The Lunch Break

Bestie“Don’t you even think about it.” Sarah increased her walking pace.

“But it’s just a lunch!”

“No Christy, it isn’t. It’s the beginning of the end of your marriage.”

“I thought you’d be happy for me. I really need some distraction. It’s so tense at home.”

“I know it is, honey. But trying to feel better by going out with another man won’t solve anything.”

The young women sauntered around the park, which offered a welcome change from their stuffy office. Sarah heard Christy take a deep breath. The fresh air seemed to instigate her friend’s agitation.

“You don’t know what I have to go through every day. When Harry comes home, he barely greets me. He slumps on the couch, switches on the TV, and waits for his dinner. As if I haven’t worked all day too!”

“Christy, you know that he’s having a tough time at work, with all these layoffs. He’s probably about to collapse under the weight of the mortgage. Maybe he’s depressed, but I’m sure he loves you.”

“Well, I don’t feel it. I wonder if he even sees me.” She kicked at a stone. “Unlike your and Brad’s, our marital ship doesn’t sail tranquil waters. We’re navigating stormy weather and sometimes I feel we’re on the brink of sinking.”

“Maybe you should ask for help to get through this storm.”

“You’re not talking about going to church, are you?”

Sarah hesitated. “Well, it isn’t really joining a church I’m thinking of. But there’s this course which…”

“No. I won’t go to any church. Listen Sarah, I appreciate your friendship, but I don’t share your beliefs. Please respect that.”

Sarah looked at her friend and noticed her clenched jaws. Jesus, help me to find the right words to open Christy’s heart, so that You will have the opportunity to restore her marriage.

Then she heard a whisper of God. Tell her about how I helped you through your hard time.

Thank You, Lord.

As they strolled among lush greenery, the spring sun brightened their path.

“Shall we sit here?” Sarah pointed at a bench under a massive oak tree. “I’d like to tell you something.”

Visibly irritated, Christy checked her watch. “Okay. I guess we have some time before going back to work.”

Sarah’s voice wavered, but she was determined to obey God. “I never talk about it, because it isn’t relevant anymore. Anyway, our marriage wasn’t always as good as it is now. About five years ago, Brad betrayed me.”

Christy gasped. “What? Brad? The superstar husband?”

“Yes, my Brad had a relationship with another woman.” Although Sarah had forgiven him, she remembered the pain. She swallowed. “It was very difficult.”

“What did you do?”

“At first, I wanted to leave him. I felt so hurt, so humiliated. But Brad said he still loved me and asked me to forgive him.”

“Impossible!”

“I had a friend who told me about this marriage course. Brad wanted so much to try it, so at the end I agreed. God did the rest.”

“What do you mean, ‘God did the rest’? Brad betrayed you, not God!”

Sarah realized that their lunch break wouldn’t be long enough to explain everything, so she just said, “Jesus helped me to forgive Brad and began to heal my heart. And we learned to love each other all over again.”

She saw that Christy looked puzzled, so she continued, “A marriage is like a garden; if we want it to flourish and be fruitful, we need to tend it carefully. We must water, nourish, and sometimes prune the plants we want to grow. At the same time, we need to uproot the weeds that harm the garden. Although it wasn’t my fault Brad had an affair, the course helped me to see that I had forsaken my husband in other ways.”

Christy stared straight ahead. Sarah knew she had touched a chord.

“I care about you, Christy. Try it. Harry—your marriage—is worth it.”

A ray of sun penetrated the tree crown and caressed Christy’s face. She sighed.
“Okay Sarah, you win. I’ll cancel the lunch and talk with Harry about the course.”

The young women looked at each other, a little uneasily, and smiled. Then Christy reached out to hug Sarah. “My bestie.”

A bird in a bush nearby started singing.

***********************************************

AUTHOR’S NOTE

To know more about the marriage course described in this story, follow this link http://www.relationshipcentral.org/marriage-course

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Just Christians

“Mom, today another teacher told me I can’t be a Christian.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. How did you respond this time?”

“I just repeated that I’m a Christian. But she said I have to be a Roman Catholic, an Orthodox, or a Protestant Christian. She said I can’t be ‘just a Christian’.”

“You want me to talk with her and explain?”

Aisha sighed. “No, forget it. She won’t understand anyway.”

Although I didn’t agree with my fourteen-year-old daughter’s conclusion about the teacher’s ability to understand, I empathized with her. It was the second teacher who stated that Aisha couldn’t be a Christian.

The first had told her, “Go and ask your parents what you are.” After all, Aisha was the only child in her class not to attend the Catholic religion classes. Furthermore, she hadn’t received her First Communion nor did she go to Mass.

My husband, our daughter, and I are a non-denominational Christian family in Umbria, Italy, and we know that God wants us to reach out to Italians.

However, most of the 60 million people in Italy identify themselves as Christians, mainly Roman Catholics.

So what are we doing here, aiming to evangelize Christians?

But do the people we meet really know Jesus? When we ask, “How do you do?” the answer is often, “Si tira avanti,” which means, “I get by”, literally, “I’m dragging myself forward.” Their faces express a mixture of fatalism and futility as they mention family problems, failing health, or financial troubles. They’re living without purpose, without a glimmer of hope.

Despite the omnipresence of Catholicism, most Italians don’t know God, meaning that they don’t know Him personally. They picture Jesus as the dead man on the Cross or the helpless baby in the manger, but the living King has no relevant role in their lives.

We know that God loves the Italian people and wants to be part of their daily lives. He wants to give them identity, a sense of value, meaningful purpose, and clear direction.

