Chapter six
The following Sunday, Curtis was in the hallway near Crystal’s Sunday school room when Mrs. Dobey and Mrs. Whaler met him in the hall.
“We have to speak to you Rev. Long. It has come to our attention that you have been seen with Crystal Peterson. You want to be very careful with that girl. She doesn’t come from the best of families and you really need to be thinking of your reputation.” Curtis felt his face go hot and decided to pray silently before responding to these women.
“You see, there are some things you might not know. Her brother was in some trouble. Besides that, aren’t you seeing Priscilla James? Now, there is a family that more suits the life of a minister. She would know how to act.”
Crystal could not listen any further. The women were right, she thought. Even though they were wrong about her family, Priscilla would be the better choice. She would know how to be a minister’s wife. What did she know? She was a cashier at a grocery store.” She left her classroom and hurried down the hall and out the door. Curtis caught her just as she was getting into her car.
“Hey, what are you doing?” When Crystal didn’t answer he turned her around. “Come here,” he said. He marched her to his car and helped her get in. “I know you heard what those women said Crystal but you left before you heard my answer. I told them I choose my own friends.”
Crystal tried to regain her composure. “I am so sorry. It’s just that I never expected that.”
Curtis held Crystal’s hand for a while in silence. He prayed for her to be healed from this hurt. “Listen, how about I go tell your folks I’m taking you home later. I want to talk to you.” Crystal nodded.
In a few moments Curtis was driving them back to the park. He and Crystal found the same park bench and sat down. She sat watching the ducks float by and held her breath when Curtis took her hand again. This time, he didn’t let go.
Curtis cleared his throat as he thought of what to say. “Crystal, I have been here almost four months now. I have met every family in this church. I have spent time with other church people from other churches as well. I’m trying to tell you, I really would like to start seeing you on a more serious level.”
Crystal looked suddenly frightened. “What…what do you mean?”
“I get the feeling that I just scared you. Why is that?” It was a sunny day and the wind was moving the leaves on the trees overhead. Crystal breathed in the air and tried to relax.
“Do you mean you want to counsel me? Do you think I need spiritual help with those women?”
Curtis began to laugh. “No, no nothing like that.” He was silent a moment not knowing how to proceed. He decided to be more direct.
“How do you see me Crystal?”
“Well, your sitting right there. I can see you fine.” She was so nervous that she didn’t understand his question.
“No, I mean do you only see me as the Rev. Long? Or can you see Curtis?”
Crystal understood this was an important question. She answered it seriously. “I see a very wonderful and handsome man who has given his life to the Lord.”
Curtis smiled. This wasn’t a bad answer. He was afraid she would see only the collar again.
‘Do you want to know what I see when I look at you Crystal?” He didn’t wait for an answer. He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. Without looking at her, he began to speak as he looked out over the pond. “I see a gentle caring woman who also has given her life, and time to the work of Jesus. “ He turned then and his knees were suddenly touching her knees. He leaned over and put his hands on either side of her face. “I see a very beautiful person” His voice was a mere whisper as he spoke.
Crystal was frozen in place. She could smell Curtis aftershave and see the yellow flecks in his blue eyes. Then she could not see at all because he had covered her mouth with his own. Crystal did not resist him, but instead kissed him back.
A fish jumped in the pond and suddenly Crystal was awake. She jumped back. Looking shocked and flushed she said, “What was that?”
“Well,” Curtis began..”I think that was a kiss. Did I do it wrong?” He sat back waiting for her response. When she was quiet a moment, he ran his fingers through his hair in frustration.
Crystal surprised him when she began to laugh. Not just a gentle soft laugh either. She began to shake and laugh until she started to hic up. Curtis had never seen her do this, but remembered when Charlie told of how he had gotten her to laugh like this. He suddenly wanted to make her laugh like this for the rest of his life.
“Oh, I am sorry Curtis. You just looked so hilarious, like a kid in my Sunday school class all of a sudden. I think you did it just right though. The kiss I mean.” She tried to stop laughing but the emotions kept bubbling up. “Umm, why did you do that?”
Curtis reached out and took hold of her shoulders as he leaned closer to her face. “I wanted to. In fact, I want to do it over and over. But, that wouldn’t be right.”
“No, no that wouldn’t do.” She replied.
“If you would agree to marry though, then I think I could get away with it.” He waited again to see if she would bolt.
“Marry you? Are you serious? What would Mrs. Whalen or Mrs. Dobey say?”
The ducks started quaking at that precise moment. The squirrels began leaping from the tree to the bench and back to the tree. A big wind rustled through the trees and blew Crystal’s hair back.
Curtis watched it all as if in slow motion. “Let’s not tell them. Oh, Crystal, I don’t care what they think. I just want to marry you, not them. I think I’d like to marry you tomorrow. But, if you could just give an answer we can settle on a time later.”
Crystal got up and straightened her sweater. She held out her hand to Curtis. “Would you mind walking a bit with me? I want to show you something.” Curtis stood up and took her hand. They walked around the pond and ended up at a gazebo. She climbed the steps and looked out over a meadow.
“I have watched a lot of weddings take place right here at this gazebo. What do you think?”
Curtis felt his heart pounding. Was she going to say yes? He’d marry her in the men’s locker room if she wanted. He said “It’s beautiful. Is that a yes?”
Crystal walked over to him and flung her arms around his neck. “I’m not sure if this is proper, but yes. I would love to marry you Curtis.”
“Proper? Oh, you mean the hug? Well, there is a lot we can’t do but I think this hug is just fine!” He picked her up and swung her around.

