The air in the room had gone still. Each of my parishioners who had come to witness the story as it unfolded watched me with an eagle eye. Waiting, I suppose, for any sign of what was to come.
Minerva still had not returned from whatever was her current mission.
“God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind," I said to Abby.
"This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come," she returned.
“Do you really feel as though the end has come?” I challenged her.
“My end,” she said without a quip.
"And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ," I tried again.
“He that committed fornication sinneth against his own body.”
“Do you really believe that?” I asked.
“My father does,” Abby said.
I wasn’t completely sure how to answer Abby’s statement. On the one hand, didn’t I preach to the children of my congregation on a daily basis the advantages of abstaining from sex before marriage? Yet, on the other hand, today’s moral society had made the act of sex without marriage a standard of practice. Was I to condemn Abby, as her father had? I dare say I would not do so. Abby’s “sin” was an act of poor judgment, not the act of the devil, and certainly neither was little Grace the “seed of the devil.”
“Let them come back to God, who is merciful, come back to our God, who is lavish with forgiveness,” I said.
“Do you think it’s wrong to love a baby you made out of sin?” she asked.
“No,” I said without hesitation. “A child is a gift from God. God loves Grace, no matter how she was conceived.”
She grew silent. I knew she was considering what I’d said. “I loved Jimmy. Was it God’s punishment to take him away from me? How am I supposed to go on loving a God who could take away the man I love just because I broke His rule?”
I pondered her question. I didn’t believe God had taken Jimmy from her. That had been an accident, just as it had on the night my Kathy had been taken from me. Still, I’d had to learn to forgive myself before I could move on and forgive God. Likewise, I did not believe God was punishing Abby. “It is normal to feel guilt when we are the ones left behind,” I told her.
“I do not feel guilty!” she spat at me, but the very vehemence with which she spoke the words told me she did. I heard her breathing calm. “It isn’t fair,” she said.
I heard sobs choking her voice, and I longed to rush to her car and cradle her against me.
“What isn’t fair—you being left here, Jimmy being taken from you, or God settling His score?”
“I didn’t say that,” she said.
“But you think it,” I countered.
“I don’t…” she started to protest, but changed her mind. “Okay, maybe I do, but how else am I supposed to feel when the reminder of my sin is crammed down my throat each and every day?”
“You’re supposed to feel God’s love,” I said.
“Hmm,” she scoffed. “You don’t live in my house.”
I heard Grace start to cry. “It’s getting kind of chilly, Abby. Is Grace okay?”
“She’s fine,” she said. “I told you that. I’m not a bad mother, you know.”
“I don’t think you’re a bad mother,” I quickly said. “I think you love Grace, but you need some help getting through this time in your life. Isn’t that why you called me?”
She didn’t answer at first. I began to fear I had stepped over the line when she said, “I need Jimmy to be here with me. Can you make that happen?”
I sighed. “You know I can’t, Abby. But I can help you feel God’s love, which will put you closer to Jimmy.”
“My father says God is through with me. He says that until I admit my transgression, I am disfavored with the Lord.”
“Do you feel disfavored?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “I can’t apologize for loving Jimmy. He was a wonderful person—ten times the man my father is.”
“I don’t think you should apologize.”
“You don’t?” She sounded surprised.
“Do you love God?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “From all I’ve been taught, I should fear God. It’s hard to love someone you fear.”
“I’m not asking about what you’ve been taught,” I said. “I want to know what you’re feeling.”
While she thought about the question, I looked out over my audience. The force of their determination was incredible. It was hard to believe that just yesterday the only thing of importance in this congregation was how to spend endowment money. Now we were in a race to save a young girl’s life. The comparison was staggering, as was the reaction and determination of this small group—God’s plan?
I heard a car going out the back drive. I turned and looked out the window, surprised to see Minerva exiting the staff parking lot in the rear of the church. I frowned, wondering where she could be going.
“I want to believe God loves me,” Abby finally said.
“Yet you hesitate,” I said.
“I suppose,” she said.
“Tell me what happened that was so awful,” I said. “What brought you to this point?”
I could hear her start to cry again. I closed my eyes against the onslaught of emotion as I listened to the final chapter in Abby’s horrific tale.
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