How to explain this? How to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God among people who think they are doing fine as far as religion is concerned? What is evangelism anyway?

Evangelism is not necessarily about going into the streets with megaphones and handing out tracts to strangers. From our experience, we know that people won’t trust our words until they trust our hearts. Evangelism is a lifestyle.

We pray to God each day that He will fill us with love for everyone we will meet that day. We listen to people’s problems; we offer to pray for them and with them. We share with them what Jesus has done in our own lives. We talk with them and counsel them.  We open our house and our hearts to them.

When people show interest, we often point them to John’s Gospel to get to know Jesus.

Thanks to their Catholic heritage, many Italians own a Bible. And we know that God’s living Word has the power to lead them to faith in Christ (2Timothy 3:15).

There’s a problem though; most Italians we meet find the Bible an intimidating book that they have never opened, let alone read.

I recently found the solution for overcoming this initial hesitancy in the form of a small evangelism tool, the Pocket Testament.

Pocket Testament LeagueSome weeks ago, I came across the website of the Pocket Testament League (PTL). The PTL has an intriguing history and two main goals: Strengthen people’s faith and equip them to bring other people closer to Jesus. To that end, they offer free evangelism training and free daily devotionals. However, their main tool is the Pocket Testament, a booklet containing the complete Gospel of John, preceded by an explanation of Jesus’ crucial role in God’s reconciliation plan.

Delighted to find out that the Pocket Testament is also available in Italian, I immediately ordered twenty copies.

Upon receiving them, I put several booklets in my handbag. In two of them, I wrote a personal message.

Dear teacher,

I’m taking the liberty of sharing our Christian faith with you through this booklet.

May you be blessed by its content. 

Yours sincerely,

Milly Born

I trust that God will grant me the opportunity to give each pocket testament to the intended recipient. His Word will do the rest.

The Snake Defeated

DogsmileSome people say that dogs can’t smile. I think they’re wrong.

However, when I first met the English setter during a stroll in the woods, she didn’t smile. She leaped like a doe in distress, making sure that the distance between us was too big for anything I might throw at her to hit her. From that safe place, she stared at me.

I tried to lure her, but no matter how sweet my voice, it didn’t convince her to reduce the space between us.

The next day, I took some dog food with me, wondering if I’d see her again. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her—white with orange flecks skittering among the trees. I stopped and called to her. She froze. While she scrutinized my every movement, I put the food on the ground, walked backwards a few steps, and squatted.

Her hunger was stronger than her fear. Slowly, she approached the food, took a big gulp, and pulled back.  She was young, maybe six months old. A fearful, skinny puppy.

Ciao bella.” Not wanting to scare her, I almost whispered. “What are you doing all by yourself in the forest? Did somebody chase you away?”

While she repeated the sequence of coming, swallowing, and withdrawing, she never lost sight of me. She didn’t look at my face though; she watched my hands. I could only imagine the abuse she had received.

After she’d eaten the last bite, she retreated into the woods.

The day after, she seemed to be waiting for me. This time, she lingered after I fed her. As I spoke softly, she shifted her gaze from my hands to my face. Was she trying to figure out if I deserved her trust? The open hand I offered her provoked panic though, and she shot away.

Back home, I took up the chores of the day. While watering the plants, I saw her–tense like an arrow in a bow; she stood on the drive and observed me.

That evening I left dog food on the porch, which was gone the next morning. Bella, where are you?

As I started out for my daily walk, a sudden nudge against my leg startled me. It was her, ready for an outing. And she smiled.

Over the next few weeks, Bella became my faithful hiking buddy. Wherever I walked, she ran. Climbing up rocks, jumping off slopes, following tracks that only she could smell. Disappearing in the woods and reappearing when I thought I’d lost her. At times she stood motionless, one front paw raised, her eyes fixed on a spot in the grass. Her tiny body got fuller, and the space between us diminished. When she allowed me to caress her for the first time, I almost cried.

Then, one morning, something was wrong. Bella stood on the porch as usual, yet she didn’t smile. I was able to touch her, but she refused food. The lack of appetite of her otherwise famished body prompted me to take her to the vet immediately.

Her symptoms indicated poisoning. Several tests confirmed the vet’s initial diagnosis: Bella had been bitten by a viper.

I cringed. “Will she be well again?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. We must administer the antidote; otherwise she’ll die of internal hemorrhages. If she’s still alive tomorrow night, she’ll make it. However, the tissue damage may be too great for her to ever run again.”

Thank God, she survived. However, the vet recommended that I allow her to walk as little as possible, and on a leash only. “Bring her back in a fortnight so that I can perform some more tests.”

Bella, my little bouncing dog, on a leash? Set free from abuse and fear, would she now be imprisoned by a venomous snake?

The first days she was too tired to protest, but after a week she zigzagged ahead of me, pulling, obviously frustrated by the restriction.

The day we were to see the vet finally arrived. Relief filled me at the vet’s solemn words. “The snake is defeated.”

The first time I let Bella outside without the leash, she ran off and out of sight. With mixed feelings, I headed for the woods. Would the thrill of regained freedom make her flee from me?

A rustle in the sun-spotted greenery… and there she lunged forward. She overtook me, stopped, and turned around, watching me, panting. And then I saw it–she was smiling again.

 

 


 

Those among you who recognize “Bella” know that in real life her name is “Stella”. I submitted the above short story to the weekly Writing Challenge of my favorite writers community, the FaithWriters. The topic was “Bouncebackability”. As it is written for a US audience and the maximum number of words is 750, I had to change and leave out some non-consequential details.