Chapter seven

Crystal was walking on clouds that night when Curtis and she announced they were engaged. The family celebrated by going out to dinner.
Later that night, Curtis phoned his parents and they gave their blessing. Rev. Dirk had all ready phoned them and told them about Crystal and her family.
The next day, Curtis told Rev. Dirk and he suggested he make the announcement the following Sunday.
The phone rang just as Curtis was leaving. It was Crystal’s brother Charlie. “Hold on Curtis, you might want to hear this.” He put the phone on speaker phone.
“The man the FBI has been looking for in that prostitution ring has been arrested. The case is now going public. I need for you to explain this to the congregation. Perhaps we can get together?”
The three of them met within the hour and it was agreed to have Charlie come to the podium and stand while Rev. Dirk explained what the real story was.
When Sunday morning came, Rev. Dirk called Charlie to stand next to him. “Ladies and gentlemen it is with great courage that Charlie has sat here quietly while many of us wondered at the circumstances of last year’s fight at the bar. I want you to know that this is an honest Christian man who did a wonderful thing that night.” There were murmurs heard in the sanctuary.
“Now, I want to explain. There was a prostitution ring being formed and the bar tender was recruiting young girls. Charlie didn’t get into a fight because he was drunk. He saved the life of a seventeen year old girl. It was kept quiet so that the ringleader could be caught. Last week, the police and the FBI worked together and apprehended all of those who had begun this ring of prostitution and kidnapping young girls. Charlie is a hero. But, he is not here to look for a hero’s welcome. He is a Godly man who only wants to reassure you that he is safe to be near. I know you will join me in thanking him for his service. Applause sounded and many rushed forward to hug Charlie. The group of women who had thought him criminal hung their heads. God was dealing with them.
When Charlie sat back down, the Rev. once again called someone to stand next to him. Curtis walked to the podium and spoke quietly. “I have a wonderful announcement to make. Crystal Peterson has agreed to be my wife. We plan to wed in the near future.”

A hush swept over the sanctuary. Then as if by order, everyone stood and cheered. Crystal was brought to the front of the church and the elders prayed for Curtis and Crystal.
The next few weeks flew by as family and friends were notified of the date and times. Curtis parents flew in and stayed with Rev. Dirk and his wife Lillian. Lillian had been friends with Edith for years and the two spent hours catching up. Rev. Dirk had a luncheon with Crystal’s family in attendance so they could get to know Rev. Long Sr. and his wife Edith.
Curtis and Crystal continued with the visitation to the hospital. It was agreed that Crystal continue on part time with her father at the King’s Grocery after they were married. But, when Crystal’s father heard of it he suggested that they take it a day at a time. “Perhaps we can hire some high school kids and you might find the life of a minister’s wife quite time consuming. This is not such a small church that two Reverend’s won’t be busy.”
Curtis spoke with the park management about the upcoming plans. They were told that the sprinklers were on a timer, but to alert them in advance and it would be adjusted so no one got drenched during the ceremony.
Next, Curtis went to a jeweler and bought the rings. He was amazed to see his bride to be had only a size three and a half finger. So tiny, and yet so busy were her hands, he thought.
Mrs. Dobey never was seen without her friend and quiet follower Mrs. Whalen. The two decided that they would not attend this wedding. When Lillian Dirk heard of it though, she confronted the two of them. “This is a church family wedding. The two of you are on several committees at this church. It wouldn’t look right if you missed this wedding. Do you have hard feelings towards Crystal or Curtis?”
The two said no but they would think about it.
On the day of the wedding Curtis wore his wife’s wedding ring on his pinky finger so it would not get lost. When it came time to hand it over to be tied on a little pillow and be carried up the isle; he could not get it off. Rev. Long Sr. went to the park men’s room and grabbed a brown paper towel and wet it with soap. The ring popped off and a very red Curtis breathed a sigh of relief.
Crystal arrived in her father’s car. A blur of white satin and lace exited the car on her father’s arm. Curtis was breathless as this vision walked to where he was standing. She in turn kept her eyes focused on him. That is why she nearly tripped on a tree root. Her father quickly dove to catch her before she fell. Her flowers went flying to a cousin on the left. A moment of embarrassment and the flowers were back in her hand as her father carefully guided her to her spot near Rev. Dirk, who was officiating. Meanwhile, the hired photographer caught it all on his camera.
Mrs. Dobey and Mrs. Whalen agreed at the last minute to go to the wedding. Mrs. Dobey decided not to sit with the people though. In her shadow was Mrs. Whalen. They stood in the background near the shrubbery. Just at the time the bride and groom kissed, the sprinklers went off. The new married couple turned to face their church family and spotted Mrs. Dobey and Mrs. Whalen standing in shock, soaked to the skin. The photographer burst out laughing as he kept the camera on.

“Well Mrs. Long, are you ready for a wild honeymoon?” Curtis asked.
Crystal smiled into her new husband’s eyes. “I can’t believe I’m spending my honeymoon in your parent’s house in Africa! Are there really going to be tribal ceremonies?”
The following week a church of almost four hundred came to listen to Rev. Long speak about his new life in the United States. They helped raise this man in their own village. Now, he was married and was an assistant pastor.
Above the doorway to the church, was a sign that someone had made. Curtis and Crystal laughed when they read it.
“He didn’t want diamonds, he didn’t want gold. The Reverend chose Crystal!” The End

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